Music

Cult Leader: Nothing For Us Here

Borne of hard times, Nothing For Us Here, Cult Leader's debut EP for Deathwish, doesn’t lose a drop of the nihilism that made Gaza's music so overwhelming and startlingly ferocious.


Cult Leader

Nothing For Us Here

Label: Deathwish
US Release Date: 2014-04-15
UK Release Date: 2014-04-15
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Gaza was one of the most exciting propositions in hardcore up until its dissolution in 2013. The Salt-Lake City band's white-hot, grinding invectives reached an apex of intelligence and focused aggression on its final full-length, 2012's No Absolutes in Human Suffering. An album of great intensity replete with lyrics that actually covered important topics worth talking about (politics to religion), Gaza made an album that surpassed the potential they displayed so fiercely on the blacker-than-thou pairing of 2006’s I Don’t Care Where I Go When I Die and 2009’s He Is Never Coming Back.

During the band's tenure, Gaza existed outside of all the posturing within the American hardcore scene, and like Converge before it, the band was the real deal. You could almost taste the rage throughout every twisted blastbeat and bucking riff and rhythm, with vocalist Jon Parkin screaming himself raw over the explosive din underneath.

Gaza's break-up came out of controversial circumstances last year when Parkin was accused of rape, a serious allegation that never went before a court of law. (The lady in question confirmed in an online post after the news broke that she and the accused had come to an agreement to let the matter lie.) However, whatever the truth of the matter may be, the consequence for three musicians who created Gaza's instrumental chaos -- guitarist Michael Mason, bassist Anthony Lucero and drummer Casey Hanson -- remained the same. The accusations levelled at their singer would continue to overshadow Gaza's music, so it was best to bury the band where it lay and move on.

Metal for all its shock tactics and extremity is conservative about certain issues, depending on how despicable they are, of course. Therefore there is an unfortunate possibility that the three ex-members of Gaza will be trampled by the elephant in the room even though they have started afresh under the name Cult Leader. But to dismiss Cult Leader because of the above-mentioned controversy would be seriously misguided, a terrible judgment call with no rational grounding whatsoever. And not only would it be severely unfair to Cult Leader, you would also be doing yourself an injustice by missing out on new music created by this talented group of musicians.

Borne of hard times, Nothing For Us Here, Cult Leader's debut EP for Deathwish, doesn’t lose a drop of the nihilism that made Gaza's music so overwhelming and startlingly ferocious. Once the screaming feedback, noise and buried vocals of opener "God’s Lonely Children" gives way you get to experience Cult Leader at full force. "Flightless Birds" ricochets with blasts and jarring hardcore riffs coming at you from different angles. The Trap Them-esque "Mongrel", with its grisly groove underpinning Lucero’s repetitious roars of "I am a loyal dog" (Lucero has stepped up to the microphone and his place on bass has been taken by Sam Richards), retains the same vehemence at a slower tempo.

Even though only one of the six songs on Nothing For Us Here exceeds the three-minute mark, the band cover plenty of ground with songs like "The Indoctrinator’s Deathbed" criss-crossing grindcore and brutal hardcore, and "Skin Crawler" dragging you unwillingly through a series of manic mathcore grooves. Both of these songs are exactly what you would expect from ex-Gaza musicians, but the most interesting track comes courtesy of "Driftwood", the final and longest song on Nothing For Us Here. With a coarse bass line anchoring the sludgy noise-rock of the guitars, "Driftwood" allows some skewed melody to seep in as the song's tempo breathes out while Lucero’s sparsely used scream sucks in all the oxygen. It is a mouth-whetting taster of what we could expect from a Cult Leader full-length album, if the band continues to make more music together. Let's just pray to the vacuous black hole in the sky that this band does make more music as violent and intelligently formed as that found on its first EP, Nothing For Us Here.

7

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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