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.