By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Emperor, one of the better-known black-metal bands, makes no mention of Satan in its press material or in the lyrics to its latest opus, IX Equilibrium, and the band has ditched the frightening corpse paint of its early years in favor of black-leather trench coats and dark sunglasses. Still, the band's sound is intensely evil. Lead demon Ihsahn rarely sounds human, growling and screaming at glass-breaking levels like some beast that has escaped from the netherworld, backed by occasional harmonies from the doomed and dying. He also plays tasteful, creepy keyboards, and his guitar can sound like a harpsichord. There's not much in the way of verses or choruses, giving the songs more the structure of short classical pieces than rock songs. Though wicked, Emperor are capable of an eerie beauty on "Of Blindness & Subsequent Seers," but most of their music is pure, infernal devastation, like the soundtrack to a witch burning. (Adam Bregman)
Ryde or Die Vol. 1 (Interscope)
Bringing out the big guns with bona fide unit-shifters DMX, Jay-Z, the Lox and Juvenile, supercrew Ruff Ryders know all too well that phat beats aren't enough anymore -- you gotta have celebrity power to sell records. In this cameo-studded collaboration (Mase and Jermaine Dupri included), drug profits, marketing savvy and making rhymes are but different phases in the glorious cycle of thug life. This underworld laissez faire is perfectly distilled in "Dope Money," where Lox's smooth chorus "Dope money to rap money back to dope money/We got a house, a car and smoke with the dope money" is like a mantra from Ghettonomics 101. The Ryders' obsession with getting theirs seems like thematic impoverishment, but Ryde or Die Vol.1 pays mad dividends in the audio department. While the ballad "I'm a Ruff Ryder" veers toward schmaltz, sonic alchemist Swizz parries the sentimentality with keyboard-splicing skills masquerading as chopped-up horns, soaring strings and analoguish gadgetry.
Besides the all-male revue "Down Bottom," a call-'n'-response number ("Do you fuck 'em 'til they cum?/Damn right we make 'em cum!") -- where Ryder honcho Drag-On can barely suppress a chuckle through the raunchy locker-room talk -- Ryde or Dieplies its male audience with guy humor like a joke that never gets old. (What do you expect from a crew named after the number-one-selling condom in America's truck stops?) But it's the collective's lone female, Eve, who one-ups the brothers, like when she cuts a pretender with "You know what you are? You's a 'Buff' Ryder!" or in "Piña Colada" when she asks, "Where my niggas with the big dicks?"
Not only does she emasculate her partners in rhyme with snappy comebacks, musically Eve's got 'em by the balls, too. On the whole, Ryde or Die is a slick, gleaming monster of production values, but our lady flips the script with the hardcore "Do That Shit," a noisy-ass cut that smudges the record's Teflon sheen with a menacing cadence of whining synth and fractured drums. Not satisfied with that, she pushes Swizz outside his comfort zone in "What Ya Want?," kicking it Latin with sizzling timbales and peppery electric piano. You might fault the Ryders for not being mental enough, but these thrill seekers aren't about that. Slow, fast, hard or soft, these jimmy hats won't bust on you, baybee. (Andrew Lentz)
at the Troubadour, June 14
Already megapungent in other parts of the planet, Brit melodicrunch band Skunk Anansie now strain to impinge their potency on the universal nose. And judging from the fact that they devoted half their set to material from their third CD, Post Orgasmic Chill (Virgin), which won't even be released here till August, they're confident they've got the stuff.
Skunk Anansie have arrived at that tantalizing career crossroads where musicians known for sloganeering realize that expansion entails broadening their base. In the case of this already rather calculated act (bald black diva "Skin" and dreadlocked black bassist "Cass" balance bald white guitarist "Ace" and muscly white drummer "Mark" to slam out heavy rock), that necessity just leads to exploiting their natural resources. The newer material, while retaining full drop-forge dynamism, nuzzles more frequently into interpersonal crevices on the lyric end; live, Skin's occasional lecture on South Africa is firmly supported by sheer black thong unmentionables under a leather butt-wrap.
And mainly, the songcraft and musicianship are ever stronger. The pre-performance PA music featured X-Ray Spex's 1977 "The Day the World Turned Day-Glo," whose melody the near-operatic Skin virtually quoted in the first song of Skunk Anansie's set. In terms of melody, energy and vocal quality, Spex are a pretty close parallel, except that Skunk, after three or four years of consistent touring, are more aware of what works in concert: Zeppelinesque drum thromp, tight single-string unison riffing and Skin's athletic, lunar-weightless prancing. It seemed as if at least every other song was a highlight, including the vulnerable "Weak" (it's been covered by Rod Stewart!), the determined "We Don't Need Who You Think You Are," and the furious punker "The Skank Heads," which in its Post Orgasmic incarnation ranks as one of the few slabs of pop music this decade to give me chills.
Prediction: Within five years, Skin goes solo (and regrets it). (Greg Burk)