Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Mini Mixtape for Melancholic Meditations

This is part of a potential series of mixtapes I'll be doing over the next few months, depending on their popularity.  It's a perfect mix of downtempo, pensive songs that are ideal for chilling and hanging out to.


1. The National - Sorrow
2. Regina Spektor - The Flowers
3. Tegan and Sara - Nineteen
4. Death Cab for Cutie - Summer Skin
5. Midlake - Winter Dies
6. PJ Harvey - Dear Darkness
7. Sufjan Stevens - Seven Swans
8. Eluvium - An Accidental Memory in the Case of Death

Yeah, I know it's indie-heavy.  (This is not a mixtape for you, Peter - but more metal-centric ones are to come.)  Give it a listen, enjoy, and by all means, let us know how you like it.

Click here to enjoy this soothing, melancholic adventure.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Essential Album Review: Neurosis - Through Silver in Blood

Neurosis: Through Silver in Blood
Year: 1996
Click here for the artist's site

*Disclaimer: I have written this review in my head at least a dozen times.  However, actually putting it down has been nigh unto impossible.  Such is the task that stands before me.

Every once in a while, music comes along that leaves one completely gobsmacked.  Such an one is Through Silver in Blood.

Not Neurosis' first album.  Nor their first groundbreaking album either (I give that nod to Souls at Zero).  However, it is their very finest album and in my opinion the most important metal release that you've never heard.

Beginning as a hardcore/punk band, it didn't take long for Neurosis to evolve into something much darker, much more inventive and much more influential.  That evolution (which continues to this day) hit a peak with their fifth album, Through Silver in Blood, released in 1996.  From the very first track, the titular song, Neurosis proves that they are unequaled in the metal world.  Beginning slowly with ambient/industrial sounds, followed by tribal drumming, the song takes a full 2:45 to build to its first crescendo of drumming, guitar, bass, and guttural howls and tortured screams.  From there it never lets up to the very end of the album.

That isn't to say that the entire album is one loud wall of cacophony.  Rather, Neurosis truly perfected the ebb and flow of music.  Songs rise and fall like the waves of the ocean.  Moments of quiet tranquility are wiped out by torrents of noise and rage.  When suddenly, you don't know if you can take anymore, the songs switch directions, offering another moment of peace.  But the peace is perhaps even more sinister.  It is foreboding, brooding, menacing.  It gently lulls you, while hinting that something truly terrifying is coming.

Two sub 2 minute tracks of speaking and noise are the only moments of apparent respite amongst the other tracks, most of which are > 10 minutes long.  Yet even these shorter tracks only serve to build on the disquiet the rest of the albums thrives on.  They serve a greater purpose in constructing the album as a whole.

Every track is powerful, and the album ends on two monstrous tracks.  "Aeon" builds slowly from a mournful, plaintive piano and string melody to a crushing, thundering mass of epic proportions.  "Enclosure in Flame" finishes the album in a furious manner with Scott Kelly's tortured howls leaving your skin crawling as it gently fades to silence.  This is an album that leaves and indelible mark on the listener.

Through Silver in Blood is the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  It is Beethoven's 9th Symphony, bringing to a close the Classical period and ushering in the Romantic.  It is a complete game changer.  One comes out of the experience of listening to Through Silver in Blood a different type of music fan than one went in.  Such is its import, its power, and its lasting legacy.  There is no question that I listen to music differently now than before I experienced Neurosis in general, and this album in particular.  It is, as I mentioned earlier in this review, the most important album you've never heard.

Final verdict: Adore it
Through Silver in Blood is a true essential album.  It is epic in scope, with a breadth and depth that has yet to be rivaled in modern music.  It is supremely influential to those who are willing to work their way through it (because it certainly takes work).  I cannot recommend it highly enough, while readily recognizing that it will be a terrifying experience for many who listen to it.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Point-Counterpoint: Testament - The Gathering


Music is a fickle beast.  Music fans can be even more fickle.  Fads come and (thankfully) go, all in a short amount of time.  Bands and artists that find success with one fad will often find they either evolve or die.  And every band knows, they have just as much of a chance with every album to loose fans as they do gain new ones.

Yet amongst the fads, there are the stalwarts.  Those solid, stable, reliable factors that you can count on.  Likewise, certain musical styles become reliable enough to stand the test of time, supersede fad status and become bona fide genres.  Such it has been with thrash metal.  I won't go into too much depth regarding the genre, it is sufficient to point out that it arose as an angrier, heavier cousin of speed metal, in reaction to the gloss, pop and pomp of glam metal.

Emerging from the "Bay Area" thrash scene, Testament proved themselves to be one of the stalwarts of this new and evolving genre.  Even when when grunge and subsequently nu-metal were overtaking the radio waves and record sales, Testament pressed on, sticking true to their trash roots while evolving in new directions.  The pinnacle of that evolution is witnessed on The Gathering.  Easily their heaviest album ever, and possibly one of the heaviest thrash albums ever recorded, it represents a big middle finger, straight up into the air, aimed directly at Korn and their ilk.

The Gathering is a magnificent example of American thrash.  It is fast, technical, heavy as all get-out, and more furious than the hounds of hell.  Chuck Billy brings back a bit of his singing growl that was mostly absent on Demonic, but he retains much of the fierce style he used on that record.  Eric Peterson proves he is one of the best metal guitarists and songwriters around, completely owning the entire record.  And Dave Lombardo, well, it's Dave freaking Lombardo.  He owns the kit.  From the beginning track, "D.N.R", through the album highlight "Ride the Snake" to the final track "Fall of Sipledome", The Gathering never lets up.  It is a pummeling ride to the very last moment.

Final Verdict: Adore it (just keep the Advil handy)


Blech.  Finally, Peter has picked something that I can unequivocally say I don't like.

Thrash has never really been my thing - I love Persistence of Time because it's a classic, and ...And Justice For All doubly so.  I can stand Megadeth, and that's really about the extent of my relationship with thrash.

As far as this CD goes I can concede to almost everything my compatriot said regarding its musicality (and especially the talent of Mr. Lombardo in the kit), but it just doesn't appeal to me.  It's ugly and abrasive, and not in the ways I like.  My metal-listening time is metered; I don't feel like wasting any more of it on this album.

Final Verdict: Ignore it (and listen to better metal instead)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Point-Counterpoint: Yes - Close to the Edge


Even though Yes is one of the original progenitors of the progressive rock genre, it's taken me years to be willing and able to truly process their music.  I can't really describe why that was; but be that as it may, two years ago I finally decided I needed to see what all the fuss was about.

Because Yes has been around so long, like any older group they have some albums that are stellar and some that are just "meh".  Thankfully, Close to the Edge is the former.  With only three tracks and clocking in at barely under forty minutes, it's a behemoth to try and digest, but doing so is more than worth the while.

The first song (in fact, in the original vinyl, the whole first side - not unlike Rush's "2112" or "Hemispheres") is the title track, one that starts with ambient sounds before erupting in a funkadelic beat.  The bass, guitars, and keyboards are all going in different directions, soaring and weaving into one another, until vocal harmonies break through, silence everything, and it all coalesces into a wonderful whole, until the motif for the song is presented.  The vocals are nearly always in harmony, and it flies quickly from quiet to loud with abandon, and the lyrics are mystical and spiritual.  The real shining instrument here is Rick Wakeman's keyboard - he stands out among other very talented musicians, especially during that vibrant, effulgent organ section.  It's one of the best examples of early progressive rock you'll ever hear.

This continues throughout the next two tracks as well, "And You and I" as well as "Siberian Khatru".  The former continues an eastern, mystical motif musically and lyrically; it is about renewal and rebirth, whereas the latter seethes with energy and has a great beat and catchy syncopated guitar work.  Both also exemplify what early progressive rock was, and it's obvious why this is regarded as many to be Yes' best album.

Final verdict: Adore it (with a mind for expansion)


Ah Yes.  One of the quintessential progressive rock bands, even though they probably need it, they should require no introduction.  Certainly groundbreaking, often innovative, Yes has long been a rotating cast of very skilled musicians.

Oh, and they are boring.

Yeah, I said it.  Boooooooooring.  Like insomniac curing boring.  In fact, there is really only one song of theirs I can even stand.  "Roundabout" is a decent track that wears out its welcome if you aren't hearing the radio edit.

So what can I say about Close to the Edge?  It is an epic, sprawling work that is full of pseudo-mystical lyrics, impressive yet incredibly subdued music (even when "energetic"), piercingly high vocals and ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. . .

Final verdict: Ignore it (unless you need some help with your insomnia)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Random thoughts on music news.

1.  First off, Thom Yorke of Radiohead has decided that the music business is folding - and fast.  Radiohead had a very successful release of their last album, In Rainbows, digitally - and at whatever price you felt like paying for the album.  (I paid a sufficient sum for the record - and it is one of their finest.)  Because of that, he's now claiming that the whole business is going to go under within a few months:
"[It'll be] only a matter of time,"Yorke says. "Months rather than years before the music business establishment completely folds." 

Advising aspiring musicians not to tie themselves to such a "sinking ship", Yorke adds that the fall of the music business will be "no great loss to the world".
 That's fine and dandy for him to say, but the fact of the matter is that Radiohead succeeded in digital self-release because they are a well-known act with multiple platinum releases to their name.  I don't think upstarts are quite ready for that - nor do I think that the music industry gigantor, for all its hideousness, is that ready to die.

No matter how bad it is.

2.  If music IS dying (and sales point to yes, at least as far as physical media goes), there is at least one shade of silver to that cloud - the Melvins broke the top 200 for the first time in their storied career.  It wasn't a huge sell for them, and not even their best first week - but hey, this is The Melvins.  They should've broken it every time they've sold a thing, so just smile and be happy for them.

3.  More evidence to the continuing of awesome music - Sufjan Stevens is FINALLY following up 2005's amazing, mind-blowing Illinois.  And he's not doing it alone - apparently he's been hard at work with The National.  Word is, it sounds like nothing Sufjan's ever done before - but if my favorite indie artist is working with one of my favorite indie bands, this can only end in piles of awesome.  [/hipster]

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Point-Counterpoint: Heaven & Hell - The Devil You Know


Black Sabbath needs no introduction.  They are the de facto fathers (grandfathers?) of heavy metal.  Even if you aren't that familiar with all their work, you are undoubtedly familiar with the band.  But what many people might not realize is that Black Sabbath has been a revolving cast over the years, with 22 musicians having been in the band at some point.  Too often, people think of Ozzy when they think of Sabbath.  The real person to think of is Tony Iommi.  Over the past 42 years, he has been the single constant in the band.

I mention this for those unfamiliar with Heaven & Hell.  Named after the 1980 album from Black Sabbath (the first with Ronnie James Dio as vocalist) of the same name, the band is, for all intents and purposes, Black Sabbath.  Comprised of Dio, Iommi, Geezer Butler and Vinny Apice, this is the group from the early 80s (and again in the early 90s).  What resulted was The Devil You Know.

As such, I was anticipating some straight up heavy metal.  You know, down-tuned guitars, plodding, ethereal tempos, and somewhat theatrical vocals (thanks to the inimitable Dio).  However, what I did not anticipate was just how much this album would rock.  Right from the start, the guitars and deep, throaty and thundering. This is trademark Sabbath.

Some of the tracks are a touch faster (the energetic "Eating the Cannibals" for one), and others are funereal in the pace (the standouts "Bible Black" and "Breaking into Heaven").  In between you have the expected mid-tempo tracks.  They never veer too far from the template, but hey, this is a template these guys freaking created, so they can stick with it.  Especially when done so well.

As mentioned, the guitars have a fantastic heavy metal sound.  The drums and bass fill out the rhythm perfectly.  And Dio's voice sounds as good as it ever has.  Powerful, rich, somewhat operatic in nature, it is everything that made Dio such a respected vocalist.  It is a shame to have lost him, but what an album to go out on.

Final Verdict: Adore it (and relish in the celebration of heavy freaking metal)


Honestly, there isn't much to say that my counterpart here hasn't said.  Sabbath is wonderful; Dio era Sabbath all the more so.  Ronnie James just had a voice that was perfect for heavy metal - it soars, it's emotive, and it rocks.

I mean, this is essentially the guy who introduced the devil's horns symbol to heavy metal.  He is metal incarnate - and this album showcases it more than almost any other I can think of.

Whew.  It's big, ugly, and wonderful.

Final Verdict: Adore it (I'm pouring drops of (root) beer out for you, Dio.  You will be missed)

Monday, June 07, 2010

This drummer is mad.


I'm just going to leave this here for you all.  It's music related.  And it must be lauded.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Album Review: Nevermore - The Obsidian Conspiracy

Nevermore: The Obsidian Conspiracy
Year: 2010
Click here for the artist's site

In life, there are few things you can reliably count on.  So it is welcome when you find those things.  For example, you can bet on the sun rising in the east in the morning.  Chances are pretty good that in the Northern Hemisphere, July will be warmer than January.  If you throw something up in the air, it will most likely fall to the ground at some point.  You can count on these things.

Guess what else you can count on.  Nevermore releasing killer music.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Album Review: Rush - Caravan Single

Rush: Caravan Single
Year: 2010
Click here for the artist's site

I know that I recently wrote about my lack of excitement for the upcoming Rush tour. One of my biggest complaints was that this was a tour before album sort of situation.  There were some hints of surprises, but nothing definite.  Needless to say, I haven't been planning on going.

Today, that all changed.