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Archive for August, 2010

I know I mentioned this last week when I first came across the news item that Norwegian industrial metallers Red Harvest had called it quits, but I’m still bumming pretty hard about it, so I thought it warranted a slightly lengthier response.

Cold Dark Metal

The posting on the band’s MySpace page reads simply: “Red Harvest has split up as per May 2010.  We want to thank all the people that have supported us through the years.  1989-2010 R.I.P.”

Generally speaking, I’m a sucker for industrial-tinged metal (especially on the blacker end of the spectrum – Axis Of Perdition, Aborym, Control Human Delete, Anaal Nathrakh, Blacklodge, Void, Reverence, The Amenta, Herrschaft, (late) Dodheimsgard, and so forth).  The thing is, it’s not all that difficult to slap a superficially industrial sheen on whatever bog-standard metal one might by plying, by either tossing in some mechanically-processed vocals, or chucking in a few samples of hammers clanking.

Red Harvest, though, were (ach, it still stings) the real deal.  The industrial elements of their sound never came across as an afterthought to these ears.  Instead, they seemed like the true, eerie, pulsating heart of their sound, a genuine reflection of rust and filth and urban decay.  Theirs was not the slickness (however satisfying) of the Moonfog aesthetic, nor the aural overload of early Axis Of Perdition.  Their music exuded a bleak patience, taking the time to survey and catalog the ruin before them, rather than shying away in a hurry, or over-stylizing the reaction to modernity’s underside into a coolly calculated but unconvincing disregard.

(Note: Red Harvest’s departure from the scene is a doubly-hurtful blow since V:28, who I had long considered the closest spiritual kin to Red Harvest, also split up a while back.)

To be fair, I only really followed their output from 1996’s HyBreed and beyond (mostly out of necessity, though, given that their first two records are insanely tough to track down), but damn, was that one hell of a run.  The band really seemed to get their shit together right around 2000’s Cold Dark Matter (tightening the album down to 39 minutes from the nearly 80 minutes of HyBreed was a crucial step), featuring Fenriz on the monster of a track “Absolute Dunkel:heit.”

For my money, though, 2002’s Sick Transit Gloria Mundi saw the band’s purest distillation of the rhythmic, maniacal undulation of equal parts industrial, noise, ambient, and furious metal.  The fact that the metallic components of the band’s sound are not easily reducible to death metal, black metal, thrash metal, or anything else, really, is a testament to the band’s unique vision and clarity of purpose.

Even on the band’s last full-length album, A Greater Darkness (which some saw as a step down), they were mining new depths of more focused, clenched-jaw grimness:

Their final release was a 2008 compilation called The Red Line Archives, which collected remixes, archived tracks, and selections from several of their albums.  The intention of the compilation seems to have been to highlight the more purely industrial elements of their sound; the fact that the album plays like an album, even though it seems to miss a crucial something (it is taking most of my energy to not be an asshole and type je ne sais quoi), I think illustrates just how much the industrial elements were not a gimmick.  That is, if the industrial elements were merely layered over the top of already finished songs, pulling them together on a compilation should have only highlighted how anemic they sound without a solid metallic support.  They are not, and therefore they did not.

All of this is to say, if you haven’t yet discovered the wide-eyed joys of Red Harvest, now’s as good a time as ever to explore, and if, like me, you’re mourning their departure, now’s a perfect time to reengage with their harrowing dystopian metal.

Here are videos of Red Harvest playing three songs live in 2009, at a 20th Anniversary party for themselves in Oslo:

“Beyond the End” (From Sick Transit Gloria Mundi):

“Omnipotent” (From Cold Dark Matter):

“The Cure” (From Nomindsland):

The live sound isn’t the greatest, but you can still feel their hypnotic wrath.  Sit back and get pulled in to this black hole metal.

A.A.V.

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The following item has nothing at all to do with heavy metal.  Instead, it is a (fairly well-mannered, considering my slow-burning rage) complaint email sent to Blockbuster, in regards to the myriad problems I’ve been having lately with their ‘movies by mail’ service.

Wars are warring, floods are flooding; assholes (read: me) need distractions (read: shlocky television shows).

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Blockbuster,

So, what’s up?  In general, the Blockbuster by Mail service is excellent, but lately, I’ve been having all kinds of trouble with my account, and with my rental queue in particular.  One of the most recent bits of confusion, as you can see from what’s currently rented out to me, is that instead of sending me the second disc in the unbroken-up television series I was watching (X-Files), you instead sent me the first disc of the next television series in my queue (It’s Always Sunny…).  Now, if maybe either of those were especially hot titles, I could understand shipping them out of order based on availability, but EVERY SINGLE DISC of both series has been listed as ‘Available’ the entire time.  Nor is this the first time this has happened with my queue, where I will have lined up all my desired titles in a nice, neat single file line, only to find them thrown into discord and disarray by being shipped all out of order, even though your humble website continues to display the items in my queue in my desired order.

So, whatever; mistakes happen.  I get it.  But then, after sending back the first disc of X-Files, and being relieved to see that you deigned to send me the second disc of X-Files, what should happen?  Well, I receive the disc, and notice two (2) significant problems:

1) Instead of being disc two of the third season of X-Files, the disc contained within is disc five (5!) of the second (!) season of X-Files.  Odd, no?

2) Problem #2: That disc is not only incredibly wrong, but it is quite literally split in two, with a complete fracture running all the way from the center to the edge of the disc.

So, just prior to writing this email, I’ve used your online problem reporting system to report the complaint about the X-Files disc (though, to note, when several things are wrong, it might be nice to be able to report them both), and have (some) faith that I will be sent a non-smashed copy of the correct disc.  Still, this level of “whoops!” combined with the serious problems with keeping the queue in order over the past few months does not inspire great confidence in your system.

I would really prefer to be able to keep many things in my queue at once and have them shipped in the order in which I have placed them.  If the alternative is to only keep one thing in there so that your distribution center is forced to send me the right disc, then so be it, but you should probably discontinue all the pestering, nagging website/email reminders to add more things to my queue.

It’s a rough business these days, running a viable media/entertainment thing, what with, well, the Internet and all.  I’ve been quite pleased with the Blockbuster service in general, but lately, as you can see from this voluminous message, things have been rather abysmal.  Here’s to hoping they are just temporary kinks to be worked out.

To whomever may be reading this, whether human or a computer algorithm that’s been well-trained to separate the SERIOUSLY miffed from the casually annoyed: I know it’s not your fault.  But seriously: What’s up?

Cheers,
[Spinal Tapdance]

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If anyone cares, will keep apprised of the situation.  Am particularly interested to see how Blockbuster’s customer service robot has been trained to respond.  Will see if it has been programmed with Asimov’s robotics commandments.

Good night, and good luck.

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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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This is probably just a case of my overactive imagination, but I came across this Iggy and the Stooges track the other day, and something about the underlying riff just sounded so…familiar.  Sure, it’s not like it’s meant to be a particularly earth-shattering riff, but it kept rattling around inside my brain, searching my musical muscular memory for its ghostly twin.

Then I figured out what it reminded me of: Metallica’s “Seek and Destroy.”  Of course, it’s not like the universe would be perverse enough to make “Seek and Destroy” a decade-late echo of Iggy and Stooges’ “Search and Destroy,” and after doing a side-by-side listening, I know the comparison is a little overblown, but still.  Give the two a listen and see what you think.

The riff in question on the Stooges track is just the main mid-paced verse lick (and really, to be honest, it’s just the first four or five notes of that riff).  To these ears, it sounds a hell of a lot like the descending riff in “Seek and Destroy” – not the main riff which opens the song, but the eight-note descending sequence which leads into the primary verse riff.

Iggy and the Stooges, “Hey Peter” (1973, demo track from Raw Power sessions):

Metallica, “Seek and Destroy” (1983, Kill ’em All, although if you watch another clip on YouTube, a live show from Seattle in ’89, you can feel yourself charmed as James Hetfield metaphorically pisses into the mouths of the audience at the front of the barrier – here):

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So, anyway, I’m perfectly willing to be told that I’m full of shit on this one.  But aren’t there any songs out there that sound suspiciously like other riffs, such that once you’ve made the connection, when you get one of them in your head, your mind keeps jumping back and forth between the two?

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Shocking, I know, but heavy metal is not my only love.  In fact, I love many other things – unicorns, rainbows, all the usual suspects.  Also: mixing up cocktails.  Not, of course, in the sense of actually being PAID for the work; this is purely a non-remunerative hobby.  Still, it got me thinking.

In the canon of heavy metal substance abuse references, cocktails are assuredly a dismally distant last.  We’re all used to the bulletbelts and beer mentality, and sure, there’s a fair bit of banging on about whiskey, and yeah, seems to me like My Dying Bride has probably penned a song or two along the lines of “Woe is me and pestilence on the earth / My red wine is spilt, and my black cat fled to Perth” or some such thing.  Y’all ain’t never heard Abbath start off a song by dedicating it to Blashyrkh’s Mighty Dirty Martini, is my basic point.

For your consideration, then, I offer the following Heavy Metal Cocktails.  Most of these are slight variations on classic cocktail recipes, with obvious name changes and ingredient additions here and there.  I have tried to list one for each of several of heavy metal’s primary subgenres.  So, the next time you’re all lagered out, and can’t tell your ass from your ales from your ankles, why not try banging your head whilst imbibing a slightly classier product?
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Classic Heavy Metal: “The True Old School Old Fashioned”
– The Old Fashioned is basically like the crusty old guy in the tattered “Number of the Beast” t-shirt who watches the entire show with one foot on the bar rail, and can be heard to vaguely mutter the word “whippersnappers” every now and again.  A truly classic cocktail, this would make the perfect accompaniment to your daily rite of Angel Witch and “Lightning to the Nations”, or even a trawl back to Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak.”

Ingredients:
– 1 1/2 oz. rye whiskey (Most types of whiskey will really suffice for a good Old Fashioned, but rye is the true old schooler’s choice.  Go with bourbon if no rye’s on hand, but for sure stay away from Scotch for this one.)
– Some smallish amount of sugar
– Angostura bitters
– Orange slice
– Maraschino cherries (probably no more than two)
– Club soda

Directions:
They don’t call ’em Old Fashioned glasses for nothing, though you may also know them as lowballs (har har – fuck off).  Put the sugar in the bottom of a dry Old Fashioned glass, and shake a few dashes of Angostura bitters on it.  Add in the orange slice and cherries, and muddle them with the sugar and bitters to taste.  Muddle the fruit more for a sweeter drink, though the classic preparation probably only bruises the fruit, releasing mostly oils rather than actual juice.  Fill the glass to the top with ice, and pour the whiskey over it.  I prefer to give the drink a brisk stir at this point, and then to top with just a splash of club soda.  Now, listen: They’re playing your Manilla Road request.

Death Metal: “Tequila Smashed Face”
– This is basically just a classic margarita recipe that’s been fucked with.  It’ll still taste mostly like a margarita, too, until you get down to the bloody dregs.  I couldn’t think of a spirit that screamed DEATH FUCKING METAL at me, so I just decided to take a classic recipe, put it in the wrong glass, and add a few visual cues that ought to remind you of the blood and guts so favored by the genre’s miscreant progenitors.

Ingredients:
– 1 1/2 oz. tequila (probably of the more aged variety – a reposado or añejo – to give you a bit richer flavor against the tartness of the other ingredients)
– 3/4 oz. Cointreau (any other sort of triple sec will do in a pinch, but Cointreau is the smoothest, far and away best option)
– Juice of half a lime (do up a full lime if you like, but you’d probably want to toss in a bit of sugar or simple syrup if you go that route)
– Fresh blueberries (5-10, depending on size; enough to cover the bottom layer of a highball glass)
– Dash of grenadine

Directions:
Drop the fresh blueberries into the bottom of a dry highball glass.  Muddle them gently; enough so the skins split anda bit of juice extrudes, but not so much that they completely lose definition.  Combine the tequila, Cointreau, and lime juice in a cocktail shaker filled 2/3 full with ice.  Fill the highball glass to the brim with fresh ice, then strain the cocktail shaker over it.  Pour in a small dash of grenadine over the top, which should quickly filter through and mix with the muddled blueberries to give the drink the appearance of gruesome viscera.  Well, gruesome and delicious viscera, that is.  Careful not to spill your drink as you holler along to Morbid Angel.

Black Metal: “The Ragnarok Gimlet”
– The gimlet is another classic drink, and probably a somewhat odd choice to represent black metal.  All I’m really doing here, though, is playing on our popular representation of black metal as obsessed with the freezing cold of Scandinavian winters and sounding like the fuzzed-out maelstrom of a bestial blizzard.  The key to really feeling the icy creep of evil in this drink is taking it VERY easy on the lime, and shaking the holy living fuck out of it to ensure MAXIMUM CHILL (which sounds like a long lost Steven Seagal flick, now that I think of it).

Ingredients:
– 1 1/2 oz. gin (make it 2 oz. if you want to really taste the grimness)
– A very sparing dash of Rose’s Sweetened Lime Juice

Directions:
Classically, the gimlet is served shaken and straight-up, but here I’m having you shake it but then serve it in an ice-filled lowball, so as best to simulate an icicle of black dread.  Fill a cocktail shaker 1/2 full with ice, then pour in the gin and splash of sweetened lime.  Then shake it like a soul possessed with the raw fury of Bathory, trapped in the midst of The Howling Wind’s Into the Cryosphere (or, better yet, Sleep Research Facility’s Deep Frieze).  Shake it until your arm is just about to bust out of its socket.  Then, strain it over a lowball filled with fresh ice.  Consume quickly.  And seriously.  Please do not smile.

Grindcore: “Multinational Corporations Brought You This Swedish Mule”
– This one is just a Moscow Mule, adapted by adding a Swedish liqueur so as to pay homage to Nasum and all the other greats of Swedish grindcore.  Made with the right kind of ingredients, this little fucker packs quite a kick, and when you add in one of the apocryphal stories about this drink’s genesis as a way for organized crime to sneakily serve alcohol during Prohibition in the States, this should at least hint at some of the political furor that so animates grindcore’s most hallowed practitioners.

Ingredients:
– 1 oz. vodka (though an extra tip of the bottle won’t hurt any)
– 1/2 oz. Rose’s Sweetened Lime Juice (you can use fresh-squeezed lime instead, but I prefer Rose’s, so long as you don’t use too much)
– 6-8 oz. ginger beer (NOTE: It is absolutely crucial for the success of this drink that you are using a ginger beer rather than a ginger ale.  Or, if you’re using something called ginger ale, be sure that it’s brewed in the older fashion, where it actually has the bite and spice of real ginger.  That Canada Dry bullshit ain’t going to cut it here.)
– Splash (or up to 1/2 oz.) Cherry Heering (Cherry Heering is a Swedish liqueur, or really more like a cherry brandy.  Go with Heering, though, rather than some cheaper knock-off cherry brandy, which will more likely than not remind you of childhood cough syrups.)

Directions:
Fill a highball glass with ice.  Pour the vodka and lime juice over the ice, and fill the glass almost the rest of the way full with the ginger beer.  Give things a little stir, and then pour a small bit of the Cherry Heering over the top.  The cherry flavor should be subtle enough so as not to overpower the fierce kick of ginger (redolent of Napalm Death and Terrorizer’s pioneering use of the blastbeat, say), but should give the drink that nice sheen of blood-soaked lore, just like the daily work of government and corporations is to wring out their dollars to squeeze out the blood of the poor and innocent.  Et cetera.

Doom: “Summer In Siberia”
I wanted to keep things fairly simple for this.  Doom has its roots in the UK (as does all heavy metal, obviously), so another option for a doom metal drink is a Black Velvet (half Guinness Draught, half champagne).  Still, some of the gloomiest, most stretched-out dooooooom has lately come from Scandinavia, and Finland in particular, the landscape of which, in my mind at least, is of a piece with the vast snow-sodden expanses of Russia, with its stoic tundra pockmarked with rusted machinery and towering industrial factories.  Realities so blunt require a drink unvarnished with niceties and distractions.  The lemon is there as merely a gesture; a poor substitute for the blighted sun, perhaps never to return.

Ingredients:
– Vodka.  In some amount.  More than 2 oz. might be pushing it, but hell, this is DOOOOOOM.
– A squeeze of fresh lemon

Directions:
This is another one that I think ought to be as cold as possible.  If you’re averse to having the cloudy appearance that shards of cracked ice will give to the drink as I’m presenting it here, then feel free to stir the drink in the cocktail shaker rather than shake it.  If you stir it, though, stir it many times, and quickly.  Otherwise: Fill a cocktail shaker 1/2 full of ice.  Pour in the vodka, and shake the shit out of it.  Strain the chilled vodka into a lowball glass filled with fresh ice.  Give a freshly cut lemon a little squeeze over the top of the glass, and give it a stir.  Now, sit and wait for the slow, inevitable crush of the tectonic plates.  Mother Russia demands solicitude and obedience.

Sludge: “The Bayou Filth Hound”
– The American South is known for its whiskeys, whether it be Tennessee’s Jack Daniels or the fuck tons of bourbons from Kentucky.  That same climate has, as you know, produced a bearded slew of sludging bruisers in recent years; look to the Savannah, Georgia scene if you require proof (mildly-veiled Deathspell Omega reference, hey-o).  This concoction is one of my very favorite variations on the classic Old Fashioned recipe (obviously with many liberties taken), and adds the mint in homage to the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby, the mint julep.  Plus, this preparation of the drink produces a viscous, swampy-looking thing that sits in your glass, daring you to drink its poison promise down.  Muddy like the backwaters of Louisiana, this one.

Ingredients:
– 1 1/2 or 2 oz. of good Kentucky bourbon (Maker’s Mark tends to be my go-to because of its wide availability, but any fine bourbon, especially of the spicier variety, will do quite nicely)
– Brown sugar (anywhere from a pinch to a few spoonfuls, depending on your preference)
– Angostura bitters (anywhere from one dash to half a dozen)
– Half a lime
– Two Maraschino cherries
– Four or five fresh mint leaves
– Club soda

Directions:
Just like the Old Fashioned above, you’ll be building this drink in a lowball glass.  Put the brown sugar in the bottom of the empty glass (hella existential).  Personally, I like a bit more brown sugar than you might imagine.  At least a good spoonful, I’d say.  Then, to counteract the potential over-sweetness, I like to give several hefty dashes of Angostura bitters over the sugar.  Cut the lime half into quarters, and muddle them with the Maraschino cherries in the sugar and bitters.  Feel free to muddle with vigor here, as we’re trying to go for the opaque, swampy look with this drink.  After you’ve released most of the juices from the fruit, toss in the mint leaves, and muddle just a little more, but now more gently, so that you keep the leaves intact, but bruised.  Now fill the glass with ice and pour in the bourbon.  At this point, give the drink a good stirring, and then top it off with a bit of club soda.  Finally, hold the glass up to your eyes and gaze into its murky depths.  Un-receded flood waters.  Alligators glide with stealth through the swamp.  A man plucks a banjo on a wooden porch, but cannot be heard over the noise of your favorite Eyehategod record.  Pull this drink in between your teeth.  Feel the thickness, and taste, in its chill, the oppressive heat of America.  Your America.  My America.  Our sadness.
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Cheers!

The viscera are somewhat difficult to make out in this shot of the Tequila Smashed Face

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One can hardly crack open any corner of the internet lately without being subjected to the annual rite of Wistfully Realizing That Summer Is Nearly Over.  That fact, coupled with the release this week of Iron Maiden’s latest album The Final Frontier (itself a potential wistfulness-fest in its own right), which seems to have been one of the more high-profile and highly anticipated metal releases of the year, has left me with that vague twinge.

You know, that “Ah, shit, 2010, it was nice to know you, but I guess you’re off to stay at that farm upstate where you’ll have all the room to run and play that we couldn’t offer you here at home” sort of twinge.

So, as a bit of a patch on this collective maudlin tendency, I thought I’d tally up some of the albums which are still slated to be released in this humble Year Of Our Narcissism 2010 for which I’m most excited.  This is by no means intended to be an exhaustive (or even particularly informative) list; this is just the stuff that I’m keeping tabs on, all sweaty palmed and fidgeting in my seat.
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– Blind Guardian, At The Edge Of Time.  The full-page ad I keep seeing in the magazines has a quote describing this as something like “ethnic and pure.”  Sounds a bit dodgy, but I’m just hoping “ethnic” is a poorly-chosen synonym for “folk-ish.”  A Twist In The Myth was a little dull for my tastes, so here’s hoping they spice things up.

– Venetian Snares, My So-Called Life.  Not metal, sure, but Aaron Funk has consistently put out some of the most intense electronic music of the past decade or so.  Plus, Detrimentalist was the fucking shit.

– Christian Mistress, Agony & Opium.  Classic NWOBHM tunes fronted by a Björk-esque singer?  Hell yeah.  Bring it on, 20 Buck Spin.

– Infernaeon, Genesis To Nemesis. Their debut from a few years back was more than a little shaky, but I’m hopeful for this one.  Sure, this is unlikely to be the second coming of Nocturnus’ The Key, but hell, there’s a lot more room in death metal for keyboard experimentation than in black metal.

– Cephalic Carnage, Misled By Certainty.  Cephalic Carnage have always seemed like the quintessential Relapse band to me.  I know they didn’t pioneer the stuff, but their widdly death/grind/tech/whatever whirlwind tends to satisfy like lemonade on a sweltering summer’s day.

– Black Anvil, Triumvirate.  Pretty psyched for this, and you should be, too, if you’re looking for an updated take on Darkthrone’s mid-period crust-covered Celtic Frost-isms.

– Unearthly Trance, V.  The upward trajectory of this band has been astonishing over their past four albums.  Electrocution was a pitch-perfect distillation of what it seems like they’d been working toward all-along, so who knows where they’re going next?

– Melechesh, The Epigenesis.  Melechesh have lately been everything Absu quit being a while back.

– Drudkh, Handful Of Stars.  Drudkh’s form has changed deceptively little over the years, leading some to interpret that as stagnation.  Listen carefully to the last few records, though, and you’ll hear the results of slight tinkering to an entirely unique sound.  The prominence of bass on Microcosmos alone should have signaled that no matter how hateful the forests these Ukrainians haunt, they’re deadly serious.

– Salome, [Title Still Unknown].  Profound Lore has been dropping some tasty hint-morsels lately about this album.  Vocalist Kat added the third prong to Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s triple vocal attack on lats year’s Agorapocalypse, but hearing her vocals attached to scathingly crippled sludge is another thing altogether.

– Torche, Songs For Singles.  Rumor is, the record’s too short, and maybe also too awesome.  Blown off as pop metal by plenty of those who don’t realize that Torche combine some of the best attributes of pop and metal, meaning maybe the epithet’s actually a back-handed compliment.

– Enslaved, Axioma Ethica Odini.  The title seems like a Latinized version of “The Ethical Axioms of Odin.”  Presumably that gives just as little clue to the musical contents as the Latin version, though.  This is one of my most feverishly anticipated records, though; Enslaved have been completely unstoppable to this point.

– Krieg, The Isolationist.  Okay, so I really dug The Black House, but thought Blue Miasma was uninspired and dull.  Adding Leviathan’s Wrest to the band (on bass) is more than sufficient to pique my interest, though.

– Cradle Of Filth, Darkly Darkly Venus Aversa.  Wow.  This may actually be a worse album title than the new Enslaved.  Plus, it’s Cradle Of Filth, so any credibility I may have had is likely a shredded mass of bloody pulp by now.  But you know?  I still kind of dig Cradle Of Filth, and Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder was light years better than most of their recent tripe.  So, y’know: Fuck off.

– Therion, Sitra Ahra.  Here’s to hoping that bringing things back to a single-disc release can bring slightly more focus than recent efforts.  Sure, Sirius B / Lemuria worked well in tandem, but given how good just the right amount of Therion is, too much Therion is a headache-inducing proposition.

– October Tide, A Thin Shell.  More gloominess, please.

– Sailors With Wax Wings, Sailors With Wax Wings.  Pyramids side-project with tons of unexpected participants and collaborators from throughout the metal world?  Excellent.

– Kylesa, Spiral ShadowStatic Tensions was one of my favorites from last year, so I’m pretty psyched that they’ve already got a new album coming out late October.

– Vulture Industries, The Malefactor’s Bloody Register.  Slightly off-the-wall black metal from a who’s-who of mainstream underground (it’s a fine, confusing line) Norwegian black metal.  Not for the ‘true’, likely, but true for the rest.

– Virus, The Agent That Shapes The Desert.  I did a little plug for this upcoming album a little while back.  I’m hoping the band can get enough pre-order support from all you good folks out there in Awesome Metal Appreciation Land to make this a 2010 release.  Fingers crossed, then…

– Aborym, Psychogrotesque.  Completely fucking no joke, a few days ago I was posting on Twitter about how I was hoping to see some new music from Aborym someday soon.  Lo and behold, maybe the very next day or so comes through the news item that they’ve got a new album coming out this year.  Shit!  Generator trimmed back on some of the detrimental excess of With No Human Intervention and cranked out some seriously deranged black/industrial anthems.  That title’s a bit shit, but still my soul hungers for the bleakness.

These last few are already out in Europe, to be fair, but I’d really love to see them picked up by a U.S. distributor rather than paying import prices:

– Ondskapt, Arisen From The Ashes.  Last one was a beast.  Make this one beast-ier?

– Kvelertak, Kvelertak.  Everything I’ve read about this band has made me want to drink some beers and crank the record.  And yet, if I am forced to pay import prices for it, I will have no money with which to drink some beers.  An existential conundrum if ever there was one.

– Winterfylleth, The Mercian Sphere.  Their debut full-length The Ghost of Heritage was quite impressive, but had a few too-ragged edges.  Here’s to hoping they’ve smoothed out in all the right places.  Still, these guys and Wodensthrone are making an awfully compelling case for an English black metal renaissance.
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So, as you can see, friends, it looks like there’s still plenty to be looking forward to this year.  And that’s just counting the ones that I’m actively looking forward to; who knows how much metallic gold remains to be mined with everything I’m sure I’ve forgotten or overlooked?  Embarrass me with the breadth and exquisite sheen of your “Most Looked Forward To’s”

Oh, and I know I can’t include them here, but Devin Townsend has been hinting that the last two albums of the…quadrilogy (?) will both be released in March.  So, sorry, Ghost and Deconstruction, but I can’t put you on 2010’s list, even though I am milliseconds away from pissing myself with glee as I type.

Plus, I keep hearing random whispers about expecting a new Pig Destroyer one of these days, but nothing definite yet.  I mean, I keep prowling all over the damn yard, looking for something new with which to terrify my phantom limb.

My bones quake with the sickness.

The world is a frightful place, and hope the only salve.  Heavy metal for the common good.

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Blood Revolt, Indoctrine (2010)

Ruthlessly intense

Indoctrine will almost certainly go down as one of the most realistically frightening extreme metal releases of the year.  This album isn’t about praising Satan, or hating Christians, or the myriad unwholesome things one can do with a chainsaw; no, this album attempts to bring the listener inside the motivations of those who commit real-world violence in the service of some form of righteousness.  It’s pretty fucking successful, too.

Let’s get the preliminaries out of the way first, though.  Blood Revolt is a three-man unit featuring Alan Averill (also known as Nemtheanga, of Irish epic black metallers Primordial) on vocals, C. Ross (of Revenge and Axis of Advance) on guitars and bass, and J. Read (of Revenge, Axis of Advance, and Conqueror) on drums.  If that lineup isn’t enough to get you salivating, then I’m not sure there’s much I can do for you here.

Musically speaking, Blood Revolt hews rather closely to the variety of bestial black/death/war metal sounds spat forth by Ross and Read’s former projects, and thus has clear historical roots in the purposeful atavism of early North American black metal (from Canada’s own Blasphemy, Conqueror, and Revenge through America’s Von, Demoncy, and all the other usual suspects).  However, the production is magnificently transparent, allowing each and every churning, heaving riff and chaotic drum fill space to flex their malignant muscle.

In fact, if until this point, you’ve found yourself somewhat in the cold with the chaotic attack of Conqueror, Revenge, et al., you may just be a convert after encountering this record.  Where those bands’ recordings feature echoing, cavernous production (in the case of Conqueror and Blasphemy, especially), or extremely muddled, everything-happens-at-once-and-at-11 production (in the case of Revenge), Indoctrine features a very dry, clear production, particularly with Read’s drumming.  His toms sound a bit like someone slapping a collection of aluminum pie tins, but each and every roll and fill comes through clearly articulated.

The guitars, for the most part, have an extremely compressed crunch to them, but there are also sections of cleaner-sounding tremelo picking, as well as a few spots of searingly clean leads.  The mix on the bass is an interesting case, as sometimes you will find it relegated primarily to the background, whereas at other times, you can feel the dense heft of the vibrating strings as though they were your own throbbing intestines.

One of the great pleasures of this album is that the musical attack never quite settles down into the clear conventions of extreme metal’s genres.  The essential building blocks of the album, arguably, are the overall sound and delivery of a death metal band playing black metal songs (this is generally the approach of Conqueror, Revenge, and Axis of Advance, the crucial differences between which I am willfully overlooking at the moment).  Still, the drums kick into a punkish mode frequently enough that portions of the album border on grindcore.  Plus, there are at least two songs I can think of in which the music breaks down into a doomed trudge.  Compositionally speaking, the clearest reference point I could bring to mind – apart from the other bands of all the participants – is Anaal Nathrakh, who similarly combine multiple genres into a melange of relentless extremity.

The clear focal point, of course, is the incredibly diverse vocal performance by Averill.  He careens between spoken word segments, seething whispers, vintage black metal snarling, impassioned wailing akin to his trademark vocals in Primordial, and frequent grunting and repetitious, non-lyrical vocal rhythms.  The man sounds absolutely possessed, which of course works wonders for selling the lyrical content.  At times, you can imagine him pacing around the studio, twitching nervously with the propulsive energy of the music’s focused attack, and the monomaniacal intent of the lyrics.

“Bite the Hand, Purge the Flesh” features one of Averill’s most venomous vocal performances of the entire album, and is also one of the spots where the band slows to a doom crawl.  When they hit this funereal pace, take a listen to the suspended tone of the bass, which just hangs there, stalking the listener like some sort of depraved monolith.  In general, this album doesn’t have any tracks which stand out above the rest, but this is less because of weak songwriting and more because the album absolutely begs to be listened to as a unitary whole.  Still, the lengthiest track on here, “My Name in Blood Across the Sky,” may just be a favorite, especially in its middle section’s regression to doomed waters.  This slow section features some of Averill’s most impassioned wailing, and is in many ways reminiscent of his stint with Italian doomsters Void Of Silence.

Now, generally I don’t pay too much attention to extreme metal lyrics.  In fact, I’ve found a few too many times that the more one studies what’s being said, the more disappointed one will get.  Which is to say, insight and intelligent discourse are something of a rarity in extreme metal.  With this record, though, I feel confident declaring that one won’t really feel the full impact of the music without also following along with the excellently composed lyrics.

This is, in essence, a concept album.  Or, rather, an album which tells a linear narrative that might just inform a greater appreciation of the musical violence at work in the background.  As I’ve already suggested, this isn’t your typical blood ‘n guts ‘n Satan fare.  Indoctrine follows the inner workings of an individual who feels at odds with society, and who turns a sense of inwardly-focused paranoia and impotent rage into outwardly-directed violence.

The album is book-ended with sounds meant to represent the firing of a sniper rifle and the aftermath of an explosion (likely from a suicide bombing, if we follow the lyrics closely).  I’m not particularly interested in commenting on what, if any, political position the band may be reflecting on with this album, nor to draw parallels either to Averill’s native Ireland or the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Needless to say, plenty of extreme metal is violent, but that violence rarely seems as grounded in reality as it does on this album.

The band has claimed in interviews (see the excellent interview by Josh Haun here, for example) that they do not intend to caution the listener against violence, but rather, or perhaps, to praise the single-minded dedication of the subject of the lyrics.  Still, the lyrics are intricate enough as to allow slightly differing interpretations, or at least to make the story somewhat more nuanced.

For example, in the album’s first track, the individual speaks a telling couplet:
“I will not hesitate / I cannot hesitate”
The confidence and certainty of the first line is somewhat undermined by that second line, wherein the individual is telling him- (or her-) self not to hesitate at the appropriate moment.  This seems to reflect an early attempt at convincing oneself of the right path of action.

Tracks two and three both deal with the state of the world in which the individual finds him/herself.  Interestingly, though, whereas the second track seems to display at least some remaining vestiges of compassion for human misery (speaking, as it does, about the ‘desperate, destitute, downtrodden’ and the unemployed), the third track erases any such sympathies and resolves into contempt and paranoia, talking about vomit, human shit, and streets filled with “nothing but scum.”  Moments like this recall the character of Rorschach from Alan Moore’s acclaimed graphic novel Watchmen.

Track four, which closes out the first side of the album, describes a religious dream or vision, the receipt of which fills this individual with a messianic mission to which his paranoiac fantasies attach, latching on to the singular notion of some sort of holy war.  This song fades out with one of the only instances of guitar soloing, closing out the first half of the album in a resolute fashion.

The second half of the album, and the narrative, seems to see the character questioning that righteous fervor somewhat (“When the demons come for you, do you fight them? Or do you become one of them?”), but eventually resolving nonetheless to “write [his] name in blood across the sky.” The title track of the album is, I think, the most crucial point in following the narrative.  After the original dedication was brought into question, “Indoctrine” addresses the issue of doubt head on, and finds the individual submitting to violence as a way to finally prove himself, to respond to the existential fear of the reproach of a vengeful god:
“If I ever doubted his plan for me / Doubted his words, or what I must do / To set them free…”

“Year Zero,” then, reads as the public justification for the impending act of violence as he prepares the physical materials for an attack.  We imagine this individual recording a video message in a crumbling, industrial slum, where the desolate realities of life are offset by the fanatical devotion to that Year Zero itself, the violence which will be the founding act, ushering in some new, great age.  Still, the individual seems somewhat tentative, but steels himself against doubt by discussing faith, at least, even if there is no attendant salvation.

The eighth and final song is tellingly called “The Martyr’s Brigade,” and finally features Averill’s language at its absolutely most stark and biblical, with locusts and lions and brimstone.  Even here, however, the speaker is not entirely convinced of the accuracy of his messianic vision, and thus speaks an absolutely crucial line: “Maybe there is no god but man…” Almost immediately, though, come the fierce howls of “Repent! Repent! Repent!”, and the album closes with the haunting words “I hear the master’s voice / Calling me to war.”

At this point, the musical attack traces a figure, a nimble and repeated tandem run of guitar and drums, which then settles on an open chord.  It sounds like a countdown, but instead of some great explosion of noise, the music fades to static, through which we then hear the faint sounds of sirens, and imagine dust and rubble and quiet.

This is a frightening album, and it is also a tremendous album.  In the end, it’s one of those things that I’m not quite sure if I “like,” at least in the sense that we traditionally “like” music, meaning that we find it enjoyable, or memorable, or intricate, or whatever.  The album is profoundly unsettling, both in the unblinking treatment of its subject matter, and in the musical vision itself.  Throughout the album, Averill’s vocals twist and pull at odd meter against the always forward-moving music.  At times, his vocals are delivered in a completely separate key from the music.  This is not to say he is singing off-key, but rather, that he is intentionally singing an entirely different key, as if to drive home to the listener that you are supposed to be unsettled by this.

Maybe the reason this album is so disturbing is that it recognizes that the difference between a terrorist in Afghanistan, a backwoods militia stockpiling weapons in the American Midwest, and an American soldier properly trained and officially sanctioned, is not so great after all.  This album wants to tell us that whatever difference there is between these individuals is not a reflection of the inner life of the mind, but simply of how society judges their goals to be legitimate or not, righteous and just or misguided and immoral.

This album doesn’t necessarily ask you to praise or condemn the individual whose story it relates.  Instead, it asks of you what it does of its own accord: to watch, to wait.  To witness.
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Overall rating: Generally, the better an album, the more frequently I will listen to it.  I’m not sure that’s the case with this one, though.  This is an album to admire, to study, to focus on intently, but it is also whose too-frequent listening might prove injudicious.  I would not care to give it a number if this were not the structure I had set for myself when reviewing albums, and the number I do choose is just as arbitrary as the cruel, haphazard violence of our world.

Let’s call it 95%, and let’s hope you listen, and think, and learn, and learn when to stop listening.

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