Wednesday, November 4, 2009

King Diamond Remasters: Spider's Lullabye and The Graveyard




On October 13th King Diamond rereleased two of his albums from the 1990's. The Spider's Lullabye and The Graveyard are excellent, but often forgotten, chapters in the band's long history. It's somewhat understandable that these albums don't get much credit. Of course, the 90's were a dismal time for mainstream metal, and mostly, Mercyful Fate took precedence in those days. They released five albums while the King Diamond band released three (technically four, but I group The Eye (1990) with the 80's records). King Diamond sort of took a back seat, if only logistically, to MF in those days. And so, many people ignore these albums. Unfortunately for them, they contain some of the most imaginative musical and narrative elements of the entire KD catalog.

The Spider's Lullabye was released in 1995. It is actually the first record since the band's debut, Fatal Portrait, not to have an overarching storyline. It's fitting, since this was really the rebirth of the band. The first six tracks are a nice group of independent songs that give a good reintroduction after a five year silence. The final four songs of the record tell a tale of an aracnophobe who is tortured and killed after checking himself into a sanitarium. The music is a little heavier and a little more brutal than the early records. Production certainly has a hand in that, and with the remastering done by guitarist Andy LaRocque, the record has only gotten heavier. King's vocals are probably the most aggressive since Conspiracy (1989). The four track story arc shows King extending his spoken word intros into complete songs. The title track along with The Poltergeist show the evolution of a classic 80's metal band into a surprisingly vital 90's metal band.

The Graveyard, released just a year later, strengthened the band's new style. More so than the previous record, most of the songs are mid paced. The falsettos are toned down quite a bit. King uses his vocal range more to create creepy settings. It certainly fits the storyline, since The Graveyard is the only King Diamond record that deals with flat out insanity, with nothing terribly supernatural (until the end, anyway). The album tells the story of a man (let's call him King) framed for child abuse. After breaking out of a mental ward in the first few songs, King seeks revenge on the man who framed him. As the album goes on, King becomes more and more disconnected with reality while he hides out in a graveyard. The song Daddy is the climax of King's decent into madness. That particular song also shows off the outstanding guitar work on this album. While the solos on Spider's Lullabye might be a bit forgettable, LaRocque, along with then second guitarist Herb Simonsen really step it up on The Graveyard. Along with great guitar playing, this album probably has more harpsichord playing than any non-symphonic metal album.

These two album came at a slow point in King Diamond's career, and certainly in metal in general. I'm really glad they were rereleased so people can revisit them and appreciate their place in the discography... also, my originals are scratched beyond repair and they were out of print, so that's good too. Next up on the rerelease/remaster docket are Voodoo (1998) and House of God (2000). I'll post about them when the release dates are announced.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

HORSE the band - Desperate Living


Desperate Living is the new album from California weirdos HORSE the band. I really don't know how to introduce this band, so let me just discuss their music for a bit. From my first listen to R. Borlax (2003), HORSE satisfied a strange place in me and brought me to a new sort of musical climax. Their music seemed kinda funky at first. Not funky in a George Clinton way, but in a "I bought this deli meat two weeks ago but I'm too hungry not to eat it" kinda way. I'm not sure how helpful that analogy was... so, in other words, their music featured a lot of time changes, odd drum fills, jagged guitar riffs, off-key singing, out of control screaming, and, of course, the synthesizer. With some less than perfect execution, their objective was difficult to see in the early days, leading many people to just discount HORSE as a bad band. But when I really sat down and listened to that first record, it affected me strangely, and attracted me in ways that no other band really had.

When The Mechanical Hand came out in 2005 (with the help of better production) HORSE created a different kind of record. It was super high energy, never letting up its intensity. I bought this one the day it came out, went right home, sat in a chair and listened to it from beginning to end. It slams you like a bitch all the way through. I honestly don't know anyone who had heard this record and doesn't like it. It's perfect in almost every way. With Mechanical Hand, HORSE got a lot of press and their fan base grew significantly.

In 2007, A Natural Death came around, but I never bought it. I still don't have it and I still haven't heard that much of it, even though I'm here to write a positive review of the new record. I guess as much as I liked HORSE, I just didn't know if I could trust them. I don't know exactly why. It might be that HORSE seems like they takes themselves less seriously than any big band out there. But that's not really true, since they booked a gigantic world tour all by themselves. Maybe its because they've never recorded with the same line-up twice, but I know how hard it is to work with drummers and bass players. Maybe it was just the "I saw this band play at the University of Maryland radio station, and now I can buy their CD at Best Buy," weirdness. In any case, I've since gotten over it. And its a good thing, since Desperate Living has proved to be a righteous addition to the HORSE discography.

The feel of the record is much more reminiscent of R Borlax. It's more of a slow bizarre journey, rather than the pop-your-balls-with-an-adjustable-wrench-go-jump-off-a-cliff-cause-its-too-fucking-heavy record that Mechanical Hand was. The guitar is doubled for the most part, creating a more engrossing sound to all the tracks, and the keyboard seems to have a little more variation in sound than on previous releases. Really, the only thing I think could be better would be the treatment of the bass. Most of the time you can't really hear it, and its a bit disappointing since both R. Borlax and The Mechanical Hand had such great bass on them. But that's kind of nitpicking. The record has a bit of dance/club material (like Sex Raptor, one of the only songs I know from the last record), but its well integrated into thier usual hardcore/metal freak out. Science Police and Lord Gold Wand of Unyeilding get me pretty pumped to see them when they come through Baltimore in December.

Desperate Living and HORSE the song are the highlights of the first half of the album. The title track has an extended intro that explodes into a keyboard dominated, additive rhythm breakdown. The song sends me into a great trance, like any good HORSE track. And the Xavier samples compliment the song, and the entire band, perfectly. The highlight of the second half, besides the "Mexico City" breakdown in Big Business, would have to be Rape Escape. Actually, this is the highlight of the entire record. It is probably the most brilliant piece of music I think HORSE has ever written. The keyboard intro puts you into a dark cave, deep underground, on a forgotten and fruitless quest. Then a guitar solo wrenches you high into the air for all of ten seconds before you're slammed back to earth and ground down under blast beats and moaning screams. The electronic break through the middle builds tension that isn't released until Prokofiev's 2nd Piano Concerto creeps in and is left to its own devises. Flawless integration concludes the song while Erik Engstrom squeels. After this song is over, I have a really hard time paying attention to the closing track, Arrive. Which is too bad, because Arrive is a great song as well.

This record shows that HORSE is definitely maturing. Most of the time, musical "maturity" just means playing slower, using 9th chords and putting more reverb on your album. But HORSE is becoming a stronger band and continuing to make challenging music. Writing a record about the horribly depressing nature of life and the music scene, HORSE is moving beyond the nostalgia factory that many people want them to be. So forget "Nintendo-core," forget Megaman, forget all the retro bullshit our generation is so desperately interested in. HORSE the band is writing amazing music. They create a loathing, disturbingly epic atmosphere that is unlike anything I've ever heard.

So pick up the new record. If you're not completely convinced, watch the worst promotional video ever and get pumped for Desperate Living. You can also stream the record here, and read their depressing tour diary here.

Make sure to catch them on tour this fall and winter. Dates can be seen on their myspace.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Japan is winning this heavy metal game: Galneryus


Of all the 21st century metal bands now reaching maturity, Galneryus probably excites me the most (besides Dragonforce, of course). Their records are consistently entertaining, and righteously moving as only the best heavy metal can be. For me, their best songs rank with the greatest metal songs of all time. This band really opened my eyes and made me start paying more attention to Japanese metal.

The first song I heard from this band was New Legend off 2007's One for All, All For One. I was blown away by the entire experience. Galneryus manages to fit a guitar, keyboard, and bass solo into a 6 minute song with awesome riffs and some of the best Japanese vocals I've heard. Not to mention the video is an epileptic nightmare. So after aquiring their records, I realized that New Legend was no fluke and Galneryus was the real deal. Songs like Everlasting and Silent Revelation showed me that this band is definitely important.

An X Japan influence is prevalent throughout their work (this and this), but their style really reminds me of a combination between the band I wanted Sonata Arctica to be after hearing Weballergy and the mostly forgotten 80's arena metal band Alcatrazz. The more interesting of the two, Alcatrazz, was not terribly popular in the US, but had a large following in Japan, so the direct influence isn't a stretch. Former vocalist Yama B even shares some qualities with Graham Bonnet; mostly jumping to notes out of their normal range with reckless abandon. Guitarist Syu also seems influenced by Yngwie Malmsteen's early work (but who isn't).

Syu is a very talented guitar player, with a strong background in classical structure. In his solos he regularly utilizes melodies and sequences most at home in a Bach composition (go to 1:55 if you want to get down to business). What I like most about Syu, however, is how he isn't this super precision player. Don't get me wrong, he pulls of everything he tries on record and in the live footage I've seen. It just seems like he is past having to concentrate on what he does. He moves his hands in wide strums while plucking out these incredible solos and looking off in some other direction. He's powerfully good. And, like all truly great guitarists, Syu understands; along with Bill, Ted, Kiss and Steve Vai; that an electric guitar can save the world (Galneryus example).

Syu's instrumental prowess aside, Yama B is one of the things that really kept me interested in the band. His style fits Galneryus' music perfectly, and its a shame he is no longer in the band. After recording their last record, Reincarnation, in 2008, Yama B left the group because of stylistic differences. The new singer, Masatoshi Ono, is definitely promising, and I hope he can pull it off and contribute some great material.

The only problem with Galneryus? They don't tour in America! They haven't made a big enough breakthrough here to really play the venues they're used to back home. It would be great if they could get on a big tour, like Gigantour or even Ozzfest. Something to get them some badly needed exposure over here. I'm not really sure if they even care about the American scene right now though. It's kind of like how Dragonforce didn't even need to come to America before their Inhuman Rampage tour. In any case, I'll still love the band, and maybe some day I'll be able to see them, either here or in Japan.

Well, I just wanted to give a quick heads up to everyone on a band I'm really excited about right now. Galneryus has some of the most vital material of almost any contemporary metal band you care to name. I recommend getting ALL of their records, because they are all amazing. Their discography can be seen here. Of course, all their records are expensive imports, so do what you have to do to get them, I'll understand.


Official Galneryus website

Galneryus myspace

Monday, September 14, 2009

Megadeth - Endgame (Or The Emperor's New Clothes of Metal)




Megadeth was one of the first metal bands I ever listened to. I collected their entire discography before any other band's. Until about two years ago, if you asked me who my favorite metal band was, I'd say Megadeth, hands down. I allowed Dave Mustaine his mistakes, I cut him a lot of slack on The World Needs A Hero, and I actually liked Risk. After all, no band is perfect (except a couple). I was pretty crushed when the band broke up in 2002, and I was unbelievably pumped when Dave announced that he would put out at least one more Megadeth record in 2004. The System Has Failed was truly promising. It sounded like an 80's metal god brushing off the dust and making a real record again after 20 years. Just listening to it made me excited to hear what the next record was going to sound like.

But then I heard what the next record sounded like...

Listening to United Abominations for the first time was my most dissapointing moment as a heavy metal fan. The riffs were mostly stock and boring, the solos seemed directionless, and some of the choruses sounded straight out of a top 40 record. The "politically charged lyrics" were literally retarded. It sounded like a confused 14 year old who just started skimming the headlines of yahoo news, not a 40 something who once covered the democratic national convention for MTV. Honestly, I'd rather listen to some old Anti-Flag lyrics.

The album sucked, plain and simple. There were literally two songs I could even sit through comfortably, one being outstanding (Sleepwalker), and the other bearable (Burnt Ice). Even after I decided the album was terrible, I listened to it regularly to see if maybe I was wrong, maybe it would be better this time, maybe all the great press it was getting wasn't total bullshit... but no. It was just as stupid, uninspired, and idiotic as ever.

But this review is about Endgame, right? Yeah, that's right, it is. I just wanted to give you some history. I was a die hard Megadeth fan, but this is the first Megadeth album I won't be buying. I'm reviewing this from their myspace. There are a few good things to say about it, and its marginally better than the previous record, although that's not saying much. I'm gonna go song for song on this one...

Dialectic Chaos

This instrumental jam is pretty outstanding. It gave me a lot of hope that this album might actually be good. It showcases the outstanding leads that are on this record. Chris Broderick is a great player, and he actually steps up Dave's playing almost as much as Marty Friedman did. Although, its a little weird to hear straight sweep picking on a Megadeth record. Its almost as good as Into The Lungs of Hell. The only problem for me is Shawn Drover. The drumming just doesn't cut it for a Megadeth song. While it was cool how he joined the band (learning all the songs in a matter of weeks before his first tour with them), Drover just doesn't cut it for the formerly state of the art speed metal band.

This Day We Fight

This is a pretty good song. I would even call it a pretty good Megadeth song. The vocal melodies/rhythms make sense, the riffs are fast and frantic, the lyrics are mostly unintelligible, but when you can hear them, they don't sound stupid. The solos again are outstanding. The drums are ok on this one. Two good songs in a row? Is this the Megadeth album I wanted to hear last time?

44 Minutes

No. It isn't. Dave Mustaine has a terrible habit of writing awesome intros to not so good songs (example). The song starts with a nice epicly bruding solo over droning strings, but drops off into a bullshit riff with nonsense vocals sputtering out an idiotic narrative about some dudes holding up a bank or something. Dave shouldn't write narrative lyrics, he should leave that to the King. The chorus is reminiscent of the Nickleback songs I've had the misfortune to hear. The solos, however, are awesome.


1,320

This is by far the best song on the record. Fast as shit, awesome riffs, amazing solos, good vocals; everything you expect from a good Megadeth song. The chorus is a little weird to me, but I'll cut them some slack. This is the second song Megadeth released to fans. I thought it was great then, but I wasn't holding my breath, since Sleepwalker was one of the songs they released from the last record, and we all know how that turned out. The song is good, and I wish the whole record sounded like this.

Bite the Hand

The intro to this song is stupid and unneccessary. The verse is pretty good, but is always interupted by stupid little modulations. Someone needs to teach Dave how to modulate keys like a fucking human being. The lyrics are about all the financial turbulance of the last two years. This is a perfect example of a song that could be good, but Dave mucks it up with bad lyrics and weird riffs for the sake of weird riffs. Again, the solos are great.

Bodies

Same bullshit as 44 Minutes. I prefer the Sex Pistols version. Solo section is awesome, though.

Endgame

Dave pulls the intro trick again. It's even more dissapointing when the intro has really righteous vocals over it (example). Beyond the intro, it isn't even a Nickleback song, it just sounds lazy, especially the chorus. The vocals, again, just float along without any real direction. It seems like Dave just writes a bunch of lyrics and pastes them onto the riffs he mashes together.

The Hardest Part of Letting Go...

For this kind of Megadeth song, I prefer Promises. The soft intro is ok. Dave's vocals can't really stand up to that kind of vulnerability anymore, but its ok. The galloping in the verse is nice, as well as the synth strings. But there's really not much else to the song. This one is ok, but its not enough to make me want to listen again.

Head Crusher

This is the first song the band released on their website. It's fast and has some good solos. All around its a pretty good track. Its also the first single from the record. The video is a little wack though. This is the fourth and final good song on this record. If you're listening along, things aren't getting any brighter.

How The Story Ends

This a song that
might actually be good if it were two times faster. The vocal melodies aren't attractive. If you're going to actually have a melody line in your metal song, make it a good one, not just something that fits with the weird lyrics you wrote. Some of the riffs in this song are good, the solos are good as well, but the whole thing drags because its needlessly mid-tempo.

The Right to Go Insane

Again, why isn't this song faster!? If you slowed down old thrash, the vocals would sound just as stupid as the verse in this song, and the riffs would be just as boring. The chorus is another weird pop hook. But once again, the solos are awesome, and they even pick up the tempo for the solo section!


Bottom line: if we couldn't get a good Megadeth record, this album should have been an instrumental shred record. Dave Mustaine is a fantastic guitar player, and Chris Broderick has the most raw talent of any guitarist they've had (but Marty is still the best). The leads on this record are great, and beyond the solos, the solo sections are usually the best parts of the songs.

The rest of the music, for the most part, is just weird, mashed together and seemingly uninspired. Dave was irreversably corrupted when he started working with producer Bud Prager (of Foreigner fame). With Bud's help Megadeth wrote some pretty catchy, but still kinda heavy, pop music. Now, Dave has categorically spurned all the work Prager did with the band. He is trying to "return to his roots" with bizarre results. His music is now a confused fusion of pop and metal that makes zero sense. It's not the pop metal of the 80's and its not the pop metal you hear now. It's just fucked.

Now, I have no doubt that Dave is fucking pumped that Megadeth is big again, but his music just isn't reflecting it. He says this is the "record of his life," but I just don't see it... at all. So far, he already wrote the record of his life in 1990. It seems like the majority of Megadeth fans don't see through the bullshit. New Megadeth just isn't very good. The newest records are mediocre at BEST. They're certainly not the kind of records people are still going to be talking about and listening to in 20 or 30 years.

The production bothers me a lot too. Andy Sneap produced the last two records and I know exactly his style. Add overdrive to just about everything and compress the shit out of the mix to trick people into thinking its heavy. Well, guess what, its working. The records sound heavy as shit, but they don't sound like Megadeth. It's bad enough that Dave is the only link to the early days of the band, but all trace of the Megadeth sound is pretty much gone. Their early records weren't necessarily mixed heavy, the music was heavy, the guitar tones were heavy, and Nick Menza destroyed the drum kit when he played. That's the Megadeth sound. Four dudes thrashing their fucking brains out, not a producer compressing their record until its flat as a pancake.

These last couple records are the worst Megadeth albums. Even Kill 'em All was a better Megadeth record than these two. Death Magnetic is WAY better. This is the first time Metallica has had a better record than Megadeth in 20 years. If you are thinking of getting this album, listen to it on their myspace first. I recommend waiting for the new Slayer record if you want something real.

Let's just remind ourselves of the good old days. Here's a video from the So Far... So Good... So What! days:



Saturday, September 5, 2009

A review! We're All Gonna Die! Kiss the Ground... Curse the Sky!



We're All Gonna Die is one of many bands I found through pandora.com, a great resource that I'll probably talk about in later posts. When I first heard them I was taken off guard by the almost radio rock quality of their big riffs and belted vocals. After a few minutes of listening to I am the Messiah, off their 2005 record The Wreck of the Minot, I was convinced this band was awesome.

Back in my pre-metal days growing up in the mid 90's, I listened to a lot of the "alternative" rock that was out there. I liked Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, and, most of all, Soundgarden. We're All Gonna Die pretty much bridges the gap between my musical interests back then and now. Imagine if Soundgarden played in drop c, gained a few pounds and grew beards (I know Kim Thayil had one, but whatever). Singer/guitarist Jim Healey sometimes even sounds like Chris Cornell if you pitched his crazy wailing down an octave. For fans of 90's hard rock, the band's newest record, Kiss the Ground Curse the Sky (2008), is more than worth your time.

This is the Boston based band's third release since forming in 1998. Kiss the Ground... continues the trend of extremely heavy hard rock. The new album, however, is more mid-paced than the last release, and has more of a rock feel than a metal riffing feel. But while the riffs may be slower, the guitar tone is only more brutal. This album really takes it to the limit with bass frequencies. Its probably the most bass you can put on a guitar tone without completely mudding up your record. But somehow you can still hear the bass thundering away underneath the killer guitars. Admittedly, though, I turn up the treble just a little in my car. The record even has a few slow jams. They surprised me at first, but soon after I got into them. Just like the rest of the record, they're just awesome rock songs reminiscent of the 1990's.

The heavy tones throughout this record create a perfect backdrop for Healey's baritone bellowing. The vocals on this record really hold the songs together and keep them from potentially dragging the way a mid tempo rock song can. Another thing I realized after buying the record was the lack of autotune on the vocals. Healey goes ever so slightly south on a few notes, and it creates a really good natural feel to the whole record. Of course, the record doesn't need autotune at all, and even Healey's screams stay pretty tonal (kinda like Chris Cornell...).

Here's the bottom line: We're All Gonna Die is just a righteous hard rock/metal band that doesn't fuck around and writes really good songs. Their similarity to 90's rock is in no way some kind of retro revival (mark my words, the 90's are next), but is obviously totally organic since they started in 1998. So, check out some of their songs over at their myspace. If you like it, you can buy Kiss the Ground, Curse the Sky over at Underdogma. And if you don't have anything to do tonight (Sept. 5th), and you live in Maryland, they're playing in Frederick at Krug's Place for the Shod X fest. I can't go because I have to go roll burritos at Chipotle... dagger.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

On Dragonforce.




It's time to talk about probably the most unexpectedly controversial topic I've come across in metal. I can't tell you how surprised I was when speaking with a fellow metal fan, and first seeing the grimace on his face when I stated, "Oh yeah, and Dragonforce is the ultimate metal band." Then, as now, I really couldn't understand how someone could NOT like Dragonforce. Or, at least, appreciate their complete compositional mastery of the genre. Let me back up a bit and review the path that brought me to this opinion.

The story begins all the way back to my first introductions to heavy metal. Other than early dabblings with Ride the Lightning, Megadeth and King Diamond were the first metal bands I really listened to. Every aspect of metal appealed to me, but it seemed the thing that really got me off was how brutally fast it could be. Some King Diamond songs were decently paced, but not nearly as fast as Megadeth could get. And by the time I finally got my hands on Rust In Peace, I went apeshit at how relentless it was. At that point, I was completely hooked. I was hopelessly addicted to speed and needed my metal to be as fast as possible.

Anthrax wasn't bad, Motohead did it for me most of the time, Megadeth did it for me a bit more, and by the time I found Slayer my hunger was slaked for a little while. Eventually, though, only the fastest, most brutal Slayer songs could truly fulfill my lust for speed; Poison Was The Cure was the only Megadeth song that made me feel alive; and the first four Metallica records didn't even make it off my shelf anymore.

So, in a quest for faster metal, I turned to the most powerful music distribution tool of the time: Napster. Piecing together clues from message boards, I found a few songs that were close to what I was looking for. Songs like Manowar's Ride the Dragon were pretty decent, but collectively they didn't come close to the quantity of material I craved.

Eventually I found my way to more extreme metal. After buying a Cannibal Corpse record, I found some early Dying Fetus mp3's on Napster, and eventually found myself at the hands of The Berzerker. For a 12 year old with no previous introduction to extreme metal, grindcore or hardcore, I had to stop a moment and rethink my life. What was it I was really after? What kind of metal did I really want? I was desperate for a band that didn't fuck around. Desperate for a band that wrote blazingly fast songs, stayed in standard tuning, and actually sang. I was desperate for the band of my fucking dreams.

It took a few more years to finally find my saviors of speed.

On a dark night in the spring of 2004 I received a message from my good friend Chris informing me of a relatively new band out of Britain that played pretty righteous power metal. When I first listened to Valley of the Damned and Black Winter Night I couldn't contain my elation. It was so incredibly fast, and after the intros they didn't let up for a fucking minute. Combined with the speed of the music, the solos were the most insane thing I'd heard. Not necessarily the most virtuosic, but certainly the most impressively frantic lead guitar I'd ever heard.

At that moment did I realize that I had found my holy grail? Did I know that I had completed my quest for the most agressive, yet melodic and totally singable metal known to man...?

...no, not yet.

It wasn't until about a year later. Listening to Sonic Firestorm in my car, I found myself completely overwhelmed by the music in a way that I hadn't experienced before. The brutality of neverending 32nd notes, and the extreme treble of the unbelievable solos cut deep into my subconscious, unearthing those sleepless nights scouring the internet to find the band of my dreams. I began to weep tears of joy, realizing that this was the band I had been waiting to hear since I was 11 years old.

Ever since I have been an unashamed Dragonforce fan. Andrew and I saw them in Philadelphia on their first US tour, and I've been pleased with the fame they have since gained.

So now I've brought you up to speed on my complete infatuation with the band. Now I want to go over the reason people wouldn't like Dragonforce (I know, it sounds unbelievable to me too).

1. BAD LIVE BAND

Ok, this is probably the most controversial, maybe even forgivable, but still completely unacceptable criticism of the band. First of all, when I saw Dragonforce they were amazing. So, I already know from personal experience that they can be a good live band. The biggest problems are their general inconsistency and nonchalant attitude to their own difficult material. While one of the best, they are also one of the most irresponsible live bands I've ever seen. They'll fuck up their songs, their solos and anything else all for the sake of going crazy. But let it be known that I find this completely acceptable (being in a few punk and hardcore bands over the years, I've learned that going crazy goes a long way).

But most of what laymen see as "talent issues" are actually sound issues. In every professional live video (and those are the only ones I'll comment on) I've seen, the rhythm guitars are mixed way too low and lack any mid range punch. The biggest problem, however, is the dual lead issue. The bass is left alone to hold the root notes while the guitars sail off undersupported by the rhythm section. What Dragonforce really needs to complete their live show is a third guitar to fill in the holes in the dual leads. Its not unheard of, and it doesn't even have to be a full-on new member. Maybe even one of their guitar techs could do it.

2. TOO GIMICKY, NOT A SERIOUS METAL BAND

This is something I've struggled against almost since day one with Dragonforce. They got big at a time when I knew a few people in college radio who played them all the time. But most were only "into" them as an ironic pop culture curiosity. Some metal fans have unfortunately lached onto this view. They don't think of Dragonforce as a serious metal band. But let me just ask; what's not serious about them? They write extremely difficult music, make flawless records and have performed their material at a professional level on several world tours. They seem pretty fucking serious about their music to me. Too often fans discount the sheer dedication and hard work it takes to be a professional musician who write, record and perform their own music.

At the root of it all, people are forgetting the basic ideology of heavy metal: grow your hair real fucking long, play real fucking heavy, and write your songs about completely ridiculous, whimsical, and absurd topics. I mean, when Bruce sang "Tell me why I have to be a Powerslave," I was like, "Yeah, why the fuck does he have to be a Powerslave?!" When Ozzy told me I was killing myself to live I thought, "Yeah, that shit makes sense in a weird kind of way." And when Dragonforce tells me that "oceans collide inside of us all," I'm saying, "Fuck yeah, its like the perfect storm beneath my fucking skin."

Basically, lets take a step back and look at metal as a genre and reevaluate our personal boundaries of "seriousness."

3. SINGER SUCKS

Alright. You got me. He's a little weak. But the melodies are good, the hooks are memorable, and if nothing else, its hard to find a good metal singer anymore because they've all killed their voices screaming for black and death metal bands!

There's really nothing I can say to this complaint. If you don't like him, you don't like him. However, the ratio of music quality to vocalist quality is far more balanced than in a band like Nevermore.

4. ALL THEIR SONGS SOUND THE SAME

People say this about any band with a strongly unique style. People say that Iron Maiden released the same record for about 15 to 20 years. In some ways its true, in others not. Maiden has a very strong style, as well as several compositional "moves" and structures that are reused often in their records. But if you listen closely you can see a definite curve of complexity and overall quality peaking at Powerslave, Somewhere in Time, and Seventh Son; then declining to the end of the first Bruce Dickenson era. Dragonforce is very similar to Iron Maiden in this respect. They have released four albums that are stylistically and structurally very similar. However the band's evolution in material, performance and production are at least on par with Iron Maiden's progress by the time of their fourth record, Piece of Mind.

I also have a much less objective explanation for the band's lack of variety. For me, Dragonforce is the be all end all of heavy metal and I'm not afraid to say it. And as far as I'm concerned, we could step into Plato's realm of ideals, put on a heavy metal record, and a Dragonforce song would come through the speakers. I believe that Dragonforce has achieved the closest thing to a perfect heavy metal song as anyone since the inception of the genre. Because of this, there can be no significant variance from this perfect form. Dragonforce's continuing quest is to keep writing the best heavy metal song over and over again.

Johann Sebastian Bach perfected the form of Baroque music, Van Halen perfected rock and roll/rhythm and blues, and Dragonforce is perfecting the genre of heavy metal.

There's not much left to say really. Dragonforce is my ultimate metal band. Not necessarily my favorite, or the most talented, but the utlimate. They have achieved the most aggressive music that still fits the classic form of heavy metal. If you don't agree with me, that's fine. If you don't really like Dragonforce for reasons other than the four I listed, that's ok, I guess. But there's really no good reason to ignore their mastery of the genre. They've taken it to its limit. There may be better, more interesting and musically adventurous heavy metal acts, but no one as brutal and aggressive in the same way as Dragonforce.

This post may be full of opinion, but I think I presented some good, objective reason not to write off this band completely. But, when it all comes down to it, if you're into metal, and you don't appreciate Dragonforce, you can go to hell.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Mercyful Fate to mount a new comeback? Let's hope so...



I never intended to just repost news on this blog, but I think this is the most exciting thing to happen in mainstream metal in a long time.  I touched on the subject briefly in my Rock Band post, but let me relay the rest of the story from King Diamond's official website:

Late last year, our old pal Lars Ulrich approached King Diamond and asked him if he would like to submit a Mercyful Fate song to the new Guitar Hero: Metallica game. King was all over it, and Lars suggested that he submit Evil and Curse of the Pharaohs. Sounds kinda cool, right? Mercyful Fate on a Guitar Hero game? Well, the story is just beginning...

The two songs Lars suggested were, of course, off their first record, Melissa, from 1983. King called up Hank Shermann, founding member of Mercyful Fate, to ask if he had any idea where the master tapes were. King talked to their old label Roadrunner, and Hank called up the old owner of the studio in Denmark where they recorded Melissa. No one had any idea where they were. So King, being the crucial motherfucker he is, devised an elegant solution. He, along with Hank Shermann, would get the band back together to rerecord Evil and Curse of the Pharaohs.

They called Michael Denner who was in right away. The band then asked Timi Hansen, and despite claims that he hadn't really played at all since the first Mercyful Fate reunion in 1993 he was all in. Deciding not to ask original drummer Kim Ruzz, who's kind of been a mystery to the band and the fans since the old days, King and Hank invited Bjarne T. Holm. Bjarne played on the last three Mercyful Fate records, and was almost in the band back in 1981. So, with this line up the band recorded the music and sent it off to Activision.

Evil was the song selected for the game, but since the band was so pleased with how the recordings came out, they are going to release both songs on iTunes and, according to King and Hank's official websites, a picture disc 7 inch.  Judging from the Guitar Hero mixes of Evil, the new recording is really tight, way more aggressive than the original, and, of course, way better produced.  And there is no reason to think Curse will be any different.

Kings falsettos are a little flat, but it's good to remember just how fucking high he sang in those old days.  Listeners may also find his vocals a little unfamiliar because of the way he's prefered to mix them of late.  Since the latest King Diamond record, he has preferred to compress them as little as possible and keep the EQ as flat as possible.  In the 80's they would squash the vocals flat and cut out all the low frequencies, making his falsettos particularly ear-piercing.  The effect of this new approach creates a more natural sound, for better or for worse.  If you don't understand what I'm talking about that's fine, you can ignore this paragraph.

Now, it's very hard for me to keep the MF fanboy that lives inside me calm and subdued, but it has been ten years since this band has done anything. And it isn't as though they peetered out like Black Sabbath in the 90's or Megadeth in 2001. Mercyful Fate's 7th and last studio album, 9 (1999), was arguably their best, and definitely their heaviest, record. They were still at their creative peak.  The only thing really keeping them from working was the fact that the King Diamond band could record for free at Andy LaRocque's studio while Mercyful Fate had to pay.

Mercyful Fate was a victim of circumstance, and while I still love the King Diamond band, and their new records are outstanding, there is a gaping whole in my life that is partially being filled by this new development. I ultimately hope that this project drums up enough interest for a new reunion and hopefully a new record. It's a stretch but I still say that even this small chance of new Mercyful Fate material is far more exciting than a new Megadeth, Slayer or even Black Sabbath (Heaven and Hell my ass) record.

Get King's full account of the story here. The songs will be available from iTunes on July 14th and the picture disc is set to be released September 1st. Everyone needs to buy this shit so we can show the band, Metal Blade Records or any other label that WE WANT A NEW MERCYFUL FATE RECORD! Hell, if you are motivated enough, write an email to Metal Blade telling them to resign the band and get them in the studio as soon as possible.

I'll finish off by posting the 2008 rerecording of Evil, as well as the video for Egypt, from their 1993 comeback record In The Shadows.






Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sunn 0))) - Monoliths and Dimensions (and getting lost in Berlin)

So, I arrived in Berlin two weeks ago on May 24th. That night Sunn 0))) was playing at the Volksbuhne im Prater. I bought my ticket a few weeks in advance and I hoped to maybe snag a quick interview with them for the blog. But all those hopes were dashed that night when a fellow student and I couldn't find the venue. In the next few days we realized exactly where the Prater was and have walked past it several times; opening our wounds each time. Dagger.

I was going to have this post be a review of the show and maybe even post an interview if I got lucky. But now I'll just talk about the new record, Monoliths and Dimensions.



After listening to this record I thought to myself, whether or not they know it, Sunn 0))) is creating a new musical lineage from ground zero. A lineage born of influences very different from (and often opposite to) traditional western music.

The traditions of western "classical" music can be traced back to the sacred music of the middle ages. Monophonic gregorian chant was more or less the starting point for the next 1000 years of music history. Starting around the beginning of the second millennium CE, the Catholic church regularly dictated musical trends and contrapuntal techniques. Characters like Guido D'Arezzo advanced musical and educational practices still in use presently. Even when instrumental music became a significant genre around the 14th and 15th centuries, the techniques of composition grew directly from the choral polyphony of church music.

By the end of the 16th century the church lightened its grip on music in general, and with the advent of opera, secular music exploded. Even so, masses, requiems and sacred music were a strong tradition of every major composer from Bach to Tchaikovsky. My point is that almost all western music up to and somewhat including the twentieth century traces its lineage back to a sacred, Christian context.

In the twentieth century several composers created brand new musical paradigms for themselves. Béla Bartók, Arnold Schönberg, John Cage, and Iannis Xenakis are among the most notable in this field. What separates these composers from Sunn 0))) however, with the exclusion of Cage, is the overall complexity of their works. Schönberg especially since he created his new paradigm, the 12-tone system, to sustain textures and genres of previous generations. Sunn 0))) signifies another new paradigm, but this time its realization is not immediate. Analogous to the music itself, the evolutionary pace set by Sunn 0))), if followed, could take centuries to fully realize and explore.

The liner notes of the Dømkirke record compare Sunn 0)))'s style to the Gregorian chant of northern Europe. I agree with this comparison, but there are important differences between these two prototypical genres. Sunn 0))) is built not from a medieval tradition, or even from the Anceint Greek tradition, but from the intense amplification and guitar technique of heavy metal. Many listeners can not even separate Sunn 0))) from heavy metal and still choose to classify them as "doom metal." I choose not to classify them as metal, but I realize that is a large part of their identity and musical background, just as Webern was well acquainted with romantic composition.

Lastly, it is very important to mention that Sunn 0))) is not a Christian group. Their monolithic compositions and ritualistic performances are a praise to something different. If nothing else they are a primitive form of worship to the aural and physical experience of sound and vibration themselves. The religious or theistic references made in their music are mostly to ancient gods and forms of worship. In my opinion, working within a non-Christian framework allows Sunn 0))) to explore much more complex avenues of sonority and characterizations of divinity. In this way I feel Sunn 0)))'s form of proto-music is far more interesting and rich with potential than anything created in the wake of antiquity.

For me, Sunn 0))) is creating a music that, if given the attention it deserves, will not be considered "21st century" music, but rather a classification we have yet to imagine, since we are in the midst of a slow and immense creation of unseen proportions. They stand in direct opposition to the fluttering, spastic nature of contemporary sensibilities. So while modern composers try to build Rome in a day, Sunn 0))) have just wandered upon the untouched wilderness where a grand kingdom will be constructed over the next 1000 years.



I promise the next post will be about heavy metal.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Holy Terror: The best bay area thrash band you've never heard of.



Ok, so the title may be a tiny bit overstated. I'm sure there are a few hardcores out there who know ALL about Holy Terror, but the fact remains that no one talks about them much at all. Only staying together for about three years in the late 80's and releasing only two full lengths, it's no wonder they melted into obscurity. Nevertheless I think their small output is up there with some of the best thrash bands of the decade.

Holy Terror was formed in 1985/6 in Los Angeles by ex-Agent Steel guitarist Kurt Kilfelt (Colfelt). The line-up was rounded out by Joe Mitchel on drums, Mike Alvord on second guitar, Floyd Flanary on bass, and Keith Deen on vocals. From all I can figure out, none of these guys, with the exception of Kilfelt, really did anything of note before or after this band. Another reason why no one talks about these guys.

They had a fair run, opening for bands like Kreator, DRI, and even Motorhead for four shows. Drugs, money issues, label problems, and the waning LA metal scene contributed to their demise in 1989. You can get the not so complete, outstandingly difficult to read story here. But on to the music.

As stated above, they released two full lengths, Terror and Submission (1987) and Mind Wars (1988) (now packaged together) as well as a live bootleg that can be downloaded here (it is extremely good quality and a great introduction to the band).  Stylistically they were similar to thrash bands of the day. I can hear Metal Church, Anthrax, Nuclear Assault, Exodus or Slayer on their record. On top of it all, however, is Holy Terror's completely unique style. The songs and riffs are brutally fast and disjointed in a way that holds tension throughout the entire record. The guitar work is surprisingly good. The riffs are as fast and rhythmically varied as anything Megadeth released. The solos, more on the skill level of a Michael Denner or Kirk Hammet, are completely appropriate. These guys should have shown Slayer how to put a real solo into a thrash song.

Keith Deen's vocals, however, are the biggest contributor to Holy Terror's style. I have never heard anyone like him, and I flipped my shit the first time I listened to the band. Deen switches maniacally between screams, proto-growls, and spoken word, somehow stumbling his way into a righteously belted chorus.  Rhythmically he never quite fits to the music and a conventional vocal melody only peeks through on select refrains.  Deen's vocals are rather like riding on an airplane that is being quickly shot away by enemy fighters.  The plane rips apart in the middle and you slip out into the open air with a few miles between you and the ground.  Just as you reach the peak of panic, Falcor sweeps in and snatches you up, helping you defeat the enemy fighters.

Maybe that's just me...

In any case, the unpredictability of the vocals only adds to the killer thrash on these records.  His make-shift vocal style reminds me a little of the stumbling verses of Phil Lynott.  As far as recent bands, Nathan Winneke of HORSE the band gives me the same kind of feeling.  His spoken word style is definitely an influence from bands like Suicidal Tendencies, DRI and hardcore bands less on the fringe of thrash. But I like to think of it more in the terms of classical melodrama (step up your musical vocab here).  Who says heavy metal can only be compared to baroque sequencing and romantic virtuosos?   Maybe that's just me as well...

Anyway, Holy Terror is a band whose immense talent is juxtaposed by their complete lack of legacy.  They're the cassette you find under your older brother's bed that you listen to until the tape breaks.  Then you live the rest of your days wishing you still had that Holy Terror record.  Now that Blackened Records has reissued their albums they no longer must be relegated to the used record stores that don't exist anymore.


Oh yeah, and apparently Kilfelt/Colfelt tried to reunite the band in 2005.  I think they actually played a few shows, but plans for a new record in 2006 never materialized.  I mention this in passing because the new lineup didn't include Keith Deen.  What the fuck?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

If you think there's no way you could ever like Sunn 0)))...



So, you've been listening to Black Sabbath for as long as you can remember. Pentagram and Bedemon are old news to you. Lately you've been really into Electric Wizard, you dabble in bands like Pelican, and you even get into ambient soundscapes like Explosions in the Sky. You probably would like Sleep, Moss, and pretty much any band whose name and logo connotes a dark stagnation. You may even peruse the Southern Lord website and sample their selection of dark black/death/doom metal.

So when your friend tells you, "Man, you would love Sunn 0)))!" you go ahead and give it a shot. Their image is certainly crucial (see picture above), but what is this "music" you're hearing? You can't understand why people think this is so amazing. All you hear are some dudes getting ready to play a song, but never getting there. If you don't drugs, you imagine that anyone enjoying this music MUST be. And if you do drugs, you imagine the people listening to Sunn 0)) must be doing better drugs than you. In the end, you probably think to yourself, "I could do this shit!" Well, unknowingly you've hit on the secret to really appreciating drone...

DO IT FOR YOURSELF!

Some of the most powerful moments I've ever had playing music came when I sat in front of my amp and just droned out. Just listening to Sunn 0))) isn't enough. You can experience the full effect if you're fortunate enough to catch one of their live shows, but that can be quite difficult if you don't live near a relatively large city. So, here are my instructions for creating your own drone music.

Now, you may not think you can get a good drone out of a combo amp with a 10" cone, but you would be very surprised. Here's what you need to do. Turn your pregain up all the way, turn your bass to 10, turn your highs to 0, and use your mids for tone control, but try not to let them get much higher than 5 or 6. If you have a Presence knob, turn it all the way down. As for any other weird tone control, basically turn them to whatever is the bass heavy extreme. Select the neck pickup on your guitar, and turn down the tone knob if you have one. Now for the most important part, tune your guitar to open C (feel free to experiment with the three higher strings), and if you're feeling adventurous, try to get your guitar down a minor third to open A. Plant yourself directly in front of your amp and turn it up to a decently loud volume. Feel free to wear ear protection and turn it up all the way.

Now you're ready to drone. Turn up the volume on your guitar and lightly strum an open C chord. Let it ring. Let it feed back. Let it get in your head, in your body. Close your eyes and strum again when you feel the need. Experiment with consonances and dissonances and the feedback they create. You'll start to notice beats occurring within the drone, a slower beat for a consonance, and a faster beat for a dissonance. Start timing your strums with these beats. After about 5 or 10 minutes you'll be lost.

I have literally sat in front of my amp for hours exploring the bottomless drone. Anyone familiar with yoga, Tai Chi, or any kind of meditation will understand the feelings that overcome their body.

If you have a half stack to experiment with, it will be even better. If you have some way to run your guitar signal to two amps, I HIGHLY recommend it. You can change the tones on each amp and create sounds that will blow your mind. Once I ran my guitar through my Crate half stack as well as my bass stack via my Digitech Whammy pedal. I put my bass amp slightly out of tune with my guitar amp and sat right between the two. It was kind of a stereo chorus effect that create some amazing frequency interactions. If you have the know-how and the equipment, toying with the phase of the two amps would be pretty amazing too.

So, that's pretty much all you need to know. If you still don't "enjoy" listening to Sunn 0))), that's fine, but now you probably understand their objectives a little better. One doesn't put on a Sunn 0))) record at the beach driving in a jeep with the top down and the doors off. Listen to Sunn 0))) while going to sleep, reading HP Lovecraft, getting an MRI, driving down a dark country road in the middle of the night, driving through a tonado, performing a Walpurgisnacht ritual, etc... Their music elicits specific emotions and physical states. If you can get in tune with them you will have some of the most profound musical experiences possible with current technology.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Paul Gilbert: Infinity's Affinity For The Infinitely Great: Shredder Of The Technodrome


Shredders are an interesting bunch and at their essences, entirely enigmatic. Some exude this characteristic in their confounding technical proficiency, most others in their mercurial idiosyncrasies, and still more in their utterly perplexing compositional techniques, better defined by a lack thereof. The thing I really get off on however is the infrequency of the truly great guitar virtuoso. As has been the case with the virtuoso performers of old (ie Liszt, Chopin, Paganini to name but a few) the ethereal quality of greatness is maintained and preserved by the almost unattainable skills required to achieve it. Therefore the proverbial quest for the holy grail of shredders is one that is continually stimulating, insanely difficult, and oh so gratifying (*insert female orgasm joke here*).

One of the best aspects of metal if not it's premier selling point, is the incomparable, musically educated fan base it possesses. Unfortunately as a member of this elite community I know its members are not the easiest or greatest in number to find. So when someone asks me what kind of music I'm in to, chances are they are not musically equipped to receive my answer... and HOLY SHIT is that a loaded question. What these people don't know is they've simultaneously asked me to explain the evolution of the electric guitar and its technical innovators, the concept of the romantic era virtuoso, and how all of these things are related. So when I ignorantly and concisely reply "guitar instrumental or guitar-centric/virtuosic music" I get what I deserve by way of a series of uninformed follow up questions. Let me back up for a second. I am in no way intending to sound snobbish or pretentious in my inclined taste for metal and the intellectual relationship I have with it, I just don't know how to talk about a genre that spawned out of a pursuit to develop rock musicianship to it's most technically accomplished potential, without attempting to talk about the things in academia it draws from. I love it! and I love sharing it with people who want to know, regardless of their background in music. In all honesty there are TONS of things about music theory that, even with a (month's pending) BA in music, I don't pretend to understand.

Typically in one of these conversations about the music I listen to I get a response that will finally make the title of this post relevant; "Oh OK. So sort of like Buckethead." (I know, I know, I thought I was going to say Paul Gilbert too!) The interesting thing about this reply is, unbeknownst to this individual who gets their music education compliments of MTV news updates, as BAD an example as Buckethead is of someone who exhibits pure guitartistry, it's not too far off... in a six degrees of Kevin Bacon sort of way. Don't get me wrong, I think Buckethead is alright, I mean he's better than most at guitar. The truth is, he's NOT, I repeat NOT one of the great ones. Not even remotely close. He displays ingenuity, plays some cool modal and whole tone licks using additive rhythms, but overall lacks the clarity, phrasing, emotion, and compositional expertise that defines his predecessors and contemporaries. (Yngwie Malmsteen, Randy Rhoads, Eddie Van Halen, Jason Becker, Marty Friedman, Vinnie Moore, etc.) I'm not comfortable placing him on par with any one of those names so for now he remains out. But as I was saying, Kevin Bacon... Buckethead, AKA Brian Carroll as all consulted sources agree, actually studied with a young but well established guitar player extraordinaire, Paul Gilbert.

Bacon + Buckethead = The Colonel's Masterpiece

Paul Gilbert received much acclaim as a lead guitarist for speed metal underdogs Racer X in the mid to late 80's. Even in his early 20's, Gilbert possessed the ability to play with mechanical precision without sacrificing gilt-edged panache. As Racer X lacked the mainstream appeal to solidify the cult guitar hero status of Gilbert, his next venture landed him international celebrity. While Racer X was on a bit of a hiatus, Gilbert teamed up with THE legend of bass shred, Billy Sheehan, to form a formidable pop-rock outfit Mr. Big. While the band's recorded catalog doesn't do their cumulative ability justice, their live shows were enthralling and earned deserved rave reviews, particularly in Japan where Mr. Big have announced an upcoming exclusive tour.

In his time since Mr. Big, Paul Gilbert has recorded a few studio releases with Racer X but the majority of his attention has been given to honing his own craft with a series of releases as a solo artist. The first couple of albums highlight his ability as a singer and crossover guitar player whose proficiency transcends genre. The two most recent and all instrumental releases however are concrete evidence of quite possibly the cleanest, most technically skilled, and artistically diverse guitar player on the planet. With elements of jazz, rock, funk, metal, pop, classical music, and every perceivable kind of fusion inbetween, 2oo6's "Get Out of My Yard" and 2008's "Silence Followed By a Deafening Roar" both exhibit a modern metamorphosis of the musical virtuoso that remains grounded in timeless and proven classical pedagogy. Paul Gilbert has this uncanny artistry that allows him not only to perform perfectly perceptible 16th and 32nd note runs that will literally melt the flesh from your face, but also compose delicate melodic riffs that are as much about the notes that aren't played as the ones that sound. This is not simply the work of a one trick pony unlike that of so many artists who riddle the genre. Moreover these albums are seminal works in the history of guitar composition and performance, and should be revered as such.


Do yourself a favor and get your hands on these records and broaden your horizons beyond the doldrums of Buckethead.

Rock Band: A Small Window into Musicianship

This isn’t a video game blog, but something I found very interesting has happened involving this game.

I was eating dinner at school the other day and I ran into my friend Evan. He tells me he has two really exciting developments to tell me about. The first: He’s getting really into Diamond Head. And since Evan isn’t particularly a “metal guy” I was very happily surprised. After singing the end of Lightning to the Nations for a little, he told me about the second: He can play Battery on expert on Rock Band drums. Then he tells me about how he’s gained a new appreciation for heavy music because of it.

In my opinion, any avenue to quality heavy metal is a good one, and I started thinking about the serious musical implications of games like Rock Band, Guitar Hero, Beatmania, Poppin, and, to a much lesser extent, Dance Dance Revolution.

Both Andrew and I are players, and I know some of the readers are. As musicians, we relate to music in a different way than non players. For me, it’s hard to listen to a record without thinking, “Oh, I wonder how he did that!” or, “Somebody should fucking shoot this producer!” It is part and parcel to the way we perceive music. This isn’t to say that non-musicians can’t legitimately enjoy music, but a non-musician is usually more concerned with how music sounds rather than the physical aspects of playing. This can sometimes cause the untrained listener to fall into musical ruts, or hold bogus grudges against genres or bands simply because the immediate sonic experience is unfamiliar.

So, this is where the video games come in… Rock Band drums are probably the best instrument of all in the still growing “music video game” market. Unlike guitar it is pretty simple to simulate drums on a video game. You’re actually hitting the pads, you’re actually keeping a beat, and you’re actually breaking a sweat trying to keep up with Lars Ulrich (who would have thought…). So on drums, even more than guitar, the player gets the experience of playing a real musical instrument. They may even see the merit in a style of playing for which they previously had no frame of reference. It’s a beautiful thing, really. Giving non-players a window into music they would otherwise never have. And if that person gets so into the game that they feel the need to go buy a real guitar, or start playing real drums, all the better!

At first I thought Guitar Hero and Rock Band were stupid. But now, even besides what I described above, it seems that these two games are really having a positive effect on the international music scene/business. The Sword had their music in Guitar Hero, it helped them get more exposure, and they just toured with Metallica. Dragonforce had Through the Fire and the Flames on Guitar Hero, and that only helped their legendary status. And now, MERCYFUL FATE has reunited to record two tracks for the soon to be released Metallica Guitar Hero game. This could possibly even drum up enough interest for a FULL FLEDGED SECOND MERCYFUL FATE REUNION! ANYTHING THAT CAN GET THAT BAND BACK TOGETHER IS THE SINGLE GREATEST THING ON EARTH!

Sorry… I’ll contain myself.


FOREVER!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

First Entry: Jon Oliva's Pain


Jon Oliva



Ok, so I picked the most unflattering picture on this band's website for reasons I will get into later.

First, let me give you a little history to put this band into perspective:

Jon Oliva was a founding member of the Florida based band Savatage. They were a surprisingly good second tier metal band that surived from 1981 to 2001. Savatage's first few records were a pretty good blend of pop metal and the NWOBHM that was influencing everyone in those days. Of course, they had their own style that gradually made its way to the surface with the help of Jon Oliva's songwriting and the outstanding guitarwork of his late brother Criss Oliva. Unfortunately, their early records were plagued with some bad mixing choices (specifically, too much reverb and not enough compression). This may not bother you as much as it does me, so feel free to buy Power of the Night or Hall of the Mountain King.

The band hit its stride with 1989's Gutter Ballet and 1990's Streets: A Rock Opera. This began a rash of concept albums that fully realized the band's potential. When I tell people about Savatage, I usually tell them to listen to these two records. I tell them, "Savatage is pretty much what it would be like if every Skid Row song was 18 and Life." Savatage writes THE BEST power ballads. And instead of love songs, these epic slow jams are all about getting famous, becoming a junky, falling from grace, and then clawing your way out of the gutter to become a HEAVY METAL LEGEND. But then maybe falling from grace again and eventually finding God.

Needless to say, I love Savatage. But in the late 90's most of the members decided to start a little side project to record a few Christmas tunes. They called it Trans Siberian Orchestra. Of course, this band blew the fuck up. Their live DVD was even the centerpiece of a PBS telethon (there's no evidence I can link to, but trust me, I saw it). So, Savatage was stuck. After scraping enough of the band together in 2001 for Poets & Madmen, it seems it was just too hard to keep a "Savatage" going.

So, in 2003 Jon Oliva's Pain was formed. This band is very much a continuation of Savatage, and a lot of what I stated above is inherent in their three records: 'Tage Mahal, Maniacal Renderings and Global Warning.

The first thing I must talk about, however, is the band name. It's bad, if you haven't realized yet. In reaction to hearing it, my girlfriend proclaimed, "More like Jon Oliva's IN-FUCKING-SANE for naming his band that!" She doesn't even want me to say it. So I just call them JOP. It's clear that the band name is actually "Pain," and they just want to make it obvious that this is Jon Oliva's new band. But its impossible not to take the name as a whole and imagine our friend Jon suffering from some excruciating pain. A pain only relieved by venting his anguish through righteous heavy metal. Actually, I bet they were going for this too... Anyway, if I have any say, I recommend putting "Pain: Featuring Jon Oliva" on all future albums.

Second I'd like to talk about the band's look. These guys aren't covering anything up. Jon Oliva is straight obese, and the rest of the band is peppered with overweight old timers. Have a look at this live shot:



Now, you may think they look a bit silly (especially the guitarist's pee stains), and while these guys haven't aged very well as far as metalheads go, they are still one of the best "classic" metal bands out there. Hopefully their look (or Jon Oliva's health) won't hold them back. I think Savatage suffered from that in the 80's (Oliva was no prize piece then either). What's good is that the band doesn't seem to even give a shit anymore. They're just going at it and playing righteous music.

Now for the music. The first record, 2004's 'Tage Mahal is my favorite of the three. It is probably the most like Savatage. It has a few great slow jams on it, but quite a few faster songs that remind me of the early Savatage records if they weren't tainted with sub par production. Blatant references to Savatage are everywhere, from samples of old vocal tracks to an album title as clever as a Lazt Frounturr song title. In general, Jon Oliva's songwriting is mammoth in a way that only a pioneer of 1980's heavy metal can achieve. "The Dark" and "Walk Alone" exemplify the old Savatage tradition with soft intros that explode into monster slow jams that will make you cry if you listen to them loud enough. While tracks like "All the Time" and "Outside the Door" show some evolution and a developement of a more distinct style. This album is a strong and promising intro to a newer band.

JOP's second release, Maniacal Renderings (2006), is not a bad follow up, but it moves a bit slower than 'Tage Mahal. With more slow jams and a few songs that tend to meander past the five minute mark this record is slightly less awesome. It still has its outstanding moments, but they're just a tad fewer and farther between. 2008's Global Warning (I like the Savatage puns much better) is even more in this direction. With a longer running time and even more slow and meandering tracks, this record is still enjoyable, but not as explosive as the first glorious release. Even so, I would still recommend this record to a Savatage fan, but not to an uninitiated party.

The general trend of their records has been a tad dissapointing. Even so, they haven't fallen off yet, and with a new album slated for October of this year there is still hope JOP can come back with some gargantuan 80's heavy metal. I'll be looking forward to the new record.

JOP grew out of a pioneering American metal band who, tragically, are not generally known by younger metal fans. The sound is a bit dated, but I consider them to be carrying the torch of non-thrash/non-death/non-black/non-stoner heavy metal. In a scene filled with detuned guitars, jud jud riffs, and copy cat screamers, I welcome a piano intro, standard tuning, and a soaring hook in a major key.



I've heard a rumor that Jon Oliva has been working on a broadway musical for years. The working title: "Romanov." I can't even imagine how amazing that would be.