Friday, November 23, 2012

Is less really more?

The expression "less is more" is probably quite familiar to all. In this post I intend to reflect upon that expression in the context of music, specifically metal in album form.

This idea came to me today as I was taking a bus downtown to get me a copy of Anaal Nathrakh's latest effort, Vanitas. I used to be of the persuasion that more is more when I was younger, you see. I got to thinking about how I bought all the Metallica albums so far released when I was 15 – deciding which one to get next based on how many tracks it had. My justification for this was that I'd be getting more bang for the buck if I got an album with more tracks. And let's be honest here: if a Metallica album clocks over 70 minutes, it more or less sucks, though I didn't realize this until years after the fact.

Some years later as I got into heavier stuff, I decided to get something by Carcass. You know where this is going, don't you? Yes, of all their albums I chose Reek of Putrefaction with its 22 tracks. Unfamiliar with grindcore at the time it was a bit of a shock and it took years to understand that stuff, but I got all their other albums (with a lot less tracks) a bit later anyway, and they were a lot easier to stomach. This is roughly when I learned the unimportance of the number of tracks, but I will be returning to this point eventually.

Anyway, a sort of affinity for long albums persisted beyond that time until at some point I realized that the ideal length for an album is largely based on genre. For example, Nasum's Inhale/Exhale (38 tracks, 45 minutes) feels bloated, because who can listen to 45 minutes of grindcore at once? It's an arduous task if it's not live or if you don't at least change bands halfway through. Whereas (at least in my opinion) Reverend Bizarre's final album, III: So Long Suckers (7 tracks, 2 hours 10 minutes) flows through quite easily. Yes, groundbreaking notion here, amirite? Fast music is better suited for short songs whereas slow music can go on a lot longer.

And now, back to the point about long albums. You see, some bands just can't hold their horses and compile an album of a number of tracks that is both sufficiently big and sufficiently small. Take the aforementioned Metallica for example, specifically their sixth album, Load. 14 tracks and 79 minutes, sheesh (not to mention that they originally intended to release Load and Reload as a double album)! Say what you want about post-justice Metallica, but that album definitely has its moments. If only they'd shaved off something like 4 or 5 tracks and it would've been that much more palatable. And an even worse offender from the Metallica camp is the infamous St. Anger with 11 tracks and clocking in at 75 minutes. I mean, if your songs are almost 9 minutes long, you don't need so many of them. That none of the songs were any good is beside the point. While at the other end of the spectrum, the aforementioned Reek of Putrefaction by Carcass is just about the perfect length at 39 minutes, despite the 22 tracks.

Going down to the level of individual songs, as what I have said so far really only matters when you're listening to albums as a whole, context is equally important nevertheless. For example, making a fast grindcore track of 9 minutes is, as a rule, a mistake (I do not know if such a track exists, this is hyperbole), whereas Sleep did a mighty fine job of writing an hour long track with Dopesmoker. And, because I haven't ranted enough about St. Anger, let's take its title track under inspection. It's been a while since I've last heard it and I don't necessarily want to hear it again, but if I recall correctly it's got 3 different parts, the structure is something like ABCABCABC (dunno, there might've been a D somewhere as well) and the tracks clocks in at 7:21. In order to make a track this simple and this long listenable, basically all the riffs should be fucking class A kings of riffs. And they aren't, not by a long shot. Similarly, some of Napalm Death's 4+ minutes grind tracks may sound a bit overlong, though hardly to the same degree.

I'll conclude by asking you (and myself): did I write too much here? Would less have been more? I don't know, I've never been that verbose and everything I write seems to come out shorter than intended. But am I just rambling incoherently here? Or is that the point?

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Friday, November 9, 2012

And I am nothing of an indie expert but here I dreamt I could review a Decemberists album

So, it's become time to finally carry out this task I set out to do so long ago and write something about Castaways and Cutouts by The Decemberists. Released in 2002, this is their debut album and I love it.

my name is Leslie Anne Levine
my mother birthed me down a dry ravine
my mother birthed me far too soon
born at nine and dead at noon 

From the first four lines of the first track, the mood for the record is set. While not in its entirety quite this dismal, the whole album is appropriately melancholy. Which is good. I mean, who likes cheery music anyway? Not me and judging by the fact that you're reading this, not you either.

And this is where my lack of knowledge about indie folk rock or whatever this is supposed to be comes forth and sits in my way like an impenetrable wall. I've no point of reference within a similar context, so I can't really tell about this in a way that would evoke some sort of recognition or what have you. Therefore, and assuming that pretty much everyone who will read this likes metal (let's be honest, why would you read this blog if you weren't into metal?), let me ask you this: Would you like to hear something good that is not metal? Something that isn't, however, that cheery shit that's all over the radio and MTV? Do you like American folk music? Do you like a good Hammond organ? How about some Irishness? If the answer to all or even most of these is yes, The Decemberists just might be a band for you to check out.

And if you're already familiar with The Decemberists, just not this particular album, and are wondering if it's worth listening, well, that depends on whether you like their other albums. Granted, their sound has evolved over time, but I personally think they haven't released a single bad album. Not even a mediocre album, just different shades of good, and while this one's got nothing on their best effort, The Crane Wife, it's still fairly awesome.

Oh yeah, did I mention I only write about albums I like?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Open mind, closed mind

You know how there's a stereotype that heavy metal fans are closed-minded about music? And you know how, as a metal fan yourself, that stereotype is inaccurate? Yeah, me too. The more I get to know new people, especially metal fans, the more I learn they're pretty open-minded.

Still, I used to be one of those stereotypical, stuck up dunces myself, in my younger years. If it didn't have distorted guitars (and maybe even if it did) it wasn't worth listening to. Ironically enough, at the time I also listened to a lot of what I'd now say is crappy metal.

With age comes wisdom, right? Right, in that my musical taste seems to be ever developing, ever diversifying. I'm learning about new, awesome bands and artists all the time. Then again, wrong, in that on the other hand I seem to be getting ever pickier as well, and something that may have delighted me 5 years ago now bores me to death. Age also brings with it the infamous "young people and their incomprehensible music" attitude. You know how it goes.

Ultimately, however, the goodness of all music is subjective. Why, then, do I get so annoyed when people wonder how come I don't like popular artist x but not-so-popular artist y from roughly the same genre instead? I suppose I'd like to think that popularity can really only be achieved by appealing to the lowest common denominator and all that hipster jazz. Does it make me cool that I like all these obscure bands you've probably never even heard of? Maybe not. Probably not. But can I help it if they sound so good to me? I don't see why I should. Instead, I suppose I could throw around recommendations for those who are on the lookout for new musical acquaintances and listen to the recommendations of others. To try to keep an open mind.

Friday, July 20, 2012

vblog: sent me stuff

I decided to do a video blog for once. Excuse the video filter, my squeaky chair and non-native English.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Living, breathing Burzum

Varg Vikernes is a busy man. He got out of prison in 2009 and has since released 3 new Burzum albums, plus an album of re-recorded old songs. This much is fact. Whether these new albums are any good, however, is a matter of opinion.

Lots of people are annoyed because they don't sound like the good old Burzum records of the early 90s. But what do you expect? It's not a twenty-something guy making the records anymore, and, furthermore, there was a 15 year gap between albums (not counting the two ambient records, of course), during which the man sat in prison – he was not cryogenically frozen and didn't just pick up where he left off. Had Vikernes been able to write and record albums throughout this time – and at the pace he was, and now is again, releasing them – roughly one per year – we would have something like 20 Burzum albums by which to judge the musical evolution at this point.

So, yes, new Burzum isn't old Burzum, that much is obvious, but to me at least, the new albums also have their well-deserved place in the universe of music. They just fit a different mood than the old ones.

And now, to sum up, a few words about the latest Burzum offering, Umskiptar. Entirely devoid of faster tracks and based on heavy repetition and layered guitars, the album is at the core of what kind of music Vikernes does well – at least in my opinion. It's not the least bit in your face, but rather lulls the listener into a trance (which is not a new trick in Vikernes's book). Now, if I could only understand the lyrics, which are taken from the Völuspá, a poem written in Old Norse.

Note that I dislike some of Vikernes's opinions, but luckily he has managed to keep them out of his music, which, incidentally, I tend to like.

And next time it's time for another pick of the week, don't you think?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Trip report: Tuska Open Air Metal Festival 2012

Okay, I'm back from the party and a trip report will follow. So, this was my eighth Tuska in row and tenth altogether, and also the second time it was at Suvilahti instead of Kaisaniemi, as we'd grown accustomed. By default, the setting was less appealing than Kaisaniemi: no shade, no lawns to sit on; but not entirely without its perks, as the bars of Kallio were within walking distance and so was my favourite fastfood place, Vegemesta. But in spite of the shortcomings I was there again, and again for all the three days. And it was worth it, goddammit!

On Friday, I arrived just as Saint Vitus were beginning their set, which consisted largely of material off their new album, Lillie: F-65. They didn't, however, abandon such old favourites as "Born too Late" and "Look Behind You", and with their no-nonsense style of playing, they got the crowd warmed up pretty well. If there was something wanting, it was tracks off Die Healing, which I think is hands down their best album.

After Vitus, it was time to hit the beer area and save our poor ears from Trivium's shit. While enjoying our overpriced, watered down beers, we accidentally missed Demigod, but made it to the 3rd stage in time for Arcturus. And it was glorious! I am only familiar with one of their albums, La Masquerade Infernale, but the rest of the material, despite its strangeness, came naturally to these ears and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. And the damn pipes on ICS Vortex! I mean, goddamn! I knew he could sing from the couple of Dimmu Borgir albums I've heard, but Arcturus's material allowed for a wider range of styles and display of skill. And did they say they're making a new album? Seems like I may have to see them again some day.

After Arcturus, it was time to get out of dodge before Megadeth would hit the stage, since they were fairly disappointing two years ago and didn't interest me all that much. Therefore, we went out for some beers, followed by Gaf and Ghoul Patrol (and Moonsorrow) at an afterparty. Without going into more detail, both G-bands were awesome, and we were knackered enough after them, that we skipped Moonsorrow, but I'm sure they were pretty awesome too, as they usually are.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Branching out

I decided to make a facebook page for this blog. You can find it here. Go now, and like it. I'll be posting smaller tidbits every now and then, as well as links for all new blog posts.

Maybe this'll even keep me active.

Until next time!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Pick of the week: Throes of Dawn - The Great Fleet of Echoes

Again it's been ages since I've last written anything, but now I'm back in action. This time we have here a fairly old album, from 2010, but it's just so good that I must write about it.

Back around the time this album came out I knew practically nothing about Throes of Dawn. Then they were interviewed in the Finnish metal magazine called Inferno and caught my interest. I went and bought the album and while I still don't know a whole lot about the band, I know that this is an awesome album.

Throes of Dawn play, for lack of a better term, gothic metal that hits a sweet spot where the doom and sludge I mostly listen to can't reach, not entirely unlike modern Katatonia. So don't go in expecting a barrage of crushing guitars and anguished screaming, the melancholy here is of a more brooding sort and laden with beautiful melodies, only occasionally accented by the odd growl.

I fully expected Throes of Dawn to break through with this album (maybe they have, but if they have, it's gone completely under my radar) but I suppose the best things don't attract a very wide audience. For me, however, this is one of the best records to have come out in 2010.

But don't just take my word for it, take a listen:

The Great Fleet of Echoes is out on Firebox Records.
Throes of Dawn official website

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Pick of the Week: Witch Mountain - South of Salem

I've been meaning to write this for a long time, but you know how it goes when you've got work and all of that. Better late than never, though, and now I've the time, and a good time it is, too.

South of Salem, Witch Mountain's second full length album, originally self-released on vinyl, later re-released on CD by Profound Lore, is a doom metal album. And a damn fine one at that. This is doom, no frills.

Inevitably lumped together with the likes of Jex Thoth, Witch Mountain have an ageless doom sound (as opposed to the retro boom currently going strong), brilliant, groovy riffs, and the whole thing crowned with the powerful voice of Uta Plotkin makes this my album of the year 2011.

The only negative side about the album is that it's too short (which is somewhat improved upon on the CD version, with a bonus track), much like this text I'm writing. But what do you need words for when you've got music like this? If bluesy doom is your thing, South of Salem should definitely be, nay, will be your thing too. Go to Witch Mountain's bandcamp page, and get it either as a name-your-price download or on CD (and if they are sold out, try Profound Lore Records). And hopefully there will be a repress of the vinyl in the future.

Witch Mountain also have a new album on the way, which I'm awaiting eagerly.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Pick of the week: Christian Mistress - Agony & Opium

I've been meaning to write about this album from the moment I first heard it, but you know how it goes. Anyway, here it is now, and boy do I urge you to take a look at this here album (if you haven't already). I got the album in December, if I remember correctly, and it would've been my album of the year, except that it had already come out in 2010.

Now, you may think of me as "that guy who listens to a lot of doom and shit", and while Christian Mistress skirt the same musical areas as, say, Cirith Ungol, their stuff is mainly a bit faster. I believe the style is mostly akin to NWOBHM of the early 80s, and while I'm no expert on the genre, I can hear echoes of Iron Maiden &co. in Christian Mistress's music. On top of that, the Olympia, WA -based quintet has a knack for writing kick-ass songs, which are made even more awesome by the vocals of Christine Davis. With a production that reeks of emotion, this album goes directly for my heartstrings. And did I mention that it's awesome? It is.

If you haven't yet heard Christian Mistress, do yourself a favor and take a listen.
Agony & Opium is out on 20 Buck Spin and can probably be found at least at Record Shop X.
They also have a new album out soon on Relapse Records.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pick of the week: Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats - Blood Lust

I originally meant to write this months ago but didn't have time or didn't feel up to it. Mostly, I guess, I didn't have time. But here it is now!

I originally found out about Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats through an IRC channel I frequent. Someone posted a youtube link for "Death's Door" and I was convinced. I promptly ordered the cd-r edition of Blood Lust that was out at the time, only to sell it to someone else after it had sold out and I'd acquired myself a copy of the vinyl edition, which also had sold out by that time. And now it's out again, on cd, released by the band's own label, Killer Candy, and distributed by Svart Records.

Anyway, onto the music. For it is a lot like it came straight from the sixties or seventies. I'm no expert on those decades, but I hear echoes of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple on Blood Lust, with lyrics that take Sabbath's flirtation with the occult and turn it into full-on embrace, not unlike what Electric Wizard have been doing lately. Lyrically, Ghost might be an apt comparison, but musically Uncle Acid sounds rawer, dirtier and, in my opinion, simply better.

I suppose this kind of music somehow trendy these days, and some people urge us to listen to the original seventies bands instead of these modern day retro acts, but I think an important element in the sound of Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats is that they live in a world where the 80s, 90s and 00s have happened, and it has contributed to how they approach their music. In other words, this band's music couldn't have been made much earlier.

Blood Lust is available as CD from Svart Records.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Pick of the week: Author & Punisher - Drone Machines

So, yesterday my band Ever Circling Wolves' drummer posted a link to this youtube clip that was about a guy who'd built himself, quite literally, drone machines: a setup with which he could perform multi-layered drone music by himself, even live. Naturally, this grabbed my interest and so I watched the clip. Afterwards, I was convinced I needed this guy's music in my life and his bandcamp page came to my assistance.

Author & Punisher has made 3 albums, of which I grabbed the newest, Drone Machines (2010). I've yet to give it but a cursory listen, and too quiet at that, since it's the middle of the night, but I'm convinced nevertheless. The sound is thick, fuzzy and surprisingly organic for stuff that, due to the instruments it's performed with, could sound much more like industrial. I suppose it is because there is still a human body running these drone machines.

This awesome album can be obtained digitally from or on cd from (if they still have them in stock; I didn't manage to add the cds to my cart).

The video clip I mentioned is here: