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Strange Bedfellows: 311, Cradle Of Filth and James Taylor

In a world filled with choices, it is my contention that listening to the heavy metal screeching bombast of Cradle Of Filth makes the soothing sounds of James Taylor all the more profound. Likewise, Taylor's beauty, "Before This World," makes me yearn for the alt-rock of 311. And vice-versa. It's all good, as they say.

I'm no 311 fan. Couldn't tell you the name of one song. But I must say in all honesty, I am now. Why? The answer amazes me. Their four-CD boxed set, "Archive" (Volcano Entertainment/Legacy Recordings), has only 20 tracks that even longtime 311 fans have ever heard. That's right. Sixty-one out of 81 tracks are previously unreleased. The box consists of "B-Sides & Bonus Tracks" (Disc #1), "Unreleased Songs" (Disc #2), "Pre-Production Recordings & Demos" (Disc #3) and "Demos" (Disc #4). This means no blathering concert jammy moments with obnoxious crowd sing-alongs. It's all right there: in-your-face alt-rock, funk, rap and reggae. It's a hell of a way to discover a band's music.

311 Press Shot 3 (c) Brian Bowen Smith

Twenty-five years! How'd they get past me? I'm lovin' it! My music teacher wife made me turn it off in the car but that just made me love it more. They came out of Omaha, Nebraska in 1990. Their first big gig was in their hometown opening for Fugazi. They now live in Los Angeles and just completed a tour in support of this hefty package that includes a 60-page book.

"We felt we didn't really need another `Greatest Hits' compilation," writes the band--singer/guitarist Nick Hexum, singer/DJ S.A. Martinez, guitarist Tim Mahoney, drummer Chad Sexton, bassist P-Nut--in the liner notes. "While searching, it became clear that we were going to dive deep into the archives and uncover material that no one outside the band had ever laid eyes or ears on."

More bands should do this. It's a gamble, sure, but in this case, it worked, and made a new fan in the process. Now I'm down with whatever 311 comes up with going forward. Who knew?


Then there's Cradle Of Filth, a British metal band I used to cover as Editor of Metal Maniacs magazine. They've also been around for 25 years. To be perfectly truthful, in my metal retirement, I've steered clear of such sound but again, who knew? Yeah, listening to their new "Hammer Of The Witches" (Nuclear Blast) was rather nostalgic for me. The sonic textures, the screaming banshee vocals of frontman Dani Filth (who always had a penchant for solid theater), the overflowing liquid organ of Lindsay Schoolcraft and the twin-guitar attack of Richard Shaw and Ashok, all make for a very heady, loud, horror-movie soundtrack-styled listen. I remember preaching to my friends back in the 1990s that, being multi-genre means I don't need harmony or melody in my metal. Past Cradle Of Filth albums like "Dusk And Her Embrace" and "Cruelty & The Beast" suited me just fine. So does this. In fact, it reminds me of another band I used to covet as my own, Sweden's Therion.

"Hammer Of The Witches" concerns itself with the Christian torture and persecution of women deemed to be witches. Cradle Of Filth wants revenge and this is it. Payback. Let's hear it for all those poor women burned at the stake! It's orchestral, symphonic-sounding (there's that organ again) and filled with what sounds like the choir of the dead women themselves. Maybe it's time for me to get some metal back into my life on a more regular basis.

James Taylor

There's a song on the new James Taylor album "Before This World" (Concord Music Group) called "Angels Of Fenway" that gives me chills. Sure, I'm a Yankee fan, but listening to New Englander Taylor sing so beautifully, honestly and profoundly about the team he loves reminds me that the purpose of art is to bring to the fore certain universal emotions that we all share. Like "deja vu all over again" as the great late Yogi Berra used to say, there's just something about this track that brings me back. And it's only one of 10 absolutely beautifully crafted works of art that has this 67 year old troubadour sounding at the top of his game, both compositionally and vocally.