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!

Friday, November 2, 2018

Death - INDIVIDUAL THOUGHT PATTERNS 25th Anniversary Liner Notes

[Here are my liner notes to the deluxe 2 and 3 CD Relapse Records reissue of Death's Individual Thought Patterns. They were originally penned in 2011. Most recently ITP was reissued by Relapse as a limited 25th anniversary edition on silver colored double vinyl. As some of you folks may not have picked up the CDs, I'm posting the complete text here to help keep the music and memory of the late/great Chuck Schuldiner alive.]

Death – Individual Thought Patterns
Liner Notes
By Perry Grayson
© Copyright 2011 by Perry Grayson

Death’s 1991 LP Human was a progressive/aggressive metal opus, but on 1993's Individual Thought Patterns Chuck Schuldiner took his sonic experimentation further. For Human Chuck borrowed guitarist Paul Masvidal and drummer Sean Reinert from the underground’s most touted technical metal band, Cynic, along with Sadus bassmeister Steve DiGiorgio. Chuck’s desire to improve led him to some highly respected pro talents for Individual: ex-Dark Angel skinsman Gene Hoglan and tasteful King Diamond lead axeman Andy LaRocque. He also re-hired 4-string Hippie of Doom Steve DiGiorgio at the last minute.

Says Steve: “I remember trying to paint a house in Oakland in the freezing cold between Christmas 1992 and New Year’s, just realizing what a futile job I was doing because you’re not supposed to apply paint below 55 degrees. It was so frustrating. Then I got a message to call somebody named Scott from Florida. There’s only one guy I know named Scott in Florida, and that’s Burns. He goes, ‘Hey man, we’re in a bind. We’re getting ready to record and we’re in need of your service. Can you come out? The sooner you get here, the better. We have the studio booked first week of January.’”

“I was like ‘Holy crap! Yeah, thanks!’ After I put the phone down I put my frozen paintbrush in the can, just thinking ‘Ha! I’m gonna be in Florida tomorrow.’ I remember me and Gene sitting in Chuck’s living room for New Year’s ’92 turning into ’93, and I did work on the stuff for a little while. We practiced in Chuck’s mom’s garage, but they were already rehearsed and had all the songs arranged. We ran through them and I learned as much as I could in a couple of days. We packed up and drove to Tampa and started recording right away.”

Speaking of his new comrades, Chuck told Metal Hammer, “Very gifted musicians but perfectly fitting in the musical concept of Death... They had to play songs I wrote but in their own way brought in something personal that made the whole more valuable.” Of that quartet, only LaRocque couldn’t stick around post tracking.

“I wanted everything about the album to be top-notch...I grew up listening to a lot of bands that had a twin axe-attack, and I think it's somewhat important to have if you really want to be heavy. I t adds variety to the music...just knowing that I was working with such a talented shredder like Andy really made me work hard. I just needed him to do leads on four songs, and have him double a few of my rhythm tracks.” Chuck told Watt Magazine, “I hope ITP lifts metal as an art form to a higher level. The album proves you can, without tuning your guitars extra low, sound heavy and melodic at the same time. I dare take chances as a songwriter. I don’t set myself any boundaries. I leave the known roads. Progression is what keeps music exciting.” As far as Chuck was concerned, progression included the acoustic guitar/synth intro to “Destiny.” Not necessarily softening up, but applying dynamics so the main parts of the song came across heavier.

Some seem to have noticed the accessibility Chuck's music had achieved. Clear production values and plenty of memorable melodies intertwined with diligent technicality on ITP. “The Philosopher,” which became another crowd pleaser in the same way “Pull the Plug” and “Lack of Comprehension” had, was chosen to be Death's second music video. The clip got a tongue lashing from the teenage twerp characters when it aired on MTV's goofball animated series Beavis & Butthead. Nonetheless, it was airplay. “People come up to me and say, ‘hey, I just saw you on Beavis & Butthead,’” Chuck told Ill Literature, “’it was so cool!’ so, in a way, it just exposed more metal fans to Death’s music.”

One of the major elements of Individual’s improvement was the mix. This was no ...And Justice for All.  You could hear DiGiorgio’s fretless bass loud and clear from the first notes of “Overactive Imagination.” Chuck’s rhythm guitar sound, unlike the bottom-heavy Human tone, boasted plenty of mids. “Jamming with Paul and Sean from Cynic, it was all about details. We practiced for a good 3 weeks at least,” Steve reminisced. “They even knew what to call all these little things they were doing, super scientific, but I wasn’t present during the Human mixdown. It was obvious. I was the only one you couldn’t really hear. When Chuck and Scott Burns called me back for ITP, Scott realized he didn’t intend to bury the bass. They intentionally made sure not to let it go, like ‘we’re gonna make sure to fix you up this time.’ We got a good tone because it wasn’t going to be washed beneath anything. It was a new fretless bass for me, just built. It had a really cool, raw sound. It didn’t sound like anything other than a string going through a pickup, a super in-your-face kind of tone, so different for the early ‘90s. In Florida you’ve got all the creatures, and the bass sounded like a frog. That’s why Chuck called it ‘The Frog,’ and we even put it in my thanks list, the nickname of my bass.”

More comic relief in the original ITP liners comes courtesy of perved-out Gene Hoglan’s thanking the “Rectal Digger.” “Chuck’s girlfriend worked at a group home [for the mentally ill]. Gene was fascinated by it, especially because of the type of people that she and Chuck were. The way they told these stories and reacted to other people doing things enthralled him too. If I told you the same story, you’d just go, ‘gross.’ But she was so mortified that Gene got a little kick out of the whole process. It was no big deal. We were in our mid 20s, so it’s easier to laugh at now when you’re in your 40s and raising kids. You go, ‘Oh, that’s not so cool.’ And then you secretly laugh, ‘Oh my god!’

As on Human, many of Chuck's lyrics for ITP were inspired by the hardships he’d endured in the music biz. Chuck’s love for the simple things in life as opposed to lame “business” was explained further to Watt. “I keep watchful though, not getting ripped off again. The big shots in their ivory towers steal every last dime out of bands’pockets. I don't understand why. Don't they have anything else to do? It sounds extreme, I know, but I don't misuse my power. I don't make up stories. What I tell in my lyrics is my personal opinion about people I've had to do business with. I can assure you, for that matter, every band can tell you the same. I often long for the times when I recorded demos and played in little clubs. We did it all back then. Nobody restricted us. But when you release one album all of a sudden your life changes. Businessmen decide about your future, and they expect you to be a rock star 24 hours a day. Horrible. I love to keep as far away from that circus as possible and I believe in my life at home: movies, taking a walk, swimming and hanging in the marina.”

Chuck and Co. covered the Kiss classic “God of Thunder” as bonus material during the Human sessions, and with some spare time in tracking drums and bass for ITP, they attempted the Possessed tune “Exorcist.” “I hope they don’t put that out!,” Steve DiGiorgio joked. “We didn’t even finish it. 100% sure there’s no vocals on it. Back then you pretty much recorded live. We did for Human when I played with Sean Reinert and then ITP with Gene. The drums, our amps, everything. We’d keep the drum take, and in my case the bass and I’d fix spots. Chuck played a guide track. We all stood there in a live setting and pushed record. I never learned all the riffs. That’s the one thing that sticks out in my brain. We realized we didn’t know it all the way. We went in the back room to go over the riffs and it seemed like Gene knew it better than Chuck on guitar. So, it got pushed further back under the table, ‘We’ll get back to that later, maybe.’ Here’s Gene, a killer drummer, but he picked up the guitar and was showing Chuck stuff.”

Finally, Chuck and Death were able to tour properly, even if they needed to fill LaRoque’s shoes. “Andy was literally in and out in a few days,” DiGiorgio remembered. “Chuck offered Andy the slot in the live band, but he was too busy.” When journo Borivoj Krgin asked if any nonsense that had happened between Death and Gene’s old band, Dark Angel, was water under the bridge, Chuck replied, “Oh, definitely, yeah... It’s really cool, because I’ve always known about Gene since the early days of the underground. When we used to correspond and talk to the same people, and we were all in the same circle.” DiGiorgio recorded on Human, but was unable to tour due to commitments to main band Sadus, but this time, he was aboard for Death’s treks across America and Europe. In the second guitar slot, Ralph Santolla from Florida-based Eyewitness went along for the brief Euro festival tour that occurred prior to ITP’s release and the following U.S. tour with Canadian thrashers Sacrifice.
Shredder Santolla had some activity with his own band and was replaced by Bay Area thrasher Craig Locicero from Forbidden for the headlining Euro tour Death embarked on with Anacrusis. “I don’t know if I suggested Craig or not,” Steve said. “Chuck had played some shows with Forbidden and already knew about him. Between us we agreed that Craig was a cool enough guy and musician to come along. I definitely knew him from Forbidden and Sadus playing the Bay Area. We changed up for that tour. Because Chuck hired two Bay Area guys and an L.A. drummer, instead of convening in Chuck’s home base, Orlando, he actually came out and stayed with me for a week for tour rehearsals. We rented an Oakland room and Craig caught up on all the riffs. It was cool for Chuck to get out to the Bay Area again. He was already on the road before we flew over to Europe. Craig kicked ass. He had killer stage presence and turned out to be a much better guitarist than I knew. Whoever stood on Chuck’s left had to be like the Alex Skolnick, the lead guy. Even though Chuck soloed in every song, he wanted the other guitarist to be like the soloist. It was cool to see Craig tear it up because he’s more of a team player in Forbidden. I looked at him differently after that. Now we’ve had that tour between us and we’ve always been close since.” While Locicero was with Death, they were known to whip out a cover of “Black Magic,” by Chuck’s heroes, Slayer, as a surprise for fans.

Steve DiGiorgio spoke of the European Death fans’ devotion when he recalled a gig in Florence, Italy. “That loyalty can go the other way as well. That was the show that Anacrusis came off the stage just covered in loogies. They just got spit on! Chuck was so worried. He was like ‘I’m not playing.’ And we were like ‘Dammit, this sucks.’ It was my first time in Italy, and that's where my family’s from. I was looking forward to the homeland and all that. I'm like, ‘Fuck, I can't believe it. We’re here, we’re ready, and we’re gonna cancel. No way.’ But then, right as we were about to have that final doubt, the whole crowd just went ‘DEATH! DEATH! DEATH!’ So, we're like ‘Let’s just get go up there.’ Chuck said, 'Hey, first time we get spit on, I’m done.’ Me and Gene go, ‘Well, at least he's trying. Let’s do it.’ They loved us. Not a single thing came on that stage. It didn't have anything to do with whether they thought Anacrusis was good or bad. They were just there to see Death, and that was there way of showing their support.”

1993 was also the year Chuck voiced his intentions to find in a proper singer with range—beyond Death. “In the future I plan to do a more melodic, straightforward heavy metal side project with a singer in the Rob Halford style.” In an interviewed with Borivoj Krgin, Chuck further explained, “I’d love to get a great singer, like Christian Augustin, formerly of Sortilège and do something really different. I really have that creative urge inside me, and definitely one day I’ll do it.” Chuck was a man of his word, even though it would take a few years to undertake Control Denied. There were still Death albums to concentrate on.

Penning these liners has been a treat, considering how huge a Death and Control Denied fan I am. Things have turned full-circle. While I was finishing my article “Precious Memories of Chuck Schuldiner” for Metal Maniacs in 2001 I interviewed Chuck’s former manager, Eric Greif. Chuck and Eric had their ups and downs over the years, but Eric told me the positive reminiscences I included in my article helped mend his relationship with the Schuldiners. A decade later, Eric has a new role as legal rep for Chuck’s intellectual property. He found me on the net, and his plans for a line of deluxe Death and Control Denied reissues blew my mind.

ITP was a very pivotal album for me, personally. Truthfully, it pumped me up about metal like only a new Death LP could. I was just an aspiring guitarist and writer fresh out of high school when ITP was released. Steve DiGiorgio mused, “I think at that age we were let down by most of the bands we liked. Priest’s Turbo and Maiden’s Seventh Son, like ‘What’s happening to our bands?’ At least when you graduated you had cool albums with Gene Hoglan and Andy LaRocque.” ITP was the only Death tour I missed between Human and The Sound of Perseverance. I was extremely bummed that I couldn’t attend the gig, especially considering Sacrifice were supporting. Bored with death metal stagnation in ’94, my attention was on prog metal merchants like Savatage, Fates Warning, Queensryche and Watchtower. Clearly Chuck, a die-hard music fan and vinyl collector at heart, shared a love for traditional and melodic metal bands and wasn’t afraid to allow those classic influences to bloom. Chuck explored new realms with a keen grasp on metal triumphs of the past, where others were mired in mediocrity.

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.