Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Oh My, the Brilliance...

Thank you, whoever you are, for making such a beautiful piece of awesome for one of the best songs ever. I think I'll go listen to Mastodon now...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Opeth at the Nokia Theatre

Via MetalSucks: Nachtmystium announced that they've left the Opeth/High On Fire tour due to "issues beyond [their] control." I suspect those issues were due to label support, or at least to the need to fire their merch agents: I went to pick up a copy of Assassins in between sets, only to find that the only copy left was a Japanese import with an extra track (for $10 more than the American edition). A friend of mine also scoped out their stock of t-shirts and found that while they had a bunch of cool designs, they had almost no stock whatsoever.

Musically, on a scale of leave the room or rock me out, both openers scored a "stay and stand in judgment." I had spent some quality time with Nachtmystium's Worldfall EP (but not, it should be noted, Assassins), so I was expecting something...bigger. The crowd didn't get the band at all (which, in retrospect, doesn't come as so much of a surprise) and the band didn't have the wherewithwal to generate their own energy in the face of so much emptiness, so they just seemed flat. They'll get another chance from me, though.

I saw High on Fire on Gigantour III earlier this year. While they didn't make enough of an impression on me to garner an inclusion in my review, I didn't remember disliking what they did. This time around, I found myself forming some very definite negative opinions, which eventually resolved themselves into one judgment: I like High on Fire better when they're imitating Motorhead than when they're imitating Black Sabbath, but either way their songs are consistently two or three minutes too long.

Opeth was everything that I had hoped for, right down to the stage banter: Mikael telling a story about trying to blow Morbid Angel off the stage in the late 90s while touring Morningrise, describing the album as froufy minstrel metal trying to compete with the brutality Domination, or spending several minutes during the encore introducing the band by pointing at them and demanding solos. Thinking about it, it seems like Opeth's tagline could be, "Come for the music, stay for the antics of the world's funniest black metal band," because somehow they make both parts of their set work in equal measure. I had the requisite bangover the next day as tribute to the band's musical energy, but I needed the doses of odd, funny Swedish frontman just as much as I needed the music to make the night complete.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hurray for Vikings

Amon Amarth's video for "Twilight of the Thunder God":

It's clear the band spent some money putting this together; the production value isn't quite Braveheart, but it'll do for a song about Vikings. My favorite part is where everything is inexplicably on fire: houses, spears, rims of shields - the later carried by someone who's still trying to use it for its original purpose - which gives a nice epic note to whatever the heck the two groups in this video are fighting about.

Oh, who am I kidding: songs and videos about Vikings rule.

Seriously: Who Moshes to Opeth?

To the gentlemen with the enormous earrings, hooded sweatshirts, neckerchiefs, backwards baseball caps moshing at the Opeth show last night:
  1. You're missing the point by slamming into each other and everyone else watching the show. See, Opeth has these things called dynamics changes, where the music can go from loud to soft at the drop of a hat (see "The Lotus Eaters" for an example). Coupled with these other things called changing time signatures, the music ends up moving around a lot, so you just end up looking like a bunch of idiots as you run around in a circle. You seem new to the game, but here's some advice: believe it or not, not every metal band operates on the blast beat/breakdown model. Also: don't start moshing before the music even starts. That's just the ultimate in douchebaggery.
  2. If you must mosh, flailing your arms around like you're at a hardcore show really misses the point and makes me want to hit you in the head repeatedly with something heavy. For all of its energy, Opeth is pretty cerebral music: bang your head, jump around a bit, but if you want to run around flailing, go see Whitechapel or As I Lay Dying. Seriously: get the fuck out.
Suddenly I feel a kinship with the kid with the noseplugs from Hype!.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tyr and The New Music Paradigm

Interesting fallout from Paganfest back in May: in retrospect, the show has become a member of my top five, but only in part because of how good of a time I had. The other half is through the fertile fields of memory, enriched by the fertilizer (to continue this odd metaphor) of the two albums I downloaded ex post facto: Eric The Red (Tyr) and Slania (Eluveitie). Slania was an instant hit that solidified Eluveitie's awesome live show as something more than a fluke of experience, but Eric The Red took a longer to take hold; I think I finally "got it" after six or seven listens and now I give a spin once a week and wish I had bought one of their awesome t-shirts at the show. It goes to prove a point, actually that proponents of replay-limited DRM should note: limit me to three or four plays and I delete the album and write off the band. Give me unlimited plays - you know, revise the whole system, Bob Lefsetz-style - and I sing their praises online, get interested in buying their merch, supporting their shows, etc. Musicians really should be singing the praises of the Internet daily.

Finland Ups the Ante

Ah, those Finns...they may very create the first fully metal society on Earth. The AFP has an article about Metal Masses, where Lutheran hymns - restructured, in the true Protestant spirit, by lay believers, not members of the church hierarchy - are played by metal bands in churches. In practice, I suppose it's not really any different than the Christian metal played in the US, but this is a country with less people than New York City. Any cultural movement that goes on there has to have a bigger impact on the percentage of the population and while I'm not a religious person by any stretch of the imagination, I do like the idea of a group of people subverting the norm in an unusual way.

Monday, September 15, 2008

More Love for Death Magnetic

I amend my earlier statement: I'm starting to fall in love with Death Magnetic.

On Saturday night, I was playing a game called Medieval II: Total War. It's a bit like if Risk met Warcraft III and had a medieval love child and I love it to bits. Anyway, I'm in the process of winning a battle and running down the survivors so that they learn, in absolute terms, why it's dangerous to fuck with me when the chorus from "All Nightmare Long" pops into my head:
'Cause we hunt you down without mercy
Hunt you down all nightmare long
Feel us breathe upon your face
Feel us shift, every move we trace
Hunt you down without mercy
Hunt you down all nightmare long, yeah
Luck. Runs.
And I thought, yeah, that's pretty much it: for every one of those enemy animated units on the screen, I'm the nightmare running them down.

NIN Double Redux

Thank God for Wired...they explain everything. I am now even more impressed that the band was doing all of those things with the screen live (thanks to some really awesome technology). Check out the video in the post to see clips of what I was trying to describe.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Metal Homeless

Coming into the subway station last night, I spotted two homeless guys sacked out in a corner. One of them was holding up a cell phone; a song was blaring from it. As I walked by, I realized it was System of a Down's "Chop Suey." The only lesson I can draw from this encounter: even if you have nothing in the world, as long as you have some metal, you're doing okay.

Carcass at the Nokia Theatre

Ticketmaster printed the ticket for this show as CARCASS - REUNION, but they might well have called it CARCASS - MARATHON: start with a six band bill and throw in some flood-worthy rains that turned the city in a lake and delayed the caravan of tour buses coming down from Massachusetts and you end up with something like five and a half hours of live metal brutality of the grind, death, and black varieties. We were lucky that the show took place in the highly efficient environs of the Nokia Theatre: the extended setups and sound checks that had to take place between each act could have been a recipe for complete disaster at almost anywhere else.

Because irony is a bitch, that night I not only chose to eat barbeque before the show, but decided I felt mellow and chose to sit in the darkened seats at the back of the theater rather than fight the crowds up front. As the show went on and on, the heavy meal, the darkness, the slight disconnect I felt from sitting some 40 or 50 feet away from the stage; all conspired to try and knock me out long before the night ended. I never actually fell asleep, but yawning as Suffocation was on stage singing about the best ways to kill people was a little embarassing. I usually like to save my visceral scorn for bands I actively dislike.

So the show itself was a bit of a wash (so to speak), but it had one major saving grace: the official tour program. Lord knows what metal gremlin whispered in my ear and convinced me to pick one of these up from a merch table (which were pretty impressive by themselves: Aborted may not be a particularly interesting band, but t-shirts were among the best I've ever seen), but it was an excellent decision. Most of the pages were ads for record releases, which meant pages and pages of black and death metal band logos (the best kind of logos conceived by modern man) and all kinds of gruesome, brutal art. Picking through the pages of the tour guide was like visiting a museum of humanity's imagined depravity distilled into iconographic form, which made for great reading while waiting for the interminable sound checks to end, and impressed me enough to hold onto the program after the show. My favorite is the full page ad for Twilight of the Thunder God, complete with plug for the set of Amon Amarth bobblehead dolls.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

More Thoughts on Death Magnetic

I'm supposed to be "reviewing" Death Magnetic for Walmart this week (which should give you an idea of its pre-orders, as I'm only offered albums on the Billboard 200), but my copy isn't here yet and I just read through the various takes on Metal Sucks. I wouldn't say this post is a reaction...more of an "inspired by."

For the record, I like Death Magnetic. I do not love it; love is a word I reserve for albums I develop addictions to, that I have to listen to once a day when I first get them and return to on a regular basis afterwards. When I fall in love with an album, it's generally the first thing that catches my eye when I'm scanning through a list of mp3s or a stack of CDs and when I see it, I get that warm fuzzy feeling that's a physiological reaction built up from all of the other times I've listened to the album and enjoyed what I've heard. I love Empire, or Rust in Peace, or Master of Puppets, or (to use a more recent example) Slania. I like Death Magnetic.

Much of the disparagement directed towards Death Magnetic focuses on disappointment, even if the reviewer doesn't come out and say so explicitly. People who don't like the album are disappointed that after all of the hype about Death Magnetic being a return to the old form, it sounds like a mix of recycled riffs from the 80's album quartet, Hetfield's blown out voice, and some garbage lyrics. I'm pretty sure anyone who espouses that view is deluding themselves for a few reasons.

First, consistency is for Slayer, who, metal gods love 'em, haven't made an album that pushed their creative boundaries since South of Heaven. Christ Illusion was fine, but that band found their niche 20 years ago and they haven't felt the need to leave it since. Metallica was special because they never copped to that game: all four of the classic period albums are different in very obvious ways. Perhaps the expectation of a "return to form" really means a return to the time when the band wasn't afraid to create the brilliant experiments that redefined the outer reaches of thrash, with the emphasis on brilliant: every Metallica album has been an experiment, but (to put it charitably) not every experiment worked. Death Magnetic may not have the brilliance of the classic period, but it's a far cry better than S & M or St. Anger and the signs of life seem to be reemerging. When Megadeth put out The World Needs a Hero, Dave Mustaine supposedly (if Wikipedia is to be believed) quipped that the album was "the first major turn of a huge ship at sea, trying to right itself and get back on course." I see Death Magnetic as fitting into the same metaphor.

Second, give up on Hetfield's voice: it's never going to sound like it did on the first four albums. Blowing out his voice during the Black Album recording sessions has to have scared him into changes; taking singing lessons during the same time period probably emphasized new habits that gave him the sound he's had since Load. It may not be pretty and it certainly isn't as powerful, but I can't see Hetfield wanting to risk more damage just to recapture a favored singing style.

Third, it's a rare Metallica lyric that's particularly deep: most of their songs have meanings that are very easy to piece together, with the simple themes that made thrash great. The lyrics were and are a simple counterpoint to what's going in the music and when the music fails to satisfy, the lyrics fall from powerfully utilitarian to simplistic.

In sum: Death Magnetic won't stand up to the classic albums, but it's the best thing we've seen Metallica put together in a long time and represents a big step in the right direction.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Nine Inch Nails Redux

Bruce Lefsetz saw Nine Inch Nails in Los Angeles. He wrote about it. He expressed himself better than I did, but then again he's the "First in Musical Analysis" and I'm just some dude. He also didn't spend as much time trying to describe the visuals, which probably helped. In any case, there's one section in particular that really struck me:

You’d think something as inside, as powerful and almost violent as Nine Inch Nails, would be a guy thing. But the ratio was at least 50/50. You should have seen the women WRITHING! As if possessed by a spirit. Each and every one was in a trance. Popping and locking, swiveling almost involuntarily.

I kept needing to get closer. There were no video screens. No giant images of the band so those in the upper deck could get a glimpse of the singer’s face.

But, suddenly, they did lower a hi-def screen. And the band installed itself in front of it. And as it played, stripped down, flame-like bubbles encased them on the screen. You almost weren’t sure whether they were BEHIND the screen. The images MERGED!

I needed to get closer.

That's pretty much how I felt: when everything really clicked, it was like I was possessed by a spirit. I was jumping up and down, yelling at the top of my voice, teetering on the edge of breaking through the social constraint that keeps me from jumping on random people who aren't interested in mosh pits, that keeps me from being a huge jackass. That's what Nine Inch Nails did; why that show ranks so high on my all-time list: they broke down my social controls, let me revert, for a few minutes, to an animalistic state. And then they blew my mind with pretty lights.

Monday, September 08, 2008

It's Not Particularly Metal...

...but I approve none the less.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Gama Bomb's Big Metal Revival Tent

Previously, I had loved Gama Bomb because their second album, Citizen Brain, has songs about such metal topics as General Zod; OCP (from Robocop); and Krang, one of the bad guys from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series (a side note: the TMNT Wikipedia entry notes that the TMNT are "a fictional team of four turtle mutants." Clearly this distinction is an attempt to distinguish the TMNT from all of the non-fictional mutant ninja turtles currently invading New York through the sewers. Just thought I'd point that out.), because these are awesome song topics to listen to as you attempt to separate your skull from your spinal cord.

Now I love Gama Bomb because of their promotional idea for their upcoming tour: in an effort to free the masses from the effects of bad (read: nu) metal, they're asking fans to bring copies of the CDs they're ashamed to own and donate them to a group shred and stomp in the name of metal redemption. Genius, right? I see a two-fold appeal:
  1. There's a quasi-religious aspect to the whole idea: terms and phrases like "redemption," "ritually," and "confess your sins" are scattered through Blabbermouth's blog post/press release like grain on a sidewalk, ready to be snatched up by the metal-worshiping masses. Who doesn't like a good revival atmosphere, particularly when there's none of the awkwardness of trying to force down a new world view: after all, Gama Bomb is preaching to the choir.
  2. Then there's the psychological manipulation. How many of us own CDs we not only feel embarrassed for owning, but actively dislike? I recently went through my collection and pulled out a good 20 discs that quickly found their way into the nearest trash can. Had I known this tour was in the works, I would have probably saved them, because here would be an opportunity to publicly cast off my shame and, in so doing, bond closer with the greater metal community.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

My One-Sided Vendetta With Black Tide Continues

Another sign that Black Tide isn't ready for the big time: the picture on this page. James Hetfield is 45. Black Tide's average age is fifteen (give or take a year). Hetfield may be a madman of long-standing reputation, but that shouldn't keep at least one of the Black Tide youngins from looking excited: goofy, fuzzed out grins and uncertain grimaces are not rock 'n roll, much less metal.

Rage Against the Machine, on the other hand: they're definitely big time. Fuck electricity...we'll beat the system a capella!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Lars Ulrich Dials Back File Sharing Hate, Universe Explodes

Big Metallica day: 
  1. Purchased tickets on pre-sale for a show that won't (in a clever bit of selling that would raise the hackles of an accounting professor I once had for its blatant grab of cash that will grant its new owners interest that I could be enjoying myself) happen until the end of the first month of next year.
  2. Noted that with the purchase of those tickets comes two unexpected ancillary benefits: a copy of Death Magnetic and a free download from the band's concert recording archive.  When did the Napster haters get all community oriented? Seems like either someone's been doing some research into the value of keeping the core fanbase happy, or Metallica remembered they built their success on touring - and that selling CDs is more of a secondary revenue stream.
  3. Saw Lars' reaction to the leaks of Death Magnetic; jaw dropped accordingly.  Lars (and it's always Lars who gets to be the face of these discussions, isn't it) seems like a smart guy, so I should probably give him a little more credit for keeping with the times, but this was the band that essentially (indirectly to be sure, but still true in spirit) sued their fans for file sharing.  To shrug off a leak is either a sign of the Apocalypse, or an indication of a significant change in viewpoint.
  4. Downloaded a leaked copy of Death Magnetic and was pleasantly surprised by the first two tracks.  More to come on this front, but it sounds like my hopes from two months ago might have been justified.