Since 1990, The Lord Weird Slough Feg—Slough Feg for short—have been mining the sweet spot between classic rock and heavy metal. For the band’s guitarist, vocalist, and all-around mastermind Mike Scalzi, that spot can be traced to the magic moment in the late ‘70s when Iron Maiden founder Steve Harris decided he wanted to take his love of Irish rockers Thin Lizzy to the next histrionic level.
“People always say we sound like Thin Lizzy, but I started writing songs like that before I’d ever heard Thin Lizzy proper,” Scalzi says. “I heard ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ when I was a kid, but I thought it sucked. It wasn’t until well after Slough Feg was together that I heard Black Rose and all that stuff. So I didn’t want to sound like Thin Lizzy—I wanted to sound like Maiden, but in a major key. So it ended up sounding Irish or Celtic, but unintentionally.”
Lyrically, Scalzi often spins sci-fi and fantasy tales, like those found on 2003’s Traveller (based on the futuristic 1977 role-playing game of the same name), 2007’s space pirate-themed Hardworlder, and 2009’s self-explanatory Ape Uprising! But on the band’s 10th and latest LP, he moves in a slightly different direction. Invoking the frontman’s day job as a philosophy professor at Diablo Valley College in Northern California, New Organon is a concept album about the history of philosophy.
“I thought it would be neat to make a record that starts in ancient Greece and song by song goes through Nietzsche and existentialism,” he explains. “But it’s got tons of departures because I didn’t want the story to take priority over making an exciting sounding record.”
In that spirit, Scalzi has laid out the following roadmap for New Organon’s journey, track by track.
The album’s bombastic opener revels in gruesome pre-history—a view of uncivilized humanity before philosophy actually takes hold. “The lyrics are about this shaman type guy chopping people’s heads off, but it fits in a way, because it’s kind of a historical beginning,” Scalzi explains. “It’s also the only song on the record that wasn’t written recently. I wrote it in 1991 or ’92, which is why I think it sounds a lot different.”
“Discourse On Equality”
The title of this chiming stomper is a play on 18th century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse On Inequality. “It’s roughly about Rousseau’s contract theory,” Scalzi offers. “The beginnings of society, people binding together for their mutual benefit. So we go from a primitive civilization in ‘Headhunter’ to the beginnings of society.”
Adorned with glittering guitar harmonies, this track is about the death of Socrates. “One of Plato’s four dialogues on the death of Socrates is called Apology, or Apologia in Greek, like an explanation for action or behavior,” Scalzi says. “It was basically a court stenographer’s report, by Plato, about when Socrates was put on trial—and eventually to death—for corrupting the youth of Athens.”
“Being And Nothingness”
Like its two predecessors—and the next song—this galloping ripper takes its name from a philosophy book. “Being and Nothingness is by Sartre, and was written in the 1940s,” Scalzi says. “I jumped so far ahead because frankly it just sounded good in this spot on the record. The song is all about existentialism, but it also references the junkies in the street near our practice space and basically sounds like a Thin Lizzy song.”
Inspired by Francis Bacon’s 1620 treatise Novum Organum, the album’s title track soars with a distinct Celtic flair, thanks to the rollicking melodies and abundant, Lizzy-esque guitar harmonies. “I really liked the book, because he’s talking about human perceptions and how we draw conclusions from our perceptions,” Scalzi says. “He’s an empiricist, philosophically-speaking. He was one of the seminal people to transform Aristotelian induction—reasoning through your perceptions—into what we now call the scientific method.”
“Sword Of Machiavelli”
This lurching take on the 16th century sea shanty explores the brutal triumphs of Niccolò Machiavelli, the notoriously conniving Italian political scientist, positioned here as an agent of Satan. “The philosophical content here is sort of vague references to Machiavelli’s political ideals,” Scalzi explains. “The chorus is, ‘One victim of Mephistopheles,’ but that part just sounded great. I mean, it’s heavy metal, you know? But it makes sense because Machiavelli was insidious and evil and his whole philosophy was about fear and deception of the masses.”
As it turns out, the album’s seventh song has nothing to do with the overall concept—probably because Scalzi didn’t write the lyrics. “Our bassist Adrian wrote that one, so I don’t really know what the lyrics are about,” the professor says with a laugh. “But the first line is ‘Uncanny, the ability to foresee what has since been unknown.’ It’s not necessarily a philosophy-based song.”
“Coming Of Age In The Milky Way”
This über-proggy track has more in common with Yes or King Crimson than any metal band in recent memory. “When I started to write lyrics for this, the phrase ‘gravitational greed’ popped into my head for some reason,” Scalzi explains. “It sounded cosmological, so I started thinking about Neil deGrasse Tyson, who wrote a book called Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. Then the picture of the black hole came out, so I started writing about two black holes being attracted to each other and taking everything over.”
“Exegesis – The Tragic Hooligan”
A follow-up to “Magic Hooligan” from Slough Feg’s last album, Digital Resistance, this melancholy song is both philosophical and autobiographical. “‘Magic Hooligan’ was about being an awkward teenager, so ‘Tragic Hooligan’ is about that teenager getting older but being stuck in the lifestyle of a teenager—like I am, being a man-child singing heavy metal songs,” Scalzi laughs. “The first half of the song, ‘Exegesis,’ is talking shit about the idea of aseity, which is an obscure philosophy of religion that says God is ‘uncaused.’ The lyrics are straight from my lecture notes.”
The lyrics to the album’s triumphant closer reference Diogenes, a pre-Socratic philosopher who was one of the Cynics. “He was the most famous of the Cynics, because he reportedly lived in a barrel in the middle of Athens for a while, masturbated in public and pretended to have sex with statues,” Scalzi says. “He was into the absurdity of existence. It’s kind of a companion piece to ‘Tragic Hooligan’ in that way, with the absurdity of me pushing 50 and still being in a heavy metal band.”