Thursday, July 30, 2009

Video Review: The Metal Shakespeare Company - To Bleed or Not to Bleed

I love power metal in a completely straightforward and non-ironic fashion. I enjoy Shakespeare a great deal. I think the marriage of the two - as personified by The Metal Shakespeare Company, seen performing in the video above - is absolutely brilliant in its simple logic: power metal is full of guys running around in tights singing about warriors. Shakespeare is full of guys in tights acting as warriors. Convergence is almost primal in its necessity. In the case of The Metal Shakespeare Company, it doesn't hurt that their showcase song isn't half bad.

However, as is appropriate - theater being a performing art, after all - it's the video that really puts this band over the top. The mingling of tights and tennis shoes, the tongue-in-cheek posturing and goofy antics, the formal garden filming location; all might seem amateurish in the wrong hands, but The Metal Shakespeare Company has the stage presence necessary to make the video look fun instead of stupid. I'd love to see them replicate the act on a live stage.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I Can No Longer Listen to Amon Amarth Outside the Home

...Or outside any situation where I am either doing domestic chores or eviscerating my enemies. I've developed quite an affection for With Oden on Our Side over the past few months, turning to it a number of times to help distract me from the drudgery of cleaning the massive pile of plates I've ignored all week first thing on a Saturday morning. In the process, I've come to discover it's a really good album, but almost entirely because of the lyrics: every song is either retelling of a Norse epic, a story of a saga, or a description of a battle, and all unrelentingly bad-ass. They're also just intelligible enough to pick out the words and sing along. The music, on the other hand, is woefully generic, providing just enough of a vehicle to support the words and propel them along.

All well and good, but when I'm focusing on something, all I really get is the music, sitting in a layer just below my conscious thought. My forty-five minutes of Viking-metal-fueled rush wimps out in a memory of dullish high speed strumming, with sweet lyrics like "Bear skin on my back/Wolf jaw on my head/Valhall awaits me/When I'm dead" consigned to some mental dustbin so I can concentrate, ruining the whole experience. So, resolved: if I can't scream along to the lyrics, it's not a good place to listen to Amon Amarth.

Goatwhore at the Gramercy

Two days before my big move I decided to go check out the "Conquer and Curse" tour stopping off at the Gramercy. With Live Nation giving away $5 tix and my new found love of Goatwhore I couldn't refuse!

When I walk in Abysmal Dawn is playing. They had the same generic look and sound of so many old school death metal bands. We hopped into some seats in the back of the venue and watched them from afar. Snore.

I was looking forward to Daath. At first listen of their record I thought they were also a bit generic but Eric really enjoyed it. So I gave it more of a chance and got very into their playing. I always like technical music and their drummer is phenomenal and the riffs are nice and big. Sadly the drummer was sitting out the tour and was replaced by Goatwhore's drummer. He did an admirable job but it just wasn't the same as their styles are different and really showed the weaknesses in the songwriting. Daath also has mediocre stage presence so the set fell flat.

Worried that this whole night was a wash I start mingling with the contingency of local Metal bloggers who made up about 60% of the audience. But the whole night was worth it for the majesty of Goatwhore.

Now they were also marred by a last minute lineup issue. For some reason their bassist was sitting out the tour and all the bassists from the other bands learned a couple Goatwhore songs. Thankfully this did not, despite their frequent apologies, affect their stage show at all. They come off a lot less like a Celtic Frost clone live, even though the guitarist was sporting an old school Hellhammer shirt. Not that I have any problem with Celtic Frost clones, I think the world needs a lot more of them, but their stage presence and sound came off a lot closer to the New Orleans sludge of their other bands. A large chunk of the set was from their new record "Carving out the Eyes of God" which was a good thing. A killer set and I can't wait to see them again in September with Obituary, Krisiun and Berzerker.

Abigail Williams was the kind of Hot Topic sponsored Black Metal that is making the genre even more of a joke than it already is. The only consolation to me was that they don't seem to have an audience built and many people walked out on them. They do not deserve the dignity of a bad review.

All pix are of Goatwhore.........

On Classic Album Tours

We've been in the thick of the reunion tour craze for some time now, with bands that threw in the towel years ago emerging from their mansions (or hovels, depending on their popularity) to (optimistically) get another taste of that roaring crowd spark or (cynically) milk a few more dollars from their success. Such is the success of these tours that I suspect that the market has reached saturation, because a new trend seems to be emerging: touring a classic album. Judas Priest is doing it, Bruce Springsteen is doing it, and now, according to a press release I found this morning, the Pixies are, too:
On this tour, the Pixies will perform all of the songs from Doolittle and its related B-sides, "Weird at My School," "Dancing the Manta Ray," and "Bailey's Walk" among them. Doolittle, the band's third album and the first to chart on Billboard's album charts, includes classics such as "Debaser," "Wave of Mutilation," "Here Comes Your Man," "Hey," and "Gouge Away."
I write this post more as a bemused commenter than anything else; in today's highly Balkanized music culture, these reunion tours don't seem likely to steal the segment of the music-loving public looking to listen to something new. Reunion tours in general - and classic album tours in particular - may not do much to advance the state of the art, but they don't seem to be doing any real damage, either.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Anaal Nathrakh: Sitting on the Proper Side of Intensity

I'm listening to Anaal Nathrakh right now for the first time (after reading a review snippet that sold the band enough to catch my attention) and it's intense. The first song went from a nice black metal texture to grindcore to a passage with "Thus Spake the Nightspirit"-type vocals and back again in a matter of minutes and the next few songs have had the same level of agility. It's rare that an album is so effectively brutal and evil-sounding that it makes me feel physically uncomfortable, but these guys have done the trick. Hats off to them: I'm loving it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Video Review: Tyr - Hold the Heathen Hammer High

I have to give Tyr a lot of credit: despite what was no doubt a small budget and a bit of self-conscious acting, when they decide to make a video, they pretty much go all out. Never mind that the video is full of more rock god poses than a mid-80s Motley Crue video, that their drummer looks like he could be a replacement from any one of a 1,000 generic death metal bands, or that their bassist is using an instrument done up in a sparkly finish: these guys know how to make a fun video. Here they bring you such visual delights as four guys in armor with swords and axes, rocking out on board a Viking longship, and - no doubt for the benefit of anyone looking to piss off conservative friends or family - hacking down and burning a cross, all to the delightful soundtrack that is "Hold the Heathen Hammer High." Watch it: as over the top as it is, this video is a great part of why it's great to love metal.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Song Review: Ravage - Grapes of Wrath

The cover of Ravage's new album caught my eye because it's so over the top. It's done by the same guy - Ed Repka - who did the covers of Hangar 18, Peace Sells..., and Total Brutal, among many others, so the style was familiar, but I think it's the cover's over the top feel that I really enjoy. The freak out of the guy in the front is a touch of pure genius. Having a soft spot for things Boston - Ravage comes from Boston suburb Malden - and spurred on by their description of being "traditional, no-bullshit, American heavy metal," I decided to check them out, pulling up a song called "Grapes of Wrath" on their MySpace page.

I was in for a surprise: "traditional, no-bullshit American heavy metal" does not mean what I thought it meant. Perhaps I've become an unconscious victim of metal from the 90s, but I was under the impression that so many American bands had claimed either death or groove as their source of inspiration that traditional American metal meant something, on the very least, on the more brutal side of thrash. Instead, Ravage sound like a group of guys who loved NWOBHM so much they decided to be metal's version of the Amish and write their music like the following 30 years had never happened. It's as traditional as promised, but the "American" moniker might be a bit of a misnomer: if Ravage were around in the very early 80s and from the UK, we might be hearing their music on the first disc of Garage Inc.

That said, if you felt that the trend of bands ripping of DRI and S.O.D. was played out and were hoping for a new trend of bands ripping off Sweet Savage and Diamond Head instead, Ravage definitely gets the job done in an enjoyable if unoriginal style.

Via SMN News

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Mid-Week Video Fun

Because it's Wednesday, no metal news has yet caught my eye, and unlikely mashups are funny. Presenting: Sesame Street playing Slayer's "Dittohead."

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Song Review: Megadeth - Headcrusher

Remember your favorite parts of The System Has Failed and United Abominations? I'm thinking "Tears in a Vial," "Kick the Chair," "Sleepwalker," "Burnt Ice;" the songs with that desperate energy that pervades those selections of Mustaine's modern work where he's actively writing good music and not clearing the disease-infested phlegm from the lungs of his still-recovering composing body. I've listened to "Headcrusher" (available for the next 24 hours or so at this location) five times in the last hour and I'm happy to report that the first track from Endgame is firmly in the tradition of Megadeth's better tracks. The lyrics are a little on the cartoonish side of violence - a bit like the tales of sleep-borne murder in "Sleepwalker" - and the riffage bears more than a passing resemblance to other Megadeth songs, but that's never really the point with Megadeth: their best work moves quickly, shuffles riffs like magician, and puts enough twists on metal idioms to have mass appeal without becoming repetitive and be innovative without abandoning the core value of rocking out. "Headcrusher" moves in this proud tradition; if its fellow tracks follow in its wake, I'll be very excited to hear the results.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Lords of Chaos Becomes a Parady of Itself

How have I not written anything about the upcoming Lords of Chaos movie? Maybe I was just waiting for the idea to cross over from horrible to actually laugh-out-loud funny...and I think that time may have come. Some quotes from one of the movie's producers:
"It is a fascinating topic, a great visual world to depict, and a fun portrayal of Norway. Black metal is possibly the largest cultural export of Norway in the past twenty years."
Dude, you're totally going to piss off the Viking metal guys. They claimed the cultural export of Norway crown five years ago! Seriously, though: how is a movie about a group of alienated teenagers who took their subculture way too seriously going to be a fun portrayal of a whole country? Wouldn't that be like saying that Bowling for Columbine is a fun portrayal of the United States?
"It will be a story of youth and youthful energy, said Pollok, but he emphasized that the film will fall under the teen film category, and that it will be a psychological horror film."
Hence the casting of the lead from Twilight as Varg Vikernes. Not that I had any expectations about or desire to see this film, but my first thought after reading that sentence was that they should just turn the whole thing into a cartoon, Pixar style. Upon further reflection, however, that idea is ridiculous: why not exploit this whole thing to its fullest, take the horror idea to its fullest and make it a slasher film, replete with gore and the exposed flesh of the legions of mythical female black metal fans? It'll totally be a box office smash.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Song Review: Alice in Chains - A Looking in View

I've listened to the new Alice in Chains track a few times now since the band announced yesterday it was available on their website. Alice in Chains has always been a very hit or miss band for me, their inconsistency due, no doubt, to having a partnership built on creative tension where one of the partners was on some pretty serious drugs, but I have felt enough of a connection in the past to give their new incarnation a shot.

The new song, a seven minute track called "A Looking in View" has a lot of the pieces of a Dirt-era track: a heavy, almost doomy riff that would fit in with songs like "Rain When I Die" while evoking some of metal's more recent developments; vocal harmonies that have more than a hint of Layne without completely disguising new vocalist DuVall's more nasal tones; a sense of desperation to the lyrics and the melodies that sharpens to a hook for the chorus. It's a good track, but while listening I find myself wondering it "A Looking in View" would stand out if it didn't have the band's famous name to back it up...until I get to the end of the song. For the last minute and a half or so, the guitar, drums, and bass shamble forward like a dying man one step into the grave and Cantrell and DuVall's voices tune to dissonant harmonies that moan like spirits of the damned, calling the dead man home. It's a ear grabbing dark place that Alice in Chains have only managed to really channel into their music on a few occasions in their career, but if they've found a way to do so consistently on their upcoming album, the results should be extraordinary.