Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Blood Freak: Mindscraper (2011)


MindscraperBlood Freak is a deathgrind band from Oregon, currently signed to Willowtip. Mindscraper is their fourth full-length.

Their style is as close to death metal as you can be and still get the "grind" tag. They're extremely heavy and brutal, with death growl vocals, death metal length songs, and death metal solos. But there are just enough of those grinding riffs, that frenetic grind urgency, and silly samples to call it grind.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The 10 Most Metal Classical Compositions

Top 10 List

Classical music can be pretty dull and pretty. But it can also be metal as fuck. It's been observed many times that classical and metal have many similarities. But as a metalhead who doesn't know much about the masters, it can be pretty tough to know where to start. Research has found that metalheads and classical music fans share a lot of personality traits.
Apart from the age differences, they were virtually identical . . . . Both were more creative than other people, both were not terribly outgoing and they were also quite at ease. . . . There's also a sense of theatre which is common with both groups.
Given all that, we should be able to find even more common ground. So, here are the ten most metal classical compositions. Some you may already know, but unless you studied classical music there should be something new in here for you.

10: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: "Requiem Mass in D Minor" (1791)

Mozart's "Requiem Mass" is dark and dramatic. It was originally intended for church services, as the title suggests. No matter what you think of the Catholic Church, they know dramatic art that strikes a visceral chord.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Exhumed: Leviathan

Any hope of subduing him is false; the mere sight of him is overpowering.

Leviathan was a heavy prog rock band from Texas who released a single album in 1974. Aside from having a very metal moniker (shared by a black metal band today) and at least one metal song title ("Angel of Death"), they definitely had a very doom metal kind of mood to their music. With the mellotron, it sounds a lot like the retro doom metal bands of today.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

My Fitness Regimen

The first of these pictures is before I started lifting weights. The second is after about a year of work.

Pretty drastic difference, right?

Metal and fitness have a strange relationship. On the one hand, you have the stereotypical black metal folks, who are either really skinny wimps or big fat wimps. But on the other, you have meatheads who jam out to thrash and groove metal while pumping iron. Most metalheads fall somewhere in between. But I, like Cosmo Lee, view metal and exercise as two different methods of self-improvement.

Let me preface this by saying I am no expert. I would defer any questions of expertise to my brother-in-law, who not only has a PhD in exercise science, but can also dead lift more than 700 pounds. He's a beast. But I have had results, and I think maybe you can learn something from them.

I initially began lifting weights at home when I was in junior high (the same time I began listening to metal), and continued through my freshman year of high school. I stopped again until my junior year of college, when I started lifting daily and eating a lot. I went from a skinny 135 pound kid (at left) to the weight that I am today, 175--which has remained consistent ever since. My bench press was 165.

I lost a lot of strength after that, and put on somewhat of a gut (though no one would have called me fat), and for several years I did almost zero exercise. But then September 2009 I started lifting weights again.

Initially I went to a gym, but got fed up with it. For a year now, I have been working out at home using PowerBlocks. In addition to a small bench that I can fold up and put in a closet, I started out with the U-90 Stage I set (up to 50 pounds in 2.5 pound increments). Since then I've moved up to the U-90 Stage II (up to 90 pounds). I can't recommend it enough. Yes, it seems expensive, but it saves a great deal compared to buying free weights to reach all the increments offered. It's also much easier to change weights, and I put the whole setup in our furnace room.

My workouts have actually gotten more intense and fruitful since I started working out at home, although not everyone will have that experience. (Recently I had the chance to test out my bench press with an actual barbell, and I maxed out at 205 pounds.) I work out 4 or 5 nights out of every week. Here are the routines I do regularly. I do at least 3 sets of everything, and try to choose weights that will allow me to do at least 10 reps per set.

Night 1 (focus on chest and arms)
Bench press
Bicep curls
Incline press
Kick backs
Wrist curl*

*the wrist curl has been replaced by a piece of custom equipment

Night 2 (focus on back and shoulders)
Dumbell rows
An exercise I can't find a name for. I start with the dumbells resting on my knees, with knees slightly bent, and stand up, raising the weights to a point parallel to my head.
Bent-back flies
Lateral raise
Front shoulder raise
Flat flies (I really should move this up to night 1)

Night 3 (focus on legs and abs)
Dead lift
Reverse lunge
Standing calf raise**
Sit-ups (sometimes these get moved to night 4)

**I have custom pieces of equipment for this, although I'm sure you can find it in a fitness store as well.

Night 4
Now, the first three nights' exercises I do every single week. For the additional night(s), I try to do something different. For that purpose, I have gotten a door gym for pull ups as well as a kettleblock handle for my PowerBlocks. I throw in some body weight exercise, like crunches, sit-ups, and push-ups, or isometric exercises. (Try holding 40 pounds above your head for two minutes and you'll know what an isometric exercise is.)

Here's just one more before/after pic to indulge my vanity.

I thought I should cover supplements as well. My brother-in-law seems to think that for most people who do normal workouts, supplements are unnecessary and don't really do any good. I still drink a whey protein shake after some of my workouts (especially night 3 above), and when I do it makes me feel good. On the other hand, I eat a lot of meat anyway, so I probably don't need the extra protein. 

What are your thoughts on metal and fitness? Do you have a routine that works for you, or any tips?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Metal Briefs: 1980's Death Metal

I've already covered the areas of early doom metal and First Wave black metal in the metal briefs series, but I have yet to address the first days of death. Old-school death metal has been the subject of a great deal of interest lately, as people are trying to figure out how to marry evil atmosphere with excellent songwriting, an art that has allegedly been lost to time.

Possessed: Seven Churches (1985)

Seven ChurchesFlorida is usually cited as the birthplace of death metal. But California's Possessed is equally acknowledged as the first death metal band, as well as the namesake of the genre by their demo Death Metal (1984) and the song "Death Metal", off their debut Seven Churches. To be fair, they would have been dismissed as merely a very dark thrash metal band had the genre not expanded. Seven Churches sounds, essentially, like a thrash band who listened to a whole lot of Venom. Or, maybe like Venom if they knew how to play their instruments, but didn't write songs quite as well. There is a lot of technicality on the album, including some extended shred sessions and weird jumps in rhythm. The album is ultimately more interesting for historical purposes than any intrinsic merit. The drumming is quite dull, and a couple of the songs are disposable, but all in all there are several very good songs here. I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Exhumed: Dust

Ash to Ash

Dust was an American hard rock band in the early 70's who released two albums before disbanding. They are of interest to metalheads as an early proto-metal band, before all the elements of the genre were fully formed. And that interest is not merely in the musical similarities. Their first, self-titled album featured skeletons on the cover, and Hard Attack features barbarians fighting with axes. It doesn't get much more metal than that. Lyrically, "Suicide" is pretty damn metal too.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Twins Scheduled to Arrive

My new twins are scheduled to arrive today. This post is scheduled for 5:30 a.m., the time we need to be at the hospital. The C-section is slated for 7:30 a.m. Wish us luck.

(Of course, they could already be here, and I didn't have a chance to update the blog. I'll let you know as soon as I can.)

As you can imagine, this will keep me very busy for a while. But not to worry, I've been hard at work for the past few months ensuring that I have posts scheduled regularly over the course of the first month. The content may be a bit different from what you're used to, but maybe that will be a bonus. On the downside, I may or may not have a chance to respond to your comments or to keep up on the blogs I usually read.

After the first month, I should be back at work, where I do most of my listening and much of my writing (the latter during breaks, of course). So things should get back to normal on the blog, more or less.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The 10 Greatest Metal Vocalists of All Time

Top 10 List

Metal vocals are a strange beast. In one sense, it can be the least important part of the equation, since the focus is really on the guitars and the drums, and the bass is there to keep it heavy even if it's not always noticed in the mix. Plenty of bands have achieved greatness without good vocalists--Electric Wizard and Decrepit Birth come to mind.

On the other hand, they can make or break a band. Just about anyone can name a band that they would like if they had a different vocalist. Rush (though not a metal band) is probably the most cited example. And Dave Mustaine is a huge stumbling block for me with Megadeth. But a truly great vocalist can turn a band into something special.

I tried to judge these based solely on vocals in studio output. I haven't heard enough live albums or seen enough shows to go by stage presence or ability to reproduce their sound in a live setting; however, charisma is inseparable from the performance. I also tried to ignore their influence on subsequent acts or their other abilities (e.g., songwriting or guitar playing). Lyrics played no role in my choices. The most points go to those with a distinctive style over any kind of technical proficiency, but both are important. Without further ado . . .

10: Glenn Danzig 
(Danzig, Misfits, Samhain)

Try to ignore the fact that the guy has a childish personality and no one can get along with the bastard: Glenn Danzig can sing. He began in punk, but went into heavy metal, industrial metal, alt-metal, and back to heavy metal. He earned the nickname "Evil Elvis" for his unmistakable, swagger-filled delivery that combines Elvis and Jim Morrison.

9: Tarja Turunen 

Yeah, yeah, say what you want. Cry "false" or put her down for capitalizing on her looks, but she has pipes to go with the cans. She fronted the gothic symphonic metal band Nightwish and, under her soaring operatic vocals, the band became such a success that they spawned dozens (if not hundreds) of completely disposable copycats. And when she left the band, they became as disposable as the rest.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Shining (Swe): VII: Född Förlorare (2011)


I picked up the Swedish band Shining's seventh full-length, VII: Född Förlorare, basically because almost all references to the Norwegian band take pains to clarify which Shining we're talking about. In other words, it was sheer curiosity. But I am most definitely not disappointed.

VII : Fodd ForlorareI've probably called close to half a dozen different bands a black metal version of Opeth, whether it's Kansas City's Lo-Ruhamah or Norway's Enslaved. But here again is another black metal Opeth. There are startling similarities, beginning with the basic elements of progressive extreme metal and extending to a solo here ("Tillsammans Är Vi Allt"), an acoustic guitar lick there ("Tiden Läker Inga Sår"), and many other places. Though "I Nattens Timma" is a cover of another Swedish prog band, even it sounds Opethian. But there's a lot more to it than that.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Atlas of Metal: Argentina

Argentina is the first country in this series to have a significant metal scene: over 1200 bands are listed on Metal Archives. Before working on this, I don't think I've ever heard any Argentine metal, and can't name a famous one. And I obviously can't listen to that many bands, so I'm just going to pick a few to highlight.

V8 was formed in 1979, and is one of the most significant bands in the country's early metal scene. It sounds like pretty standard heavy metal, but with Spanish lyrics. The vocals are probably going to keep these guys off any list of the best metal bands of the era, though.

Atlas of Metal: Antigua and Barbuda

I can find no evidence of a metal band in Antigua and Barbuda. (The band Antigua y Barbuda is from Spain, and has no apparent connection to the tiny Caribbean nation.) So, the country is the first inductee in the Atlas of Metal Hall of Shame.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Krallice: Diotima (2011)


Krallice's third full-length, Diotima, was one of the most highly-anticipated releases of the year for the "forward-thinking" metal crowd, i.e., the people who make regular monthly purchases from Profound Lore. That's usually the kind of music I like, so I dove right in. But it's taken me quite a while to digest the album.

DiotimaThere is a great deal to be said about this. It's challenging music, which takes a number of listens to unravel. If you've heard them before, you know what I mean. The tools are mainly those of black metal: high-speed, high-pitched tremolo riffs and screechy vocals. Like many of the early black metal masters, they use repetition to great effect. But what sets them apart is the use of a lot of major chords and the fact that rarely do any two instruments play the same thing.

Of course, there is the inevitable criticism levelled against music that's challenging, high-brow, artsy, or whatever you want to call it. They say it's pretentious. And there is the oft-heard refrain, "If you like Krallice, then why don't you like Liturgy?"

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Boris: Attention Please (2011)


Yes, more Japanese music featuring a girl. Released right around the same time. Weird.

Ah, Boris. The incredibly prolific Japanese band is more adventurous than anyone else that's been called a metal band. The fact they succeed so often at so many different things is perhaps the reason they have such a loyal following.

So, why not do a pop album?

Attention PleaseAttention Please is not metal. Where there are guitars, they are mostly pushed to the background, either playing simple melodies or giving atmospheric squeals. The bass and drums are also understated, tending toward pop rhythms or absolute minimalism. Front-and-center on this album is the vocal work of Wata, whose tiny, accented voice is incredibly enchanting.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Gallhammer: The End (2011)


My first encounter with Japanese all-girl black/doom two-piece Gallhammer was with 2007's Ill Innocence, and it did not leave a good impression. But some people with respectable opinions really like them, so I thought I'd give it another shot.

EndIf you've ever heard the band before, The End will give you no surprises. They still have a lo-fi aesthetic and very simple songs, with some played fast and punky, but most as dirges. Bassist Vivian Slaughter's evil growls are just as impressive as ever, too. Unfortunately, drummer Risa Reaper's squeaky vocals are present here as well. I'm not prepared to say that weird J-pop/J-punk (or whatever it is) vocal has no place in metal, but Gallhammer certainly hasn't found it. But more importantly, the songs are just as boring and confusing as ever.