Friday, May 29, 2009

TOOL Fun for Casual Friday

You know what I love about Tool?  Actually, hold that.  There are a number of things I love about Tool, and this particular item is way down on the list.  But it's relevant, because it just happened: I love that every time I look at a picture of the band (like this promo shot on Blabbermouth), I have no idea who's who because they always look so different.  This time around, I'm thinking guys who might rock your face off, might sell you encyclopedias, or might be a stand in for Cheap Trick.

You know what I don't love about Tool?  How I'm going to have to spend extravagent amounts of money to see them as part of a festival I have no other interest in going to and I'm still considering going because seven years is way too long of a gap to see a band that's so awesome live and treats regular touring like it's a communicable disease.

Enslaved and Opeth at The Grand Ballroom

I don't generally pass up an opportunity to see Opeth, but I opted to show up early - and stand outside in the chill for 30 minutes because the Manhattan Center can't seem to efficiently process people through their gates - because I was curious about Enslaved.  It turned out to be a worthy use of my time.

Prior to about a year ago, my only exposure to Enslaved was the knowledge - not the experience - of the existence of the split they did with Emperor way back in the day.  Then Vertebrae came out, I got a good enough vibe from the MetalSucks review to check it out, and risk turned into a pretty decent reward.  I didn't dig any further into the band's back catalog, but having seen them live, I think I realize where there might have been a hangup: if Tyr is the Soundgarden of pagan metal, Enslaved is the Soundgarden of black metal, requiring a fairly dedicated amount of digging to get through the layers of sound and pull out something cohesive to enjoy.  I look forward to exploring them more.

Enslaved also had an ancillary benefit: much as I had hoped, this show was pretty much douchebag free, perhaps proving in the process the superiority of European black metal over the American variety.  Opeth also made a point of pandering directly to the hardcore, playing a set made up of songs from every album except Orchid and Blackwater Park and mainly avoiding the more popular cuts for rarities like "Karma," which received its New York City debut over ten years after its initial release.  Once he warmed up, Akerfeldt was his usual charming self, bantering with the crowd between songs as he retuned his guitar.  Overall, the performance was pretty much what I wanted, but there was still something missing, and to be honest, I think it was the space.

The Grand Ballroom, you see, is enormous.  Constructed on two levels, with a floor space that has to be a good 100 feet in length, it has a stage at one end that sits high above the crowds below and sports a decor grand enough for Akerfeldt to comment at one point that the place looked like it could have come out of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining.  Filled to capacity with Opeth fans, it seemed a pretty logical place for the band to successfully peddle its baroquely-dark sound, but some combination of the huge space they had to fill, their distance from the audience, and perhaps most of the crowd's unfamiliarity with the older material made the energy a bit flatter and the show a bit less intimate than it should have been.  Compared with past efforts, it was good, but it wasn't great.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Trap Them and Wolves in the Throne Room

Two long days of getting punched in the face by Metal!

First on Monday I went to Lit to check out Trap Them. I have been into their newest album Seizures in Barren Praise and my first experience seeing them at the Gramercy opening for Napalm Death was rather lukewarm. I can see the band had potential to be a great live act, but as the first band on a long bill they didn't really hit their potential. But in the small sweaty confines of Lit the band was able to really let loose and the overwhelming volume was crushing and all consuming. Opening with the crushing yet catchy "Fucking Viva" they blasted through a nice short set. The band had great stage presence, but I was left wishing the singer didn't lean so hard on the "hardcore" style of interacting with the audience. You know what I'm talking about, the constant doubled over singing towards the floor fetal position thing. Also he kept running into the audience and shouting out towards the back row. It is briefly a cool effect but I prefer when a band stays unified. Having the singer so far from the band makes it difficult to decide what to focus on, and reduces the impact of both the players and the singer. Maybe in another post I will divulge my theories on why Hardcore singers and Metal singers have such radically different stage presences.

After Trap Them headliners Victims from Sweden ran through a set which sounded like the more Hardcore side of Entombed. It was great but I bolted after a few songs because I was pretty tired, drunk, and knew I had a long week ahead of me. I definitely need to give them more of a chance because I really liked what I heard.

Fun celebrity sighting: Barney from Napalm Death who looked like any other regular dude at the show. In fact with his short hair and boyish face he looked a bit less Metal which was awesome. Also awesome was that he would go out of his way to watch his ex-touring mates at a very small venue. I already knew I loved that band and this solidified that.

Then last night was the Wolves in the Throne Room show at the Studio@Webster Hall, that new small venue they put in the basement. It was where that awesome Dillinger Escape Plan show was a few months ago.

I will briefly discuss the three bands who played.

A Storm of Light
- this was my second time seeing them as an opener, the first was the Neurosis/Mastodon show at the Masonic Hall. I am very conflicted about the band. They have a great sound, a great vibe and amazing sound design/effects which work well in their favor. But unfortunately I don't think their sound varies enough and it can get a bit tedious by the end of a 40 minute set. I wonder if I need to see them in a situation where they aren't the first and least aggressive band on a bill.

Krallice - Oh Krallice, I don't know what to say about you. You bill yourselves as Black Metal, but you sound a lot more like the super group of local NYC avant-prog guys you are. They are all such good players and briefly it was very interesting. But after a while there was just too much music and it became white noise. The drummer is awesome but never played a beat or slowed down. The guitarists were all over the place. Everything sounded great but without space or stronger songs it became all too easy to tune them out. However I need to give a shout out to the bassist. He was playing some fantastic riffs on the six string bass. In a different band he could be a real stand out. I don't want to count this band out, but they really need stronger songs. Often they invoked the worst of classic lineup Don Caballero combined with the occasional Black Metal shriek.

Wolves in the Throne Room - with a very simple stage filled with fog and dripping candles they lived up to their hype. They are an amazing live band. Plowing through incredibly long songs with conviction and grace, they sold some challenging music to a shockingly tame audience. The addition of a touring bassist helped round out the sound very well. My biggest complaint about some of their earliest work is the lack of a bassist made everything sound a bit thin. There was no danger of that last night. Good mix of material in the set from their whole catalog, which is quite a feat since most of their songs clock in around 15 minutes. They played a little under an hour and hurried off the stage in a way that implied there may have been some problems behind the scenes. But even if that was the case they rocked us intensely and professionally and made sure I got my $12 worth.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Queensryche at the Nokia

I've had the pleasure of seeing Queensryche four times, but somehow it took me until this past Friday night to realize that when it comes to their performances, these guys take things more seriously than a black metal musician on his farm in rural Norway.  It explains so much, really: Geoff Tate's style of presentation, which always seemed a little goofy and off putting to me, now seems like showmanship, attracting the audience's attention by projecting an image of the things - polished with professionalism, to be sure - he wants them to see, rather than baring his soul as many rock stars do, and managing to do it (perhaps by the overtly political focus of his music) without appearing phony.  To the prying eyes of the Internet generation, always searching for more to fight the jadedness they feel, it doesn't always work - for example: Tate made several song introductions so long they'd make a hardcore band blush and everyone there knew he was rambling - but it's a noble (and more importantly, unique) attempt to make a show seem like a show.  Watch this clip of "Empire" someone took during the show: when Tate talks during the bridge about the money wasted on the war on drugs, the performance and the point become one and the same.

The rest of the band follows suit, although it might be Parker Lundgren who demonstrates it best: what I first took for awkwardness (or something worse) seems to be a really serious commitment to rocking out while looking serious.  It's a bit comical because he looks so young, but it's clear he belongs because it looks like he belongs.  Turns out he can play pretty well, too.

Finally, even though American Soldier was either as mediocre, off putting, or downright awkward (off putting is having a really big dude in combat fatigues come out to the rap core lyrics of the album's first track; really off putting and somewhat creepy is having a pre-teen girl, who must have been Tate's daughter, come out to do a duet with him that no one could hear because she was too nervous to project) as I remember, the band sounded much, much better than I expected.  Tate's voice hasn't been this strong in years, the musicianship was tight, and choosing to bring a guy along to do backup vocals instead of relying on the crowd for help was an excellent choice.  The Rage for Order and Empire suites were both really strong and even though Queensryche seems to be in a bit of a rut when it comes to writing new music, they've still got the passion to make their shows a good time.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Joystiq just broke the news that a DETHGAME is coming!

Hopefully I will have an opportunity to play as Dr. Rockzo, the rocks and rolls clowns.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mastodon at the Music Hall of Williamsburg

Has it occurred to anyone recently how progressive metal has finally gotten cool? It took some doing, of course: a lot of the flash that prog metal drew from prog rock had to be stripped away, the music had to acquire some more brutality, and having all of the major players look like members of hipster nation certainly did its part to garner some acceptance among the more br00tal-loving indie kids, but having musicians with big beards playing eight-minute songs with heavy riffs in unusual time signatures is as much a driving force in metal right now as bleak black metal soundscapes or crushing groove riffs.

Leading the pack, of course, is Mastodon, the beast that launched a thousand supporting acts, including tourmates Intronaut and Kylesa, and a band of such stature that they could use the idea of playing the entirety of their new album Crack the Skye as a selling point for attending the show. Perhaps we really do live in the new no bullshit era, because a premise that would seem overhyped and overblown on the surface (Really? The whole album? Isn't that a bit, well, pretentious?) was merely the first act of a performance that flowed seamlessly through an additional forty or so minutes of material from Blood Mountain, Leviathan, and Remission without straining the listener's attention span. Seriously, these guys are really that good.

Hanging over a railing on side platform that runs along the stage left side of the Music Hall of Williamsburg's wonderful space, I watched the crowd - many of whom had been rocking out for hours - throw themselves into a frenzy during cuts like "Megalodon" with the same wild abandon that they had shown all night, tapping into what seemed a limitless supply of energy. I watched the band move from the translation their current melodic tale of mysticism and magic to the far more brutal blasts of songs like "Bladecatcher" and "Crystal Skull" with intense, overwhelming authority, making everything look so very easy to accomplish. I saw them bask in the audience's glow without saying a word while still making us feel like we were all part of the same metal brother-and-sisterhood. Let's not put too fine of a point on it: I was fucking blown away.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Dear Roadrunner: Suck Less

I wanted to watch the video for "A Rite of Passage" and write something about it, since I seem to be trying to turn BBB into a Dream Theater blog.  However, because it seems that Roadrunner has about as luck working with technology as its Warner Brothers namesake has avoiding, I am reduced to writing open letters:

Dear Roadrunner, 

Stop trying to reinvent the wheel.  There are existing technology channels that will serve up all of the sweet, sweet content your eager users do, in fact, want to consume with minimal fuss and - at this point - years worth of experience.  Take, for example, the video for "A Rite of Passage."  You could have put the thing up on YouTube, included an HD version so the cool backgrounds that probably cost an arm and a leg to render actually look good, and went on your merry way.  Instead, you decided to go with some craptastic software that you may have very well written up in house that makes streaming video feel like its regressed back to the Real Player days.  So yeah: suck it up and go with the solutions that work.

The Fans

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Thoughts on the New Dream Theater Single

The concept of singles seems wonderfully archaic to me, but at the very least it allows me to hear a track from the new Dream Theater album a little ahead of schedule. The track - "A Rite of Passage" - is supposedly available for download from Roadrunner, although good luck with getting traction on their underpowered servers. If you don't get through by midnight tonight, they'll have a streaming version up tomorrow. My thoughts:
  • My first thought: "interesting." But I always think that about everything Dream Theater puts out and then I end up liking it.
  • There's something about the production on this song that sounds different from what Dream Theater has been doing on their past few albums: the guitar in particular sounds a lot more vibrant. Either they're compressing things differently, or they've cut down on the number of tracks. The guitar parts also sound a lot more thrashy than they've been in a long time.
  • The chorus has a strong enough hook to stay with me for a while after I first listened to it. Could be I was right about this being a more melodic album.
  • Remember how I thought "A Rite of Passage" might be the next twelve step song? Unless joining a mysterious quasi-religious organization is one of the steps, I was dead wrong. Instead, this song has one of Dream Theater's more transparent lyric lines: the entire thing is about Freemasonry. So far, I can't tell if the band is for or against the concept. Possibly - "The Great Debate"-style - they're going for both angles.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Blabbermouth Needs To Cool It With The Megadeth Connections

Look, we know Dave Mustaine is a difficult guy to work with (or an ego-centric douchebag, if you like) and as a result the metal landscape is littered with guys who used to be in Megadeth. We also know that those guys will probably end up making music on their own and they might even trade a bit on the Megadeth name, which is fine: they should probably just put out a "I worked with Dave" patch you can put on your press releases to demonstrate how you've paid your dues. But when Blabbermouth starts using headlines like "Former MEGADETH Guitarist MIKE ALBERT To Release 'Afterlife'," I think things have gone a bit too far.

See, thanks to Wikipedia, we can see the entire list of Megadeth band members. And look! There's Mike Albert, who played guitar (on a touring basis, from what Blabbermouth tells us) in 1985 when Chris Poland was on the outs with Dave for the first time. So yeah: at one point, almost twenty-five years ago, this dude was in Megadeth. Very briefly. Why does that warrant inclusion in the headline again?

Dream Theater's Pre-Order Package: Our Take

Roadrunner opened up pre-orders for Dream Theater's new album today, providing - as has become the norm - a variety of extras intended to lure in the more devout into paying more money for options otherwise unavailable. Let's take a look at what they're offering:
  • Producers Edition Box Set: for $132, you get the following:
    • Find a SILVER TICKET and Win a MEET & GREET with the Band!
    • 3-CD Special Edition Set Includes Album, Instrumental Mixes and 6 Newly Recorded Cover Songs
    • Limited Edition Audiophile 180-Gram Double LP Set with Exclusive Artwork from Hugh Syme
    • Try Your Hand at Producer! Black Clouds & Silver Linings Producer's Edition Includes Isolated Audio Tracks of the Entire Album, Bonus Disc only available in this set.
    • Limited Edition, Numbered Lithograph by Legendary Artist Hugh Syme. 100 Lucky Winners will Find a Litho Personally Signed by the Artist!
    • Computer Mouse Pad, Exclusively Available with Box Set
    • Packaged in a Silver Foil Embossed Black Velvet Box.

  • Special Edition: $22, with the following:
    • The album
    • 6 Newly Recorded Cover Songs
    • Instrumental Mixes of the Entire Album
    • Expanded Artwork and Packaging

  • Double LP: $27.50. The album in LP form only. Pressed in Germany, for some reason - maybe they make vinyl better there?
Our take:
  • Meet and greets are cool, but unlike the meet and greets attached to a lot of Dream Theater's ticket packages, this one isn't guaranteed. For the price, you'd think this one would be - and if availability is a concern, just make the option guaranteed but with fewer packages available.
  • All copies of Systematic Chaos came with a signed lithograph if you preordered early enough: it was a great excuse to part with your money. This time, the lithograph is extra, and again, you'll only get the really valuable part (the signature) if you're lucky.
  • Giving the fans the opportunity to make their own mixes is a great way to build community. Putting that opportunity behind a limited chance pay wall misses the point of online community generation completely. I'm also willing to bet that most of the people who are buying the producers edition are looking for the signed lithograph or the silver ticket, not the audio tracks, so the possibility is even further removed from success.
  • Who uses a mouse pad anymore?

Friday, May 01, 2009

Heaven and Hell, you disappoint me.....

Apparently Coheed and Cambria are opening the next Heaven and Hell tour. Heaven and Hell, the band with AWESOME bills.

1st time I saw them: No opening act at Radio City Music Hall.
2nd time I saw them: Megadeth and Machine Head
3rd time I saw them: ALICE FUCKING COOPER and Queensryche
4th time I saw them: Testament, Motorhead and Judas Priest

Who doesn't fit in here? Oh yeah FUCKING COHEED AND SHITTY ASSED CAMBRIA.

Guess I'm just going to have to show up late....