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.