Alice Unchained

Today Adam introduces us to the awesome (and decidedly metal) Alice…

Alice in Chains is an American rock band that emerged from Seattle, Washington, in the early 1990s. They were often lumped in with the grunge movement because they came around at the same time as other grunge acts and their music shared some elements with grunge, but their heavy guitar sound and high level of musicianship had more in common with metal bands than anything else. If Alice in Chains was not recognized as metal, it was more a result of the timing of their emergence than anything else. Regardless of their label, Alice in Chains was one of the most prominent rock bands of the ’90s and their music was an influence for many bands to come.

Alice in ChainsOne of the things that was most notable about Alice in Chains were the gloomy, dark sounding vocals of lead singer Layne Staley. Staley and guitarist Jerry Cantrell would often harmonize vocals together to produce a pitch that was highly innovative at the time. Since then, many bands have gone on to imitate this style of singing, but Alice in Chains were the first to embrace it. Another aspect of the band that brought them to the spotlight was Jerry Cantrell’s guitar work. Cantrell was known for his smooth style of playing as well as his impressive soloing skills, which is something that separated the band from typical grunge bands, who would rarely have guitar solos in their songs. The other two members of the band are Sean Kinney on drums and Mike Inez on bass. Prior to Mike Inez joining the band, Mike Starr was the bassist.

The band’s first album was entitled Facelift. This album has one of Alice in Chains’ most well known songs, “Man in the Box”:

The band immediately got recognition for their unique sound with the release of their first album. The band’s third album, entitled Dirt, was a great album and is considered by many to be the band’s most prominent album. The songs on the album reflect in large part lead singer Layne Staley’s lengthy battle with substance abuse and addiction. Songs like “Junkhead” and “Hate to Feel” clearly portray Staley’s desperate state of mind as he fought against his addiction to drugs, primarily heroin. The band in fact had to cancel two of their biggest tours because Staley was in such bad condition as a result of his drug abuse.

The band put out a live album that debuted on MTV Unplugged. It was the band’s first live performance in three years. When guitarist Jerry Cantrell released a solo album entitled Boggy Depot, which was pretty much Alice in Chains without Layne Staley, it became clear that the band had been derailed by the lead singer’s problems. In April 2002, on the same date that grunge icon Kurt Cobain committed suicide with a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Alice in Chains lead singer Layne Staley was found dead in his Seattle home. His body wasn’t discovered until three weeks after his passing. The official cause of death was a fatal injected dose of heroin mixed with cocaine, also known as a speedball.

Mighty Mighty Melvins

Today Adam introduces the Malverns to the mighty Melvins…

The Melvins emerged from Seattle, Washington, in 1986 with not one, but two releases: 10 Songs and Gluey Porch Treatments. While the Melvins are categorized in the stoner metal genre overall, a strange but interesting fact about them is that they were noted as being an influence for bands such as Mudhoney and Nirvana. As a result, it can be said that they were partially responsible for the birth of the grunge movement. Grunge is said by many to have replaced or some would even say destroyed the metal movement for a time in the ’90s. This being said, it is difficult to categorize the Melvins as either being part of the grunge movement or the metal movement.

The Melvins

The Melvins are led by Buzz Osborne (above center) or “King Buzzo” on guitars and vocals. The band also has Dale Crover on drums, and has had various bass players throughout its career. One of the first bass players for the band was Lori “Lorax” Black, who interestingly enough is the daughter of Shirley Temple. The Melvins are known for their dissonant, lumbering sound, which is made up of impenetrable drum rhythms that are accompanied by sludgy, distorted guitar riffs.

The Melvins’ music is influenced by bands like Black Flag, with their mix of punk and metal, and particularly their album My War. They also drew influence from slower punk acts like Flipper and Swans. On top of that, one can also pick up on an influence from classic hard rock acts such as Alice Cooper, Kiss, and Black Sabbath. The Melvins were always known for their originality and clever, unique style, both in regards to their music and their overall philosophy as a band. At one point in their career, they took a highly innovative step that in all likelihood no other band had tried when they hired a second drummer so they would have not one, but two drummers during their set lists.

The first album the Melvins put out that brought them into the rock spotlight was Houdini, which was released in 1993. It was at this point that they received the reputation of being a sludge rock band. The album was the band’s first major label debut and it was comprised of short, heavy sounding songs that mixed punk with a slowed down, sludgy version of metal. The album included singles such as “Hooch,” “Honey Bucket,” and “Night Goat.”

Their most prominent album was their seventh release, which was entitled Stoner Witch. This was the first album in which the band incorporated their two drummer routine, which can be heard on the opening track “Skweetis.” The album contains popular songs such as “Queen,” “June Bug,” and “Revolve.”

The Melvins have released thirteen more albums since then, bringing their total album count to twenty. Many say that the band somewhat fell off the grid for a time until they released (A) Senile Animal in 2006, followed by Nude with Boots in 2008. Nude with Boots arguably contains some of the Melvins’ best written material since their early days. The Melvins are still a thriving band today and they have in fact just announced a scheduled set of tour dates throughout the United States.

Hats Off For Helmet

Today Adam gives us the heads-up on Helmet…

Helmet is an American rock band formed in New York City by guitarist/vocalist Page Hamilton (below, far left). Hamilton is the only member to have been in the band since its formation in 1989. The original line up consisted of Page Hamilton on guitar/vocals, Henry Bogdan on bass, Peter Mengede on guitar, and John Stanier on drums. Helmet has released seven studio albums and two compilation albums. Their music is characterized mainly by syncopated, staccato guitar riffs in drop C tuning, along with distorted time signatures on the drums. The guitars often produce a dissonant sound, which proved to be captivating despite the relative simplicity of a lot of the riffs themselves. Hamilton’s vocals provide variation to the music, as they sometimes consist of heavy screams and at other times melodic singing. Helmet has been categorized by different critics as alternative metal, alternative rock, funk rock, experimental rock, and groove rock.


Helmet first achieved mainstream success in 1992, shortly after signing to Interscope Records. Soon after they signed, they put out their first Interscope record, which was entitled Meantime. The album sold over two million copies and went Gold in 1994. The album contained singles such as “In the Meantime” and “Unsung.” To this day, it is Helmet’s most widely acclaimed album. The next album they put out was Betty, which provided a more melodic sound than the previous Meantime, which had a much heavier, darker sound. This was due in large part to Page Hamilton using singing in his vocal work a lot more than screaming. Betty was referred to by many as Helmet’s experimental album. It has a broader approach, with forays into some jazz and blues influences. Songwriter Hamilton did in fact study jazz at music school before forming Helmet, so he stated that in this album he wanted to indulge in some of those influences. Betty reached number 45 on the Billboard 200 and had two singles off it, with the songs “Beautiful Love” and “Milquetoast.”

Helmet broke up temporarily in 1998 and most people did not see a reunion in their future as the split was quite bitter, according to the band members at the time. However, the band did get back together after this hiatus and put out their fifth album, Size Matters. This album contained the single “See You Dead,” which was released in August 2004.

Nail It

Adam gets the week off to a hammering good start with a guide to Nine Inch Nails…

Nine Inch Nails is an American industrial rock band, formed in 1988 in Cleveland, Ohio. Nine Inch Nails’ music straddles a wide range of music genres. While it would be difficult to say who invented industrial music and even more so to say who was the first to successfully fuse it with heavy metal, the band that brought this blend to the eyes of the mainstream was unquestionably Nine Inch Nails. The band is in fact more or less the one-man project of musical mastermind Trent Reznor (below, second from right). Reznor is solely responsible for doing all the singing, writing all the music, and playing all the instruments, with the exception of live performances, where he employs a full backing band to play his music.


Reznor derived musical influences from various industrial bands, such as Skinny Puppy, Einstürzende Neubauten, and Ministry. After signing to the record label TVT, Reznor released his debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, in 1989. His first single was the song “Head Like a Hole,” which eventually aired on MTV in 1991. Around this same time, Nine Inch Nails played a slot on the very first Lollapalooza tour. Shortly after this, Pretty Hate Machine went platinum. It was the first industrial album to do so in the history of music.

After a stressful legal battle with his record label TVT, which was constantly trying to dictate the way Reznor made songs and would cause him to go on creative strike, Reznor eventually dropped his first record label and signed on to Interscope. Interscope allowed Reznor to set up his own record company, which he called Nothing Records. Reznor was able to operate with his new company from his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. It was shortly after this that Nine Inch Nails released their first album from Nothing Records, which was entitled Broken. The album debuted in the Top 10 and won a Grammy for its hit single “Wish.” Not long after this, Reznor put out the album Fixed, which was a companion piece to Broken that was composed entirely of remixed versions of that album’s songs.  Reznor was officially a big star now and decided to work on his new album in Beverly Hills, in no other place than the very same house where the Charles Manson cult slaughtered Sharon Tate and four others. He made this area into a recording studio and began working on his next album there.

Reznor emerged again in 1994 with the release of the classic The Downward Spiral. This album was the one that truly put Nine Inch Nails on the map, even more so than they had previously been. It debuted at number two and went platinum several times over, due partially to the hit single “Closer.” The album takes a turn to the progressive side somewhat, as it is a concept album. It tells the story of a young, troubled man who ends up committing suicide. This album contained brutally heavy, pulsating songs such as “March of the Pigs,” “Big Man with a Gun,” and “Mr. Self Destruct.”

It tones down drastically with ballads such as “Hurt” (which was later covered by Johnny Cash), and the almost jazzy-sounding song “Piggy.” The album was followed one year later by the now-customary companion remix album, which was this time entitled Further Down the Spiral.

It was also at this time that Reznor began expanding his résumé to include the composition of film soundtracks, creating the score to Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. It was on this soundtrack that Reznor put out the angst-fueled anthem for angry youths throughout the world, “Burn.”

Three years after this, he wrote the soundtrack to David Lynch’s Lost Highway. At this time, he was holed up in New Orleans, where he relocated after leaving Los Angeles, this time converting a funeral home into a recording studio for his next album. After a long absence, Nine Inch Nails put out their sixth album, The Fragile. This album debuted at number one but was still not as noteworthy as The Downward Spiral. The Fragile was followed a year later by the customary companion remix album, then a live album two years later. NIN released the album With Teeth in 2005, after which they have been putting out only remix albums put together by Reznor. Nine Inch Nails still tour to this day, and they are in fact headlining this summer’s upcoming Lollapalooza tour.

Primus Sucks

Today Adam provides us with a primer on Primus…

Primus is an American rock band based in San Francisco, California. The band consists of three extremely talented individuals: Jay Lane on drums, Larry “Ler” LaLonde on guitar, and Les Claypool as bassist/lead vocalist. Primus originally formed in 1984 with Les Claypool, Jay Lane, and guitarist Todd Huth. Four years later, Huth would leave the band to be replaced by Larry “Ler” Lalonde on guitar, and Jay Lane would also temporarily depart, being replaced by Tim “Herb” Alexander. The first studio album put out by Primus was Frizzle Fry. It was from this point on that Primus gained a dedicated following as well as a reputation for their innovative sound.

Primus’ musical style is difficult to define right off the bat. That is one of the things that makes their music so compelling. They have been labeled as alternative rock, funk rock, experimental rock, and stoner rock, just to name a few. Les Claypool is arguably one of the best bass players in rock music. He alternates his playing style in numerous ways. Whether it’s a heavy-sounding slapping riff, or a smooth melody, which is commonly reserved only for guitar players, Claypool certainly displays his talent for his instrument to the maximum in each Primus album. When you add the contributions of Larry “Ler” Lelonde’s quirky-sounding psychedelic guitar riffs and the impeccable drum skills of Jay Lane (or Tim “Herb” Alexander when he was in the band), Primus become a power trio. Each member contributes equally to the unique sound of the band.

After they released Frizzle Fry, Primus began touring relentlessly. They took a break from playing shows for a while to release their second album in 1991, Sailing the Seas of Cheese. This is arguably the album that best defines Primus’ music style. Les Claypool’s vocals are funny and even downright childish at some points, but it is this aspect that adds to the humor of the band, which is also another Primus trademark, along with their clear musical talent. It was on Sailing the Seas of Cheese that Primus put out their first single, “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver,” which is a song about a professional speed car racer who gets drunk one night and dies in an accident.

Their next two albums, Pork Soda and Tales from the Punch Bowl, were also widely accepted in the rock music industry. Songs like “My Name is Mud,” “DMV,” and “Wyonna’s Big Brown Beaver” all became singles and helped Primus continue on their successful path. As of this day, Primus has released seven albums. They still play tours and Les Claypool also works on different side projects of his own. Fans can do nothing but hope that Primus continue making good music and enjoy the work they put out.

A Legacy of Metal

This week Adam gives us a heavy metal primer…

Metal is an undeniably massive force that cannot be reckoned with. There are many different types of metal, all defined based on the sound and overall theme of the music. One of the most common types is heavy metal. Heavy metal was started in the ’70s by Black Sabbath. Black Sabbath differed from the bands before them because they had a much darker, more ominous sound to their music.

At that time, rock bands such as Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones were staying with the classic rock elements. Other groups, such as Pink Floyd, incorporated a psychedelic rock aspect into their classic rock sound. Until Black Sabbath came around though, these bands were for the most part on the “safe side” of rock. When Sabbath released their first album, critics instantly accused them of being evil Satanists. This was due to front man Ozzy Osbourne’s gloomy lyrics about the occult. Another component was the use of the flat 5th in the song “Black Sabbath.” This note was always referred to as the “Devil’s note,” and it was even at one time believed that by playing it, one could summon the Devil. Black Sabbath uses this note time and time again in their self-titled track “Black Sabbath.” More bands would soon follow, such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Def Leppard. These groups were all British, so it is commonly stated that England is the birthplace of heavy metal.

RattOnce the movement hit America, it started undergoing changes. It began with a more pop-friendly commercial sound, which became known as glam metal. This genre was responsible for bands like Ratt (pictured at right), Poison (below left), and Mötley Crüe (below right). One of the common themes of this genre is the way the bands would dress. The members would wear feminine clothing and makeup; this is what started the name glam metal or glam rock. This look, mixed with the poppy lyrics about love and relationships, created a highly mainstream sensation. The music consisted of simple time structures with high pitched vocals. The guitars would sometimes offer good riffs and technical solos, but for the most part the appeal of the genre was lost on the metal fan base, who wanted something heavier.

Glam Rock

A lot of people got tired of the Glam scene and began craving a harder, heavier sound. It was out of this that speed metal was formed. The first band that revolutionized this movement was Metallica. People were instantly drawn to their heavy sound and musical integrity. Musical integrity means the integrity of the song writing and overall performance; it relies on the energy level of the song and its connection with the audience. The relationship between bands like Metallica or Slayer with their audience was much more aggressive and loyal than any other form of music up until that time. These bands played faster, heavier, and with more energy, and as a result made a much stronger connection with fans in the heavy metal scene. They gripped the heavy metal underground and quickly became legends. Soon to follow were Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax. These three bands, along with Metallica, became known as the Big Four.