Heavy Alternative Rock

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Heavy Alternative Rock, also known as Alternative Hard Rock, is a catch-all sub-genre used to encompass the various alternative rock artists that play heavy music that don't necessarily descend, at least directly, from the traditional hard rock spectrum. It notably includes grunge and post-grunge bands, both of which can be heavy but of a different heritage to traditional blues based hard rock acts, but it may also include actual hard rock acts and releases that borrow heavily from alternative rock to create a fusion sound. Some examples of this include Nickelback (hard rock/post-grunge), Dizzy Mizz Lizzy (hard rock/alternative rock) and Foo Fighters (hard rock/alternative rock/post-grunge), at least on some releases, such as Wasting Light (2011).

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THE SMASHING PUMPKINS Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness Album Cover Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness
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4.55 | 29 ratings
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heavy alternative rock Music Reviews

JANE'S ADDICTION Nothing's Shocking

Album · 1988 · Heavy Alternative Rock
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While the glam metal scene was dominating the 1980s with cheesy videos that exhibited gorgeous female models shakin’ their shit and grown men in spandex and with ridiculous quantities of hairspray, the dregs of society were conjuring up their own musical revolution in the underground like rats plotting an invasion in the sewers of any major city. While the mainstream music scene was all about the glitz and glamor, the culmination of underground scenes like no wave, post-punk and alternative rock were slowly but surely gaining traction and as the glam metal shtick had started to become stale by the end of the 80s with too many Bon Jovi videos to count, a few bands were starting to rise from the bowels of the music industry until the alternative rock scene finally completely took over in the early 1990s.

While Nirvana’s “Nevermind” was pretty much the firing squad that dethroned everything 80s and ushered in the alternative 90s, one band in particular was instrumental in bridging the gap between the underground and mainstream success. That band was JANE’S ADDICTION who like its glam metal counterparts was forged in the Los Angeles scene but took a very different route. Named after lead singer Perry Farrell’s ex-housemate Jane Bainter’s fondness of heroin, JANE’S ADDICTION exuded a gritty underground style that found them living the very part as the dregs of society while they captured the essence of the experience in musical compositions. The band actually debuted in 1987 with its self-titled live release but was virtually ignored by the public although it caught the attention of Warner Brothers which saw the changing tides of musical tastes and offered them a record contract.

JANE’S ADDICTION’s first studio album NOTHING’S SHOCKING came out in 1988 when glam metal was still dominating the MTV scene and although the album didn’t quite pierce the armor of the hairspray army, the bizarre album cover art of two naked conjoined twins with their heads on fire generated enough interest as to exactly what in the world was this music all about. Once MTV banned the first single “The Mountain Song” for featuring nudity in its video, the band began to garner the reputation as fierce and utterly unapologetic in its unorthodox methodologies and uncompromising rebellious behaviors. The band’s short shelf life was also the result of lead singer Perry Farrell’s inflated ego and erratic behavior including demanding 50% of the royalties as the lyricist. The rift between the members was sown from the beginning but oddly enough added a strange tension on the recordings.

NOTHING’S SHOCKING sounded like nothing else. With an energetic drive somewhere between hard rock and heavy metal, the band incorporated alternative rock, psychedelic rock and funk into its mix with an early grunge style that added heavy metal guitar soloing and creepy oft morbid subject matter. The album was intelligently designed as producer Dave Jerden scouted out the band’s material and placed the targeted tracks in a particular order which laid out a strange yet logical procession of musical motifs that ranged from the hypnotically groovy to pungently caustic and in your face. The opening “Up The Beach” set the tone of the album with a sense of impending dread as everything was just slightly off enough and once “Ocean Size” kicks in the short arpeggiated intro breaks into a heavy distorted guitar riffing frenzy that featured a drumming style that would become a staple in the grunge scene as well as Farrell’s distinct high pitched vocal style and cutting edge artistic stage presence.

One of the album’s greatest strength is its unusual diverse palette of influences with songwriting practices that varied from song to song. Some tracks such as “Had A Dad” and “Ted, Just Admit It” were based on Eric Avery’s bass grooves while others like “Ocean Size,” “Mountain Song” and “Pigs In Zen” were full band experiences with independent musical counterpoints. The track “Mountain Song” was actually released as far back as 1986 for the soundtrack of the film “Dudes” which set the raw grungy tone of the entire album. Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea made cameo on the trumpet for the track “Idiot’s Rule.” Both “Jane Says” and “Pigs In Zen” were rerecorded from the previous live EP but underwent a complete makeover to make a better impression. The former becoming one of the band’s so-called ballad songs and the latter the band’s signature middle finger no fuck’s left to give Rage Against The Machine style anthem.

This album was hardly love at first listen for me. In fact i didn’t like this band at all for the longest time. I considered them overhyped and rather dreadful sounding but i have to say that all my friends who were into them played them over and over and over and somehow by osmosis i caught the bug. Sort of like learning a new language, JANE’S ADDICTION sort of was like a dialect of the alternative rock universe and once attitudes were adjusted actually grew on me quite substantially to the point where NOTHING’S SHOCKING has become an all time favorite personal classic. This album is very much a lyrical one as the music is designed to accompany the themes involved so therefore this is not an album that focuses on instrumental dynamics although as accompanying music totally nails it in the subject matter department whether it focuses on serial killer themes of Ted Bundy on “Ted, Just Admit It” or the band’s own personal demons with heroin on “Jane Says.” Overall the classic status of this one is warranted but as someone who was resistant from the start i do have to say that for many it may require a bit of exposure. Needless to say, whether JANE’S ADDICTION appeals to you or not, it was this band and particularly this album that opened the doors for the alternative rock scene to break into the mainstream and would very soon rip the door off the hinges with its followup “Ritual de lo Habitual.”

JANE'S ADDICTION Jane's Addiction

Live album · 1987 · Heavy Alternative Rock
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JANE’S ADDICTION is considered one of the key instrumental bands that brought the heavy alternative rock music out of the underground and into the limelight during the 1990s when it ruled with a vengeance. Although the 1980s Los Angeles scene was primarily associated with the glam metal scene, this band that consisted of Perry Farrell (vocals), Dave Navarro (guitar), Eric Avery (bass) and Stephen Perskins (drums) was the result of rising from the ashes of Farrell’s previous band Psi Com.

Farrell met Avery and kindled a musical relationship based on a an appreciation of Joy Division and The Velvet Underground and wanted to create a heavier band that implemented the energy of the 80s metal scene with the darker themes of post-punk and the grittier sounds of the underground scenes. The result was JANE’S ADDICTION which was a tribute to Farrell’s old housemate Jane Bainter who had suffered a heroin addiction. Unlike the glam metal bands that sang about good times, JANE’S ADDICTION lamented the less appealing aspects of reality.

This band’s initial run only lasted seven years and disbanded just as the band was perched to become the hottest ticket in the alternative 90s. It’s rather strange that JANE’S ADDICTION released its self-titled debut album in the form of a live EP. At 40 minutes long this eponymous release was as long as their two official studio albums but was completely recorded live at the Roxy Theatre in LA on January 26, 1987 with a few addition overdubs added the next day. While not the band’s crowning achievement, this self-titled debut is very much of interest as it features four songs, "Trip Away," "1%," "I Would For You," and "My Time" which were never rerecorded and included on the two studio albums.

Two of the tracks, “Pigs In Zen” and “Jane Says” were rerecorded and included on the first studio album “Nothing’s Shocking” and although they are far better in their second coming, these alternative versions are actually pretty good too. This live EP also includes two cover tunes including “Rock & Roll” from The Velvet Underground and “Sympathy,” originally titled “Sympathy For The Devil” from The Rolling Stones. The track “Slow Divers” was also recorded for this album but left off for time space purposes. It would later be included on the compilation “Kettle Whistle.”

While this album showcases the core elements that made JANE’S ADDICTION so unique such as Farrell’s distinct vocal style that was always slightly off key and the catchy sing-along song style that made them so popular a few short years later, this EP doesn’t display the band firing on all pistons yet. While the two studio albums showcase the band in extreme heavy rock mode with sizzling guitar solos, bantering bass and psychedelic production tricks, this live EP simply shows the band stripped down bare for all to see with songs that are often a bit on the mellower side. Yeah the rather ridiculous album cover art may be a turn off and this is certainly not the place to start if checking out the band for the very first time but for fans who wanted more JANE’S ADDICTION than the two studio albums had to offer, this is a not a bad release at all especially for the tracks that appear nowhere else.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 291 - Fogray

Album · 2021 · Heavy Alternative Rock
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And although almost a week after Easter 2021, a new egg has hatch in the coop of the eccentric BUCKETHEAD who has taken on another weird trait of releasing his PIKE series out of numerical order with PIKE 291 - FOGRAY coming out before any sign of #s 290 and 291 not to mention that #s 285 and 286 are still missing from the cue. As with other album titles i have no idea what FOGRAY refers to as it’s probably some weird puzzle reference. This is the 3rd PIKE of 2021.

This standard 30-minute PIKE only features 2 tracks, the short less than 6-minute alternative rocker “Piston” which takes on that by now all too familiar style that BH has released on numerous PIKEs but doesn’t really add anything new to the mix. In other words it’s a throwaway track designed as a musical fluffer i guess.

The album is basically nothing more than the 24-minute title track that pretty much follows the opening tracks slightly faster than mid-tempo grooviness with rockin’ bass and drums and a few breakdowns for some guitar antics. There is a noticeable dark ambient atmosphere that sort of swirls around in the background while the chugga chug guitar parts create some nasty grungy sounds. The tones and timbres are quite well polished even if the music itself is fairly by the books. It’s yet another one of those familiar tracks that pretty much engages in a monotonous cyclical loop of grooves that adds a few guitar tricks here and there but doesn’t justify the playing time.

I’ve grown quite bored with most of BUCKETHEAD’s recent editions to the PIKE universe because as someone who has taken the time to listen to every single one of the near 300 installments, i have to say that dude has simply been recycling the same old tired ideas now for quite some time and clearly more interested in quantity over quality. Despite it though i still continue to check out every new PIKE because every once in a while the chicken lover pulls a diamond out of a hen’s arse and actually rocks my friggin world.

As for PIKE 291 - FOGRAY, this one is just one more instrumental reworking of countless tracks on numerous PIKEs from the past and although performed well and engineered perfectly i’ve long grown weary of this incessant cookie cutter approach. What happened to all that energetic passion from the early days? Dude doesn’t even crank out metal much any longer as this is nothing more than heavy alternative rock. Oh well. OK but certainly not a PIKE i will ever be revisiting for sure.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 288 - Liminal Monorail

Album · 2021 · Heavy Alternative Rock
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For his first act of 2021, the prolific artist known as BUCKETHEAD released not only one but TWO editions of the PIKE series on the 27th of February in the calendar year of 2021. First came “Electrum” and then came PIKE 288 - LIMINAL MONORAIL which seems to suggest that a phase change is taking place in BUCKETHEADLAND, a most welcome changing up of things and mercy me we all love change in these tumultuous times! HA!

PIKE 288 - LIMINAL MONORAIL is one of the shorter PIKEs as of late with a playing time of only 27 minutes and 31 seconds but still within the near 30 minute parameter of all but the earliest known hatchlings in this series. Unlike the previous edition which consisted of a sole track that swallowed up almost the whole album with a couple squeakers at the end, this PIKE features two tracks roughly of the same length.

The opening title track is the lengthiest of the two with a playing time of 16 1/2 minutes and features the already established BH playbook style of alternative heavy rock synthesis of grungy distorted guitar riffs accompanied by bass and drums and an atmospheric backdrop of synth rich mood enhancers. BH seems to have gotten a hold on making these sprawling behemoth tracks a tad more interesting with more dynamic guitar variations, drumming expansionism and nicer production tones which expand into infinity. Chord progression-wise, LIMINAL MONORAIL does evoke a sense of been there done that as there is nothing substantially different from a gazillion other PIKEs of this style. I’m not sure why BH is intent on replicating the same compositional formula ad nauseam but for whatever reason he does just that.

“Hawksglide” provides the perfect soundtrack for a, well you guessed it, gliding through the air as it is totally airy with echoey guitars at a slow tempo and atmospheric embellishments. This one is very much like a gazillion other BH releases of the past and nothing special really. In fact the echoey ambient nature of the track is actually not very pleasing to my ears for whatever reason. It’s OK and nothing overtly horrible but geez, where did the creativity go from this once prolific artist that could totally create a shock and awe at a moment’s notice? Not here in this one. Overall a decent PIKE but not as pleasant as the preceding PIKE.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 287 - Electrum

Album · 2021 · Heavy Alternative Rock
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siLLy puPPy
After a long absence, the seemingly indefatigable BUCKETHEAD returns in 2021 with another edition of his PIKE series. Far from the hundreds of albums released in 2014-15, in 2020 BH only unleashed nine hatchlings onto the world.

PIKE 287 - ELECTRUM is the first baby chick to emerge from the coop in 2021 and BUCKETHEAD is continuing to release the numbered PIKEs out of order since the previous edition was “Pike 284” therefore 285 and 286 are still in the hatchery. My guess is that he has been incubating many of these for a while and simply releases them once they are done at varying rates.

PIKE 287 - ELECTRUM is yet another near 30 minute experience which features only three tracks however this one is unique in that the opening title track runs just over 24 minutes and the other two tracks are both under 3. Of course BUCKETHEAD plays all instruments and this was released digitally only but unfortunately unlike the misleading price of 13 cents on the PIKE covers, this PIKE goes for 8.99$.

The title track is pretty much the entire PIKE and features the by-now typical arrangement of guitars, bass, drums and a bit of keyboard ambience. This is basically alternative rock with crunchy guitar riffs nurtured into a melodic construct with slower parts and more upbeat cadences of heavier rock. While implementing the tried and true formula of a post-rock styled cyclical loop that incorporates a single melody that alternates with a few others, “Electrum” crafts a tapestry of varying dynamics and subtle guitar differences that sprawl out to a whopping 24 plus minutes. Decent but nothing out of the ordinary either however diverse enough to be entertaining. 
“Astro Backyard” starts of with clean arpeggiated guitar but then adds some of those clucking heavier alt rock guitar riffs. This one is pretty cool as it has interesting rhythmic chops and dynamic shifts from heavy to softer. Short and sweet but satisfying.

“Archway” is the heaviest track on board with an instant heavy guitar riff and a choppy time signature. Alternates with what almost sounds like black metal guitar tones. Another nice short but sweet mix of heavy and less heavy.

Not a bad PIKE, in fact one of the better ones of recent memory however still not in the league of when the series began. I much prefer the last two short tracks over the sprawling title track opener and wish that there would’ve been a reallocation of time with the last two at least being doubled in length however as these alternative rock PIKEs go, this one is worthy of hearing again as it employs new ideas and there is an effort to keep things from sounding too repetitive.

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