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Archive for the ‘Live music’ Category

Sure, you’ve got your “Immigrant Song”s and your “Dazed and Confused”s and all other manner of seemingly more gleamings-in-the-eye-of-heavy-metal’s-ancestors, but for my money, something about the raw blues/folk bent of early Zep (talkin’ first album Zep) whispers heavy metal in my delighted and confused ear even more than all the Blue Cheers and “She’s So Heavy”s of the world.  So, turn it up, give it a whirl; Keep Of Kalessin circa Armada pretty much slaughtered a goat to the dulcet tones of the flamenco-esque guitar on this 41-year-old epic.

Happy Origin Story Sunday!

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In addition to my regular dose of all things vile and extreme in metal, I’ve been listening to quite a bit of jazz lately.  A few weeks back I was spinning Miles Davis’ record My Funny Valentine, which is a live concert recorded at the Philharmonic Hall in New York in early 1964.  One of the great pleasures of listening to live music, but especially to jazz, is following the back and forth of communication between the band members.  The particular track which stopped me dead in my tracks was the quintet’s run-through of the Cole Porter jazz standard “All Of You.”

This is a band set to 'slow burn'

Here is the audio (in two parts) of that same quintet playing “All Of You” in July of 1963, which appears on the album Miles Davis in Europe.  I couldn’t track down easily accessible online audio of the version which appears on My Funny Valentine, which is unfortunate, but this rendition still gives great insight into the near-telepathy of the band – especially the astonishing rhythm section of Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Tony Williams on drums.

Tony Williams is an incredibly active, almost aggressive drummer here; check out his ability to highlight Miles’ most strenuous phrases without stepping on them (from about 3:00 to 4:15 on the first half of the track).  But what really gets me hooked listening to the band play this tune is the lightning-fast communication between Carter on bass and Williams on drums while Hancock is laying down his piano solo (this is the majority of the second half of the track, all the way until Miles comes back in for the chorus around 5:30 or so).


If you’ve got yourself a copy of My Funny Valentine at hand, I prefer the version on there, but both versions demonstrate the single-mindedness of the ensemble.  All of this got me to thinking, though, that the type of collective improvisation on display with Miles’ quintet is an exceeding rarity in heavy metal.

Of course, improvisation plays a fairly large role in many types of heavy metal.  The most obvious example of this is the guitar solo.  We know, too, however, that not all guitar solos are improvised – if you see Metallica playing “Fade to Black” or Slayer playing “Raining Blood,” I think there’s an expectation on the part of the fans that the solos, which may at one point have been largely improvisational (though I have my doubts about that), will be played more or less true to the way they have been burned into their brains through years’ worth of listening.

Still, the guitar or other instrumental solo break is the most obvious example of improvisation in heavy metal.  In the classic structure, the guitar solo is a type of compositional break, used much in the way a pre-chorus or bridge is used to transition from one part of a song to another.  A solo will often occur on top of a basic riff structure which has already been introduced in a verse or some other section of the song.  It serves, in this way, to introduce novelty within an already-recognized framework.  The essential structure of the song would be unchanged by the removal of the solo, in most cases.

Then, of course, you get into all sorts of avant-garde stuff, with manipulated feedback, distortion, and the detritus of found-sounds and other oddities.  I don’t think most people going to see Merzbow or Skullflower, for example, have exactly the expectation of hearing recognizable “songs” from these groups/dudes.  In these cases, then, improvisation is less a decorative addition to a predetermined structure (as Hammett’s whammy-fondling is to a Metallica jam), and actually becomes the basis of composition.

Both of these models, however, are entirely separate from what goes on with Miles Davis’ group from 40-odd years back.  Certainly, there is a basic structure to the piece.  The melody of the original tune serves as the most skeletal reference, but the essential building blocks of the song are the tempo and the chord changes.  Beyond that, however, as you can hear in this recording, pretty much anything goes.  Sure, there’s a design in the order of solos – Miles introduces the theme, then launches off into a fantastic deconstruction of it, before it gets handed off to Coleman on the tenor saxophone.  After the tenor break, Herbie Hancock takes over on piano, before Miles comes back in at the end to revisit the melodic theme and bring the piece to a close.  By that description, then, it would seem that this follows the first model of improvisation, where there is a predetermined structure upon which soloing sits as a purely decorative flourish.

But to interpret the collective improvisation of Miles’ group here as a rote reading of a standard tune with traded riffs on the theme would be to do them a great disservice.  The crucial thing to follow in this live recording is the absolute vibrancy of the communication between all of the different members.  I find it easiest to pick out when following the interplay of the rhythm section – bass, drums, and piano – which is especially vital during Hancock’s solo break.  See, whereas the Metallica tune would be played exactly the same way without the solo included, if you remove any one of these three lines from “All Of You,” you would miss out on how these three guys are structuring and restructuring the rhythm and melodic texture of the song as they play it.  When they slip into a half-time swing beat for just a few measures, and then seamlessly back into the regular tempo, you have to wonder: If one of those components were absent, would it have the same impact?

The crucial element of the improvisation which goes on in “All Of You” is precisely that it is a collective improvisation.  There are five guys up on stage, and they are essentially having a conversation with each other.  Miles brings up the topic and swishes it around in his mouth for a while to see how it feels, but then he opens up the floor for comments.  Coleman agrees with Miles, for the most part, but elaborates on a few points.  It goes on like this.  The timing of Williams’ cymbal hits is dependent on what he hears Carter playing on the bass, or how he imagines Hancock will shake up his rhythm in the next two bars.  Carter walks his bass along quite amiably, but listens for Williams’ emphasis, and tracks along with him when it feels right.  If you take away one of these speakers, the conversation crumbles.  Balance is lost.  The nays have it.

To extend this somewhat-tenuous metaphor further, most guitar (and other) solos in heavy metal are basically like some guy yelling while everyone else carries on a conversation.  Take out the dude’s yelling, and the conversation continues apace.  You might be getting the impression, by the way, that I don’t at all care for guitar solos, which is not actually my point.  I think guitar solos can be pretty rad, and I enjoy a face-melting shredfest just as much as the next metal fan.  What I’m trying to stress, though, is that heavy metal might find itself expanded in interesting ways if it made room for this type of collective improvisation that one is likely to find in good jazz.

If I had to take a stab at figuring out why this is the case, I suspect it has something to do with the aesthetic of transgression and personal triumph which is so widespread in heavy metal.  The lyrics and topical concerns of much heavy metal are about strength, overcoming adversity, having the courage to be different, and so forth.  Obviously, these themes are expressed in vastly different ways, whether we’re talking about the hardcore youth gang pep talks of Hatebreed, or the motif of Nietzschean haughtiness and individual superiority common in black metal.  When it comes to expressing these ideas musically rather than textually, a fairly obvious way to do so is by highlighting the virtuosity of individual musicians.

Jamey Jasta's Seven Habits for Highly Effective Backstabber Overcomers

For the most part, the closest one might come in heavy metal to collective improvisation is with dueling guitar solos (or dueling guitar-keyboard, guitar-bass, or whatever else).  The problem is, these flights of multi-musician fancy don’t typically involve the same type of musical conversation as in jazz.  Instead, if you see Dream Theater live, for example, you will find John Petrucci doing a back-and-forth with Jordan Rudess on keyboards, where they trade off several bars, each trying to out-play the other.  There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that sort of coupled soloing; in fact, it tends to be quite entertaining.  Still, the model remains that of the individual virtuoso (or of two individual virtuosos, in which case the number ‘1’ remains a more important signifier than the number ‘2’), struggling heroically against all odds to emerge victorious, having slayed all rivals with the intensity and sincerity of her skill.

As a sidebar, I don’t mean to play too much into the hands of those who believe that heavy metal is about nothing but virtuosity.  I think that’s far from the truth, and that’s actually one of the main problems I had with the otherwise quite interesting book by musicologist Robert Walser, entitled Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music.  Apart from seeming quite dated now (it was originally published in 1993), I think Walser relies too heavily on the notion that the primary mode of transgression in heavy metal arises from instrumental prowess.  Still, it’s an interesting book, and one of the (very) few academic books on the subject of heavy metal, and may well be worth your time to wade through some of the overwrought passages to discover the musicological and critical theoretical insights.  It’s available here from Amazon, and certainly plenty of other places, too.

Sorry for not giving a shit about Van Halen

Well, I’ve definitely banged on about this too much already, so I’ll try to wrap things up.  I think where Walser has it wrong, and why I don’t want to overemphasize this highly atomized, individualistic reading of heavy metal as sheer virtuoso performance, is that there are plenty of metal bands out there that succeed precisely because they avoid emphasizing one musician’s skill above that of another, and instead focus on working as an entity.  Neurosis comes to mind first, primarily because I’ve been rocking their new album Live at Roadburn 2007 recently.  Here is a band, though, which seems less like a collection of individual voices, and more like a collective, through which different voices occasionally speak.  That model is all fine and good, and obviously the amount of reverence shown a band like Neurosis is an indication that I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

What remains un- (or at least under-) explored in heavy metal, though, is exactly this kind of collective improvisation, this quickly-shifting musical conversation between members of the band that I find so thrillingly present in these live recordings of Miles Davis and his band.  I’d like to see metal bands able to move from these two poles of either playing completely as a pulsating organism (the ‘Neurosis Model’, say) or as a preconceived structure atop which the Nietzschean Over-Man dazzles with his unfathomable mastery (the ‘Metallica Model’, say – I’m not claiming that Kirk Hammett is the pinnacle of guitar wizardry, it’s just the example already in play).  Instead, there remains this tantalizing third way, in which a band locks in the skeleton of a song structure – a set tempo, maybe, or a flash of half a guitar riff – and then launches into an actual conversation between equals.

This is, for the most part, far less flashy than a Steve Vai guitargasm, and requires more patience and closer listening than the monolithic heft of Neurosian song-mountains.  It’s as much about listening as it is about speaking, but if the bands can learn to listen, and we listeners can learn to listen to the ongoing conversation, heavy metal can yet achieve a more intimate sense of community; a community not just of fans who listen to the same music, nor of individuals who gain access to community by virtue of technical merit.  A community always in the process of creating itself; an improvised community.

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Different people listen to music differently.  Seems painfully obvious, sure, but since I posted a little while back about quizzing myself on how well I knew my own music collection (apparently, I half-know my collection…) I’ve been thinking about just how it is that we recognize and/or remember particular music.

This got me trying to figure out what metal songs are most likely to find themselves stuck in my head.  While thinking through that, it seemed that most of the results I came up with were songs I would identify because of their vocal hook; basically, shower sing-a-long type songs.

Here are just a few examples of some of my favorite heavy metal sing-a-longs, then:

Judas Priest, “Heavy Duty/Defenders of the Faith (Live)”

Sure, I occasionally get the slow-motion blues-stomp of “Heavy Duty” in there, but it’s primarily the “Defenders of the Faith” sing-a-long that I find banging around in there all the time.
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Nile, “Black Seeds of Vengeance”

For whatever reason, the first line of this song has always stuck with me (“The scourge of Amalek is upon you…”), but other than that, it’s obviously just the crushing death/doom breakdown at the end, chanting the song title ad infinitum that gets me every time.
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Dark Angel, “Darkness Descends”

Again, it’s just the chorus here.  Watch your neighbors and coworkers recoil in disgust as you let loose your venomous saliva to the soothing sounds of “The city is guilty / The crime is life / The sentence is death / Darkness deSCEEEENDS!”
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Metallica, “Creeping Death (Live)”

The chorus on this classic track is a great one to shout along with, but everyone’s favorite participatory moment has got to be the breakdown – where else but at a metal show is it considered socially acceptable to scream “DIE!!! DIE!!! DIE!!!” at the vein-bulging, eye-popping top of one’s lungs?
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Bathory, “Woman of Dark Desires”

Probably with some effort I could figure out what Quorthon’s yelling in the verses, but for the most part, I’m happy enough to croak along to the chorus on this, one of my favorite Bathory tracks.
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Mayhem, “Funeral Fog”

Most black metal is total balls to sing along to, but Attila’s inimitable vocals are, nonetheless, fun to imitate.  “FYOOOOOO-NER-EEE-UHHHL……FUGH!!!”
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That’s obviously just a small cross-section of the metal songs that tend to get stuck in my head.  The interesting thing, though, is that it seems pretty clear that I gravitate much more toward vocal hooks than guitar riffs.  I mean, some of these songs have riffs that are extremely easy to recall to the mind (“Creeping Death,” especially, but even the minor tremelo blitz of “Funeral Fog”), but for the most part, these songs get stuck in my head because of the vocals.

I wonder, then, if it has something to do with the fact that I don’t play the guitar?  An interesting question to pose to metalheads, then, is: Are guitar players more likely to get riffs stuck in their heads, or are the songs in their heads there, like they are for me, as sing-a-longs?  It’s a bit more difficult to “sing” along with a guitar riff, but I wouldn’t be surprised if different people identify more closely with different parts of a song, in which case it would seem to have something to do with how we listen to a song.

For my part, it seems to be vocal melodies, catchy choruses, and so forth, that stick in the mind after I’m listening.  When I’m in the act of listening, though, I do often find myself concentrating more closely on the guitar, or following drum fills, or picking out the bass line – those things just don’t tend to stick to my gray matter as cloyingly as the human voice.

Yet another thing that I noticed from this brief stream-of-consciousness song list is that most of the these songs whose vocal tracks get lodged in my brain are in some way thrash-inspired.  Clearly, Metallica and Dark Angel are thrash, but that Bathory track is a very thrashy one, and the chorus of “Funeral Fog” switches between straight-on black metal blasting and a more thrash-paced break.

The odd thing is, I don’t necessarily consider thrash to be one of my favorite genres, so I wasn’t expecting to see such a thrash influence here.  The more I think about it, though, it makes sense that thrash-inspired songs might be more memorable, inasmuch as the genre has a heavy focus on jagged, intensely rhythmic delivery, whereas songs from death metal or black metal often truck along with less variation.

Or, at least, the vocals in thrash are often delivered in a sort of complimentarity to the riffs, whereas in certain other genres, the guitar work is meant to provide texture rather than clearly identifiable structure, so it may be more difficult to pluck the vocals out of that textural mass.

Guitar players out there: Do you ignore vocals and remember only riffs?  Drummers: Do you ever recall anything other than how tight some dude’s snare is?  Singers: Do you ever listen to Attila Csihar and despair, knowing that nothing you ever produce with your vocal cords will match that level of depravity?
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In some other random news:

- Red Harvest has broken up, and that just bums me the fuck out.  For my money, nobody out there did cold, antisocial industrial metal better, and they will be sorely missed.  See the band’s Myspace for details.  To help you through the grieving process, check out some official live clips from their 20th anniversary show last year.  Four songs from the show are available here.

- Neurosis has just put out an official live album, capturing their performance at Roadburn in 2007.  It is available from Neurot Recordings at this location.  Go, give yourself to the rising.

- Across Tundras have a new album out, and it’s cheap from their webstore.  I absolutely LOVE their first full-length, Dark Songs of the Prairie (probably the best replacement for the sorely-missed Gault), but I haven’t followed any of the intervening releases.  I’ve just ordered my copy, though, and will gladly report in due time.  Here’s to hoping for more doomed-out Americana.

- Devin Townsend finally announced more tour dates on his upcoming headlining tour, including a fervently hoped-for (by me, at least) stop in Chicago in November.  FUCK YES.  Ahem.  Check out the full list of tour dates here, and do not miss this heavy metal wizard if he’s swinging through your stomping grounds.

That’s all for now, friends.  Be good to each other, and please have a very heavy metal Wednesday.

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Anneke van Giersbergen & Danny Cavanagh, In Parallel (2010)

Ceremony of (Non)Opposites

The operative word here is warmth.  This 2010 release presents recordings from two small (and quite intimate sounding) shows played in the Netherlands in early 2009 by Anneke van Giersbergen (of Agua de Annique, and ex- of The Gathering) and Danny Cavanagh (Anathema).  The sound is clean, simple, and yes, warm, as the two singers trade off singing songs from their separate concerns, as well as a handful of well-selected covers.

The instrumentation throughout is primarily acoustic guitar (with both Cavanagh and van Giersbergen playing), with Cavanagh’s occasional piano accompaniment.  Followers of either of these two singers’ bands know well enough that these folks have been circling the world of Metal with only the widest of orbits in recent years, but that’s not really the point.  Metal is a wide church, and these two friends are among the most golden-voiced ever to have graced its quietest rectories.

The sheer pleasure of listening to this album is not in the revelation of any hitherto-unexplored realm of sound and expression; this album proceeds so winningly because of its striking comfort and familiarity.  Some might argue that such conventional attributes are antithetical to the project of heavy metal, but then again, one can only listen to so much powerviolence or harsh noise before retreating to sunnier climes.  Which is to say, certainly every Skullflower fan could use a little Sonata Arctica in their life from time to time.

Most of the songs sung by van Giersbergen are from her Agua de Annique project, although The Gathering’s “You Learn About It” (from 2003’s Souvenirs) gets a stirring reading.  The set also opens with a delightful version of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop,” and later features van Giersbergen leading a beautiful rendition of Damien Rice’s great song “The Blower’s Daughter.”

This latter track is one of the most interesting here, because van Giersbergen sings the male lead, with Cavanagh joining in to harmonize where Rice’s version adds female vocals.  I have a sense that a bit more playing around with ‘who sings what’ could have yielded extremely pleasant results – van Giersbergen singing Anathema’s “Are You There?”, for example, or Cavanagh singing Agua de Annique’s “Day After Yesterday” – but this borders on churlish quibbling.

The Anathema songs are primarily taken from A Natural Disaster, with only “One Last Goodbye” digging (slightly) deeper into their past.  One small disappointment, then, is that there is essentially 100% overlap between what Cavanagh plays here, and Anathema’s 2008 acoustic release, Hindsight.  Still, these are powerful songs, and they lose very little when featuring just guitar and voice.  “Flying” is particularly notable for what sounds like Cavanagh accompanying himself with a delay pedal.  It’s tough to pick out exactly what’s going on, but towards the end, I can hear three, or maybe four separate guitar lines winding round and round themselves.

My only complaint (well, I suppose it’s really more of a suggestion) is that with these two fantastic singers playing together, I feel like they could have actually sung together a bit more frequently.  When they do harmonize with one another (as on “The Blower’s Daughter” or Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”), the timbres of their voices work sweet magic, and thus feels rather underutilized.

In sum, this record is a real treat for fans of either singer, and an especial treat for those (such as myself) who are fans of both.  Don’t expect anything earth-shattering here, though, as this really does play like good friends getting together to run through songs whose memory is imprinted in the callus of the finger, and the familiar vibration of a particular note.

This album, I will say again, is above all else warm: this album is a broken-in leather arm chair in a hearth-lit study; it is a glass of ruby red wine; it is a walk along the river with old friends, where the words and meanings are only figural, gestures at an unspoken bond.

Overall rating: 80%.  Old friends / Sat on their park bench like bookends…
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In Parallel is out now on Aftermath Music.  Find it here, or maybe somewhere else.

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Okay, friends – things are getting serious.  The question I am about to pose to all of you may just be one of the most vexed in all of heavy metal history.  Abandon hope, all ye who enter, et cetera.

Which of these is the best classic heavy metal live album:

- Judas Priest, Unleashed in the East (1979)
– Motörhead, No Sleep ’til Hammersmith (1981)
– Iron Maiden, Live After Death (1985)

????????

I know, I know; this is some next level, Sophie’s Choice shit, right?

The contenders:

Fall to your knees and repent (if you please)

You see, my first inclination is to say that Priest’s live album from Japan is the best of the three.  Downing and Tipton are in lockstep precision throughout the entire set, and Halford’s vocals are absolutely on fire.  I think the thing that really sells this one more than anything, though, is how different these tracks sound from their recorded versions.

Now, I don’t mean that we’ve got any 20-minute “Moby Dick” masturbatory drum solos, or patient explorations of the tonality of the sitar; instead, what I mean is, this album came out in 1979, meaning that the material represented is largely from 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny through 1979’s Hell Bent for Leather (which is really 1978’s British Killing Machine, but nevermind that).  For this earlier stage in their career, Priest still sounded very much like a 1970s metal band, meaning that the production never quite gave them the same bite they were able to achieve in the live arena.

As such, even though the live renditions are quite faithful to the originals, they sound bigger, bolder, and more filled with the righteous flame of heavy metal’s essence.  Check “Victim of Changes,” especially, for one of the most awe-inspiring tracks ever to have been put to tape, to wax, to indelible brain-grooves.

Snake eyes watching you

Now Motörhead live are a completely different proposition.  Where Priest gain power live, it is primarily because of the intensification and clarification of what I imagine must have been their original vision of those songs; where Motörhead gain power live, it’s for no other reason than that the hellish racket made by these three dudes absolutely personifies everything dirty, gritty, fast, ugly, and wonderful about metal, punk, rock, and just basically loud fucking music.

The set list (my single-disc CD version has got 14 tracks, though the original issue was just the 11 tracks, “Ace of Spades” through “Motörhead”) is chock full of classics: “Ace of Spades,” “Overkill,” “Bomber,” “(We Are) The Road Crew,” “The Hammer,” “Iron Horse/Born to Lose,” and on and on.  The primary reason that this album vies in such close competition for the vaunted status of  Best Heavy Fucking Metal Live Album Ever is that it is louder, faster, and more shot through with the supernatural power of ROCK than just about anything else.

Seriously, once you’ve got this album into your greedy little clutches, it will most likely ruin you for the original recorded versions of these songs.  They will seem slow, and they will seem quiet, and they will pale in comparison to their livid, whiskey-fueled live bastard children.

Woe to you, oh Earth and Sea...

So, now that I’ve done worked myself into quite the lather over Priest and Motörhead, how could poor ol’ Iron Maiden hope to stack up?  Oh, I don’t know, maybe by BRINGING THE GODDAMNED ROCK AND ROLL SO HARD INTO YOUR EARHOLES THAT YOUR EYEBALLS ROLL BACK INTO YOUR HEAD LIKE IN A CARTOON, BUT INSTEAD OF DISPLAYING SLOT MACHINE ICONS, ALL YOU SEE IS EDDIE SPINNING ROUND AND ROUND, DANCING A HEAVY METAL TARANTELLA WHILST CLUTCHING THE ASHES OF YOUR SANITY.

Ahem.  What I mean is, of these three live albums, Live After Death has the widest selection of absolutely classic tracks.  Yeah, it’s a shame that they didn’t wait a few years so that they could include tracks from Somewhere in Time or Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, but that’s really just splitting hairs.  Here you get some of the highlights of Powerslave and Piece of Mind, plus all the old bangers you’ve come to know and love.  Bruce is on fine form, and the crowd(s – the first disc was recorded in Long Beach, CA, and the second disc, coincidentally enough, was recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon, the very same venue at which Motörhead promised no sleep until) is fired up.

Apart from “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (a real treat to hear the whole thing live), a few of the lesser-heard gems are “22 Acacia Avenue” and “Phantom of the Opera.”  But really, apart from the specific track selection, this entire recording just oozes the class and professionalism of a band on the top of their game in 1985, and a band which continues to be on the top of their game 25 years (!!!) later in 2010.
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Moral of the story is: I can’t choose between these three records, friends.  Each one is perilously close to being too excellent for its own damn good.  In a perfect world, then, we’d each have, oh, say, four hours or so each day to play all three back to back for MAXIMUM HEAVY METAL DAMAGE.

But what about you?  Are you able to choose between these three?  Have I forgotten any other heavy metal live albums of equal importance and stature to these?  (I should point out that I intentionally left off Black Sabbath’s Live Evil, not out of any disrespect for RJD His Damn Self, but because even though it stretches back and cherry picks some of the Ozzy-era classics, it’s not a representation of the classic band at the height of its powers, like are these other three.)

Which live albums strike that holy terror in your soul, and lead you by the hand, ineluctably, to the Spinal Tapdance?*
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*In case I have not yet specified, a Spinal Tapdance is what happens to the body when it is consumed with the all-purifying fuck-thunder of HEAVY METAL.  Think not of dancing ’round a midget Stonehenge, but rather of the real life Stonehenge – y’know, all those fucking giant ROCKS in the English countryside what with them Druids used to get funky – DANCING ON YOU.  Your body twists and thrashes uncontrollably, and your hair stands on lightning-kissed end; this is the Spinal Tapdance.

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Oh my goodness, I can hardly control my excitement (I am using understatement to emphasize my point).

Your friend and mine, Michael Gira, has reformed the band that made us all love the sound of abjection, Swans.  I was sadly unaware of the brilliant music of Swans until some time after they first disbanded (after 1997’s final full-length Soundtracks for the Blind), so I am super-hella-crazy-mega-pumped to finally see them live.

A charming sort of fellow

Of course, the unfortunate thing about it is that, at least as of now, it doesn’t seem that Jarboe is going to be a part of this reunion.  It was probably overly wishful thinking to hope for such a thing in the first place, but I guess I’ll just have to be content with the fact that Jarboe has continued to make excellent and challenging music, both on her own, and, especially, with an extremely notable list of collaborators throughout metal’s avant-garde: Neurosis, Justin Broadrick, Byla, Phil Anselmo & Atilla Csihar on the astonishingly good Mahakali, and Kris Force on the soon-to-be-released soundtrack to some random video game.

Anyway, if you have a love for all that is good and righteous in music, you would be well-advised to seek out the music of Swans, and to attend their upcoming concerts.  Here’s the complete list of tour dates for the U.S. leg of their tour this fall, with more information on European dates available at Gira’s label, Young God Records:

Sept 28 Philadelphia, PA – Trocadero Theater
Sept 29 Washington, DC – Black Cat
Sept 30 Boston, MA – Middle East downstairs
Oct 01 Montreal, QC – Le National – Pop Montreal fest
Oct 02 Toronto, ON – Lee’s Palace
Oct 04 Detroit, MI – Crofoot Ballroom
Oct 05 Chicago, IL – Bottom Lounge
Oct 06, Columbus, OH – Outland Live
Oct 08 Brooklyn, NY – Masonic Temple
Oct 09 New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom

I’ll be kicking it Swans-style here in Chicago October the 5th.  In the meantime, how’s about a few videos to whet your interest?

Here’s a rather unfortunately seizure-inducing video for the title track off of Love Of Life (interesting tidbit: try to see how many of these photos will end up being used as cover art for Gira’s albums as Angels Of Light):

And if that one was a bit soft for your taste, have a nice little palate-cleansing bludgeoning from the much rawer Swans circa 1987:

Go get your tickets, before the tickets get you.  Or whatever.

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So, I just saw this news item over at Blabbermouth, and my initial reaction was:

“What.  The.  Fuck.”  Followed by a fit of stomping around and blasting “Overactive Imagination.”

A secondary, and slightly more measured reaction, was as follows:

If’n you don’t feel particularly inclined to follow random links, the gist of the post is that a concert is being held this weekend in New York which is billed as a “Chuck Schuldiner Benefit.”  Now, I mean absolutely no disrespect, because Chuck’s legacy in heavy metal is absolutely without question.  Mantas, Death, and Control Denied deserve all the respect and accolades in the world, and Chuck’s status as one of the prime movers of the early American death metal scene has been well-documented.  The thing is, Chuck Schuldiner died of cancer back in 2001.

This was obviously a great tragedy for his family and friends, and I always feel a little iffy suggesting that adding my condolences as only a fan of the man’s music can really amount to anything meaningful, but still.  Whether or not I am qualified to comment on the loss to the metal community represented by Chuck’s passing is somewhat beside the point here.  What I would really like to put out there, actually, is an open letter to the concert organizers:

To Whom It May Concern (A.K.A., Event Planner With An Unfortunate Choice Of Words),

Hello.  Are you well?  Just a few friendly words from your pal here at Spinal Tapdance.  If you are going to plan a concert to honor the memory of a well-respected and massively influential heavy metal musician who has been gone for nearly a decade, STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM THE WORD ‘BENEFIT’.  THIS IS NOT WHAT YOU MEAN, AND THIS IS NOT WHAT YOU SHOULD SAY.

I’m thinking that a better word to have used is probably ‘tribute’.  See, “Chuck Schuldiner Tribute Concert” has a perfectly wonderful ring to it.  You can still have it headlined by the (officially-sanctioned) Death tribute band (see how that works doubly there?), and you can still use it to showcase local talent.  All of these things are good.  All of these things are right.  But if you carry on calling your show a “Chuck Schuldiner Benefit” without further specifying precise what or who stands to benefit from it, I suspect that the very canny and cagey heavy metal community will begin to question your bona fides.

They might even get irritable.

Now, maybe I’ve got this all wrong.  Maybe what you actually meant to specify in your press release is that this is a benefit concert for Chuck Schuldiner in the sense that some of the proceeds will go to his family, or perhaps to a scientific foundation which researches rare brain tumors.  If this is the case, here’s a pro tip: Tell us that.

Otherwise, with all due warmth and affection, might I kindly ask of you to fuck right along with this ‘Benefit’ language?

I remain, as always,
Your friend in heavy metal,

Spinal Tapdance.

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