Thursday, June 29, 2017

Music Review #138:
Killing Technology

In the short time span of a year following Voivod's second album the band reinvented themselves drastically and almost frighteningly well in time for their third release. It marked a short lived second generation of Voivod, one that mediated the hardcore punk infused, lo-fi thrash that they represented in their earliest years, and the eccentric and boundlessly creative prog thrash that would garner the group their most popular image. Thus Killing Technology represents a half-and-half mix of both sides, still bearing anarchic similarities to Rrröööaaarrr but also bearing the fruits of a more technical, progressive edge in its earliest Voivod incarnation.

The actual music of Killing Technology though is, at times, hard to swallow, and it's not hard to see why it can be polarizing to some. The riffing is obviously enthusiastic and full of youthful energy, but it's also rather unmelodious and rather unpleasant (the metal kind, more as in interesting than bad) at times. The searing scratch of the guitar can broadside the vocals at a completely different melody to what Snake is singing, creating at times an almost black metal vibe such as on songs like 'Tornado'. To counter this, Piggy's guitar can rip into a battering crunch that blends perfectly with the even faster and furious drumming but also the heavy twang of Blacky's bass creates a monstrous, pulse-pounding combo. Not only this but with the unspoken quasi-concept of the dark and horrifying unknown side of space attached like a tag onto many of the songs does well to give Killing Technology an almost alien feel comparative to many of the bands other releases. This is of course what gives Voivod such uniqueness as it hits home the point that very few Voivod releases sound similar, giving the band an ever-present freshness that many other bands of their caliber could not achieve.

Nonetheless it cannot be denied that Killing Technology was the mark of a truly upward slope in quality for Voivod, it terms of quality, creativity, and overall success. One of thrash and prog metal's biggest names are on the fast-track to the upper echelons of greatness and it seems nothing can stop them.

2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Music Review #137:

Rrröööaaarrr is a very interesting followup to the band's 1984 debut album. It's certainly an improvement in recording quality, as even though the band remains firmly set in lo-fi thrash territory, their abandonment of the then-young Metal Blade Records for the even younger Noise Records proved to be keep them there while also making them sound better. The music has an overall presence that it didn't have before, all while retaining the garage-thrash feel they obviously are going for. But the inability for the band to leave their comfort zone creates an album that is more or less a continuation of War and Pain, even featuring an almost identical album artwork that, instead of featuring the band's mascot, depicts a rusty looking robot instead. There is not that huge of a boundary leap in terms of maturation of sound, and instead Rrröööaaarrr just makes it seem like Voivod's trying to pull the same trick twice. 

Granted a maturation is shown in a few areas, like the song-writing's ever increasing gravitation towards progressive eclecticism that would sprout particularly in the coming albums, and in general there's a better selection of fun songs. 'Ripping Headaches' in particular is to me the most aggressive bit from the whole piece, showcasing not only vigorous power but also a few interesting tonal shifts that do well to pique my interest and come back often. Said tonal shifts would become commonplace of course, so it's fun to see the early stages of Voivod's massive appeal. Also it has a great guitar solo. 'Horror' is another good track that would have better fit on the first album in terms of lyrical value of combat and vicious, otherworldly conflict, and also has some of the best guitar-work of the album in whole. But that aside, Rrröööaaarrr is an album that, if the band didn't have an explosive epiphany following it, almost seems like Voivod running out of ideas. Like War and Pain, it doesn't really have the chutzpah to rival something like Dimension Hatröss. But I will say that it comes a bit closer to doing so.

2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 
Music Review #136:
War and Pain
Metal Blade

Adorned with what can only presumed to be a hellish-looking Voivode (hereafter named "Korgull"), the Quebecois metal act Voivod's 1984 debut is often forgotten by those other than hardcore fans of the band, which can be for a few reasons. For one, it does not sound like the Voivod that would become to be well known around the end of the decade with Nothingface. In fact it's quite bare-bones in its thrash metal delivery, in strict adherence to the sounds of hardcore punk and the extremely popular wave of heavy metal from Europe in the latter part of the 1970's. 

Very scratchy guitar licks and vocals that border on the edge of actually being vocals (granted Snake would go on to abandon his Chris Rock impression for a more humble style later on) head off the release, similar to other Canadian contemporaries like Razor or even like a stripped down version of Anvil's early work. The banger track on here for me has got to be 'Nuclear War', a song fueled by Cold War sentiments and fears of it growing into what it's named after. Although it's not exactly a complex view into society's emotions or any of that hoo-ha a la Pallas' The Sentinel, it is a rapid fire, machine gun track that burns out almost gracefully as a stupid fear mongering track to rival the likes of 'Electric Funeral'. In all War and Pain is a punchy splash into the metal pool and is a firecracker showcase of the band's talents, but doesn't nearly stand tall next to the complexities of later progressive-oriented albums or the bigger thrash hits like Killing Technology. Stupid fun.

2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
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Friday, June 23, 2017

Music Review #135:
Enjoy Incubus
Epic / Immortal

The raucous MTV era that started in the early 1980's came to a peak in the 90's, producing some of the most well known radio hits and music groups ever to exist. Alternative music was at it's peak popularity, as not only acts like Beck and Radiohead became much more popular, but grunge also made it's breakout early in the decade with Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, et cetera. But what this "MTV era" produced and promoted more than anything was eclecticism and creativity. Basically, the more interesting you were, the more popular you were (as long as you didn't break into the inoperable avant-garde side of music as that was not exactly greeted with open arms by a TV network). 

In the midst of crazy music videos and shocking musical acts came Incubus, making their debut in 1995 with Fungus Amongus. Incubus, for the most part, wasn't anything exactly special in comparison with the rest of the grungy hard rock being aired and getting radio play by the time they arrived. Not only that, Fungus Amongus was an independent record, and didn't see a major label release until 2000, half a decade later. So, the debut didn't do so hot, with zero tracks making the charts whatsoever. Incubus picked up the ball rather fast though, and cranked their dirty funk metal style up a few notches for an early second coming.

Enjoy Incubus, a six-track EP, was released two years after the band's debut and followup two-track EP (Let Me Tell Ya 'Bout Root Beer, the band's first 'professionally' recorded release, which is where the track 'Azwethinkweiz' originates from) in 1997. The intended purpose of Enjoy Incubus is likely to act as a satiation while they worked on their second album, which would start recording subsequent to this EP's release and then released itself later in the year. But it's also likely that this is a testing of the waters for the professional music world by Incubus, as all the tracks are re-recorded tracks picked straight from Fungus Amongus, except for the aforementioned 'Azwethinkweiz' and 'Version', the latter being the only original tune from this EP. Although it is debatable whether these versions are superior to their originals, as many prefer an amateurish recording style to a more streamlined one, what is evident is that Enjoy Incubus made up for the wrongs the debut made in several objective areas. It's more dynamic, interesting, and thought-provoking than its predecessor. Not only that but it set in stone an underground cult following that was responsible for sending S.C.I.E.N.C.E., the followup studio album, into a gold certification. It was truly a change of pace for the band- in a good direction.

The main reason Enjoy Incubus is so, well, enjoyable, however, is the music itself. With a simple track list of only six songs, this EP is perhaps the most satisfying and effective release the band ever made. From the parodying cover of a coffee advertisement inviting you to "Enjoy Incubus: the best in hi-fi quality" (which is very representative of 90's quirkiness) to the music, this EP is chalk-full of free-wheeling, creative alternative rock / metal that bounces constantly between a gamut of different themes. The saxophone / brass samples used on 'Azwethinkweiz' especially showcase the sophisticated eclecticism in which Incubus do their work. It is very clear that Incubus is a band that does what they do for fun, evident from the constant audio tidbits at the end of each track that are entirely odd and almost out of place. But this translates extremely well into their music as well, especially in vocalist Brandon Boyd's mess of lyrical writing that acts as scat more than anything actually substantial, the no-holds-barred drum fills of Jose Pasillas II, the slap bass of Dirk Lance, and especially the record scratches by Kid Lyfe, which in particular make this EP extremely surreal and symbolic of the time in which it was released. It also must be noted that the "metal" of "funk metal" is not forgotten in the slightest, but it's not exactly always present at every moment either. In fact metal, although predominant, is used sort of like another outside element that's factored into the beautiful entanglement that this EP is. In other words, it's not an average metal release that has constant crunching almost always present at every given time One second you could be listening to a crisp alt rock drive, the next it bursts into a roaring frenzy of manic riffing. It's a release that keeps you on your toes at all time in a thematic sense, so it's likely to register many listen-throughs to totally grasp a solid knowledge of what it has in store.

My personal opinion is that this EP is the highest point Incubus ever reached, and to a lesser extent their followup album a few months after. Enjoy Incubus represents a changing time for music with music that remains fresh and excellent even after twenty years.

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

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Music Review #134:
Into Darkness
Nuclear Blast

Winter embody every negative aspect of the season they name themselves after: the coldness, the darkness, and the immaculate freezing blanket that covers the ground day and night. Speaking as someone who lives in New York, where this band originates from, the winters here are nothing to scoff about. Though perhaps not as gruelingly whittling as Winter may make it out to be, it ain't fun, in simple terms. So why not make an album about it? I can only presume that Winter's 1990 debut Into Darkness is that album. Maybe.

Doom metal is a genre that fits well with a theme of winter because of it's ability to convey the aforementioned somber themes particularly well. However where the true magic comes from is the fusion of death metal in the mix to make it a truly hallowing release. The muddied, very lo-fi guitar of Stephen Flam (whom I heard of funnily enough with his work with the obscure industrial outfit Thorn in 1995) contrasts beautifully yet unsettlingly with the scanty, spacey keyboards by Tony Pinnisi. This comes mainly from the post-punk, college-like recording quality of Into Darkness, which walks just on the edge of being black metal levels of quality and professional, clean cut work. It really makes the album shift around at times, especially when it comes to either having the different instruments meld into a single, trudging unit or when it comes time for things like the vocals to stick out from the rest. The rollicking drums of Joe Gonclaves are perhaps the best part of the mix, having a modest yet not an overbearing amount of fills at any particular time, yet still having a massive weight to them any time they're prominent.

My personal favorite parts of this album come from the tracks like 'Goden', where bassist John Alman's death-like gut-bellows (which I like so much because they don't sound as silly as one might think) coincide fantastically with the droning guitar and bass and the previously mentioned rolling drumming. This especially works on one of my favorite tracks, 'Destiny', where the pace is kicked up a notch into grooving trot. This as well as interspersed returns to a slow, doomy atmosphere lend this song and the album as a whole to be wonderfully quick-witted and able to keep you on your feet and interested. On the flip-side though many of Into Darkness' slow parts are its weak points- sometimes the hard-to-tell-apart-the-instruments recording style of the album makes the slow parts almost mediocre in a way, at least when vocals aren't there to lend a hand. Some of these slow parts have a minimalist style that broadside harshly with the complex stuff that either precede or succeed them, making them sound pretty misplaced and often misused. In all though these negative areas are few-and-far-between and rarely deter the fun and enjoyable ones.

Winter, in my honest opinion, is a much better example of good death-doom than many of their contemporaries (yes, maybe even My Dying Bride). Definitely a stellar release deserving of much more attention.

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

Friday, June 9, 2017

Music Review #133:

If you're at all familiar with famed avant-garde metal act Mr. Bungle or it's mastermind Mike Patton, then you shouldn't be at all unaware as to the contents of Fantômas. Or maybe you should. Who knows at this point.

"Fantômas" originates from the titular character in a 1964 French film (or the 1913 thing, whatever you please), which was directed by the late Andre Hunebelle who just so happened to be a master glass-maker. Who would have guessed? Anyhow, after the group Mr. Bungle sort-of kind-of broke up in 1999 (even though, not really- 2004 about) and avant-garde fetishist Mike Patton wanted another way to oust his urges since Faith No More wasn't really cutting it. Thus, Fantômas was born from a horrifying musical Caesarean section unto the world. Seeing as the last album of Mr. Bungle (which came in the same year, 1999) had combinations of doo-wop and thrash metal, it's safe to say that whatever this 'Fantomas' thing can't exactly be called 'normal'.

A first question I asked upon first inspection of this self-titled record was, "how the hell do I listen to it?" At first glance the first connection you might draw towards is grindcore, a similar genre with very short track times as well. Don't. It's not that.

Allow me to take a moment of clarity for a second. Like any avant-garde album, criticism is hard to levy towards it. I mean, something so erratic can't be easily pinned down. Lyrical quality is of course non-existent, although I do commend Mike Patton for his impeccable variation between "KI-KI-KI-KI-KI-KI-KI" and "hyena screeching after being impaled with four spears" impression, both of which are like audio serenades. It is definitely metal, for sure. Dave Lombardo, drummer of Slayer, is of course delivers a very powerful performance (at least when he's actually on the mic), especially when the music goes full monty on the metal aspect. Other than that differentiation of bass and guitar by Trevor Dunn and Buzz Osborne is practically impossible amidst all the noise. They are rather nice when they get a minute's time to shred and hit a crazy solo.

But the aforementioned noise is the centerpiece of this. For what it is, which is practically nothing, it's well-produced. Mike Patton is a man who is very fond of nothing, such as that one time when he recorded himself for 43 minutes clapping and screaming in a hotel room in '96*. When he gets a chance to do some neat stuff, he does it rather well. Every time the album goes silent the silence feels heavy, which is a very dismal yet cathartic experience you won't find in really any other genre. The ambiance of the piece yields interesting material as well, like film audio-samples (presumably from Fantômas or films of its caliber) and other industrial noises, all which create an example of metal degradation, something I'm sure Mr. Patton was going for. Although there are many motifs in Fantômas, such as a certain falsetto that Patton does occasionally and extremely high pitched screaming, which do tend to lose their effect after a few listens.

Although I can't really pin down specific tracks that I feel most in-tune with, I won't list any others than 'Page 26', which is so eerily...evil in it's intensity. Rarely have I found any other musical pieces that have instilled genuine discomfort in me more than this particular piece. Very interesting.

All in all I apologize for the disjointedness of some of my thoughts. I am someone who likes to write reviews of music while listening to the music itself. In doing so I sometimes channel the musical nature of it into the reviews themselves. What you just read is the product of a Fantômas-laden mind, and I'm sorry. As for the album itself, I suppose it hit its mark as a discomforting or overly-pretentious production, but it doesn't really break through any boundaries past that. Is it even worth proof reading this?


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

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Music Review #132:
Brighten the Corners
Matador / Capital

I'm gonna take the crown! I'm gonna take the crown!

Pavement's 1992 debut Slanted and Enchanted was a revolutionary record in both the area of noise rock and lo-fi recording. Critics ate it up it's incohesiveness like a buffet, and to this day it remains the Californian group's most famous record. The follow-up, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain seemed an even more astounding success, as it flipped the band's formula onto it's head with a much more commercially streamlined approach of the then-popular college rock style, but still garnered the group an almost equal amount of applause. Following the sophomore album though, Pavement experienced a bit of a drop-off. Luckily the status they'd achieved from the massive compass of hearty compliments cemented them as a cult group, however never again would they truly hit golden-boy status. A rumor floated around the music world as their third album dropped, mainly perpetuated by Rolling Stone, that Pavement were unwilling to really step into the spotlight of commercial popularity. This arose from Wowee Zowee, the aforementioned third album, being much more dynamically creative than its predecessor, oddly marking a third dramatic tonal shift for the group in the span of three years alone. People might have been... overestimating Pavement at the time because it was obvious that Stephen Malkimus and friends were working with half-a-mind at all times during production of their recordings, and they probably thought that their songs sounded like smash hits at the time.

That aside, Pavement's fourth album followed up Wowee Zowee, titled Brighten the Corners, in 1997. Though it can be debated, this particular album was not only their lowest selling album to date, but likely their most accessible. It's unlikely however that this accessibility was a plea for success, as from several interviews Pavement has made clear that their records are spawned from a sense of fun (likely under the influence, but fun nonetheless) and less from a want for monetary gain. This would also become clear around the time Brighten the Corners as following it's release morale dwindled slower and slower until '99, when the members haphazardly called it quits out of exhaustion and lack of enthusiasm.

Although Brighten the Corners might represent a whittled-down version of a rather uncouth band, it does show the band in a seemingly more vulnerable light than when they were creating noise. In this more by-the-numbers setting, vocalist and guitarist Stephen Malkmus' voice is an untrained animal, often prone to painful cracking and struggles to hit high notes that his late-90's contemporaries could. The guitar from both him and Scott Kannberg is mainly fairly mellow and surrealistically repetitive with it's punk-like vibe, interspersed with grinding drones that are reminiscent of Pavement's earlier days. Often times the guitar will just cut out in odd hiatuses, leaving bassist Mark Ibold to show off in the percussion section with drummer Steve West filling in the background to Malkmus' depressed-sounding vocals ('Type Slowly', for instance). For the most part, Brighten the Corners maintains a slow, trudging college-rock pace, sort of like offbeat radio-friendliness, if you will. Occasionally it breaks into a quicker pace, such as on 'Embassy Row', wherein (with one of my favorite choruses in indie, I think) Malkmus turns into a condescending, bitter character speaking lowly of corrupt politics of the foreign kind. Really it's quite a treat, and a really obscure but fantastic gem from this group.

Although this album marks a bit of a change of pace for the direction of Pavement, it is nonetheless extremely enjoyable much more often than not. Don't expect a very noisy Pavement, but expect a loud and proud one.

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

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Music Review #131:
Black Sabbath

Tyr's name originates from the Norse god of the same name who, in an effort to bind him, famously had his right hand bitten off by the abominable wolf Fenrir. This along with several allusions to elements of the mythology, like Valhalla and Odin, made Tyr one of the oddest releases for the fractured late-80's/early 90's Black Sabbath. Even though bassist Neil Murray denies the connection, Tyr's heavy use of mythos did well to spur the "viking metal" genre that gained cult status in the greater part of the 90's.

Silly although it may sound, Tyr is packed full of extremely talented musicians. Whether their past merits stand out here though...that's to be decided.

This album came about at a time where Black Sabbath was featuring heavy lineup changes. While this is not unfamiliar for the group, in the 80's it was practically fractured and by the time Tyr came out one original member consistently decided to be a part of it- guitarist Tony Iommi (although Dio did join back for a one-off on Dehumanizer). Tony Martin was seemingly a semi-permanent fixture at least, seeing as he had lasted longer than both Ian Gillan and Glenn Hughes, which really isn't that hard considering they were both on for one album each. Not only was the lineup destroyed, the 80's Sabbath showed huge fluctuations in quality from album to album. First you'd see a pretty good album like Born Again in '83, next you get a total face-plant with Seventh Star. It was fairly hard to tell how it would turn out until the music actually came out. So where does Tyr lie on the spectrum?

Like most of these albums, the quality of the music that they house can't exactly called spectacular or really outstanding at all, and Tyr does nothing to break this characteristic. It continues the Rainbow / Sabbath fusion sonically that was established a few years prior, but not even the mythological reference don't seem to mix it up. This leaves Tyr in sort of stale state, wherein greatness is heard in bursts but it doesn't have the ability to put it at the forefront. For one, the slow, symphonic heavy metal sound it has never varies, and many of the songs end up sounding like carbon copies of another. Same signatures, same drum fills, same vocal harmonies. If this sound is very friendly to you and you feel comfortable with it, you might find solace on this album. If you find it distasteful, by god you will hate it. As for where I stand, I'm not a fan of heavy repetition nor over-indulgence in a certain musical medium, and Tyr's dabbling in both is something I'm not particularly fond of. At times though, like I said before, the power really shines through. Iommi's solos sound particularly good on this album not only compared to the other 80's/90's albums. Not sure why that is, but I'm not complaining. Martin's vocals are particularly good at times, and I've never professed myself as a hater of his. Quite the contrary- I think that Tyr is some of his best work, following closely behind 1989's Headless Cross (which is undeniably the best Martin-era album).

Other than that though, these factors really leave Tyr at "okay". Nothing more, nothing less. Sabbath would go on to continue the trend of ups and downs, but overall quality of the group actually seemed to stabilize somewhat. Tyr is a sign of an aged, but legendary group that sometimes shows it's former glory, but all in all is fairly average.

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