Music

AxeWound: Vultures

AxeWound fall under the stunning failures side of “Supergroups” and Vultures is best left lying alone amongst its metal clichés and turgid song-writing.


Vultures

Label: The End

The term “Supergroup” originated in the late 1960s and has been recklessly tossed around metal circles by music journalists with increased frequency over the past decade or so. It is a title that needs to be earned and not instantaneously granted on foot of the mere mention that individual musicians from different bands have come together to form a group outside their day jobs. And because it has been applied to a plethora of underwhelming projects, the power of the word has been diluted beyond repair. AxeWound —with their unfortunate moniker— is the latest band to be tarred with this heavily loaded tag. And due to the history surrounding “Supergroups” —stunning successes as well as stunning failures— this band faces the cynical eyes of those in the metal community who have been previously stung by the implications of the word. And that is all before a note of their music has been heard.

AxeWound has been billed as an outlet for Matt Tuck (vocalist/guitarist of mainstream metal juggernaut Bullet For My Valentine) to express his more aggressive side—a bizarre reason for a musician who is already in a metal band, albeit a commercially minded one, to form another. For this project, Tuck has recruited Cancer Bats’ vitriolic frontman Liam Cormier on vocals, Mike Kingswood from Glamour of the Kill on guitar, and Joe Copcutt (Rise to Remain) and Jason Bowld (Pitchshifter) on bass and drums, respectively. On paper the joining of these musicians does not exactly elicit mass hysteria. Nonetheless, the inclusion of Liam Cormier is a shrewd move by Tuck in an attempt to secure some punk/hardcore credibility —Cancer Bats’ profile is on a steady incline, increasingly so since the release of Dead Set On Living earlier this year— and his unbridled screams duly ignites the opening track “Vultures”, from their debut of the same name.

“Vultures” makes for an impressive start; it is a sharp, contemporary metal song, sounding similar in tone to a paired back Slipknot: full of those signature crunching riffs, squealing harmonics and pulsating rhythms. It also has a brilliant guitar solo that has a hint of John Petrucci about it, and the inclusion of this melodic section contrasts well with Cormier’s bile-filled tale of revenge. For the majority of the second song, “Post Apocalyptic Party”, AxeWound are successful in keeping energy levels high. This song is built on a solid structure of biting riffs, as well as familiar chord progressions during its rallying hardcore chorus, but it is the half-time outro that shows the first sign that AxeWound is lacking in the ideas department— the ending blatantly attempts to ape the breakdown from the Pantera classic “Domination”. Such laziness would be pardonable if it was the first time Tuck pillaged the idea but he was found guilty of the same move on Bullet For My Valentine’s single “Scream, Aim, Fire”, and this time around AxeWound’s lifeless version barely scrapes over the finish line.

From this misstep, Vultures begins its rapid descent downhill. “Cold” contains some hard to swallow Bullet-isms, with Tuck taking lead vocals leaving Cormier sounding like a guest rather than the frontman. Tuck’s weak melodies and limp lyrics on “Cold” —which have about as much depth as a two inch puddle— proceed to turn this song into a mediocre Bullet b-side. Vultures continues on with “Burn Alive” and “Exorchrist”, both of which endeavour to balance heavy with accessible. Elements of thrash metal are found throughout the riffs and rhythms of each song, but AxeWound again run out of interesting ideas fast— “Burn Alive” reverting to tired metalcore breakdowns and “Exorchrist” housing a poorly formed and predictable chorus. However, it is the horrendous cheese-ballad “Collide”, that hits the point of no return. “Collide” begins with the obligatory piano led mood-maker, before moving through some hackneyed riffs that are accompanied by a tacky synthetic string section that suits the artificial emotion that Tuck lays on thick through his cringe-worthy lyrics: “Yes it’s me in the shadows / It will be on your grave / I want to feast on your spirit / I want to make you my slave”. It leaves Cormier floating awkwardly as he tries to latch onto the heavier sections, and his vocal presence cannot rescue this truly dire song. “Collide” raises an important question: Why would you begin another band and promote it as a violent prospect when you insist on including songs that drain every semblance of aggression and sound like a weaker version of your main band? It also makes the already clichéd album cover laughable: a massive vulture holding a tattered cloth in its beak, upon which the band’s name is written in typical black/death metal font complete with upside down cross and pentagram.

The remaining three songs try to sharpen AxeWound’s metallic edge in a quest to undo some of the damage, but when you have the faux political ire of “Blood, Money, Lies” with its childish lyrics of “Fuck me / Fuck you / Fuck everything”, there is no salvation. Ultimately Vultures is a complete failure because of Tuck’s inability to take a backseat and rein in his ego; not to mention the rest of the band’s refusal to veto his song-writing ideas. It defies all logic to begin a separate project and for the most part pepper it with sounds and ideas that are already synonymous with your name. Maybe it is down to lack of talent, but it probably has more to do with a lack of imagination. Regardless, AxeWound fall under the stunning failures side of “Supergroups” and Vultures is best left lying alone amongst its metal clichés and turgid song-writing. This is an example of false advertising at its best.

2

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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