Tuesday 1 November 2016

Playlist: November 2016

Rotting Christ - Restoration of the Infernal Kingdom (1989): Kicking into November's playlist with something of a deep-cut, "Restoration of the Infernal Kingdom" from Rotting Christ's "Satanas Tedeum" demo is a crude and embryonic part of the band's legacy. Rough, and vastly less complex than their classic material, the track nonetheless bristles with vigour and visceral malice.

Opium Lord - Heroin Swirls (2013): Opium Lord combat the very real risk of doom-metal becoming too cheerful with a bleak, sludgy and skin-crawling slog through muck and misery. Brooding and harrowing in its threatening lower-end and addled discordance, "Heroin Swirls" reminds the listener that while you may love doom metal, doom metal hates you.

Lizzy Borden - Me Against the World (1987): Marking a massive mood-swing in the playlist, Lizzy Borden's "Me Against the World" is a familiarly catchy eighties foot-stomper that remains ingrained in the mind for about a decade after listening to it. Delivering everything that an eighties-metal hit should, the track romps through five minutes of sleazy but accomplished excellence.

Eyehategod - Methamphetamine (1996): What goes up, they say, must come down. "Methamphetamine" is a comedown indeed, albeit with the gnarly swagger that Eyehategod consistently do best. Animated and frantic, the music manages to be both deeply bleak and yet cathartic. As a friend once said to me, Eyehategod certainly know their way around a riff.

Tank - When All Hell Freezes Over (1984): As befits any Tank song, "When All Hell Freezes Over" is a raucous and memorable affair, met half-way by the gritty and ballsy sound that the band achieved consistently through the early eighties. The gravelly and distinct vocals of Algy Ward make for a great sing-along with nothing too pretty in sight. 

Benediction - I Bow to None (1993): Leaning more on the straight-up punchy side of Benediction's sound, "I Bow to None" is one of the fiercer tracks on their classic "Transcend the Rubicon" - a glimpse into British old-school death metal approaching its very best. Striving not for technicality or profundity, but simply for groove and forcefulness. 

Motörhead - Walk A Crooked Mile (2002): Underrated to an extent by the casual fan, later-era Motörhead is, in fact, typically very good material. Not a classic, perhaps, but each album holds gems. Hammered is no exception - indeed, a particularly strong record, with tracks like "Walk a Crooked Mile" being testimony to Lemmy's consistently good songwriting chops.

Oz - Turn the Cross Upside Down (1984): Although considered to be somewhat inconsistent, Oz do have a menagerie of solid tracks under their belts; not least the rough-around-the-edges profane belter "Turn the Cross Upside Down", a ragged but enjoyable bit of blasphemy with a deeply vintage and flamboyant heavy metal sound.

Gorgoroth - (Under) the Pagan Megalith (1994): For my money, the best track Gorgoroth ever made, and even one of the best black-metal tracks in general. (Under) The Pagan Megalith is absolutely soaked in black-metal majesty, with a roaring and biting tone and some of the most malicious and evil sounding riffs I've ever heard.  

Frostmoon - Vikingmakt (1998): Soundwise, Frostmoon are roughly what you'd expect given the artwork of the Tordenkrig EP from which "Vikingmakt" comes. Intense drumming propels a raw Nordic soundscape; folky, but for the most part avoiding being overly merry sounding, aside from a few non-disruptive sections.

Barrow Wight - No Sleep 'Til Gondor (2016): It's absolutely no slight on Barrow Wight to say that their rough-edged musicianship serves them well in recapturing the sound of Venom at their very peak; the crunchy riffs, snarled vocals and raucous abandon are all present in force, and "No Sleep 'Til Gondor" is all the more absurdly fun for it. 

Setherial - In the Still of a Northern Fullmoon (1996): There's no denying that the worlds of black-metal pre-and-post "In the Nightside Eclipse" were rather different places. Of the grandiose and soaring style, few bands do it better than Setherial did on their first record. "In the Still of a Northern Fullmoon" is a majestic blizzard of a track throughout its entire twelve-minute run-time. As far as I'm concerned... better than Emperor. 

Sunday 30 October 2016

Warning - Watching from a Distance (2006)

It feels like I've been meaning to listen to Warning forever; and upon doing so, some of their music entered my sleepless four-in-the-morning listening cycle in a way that suggests I should have started listening to them forever ago. In many ways, the music of Warning is very much akin to the doom metal which I first discovered, years ago, thriving on the melancholic and subdued leanings of works such as Solstice' underrated first album. It comes as no surprise that the two bands; Warning and Solstice, have toured together in the past. Of the two Warning records, I have chosen "Watching from a Distance", the band's final and better-known record, to discuss - although I have every intention of listening more fully to the others too, and the work of their successor, 40 Watt Sun, likewise.

To call "Watching from a Distance" a classic might be contentious to some, although the record has retained plentiful acclaim and recognition in the ten years since its release. As first impressions go, it can often be considered a mark of quality, to some extent, when the relative recency of an album's release comes as a surprise. I had the album down, subconsciously, as being from some time in the nineties, until I investigated further. Regardless, the record is one of quite a reputation; primarily for being thoroughly and unfathomably miserable - and that, indeed, it certainly is. Akin to its burden-carrying aesthetic representation in the artwork, the album is drenched in a cold, miasmic fuzz, moody and gloomy without being so frigid as to scathe - rather, it cocoons. The riffs plod forth, funereal and downtrodden, the drums restrained; echoing. While no single aspect of the album can be said to bear the majority of its merit above the others in their synergy, it is safe to say that for a lot of people, the vocals probably strike the greatest chord. Further redoubling the sorrow with which the entire record is replete, Patrick Walker's vocals are immediately distinct. The inconsolable wail carries a sincerity and theatrical cadence reminiscent of the most tragic of folk-music; the ballads of disasters, heartbreak and misery - and here too are they such; soaring and cathartic and yet steeped fully in despair and introspective sorrow; raw, tender and laden with feeling, at times more-so than elegance.

In its coalescence, the soundscape of the record is a large place indeed; communicating intimate sorrows whilst emphasising isolation and loneliness through this vastness. Of course, plenty of doom bands succeed in doing such; but Warning does possess its own flavour, more than sufficient to set it apart. On paper, the record offers forth just about everything one could hope for from tear-stained and tragic doom-metal. Ultimately, it is the intimacy of these sorrows, however, which make the music challenging, or more bluntly, simply difficult. You need to be in a particular mood for it. This is true of most sorrowful music, so why bring it up? Because beyond that, it requires that a particular strain of sorrow must weigh upon you, so specific are the record's themes. In the wrong mood, the record is a heavier burden to bear, with much of its merit locked up in its thematic resonance with the listener. To listen to it with different sorrows than those of the creators is faintly alienating, with the record failing to live up to its own on-paper quality on an emotional level. This is no musical flaw, it must be said, but stands as a hefty pre-requisite to experience the record on a fully fleshed-out level. For this reason, "Footprints" is the stand-out track for me personally; owing to its vagueness, it has a far greater chance to resonate with me on that basis, whatever my sorrows may be. Couple this with its musical neatness and more eloquent lyricism, and it rises above the other tracks noticeably.

What we're left with, then, is a record which it's actually quite difficult to make a final verdict about - as if grading records numerically out of ten wasn't a ridiculous process to begin with. Watching from a Distance is itself difficult; the beauty and sheer catharsis of the album is plain to see; it has many virtues and merits in its sorrow-drenched running time, but likewise, while its virtues are plain to see, they are at times tougher to feel. It's like a delicate piece of equipment; when deployed absolutely correctly it is magnificent, I'm sure - but when the time and place are even more difficult to find than for sorrowful records in general, it's a hard stone to split, although, I'm certain, worthwhile.

This is a solid 7.5/10.

Warning on Metal Archives

Sunday 9 October 2016

Queensrÿche - Operation Mindcrime (1988)

As so often is the case, over the last decade or so Queensrÿche have perhaps been subject to more discussion regarding their internal fallings-out and legal issues than discussion of the quality or lack-thereof of their musical output itself. However, as much as the band - for a time - may have been in a bit of a rough-way, it's always better to focus on more positive things; and few are more positive than "Operation Mindcrime" - one of the records which cemented the band onto the map in 1988, and indeed an album which is considered by many - my sources tell me - to be one of the greatest concept-albums in metal. 

To an extent, Operation Mindcrime is something of a template for the metal concept-album going forward; a template which is often imitated, but seldom replicated. Making a concept album certainly seems to be a difficult affair, considering how many bands try their hand at it, and then don't come out of it well. Many a time, the ambition is there, but the musical quality to back it up is not - concept albums can be good, but are very seldom great. Operation Mindcrime, however, is a sure-fire contender for greatness. The making of a concept-album is a game of balance, and in this case, it is rather well struck; enough narrative and well-distributed flavour-material to tell the story that the band intended to tell, but likewise a record replete with songs which are tastefully independent and well-formed. Operation Mindcrime avoids the trappings, for the most part, of having tracks which exist solely to further the narrative as opposed to bringing musical quality and integrity; avoiding, in short, an unnecessary saturation of contrived ostentatiousness. There are, through the whole hour-or-so, few throwaway moments. The majority, indeed, the vast majority, of the flamboyant and slick splendour of the album speaks for itself with or without the relevant background knowledge of the story, but also weaves together neatly; it's the sort of situation in which you can almost infer that it's a concept album without outright knowing so, or even attending to the lyrics. The aforementioned balance is crucial; there are enough motifs and running themes throughout to bind the record into a narrative entity, but without forcing that same entity to be grey, dull and homogeneous through sheer determination to unify it. It is, in other words, a rewarding concept album when you want it to be, but it won't suffer when you'd rather listen without that in mind.

Musically, the entire album consistently presents me with the sort of things I enjoy; running the gamut from massive synth-steeped long-runners like "Suite Sister Mary" which deliver the most narrative aspects, to the leaner "Electric Eye" style dystopian Judas Priest romp of "Spreading the Disease". The record combines the flair and pomp of quintessential 80s metal with an inventive and progressive streak a mile wide, resulting in an album which is flawlessly intricate; awash with subtle technicality and swishes of the musically unexpected, as well as in many places being exceedingly catchy. "Revolution Calling", "The Needle Lies" and the anthemic closing swansong "Eyes of a Stranger" all likewise stand as exceptional specimens of good heavy-metal, alone or in context, with the whole record running through a spectrum of a dozen approaches to heavy-metal in order to tell its tale successfully. The musicianship really brings these intentions to life; with a flawless vocal performance by Geoff Tate - purportedly unheard-of these days - and masterfully played and produced musicianship by the rest of the band, entwining the record with itself magnificently; sleek and restrained, even for all of its many flourishes. It is often understated just how effective good musicianship can be, with albums sometimes being seen as somehow separate from their creators, but here the quality and skill of the musicians involved is a gleaming jewel in the records crown, bringing as much enjoyment as any other element - beyond the on-paper idea itself, the execution of the record is marvellous; in many respects it is good because the musicianship is good.  

"Operation Mindcrime" was, this year, one of a select few albums which, upon encountering them for the first time (and late indeed it is, to first listen to Queensrÿche), I took great pleasure in listening to on multiple occasions right off the bat. It is perhaps indicative of both the records enjoyability as a whole and the stand-alone ability of numerous tracks that this enjoyment involved both listening to the entire album on numerous occasions, and also my designating "Spreading the Disease" as my go-to song to listen to with headphones on my way to the shop, for many months. The record is a true meeting of vision, ambition and delivery of the finished product; a well-crafted and at times provocative exploration of the insidious below-board goings-on of modernity, perhaps as relevant now as it's ever been, and well deserving of a place among metals finer records.

This is a certain 9/10.

Queensrÿche Official Site
Queensrÿche on Facebook
Queensrÿche on Metal Archives