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[ATTENDED: September 10, 2017] Dead Cross

I had heard that Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle and a million other projects) and Dave Lombardo (Slayer and other things) had formed a band and were touring.  I have wanted to see Slayer forever but never have.  I almost saw them last year but it sold out.  So, I kind of lost interest in seeing them.

And of course, Mike Patton is legendary and I’ve liked so much of what he’s done, but I’ve never seen him either.

I was curious what the album would be like and wasn’t entirely surprised to hear that it was basically a hardcore/speed metal album (10 songs in like 25 minutes).  Despite the two of them, I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to go to a show like that (I don’t really relish getting in a full-sized mosh pit).  But the more I thought about it (and after reading about the opening band) I decided it would be worth going to.

I checked out their setlists online and saw that they basically played the whole album and a couple extra songs.  Which, by my calculation, would be about 40 minutes. (more…)

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may20014SOUNDTRACK: CRYPTOPSY-“Slit Your Guts” (1996).

cryptI had never heard of this band until I saw the song mentioned in the article.  The song is impossibly fast with speeding guitars, super fast (inhuman) drums and an indecipherable growl as vocal.  In other words, a typical cookie monster metal song.  And yet, there is a lot more to it and, indeed it took me several listens before I could even figure out what was happening here, by which time I had really fallen for the song.

There’s a middle section which is just as punishing and fast but which is basically an instrumental break–not for showing off exactly but for showcasing more than the bands pummel.  It has a short guitar solo followed by a faster more traditional solo (each for one measure, each in a different ear). Then the tempo picks up for an extended instrumental section.  The melody is slightly more sinister, but it sounds great.  There’s even a (very short) bass solo that sticks out as a totally unexpected (and fun) surprise.

Then the growls come back in, staying with the new melody.  The vocals are so low and growly that they are almost another distorted instrument rather than a voice.

After that there’s a lengthy proper guitar solo.  As the song comes to a close,  it repeats some previous sections before suddenly halting.  It’s quite a trip. And it definitely makes me want to hear more from them (whatever their name means).

[READ: April 14, 2014] “Destroy Your Safe and Happy Lives”

Robbins, who is a poet, but about whom I know little else, takes us on a sort of literary tour of heavy metal.  His tone is interesting–he is clearly into metal, like in a big way (at the end of the article he talks about taking his writing students to see Converge (although he doesn’t exactly say why)), but he’s also not afraid to make fun of the preposterousness of, well, most of the bands–even the ones he likes.  It’s a kind of warts and all appreciation for what metal is and isn’t.  many people have written about metal from many different angles, so there’s not a lot “new” here, but it is interesting to hear the different bands discussed in such a thoughtful (and not just in a fanboy) way.

His first footnote is interesting both for metal followers and metal disdainers: “Genre classification doesn’t interest me.  Listen to Poison Idea’s Feel the Darkness followed by Repulsion’s Horrified and tell me the main difference between hardcore punk and metal isn’t that one has a bullshit positive message and one has a bullshit negative message.”

But since Robbins is a poet, he is interested in metal’s connection to poetry.  And in the article he cites William Blake (of course), but also Rilke and John Ashbery and (naturally) Milton’s Paradise Lost, as well as Shelley, Lord Byron and Charles Baudelaire.  He talks about them not because they are cool poets, but because they have also talked about because of metal’s “most familiar trope…duh, Satanism, which might be silly–okay, its’ definitely silly, but has a distinguished literary pedigree”.  Besides, he notes that Satan has the best lines in Paradise Lost (and I note that just as Judas has the best songs in Jesus Christ Superstar).

But sometimes this Satanism turns into a  form of paganism which then turns into nature worship.  From Voivod’s “Killing Technology” to black metal’s romanticism of nature (sometimes to crazy extremes–but that’s what a band needs to do to stand out sometimes).  Metal is all about the dark and primordial, a”rebuke to our soft lives.”

And yet, as a poet, Robbins has some quibbles with metal: (more…)

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lou_reed-620x412 SOUNDTRACK: LOU REED-Metal Machine Music (1975).

mmmfrom Wikipedia:

Metal Machine Music is generally considered to be either a joke, a grudging fulfillment of a contractual obligation, or an early example of noise music. The album features no songs or even recognizably structured compositions, eschewing melody and rhythm for an hour of over-modulated feedback and guitar effects, intricately mixed at varying speeds by Reed himself. In the album’s liner notes he claimed to have invented heavy metal and asserted that Metal Machine Music was the ultimate conclusion of that genre.

I don’t know how many people have actually listened to this album all the way through.  There are four 16-minute tracks.  Each one is, on the surface, exactly the same: feedback and more feedback.  In truth, the album is a bit more complicated than that.

There is a guitar in the left speaker and a guitar in the right speaker and each one is feedbacking in very different ways.  Indeed, if you listen to only one speaker at a time, you get a very different experience (I haven’t done that with the whole album, although that’s only because I really only found out about that recently, I did for a few minutes and it was pretty fascinating).

And fascinating is what this release is.  It was unlistenable in 1975, there is no question.  Just as something like Slayer would have been unlistenable in 1975.  But twenty years later, when Sonic Youth was riding high, Metal Machine Music seemed a lot less outrageous (indeed, their 1998 release Silver Sessions was essentially the same structure of feedback).

And now MMM seems very forward thinking.  Whether or not it was a joke or some kind of payback to the label or whatever (liner notes suggest he just really enjoyed enveloping himself in feedback), it’s a remarkable record.  If you can actually sit through it, there are some really interesting moments in it.  There are times when the squall and noise turns eerily beautiful, when the ringing notes take on chime-like status.

And unlike the aforementioned SY album in which they just turned up their amps and left, it sounds like Reed was actually hanging around and manipulating the sound.  You can hear times when new notes/strumming comes in and changes the mood.  And of course, Reed had to edit it for the album.

One of the more interesting moments comes right at the end of the disc.  On the vinyl release, he made a locked groove so the final rotation would keep repeating over and over until you had to get up and manually lift the needle (as if the album wasn’t difficult enough).  On the CD, they repeat that section for about a minute.  And that little repeated section is noteworthy for the rough distorted guitar and chiming feedback that all sounds very cool.

All of this is not to say that this album is enjoyable.  It’s really not.  It’s brutal and harsh and best handled in small doses (even Reed admits that in the notes).  But it is noteworthy and fascinating.  And it may have inspired as many feedback based bands as the Velvet Underground inspired droning bands.

[READ: November 2, 2013] “I loved Lou Reed more than you”

I was sad at the passing of Lou Reed, although I’ve never been a huge fan.  But of all of the eulogies, I knew that Neal Pollack would write the best one.

Neal Pollock is a wonderfully pompous “character” (who is the main character in most of the writing of his that I have read).  This article—while much briefer than most of Pollack’s short pieces—is an honest eulogy of Reed, but is also a hilariously over the top profession of fandom.

When Pollock heard the news of Reed’s death, he was polishing the acetate of his producer’s cut of Metal Machine Music.  He wept, mostly for himself but also “on behalf of all cultured people everywhere.” (more…)

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werwolvsSOUNDTRACK: VOIVOD-Nothingface (1989).

nothingI have talked about Nothingface before, but here it is in sequence with the Voivod catalog.

This is the culmination of Voivod’s move toward progressive metal. Even nearly 25 years after its release, this remains one of my favorite albums ever.  The guitar chords are complex and wonderful.  Snakes’ voice is melodic with odd tinges of weirdness thrown in—where he goes up or down a note unexpectedly.  Plus, he has that peculiar pronunciation/emphasis that makes the words sound even more exotic (like “repugnant”).  And despite the fact that they cover Pink Floyd (!), the album is still heavy.

The whole band is in top form here—Away’s drumming is explosive and complex, Blacky has a fantastic rumbling sound that’s not distorted but really fills in the bottom end and Piggy’s guitar is masterful.  “The Unknown Knows” has some cool staggered notes and a great catchy guitar riff during the verses but the time changes come fast and furious.  I love the way the guitar and bass play off each other in this song.  But then comes the cover of “Astronomy Domine”.  Imagine the band from War and Pain who used to cover Slayer and Venom now covering Pink Floyd.  It’s hard to fathom, but man, do they pull it off wonderfully—adding a heavy bass element but keeping it very faithful.  And Away’s drumming is stellar.  It’s a marvelous cover.

“Missing Sequences” starts with a cool bass line and Snake’s great pause… “NOW!” Then when he starts singing again, his voice is phased in a very cool sci-fi kind of way.  There’s also some interesting effects—keyboards maybe–in many of the songs.  There’s also a great part where there’s a rumbling bass and Snake’s scream of “GO!” before a weird guitar solo and then even weirder shifted guitar chords.  It’s magnificent.

As is the guitar playing in the verses for “X-Ray.”  I’m not even sure how Piggy came up with the bizarre chords in “Pre-Ignition.”  And yet despite the harshness, there’s pretty melodies like in the cool catchy “ground and rock and sand” section of the song.  And as for pretty, the quiet beauty that opens “Into My Hypercube” is really impressive for such a dissonant album—Snake whispers his vocals and the guitars are all pretty, major chords.  Until the bridge where dissonance enters and then the post bridge (who even knows what to call these song parts) which is once again a heavy round of dissonant chords.  And then when the “tumult in the dark” section starts, it’s practically a whole new song—until Blacky’s bass section reintroduces the beginning motif.

The final track has a wonderful moment where Snake’s voice follows Piggy’ unusual guitar line perfectly.  And then the very cool almost funky (great bass sound) of Blacky after the “too late for S.O.S.” line.  The album ends abruptly (too late for S.O.S.) and you’re left contemplating everything that just happened (I haven’t even mentioned the lyrics).

It’s a prog metal masterpiece.

[READ: August 26, 2013] Werewolves of Montpellier

I enjoyed Jason’s Lost Cat so much that I went to the library and checked out some other books by him as well.

Werewolves has the same looking characters as in Lost Cat, but they are different people (I assume).  The strange thing about this book is that the werewolves don’t look all that different from the main drawings.  At first I wasn’t even sure that he was wearing the werewolf mask.  But on closer inspection there are subtle differences (the eyes, the ears, the fingers).  Indeed, it took two reads for me to really notice all the subtle details.  Nevertheless, it’s just funny to imagine the characters thinking he was a werewolf when he looks for the most part the same anyway.

But so this story starts with the main character, Sven, dressed like a werwolf and breaking into someone’s house.  When the victim comes home, she catches him, but is frightened and he flees out the window.  In the next scene his next door neighbor, Audrey, (not his girlfriend, as she is dating a woman named Julie) brings him some food and tells him that he was in the paper (unidentified but in costume).

Then we see the main character and a bird looking guy playing chess in the park (and talking about the value of escalators for checking out women’s asses).  The main characters seems to be primarily dog-like and bird-like, but they intermingle freely.

The final new characters are two men talking about the photo.  They say that the werewolf in the photo is not part of their brotherhood and they want to punish this newcomer for causing them trouble. (more…)

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lostcatwarandSOUNDTRACK: VOIVOD-War and Pain (bonus stuff) (2004).

The War and Pain reissue was packed with goodies for Voivod fans.

You get “Anachronism” which is 3 songs from their very first live show in June 1983.  (“Condemned to the Gallows,” “Blower,” “Voivod”). They had (it sounds like) a surprisingly large audience for the show.  You also get “To The Death” which is 3 songs from the Metal Massacre V sessions (“Condemned to the Gallows,” “Voivod,” “Iron Gang”) of which “Condemned to the Gallows” was used on that compilation.  I think this is one of their better early songs, and it’s a shame it never got a proper release (although it’s all over this package).

If the sound quality on their proper album was bad, you can imagine how bad this sounds.  Their first show may have been recorded on a microcassette it is so low-fidelity.  And somehow the Metal Massacre tracks sound like they were left in a puddle of mud since 1984.  I have the Metal Massacre albums and I don’t think they sounded that bad.

That leaves Disc 2: “Morgoth Invasion.”  This is a live show from December 1984.  It has 16 songs (surprisingly no “Voivod” and two covers:  Venom’s “Witching Hour” and Slayer’s “Chemical Warfare”).  Like the previous live tracks, this one sounds pretty dreadful–but not quite as bad.  It is fun for the historic value–hearing the band play fast and tight hearing Snake’s guttural French (he did most of the between song banter in French).  Also hearing how well they play the covers shows how seriously they took their metal.

The third disc is a CD-ROM.  You get lyrics to the album, biographies of the band and comments on the 20th anniversary release.  There’s also band photos and art by Away.  There’s even the old  video for “Voivod.”

But for fans the most exciting part is the “Sounds” section.  In addition to including all of the above audio (in case you wanted it all on CD-ROM?), there’s also seven songs from a 1984 concert.  I am fairly certain that these tracks would eventually be released on the To the Death 84 album (it’s the same order and I don’t have that record).  Again, the sound quality is not great, but it’s interesting to hear these songs played live–to hear just how fast these guys can play.

So the anniversary package is worth investing in if you like your Voivod.  If not, wait a couple more albums when they become amazing.

[READ: August 26, 2013] Lost Cat

I had not heard of Jason before this book passed across my desk.  Jason is a Norwegian graphic artist and comic book maker whose real name is John Arne Sæterøy.  Many of his books have been published in English by Fantagraphics.  This one was translated (from the Norwegian I assume, although Jason now lives in France, so maybe it was written in French) by Kim Thompson.  The interesting thing about the translation is that I didn’t realize it was one at first…I just thought the characters were deliberately speaking in a weird sort of way.  I wonder if this is intentional on the translator’s part.

The striking thing about Jason’s art is that his characters do not have eyeballs (as you can see from the cover art).  This seems to convey an overall sadness to the characters.  And yet he is also incredible at creating mood and tone from these animal people (even without eyeballs!).

This story has a few threads that tie it together.  As the story opens we meet Dan Delon, a private detective.  As he walks home for the night he sees a lost cat sign.  A few panels later he see the cat.  He calls the number and returns the lost kitty.  The kitty’s owner, Charlotte, is very nice.  She invites him in and gives him a drink.  She owns a local bookstore which he was recently in (although they did not meet).  They seem to have a lot in common.  Charlotte is fascinated that he’s a private detective.  But he quickly dismisses the excitement saying that it is mostly just taking pictures of people having affairs–and then upsetting both parties when all is said and done.  He seems to realize the loneliness of his life as he says this (again, conveyed wonderfully with the art). (more…)

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[WATCHED October-November 2012] Metal Evolution

metal evolutionVH1 aired this series last year and I was intrigued by it but figured I had no time to watch an 11 hour series on the history of heavy metal.  Of course, this being VH1, they have since re-aired the series on an almost continual loop.  So, if you’re interested, you can always catch it.

This series was created by Sam Dunn, the documentary filmmaker who made the movie Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey.  I had heard good things about the movie, but never saw it.  After watching the series, I’m definitely interested in the movie.  Dunn is a keener–A Canadian heavy metal fan who is really into his subject.  He knows his stuff and he knows what he likes (heavy metal) and what he doesn’t like (glam metal, nu metal).

The sheer number of people he interviews is impressive (as are the number of locations he travels to).  Part of me says “wow, I can’t believe he was able to interview X,” and then I remember, “X is really old and is nowhere near the level of fame that he once had.”  Given that, the few hold-outs seem surprising–did they not want to have anything to do with VH1?  Are they embarrassed at how uncool they are now?  Just watch the show guys, you can’t be as low as some.

The only mild criticism I have is that the show relies a lot on the same talking heads over and over.  Scott Ian from Anthrax, whom I love, is in every episode.  Indeed, he may be a paid VH1 spokesman at this point.  There are a few other dudes who show up a little more than they warrant, but hey, you use what you got, right?

What is impressive is the volume of music he includes with the show.  I assume that he couldn’t  get the rights to any studio recordings because every clip is live.  This is good for fans in that we get to see some cool unfamiliar live footage, but some of it is current live footage which often doesn’t compare to the heyday.  Having said that, there’s a lot of live footage from the early 80s–of bands that I never saw live anywhere.  And that’s pretty awesome.

With an 11-part documentary there’s the possibility of exhaustion and overkill, but Dunn is an excellent craftsman  he jumps around from old to new, talks about how the history impacts the current and, because of his own interests, he makes it personal rather than just informative. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  SLAYER-Live from Sonisphere 2011 (Palladia TV 2012).

Did I get into heavy metal because I loved typography or was it the other way around?  All metal bands love creating logos, and images that resonate with their music.  Nearly every metal band that I liked had a logo, easy to identify from a distance.  Perfect for marketing.The Metallica logo is pretty iconic, but the Slayer logo moves it up a step–crazy lettering with swords that almost make a pentagram.

When I was a young metalhead, Slayer was like forbidden fruit–so evil it was scary.  I love how this video dispels this image of the band.  Kerry King talking about “the kids,” and look how much Tom Araya is smiling through the whole set.  Never has anyone been happier singing the word “eviscerated.”

This show was during the Big 4 tour–Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer and Metallica.  So Slayer performs a few of their more popular songs.  I actually don’t know how long their set was, but this thirty show must have contained about half of it.

And the band sounds really good–still playing really fast (Dave Lombardo on drums is a madman).  It also makes me laugh to think of Kerry King back in the early days having a leather bracelet with 4 inch ten-penny nails sticking out of it.  Now he’s just got a huge chain hanging from his belt (and a shaved, tattooed head and a very very long goatee).  Gary Holt from Exodus is replacing Jeff Hannemann for this tour because Jeff has Necrotizing fasciitis (which sounds like a Slayer song anyhow)

The Palladia show isn’t online, but there’s another show from this Big 4 Tour recorded in Chile that’s online.  And the interview with Tom Araya at around 11:30 is amazing,  Tom is such a nice, soft-spoken guy–and he was given the key to the city!  Incredible to hear him scream like that.  (And I see that Kerry has the nail bracelet on for the first song in this show too).

I’m also very pleased to see how many fans are wearing earplugs.  Not metal, but sensible.

[READ: September 10, 2012] Just My Type

A few months ago, Karen wrote posts about this book (links are below).  All I need to do was to read her first paragraph to know that I wanted to read this book.  I love typography.  I took a typography class at the School of Visual Arts and I have always been fascinated by logos and text.

This book is an awesome book for anyone who loves fonts but who doesn’t want anything too heavy.  There is some history of the various type creators, but for the most part this looks at type faces in the past and in popular culture.   Chapter 1, for instance, is called “We don’t serve your type” and is ll about the overused and much derided Comic Sans.

Karen wisely spread her review over five posts because there was so much in the book.  Looking at her review now, I had already forgotten these two things that she mentions: “the quandary Westminster Abbey was in when it was discovered the designer of the signage at the Stations of the Cross was an incestuous pedophile (among other things).  Or the story of the font that was drowned to keep it out of the wrong hands.”

Each chapter (about 8-10 pages) follows the adventure and misadventure of a font,  a series of fonts or the creator of said fonts.  In between chapters we got Fontbreaks, two or three pages about a specific font. (more…)

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