Posts Tagged ‘Heavy Metal’

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the rock i dig the most ’09: Baroness

February 18, 2010

There are at least two dozen different moments on Baroness’ Blue Record that  remind me of Queen’s 1985 Flash Gordon soundtrack. I mean this in only the most respectable way. As in, there are guitar lines so striking that they make me want to shout “Hawkmen, Dive!” at the top of my lungs. Good Metal should make you want to do shit like that. Now, Blue Record isn’t full of campy dialogue drops and dated synth, but it sounds majestic like that Flash Gordon record sounded. In fact, the guitar leads on Blue Record’s “The Sweetest Curse” sound like the kind of leads Brian May might have laid down if he had done time in Thin Lizzy. It has that completely over-the-top feeling of that Flash Gordon record. It is heavy and bombastic but has its transitional moments of beautiful, though disconcerting, calm.

Most of all, it actually sounds like a soundtrack. The songs are more like the individual movements that make up a larger piece, flowing into each other flawlessly. Even when you know Blue Record by heart, it’s hard to pick out where one song ends and another begins. Except that the movie for Blue Record only exists in your head. Well, they did make a video, but sadly, if you’ve seen this horrible, horrible video for this great, great song, you have no fucking idea what that movie might be about and likely wouldn’t want to see it. Blue Record’s visuals are probably better served by the stunning cover art created by lead singer/guitarist John D. Baizley.

Adding to the visual confusion presented by the video I linked above are the lyrics. I’ve listened to Blue Record no less than a hundred times and I’ll be damned if I know what these songs are truly about. The lyrics read like scripture and sound like a series of poems barked out by a madman. When the shouting temporarily subsides, the vocals trip into a psychedelic and atmospheric harmony floating over sparse acoustic guitar and piano, as on “Steel That Steeps The Eye.”  Thematically, I’m picking up that God doesn’t like war and that there is something about a horse and some fish, bullhead catfish specifically. Metaphorical, sure; biblically symbolic, maybe; no idea, most definitely, and that’s about as far as I’ve gotten. It’s tough being a fan of what some would call Stoner Metal and not actually getting stoned. Bands like Baroness and Mastodon make me want to own a bong and know a guy.

Of course, though, it’s the music that ultimately matters and when really smart guys get into mastering Metal and marijuana, generally, really great things happen. It happened here and with guttural vocals blasting through the chugging crush of riffs, Baroness delivered a killer Metal record in every respect. Though it’s the layers of guitar work from Baizley and Peter Adams that make Blue Record more than just another killer Metal record. There’s the aforementioned Brian May in Thin Lizzy quality of the leads, the Zeppelin III-era Jimmy Page acoustic flavoring of the minute long interlude, “Blackpowder Orchard,” (which then lays another Brian May Flash Gordon lead over it). Yeah, back to those Flash Gordon comparisons again. The instrumental “Ogeechee Hymnal” straight up sounds like some lost demo track for that record.

What Baroness achieves on Blue Record is grandiose and wild, headbanging and head scratching, gorgeous and severe. Baroness proves that melody doesn’t have to be sacrificed for heaviness and that psychedelic doesn’t have to mean slow and spacey. They fall into none of the trappings of  Metal’s various and never ending subgenres while staying true to the traditions those subgenres define. On only their second full length album Baroness has carved out their own distinct niche.

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the rock i dig the most ’09: Mastodon

February 11, 2010

My most played album of 2009 is nothing short of an epic Heavy Metal mindfuck. An epic Heavy Metal mindfuck so unavoidably good that it even landed on the radar of someone that actually got paid to write about records for Time magazine. Though, their lame so-called review finds reason to apologize for it, as if admitting that it is good should be beneath you because well, it’s a Metal record by a Metal band. Who the hell reads Time magazine these days anyway, let alone for their music reviews? Still, I find it interesting that a record this downright heavy and “out there” is able to cross-over to audiences outside of the Metal world. Not a bad thing.

And heavy and “out there” it is. The limitations of the human body, astral projection, time travel(?), Rasputin, bodily possession, the limitless nature  of space…I don’t know that I’ll ever quite get my head completely around all of the themes and ideas presented on this record, but that is part of its depth. Crack The Skye is like one of those cool “pick-a-path” books I used to read in sixth grade where you turn to page 78 to fight the dragon on your own, or turn to page 112 to fall back and gather your wizard, barbarian and dwarf.  Aspects of the story this record tells can mean one thing to me on one listen and on the next listen, something completely different jumps out at me and in a completely different way. On one listen the story is a literal narrative, on another, purely metaphorical.

The fact that I am yet again blasting Mastodon’s Crack The Skye into my head via my headphones (and this is a true headphones record) as I write this and am still finding new details to geek out about is a testament to its greatness. There is just so much here to digest. Musically, Crack The Skye is a shape shifter of a record.  From traditional thrash Metal riffage to bursts of heavy prog to beautiful melodic stretches to atmospheric spacey interludes, Crack The Skye feels like the music itself is traveling and exploring. An aspect emphasized all the more when you listen to the alternate instrumental “score” version of it. The vocals, though, lend themselves to this vibe. With 3 of the band’s 4 members handling lead vocals at any given time plus guest Scott Kelly of Neurosis showing up on the title track, this multi-faceted recording benefits from its multi-faceted and distinctly different voices.

I’m now three paragraphs into talking about this record and I haven’t even brought up the guitar work or the guitar solos yet. For all its adventurous complexity, Crack The Skye is a Heavy Metal record after all, and Mastodon is downright fucking brutal (a compliment). The twin-guitar attack (that’s never not fun to write) of Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher creates a bizarre symphonic tornado of sound so killer that it lands them on the covers of every guitar geek mag still in print. Don’t take my word for it. Check out “Divinations” stripped of drums, bass and vocals:

So not only do you have killer guitar work, Mastodon’s Brann Dailor is by far the best drummer in Metal right now. Which, if you’re the best drummer in Metal, that pretty much makes you the best drummer in all of Rock. Dailor’s work is constantly busy and always tasteful. Fills roll on top of fills on top of fills, all while pounding and spiraling through time signatures that are more at home in jazz and prog than in thrash. It’s as if Neil Peart and Dave Lombardo had a hyperactive, more artistic baby.

Troy Sanders’ bass lines seemingly hold all the cacophony of Mastodon together, sort of guiding the songs through their elaborate mazes. The centerpiece of Crack The Skye, the four-part, nearly eleven minute “The Czar” is a prime example of this. Plus, he’s the most versatile singer in the band, armed with a voice clean enough to be clearly understood (something not to be taken for granted in modern Metal) and able to, at times, lend a more melodic leaning to the vocals and yet rough enough to push the more aggressive moments over the edge…and he has a really cool beard.

Mastodon’s Crack The Skye is simply a band in their prime hitting on all cylinders. There are no weak links and the chemistry of the band’s four musicians is in perfect balance. This is Metal executed as a form of art. Not just one of the best albums of the year, and not just the best Metal album of the year, but one of the best albums of all time. Not even a full year since it’s release, Crack The Skye is already a classic.

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solo show.

October 15, 2009

There is an element of stoic pride in going to see a rock show all by your lonesome. There is an arrogant self righteous sense of defiance in not caring if no one else you know wants to go. Your internal dialogue immediately writes off your friends that decided to blow it off at the last minute as lame and undeserving of the Rock anyway. No one is going to stop me from rocking!  Besides, I hate it when people talk to me when I’m seeing and hearing a band in some club.

I also hate it when people around me carry on conversations during the band’s set. Though due to our human race’s seemingly ever growing narcissistic need to receive constant attention it is an occurrence that is unavoidable these days. I can barely recall a show I’ve attended over the last few years where I wasn’t annoyed by someone who simply couldn’t shut the fuck up and just enjoy the show that they had just paid to see and hear.  I yelled at a girl half my size and likely a dozen years my junior at a show a few weeks ago. As she conversed nonchalantly with her friend back and forth during the middle of a band’s set, standing just a foot or so from me, I muttered a subtle “shut up” just loud enough for her to hear.  She stopped, paused as if shocked that she really heard that from a total stranger and then decided her response would be a snotty and dismissive, “Whaaat?” Her nerve pissed me off greatly, so I went off on her, yelling in her face to shut the fuck up and stop chatting through the entire song and to have some respect for other people around her. Some others standing nearby in the crowd actually thanked me. I appreciated that, but I was totally acting out of anger and I think I probably scared that girl. After I calmed down I didn’t feel good about it.  Even though she deserved it for talking through an entire song, and one of the quietest of the set at that, I felt shitty for yelling at some young girl I don’t even know. Seems loutish, and I’d rather not be a lout, even if she deserved loutishness and I’m rightly pissed off. Anyway, this is one of the reasons I still love Metal shows. (Metal is always capitalized.)

Go see a Metal gig and it doesn’t matter who is talking throughout the set, who is drunk and obnoxious, how many annoying hipsters are hanging out being too cool for the room, who is right in front of you texting non-stop, who thinks the band sucks and isn’t interested yet stays right in front of you anyway, or who is yelling at someone they don’t know out of anger. In fact, more often than not, the music itself is rooted in anger to begin with. A good righteous anger being exorcised on guitar, bass and drums burns all of those little insignificant annoyances in an instant. Whoever or whatever it is that might distract you is no match for the sheer volume and vigor of the performance. One killer riff will simply decimate all of the bullshit in the room. This is why Metal has remained such a huge part of my musical landscape. I’ve never moved on, never grown out of it, and never turned my back on it when it wasn’t “in.” Metal not only just sounds good to my ears, it feels good to my being. It’s cathartic. Therapeutic, even.

This past Monday night’s therapy session was thrown down by Red Fang and Saviours. Both bands played absolutely killer sets. Red Fang in particular with their genuine likable Metal burnout dude persona, huge guitar tones, and pummeling vibe. When you’re 36 years old and you find yourself going to Monday night Metal shows after a day of working in a grey cubicle, followed by an hour plus commute, by yourself because the few friends you have left that will actually even entertain going to a Monday night Metal show in the first place bailed out on you the day of the show, and your wife who just started grad school has a class and probably wouldn’t have gone regardless, you are:

  1. seriously, one cool motherfucker.
  2. totally Metal, no poser.
  3. someone who doesn’t quite have their shit together.
  4. old and getting older, trying to hold on to one of the few things that you have left that makes you still feel young and irresponsible.
  5. trying to escape the mundane details of your spirit-defeating weekday work life for a few hours.
  6. that kind of weird old-ish guy standing there by himself at the all-ages Rock show.

I am all of these.
Nothing like a good Monday night Metal show to put things in perspective.