Saturday, July 31, 2010

August 2010 Metal Preview

There are a lot of releases I'm looking forward to in August, but first I'd like to say one more thing about my recent post on metal and Islam. There is of course another side to the story, and here is a link to a page about an upcoming documentary: Heavy Metal Islam.
Heavy Metal Islam, a feature length documentary film, will tune audiences in to an alternative vision of the Muslim world that few in the West realize exists: The burgeoning heavy metal scene. Traveling from the slums of Casablanca to abandoned mansions outside Cairo to clandestine, literally underground gatherings in Iran, we enter a closed universe in the forgotten underbelly of globalization, where musicians and fans take great risks to play and listen to heavy metal with a religious fervor. For them, the music is not just for head-banging—it’s a way to vent widely shared but oft-repressed feelings of anger, anomie and hope in a forum that they—and not the corrupt state or the conservative Mosque—control.

Despite various government crackdowns (deriding the music as Satanic is a favorite ploy) metal scenes continue to flourish across the Muslim world. As these scenes grow, they’re revealing and an entirely different narrative than the one we get from the 24-hour news channels. It’s a story of similarities between East and West, with young people in Egypt venting their rage and expressing their desires in much the same way that kids in Indiana or London do; of collaborations between Western and Eastern musicians; of music—not suicide bombing—as protest and poetry. This odd, often violent-sounding stepchild of rock and roll is proving to be a remarkably transcendent vessel of hope.

As the film progresses, we’ll see musicians struggling with their history, their religion, and their art, and young kids struggling to make sense of an extreme world with stark choices. Heavy Metal Islam, the film that we’ll forge from this amalgam, will try to see if the seeds of a different, better future might already be growing from the desert sand.

Order of the Black On the 10th we have the latest from Black Label Society, Order of the Black. I have been a huge fan of their work since early in college, but 2003's Blessed Hellride was kind of a turning point. They were much heavier and dirtier sounding before that, and lost some of their charm after that. This is their first new album in four years, though, so I hope there will be somewhat of a return to form. Decibel noted there were several ballads, but Zakk did that quite well on Book of Shadows--not so well, though, on Hangover Music.

The Final Frontier (Mission Edition) Iron Maiden's The Final Frontier comes out on the 17th. For a lot of people, they were one of the first metal bands they got into. I didn't get into them until after I had been a metalhead for a decade already, so they don't have the same emotional attachment for me. From the reviews I've heard, it doesn't sound like one of their best, but the music I've heard has been pretty good. I'm on the fence about whether I'll get it.

7th Symphony The cello metal masters Apocalyptica will be releasing 7th Symphony on August 24. I am very much looking forward to this one. They are the original cello metal band, and they have continued to evolve and improve their sound on each successive release. You can definitely look forward to seeing more about this one in the coming month.

Warp Riders Also on the 24th is The Sword's third album Warp Riders. Decibel gave it a bad review, comparing it to Corrosion of Conformity's Deliverance if everything went wrong instead of going right. This is another one I'm on the fence about, and I'll be checking out Youtube videos to see if I can get a feel for it before buying.

Asylum On August 31 Disturbed release their fifth album, Asylum. I heard a promo cassette for their first album before it came out, and I have to say they have been one of my favorite bands--until recently. I keep questioning whether the alternative metal scene has gone downhill, or if I've simply lost interest in it, like metal is a drug and the lighter stuff isn't making up for the law of diminishing returns. I'm on the fence about it.

Up in the air--is Monster Magnet going to release their new album soon?

Of course, there are a lot of more underground kinds of albums I'll find as I go along, so I'll keep you posted.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Alcest: Écailles de Lune (2010) Review

And the post-metal honeymoon phase is over again.

Alcest is a French band which started out in black metal, but has moved to a post-metal/post-rock sound. Since I recently reviewed Altar of Plagues, I thought I'd check out the other post-black metal band out there.

I kept hoping for a little more black metal in this, but there is almost no metal to be found at all. Post-rock is the best way to describe this, though "Écailles de Lune - Part 2" and "Percées de lumière" are both good tracks with metal elements.

Trying to judge it on its own terms is difficult, because I keep wanting to treat it as a metal album. It is hauntingly beautiful, with a melancholy sound. I don't know whether it's all the moon imagery which brings that word to mind or not. It gives the feeling of cold sadness, with too much hidden hope and self-pity to be truly dark, the way My Dying Bride is.

Judging it as a whole, it's a decent enough listen, but I think I'd have to be really in the right mood for it. I can see how good it is--and it's very good--it's just not my kind of music. I think I'll just stick with Altar of Plagues, thank you.

The Verdict: If you're into sad music and shoegaze, or maybe you're a goth with better taste in music than goths tend to have, Écailles de Lune will be right up your alley. For me, it was OK. I give it 2 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cobalt: Gin (2009) Review

Metallattorney introduced me to Cobalt. While they've generated a lot of buzz, I'm willing to bet I'm not the only person who hadn't heard of them before. And I'm going on record saying that anyone with even a passing interest in extreme metal needs to know about Gin.

Cobalt is a two-man band, with the vocalist/lyricist in the military and only able to work on the albums sporadically. It would appear that kind of hardship has yielded something amazing.

As simply as I can put it, they sound like mid-to-late-90's Satyricon covering Tool material from the same period. This is, of course, an over-simplification, but they show the same kind of brilliant interplay between bass and guitar as Tool, similarly phenomenal drumming (see "Two-Thumbed Fist"), and the same knack for including moments of beauty in otherwise aggressive compositions. The tracks tend to start off more in Norwegian black metal, and then branch off to explore other, more progressive or post-metal territory (see "Arsonry").

Like I said, though, that is an oversimplification. "Dry Body" doesn't fit either mold, with its extended droning vocals dark enough to keep a motivational speaker from getting out of bed for a week. They have acoustic/electric interludes of both startling beauty ("Throat") and incredible sadness ("The Old Man Who Lied for His Entire Life").

They also give it a distinctly American feel to go with Hemingway on the cover. "Pregnant Insect" has clean vocals which sound like traditional Native American song. "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" is an instrumental with audio clips over the top, which sound like a monologue from a soldier. And to top it all off, there's a hidden track which sounds like Southern prisoners singing at hard labor.

All of these elements fit together seamlessly, with beauty and ugly not just balancing each other, but emphasizing. This is not just great music, this is amazing.

The Verdict: Cobalt deserves every ounce of attention they've gotten for Gin, and probably deserve a lot more. This could well be the high watermark for American black metal. I give it 5 out of 5 stars. This is an album I would seriously consider for my "if you were stranded on a deserted island" list.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Jorn: Dio (2010) Review

Jorn's tribute to the late, great Ronnie James Dio came out yesterday in the US, and I was chomping at the bit to hear this. Jørn Lande is one of the best vocalists in metal today, and probably the best power metal style vocalist around.

Lande's voice is amazing as always, with his ability to put a lot of throat into his voice while singing huge notes, in a way unmatched by anyone other than Dio himself. And he has a powerful band to back it up. They absolutely slay on Rainbow track "Kill the King", which is easily the highlight of the album. The other major highlights are Holy Diver standards "Invisible" and "Shame on the Night".

I do have a few nitpicky complaints, but don't take them too far. This album is very good, but the covers are a little too faithful, and don't really add anything. Also, Lande's power metal background doesn't allow for too much subtlety, and the band follows suit. As a result, they overemphasize everything, so instead of having highs and lows in the music everything is just one huge plateau. That's what you get for covering someone so amazing without mixing it up. The problem is most obvious on "Stand Up and Shout". Third, I think the track list is a bit disappointing: There are a total of 5 Holy Diver tracks, plus 4 more tracks from Dio's solo work, but only one Rainbow track--and most disappointing of all, only one Sabbath (well, two, actually, but jammed together into a medley). Finally, the original track "Song for Ronnie James" is a bit on the corny side, but the solo is good.

The Verdict: You probably won't want to go out of your way to get this one unless you're a huge fan of either Dio or Jorn. Despite all of my complaints, it is in fact a satisfying listen, and I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Zoroaster: Matador (2010) Review

It turns out I'm a bit of a sucker for colorful (but still awesome) album art. No, it's not Baizley, it's Brian Mercer, who is successfully channeling both Baizley and Pushead.

Zoroaster is from Atlanta, the source of the sludge metal explosion. But their particular brand of sludge is very much stoner-sludge, even moreso than High on Fire. The band will often go into a droning pattern, sometimes with odd guitar leads overlaid, and the vocals are mostly a monotone half-whisper--often with echo effects. Yeah, this is stoner sludge.

The album starts off on "D.N.R.", which displays all of those characteristics and lets you know what the band is really about. It gets more upbeat on the next few, including the meandering beauty of "Odyssey" and the solo goodness of "Trident". But then it completely jumps the shark on "Firewater", a pointless noisy mess. It's followed by the endlessly boring drone of "Old World", and except for the much more lively "Black Hole" the album never fully recovers. Do not rescuscitate.

The Verdict: They are unique among the sludge explosion, but in my opinion it's not in a good way. Does this kind of stuff actually sound good to people when they're stoned? It has some good moments, but overall you're better off spending your money elsewhere. I give it 2 out of 5 stars.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Freedom of Photography

Story Here
Courts have long ruled that the First Amendment protects the right of citizens to take photographs in public places. Even after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, law enforcement agencies have reiterated that right in official policies.

But in practice, those rules don't always filter down to police officers and security guards who continue to restrict photographers, often citing authority they don't have. Almost nine years after the terrorist attacks, which ratcheted up security at government properties and transportation hubs, anyone photographing federal buildings, bridges, trains or airports runs the risk of being seen as a potential terrorist.
You may or may not remember my own unpleasant experience on this subject. I can attest that they don't take kindly to impromptu citizen lectures on Constitutional law.

Federal Parking Garage II

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Metal and Islam

A Brief History of Metal's Anti-Religious Side, and Criticism of Its Failure to Target the Muslim Faith

The anti-religious bands of metal today are either idiots or pussies.

For at least the last 30 years, metal music has often treated religion with antipathy. The trend began in the late 70's with groups like Pentagram and Venom, who used images and lyrics insulting to Christianity purely for its shock value. Some fans took it seriously, whether because they thought it was serious or that it should be serious, and truly anti-religious and anti-Christian groups like Bathory and Mayhem hit the scene.

Metal is, with few exceptions, born from nations with a Christian religious heritage. So, it made sense for the ones seeking shock value to target Christianity. But now the idea is divorced from shock. It became an "ideal", so why do they continue to focus on the Christian faith?

I recently wrote a letter to Decibel about this conclusion, simplifying my observations to fit in the space of their letters:
Nergal was just acquitted of publicly denouncing religion, thank God. Freedom of speech is too important. If he had torn up a Koran, he would have faced the same charges, but he'd also have a fatwa on his head. Just look at Lars Vilks and the late Theo van Gogh. Or compare the stories of Melechesh in a Jewish state to Acrassicauda in a Muslim one.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Metal Briefs: Country/Metal

Country and metal had been begging to be put together ever since Motörhead dressed up like cowboys and did "Shoot You in the Back". Many sludge metal groups, of course, use some southern rock influence. But here I'm going to take a look at three albums that are a lot more country. I could also have done Jeff Walker Und Die Fluffers, but maybe that will be another day.

Rebel Meets Rebel: Rebel Meets Rebel (2006)

Rebel Meets Rebel David Allan Coe is about as legendary as you can get among outlaw country singers. Who would have thought he would do so well as, essentially, a replacement for Phil Anselmo? Three members of Pantera (including Dimebag) did the music, and Coe did the singing, and it turned out quite well. Overall, it sounds a lot like Pantera (as you might expect), though less aggressive or dark and with more of an outlaw country sound and attitude. The obvious standout track is opener "Nothin' To Lose", but other greats include "No Compromise" and "Cherokee Cry" (the latter sounds suspiciously like it could be from Down). I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Hank Williams III: Rebel Within (2010)

Rebel Within (Parental Advisory) I never thought I'd be buying a country album that didn't say "CASH" in big letters on the cover. But Hank III is about as outlaw as it gets, dabbling in country, punk, and metal. Whether this makes him simply a chameleon or the ultimate punk, I don't know, but he seems equally adept at all three styles. Rebel Within is almost purely country. No, not Nashville: This is very old-school country, with nasally singing and lots of twang. To me, that can get kind of tedious after a while, but he does incorporate blues (e.g. "Gone But Not Forgotten") and metal. The two obvious standout tracks are the title track and "Tore Up & Loud", which both have a lot of metal influence. I'm not sure I'm fully qualified to review a country album, but I like this well enough. I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Assjack: Assjack (2009)

AssJack Hank III's metal band Assjack is the most aggressive album on this list. It's groove metal, hardcore punk, and sludge metal thrown into a blender, with the occasional hints of country and industrial. It's much faster than that description would indicate, and very aggressive. Standouts include "Cocaine the White Devil" and the amazing "Redneck Ride" (which uses elements from that cliche hillbilly banjo song). This is a very enjoyable listen, and I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Poll Results: What's Your Favorite Metal Genre?

Click the image to get larger results. I have to say I'm not surprised by thrash metal taking the top spot, or the relative positions of any of the choices--except I am shocked and appalled at how many people chose hair/glam.

There's a new poll up: What's the best metal record label? I don't anticipate as many responses to this one, since I don't think all that many people are knowledgeable enough, but I may be surprised. I would have trouble picking, as it's a three-way race in my mind, so I've allowed you to pick more than one answer. (There is one post on the blog somewhere, if you know where or how to look, that should be a dead give-away on what those three are.)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Altar of Plagues: Sol (2008) Review

Sure, I say I'm going to give up on post-metal, but I keep going back to it like it's a manipulative girlfriend. This time it'll be different, I keep telling myself. Well, this time it really was different.

Altar of Plagues is a post-black metal band from Ireland with an apparent dedication to the EP as a format. Earlier this year, they released their third EP since forming in 2006, having released only one LP thus far.

But the EP strategy seems to be working out well for them, as Sol is a very good listen. And, since it's short (a little over a half hour), it may please even those without the attention span to handle post-metal.

Consisting of an intro and three songs, the album seems to go on a journey of musical evolution from the relatively straight-forward ambient black metal of "The Titan Skies", to the much more Isis-like "Twisted Structures Against the Sun", to the even more shoegazing "With Fire in Our Veins We Drown in Light", though the black metal elements are clearly evident on all the tracks. Ignoring the progressively ludicrous song titles, the individual tracks are engaging, and they evolve naturally into one another. This is exactly what post-metal should be.

(This isn't the most representative song on the album, but it's the only one I could find on Youtube.)

The Verdict: This is great post-metal mixed with black metal, a combination which is obvious on its surface but has rarely been done. The reason it hasn't been done may be that there is almost no market for something too scary-sounding for the hipsters and too hipster-sounding for the scary people. For someone who just loves metal, and wants to hear something done really well, Sol is an excellent EP. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Heavy Metal Frontman Test

I created this test several years ago, and I decided to look it up again. It's kind of fun. I was just starting to get into some more underground kinds of metal at the time I made it, but it's actually very intricate, with 16 possible results based on 4 criteria.

Your result for The Heavy Metal Frontman Test...

Tom Araya

You scored 52 occultism, 21 hedonism, 5 depression, and 43 anger!

You are Tom Araya, frontman of the iconic thrash/speed metal band Slayer. You like to sing about the devil, war, and everything else that's scary in the world, and you sing it to hard and fast music. You are uncompromising in your standards, and that's why people carve your band's name in their arms.

Take The Heavy Metal Frontman Test at OkCupid

And here's a similar one somebody else made:

Your result for The What Metal Icon Are You Test...

Mikael Akerfeldt

You scored 69 craziness, 75 heaviness, 69 humbleness, and 67 talent!

You are none other than the frontman for Opeth! Always humble, you never cease to amaze the music world. Whether it's through your brilliant music or vast intelligence, you continue to rise as a star among the Metal world. You realize you don't need a fancy show to sell tickets, and when criticized, you just sit back and let the music speak for itself.

Take The What Metal Icon Are You Test at OkCupid