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Posts Tagged ‘Megadeth’

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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A few random bits about the Meads Of Asphodel, that utterly bizarre (and unmistakably British) metal beast (and blessed, it ought to be stressed, with one of the most pleasant names in years).

Random bit the first (1st):

Mel Gibson, eat your heart out

Their new album, The Murder of Jesus the Jew, is really quite good.  I say this not out of surprise, because I’ve been a fairly staunch supporter of the Meads since their debut album.  The only truly unforgivable offense thus far has been the abominably ill-conceived cover of Louis Armstrong’s classic tune “What a Wonderful World,” back on 2006’s (? – too lazy to look up at the moment) Damascus Steel.  Complete rubbish, friends – avoid at all costs.  To the extent that you, fair reader, are able to take any of this music seriously, this new album (building off of the previous major-bummer-fest LP) is a far more serious affair.

More serious, at least, when compared with the band’s first two albums, the acoustic jam session The Mill Hill Sessions, the Christmas song they did for Terrorizer magazine, the punk covers (+ Kinks cover!?) on their side of this year’s split with Old Corpse Road, etc., etc.  Anyway, while I do find this new album a delectable platter of strangeness – some sideways-fucked brew of Hawkwind psych rock, Floydian prog, clatterly British crust-punk, and Sigh-meets-Cradle-Of-Filth black metal sheen (Hawkwind and Sigh, at least, are clearly no mistake, if you’ve followed the band’s parade of guest musicians) – I can’t help but feel like a bit of the fun has been drained.

Make no mistake, a Meads Of Asphodel album still packs more grin-inducing moments than most anything else out there.  Nevertheless, I kind of miss the carnival/Casio-esque keys of the early demos, the completely unwarranted and random jaunts into strangely trance-y drum ‘n bass.  Despite remaining firmly planted in the off-kilter and avant-garde, the Dudes of Asphodel are playing things a little too straight for my taste.

And as a final addendum to this random bit (the first), a message to the band: Metatron, please, for the love of all that is holy and chain mail, quit it with the ridiculous spoken word bits.  I know it’s kind of like “your thing,” but the passages you choose to gargle out cleanly on this album are the most cringe-inducing faux-Dante’s-Inferno-punishments and they just bum me out.  For real.
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Random bit the second (2nd):

The band has posted a 35-minute documentary film at their website, the beguilingly simple www.themeadsofasphodel.com.  It comes in three parts, the first of which I will post here:

I post this, however, having only watched the first seven minutes of it, after which I felt compelled to do almost anything else.  It’s not that this is bad, necessarily, but that I have an exceedingly low tolerance for this kind of nostalgic “Ah, let’s cast a long gaze over the history of the band and have a bunch of ugly metal blokes wax fondly about things that happened, I don’t know, eight years ago.”  The primary argument in favor of this “in-depth” (honest, I’m not trying to be an asshole here, but the whole thing seems a bit stilted, innit?) documentary is that, for years, the Meads were intentionally shrouded in mystery, what with the stage names and the chain mail and the lack of widespread performances.  So, I don’t really need to see this.  And maybe it’s not for me.  Maybe I’m just some jaded asshole on the internet, and maybe this film was made for Me when I was eight years younger.  Whatever.  Watch it, or don’t.  See if I care.
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Random bit the third (3rd, and final):

In a horrendously obnoxious heavy metal songwriting trick that is not the exclusive province of the Meads, but which I have noticed most recently on the new album and which never fails to drive me totally fucking bonkers up the wall, is the doubling of a line of lyrics in a sort of call-and-response fashion.  Or, rather, what specifically drives me batshit crazy is not a call-and-RESPONSE (indicating a variation), but rather a call-and-REPEAT.  It’s.  So.  Fucking.  Stupid.

Anyway, the Meads do it on the new album’s third track, “Apocalypse of Lazarus,” with Metatron calling out poetic gems like “The dragon and beast cast into Hell” or “Death into the valley of Jeheshophat,” which are then echoed by, I dunno, some other dude caterwauling in the background.  Drives me fucking nuts.  If you’re thinking, “Yeah, that bugs me too, but where I have I heard – and hated – this technique before?” then I submit for your perusal and (presumably) displeasure, the one (and only) true misstep on Megadeth’s nevertheless untouchable masterpiece (fuck you) Rust In Peace:

“Five Magics” is otherwise a fantastic song, but starting around the 4:00 minute mark is where they bust into that dumb-ass call-and-repeat business (“He who lives by the sword…,” etc.).  So, the moral is: If you’re out there, writing in a band, and you’re thinking, “Wow, what a boss way to fill out a song,” I just…  I just pray for the future of humanity.  Don’t do this.  Don’t be That Guy.
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The Murder Of Jesus The Jew is out now on Candlelight Records, and, I swear, despite my cantankerous ranting, I like it quite a bit.

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If you’ve ever spent much time writing album reviews, chances are you already know how much your appreciation of a record can change across multiple listenings.  I don’t think there’s any great rule to follow about how many times one ought to listen to something before trying to say anything reasonably articulate about it, but it’s also pretty safe to say that if one bashes out a review before the album has even passed the finish line, shit ain’t right.

This isn’t a lecture, though.   Maybe what online music journalism needs, in fact, are interpretive haikus, stream of consciousness fits of creative nonfiction, and album reviews written matter-of-factly about music which either does not exist, or has not been heard by the writer.  That’s your own business.  (Actually, now that I think about it, writing Reviews Of Nonexistent Albums sounds like a possibly worthwhile undertaking…)

I’ve been wondering, though, just why it is that our first impressions often change so much in the fullness of time.  Sadly, I’m sure many times, it’s because our first impressions are later realized to be out of step with the general consensus, and so we either consciously or subconsciously alter our opinion accordingly.  Still, even the most genuinely hermetically walled-off of us have been there.  We find that we are not the stolid rocks of constancy we once thought ourselves to be, and that even We, the cosmically ordained, are not impermeable in the face of the wending shuffle of time.

I’d like to propose a little diagnostic of the various ways in which, it seems to me, our opinion of an album can change from first to later listenings.  I’ve offered a few examples of my own under each category only by way of illustration, but I’m curious to see if there isn’t something systematic about these different types of records which leads them to be first and then later impressed upon us differently.
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Type 1: “The Winner”: Albums that you love when you first hear them, and which you continue to love subsequently.

– This is a pretty straightforward category, and obviously has very little to do with changed opinions.  Still, you know the type.  You spin it once, think, “Shit, that’s awesome!”  Then, you keep spinning it, and it just gets better and better.  I suspect most folks would place most of their favorite albums in this category, although I also suspect there are some closet Type 4s lurking in there…

Examples:
– Tough category to pick examples for, then, since there are so many albums to fit the bill.
– Doomriders, Darkness Come Alive.  This is just an absolute FUCKING MONSTER of an album that just gets better every single time I play it.  Hardcore?  Rock?  Metal?  Who gives a shit: Doomriders are here to tear you apart.
– Primordial, The Gathering Wilderness.  Basically, nothing can fuck with this album.  Ever.  This is one of the most evocative pieces of music I’ve yet to encounter in the wide world of metal.  Pure class.
– Lurker Of Chalice, Lurker Of Chalice.  I dig most of the stuff that Wrest has put out under the Leviathan name, but the Lurker Of Chalice album just has an atmosphere all its own.  Haunting and haunted, and soothing without being safe.

Do not try to fuck with this.

Type 2: “The Piece Of Shit”: Albums that you hate when you first hear them, and which you continue to hate subsequently.

– This is also a pretty straightforward category.  We’ve all been there, where we play something, suggest to our friends and acquaintances that it sounds like an old dog retching violently onto a turntable playing an old Alvin & the Chipmunks record, and leave it at that.  Days or weeks later, we are subjected again to this execrable document to the miserable state of the human condition, and contemplate inflicting bodily harm on the individuals responsible.

Examples:
– Again, there must be shitloads upon shitloads of albums in this category for me.  Maybe I’ll pick a few slightly less obvious examples, then:
– Suffocation, Suffocation.  I actually like a lot of Suffocation’s other stuff, but man, something about this record just rubs me right the goddamn wrong way.
– Aethenor, Betimes Black Cloudmasses.  Son of a BITCH this record is booooooring.  And it’s not like I automatically slag off anything drone-y or ambient; this one just pissed me off.
– Novembers Doom, Into Night’s Requiem Infernal.  I’m beginning to wonder if maybe this category (Type 2) isn’t especially filled with albums that have disappointed us.  I really liked the two Novembers Doom records which preceded this one, but ugh.  Nothing about this was appealing or convincing.

Hey, guys, that title? Completely meaningless nonsense.

Type 3: “The Jumped-The-Gun”: Albums that you love when you first hear them, but which you begin to hate upon subsequent examination.

– In some ways, this is the most interesting of these categories to me.  This type of reaction is for those albums that really blow you away the first time you play them, but then lose whatever vitality they seemed to have upon further listening.  It seems probable that this category is populated with albums that have some cache of novelty to spend, but seem hollow and insubstantial once that novelty has worn off.

Examples:
– Eluveitie, Slania.  I should have known better than to be impressed by this one, I suppose.  Still, the great glossy production and the superficial sheen of folk instrumentation were sufficient to distract me from the utterly subpar Gothenburg tedium that lurked within.
– Solefald, In Harmonia Universali.  I feel kind of badly about including this one.  I still really like Solefald, honest, I do, but geez, this album just wears on my nerves something awful.  It was the first record of theirs that I bought, and I was totally into it at first, what with the lyrics in like twelve different languages, and the quite off-kilter songwriting style.  The vocal style is what first started to grate on me, though, and now, every time this comes on, I just get bored and want to go fly a kite or something.  I’m much more about The Linear Scaffold these days.
– Megadeth, United Abominations.  I suppose I’m not the only one who got dragged into this.  By this point, I’m just sick of Mustaine in general, but I’ll admit it, I gobbled up this album like crazy when it came out.  I, like many of you, had been horribly burned by Megadeth in the past (Youthanasia, Cryptic Writings, and so forth), but had pretty much ignored the previous albums that been hailed as ‘returns to form’.  Don’t know why I believed that about this one, then.  I really dug it at first, because, well, you know, it was slightly fast, and had some solos and what not.  Over time, though, and especially with the release of Endgame (which is, scientifically speaking, five hundred times better than this turgid mess), I just cannot abide Mustaine’s self-righteous mumbling about the United Nations, the Middle East, and God knows what else.  Seriously, man: Rust In Peace or get the fuck out.

Not so much with the universal harmonies; sorry.

Type 4: “The Pleasant Surprise”: Albums that you hate when you first hear them, but which you begin to love upon subsequent examination.

– This is sort of the dark horse category, I think.  Every now and then, though, I’ll hear something for the first time that just sounds like absolute garbage.  I’ll shut it off, and maybe even chuck it out, in a fit of disappointed rage.  But then, some time later, it’ll come on again, and somehow I’ll hear it in a different light, and suddenly it clicks somehow.

Examples:
– Akercocke, Choronzon.  So, this is an example of how this categorization isn’t perfect.  Which is to say, I don’t think I ever straight-up hated this album, but I sure didn’t care much for it the first time through.  Over subsequent listenings, though, I came to appreciate it a lot more.  I still think the albums they’ve put out since then are superior – in particular, the magnificent Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone.
– The Ruins Of Beverast, Rain Upon The Impure.  Okay, in all fairness, this one is still my least favorite of the three Ruins of Beverast albums.  Nevertheless, given my slightly disgusting love for the Unlock the Shrine album, my disappointment the first time through this album was fucking massive.  As near as I’ve been able to figure it out, though, my problem was basically with my expectations for the production.  Rain Upon The Impure has one of quietest, most distant sounding black metal productions I’ve heard in some time, which is extremely offputting, unless (and this is a crucial unless) you crank it REALLY LOUDLY.  Doing so finally allowed me to appreciate this album as still quite excellent.
– At The Gates, Slaughter of the Soul.  This is sort of the reverse case as with Eluveitie above.  First few times I heard this album, I wrote it off as a bit dull and not particularly creative.  Maybe I lacked the necessary historical context at the time, or maybe I just hadn’t listened to this album at a sufficient volume.  I’d like to think I appreciate this album exactly the right amount now, which is that this is a complete shit-kicker of an album that destroys anything else in the style.  Unfortunately, the influence of this album has been far more malign than inspired.  Hardly their fault, though.

Survey says: Better than you think!

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Thoughts?  Which albums have you completely dismissed out of hand, only to find out later that you couldn’t bear to do without them?  Or, alternately, which albums are your great shames; y’know, the ones that you loved and loved to death and couldn’t get enough of, and then, all of a sudden, you figure out, “Hey, this really fucking sucks”?

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