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Posts Tagged ‘Boris’

Boris, Attention Please (2011)

Sights and sounds align

My review of the bewitching new album Attention Please from Japanese avant-metal weirdos Boris is up now over at MetalReview.  My colleague Jordan Campbell also tackles the simultaneously released full-length Heavy Rocks, which he and I both agree comes in a somewhat distant second to Attention Please.  Both albums are out now on Sargent House, and both are assuredly worth the time it takes to bob your head, tap your toes, and get your psych on.

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This discussion might be somewhat mooted by the widespread availability of a band’s entire catalog online at the click of a few .zip links, but it used to be the case that if you wanted to dig into the work of a artist that was new to you, you had to just out and buy the record.  Couple that with this particular writer’s having gotten into metal without the influence of friends, or older siblings, or tape trading or ‘zines or anything else that might have given some pointers on the best albums with which to dive into an unknown band’s vast oeuvre, and you wind up with what look like, in retrospect, some pretty fucking wacky starting points.

Allow me to illustrate:

Yup, my copy's even got that stupid wrinkled-looking cover sleeve

The first Megadeth record I bought and listened to was 1997’s Cryptic Writings, a widely-panned shitstorm of wimped-out radio-friendly “thrash”-rock.  Okay, so maybe it’s not the complete disaster of Risk, but it’s really a fairly awful album.  The first couple of singles for the album received heavy radio play, though, and my teenaged self thought, “Hey, this sounds pretty alright.”  I got the record, didn’t play it too much, and probably wound up selling it years later.  The miracle is, then, that I ever managed to get into Megadeth “for real.”  I think I eventually stumbled on a used copy of Countdown to Extinction, which rekindled my interest in the band, and as my appetite for metal compelled into more research, I inevitably found my way into the band’s first four classic albums.

So, there are actually two points in my mind about that: Number one, how shitty is it if you stumble upon a band just at the time that they happen to release one of their all-time poorest showings?  What if I had never recovered from the bland shock of Cryptic Writings?  “Hangar 18” could still be sitting out there in the distance, far outside my realm of awareness, screaming and thrashing and raging for all the world to be heard, but to no avail.  Second, though: What if your first encounter with a band is with their far and away best album?  To stick with the Megadeth example, what if your first Megadeth album was Rust In Peace?  (I know metaldom’s opinion is somewhat split as to the extent by which RIP outstrips Peace Sells, Killing…, So Far…, etc., but to these ears it’s not even a close competition – Rust In Peace smokes everything else Mustaine et al put to wax by a wide country mile.)  From that point on, everything’s going to be a letdown.  You can dig into the band’s past to trace the roots of that miraculous album, and you can follow where its success took the band, and even where its dulcet tones stoked the fires for other bands, but that initial, revelatory experience is essentially never to be reclaimed.

(On a short aside, I’m pretty certain that my first Metallica album was Load.  By most counts, that would be a fairly disastrous starting point for Metallica’s discography, but since Metallica seems to be the one actual metal band that gets a free pass on most hard rock radio, I grew up hearing enough of the band’s real baroque thrash output that I could recognize Load for the stylistic turn for the worse that it certainly was.  Therefore, I wasn’t turned off, and quickly acquired Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, and everything else.)

It doesn’t always work that way, though.  Even though Reign In Blood is generally accepted as Slayer’s finest hour (though I think there’s probably a case to be made for South Of Heaven as the better record; still, it’s tough to dispute RIB’s historic status), I don’t think someone getting into Slayer with RIB would necessarily be at the same disadvantage as someone getting into Megadeth with RIP.  Thing is, I’m hard-pressed to figure out exactly why that is.  I suppose it’s probably because I don’t see as huge a gap in terms of quality between Hell AwaitsReign In BloodSouth Of Heaven as I do between So Far…Rust In PeaceCountdown to Extinction.  That having been said, my first Slayer album was actually Divine Intervention, which is kind of a weird spot to drop into the discography, but not as confusing as, say, Undisputed Attitude or God Hates Us All would be.

On that same note, the first albums that I acquired by Opeth, Darkthrone, and Dream Theater were Blackwater Park, A Blaze In The Northern Sky, and Scenes From A Memory, respectively.  None of those three albums necessarily has a consensus as to being the band’s all-time greatest, but there’s enough critical praise behind each one that they could have been potentially standard-setting albums.  And in fact, each one likely remains my favorite album by each band.  Nevertheless, I have subsequently acquired every single album by all three bands, and haven’t felt the same sense of inevitable resignation that I think I would have felt had I stumbled across Rust In Peace before Cryptic Writings.

I wonder if the extent to which one experiences these weird starting points is mostly dependent on whether the band in question has produced any truly oddball albums.  Like, this whole conversation doesn’t make much sense if we’re talking about Motörhead or, to take a fairly timely example, Amon Amarth.  You can hate or love the band, and you can certainly make distinctions in quality between albums by each band, but neither band has produced any albums that are so radically different from the rest of its canon that a listener stumbling across them would be fed an entirely wrong perception of other albums.

On the other hand, a band like Boris or the Melvins would seem to buck this trend for precisely the opposite reason: both bands do enough experimentation and total stylistic shifts (more so with Boris than the Melvins, to be sure) that neither band necessarily has any good or bad starting points.  Instead, most starting points are probably equally strange, or at least sit reasonably well at odds with the bulk of the band’s other albums.

That having been said, here are just a couple of other strange discographic starting points in which I’ve found myself embroiled:

Don't care what you say; Cradle's never come up with a better pun

At the time, I had never heard of Cradle Of Filth, so I’m not even entirely sure what motivated me to pick up this album (I assume it wasn’t the horrifically garish cover art).  More importantly, though, I had no idea that this was a completely strange stop-gap release between albums, comprised of a few new tunes, a couple of new ambient/classical interludes, a Sisters of Mercy cover, and some rerecorded songs from Cradle’s debut album, The Principle of Evil Made Flesh.  I enjoyed this release enough, though, to continue on and work both backwards and forwards, and Cradle Of Filth remains an entirely guilt-free guilty pleasure to this day.

Who thought this cover was a good idea?

So, yeah, that album art is a nasty ol’ piece of shit.  The album’s actually pretty good, though, but if you’ve heard it and any of Septic Flesh’s other material, you know it’s an odd spot at which to first dip one’s toes in the Greek metallers’ waters.  It’s a strange hybrid electro-death metal trip, and the band has never really delved in the same dirges again.  Seems like this would be a band that you’d either get into from the earliest black metal albums and follow them through, or else you’d be better served starting off with Sumerian Daemons and just working on from there.

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So, what about you?  Have you had any similar experiences, either with getting into a band with a completely fucked-up, non-representative album, or with getting into a band with their far and away best album?  Or, more generally, when you know you want to investigate a band that’s new to you, do you have a particular strategy?  Do you start with the most recent album and work backward?  Do you start from the beginning and move to the present?  Do you first reach to the most widely-acclaimed album to see if it does anything for you, and only after that point reach both forward and backward if you like what you hear?

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Friends, I’ve got a bit of a bone to pick with stoner metal.  Sort of.

You see, it’s not that I actually have a problem with the music itself.  In fact, lately I’ve been listening to tons of the stuff: Sleep, Electric Wizard, Om, Kyuss, Boris, YOB, (old) Monster Magnet, Orange Goblin, High On Fire, even the stoner/grind histrionics of Cephalic Carnage (getting pumped for their new album).  I fuckin’ LOVE me some fat, juicy riffs wearing concrete boots walking a tightrope made of my corpus callosum.

Riff my face off, please

Thing is, what drives me totally fucking bonkers is the frequent claim one hears when talking with ardent fans of these drug-addled noisemakers: “You’ve never really experienced Such And Such An Album unless you’ve heard it stoned.”

Oh really?  Well, let me tell you, friend, that you’ve never really gotten the obituaries page of the New York Times unless you’ve read it while tweezing out your leg hairs and listening to Tom Jones.  I mean, you totally start, like, reading between the newsprint lines and seeing Victorian-era portraits of all the other dead people whispering recipes for minestrone.

Granted, I know that part of the rationale here is that if the band was under the influence of certain mind-altering substances during the creation of the music, then perhaps the fullest appreciation of said music can only be gained through achieving a similar mental state.  Fuck that shit.

Obviously, a lot of this kind of music is shot through with healthy doses (har har) of psychedelia, which typically means densely layered production with lots of different buried textures and widdly sound effects.  Seems to me, then, that what these lit-up listening enthusiasts are likely experiencing is a monomaniacal attention to one particular detail which seems somehow to overwhelm the rest of the musical palette and offer them some new, strange vista of drugged-out bliss or paranoia.

Well, folks, do me a favor and try out the same thing with Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew.  Listen to that bad boy for a while, stoned or not, and try to follow just one instrument through those winding, righteously spooky jams.  Not too different, really, from that one time you saw the Virgin Mary in your Doritos while zoning out to “Sweet Leaf.”  Or, to be more direct: It’s not about the drugs, it’s about how you listen, and I’m not willing to admit that “listening stoned” is a mode of listening distinct from any other.

More seriously, I think this claim is incorrect from two directions: objectively and subjectively.  As I’ve just suggested, from an objective perspective, I think that a lot of what goes on with stoners claiming that the music “speaks” to them differently when they’re stoned is simply an artifact of listening more intently to the music.  In fact, it may well be the case that the biggest difference between listening stoned and listening sober is that if you’re stoned and listening to music, chances are, you’re not doing much else, whereas I think it can generally be agreed that most people’s listening (sober) habits have become but one aspect in a multi-tasking three-ring circus.  In that case, if we sober folks were just sitting down to really listen to something, without doing anything else, we might find that it’s the act of focusing that yields notably deeper results.

From the completely opposite end of the argumentative spectrum, though, I would respond to these stoned-music-is-better-music partisans with an argument for a completely subjective, relativistic approach to music.  That is, no one person’s listening experience can ever approximate any other person’s listening experience because of the multitude of prejudices, experiences, knowledge, preferences, and attitudes that inform and color our ability to hear certain things.

Which is to argue not that a sober person can experience the exact same depth of appreciation for music as the stoned person (which is what I’m calling the ‘objective’ argument), but rather that two people, stoned on the same herbs or buzzed on the same drinks, listening to the exact same music, will never hear that music the same way.  Neither will two sober people.  Listening to music is necessarily an intensely personal, interiorizing phenomenon which cannot be shared, no matter how socially it is pursued.

So, sure, friend, I will perhaps grudgingly admit that I will never hear Electric Wizard’s Dopethrone the same way you heard it, through a cloud of smoke or a labyrinth of acid dreams, so long as you admit that you will never hear Dopethrone the way I heard it, sitting on my couch reading a book, or driving in my car to get my tires rotated.  Either everyone can hear it the same, or no one can hear it the same; I’d like to think it’s both.

I should clarify: this is not coming from some puritanical anti-drug perspective.  Feel free to ingest, inject, or imbibe whatever you like; that’s not what this is about.  Rather, this is about a bunch of folks trying to fuck with my ability to appreciate music, and THAT’S what’s likely to get me feeling awfully witch-burny, awfully fast.

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