Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Interviews- Coming Soon!

As previously stated, I will be doing interviews soon..Will be doing some prep work on this in the next several days so by all means- STAY TUNED!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Review- Blind Guardian - A Voice in the Dark Single. 4.5/5 THEY'RE BACK!

 So, alas, its time again. Time for another Blind Guardian album. Its been awhile (since 2006 in fact) and the greatest Heavy Metal band since Iron Maiden has a new album on the horizon. To precede the late summer release of the upcoming album At the Edge of Time, they have released a three song single, A Voice in the Dark.

 As a longtime fan, I will admit to being dissapointed in their last two full length albums. 2002's A Night at the Opera, while excellent in many areas, had something that wasn't common on Blind Guardian albums up to that point- filler. Also, it seemed that a lot of the riff-based style of writing that had propelled their career to heights in the Nineties was gone; replaced instead by a lead/melody oriented style of writing. Its not that this was unwelcomed as Night at the Opera had some excellent tracks like the magnum opus, And Then There Was Silence, but something was apparently amiss in some of the lesser tracks.

 This was then compounded by the loss of their longtime drummer, Thomen "the Omen" Stauch. His band Savage Circus (formed with members of Iron Savior and very Blind Guardian influenced band Persuader), made up for what was missing to many people in the newer Blind Guardian material. It had the same orchestral influences (well not as many) and choir vocals as prime Guardian, but the thrashy riffs still had a lot of the spotlight.

 The best Blind Guardian material in many fan's eyes was the mid Nineties material which balanced the orchestral influences with thrashy power metal riffs. When the riffs were diminishing (and diminished even further on the follow up, A Twist in the Myth) it seemed that a lot of the songs were sounded watered down and unmemorable.

 2006's A Twist in the Myth was their worst release to date- a muddily produced refined version of ideas found on Night at the Opera- made worse by lackluster songwriting and an even flatter rhythm guitar sound than before.

So, here we are in 2010- and the rumors that Blind Guardian were returning to some of their roots have made their way through the metal community. I for one as a longtime fan was excited about this rumor- even though Night at the Opera wasn't bad, they haven't really released anything 100 percent awesome (and this is a band that the fans have high standards for considering their output) since 1998's Nightfall in Middle Earth.

Also, early news releases about the recording of the new album have Blind Guardian members speaking in a subtle tone about the dissapointment of the last album, its almost an acknowledged fact that the album was a weak release.


So here were are onto the new single, and my first impressions- its good. Certainly not a Nightfall in Middle Earth. But the first thing that's noticeable about the single is that Hansi Kursch's vocals have not sounded this good SINCE Nightfall in Middle Earth. They were noticeably lacking power, especially on Twist in the Myth, and the production and mixing of the vocals sounded stunted in a way. They were lacking the depth and passion that were one of the hallmarks of classic Blind Guardian.

Another thing that is noticeable right away is - you guessed it- Blind Guardian have returned to a riff based "thrashy" songwriting style, that mixed with their choir vocals and orchestral flourishes, created that classic sound we all fell in love with years back!

The song recalls the beginning of their classic "Valhalla" in many ways, and that's taking fans WAY back to the sounds of the early Nineties- a very welcome change in my eyes.

The drums sound a bit too processed for my liking compared to Thomen's classic sound ( newer drummer Frederick Ehmke is no slouch, but its only a complaint I have with a lot of modern production), but nevertheless it has the power we all missed on the last couple of albums.


I would almost compare the song's style to something made in between 1993's Somewhere Far Beyond and 1995's Imaginations From the Other Side- the lead sound is very similar to that period, but the thrashiness of the riffs recalls Somewhere in a lot of ways.

And the chorus? Well its as catchy as a fungus, and with each continued listen I like it a lot more. 



The song is rounded out by two other tracks- "You're the Voice" (a John Farnham cover) - which is decent and has an almost industrial edge (kind of recalling their last album a bit with the beginning electronics). Its ok, and thankfully the production is similar to the title track.

Then its time for one of those classic "medieval" ballads that BG are known for - an acoustic version of "War of the Thrones" (a non acoustic version also being on the upcoming release). This is an uplifting track, not as dark as some of their previous work of a similar type, but is a good track in itself.

So overall what's the verdict? Overall this makes me extremely excited about the RETURN of Blind Guardian. The production hasn't been this clear in years, the vocals (probably the biggest selling point of the band overall in the first place) sound terrific, and the return of the RIFF is an excellent surprise as well.

I welcome my second favorite band in the world back into the realm of killer music again, and look forward to their new album with anticipation! 

Friday, June 25, 2010

Another one of my "problems" with Metalcore (my Metalcore series volume 2).

I have a real problem with a lot of the metalcore bands and fans. It seems that there's this attitude that they can distill a certain element of earlier heavy metal, put a metalcore "sheen" on it, and call it something new. And I'm not really speaking of the more progressive metalcore bands, or the bands that just would rather leave Metalcore behind to some extent.

3 Inches of Blood for example, is mainly accepted in America because of their "semi-ironic" take on traditional metal in which they add in a bit of "metalcore" vocals. At least initially that is why they gained a following in a lot of ways. While true traditional bands such as Slough Feg and others get (relatively) ignored. And the part that bothers me is that many metalcore fans think there is something "new" from these bands, and that the influence "skips" straight from Iron Maiden to bands such as 3IOB.

There is, and has always been a HUGE Power and Traditional Metal scene in Europe and all around the World. Helloween, Blind Guardian and others have storied careers going back to the mid-eighties. And its not that Power Metal hasn't evolved or advanced. While I am not a big fan, I will acknowledge that Dragonforce has had some impact on Power Metal. But even they are just a faster version of Power Metal sounds that had their roots in mid-nineties albums such as Gamma Ray's Somewhere Out In Space. Rhapsody (of Fire), and other bands first started trying to push the threshold of faster Power Metal on albums such as Power of the Dragonflame (and also foreshadowed the cheesiness that would permeate bands like Dragonforce as well). And as far as the more extreme and dark end, bands like Nevermore, and newer bands like Biomechanical had an extreme metal/darker twist on the Power Metal sound.

So the purpose of this blog is to educate. Its not about Metal Elitism. Its just about the fact that a band that puts a little bit of an "accepted" modern influence and image seems to have more sway nowadays than bands that were progenitors of the genre that the said bands are trying to imitate.

So educate yourself, Metalcore fans! Check out bands that don't have that little influence in the music that gets them MTV play, or radio play. A start is by checking out the bands that invented "Melodeath" (one of the main influences on modern Metalcore); In Flames the Jester Race, At The Gates Slaughter of the Soul, Dark Tranquility's the Gallery, etc.

I just am dumbfounded at the ignorance of some of the fans regarding the history. Yes there is only a certain amount of time during the day, but you gotta admit that some of the originators (in many cases) are better than the later bands. Its not evolution if someone refines something, its more imitation (and imitation can be good, but often it is bad).

So by all means- check out some of the more extreme power metal bands, and some of the original melodic death metal bands. A good place to start is Carcass and the aforementioned Swedish bands, and a good place to start for the more extreme end of power metal is Biomechanical. As far as 3 Inches of Blood, Blind Guardian and Stormwarrior (more on them later) are good bands to check out.

So, some recommended listenings:

The Mayhem of the Sex Pistols!

What do the Sex Pistols and Mayhem have in common? Well where do I start? In this article I intend to go into depth on this subject. Also, in the process, I will discuss how both their landmark albums have similar histories as well as having many parallels in regards to the way they were made, etc.



To begin with, both were very transgressive artists for their time. Well, in some ways, Mayhem's actions were BEYOND transgressive and downright CRIMINAL. Of course, The Sex Pistols were not without their share of criminality as well. The Sex Pistols "anarchy" and general nihilism in many ways reflected a more economic malaise that afflicted Britain at the time. Stay tuned though while I write in future blogs as far as the reasoning behind the Norwegian Black Metal movement of the early nineties, and my theories for their criminal acts (church burnings, etc). I believe there were different reasonings behind this not related to economic conditions (obviously), but the general nihilism expressed in both movements definitely had some parallels. As far as parallels between the two albums though-

In essence the parallels are as follows:

1. Both bands had one Landmark album they are known for, and their other material is lesser known (in the Sex Pistols case this is their only "official" studio album, other than various live albums and compilations, etc).  This is obvious as Never Mind the Bollocks is seen as a "punk" classic, and remains one of the best known punk albums of all time. Mayhem's De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas is the same way- Their other material is praised by many, but did not have the same impact on the scene as De Mysteriis did.

2. Both albums are culminations of their respective scenes up until that point- but while not the first examples of their burgeoning genres, they are definitely revolutionary.

The Sex Pistols were a continuation of the many 60's and 70's punk and hard rock groups that came before them. Iggy and The Stooges, MC5, Rolling Stones, The Who and others were an influence. The Ramones and the Dictators came before the Pistols, but the Pistols were almost a perfection of a lot of what had come up to that point. Mayhem's De Mysteriis was the same way- you can hear Bathory, Sarcofago, and many others, but they took the essence of many of these bands and made something new with it. One of the secret weapons of Mayhem was a little known guitarist named Snorre Ruch, who wrote some of the more dissonant and progressive riffs on the album. Previously (and later on), he played with a band called Thorns, where he used many progressive chord progressions, but I digress..

3. Both albums are more accessible than many of their peers' albums, while not being a sellout or an attempt at commercialization.

The Sex Pistols album was controversial among some later punk critics (and probably some of the band themselves) because it is actually (especially for a "Punk" album) a decently produced record. There are overdubs galore with guitars, and while the album's production was not on the par of other bands of the day such as say, Fleetwood Mac, it almost had a "classic rock" vibe contained within its grooves. The production of the record is bright, punchy and distinct, and adds to the pure rock power that it contains. As far as commercialization, well there is some controversy regarding this. (In some ways, Malcolm Mclaren wanted the Sex Pistols to be big, but we won't go into this for the sake of brevity)..

Mayhem's De Mysteriis is the same way for their respective genre. The album was pretty well produced for the time. Remember, this is the time when the black metal bands were trying to be the anti-thesis of many of the commercially "slick" produced Death Metal bands coming around at the time. But more importantly, the album was much better produced than their black metal peers releasing records.  De Mysteriis sounded very different than say, Darkthrone, and had a clear and cutting mid ranged production compared to many of their fellow Norwegian peers. The guitars are clear, and not muddy, and they have mid-ranged sound. The drums sound cavernous and loud, and the bass is audible as well.

4. Both bands participated in anti-social and transgressive acts.

In the Sex Pistols case, it was usually more relegated to publicity stunts (the Bill Grundy incident) and an unprecedented amount of controversial lyrics for the time. Bashing the British Queen, provocatively using curse words on a record (for the time this was pretty rare unless it was a Richard Pryor comedy lp or something), as well as just a general disdain for authority fueled their shows and tours.

In Mayhem's case, of course it went ten steps further. Church burnings (mainly the result of their "replacement" bass player, and I'll get to that in a minute), controversial interviews, pronouncements of "devil worship" (not just "satanism") as well as many other controversial acts and statements fueled their publicity (As a side note I will go into my opinions on Christianity, Satanism, and Black Metal in future blogs so definitely check back on this).

5. Both bands had stores as their "base of operations".

Malcolm Mclaren's (the Sex Pistols manager and one of the founders though not a band member) shop "Sex" was an S and M shop in London which specialized in "taboo" clothing as well as pushing the boundaries. And this is where the band had met and were customers at from time to time (basically one of the stores that had pushed the early Punk movement in Great Britian).

On the same note, Euronymous's shop "Helvete" in Oslo Norway was the basis of many of the Black Metal bands coming up at that time. Euronymous being the guitarist and fouding member of Mayhem. Helvete was a record store which sold a lot of obscure and underground black and death metal.


6. Both bands had a "replacement" bass player who helped the (initial) demise of the group.

7. Both bassists (likely) murdered someone.

8. Both bassists (had) and still have a cult following among many fans. 



Sid Vicious had joined and did a few of the bass tracks on Never Mind the Bollocks, but only wrote a few parts of the songs (mainly Holidays in the Sun). He had been a replacement bass player for departed bassist Glen Matlock, who had been a founding member and songwriter. Glenn had been rumored to be kicked out for "liking the Beatles" but recently that has been exposed as a myth by recent interviews. Sid Vicious was a drug addict who gained notoriety for a lot of his on stage as well as off stage behavior. He also had solo albums (where he sings and plays some bass with other musicians) as well as having a general cult following in the Punk community (especially after his death). He is seen for having brought a lot of the nihilistic attitude to the Pistols, despite having a limited technical expertise.


Varg Vikernes in Mayhem was also a replacement bassist. "Necrobutcher" had recently departed the group after Mayhem's previous singer's suicide (and the callous handling of the matter by fellow members prompted him to leave). Varg also had a "solo" gig that he was known for, but unlike Vicious it was seen as a lot more groundbreaking for the respective style of music. Burzum is still respected today, with a new album bringing a spotlight on Vikernes. Vikernes was controversial from the beginning because of some of his proclamations involving his ideas on race and politics. He later was arrested for church burning, and while Euronymous had outwardly expressed pleasure at the acts, there was inside casternation from Euronymous as far as who was getting notoriety in the "scene" (there are many books about the subject of the early nineties black metal movement- I will give a history and my opinions in future blogs, but as stated before this blog is about the parallels between the two bands their genres). We don't know exactly what transpired, but Vikernes eventually was arrested for the murder of Euronymous, and sent to prison (until recently as a matter of fact).


Sid Vicious was alleged to have been involved with the murder of his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen. Unlike Vikernes though, Sid died- he died of a drug overdose a few days after making bail.


So that about sums it up. I believe both albums are important because they are some of the greatest examples of their respective styles. Mayhem's dark atmosphere and dissonant heavy riffing making it one of Black Metal's all time classics, and The Sex Pistols Never Mind the Bollocks being a nuclear bomb that ignited (and inspired) a wave of followers to come in the punk scene. They both were an influence on future bands, and Mayhem's Euronymous being what Malcolm Mclaren was to the Pistols and the Punk scene- a progneitor of an entire movement to follow.



 



I recommend both these albums as they are two of my all time favorites:




Monday, June 21, 2010

Sleep announce fall tour.

 Taken from http://www.roadrunnerrecords.com/blabbermouth.net/news.aspx?mode=Article&newsitemID=141890
While their genre (Doom? Stoner rock? a hybrid of both) has never been my favorite of metal genres, I always had a place in my heart for Sleep. I saw Sleep open for Hawkwind years ago as a kid, and it was one of the best (and Loudest) shows I had ever seen. It is the envy of many of their fans that I got to see them on the "Holy Mountain" tour. So will I be going to the following show? Sep. 09 - Logan Square Auditorium - Chicago, IL (w/ LICHENS)

Maybe, I don't know. It was one of the best and most powerful shows I had seen, so it will remain to be seen whether I go or not.

Danzig - Deth Red Sabaoth (Review) 3/5

And here we are again, in 2010 (!) with another musical slab of that tattooed munchkin, Danzig.

Danzig as you probably know being the former singer of bands The Misfits, Samhain and his eponymously named band, Danzig.

After a disappointing series of releases from 1996's Blackacidevil to 2004's Circle of Snakes, Danzig has finally come full circle to an album that recalls (in various ways) what many consider the "classic" lineup (1988-1994).

While the recent albums had their moments, there was something missing from them that was obvious. Danzig's vocals in particular were produced in a way that made the listener assume that his voice had degraded over the years. Live shows didn't show this degradation per se, so it was obvious to many that some of the albums seemed rushed or "forced". Of course this is a matter of contention, but luckily it has been remedied by the new album.

Danzig's last album was a compilation called "Lost Tracks of Danzig", which featured tracks ranging from the beginning of his solo career to the "Circle of Snakes" era. What was obvious on the album (which featured some rerecorded parts) is that Danzig had indeed not lost "it", and also, some of his track choices for the more recent releases were misguided- Songs like "Crawl Across Your Killing Floor" were more recent tracks which were (debatedly) better than any of the songs on the actual albums!

Also a year before (6/6/06), Danzig had also performed a critically acclaimed show with none other than Hank Williams III, that featured a lot of old rockabilly tracks and a few Misfits and Danzig classics. It was obvious that after a few years of obscurity, Danzig was poised to make a comeback...

So- How is the new album?

Well for one thing, the quality expressed on Danzig I-IV with regards to vocal quality and timbre is definitely there. The singing for the most part does not have any strained quality to it, neither does it go beyond its range too often. The expression of his voice is back, and this is good news for any longtime Danzig fans.

The production is clear yet dry, and though this sometimes to its detriment, its normal course during the album is very organic. As hinted in interviews, Danzig used a much more organic process this time to record, using many analog instruments, etc.

The guitar work I am mixed on somewhat though. Tommy Victor was great in Prong, but sometimes it seems like he gets lost during guitar solos and during parts that need a bit less "stiffness" (the irony being Danzig's opinion on John Christ as being too "Stiff" and "Metal" (various interviews) ). This is apparent on some tracks that have an almost looped quality to them (example: The Revengeful), betraying the idea that Danzig used mostly organic means of recording on the album. Other parts are indeed more organic and "retro" but don't expect to find any songs like "I'm the One" or "Thirteen" on the album. Overall, the songs are overly repetitive and are "missing something". That something is not, despite the detractors, the lack of the Mark I lineup. Its an extra "oomph" to the proceedings, and an added complexity to the songs that the classic Danzig had. Despite these points, the songs overall have a catchy quality to them that we haven't seen (at least on official albums anyway) since the classic years. And there are some really prime cuts that would fit well with the classic period. Best tracks? Hammer of the Gods, Deth Red Moon, Left Hand Rise Above.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Iron Maiden - Kiss with a "guise" of integrity?

In some ways, Iron Maiden represents the ideals of any aspiring musician. They do what they like, with no regard for trends but with total regard for their longtime fans. But in this blog I want to poke a little bit of a hole in the "myth" that is perpetuated with the Iron Maiden fanbase.

Don't get me wrong, Iron Maiden has been and is still one of the inspirations for me being into metal in the first place. But often on message boards, in conversations, and so on, Iron Maiden is regarded as the Vanguard of Heavy Metal as far as integrity goes. Fans and peers alike testify to the fact that the band "never sold out", they "never compromised" and with this comes the idea that the band almost is an altruistic band still in touch with their "working class roots" and with no regard for profit...but...

While not wanting to bash who is probably my favorite band, have you ever noticed the glut of Iron Maiden merchandise in recent years? Also notice that they continue to release live albums, reissue their albums every five years or so, and do other (admittedly wise) astute business decisions?

The idea that Iron Maiden is the "anti-Kiss" or the "anti Corporate band that made it" is basically a load of bullshit.

I recall an article in Guitar For the Practicing Musician circa 1999 or so, where they discuss the reunion with Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith. Maiden had admittedly suffered through the Nineties, being relegated to club shows and to an "uncool" status (more on the metal deficit of the Nineties in future blogs I may add). The reunion was seen as a blessing, and not only in a musical sense. The article went to state that around 10 Million dollars had been "invested" into making Maiden an enterprising entity "again". Maiden went on in the 2000's and have thrived since then (arguably they are bigger now more than ever), but without catering to musical trends. This is fine and dandy, but at the same time, there is a bill of goods being sold to the fan.

A Maiden fan's belief that Maiden has no monetary objective is in many ways, erroneous.

I am only stating this in part because I was once of the same cloth as this "average" Maiden fan.

The fact remains that though they are often placed above bands like Kiss as far as musical integrity goes, there is a deception going on.

And this is no mere "conspiracy theory" this is simply an acknowledgement that Iron Maiden are a gigantic band with a huge sphere of influence, and also one of affluence.

Iron Maiden packs arenas nowadays. They sell millions of T-Shirts that are made in third world countries. They still sell (relatively) a lot of albums.

And behind this empire are two people who may seem to be somewhat different- the calm and reserved "source of integrity" Steve Harris (bass and main songwriter) and their shrewd manager, Rod Smallwood.

It is often the case that on metal blogs, Blabbermouth and the like that Iron Maiden is talked about in reverence for their "still being in touch with their working class roots", or that "they never sold out", etc, etc.

But the fact of the matter is, while they may have not changed their musical style, in a way they remain on the same level as a Kiss or Metallica in their "corporatism". Maiden shirts are sold by the bucketload to Hot Topics across America. You see Iron Maiden songs in video games, in movies, and their shirts on Lindsay Lohan.

Mainstream rock stars and actors sing their praises.

What is my point with this? Well I just wanted to insert a bit of perspective. Iron Maiden is one of the best selling Heavy Metal bands of all time. In a way, their dedication to their "Values" (i.e not changing much with the times) is just as much of a "sell out" as Metallica cutting their hair or Gene Simmons selling "Kiss" caskets.

Its not really a sell out though, its more of a case where the band did what they want and made it, but want to keep their financial empire afloat. But the point is, when anyone tries to pit Sharon Osbourne as some kind of devil and Rod Smallwood the saint (a couple years ago with the Ozzfest debacle) or Iron Maiden as some underground rooted band, just remember that they still do a lot of the stuff that other bands are criticized about as far as "for money". They wouldn't be playing nostalgia tours if they weren't concerned with the bottom line, or selling a lot of the merchandise for that matter.

Rod Smallwood is a shrewd businessman who has kept Iron Maiden ltd lucrative, but Steve Harris has kept the other foot in the "working class roots" of playing music with integrity.

Its a delicate balance, but a lot of people don't acknowledge the "corporate side" of Iron Maiden.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What I think of Metalcore Part One

This is a series of blogs I will be starting on what I think of the "Metalcore" scene.
I will start by taking you back about 20 years when I first heard the term "Crossover". "Crossover was the combination of Metal and (Hardcore) Punk, and to my pre-teen mind it definitely represented something fresh. Flash forward about 20 years later and a music known as "Metalcore" is all the rage. They are two different things I must acknowledge. As "Hardcore" dropped a lot of the original "Punk" elements in late Eighties and Early Nineties with bands like Sick of it All, Agnostic Front, etc- it became somewhat indistinguishable from a lot of what else was happening- Groove Metal. Groove Metal included bands such as Exhorder and Pantera, and both bands included Metal, Hardcore and Crossover as influenced. Confused? Well in a way I am- but I am beginning to see where it all fits. The band "Overcast" was formed in the mid nineties, and the rest is history. Overcast included future members of Killswitch Engage and Shadows Fall.

Shadows Fall was a band I heard in about 1997-98. I thought it was basically a somewhat more eclectic version of what was going on in Sweden at the time, that is, Melodic Death Metal.

I didn't see where the "Hardcore" influences were really, except for maybe a few sections.

Well where am I going with this? Metalcore is in many ways a distillation of underground metal sounds of the past 15 years or so. Some elements of the original "Hardcore" sound remain, i.e, "breakdowns", etc- as well as the vocal stylings, but many of the bands suffer from a marginalization that comes with not having a metal upbringing. I am only being honest with this. One of the things that I can identify with many members of the scene, is that they weren't as hardcore with metal as a "metal lifer" such as myself. Does this bother me? Yes and no. Some of the more eclectic and interesting bands such as Between the Buried and Me and Protest the Hero (both coming from a Metalcore "background") can be excused because of their versatiliy and variety. The (to me anyway) defilement of old school death metal that passes off as "Deathcore" is another story altogether (to me anyway). I don't get the appeal of "Deathcore". If I want to hear Death Metal, I want to hear a real death metal band such as Morbid Angel, not the strange mutation that Deathcore provides. It sounds watered down and refined, and the drummers (obviously young) use many more synthetic methods than even their "trigger happy" forefathers (triggers as in "triggered drums"). So, overall, if a band comes from a Metalcore background but pushes boundaries to me there's no difference between this and a killer band coming from ANY scene. I may think they just look like "prep jocks" compared to the long haired greasy metal brethren I am used to, but this can be excused if their music kicks ass. And it often does.