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Archive for the ‘Heavy Metal’ Category

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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Hello, friends.  Things are a bit slow ’round here at Spinal Tapdance HQ this Friday, though the merciful drop in temperature is much appreciated, primarily because the greater Chicago area no longer feels like one giant humid ass.

Thanks a lot, global warming, for making this...

...feel like this.

A few points to toss out there before we all enjoy our long Labor Day weekend shenanigans:

1)  Kylesa.  I know I’ve been rambling on about this insanely rad band for a while now (it was just two days ago that I fell all over myself to the opening track from their upcoming album, Spiral Shadow).  Poking around the metallic nether-regions of the internet recently, however, I’ve come across some rather peculiar criticisms of Kylesa.  Now, I don’t particularly care if you don’t dig the same music I do, and I don’t even care if you engage in the most ruthlessly shame-faced ad hominem attacks to express those opinions.

After all, that’s why the internet was created.  I mean, sure, the DoD will tell you it was to protect vital infrastructure in the event of nuclear war, but for real, it was just so some guy at the DoD could spam everyone he knew about how Maggie Thatcher was such a great lay and that Nikita Kruschev had a penchant for intimacy with rodeo clowns.  I mean, frig it, DARPA probably actually stands for Douchebags And Really Pissy Assholes.

I’ve gotten off topic.  Ah, yes.  The criticism of Kylesa that I just cannot countenance is the argument that their two drummers should be doing more off-the-wall stuff.  (I’ve come across this opinion several times, but one of the more notable recent entrants to the field is this column from MetalSucks.)  I think this opinion is wrong-headed for two reasons:

– a.  First, it’s just wrong.  Take a listen to Kylesa, would you?  More specifically, take a listen to Kylesa in the following way: Give a listen to last year’s Static Tensions in your favorite pair of (non-shitty) headphones.  I find it a great pleasure to follow the mixing of the drums across stereo channels.  But fine, maybe this line of criticism has a point, in that Kylesa’s two drummers aren’t typically doing anything psychotic like trying to match a 4/4 rhythm on one kit with a 3/4 waltz beat on the second kit.

For my money, though, that’s not the point.  Instead, the fact that Kylesa have got two drummers is a crucial component of their overall SOUND.  These complaints, on the other hand, seem mostly directed against their SONGWRITING.  The fact that these two guys are usually mirroring one another on the drums, or maybe trading fills, is absolutely essential to the way Kylesa’s music sounds.  (I’ll be a music douche and throw ‘timbre’ out there.)  Sure, if they only had one drummer, the songs would be written in much the same way, but the execution would be noticeably different.

You see, having two drummers gives them that unique attribute of sounding both raw and polished, thick and somewhat brittle all at once.  Because when you have two drummers playing in a band, even if you ask them to play the exact same thing, there are ineffable human differences in the way those precise rhythms will be played that cannot (and, I am arguing, absolutely SHOULD NOT) be ironed out by technology.  The ear hears the same rhythm, but also hears that rhythm’s simultaneous echo.

– b.  Second, I’m fairly certain that if Kylesa’s two drummers WERE to bust out some insanely complicated polyrhythms, or if one of them were to spend an entire song doing NOTHING BUT TOM FILLS, the only complaint one would hear would be, “Ah, that two drummer thing is such a fucking gimmick.  They’re just playing an ol’ crazy shit they can think of; couldn’t they just play TOGETHER for once?”

Well, fuck that.  And fuck you, too (maybe).  We ARE on the internet, after all.

2)  Enslaved have posted the lead track from their upcoming album Axioma Ethica Odini on their MySpace page.  In my book, everything these Norwegians have done thus far has been stellar, but after hearing this track, I’m even more pumped for the upcoming album.  It’s a pretty epic track, but maintains a discernible structure and a chorus which, at first listen, seems quite catchy, but has some really bizarre melodic and chord progressions as is befitting a band of Enslaved’s recently-psychedelic ilk.  My favorite part is the supremely tasty guitar lead toward the end of the track, which is reminiscent of the searing leads in one of my all-time favorite Enslaved tunes, “As Fire Swept Clean the Earth,” from 2003’s Below the Lights.  Check it out, and get excited for the September 28th (American) release on Nuclear Blast.

3)  I hadn’t really seen any word of this kicking around online until I was randomly browsing Crucial Blast’s webstore the other day, but Gnaw Their Tongues has just put out a new album on that label.  It’s called L’Arrivée De La Terne Mort Triomphante, and it’s officially out September 7th, but it’s up for purchase at Crucial Blast now.  I’ve just ordered my copy, and am thus eagerly awaiting another chance to defile my eardrums/soul with this latest missive of blackened, noisy filth from Mories.

Dude is another one of those probably-too-prolific-for-his-music’s-own-good kind of guys (Striborg, Hellveto, Xasthur, I’m looking at you, guys – don’t even get me started on that French dude whose ‘band’ name starts with a Z and looks like onomatopoeia for vomit), but the last two full-lengths have been mesmerizing in their single-minded pursuit of musical depravity.

Your grandmother would love it!

4)  Last, it’s Labor Day this Monday, which for most Americans means an extra day off work, one last chance to get shit-faced at the beach before winter (“Gather ye Hefeweizens while ye may,” goes the old poem), and an orgy of last-minute consumer spending on school supplies for the wee bastard children.  Thing is, Labor Day used to be, well, a celebration of the political aspirations and achievements (many still embryonic) of the American labor movement.  None of you out there will be unaware of the sorry state of the American (and, indeed, global) economy currently, but what we should also remember is that in times of economic crisis, it is often the forces of labor which are “asked” to sacrifice more for the health of capital.

I don’t have anything particularly more profound to add to that, other than to suggest that you take some time this Labor Day to appreciate the achievements of decades upon decades of labor struggles.

To that end, and as a sort of addendum to the column I did a little while back on Heavy Metal Cocktails, I offer this quick, simple recipe for the Worker’s Shandy:

Ingredients:
– 1 can or bottle of the lager of your choice.  Beautiful thing about this shandy is, it basically doesn’t matter how shitty the beer is, but you can also do it up fancy with any sort of $12 imported beer you like.
– 1/2 lemon
– Dash of salt
– Optional: A few dashes Angostura or Peychaud’s bitters, or a dash of Worcestershire sauce.

Directions:
Pour the fresh-squeezed juice of half a lemon into a pint glass.  Pour the beer into the pint glass.  Throw a dash of salt atop the beer.  The salt represents the sweat on the worker’s brow; the lemon, the bittersweet sense of labor’s achievement’s and subsequent retrenchments.  The beer, well, the beer’s just beer, which is scrumptious.  If this basic (and not particularly sweetened) shandy needs a bit more spice for your taste, give it a try with a few dashes of bitters of your choice, or even, if you’re feeling especially crushed by the relentless grind of the wheels of industry, a dash of Worcestershire sauce.  These additions can, if you like, symbolize the blood of the workers of the world, still waiting to unite.

Drink well-chilled, and at your own damn pace.  Don’t let anyone give you any shit.

Happy Labor Day.

d/Spinal Tapdance

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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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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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The Terrible Airplane, 2013 (2010)

The Future Is Now

The Terrible Airplane is a two-piece band from Kansas, formed by brothers Mark (guitar, vocals) and Todd Woolard (drums).  Their newest release is the full-length album 2013, on which they ply a somewhat unique blend of 90s-styled noise rock with post-hardcore flourishes and a taut, instrumental minimalism.

The vocals affect a number of different styles throughout the record, from a very loose 1990s rock croon, to a more impassioned tenor pitch occasionally reminiscent of Mike Scalzi (of the Lord Weird Slough Feg and Hammers Of Misfortune), to an impressively throaty hardcore bellow.

The instrumental approach seems to have the greatest affinity for the Amphetamine Reptile school of noise rock, flitting between straight-ahead rock and slightly angular metallic riffing.  Imagine the sounds of Helmet, Unsane, or even Melvins and The Jesus Lizard (albeit at their least bizarre), and you’re well on your way to grasping the sound of The Terrible Airplane.

Still, we’re not talking about some nostalgia act, here.  The band are at their best when taut, tension-building instrumental sections proceed measuredly, twitchingly, to their inevitable metallic payoff.  These sections work not by virtue of instrumental virtuosity (you’ll find no fretboard fireworks here), but rather through the patient pacing of their minimalist attack.

A few places on the record even approach the dynamics of everyone’s favorite post-metal luminaries such as Neurosis and Isis, although the muted production keeps the sound closer to the rock/hardcore side of the auditory continuum.  This is the case on “Projected Trajectory” and, especially, the 9+ minutes of “Efficiency Deficient,” the latter of which is, for my money, the best song of the bunch.

As far as other individual songs go, the vocal chants in “Television” show The Terrible Airplane at their most Melvins-ish (think especially of the double-tracked vocals throughout much of Melvins’ recent album Nude With Boots).  “Radio Song,” at a mere 1:30, is clearly intended somewhat ironically, though the fact that it sounds like nothing else so much as Soul Coughing attempting a cover of Nirvana circa Bleach muddies the ironic waters more than a little.

Moments like this inform one of my main criticisms of this record.  Every now and then, such as on “Radio Song,” and, particularly, the mellower sections of “Roleplaying the Audience,” the band veers too close to the blandness of 90s alternative rock for my comfort.*  This only crops up occasionally throughout the album, though, so it remains something of a minor nuisance.

One of the strongest showings on here is the relatively brief instrumental “Pandameet.”  Its sinuous take on song composition works very much to its advantage, jumping back and forth between off-kilter and straight-ahead rock rhythms quite deftly.  In general, however, I think the band is at its most effective when they really stretch out, as on the above-mentioned “Efficiency Deficient.”  The tune starts off noisy before falling back into a ruthlessly minimal quiet section, and eventually crashes its way back with waves of slow, crushing stomp.  It’s at moments like this that I really want to hear things through a fuller production (adding a second guitar wouldn’t hurt, either); this song could be absolutely fucking massive, where here such potential remains somewhat implicit.

This is a very strong showing from a promising band.  For the most part, their songwriting weaves together some very disparate strands of rockish skronk, hardcore bluster, and carefully apportioned metal.  My own preference would be to see these guys take their metal even further into METAL territory, leaving behind some of what sound to these ears like 90s anachronisms.  Nevertheless, their instrumental attack is, as I keep rambling on about, incredibly taut, and they have a very persuasive grasp on tense song dynamics.  Plus, their whole album can be streamed here, so really, what the fuck are you waiting for?

I, for one, would like to see some of the potential energy here go kinetic, because that shit could EXPLODE.

Overall rating: 70%.  Compact noise rock sparks with carefully contained metallic undercurrents.
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* For the record, this ‘blandness’ is quite effectively dispelled by the live version of “Roleplaying the Audience” also available on the band’s Myspace page.  Dudes are loud enough on record, but live, the loudness is louder, the drums crackle as they flail about, and the hardcore vocals rattle the ribcage.  Do check it out.

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Or, “On How I Never Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Commerce”

Friends, did you know that we are living in exciting times?  Why, just this very year, 2010, we’ll be celebrating the 11th anniversary of the release of Dødheimsgard’s 666 International!  Not only that, but we’ll also be rejoicing in the 4th anno since the birthing of Meshuggah’s 2006 re-recorded version of their 2002 album Nothing.

Hell, 2002-2006-2010 means Meshuggah can throw themselves a DOUBLE 4TH ANNIVERSARY PARTY, that rarest of heavy metal occasions.  Truly, these are charmed days.

Okay, so I’m obviously being kind of a dick here.  But here’s why: I’m having just a little bit of difficulty with the whole trend of “let’s celebrate undeniably good or influential heavy metal records at particular milestone years after their release with a whole fuck-ton of tawdry press coverage and nostalgic whinging.”

Cases in point:

2010 marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Judas Priest’s British Steel:

Breaking any laws, or just in bad taste?

Now, I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t celebrate this.  Judas Priest are obviously a massively influential heavy metal band, and for all intents and purposes, this record was their break-through (at least on this side of the Atlantic), with both “Breaking the Law” and “Living After Midnight” being friggin’ enormous hits.  And although Nostradamus probably has more detractors than balls-out supporters, clearly the fact that this band is still kicking, and kicking fair amounts of ass, is well worth fêting.

I just, ugh, this kind of thing gets me all in a State.  I mean, for rabid fans of the band, this kind of thing is always cool, even if it just adds some live tracks, or an alternate take of a couple songs, of a hastily edited video of Rob Halford circa 1980 eating a slice of pizza.  Whatever, I understand that collector mentality.

Still, even though this is being pitched now because of a milestone anniversary, it’s still all so ridiculously arbitrary.  Why not do a deluxe reissue upon the album’s 20th anniversary?  Or wait another ten for its 40th?  Columbia may have well and truly blown its load back in 2001 with the whole reissue series of all the Priest albums from Sin After Sin through Painkiller, so I can’t help but see some of this as just a ploy to repackage widely-available material in the guise of new content.  And that, frankly, gets my ire up just a wee bit.

2010 also marks the 40th (!!) anniversary of Black Sabbath’s first two records, Black Sabbath and Paranoid (which, by my reckoning, also means that this humble year here also marks the 40th anniversary of Heavy Metal itself, but whatevs…):

Evil Mona Lisa

So, what does Universal, or Sanctuary, or whomever, do?  Well, they put out ‘deluxe editions’ of these albums last year.  Meaning 2009.  Meaning on the 39th anniversary, I guess.

Y'know, for longer than I'd care to admit, I thought this cover image was like some fucking bizarre mushroom

So clearly, at this point, I’m just being a complete jackass to just about each and every individual in the record industry.  How rude of me.  Still, even though the Black Sabbath reissues don’t actually coincide with some massive fucking 40th anniversary celebration (although Paranoid was out in September of 1970, so there’s still time), I think my point stands.

Maybe it’s just the case that both the legacy and the musical output of both of these bands have already been fucked around with by as many different parties as possible, with random reissues, remasters, seemingly innumerable versions of Paranoid, and God knows what other sundry shenanigans.  Under those circumstances, it’s fairly understandable that a record label (especially in this current climate of hemorrhaging profits from every orifice imaginable) would try to cast about for any potentially meaningful anniversary or event around which to hang a revenue-collecting opportunity.

And maybe I’m being far too jaded here.  There’s always the argument that these sorts of reissue campaigns are a positive development because they can expose a new generation of heavy metal fans to the foundational DNA of the genre(s) we love so dearly.  Problem is, I don’t put much stock in those arguments in cases (like these) where the music in question was absolutely never in short supply.

I mean, honestly, you could probably punch any random rock radio DJ across this vast bizarre country of ours in the sternum, and out they’d cough at least three copies each (on multiple formats) of “Breaking the Law” and “Iron Man.”

You could try to drive a bulldozer through the wall of your local used record shop or public library, only you wouldn’t be able to, because the combined force of several decades’ worth of accumulated broken dreams and several dozen used-sticker-gel-congealed copies of British Steel, Black Sabbath, and Thriller (because let’s not think the world of pop music is immune to such market-saturating hijinks) would be rubber, and your bulldozer glue, and anyway, you get the picture.

So, tell me.  Where do you draw the line between appreciating reissues/deluxe packages, and violently retching at the mere mention of them?

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