Friday, April 29, 2011

Album 5 of 12

This is kind of a continuation of the previous post in this series.

Album that changed my life:
"The Jester Race" by In Flames

I've already established the background for this purchase in my post on Blackwater Park so I won't repeat it here. This was the second album I played that day, and perhaps because of the overwhelming impact of my introduction to Opeth, this one didn't grab me quite as quickly. I played it straight through and by somewhere around the fourth track I was getting into it, but it took a little while for me to really love this whole album. Over the course of the next month or so, though, it grew on me and rapidly became one of my very favorite albums. It has enjoyed that status ever since. The primary effects this album had on my music listening were threefold. Firstly, it convinced me that I needed to collect the rest of the older In Flames albums, making them the first band whose back-catalog I fully explored. Secondly, it focused me in specifically on the the Gothenburg scene, which led to melodic death metal in general becoming my sub-genre of choice and the sonic base of operations for my further musical exploration. Thirdly, it prompted me to go looking for an In Flames show. I discovered that In Flames was on the Sounds of the Underground tour coming through Las Vegas later that summer (the complete bill in order of appearance was: The Black Dahlia Murder, Terror, Cannibal Corpse, GWAR, Trivium, In Flames, As I Lay Dying) which I ran out and bought tickets for. That was my first metal show and it had a big impact on me, but that's a story for another time. The point is that I can thank The Jester Race for the hundreds of dollars I've spent on tickets to live shows since then.

Metal Country #2

Of the countries I frequently mention in musical terms, only two remain. As I said, deciding between this one and the USA was hard, but I think I made the right choice.

#2 Finland
Favorite bands:
1. Moonsorrow (Viking metal)
2. Ensiferum (Viking metal)
3. Amorphis (death/progressive/other)
4. Korpiklaani (folk metal)
5. Swallow the Sun (death-doom metal)
6. Insomnium (melodic death metal)
7. Finntroll (folk metal)
8. Children of Bodom (melodic death/power)
9. Wintersun (melodic death metal)
10. Reverend Bizarre (doom metal)

Finland has quite possibly the best Viking/folk metal scene in the world, and since I love that style of music the country's output is well suited to my tastes. Some excellent doom and melodic death has emerged from Finland as well. The musical depth here is not as great as that of the States, but the peaks make up for it in my opinion, since the top end of Finnish metal is some of my absolute favorite from anywhere. In fact, I was able to fill out my first 5 Finnish bands with groups who also all appeared on my Top 25 Metal Bands list, making Finland one of only two countries where I can do that. You'll also notice I increased the list to 10 here. Mostly, I just couldn't bear to leave off Insomnium and Finntroll. Insomnium was actually under consideration when I was at around spot 15 or so in the making of my earlier Top 25 list, yet somehow they never found their way onto that. I couldn't bring myself to snub them a second time.

Goodbye Michael

I've been watching The Office for a few years now. It's one of the only shows my whole family enjoys, so that's always been a nice additional appeal. Anyway, for those of you who don't know and/or don't care, Steve Carell's final episode just aired. I wasn't able to watch it until it came up on Hulu today, but now I've seen it and as a fan of the series it's sad to see him go. It's like losing a friend. Goodbye Michael Scott, and thanks for the laughs.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Album 4 of 12

Here we are, the day of total and irreversible transformation has come.

Album that changed my life:
"Blackwater Park" by Opeth

Hell yes. It's hard for me to even know where to begin talking about this album, so I'll step back a bit and give some background first. At the time of this purchase, around late spring/early summer of 2006, I was living in the dirt hole known as Pahrump, NV. My best friend had recently moved into Las Vegas, which was about an hour's drive away from me. One afternoon he was going to be coming out to Pahrump, but on the way he stopped in at a Tower Records store. They were having a huge sale, clearing out a ton of their metal selection, so he called me and asked if there was anything I wanted him to pick up for me. Well as I've previously noted, Come Clarity had already prompted me to start searching around online for other good Swedish metal bands. In the course of those searches, after reading tons of reviews on Amazon and looking up lists by various people, there were two albums that I had seen named so many times that I decided I had to hear them. And so I told him to look for Blackwater Park and The Jester Race. He found both and brought them with him, and to this day I've never equaled that purchase in terms of sheer awesomeness. When I got my hands on it and popped it in the cd player, I was greeted by the magnificent opener The Leper Affinity, and my mind was officially blown. I had never heard anything so amazing in my life. I wanted to run around grabbing people and telling them how incredible Opeth were. And I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I had unlocked the door to a world of music that I absolutely had to enter and explore. How could music be so harsh and violent, yet retain a beauty that matched any classical symphony? It didn't seem possible that a single band could do so much in the space of one song. And there was more. It carried on, and before I knew it an hour had passed and I was left staring in total shock at the magnificence I had just witnessed. In the years since, I don't think any single listening experience has ever stood out to me the way that first play though Blackwater Park did. I had been teetering on the edge, I had been brought right to the brink by In Flames, but that album sealed it. No other record has ever changed the way I listened to music so drastically. On that day, I truly became a metal head.

Metal Country #3

The choice between #2 and #3 was probably the toughest decision to make on the entire list, so on another day this one might reverse. As it is, though, I'm going with what I feel right now.

#3 USA
Favorite bands:
1. Weedeater (stoner/doom/sludge)
2. Saint Vitus (traditional doom)
3. Metallica (thrash metal)
4. Incantation (death metal)
5. Autopsy (death metal)

In terms of depth of the musical scene it is of course nearly impossible to top the United States. Not only have I spent my life in the midst of it and thus been exposed more extensively to American bands, the country is just flat-out bigger than any other nation with a significant metal scene. It would be beyond fruitless to try tackling all of American metal in a single post, so I won't even attempt that. What I will say is that for me personally it is the great and long-standing American death metal scenes of Florida and NYC that are really the highlight of our national contributions to metal.

Album 3 of 12

Album that changed my life:
"Come Clarity" by In Flames

In the wake of my success with Shadows Fall, I felt ready to explore the metal word further. To get some band ideas, I picked up a compilation disc I found in Wal-Mart that looked like it probably had some heavy bands on it. Most of that collection was terrible, but it had a track I almost instantly fell in love with called "Discover Me Like Emptiness". One day in the music section again, I found myself trying to remember the name of the band that played that song. "Oh right," I said to myself after a moment, "they were called 'In Flames' I think." With that I turned toward the rack and literally the first album I saw on the shelf was Come Clarity. It felt like an omen, so I went with it and made the purchase. Nothing was ever the same again. I have stated previously that In Flames played a major role in getting me into metal, and it would be fair to say that they had the single biggest impact of any band on shaping my musical tastes. My benchmark for music over the next two years or so would remain "How much like In Flames does it sound?" Not only did I love Come Clarity, but it was also the first metal album I bought that my brothers liked too, which made it all the more appealing since I could play it around them without hearing complaints. It was because of this album that I dug into the band's back-catalog, which led me on my next steps in music. This was also my primary introduction to music from outside the US and UK, since up until then it had never really occurred to me that countries like Sweden even had a music scene. This led to an obsession with bands from that region which to this day has not really died. It was also around this time that my music tastes became sufficiently metal-oriented for me to find Metallica appealing, though they did not have a big enough impact on my tastes to warrant an entry of their own. Finally, it was because of this album and the digging it prompted into Swedish metal that I had the single biggest day in the evolution of my musical world, which is coming up next.

Metal Country #4

This country should come as no surprise, but the bands I chose might.

#4 Germany
Favorite bands:
1. Falkenbach (Viking metal)
2. Apophis (death metal)
3. Suidakra (Celtic folk)
4. SpiRitual (gothic/folk/electronic/progressive)
5. Equilibrium (Viking/folk)

The first thing you'll probably notice is the complete lack of thrash. From a country famous for its thrash scene, this probably seems a little strange. You may also notice a lack of power metal, another sub-genre where Germany features prominently. Rather, it's Germany's Viking/folk/pagan metal scene that interests me the most. Long before I started listening to metal I was a fantasy nerd, so that musical style really strikes a chord with me. And Germany has some of the greatest depth there of any nation on Earth, churning out bands like Gernotshagen, Nastrandir, and Dyrathor at an incredible rate. It's that depth that pushed Germany so high on this list, and deciding on bands after the top 2 proved to be difficult. Incidentally, I realize how strange it must seem to include a band with only a lone EP in my top 5, but SpiRitual's sole release ranks amongst my favorite records of all time, so I'm comfortable putting them up there despite the lack of material.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Great Death Metal List

This isn't me starting another list. Instead, it's me linking a great list I encountered a little while back. When searching for some new suggestions for old school death metal, I came across this Top 106 list that was put together by somebody who really knows their stuff. I've discovered several really good releases thanks to this list, so I thought I'd share it. For anybody looking for some good old fashioned death metal to sink your teeth into, here are a truckload of excellent suggestions.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

South Park Season 14

You won't hear me say this about many things, but I will openly admit that when it comes to South Park, I am a total obsessive fanboy. I know a lot of people hate it. I know that despite its razor-sharp satire on politics, religion, and social issues it remains, in the eyes of many viewers, a show about badly animated little kids cussing and telling fart jokes. I've had plenty of people look at me like I must have the maturity level of a 12-year-old to still be such a huge fan of the show, but I don't care. South Park is, in my humble opinion, both more intelligent and more entertaining than anything else on television today.

So naturally I was excited for the season 14 DVD release yesterday. I own all the previous seasons, as well as copies of both the original shorts, so it was a simple matter of fact that I would go buy this as well. Unfortunately, no local stores had it in last night. A Wal-Mart employee told me it would be released at midnight, but evidently no copies came in on the trucks that night. Well, I just got back from there and now I have the newest addition to my collection in hand. Speaking of which, there are a couple episodes I wasn't able to catch on, so I'm going to go watch those right now.

Oh, and in unrelated news, a girl I know from school here invited me to go see Nunslaughter with her and another friend next month, so I guess now I've got my next show coming up soon.

***EDIT: After watching episode 201, all I can say is fuck Comedy Central. The asinine double-standard for censorship they exhibit on that episode makes their treatment of previous Muhammad issues look reasonable by comparison. The two-part episodes 200 and 201 were some of the best material South Park has ever offered, but the network screwed them over royally.***

Album 2 of 12

Album that changed my life:
"The War Within" by Shadows Fall

Here's another of those releases that resides on the fringes of "real" metal. It's one which I rarely play anymore, but it served admirably as a gateway into the scene. Early in 2006 I had sufficiently digested my initial Mushroomhead purchase, and I was ready to start looking for more of this wonderfully heavy music. Well, yet another trip to the cd section of Wal-Mart had me notice this album and think to myself "This looks like a heavy album. I think I'll give it a try." It was not a disappointment, providing me with some of the most extreme music I had heard up to that point. And since I knew what I was looking for this time, unlike with the Mushroomhead album, this one appealed to me immediately. Prior to picking this up I was still looking at metal with some skepticism. This cd convinced me that I should try adding at least a few more metal bands to my music collection. For that reason, it ranks high even amongst the albums on this list for the impact it had on my musical development. Soon, based on the encouragement provided by this release, I would discover the album that tore open the floodgates. In a matter of months my world would be changed forever.

Metal Country #5

So now we've reached the top 5. The countries that have flooded the metal world with really great bands. I had a couple tough positioning choices to make here, but in the end I think I can stand by them.

#5 United Kingdom
Favorite bands:
1. Electric Wizard (stoner doom)
2. Black Sabbath (heavy metal)
3. Cathedral (stoner doom)
4. Iron Maiden (NWOBHM)
5. Carcass (grind/death metal)

This was the first country (because of my cheating with Canada) where I had to make some really tough cuts. Judas Priest and Bolt Thrower were particularly painful to exclude, but the line had to be drawn. The UK has, in metal as in rock, provided us with a disproportionately high amount of awesomeness for such a little cluster of islands. Several of the greatest metal groups of all time had their roots right there, and were I judging this list based purely on the top handful of bands from each country, it would be nearly impossible to keep the UK out of the top 2 or 3. That said, the depth of bands I really enjoy is much greater in the remaining countries atop this list, which is the reason the UK isn't any higher than 5th. I won't go into descriptions of any of these bands, since I assume the vast majority of metal fans are quite familiar with all of them.

Buying Albums

I tend to listen to a lot of music on Youtube. Because of that, there are often bands I know and like, yet I own virtually no material by. Well today I made some corrections to that problem by visiting the local record shop and adding 3 new albums to my collection.

The first cd I picked up was Conjuration of the Spectral Empire by The Chasm. They are still relatively new to me, but I like virtually everything I hear from them, so I intend to increase my stockpile of their albums. This makes their 3rd that I've bought.

The second cd I grabbed was Clandestine by Entombed. This was a perfect example of a glaring hole in my collection, but now that hole has been patched, and I'm enjoying the crunching riffs of Chaos Breed as I type this.

The third cd was from a band that I know by name, but I still haven't really listened to much. Blut Aus Nord seem to have a great reputation amongst black metal fans, so I picked up the re-issue of The Mystical Beast of Rebellion with its extra disk of bonus songs. There are only three additional tracks, but they add up to 37 minutes of extra material, so it seemed like a good deal to me. In any case, this is the first of their albums I've ever bought.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Metal Country #6

I'd imagine that from this point forward, the countries I pick should all be pretty much expected. The only question would be the order I choose. Well, here's the country that managed to just miss my top 5.

#6 Norway

Favorite bands:
1. Immortal
2. Windir
3. Enslaved
4. Burzum
5. Emperor

From the nation most synonymous with black metal, it should come as no surprise that black metal bands dominate my selections. These groups, with the sole exception of Windir, are all pillars of the Norwegian black metal scene and should be familiar to most metal fans. Of course, Windir are hardly unknowns themselves, and alongside Enslaved and Bathory are one of the names most associated with Viking metal. The trouble I have with Norway, and the reason I didn't place them higher, is that outside of their infamous black metal scene, the country's depth of contributions to metal take a much steeper dive than those of their neighbors. At least that's my opinion.

Album 1 of 12

A word on ordering:

As I said, these are not necessarily my favorite albums, so I will not present them in order of appeal. Instead, I will present them roughly in chronological order as I encountered them.

Well with that out of the way, let's talk about our first album.

Album That Changed My Life:
"XIII" by Mushroomhead

Not a glorious way to start off a list of metal albums, is it? For those of you who aren't familiar with this band, they are an industrial semi-metal group from Cleveland who fall firmly into the "gateway" category. Amongst fans of "real" metal they are almost universally loathed, but that's not important. What is important is that this little number by Slipknot's less-successful doppelganger was the first metal album I ever bought. Back in 2005 I had only recently begun to explore modern rock, and by modern I mean anything that was too new for play on an oldies or classic rock station. Since I was still feeling my way around, I tended to go into the local Wal-Mart and just pick up random cds that looked interesting to me. One day, the cover art of this album caught my eye, and I was intrigued. So I bought it and brought it home, not really knowing what to expect but assuming it would be something in the vein of the rock bands like Breaking Benjamin that I had come to enjoy. Instead, I encountered something rougher and uglier than any music I had ever heard. At first I didn't really know what to make of it. My brothers hated it with a passion when I played it around them, my friends didn't care much for it either, and all I knew was that it was a very different animal than any of the other albums I had bought. I kept coming back to it, unable to decide what to make of it. In time, the coarse hostile sound started to grow on me. I found myself looking around to see what similar bands I could find. I had taken my first step on the exploration of metal.

12 Albums That Changed My Life

I was recently thinking about my musical journey over the past 5 years. I was late getting into metal, not really even branching into hard rock until I was past high school. I now own hundreds of albums by bands I had never heard of just those few years ago, and it astounds me to think how far I have come since 2006 and my summer of musical discovery.

In this vein, I have decided to run a series of posts discussing 12 metal albums that have been a big part of that journey. These are not necessarily my favorite metal albums (though several of them remain amongst my favorites today) but rather they are the records which have had the largest impact on the way I listen to music, the type of music I play, and the areas of music I have explored. Considering what a big part of my existence is now tied up in the music I love, these are, in a very real sense, 12 albums that changed my life.

EDIT: Now that the list is complete, I've added links to each album on it for your viewing convenience.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Metal Country #7

And now we move into the frozen reaches of the vast northern wastelands. No, not Viking wastelands. The other ones. The ones over this way.

#7 Canada

Favorite bands:
1. Woods of Ypres (blackened progressive doom)
2. Strapping Young Lad* (see below)
3. Gorguts (death metal)
4. Kataklysm (death metal)
5. Kälter (melodic death metal)

I've expressed my opinions about Woods of Ypres elsewhere on this blog, so instead of discussing them I'll jump straight into explaining the SYL asterisk. I'm considering SYL a sort of conglomerate entry. As you may have noticed, Devin Townsend's other projects don't appear on this list. Well, I enjoy most of what he does, but I didn't feel like populating the entire list with his various "different" bands. I also didn't feel like trying to decide which I prefer between such arbitrarily separated groups as the Devin Townsend Band and the Devin Townsend Project. So, I decided the #2 entry will just cover the whole lot of his various bands, as well as Strapping Young Lad itself.

The band I expect to be the least familiar on here is Kälter, who are a relatively new band. They started in 2006 as a Children of Bodom tribute group, and though they play their own material now, the influence is still evident. That said, they keep enough of their own identity to avoid clone status, and now they sound much better than any of the current material released by their heroes.

Skeletonwitch Tonight

One of the perks to living in Athens Ohio, it turns out, is that this is Skeletonwitch's hometown. As such, they come back 2 or 3 times a year and play an inexpensive show at a local bar. I saw them here last fall, but I haven't been to a metal show in a while and at $8 how could I pass up a chance to see them again in a venue where the furthest away you can get is about 50 feet from the stage? So anyway, that's how I'll be spending my evening this Easter.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Wizard's Beard - Pure Filth

This band is new to me. And according to Metal Archives, that should come as no surprise, since they released their debut less than a month ago. Wizard's Beard is a filthy, doomy, sludge outfit from England. You'd never guess that to listen to them, though, as they sound like they belong in the deep American south.

Their debut full-length Pure Filth has only 5 tracks, but the total run-time is just under 32 minutes. Song length aside, though, it only took me about 20 seconds to feel certain I was going to like these guys. As I've already said, their groove-laden brand of filth sounds like it just burbled up out of a southern bayou. The vocals are suitably hostile distorted shouts, the chunky guitar riffs are as heavy as they are catchy, and the groove scoops you up immediately in its mighty grasp. The closest comparison I can draw to an established band is Weedeater, whom I love dearly, so this was an instant hit for me.

If you'd care to sample the wares yourself, the excellent eight-and-a-half-minute opener "Paint The Skies" can be heard on the band's official website here. They aren't the most original band in the world, but for fans of stoner/doom/sludge I'd highly recommend this.

Horror Kill Rules

Most of us have seen horror films. Most of us have also noticed certain "rules" typically conformed to, and often even referenced in said movies. In particular, the rules surrounding who will survive and who will die. Perhaps the best known are that the virginal girl survives and the black guy ALWAYS dies. Much has been made of the whole purity issue surrounding the former, while the latter is often written off as racism. That second assessment is, in my opinion, totally missing the point.

The black guy doesn't die because he's BLACK... he dies because he's DIFFERENT. Novelty characters (anybody who isn't a "normal" clean-cut white American) are pretty much always doomed. You'll notice that Asians, for example, die just as sure as blacks do. Religion can do the same thing as race. Two minutes into the movie, we already know that the Wiccan girl and the extremely preachy Protestant she's at odds with are both going to die before the credits roll. Careers, ideologies, activities, fashion choices, economic status, and hairstyles all set you up for death too. The computer hacker, the jock, the cheerleader, the goth, the hippie, the punk, the vegan, the redneck, and that guy with the dreadlocks are all going to get killed. Why? Because they had a recognizable label to separate them from the protaganist, showing that they were different. It extends to the body itself, too. The fat guy? He'll get stuck trying to squeeze though something (like he doesn't know his 300 lbs won't fit through a 6 inch gap). Anybody with thick glasses? They'll get broken or lost, consequently dooming their wearer. As for the unfortunate fellow in the wheelchair, we all know he isn't going to get far. I haven't noted too many homosexuals in horror films, but I'm sure their fate is similar to all the other "different" folks in the movies. All this leads to another visual tool to set a character apart as being "not normal" to the extent that they must die. In fact, it's this trait that lead me to make this post, as I pondered it during a late-night drive with some Master roaring through my car speakers. That trait is, predictably enough when considering my blog's name, having a beard.

I thought about it, and I could not recall a single bearded survivor of a bloody slashfest movie. Granted, there aren't that many bearded characters in the first place, especially since the typical victims are in the age range where many guys still have facial hair growth that's patchy at best, but I still couldn't think of any. Not that I feel singled out or anything; as I've already noted, pretty much anybody who isn't totally vanilla in every way runs the serious risk of dying. Still, I thought it was interesting to note that in a slasher film setting, as a man with a beard, my chances of survival are about the same as those of the slutty cheerleader and the infamously doomed black guy.

Metal Country #8

This is the one I overlooked when initially making this list. Then, after typing up my initial #10 post, I was browsing around online and noticed a Vader song. After slapping my forehead in disgust, I promptly modified my list to make room.

#8 Poland

Favorite bands:
1. Vader (death metal)
2. Behemoth (blackened death)
3. Vesania (symphonic blackened death)
4. Asgaard (gothic doom)
5. Lux Occulta (black/avante-garde)

I should note here that there is a lot of space between 1 and 2, and even more space between 2 and 3. Of course Vader and Behemoth pretty well dominate Polish metal, so I doubt that assertion comes as much of a surprise. In any case, you'll notice that I have officially reached the countries that have enough bands I like for me to do ordered top 5s now, and I'll carry on with those as I move forward with the list.

Metal Country #9

Time for my next installment.

#9 Denmark

Favorite bands: Svartsot, Iniquity, Grívf

I realize that I pretty much have to mention Mercyful Fate here, too. I'm not crazy about them personally, but they're hugely important to the metal world, so when talking about their country I can't just ignore them.

Anyway, the "favorite bands" sections will start to flesh out more after this.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Metal Country #10

Wow, talk about missing the obvious. I had just finished laboring over the final spot in my top ten and writing out this post when suddenly I remembered a country I had somehow totally forgotten. A country that actually leapfrogged a few spots and bumped my prior #10 off the charts. All has been corrected now, though, and I can get started on my list. I should note, incidentally, that because the bottom couple countries on this list got in on the strengths of just a couple bands, there was a tightly battling collection of also-rans who just barely missed the cut. I'll include a separate honorable mention post for all of them when I'm finished with this list. But for now, without further ado, I present:

#10 Switzerland

Favorite bands: Eluveitie, Celtic Frost

Yes, I realize that's only two bands. But one is a band I absolutely love, and the other is a band that pretty much every metal head (including myself) loves. So despite the lack of a deep scene, at least that I've yet encountered, the strength of those two bands is enough to get Switzerland onto the bottom edge of the charts.

My Top Metal Countries

Drawing heavily on the recent Metal from Unexpected Countries series on the METALLATTORNEY blog, I've decided to take a much shorter and less diverse metal world tour. I'll be picking my top 10 favorite countries for producing metal bands, and I'll list my favorite bands from each of those countries. If you've read many of my metal posts, you'll probably find most of the countries I select to be pretty unsurprising, but at least I'll be having fun doing it.

Also, I'll be listing fewer bands at the bottom of the list, but I'll do top 5's for the countries that are strong enough to carry a legitimate top 5 for me. This is of course entirely subjective, so feel free to chime in with your own opinions but keep in mind that I'm not claiming these are the "best", only that they are my favorites.

My Intro to Black Metal

When I say this is "my" intro, I'm talking about the way I was first introduced to the sub-genre. When I very first started getting into metal, I found myself doing a lot on searching online to find additional info. Thus, it was Wikipedia that first introduced the terms 'black metal', 'death metal', 'doom metal', and various others to my vocabulary. Of course, this meant that my definitions of these styles required some work, but we all have to start somewhere.

Anyway, in the course of these searches I of obviously encountered all the various stories surrounding Mayhem and the Norwegian scene, and unsurprisingly this formed my initial idea of what black metal was. Well, coming from a Christian upbringing and having only just begun listening to heavy music, I was understandably rather uncomfortable with that image of back metal, so for a while I avoided it. The Gothenburg sound became my major window into the metal world, pulling me past the nu-metal and -core bands that had motivated my interest in heavier music. Sweden became my musical base of operations, so to speak, and my tastes went from there, primarily into various forms of death metal.

Up until that point, though, I still had never really listened to any "real" black metal. And by that I mean I had heard some blackened edges of things, but I had not heard anything in the raw, pure vein, nor had I listened to any of the central bands from Norway.

Unsurprisingly, it was through a Swedish band that I first became acquainted with "real" black metal. However, it's not who one would expect. Of course it wasn't long until I'd heard Dissection and Naglfar, and shortly thereafter Emperor became my official musical introduction to the Norwegian scene, but before any of those came a lone song by a band with whom almost nobody is familiar. It was Niden Div. 187 on a track called Genocide, and to be honest I kind of hated it the first time I heard it. And the second time. And the eighth time. I didn't actually find myself enjoying their sound until years later, yet when I think back that band and that song was the sole example of genuine black metal in my music collection for probably six months. And it remained one of only a few such examples for several years.

Oddly enough, I learned of Henke Forss through his work with In Flames on Subterranean and through that I found Dawn, but it wasn't until years later that I discovered he was also the vocalist for ND187. The few people who know the band only seem to be familiar with it through him, yet I had known them long before I had ever heard of Dawn or any pre-Anders In Flames material. It was a bit of a reverse from the norm, since ND187 was just a side project, but I guess when you're exploring new territory you sometimes find unused paths.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Portal 2

I knew Portal 2 was coming out some time soon, and last night I found out it was released on the 18th. So, after due flip-flopping on the question of spending the money, I rushed out and bought it. Consequently, I did not sleep last night. The original Portal was fun, addictive, and unique. The sequel is all those things as well. Additionally, there are spots in this one that are really tricky to figure out (or at least they are for me), so despite some claims I've heard about the brevity of the solo campaign, I have not yet finished it. Still, it's a great game so far, and I would highly recommend it to anybody who enjoys solving puzzles. The handful of quirky personalities you encounter add quite a bit of flavor, too.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Back in Beardness

Well I got home yesterday, just in time to rush off for a class, so I am now officially back and ready to start posting again. While gone I got my car back and applied for a passport, so the trip was as productive as it was enjoyable. Also, on the bearded note, Sunday was officially 5 months since I shaved.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Long Weekend

I'll be heading out of town for a few days, so I probably won't be posting anything again until Monday. I leave you with this: 10 Reasons to Grow a Giant Beard

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Alas! In Flames

Today I just saw the album artwork, title, and track listing for the upcoming In Flames album. I realized that wishing for the old In Flames back is a vain hope. I realize that with Jesper gone, not one original member remains. Besides, he wrote virtually everything on their early albums, so in a very real sense the In Flames of old no longer exists in any way. But still, when I read that the new album was going to be called "Sounds Of A Playground Fading" I think a little part of me died. The coffin was nailed shut years ago, but now the funeral is over and the last of the mourners have gone home. It's sad to see your absolute favorite band become this... thing. And as if to pour salt in the wounds of all their old fans, they have included a song titled "Jester's Door" which marks the first usage of their once trademark jester in a song title since Whoracle. I think I'll go listen to Moonshield and try to remember the good times.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Splitting Hairs

The World Beard and Moustache Championships are held at a different site once every two years since 1995. The actual history of the event goes back a bit further, but that was the beginning of the present pattern of events. In the small world of competitive bearding the WBMC is, as the name would suggest, the "main event". Hairy faces travel from numerous countries to compete, share their love of facial hair, and drink lots of beer.

Anyway, in 2005, as the US was beginning to make a splash in the WBMC, a film crew followed the leading American figures in the community on their trip to compete in Berlin. The resulting half-hour documentary "Splitting Hairs" is, in my opinion, an interesting look into a fascinating cultural niche. Fortunately, the film can be found for free on Hulu right here.

A Guitar Called "Plan B"

I was just browsing through some pictures on my computer, and I decided I'd share a couple from a project my dad and I did two winters ago. We decided that we were going to build an electric guitar. By that I don't mean we would assemble a custom guitar or modify an existing guitar and call it "building"; we actually wanted to do all the woodworking, assembly, and finishing ourselves. We had to order the electronics and hardware (pickups, bridge, tuning keys, etc) but we built the guitar itself from raw lumber, and my dad did the paint. It's got a maple neck, curly maple fretboard, and a walnut body. The are plenty of imperfections, and most of our initial attempts at various portions of the work were faulty and needed modification, which is why we chose to name the guitar "Plan B". But for all the setbacks we encountered, it was a fun project, and my dad and I spent time in his shop almost every day over the winter working on it together, so it was a very special bonding experience.

In the end, we produced a properly working instrument. All the wiring is correct, the intonation and tuning can be properly set, and we've had it played by a professional guitar tech to see if he could detect any major issues with it. He said it played better than many of the factory guitars he works with.

So anyway, here are a couple photos of the finished product, and a little sampling of one of my younger brothers playing around with it and switching pickup settings to show how it sounds:

Monday, April 11, 2011

Beard Photos

Dave Mead is a professional photographer whose name is quite often seen on the Beard Team USA and WBMC sites. And in fact on his own site he has a full gallery of his portfolio dedicated to beards. I just finished looking through it, and since the photos look really good I felt it was worth sharing, so here it is.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Beard Song(s)

So I was poking around on YouTube, and I noticed that there are quite a lot of songs called "Beard Song" or "The Beard Song" posted up by a ton of different people. Many of them have almost unlistenable recording quality, but there were several that came across like actual songs. Some were good, others were bad, and still others were absolutely horrible. Well I decided to collect together a sampling of these songs and link them all here for anybody curious enough to take a gander. I should note that this is not just a collection of songs about beards: it's a collection of beard songs with the same title. So I'll just list the artists' names.

Tommee Profitt

Chris McGregor

Sophie Madeleine (probably the most popular one)

Eloy Escagedo

Will Parker

Amber and Lauren (couldn't find last names)

Kate (same here)

And this one isn't a song, though it's done by a band called The Beards, which I've talked about before. In any case, it appealed enormously to my sense of humor, and was all about beards, so I'll link it too: Street Talk with The Beards

Also in beard related news, a categorical analysis of the field for the rapidly approaching 2011 World Beard and Moustache Championships was released recently on the official WBMC website.

For Fans Of:

Today I popped into the local record store and bought a copy of Emissaries by Melechesh (I've heard songs from the album, but I didn't own a copy). On the walk home I noticed the tag on the front that tells you it's for fans of various other bands. Well, we've all seen labels with At The Gates, Dark Tranquility, and In Flames together, or various other collections of related bands. This one surprised me, though. It said "Recommended for fans of: Nile, Dismember, Exodus, and Celtic Frost". Now the Middle Eastern flavor makes Nile an unsurprising choice, but I found myself a little astounded to see bands as different as Nile and Exodus on the same tag. Seeing those four bands grouped together left me wondering what kind of image an unfamiliar buyer would form in their mind about this band and album.

Friday, April 8, 2011


By now, whether intentionally or not, we have all been exposed to that song. Well, my brother saw fit to share this with me, and it gave me a chuckle so I'm passing it on now.

P.S. This actually was my 100th post. So yeah, hooray for that.

Tribal Metal

Ok, I've brought this up a couple times, so it's high time I actually discussed it. The basic principal of tribal metal is really quite simple: it's folk metal where the "folk" part is Native American. So, really, it's just a different type of folk metal. I choose the use the "tribal" title for two reasons. One is that it helps to keep things clear, since when one says "folk metal", something European is usually expected. The other is that, quite simply, I think it sounds cool so I relish the opportunity to use that name. Another name sometimes used is "native metal".

Anyway, there is a good spread of tribal metal from throughout the Americas, though it's found primarily in South America and Mexico. There is also a interesting niche of more electronic sounding tribal metal to be found in Europe, particularly Russia and Germany.

I've actually found a Youtube video that gives a pretty good sampling of bands from the Americas, which I'll link here.

The bands included on this sampling are:
Yaotl Mictlan
Muluc Pax
Gnosis (there are several bands with this name)
Soul of Honor
Toccata Magna

This sampler plate will give any interested listener a starting place, but my personal recommendations for full albums would be EK's 2005 self-titled release, or either full-length by Yaotl Mictlan. Most of Yaotl Mictlan's material is more of a straight-forward black metal sound, so it may make for an easier transition. Two other bands who don't appear on that video but who are worth checking out are Kukulcan and Yanaconas. Kukulcan has a pretty rough, low-fi sound rooted in black metal, while Yanaconas has more of a traditional heavy metal sound.

Kukulcan - Señor de la guerra Huitzilopochtli

Yanaconas - Tupac Amaru

Yaotl Mictlan - Garra de Jaguar (Ocho Venado)

As for the European "scene", the two primary bands worth listening to are Tenochtitlan and Raxa, both from Russia. These bands, as I said earlier, both feature far more electronica than is typical in the tribal bands from the Americas. Raxa in particular, though, has some really beautiful sounding tracks, and I would strongly recommend their 2008 release MezoVedic. Honestly, I personally prefer this to any of the "authentic" tribal metal. As a side note, Senmuth from Tenochtitlan has an individual discography that dwarfs virtually anything else you'll find on the Metal Archives.

Raxa - Matenextic Peuhtica

One other band that is tied to this niche but is a little too eclectic to really fit neatly is the fantastic SpiRitual from Germany. In my previous, quickly aborted blog I discussed SpiRitual in more detail. That can be found here.

If you don't listen to anything else off this list, I would strongly suggest that you at least check out Raxa and SpiRitual. But be warned that there are often long mellow periods to be found in their songs, so if you prefer more aggression steer clear and head for Yaotl Mictlan instead.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

100th Post

I have sat down about 10 times today to write something, knowing exactly what I wanted to say... and then had it evaporate into thin air. So since I am evidently incapable of maintaining any kind of focus, I'll just say that today is my 100th post.

Oh! And when I have the time to compile it a little better, some time in the next few days I think I'll come back to that issue of tribal metal.

EDIT: and now I look and see that I didn't even get this tidbit right, since it's evidently only my 98th post. Seriously, must just be one of those days.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Venture Bros.

Oddly enough, though I've heard of the show plenty of times, it was not until about 3-4 weeks ago that I saw The Venture Bros for the first time. Since then, I must admit I've become a pretty rabid fan. I've got all 4 seasons on dvd now, and I am actively bummed that the show comes out at such a slow pace that I'll have a long wait for any new episodes. It's just such an effective spoof of so many different cartoons and comics, and watching through the shows in order I feel like it improved with every single season. I really don't know why it took me so long to finally watch the show, especially considering that I primarily watch comedy shows. Well in any case, I know it now, and I've had a lot of fun watching it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Getting Older

Well, today I turned 26. That's not "old" by any stretch, but it seems funny when I stop to think about it since I still feel like I'm about 19. I guess that's just the way it goes.

Monday, April 4, 2011

How to Operate Horror Films

I've noticed over the years that a great many people don't seem to understand how to properly use horror movies, and some recent remarks have prompted me to give it enough thought to write a post on the subject. Now, when I say "use horror movies" I'm not talking about how to get the dvd to play. I'm talking about how to get the most from the experience. See, a lot of people (especially guys) have a tendency to sit back with their arms folded going "this is stupid" the whole time a horror movie is playing. Afterward, they talk about how it wasn't scary, as though it somehow proves that they're a braver person than everybody around them. Alternatively, such people may spend the whole movie loudly and annoyingly making fun of the film. These people, despite the ego boost they gain from said activities, are genuinely missing the point. Quotes like "How can you be scared of this? It's just a movie" are an indicator of how totally incapable of properly operating a horror film these people are. We all know it's just a movie. Obviously it can't actually hurt us. The point is to allow yourself to get into it and experience those feelings in a risk-free way. It's like hypnosis: it only works if you let it. Instead of getting this experience, though, many people (again, usually guys) seem to see horror films as some kind of macho ego booster. They never allow themselves to really participate in the viewing process, and then brag about how unphased they were by the movie. Well this is like buying a bottle of Jack Daniels, pouring it down the drain, then bragging about how you emptied the bottle but are still sober. The whole point in buying the Jack in the first place is to get drunk, so if you've done that all you've managed to do is waste a bottle of whiskey. It's the same with a horror film. You have to be willing to be psychologically vulnerable. You have to open yourself to the experience. So in reality, it takes more courage and strength of character to allow yourself to be scared than it takes to sit back sneering. It's ironic that in making such an all-out attempt to demonstrate strength in this lame way, many people instead manage to illustrate just how weak and insecure they really are.

NOTE: There are of course lots of bad horror films out there, so it's not always the viewer's fault if it "doesn't work". This is about good horror films.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

I Am Where I Was

I may have previously mentioned that I've grown a beard out before, only to eventually cut it off (several different times). Well I was just looking at a picture of myself from right before I cut my longest beard a year or so ago, and when comparing it to a picture I just took today I realized that I have now reached my previous maximum beard length. I submit as evidence the two photos in question:

The first of these pictures shows my previous beard, and the second is me today. And since I just noticed this (and I haven't made a beardly post recently) I thought it was worth mentioning.

p.s. My family came down today as a slightly early birthday visit. It was an enjoyable afternoon and evening, and there was much cake to be had. I was also gifted season four of The Venture Bros, which I intend to begin enjoying momentarily.


I've recently found myself listening to the unusual Czech black metal band Root quite a lot, and in particular their 1996 release Kärgeräs. Considering both the quality of their material, and the length of time they've been around, it's honestly somewhat baffling that more people haven't heard of Root. I guess it's just a product of being from an out-of-the-way corner geographically. I always find it odd how, purely by virtue of being outside any regional "scene", excellent bands are often overlooked. Like how Necrophagia could emerge with excellent death metal material at almost the exact same time as Death, yet remain largely unknown because they were floating around in Ohio rather than existing withing the Florida, NY, or Swedish death metal scenes. Considering the easy availability of material from anywhere, it's really an odd phenomenon.

But that's not really the point. The point is that Root are awesome. They use clean vocals instead of growls and shrieks, which sounds on the surface like a bad thing, but in contrast with the typically whiney clean vocals one might expect, the emotive baritone of their vocalist is both unique and enjoyable. Root have, through their atypical vocals and more melodic, progressive approach to black metal, carved out a niche all their own. My advice is to go listen to them now if you've never heard of them. I'd suggest one of the albums from their prime years: The Temple in the Underworld, Kärgeräs, The Book, or Black Seal. Personally Kärgeräs is my favorite, but if you find it a little too "proggy" for your tastes and prefer a little more rawness, The Temple in the Underworld is a good pick.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Amusing Tidbits

Two things occurred yesterday which I found rather amusing. One was that I saw a commercial about Brian Wilson's beard, where it zoomed in and showed woodland fairies and elves and stuff dancing around in it. I just found that both odd and funny. The other interesting thing was my blog's hit count. Being both new and unfocused, it's no surprise that I typically get very few hits (generally around 10 per day). When checking my blog stats, though, I noticed that yesterday, presumably because of having "Cowboy Bebop" and "anime" repeated several times in my posts, I had 58. I'm not sure why, but that sudden spike just struck me as funny for some reason. Probably because it seems to fall so easily in line with my assertions about the number of rabid teenage anime fans out there.

On a final note, Happy April Fools Day! I hope you survive it with a minimum amount of trouble.