Monday, October 31, 2011
Cue DGNA/The Boss.
As an idol group they fall short of a lot of things, they're not under a major talent agency, flashy music videos and overseas producers are out of the question, they've hardly promoted in Korea, they've never won any music shows, they don't consistently top charts and whatever else the standard idol group has to do these days, they most probably don't. But you see, that situation made them the group they are. That's why they're special.
In a sense, because the best their talent company can give them are a bunch of generic songs, they have to find another way to stand out and not be another kpop casualty. They have to push themselves, and in turn, the industry's boundaries, in order to stand out. And what's that way? Well, for starters they all have to actually have good voices.
All five of them can sing. Three of them have stunning yet flexible voices. Of course they're still very young and they haven't been around for long so there are so many things they have to even out in terms of their individual vocals and their group dynamics, but they have their foundations strongly planted. They know how to pull off five-part harmonies without out-singing each other, but they also know how to make their voices shine as soloists. Does that remind you of anyone? Of course it does. ;D
These never-ending DBSK comparisons exist for a reason. DGNA are being compared to DBSK, for me at least, because both groups are lightyears ahead of their peers and because both groups take the current sound of the industry and do it better than their counterparts. The two groups, despite debuting and promoting under different circumstances, are the best voices of their generations.
However, it took DBSK a long time to reach that level, and it will take DGNA long as well. Prior to "O Jung.Ban.Hap.", the reason why DBSK always lip-synced their performances was because they simply didn't have the vocals to do it. Watch any live performance of "Hi Ya Ya", and I promise you 3 minutes of horror. Before becoming the best vocal group kpop has ever seen, DBSK was just like everyone else - nurtured by SM Entertainment, so they never had to challenge themselves vocals-wise. Until Japan came along.
The Japanese industry is rigorous, it's cut-throat, and being signed to a major label does not guarantee success, much like the American industry. DBSK had to stand out, and the only way to do that was to sing, and sing well. DGNA have to stand out in Korea because of their agency's limited budget, and the only way to do that is to sing, and sing well.
"Lady" just solidifies the theory. It's a simple release - generic ballad with all the stereotype elements, simple video, limited promotion and not-so-staggering sales - but what makes it better is that they can sing it well. Live. With minimal accompaniment.
This is the first time since DBSK that I've heard such strong five-part harmonies from an idol group. Each voice is very clear, very sure of what it's doing, and what has to be done, and trust me, after years of singing a middle voice, being sure of your harmonies while being on the same wavelength as the rest of the group is extremely difficult.
Their harmonies are not 100 percent smooth yet and their voices are only about 85 percent on the same level of intensity with each other, but those qualities are not the type of things you can just learn in a day - they take years of singing together, and years of pushing yourself as a singer. In short, they take time.
As individual singers they are outstanding. Mika and Karam have always been the stellar voices, but that guy who does the middle 8, when he goes up for that high note his voice is so bright. If it was up to me, that guy will be their permanent high note-hitter. Seriously, I cannot stress how stunning a bright voice is, and that high note he hit was almost blinding-bright. Well, before he closed his mouth and lost it.
Even with the rough edges, the are easily the most talented group of their generation. They just have to keep going and keep pushing and keep standing out until they actually get somewhere, because if talent is any basis they'd be sweeping charts left and right, and I'd like to think at least a small fraction of the Korean buying public still puts a premium on actual talent.
*drops to my knees and begs for forgiveness* I can't even begin to fully explain why I haven't been writing, so I'll try to give you guys a condensed explanation. Basically, college has drained my brain more than I thought it would so I spent the past few weeks of semestral break just not thinking seriously about anything partially to rest from my first semester in college and partially to brace myself for the second semester where I have four lit subjects, intermediate Japanese, and geography. (LOL that was a long sentence) That and I now have a weekly column on soompi, so if you've been reading the single reviews and you wondered why it sounded a lot like me, well, it IS me. ;D
So what's in store for PRN during the last stretch of 2011? A lot. If you've been reading my tweets lately, yesterday I was starting to finalize the 50 songs for my "best of 2011" countdown. I don't have rankings or anything yet (which I should probably start on already, actually), but I have revised the rules and right now there are 54 songs on the list. The 50 songs will be locked by November 25, to give me time to start writing the reviews. Like the previous years, the rules will be released on December 1, the countdown starts on December 2 with song #50, and ends on December 31, New Year's Eve, with song #1.
Between now and December, I'm also thinking of bringing back my music show recaps, just as a way to ease myself back into writing on a regular basis, since 50 reviews in less than a month isn't exactly an easy task. If all goes well, I'll probably start this Friday with Music Bank! :D
And, as always, thank you so much for sticking with me. I haven't been the most consistent blogger around, and I'm really really sorry about that. D:
Revenge of the Quick Ripple Bursts; featuring Old Californio, Fuck Knights, The Doggs, Sky Parade, The Parties, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Employing the same rootsy-bluegrass-desert-vibe post-Dead psychedelia that made Westering Again so charming, Old Californio come trotting back riding bareback along that old and dusty california trail. Bringing some Byrds-ian jangle along with some banjo, lap steel, wurlitzer piano, and fine fiddle playing to their already solid musical chops, Old Californio explore some vast bluegrassy terrirtory vacated by the Grateful Dead. And they do it first rate all the way. Rich Dembowski has a way with a phrase and musical turn, always finding the melody in his songs, and as ever, the band is tight while being loose all at the same time. Having had the pleasure of seeing the guys play live, I've seen the chemistry they bring to the stage, which can only lead me to believe that recording this album must've been a joy. "Learn to Cheat," is about as Grateful Dead a song as you could hope for with some dynamite harmony vocals, "Better Yet," rambles out like some old Pure Praire League shuffle, and "Allon Camerado," brings in some darker guitar tone muscle to the storm-brewing horizon. But the real standout here is "A Cool Place in the Light." With it's dynamite fiddle line singing and dancing over it's lap steel heart. A stick-in-your-brain-like-crazy-glue melody doesn't hurt either. All in all, another rootsy winner from these Californian floor stompers.
I don't know if there ever was a volume 1 or 2. Hell, I don't even know how the Fuck Knights ever got my address and starting invading my personal space with their cacophony of gargae rock mayhem. But thank God they did. Just when I thought the Fuck Knights story had to run out some day, the boys come back from their barely-audible, garage blitz frenzy The Recorded by Gary Burger from The Monks EP, and turn around and drop this bomb on me. Is this the same band? Are these my Fuck Knights? Is that a harmonica? A trumpet? A sax? Are they playing actual chords and managing to keep time? By damn it, they are! Suddenly all my previous notions of the band are blown the fuck away. These cats actually know how to play their instruments and can do it live no less! And play em they do. No other way to describe it, FuKn Live! is a retro-garage rock pizza pie of delight. Tons of fuzzy guitars (actually waiting in line to play their parts) a pounding rhythm section, a partying horn crew, and some impassioned vocals. No doubt about it, as much as I've loved the Fuck Knights since the first EP they sent me, this is the pinnacle of their (what I've heard) recorded career. No hesitation recommending this one. If bands like the Monks, the Sonics, the Jay Retard, King Kahn, heck, the Kingsmen and ? and the Mysterians light your fuse, you can't go wrong with this. And as a special aside, the Fuck Knights now win the Ripple prize-crown for being the only band I've reviewed 3 times in these pages. Don't know what it's worth, but that and $5 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks.
Keeping the fuzz-hysteria garage vibe going, what we got here is the latest installment of Johnny Rotten meets the Cramps fuzz burst from the Doggs. While their last EP insinuated itself into my ears like a fungal infection, this latest 5-song toxic release smothers me like a putrid mustard gas. And I mean that in a good way. Distorto-decrepit garage punk is the name of the game here, and both the song writing and the playing have taken a major leap out of the dog pound since the last release. Yep, it's angry and vulgar and something that should be scrubbed off your toilet, but damn if it isn't some of the finest toilet scum you've ever heard. Christian Celsi's guitar tone sounds positively rotting, while singer Marco Mezzadri's Johnny Rotten-barely contained vocal approach must put fear into the minds of young children. "Hit Me," is an instant garage punk classic while "Dead City Bleeds" even terrifies me. "Life Kills," with it's monster bass intro and distorto guitar mix hits all the right nerves as Marco borders on the verge of some deep, demented psychosis. Yep, brilliant stuff here.
Now of course I know Sky Parade. After all, we at Ripple put out their top 20 indy rock hit, "I Should Be Coming Up (But I Keep Coming Down)" split single with Grand Atlantic. And I've seen Tommy and the boys play several times, last one as recently as a month ago. But truth be told, I'd never really had a chance to immerse myself in their back catalog. Now, as I start digging, their 2005 debut CD Fire in the Sky, graces my CD player, and damn. If I hadn't already worked with the band, I'd be looking them up now. Plying a mid-tempo, post Stone Roses brand of trance/danceable psychedelic pop, Sky Parade sound so fully formed on this album that it's stunning it didn't race up indy radio. "Fire in Your Heart," with Tommy Dietrick's halting, whispered vocals and Daniella Meekers accompanying backing is simply sumptuous. Matthew Lindgren layers on just the perfect tone of lead guitar to ignite the fuse as the song launches off into trance/psych nirvana. "My Eyes Are Bleeding Tears," follows next, burning through the mix with its pulsating bass and searing guitar leads which blends right into the strutting, dancefloor frenzy of "Losing Control." There's Primal Scream here, some Dandy Warhols, some Oasis, some Church. All Sky Parade. All good.
Another band I've had the pleasure of seeing twice now (both times with Sky Parade) is the parties and everything they bring so powerfully to their live shows in on exhibit right here, there 2010 CD Coast Garde. Moving away from the Church-esque vibe of Sky Parade, The Parties are all maximal jangle, all the time. Bringing in a 12-string Rickenbacker into the mix, you can't help but bring in the Byrds reference, but The Parities aren't Byrds-rip-off-wanna-be's. This is pure, unadulterated jangle powerpop with a bouncing psych flavor poured over the songs like syrup on pancakes. "Let's Call it Love" is pure Byrds, but with a melody and chorus that could've come from The Three O'clock., while "Can't Seem to Mind" could be Beat-inspired power pop. "Twenty-four" rumbles with a newfound menace before that beautiful jangle dances in a Stone Roses moment of perfection. "The Target Smiles," is retro-Beatles pop at it's purest. No fan of jangle pop will be disappointed here.
Fellow Ripple scribe Woody, nearly filleted me and served me live to his dogs for reviewing Frankie Goes to Hollywood's first album, so what am I to do? Review their second, of course. See, Woody wasn't there in England when "Relax" first broke and didn't drink that song in everyday like ale, as I and the rest of the UK did. He didn't get infected with Holly and Paul and the boys. I did, God help me, I did. Having said that, I'd never heard Liverpool before this comprehensive Ian Peel curated reissue came to me. I guess having left England before this album was released, I lost my Frankie mojo. And let's be honest. Welcome to the Pleasuredome had some fantastic songs on it, but it also had quite a bit of filler. So perhaps Frankie caused me to lose my mojo. With that in mind, Liverpool, just never caught my attention.
But it has my attention now. While there's no "Relax" or "Two Tribes" or "War" on Liverpool, overall, it's probably a better, more fully realized album than Pleasuredome. And one thing Liverpool does, is waste no time in proving once and for all that Frankie were a real band, and damn it they came here to play. "Warriors of the Wasteland" is, dare I say it, heavy. I mean heavy. Way heavier with a much beefier riff and electrifying guitar solo than you'd ever expect from Frankie. And angry too. Damn angry. One thing that hasn't changed is Holly's vocals. Like Frankie or hate em, you gotta admit that Holly could sing. "Rage Hard," keeps the energy and anger going as raging hard doesn't refer to partying or raving (as I'd thought) but raging against the status quo. Yes, it's a Frankie song of rebellion, and in truth, underneath the glam and glitz and hype, that's what Frankie was about. Resistence. Fighting. Claiming ones own. That vibe keeps going through the melancholy "Kill the Pain," and the electro-sublime "Maximum Joy."
As a bonus, Ian Peel has included several bonus outtakes of cover songs from various sessions. While Frankie doing "Suffragette City," may not seem too much of a stretch with Frankie's glam leanings, I gotta admit, their cover of The Doors' "Roadhouse Blues," caught me way off guard. Frankie and grit blues just doesn't add up in my world, but Holly does a good job of roughing up his vocals and the band lays it down as if they owned it. We'll call this one a near miss. But a true winner is their glammed up, electro-ed out, Frankie'd up instrumental dance mash up version of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." Nearly unrecognizable from the original, this is pure hedonistic fun. A whole bonus disc of special mixes awaits also. Good Frankie fun.
Sunday, October 30, 2011
Oct. 28 -- Rammstein's long-awaited retrospective release, Made In Germany 1995 - 2011, will be available on Dec. 6 through Universal Germany's marketing and distribution deal in the US with Vagrant Records.
Made In Germany 1995 - 2011 will be available in three different editions:
* Standard Edition: CD Digipak - Best of Album
* Special Edition: 2-CD Digipak - Best of Album and Best of Remixes
* Super Deluxe Edition: 2-CD (Best of Album and Best of Remixes) as well as 3 DVDs (including the full Rammstein video catalog, all previously available "Making of" and 8 unreleased "Making of" videos)
packaged in a steel box complete with a 240-page booklet. Limited to 1200 copies in the US.
packaged in a steel box complete with a 240-page booklet. Limited to 1200 copies in the US.
All songs and videos on Made In Germany 1995 - 2011 have been re-mastered for this release.
Announced earlier this week, the Berlin-based band have a new single, "Mein Land," set for a Nov. 11 release. "Mein Land" will be available as a four-track release via iTunes with an unreleased song, "Vergiss Uns Nicht," as well as remixes from BossHoss and Mogwai accompanied by the Jonas Akerlund directed video for Mein Land video and a digital booklet. The Amazon version will be "Mein Land" and the two remixes. The video for "Mein Land" will premiere on Rammstein.com on Nov. 11.
Rammstein's most recent release, Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da, debuted at #13 on the Billboard Top 200 in October 2009.
The album opens with “Empty House on a Famous Hill” This is a great opening track. It has an alternative country feel infused with the traditional slide and guitar sounds you would you would be more accustom to hearing on an old country western album. Detar's vocals and lyrical content give this music a more present day feel.
"The Santa Anna wind won’t stop blowing
hot and hard like it’s pushing me aside.
She’s too hot not to burn you but you’ll pay for her time
so just take a swig and let her say goodbye.
In a dark empty house on a famous old hill
if they don’t love you now they never will.
Cause if you sell your heart to their empty souls
you’ll be vacant like this house upon the hill.
The city in the smog leaves you broken like her faded landmarks get built up to fall.
You get tossed along the freeway when her new thing comes along
but she can never let your heart forget at all.
In a dark empty house on a famous old hill
if they don’t love you now they never will.
Cause if you sell your heart to their empty souls you’ll be vacant like this house upon the hill.
lonely in the spotlight
spit out like the salt
washed up on the coastline
that’s leaves a bittersweet taste in your dirty mouth.
I don’t wanna’ leave this way
but as sure as the sun on the 101 you won’t remember my name.
I don’t wanna leave this way
but I can’t go on giving all of my love to town that don’t feel the same."
"Cocaine, Whiskey And Heroin" is by far my favorite track on this album. It is also one of his standout songs to witness live. It is very much a sing along type song. You can almost hear a drunken bar sing along if this came on the jukebox.
"Cocaine. Whiskey. Heroin.
I got the cocaine and whiskey and heroin blues.
Cocaine, whiskey and heroin blues.
Cocaine and whiskey and heroin blues.
Ain’t nothing left to lose
There’s blood in the sink.
I hear death on the prowl.
Pawned all that I own.
God knows where I’m bound.
No food on my plate.
No love left to save.
Gonna’ dig an early grave
I got the cocaine, whiskey and heroin blues.
Cocaine and whiskey and heroin blues.
Cocaine and whiskey and heroin blues.
I got nothing left to lose.
I’ve been up on the ridge.
Shone proud like the sun.
But I gave it all up for what I’ve become.
So hear this lament for all that I’ve spent.
I never meant to hurt no one.
I got the cocaine, whiskey and heroin blues.
Cocaine and whiskey and heroin blues.
Cocaine and whiskey and heroin blues.
I got nothing left to lose.
I got them cocaine and whiskey and heroin blues.
Cocaine, whiskey and heroin blues.
Cocaine and whiskey and heroin blues.
Ain’t nothing left to lose.
I got nothing left to lose."
Brett Detar give a present day spin to a dying breed of classic sounding Country music. Bird I The Triangle is a very gritty and real album. Something that can not be said about the current state of this "New Country" music the masses are being fed. This is a very inspiring album and will hopefully open the ears and eyes of people to look towards other avenues in musical exploration.
Brett Detar goes good with: The Julian Theory, Old 97s, City and Colour, Brett Detar, Hank 3 (1 and 2), Johnny Cash, Townes Van Zandt, Willie Nelson, Sleepercar
Buy this album here: http://brettdetar.bandcamp.com/album/bird-in-the-tangle
Saturday, October 29, 2011
Given the metal pedigree of the members of Iron Lamb, the surprise of this release is that it’s not really metal. When you have members, current and former, of bands such as General Surgery, Scurvy, Repugnant, Dismember, Insision, Bombstrike, Tyrant, and Dellamorte, I expected to be smacked upside the head by some full on Swedish death. But there is something else very enjoyable here instead.
While it’s not metal, it is very good punk and roll, which is how the band’s press release refers to this, and that’s as good a way to describe this as anything I can come up with. Listening through The Original Sin took me back to my holy trinity of Motorhead, Ace of Spades, Iron Maiden, Killers, and Saxon, Wheels Of Steel, which I discovered my junior year of high school and which started me on my metal path. If any of those 3 albums mean anything to you, Iron Lamb is right up your alley.
Band members Johan Wallin, Grga Lindstrom, Thomas Daun, and Daniel Ekeroth (who wrote the most excellent book “Swedish Death Metal”) have crafted a set of songs that for the most part put the pedal to the metal, but also throw in a couple of tasty changeups. This is the kind of CD I’d like to take on a road trip when I have a long way to go but a short time to get there, because it makes you want to mash the accelerator and see if you can get a 100 miles under your tires before the CD is over.
The album comes out swinging with “Rotten Wood/Original Sin”, “Dubious Preacher”, and “Our Demise”. Then, a cover of Motorhead’s “Poison”, which fits right in with the previous tracks and makes you wanna find a moshpit to jump into and spill your beer all over your fellow pit denizens. “Suicide” keeps the energy level at 100% and features some tasty guitar playing. As you would expect from a release like this, there’s an anti-social fist to the face with back to back tracks “I Don’t Wanna Be Like You”, and “I Don’t Like You”.
A little bit of change of pace comes from “Iron Lamb, Dead Inside”. There’s a literal change of pace in tempo, more of a sense of melody than you normally find in this style of music, and an interesting set of lyrics. This is followed by bonus tracks “Another Miserable Day” and “TBC”. I’ve never really understood the whole idea of bonus tracks on a release like this, because in my opinion “Another Miserable Day” is one of the stronger tracks on this album. So I guess I would say that when you buy this, make sure you get the version with the bonus tracks.
All-in-all, this is quite a ripper of an album and one that I was happy to find and definitely happy to recommend. It’s got the punkier side of NWOBHM down pat, has some very good guitar licks and solos that are not over the top and fit perfectly with what the music is doing, and if you have a pulse at all it is impossible to put this album on and not move something. Music is supposed to move us, and Iron Lamb accomplish this in a very visceral way. What more do you want?
Friday, October 28, 2011
This is one of the blurbs that came with the advance of Skeletonwitch's Forever Abomination:
Skeletonwitch has been called every name in the fucking book: death metal, black metal, thrash metal, speed metal, heavy metal, epic viking blackened thrash ‘n’ roll, and so on. It seems the only description everyone can agree on is metal.
Something you might need to know here:
The blurbs that come with advance copies of albums are RIDICULOUSLY hyperbolic-- "this band will take your virginity, change your gender and make you smart enough to build a trans-dimensional teleporter to visit God himself-- and then bitch-slap him in the face! (Also you'll lose weight and gain lean muscle.)"
They're almost an art form of intentional, nay, Voltaire-esque, excursions into world-bending parody. They're so far over the top that their children never even knew there was a top to be over.
Have I made my point?
This in mind, the above Skeletonwitch quote is actually completely spot on: "epic viking blackened thrash ‘n’ roll" is a great description of the SW sound-- as is "metal."
"This Horrifying Force (The Desire to Kill)" the album opener, starts with (old-school thrash style) the acoustic intro, segues into a very cool bay-area thrash breakdown riff at about 2:00, then fires off Maiden/Priest style dual-leads....
"Reduced to the Failure of Prayer" (great title) starts with particularly effective roaring from vocalist Chance Garnett (who I normally find a bit underwhelming) over Testament-like riffs and solos....
...and in all the songs you can not only hear the bass, but it's usually playing a part separate from the leads-- which illustrates the level of songwriting (or at least riff writing) here...
Track 3, "Of Ash and Torment" has a great melody at 1:00, and overall the best hooks on the album-- comparable to "Within My Blood" and "Crushed Beyond Dust," to me the highlights of their first two albums. This track also illustrates the second, and arguably best, illustration of SW's songwriting skill--
These songs are short.
Not Grind/ punk short, but rarely over 3 minutes. They get in, they rock out, they get out. The songs are usually over before you realize it-- and makes me wish SW would hold a workshop for doom/sludge bands (my true love) about how to write short songs. Yeah, sometimes length is the point, but more often than not a good doom song could be made great by being half as long, amirite?
All the tracks, particularly "Shredding Sacred Flesh" and "Cleaver of Souls" are unapologetically metal (i.e., awesomely ridiculous/ ridiculously awesome), and as the songs unfurl all the melodies sound something like Maiden's "Flash of the Blade" (not a bad thing at all) and the guitars have that Gibson-straight-into-Marshall sound from Kill 'em All.
In fact, that's the best description of Skeletonwitch as heard on Forever Abomination: 1982 Metallica covering Iron Maiden with Cronos singing.
Not original at all, but excepting that-- perfect.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
You know you’re old school or just plain old if you’re into this album. I’ve known and loved it for years but recently picked up the excellent LP reissue on England’s Back On Black label and it’s been on non-stop rotation on my turntable. Talk about classic! Everything about this 1976 album is perfect. The striking front cover artwork by Ken Kelly is truly denim jacket worthy. The classy black and white band shots are powerful and mysterious. Martin Birch’s production is outstanding. But, most important, is the incredible songs and the superpowers of the musicians who created them.
After leaving Deep Purple, guitar wizard Ritchie Blackmore formed Rainbow with the one and only Ronnie James Dio to form one of the greatest alliances in all of heavy rock. Both men made great music before and after Rainbow Rising but this might be the peak for both of them. Then when you add the powerhouse drumming of Cozy Powell that’s a lot of talent and sky scraper egos in one unit.
“Tarot Woman” starts off with some atmospheric keyboards from Tony Carey. Right off the bat you know this was not meant to be a clone of Deep Purple, Jon Lord would never play like this. Not better or worse, but very different. When the band comes, the rhythm section of Cozy and bassist Jimmy Bain stomp hard and leave plenty of room for Blackmore’s guitar and Dio’s vocals. “Run With The Wolf” is another mid-paced rocker with a nice bluesy solo from Ritchie. Side one wraps up with the ass kicking “Starstruck.” Featuring an awesome riff that gets stuck in your head as soon as you hear it and a great arrangement, Dio’s vocals are so powerful.
Side two opens with the raunchy “Do You Close Your Eyes.” Dio’s lyrics are usually fantasy oriented but rarely sexual in nature and it’s a lot of fun to hear him howling “when you’re making sweet LOOOOOOVE to me!” on the chorus. It’s also a great lead in for the centerpiece of the album – “Stargazer.” The overused term “epic” really does apply here. Here’s a song that rivals Zep’s “Kashmir” in full on exotic heaviness. Cozy’s drum intro is breathtaking and Ritchie’s riff is one of the heaviest of all time. On the inside of the gatefold sleeve this is the only song that has the lyrics printed. If used the inside of the gatefold sleeve correctly then by the time this song came on your attitude had been properly adjusted and you could bug out on the amazing tale that Ronnie relates. The production on this song is majestic. There’s tons of phasing effects on all the instruments and towards the end the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra make this heavy song even heavier. It’s impossible to follow up this song, but the fast headbanger “A Light In The Black” wraps up the album nicely.
It’s a short album, only a little over half an hour that leaves you wanting more but it’s perfect as an LP. The Back On Black reissue is pressed on heavy duty vinyl and the short sides mean there’s plenty of room to spread the grooves for maximum fidelity. I’ve been listening to this album for many, many years and it’s never sounded better. It ain’t cheap but when you’re cranking it twice a day you’re definitely getting your money’s worth.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
It’s a rare occurrence for me to get excited about a hip-hop record. Over the past few years (decades?), hip-hop has come across more about the glorification of excesses than anything of substance, of fresh ideas, of empowering messages. The days of old, when Chuck D would wax poetic about the injustices of the world and the inequalities of the young black man; even the sometimes fantastical glorification of the thug life from rappers like Ice-T, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, et al had substance because they were narrating warnings of the do’s and don’t’s of a depressed life and desolate options of life in the hood. And though, I’m sure, there have been masters of the rhyme game who have written and recorded material of substance since then, all I hear or see is someone yammering away about their lowered ride, their shiny-blingy rings, their downpour of cash, and though it all may be a metaphor for dreams of a better life and lifting oneself from the dregs of depravity, it never really digs into the root of the problem that these artists face.
How did they, the artist, get to this point? How did we, the people, get to this point? I don’t have one singular answer for the questions. I don’t think one exists. Sure. It would be easy to point the finger at racism, but that doesn’t explain how we, the people, go to this point. Greed? Too simplistic of an answer and, as heinous as it is, that doesn’t quite feel like the correct answer.
Where am I going with this? Well . . . I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and I blame it on Elemental Zazen’s record, Nothing To Lose But Change. Released in 2011 through Gnawledge Records, it’s a hip-hop record that has done something that no hip-hop record has done for me in well over two decades . . . made me stop and think. Not simple, whimsical thoughts about saving the whales, but deep, life changing, life affirming ideas that now have me questioning a lot of what I’ve believed throughout my entire life. Powerful shit, man. Corporate greed, capitalism, class inequality and warfare, social perceptions and judgments, internal strength . . . Nothing To Lose But Change is a bubbling cauldron of percolating ideas that give the listener just enough meat to feed their appetite and leave them hungry for more information and knowledge.
“Bricks and Mortality” has a dense groove that is the musical moment from this album that made me fall back in my seat and take a deep breath. The music has an ominous tone and the lyrical content matches perfectly as the MC paints an image of the have-not’s fighting for every morsel of survival while the have’s simply fight amongst themselves to make themselves richer, and ultimately distance themselves even more from the have-not’s. This is an amazingly crafted tune that captures the desperation the working class faces day in and day out to simply put food in their mouths, their inevitable need for escape through drugs and alcohol, and never getting closer to that comfort level that we all desire.
“Kill ‘em With The Beat” is a bit of a change of pace . . . a little more upbeat sounding, though still with a dark undertone, yet dance-able. The lyrics have an ambiguity to them, but I’m getting a message of living with one’s beliefs, being open to change, and inner strength. The chorus has the deadliest catch of them all, instantly memorable and infectious, and the best line is early on, “hell is a hell of a place to hide”. The tune is a mover.
Every so often, a song comes along that makes me think, “Damn. If I had a theme song for when I enter a room . . . “, and in the case of Elemental Zazen, “Words That I Write” would be that one. The intro, the build up, and the sheer intensity of the vocal performance sends chills across my skin, gets me fired up and energized. The music makes a statement that can’t be ignored. Lyrically, the tune is a stream of conscious dose of poetic majesty. The dynamics of the music works in natural harmony with the vocal attack, and I can’t help but get excited and pissed off at the same time. It’s the kind of song that makes you look long and hard in the mirror, making you question what you’re here to accomplish, and how are you going to meet your life goals? Are you here to just take up space and breathe in, breathe out, contributing nothing to your society, or are you that game changer who was put on this earth to help your community, to bring a better life to those around you? Fuckin’ strong song and creeping up my All Time Favorite List.
I’m excited about this album. Flat out. It has power to it that I haven’t felt from this particular genre in a very long time and I don’t think I would be along in feeling that. It’s a universal message of power, or at least, taking the power back from those who currently hold it. Listen to the track called “Greed”, which is more of a narrative or sound bite from a college lecture about the harmful effects of capitalism. It’s the kind of message that will make you stop and re-think your stance on the subject, or investigate it more to become better educated on the matter. And really, that’s what I think I was looking for from a hip-hop record. Make me question my own beliefs. Make me re-think my positions on the topics that matter. It doesn’t mean I need to change my beliefs, but I’m being open to new views on them and being that I have the freedom of choice, I can then decide what my future holds. For now, though . . . my future holds another spin of Nothing To Lose But Change.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
With her long red dreadlocks wrapped high up on her head, my hippy neighbor from across the street stops by for a visit.
"Who's that?" she asks as soon as she walks through the door and hears the excellent blues-rock pumping from my speakers. She notices the tunes before I let her in because I have the volume up pretty high. I'm surprised I hear her knock. "Where are they from? I could totally hear them on the radio."
"I know. Right? They're called Heavy Glow," I tell her after turning the groovy-ass song down just enough for us to speak without yelling at each other. "They're from Cali. San Diego. You'd like them, I'm sure."
She doesn't hesitate and sits down, joining in the rock-fest I'm enjoying. I explain to her that she's listening to Heavy Glow's new full-length album, Midnight Moan, and what I already know about the three-piece band. I tell her how the group formed about 3 years ago and have released remarkable music about every year since. And how the new recording is legitimately FREE, along with their self-titled debut ep.
I go into detail what I know about twenty-something Heavy Glow front-man Jared Mullins after hearing his songs and exchanging a few emails with him. He's an extremely talented singer-songwriter/instrumentalist who listens to everything rock-oriented, from the 50's to the 90's. Doesn't care too much for the 80's. I let her in on the fact that the self-taught guitarist used to be the drummer with virtuoso Heavy Glow bassist Joe Brooks in another band, but later strapped on a Gibson and moved up to the mic himself. He was the one writing the songs anyway. Then I point out how Mullins and Brooks added a fantastic drummer, Dan Kurtz, on Midnight Moan and their rockin' 2010 ep, The Filth & The Fury.
My neighbor expresses that she really likes Mullins' voice, along with his guitar licks, and we bask in the light that is Midnight Moan by Heavy Glow. I let her know that I'm going to call Mullins later tonight to talk a little about the 9-song rock album. She can tell I'm excited. I really love this band.
I'm so excited I blow it and forget most of what I wanted to ask, but one of the very first things I have to know is: what is a Heavy Glow? I search the web for a reference but the only thing I find is a song by a band who I'm not gonna mention. Anyway, the song goes, '...standing in line to see the show tonite and there's a light on...heavy glow...'. Mullins assures me that's not where his band's name came from, but when people ask about it he always says (that group I'm not gonna mention) were writing about Heavy Glow. We share a chuckle. It was actually the name of one of the first songs the band recorded and it's featured on their first release.
Then I wanna know about the new album's title - Midnight Moan. What is that? Is that what I'm gonna make the woman do tonight? "Exactly," Mullins tells me, but adds that's it's also about a certain "longing." I think the dynamic purple and blue artwork is captivating and I ask about that, too. "Our drummer (Kurtz) came up with it. He put it all together," he said.
Midnight Moan continues the tradition of the band's previous two efforts and contains some spectacular blues-oriented rock songs. The opener, "Lose My Mind", is a prime example and gives me a Stevie Ray Vaughan flashback, but it doesn't take too long for me to learn the seductive "Slave Dance" while listening at the same time. You don't move your feet around a lot but you gotta have one foot a little forward and then you rock your hips slowly to the sexy groove. Focus about 5 feet in front of you and nod your head once every couple seconds or so. Look to the sky when the guitar solos kick in, but be sure to keep your hips shakin'. It's easy. Anyone can do it.
"All My Money", "Collide" and "Purgatory Blues" add to an already heavy dose of rock but I'm also treated to a few unexpected moments on Midnight Moan. One of my favorites is an acoustic song, "Smithereen". It's just Mullins and his 12-string on this one and it highlights his songwriting, guitar-playing and mass-appealing voice. I'm surprised when Mullins tells me he's had this one on the back-burner for a long time. "It's probably the oldest song I had written," he said, adding that he wrote it during his college years, before any of the Heavy Glow stuff. I'm delighted that he finally decided to put it out.
"Smithereen" transitions perfectly into the short and beautiful instrumental, "Midwestern Lullaby," which contains a purposely-placed bit of silence before the final song. It's the calm before the storm, if you like, because on "Diggin' a Ditch", Heavy Glow pull out all the stops. It's impossible for me to sit still during Brooks' frenzied bass lines and Kurtz's rambunctious drumming. Mullins' 'specializes in mud' here and the riffs are dirty-n-nasty. Lovin' it.
Not only do I love the music, but I can relate to many of the lyrics on this album, which bring to light Mullins' own reflection on various relationship and life issues. "I tend to write the music and bring it to the band. Everything I write is very personal," he says.
Mullins is a song-writing madman. Don't be surprised when Heavy Glow start recording more music for us early next year. The songs are already there. "They're already coming into the live set," he said.
For now, download Midnight Moan - and Heavy Glow - free from Bandcamp. Then do yourself a favor and fork out a few bucks for the band's other release, The Filth and The Fury, so you can have all their music so far.
This shred metal Johan pulled a Bach.
Pull out your best headphones, turn down the lights, close the door and sit in your most comfortable chair. We are going on a journey into genius with a virtuoso guitarist.
Yngwie Johan Malmsteen is one of the greatest technical guitarists ever to grace the earth. Born in Sweden in 1963, he gained stardom in the mid-1980’s with his neo-classical approach to heavy metal guitar. His best known album is Odyssey and, if you haven’t heard it, you should or, for that matter listen to any of his other heavy metal releases. He continues to produce one amazing release after another and his stage shows are legendary. However, even he will tell you that his masterpiece was not a heavy metal album.
In 1998 Malmsteen wrote Concerto Suite For Electric Guitar and Orchestra in E Flat Minor Opus 1 and performed and recorded it with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in Prague. Here is Malmsteen at his most expressive. On just the first of twelve tracks, or should I say movements, “Icarus Dream Fanfare,” he makes his guitar sound like a violin, a cello, and somehow it is still amazing clean shred metal guitar backed by a complete orchestra that gives the entire production classic majesty and grace. Like any great classical music it brings you through dramatic highs and lows and you get lost in the music.
The second movement, “Cavalino Rampante,” is an unusual piece akin to a rushed dirge. You can feel the lonesome landscape of Sweden in the fading Arctic winter light as Malmsteen plays counterpoint to the orchestra’s clipped strings and building tension.
The piece “Fugue” speeds down a slope in a waltz of frantically pick strings and twirls in unison as echoed voices rise to the call of the percussion. It’s like Disney’s “Fantasia” with Mickey playing a electric guitar instead of a pail and mop.
The fourth track “Prelude to April” promises a sad romance. Malmsteen plays a nylon string acoustic guitar. He and the orchestra take us on a faintly classical Spanish journey with a sustained eeriness and building rush. It is followed by another movement, “Toccata,” where Malmsteen’s nylon string guitar fronts a sustained orchestral eeriness in order to showcase Malmsteen’s guitar virtuosity.
For “Andante” Malmsteen pulls out the electric guitar. This is a soaring composition with a repeated melody. I can close my eyes and see armies on the march.
The seventh movement, “Sarabande,” returns Malmsteen to the acoustic guitar. This time he displays some of the fastest musical acoustical lead progressions that I have ever heard.
The “Allegro” explodes and the “Adagio” complains. Concerto themes are repeated and Malmsteen adds an electric guitar that wails, cries and talks to the orchestra. There is a conversation going on and you’re right in the middle of it.
The start of “Vivance” is thunderous. The guitar playing is exacting and frenetic. The tenth movement builds and then, as if clouds have parted, Malmsteen’s guitar is allowed to shine and plea. Then the orchestra answers.
“Presto Vivace” is the penultimate, the track that leads to the “Finale.” Here, Malmsteen brings all of his themes together. It is a fast and furious gathering with echoed voices, swirling guitar, flying fingers, flying notes, bursts of timpani and cymbal and, ultimately, the “Finale” grace note.
This is the album that Malmsteen calls his “pièce de résistance.” Who am I to argue with that?
- Old School
Monday, October 24, 2011
Eagle Rock Entertainment is proud to announce the October 25, 2011 release of the stunning Peter Gabriel concert film New Blood Live In London. This show was filmed in high definition 3D and is available on multiple formats: the triple-pack 3D release regular Blu-ray and standard DVD. A deluxe limited edition comes as an 11.5” square 60-page hardback photo book containing the live DVD and Blu-ray, the CD of the New Blood studio album and an exclusive CD of live tracks from the show.
This visual release compliments the release of the New Blood studio album by EMI on October 11th and the 3D version will be released in cinemas in September. New Blood features many classic tracks including “Biko”, “Red Rain”, “Solsbury Hill”, “Don’t Give Up”, “Blood Of Eden”, “The Rhythm Of The Heat”, “Mercy Street”, “Intruder” and more.
Filmed in high definition 3D at Hammersmith Apollo in March of this year, New Blood – Live In London In 3 Dimensions captures Peter Gabriel performing live with the 46-piece New Blood Orchestra. The repertoire mixes cover versions from his Scratch My Back album with classic tracks from across his solo career in brand new orchestral arrangements. Gabriel is a renowned live performer and his onstage charisma and instantly recognizable voice combine brilliantly with the orchestral sound palette to breath a new sense of wonder into familiar songs. As you would expect the concert is also a visual feast, with graphics, animation and imagery blending to enhance and illustrate the music.
With the Bonus Feature section (Blu-ray & DVD only) offering the feature “Blood Donors” – the story behind the project including an interview with Peter Gabriel – New Blood Live In London is a landmark release both for Peter Gabriel and indeed for Eagle. Unmissable.
3) The Boy In The Bubble
4) Après Moi
) The Drop
6) Washing Of The Water*
7) The Book Of Love
9) The Power Of The Heart
11) San Jacinto
12) Digging In The Dirt
13) Signal To Noise
14) Downside Up
15) Mercy Street
16) The Rhythm Of The Heat
17) Blood Of Eden
18) Red Rain
19) Solsbury Hill
20) In Your Eyes
21) Don’t Give Up
22) The Nest That Sailed The Sky
* Not on 3D version
Turkey has a long and illustrious history with metal, whether we're talking about Attak or Pentagram. They know their thrashy metal. Now the latest band to come from the land of the Ottoman sultans is Nitro, and holy crap, do they keep the metal banner waving high and flying strong. What we got here is manaical riffing and a straight up metal assault powerful enough to eviscerate the unsuspecting. "Suicide Trip" terrorizes and pummels like a trained monkey using my ball sack as a speed punching bag. "Kill him Now" is a Howitzer cannon to the frontal cortex. "Freedom" drops in enough gargled screams amongst its hyperblast beat to alarm the CIA. And just because I dig this sorta thing, I gotta give a special nod to the songs sung in Turkish, like the near Oi! punk gang-along of "Ben De Seni." Go ahead, open your horizons, seek out the whole world of metal. Start in Turkey. Nitro is the place.
I dig Rachael. Straight up, just dig them. Coming from Poland, their last EP I bet you like Drugs Instead of Sex was a kicky little burst of edgy punk and dissonance, with killer branded-into-my brain cuts like "Asian Girl." Snotty and spunky. Loved it. Now for their second EP (not new, by the way, my apologies to the band, it's been sitting in my queue waaayyy to long), Add a Little Bit of Tobacco, Rachael have expanded their pallet. Like a painter seeing the work of the Impressionist masters for the first time (when previously the whole world had been line drawings) Rachael flesh out their compositions with a whole world of color and textures. Expanded, neo-psychedelic musings are the order of the day, from the pulsating "Burn Slowly and See," to the shoegazing, smoke-filled haze of "Watchsick." And the change does Rachael good. While I miss the pure adolescent spunkiness of the first EP, Tobacco finds a newly mature band floating off and exploring their expansive muse. "Watchsick" is positively addictive, "Grass" is mellow and beautiful, and "Like a High" maintains some old spunk with a robust bass and hyper-adelic riffing. Definitely recommended for a mind-altering afternoon's delight.
Definitely one of the more unsuspecting releases to be humped into the Ripple office by Postman Sal in quite some time. On the Elektrohasch label, I expected DxBxSx to follow the label's well-established template of groove-addicted, psychedelia like label founder, Colour Haze. Hell no, Paco! DxBxSx (which stands for Drive By Shooting) roars, dare I say rages, out of the speakers with a meth-funneled hyper, German punk assault. Title track "Zugriff" is pure Germanic snot. Beefy, angry, snarly. Like a pitbull straining at the tether, straining to eat your face off. Not what I had in mind, but freaking awesome. "Ich Brenne" follows suit with a rolling riff attack squad of guitars and a handgrenade, stuttering-spoken/sung vocal attack. Kinda reminds me of lost French metal masters, Trust. Which is way cool in my book. "New Beat," keeps the energy alive with it's chiming riff and vocal phlegm. And the album goes on from there. Definitely the most "rock" album I've ever heard in the Elektrohasch catalog and definitely a killer find of German sputum. Killer shit. Not to be missed.
Scrawled in ballpoint pen on a yellow sticky note, plastered to the back cover of this snappy CD, is a hand-written note to me from Brandon, singer for the pure rock outfit, Diamond Lane. "Thank you for believing in rock n roll!!!" he writes. Well, Brandon, thanks for the comment, but more importantly, thank you, my brother. Thank you for keeping the flame lit and rock burning, cause one thing I can definitely say is Diamond Lane believes in rock n roll. Hollywood rock circa 1985 to be precise. With a massive, good old-fashioned rock guitar attack of Jarret Reis, this is Diamond Lane reclaiming the glory that bands like Guns and Roses and Motley Crue once held in their day. Massive retro (without ever being derivative) riffs crunch into the night with soaring vocals, massive melodies, scream-your-heart-out big choruses and stick to your brain like glue hooks. This is mighty, mighty rock with monsters like "All Rebels Welcome" and the snotty dump-your-ass breakup song of "I Know Who You Did Last Summer.' And when I say this shit is hot, I mean it burns. These cats sold out the Viper Room for their Hollywood debut show, then went out and toured with Aerosmith and ZZ Top. If rock meant anything in the world today, these guys would be catapulted to the next big thing. I remember in my teens, this woulda been the band that was all the buzz. Hopefully, times will right itself and Diamond Lane will get what they deserve. Because if you dig pure, unadulterated, rocking metal, Diamond Lane are keeping that flame alive.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
This week was good show week, in town beginning on Friday we had Hank 3, City and Colour, Bright Eyes and Nick 13 with Brett Detar. I must say it was an fantastic week of shows. I'd like to say I saw them all but alas I really have no extra money this week, so I opted for the Nick 13 and Brett Detar show.
Let me just say, I am happy with my decision. Nick 13 and Brett Detar rocked my country/folk socks right off. At the show I picked up both the new Nick 13 album as well as the Brett Detar release. Both of which I will be signing the praises of in review form. Here is my review for Nick 13's self titled debut.
* * *
I am writing this review one day removed for seeing the Tiger Army crooner Nick 13 live in Dallas. For the last four years he has been hard at work on a solo album. For people who listen to Tiger Army it is very reminiscent of "Outlaw Heart" from Tiger Army's first, self-titled album. I've always love Nick 13's voice and have been (in)patiently awaiting to hear something new. Finally this album has released and man is it awesome.
The first stand out track on this album is the song "Carry My Body Down". I love songs I can identify with. Nick 13 writes in a very cryptic way. His song can mean something different to almost anyone that listens. Two people may not make the same conclusion to what he is writing about. He is really the the only one who knows exactly what it is about. To me this song is about reflecting on the past and what happens when you die. Musically this song has an old country feel and sound(not that new bullshit country i.e Taylor Swift that people seem to like).
"How long can this journey go on? Will I find the place I'm meant to go?
Will dreams fall down around us, just like the weathered stone?
Another year has come and gone. Will my coat hold for one year more?
I think of how far I have come, and what's been left behind.
When will they carry my body down? When will they carry my body down?
Will they take it from the river after I've jumped right in and drowned?
Will they find it on the battlefield, on the spot I stood my ground?
I walk alone, I walk apart. Someday, I'll wander no more.
I search to find what I have lost and that which I've never known.
And when I find that I have gone across that river I know,
I'll take only my memories, and things that might have been.
When will they carry my body down? When will they carry my body down?
Will they cut it from a hangman's noose after the sentence has come down?
Will anyone be there to morn a villain's passing to the ground?
When will they carry my body down? When will they carry my body down?
When will they carry my body down?"
The fourth track on the album, "All Alone" is another one of my favorites. Nick 13's croons are accompanied by the backing vocal of "all alone" by his backing band through out the song. It adds a little something to a great song. The steel guitar and awesome stand up bass are prominent in this song to. Overall, it's a great song and written very well. This is another one of those track I identify with. The lyric "oh where o where is my little girl, It's too much for me I gotta move along, It's too much for me I cannot stay I'm gone....All Alone in this world" really sums it up.
Also on this record, Nick 13 reminds us where he started. He does two "re-envisioned" Tiger Army songs. "In The Orchard" and "Cupids Victim". Both songs are great and do the original Tiger Army tracks more than justice. On "In The Orchard" Nick 13 slows things down and adds a bit of piano and we get a nice honkytonk version of "Cupids Victim".
You know I always find it funny when people say they like all music....except for country. To those people who say that, I think they just haven't heard the right kind of country. Stop listening to the radio and open your ears to the underground. Nick 13 gives us an amazing Americana/Country/Rock album. It is sure to be a favorite for psychobilly, punk and country fans alike. Good music makes everyone happy and this album sure does make me happy....and I'm usually known for being angry...ask anyone who knows me.
Nick 13 goes good with: Tiger Army, Old 97s, City and Colour, Brett Detar, Hank 3 (1 and 2), Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Townes Van Zandt, Willie Nelson
Saturday, October 22, 2011
As my friends well know, I have a soft spot for late ‘70’s and ‘80’s rock, particularly the bands who first delved into the darker, more atmospheric soundscapes. Joy Division led the way and could have owned the dark side of rock had it not been for a number of innovative bands such as Echo & The Bunnymen, The Chameleons (UK), Bauhaus, The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy and others who have expanded the genre with their own unique visions, songs and arrangements.
The ‘90’s zeitgeist moved away from these gloom artists to more overtly angry forms of Grunge and Hip Hop. Brooding gave way to screaming and luridly vivid lyrical explorations of urban decay set to a more urgent set of beats.
Now in our post-9/11 world, music has taken a more introspective turn. Bands such as Interpol and more recently The Xx began returning to the shadowy underground sound with ruminations steeped in the legacy of the early masters of gloom rock. Enter Sweden’s Principe Valiente, whose eponymous debut mines this rich vein of rock with a new vitality.
Principe Valiente opens with “Intro”, a solo piano prelude awash in reverberation and building to a crescendo leading into “Before You Knew Me”, a spare and pounding track driven by the drums of Joakim Janthe and Fernando Honorato’s muscular and riffy bassline. Honorato also provides the vocals in his darkly rich baritone. Floating over the top is a spare yet melodic guitar line by Alexander Lehto. The song’s relentless beat comes to a sudden close with several pitched and distorted snare hits
Principe Valiente’s ten tracks following the intro sound like one long track with few distinguishing features from track to track. This may read as a negative but actually serves to deliver a cohesive album that holds together well during a full listening. At times, Honorato’s voice, with the tone and delivery of Bauhaus-era Peter Murphy, soars above the din like a gothic angel filling a candlelit cathedral with passion. The arrangements are strong, hooky and dynamic.
Standout tracks are “In My Arms”, (video linked here)which opens with a gorgeous pair of rhythm guitars panned wide left and right with a chiming lead guitar part dead center which pulls you right into the song as the verse kicks in, and “The Night”, (video linked here) sounding like a vintage Martin Hannett Factory Records production, complete with deep warehouse ambience and dominant lead bassline Peter Hook would approve of.
Despite wearing their collective influences on their sleeves, Principe Valiente delivers a solid album that manages to sound modern and yet echoes with the reverb generated back in Manchester all those years ago. I look forward to hearing more from this band.
Principe Valiente - In My Arms from Principe Valiente on Vimeo.
Friday, October 21, 2011
Quality sludge heftiness from Olympia WA. Stream the whole demo from their bandcamp page.
Retro styled fuzz fiends from Berlin, Germany. One to keep an eye on I feel....you heard it here first.
Splendid epic UK heavy duty goodness with a hint of post whatever it is. Another up and coming band worth keeping tabs on.
My demo of the moment. Full EP freely available via their soundcloud page, retro styled witchcraft-esque doom. Where they succeed is in the melody and execution. Don't miss out.
There are, in my mind, two Black Cobras: the radically-detuned, guitar-way-louder-than-vocals-and-drums sludge/doom masterpiece of Bestial, and... the rest of their albums. It's like after that they changed into a more-realistic version of Lair of the Minotaur, mixed with High on Fire: faster songs, more punk/Motorhead influence....
Bestial to me is, easy, top 20 doom albums of all time. I used to not like their stuff after that, but I tell ya...
...this new stuff is really growing on me.
Invernal (especially with its evil-Dr-Suess cover art), is a furious detuned screamathon. There's no filler, no "ambient intros," they get straight to it.
"Avalanche" roars out of the gate first, and, though no one number sounds particularly different from the rest, it all works. Fast sludge cut with a Helmet flavor. A blackened Helmet with more obvious, tribal drums. "The Crimson Blade" shows most obviously this combination of extreme metal styles. "Erebus Dawn" and "Abyss" are rippers, too. "Abyss" is the slowest one here, and the most moody/seething.
Do yourself a favor and check this bad boy out. You'll probably dig it, and if you don't-- there's always Bestial to return to.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Just when you think all the best stuff has been released, remastered, repackaged a zillion times, every now and then a surprise comes along that really blows the doors off everything. It’s happened a few times recently in the jazz world – a totally unknown Voice Of America radio broadcast of Thelonious Monk’s quartet featuring John Coltrane was issued by Blue Note in 2005. In that same year Verve discovered radio broadcasts of two full sets of the Coltrane Quartet in full flight in NYC from 1965. In 2007, Charles Mingus’ widow discovered and released an outstanding concert recorded in 1964 at Cornell Universtity of Mingus leading his incredible six piece band with Eric Dolphy. Miles Davis was a friend, collaborator and competitor with all of the above and somewhere he’s probably cracking up that this box set of recently discovered recordings from 1967 was even more anticipated than these other landmark discoveries.
In 1967 Miles Davis was leading one of the best, if not THE best, band in the entire world regardless of genre: Miles on trumpet, Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Herbie Hancock on piano, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams. Miles put this band together in late 1964 and by 1967 they had played many concerts together and recorded the classic albums E.S.P., Miles Smiles and Sorcerer. This box set contains an astounding FIVE complete concerts from their 1967 European tour, 3 audio and 2 on DVD. About half of the audio recordings have been floating around as bootlegs and the DVD was only previously available in a ridiculously overpriced 70 CD box set containing the complete Miles Davis discography.
I consider myself to be a pretty major Miles fanatic/collector and I’d never been exposed to any of this material before. Sony has put out a low priced single CD of highlights from the set but even on a tight budget, it was obvious which version I would be picking up. When it comes to the greats taking the cheap way out is never an option. If you go to Peter Luger’s Steakhouse you don’t order a sandwich because it’s cheaper. Gotta go big or don’t bother at all.
So how’s it sound? Just as incredible as you would hope. The audio source for all the concerts are directly from the tapes made at the broadcast centers of each of the cities and are very consistent. The band is completely ferocious and it’s great to hear how they change tempos and arrangements from night to night. The concerts all start off with very fast versions of “Agitation” from E.S.P. before flowing seamlessly into “Footprints” off of Miles Smiles. By 1967, Miles was playing his entire set as one long uninterrupted piece. He stopped making stage announcements at least a decade prior. Listening to these concerts it’s hard to understand what all the fuss was about. Who the hell wants to hear anyone talking when you’ve got these guys tearing up the bandstand? Ballads like “’Round Midnight,” “On Green Dolphin Street” and “I Fall In Love Too Easily” are alternated in the middle of the sets before the pace cranks up for smoking versions of “Gingerbread Boy” and “Riot.” The hard bop chestnut “No Blues” makes a few appearances, too.
The DVD is a total revelation. The two concerts (one from Sweden, the other from Germany) are short, only 30 minutes since they were part of a festival but are no less intense than the audio concerts from Paris, Antwerp and Copenhagen. Getting to actually see this band in the flesh (in black & white) is such a treat. Literally months after these concerts Miles stopped wearing the fancy Italian suits. It’s cool to see him one last time as ultimate dapper jazz player before he became a psychedelic warrior. Back then people described Miles as looking scary or pissed off on stage but it’s obvious he’s concentrating very hard on the music being played. He’s probably pissed off about something, too. It’s also great to see the other guys in the band shoot each other glances from time to time when the jams get a little wild. They’re loving it and it’s obvious none of it was planned ahead of time. Drummers, especially, will be thrilled at being able to study the very young Tony Williams absolutely murder his drum kit.
Miles is one of the few jazz artists that is also listened to by a lot of non-jazz music fans. If you’re new to him, the single disc from these concerts is a pretty good example of why he’s so respected. If you’re a fan of real music don’t hesitate to pick this muther up right away. Best thing I’ve heard this year for sure.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Polarizing. That’s the first word that comes to mind when I think back on my initial spinning of the new Opeth magnus opus, Heritage. Sure, the die-hards will love it because it’s Opeth, and Mike Akerfeldt could fart and they would feel that it was as if the angels of Heaven were singing enlightenment. Those other Opeth fans who expect every album to sound like the same guttural belches from the album before will loathe the very existence of it. Of course, they also loathed everything after My Arms, Your Hearse because of the clean vocal thing that started creeping its way into the gloom, and probably jumped ship a long time ago. Anyway . . .
Being the Opeth fan, the music fan, that I am, I naturally had to bust out and pick up the deluxe collectors box set of Heritage because . . . if a band is going to put that much effort into the packaging, the least I could do is pick up a copy and bask in the physical splendor of the whole thing. Y’know, embrace the nostalgic youth within and lie back on my floor, paging through the booklet that captures the band laboring away in the studio, letting my eyes dance across the lyrics, reading the liner notes to every song, immersing myself so deep into this thing that I can practically smell the dust and must and the electric tension of the studio as if I were actually there. All the while, the music is fluttering away in the background and becoming the soundtrack for this day and many more after.
When Racer asked me about the album, my first description of it was this: A mixture of Camel and Rainbow, as if being played by Miles Davis. Heritage is a prog-nauts wet dream, and the rock aspects, though farther and fewer between than past outings, still rock harder than most. But the element that caught most by surprise was the jazzy elements of it. Full on fusion-y jazz passages weaving their way through the razor sharp rock guitars and airy progressive movements, and that’s where I’ll say that this album is brilliant. By constantly evolving the sound to something that becomes completely unexpected, Opeth make themselves relevant for today, tomorrow, and well into the future, constantly redefining themselves to satisfy their muse, not the public perception.
Normally, at this point, I would break down my favorite songs from the album, point out the highlights, explain how they moved me, etc. But, in the case of Heritage, I could do that for about five thousand words and there’s really no point. In truth, there are times when it’s flat out difficult to tell if a new song is playing if you’re not watching the LP spinning along (and even that can be difficult because of the ebb and flow of the grooves). So, know this . . . every song has rocking elements with the exception of the title track and the album closer, “Marrow of the Earth”. Both songs are beautiful instrumentals that have great neo-classical and folks elements to them.
The rest of the album is made up of eight tracks (CD and normal LP version) that never exceed nine minutes, with most hovering around the five – six minute mark. And that may be the most fascinating aspect about the songwriting on this one. Heritage is made up of shorter songs, but possibly more complex songs than Opeth’s typical ten to thirteen minute epics. The mellow portions range from the psychedelic to ambient jazz to acoustic folk, the rockin’ portions are heavy in a 70’s metal kind of way . . . distorted guitars with a lot of fuzz, not that razor sharp crunch that we’ve grown accustomed to with the band past outings. The synthesizers throughout the album add a ton of weight that may have disappeared with the lack of guitar crunch, and I mean, these things are Jon Lord heavy. At times, it’s as if Mikael Akerfeldt went to his Deep Purple and Rainbow collections and channeled some of that energy into his writing of Heritage, particularly on the song “Slither”, which was lovingly dedicated to the late, great Ronnie James Dio.
I will say this, of the ten songs on the album, “Haxprocess” and “Folklore” are my personal favorites. They are grand and epic journeys that leave me intoxicated by the instrumental phrasing and the musical flourishes. They’re complex and grandiose tracks, but there’s a more organic, more primal element to these songs (as well as the aforementioned “Slither”) than appeals to me the most. I would have to say it’s the combination of the intricate and the primal passages that make these songs the most intriguing. Epic.
Then, of course, there’s also the two unreleased tracks that came with the collector’s edition box set. “Pyre” and “Face in the Snow” are outstanding, 70’s inspired rock tracks that are much more straight forward than the rest of the material on Heritage, but too good to not be included. I like the way they included them as a part of the package, but not necessarily as part of the album. Solid stuff.
Is this my favorite Opeth album? Far from it. Is it their most ambitious album? At this point, yes. Heritage is to Opeth as Bitches Brew was to Miles Davis. Ground breaking. Avant garde. Unorthodox. Genre bending. Redefining. And like Bitches Brew, it’s damn good. Excellent. Mind bogglingly amazing. Can I listen to it at any given point in the day? Unlikely. The concentration level would be too great. The music is far too complex to simply have in the background because it would beg for attention with every measure or tempo change. And if you were to try and concentrate on it throughout the day, you’d never get anything else done. Do I love it? In short, yes. The songwriting is amazing and the performances are exotic, captivating escapades in sonic exploration. And, most of all, I can appreciate the artistic endeavor of an album like this. Musician will love it, music connoisseurs will love it, audiophiles will love . . . death metallers and your average rock fans will not. It’s not a metal record. It’s a rock record with a heavy dose of progressive, folk, classical, and jazz elements to it. It’s a mixture of Camel and Rainbow, as if played by Miles Davis. I stand by my initial assessment.
As part of the deluxe package, there’s a DVD documentary on the making of the album. When I’m done here . . . you’ll probably be able to find me in the Ripple Theater.