Friday, April 30, 2010

How to Stage a Comeback

Speaking of Alice in Chains, they've announced yet another leg of the tour in support of Black Gives Way to Blue. This time around they've developed a package, tagging Mastodon and the Deftones to come along for the ride and naming the whole thing BlackDiamondSkye after the album each band is supporting. Anyway, looking through dates, I see the New York City show will be in Madison Square Garden and it struck me that if you're planning a comeback, the Alice in Chains model is the way to go:
  1. Release a great comeback album that sounds just as good as anything you did back in the day.
  2. Tour the shit out of it. Start at Irving Plaza, playing one night for 1,200 people.
  3. Come back to New York six months later and play two nights at Terminal 5 for 6,000 people.
  4. Come back to New York six months after that and play an arena with one of metal's biggest successes in the last decade on your opening bill.
  5. Fun and profit (of course).

The Unreality of Alice in Chains' Own Hell

I was listening to "My Own Hell" on the way into work today - and really, for a song about isolation, can there be any better way to listen than with a pair of headphones? - and much like with my post on "Cancer" yesterday, I was struck by the effective use of aural imagery to underscore the problem of feeling alone when surrounded by others. The song achieves this feeling with two techniques: first, the instrumentation suggests someone isolated by a mental wall: the guitar sits up front in the mix, a stream of conscious thought sharpened with reverb, but the other stringed instruments - the bass, the cellos - seem shadowy; the cellos sit far to the right of the mix and the bass floats beneath a secondary layer of fuzz. You can hear both instruments if you dig, but much like someone struggling to engage would feel, they seem half-heard and dreamlike. Second, the minor interval used in the verse vocal harmonies both conveys the stereotypical connotation of minor as "sad" and makes it impossible for the listener to fix on a true vocal melody, heightening the song's feeling of unreality.

The effect is more profound in the verses - the choruses are far more conventional, opting to offer up a sing-along hook instead - but the whole effect is so hypnotic that I can't help but hit repeat every time I listen.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Images for "Cancer"

Throwdown isn't exactly what you'd call an innovative band - as I pointed out when I first heard Venom & Tears two years ago, when they don't sound like Lamb of God, they sound like Pantera - but I like to give the album a spin every once in a while. When I do, I'm always struck by how different the instrumental track "Cancer" sounds from the rest of the tracks: all of the aggression falls by the wayside for two minutes as a slightly fuzzed guitar picks out a sad, simple melody, augmented by the sounds of distant traffic. The title helps immensely: the title "Cancer" gives focus to the song's potential imagery, moving it from a collection of sounds to an aural depiction of a drab hospital room with a window somewhere near a highway, its single occupant rotting from the inside, betrayed by his cells into an early death alone. The late afternoon winter sun slants through the window and slowly sinks into darkness.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

He's the One, the Humble One, the Barkley County Prodigal Son

When striding across Manhattan, making my way past pedestrians who seem to have left their ability to walk a straight line behind in kindergarten, I find it's good to have a strong beat to keep me going - or at least keep me from giving someone a rabbit punch for wandering into my path. Primus definitely fits the bill: Claypool's basslines are weaving, Larry LaLonde is making harsh guitar noises, I'm bobbing from step to step, and it's a good time all around.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

No, I Will Not Be Seeing Keep of Kalessin on That Tour, Thank You

I subscribe to Enter the Vault's mailing list, because I have a desperate need to know at least twice a week - in questionable grammar, no less - that Epica is on tour somewhere in this country. Today's edition actually got me excited for a few minutes, because it gave top billing to Nile's upcoming tour.

Actually, I lie: I couldn't give two shits about seeing Nile headline a show. I learned my lesson about seeing bands for whom variation is not a strong suit - Seth calls them bridesmaid acts - watching (or not watching) DragonForce. Putting myself through that experience again would just be silly.

No, what caught my eye was the inclusion of Keep of Kalessin on the bill, because I would very much to see them look evil on stage while singing about would-be deicides and zombie lords and whatever their new album is about. That excitement lasted all of five seconds, though: besides the objection to seeing Nile headline a show, Keep of Kalessin is second on a list of openers that includes two bands I've never heard of (Psycroptic and Pathology) and one that holds minimal interest (Ex Deo)...and the show is in a club on Long Island. Thirty to forty-five minute drive (each way) plus a maximum of thirty minutes of music I know I want to see equals Eric saving his money, playing Kolossus on his iPod, and hoping that Keep of Kalessin hooks into a more interesting and better situated package of bands in this touring cycle.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Stephen Hawking Warns Against Making Contact With Extraterrestrials - AOL News

Stephen Hawking Warns Against Making Contact With Extraterrestrials - AOL News

The Great Chief Rebel Darkness Angel

I was listening to Arch Enemy's Rise of the Tyrant this morning. When "The Great Darkness" came on, it struck me that the chorus sounds a lot like the chorus from Entombed's "Chief Rebel Angel," like I could do a word-for-word substitute and you'd never be able to tell the difference. Sure enough:

"Chief Rebel Angel" (go to 2:24 to hear the first chorus)

"The Great Darkness" (go to 1:07 to hear the first chorus)

Referencing another artist's work isn't that uncommon and the reasons for doing so can range from, "I'm using this reference to invoke some of the same ideas as the original" to, "these guys are awesome and I'm giving them a tribute." Lyrically, the two songs have a passing connection at best, and Michael Amott appeared on the death metal scene around the same time as maybe it's not a reference so much as an elaborate coincidence?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Into Odem Arcarum...Whatever That Is

I was looking through some posts on No Clean Singing earlier when I came across a piece on Odem Arcarum, a progressive black outfit from Germany. The album art featured in the post caught my eye, as did the genre description: I'm almost always willing to lend an ear to anything that might push the genre envelope in some different dimensions.

The two songs that Odem Arcarum posted on their MySpace page don't disappoint, either. A total of about 18 minutes of music unfolds over the two tracks, combining pretty much all of the black metal textures you could think of: blast beats and tremolo picking, rhythms with odd and interesting accents, clean arpeggios echoing out of damp and dripping caves, mechanical-sounding voice effects favored by Shagrath from Dimmu Borgir, echoing whispers and enunciated screams. Odem Arcarum's selections don't seem to fall very far outside of the playbook for progressive black metal - it's clear, for example, that they really like Emperor - but I'm still drawn to what they're doing and want to hear more. It seems No Clean Singing had it right with the summation in their review: "’s easy to get lost in everything about this powerful album, and we highly recommend it."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ravn's 15 Minutes of Grimness

Ever wondered why Ravn from 1349 always seems to be rocking the same Hellhammer shirt? Or whether he really cares what you thought of Revelations of the Black Flame? How about what he thinks about his record company calling Demonoir "a return to the band's more traditional, raw-yet-technical black metal sound"? Answers to all of these questions and more are now available for your reading pleasure, thanks to Elise from Reign in Blonde and her Q & A with 1349's oh-so-grim front man. My favorite piece of the interview:
What importance do you place upon philosophy or ethos when writing music? Would you say 1349 is a force against tyranny?

1349 is a force of its own. A force greater than any one of us members, and it is fulfilled whenever we meet and play or rehearse. We stopped trying to understand what it is many years ago since it only happens when we are together. This force demands that we do everything possible in order to maintain the results of its creative outburst. This means we don’t pay attention to anything else than what is created. Of course you can say this force is a force against tyranny as it is a force of our free minds that lets us put ethos and philosophy aside and also all other impulses lurking around with a religious heritage and mind control as purpose. To think for yourself and make up your own mind is essential in order to progress as a human. Lead not follow, wolf not sheep.
That's right, kids: make black metal a part of your next Independence Day party and you'll be carrying on the proud traditions of the founding fathers.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Proper Employment for Chris Cornell

I haven't had a chance to listen to all of these yet because I found them half an hour ago, but some kind soul not only recorded all of the Soundgarden reunion show on April 16, but put all of those recordings up on YouTube. The recording quality is surprisingly excellent and - thus far, at least - the band sounds really, really good: the energy is there, Chris's voice sounds really good, and you get the sense that the venue was rocking out pretty hard. This taste gets me pretty psyched about the concept of a tour. The recording of "Gun" is below; Blabbermouth has the whole set in order.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

iPad Tortured


Friday, April 16, 2010

Gods of War in the Urban Parkscape

Getting myself up in the morning to go do anything more active than (slowly) put one foot in front of the other takes some real effort, so those days when I go out to run in the nearby park require some extra motivation. This morning's choice was Amon Amarth's With Oden On Our Side, a archetypal piece of Viking Metal if ever one existed, perfect for the task of turning a pleasant urban parkscape into something a little more bad ass.

(Keep in mind that I'm someone who runs more as a means to an end than because I love running, so I need a little theatricality or I get bored. For example, while "Runes To My Memory" was playing and the narrator was battling a spear wound to the back, I was battling a headwind. I love that shit.)

Take the opening track, "Valhall Awaits Me": it's about as fast as Amon Amarth ever gets, the music is dynamic, and the lyrics are a first person view of kicking ass in a battle. When I'm trying to get motivated to do something physical, that's about all the inspiration I need.

Or maybe you're on your way back after a long workout and you're trying to keep your energy up enough to make it home before you collapse. "Gods of War Arise" makes a perfect fit: it's got a steady, not too fast beat, and it's about killing and enslaving peasants in a successful raid/blood sacrifice with a nice tie-in between the coming of Viking ships and the coming of cold death, which dovetails nicely with how I feel after a workout.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Baroque, Bleak, and Brutal...yup.

John Tesh confirms he dated Oprah – The Marquee Blog - Blogs

Because Swedes are The Law

I spotted this post on the posting of a new song by Swedish thrash act The Law on Blabbermouth and something made me click through to read more. The act provided an immediate reward through a laugh at the band's sense of humor - anyone who adopts the name Kristian "Anti-Kristian" Karlsson is all right by me - leading me, in turn, to open up their MySpace page to hear the new track in question and see whether or not The Law really is doing more than reinvent the wheel.

The lesson here, clearly, is to use funny nicknames if you're a thrash band, because then you'll get more attention.

In any case, I was ultimately glad I did, because unlike the material from their first album, which sounds like yet another take on Bonded by Blood, "Simplify" has some elements that make it stand out to my over-saturated ears, particularly in the guitar sound. Overall, I'm calling "Simplify" an unholy breeding between Goatwhore and Anthrax. I'll be interested to hear the rest when the album comes out.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Finnish Metal Fail

Seth, myself, and Elise from Reign in Blonde were among the crowd at last week's Finntroll show, watching the interpretive moshers and wondering why a four-act show starts at 9 PM on a Thursday. I had purchased my ticket back in December after hearing Moonsorrow - who I missed when I decided not to go to Paganfest II - would be one of the openers, looking forward to seeing how well the ambiance I found on their records translated to the stage.

The answer: not so much. Moonsorrow live weren't as big a disappointment as Swallow the Sun, whose combination of Fred Durst lookalike singer, non-existent stage presence, and poorly chosen set list made me regret my inclusion of the unfortunately (in retrospect) named New Moon on my best-of 2009 album list, but there was a great deal (besides the lyrics) that didn't translate. The guitars were out of tune. The harmonies were out of tune. The keyboard - which I realized, as I gave Verisäkeet a follow-up listen this morning, is absolutely necessary for a mood establisher - was almost inaudible. Maybe the band was drunk; maybe the sound guy fucked up; maybe the acoustics in the Gramercy Theatre are far worse than I give them credit for, but on that night at least, Moonsorrow went from being a band that channeled up some really cool aural imagery to a fairly boring endeavor that only held my attention because I was waiting for an improvement that never came. Well, that and looking at their kick-ass backdrop.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Watchtower Keeps With the Times

Watchtower released their first original recording in more than 20 years: a track called "The Size of Matter", that will be a part of the long-planned Mathematics album. The band's lineup is the same as that on Control & Resistance, but what's surprising to me is how little the band on this new track sounds like the band playing on that last release.

Maybe it's not so surprising: the Watchtower of the late 80's might be one of the godfathers of tech-death, but those albums sound quite dated out of context. For Watchtower, recording a new album seems to mean more than just profiting from 21st century recording technology: the main riff is much thrashier than anything in the back catalog; the bass has a much more subdued role under the new multiple guitar tracks; and while Alan Tecchio's voice may still have a touch of the soar, he sounds a lot more like John Bush than Joey Belladonna. In other words, this one track has much more in common with albums released in the last decade than with either of Watchtower's first two albums. There's enough character to the song to make it feel like a Watchtower recording and after a few listens I generally like what I hear, but after hearing "The Size of Matter," I have to wonder if the band made too many concessions to current idioms, rendering Mathematics a listenable but unremarkable 2010 release instead of a tour de force that we'd expect from Watchtower's recorded return.

Via Blabbermouth