Thursday, November 27, 2008

DragonForce at Irving Plaza

Ok, this review should be pretty easy: remember when I said I felt bad for Ensiferum for having to go on after Turisas? Turns out that wasn't a fluke: I felt just as bad for DragonForce on Tuesday night. Here's why, synthesized down to two simple statements:
  1. Turisas. Turisas kicked my ass, almost literally. After their set, my throat was a strip of dried leather from screaming and yelling, my legs tottering from jumping up and down, my arms hanging weakly at my sides, shaking in exhaustion from the constant fist-in-the-air pumping. Two days later, my arms still hurt from the short, sweet workout Turisas gave me. I figure if they headline now, they'll just play all of The Varangian Way (not that I'd have a problem with that), but one more album, they should be leading their own tours. They are far beyond ready.

  2. DragonForce. Subsconsciously I knew about this problem before I went, but DragonForce is not the sort of band you want to listen to for more than half an hour. God love 'em, they put on a good show - the wind blowing the hair back dramatically, the keyboard player doing calisthenics while he plays, Herman Li and his guitar solo faces of doom, the drummer who sings along to all of the words - but the music. doesn't. change. At all. One friend compared them to varieties of Chinese chicken: you can have sesame chicken, or orange chicken, or General Tsao's chicken, but in the end, you're basically getting the same thing: chicken with some sort of orange-flavored sauce. Have three courses of that stuff and you'll stop paying attention. Which I did, choosing to skim in and out of the show like a fish jumping in and out of the rapids. Enjoyable enough, I suspose, but not something that I'd want to repeat.
So, to sum up: DragonForce is ok in small doses, Turisas is always awesome and should be headlining their own tours.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Mind Besides Itself

You know, I've always enjoyed Dream Theater's "Erotomania," but I never bothered to look up what the title meant; I think I just translated the word literally and went from there. Thanks to Law & Order: SVU, I now know it refers to a romantic obsession with a celebrity. You know, like the subject of "Space Dye Vest," the song that Kevin Moore wrote, the one that only ended up on the album because the rest of the band didn't know he was leaving...the one that didn't fit. I've never seen a reference to it - not in the old Dream Theater FAQ, not on Wikipedia, not in the biography - but I have to wonder if Petrucci named the first part of "A Mind Beside Itself" (if not the whole suite) after Moore's strange obsession...after Moore left the band. There has to be more than one reason why Moore won't talk about Dream Theater fourteen years later...

Paganfest 2009

FUCK. YES. This makes my night:

Via Metal Sucks

Euronymous Was a Huge Douchebag

I'm reading Lords of Chaos, a recounting of the exploits of the Black Metal kids in Norway in the early 90s and their crazy, church-burning ways. The thread of unintentional comedy running through the story is thick with fibers, because these were a group of individuals who took themselves far too seriously. By the time the two journalists wrote the book at the end of the decade, all of the major players (Ihsahn and Samoth of Emperor, Hellhammer - even Varg Vikernes to an extent) had realized most of their views from the time were at best extremely immature, so they spend a lot of time backtracking, but if there was ever a reason not to combine adolescents and celebrity, the whole Black Circle scene exemplifies it to a T.

The one major player who wasn't around to interview in the mid-90s was, of course, Euronymous, who had had the misfortune of getting himself perished. As a result, Lords of Chaos has to rely on existing source documents and the recollections of others for material for their chapter on Euronymous, or - as I like to call it - the Exploration of a Douchebag. Because really, when you come right down to it, that's what the man who, for all intents and purposes, founded the scene really was: a charismatic guy with a lot of extravagant ideas and public persona built on the world's biggest see-through facade. Really, it's a testament to the average Black Metal kid's naivaite that someone didn't stab him sooner, because I can't imagine talking to him for more than few minutes without calling him on all of his bullshit (my favorite story relating to this mismatch between who Euronymous was and who he pretended to be was when he said in a letter that Deicide, Sepultura, and Napalm Death weren't extreme enough and then ended it with a death wish for all trendy people and the word "Aaaaargh!," coming off like a whiny emo kid on a LiveJournal blog). Also, look at this picture: how could you not want to punch him in the face on sight?

I guess the whole reason for this speaking ill of the dead - besides the inspiration garnered from Lords of Chaos - is the sharp contrast between the biographical Euronymous and the Euronymous of my previous experience, taken from interviews with Ihsahn done at the end of the last decade that I read in 2000. The respect Ihsahn had for his late friend was palpable and from his words I developed a mental picture of someone with a far steadier hand and mind than the one I've read about in the past few days.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hurray for Vikings

Turisas, meanwhile, is just fucking epic.

DragonForce is so epic...

...their hair blows back dramatically as they play. You can alllllmost tell from the pic, too.

Baroness at The Bowery Ballroom

Saturday night was my first conscious experience of the phenomenon of indie metal and - to my memory - my first experience with the unexpected comforts of the Bowery Ballroom, a venue whose Lower East Side location and suggestion of significant age (I don't think they build ballrooms anymore) had always conjured images of a far scuzzier building to my mind. Maybe they cleaned the place up recently, but I didn't fear the acquisition of infectious diseases on contact with the air and the acoustics were really quite impressive.

I mentioned indie metal above; I think the most interesting part of the whole night was the idea of a bunch of fairly unevil (if slightly crazed) looking dudes playing loud music that only people who weren't metalheads would identify as metal. That's no knock against Baroness or opening act Coliseum, but merely an observation of the oddity of seeing one's subgenre coopted in ways that - for all of metal's versatility - only barely fit within the confines of the genre. Did I bang my head, pump my fist, and jump around a bit? Sure. Could these guys acquire the label of post-punk just as easily as that of metal? Definitely. There was some riffage and technical skill on display, but it - and most of the people watching it - were light years away from the old school uglies I saw this summer in New Jersey or the kids beating the crap out of each other a month ago at the Hammerstein.

Perhaps the biggest evidence of a stranger in a strange land mentality was the clothing of choice. I was with two of my bandmates (both big Baroness fans who'd convinced me, a virgin to their sound, to go); we were wearing t-shirts from Opeth, Darkthrone, and Celtic Frost. We spent most of the night playing a mental game of counting the shirts of bands like Mastodon and High on Fire all around us. At one point, Seth came back from the bar and said he'd seen some evidence of true metal: a kid wearing a Children of Bodom shirt. Later on, I wondered about the possible results of an ethnomusicological study of the indie metal community.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Drumming This Dying Soul

Never thought I'd see the day when I thought watching a man drum for about 7 minutes would be entertaining, but that's Mike Portnoy for you. If you're a fan of "This Dying Soul," check out this footage from Portnoy's drum cam recorded during the Train of Thought sessions: maybe it's the bandwidth on the original recording, but seeing this video helped me pick out some new bits of drum part I couldn't hear before. Seeing Portnoy's hands fly across the set during a fill is pretty spectacular, too.

Chris Cornell: Killing His Legacy, One Recording at a Time

I hate to say it, but it might be time for Chris Cornell to call it quits. Doing a lackluster singing job on a live version one of his classic recordings is bad enough, but doing it with Linkin Park - and having Chester Bennington and his flat-featured power whine stand in for Eddie Vedder - is the musical equivalent of ripping up the manuscript of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book you wrote fifteen years ago and using the pages to wipe your dingleberry-covered asshole. And then trying to sell it on eBay afterwards.

Years from now, we'll list Cornell's sellout as a giant amongst the great attempts, putting the hit-seeking ways of Metallica and Dave Mustaine to shame. Ass.

Fuck it, I'm not even sure I'd want to see a Soundgarden review now.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Slayer Versus Hippies

As you can probably imagine, Slayer wins. As if there was ANY doubt.

Taking to the Way of All Flesh

I'm not sure if it's because I've been listening to a lot more challenging music recently, or I'm finally succumbing (in some sense) to the ridiculous variety of music at my disposal, but I've found it's taking me a few more listens than it used to before I really get into an album I expect to like. Gojira's The Way of All Flesh, for example; I really like From Mars to Sirius (even though it took me a while to get into that album when I first heard it a few years ago), so I figured I'd take to the follow-up like a duck to water. And it wasn't as The Way of All Flesh was bad...I just didn't get feel the hook immediately. For several weeks after I downloaded it, it sat in my iTunes display, mocking me with its unfulfilled promise, until I gave it a fourth shot yesterday.

That fourth hit did the trick: somewhere in the middle of "Adoration for None," around when I realized that I was, in fact, hearing Randy Blythe's distinctive razor blade growl as a secondary vocals, the hook found aural flesh. Then "The Art of Dying,"with its tribal drum intro leading up to an almost Tool-like display of rhythm, hit my ears at their most receptive point and now I'm a fan.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Kirk Hammett Has No Ears

Look, I know Kirk Hammett is one step above a glorified axe-slinger, filling in the templates provided by Hetfield and Ulrich, but I'm still pretty surprised he's this oblivious - or is pretending to be this oblivious - about the sound quality problems that plague Death Magnetic:
"Well, it's like this: There are people who just expect perfection from us. And I totally get that. And when it falls short of their standards of perfection, they're going to complain. And I totally get that, too. I do hear a bit of clipping here and there. It was more a Rick Rubin [producer] sort of decision rather than the band decision, because he thought it made it sound a little bit more lively and dynamic, and we kinda gave him the benefit of the doubt on that. And you know, to me, when I crank the album when I'm driving, it's not an issue for me. But then again — my ears are kinda fried, too, bro."
Two thoughts: first, I continue to love Death Magnetic - I won't change what I said two months ago about the album one bit - but unless they're stone deaf, how could anyone miss that rampant clipping? I realized the other day the reason why I feel like Death Magnetic is so long - besides the near CD-busting length - is that I can't make it through the album in one sitting...and that's because my ears get tired from all of the digital distortion. Maybe what Hammett's trying to say with his "my ears are kinda fried" comment is that his ears have actually stopped working and he now hears sound through vibrations in the floor and that's why he doesn't hear much clipping.

Second, I call shenanigans on his attempt to throw Rick Rubin under the bus, because I've heard the Guitar Hero mix. You know, the mix that wasn't made to emulate a brick wall? The one where you can hear all of that extra "production stuff" Rubin threw in, like dynamics and effects on James' voice, that was all crushed out of the version that ended up on the CD. And that wasn't Rubin's was the guys who did the mix.

So yeah: Kirk Hammett seems like a bit of an ear-less meathead. But you probably knew that already.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Disappointed With The All Music Guide

You know how Wikipedia has that problem with vandalism, where people create accounts to cover articles with the web equivalent of graffiti? I'm starting to wonder if the All Music Guide has the same problem.

I am, for better or worse, a loyal user of the All Music Guide. I started using them back in college, when my limited research skills uncovered a harrowing truth: there weren't many resources on the history of progressive metal. I was writing a research paper on progressive metal, so I had to take what limited information I had available - much of it courtesy of the All Music Guide - and make up the rest. It was fun, in a revisionist history sort of way and I have no doubt that I could take up a career as a post-revolution historian without trouble. In any case, the AMG was there to give me some answers then and they've been there - despite the iffy site design, frequently out-of-date information, and the horrid servers with their wretched connection issues that give me PTSD flashbacks to the days of dialup - to give me album reviews and discography starting points ever since.

Lately, though, I've grown concerned: either the editorial staff has given up entirely, or they've been subcontracted out to a group of sugar-hyped 15-year-olds with chips on their shoulders, because the writing has gone into the shitter. I first noticed it on Stephen Thomas Erlewine's review of Black Ice: his thoughts were spot on, but run-on sentences abounded in a very non-Stephen Thomas Erlewine sort of way (let it be noted here for the record that I generally love reading Stephen Thomas Erlewine's work about as much as I love saying his full name, which is to say a great deal), as if someone had taken a complete, edited review and joined together a few clauses that should have been separated by God and periods.

The Black Ice review was disturbing, but today I found something much worse: the review of Wither Blister Burn + Peel. On their discography page, the All Music Guide gives Stabbing Westward's second album 4.5 stars and an Album Pick, which generally guarantees a good experience to the open minded. However, either the editors didn't consult reviewer Alan Esher before designating a rating, or Esher completely disagreed, because he pans Wither Blister Burn + Peel with a surprising amount of vitriol. Even worse, his review is so poorly written - and so poorly written (how does a sentence like "Seriously though, its an OK album as long as you're not expecting too much from it." end up on a site devoted to professional music writing?) - that I have to wonder what the hell happened. It's really hackers, right? Not piss-poor work? Don't make me give up on you, AMG. I can only put up with your self-defeating shenanigans for so long.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Nostradamus Ingrained

I feel like this opening is a set up to a joke: "A man listens to Nostradamus for 145 days straight..." but it's the truth: some dude from Cleveland has, in fact, been alternating between the CD and vinyl versions of Priest's latest record for 145 days straight. I think he might trying to make up for me, because after a variety of different friends with an equally large variety of tastes panned the album, I avoided it like the plague, limiting my exposure to the two songs Priest played this summer.

Here's what I don't get, though: I can understand falling in love with an album - although usually that intense first stage only lasts a few days, not months and months - but from his picture, the guy in question is clearly pushing mid-40s...which means he's heard other, better Priest albums before. Heck, he's heard other, better metal albums before and he no doubt heard them at a time when music distribution was more limited and playing a record for days in a row wasn't such a strange thing. Seriously, buddy: you do have other options.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Spirit of Tom Sawyer

Do you watch the TV show Chuck? I like it because it combines authentic geekery with spies in a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup type fashion, resonating deeply with my desire to be James Bond without having to stop playing video games or argue about obscure points of music. It's also pretty funny.

I caught up on some back episodes earlier this week and enjoyed what may be their best episode yet: the guy who designed Missile Command for Atari was some kind of spy who linked up the game with a nuclear missile-totting satellite and now, 25 years later, someone figured out how to use the game to launch the missiles on a strike on Los Angeles. A good start, but what launched the episode into my top slot was the solution: to stop the missiles, a player had to get to the quasi-mythic "kill screen," a feat requiring incredible mental math abilities...or the realization that the game's programmer loved Rush and had programmed the game's physics to follow the beat of "Tom Sawyer."

As a hook, it's brilliant: "Tom Sawyer" and Missile Command are just close enough to the mainstream periphery that most of the show's audience will get them without damaging the show's geek credibility. There's one problem, though: Missile Command came out in July, 1980 and Rush didn't release "Tom Sawyer" until the following February. I know "Tom Sawyer" is Rush's most recognizable song, but I'm still a little disappointed: a show that celebrates geek culture should know that the type of nitpicking I'm engaging in with this blog post comes standard with the Star Wars references and obsession with shiny gadgets and chosen an earlier Rush hit. "The Spirit of Radio," perhaps?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Metal Fallout 3

I started playing Fallout 3 last night, which - if initial experience is any indication - means that I've just signed away my free time for at least the next three weeks. Those of you familiar with the game will remember its opening sequence, where an old radio plays an old song in a deliberately chilling contrast (emphasized with the ironic dig of the lyrics) to the environment of devastation. Those of you like me cursed to a life of song association no doubt had the same thought as I did within the first few seconds: 'this song sounds like it would be a perfect lead in to Megadeth's "Set the World Afire"!'

Remember how Mustaine garnered a Gears of War sponsorship for Gigantour? He should get Bethesda to sponsor his next time out. Nuclear devastation is such a better fit for Megadeth than battling giant alien locusts and I would have no problem seeing them play "Set the World Afire" live.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Original Master of Puppets Artwork Up for Auction

As listed on Christie's website:

Original artwork for the cover of Metallica's 1986 album Master of Puppets, painted by artist Don Brautigam. Signed on the lower right of the painting DB. Framed 17x17in.
Two things:
  1. I wonder: in 1983, did Don Brautigam have any idea that his artwork would go for $20,000 to $30,000 25 years later? Don't artists usually have to wait until they're dead for that kind of success? Is Don Brautigam still alive?
  2. It's my goal to find the person who buys this piece and become their new best friend - at least until I can get a picture of myself next to the art on their wall.