Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

New Reviews from Ray at Blabbermouth

Up at Blabbermouth, my reviews of new releases by Opeth, Exodus, Cavalera Conspiracy, Obituary and In Flames.

                Listenin' to:  Between the Buried and Me - Colors

Monday, September 29, 2014

Well, Honestly...

Sheesh, my Sesame Street had no Elmo and no F-bombs.  You know The Count's off panel chiming "1...2...3...4...5...6...7!  7 middle fingers!  HA HA HA HAAAAAAAA!"  Cue the thunder.

               Listenin' to:  Cavalera Conspiracy - Pandemonium

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday Triple Play - 9/28/14

Welcome back to another Sunday Triple Play!   For this week, I've selected three tracks who often get flagged as progressive artists, though they're usually lumped into more generic categories:  i.e. metal, classic rock and world music. 

Between the Buried and Me is one of the most important metal acts of this generation alongside Opeth and Mastodon and like the latter two, BTBAM sets themselves far from their peers because of their prog affinities that spices and makes sense of their brutal style of metalcore.  Colors and The Parallax II:  Future Sequence are BTBAM's masterpieces transcending their equally magnificent Alaska album from 2005, yet I'm pulling "Selkies:  The Endless Obsession" from the latter album as evidence of their early-on brilliance.  The transitions from death-tech and metalcore to a luxuriant, Opeth-bound quietus to a melodic prog finish is something to behold.  Between the Buried and Me only got better from this point forward.

ELO is one of those bands I've been a complete sucker for all my life and while Jeff Lynne's taken enough shots from the music press for his uber-love of the Beatles, The Who and other pioneers of rock, what he and Electric Light Orchestra did was transcendental in their own right.  Lynne knows how to draw more hooks than the first week of a fresh NHL season.  I can peel off more than a handful of my favorite ELO songs like "Do Ya," "Livin' Thing," "Evil Woman," "Tightrope," "Strange Magic," "Telephone Line" and "Turn to Stone."  "Nightrider" is one of those seldom-mentioned gems that feels to me like a light, airy score to a film meant for either young or adult audiences, depending on the shrewdness of the director.  It really does feel like breezing through the night with the roof top down and nowhere important to be.  While ELO was more rock-based, there's no denying the orchestral elements lumps them into a prog affiliation.

Finally is Peter Gabriel's "Rhythm of the Heat," a favorite of most of his fans and deservedly so.  This one's a slow cooker that builds itself up to a frenzy of tribal beats that need to be cranked upon climax.  Of course, Gabriel and Genesis are renowned as masters of prog rock, but Gabriel took his music into bold new territories upon his departure from his alma mater.  Sometimes that found him in commercial turf, i.e. the So album, but most of the time, Gabriel was in search of tones and techniques from around the globe to meld into his often intelligent music.  "Rhythm of the Heat" is orgasmic.

Between the Buried and Me - "Selkies:  The Endless Obsession"

Electric Light Orchestra - "Nightrider"

Peter Gabriel - "Rhythm of the Heat"

Friday, September 26, 2014

Untitled, by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Like the turn of fall, a fleeting chance to know my warmth
We seek one another, yet we shy from each other
The cold Solstice waits to inveigle your wounded heart with false empathy

--Ray Van Horn, Jr. 9/25/14

                              Listenin' to:  Opeth - Damnation

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Few Thoughts About the Slayer Statues

Obviously Slayer is one of the most important and most intensely-followed acts in metal music history.  It's been reported in the past even doctors, engineers and law students have been found amongst Slayer's longtime supporters, aka the Slayer Wehrmacht. 

For all intents and purposes, this band is in shambles with the tragic passing of guitarist Jeff Hanneman and before that, the second (and assumedly final) departure of drummer Dave Lombardo.  While the embers continue to smolder between Lombardo and his former band, which gets heavy attention from my home base at Blabbermouth, I sit at my desk this morning with a crinkled mouth, furrowed eyebrow and a small sigh.

I have no qualms about the band continuing on with Exodus guitar ace Gary Holt and Paul Bostaph on the kit, who has already proven reliable for Slayer during his first stint in the group.  If you're going to push forward without two of the key components to your success (one by forced, unfortunate circumstances), then I can get down with keeping things in the family, as it were.  That is to say, bringing in brothers of the legendary Bay Area thrash zone.  While we await the new Slayer album, Exodus is about to drop their latest recording, Blood In, Blood Out with returning vocalist Steve "Zetro" Sousa, a controversial coup that found prior Exodus singer Rob Dukes suddenly without a job.

Now I've had the pleasure of interviewing Tom Araya, Dave Lombardo and even Gary Holt a couple times.  All of them were fun dudes and I'll never forget Araya admitting he was a Christian into my tape recorder.  That was a pretty awesome moment for me and Araya gave me quite a long chat.  Holt is a gas to talk with, albeit right now he's under fire and probably not as eager to rip it up, though I could be wrong. 

The Lombardo interview...  That was an interesting moment.  As a hack, can't even call myself an actual drummer, I was giddy beyond words when I was offered Dave Lombardo as an interview guest during Slayer's arena tour a few years back with Megadeth and Anthrax.  Lombardo and late Kiss drummer Eric Carr were my heroes growing up.  Unfortunately, time constraints being what they were, I was given five minutes on Slayer's bus with Lombardo, but I'll never forget each second of it. 

When I got on the bus, Jeff Hanneman was relaxing in the coach, strumming away with Led Zeppelin cranked and at least a hundred candles lit all around the bus.  I said hello to Jeff and he gave me a polite nod as I went to the rear of the bus with Dave.  I can't put into words what a quixotic moment that was for me and spooky now that Hanneman has passed.  The rest of the time found me slicing half of my interview questions for Dave and we knocked it out in hurried fashion because of the slim time allotment.  Both of us looked at each other with wide eyes and dry smirks at the end of our guerilla session.  I can't vouch for Dave, who answered what I had for him as thoroughly as he could within our timeframe, but I felt slightly cheated since we could've gotten a good bit of camaraderie going, given his upbeat responses to my questions.

This is what I think of as I see Slayer moving on and now reading about the release of three statues from Knuckle Bonz featuring Tom Araya, Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman.  No representation of Lombardo.  Suffice it to say, the bridges are well-burnt and at this point, you can forget asking Lombardo anything about Slayer any longer.  I feel for the guy, honestly, though as a journalist, I have to remain objective and let the dust settle where it may amongst the constituents.  On the other hand, I do find it objectionable there's no statue for Dave Lombardo, one of the greatest drummers in metal music that ever lived, while there is a statue for someone no longer amongst the living.  It's underhandedly capitalist, sorry to say.  Of course, if there was a statue for Lombardo, that would involve him in a place he's made no bones he wants no part of any longer. 

I'll leave it at that since it's not my place to comment any further upon the matter, though if you're a purist, it reeks that one cannot complete a collection (if one is so inclined to buy these statues) without Lombardo.  There's no taking away Slayer's legacy, but we're peeking in at a junction in the band where only two original members remain.  No matter how trusted and talented Gary Holt and Paul Bostaph are, their worthiness isn't the issue.  This band has been forever changed and three out of four statues as tribute to the team that gave the world Reign in Blood, Show No Mercy, South of Heaven, Seasons in the Abyss, World Painted Blood and others...it just doesn't sit right.

                       Listenin' to:  Opeth - Pale Communion

Monday, September 22, 2014

Chasing After Ships

The past couple weekends, I've had the opportunity to indulge one of my quiet fascinations, ships, especially old tallships.  Baltimore recently celebrated the 200th anniversary of  Francis Scott Key's writing of what would become our national anthem with gala festivities that included celebrity appearances, aerial stunts by the Blue Angels and a fireworks display that outdid even the Olympics.  At the harbor was a parade of tallships that came in and out and invited tourists aboard for tourists.  I was fortunate enough to tour the commissioned U.S. Coast Guard Barque Eagle and the smaller, but no less historic Gazela.

Funny enough, I would find the Gazela again the following week docked at its permanent home at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, where we struck up convo with one of its crewmen and it capped a wonderful trip around the town.  Even the battleship U.S.S. New Jersey, which survived Pearl Harbor and assisted American troops in Vietnam is sitting at Penn's Landing.  I can't say my knowledge of ships is deep, though I have a yeoman's understanding.  Like aircraft, I'm utterly fascinated with ships and I found my share at Penn's Landing, which you can also sample below behind some pics of the Baltimore event. 

Baltimore's Inner Harbor:

Penn's Landing, Philadelphia:

                            Listenin' to:  Yes - The Yes Album

Friday, September 19, 2014

Comin' Atcha Shortly...

Taking a break the next couple days, but catch-ups will come immediately thereafter, so stay tuned, won'tcha?

                   Listenin' to:  Hank 3 - Brothers of the 4 x 4

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sounds About Right (Or Is It Write?)

                                 Annihilator - All For You

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Classy Gesture, Orioles

Following their four game set with the New York Yankees this past weekend, the Baltimore Orioles and Hall of Famer Boog Powell gave retiring Yankee legend Derek Jeter a basket of steamed crabs as a farewell gift.

Ages ago the fiercest "rivalry" in baseball, this gesture of goodwill between Baltimore and New York goes to show the artifice of sports rivalries, played up to hype fans and sell more beer.  In the end, it comes down to respect.  Kudos to the Orioles in this regard.

Magic number for the O's clinching the AL East as of today is 1!  Feels like old times in this town.  Ain't the beer cold...

                            Listenin' to: Annihilator - Feast

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Cool Comic o' the Week: Alice Cooper # 1

Uncle Alice, the Prince of Darkness, the Lord of Nightmares, Steven, Spider.  Call him whatever you like, but Vincent Furnier has had more lives, figuratively speaking, than a cat with an ankh charm on its collar.  As Alice Cooper, the original shock rocker, he's come and gone and come again in regular intervals in the music scene.  He haunted the Muppets a long time ago, he rubbed elbows with Jason Voohees in the video clip for "He's Back (The Man Behind the Mask)" from Friday the 13th Part IV:  Jason Lives and with far less theatricality, Alice has lit up the links as a diehard golfer. 

As a multimedia sensation through five decades and running, Alice Cooper is no strange to the comic book realm.  You'll recall the 1979 Marvel comic for Alice and his Marvel-backed media crossover project with Sandman maestro Neil Gaiman:  The Last Temptation album and comic.  The latter is scheduled for re-release this year as a 20th anniversary hardcover compendium. There's also the "100% Unauthorized Material" comprising Rock 'n Roll Comics' take on Alice.  Alice even contributed a storyline to Bongo Comics for Bart Simpson's Treehouse of Horror series, where, ironically, Homer Simpson turns into a Jason Voorhees-inspired mass murderer.  How could an artist whose ghoulish stage persona where guillotines, hedonistic re-enactments of murder, lopped baby dolls and monster dispatching not be tailored for comic books?

Dynamite Entertainment (who will also be responsible for The Last Temptation hardcover redux) has initiated a brand new Alice Cooper comic book, this time as a regular series and in many ways, the rules of have changed.  Writer Joe Harris and artist Eman Casallos aren't concerned as much about comical beheadings and monster dogs with Alice Cooper.  In this series, Alice is split into two apposite personalities.

Cooper himself has historically used his alter ego Steven in his recordings such as Welcome to My Nightmare, Alice Cooper Goes to Hell, Hey Stoopid, The Last Temptation and his most recent sequel album, Welcome 2 My Nightmare.  Fans can speculate if Harris and Casallos are trying to subversively bring Steven to life in this series, but one half of Uncle Alice appears to be trapped in purgatory, resurrected by his pet boa, Kachina.  The other half is embodied (purportedly) in the real world as a snuffed star and slave to the system (this being of the more hellbound variety), victim of a changing entertainment climate that's grown hostile toward rock music.

In this first issue of Alice Cooper, Harris snipes at the music industry (and with good reason, given the less-than-favorable sales returns of conventional music formats) with the second half of Alice being exploited by a pint-sized, nihilistic manager, Lucius Black.  It's safe to assume Black is a tool of the devil.  Alice is engineered by Black as an underling, forced to sign a boy band singer, Jordan James to soul-selling contract.  Consider all of it parable and metaphor on Harris' part.  Once this side of Alice Cooper rebels at this mistreatment, we're left to wonder just where in the hell this series is going.

The subplot involves a persecuted youngster, Robbie, who is handed a freebie of one Alice Cooper's albums on vinyl at a yard sale.  Tormented by bullies who have no clue who Alice Cooper is or ever was, they shatter the album to spite the kid.  Unfortunately, Harris borrows liberally from the heavy metal horror flick Trick or Treat (starring Marc Price with cameos by Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons) as the album supernaturally mends itself and plays backwards, summoning the top hatted, carny-huckstering Lord of Nightmares side of Alice Cooper into the picture.

Tres bizarre, suffice it to say.  Despite the Trick or Treat swipe, Joe Harris thus far offers readers something nobody expected.  Even more interesting, Dynamite permits a few hard expletives, boob cracks and the mention of a "b.j." (use your imagination there), which is a bit strong for their norm, never mind the occasional bare butts that have cropped up in Vampirella, Miss Fury, The Blood Queen, Warlord of Mars and even Red Sonja.  Sidebar, the skinny-dipping scene in the Red Sonja vs. Thulsa Doom miniseries is the hottest, most risqué sequence Dynamite's ever published.

That being said, it stands to reason how far Dynamite's going to go with Alice Cooper.  This ain't your papa's Alice Cooper comic, even if it's mainly papas who will to flock to this thing.

                          Listenin' to:  Sodom - Agent Orange

Friday, September 12, 2014

I Wouldn't Trust Her, Officer

Amanda Conner's crazy hot cover art of the New 52 Harley Quinn.  Don't trust her, 5-0, someone's got a key and this Harley swings more than mallets.  Like David Bowie sings in "Lady Grinning Soul,"  she'll be your living end.  Caveat, Mr. J.

                    Listenin' to:  System of a Down - Hypnotize

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Ray's Reviews at Blabbermouth

Now up at Blabbermouth, my reviews of the latest from Nonpoint, Dragonforce, Hammerfall and thrash legends Rigor Mortis' final album.

More to come.

                    Listenin' to:  System of a Down - Toxicity

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Before He Was a Walking Carpet

                            Listenin' to:  Mission of Burma - Vs.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sunday Triple Play - 9/7/14

It Came From the Eighties highlights this week's Triple Play.  As I'm a (mostly) proud Gen X'er, I always find myself trolling through a lot music from the 1980's after I finish my review queue each month.  As my generation is now one of the most catered-to (outside of the Boomers, of course) by marketers, it's both fun and unsettling to see a lot of love being cast toward the Eighties.  Most of it's designed to get us to buy recycled crap we grew up with that have been rebranded for our children.  However, riding through the movies and the music of the Decade of Decadence, I can't help but drown in the nostalgia of it all.

Here are three clips that are not always highlighted by Eighties retrospectives, save for maybe After the Fire's poppin' cover of Falco's new wave jam, "Der Kommissar." Following that song is the obscure Boys Don't Cry with their nutty one-hit goof-around, "I Wanna Be a Cowboy."  This song is silly as all hell, but it has an undeniable groove and look, there's Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead as one of the bad guys in the video!  Win-win, in my book.

Finally is the Divinyls with their modest hit, "Pleasure and Pain."  I prefer this song to their breakout "Touch Myself" since it has an all-around dirtier hum than the latter cut.  Whereas Chrissy Amphlett was more blatant lyrically in "Touch Myself" amidst a near-innocuous soundtrack from the band, "Pleasure and Pain" writhes with a sex hump from all stations.  The late Amphlett's an aphrodisiac from head-to-toe in this video, and the song's her motoring vibrator.  This is the sound of the Eighties I'm probably most fond of outside of punk, alternative and heavy metal.

After the Fire - "Der Kommissar"

Boys Don't Cry - "I Wanna Be a Cowboy"

Divinyls - "Pleasure and Pain"

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Cool Comic o' the Week: Spawn # 1

There was a time I was forced to sell half of my comic book collection.  While I muse and groan silently about the losses I parted with, I am happy to see many notable survivors still lingering around, including the first 36 issues of Todd McFarlane's game-changing Spawn. 

Do you remember where you were when Spawn # 1 came out?  McFarlane was undeniably the hottest comics personality of the early nineties.  I remember somebody offering me a good chunk of change for McFarlane's run on Amazing Spiderman when I was in college, and that was during the man's ascension in comics.  I hadn't yet known I was sitting on gold until I started working in a comics retailer when I saw all those McFarlane Spidey issues going for what I considered at the time to be astronomical markups. 

I held onto those McFarland Amazing Spiderman issues for a very long time until they were surrendered, casualties of the heated dickering with my zealous buyer later in life, who took advantage of my desperation to get out of a hole.  He wanted my Spawn issues too, but I refused him on those.  Number one, they represent a part of my life I can never get back, the final semester at college when I was working two jobs including the comics shop and going to school full-time.  Spawn was one of my drug books that got me through that post-adolescent, crazy busy time in life--along with a string of ladies including my future wife, natch.  I lovingly think upon that era as the "sex 'n Spawn" period, since I was engaged with either of those when not working, running track or in class.

All nostalgic bits aside, Spawn # 1 was a major event in comics and I was there for it, behind the counter at the store as that issue flew off in almost quicker fashion than DC's phony "Death of Superman" arc.  Our store had a customers-first rule that employees only had access to the stock after the doors were closed on release day.  My guts were gnawing all throughout my shift as the regulars came in and gobbled up Spawn # 1 like it was launch party.  To some extent, that's exactly what it was, since McFarlane fans showed up en masse that day.  Fortunately, my bosses had ordered a generous amount of the debut issue and me and my co-workers were able to snag our copies, with about ten issues left to spare.  Suffice it to say, those were scarfed within the first hour of business the following day.

I don't need to rehash the plot of the Spawn series, since if you're reading this, you're a fellow comics nerd like myself.  However, what can be said at this point is how fascinated I am that Spawn marked the birth of a then-new imprint, Image, that could take on the Big Two.  Supreme, Savage Dragon, Shadowhawk, Youngblood, Pitt and The Maxx were all other pretty successful launches for Image back then, Youngblood in particular.  I'm fascinated how quickly that first issue of Youngblood jacked in value as a momentary hot commodity and now, seldom few even remember the thing.

Spawn, however, is still kicking out there.  In some twisted fashion, we readers identified with Al Simmons, a son of a bitch soldier under orders in his mortal form before he was plucked off and forced to stomach the indignity of his best friend doinking his wife.  We wanted justice for the man, as much as we wanted the mass public and J. Jonah Jameson in Spiderman's fictitious world to cut the dude a break for putting his life on the line every damned day of his broke-ass existence.

Simmons' thirst for vengeance created the Hellspawn and thus we have a comics icon who ruled the nineties.  If you'll recall, there was the pretty decent Spawn movie, the outstanding HBO Spawn animated series, McFarlane's line of Spawn toys (which spurred an empire built upon hulking, detailed action figures) and even the heavy metal band Iced Earth did a full concept album based upon Spawn, The Dark Saga

I admit, I haven't kept up with the series in recent years, but I salute what McFarlane and Image were able to achieve back then and God willing, my child will inherit the Spawn issues I have along with the rest of my collection.  I've seen Spawn # 1 going anywhere from $10.00 to $810.00 out there online depending on the grade.  For me, it's worth a hell of a lot more to share these books and these stories with my kid when he's of the appropriate age.

               Listenin' to:  Stiff Little Fingers - Nobody's Heroes

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Master Builder of a Different Breed

                       Listenin' to:  Andrew W.K. - I Get Wet

Monday, September 1, 2014

Cool Comic o' the Week: Silver Surfer # 5

One of the definitions of "cool comic" lately has been the Silver Surfer reboot.  You can check out my little essay at ReadWave about how Marvel's getting away with murder, specific to the strategic polka dots on Dawn Greenwood's dress in this series.  That's one element to this series' coolness.  The abstracting of Silver Surfer in comparison to his wondrous environs is another.  The frequent Silver and Bronze Age-replicated artwork is yet another.

The biggest appeal for me about the new Silver Surfer series is its sense of shtick and mod.  You can take a gander at the cover of Issue # 5 and predict it's a teaser only, but not too much of a cheat--unlike, say, The Spectacular Spiderman # 168 from 1990 and its fake promise of a scrap between the Webhead and She-Hulk.  Do The Hulk and Silver Surfer trade fisticuffs here?  It's definitely set up that way and I'll leave you find out the answer.

What's fun about this issue is that Norrin Radd, i.e. the Silver Surfer, is trapped on Earth due to his unlikely alliance (and perhaps future love interest) with human Dawn Greenwood.  After all, Greenwood is considered "The Most Important Person in the Universe."  Dawn once made a wish upon a shooting star as a child, which was established in the previous issue to be the Surfer himself way-back-when.  Now forming a chemical bond together, this story focuses on Infinity haunt, Nightmare, who is unwittingly about to plunder the Earth into perpetual dreamscape due a special lunar alignment.

There's no irony lost that Dawn Greenwood's name is Dawn (nor for that matter, her twin sister being named Eve) as she plays a pivotal role in preventing the Earth from becoming a somnambulist hellhole.  With she being the last waking being on the planet, it's up to Silver Surfer, along with the astral form of Dr. Strange and the Hulk to keep her from falling asleep.  A mite reminiscent of Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3, these dream warriors fend off Nightmare's monster squad while the Surfer and Hulk are forced to put their differences aside.  No matter the fact they're Defenders teammates, of course.

The resolution to this story is a bit silly but it feels like classic Marvel and that's why it's cool.  As we look forward to Norrin Radd having his innocuous, polka-breasted companion along for the ride upon his celestial surfboard, the Earth sky is hardly his limit now.  Dan Slott and Michael Allred have thus far woven a left-of-center, frequently amusing sojourn through the stars that's much lighter in fare than Silver Surfer's past.  This time, Radd is allowed to bleed a little more emotion into his often deadpan seriousness, and having an Earth girl to hang ten with should reveal even more depth, hopefully with continued comedic effects.

Listenin' to:  Goblin - Zombi (aka Dawn of the Dead 1978) soundtrack