This album caused Powerman 5000 to become very big, very fast. It went platinum – something the band would never repeat, and (on the evidence of their previous album) should never have been possible at all.

In 1999, many things suddenly went in their favor. They were signed to a major label, and now had the muscle to swing Sylvia Massey and Ulrich Wild as producers. Lead single “When Worlds Collide” was added to heavy rotation on MTV, and immediately caught on as a ready-made WWE walk-on music. And by 1999, industrial metal was bigger than it would ever be again, powered by mainstream crossover smashes like Orgy’s cover of “Blue Monday.”

Spider One abandoned the rapping and funk-rock riffs of their first album for a sleeker, catchier, more mainstream sound. The guitars are loaded with effects, and although Spider’s barked vocals are the central point, the guitar work is pretty ambitious and fascinating. This is one of those records where it’s not always easy to distinguish the riffs from the loops and the electronics.

Classic songs abound. “Supernova Goes Pop” brings the party with heavy riffs and Spider’s sinewy, slithery vocals (it has personal significance for me, as it’s the first song I learned to play). “Are you the future…or are you the past?” The title track is incoherent, out of control, and fun. “When Worlds Collide” is still the album’s best song. It’s short, it’s catchy, and it’s loaded with energy, making it suitable for all of the 5 million “XXXtreme” sports games it has appeared in.

“The Son of X-51” is driving and propellant. Rob Zombie gets a guest spot on the explosive “Blast Off to Nowhere.” The album ends with a cover of a Cars song, further cementing them as a rock band. The only clear link Powerman 5000 has to hip hop at this point is the presence of “skit” tracks.

This album really kicks ass. Even at their biggest, Powerman 5000 was behind Rob Zombie and Static-X, but not too far behind. They could have built on this, but instead the band imploded soon after. That’s the thing about supernovas: they’re bright and pretty, but they mark the death of a star.

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Weird, but it works. A lot of their later stuff is weird and doesn’t work, so small victories, right? Powerman 5000 isn’t a band so much as singer/frontman Spider One (who is Rob Zombie’s brother) writing music with whoever happens to walk through the studio door. The band has an ex-member list as long as a monkey’s arm, and frequently changes styles. Across the years, they’ve been an indie hip-hop outfit, a rap-rock band, a crazy glittery Babylon Zoo-esque performance act, a pop punk group, and then a weird amalgamation of all those things.

This is the rap-rock incarnation of Powerman 5000. Noisy, edgy Limp Bizkit sounding stuff sold by a vocalist who drawls as much as he raps and has an obsession with comics, B movies, and martial arts films. The guitar work is visceral and sloppy, heavy on the effects, and there are even some solos (which were hard to come by in the mid 90s).

The CD functions more like a sonic house of horrors than a set of cohesive songs. “Neckbone” and “Organizized” are pretty fun, with Spider just yawping all over the place and letting out throat-ripping screams. “Standing 8” has vague implications of radio-friendliness, sounding like a Red Hot Chili Peppers song at times. Production is pretty raw. It’s listenable. I could do without the overly roomy snare.

Do I like this? Maybe the only way I can answer is to say that I don’t hate it enough to turn it off. There are listenable moments, and the whole thing is just too much of an experience to easily forget. Skip the bullshit joke song at the end.

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A confused, dreamlike, challenging book.

We meet Roland, a lone traveler who is pursuing an ancient enemy, The Man in Black. Roland is a gunslinger, a cross between a Wild West lawman and a medieval knight, and that he is the last guardian of a world that has “moved on”. What this means is something he can’t say, but it may have been a nuclear war.

He is trying to find (via the Man in Black) the Dark Tower, an existential pylon that supports all the worlds in the universe. Roland believes that the Dark Tower is in jeopardy, and that if it fell all would be lost.

Why he’s taking the trouble is a mystery, since everything in his world is either dead or dying. Mutants, demons, endless deserts, crazy preachers, and men with the heads of animals are common sights. Technology seems to have regressed to that of the turn-of-the-century Wild West, although from time to time he encounters relics from a technological past (notably an abandoned shopping mall). Occasionally, Roland reminisces about his idyllic childhood in the green land of Gilead, and hopes that life will once again be like that someday.

The book – even in the revised edition King put out not too long ago – reads like a drug trip, and can be a little hard to follow. Nobody has a straight conversation: they talk in stilted and elliptical sentences that sound like they’ve been passed around a Chinese Whispers circle one too many times. King plays tricks with the narrative (the first couple of scenes play out in reverse chronological order), and you get the sense that time and space are decaying in Roland’s world, along with technology.

It was written by a young man (as King points out in the introduction), and there’s a vibe of “this much obscurity will absolutely score me points at my college writer’s circle!” going on, but the story, once you deconvolve it, is simple. The plot is simple. Just a guy chasing another guy.

In its final pages, the book unexpectedly sticks in the knife and twists. Roland is offered a choice, and makes what seems like the only correct choice: to damn his soul. It’s described in mute, understated terms, but it’s unusually effective.

The story truly takes flight in The Drawing of the Three (which may be my favorite of King’s works), and then crashes down to earth in later volumes. Roland will be fine. The books, on the other hand…

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