Monday, December 22, 2008

When Italians, Black Metal, and Translation Problem Meet

I spotted the following headline from Blabbermouth in my RSS reader and had to click to read more: "MALFEITOR On Upcoming CD: 'Prepare To Hear One Of The Most Obscure Albums Ever.'" How could I not; the phrasing begs to question: how will I hear it if it's the "Most Obscure Album Ever"? Besides, it sounded really arrogant in an Indie Rock Pete sort of way and I scented the opportunity for a short burst of mockery.

Turns out the band isn't arrogant; they're just Italian. And black metal, complete with the type of picture (bad corpse paint, very unevil background) that the guys at Metal Inquisition would gladly mock. "Scuro," (which sounds a lot like "obscure") you see, means "dark" in Italian, so the upcoming album won't be obscure, just dark. Makes me wonder how they have enough publicity to end up on Blabbermouth but not enough to hire a good translator.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Digital Distortion is Not a Preference

Oh Lars...there you go again, shooting off your mouth about things:
There's a lot of the rock generation who have aged and who are now in their 40s, and who are still holding on to what was 20 or 30 years ago, and I don't fault that, whatsoever. But obviously compression plays a different role in music and mixing and mastering than it did 20 years ago or 30 years ago. And obviously, MP3s and online services and downloads — it's a different game than it was. So obviously things sound different. You know, there's no right or wrong here. It's truly about tastes, and it's truly about what people prefer.
I was a wannabe audio engineer for a long time, so I'm willing to admit a bias brought on by some ear training, but you know how there are some immutable truths out there? Death, taxes, stuff like that? "Death Magnetic was mixed so loud that it's rife with digital distortion" is an immutable truth. I can - and do - prefer this album to other albums, but trying to cover a poor mixing job with some wishy-washy bullshit about different strokes is stupidly disingenuous.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Trent Reznor Talks the Next NIN Tour

Trent rocks a little philosophical discussion about the accelerating speed of art consumption with the guys from Pink is the New Blog in this interview. Some of it comes off as a little cranky, but I get his point: instant access to information means that we churn through anything we can consume, including art (and I'm sure that concept makes an artist shudder). Keeping someone's attention long enough for them to actually appreciate what you're trying to do has to be more difficult now that the audience is less and less captive.

For those more interested in practical matters, there's a tidbit for you, too: Reznor is sick of the stage show and the theatrical straitjacket it creates. For the next tour, he's planning on keeping things simple, eschewing bright lights and big screens for a set list that will rotate every night. I'll miss the big effects - and their elimination probably necessitates shortening the length of the show to keep people interested - but if he can schedule more than one date in New York, it might be worth seeing him twice to get the full scope of possible sets.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Open Letter to Ihsahn

Dear Ihsahn,

Blabbermouth tells me that you've decided to open up on a few of Opeth's Norwegian shows, finally taking the time to perform some of your killer solo stuff in front of an audience, and "travel with a great band like Opeth while doing it." I'm very happy to hear this announcement, but I ask that you do one thing: have an awesome time. Seriously, have a kick ass time playing in front of all of those crazy Norwegian metal freaks, rocking out to "Called by the Fire" and "Will You Love Me Now?" and "Elevator" and "Unhealer" (and by all that's unholy, do take advantage of the presence of Mister Åkerfeldt to do that duet) and whatever else you decide to play. Why all of the good wishes? Well, I have a confession: I have some very selfish reasons.

You see, although I'd love to see you play live again very, very much, I can't come to Norway and I'm sad I won't be able to see what has to be one of the best bills ever. I'm hoping you enjoy your short road trip enough that you decide you want to take the experience Stateside, because I think Opeth has the kind of fan support here that they could make another tour - with you as the opener - a reality in 2009. Opeth with Ihsahn would be an automatic, soon-as-its-announced ticket purchase for me...and I'm sure I'm not the only one. So please, have a good time on the road, and come to the US when you're done.


Baroque, Bleak, Brutal

Friday, December 12, 2008

Kinda Like Nicotrel, But For Musicians

A measure of how society is progressing: used to be musicians would stab each other for how they dressed, their overbearing douchiness, or some other superficial measure of quality. Now they're finally getting to the heart of the problem: if you suck at playing, you're gonna get knifed:
The 18-year-old singer of the Italian gothic heavy metal band SOUL CRY and her 16-year-old brother, the band's bass player, are facing premeditated attempted murder charges after allegedly stabbing the group's guitarist dozens of times because he did not play well enough, according to the Associated Press.
I must say, I'm pleased that members of the metal community are at the forefront of the revolution to end shitty musicianship with ridiculously extreme violence. And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to go practice my guitar. Wouldn't want to shivved because of a missed chord change, you see.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Video for All Nightmare Long

While some people listen to this song and see images of frightened peasants running from armed men on horseback, others see Soviet-controlled zombie invasion taking out 1970s America. As Axl Rosenberg points out, the pacing on the video doesn't quite work with the song - changing images sync up with the beat, but there's an additional length of footage on both ends of the video that doesn't make any sense - but it does tell a story, which is - in my not so humble opinion - a prerequisite for a good video. Well done, Metallica: I'd much rather see a director's visualization of a song's topic than some musicians lip synching in some moodily-lit warehouse.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Top 10 Albums of 2008

It's probably late enough in the year to do one of these, right? These albums aren't in any particular order - I'll happily take the coward's way out and avoid the extremely difficult apples to oranges comparison that comes from trying to compare relative musical merit, particularly across genres - and aren't all metal. To merit possible inclusion on this list, the album had to meet two criteria:
  • Have a US release date some time in 2008
  • Have a siren-like ability to get me to listen over and over again, month after month.
Here's the list, with some commentary:
  1. Rise Against - Appeal to Reason. I've had this album since the middle of October and I can't stop listening to it. Originally a Walmart project, it broke precedent by staying in my at-work iTunes list (reserved for albums I'm demoing for possible inclusion in my permanent collection home) for weeks after I turned in the description, because I needed it around to get a quick fix. I'm pretty sure every glorious track of this 13-song release has gotten stuck in my head at some point, no doubt because of the dozens of times I've played it. Really the most perfect piece of melodic hardcore I've heard since The Offspring put out Smash.

  2. Metallica - Death Magnetic. Even though I have problems listening to this album all the way through because of the terrible mixing problems, the songs themselves are too good to ignore - and as I've commented on one occasion, they've acquired extracurricular meanings as well. Death Magnetic has seen enough controversy since before its release that I don't need to describe it any further: you've made your decision and chances are, you either love it or hate it. I think it's not only the best thing the band's done in years, but is a really strong Metallica album in its own right.

  3. Opeth - Watershed. I think I'm well beyond the point where I'm able to speak objectively about Opeth, but that didn't stop me from trying with Ihsahn, so why not continue the charade? What I love most about Opeth is that although every album, when played in chronological order, fits into the progression that the band has followed up into Watershed, there's still something that makes the album stand out not only from the band's peers, but from its own siblings. In the case of Watershed, who would have thought that Black Metal and 70's AOR rock would mix so well and so convincingly? Brutality, majesty, a bit of the psychedelic aesthetic, the counterpoint guitar lines, and a hundred other little details that take hours of pleasurable listening to pull apart, all weaving together to create a magnificent addition to the catalog that is both unique and uniquely Opeth.

  4. Eluveitie - Slania. These guys impressed me so much at Paganfest that I was a little concerned that their recordings wouldn't live up to the impact of their live show. Fortunately, I was dead wrong: Slania is gorgeous and powerful mix of metal and folk music, offering up singalong choruses (in English and Helvetican), dancable/slammable tunes, a heavy emphasis on swirling melody that doesn't sacrifice the potential for balls-out rawk, and an edge that makes the whole thing seem slightly mysterious (in an "entering another world" sense), not hokey. Check out "Slanias Song" for a good representation of how awesome this album - and the genre as a whole - can be.

  5. The Dresden Dolls - No, Virginia.... What continues to amaze me about this album is that it's made up of remnants, b-sides, and compilation tracks - you know, the trash of recording sessions that's not quite good enough to put on the album but still worthy of salvaging - but it's still fucking fantastic. And not in a "that's good for a compilation" sense, but in an honest to goodness "this stands on its own as a strong album" sense. Quite possibly as a "best of The Dresden Dolls catalog" sense, which is pretty significant. I originally picked this one up as a Walmart assignment in June, loved it, then took a break for a few months. A couple of weeks ago, I cued it up again and remembered why it's so amazing. If you love The Dresden Dolls it's a must-own; if you've heard good things (or want to know how in the world a piano and drums can make really good punk rock), No, Virginia... is an excellent place to start.

  6. Keep of Kalessin - Kolossus. I believe I have the guys at Metal Sucks to thank for turning me on to this album. Why do I love it? Black metal, in my opinion, is a genre just begging to mix it up with progressive rock idioms: the common love of the grandiose in both genres makes a natural fit. Keep of Kalessin not only gets this idea, but they understand how to weave the two elements together to create progressive black metal that's actually still black: Kolossus is ripe with well-placed blast beats, a strong mix of bleak arpeggiation and high-speed riffing, and lyrics about individual struggle against titanic forces - and empire building on the backs of a thousand corpses. The whole package is probably best exemplified by "The Rising Sign," which moves from a brilliant syncopated opening riff to an Amon Amarth-style explosion to a chorus with one hell of an epic hook to an acoustic bridge that rivals Ihsahn for atmospherics with envy-creating ease.

  7. The Sword - Gods of the Earth. I know these guys are basically Black Sabbath for the new millenium, but between the sledgehammer riffs, the distant wail of J. D. Cronise on the microphone, and the songs about war, frost giants, and George R. R. Martin novels, I don't particularly care: I'm in love with the music, dammit, and we're moving in together next month. Turn on "How Heavy This Axe," crank up the volume, find a suitable stimulant and drift off into fantasies of braining someone with a large piece of sharp steel.
  8. Gama Bomb - Citizen Brain. While it's true there are plenty of thrash revival bands out there these days, Gama Bomb seems to have this - admittedly derivative - genre down to a science on Citizen Brain: every song thrashes in the best head banging style, the singer sounds like he takes himself just seriously enough to sing properly while still having fun, and the songs...let's just say that any album that has fun songs about rampaging zombies, using time travel to commit crimes, being sentenced to thrash, RoboCop, Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and General Zod gets a big gold star in my book.

  9. Ihsahn - angL. I've read from interviews that Ihsahn is a huge perfectionist who is never happy with the recordings he puts out because they never quite live up to his expectations. I imagine each of his recordings to be like darts hitting an already small target of tremendous results: with each throw, he gets closer and closer to that point of menetal perfection. angL is the majesty of the Emperor recordings mixed with beautiful, bleak atmospherics that tempt you to step inside - and possesses your soul once you do. The duet with Mikael Akerfeldt in "Unhealer," where Akerfeldt's clean vocals, supported by a simple chorused guitar line and - of all things - a fretless bass build into the alternations of Akerfeldt and Ihsahn scorching out the chorus makes for a haunting, theatrical glory, almost akin to a gothic 19th century horror - and that's just one among equals.

  10. Nine Inch Nails - The Slip. It's possible this album ended up on this list because of the concert this summer - which goes to show you how important touring can be - but I think what originally sold me on The Slip - besides liking Discipline enough to listen to it once a day after I originally downloaded it - was the rehearsal video of 1,000,000 put out in June. As I said at the time, that video was like a four minute tutorial on how to rock...and it proved to be not only a very effective prequel for the live experience in August, but an excellent representation of this album's elegantly simple (if slightly schizophrenic) outlook. Soon enough, I was waking up with the chorus of "Echoplex" stuck in my head, or humming the tune to "Lights in the Sky." In other words, I was hooked for good.
Honorable mentions:
  1. Arsis - We are the Nightmare.
  2. Nine Inch Nails - Ghosts I - IV.
  3. Protest the Hero - Fortress.
  4. Emarosa - Relativity.
  5. Testament - The Formation of Damnation.

Pagans and Facists

One last post on Lords of Chaos. The end of the book focuses heavily (some might say sensationalistically) on the formative ties between Black Metal scenesters and right wing political parties, with a bit of Satanistic-style violence thrown in for good measure. It's the book's weakest section, because it feels like the authors suddenly decided they needed a thesis, but it does highlight one of Black Metal's interesting conflicts: was this music going to be an agitator for right wing politics and ultra-nationalism, or merely a celebration of individual darkness? Clearly, given Black Metal's vocal themes, there's room for both sides to express themselves, but to the authors at least, the movement's shift towards paganism symbolized the beginnings of some larger nationalistic movement.

Flash forward ten years later. I haven't heard of any extreme right wing takeovers in Europe or the US, so clearly the predicted synergy between nationalists and Black Metal fans is either dormant or non-existent...but sensitivities still exist: while perusing Týr's Wikipedia page, I came across a reference to a video that members of Týr and Moonsorrow made during the European leg of the Paganfest 2008 tour, responding to accusations by German anti-Fascist group BIFFF that their music promotes Fascism. Clearly, whatever the truth of the matter (and to be honest, I think BIFFF's examples demonstrate a profound lack of understanding about the difference between disliking Christianity, or even just being of a different viewpoint than Christianity and liking Facism), the link between paganism in metal and right-wing politics still exists in the minds of some.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Delving Into the Sorrow of the Moon

After getting waaaay too excited about Paganfest 2009 a few days ago, I decided it might be a good idea to check out the bands (who are not Eluveitie; they're half the reason I'm so psyched to begin with) on the bill. My download site of choice's musical association algorithms called up Moonsorrow, so I started with them, grabbing the AMG-recommended Verisäkeet and taking it out for a spin. First time through, I wasn't particularly impressed until I got to "Jotenheim," when the band's combination of the metallic (death metal vocals, some blast beats, plenty of high speed riffing, some balls-out rock 'n roll screams), the epic (Viking choruses, symphonic strings, Pagan instruments, Emperor-style marching bridges), and the atmospheric (well-placed acoustic/clean electric lines awash in reverb, sound samples of sighing wind, crackling flames, and quorking crows) all lined up to create the type of immense experience that generally tickles my auditory fancy. Think Braveheart or Lord of the Rings in album form and you'll get the picture.

Along the way, I noticed that Moonsorrow doesn't deviate from their native Finnish in their I have literally no idea what these songs are about. To be honest, it doesn't matter too much: I normally can't understand a death metal growl, even when the singer is croaking along in English; why should it matter if they're choosing to do in another language? Either way, I'm excited to see these guys next spring.

Nickleback Covering The Four Horsemen

I have to say: I was prepared to be utterly disgusted by this attempt...but the 40 seconds or so they play isn't half bad. It doesn't really live up to the standards of a good cover, but this clip sounds like it was a between-song teaser, so it's a bit of a different animal anyway. I disagree with Vince Neilstein's statement that Chad Kroeger does a good Hetfield - or at least that he does a good Hetfield circa 1981 - but it could be worse.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

My Wife, She Understands Me

In response to the comments section of this article:

Me: Ohhh...
Nikki: What?
Me: Someone made a reference to Turisas in the comments section. They have a song about Rasputin; the chorus goes "Ra! Ra! Rasputin!"
Nikki: I can't believe you just made that sound over that. It sounded like someone showed you a picture of a puppy.
Me: Yeah, a pagan metal puppy...
Nikki: [laughs] Write that down.

Rethinking Victory Songs

I was going to use the word "apology" somewhere in the title of this post, but I see that I never bashed Ensiferum (in this blog, anyway) outside of my comments on their Paganfest performance. I've been trying to be more organic in my listening patterns lately, selecting those albums with whatever song has gotten stuck my ear today, rather than forcing myself to listen to something new or relatively new or otherwise not sufficiently explored (have I mentioned I'm a little odd about my music geekery?). This change has resulted in some self-perpetuating selections - I listened to nothing but Ihsahn, Emperor, and Opeth yesterday because I woke up with portions of "Depraved" running through my mind - but it's also led to the resurgence of Ensiferum's most recent album, Victory Songs, in my esteem.

I liked Victory Songs enough to hold on to it after I downloaded it, but at the time, flush with the riches of my post-Paganfest discoveries, I couldn't help but feel that Ensiferum was Turisas-lite. Fast forward to this past Friday, when their album cover jumped out from my iTunes list and I decided to give them a second chance. 50 minutes later, I was a fan: the songs are sufficiently epic, the hooks of tracks like "Ahti," "One More Magic Potion," "Raised by the Sword," and "Victory Song" sufficiently strong, the energy sufficiently infectious to get me bopping around the room, dreaming of sword-in-hand victory. As it turned out, the attraction was strong enough to last several days: when I got to work this morning, "Wanderer" was running its way through my head, setting up a reprise and this blog post. Victory Songs might suffer a bit from overreliance on the same set of tools, but I'm glad I hung on to it.

Monday, December 01, 2008

More Thoughts on Lords of Chaos

Towards the middle of the book the authors interview two men who write for what the book describes as Norway's "cultural newspaper," Morgenbladet: a Satanist of the old (Aleister Crowley-influenced) school and a Christian who writes on theological matters. They were both discussing the rise of the association between Satanism and Black Metal in Norway and had some interesting theories, but what I found resonant enough to write about was their comparisons of Ihsahn and Varg Vikernes; how after speaking with Ihsahn, they both found his beliefs to be far more sophisticated in both their level of development (more because he had abandoned the idea of evil for evil's sake and settled on a philosophy that was pro-Satan and not just anti-Christ) and their desire for elegance. After reading their thoughts, I realized that the same desire for elegant evil was what I find so attractive about Ihsahn's music, both with Emperor and as a solo artist.

I'm a big fan of evil music - if that wasn't obvious from the blog's title - but I also need my evil music cloaked in different forms (which should also be obvious from the blog's title) to keep it interesting. Alternation between different types of metal certainly does the trick, but a closer examination of the albums I come back to time and time - Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, Blackwater Park, Images and Words (to name a few), and more recent additions like angL and Kolossus - reveals a fascination with brutality mixed with elegance. Beat me over the head with high-speed shreds, thunderous bottom ends, and bone-crushing pounding of drums; screech your images of destruction, alienation, and soul-destruction into my ears; put me through the mill of your sonic pain machine, but while you may earn my respect, you'll only win my lasting love if you mix that assault with elegant constructions that emphasize the beauty in your chaos.