Here it is -- the easiest target of the year: a retrospective of the premier label for that oft-maligned, ill-defined genre, New Age. Like laser-sighting a manatee in a spittoon. So why isn't the ammo flying? Because attentively listening to Sanctuary's "Acoustic" and "Electric" discs yields an unfortunate, unavoidable conclusion: Windham Hill's music is no worse than most rock. It's just as hook-oriented (albeit in the fashion of the theme from Terms of Endearment), and just as prone to pile bogus virtuosity atop simple chord sequences. When guitarist Michael Hedges strikes harmonics all over tunes like "Aerial Boundaries," is his trick any less genuine than Eddie Van Halen's smirky finger-tapping? Is New Age's gimmicky multiculturalism any less affected than all the ghoulish accessorizing seen at goth shows? Rock fans shouldn't accuse New Age aficionados of being suckers -- all heads here have assumed lollipop shapes -- but should feel free to accuse New Age music of being dull. Douglas Spotted Eagle's "House Made of Dawn Light" may start out with indigenous drums and flute, but the ensuing contemporary instrumental jam transforms the piece into a slice of pure Wonder bread.
Musical sincerity isn't the real problem. Instead, we may train our conjectural weapons upon the label itself: a dilapidated Aquarian shack that could have just as easily spent its corporate life span churning out tapes of soothing environmental sounds had not someone the bright idea to repackage easy listening and jazz fusion with "contemplative" and "mystical" airs: a sort of cash koan. Listening to Sanctuary with any degree of attention, instead of letting it roll as background music, is like staring at a prefab rock garden and koi pond: Eventually you surpass your capacities for meditation and begin to get antsy. You want to throw the rocks at the fish, however easy a target they might be. Good for you.
-- Michael Batty
Remember when long-hair metal ruled, dude? Not the L.A. poseur-fluff, but the darkness we'd roast dismembered pets by -- thrash, speed, death, hardcore. Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Sepultura. For a few years in the '80s and early '90s these bands splattered concrete amphitheaters across the nation with a brutality venomous enough to bring a teary glimmer to ol' Beelzebub's burning orbs. No angst-ridden crybaby fest, these bands spewed raw fury, hatred, repugnance: the stuff of true rebellion.
Then MTV capitalized on the aural beat-down with Headbanger's Ball. After a few minutes in the national limelight, the revolutionary voice of arrested adolescence was displaced by the safer grunge and neo-punk movements. The only option for dethroned thrashers was to modify their chops or return to their subterranean birthplace. Metallica wrote some ballads and hit the top of the pops; now they've cut their hair. Dave Mustaine kicked drugs and led Megadeth in a less abrasive direction. Anthrax split up, reformed, split up, reformed. Who knows where they are now? Who cares? Uncompromising, Slayer and Sepultura continue to rage full-on with new "concept" albums.
Brazilian terrorists of all things complacent, Sepultura dig deep into their ancestral Roots for their most engaging effort to date. Slamming as ever, the group augments the bludgeoning grooves and guttural retching (vocals) with indigenous percussion and a beautiful acoustic guitar/chant collaboration with the Amazon rain forest's Xavantes tribe. On Undisputed Attitude, Slayer pounds out a set of punk songs by classic groups like Minor Threat and T.S.O.L. Tunes like "Can't Stand You" are hilariously speedy and, perhaps due to massive production, heavier than any punk band ever was. Frontman Tom Araya says, "What passes for punk nowadays is just wimpy pop ... like, 'Fuck you, gimme your money.' " An ironic statement from a band obviously cashing in on popular interest in the pre-metal rebel vibe.
Slayer plays Saturday, Aug. 24, at the Trocadero, 520 Fourth St.; call 995-4600.
-- Sam Prestianni