Friday, April 29, 2011
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.
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.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
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.
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.
"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.
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
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
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 southparkstudios.com, 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.***
"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.
#5 United Kingdom
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Saturday, April 23, 2011
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
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.
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
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Sophie Madeleine (probably the most popular one)
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.
Friday, April 8, 2011
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:
Gnosis (there are several bands with this name)
Soul of Honor
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
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
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Monday, April 4, 2011
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
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.
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
On a final note, Happy April Fools Day! I hope you survive it with a minimum amount of trouble.