Long lost cassettes: Zoetrope’s A Life of Crime, Holocross’ Holocross and CJSS’ Praise The Loud

So– let me tell you a story….

A story of a teenage metalhead, and this– of some many, many years ago.

My family lived in, we’ll say, Location X. My dad’s family, however, was from Location Y. Periodically, about once a year, we’d go to visit his parents in Y.

It was a long drive. To pass the time (especially as I hit 12 and/or 13 and got really into metal), I brought a Walkman (look it up, kids) and a pseudo-leather case that held 10 cassettes for said Sony device.

During the trip, there was an obvious halfway point– said point contained a Jerry’s restaurant, and a video game arcade that had both Space Harrier and Dragon’s Lair.

One one trip, probably around 1987, I brought my pseudo-leather cassette holder with my Walkman into said arcade (after having slaughtered a Jerry’s hamburger, two orders of french fries and two desert orders– I was a fat kid); I played Galaga, Ms. Pac-Man, and finally Dragon’s Lair (which was insanely hard, ending faster than fast), coupled with Space Harrier.

I ended up tired. We were nearly 100 miles away (in the family Taurus station wagon, you see), when I actually noticed that I’d left behind my cassettes.

By the time we got back to said spot, the cassettes were long long LONG gone.

Over the next few years, I managed to get 7 of the 10 cassettes back (often in CD or MP3)– but three eluded me. Three held my interest as nearly mythical albums that I’d failed to find.

Three that were, in retrospect, the personification of the metal god, whatever his name, in cassette/ CD form (you know how you exaggerate your memories).

Three that were missing– up ’til recently [Over 20 Goddamned years!]

God bless the internet.

God bless piracy.

The long-missing trio were, obvies by now, Cincinnati’s CJSS and their Praise the Loud, Chicago’s Zoetrope and A Life of Crime, and Ohio’s Holocross and their self-titled work.

CJSS’ Praise the Loud is actually now available on iTunes, but both Holocross and Zoetrope’s master works are only available when pirated, e.g., via

I’m not suggesting you do anything; I’m not advocating a course of action for you– I’m  just saying.

Highlights here: “Out of Control,” “Land of the Free,” and “Praise the Loud,” though pretty much any track on here works– CJSS was the combination of musician’s last names Chastain, Jenkins, Skimmerhorn, and Sharpe– the “Chastain” being one David T. Chastain, a lesser-known guitar hero of some repute. Proof that you can actually write good songs that are based on very-difficult-to-play main riffs.

Regarding Zoetrope (pronounced zoey-trope or, if you’re wicked into phonetics: ˈzəʊɪˌtrəʊp )

I saw their drummer/ vocalist, Barry Stern, live in 1991– when he was playing drums for Trouble (who were opening for Savatage) and their Rick Rubin-produced self-titled masterpiece. He was truly great.

Zoetrope, meanwhile, was his neglected baby. A Life of Crime came out on Combat records and cassettes (remember Combat?)– and it was Punk speed and attitude + metal fury and detuned power. It equalled pure awesome.

Opener “Detention” sports a main riff that was, weirdly, the same first riff-ever that I “wrote” back in the ’80s– and there’s not a bad track on here (although the lyrics from “Promiscuity” are pretty laughable)– highlights are “Unbridled Energy,” and “Hard to Survive.” link for Life of Crime

Holocross, on Holocross, sound like Repulsion playing Raven or Anvil. I’m actually a little surprised that this one has held up as well as it did– I remember thinking, as a teenager, that this one seemed a little over the top. And yet it seems absolutely understated, listening to it now (minus the super-high Halford yelps that periodically pop up). Also, the guitar tone is sick (very, very ’80s: “scooped” with all the mids gone, and just the highs and the lows present). Highlights: “Warpath,” and “Ptomaine.”

On a rare and beautiful alchemy, one born of black metal and hallucinogens: Nachtmystium’s “Black Meddle” albums

I’ve been on a real, genuine, phenomenologically-valid, where-the-fuck-did-this-come-from-but-I-kinda-dig-it Nachtmystium kick lately.

I saw them live in June of 2010, touring with Eyehategod. I went to see EHG specifically (though I owned Addicts at that point), and though their closer of “Assassins” was fucking awesome and a rare combination of showmanship and black metal, I failed to fully heed the Nachtmystium call. Said clarion declaration was beyond these ears.

However, and this only of late, that cry pulls my ear– beckons my eye–  tugs my centre– and did make boldly necessary this oblation to their manifest corporeal connection to divinity… yielding this sacred equation, which I humbly submit unto thee:

Pure black metal,

plus (arguably)…

music reflective/ exalting  of experiences born from hallucinogenic states (à la Pink Floyd and/or Rimbaud’s “Systematic derangement of the senses“)


black metal born of said drug-induced states

which specifically yields:

Nachtmystium’s Assassins: Black Meddle Part I and Addicts: Black Meddle Part II.


is my thesis, at any rate.

Regarding Assassins: Black Meddle, PT. I:

IT IS the screams of the inarticulate, the groundlings, in emulating, this however with pathos, the peace they found in one or more Pink Floyd albums, much like the Ministry’s “Breathe,” in cruder, less articulate terms, though more passionate, and no less realized for that…

…the last three tracks seems to imply some sort of concept album, or at least a theme album, but if so, what story do they connote? It seems tragic, it seems angry, it seems unsettling, it seems vague… it’s most definitely moody, also there are alto sax parts, which amazingly do not sound like a late 80s-AOR rock band…

…although if it sounded like Cameo that would be more than fine….

Opener “One of These Nights,” what with its wind sounds, sounds like an ice planet somewhere, like Hoth, like the swirling storms of Jupiter, or the MDMA-esque, ravish underside of Saturn– does that make sense? No? Learn your astronomy bitches.

“Ghosts of Grace” is the most “normal” sounding tune here– an extremely “underground,” poorly-but-interestingly-lively-recorded Sex Pistols-y attempt to sound like Pink Floyd… this crudeness suggests someone like Murphy from devilishly-boldly-underrated teen comedy Charlie Bartlett, in that he’s confessing something intimate to you, like he’s not really that much of a pistol of the sexes, more of a floyd who’s also pink… but after he talks these lines, is going to be embarrassed that he even told you– there’s such a ungainly, gangly intimacy to it…

…it’s almost touching.

“Omnivore” is a black-metalled, diabolus in musica of psychedelic and mystic chords resonant of menace– then tribal drums, guttural utterances… an overall degradation and evolution at the once….

And what, prithee, what does this say about society, when our normal diet is drugs, is television highs from consumerism, from rationalism, mass manipulation, material expression*–

and not physical sustenance?

THIS IS the information age, indeed, when even our corporeality is digital, is bar-coded….

And about Addicts:

Part II is possibly evidence, actual physical contact!, with the evidence Gods, whatever their names, of how the internet sometimes contributes to greatness in music:

Addicts is an amalgam of the strangest two genres to partner– early-80s new wave pop (like Modern English, Depeche Mode, Flock of Seagulls), a tiny bit of Killing Joke and Ministry (pre-The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste) and of course (by way of Chicago)– black metal.

From what else but through the internet’s instant-access-to-any-genre capabilities could such a union be birthed?

It doesn’t always work, but it’s refreshing and singularly inspiring, that there are so many (and these, incredibly disparate) genres on this one album. “High on Hate” comes off like a Burzum track with integrity: all low bass, high treble riffs, and downbeats over 200 beats per minute….

“No Funeral” (not the truly great Revocation song from Chaos of Forms), but a Truly Great, early ministry/ killing joke tune… is a, uh… pop song with black metal vocals…? At 4:30 it couldn’t sound more like a Dawnbringer song… “Then Fires” comes off as maudlin and somewhat necessary if you’re stoned or coming off a long drunk– it comes off like a New Wave sludge tune, Killing Joke via Electric Wizard, or Zoroaster covering Depeche Mode…. and speaking of Dawnbringer, the chorus of the next tune,”Addicts” —  “All we need is more” definitely sounds like Chris Black– makes me wonder if he composed it….

The entirety of Addicts, when considered as an album and not a collection of songs–

and this in light of its following Assassins–

is almost an extended coda to Assassins, is an extended credits-scene, one heralding, celebrating and yet also mourning, the perceiver’s departure from those agreeable protagonists, from that familiar sound… an extended sonic sounding of farewell….

Well done, Blake Judd. I look forward to Silencing Machine.




*Thank you, Oswald Spengler.

Interview: Chicago’s Pink Monkey

Pink Monkey (originally reviewed here); are three cheeky, expert musicians who love irreverance and the musical manifestations of said attitude toward reverence in the form of musicianjs like The Ramones or Frank Zappa. Fortunately, for music in general and me specifically, they also just happen to play jazz. What follows, as perhaps the above lede suggested, is the Interview.* If you yourselves could interview one musician, who would it be, and why?

[All] Frank Zappa, he was one of the original musical smart asses.

Your music seems dangerous, like jazz seemingly hasn’t been in decades (to most modern listeners, particularly kids)–  like Coltrane and Dolphy getting in shit with Downbeat magazine in 1961… do you ever consciously consider precedents like that? What do you think of more “extreme,” comparted to most jazz musicians anyway, musicians like John Zorn or Peter Brötzmann?

[TK– Tim Koelling, Saxophone] A big reason why Pink Monkey is so simple and out is kind of a rebuttal to the modern jazz scene. I love going to jazz clubs, but eventually I get bored – there is no reason “jazz” has to be accessible to only other musicians who understand what’s going on, or as background music. We all want to be rock stars!

[MK- Mike Koelling, Bass] Like Tim said, a lot of modern jazz gets boring. It’s just so cerebral that the common guy at the bar doesn’t get it. We would much rather be playing to a crowd of smiles than a few heads nodding in appreciation. We listen to a lot of John Zorn – We’ve even covered a few of his tunes. The Bad Plus is also a huge influence. Most importantly though we try to have a good time and keep things accessible and interesting.

Why “Pink Monkey”?

[MK] We had been playing for a few months and as a band bonding exercise we headed to mayfest in Chicago. After a lot of german beer, I ended up buying Tim a Pink Monkey and told him he had to wear it around his neck for the rest of the festival. A few steins deep I proclaimed “Let’s name our band Pink Monkey until we think of something better.” Five years later, we still haven’t come up with a better name.

For sax:
What type mouthpiece/ sax/ reed?

[TK] I play a Selmer series II alto, Otto link 7 mouthpiece, usually vandoren java 3’s with a vandoren optimum ligature

The sax work on Ink suggests a bit of Zorn with Jackie McLean (particularly the intro to “A little bit off”) and Rosco Mitchell… influences?

[TK] John Zorn is a big influence in my approach to pink monkey songs. Ne’eman from Masada was one of the first pink monkey “covers” I brought to the group. It’s funny you mention Jackie McLean, one of my jazz professors my freshman year of college noted the tone similarities, but I had never listened to him at that point.

Whom do you think you sound like, versus who you actually wanna sound like (besides yourself, I mean)?

[TK] My favorite player, who doesn’t really come out in the pink monkey project is Cannonball Adderley. The guts that are present in everything he plays, and sheer fluidity of all of his ideas are something that I continually strive towards. Other influences are Eric Dolphy, Andrew D’Angelo and all of the AACM guys. I want to sound like me though. My approach towards playing focuses more on melodic and sonic interpretation and manipulation rather than technical perfection or speed. It’s about more than the notes I play.

If just alto, why just that? Many current sax guys use many types….

[TK] I play alto because that’s my voice… It’s also the only horn I owned until buying my first tenor last year (I added a soprano to my lineup last month). I’ve tried playing tenor in the group, but I hear everything on alto, and tenor gets lost in the bass and drums. I don’t feel like the other horns speak the same language.

How does that growling through the alto hurt your throat, or does it? (I admire you, by the way, for that. I personally hate to growl.)

[TK] Growling doesn’t hurt… It comes from the back of my throat, and at first was the byproduct of playing really loud and overblowing. I started learning to growl when transcribing cannonball in college trying to get the same intensity of his inflections and aggressiveness of his playing.

For Bass:
What type of strings/bass? Influences?

[MK] I play an american P bass special with La Bella flatwounds that are about 5 years old. James Jamerson got a great tone out of it, so why can’t I? My biggest influence is hands down my first bass teacher, Sam Greene. Sadly, after a little over a year of taking lessons with him, he was in a motorcycle accident, and most likely will never play again. I noticed him as the stand out player in the Chicago blues scene at the time. I went up to him after a show and asked him who I could take lessons from to sound like him. He gave me his number and told me to come by on Tuesday afternoon with $20. Still to this day every few months or so, something I learned from him will sink in and I’ll have one of those ah ha moments where something he told me 4 years ago will finally make sense.

Whom do you think you sound like, versus who you actually wanna sound like (besides yourself, I mean)?

[MK] I’d love to play like Victor Wooten. Sure, technically the guy is amazing, but the thing I like the most is that with all of his skill, he always seems to be having a blast no matter what he is playing. I also absolutely love Mingus. Nobody can swing like Mingus! I suppose I’d like to be somewhere between the two of them, but there are so many great bass players that I discover every day. I’ve really been digging Nathan Navarro lately. That guy has been pushing the boundaries of what live bass is supposed to sound like. I end up playing a lot of rock in my other projects though, so I suppose I sound like Nate Mendel trying to sound like Nathan Watts.

For Drums:

What type of drums…?

[NK– Nick Kokonas, Drums] I play a Gretsch new classic four piece with zildjin new beat hi hats, a 20″ zildjin flat ride, my main ride is a Sabian 20″ artisan series, and a Ludwig speed demon bass pedal from the early 80’s at least.


[NK] All the jazz greats, I gravitate toward elvin, art blakey, tony williams (before he went into fusion), current Dave king, ?uestlove, Matt Wilson then billy cobham, Alphonse mouzon, and Peter Erskin.

Whom do you think you sound like, versus who you actually wanna sound like (besides yourself, I mean)?

[NK] I am really not sure who I sound like. I know I don’t have the clarity of some of those guys, I play a little bit sloppy for what i want but fell in love with Dave king’s playing and I’m constantly working on control and clarity in my playing. Rodney Holmes is always a strive with his tone. The thing that really inspired me was seeing Dave Brubeck at the Chicago symphony center. Hearing command of an instrument like that was an outstanding experience. (more…)

Pink Monkey, Ink

It’s Chicago’s Pink Monkey, using the Sonny Rollins trio setup from (in my opinion) his best album, Night at the Village Vanguard: bass, drums, sax.

Stripped and simple. Mistakes show through quickly, as does genuine musical ability.

First track, “Grouch (Good Lion),” starts with a slightly-stuffy acoustic bass run and quickly adds a Pharoah Sanders/ Miles Davis’ On the Corner-sounding sax screech….

“A Little Bit Off,” sounds much like Jackie MacLean, the intonation threatening to come undone, yet never doing so, adding a nice tension to the proceedings, like Lester Young without otherwise sounding like him….

Next, “10 Below”– at 1:03, there’s a great little downwards sax run, not unlike Hank Mobley’s great little run on “Smokin.'”

“Stars” starts with a solo alto sax, not unlike Eric Dolphy’s solo version of “Tenderly” (On Far Cry)… “Cool Beans” has a nice hook/chorus, one maudlin-yet-hopeful, not unlike something Terence Blanchard might score….

“It Was Yours” opens with a tragic three-note riff/head, then adds more sax over it to complement the mood (and does it well), reminds me a bit of Lucky Thompson’s “Minuet in Jazz”… this is probably the most interesting track so far; evocative, a bit startling (compared to what’s come before this), and while there’s not bass or drums, you don’t miss them until the end, and then only a bit (caveat: being a sax player myself, I tend to endorse the, uh… masturbatory aspects… regarding solo sax works)….

Closer “Smokin'” –not to be confused with the above-mentioned Hank Mobley tune– opens with saxed whale calls and eases back into a chaos that Ink seems to love.

Unlike most modern jazz, I wouldn’t necessarily known this wasn’t recorded at the 5-Spot or the Half Note in the late 60s.

Because I love oversimplification:  overall, Ink is Jackie Maclean covering Miles Davis’ On the Corner after touring with the Ramones (who’ve brought along John Zorn) for the last year.

It’s good stuff, and makes me hopeful for the future of jazz. Something I almost never say. Consider indulging.

Pink Monkey website

Pink Monkey bandcamp ($5 for the whole thing!)

Atlas Moth, An Ache For the Distance

Here at, we love Chicago’s The Atlas Moth. Previously reviewed here, here’s the newest wave of reasons why they’re awesome, and why their newest album, An Ache For The Distance, is balls-awesome.

Music like this should give you a good feeling about life in the 21st century, specifically about its tolerance about merging art forms: even 20 years ago, you would never have been able to produce something as genre-mixed as this: best description is emo psychedelic minimalist doom metal.

It’s Pelican, if they got Mortuus (Marduk) and Morrissey (Smiths) to alternate as signers– and then only covered tunes by The Church.

It’s weird as hell and I dig it. And make sure you listen to it on headphones– to hear how the two guitars are at the extreme left and right of the sound field, and how they nearly always play different parts. Their guitar tones are somewhat unique: they use very little gain, but are detuned all the way to B (a fifth below standard).

You get melody (clean vocals alternate with shrieked metal ones), and weight– one guitar usually slogs out a dirgy riff while the other plays a melancholy or angry melody over top it. It’s a fascinating, complex aural experience.

I’m not suggesting anything to you, my impressionable viewers, but I would imagine, hypothetically, that one would do well to listen to this work while chemically-augmented.

Songs? The whole thing is great and works as whole album, rather than a collection of tunes. But if you make me, I’ll cherry-pick you these three: “Perpetual Generations” “Holes in the desert,” and closer “Horse Thieves.”

Go listen, then get it.

[An Ache For the Distance is released Sept. 20.]

Micro: Mike Jones, Chicago Trio 2010

Mike is white, has shitloads of tattoos, plays year-round for Penn & Teller, and once a year or so plays a solo gig in Chicago. Sometimes he records it for himself; he made the recording available for free.

It’s irony-free; he’s playing because he loves the tunes and his trio reflects that.

He parties like it’s 1959.

It’s good stuff; refreshing.

Get it