Killing Joke: Pylon

pylon

I don’t know much about Killing Joke. My greatest exposure to their catalog is covers here and there, most notably Metallica’s version of “The Wait,” but also from a recent review of Prong’s Songs From The Black Hole. Still, I think I can safely say that the band has barely changed their approach in their over 35 years of existence. Everything is a new world dystopia, from the threat of nuclear war to corporations ruling everything. It’s almost as if they’re thrilled with the current state of geopolitical affairs so that they can inveigh against it. It feels like the band had to exert all of their effort just to refrain from mentioning Thatcher.

Musically not much has changed either, as far as I can tell. If you loved Killing Joke in the 80’s and want to hear them recording on more modern equipment, then you’re in luck. If you want 57 minutes of verse-chorus-verse and no other song development, hey, it’s really you’re lucky day. Continuing with the theme I introduced in my previous review, you could fit over three full Unpluggeds into these ten tracks. I don’t dislike any on this record (though “War On Freedom” comes close), and I had it pegged at three clowns for most of my listening (in part I think because the last three tracks are 60% of the album’s Likes, though even those are too long), but in the end it’s too repetitive and too much of an effort to get through. Even cutting 10-12 minutes and getting it down to an old school LP length would have been an improvement, though probably not enough to get it any more than three clowns. While most of this is enjoyable, there’s virtually nothing that transcends or compels you to listen to it again.

Rating:
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Like: “Dawn Of The Hive,” “Euphoria,” “Delete,” “I Am The Virus,” “Into The Unknown”
Meh:
“Autonomous Zone,” “New Cold War,” “New Jerusalem,” “War On Freedon,” “Big Buzz”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

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Avatarium: The Girl With The Raven Mask

thegirlwiththeravenmask

And here we are with the second disaster of Angry Metal Guy’s October 2015 picks. I don’t get this one at all. I mean, I actually get it too much; it feels standard 80’s butt rock throwaway with keyboards and a female lead singer (though butt rock wasn’t solely male driven; I’m thinking Lita Ford, Vixen, …). Speed is not a priority, but big, loud (I can’t believe how compressed this is), soaring blues-y vocal and guitar riffs are.

Performance-wise, this is a pretty talented crew. The band seems to revolve around centerpiece Leif Edling on guitar, though the drummer is no slouch, either, and vocalist Jennie-Ann Smith is, appropriately, featured heavily.

But the songs. Oy. The biggest problem is that just about all of the tracks are way too long, with many of them taking a minute or so in the middle to not even noodle or meander but just kind of sit statically where I can confirm there is sound but I honestly have a hard time believing anything is happening. There are eight tracks here (I eliminated the ninth, bonus, track for my sanity, and based on a final listen it’s the worst of the bunch so good move me) and it’s still 50 minutes long, meaning you could fit the 13 tracks on Unplugged in here 2.5 times and still have some time left over for the nothing portions of this disc.

The highlight is the title track, which is also the shortest song on the album by more than a minute, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Its conciseness summarizes what the band does best, and the lyrics are evocative, with the singer in the first verse wondering about a girl she saw “going to market” wearing the titular mask and then basically expanding on that thread for the rest of the song.

This could have easily been two clowns if it was edited properly. It might have even been three songs at that point. But it could have been one clown if it didn’t have the first track.

Rating:
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Like: “Girl With The Raven Mask”
Meh: “The January Sea,” “Pearls And Coffins”
Dislike: “Ghostlight,” “Run Killer Run,” “The Master Thief”
Hate: “Hypnotized,” “Iron Mule,” “In My Time Of Dying (Bonus Track)”
Song Notes:
After the jump Continue reading

Beaten To Death: Unplugged

unplugged

As you’ll find out in this review and the following two, Angry Metal Guy really screwed me over with their picks for records of the month last October.

Beaten To Death is…well, they’re something. They’re Norwegian. They’re grindcore, but I also think they’re kind of mocking grindcore. Which I think is funny to like seven people…you’re not really punching up here. Their song titles are weird. For examples, see tracks one and six below. Then there’s “‘Death To False Grindcore’,” with its weird quotation marks around it, “Robert Sylvester Kelly,” which is the full name of R. Kelly, and “Knulleviser For Barn,” which, well…. I know that “for barn” means for kids, because when I was in Norway there was a big barnesex scandal going on. Bing Translator didn’t know what to do with Knulleviser, though maybe it just didn’t want to given Tay’s recent troubles. Google Translate, though, was willing to tell me it meant “fuck shows.” So they’re outrageous.

And they’re outrageous, not just titlistically, but also sonically and probably lyrically (I’m not even sure when they’re singing in English or in Norwegian). And I feel like this kind of extremism is just boring now. After Brujeria, it all seems played out.

In another flavor of extreme, every song is between 1:03 (“I Keep Stalling,” and is it a coincidence that that’s one of my favorites?) and 1:56 (“Promise Catharsis”). The entire album, at 13 songs, clocks in at one second shy of 19 minutes. So at least you’re not listening for too long, though of course since you’re suffering the whole time it feels a lot longer.

I said that Gloryhammer’s silliness didn’t work because the music wasn’t very good. In a very similar way, if you’re gonna be this extreme in so many ways, you’d better be really good. Otherwise it’s not justified, and I just feel like you’re covering up a lack of talent with extremity. Though the album isn’t entirely without merit (there’s the aforementioned “I Keep Stalling,” album closer “Troll,” I love the strumming parts of “Robert Sylvester Kelly,” and there are a few other dozen-second-long stretches of enjoyable riffage throughout), this is pretty much a solid waste of its listeners’ time.

Rating:
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Like: “I Keep Stalling,” “Robert Sylvester Kelly,” “Troll”
Meh: “Papyrus Containing The Spell To Summon The Breath Of Life Enshrined In The Collected Scrolls Of Sheryl Crow,” “Til Himmels (For Å Gjete Gud),” “Menstrubation,” “Don’t You Dare To Call Us Heavy Metal,” “Promise Catharsis,” “Greenway/Harris,” “End Of An Error,” “‘Death To False Grindcore'”
Dislike: “Home Of Phobia,” “Knulleviser For Barn”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Josh Ritter: Sermon On The Rocks

sermonontherocks

Another Josh Ritter album, another home run. I’m wondering if this guy has the ability to put out crap.

He’s less Dylan and more Springsteen here, which I feel like I’ve said about one of his previous records, but without reviewing those, this feels the most Springsteenian. I count four songs where I’ve got Springsteen mentioned in my notes. “Young Moses,” “Henrietta, Indiana” (with a very strong “State Trooper” vibe), “Cumberland” (which has a hootenanny/kitchen/hollering thing going on reminiscent of Springsteen’s We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions album), and “A Big Enough Sky.”

The best song, and almost the Best Song Ever, is “Getting Ready To Get Down,” with a bit of a Footloose theme where the parents and pastor of a beautiful little girl do their best to keep her under wraps and on the Christian (read: abstinent) path, but, natch, are foiled by her effervescent “f you Ima dance and f some boys” attitude. But the music, god, it’s one of those infectious numbers whose rhythm keeps driving forward, making you dance lest you get run over by this hot, small town girl who’s tearing up the town sleeping with whoever she wants to and good god I haven’t been this gobsmacked by a woman’s sexuality since “Son Of A Preacher Man,” but this is almost better because it doesn’t involve a boy/man teaching her anything.

In fact, sex is a pretty common lyrical theme throughout the album. “Where The Night Goes” and “Homecoming” are two not-so-coded examples, and I feel like the titles of “Birds Of The Meadow” and “Lighthouse Fire” are pretty evocative, too. It’s this kind of youthful subject matter and concomitant energy that makes this a very different release from the last of his that I reviewed. That album was 2010’s So Runs The World Away, and I came away from that album loving it, but more in a reverential awe than anything, whereas my love for Sermon On The Rocks is in more of a jump up and down in the sun and hug life kind of way. Maybe appropriate given I had a newborn and lived in Seattle then and have an (almost) six-year-old and a four-year-old in my new home of San Diego.

It’s getting to the point with Josh Ritter that I kind of have to put the guy in my upper echelon of loved musicians. Which is kind of a scary prospect, given how severely so many of those have disappointed me over the years, even moreso given how much this make me think of The Boss. But hell, this guy just blows me away with every release, and in new and fun ways, too, so I think he’s pretty much earned it.

Rating:
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Mix: “Getting Ready To Get Down”
Really Like: “Henrietta, Indiana,” “Where The Night Goes”
Like: 
“Birds Of The Meadow,” “Young Moses,” “Homecoming,” “The Stone,” “A Big Enough Sky,” “Lighthouse Fire”
Meh: “Seeing Me Round,” “Cumberland,” “My Man On A Horse (Is Here)”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Protomartyr: The Agent Intellect

theagentintellect

I don’t understand why Sub Pop created the Hardly Art imprint. After this long with such a diverse catalog was there really a branding thing where they felt like there was some kind of music that wouldn’t fit well on Sub Pop? Anyway, this album was released by Hardly Art.

Wikipedia calls Protomartyr post-punk, so…that’s a fact. There’s like a laid back Sonic Youth thing going on here, and I’m also reminded of Television’s Marquee Moon quite a bit. And I guess I don’t balk at putting the post-punk tag on them. Still, I would probably call it more of a no wave thing, like with the disaffected vocals of a male Blondie minus the hooky melody plus noisy guitars.

Not that it matters. Can you tell I’m stalling? I think I’m more kind of trying to reflect the music with my writing. Like, I’m gonna keep on chugging along with a near monotone rhythm while being sometimes interesting but mostly just focusing on that chugging beat even if nonsense skit diddly doo words drop in every now…and again…buh.

And then we go to the chorus, skree! And we hit a different pedal on the guitar skroo! The tempo doesn’t change, but the accents of the guitar do scrowdiddledoo. Wockow!

And then back to the verse, the old pedal, setting, and the old chug chug chugging along wall of fuzzed out guitars supporting smokey voiced Joe telling us some story in a bar that doesn’t make sense, is kinda compelling, but is mostly just comfortingly drowning out the day we had.

This is pretty good, and if they had cut it down to the eight Likes it would be a lot better. For 44 minutes you’ve got to mix up the tempi and keys more than they do here.

Rating:
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Like: “The Devil In His Youth,” “Cowards Starve,” “Pontiac 87,” “Uncle Mother’s,” “Dope Cloud,” “Clandestine Time,” “Why Does It Shake?,” “Ellen”
Meh: “I Forgive You,” “Boyce Or Boice,” “The Hermit,” “Feast Of Stephen”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Nechochwen: Heart Of Akamon

heartofakamon

This album ended up on pretty much every heavy metal best of list for 2015, topping several of them, so I was super excited to listen to it. What a gigantic let down.

First, here’s what it’s got going for it: it’s unique. A West Virginia band paying tribute to Native Americans in part by, I’m told, incorporating Native American melodies and instrumentation throughout the record. So I mean I’ll give them an “E” for effort.

But I’m just not hearing anything beyond that. I have very little education in Native American music, but what I have studied is probably more than most, and I’m not hearing the incorporations here. “October 6, 1813” has what sounds like a pan flute in it, but it’s reverbed so heavily that it sounds like a cheesy version of what Hollywood tells us “Indians” [sic] sound like, not like what they really do.

While there are parts of tracks that are listenable, this album to me is mostly just boring stretches between those mildly compelling parts. And the vocals are undecipherable, which, if you’re making some statement on genocide or American history or whatever, is a big failure. I might like this more if I could understand what was being sung. I doubt it, but it’s a starting point.

I tried, but I’m putting this down as another naked emperor moment. Fat Clown wins again.

Rating:
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Like: “The Serpent Tradition,” “Lost On The Trail Of The Setting Sun,” “Skyhook”
Meh: “The Impending Winter,” “October 6, 1813,” “Traversing The Shades Of Death,” “Skimota,” “Kiselamakong”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Gloryhammer: Space 1992: Rise Of The Chaos Wizards

space1992riseofthechaoswizards

So I was pretty hard on Gloryhammer back when I reviewed this playlist a couple of years ago. Turns out I didn’t get the joke. But that’s because the joke sucks worse than the music. Look at the font of that title; even by 1992 we’d moved past that font as futuristic. So it’s obviously all tongue-in-cheek. But the problem is that, while it’s all completely ridiculous, it’s not funny. (Of note: Gloryhammer shares a band member with Alestorm, whose song I also hated on that playlist.)

I’ve explored comic music a lot here, but what makes bands like The Darkness and Flight Of The Conchords work is that their songs are pretty good, too. They’re poking fun at a genre, but they’re steeped in it so well that they can actually write good stuff. Gloryhammer is completely steeped in fantasy metal, but it’s just standard fare (albeit fast and virtuosic), and so even the silly story of some intergalactic battle from 992 reborn a millennium later isn’t humorous to save it from sinking under its own weight.

But not only does Gloryhammer fail to be original musically, they completely whiff on the comedy aspect as well. If you think about a band like Steel Panther, they’re funny because they put a twist on something like, instead of singing about banging girls, they sing about the VD that goes along with indiscriminate banging. Gloryhammer, however, just ratchets everything that’s ridiculous about fantasy metal up a little bit. Like, all they’ve done is combined goblins and galaxies and created some silly word salad song titles. Given the already ludicrous nature of the genre, they’ve barely even amplified anything.

Without humor or songs, it’s hard to understand why anybody would listen to this. But I’ll give it a second clown for musical chops and for the stopped clock being right on a few tracks.

Rating:
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Like: “Rise Of The Chaos Wizards,” “Questlords of Inverness, Ride To The Galactic Fortress!”
Meh: “Infernus Ad Astrum,” “Goblin King Of The Darkstorm Galaxy,” “Victorious Eagle Warfare,” “Universe On Fire,” “Heroes (Of Dundee),” “Apocalypse 1992”
Dislike: “Legend Of The Astral Hammer”
Hate: “The Hollywood Hootsman”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading