Corey Taylor is the Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter for the heavy metal band Slipknot, as well as the hard rock outfit Stone Sour and various solo collaborations. In addition to music, he is the New York Times and London Times best-selling author of Seven Deadly Sins: Settling The Argument Between Born Bad and Damaged Good and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Heaven; Or How I Made Peace with the Paranormal and Stigmatized Zealots and Cynics in the Process. He’s also written House of Gold and Bones, a comic book mini-series adapted from the short story and Stone Sour double-concept album of the same name. He keeps his stuff in many houses and hotel rooms around the world with his wife and children, much to their chagrin.
I am an unabashed Taylor Hawkins fan. I have been for years. From his earlier recordings to his work with the Foo Fighters and the Coattail Riders, I think he’s one of the best rock drummers out there. He’s one of those musicians who can do it all: sing, drum, play piano and guitar, it doesn’t matter. He’s a crazy-talented bastard. So when I heard I would have a chance to hear his new project, the Birds of Satan, I immediately said, “How soon can you send it?”
Fuckin’ A, I was not disappointed.
The Birds of Satan and their self-titled album conjure up a lot of Taylor’s influences: Everything from Cheap Trick to the Beach Boys is represented here, and in a very cool way. The first track, “The Ballad of the Birds of Satan” is a nine-minute-plus opus that feels like a three-minute barnburner. A drum fill swells from the depths, soon joined by a cacophony of guitar lines and baby giggles. As abruptly as it started, it stops. Then the guitars begin a fractured cadence that is suddenly glued together by the drums. “We only ever talk… about you,” Taylor moans, handling both vocals and kit duty. This is killer! This song is about to engage in some musical gymnastics, old school Who-style: many mini-songs driving into another. As it shifts gears, the once-dissonant riff finds a bounce to get your ass jamming. Zeppelin comes to mind as the guitars and bass lock in with Taylor, only to shift gears again. A very Rush-esque vibe drills you as the solo starts. Then, with a Sabbath drop, the song finds a moment to descend and mellow for a second. “Too much, too soon,” the lyrics wail. As we rev back into higher RPM/BPMs, the groove heads into Foos/QOTSA territory.
Hawkins has a great voice. In this epic alone, he finds every way possible to use it differently and wonderfully. He is our place-marker on this jam, exclaiming poignant lyrics like “What does it feel like, we could be friends/Finally found an issue as the tissue hits the ground” and “Let’s see you smile, scare us a while/What a disaster.” Those are both fuckin’ great lines. This whole tune is a badass collage of styles and mercies and I love it.
We’re only just getting started.
“Thanks for the Line” is a cool jaunt with a great hop. The transitions are laden with ear candy: a touch of sweet for anyone with a taste for smart pop-rock. “Walk through the door, just to hide,” Hawkins intones, “You’re going nowhere, thanks for the line.” A piano interrupts to deliver a somber bridge at just the right moment as the bass, followed by the guitar, comes back into view. It’s a taut little fun song: exactly what rock can be when you get out of its way.
“Pieces of the Puzzle” gallops out of the gate before breaking down in a way that would make Stewart Copeland proud. By the way, the guitar work here is awesome — it just seems like Mick Murphy can play anything you need, bassist Wiley Hodgden really gels with Hawkins, providing the ass this music needs for penetration. As things amp up, it’s getting complicated for our intrepid singer. Musically, there’s some Hüsker Dü real estate involved. Hawkins sings, “It’s the necessary evil in me/Why do I need you all the time?” You are left feeling how Hawkins must feel — he’s been there, done that, and knows what he’s talking about. The blending of harmonized guitars in the middle is fantastic, speeding us towards the reprise as he cries, “Pieces of the puzzle fit but I don’t think I’m getting it.” Luckily, those pieces fit perfectly here.
We’re only on the fourth song and already I love this album. “Raspberries” is gorgeous. Lush guitars and a full bass line are stitched together with a simple beat as a fairly intricate lyric plays across the top. “Like ghosts, they come to lead you to an early grave,” another great line, serves as the launch pad for a frenetic blast of rock that knows exactly when to fall back into the niceties of the verses. I’m reminded of the Jam and other great British bands that fused killer songwriting with bursts of furious performance.
“Talk/is cheap/The words that you speak/really never seem to say nothing.” So says “Nothing at All,” the fifth track, and Jesus, how many times have we all felt that? Crooning across an old acoustic guitar, the song picks you up and slaps you in the face with some musical trickery. It’s really cool to hear this band do whatever they please, keeping it fresh. You never get the sense that they’re taking themselves too seriously.
That’s rock & roll.
“Wait Til Tomorrow” doesn’t even pretend to fuck around. It gets right to the nuts… and bolts, so as not to offend. “Why can’t it wait ‘til tomorrow? One more last mistake is all…” Fuck yeah. That’s when it hits me: as much as this band wears its influences on its sleeve, they never fall into the trap of things like clichéd chord progressions and the like. That’s to say, even though the styles feel familiar, you never get the feeling that you’ve heard the song before. That’s worthy of applause because it is fucking hard to do, believe me.
The album is rounded out with “Too Far Gone to See” and holy mother’s milk, is that a harpsichord I hear?!? Here’s Hawkins’ Beach Boys/Queen influence (with a dash of Crosby, Stills & Nash) and it’s very cool to hear it work so well without feeling schmaltzy. I love it when I can tell that real instruments are being played, not just Pro Tools plug-ins. It feels as good as it sounds. “Hold your breath one more time, brace yourself for what you find.” Knowing what this band is capable of, this lyric is the perfect description for the entire album: at any second, you know they could pull some crazy style change out of the back pocket of those blue jeans they’re wearing. “Too Far Gone…” is a sparse landscape until you hear those drums bring everything back. The last half of the song is packed with pay-off, taking its time instead of switching midstream, so you can discover it on your own. The last 30 seconds are just f’ing cool — no spoilers.
My only complaint, because I’m greedy, is that it’s only seven tracks! I wanted more! But the old adage is true: always leave them wanting more. So I hope there’s more on the horizon. If you love old school rock with a new school vibe, The Birds of Satan is the CD that will be in your car for the next six months.
Then again, you may want this on vinyl.