Thursday, January 28, 2010

Vocals Copycat Fail!

Sometimes bands sound like other bands. Sometimes that resemblance is the result of our need to classify, sometimes it's a deliberate nod by the musicians to their inspirations, and sometimes it's a clear aping that makes the band's artistic viability highly suspect. Sometimes, though, the resemblance isn't just uncanny, but seems like the result of a absolutely messed up decision, leaving you to wonder why someone would try to co-opt such a unique sound as their own. Take the Sons of Azarael, a death metal act from Buffalo that I found looking through a list of 2010 album releases. Check out the first verse of vocals on "Scouting the Boneyard" on their MySpace page, then take a listen to the vocals on Immortal's "Norden on Fire," which start about two minutes into the track:

Now ask yourself: as appropriate as Abbath's voice is for Immortal's music, why would you ever want to try to reuse that sound for your own band?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

As the Palaces Burned: Rob Halford - Resurrection

On September 24, 1991 Nirvana released Nevermind. Nine years later, a reunited Iron Maiden played Madison Square Garden. The time in between was one of metal's bleaker periods, where the genre's mainstream face all but disappeared and it retreated not just underground, but underwater. To celebrate the rare gems of this dark time - and remember our fortune now that metal has ceased to be such a dirty word - we present As the Palaces Burned, a weekly series published every Wednesday that covers notable metal albums released between 1991 and 2000.

Today's entry is Resurrection by Halford

As we previously covered, I was the only person upset when Rob Halford rejoined Judas Priest. I was happy seeing Priest in clubs kicking ass with Ripper, while Halford was an amazing and viable band in its own right. I would love to cover their misunderstood and highly underrated second album Crucible, but its 2002 release date falls outside the window of this series.

So we will look at Resurrection, the comeback record. I really like this album, and when I put it on again to write this I was pleasantly surprised at how well it holds up. It was a safety album. After leaving Judas Priest and releasing a the mediocre industrial goth album 2wo Rob Halford needed to re-establish himself in the hearts and minds of the Metal community. So what would you have done in 1999-2000? I would have done what Rob Halford did. Get together with Roy Z who re-energized Bruce Dickinson's career (this will be covered in great detail in a later entry), put together a heavy as balls band, and write a record that sounds as close to classic Judas Priest as humanly possible.

After years of hearing nothing from Rob Halford this song was leaked by the label.

Wonderful, right? I still get chills when I hear him scream "resurrection" at the very top of his vocal register. The rest of the album is a decent meat and potatoes hard rocking affair. My favorite song is the obviously "Electric Eye" influenced "Cyberworld" which has a wonderful chorus hook. "The One You Love to Hate" is a duet with Bruce Dickinson which truly exemplifies the "less is more" attitude of the album. There is no experimentation present anywhere. They saved that for album number two. This album's only purpose was to be a completely kick ass Metal record which would re-establish Rob Halford's career, and it worked.

It was official that the Metal God was back when he played as the first of three act at the sold out August 20th, 2000 Iron Maiden MSG show which we here at Baroque Bleak Brutal consider the spiritual rebirth of Metal. He was still a bit of an unknown quantity, and even at the ludicrously early 7PM set time the Garden was already packed. When his band started the opening notes of "The Hellion," the world's most famous arena got up on their feet and gave the man a standing ovation. I'm tearing up right now remembering the feeling of watching 15,000 Metal fans collectively have their own spiritual resurrection.


The One You Love to Hate (with Bruce Dickinson)

Geeking Out With Hail!

Last night, Seth and I had the great pleasure of seeing Hail!, a metal cover band made up of Dave Ellefson (Megadeth) on bass, Andreas Kisser (Sepultura) on guitar, Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) on drums, and Tim "Ripper" Owens (Judas Priest, Iced Earth, Yngwie Malmsteen) on vocals at BB Kings. With the help of Chris Caffery (Savatage), Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth (Overkill), and Frank Bello (Anthrax), Hail! busted through a two-hour set of old school classics from bands like Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Motorhead, Pantera, Dio, AC/DC, Kiss, Metal Church, Sepultura, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden. Quite frankly, it's a wonder I didn't wake up this morning with bleeding ears and a bad case of whiplash.

With all of those known names on stage playing such a wide variety of material, there were plenty of historical connections to be mined from the ores of metal lore. Here are a few of the more interesting ones we noticed:
  • There were a few different songs where one of the band members had been in the band that recorded the original: Ripper was in Priest, Bello is in Anthrax, Kisser wrote the lyrics for "Territory" and co-wrote the music for "Refuse/Resist."
  • Three of the covers were really covers of covers, done in the style of the band that did the first cover: "The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)," originally by Fleetwood Mac but played in the style of the Judas Priest cover; "Symptom of the Universe," originally by Black Sabbath but played in the style of Sepultura; and "Got the Time," originally by Joe Jackson but played in the style of Anthrax. The later two songs get even more meta: each had a member of band who played on the original cover on stage to play the cover.
  • Hail! did not play anything by Megadeth at this show, but they did play Metallica's "The Four Horsemen," which is based on "The Mechanix," a song written by Dave Mustaine and included on Megadeth's first album - which featured Dave Ellefson on bass.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Clip From Arch Enemy's Show at the Nokia Theatre

The microphone on the camera used to record this clip can't even hope to capture the magnificence of the sound coming from that stage, but you do get a sense of intensity. Arch Enemy has never been one of my favorites in recordings (maybe something about stuff all of that sound into one package is always a risk, whether it's a video camera or a recording studio?) but I've had the pleasure of seeing them live twice now - including the show on Friday that this clip came from - and both times their energy has blown me away.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Fun With Pandora

We're playing this track because it features hard rock roots, electronica influences, punk influences, a subtle uses of vocal harmony, varying tempo and time signatures, repetitive melodic phrasing, demanding instrumental part writing, a vocal-centric aesthetic, a clear focus on recording studio production, heavy syncopation, minor key tonality, a dirty electric guitar solo, a gravelly male vocalist, an aggressive male vocalist, an unintelligible vocal delivery, intricate arranging and many other similiarities identified in the Music Genome Project.
For those of you unfamiliar with Pandora, the above is taken from one of the justification descriptions the software offers you when it plays a track. Writing about the odd things kicked up by an algorithm is like shooting fish in a barrel, but I can't really resist: based on that description, you'd think I'm listening to some sort of jazz fusion piece with a hypersexualized guitarist ("dirty electric guitar solo"? Really?), or maybe something really, really post-punk. The real answer: Zyklon's "Transcendental War - Battle Between Gods." Then it played a cover of "Dead Skin Mask" while showing me an ad for a dentist who I will never, ever want to visit.

Friday, January 22, 2010

If I Ever Want to Get Some Promo...

...I'll find myself a journalist and tell them that I don't understand, don't care about, or laugh at the jealousy of the Blabbermouth haters. Because seriously, it doesn't seem to matter who you are or how famous you've been over the last 30 or 40 years: if you so much as mention the Blabbermouth commenters, you'll get yourself a nice headline mention in the Blabbermouth feed. Here's a sample from the most recent example, from the front man of a band called Cold, which I'd never heard of before today:
"It seems like these people, you know, they make their life on Blabbermouth. They make a name for themselves by bashing someone. It's really funny. It's like they are rock stars in their own little world, and it's just funny that someone would want to get on there and bash a band ... they don't really know. Maybe they were a fan of the band, and they just don't like them anymore. I don't know."
I'm starting to wonder if they teach the Blabbermouth hater mention technique in schools for publicists.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Celebrating the Metallic-Era

In 1996, a company called Neat Records jumped on the post-Load Metallica furor with a clever idea for a release: they licensed a bunch of the original versions of the songs Metallica had covered in the early 1980s, got a guy from a German metal magazine to write liner notes about each band, and put the whole thing out as The Metallic-Era. The implication was obvious: your metal heroes may have betrayed you twice over for the huge paydays, but here's music from back when they refused to compromise their ideals. In fact, we'll do you one even better and give you the original versions of the songs, so we can trade on the Metallica name while you revisit your lost youth without actually feeling guilty for listening to a band you've suddenly come to despise. As an added bonus, Neat Records was ahead of curve, putting out this release two years before Metallica jumped on their own nostalgia bandwagon and recompiled all of their cover recordings into one package.

I don't know how well the scheme worked from a sales perspective, but it got me while shopping in a now-defunct Circuit City in a Massachusetts suburb. Well, I say 'got me,' but the truth is that I was a teenager with an extremely limited music horizon who picked the album up because it had an association with a band I knew and loved, not because I had any of the history of the target audience. Besides, it had some funky cover art that mystifies me to this day: why would you take a money scale (a nice visual dig at Metallica) and stick a skull on it? Now how it will ever work? Besides, if you're going to attack the band's credibility, wouldn't you want to put the money on one side and some representation of integrity on the other?

In any case, the compilation - which I was listening to earlier today - turned out to be a fantastic investment: originally, of course, it was an introduction to a lot of great music. As time passed, however, I found that the track listing combined with the promo ads at the back of the CD booklet gave me enough of an education for me to able to talk a bit of the talk until we reached that magical time when old albums started growing on digital trees.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

You Could Bid on the Master of Reality Transfers - But Why Would You Want To?

I don't normally pay much attention to announcements about the auctions of memorabilia: either it's something I'd want to own but have no hope to afford, or the knowledge of its existence is so meaningless as to be wasting valuable brain space I'm hoping to reclaim, but either way it's not worth the time to blog about. But there's something different about the auction for the master tapes - or the transfer tapes, as the picture of the label to the left indicates - for Black Sabbath's Master of Reality, although for the life of me I can't figure out why I find the idea of owning a master tape so striking. Maybe it's because it's such a functionless piece of memorabilia: it doesn't make for an interesting display piece, like a guitar or an album cover would; you can't play it without access to a tape machine (and possibly a soulless lack of respect for perishable artifacts); and the copyright holders might object if you started pressing your own copies of the album for sale. I guess you could buy the tapes and deed them over to Tony Iommi, but I suspect that if he really cares about owning the transfers, he'd be in the bidding.

All of this discussion, of course, ignores the question of whether or not you'd want to buy an item from a company with no feedback score that can't tell the difference between masters and transfers.

As the Palaces Burned: Testament - The Gathering

On September 24, 1991 Nirvana released Nevermind. Nine years later, a reunited Iron Maiden played Madison Square Garden. The time in between was one of metal's bleaker periods, where the genre's mainstream face all but disappeared and it retreated not just underground, but underwater. To celebrate the rare gems of this dark time - and remember our fortune now that metal has ceased to be such a dirty word - we're launching As the Palaces Burned, a weekly series published every Wednesday that will cover metal albums of note released between 1991 and 2000.

Testament.......I labored over this band, and how to approach their AtPB entry. I mean where to begin? Skolnick's last album with the band, 1992's grungy The Ritual? Their experiments with Pantera-esque modernization on Low?

Well, Low is a great under-appreciated album, but I'm not going to go there. The Ritual has some very funny moments that need to be written about, but that will be in my upcoming series about Metal bands who released Grunge albums in the 90s.

No, we're going to cover Testament when they were in the same position Voivod was in my column last week. Having been dropped and relegated to the CMC International/Spitfire records purgatory, a brand new lineup of Testament decided the best approach would be to modernize and play more of that death metal the kids are always talking about. Now Chuck Billy and Eric Peterson were well set up for this, with the secret weapon Gene Hoglan on drums, and a great working knowledge of the underground. However despite some great moments 1997's Demonic is not a great album. The approach is a bit generic. Some songs are great are still played in concert, such as "The Burning Times". Here, have a quick listen. It's good!

But the whole record isn't great, and doesn't make the cut as a lost classic.

Plagued with yet more lineup changes, Chuck Billy and Eric Peterson "gathered" (get it?) all their friends together. Grabbing no less than two ex-members of Death (James Murphy and Steve DiGiorgio) plus Dave Lombardo from Slayer, Testament released one hell of a war cry with The Gathering in 1999. To me it is a unifying statement which best sums up everything the band had been trying to say since Low. The aggression level is even higher than Demonic without that album's generic riffing. The thrash is back in full force but with the added power of Billy's newfound growl. Topping the whole album off with a delicious satanic cherry was the production of Andy Sneap, now recognized as the gifted master of aggressive recording.

Anyone who returned to the band with The Formation of Damnation needs to go back and fall in love with The Gathering. Starting with "DNR", still a favorite in modern set lists, you are hearing a band at the height of their Metal powers. The way thrash and death metal are so seamlessly merged on this record may seem pretty textbook now, but this is the band and the album from which those textbooks were written. And not enough can be said about the subtle virtuosity, especially in DiGiorgio's smooth yet violent bass playing. If there was ever any recorded document that Testament never deserved their reputation as Metallica-lite this is the album.

But enough tell, here's some show:

Sewn Shut Eyes!

DNR (Do Not Resuscitate)

Eyes of Wrath

And the song which should have been the "hit," True Believer. I think this was on the soundtrack to one of the Saw movies.......

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lifetime: The Most Metal of All Women-Focused TV Networks

At least when it comes to movie titles. A friend of mine sent me a link to a quiz earlier this morning that challenges you to answer a seemingly simple question: Lifetime movie title, or Megadeth song title? The resemblance, as it turns out, is more than a little uncanny, but as the quiz's introduction points out, "given their shared preoccupation with kidnapping, family dysfunction and untimely death, it’s sort of surprising that Lifetime and Megadeth don’t share more fans." I scored a 90%, but if that's the cost of not knowing the titles of the tracks from The World Needs a Hero, I'm happy to pay.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Look At Ihsahn's Cover Art

After, the ultimate release in the trilogy of Ihsahn recordings that started four years ago, isn't nearly as accessible as its predecessors; the inclusion of a Coltrane-style jazz saxophone over-top many of the album's black metal stylings ensures it'll take more than a few listens to pry apart the shell and gain access to the sweet juices within. There is one thing about the album that's odd enough for both Seth and myself to note it immediately: in a game of one of these things is not like the other, After cover artwork seems like it would be the odd art out (in order of release):

Notice in particular the large pink stain on the cover of After, which is the biggest indicator that the art direction seems to have gone awry: the covers of The Adversary and angL are so dark; why the pink and white that suggests some sort of black metal princess cake? In addition, the photo seems a little incongruous: as Seth pointed out, using a cross makes the album seem like it's crossing in Black Sabbath territory. On closer inspection, I think there's a bit more linking the three, like the transition of living angel to angel statue to cross, the inclusion of color on the cover of The Adversary, the different mediums of the artwork (chalk drawing, sculpture, and photograph) and the bleakness of the photo on the cover of After, which I suspect is a reference - along with those dirgy saxophones - to the album's title. Still haven't figured out what that pink stain is supposed to mean, though.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Many Voices of News of the World

Was indulging my baroque side that extends a bit past metal's boundaries by rocking out to Queen's News of the World earlier today when it occurred to me how many of the tracks had been covered by at least one other artist:
  • "We Will Rock You" and "We Are The Champions:" two of Queen's most well-known tracks have undergone a whole host of treatments, including various re-recordings by different versions of the Queen lineup years after the band's demise. I'm pretty sure I don't plan to go out and find any of them, either.
  • "Sheer Heart Attack:" Helloween recorded a version, but the band that crept out of a dark recess of my mind when I thought about covers of this song was Sam Black Church, who released a live recording of the song as a bonus track on Superchrist in 1995.
  • "Spread Your Wings:" Germans who love ostentatious metal seem to love Queen, too: Blind Guardian took the far more genre-appropriate "Spread Your Wings" and recorded a pretty kickin' version for Somewhere Far Beyond.
  • "Get Down, Make Love:" much like The Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)," Queen's psychedelic celebration of free love was begging to be re-recorded in a more twisted form by an artist with the right chops. Nine Inch Nails did so in 1990, releasing the cover as a b-side on the single for the equally bondage-heavy "Sin."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

As the Palaces Burned: Voivod - Phobos

On September 24, 1991 Nirvana released Nevermind. Nine years later, a reunited Iron Maiden played Madison Square Garden. The time in between was one of metal's bleaker periods, where the genre's mainstream face all but disappeared and it retreated not just underground, but underwater. To celebrate the rare gems of this dark time - and remember our fortune now that metal has ceased to be such a dirty word - we're launching As the Palaces Burned, a weekly series published every Wednesday that will cover metal albums of note released between 1991 and 2000.

Today’s entry is Voivod’s brilliant 1997 album Phobos.

In 1994, after Snake and Blacky had both left Voivod, they were both replaced by one man, Eric Forrest. By playing bass and singing, he briefly led Voivod into the storied pantheon of Canadian power trios. Their first album with this lineup, 1995’s Negatron, was a complete bust. The band opted for a traditional death metal sound which probably seemed like a solid commercial decision at the time, but fell completely flat, alienating those fans who chose to stick with this lineup.

Here is an example of the blah that was Negatron:

But after a few years off, Voivod came back with a vengeance, and in 1997 this lineup released Phobos. Not only did they get their groove back, it is one of the consistently strongest albums in their catalog. And it came in completely under the radar. Negatron built up so much bad will among the remaining Voivod loyalists that no one bothered to listen to this album the first time around. I bought it for the King Crimson cover when it came out (“21st Century Schizoid Man,” it was hard to hear music in 1997 you didn’t pay for) and wound up owning a masterpiece.

Everything about this album showcases what made Voivod great. The abstract sci-fi lyrics, snarling punk vocals updated with a bit of a death metal grunt, progressive time signatures, and that unmistakably Piggy riffing. Oh the riffs, they are killer on this album. Think Killing Technology, but updated for the death metal kids.

Although that first reunion record with Snake, 2003’s self titled Voivod was great, I don’t think that album touched the creative energy or tripped out intensity of Phobos. What a shame it went completely under the radar.

Title Track Phobos:

The Tower:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Internet is Full of Metal in the Strangest Places

I was on Wikipedia looking to see whether or not a band from Savannah, Georgia called Black Tusk that's recording in the same studio used by Baroness and Kylesa might, as I suspected, be Mastodon-influenced (survey says yes). I didn't find any information on the band, but I did learn that Black Tusk is also the name of a volcanic rock projection (pictured to the left) in a state park in British Columbia. That's already pretty metal, but then I learned the native name for the place is "Landing Place of the Thunderbird" (even more metal) and that the native people in question call themselves the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, which is a name so metal that it says "fuck you" to pretty much any vowel and has a goddamn 7 in it instead of a letter, presumably because whoever composed the name in the Roman alphabet couldn't find a letter that was awesome enough. So yeah: Black Tusk, landing place of a beast also known as the spirit lord, named by a group of people with a 7 in their name. I'd name a band after it, too.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

American Soldier Should Have Been More Like Passiondale

I'm giving God Dethroned's Passiondale - the concept album the band released last year about the World War I Battle of Passchendaele - a second run through tonight. I'm not sure it passes muster as a keeper just yet, but regardless of what I end up thinking about the music, I can't help but compare this album with another take on modern warfare from last year: Queensryche's dismal American Soldier. The intentions of the albums might be slightly different, and God Dethroned might have the advantage in writing about in war by playing death metal, but so much of the soldier story that Queensryche wanted to tell is tied up in the horrifying experiences that pepper Passiondale's lyrics: wounds, cold, shelling, disease, and death. American Soldier, of course, missed that boat completely and then made it worse by trying to cover the remainder of the material with heavy-handed shlock. Passiondale may be relatively single-minded in its focus, but at least the band got the treatment right.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Again We Rise: Celtic Frost - Monotheist

True to Iron Maiden's promise at Madison Square Garden in 2000, the decade that followed has seen a resurgence of metal that not only obliterated the specter of death staking the genre in the 1990s, but makes previous heydays seem puny in comparison. Metal in the 2000s was all about proliferation: new styles emerged, old ones regenerated, and - thanks to the Internet - exposure spread like a virus. To highlight all of that success , we're launching Again We Rise, an occasional feature that will celebrate the releases that rose above the voluminous crowd to become classics. Today, Celtic Frost's Monotheist.

In the measurement of an album's brutality, there are a few key ways for a release to stand out: it can hit you physically, executing a convergence of riffs and mix that feel like a beating; mentally, dazzling you with vision-generating atmospherics; or psychologically, daring you to confront the true meaning of emptiness. Metal being such a masochistic art form, all three methods are enjoyable, but it's the psychologically brutal albums that are perhaps the most effective - and of the past decade's releases, none were more effective than Monotheist. Fourteen years in the waiting and six in the making, the swansong album for Celtic Frost takes its surface character from the bone-dry distortion of a single shambling guitar and the tuneless chant of Tom Warrior, working in tandem to drive the listener slowly down the road to the abyss.

There are many strange and wonderful sights along the way, however that keep Monotheist from becoming a simple plodder: the opening of "A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh," where a few simple guitar counterpoints, the rumble of a bass, and a haunting melody sung by Martin Ain build to a crushing crescendo that they eliminate the potential cliché in the lyrics - "frozen is heaven/frozen is hell/and I am dying in this living human shell" - with mesmerizing ability.

The combination of feedback, analog keyboard pads, and a To Mega Therion-style female vocal in duet with Warrior's growl on "Drown in Ashes" becomes the aural equivalent of chasing will 'o the wisps through a swamp.

The sonic imagery of "Totengott," which might as well be the bedrock for the albums released by Teitanblood, Anaal Nathrakh, and 1349 last year.

"Winter," which sums up all of the emptiness Monotheist trumpets in spades with a simple 1:30 of droning, shifting strings.

If the contemplation of nothing and our insignificance in the face of that infinity that represents this contemplation at its truest had a soundtrack, it would be Monotheist.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Keep of Kalessin Gets a Little Old School

Keep of Kalessin, whose last album was a part of this blog's top 10 albums of 2008, has released an edited stream of a track from their upcoming album. The track is making an early appearance because the band entered it into a portion of the Eurovision Song Contest, because Norwegians are just more metal than we are. Entitled "The Dragontower," the song has a taste of the chorale-sounding open chords that the band favored on Kolussus and Armada, but it's the two main riffs - the verse riff and its marching beat variation in the chorus - that really caught my ear: they're hooky and drenched in a vibe that feels distinctly NWOBHM. Keep of Kalessin have never shied away from lacing their music with a bit of prog, but while "The Dragontower" has some more traditional prog ideas, like the Queen-style acapella chorus in the bridge, writing a song that sounds like it might be at home in the Diamond Head catalog is an interesting musical step. After this taste, I'm more than a little curious to hear how the rest of the album sounds.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

As the Palaces Burned: Judas Priest - Jugulator

On September 24, 1991 Nirvana released Nevermind. Nine years later, a reunited Iron Maiden played Madison Square Garden. The time in between was one of metal's bleaker periods, where the genre's mainstream face all but disappeared and it retreated not just underground, but underwater. To celebrate the rare gems of this dark time - and remember our fortune now that metal has ceased to be such a dirty word - we're launching As the Palaces Burned, an occasional series that will cover metal albums of note released between 1991 and 2000.

Today's entry, Judas Priest's buried and forgotten classic, Jugulator.

Way before YouTube would make finding replacement band-members from tribute bands positively mainstream (hello Journey!) Judas Priest found their replacement in Tim "Ripper" Owens. At the time this got laughed at by the Metal community as "pathetic," but really, in 1997 there was not much Judas Priest could do that wouldn't have been mocked. At the height of Nu-Metal, Boy Bands and what was still called "Alternative" there was very little place for Judas Priest.

But they soldiered on, and made a true follow up to Painkiller. Still written by the core songwriting team of Glen Tipton and KK Downing, Jugulator is a sick album. It is heavier, faster and more explosive than anything Priest had ever done. The opening track "Jugulator" was not only a war cry for the band, but showcased that Ripper could absolutely hold his own on Halford's turf and in his upper tenor range. The songs varied wildly from the near grunge of "Blood Stained" and "Death Row" to the old school and epic closer "Cathedral Spires."

Ripper would end up getting his due in the Metal community much later for his work with Iced Earth and Yngwie, but "Jugulator" was an amazing work by a band inspired and at the height of their creative powers, even if no one was listening.

Again We Rise: Emperor - The Discipline of Fire & Demise

True to Iron Maiden's promise at Madison Square Garden in 2000, the decade that followed has seen a resurgence of metal that not only obliterated the specter of death staking the genre in the 1990s, but makes previous heydays seem puny in comparison. Metal in the 2000s was all about proliferation: new styles emerged, old ones regenerated, and - thanks to the Internet - exposure spread like a virus. To highlight all of that success , we're launching Again We Rise, an occasional feature that will celebrate the releases that rose above the voluminous crowd to become classics. Today, Emperor's Prometheus - The Discipline of Fire & Demise.

In the summer of 2000, I was working a job whose intellectual rigors were so intense that they permitted endless amounts of web surfing. On one of my journeys, I found an interview with Ihsahn where he discussed the dichotomy of quality: his dissatisfaction with the quality of Emperor's output to that point, but his hopefulness about the future, as each new release fixed the problems of the past. The statement related in part to the progress of recording Prometheus, which I bought a bit over a year later after hearing a sample of the first thirty seconds of "Thorns on My Grave" on Amazon: the layering of drums and guitar makes for such an impressively heavy composition that I had to hear more.

Despite my initial hopes, it took me a good four or five years to realize Prometheus's genius; perhaps because I was expecting another Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk or IX Equilibrium, I fell into later category of listeners described by the All Music Guide's John Serba:
"Those willing to invest a significant amount of time into Prometheus will be thoroughly rewarded on intellectual and emotional levels — especially when drawing parallels between the album's elaborate concept and Emperor's musical reign — while more practical listeners unwilling to slap on headphones and willfully ingest the lyrics will find the record impenetrable."
"Impenetrable" is the word: the album's multitude of layers, swirling textures, and dueling instruments; its rampaging melodies that present a nefarious mindfuck by individually stretching the very concept of tonality while collectively delivering some of music's more glorious aspirations; the lyrics, where a concept just barely comprehensible when read on a page stands nearly veiled by the individual phrases that describe the action; these are not the elements of an easy listen. Digging further, phrases start to collect in the brain and continuity establishes itself - I can remember how "Depraved" sounds, for example, because I remember the feeling evoked by the chilling arpeggio that opens the track - but on the whole there is the whispered beginning that starts the record, the final rush that ends it, and the wonderful, bleak-as-hell maelstrom in between. That Emperor managed to put together such an effort is impressive enough; that they did so while walking the tightrope between wankery and creative desire and emerged with something complex and cohesive is almost unbelievable.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Age of Evil and the Dave Mustaine Doppelganger Conspiracy

I'm looking forward to seeing all-star metal cover act Hail! later this month, so I perked up when I saw a Blabber headline announcing an opening act: turns out a group of teenagers from Arizona sporting the moniker Age of Evil will be starting the festivities. Using the exact science known as "guessing what sort of music the band plays from its name," I determined that these guys must be playing some version of the early 80s throwback popular with the kids these days and sure enough...basically, if you took the first two Maiden albums, removed all of the soul in the music and substituted a singer who couldn't hold a candle to Di'Anno (let alone Bruce), you'd get Age of Evil. I see them as being a bit like the Black Tide of Iron Maiden rip-off bands.

Anyway, I bring all of this info up not just to bash Age of Evil's recording (because I kinda hope that with statements like, "But we give 150% every night we play," they have more energy on stage than they do on tape), but because in their video for "Living a Sick Dream," the band's guitarist bears more than a passing resemblance to Dave Mustaine...and Hail! features former Megadeth member (and on and off Mustaine feud target) Dave Ellefson on bass. A part of me likes to think the selection of Age of Evil as an opener was a really elaborate way for Ellefson to get a dig in on Mustaine and I will hold on to that hope if Age of Evil really does suck live.

Monday, January 04, 2010

I Agree With RiB: Vote Murillo!

Normally I would not give even a portion of one shit about the contestants of American Idol, no matter what their connection to metal: I don't care enough to even want to hate on the show, and I generally listen with tolerant indifference when someone brings it up. However, when it comes to Daniel Murillo, I think Elise at Reign in Blonde has it right: the need for the metal community, no matter what their opinion about the show and Hollywood Undead, to get behind Murillo's cause is just too big. Elise has some excellent reasons why, but I'll add another one: if American Idol symbolizes everything that's evil about the crossing point between business and music - and boy does it ever - making the guy who fronts a band that symbolizes everything that's evil (and not in a good way) about metal the show's 2010 champion is one of the best ways to fiddle while Rome burns that I can think of.

I Believe I've Found This Blog's New Motto

Remember, people: we don't want respect, we want to be right. Particularly when it comes to top 10 lists.