Friday, January 30, 2009

Art of the Cover

I have a small obsession with the idea of the "correct" (and by "correct" I really mean "innovative") cover. Covering is an art that demands a combination of sensitivity and originality from its practitioners, requiring them to take a completed art form and reinterpret it so that it uncovers a new facet of the underlying structure in the original without destroying whatever made the song noteworthy in the first place. There are good covers that meet both criteria - Jimi Hendrix's handling of "All Along the Watchtower" might be the most famous, but props also to The Cure for "World Through My Eyes" and there are bad covers that miss on one - A Perfect Circle's version of "When the Levee Breaks" gets points for originality but obliterates the original - or the other - Black Tide's take on "Prowler," like pretty much everything else the band does, is completely derivative - or both - see: the pop punk fad covering 80s material - but rarely does the cover completely excel in both areas. A short list would already include Marilyn Manson doing "Down in the Park," Pig covering "1979," and Arch Enemy ripping through "The Oath," but after watching video above, I'm happy to add the Bare Egil Band joins this elite group for their treatment of "Umbrella." Somehow the band managed to make a fairly cheery song sound like the harbinger of the Apocalypse without destroying the hooks that originally made it a hit. My hat is off to you, sirs.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

You Can Check Out Any Time You Like, But You Can Never Leave

Some people - older people, like Gene Simmons in an interview with Henry Rollins where Simmons completely shocked Rollins into awkward silence - have complained that we've lost the concept of the rock star in the twenty-year triumph of indie music. I'm not entirely sure that I agree (although perhaps one could argue that Guitar Hero and Rock Band are symptomatic of what Counting Crows said about us wanting to be big, big stars), but props to Iron Maiden for attempting to put the separate, higher-realm creature element back into the mix with their London hotel for rock stars. Of course, because this hotel is a business venture, they don't want their future rock star guests to wreck the place in the best rock star style - no Led Zeppelin shark episodes here - but at least you have to be a well-known musician to get in. No doubt they'll be doing lines of coke off the speaker-shaped mini bars in no time.

Requiem for a Dream

I see that Opeth is taking their tour back to the US again this Spring, which is great, because I wouldn't mind establishing the same see-once-a-year pattern with them that I've done with Dream Theater or Megadeth. They're bringing Enslaved with them, which is also cool because a.) I wouldn't mind seeing what those guys can do live and b.) while the metalgaze/black indie metal tag-team of High on Fire and Nachtmystium wasn't so much of a musical stretch paired up with Opeth's progressive black magic, going with another Swedish act might keep the douchebags at bay, or even - one can only hope - out of the auditorium entirely.

However, I'm also sad, because Opeth's tour announcement puts the final nail in the coffin of one of my fondest hopes: an Opeth/Ihsahn double bill. I won't give up hope, though; some day, I'll see these two play together, even if I have to travel to Oslo to do it.

Friday, January 23, 2009

An Ihsahn Setback

Well, fuck:
"A previous announcement confirmed that Ihsahn would support OPETH for the majority of shows on their forthcoming Norwegian tour in March. However, more detailed production planning has revealed technical and practical difficulties at many of the smaller venues, and it has proven near impossible to run the necessary production. This means that Ihsahn will only be performing at Rockefeller/Oslo on March 10."
And I had such high hopes for this mini tour and its possible implications for a trip to the US. I suppose it's possible that US clubs might not have the same "technical and practical difficulties" - whatever that means - as the ones in Norway, but if the man can't mount a tour in his home country, the chances of his doing one here in the States seem greatly diminished.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Steve Harris: Legendary Architect

From Blabbermouth: "...singer and daughter of legendary architect and bassist of IRON MAIDEN, Steve Harris..."

"Legendary architect," you say? From Wikipedia: "He used to work as an architectural draftsman in the East End of London but gave up his job upon forming Iron Maiden." Assuming that's anywhere close to correct, that would mean he gave up his architecture job - which, from what I've read, is a bit like being an architect-lite - over thirty years ago. Even if he did get the chance to design a building or two, I highly doubt they made him any more legendary as an architect than Bruce Dickinson's fencing lessons made him legendary as a sword fighter. I know that writing up promos for Lauren Harris doesn't give you much to work with, but the hyperbole might be a bit much, you know?

Vicariously Through the Hordes of Chaos

Follow up on Hordes of Chaos: everything about it screams old school thrash album in the grand style that Kreator helped create, but it's clear the band hasn't stopped listening to more recent releases. Listen to the opening riff of the title track and tell me there isn't more than just a touch of Tool's "Vicarious" coming at you through the speakers. Unless it's totally unintentional, kudos to Kreator; hearing that riff start off (another) album made for a great hook to pull me in.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Guess What: Good Production Makes a Difference

My man Chad over at About Heavy Metal scored an interview with Kreator's Mille Petrozza, which included some bits about Kreator's new album, Hordes of Chaos. Petrozza had the following to say about how the band recorded the record:
I understand you changed your recording process a bit for this album.
Yes. The basic tracks were all recorded in a live situation. We had the whole band in one room recording drums, both guitars and bass at the same time. We didn’t do overdubs to fix things afterwards. We left it like it was and tried to play as close to perfect as possible with the energy of a live show. For us this time it was more about the vibe and the emotion than perfection. It gives the listener a clue to what the band sounds like live, rather than a perfect polished studio production.
I have had the opportunity to listen to Hordes of Chaos twice. The second time I did so, I had accidentally cranked the volume to a more ear-splitting level and let me tell you: the difference in process shows. Or hears. Whatever. In any case, the sound is frickin' vibrant, and I suspect it's going to become a favorite very quickly.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

To PaganFest or Not to PaganFest...That is the Question

I loved PaganFest 2008. Afterwards, I grabbed albums from the three bands I didn't know and developed a level of affection for the recordings that made me wish I knew the songs before the show. When Rock the Nation announced PaganFest 2009, I decided to make good on the lessons of the past and checked out the bands before the show.

Doing so might have been a mistake, because now I'm not sure I want to go.

Here are my thoughts on this year's lineup:
  • Korpiklaani: Tales Along This Road was singularly underwhelming. Singing about booze is cool; sounding like a drunk bar band while you do it is not. Simply put, these guys could take a few lessons in that area - and a few others, like how to write a proper melody - from Turisas.
  • Eluveitie: Slania was one of my 2008 albums of the year and Eluveitie rocked my world at PaganFest 2008. If I go to this year's edition, it will be primarily to see these guys again.
  • Primodial: I think The Gathering Wilderness was meant to sound like music communing with wild nature: lots of slow moving lines that owed a lot to drones. The problem was, they never really went anywhere, never conjured up any strong images, and were sharing time with such an uninspiring vocalist that the whole project was just boring.
  • Moonsorrow: I've already sung Verisäkeet's praises, but suffice it to say that if Primordial are a group of hacks, Moonsorrow are the real deal. I've never wanted to run away and live in a hut in the Scandinavian wilderness more in my life.
  • Blackguard: Another Round (their last release as Profugus Mortis) is ok, but it's a bit of a mish-mash of stereotypes: a dash of folk metal here, one of Jordan Ruddess's keyboard sounds there, stir it all up and try to ignore the lack of depth. After Moonsorrow, these guys just don't seem to stand up.
  • Swashbuckle: All I've heard so far is "drunk pirate metal from New Jersey." I'm a little scared to listen to anything, because I'm torn: I either like the concept in the same way I like, say, Gama Bomb and I don't want them to suck, or I absolutely hate the concept and don't care one way or another. It's tough being a music fan sometimes.

Queensryche's American Soldier

Hey, look at that: news about metal I actually care about. In an odd bit of coincidence, I was thinking about Queensryche this morning, wondering when they were going to convert the momentum from Operation: Mindcrime 2 into another slice of new material, and here they announce a new disc is on the way:
Due in April 2009 via Rhino, QUEENSRŸCHE's twelfth studio album, "American Soldier", is a concept effort which finds the band once again tackling some heavy subject matter, this time focusing on telling the story of war from a firsthand perspective.
Heavy indeed. I suspect that avoiding the step from "heavy" to "heavy-handed" will take a fresh perspective on conflict that doesn't add another echo to the American public's already thunderous cries of war weariness, but I'm excited to hear what they've put together; it seems like Queensryche does their best when they're forced to come up with a new angle. Besides, who doesn't like a good comeback?

However, I do have to ask: when Michael Wilton says he "recorded" all of the guitars on this album, does that mean he wrote them, too? Is the change to a functional one-guitar unit a shift made to get the band in motion after five years of creative silence (Wikipedia mentions that Mike Stone has an active side project), or the establishment of a new type of creative control? Either way, it's something to listen for when American Soldier makes its appearance.