Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Mocking Boring Thrash

In addition to writing (independently now - woo!) concert reviews, I've picked up some work writing album descriptions. They're a bit like reviews, except I can't write anything negative (or anything too negative) because they're written for a retailer, which is in the business of selling CDs, not informing the public about their musical value. It's an interesting creative challenge, because it can mean finding the good in things that are, well, mediocre. Fortunately, thanks to MySpace, I can filter out the real trash before it comes to me, so to this point, if I'm writing to recommend something it's because I actually like it - which is why I bother linking to the reviews from my clips page.

Of course, there are always the ones I was happy to let get away, or the pieces I wrote that omitted my sharper criticisms for the sake of the client's request - but there's no rule that says I can't talk about those albums here. In other words: new feature, where I bash crappy metal albums, or cover the other side of my reviews. Let's begin.

Flash back to a couple of weeks ago. I'm perusing the weekly list my editor sends me with the week's additions. All of these albums either are or were on the Billboard 200 in the past year, and because I'm a Clear Channel-hating luddite who has way too much nostalgia for rock radio from the mid-1990s, I've generally never heard of three-quarters of the artists on the list because they're (presumably) on the airways and I'm not listening. In any case, unless I get lucky and something like ObZen or Ghosts I-IV gets on the list, I'm going to need to do some research through Google, Wikipedia, and MySpace.

This particular week's pull is pretty grim. There's Down's third album, which I really want to like because I like both Pantera-era Phil Anselmo (despite his being a huge douchebag) and Corrosion of Conformity such as they were when "Albatross" was a single, but I can't because it's legitimately terrible. There's Atreyu's latest release, but I liked them better when they were called Van Halen. And then there's a group called Black Tide.

Wikipedia tells me that Black Tide has an average age of very young (well under 20) and that they have a throwback late 80s thrash sound. Equally much seems to be made of their youth and their sound, which should set off alarm bells: I liked Silverchair when I was 14, but not too long afterwards I released how terrible that first album was and how part of the hype was that it was a rock album recorded by sixteen-year-olds. Anyway, I'm intrigued, so I find their MySpace page and take a listen. Very quickly, I am appalled. Even worse, I grow bored.

There's no doubt that Black Tide is a very talented group of musicians, with a pair of shredders who can play much better than I ever could. They even have a cool name for their lead single (if that's how you can describe a MySpace track): "Warriors of Time." Here's the problem though: take every NWOBHM and thrash cliche you can think of - twin guitar harmonies, fast paced palm mute riffs with thin, crunchy distortion, backing vocals that can easily be chanted by a large crowd - slap a nice production veneer on it, and you've got Black Tide. Their music is a faithful, boring reproduction of metal from twenty years ago, without any new touches or twists (besides the better recording quality) that would help them stand out from a crowd. I hate boring music. I will not review boring music. I will make fun of it instead. So, Black Tide: if you can cook up something new and interesting for your next album - even in the thrash vein - I will gladly give it a listen. Until then, you're getting far more attention than you deserve.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Gigantour III at Hammerstein Ballroom

I was pretty excited about this show before going; it was Megadeth, after all, and even though I've seen Dave Mustaine and his latest group of instrument-wielding henchmen far too many times over the past three years (Six! Six! What the hell is wrong with me?), they've made up for my terrible first viewing so many times at this point that it's hard not to get psyched up about the upcoming thrashing. Then I found out that Children of Bodom was on the bill.

As I've mentioned in the past, Children of Bodom exerts a strange and powerful influence over me, not unlike that of Megadeth. Putting the two of them on the same bill was a stroke of pure genius, and while people make jokes about a show being too much rock to handle, in this case it was nearly the truth: I thrashed and banged so hard during the two sets that I couldn't sleep properly for the next two days from my aching neck and shoulders and had to call in sick. It's a measure of a good old metal time when you're not only physically exhausted but slightly damaged, too.

What's odd - for me, anyway - about seeing any band (whether I know them well or not) live is that I don't remember very much of the music afterward. Take this show, for example. I know Job for a Cowboy played some wretched-sounding sludge that made anticipating Bodom that much sweeter, like an upcoming feast for a starving man (seriously, they were that bad). I know I was making up words to "Angels Don't Kill" and "Sixpounder" because I was so hyped up I had to scream something, even if they weren't technically the right lyrics. I know my friends and I retreated to the downstairs bar while In Flames played because they were in serious danger of becoming the crap sandwich between two buns of awesome and we had some bullshitting to do. And I know I nearly removed my skull from my neck during "Hangar 18," and that I thought that Chris Broderick did a better job on the Spanish guitar bridge in "Holy Wars" than Glen Drover, and seemed to have more stage presence, too. But I don't really remember much else, and when I try to think of the songs I do know, I just hear the studio versions. Soon enough, the mental pictures from this show will merge with those from other shows, and - if I'm lucky - I'll be left with one framing shot from the whole night, and the feeling that I had a great time.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Conversations with Rock Stars

Last night, I dreamed that Mike Portnoy and I were hanging out in his bedroom, which for some reason was a cramped fishbowl-type layout with enormous windows on the first floor of a building in midtown Manhattan. People were walking by and looking in with idle curiosity as we talked. It was a weird scene - not because of the geographic locale, or because there were two beds crammed into a space not much larger than a closet - but because Portnoy was simultaneously his current age - early 40s, married, kids, successful - and in high school, and we were hanging out in his bedroom because that's where kids hang out before they have places of their own with things like living rooms. At one point Mike's family did show up, and then Dave Grohl stopped by, but he was looking for something in the kitchen. In the background, the Midtown location slowly shifted to some lodge high up in the mountains. Meanwhile Mike and I talked about music, and it was a good time. I attribute all of these dreamed oddities, by the way, to listening to portions of In Utero at some point yesterday, and reading through most of the Images book of Lifting Shadows before going to sleep last night.

When I woke up, I spent a good half an hour wondering about what I would have really talked about. I met Jordan Rudess once, when he was doing a demo for Mark of the Unicorn at the 2003 AES convention, and I couldn't think of anything to say to him except that I really liked his work with Dream Theater and that I'd written my senior thesis in college on Scenes From a Memory. I came to the conclusion that what I was really looking for was not to talk to him as a journalist, because there'd be no connection, and not as a fan, because I would feel I was imposing, but as someone else who really loves music. No doubt that would help me get past the intense, irrational intimidation I felt about interviewing someone in my sleep.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Testament at B.B. King's

It's incredible how a good band can get past the limitations of a terrible venue and play a great show. It's also incredible how much I've come to dislike seeing shows at B.B. King's, and yet I still continue to subject myself to the occasional appearance because I'm willing to sacrifice things like sonic quality to see a band. It's a common enough problem for any concert goer I'm sure, and I should probably consider myself fortunate that the three shows I've seen there - Emperor in 2006, Symphony X in 2007, and now Testament in 2008 - were all excellent despite the venue. I'll go into that more in a minute, but first: Testament and their awesomeness.

Not ten months after I said Testament refuses to tour anywhere near New York City they very kindly made me a liar, and came to headline B.B. King's at the head of another group of local acts I had no desire to see. Once again, my reactions bordered on hero worship: Chuck Billy is larger than life and should take up air guitar competitions as a side gig, Alex Skolnick is a shredding demon who's still the man even though he bounces around on stage like a teenybopper, and the set list (see below) was quality. Seth had teased me with reports of inclusions of "Demonic Refusal" in earlier gigs, but it seems like either New York wasn't Satanic enough to warrant the inclusion, or Testament still hasn't quite come to terms with their past.

To be honest, I'd love to know why they don't play more from that album: is it musically too far outside of where they want to be? Too demanding on the voice? They gave us "Low" instead, which kinda jives with the heavy groove thing they're putting into the new record, but it's not like Demonic was bad album - give us more of it! Maybe they'll bring back some more when they open for Priest/Heaven and Hell this summer. I think three appearances in the same area in less than a year warrants some set list experimentations.

Anyway, B.B. King's: I don't like the place because unless you're right up front, taking the risk of having someone's boot planted in your face as they go crowd surfing by, it's difficult to see, as your view will doubtless be blocked by one of the room's odd architectural features (like the thick columns spaced a third of the way out from either side of the room's walls), and if you're shorter than six feet, you'll be looking at the stage through gaps in shoulders. Then there's the sound problem: sound must get trapped in weird corners of the room and die, because it's not making it to the back. I took my earplugs out during the second song to see if that gave me more of an impact, but that only lead to my discovering what everyone else in the club was enjoying: highs so shrill they'll cut your head off. Good stuff. Like I said above: I've yet to see a bad show at B.B. King's, but I get the feeling I'm never going to enjoy it there.

Set List
  1. Over The Wall
  2. Into The Pit
  3. Apocalyptic City
  4. Practice What You Preach
  5. The New Order
  6. Electric Crown
  7. More Than Meets The Eye
  8. Low
  9. A Trail Of Tears
  10. Henchmen Ride
  11. Souls Of Black
  12. Evil Has Landed
  13. The Preacher
  1. DNR
  2. 3 Days In Darkness
  3. Alone In The Dark
  4. Disciples Of The Watch