Tuesday, September 30, 2008

We're moving!

Well, just me, actually. This blog is soon to be no more. It will exist as an archive, but all the exciting blog action will be happening at Zombielectroniq.tumblr.com. So update your bookmarks and head over there! I've posted more in the last day on Tumblr than I have in like the last three months on here. I HIGHLY recommend it, if you're looking for ways to blog more often. Well, that's about all for this blog: see everyone over at Zombielectroniq!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

oops!

I forgot to post for like a month. Things have been mega-busy in real life: I'm working on a new piece, teaching on the weekends (and during the week), and basically trying my best to stay afloat and keep that P.M.I. that HR from the Bad Brains likes so much going strong. Nevertheless, I apologize to you, the loyal few, who read this blog, as I feel that I've left you in the lurch for the last month or so.

So let's talk about new metal releases. Specifically, the most exciting non-Metallica developments in metal this month (OK, and maybe some Metallica too, who am I kidding).

First off, the new Cynic album, Traced In Air. SHIIIIIIIIITTTTTT. These guys have picked up right where they left off with their 1993 opus, Focus (get it? opus? focus? hocus pocus? PUNS) and continued to make unconventional death metal in a way that only Paul Masvidal, Sean Reinert, and Sean Malone can. The robo-vocals are back, but the former harsh vocoder textures have been discarded in favor of a smoother, almost T-Pain-esque sound. Altogether, this album does not remind me of anything so much as the last Between The Buried and Me album. I know I'm probably going to catch a lot of flak for this, seeing as how BTBAM are basically a hodgepodge of Cynic and Cryptopsy riffs with some breakdowns and Queen-style choruses thrown in for good measure, but it seems to me like Cynic have been carefully dissecting the stylistic choices of their successors and consciously attempting to create something genetically similar, while still pushing the envelope. High points: the first fast riff of "Evolutionary Sleeper, the Fripp/Holdsworth-isms of "Integral Birth's" first riff and the solo in "King of Those Who Know", and all of "Adam's Murmur". The mix is great on this album: the vocal balance is a bit of a weak point, with the death growls pushed too far back, but this is more of a compositional problem than anything else. The balance of sections between growled, vocodered, and clean vocals seems off to me: I wish that there was more brutal growling and less melodic contribution; although it's not inappropriate given the melodicism of the riffs, I just want more death metal. Won't somebody PLEASE think of the death metal?


Thankfully, Bloodbath have thought of the death metal. There's nothing new to speak of on the latest Bloodbath release, The Fathomless Mastery. Not to say that Bloodbath have ever been concerned with pushing the stylistic envelope, and why should they? They crank out the best Swedish death around, taking cues from Entombed and Dismember, two worthy predecessors. Mikael Akerfeldt is back for this go-around, which is great for me (I love his growl, and I never get enough of it on his oftentimes tedious Opeth releases). The riffs are thick, the guitars cut like proverbial buzzsaws, and the cover art is bad. This is a group of men who are dedicated to the concept that death metal has never been better than it was in 1993, and, while they aren't entirely right, they aren't entirely wrong either. There's nothing wrong with not pushing the envelope as long as you're setting the bar for the status quo so high that no one else can reach it (whoa, mixed metaphors much? Somebody rephrase that for me.).

High points: I would list high points, but, honestly, it's all just the same shit, but done with different and better riffs and Akerfeldt back behind the mic. Bloodbath is the mark of quality. That's all you need to know.

The most surprising leak of the last month, however, has been the new Gojira record, The Way Of All Flesh. I will be the first to admit that I thought, and still think, that From Mars To Sirius was slow, plodding tripe. There weren't enough fast riffs to satisfy me, and the slow riffs weren't crushing and destroying; they just sat there. Gojira have heard my cries, apparently, and responded in kind by creating an album that is all over the map, fast, and heavy as hell. At times recalling Trendkill-era Pantera, the group also covers ground well-tread by Strapping Young Lad and Mastodon. The brothers Duplantier have stepped up their game, improving upon the muddy production of From Mars To Sirius with a phenomenally-well-notched mix. Every instrument is clear and crisp. The riffs are faster and heavier (there's Dimebag riffs in them thar hills), and Joe Duplantier's voice is rawer than ever, moving farther away from the Sepultura worship of their early work, and into some very interesting territory reminiscent of Phil Anselmo gone death metal. Most exciting to me, however is Mario Duplantier's continued resolve to eschew the conventional trappings of death metal drumming (blastbeats, fast double bass ostinati, etc) in favor of a more funk/fusion-oriented approach. While sometimes the compositions do demand those stylistic conventions, Duplantier avoids using them as a crutch, as do so many death metal drummers. This might be the metal album of the year.

High Points: OH MY GOD THE BEGINNING OF "ALL THE TEARS" IS SO HEAVY YOU WILL POOP.

And, lastly, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least MENTION the new Metallica release, Death Magnetic. I didn't have much hope for them, after seeing them earlier this summer (great show, but the new songs sounded lame), and catching the initial single releases. However, things started looking up with the release of "My Apocalypse", and, by the time the full album dropped, I'll be the first to admit that I was enthused. My impressions? Rubin's mix is terrible. The man has made a career out of eschewing reverb, but you know what? When your drums sound so dead that they might as well be countertops, you have not produced well. The goal of production is to accurately recreate the sound of the band playing live, like they're sitting in front of you in your living room blowing you away, except you can hear everything with perfect clarity. Rubin/Ulrich's drum sound is atrocious. It's time to get rid of Lars and replace him with someone like, oh, say, Derek Roddy. Sure, it might be a band of ringers, but who cares as long as they thrash? Oh, and by the way, they DO thrash. And it's glorious. It's the fastest and thrashiest that they've been since Ride The Lightning, which is their fastest and thrashiest album (and my personal favorite). I could do without the late-stage James Hetfield vocal histrionics, but Kirk's leads are gold, and James can still write one hell of a rhythm part. In grand Metallica traditon, Rob Trujillo's bass parts are nominal, uninteresting, and shoved back in the mix, but this is really part of their sound.

High Points: umm, the return of thrash Metallica. Bang your heads, assholes.

Friday, August 29, 2008

HAHAHAHAHAHA LOOK AT WHAT YOU'VE DONE REPUBLICANS

The first thing I saw when I woke up was "McCain picks Palin for Veep". And I was thrilled, for a minute. You see, for a brief, fleeting moment in time, my woozy, sleep-addled brain genuinely believed that the "MAVERICK" McCain had actually picked THIS guy:



Wouldn't that be just incredible? Michael Palin as our nation's second in command?
However, this was not to be. McCain actually has picked THIS woman:



Naturally, my few Republican friends think that this is a brilliant and crafty choice for a Republican candidate to make. I imagine they think it's brilliant and crafty because the strategy here is that McCain/Palin will reunite a fractured Republican party dissatisfied that the McCain brand of batshit social Conservatism is different from the one offered by the party line. Sarah Palin, by contrast, tows that line like a goddamn tugboat. Creationist? Oh yeah. Pro-life? You bet. Corrupt and nepotic to the point of gubernatorial ridiculousness? Most CERTAINLY. She's even pro-drilling, something that you'd think someone born and raised in the natural beauty of Alaska would fight tooth and (immaculately manicured) nail.

And, lest we forget, she's a former beauty queen. Now, I'm not one to attach unfair stereotypes and stigmas to people: I'm positive that most beauty queens wouldn't want to be associated with conservatism, even though they might not know how to spell that word.

I'm not going to assail Palin's credibility by focusing on her MILF-hood (although it's a serious blow to an record already devoid of credibility), but instead focus on how McCain's vitriolic accusations of Obama as being utterly inexperienced are now completely, totally impotent. McCain, once an interesting figure in Republican politics, someone who, before it became evident that he was completely crazy and incompetent, gave me hope for the restoration of reasoned debate in American politics, has finally shot himself in his own gun-crazy foot. Palin's experience is limited to governing the least population-dense state in America for two years; before that, there was a smattering of town council appointments and a mayoral position in a town of 5500 people. Does this really strike anyone as the voice of authoritative experience? Picture this: if the ailing McCain is, by some unbelievable stretch of the imagination, actually elected, he might die in office. Then it will be up to crazy-ass Sarah Palin to run the country. Does anyone think that she's competent to make policy decisions? I would argue that if the administration of George W. Bush, a former Texas Governor and Yale graduate, is basically controlled by his administration, a Sarah Palin administration would, in effect, be a Karl Rove presidency. If that happens, Dems, you might as well just dig your passports out and head north for good (that is, if the borders are open that long).

So, I ask you, blogosphere, do you really think that Palin is going to reunite the Republicans, Bad News Bears-style, and whip them into shape as a fearsome fighting machine? Do you think that the magnetic strength of her MILF-itude will translate into assertive and effective policy-making and execution? Or, rather, is her experience limited to assertive and effective breakfast-making and execution? Maybe, if this whole thing doesn't pan out, she could be the White House den mom.

WHOA

It's Friday, and I miss the discovery channel, and I don't wanna talk about it. Here's some videos that remind me of sitting in my boxers watching crabshow and eating buffalo wings. Enjoy!

http://gizmodo.com/5036052/traffic-from-space-videos-blow-our-minds-pants-and-socks

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Demographic Inversion

This isn't about metal at all, but, then again, there IS more to life than metal, after all. It's just that nothing else rocks as hard.

Anyways, check this article out. What do you guys think? I'm certainly living in a poster-child neighborhood for this sort of thing, and it's pretty hard to argue with the numbers. Do you think that rising oil prices will drive the suburban youth of our generation back to the neighborhoods our grandparents left? Or will they slowly die in tanning beds, listening to warmed-over Ashlee Simpson and Daughtry rehashes?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Genre Study 1: Black Metal (Part 1)

Starting a genre dissection, is, in heavy metal, a curious thing. Underground metal is so fragmented, incestuous, and semantically charged that it’s a ridiculously daunting task to define a specific genre to the uninitiated. Add this to the fact that many underground metal genres share the same roots, and you’re more or less stuck with an impossible-to-write article.

Nevertheless, I’m gonna give it a shot here.

As with any genre definition, these studies run to the arbitrary and are sources of heated debate among metal “scholars” and devotees. I will remain firmly unapologetic about any genre classifications I make because of the subjective and oftentimes unnecessary confines of genre. Additionally, although I’d like to think that my flowing and immaculately constructed prose is so descriptive that you can not only hear the nuances in sound I’m talking about, but actually TASTE them, I realize that some people don’t necessarily have the tools to appreciate my skillful criticism. So, as a rule, the best way to get a feel for this stuff is to listen, listen, listen.

More specifically, don’t just listen: immerse. Music is language: think of genre as specific dialect. The only way to truly learn a language is to immerse yourself fully, so DO THIS. Find the albums listed in the “Essential” and “Starter” lists. Compare them to other gems you might have found. Show them to your friends. Trade them for other metal albums; re-read the genre studies and find others. Immerse yourself in the music here. Most importantly, GO SEE IT LIVE. Metal, like any other high-energy rock and roll, THRIVES in a live setting, and it’s a total blast to go see metal shows. Figure out what you like and what you don’t (hint: you won’t like everything in every genre; maybe not ANYTHING in certain genres. I certainly don’t. Give everything a chance, though). And then, once you’ve got a grasp on the subtle nuances and the extreme undergrounds of the specific genres…well, then start your own blog, if you think you know so goddamn much.

With all THAT out of the way (also, you’ll need to sign a pain waiver, Dethklok-style), now we can get down to business.

BLACK METAL.

The very name alone strikes fear into the hearts of preachers, politicians, and my mom everywhere. This fear is not necessarily unfounded. There’s a lot of hoopla surrounding black metal; church arsons, cannibalism, murder, hate crime, an entire GENRE of Nazi metal (which is almost all absolutely ABHORRENT stuff, even when taken out of the woefully ignorant and hateful dogma retreads that pass for lyrical content), prison breaks…you get the idea. There abound documentaries, books, photography collections, and the like on the subject of the drama SURROUNDING black metal, so I won’t bother to go into it here, although some of that stuff is worth checking out if you’re really interested. What usually gets overlooked is the music, and this is honestly a crime.
Black metal has its roots in the same few bands that helped spawn almost the whole of underground metal in the last 25 years. The NWOBHM movement (which stands for the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal), which originated in the late 70’s and early 80’s with bands like Iron Maiden, Diamond Head, Motorhead, and Judas Priest, spawned the four most important styles of underground metal today: Thrash Metal, Death Metal, Black Metal, and Power Metal. While there are infinite variations upon these four themes, and while the four major genres diverged quickly and to staggering extremes, they all have their roots in the NWOBHM. For the purposes of our discussion of black metal, the bands Venom, Bathory, and Celtic Frost are vitally important, but it is worth noting that these same bands are also cited as major influences upon death and thrash metal.

The name “black metal” itself comes from the Venom album of the same name. Venom was a pioneering British outfit that defined the sound of black metal with one singularly imposing slab of vinyl. Unapologetically lo-fi, breakneck in tempo, and fiercely Satanic in context, “Black Metal” is so important as an album that it remains the blueprint for many bands today to emulate so precisely, it is as if the last 25 years never happened at all. This album, along with their previous “Welcome To Hell” release, turned the metal world on its ear. The inimitable growl of lead singer Cronos was similar to the gruff voice of heavy metal contemporary Lemmy Kilmister (of Motorhead fame), but taken to its logical extreme, stripped of any melodic context and rasped in the tongue of some primitive, Pazuzu-esque demon. This vocal style would become the default in both death and black metal (although death metal does sport several different vocal influences and the “cookie monster” growls which are unique to that particular style).

By 1984, there were several European bands taking cues from Venom’s unique metal output. One such band, Tom Warrior’s (seriously, dude legally changed his last name to Warrior) Celtic Frost, proved themselves as musical equals to Venom’s legacy. Warrior’s anguished rasp, lyrics about paganism and death, Teutonic horn lines, badly drawn corpse facepaint; all of these remain black metal staples to this day. Celtic Frost were really a flash in the pan, releasing two hugely influential albums and then descending into avant-garde metal confusion, but they were a HUGE flash in the pan.

Following hot on the heels of Venom and Celtic Frost were the Swedish ensemble Bathory. Named for the seminal Venom single “Countess Bathory”, Bathory’s eponymous 1984 debut further defined the signature sound of black metal. Owing largely to the poor recording environment of Heavenshore Studios (a converted garage), this first record, and its successor, 1985’s “The Return”, are so primitive in sound that they seem to flaunt a defiance both of conventional moral values AND conventional production values. This rejection of rock and roll convention/commercialism, coupled with a dogmatic sense of individualism and an unwavering sense of cynicism, is central to the ethos of black metal; in black metal, one-man projects abound; in every other metal genre, they are virtually non-existent. Part of this is also that most black metal musicians are pessimistic pricks.



Anyways, Bathory. Bathory took the early, raw sound of Venom and Celtic Frost and refined it into the sound we understand as black metal today by focusing on an element previously uncharted by proto-black metal bands: atmosphere. Even on their early, primitive recordings, Bathory take pains to create not just songs, but sonic landscapes; aural wastelands of brooding, anguish, and fear. In this respect, they would prefigure not only the entirety of black metal, but also much of ambient electronica, shoegaze, and post-rock. Bathory also proved important in their later albums, moving away from the lyrical content of their first few recordings (basically, Satan, and how awesome he is) and towards a more Pagan/Viking-oriented lyrical message (basically, Odin, and how awesome he is). This culminated in the landmark 1990 recording “Hammerheart”, considered by many to be the watershed moment between the first and second waves of black metal.

Tomorrow (maybe) I’ll continue where we left off tonight, starting with Mayhem and moving forward through the second wave of black metal and on into where black metal stands today. The problem? It’s kind of difficult to make a leap from these early pioneers to Emperor and Mayhem, because the styles are so disparate and because Emperor and Mayhem are responsible for SO much of what we hear in black metal today. So, tomorrow, I’ll try to figure this out. If you want, you can imagine me beating my head against a wall, staring for hours at Encyclopedia Metallum until I figure out some crucial missing link in the black metal evolutionary chain. I confess: black metal is not my specialty, and I know death/thrash far better than black metal. Nevertheless, I’ll try not to disappoint! Enjoy, and keep on bangin’ those heads!

Monday, August 11, 2008

DRANK: The Final Frontier

Here it is, kiddos! The official DRANK liveblog, powered by our friends at CoverItLive. This is a super-hip web 2.0 device that allows you to liveblog with multiple contributors in real-time, and allow real-time moderated comments, polls, Q&A, etc. And, the best part (at least for me) is that it's FREE! This is good stuff, bloggers. Check it out below. Everything we're liveblogging is going to be on this blog, in that nifty window, in real-time, for your enjoyment. You can set up a reminder by entering your e-mail address, and it will remind you that Maddy and I are going to slow our roll in real-time whenever you want this reminder to occur. Also, there's a little button with a ? on it that y'all should read, just so you know how CoverItLive works, and how exactly this guy is gonna work.

By the way, this is all going down at 8 PM Eastern. Mark your calendars. Gosh, I feel like a real live blogger now.

POSTSCRIPT:

Drank has been consumed. We are SLOWED DOWN. Videos will probably follow tomorrow. A note about Drank: This particular variant of the beverage is non-alcoholic and devoid of any illegal or non-prescribed substances, unlike the "real" drank. This beverage is a mass-marketed "anti-energy" drink and there is nothing illegal or unsafe about this liveblogging experience. Just so you all know, and so I don't get fired from my job or an angry phone call from my mom.