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Archive for the ‘Iron Maiden’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: DANKO JONES-Garage Rock! A Collection of Lost Songs From 1996-1998 (2014).

Danko Jones has released nine albums an a bunch of EPs.  Back in 2014 he released this collection of songs that he wrote and recorded before his first proper single (1998).

This is a collection of raw songs, but the essential elements of Danko are in place. Mostly fast guitars, simple, catchy riffs and Danko’s gruff voice, filled with braggadocio.  With a cover by Peter Bagge!

He describes it:

Back in the 90’s,the Garage Rock scene, as I knew it, was a warts-and-all approach that favoured low-fi recordings and rudimentary playing over any modicum of musical prowess in order to glean some Rock N’ Roll essence. However, once a band got better at their instruments, songwriting and stage performance, the inevitable crossroads would eventually appear. Deliberately continuing to play against their growing skill would only evolve into a pose. There were a lot of bands who did exactly this in order to sustain scenester favour. We did the opposite.

What you hold in your hands is a document of what we were and where we came from. We didn’t know how to write songs and could barely play but we wanted to be near to the music we loved so badly. We ate, slept and drank this music. We still do. That’s why we have never had to reunite because we’ve never broken up. After 18 years, we’ve stayed the course, got tough when the going did and, above all else, we have never stopped. This album is the proof.

The first two songs are the best quality, with the rest slowly deteriorating with more tape hiss.

1. “Who Got It?” a big fat bass sound with lots of mentioning of Danko Jones in the lyrics. [2 minutes]
2. “Make You Mine” is 90 seconds long.  With big loud chords and rumbling bass Danko says “one day I’m going to write a book and let everybody know how to do it.  Seems to me there a lot of people around who want to see if I can prove it.  I been a rock prodigy since the age of 20 and my proof… my proof is right now.”
3. “I’m Your Man” is a bit longer.  The quality isn’t as good but the raw bass sound is great.
4. “She’s Got A Bomb” is good early Danko strutting music.
5. “Rock And Roll Is Black And Blue.”  He would name an album this many years later.  This song is fast and raw and only 90 seconds long.
6. “Dirty Mind Too” This is a fast stomping one-two-three song that rocks for less than a minute.
7. I’m Drinking Alcohol? This is funny because later he says he doesn’t drink.  I don’t know what the words are but the music is great–rumbling bass and feedbacky guitars with lots of screaming.
8. “Love Travel Demo” and 9. “Bounce Demo” are decent demo recordings.  “Bounce” has what might be his first guitar solo.
10. Sexual Interlude” “ladies it’s time to take a chance on a real man.  I’m sick and tired of seeing you women selling yourselves short, going out with a lesser man.
11. “I Stand Accused” Unexpectedly he stands accused of “loving you to much.  If that’s a crime, then I’m guilty.”
12. “Best Good Looking Girl In Town” a fast chugging riff, “oh mama you sure look fine.”
13. “Payback” This one sounds really rough but it totally rocks.
14. “Lowdown” Danko gives the lowdown: “You want a bit of romance?  I got you an bouquet of Flowers and a box of chocolates.  Why you crying for?  That ain’t enough?  Me and the fellas wrote this song just for you.”
15. “One Night Stand” garage swinging sound: Danko is a one woman man and you’re just his type.
16. “Instrumental” is great.
17. “Move On” is a long, slow long bluesy track about love.

It’s not a great introduction to Danko, but if you like him, you won;t be disappointed by this early baby-Danko period.

[READ: August 10, 2019] I’ve Got Something to Say

In the introduction (after the foreword by Duff McKagan), Jones introduces himself not as a writer but as a hack.  He also acknowledges that having something to say doesn’t mean much.  He has too many opinions on music and needed to get them out or his insides would explode.  He acknowledges that obsessing over the minutiae of bands is a waste of time, “but goddammit, it’s a ton of fun.”

So this collection collects some of Danko’s writing over the last dozen or so years. He’s written for many publications, some regularly.  Most of these pieces are a couple of pages.  And pretty much all of them will have you laughing (if you enjoy opinionated music writers).

“Vibing for Thin Lizzy” [Rock Hard magazine, March 2015]
Danko says he was lured into rock music by the theatrics of KISS, Crue and WASP.  But then he really got into the music while his friends seemed to move on.  Thin Lizzy bridged the gap by providing substance without losing its sheen or bite.  And Phil Lynott was a mixed race bassist and singer who didn’t look like the quintessential rock star.  What more could Danko ask for? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Y&T-“Mean Streak” (1983).

In the early 1980s Y&T had a couple of albums that made it onto my radar.   This one, Mean Streak, had this song which I liked enough. It’s got some cool riffs and Dave Meniketti’s raspy but distinctive voice.

I remember liking this song, even though I really had no idea what was going on in the lyrics.  The chorus where everyone sings “mean streak” behind his lyrics was certainly the catchy selling point.   But this is hard rock more than metal and is not really my thing.

I may have bought this album, but I know I have the follow up In Rock We Trust, which was more poppy (and they were more pretty).  I had forgotten all about “Lipstick and Leather” yet another cheesy pop metal song about, well, lipstick and leather.

People who were fans of Y&T (like Posehn) were die-hards, but even listening now I see why I never really got into them, even if I liked them for a bit.  Maybe it was a California thing.

[READ: January 2019] Forever Nerdy

S. got this for me for Christmas after we saw Posehn on a late night show and he talked about his nerdy obsessions, including Rush.  It seemed like an obvious fit.  And it totally was.

Posehn is a few years older than me, but if he had lived in my town we would have totally been friends (except I would have never talked to him because he was older).  Anyhow, we had more or less the same obsessions and the same nerdy outlook.  Although I was never really picked on like he was so perhaps I was a little cooler than he was.  Although I never smoked or drank when I was in high school so maybe he was cooler than me.

Things to know about before reading this–Posehn is a vulgar dude–there’s not much kid friendly is in this book.  Also this book isn’t really an autobiography exactly. I mean it is in that he wrote it and its about him, but if you were dying to find out fascinating stories about his crazy life, this book isn’t really it. I t’s more about the things he was obsessed with–in true nerdy fandom.

Although, Brian, what nerd doesn’t have an index in his own book? (more…)

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[ATTENDED: November 14, 2018] American Hi-Fi

Back in 2001, I thought that American Hi_Fi’s single “Flavor of the Weak” was great.  And I still do. It’s a funny and self deprecating look at young love.  And it’s catchy as all heck as well.

American Hi-Fi got lost for me amid the power pop surge of the early 2000s.  There’s only so many catchy rocking songs you can absorb, after all.  And I basically forgot about them.  They put out a couple of discs and then wound up taking four or five years between the others.  They haven’t released anything new since 2014, so I was a little surprised that they were opening for Letters to Cleo.

Then I read that Stacy Jones, the lead singer and guitarist for American Hi-Fi was the original drummer for Letters to Cleo and he’d be playing with them on LtC’s short 2018 tour (5 shows).  Well it made perfect sense that his other band would open for them.

They played six songs from the debut (which all sounded slightly familiar), three songs from the follow up, a “rarity” and a song from their last album from 2014.

The band sounded great.  Stacy is a terrific front man.  And even though they used to play stadia (and Jones now works with Miley Cyrus apparently), he really seemed to enjoy playing in this tiny club with a rabid fan base.  Because even if I didn’t remember their songs, nearly everyone around me sure did, and they went bananas.

The guy who was next to me was about 6 foot 3 and a large dude.  He was completely hammered.  We around him were lucky that he had a buddy with him to hold him up–and he literally was holding this guy up, moving his arm when it almost hit someone else).  But this guy was so into the show, it was almost cute (almost).  His friend said he liked LtC even more, although he was so drunk he couldn’t make it through the set break and started to spit up a bit (not throw up, thankfully) and his buddy had to drag him off to the side.  At least I didn’t get thrown up on during Letters to Cleo.

Their set made me wonder what happens to bands that they get left by the wayside like that.  They sounded great, they were still tight and the fans loved them. Their songs were poppy and would fit in with modern rock radio now.  The music business is pretty inexplicable.

Scar,” “Surround” and “Hi-Fi Killer” from the first album rocked really hard, but it was “The Breakup Song” from the second album that made the audience go nuts (this was a single that I might not know, but it was so simple and catchy that by the end I was sure I had heard it a million times).  It had that whole bratty pop punk vibe that was huge circa 2003.

Safer on the Outside” was very familiar to me.  I’m not sure if it was ever a single, but it’s a pseudo-ballad that I could see being a hit.

The he said the next song was from “one of the American Pie movies, I think we had a song on each soundtrack.”  But the best intro was when he said that they ripped off the introductory drum riff from Iron Maiden (true); however, when the drummer played it the first time, he messed it up and they had to do it again.

“Portland” had a different sound than the other songs–not radically different, but a different style of song writing, which makes sense since it was written 13 years.  It had a few more delicate moments and an actual guitar solo.  “Another Perfect Day” is all acoustic and cello on the record.  But there was none of that here, just a slow intro before the mid-tempo song segued into the fun drum intro and bratty woah-ohing of “The Art of Losing” (hey ho, let’s go, I’m gonna start a riot, you don’t wanna fight it // one, two, fuck you, don;t tell me what to do I don’t wanna be like you) which ends with a shout out to “we’re the kids in America.”

As the set was ending I was thinking that I knew they had a hit single that I liked.  I just couldn’t remember what it was called.  When Stacy started singing “Stars” I thought, oh right, this song.  But my memory banks knew this wasn’t them (“Stars” is by Hum from 1995).  So after that intro verse when he switched into “Flavor of the Weak” it all came flooding back.  It sounded great and reminded me why I liked these guys so much back then.

They ended the set with “Happy,” a noisy romp with a great heavy bass line and rough guitars.  Midway through the song, Stacy grabbed a drumstick and shoved it under his guitar strings and began making all kinds of cool sounds for a mid-song diversion.

There set was great and a lot of fun and I’ve been listening to their older stuff again, and enjoying it quite a bit.

SETLIST

  1. Scar *
  2. The Breakup Song ∀
  3. Surround *
  4. Safer on the Outside *
  5. Vertigo ⊗
  6. Hi-Fi Killer *
  7. Portland ß
  8. Another Perfect Day *
  9. The Art of Losing ∀
  10. Stars (song by Hum…snippet played as segue into next song)
  11. Flavor of the Weak *
  12. Happy ∀

* American Hi-Fi (2001)
⊗ American Pie 2 soundtrack (2001)
∀ The Art of Losing (2003)
ß Blood and Lemonade (2014)

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SOUNDTRACK: BILLY BRAGG-Tiny Desk Concert #281 (June 17, 2013).

I really like Billy Bragg.  Not necessarily all of his music, but I like a lot of it and I certainly love what he stands for.  If you like his instantly recognizable voice (which I do), then just about anything he does sounds good.  But no doubt some songs are catchier than others.

Bragg played a Tiny Desk Concert in 2016 with someone else as part of a duo.  I’d listened to that one first, but I liked this one more.

For this one he is accompanied on the first two songs by dobro player C.J. Hillman.

Bragg talks a lot–he has many lengthy stories between songs–and he’s pretty much always funny or thoughtful.  He introduces the first song by saying that moving into a new building always has troubles–you’ll always need someone to fix things up.  With that, his first song is called “Handyman Blues.”

It’s a great story song.  I especially like this line:

Don’t be expecting me to put up shelves or build a garden shed / but I can write a song about how much I love you instead.

It’s amusing that in the next song workers actually interrupt his song.  They were “met with lot of hammering on our rooftop by some real handymen as they put the finishing touches on NPR’s new home.”

For the second song they

channeled the spirit of legendary American folksinger Woody Guthrie, with whom Bragg collaborated — albeit posthumously, in Guthrie’s case — when he took Guthrie’s unsung words and set them to song with the help of Wilco. Here, he takes a song Guthrie himself co-opted and altered: a gospel tune (“This World Is Not My Home”) he’d turned into an anthem against inaction.

Bragg introduces this song as saying he took it over when the U.S. was having the debate about universal health care.  He says that people still face all the same problems that this classic song talks about–people losing homes to banks or families struggling to make ends meet.  But the middle verse is about a wife who dies on the floor for want of proper health care.  Bragg says that that doesn’t happen in his country anymore and it’s hard for people in his country to imagine that a generous country like the US still hasn’t resolved that issue (and five years later things are even worse with Trumpcare–#ITMFA #RESIST).

Guthrie called the song “I Ain’t Got No Home (In This World Anymore”).  After he sings a verse, the hammering starts and they pause the song to wait for the work to finish before he re-starts the song.  In the meantime they talk about what his band should do in Washington.  Someone says the National Archives and he jokes the Nashville Archive?  He says that they really enjoyed Nashville.  Then he mentions the National Archive to CJ and says

We can find out how the Americans started the war of 1812.  (chuckles).  I just played Annapolis, they’re still sore about it over there.  Never mind who won the war but who started it.

It’s another nice story song.  The dobro works perfectly with it.

“Sexuality” is the only song on this set that I knew.  It’s an old favorite that is serious and funny as well (and very progressive for when it was written).  It sounds terrific and is super catchy.  Although he comments that the acoustics aren’t that great in this new building–there’s not much bounce back off the walls “for those of us who technically aren’t great singers.  But for those of us who are buskers like myself, it’s not bad.”

Introducing the final song, “No One Knows Nothing Anymore” he says he read an article on the BBC about a kid who proved that economics professors were wrong and the article commented that “the trouble with economics is that no one knows nothing anymore.”  He says that had just written a song with that same name, so he’s with the zeitgeist.

He also interjects that there will be pedants–“and there are one or two who listen to NPR, I’m sure” who will write in to say it should be ‘no one knows anything any more.’  But the first thing they teach you at songwriting school is that alliteration trumps grammar.

And then he starts strumming “Sexuality “and says “Oh, I’ve just played that.”

“No One Knows Nothing Anymore” is a nice folkie, very-Billy Bragg song–good melody and really good lyrics.

At the end, as the camera fades to black he says “Chris, pass the hat around.”

I’m so happy that Billy Bragg is still making music.

[READ: March 26, 2016] Persepolis

This graphic novel is legendary, and I’m embarrassed it has taken me 13 years to read it.

Persepolis is a memoir of a young girl growing up in Iran during the 70s and 80s.  I appreciated the contextualizing introduction in which she explains the history of the country.

The introduction lays out a basic outline of the history of Iran and the Middle East (that goes all the way back to B.C years).  She explains that Iran has always been a rich nation and has constantly been under attack.  When oil was discovered, the West came calling.  Great Britain wielded a powerful influence over Iranian economy.  During WWII, Iran remained neutral but then was invaded by the west.

The Prime Minister of Iran (not the Shah) nationalized the oil industry in 1951 which led to an embargo and a coup organized by the CIA.  The leader, Reza Shah was succeeded by his son, Mohammad Reza Shah–known simply as the Shah of Iran.  The Shah stayed in power until 1979 when he fled to escape the Islamic Revolution.

She says that since the Islamic revolution Iran has been associated with fundamentalism, fanaticism and terrorism, but she knows that this is far from the truth.  And that’s what inspired her to writ this book.

(more…)

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nov2015SOUNDTRACK: GODSPEED YOU BLACK EMPEROR!-Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada [CST006] (1999).

epAfter the success of their debut album, GYBE released an EP.  Being ever cryptic, the EP cover is a series of letters in Hebrew, with no mention of the band.  The Hebrew says: “Tohu va bohu” (formless and empty)

There are two tracks on this disc.  The first is called “Moya” and is something of a reworking of Gorecki’s third symphony.  The second is “BBF3” which refers “Blaise Bailey Finnegan III” the man who rants through much of the song.

“Moya” is ten minutes long (on vinyl it is played at 45 RPM).  Ominous strings open the song.  Indeed, much of the song is made of violin and cello passages intertwining.  Until about 4 minutes when the guitar starts playing.  Drums bring drama to the song about half way in.  And that’s when the guitars and strings intertwine to make a huge sound.  By around 7 minutes the song has built to a huge crescendo, but the addition of pounding bass makes everything even more intense.  It resolves with a great fast riff from the strings which the band plays for a few minutes until it settles down with just a cello and violin playing the end.

“BBF3” is a nearly 18 minute piece (on vinyl it is played at 33 RPM) with waves of music behind Finnegan being interviewed.  He tells about the American government and then about his speeding ticket (and what he told the judge–“shut your fucking mouth and listen”).  After about 3 minutes, the music changes to a new chord, a brighter sound.  As BBF3 declares that America is a “third world, third rate, third class slum,” the drums get very loud and then drop away to near silence.  The guitar pokes around quietly for a bit until it turns into a big song–drums and strings and guitars that only grows bigger as it progresses.  It builds more and more and then drops away again as BBF3 begins talking again, this time about his gun collection.  And then he reads his “poem” (which is actually the lyrics to an Iron Maiden song, “Virus”).  And then the song builds once again.  This time faster and more intensely.  It more or less grinds to a halt at around 15 minutes and then resumes after a few second of silence with some strings resuming a mournful melody until the end.

This is a pretty intense collection of music. And according to Wikipedia, Users of the website Rate Your Music rate it as the greatest EP of all time.

Godspeed You Black Emperor! has had a few lineup changes over the years.  For this EP, they changed violinists and lost the french horn. 

  • Thierry Amar — bass guitar, double bass
  • David Bryant — guitar, tapes
  • Bruce Cawdron — drums, percussion, keyboards
  • Aidan Girt — drums, percussion
  • Norsola Johnson — cello
  • Efrim Menuck — guitar, keyboards
  • Mike Moya — guitar
  • Mauro Pezzente — bass guitar
  • Sophie Trudeau — violin [replaced Christophe – violin]

no longer with the band: Thea Pratt – French horn

[READ: January 26, 2016] “How to Become a Mascot”

This story is indeed a how-to account of becoming a mascot.

It is even told in a technical manual type of style.  Although the beginning is pretty unexpected: “First, quit you day job and go back to school, even though you’re thirty-two already.  Do this because your boyfriend is dead and you will never get to run your fingers trough his curls again.”

But aside from this rather dark opening, the rest of the story is kind of funny.

The narrator is aware of a gingerbread man costume at the local outdoor shopping centre–her aunt works administration there.  No one knows how the costume got there, but she thinks it would be a good idea to take it on as a job–$15 an hour.

The first few paragraphs describe fitting it and getting used to wearing it.  “Burn 700 calories trying to undo the zipper.”  Then you must learn routines and dances. (more…)

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withoutSOUNDTRACK: GOJIRA-L’Enfant Sauvage (2012).

gojiraGojira is a French heavy heavy metal band, and this album was highly recommended back in 2012 (I didn’t realize it wasn’t their debut–they have quite a few records out already).  This album is quite heavy, but it has a lot of diverse elements to keep it interesting.

At the same time, they do rely on a couple of guitar effects which make the album weirdly samey (no idea if they do it on other albums too).  The two biggest offenders in this “repeated” scenario are the seeming over-reliance on the open high e string to add contrast to the heavy chugging chords.  It’s a cool effect once or twice but they do it a lot (especially in the song “The Axe” where it happens way too much and which is then followed by “Liquid Fire” where they do it again).  The other thing they do is this weird scraping sound.  It happens in the first few notes as the disc opens (in “Explosia”).  It’s a really cool sound and quite distinctive.  When you do a weird sound like that a lot in one song, it feels like maybe too much, but then to do it in several other songs, it feels like a crutch.

Which is a shame because the rest of the album is really interesting–the vocals are growly but audible and there’s occasionally really cool backing harmony vocals (“Liquid Fire”) and some really unusual different parts to songs.

So “Explosia” opens really heavy with a crazy riff and pounding drums (and that weird scraping sound).  I love that at 2:30 it switches from bludgeoning to slower (but still heavy) and that as the song fades out with another heavy section there are slow guitar notes that remind me of a Western.  It’s really cool. “L’Enfant Sauvage” uses that open high E string in an interesting riff (by doing more than just letting the string ring out).  (The scraping sound appears here too, but in limited quantity). I like the way the song’s volume just drops for the last thirty seconds or so.

“The Axe” opens with a pummeling drum and guitar sound.  “Liquid Fire” alternates between heavy guitars and that open high E sound.  “The Wild Healer” is a simple, pretty instrumental.  It is 2 minutes long and the main riff is simple one (again all on one string).  There’s an interesting solo that plays along behind the main riff which is quite pretty–but it all ends very abruptly.

“Planned Obsolescence” jumps right in with some pummeling guitars (an a scrape sound).  It slows down a bit, but towards the end the pummeling double bass drums resume until the really slow sweet guitar section that comes in around 3:45.  “Mouth of Kala” has a heavy riff which is a cool change (even if the riff is fairly simple).  But there’s some nice melodies that alternate with the heavy stuff.  I also really like the way the song ends with a very different riff and sound than the beginning.  (And the backing vocals are really cool too).

“The Gift of Guilt” has an interesting open E string riff (which is similar to Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper,” although they do something very different with it.  This song is just littered with odd effects, like a big heavy “bowh” sound and some high-pitched guitar pyrotechnics.  But I love the way it alternates parts (the growly vocals work really well here, too) and then ends so melodically.

“Pain is a Master” opens with a slow guitar riff and whispered voices, it’s a great change of pace for the disc.  Once the slow part ends, the guitars and drums pound furiously and we get some more odd effects–a siren sound (from the guitar) alternating with the ubiquitous scrape.  But the middle parts are really quite different, slower, slightly more menacing.  “Born in Winter” opens and closes with a slow and atmospheric section (delicate vocals even).  In the middle it gets heavier (and has some really fast drumming).

“The Fall” has an Alice in Chains vibe in one section and then a more cookie monster type vocal on another.  The scraping sound returns for a final showing. I really like the way the album just sort of disintegrated into random sounds as it ends.

So overall I really enjoyed this album. It’s probably nitpicky to complain about the overuse of certain sounds, especially since they are cool.  But they have so much creativity on the disc, that to hear the same things a few times just seems redundant.  Nevertheless the album rocks and is a really enjoyable metal album.  I was supposed to see them open for Mastadon earlier in the month but something came up and I had to eat the tickets (who knew you couldn’t even give away Mastadon/Gojira tickets, come on!).

[READ: November 21, 2014] Without Blood

I’ve been enjoying Baricco so much that I decided to grab this book while I was in the library too. I had already read this book a couple of years ago, or actually, I had read the version that appeared in the New Yorker.  The Wikipedia entry says that the New Yorker version is a”revised form” of the novel.  I didn’t know what that meant exactly.  But basically I gather it means that Ann Goldstein (who translated the New Yorker version) has re-translated the story (or that they edited it for the magazine the first time).

The New Yorker version is really long for a New Yorker story (it is practically the whole novel), so it’s understandable why things were a little shorter for the magazine.  But she hasn’t changed very much for the book.  There’s a lot of little modifications–tenses of verbs (in flashback situations), word phrases are altered, additional details seems to have been added and there is at least one small section in this novel that was not in the New Yorker version.

This “new” section is about a woman who is sitting in the cafe with them.  She asks the waiter about the two main characters and we learn a little about her past as well (it’s not relevant to the story and I can see why it was omitted, but it does flesh out the scene).  I am not willing to do a page by page comparison of the two (even though that is something I tend to do). But suffice it to say that the stories are virtually identical, although I found it more satisfying reading the novel version.

Since my original recap is basically how I would summarize it this time as well, I am including it here almost verbatim.  But in the spirit of the updated version of the novel, I am modifying this post from the original in small details–see if you can spot the differences. (more…)

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may20014SOUNDTRACK: CRYPTOPSY-“Slit Your Guts” (1996).

cryptI had never heard of this band until I saw the song mentioned in the article.  The song is impossibly fast with speeding guitars, super fast (inhuman) drums and an indecipherable growl as vocal.  In other words, a typical cookie monster metal song.  And yet, there is a lot more to it and, indeed it took me several listens before I could even figure out what was happening here, by which time I had really fallen for the song.

There’s a middle section which is just as punishing and fast but which is basically an instrumental break–not for showing off exactly but for showcasing more than the bands pummel.  It has a short guitar solo followed by a faster more traditional solo (each for one measure, each in a different ear). Then the tempo picks up for an extended instrumental section.  The melody is slightly more sinister, but it sounds great.  There’s even a (very short) bass solo that sticks out as a totally unexpected (and fun) surprise.

Then the growls come back in, staying with the new melody.  The vocals are so low and growly that they are almost another distorted instrument rather than a voice.

After that there’s a lengthy proper guitar solo.  As the song comes to a close,  it repeats some previous sections before suddenly halting.  It’s quite a trip. And it definitely makes me want to hear more from them (whatever their name means).

[READ: April 14, 2014] “Destroy Your Safe and Happy Lives”

Robbins, who is a poet, but about whom I know little else, takes us on a sort of literary tour of heavy metal.  His tone is interesting–he is clearly into metal, like in a big way (at the end of the article he talks about taking his writing students to see Converge (although he doesn’t exactly say why)), but he’s also not afraid to make fun of the preposterousness of, well, most of the bands–even the ones he likes.  It’s a kind of warts and all appreciation for what metal is and isn’t.  many people have written about metal from many different angles, so there’s not a lot “new” here, but it is interesting to hear the different bands discussed in such a thoughtful (and not just in a fanboy) way.

His first footnote is interesting both for metal followers and metal disdainers: “Genre classification doesn’t interest me.  Listen to Poison Idea’s Feel the Darkness followed by Repulsion’s Horrified and tell me the main difference between hardcore punk and metal isn’t that one has a bullshit positive message and one has a bullshit negative message.”

But since Robbins is a poet, he is interested in metal’s connection to poetry.  And in the article he cites William Blake (of course), but also Rilke and John Ashbery and (naturally) Milton’s Paradise Lost, as well as Shelley, Lord Byron and Charles Baudelaire.  He talks about them not because they are cool poets, but because they have also talked about because of metal’s “most familiar trope…duh, Satanism, which might be silly–okay, its’ definitely silly, but has a distinguished literary pedigree”.  Besides, he notes that Satan has the best lines in Paradise Lost (and I note that just as Judas has the best songs in Jesus Christ Superstar).

But sometimes this Satanism turns into a  form of paganism which then turns into nature worship.  From Voivod’s “Killing Technology” to black metal’s romanticism of nature (sometimes to crazy extremes–but that’s what a band needs to do to stand out sometimes).  Metal is all about the dark and primordial, a”rebuke to our soft lives.”

And yet, as a poet, Robbins has some quibbles with metal: (more…)

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43SOUNDTRACK: IRON MAIDEN-Killers (1981).

killersKillers picks up right where Iron Maiden left off–indeed many of these songs were written at the same time as the first album.  The difference is new guitarist Adrian Smith.

It opens with the great (but simple) instrumental “Ides of March” which segues into the blistering “Wrathchild.”  And it’s on this song that you can tell some of the rawness has been removed from the recording.  The guitars sound a wee bit more polished.

And you can tell the band are getting a bit more symphonic with the bass harmonics that intro the wonderful “Murders in the Rue Morgue” a song that feels long but actually isn’t.  It has several parts that all seem to signal the end until Clive Burrs drums come pounding in to restart the song.  Very cool.  “Another Life” is another fast punky song, and while I like it, it is probably one of the weaker songs on the album.  But that’s okay because it is followed by one of Maidens greatest instrumentals–“Genghis Khan” which has beautiful symphonic soaring solos over a cool propulsive beat.

“Innocent Exile” opens with another great noisy slappy bass riff that only Harris was doing at the time.  “Killers” is a classic track: fast and yet complex, with a very cool riff.   “Twilight Zone” sees Di’Anno reaching for higher more operatic notes.  He makes it, but you can just tell that the band needs more from their vocalist.  “Prodigal Son” opens with a pretty acoustic guitar intro.  I used to like this song quite a bit (whatever Lamia is), but I can see that it’s actually quite long and meandering (maybe this one is more like “War Pigs”).  It’s pretty but could probably be a bit shorter.  “Purgatory” sounds like track off the first album–fast raw and punky with screaming riffs.  “Drifter” ends the disc with a cool bass line and some more thrashing.  It’s a solid ending for an album that overall works pretty well, but which kind of shows that the band had to either do something big on the next album or get stuck in a rut.

[READ: June 1, 2013] McSweeney’s #43

And with this issue I am almost all caught up with my McSweeney’s.  More impressively, I read this one only a few days after receiving it!

This issues comes with two small books.  And each book has a very cool fold-out/die cut cover (which is rather hard to close and which I was sure would get caught and therefore ripped on something but which hasn’t yet).  The first is a standard collection of letters and stories and the second is a collection of fiction from South Sudan.  Jointly they are a great collection of fiction and nonfiction, another solid effort from McSweeney’s.

Letters (more…)

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42SOUNDTRACK: IRON MAIDEN-Iron Maiden (1980).

Steve Harris was on That Metal Show recently.  Harris is the baimssist and primary songwriter for Iron Maiden and has been since their first album in 1980.  When I was in high school Iron Maiden was my favorite band hands down.  I had all their albums, I had all their singles, all their hard to find British vinyl 12 inch singles, even a few pictures discs.  Wonder if they’re valuable?

Every album was an epic event for me–I even played “Rime of the Ancient Mariner “off of Powerslave to my English class (not telling anyone it was 13 minutes long).

And then, after Somewhere in Time, I just stopped listening to them. Almost full stop.  I did manage to get the first four albums on CD, but the break was pretty striking.  I actually didn’t know that they’d had personnel changes in the ensuing years.  I’d vaguely heard that Bruce Dickinson  left, and that others followed, but I don’t think I quite realized that they were back to their big lineup these days.

Anyhow, Harris was so earnest and cool that I had to go check out some of their new stuff. Which was okay.  I’d need more time to digest, but then I had to listen to the first albums again.

And wow I had forgotten how much the first Iron Maiden album melds punk and prog rock into a wild metal hybrid.  There’s so much rawness in the sound and Paul Di’Anno’s vocals, not to mention the speed of some of the tracks.  And yet there’s also some epic time changes and starts and stops and the elaborate multipart Phantom of the Opera….  Wow.

The opening chords of “Prowler” are brutal.  But what’s surprising is how the second song “Remember Tomorrow” is a lengthy song that has many ballad-like qualities, some very slow moody sections–although of course each chorus rages with a great heavy riff and a blistering solo.  On the first two albums Paul Di’Anno was the singer.  He had a fine voice (it was no Bruce Dickinson, but it was fine).  What’s funny is that Bruce does the screams in “Remember Tomorrow” so much better in the live version that I forgot Paul’s vocals were a little anemic here.

However, Paul sounds perfect for the rawness of “Running Free” a wonderfully propulsive song with classic Harris bass and very simple metal chugga chugga riffs.  And this has one of the first real dual guitar solos–with both players doing almost the same riff (and later Harris joining in on bass).

“Phantom of the Opera” is the band’s first attempt at an epic multi-secton kinda-prog song.  It opens with a memorable, if slightly idiosyncratic riff and some wonderfully fast guitars/bass.  There’s a great slow bit that morphs into an awesome instrumental soloing section with bass and twin guitars playing a wonderful melody.

“Transylvania” is an instrumental that is challenging but probably not one of the best metal instrumentals out there, although again when Dennis Stratton and Dave Murray play in synch solos it’s awesome.  This track segues into “Strange World” a surprisingly trippy song (with effects that seem like keyboards but which aren’t).  It’s slow in a “War Pigs” kind of way, but it doesn’t entirely break up the album, because there are other slow bits on the disc.  It is a little out of place though.

Especially when “Sanctuary” blasts forth.  True, it wasn’t originally on the album (in the UK), but man, blistering punk or what!  “Charlotte the Harlot” was always one of my favorite songs (it taught me what a harlot was after all), it’s quite proggy, with a lot of stuttered guitar work and a middle section that features some loud and complex bass.  The disc ends with the by now almost immortal “Iron Maiden.”   A great raw riff opens the song, a harmony guitar partners it and the band blasts forth.  Who even knows what the lyrics area about, the song just moves and moves–There’s even a great chaotic bass/drum break in the middle.  And listening to the guitar noises in the solos at the end.  Amazing.  It’s quite the debut.

[READ: June 7, 2013] McSweeney’s #42

I have made it a point of (possibly misguided) pride that I have read every word in every McSweeney’s issue.  But this issue has brought that to an end.  As the title states, there are twelve stories in the book.  But there are also sixty-one authors writing in eighteen languages.  And there’s the rub.  One of my greatest (possibly misguided) shames is that I don’t speak any other languages.  Well, I studied Spanish and German, I know a few dozen words in French and I can read the Greek alphabet, but none of these would help me read any of these stories.  So, at least half of this book I didn’t read.

But that’s kind of the point.  The purpose of this book is to make a “telephone” type game out of these stories.  Stories are translated from one language to another and then re-translated back into English.  The translators were mostly writers rather than translators and while some of them knew the second language, many of them resorted to Google Translate or other resources to “read” the story.  Some people read the story once and then rewrote it entirely, other people tried to be as faithful as possible to the original.  And so what you get are twelve stories, some told three times in English.  Some versions are very similar and others are wildly divergent.

I normally write about the stories in the issues, but that seems sort of beside the point as the original stories were already published and were selected for various reasons (and we don’t even see any of the original stories).  The point here is the translation(s).  So, in a far less thorough than usual way, I’ll list the contents below. (more…)

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[WATCHED October-November 2012] Metal Evolution

metal evolutionVH1 aired this series last year and I was intrigued by it but figured I had no time to watch an 11 hour series on the history of heavy metal.  Of course, this being VH1, they have since re-aired the series on an almost continual loop.  So, if you’re interested, you can always catch it.

This series was created by Sam Dunn, the documentary filmmaker who made the movie Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey.  I had heard good things about the movie, but never saw it.  After watching the series, I’m definitely interested in the movie.  Dunn is a keener–A Canadian heavy metal fan who is really into his subject.  He knows his stuff and he knows what he likes (heavy metal) and what he doesn’t like (glam metal, nu metal).

The sheer number of people he interviews is impressive (as are the number of locations he travels to).  Part of me says “wow, I can’t believe he was able to interview X,” and then I remember, “X is really old and is nowhere near the level of fame that he once had.”  Given that, the few hold-outs seem surprising–did they not want to have anything to do with VH1?  Are they embarrassed at how uncool they are now?  Just watch the show guys, you can’t be as low as some.

The only mild criticism I have is that the show relies a lot on the same talking heads over and over.  Scott Ian from Anthrax, whom I love, is in every episode.  Indeed, he may be a paid VH1 spokesman at this point.  There are a few other dudes who show up a little more than they warrant, but hey, you use what you got, right?

What is impressive is the volume of music he includes with the show.  I assume that he couldn’t  get the rights to any studio recordings because every clip is live.  This is good for fans in that we get to see some cool unfamiliar live footage, but some of it is current live footage which often doesn’t compare to the heyday.  Having said that, there’s a lot of live footage from the early 80s–of bands that I never saw live anywhere.  And that’s pretty awesome.

With an 11-part documentary there’s the possibility of exhaustion and overkill, but Dunn is an excellent craftsman  he jumps around from old to new, talks about how the history impacts the current and, because of his own interests, he makes it personal rather than just informative. (more…)

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