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Text and Violence by liquidcross is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Another demo tape lost and found

Well, this certainly came out of nowhere. Last month, I wrote about Neuron, the industrial metal project that was a brief blip in my high school career. Recently, I found another one of my past musical endeavors, but this was one which I had completely forgotten about. Unlike Neuron, this wasn’t a memory that just surfaced at random; it was a stroke of sheer luck that this stuff even reappeared.

Remember how the Neuron material was written and recorded using Scream Tracker? It seems that at around the same time, I wrote a pair of synth-metal songs and recorded them to tape. Like I said, I had no memory of this; obviously I remember playing around with Scream Tracker quite a bit, but I didn’t recall recording anything other than the Neuron demo.

So how was this music lost until now? The story goes like this: deep within my college memory box, I had some Slayer and Pantera live bootleg tapes that I had picked up in 1997. Every spring, the university had an outdoor fair where random vendors would sell movie and music posters, dorm room knick-knacks, promo photos, and bootleg tapes. Most of the tapes were alternative or classic rock crap for the tie-dye crowd, but I did find those two metal offerings for a few measly bucks.

I haven’t listened to the tapes since then, and I came across them while adding some other items to the box. That’s when I realized that I should rip them into digital audio files, thus making them a hell of a lot easier to enjoy. Unfortunately, I had no cassette player anymore; my Walkman was long since lost, and I had donated my old boombox and tabletop stereo system to Goodwill. Luckily, I found another option: a small combo unit my father used at work. Since he’s retired, it’s just been sitting in my folks’ basement, and he passed it on to me. I’ve already got some patch cables, so it’ll be a cinch to rip the tapes now.

While retrieving those live bootlegs, I grabbed some more tapes from the memory boxes: a demo from some hardcore band my friend was promoting in high school, a demo from another friend’s alternative/progressive rock band, some metal albums I never got around to replacing with CDs, and a few unknown tapes.

One of the latter was this old Radio Shack tape with a label that had been clearly written on then scribbled over many times, rendering it a mess of illegible ink. I had no idea what could be on it; I do remember that the tape had Anthrax’s I’m the Man EP on it at one point (I used to annoy the shit out of people with the title song), but that was maybe in 1993. As to what was recorded over it later? Who knows, so I put it in the player to find out. It seemed to be blank, but then I flipped it over and rewound it. That side had music on it, but not what I was expecting.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that it was not a mixtape, but instead a demo tape with two songs that I had written and recorded. How could I have forgotten such a thing?! It would’ve been recorded some time in late 1995 or early 1996, as that’s when I was working with Scream Tracker the most.

For my compositions, I mostly settled on a crunchy distorted guitar, electric bass, a decent rock drum kit, and some synthesized strings. I don’t know specifically where those samples originally came from, or who made them; one of my friends was a big BBS fan, and he was the one who had given me a floppy disk containing a copy of Scream Tracker along with a bunch of extra samples and songs. As we didn’t have Internet access at home yet, I was limited to the sources on that disk, and I just pulled samples out of those files.

These synth-metal songs were never written with vocals in mind; from the ground up, they were meant to be instrumental pieces. Also, they never had titles, nor did the demo tape have a name. The Scream Tracker files were probably just named “SONG1.S3M” or something similar, and since all of those files were lost ages ago (trust me, I’ve looked), we’ll never know for sure.

As you might expect…the songs aren’t that good. C’mon, I wrote ’em in high school! I suppose they’re not unlistenable, per se, and since they were composed on a computer, they’re precise and perfectly in tune. However, they’re rather boring as a result. There’s a lot of looping involved, and I don’t think any of the “riffs” or melodies I came up with are all that interesting in retrospect. The songs are just fairly straightforward hard rock and metal with synthesizers. In fact, they sound somewhat like a video game soundtrack, though that wasn’t my intent. Weird. I’ll say this much, though: unlike most of my past work, I don’t hate it. The tape quality isn’t too bad, either; clearly it was well-preserved in that memory box.

Perhaps I’ll retroactively give the project a proper name and song titles; not with something that sounds cool now, but with something that would’ve sounded cool back then. (Which means it almost certainly will not sound cool now.) Then maybe, maybe I’ll dump the demo on Bandcamp or something. Don’t hold your breath, though, and don’t ask, either! I don’t need that kind of pressure.

Just think: if I hadn’t decided on whim to grab other tapes besides the bootlegs out of my memory box, then this stuff would’ve remained forgotten. It was nice to find a project from my past that I neither dislike nor have shitty memories attached. That’s an incredibly rare occurrence, and I hope there’s other stuff like it buried in the farthest reaches of my memory. Time will tell…

Never sleep again

Another day, another weird-ass drug commercial.

Many people have trouble sleeping, and this new drug Belsomra claims that it can help. However, instead of the typical ad that shows someone tossing and turning, then taking a pill, then sleeping peacefully, the Belsomra one ups the ante: our subject is trying to cuddle the word “sleep” as it walks around in the form of a cat.

Are they loading those fucking pills with LSD?

It gets worse. The sleepcat (?) is at odds with another, uglier creature: the word “wake,” also stylized as a creepy pet. I don’t know about you, but if I saw that shit walking around, dreaming or otherwise, I wouldn’t sleep for weeks.

At least it’s not as bad as the cartoon bladder.

The strange world of Mega Man V

You already know how I was a big fan of the Game Boy in the early 1990s. After The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening rocketed this obsession into the stratosphere, things hit critical mass with the release of Mega Man V.

Capcom

Capcom

I already owned the first four Mega Man games for the portable system, and I was pumped for the fifth installment the instant I saw ads for it over the summer of 1994. I read the Nintendo Power preview over and over again; I was such a loser that I would borrow friends’ magazines then photocopy the pages I wanted so I could pore over them later. Once I finally got MMV itself that fall, I discovered that the preview was riddled with errors (especially when it came to weapon names, likely to due to translation changes after press time), but it didn’t dampen my enjoyment one bit.

I beat the game within a few days, but I still couldn’t get enough of MMV; this may seem like nothing new when it comes to me and Mega Man titles, but this one really struck a different chord with me. The original bosses (no more “Man”-suffix Robot Masters; bring on the Stardroids!), excellent new stages, enemies, and music, the Mega Arm in place of the Mega Buster, plus some cool story surprises…everything just added up to an amazing game. I loved hunting down all of the game’s secrets with each replay, or just trying out new routes and strategies. To this day, I still rank MMV as one of the top games in the entire franchise, and with good reason.

If that wasn’t enough, MMV was one of those games that supported the Super Game Boy peripheral with its own custom color palette. I did not own a Super Game Boy (or even a Super NES) at the time, but our neighbors did, so I begged them to use it whenever possible. Playing a Game Boy game on a TV screen may have been a novelty, but seeing MMV in glorious color along with a cool border (as seen at the top of this post) made it seem like a goddamned luxury.

Capcom

Capcom

It’s a shame that while MMV had some great ideas, all of the games after it unfortunately threw them out the window, returning to the tried-and-true formula of Robot Masters, Mega Busters, and classic enemies. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but it would’ve been nice to see the wealth of new stuff introduced in MMV really catch on. (The Mega Arm in particular.)

MMV wasn’t completely ignored in later Mega Man games and related media, at least. Data on all of the Stardroids appeared in Mega Man & Bass, and the characters have made notable appearances in both the Mega Man Gigamix manga and the Archie Comics Mega Man series. I wish we could’ve gotten some action figures or something, though; the Stardroids’ visual design was just great. (And they looked malevolent as shit in the manga!)

MMV must’ve had a relatively low print run; cartridges are worth a ridiculous amount of money on eBay, and it has maintained its value despite the game finally being released on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console last year. Though I’d never sell it, I’m glad I still have my original cartridge and its box. Playing that thing on the ol’ Game Boy brick was just too much fun. My physical copy of MMV is nearly complete…I somehow lost the manual to the game at some point, which makes no sense as I always left the manuals in the box after looking at them! That’s been driving me batshit ever since I noticed it was gone, and trying to find a replacement is a difficult and expensive task. I’ve seen the manuals alone sell for upwards of $75 on eBay. Ugh. I’d love to re-complete my copy of MMV, but I just can’t at that price.

At least I can still play the game itself. The rest of you, snap it up on Virtual Console.

My life with Black Sabbath

As you should know by now, my favorite band of all time is the almighty Black Sabbath. While listening to Paranoid for the umpteenth time the other day, I randomly started thinking about how their music came into my life, and how it has affected my growth as a human being. So why not write about it? Get comfortable, people; this entry’s going to be a long one.

When I first started getting into metal as a child, I was peripherally aware of Black Sabbath, as they were still a staple of rock radio. I had heard their most well-known songs this way, like “Paranoid” and “Iron Man.” Other hits like “War Pigs” I first experienced when Faith No More had a live cover on The Real Thing. All of this is well and good, but I properly discovered Black Sabbath sometime in seventh or eighth grade, when I really started getting into Ozzy Osbourne’s solo albums.

In fact, my first exposure to many other Black Sabbath songs was via the later Ozzy “covers,” such as his live album Speak of the Devil. That whole record was all Black Sabbath classics performed by Ozzy’s solo band; I distinctly remember going on our eighth grade field trip to some resort, and sitting by the pool clutching my Walkman while “Symptom of the Universe” was blaring into my ears.

Of course I wanted to hear the originals, so I suppose it’s only fitting that the first Black Sabbath record I ever owned was a compilation, We Sold Our Soul for Rock ‘n’ Roll. I bought it during my freshman year of high school, and during the remainder of my public school tenure, I picked up the legendary first eight Black Sabbath records, though I did not get them in chronological order. I would’ve loved to get them all at once, but some of them were hard to track down (remember, no easy online ordering back then, kids), and my extremely limited funds at the time only went so far.

What’s important is that I absolutely obssessed over each and every one, and that many of them became attuned to something going on in my life during high school; usually getting me through angst and depression. I even painted a custom Black Sabbath logo on the back of this stupid denim jacket I owned back then (nicknamed the “graffiti jacket,” because I painted all manner of heavy metal logos and other random shit on it). No band spoke to me the way classic Black Sabbath did, or still does. Here’s the rundown; the albums are listed in order of their release, but again, I did not get them that way. I don’t remember exactly in which order I did get them, so a chronological listing was just the easier way to remember it. Relax, it’s not that confusing.

I picked up Black Sabbath and Paranoid right around the same time, if not together. I had heard a good chunk of the songs on these albums in one form another by then, but those massive bluesy riffs on the self-titled debut dug their talons in deep, and the songs worked so much better — to me, at least — when played as part of the entire record, rather than piecemeal. The title track off of Black Sabbath is still one of the heaviest, most evil songs I’ve ever heard. It’s nothing short of amazing. Never take the Devil’s Interval lightly! Ozzy’s voice was still unique and creepy back then, and Tony Iommi’s solo in the midst of “Wicked World” ranks among his best. Geezer Butler’s bass lines were just as important as Iommi’s riffs, charting their own course while smartly complimenting the guitar, and his “Bassically” solo proved his talent could stand alone. Last but not least, Bill Ward’s jazz-influenced drumming provided a solid foundation for everyone. I was so enraptured by the album that I even wanted to try playing the harmonica after hearing those cool parts in “The Wizard”! (I was terrible, but it was still a fun diversion.) Black Sabbath was really the album that locked in my brain that this was my favorite band, now and forever.

As for Paranoid…it’s a record I listened to over and over again, in proper track order or on shuffle, whenever I felt really crappy. Which was often; there were angry days in high school where I wanted to come home and punch a hole in the wall, but Paranoid quickly brought order to chaos. Funny that dark songs like “War Pigs” and “Electric Funeral” could alleviate my pain, but who am I to argue if it works? And I loved “Iron Man” even after Beavis & Butt-head made it ten times more recognizable (and hilarious). That’s the quintessential heavy metal song, and you love it too even if you refuse to admit it.

“Lord of this World” was really the standout track for me on Master of Reality, while everyone else loved “Sweet Leaf.” I’d say this record was probably my first exposure to stoner metal, if you want to call it a predecessor to that. Since the record was fairly slow, it helped me just space out and forget about the world for a while. Didn’t need any substances for that, thankfully. I could listen to “Into the Void” all day, and Master of Reality was often my personal soundtrack when I was filling a sketchbook with crappy drawings.

Moving on, we’ve got Vol. 4, which was probably my favorite back in high school. I had actually heard “Supernaut” first on Nativity in Black: A Tribute to Black Sabbath, when Al Jourgensen’s supergroup 1000 Homo DJs performed an industrial metal cover version. The original rapidly became one of my most-played Black Sabbath songs. I just like the way the whole album flows, if that makes any sense. I need to find a ’70s-style alarm clock that will play “Laguna Sunrise” for me every morning.

Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is technically a progressive metal album, and it’s a goddamned masterpiece. This was the peak of classic Black Sabbath songwriting, especially with lofty tunes like “A National Acrobat” and “Spiral Architect.” (Which are coincidentally the album’s opener and closer, respectively.) I was already digging into prog metal quite a bit at this point, filling my brain with Dream Theater, Fates Warning, and other luminaries. So hearing some truly “old school” prog metal only further fueled my love for the subgenre, and hearing it coming from my favorite band was the icing on the cake. The melodies are just incredible, and I still love the awesome chorus in “Killing Yourself to Live.” I remember getting pissed off when Green Day hijacked the primary riff and chord changes from that song for “Insomniac.”

I recall buying Sabotage after a particularly rough shift at McDonald’s (I worked there for maybe two months), and that shit cheered me right up. This album kickstarted Black Sabbath’s more “upbeat” phase, if you can call it that. The songs still had some heavy-ass riffage, but the overall tone just seemed a little more positive. At any rate, after I got Sabotage, I think the entire world disappeared for a while as I dug into the record. Solid from start to finish, if you ask me, and “The Writ” is probably the best album closer they’ve written.

Technical Ecstasy was actually the very last Black Sabbath album I bought, during the summer right before I went to college. I finally found the damned thing at Media Play after searching for it for well over a year or two. Unlike all of the other records, I had never heard a single track off of Technical Ecstasy before; not even a cover. The most important aspect of this record is that it helped me get through a very rough patch that fall. As such, I lost count of how many times I put the album on repeat, and “Gypsy” and “All Moving Parts (Stand Still)” always helped me mellow out when confronted with social and academic challenges.

Last but not least, we come to Never Say Die!, the final studio album with the original lineup. I got this one for Christmas my junior year in high school, and it was like jumping into the deep end. This was like no Black Sabbath I had heard before (I hadn’t heard the previous two records yet, mind you); the only song I was familiar with was the title track due to the Ozzy cover on Speak of the Devil, and even then, the song seemed strangely out of place…but in a good way. The original song and the rest of Never Say Die! were much the same, but I latched on to it all with a quickness. “Junior’s Eyes” and “Shockwave” immediately jumped out as my favorites, and the overall tone of the album (especially with the guitar) fascinated me. The intro to “Air Dance” is one of my favorite Black Sabbath melodies, and that jazz breakdown in the middle hearkens back to the very first Black Sabbath album. It took me a while to come around on “Swinging the Chain,” because that song almost sounds like a totally different band recorded it…but I dig it.

An addendum: everyone else seems to hate Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die!, but I loved them then and now. Sure, they sounded vastly different than Black Sabbath’s earlier, admittedly stronger material, but the songwriting was still good and I liked a lot of the melodies and harmonies therein. With Never Say Die! I suspect that the title track is too “happy” of a song for most fans. Tough shit. Ironically, I bet trendy folks consider that record “cool” now since Tony Stark was wearing a Never Say Die! T-shirt in the first Avengers movie.

As for the later non-Ozzy albums, I never really got into them that much, with the three Ronnie James Dio records (Heaven and Hell, Mob Rules, and Dehumanizer) being the exception. However, I just enjoy those as great metal records; I don’t obsess over them as I did (and still do) with those with the classic lineup. Plus, they’re stylistically quite different. Not a bad thing, but it’s not the same as what attracted me to Black Sabbath’s 1970s output. Every now and then I flirt with the idea of nabbing the rest of the band’s studio albums at some point, but I doubt that’ll come to pass. While I love the song “Zero the Hero” from Born Again, the rest of the album and a lot of other stuff from that period just doesn’t click with me. And besides, their “final” album Forbidden was just awful (though Iommi wants to remix it; I don’t know if that’ll help).

Okay, we’ve knocked out the classics, and how important they were as I acquired them throughout high school. What about college and beyond? That finally brings us to Reunion and 13. Those two records had the classic lineup back together again, at long last (well, almost in the case of the latter record).

Reunion hit while I was studying towards my degree; a productive yet turbulent time, indeed. To be honest, I’m generally not a big fan of live records, as I’d much rather see the band perform in person than listen to a recording thereof (which often doesn’t live up to the studio originals). But since this was classic Black Sabbath all over again, I jumped at it. Nearly thirty years later, the classic foursome still had it, and the live renditions of their classics songs plus some lesser-known ones all sounded great. The two new studio tracks, “Psycho Man” and “Selling My Soul,” were also great, though apparently a drum machine was used for them. This may have been an omen. Regardless, Reunion helped to keep my Black Sabbath flag flying throughout college.

Fifteen years after Reunion, Black Sabbath finally got around to recording a new studio album, and of course I was ecstatic. The hype for 13 was then tempered by the fact that Ward would not be part of it; session musicians filled in for him both in the studio and in a live setting, while promotional photos and such only featured Ozzy, Iommi, and Butler. The reasoning behind Ward’s absence was argued by both Ward himself and the Ozzy camp (read: Sharon Osbourne, Ozzy’s wife and manager), but given the latter’s notorious reputation when dealing with other artists, the rumors that Ward simply wouldn’t be paid his fair share sound legitimate. This was a damned shame, as his drumming was just as much a part of that early sound as everything else. Black Sabbath didn’t get crappy musicians to fill Ward’s shoes, but it’s just not the same.

We still got a new Black Sabbath record, and 13 was pretty impressive. The Geezer/Iommi riffs just thunder along, and while Ozzy’s voice may not compare to his previous lofty heights, but it still sounds good and fits the music, which is really all that matters. “Pariah” is likely my top pick from the record, with “Loner” right behind it, but 13 is another one of those albums I generally listen to all in one sitting. The riffs are just crushing, and the band neither tries to reinvent the wheel nor shamelessly attempt to recapture their glory days. Thus, 13 was exactly what I wanted from a new Black Sabbath record. Plus, as their old records did in my high school years, the new one helped me deal with depression and other personal crises. Those issues are obviously very different in my adult life than they were in my adolescent years, but Black Sabbath’s music is soothing all the same.

All this love for Black Sabbath’s recorded output is one thing, but would you believe that I’ve never seen the band perform live? I’ve seen Ozzy a bunch of times, but never Black Sabbath. I missed the various Ozzfests and such that they played at during their initial reunion due to various reasons (usually involving money and transportation), and the modern incarnation is not only missing Ward, but as befits their status, they only play in preposterously overpriced arenas like casinos. I’m not paying a hundred dollars or more to see anyone, favorite band or not.

Given that all of these gentlemen are very much getting up there in years, and accomodating Ward doesn’t seem to be in the cards, the odds of me ever knocking a Black Sabbath show off my bucket list are slim to none. Granted, my ongoing back problems have prevented me from attending any more shows…but if the planets aligned and an affordable show with the full original lineup came my way, I’d risk the horrible pain to see that shit just once, believe me.

In the meantime, I’ll replay those legendary records over and over again until the discs wear out. (I’ve done it before.) Nothing beats zoning out to some classic Black Sabbath!

Fifteen years gone

As of today, liquidcross.com has been online for fifteen years, and I’m still not quite sure what to do with it. I know blogs are rapidly dying, but what else would this place be good for? Anyway, I’m too lazy to sum up my site’s history again, so just read the ten-year anniversary post if you’re so inclined. Nothing much has changed since then, anyway (save for a theme change at the end of 2012), but I figured I’d still mark the occasion.