Classic Tracks: The Dillinger Escape Plan – Panasonic Youth

Posted in Tracks on July 17th, 2009 by Alex

Having virtually created the mathcore genre with their revered debut full-length album Calculating Infinity, The Dillinger Escape Plan had to set about reinventing the wheel. A band not satisfied with continually repeating former glories, there is the stench of reinvention about Miss Machine. That’s not to say that Dillinger had morphed into a jazz-funk fusion, or indeed the more obvious route of sloping down the emo stadium filler route we all know that they’re capable of (and have strayed uncomfortably towards with Unretrofied, and several tracks on follow-up Ire Works).

After parting ways with their original singer Dimitri Minakakis and collaborated with (ex-Faith No More singer and musical alchemist) Mike Patton, among others, on the EP Irony is a Dead Scene, Dillinger finally recruited Greg Puciato after hearing an audition tape sent in response to an advert on the band’s website. Puciato brought with him a greater vocal range than Minakakis and a melodic pop sensibility which inflated the band’s chaotic, claustrophobic sound into a jazz-metal-punk-industrial chimera. The edgy industrial stylings and commercial smarts outraged the fanbase, as the band knew it would, but evolution is a fact of life in Dillinger’s universe – stagnation is the death of art.

Miss Machine’s opener, Panasonic Youth is like a sledgehammer to the face – an anarchic statement of intent that both celebrates Dillinger’s intricate staccato violence and ushering in a new dynamic and cinematic sound. There is no chorus here; the song barely repeats. Despite the fact that this is not in the slightest radio friendly this was the first single from the album.

Clearly a message to the old guard Puciato states with unarguable gusto “Evolution gave us a clock that’s always winding down” in full knowledge that they were winding it up once more; Dillinger is dead, long live Dillinger!

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New: Korpiklaani – Vodka

Posted in New, Tracks on July 16th, 2009 by Alex

Vodka by Finnish folk metalers Korpiklaani has to be the best song about drinking since CSS’s 2006 boozy pop bouncer Alcohol. I’m not generally a fan of Folk Metal but this is irresistible. Korpiklaani describe their music as “old people’s music with heavy metal guitars”, but I’ve no doubt that this track will be the soundtrack of plenty of adolescent drink soaked escapades.

So kids and adults alike, let me here you chant:

Vodka, you’re feeling stronger
Vodka, no more feeling bad
Vodka, your eyes are shining
Vodka, you are the real MAN

One word: Wow.

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Critical Mass part 1: A century 9 years old going on 21

Posted in Indulgence, Petulance on July 14th, 2009 by Alex

There’s an old adage that states “everyone’s a critic”. I’ve no idea who originally said that (and the internet is doing a poor job of enlightening me) but in the current musical climate, it may be the most erudite thing that anyone ever said.

Some metal fans debate the merit of Metalsucks best albums of 21st century

Some metal fans debate the merit of Metalsucks best albums of 21st century

A few things in my little world have got me thinking about the nature of criticism (at least the musical kind) in the internet age and I think they bear a little more exploration. I’m going to break this one up into chunks as it’s going to be quite long.

Firstly we have the now infamous 21 best albums of the 21st Century compiled by caustic metal blog Metalsucks. These guys earnestly gathered a list of 500 or so metal albums released in the past 9 years and sent it to a bunch of metal fraternity notables and insiders. The list seems exhaustive and the panel quite balanced. The resulting tally was repetitive and for the most part predictable and in theory should have proved quite uncontroversial. However, the bitch-festival that ensued was nothing short of astounding. With a few exceptions, the choices, the order and the very integrity of the blog itself were fiercely contested. The abundance of Killswitch Engage and Lamb of God (bagging the #2 slot with As the Palaces Burn) polarized the readership and the altercations these triggered in the comments were epic.

For my part the list was a populist document of American metal’s stalwarts from the past decade. It was also very repetitive. It was great to see Opeth represented so well, and I’ve no issue with the likes of System of a Down and Deftones appearing, but overall the list was heavy on the stadium metal and light on the challenging, ground breaking or genre defining. Metalsucks themselves have subsequently published a list of albums they wished had made the cut (including Isis, Neurosis, Emperor, Strapping Young Lad, and perhaps most controversially, Andrew WK), which was much better received.

Why publish a list that so poorly represents the taste of your audience? I’m aware that this was a panel voted list, and perhaps this is the problem. I suppose that they thought that giving the vote to a bunch of industry types would give the list credence, but all it did was show up how blinkered the industry is to anything even vaguely challenging. They’d have been better off either a) giving it over to the readers to decide, and then they only have themselves to blame when Linkin Park get the top spot or b) thrash it out amongst the editorial team, and then it’s at least representative of what they actually believe.

It’s impossible to get this right, as no-one will ever agree. Music is so subjective, and context and zeitgeist have a huge role to play. Probably, the best approach to this endevour would have been to wait a decade, then asked the question again – I wonder what the list would look like then?

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Classic Tracks: Iron Maiden – Sea of Madness

Posted in Classic Tracks, Old, Tracks on July 13th, 2009 by Alex

I’m generally quite predictable. In these articles (otherwise known as drops in the ocean) I tend to say a little about the band’s legacy and some history before introducing the track. The tracks themselves are usually fairly obvious ‘classics’ or fan favorites. (It is fair to say, that I haven’t actually written enough to constitute a trend, but I’m gambling on the fact that if anyone bothers reading this, they won’t expend the effort to verify my claims). But what hasn’t already said about Iron Maiden? Bruce “compulsive dabbler” Dickinson has said a lot of it at any occasion that some misguided soul listens to him. It would be pointless to sing the virtues of Run to the Hills (not a favorite of mine by a long shot), or 2 Minutes to Midnight (surely one of the greatest metal tracks of all time?)

No, I humbly bring your attention to a track that, perhaps, you haven’t considered for a while. Somewhere in Time is not considered among Maiden’s most revered albums, although it sits comfortably in the middle and has by far the best cover art (feel free to debate this, but you ARE wrong). It was certainly one of their most commercially successful, and Heaven Can Wait was a live favourite for some time.

But amongst the radio friendly (Wasted Years) and pseudo-prog epics (The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner) sits a hidden gem.

Sea of Madness, penned by the band’s pop-metal factory Adrian Smith, harks back to the melodic flourishes of Piece of Mind. It’s a simple trad-metal anthem. No new ground is trodden here – verse-bridge-chorus, repeat, guitar solo (nothing to write home about), quiet bit, repeat the fist bit again. There’s a bit where Bruce goes who-a-o-a-o-a-o. And what a chorus, truly anthemic, unintelligible lyrics, talk of madness, sadness and eagles. What could be more (mid eighties, post NWOBHM) metal?

OK, so I’m pushing the definition of the word to call this song a classic. Maiden didn’t roll it out along with (other hidden classic) Moonchild on their recent Somewhere Back in Time (see what they did there?) tour, but it’s seriously one of my favorites, so just shut up for a few minutes and give it a go – you’ll love it, I promise. If you don’t, then Number of the Beast is pretty good too.

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Avoid: Motionless In White

Posted in Avoid on July 11th, 2009 by Alex

I could write so much about this inflamed testicle of a band, but what can I say that Metalsucks didn’t write already.

Make up your own mind (well, if you’re a 14 year old, you may struggle with this a little, so let me help you: don’t risk listening to this and the propensity for self loathing and self harm that it will lead to. Also, this isn’t a ‘gateway band’ for other ‘metal’, it’s a pointless diversion. If you’re trying to offend your parents try Archgoat or Pig Destroyer instead which would be far more effective and take up smoking weed in your bedroom. )

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Is the internet broken?

Posted in New, Petulance on July 9th, 2009 by Alex

I’m not a demanding person. I have simple needs: my wife and kid, something to occupy my (slightly defective) brain, beer tokens, my iPod and a constant supply of new music. Please don’t upset the balance.

In the UK, no-one can hear Cave In scream

In the UK, no-one can hear Cave In scream

It is the final ingredient in this most subtle dish that is making my world pie taste a little sour today. It is important that I hear the new Cave In track Retina Sees Rewind (from the forthcoming EP Planets of Old) that Hydra Head records proudly announced is available, right now, on iTunes. Bloody marvelous, thought I, on hearing this news. Cave in have produced some of the most deftly challenging, commercially orientated music of the past decade. When they disappeared on indefinite hiatus in 2006 we were all sad. When recently they reformed we all cheered.

Cave In have tantalizing talent for reinvention and the question on everyone’s lips is “what will they do next?” Well I’m bloody well going to find out, thought misguided me. Arriving at iTunes I discovered, to my intolerable disdain, that it’s only available to US iTunes users. Steve Jobs you bastard, give me my music! Undeterred, I went on the hunt.

It is a wonderful thing the modern interweb. When I want to hear a track, 95% of the time I can find it, or at least bits of it, even if it’s some dodgy mobile phone recording obscured by some twat telling his mate to “check out the guitarist’s gnarly stack”. Most of the time, some copyright ignorant hoodlum has posted it on Youtube helpful adding a static sleeve scan for our audiovisual entertainment.

But is seems that the tech savvy hoardes are not Cave In savvy. I could not find the track anywhere. I can’t buy, borrow or steal. It’s not up on the musical promotion phenomenon that is Myspace either. Presumably, the limited edition EP will be similarly difficult to obtain. Meanwhile, thousands of smug Americans bask in the song’s glory.

What is going on? I really thought we’d transcended the age where if you wanted to hear the latest Lawnmower Deth track you’d need to get your mate to tape it for you.

The new age of the musical internet is democratic. You listen to new bands/albums/tracks because you can, and you support the bands by seeing them live and actually purchasing their tracks. If you don’t like what you hear, don’t pay. This is how it works now whether the record industry likes it or not. Music spreads like a virus electronically, just as it always did in the real world – this is because music is about connections in our brains, and between people, and has nothing to do with distribution formats.

So given that I am unable to even listen to this track, even once, just a snippet, I can only assume that the internet is broken and that Google will fix it soon. Then I can listen to Retina Sees Rewind and tell you all (both of you unlucky souls who arrived here accidentally) all about it.

Hydra Head assure us that UK  (and I’m presuming international) fans will be graced with this tune’s availability imminently. Too late, but let’s hope it’s not too little.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of the internet that isn’t broken.

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Baroness – The Red Album

Posted in Album, Stumbled upon on July 9th, 2009 by Alex

Mastodon are a great band, so when folks started muttering about Baroness in the same context I should have taken notice. Generally I thought “here’s another stoner band with added Mastodon widdly bits” and filed on my stuff-to-listen-to-at-some-point list somewhere in the middle. This is why it has taken me so woefully long to get with the programme. To paraphrase in the vernacular – EPIC FAIL!

Yes, they do sound a bit like Mastodon – a driving flux of complex psychedelic guitar and complex arrangements. The bands also share a doom/prog lineage. But Baroness cast a mood that’s fundamentally different – although comparatively cerebral, Baroness effect a stoner slouch and southern groove which allows them a brightness that is nonexistent in their fellow Georgians’ music, and place them along side popier counterparts Torche.

The Red Album is bookended with 2 atmospheric instrumental sections. The opening ambient chimes of Rays on Pinion slow-builds into a glorious upbeat, up-tempo stomp before morphing into a part stoner, part punk bruiser. The sun sets on The Red Album with Grad, an azure and brooding post-rocker which recalls Earth, were they ever to have acquired delusions of grandeur.

What happens in between is a purposeful melange of vignettes and slabs of fully formed modern metal. Repeating motif’s subtly weave this ragtag mix into a primal tapestry.

The Birthing, with its southern stylings and dramatic midsection, is heavy and complex, while the stately Isak plods its chiming course through the stoner wasteland. The foreboding space rock of Wailing Wintery Wind is fancifully chased up by the storm-in-a-teacup fingerpicked acoustic Cockroach En Fleur – the first of a suite of elaborate but essential instrumental accessories completed by the post-rock doom of Aleph and Teeth of a Cogwheel, which is like a 70’s soundtrack for a movie about cowboys in space.

With Wunderlust, we’re are presented with the most Mastodon like moment, with guitars dual guitars picking through angular open stringed harmonies butted with shouted discordant vocals and a narrative instrumental mid section that Mastodon would surely have been proud of.

Baroness will need to step out from under Mastodon’s shadow to truly become a powerful musical force. It would be a travesty if they are relegated to a footnote in another bands musical history. The Red Album is as good as (and in many cases better than) anything that Mastodon have recorded.

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Great Guitar Solos #4: Mastodon – Hearts Alive

Posted in Solos on July 2nd, 2009 by Alex

Who knew that writing a concept album around Herman Melville’s turgid aquatic masterwork Moby-Dick could be cool? It was a little weak willed of Mastodon not to include tracks that mirror the extended chapters of cetalogical musings on whale species – that would be impressive.

Leviathan is as murky and unsettling as its literary counterpart, this doom-laden epic is intricate and perfectly conceived. Hearts Alive is its 13 minute epic culmination and centre-piece. Slow-building and creepy, it finally explodes into a stunning instrumental crescendo as monomaniac Captain Ahab finally takes battle with his quarry – the white whale.

Whereas most of the guitar solos mentioned thus far stray further into the “technically impressive” category, this falls squarely in the “Exactly exactly where it should be doing precisely what it should” category. Seemingly bubbling from the depths in an arpeggio maelstrom, this majestic piece of stringsmithery smashes through the tension built through the album making for an exhilarating conclusion to the saga.


One to Watch: Electric Mud Generator

Posted in New, Watchlist on July 1st, 2009 by Alex

I picked up a recommendation for Electric Mud Generator on a progressive rock thread on UKMU. Despite having released 2 albums these guys have managed to slip largely under the popular radar. Their music is an extremely fashionable mix of classic prog, prog metal and doom (with a little folk thrown in for good measure). The galloping doom of She Wore Thorns culminates into a very convincing Maiden-esque solo, while the brooding epic Winter evokes Rush and King Crimson and has a rousing chorus to die for. This is a territory I had expected Amplifier would start to occupy when the released their “difficult” second album Insider.

This release is somewhat timely, and I hope the world sits up and takes notice, as there’s plenty of deeply mediocre bands occupying this space at the moment.

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