Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Live! Tonight! Sell Out!

Going back to the topic I touched on two days ago, let's talk about the other side of the experimentation coin: the all-too-frequent accusation by fans that a band has sold out because they changed their sound.

An example: I was in high school when Metallica released Load. As anyone who follows the band knows, Load marked the culmination of a direction hinted by Metallica, but rendered far more shocking to the metal community by new hair cuts, riffs that were far more hard rock than thrash and Kirk Hammett's incredible collection of facial piercings. The most metal dude I knew at the time (the only metal dude I knew at the time) was a guy named Josh Woodard, a true fan of metal who had hair that hung down his back, a spiked bracelet, wicked shredding ability and an "Up the Irons!" sticker on his guitar. He introduced me to Emperor by playing the opening to Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk over the PA speakers in my school's auditorium, instantly sealing a love for all things black and Norwegian in my heart. After Load came out, such was his outrage that he never referred to Metallica as anything but "Alternica" for the rest of the time I knew him. At the time, I was a callow, inexperienced youth and didn't know enough about either metal or Metallica to recognize a departure when I saw one; later on I became a callow, experienced youth and took up the banner of "they were better before..." and "sell out!" with all of the anger of a disappointed adolescent. Hell hath no self-righteous fury like an idealistic, pig-headed, disappointed teen.

What is selling out? Thus rages the debate. I think Greil Marcus said in Lipstick Traces that selling out as a defamation really took flight with punk rock and the punk movement certainly pushed the concept much further into the consciousness of pop culture, justifying the hanging of anti-heroes with sell out rope with generations of youth rage and idealism. Of course, for all that, there's no official punk rock definition; some might say it's making money off your art, others would draw the line at some level of money making that separates punk bands from rock gods who live in excess, spoiling the purity of the music.

Purity seems to be a strong element, as if the ancient Judeo-Christian customs that glorify the clean and the virgin lurked somewhere in the back of pop culture, affecting even those who scorn them. Purity also means avoiding the dirty taint of the suits who run the music business. Ian MacKaye never sold out in popular opinion because he's embraced DIY and used it to keep the purity of his music, even though he runs a record label. Selling out, therefore, is the destruction of the purity of art through the contamination of money and polluted touch of the profit-oriented hive mind, the classic battle of David (the fans) versus Goliath (big corporate interests). With ideological grounds like these, is it any wonder people get so worked up when they smell sell out?

Monday, April 23, 2007


I was reading Blabbermouth today and came across an interview with Kreator frontman Mille Petrozza, where he talks about the backlash Kreator withstood in the 1990s when they attempted to diversify their sound beyond their thrash roots. The discussion go me thinking about these controversial experiments and how frequently they fail, usually with accusations by the loyal fan base that the band has sold out. Selling out has its place, but I think the real problem runs a little deeper.

Let's break things down: in general, most bands will change their sound over the course of their careers, because they get bored putting out the same old album time after time. Change and experimentation are pars for the course of human nature, especially for artists, who are expected to delve into the mutable aspects of the human soul on a daily basis. However - and here's the critical point - the desire to experiment doesn't equal ability to do so; many bands enter an experimental period and either feel the sting of critical backlash because they've either moved so far away from their original sound that they lack the experience to make a cohesive album, or because they don't have the musical ability to play anything but the sound that made them work as a band in the first place.

Case in point: even though I've developed a fondness for Load over the past twelve years, I think Metallica's conversion from thrash to what they've been playing since has been a failure - not because they don't put albums that sound exactly Master of Puppets any more, but because Reload, S & M and St. Anger weren't particularly good albums, lacking in the creative drive that still makes Master of Puppets so incredible 20+ years later. Metallica can experiment all they want to; it's their prerogative as artists and as people who have their own lives to lead, but they have yet to demonstrate the ability to create those experiments and do so with the same ability that they had as an edgy thrash band.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Rocking With Cars

Two posts about Henry Rollins in two weeks? I must be crazy in the head.

My wife and I were watching Henry Rollins: Uncut from Israel, which debuted last Friday right before the premiere of Season 2 of his talk show. The film features portions of a set he did in Tel Aviv earlier this year, cut with an interview he did with the film maker on his tour bus and a tour he took of the country and makes for some good watching. During the set, Rollins told a story about the first time he went to see the Ramones. As it turns out, the only friend Rollins had with a driver's license was his childhood friend Ian MacKaye, who went on to become one of the most important figures in punk rock. Putting Rollins and MacKaye in the same car, on their way to see a "life changing" Ramones show, seems important enough from a pedantic history point of view, but then Rollins mentioned that every person who was in that car (five or six people) went on to form bands.

Now I'm wondering who else was in that car. Were the bands they founded as lasting (at last in punk term) and influential as Black Flag, Minor Threat or Fugazi, or were they little garage projects that never went very far and ended when someone went to law school? If you told me the names of those other rider on that fateful night, would I recognize any of them? Would I be able to find them in a search engine with minimal difficulty? If so, that trip from Washington, D.C. to Falls Church, VA and back might just be the most important car ride in rock history.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

I Can't Stop Listening to The Blackening

Prologue: My modus operandi for music is to download first, keep if I like it and buy later - on CD. I justify it because I get to listen to scores of music I wouldn't hear otherwise, avoid wasting money on CDs that I don't like and in the end reward the artists who entertain me for their efforts. I buy CDs because I like collecting them and because I like looking at the album artwork; I'm willing to pay the premium over buying mp3s (although not much more of a premium - $13.0 is my upper limit) because I want to be able to hold the music in my hands, look through the booklet and play the whole thing in my apartment's best stereo system. I feel the system works well and so far I'm guilt and lawsuit free.

Denouement: After seeing Machine Head debut tracks from The Blackening on stage a few weeks ago, I downloaded the complete album from my bittorrent service of choice and gave it a spin. An hour later I emerged, with the sense of something epic blowing through the back of my head, like a sonic double-tap to the temples. In other words, I was completely floored by Machine Head's continued progression; a line of development that, if you throw out every album between Burn My Eyes and Through the Ashes of Empires, describes an arc of awesome that climbs in geometric fashion to the heights of enjoyment.

Not only is The Blackening that good - I can't stop listening to it. It's become my fall back album when I don't know what to listen to, when I don't want to think about picking an album and I don't want to trust my ears to a computer's shuffling instincts. It's been a rare day in these past three weeks when I haven't listened to The Blackening at least once; feeding all eight glorious tracks through my headphones twice in a day isn't unheard of. If you have any interest whatsoever in this band, checking out The Blackening would be a very rewarding plan.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Into Eternal Suck

Ugh. I've already expressed my feelings about Into Eternity live, right? No need to go into that pile of suck again? A few weeks after the show, I went back and dug out my copy of their eponymous first album, which I purchased a few years back in a spree brought on by discovering CD Baby for the first time. I would never have called Into Eternity particularly groundbreaking work, but now it's basically unlistenable and will eventually make its way to a used CD store near you.

Why do I bring any of this up in the first place? Because they're going to be opening up for my favorite band and I'm irritated about it. I gather Into Eternity is on their way up - they've gone from the periphery of six band shows to near-openers in the past year - and I certainly don't wish them or their cool album art any ill; I'd just rather not have to hear their music, especially on the same night as Dream Theater. My philosophy about listening to music in the first place is that if I'm eventually going to go deaf (which strikes me as a good possibility, no matter how careful I am with my ears), I'd rather have spent my time listening to music that I enjoy, not a group of soulless, posturing shredders who think wanking to a formula is the same as showing real emotional depth.

What bothers me even more, though, is that I know from multiple experiences that Dream Theater can play three hour shows and keep my entertained every single time. If they're going to reduce the time of their set by adding other bands on to the bill, I'd rather they be bands I'm halfway interested in seeing. I could not buy tickets to this show, of course; if it's Mike Portnoy's prerogative to get Into Eternity onto the bill, it's my prerogative not to pay the money to see them, but that's just crazy talk. I'd much rather bitch about it and go see the show anyway. I'll just show up late instead.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

I Love Henry Rollins

While thinking about what to write this week, I was clicking through one of my favorite webcomics and when through a series links that started here, took me to an article on Crosstalk about the Definitive 200, whose crap-stained depths I will not deign to plumb, if for no other reason than its definition of "definitive" does not seem to mean "albums that defined a genre" (which would be an interesting project, come to think of it. I may address this idea at a later point). When your representation of metal is four of Metallica's albums and you put the Black Album first, your thought process is flawed.

In any case, when I opened the Crosstalk link, whose striking mug did I see floating to the right of the text, sporting a slightly quizzical look that reminds me of a dog who's trying to figure out if you're BS-ing him? Why, the inimical Henry Rollins, plugging the arrival of the second season of his late night talk show. Immediately, two thoughts rushed into my mind, like atoms on a collision course in a particle accelerator: 1.) Henry Rollins has a talk show? Why didn't I know about that? and 2.) Dammit! I missed the first season! I think my brain might have hiccuped a bit after that, because the next thing I remember, it was two minutes later and I found myself pouring through the visual-overload that is the show's website, while simultaneously trying to find out if my cable package carries IFC, the show's network host.

Why all of the mental distress? The truth is, I crave Henry Rollins in his spoken word form as much as possible. He's got a clear, interesting message which, while it might not always be rational, is the exact opposite of most discourse I encounter on a daily basis because he manages to be straightforward and opinionated without being stupidly insulting (unless you're a lazy fat ass who refuses to do anything about your life. Or a moron. Or a record producer. Then you might get offended) and he makes me laugh pretty hard about life. In addition, he's really good at mixing in self-deprecation that makes him human without being whiny, so even when I'm thinking, "that would never work in real life," I can empathize. It's all pretty ingenious.

Probably the best testament of my love for the man and his works is when I purchased the t-shirt bearing the image pictured up above, simply because it was the best statement about essence of Rollins I've ever seen. What would Henry Rollins do, indeed; he'd tell you to stop pussyfooting around, stop being a dick and do the things that make your life better, because life is short. And if you don't do them, he'll kick your ass. I then wore that shirt (which I'm very proud of) out to see GWAR this past December and used it to make friends with a security guard. It made a nice two-minute conversation piece two nights later when I saw the same guard at Children of Bodom two nights later.

I've made some half-hearted efforts to see Rollins speak live in the past few years, but having him come into my living room every Friday for a precious half an hour seems like a pretty decent alternative.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


Another month, another show. It's a hard life, I tell you. Let's talk about drugs and concerts.

My first drugs and concerts experience came secondhand: my friend Alan told me about his trip to a Grateful Dead concert as a young lad, where a fellow concert-goer, somehow (somehow, indeed) ignored his youth and inexperience and offered him a hit off a joint. Alan was young enough to be freaked out.

Much, much later I had my own concert-going drug-taking experience: a time in college when a friend brought a pipe and a free ticket to see Phish in Albany and I partook of both. I remember a lot of long songs and two guys jumping in synchronized fashion on trampolines on stage, so it must have been a good show. However, I had yet to have the quintessential drugs-in-the-crowd show experience - the one that doesn't involve doing coke off a stripper's backside - until about two weeks ago.

There I was, crowded into a corner of the Roseland Ballroom, the venue's acoustics-destroying balcony hanging over my head and the heads of hundreds of others squeezed to the fringes by the moshers and the capacity crowd. Machine Head was on, rocking my socks off, while I clutched my camera to my chest, trying to watch the stage, not get knocked down by a crowd surge and avoid damaging my precious photograph-taking instrument. Then the raggedly-looking man in front of me turned around and offered me the rapidly shrinking joint burning in his hand. He might have told me to take it, or I think he did; it was pretty loud, so he might have been firmly gesturing in an effort to give his thoughts about the weather over the noise. In any case, I took him up on his offer, not pausing to think of the possibility of anything laced and enjoyed a few moments of the glorious community of metal. Booyah.