Thursday, December 13, 2007

Top Albums of 2007

Top Ten Albums of 2007

By Josh Ruffin

The Alchemist

In case you ever wondered what Cream would have sounded like with a little more drone and an almost unhealthy interest in the occult, Witchcraft would like to show you. The Alchemist takes a giant leap past the Sabbath/Pentagram worship of their first two offerings, and drops a warped blues-rock bomb right down your throat. Absolutely essential listening for…well, anyone.

A Life Once Lost
Iron Gag

ALOL rep the ugly underbelly of Philadelphia, as opposed to every other ugly part of Philadelphia. Iron Gag finds the group at what is thus far their creative peak as they churn out a perfectly-balanced but combustible mixture of groove, sleaze, and just generally being really drunk and pissed-off. I hit repeat on “Firewater Joyride” at least once every time I spin this disc.

The Red Tree

This thing actually dropped back in April of 2006, but I just reviewed it this year, so accept it and get over yourself. One of the sleepers on this list, The Red Tree is unabashedly emo, but distinguishes itself by being about eighty-five times as intelligent as anything Fall Out Boy or Panic! At the Disco could ever even think about writing. Also just about the best live band I’ve seen…period. Kenny Bridges gives awesome hugs, too.

Dog Magic

Assisted by a skyline-sized wall of Sunn and Green amps, Zoroaster are what a black hole sounds like. These Atlanta-based sludge-o-matics aren’t breaking any new ground with their latest album, but I’ll be damned if they don’t take every single stoner-fuzz formula in the doom canon and do cartwheels with them. A split EP with Sunn 0))) within the next five years sounds like a good idea.

The Hotel Alexis
Goliath, I’m On Your Side

The production and instrumentation on this second LP from Sidney Alexis is so fragile, you’re afraid to break it if you listen too closely. Goliath, I’m On Your Side presents a version of Alexis equally as contemplative as on his 2006 debut, but one infinitely more adventurous. Don’t take that as an implication of machismo, though; his pained vocals evoke assurance as well as vulnerability on “Sister Ray” and “Suddenly It’s You and Me,” respectively.

City of Echoes

One of the few instrumental bands to distinguish themselves as more lyrical than most groups that actually have a singer, Pelican’s compositions prior to 2007 had been typically characterized as sprawling, progressive epics usually clocking in at over ten minutes. For City of Echoes, the foursome pared down the arrangements, resulting in their most tightly-focused and accessible work to date; weighty, aggressively optimistic songs like “Spaceship Broken, Parts Needed,” and the title track are just a reminder that the best of Pelican is probably yet to come, but what we’ve got so far is pretty damn cool.


If anyone goes and tells the dudes of Bigelf that it’s not actually the early 70s anymore, I’ll hunt you down and bludgeon you with a stack of vinyl. Though recorded in 2003 and released stateside only this year, Hex takes everything melodic and funky about the Zeppelin era and rolls it all into one big psychedelic eight-ball. They’ve definitely earned their “evil Beatles” moniker; “Sunshine Suicide” sounds like George Harrison repeatedly slamming his Telecaster into Paul McCartney’s larynx. And yes, that’s a good thing.

Conqueror, Lifeline

That’s right, Jesu’s got two albums on this list. Don’t bitch too much, though; at least I had the decency to combine them into one spot and not let it take up too much room. But c’mon…we’re talking Justin Broadrick here, and if you don’t get that, then this isn’t for you. Conqueror’s thundering guitars meld seamlessly with Broadrick’s trademark atmospherics, while Lifeline fully realizes the direction that the Silver EP implied, as the former Godflesh main man lays out an ocean of ambience as the foundation for some truly ethereal melodies.

Burning Brides
Hang Love

This one snuck in under the radar, and I wouldn’t have even had a chance to give it a listen if it hadn’t randomly shown up in my mailbox one day; thanks, File Thirteen! For their third album, Philadelphia’s Burning Brides deliver an absolutely pulverizing barrage of boogie-metal riffs, balanced by refreshingly self-aware pop hooks. Apparently they teach this stuff at Julliard. “Ring Around the Rosary” is the most ferociously catchy thing I’ve heard all year, and probably the best opening track in recent memory.

The Blow
Paper Television

Proving once and for all that electro-pop can actually make you tilt your head to the left and ponder the meaning of life, The Blow’s Paper Television made a relatively soft commercial landing when it was released early this year. I get the feeling, however, that brainchild Khaela Maricich could give a piss; “Pile of Gold” and the quirky love ballad “Parentheses” are simultaneously whimsical and challenging.

Honorable Mention:

Pig Destroyer, Phantom Limb: PD turn in their usual big f’n slab of death-grind, only this time it also happens to have some hooks hidden within the murk.

High on Fire, Death is this Communion: Try to imagine Motorhead being dragged across the ocean floor by a brontosaurus on a bad day.

Calvin Johnson and the Sons of the Soil (self-titled): A career-spanning collection of re-recorded gems by the seminal Northwest troubadour freak; he and Nick Cave should duke it out in a Battle of the Lower Registers.

Ladybirds, Regional Community Theatre: Saccharine pop perfection from Gym Class Heroes’ keyboardist Tyler Purcel and vocalist Teeter Sperber. Prepare to grin like an idiot in love.

Grinderman (self-titled): A garage-punk splinter of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds, the Aussie songsmith gets downright raunchy on “No Pussy Blues,” and reaffirms his pop sensibilities with “Honeybee Let’s Fly to Mars.”

Friday, December 7, 2007

Iran, nukes, and all the rest.

Amidst the ongoing Iran nuclear program controversy, I feel that its my responsibility, as a citizen who does his best to stay educated with regard to all sides of an issue, to toss in my two cents, not to mention a couple of facts. I'll keep the pontification to a minimum here. Let's start with what we know:

1. Already wading chin-deep in the mire of an unpopular, largely unsuccessful and seemingly directionless war, concerns over Iran's nuclear capabilities started to increasingly plague the collective American consciousness, and not without good reason. The nation is home to a large extremist population, and the presidency borders on dictatorship. In other words, potential recipe for disaster.

2. It came out a few days ago that, surprise surprise, Iran suspended its nuclear ambitions sometime in 2003, and has not picked them up since. Democrats hail this information (ironically, as it came from the same source as the bogus Iraq/Al-Quaeda links, as well as the WMDs supposedly held by Hussein) as an "I told you so!" moment, while Republicans maintain (also ironically) that we must "keep the heat on Iran."

3. We know also that Iran is capable of, and continues in, enriching uranium. Some say that this is a definite sign that they are either developing a weapon in secret, or will soon restart an official nuclear program.

4. Tehran states that the enrichment of uranium is intended for energy programs only. We're still not sure what to believe.

Those are the facts, and while we can sit here all day screaming at each other about what Iran's intentions may or may not be, there are a couple of things we need to remember:

1. Iran is not the only country currently with active uranium enrichment programs. Other nations are: China, Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, Russia, Japan, the whole of the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States. Australia, Argentina, and South Africa have stated their intentions to explore the option of such programs.

2. The United States maintains an arsenal of around 9,960 nuclear warheads, about 5,000 of which are currently active, with the remainder sitting in usable reserve.

3. In 2006, the Bush administration proposed and put into effect the Reliable Replacement Warhead program with the intention of developing a next-generation ICBM. Previously, in 2005, the U.S. also revised its Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations, putting more emphasis on the possibility of preemptive nuclear strikes on countries that may pose a military or nuclear threat.

All of that, not to mention that the U.S. was the first country to develop such capabilities, and are to date the only nation to implement such force against another nation in a time of war. Should we keep an eye on Iran? Probably. Should we be surprised that another country that doesn't particularly like us could possibly be developing the kinds of weapons that we ourselves have been developing and stockpiling (as we continue to) for the last 60 years?

Certainly not.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

CD review: Savath and Savalas "Golden Pollen"

Golden Pollen
Savath and Savalas
Anti Records
Available Now

It was but a couple of weeks ago that I received an advance copy Savath and Savalas’ newest album Golden Pollen in the mail. Now that’s cause enough for celebration; on top of that, however, I had been thinking to myself that morning, “Damn, I wish I had something to listen to that combined chopped-up bossa nova jazz with Argentina freak-folk, topped off with just a dollop of Sigur Ros.”

Serendipitous, no?

But that’s just what Savath and Savalas, the more organically instrumented alter-ego of Prefuse 73 mastermind Scott Herren, is: a chill Frankenstein’s monster, blissfully setting a tropicalia hallucination against brilliant dreamscapes.

Golden Pollen is best taken in as a single complete track (though not in the sense of Sleep’s Jerusalem), as songs tumble slowly and purposefully into one another, evoking one moment a natural orchestra in “Concreto,” and the next a slow-motion apocalypse in “Estrella de Dos Caras.” Little flourishes like a seven-second electronic loop or a sudden crash of digitized electric guitar serve as party crashers to the poem, as they disrupt the disc’s overall stillness and serenity.

Music nerds will most likely revert back to headphone-dissection of Prefuse 73 tracks. Though a bit more accessible than its electro-cousin, Golden Pollen holds true to the roots of that avant-garde experimentation while simultaneously giving us more of a glimpse of Herren’s personal self than we have heretofore been granted. Masterful, to the last crest of ambience.

CD review: Zoroaster "Dog Magic"

Dog Magic
Terminal Doom Records
Available Now

How much do you want to bet that the members of Zoroaster spent nine months in the womb with Saint Vitus and Cathedral being piped in by headphones strapped to their mothers’ bellies? With maybe some “ba-dum, ba-dum” white blues thrown in…

Dog Magic, the latest release by these three Atlanta-based doomsayers, is a crash course in Stoner Drone 101. The guys certainly know where they came from; progenitors like Electric Wizard and Sleep are all over this freakin’ thing, but guitarist Will Fiore and company are clever enough to channel the spirits of their inspirations through subtle tribute, and not a rehashing.

Dog Magic is an audio definition of stoner metal. Some riffs come crawling up out of your speakers like mutated zombie crocodiles from the sewer in a 70s grindhouse flick; others slow down to a veritable ooze so thick you’ll have to scrub down your body with Lava soap after a single listen; and once you get to the 14-minute oil-drip epic that is “Algebra of Need,” you can count the seconds between notes in the riffs. You want solos? Well, too bad, you ain’t getting any. Wait, what? Those ridiculously sustained lead lines on “The Book” that sound like a demonic ambulance siren heralding the impending journey of some agonized soul across the river Styx? Those are solos? Oh okay, my bad.

Occasionally the album moves along at a pace more brisk than a brontosaurus; the titular closer starts off with some immediately post-binge Motorhead grooves, but soon slinks back into its familiar tempo. And while flyers of the doom flag will find no fault in that (this writer certainly doesn’t), less experienced metalloids will likely find themselves bored or confused.

But that’s their own fault…screw ‘em. Zoroaster is by far the heaviest thing to come out of Georgia since Mastodon, and Dog Magic firmly entrenches them alongside the elite of both Southern and stoner metal. Turn up the volume, light ‘em if you got ‘em, and wait for the bottom to drop out.

Concert review: Coheed and Cambria

Coheed and Cambria, Clutch, and Fall of Troy
The Tabernacle

Ah, Tabernacle. Where once the peal of church bells rang out into the grimy Atlanta night, choirs lauded the love of God, and congregations…er, congregated to press their otherworldly cases. I wonder if, even then, the venue had deteriorated into a veritable cesspool of limited parking and horrible area road planning?

No matter; the place is now one of the city’s most celebrated music venues, usually playing host to the variety of metal and rock tours that fall somewhere in between the commercial success of He is Legend (the Masquerade) and U2 (the Fox). Yes, the Tabernacle has long been a place of welcome for genre stalwarts, as well as talented upstarts that may or may not soon die a slow, slow marketing death from overexposure.

Sci-fi progressive dork-rockers (and I say that with all the fanboy love in my heart) Coheed and Cambria stopped off this past Tuesday in support of the recently released No World For Tomorrow, with Southern metal legends Clutch directly in tow, which I guess means that Fall of Troy brought up the precious little dented red caboose at the end.

I somehow managed to find a parking space and haul ass inside just as Fall of Troy was kicking off their set. Honestly, I had never listened to these guys before, so I asked my friend Jake when I got there “So, what do they sound like?” Without hesitating for a moment, he replied: “Dude, like Coheed in high school.” Jake should be a music writer; I couldn’t come up with a more apt description if I tried (which I didn’t), though Thomas Erak is significantly more tap-happy than Claudio ever thought about being. These dudes listen to a LOT of Aphex Twin. Great set, but they got the loudest pop when they hyped up the next two bands. Meh, so it goes.

Clutch absolutely murdered the room, playing with the bourbon-fueled swagger of a band that has nothing left to prove, and the jolting ferocity of one that has everything to prove. Over one hour of booze-addled, Skynrd-on-quaaludes brilliance. During the set, some tweener in front of me wearing a 30 Seconds to Mars hoodie remarked “What the hell am I listening to?” Before he was able to get his clove cigarette out of the pack, I grabbed him by the throat and shook him like an Etch-A-Sketch, salivating and shouting “GREATNESS, YOU FOOL, GREATNESS!!!” I may have some demons.

As surely as I sit here in my pajamas at 10:30 in the morning, Coheed and Cambria are one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen. Ever. Eschewing their expected openers “In Keeping Secrets of the Silent Earth,” or “Welcome Home,” Claudio (whose hair has reached epic proportions in its own right) and company instead came thundering out of the gates with “No World for Tomorrow,” jumpstarting a monstrous set that spanned all four albums and hitting nearly every fan favorite. The single ovations for songs like “A Favor House Atlantic,” and “Ten Speed of God’s Blood and Burial” rivaled the reactions that most bands get for their entire set. The screaming and applause for “Everything Evil” alone had to register at least a 6.5 on the Richter.

My last words? “Bury me with my photo pass.”

Note: Flash photography wasn’t permitted at this show, though I was able to squeeze off a few good shots of Fall of Troy. If you want to know what the rest of my pictures would have looked like without the flash, find some stock photos and then shake your head from side to side until you can feel your brain banging against your skull.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Springsteen vs. O'Reilley

I have a confession to make. To admit the forthcoming fact to any other living human being, let alone myself, is somewhat akin, in my own mind at least, to getting an enema by way of sea urchin, but it serves as the basis for a short rant.

I watched "The O'Reilley Factor" tonight.

Now normally, neither sheer morbid curiosity nor the promise of untold wealth and omnipotent knowledge could persuade me to watch that glorified Macy's Day float's noggin ramble on and on about the evils of liberal media. The reprehensibly short-sighted nonsense that unfurls from Bill's mouth makes about as much sense as a 21-gun salute for Jerry Falwell at the Maryland Death Fest (you may not know what that is, but it doesn't sound pretty, now does it?). Tonight, however, my interest was piqued beyond the point of reason.

I was on the elliptical machine at the YMCA, burning off some M&Ms, when I saw a preview for The O'Reilley Factor set to air that night. For the first 15 seconds, it was pretty predictable: torture is OK as long as we know its going on, Obama won't wear an American flag pin and therefore is a fascist baby-eater, yadda yadda yadda. After that, however, something managed to break through the daydream I was having about drinking stouts in the mountains with Angela Gossow (gorgeous, aloof, and terrifying lead singer of melodic Swedish death metal group Arch Enemy...for those playing the home game) after having won the Pulitzer for my epic poem Do Dogs Have Communes on Mars?

The headline flashed up before me like a neon sign gone retarded--The Boss: Anti-American?

"The Boss," of course, refers to Bruce Springsteen, arguably the greatest Americana songwriter of this generation, and the "Anti-American" refers to not only his having been staunchly liberal and outspoken during his entire career, but also to recent comments he made in an interview with Scott Pelley in which he decried the torture of terror suspects, the rampant wire-tapping of the Patriot Act, vote blocking in the 2000 election, and more.

Now, it doesn't bother me that much that O'Reilly calls Springsteen an anti-American, or says that the things against which the Boss is railing never really happened. Those are easily refuted by anyone with a high-school education and a computer, so we'll leave that dead horse alone for a while...till I get bored. Hell, it doesn't even really bother me that O'Reilley called Bruce to task on his comments, demanding that he come on Bill's show and back them up...Bill knows that Bruce is on tour, and is going to be for the remainder of the year. Such is the nature of his occupation; and how safe it is for O'Reilley to say something like that when he knows full well that there isn't a chance Springsteen can get away from his tour for a few minutes so that he can tell Bill O'Reilly where to stick it.

No, what bothers me is this paraphrase: "Bruce Springsteen and other high-profile musicians like him use their occupation and their music to try to convince the country that their own personal position on things is correct."

This from a pundit who goes on national television several times a week and calls "BULL!" to anyone who disagrees with him--and is usually right.

This from a pundit who makes a living bullying his guests.

This from a pundit makes a living telling people what to believe and where to stand on issues.

This from a pundit guilty of almost as much double-talk as the administration he so blindly and vehemently supports.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

2000 Election: READ THIS

For any of you that, like myself, still find time in your busy schedules to wax/harp philosophic about the supreme cluster**** that was the 2000 election, you need to read this. Is it a rehash? Damn right, but certain issues need to be rehashed again and again and again, if only so that the populace doesn't forget that it was screwed during that November.

Check this out. In months leading up to the November election, FL Secretary of State Catherine Harris, with the assistance and approval of Governer Jeb Bush, instructed local election supervisors to purge over 57,000 voters from the registries, all of them supposedly (the operative word here) ex-cons who weren't allowed to vote within the state.

At LEAST 90% of those people were innocent; and by "innocent," I don't mean inmates that were later proven to be without guilt, but that those 90% were never cons to begin with. What's more, over 54% of those purged were either African American or Hispanic.

Cut to 2002. President Bush signs into effect the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), an initiative that not only lionizes those purges, but required that all 50 states put similar measures into effect. Its anyone's guess as to whether or not John Kerry would have had a chance anyway (let's face it...I voted for him, but the guy did kind of remind me of a backwoods Lurch), but those practices were put into effect during the 2004 election as well.

Following the initial purge, NAACP lawyers (in admittedly one of their only legitimate causes of the past few years) sued the state, after which Harris and Bush promised to return the voters to the registries. The sum total of these previously purged individuals was over 91,000.

In one such case, an African American man named Willie Steen was taken off, simply because of the unfortunate similarity of his name to an inmate "O'Steen."

Want some more stats? In Gadsden County, which is 58% black, there is an extremely high "spoiler" rate on ballots: one out of every eight is cast, but not counted. Right next door in white-majority Leon County, the spoiler rate is only 1 out of every 500. Hell of a coincidence.
Florida's electorate is 11 percent African-American. Florida refused to count 179,855 spoiled ballots. A little junior high school algebra applied to commission numbers indicates that 54 percent, or 97,000, of the votes "spoiled" were cast by black folk, of whom more than 90 percent chose Gore. The nonblack vote divided about evenly between Gore and Bush. Therefore, had Harris allowed the counting of these ballots, Al Gore would have racked up a plurality of about 87,000 votes in Florida--162 times Bush's official margin of victory.

And finally:

In the 2000 election, 1.9 million national votes cast were never counted. Spoiled for technical reasons, like writing in Gore's name, machine malfunctions and so on. The reasons for ballot rejection vary, but there's a suspicious shading to the ballots tossed into the dumpster. Edley's team of Harvard experts discovered that just as in Florida, the number of ballots spoiled was--county by county, precinct by precinct--in direct proportion to the local black voting population.

"Living in America...unh, I FEEL GOOD!"

In case you want a source:

Zoroaster "Dog Magic" review: Doom Metal for Dummies (in a good way)

Dog Magic
Terminal Doom Records
Available Now

How much do you want to bet that the members of Zoroaster spent nine months in the womb with Saint Vitus and Cathedral being piped in by headphones strapped to their mothers’ bellies? With maybe some “ba-dum, ba-dum” white blues thrown in…

Dog Magic, the latest release by these three Atlanta-based doomsayers, is a crash course in Stoner Drone 101. The guys certainly know where they came from; progenitors like Electric Wizard and Sleep are all over this freakin’ thing, but guitarist Will Fiore and company are clever enough to channel the spirits of their inspirations through subtle tribute, and not a rehashing.

Dog Magic is an audio definition of stoner metal. Some riffs come crawling up out of your speakers like mutated zombie crocodiles from the sewer in a 70s grindhouse flick; others slow down to a veritable ooze so thick you’ll have to scrub down your body with Lava soap after a single listen; and once you get to the 14-minute oil-drip epic that is “Algebra of Need,” you can count the seconds between notes in the riffs. You want solos? Well, too bad, you ain’t getting any. Wait, what? Those ridiculously sustained lead lines on “The Book” that sound like a demonic ambulance siren heralding the impending journey of some agonized soul across the river Styx? Those are solos? Oh okay, my bad.

Occasionally the album moves along at a pace more brisk than a brontosaurus; the titular closer starts off with some immediately post-binge Motorhead grooves, but soon slinks back into its familiar tempo. And while flyers of the doom flag will find no fault in that (this writer certainly doesn’t), less experienced metalloids will likely find themselves bored or confused.

But that’s their own fault…screw ‘em. Zoroaster is by far the heaviest thing to come out of Georgia since Mastodon, and Dog Magic firmly entrenches them alongside the elite of both Southern and stoner metal. Turn up the volume, light ‘em if you got ‘em, and wait for the bottom to drop out.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ahmadinejad: Last Comic Standing

Much ado has been made about Iranian President Ahmadinejad's visit and speech engagement at Columbia University this past week. Local talking heads (or, as the case may be, disembodied voices) have damned the university's decision to even allow the president to appear and address the body of students, professors, lay people, and activists. In light of this man's worse-than-questionable politicking, despicable human rights record, not to mention his flat-out insanity that seems to stem from a certain inexcusable degree of stubborn ignorance, I can't say I blame their sentiments.

Protesters, consisting of members from various gay, feminist, and human rights organizations, gathered outside of the university to decry the event as well. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson couldn't make it, as they were down in Jena attempting to siphon some PR from another issue. But that's another story.

Like I said, Ahmadinejad's appearance was protested on its very basis. But, the president of Columbia U. was thinking farther ahead than those who congregated outside to protest. You see, he knows very well the power of free speech in this country...both its ability to build up, and to destroy. In a very obvious way, one that was tragically missed by various pundits, this event achieved the former for us, and the latter for Iran's president.

In his speech, Ahmadinejad let loose with some aburdist gems, such as questioning the occurrence of the Holocaust, and stating that "there are no homosexuals in Iran," the latter of which drew some combined ire and laughter from the packed auditorium.

My point is this: whether or not this was the sole objective of Columbia in allowing him to come here, they in effect gave him permission to come over and act like a complete fool. Good for us, at least in terms of entertainment value.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Voodoo Glow Skulls, "Southern California Street Music," review

Southern California Street Music
Voodoo Glow Skulls
Victory Records
Available now

Let’s get one thing straight here, people: Voodoo Glow Skulls are not here to challenge your perception of what music is or should be, to make you step outside of your little tonal bubble and get sideswiped by distorted jazz scales played at 300 miles per hour, and they are DEFINITELY not here to revolutionize a damn thing.

Basically, the Casillas brothers and company just want you to smoke a blunt, knock back a 40 and have some fun.

It’s difficult, however, to simply throw Southern California Street Music on the stereo and contentedly allow it to be nothing more than roughly 45 minutes of background music. There’s a punk history lesson embedded in the work of VGS, and if you expend the same amount of energy it takes the average person to dissect two minutes of “21st Century Schizoid Man,” a vastly more knowledgeable listener will you become, young padowan.

Most songs on Street Music follow the same basic formula: three-to-five chords, atonally shouted vocals, steady snare/kick beats, and horn parts (trombone and sax) providing little ska flourishes throughout. The majority of the tracks exhibit the guys’ sense of humor; “Say Hello to My Little Friend,” and “Home is Where the Heart(ache) Is,” are prime examples. There are a couple of serious ones here as well, but the real treasure is “The Ballad of Froggy McNasty,” a three-minute tragicomedy that plays like Flogging Molly lost in the barrio.

And can I just say, Eddie Casillas is probably the most underrated punk guitarist since East Bay Ray? There, I wrote you a couplet.

Like I said, this isn’t the kind of thing to expedite your thought process, but VGS’s high-octane, booze-fueled concoction of ska and hardcore is one of the more fun records to come along this year. Kind of like a shotgun firing jellybeans. I think.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Witchcraft "The Alchemist" review

"The Alchemist"
Rise Above Records
Oct. 23
AUGUSTA, GA. - Every now and then, an album comes along that you can tell, simply by listening to the first 20 seconds, that it’s going to be a masterpiece. It oozes that vibe, but the purpose is clear; your course is charted for you in the first riffs, though you know full well you’re going to encounter detours, dead ends, and possibly a lyre-strumming goblin or two along the way.

Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. Savoy Brown’s Looking In. Dillinger Escape Plan’s Miss Machine. Isis’ Oceanic…and anything by Between the freakin’ Buried and Me.

Add Witchcraft’s The Alchemist to that list. Though the Cream-leaning Swedes have been laying down doomy, incessant grooves for going on six years now, this newest effort finds the band at its creative peak, finally nailing a psychedelic stride.

There is in every song a seamless union of laissez-faire and unrelenting heaviness, its cohesiveness largely owing to the dudes’ knack for deceptive and aggressive melodies. From the first overlapping Keef-meets-Iommi riffs of “Walk Between the Lines,” to the fuzzed-out conclusion of the 14-minute title epic, your mind will feel like its swimming in mud…soon as you climb out, though, you’ll realize your foot was tapping the entire time.

The guitar tandem of Magnus Pelander and John Hoyles is what might have happened had George Harrison hooked up with Matt Pike in the early 70s. These guys are a riff factory…period. A wall of low-end density one minute, and a barrage of wah-tinged leads the next, they don’t need B-tuned guitars or “death” settings on a Line 6 amp to leave your skull absolutely cleft in twain. Witness “Hey Doctor” and “If Crimson Was Your Colour” for some particularly blunt examples.

And oh yeah…let’s not forget Ola Henriksson whomping your psyche upside its head with the fattest effing bass lines since Ginger Baker, or Fredrik Hansson flat-out abusing his kit, not to mention threatening your personal well-being, with his thunderous Bonham-on-quaaludes beats.

With The Alchemist, Witchcraft have moved beyond the musical cubicle of “stoner rock” or “throwback;” they’ve created something timeless, something so absolutely all-encompassing, that it will undoubtedly hold its own against any metal opus or thud-rock masterwork already included in the hard rock canon. Ladies and gents—this is how you do it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Adema, "Kill the Headlights" review

Kill the Headlights
Immortal Records
Available now

WARNING: Stereotypical rock in-joke ahead. Proceed with caution, ready to shake head disparagingly.

Adema has endured so many lineup changes over the years, you’d think they were made up entirely of drummers.

Anyone? Anyone? Spinal Tap maybe?

In any case, the cock-rockin’ Bakersfield, CA quintet have had to work their asses off over the course of their career to establish themselves as a band worthy of attention; the fact that most of their early success was (arguably) due to a metal PR frenzy surrounding front man Mark Chavez’ relation to Korn’s Jonathan Davis—the two are half-brothers—and the subsequent dip in sales following the group’s in-fighting probably didn’t help matters too much.

The band’s core members, however, have remained undaunted. Armed with their third singer in Bobby Reeves, Adema have recently released Kill the Headlights, their fourth and most cohesive LP to date. The album is a refreshingly businesslike affair, with most songs kept to a radio-ready three to three-and-a-half minutes, and absolutely throbbing with gigantic arena-worthy guitars and hooks.

Having had to ward off the undeserved “nu-metal” stigma since its inception, the band finally sheds any trace of that damning label. While the sound is still rooted in the high school angst-rock of past and present, it comes across as honest, down-to-earth rock and roll instead of the whiny metal that pervaded my most awkward years.

Lead single “Cold and Jaded” is a fitting opener, with fat, grinding guitars and powerful, gritty vocals courtesy of Reeves, while taking cues from Stone Sour on a few beefy ballads like “Days Go By,” and the especially enjoyable and soaring “All These Years.”

Adema won’t be revolutionizing the face of rock anytime soon, but Kill the Headlights seems to at the very least provide these deceptively talented dudes with a long-sought-after sense of identity. This one’ll grow on you.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Dethklok, "Dethalbum" review

Adult Swim
Sept 25th

Okay…first, the concept. Dethklok is a fictional animated band (as if there’s any other kind of animated band) and the primary focus of the Adult Swim cartoon “Metalocalypse”. Consisting of vocalist/visionary Nathan Explosion, guitarists Skwisgaar Skwigelf and Toki Wartooth (the fastest and second-fastest on the planet, respectively) bassist William Murderface, and Pickles the Drummer, the band is the most popular musical act on the planet, as well as the world’s 12th largest economy, right ahead of Belgium.

There’s much more, but we’ll just leave it at that for now.

Dethalbum, the first studio release by the band (actually consisting of writer Brandon Small and former-Strapping Young Lad drummer Gene Holgan), is fifteen tracks of Viking metal brutality, influenced by everyone from Saxon to Celtic Frost. The question is, how seriously do you take something like this?

The obvious answer is “Not at all, you twit,” but it’s honestly kind of hard not to at least be impressed by the effort that went into this project. While most songs, unsurprisingly, sound generally alike, they all feature some pretty decent riffs and technically sound solos on songs like “Murmaider,” “Hatredcopter,” and “Better Metal Snake.”

But the real appeal behind the album is the sly inside comedy that pervades the whole thing, an element that is at once its greatest quality as well as its downfall…that is, if Small was considering record sales. Which I doubt he is, so never mind.

Make no mistake, only fans of the show are really going to understand Dethalbum; you can still enjoy it, but the songs are downright hilarious if you know the tendencies and idiosyncrasies of the characters. Right up there with Smell the Glove.

Between the Buried and Me, "Colors" review

Between the Buried and Me
Victory Records
Sept 18th

With every album cranked out by the differential equation-obsessed juggernaut that is Between the Buried and Me, the band repeatedly reinforces its status as the most accessible of today’s “difficult” bands. Cephalic Carnage is great and all, but even the most dedicated among the metalhead elite will occasionally want to back off a little.

So it is with BTBAM’s fourth full-length, Colors. The guys have always experimented, and quite successfully so, with the interplay and shift between overwhelming devastation and lilting melodies, but the hypothesis comes to full fruition here.

Every album is an evolution for these dudes, and you can always tell right from the get-go. “Foam Born” opens with Tommy Rogers softly crooning over delicate piano chords, after which it shifts into (who would’ve thought?) something right out of “Pinkerton,” before finally settling into a couple minutes of oddly symphonic metalcore.

“The Decade of Statues,” though far from predictable (you try charting the flight path of a cicada!), probably offers the least amount of surprises. You’ll still be jolted by the occasional signature switch and weird solo break, but then you’ll remember who you’re listening to, and smack yourself for being so absent-minded.

Prog medals are earned all around here for two sprawling epics. The 13-minute “Ants of the Sky” moves from straight-up hardcore, to piano ballad, to unapologetically catchy groove metal, to (of all things) a nice, bluesy David Gilmour-esque solo by Paul Waggoner—all within the first four and half minutes. Don’t even get me started on the other nine.

“White Walls” clocks in at just over the 14-minute mark. I can’t really form justifiably coherent thoughts on this one, so I’ll just throw out a few concepts that fit the song: execution, the walls are closing in, straight jacket, Sonic the Hedgehog, ritual killing, Burt Bacharach. And the drums. My god, the drums…

As in literature, anyone with a basic understanding of material can copy a style and present it in a proficient manner. It takes real talent, and near transcendence, to allow influences to melt seamlessly into one another and come up with something that truly stands alone, unique. Between the Buried and Me are undoubtedly today’s King Crimson, creating some of the 21st century’s most forward-thinking music. Keep up if you can.

Every Time I Die, "The Big Dirty" review

The Big Dirty
Every Time I Die
Ferret Music
Sept 4th

The lads of Every Time I Die have been spreading their Southern gothic grunge-core stylings all over the world like a pissed-off Johnny Appleseed since the band’s inception in winter of 1998. Having already released three deep-fried metal affairs with Last Night in Town, Hot Damn!, and Gutter Phenomenon, the Buffalo-bred quintet have gradually developed into household names, maintaining their underground roots and rep while successfully breaching the mainstream.

And it looks like the trend will continue with The Big Dirty, ETID’s fourth full-length studio effort. Look, the title sums it up…this thing is big and dirty—and I mean DIRTY. Dirty like Dustin Diamond’s pile of unwashed wife-beaters; dirty like Ru Paul’s seventh-grade sketchbook; dirty like that sea monster lovin’ in “Humanoids from the Deep.” Haven’t seen it? I think we can still agree that sea monster lovin’ is pretty damn disgusting.

Keith Buckley certainly hasn’t lost his sense of humor this time around. Granted, he’s about as subtle as a slathering horde of redneck Vikings, but with such sly witticisms as “You know I’m no good at court-ordered goodbyes!” (“Pigs is Pigs”), how can you not dig on this guy?

Oh, and Jordan Buckley and Andy Williams have got to be two of metal’s raunchiest-sounding guitarists. Whether they’re pounding out power chords or snaking in and out of each other’s licks, the two maintain a definite twang while still weighing down on you like a trash compactor.

Listen people, I’ll eat a bowl of my own hair if you can find a thrashier, heavier, more sardonic metalcore release this year than The Big Dirty. It’s a gigantic butcher knife that you think is swinging towards your face, but is really just about to carve into a turducken.

Then it slices your face off. Just ‘cuz.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Life Once Lost: "Iron Gag" review

Iron Gag
A Life Once Lost
Sept. 18th

2007 has been a banner year for new metal releases. The first seven months have seen thunderous new offerings from Pelican, Job for a Cowboy, The Red Chord, The Number Twelve Looks Like You, 3 Inches of Blood, and others who have set the bar to ridiculously far-fetched heights for those bands unfortunate enough to follow in their crushingly omnipotent wake.

Fortunately for us, A Life Once Lost is not easily intimidated, as is evident by the material on Iron Gag, their fifth album and third on the Ferret label. Its one thing, however, to not be intimidated; these dudes have shared the stage with Strapping Young Lad, Black Label Society, Norman Jean, Unearth, Chimaira, Himsa, Darkest Hour, Between the Buried and Me, as well as dozens of other heavyweights.

To unleash an album that hangs with the best and pit-stomps the rest…well, that’s something else entirely.

I’ve never heard this much pent-up energy in one disc. Robert Meadows comes blazing out of the gate like a napalmed mustang on opener “Firewater Joyride,” his throat-ripping vocals complementing the cleverly ascending groove-riffs of Robert Carpenter and “Snake” Sustaine (best stage name since Zacky Vengeance, by the way). They should have seriously thought about getting Rob Tyner to start that song off by screaming “Kick out the jams, m*****f***er!”

“Detest” maintains the stranglehold, with more tight riffs, and a sick guitar solo that teeters brilliantly on the verge of atonality. They let you breathe for a couple of minutes with the kinda-power ballad “The Wanderer,” before pummeling you senseless again with “All Teeth.”

A Life Once Lost are at the peak of their prowess; Iron Gag is nearly flawless, scary as hell, and unrepentantly catchy. All hail the breakdown.

Monday, August 20, 2007

"War on Terror" a misnomer, due to U.S. hypocrisy

As a citizen and sometimes dissident, I find the United States’ use of the phrase “war on terror” to be morbidly amusing for a couple of reasons, the least damning of which is not that the administration persists in utilizing it as an excuse for our continued presence in the Middle East. The absurdity of that word’s usage by this nation is, however, increased tenfold when you consider the fact that the U.S. has, whether overtly or covertly, either carried out their own acts of terrorism against various nations, or sponsored and supported similar actions by others.

I give you two linked examples. During the atrocities in NATO-controlled Turkey during the 1990’s, during which hundreds of thousands of Kurds were forced from their homes and/or slaughtered, over 80% of provided arms to the country were given by Western powers, overwhelmingly the United States, just as the atrocities peaked in the mid-90s.

The arms provided by the Clinton administration surpassed the total of U.S.-exported arms from 1950-1983. Turkey was the largest importer of those weapons that left countless Kurds dead, 2-3 million refugees, and 3,500 villages destroyed.

By 1999, however, Colombia had surpassed Turkey in that regard. That year, coinciding with the spike in U.S. aid, the rate of killings in Colombia increased by 20% (the nation was already exceeding 3,000 political murders and 300,000 displaced refugees per year), with around 80% attributed to U.S.-backed paramilitary forces.

Okay, sticking with Colombia for a moment. A few years back, a $7.5 billion initiative known as “Plan Colombia” was instituted and attributed to Bogota, though with substantial coaching and $1 billion from the United States to go towards “economic, social, and human rights programs.” The military component of this program was put into effect in 1999; the remainder (those aforementioned programs) sat in “abeyance” for quite a while.

Before 1999, things were bad enough. In 1985, the country’s only political party functioning outside the elite power-share was decimated, with over 3,500 members (including presidential candidates, mayors, and activists) murdered or vanished—an incident which did nothing to affect Colombia’s democratic standing with the U.S. The following decade, political murders and forced refugees averaged 3,000 and 300,000 per year, respectively—keep in mind now, this is the country to whom we served up about $1 billion dollars in military forces.

And it goes on: blatant U.S. atrocities in Nicaragua starting in 1979 (bolstered by our contempt of the World Court), training and recruitment of extremist Muslims during the 80’s to wage a “holy war” against the Russians, support of Israeli oppression, etc.

If we persist in a global war on terror, it is imperative that we first deal inwardly and try to rid ourselves of our own hypocrisy.

Blitzen Trapper: Wild Mountain Nation review

Wild Mountain Nation
Blitzen Trapper
June 12th

Ah…Portland, Oregon. They must be sweating bullets up there by now. They’ve consistently provided us with quality, cutting-edge bands like the Dandy Warhols, the Decemberists, the Shins, and Elliot Smith. How the hell do they intend to follow all of that? The pressure must be unbearable.

Enter Wild Mountain Nation, the third album by Blitzen Trapper, an utterly schizophrenic sextet from that vibrant Pacific Northwest musical hub. Imagine Frank Zappa beating the piss out of Badfinger with a fossilized Lynyrd Skynyrd box set, and you might, after countless hours of meditation (or counseling), begin to understand what exactly these guys sound like. They define unclassifiable and, like that last statement, are a mischievous (and sometimes confounding) paradox.

The distinct garage vibe of “Devil’s A-Go-Go” opens up the album with its frenetic George Harrison licks and off-kilter drumming. From there, it slides right into the title track, a gloriously catchy pseudo-Southern rock number with a Boston-smooth guitar riff, and the unabashedly poppy “Futures and Follies” will have you wondering if these dudes managed to channel the spirits of Let It Be-era John and Paul.

From there, it only gets weirder. Just when you think you have them pegged, they bust out the fuzz rock with “Miss Spiritual Tramp,” watch Godzilla stage an epic battle with Mothra on “Woof and Warp of the Quiet Giant’s Hem,” and even throw in a quiet, surprisingly calming ballad in “Summer Town.”

Blitzen Trapper literally has something for everyone, from Blue Cheer heaviness, to American Beauty-style Grateful Dead. Whether you can handle everything being mashed up into one massive musical speedball is the only question. Regardless, every song is a head-banger, a foot-tapper, or at least an eyebrow-raiser. Don’t miss out.

Black Light Burns: Cruel Melody review

Cruel Melody
Black Light Burns
Wolfpack Records
June 12th

Well, it happened again. When nobody was looking, Wes Borland went and formed a supergroup (of sorts), christened it Black Light Burns, and cut an album: Cruel Melody. Some people just refuse to go gentle into that good night.

From the get-go, however, it becomes obvious that this is not a cut-and-dry nu-metal disc…eventually it becomes painfully obvious. You see, Borland actually sings in this band, a relatively new duty for him, and the results are…meh.

It’s not that the former Limp Bizkit axman is all that bad of a vocalist…he’s definitely not as annoying as Fred Durst—but then again, the same could be said for herpes. But he’s just not interesting. He lacks the idiosyncrasies of a Jonathan Davis, or the raw, terrifying, sexuality of a Trent Reznor, whose style he particularly attempts to cop. Primarily for those reasons, he can’t hang with the good songs (“Mesopotamia,” “Cruel Melody,” “New Hunger”) or save the bad ones (everything else).

He’s no Dylan Thomas, either. With lyrics like “there’s a blood clot in my heart/I’m pushing it out/but can’t seem to make it start,” most of the tracks come across like the pitiful attempts of a 16-year-old to sound like Neil Gaiman.

At least Borland has the good sense to surround himself with competent musicians. Josh Freese, of The Vandals, NIN, and A Perfect Circle, bombards his kit like Godzilla on a metronome: pissed-off, but steady. Danny Lohner, Freese’s sometimes band mate, helps out Borland with the drop-tuned riffs, adding several layers of heaviness to the already weighty mix.

While it may not be saying much, Cruel Melody is the best thing that Borland has done in his career, bar none. What it lacks in substance and originality, it partially makes up for in being casually listenable. Throw the guy a bone and give it a shot.

Arcade Fire: Neon Bible review

Neon Bible
The Arcade Fire
Sonovox Records
Release Date: March 6th

It’s a wonder that Arcade Fire survived these last few years. After their full-length debut Funeral received nods from David Bowie and U2, the group’s popularity skyrocketed, propelling them to “hesitant poster-children of indie rock” status. Tour dates were sold out, the venues became bigger, and ostentatious college kids across the country had found their fix.

Managing, however, to escape with dignity fully intact, they proceeded to hide away in a Quebec church to record their next album, Neon Bible, a lush and atmospheric marvel that sees the band expanding further on its diverse instrumentation, and featuring all the somber mindset and cryptic lyricism you’ve come to expect from these folks.

Opener and first single “Black Mirror” is classic AF, with angrily-strummed acoustic chords, steady percussion, and quirky background piano flourishes, all set against some paranoid, apocalyptic poetry. “Keep the Car Running” is strikingly bright, with its John Mellencamp-meets-The Cars vibe, and the title track, a pointed critique of modern organized religion, is the album’s quiet diamond.

The major standouts here are “Intervention,” an organ-filled heartbreaker about a soldier’s futile war, and “The Well and the Lighthouse,” which sees the band seamlessly blending almost endless layers of instruments, eventually segueing into a 1950s teen idol ballad tempo.

Neon Bible contains few surprises; if you didn’t like Funeral, you’re not going to like this one. Arcade Fire is one of those rare bands that can take you to heaven just as easily as to hell. I suggest you follow them.

Anchored in Love, a Tribute to June Carter Cash review

Anchored in Love: A Tribute to June Carter Cash
Various Artists
Dualtone Records
June 5th

June Carter Cash and her husband (you know…that guy) were without a doubt the first couple of country music. Faith Hill and Tim McGraw can suck my big toe. Johnny and June survived a tumultuous courtship to become one of the genre’s most beloved duos, not to mention the individual success they both had, along the way inspiring each other to write such songs as “I Walk the Line,” and “Ring of Fire.”

It is certainly fitting, then, that Anchored in Love: A Tribute to June Carter Cash is almost as much a tribute to the both of them as it is to her. Four of the chosen tracks were sung as duets, with two more referencing Johnny himself.

The music itself is more than decent, with the flaws largely owing to the choice of artists covering the songs. Take the opening “If I Were a Carpenter:” Willie Nelson makes sense. Close friend of Johnny’s, and fellow outlaw countryman. Sheryl Crow…not so much. She makes the song pleasant enough to listen to, but her vocals are too clean to stand up to June’s soulful grit. Likewise, Carlene Carter and Ronnie Dunn do a better than passable job with “Jackson,” but we can blame the producers for trying to update the sound too much.

Most of the album’s remainder is superb. “Far Side Banks of Jordan,” performed here by Patty Loveless and Kris Kristofferson, is perfect, retaining the song’s inherent qualities of sorrow, joy, and faith. Brad Paisely turns in a fantastic and refreshingly stripped-down take on “Keep On The Sunny Side,” and Elvis Costello is brilliant with his jangly, slightly ambient version of “Ring of Fire.”

No one can be June Carter Cash, and woe betide unto anyone who tries. Most of the artists on Anchored in Love seem to understand that, and the album is better off for it, serving as a fitting remembrance to the Carter/Cash legacy.

The Alternate Routes: Good and Reckless and True

Good and Reckless and True
The Alternate Routes
Vanguard Records
Release Date: March 13th

The Alternate Routes officially take the prize for Most Misleading Band Name Ever. The Connecticut-spawned group is, in terms of style and history, merely a faint footprint right smack in the middle of the beaten path. Their latest offering, Good and Reckless and True, throws you few curveballs, and aside from a great story about hitting up a casino to (successfully) raise money to press their second album, their due-paying follows the same plot points outlined in “Turn the Page.”

But you’ll still enjoy the hell out of this album.

It would be easy after the first two tracks to dismiss them as a weird sort of New Radicals throwback; “Ordinary” is a fitting opener, introducing the listener to Tim Warren’s no-nonsense lyrics and clean, impassioned vocals. In fact, half the album could have been written by Dishwalla, and while these songs are enjoyable, it’s the out-of-the-blue formulaic deviations that make this disc worth the 12 bucks.

“Hollywood” is a perfect desert island country ballad, topped off by Eric Donnelly’s angular Willie Nelson-like solo. “Going Home With You,” with its Stones-y fuzz riffs, is as good a “getting laid” song as you’ll ever find, and “Are You Lonely” recalls the organs of Three Dog Night before exploding into a hell-raiser that would make Buckcherry grab its ankles and say “Please sir may I have another!”

Yeah, you’ve heard this stuff before throughout the years—so what? The Alternate Routes are refreshing, devoid of posing, and original in their inspired nostalgia.

Hotel Alexis: Goliath, I'm On Your Side review

Goliath, I’m on your Side
The Hotel Alexis
Broken Sparrow Records
In stores now

If Pete Yorn and Jeff Tweedy were to swap tunes on the back porch after staying up for 48 hours in Iceland, it might sound something like The Hotel Alexis’ Goliath, I’m On Your Side. This second effort by the New Hampshire-based group features the familiar doses of lazy Americana, along with a fleshed-out realization of the droning instrumentals at which they had previously hinted.

The album revolves around the hushed vocals and intensely understated musicianship of songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Sidney Alexis Linder, who wrote and recorded the album in Spain and all across the U.S. His band’s tender approach to the music is on display throughout, and while they’ve drawn comparisons to Wilco, there is nary an aggressive outburst of Les Paul on the whole album.

Every song is severely personal; you listen in on a conversation during “Sister Ray,” and spy on a film noir lamp-lit conversation in “Suddenly, It’s You and Me.” Not all is so heavily dreary, though; Linder had probably been listening to Pet Sounds all day when he wrote “Silver Waves Crash Through the Canyon.”

By far the most surreal point of the album is the lengthy opus “Hummingbird/Indian Dog,” an utterly captivating fusion of instrumentation, static, sound effects, and Sigur Ros-like chants, all run through heavy echo. When it’s over, you’ll feel like you just woke up from a 20-minute dream.

Goliath, I’m On Your Side is hypnotic, pure and simple. Listen to this one with your eyes closed or on the beach at night.

Cthonic: A Decade on the Throne review

A Decade on the Throne
Deathlight Records
Available now

A few years ago, I remember seeing an ad in a metal magazine for this Taiwanese black metal band, whose name sounded like something out of a Lovecraft rip-off story. They were all done up in shiny black leather, looking like the finalists of a Peter Criss look-a-like contest. I took note of what I judged as novelty, and promptly stored the information in the couldn’t-give-less-of-a-damn section of my brain, wherein still resides Scott Stapp and the entire E Network.

Well, I recently received a copy of Chthonic’s new concert double CD/DVD set A Decade on the Throne…and judging by the fashion in which the band steamrolled from the depths of my psyche and blew an erhu-shaped hole out the front of my cranium, I must say I was a little hasty in my initial reception.

First, the trivial stuff: cosmetics. Hands down, this is the best packaging I’ve ever seen. The three-disc set comes in an ornately inscribed faux-book, with photos of the band melding into one another, creating what amounts to a still-life montage. Each disc has its own “page,” and slides neatly into a sturdy sleeve. To top it all off, there is an elaborately designed one-page insert with all of the track listings.

Second, the band. It would be an understatement of tragic proportions to say that Chthonic could very well be Taiwan’s answer to Cradle of Filth…hell, they’re probably better, if anything. The group is six members strong, with a keyboardist and erhu (traditional Taiwanese bowed instrument) player rounding out the core of vocals, guitar, bass, and drums.

Frontman Freddy Lim and company have got melodic black metal DOWN. Everything is here, from the keyboard-based atmospheric crashes, to Lim’s demonized shrieks, to the inspired fret-blazing of Jesse “The Infernal.” Did I mention the drummer wears a spiked Hannibal Lecter mask, and the bass player is a brutally attractive young woman? She had me at “AIEEEEEE!”

Speaking of Jesse, I do NOT exaggerate when I say that the man is shred’s best-kept secret. While the solos are somewhat low-key on the band’s studio output, “The Infernal” is given free reign live to let fly with nimble jugular-ravaging riffs and face-slicing solos. Check out his (literal) time in the spotlight, aptly titled “Guitar Solo.”

The sound quality of the recording is superb, and the cinematography is decent enough, though a little more communication between producers, directors, and cameramen would have been appreciated. Not often, but a few times, the shot would cut to something like a blank wall of the venue, when it was painfully obvious that something unforgivably awesome was happening off-screen.

I’m sure we all remember being 12 years old and getting pissed off when the camera would cut away from the sex scene in a PG-13 flick.

At the end of the day, Chthonic have gone under the radar and cemented their legacy as one of history’s top black metal acts. With spine-compressing riffs, respectable political activity, and production values that would make Alice Cooper drop his nine-iron in awe, this is a group that you NEED to know. End of discussion, no excuses.

Also check out Chthonic’s latest studio release Seediq Bale.

Catch the band on tour late this summer with Cradle of Filth.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


This'll be a quick one. Working three jobs takes its toll on a person's will to blog.

It was reported last week that Cindy Sheehan intends to run for California Congress in 2008. Now weirder folks have run for public office...some have actually gotten in, and I don't have to name names (JESSE %#!^?%$ VENTURA). Newsworthy though it may be to the talking heads on major networks, I get the feeling that most socially-aware citizens just shrugged and went "Yeah...OK, cool." I know I did.

No, what makes this story interesting is the ultimatum that Sheehan put towards House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, namely that if impeachment charges are not drawn up against Bush by a week from now, Sheehan will run for Congress...and she'll be going after Pelosi's seat.

Now, I'm not looking to talk about whether or not anyone takes Sheehan seriously enough anymore or anything of that nature. If you're reading this, there's a 50/50 chance you probably don't know, legally, what Bush is to impeached for. Sure he's incompetent, greedy, and doesn't know head from, better half...but those aren't grounds for impeachment.

What IS a grounds, however, is that he lied to Congress and to the American people about our reasons for going to war with Iraq. It has been proven to the point of common knowledge by now, and we still have yet to see anything done about it.

This will undoubtedly go down as one of the most FUBAR decades in American history.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

iGenocide: Mass Murder, the iPhone, and You

Well ladies and gentlemen, it is one o clock in the morning, and I had to break up a bar fight at my job a few hours ago. Its been that kind of night. Let's commence, shall we?

In light of all this ridiculous iPhone mania sweeping the nation like the cosmic claw of Cthulhu across an unsuspecting steam ship, I decided that there are a few facts regarding the general production of cell phones, including the harvesting of raw materials and the like, that you should know, should you take it upon yourself to be swept up in the iCraze. Y'know...just in case you didn't already feel guilty enough about anything else.

The production of cell phones is dependent upon the harvesting of two essential materials: coltan and niobium. The former is found in three billion-year-old soils such as those found in the Rift Valley region of Africa (you can see where this is going, can you not?). Extracted from the coltan is a substance called tantalum, used to manufacture tantalum capacitors, which are in effect tiny devices that maintain the flow of current in electronic devices--such as cell phones and iPods.

Turns out that 80% of these coltan deposits are found in the Democractic Republic of the Congo (a misnomer if there ever was one), with niobium yielding similar stats.

Now this is where it gets interesting. Thanks to the techie explosion of the 1990s, the price of coltan ballooned to $300 per pound. By 1996, Rwandan and Ugandan forces, sponsored by--ding ding ding!--the United States had moved into the highest-yield mining regions and taken control over them. The Rwandan army alone was making in excess of $20 million dollars a month from the coltan mining; to this day, though the price of coltan has again fallen, those same forces maintain a monopoly over the mining regions. Since that point, human rights atrocities in the area have skyrocketed.

The coltan is then shipped out to various firms where it is made into the sought-after tantalum powder, which is in turn sold and sent off to companies like Nokia, Motorola, Compaq, Sony, and others.

I wonder if Idi Amin is in Chad's "five?"

The aforementioned atrocities have been linked to a chain of organized crime that spreads outward from the region, connecting to various multi-national corporations, such as the American Cabot Corp. and OM Group, HC Starck from Germany, and Nigncxia of China. All of these companies, and others, have been linked by a UN Panel of Experts to the bribery, rape, and extortion perpetrated by supra-governments and proxy puppet armies in the Congo.

All while over $6 million in raw cobalt is exported from the region...daily.

The Congo, which by all rights should be the wealthiest nation on the face of God's green earth, is instead one of the most imporverished, disease-ridden countries in the world, despite also being rich in deposits of tin, copper, and diamonds. Conflicts of interest between mining corporations and our past three presidents, Lockheed Martin, GE, Boeing, and Halliburton have also been detailed.

But then again, its certainly nothing new to the Congolese people. They've been getting stripped and railroaded for decades now; the only things that have changed are what gets stripped and who does the stripping: rubber to the Belgians, diamonds to Mobutu, and now coltan and niobium.

All of this, in addition to the effect of expanded and malevolent mining on nonhuman life, such as the forests, vegetation, and certain endangered species, including varieties of gorilla.

I can't point fingers...I have a cell phone, and I find it very convenient, though I live with the knowledge that I technically carry around roughly a dozen corpses in my back pocket.

Like most issues of conscience and outright decency plaguing us today, this is a vicious cycle. Enter the iPhone, a device that can do everything short of washing your delicates. It is a phone, computer, and iPod all in one, effectively rendering the latter components slightly more obsolete. So we throw them away...millions of dollars repaid with endless innocent blood simply tossed away like a bubble gum wrapper, only to be replaced by another death-bought product.

Only shinier.

Sources: The Taylor Report, March 8 2005
Earth First! Journal, Augusta 2005
Z Magazine, March 1 2006
Censored 2007: Top 25 Censored Stories of this Year

Friday, June 15, 2007

Hate to say I told you so...

This is just a quick note to anyone who thinks that the green movement consists of a bunch of vegans elevating trees over human convenience.

The World Health organization recently calculated that roughly 13 million human lives PER YEAR could be saved by simply cleaning up the planet's air and water, only two of the many polluting factors that we find ourselves currently battling.

The WHO also ranked the healthiest nations in the world according to the environment. Iceland and Israel topped the list, with Mali and Afghanistan bringing up the rear. The United States came in a respectable (but still unsatisfactory) eighth, behind the formers and Italy, Germany, Spain, France, and Britain.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

And so it goes

People amaze me.

Sometimes that can be a good thing; occasionally news will pop up of one person or a group of people performing some extraordinary act of heroism, kindness, goodwill, etc.

More often than not, however, it is the persisting stupidity and ignorance of people that tends to crop up so much more often.

Take this war for example. Just about everything that can said about it has been said...about three-quarters of the country agrees that we need to haul ourselves out of the Middle East, tails between our legs or no. It is severely disrupting our economy. It is wasting lives. It is making us look like fools on a global scale.

Still, I am absolutely flabbergasted when I hear someone, in this case a media pundit, go on the air and insist that, if we leave Iraq, our enemies will come after us.

No they won't.

They never wanted us there in the first place...they never really wanted anything do with us. It morbidly amuses me that some folks still think that THEY were the instigators in this entire situation. We've been ravaging their lands, either physically or economically, for a little under a century, for a few centuries if you count Britain.

9/11 is still by no means excusable...don't get me wrong.

But for years we have been exploiting the people and resources of those nations, and it gets little to no media coverage. Of course that should come as no surprise, considering that most of big media is in someone's pocket, providing little more than minimal coverage on real issues, and otherwise serving as a distraction from the world's real problems.

Why do you think Paris Hilton is on MSNBC and CNN?

And then the minute that they attack us on our own soil, as retaliation for all that we've put them through, we're SURPRISED?

And yes, it is fanatically and religiously motivated...but economics and foreign policy is intricately weaved throughout their motivations as well. For a good deal of the population of that region, the two are inseparable.

Our BS just gives them a more tangible reason for a jihad.

Both sides are at fault, to be sure. I'd just appreciate it if we'd each start to own up to our responsibilities.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Terminator 4: The Farminator

Hello is I, the environmental watchdog alter-ego of one Josh Ruffin. My apologies for not introducing myself in more detail, but that lazy bastard is apparently too busy to even give me a name. Anyway--

For the past few months, Arnold, aka the Governator, aka FLAGNSPMATGUHM!, has surprisingly, sometimes weirdly, endeared himself to avid greeners. With plans to reduce California's carbon emissions by 25% in the next few years, and a law having already been passed doing away with plastic bags, Schwarzy has become the posterboy for the refreshing, new enlightened Republican faction.

It is thus dishearteningly noteworthy to read of his latest ambition, overturning the Williamson Act of the 1960s, a law that "helps preserve farms and ranches by allowing those who enroll in the program to have their land taxed at a rate based on actual use, not potential use. The state then compensates cities and counties for the revenue loss."

Here's the problem, in lay terms:

Say a big box store establishes a location near some privately-owned and operated farmland. As we value cheaply manufactured, Third World-produced crap more than the inherent and actual value of something like, I don't know, growing food to FEED PEOPLE, the taxes on that privately-owned land would go up, due to "potential value."

Some of the potentially affected counties house some of California's most celebrated and productive farmland.

No word yet on whether or not SkyNet is involved, but the move is just a petty scheme to try and save the state a few bucks, as the state is responsible for recompensating cities and counties for the revenue loss due to lower taxes on the land.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Spiderman 3: An overlong review of an overlong movie

So Spider-Man 3's opening weekend has come and gone, to the tune of over $150 million in the United States alone (that's just ticket sales, not including merchandise). There was, however, another tune playing in the background of the swirling cash vortex that is that franchise, a tune played at such a high frequency that only true fans could hear it.

[A disclaimer: though I am included, by "true fan," I am referring to those who read much more into a comic book movie than they probably should.]

That tune was the Symphony of Suck, played by a lackluster orchestra at that. Allow me to backtrack just a bit...

The first two Spidey films were nothing short of breathtaking, specifically the second. The casting of Tobey Maguire, though not my personal first choice, was at least inspired, the personal relationships were poignant and believable, and the big-screen realization of larger-than-life villains was flawless. While not an iconic moment in film history, the sight of Alfred Molina's Dr. Octopus breaking out of the hospital after realizing what kind of monster he has become, and instantaneously suffering an emotional and mental breakdown right before our eyes, was simultaneously heartbreaking and chilling.

Fast forward to Spiderman 3. I had high hopes for this one, and I wanted desperately to like it...after all, we finally have VENOM! Gonna be sweet, right? Eh...not so much. There are three main problems that plagued the film:

1. The recurring stars' lack of enthusiasm. Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst have carried this franchise through two stellar films, and their chemistry (while awkward at times, due mostly to Dunst's deadpan-12-year-old-girl delivery) has been better than passable. Not so here. The relationship seems forced, and at times feels like a cold reading at an audition. The two are really just going through the motions at this point, and we're fortunate that this is the last film in the series for both of them.

2. Too many villains. Here's the primary issue: most of the supervillains in the Spiderman canon are extremely tragic. We feel for them, because they did not ask to be what they are. Perhaps they eventually fell in love with their power (Goblin, Venom), but they are all at least somewhat sympathetic. The backstory is key in understanding this concept. Granted, we had two films to lead up to Harry's transformation into Goblin. Thanks, Sam. But we get a measley ten minutes of exposition on Flint Marko, perhaps the most reluctant villain of all.

Most importantly, I have serious beef with the handling of Venom, arguably the most recognizable and loved/hated rival of Spiderman's. Raimi and friends had been teasing the unveiling of this character since the release of the last film, and that perhaps is where they shot themselves in the foot: all of the buildup occurred in the media blitz, not in the film. When it happens in the actual movie, all we are excited about is getting see Venom...we don't give a damn by this point WHY this happens to him, or the true depth of hatred he has for Peter Parker. On top of all that, he gets 20 minutes of screen time, tops, and is destroyed at the end, thus killing any further potential use for the series' most fascinating baddie.

If Raimi wanted to pack a bunch of villains in this one, he needed a better idea. How about using the opening sequences documenting the city's growing affection for Spiderman to show a montage of him defeating a number of somewhat lesser villains in quick succession? Rhino, Vulture, Electro would have all been fun to see for a few minutes, and we wouldn't be made to believe that we have to care about them at all...we'd just have to enjoy the beatdown, and watch them go to jail.

3. Too long, like this review so far.

High points? Thomas Hayden Church turns in a stellar performance as Flint Marko. The poor guy isn't given a lot to work with, but the depth of tragedy and despair that Church is able to evoke, both because of his character's daughter and reluctance to resort to criminal means, is quite astounding.

As always, the action sequences are perfect, and this installment honestly features the best of the series. The effects-laden Sandman is truly a thing to behold, and the initial battle between Goblin and Parker is riveting.

And Bruce Campbell...did I mention Bruce Campbell? Raimi has thrown him a bone in every film thus far, and he has his funniest cameo yet. If rumors are true, we could see Campbell finally get a chance to flex some serious chops as supervillain Kraven in the next film.

All in all, Spiderman 3 is nothing if not fun to watch. But we expected more...and we should have gotten it.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Paris Hilton, Mormons, and three kinds of stupid

I'm not usually one to get involved in petty celebrity news--and let's face it, saying "celebrity news" is like saying "fishnet condom" (it just doesn't matter)--but every great once in a while some prominent personality does or says something so unbelievably thick-headed, that I just have to cast my beanie into a ring that I know is already chock full of other bloggers' hats.

Paris Hilton...that name will either rivet you to the computer screen like Gary Glitter to Sesame Street, or will send you running screaming into the night. As most of you already know, the heiress (read "bony-ass zombie skank") has been sentenced by a California judge to 45 days in jail for driving on two occasions with a suspended license. Now, I can deal with that...that's just "wave at Stevie Wonder-stupid;" everyone makes absentminded mistakes.

It wasn't long, however, before she moved into the realm of desperation, asking her fans (read "short bus") to pass around a petition to relieve her of her sentence. Desperate, but one wants to go to prison.

As more and more details come out regarding the petition, though, I get the feeling that Paris ate about three buckets a day of flaming Elmer's Glue when she was a child.

The petition states that Paris should not go to prison because of, and I quote: "the beauty and excitement that she brings to our otherwise mundane lives," and because she is "notable for her roles in...The Simple Life, and the remake of Vincent Price classic House of Wax."

No one even bothers to point out that those last two things are reasons that she, along with her executive producers, should have been sent to prison.

In any case, I should probably just act in accordance with my own verdict here and conclude by saying that Paris Hilton is like a Jehovah's Witness at 6 in the morning...ignore her, and she'll go away.

If not, release the hounds.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Because I'm interested in this crap...

WSX, an upstart professional wrestling promotion that recently landed a deal with MTV, is now in hot water with the network over a stunt performed during a scene in this week's episode; the episode in question has, incidentally, been pulled (though the series of ten taped episodes will continue to air next week).

The stunt involves one wrestler throwing a "fireball" into the face of another wrestler, the veteran and organization's champion, Vampiro. When MTV officials caught wind of the scene, it was yanked faster than (insert masturbation reference) because they were concerned that it might inspire impressionable viewers to try the stunt themselves.

Now let me make sure I understand this correctly: the network that made hundreds of millions of dollars off of a show (you know the one), two spinoffs, and subsequent two films that depicted, among other things, ass-cheeks stapled together, pouring crawfish into a grown man's diaper, sitting on a porcupine, stuffing a condom-wrapped matchbox car up someone's ass, snorting wasabe, and wrestling crocodiles, THIS network is worried about a fireball?!

I guarantee you, anyone retarded enough to attempt that stunt was probably also stupid enough to staple their butt together AFTER shoving the Micro Machine up their stink tunnel.

I say air the episode and come what may. If nothing else, this is a prime opportunity to implement Social Darwinism.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Political Wedgie

This'll be a quick one.

So finally the Democratic House has unleashed the primal, gale-force winds of its, er...non-binding opposition to Bush's troop buildup. When this issue was first brought up, I was one of the first (and many) to denounce the Democrats for their pussyfooting and noncommittal with regards to the situation. I will say, however, in defense that if the bill is passed, its going to be quite a blow to the ego and morale of Bush's administration; early speculations already label this hypothetical measure as a duly-timed force of debate that could back Republicans into a corner, making it imperative that they take a stance on the problem, a non-binding stance though it certainly may be.

In short, if this measure is passed, the fallout should be a hell of a lot of fun to watch; we've already chuckled to ourselves at the Democrats' bitching about the troop increase before and after some of them applauded ol' W at the State of the Union. Now we may experience the pleasure of witnessing the Republican party pulling its collective bunyan-ridden foot out of its mouth for the same reasons.

We are a mass of fools under the thumb of jackasses.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Various news sites and cable TV talking heads reported today that a contingent of Republican senators blocked the non-binding resolution that would have led to official debate on the subject within the Senate.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat, says in response, "If the Republicans want to stand by their president and his policy, they shouldn't run from this debate. If they believe we should send thousands of our young soldiers into the maws of this wretched civil war, they should at least have the courage to stand and defend their position," he said.

This is the part where I say that the Democrats need to show some chutzpah and pursue some action more definitive than a non-binding resolution. In the spirit of Capitol Hill pussyfooting, however, I will side with the lesser of two evils and follow Durbin's lead. With reference to that, check out Republican Senator Judd Gregg's answer following pressure to cut off funding and begin the withdrawal:

"We should not take action once soldiers have been sent into the field and are putting their lives at risk," he said. "We should not be saying to them through a resolution, which is nonbinding, that we don't think the mission you're on makes sense and we don't want you to do it."

Great Sauteed Meerkats, where do I start with this one? Which part of that quote is the most idiotic? The part where he says we shouldn't take action AFTER soldiers are sent into the field? How about when he makes the point about troop morale?

Well, they're equally stupid and shortsighted. Now that 21,000 more soldiers are in the field (by order of a President who chooses to ignore the opinions of 2/3 of his country), it is far beyond the time to take action. With each day that passes, the chance increases that more of our soldiers will be lost to this ridiculous affair.

It amazes me--well, not anymore, as glaring examples of it seem to keep popping up--how gullible politicians think WE ALL are. Allow me to address this next statement directly to Gregg; perhaps it will drive the point home:


That's it; I'm done. This makes me sick.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Get loose. Footloose. Or something.

Constantly scanning news sources and electronically scribbling quasi-manifestos about the state of our nation can often get very cumbersome, not to mention quite jading. It is for that reason alone that I am forgoing the usual format, and am going to somewhat follow my father's lead in writing about...well, life. So yeah, read on.

People just don't cut loose enough; everyone is unbelievably uptight. I'm constantly watching shows or reading National Geographic articles about base jumpers, mountain climbers, kayakers (sic) and wonder why I, as well as the rest of the country, are not out doing those same things.

To this day I've never done any of those things; whether that fact is due to financial reasons or to my being a wuss is for you to decide--I'm not gonna tell you. I did, however, go to concerts.

I never went to a concert in college till my sophomore year. Beforehand, my collective concert experience was a Jars of Clay show in Nashville, an Aerosmith/Monster Magnet concert with my father (also in Nashville), and a "flashback" concert featuring Jan & Dean and The Four Tops. When I entered college, I had not been to a show in going on four years. I hadn't lost my taste for it or anything, its just something I never really thought about.

At the beginning of my sophomore year, I fell into the role of Arts & Entertainment Editor for our campus newspaper. As this was LaGrange College, my job may at first glance have been likened to sports editor at MIT. It just so happened, though, that there was a very strong contingent of advocacy for the arts at that school, and I was basically given free reign to write about whatever I wanted, to cover or review anything that struck my fancy.

As luck would have it, Flogging Molly came to Atlanta in September of that year. For the uninitiated, Flogging Molly are a traditional Irish band, but with a punk edge; the band includes tin whistles, fiddles, mandolins and accordions, but features hard-driving rhythms and electric guitar galore. Due to the miniscule amount of Scotch-Irish blood in my veins, I'm a big fan, and so headed out with my friends Libby and Danielle to cover the show.

I stayed at the back of the small venue for the two opening acts; I'd never heard them before and actually wanted to listen. But finally, when the headliners took the stage in total blackness to the sound of Joe Strummer's "Redemption Song," I plowed my way into the crowd, ready to engage in whatever might transpire; I'd never been in a mosh pit before and was experiencing feelings akin to climbing a roller coaster that was surely too high. As soon as the band kicked into the jig that was "The Likes of You Again" I was in the midst of a vortex of flying bodies, most pierced, some tattooed, all smelly. Strange then, perhaps, that I began to enjoy myself and began to alternately shove against and move with the mass, occasionally pushing upwards to heave a crowd-surfer off of my head. I gradually let go of inhibition and slept better that night.

Throughout the rest of my college years, I got into several mosh pits at Between the Buried and Me, Every Time I Die, and even got onstage at Andrew WK. All were liberating, all were some small part of an anonymous camraderie existing between the people at those concerts.

So jump off a bridge, go to a concert, get into a fight, take a cruise, swim with the sharks. Do anything that will make for a good story one day.

Or at least good blog fodder.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

State of the Union...I think

As I sit down to begin what I hope will be a pretty short-winded blog regarding the State of the Union address last night (I mean really, what could I say that hasn't already been said?), I must apologize for my tardiness in getting this up; I managed to hold on throughout the meat of the speech, but by the time he started playing hype man to Dkembe, I fell asleep and woke up just an hour ago. Hell, even then I only woke up because my body clock went off reminding me that I Love New York was on.*

Now you, my readers (all one of you) may be asking yourselves, "Josh! How could you have possibly fallen asleep during that speech? It was a somber, heartfelt affair, with circumstances and contexts demanding the careful dissection of every moment. And do you really watch I Love New York?**"

First question gets first answer:

President Bush's speech was in effect an outline one of the most simpering, repetitive, uncommitted plans through which I have had the displeasure of sitting. It was a canker sore on the inner lip of politics (a lip that is already chapped beyond medication); I would rather listen to color commentary on a three-foot streamer of drool emitting from the mouth of Benjamin Franklin. I, along with every other viewer, was subjected to roughly 48 minutes of the President rattling off a list of things that need to get done, reforms that should have been instigated at least three years ago, stuff that focus groups have been screaming into his ear for what seems like eons.

There are a couple of points in particular which I would like to address. One, the mention of No Child Left Behind. Bush brings this topic up first thing, using the passing of that act as an example of Congress' "newfound bi-partisanship." We have here one hit and one miss: it is indeed true that there is a newfound lack of partisanship in Congress. It did not, however, stem from the passing of that act; it stemmed from wanting his sorry butt out of the White House. In the past few weeks, there have arisen far more condemnations of the "new" war plan than endorsements, many of them coming out of his own camp.

Two: let us address the war plan, and his discussion of it last night. Honestly, I don't know what to say on the subject. His explanation for sending off 21,000 more troops to Iraq is the same tired old song we've been hearing for years now: the terrorists hate democracy, they hate Americans, they want to kill all of us. To quote the President, "To win the war on terror we must take the fight to the enemy." Never mind that winning the war on terror is about as likely as winning the war on drugs. For every cell wiped out, two more will spring up in its place; it is the nature of the beast, and martyrdom is revered in that society like nothing else. As far as the terrorists' "hatred for Americans" is concerned...well, most of that is certainly justifiable. We likely wouldn't be having the problems we're having today if we had just stayed the hell out of that region in the first place (and by first place, I mean at least thirty years ago); our continued support for Israel has made this a social, economic, and political issue, all amplified religiously because of the society that it involves. We are a perpetually warring and paranoid nation; many of these cells can trace their origins back to our own Special Forces training them to drive the Russians out when they were still the enemy du jour.

And finally, the magic words were uttered: "global climate change," an utterance followed by a list of goals and pursuable standards once again bereft of any complementary focus, plan, or clearly stated objective.

To what does all of this translate? It translates to a meager attempt (by an even more meager president) to appease his critics by making mention of issues without actually proposing a specific plan, and to fire up the 34% of the country that still has his back with a rehashing of the same recycled war propaganda that has been shoved down our throats for the last three years. The man's like Chuck Wepner: he knows he can't win, he just wants to last the 15 rounds.

As a side note, the media's reaction and coverage of this thing was outlandish. Every network I turned to, all I heard about was this somber and honest speech, this admittance of wrongs, this recognizing what steps must now be taken to rectify the state of the nation (read "clusterf!!k"). My no one intelligent enough to not take the Positive Press bait?

*I do not watch this show. If you do, you should be strung up by your testicles and beaten with Singapore canes.

**I told

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

New CTL bill an Obamanation

My apologies. The pun was irresistible.

By now the 110th Congress of these United States has gotten cozy in its new position, probably long enough now to have left a warm spot with its butt in the spinning black leather chair of Washington. As many would expect, a good deal of bills on the floor are energy and fuel-related, something that certainly has not gone unforeseen in the weeks leading up to the changing of the guard in Congress. Whether it is for anyone's good or for the sheer publicity that the Democrats will garner from doing so, we are in for a good deal of these types of bills.

One of the bills that has caused some of the most fervent head-scratching among both parties is one introduced on January 4th calling for funding of coal-to-liquid energy production. This method of fuel production is, as most anyone could tell you, not the cleanest or most efficient; to put things into perspective, a new study released by the Natural Resources Defense Council Climate Center reports that a 35 mpg vehicle running on CTL fuel will produce as much carbon dioxide as a 19 mpg car running on conventional fuel.

Now this is all very depressing for environmentalists, but the subject causing the most confusion in this situation is that the bill was jointly released by Republican Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky and...Sen. Barack Obama, a man who, up until this story broke, had a 100% approval rating among voters in the League of Conservation. The usually climate-concerned Congressman is, needless to say, in hot water with the greeners.

The obviously detrimental effect that this would have on the environment is not the only issue here; for the time being, no known CTL process involves carbon-catching (the primary reason that the process is so dirty), and adding this feature would inevitably jack up the cost of production. As it stands right now, the fuel produced by most CTLs is up to 40% more expensive than conventional fuel processing. Considering the already fluctuating nature of oil prices, this option is right out.

In Obama's defense, he seems to be looking to the long term. Utilization of American coal to produce fuel would cut significantly into our dependence on foreign oil; for those playing the home game, this is a good thing. In addition, the process is not completely new; China has been at it for a few years now. Not only that, but researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have been working on improving the quality of CTL fuel, as well as lowering the cost.

So far, however, there haven't been any major breakthroughs of which to speak, and the bill comes to us after at least four or five years of research. It would, I suppose, be superfluous at this point to observe that this bill would undoubtedly benefit the coal industry in Obama's home state of Illinois.

David Doniger, policy director for the NRDC, sees this largely as a step sideways: "Coal-to-liquid is, in the best-case scenario, no worse for the climate than oil-derived gasoline -- and no better," he says. And while Doniger does support coal gasification as an alternative to coal-burning power plants, he warns that CTL is not at this point a dependable alternative.

Can the purification of CTL fuels be accomplished with "investment and innovation," as Senator Obama phrases it? I'll be monitoring this topic for a while; until I see reports of progress, a skeptic I remain.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Climate issue now a matter of human rights.

This is an entry I posted on my now-trivial MySpace blog, and figured it carries enough merit to be on here. Its a couple of weeks old, but still relevant. Enjoy.

Well boys and girls, it's official: the infection that is bureacracy has spread to climate change and it's possible effects on the lives, habits, and cultures of certain peoples. The common thread between human rights and indigenous climate has now been formulated.

Does this fact, however, make climate change a human rights issue? We can't "officially" know for the time being, as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (in, you guessed it, D.C.) decided to parry rather than address a 175-page petition issued by the Inuit Circumpolar Council (based out of Alaska and Canada) regarding the amount of greenhouse emissions. The petition, signed by 63 individuals, outlined the negative results on the climate heretofore enjoyed by the Inuits, and called for lowering of emissions.

Did petitioner Sheila Walt-Cloutier expect immediate action, or any action at all? Probably not, but check out the IACHR's terse response: "we will not be able to process your petition at present... the information provided does not enable us to determine whether the alleged facts would tend to characterize a violation of rights protected by the American Declaration."
"It was disappointing for sure. Their letter was evasive and dismissive, and that's the part that disappoints me and angers me more than anything else," Watt-Cloutier said.

Dear readers...all two of you...listen up and spread the word. If it happens there, it can and WILL happen here. It is imperative that Southern populations wake up and realize that the contempt harbored by government and big business towards Nature will not be without consequences. Eating away at the fabric of Nature and her processes will deteriorate our standard of living.

And I think there's some document in Washington that forbids that.

Oh, if you want the source of this story, here ya go:

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Dear God help me, I'm writing about Jay-Z

As the title of this entry should imply, this topic involves an individual about whom I would usually care not to write; my sentiments towards many celebrities flow in a similar vein. At the same time, I must regretfully acknowledge the ironclad grip that celebrities seem to possess over us. The sheer extravagance, eccentricity, or absurdity that seems to pervade many of their lives are the rancid turds to our common fly. Thusly, equally as a result of their position and influence in life, as well as our susceptibility to vicarious living and interest in the wealthy elite, celebrities carry with them a responsibility to act as an example and to utilize their fame to the most universally beneficient ends possible.

With that out of the way, let us now get down to business. It has recently been reported that rapper/mogul Jay-Z (or "Jigga" or "Big Goofy Douche") has teamed up with GM to design a new customized version of the Denali, officially dubbed the "Jay-Z Blue," though it is already being nicknamed the "Big Pimpin'-Mobile." And Jesus wept.

Now, I wouldn't begrudge anyone his payoff who has worked his ass off for over a decade (which Mr. Z has done) doing something about which he is passionate. Eat your caviar, drink your fine wines and $80 vodka. Date Beyonce; I would too. But...

The Denali has consistently ranked among the worst commercially available vehicles available in terms of gas mileage, usually clocking in at somewhere between 15-17 miles per gallon. Never mind that it never fails to rank as one of the worst gas-guzzlers on the market today; on top of all that, it is exempt from new CAFE regulations that have been put in place to increase gas mileage on pickups and SUVs by 2011, due to its Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of over 8,500 lbs, a figure that doesn't even take into account load capacity.

In short, this is exactly what we need: another high-profile, immeasurably influential celebrity promoting a product that is blatantly detrimental to the environment and the green movement, a product that 98% of Americans can't afford to buy or maintain, and a product that 0% of Americans actually need.

The wheels on the unabashedly capitalistic machine go round and round...round and round...


Friday, January 12, 2007

Fear and Loathing from the Sofa

“It is all that remains of my friend; the friend who led me on to madness and wreckage; a godlike head of such marble as only old Hellas could yield, young with the youth that is outside time…They say that haunted memory-face is modeled after my own, as it was at twenty-five, but upon the marble base is carven a single name in the letters of Attica—HYPNOS.”
-H.P. Lovecraft, “Hypnos”

The above quotation is a portion of the final paragraph from Lovecraft’s short story “Hypnos,” which can be found in the anthology The Dreams in the Witch-House. To provide a quick summary, the tale is told of a young man who takes on as his friend and teacher in manners of dark, drug-fueled, and unspeakable psycho-cosmic excursions a strange, yet hauntingly beautiful man whom he meets at a railway station. For a few years following, the pair shut themselves away in a studio apartment and embark upon a series of gruesomely psychosomatic experiments, often launching their consciousnesses into farther reaches of the cosmos than man had ever dreamt. Eventually, the teacher sees a certain vision that literally paralyzes him with fear. As you may, however, be able to gather from the quotation, everything happened in the mind of the narrator himself. It is, of course, unclear as to whether or not anything remotely resembling the described events actually transpired, or whether or not the narrator is in fact telling the truth. It is this ambiguity that entrances Lovecraft fans and frustrates his critics to no end.

In case you are wondering, this is not intended to be a review of a grisly little story written close to seventy years ago. I wish to say something regarding the nature of fear, specifically as to how it relates to this point in the course of human history.

Fear is a ridiculously powerful entity; in its most potent form, it has the ability to inspire actions that, quite frankly, seem or will seem utterly boneheaded in retrospect:

--The wiping out of Native Americans. When colonists first came to this country and began to develop it, the only serious threats at first were a lack of knowledge as to how survive in this unfamiliar land, and the presence of indigenous peoples. Well, they were able to put aside their fear of the natives long enough to learn how to work and utilize the land; after that, it’s the beginning of mass genocide and whacking babies against trees. I know full well that most of us look back at that episode and gasp at the brutality of our ancestors, but I am willing to bet that most of us think far less about the subsequent repression and marginalization of the remaining tribal Americans that still continues to this day, though by now the wheels have been turning long enough for things to simply continue running their course, so it is predominantly in a state of indifference that we deal with these people nowadays. Our initial fear, though it has since evolved into a comfortable apathy, has left our tendencies paralyzed and has held the lives of those whom we oppressed in permanent stasis.

--McCarthyism. Boy, did the Senate pull a boner with this one. I don’t need to go into a lot of details, as I’m sure most of you are perfectly aware of the highlights (or lowlights, as the case may be), but I’m sure that most of us can now agree that this is just about the most irrational cause for mass hysteria that was ever concocted. The mainstream spread of Communism…rrrrrriiiiiight. The capitalist system by that point was already well enough in place to effortlessly shrug off any attempts at cultural “insurgency.” There really was nothing to be afraid of; I suppose gray suits and pamphlets were a great threat to our society. Really, this (along with its offshoot, the Vietnam conflict) was just another way to marginalize the rest of us, to give us something to fear.

--But we can’t be afraid of the Russians forever, now can we? They’re a disheveled third-rate power now anyway, so that option is right out. So presently we are supposed to be deathly afraid of the terrorist threat. Well, 9/11 helped us out a bit with that one, though we should’ve seen it coming (again, a completely separate topic for later). So after we are attacked by groups based out of Afghanistan, we invade…Iraq. Never mind that there never was any correlation or cooperation between the two nations; at that point, Americans heard the words “terrorists” and “nuclear” in the same sentence on CNN and went completely bonkers. From there, you run into arguments like “These terrorists, these suicide bombers, could come into YOUR home and endanger the lives of YOU and YOUR KIDS!” Which is just absurd; any rational teenager can deduce that any terrorist attacks are going be geared towards a symbolic target: the towers and the Pentagon (conspiracy theories on the backburner for the time being) for instance. Not one terrorist cell has given any thought to your personal habits or has harbored any intentions of hijacking a single-engine plane to take off from Beetlestraw, Nebraska and drop a smart bomb on your head. It doesn’t matter, though; we’ve bought it for a long time, why should we stop now? That’s a notion on which those in power are counting, and rightly so, as its worked so far. We’re starting now to see some real signs of discontent with approval ratings; its always been there of course, but it started small back in late 2001 with those blessed with some foresight and has since grown exponentially, coinciding with each subsequent blunder of the current administration.

Two things could have arisen during the first post-9/11 months, based largely on official, as well as public, reaction to the atrocities: one, a stunned nation and government, totally caught with their pants down (again barring all feasible conspiracies at this time), could regroup and seek to understand what led to these attacks, or two, immediately label any and all Arabs/Muslims as suspected terrorists, and then spend tax dollars to undermine the Bill of Rights, dubbing it “patriotism.”

The former should have happened, and we would likely have moved from shocked fear to healthy caution and knowledge-seeking within a matter of months instead of a matter of years, as has been the case. The latter is what actually happened, and has left the nation as horrifically paralyzed as Lovecraft’s cosmic sojourner.