Thursday, December 02, 2010

My Semi-Attractive Dimly-Lit Mostly-Obvious Year in Music

I couldn’t possibly label this as a Best Albums of the Year as it’s really just a list of the only records I’ve bothered to listen to more than twice. At this point it’s pretty evident that the older I get the less I care for being on top of what’s new or supposedly interesting.
Here are my favourite albums of the year.

The Crown – Doomsday King
In keeping with the theme of this list I’d typically try to mention newer bands that would be contemporaries of The Crown, as an attempt to make a point that even though Doomsday King is the first record in 7 years for the reunited band it still obliterates the competition. But I don’t even know who the competition is anymore. Is there any? I don’t care, ‘cause if there is, The Crown does it better either way. And listen, they’re not breaking new ground here, just REALLY breaking old ground with the best machine on the planet used for breaking ground, and a new vocalist that I’m not entirely convinced isn’t the long hair from the X-Files’ Lone Gunmen.

Witchery – Witchkrieg
Jensen from The Haunted
Sharlee “The velvet-clad swashbuckler” from Arch Enemy and Mercyful Fate
Axenrot from Opeth and Bloodbath
Legion from Marduk
Some other guitar guy, and a whole bunch of guest guitar soloists.
In the world of metal this really is a recipe for a total debacle, but half of this record completely shreds. The other half is wholly skip-able but the mostly dull patty of this heavy metal hamburger is sandwiched by the most satisfying Scando-Thrash buns tasted all year. When the first word of the best metal vocal performance of 2010 kicks off the record with “SAAAAAAAAYYYTAAAAHHHHHHNNN” it’s like slamming back a Slurpee into the driest, most thirsty throat.

Robyn – Bodytalk Pt.1
Look, I’ll admit it, this year I’ve stood in my kitchen with a distorted Flying V playing along with Dancing On My Own almost as many times as I’ve stood in my kitchen with a distorted Flying V playing along with Extreme’s Decadence Dance. And I did the latter a lot. And while one may have been more technically difficult in the tradish sense (shout out to my man, Nuno) they were both equally super fun. In fact, I could have easily put Bodytalk Pt.2 on this list but that’d kinda be a bit too CFL (8 teams, 2 with the same…never mind) and while the newly released Bodytalk does cover almost all the bases, including You Should Know Better’s jogging jet fuel, and Pt.3’s Call your Girlfriend, Pt.1 hit me at the right time. Partner Robyn’s record release pace with her touring schedule and you’re left with someone who makes everyone look lazy, and really un-catchy.

Soilwork – The Panic Broadcast
No amount of dismissive looks from Billy Curtiss could change my mind on The Panic Broadcast. No amount of “stock riff” criticisms, and no amount of “floofy chorus” comments.
When it comes to catchy, easily digested metal, no band does it better than Soilwork. The leads are awesome and Dirk Verbeuren’s excellent, excellent drum performance will always make for a worthwhile listen.

Enslaved – Axioma Ethica Odini
The Norwegian Black Metal scene, or Black Metal genre as a whole is a lot like Electronic music: easy to do but hard to do well, over-populated, overwhelming, and most of it is complete garbage.
Fortunately Enslaved hasn’t been interested in participating in the theatrics for years, and maybe the band being labeled Black Metal has long been suspect, but enough musical elements remain for them to be just that. The construction and layering of Axioma Ethica Odini is downright lovely, and the note selection of the guitar lead heard on the leadoff track, Ethica Odini, is so great it justifies being on my list for that sole reason. If you’re on board with Opeth’s 70’s prog-folk tendencies, Enslaved, too, is moving in that direction even more with this record.
Does anyone care about being “grim” anymore? Can any band out-grim Portal anyway? The Watain record was passable but will they be wearing corpsepaint to their scheduled Williamsburg meet and greet? Stand in that lineup if you want proof that Black Metal is very, very far from its dangerous history.

Nachtmystium – Addicts: Black Meddle Pt. II
Not since Dirt has a "Major Label" band released an album so overtly devoted to hard drugs. At points it’s a glorification; at others it’s very depressing. What’s so great about Nachtmystium, similarly to Enslaved, is Blake Judd’s complete disinterest in staying within the confines of Black Metal.
Elements of New Wave and programmed instrumentation are used to create really impressive textures and atmospheres. I didn’t listen to it often, and when I did I usually wanted to turn it off. Not because I didn’t like what I heard, but mostly because it’s like, totally a bummer.
What the band lacks in technical ability, especially in living up to the use of “Meddle”, it makes up with ambition, forthrightness, and pure songwriting.

Kanye – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
It’s an album of incredible sound, and as an exercise in listening one would be hard pressed to be left unfulfilled. The sheer audacity in some of the stylistic choices should never shake hands, yet somehow do, are a testament to West’s talent as a producer.
There are many cringe-worthy moments, for example the lyrical disaster of following “Colin Powell’s” with “Austin Powers” in Power, and the King Crimson 21st Century Schizoid Man sample, also in Power, falling so completely on its off-rhythm, rushed face, it must have been intentional (but not justified). And I don’t wish Runaway to be instrumental, but shouting out to the “douchebags and assholes”? I get it, and it makes sense, but it still sounds stupid. With stronger lyrics it could have been the single of the year.
MBDTF plays out like a series of well executed songs as opposed to a collection of beats and rhymes. By adding melody both vocally and instrumentally he has me convinced he's a legit musician instead of just rapper/producer.
West makes it a challenge to want to give him credit, but to be fair, he’s not the first buffoon to make great music. He’s just the most childish, public buffoon.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Special K

Over the last couple of days I've come to the conclusion that Biomechanical could be the best metal band of the genre. I don't even love them or can tolerate extended listens but every single contributed element to the music is so refined and over qualified that to deny the power of the band is stupid. 
Actually, I totally love them.

If you read anything about the history of the band you'll quickly learn that Biomechanical is a one man show. That said, I can't figure out what the hell that means based on the bio. John K is the guy. He wrote, engineered and recorded the entire first record and from what I can tell he has continued to write and arrange the two subsequent follow-up releases. Are the drums programmed? Does he compose the guitar riffs? A live lineup does exist of the band but still, HOW DOES THIS ALL HAPPEN?
I imagine his song-writing process plays out something like this (but in Greek, so randomly add a good 'aikos' here and 'flubopoulous' there):
"Alrighty, let's start this out with this progressive guitar riff. That'll continue for about 3.78 bars, then i'll arbitrarily stop the riff, change the time signature, add about, uh, 3 shots? No wait, let's make that 5. Then i'll add a big held note for the stringed instruments while I scream myself into an inferno. Perfect, now to just cram all of that into my John Williams endorsed garburator and voilaflubopoulous!"

Everything about this band is 100% legitimate. The musicianship is completely gourmet, the riffs are snaky, progressive and tense. The leads are a stunning Wyldesteen combination of hyper-picked shred, frantic sweeping, and a tasty wide vibrato. The drumming almost doesn't even make sense. And on top of all that are John K's vocals. 
One of the more irritating aspects of newer metal is its tendency to be over-polished. In an effort to sound too clean most recordings end up losing an edge that I crave. What's great about Biomechanical is how that edge is constant. That's not to say the band is rough around the edges, far from it, but everything is so densely layered and pushed beyond its limits that an overall crunch comes through. 
This is especially the case with the vocal element. John K can wail. I'm talking WAIL. This guy has some SERIOUS Halford-esque skills. Like Devin Townsend without tongue wedged firmly in cheek; also capable of adding shredding lows to the screaching highs. K sings like this cause he can and understands how to create music that is mutually complimentary without a single lick of irony. I'd go so far as to say that they're some of the best vocals of the type I've ever heard. They're Cowboys From Hell vintage but with way more power and versatility. It's just all so aggressive.  

Well, not all of it. 
Like it or not the band is dynamic because tossed in between some of the most frenetic music I've ever heard are some seriously Skid Row worthy ballads (if you don't think that's a good thing go read another...something). That is of course if Skid Row scored their ballads to the Indiana Jones trilogy. 

I started listening to the band about 4 years ago and maybe it's just a lack of releases I've pursued lately that's rekindled my interested. Either way I haven't been able to get enough. There are some serious Pantera'd moments taken twenty steps beyond into some seemingly impossible territories. 
It should also be noted that John K is the only consistent member of the band. I can't help but feel as though if you're a potential member and you display any sense of confusion when he shows one of his nonsense arrangement ideas to you, you're either no longer an option, or you're kicked out of the band (not one member remained between the 2nd and 3rd records). Not that it matters as he's still somehow capable of finding guitar players with hummingbirds for picking hands and drummers with 12 limbs. 

It seems as though few have heard of the band which may be due to their lack of North American touring, but K doesn't hide the bands critical success. As seen on the bands myspace, he has reason to boast with 19 perfect score reviews for the bands last two releases and most of the rest being 9's of 10 (there are over 50 reviews listed with only 3 having a score less than 90%).
Cannibalised was released just over 2 years ago and I can't find any information regarding a follow up. I hope there is one, and I hope it's on the way. 

Below is the title track from 2008's Cannibalised. If you start it and have any interest in the audio equivalent of being at the center of a thousand cheetahs racing in a phone booth, don't press stop.
It's completely unpredictable and showcases everything that makes the Biomechanical experience so nerve-wracking, something admirably summed up in the allmusic review stating that "ultimately, Cannibalised's love/hate quotient greatly depends on the listener's ability to see through the aural overkill, and into Biomechanical's not inconsiderable songwriting sophistication."
Give 6 minutes of your life to this, because even if you hate everything about it, it'll give you an idea of what some people are capable of. If you're not really familiar with this kind of music there is little doubt it will sound like a wall of chaotic noise, but make no mistake that while I understand what's involved in the execution of this material, take comfort in the fact that it sounds like a wall of chaotic noise to me as well. 
Things really start to ramp up at the 3:50 mark.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Where I'm going?

It's easy for me to say that I'm not one to criticize music. I'd like to have a consistent attitude in thinking if a group of people are together, creating music, it's good enough. At least they're expressing creativity and potentially inspiring others. 
That's the attitude I'd like to maintain. Positivity. 
It should be easy to maintain that attitude as I get older however I'm realizing that with age, my perspective towards that sense of openness is shifting due to thoughts of which I never could have foreseen with youth. 

It's not at all unusual to hear music that doesn't interest me. That said, if I don't like it I just don't pay attention. I wasted too much thought as a teenager complaining about the fame of boybands when my favourite acts went unnoticed. HOW COULD THAT BE IT ISN'T FAIR THOSE GUYS DON'T PLAY INSTRUMENTS. Needless to say I got over it. As is generally the case, the larger the target of ridicule, the more that target has been designed for a large target audience. An audience that didn't, or doesn't include myself. 
The same applies to a modern rock band like Nickelback. Yes, it's fair to be offended by the same songs being re-recorded time and time again with different mildly offensive lyrics of misogyny and trying to figure out "what the hell is on Joey's head", but a band of that type does have its place in the world. It just so happens to be that music is one of the few things with which everyone feels they're an expert. I'd like to think of myself as having a "more than your average Joe" appreciation of music yet I'm in no position to add any worthwhile commentary on ballet. So to counter that point, why should that permit me to have an opinion on a ballet expert who isn't as cultured in Heavy Metal? And who's to say that that ballet expert shouldn't have the right to enjoy Nickelback? The reality is that the average person, or average music listener just wants to consume familiar chord progressions and catchy melodies, and there's nothing wrong with that. 
So I make choices. I choose to ignore bands that don't interest me and I choose to not complain about their popularity. 

HOWEVER, now it's getting tricky. 

As I get older and watch my own family, as well as the families of friends expand, I naturally consider my own potential chances at procreation. With those thoughts bring the idea of how I would react to the type of music a child of mine would listen to. 
I'd like to think that I've seen and heard it all, as music has evolved both traditionally and electronically to a point where it's easy to think that it's all been done. This is all assisted with thinking that because of the complete rackets I find myself listening to the majority of the time...  

...there shouldn't much that would shock me.

What I didn't consider, and what really snuck up on me last year was young bands combining styles that really threw me off. The obvious and cliched example being:

THIS absolutely baffled me. I was suddenly stricken with thoughts of "no child of mine..." And now my laissez-faire ideals are called into question. 

Is my fate being determined by twenty-somethings blending elements of music I enjoy with the music I've chosen to disregard? Are these the moments I'll be able to reflect upon when I'm sitting on a porch, cane in hand, rambling sentences centered around the word "emo" at the mailman? Because the frustrating thing is that while I can always choose to ignore it, an easily influenced offspring may not be so discriminatory. After all, I'd still be a dorky dad to a 13 year old, legitimately convinced they know more than me. I'll be DOOMED. 

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I'm amassing one hell of a t-shirt collection. This kid won't know what hit them. 
Apparently this will be my "dad rock":

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I’m now three records into my friendship with Keep of Kalessin. Well, we’re not really close friends but we hang out from time to time. I invite them along sometimes when I want people to hear what it’s like when a band employs a helicopter as its drummer.
It seems as though the bands music has gotten more, uh, billowy over the course of their releases? Blousy? Bloused? I’m not describing the bands wardrobe, just that the music has started to incorporate the more “symphonic” aspects of Norwegian symphonic Black Metal (symphonic, see: keyboards). Not that wardrobe should have any affect on how one listens to music but the fact that they don’t wear floor length leather trench-robes and platform disco clunker boots makes them almost “workman-like” when compared to some of their peers.
As for the music, think Dragonforce, but cool. I only use that comparison in the sense that a lot of their songs are actually about dragons and they’re executed with near impossible speed. That’s as far as it goes. The rest is an aggressive combination of high power-chorded shredded riffage.
It’s easy to listen to the first cut and start to think that you’ve heard it all before on their previous records but they’re always capable of tossing in parts that are irresistible. They’re a clever band with a knack for composing catchy parts that twist in ways which manage to give 8 minute songs an interesting flow.
As for Vyl, the drummer? I don’t know, man. He’s overwhelming.
Here’s a live video of Vyl jackhammering away. The sped-up dribbling basketball you hear is in fact his kick drums. It’s almost comedic. The inclusion of “Painkiller” is a nice touch.
Here’s the track The Awakening from the new album titled “Reptilian”. It’s pretty epic stuff. I also find it entertaining how the chorus is a kind of Black Metal tribute to The House of the Rising Sun (4:04 mark, if you’re impatient).

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Web View.0

An online video hosting site is a very interesting place.
If you look up any song you know, especially one where musicianship is key, you'll find hundreds of bedroom interpretations. Having performed many bedroom interpretations myself I
get it, I just don't really get the idea of recording a video and posting it for all to see. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining or criticizing, it's just not something I'd do.

The web can be a very humbling experience and the availability of these videos really levels the playing field. When I was growing up I only had those I was imitating to compare myself to, and my teenaged thought process made me feel as though I had something most people don't. In 2010 you can simply type the name of a song and see all variations, interpretations, and levels of skill, hacking and scraping their way through the material.

In some cases you get young, green, and out of tune:

In other cases you get unassuming:

There's ambitious:

And this:

Like everything online there is no one forcing you to give attention to what you see, so complaining about it serves no purpose.
And the beauty is that there is almost always a trade-off.
Because if you're that good at what you do, and you do it with sincerity, skill, and passion:

Sometimes you just might end up getting a job with the very people you're honouring. And that to me is reason enough to know that the state of the web we're now all connected to is a pretty astonishing place.

Commented Vogg: "Hello, what’s up!! I am really happy to announce this short message for all DECAPITATED fans: As you all know, 2 years after the tragedies we had to suffer, I decided to continue the band. There’s no sense in stopping this amazing thing we built up so many years ago together with Witek, Sauron, Martin and Covan...I am very pleased to announce the new killer line-up of DECAPITATED: Kerim "Krimh“ Lechner on Drums – he’s a new blood, and very talented..."

There's a more recent video of Krimh playing a drum clinic where his skill and feel are greatly improved. It's clear that his new position with the band as well as a regular touring regime has given him a lot more confidence.

Decapitated is playing the Summer Slaughter tour this year, and it's so good to have them back.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Where I come from - Example 2

Meshuggah - Chaosphere

I'm trying to write this post while listening to the record and it's proving itself to be a total disaster. Typing with your eyes closed and face mashed up like something that can only be described as very unattractive is only impossible.
There is no single band that has been more key to my music experience than Meshuggah. Not one. I have many favourites, many loves and influences, but as far as pure commitment to listening, this is it.
In terms of the life of band I was a bit late to the polyrhythmic party. Meshuggah formed in the late 80's and released Contradictions Collapse in 1991, however I wasn't on board until 2001. At that point they'd already released what many consider to be their seminal work, Destroy Erase Improve (1995) and had followed with Chaosphere (1998). At that time I was working at a record store and when someone returned Chaosphere (pffff) I bought the same copy that day, having read bits and pieces of the band in guitar magazines.
Remember (or imagine) showing a video game to your dad when you were young and he held the controller in his hands as though it was a boiled porcupine? Think of conducting that same experiment with your grandfather, that's what it felt like when I first heard this record. I felt old, confused, tired. Like I was starting over. Similarly to Pantera, I was not ready for this band. I'd listen to the album from time to time but found myself too frustrated with it; I just couldn't figure it out.
My brother and I went out on boxing day of the same year still foolishly convinced that it was actually worthwhile. I had decided I needed a new music player and when seeing the $700+ pricetag of the first generation iPod I bought a MiniDisc player instead. To be honest it was pretty great because at that point I had gone in reverse through the Meshuggah catalogue and was able to load all the records onto one disc.
I spent the majority of the next 18 months listening to that one disc. I obsessed over each song, one at a time, picking apart each beat more than anyone should. I was wretched in math as a student but this was different. These were patterns in the one thing I actually felt I excelled at. The construct of this band was perfect for the type of listener I had become. There is no denying my love for strong melody however with heavy music and my percussive leanings, Chaosphere was a perfect fit. From start to finish it is a record of calculated, devastating rhythm.
A brief breakdown:
- As explained in a previous post, Contradictions Collapse introduced Meshuggah as a band that worshipped Metallica and had the chops to progress in a direction that Hetfield and co. were incapable. The album was brisk and jagged with scattered moments foreshadowing the direction they would eventually take.
- Jens Kidman abandoned his guitar duties to focus solely on vocals and the band brought in Mårten Hagström. The None Ep followed and Meshuggah started to distance itself from the more traditional thrash tendencies and further develop the down-tuned shifting patterns now more commonly associated with the band.
- Destroy Erase Improve was released, the song Future Breed Machine became a metal staple, the band started getting attention in all the right places and toured with Slayer.
- Chaosphere is released.
It seems common to have your most personal record from a band be one of their lesser favourites. They now claim it to have been rushed and unfocused, but for me it all came down to timing. I'm sure there are some who would claim III to be their favourite Van Halen album, both an admirable and baffling choice, but who am I to judge? This was the album that introduced me to the band and therefore had the most impact. It was form-fitted to me. With the album also came one of the best music videos known to the format:
New Millenium Cyanide Christ

Since the focus of this post is Chaosphere i'll try to quickly sum up the rest,
- The album Nothing came next. Slower, snaky, non-linear riffage. Riffs became more difficult to decipher as they became longer. 8 string guitars were built for Thordendal and Hagström and a tone unlike any other was laid to WAV.
- The "I" Ep. A 1 song, 21 minute, crushing summary influenced by almost everything that had been done to date. The riffage was at the point of randomness and next to impossible to follow unless it was charted (which I did).
- Catch Thirty-Three, album. A slow, singular dirge of unseparated tracks. A grind requiring patience and open ears.
- Obzen, album. The quick pacing is once again restored but without any sacrifice to evolution. The band continues to incorporate the techniques they've developed while making slight adjustments to its stress-inducing sonics and cadenced battery.

The biggest trick to unraveling Meshuggah's music is the understanding that despite how scattered it all sounds, it's still all (well, usually all) in 4. As with the majority of music you listen to you can count along in bars, or sections, of 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4. This standard is typically led with the drummer guiding the way. The most common pattern you'll hear when focusing on the drum sound is the high-hat pushing through the count of 4 either as 1-2-3-4, or, 1&2&3&4&. With that, the snare drum will usually land on the 2 and 4 counts, with the common bass drum placements either being on the 1 and 3, or 1 and 3&. If that doesn't make sense to you just watch the first minute of this:
(of the thousands of videos presenting drummers explaining this beat I couldn't resist the guy with the muppet voice. Sorry.)

Tomas Haake deserves an entire post on his own. He is a drummer of so much creativity, unmatched talent, and limitless technique that the world of Music is better with his existence. To continue with what I was previously saying, the genius to his contributions to Meshuggah are his variations of that standard rock beat combined with using his kick drums to match the guitar riffs.
This is where things get tricky.
Fredrik Thordendal and Mårten Hagström write riffs that very, very rarely follow the 1-2-3-4 count formula. If you consider each number in that count to be a "beat", it's not unusual for the riffs to carry over 3, 6, 7, or 8 beats (or in the case of the 'I' EP, approximately 1500 beats. I'm kidding. Almost). What happens when these 2 elements come together creates an interesting combination because essentially the result is a drum beat that will repeat before the riff has completed its cycle. This causes everything to sound more and more off kilter until things eventually meet up again.
As I said, this is all emphasized by Haake matching the guitar riff with his kick drums.
Admittedly I'm not really explaining this all very well but if you consider the idea of counting to 4 with your hands, and something completely different with your feet, I'm sure you can appreciate the difficulty of it all. And that's not taking into account feel, technique, and timing.
What this all creates is the fundamental foundation of Meshuggah and what makes them so unique. It's that little magic word we call GROOVE. The band churns out knotty, difficult music yet through it all it's accessible in the sense that anyone can nod their head to it.
Below is an example of what I'm talking about. In the song The Mouth Licking what you've Bled (I know, right?) you can distinctly hear Haake driving the song by counting a straight 1-2-3-4 on either a regular cymbal (beginning) or high-hat (:15 through the verse). However if you shift your attention to what the stringed instruments and kicks are doing, you'll hear something completely different. Further, at the 2:46 mark you'll see what I mean when I say that while the hands are working in a 4 count, the guitar riff doesn't cycle back to the 1 until 16 counts later. Trust me when I say that it sounds (both in my writing and your listening) much more complicated than it is. That said, it's still pretty damn complicated. Instruments aside, check out Kidman from the :54 mark to about 1:07. It may be the most suffocating vocal delivery i've ever heard.

The next song is the COMPLETE OPPOSITE of what I've just explained but is a really good example of how they're capable of looping riff variations in unique ways and always end up landing where they started. In the song Concantenation the snare/cymbal combo is definitely not working in a 4 count as they are playing off the main riff. The interesting part is the verse riff which begins at the :26 mark. If you listen closely you'll hear the riff play a kind of "DUN DUN" sound (:27). The whole riff itself actually kind of goes "DUH DEHHH DEH DUN DUN" and continues to repeat that pattern 6 times per section (when the drums loop) until the :55 mark. Where it gets fun is when the second verse starts (1:19) things get mixed up slightly by the addition of one "DUN". If you think of the repeating "DUH DEHHH DEH DUN DUN" in verse 1, in verse 2 when that same riff is played, the second and fourth repeats are actually "DUH DEHHH DEH DUN DUN DUN". Mad scientists, I tell you.

Does all of this analysis take the fun out of it? I suppose that depends on the type of listener you are. The beauty of Meshuggah is that you can be both types and enjoy the music equally. A Dillinger Escape Plan audience doesn't really know what to do with itself because the music can be so schizophrenic in tempo, so the crowd typically expresses its release by shoving each other around. Meshuggah is just as complex but to peripherally look over their audience you'll see a mass of synchronized, bobbing heads. I'm not saying that one is better than the other, but I know what team I'm on.

Complaints are made that a lot of the band's riffage, especially on Chaosphere, relies too heavily on low, patterned chugging. Others complain that Thordendal's leads are not memorable enough; that they're too Alan Holdsworth-esque. I can't say that these aren't valid comments however these elements are what make the band what it is. Those criticisms are targeted towards the band that more or less created the genre it solely occupies. It's in those elements that the music becomes perfect because to change one of those for something more familiar would compromise everything that makes it so special.

Never has a band focused so much on the relationship between mechanics and humanity, and applied that relationship to every element it produces. Kidman's vocals have progressed to a near robotic quality yet given that his instrument is internal he is arguably the most human element of the band. Haake plays intensely calculative material with metronomic precision however the delivery is drenched in pocketed feel. They're an organic group delivering a nonorganic product.

Meshuggah is the only remaining band I listen to where each new release is still an actual life event. A stepping stone of change, and proof that while in many cases the act of re-working familiar songwriting formulas is worthwhile, there will also forever be the need to have boundaries broken. Meshuggah doesn't exist to destroy, erase, and improve other bands, it exists to take those actions and inflict them on itself. When you have no peers and therefore no one to challenge, you can only confront the bar you have set for yourself.
My relationship to the music is that of a visceral threat. The music forces me to think differently and compete with the conditioned expectations that have evolved throughout my life as a person who ingests and digests music. It is a band of give, take, and unending reward.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Where I come from - Example 1
Pantera – Vulgar Display of Power
The definitive American metal band of the 90’s. I knew the group would be important to me because I was completely unprepared for it.
I had a friend in highschool who grew up in one of those households surrounded by the kind of technology you didn’t know existed at the time, and you likely still only know of in myth. His dad had taken over the basement and somehow converted it into a kind of hobbyist cross-section of Terry Gilliam-esque shangri-la’s, which through the eyes of a 14 year old were nothing if not spell-binding. At first glance it was a typical suburban finished basement; somewhere we’d play Sega Genesis and have weekly band practices (thinking back I can’t think of one single “practice” where we completed a song from start to finish.) But it was around hidden corners and behind oddly placed doors that this basement kept its eccentric secrets. On only one occasion I was briefly led through one of the doorways into which my limited memory describes as a kind of surreal new age keyboard fueled Zen retreat. Again, the viewing time allotted was very limited, but I’m positive there was a huge pillow in the centre of the room, possibly a wall of 1930’s style telephone operator panel type equipment, a rainforest, and maybe a gremlin. Around another corner was a sort of electronics workshop which at the time appeared to be a floor to ceiling hive of remote control airplane motors. Thinking back I have no idea how all of this was contained under one roof, but the fact that the household answering machine message was that of his dad softly requesting your name and number in a heavily Chinese accented voice with “Whole lotta Love” blaring in the background meant that a) his dad was pretty awesome, and b) it didn’t really matter.
Every weekend his mom would stop at the Ottawa library and take out a selection of laserdiscs, and while most of them would be translated karaoke versions of American schmaltz, there’d always be some for us youngsters. On one glorious spring weekend she was generous enough to bring home the Monsters of Rock concert video from 1991, a festival typically held at Donnington, England, however that year they brought the circus to Moscow. The lineup consisted of Pantera, AC/DC, Metallica, Motley Crue, Queensryche, the Black Crowes, and a pile of military solely conditioned to beat teenagers over the head. I can tell you that the Wikipedia entry isn’t entirely accurate, because I also remember some weird Russian band playing, as well as the omission of the haircut worn by the drummer from the Black Crowes, which, I mean, if you’d seen the thing.
The first band featured in the video (insert movie trailer voiceover)…was Pantera.
At that point in my life I had only recently started to abandon the music that I thought I liked (Young MC, DJ EZ-Rock and Rob Base, whothehellknowswhatelse), and was beginning to shift to music I liked but couldn't properly explain why (Led Zeppelin). Needless to say, Pantera hit me like a dinosaur swung concrete Louisville Slugger to the incisors. I’d never heard music like this before. I knew my Metallica, my Megadeth, and Slayer, but this was different. If those bands were travelling the metal highway, Pantera was going the opposite direction, on the side of the road, riding BMX’s.
The performance was revelatory, and the band was on fire. Each man brought their A, B, and C game, and the result was an explosive culmination that bowed down to the almighty riff.
They were showcasing road tested material from Cowboys from Hell, and the versions were angrier and even more aggressive. “To hell with this”, I thought, and bought the cassette for Vulgar Display almost immediately. And interestingly enough, thinking of that moment, the moment of exchanging allowance dollars for that small plastic package of volatility is likely the reason this blog exists.
I remember being completely intimidated by what came from my headphones. It was as though the simple act of pressing ‘play’ was no different than releasing a caged, agitated gorilla. I remember finding Anselmo’s vocals to be too abrasive, but that was a small price to pay for Dimebag’s Eddie Van Halen-esque wizardry, which had been filtered through a Texas twang metal machine, and Vinnie’s intense rhythm factory drumming; a Texas metal machine unto itself.
The clear Terry Date production left nothing to hide, with each instrument standing on its own, and to this day when tapping my feet to the rhythm’s in my head I still, almost 20 years later, consistently fall back into patterns I learned from Vulgar Display of Power. I was just young enough to have missed the vital metal of the 80’s, and therefore just young enough to not fully understand how vital this record would eventually become (to me). It changed what I thought of music. It shaped how I approached music. It altered how I listened to music. The band fought convention, and in turn taught me.
It’s said that metal is something you either “get” or you don’t. An argument that doesn’t defend itself well, as there is no actual way of explaining it, but it’s an argument I side with because I can’t help but agree. Hearing Vulgar Display didn’t give me an outlet to release aggression, and it didn’t say the things that I wasn’t able to articulate. It was just simply a sound that resonated with me; a direct audible link to emotion. Action and reaction.
The band continued to release records over the next ten years and proved that if you’re good, there is no need to compromise. It was a group that could not be contained, not even by itself. The influence is monumental, as it is now rare to go to a metal show consisting of multiple bands where at least one of the front men hasn’t constructed his entire stage presence around that of Phil, as heard on the band’s Official Live: 101 Proof record. It’s now almost the Modern Heavy Metal vocalist blueprint.
I’m not pretending Pantera were the only heavy American band of that era making relevant music. Bands like Death, Deicide, Morbid Angel, Immolation, Suffocation etc. were all releasing music during this timeframe, however none reached the same level as Pantera. Not to imply that success is measured by sales, but the success was attained due to a rare combination. When the band went to #1 on Billboard with the release of Far Beyond Driven, it followed with the even darker, less accessible Great Southern Trendkill. The difference was in the individuals. Like him or hate him, Anselmo is a superb frontman, and Dimeball Darrell was one of the best guitarists of his generation. They composed catchy, heavy music and presented it in a way that scratched an itch for many people.
Their message was always clear and never cryptic: An ugly point of view communicated with force.
A Vulgar Display of Power.

The beginning of a beginning – how to change my life in three and a half minutes:

Monday, May 03, 2010

We work together, common sons

I've seen it, and you should, too.

RUSH: Beyond the Lighted Stage is Released to the Following Theaters:

“...Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage,” took home the 2010 Audience Award at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival..."

Saturday, May 01, 2010

How to inspire friends and intimidate people

The one thing I can safely admit to having the ability to instill utter anxiety in me is the fear of enclosed spaces. If you take that fear and add many, many people to the equation you can safely bring a stretcher to the party as I likely won't survive. All this is interesting because in a way that more or less (at times) describes the cacophonous racket that the Dillinger Escape Plan stutter.
Whoever hosted a basement show with DEP as the house band clearly cared little for the structural integrity of the available space. No matter, as it makes for a sure-fire entertaining watch. Typically you'd assume that a band would have to be pretty trusting considering the proximity of the audience, but Dillinger isn't the kind of group with a reputation to feel concerned. There's also Ben Weinman's full-body guitar chop keeping the crowd at a safe distance, not to mention having Marvel's Absorbing Man as your vocalist.

It isn't enough that Pig Destroyer both inspires and intimidates as much as the Mother Theresa - Great White shark - Dragline excavator production model, but the band also has a trick up their sleeves where when presented with lemons, they almost level the earth WITH LEMONS. The key to the video below occurs at the :23 second mark.

Can you even believe that? Live concert video has the impossible task of trying to relay an experience that can't be relayed. The sheer volume just cannot be matched. So think of THAT when you consider the fact that you can still hear J. R. Hayes' voice even after his microphone breaks in half. Terrifying. Assuming you've been a teenager at some point you know how exhausting it is to scream for any of amount time, so it's not surprising that he nearly collapses. It's amazing.


Having seen Municipal Waste a few times I can attest to some pretty rowdy crowdy's (can you believe I wrote that?). It's one of those things where the expectation is there so the audience feels as though they have something to prove. That said, I've never seen a Municipal Waste show like this. The popular phrase "a sea of people" doesn't come close to describing this mayhem. I don't think there has ever been a time where I've watched this and not audibly said "whooooah" at the :28 mark.
It's a pretty long video but some definite highlights are one hell of a circle at 6:14, and Chappy Chin-up at 6:36. There are others but I'm too lazy to scan through it all.
ps, I love when a youtube unstarted freeze-frame comes together. POSSESSED.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

I'm going through changes

When there’s something in your life, something that’s always there, something you take for granted, grow accustomed to, take comfort in, and then that something is suddenly gone, how are you supposed to react?

When it’s there you can develop bad habits, get lazy, at times resent it, have arguments, and begin to consider that the hard work it takes outweighs the good times. At increasingly irregular moments the highs are untouchable, but for most part the highs and lows begin to see eye to eye.

Then you see the end on the horizon, standing in the distance with a stern look and fatigued body language. It knows the difficulties that await you despite the reality that your own brain can’t calculate the loss until the funeral parade is slowly cruising away from the grave. Time passes and you ignore the inevitable, convinced the future will never arrive.

Words of restoration are exchanged but deep down you know they carry no weight. A mind has been made, and it is steadfast.

Then, with a burst of concentrated aggression, it’s all over.

The separation is awkward and fumbled. There are no handshakes simply because the mind still hasn’t accepted the fact that this goodbye is actually different.

You’re now free. Time that was once occupied is now available. You learn to accept that you no longer need what was once something you so strongly believed in. This is you moving on. This is you focusing your energy on other things. Resetting.

Time passes, then more time passes. But as is always the case something appears from nowhere, when you least expect it, standing on the horizon. Something fresh, something intriguing, tempting, standing there with a sly look and reserved body language. Show me what you've got.

The time in your mind rusts itself to a grinding crawl as eagerness advances the clock much more slowly. A contrast that mutates days into what now feel like years. Things develop organically, naturally.

(Press play. Make it loud.)

Your approach is now more confident. You appreciate this opportunity for you have accepted previously made mistakes, made adjustments, focused on your flaws. Refined.

This is what you’ve been waiting for. This combination is more powerful, potent, dynamic, and cogent. Explosive. You’ve paid your dues. Deep breaths have been taken and you’ve forged through life’s obstacles to get to this exact moment. Thrilling. Months worth of patiently bided time disintegrate in the shadow of a few hours of engrossed rapture.

And that’s it. You’ve arrived. Nothing can take it away from you. Attempts are made to strip from you what is new, what you feel you deserve, what you feel you've earned, but it is impossible. You’re a vacuum of all that is negative, taking what has been thrust upon you and pulverizing it like an industrial machine made for recycling resistance and expelling it back into the world with reliance.

You understand your abilities, your strengths. You know who you are and seize anything within your grasp and reconstruct what lacks direction. You guide.

These are familiar grounds, but you’re now greeting possibility with a firmer handshake and a confidence that has congregated in your being like a stampede. A strength in numbers braced to serve the only deserving master capable of commanding this energy: You.

Everything is summarized with an authoritative detonation. The concentrated aggression is unleashed again. Minutes crumble and step aside to the locomotive proficiency of honed ability.

You clench your teeth and suffer through what feels like a turbine-like presence standing over your shoulder releasing an unending, adamant, tenacious, caustic scream. A sound capable of blocking light. A sound so deafening that any attempts to place yourself in the moment are an exercise in absolute futility.

And then it’s gone,

But not for long.

What had once meant so much to you is now over, and you didn’t fully understand the power it held until it was returned to you. Now it’s here, and you’re unstoppable.