2 Heavy Things You Probably Didn’t Know I’m Not Into (#2 Will Get Your Dog Pregnant!)

Full disclosure: since I started Stay Heavy, I’ve been wondering if giving an entry a “list”-type title would result in more views for that entry, seeing as how lists seem to be the only things that get shared and read these days.  I’m sincerely sick and fucking tired of seeing headlines like “13 Things You Didn’t Know About Geraniums (#4 will change your life in the worst way possible)”, but to be perfectly honest, I understand why websites do that kind of shit, which is why I decided to go ahead and try it out myself.  I feel more okay about utilizing this shady clickbait method because I have actually prepared a (very short) list of sorts.

With that out of the way, I’ll get down to the bare bones of this topic.  Here are two undeniable thruths: 1.) I’ve been a Metalhead for 28 years now, and 2.) Metalheads are nothing if not highly opinionated.  As such, I’ve developed a fair number of opinions about metal-related things.  To put it another way: I’m passionate about heavy metal, and I’m an opinionated, curmudgeonly old fuck (my wife is much nicer about it; she says I’m a “purist”).

backinmyday

That said, there are some things in the realm of metal (and related heavy music) that I simply do not get…things that most other Metalheads seem to have raging boners for (or, for the ladies, raging lady-boners).  I’ll get into two of those things presently, and you can bet your Sweet Aunt Fanny that there will be more posts like this in the future.  For the most part, the items will be in no particular order, but these first two items are most certainly the top two items on the list of Heavy Things I Just Don’t Understand, so I’ma start with them.

1.  Mastodon – I expect I might catch hell over this, but I do not fucking get the hype and praise that people slather all over Mastodon.  I first became aware of them shortly after the release of their second album, 2004’s Leviathan, but I didn’t actually hear them until 2006’s Blood Mountain.  I was excited to hear Leviathan, because I knew that Clutch frontman Neil Fallon had a guest spot on the album, and I was a salivating Clutch fanboy at the time.  I heard both albums pretty regularly at work, where everyone in the kitchen was allowed to take a turn selecting music.  None of the songs from either album ever really grabbed me, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt and chalked it up to the fact that they were meant to be listened to – like, sit down, shut up, and listen to this motherfucker.  So I borrowed Leviathan, took it home, and continued to be underwhelmed.

I understand that they are excellent musicians.  Guitarist Bill Kelliher also played guitar on Primate’s ferocious 2012 album Draw Back a Stump, and I enjoy the hell out of that.  Also, Kelliher and drummer Brann Dailor played bass and drums, respectively, on Today Is the Day’s In the Eyes of God (1999), and that album is fucking amazing.  I also appreciate the concept album leanings they bring/brought to the party, but when you strip Mastodon down to what really matters, which is the songs, I just find them to be b-o-r-i-n-g.  I also heard Crack the Skye plenty of times at that same job, and it bored me, too.  I haven’t listened their first album, Remission, or their most recent album, The Hunter, because I feel that I’ve given Mastodon enough chances, thank you very much, and my conclusion is that Mastodon is a goddamn boring band, and they come off like they’re trying too hard.

Also, Bill Kelliher’s stupid fucking haircut and fellow guitarist Brent Hinds’ stupid fucking face tattoo piss me off.

billkelliher'sstupidfuckinghaircut

Exhibit A: Bill Kelliher’s stupid fucking haircut.

brenthinds'stupidfuckingfacetattoo

Exhibit B: Brent Hinds’ stupid fucking face tattoo.

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2. The last two Clutch albums – As stated above, there was a time (roughly 1997-2013) when I was super into Clutch.  I loved every single release from the band, from 1991’s Pitchfork EP up through 2007’s From Beale Street to Oblivion.  Ask anybody who has known me for more than a few years, and they’ll be able to tell you about my love for Clutch.  They started out as a very stripped down, metallic, industrial/hardcore-esque band, and slowly evolved into a grooving, jamming, bluesy, beastly juggernaut.  I saw them live every chance I got (a total of 7 times between 1998 and 2008).  I’ve owned 8 different Clutch shirts (five of which I still own).  I own import-only CDs that cost me more than I care to admit.

And then, after years of nothing but love for the band, Clutch released an album that bored me so much, I’ve only been able to listen to it all the way through three times.  I bought Strange Cousins From the West the day it was released (July 14, 2009), and I was fuckin stoked about it.  The packaging is amazing (though it is a little frustrating and difficult to reassemble),  and I’d heard some of the songs live, and they were pretty badass.  I drove home from work, popped the disc in, pressed play, and proceeded to struggle to stay awake.  Clutch albums prior to Strange Cousins… have a dynamic flow – highs and lows, fasts and slows.  Strange Cousins… took the brilliant mid-tempo groove of songs like “Greenbuckets” (The Elephant Riders – 1998) and “Opossum Minister” (From Beale Street to Oblivion) and made an entire album out of that mid-tempo groove (with very few exceptions).

The dynamic course of Strange Cousins From the West could be plotted more or less like this:

____________/————————\_____________________________________________________

(Tracks 1-2)           (Tracks 3-4)                       (Tracks 5-whenever my alarm goes off)

Compare that to a simulation of a dynamic chart of, for example, 2004’s Blast Tyrant:

(Note: I was unable to prepare a chart, because I was busy getting my ass kicked by Blast Tyrant.)

I decided to just pretend like Strange Cousins From the West never happened, and instead wait patiently for a follow-up to From Beale Street to Oblivion.  (I have tried to listen to Strange Cousins… a few times since, but I honestly can’t finish it – it’s just too boring.)  Then when I started reading about the follow-up, I started to get exceptionally pumped – all signs/reviews pointed to a modern revisiting of the style/sound of Blast Tyrant, which is the band’s heaviest album.  Redemption!

I had to wait a week to buy 2013’s Earth Rocker, because its release didn’t jive up with payday, but when I picked it up, drove home from work, popped the disc in, and pressed play, I pretty quickly began to wonder what the fuck has happened to what was once one of my All-Time Top Five Favorite Bands.  Earth Rocker is heavier than anything since Blast Tyrant (and might even be heavier than Blast Tyrant), and it’s also faster than anything since Blast Tyrant, but like it’s predecessor, it almost completely lacks any kind of dynamic changes.

The dynamic course of Earth Rocker could be plotted more or less like this:

————————————-\__________/—————————————

(Tracks 1-5)                     (Track 6)                (Tracks 7-11)

Compare that to a simulation of a dynamic chart of, for example, 1995’s Clutch:

(Note: I was unable to prepare a chart, because I was busy getting my ass kicked by Clutch.)

What bothers me most about Earth Rocker, though, is the vast amounts of praise it has received, from seemingly every possible corner of music-related press – countless magazines and blogs placed it in at least their top 10 albums of 2013, and reviews go on and on about what a punishing return to form it is for the band, but it’s seriously nowhere near as good as anything the band released before 2009.

At any rate, now I pretend like both Strange Cousins… and Earth Rocker didn’t happen, and I continue to wait patiently for a follow-up to From Beale Street to Oblivion.  When it finally comes, I will definitely listen to it before I spend any more money on Clutch.  If it never comes (i.e., if they release another boring turd of an album), at least they have a pretty deep back catalog.

That’s all for today.  What are some heavy things you just don’t understand?

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The Outcast: A Voivod Primer, Part 2

What follows is Part Two of a five part series about the groundbreaking and visionary French-Canadian progressive metal band Voivod.  Part One can be found here

Coming off the relative success of Nothingface, Voivod entered the studio in late 1990 with renowned producer Terry Brown.  Brown is best known for producing every Rush studio album from 1975’s excellent Fly By Night through 1982’s excellent Signals, along with one live Rush album (1981’s also excellent Exit…Stage Left).  The result of their collaboration, Angel Rat, was the band’s second release for Mechanic Records.  Brown’s production, along with the record label’s meddling, caused some friction among the band members, and Blacky left the band before the album was released in November 1991.  Angel Rat was largely maligned by long-time fans of the band (many of whom still dislike it), and upon first listen, it’s kind of hard to believe that the same band that recorded “Build Your Weapons” back in 1986 could be responsible for a song like “The Prow” a mere five years later.  However, sad as I often am that I didn’t get into Voivod earlier, I am fortunate to have heard Angel Rat with a different kind of ears than many Voivod fans.  I had no precedent of “Live for Violence”, “Thrashing Rage”, or “Tornado” to color my initial impressions of this work.

The Angel Rat era, along with the departure of Blacky, marked the beginning of what is regarded among some Voivod fans as “Voivod Mark II”.  The music is less complicated than on the previous three albums, much less heavy than on the previous five albums.  Part of this is due to the fact that, according to Away, “We had spent the whole ’80s being tight and precise, to the point where around the era of Dimension Hatröss, the music was so complicated we almost didn’t have any interaction with the crowd anymore because we were concentrating so hard on our instruments.”   The opening bands on Voivod’s US tour for Nothingface (Faith No More and Soundgarden) had an effect on the music as well.  Along with this, the members of Voivod were simply continuing to evolve, both as musicians and as human beings.  (One review for Angel Rat on Metal Archives sums the situation up quite elegantly: “…the band embraced the 90’s with their mind on the past but both eyes on the future, as there is no space for the present in the ranks of Voivod.”)

Angel Rat is also the first Voivod album that does not fit into Away’s original concept, which is covered at length in Part One.  The songs are not connected by any kind of theme, other than the fact that Away was reading a lot of folk tales at the time.  “But, Joel, what about the songs?”  I’m glad you asked.

The songs on Angel Rat are beautifully crafted.   The lyrics are best described as “more introspective” than nearly any of the songs that came before them.  Piggy’s riffs and solos feel simultaneously retro and futuristic.  Away’s timekeeping is still off-kilter enough to remind you that you’re not listening to the average metal band.  (I once played the album for a friend who was new to Voivod, thinking he might find it more listenable than the previous albums, and he said to me, “Joel, this is still weird.  You don’t think it’s weird because the rest of their stuff is so much weirder, but it’s still very weird.”)  Snake’s vocal style continued to evolve (in some instances, he even sings!), and as always, his voice writhes and twists and slithers its way around and through the music.  And last but not least, Blacky’s bass is as tight and commanding as ever, even if you do have to listen extra hard to hear it sometimes.  Which provides a nice segue into the only problem with Angel Rat, stylistically, as I see it: the mix is so paper-thin that the songs simply lack heft.  For evidence of this, let’s look at three different versions of the album’s only single, “Clouds in My House”.

Exhibit A: the official video, which features the Album Version.

Exhibit B: the Demo Version, which features more heft.

Exhibit C: the Remixed Version from the Angel Rat Sampler (created and released without the band’s consent), which features elements of the Demo Version, but used in a non-appealing way.

After hearing both the full album and the full demo, I can’t help but believe that something in between the two (but leaning a bit closer to the demo) must have been pretty close to what the band had in mind when they were visualizing the completed work.  And that remix is seriously fucked, right?

There isn’t a song on Angel Rat that I don’t like, but here are my other favorites:

“The Prow” – I love Piggy’s soloing in this one!

“Nuage Fractal” – This one contains some of my favorite Voivod lyrics, and probably sounds the most like “classic Voivod”, from a musical standpoint.

“Freedoom” – This one also contains some of my favorite Voivod lyrics, and one time, while on mushrooms, I used it to control the weather.  It was pretty badass.

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When the band was ready to begin working on the follow-up to Angel Rat, they were faced with the unenviable task of replacing one of the best, most distinct bass players in metal.  They ultimately decided that they were not ready to bring in a permanent replacement, so they hired a session bassist named Pierre St-Jean, and soldiered onward to record one hell of a fine official major label (MCA) debut album, 1993’s The Outer Limits.  Musically, TOL had some things in common with its predecessor, as the song structures were again comparatively more straightforward, and not so “weird”, although the mix was beefed up to levels much more appropriate for the songs at hand.  And as for the lyrics and artwork, the album found itself nestled back into more familiar sci-fi territory, although Korgull the Exterminator was still nowhere to be found.

This is my favorite Voivod album, from an artwork and packaging standpoint.   The artwork is inspired by 1950’s pulp science fiction magazines like Amazing Stories, and the fact that it was released on a major label meant the band had more money to spend, so Away had the artwork rendered in 3D, and a pair of 3D glasses was included in the original packaging!  Tangent: I once had a dream that I found two brand new shrink-wrapped copies of The Outer Limits on vinyl at a Goodwill store in Seattle.  I woke up sad from that one.

All the songs on The Outer Limits are phenomenal, but the crowning jewels of the album, without a doubt, are the extra spooky “Le Pont Noir” (“The Black Spot” in French), in which the narrator wanders down to a spooky bridge at night, not knowing what he’ll find (spoiler alert: he finds trouble), and the 17-minute-plus “Jack Luminous”, which tells the story of an alien who arrives on Earth to warn mankind that President X-D is about to arrive on their television screens to take over their minds.  Other standout tracks are “Time Warp” and album opener “Fix My Heart”.  The band also took another stab at another lesser known Pink Floyd tune (“The Nile Song”, which originally appeared on that band’s excellent soundtrack to the 1969 Barbet Shchroeder film More), and while it is a damn fine version of a damn fine song, it lacks the stark beauty of Nothingace‘s “Astronomy Domine”.

“Le Pont Noir” – So, so spooky.

“Jack Luminous” – The band has been playing this one live over the past couple of years, and that is both amazing and exciting.

“Time Warp” – I fucking love the guitars on this song!

“Fix My Heart” – I have nothing extra to add to this one.  It’s really fucking good.

Bonus pro tip: The Outer Limits is the perfect soundtrack to sitting outside and watching the night sky.

Following the tour cycle for The Outer Limits, a huge curveball was thrown the band, and the sound of Voivod was about to change as drastically as it ever had.  That will be discussed in Part Three, which will be along soon-ish.  Until then, stay heavy, heavy people.

Oh, Tell Me That’s Not Glorious: A Thing About Racebannon

This post has been a long time coming.  Even before I started to consider starting to consider starting a blog, I’ve been writing about this album.  I’ve filled probably 20 pages or more, between my hard drive and my notebooks, about what is easily one of my Top 20 personal favorite albums, in any genre (and honestly, it’s in the Top 10 most days).  Naturally, most of those pages are not fit for human consumption, but I feel pretty confident that I can put together something at least remotely meaningful about Satan’s Kickin’ Yr Dick In, the third album by Bloomington, Indiana’s own genre-defying metal/punk/noise juggernaut Racebannon.  I’ll start with a bit of background on how Racebannon came into my life.

promo_racebannon1

Photo from musicalfamilytree.net

The year was 1998.  I was still very much a Metalhead, but I was also sad, which led me to the dark, sad world of emo (back when emo was played and listened to by sad dudes with receding hairlines wearing sweaters and khakis, and not skinny dudes with haircuts that swooped over one eye wearing gaudy t-shirts and their little sister’s jeans).  Jawbreaker was an immediate favorite, because I have ears and a soul, and Jawbreaker vocalist/guitarist Blake Schwartzenbach’s post-Jawbreaker band Jets to Brazil was also big shit to me.  I also really dug the Promise Ring (they once played Rhino’s All Ages Club with a little band called Jimmy Eat World opening for them – that’s history right there, kids), Braid, and early Alkaline Trio (I still listen to their first two albums several times a year).

Anyway, one Sunday afternoon shortly before my 21st birthday (April 12, 1998 to be precise – sometimes it pays to keep a journal), my brother-from-another-mother Travis and I went to the aforementioned Rhino’s to see an all-day mostly emo show, headlined by Braid.  A total of seven bands played, most of them forgettable, but the fifth band would go on to have a profound effect on my life, albeit several years later.  Travis and I had never heard of Racebannon (in fact, we thought they were called “Rayspan”), and all we knew was that they were a local band.  We assumed they would sound more or less like the other bands on the bill.  I can’t speak for Travis, but personally, I’ve only been more wrong once in my life, and that was when I married my ex-wife.

Four scruffy-looking dudes around the same age as Travis and me got up on the stage, and the one with the giant pile of curly hair on top of his head walked over to a chair with a tape player sitting on it and pressed play.  Some forgotten sample began to fill the small room as the band stared menacingly out at the crowd, the curly-haired frontman pacing back and forth like some kind of escaped mental patient.  The tension built for maybe a minute or so, and then all hell broke loose in a concussive explosion of skull-splitting drums, chest-rattling bass, and riffs thicker than a Porterhouse steak.  The instant the music began to crash out of the monitors, the frontman began to convulse and flop and shriek and scream, and we had to get the fuck out of that room.

If you’ve never been to Rhino’s All Ages Club, it may be difficult to understand how bad the sound can be in there; they often have really good/great shows, but if you’re not standing in just the right spot, the sound can be atrocious – all cacophonous and drenched in echos.  Imagine standing under an overpass of a busy interstate highway during rush hour, directly beneath the flight paths of the nearby international airport while someone stands next to you repeatedly hitting a metal trashcan with an aluminum baseball bat, while another person stands on the other side of you and yells directly into your ear.  That should give you a tiny bit of an idea what Racebannon sounded like in that tiny club that gray Sunday afternoon.  But in a really good way.  We ended up watching their set from the other side of the big front window of the club, safely out of range of permanent hearing damage, and it was a thing of demented beauty.

Fast forward to late August 2006.  I’m separated from that ex-wife I mentioned earlier, and have moved back to Bloomington after three years in Austin, Texas.  I’m living in a tiny bedroom in a house in the middle of Campus Partytown, USA with two hippies, an aloof self-styled philosopher/scholar, a dog, and four cats (for the record, I still love all those people and animals dearly, except for one of the cats; Monk was a total asshole).  I was sad and angry, and I was desperately searching for something that would speak directly to my soul.  Meanwhile, I took a part-time job at a fantastic restaurant/brewpub, where something about one of my supervisors stirred some unknown thing in the dark recesses of my memory.  I knew that I knew this guy from somewhere.

About a week into the job, one of my co-workers mentioned an upcoming Racebannon show.  Here’s what happened in my brain:  “Racebannon!  Holy shit!  Mike A. is that insane curly-haired lunatic from Racebannon!  Why did I marry her?!  I’m so scared of him now!  But he seems so nice!  I should buy a Racebannon album!  Goddamnit I hate her!  I wonder which album I should buy?!”  I had a lot to work out in my brain.

Next payday, I walked directly to Landlocked Music and perused the Racebannon selection, settling on the one with the title that made me laugh: 2002’s Satan’s Kickin’ Yr Dick In.  I walked home and put it on the stereo, and it literally did not leave my stereo for the next two months, except for the day I listened to it on the way to and from work through a borrowed Sony Discman (I cut a full three minutes off my walking time that day).  I would work, walk home, press “Play”, select “Repeat”, and sit in my room, usually reading the lyrics.  Sometimes I’d try to write, but the album was too distracting to write much.  Sometimes I’d hang out with some friends, and sometimes I’d watch a movie or something, but when I wasn’t working, hanging out, or watching a movie, I was listening to Satan’s Kickin’ Yr Dick In, over and over and over again.  I would fall asleep every night listening to it on repeat, which meant that I would wake up listening to it.  Maybe you’re wondering what drew me so strongly into the album, and I wish I could put my finger on it, but I have never been able to do that.  All I know is that I could not stop listening to it.  I even bought all the rest of the Racebannon albums to try to break myself out of the trance, but after a few songs I’d put it right back on.

I suppose I should say something about the album itself.  It’s a concept album (one of the greatest ever made, and I’ll fight anyone who tries to argue that) which tells the story of a frustrated young man named Rodney Mitchell, who wants nothing more than to be a star.  One night in a fit of desperation, Rodney smashes his face into the bathroom mirror, declaring, “My pointless vanity has finally broken me.  Still, fuck this world!  I wanna take it all!  I would give my soul just to take it all!”  Old Scratch himself then appears before Rodney and makes the young man an offer he can’t refuse before disappearing with some parting words: “And remember, one day I’m coming back.  Till then, show the world what yr made of.”

Rodney wakes up to find himself transformed into Rhonda Delight, who quickly rises to the top of the entertainment world, becoming the most famous and most-loved diva the world has ever known, star of stage and screen, hobnobbing with the likes of “Sean Penn, Thurston Moore, and John F. Kennedy, Jr.”  Like the very best Faustian bargain stories, this one finds the protagonist quickly spiraling out of control while living a life of excess (“Let me kill this fifth of whiskey and I’m good to go.  I’ll perform fine.  Aww, what do you know?  I could do this paralyzed, deaf, blind, fuck you, I’m ready to go.”), only to end up on life support as the Father of All Lies comes to claim what belongs to him.

There aren’t a lot of words I can think of to describe how this album sounds, but a few come to mind: terrifying, beautiful, spastic, sublime, perfect.  Satan’s Kickin’ Yr Dick In is absolutely fucking superlative.  I’m listening to it (for the fifth time in two days) as I write this, and parts of it are moving me to tears.  It is SO FUCKING GOOD.  I can’t recommend it highly enough, but I do recommend that if (when?) you check it out, you do it up right: cancel all meetings, send your kids to their grandparents’ house (where applicable), turn off your phone, your television, and anything else that might distract you, get yourself a tasty beverage, sit down with the lyrics in front of you, and press play.  If you enjoy any form of extreme music, I can’t begin to imagine that you’ll be disappointed.  Just know that you might have trouble getting away.

I should point out that the rest of their albums are really great, too.  This one, however, has what the French might call a certain je ne sais quoi.

Until next time, Stay Heavy, you heavy fuckers.