The guitar work in the music of electro-rock-alternative-industrial-oh-screw-it-you-can’t-classify-them-so-don’t-even-try Sydney band MM9 occupies an interesting space, often riding right down the middle between rhythmic and atmospheric applications. The man responsible for maintaining this fine balance is Kerry Foulke. “That’s something that’s really cool about the sound, and it frees me up to do a lot of stuff I wouldn’t otherwise do,” he says. “Most of the music in MM9 is fairly guitar heavy, but none of it’s really guitar driven. It gives me freedom to try different things, do whatever the hell I want to do.”
Foulke says the complexity of the band’s sound often leaves little frequency space for the guitar to occupy. “There are some sections of songs where I’ve really got to lay right back, and that’s cool too. Faith No More are definitely a big influences on a couple of us and that’s true of them: they are not what you would describe as a guitar band, even though there are some brutally heavy guitar parts. The guitar is just another layer: it’s an important layer that adds a bit of colour and warmth and a bit of that organic element without being overpowering.”
MM9 started life as a specific concept dreamed up by drummer Ben Ellingworth, but one thing but very quickly became another. “It’s kind of a funny story how all of us got together,” Foulke says. “Ben had an idea of what he wanted to do, and set about finding the different players to match that vision. Since then it evolved into something completely different to what Ben intended – we took it in this new direction. We’ve played together for about eight years now, so in a very real way we’ve grown up together as musicians. We ended up with something very original compared to what the original idea was.” That sound involves elements of rock, synth pop, creepy atmospherics, post-punk angularity, even a little bit of disco. “We have a major problem with people knowing how to classify us,” Foulke says,” because everyone wants to pigeonhole. And with good reason sometimes: you’ve got to know which section of the store to put the fuckin’ CD in! With the album coming out we’ve had a bit of trouble with that. Record stores are saying they don’t know where to put it because it doesn’t belong in the metal category, it doesn’t belong in the dance category, and nobody really knows what alternative means any more, so where do you put it? Next time we’ll pop up in country and western… that’ll be the dream (laughs).
Ah yes, the album, The Air Between. Co-produced by the band’s vocalist/programmer/keys guy Dan Sutherland with Evan McHugh and mixed by the legendary Mike Barbario. “We got a list of all the artists he’s worked with and it’s basically a list of everybody who’s ever picked up an instrument: Mick Jagger, Aretha Franklin, Metallica, Guns N Roses… To us that was a real buzz. He was really into what we were doing. He wasn’t just trying to pay the bills, you know what I mean? He really took an active interest and he took our feedback on board quite a bit. When you’re working with somebody like that it’s pretty incredible. Dan and Evan were co-producing the album over here while he was mixing it over in the States. They’d be sending tracks over to him and he ‘s on New York time so we’d get up in the morning and there’d be mixes sitting in our email. We’ve have a listen to that, bounce our comments back, he’d wake up the next morning and find our comments. I’m sure it sent our bandwidths up quite a bit, but it was cool!”
Gearwise, Foulke mainly slings a Fender Telecaster (in drop-D, a Tom Morello influence) and an Epiphone Les Paul with Gibson Burstbucker pickups (in drop C). “As far as amps go I’ve got an Engl Ritchie Blackmore head, which is great for the high gain stuff, but I’m using the low gain channel a lot more now because it’s warmer, with more midrange. I used to use two amps on stage, because I do use a fair bit of effects, so I’d A/B the Engl for the dirty stuff and a Fender Pro185 solid state amp that was real fuckin’ loud, and I’d run that with separate effects to the dirty chain, which means my pedalboard gets kind of out of control… I ended up blowing up that Fender though, which I think was more to do with heavy use and poor maintenance on my part than any design flaw on the part of Fender. But after about the third time I blew it up on stage I started using a Line 6 Pod DI’d into the PA for the clean sound, and the Engl for the dirty stuff. For effects the DigiTech Whammy is probably my favourite. I wanted one for years, and the day I finally got one it was like, ‘YES!’”
The Air Between is out now on Red Recordings.
I’m not sure when it happened. Some time between chaining a few distortion pedals and a graphic EQ together for pure evil Dimebag Darrell tone when I was 16, and my 27th birthday or thereabouts, I started to hear the call. Quiet at first, maybe a little distant and muffled, but definitely there. It got louder over the years, and increasingly raspier and sharper. Then before I knew it, there it was:
I’m not sure why I hadn’t thought of it before. Maybe it was because I spent my teens in an era where amp distortion was king, and even pedal distortion was relatively frowned upon as being synthetic. Maybe it was because I thought of fuzz as, to paraphrase Dethklok, ‘grandpa’s distortion.’ But whatever mental roadblock was coming between me and glorious fuzz gradually started to shift, and now I can’t get enough of those little germanium or silicon-chipped wonders.
Aaah, Rob Zombie. There’s hasn’t been a more prolific musician/filmmaker since… well, since the 80s when David Lee Roth claimed Van Halen were getting up to all sorts of adults-only hi-jinx on video. Interestingly, like Roth and his reunion with Van Halen, Zombie has also looked to the past to define his present. Nope, he’s not reforming White Zombie, at least not any time soon: rather, this album is a sequel to 1997′s ‘Hellbilly Deluxe.’
‘Jesus Frankenstein’ opens with a riff that my ears hear as a nod to Black Sabbath, followed by ANOTHER nod-to-Sabbath riff, before John 5 unleashes an epic, mournful note of doom from the deep (check it out, between 1:28-1:29 – something about that one note is just so friggin’ cool!). Finally – almost2 minutes into the song – the slightly bluesy, totally rocking’ main riff kicks in. The syncopated riffage in the verse actually sounds a little like Dream Theater. There’s a bit of a Sabbath vibe in ‘Sick Bubblegum’ as well, or maybe ‘No More Tears’-era Ozzy. Cool! Yet at the same time, for all the ‘sounds like this’ and ‘sounds like that’ comparisons flung about by this reviewer, the results are unmistakably Zombie.
‘Mars Needs Women’ includes more bluesy playing from John 5 (this time on acoustic) before morphing into another stomping, Ozzy-esque rocker. Oh and ‘Virgin Witch’ also sounds like something by Sabbath, especially with the clanging church bells at the start. And yet again it still sounds like Zombie. Seriously dude, every track on this album has at least some element which makes me think “Well… I love Ozzy but his best work sure hasn’t been included on his last three albums… maybe Rob Zombie’s the heir apparent to that sound now…’ If we ever see Zombie hurling himself off quad bikes, biting the heads off stuff and living in a house overrun by a litter of pomeranians, we’ll know I’m right.
Of course, being a Rob Zombie recording there are all sorts of samples, sound effects and ear candy. It all adds to the colour and spectacle, and makes it kinda hard to treat Hellbilly Deluxe 2 as background music. It demands either your complete attention or maybe to share your attention with the highway as you blast along in your converted dune buggy.
Ok, back to the songs. I dig the tom-tom assault on ‘Werewolf, Baby’ and the slinky, slidey flair added by John 5. In fact, Mr 5 is really kicking ass with the rhythm guitars on this album. He’s known as such a phenomenal soloist that it’s kinda easy to forget the intensity of the muscular riffage he unleashes throughout his work with Zombie and with Marilyn Manson.
‘Death And Destiny Inside The Dream Factory’ reaches back to early 70s glam of the Bowie/Bolan variety – I don’t know if you could picture RobZombie in skintight, spangly lycra with a red rooster mullet, but you don’t really need to picture it because you can hear it here. Or at least, a Star Wars cantina bar version of it.
‘Burn’ has a killer downtuned riff that kinda sounds like Tool if they get drunk on the wine Maynard makes these days and started grooving on the dancefloor. There’s also a great 70s-style pentatonic riff section which must be loads of fun to play, followed by more John 5 slide work. I haven’t heard this much slide guitar on a metal album since… wait, I’ve never heard this much slide on a metal album. The song itself probably isn’t one of the standouts but the idea was worth exploring.
‘Cease To Exist’ has another sample-heavy intro followed by an almost shuffling groove – truly this album is space blues for the year 3000, and this track is like Pink Floyd got gothed up for Halloween and forgot to dress back down to civvies again on November 1.
‘Werewolf Women Of The SS’ – Now there’s a song that writes itself. I dig this one for its energy and overall outrageousness, even if it kinda leans on a similar chord progression to ‘Death And Destiny.’ Cool guitar solo with lots of true melody and composition.
Finally we come to ‘The Man Who Laughs’. Pretty fast, rockin’ song to end on, and it’d make a great gig opener. It’s hard to pinpoint what I dig so much about this one – I think I’m just a sucker for those symphonic strings over the top of such a straightforward metal riff. In all honesty I think a better vocal melody could have been found for the chorus – it’s kinda a letdown compared to the rest of the song – but meh, I forgive them this time because the rest of the song is so cool. Did I mention there’s a drum solo? Cos there’s a drum solo.
This is a tricky time for Rob Zombie. With his increasingly successful film career, he can’t afford to take too much time out from that in order to tend to his music career, so he has to really make each musical moment count. There are some great standout moments on this CD, and while some of the songwriting is a bit derivative and some of the tracks are verging on filler, it’s still a pretty strong effort that will hopefully keep Zombie at his current level of success so he will continue staging those huge stage shows full of robots and monsters and stuff.
Hellbilly Deluxe 2 is out now on Roadrunner.