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Archive for the ‘Random playlist game’ Category

A few months back, I wrote up this post in which I challenged myself to identify metal songs played on a random playlist.  As you may recall, I didn’t do so hot (5 out of 10).  Well, I figured I might as well give it another go here.  The basic motivation for this, of course, is that it’s pretty fun for me to do.  At a slightly (very slightly) deeper level, though, I think that going through this exercise helps me to think about what exactly it is that helps us differentiate and recognize extreme metal.  As you’ll see, in many cases, I would wait around until I heard the vocals to either a) guess what band it was, or b) narrow things down so that I could guess a black metal versus a death metal band.  Production is also a pretty good cue, as is guitar tone, and so forth.

Rules are simple: I put into a music player a playlist of all the metal albums that I own (meaning that I’ve excluded both all other genres and all metal for which I do not own an actual, physical product), put the damn thing on ‘random’, and start it up.  I respond to the first ten songs that play in the stream-of-consciousness fashion you see below.  After the fact, then, I run back through the list and post what the song actually was.  I suppose you have only my word to go on that I didn’t skip embarrassing songs or take a peek every now and again.  If you’re willing to trust a stranger on the internet, though, this is how it went down…
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1. This is some fairly clearly-articulated black/thrash-y stuff.  Vocals are sounding very familiar, but I can’t quite place them right now.  Is it an old Absu track?  Nice clean solo bit here with that classic Slayer-esque bass drum and ride cymbal only break.  I think it might be Absu, maybe from that Mythologickal Occult Metal compilation.

[It was: Saros, “Devouring Conscience,” from Acrid Plains.  Ouch.  I suppose maybe it’s a compliment, thinking Leila Abdul-Rauf’s vocals are a dead ringer for Proscriptor’s?  Not off to a great start, friends.]

2. This tune kicks straight in with some melodic black metal riffage and standard blastbeats.  A bunch of pinch harmonics.  Again, these vocals make me think I should really know who it is.  Is this old Behemoth?  I guess it sounds kinda like Nergal.  I’m going with Behemoth, maybe circa Satanica or Pandemonic Incantations.

[It was: Behemoth, “From the Pagan Vastlands.”  Hidden track on Thelema.6.  Pretty close, though.]

3. Ah, easy enough.  My Dying Bride.  Totally recognizable doom chug, and the unmistakable vocals of Aaron Stainthorpe.  A pretty recent track, for sure.  I’m going to say it’s from one of their last two records.  That’d be, what, A Line Of Deathless Kings and For Lies I Sire.  I’ll play it through a little more to see if I can get the song title.  Hmm, the more this runs on, I think it might actually be from the Songs Of Darkness… album.  Ah, those searing clean guitar sections, laid over their own echo – one of my favorite aspects of this band.  Great clean chorus from Mr. Stainthorpe, but I’ll be damned if I can think of the name.  I’m thinking it’s from that Songs Of Darkness album after all…

[It was: My Dying Bride, “The Blue Lotus.”  From Songs Of Darkness, Words Of Light.  Ba-zing!]

4. Whoa, major treble attack.  The fuck is this?  Obviously some pervertedly raw black metal.  What the hell do I own that sounds this shitty?  The blizzard-esque quality almost suggests Paysage d’Hiver or Darkspace, but the songwriting isn’t as ambient as all that.  Sounds like straight-up classic third wave black metal songwriting.  Is this the Satyricon side of that split with Enslaved?  That’s my best guess.

[It was: Demoncy, “In Winter’s Ancient Slumber,” from Within The Sylvan Realms of Frost.  Wrong side of the Atlantic.  Sorry folks.  Good goddamn if that isn’t some of the most thinly-recorded black metal I’ve heard in a while.  Too bad, because the song, while horribly derivative, has that nice melancholy groove to it.]

5. Great stomping death/doom groove to start off this next song.  No fucking around.  Dodgy recording quality makes me think it’s a bit old.  Could be Coffins, but probably not.  Nope, definitely not, but it’s got that chaotic, churning old school (or new old school) death metal vibe, with Incantation-worship dripping from the corners.  What was that record Profound Lore put out last year…  Impetuous Ritual.  Maybe it’s them.

[It was: Teitanblood, “The Origin of Death,” from Seven Chalices.  Same ballpark, at least.]

6. Hmm, now this sounds like Satyricon again, but I’m second-guessing myself all over the place.  Ah, thanks Satyr, for enunciating a little bit.  This is the title track from Nemesis Divina, which, despite The Shadowthrone’s greatness, is probably still my favorite Satyricon record.  I mean, who can deny “Mother North”?  Plus, the grand piano breakdown in whatever the fuck that song is called (I’ll look it up in a bit, but don’t want to fuck with the supposed purity of this little exercise).  Great stuff.

[It was: Satyricon, “Nemesis Divina.”  [Ed: “Forhekset” was the tune I was thinking about with the piano break.]]

7. Nothing automatic off the bat here.  Thick guitar tone, too-tight snare, plus the classic 6/8-that-doesn’t-quite-feel-like-6/8-if-it’s-quick-enough meter.  Thick bass tone, too, especially for this style.  Vocals aren’t helping me out too much here.  Damn, I’m kinda floundering with this one.  Nary an educated guess in sight.  Sounds like something that would be on Moribund.  Don’t know if that helps much.  Maybe from Finland.  I don’t think it’s Sargeist.  Too thick for Behexen.  Hmm.  I also don’t think it’s Horned Almighty, since it doesn’t quite have enough rock and roll, though the thick, rattling bass might point that way.  Shit, whatever.  I’ll guess Horned Almighty.  From the only album of theirs I have, The Devil’s Music.

[It was: Well, fuck, what do you know?  Horned Almighty, “To Despise the Life,” from The Devil’s Music.  I ought to give myself more credit every now and again.  Don’t think that one’s on Moribund, though.]

8. Well, this is a live track.  That might give it away if there’s any crowd banter.  Goofy carnival synths suggest Cradle Of Filth.  Let’s give it a chance, though, shall we?  Seeing as how I don’t think there are any live Dimmu Borgir albums out there, I’m feeling pretty good that this is Cradle Of Filth.  Let’s see if it kicks into metal mode at all, or if it’s only the taped tune that introduces the band at the outset of a gig.  Come on, assholes, I’m impatient.  Ah, there you are, Dani, you cad.  Lord knows what song this is.  It’s probably called “Charles Baudelaire Takes A Shit And Then Feels Badly About It.”

[It was: Cradle Of Filth, “Dirge Inferno (Live),” from the bonus disc of the deluxe edition of Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder.  Suppose I could’ve waited ‘til the chorus to get the title, but whatev.  I’m a busy man (ha).]

9. All acoustic attack.  Immediately I think Agalloch.  Hmm.  Dual all acoustic attack.  Ulver’s Kveldssanger?  C’mon Haughm or Garm, give it to me straight.  These flamenco runs are gorgeous, but not helping that much.  I suppose if it quits in another minute or so, it’s got to be from that Ulver folk record.  Alright, folks, we have metal touchdown.  This from Pale Folklore?  Will I be voted out of Heavy Metal for asking such daft, potentially heretical questions?  Now that this is wearing on, I’m even doubting whether it’s Agalloch.  That synth is a curiosity.  In The Woods…, maybe?  Come on, vocals, I’m hurting here.  Oh, there you are, hello.  Son of a bitch, why am I not getting this?  I don’t think Haughm’s harsh vocals sound like this.  Ugh, I don’t feel really great about this, but since the sound is a bit spotty, I’m going to guess that it’s In The Woods…, playing one of their early tracks on that live album they put out.  But fuck, if this turns out to be Hate Forest or some shit, I’m going to flip my lid.

[It was: Aeternus, “Warrior Of The Crescent Moon,” from …And So The Night Became.  Goddamnit, Aeternus, I feel like you did this to me last time, too.  So, apparently, Aeternus: Most Owned But Least Listened To At Spinal Tapdance HQ.  Sorry guys.  This really is a killer tune, honest.]

10. Alright, this next track makes ten, right?  I’m not sure how much more embarrassment my flabby, much-abused ego can take.  Okay, this is a bit of a change up.  We’ve got some stuttery, then later crazy shit.  Strapping Young Lad’s my first guess.  Seeming pretty likely.  C’mon, Devin, justify my confidence.  Sounds like Devin Townsend howling there, presumably with the generous drum-bashing of a certain Gene Hoglan.  Yeah, this has got to be Strapping Young Lad.  What album, though?  Pretty sure this is from something later than City.  Haven’t hit any major hook or chorus yet, though, which sure would be nice, friends.  Oh, was that “Rape Song”?  Can’t remember which album that’s from, but I’m going to guess the song was “Rape Song” by Strapping Young Lad, which I think is either from the SYL album or The New Black.

[It was: Strapping Young Lad, “Rape Song,” which is from the Strapping Young Lad album.  Nice to close out on a high note, eh?]

(11. As I was typing out that last paragraph on SYL, the next track came on, and compelled me to try and guess it as well.  It’s some slow, sludgey doom with female vocals.  Can’t recall if Salome’s self-titled album/EP featured any clean vocals.  Maybe not.  Could it be Monarch?  Damn, I’m just going to be embarrassing myself again.  You’d think that since female vocals are a rarer commodity in these styles of metal I’d be tripping over myself with the right answer.  Doesn’t quite sound like Julie Christmas, but I suppose it could be some of her more understated style.  Shit.  Battle Of Mice, maybe?  Well, whatever, I’m leaving it with those question marks, since I’ve already done my official ten.  It was: Jucifer, “She Tides The Deep,” from If Thine Enemy Hunger.  Fuuuuuuuuck.)
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Okay, so how did I do?  Because I’ve had generally piss-poor results with this, I’m going to count as a win any song in which I correctly identified the artist.  I know, maybe it’s a too-large target, but I still don’t think I’ll be impressing anyone.

Result: 6 correct out of 10. Shit, I’m pretty sure that’s better than last time, right?  Anything tipping me past the halfway point is just gravy by me.  Still can’t believe Aeternus fucked me over again, but I guess it serves me right for being an inattentive dipshit.

So, folks: Know your metal as well as you think you do?

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I’ve been thinking lately about the sheer level of inundation that we followers of music face these days.  In many ways, I think this is a fantastic development, particularly with the healthy state of the underground’s manifold scenes and subcultures.  Maybe, on the other hand, that supposed strength is really just a reflection of the crippling weakness of the traditional music industry.  Important questions, but not exactly what I’m concerned with here.

You see, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that I don’t really know my music all that well.  Sure, I know a whole lot about music, but what I’m thinking is, basically, holy shit, I have got so much different music at my disposal each and every minute of every day that there is no way I can possible distinguish between it all.

To that end, I’m forcing myself to do a blind listening test.  I’ve collected all the metal in my iTunes onto a playlist, and I am going to put it on random, turn off my computer monitor so as to disallow any cheating, and then attempt to identify the first ten songs that come up on the playlist.  Find my running commentary below, with the actual results in brackets below each guess.  See you on the other side.
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1.  So, this is a pretty tasty morsel right here.  When it first played through, I was thinking it was something along the lines of the melodic death metal attack of God Dethroned.  Now that this chorus of ‘Stigma Diabolicum’ kicks in, however, I’m pretty sure that this is Austrian black/death metal horde Belphegor.  Definitely from one of their more recent albums, but I sure as hell couldn’t tell you which one.

I’ll take a stab at it, and say I think it’s from that album whose goddamn name escapes me at the moment, but not the most recent one (Hexenwahn whatever), nor from Bondage Goat Zombie, so their third most recent.

[It was: Belphegor, “Stigma Diabolicum,” but that IS from Bondage Goat ZombiePestapokalypse IV was what I was thinking of, but I was wrong to do so.  Anyway, I’m still counting that one as correct.]

2.  Hmm, I’m at quite a loss on this one.  It starts off with some black noise-ish segments, before kicking into some seriously crypt-kicking production, low echoing death howls, and a generally chaotic riff-and-drum attack.  My best guess is that this is from Weapon’s Drakonian Paradigm album.

[It was: Mitochondrion, “Wraithlike,” from Archaeaeon.  Definitely haven’t spent enough time with that record, but I don’t think that Weapon guess is too far off.]

3.  Son of a bitch this is all going to be embarrassing.  This starts off all jangly and reverb-y, so I’m thinking definitely 90s black metal.  But, shit, those vocals are all death gurgly, plus there’s a total Ihsahn howl in there somewhere.  It’s not Emperor, but it might be one of those classic mid-90s black/death hybrids like Dawn or Sacramentum.  I suppose it’s also possible it’s Naglfar or something like that, but the death influence seems a bit too strong for that.

Fuck, I’ve got tons of wild guesses, but no great ones.  Vocals now sound like Jonas Renske’s on Bloodbath.  Hmm.  Maybe I’m forgetting some old more straight-ahead Katatonia side project?  Anyway, I’m going with my first instinct, which was Dawn, from the Slaughtersun record.

[It was: Aeternus, “Dark Rage,” from Shadows of Old.  So, I was totally on the right track with that ‘classic but underappreciated black/death hybrid from the mid- to late 90s’ jag.  Just turns out that I am no better than all the rest at appreciating Aeternus.  Killer tune, although I prefer their first two records.]

4.  Crazy chamber music intro.  Is this from the new Sigh?  Oh, wow.  Embarrassing.  I’ve just mistaken Serj Tankian’s live, all-orchestral run through of his solo album Elect the Dead for Japan’s finest psychedelic black metal blasters.  Apologies to everyone involved.  Anyway, this, for sure, is Serj Tankian.  Tracks called “Money,” I think.

[It was: Serj Tankian, “Money,” from the Elect the Dead Symphony.  Clearly an unqualified win, there, but I kinda want to shave off some points just for thinking it was Sigh.]

5.  Ah, thankfully an easy one on which I will not embarrass myself.  This is Isis.  Or, at least, this is one of the tracks from the double-disc collection of reinterpretations of songs from Isis’ landmark 2002 (?) album Oceanic.  Couldn’t exactly tell you which track this is, but it’s one of the mellower ones, currently playing around with some nice organ tones, and then throwing Aaron Turner’s hoarse bellows out in the middle of this sparse instrumental expanse.  Very cool to hear this fantastic album broken down into its constituent pieces.

[It was: Isis, “The Other,” as interpreted/remixed by James Plotkin, from the Oceanic: Remixes/Reinterpretations compilation.  Success.]

6.  Whoa, that’s a harsh fucking contrast.  At first I thought this was Ildjarn, such is the hideous level of lo-fi noise emanating from my speakers at the moment.  On further consideration, though, my best guess is that this is very early Emperor, from the self-titled/Wrath of the Tyrant CD reissue.  And yet, and yet…  Damn, I’m second-guessing myself something fierce now.  Nope, sticking with Emperor.  Damned if I know the song, though.  Shameful.

[It was: Belketre, “Demzreyavbtre Belketraya,” from Ambre Zuerkl Vuorhdrevarvtre.  SON OF A BITCH.  Of course there is absolutely no reason for you to believe me now, but up there, when I wrote “I’m second-guessing myself something fierce now,” I absolutely was going to say “This sounds like it could also be some of that LLN stuff, maybe Belketre or Vlad Tepes.”  Fuuuuuuck.  Sorry Ihsahn, sorry Norway, sorry France.]

7.  Man, am I really making a poor showing of this.  At first blush, this track sounds like something tribal-ish and noisecore-y (adjectives are not my strong suit this morning).  Gets a bit more blasting, and then when the vocals kicks in, I’m fairly certain that’s Steve Austin’s coruscating howl, so I think this is Today is the Day.  Now that I think about it, that makes good sense, since I think this is from when TITD had Bill and Brann from Mastodon in the band.  So, again, I’ve got no clue on the track title, but I think this is Today is the Day from In the Eyes of God.  Fingers crossed.

[It was: Converge, “Letterbomb,” from When Forever Comes Crashing.  Wow.  Just, wow.  I totally thought this was Converge at first, but then I gradually convinced myself that those vocals were not, in fact, Jacob Bannon but were, instead, Steve Austin.  Shit.  Still, goes to show that either Converge can pull off some fucking metal sounding production earlier on, or that Today is the Day were never as metal as one thought.]

8.  Extended instrumental intro section makes song identification a bit tricky, folks.  Let’s kick in some fucking metal, eh?  Oh, that was the whole song?  Well, fuck you very much.  I don’t know, man.  I literally have NO CLUE what this is.  I’m also about 100% sure that this is NOT a song by The Ocean, but that’s what I’m going to guess anyway.

[It was: Tombs, “Story of a Room,” from Winter Hours.  Man, that sucks.  I really love that record.  Out of context, I guess it’s a lot trickier to match guitar tone to artist.  Still, I knew it wasn’t The Ocean.  Just had to put any old shit down.]

9.  This is a pretty nimble, black/folk attack.  My first inclination is to go with Borknagar.  Yep, there’s good ol’ Vintersorg.  Pretty unmistakable timbre on that dude.  I suppose this could be Vintersorg (the project) as well as Vintersorg (the man), but I think his solo(ish) stuff never got quite so black as this.  So, I’m going to go with Borknagar.  Let’s see, when did Vintersorg join?  I’m going to hazard a guess that this track is from the Empiricism album.

[It was: Borknagar, “The Genuine Pulse,” from Empiricism.  Awesome.]

10.  This is Mastodon.  For sure.  That vaguely Southern-tinged finger-picked acoustic intro was a pretty fast giveaway.  But, sadness of sadness, I’m wavering as to which album this is from.  At first, I was thinking maybe this was from Crack the Skye, given its quite mellow character.  But, hmm.  Damn, this is shameful.  Still, now I’m maybe 80% confident that this is the closing track from Leviathan, which is called, I believe, “Joseph Merrick.”

C’mon, Mastodon, can’t you help a brother out?  Sure would be nice to close out this cavalcade of fuck-ups and metal failures with an unabashed WIN.

[It was: Mastodon, “Pendulous Skin,” from Blood Mountain.  Sweet fucking houndstooth pajamas.  So, despite being totally dead-on about Mastodon, turns out the two albums I was wheedling back and forth between were both the WRONG FUCKING ALBUM.]

(11.  As I was finishing up typing some of these comments, Mastodon faded out, and in kicks the inimitable vocals of Phil Anselmo from Down’s first album, NOLA.  Thanks, dude, for giving me another confidence booster.  Track’s called “Losing All,” but I can’t claim credit, as Anselmo actually tells you that.)

Okay, now it’s time to turn the monitor back on and see just how shittily I’ve done.
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So, I’m giving myself five out of ten.  I know I had the album wrong on a bunch of those, but I’m pleased enough to have just identified the artist correctly half the time.  And honestly, that’s quite a lot better than I thought I would do at this.

The whole point, though, is not to simply pat myself on the back, or subject myself to an extreme bout of self-castigation.  Instead, I think this is really indicative of something.  Perhaps it’s just me, but I have a feeling that I’m not alone in being in the thrall of the unending pursuit of novelty in music.

I just think, maybe, that it’s time we recognize at what cost this ragged, wide-eyed pursuit must come.

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Holy shit, everyone.  According to my last.fm page, I’ve just played my 88,888th track, which just happens to be “Kingdom” by Devin Townsend, from the album Physicist, which is next up in my let’s-run-through-Devin-Townsend’s-solo-discography trip.  Plus, it came up on random.  The fuuuuuck!?

Well done, universe; well done.

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Given that this current bout of ninety-plus degree weather has sapped me of all earthly energy, why not opt for the path of least resistance (namely, random iTunes game)?

1. Aphex Twin, “Come to Daddy (Little Lord Faulteroy Mix)” – Some creepy and understated electro from Mr. Richard D. James.  This track suffers incomparably, however, from appearing immediately before one of my favorite Aphex Twin tracks ever, “Bucephalus Bouncing Ball,” which, apart from appearing on the Come to Daddy EP, also showed up on the soundtrack to Darren Aronofsky’s Pi alongside other mid-90s electronic greats such as Autechre, Massive Attack, Orbital, and the sometimes-maligned Banco de Gaia.  Anyway, “Bucephalus Bouncing Ball” makes fantastic percussive use out of what sound like ball bearings being dropped on a smooth concrete surface; those interested in weird musical coincidences might also check out Gnarls Barkley’s jaw-droppingly awesome track “Open Book” for a somewhat similar percussive production.

2. Today is the Day, “Flowers Made of Flesh.” – Well, goddamn it all if I didn’t try to get through all of Sadness Will Prevail a few times. I’ve pretty much decided that the sprawling double album was never intended to be sat through all at once – not because the band wanted each disc experienced separately as a self-contained experience, but rather that two-and-a-half hours of tripped-out ambience, disturbing samples, shrill, shrieking almost-grind, and droning cyber-death riffing were intended to beat the listener into submission and leave him or her huddled in the very same asylum corner pictured on the album cover; whether that speaks well or ill of the record, I’ll leave you be the judge.

3. At the Gates, “Neverwhere.” – At the Gates’ earlier records seem to get overlooked in favor of discussing the landmark Slaughter of the Soul, which makes sense, given that commentators are equally likely to single out that album as the greatest example of the concise brilliance of the Gothenburg style as they are to metaphorically vomit all over its reputation by arguing that without it, the reviled styles of ‘metalcore’ and ‘deathcore’ (I guess) would have been, if not completely forestalled, then at least staved up by a fair while.  I don’t much buy either position, and find it a fun, thrashy little album that never sticks with me much after it’s finished playing.  This track, from their debut album The Red in the Sky is Ours, is kind of cool, but the stuttering, intentionally awkward melodic phrases right at the start bum me out.

4. Tool, “The Pot.” – Tool fans are an odd bunch, right?  10,000 Days was a fairly divisive record, if I recall, and I’ve still never quite figured out my own feelings about it.  I think “Vicarious” worked quite effectively as a single, and the 17-minute, two-part “Wings for Marie”/”10,000 Days” suite ranks up there with the band’s best work.  On the other hand, this track does almost nothing for me, and I find the 11-minute plus running time of “Rosetta Stoned” unacceptably self-indulgent for a track which goes nowhere and features embarrassingly expletive-laden adolescent stomping exclusively.  Go figure.

5. The Stooges, “Not Right.” – Every now and then, the world forgets what rock and roll sounds like; in these dark times, all it takes is someone with a shitty set of speakers (the shittier the better, when it comes to The Stooges) and a ragged copy of Raw Power to roust the world from its shiny-overproduced-rock-music-induced somnolence. This track is from the self-titled album, for the record, but for my money, Raw Power is ALWAYS where it’s at for sheer rock fury – especially in fiery opener “Seek and Destroy” (seriously, YouTube that shit to see Iggy tearing up that track at any point over nearly FOUR decades) and the downright nasty “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell.”

6. Mistress, “Whiskey Tastes Better…” – Possibly the dirtiest band in dear old Blighty, and brought to you by the same lovely folks behind Anaal Nathrakh and Fukpig.  This track features some fairly grimy power metal squealing (think Iced Earth, but like everyone who gives two shits about Barlow or ‘Ripper’ Owens got on the wrong side of a bar fight with Jon Schafer’s Civil War reenactment buddies and ended up chewing on a broken bottle of Jack Daniels) all over the top of a close-but-not-quite-Sunlight riff-fest of sludge-caked grind.  In other words: awesome.

7. Sufjan Stevens, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” – Oh my, my, my; that is one ironic transition.  From the filthy misanthropy of Mistress to Sufjan’s fairly straight take on this sacred Christmas song.  Not too many indie artists could get away with Sufjan’s five-volume (and still counting, I believe) mini-albums for Christmas, but the dude knows just when to rock his straight-up EARNEST voice, and when to cut loose a little (see “That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!”).  Plus, the minor key mope-fest that is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” was basically MADE for this kind of sad bastard music (apologies to Nick Hornby/Jack Black/Belle & Sebastian/etc.).

8. Swans, “Saved.” – O boy.  There is way too much to be said about Swans (which I may attempt in a later post).  This track is from the controversial album The Burning World, which was Swans’ first (and only) major label album.  Michael Gira (Swans’ principal songwriter, singer, and all-around Dude Of The Righteous Voice) has disavowed the album, primarily due to the pressures he feels the band faced from the label to clean up their sound, as well as the production job done by Bill Laswell.  If you ask me, the whole thing is a bit overblown; yeah, the album is a far cry from the nihilistic drone-stomp of their early 1980s work (Cop, Greed, Filth, Holy Money, etc.), and sure, it was a disappointing come-down to have been the follow-up to probably their all-around most consistently awesome full-length, Children of God, but it’s still got some pretty decent tunes (although, it ought to be said, this is not one of the best), especially “I Remember Who You Are,” “God Damn the Sun,” and opener “The River that Runs with Love Won’t Run Dry.”  Although the instrumental textures, which were really tidied up and smoothed over, may be the biggest change from their previous work, the thing I found most tough to swallow about The Burning World is the almost country-fied, honey sweet gloss given to Gira’s vocals (as opposed to the much gruffer, roots-ier country style occasionally employed by Gira later in his excellent work as Angels of Light – now defunct, with Swans back in action as of late last year).  All of this is mostly beside the point, as this record is one tough motherfucker to find, with most used copies selling online for $30 and up.

9. Drudkh, “Where Horizons End.” – This Ukrainian band is definitely on my list of “Metal Bands Whose Names I Will Try To Avoid Speaking In Public Because I’ve Got No Fucking Clue How To Pronounce Them” (also making the list: Amon Amarth [which looks deceptively easy, but how they hell are those vowels pronounced?], Kiuas, Mörk Gryning, and hundreds of others).  Disregarding the linguistic difficulties, these reclusive metallers have made some of the most mesmerizing and grimly melodic black metal of the past decade or so.  This track, from Estrangement, shares all of those wonderful songwriting characteristics, but, like the rest of the record, suffers, in my view, from an excessively treble-y production, both in the clean-ish lead guitar and the way-too-fuzzed-out distorted rhythm guitar.*  The bass sounds pretty great, but simply can’t match the extremely classy and even more up-front bass in their most recent (and much superior) album Microcosmos.

10. Black Breath, “Virus.” – Well, hell yes.  Black Breath’s debut full-length, out just earlier this year on Southern Lord, is a super-potent kick in the goddamned teeth.  Heavy Breathing features an excellent, compact Swedish death metal-style guitar tone, but mixes it up into a fierce cocktail of Disfear-esque metallic d-beat and seriously pissed-off half-time doom breakdowns.  Check out the completely wicked instrumental “Heavy Breathing” and the way it seamlessly breaks into the following track, “Children of the Horn.”  Crushing and dangerous stuff, and much too well-crafted for being their debut album (well-received three-track EP of last year notwithstanding); make sure your china is well-secured in its hutch, because these dudes have the potential to smash your pitiful little world down to shards and pixels if they get any better.

That’s all for now, friends; I’m off to break things.

*Apologies to your friend and mine, the comma, who is sure to be sorely overused whenever I get my grubby little hands on it.

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Hello, friend.  In previous attempts at “blogging” (still not ready to give up the scare quotes), I have found the first post to be the most difficult.  Typically, the writer (me) lapses into an interminable cycle of self-justification and feigned ironic detachment, and no one is made any happier.  Welcome, therefore, to this blog, which is my blog.  Kick off your shoes, and make yourself comfortable.  May I fix you a drink?  In the most generic sense, I intend to use this space as an outlet for my thoughts on music.  These thoughts may express themselves by way of album reviews, or they may take shape as brief essays or commentaries on issues of music and culture, but you may rest assured that they will most likely veer sharply and vehemently into the realm of heavy metal (as do most good things).  But sometimes they will not.

For example: Sometime last week, I found myself struck by a lyrical coincidence which is, if taken seriously, a completely mundane thing, inasmuch as there must be literally thousands of songs doing similar lyrical work.  Nevertheless, having had each of these songs in my head at various points, I kept thinking that maybe there was something to be explored in their similarities.  To wit:

Sufjan Stevens, on “Vito’s Ordination Song,” sings:

“Rest in my arms, / Sleep in my bed. / There is a design / to what I did and said”

Laurie Anderson, in her magnificent song “O Superman (For Massenet)”:

“So hold me, Mom, in your long arms /  In your automatic arms; your electronic arms… / So hold me, Mom, in your long arms; / Your petrochemical arms; your military arms; in your electronic arms.”

And, finally, Antony & the Johnsons, in The Crying Light‘s best song, “Aeon”:

“Hold my father, for he is myself /  Without him I wouldn’t exist / Oh aeon, my baby boy/ Oh aeon will take care of me / Hold that man (in your tender clutch) / Hold that man I love so much, / Hold that man I love so much.”

I don’t know what it means, but I can’t quit thinking that something powerful is expressed in the juxtaposition of those themes.  Maybe you know what it means, and can clue me in.  This, I think, is what the internet is for (never mind that unbroken-military-communication-in-the-case-of-nuclear-war nonsense).

Another thing I might like to do, in service of avoiding the inevitable awkwardness of first posts, is inaugurate a little music blogging exercise I used to carry on with some colleagues.  The game is called, “Put Your iTunes On Shuffle And Post The First 20 (Or So) Songs That Cycle Through, No Matter How Embarrassing They May Be.”  That means you, right there, Mr. “I Dreamed A Dream” By Susan Boyle, and you as well, Ms. I Swear I Have No Idea How The Theme Song From “The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air” Made Its Way Onto My iPod And Into A Playlist Named “BEST SONGS EVER.”  Today, I have added some self-indulgent song-by-song commentary.

To begin:

1. The Gathering, “Forgotten Reprise.”  This is the final track from, I believe, the last album from this Dutch band to feature the fabulous vocals of Anneke von Giersbergen.  Still haven’t listened to The West Pole, which introduces their new singer, but there’s still nothing to beat How To Measure A Planet? for female-fronted, experimental rock/metal.

2. Steve Lawler, “Intro, Pt. 2.”  Well, that’s pretty boring.  Useless intro track to disc 2 of what’s actually a pretty good set by this British (?) DJ who is primarily known for a heavily percussive, so-called “tribal” style of deep house.

3. Common, “Cold Blooded.”  I don’t listen to that much hip-hop, and when I do, I tend to focus on the beats more than the rhymes (which I suppose is why I prefer instrumental hip-hop and its splinter genres in electronica; which, moreover, is why I STILL haven’t forgiven DJ Shadow for The Outsider).  This track is from Like Water for Chocolate, which is know is one of Common’s most highly-regarded albums, but personally, I preferred the jazzier styling of the productions on Be.

4. Velvet Cacoon, “Bloodletting.”  Man, I don’t even want to get into the internet bullshit about this band.  Check ’em out on Metal Archives, or I guess on pretty much any heavy metal discussion board.  Genevieve was an undeniably great record, but lately I just can’t seem to give two shits about this band.  Whatever the ridiculously titled ‘return to black metal’ type album that just came out (‘P aa Oopal’ something or other), didn’t really do much for me; I suppose it seemed derivative of Genevieve, but less inspired.

5. Velvet Cacoon, “Bloodscents.”  Okay, so I swear the iTunes just chose back-to-back VC songs, despite the over 32,000 others to choose from.  I don’t feel like commenting again, either.

6. Tiamat, “A Winter Shadow.”  YES.  This is from that great period in Tiamat’s early career where they had gotten more interesting than your average Swedish death metal band, but still hadn’t gone full-tilt into the gothic/electronic fusion of Wildhoney and A Deeper Kind of Slumber (both of which are still pretty great, mind).

7. Nasum, “Old and Tired?”  I’ve been on a pretty big grindcore kick lately, and I know I’m hardly the first one to say it, but GODDAMN if Nasum weren’t pretty much the best thing to come along in grindcore between Napalm Death and Pig Destroyer.  Their singer and principal songwriter was killed in the Southeast Asian tsunami of a few years back, which, apart from the horrific personal tragedy for his family and bandmates, seems like quite a setback for the Swedish grind scene as a whole.

8. Amon Tobin, “Deo.”  Seriously cannot get enough of Amon Tobin.  Drum and bass done right; challenging, dense, consistently engaging.  I even liked the super-paranoid soundtrack to some Tom Clancy video game he did (Chaos Theory, I think).  A bit like a more focused DJ Spooky, with a whole lot of jazz instrumentation and live (or at least really live-sounding) beats thrown in.  This particular track is really nice and noir-y.

9. Phobia, “Death to Pigs.”  Some more pissed-off grind, this time American.  Not a whole lot to say, except that it’s got some pretty sweet death metal double bass to break up the blastbeats.

10. μ-Ziq, “Slice.”  Really excellent and versatile IDM.  This is from Royal Astronomy, which is definitely not one of my favorite records of his (μ-Ziq just equals one guy, Mike Paradinas, who also runs the pretty great electronic record label Planet Mu), but most anything he does is worth some attention.  I recently got my hands on a copy of a two-disc b-sides compilation from one of his other projects, Kid Spatula, called Meast, which I haven’t yet had the time to get through, but we’ll see how it stacks up to what most people consider his main project.

11. Assück, “Population Index.”  My iTunes is really loving the death/grind today.  These guys were hugely important for the development of the American grindcore scene, and their sound is still completely raging.

12. The Lord Weird Slough Feg, “The Great Ice Wars.”  Oh hell yes.  This band absolutely slays, and Twilight Of The Idols is one of their best albums.  Imagine smashing all the best things about trad and speed metal, classic doom, and NWOBHM together, then throwing in a bit of nascent folk metal sensibility and some totally over-the-top theatrical vocals.  Then quit with your stupid imagining, shut your face, and bang your head to some true heavy metal.

13. Wolf Parade, “Call It a Ritual.”  I feel pretty badly that I haven’t spent nearly as much time with Wolf Parade’s sophomore album, At Mount Zoomer as with their debut.  Truth be told, I’m not totally sure if it’s that I’m still totally in love with Apologies to the Queen Mary, or the fact that I’ve spent a bit more time with some of their side projects (the Handsome Furs’ Face Control, and Sunset Rubdown’s Random Spirit Lover are both really excellent), but I just haven’t been particularly attracted to this record.  Might also be the fact that whenever any Wolf Parade song comes on, I just want it to be either “You Are a Runner and I Am My Father’s Son” or “Shine a Light.”  Sorry dudes.

14. Enslaved, “Hordalendingen (Eng: The Man from Hordaland).”  Enslaved seem to get a lot of props for their debut full-length, Frost, which is justifiably sweet, but I think Eld ups the ante in several important ways; in general, I think the longer, slightly more epic construction of several of the songs (especially the absolutely stonker of a 16-minute opening track) suits the band’s style better than the slightly more compact songs on Frost.

15. Daughters, “Jones from Indiana.”  Lately, I just don’t have too much patience for shit like this.  I don’t even know what to call it these days – “spazzcore” was being thrown around for a while, which actually makes pretty good sense in reference to bands like Daughters or (especially) The Locust.  An extremely notable exception is made for Japan’s Melt-Banana, who are in an entirely different league, and, well, let’s face it, the Japanese tend to occupy their own unique space in extreme music (Merzbow, I’m looking at you, so please take the chainsaw away from the microphone and be reasonable).  I just can’t help but thinking that less time spent thinking up clever song titles (e.g., “Nurse, Would You Please Prep the Patient for Sexual Doctor”) and more time writing actual SONGS would behoove these dudes nicely.  Plus, writing eleven minutes of music does not entitle you to call it a full-length.  That’s just common courtesy.

16. Bob Marley & the Wailers, “Redemption Song.”  It is just a sad fact of circumstances that I first heard this excellent song through No Use for a Name’s frankly shit cover (note to punk [read: any] bands: covering songs which are not punk songs does not automatically make said song worthwhile).  Also sad to say, Johnny Cash’s cover (included on the otherwise mostly excellent posthumous collection Unearthed) is pretty lousy as well.  I think Nick Cave suited you better, Johnny.  Which, come to think of it, ought to work pretty well in reverse – ATTN: Nick Cave and/or sundry Bad Seeds – “Delia’s Gone”? “Folsom Prison Blues”? “Cocaine”??? These are ripe for your blessed, wicked touch.

17. Vasaeleth, “Spirit of Noxious Miasmas.”  Canada’s Profound Lore Records continues its frankly astonishing winning streak with this American band’s debut album.  Dark, echoing, cryptic death metal in the great tradition of Immolation or Incantation (or perhaps a less formalist Morbid Angel).  Plus, the album title, Crypt Born and Tethered to Ruin, is completely fucking awesome.

18. Solefald, “Philosophical Revolt.”  Solefald’s debut (and probably still their best) album, The Linear Scaffold, is set apart by some of the highest-pitched black metal shrieks this side of early Burzum, or maybe Fleurety.  Despite containing some of their harshest material, Solefald have always seemed to have a better sense of pacing, contrast, and basic songwriting skills than some of their post- or avant-garde black metal colleagues.  Plus, this track features the fairly bizarre verse “Confucius, Lao Tse, Socrates, Plato, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Sartre et Beauvoir.”  What’s not to love?

19. Saros, “Acrid Plains.”  Another winner from Profound Lore, though this time with a bit more baroque take on progressive/dark metal with some blackened vocal touches and thrash rhythms.  More proof (as if any was needed), that California’s San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most artistically fertile scenes going these days – see Ludicra’s brand-new 2010 album The Tenant for corroboration.  It bears repeating, however, that I am still waiting for anything to come along and absolutely crush me in the way The Gault’s lone album did (Across Tundras’ Dark Songs of the Prairie came pretty damn close, but they aren’t part of the same scene).

20. Killing Joke, “Judas Goat.”  These post-punk/industrial/whatever weirdos stomped all over my brain with the hypnotizing Hosannas from the Basements of Hell.  Detached apocalyptic ramblings (hmm, I suppose that sounds a bit more like Current 93…) either mumbled or howled over a nearly tribal rhythm section, and all of it swathed in that great guitar tone which sounds, I don’t know, like a halfway metallic version of all your favorite post-punk/goth bands from the 1980s – The Cure, Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, maybe even Fields of the Nephilim.  Take your pick, but these English lads don’t give a shit about your puny choices.

There you have it.  Watch this space for all your strange-person-ranting-about-heavy-metal-on-the-Internet needs.

Until later, adieu.  One wonders why, among the metal crowd, ‘adiable’ never seemed to catch on.  Ah well.

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