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.