If Ian Gillan And Tony Iommi Care, That’s Good Enough For Me
Whocares/Out Of My Mind/Holy Water/Armoury
One of the things I like best about Whocares is the fact that you can almost imagine the conversation where the formidable personnel involved were sitting around in the studio, deciding what to call the project, and someone finally said, “Who the hell cares what we call it?” and it stuck. It’s a valid point, since no matter what name they gave it, it’s the names Tony Iommi and Ian Gillan that were going to draw eyes to the debut Whocares charity CD single (when was the last time you saw one of those? In a full jewel case, no less!), Out Of My Mind/Holy Water (Armoury).
The band, centered around the Black Sabbath guitarist and Deep Purple vocalist, was put together to benefit an Armenian music school. The story goes that Gillan— whose history in Armenia going back more than 20 years to the aftermath of the 1988 earthquake chronicled in an included documentary video—and Iommi were in Armenia to receive medals from the prime minister for the work they did and the money they gave helping rebuild after that quake, saw the school, and decided to help out some more. What it rounds out to is the first time Iommi and Gillan have paired on new studio material since Black Sabbath’s underrated 1983 offering, Born Again.
That alone has drawn eyes and hears to Whocares and the Out Of My Mind/Holy Water single, but the fact that the guitarist and singer—two figures whose influence over hard rock and metal simply can’t be measured—are joined by the likes of drummer Nicko McBrain of Iron Maiden, former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted and ex-Deep Purple organ master Jon Lord is even more fodder for the salivary glands. The above, as well as guitarist Mikko “Linde” Lindström of HIM (also Iommi’s son in law), comprise the Whocares lineup for “Out Of My Mind,” the focus track from the single and the song for which a video was made that’s also included here. On the somewhat less star-studded, “Holy Water,” Iommi and Gillan are joined by guitarists Steve Morse (Deep Purple) and Michael Lee Jackson (a Deep Purple backup and Gillan solo guitarist), bassist Rodney Appleby and Hammond player Jesse O’Brien (both also of Gillan’s band), and drummer Randy Clarke. “Holy Water” also has a duduk contribution from Arshak Sahakyan and a key intro Ara Gevorgyan, for that Armenian flavor. It’s essentially two different bands led by Iommi and Gillan, one mega-supergroup and one regular old supergroup, operating under the same moniker to benefit an Armenian music school. Sure, they probably could have cut a check and been done with it, but one assumes (at least hopes) this was more fun.
And as much as one hopes Whocares also serves to test the waters for a potential further Gillan/Iommi studio or touring reunion either as Black Sabbath or some other incarnation (could always ring up Geezer Butler, call it Born Again and hit the road—I’d go), in the meantime, Out Of My Mind/Holy Water gives just over 12 minutes of material to deal with, the first five being dedicated to the higher-profile “Out Of My Mind.” The song is based around a central riff typical of latter-day Iommi work, a simple groove that wouldn’t have been out of place on Heaven And Hell’s The Devil You Know, probably culled from some massive archive the guitarist has either on tape (and by “tape,” I mean a massive home studio with ProTools and the rest) or just floating around in his head. Either way, it’s about what you’d reasonably expect performance-wise, and ditto that for Gillan, who can be seen reading the lyrics from a sheet in the video and kind of sounds like he is in the final version of the song as well. His vocals are dry for all of “Out Of My Mind” but a surprisingly Ozzy-esque multi-layered break before Iommi’s solo, but his phrasing is well done, his voice strong and easily fitting the guitars and Jon Lord’s key work, which is brilliant and a huge factor in what makes the chorus so effective. Newsted and McBrain are straightforward as a rhythm section, the structure of the track doesn’t demand much of them and though one could imagine the spaces more imaginative fills might occupy, they do fine with what they’re given.
At seven minutes, “Holy Water” is probably the more diverse of the two cuts, and it feels more Deep Purple because it is. The duduk/ambient intro gives an appropriate Eastern European atmosphere, and the blend across the song of acoustic and electric guitar and keys is thoughtful and graceful in kind. Iommi, who’s known so much for playing darker-sounding songs, blends in well with Morse and Jackson on guitar, and though Lord is missed, O’Brien’s Hammond is a suitable replacement, following the riff well and filling out the sound.
“Holy Water” isn’t intended to rock as hard as “Out Of My Mind,” so it’s not disappointing when it doesn’t, and while it’s clearly not an Iommi track, he manages to put a stamp on it anyway in the solo(s). Because the likes of Lord, Newsted and McBrain aren’t involved, it’s easier to see the song as filler material culled from a Deep Purple or Gillan solo reject track, but it’s a decent song anyway and Gillan’s performance, if staid, affects a kind of sing-song feel in the chorus’ lyrical theme of drunken regret that makes it a solid listen. As the video documentary chronicles his trip to Armenia after the 1988 earthquake (the country was then still part of the USSR) and his and Iommi’s return there in 2009, as well as an interview with the singer about his involvement, the original charity single he did for the earthquake (a re-recording of Deep Purple’s mega-classic “Smoke on the Water”), and closes with him in front of an Armenian orchestra, dancing, clapping and generally enjoying life, it’s obvious that his concern runs deep. Which seems to be why they did Whocares in the first place.
It won’t be the work on which the legacy of any of the parties involved is built—except, perhaps by the schoolchildren it’s directly benefitting—but neither is it rational to expect it to be. Out Of My Mind/Holy Water accomplishes its mission as a vehicle for Gillan and Iommi to give aid where they feel it’s needed, and reignites a collaboration between two of the most central figures in the development of hard rock and heavy metal. If that’s not enough to ask of 12 minutes of rock and roll songwriting, I don’t know what to tell you.
Back For Another Pass
Has it really been six years since Borgo Pass released their last album? Nervosa, which came out in 2005, saw the band refine the harder Southern take of the 2002 Slightly Damaged EP, itself the follow-up to 1999’s excellent Powered By Sludge, and now in kind, the long-running Long Island outfit issue their next installment in the 50-minute Deadwater. Like all their albums, it’s self-released, and though the band claims to be “looking for a label home” on their sundry web-presences, I can’t imagine how they wouldn’t have been picked up by now had they really wanted to. They’ve never been a touring act to the best of my recollection, but to think of the slew of East Coast hard rock and metal acts who managed to find labels, it’s hard to believe they didn’t have offers at some point in the last 15-plus years. Shit, if E-Town Concrete can sign to Razor & Tie, surely Borgo Pass could’ve been picked up by someone.
That’s not a sonic comparison, by the way, just thinking of another act of formidable presence in its own region not really known outside of it. And at this point, Borgo Pass are the kings of Long Island. They can always be relied upon to draw a crowd—an eager crowd at that—and they never fail to proffer solid, melodically-aware, guitar-led metal that’s accessible and catchy well beyond the point of commercial viability, but that nonetheless retains some edge of underground-mindedness. On Deadwater, their radio-friendly heaviness comes to full boar. Vocalist James Tamarazzo never screams outright, but clearly puts his whole stomach into his approach nonetheless, and dual guitarists Tom Crane and Paul Rosado lead the rhythm section of bassist Thomas J. Karcher and drummer Joe Wood through 10 tracks (and a bonus Black Sabbath cover, “Tomorrow’s Dream”) of straightforward American metal structures. There are some ears for which Deadwater is going to simply sound too commercial—including, at points, my own—but there’s little on the album to argue against Borgo Pass having long since mastered their craft.
In the interest of full disclosure, I know Joe Wood personally, have been in and still am in bands with him and consider him a good friend. That said, I think even he would probably acknowledge that Borgo Pass lie outside the realm of my usual stylistic haunts. Although there are some Southern-style riffs to be had from Deadwater highlight “Quint” or the über-Down-influenced “Burning Breath,” for the most part, Borgo Pass have long since grown out of their Powered By Sludge ethic and into a much less genre-specific methodology. Most of Deadwater resides somewhere on the line between hard rock and metal—beefy tones from the strings, double-kick from Wood and Tamarazzo’s post-Anselmo inflection nonetheless smoothly presented and never quite tipping over into full-on abrasion. The thing about Borgo Pass more than 15 years into their career, however, is they’re exactly what they want to be, and their songwriting ability has never been so apparent as it is on Deadwater. Late-album tracks like “Sea Of Inverted Crosses” and “Flesh And Bone” make epics out of memorable choruses, and the earlier “Raised By Wolves/Sell Me Something Different”—which is as close as they come to any kind of doomed sensibility here—manages to balance its nod-worthy groove with the record’s crisp, professional production to wind up consistent with the rest of the material.
The five-piece make a couple missteps in the semi-ballads “Embrace” and “Bless,” which appear at the ends of Deadwater’s two halves, the latter coming right before the aforementioned “Tomorrow’s Dream” cover. I understand after four consistent, rocking cuts, some change is warranted, but “Embrace” falls flat, and, as it follows largely the same pattern, “Bless” all the more telegraphs where it’s headed. By and large, though, Borgo Pass deliver with their latest album precisely what it is they’re best at delivering, and topped off with a gorgeous cover as Deadwater is, I’m not about to hold playing to their strengths against them if it runs counter to my personal taste. It can seem formulaic at times, and as ever for the band, they’re more likely to find favor among hard-rocking DJs than snobbish, overly-wordy genre critics, but one gets the sense in listening to Deadwater that that suits Borgo Pass just fine.
JJ Koczan just found out his favorite townie bar got sold to a chain. Send him your sympathies at firstname.lastname@example.org.