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