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Mos Generator’s Nomads: A Clinic in Heavy Rock

Lying down, headphones blasting in the dim light of a laptop, one word kept coming to mind, over and over: excellent. That’s Pacific Northwest metal legends Mos Generator’s new album Nomads, their first in five years. Maybe due to frontman/guitarist Tony Reed’s involvement with Stone Axe, this one has a lot less in common with Mos Generator’s artsy, apocalyptic 2005 masterpiece The Late Great Planet Earth than it does with their thunderous but nimble early-zeros roots. Like innumerable stoner metal acts, Mos Generator looks back to early Sabbath, but what differentiates them from all the imitators is their songwriting. Hell, Sabbath had a top 40 hit: heavy as that band’s songs were, they were catchy, and Mos Generator shares that gift for melody. The songs here have the kind of weight you find at the ass end of the period table, but aside from a couple of tracks toward the end of the album that have tongue-in-cheek power-ballad interludes, there’s nothing even remotely pop about them.

Reed has been a fine player for a long time; he can shred with anybody, but what makes him different is that he usually doesn’t. His solos are about making a point, hitting a phrase head-on for maximum impact, taking a crescendo over the cliff so it takes out a whole village of idiots when it lands rather than self-destructing halfway down. Case in point: the fourth track here, Step Up. Evil bleeding chromatics give way to a brontosaurus stomp as Scooter Haslip’s melodic bass rises ominously. Reed hits his fuzztone pedal and then goes into some searing blues. They run another verse, then he takes off, savagely but also judicious and bluesy, high above the lush, multitracked layers of roar. And then he suddenly hits a supersonic flurry of tapping that instantly takes the energy level into the red. It’s the only time on the album he does it. Compare that with, say, Yngwie Malmsteen.

The first couple of tracks, Cosmic Ark and Lonely One Kenobi, are a clinic in how to build a song, heavy riffage anchoring a constant shift in tones and timbres: lingering acidic flange lines, aching Jimmy Page vibrato, searing upper-register icepick attacks like Buck Dharma on…hmmmm….take a guess. The third track, Torches, looks back to British bands like Nazareth with its sludgy thump and Stonehenge lyrics. Solar Angels is a feast of smoldering, screaming, burning textures, again evoking Blue Oyster Cult at their most confrontationally direct. Haslip and drummer Shawn Johnson stand out most impressively on the early Maiden-flavored For Your Blood, with its growly Steve Harris gallop giving off noxious fumes underneath Reed’s doubletracked solo.

Finally, at the end of the album, the band revisits the mind-warping majesty of The Late Great Planet Earth with This Is the Gift of Nature, an apocalyptic epic full of tricky polyrhythms and dark bluesfunk-tinted passages that echo bands like Rare Earth and the Isley Bros. – but from the bottom of a well, darkly. The only thing anybody could possibly want after this is a reissue of that 2005 album – which is coming, along with this one, from Ripple Music. Lots of stuff, audio and video, up at their site.

Two Classic Metal Albums by Mos Generator Back in Print

When there’s so much great free music out there, the obvious question is why anybody would want to pay for it. Answer: when it’s worth owning. One recent example is the new double reissue from Mos Generator. Marketed by boutique retro metal label Ripple Music as a 10th anniversary package (and available on double gatefold vinyl!!), it combines the band’s 2001 studio debut with their fantastic but little-known Live at the Manette 8/24/02 album. Of all the second-wave Sabbath types, these guys were and remain by far the most original, with tricky prog tempos, tunefully sludgy Tony Iommi-style lo-register riffage and a sense of humor to rival their sense of purpose. Frontman/guitarist Tony Reed can play supersonic blues licks with anybody, but he’s all about the riff, and hammering it home. And what a great rhythm section – Scooter Haslip’s bass functions as a second lead guitar, while Shawn Johnson’s drumming has an agility and swing sadly missing in most post-70s metal.

The live record comprises most of the tracks from the first album, along with a couple of very tasty tunes that were new at the time. What’s most impressive about this is how full the sound of the live stuff sounds without the studio overdubs. They slam into the stoner anthem Lumbo Rock – a mix of funkmetal and Blue Oyster Cult boogie – with Reed playing just a hair ahead of the rest of the band, he’s so amped to rip the hell out of this. Their homage to moonshine running, Stone County Line, could be Black Oak Arkansas if that band had a good drummer. Somehow they manage to contain themselves through the mellow 70s FM blues verse of Acapulco Gold (supposedly the primo bud of that era) before the paint-peeling chorus kicks in, then let it all hang out with an especially sarcastic version of Sleeping Your Way to the Middle. “You saw me on the way out; I saw you on the way down,” Reed rasps at the gold-digger who wants a piece of him.

The version of Pentagramagraph is a lot more straightforward, and also overtly sarcastic, than the studio version with its Pink Floyd-ish slide guitar and ambient interlude. You Bring the Wine, I’ll Bring the Weather is as funny, both lyrically and musically, as you would expect from a cross between Bon Scott-era AC/DC and Sabbath; they go back to the meaty Stonehenge hooks with Opium Eyes, another dis to somebody who aspires to being a “motherfucking concubine.” The concert’s last track, On the Eve works its way down from doomed ferocity to a dirge and then back up again but with a tricky time signature, Haslip’s growling bass running the hook as Reed flips the script and gets more subtle and nimble than most guitar heavyweights can muster. “We had a drunken good time,” he tells the crowd at the end. If metal is your thing and you slept on this stuff when it first came out – and a lot of people did, this was before myspace, let alone youtube – now’s a good time to rediscover them. Also recommended: their apocalyptic 2005 masterpiece The Late Great Planet Earth.