Abdullah – Abdullah

Author: Brendan Blake

Abdullah – Abdullah
  • Artist: Abdullah
  • Album: Abdullah
  • Year of Release: 2000
  • Country: USA
  • Label: I Used To Fuck People Like You In Prison Records
  • Format: Digipak CD
  • Catalogue Number: PRISON 999-2

Abdullah’s debut full-length is a stratospheric bolt from virtually nowhere after their functional, but largely ignored, opening EP. I’ve seen some fairly variable reviews of this album on the internet, including Eduardo Rivadavia’s pretty indifferent take from Allmusic (and he’s generally no fool). But on this occasion I think he’s really quite wrong.

Where Rivadavia is right is that this is a blend of a bunch of styles, covering 70s hard rock, 80s doom metal, and 90s stoner rock. The overall vibe can only be described as fairly mellow. Even when things get heavy (doom metal heavy, not death metal heavy) the band are clearly taking their time, enjoying their own musical space. The obvious touchstone is of course Black Sabbath, but there are moments that absolutely invoke other heavyweights from across the spectrum, touching on guitar god solos, Vitus-style riffing (without the hardcore influence), almost grunge style vocals in places (recalling Alice in Chains), a Trouble-indebted commitment to thud, and an unescapable love of Acid Bath’s more melodic and less twisted moments.

Ex-Sloth man Jeff Shirilla, covering both vocals and drums, is revelatory. He might not display Dax Riggs’ vocal range, but his version of a US Ozzy without the apocalyptic histrionics is extraordinary. In another universe, he’d be fronting a way more commercially successful (and I guess sellable) band. But I’m glad he wasn’t because his performance here is simply stellar, and intelligent lyrics covering a range of areas familiar to doom metallers add to the excellence on display. Despite the varied texture, there is a consistency to Abdullah carried at least in large part from this stand-out vocal performance, comfortably covering the ground between the Sabbathy ‘Journey To The Orange Island’ (or maybe it’s Sheavy I’m thinking of, although they are themselves more Sabbath than Sabbath), the Lovecraft- and Trouble-influenced doom of ‘The Black Ones’, and the more balladic and acoustic closer ‘Lotus Eaters’.

The production throughout is immense, bringing to mind how those 70s classics might have sounded had they been recorded in the year 2000. Despite the retro nature of the band’s style, production clearly wasn’t part of that plan. But the feel of the 70s is all over this, and the band  have clearly taken a stance of having moved on technologically, but not aesthetically. I do not mean this in a bad way – I love this record, and find it genuinely strange that it has not achieved wider appreciation. This is a celebration of good rock music, recorded and played well.

Maybe this isn’t heavy enough for most pure doom fans. Maybe it’s too heavy for those that think stoner rock means the Black Crowes or Reef. Well, if you’re in either of those camps, that’s your loss. This is a brilliant example of a somewhat niche genre entry that arguably should have been much larger, given what I reckon is genuine mainstream appeal.

Score: 82%

Abigor – In Memory…

Author: Brendan Blake

Abigor – In Memory…
  • Artist: Abigor
  • Album: In Memory
  • Year of Release: 2000
  • Country: Austria
  • Label: Napalm
  • Format: Jewelcase CD
  • Catalogue Number: NPR082

With all due respect to the band and our readership, I don’t intend to spend a great amount of time or word count on this, an EP consisting of two cover versions previously released on tribute albums to greater bands, and three largely unnecessary re-recordings of earlier recordings of Abigor originals. This is by no means bad, but it is pretty much the definition of filler.

Presumably hoping to capitalise on the one-two success of Supreme Immortal Art and Channeling The Quintessence of Satan (a brace of essential late 90s black metal records if ever I heard them), Napalm Records clearly wanted some kind of stop-gap before 2001’s Satanized was released. Five tracks in 25 minutes, all of which had been released elsewhere in some format or other.

First up is a cover of German act Kreator’s classic ‘Terrible Certainty’ (from the similarly titled album, 1987), originally released on the Dwell Records Under The Guillotine: A Tribute to Kreator album (2001). It’s a faithful, suitably brutal run-through of an underground standard, adding nothing, but not disrespecting the original or embarrassing the band themselves by comparison. Second is a cover of Slayer’s ‘Crionics’ (the original is from Slayer’s debut Show No Mercy, 1983), taken again from a Dwell tribute record – this time Gateway To Hell 2: A Tribute to Slayer (2000). Interesting I guess for Thurisaz’ effort at clean vocals alongside his usual snarl, but once again a basically straight cover that is functional, but no better than you’d get from your average Slayer tribute act.

There are then three re-recordings, none of which set my world on fire. Firstly we have ‘Shadowlord’, which actually goes back to Abigor’s Ash Nazgh… demo from 1993. This isn’t previously unreleased either, having been on the Napalm Records compilation With Us Or Without Us (1995). Obviously, there’s an improvement in production and the band are tighter, and this is probably the most interesting thing on this somewhat lacklustre EP (the fact Silenius is on vocals for this helps, even if the vocal production is a bit uneven), but unless you are part of the “demo days of any band were better” crowd, it’s hard to get past the fact the Abigor had long ago moved past this stuff.

The final two tracks consist of a re-recording of ‘Crimson Horizons’ from the Opus IV album – the main problem I had with that album was the production quality, and this is a 4 track rehearsal, so just why? – and an instrumental re-recording of ‘Verwϋstung’ from their 1993 debut. This latter track was previously available on the Apokalypse EP. This isn’t terrible, but utterly pointless and I suspect a cynical way to get idiot completists to hand over money for material they already own. Oh wait, that would be me then.

Score: 55%

(low score reflects the fundamentally inessential nature of a release of this kind, rather than the quality of the material found within)

AC/DC – Stiff Upper Lip

Author: BD Joyce

AC/DC – Stiff Upper Lip
  • Artist: AC/DC
  • Album: Stiff Upper Lip
  • Year of Release: 2000
  • Country: Australia
  • Label: Columbia
  • Format: Digipack
  • Catalogue Number: 8869708290 2

Easing into their new album-releasing cadence of twice per decade, Stiff Upper Lip hit the stores 5 years after the excellent Ballbreaker completed AC/DC’s reconquering of the rock ‘n’ roll throne, after something of a fallow creative period in the wake of the band’s biggest-selling albums at the dawn of the 1980s. Perhaps in the spirit of the freedom afforded by their now perpetual position as one of music’s true behemoths, with nothing left to prove, Stiff Upper Lip is the sound of a band with the shackles off, simply having fun and kicking out the jams. As such, in many respects it is beguilingly listenable, eschewing the workmanlike toil of Fly On The Wall for something less forced and undoubtedly more natural, and even a little mischievous. This exuberence comes at a price though, with a set of songs that lacks the focus, and fails to really coalesce around any single landmark song or moment that defines this particular album.

It’s not a novel or original observation, but not for the first time in their career, AC/DC have produced a front-loaded album, which commences with a huge amount of energy and dynamism, before ultimately running out of steam, amidst a combination of slightly tiresome self-plagiarism and misconceived experiments. The opening title-track, as ever, is brilliant; exhibiting a gloriously oxymoronic tight looseess in its blues riffing, and even raising a smile with the quite ridiculous double-entendre of the title and lyrics. AC/DC are sometimes guilty of obviously trying too hard to simultaneously shock and amuse with their penchant for crass ribaldry, but with ‘Stiff Upper Lip’, they pitch it absolutely right. As Brian Johnson delivers the line “I shoot from the hip, I was born with a…”, and pauses, one can imagine the delight on the sweat-encrusted faces of the band on the live stage, dry ice partially obscuring an oversized bronze-coloured statue of Angus Young in iconic pose lit by spotlights, as the audience draws collective breath before roaring the pay-off as one: “STIFF UPPER LIP!” It’s not big, and it’s certainly not clever, but in its embracing of the sheer ridiculousness of big, dumb rock ‘n’ roll, it is a lot of fun.

Across the rest of what is a fundamentally uneven record, AC/DC gradually work their way through most of their usual modes of composition, but with slightly lacklustre results. Looking for uptempo rockers, boasting the Young brothers’ trademark clipped Rolling Stones-esque riffage and shoutalong choruses? The song you’re after is ‘All Screwed Up’, which is mostly very good, although undermined by a facile and feeble chorus that recalls the worst moments of Blow Up Your Video. Searching for a positively louche, but very slightly pedestrian boogie which still delights with an unexpected modulation in the pre-chorus? ‘Meltdown’ is the one for you, this time happily boasting a more sophisticated and memorable vocal melody. In the mood for a frankly trite and lightweight 12-bar workout that goes nowhere, with vapid lyrical content that would only have improved the album had it been wiped from the master tapes? Good news – ‘Can’t Stand Still’ has got you covered.

Outside of the predictable though, there are a handful of more interesting tracks that ultimately save the album from ignominy. ‘Come And Get It’ really lets a sinuous ZZ Top-style riff breathe, and is a rich and nourishing treat, and the almost surf-rock ‘I Feel Safe In New York City’ walks the tightrope between the opposing cliff-faces of unbearable novelty and marvellous curiosity and thankfully makes it to the other side remarkably unscathed. Of course, a year after the album’s release, it was easy to project new meaning onto a song with such a title. Although the pre-9/11 interviews given by AC/DC demonstrate that it was always intended to represent the duality of genuinely feeling comfortable in the Big Apple, but also that the very reason for this comfort was the ‘dangerous’ nature shared by both band and city, the song now exudes a triumphant and steadfast rock ‘n’ roll spirit, a tribute to resurgent humanity. Best of all, despite a title straight from the random AC/DC song-title generator, is ‘Can’t Stop Rock ‘N’ Roll’, which shows that the band haven’t completely lost touch with their more modern counterparts, suggesting Soundgarden at their most melodic jamming Highway To Hell, and in some ways it’s a shame that the album in its entirety didn’t explore this sound more fully, is it could have been surprisingly successful.

Stiff Upper Lip is an album that AC/DC have more than earned the right to make. It’s not brilliant, but it’s better than the somewhat dour albums that they laboured over prior to the return of Phil Rudd behind the drums, and it’s difficult not to find some pleasure in the obvious joy that the band seemingly took in making a record that at times pays homage to their roots, as children of 1960s blues and rock ‘n’ roll. However, it is also a valid to note that ultimately AC/DC on record actually produce their best work with the guiding hand of an outside producer helping to channel the band’s ideas into a cohesive whole, as Mutt Lange and Rick Rubin have both demonstrated at different points in the band’s career. The albums that bookend this particular effort both show that AC/DC are far from spent as a creative force, and this is perhaps best viewed as a necessary step from one to the other, to be revisited occasionally if not obsessed over.

Score: 69%