Saturday, August 22, 2009

Alice In Chains- looking forward in reverse, the 'Dirt' era in print.

Just finished reading the Blind Melon book, see below. Right from there jumped into a really deep and surprisingly ultra heavy book on Chris Farley and for the past few months I've also been trying to process the return of (the motherfucking mighty) Alice In Chains.

When I read a book on a band or an artist, I cannot help but immerse myself in their work. There's something about the process that enhances both the book and their recorded work and I can never ever see that changing. I've always been like that, always. Actually that was one of the harder aspects of doing Midwest Metal, I'd be reading something and ignoring all the shit that was coming in because I couldn't stop obsessing about__________!

So while reading the Farley book I couldn't really do this. I suppose I could go and watch 'Tommy Boy' for the hundredth time or so, but this was the first "actor" book I think I've ever read, so the drop whatever it is you're listening to deal was not going to work.
Instead I dove into Alice In Chains.

It all started with hanging out by my good friends Frank and Adriana's house. About a month ago we were there and Frank asked if I'd heard one of the new songs off the upcoming 'Black Gives Way To Blue' and up until that day I was able to stay away from any sneak preview. Call me whatever, but I really wanted to avoid any temptation and be able to sit down with the new record when it comes out on September 29th and listen with 100% fresh ears.

So after a few drinks I decided to get with the 90's and give the song a listen. WOW! Just fucking WOW! It was everything Alice is supposed to be and maybe a little more? Hard to say, I listened twice there and once more a day or so later to see if it the chemicals talking or did I really hear something that good. But I did.

I heard that sound. The sound that I thought had been laid to rest many, many years ago and a thankfully wrong assumption as I thought it was never be heard again. Now I know there's been some negative chatter about AIC going on without Layne and all that and believe me, you just never know. I'm not sure of how many of these people talking shit were even around back then, for the original run, but I was. More importantly, if I felt the band was fucking with the legacy or doing something just wrong, I'd be shouting from the rooftops.

Here's the thing. I've followed Jerry Cantrell with his solo work and I believe 'Degradation Trip' is one of the best albums of this decade, yes it's chock full of Alice-isms, but fuck, Iommi solo songs could easily have been Sabbath tracks. People cannot change their DNA, I didn't expect Cantrell to do so either.
But the point of this is, a lot of the 'Degradation Trip' material was definitely in Alice's neighborhood, no denying that...but it wasn't Alice.

It was missing something and most, myself included assumed the missing spice to the soup was Layne. The times I'd seen Cantrell solo, those were great, I mean GREAT shows and they featured new AIC vocalist William DuVall. His delivery and respect to the Layne era AIC was beyond spot on, I knew all those years ago the guy was more than perfect.
So within thirty seconds of hearing this new AIC song, it sounded like Alice, it felt like Alice, it is Alice In Chains.

I couldn't be happier. Bring on September 29th! So in celebration the archives have provided us with two 'Dirt' era cover stories. One is from the US upon 'Dirt's' release in RIP and the other marks the start of the Mike Inez era and the European headlining tour in 1993 in RAW from the UK..enjoy!

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What's a post without a little personal info?? Back in September 1991, Alice In Chains were announced as the support band for Van Halen on their 'For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge' tour. Mismatch from hell, yeah, totally! Anyway, a friend of mine had gotten some comp tickets and we were in some decent seats. So Alice plays and they were fucking great! This was my third or fourth time seeing them and it was maybe one of the best, yet. So all I remember was just banging away, loving every second of it, singing every I said, loving it!

As soon as their set ended some guys in suits walked up to us, started talking about the gig, about the band and what we thought about them, etc. I remember saying what I had to say, enjoyed our conversation..I always love talking "shop", still do! So long story short, they say...

"why don't you go and tell the band what you thought of them" and hand us these...
They were Sony Music guys and hooked us up. It was very cool, went back and shot the shit with the guys. Wish I was "dorky enough" to have had a camera.

But we are an elite race of our own, the Stoners, Junkies and Freaks...

Friday, August 14, 2009

‘A Devil on One Shoulder and an Angel on the Other: The Story of Shannon Hoon and Blind Melon’ Book Review

When I finished the last page of Greg Prato’s ‘A Devil on One Shoulder and an Angel on the Other: The Story of Shannon Hoon and Blind Melon’, the only thing I could think of was this; it wasn’t a question of “if” Blind Melon vocalist Shannon Hoon would die, but “when?”

One of my guilty musical pleasures is Blind Melon. They’re a band that found a way through all the Death Metal and Black Sabbath I was consuming at the time and no matter how “left field” they might seem for me, something clicked. The same way with all the music that’s even been a part of my life, I have no control on the ones that touch my soul. I’ve always been a believer in the following; you don’t choose music, the music chooses you. If something makes its way into your heart and makes your world spin, don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s wrong.

So yeah, Blind Melon is a band that was both the luckiest sons of bitches you’ve ever heard yet at the same time doomed for all eternity. Doomed, as they had a hit song on a debut record that sold over 4 million copies and to a record company there was no way to top that kind of “instant success.” They were an unlikely band that succeeded far beyond their wildest dreams during a time of musical climate change. A group of five that defied all by bonding together, taking on all outsiders and obstacles yet when the smoke cleared was destroyed from the inside.

‘A Devil…’ traces the individual stories of how five transplants from all over the United States ended up meeting in Los Angeles in the late 80’s/early 90’s and the roads they traveled to get there. Like the band itself, a lot of the focus, time and energy of this book is spent on their vocalist, the Lafayette, Indiana born and raised Richard Shannon Hoon.

The book is composed of interviews with surviving band members, road crew, managers, band members BM toured with such as Duff McKagan, Jerry Cantrell, Mike Inez, members of Alice Donut, Meat Puppets as well as wives, girlfriends, record company people etc. and in Hoon’s case a parent. Which for a fan (casual or not) is pretty interesting to “catch up” with Hoon’s Mother, Nel as the last time the general public “saw her” was on the VH1 Blind MelonBehind The Music’ where, and justifiably so, she took the death of her youngest extremely hard. Her interviews in the book show a certain amount of growth since then, where time has (hopefully) helped heal just a little bit of the pain.

In these interviews everyone has a chance to reflect on the bright side of the Blind Melon story, the humble beginnings, the Axl Rose/Guns N Roses connection, the major label bidding war which led them to Capitol Records, all the touring they did in support of their debut album and the massive and life changing success surrounding the single/video for “No Rain”, support slots with the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, GnR etc. an infamous Rolling Stone cover story etc. etc.

As with every up, there must be a down so about half way through the book, similar to the bands music itself, the dark side eventually rears its head and ultimately takes over. It’s during the latter part of the book where you really get a “fly on the wall” view to BM and I’ve got to admit it’s a lot more fucked up than one would think.

Well, he’s a lot more fucked up is more like it. I’m not saying (and they, in no way claim to be innocent angels) the other band members were innocent bystanders, they had their fun/got their fill no matter how you like to put it, they got theirs! But because the one out front was out of control on any given day on any given number of substances made things complicated to say the least.

Like the band themselves admit, it wasn’t all bad; there were way more good times than not, but when it got bad, it got really, really bad.

Hoon was a manic depressive, there’s no doubt about it. When you take into account things like the way he was raised…a self confessed “spoiled brat” even his girlfriend admitted there was never a way to tell him “no” about anything, ever! So you have that mentality paired with an outgoing personality, a risk taker/thrill seeker, a red neck-like fighter (when boozed up) , an alcoholic, a cocaine/heroin/LSD/crack/methamphetamine/marijuana abuser with the world as his playground. There’s only two ways this story ends, right?

Thing is, Hoon was this crazy before he ever left for Los Angeles, once there things escalated, but it wasn’t until the touring began that he went off the deep end. The part that makes it that much harder to deal with must have been Hoon’s personality. He was the life of the party and always ready to party, always down for whatever and wherever the day took him. He wasn’t say, Layne Staley a reclusive addict, Hoon was the opposite and in the book you learn that was probably the reason those around him didn’t react sooner.

But the good of the book is it actually takes you back to all these times, the excitement of a young band learning its craft. I think a lot of people who aren’t as old as some of us really don’t remember the music climate changes that happened from the late 80’s into the early 90’s, the years where Guns N Roses reigned and every single band seemingly wanted to follow in their footsteps, bands that were once glam or whatever changed to a “street” image over night.

It was very similar to the way all the Glam bands adopted the Seattle look of flannel shirts and Doc Martens in 1992.

If a band wanted to get “signed” they had to look a certain way, no matter what. Well, that was the Los Angeles way of thought and while I didn’t subscribe to it, the individuals of Blind Melon sure did.

Hoon and Co. were basically former “Metal heads” that along the way found their true calling in a hodgepodge combination of Hard Rock/Grunge/Jam/Classic Rock with some subtle Metal-like arrangements. While it wouldn’t be until a few years later and the release of their second album ‘Soup’ the band would settle down with a style that truly fit them. The formative years were definitely a stylistically blended affair.

The only member that I know has a somewhat pedigree in actual Metal would be guitarist Christopher Thorn who played in a Speed/Thrash band called R.O.T. from PA. Hoon was a member of a Motley/Guns type band called Styff Kitten! But I don’t hold any of that against them; they ended up being a phenomenal live band with more than a handful of, IMO timeless songs and memorable performances.

Somewhere along the way the drugs got harder and the band’s management got Hoon into rehab (his first of few) and that just never worked. It’s funny, during the story they do things like send him to drug rehab and then he’s released to begin a European tour…that starts in Amsterdam!!! Worse yet was the sessions for their sophomore LP ‘Soup’ were done in New Orleans! We’re talking about a band that knows their singer is in trouble yet takes him to the devil’s playground and lets him roam free. These are decisions that in hindsight are deeply regretted, but at the time I’m sure they each had hoped for the best.

So once the album is complete the band does some European dates however when ‘Soup’ is released it’s panned by fans and critics, it fails to ignite right out of the box and that doom I spoke about earlier was right around the corner. The band and their manic depressive singer, already feeling the pressures of a record getting the cold shoulder from the world and in Hoon’s case, new fatherhood returned from Europe and began a US tour and while he remained fairly sober, Hoon succumbed to temptation after a show in Los Angeles and this proved to be his point of no return. Less than two weeks later Hoon would be found dead of a cocaine overdose/heart-attack on the bands tour bus, two blocks away from where they recorded ‘Soup’.

‘Soup’ is a very dark and introspective album sprinkled with short bursts of light and hope, and like the story itself these hopeful moments don’t last very long, but they’re powerful enough to make you want to believe. This book made me not only re-listen to it with fresh ears but it also re-think what I had once (thought I) interpreted over the years.

This, to me is why ‘A Devil on One Shoulder and an Angel on the Other: The Story of Shannon Hoon and Blind Melon’ succeeds on many, many levels. It’s a very entertaining read; the interviewees are, from what I can tell pretty open and honest in their experiences and it makes the world of difference in getting the real story. I think ‘A Devil…’ is the definitive book on the band and recommended for those into Blind Melon as well as good books about the highs and lows of Rock N Roll.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Spin the Black Circle II, Euronymous 16 years gone

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This is both part II of the Spin article on Black Metal I posted earlier this year as well as the 16th anniversary of Øystein Aarseth , AKA “Euronymous” of Mayhem, Deathlike Silence Productions, Helvete Record Shop in Oslo etc. etc. etc. leaving planet Earth.

The story of his death has been told and retold countless (pun intended) times and the events surrounding both his life and death and the scene in which he existed are soon to be a motion picture! What's next? A movie about Anvil? But seriously, that Lords Of Chaos movie looks like it's going to suck, so try and catch this instead!

But as fate would have it I was going through a box and I found this issue of Kerrang! I wanted to share it with you for a few reasons. Number one being, back when the church burnings and assaults were happening and news was filtering in through the magazines, it was literally mayhem! Here were these guys who were making a stand and taking everyfuckingthing to the next level.

In the US we had Glen Benton of Deicide as the unofficial satanic public enemy #1. Here was a guy who had the press at his whim due to all the "controversy" he created with admissions of church desecration's and being misquoted when getting rid of an animal doing damage to his property. Besides that, sure he wrote some good stuff, some great lyrics but at the end of the day...he never killed anyone!

However these "kids" in Norway? While Benton talked it, they were busy walking it. Doing the devils work is never an easy task and these guys did their best. So this article was really the first mass exposure on the Norwegian Black Metal scene of the early 90's. This was Metal being taken to new heights or sinking to new depths, your decision.

I'm trying to locate the issue with the announcement of Euronymous' death as that was the most shocking of them all, that's when it officially went too far.


Friday, August 7, 2009

'Ride The Lightning' turns 25!

'Ride The Lightning' which was released on July 27, 1984 is my favorite Metallica album. It was the first one I bought as a "new release" (in 1985), it will forever be "my" album.

I also love 'Kill 'Em All', for all it's youthful rage attitude and piss 'n vinegar stance it's aged incredibly well. OK, yeah, "Jump In The Fire" remains a bit cheddary, but the rest is indeed like a fine wine.

'Master of Puppets' is of course, incredible. Depending on the day and my mood it can be the ultimate Thrash album, ever. I'll always say 'Reign In Blood' and 'Master' are the first words in Thrash Metal perfection.

'Ride The Lightning' will always be 'Master's' big brother. The one that showed him being melodic without sacrificing any of the heaviness is OK. It also showed him how to sequence an album...Classical intro-fast song, title track, bring the heavy and then the "ballad" which takes care of side 1.

Side 2's would be similar as well.

But most of all, 'Ride' was the ultimate blend of speed, heavy, melodic, progressive and groundbreaking.

Two blogging friends reminded me of 'Ride's' 25th birthday, which can be read here and here. I'd put this record up against anything released in the past 20 years.

Even Phil Anselmo when asked about (the possibility of) supporting Metallica back in 1992/3, would they (Pantera) be able to hold their own.

Anselmo said, "I don't know, but the second they rip into "Creeping Death" it'd be over."

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(yeah, I didn't scan the two sentences on the next page, but the review ends with Xavier's quote found below, gotta love the 'speed chart', the MPH per song listed in the review!!)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

One from the vault: Mercyful Fate 1999

Here's one from the vaults. Back in 1999 I was on a short hiatus from Midwest Metal after the birth of my son, Max. I've mentioned this before but at this point in my life I didn't know how things would work out with a new baby and trying to juggle all the music stuff I was doing at the time. Basically I was freaked out with all the new changes in my life!

So I was able to freelance for a few magazines around this time and one of them happened to be one of my all-time favorites, Ill Literature. The creation of a highly respected Metal mover and shaker, Marco Barbieri. I forgot what issue this ran in, but I was excited to contribute and looking back a decade later, glad to say I nailed it.

This decade of silence from Mercyful Fate is even longer than their original break up back in the mid 80's so I'm not sure what that means. Perhaps it's more telling of the times they "disbanded" 1985 and 1999, they were at very different stages of their careers. In 85 they were poised for a huge breakthrough when the bottom fell out.

In 1999/2000 they were still very influential, but they were also just one of many bands doing the rounds, recording, touring and working the press. However with the current interest in the band, as seen in the Guitar Hero: Metallica game one has to hope they will return yet again, the oath still unbroken.

Mercyful Fate
If 666 Was 9
By Tom Trakas

With a crisp chill in the air and the promise of a longer, darker season upon us, it only seems fitting that the founding fathers of occult Metal would return. Mercyful Fate have wasted no time in delivering their latest testament of black magic, ‘9’ to the masses. I spoke to Guitarist/Songwriter Hank Shermann about the things happening in the coven circa 1999.

Any specific answer to why the follow up to ‘Dead Again’ has come so quickly?
No, not really. Just a bunch of coincidences, ya know? Everything started happening when King Diamond [the band] were supposed to enter the studio, which didn’t work out due to the individual schedules of the members. Then we decided not to do the European tour for ‘Dead Again’ so instead we went into the studio to make a killer album. So we really used our time wisely, went in and it was great!

I thought it was great for the fans. I mean bands that release a quality album in only a year’s time do not exist anymore.
I, for one, like having an album out each year. I mean as a band we need that type of momentum especially with all the bands that are out there nowadays. But we knew we had to come up with a killer recording and we feel we did. We knew we had to do something special or we would’ve just dropped down in a rut. Everyone was just so focused and willing to contribute.

King was back to signing a lot of melodic vocals and the songwriting went back to a simpler, harder style with different tunings and trying some new things. We did a lot of fast Heavy Metal songs, some Black Sabbath type stuff that we experimented with, but the whole time we knew what the outcome would be. “Sold My Soul” and the title track, “9” which Mike Wead did, are the results of the experimenting.

“Sold My Soul” is definitely a highlight on the new album.
Yeah, thank you. I think it works because it has a little bit of a modern atmosphere going into it. We kind of thought it had the potential to be played on the radio after it was recorded. That’s not why it was written, but King dared to do it [the song] and that’s why it does work.

Was writing ‘9’ any different with Mike Wead’s position in the band really cemented?
Yeah, a bit. Although he was a full member going into the ‘Dead Again’ sessions, he was sort of laid back. And compared to King and myself, members for 20 years, it was his first recording with us, so I could see that happening. So he’s worked his way into our gang and now when you hear his solo’s, it’s definitely Mike Wead playing. His main contribution, “9” was a great touch of something new coming into the band.

1998/1999 have been some of the most prolific years for Mercyful Fate, ever. There’s been the Metallica tour, their inclusion of the “Mercyful Fate medley”, there’s been tribute albums etc. I read a quote from you that said you’ve made more money from the Metallica royalties than any other music in your life. Is that true?
Did I say that?

That’s how it was printed.
Well hopefully it was taken from a full comment that included me saying how cool it was of them to do what they did, an honor really. Because we have seen some money out of it is just the way it works because as Mercyful Fate we’ve always just been barely surviving. And we cannot compete with the people that they’ve reached, so the fact that we’ve gotten some great exposure and a bit of a financial boost to go with it has been nice.

You know it’s all a bit weird because we’ve been in the business nearly 20 years and it’s really hard as a Metal band. I mean there’s so many bands and the Metal scene itself is not what it was like back in the 80’s, it’s crap really. There’s times where it’s hard to survive. I mean even though we do survive and we’re able to go on tours it does cost a lot to tour.

Speaking of financial things. How did you survive financially from the years of 1985 up until the reformation of Mercyful Fate in 1993?
Well I always had music. I had a band called Fate, that within a month of forming had a recording contract with EMI Denmark (note: Fate also included current MF Drummer Bjarne T. Holm) and the second album was released here in the US by Capitol.

So I was occupied with that for three years and then from there I hooked up with Michael Denner again, that band was called Zoser Mez, and we did that for a few years, did some recording and did some concerts. That music was similar to Mercyful Fate. And just by coincidence, at that same time Zoser was happening King was visiting his home in Copenhagen and he heard a song of ours which was an instrumental and that song got him thinking that it sounded like old Mercyful Fate.

Was that song, the instrumental, ever used?
Yes, it was on the ‘Time’ album, the song is “Castillo Del Mortes” we, of course, took some parts out and added some, but for the most part that’s what started this whole thing again.

A lot of fans are saying that this album [9] is the best MF album since the band got back together. What do you feel has been the ultimate album, excluding the first two albums?
Well, as with all our albums, you can only tell if it’s good or not after it’s complete and in the stores (laughs)! When you’re in the middle of creating it, it’s always good. I personally feel ‘Time’ is not that strong. Although it’s very melodic…

But a lot of people love that album!
From talking to the fans, I am aware of that, but it’s just not Mercyful Fate. It’s got some parts that are, but the majority of it [the music] is not in our style at all.

How about ‘In The Shadows’?
That was definitely one of the best written. Because we had to prove that we could still write a good record and during that time we were all excited about having to prove ourselves and that’s how that album was written. And in the end it was a very tough album to follow up without that extra kick.

Was part of that feeling similar to the ‘Melissa’ album? What I mean is they say you have an eternity to write your first album.
Definitely. All those songs [off Melissa] were written without a recording deal and even before we did the first mini-LP. So those songs were just our songs, they, I mean we had no idea 20 years later people would still want to hear these songs.

It was just us and a real street attitude which is what you have when you’re young. Now it’s totally different for a young band, you have bills, responsibilities and you have to make a choice of doing music as a hobby and have a professional career or try to just make it as a band. Which, like I’ve said before, is very hard because there’s so many [bands] out there.

Do you and King ever discuss, I don’t know, but how tough it is to have your first two albums, ‘Melissa’ and ‘Don’t Break The Oath’ as such important and influential albums. I mean there will always be the comparison of whether or not a new record stands up to those two.
It would be very easy to emulate or copy those songs because we already did them, but that’s not why we’re still here. We never sit down and think we’ve got to write another “Evil” or “Satan’s Fall”, because you know we could. That style is already in our system and is very natural.

But think about it, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and so on, their first albums are always the best! It’s like a book or movie. I love the movie ‘Alien’, but I didn’t care for ‘Alien 2’ at all. It’s all the same, really.

We touched upon the tribute thing a bit earlier and I wondered what you thought of the Mercyful Fate tributes and the bands that wouldn’t exist if not for Mercyful Fate?
It’s cool, it’s very flattering, really. I mean I was there too, I was inspired by Judas Priest, Kiss, UFO and a lot of bands. I mean if because of Mercyful Fate someone became a guitar player or started a band, cool.

A few years ago you got to become a kid again when you participated in the Judas Priest tribute.
Yes, indeed. It was very cool to do because they were such an inspirational to us in the early days. Plus the timing was perfect because we were already in the studio. I don’t think we could’ve done it otherwise, to tell you the truth.

And finally, what do you see in the immediate future for Mercyful Fate?
After tonight we have three concerts left and that’s it, I believe until the Summer of 2000 which I believe will be festivals in Europe or something. Everyone will be returning to their other projects, our bass player has like five other things, Mike Wead has one and I have some things. But that’s due to King living here in the US and having four or five months off.

I, of course, just do not sit at home and do nothing, I need to do music. There are always some things that, in the long run, are not best for the Mercyful Fate band, but it’s better than not having anything! The magic does kind of disappear, it’s like AC/DC having 10 bands around it which takes away from the main band. But regardless we still have the power to deliver from the heart when it’s time to do another record, the strength of the ‘9’ album will still be there.

Mercyful Fate Select Discography
Mercyful Fate aka Nuns Have No Fun Mini-LP: 1982/Rave-On
Don’t Break The Oath:1984/Roadrunner
The Beginning:1987/Roadrunner
In The Shadows:1993/Metal Blade
The Bell Witch EP:1994/Metal Blade
Time:1994/Metal Blade
Into The Unknown:1996/Metal Blade
Dead Again:1998/Metal Blade
9:1999/Metal Blade

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Easy like Sunday morning!

Good mourning to all-

what else can be better than the classic 'Seven Churches' by Possessed on a Sunday morning?


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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Spreading the Disease...

Anthrax have denied that their guitarist, Scott Ian, once confided to Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine that Metallica plotted to kick out drummer Lars Ulrich.

In an interview with, Mustaine – who was a member of Metallica for fewer than two years in 1981-1983 – was asked if, as far as he knows, it is true that on the last Metallica tour bassist Cliff Burton was on before he died, the band were planning to fire Ulrich at the tour’s end.

“That’s what Scott [Ian] told me,” Mustaine replied. “He said that when Metallica got home, that James [Hetfield], Cliff [Burton] and Kirk [Hammett] were going to fire Lars.”

According to a short message posted on Anthrax’s official Twitter account (By Scott Ian himself), Mustaine’s claim is “not true.”

The post adds, “Little does anyone know but Lars actually owns the [Metallica] name. Good luck ever kicking him out.”

Hmm. We’re so sure about this.

In pre-Classic Rock days, a few of us from Kerrang! went out for a drink with Scott Ian and [Anthrax drummer] Charlie Benante, circa 1986.

We distinctly remember Ian pretty much telling us that Metallica were thinking of changing drummers, although not blatantly. So, we suspect Mustaine isn’t making this up…

Meanwhile, Mustaine undergoes surgery today to mend his injured back and neck.

As if things for Anthrax couldn't get any worse? I don't know what's more amazing, the fact that Dave Mustaine remembers anything from 1986 or that this is even remotely true.

Sure anyone with ears could tell you Lars has been the weakest musical link in Metallica since the day the band started, but it's his band and they've done pretty good with him back there, eh? It always has been his band, always will be. He was the one that secured the track on Metal Massacre I without a band, without a song. Maybe the other three joked about replacing him, but that's where it ends.

Scott Ian looks like a fucking clown, again.