Monday, December 28, 2009

Winter break

I hate to have two non-posts in a row, but I've decided to take my seasonal break this week. I've been having some trouble deciding which band I'm going to do next, and a break could do me some good on that front.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

No review or article today- just make up your own.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Fields of the Nephilim - Mourning Sun

6/10

Mourning Sun is even more overblown than Zoon and Fallen in its industrial excesses, but somehow, I enjoy it quite a bit. It's probably because it's so insanely over-the-top that it's entertaining, even though I would certainly hesitate to call it good. The opening track, "Shroud (Exordium)" sets the tone with goofy samples of monastic chanting and a baby crying (Bob Ezrin joke goes here), and when we finally hear McCoy's voice for the first time, it's hilarious- he's straining horribly here, desperately trying to sound like he did in the old days and failing miserably. He sounds considerably better on some of the other tracks, though.
My favorite song here is "Xiberia (Seasons in the Ice Cage)". Even the title sends me into conniptions- I can't help but imagine some screenwriter writing a serious script about the Soviet gulag that gets completely Hollywoodized by some dumb executive into a spectacle with a maniacal, caped Stalin, explosions and main characters based on those from Twilight. As for the song itself, it's ludicrous to the point of hilarity, with corny dance beats and heavily filtered vocals that still can't mask McCoy's ancient voice.
Also, all the songs go on for, like, two hours; I probably would've rated this album a point higher, because that seriously puts a damper on how entertainingly bad most of these songs are. I'd have to file Mourning Sun under the category "amusing trainwreck"; your mileage may vary.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Fields of the Nephilim - Fallen

5/10

Fallen doesn't contain any of the original members of Fields of the Nephilim except Carl McCoy, who was really pissed that his label released this, claiming that the songs were unfinished demos. However, these songs sound plenty finished to me (as well as a lot of other reviewers,)- if anything, they're way overproduced- so he may not have been telling the whole truth.
Fallen is more of a straight-up industrial album than Zoon. I've always hated a lot of the gimmicks of the industrial genre that are in evidence (heavily filtered vocals, "dark" keyboard passages that are just boring, a complete and utter lack of energy from anyone involved), but I have to say that it works somewhat better than the industrial/metal chimera that Zoon was; it's just that whenever some element of a song starts to work, it's immediately buried under some of those horrid production tricks. Sure, the classic Fields material had some gimmickry that didn't always work, but it didn't go nearly as overboard as what's in evidence here. The rare tracks that aren't somehow overproduced are pretty good ("Hollow Doll" could easily have been an outtake from one of the classic albums), but there aren't nearly enough of them for this to be an essential purchase.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Bands with no lineup changes

Most bands have some personnel changes at one point or another. In fact, a lot of bands that most people think of as having a constant lineup actually had some little-known switches. For example:

ZZ Top: Their first single had Billy Gibbons with a different rhythm section.

The Smiths: There was a second guitarist for a short time.

The Police: The band formed with a second guitarist who only played on the first single.

The Doors: There were two albums after Jim Morrison's death which have since been disowned.

Queen: The abominable Queen + Paul Rodgers releases weren't even the only thing that May & Taylor did as "Queen".

Rush: The band had a drummer named John Rutsey on the first album who was replaced by Neil Peart.

The only two top-tier bands which had lengthy careers with no lineup changes at all that I can think of off the top of my head are U2 and Led Zeppelin (the latter only if you don't count the one-off shows they did after Bonham's death). Oh, and any band with a name consisting of the members' names, but even then, things get sticky- is Emerson, Lake and Powell considered a different lineup of Emerson, Lake and Palmer? The mind boggles.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Nefilim - Zoon

3/10

This is a Carl McCoy side project released in 1996, but recorded a few years earlier. I can see why it was held up for so long; by the time this was recorded, McCoy's voice was but a grizzled parody of what it used to be; it's like McCoy's trying to do a death growl and failing miserably. Compounding the vocal troubles is that Zoon tries to sound more metallic than the albums released under the "Fields" moniker. This might have worked if they'd done it well, but the metal riffs used here are leaden and dull as hell, and the album is rife with poorly used samples and keyboards that aren't played so much as programmed. McCoy and his partners were attempting to give off, an "industrial" or "dark ambient" atmosphere on Zoon, but all of this just comes off as dumb and pandering. There are a few decent moments that actually sound somewhat like classics Fields material, but not too many; I'd have to say that "Pazuzu" is the only song that manages to be decent all of the way through; it's a passable but not amazing metal song that isn't "industrialized" too much.
I'm of the firm opinion that most of the bad reputation that goth rock gets is due to crap like this that was released in the 1990's and later, and that the genre got ruined by too many bands trying to appeal to spoiled teenagers. Zoon is a classic example of the degeneration of gothic rock, and should be avoided.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Gwar report

I just got back from seeing Gwar on Saturday, and they put on one hell of a show. Unfortunately, their opening acts, The Red Chord and Job for a Cowboy, were terrible metalcore acts that didn't deserve to share the same stage as the Scumdogs; I could easily have shown up an hour late without missing anything of value.
The crowd was basically what you'd expect, with a few older people here and there. There were a few people wearing Insane Clown Posse shirts, which makes sense because Gwar is basically what ICP would be if they were any good at all. I also saw one or two kids, whose parents really, really suck at their jobs.
The sound wasn't great; Oderus' vocals were difficult to make out. I don't know if that's how Gwar normally sets things up (the album live at Mt. Fuji has the vocals fairly low in the mix), or whether the acoustics were just terrible (I read some reviews of the Electric Factory on the internet that said the sound there wasn't very good). However, the real focus of Gwar shows is the stage antics, and they delivered in spades, with lots of blood and semen being sprayed on the crowd and all sorts of violent acts being performed (my personal favorite was Oderus inserting a sword into a grotesque baby prop's vagina dentata. Amusingly, there was a couple making out near me while this was going on). Unfortunately, I stood a bit too far away from the stage to get covered in any of the bodily fluids.
There was a pretty strong focus on their most recent album, "Lust in Space," where Gwar leaves the earth in disgust only to return because Oderus misses crack. The stage show had all kinds of hilarious props, such as a boulder with "CRACK" written on it and a giant robot, and is well worth seeing even if you've never heard a Gwar album. Although I think Gwar's studio albums are underrated, if you see them live, it's definitely for the antics rather than the music.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Fields of the Nephilim - Earth Inferno

7/10

Earth Inferno is one of those live albums that's well done and has a good setlist and everything, but the performances here just don't add anything to the original studio versions (although there's nothing horribly wrong with them or anything). There's an emphasis on the epic-length stuff here, which is fine, although I would've liked to hear more stuff from Dawnrazor.
Earth Inferno would probably be a pretty good introduction to the Fields, but if you have the studio albums already, it's purely optional but worthwhile.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Fields of the Nephilim - Elizium

8/10

The Fields must have been really proud of "Last Exit for the Lost" off the last album, because Elizium consists of just five lengthy pieces (although the first is split up into four tracks). The songs here are diverse, combining lengthy atmospheric sections with faster, harder rocking parts. There's more emphasis on keyboards here than on the earlier albums- it's the first Fields album with a keyboardist credited as a full member of the band, and although there are a few parts where things get a little too ambient for my tastes, at least it's not that fucking saxophone on the first EP, ugh. They're mostly used for texture, but the keys are still usedwell on the few occasions when they're front and center.
My biggest gripe with this album is that the basslines aren't as awesome as they used to be- they totally drove the songs on earlier releases, but they're more or less in the background here. The length of the songs also means that there are some parts that are too repetitive or just not as interesting as other sections. I can't give Elizium a rating as high as the albums before it, but it's still pretty good, and it's a shame that it would be the last studio album from this incarnation of the band.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Fields of the Nephilim - The Nephilim

10/10

The albums by the original lineup of Fields of the Nephilim are amazingly consistent, but I'd have to say that this confusingly-titled entry is my favorite of the bunch (if just by a hair). This is largely due to the strength of two tracks. The first, "Moonchild," actually cracked the British Top 40, it's a bit more melodic than some of the other songs here, but it's still moody as hell (the "Mooooonchild" chant at the beginning is cheesy but effective) The other is "Celebrate," which manages to be incredibly atmospheric despite being just bass and vocals for the majority of its running time (with some effectively used wind noises here and there); it reminds me more than a little of "1959" by the Sisters of Mercy.
Other impressive songs include "Phobia," which wouldn't sound too out of place on a Motorhead album (Carl McCoy's voice is about as rough-sounding as Lemmy's, even if the similarities stop there) and the ten-minute "Last Exit for the Lost," which wanders a bit but gets really great when it speeds up at the end. If you find anything gothic overblown and silly, you're still not going to like this, but The Nephilim is well worth checking out for everyone else.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Fields of the Nephilim - Dawnrazor

9/10

The best Fields of the Nephilim songs paint a picture of a world that's been utterly devastated, both lyrically (as in Preacher Man, with its lyrics about nuclear fallout) and musically (most of this songs have this amazing sense of hopelessness). This isn't goth rock in the sense of the Cure's dreary albums, which are mostly about personal pain (nothing against Smith and Co, I can't get enough of their gloomy stuff); I could easily see these songs being used in a movie version of Stephen King's The Dark Tower or some Western-influenced post-apocalyptic film. The Fields are driven by atmosphere, not just a sense of melody or strong technical skills.
The bass is, in my opinion, the most important instrument here; it provides the foundation of dreariness that the songs are built upon, and Carl McCoy's deep, powerful vocals do nothing but enhance the mood. It's a credit to the band's songwriting skills that they manage to sound so bleak while relying on jangly guitars so heavily. There are some considerably brighter moments, such as the instrumental coda to Laura II, but not too many. A few parts don't work (the nursery rhyme at the end of "Vet for the Insane" and "Slow Kill"'s quote of Rachmaninoff are incredibly cheesy and out of place), but on the whole, this is an excellent and remarkably consistent record.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Fields of the Nephilim - From Gehenna to Here

4/10

This is a compilation containing the band's early EPs (Burning the Fields and Return to Gehenna) in their entirety- I think there's another release containing the exact same material, but in slightly different order.
Burning the Fields is absolutely horrible. The production is godawful, with pops, clicks and tape hiss out the wazoo and drums that sound tinny as hell. Frontman Carl McCoy just sounds insanely wimpy; while later releases would show that he was a powerful baritone, there's none of that in evidence here. There's also a horribly played saxophone which is just completely out-of place, and one track has a "funky" bass tone which doesn't jibe with the rest of the song at all. I find it hard to believe that this was actually released and not just a demo. If I were reviewing each EP separately, I'd give this a 2 out of 10.
Returning to Gehenna is a considerable improvement (just contrast the two versions of Laura to see how much better the second EP is), but I can't consider it essential because four out of its five tracks are on the CD version of Dawnrazor, the band's full-length debut (I'll discuss those songs at length in my next review). The only one that isn't (also titled "Returning to Gehenna") is a re-working of a song from the first EP, and not much better than the original- although the production is considerably better, it's also got the out-of-tune sax and fruity McCoy vocal performance. I would give this a 7 out of 10 on its own.
So out of nine songs, four are abominable and four are available elsewhere. Overall, this gets a 4.5 from me, rounded down because most of the best songs are available on the Dawnrazor CD. Although a good chunk of the material here is fairly decent, I'd have to say that this is for completists only.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Fields of the Nephilim - Intro

Fields of the Nephilim weren't one of the better known gothic bands of the 80's, but they were excellent nonetheless. Combining hard rock with jangly guitars, spaghetti western soundtracks and epic progressive rock suites, their sound was fairly unique if not that influential, and their material from their classic era is so wonderfully consistent that it's a shame they're not more famous.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Slayer - World Painted Blood

7/10

World Painted Blood isn't quite as strong as Christ Illusion, but it's still pretty good. I have to say that once again, the solos are the strongest part of these songs- I'm glad that Slayer didn't try to pull a St. Anger and release an album without any soloing at all; if they'd done it on Diabolus in Musica or God Hates Us All, those albums could have been even worse than Metallica's disaster. The solos are the heart of Slayer songs; they're some of the only parts of metal songs that ever sound legitimately scary to me (other extreme metal bands can sound angry, but never quite scary). That's not to say that the rest of the songs are horrible, but those leads are just something that I've never heard anywhere else.
I do have to say that I don't like the fact that Slayer's lyrics have gotten more political in recent years. I listen to music to get away from stuff like politics, so it's understandable that I'm not into that stuff. Even with my bias about political lyrics, though, "Americon" is just stupid as hell ("It's all about the motherfucking oil!"), and should've been re-written so it was about gore or Satan or something cool like that.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Van der Graaf Generator - Live at the Paradiso

6/10

I really, really hated this live double album after hearing it the first time, but subsequent listens have improved my opinion of it a bit. Live at the Paradiso is a recording of one of the earliest shows performed by the trio version of VDGG, and it gets off to a pretty bad start with a performance of Lemmings where Hammill's voice is just terrible. Fortunately, the later songs are played much better, and there's considerably more guitar here than on the studio versions of the older songs (to make up for the lack of David Jackson, no doubt).
It's just a shame that there weren't any VDGG live albums recorded during the band's heyday, as all we have are the Maida Vale sessions, the godawful "Vital" with the Van der Graaf lineup and the reunion albums to go on, so there aren't any good documents of what a live show during the 7os with the classic lineup would've been like. I can't really recommend this album except for the more devoted VDGG fan, but it's not horrible and the fact that the songs are rearranged somewhat makes it interesting.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Death - Live in LA

6/10

Live in LA was recorded under less-than-ideal circumstances during a less-than-ideal period in the band's history (in my opinion) with a less-than-ideal set list, but I still think it's worth a listen. This was recorded during the tour supporting The Sound of Perseverance, and Chuck uses his high-pitched shriek that I find a little annoying. As a result, the setlist is heavy on songs from that album, with just two songs from the first three albums ("Zombie Ritual" and "Pull the Plug"). The recording quality could be better, too; the guitars sound pretty good for most of the way through, but the drums are extremely tinny, and there are some notable jumps between songs when the band members were tuning up. I release that this album was a last-minute release of a forgotten soundboard recording to raise funds for Chuck's cancer treatments, but the drum sound takes quite a bit away from the quality of these songs and the obvious between-song edits destroy a sense of immediacy.
Still, the instrumental performances are great and spot-on, even if they don't improve on the original studio versions in any real way. It's a shame that they couldn't have released a live set from an older incarnation of the band, but any existing recordings from back then probably had considerably worse quality than this.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Death - The Sound of Perseverance

7/10

The Sound of Perseverance is a pretty overrated album, although it's still decent. Basically, there are too many sections which coast by on speed and technical ability rather than interesting songwriting; Chuck hasn't lost his touch completely, but a lot of these songs have passages that are just dull. Also, his vocals aren't nearly as good as before; they're way too high-pitched. There's a really good cover of Judas Priest's "Painkiller" at the end, but from the way Chuck was shrieking, one can't help but wonder if a rendition of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "Constipation Blues" would have been more appropriate. There are also a few questionable songwriting decisions (for example, those bass runs on "Bite the Pain" sound just wrong, and not in a good way, and there's a pretty mediocre semi-acoustic instrumental), but there are plenty of awesome parts like the mid-tempo but insanely powerful intro to "Flesh and the Power it Holds" to balance them out.
I think that a lot of the praise that this album gets is based on the fact that it's the last album recorded under the Death name, and that it's not an emabarrassment or anything like that. I just think that it's one of the less interesting Death albums, but it's a huge compliment to Chuck and co. that an album like this pales to the rest of the Death discography.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Death - Symbolic

9/10

Symbolic isn't quite as strong as Individual Thought Patterns, but it's still pretty good. It suffers from a few overproduced echoey parts (could this be what the people at anus.com are referring to when they call later Death albums "commercial?), and a few sections which stick out as a little too simple for an album this technical (the very beginning of Zero Tolerance, for one). Also, the basslines aren't nearly as awesome since DiGiorgio left (although there are a few great moments), and some songs go on a little too long. There's also an acoustic part at the end of the otherwise-awesome Crystal Mountain that's just dumb.
However, this is still a very strong album. Some of the other songs that go on a while don't drag at all, and the soloing is never less than brilliant. The guitar solos are prominent without taking the songs over entirely (although most of them aren't particuarly scary and would sound just as at home on albums in other metal genres). Gene Hoglan also puts in another strong performance on the traps; there are lots of incredibly interesting drum fills, and even the more routine drum parts are played very well (unlike some other death metal drummers who just make CLANK CLANK CLANK sounds over and over again). Symbolic is a fine album that anyone who appreciates technical skill in death metal will love.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Death - Individual Thought Patterns

10/10

This is my favorite of Death's albums, and the biggest factor is probably the rhythm section. Steve DiGiorgio, who was on Human but not that audible for most of the time, completely steals the show on fretless bass here with his ridiculously good performance; it's a shame that this would be his last album with Death. Meanwhile, new drummer Gene Hoglan (of about a million different bands, the most recent of which is Dethklok) absolutely tears it up as well; together, Hoglan and DiGiorgio have to be one of the best ever rhythm combos in the history of extreme metal. Other than them, Individual Patterns has typically strong guitars, although they're more in the technical style of the second half of Human than the more brutal style of the first few albums. Some of the wailing parts on "The Philosopher" are just completely golden
Although I like the later, technical Death about the same as the earlier, rawer Death, I can't say I'd recommend the later albums for death metal newbies. I personally got interested in the more old school style of death metal first, and while technical stuff can be rewarding, it's awfully hard to follow at first. I had to give Individual Thought Patterns the 10 over Scream Bloody Gore, though, because it's a lot more varied.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Death - Human

8/10

This is Death's transitional album. The first four songs are fairly straightforward Death songs that are perfectly fine, but par for the course. However, the last four are much more technical and progressive than what had came before it. The instrumental "Cosmic Sea" is my favorite track; it's not really a death metal song, but it's wild and just as spacy-sounding as its title, with keyboards that enhance the atmosphere without taking total control of the song.
Some people and sites (anus.com in particular) have claimed that Death's output including and after this albumwas "commercial," but I think they've been listening to nothing but extreme metal for wayyy too long; I certainly can't see stuff like this topping any charts any time soon. I can understand why some people would prefer the band's earlier, rawer material, but this is still metal through and through.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Death - Spiritual Healing

7/10

Spiritual Healing basically follows the exact same formula as Leprosy, to the point where one could easily mix and match songs from the two albums without any songs seeming out of place. There's a little bit of extra production here that wasn't on the last album (stuff like phase effects shows up in a few places, and the guitar in an early part of the title track has a weird scratchy sound that you don't hear often in metal) and the lyrics are more political and less horror-based than the first two albums. However, the sound is remarkably similar in almost every other way, from the guitar tones to the song lengths to the soloing.
That doesn't make Spiritual Healing a bad album, though, and anyone who liked the first two albums will find much to enjoy here. It's just that someone listening to Death at this point in their career would get the impression that they were one of those bands that wouldn't change much at all. However, with their next release, that would all change.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Death - Leprosy

8/10

Leprosy doesn't really build a whole lot on the sound that Scream Bloody Gore pioneered, but it's not stale or anything. This was one of the very first albums produced by Scott Burns, who would become a legendary producer in the death metal genre, and he does a pretty good job; the drums are a bit overcompressed at times, but other than that, it's better sounding than Scream Bloody Gore. Then again, it's kind of hard to screw up a death metal album short of overproduction, which barely ever happens in the genre anyway.
I find it kind of hard to review death metal albums by bands which didn't change a whole lot; the first three Death albums sound pretty damn similar, so picking out the differences can be tough. I think that having Rick Rozz, an actual second guitarist in the band made the guitar interplay a bit more prominent, but the "toy monkey" style drum playing is still too prevalent. The songs also go on a bit longer here, but that didn't really affect my opinion of the album either way.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Another break

Having my Phillies in the World Series has been taking up a lot of my time (I stagger my posts about a week in advance- should I say "will be?") so I decided to take the week off. I stand by my decision to take weeklong breaks just once per season, though. My Death reviews will continue next Monday.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Death - Scream Bloody Gore

9/10

This album is as historically important as it is strong. Scream Bloody Gore is still rough-sounding, but it's listenable (unlike the demos). The songs go every which way; although none of them are very long, they all go through several sections (they just do it really quickly). Scream Bloody Gore also features the aggressive, violent riffing and wild soloing that helped define the genre of death metal. It's not just an especially brutal thrash metal album like its predecessors.
This album was just recorded by Chuck and drummer Chris Reifert (who would later found Autopsy,) but it doesn't feel stitched-together at all. It's also surprisingly bassy; some other death metal bands would record albums with barely any low end at all. There are a few more melodic sections, like the intro to "Evil Dead," but for the most part, this is just balls-to-the-wall brutality straight through.
The album title and cover are just silly as hell, though; "Scream Bloody Gore" sounds like three words associated with horror movies, and why are those skeletons on the cover drinking from goblets? Whatever they're drinking would just fall through their ribs! However, as I've stated before, I love silliness in metal so it's all good with me. This is an essential release for any death metal fan.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Death - Reign of Terror

7/10

The first demo recorded under the Death name is just as enlightening as Death by Metal, and a little easier to listen to, as well. It's still insanely rough (there's a consistent high-pitched whine that'll drive your dog nuts), but you can make out a lot more. Chuck is on vocals now, and he sounds like the 17-year-old he was at the time, and there are some incredibly cheesy echo effects on his voice, but the riffing and solos are pretty damn good for someone so young. None of these songs made it onto any actual albums (at least, in their original forms); the songwriting isn't as strong as what would come later, but it's not horrible or anything. This isn't just an important historical document, it's actually a pretty good release.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Death - Death by Metal

6/10

Death's demos have acquired a legendary reputation, but I really don't see what most of the fuss is about. It's definitely more recent-sounding than you'd expect from the 1984 recording date, but it completely sounds like the amateur cassette recording it is. The first thing one notices is that Chuck wasn't the frontman yet; instead, Kam Lee (later of Massacre) handled the vocal duties on all of these songs except "Power of Darkness", and he uses the death growl more associated with the genre instead of Schuldiner's raspy style. Some of the songs would later turn up on Scream Bloody Gore, but others never made it onto an actual album. The band was actually still known as "Mantas" when this was recorded, but the demo was later rereleased under the name Death.
Still, I can't get past the awful production; I understand that death metal is supposed to sound raw as hell, but it's frequently difficult to make much of anything out (the vocals on "Power of Darkness" are almost completely inaudible at times). It's clear to any death metal fan that there's good stuff going on here, but only the most die-hard fans of rough production will want to listen to Death by Metal over and over again.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Death - Intro

Death were one of the very first death metal bands to exist (obviously- I mean, how early did you have to get into the death metal scene to secure the name "Death"?). Led by vocalist/guitarist and sole constant member Chuck Schuldiner, they were massively influential, first by creating some of the most seminal albums in the genre, and later by expanding their sound into a more progressive direction (this was controversial- just check out anus.com to see some people hilariously up in arms about the later period. No, it's not a porn site.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bruce Springsteen report

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band put on a hell of a show. First of all, his voice obviously isn't what is used to be, but it's amazing how good crowd-singing can make up for that fact. He performed "Born to Run" in its entirety, and it was definitely the best part of the show. It's my second favorite album of his (Darkness on the Edge of Town narrowly beats it out). Unfortunately, some of the other stuff he played wasn't quite as good (the happier stuff from the River, an album I find to be inconsistent, some stuff from later albums that I don't listen to very often, and a few that were released on the 4-disc rarities comp "Tracks").
The sound could have been better- the guitars sounded terrible for the first few songs. This is the first arena-sized show I've ever been to, though, so stuff like that might be par for the course. The crowd was really into it and they really added a lot to the experience. I left a little early because I wanted to catch the end of the Phillies game (which they won in amazing fashion)
The next concert I'm planning to see is GWAR when they come here in December. I'm expecting that the audience there will be somewhat different.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bruce Springsteen concert

I will be attending the Bruce Springsteen concert tonight at the Spectrum. He will be performing "Born to Run" in its entirety. He performed all of the songs from "Darkness on the Edge of Town" in his last show here, but the tickets to that one were all sold out when I obtained them (and he hadn't announced that he'd be playing albums in their entirety until fairly recently, anyway). I will be posting a concert report on Wednesday for my next update.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Malinda Jackson Parker - Tubman Goodtype Songs of Liberia

5/10

This album is just weird. It's a vanity pressing from a former member of the Liberian Congess, and it's just her terrible off-key voice and incompetent piano playing. For some reason, Ms. Parker feels the need to provide lengthy spoken intros where she introduces herself on every track, and the subject matter of her songs is just weird, with songs about bush cow milk, mosquitoes and palm trees, as well as a cover of "Yes, We Have No Bananas". Tubman Goodtype Songs of Liberia is short, at under half an hour, but some of the songs just go on forever, with the first and last tracks clocking in at over 7:30 each.
This is basically a one-joke album. It's a fairly funny joke, but it wears out its welcome long before the album's over. The Cousin Mosquito tracks are probably the most amusing, but they're at the end of the album, where the listener will just feel exhausted. Also, the second one is one of the long tracks, which takes away from how she shoehorns her lyrics into that one dark piano piece by Rachmaninoff (which she plays as horribly as everything else on the album). If you're really interested in this, get both of the Songs in the Key of Z compilations; they have the Cousin Mosquito songs and lots of other, more interesting outsider stuff. Only the desperately curious should shell out $4.45 to get this off off the Amazon mp3 store like I did.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Doors - In Concert

7/10

This is a compilation containing the albums "Alive She Cried" and "Absolutely Live" in their entirety, as well as a few other tracks. All in all, it's a pretty good sampling of the Doors' career, with pretty good performances and but it's not without its faults. For example, while I love lengthy conceptual pieces, I'm forced to admit that "Celebration of the Lizard" just sucks and that they did the right thing in only including "Not to Touch the Earth" on Waiting for the Sun. "Lizard" is filled with dumb Native American mysticism and Jim's terrible poetry, and there aren't even any lengthy instrumental passages so he could fight a guy in a rubber lizard suit onstage.
There are some non-studio tracks, but with the exception of a great, wonderfully lively cover of "Little Red Rooster," they're pretty forgettable. "Dead Cats, Dead Rats" is particularly inane to the point where it would've fit in nicely on "An American Prayer". (Speaking of that album, the rendition of "Roadhouse Blues" off of it is included here, so now there's no reason to buy that piece of shit!) Also, there's a cover of Willie Dixon's "Close to You" that could've been good if not for the fact that Jim didn't seem too interested and let Manzarek take the mic, and you know how much I love his voice, ugh.
Still, the more typical Doors songs come off well in a live setting and Jim has some pretty amusing stage banter to offset the pretentious crap, so I can still recommend this.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Doors - An American Prayer

2/10

This abortion just shouldn't exist. In 1978, the remaining Doors decided to take some of Jim's poetry and awkwardly dubbed new music over it, creating a "new" Doors album that absolutely blows (actually, it's listed as "Jim Morrison, Music by The Doors"). Morrison may have been a pretty good lyricist, but his poetry is godawful- even though he was famous, he had to resort to self-publishing to get a book of his poetry released. The only time it works is when it's in small doses, like at the beginning of "The Soft Parade". Morrison sounds just insanely bored for most of this, even when he talks about rape, menstruation, and his penis. He even uses the C-word! How SHOCKING! What makes it even worse is that it's obvious at times that his words have been cut up, destroying whatever cadence he may have had in order to fit the music.
And the music is mediocre at best and terrible at worst. I heard more than one critic describe it as "disco," and I thought they were joking. While not all of the music falls into the disco genre, much of it does, and most of the rest is just more of the lame Santana pastiche that plagued the post-Morrison albums. The best musical moments are taken directly from earlier, good Doors albums.
Not only is An American Prayer pretentious, it isn't even fun, like, say, The Transformed Man. The sole redeemable track is a live version of "Roadhouse Blues," which brings it up to a low, low 2. I can't believe this Frankenstein monster of an album has any defenders at all.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Doors - Full Circle

5/10

Full Circle is a distinct improvement over Other Voices; it doesn't feel like it was a contractual obligation, but it's still not going to win any awards (this is a low, low 5, as opposed to the high 5 of Waiting for the Sun). It's still in the bar-band vein, but there's some not-completely-forced-sounding funkiness that makes it a bit more lively. Unfortunately, Manzarek still gets to sing, and there are some terrible backing vocals which I assume were intended to distract from how horrible his voice is. There's also the horrible Speedy Gonzales Spanish on "The Mosquito," which is just plain embarrassing (why yes, they do rhyme "mosquito" with "burrito"! There is some decent soloing in the second half, though).
The two post-Morrison albums have been completely disowned; they've never been released legitimately on CD, and have been stricken from most official references (the Complete Lyrics book doesn't even mention them). I'm a firm believer that if possible, a band should try to keep all its albums in print no matter how awful they are; one should never prevent people from hearing one's entire catalog. I can't imagine anyone loving these two albums, but who am I to judge? What frustrates me about these albums being deleted from history is the fact that there's a considerably worse album under the Doors name that's still in print today, but we'll get to that in the next update.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Doors - Other Voices

3/10

I've never been of the opinion that a band should call it quits if it loses its frontman- if every band did that, we never would've gotten Back in Black. While Jim Morrison was very talented, I don't think he was quite irreplaceable, and I'm sure that the remaining Doors could've found someone decent to take his place if they'd looked far and wide.
Unfortunately, they didn't look far and wide. Instead of finding a new vocalist, Robbie Krieger and Ray Manzarek took turns at the mic. Krieger isn't that horrible a singer, but Manzarek is one of the worst frontmen I have ever heard. His voice is filled with personality, but none of it is good; his delivery is halfway between a hillbilly and a drunken lounge singer and he never sounds remotely sincere. Apparently, the first sessions were begun before Morrison's death while he was on holiday in France, so I guess they wouldn't have had much time to find a new frontman even if they'd wanted to.
However, Other Voices wouldn't have been a very good album even if its songs had been sung by Morrison or someone else with talent; most of the music is dull and uninspired, whether it's retreads of earlier bluesy material, lame Santana rip-offs with unnecessary jamming or boring R&B. Worst, none of the darkness is present; it's mostly upbeat or unconvincingly sentimental. This album isn't available on CD, but don't bother searching for it on vinyl; it's hardly worth the effort.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Doors - L.A. Woman

10/10

The Doors actually managed to take blues-rock here and combine it with their more typical sound to make their magnum opus. Manzarek's organ tones are wonderfully soulful, and even the session bassists add a lot. My personal favorite song on here is "L'America"- I love the gloomy bassline, the wonderful martial drums, the incongruity between the dark and bluesy parts, and the masterful lyrical fakeout- "Change the weather, change of luck/and then he'll teach you how to... FIND yourself". I'm assuming the song didn't get much radio play due to that bit, because it really deserves to be one of the most famous songs the Doors ever did. The title track is best known for the "Mr. Mojo Risin'" bit at the end, and then there's Riders on the Storm, which is an awesome song but probably sounds more weighty than it really is since it's the last song on Jim Morrison's final album. L.A. Woman is the only Doors album which I feel doesn't have a single lame moment on it, and I give it my highest recommendation.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Doors - Morrison Hotel

6/10

The Doors caught the blues-rock bug that was going around during the late 60's and early 70's, and the result was kind of generic. The Doors' version of the genre is, as should be obvious, keyboard-heavy. I felt that the strongest of these songs was "Maggie M'Gill", with its ever-so-slightly off-kilter rhythm section, but some of the others are quite forgettable.
Fortunately, it's not the blues all the way through, and some of the best songs here fall outside that genre, such as the awesome wakka-wakka funky guitar of "Peace Frog" and the synthy gloominess of "Waiting for the Sun" (which would've been one of the better songs on its namesake album had it made the cut).
Unfortunately, apart from that track and one or two others, the typical Doors atmosphere is almost completely absent on Morrison Hotel; the musical elements are there, but little of the dark mood is present and the bluesy vibe wears awfully thin by the time the record's over. The inclusion of "Indian Summer," the first song the band ever recorded was a pretty huge mistake; it's soft and boring as hell, and really has no place among any of the band's later work. The inclusion of two songs recorded far earlier than the others is a pretty strong sign that the Doors were strapped for ideas at this point, and it shows, although it's still more intelligent than most of Waiting for the Sun.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Doors - The Soft Parade

8/10

This is the album with the horns and strings on it, and it gets shit on a lot because of that. I can't say that the marriage between the Doors and the overblown arrangements is entirely successful, but it's a lot more interesting than the banal, dull pop songs on Waiting for the Sun, and the orchestra isn't on every track so it doesn't get too old. This orchestra doesn't try to sound like classical music or a movie soundtrack at all; the best way I can describe it is that it's used the same way that some disco songs would use strings a decade later; they're cheesy but fun as hell. At least they don't smother the actual band members completely.
Even the non-orchestral parts are unusual for the Doors, but fairly well done. "Do It" and parts of "The Soft Parade" are surprisingly funky for a rock band in 1968, and Krieger busts out the twangy slide guitar a few times (which he'd rarely relied on before). Krieger's hillbilly vocal on "Runnin' Blue" is just godawful, though- what the hell was he thinking? The title track is also pretty good, if a bit disjointed; it feels more like a bunch of songs stuck together than "The End" or "When the Music's Over". The Soft Parade may be one of the more unusual Doors albums, but it's still fairly strong.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Doors - Waiting for the Sun

5/10

I don't really like music that tries to be light and happy much. It just comes across to me as being dumb and contrived as hell. Songs like this don't make up that much of Waiting for the Sun, but they're prevalent enough that it I have to give it a relatively low rating. There's less dark weirdness than their was on the previous two albums; there are just too many stupid happy pop songs (Hello, I Love You, Love Street, Wintertime Love) and dreary ballads (Summer's Almost Gone, My Wild Love and Spanish Caravan- why yes, the later does feature some awful, cliched flamenco guitar! The second half is actually pretty good, though.)
Fortunately, the more typical dark Doors songs are really good; "The Unknown Soldier" is creepy and political at the same time, "Five to One" is deservedly the best-known song off of this album, and "Not to Touch the Earth" is a great excerpt from the 17-minute "Celebration of the Lizard" which was originally supposed to make up the second side (we'll get to a live rendition of the full version later on). Unfortunately, there's too much banal stuff here to make up for the few tracks where the Doors do what they did best.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The best Metal-Archives page

NOTE: Some of the album covers linked to in the link are very graphic, so be warned.

The Encyclopedia Metallum is a website dedicated to cataloging all metal bands, no matter how obscure. Obviously, there are a lot of pages for obscure acts that are just hilarious, and my very favorite is the page for one Bob Egler. Bob has about a dozen projects to his name, and he has not once worked with another musician, unless you count a few splits. And he's so prolific- he released nine albums under the name Chainsaw Dissection in 2005 alone! And his appearance is just the icing on the cake- I did not need to see him topless, thank you very much, and his attempt to look "black metal" in the picture for Satanic Impalement is one of the funniest things I've seen in my life. I haven't actually heard any of his music, but I've heard people compare it unfavorably to Mortician (a band which doesn't exactly have the best reputation even among extreme metal fans). Egler makes Anvil look successful beyond their wildest dreams.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Doors - Strange Days

9/10

This is just as strong as the debut, if not quite as readily accessible, because it's even darker than its predecessor; I doubt that any release by a mainstream band had been this gloomy before 1967. Even stuff like the silly effects on Morrison's voice on the titular opener and the dumb pop song "Love Me Two Times" works (the former because it fits the mood perfectly, and the latter because of Jim's ever-so-slightly detached delivery). Even the basslines are surprisingly good for a band without a full-time bassist. The only part where the debut was darker was in the lengthy final track; "When the Music's Over" is quite good but a little more repetitive and considerably lighter in tone than "The End".
The only real stinker is "Horse Latitudes," which is just a terrible poem accompanied by noise, but I can forgive this because it's only 90 seconds long and it's not like they released an entire album of Jim's shitty poetry. Still, it's the only real blemish on an extremely strong album.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Doors - The Doors

9/10

This is one of my favorite debut albums ever, right up there with In the Court of the Crimson King, The Transformed Man and the self-titled Van Halen and Black Sabbath debuts. There's so much that's been said about the Doors that it's hard to think of anything new, but I really love the lengthy solos in "Light My Fire," the somewhat goofy yet fun covers "Back Door Man" and "Alabama Song," and the opium-drenched "Crystal Ship". (At least, it reminds me of what I think taking opium would be like. My entire experience with illegal drugs consists of one party where someone brought a joint- it wasn't exactly the Algonquin Round Table).
And then there's The End, made famous by its appearance in "Apocalypse Now". I personally think it could have lost a minute or two without losing anything, but it's still wonderfully atmospheric and gloomy- when people talk about the Doors being the first "gothic rock" band, this is the song they're probably referring to. I actually prefer the censored version, though- you get the full point of the Oedipal part without the use of the word "fuck".
And yeah, "I Looked at You" is just dumb, but it's the only real clunker and it's less than two and a half minutes long.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Doors - Intro

The Doors were one of the first dedicated psychedelic bands to break into the mainstream. Everyone else goes on and on about how great Jim Morrison was, but I always thought that Ray Manzarek's keyboards were just as important. They've become a bit of a cliche through the use of their music in Apocalypse Now, but the fact of the matter is that some of their strongest material is stuff that neophytes haven't heard. Unfortunately, Morrison's tragic death led to two mostly forgettable albums without him and one absolutely horrific cash-in, but we'll get to that later.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bingo Gazingo - Bingo Gazingo

8/10

Other than the nebulous category of "outsider," I really can't think of what genre this disc falls into. Bingo Gazingo is a senior citizen spoken word/performance artist, and his lyrics are just silly (and filthy) as hell. I've heard him described as a rapper, but it's been scientifically proven that there's nothing less funny than an old person rapping, and he's pretty amusing. His rhyming is often obvious and awkward, but that's part of the charm, and even when his lyrics aren't that interesting, the words usually just go well together and are still somewhat captivating. (Then again, I've probably just listened to this album too many times.)
This is his only album, released in 1996 on the label run by freeform radio station WFMU, consists of him reciting his poetry while musicians improvised in the background. Some of the results are great; "Psycho/Psycho" is just Mr. Gazingo accompanied by a theremin and it gets things off to an awesome start, "I Love You So Fucking Much I Can't Shit" is as hilarious as its title, and the 14-minute album closer, "Bingo Gazingo's Bolero," starts out boring and repetitive, but repeats so often that it becomes almost sublime. Bingo flubs his lines a few times, but it just adds to the tossed-together atmosphere that I like so much here. "Everything's OK at the OK Corral" starts with him delivering his lines in manic manner, but as the song goes on, he slows down. It took me dozens of listens to figure out that it was about an old man in a retirement home remembering Westerns from his youth; knowing this, it's a startlingly poignant counterpoint to the goofy-but-hilarious nonsense on most of the other tracks.
My only real issue with this album is that it's over an hour long and some of the songs just aren't even remotely interesting, either lyrically or musically; "Baba Booey," "Artie Wexler," and "Are You A Lover?" just shouldn't have made the cut. Still, Bingo Gazingo is well worth a listen.
This album is out of print, but it's available on amazon.com mp3s here. Apparently, there's a cassette version somewhere out there that's a bit different from the CD version that I have, but I've never heard it so I can't comment.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Meads of Asphodel - The Early Years

4/10

There aren't a whole lot of demo recordings that I really find essential, and these early demos from the Meads of Asphodel definitely don't qualify. Metatron hadn't found his sarcastic vocal style yet, and the synthesizers are just beyond cheesy and don't gel with the metal parts at all. There are also a few unreleased tracks and bonus tracks that only appeared on some editions, but they just aren't as strong as the actual album tracks.
I just don't have much to say about this release, so I'll just say that it's for diehard fans only and leave it at that.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Atheist - Unquestionable Presence: Live at Wacken

6/10

This is a pretty solid live performance by the recently reformed incarnation of Atheist. Unfortunately, some bizarre decisions drag this release down. For some reason, they named this after Atheist's second release despite the fact that there are live tracks from Piece of Time as well. But the biggest mistake they made was making this a two-disc release, with the second disc being a compilation of studio tracks. Why the hell did they do this? Atheist only had three studio albums, and anyone interested in this disc would probably own them already. Put out a compilation if you must, but don't attach it to a live album.
And what makes matters even worse is that out of the eleven songs on the second disc, no less than six were performed live on the first! More than half of the second disc is made even more redundant as a result. This is nothing but money-grubbing on the part of the record label, and mars an otherwise great live effort.
It's a crying shame that they didn't make this two separate releases, because the live performance is really good, with everyone in fine form (although I'll admit that Kelly Schaefer's stage banter is beyond retarded, and I would have liked to hear something off of Elements). It's just a shame that there's no 1-disc release (at least so far).

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Loreena McKennitt - A Midwinter Night's Dream

6/10

Loreena McKennitt afficionados will notice that I skipped over a Christmas EP she released in 1995 called A Winter Garden. That's because all five of the tracks from that album appear on this album in remastered form.
The new tracks tend to be a little bit weaker than the old ones. A few of the original tracks seem to have an overly-polished sheen that puts me off a bit, and there's also a rendition of "Un Flambeau, Jeanette, Isabelle" that could have come off of any generic Christmas muzak record (as opposed to the wonderfully organic-sounding "Breton Carol" off the original EP).
That's not to say that the original EP was perfect, of course- although most of the songs from there sound pretty good, with relatively understated production, "Seeds of Love" goes on a bit too long and has some really cheesy-sounding bagpipes. A Winter Garden is out of print now, though, so this is the only place you'll be able to get it.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Loreena McKennitt - Nights from the Alhambra

5/10

This double live album is a bit too similar to Live in Paris and Toronto for me to get a whole lot out of. Aside from a few songs off of Muse, almost all the songs are drawn from the same albums that made up the Paris and Toronto setlist; there are two songs from Elemental and one from Parallel Dreams, but those are the only exceptions. Oh, and there's also the song "Raglan Road," which was an iTunes-only bonus track on Muse (now there's a trend that needs to die)
Also like the previous live album, most of the songs are performed faithfully to the studio versions, although there are a few instrumental differences (most notably the electric guitar on "Stolen Child"). However, the biggest difference is that many songs are again shortened greatly from their original versions.
I hate to go back to comparing Nights from the Alhambra the other live album, but it just doesn't do much that that album did better (the only improvement being production that sounds open without feeling empty). It's not terrible or anything, but it just feels unnecessary. This concert is also available on DVD, but I rarely buy music DVDs, so it may well be better in that form.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Loreena McKennitt - An Ancient Muse

6/10

Loreena McKennitt's first studio album in nearly a decade is by far her most Middle Eastern-tinged effort, as should be obvious from the song titles ("Caravanserai," "The Gates of Istanbul," "Sacred Shabbat," "Beneath A Phrygian Sky"). Other than that, though, An Ancient Muse isn't that much different from the Loreena McKennitt albums before she took her hiatus. It sounds a bit rehashed at times, but it's mostly competent.
There are some parts that just don't work, though (hence the 6); Caravanserai has a boring opening that goes on for way too long, The Gates of Istanbul is marred by the fact that the rhythm section is playing the same beat used in every reggae song ever (a fact that's only slightly disguised by the folk instrumentation), and "The English Ladye and the Knight" has some lame-as-hell choral vocals. While it's nice that Loreena McKennitt is recording again, miscues such as these and the feeling that one has heard much of this material before make this a less than essential purchase.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Loreena McKennitt - Live in Paris and Toronto

7/10

Live in Paris and Toronto isn't a bad album at all; it's just kind of redundant. The first disc is just a song-for-song replay of The Book of Secrets, and the second disc is exclusively made up of songs from The Visit and The Mask and Mirror. There's nothing at all from the first three albums, which is a shame because those songs would probably have been the most changed in a live format, and therefore would be more interesting.
It's still perfectly competent, though, and the performances are consistently good, although not noticeably better or worse than the original studio versions. I guess it works pretty well as a compilation of tracks from those three albums, but it's not exactly essential. Some of the songs are shortened a little, which I liked for the lengthy ones based on poems but didn't like for all the others.
This would be Loreena McKennitt's last album for seven years; she went on hiatus from recording new material after her fiancee died in a boating accident while she was working on this album.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Loreena McKennitt - The Book of Secrets

9/10

The Book of Secrets is another excellent album from Loreena McKennitt. It doesn't really cover any new ground or anything, but it's still extremely well done. My favorite songs here are thewordless track "Prologue," which reminded me of the Renaissance track with the same title and the laid back "The Mummer's Dance", which would get a remix later on (because if there's one thing Loreena McKennitt songs desperately need, it's oom-tiss drum noises).
If The Book of Secrets has a real fault, it's that it hews too closely to the formula of The Visit, right down to the unnecessarily long track with little musical development based on a previously existing poem (here it's "The Highwayman"). Fortunately, the two 7 minute+ tracks that close out the album are much more musically interesting. Also, Metallica's Master of Puppets followed the formula of Ride the Lightning almost song-for-song, yet I somehow don't hear too many people complaining about that.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Taking a break

I've been a little wound up with work, so I've decided to take a week's break from reviews. Note that should I ever decide to stop updating this blog, I will make it absolutely clear that I intend to do so and won't leave you hanging (I'm still pissed about Capn Marvel going AWOL three years ago).

Friday, August 21, 2009

Loreena McKennitt - The Mask and Mirror

10/10

One of the first things you hear when you put this on is an electric guitar. Thankfully, Loreena was smart enough not to rely on it outside of the album's opening song, and she uses it in a way consistent with her previous output (as opposed to Enya, whose use of a guitar solo in a song on "...And Winter Came" is one of the most out-of-place moments I've ever heard in music).
The Mask and Mirror is a very consistent record. The songs are long without being excessive; outside of the final three and a half minute track, the shortest tracks are just under six minutes long. There's also some unusual instrumentation that doesn't even come from non-European countries, such as the bouzouki, (Greece) balalaika (Russia) and hurdy-gurdy (Western Europe). Some sections are more subdued than others, but they never feel underproduced like the similar sections on Parallel Dreams, being more reminiscent of the wide-open but full-sounding production on To Drive the Cold Winter Away. There isn't a bad moment here. It's the best Loreena McKennitt release, if just by a hair.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Loreena McKennitt - The Visit

9/10

Okay, at this point we've reached the albums that sound like what Loreena McKennitt is famous for. The production is intricate without sounding overdone, the instrumentation is always interesting, and Loreena is in fine voice (but that goes without saying) and makes some interesting choices (both my mom and Allmusic claim that her performance on "Greensleeves" is a Tom Waits homage, while All Soul's Night has some Asian influence). There are also two excellent instrumentals, and even the synthesizers sound good!
The version of "The Lady of Shalott" is one of McKennit's most famous songs, but I have to say that it's one major reason that I'm not giving The Visit a 10. It's not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but in my opinion, there's not nearly enough musical variation to fill out eleven and a half minutes. I understand that the poem was already shortened in this format, but the musical backing is just too repetitive for my tastes. However, the fact that such a minor quibble is my biggest complaint with this album means that it's still great.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Loreena McKennitt- Parallel Dreams

6/10

This is pretty much a textbook example of a transitional album. The sound is considerably fuller than the first two albums, but it's still closer to what came before that what came after it. However, the fact that it's halfway in between those two styles makes some of the tracks seem unfinished at times (a problem that was never in evidence on the previous records).
There's also some synthesizer, which feels awfully dated when it comes up (this was recorded in 1989, after all), although it's thankfully not used to as much excess as some other popular Celtic music of the time. *coughClannadcough* Also, some of the songs just don't work well; "Annachie Gordon" goes on for far too long, and "Dickens' Dublin" would have been a lot better without the voiceover from a little girl that makes it sound like Loreena was trying to get airplay on numbers stations. There are some better efforts, though; I especially enjoyed"Huron 'Beltane' Fire Dance," which bridges Gaelic and First Nations musical traditions quite nicely.
In short, Parallel dreams isn't a terrible album or anything, but it's awfully uneven; Loreena McKennitt was experimenting, but she wasn't entirely successful. Such is the nature of the beast.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Loreena McKennitt - To Drive the Cold Winter Away

8/10

Most Christmas music makes me want to go back in time and strangle Jesus in the manger. Most of the seasonal music that doesn't make me feel that way is in a more traditional style, like that found here. To Drive the Cold Winter Away is much in the same vein as Elemental. The album was recorded in a church, a monastery and a great hall, and the overall ambience is similar to that on McKennitt's first album; there's lots of space in the mix due to the sparse instrumentation and unusual recording locations, but it works very well, giving the album tons of atmosphere.
My favorite song here is "The King," but that's because I know that it's about an old English ritual that involved a dead wren that was paraded around as a king for some reason, which isn't really spelled out in the lyrics. The album's biggest faults are that a few tracks go on for more than a little too long and that, like its predecessor, it's more than a little samey. Still, it's head and shoulders above most Christmas music.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Loreena McKennitt - Elemental

8/10

Loreena McKennitt's first album is considerably sparer than her later efforts (not surprising when one considers that it was recorded in a barn). It's one of her most organic-sounding albums; there's not a whole lot here that can be considred "new age". As can be expected from a folk singer's first album, there isn't one song here that's truly original, as 7 of the songs are traditional and the other two are adaptations of poems by Yeats and Blake. Loreena's harp is the main instrument here, with a few bells and some guitar here and there. As on all of her material, Loreena's voice is wonderful, perfectly suited for Celtic material; I actually didn't realize that she was Canadian for several years.
The only real misfire here is the final track, "Lullaby". It starts out well enough, with some great wordless vocalizing from Loreena, but then it segues into a horribly pretentious reading of Blake by some guy that wouldn't have sounded too out of place on The Transformed Man. (Yes, I gave that album a 10, but I'm glad it wasn't influential or anything!) Still, at least it's an entertaining kind of badness. The rest of the album is a little samey at times, but still really well done and a fine debut.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Loreena McKennitt - Intro

A lot of people refer to the type of music typically played on classic rock radio stations as stuff that their dads listened to. I didn't get that experience, as my dad was 42 when I was born and my mom says he slept through the 70s. (Case in point: I played Stairway to Heaven for him once, and when he later heard the song in a different context, he said "Hey, there's that song Pugs likes!") The only real musical legacy my dad passed on to me was the folk-rock band Steeleye Span.
However, my mom was different. She would constantly play Loreena McKennitt and Enya tapes while she was driving me and my sister to and from places, and I developed a taste for them as a result (at least, they beat the hell out of stuff like Yanni and have more personality than corporate creations like Celtic Woman.)
Basically, the only reason I feel comfortable admitting this is that I haven't acquired a reputation to ruin.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Bands I'm not doing

There are quite a few bands that I enjoy which I won't be reviewing any time soon. Here are some of them:

ZZ Top: They stupidly remixed their first few albums so they would sound more like Eliminator; several of those albums have still not been released on CD in their original form. I really don't want to review butchered versions of these albums, so I'm going to wait until the original versions are rereleased.

Frank Zappa: His discography is WAY too long and has lots of dross in it. It's a shame because he's done some great stuff.

Jethro Tull: Even the 70's albums weren't all great (I disliked War Child and Too old to Rock 'n' Roll), and I fear to listen to their later stuff. A Passion Play is pretty underrated, though (except the godawful story about the hare that opens side 2)

Yes: Another really huge discography, but I really don't want to have to listen to Union. It seems like an enormous trainwreck, and not in an interesting way.

Jazz artists: Their discographies are huge, and I find the genre difficult to review. I might do some of the major fusion groups like Return to Forever, Weather Report and the Mahavishnu Orchestra if I can fill out their discographies, though.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Chris Squire - Fish out of Water

6/10

Bassist Chris Squire has been the only constant member of Yes, and unlike most of the other prominent members (Rabin, Anderson, Wakeman, Bruford, Howe), he only has one solo album to his name. Fish Out of Water was released in 1975, and it relies a bit too much on orchestration for my tastes. Squire's singing is decent (he'd been singing backup on Yes albums before, of course) and the basslines are just as meaty as one might expect. Yet there's something lacking on the two 10 minute+ tracks- they don't flow quite as well as similar tracks on Yes albums and seem to go on as long as the sidelengths from Tales from Topographic Oceans.
However, the shorter tracks tend to be stronger; I enjoyed the McCartney-esque "You By My Side" and the jazz-funk "Lucky Seven" a lot. While Fish Out of Water turned out to be just a decent album, I kind of wish Squire had issued a few more solo efforts. I'd gladly trade a bunch of Wakeman's New Age albums for a second Squire album.

Monday, August 3, 2009

William Shatner - Exodus: An Oratorio

4/10

This release has "tax write-off" written all over it. Exodus: An Oratorio was released by the Jewish Music Group, whose logo- I shit you not- is just the BMG logo with an oversized "J" slapped onto it. Unsurprisingly, this is a classical piece about the Old Testament book of Exodus, which Shatner narrates. He's backed by the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra (which consists of a violinist and two guys who used to be in Lynyrd Skynyrd). This was recorded live in 2005, and the fact that this was done in one take hurts Shatner's performance, as there are parts where he sounds like an old man (Has Been was recorded the previous year and he sounds fine there)
The music is okay soundtrack stuff, I guess, although I especially enjoyed the parts with the xylophone and the plague with the frogs. The singing parts are just cheesy in a bad way; "serious" operatic vocals just shouldn't be done in English or Hebrew. Like Captain of the Starship, this is an oddity that only the die-hards should seek out (although this one doesn't wear out its welcome as much as that release).

Friday, July 31, 2009

William Shatner - Has Been

6/10

This is a Very Special Album with many Very Special Guest Stars. It was produced by Ben Folds and features performances by Henry Rollins, Joe Jackson, Adrian Belew, Brad Paisley, and many others. Unfortunately, it's not nearly as funny as one might expect. Okay, Shatner's delivery is frequently great, but there's too much "serious" material, such as a short, musicless piece about Shatner finding his dead wife and wistful songs like "It Hasn't Happened Yet" and "That's Me Trying" that aren't unpleasant, but not especially interesting. There's also a terrible call-and-response gospel song that goes on forever ("You'll Have Time"). It's far from the most painfully unfunny thing recorded by a Star Trek alumnus (Nimoy's "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Earth is far, far worse) but it's right up there.
The best track here is "I Can't Get Behind That," a spoken-word duet where Shatner and Henry Rollins just rant about things they hate over an awesome drumline. If only more of the songs here managed to have that song's energy. Has Been isn't terrible and a hell of a lot more accessible than The Transformed Man, but it lacks that album's demented charm.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

William Shatner - Captain of the Starship

4/10

Jeez, everyone was recording double live albums in the late 70's! This obscure effort (also known as William Shatner Live!) was recorded at some kind of convention sometime shortly before the first Star Trek movie started filming, and has been out of print for decades.
The first disc consists of Shatner doing spoken word performances, but they aren't nearly as ludicrously overdone as those on The Transformed Man. Unlike that album, Shatner is fully in on the joke here, and there's barely any musical backing (just some sparsely-used synthesizers). The backing music was one of the funniest parts of The Transformed Man, for crying out loud! I know that he couldn't afford to bring a whole retinue of musicians along, so he had to make do, but it's still seriously underwhelming.
There are a few very funny parts (including some bits in a monologue about Galileo), but for the most part, this disc is dull as hell with various readings related to astronomy and space travel that just aren't very interesting. I guess it would've been impossible to equal The Transformed Man in a live setting, so Shatner didn't even try. I give the first disc a 4/10.
The second disc is Shatner answering questions from the audience. This is somewhat more entertaining, with some amusing stories about Leonard Nimoy and Gene Roddenberry (I'm surprised that "Nimoy" brings up one of those dotted red lines but "Roddenberry" doesn't) and a funny bit with a little kid, but there's still quite a bit of dross. I give the second disc a 5/10, and decided to round down to give it a 4 overall.
All in all, one of the most interesting bits of this album is the cover, which shows Shatner holding a laser gun that's actually an inverted camera tripod. Since this album has been out of print for quite some time, I'll be making a rapidshare link (thanks to wayoutjunk for uploading it in the first place). Note that this rip isn't very good; there are pops and clicks all over the place and each side has about a minute of silence at the end.

link

Monday, July 27, 2009

William Shatner - The Transformed Man

10/10

Unlike the 10 which I gave to Christian and the Hedgehog Boys on April Fool's Day,* this 10 is completely non-ironic. This album is entertaining as hell. Admittedly, it can't be called "good" by any stretch of the imagination; it's pretentious as hell, and Shatner's performance here is just as responsible for his reputation as his work on Star Trek.
I'm sure you've heard his renditions of Mr. Tambourine Man and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds already, so I'm not going to discuss them. They're probably the best parts of the album, but the monologues are nearly as good; Shatner does deliciously over-the-top readings from Henry V, Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet. (I suspect that the casting of Patrick Stewart was a shot at Shatner in two ways; casting a Shakespearean actor was mocking Shatner's monologues here, and casting a bald actor was mocking Shatner's various hairpieces.) The title track is also a riot; Shatner talks about how he abandoned the shackles of society and embraced nature, climaxing in the line "I HAD TOUCHED THE FACE OF GOD!"
The backing music is a very important component in this album's success (is that even the right word?) It's hilarious 60's soundtrack music that's about as restrained as Shatner's performance; some of the most amusing music occurs in the reading from Cyrano de Bergerac, which starts out with a harpsichord and ends with lounge music. The production isn't especially good, though (there's a very obvious edit on the line "somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly" on Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds).
It's difficult to say what was going through Shatner's mind when he conceived this album. I've heard that he was trying to say that the pop song lyrics were the modern equivalent to the Shakespearian monologues, but some of the poetry sections are just completely inscrutable. It doesn't really matter what he was trying to say, though, because the results are an absolute hoot. The Transformed Man is essential listening for all lovers of the eccentric, bizarre, and just plain wrong in music.

*That was a one-time joke; I'm not reviewing his second album (which hadn't even been recorded when I reviewed the first one)

Friday, July 24, 2009

William Shatner - Intro

William Shatner is the prototypical example of a non-musical celebrity embarking on an ill-advised musical career. His debut, the 1968 vanity project "The Transformed Man," featured him performing Shakespearean monologues alongside spoken word renditions of popular songs of the era. The latter have become the stuff of legend, He was smart enough to make limited stabs at recording in subsequent years, recording just three more albums (only one of which isn't totally obscure). Basically, this is the ultimate in kitsch.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Gorguts - From Wisdom to Hate

7/10

One might expect that Gorguts' follow-up to Obscura would be a clone of that release, but From Wisdom to Hate didn't turn out that way. It's kind of halfway between Obscura and the first two albums; it's not quite as avant-garde but it's definitely not a typical death metal album. It's pretty good and maintains at least some of Obscura's atmosphere (the weird guitar sounds are present some of the time), but it's a bit underwhelming after the previous effort. If this album had come before that release instead of after it, it probably would've gotten more recognition. As it is, it's just a bit of a rehash and mellowing out of the band's sound (by relative standards, of course; it's still a death metal record, after all).
The only real addition to the band's sound here is a lame-as-hell "symphonic" synth intro to "The Quest for Equilibrium" that's completely out of place. It's too bad there's not much new here, but it's still an okay album despite that fact. One gets the impression that it could have been so much more, though.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Gorguts - Obscura

10/10

This is one of those albums that absolutely slays despite the fact that there's not a whole lot of variety. Gorguts replaced its entire lineup save for Luc Lemay for this album, and it's just wildly different than the first two, with guitar tones that are creepy as hell, rampant time signature changes, and jagged edges all over the place. It's more than a little similar to John Zorn's albums "Astronome" and "Moonchild" (although the vocals aren't quite as weird as Mike Patton's). This isn't "brutal" in the typical death metal sense, with blastbeats out the wazoo and Cookie Monster vocals; it's brutal in that it's absolutely chaotic and unpredictable, with complicated guitar and drum patterns, with Lemay's screaming actually sounding like he's agonized instead of just trying to sound "scary."
Still, this album's kind of a one trick pony, but that's not so bad when the trick is this good. Obscura doesn't get boring at any point even though it's over an hour long. A few tracks vary things up just a little (the nine-minute "Clouded" is considerably slower than the other tracks, for example) but for the most part, this is just an incredibly consistent slab of technical death metal. A true milestone in the genre.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Gorguts - Erosion of Sanity

6/10

Erosion of Sanity is a bit more adventurous than its predecessor, but without improving on it in any significant way. There's some piano added, but, like the "Egyptian" parts of Nile songs, it doesn't appear outside of intros and transitions (not that it would really have worked outside of them on a death metal album anyway.) The songs have more twists and turns now, but they're really not a whole lot more memorable, and even though parts of the album are more technical than Considered Dead, other parts still feel a bit generic at times. Luc Lemay's vocals aren't as consistent, either; he sometimes sounds just fine, but at other times he's reminiscent of Chris Barnes' awful performances on later Six Feet Under albums.
Still, this isn't a horrible album; it's still bassy as hell and some sections are right up there with the best stuff on Considered Dead. It's just that it hasn't really progressed much beyond that album. Roadrunner Records decided to dump Gorguts after this album, leading to a hiatus that lasted for several years.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Gorguts - Considered Dead

7/10

Considered Dead is a solid but not especially unique album of old school death metal. It's not too different than what most other death metal bands were doing at the time (it's even produced by Scott Burns), but there are a few neat touches that I liked. First of all, Chris Barnes performs backing vocals on three tracks; his work with Cannibal Corpse is some of my favorite vocal work in the death metal genre (meanwhile, vocalist Luc Lemay is decent but unspectacular.) It's also bassy as hell, with even a few quick bass solos at a few point. The riffing is catchy as hell and the solos are mostly interesting.
Downsides include the fact that the drums are poorly produced and clanky as hell (but that's par for the course in early death metal), there are some lame acoustic intros, and the tempos are mostly similar; Gorguts never ratchets it up to grindcore levels or slows it down to death-doom. Considered Dead may not sound anything like Obscura, but it's still a worthwhile addition to a death metal fan's collection.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Gorguts - Intro

Quebec's Gorguts evolved from a fairly typical old school death metal outfit to a jazzy avantgarde one on their legendary album "Obscura." Their other albums are still worth checking out, though, and that's what we'll do in my reviews of their all-too-small discography.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Ramases - Glass Top Coffin

6/10

Ramases' second and final album isn't nearly as diverse as the first. There's too much orchestral backing, which just smothers the songs on which it appears, somewhat reminiscent of Yes' Time and a Word. There's even some of those male/female group vocals which went out of style way back in the 1940's on the first and last tracks. "Stepping Stones" follows the blueprint of "Tomorrow Never Knows," where the basic track is extremely repetitive but lots of stuff is overdubbed on the side. Unfortunately, it's far less successful than that Beatles song.
However, other tracks are well produced without being overdone, such as "Only the Loneliest Feeling," which has quiet vocals against wind effects, and the tracks which rely on backing by more traditional rock instruments (as well as synthesizers)are generally superior, such as the title track and "God Voice." These songs stick closer to the formula established on Space Hymns without any of the ill-advised strings. Glass Top Coffin is still a decent album, but the symphonic stuff brings it down somewhat.
This album is NOT available on CD. Therefore, I am posting a Rapidshare link so that people who don't feel like tracking the original vinyl down can enjoy it (good luck, Amazon didn't even have an entry for the vinyl version). The bitrate is constant at 192.

link

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Ramases - Space Hymns

8/10

This is a strong album with a very diverse range of sounds. Some of the tracks on Space Hymns have a very primal feel despite the fact that the album well-produced and uses modern instruments, prime examples being the wakka-wakka guitar on "Life Child" and the clanky yet powerful drumming on "Oh Mister." Other tracks have a more religious feel, such as the Eastern-sounding "Quasar One" and "Molecular Delusion" and "You're the Only One" with its barely audible choral vocals.
There's also a wonderful ballad ("And the Whole World"). Unfortunately, the last two songs kind of suck; "Jesus" is just plain repetitive and "Journey to the Inside" is a godawful droning "psychedelic" song that goes on for too long and just tries way too hard to be weird. It's a shame that this album had to end on that bitter note, as the rest is excellent.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ramases - Intro

Ramases (born Martin Raphael) was a central heating salesman from Britain who suddenly quit his job, believing he was the reincarnation of the Egyptian pharaoh (funny how he never specified which one) and started a musical career, releasing two albums in the 1970s. Now, one might expect that his music would be lo-fi and "outsider" as hell, but Ramases has a wonderful voice, it's actually really well produced (the first album featured a backing band made up of future members of 10cc) and very interesting; in some ways, it's reminiscent of both late 60's psych-folk and the progressive rock that was popular at the time. Unfortunately, his second album was his last, and he would eventually commit suicide (there's not a whole lot of information about him, and I'm not even sure of the timeframe of his death; Wikipedia says it was in 1978, but other places say it was in the 1990's). Any fan of outsider music would do well to track his albums down; they're a lot more expertly-crafted than other stuff in that genre, but no less fascinating for that fact.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Slayer - Christ Illusion

8/10

Now this is more like it. Slayer finally dumps all traces of nu-metal and goes back to what made them great in the first place. These songs thrash instead of groove (although even the slower sections are cool) and are filled with tons of memorable passages, and the soloing is just as strong as it's ever been.
A few songs have some flaws (for example, "Cult" is strong but goes on 50% longer than it really needs to), but this is easily their best release since "Seasons in the Abyss". Oh, and Dave Lombardo is back behind the skins, but I don't think whoever was drumming really affected how good the albums were (even though I almost exclusively gave the ones without him worse grades than the ones with him).
Also, there must be some really die-hard Slayer fans at Wikipedia. Not only has the band's article been featured on the front page, but so have the articles for the albums Reign in Blood, South of Heaven, and Christ Illusion and the articles for the songs Angel of Death, Eyes of the Insane, and Jihad. They're all very well-written articles, though, so it doesn't seem [i]that[/i] excessive.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Slayer - God Hates Us All

4/10

This is kind of a notorious album, but that's probably more due to the combination of the title and release date than the music or lyrics- yes, this was released on September 11, 2001.
God Hates Us All is about on the same level as Diabolus in Musica, but it's just a little wilder. There's too much gratuitous swearing; Slayer's edginess worked because it was based on blasphemy and taboo subjects, not "fuck" being every third word. If I wanted cheap wall-to-wall profanity, I'd listen to any of a thousand mallcore bands. There's also a lame as hell spoken word part in "Seven Faces", and the production is just as nu-metal as the previous effort.
That said, the solos are just as wonderfully yucky as ever (this would probably get a 2 or 3 if they sucked); it's just that the songs around them are terribly written. One thing I really liked was the bass tone on "Cast Down" and "Seven Faces". It's creepy and alien-sounding; I was reminded of V'Ger's theme from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Unfortunately, it's one of the only unique touches in another sellout album for Slayer.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Slayer - Diabolus in Musica

4/10

Yeah, I'm going to have to agree with the critical consensus that Diabolus in Musica is Slayer's nu-metal album; Slayer stoop to all that genre's cliches here. Rap-like vocal cadences, dumb vocal filters, and repetitive, "groovy" riffs rule the day. Fortunately, Slayer at least is more talented than your typical nu-metal schlubs, but the songwriting is just so terrible that there's little to enjoy here; not one song is strong all the way through (although some have some pretty good passages that sound like vintage Slayer). The whole thing just feels to calculated, and not chaotic like earlier Slayer albums.
At least there are still some cool solos, and the album's still pretty heavy in places. But those can only take an album so far when there's so much blatant pandering. At least the songs are short, unlike another album of the same ilk by another of the Big Four thrash bands that I can think of.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Slayer - Undisputed Attitude

4/10

Hardcore punk is far from my favorite genre. In fact, I've never really listened to any before, save for GG Allin (who falls into the "I like him even though his music is as bad as he is as a person" category"). If I want anger and brutality, I've got metal; what little punk I listen to falls on the artsier side of the spectrum. (I should probably check out Black Flag one of these days so I can get the best of both worlds.) As a result, I've never heard any of the original versions of the songs covered here.
I can understand why Slayer decided to do a hardcore punk album; I recognize how influential that genre was on thrash metal. That doesn't mean I have to like it, though. I guess that Undisputed Attitude is good for what it is; I did like how they made sure to give it a rough sound more befitting of punk than fully metal the songs up. It's not entirely a covers album; there are two original songs written by Jeff Hanneman for the aborted side-project Pap Smear and "Gemini," the band's sole concession to metal on the album, which is just dreary and boring with little real thrashing.
This album wasn't made for me. Fortunately, I don't try to rate albums on how well they did what they tried to do; I just rate them on how much I enjoy them. Therefore, while I'm sure that punk fans will enjoy this, I have no problem giving it a low rating.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Slayer - Divine Intervention

6/10

Okay, this album just isn't that compelling. Araya's yelling feels monotonous for the first time, the soloing isn't quite as chaotic as before, and some tracks sound like they were put through some unnecessary filters (it's kind of hard to describe). There are definitely some high points, though- "Dittohead," a song about Rush Limbaugh is certainly a hoot, and the title track and "213" have wonderfully creepy intros, but there aren't nearly as many of those as on previous records. Oh, and they replaced their drummer, too.
There's a song here called "213", after the apartment that Jeffrey Dahmer lived in when he committed all his murders. The funny thing is that when I first went to college, I lived in an apartment 213 for three years- and I didn't even know the significance of this number until I'd moved out. Weird. Of course, I acted nothing like Dahmer when I was there- I only tried to lobotomize women to make them my sex slaves, because homosexuality is gross.

Monday, June 22, 2009

NEARfest report

I got two tickets to the Northeast Art Rock Fest's Friday night show as a graduation present from my parents. Unfortunately, I had no transportation despite putting an ad on craigslist, so I was forced to use (groan) my dad as transportation. He spent most of the performance out of the theater.
The Friday night show featured Van der Graaf Generator and Steve Hillage. My dad insisted that we leave after VDGG played, but I was basically just there for them so I didn't really mind a whole lot. This was VDGG's second performance in the US ever (the first was in 1976)
Time has really not been kind to Peter Hammill. He was just fine on the songs from Trisector (of which there were several), but he was reduced to just yelling on some other songs. Also, both his guitar and piano weren't mixed nearly loud enough, and during "Sleepwalkers," where he didn't play an instrument for most of the song, his stage presence was reminiscent of a stiff-jointed marionette. Oh well, not everyone can be Ronnie James Dio.
Guy Evans and Hugh Banton were just fine, though, and the lack of a reed player didn't hurt the songs nearly as much as I had feared. I'm just glad I got to see them at all.
I got to spend some time in the merch rooms afterwards, and I picked up the 2-disc version of Marillion's Clutching at Straws with the tracks recorded for the abandoned fifth album with Fish. I also wanted to pick up a copy of Procol Harum's A Whiter Shade of Pale, but shockingly, I couldn't find a copy.
The crowd was basically what one would expect; mostly middle-aged, male, and rather large on average. I got a real convention vibe out of it. I may go back next year, depending on the line-up.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Slayer - Decade of Aggression

9/10

Now THIS is the quintessential live Slayer album. Araya gets buried in the mix at times, and it's a little too long, but the tracklist is great, covering every album up to that point and there's plenty of energy (it sounds like it's all from one show even though the tracks were taken from three different performances). I don't know why they decided to go with that title, though; it makes it sound like a compilation that would be superfluous for everyone who had all the studio albums already. It's a great introduction to the band and one of the better metal double lives I've heard.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Slayer - Seasons in the Abyss

8/10

Seasons in the Abyss resides somewhere between Reign in Blood and South of Heaven on the speed scale. It doesn't do a whole lot that we haven't seen before, but at least it isn't quite as one-note as Reign in Blood was. There are a few weird choices with regards to Araya's vocals; his cadence on "Blood Red" is a bit similar to James Hetfield circa the Black Album (which is obviously a coincidence, what with that album not coming out until the following year), "Dead Skin Mask" has a creepy spoken-word intro, "Skeletons of Society" has some monotonous backing vocals, and "Temptation" features two different vocal tracks (the result of a recording error). It's not particularly groundbreaking, but it is effective.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Slowing down

I just started a new job, and while I'm definitely not going to quit blogging, I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed and have decided to cut my updates from every weekday to just three a week. Apologies to my readers; I'm sure both of you are disappointed; I'm not sure if this will be permanent or temporary.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Slayer - South of Heaven

9/10

This is by far the slowest-paced Slayer release up to this point, but that doesn't mean it's bad at all. In all honesty, I prefer my metal at this particular tempo, and appreciate the fact that they didn't try to outdo Reign in Blood by moving up to grindcore-level speeds. I especially liked the intros on this release, including the beginning of the opening title track and the one to "Behind the Crooked Cross" (which was famously sampled in the video game Doom).
However, the soloing is just as fast and gloriously sloppy as ever; it's still unmistakably a Slayer album, even if it's not that fast for most of its running time. I also appreciated how the drums stick out more to my ears; I've never really been a fan of ludicrously fast drumming (it all sounds the same), and Dave Lombardo's performance here is excellent largely because it's quite varied.
South of Heaven is far superior to the overrated Reign in Blood. If you get just two Slayer albums, I recommend this one and Hell Awaits so you can get the best of both worlds.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Slayer - Reign in Blood

7/10

This is an overrated album. That said, it's still good, just not quite as good as most would have you believe. It suffers from the "Who's Next" effect where the first and last tracks are so unbelievably good that people put it up on a pedestal when the material in between isn't nearly as strong. I wouldn't call any of the other tracks bad, but the only one which really sticks out in my mind is "Jesus Saves" (and that's more due to the lyrics than the music). The intermediate tracks are just too short; Reign in Blood goes by quickly at under half an hour (not counting the bonus tracks).
However, "Angel of Death" and "Raining Blood" deserve all the acclaim they get. The former is about as fast and as brutal as you can get, both musically and lyrically (unsurprisingly, writing a song about Josef Mengele didn't exactly do wonders for the band's mainstream reputation even when the album's producer is Jewish), and the latter makes the wise choice of letting up for just a little at the beginning before engaging in another full-out thrash assault. It's not exactly surprising that the other songs don't really match up to those two, but when your opener and closer are that strong, not matching up isn't really an insult.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Slayer - Hell Awaits

10/10

I like long songs a lot. Sure, songs can get on my nerves if they go on too long (I thought Yes' Tales from Topographic Oceans was lame as hell), but it's rare as hell for me to listen to a song and think that it needs to be cut down. Basically, what I'm saying is that if you stitch two or three songs together, I'll like it better than if they were all put together separately.
Three of the tracks on Hell Awaits are over six minutes long, which is really, really long by Slayer standards; however, they're still full songs that flow pretty well, and not just lengthy Frankenstein monsters. Okay, the title track is half intro and has some unnecessary pitch-shifted vocals, but I love it just the same. I also like the bass here; Araya's parts are especially complex but it's always meaty and high in the mix. This album doesn't do much wrong, and I have no problem giving it a 10.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Slayer - Live Undead

7/10

One has to wonder why Slayer decided to release a live album when they only had one full-length and one EP to their name at the time. Live Undead is a live-in-the-studio album with fans present, in the tradition of Tom Waits' Nighthawks at the Diner (although something tells me the band members weren't exactly influenced by that album). I guess that it's pretty good for what it is, since the playing is tight and all that crap, but they had so little material to draw on that it's no wonder that the album's just 23 minutes long. There are a few improvements here and there (for example, the backing vocals on "Evil Has No Boundaries" are chanted by the crowd, and they actually work in this context) and they're a bit more thrashy, but the performances fall short of being essential.
One thing I should note is that I have a tendency to overrate live albums where the stage banter is hilarious; Nunslaughter's Radio Damnation is one of my favorite albums of all time and it's almost entirely due to the moronic anti-Christian banter between every song. The stage banter isn't that great here, but sophomoric lines like "They say the pen is mightier than the sword. Well I say, FUCK the pen! 'Cause you can DIE by the sword!" and "This is for all the little cunts who like to spread their legs in the night" caused me to raise my grade a point. What can I say, it's one of my weaknesses.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Slayer - Haunting the Chapel

8/10

This EP is where Slayer turned into full-on thrash from the speed metal of their debut. Araya's vocals are much faster and harsher than on Show No Mercy, Lombardo's drums finally kick out of first gear, and the guitars are just as raw as they've always been. It's not nearly as fast or as chaotic as, say, Reign in Blood, but it was getting there; the song structures are increasingly complex. At just 12 minutes, it's short even by EP standards, but it's still well worth getting.
Old EPs generally have trouble getting re-released, but this isn't too hard to find because it's been packaged with Live Undead. You might want to track down the standalone version, though, since it includes the original version "Aggressive Perfector", which would appear as a bonus track on "Reign in Blood."

Friday, June 5, 2009

Slayer - Show No Mercy

7/10

As is typical for a debut album, the Slayer seen on Show No Mercy hasn't completely evolved into what it would be later on. The songs are pretty fast, but not the lightning speed of albums like "Reign in Blood," and Tom Araya's delivery isn't nearly as manic as it would be later on; his screaming sounds thin and wimpy as hell, and there are some really cheesy backing vocals on "Evil Has No Boundaries" that would stick out on a later Slayer album like Sammy Davis Jr. at a Klan rally. Also, Dave Lombardo's drumming isn't nearly as intense as it would become later. Still, the riffs and solos are solid, if not as thrashy as the band's later material (there are a few generic midtempo chugga-chugga riffs).
I've heard this album described be several people (George Starostin among them) as just being "sped-up Judas Priest," but Tipton and Downing never played solos like this. These solos are just nasty, with jagged notes all over the place, and things would only get wilder from here.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Slayer - Intro

Out of all of thrash metal's "Big Four," Slayer had by far the most influence on the emerging death metal scene. These guys were faster than anything that came before them, and matched their musical intensity with controversial lyrics about subjects such as Satan and the Holocaust. Their music is messy as hell, but I still love it anyway.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Freddy and the Elm Street Group - Freddy's Greatest Hits

3/10

I haven't seen any of the Nightmare on Elm Street films, but I found this artifact of crass marketing fascinating anyway. Apparently, marketing executives thought it was appropriate to market a film series about a pedophile serial killer to children, and stuff like Freddy Krueger candy and this album resulted. This was promoting either the third or fourth NoES film, I'm not sure which.
None of the songs on this album appeared in any of the movies, making Freddy's Greatest Hits even more ephemeral than your average film soundtrack. Instead of music from one of the films, we get an awful Cyndi Lauper-wannabe singer, execrable guitars and synthesizers, and a fucking horrible drum machine. Half the songs are 50's and 60's covers of songs vaguely related thematically to the film series if you're feeling really generous ("All I Have to Do Is Dream," "Do the Freddy,") and the others are terrible original songs. There's even a completely pointless instrumental tacked onto the end.
So why does this get a 3 and not a 1? There are two reasons. There's a pretty good cover of "In the Midnight Hour" where the 80's production is pretty subdued and the synths are replaced by a Hammond organ (I can't get enough of that instrument). The second is Freddy himself, played as always by Robert Englund. He's not on the record a lot, but he's clearly having a lot of fun and his asides are pretty amusing. Still, this is only for novelty lovers.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Roxy Music - Heart Still Beating

6/10

This live album is pretty middling. The songs from the last few albums are a bit more energetic than the studio versions, but that's not saying a lot, and the older songs seem watered down. However, unlike Viva, this live album at least has a consistent sound and tone, the guitars have some actual crunch, and they were smart enough to stay away from most of the really energetic old songs (which would most likely suck in this style), Still, this album never quite gets out of first gear, there are unnecessary female backing vocals, and some of the keyboard tones are pale shadows of those on the original versions ("Love is the Drug" being a prime example). Like Viva, it's not terrible, but it's still somewhat disappointing.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Roxy Music - Avalon

5/10

Compared to Roxy Music's early albums, this is awfully tame. However, it fucking kicks ass compared to the two albums that came before it. None of the problems that Manifesto and Flesh + Blood had are completely solved on Avalon, but they're not quite as bad as they were on those records.
Okay, Avalon is still as sedate as hell, but as adult contemporary goes, it's fairly interesting. Not that that'll take you very far (hence the still-low rating), but at least there's a hint of the old Roxy audible on this one (even if you do have to pay close attention). It's a pretty strong album if you want to sit back and relax, and while it's barely a shadow of what this band used to be, I'll take whatever I can get after the last two crapfests.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Roxy Music - Flesh + Blood

3/10

This was only released a few months into the 1980's, but it still bears the hallmark of everything that made that decade bad. The drums are overcompressed, the synths are cheesy, the basslines are comatose, Manzanera's tone has devolved to the point that he sounds like anyone from the era, and Ferry frequently sounds like he's sleepwalking his way through this material. There are also two unnecessary covers of Wilson Pickett's "In the Midnight Hour" and the Byrds' "Eight Miles High". I heard a better cover of the former tune on an album called "Freddy's Greatest Hits" that was a tie-in to one of the Nightmare on Elm Street sequels(I'll have to review that after I'm done with this band), and while I like the organ on the latter, it would've been better on an original song. None of these songs have any bite whatsoever. Skip it!