By Eleni P. Austin
Nick Oliveri, the enfant terrible of Desert Rock is back. Anyone familiar with his music knows his impressive resume, but still it bears repeating. Starting more than 25 years ago, Nick’s nascent efforts in Sons Of Kyuss and Katzenjammer led toplaying bass with local unsung heroes, RagTag.
The four piece also featured guitarist James Danielson, drummer Eric Turner and lead vocalist Rick Shelley. The band’s style was a Glam-Punk-Metal hybrid that could have shared a bill with Guns N’ Roses and Jane’s Addiction. Unfortunately, their rock & roll dreams were dashed by the “pay to play” realities of the Sunset Strip.
After RagTag imploded, Oliveri reconnected with his Katzenjammer pal, Josh Homme and Kyuss, (sans the Sons), was re-born. Along with vocalist JohnGarcia and drummer Brant Bjork they created two iconic albums, Wretch and Blues For The Red Sun.
Oliveri left the band right as Blues… was being released. The band recruited bassist Scott Reeder and wound up touring with Metallica. Nick teamed up with hardcore San Francisco Punks the Dwarves. He played bass on and off with them, recording under his destructo pseudonym, Rex Everything.
By the late ‘90s Kyuss had collapsed and Oliveri and Homme reunited again, (along with a rotating cast of band mates) and formed Queens Of The Stone Age. Homme characterized their music as “rock heavy enough for the boys and sweet enough for the girls.” Their self-titled debut arrived in 1998, and Oliveri joined just in time to tour.
QOTSA’s next two albums, Rated R and Songs For The Deaf were both massive, critically and commercially, but once again Homme and Oliveri reached an impasse and Oliveri was fired, replaced by musical savant, Alain Johannes.
Oliveri had already begun a side project, Mondo Generator. Now it became his full-time job. Mondo Generator’s debut, Cocaine Rodeo had been recorded in between QOTSA commitments. It received a proper release in 2000. Their sophomore effort, A Drug Problem That Never Existed arrived in 2003. He put together a real band, featuring Dave Catching, Brant Bjork and Molly McGuire and went out on the road.
In between recording and touring with the rotating line-up of Mondo Generator, Oliveri found time to record a couple of solo albums, Demolition Day in 2004 and Death Acoustic in 2009.
By 2010 he had reunited with Brant Bjork and John Garcia as Kyuss Lives! The line-up also included guitarist Bruno Fevery. Playing Kyuss songs exclusively, they toured extensively throughout America and Europe. On some dates, Oliveri’s original Kyuss replacement, Scott Reeder sat in with the band.
However, when it was announced that Kyuss Lives! was going to record, Reeder and Josh Homme filed a lawsuit, successfully prohibiting the band from recording under the Kyuss Lives! sobriquet. Oliveri left the line-up just as they became Vista Chino.
Now ever-prolific Nick Oliveri is back with a new solo effort, as Nick Oliveri’s Uncontrollable. The album, entitled Leave Me Alone, feels like his most personal music to date.
Opening with the sound of car engine turning over and rev’ing up, the first track, “Human Cannonball Explodes,” details a narcoleptic hell ride. Over a punishing beat and downstroke guitar, Oliveri yelps “Asleep at the wheel, wake up man, this is real!/Like a bullet in my head, the blood boils down.”
Both “Keep Me In The Loop” and “Get Lost (With Me”) work hard to camouflage Oliveri’s very real sense of loneliness and alienation. The former weds a frenetic beat to mastodon riff-age and careening bass lines. “Lonely is a noose,” he intones over a blistering guitar solo. “Soon all this pain will be gone.”
On the latter, search-and-destroy guitar riffs slither through a minefield of pummeling drums. Oliveri almost pleads “Just let it all loose/ Get lost in the city with me.” The cyclonic guitar solo rides roughshod over his sepulchral vocals.
The aggression rarely lets up on this album. It’s clear that Oliveri’s musical touchstones remain Punk and Metal. However, on three tracks his versatility, as well as his vulnerability slip through.
“Luv Is Fiction” has almost a Rockabilly feel. A chunky back-beat collides with gnarled guitar riffs. Oliveri’s casual misogyny is on full display “I treat objects like women, I drink beer with a slice of lemon. “He insists he wants no emotional connections… “I came for your kisses, your heart-shaped box, don’t start trippin’ our love will go into detox.” The marauding guitar solo is equal parts Yngwie Malmasteen and Dexter Romweber!
“Come And You’re Gone” is anchored by a crashing backbeat and ricocheting riffs. Here he seems intent on exorcising his demons. “You’ve been stalking the hallways, you’ve been haunting me always.” As the tempo accelerates, speeding toward a thrashy conclusion the song closes with a sound-clip of a cinematic punch-up.
Finally “The Robot Man” opens with the “thwop thwop thwop” of helicopter blades, police sirens and rampaging guitar riffs that recall Khatchaturian’s “Sabre Dance.” The lyrics offer not-so-cryptic allusions to Oliveri’s infamous run-in with the Los Angeles S.W.A.T. team.
Other interesting tracks include “The Void.” Supersonic speed-metal riffs crash over buzzing bass lines and Hi-Hat fills. The lyrics take a harrowing plunge into “mental pain.” The title track is a tart guitar instrumental. It’s the musical equivalent of a palate-cleansing sorbet served between Heavy Metal main courses!
The album closes with the despondent “Death Leads The Way” a hiccupping rhythm hopscotches through a scorched melody. Oliveri’s mien is startlingly matter of fact. “It seems like death is shadowing me, following my every move, every step I take.” Hopefully the relentless, scabrous see-saw guitar attack that concludes this song will keep the grim reaper at bay.
“Leave Me Alone” should satisfy Punks and Metal-Heads alike. After 25 years, Nick Oliveri’s persona seems set in stone: The buck-naked satyr who flaunts authority and takes no prisoners. But scratch beneath the surface and there is a sweetness, a sadness and a level of introspection that belies his wicked ways. Hopefully someday he will feel comfortable enough to let those aspects of his personality shine through his music.