Thursday, July 31, 2008

Jeff Wagner Plans Book Release, Solves a Life Mystery

I saw this headline and I did a little dance of glee: "Former METAL MANIACS Editor JEFF WAGNER To Author History Of Progressive Metal." See, I'm not just a metal nerd who loves himself some Opeth and Dream Theater: I actually have a history with the non-existent history of progressive metal.

Back in 2002/2003, I was a senior in college. I was a music major - no surprise there - and because my aptitude was in analysis (and because I thought I was going to go to study ethnomusicology) I decided to spend the year writing a lengthy senior thesis in music. On Dream Theater, Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory, and the history of progressive metal. Like I said, huge metal nerd. Or maybe just nerd in general.

I wrote the history part first, as part of another paper I had to write for a colloquium class I took in the fall (doubling up was the way they kept thesis writers from going insane and strangely enough, it worked). As it turns out, there are no good histories of progressive metal out there. In fact, from what I remember, my options came down to the short blurb in the All Music Guide, whatever was up on, and the BNR metal pages, none of which actually answered the fundamental question: what exactly prompted all of these bands to mix progressive elements into their music? Lacking access to any of the artists in question, I did the next best thing: took a history of progressive rock, a history of metal, and came to my own conclusions. The result was, well, it's probably wildly inaccurate, but I look pretty smart doing it, and I get to say I wrote a 120+ page page while in college. The ladies were impressed, believe you me.

Reading all of that history should give you an understanding of why I'm excited to read this book once it comes out next year: if Jeff Wagner really did his homework, he might just come up with a common root for all of the experimentation done by bands as diverse as Dream Theater, Celtic Frost, and Voivod and answer the question I failed to answer five years ago. And you know what? I'd really appreciate that.

Jack Ripper, Jimi Hendrix, and An Anthem

So you're a 12-year-old guitar prodigy. You have the kind of hair that would get you a part as an extra in Airheads, a fresh-faced look that harkens back to the days of Hanson, and your shredding - as one Blabbermouth commentator put it - might one day put Skwisgaar Skwigelf to shame. Your stage name is Jack Ripper, a clever doulbe entendre that encompasses both your playing skills and the grotesque horror favored amongst metal denizens in general and your favorite rocker, Alice Cooper, in particular. You are playing Rocklohoma, some rock music festival in the middle of our fair country. What do you choose to play?

As you can see in the clip above, Jack Ripper chose "The Star Spangled Banner." In fact, not just "The Star Spangled Banner;" a version of "The Star Spangled Banner" that at the very least owes an enormous spiritual debt to Jimi Hendrix's iconic rendition from Woodstock. Interesting choice when you - or, more likely, some adult behind you - is trying to market you as the next big guitar god, but somehow I doubt young Jackie's got the context for Hendrix's version down just yet. And heck, even if he does, is Hendrix the guy you want to follow directly? 27 is a pretty young age to die.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Remember Tomorrow: The Cover Competition

Deciblog just posted a comparison of two covers of "Remember Tomorrow": Metallica's recent treatment for Maiden Heaven and a much older version by Opeth. The question: which one is a better cover? The answer is obvious - Metallica wins hands down because they follow the first dictum of recording a cover (thou shalt make the song thine own whilst keeping to the spirit of the original) - but it seemed like a bit of an unfair contest because of the dates of the recordings. Metallica's always been a pro when it comes to covers, but you have to figure that an Opeth with more of its stylistic shit together (i.e., a band in its more recent vintage) would put a more creative spin on their interpretation, giving them a better shot in the competition.

Anyway, since these cover competitions are kind of fun, take a list to the first two, then compare them to the version Anthrax did five years ago for yet another tribute CD. Make sure to listen to Anthrax get points for putting a pretty authentic 'thraxy spin on the chorus.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Berzerker: Doing the Ultimate Indie

Bravo to The Berzerker for trying to take the Internet for all its worth (as a distribution system, anyway): they announced today they've ditched any ties with Earache, their former record company, and will be launching their fifth album via the website of their company, Berzerker Industries, without any outside distribution. The announcement, which comes via YouTube video clip, complete with Metalocalypse-style animation of their frontman giving the news, also includes what they considered the nail-in-the-coffin statistic: more than 50 percent of a CD's costs go to the retailer who sells the music.

Music distribution businesses are funny things that I don't know a whole lot about, so I'll resist giving an opinion one way or another about the pricing breakdown, but I will say that logic would suggest that bands playing music in a subgenre with a lot of grassroots support (like metal) would be likely to have more success using the Internet to go completely independent. Of course, that band would have to tap into those grassroots first, but once they do, it seems like metal fans have the kind of loyalty - not to mention the kind of fanaticism - necessary to support a band trying to stay afloat on their own. After all, we're the people - or their spiritual decendents, anyway - who created the legend of success brough to three decades of metal acts (from Sabbath to Metallica to Pantera) on the back of unlimited touring and nary a top 40 radio hit. The Berzerker seems like they've got the tap in place - they got Blabbermouth's attention, after all - now we'll see if they can prove the logic, too.

Wanna Buy a Paganized Set of Bagpipes?

Blabbermouth has a news clipping about Eluveitie auctioning off the bagpipe of their former pipe player, Sevan Kirder, who left the band back in early June, not long after they blew my socks off at Paganfest. The auction doesn't run cheap - the opening price is about $2,300, if you're up for owning a modded bagpipe that's been around the world and back over three years - but I have to wonder: if the bagpipes belonged to Kirder, why is his former band auctioning off the instrument? In the total absence of information, I have a few theories. It's your job to pick your favorite, mention it elsewhere, and try to start up some rumors. It's memerific! Here goes:

  1. Eluveitie is as much collective as they are band (they have a whole truckload of musicians, after all - maybe the idea isn't so farfetched), so all instruments are held in common. Someone leaves, they lose all of their group rights, and the rest of the collective can choose what to do with their instruments. I'm guessing bagpipe blowpipes are like harmonicas - sharing them isn't hygenic - so rather than getting a new blowpipe, Eluveitie decided to hold an auction.
  2. As part of the group's pagan leanings, they have to clear the bad energy left in the air after the departure of a member. The best way to do so: auction off their instrument and give anything above the base price to charity.
  3. Dude racked up some gambling bets, but left his prized bagpipes behind after ditching Eluveitie in Slovenia. The base price on the auction is to pay off the Swiss mafia.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Red, White, and Ted Nugent

Last night, Seth and I were discussing the release of Ted Nugent's new book - which I had misremembered as Red, White, and Nuge, which I think is a catchier than Ted, White, and Blue - and how it could be used as a get out of jail free card with the TSA in airports: just hold it at chest level in the security line and they'll not only wave you through the scanners, but grant you a full honor guard escort all the way to your gate, where you'll be given an upgrade to first class on the spot. You see, the government security establishment thinks highly of the Nuge and his political throwbacks to an America that never existed, and therefore anyone who favors his views could not possibly be a terrorist. It's like reverse profiling!

Today, we find out the book isn't coming out until October. While the later release date means you'll need to use one of Ted's earlier books - I favor Kill It & Grill It myself, for its pithy title - as the passport through our iron-clad airport security system, it does give Ted, White, and Blue a much more important primary role. Since the book is highly political in nature, pitting "God, guns, and red-blooded, full-throated Americanism against pantywaist politicians, nanny-state judges, and tofu-eating Obamamaniacs," I suspect we may have found the 2008 October Surprise a few months early. That's right, folks: Ted Nugent is going to save this country, one book reader at a time.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

C.C. DeVille's Suffering and Failure

Contrast this headline - "C.C. DEVILLE Wants POISON Concerts To Be 'Honoring To God'" - with this headline - "AVERSE SEFIRA: Christianity Is 'The Root Of All Human Suffering And Failure In This World'." Who says metal isn't a big tent way of life, offering shelter to comers of all types?

Actually, since DeVille was such a burnout that he committed the musician's ultimate sin (being so fucked up you mess up a live performance), compounded by committing that sin while playing a huge venue, and he's probably adopted Christianity as a way to stave off his other addictive impulses, maybe Averse Sefira's got a point, by the magic of time travel, Christianity is at the root of DeVille's suffering and failure. So, in conclusion: big tent, but inclusion by exclusion more than by shelter.

Master of Covers

If you'd told me a few months ago that Metallica was planning to release a new album later this year, my response probably would have been, "so fucking what?" Then I would have laughed at my cleverness, because I'm a huge nerd.

My feelings did a pretty abrupt 180 after hearing Metallica's cover of "Remember Tomorrow" on the Iron Maiden tribute CD that Kerrang! recently put out. Gone is the crappy St. Anger production, and Metallica does an excellent job finding that all-important balance between making the song their own and keeping with the spirit of the original recording (a balance that several other artists on the record would do well to learn), producing a track that makes me wonder whether they might still have something interesting left in the tank.

I guess we'll find out soon enough, because the band announced the track listing and album artwork today. Themes of rock 'n roll martyrs ain't exactly Master of Puppets-level potential, but they could be interesting, and the open grave/magnet thing on the cover is pretty cool. Heck, they're even using the old logo font for the first time in seventeen years. But I still have my doubts:

First, "Unforgiven III"? Really? The original song was fine, but what bothered me about the sequel was the seemingly lazy decision to shove the tune from the original into the chorus and tie it all together with the awful pun off of "II/too." Totally unnecessary, and really a waste of what was a half-way decent verse line by making the song a pretty big joke. Even if Metallica doesn't try to pull the same trick again (what would they pun off of three? Something about trees, spoken by a "character" with soft palette problems?), the legacy exists. Metallica can be as out of the box as they want to, but if they're going to do something proggy like have a song cycle, don't make it sound like a bad action movie trilogy.

Second, I might be fooling myself by placing my hopes on a cover. Metallica are past masters of doing kick ass song covers, as a listen of all two-plus hours of Garage Inc. will happily prove, but doing a great job reinterpreting other people's material does not mean you've gained (or regained) the ability to write great originals. "Remember Tomorrow" is really more of a double-edged sword for anticipation: either it heralds a great new tomorrow, or one full of some pretty heavy disappointment.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

At The Gates at The Fillmore NY / Irving Plaza

A four point breakdown of why the second At The Gates reunion show at the Fillmore was a disappointment:
  1. The .250 batting average. Four bands took the stage - Toxic Holocaust, Municipal Waste, Darkest Hour, and At The Gates - but only the wildly popular Municipal Waste had the energy to put on a really great set, complete with 30 people galloping around in a circle pit about the size of the Fillmore's floor and a full-fledged wall of death. Toxic Holocaust was fun before the Waste blew them away as a reference point; Darkest Hour was a hideous combination of generic and stereotypical that sent me running for the downstairs lounge; and At The Gates...well, there were issues that I'll get into more below. One in four good showings does not a good night make.
  2. Darkest Hour. Who keeps inviting hipsters to the metal party? Doesn't everyone realize they're just going to spoil the whole thing by trying to introduce irony at every turn? I have an idea: let's hold up Darkest Hour as an example of the bad things that can happen, and maybe this insanity will stop. A five piece band, they feature four hipsters and one token metal-looking dude on guitar; the bass player spent the few minutes of their set that I could stand to watch jumping around on the nearest available monitor looking like he was trying to conjure up Sid Vicious (i.e., strung out and slapping strings at random). I left before I spent the whole set making fun of them.
  3. Heat and Light. A note to the owners of Fillmore NY: it may be more difficult to turn a profit in these days of rising energy costs, but packing a room with people who have no compunction about shoving into each other and then turning off the air condition is a terrible idea. When sweat's pouring off me while I'm standing still, I don't want to go buy more of your overpriced beer; I want to leave. And to the light director: setting up the spotlights so they shine down into the eyes of concert goers was also a poor move. It's hard enough seeing a band on that stage from the back of the floor; shining bright white lights in my eyes just makes it worse.
  4. At The Gates. I'm still not entirely sure what bothered me about At The Gates' set, but I do know I was pretty miserable for the last half hour - the heat and light didn't help - and left before the encore, so there had to be something. I hate to assign the issue to something super subjective like band energy level (maybe I've been reading too much about baseball statistics today), but something was missing. And more importantly, most of the people around me couldn't feel it missing and were having a good time, which made everything a little worse. I'm not going to go delete my bootleg copy of Slaughter of the Soul or anything, but I wouldn't go see them again if they came back around.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Def Leppard: Charming Ladies Out of Their Pants Since 1983

Listening to Pyromania, and I've made a discovery: I'm pretty sure "Action! Not Words" is about homemade porn, which means one important thing: Def Leppard managed to write a song about doing it for the love of the game and getting it on film and still managed to appear absolutely irresistible to a good portion of the female population. Props to them, I guess, because I'm pretty sure that's something the average male musician couldn't pull off. I was originally going to mark this down as an example of Def Leppard being Dave Matthews before there was a Dave Matthews (with a higher rock quotient, of course), what with the whole "Crash Into Me" thing Matthews pulled in the late 90s, which proved inconclusively that women are far more obsessed with sex than men, but will only reveal this obsession if crooned to properly. Or at least that was my experience at the time - here was a guy singing about some sort of fetish wet dream thing he had going on with a picture of a fashion model, and any girl who didn't already dislike Dave Matthews thought it was the most wonderful thing on the radio.

Anyway, I quickly revised this conclusion. Def Leppard gets the edge on subtlety, treating this difficult topic with the sensitivity it deserve: There's not a single mention of the song's narrator selling the video to his local porn producer after he and the video's "star" break up. That's the kind of treatment that wins hearts and minds, folks.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Did Alexi Laiho Learn English From Redubbed Japanese Movies...

...Or did he just go to the Scott Weiland school of lyric writing, where students learn to write lines of songs that literally make no sense but still emerge a theme? I'm reading through the lyrics of Blooddrunk right now, working on an angle for the album description, and while I can eventually pry the meaning - or a meaning - out of the words by reading long enough and looking for the 10,000 mile view, I wouldn't say there's anything particularly coherent going on line by line. An example, from "Roadkill Morning":

Bastard of Bodom, reporting
That sharp pain always go's away
How did I get here once again?

I have to shoot to survive
Otherwise screech "I wanna fucking die"
But I need the bottle and I'll be fine

Based on the combination of statements about alcohol and pain contextualized in the near past in both this snippet and the rest of the song (not to mention the title), I'm guessing "Roadkill Morning" is about a really bad hangover, probably combined with some post-brawl bruising and maybe a broken heart, too. Of course, it might be about something else entirely, and I'm missing the meaning - if there even is one, and these songs aren't just words strung together to match a general mood - because I can't find my way around the syntax. Here's the kicker, though: I'm not sure if Laiho throws out verbal landmines left and right because he's trying to get the listener to dig for subtlety, or because his English skills are less up to par than his stage banter might suggest (not that he gives monologues on stage or anything, but he seems to have some idea of what he's talking about, like doing a substitution rhyme of "motherfucker" with "trucker." I feel like you need a basic understanding of the language to do that). Maybe he writes everything in Finnish and then translates it afterwards?

Partially related: Every image I include in my posts comes from Google Images, as part of a common practice where bloggers break copyright laws by taking images from other sites without permission (the process is self-perpetuating, too; according to my site statistics, most of my traffic comes from The image I grabbed today happens to be a picture I took back in December, 2006, because it's the first search result for Alexi Laiho. Definitely something to look back on with pride in the declining years.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Dethklok at The Nokia Theatre

I've described this show four or five times since I saw it about a week ago, and every time I say the same thing: "it was actually really cool, until they ran out of video." For those of you not in the know, here's how it went:

Well, actually, for those of you really not in the know, here's what Dethklok is. Think Gorillaz, but they have a late night TV show, so there's more exposure and slightly larger plot lines. Adult Swim, in their genius, has episodes online, so you can check it out and see how much of a genius Brendan Smalls is for making absurdist comedy out of death metal. For everyone else:

Brendan Smalls got a band together, including Gene Hoglan (whose street cred makes up for how unmetal the rest of the band is) to play the music, which makes up most of the show. He and the rest of the band play in the dark, while a video projection behind them shows Dethklok playing in a series of music videos, reprising material from the show's career. There's a brief sketch of a plot - the Tribunal tries to kill them and all of their fans with some sort of poison gas but fails in the usual deus ex-machina style that characterizes all of their plots - and some interludes with the band where they tell us how much they hate us and how much they weren't there. Brendan does all of the voices - or at least appears to - relying mainly on the characters he voices in the show.

All well and good, particularly because the Nokia had installed screens on the second level of the auditorium (where I was standing) that allowed me to watch all of the video without having to break the fourth wall and look through the band to watch the action. Maintaining the illusion was a very important part of the experience, even if it meant that I was essentially paying money to watch a cartoon show at very high volume. Where things fell apart (as you've no doubt guessed from the first line of this post) is when the band came out to do the encore and opted to play without any additional video.

Here's why doing so is weird to me: encores aren't spontaneous things. The house knows the band is coming back out - they leave the lights down until the show is really over - and the audience knows, too. In fact, the band knows (or should know) the audience knows, and they should (and as far as I can tell, usually do) plan accordingly. Given all of that, why would you not plan footage for the encores? I know it means practicing to synch up two more songs to the video screens (which is really impressive, by the way - they never really missed a beat), but that seems a small price to pay to see three geeky-looking guys (and one very metal drummer) empersonate a sociopathic death metal band on stage.

However, I'm more than willing to overlook that one flaw: for an hour, Dethklok kept us entertained. For two hours before that, Soilent Green didn't suck too much, and Chimaira was pretty good. The show was about the right length, was fun to watch, made me want to go watch Metalocalypse again, and would certainly be worth catching on subsequent tours. I'm a fan.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Kurt Cobain: The Legacy

I just saw the commercial for the portable version of Guitar Hero, where some kid is playing Guitar Hero on his DS while the background transforms into scenes out of the video for "Tonight, Tonight" (note that anything involving space backgrounds and music makes me think of the "Tonight, Tonight" video) and "On a Plain" plays in the background. Somehow, I feel like every time that ad comes on, Kurt Cobain goes into a high speed spin cycle in his grave. You know, because he hated the commercialism so much. I bet Courtney justifies it to herself, though. Preserving the legacy and all that.

Censoring the Saints

Just got done listening to the new Mötley Crüe, on assignment for the album descriptions thing, for the first time in what will probably be six or seven times before I hand in the description in about a week. The album is what I expected it to be: fun music not requiring a whole lot of intellectual energy to get behind, songs about sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll, wrapped in a package that's got to be one of the slickest pieces of album artwork I've seen in a while. In other words, it's pure Los Angeles stereotype, just like what I was hoping. But here's the thing: it's been censored.

It's the usual problem: big music retailer with family values aspirations, making an edited version a gateway to retailability to any record label that wants a piece of the revenue pie. Usual malarkey where a third party makes morality decisions about what their customers should and shouldn't hear, with the complete arbitrariness that demonstrates lip service to a supposed standard and an all too pragmatic subservience to the bottom line. Anyway, they bleeped out every incidence of "fuck" on Saints of Los Angeles, which comes pretty close to ruining the record: nevermind the judgment on the maturity of the listener, this is freakin' Mötley Crüe, the band whose history is like a bible for decadent lifestyle. You don't bleep that out; it's so counter to the whole point that it practically creates a bizzaro world, a world where a band can sing about waking up in a haze and doing some powder off the bathroom sink but can't proclaim themselves the motherfuckers of the year without hitting the censor's auditory pen. Not cool, man. Not cool.

I blame Tipper Gore.