High on Fire
Blessed Black Wings

I find metal cosmology fascinating, myself, but I’ve always wondered whether bands like Bolt Thrower and Celtic Frost have their fantasy realms all mapped out, or if they’re just making up all the battles and pestilences as they go. Not that I really care. Actually, the more haphazardly bong-loads and Beowulf collide in a band’s worldview, the more intriguing I tend to find it.

With songs like “Cometh Down Hessian” and “The Yeti,” High of Fire could almost be a parody of a stoner metal band if the music weren’t so deadly serious. On Blessed Black Wings, guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike barks and growls like a cave troll over an avalanche of scabrous Orc-rock riffage that picks up right where 2002’s Surrounded by Thieves left off—in the middle of a thunderous drum solo. The album was recorded by Steve Albini, so you know it isn’t just fashionably raw—it’s authentically raw, the real deal. My only complaint is that you can’t hear the bass at all, which is doubly disappointing because Blessed Black Wings marks the recorded debut of new member Joe Preston, late of the Melvins and the Thrones. I still prefer Surrounded by Thieves to this one, but that’s basically like saying I’d rather die in a piano-moving accident than a rockslide. (Andy Smetanka)

With The Lights Out

Immediately after this long-overdue box set was released, word on the street was that Mrs. Cobain—that’s Courtney Love, for those of you just now joining the world—is still sitting on the best Nirvana tapes. Whatever. This boxed set, with three CDs and one DVD, is the equivalent of discovering a milk crate full of old tapes and videos and enlisting a case of beer to help you go through them all. With the Lights Out runs the Nirvana gamut, from the very first performance to rehearsals, rough mixes, a few B-sides and Cobain acoustic demos. There are early versions of Nevermind tracks, some throwaways and a bit of goofing around with the odd Zeppelin song or two. The DVD is a mess of rough video recordings of practices at bassist Novoselic’s mom’s house (with the obligatory few dudes just hanging out), and some stunning performances (drummer Grohl’s first show).

It’s an MTV-generation nightmare: The kids will be pissed about the abundance of poor recordings and general looseness, whereas for anyone who first experienced Nirvana on vinyl and in small bars, pre-Nevermind, this is justice finally done and a freakin’ dream come true. The sound of Nirvana in the raw, playing material that spans the band’s entire career, is as close to the real thing as anything released so far, posthumously or otherwise. In short, this rules. (Bryan Ramirez)

The International Playboys

Missoula’s best-dressed and loudest, the International Playboys, have spilled their seed again for a record that’s twice as frantic and in your face as the last one. Sexiful, the band’s second full-length release, is out of hand and fat-riffed, like a methed-out Black Oak Arkansas or ZZ Top on some infamous lost weekend. As these Austin, Texas, sessions prove, the screws get tighter with every tour and the Playboys finally have a steady drummer to boot—one who can box like Ali. Pure cheap-beer bump-and-grind metal with a bit of Albert King/Jim Page squall backing up that sweaty Rob Tyner howl. There are too many bests here to list them all, but here are a few: For best song title, “The International Playboys Get a Bottle of Wine, Go to the Beach and Get Fucked Up” (Really, guys? One bottle?). Best emulation of a classic album cover, for Van Halen’s Women & Children First. Classiest choice of cover tune, for Gladys Knight’s “If I Was Your Woman.” And, of course, for the Playboys’ best release so far. Most Sexiful. (Bryan Ramirez)

Rufus Wainwright
Want Two

Call it operatic. Call it sweeping. Call it epic. If you call it lush or lavish, you might as well just go ahead and call it gay, which Rufus is, but there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly gay about this music, as long as we’re assuming that straight guys can still share ears with the queer guys.

So it’s lush, and it’s lavish and it’s gorgeous, really, sort of a Village Green-era Kinks sound spliced with some harpsichorded outtakes from XTC’s Skylarking sessions. It’s also just a little annoying in the long run due to the monotony of Wainwright’s voice—a good bit of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke in his plaintive wail—which just sort of wilts in the moisture of these hothouse arrangements. Most of the time, in fact, it would seem much more interesting if Rufus weren’t singing anything at all—it just depends on how far over the top you’re comfortable going. Rufus is quite comfortable going way over; see “Gay Messiah.”

The CD’s also got an “FBI Anti-Piracy Warning” on it, and it’s hard to tell for sure if that’s some sort of inside joke or not. And there’s a banjo on track 6, “Hometown Waltz,” but it’s nothing like what you could possibly be thinking. (Brad Tyer)

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