Monday, July 30, 2007
At long last, the often delayed "Shankar" review:
I am not a huge fan of "world" music. To me, even the name is a misnomer, as if the listener and their respective cumulative cultural experiences were one set of phenomenon and the entire world is placed on the other side. Furthermore, much of "world music" is extremely bland, with many playing up preconceived expectations so prominently that no motivation beyond the need to make a quick profit (hence why they are thankfully imprisoned in dollar stores and seldom perused bargain bins). What's worse: often the so-called world music will not even be truly representative of the culture attempting to be presented, thus throwing any possible sincerity out the window.
None of this applies to the "Who's To Know?" album by Lakshminarayana Shankar (not to be confused by the similar Ravi Shankar). This is for several reasons. One being that, while Shankar is described as an "interpreter" of Southern India music, he and his collaborators play the album with a commendable zeal and passion. Composed mainly on a "ten string, stereophonic double-violin" (supposedly an instrument he invented and designed himself), the instrument accounts for about 85% of the string sounds, as it is noted as having a highly expansive range of sound that is able to be produced. Shankar is accompanied by two additional musicians, credited as playing 'regular' violin, tabla percussion at points, and consistent tamboura drones.
Both tracks are very long tracks, running twenty-eight and twenty-three minutes respectively (I hesitate to call them "ragas", as he uses a different tuning from traditional Indian music and they are not specifically referred to as such as far as I can tell). Yet this does not detract from how awesome this release is. You would think that the extreme length of the songs would repetitive by their nature, but this fortunately not the case. Although there are familiar themes that re-appear at points throughout the song, there are also many long-form solos from the various instruments themselves, in a bewildering variety of styles. The music, while being active, also is very powerful in lulling the listener into a state of peace and tranquility.
In short, an intense and powerful performance by incredibly adept and skilled musicians. Highest recommendation.
1978 Interview @ Pages Of Fire
Friday, July 27, 2007
This post has been heavily edited, for a variety of reasons.
It turns out that my acceptance of some of the research sources I utilized was perhaps premature. If that is the case, I will apologize. I was mistaken on a few levels.
Initially, I will concede that the possibility that Stewart Home accepted as truth various facts and historical sequences that were not exactly true, or by people claiming to be the individual's in question. After giving this matter some thought, it would then make sense for Home to sensationalize the events and perspectives as much as possible, even if they lose their objectivity towards the truth. Also, the Wikipedia Talk:Stewart Home discussion page also was quite eye-opening, especially when compares it to what he claims on his own webpage, mainly regarding the level of contact he has made with Tony Wakeford, Douglas Pearce, etc.
With regards towards Home's opinions on "Waldteufel", while I am not familiar with them, I agree with "Alwc" that Home made serious mistakes and lapses in judgment when issuing blame. Furthermore, his idea of definitions are very broad indeed, giving him the maximum amount of leverage for accusations against bands/individuals he chooses to dislike.
I was especially surprised at the Uncarved blog post regarding the "Above The Ruins" where Home caustically and viciously claimed that poster "Anathema23" was either a Nazi or a sympathizer (again, based on his broad definition). I applaud her well-written and concise response to Home's rambling accusations.
In short, I will retract any opinions that could have been applied to Sol Invictus. It seems that the absolute truth in this instance is rather nebulous and grey from both sides. Also, to be completely fair, when I have the chance I will also check out and/or review one of Sol Invictus' albums. I think I owe them that much, at least.
When considering Death In June, I also felt the need to re-assess and re-define some of my opinions regarding that band. Perhaps the most important difference is that I have a distaste for the history of the band, mainly their persistent use of fascist imagery, and the questionable nature of some of their songs (such as the lyrical content of "Till The Living Flesh Is Burned" and the musical content of "Brown Book"). I will concede, however, that the lyrical content of most of their music is abstract enough to not be offensive to the average listener and that their musicianship is not as bad as I had claimed.
I still have an intense dislike for Boyd Rice. Sorry.
Also, I am still a huge fan of David Tibet and Current 93.
In conclusion, I offer an apology for what I had written previously. While researched to a certain degree, it obviously was not researched enough. "Alwc" opened my eyes to the true nature of where I was receiving my raw materials for my opinions, and I thank them for that. As stated above, my opinions regarding the above-stated bands have changed completely, and while I am not to the point where I can enthusiastically recommends them, I certainly will not persuade anyone NOT to check them out.
In regards to the links, I will keep the links I have previously provided up, along with the important websites that "Alwc" has provided. There, you can come to your own conclusion regarding the matter.
Hopefully this will go a small way in putting things to right.
PS The original article I wrote (though for obvious reasons I do not like to look at it at the moment) has been saved if anyone absolutely has to read it.
PPS Now that I hopefully have achieved closure on the verbal/ideological hole I inadvertently dug myself into, new reviews should be forthcoming very soon (including, if all goes well, the Leagas review). Stay tuned! :)
WE MEAN IT MAN: PUNK ROCK AND ANTI-RACISM (S.H. article on DIJ, R.A.R., etc)
TONY WAKEFORD, SOL INVICTUS & ABOVE THE RUIINS (article on Tony Wakeford, etc)
Stewart Home Society
Death In June
Brainwashed Death In June Page
Wikipedia Death In June page
Tony Wakeford (Tursa)
Wikipedia Sol Invictus (Edited On Multiple Occasions)
6 comm (Patrick Legas)
Wikipedia Patrick Leagas
MySpace 6 Comm page
Uncarved Org Blog
Uncarved Org : Satan Is Dead (mentions Rice, reasons why Satanism fails, etc)
Stewart Home Wikipedia Talk Page (alternate perspective)
Uncarved.org blog post (Anathema23 vs. Stewart Home)
Monday, July 23, 2007
Collecting many songs from four of their earliest cassette-only limited releases ("Premonition", "Chemical Playschool 1/2", "Kleine Krieg", and "Traumstadt 2"), this collection is an entertaining collection of early synth-pop, presented through the highly individualized and charismatic musical vision of Edward Ka-Spel, the Silverman, and their many companions. I was first introduced to this group by the now-defunct music service Audiogalaxy, which mainly served as a gigantic indie music bazaar promoting underground and/or sub-genre phenomena. Having earlier bought their album "The Whispering Wall" years earlier, I recently discovered upon this 1997 release.
One of the most immediate realities one experiences when first listens to this album is that, while a disclaimer is inserted into the linear notes "that all pieces were recorded on primitive equipment...Do not expect digital bliss, sensurround...", it must be noted that, while indeed sounding a bit dated when compared with later work by themselves and others, these recordings have fared the ravages of time much better than other albums and bands recording during this time (this is partially due to the excellent re-mastering by ROIR Records). Furthermore, while the band seems to apologize for the 'primitive' nature of their equipment, it in no way detracts from the well-crafted structure of the songs, as well as the minute attention given towards the production.
Roughly half of the album consists of the majority of the "Premonition" release, thus most of the songs segue into each other seamlessly. Most of the songs consist of multiple keyboard rhythms, along with various treated samples swimming around Edward Ka-Spel's monotone (yet strangely musical) vocals (on occasion accompanied by heavily vocoded vocals that are usually unintelligible). Drum beats, when they are even present on the song, perform their function perfectly without being overly noticeable or noteworthy. "Splash" is a mellow account of a night of public drunkenness, while the oddly named "Dying For The Emperor" is an upbeat song featuring spacey synth lines (and the classic chorus "We've gotta destroy the aliens, gotta destroy the aliens"). "Oceans Of Emotion" has more in the way of an actual song progression (as opposed to layered keyboard rhythms), with a prominent and slightly groovy bass and drum backbone. Halfway through the album is the album standout "Premonition 2". Beginning with lethargic keyboard chords, it soon shifts to an awesome acoustic guitar passage amidst a backdrop of compelling news samples, dating from the conflict in Northern Ireland, in which the Protestant leader (possibly of the IRA) addresses an unknown audience of their conviction in their beliefs. Truly inspirational. Meanwhile, "Frosty" is a synth-psych freak-out about a paranoid kid who hides himself from the world in...the refrigerator. "A Lust For Powder [Version Apocalypse]" hides within it's already strange sounding interior a veritable mishmash of cut-up samples, bargain store keyboard stabs, and cheap drums placed at random. The song will sometimes dangle a hint of organization for a few precious seconds, only to dash your hopes to the ground as different and new elements arise out of the seemingly endless stream of them (the many different choirs procured is quite impressive).
In short, Edward Ka-Spel has enough stories in this one collection alone to fill several books. He and his group succeeded in portraying a palatable sense of paranoia fueled by psychedelic experiences, illustrated aurally by well-constructed synth-pop. While the age of the recordings is still very apparent, it has retained it's integrity throughout the years (something that cannot be said for the majority of 80's synth-pop musicians...*cough, Gary Numan, cough*). For those new to The Legendary Pink Dots, and their extremely unique and diverse brand of music, I would recommend that you first purchase one of their more recent albums (such as the very good "The Whispering Wall", which I bought way back in 2004) or the "best of" collection "Canta Mientras Puedas". If you are familiar with the Dots, though, then this should serve as an excellent window into their earliest years of existence. Their signature trademarks, which would be radically explored and expanded upon with future releases, can be seen in very powerful form in their songs created by "primitive equipment".
The linear notes end on a positive note, stating that "...brain damage is guaranteed". Thankfully, it is the good kind (if such a thing exists).
"Sing While You May"
Beta-Lactam Ring Records
Unofficial "Flesh Parade" video (not for children!)
Saturday, July 14, 2007
"He's stabbed a hole the size of Tennessee in the hull, and he exhibits no concern!". These and other intriguing lyrics permeate the two "Employer, Employee" releases. A quick glance at the lyrical contents of these songs (gleaned by scouring various lyrics websites), you will quickly discover that the music does indeed possess a surprising poetic intensity, given the relative complexity of the vocals being screamed (which is somewhat ironic given that is hard to understand exactly what he is saying the first time around). Take another step back, and you will startle yourself that you have uncovered a hardcore band that, rather than presenting caustic social commentary or pure incomprehensibility, instead attacks you with a surprising amount of depth and complexity in it's vitriolic attack. Intrigued, you investigate further...
Released early in the existence of Robodog Records (now more commonly known as Robotic Empire) in a limited edition of 1000 copies, their debut CD "Sic [Sic]" finds "Employer, Employee" playing a rather energetic form of hardcore, featuring screeching vocals (in keeping with the "metalcore" identification) with a relentless guitar and bass assault, kept in check by kinetic drumming. Most of the songs remain within 1:30 to 3:00 minutes, which is a good thing because they are still quite exhausting, even considering their short duration. Within the eighteen minutes of the album, vocalist Craig spastically shifts vocal styling, from intense screaming/screeching (which I assume is "metalcore" or "screamo" in nature....sheesh) to mid-range low growling and spoken word breaks. The music makes frequent structural changes, although they, upon observing the entire song, are a logical extension of the frequent evolution which occurs throughout a single song. I have read reviews that these changes are "less pretentious" than those structured by other bands, such as Dillinger Escape Plan, and while I do not quite understand what that is supposed to mean, I can at least understand how someone could reach that conclusion (read explanation above).
Meanwhile, the "Mother Spain And The Seafaring Myth" 7", a devastatingly short nine minutes in length, almost outdoes their 'full-length' album. Despite the brevity of the album, the songs are much more clear on this recording. In particular, the drumming on "One Count Of Mutiny" is particularly impressive (as well as the off-the-wall shouting) while "Richard, My Love" breaks things up with a fast-forwarded orchestral segment. This record was also released in extremely limited quantities, this time on Relapse Records limited series.
As is typical for local area hardcore bands, there is virtually no information regarding "Employer, Employee" anywhere. At best, you will be lucky if you can find reviews of their album. However, various members from Employer, Employee still perform in the Austin, Texas area as Warwolf. This band is much like Employer, Employee, only it is much harder, faster, and thoughtful (if you can imagine it). Also, they are still performing occasionally in Austin, so if you are ever around the area, I encourage you to go check them out.
"Transactions receipts...make your life complete..."
PS Any help to find more online info on these guys or Warwolf (lyrics/bios mainly) would be greatly appreciated. Thanks! :)
[Sic] Sic Album Review
Friday, July 13, 2007
The long-awaited Jesu review; this went through at least eight revisions. I am still not 100% satisfied, but it is a lot better than when it started. May go back and tweak a few things later, but for now, enjoy the review:
When it comes to devastating and brutally heavy music that is also simultaneously highly emotional at the same time, Jesu is quite naturally found this list, somewhere close to the top. "Heart Ache" is the debut album from Justin Broadrick's band Jesu, after the traumatic dissolution of his seminal industrial-metal band Godflesh. While this album firmly establishes many of the trademark elements which would be found on future releases, albeit in many different forms, there are several unique aspects to this album that cause it to stand out on it's own. Having dissolved Godflesh in 2002 on the eve of a major tour, Jesu was the expression in which Broadrick shed the self-imposed limitation previously set when creating records as Godflesh. Thus, the entire album was created, arranged, and produced by him, arguably the purest expression Jesu has yet to offer.
Consisting of two LONG (19:42 and 20:13 respectively) tracks, entitled "Heart Ache" and "Ruined", both feature the same basic principles: huge low-end guitar riffs (which do not quite reach the 'drone' territory they would explore on their self-titled sophomore album), mechanically precise percussion (via drum programming) and a host of auxiliary instrumentation.
"Heart Ache" is the more upbeat (in terms of tempo, not in mood) of the two songs, as the crisp guitar chords are accented with various mellotron layers (of varying effectiveness, unfortunately), abstract "guitar noise" lead lines, and (thankfully) a clear bass guitar backbone. The most memorable section of the song (around nine minutes in) arrives when the song shifts into slowly ascending guitar notes over an insistent drum beat, as if it is the aural representation of time swiftly drifting out of your hands in the midst of your misery. It is a powerful segment, and it can easily lead to imagining a music video, populated by your own frustration and melancholy. Meanwhile, Broadrick's soaring voice floats over the mix, resulting in one of his strongest vocal performances yet (which is surprising, in my opinion, because I had alwasy viewed that Broadrick's vocals, at times, were one of the weaker elements of Godflesh). There is not much variation in the song overall, but that is what enhances it; the gradual overlapping of the various segments towards the end is really quite effective.
"Ruined" takes a different approach, with a slowly developing piano melody. Towards the end of the song, a clean electric guitar melody shyly joins in as the piano melody increases in complexity. This brief tranquility is brusquely sandblasted away with even rougher guitar rhythms than the first song. The vocals are especially harsh towards eleven minutes into the end, as Broadrick finally distorts his vocals somewhat to screamed repetitions of the phrase "Rise, Rock!" (I have yet to hear a suitable explanation for what exactly he means by this, but it is clearly open to multiple interpretations). The ending of the song is quite impressive, as strings and several clean guitar layers/lead lines are brought in, leading up to an impressive acoustic guitar solo backed by (what sounds like) treated piano and mellotron strings.
Very impressive, even for Jesu standards. Though it is difficult to assert whether it is "better" than other Jesu releases (they are all good, in my opinion), this certainly stands out on it's own. From here, Broadrick would unite with several former Godflesh members to record their landmark self-titled album.
In a word: awesome.
PS - It's too bad that The Eye interviews had to use those particular live videos, for they illustrate vividly how much Broadrick's live vocals pale in comparison to his studio recordings.
Also, found a good YouTube vid of Black Boned Angel playing live (thanks Blizzard Over The Swamp) and have included it in my Black Boned Angel review.
Jesu Official Site
Dry Run Records ("Heart Ache")
Hydra Head Records ("Silver" & "Conqueror")
Temporary Residence ("Jesu/Eluvium Split")
In The Flesh (fansite)
MTV Justin Broadrick Interview
The Eye: Interview One
The Eye: Interview Two
The Eye: Interview Three
Sorry for the delay: I've been busy and unfortunately have a backlog of reviews to finish (as well as some which have been begging for rewrites. More will be forthcoming soon).
To me, it is difficult to listen to various forms of grindcore without it seeming somewhat derivative. To demonstrate this, I once told individual with somewhat narrow musical tastes that I would pick a random song from Napalm Death's scum and a completely random song from Nasum and that they would sound very similar, if not exactly the same. While I cannot remember the exact songs I picked, I do remember that I successfully made my point vividly.
"Scum" is an interesting album, not only for it's historical importance. In this one album, the launch-pad for the careers of a young Justin Broadrick and Lee Dorian were laid out. Also, the musical style known as grindcore would rapidly develop and expand into even more extreme permutations, as the various members of the original group would go on to form the (also genre defining) groups Godflesh, Jesu, Carcass, Scorn and Cathedral.
As is now standard with the majority of grindcore releases, Scum contains twenty-eight songs in thirty-three minutes, with none being longer than four minutes (and the shortest being less than a second long, the aptly titled "You Suffer"). There is not much differentiation between tracks, although there are a few interesting standouts. "Multinational Corporation" is a great opening track, as waves of guitar noise swarm about like a plague as the lead singer hoarsely screams: "Multinational corporations : Genocide of the starving nations!" over and over again. "Polluted Minds" contains an impressive guitar solo amidst the thundering drums and insistent rhythm guitar. The song "You Suffer" is also noteworthy in that it is one of the shortest songs ever recorded, lasting less than a second, as the words "You suffer, but why?" are shouted faster than seems humanly possible.
The second half of the album, from tracks 14-28, features a completely different lineup, with Lee Dorian (pre-Cathedral) on vocals, Bill Steer on guitar (pre-Carcass), Jim Whitley on bass, and Mick Harris returning as the drummer. The second half of the album is not vastly different from the first half, but there are a few interesting differences. First, the mix is generally a bit less distinct than the first half, with a different guitar tone being present. Dorian's vocals, while not as upfront as Nik Bullen's, are also quite a bit more diverse, with several songs featuring guttural growls as well as shrill screaming. Harris' drums, on the other hand, are just as fast as they were on the first half.
As with most grindcore releases, this is best listened to in it's entirety in one listening session. There is not much variety in the album, but then again, that is probably to be expected. Listening to the original recordings also reminds one how dated the material really is (although the remastered recordings might help address this, although I have not had the opportunity to listen to them). Nevertheless, this is an excellent introduction into the world of grindcore, and aptly illustrates the exciting development that Napalm Death (as well as the genre itself) would soon take.
PS: Live recording is from 1989.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
It has been a while since I listened to this album, and for good reason: it's not very good. While there are a few good tracks on the album, it does not hide or excuse the rather half-hearted noise attempts that make up the rest of the album. Introduced, along with IRM and another band, on the Cold Meat Industry Nihil sampler several years ago, Nod soon followed up with their debut (and to my knowledge, only) album, "The Story Of The Three Little Pigs", which was released in a limited edition of 1000.
In theory, the album should be at least interesting, right? You would think, as it is presented as a retelling of "the three little pigs and the big bad wolf" mythos. Yet listening to the album makes it painfully clear that the concept is what was expected to make the album sell. The noise is of the metallic clamoring variety, more organic-sounding than digital (if that easily makes sense), but it is also quite one-dimensional. Occasionally bits of melody will be present towards the beginning of the songs, but by then it is a case of "too little, too late".
That is not to say that this album is a complete failure. Far from it. For the two songs which are presented as samplers of the album on the Cold Meat Industry website are also, ironically, the only two noteworthy songs on the album (in my opinion). "An Enemy You Are" is the most 'quiet' song on the album, consisting of an echoing kick drum, ocean wind sound effects, strange synth lines that alternate between two pitches (which gives the whole song a huge degree of unease), and a strangely lifeless vocal performance: a man muttering vague uncertainties. You may perhaps find it strange that I would recommend this song for these reasons, given the 'active' nature of many of the other songs on the album, yet compared to the rather ineffectual screaming and aggressive posturing, this lifelessness becomes welcome. Although at times it is hard to exactly determine what Daniel Wihlstrand is saying (though it is probably not necessary to catch everything the first time), what is easily understandable is haunting and cryptic:
"I traveled so far and beyond, to seek my fortune in solitude...once you had been a part of me, but no longer...we shall never again drink my wine, never again shall I take your hand, from my enemies...of course an enemy you are...I travel out to sea, caught between the devil and the deep blue...of course an enemy you are...my ecstasy is in your...of course an enemy you are..."
(As usual, this is based on my understanding/interpretation. Also, it was much harder than usual to determine what was being said on the song, due to the heavy degree of distortion, echoes, and strange inflections which blur the words together slightly).
The second song, "Armies Of The Earth", is an effective stab at power-electronica, with high-pitched electronic squeals, gritty bass-pulse rumbling, and multi-tracked vocals, similar to "An Enemy You Are" (only much harder to understand this time around). Strangely, both of these songs are exactly 3:19 in length (even though this song seems to be cut short towards the end, even though it could have benefited from an additional minute to two minutes of development).
However, neither of these songs are presented on the Cold Meat site anymore. Instead, the title track is available for download. The female narrator (punctuated by a strange low-range male) is somewhat amusing (especially after the wolf fails to blow the house of bricks down), and the watery power electronic bleeps are competent, but there is not much there in the way to keep the listeners attention.
Overall, there is not much to recommend this album beyond what can be offered by similar projects. Not one to write off projects that show even a glimmer of hope, I checked out the background info for Daniel Wihlstrand's project. Unfortunately, there is little to no information to be found anywhere regarding him or whether he had any musical output after the album. He contributed to the "Nihil" sampler for the label before releasing the "Story..." album. He also had created an interesting-named album called "When Dogs Run" in 1997, but it was apparently never released on a label. It is quite depressing that Cold Meat is not offering the two good tracks on the album for download anymore, but granted, you are only missing out on curiosities of implied potential, and nothing groundbreaking or essential.
PS Any info that can be found regarding Daniel Wihlstrand's future projects (if any exist) would be greatly appreciated. Also, any agreement/counter-arugments/discussion regarding my opinions on this album would be highly appreciated as well (seeing as I no longer have this album and it has been two years at least since I listened to it in it's entirety).
Cold Meat Industry
Monday, July 02, 2007
Although much of Coil's work falls under the conceptual category, this is probably the album where concept and utility are taken to their logical extreme. Within this album are four long drones. Also, by "drones", I mean it in the purest sense of the word: electronic pulses and slowly oscillating synths that lethargically evolve and permutate over a period of time. Each track is named after a psychotropic drug: Telepathine, DOET-Hecate, 5-Me0-DMT, and Psilocybin (respectively), which it is supposed to represent (I seem to remember reading an article once which stated something to the effect of these songs were meant to replicate the subconscious 'hums' one is said to experience under the influence of these drugs, but of course I cannot verify this for certain). Also, the tracks were apparently "tested and retested for maximum narcotic potency", so that they may "dissolve time" to the maximum effect.
Is the album good? Yes, but mainly from an intellectual standpoint. Due to the highly unique characteristics of the sound and the mostly repetitive nature of the compositions, this definitely is not an "everyday" listening experience. The question you probably are scolding yourself for asking, but are asking anyway is: Does it work? My short answer to this is: I'm not sure. Granted, I will not be taking any of the aforementioned drugs, so I imagine I am not experiencing the "ideal conditions" (if any exist in this instance). Nevertheless, "Time Machines" succeeds admirably at presenting four drone documents, and is a stand-out release from Peter Christopherson and the late Jhonn Balance. A two-disc version is to be released by Threshold House at some point, so I eagerly await when that day arrives.
As promised, the gigantic S.Y.L. review:
O, how the mighty have fallen. In this case, I am (of course) referring to Devin Townsend. Virtually exploding onto the metal scene after his short hit-and-miss (and supposedly quite tumultuous) tenure with the guitar master Steve Vai, he now seems poised to retreat entirely from the music "business" entirely, having recently become a father. However, the reasons behind his so-called "burnout" go much deeper than that, as revisiting his debut Strapping Young Lad album shows. Constant, relentless touring, coupled with extreme mood swings brought about by clinically diagnosed bipolar syndrome, an IMMENSE collection of misgivings about the music "industry", a nearly endless stream of interviews (at least according to everyone representing Townsend), and a haphazard balance struck between his Strapping Young Lad project, his solo efforts, and his many production and collaboration stints all created an unstable situation: one that could collapse at any moment. While I, like many other S.Y.L. fans, had previously thought that S.Y.L. was immortal, retrospection can easily show that the writing was on the walls for a long time, even though it was written in subdued colors and in cryptically ambiguous messages. S.Y.L. was doomed.
Although some do not care for the Strapping Young Lad / Fear Factory comparison, it actually, if given enough specifics, is quite apt and appropriate. Both bands started as extreme metal bands which would deviate wildly with their next albums (although Fear Factory had started roughly three years before S.Y.L.). Both bands pioneered (but by no means "popularized" or "initiated") the now standard vocal technique (for those who can pull it off) of extreme and melodic vocals. Both bands then followed up by introducing a plethora of additional influences and sounds into their production (mainly industrial, techno, and arguably grindcore and death metal aspects as well). But this is where the comparison begins to diverge. While Fear Factory descended from being a slightly faster Godflesh to "Frontline Assembly with a metal band" (comparing Demanufacture to FLA's Epitaph album is damnable evidence at how often Leeb and Co. recycles their signature set of sounds...also highly ironic when considering that Townsend provided the guitars for FLA's Millennium, Circuitry, and Hard Wired albums), Strapping Young Lad would polish their attack from their admittedly scattershot (but still powerful) debut to record the classic City album. With regards to City, I would rate it one of metal's top twenty albums EVER. If not the top ten (if that is not too audacious a statement to make).
The title "Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing" is probably the best title the album could have received (although it also would have made sense to self-title it as well). It is also unique in that it is the only SYL album not to be created by their "signature lineup" of Gene Hoglan (formerly of Dark Angel, Death, and several other influential metal bands), Byron Stroud (having also been simultaneously in Fear Factory over the past several years), Jed Simon, and Townsend. Instead, it seems that Townsend himself performed and arranged the majority of the album, with the help of several individuals (mainly Jed Simon, Adrian White on drums, Chris Valago, Greg Reely as engineer, and others).
The production on this album is undoubtedly Devin's best (along with City). The amount of minute aural details shoved into each one of the songs is absolutely astounding. Having owned both H.A.A.R.H.T. and City for years now, I still occasionally run into new details upon repeated listens. This is one of those records that, while sounding incredible on your home stereo system, requires headphones and advanced concentration to fully appreciate and experience.
Gushing about the stellar production quality reminded me of a quote from an interview with Trent Reznor shortly after his "With Teeth" album was released. When asked about the difference between the technology he used for the "Pretty Hate Machine" and "Downward Spiral" albums, he replied that the technology had indeed changed and that he could not use the same "tricks" as he did back during his (undeniably better) albums. I always found this to be a bit odd. The technology improved and the ability to create a much wider variety of sounds increased, so that restricts your ability to create complex and aurally dense songs? However, for S.Y.L., a much more obvious (and plausible) explanation exists to partially explain S.Y.L.'s rather sudden and dismaying descent: the heightened need to produce (specifically for the Download performances). Thus, it is understandable to believe Devin's reason for bowing out, given that he had grown tired of committing to S.Y.L. for obligational reasons. My take on the situation regarding their last album was that it was rushed, plain and simple (although of course I could be wrong about this).
I had attempted a track-by-track review, but those are always much harder to do than regular reviews, so I will do my best towards a semi-decent overview. "Heavy..." consists of blistering metal, tinged with many different industrial elements (in both the several programmed drum sequences and mix elements). "H.A.A.R.H.T." is basically a in-your-face of the many elements of bipolar disorder (concerning the real disorder, not emo crybabies, dysfunctional high-schoolers, or cyclothymic iconoclasts like myself). Opening with a scathing barrage against the "corporate music industry" ("S.Y.L") that he had been a part of until that point, it quickly shows that the record takes no prisoners, with the song's blunt: "I FUCKING HATE YOU!!!" chorus. The music video for "S.Y.L", interestingly enough, is also highly influenced by the music videos of F.L.A. (especially the "Millenium" video). Also, it is also important to note that, while Adrian White is no Gene Hoglan, he is definitely no slouch behind the drums either.
One of the interesting facts about this album is that, while most of the successive Strapping Young Lad albums would be relatively uniform, "H.A.A.R.H.T." is wildly diverse. From the insane "Happy Camper" (in which a huge 670-word rant is somehow screeched out in three minutes) and the defiant "S.Y.L." (featuring the child-friendly chorus of "I FUCKING HATE YOU!!!") to the pensive "Filler - Sweet City Jesus" (featuring enigmatic samples discussing "the transmission and perception of sound) and the brooding "Cod Metal King", this album is one of many hats. In addition, Townsend' s voice itself is also highly processed effectively in many different ways, further adding to the menace and paranoia of the songs(unfortunately, they would never return to any of these treated vocal techniques in future albums, which is a shame). In particular, "Cod Metal King" sounds similar to a robot who is on the run from the police after grand theft auto and assault, while "Skin City" features an exercise on the upper tolerances of the human vocal chords (in other words, his distorted/layered voice screams a lot). If I had to pick the best song on the album (which is really difficult, as they are all amazing in their own regard, with the slight exception of "Goat"), I would have to choose "Drizzlehell". Why? First of all, it has a great name, memorable riffs, fantastic lyrics, and a kick-ass overall presentation (I am rapidly running out of positive adjectives). Finally, the album ends on a strange note, the humorous "Satan's Ice Cream Truck". To me, the title says it all.
While this is not my favorite album, it is definitely not my least favorite (that distinction goes to their latest album "The New Black"). This album shows where all of the Fear Factory and Ministry comparisons originate, and also showcases many different avenues that S.Y.L. could have pursued (not that they made a mistake in their future development, but the potential was there nonetheless). In terms of metal albums, this one gets my highest recommendations. A masterpiece of intense musicianship, un-cliche bipolar angst, rage against the music industry, and yes...heaviness.
Questions? Comments? All greatly appreciated. :)
P.S. While the "Detox" video was a song from the "City" album, I included it because it stomps most music videos into the dust.
P.P.S. Is it just me, or is Century Media quickly falling into the mediocrity that Roadrunner Records and Earache have consistently peddled?
Strapping Young Lad
Century Media Records
Sunday, July 01, 2007
As Jesu edges closer and closer to pop accessibility, Nadja is quickly asserting itself as one of the finest guitar-drone bands out there. With a string of several acclaimed albums (mainly "Body Cage" and the recently released "Thaumogenesis"), the duo of Aidan Baker (prolific multi-instrumentalist) and Leah Buckareff (Canadian bookbinder) continue to improve on their gigantic epics of albums. This EP showcases a song off of their upcoming album, "Corrasion", as well as an exclusive, unreleased track (of a seemingly recent vintage). The album itself is a re-recording of one of their many extremely-limited CD-R releases (following their recent re-recording of their "Touched" album), as well as including a few bonus tracks, including one from an instantly sold-out split between them and doom-metal band Moss (which should please fans of both bands).
The "Base Fluid" release is also special in the fact that it is offered as a FREE download on Foreshadow Records website (which also will eventually release a Nadja / Fear Falls Burning collaboration). This is somewhat noteworthy, as while Aidan Baker has many releases available online, there is much less Nadja material able to be previewed. Thus, this comes as a welcome addition to their mostly unavailable/sold-out discography.
So, what should you expect from this EP? While it is not a significant departure from any of their other releases, it is still quite good. The first song, "Base Fluid", is from the upcoming album. Featuring crushingly distorted cyclical guitar riffs that move about a snails-pace dirge along with soaring extended guitar soloing (also quite slow) and pounding drums. At various points in the song, the guitar/bass assault drops away to reveal delicate ambient sections, featuring softly hovering ambience and a gradually unfolding clean guitar passage. However, these ambient sections, while having a beauty of their own, only serve to throw you off your guard, as the main segments of the song come roaring back with a vengeance (most likely startling the listener the first time they hear it). "Numb" is slightly longer, at twenty minutes, and features a greater use of distortion, synthetic effects, and the guitars are a bit more distorted (which is both good and bad in a way). Do not expect any interludes on this track. Instead, the guitars trudge forth with a determined persistence, but as the song progresses, a number of light synth beds quickly accumulate towards the second half of the song. Imagine the slowest (but largest) tornado you have ever seen. Now imagine that the various synth lines are the many pieces of debris this tornado picks up, swirling them around the mix. It continues to come closer and closer to your home, gradually increasing in intensity as you grow increasingly intimidated. By the time it gets to the twentieth minute, it is almost as if the instruments are about ready to explode (thankfully the song stops before they or your head explodes).
If you are new to Nadja, by all means check this EP out. Then, a proper introduction would be their "Body Cage", "Thaumogenesis", or aforementioned "Corrasion" album. Those already acquainted with the band will also find elements of interest in this release (mainly in the unreleased track, even though the "Base Fluid" song is slightly better in terms of quality).
Now, if only they would re-release the Nadja / Methadrone collab...
Nadja - Base Fluid EP at Foreshadow Records
Nadja Home Page
Profound Lore Records
I have always been quite curious as what exactly this early collaboration between Stephen O'Malley and EDGY 49 (future vocalist for the doom-band Burning Witch). Recently, I pounced on the chance to listen for myself.
One of the first descriptive adjectives that came to mind was "rough". Not "rough" as in needing development or improvement rough, but instead the "rough" that can be found in most lo-fi noise recordings.
"Tektoniks" is a rumbling piece of extended feedback and processed static excursions. Not much else can be said, really.
"6:66" (which also, coincidentally, is not the final running time, as it manages to go a few minutes over), is a rather irritating piece involving a high pitched whine and muted white noise. While the white noise evolves somewhat during the song, the high-pitched noise only increases at a somewhat distressing rate. I have heard of noise compositions simulating tinnitus before, but this is the first time I have heard anything faithfully replicate it. Not a pleasant experience, when considering that it is over six minutes long.
Compared to the last 'song', "Red Army" seems almost tame in comparison. Thankfully, it also manages to be quite interesting (without running the risk of inner-ear damage). Scraping and crackling noises accompany a rather strange synth melody that becomes increasingly distorted and muddled as the song progresses.
The last song arrives as a bit of a surprise, as (unlike the previous songs), it is roughly twenty-three minutes long. "War Of The Worlds" as rather strange, for while it opens in a manner very similar to "Tektoniks", it soon involves an indecipherable/distorted series of
vocals as well as additional static bursts interspersed through a bubbling and rumbling backdrop (perhaps meant to simulate the hum of an alien engine). Although not certain to me, the vocals could be samples from the original "War Of The World" broadcast (determined mainly by the frantic sound of the vocals as well as the particular intonation of the actual voice as well.
Distorted effects increase in frequency as the voice becomes increasingly frantic and washed out.
In short, while this is an interesting journey in noise/experimental electronics, it is by no means outstanding or essential. It is mainly for the curious fans (such as myself) who are interested in noise and/or would like to view the beginnings of Stephen O'Malley's music career.
P.S. Many thanks to BloodIsTruth for this one, since it's was an extremely limited edition cassette and out-of-print since it was released. Go check it out over there if you want it.
P.P.S. On a mostly unrelated note, Eibon Records has, after what seems to have been an eternity, finally updated their site with new releases, news, and promos. Something to look into...
P.P.P.S. Sorry, one more thing...I also updated the Totally Fuzzy link, so it should be correct now.