Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Music Review #121:
Iron Maiden
Somewhere in Time

Guys, I've got a confession to make.

I don't like Iron Maiden.

I know this statement is akin to dousing a puppy in kerosene and overhand lobbing it into a raging bonfire, but it's true. I've tried my very hardest for almost four years now to enjoy them, to see the awe-inspiring craftsmanship everyone proclaims is prevalent on so many of their classic records...but I just can't. Not only do I think both drummers on Iron Maiden, Clive Burr and Nicko McBrain, plod out some of the most boring and repetitive rhythms of all time, but the songwriting of so much of their work may have worked wonders back in 1980, but like a joke it got extremely old extremely fast with each successive release following their self-titled debut. I think the revolutionary label slapped to Iron Maiden is quite reputable, but at the same time the asserted quality to match that is repudiable.

But, and I do mean a HUGE but -- Iron Maiden's 1986 work Somewhere In Time is one of my all-time favorite metal albums. Period. Strange, right? A band I dislike making one of my favorite albums? It's true though -- I think that Somewhere In Time is a precision-made, calculated masterpiece that distances itself so far from the band's discography that it might well be from a separate artist.

Somewhere In Time is a dystopian-based, Blade Runner-inspired record that came two years after 1984's Powerslave, an album that showed a lot of promise and had a few great tracks, but didn't nearly harness the same effect as it's successor. The Powerslave supporting tour ate up a whopping 187 concerts and excreted a whole lot of exhaustion onto the band following it, specifically Dickinson, who thus was not able to produce quality songwriting contributions. Dickinson had written some acoustic songs, in fear that if they didn't step up their game to a different level, that the band would "stagnate and drift away" (see even the band recognizes their sameness to a certain degree). Although these acoustic songs were not featured, this attitude continued into the eventual recording process, causing Somewhere In Time to be the first Iron Maiden album to harness synthesizers. While this might seem like a big no-no, considering that often it's the case that once a band starts leaning on the synths it's akin to them just committing creative suicide, but it's quite the contrary; Somewhere In Time's utilization of synthesizers gives a wondrous air of mysticism to the album, as it acts as a supreme background element to the its futuristic setting. It's also a key component in the massive epics that permeate the album. The title track opener, for instance, is a blazing fireball of a gallop that is one of the most prime examples of a perfect setting of the mood on any album, unheeded by the furious scream of synthesizer bursts. 'Wasted Years' is one of three contributions by guitarist Adrian Smith, and is the most lasting relic of this album's legacy. It does have a slightly poppier vibe, which may owe to this fact, but Dickinson's beautiful chorus and the magnificent guitar hook is nothing short of a knockout punch. One more highly recommended track is 'Stranger in a Strange Land', a bass-heavy, groovy romp which acts, in a way, as a better track representative of the theme of being "caught somewhere in time" than, well 'Caught Somewhere In Time'. Perhaps this is because of the lyricism of being in a mysterious world in which the rules are unknown, which I believe the album was trying to tackle. 'Caught' is still the best track, though. Not taking that back.

The band took their biggest step forward with this album, talentwise. McBrain, who I criticized previously for being extremely repetitive and leaning too hard on a a few stagnant drum patterns, is absolutely mindblowing on this release. His constant shifts between the groovy steel heel-click of the slower songs and the fast-paced explosiveness of the faster ones makes for one of his all-time best work. Steve Harris as always is extremely present and upfront, especially for a bassist. The neat thing about him is that, as a part of the percussion section, actually works off of McBrain to create this almost machine-like twang that follows his groove. Twin guitarists Smith and Murray are of course better than ever, offering extremely intricately-woven shredding that did well to pique my interest. Dickinson, although I'll always prefer Di'Anno, is at his zenith on Somewhere In Time, belting out a sort of sophisticated type of melodic yell that few of his peers have been able to accomplish. Absolutely stunning, all of them.

Many critics readily dismiss Somewhere in Time as being "half-baked", or "a hurried coverup of an atrophying creative muscle". These same critics will turn around and praise Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, an album I believe to be leagues below this one, and compliment it for factors they would say that Somewhere in Time wrongfully utilized. I say, pay no attention to them and embrace this one just like you would say Number of the Beast or Powerslave, because it's definitely up there with the best.

2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Music Review #120:
Golden Earring
Eight Miles High
Polydor (Europe) and Atlantic (US) Records

You know, I've been an active seeker of 60's and 70's music for a while now, and through this experience I've come to realize just how many bands came into being during the late 60's hard rock boom, specifically 1968, 1969, and 1970. Of course you have the obvious like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Atomic Rooster, etc., but underneath these goliaths there existed a massive scene full of bands that, while being of similar caliber, often were to remain shrouded in obscurity and eventually fade into the musical ethos. There were countless bands to name that were considered a part of this, one of my personal favorites being the Dutch-based Golden Earring.

Golden Earring came about in 1961, but didn't come to surface until 1965 with their debut "Just Ear-rings". This album followed the then-popular Dutch garage pop style (which would be coined 'nederbeat' in reference to merseybeat, a genre which heavily influenced the Netherlands' music culture at the time), but in a whole wasn't very groundbreaking. Golden Earring continued this style for a few years, akin to how The Guess Who continued relying on merseybeat for several years until their sound change (ironically, The Guess Who made their debut and had a tonal shift at practically the exact same time as Golden Earring), until eventually they shifted into another genre growing in popularity at the time- progressive hard rock. It should be noted that the 'progressive' part of this was vastly dwarfed by the much more popular clear-cut blues rock sans lengthy and ostentatious compositions, and there was a much lower number of bands who would foray into this particular direction than those who would just rock in short bursts. Nonetheless Golden Earring took this road and in 1969 released an album titled Eight Miles High which, adorned with dried clay-covered hands reaching for floating rings, would serve as the band's biggest breakthrough in eight years.

A mess of distortion, abstract ad-libbing and twisted songwriting, Eight Miles High is perhaps one of the best examples of albums of the era. Not only does it break boundaries for Golden Earring as an outfit, it also presents a fantastically insane balance of cheesy psych and booming intensity. The most prolific tracks on this album I believe are the last two. 'Everyday's Torture' is a mysterious, haunting chantey of a desolate soul who, although speaking in pretty blatant terms, has lost hope in the idea of love, and is accompanied by a fantastic one-two punch of a hook and an equally fantastic guitar solo. As the closer we have the title track, staggering in at a massive runtime of nineteen minutes. Although a recounting of the entire track would be a bit too labor-intensive, I will say that the track goes through a variety of phases that include but are not limited to: hearty blues rock, wicked drum solo, an insanely distorted guitar solo (VERY distorted), and much, much more. Other tracks like 'Song of a Devil's Servant' in particular are a great change of pace and help to shift the tone of the album in crucial moments.

But there is a real question that should be asked, and that is to who do we owe an album with such great musicianship? The musicians, of course. George Kooymans as a vocalist channels a lovechild hybrid of Ian Anderson and Jim Morrison, making for the ideal 60's voice. On the flip-side his guitar-playing as previously mentioned is heavy, crushing and intense, and sometimes rather meek and distant (when played in a steady balance these two styles work wonders). Rinus Gerritsen works both in the percussion section as a bassist and as the keyboardist, both of which he excels at well. Sieb Warner, a one-time drummer for Golden Earring makes his sole appearance on this album, never to return, which is a shame because he is highly talented, seen especially during his solo on 'Eight Miles High'. Of course Barry Hay should be mentioned as he does a good job backing up Kooymans as rhythm guitar and backing vocalist, making the overall sound much fuller.

If you're looking for a zesty, above-average example of what the British, or in this case Dutch 60's blues scene could deliver you, I say look no further than Golden Earring's Eight Miles High.

2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Music Review #119:
Rainbow Butt Monkeys
Letters from Chutney
Mercury Records

Among the gimmick-ridden 90's, bands and music were usually either hit or miss. You'd have the most unlikable individuals crawling from the woodwork begging for attention, but the problem was they'd be mixed in with the geniuses and pioneers. Therefore, you had to have a name or title that made you stand out from the rest, one that not only characterized you but also gave you individuality. This spread mainly in the uncouth metal scene of the decade, with the rising popularity of shock rock with artists such as Marilyn Manson and Burzum taking the spotlight. You'd have bands like Pissing Razors easily waving around their titles with ease, and one such Ontario-based band constructed themselves in a similar manner, albeit in a manner that doesn't evoke as painful of imagery.

On the surface, embroidered with three women riding goofy, red-and-yellow tractors as the cover, Rainbow Butt Monkeys' 1995 debut Letters from Chutney may seem immature and childish, and granted to a certain extent it is. But what this band brings to the table is a burly and upstanding quality that has been unsuccessfully emulated by a variety of other bands of the same nature. The sophomoric attitude of the songs such as 'As Far as I Can Spit' and 'Circles' are driven by a funk-metal (and I do me out-and-out funk metal) groove that even if it doesn't appeal to your critical senses, you may still get a kick out of it. That doesn't mean however that the metal side of Letters from Chutney isn't pronounced. 'Spiderprints' in particular is a bone-crushingly heavy gallop filled with spitefulness and anger that should appeal to even the most stern.

It should be noted that this band is quite literally the precursor to Finger Eleven, as the lineup of Rainbow Butt Monkeys remained practically static during the time between Letters from Chutney and Tip in '97, aside from RBM drummer Rob Gommerman being replaced by Rich Beddoe. I think because of this, it's safe to say that if you like Finger Eleven, you'll like RBM. On the flipside though I think the inverse is true. Yes, vocalist Scott Anderson sings in a practically identical style as he would go on to do in F11, but the overall atmosphere of the album is heavier, less melodic, and much less sophisticated than their future alternative metal works, which depending on who you are, can be either a pro or a con.

Letters from Chutney has a little bit of something for everyone, and I think this accessible quality makes it stand out from not only Finger Eleven's discography but also from much of the 90's circuit. Take a gander.

2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Music Review #118:

Brian Eno
Discreet Music
Obscure Records

Brian Eno is often thought of the thinking man of progressive music. Although many thinking men exist in the genre, Eno was the one who thought the hardest, particularly in both the abstract and the minimalist. The way he perceived music as a whole both in how it's psychologically defined and how it exists in space were paramount in bringing a new mindset to the pop music world.

However when you take all this and compress it down into one album, it garners a different look. Specifically, one tagged as "ambient". In recent years this term has a stigma attached to it, and generally will cause a quick dismissal from those who you bring it up to. Sure, countless very simple projects have also called themselves ambient, but as Eno has stated, what ambient really means is practically impossible to pin down these days. Mr. Eno may be a bit forgetful however, as he seems to have forgotten that he practically created modern ambient electronic music back in 1975. Discreet Music is one of the most unadulterated expressions of noise and vibration, a sound that seems disembodied from human thought and is something that just purely....exists. Of course Kraftwerk often experimented with ambient/avant-garde electronics before Eno even began working with Robert Fripp in 1973, but what Kraftwerk either didn't care to or failed to realize at the time that ambient music is what Eno created; sprawling, hour-or-more-long, meandering behemoths of various rhythmic tones and electronic fluidity that do well to not branch off uncomfortably by being overly dynamic. This not only creates a pleasant sound, but also removes the chance of having any slip ups if you go off the avant-garde deep end, which even Eno has done in the past. Kraftwerk understood the meaning of this quite well even before Eno did, with 1974's Autobahn epic replete with vehicle imagery, but it took another year for another musician to perfect it, and that just so happened to be Eno.

The rest of the album aside from the title track epic is three different variations of Canon in D Major by Johann Pachelbel. While not being the centrepiece, Eno's interpretations of the classic 'Pachabel's Canon' which, while being in basic terms the same Canon you've heard for years, are indeed testaments to Eno's mixing of industrial music with the classical. 'Fullness of Wind' I believe is the best of the three.

What I think Discreet Music represents is a wholesome and unbroken part of Eno's career, which both represents a then stepping stone but also a timeless element in one of the most prolific electronic musician's music. That, and it's a signal for other artists even today to expound on it to find the deepest crevasses the human spirit can travel to. Either that, or I'm just blowing it out of proportion. Part of me, though, thinks I'm right.

2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day!