Friday, 20 May 2011

What happens when they stop?

The internet is a polluted place. Human tendency favours complaint over praise and what is more, anonymity offers both shield and distance for safe amplification of negativity. Long after the youth move on from their obsessions and coalesce into inevitable mediocrity, their garbage will live on. Indeed, the whole of the internet is becoming a vast encyclopedic catalog of irretractable over-reaction, thesaurus abuse and mixed metaphors. What interests me is how this figures with regard to metal heads. Metal heads are as opinionated as wine lovers, those who appreciate and debate Shakespeare and muscle car fanatics. Metal head opinions, like the music itself, tend to be extreme and the more marginal the head the more ferocious the voice.

None of this in itself is particularly problematic (as far as status quo goes, however, from other angles entirely, it is a mode of expression by which I cannot abide), but what is becoming apparent to this aging metal head is that the flattening of the literary landscape brought about by myriad discussion boards and their successors, social networking, has resulted in a deconstruction of review as a literary mode and subsequent reconstruction as published opinion. In other words, the whole of the searchable internet is an equal mix of syndicated writers and hobbyists balanced by fans (some of which might fall into the former category) and semi-literate children. Guess which is the majority.

As an isolated metal head, the internet is my main source of information. Add to this that my love of metal is tempered by my love of reading and the result is confusion. There are entire sites, simply massive in their scope, such as Metal Archives which catalog, review and provide a wealth of information on metal from all over the world. A search of the Archives band database often yields three or more bands of the same name, signed and unsigned, even from within the same country. However, it is once you navigate into the review section that vexation begins. Essentially hyper-wordy, over descriptive, superlative obese likes or hates. Reviewers (and the term is used loosely here) seek to balance an albums score out of a hundred by posting overly inflated or almost zero scores. The most recent reviews are at the top of a page and sometimes the number of reviews is overwhelming. That said, after three or more high school level writing assignments any motivation one had at the start to devour and digest this apparent feast of information gives way to that sickening feeling not unlike when you eat too many corn chips.

This little essay comes with a caveat: it is the result of numerous negative and indifferent reviews circling like undead cyborg sharks around Pestilences new album Doctrine. If the reviewers were to have their writing assessed according to the criteria they themselves set, perhaps they might be a little more reluctant to dole out the tough love. As much as I would like to do so, fair critique of unpolished and vitriolic writing is outside of the time and interest I have on any given day.

So, when they lose interest, when they relegate metal to a phase, or to adolescence, their detritus will live on. What makes this debris more significant than its competitors is that its subject, metal, is marginal. Step into a time machine and search for metal and the results page will look not unlike it does today: quoting and re-quoting, trackbacks and a few fan pages echoing for years Now if only someone could have written something about it.

Pestilence – Doctrine (Review).

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There are certain albums which come along at the right time, albums which just make sense, fit the personal or cultural zeitgeist, albums which for reasons beyond comprehension, the listener repeatedly returns. These are albums which you get (indeed, sometimes dont get, but that is a conversation for another time) on the first listen but continue to share their depths over years. However, as we age an accumulation of taste, habits, peculiarities and other listening idiosyncrasies occurs. We also get expedient, cleverly and evenly bluntly, brutally categorizing works into genre, falling back onto the zeitgeist instead of our ears and reducing ourselves to the oversaturated like button. Downs first album Nola is one such album in my collection. Far more than the sum of its parts (Corrosion of Conformity/Crowbar/Pantera/Eyehategod), Nola is a work of love, life and the leaf. As tough as it is fluid and melodic as it is bleak, from the psychedelic cover art to the photo of the band members walking through a cemetery in the late afternoon. Even today, Nola continues to stir my musical fire as I misattribute certain melodies, phrases or rhythms to particular band members.

In this age of unprecedented and unnecessary speed even when a good album, let alone a great or even excellent one comes along, it is almost certainly superseded within moments. Before we have listened to the sample tracks available online our aural gaze is being pawed at, appealed to from another direction.

This month (April 24) Pestilences Doctrine went on sale and I have been trapped in its claws since. Aside from the miasma of F# riffer madness, clever but subtle syncopations, outright blast beat abandon, bass playing reminiscent of DiGiorgio with Death, Spheres era guitar synth atmospherics, uneasy low register (anti)harmony and vocals which menace equally with their tone as with their content, there is the production. Santura does for Pestilence what he did for Triptykon (huge guitar, powerful drums and audible bass) and should arguably be the standard across the genre. If you have yet to hear it, let me put it this way: On doctrine, there are two eight-string guitars tuned to low F# and a seven (not a misprint) string bass, tuned a whole octave below that. That dear reader is bass in your face. And yet, the bass guitar is always audible, clearly defined and an excellent contrapuntal harmonic foil to the churning guitars.

Amid the pastiche of the metal present, Doctrine is somewhat out of place. It is neither explicitly technical, nor brutal by the ever-shifting standards set by the nerd elite. Its compositional structures are of a space and time obviously not now. All of which make this album perfect.

Available now, on CD, or hang in there for a month or so for a reasonably priced vinyl release.

Krallice – Diotima (Review).

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I suffer from myopia. Suffer is perhaps a strong word, since I largely lead a normal, unimpaired life. I wear glasses, probably more than I should and I have no doubt that my impaired vision has influenced the kinds of physical activities I enjoy. On the other hand, having myopic eyes can lead to some unexpected events and insights. If I am swimming underwater, very occasionally an air bubble may find its way onto my eye. While it clings for the brief time of its life, this bubble acts as a natural lens, a miracle of nature. And then I can see, clearly, brilliantly, the liquid glass of the ocean, the fish around me and the shells and pebbles in full relief against the golden sand. On the other hand, when dreaming, I have experienced an almost
hyper-myopia, where my vision is as clear or as blurred as the dream dictates, yet because of the timing of the sleep phase, I am unable to lock onto specific details. The whole can be comprehended imperfectly but at the moment I try focus on one element my eyes are pulled away somewhere else.

This morning I listened to a low bitrate copy of Krallices Diotima. Here is an album that combines the ocean, vision, comprehension and contradiction. From the opening track I was disoriented whenever I tried to apprehend the structure and forced back to bathe in the total texture. Essentially ritual, mantra like music, Diotima, is an exquisite meditation on twenty-first century post-metal. Whereas this term, much like its academic brethren (postmodernism, poststructuralism, postcolonialism) has been over-used, misused and inevitably maligned in this age focused yet superficial intensity, Diotima compels the listener to revisit the possibilities of post. Certainly, the tempo, timbre and rhythms are all metal in that they are fast, distorted and urgent, yet it is the structure and sentiment which separates Krallice from their contemporaries. Where another band might be moved to create traditional structures of evolving intensity, Krallice create a continually evolving, rhythmically and harmonically complex stream of it. Perhaps the closest analog is Om, who chose a vibe and stuck to it finding myriad new ways to evolve the sound through subtlety rather than bombast.

Diotima is available from Profound Lore and is currently out on CD (and download) only. Vinyl junkies hang in there, though it has yet to be confirmed, there is every chance an album like this will make it to twelve inch.

Twilight – Monument to time end (Review)

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I was fourteen years old when my step father bought me a copy of Faith No Mores Angel Dust. It was a cassette that I had anticipated for such a long time. I had stood reading about it in magazines at a local news agent. I scanned the cover for hints of the music, the delicate white curves of the heron on the rich blue background. When I played that cassette for the first time, somewhere during the first track, Land of Sunshine, I fell asleep. Upon waking I had memorized the whole of Side A. I rewound to listen again after dinner. On second listen, I was disturbed to learn that what I had listened to was a Faith No More album generated by my mind as I slept. Quite simply, a dream. And with each minute I listened while conscious, the dream version was erased until all that remained was a memory of something different. Angel Dust continues to be one of my favourite albums ever. However, every time I listen, I am reminded of the album I lost.

Sometimes I think that Twilights Monument to Time End is that album. Not that they sound the same but rather they are of the same dreamscape. Produced and performed by a veritable whos who of American black metal and a step away from the debut and toward a more accessible direction, Monument is akin to being enveloped someone elses dream. It is a vortex of incomprehensible anguish reverberating and swirling, a sonorous weeping and a guiltless mutilation of conceptual corpses. None of it is readily explainable yet it all makes sense, just as in a dream, where things simply are.

Monument has a vinyl release on Southern Lord for a reasonable price

Corrosion of Conformity – Blind (Review)

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Everything has changed. There was once a time if you wanted to hear something obscure, unknown or forgotten, the only places to go were used record stores and pawnshops. The former often overpriced, depressing slogs through quickly flipped pop albums, the latter a spiral into strangeness. Chances were, if you went the pawnshop route, it was possible to find what you were after. But then you would arrive home only to find that there were deep scratches in key tracks and no amount of foil on the topside or polishing with toothpaste would fix. The trip across the river, through the cloudy haze of the other side of town, the peak into beer garden, the junkie on his way home to the halfway house, all of it, obliterated. For the better some may argue.

But what is the replacement? A faceless mob? Glee at being the first, the only? Password protected archives with malware? Fake addresses and e-stores? I knew this guy who claimed to have over one hundred Blu-ray movies stored on his hard drive. And, in this age of streaming, of always available media, what does it even mean to digitally own something? Last year, I bought an album, my first ever, off itunes. I now own that album. And yet, I cannot sell it. I cannot touch it. I do not own the artwork. But I have it.

Blind is the album where C.O.C. went metal. Having two guitarists and more varied tempos expanded the tonal pallet, opened up the possibility for groove and allowed the first real, tangible evidence of their southern-ness. Overtly political, melodic and possessing a rock swagger this is a metal album which stands out from the class of 91.

Blind was available at used record stores and pawnshops that used to be near you. It is virtually impossible to get on vinyl (drop me a line if you have one), but the apparently obsolete CD version is all over the place. Meanwhile, stay tuned for an albums by the Animosity era line up.