Monday, November 30, 2009

CHAINMAIL: Magnum Carnage - More Unreal Than a Box of Precious Metal and Radioactive Ore (self-released, 2009)

The CHAINMAIL section reviews bands that were proactive enough to contact me directly. Here at Cerebral Metalhead, initiative is rewarded.

Magnum Carnage's More Unreal Than a Box of Precious Metal and Radioactive Ore calls into question the point of reviewing records. So mired in both underproduction and over-ambition is the album that my written opinion is based less on my impression of its value, and more on whether I have the patience to deal with it at the moment I permanently inscribe my thoughts about it in the digital firmament of the interhole. I recoiled in horror the first few times I heard More Unreal, and it still makes me sort of uncomfortable now. But like a lovable puppy that keeps shitting all over your nice throw rug and then licks your face and looks at you with gigantic puppy eyes, I can't possibly hate something this adorable. On a good day, More Unreal itself is easily resistable. Magnum Carnage's charm is not, and at this point (might change as soon as I hit "publish"), I kind of admire its oddness as a supreme middle finger to black metal uptightness. Kind of. Could this band come from anywhere other than Hawaii?

"Divine Comedy Pt. 1 - Damn This Age!"

Self-described as "psychedelic black metal," More Unreal is only psychedelic in that it sounds like a moldy artifact unearthed from lone member Kai Laigo's attic (helping that impression: it came to me in the same package as a cassette tape, a waaaaay DIY live DVD and some Hawaiian candy. Just add in a couple dead cockroaches and it feels like moving day!). And it's only black metal to the extent that Laigo's got some fast guitars and a bit of rasping buried underneath his caveman drum programming, which turns tom rolls into the sped-up click of a broken record, blastbeats into the clinking of glasses before a wedding toast. Laigo proudly claims that he recorded More Unreal using a dinosaur version of Pro Tools LE. But even dinosaurs stomp; the album's cluttered mixes and sunken guitars just drag, where Laigo's colorful palette demands bigness and clarity.

"Temple of Doom"

As easy as it is to dismiss More Unreal for its extreme sonic shortcomings, you gotta admire the cojones of a guy brazen enough to let the gated drums and cheesy synths of 80s pop within ten miles of a death metal riff, or to call one of his songs "Video Games of the Gods," and have it sorta work in an early-Emperor-still-figuring-out-their-gear kind of way. There's no shortage of imagination on More Unreal, no end to the shred-worthiness of Laigo's manic guitar solos. Occasionally a pop hook rises out of the mixing murk and connects big-time ("Demon City Honolulu"). But then Laigo will awkwardly pair a doom metal riff with doo-wop backing vox ("Suitcase Nuke"), and back to the murk we go. Every great riff is offset by an eyebrow-raising production quirk (seriously Kai, AUTOTUNE?!?!) or forced structural aside. Wrapped in the dayglo pinks and purples of a Lisa Frank sticker set, More Unreal demands to be taken on its own silly terms. Yes, it's a near-failure as a metal record. More metal records should fail in such spectacular fashion.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks for My Neck

This past Tuesday night I fell in my new apartment, busted my chin on the hardwood floor and hurt my neck badly enough that it's still painful to move my head too far in any direction. Turns out my neck and spine are fine, and the doctor says I got away with a bit of torn muscle fiber. My mom worried that I was going to be paralyzed. My first thought when I woke up the next morning? "Shit, this is going to make headbanging really difficult."

Perhaps you've heard of the sad case of Evanescence guitarist Terry Balsamo, whose doctors believe that the 2006 stroke that left him partially paralyzed was brought on by excessive headbanging (check out this interview for the whole story). His was of course an extreme case, and the more cynical among us might conclude that he deserved it for making such terrible music. But the truth is that the neck is a complicated, elegant system of bone, muscle, blood vessels and other soft tissue, and while it's built for resilience and flexibility, the kind of physical strain brought on by improper headbanging can result in some nasty disorders, whiplash included. Check out this study, published late last year in the British Medical Journal, which concludes that the faster you bang, and the wider the angle of the banging, the more prone you are to neck injury. Fascinating.

If abstinence is not an option, the best you can do is follow the British Medical Journal's sage advice for minimizing injury:
  • Decrease your range of head and neck motion. (For a bangable song of around 146 bpm, 75º or less is ideal)
  • Headbang to slower tempo songs by replacing heavy metal with adult oriented rock
  • Only head bang to every second beat
  • Use personal protective equipment
As Thanksgiving day draws to a close, I wanted to remind all you metal folks to be appreciative of the fragile strength of your cervical region. Bang safely, my friends.

Giving thanks for Struck By Lightning's Serpents (Translation Loss, 2009)

On this day of cornbread stuffing and tryptophan delirium (Tim Lambesis should start a Thanksgiving-themed joke band with that name), I thought it prudent to give a shout-out to an album for which I am very thankful this year. Too often I get caught stuck in compartmentalization mode when I review albums, attaching genre descriptors or comparisons for the sake of brevity. It's not that the debut from Struck By Lightning sounds like nothing else -- there's a lot of early Mastodon in the guitar filigree and harmonic motion, plenty of chuffing High on Fire rhythms, and a lot of airtight d-beat punk breaks. That particular combo is pretty unique, but what comes across to this jaded reviewer even more than Struck By Lightning's influence-on-sleeve approach is their transcendent songwriting.

"The Watchful Eye"

Unlike vocalist/guitarist Gregory Lahm's other band, Mouth of the Architect (reviewed here), Struck By Lightning lets nothing get in the way of momentum. The intro to opener to "Silent and Still" portends great things, and boy, does it deliver. A galloping verse riff pushes through to a tension-building pre-chorus which bursts into a ragged, wailing chorus that I want to play again RIGHT NOW. Travis Klein's loose-tom, tumbling drum fills power the "Nothing Sacred" riff juggernaut, heavy and propulsive as anything off Surrounded By Thieves. In the line "Smiling vultures slowly circling," the opening line from "The Watchful Eye," Struck By Lightning have their own version of Mastodon's classic "I think that someone is trying to kill me." The comparison holds up throughout the rest of the song too, making for one of the punchiest one-two-three punches I've ever heard.


As Serpents wears on, the shock of such a fully-formed sound of composite elements wears off, and it's only then that this album really reveals itself. Beyond the perfect execution and terrific songwriting, there's a malevolence that underlies Serpents. You can hear it in the sudden switches between diatonic and chromatic intervals. You can hear it in Struck by Lightning's bottom end, which slithers around in the murk like the album's titular beasts. Mastodon rode that same foreboding musical path to fame. Struck by Lightning are probably a little too punk to ride the dragon that far, but at least they can say they put out one of the year's best albums, and probably the best album that Translation Loss has ever released. Thanks for that.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Marduk 'n Co. Change Venues for Dec. 4 Show in L.A.

Marduk express their delight at the new venue for their Dec. 4th show in L.A.

Changes are afoot in Los Angeles. As reported here, here and here, venues typically kind to metal are folding at an alarming rate. The Knitting Factory shut its doors this Halloween. The Black Castle will have its last show in January. The Relax Bar's booking has stalled to a trickle, and the fate of the Key Club hangs in the balance. With the weekly Metal Mondays at Footsies on an apparent hiatus, L.A. metalheads are left rudderless, without a regular venue for their mournful congregation. Is this really a downstream effect of the economic downturn, as some have suggested? Or is it divine retribution for L.A.'s fickle support of our local metal scene?

Credit Church of the 8th Day for trying to bail us out. The tireless booking/promotion firm is scrambling to reschedule all the shows it had previously booked elsewhere. Sound at the Heathenfest this past weekend was atrocious, but the new Ultra Violet Social Club venue was otherwise ideal -- great sight lines, plentiful outside space for smoking/gabbing, exposed wooden framing that gave the impression of being in the galley of a Viking warship. Very metal.

And what of the Plague Tour, which was set to invite Marduk (whose new album Wormwood is their best in ages), Nachtmystium, Black Anvil (reviewed here), Mantic Ritual and Merrimack to assault the Key Club on December 4th? Church of the 8th Day has moved that monstrous package to The Royal Hall, which previously hosted the Bestial Legion Fest. Quoth Church of the 8th Day's Jordan in a statement about the move:
The Key Club canceled the show about two weeks ago, leaving us just a few weeks to move it. Since we had two stages' worth of bands booked, it was near impossible to move the show to anywhere in Hollywood, at a reputable club, as everything was already booked. We found a place downtown, which is a banquet hall, and we are going to build it into a venue from the ground up, with two full stages and great sound, full bar, and a BBQ...If you purchased tickets through one of the local bands, your tickets will still be valid at the new venue. If you purchased your tickets through Ticketmaster, you should be receiving your refund any day. The Key Club said they will be issuing refunds, but they haven't been responding to us about the progress of it, so if you'd like to call and find out, go ahead. You can now purchase tickets exclusively through our new ticketing website, We're sorry about the confusion, and hope to see everyone there. More information can be found at
The Royal Hall is at 8637 S. Alameda Street, Los Angeles, CA 90002. Parking is provided through the “Steel and Lube” entrance. Which is also very metal.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Shrinebuilder interview

This past Wednesday I witnessed the first ever live gig by Shrinebuilder, the heavy metal supergroup featuring Scott Kelly of Neurosis, Wino of St. Vitus/The Obsessed, Dale Crover of The Melvins and Al Cisneros of Om/Sleep. As if we doubted the integrity of any of those guys, they played a nearly hour-long set at the tiny Viper Room in Hollywood for a way over capacity crowd, then did it again fifteen minutes later for whomever didn't believe they would really begin at 10:45pm. Their self-titled debut, out now on Neurot, nearly fulfills Shrinebuilder's astronomic promise. But live's where it matters. We all know these four can play -- they're each musical figureheads in their other bands. But do they have chemistry? Hell yes. On stage they're four bandmates, riffing off each other, following one another's grooves, soaking it all in. Dale Crover reminded me that he's one of the best drummers in rock music. If I had only been able to hear his cymbal work, it still would have been a great night. He should record an album with just cymbals.

I had the opportunity to interview Scott Kelly and Wino about Shrinebuilder for a short piece in Decibel magazine, published here. Here's the full transcript of what they had to say.



Rumors have been floating around since '07 about Shrinebuilder's existence. Did the expectation ever get to you? Did you think about how mammoth this band could possibly be?

I don’t know what you mean by “get to me.” Not really. I knew before I was a part of it that it was going to be something great. When they asked me to be a part of it, I felt confident that my input would be significant. There’s a real belief and trust in the visions in this band, you know? We’ve all known each other, and known who each other were, forever. And been big fans of each other’s work. So there was never any doubt in my mind that what we would do would be exactly what we wanted to do. And therefore fine, whether people like it or not. I don’t care. Never been a concern of mine whether people like what I do. I just gotta feel satisfied with it, you know? Not to say it’s not nice when people like it, but it doesn’t affect the bottom line at all.

On the blog you kept during the album’s recording process, you described the first night of playing with Shrinebuilder as “immediate thunder.” Can you describe in a little more detail what it was like to all jam in the same room at the same time for the first time?

Well, the expectation and the anticipation of the whole event was pretty strong amongst the four of us. Al and Wino and I had jammed together, Al and Wino and Dale had jammed together, but we hadn’t all four been in the same room. We were wondering, “is this gonna gel? Is the chemistry gonna be there naturally? Is that gonna take time, ‘cuz often times things like that take time?” And it just blew up. The first song that we played was “Solar Benediction,” the first song on the record. And it just…instantly was right there, you know? I dunno man! Water, man. Just flow. Perfect. No hitch. It just happens. And it was strong, you know? It was like we were able to step right into it.

On a personal level, playing with Jason (Roeder, Neurosis drummer) for 25 years, I’ve been basically ruined for playing with any other drummers. I mean every time I play with another drummer I’m sorely missing him. Dale’s really the only guy in the world other than…maybe Dave Lombardo that I would really want to play with. Because I knew that he had that same fire, that same reckless drive that Jason has. So I was really excited about that. In fact I remember calling Jason right before and being like “I get to play with Dale Crover tomorrow.” That was really great, you know?

I’ve always found – I’ve found so much between the three of those guys, over the years. I mean it’s really like – I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent listening to Wino’s music. His guitars, the tones and textures, and his really unique voice. I can’t tell you the hours that I’ve spent listening to Al’s music. Om is one of my very favorite bands ever. If I had to choose one, that might be it. It just works with every part of my being. And the Melvins changed the face of everything. They’re one of the deepest, most inspirational influences in music in my life. It’s fucking amazing! I don’t think I could pick three other guys that I’d rather play with than those three.

The cool thing about it for me is that – this is picking up on something you mentioned about Dale – the album has elements of everything you guys have done individually in the past, but there’s something about the synthesis that kicks it up to an even more muscular level than your individual bands. Not better, it’s just such a perfect marriage.

It’s weird man, I know! I don’t think I’m being a conceited, fuckin’ self-absorbed person when I say that, although I am a pretty self-absorbed artist, most artists are, you know. But I agree. It’s there. It’s just there. It’s undeniable. The thing is, everybody in this band has sacrificed everything they have for their music, and given everything they had to their music. There’s not one person in that band that’s put out a shit record, or put out a record that they didn’t back 100%, ever, you know? Everyone has always done what the music demanded of them, and submitted to the sound, you know? And so as a result, when you give that much, when you put the things together like that, you get this result that’s really unique, and really special. And I honestly couldn’t be happier with it, and we’re working on new material now. We’re gonna play new material when we hit the road.

Tell me a little bit about the thematics. There’s this theme of construction and structure in both the band name, and in song titles like “Pyramid of the Moon” and “The Architect.” What are you guys building?

I think we’re just laying more bricks on the foundation that has been laid previously. And I think that our other projects have probably put a few bricks in there as well. But it’s really an homage to sound, to music, and to its infinite wisdom, you know? The power of it. The religion that is sound. The electric church. All of that. I think that that’s been our lives. Now that’s my interpretation. Most of the things you spoke of were straight from Al. If you’ve ever spent time with Al’s lyrics, you know that he constructs these tone poems of imagery and words that weave this unspeakable story. And that’s what it’s about as well. There’s a large part of what we’re doing that’s not something you can put into words, and it’s not supposed to be, not intended to be.

You’ve talked in previous interviews about a psychic space that you reach with Neurosis, and also that you have to be in before you play with Neurosis. Is there a similar sense of place when you’re playing with Shrinebuilder?

Yes, but…if you want to know something about Neurosis I can tell ya. Anything. We’ve been there for the entire time and we’ve performed, you know, 3000 gigs and released multiple albums and all that. That’s an experience that I have deep. The Shrinebuilder experience is yet to be told in many ways. So we’ll see. I’ve wondered what it’s gonna be like live. Am I going to be in the same sort of trance that I’m in with Neurosis, or is it going to be something different? I’m expecting something different. I think the sum total of the lives that we’ve spent together in Neurosis has everything to do with the experience that comes through us when we’re performing. And although Al and I have a lot of shared life experience, Dale and Wino and I don’t have as much of that. I’ve known Dale for a long time, but we’ve never really been on the road together, we’ve never performed together. He has a whole different deal, you know? That’s a whole different animal.

So you have to wait and see what it feels like.

Yeah. I can tell you that the songs definitely take me somewhere. But there’s definitely that feeling of less – I don’t know if you’d call it baggage – there’s a newness to it that’s pretty significant, and that I’m totally looking forward to. We’ll see! I don’t know.

While you were liveblogging during the recording sessions, you wrote that you emerged from the sessions a better person. What do you mean by that?

Did I?

You did! It was probably pretty early in the morning.

Yeah, quite possibly. I think that’s true, man. Anytime you get to experience something that significant in your life it’s going to make a huge difference. I think the chemistry that we had, and realizing the possibilities, and kinda looking forward was pretty significant to me. Yeah. I’m a better person for knowing those guys, honestly.

You wrote also that “plans have already been enacted towards the next move (you wouldn’t believe it if I told you).” Can you please shed some light on what you’re talking about?

No. Yeah…no. Not happening. Not yet. Not until it’s set.

Does it involve tour plans, or recording, or both?

Ah, you’ll just have to see. I dunno man, it’s nothing I would want to say, and I probably should never have said anything about it.

Each of you has such a strong personal style, but the album feels perfectly balanced. Do you have some idea of how you guys achieved the “more than the sum of its parts” scenario instead of what could have been a compromise, or a watered down record?

No, it’s kind of one of those things that I never try to think about too much, because it’s always existed inside Neurosis as well. There’s always something else there, you know? So I just accept that as being whatever the force that drives everything is. I was wondering if it was going to be there, and it was. You know, I didn’t really doubt it. Knowing the guys as I do…I think everyone in the band is aware of that. That there’s always this thing in play, whatever it is. I’m sure people have names for it, but I choose not to put a name on it just ‘cuz – again, it’s kinda beyond words. It’s the sum total of the parts, or whatever the fuck that is. Who the hell knows? Who knows? It could have been anything, I have no idea. But I agree that it’s there. And I was really, really pleased to find it again. It’s a good feeling.

You were next door to the Museum of Death when you practiced and recorded. Did you ever go inside there?

No, I was kinda bummed about that honestly. I didn’t go in there, no. I have no need. I don’t have the desire. I have enough of the real thing in my life. I don’t need to go see the museum exhibit. Maybe when I was 16, but not now. I don’t need to be around shit like that. I thought it was funny and everything…but I don’t want to go down that road anymore. I thought the (sign in the parking lot) “death parking only” was kinda funny.

I’ve been in there once, and it both is exactly what you’d expect but also not what you’d expect. The proprietors have a healthy sense of humor about life and death itself but they’re not just doing it as a joke.

Yeah, maybe I’ll look at it some time. You know I enjoy BodyWorks…I’ve been to see that three times. That stuff fascinates me. But if it’s anything like the movies, Faces of Death shit like that, or just weird ways that people go…I’m aware of a lot of those weird ways. You can pretty much go damn near any way possible.

Okay, well that takes care of my next five questions!



Wino relaxing during the Shrinebuilder sessions

You’re on tour with Clutch right now, right?

Yes we are. Yup!

And how’s the tour gone so far?

Well we’ve only played one show, so…last night was a kind of break-in-the-gear, see-what’s-gonna-happen type show. It was great! Lot of people here to see us, and then the Clutch fans are phenomenal, as usual.

Are you doing mostly stuff from your solo album Punctuated Equilibrium?

We’re doing a little bit of everything. We’re doing Punctuated Equilibrium, we’re doing some old Obsessed stuff. Basically between those two, Punctuated and old Obsessed stuff. We played a Spirit Caravan song too.

Oh fantastic. Looking through the entire back catalog. Tell me, how did recording with Shrinebuilder contrast with recording with The Obsessed, Spirit Caravan, Hidden Hand, etc?

Well, the Shrinebuilder recording was definitely a little bit by the seat of your pants. Because we didn’t really – we put it together, but everybody’s schedules were really busy. So basically what we did was we started sending around musical ideas by the internet, and then I came up with the concrete idea at what point of actually going to a recording studio, and laying down a few guitar tracks with the bass drum kick and I – I think I mailed out a CD to the guys and we did it that way for a bit. And we started getting together, not all together but in little pieces. Me and Al and Dale got together, then Al and Dale get together, then Al and Scott get together, Me and Al and Scott got together which was like the three guitar players, we worked out all the arrangements, but then we’d still never played all together.

So we’re slated to record Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So on Thursday night, Scott flew in real late, we went to a rehearsal space and we all played together as a unit. So we only all played together one night before recording. We had it done, but in the studio, it was totally professional. Everything went flawlessly. We had all our ideas worked out, arrangements worked out. We talked about it a little bit, we played through each tune before we did it, and then we just went ahead and did it. And it was one of those things where it’s just kind of magical, actually.

Each of you is iconic in your own right. Was it at all difficult to manage those four strong musical personalities, or did it all just come together?

Nobody tried to manage it, that’s the thing. There was no management – everybody had something to do, so we were basically left to our own designs, which was totally cool. We all get along great, and it ended up being really good.

Everyone sings, you can hear bits of each of your signature styles, but nobody really dominates, either. Was there a conscious effort to keep the songwriting and recording collaborative, or did that just happen naturally?

Basically, everybody brought musical ideas to the table. The musical ideas that Scott brought to the table – he sings on all his ideas, right? The stuff that I brought to the table, I had some lyrics finished but not all, because lyrics for me are one of the hardest things to write. Lyrics for a song might take me – I might have it all in one night, or it might take me a month to finish it. So basically Scott and Al are both really proficient, lyrically. I mean Al’s got a kind of stream-of-consciousness thing going. And what happened was, I brought a bunch of musical ideas to the table, but not that much lyrics. So that allowed Al and Scott to fill in the holes.

I remember at one point – there’s a lot of serendipity going on, there really was. I dunno what we were channeling, but there’s a lot of that going on. I remember distinctly there was one night, where I brought the first half of “Pyramid of the Moon” to the table. And then I was having trouble with the lyrics, and I remember that very minute, Kelly called me and said “Man you know, I’d really like to write lyrics to ‘Pyramid of the Moon,’ do you mind?” and I was like “No, I don’t mind at all.’” And it just worked out really weird that way.

It’s like you have that psychic connection.

Sort of.

I sorta hear that in the record itself, also. You can hear everybody individually, but it sounds like so much more.

Everybody’s contributing. Al and Dale, especially, they did that chanting thing you know? And that was really amazing. That came together totally off the cuff. And that was just mind-blowing, really.

How did (producer) Toshi Kasai add to the sessions?

Well, he’s just a good engineer. Plus he’s a musician. So he’s able to take our musical ideas and translate them, you know? He’s Japanese, and we were having a good time – there was a little bit of a language thing but not much. At one point in time I asked Dale – Dale finished his drum tracks, we did drum tracks first. So once we got good tracks from Dale, he didn’t have anything to do. So he sat next to Toshi and started making some production comments, you know? Which was actually really great. He was with him for the vocal tracks, and asking for more, pushing for more than what he was hearing. It was really cool, man. He sorta acted like a producer if you will. But it worked out really well actually.

Dale Crover (left) and Toshi Kasai at the mixing board

He helped mix some of it after the fact, too, right?

Yeah, definitely. He was very proactive all the way around.

To my ears, “Blind For All to See” is the sexiest shit any of you have ever recorded. Was that song fully mapped out or did it just evolve from a jam?

It was mapped out, but then…one thing I forgot to tell you is that, when all was said and done after that one weekend, I felt like it needed some more stuff. I felt it needed to be fleshed out a little bit, there should be a few more heavy rhythms on there. So basically I had to fly over to Baltimore, and J. Robbins from Jawbox has a studio in Baltimore. And I went in, laid down a couple more fat rhythms on everything, and that’s when I did the acoustic guitar on “Blind For All to See,” and I did some more e-bow, I did a slide thing there. So basically I did as much as I could over the weekend, whatever else I needed to do I did when I went to Baltimore. The acoustic thing was added, that one chord, you know? I did it on the head of each phrase, I did the slide thing, and I added a couple riffs. The heavier stuff. Kinda fatten it up some, you know?

The promo that I have deliberately left off “Science of Anger.” Can you tell me anything about that track?

Well all I can tell you is that I brought the music and title to the table, and some of the words. Kelly finished off the second half of the lyrics. It’s been kind of…heh…a rough year for me as far as my domestic situation goes, and it was something I was feeling at the time.

What does it sound like?

Angry. It’s a cool song, man. It’s definitely got some…Scott Kelly sings the second half, we actually trade vocals in there. We trade off, which is really cool. At first we wondered whether it was going to work or not. But heh…it’s sorta like the first guy comes in and kneecaps everybody, and then the second guy comes in and bludgeons everybody.

It’s perfect! It’s like you’re two Italian mafia henchmen.

Exactly. It worked out really well. It was cool. I was pretty amazed by the way everything gelled. I mean, Dale famously said, “it was like an experiment that actually worked.”

It’s so true! How many supergroups have you heard about way in advance, and then been extremely disappointed by the results? But this is not one of them. I fall in love with Shrinebuilder every time I listen to it.

Well that’s cool man, I’m very happy. I’m glad it’s getting the response it has, and I’m really glad that people are digging it. The most important thing for me is that people get something out of the music. When I listen to that record, it defies the boundaries for me, you know? I hear all of our forefathers in there, like I hear Pink Floyd, I hear a lil’ Sabbath, but you can really tell that it’s us, but you can also hear our influences a lil’ bit. You know? That’s the way it should be, I think. Being original, but still holding the elements.

You know it’s funny, I talked to Scott right before I spoke with you, and he said that while he’s really happy when people respond to his music, it’s more important to him that he is moved by his own music.

I’m the same way, but it’s kinda like the other way around. It’s more important that – I don’t know, it’s a hard line to define. My philosophy, like I’ve always said, is that I was given a gift, and I believe it’s kinda like my duty to share that for people’s wellbeing, you know? And that includes mine, for sure.

That’s a good way of putting it. Do you have any stories from the studio that you can share?

It was a quick three days. It wasn’t like a tour or anything, so nothing really too crazy happened. When Al and Dale did the chanting thing, that was fucking really intense. I remember they did a couple tracks, and it sounded really good. Then they did a couple more tracks, and more tracks and more tracks, and I was like ‘WOW.” By the end of the day – I didn’t start any of my tracks until late in the day on Sunday. Scott had to leave, So Dale did his stuff, Scott did his stuff, Al punched in his stuff and the very last person to go was me. So I basically sat around in the studio for two and a half days, I re-strung every guitar in the place, went back ‘n forth to the store four million times, you know it was just that way. But that’s the way it worked out, you know? That’s the way it is. It ended up being really great. I was totally happy.

You’ve just announced a few live dates so far. What can we expect from you guys in the near future?

We’re gonna play these last shows, then we’re gonna play Roadburn in Holland, then we’re gonna do a European tour, then I think we’re gonna do a bunch of shows in the US, too. So we’re definitely gonna tour, and then allowing everybody’s schedule, we should be able to hit quite a few cities. So I think people should come out and see us in the flesh, man.


Monday, November 02, 2009

One Track Mind

Cerebral Metalhead readers: I apologize for the month-long gap in posting. This October was one of the most hectic months of my working life thus far and I barely had time to devote to exercise, social obligations or hygiene let alone Cerebral Metalhead. You can expect more frequent posting now that I'm out of the woods. Thanks for sticking with me. Without further ado: One Track Mind!

The impulse that causes us to listen to most metal is not the same impulse that causes us to seek out a 40-minute song. The former usually involves energy in need of immediate outlet; the latter requires long term, process-oriented listening experience. That's probably why single-track metal albums tend to be so slow, and just as heavy on atmosphere as on, like, heavy (think Sleep's Dopesmoker, Cephalic Carnage's Halls of Amenti and Pig Destroyer's Natasha). Can you imagine a single-track album that's all shredding? Plenty of doom metal bands stretch song lengths to ludicrous extremes, but it takes chutzpah, pretense and absolutely no commercial ambitions to commit to a whole album consisting of one track. Here are a few recent albums by acts within metal's sphere of influence that went the distance.

Jesu - Infinity (Avalanche Recordings, 2009)

Jesu's alchemical transformation from slow-burn doom to blissful synthetics is one of the more fascinating (and transparent, thanks to Justin Broadrick's obsessive documentation of his progress) metal metamorphoses of recent years. Yet I grow increasingly disinterested with Jesu the more deeply Broadrick explores his shoegaze fixation. He's a frequently brilliant producer, but the move towards enveloping warmth coats over his music's disturbing core. Whereas Jesu was pulverizing in its droning atmospherics, the Why Are We Not Perfect? EP (reviewed here) felt lighter than air, even at its deepest moments.

"Infinity" (excerpt)

Broadrick seems well aware of his path on Infinity, a one-track album that references the entirety of Jesu's recorded output -- like a sonic version of the "my whole life flashed before my eyes" scenario that near-death experiencers go through. There's plenty of actual riffing deployed in the first twenty minutes, followed by long stretches of ambience in the middle, some droning metallic crush, and then more than ten minutes of the noodly post-rock cues of recent Jesu to finish it off. For many, the return to the heaviness of Broadrick's earlier years will be enough to recommend Infinity. Me, I need more in exchange for my 50 minutes. This track is nicely produced (pretty much a given with Broadrick) but poorly sculpted. There's nothing driving toward a conclusion here. Segments are pasted together, without much mind paid to momentum. Perhaps this is more a preference than a criticism; music need not be linear to move. But a 50-minute track oughta give you an experience that you couldn't have just by listening to 50 minutes worth of Jesu music in any other context. Infinity doesn't.


MGR y Destructo Swarmbots - Amigos de la Guitarra (Neurot, 2009)

Admittedly, Amigos de la Guitarra isn't a metal record in the slightest. The metal association comes via MGR main (only?) man Mike Gallagher, who plays guitar for Isis (whose recent Wavering Radiant is reviewed here) as his main gig. You'll hear a lot of that group's watery guitar soup-ization on this guitar collaboration with experimental musician Mike Mare, aka Destructo Swarmbots. The disc pits cyclical electric guitar figures against soft washes of ambience and guitar loops manipulated in various ways. It's profoundly meditative stuff, growing and changing incrementally but steadily. It's important that Gallagher is accustomed to destroying speakers with Isis, and that Mare's early work with Destructo Swarmbots amounted to sonic terrorism. Amigos de la Guitarra is the kind of quiescent, patient music that could probably only be made by creators so accustomed to its impatient inverse.

"Amor en el Aire" (excerpt)

While Amigos de la Guitarra involves discrete sections with patches of ambience smoothing their transitions, they scan best as a gestalt. A lot happens over the course of the album but it's mostly on a micro level and only in the long term; guitar patterns fade and are overtaken by others, loops rise and fall like tide waters are lapping at them and eroding them, cycle by cycle (those who have heard Basinki's Disintegration Loops might find a less willful echo of the same idea here). On a surface level, Amigos de la Guitarra is a pretty gorgeous work, and your average post-rock band ought to take cues from the glassy depth of MGR y Destructo Swarmbots' production, captured by Alap Momin, otherwise known as the amazing producer behind Dälek. But beauty alone isn't enough to sustain Amigos de la Guitarra for its 42-minute run time. This one sets the dimmer switch low early on and never raises or lowers it. As a result, there isn't any risk at all, nothing that compelling beyond fodder for a nice long gaze at the navel.

The wind cries "Mike" at MGR and Destructo Swarmbots' MySpace pages

Overmars - Born Again (orig. 2007; reissued Crucial Blast, 2009)

This forty-minute sludge marathon from France's Overmars is exactly the right length. The pain of listening to a single chord for so long, throbbing and bleeding interminably as three vocalists purge their innermost fears, is exactly the point. Like Swans and Godflesh before them, Overmars make vulnerable, uncomfortable music for scraping out those unexplored recesses of the soul. Whatever joy we experience through listening to it is the joy of vicarious catharsis, the knowledge that by album's end, the band has exorcised everything they could and that, if we follow their example, maybe there's some hope for us. That purging process takes a lot of time. Born Again has to as well.

"Born Again" (excerpt)

This is music about process -- if you're in search of tonal variety and chord changes, you'll be bored five minutes in to the harmonically stagnant first half. Stop thinking about it and let those tick-tock dirges take control. Let it own your listening experience instead of vice-versa for a change. Locate the loneliest, most self-critical part of you, the part that might sympathize with Overmars' amazing female vocalist Marion when she screams "I’m close to dying a thousand times/But this time I allowed myself to cry." Only then will you truly feel the payoff of Born Again's second half, a succession of droning Neurosis riffs that gets heavier, denser, more engulfing as it goes on. Overmars couldn't continue to make music this emotionally devastating if it weren't healing in some way. And based on the surprisingly upbeat, but still über-metal final stanza, it is:
Listen to the screams coming out of my wounds, free from the plague
Listen to the screams coming out of the hole, holding the sound of joy and pleasure
Listen to my screams announcing the birth of a new man
I, born again
Until the bell tolls, nothing’s finished, nothing’s done
Until the bell tolls, I am immortal

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