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Steve Lieberman the Gangsta Rabbi, Blast-O-Rama

23 Dec, 2015 Mike Korn

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In art, there have always been “outsiders” who don’t conform to any rules and classifications and who feel free to borrow from any source of inspiration they please. In the musical world, we’ve had the likes of Moondog, Wesley Willis and G.G. Allin confounding the mainstream. Now we can add the name of Steve Lieberman The Gangsta Rabbi to this list.

He has got quite a story to tell. He’s not actually rabbi and member of the Nazarite order of Judaism. His Jewish identity plays a strong part in his music and lyrics. He’s incredibly prolific and has more releases than can possibly be covered in the article. Blast-O-Rama is the 24th and latest and quite possibly the last, because Lieberman has been struggling against cancer in recent years and it has entered the terminal stage. He has also had ongoing issues with bipolar disorder throughout his life. The battles with illness have lit the creative fire behind Blast-O-Rama, which can be described as a shout of defiance against approaching mortality.

The music here is almost indescribable and it can truly be said there is nothing else like it. It is crude, loud, child-like and dissonant. In no sense can it be considered “good” music but by the same token, it can’t be described as lacking heart or fire. Lieberman plays and records everything himself.  He combines extremely simple and crude heavy metal and punk music with marching band instruments like trombone and flute. The vocals are nasal and tuneless. The drums are provided by machines and can sometimes be out of sync with the music. The guitars are mixed so far in the red that they sound like one enormous wall of fuzzy distortion.

If the musical construction sounds off the wall, the lyrics match it easily. We have song titles like “Driving A Stickshift With A Hernia”, “Transfusion Pole” and “C.C. Sabbathia” which reveal an unorthodox mind at work. There are also two covers…”The Whole of the Moon” from The Water Boys and the marching band standard “76 Trombones”. You certainly have never heard them done this way.

You have to have incredible stamina to listen to Blast-O-Rama in one sitting. It is 78 minutes plus of some of the loudest, wackiest and most primitive music you can imagine. The tunes are catchy in a crazy, ramshackle way but Lieberman drags most out way too long. The first song “Bassett Hound Pull Toy” is quite catchy but it really overstays its welcome. Almost every song goes more than five minutes and they would have been better served if they lasted two or three minutes. The two covers are the longest and they are just about unlistenable.

As you listen to this, there is a weird sort of internal consistency to it that makes sense. Your brain begins to become accustomed to the woozy, off-kilter way Lieberman does things. It starts to seem familiar and normal. That’s a rather frightening thought.

There’s no real technical ability at all here but a lot of energy, Lieberman’s bass playing is wild and all over the place. That’s where he shines the most. The flute makes occasional appearances and sounds reasonably melodic. As far as the vocals go, you can forget it.

This is one crazy experience but the fact that the Gangsta Rabbi is doing this while under the pressure of terminal illness gives it a whole lot of poignancy. If you’re looking for music far outside the spectrum of what’s typical, you might want to sample Blast-O-Rama. Don’t expect any sort of polish in the traditional sense.

Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)

Review by Mike Korn

COLOBAR “Behind the Veil of Oblivion”

13 May, 2012 Mike Korn

When one thinks of havens for hard rock and heavy metal, Bulgaria is usually not the first place that pops up. Actually, this ancient nation has dedicated a public statue to the late Ronnie James Dio and is known to be very appreciative of classic bands such as Deep Purple and Rainbow. With the band Colobar, they may now be ready to take to the world progressive metal stage.

Colobar is clearly influenced by the kings of modern prog metal, Dream Theater, as well as the likes of Spock’s Beard, Kansas and Rush. There is nothing particularly innovative about what they are doing on Beyond the Veil of Oblivion, but the execution and songwriting is outstanding. This is an extremely well-played and produced 40 minutes of music straddling the fence between melodic metal and progressive rock.

With “Changes of Ages”, the harder and more metallic side of the band is in sharp focus. This is a fast and driving tune with a crisp digital sound…a speedy guitar riff gives way to a stuttering, choppy hook and the vocals of Carl Sentance unfold. Sentance has a nasal but multi-faceted voice that greatly resembles Glenn Hughes. He fits the music here like a glove. “Change of Ages” gets the album going with an aggressive kick and already there’s some cool guitar/keyboard duels.

The title track is the album’s epic and shows a much more expansive side. Beginning gently with nature sounds, this turns into keyboard-oriented prog where the piano dominates. Then the song becomes harder and more guitar oriented. This pendulum-like trade-off between hard metal and key-centered prog forms the very essence of Colobar. Every musician gets a chance to shine on this lengthy track, with drums and bass also throwing in cool fills and flourishes. Some would say Colobar is a pretentious band…well, a certain amount of pretension comes with the territory in prog metal and is even expected.

“Timeline” and “Listen” are two compact and hard-edged rock songs with good vocal lines and catchy hooks. Colobar doesn’t reinvent the wheel with these songs, but they make sure the wheel they’ve got rolls smoothly along. “Secrets” is a delightful tip of the hat to prime Kansas, with a lusty violin run accenting a fast guitar riff. You almost expect to hear Steve Walsh’s voice chiming in, but no, Mr. Sentance does the honors and serves the song well. It’s one of the album’s best tracks.

The last two tracks are moodier and not quite as instant as the preceding tunes. “The Way Out” has a dark tone but once more provides a real workout for the musicians. The final song “Can’t Feel” drops most of the metal feel for something resembling keyboard-oriented rock. It may take more than one listen for this one to sink in, as it doesn’t seem at first like the proper ending to the album.

Behind the Veil of Oblivion is a thoroughly professional and well-done example of modern progressive metal and I don’t think Colobar will have too long to wait before they start making a bigger impact.

Review by Mike Korn
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

Ripface Invasion “Ripface Invasion”

22 Feb, 2012 Mike Korn

Chances are, if you check out music from a band called Ripface Invasion, you are not expecting quiet, introspective music designed for contemplation. It’s much more likely you are looking for raging punk or metal that makes you feel like doing serious damage to somebody. And that’s exactly what you get with this self-titled EP.

Made up of veterans of the famed East Coast hardcore scene, Ripface Invasion deliver five tracks of catchy yet brutal music that deftly straddles the fence between thrash metal and good old fashioned hardcore punk. The guitars are up front and in your face with a chainsaw-like metallic sound, yet the framework of these tunes is undeniably punk rock. There are plenty of singalong choruses, hooky vocal lines and even a little poppiness, but do NOT mistake Ripface Invasion for pop-punk like Blink 182 or…God forbid…emo. Nope, this stuff rages!

The EP kicks off with the deceptive “Doomsday A.D.” intro, which has low-key, mysterious guitar and garbled samples of a man muttering “Something’s not right…”. This sets the table for “The Last One on Earth.”, where those brain-smashing guitars cut into powerful riffing. The great clear sound reminds me of Cro-Mag’s Best Wishes album. The song also demonstrates another Ripface trademark, which is the switch-off between fast punk riffing and slower, more anthemic stuff. This is as good a place as any to mention the vocals of singer “Red” Paladino, which are archetypal New York Hardcore with an attitude.

The buzzsaw continues to grind with a fast and furious “Ripface Attack” and the excellent “Horrortech”. This last named song is the highlight, as it packs in more cool riffs and vocal hooks than you can easily keep track of. With their horror/SF imagery, there’s also a strong touch of the Misfits to Ripface Invasion, especially when they hit those multi-voice choruses.

The EP wraps up with “God-Fearing Mutants” and it’s more of the band delivering what they do best. During the brief course of the EP, the simple “take no prisoners” approach works very well, but if an entire 40 minute album was to use the same take, the listener would like get weary of it. Only the future will tell if these guys have the songwriting talent to escape that trap.

Add a terrific cartoony cover right out of the Ed Repka school of art and you have a nice little package of metallic punk rock.

Review by Mike Korn
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

alchalant “alchalant”

25 Jan, 2012 Mike Korn

The history of alchalant dates back over 10 years to the band Nonchalant, the first punk rock band helmed by guitarist/vocalist Alex Matijow. Nonchalant had some minor success before going dormant and coming back to life as alchalant. The new name derives from a combination of Matijow’s first name and “chalant”.

The band plays a diverse brand of poppy punk rock that fairly bounces off the walls with energy and spirit. The major drawback to alchalant’s material is that it has all been done before many, many times. One doesn’t need doses of space rock, polka, bagpipes and dubstep to make punk rock work, but a little innovation wouldn’t hurt.

The first eight tracks here comprise alchalant’s new material for 2011-2012, while the generous helping of 7 bonus tracks is actually the first Nonchalant record released back in 2002. The newer material is smoother sounding and a bit more melodic, but there’s no real drastic difference between the old and new material.

“Better Off Dead” is quirky pop punk with the emphasis on the pop instead of the punk and some odd touches of electronics around the fringes. “Control” has a leaner, sparser sound with more punk energy and very strong hooks. It sounds like its being played by an altogether angrier band than “Better Off Dead” and these more aggressive songs are really where alchalant shines. The album’s diversity becomes apparent on the next track “LL”, which is almost a ska/cowpunk mixture and very brief in duration.

The remainder of the “new” material flies all over the map. “Binary” and “Bronchities” are very snotty, melodic punk with rather trite and overdone vocals from Alex. He sounds much more natural and less forced on the thrashy rager “National Blues 2011″ and bouncy “Nightmares”.  Then “Dawn” is a stripped down, smoky cut with appealing melody

After 12 CD tracks of silence, the older Nonchalant material shows a rawer version of alchalant that is not quite so diverse but perhaps more appealing to the straight up punk because of that. “Bandaids”, “Fee For Free” and the earlier version of “National Blues” are all fast, rough and ready, sounding like a band that just wants to plug in and rock out.

It’s all delivered efficiently and with a lot of passion, but so many bands are already treading the same territory as alchalant, it’s going to be hard for these guys to really make a mark.

Review by Mike Korn
Rating: 3 Stars (out of 5)

Exhibition of Tendencies “Exhibition of Tendencies”

12 Jan, 2012 Mike Korn

This is an extraordinary piece of independent music. Very few products issued by the “major labels” (or what’s left of them) could equal this either musically or physically. This debut CD is extremely well packaged with a starkly effective cover, a thick booklet with detailed lyrics and photography illustrating the story within and generally an extremely professional look. There is nothing cheap or sparse about the package or the music within.

Exhibition of Tendencies is a progressive metal duo hailing from Cedar Falls, Iowa, hardly known as a hotbed of alternative music. For their self-titled debut, they’ve come up with a well thought out and extremely grim concept album that flows well during its whole duration.  If this story were any blacker, it would be the inside of a snake’s belly. It tells the tale of a disturbed young boy who is molested by a priest and uses that trauma to transform himself into a brutal outlaw during what seems to be a plague-ravaged future. It’s not “feel good” music at all, but Wade Anderson and Matt Glascock, who make up Exhibition of Tendencies, are meticulous in how the album is laid out and once again, the physical art accompanying the CD really enhances the whole experience.

Musically, it’s not an exaggeration to say that Exhibition of Tendencies is heavily inspired by Tool. The songs are extremely rhythmic and the ultra-heavy bass is the primary instrument, overwhelming the electric guitar. The tribal drum rhythms are present as well and the lead vocals have a nasal, robotic quality to them reminiscent of Tool’s Maynard James Keenan. At first listen, the vocals were a little off-putting but repeated listens demonstrated that the band made the right choice in using them.

The Tool resemblance starts right away with “Prelude” and continues throughout, but Exhibition of Tendencies is darker, heavier and more aggressive. There are occasional melodic or ambient interludes, but that bass is everywhere, pounding like a rhythmic jackhammer. The band also has a knack for catchy, quirky vocal lines, such as the memorable “Bury the bodies/bury the lives” refrain in “Bruegel’s Reality” or the repeated shouts of “Shun!Shun!” during “Shun”.  One surprising addition to the EOT musical arsenal is the occasional appearance of brass instruments like trombone and saxophone, which add an off-kilter jazziness to the thumping assault

There’s a funky underpinning to a lot the songs as well, but as the album’s story becomes more violent and frenzied, so does the music. “The Compass” is a highlight, blasting away with hardcore thrash. The story reaches its grim climax with a three part epic, containing “Whore”, “Tendencies” and “Exhibition”. This is dark and relentless metal with no mercy.

The whole effort is exhausting to listen to and that might be its one drawback, with the overwhelming Tool resemblance perhaps being another. Some of the tracks tend to ramble a bit too much for their own comfort. But those are fairly minor quibbles. Exhibition of Tendencies is an exciting, draining example of alternative heavy metal at its darkest and most involving.

Review By Mike Korn
Rating: 5 Stars (out of 5)