Reasons to be cheerful

Posted in Coming soon, News, Petulance on July 20th, 2009 by Alex

So all your fiends and family are either on the brink of redundancy or about to die of swine flu. Your house is worth less than the boat that you’re going to have to by when the ice caps melt and you’ve taken a liking to the new Beyonce track and you’re concerned that this may develop into something more sinister.

Don’t feel so down old chum. Here’s some reasons to be cheerful!

The new Dillinger Escape Plan album Option Paralysis will be released early next year which apparently will sound “dark and evil –very early ’90s thrash-influenced” and not “upbeat and danceable –very Justin Timberlake-influenced” like we were all expecting.

One more instalment of the 4 album odyssey that is the Devin Townsend Project. This one will be heavier apparently, which is nice. Strapping Young Lad will be revisited on the 3rd album apparently. Apparently there are also twitters regarding some possible live appearances next year. A visit to the UK please Mr. Townsend!

The new album New Junk Aesthetic from southern hardcore frontrunners Every Time I Die in September. The first track released from this has backing vocals from Dillinger’s Greg Puciato. Read my thoughts here.

Alice in Chains got a new singer, and have recorded a new album due for a September release. Against all the odds, the first track released off of this opus is actually rather good.

Baroness have finished recording their new album, which is due out in October. If it’s 1/10th as good as The Red Album, then it should kick the arse out of most other stuff released this year.

Apparently Metal is currently the most popular musical genre in the UK. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether this is a reason to be cheerful or a reason to slit your wrists. If it leads to more unforgivable adolescent nonsense like this, then possible the latter, unless you’re 12, then surely the former.

Feeling happier? No? This should help (mainly because it’s what I’m listening to now, and it’s cheering me up).

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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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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21 of the best or 21 reasons to complain?

Posted in Petulance on June 28th, 2009 by Alex

I’m revelling in the unfolding drama that is Metalsucks’ 21 best metal albums of the 21st century so far. It is a brave thing that they do. Already proving controversial, this list, compiled from the votes from a load of metal community notables, is nothing if not fantastic entertainment. I don’t buy the metal elitist derision that’s going on around inclusions such as Deftones White Pony and System of a Down’s Toxicity. These albums were critically acclaimed, very influencial and above all, extremely popular. And herein lies the heart of the problem. Music snobs (like myself) world over have inate sense of intimacy with our music; we spend countless hours singing the virtues of our favourite underachieving musical saviours, only to forsake them the moment the rest of the world sits up and listens. I’m as guilty of this as the rest of you, but in the fulness of time the good will out. I’m pleased about the inclusion of these albums in the list – they are quality albums that have stood the test of time – and let’s not forget, a large selection of real people contributed to this list; people actually like these albums. If left to neigh sayers, it’d be a list of recent, flash in the pan wannabe’s, or long term underacheivers. Does not the inclusion of Opeth’s Ghost Reveries and Gojira’s From Mars to Sirus legitimise the list somewhat? Probably not unless the top 5 happens to include Sunn O)))) or Cynic.

Update 28th June 2009:

Now gentlemen, you’re just not playing the game. I was being open minded – placatory even. Then you had to pull this out of the bag. I mean really, you could have doctored the results or something and saved embarrassing yourselves. OK, it’s not the worst album in the world, and title track is excellent, but #6? Really? What next? Linkin Park? Saint Anger? Common gents, give me back some hope…

Update 08th July 2009:

Well, what can I say. The list went from bad, to worse, to excellent to not too bad. Opeth’s Blackwater Park appearing at #3 seems the most positive thing this list has to offer. KSE at #4 is just plain dull and Lamb of God As the Palaces Burn at #2 seem so awkwardly placed between Opeth and the stately #1 Mastodon’s Leviathan – surely an impressive album, but the best of the decade? Only the fullness of time will tell. This list seems very of its time. Try this again in 2 years and I think the list will look VERY different.

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The bit where the noise kicks back in

Posted in Petulance on June 21st, 2009 by Alex

It’s a well understood technique, in literature, music, movies, even politics, that if you want something to have particular impact, you precede it with something quiet, calm, inert, mundane. The classic horror scare technique is to dupe the audience into thinking that the protagonist is safe, before slamming them sadistically into new levels or terror and torment – think, in Alien when Ripley thinks she’s safe in the shuttle only to find that they alien followed her in.

Look me in my brand new eye - no thanks

"Look me in my brand new eye" - no thanks

Metal is a musical genre that uses this technique to devastating effect: there’s quiet bit (usually around two thirds of the way through the song) that lulls you into a little pocket of calm – the eye of the storm – before smashing back in, like a cricket bat to the side of the head, with the most brutal part of the track that make you mosh so hard your head snaps clean off at the neck. Bloody marvelous!

Here’s a few examples of this technique used that will make you run, face first, into a brick wall.

Rage Against the MachineKilling in the Name of (4:34 “F*ck you I won’t do what you tell me!”)

Lamb of GodContractor (2:21 “They all die!”)

AmenMayday (2:26 “Take your bible, burn it alive!”)

SlipknotEyeless (3:05 “Look me in my brand new eye!”)

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What’s in a name?

Posted in Petulance on June 4th, 2009 by Alex
What do you mean track 7 doesn't sound like you expected it to?

What do you mean track 7 doesn't sound like you expected it to?

I always derive a noodle of amusement when bands announce the title of their forthcoming album. Usually a couple of weeks after announcing the impending glorious advent, which came a few months after they embarked on the booze addled studio sessions. What are we to make of this tantalizing tidbit of information?

For example, Dillinger Escape Plan recently announced that the title of their new studio album to be “Option Paralysis”.  Being in the unenviable position of not having heard this audio treat, I can only speculate on what this means. Fanboys out there will cling on to this tiny slither of information using it to derive a sense of what the new album will sound like. It seems clear to me that the clue is in the title; the title of the band that is. This is TDEP – it’ll sound like a troupe of free form jazz musicians being kicked in the face. Although ever obstinate they are, it has a similar probability of being a Justin Timberlake covers album.

Something that will no doubt tantalize the metal community is the announcement that the new Slayer album will contain the word “blood”. Does this mean that it will be a return to form of the seminal Reign in Blood? Who knows, although it’s about an exiting piece of news as hearing that an Iron Maiden album has the word death in it’s title – I will actually be more surprised if the new Maiden album doesn’t!

Next on the new album continuum is the track listing. Now we can speculate on what each and every song sounds like! I think track 3 will be gothic hip-hop, while 7 is clearly a funk-doom-country fusion. It’s slightly less ridiculous than when football fans preciently assert, before the match, that the first goal will half way through the 26th minute. Well obviously! I predict that the ball will be round, there will be very few goals be scored, and that that any given track on the new Slayer album will sound like a runaway tube ride through an abattoir.

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