Friday, November 5, 2010

I'm not sure if I'll be coming back

Since there's nothing sadder on the internet than a blog or website whose owner says that he's on hiatus and that hasn't been updated in years, I decided to say that I'm not planning on coming back to the blog anytime soon. I may come back sometime in the future to update some recent releases from bands I've already covered, but I just don't have much inspiration as of late and I'm working on some other stuff in my free time.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Taking more time off

I'm having a lot of trouble getting inspiration as of late, so I'm going to take another hiatus- this one indefinite. It's just like I have a sword of Damocles over my head with my blog updates, and I'm just worrying about them all the time. I feel like I need some more time off so I don't go crazy.

Friday, September 3, 2010

King Crimson - The Power to Believe

7/10

The Power to Believe, like some of the albums that preceded it, is a bit derivative of Crimson's earlier albums, but it's still a decent listen. Level Five is another reincarnation of Larks' Tongues in Aspic, but this one has a lot of interesting sounds that weren't in any of the other versions, while The Power to Believe II evokes the gamelan songs from the band's 80's work. Some parts of this album are startlingly effective, though- the a cappella intro is amazingly good, with its effective use of a vocoder, and Happy With What You Have to Be Happy With is a laugh riot, poking fun at the formulaic verse-chorus-verse patterns that make up so much of popular music. (It's also one of the few times since the Sinfield era that I've felt that the lyrics in a King Crimson song weren't just a throwaway.) Dangerous Curves is a pretty duff track- it's all buildup with a less-than-enthralling denouement- but what really prevents this album from getting a higher grade is that nothing here sounds that new. Most of the stuff here is fine, but just like Three of a Perfect Pair and The ConstruKction of Light, it's pretty much a rehash of earlier Crimson albums.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

King Crimson - Level Five

6/10

This is a live album that was only released at merchandise booths on Crimson's 2001 tour. It contains two songs that would show up on the band's next studio album, an orphaned improv session called "Virtuous Circle", two old songs, and a hidden track at the end. It's not too surprising that this was a minor release, as there's a definite stopgap feel to it- that said, it's perfectly enjoyable, but it's hardly an essential live album, especially given the scale of most of Crimson's live documents (in particular, this seems small and insignificant next to Heavy ConstruKction).
Unless you really want to hear the early versions of "Level Five" and "Dangerous Curves" or are a total Crimson completist, this album can be safely skipped. There's nothing really wrong with it, but there's really no compelling reason for its existence.

Monday, August 30, 2010

King Crimson - Heavy ConstruKction

8/10

The three-disc live box set Heavy ConstruKction is a considerable improvement over the album that Crimson was touring at the time. The live production is noticeably better than that on Light; the electronic drums aren't quite as annoying and the songs don't have the canned feel that their original studio versions had. There are also a bunch of interesting song choices, including some bizarre covers (David Bowie's "Heroes," the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows") and an acoustic rendition of "Three of a Perfect Pair."
But where Heavy ConstruKction really shines is in the improv sections. Disc three is made up almost entirely of improvised pieces, and they're all great; there aren't any boring quiet stretches like Moonchild or aimless noodling like on THRaKaTTaK- I wouldn't have guessed that they were making this stuff up as they went along. This set is worth a purchase for the third disc alone.

Friday, August 27, 2010

King Crimson - The ConstruKction of Light

5/10

The ConstruKction of Light heralds another lineup change, where Bruford and Levin departed, leaving the band as a regular four-piece. That didn't have a whole lot of impact on the band's sound, although the mix isn't quite as active with just one rhythm section. If anything, ConstruKction suffers from the same flaw as Three of a Perfect Pair- the material is just too derivative. "Fractured" gets a re-working as "FraKctured," in addition to a fourth part to Larks' Tongues in Aspic. Neither of these tracks do much to justify their existence- why bother rehashing songs that were perfectly fine in their original forms?
Another major flaw on the album is that Mastelotto's drums are electronic and very fake-sounding, making one pine for the day's of Bruford's wanky but natural style. The fake drums just give the whole album a very "industrial" feel, which I've never been a fan of. The rest of the band isn't particularly inspired, either, but the drums are just rancid.
I felt that the strongest tracks on the album were the non-instrumentals "ProzaKc Blues" and "The World's My Oyster Soup Kitchen Wax Museum" The former uses vocal filters to great effect, turning Belew's performance into a hilarious "wacky negro voice," and the band's take on the traditional blues form is a riot, while the latter is another good song in the funk-metal vein like some of the stuff on THRAK.
The ConstruKction of Light just isn't very good; it's harsh without being intriguingly so, and there's a lot of boring spaces. It's not the worst studio album by King Crimson, (that dubious honor would have to go to Islands) but it can be easily skipped.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

King Crimson - THRaKaTTaK

4/10

Yes, this is the infamous all-improv Crimson album. To tell the truth, when I listened to this for the first time, I was expecting something completely horrible, but ended up being disappointed anyway. You see, there's just enough interesting instrumentation here for a really unique sound- Fripp's soundscapes, Belew's screechy, scratchy guitar, Bruford's marimba, and even some piano- but the fact of the matter is that the players are rarely on the same page. It's not quite as cacophonous as I expected (you rarely hear all six musicians going at it at once), but it's pretty rare that the musicians' noodling coheres into anything interesting, and the fact that there are as many decent parts as there are is probably just a result of the infinite monkeys theorem.
All of these tracks except the opening and closing renditions of "THRAK" were improv sessions in the middle of live versions of "THRAK," it kind of reminds me of Frank Zappa's albums of guitar solos. However, Zappa's Guitar albums took their solos from a whole bunch of different songs, while the atmosphere on THRaKaTTaK doesn't change much from track to track (I refuse to call these improvs "songs"). Just like Islands two decades before it, THRaKaTTaK is a failure; a unique failure, but a failure nonetheless.

Monday, August 23, 2010

King Crimson - Thrak

8/10

Another decade, another Crimson. This is the "double trio" incarnation of the band, where the rhythm section of Pat Mastellotto and Trey Gunn joined the previous lineup (although to tell the truth, there weren't too many points on Thrak where I could make out more than one bass or drum kit playing at the same time).
Thrak is a pretty diverse album. There are a whole lot of instrumentals, and while some of them are quite short and underdeveloped, others are considerably better (the drum solo in "B'Boom" is great, with an awesome bass drum sound awesomely contrasting the other drums). "People" and "Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream" seem to be concessions to funk metal bands such as Primus and Red Hot Chili Peppers that were popular during the mid-90's, but there's still quite a bit of 80's style Crimson in the guitars, especially the interplay between the guitar synths and more traditional tones. (At least they didn't try to follow this up with a nu-metal album- although that would have been the most hilarious trainwreck.) "Walking on Air" and "One Time" are some more laid back songs that work pretty well; I especially enjoy Belew's vocal on the former, where it almost sounds like he's channeling George Harrison or John Lennon. "Dinosaur" is also awesome, with its throwback Mellotron intro and awesome plodding rhythm.
Still, there's a bit of filler here; both of the short "Radio" and "Inner Garden" tracks could easily have been left off without losing much, and the second part of VROOOM VROOM wasn't really necessary, but Thrak is quite a fine entry to the Crimson canon nonetheless.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Another vacation

I'm spending next week on vacation with my family, so I won't be doing any reviews. I'll be back to my normal schedule after I get back, though.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

King Crimson - Absent Lovers

9/10

Absent Lovers documents the last live show performed by the 80's version of the band, and it's a fine performance from all involved. Pretty much every song here is at least the equal of its original studio version, and most of the issues I had with the production on the tracks from Beat are absent here (although Bruford's electronic drums don't always sound great).
If you're interested in hearing earlier material performed by this lineup, you'll be left disappointed (the only pre-Belew songs here are Larks' Tongues Part II and Red), but this album's a great buy for anyone who doesn't want to get the 80's studio albums. I didn't like the fact that they managed to include every single track from Discipline except my favorite, "The Sheltering Sky," but that's just my personal preference. All the band members give spot-on performances, and the material is great. It's a great document of Crimson's live prowess.

Monday, August 9, 2010

King Crimson - Three of a Perfect Pair

6/10

Three of a Perfect Pair is one of those albums where each side is very different. The first side is fairly poppy material similar to the stuff on Beat, but more energetic, while the second side is mostly avant-garde compositions. Both sides have some good material; my favorites include the wonderfully melodic "Man With the Open Heart" on side one, while I also enjoy side two's "Industry" (it reminds me of "Providence" from Red in how it starts out as random-sounding noise and comes together magnificently).
However, this album doesn't really do a whole lot that King Crimson hadn't done before. The first side is very similar to the previous two albums, while the second side borrows heavily from the avant-garde songs from the John Wetton era, albeit with much more modern production. There's even a third part of "Larks' Tongues in Aspic" at the end. It seems to me that King Crimson didn't have a whole lot of new ideas when they were recording this album, and it seems a little derivative of their earlier work as a result (although I would have liked to hear this lineup's take on the first three albums). It's never quite unpleasant, but it doesn't quite measure up to Discipline, and in retrospect, it's not that surprising that Fripp broke the band up for a decade after the ensuing tour.

Friday, August 6, 2010

King Crimson - Beat

6/10

Beat is a mild disappointment after Discipline- the songwriting and instrumental prowess haven't really deteriorated, but the rhythm section on some of these songs is stuck in 80's Production Hell, with ridiculously overcompressed drums and weird-sounding effects on the bass. Also, Beat's pace isn't quite as wild as Discipline's; most of the material here is quite a bit slower than on that album, although it's still quite intricate.
Some other songs like Heartbeat and Two Hands would almost sound like they were designed for adult contemporary radio if not for the twisted sense of ambience which Fripp brings to them. In fact, some parts of Beat sound quite a bit like something off of Fripp's collaborations with Brian Eno, especially Requiem. That track is somewhat unusual in that I enjoyed it even though it's obvious that it was mostly improvised, as opposed to the improvised stuff that I hated on Larks' Tongues and Starless. I guess that if King Crimson had a sellout album, it would be this one, but they just couldn't quite pull it off. There's just too much instrumental weirdness here; even when Crimson tries to imitate 80's AOR, they can't quite do it without sounding unusual.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

King Crimson - Discipline

8/10

King Crimson came back in 1982 with this album. Fripp, of course, is still around, and Bruford has been held over from the previous incarnation, but bassist Tony Levin and frontman/guitarist Adrian Belew are new. Discipline is heavily new-wave oriented, although it's definitely on the avant-garde side of the genre.
I'm going to be upfront about this: I frequently find Belew's vocals annoying. He often just sounds snarky as hell, especially when he tries to sound funny. He would improve as time went on, though. However, the instrumental aspect of the album is awesome. The playing is just so dense and multilayered, with the bass frequently acting as a second or third guitar. I'm not sure how much of the guitar playing is Fripp's and how much is Belew's (I assume the guitar synths are usually Fripp, but that's just speculation on my part), but it's never less than great.
My favorite song on the album is "The Sheltering Sky," with its laid-back twin guitars, but even the lesser songs here are still pretty good- everything's well produced and intricate without going into solo wankery. Discipline probably isn't what people used to King Crimson were expecting their reunion to sound like, but when have Fripp and company done anything predictable, anyway?

Monday, August 2, 2010

King Crimson - Red

10/10

Red does pretty much everything right. The band was officially down to a power trio at this point, although David Cross, Ian McDonald and some other musicians show up from time to time. Red has little of the avant-garde dicking around that polluted the previous two albums- this is still progressive rock through and through, but it's fairly straightforward, with just one track, "Providence" that goes out of its way to be weird (and even it comes together beautifully near the end). This is remarkably heavy stuff for 1974, and it's surprising that the horns mesh with the other instruments as well as they do. This album also has a lot of variety of moods and textures- the title track is a heavy hard rock instrumental, "One More Red Nightmare" has an awesome groove, "Fallen Angel" is surprisingly sorrowful, and "Starless" starts out mellow and goes through several instrumental sections, eventually becoming frantic. Red is also very well produced, with a mix that emphasizes all the instruments well.
When it comes to my favorite King Crimson studio album, it's basically a choice between this and the debut, and I have to go with Red, mostly because Moonchild doesn't go anywhere after the first few minutes and Providence works pretty well. I think that Court has better high points, but I don't think Red has a single major flaw- it's amazingly consistent the whole way through.

Friday, July 30, 2010

King Crimson - Starless and Bible Black

6/10

Starless and Bible Black is a funny album in that there's considerably more mellotron than the albums that preceded it, and also for the fact that a lot of it was recorded live, with overdubs added later. I don't know whether studio time was too expensive, but it doesn't really sound too different than a regular studio album. Unfortunately, a lot of these tracks were improvised, and it shows- some of them just aren't very interesting, particularly the title track, which takes forever to get started, and the instrumentals on the first side aren't that great either. This is a a stark contrast to the actual songs, which are fairly well thought out and unusually catchy. My favorite song here is "The Night Watch," which is about the famous Rembrandt painting- I just love Fripp's unique guitar tone here.
My second favorite track here is the closing instrumental Fracture, which is by far the best of the instrumental tracks here. It wasn't improvised at all, which isn't too surprising because it actually builds up effectively instead of meandering around like the improvs on this album, and uses all kinds of weird instrumentation and unusual guitar effects (there's a triangle at one point). It's really a shame that so much of Starless and Bible Black is taken up with lame improvisation- there's some great music on this album, but most of the worthwhile stuff was well-planned out beforehand..

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

King Crimson - Larks' Tongues in Aspic

7/10

Lark's Tongues in Aspic has too much instrumental noodling on it. It doesn't come in doses quite as big as the infamous free jazz sequence on Moonchild, but it's common enough that it gets pretty annoying. Even the non-instrumental song "Book of Saturday" has a weird, tossed-off quality that I dislike. People who complain about prog songs taking forever to get started aren't going to have their minds changed by this album- Larks Tongues Pt. 1 and The Talking Drum are the big offenders here.
However, there's plenty of good stuff here as well. Fripp formed a completely new lineup, featuring John Wetton (most famously of Asia, but who was in about a million other bands) on bass and vocals, Bill Bruford of Yes on drums, David Cross on violin, and Jamie Muir on assorted percussion. The latter two aren't always used well (some of the violin and weird percussion noises just sound like the band was just throwing crap at the wall), but at other times, they're amazingly effective (Cross does a great job complementing Fripp in The Talking Drum). I also like Wetton's vocals a lot- he's not a great singer by any stretch of the imagination, but his voice has loads of personality (it's a shame that he would sound generic as hell by the time Asia formed).
Larks' Tongues in Aspic is one of those albums where one just has to appreciate how much experimentation is going on. There are some parts that just don't work, but the albums highs are good enough to make it a worthwhile experience.

Monday, July 26, 2010

King Crimson - Ladies of the Road

6/10

Ladies of the Road is another live album from the Boz Burrell era, and it's definitely an improvement on Earthbound. Ladies is split into two discs- the first is a bunch of regular songs, and this disc is pretty good- Formentera Lady is wisely shortened, Cirkus can't quite match up to the studio version, but makes a valiant attempt, slowing down the rhythm to make it sound more imposing. There's even a hilarious blues version of In the Court of the Crimson King at the end. There are a few changes I don't like, however (Boz pronouncing the middle syllable of "century" in Schizoid Man, the line "impaled on nails of ice" not being sung louder than the rest of the song).
Disc two is an interesting idea- it consists of nothing but solos from 21st Century Schizoid Man. Unfortunately, while this disc does a better job of presenting Crimson as noise rock than Earthbound, it just wears out its welcome after a while. Maybe it would've been fine at 20 or 30 minutes, but it gets kind of dull- the fact that the sound quality in some parts is only slightly better than Moonchild doesn't help. Still, the first disc is well worth checking out.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Birthday break

My birthday is coming up in a few days, so I'm taking the week off. Peace.

Friday, July 16, 2010

King Crimson - Earthbound

4/10

From the liner notes:

"The recordings were captured live on an Ampex stereo Cassete fed from a Kesley Morris custom built mixer operated by John Robson and Hunter Macdonald on Schizoid Man and Groon and Hunter Macdonald on the other titles: at Jacksonville in the rain from the back of a Volkswagen truck. VCS3 operated by Hunter"

Earthbound has some of the worst sound quality I've heard in my life, to the extent that I'm amazed that it ever got released in the first place- and I have the cleaned up remaster! There's just so much noise that it's hard to take (although I'll grant that it makes Fripp's playing sound especially interesting at times, it wears out its welcome quickly). And far too much of the record is taken up by improvs that go nowhere- the Poseidon B-side "Groon" is stretched out to fifteen minutes, and Boz Burrell does some embarrassing scat singing and yelling in the improvised pieces "Peoria" and "Earthbound". Fripp mostly stays out of those two, as if he were embarrassed to take part, leaving most of the emphasis on Mel Collins' sax, and while he's a fine session musician, he's not much of an improviser, with most of his playing ending up dull or unpleasant to the ears.
This album reminds me of Van der Graaf Generator's "Vital" not so much in its sound (Vital focused on different arrangements of old songs while Earthbound focuses on improvisation) in that it's a disaster, but it's still pretty interesting and a departure from the band's studio work. Completists should definitely listen to this at least once.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

King Crimson - Islands

4/10

This is an album I don't listen to that often. The awesome dark atmosphere of the earlier King Crimson albums is replaced by dreariness- most of these songs are just slow and dull. It doesn't help that new singer Boz Burrell (later of Bad Company- now there's a band you wouldn't expect to see connected with KC) is just awful- his voice is just boring most of the time. There are a few parts where he sounds okay (the "IMPALED ON NAILS OF ICE" bit from "The Letters" is overdramatic but effective), but he has no personality at all for most of the time.
However, when Islands manages to get out of first gear, there are some decent moments- "Ladies of the Road" is ridiculously sleazy but enjoyable, and "The Sailor's Tale" is a pretty good noise/free jazz instrumental, while "Song of the Gulls" is a perfectly acceptable string-based piece. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the album is just dreadfully dull and has almost no energy at all. I have to rate boring songs like "Formentera Lady" and "Islands" just a rung or two above Moonchild- they're too damn quiet, and go on way too long.
So yeah, this is probably my least favorite studio album by King Crimson. Only small parts of it even come close to working, and the rest of the album is just boring soft rock songs that go on forever.

Monday, July 12, 2010

King Crimson - Lizard

8/10

This album isn't too well liked, which is a shame because I think it's wonderful. It's very horn-heavy, and the songs' atmospheres range from dark (Cirkus) to epic (the titular suite, the only sidelength that King Crimson ever recorded) to sickly sweet (Lady of the Dancing Water) to quirky (Happy Family, Indoor Games). One of the reasons that this album gets panned so often is that Gordon Haskell did most of the vocals, and he's really, really not a good singer. His voice works fairly well on the opening song, Cirkus, where it fits in well with the dark lyrics and mellotron, but he just sounds goofy on most of the other tracks. The only other vocal performance I enjoyed on this album was a guest performance by Jon Anderson of Yes in the first part of the title track.
But the music is excellent. Lizard is a very fusion-esque album, and the title suite in particular has all sorts of lengthy instrumental passages that are dominated by reeds, brass and piano. If you're not into jazzy stuff, this will sound little better than the endless noodling in Moonchild, but if you're like me, you live for this shit.
NOTE: The 40th Anniversary remaster of this album is the one you need. I normally don't put much of an emphasis on remasters, but this one sounds like a completely redone version at times. Not all of the production changes work well (there are some vocal effects added to Happy Family that I didn't like), but they're great improvements in most cases.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Terrible Album Covers: Scorpions - Lovedrive


Some bands just don't have any luck when it comes to album covers.

Friday, July 9, 2010

King Crimson - In the Wake of Poseidon

7/10

In the Wake of Poseidon is kind of a mess. There wasn't much of a real band at this point- Greg Lake was leaving to form ELP, Michael Giles was just a session drummer, and Ian McDonald is nowhere to be found. Yet it's not completely terrible, even though it is a bit of a rehash of the first album. "Pictures of a City" uses vocal effects similar to Schizoid Man, the title track is basically a rewrite of Epitaph, and "The Devil's Triangle" does for noise what Moonchild did for silence.
Some of this material had already been written and performed live with the original lineup, and other tracks were specifically written for this release. Songs in the latter category include an okay song called "Cadence and Cascade" that's kind of spoiled by lame vocals (performed by Gordon Haskell, a childhood friend of Robert Fripp, probably because Lake wasn't available) and three acoustic toss-offs that go nowhere. "Cat Food" was written when McDonald was still in the band, but it's a humorous piano jazz piece that doesn't sound like anything on In the Court, and "The Devil's Triangle" is a lengthy avant-garde piece that's actually interesting (it samples from the first album! Sampling! In 1970!), even though not all of it works (it incorporates Holst's Mars, the Bringer of War, but it's a bit clunky; other bands would do a much better job of adopting classical pieces later on)
Despite the fact that Poseidon isn't too innovative, it's still pretty good and should do a decent job of whetting the appetite of anyone who loved the debut. It isn't quite essential, but it's still worth seeking out.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King

9/10

The 30 seconds or so of ambient noise that introduce this album are one of my favorite parts. I can't help but imagine someone popping this into their record player in 1969 and wondering, "What the hell am I listening to?" This may not have been the first progressive rock album ever (depending on your definition of the genre, the Moody Blues and Procol Harum may have had King Crimson beaten), but it's definitely the most influential. It's really hard to talk about an album as famous as this one, because pretty much everything that can be said about it already has. Nearly all of the elements that would define progressive rock are here- long songs, mellotrons, fantasy-based lyrics (I just love Peter Sinfield's work here), and extended instrumental sections.
Of the five songs here, 21st Century Schizoid Man is an abrasive saxophone/guitar workout, I Talk to the Wind is a soft flute-based ballad, Epitaph is a mellotron-based epic, Moonchild is a decent mystical lo-fi song with a horrible eternity of free-jazz noodling tacked onto the end, and the title track is another mellotron-based piece.
The only real blemish here is the free jazz section on Moonchild, which is nine minutes long and has almost nothing going on in it. Several minutes of it would get chopped out in the 40th anniversary remaster (which I haven't heard); although some die-hards might cry out "FRIPP SHOT FIRST," but it doesn't bother me too much. I would definitely give this album a 10 if it weren't for that horrible, horrible stretch.
Fripp's guitar isn't that prominent one most of these tracks; most of the emphasis is on Ian McDonald's reeds and mellotron. He does a great job of playing the saxophone chaotically on Schizoid Man, creating tense mellotron soundscapes on Epitaph, and performing serene flute melodies on I Talk to the Wind. Unfortunately, he would leave the band shortly after this album, and his later career wasn't that great (I've heard that his album with drummer Michael Giles, who left KC at the same time, is pretty good; most surprisingly, he would go on to be a founding member of Foreigner!) Greg Lake also puts in some fine vocal performances; he, of course would go on to front Emerson, Lake and Palmer; unfortunately, he would leave after the band's second album. That left just Fripp and Sinfield as original band members (Sinfield was considered a member even though he never sang or played on record). One can only wonder how a more consistent lineup would have turned out.
Despite this, it's really amazing how well this album brings you into its world. It deserves all the acclaim it gets, and is an album that no one should be without.

Monday, July 5, 2010

King Crimson - Intro

King Crimson are one of the giants of progressive rock. Led by guitarist Robert Fripp, the band has gone through a myriad of lineups and musical genres. I first discovered the band through my college library's CD collection, which had their albums from Islands through Discipline. I hadn't had a whole lot of exposure to progressive rock at that point beyond Pink Floyd, so these albums really helped open my horizons. I can't say that all their albums are great, but I feel that some of them are incredibly underrated, especially among the internet music community.

NOTE: King Crimson has an absolutely obscene number of live releases, including the King Crimson Collectors' Club live albums, which rival the Grateful Dead's Dick's Pick's series in number. I will only be covering some of the live albums that the band has produced, but I've tried to cover most of the band's eras. I also will not be reviewing albums by the ProjeKcts which were released by subsets of band members during the 1990's.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Terrible Album Covers: Scorpions - Fly to the Rainbow


Under most circumstances, this would be the worst album cover of a band's career, but it's not too bad compared to Virgin Killer. But seriously, they put propellers on his feet? That can't be very aerodynamic.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Guy Lafleur - Lafleur!

7/10

Even in a world where Shaquille O'Neal released enough albums to have a "Best of," it's still hard to believe that Lafleur! exists. Who thought it would be a good idea to have Guy Laleur read hockey tips over a disco beat? Who thought that this would end up being a massive crossover hit? One can't help but wonder if this album would even exist if not for the Canadian content requirements on radio stations up north.
But Lafleur! is certainly a riot. There's something I find inherently funny about French-Canadian accents- to me, they're just different enough from French-Canadian accents that they sound like the speaker is vaguely retarded. Lafleur reads his lines in a monotone, which clashes hilariously with the generic disco beats and female backing singers. And much of the advice is so blatantly obvious- Lafleur talks about how you have to shoot when you're in front of the net (as if anyone would shoot from behind the net).
There's also quite a bit of sexual innuendo, although I wouldn't be that surprised if that was unintentional (this album was released in both English and French). The track with the most of this is called "Scoring," which features the line "Remember, back-end shots are more difficult due to the curved stick."
Unfortunately, two of the album's six songs are just generic disco songs that happen to use hockey terminology, and Lafleur is nowhere in sight for them. Still, the other songs are amazingly entertaining.

Not surprisingly, this album is long out of print, so here's a link (thanks to Disco Delivery for the upload)

Link

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Elf - Trying to Burn the Sun

6/10

Elf's third and last album doesn't stray too far from the style of their previous two; the boogie-woogie piano is still front and center, although there are a few songs that are a little different ("When She Smiles" has an electric piano, the aforementioned track and "Wonderworld" feature strings, "Shotgun Boogie" is much faster than anything Elf had done before, and "Streetwalker" goes on about twice as long as it has to)
There's not a whole lot to say about Trying to Burn the Sun that you couldn't say about the first two albums, and all of them show why Elf never managed to be successful commercially; while they were competent at their instruments and Dio was a great singer, they just weren't doing much of anything that other bands weren't doing considerably better. The first Rainbow album would feature most of the same personnel, but with the songwriting duties split between Dio and Ritchie Blackmore instead of Dio and Mickey Lee Soule, the quality and distinctiveness of the band's songs skyrocketed. Elf was just too limited to achieve superstardom, and that's why they're forgotten today despite their famous frontman.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Elf - Carolina County Ball

7/10

Carolina County Ball has slightly more variety than Elf's debut, but it still can't quite escape the trap of repetitive piano-based songwriting that doomed that album to mediocrity. There are definitely more songs here that stick out as being different than the others: for example, the title track has a horn section,"Ain't it All Amusing" uses an electric piano and has a somewhat funky feel, "Happy" has multi-layered backing vocals and a more languid pace.
However, I felt that there was just too much sedate material on this album for its own good- while the slower songs are somewhat spread out, songs like "Happy," the first half of "Rocking Chair Rock 'n' Roll Blues," the ridiculously underwritten "Blanche" and "Rainbow" (yes, he was writing about them even at this early date) aren't awful or anything, but I was really hoping for more harder rocking material. This still isn't metal by any stretch of the imagination, and while it isn't terrible at all, I still can't recommend this to Dio fans unless they're aware that it's not even remotely heavy.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Terrible Album Covers: Visions of Atlantis - Eternal Endless Infinity

Even if you ignore the hilariously redundant title, this is still a terrible album cover. If Nightwish released an album of Jimmy Buffett covers, this is what I'd expect it to look like.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Elf - s/t

6/10

The early 1970's, in my opinion, were the golden age of keyboards. Moogs and mellotrons were making their big mainstream splash after some isolated use in songs such as "Strawberry Fields Forever," the Hammond organ and electric piano were popular, and most of the cheesy keyboards that would become popular in the late 70's and 80's hadn't been invented yet.
So why the hell does Elf keyboardist Mickey Lee Soule insist on using the exact same style of honky-tonk piano in every track on this album? At first, I was thinking, "Wow, this is nothing like I expected at all! Dio hasn't quite found his niche as a metal screamer yet, but he's a surprisingly good blues-rock vocalist. And that piano's a nice change of pace from most of the stuff on the first Rainbow album." (I was aware that Soule had performed on that album, which only had one piano-heavy track).
Unfortunately, instead of taking advantage of all the keyboards that were available to him, Soule insisted on playing a plain ol' piano on every track, with very little stylistic variation. As a result, Elf's debut album becomes fairly tedious, despite the otherwise decent songwriting and some decent guitar playing from David Feinstein. (Admittedly, there's one track with some Hammond organ overdubs and another with some synthesizer, but they're used sparingly, with the emphasis still being on the honky-tonk piano.)
Even without the lame piano, I wouldn't recommend this to metal fans, though. This is blues-rock, not metal, and it's not even on the heavier side of the genre. Even the lyrics aren't anything like the Dungeons and Dragons stuff that Dio would later become famous for, instead focusing on Southern-style. This is still worth a look, but be aware of that annoying piano.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Elf - Intro

NOTE: I'm writing this on May 17, the day after Ronnie James Dio passed on. His death isn't the reason I decided to do a page for Elf (I'd been considering doing them since before I heard he was ill), but I wasn't planning on writing my first post-hiatus discography this far in advance.

Although Elf wasn't Ronnie James Dio's first band, it was his first that recorded full-length albums. While one might assume from the band name and Dio's later output that Elf was a fantasy-themed proto-metal band, this just wasn't true- they played Southern-style blues rock, which was certainly a shock for me. Their three albums were fairly good, but there was one near-constant aspect to their songs that I found annoying, which I'll explain in greater detail in my reviews.

PS: Thank God for "special marketing" labels that put this kind of obscure stuff out. These albums would never have stayed in print without them.

Monday, June 21, 2010

NEARfest report

I just returned from NEARfest earlier today, and it was EYE BUGGING GOOD!

As with last year, I only attended the first night because that's when all the stuff I wanted to see was playing. The opener was Riverside, a progressive metal band from Poland. They were pretty good- I had never heard any of their stuff before, but I liked the fact that they relied more on creating atmosphere than Dream Theater wankery.
But the real reason that I came was to see Steve Hackett, formerly of Genesis. I'd heard some of his solo work, and I absolutely loved the albums "Voyage of the Acolyte" and "Spectral Mornings." When I returned to my seat after the intermission, I was dismayed to see that the seat on my right, which had been empty during Riverside's performance, was taken up by the biggest man I had seen at NEARfest (which is no mean feat, mind you- the crowd there is basically the same as your typical comic book or sci-fi convention, but a few decades older). Fortunately, the show was good enough that I almost completely forgot about him.
There was some stuff from Genesis (which was sung by the drummer, who did a pretty good job despite not sounding like Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins), an acoustic interlude, some stuff from the older solo albums (including Spectral Mornings, my personal favorite song of his) and some newer stuff, which I didn't recognize. He's still really, really talented, and though some of his vocals were done through filters, I can forgive that since he's never been much of a singer. Also, for some reason, his bassist was in drag (I'm not sure what the point of that was).
All in all, it was a really good show. Unfortunately, I didn't buy as much from the vendors there as I had hoped because the prices were highway robbery. For example, one vendor was selling the Scorpions debut "Lonesome Crow" for $22, when I can, as of this writing, get a new copy on Amazon.com for $4.82 plus shipping. Still, I can only hope that next year's NEARfest will have something I'm equally eager to see.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Terrible Album Covers: Destruction - Metal Discharge

I really have no idea if this album's title was an intentional yucky pun or just the result of the band members' poor grasp of English. I know that sick jokes aren't unusual in metal or anything, but "Metal Discharge" just sounds like some malady that aging metalheads would get.

Friday, June 18, 2010

I'm back!

My hiatus is over, and I have already reviewed the discography of a well-known frontman's early band. I will also be attending NEARfest tonight, and will be posting a concert review on Monday. Just wanted to let you know...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Hiatus

My life has been fairly busy with various extracurriculars, and I am going to be taking a prep course for the LSAT that will take up quite a bit more of my time. Therefore, I have decided to take an extended break. However, I'm not just going to forget about this blog; I most definitely will be back, most likely in June to give a report on NEARfest (I'm going to see Steve Hackett on the Friday show).

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Jon Anderson report

This concert definitely wasn't worth the $45 I paid to see it. You see, I expected that Jon Anderson would have, you know, an actual backing band behind him, so I was pretty dismayed when I entered the theater and all that was there was a guitar and a keyboard with no instruments for the rhythm section at all. Yes, this show was just Jon singing and banging out rudimentary chords on a guitar (and occasionally, piano).
I'm going to try not to sound nasty, since I know that Jon has gone through some health problems that probably helped lead to him being kicked out of Yes. When I looked around on the Internet, I noticed that there were only a few other dates before this one, so I'm going to guess that he had doctor's orders against a more rigorous schedule. To his credit, his voice sounded perfectly fine, but I guess he just couldn't find anyone who was willing to back him up for just a few dates.
And he played lots of Yes material, which doesn't really lend itself to such a stripped-down arrangement, especially for a non-virtuoso like Jon. These songs just don't sound right without an entire group of expert musicians playing along. (Then again, the 80's songs like "Owner of a Lonely Heart" sounded even weirder in this format.) Yes songs without the cool instrumental sections feel like what would happen if you removed all the cool sound effects from the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows", where all that would be left is one cord being played on a sitar over and over.
I hate to say that this is the worst concert I've ever been to, what with me only having been to about half a dozen, but it was. It didn't help that I was almost right next to some buffoon who was loudly requesting "Holy Lamb," an obscure song from "Big Generator" for the entire show. In the end, it was just kind of depressing.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Jon Anderson Concert

I will be attending a solo concert by Jon Anderson of Yes tomorrow night, and will be giving a live report the day after. I decided to go to this concert instead of the Yes concert in June because I can't accept any version of Yes that's not fronted by Jon or a reunion of the Drama lineup.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Terrible Album Covers: The Slamburglars - Cookie Monstrosity


Yeah, I have no idea what they were going for here, either.

Friday, April 9, 2010

What isn't metal

The metal community today has very strong opinions on what doesn't count as metal which don't always match up with what the mainstream thinks. Here is where they diverge:

70's hard rock: Although it was called "metal" at the time, a lot of hard rock bands like AC/DC aren't considered metal today. The website Metal-Archives doesn't really have standards on what does and doesn't count among 70's bands, which ends up in them leaving out AC/DC and Led Zeppelin while including Rush, Deep Purple and Thin Lizzy. Although I don't agree with all of their decisions, I think their case-by-case approach is best.

Glam metal: A lot of hair metal bands aren't considered to be metal by metal conouisseurs today. Metal-Archives includes bands like Motley Crue and Def Leppard because they consider their early work to be metal enough to get entries. I think the genre is more hard rock than metal, and by the 80s, there was enough of a difference between the genres to distinguish between them easily.

Nu-metal: It's been said that metal is rock and roll with the black influences stripped out. That's not entirely true (some doom metal bands are quite bluesy), but I say that nu-metal is rock and roll with the black influences stripped out and newer, more recent black music awkwardly spliced in. Nu-metal fans are generally mocked among the internet metal community. I think it counts as metal, but it's a terrible, terrible subgenre that should be ignored.

Grindcore: Some people consider grindcore to be more of a subgenre of punk than metal. I haven't listened to the genre enough to form an opinion.

Metalcore: This genre combining hardcore and metal is also not well liked among metal stalwarts. I like a grand total of one band in this genre, Between the Buried and Me. Metal-Archives takes metalcore bands on a case-by-case basis, but they used to have an entry for BTBAM and now they don't anymore.

These are just some of the genres that people aren't sure about whether they're metal or not. I'm not sure about some of them, either.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Meads of Asphodel - English Black Punk Metal

4/10

The Meads' latest release is a split featuring the recording debut of fellow English black metallers Old Corpse Road. Their half of this split, "The Bones of this Land are Not Speechless," is fairly decent black metal in a progressive vein that's not quite as eclectic as the Meads' work, but still fairly enjoyable. However, it's not what I'm reviewing.
The Meads' half gets off to a great start with a hilariously obscene rant by Metatron, and the song "On the Surface" is pretty good, although it's a little heavy on the synths. However, the other songs are all covers, and I find the first three to be just as dull as the ones on "Life is Shit". However, "War Drum" is a pretty good crossover thrash tune. But they saved the worst for last, with a cover of the Kinks' "You Really Got Me" which tries way too hard to make it into a metal song, and it ends up being a trainwreck that's almost as bad as Six Feet Under's Graveyard Classics albums and isn't as funny as a Ten Masked Men cover. This is the third Meads release in a row that's only for completists, although Old Corpse Road's half is worth checking out for fans of black metal.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Cannibal Corpse - Evisceration Plague

6/10

Evisceration Plague is a fairly so-so effort from Cannibal Corpse. The fast songs here are perfectly fine, but they don't vary a whole lot, and one gets a little burnt out on them after a while. The slower efforts like "A Cauldron of Hate" and the title track are awesome songs that are perfect for headbanging, and I really wish there had been more songs like these. Sure, Tomb of the Mutilated was my favorite CC album and it was pretty one-note, but that album had dark, murky production that was fairly unique for the band. Evisceration Plague is well produced, but in no that's more unique than many other death metal albums.
That's not to say that there aren't some great fast songs here, though- the first three songs are all really good, and "Carnivorous Swarm" does a great job of evoking a horde of buzzing insects. It's just that most of the songs on Evisceration Plague kind of blur together after a while; they're pretty good while they're on, but only a few stick out in my mind after the album's over. This one's not the worst CC album, but there are others that are much, much better.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Terrible Album Covers: Big Bear - Doin Thangs


To be fair, I like the concept here, it's just that the Photoshopping is abysmal. Those two black bears in the background are clearly the same picture reversed. There's a rap record label that's really notorious for these tacky album covers, but I don't remember its name at the moment.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Cannibal Corpse - Centuries of Torment

9/10

NOTE: The following was a review I wrote over a year ago for the site metal-jerks.com. I decided to leave it as is and post it here.

To celebrate the band’s 20th anniversary, Metal Blade Records has released this 3-disc retrospective DVD chronicling the history of Cannibal Corpse, and it is excellent. I’m normally not that interested in music-related DVDs, but this one is packed with interesting information and hilarious footage. Disc 1 contains a three-hour documentary on the band’s history that features all Cannibal Corpse members past and present (except founding guitarist Bob Rusay, who was apparently impossible to track down). There’s scarcely a wasted moment on this disc; my favorite parts were old footage of band members screwing around with a camera and how lead singer George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher gave most of his interviews in front of a bookcase full of action figures that were still in their boxes. I knew he was nerdy, but not that nerdy! I also liked getting to see people associated with the band who I previously only knew by reputation; cover artist Vince Locke looks nothing like you’d expect someone who drew such gory images to look like.

Disc 2 is a set of Cannibal Corpse performances from all eras of the band (although the Barnes era is underrepresented). I liked this disc, but it was my least favorite of the three; I’ve never really cared that much for live DVDs. The second disc also contains all of the band’s videos. Disc 3 contains a bunch of themed collections of footage that didn’t make it into the first disc. My favorites among these were “Sickening Metalocalypse,” which covers Fisher’s recurring role on the Adult Swim show; “Every Ban Broken,” which discusses the censorship problems that the band has faced in countries like Germany and New Zealand, and “Covered With Ink,” which shows how die-hard Corpse fans have gotten images from the band’s notoriously gruesome album covers tattooed on them.

I only have one major complaint about this DVD set- the sound just isn’t loud enough! I watched this on my laptop, and even with the volume turned all the way up, it was noticeably less loud than actual Cannibal Corpse songs being played on iTunes on the same laptop. You’d think that a DVD about a band like CC would be as loud as possible. But despite that, I heartily recommend this DVD set. It’s highly entertaining, reasonably priced (at just $25 US), and has plenty of material (well over seven hours). I give it five out of five skinless, rotting cadavers.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cannibal Corpse - Kill

7/10

Holy crap, this album gets off to a great start, with Corpsegrinder screaming "KIIIIIIIIIIILLLLLLLL!" while the band sounds like they started right in the middle of a song. It's one of my favorite albums openings ever. Unfortunately, while this album has some equally awesome moments, there are some songs here that just don't cut the mustard. Kill has some great songs that are just as good as the best material released with Chris Barnes, but there's also more than a little filler here (mostly in the second half).
Kill also isn't as varied as The Wretched Spawn- the best songs are all fast and thrashy, such as "The Time to Kill is Now," "Five Nails Through the Neck,""Necrosadistic Warning," and "Brain Removal Device." (When I looked up this album on the Internet before it came out, that last song was mislabeled "Brain Removal Police," which sounds even more interesting to me.) The not-so-great songs just kind of blend together in my mind, with no real memorable parts at all. Songs like this include most of "Murder Worship," "Barbaric Bludgeonings," and the dull-as-dishwater instrumental "Infinite Misery ". This is completely speculation on my part, but maybe the loss of founding guitarist Jack Owen negatively affected their ability to self-edit? He wrote most of my favorite songs on The Wretched Spawn.
Still, there's a lot of great material on here, and the filler isn't that embarrassing, so I can give it a recommendation. It's just not quite as good as it could have been.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Cannibal Corpse - The Wretched Spawn

9/10

The Wretched Spawn has to be one of the most varied albums from Cannibal Corpse. That may not sound like it's saying a whole lot, but the tempos here span the whole spectrum from almost grindcore-speed (Severed Head Stoning, Cyanide Assassin) to midtempo (Decency Defied) to slow and deliberate (Festering in the Crypt), and the song structures range from simple verse-chorus-verse to the less traditional patterns typical of the Barnes era.
Not all of the songs here are typical death metal- "Decency Defied" wouldn't sound out of place done by some mainstream metal band (but it's still good!), Festering in the Crypt is plodding but hooky as hell, "Nothing Left to Mutilate" has a surprisingly melodic solo that provides a stark contrast to the brutal-as-hell verses, and the guitar tones on the title track aren't nearly as chaotic as on most other CC songs.
However, it's stuff like this that makes The Wretched Spawn such an interesting listen. I know that it's weird to compare Cannibal Corpse albums to ZZ Top albums, but if Tomb of the Mutilated was their Eliminator- an album that was great even though it was pretty one-note- The Wretched Spawn is their Tres Hombres- an album that's great because it tries and succeeds at doing all kinds of things (you'd have to be really prejudiced against metal to say that all of these songs sound the same). It's by far my favorite album with Corpsegrinder.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Terrible Album Covers: Lou Reed - The Blue Mask


Now this one takes the award for laziness. I'm going to assume that they waited til the last minute to figure out what this cover would be, since it's just the photo from Transformer painted blue.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Cannibal Corpse - Worm Infested

7/10

Worm Infested is an EP featuring six leftover tracks recorded during the Corpsegrinder era. The original songs are worthwhile; "Systematic Elimination" is decent, if a bit generic, but the title track is awesome! Sporting some of the grossest Cannibal Corpse lyrics ever (to go with the equally disgusting cover art), "Worm Infested" has great ascending and descending riffs and an excellent performance from Fisher. I have no idea why it didn't make it onto an album. There's also a re-recording of "The Undead Will Feast" from Eaten Back to Life. It's okay, but there were far better Barnes-era songs to recreate.
The other three tracks are all covers, and their effectiveness varies. Accept's "Demon's Night" wasn't such a great choice for a cover, as it's not nearly as chaotic as Cannibal Corpse's original material, but at least it was performed better than the stuff on Six Feet Under's Graveyard Classics albums. Possessed's "Confessions" is fairly faithful to the original, to the point that Corpsegrinder is barely recognizable, using a raspy voice instead of the more typical growling. The EP ends with a cover of Metallica's No Remorse, which does a great job of being both easily recognizable while putting the Cannibal Corpse stamp on it.
The only really essential song here is the title track, but there are some others that are very good. It's not consistent or anything, but what do you expect from a collection of discarded tracks?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cannibal Corpse - Gore Obsessed

7/10

Gore Obsessed is something of a return to form for Cannibal Corpse, with far more memorable passages and songs than the last two studio outings. "Hatchet to the Head" is wonderfully hooky and is one of the few CC songs that one can actually sing along to. Another great song here is "Mutation of the Cadaver," which has great screaming, an interesting bass intro, and drumming that's just off-kilter enough to stand out. Also, the lyrics don't have any profanity or even violence, which means it's completely radio-friendly (I have no idea how it missed the top 40). Corpsegrinder's performance is great throughout, with both high pitched screaming and low-pitched squealing that's not as annoying as those "BREEEEEE" vocals I hate so much.
Unfortunately, some songs aren't entirely consistent; "Drowning in Viscera" starts off with great, rhythmic vocals from Corpsegrinder but levels off after the beginning, while "Savage Butchery" would be a damn fine song if not for the fact that the solo is mixed so low that it's almost inaudible. "Sanded Faceless" has a great intro that actually evokes the song's title, but the rest of the song is pretty much Cannibal Corpse by numbers. "When Death Replaces Life" is a slower song that would be pretty good if it didn't go on for five minutes; as it is, it's fairly repetitive (at least for the first half).
Gore Obsessed has its flaws, but it's a hell of a lot better than the band's previous two efforts. It doesn't really do much that's new for the band, but if you wanted a band with a constantly changing sound, you shouldn't be listening to Cannibal Corpse anyway.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cannibal Corpse - Live Cannibalism

7/10

As far as arrangements are concerned, Cannibal Corpse doesn't really change much from the original studio versions of the songs on Live Cannibalism, but it's a pretty decent listen regardless. What surprised me is that nearly half of the setlist consists of Barnes-era material. I can't say that Corpsegrinder improves on the original vocals, but it's definitely more interesting than just hearing more recent songs. Also, the stuff from the later albums sounds a bit better without the too-clean production that I hated.
Corpsegrinder also has some brief-but-amusing stage banter. ("This next one goes out to all the fucking women out there!") The only real misstep is the unnecessary addition of 90 seconds of feedback to the end of "Disposal of the Body". Otherwise, it's fine if not especially revelatory.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Terrible Album Covers: The Rolling Stones - Dirty Work

Yes, jokes about how insanely old the Rolling Stones are date back at least to when I was a toddler. My favorite part of this cover is Charlie Watts half asleep near the bottom. It shouldn't be surprising that this album dates from 1986, a year which has a reputation as being the worst year in music as far as artists who got their start in previous decades are concerned (my favorite example of this is Lou Reed including a fucking rap song that year). It's considered by many to be the Stones' worst album.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Cannibal Corpse - Bloodthirst

5/10

Bloodthirst is the second Cannibal Corpse album in a row that doesn't do a whole lot for me. On these albums that I don't like as much as the others, Cannibal Corpse were just trying to hard to be technical, and not aiming for the sheer, unadulterated brutality that made the Barnes albums so great. The problem was that while the guitarists are decent players, they don't quite have the ability needed to create a tech-death masterpiece like Gorguts' Obscura or some of the later-period Death albums. Compounding the fact is that Mazurkiewicz' playing is as dull as ever, and Alex Webster's usually lower than normal in the mix, meaning that the rhythm section is nothing to write home about.
There are still some pretty decent songs here, though- "Raped by the Beast" is as chaotic as anything off of the first three albums, while "Dead Human Collection" and "The Spine Splitter" are catchy as hell. "Hacksaw Decapitation" has a great intro, but the Also, Corpsegrinder's vocals are considerably more varied than on the previous two albums.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of songs on Bloodthirst that feel like they were written on autopilot. Maybe the fact that Vile was the last CC album produced by Scott Burns has something to do with how I don't like these albums as much? His style was a hell of a lot grittier. Whatever the reason, I don't listen to this album too much.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cannibal Corpse - Gallery of Suicide

5/10

I just don't care for this album that much. Oh, Gallery of Suicide still has a few incredible songs on it, as all CC albums do. But for every great song such as "I Will Kill You," "Headless," or "Unite the Dead," (this one has really sweet lyrics. It's about mommy zombies and daddy zombies getting together and making baby zombies! Isn't that adorable?) there's a song that's barely memorable at all. Chief among these is the five-and-a-half-minute instrumental "From Skin to Liquid," which doesn't really serve any purpose except to take up space, and there are a bunch of of other tracks such as "Disposal of the Body" (which, admittedly, ends with a short but cool solo), the dull-as-hell "Sentenced to Burn" (which reminds me more than a little of the old WWF Raw theme song).
I don't know what happened. This was one of the last Cannibal Corpse albums that I got around to hearing, so maybe it's just me? Then again, maybe it had something to do with the loss of guitarist Rob Barret, who played on the previous two albums as Bob Rusay's replacement, or maybe it's because Fisher's vocal patterns still aren't too varied (the same could be said for Barnes, though, but I kind of preferred his Cookie monster growling style), and by now he doesn't have the novelty of being new on his side. Gallery of Suicide is also almost 45 minutes long, while none of the previous albums even made it to the 40 minute mark. Whatever the reason, this is the first album by Cannibal Corpse that I can't really recommend.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cannibal Corpse - Vile

7/10

When I was first listening to Cannibal Corpse, I was convinced that Chris Barnes was a far better vocalist than George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher, although this was in large part due to the fact that I felt that Barnes sounded much sillier (I listened to death metal for laughs at first). Today, I think that they're equally good, but I tend to like the Barnes albums a bit better due to them being my first.
Vile was Corpsegrinder's first album with the band after Chris Barnes got kicked out since the other band members thought the vocal tracks he recorded for this album sucked. George is a bit easier to understand than Barnes was, but his vocals are just as good- his screams are great although the vocal patterns here are a bit repetitive (clearly, the loss of Barnes had made the band suffer in that department). Unfortunately, the songwriting here is a bit samey; a bunch of the solos are fairly interchangeable and the songs aren't nearly as catchy as those on The Bleeding. Also, there are a few of the band's rareexperiments, such as a transition between "Disfigured" and "Bloodlands" with awkward wind noises, and the band's first instrumental, "Relentless Beating," which doesn't go much of anywhere but has some great bass playing.
Still, there's plenty to enjoy here, as Vile only pales in comparison to what preceded it; the first two songs, "Devoured by Vermin" and "Mummified in Barbed Wire" are just as good as anything from the Barnes albums; "Eaten from Inside" has two great solos, one melodic, one noisy; and "Monolith" does a great job of ending the album, with an epic intro leading into a wonderfully brutal song telling of a zombie apocalypse ending the world. This is the worst Cannibal Corpse album released to this point, but it's still pretty good.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Terrible Album Covers: Kiss - Dressed to Kill

I'm the most illiterate person ever when it comes to fashion, and even I can tell that those suits don't even come close to fitting. Apparently, they had to use their managers' suits because none of the band members owned any.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Spring Break

I've decided to take a break in my Cannibal Corpse reviews and take some time off. I will still be posting a terrible album cover this weekend, though.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Terrible Album Covers: Six Feet Under - Bringer of Blood

You'd expect that someone would try to make a demonic skull look as threatening as possible, but this fellow just looks confused. To tell the truth, I included this more due to the inlay than anything else, which has horrible CGI-morphed pictures of the band members as monsters, which can be seen here.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Cannibal Corpse - The Bleeding

8/10

During the making of Tomb of the Mutilated, guitarist Bob Rusay got kicked out of Cannibal Corpse because the other members weren't satisfied with his playing. I don't really know how much influence he had over the songwriting (on the first few albums, only the lyrics are credited to individual band members, usually Barnes; the music is credited to the entire band), but the songs on The Bleeding are much simpler, with more traditional verse/chorus/verse structures. That said, this album is still heavy as hell, even if it's a bit less chaotic. It's not as dark as Tomb of the Mutilated, but I respect them for not just wanting to rehash that album (as awesome as it was).
My main issue with this album is that some of these songs just aren't as memorable as others. The more simplistic song structures are all right with me at first- "Staring Through the Eyes of the Dead" is one of the catchiest songs they've ever done, and the next two are very good- but after a while, these songs just get a little more predictable than those on the first three albums.
Thoughts on individual songs: "Return to Flesh" has a great opening riff, but a horribly out-of-place solo; "Force Fed Broken Glass" is one of the lesser songs here, but it has a hilarious bit where Barnes acts like the titular act has been performed on him, and the second, third and seventh tracks are all great songs whose titles I'd rather not mention here.
The Bleeding may be a step down from the earlier albums, but it's definitely worth a listen and a bit more accessible than other CC material.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Cannibal Corpse - Tomb of the Mutilated

10/10

Tomb of the Mutilated is one of the darkest, most psychotic slabs of death metal ever released. Barnes' vocal performance is just inhuman- he was never easy to understand before, but it's hard to make out that there even are any lyrics underneath his growl. At first, I thought that maybe his voice had been heavily processed, but there's a note on the album packaging saying that no vocal effects were used. The guitars aren't trebly like on Butchered, they're just dark and relentless as hell. The production is dense, too, but it actually makes the album even grittier and darker than it would have been otherwise. Even the drumming isn't terrible! There are also a couple of samples that I felt were unnecessary, but that's just a minor quibble.
However, it should be noted that this album is quite samey, even by Cannibal Corpse standards. Even I, who can many of their albums apart quite easily, have trouble distinguishing between some of the songs here. It's almost like it's one long death metal song with breaks every few minutes. Despite that, it's quite possibly my favorite album in the genre. If you listen to only one death metal album, make it this one; you may not enjoy it, but you won't soon forget it.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Cannibal Corpse - Butchered at Birth

9/10

Cannibal Corpse's sophomore effort does away with some of the flaws of Eaten Back to Life, and the result is nothing short of awesome. The minute or so of guitar feedback that opens up the album is the gateway to Cannibal Corpse's dark realm of gore and murder. Butchered at Birth isn't quite as thrashy as its predecessor, but it's just as brutal, with none of the repetitive songwriting that plagued a few of the longer tracks on the first album. Barnes' vocals aren't quite as varied as before, but that's to the album's benefit; he's a lot better at deep growls than higher-pitched yelling and screaming. The guitars sound somewhat rickety, but that adds to the album's chaotic feel- I got the impression as if everything was just about to go flying off the rails, but never did.
Unfortunately, the drumming is just as crummy as before, but that's the only real drawback in evidence. Butchered at Birth is a fine album, and I can recommend it even more highly than the debut.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Terrible Album Covers: Brainticket - Cottonwoodhill

This is actually a pretty good psych/krautrock album, but what the hell was on their minds when they made this cover (besides drugs)? It's like seeing a cross between the aliens from Mars Attacks and the aliens with half white/half black faces from Star Trek while on LSD.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Cannibal Corpse - Eaten Back to Life

8/10

Cannibal Corpse may not have been the first death metal band to utilize Cookie Monster vocals (Deicide's Glen Benton used a similar style, and that band's debut predated this by two months), but they've probably done more to make them famous than anyone else. Chris Barnes gives a great performance (even though he doesn't sound quite as comfortable as he would on some later albums, the fact that he sounds like he's straining frequently makes the songs more effective), and the twin guitar attack is as strong as ever, delivering awesome riffs and solos with amazing consistency. It's also a bit bassier than later offerings from the Corpse; on later Corpse albums, the only time I could really make out the bass without headphones were on the rare occasions where Alex Webster would get a brief solo.
My favorite song here is "Put Them to Death," a spirited defense of the death penalty which features the most easily audible words on the entire album: "FUUUUUUUCK YOU!" Okay, there's one riff in that song that sounds more than a little like the Benny Hill theme, but I love Yakkety Sax so I can forgive it- it makes anything funny! (Except, well, Benny Hill.)
The biggest missteps here are that some of the songwriting is repetitive (the last verse of "Shredded Humans" is just the first verse repeated- I think they were having trouble padding the album out even to 35 minutes), and the drumming. While Paul Mazurkiewicz isn't a great drummer today, he is absolutely horrible here; his playing rarely sounds heavy at all, and is mostly limited to fairly generic patterns. Just check out the opening to "Edible Autopsy"- it sounds like a kindergartener lightly tapping random parts of a drum kit with silverware.
However, most of Eaten Back to Life is able to transcend the amateurish drum performance, and, as the debut from one of the most famous death metal bands in the world, it's still an essential listen for any fan of the genre.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cannibal Corpse - Intro

Cannibal Corpse are one of the best-known and most influential death metal bands in the world. They're especially notorious for their lyrics and album covers, which push the limits of good taste to unimaginable levels with their graphic, violent imagery. But there's some actual good music behind all of the controversy, and that's what I'll be focusing on in my reviews.
The first time I ever heard Cannibal Corpse (or any death metal, for that matter) was on an online radio station, and I thought that the growling vocals were the most hilarious thing ever. I originally purchased Tomb of the Mutilated just to laugh at it, but I found out after repeated listens that I actually enjoyed it unironically. Today, death metal is one of my favorite genres. It's funny just how one can discover new things.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Queen - Queen on Fire: Live at the Bowl

8/10

It's amazing how good this live album is, considering that it was recorded while they were touring for Hot Space. I think it's a cliche (and frequently not true) that live recordings have more energy than their studio counterparts, but it's definitely true here for the tracks off of Hot Space- they're so much better without the over-glossy production and drum machines. Every one of them is better than the original except Under Pressure, which just isn't the same without Bowie present.
But the Hot Space songs make up just four out of 25 songs, and the setlist is pretty good (although, not surprisingly, there's nothing here from the first three albums). Half the songs from The Game are present here; while I didn't think that particular album was overproduced, it's interesting to hear more stripped-down version of those songs here.
This is a pretty strong live album, although not quite the equal of Live at Wembley. There are a few parts that aren't so great (did Somebody to Love really need to be stretched out as long as it is here?) but not too many, so I give this an easy recommendation.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Terrible Album Covers: Scorpions - Virgin Killer

Christ, this is horrible. Most "generic band picture" album covers are awful, but just look at that guy with the mustache staring into the camera- that's gotta be the dumbest expression ever, and the other guys don't exactly look like they're thrilled to be there.
This was actually a replacement cover- I'm not sure what the first one was, but what could be so horrible that this would be an improvement? Child pornography?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Live in Poland

7/10

The final release from Emerson, Lake and Palmer is this respectable-but-not-great live album. To tell the truth, this was one of the first ELP albums I ever heard, so I'm somewhat biased towards it. Another reason I enjoy it is that there are some songs early on which you wouldn't expect to hear- these include the ELPowell track "Touch and Go," "Bitches Crystal" off of the second side of Tarkus and "From the Beginning" from Trilogy. There's surprisingly little off of Brain Salad Surgery, with just a six-minute excerpt from Karn Evil 9 making the cut.
The second half consists of two lengthy medleys that showcase some of the band's longer pieces (Pictures, Tarkus, Fanfare). They're decent, but I really preferred the more unorthodox first half of the album. Lake's voice is gritty-sounding, as can be expected, but Palmer's drums actually sound real here, unlike the Royal Albert Hall album.
Live in Poland shows that ELP were still decent live even after their horrible late-period studio albums, although it's still more for die-hards than casual fans.
There's actually a 3-disc set of ELP techno remixes which I'm not going to review- I used to own it and it's about as bad as you'd think, with no less than SEVEN versions of "Fanfare for the Common Man."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - In the Hot Seat

2/10

Emerson and Palmer had both undergone surgery on their hands shortly before this contractually obligated album, so there really wasn't any way it was going to be good- most of Keith and Carl's parts could easily have been programmed into machines. Once again, the production is completely stuck in the 80's, with Palmer's playing being ludicrously compressed and everything else being just completely sterile. If this and Black Moon can be considered sellout albums, they were horribly calculated, as this kind of synthy AOR was dated as hell by the early 90s. There's a bit more guitar here than on classic ELP albums, but it's as slicked-over as everything else.
As for individual songs, "Hand of Truth" has an intro that could've been pretty good if Emerson had been 100%, as it is, it sounds like a fucking techno song. "Daddy" is ridiculously oversentimental, while it's not hard to imagine "Heart on Ice" being sung by Celine Dion. "Man in the Long Black Coat" is a late-period Dylan cover that could've been pretty damn good if it weren't for the overproduction that plagues all the other tracks. "Give Me a Reason to Stay" is total adult contemporary trap, and I've heard a rumor that "Gone Too Soon" had session musicians replacing Emerson and Palmer, which seems quite likely to me.
The only real plus that I can see here is that Lake's vocal performance is considerably better than on Black Moon (with a few exceptions), but when the songwriting and production are this uniformly terrible, decent vocals aren't nearly enough to save a dungheap like this. By the end, I was actually missing all the blues/Dixieland jazz from Works, Volume 2. Ignore In the Hot Seat: it's as bad as Love Beach, and at least the latter album's cover made it an interesting conversation piece.
NOTE: Some editions of this album have a studio version of "Pictures at an Exhibition" added on at the end, which I didn't account for in my rating because I don't count bonus tracks. It's by far the best thing on here, but it's somewhat weak compared to earlier renditions- if I counted it in my actual rating, In the Hot Seat would only get a 3.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Live at the Royal Albert Hall

6/10

Live at the Royal Albert Hall isn't essential or anything, but at least it's somewhat pleasant, if hardly a replacement for earlier live efforts. Lake's voice sounds even rougher here than it did on Black Moon, but ELP was smart enough only to include the halfway decent songs from Black Moon here. Unfortunately, the band's most famous epics are here in extremely truncated form (Tarkus is cut in half and has some really annoying synth wanking at the end, and we get less than two minutes' worth of Karn Evil 9). Also, "Still... You Turn Me On" is the most boring song ever without the overdubs- at least "Lucky Man" gets some actual texture-based synth work from Emerson before the tacked-on solo in this live version.
Another problem is the drums- these just had to be electronic, as I've never heard drums this echoey in a live setting before, and they really detract from these songs. Also, even though I didn't like the original version of Pirates, the synth tones here that replace the orchestra make the song even cheesier.
Fortunately, there's an excellent instrumental medley at the end of "Fanfare for the Common Man," "Rondo" and "America" that ends things pretty well. I can only recommend this for people who've heard the classic albums first, but it's a pretty good replacement for Black Moon.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Terrible Album Covers: Danzig - How the Gods Kill

When I saw this cover, I thought "this artist is clearly ripping off H. R. Giger (particularly the cover of Brain Salad Surgery), but he completely forgot that the one cool aspect of his art was the mechanical/organic dichotomy and not the dumb phallic imagery." Then I did some research and found out that the artist actually was Giger. Lame.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Black Moon

3/10

The first full reunion album from ELP is firmly in the 80's vein despite the fact that it was recorded in 1992- the bass has that weird 80's effect, and the drums are either electronic or compressed as hell. Black Moon isn't really a good album, but it creates the illusion of being one due to front-loading all the best songs (the title track is dumber than you'd expect from ELP but a good arena rock song, "Paper Blood" has terrible lyrics but a wonderful chorus and good organ work from Emerson, and "Romeo and Juliet," the only classical adaptation here, is pretty strong and the synths are stuck in the 70's instead of 80's).
Unfortunately, there's little good beyond those tracks; the Lake ballads are as terrible as ever, with Emerson being mostly invisible (although there's an absolutely rancid synth-bagpipe solo on "Farewell to Arms") and Lake's voice is completely shot. His vocal performance on ELPowell was fine, but he's hard to recognize here; it's hard to believe that album was recorded less than a decade earlier. Emerson rarely shows any of the energy that he used to (the mostly slow and boring piano solo piece "Close to Home" is a prime example, although at least it's not as tacky as some of the other stuff on display here) There's even a terrible song that was written by the producer (has that ever been a good sign?)
Black Moon was another entry in a string of duds among ELP and not-quite-ELP projects. Except for a few strong tracks, it's completely ignorable.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

3 - To the Power of Three

1/10

Another ELP not-quite-reunion, 3 consisted of some no-name called Robert Berry replacing Lake as frontman. I have NO idea how he talked his way into this, but the fact that the band name downplayed Emerson and Palmer's participation suggests that they were embarrassed to be involved. And it's not surprising- To the Power of Three has nearly all of ELPowell's problems in more acute incarnations.
The synthesizers are terrible, Berry's singing is generic in the most terrible 80's way possible, the production is about as lame as was par for the course in 1988, and there's a cover of the Byrds' "Eight Miles High" which is about as bad as you'd expect. Virtually none of it sounds anything like ELP, which shouldn't be surprising because Berry had the majority of the songwriting credits here. (He would later go on to an illustrious career recording tribute albums.)
It's not hard to imagine that this is the unholy result of some rock and roll fantasy camp that somehow resulted in an album actually getting released, but from what I've heard, it was recorded because Asia broke up and all the members (including Carl Palmer) had to perform on other albums to get out of their contracts. I've only given out a 1 once before, but it just feels necessary to do so again for this pile of crap that makes Love Beach look like a masterpiece. That 1 was for Queen + Paul Rodgers' The Cosmos Rocks, which was similar to this in that it features two members of a legendary band whose performances are so dull that they might as well be sessions musicians. I guess that Emerson + Palmer at least had the foresight not to evoke the ELP name, but May and Taylor were smart enough to hire someone who wasn't a total no-name. The results sucked equally, though. Highest recommendation to avoid.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Powell - s/t

4/10

Keith Emerson and Greg Lake decided to reunite in 1986, but Carl Palmer was playing drums for Asia at the time, so they hired journeyman drummer Cozy Powell (most famously of Rainbow) to take his place.
This is a very 80's album, with godawful drum production and incredibly cheesy synth tones (synthesizers should NEVER attempt to emulate the sound of a horn section- disaster will inevitably result), but there are still some good parts- "Touch and Go" is incredibly catchy, with a great Emerson solo, and there's some of ELP's great approach to classical music with a fine rendition of "Mars, the Bringer of War".
Unfortunately, most of the rest of the album is made up of dull AOR songs. Even the longer ones aren't "progressive" in any real way besides the fact that they're long. The worst songs here are the adult contemporary "Love Blind," the vomitous lounge-jazz of "Step Aside", and the ridiculously oversentimental "Lay Down Your Guns"- and they're all in a row!
Another problem is that Powell is no Palmer- his drum patterns aren't nearly as complex and are generally just simple stuff that one could have heard on any hard rock or metal album of the era. I guess it's an improvement over "Emerson, Lake, and Drum Machine," but that's not saying a whole lot. Then again, Emerson and Lake's songwriting isn't close to what it used to be- it says a lot that a bonus track that's an instrumental cover of "The Loco-Motion" is one of the most entertaining songs on here. ELPowell is easily forgettable.

Friday, February 5, 2010

New feature: Terrible Album Covers: Foreigner - Head Games


I've been thinking about adding a feature like this for quite a while, but seeing the cover for Foreigner's Head Games while reading Don Ignacio's excellent music review site inspired me to make it a reality. I mean seriously, what the fuck? It's like they were trying to be as creepy as possible. One can easily imagine a bunch of offscreen rapists about to assault her in that men's room- one can only wonder why an MOR band like Foreigner would have an album cover so scuzzy. I need a fucking shower now.

I will be doing this feature on Saturdays from now on, so be sure to check my blog on the weekends as well.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Love Beach

2/10

As you may have guessed from the Jimmy Buffett-style album cover, ELP weren't exactly putting their all into this album. The damn thing wouldn't even have been recorded if it weren't for a contractual obligation.
The first side is mostly rancid Lake ballads- Keith is totally phoning in his keyboards, which sound more akin to something from 80's educational films than something worthy of his participation. Since Emerson wasn't too keen on this material, there's much more guitar here than usual, which could have been interesting if the material wasn't so banal. A cover of some classical piece called Canario would've been dull on other ELP albums, but it's probably the best thing here.
And then there's side two, made up of the suite "Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman." This monstrosity never gets out of first gear, with long stretches of nothing but vocals and piano. There's little about it that could be considered progressive.
I'm giving this a 2 for the okay Canario, and because Lake actually gives a decent vocal performance for most of the time (he was probably the only one who gave a shit about this album). Love Beach is every bit as terrible as its cover and reputation, and is only for the most desperate ELP completists.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Works Live

7/10

If you get just one ELP album bearing the Works moniker, get this one. Originally released in 1979 as the 1-disc "In Concert," it was revamped in 1993 as a 2-CD album. This was recorded live in Montreal on the Works tour, with many tracks featuring a live orchestra. Not surprisingly, most of the songs are from the Works albums, although a few appear from earlier releases (an abbreviated Pictures suite with full orchestra, Knife Edge from the debut, Abaddon's Bolero from Trilogy) as well as a version of Henry Mancini's Peter Gunn theme.
"The Enemy God," surprisingly, is a synthesized version that doesn't use the orchestra, and Emerson's piano concerto is cut down to just the last movement. Abaddon's Bolero and the Pictures suite are given new life by the combination of the band and the orchestra, and some of the duller tracks from Works, Volume Two sound considerably better here.
Unfortunately, the Lake ballads still suck, and much of the band's stronger material is absent here (but most of what's missing is on Welcome Back anyway). Works Live is a very good substitute for the patchy-as-hell studio records.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Works, Volume Two

5/10

Works, Volume Two is made up of stuff that didn't make it onto previous albums, and it's pretty obvious which albums some of them were originally recorded for- "Brain Salad Surgery" was left off of the album of the same name, "Bullfrog" didn't make the cut for Palmer's slice of Works Volume One, and "Watching over You" is another lame Lake/Sinfield ballad. Other tracks are harder to place, but many of them have a pretty strong barrelhouse/boogie-woogie/blues/old-time jazz feel (there's even a cover of Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag"). Unfortunately, I don't really care much for keyboard-based blues or jazz styles that predate the hard bop revolution of the fifties, so these tracks don't do much of anything for me.
While Works Volume One was all over the place but ultimately mediocre, Works Volume Two is just dull but fairly pleasant throughout. I don't know if they were burnt out on bombastic prog songs or what, but there's basically none of the epic sound of their first four albums (five if you count Pictures). I'm sure the Dixieland sound prevalent here will appeal to some people, just not fans of ELP's classic era.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Works, Volume One

5/10

After the Brain Salad Surgery tour, ELP took some time off so the members could record solo albums. Unfortunately, none of them managed to finish them, so they decided to release the material on Works, Volume I. Each band member got a side, with another side featuring the entire band. As can be expected, the end result is kind of a mess.
Emerson's side is taken up by a lengthy piano concerto. I felt that, while decent, this piece was all over the place and tried to do too much. I don't have much else to say about this side except that I give it a 5.
Lake's side consists of dumb orchestral ballads co-written with Peter Sinfield (his lyrics here are far closer to the Sinfield that wrote lyrics for Celine Dion than the Sinfield that wrote lyrics for King Crimson). The one song I liked here was "Hallowed be Thy Name," with its off-putting string chords, it's almost scary at times. This side gets a 3 and likes it.
I enjoyed Palmer's side the most against my better judgement. There are arrangements of pieces by Prokofiev and Bach, a hilarious song with a vocoder, and "L. A. Nights," an unholy fusion of proto-80's synths, jazz fusion, and boogie-woogie rock that shouldn't work at all, but somehow does. There's also a pretty decent symphonic re-recording of "Tank" from the debut, although it's hardly the definitive version. Palmer's portion gets a 7 from me.
The full band side has one pretty good song, a rendition of "Fanfare for the Common Man" with some entertaining synth jamming, but the other, called "Pirates," is just incredibly lame. The instrumental parts are okay, but the rest is Broadway tripe of the worst sort, with dumb, dumb orchestration and worse lyrics, and the whole thing goes on way too long. There are a few parts where I think the Broadway stuff gets so cheesy that it sort of works, but that fact's enough to make my heterosexuality want to shrivel up and die. I give side 4 a low, low 6.
As a whole, I can't really recommend Works, Volume One, although it's not an unqualified disaster. You'd be better starting off with the albums that preceded ELP's hiatus.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Welcome Back My Friends to the Show that Never Ends

7/10

This triple LP/double CD is a pretty good live summary of the band's classic period, containing material from every studio album they'd recorded up to then. Karn Evil 9 is here in all of its glory, and it's a fine rendition for the most part (although Lake sounds more than a little bored at the end, and Palmer's solo didn't have to be six minutes long). Unfortunately, the production leaves quite a bit to be desired- this album was recorded in an arena setting, and there's a washed-out feel to all the songs. Even worse, there's virtually no low end at all. It's a shame that the sound quality isn't better, because the performances are fine all around, the synth tones have a more primitive quality than the studio version that I enjoy, there's a quote from King Crimson's Epitaph in the middle of Tarkus (the crowd goes wild over that) and even the twelve minutes of piano improvisations by Emerson are enjoyable. It just could have sounded considerably better.

Friday, January 22, 2010

One Year Blogiversary

Well, as of tomorrow I'll have been working on this blog for an entire year. I really wasn't sure that I'd be able to make it this long when I started, but I'm glad I've made it this far. Unfortunately, I know jack shit about how to promote a blog, so I've gotten barely any comments, but at least I have a backlog of reviews that people can look over (I probably wouldn't have started reading Prindle or any of my other favorites if I caught them when they were starting out).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Brain Salad Surgery

10/10

This is, if not in my top 10 albums of all time, certainly in the top 20. It's definitely as bombastic as any other ELP release, but there's plenty of substance here. I may be a little partial to it for personal reasons, though- it starts off with a rendition of the unofficial English national anthem "Jerusalem," which was my school song (although I doubt that the Quaker school that I went to would approve of any version with Emerson's keyboard theatrics).
The best known song off of Brain Salad Surgery is the Karn Evil 9 suite, which outdoes previous sidelength tracks by taking up even more than an entire side. To tell the truth, it could easily have been split up into three tracks that would be merely lengthy instead of the mammoth that it is, but it's still excellent all the way through, and there are smaller, subtler touches that one might not notice at first (the dissonant piano overdubs early on, Emerson playing keyboard bass during a Lake guitar solo, the steel drums in part 2) that really add to the listening experience. There's barely a dull moment, and that's really saying something for a song that's half an hour long. Peter Sinfield also helped to write the lyrics in the third section, and althoughthey're somewhat better than what ELP could come up with themselves- after 9/11, the line "walls that no man thought would fall" takes on a new meaning.
Karn Evil 9 takes up nearly two-thirds of the album's running time, but there are some other good songs. Toccata is reminiscent of the noisy parts in Pictures, but it actually works; it's almost scary in place, and "Still... You Turn Me On" is sweet-sounding even though some of the lyrics are dumb. The only clunker is "Benny the Bouncer," a "humorous" barrel-house ditty that really shouldn't have made the cut. I've also never been a fan of H. R. Giger and his "DONGS ARE SCARY" style of art, and though I'm categorically opposed to censorship, airbrushing out the penis on the album cover probably improved it.
This is one of the crown jewels in the genre of progressive rock. If you don't like it, you're a fucking homo!
(That last part was a joke, of course. As can be seen from my Queen reviews, I can't get enough of the homos.)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Trilogy

9/10

ELP's third studio effort was the charm: It's strong all the way through, and the "lesser" tracks are only such compared to the rest of the album. Things get off to a great start with a creepy theremin intro, which leads into "The Endless Enigma," with its surprisingly hooky melody, great fugue interlude and wonderful keyboard noises in the last part. Then there's the laid-back Lake song "From the Beginning," which actually uses Emerson's keyboards in a way that doesn't sound even remotely invasive. "The Sheriff" starts off with an awesome drum solo and actually manages to sound both Western and futuristic at the same time, and while I haven't heard a more traditional version of Aaron Copland's "Hoedown," the one here is very enjoyable.
The title track, not surprisingly, has three parts, the first being just Lake's vocals and piano, the second and third featuring the entire band. There's more than a little Latin influence here, but it doesn't come off as cheesily as one might expect. "Living Sin" is the one weak link here, with Lake doing this dumb "threatening" voice that just ends up sounding insanely goofy. However, things finish off well with "Abaddon's Bolero," which is less of a rip-off of Ravel's original Bolero than a different piece in the same repetitive but compelling style.
This is a great ELP album that doesn't go quite as far over the top as some of their others, and it would be a pretty good choice to show to people who think the progressive genre as a whole sucks.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Pictures at an Exhibition

7/10

This was the first of many of ELP's performances of Pictures to be released, and I think it's pretty damn good when it stays more or less faithful to the original. Unfortunately, there are far too many points where ELP made some truly decisions that range from "questionable" to "what the FUCK?"
Adding original lyrics to parts of such a famous classical piece was an incredibly audacious thing to do and it just doesn't work that well in most places. In addition, there are some sections which are just plain dull ("The Sage," an acoustic Lake section) or just plain difficult to listen to (some parts are basically synthesizer noises and nothing else). One of the more original parts that I liked was "Blues Variation," but then again, I'm a sucker for the Hammond. I did enjoy the entire "Baba Yaga" part, which is noisy but fun, and a great lead-in to "The Great Gates of Kiev," which really should have been the closer (nothing sounds good following that). Pictures is pretentious but fairly good fun, if you can get past a few dry spots.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Tarkus

6/10

Tarkus is a bit of a mixed bag. One of the first sidelength tracks in the history of progressive rock (the only previous one I can think of is Procol Harum's "In Held 'Twas in I", although there were others in other genres, such as Love's Revelation and Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida) starts off amazingly well, with awesome keyboard breaks from Emerson and drum fills from Palmer, and the variety of keyboard tones is just amazing. Unfortunately, there are some really dull, quieter parts in the last third or so (although that part does feature a rare Lake guitar solo and an amusing bit with a keyboard solo that sounds like a duck quacking), and the lyrics are some kerfluffle about a giant armadillo and man's inhumanity to man. It's still pretty good overall, though.
Unfortunately, the second side is largely made up of throwaways; the most memorable part of the whole thing being some terrible, terrible lyrics (the verb "fist" is used as a synonym for "beat up" at one point, and another song has the line "Why did you lose/six million Jews". Christ, "The Only Way" would've been my favorite song on side two if not for that little clunker). It's obvious that ELP's focus was on the title track, and it's basically all that's worthwhile here. I guess I can recommend this album, but think of it as a really, really long single with a bunch of really lame B-sides and it'll probably go down better.