Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dennis Hopper, Counter-Culture Icon Dead At 74 -- Signs of the Times News

Dennis Hopper, Counter-Culture Icon Dead At 74 -- Signs of the Times News

Friday, May 28, 2010

Outlaws and Viking Metal

I've been making my way through Robert Ferguson's book on the Viking period in European history, which talks about the common legal custom of turning people convicted of murder into outlaws. Being an outlaw in this case didn't mean you were put into a prison; instead, you were expected to leave the area for a certain period of time, and during that time, the relatives of the person you killed were allowed to hunt you down and kill you without being outlawed themselves. This view on enforcement led to some pretty interesting situations, where men who had been outlawed in one area became colonists somewhere else...and sometimes moved on to a third area, because they'd killed someone else.

To bring it back to the metal - because it's all about the metal - Erik the Red, the guy who led the European settlement of Greenland, was one such person; he had to leave Norway because of some killings, and settled in Iceland. Later on, he was outlawed in Iceland for killing a few other people in various disputes, and took the opportunity to set up a colony in Greenland while fleeing for his life. After reading about his journeys, I had to give Tyr's Eric the Red a listen, and that brought the story full circle back to violence with the song "Raymund Hin Unge," about a bad ass named Young Raymond who cares not for fancy garb and kills giants all by his lonesome:
Raymond walked along the salty beach
There he saw seven giants standing
“I will take Raymond on my smallest hand.
And throw him far offshore”
“You will not do that alone,” said Raymond
“You must come all seven of you,” said the young

Raymond took his dear sword
The one he called the red Dimling
He hew the seven giants simultaneously
So that they bled to death
“There they lie, all seven of them,” said Raymond
“And I still stand here,” said the young Raymond

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"But Don't Send Me Jesus..."

"...He's only a man."

I will have the pleasure of seeing the mighty GWAR again late next month in Massachusetts, courtesy of the gentleman who shared my first GWAR experience many moons ago. Earlier today one of his friends asked what GWAR was and beyond answering that GWAR was a state of mind, dammit, I felt I had to cast about YouTube to find a representative answer. Fortunately, some kind soul had posted the music video the band made for "Meat Sandwich," which showcases pretty much everything I love GWAR: ridiculous costumes, wanton violence, roving meat orgies, cannibalism, and - of course - a one on one basketball game between Oderus Urungus and Jesus. Ladies and gentlemen, "Meat Sandwich":

Monday, May 24, 2010

Into the Depths of Twilight

I've been rocking out to a lot of black metal recently - the Odem Arcarum album I mentioned a few weeks ago, the Ludicra album everyone but me discovered three months ago, the new Keep of Kalessin - but the one that's been the biggest surprise success for me is Monuments to Time's End by the unfortunately-named Twilight. A black metal supergroup of sorts and fronted by Nachtmystium's Blake Judd, Twilight's been a surprise stalwart for me because it's so much of a throwback to the halcyon days of low-fi second wave black metal, a genre that I find more academically interesting than praiseworthy, in part because I am not a low-fi sort of guy. There's something different about Twilight, however and it's taken me a few listens to figure out why that difference appeals to me. After my first listen of Monument..., I felt like I had just been through an Experience (definitely with a capital E) that did not generate any specific positive or negative emotions, but was enough for me to give the album another try. On each additional listen something new has jumped out at me: a guitar line floating here, a dissonant chorus rising like a monolith in the background there, but the whole album remains a stormy sea of sounds that keeps calling me back to explore its depths. I embedded a track below for you to check out, but unlike the majority of my selections it's a random sample rather than a representative one. I'm going back in to see what else I can find.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dio and Westboro

Most of you are probably familiar with the Westboro Baptist Church: they like to hate gays and picket funerals and make signs about bitch burgers, all in the name of salvation. Basically, they're a group of cocks who love negative attention like a tick loves blood. They are most decidedly unmetal. I was trolling through Blabbermouth's RSS feed a few minutes ago and noticed Westboro's name in a headline and did a double take, because they've decided to take their traveling cock show to Dio's memorial service:
You know 67 year old, Satan-worshiping (or at least one of their enablers) Ronnie James Dio (of showing his devil horns to the world each time he goes in public) BLACK SABBATH fame is dead, right? We'll be there! Just because the chances of any of God's elect being amongst this group of heavy metal sycophants is slim to none does not mean they should not get some good words.
I'll be honest: I feel pretty gleeful about the whole thing, because if there was ever an opportunity for Westboro to get their deserved verbal comeuppance, it would be from those fans dedicated enough to attend a funeral for a metal god. Wendy Dio is urging people to turn the other cheek, but I disagree: if you're going to this event, make sure to tell the Westboro picketers exactly what you think of them and their preaching. It won't change anything, but I bet it'll make you feel pretty good afterward.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Hard-Hitting Dragon Iconography

Getting my first real tastes of Keep of Kalessin's new release, Reptilian, and three-quarters of the way through the first song I'm already twice as excited as I was after hearing "The Dragontower" a few months ago. If "The Dragontower" was prog mixed with NWOBHM, "Dragon Iconography" is power metal mixed with the kind of brain-crushing heaviness that made me buy The Discipline of Fire & Demise after hearing thirty seconds of "Thorns on My Grave." If you've been on the fence about giving Keep of Kalessin a try in the past, this seems like it might be the album to start listening.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Damn You, Mr. Akerfeldt

Music-loving guy that I am, in addition to listening to music and writing about music, I also play music. So I enjoy guitars for their utility. I also happen to love them for their aesthetics: one of the best museums trips I've seen was an Art of the Guitar exhibition that came through Boston ten years ago or so. I also have that well-documented love of Opeth. So when I saw the guitar pictured to the left, the part of my brain tasked with impulse control melted a bit through my ears and the uncontrollable lust to purchase seized me. Never mind that I'd never held the instrument in question to see if I was comfortable playing it - although it's a Paul Reed Smith, so problems seem unlikely - or that I can't really afford to spend the money on a guitar right now, or that I have no space for another guitar; it's shiny and beautifully contoured and has that lovely, lovely Opeth logo on one end...

Irrationality is a terrible, terrible thing.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Speaking of Horns

"It's all right as long as it's accepted for what it was," Dio told the magazine. "It was a more serious thing at the time, when I was with [BLACK] SABBATH. That was a band that was very dark, and that's what I wanted it to be. It was symbol of the darkness of that band, and not something to be passed on to BRITNEY SPEARS! An invention is an invention, I guess. It's become so damn polluted now. The people who are doing it don't know what it means and they have no idea that they shouldn't be doing it."

"It's a trend," Dio added. "It's a popular trend and so it will probably become like the hula hoop. During a show, I sometimes think 'Maybe I won't do that tonight', because it's become so damn ludicrous now. Everyone's doing it and it has no meaning anymore. Now I wait until two or three songs into the show, and until there's a stop in the music and I'm doing something on my own, and then the response is incredible because people are wanting that from me. It's like OZZY and the peace sign, you know? So I never find myself not doing it, but I'm definitely doing it less and less these days."

"The point is that you can't just flash it. You have to a face that goes with it. There has to be some emotion behind it. It can't just be the raising of the arm, trying to get your fingers in the right position. And you'll notice that a lot of people are using the thumb now, too. When the thumb comes out it means 'I love you' either in Hawaiian or in sign language - I'm not sure which! So that's proof, once again, that these celebrities don't really have a clue. As stupid as this might sound, I never once did that on stage unless it was to punctuate something that was a little more dark. So when I did it, it was never about starting a trend. It's a natural thing for me to do. It's important to know that it's not something I did frivolously it was just a spontaneous response to something that I sang. A lot of times, bending of the knees always puts it in a slightly different perspective. It puts you in the Sumo position. Now you're ready to charge!"

New Watain in 2010: Lawless Darkness

Dio R.I.P = Bad, new Watain = Good

Via Blabbermouth

"Watain's next album will be released on June 7th. They are releasing a single for the new song Reaping Death in two formats, picture disc vinyl with a cover of the song Chains of Death by Death SS, and digisleeve CD with a cover of the songThe Return of Darkness and Evil by Bathory".

2007's "Sworn to the Dark" is still on my rotation. Check out "Underneath the Centopath".

Deftones Part 2

It seems that Deftones have the material for their proper follow up to "Saturday Night Wrist" in the can. That record is called "Eros", and will one day see the light of day.

This record "Diamond Eyes" finds the boys needing to flex new material and breathe life into their band while they deal with the loss of founding member and still banged up bassist Chi Cheng x Quicksand bassist Sergio Vega steps in for bass detail.

There is nothing new to the bands sound on this offering. It's EXACTLY as you might expect from Deftones but that's not a bad thing:
  • sludge riffs
  • cure/nin cooing from Chino
  • half notes all over the place
I saw them on their last tour, and they nailed your mother up against the washing machine while you were out delivering papers.

Top picks off this one.
  • "Diamond Eyes"
  • "Risk"
  • "976-Evil"
  • "Ghosts" (Bonus Track)

A Day of Dio Redux

I guess the earlier statements were premature, rather than incorrect: Blabbermouth, quoting Dio's wife, says Ronnie James Dio died at 7:45 this morning. Fuck you, cancer.

I had the pleasure of seeing Dio live three times over the last three years as a part of the Heaven and Hell tours. All of them were good to excellent performances, but the first time really stands out: at one point, mid-song Dio decided to take a walk and came down one of the ramps on the side of the stage, about twenty feet away from where I was sitting. The ramp extended along the seating area, so people ran up, and without missing a beat Dio distributed high fives like candy while singing. A few minutes later he walked back up the ramp and finished the set. It was by far the coolest thing I've ever seen a rock star do.

In tribute to him then, a kick ass live version of my favorite Dio-fronted tune, "Heaven and Hell":

A Day of Dio

Inspired by falsity of the Dio Death Scare this morning (I had "Wishing Well" of all songs stuck in my head afterward), I've been listening to Dio in his various guises - lead singer of Rainbow, lead singer of Sabbath, fronting his own band - all morning. It's been a wonderful time: I had forgotten how good Holy Diver is as an album, I had an excuse to give Heaven & Hell another listen, Cozy Powell and his crazy legs of steel impressed me once again on "Kill the King," but the real find was when I was trolling YouTube looking for live versions of "Gates of Babylon" and came across a copy of the recording of Dio and Yngwie Malmsteen did of "Dream On" for an Aerosmith tribute album. It's a really excellent cover, with plenty of places for expansion that where both Dio and Malmsteen take advantage, but my favorite addition is the far more baroque bass line that's evident from the beginning:

Best wishes to the man who sings it all, hoping that he'll be doing sets for years yet.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Album Review: Deftones - Diamond Eyes

I've been thinking about writing a review of Diamond Eyes since late last week: listening to the album once a day, sorting through my reactions, chewing over the words I would use. The Deftones and I have a bit of a complex relationship, touching on a few points: I dug the singles from Adrenaline and Around the Fur when they came out, but didn't give the band more than radio time when I was in high school. A friend in college gave me a copy of White Pony when that came out in 2000, and I enjoyed it for a few years - particularly "Change (In the House of Flies)" and the Maynard James Keynan collaboration on "Passenger" - but I remember the day on way to work a few years later when I put on White Pony and discovered most of the album bored me. That was pretty much the end of my Deftones relationship until I bought tickets for the BlackDiamondSkye tour and figured I should give the "Diamond" portion of the tour's name a listen.

At first, I wasn't particularly impressed. Chino Moreno's quavery vocals are an acquired taste at best and really grating at worst, and Stephen Carpenter's "heavy" guitar sound has become such a stereotype that it's lost most of its edge. Diamond Eyes certainly features songs that favor both of these elements: the coincidentally-named "Royal" and "Prince" are both examples. But there's stuff to like, too: "Rocket Skates" is heavy, too, but there's something about Moreno's augmented screaming in the chorus that catches the ear.

The album switches gears in the second half: "Sextape," "Risk," "976-Evil," and "This Place is Death" step back a bit and conjure up the slightly twisted dreaminess that made "Passenger" and "Change (In The House of Flies)." so appealing. Not surprisingly - although the lyrics have as much to do with night driving by the ocean as they do with sex - "Sextape" is the softest of the bunch, coming off a bit like a Smashing Pumpkins ballad, while "976-Evil" has a surprising interesting pop-punk feel that reminds me a lot of "The Academy Is..."

However, my favorite track by far - not only of the group, but of the whole ablum - is "Risk," which mixes aggressive verses with a super hook chorus that's floated back into my head hours after listening on a daily basis and combines pretty much everything good about alternative metal in one package. It's a the definite high point of a rather schizophrenic group of songs whose eclecticism and mutability is enough to generate interest rather than adoration. Diamond Eyes doesn't have enough to make it one of my albums of the year, but it's got some staying power none-the-less.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Saving the Day With Black Sabbath

The weather has turned ugly again here in New York; uglier than usual because it's so unusual for May, when I should be enjoying the few remaining days of NYC's tolerable season. Instead it's cold and raining and I'm fighting a bitter guerrilla war against an occupation by an invading virus. Prisoners are not taken, my friends. Quarter is not given.

I knew I had to find a way to keep a productive work day from spiraling into a black metal-fueled disgustfest - an event that nearly happened anyway after hearing the peripherally-related but still ultra-downer opening strains of Placebo's "Peeping Tom" - and I knew there was only one guaranteed way to do so: put on the Black Sabbath. Any album would have worked, but Mob Rules happened to catch my eye first and I knew as soon as I heard the opening strains of "The Sing of the Southern Cross" that everything was going to be okay. And also this song makes me feel like a Viking.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cut Me Another Slice of Your Referential Pie

Inspired in part by Hot Tub Time Machine and its frequent and dramatic use of Motley Crue, I recently upped my Crue quotient and dug into Dr. Feelgood. It's been a worthwhile experience, but it's also led to another entry on the "songs that sound like other songs" list that's been a frequent Baroque Bleak Brutal topic in the recent past. Most of "Another Slice of Your Pie" is pretty standard Crue material: lyrics dripping with barely-disguised sexual innuendo matched up with some blues rock riffage and call and response vocals, all of which might have easily come out an Aerosmith song of the same vintage. Where things get really referential, though, is the ending. There's some hint of the idea in the bridge, but for the last two minutes the song goes from pretty straightforward rocker to a halfway decent imitation of the metal portion of "She's So Heavy." A band paying homage to the Beatles ain't no strange thing, I suppose - Oasis certainly made a career out of doing so - but what makes it noteworthy is the sudden change of gears, like the band decided they had to make a reference to the Beatles somewhere on Dr. Feelgood, and decided to tack it on to "Another Slice of Your Pie." Check it out:

Friday, May 07, 2010

In Praise of Witchery

Thanks to No Clean Singing and their Eye Catcher series, I had heard of Witchery, but my buddy John turned me on to them last night with a very simple phrase: "they remind me a lot Arch Enemy." It's been four years since they put out an album - although they have another one coming out this summer - so I'm a little behind on the game, but thus far I'm digging what I hear: its thrashy, it's got some death touches, and it's got enough variation to keep things interesting. The Arch Enemy comparison is apt - although Witchery isn't quite as melodic - not only because of the production, but because like the Amott brothers, these guys aren't above cribbing a line or two from the catalogs of others. "Cannonfodder," for example, has a few moments that are almost pure Slayer:

While the entrance to the bridge of "Stigmatized" could have come from the intro to "Am I Evil":

In other words, these guys make for a good rocking out time, but they're not out to break any boundaries. Sounds about right for a Friday afternoon, if you ask me.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Demonoir Makes Its Case

Because I know you were concerned: Demonoir has proven to the pleasant experience I had been hoping for. If I were to summarize in a sentence: what I wrote about "Atomic Chamber" being a mix of "plenty of pounding...some (slightly) more atmospheric stuff, and...a decent amount of structure that keeps a six minute song sounding like a six minute song and not an endless assault" turns out to be Demonoir in microcosm. Each true (or tr00?) song is bookended by a minute or so of atmospherics, titled in a numerically-ascending sequence as a progression along the tunnel of Set (maybe this Set?), which makes the songs feel like a brutal set of way stations. The effect is similar to that used by Teitanblood used on Seven Chalices.

Those songs in turn are distinct enough that I'm starting to remember portions between listens, which is probably about as catchy as a black metal album can get without crossing over into that tricky melodic territory. Most of them even have a personality that's more black metal standard, too - which might be why they're starting to stick. "Psalm 777," for example, cribs some Ride the Lightning-era Metallica in both riffs and solos, which certainly catches the ear. A few listens in and I'm already pretty close to calling Demonoir my favorite 1349 release.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Ronnie James Dio, Magic Maker

Heaven & Hell announced yesterday that they were canceling all of their European shows this summer because Dio is still not quite 100% after his bout with stomach cancer. The news didn't surprise me that much, because he was diagnosed 5 months ago or so and he's already a 67-year-old man who goes on exhausting tours for a living - really, it seems pretty ambitious to expect that he'd be ready to rock again any time this year. In fact, the only reason why I bring up any of this information is because the press release that Dio put out in reaction to (or in support of?) the cancellation news, stating that:
Wendy, my doctors and I have worked so hard to make it happen for all of you, the ones we care so much about, that this setback could be devastating, but we will not let it be. With your continued love and support, we will carry on and thrive. There will be other tours, more music, more life and much more magic.
It's the magic part of it, really, reminding us in its subtle way that our favorite metal godfather and Italian grandmother look-alike is also some sort of elf, bringing us joy in the form of songs about men in silver mountains and kings and queens who blind our eyes and steal our dreams.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Breeding Thick Basslines

Something about today inspired me to dust off Nevermind for the first time in...well, a long time. Nevermind is one of those classic albums that's aged just fine, but I listened to it so many times in my teenage years, particularly when my music collection consisted of five or six albums, that it's really, really hard to hear it again without my ear tuning to the same aural paths that I've heard for ever and ever. I don't want to get bored of Nevermind, so I don't listen to it very often.

However, today's been different. Halfway through "In Bloom," I started thinking about this album as it sounded when it came out - a recording that was experimenting with some new things and incorporating a lot of old things - rather than the milestone it eventually became after its release. The idea was revelatory enough to me that for the first time in a long time I started really hearing new things in every song: the vocal harmonies on "In Bloom," how the guitar in the chorus of "Come as You Are" sounds a bit like a voice, how much of this album is a pop album dressed up in really angry clothes. I also really heard the sound of the bass on "Breed" for the first time and man, it's awesome: so thick and compressed that it sounds almost like an analog synth, carrying that cool growl of the opening guitar riff in through the rest of the song.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Legions of the Humid Dead

It's a The Gathering type of day: too hot for May, humid as a motherfucker, and I'm working at home without air conditioning, feeling like I've set up a satellite office in Costa Rica. Clearly the only possible recourse is to put on Testament's violently energetic late-90s classic cut and rock out through the oppressive heat.

Seth gave The Gathering a good write up back in January, but he didn't include a YouTube clip of today's featured selection, "Legions of the Dead." One of The Gathering's fastest songs, it's also one of the album's best examples of the thrash/death collision that Seth highlighted.