Iron Maiden: The Book Of Souls

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If this hadn’t been perhaps one of the most hyped metal albums in history it might have just gotten swept into the dustbin, along with the other regrettable entries in many metal legends’ discographies. However, coming five years after their prior release, being a double album (amazingly they only have 11 tracks covering the album’s 92 minutes), and suffering from delays due to lead singer Bruce Dickinson’s cancer treatment, this album was highly anticipated. Unfortunately, while being mostly inoffensive, it pretty much sucks from top to bottom.

The first thing you’ll notice is that Dickinson’s voice has not held up over time (or possibly hasn’t recovered from the surgery on his tongue). I noted a similar effect on Motörhead’s release from this summer, too, but a rough-voiced singer like Lemmy can pull off some weakening better than can the operatic Dickinson. I hate to criticize somebody’s performance when they’ve just had cancer treatment on their singing organ, but the band had no business making Dickinson produce this much singing on record.

And, really, the band had no business putting this much music on record. Again, this is an 11-track album that lasts 92 minutes. There is a 10-, a 13-, and an unbelievable 18-minute track included. The second longest song on the album, “The Red And The Black” is representative of most: the stanzas are paired in such a way that the first three bars of each are the same, but the melody of the fourth bar in the first stanza ascends at the end whereas that of the second stanza descends into resolution. There’s nothing wrong with that approach per se, but it’s certainly not progressive, and when it’s done over and over for 90 minutes it becomes incredibly tiresome. Another trope delivered all too often is that most of the songs, especially the longer epics, are introduced with a solo guitar playing a slowed down version of the main theme (that, again, we’re about to hear for another eight minutes or more, anyway). With every run through the pattern at the start of “The Book Of Souls” I’m begging for it to begin, and I’m disappointed too often.

Finally, there’s “Empire Of The Clouds,” the album’s last track. It runs 18 minutes (and one second, for good measure). It’s about a big ship and the difficulties of launching it. I mean I think it’s a flying ship, which makes it a little better, but at the point where the captain melodramatically drops the cargo when told she won’t sail, the last little flicker of interest I have dies out.

The band is at its best when they keep things short, at least relatively so, as they get to the point more expeditiously and don’t stretch things out when they don’t have anything else to say. See “The Great Unknown” and “Death Or Glory” for a couple of examples. Still, these are not great songs by any measure. In fact, the band’s ceiling on this album seems to be adequate.

Rock musicians have proven to me in the past two decades that, even when they’re old, they can still release great music and deliver energetic performances. But it’s far from guaranteed, and if you’re doing this in your 50’s and 60’s, you’d better be damned sure your material is solid. Iron Maiden came through the grunge/alternative era with their reputation probably better than it was when it went in, and in large part well-deserved due to the strength of their 80’s catalog. But good grief, The Book Of Souls is more preposterous than much of what Spinal Tap predicted.

Rating:
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Like: “The Great Unknown”
Meh: “If Eternity Should Fail,” “Speed Of Light,” “The Red And The Black,” “When The River Runs Deep,” “The Book Of Souls,” “Death Or Glory,” “Shadows Of The Valley,” “Tears Of A Clown,” “The Man Of Sorrows”
Dislike: “Empire Of The Clouds”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Failure: The Heart Is A Monster

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It took 19 years, but Failure followed up their beloved space rock album, Fantastic Planet, with what appears to be a direct sequel last year. The aeronautical themes continue on this album, and the titles of the Segue tracks (of which there are six) pick up where they left off in 1996, as the first track on the album is called “Segue 4.”

Happily, the band totally exceeds everything done on their prior release. In fact, this is probably their best record of all, as it ties the rating I gave for their debut Comfort, and beats that of their second release, Magnified. The songs are mostly very good, though with 18 tracks even as many as six segues can’t prevent some near-clunkers from getting in; “Atom City Queen” is the obvious one to cut here, along with a few of the nothing-y segues.

This is a sonic pleasure, as the production and engineering are top-notch. The ambience of the instruments and the deadpan delivery of the stark lyrics masterfully paint a theme of airborne, spacebound desolation. The final non-segue song, “I Can See Houses,” seems to be about a man aboard a crashing plane, accepting his fate, or at least his likely fate.

This is the sound of a mature band, bringing on power not through speed or even heaviness, but through a thorough execution of a clear vision of an antiseptic, lonely, harsh future.

Rating:
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Mix: “Fair Light Era”
Really Like: “Counterfeit Sky,” “Petting The Carpet”
Like: “Hot Traveler,” “A.M. Amnesia,” “Snow Angel,” “Segue 5,” “Mulholland Dr.,” “Segue 6,” “Come Crashing,” “The Focus,” “Otherwhere,” “Segue 8,” “I Can See Houses”
Meh:
“Segue 4,” “Atom City Queen,” “Segue 7,” “Segue 9”
Song Notes:
 After the jump Continue reading

Fantômas: The Director’s Cut Live, A New Year’s Revolution

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Let’s start with a brief overview of Fantômas’s history. In 1999, the band would, composed of members of Mr. Bungle, Melvins, and Slayer, lead off Ipecac Recordings’ catalog with IPC-001, their self-titled album. Two years later they’d come along with their masterpiece, The Director’s Cut, IPC-017, 15 tracks that are covers of movie themes (plus a four second untitled track), some that you’ve heard (The GodfatherRosemary’s Baby) and more that you haven’t. In 2004 and 2005 they’d release a forgettable pair of albums (the latter of which I reviewed at an old joint) before going into a cold war of hibernation. (I read one interview with guitarist Buzz Osborne, the Melvins representative, where he said, “Ask [lead singer] Mike [Patton],” when asked why we hadn’t seen any Fantômas releases for a while.) Amid that somewhat bizarre somewhat public airing of grievances, Osborne and Patton managed to get together to perform this New Year’s show, replacing drummer Dave Lombardo (also of Slayer) with Melvins’ Dale Crover. (The only member you have not yet been introduced to in this review is Mr. Bungle’s bassist Trevor Dunn.)

It’s not clear when this was recorded, though it was on a New Year’s Day. Given that it was released in September(!) 2011, it’s safe to say this was recorded starting at midnight on January 1, 2011 in San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall. I have some difficult history with Fantômas live. On New Year’s Eve 1999 I disappointedly showed up at their show just at the end of their set (they were second in a lineup of five). And on something like September 14th or 15th 2001 I had tickets to their show in Minneapolis, but because some assholes flew planes into the World Trade Center a few days prior, I couldn’t get out of Portland in order to see it. And then I feel like I did see them on the Suspended Animation tour in Boston with The Locust opening, but I don’t see a review of that show.

So, anyway, it’s weird that the band would perform the entirety of this album ten years after its release and six years after they’d released anything at all, but I was happy to get it even then since it really is an amazing album. They do the entire thing live, but in a different order, and they pull it off, too, which is impressive since there are an awful lot of studio tricks and the virtuosity required is nothing to sneeze at either.

But more than the excellent source material, the exquisite performances, and the fantastic sound, this DVD is special because of the visual production. The first few tracks start off pretty standard, and then over the next 40 minutes or so things start getting trippier and trippier. It starts with some intentionally grainy footage and a few different screens, and moves onto ghost images, a rotating stage, and special effects that include distorting the band’s faces into demons from a terrible acid trip. It’s appropriate for a soundtrack consisting of horror movie themes.

The encore has them doing a fart-heavy (no, really) version of Al Green’s “Simply Beautiful” over visuals of bears and gorillas taking shits (no, really) and closing with “Chariot Choogle,” a T-Rex cover and probably my favorite song of theirs. I might have been tempted to give this five clowns had they stopped there, but for some reason they end with some weird guy who seems like he might be homeless and has recently been discharged from the hospital viewing the footage in a trailer and making “commentary” on it. It’s very difficult to watch.

Fortunately, there is a more real commentary on the concert done by comedian Neil Hamburger. This won’t be for everybody, but fans of alternative comedy and Fantômas should enjoy it. It’s a single, still camera recording Hamburger watch the DVD on his bed in the Destiny Inn in Commerce, California, which he tells us is directly between a freeway (that we can see out his window) and train tracks. He proceeds at a very deliberate pace to describe his terrible stand-up show that night in Industry, instruct us on how to check for bedbugs (he finds none this night), complain about the band’s sloppy dress, and hide a room key from a prior hotel so that whoever finds it can win an Ipecac Recordings “prize pack,” among other things. There’s very little describing the actual concert, but it doesn’t matter since it’s hilarious.

Coming into this I thought this would just be a standard concert DVD, and based on the history of the band, it felt like it had a real chance to just be a money grab. But I was very pleasantly surprised and thoroughly enjoyed watching it this week. Here’s a tip, though: This performance has such giant dynamic range that you don’t want to listen to it in the evenings on your TV while you want your kids to be sleeping and not overhearing a rock band singing horror songs and cussing. It’s better to pop this into a PC with an optical drive and put on some awesome headphones. Let yourself fall into the mesmerizing sounds and visuals Fantômas has for you.

Rating:
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Filed Between: I haven’t unpacked my DVDs yet, either, but based on my review of The Fantômas Melvins Big Band DVD, it’s probably between that and High Fidelity.
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Dovetail Joint: 001

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I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it as long it keeps getting reinforced, but this is why I keep listening to previously unheard music as voraciously as I do. It happens less and less frequently, but a great discovery is just so damned uplifting and reaffirms beauty in music for me.

001 goes down like a fresh drink of ice water on a hot day. It’s so clean and pure, you can guzzle away greedily, and it only leaves you feeling refreshed. It’s like a cool rock n’ roll shower after a sweaty, productive day. It’s straight-forward guitar-driven rock with clean vocals and a tight verse-chorus-verse structure. What grabs you are the melodies and the use of well-placed pedal distortion to move the song along with selective emphasis. It’s easy to get into but doesn’t get tiresome.

You know who this reminds me of…Jump, Little Children, and in particular their Magazine album. That album was a little more adventurous, but the vocal qualities are similar and you have well-written soft-loud songs that reward first and subsequent listens. There’s also the matter that they both came along as discoveries several years after they’d been out in the wild, but I think the main similarities are musical.

And there’s just not a clunker in the group. It’s only ten songs, probably less than 40 minutes, and you just want to listen to the whole damned thing all the way through. In 1999 many bands would have tacked on six mediocre to crappy songs just because they could, or wanted to show some range, but the closest you get to that here is the fine but too long album closer “Lullaby.”

So, yeah, when something comes along that’s this well written, produced, engineered, and packaged, I don’t want to spend a lot of time analyzing it. I just freaking love it. Treat yo’self and give it a listen or two.

Rating:
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Mix: “Boy,” “Oh My God”
Really Like: 
“Beautiful,” “Level On The Inside”
Like: “So Graciously Said,” “Except When You’re Late,” “Here We Are,” “Afraid,” “This Is My Home,” “Lullaby”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Love Spit Love: Trysome Eatone

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Hey did you know that this band features Richard Butler of The Psychedelic Furs? Well if you didn’t, Butler will tell you himself as part of the lyrics on this album. “Believe” features the line “Richard’s not at home,” and on “Friends” you even get his last name included in the lyrics.

Also, if you’re like me, you always thought the best part of The Psychedelic Furs was their name. Even their biggest hit, “Pretty In Pink,” was basically a non-event in the universe I inhabit. It was on the soundtrack, yeah, but I never heard it on the radio or heard anybody humming it. It’s completely forgettable.

And I have no idea why Richard and his brother Tim needed to disband one yawn of a band to start basically the same exact band. The best thing I can say about this album is I can kind of hear what other people would like in it. The production is excellent, providing lots of great timbres and atmosphere and layers and places to get lost in.

But man, then there’s the songs. They’re mostly inoffensive but boring, but then when you add in that goddamned nasally British whine (I guess this is Richard Butler’s britpop album…the timing’s almost right, if late by a year or two) it’s just a giant turn off.

Two clowns might be generous, but I can tell there’s something here that appeals to a lot of other people, a nice variation in just how the boring-ness is achieved, and, like I said, good production.

Rating:
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Like: “More Than Money”
Meh: 
“Long Long Time,” “Believe,” “Friends,” “Fall On Tears,” “Little Fist,” “It Hurts When I Laugh,” “Sweet Thing,” “All God’s Children,” “November 5”
Dislike: “Well Well Well,” “7 Years”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

2015 Clownies

Now that 2016 is in full swing, it’s time to get started on my year-end 2015 posts. Here we are with The 2015 Clownies. Now, I always have to remind myself about these posts, so I assume you need a refresher, too. The Clownies celebrate the best of what I reviewed in 2015, not necessarily what was released in 2015. I cover the best of what was released in 2015 in my Best Of post, which will be severely delayed this year because I want to review a few more 2015 albums before getting around to that one.

So on to the winners.

Song Of The Year

This one was easy. Last February I reviewed the Best Song Ever, Guns N’ Roses’ “Coma” from Use Your Illusion I, so that’s the winner.

Album Of The Year

This award was quite a bit trickier to nail down, and I’m still not sure I got it right. I reviewed four five-clown albums this year, which seems high, but I’ll stand by those four.

That said, Led Zeppelin’s IV [Deluxe Edition] was quickly eliminated from contention when I re-reviewed them over the last couple of weeks. It’s just not nearly as immediate as the other three candidates.

The next to be eliminated, though it was a strong contender, was Alice In Chain’s Facelift.

Finally, I spent quite a bit of time trying to pick between Kyuss’ Wretch and Morrissey’s Your Arsenal.

I should point out here that all four of these albums were surprise contenders. Led Zeppelin because I’d previously reviewed the non-deluxe version of IV and found it underwhelming. Morrissey because I had no idea he made albums that good. And Kyuss and Alice In Chains because I thought I preferred each album’s follow-up, which I definitely don’t.

Anyway, after a lot of careful listening, I am awarding the Clownie to Wretch by a pinky. Your Arsenal is excellent, and as a tighter package, leaves you breathless and just satisfied. Wretch goes a little too long; I’m always thinking it should end when it gets to the ninth track (“I’m Not”) but it’s got two more to go. Still, it’s so much more visceral that, despite, or maybe because of, its rough edges I slightly prefer it.

Artist Of The Year

This is not quite as obvious a winner as “Coma,” but still kind of a shoo-in in a year where there were very few artists of whom I reviewed more than one release. The winner is Led Zeppelin, as I reviewed the deluxe editions of four of their albums: II, III, IV, and Houses Of The Holy. And it wasn’t just quantity of reviews, either. Along with IV‘s ultimate rating, the other three all came in at 4.5 clowns. What a career to get into forty years after the fact. Go Fat Clown!

Spastic Ink: Ink Compatible

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So I’m sitting down to write this review, and I’m kind of unsure where to start, so I bust out the liner notes and note that Jason McMaster is the lead singer. And I’m like, Hmmm, Jason McMaster, that name rings a bell. So a Bing search later and I realize Oh, he’s the lead singer of Dangerous Toys (whose debut album is phenomenal). Also I notice that Marty Friedman, guitar legend from Megadeth’s best years, is involved in the project, though not, it seems, a permanent member of the band.

And the combination of that level of talent plus just WTF am I listening to is a great summary of this album. I mean, there’s all that, and then the copyright is just attributed to guitarist Ron Jarzombek, not a record label or even a publishing company. Spastic Ink is an appropriate moniker, and the cover art, which to me looks like an ink cartridge jizzing all over a circuit board, also seems appropriate. This is an explosion of talent put down on tape in a completely unrestrained way. It’s like these virtuosi were just given free rein to be as technical as they wanted to be, but then, along the lines of, like Steve Vai, they forgot to make their songs accessible at all.

Although, whereas Steve Vai is mostly overwrought ego, these guys are overdone silliness. This came out in 2004, but it feels like 1994 in its technological references (the first sound you hear on the record is a modem dialing in on an analog line). There are weird, anachronistic spoken word parts of people reading technical specifications as if the acronyms were words, getting angry at technology, and shopping for a word processor. The vocals in “A Chaotic Realization Of Nothing Yet Misunderstood” (it’s ACRONYM) are a woman whispering the full versions of popular Internet abbreviations (e.g., FYI, OTOH, IIRC). “Multi-Masking,” when it’s not highlighting Les Claypool-esque bass, features backwards vocals that, well, I don’t even want to know what they’re saying.

This album is an impressive technical feat. Not even just as a display of virtuosity, but compositionally, too. But only if you’re totally in the right mood, which I think is totally hopped up on cocaine. I’ve never done cocaine, but when I’m in the mood where I think it might be like that, I can really concentrate on all the hyperactivity, stop/start-ness, and tempo changes, and geek out to it. And I kinda like my music extreme, but this is just a bit too much. It’s like over earnest in its delivery and then, like in a self-conscious way, it dollops on a whole ton of silliness. It’s just a lot to take in.

Rating:
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Like: “Aquanet,” “Just A Little Bit,” “Read Me”
Meh: “Multi-Masking,” “In Memory Of…,” “The Cereal Mouse,” “A Quick Affix”
Dislike: “Words For Nerds,” “Melissa’s Friend,” “A Chaotic Realization Of Nothing Yet Misunderstood”
Filed Between: I don’t know, I still haven’t unpacked my CDs. It might be right before Rick Springfield and right after like Soul Coughing.
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading