Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Cirith Ungol's HALF-PAST HUMAN - an Insider's Review


As many of you know, I formed a vintage-style heavy rock band, Falcon, in late 2002 in collaboration with founding Cirith Ungol multi-instrumentalistj, Greg Lindstrom. Approximately half of Falcon’s output was comprised of my originals, the other half Greg’s old CU tunes that never got a proper release. Greg left CU in 1981, but returned to the fold in their revamped lineup in 2016. Ungol released a killer comeback album, Forever Black, in 2020, which I subsequently reviewed on this here blog. I suggest you check it out here:

Rather than a typical review, this is going to be a view from the inside out. Why? Well, to put it bluntly it’s because of my friendship with Greg L., drummer Rob Garven and years of emailing with axeman Jim Barraza. I’ll tackle this topnotch EP song by song.

The opener, “Route 666” dates to 1977 or so. The original demo version was sung by Greg L. Falcon’s version appeared on our debut self-titled album, complete with the same intro of an Alfa Romeo engine revving as the original Ungol demo and this 2021 rendition. Vocalist Tim Baker does an admirable job of rendering Greg L’s lyrics – forceful and metallic. Baker’s voice is pitch-shifted to sound more demonic at several points. Barraza’s rhythm guitar tone is slightly more modern than Greg L’s, but it’s a perfect combination. Double tracked guitar solos abound – each slightly different than the other track. Barraza does plenty of justice to late guitarist Jerry Fogle's axemanship. The tune closes with some atmospheric dive-bombing guitars.

A Tolkien-inspired number, “Shelob’s Lair” - was also resurrected by Falcon. It’s the tale of Frodo Baggins and Samwise’s battle with the giant arachnid, Shelob (spawn of Ungoliant). The new-fangled version sports some extra melody-lines during the pre-choruses. The guitar tones are warm and fuzzy, and the solos are nice ‘n’ wet with delay. For a track conceived in 1975 or thereabouts, this one is ultra-heavy. The bass could be a bit higher in the mix, but that’d be nit-picking.

“Brutish Manchild” saw a release as a free flexi-disc companion to a 2020 issue of Decibel Magazine. The lyrics revolve around the post-apocalyptic theme of man-ape’s fall from grace. Some awesome use of harmonised guitar fills abound, easily as provoking as Gorham/Robertson (Lizzy) or Denner/Shermann (Mercyful Fate). I have yet to hear a Seventies rehearsal or demo tape of "Brutish Manchild". I wonder if one exists...

The title track, “Half Past Human,” further explores the doom of man-ape in Earth's waning years of the distant future. Falcon put a spin on this one, as well, back in 2003. Lyrically, it reads like something out of Clark Ashton Smith’s necromantic tales of the dying continent, Zothique – or Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth. It opens with a lush, depressive acoustic passage and a plaintive theme-like lead backed with some inventive bass licks. The early demo versions of this track, dating to 1976, lack vocals. I had no guide in singing it in Falcon beyond Greg L’s lyric sheet. Tim Baker’s approach to the vocal lines is not very far-fetched from mine. Some cool human-voice synth pads are apparent in this take, aping (pun intended) the function of an old Mellotron. The wahed-out main guitar solo is glorious and Seventies-inflected. In true Ungol-fashion, the outro is lengthened out with a massive gong-infused crescendo, showcasing Garven’s triplet-heavy drumming.

L-R: Jarvis Leatherby (bass), Jim Barraza (guitar),
Greg Lindstrom (guitar), Robert Garven (drums), Tim Baker (vocals)

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

New Bandcamp Site

If you like what you hear and see on the Falcon's Fortress and want to show some support, please head over to my new Bandcamp site. The recently released Falcon rarities collection, Heavy Rawkin' Rare is included!

In rawk,


Thursday, May 14, 2020

B.C. Rich Guitars - An Appreciation

Whether you’ve met me in person or seen me on stage or not makes no difference. Most folks who have followed my various musical endeavors know I’m pretty obsessed with vintage B.C. Rich guitars. My love for B.C. Rich axes is unparalleled except for my similar addiction to Gibsons (especially vintage ones!). Where it took ages for me to actually get my hands on a vintage Gibson, I snagged several old B.C. Rich axes during the mid to late 1990s. I’m glad the company—no longer in the hands of the Rico family—acknowledges how much of a legacy these awesome looking, feeling and sounding guitars have in the rock and metal fields. Paying homage to those hoary and hairy days of yore, original B.C. Rich axe designer/builder Neal Moser returned to some fine workmanship under his own Moser Custom Shop banner, occasionally refurbishing old and road-worn BCRs. One simply cannot talk about early B.C. Rich guitars and leave Neal Moser out of the equation.
Now I’ve decided to allow folks to have a stroll down B.C. Rich memory lane with me. I’ll go in order of axe acquisition and ramble a bit about each guitar, plucking random thoughts from upstairs.

1. 1991 Class Axe licensed NJ Series B.C. Rich Virgin (Nagoya, Japan). 

1993 - with Class Axe-era Virgin

Bolt-on neck. Color: Black. Stock pickups: EMG Select. Licensed Floyd Rose tremolo. Diamond mother of pearl inlays.

This was the second guitar I ever owned. The first was a terrible and frustrating 1989 Charvel Avenger. Since we’re concentrating on B.C. Riches, we won’t go there. Back to the Virgin: Originally I wanted to get a black Warlock, but I saw an ad for the Virgin in a guitar mag, then spied it in the flesh and instantly thought it was an undeniably cool shape. I had a play on a red Virgin in a local shop, and ordered one in black. It looked great, but sonically lacked. The neck joint was enormous and clunky. The stock EMG Select humbuckers were among the worst pickups I’ve ever played, although I had no clue about pickups at the time. I’ve tried tons in the years between. But that didn’t matter back then. I dug the roundish neck profile and the jumbo frets.

1992: with the Virgin and mismatched Carvin/Marshall half-stack

Soon I learned that I hated the licensed Floyd Rose trem, found the pickups were very low output and dropped notes out... Still I played the hell out of it. The first kegger I ever played was on this sucker. Even before the keg party, I used the Virgin at the first high school band gig I did in front of a few hundred kids and parents. Took me a good 2-3 years to change pickups. Mistake no. 2. Never trust a music shop salesman to sell you anything. They’re looking at the bottom line and possibly more commission. Do your homework. I realized the EMG Selects were crap, but I had little experience in that area—just knew I wanted to try DiMarzio. Hell, Death’s Chuck Schuldiner used that brand. A dude working at the same shop in Sherman Oaks where I bought the Virgin picked up a little clear pickup box and said, “This has you written all over it, the Humbucker from Hell.” The name exuded wads of output, and I figured I’d be getting my hands on a very hot pickup. Uh... nope. The Humbucker from Hell is a humbucking pickup that emulates the tone of a single coil without the noise. It was decidedly the exact opposite of what I wanted out of a pickup in that blistering heavy metal moment. Live and learn. Had I done my homework, I would’ve settled on the DiMarzio X2N, the high-output ceramic magnet blade humbucker employed by Chuck Schuldiner. The neck pickup I chose was decent, a DiMarzio Air Classic. I clung to the Virgin for another year and a half. At least I didn’t have problems with notes dropping out. Shortly after I joined forces with future Artisan bassist Mike Bear the Virgin was on its way out. I stopped playing the Virgin entirely by late 1995.

In early 1999 I began hanging out with a fellow metalhead named Joey Severance, a guitarist/vocalist who worked for Metal Blade Records. Joey was dying to get his hands on a B.C. Rich, but didn’t have much dough, so I sold him the Virgin cheap. Joey later hocked the Virgin when he moved to Europe. Its whereabouts are unknown. Who knows? Perhaps it rests in the hands of a German, Dutch or Belgian Destiny’s End fan... Still, I’d better clarify that I never played this guitar when I was in Destiny’s End. It was strictly a pre-DE piece of Perry history!

Around the time I sold my Virgin a friend named Dave Bates got his hands on one of Neal Moser’s prototypes. It was like deja vu. Under Moser’s imprint the axe was/is called a Scythe. Dave’s had a wacky teal splatter paint job and a bolt-on neck with Neal’s signature on the back of the headstock.

2. 1980 B.C. Rico Mockingbird (Japan).

1995: Soloing on the Mockingbird
Neckthrough body. Color: Natural (“eastern” mahogany sides, maple neck and center). Stock pickups: Gotoh. Stock tuners with B.C. Rich “R” Logo (Gotoh?). Stock bridge: B.C. Rich Quad. Current pickups: Gibson 500T (bridge) and 496R (neck). Current tuners: Grover Super Rotomatic with art-deco head.

I bought the B.C. Rico Mockingbird in Fall 1995. I was dying to find a neckthrough B.C. Rich USA axe, but hadn’t seen one floating around the L.A. area in a while. This axe appeared at Freedom Guitar Sherman Oaks and instantly demanded attention. It had seen better days, but that didn’t stop me from buying it. It had a dead fret, which was remedied almost immediately by a helpful repair tech named Michael Wolf who went on to work for Mesa/Boogie. I didn’t realize at first that it was actually one of the first import B.C. Rich neckthroughs, but I found out soon enough. It didn’t bother overly much, because I was smitten. The fat, round, baseball bat neck profile was perfect for my big hands. What was less than perfect? Lots! The Gotoh pickups were fairly low output and squealed like hell when played through any amp at louder than bedroom volume. No prob with dropped notes though! The Quad bridge was fairly wrecked by the time I got my hands on the Mockingbird. It stayed on for a several weeks before my pal Ed Laing hipped me to a Badass as a replacement. That solved many intonation problems. Tuning problems? Plenty. The tuners were pretty beat by the time the Mockingbird was in my possession, but it took years before I replaced them with proper art deco knob Grover Super Rotomatics. The Rico Mockingbird was the first of my axes to receive EMG active humbuckers, which Ed Laing, my good friend and the second guitarist in Stormhaven, swore by. I didn’t just take Ed’s word for it. James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett and Zak Wylde all championed EMG 81s, 85s and even 89s. The need for replacement pickups was omnipresent. This thing would not stop feeding back when I took it around Hollywood to demo some amps (finally settling on the Mesa/Boogie Mk IV). While we’re at it, I’d better address fret-work again. The dead fret band-aided by Michael Wolf wasn’t the only problem. Thanks to the previous owner the frets were pretty flat. Moisture had crept under the finish on the side of the fingerboard to further complicate matters. The solution? Refret! That solved many problems. Eric Goerisch, Ed’s mentor in luthier work, gave the Mockingbird a sporty refret with Gibson-type fret wire. Perfect solution! My affair with the Mockingbird was growing fonder by the day. Until I snatched up my first real USA B.C. Rich, that is.

3. 1983(?) B.C. Rich Warlock USA.

The Frankensteined White Warlock

Neckthrough body. Mahogany neck and body. Rosewood fingerboard with mother of pearl diamond inlays. Original color: gray and black tiger-strip (?). Refin color: white. Stock pickups: DiMarzio?. Pickups when acquired: EMG-81 (bridge) and EMG-89 (neck). Original bridge: Kahler flat-mount tremolo. Bridge when acquired: Floyd Rose double-locking tremolo with back-route. Tuners when acquired: Gotoh black chrome. Headstock: 6 inline large Firebird-style, non-reverse.

I bought my white B.C. Rich Warlock from George Ochoa, one of the guitarists in the Christian thrash metal band Deliverance in 1995. I answered George’s Recycler ad. He had two Warlocks for sale. This older, white axe and a late 1980s model with custom lightning storm graphic. Being more of a traditionalist, I went vintage. The price was right. It was a love/hate relationship that lasted for several years. On one hand I couldn’t get enough: it was a heavy slab of mahogany—where many Warlocks were crafted from lighter/inferior woods like basswood or agathis, the deep cutaway on the high side allowed for some ultra smooth access to the upper frets (unlike the Mockingbird with its protruding beak). It was outfitted with EMG pickups already: an 81 in the bridge and a “dual sound” 89 in the neck (with a push/pull pot to split the neck pickup for single coil). Clearly there was a reason George Ochoa was unloading this guitar, though. It had major issues. Here’s where the hate part comes into play. George told me that he’d taken the thing over to Bernie Rico Jr. to have the original Kahler flat-mount trem removed and a back-route to install a new Floyd Rose double-locking trem. While Bernie Jr. and his team did an admirable job of building my Eagle Archtop Supreme from late 1998 to early 1999, it’s clear this axe was butchered before anybody had much experience with floating bridges. George also had the original tiger-stripe graphic repainted white—the whole axe refinished with heavy lacquer. One of the annoying issues caused during the refin? Apparently the neck was sanded too much on the high side. The high E string tended to slip off the fingerboard if you played high up, like past the 12th fret. But I was young, and I’d been pining for a USA Warlock for ages, so I snagged it for $400. I didn’t notice any major issues with tuning or intonation, but cosmetically there was something very queer about the nut. The Kahler locking clamp (usually located on the headstock an inch or so above the nut) had been removed and the original bone nut had been half hacked off. On top of the hacked-away nut was a black shim (along with a coupla pieces of business card), followed by a Floyd locking nut clamp. There were tiny cracks in the finish near the nut where somebody (Bernie Jr.?) had fiddled with removing the bone. Why the hell did I buy the Warlock if it appeared so butchered, do you ask? It was still pretty playable and I’m not a gazillionaire. Once my pal Ed Laing refretted it and modified the string spacing to compensate for the overzealous neck sanding. I dug the Warlock so much that I used it to record most of my rhythm guitar tracks on the first Destiny’s End album, Breathe Deep the Dark in early 1998. I also played it during my very first Destiny’s End gig at Cardi’s in Houston, Texas. Ed Laing was able to fix the nut situation. He pried out the butchered bone remains, removing the Floyd locking nut clamp and fitting a graphite nut in its place. Having seen Dan DeLucie’s Carlos Cavazo signature Washburn with Kahler Spider trem, I knew it was entirely possible for a floating bridge guitar to function with a Kahler-style clamp. Ed installed a new Kahler locking clamp on the headstock and the problem seemed to be solved. In late 1999 I was writing some new riffs at the old Destiny’s End rehearsal room in Vernon, CA, when the strap-locks failed. The Warlock took a dive into my pedalboard and lost a big chunk of finish and a slight bit of mahogany on the lower right body. I was bummed, but the damage was minimal. We’d opened up another can of worms with the nut/nut clamp modification. The three locking screws on the Kahler clamp tended to fall into the truss rod cavity because of its awkward position. While we probably could’ve remedied this by making a new truss rod cover, the positioning of the clamp would’ve made neck adjustments a pain in the ass. I remember those screws falling into the truss rod cavity just before Destiny’s End was going to leave for Germany to play Wacken in August 1999. It was a mad scramble and truly frustrating. I ended up bringing my 1976 Eagle instead. All the lame issues finally forced the upper hand, and I auctioned the Warlock on eBay in 2001. The winning bidder was a Destiny’s End fan from Florida. While playable, it surely didn’t fetch the price it could have if it wasn’t Frankensteined.

4. 1981 B.C. Rich Seagull USA Custom

On stage at the Key Club with the '81 Seagull

Neckthrough, quarter-sawn maple neck/center, carved maple sides and back, rosewood stringers,  bound ebony fingerboard, mother of pearl cloud inlays. Original pickups: DiMarzio. Original bridge: B.C. Rich Quad. Original tuners: Grover Super Rotomatic (bean head). Current pickups: Gibson 500T and 496R . Electronics: two dual-sound switches, phase switch, Neal Moser booster and Varitone circuits. Classic 3x3 B.C. Rich Headstock with mother of pearl “R” logo.

I saw this axe sitting in Freedom Guitar Hollywood one day in 1996. Bernie Rico Sr. and Jr. had just resumed production of their fabled axes out of a Hesperia warehouse and debuted some fine creations at NAMM in January. Pal and bassist Mike Bear was working at Hermes Music in Sherman Oaks, and I personally spent a lot of time bashing around on several new neckthrough USA BCRs. At NAMM I’d picked up a new BCR brochure containing an old picture of Bernie Sr. holding a Bicentennial Seagull. That combined with watching Dick Wagner wailing on his tobacco burst Seagull in the Alice Cooper – Welcome to My Nightmare home video were the genesis for my Seagull longing. Remembering I’d seen the blue one at Freedom Guitar several weeks earlier, I returned to scope it out. It looked beautiful and had no damage whatsoever to the body, and only minor scuffing on the headstock. I just had to grab it. So, I threw $700 down on my credit card. Yet again I was faced with a project guitar. The frets were pretty flat, so right away Ed Laing gave me one of his awesome refret jobs with the type of tall wire I liked—not nearly as fat as jumbo frets. Likewise we swapped out the stock DiMarzio pickups and replaced with EMG 81 and EMG 85. The electronics had clearly been gutted by the previous owner. Though the complicated Moser-designed electronics setup was there, it had been bypassed, and the original BCR knobs had been canned in favor of black chrome ones. The toggle switches were left unwired. Initially I kept the simplistic electronics: two volumes and two tones as on a Les Paul or an SG. The Seagull was a heavy slab with sustain for days and very chunky/heavy tone. Being that the axe is almost entirely maple, it’s bright and cuts through. I was in seventh heaven with it for a couple of years. I’d always wanted a Les Paul, and this was something very similar—a single cutaway, extremely hefty axe with a thick body. Like a 1950s style Les Paul this ’gull has an extremely round and fat neck profile with wide string spacing. Perfect for my big-ass hands.

I started to encounter major problems with the Seagull shortly before recording the first Destiny’s End album, Breathe Deep the Dark, in early 1998. El Niño was hitting hard that winter, covering Southern California in buckets of rain. Moisture and wood don’t mix. An already oxidized piece of metal isn’t gonna appreciate the extra moisture either. I didn’t foresee the Seagull being out of commission. I was dead-set on using it for half of my rhythm tracks on Breathe Deep the Dark, but I wound up only being able to bring the ’gull in for one clean-tone section—“Idle City,” the first part or intro to my signature tune “The Fortress Unvanquishable.” The high E string was dead, the notes killed by corrosion and a burr in the Quad bridge/saddle. I didn’t know if I should replace or have it repaired. I’m definitely not a repair expert, and certainly was far less experienced in ’98 than I am now. Since Ed Laing was busy with NAMM duties, I had to rely on other guitar repair sources. On pal and Prototype guitarist Kragen Lum’s recommendation I took the ’gull to Carruthers in Santa Monica. Big mistake. They kept the guitar for a week. Instead of advising me to shit-can the bridge and buy a replacement, the incompetents at Carruthers filed down the saddle. They told me it was a band-aid job, but didn’t offer any kind of explanation as to what I could do to properly solve the problem. Though I was recording my first album for a big indie label, I wasn’t being taken seriously. I was more than willing to pay for whatever work, but it was painfully clear that though these fools purported to run a professional shop they did not conduct business like pros. When the NAMM rush was over I consulted Ed Laing. The prognosis on the bridge was simple: dump the gold-plated hunk in the trash or save it as a keepsake and get a replacement. There was bad news, however, according to Ed the neck was bowing improperly—it needed some attention before it warped. It’s easy to guess how this happened. The previous owner or Freedom Guitar had likely left the hard-as-hell maple neck unstrung (no tension to keep it bowing the right way). El Niño didn’t help matters. Ed solved both my problems. He set the ’gull up with 11 gauge strings in E to put some serious tension on the neck and hipped me to the absolutely life-saving Stewart MacDonald guitar repair supply company. I consulted with Ed and his friend Eric Goerisch about getting a bridge/tailpiece combo that would fit and improve tuning stability. I was not impressed with the Badass, nor did I like the barely adjustable Gibson bridge/tailpiece as seen on Les Paul Juniors and some SGs. Thankfully I’d seen a fine-tune bridge/tailpiece combo on a guitar in Hollywood and both Eric and Ed knew exactly what I was talking about when I brought it up. I ordered a Schaller fine-tune bridge/tailpiece which not only fit like a glove but improved intonation and tuning immensely. Likewise they had me replace the stripped-out bean Grover tuners with Grover Super Rotomatics to go for that old school B.C. Rich vibe. By the end of the Breathe Deep the Dark sessions I was almost ready to begin using the ’81 Seagull as my main axe. The first time I gigged with it was at Club 369 in Fullerton, the debut Destiny’s End show in Southern California. The fat tone and playability that night made me infinitely glad I’d weathered (pun intended) through the initial difficulties.

I had some constructive criticism on the ’81 Seagull from recording engineer/producer and Warrior guitarist Joe Floyd. He worked with us on the second Destiny End album. Yet again I encountered intonation problems while recording. Joe explained that he’d owned a late 1970s Eagle much like the one I bought a year after this ’gull. Said he’d always had problems with intonation on the G string of his Eagle and that it was the prime reason why he ditched the guitar in the ’80s. Joe said he loved his Eagle to death, that the tone was to die for, but that the intonation issues became so frustrating that he couldn’t stand it any longer. He figured I encountered the same issue. It was especially a pain when I played octave chords rooted on the A string. I wish this issue didn’t exist, but I had to accept it. Joe was right to an extent. But there are many other guitars with intonation issues. Gibsons (SGs, Les Paul Juniors, etc.) with their old school bridge/tailpiece combo (instead of the Tune-o-matic) suffer from an almost complete lack of adjustable intonation. I resigned myself to keeping the ’gull and living with it. It would be close enough for rock ’n’ roll as far as intonation and tuning in many other applications, especially live. Rather than waste time in the studio, I instantly switched to another guitar that behaved. The well-behaved axe? My 1999 B.C. Rich Eagle Archtop Supreme. Zero intonation probs. I also used my 1976 Eagle, although it suffered a bit too (more on the Eagle later). When Ed Laing offered his expert opinion, he said the intonation problems were due to inconsistencies in the fret slotting. In other words, the slots in the fingerboard to house the frets are meant to be cut straight, and as you move up the fingerboard the frets are meant to have smaller spaces between. In the case of some old B.C. Riches the slotting was entirely done by hand and the straightness of the fret slotting and the space in between frets is not consistent. Fortunately the Japanese are a little more exact, so my Rico Mockingbird is immune.

When I started Artisan in 2000 the ’81 Seagull became my #1 axe of choice. You’ll notice from pictures that I played it at every single Artisan gig, usually with my 1976 Eagle as backup. For a brief period in 2003 I tried putting a DiMarzio X2N humbucker in the bridge position of the ’81 Seagull when I decided to return to using passive pickups. The brightness was overwhelming, and the tone would’ve suited my old technical and thrashy metal antics well. But I was in the process of leaving Artisan to concentrate on Falcon, and I quickly pulled the X2N and opted for Gibson 57 Classic humbuckers. I had a change of heart with those pickups too, finally settling on Gibson 500T and 496R high-output humbuckers. These days, it’s the axe I turn to whenever my Les Pauls are unavailable. And if I have a more modern style metal gig, I also head straight for the Big Mama ’81 Seagull.

5. 1976 B.C. Rich Eagle Supreme USA

May 1999: On stage at the Shack in Anaheim, CA

Neckthrough body. Koa body and neck with walnut (?) stringers. Bound ebony fingerboard with mother of pearl cloud inlays. Stock tuners: Grover Super Rotomatics with art deco machine heads. Current tuners: Grover Imperial with art deco machine heads. Stock pickups: DiMarzio. Current pickups: Gibson 57 Classic Plus (bridge) and 57 Classic (Neck). Electronics: two 3-way pickup toggle switches (series/split/parallel), Neal Moser booster and Varitone circuits.

A year after I acquired my ‘81 Seagull I came across this ’76 Eagle in the original Reseda, CA, location of Norman’s Rare Guitars, on the corner of Tampa and Vanowen in Reseda. I was already in Destiny’s End and was an assistant manager at Big Valley Music in Reseda, selling extremely cheap and cheeseball guitars, amps and accessories. On the way to work one day I decided to kill a few minutes in Norman’s, but instead was a good hour late because I just had to buy this puppy. Despite the obvious issues it was a genuine beauty with a fingerboard and action like butter. Yup, a sleek ebony board! The sales dude plugged me into a Silver Jubilee Marshall half-stack and sarcastically told me, “Yup, you would grab that sucker and tune it down to ‘D,’ wouldn’t you?” He was a long-hair, but had “grown out” of metal. Yes, metal was at an all-time low of popularity.
The obvious probs? The binding was heavily gouged in spots on the high side of the neck, loose and nearly falling out in others. The low side with sidemarkers was entirely intact, so I wasn’t too worried. I knew Ed could work his magic on it. The Badass bridge/tailpiece combo was rusty and worn, but I was going to replace that straightaway anyhow with the same Schaller I stuck on the ’81 Seagull. The frets were very worn down too. Another project guitar, but not Frankensteined like the Warlock. The previous owner had left the Eagle strung with flat-wounds, which immediately told me he’d been a jazz player. Pretty weird choice of axes for jazz, but his loss was my gain. $500 was all it took to bring this mama on home!

Once again Ed Laing restored a 25+ year old guitar for me. He replaced the shrunken, battered binding on the high side of the neck. I dare anyone to tell the difference between the original binding on the low side and the replacement on the high. It was that smooth of a job. Ed remarked that I was actually very lucky the low side was undamaged, as he discovered the side markers were made of authentic tortoise shell, not celluloid imitation. Perhaps not too cool from the standpoint of animal cruelty, but... hey, I didn’t go out and kill the tortoise Ted Nugent-style! Likewise, Hawaiian koa wood was endangered back in 1997, so even though you could have had the recently revived B.C. Rich USA shop build you an Eagle, it was highly unlikely you’d get one made of koa. Yup, this was a nice heavy axe that resembled an old ‘50s longboard plank.

While Ed was revamping the electronics for me (I was using EMG active humbuckers exclusively at the time) I asked him if it would be possible to keep the complicated old B.C. Rich electronics more or less intact. I had my doubts because these weird and wonderful gadgets were initially intended to go along with passive pickups of the 4 conductor wire variety. I was stoked when Ed handed the Eagle back to me with the preamp/booster and Varitone circuits functioning perfectly. We left the coil tap switches unwired though, as I wasn’t going to be using them. The refret job was impeccable.
The Eagle played and felt like a dream when Ed was done with it, and it became my main guitar in Destiny’s End. I played it during our first regional tours of Texas in 1998 and 1999, then on our full-scale U.S. tour with Iced Earth and Nevermore in May/June 1999. I then took it on our Euro tour with Sacred Steel, Wardog (and some occasional support from Slough Feg). In the studio I relied on the Eagle to track the two tribute album tunes Destiny’s End recorded: “Dressed in White” (King Diamond) and “The Last in Line” (Dio). Though I babied the Eagle, the rigors of the road took their toll. The bone nut gave out just as we were recording the second Destiny’s End album, Transition. I was able to use the ’76 Eagle for a couple of tracks before switching to my brand new ’99 Eagle Archtop. Because I was playing fast and technical metal primarily then, I chose to replace the bone nut with a graphite one. Though this would take away from the “vintage” appeal, I wanted the tuning stability and extended lifespan of a synthetic nut.

After I left Destiny’s End I continued using the ’76 Eagle steadily in Artisan. I usually had it handy as backup to my ’81 Seagull on stage, with my ’99 Eagle Archtop as the main studio axe.
In 2003 I had Ed remove the EMGs in my ’76 Eagle. An exodus back to passive electronics that I haven’t regretted! In their place from then on out were a Gibson 57 Classic Plus in the bridge and a 57 Classic in the neck. Instead of going with two-position mini-toggle switches to split the coils, Ed persuaded me to go with three-way mini-toggle switches, which allowed for the added tonal possibilities of parallel and series. Meaning instead of splitting the coils of say the bridge humbucker–for instance–you wind up using one coil from the bridge pickup and one from the neck. It’s a very nifty sort of tonal character to add to your palate for recording, but not very useful on stage.

In March 2003 I used the Eagle to overdub some leads on the Falcon demo, switching back and forth with my 1975 Seagull (more on that in a sec). February 2004 saw me bringing the Eagle to Middletown, Maryland, to record two guitar solos and a few little overdubs for the self-titled Falcon album. Rather than play my ’76 Les Paul all over the album, I wanted some different textures. Too much of an instrument can make things sound too one-dimensional. I had some genuine fun with the funky electronics. I split the bridge pickup to a single coil for a twangy tone on the lead to “Downer.” On the “Throwback” solo I left the mini-toggle switches alone—for a straight humbucker sound.

6. 1975 B.C. Rich Seagull

Laying down some lead-work for the Falcon demo, 2003
When I turned thirty, I thought to myself: “Wouldn’t it be awesome to have a 1975 B.C. Rich Seagull? It’d be as old as I am.” So, I stuck a wanted ad in the Recycler, and lo and behold a guy named Armando gave me a buzz to say he had a 1975 B.C. Rich Seagull in his possession with a custom flight case. Did I want to see it? Hell, yeah! We met in the parking lot of Guitar Center in Sherman Oaks, and I was utterly blown away by how cool this Seagull was. I played it for a couple of minutes unamped in the lot and fell in love. It had an awesome trans-blue finish that changed color in different angles of light. Being that my fave color is blue, I was just stoked.

“I’m not sure I want to sell it yet, but I’ve got a young son to think about now and it’s just sitting in the closet... Give me a week or two to think about it.”
A week went by, and I was pining for the axe big-time. I called Armando back, and he hadn’t sold the ’75 Seagull yet. He dropped by my old place, and I plugged the ’gull in. Instantly it was a match made in hell! The stock Guild pickups were warm and ratty—and although I gave them to friend Eric Goerisch I was torn over whether I should keep them. Years later I asked if Eric still had the Guilds, but he’d long since thrown them in one of his own guitars.
In 2003 I used the ’75 Seagull to record the rhythm guitar tracks for the Falcon demo. I also used it for some of the lead overdubs. Initially I had EMGs installed, and I used it for many Artisan rehearsals. Within a couple of years, though, I switched to Gibson P-94s, which are P-90 pickups in a humbucker housing. I figured that since the ’75 Seagull is such a light/thin mahogany single-cutaway guitar that I’d throw the P-94s in to go for that old Les Paul Junior vibe. I mean, if it worked for Leslie West, it was good enough for me!

With B.C. Rich satin tour jacket - thanks to Nardo!

[Under construction - 14 May 2020]

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Review: Cirith Ungol - FOREVER BLACK (2020)

Cirith Ungol – Forever Black Track by Track

Ordinarily I shy away from reviewing recordings by close personal friends or bandmates. It makes me look like a brown-noser. Which I certainly am not! True, Greg Lindstrom and Rob Garven are old pals of my mine (Lindstrom is also my partner in Falcon crime), but it won’t cloud my judgment on this massive album! On the other side of the coin, sometimes I prefer not to look like a prick by giving a negative critique. Hell, I’m a pro muso myself. In any case, whenever I’m writing with such sincerity and conviction I just have to say “screw it”! On rare occasions, if I prefer to remain more of less anonymous, I publish pieces under my securely guarded pseudonym.

Now, I’m not here to give you a history lesson on the oft-overlooked cult/epic heavy metal juggernaut known as Cirith Ungol. No, rough ‘n’ ready readers, this feature is going to be a celebration of a triumphant return, one hell of a comeback album for Cirith Ungol, a slumbering beast that arose from the grave in 2015, after a nearly 25-year hiatus.  CU has, since reuniting played some of the most heralded heavy metal festivals the world over, including the aptly named Frost and Fire festival in their hot and sunny hometown of Ventura, California, Germany’s Keep it True and Bang Your Head and Greece’s Up the Hammers. Yes, folks, Cirith Ungol is back! Back with a vengeance! Kudos to Mr. Garven for taking up the sticks again after he swore he’d never touch a drum kit ever again. And to all the naysayers who said CU would never grace a stage or a full-length recording again, Forever Black is a testament of blazing fire divine! Cirith Ungol has arisen and succeeded where other current “reunion bands” such as Pentagram have come up short, with milquetoast recordings and gigs. Comparatively, they don’t hold a candle to the metal might of Ungol! (Okay, mediocre Pentagram is still light-years ahead of most modern metal acts.)

L-R Leatherby, Barraza, Lindstrom, Garven & Baker

Now, let’s jump right into the flames and explore Forever Black track by track!

1. The Call
The album opens with an atmospheric instrumental prelude, complete with howling wind, timpani-style drums and what sounds akin to the bass-heavy horn blast of a warship. It seamlessly segues into the full-blown barrage of Track No 2.

2. Legions Arise
Probably one of the fastest Ungol tunes to date, a galloping gate as rhythmically rambunctious as any of Maiden’s early output. From lead guitarist Jim Barraza’s Spanish-tinged melodies and sliding octave chords to the inimitable and idiosyncratic vocals of Tim Baker, this one sounds as if it could have been cut during the King of the Dead sessions back in 1984. A battle cry for the hordes of Ungol to rise up and fight for the metal cause.

3. The Frost Monstreme.
The title is not the only thing that refers to CU’s early eighties cult classic tunes (yeah, people I’m talking “Frost and Fire”, the title cut to their debut disc). The first couple of riffs and melody fills expand upon some of CU’s past riffage. Motifs from the 1970s oldy-but-goody “Route 666” (later recorded by axeman Greg Lindstrom’s post-CU band, Falcon) and the aforementioned “Frost and Fire”. Without a doubt, this is sword & sorcery metal at its finest. This sucker would be at home on the soundtrack to a film adaptation of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Grey Mouser fantasy novel Swords and Ice Magic. It boasts a Seventies-tinged bridge, rife with drummer Rob Garven’s righteously cool cowbell. Garven also kicks some thunderous double-bass during the lead break. If you close your eyes during the solo, you’d think you were listening to fallen founding axeman Jerry Fogle.

4. The Fire Divine
The verse is a vivacious return to CU’s roots – the influence of immortal rawkers Thin Lizzy. A little birdy told me that some of Greg Lindstrom’s lyrics were originally meant for a Falcon tune. A Lizzy-esque dual guitar harmony section spices things up even more.

5. Stormbringer
No, it’s not a cover of the Deep Purple track of the same name. Here you’ll find a tune inspired by modern British fantasy author Michael Moorcock’s Elric novels. Just as the other 4 CU studio albums, Forever Black is adorned with one of Michael Whelan’s masterful Elric paintings. Stormbringer is the name of Elric’s fabled sword, the evil artifact which slays all in its path – that is until it becomes satiated. CU isn’t alone. Blue Oyster Cult’s Eric Bloom and Moorcock penned a tune for their Cultosaurus Erectus LP called “Black Blade”. A despondent clean-tone arpeggiated guitar intro ushers us headlong into the meat-and-potatoes verse and melodic prelude solo courtesy of Barraza. At first, Baker’s vocals are more emotive than his usual metallic shriek. The tempo is doomy and the chorus boasts some vocal layering from the rest of the Ungol camp – uttering “The Blade and I are one!”

6.  Fractus Promissum
A super-sweet melodic intro gives way to another Lizzy-tinged but nonetheless original number. Barraza’s wahed-out solos are dead on the mark, as is the swinging, tremendous backbeat of Garven’s cannon-like drums.

7. Nightmare
A boisterous Baker howl introduces the doom-laden and diminished proceedings. Yes, a bit Sabbathy, yet still somehow CU’s own. Easily could’ve been recorded during the One Foot in Hell sessions. Barraza delivers yet another haunting Spanish/Middle Eastern half-step steeped solo. His outro leadwork conjures up the ghost of the late Randy Rhoads.

8. Before Tomorrow
Oozing with catchiness, “Before Tomorrow” begins with an infectious pedal-tone riff and a Jerry Fogle-ish solo. Classic pounding metal musings and mayhem! Lyrically, this is very poignant, considering the global Coronavirus pandemic. Greg Lindstrom’s warm and fuzzy guitar tone is soothing and sweet yet rocks hard and sublimely.

9. Forever Black
The title track. It’s doomy as hell and boasts some grinding bass interplay by Ungol newbie Jarvis Leatherby (also the band’s manager and the impetus for the band’s resurrection).

While you're at it, don't forget to check out "Brutish Manchild", one of CU's forgotten gems originally written in the late seventies!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Destiny's End - Live at Wacken Open Air 1999

DE European promo glossy

[4 April 2017: This post is under heavy construction. -P]

I recently acquired the footage of Destiny's End at Wacken 1999 and uploaded it to YouTube for all to view. So, where do I start to blog the tale of the biggest gig of my career as a muso? From the beginning, I suppose...

Metal Blade Germany got Destiny's End a slot on the prestigious Wacken Open Air Festival. The good news arrived shortly before we trekked out on a full-scale tour of the US with Iced Earth and Nevermore in May and early June 1999. A mini-European tour with labelmates Sacred Steel and Wardog was also arranged. We had no idea what to expect in terms of logistics. Would we be travelling in a van like in the US? Would we get shared motel rooms some nights? What about the back-line gear? What sort of guitar speaker cabs, bass rig and drums did Sacred Steel have to loan us?

There were challenges to overcome in order to reach European shores. It was my first trip outside the US, and I was a bit stressed about the long flight. It started with some technical issues with one of my main guitars, a white early '80s B.C. Rich Warlock. I spent the night before our departure at Dan DeLucie's pad. We decided to do some last minute string changing. What should have been a routine job turned sour, and it was crystal clear that I wouldn't be able to bring the Warlock. I was kind of apprehensive about taking one of my more valuable axes, but resorted to my trusty 1976 B.C. Rich Eagle instead. As a backup I had a new Fernandes Vortex, a futuristic V-shape, which I wasn't worried much about. The Fernandes could be easily replaced.

Perry with Fernandes Vortex

As it was impossible for Dan DeLucie and I to bring our bulky amp/effects racks, we resorted to using our Mesa Boogie long-chassis heads. At least we knew we'd have adequate tone with our own amps. I borrowed Boss delay and chorus pedals from my pal Aric Villareal to complete the package. Our gear prayers were answered in an email exchange with the Sacred Steel lads. They had boutique German Engl speaker cabs to share with me and Dan, not to mention a full rig for bassist Nardo Andi and SS skinsman Mathias Straub loaned his Tama double-bass kit to DE's Brian Craig. All Brian brought were his cymbals, while Nardo simply needed one of his two Ibanez basses. Sorted! Well, almost...

We miraculously made it to LAX on time and ready for our long-ass flight. Metal Blade Germany arranged our tickets, and for some bizarre reason it was cheaper to fly to Amsterdam first and catch a connecting service to Hamburg. Budget-wise it was a good decision. On the other hand, it could - and did - cause major problems.

After deplaning and making our way through customs, we hightailed it to the baggage claim area to find our gear. Andreas Reissnauer, one of the Metal Blade Germany guys, was there to greet us. The baggage carousels spun around as the minutes ticked away, with no sign of our gear. The oversized luggage section similarly yielded nothing. Though most of our clothes were intact, it became clear that our gear was lost. Andreas spoke to the Lufthansa luggage people. Did he get the message across? Who could tell? What to do, what to do? Whose fault was it? Was Metal Blade the culprit for flying us out the same day as such a critical festival gig, a scant few hours before stage time, knowing fully well that our gear might not make the same flight as us? Did it really matter who was to blame? Hell no! We needed to devise a solution. And quick!

DE at Wacken with Jason from Friday the 13th 'zine

Awake for something like 24 hours, we weren't very prepared to hatch a desperate backup plan. I slipped in and out of a troubled sleep, sitting up in the van on the way out to the fest. Upon arrival at Wacken, we were greeted by Michael Trengert, the head honcho of Metal Blade Germany. He told us we'd better get cracking on finding some gear to use. Tell us something we didn't already know!? I was understandably pissed off at Michael for not flying us out a day before our scheduled appearance. I was pretty annoyed, but got past it swiftly. Michael walked us through the throngs of camping metalheads to meet our new partners in crime, Sacred Steel. We were totally blown away by the double-decker tour bus. But beyond that, would Sacred Steel be willing to help us out? Fortunately the answer was affirmative. Lucky for me, I scored rhythm guitarist Oli Grosshans' trans red B.C. Rich Mockingbird, while Dan ended up with Jorg Knittel's black Charvel bolt-on. Nardo got Jens Sonnenberg's Ibanez four-string, comparable to his own. Another hiccup was introduced, though. Oli and Juerg explained that Sacred Steel tuned their axes down a whole-step to D, while we tuned to standard (E), in Destiny's End. I broke the news to the DE guys. We couldn't tune up to E, as the axes weren't set up for that sort of string tension. We were forced to stay in D for the Wacken set. Another wrench in the works, eh? James would have to transpose his vocals down on the spot to match our whole-step detuning. I often wondered what DE would sound like tuned to D. My fave ultra-heavy band, Death, played in D, and I tuned to E flat in the short-lived Stormhaven in 1996.

How about the amp situation? Well, it was explained to us that the festival itself had a backline on all of its stages. We made our way through the muddy festival ground, borrowed guitar cases in hand. There was so much metal happening simultaneously, on something like 6 stages. The sheer number of people who flocked to Germany's equivalent of a metal Woodstock was mind-boggling. Looking at the Wacken program, we discovered that we were to play on the Wet stage, one of two smaller stages. Smaller? This was Wacken, and our stage was still pretty massive, easily beating our biggest US gig at the Bluebird Theater in Denver, Colorado. Our adrenaline was beginning to surge. I noted that NWOBHM titans Jaguar, our old touring comrades Nevermore and Metallium (featuring Savatage guitarist Chris Caffrey) were heating up the Party Stage directly across from us.

Slated to play on the Wet Stage before us were our So Cal pals Steel Prophet, followed by Agent Steel. It was comforting to see familiar faces. We hung out backstage with Agent Steel and explained our gear situation. Immediately, a lifesaver was provided by AS axemen Juan Garcia and Bernie Versailles, in the form of a chromatic guitar tuner. Phew! We were very appreciative to Sacred Steel and Agent Steel for saving our asses at Wacken. We stared on as Steel Prophet's Steve Kachinsky jumped around the stage like a madman. Texas doomsters Solitude Aeturnus and Canadian thrashers Razor followed in DE's wake.

We were on metal overload, and I was a bit more nervous than usual, fearing I might forget how to play a riff or solo. My anxiety was quickly quelled, though. We exchanged pleasantries with Steel Prophet after they departed the Wet Stage and we climbed aboard to find out what our backline consisted of. A couple of Marshall Major JCM 900 200 watt heads and full stacks for me and Dan. An Ampeg SVT head and 8x10" refrigerator cab for Nardo. Brian got to use a Tama double-bass set much nicer than his own Pearl Export Series kit. James lucked out that he had his stage gloves in his carry-on baggage. But James' stage clothes, like our gear, didn't make the flight to Hamburg. As a result he was forced to hit the stage in a Warlord longsleeve and a pair of black sweat pants. The rest of the DE guys wore street clothes live, so it didn't really matter. I chose my Celtic Frost Emperor's Return bootleg t-shirt. Setup time was minimal thanks to the festival's backline.

Perry at Wacken

Dan and I tweaked settings on the Marshalls to approximate our usual high-gain Mesa Boogie tone. We didn't have overdrive or distortion pedals, so it was a relief that the amps themselves pumped out plentiful gain. The sound engineer must've read my mind, as he threw on Death's Individual Thought Patterns on the enormous PA system. I further tested my hired amp by jamming along to "In Human Form". After all, I was tuned to D!

Crusaders of the Metal Blade Tour shirt

Before we knew it the set was off to a heavy start with mid-paced cruncher "Unsolved World" as the opener.I felt totally at home on Oli Grosshans' Mockingbird. The Wacken audience got a real treat in Dan's new song "Transition", which became the title track to DE's second album. A major difference between this early live version and the recording was Dan's clean-tone guitar intro accompanied by my lead melody. The intro was ditched by the time we demoed the tune months later. Other tunes in the Wacken set were "Breathe Deep the Dark", "Rebirth", "Under Destruction's Thumb", "To Be Immortal", "Idle City/The Fortress Unvanquishable", a cover of Judas Priest's "Beyond the Realms of Death" and Helstar's "The King Is Dead". The feeling of playing in front of a sea of thousands of metal maniacs was unbelievable. A genuine natural high! The crowd went nuts in between songs, chanting at the top of their lungs, "Hey, hey, hey!"

Following DE's set I spotted Solitude Aeturnus bassist Lyle Steadham and caught up with him. We'd last met at DE's March '99 gig in Dallas/Fort Worth at Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul's Tattoo Bar. My old friend Rob Preston also made the pilgrimage to Wacken, and we watched several bands together, including the German thrash band Warrant. No relation to the glam act of the same name!? An interesting aside: Swedish black metallers Marduk were meant to play the Wet Stage several bands after DE, but they failed to appear. In their place was an S&M striptease act, followed by our cohorts Sacred Steel.

Waking up in the bus the morning after Wacken, we discovered our gear had arrived from the airport. What a relief! My UK pen-pal, Solstice's Rich Walker and his wife Lucy were along for the ride with DE and Sacred Steel. The seeds sown at Wacken and the subsequent mini-Euro tour would eventually lead to me playing with Rich on the Isen Torr EP, Mighty and Superior

Jens Sonnenberg, Dan DeLucie, Jim Powell, Perry and Gerrit Mutz

What about the tour? Suffice it to say that it was a well organized and professional affair. We shared a massive bus with Sacred Steel and got enough sleep in our bunks to be at the top of our game every gig. That's not all we shared with Sacred Steel. We had a tour manager, a merch girl, three roadies, including guitar and drum techs. Dan, Nardo and I didn't even have to change our own strings, which was a breath of fresh air. There was even a wee bit of pyrotechnics in the form of small flash-pots. Although part of the package tour, Wardog travelled on their own in a van with their wives and got motel rooms. Slough Feg was the opener on a couple of dates.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Visual Evidence of Pale Divine at DSR III - "Amplified"

Here's some video footage of me bangin' the bass for Pennsylvania-based heavy doom rawkers Pale Divine at the Doom Shall Rise III festival in Goeppingen, Germany (April 16, 2005)! The tune's called "Amplified," off Thunder Perfect Mind, the first PD album. Cheers to Darin McCloskey (also my drummer in Falcon) and Greg Diener for the opportunity to tour with one of my all-time fave bands!!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Curse of the Ivory Tower - Isen Torr Rough Mixes

[25 July 2011: Please note: this entry is under heavy construction. Check back for updates! -P]

Isen Torr is just about as arcane a band name as Cirith Ungol. What the hell does it mean? What language is that? Well, let's just say it translates out as "white tower" in many variations of the Celtic or Gaelic tongues. Not something you'd expect to contribute to any kind of commercial success, nor was it conceived to. We're talkin' underground, man. Cult! Culte! Kult! Kvlt! Cvlt! Isen Torr was/is Solstice guitarist and songwriter Rich Walker's baby. Rich wrote the tunes, chose the musicians he wanted to work with and organized the recording of the first in what was planned to be a triad of vinyl EPs. The title? Mighty and Superior. Want to hear the tunes? Stick around. We'll get there eventually.

Isen Torr - July 2003

I first met Rich Walker in 1999 when he and wife Lucy tagged along with Destiny's End and Sacred Steel on tour for nearly two weeks. Solstice was not playing, but Rich was good mates with singer Gerrit Mutz and Oli Grosshans (former rhythm guitarist, ex-Naevus) from Sacred Steel. He was also, I might add, a metal pen pal of mine for a few years at that time. We were introduced via snail mail by mutual friend and fellow metal and weird fiction nut Rob Preston. Rich and I instantly hit it off in person as much as we did through letters and email. We shared a love for Clark Ashton Smith's elaborate doom-laden fantasy forays and Lovecraft's slimy slitherers from beyond the stars. Hangin' with Rich on tour in Europe in Aug. '99 solidified something in my mind: I would one day work musically with this bloke!

Solstice logo

Jens Sonnenberg, Dan DeLucie, Jim Powell, Perry Grayson and Gerrit Mutz
Destiny's End, Sacred Steel & Wardog Euro tour, August 1999

Rich Walker and his trusty '69 Gibson SG

The opportunity presented itself to join forces with Rich in 2003. Solstice was on indefinite hiatus, and he was proceeding with his new band or "project," dubbed Isen Torr. He advertised for one of his staunch supporters on the old Miskatonic Foundation online forum to take up the lead axe slot. I instantly jumped on it and fired off a reply to Rich. There was no hemming and hawing, no time to mull things over. Rich clearly realized I could get the job done with ease. It took a while, but I eventually received a CD-R containing rough demos of the two epic tunes we'd be recording. Rich used a drum machine to accompany his guitar. There was no bass. In typical Solstice-fashion, Rich was tuned down to B. The same tuning used by such metal bands as Anacrusis, Carcass, Entombed and At the Gates. I'd rarely gone lower than C# to play along to some old Sabbath tracks, but I got my '80 B.C. Rico Mockingbird a setup in B, slapping some 12 gauge strings on with a wound G. We'd messed around slightly in B in Artisan, because bassist Mike Bear digs 7-string guitars. I bucked the 7-string approach, though Ana Greco laid down some extreme lows courtesy of a 6-string in B on Artisan's "The Stain of Life." Because my ear wasn't very used to B, I had Rich map out the tunes some. Even more self-taught than I am, Rich resorted to pluging into his chromatic tuner to figure out the root notes of some of the chords. It wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Rich is a unique player with a keen ear. Sometimes I feel its better to trust one's ears and gut rather than go by the book. It can be limiting to rely too much on theory, and breaking the "rules" can yield interesting results.

Me and the Mockingbird in Korea Town, L.A.
Falcon's house demolishing kegger, March 2004

The two Isen Torr tracks were not a drastic departure from Solstice, although I caught a vintage vibe in the tunes which brought to mind the raw and eccentric NWOBHM nuances of Angel Witch, DiAnno era-Maiden, Bleak House, Aragorn, Midnight Flyer and JJ's Powerhouse. I ripped the two demo tracks onto my computer at home and fixed a tiny spot where the audio clipped and farted out completely. Then I fired up my old 10" Boogie Subway Rocket practice amp and plugged the preamp out into my soundcard input. This was pre-USB interface for me, but I had no time latency issues with the shareware multi-track recording software I used in the early 2000s to lay down a solo for "Mighty and Superior." It was no-frills beyond a dash of reverb applied in mix-down. I uploaded a clip of the solo section to my Falcon website server and emailed the link to Rich so he could download. He was suitably impressed. I've search low and high for the demo with overdubbed solo, but it appears to have been lost. I'm pretty good about backing up files on CD-R and DVD-R, but this one seems to have escaped my grasp.

Studio sessions for Isen Torr's Mighty and Superior EP were slated for July '03 in Lübeck, Germany. It was a busy spring and summer for me. I was rehearsing a few times a week with Artisan, not to mention playing some Arti gigs. Aside from sparse mixing sessions for the Artisan demo/EP, I was also entrenched in getting Falcon off the ground. Falcon, as many already know, is my baby, with plenty of input and assistance from Cirith Ungol mastermind and multi-instrumentalist Greg Lindstrom. In between my main music ventures, I concentrated on practicing "Mighty and Superior" and "The Theomachist" at home. I did my homework so I'd be prepared.

Artisan unfortunately became less of a priority than it was when I formed the band with Mike Bear and Ana Greco in 2000. Hyperspeed technical metal with growled vocals just wasn't as much of a turn-on for me anymore. In a way I was burning out on it. I stuck it out for quite a while, but broke it to Mike, Ana and new drummer Justin Bouchee a couple of months before heading to Germany to record with Isen Torr. Though they were bummed to see me go, the Arti-folks asked me to play a farewell gig in September '03. It was quite a send-off, jamming in front of a nearly-packed house at the Whisky in support of Cathedral, Samael and Strapping Young Lad. But I'm getting ahead of myself, as I often do.

I'd only met one of the other Isen Torr musos previously, but I knew the backgrounds of the rest. Vocalist Tony Taylor and I crossed paths when Tony's band Twisted Tower Dire supported Destiny's End and Iced Earth in June 1999 at Jaxx in Springfield, Virginia. Bassist Oliver "Zülle" Zühlke (rhymes with "hulk," which he resembles) and drummer Martin Zellmer hailed from German power metal band Ritual Steel, which also featured an old metal pen pal of mine, Sascha Maurer, on vocals. Zülle had recently left Ritual Steel, but Rich thought highly enough of him to sign him aboard on four-string duties.

My flight to Germany was tedious, but fairly uneventful. A delay caused an extended layover at London's Heathrow airport. I used the time wisely by snapping up Lemmy's autobiography, White Line Fever, devouring most of it pre-boarding call. Being that this was a post 9/11 flight and I hadn't flown with a guitar in a couple of years, I wasn't aware that locking my guitar case was a bad idea. Being protective and paranoid about my axes, I kept it sealed. It gave TSA free license to mangle the locks and latches for security inspection. When I picked it up at Hamburg one side latch was completely busted and the other barely closed. Only the lockless center latch held tight. I was worried, but I had other things to attend to first.

Rich met up with me at the airport, and we trekked by train to Itzehoe, where we'd be practicing in Ritual Steel's rehearsal bunker. Once at Itzehoe we met up with drummer Martin Zellmer and bassist Zülle at Martin's house. After a few pleasantries, we were off to our first marathon rehearsal session. As we approached the woodsy area where the bunker was located I spied the remains of a WWII plane. By this point I'd been awake for 24+ hours. To top it off, I barely had a bite to eat beyond the potato chips we munched in the bunker, but still managed to make it through our jam like a charm. Rich and I plugged into amps borrowed from Ritual Steel's dual axe team (Cheers Timo & Todde!). There was an Engl head and a Line 6 combo. The Line 6 kept overheating and sounded like crap at high volume, yet we still managed okay. Despite the lack of sleep, I played well. Rich only had to hash out a couple of the complicated guitar parts for me.

At "Z's" pad.

We adjourned to Martin's pad late that night for a quick dinner and to crash. The next day we rehearsed for several hours, nailing both songs on target. There were no toilet facilities at the bunker, so when Rich had to take a dump after dark he was forced to head out to the woods. Luckily Rich wears a bandana! It made for an excellent "shite rag," which he left for an unsuspecting passerby to stumble on in the bushes.

We probably had about 10 hours of Isen Torr rehearsal in all, and not a hell of a lot of sleep or food. It didn't matter to me, though, 'cause I was flyin' on the sheer power and love of metal. It's always a sure-fire power source and adrenaline rush! I felt pretty confident about the tunes, after all. Following a a brief rest, we raced down the autobahn towards Lübeck, where we'd be holing up in an apartment suite and recording at Studio Rosenquarz. Our recording engineers were Cold Embrace members Andreas Libera and Michael Hahn. They were assisted by Bully, the Mastiff mutt.


Accommodation in Lübeck were excellent, although the security door lock downstairs was really stubborn. It took no time to settle into the apartment and walk the several blocks to the studio. Guitar-wise Rich and I were pleased, as Michael Hahn had a rare early '80s Marshall 100 watt head with a transistor preamp and tube power amp section, as well as a matching Marshall 4x12" cab. We didn't have to worry about a subpar amp or one that didn't fit Isen Torr's style. Martin set up the drums up, and our engineers connected me and Rich direct to the mixing board so we could track scratch (or "guide" as they say in Europe) guitars. Michael gave me and Rich a couple of bottles of Beck's Gold. I figured the brewskis would mellow me out, but I was kind of travel weary and muffed some transitions while scratching. No need to worry, as scratch tracks are thrown away.

Sir Richard M Walker at Rosenquarz Tonstudio

Rich tracked his rhythms in quick and painless fashion. I somehow managed to convince him not to use his Boss Metal Zone pedal on the rhythm tracks, a decision we're both very glad about in 2011! I was very adamant that we have a vintage metal-type tone: our axes plugged straight into the Marshall head cranked up to 10, dry and raw as a bone. I followed Rich with my rhythms. While I laid down my two rhythm tracks per song, I paused to ask Rich about whether he thought I was matching up okay with him. He responded by saying that it sounded killer and didn't matter too much if we did slightly different things as long as we were on time and in key. It added a cool dynamic to the recording. We finished two sets of rhythm tracks each. It was quick and relatively painless. The guitars and drums sounded nearly as solid as a Cyclopean monolith slab in a Lovecraft story. Well, nearly! Martin played a shonky fill at the 6:43 mark in "The Theomachist," but it sounded less suspicious when my solo followed his off-beats and we didn't have to resort to any digital editing.

 Bully, Rich and Oliver (no, not Hardy!)

Me, Zülle and Rich

We conceded after the drums and rhythm guitars were complete that it'd be an excellent idea to hit the local metal pub for some liquid libation to the Other Gods of Metal. Sure, celebration was in order, but we probably should've stopped to eat something too. We stayed at the bar until closing time. I bought rounds for my pals, considering Martin and his wife were kind enough  to let us crash at their pad and feed us. We had some comic relief when a haughty guitarist plopped himself down at our table and argued with me and Rich about what constitutes quality gear. I imbibed a bevy of weissbier in half liter steins. I wasn't horizontal or falling over, but I was pleasantly pissed. I wasn't alone, though. A drunk contingent of Isen Torr instrumentalists staggered over the cobblestones back to the apartment. I tried to down as much water as possible before passing out for the night. But it didn't do much good, apparently.

I woke up with the worst hangover of my life. Ugh! The room moved in swift circles like a Tilt-a-Whirl. Somehow I trudged along with Rich, Martin and Zülle down to Rosenquarz. The day was meant to be spent on lead guitar overdubs and Zülle's bass tracks. I had a solo each to track for "Mighty and Superior" and "The Theomachist." But my head was spinning way too much to attempt solos so early in the morning. I told Rich to go ahead with his lead parts and let Zülle track bass. Rich and I debated some. I was quick to agree with him about Americans being lightweights in the drinking department. American beer is, for the most part, watered-down panther piss. At the time I usually stuck to microbrews Stateside. My only retort was that I'd eaten just about fuck-all since my arrival, which didn't help this here Septic Tank Yank.

I trudged back to our suite. It seemed like it took ages for the sticky downstairs lock to work, but I finally made it upstairs. I lay back on my bed in nothing but my sunglasses and knickers, alcohol-laced sweat pouring out of my pores. I didn't get much sleep, but just kept pounding water. At some point while I was dozing the landlady came by the flat to check up on the rowdy band of heavy metal degenerates hiring her flat. She was pretty shocked to see me there in my skivvies and shades. She spoke mangled English at best, but I did assure her all was okay and that we weren't going to wreck her precious flat.

With a pounding head I returned to Rosenquarz around 7pm. All of Rich's overdubs were done and Zülle was wrapping up his bass. Fortunately I didn't leave Rich in the lurch due to my celebratory hangover. I plugged into my Boss GE-7 Graphic EQ pedal with the sliders nearly flat and the output boosted slightly to kick some gain in front of the Marshall head. I was still kinda shaky, but I banged out my solos speedily within a few takes. With those done I returned to the flat and slept like a log. Rich cooked up some frozen chips (fries to my fellow Yanks) that night, which I woke up just long enough to gobble down.

I got up before the crack of dawn on Studio Day 3, still slightly hungover more than 24 hours after my weissbier binge! The Germans and the British are on an entirely different plane of drinking to Americans. Not Australians though! Aussies are right up there with the best of 'em!! I wasn't to become an adopted Aussie for another 3-1/2 years, so I made sure to eat from there on out to soak up some of the booze I imbibed.

Andreas and Michael fiddled with a wee bit of digital editing when we got back to Rosequarz. Tony Taylor showed up after a couple of hours to do his vocals. Tony's young son was in tow. He hadn't rehearsed with us, but did a tad of homework. Rich gave him a few pointers, but again things were pretty painless. Rich, like me, is a voracious reader, and he peppered his lyrics with plenty of archaic and complex diction. Tony mispronounced some of Rich's lyrics in "Mighty and Superior," most notably "iniquitous" (which he rendered as "inquititious," not a word in any language I'm familiar with!). Come to think of it, Tony also thought Zülle's nickname was "Zoo-elle." I chortled over it, thinking it sounded like the nickname of Sortilege singer Christian Augustin ("Zouille"). Rich had a field day taking the piss out of Tony on that one. Once all of Tony's vocals were tracked Rich thought it'd be a good idea to have a "battle choir" chant "Fight! Fight! Fight!" in "The Theomachist" The four Isen Torr men stood in the main lounge of the studio in front of a condenser mic. Tony's young son even joined us. Laughs and a blast were had by all! Martin's wife owned a high-quality 35mm film camera and shot the official Isen Torr photos (many of which are reproduced here).

Sortilege, my fave French metallers. L-R:  Didier Dem, Christian "Zouille" Augustin
and Stephane Dumont

"Fight, fight, fight!!"

Tony had gig committments with Twisted Tower Dire. They were slated to play the Metal Bash fest, so he had to get the hell outta Dodge quick and rejoin his TTD brethren. Meanwhile, we'd started mixing with Andreas and Michael. Though we did record on a computer hard disk, there was only a minimum of digital editing. Everybody played their instruments well, and there were only a couple of spots that were slightly cleaned up. We didn't piece things together in the disjointed fashion some modern bands do. Andreas and Michael did an admirable job, but Rich wasn't completely satisfied with their mix. I did take the Rosenquarz master CD-R home with me, but it wasn't meant to be the final mix. Rich resolved to take the multi-track files to his friends in England to remix.

Have you seen this international terrorist? Rich in our apartment at Lübeck

Aside from my huge hangover and Rich's bandana, we enjoyed our share of goofiness. I snapped a photo of freshly showered Rich in terrorist guise, a towel wrapped around his bespectacled head. Another piss-take (pun intended!) was shot in the loo. At one point while we were sitting around the studio lounge Rich and I overheard Michael Hahn exclaim "Dicke titten!" I waggled my eyebrows at Rich. In a great deadpan, Rich asked our host, "Michael... Did you just say that you had a tit-wank last night?" Well... not quite, but he was close. The literal translation is "big breasts."

Taking the piss out of Rich's toilet humor.

To commemorate the completion of Mighty & Superior, our next stop in Lübeck was to witness one of my biggest music heroes, Scott "Wino" Weinrich rockin' out live with his then band, The Hidden Hand. There weren't more than about 25 people at the club, so it was an intimate show. Despite the low attendance, Wino and company destroyed the place. Not one to hide after a performance, Wino was spotted outside the venue after the gig.

Our next stop was the Metal Bash festival, sort of the anti-climax of my voyage. There was a beef between Rich and the festival organizer about giving our big group of people a break on our admission. Our ranks had swelled to include friends Herman and Helge Pahl and Andrea Schmidt. They brought a mini-bus stocked floorboard to ceiling with cans of warm beer. I could barely down any of the sun-heated brew. We eventually entered the festival grounds, minus some cash, and plenty of cold beer and sausages were consumed. Aside from Twisted Tower Dire, we were really unimpressed with most of the festival acts. Pleasantly pissed again, Rich and I watched Goddess of Desire's salacious set. We concurred that they were sort of a second-rate Venom, albeit with a live strip show. In the wee hours of the morning we dozed off briefly in Zülle's car.

Rich and I spent the last day of our German adventure at Herman and Andrea's pad recuperating from the festival. Again, we hardly ate. We walked into town and had a greasy McDonald's breakfast. Rich and I rambled on about our early musical escapades. His as a crust punk and grindcore kiddie and mine as a rail thin punk-ass death metaller. Both wishing we'd scarfed more junk food, Rich and I continued to amuse ourselves over copious amounts of coffee on our German friends' patio. We spent hours trying to outdo one another's ghastly names for "rapcore" bands. My personal fave was "Stool Sample." Rich's would infuriate to many people, but suffice it to say it was "Cyber N_____." I'd say about 99% of Americans don't get the extremely dark British and Aussie sense of humor. Some find it offensive. I laughed my arse off at the band name Rich concocted. At the same time it's not something I'd joke about in front of a couple of musicians I really respect. Namely Iron Man's Al Morris or Revelation/Against Nature bassist Bert Hall. Poor taste, but funny at the time. Rich, you crack me up!

On the way back to La La Land, the Hamburg baggage screening fräulein was puzzled by my Vox wah-wah pedal. She didn't want to let me through to the gate with it.

"You know, like Scorpions? Jimi Hendrix? Wacka wack wacka!"

Finally she understood. I thought better of repeating Michael Hahn's old exclamation, "Dicke titten!"

My flight home could have been better, but I made it in one piece. My already trashed guitar case locks were completely buggered by the time I reached L.A. It's clear my Mockingbird fell out of its case at some point. Aside from a small bump on the back of the neck I didn't think there was any damage. Wrong! Within a couple of months I realized that TSA's negligent spill out of the case included probs with headstock and neck/fingerboard. A bent tuning machine head and a section of the fingerboard near the first fret separating from the neck. Fortunately for me my top-notch luthier pal, Ed Laing, repaired TSA's fuckups perfectly. Knock on (touch if you're Aussie) maple and mahogany, the Mockingbird is still alive and sounds/plays better than ever.

Rich oversaw a remix in the UK, which I liked for the most part. I thought my two solos weren't as loud as they were when Andreas and Michael initial rough mix. For instance, you can barely hear the section of my "Mighty and Superior" solo near the 5:10 mark where I utilized a technique  some shredders refer to as "auto-flange." That is to say: trilling two notes and running my pick hand lightly down the fingerboard to create harmonics. It wasn't the end of the world, but I'd have remedied that if I'd been present and involved more. The project was Rich's baby, so I wasn't bent out of shape about it. Listeners never have to worry about hearing my leadwork in Falcon for a good reason! Although Rich is very quick to point out he's not a lead guitarist (very 'eavy, very 'umble) about his abilities, I personally thought he did an admirable job of playing some tastefully placed melody-infused lead parts, all of which are very discernible as being the handiwork of Mr Walker. Just listen to the intro to "Mighty and Superior" for a shining example!

The original release was on Andrea Schmidt's label, Metal Supremacy, in February 2004. A vinyl 10" EP limited to 333 black vinyl and 333 picture discs. For a grand total of 666 evil slabs of wax. Very few people have heard the rough mix, which is why I'm posting MP3s here. Curious folks will now be able to hear my lead work louder than in the final mix.

Metal Supremacy 10" cover
Metal Supremacy picture disc front
Metal Supremacy picture disc back

Originally Rich envisioned Isen Torr as a band that would release three epic vinyl-only EPs and eventually play a gig at a massive festival in Germany. Things didn't exactly go as planned. He vowed not to release an Isen Torr CD until all three EPs were out on vinyl. Sometimes one's intentions go out the window because the world is not a very stable place. First drummer Martin Zellmer went off the rails. Feel free to ask Rich for the specific gory details. I'm sure he'll delight in telling you the tale. Then Tony Taylor seemed to be following suit. The TTD guys had issues with Tony and wound up finding a new singer. Tony went MIA for a while and resurfaced in Florida. Zülle too went MIA. Rich and I haven't heard from him in several years. At one point Rich thought about bringing former Lord Weird Slough Feg drummer Greg Haa into the fold. Greg went AWOL from Slough Feg months before it was clear that Isen Torr's second EP may not happen in the foreseeable future. I wasn't starved for music by any means. I was more than happy and busy with Falcon.

The late Tony Taylor in between vocal takes with Zülle 

Isen Torr sans "Z"

By the time I relocated to Australia in late 2006 Rich and I were the only two Isen Torr members who weren't MIA. The Curse of the ye olde Ivory Tower was in full effect. Mighty & Superior was reissued in 2008 on CD. Not exactly what Rich intended. We musicians were meant to be paid in copies for the reissue, both CD and vinyl from the American label releasing it. I received my CDs from Mr. Label Guy. That sort of happened almost semi-professionally. However, Mr. Record Label wouldn't send them to Australia, instead he shipped to my parents in the States. I should've been worried by that arrangement. Was it asking too much to have the discs sent sans jewel-cases Down Unda? Not really! After all, no cash was changing hands. Next up Mr. Record Label informed me he was "sold out" of the vinyl and couldn't send me, a band member, copies until a second pressing was made at some undetermined future date. Now, I don't know about you, but I think that is just the sort of bad business typified by disreputable labels. I was promised vinyl shortly, but shortly stretched into 1-1/2 years. I had to publicly call Mr. Record Label out on Rich's Miskatonic Foundation Forum about his bad biz practices before I ever received any of those Big Ten-Inch Records. That wasn't Rich's fault. And it's a genuine shame, because Andrea Schmidt did a tremendous and above-board job on the Metal Supremacy first pressing.

Isen Torr - Mighty and Superior CD cover (2009)

The Curse struck again in 2009. We received news that Tony Taylor died in a motorcycle accident. Whether Isen Torr will record again is a question I can't presently answer. Rich once mentioned the possibility of me tracking my half of the guitars on my home turf in Sydney if a second EP materializes. I'm cool with that. The challenges which Rich faces go way beyond the guitars, though. We now lack a bassist, drummer and vocalist.

Right click and "save as" to download the MP3s below.

1. "The Theomachist"
2. "Mighty and Superior"