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.