Thursday, 5 December 2013

Student Nurse Perspective: The social price of bullying.

After writing about the emotional impact that bullying had on my life I got some really nice feedback. I thought that maybe I had actually laid some ghosts back to rest after that but unfortunately my brain kept on noticing all these interesting articles on bullying and what potential and actual social impact it has. There was one particular article in The Conversation that got my attention. It included a rather long and time consuming study following 1420 kids into adulthood. What it largely said was that being bullied at school was a major indicator in decreased quality of aspects of life. With general poorer outcomes of physical and psychological health for victims and bullies. But the biggest difference was for kids who were "bully-victims". Bully-victims were at even higher risk of suffering from diabetes, asthma, anxiety, depression and more likely to pick up smoking. So in other words bullying can potentially destroy someone's life. And all for what some people seem to think is a normal part of childhood. What this study also points out, which had been said in previous studies, that pure bullies are not some emotionally scarred individuals from broken backgrounds but. They have better social understanding, can read emotional situations better and knowledge of how to manipulate others for their own purposes. They also tend to be the paradoxically both the most popular and the most hated kids in school, as everyone wants to be with them but they don't particularly like them. But in adulthood they are also at an increased risk of being on the wrong side of the law. But the bully-victims on the other hand do tend to be more socially awkward with pre-existing emotional and behavioral problems and from dysfunctional family background.
Being bullied is not a harmless rite of passage but throws a long shadow over affected people’s lives.
The biggest impact generally though was that bullying affected negatively on all groups. As you can see from the chart below the only group unaffected were the ones who had not been involved in bullying. But in a separate chart in the same study they also show how big an impact long term bullying has as opposed to  short term bullying, with the biggest difference being in future social behaviour. Bullies, bully-victims and chronic victims had difficulties in present and future educational settings, meaning that they will most likely have left before attaining any qualifications. But all three groups had problems in retaining jobs. Now I'd like to make this clear and say that no this does not happen to every one who has bullied or been bullied. But that does not mean that we can just sit back, do nothing and yes calmly say "Well kids will be kids." Just to hope that they'll be fine and remain unaffected later in life. This is a social issue that everyone has to help with and as this research suggests we shouldn't only focus on the victims, but we should also help bullies. Which means that some parents have to come to terms with that they're children are bullies. Not only come to terms with it, but to deal with it.

There was a period not that long ago when I was really set up in setting up a support/educational group for victims of bullying and their close ones. Unfortunately I ran out of steam before that ever happened, but I did do an awful lot of research while I had this fire in my belly. I read books and papers, even phoned up some organizations in the capital. I had collected quite a lot of info, which I had dumped into what was at the time the only anti-bullying site in Icelandic at the time but which is now lost in the etherworld(now if anyone could find it I'd be much obliged). I still got a lot of it somewhere on paper. I think... I hope anyway. The best thing though since turning into adulthood and with the advances of the internet and going to University now, I've been able to hunt down more actual university papers on the effects of bullying. Like the ones I linked earlier.

The author that seemed to have done the biggest and best research was a Swede who did most of his work in Norway named Dan Olweus. He wrote a seminal book called Bullying at School. Through his research in Norway in how to combat bullying at school, he established the phenomenally successful "Bullying Prevention Programme". Which in turn has developed into "Violence Prevention Works", that website does provide some excellent resources for everyone to use.  He provides probably the best definition of bullying that I know of, and sweet Jebus I've heard people try to shoehorn so many aspects into bullying. Essentially you will find people who dislike some certain behaviours will try and class those as bullying.
Bullying is systematic abuse of power and refers to repeated aggression against another person that is intentional and involves an imbalance of power.
There have been a few meta-analysis done regarding the effectiveness of bullying prevention programmes. The most comprehensive I came across was done for the Journal of Experimental Criminology. But essentially what they did find was that the on average Bullying Prevention Programmes decreased incidents of bullying by up to 23%. Not the world, but it's a start. The most effective ones were it the ones that had the most intense programmes, including those that had formal parenting meetings, increased break-time supervision and disciplinary methods(Just to make it clear disciplinary here is not in the form of physical or mental aggression, like keel-hauling, but rather loss of privileges and the like). The least effective ones, in fact the ones that lead to an increase of bullying were the peer support groups. It would appear that the Olweus Bullying Prevention Programme is the best there is. Along with that there are some excellent institutions out there that help like Red Balloon this organization provide a safe haven for kids who've been chronically bullied. What they offer is a sort of intensive care with full time education in order to assist kids, with the aim that they'll be able to return to mainstream education. According to them "At least half of the students we take have attempted or seriously considered suicide.". They also oversaw the publication of Rising Above Bullying, one the most inspirational books I've read in recent years. Currently there are only 5 Red Balloon centres in the UK, it would be great to see that number increase along with a nationwide roll-out of Olweus Bullying Prevention Programme.

What a lot of people don't realise is how big an impact bullying has. The said thing is that sometimes what it takes for people to be aware of it is somebody committing suicide. With as high as 44% of suicide committed by 10-14 year old being due to persistent bullying, and for every actual suicide there are as many as 100 suicide attempts. And all for "a harmless rite of passage". This of course is not just confined to school bullying, this can also be related to cyber-bullying and workplace bullying. Though work-bullying is not the focus here, it is still good to mention that even adults still behave in this way, if just a bit more subtly than kids in school.

*Added 19/04/14*

American Journal of Psychiatry did a study that followed people over a 50 year period.  The idea was to find out of course the long term problems that constant bullying has on people's mental and social health. The population of the cohort was 7771, questionnaires were sent on a regular basis and the subjects were met at 23 years of age and 50 years. The results were quite striking:
Participants who were bullied in childhood had increased levels of psychological distress at ages 23 and 50. Victims of frequent bullying had higher rates of depression, anxiety disorders, and suicidality than their nonvictimized peers.
Essentially childhood bullying is not something that is just confined to childhood. Being bullied on a frequent basis has very serious long term effects, and not just on the individual who has been bullied. The effect will be felt by the parents, future partners, children, friends, the local health and social care network and so on and so forth.

A similar study had been done in Finland which was published in 2009. Interestingly this study showed that boys who bullied were in greater need of psychiatric assistance for depression and anxiety as they grew older but girls who were bullied were in greater need psychiatric hospital assistance.

The focus shouldn't only be on the bullying victim, the bully very often ends up being a victim as time passes. We need to exterminate this idea that bullying is normal part of childhood and that we should just let it run it's course. Because the course is lifelong, for some that life will be shorter because of bullying. This is a social problem that affects all of us one way or the other whether we like to admit to it or not. And it's a problem that everyone should help to tackle. The local authorities, to the teachers and parents.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Usual Locations Part Two: Xanthochroid

Xanthochroid are a band who, according to the Holy Book of Armaments, have been around since 2005 but somehow managed to go without publishing a full album until last year. What they had been up to form inception to THAT album seems to have consisted of rehearsing a lot. Because their debut album does not sound like a debut album. On any level. For those who've been hungry of full blown epic orchestral Black Metal (that does not involve Dani Filth) since Emperor should have their thirst and hunger quenched and satisfied with this album. So far they've done one demo, one EP and one LP. I haven't heard the demo, though I would love to, but the EP is classy as classiful classy thing. But the album, have I mentioned already how effing good the album is? No, and did I mentioned that it's called Blessed He With Boils, because it is.

I first came across these guys when I was just browsing through a dark port filled with filth and metal bands where I have no business being at. To be honest I just noticed "USA" and "EPIC BLACK METAL", those together would usually put me off. I'm not a huge fan of black metal let alone EPIC BLACK METAL. But the cover I have to say was really really nice. Real piece of art. Most of the time black metal tends to be wrapped around frost and tundras, but these guys decided to go for swamps and bog.

So I thought I'd check them out and all the reviews I read were positive. Very positive indeed. So I thought I'd just listen. And it just absolutely blew me away. Musically it is great, but it wasn't just that. It was the scope they were going for and the grandeur! Both of which they achieved on a level that I had not really heard of since Emperor's Prometheus. What did or didn't help was how similar Ihsahns and Sam Meadors vocals are. Especially when he goes full In The Nightside Eclipse style. Musically they draw inspiration from Opeth, Emperor and Cradle of Filth. They take plenty of story telling tips(without the voice-over) from Bal-Sagoth. On their Bandcamp site they wrote:
We spent nearly a year in the studio; writing, recording, re-writing, re-recording every element of this album.
Not to mention the many years before that we spent writing the actual material; making sure every note served its purpose, every line complemented its counterpart, and every lyric fit properly with our story, because we wanted to create something special.
Well the plan worked. They definitely delivered on their promise because this is a tight package of evil black nuances that few bands are able to do. The ability of going from sombre acoustic to blistering blast beat black metal without losing momentum is just phenomenal. Yes there are moments which feel like they are slightly overstepping their talent boundaries but every time that happens they pull it off, with gusto and without too much pretense.

It starts of with an orchestral intro piece dramatically named Aquatic Deathgate Existence that leads nicely into a full blown orchestral black metal title song. Into a nice melancholic ballad called Winter's End. Followed by the riff fest of Long Live Our Lifeless King. Oh just listen to the whole album, it is worth it if you like your black metal and you miss the times when Dimmu Burger did good albums.

This is one of the best concept albums I've had the pleasure of listening to. One with one of the most coherent story, with a HUGE background as well. You can easily hear that as well in that they use the same common musical thread on the entire album. In between they also use a choir to narrate the story, as well as bringing some welcome relief from the constant onslaught of brick-wall black metal. There is easily enough ideas and themes here that could be separated for 3-4 further albums. Sam Meadors vocals provide an excellent focal point for (what could have so easily been nothing but chaos) the listener. When he's not shrieking like a drunken banshee, he croons like nobodies business. The way he manages to switch from croaking to clean, un-vilified singing is mesmerizing. If he ever jacked in metal and wanted to go solo with some un-adultered rock, I think he would be able to make a handsome living. Of course the drummer not only provides the rhythm grounding for all this potential chaos he also mixed and produced this phenomenal piece of work. He manages to keep the music sounding huge and crisp, without it being sterile.

Now. I have not mentioned the EP, Incultus, that came out before. I wish I had come across it before the LP, but ah well it can't be helped now. Apparently the story and the world they created with the story is first set out here. It is here were we are first introduced to the brothers Thanos and Ereptor in the world Etymos. Their struggle against each other and eventual betrayal. What is interesting to hear on this album are the plethora of guest vocalists that sort of flesh out the story a bit better then they do on Blessed He With Boils. Natacha Nielsen did the album cover on here as well and it is again a album cover of desolate beauty. It sets the scene of what to expect really well and if I had been browsing through HMV (RIP) I would have bought both purely on the strength of the album covers. The music is definitely rawer on here and there's more done with black metal riffs, less orchestral work and the use of cookie monster growls also adds an extra effect. In a good way. 

The talent pool that is floating in this band has extremely deep and I'm quite happy to float in it when my headphones are attached.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Student Nurse Perspective: Put your bloody helmet on.

For a moment I'm going to put myself on a higher horse than usual. I've been on placement in the community lately which gives me an excuse to use my bike more often than I otherwise would. Today (27.11) I decided to do a little observational survey, now this is anecdotal but it highlighted something that I am slightly passionate about. Helmets, cyclists without helmets. In the morning I observed 30 cyclists, 14 of them had a helmet. There was one pre-teen girl who did have a helmet, just not attached to her head. In the late afternoon on the way home I observed 40 cyclists and only 10 of them had a helmet! There was even a fellow parent without a helmet, but his child had one.

Quite a few of them had some other safety equipments like hi-vis and/or reflective jackets, flashing lights and reflective badges. Now of course those are very important as well. But none of those will prevent you from suffering from head trauma. And those precautions are more relevant for when you are on the road cycling, not a special pedestrian/cycling path. But at some point you have to go on a road to cycle.

"We found that crashes disproportionately occurred during low-light conditions such as at dawn, dusk or at night. Only 34 per cent of cyclists in these low-light crashes were wearing reflective clothing and 19 per cent of them said they weren't using bicycle lights at the time of the crash."

Well as you might have noticed, with my little observational study the higher portion of cyclists without a helmet was in the late afternoon. So that is just a little bit more frightening. And frustrating. Hence this blog. So I decided to cherry pick some safety studies that have been done regarding the use of helmets. Most of the ones I found were done in Australia and the US, not sure why I mentioned that but it would be nice to see something similar being done in the UK considering that the UK has not got as extensive bicycle network as Australia. Though there are some great places for cyclists of course like Lancaster where I live. Of course it is difficult to make a proper ethical double blind study of the effectiveness of helmets. And I would hope that no one would actually suggest that, it would be like suggesting to have a randomized controlled trial on effectiveness of parachutes in prevent death and major trauma.

The main worry when you fall of a bicycle is head trauma, for obvious reasons. Yes, a broken arm and a broken leg will set you back for a few months and you might not make 100% full recovery of said limb but at least you'll be able to maintain a normal standard of living... mostly. Whereas a head trauma can be devastating. If you want to read up on Head Injuries there is a fantastic website called Headway which provides great sources and resources on head injuries, consequences and management of said injuries.

But just taking some chosen effects that head injury can affect:

  • Communication problems after brain injury are very common.

  • Everyone who has had a head injury can be left with some changes in emotional reaction and behaviour.

  • Brain injury may occasionally cause damage to the hypothalamus and/or pituitary gland, which can lead to insufficient or increased release of one or more hormones.
Of course you don't have to believe me, but what about an emergency doctor who sees these kinds of accidents on a regular basis.

Severe head injuries were defined as any with significant brain haemorrhage, complex skull fracture or brain swelling. Some 70% of such patients end up on a ventilator in intensive care units; many patients with severe head injuries are left with permanent brain damage.

In this study done in 1989 in the US they comment on:

Seven percent of the case patients were wearing helmets at the time of their head injuries, as compared with 24 percent of the emergency room controls and 23 percent of the second control group. Of the 99 cyclists with serious brain injury only 4 percent wore helmets. In regression analyses to control for age, sex, income, education, cycling experience, and the severity of the accident, we found that riders with helmets had an 85 percent reduction in their risk of head injury (odds ratio, 0.15; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.07 to 0.29) and an 88 percent reduction in their risk of brain injury (odds ratio, 0.12; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.04 to 0.40).
85% reduction in their risk of head injury. That is pretty pretty significant.

Another study done in the US, this time 1996 concluded with that helmets had protective effect of 69% to 74%, in incidents that involved motor vehicles:

Bicycle helmets, regardless of type, provide substantial protection against head injuries for cyclists of all ages involved in crashes, including crashes involving motor vehicles.

This one done in Australia in 1994 had this to say:

Wearing a helmet reduced the risk of head injury by 63% (95% confidence interval 34% to 80%) and of loss of consciousness by 86% (62% to 95%).

A meta analysis done in Australia also added in 2001:

Overall, these results provide clear evidence for the benefit of wearing helmets while cycling in terms of risk reduction for not only head and brain injury, but also facial injury and fatal injury. These results are applicable to riders of all ages, both in less severe crashes and in collisions with motor vehicles. These results confirm those published in initial studies in Australia and the US over a decade ago, although the more recent studies are confined to these two countries, Canada and the United Kingdom. Despite the mounting scientific evidence, the debate over the efficacy of cycle helmets still rages in some circles. How much more evidence is required before helmet use reaches the acceptance level of seat belts for motor vehicle occupants?
And of course the Cochrane Review got in on the game:

The review found that wearing a helmet reduced the risk of head or brain injury by approximately two-thirds or more, regardless of whether the crash involved a motor vehicle. Injuries to the mid and upper face were also markedly reduced, although helmets did not prevent lower facial injuries. - See more at:
 The review found that wearing a helmet reduced the risk of head or brain injury by approximately two-thirds or more, regardless of whether the crash involved a motor vehicle. Injuries to the mid and upper face were also markedly reduced, although helmets did not prevent lower facial injuries.

So yeah. I am willing to take 65% - 85% and look like an overgrown flying mushroom, as opposed ending up as a mushroom.

Mr Robinson in Australia compiled another major study showing how the legislation in New Zealand came into effect.
Head injuries vs Helmet Use

The Canadians decided to check up on the impact of mandatory helmet use:

Of the 9650 children who were hospitalized because of a bicycle-related injury, 3426 sustained injuries to the head and face and the remaining 6224 had other injuries. The bicycle-related head injury rate declined significantly (45% reduction) in provinces where legislation had been adopted compared with provinces and territories that did not adopt legislation (27% reduction).

So mandatory legislation would be the way to go. But then again there is no point in having a legislation if the education aspect is lacking. A study done in Ohio in 1994 showed that kids under 16 were more likely to were a helmet if there was legislation in place as well as a strong safety education. But the education shouldn't be just confined to schools, parents need to buckle up as well. It really shouldn't even be an issue. What often blows my mind is when I observe other parents stressing out the point to their kids why helmets and other safety gear are important then do not use the safety equipment themselves. Why the hell should the kid listen to a blatant hypocrite like that? Parents, don't just talk the talk, walk the walk as well. You are just as likely to collide, crash and suffer from head injury as your kids if you fall of that bike during those wondrous family cycling tours.

Helmets save lives. Just like seatbelts.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Usual Locations part one: Throwdown Syndicate

Well then, this is a new series. Now I'm going to look a bit more towards the usual suspects of places where you'd find usual music. The reason I decided to write this one was mainly because for the first time(and hopefully not the last) somebody actually wanted be to write about them. So thank you for asking.

Throwdown Syndicate is a band from Washington D.C., they play a variant of Rap Metal, or Ghettometal like they want to call it. I have to admit that as soon as I read the music description my back went up a bit. Metal/Rap. Not usually a mix I'm to fond of. I still remember the Nu-metal days, and those were not good days. But having said that I did have a copy of Limp Bizkit's Significant Other and Linkin Parks Hybrid Theory. Those albums have since gone their merry way of become Two fierce beer coasters. And it certainly didn't help when the first song is called Ghettometal. Thankfully these guys are nothing like the bands I've mentioned. Their a lot closer to Rage Against The Machine and WAR. Probably more the latter than the former. Which is great as I love both bands, RAtM is still close to my heart if only purely through their 'Killing In the Name' song. They've mentioned Bad Brains as a major influence. Now admittedly I've never listened to them, so I can't really comment on that one. But there is aspects of hardcore and punk on display here with plenty of blues and funk thrown in for good measure with thrash riffs spicing the pot. The only other band I could probably mention in the same breath as these guys is Body Count, the main difference being is that Throwdown Syndicate have written better songs and sound like they mean it.

The first two maybe three listens I was a little bit skeptical, but with further listens I've really started to enjoy most of the songs. First of all I have to say that I do love the groovy funk riffs and the fit perfectly with James Reeves vocal style. The problem I am finding with a couple of the songs is that they feel a little half finished. Take for instance the song 'Shaman' it does start of with this rather nice funky riff a la WAR, the drums do this nice little jazz rhythm and the bass. Oh my gods the bass on that song is HUGE! And it feels like it's building up to something, something big, something HUGE! With James spoken word floating on top. Then a guitar solo comes in sort of out of nowhere, and yes the guitar solo is good. This crescendo keeps on coming, but the peak never seems to come. And then the guitar solo fades and the listener is sort of left hanging, wondering what happened.

But then the song 'Shame' aside from the intro samples, that song just rocks. Plain and simple. I can well imagine it being a concert favourite. The riff is brilliant. The drums are again very very groovy and bombastic. The untitled song is another great song, thrashy as fuckery, funky like a gone off cheese, and James seems to be channelling the spirit of Derrick Green. Again here the instruments really do sync together. 'Discontent' is another song I would love to feel in a live setting. James goes straight for the jugular on this one, and does it great.

There are some great ideas being thrown about, some stick while others don't. Most of those that don't could, the ones that don't is the use of samples. James has got a very good voice and sounds very much like he's used to command. This band seems to be very much a labour of love and you can hear that in his earnest vocals and lyrics. He deeply cares about the subjects that he's singing about and that adds an extra layer of enjoyment for the listener. His guitar playing is well played and does some great riffage, and decent solos. His bass playing in some cases though sounds a lot better, and that is saying something. I always love hearing the bass taking a bit more of a centre stage to provide the groove. The drums seem a bit troublesome in the first song and the instruments don't mesh very well on there but it sounds like it would just take more practice to get over than anything else. but after that they seem to pick up the pace and give decent backing to the music, and as I said before on the song Shame and Discontent you can really feel and hear some great rhythms. The drummer Andy Och on the whole is a great choice.

The bottom line I would say is that this is a band that is worth following and see what they do.They've got the ideas, they've got the chops and they've got the attitude.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Rammstein: No birds are singing anymore

I have already talked a little about Rammstein in my New German Hardness post but here I want to go into a little more detail. I was 15 years old when I first listened to Rammstein. The debut album Herzeleid to be precise. I had been spending part of that summer in Reykjavik where two of my brothers and dad(for clarification no my parents are not divorced, he was just on a business venture that didn't go so well in the end) were living. This album came at a rather intense time in my life, but I'm not going on some spiel about how it save my life. It didn't that was something completely different. My brother had borrowed this album from a friend of his and played it in the living room. I was fairly quickly completely taken to them. I can't remember if I copied the CD onto a tape(yes a tape) or not. But nonetheless I had found a new musical love in my life. Though what it was I couldn't really put my finger on. They sang in German, the guitar riffs were fairly plain, no guitar solo's(well actually one, Weisses Fleisch and the title song) and the album cover itself was a little bit suspect. But it was crushing in sound and breadth. Yes there's absolutely nothing original about it, but if I wanted originality I would have stuck to listening to Einstürzende Neubauten, whilst wearing my figmented skinny jeans and sipping red wine. But I'm thankfully not a hipster and I can like both Rammstein and Einstürzende Neubauten. And drink my beer.

But no, they were industrial, and as I said before crushing and quite frankly fun to listen to. There was nothing like them around, at least not in my music-o-sphere. The closest thing would be an Icelandic band called HAM. But they had quit many many years previous to that. Primal force that just pulverises you with direct sophisticated and precise musical attacks. That is what Rammstein was about. And singing in German, which was pretty unheard of, well except for in Germany of course... and Austria. But, no, what I mean is that it was unusual to hear a band NOT singing in English. Which also meant that if you didn't understand what was being sung you could use your imagination a lot more with the music, and the vocals became for as yet another instrument. Talking about vocals, Till Lindemann has got one of the best baritone vocal tones I know off. I have no idea what he is singing most of the time, but the emotions he carries are immense and intense. Generally just the one tone, one frequency that he uses, but for example when he wants to sing a ballad like Seemann he has your full attention. Oh and the use of the bass on that song is just brilliant. But yeah Till also writes all the lyrics, and when you actually get them translated you can see that he is a brilliant wordsmith, he's even published a few poetry books alongside his Rammstein career. But with that voice you can easily hear a Sergeant wading into battle on top of a horse with an enemy head in one hand and a sword raised to the air in the other.

Where Herzeleid really really succeeds is in the simplicity of, well everything, but when you start listening a bit more deeply you start noticing these little bits added in the background that make the song really really good. It's in the background where Flake shines. With some interesting samples and well played and well layered keyboards. Listen to Wollt Ihr Das Bett Flammen Sehen, and you get little samples from the classic game Doom. The start of Heirate Mich is also a good song to show Flake's prowess, he even manages to get in a bit of Hammond Organ in there.

Kruspe and Landers do provide the meat of the material. With their relentless riffing throughout every song. They tend to not deviate a great deal from the blueprint, and usually keep to one riff per song. The thing is though that their riffs are good enough to hold up those songs. Doom Schneider is of course the man who keeps this industrial beast in sync with his relentless near-computerised rhythmic beats. Every piece from every member seems to provide a little detail that makes the big picture. Without one, it would all fall to pieces. And the picture would never be finished.

The following year when Sehnsucht was released their popularity exploded! Especially due to the songs Du Hast and Stripped. Even though Stripped wasn't on Sehnsucht. But now I was part of a crowd, rather than a group of one. Which to me was a bit of a novelty at the time. Sehnsucht has a slightly more raw sound to it than Herzeleid, it is probably my least favourite album by Rammstein. But that is not to say that I don't like it. It's got brilliant tunes on there like Tier, Klavier and Engel.

Now the pinnacle of their career. The piece that they will never be able to top is Mutter. This is where their bombasticity became Epic. This is still my favourite album by them. Here they are sophisticated, direct and brutal in their attack, with re-inforcements from Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg. Individually the songs are all very good and very strong, but with the orchestral addition that power just becomes overwhelming and envelopes the listener, takes them by the scruff of the neck and pounds the enjoyment into the earholes. From the German marching Links 2 3 4 to loneliness of the title song to the obscure sexuality of Zwitter(this song is also the only one I can think of that makes great use of the outro, which is an aspect of songs that I generally hate with a fucking passion) and the abandonment of Spieluhr. This album is the crown jewel of Rammstein's career.

Now, I'm not saying that the stuff that came out after Mutter are not worth listening to. Reise, Reise and Rosenrot are both very good and are to some extent fairly major departures from the sound that they created in the first three albums. Now Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da, is probably their best album since Mutter, and they are obviously having time of their lifes on that album. Their gleeful poking at porn and shock rock is the perfect example of that.

I remember seeing them playing in Iceland during the Mutter tour and it has to be said that it is probably still the best concert I've ever been to. It would have been that if only Rammstein had played but no, it was also the time when HAM decided to re-unite. But only after lots and lots of peer pressure from the Icelandic nation, which never would have happened if the guitar player of HAM hadn't said that they would only reunite if Rammstein came to Iceland. They had it all, the pyrotechnics(though not as much as it was a closed environment), Flake on a dingy, Flake the Subservient and Till the Master. It was not so much a concert but more of an experience, with all the theatrics that was on show. The band came on like robots, or possibly humans without a soul and Doctor Flake flicked the switch that put the spark back into them.  And they rocked.

Music doesn't have to be super complex or obscure or original. Some times it helps, but the main thing is if the music is enjoyable. Whenever I want to have a little headslamming session these guys are perfect, when ever I just want the hairs at the back of my neck to rise these guys are perfect, whenever I feel like a run or just want to work out a little bit these guys I perfect.

Rammstein - A mass grave,
Rammstein - no escape!
Rammstein - no bird sings ... more
Rammstein - and the sun is shining.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Lasting Impact: Marillion - This Strange Engine.

I might have talked about before how this one particular VHS influenced my musical appreciation, it was a Kerrang Heavy Metal Kompilation. On it were such heavy metal luminaries as Iron Maiden, Queensryche, Armoured saint and... uhhh... Marillion. Yes Marillion, the progressive luminaries who started out as pretty much like a Genesis tribute band. The song by them that was on this video was a wonderful ode to paranoia called 'He Knows You Know'. Which is a very unusually short and commercial song by them, especially considering that it was when Fish(nee Derek William Dick) leading them. I, of course wasn't to know that he had quit and had been replaced when I came across a CD called 'This Strange Engine', which was being sold in my home towns shop. This was in 1997. I was expecting some rather heavy progressive heavy metal album only due to that song I had heard from Kerrang!

So I was just a little bit shocked when the first song was more of an epic sing-a-long song, 'Man of A Thousands Faces'! With acoustic guitars, piano's, choirs, EPIC CHORUSES! Loved it immediately, but by the goodness of the Metal Gods this was too much lack of metal, but I stuck with it. Then the next one is a bit of AOR pop, 'One Fine Day', still my favourite song of the album, but by Joe it's not metal. The lyrics as always from Marillion are great, this one ponders on our longing just for that one fine day to appear while we work and work and work, hoping that it will all be better when we retire. In the meantime the rain just keeps on pouring, but then when it all does turn out for the best we still don't want to believe it. Cue a rather nifty guitar solo from Steve Rothery.

Now there's a guitar player who hasn't received the accolades and attention he really truly deserves, bit like Andreas Kisser of Sepultura. His way of playing is rather understated, but full of melody. He seems to go for the less is more approach and never overstays his welcome, but he always adds to the music. Though you'd hardly notice him there when he's there, the hole would be greatly felt if he left.  The songs 'One Fine Day', 'Estonia' and '80 Days' show just how good he is.

The other highlight is of course Steve Hogarth, the man who replaced Fish. He's got a much warmer and melodious singing voice than Fish. Suppose the only thing he hasn't got that Fish did was a rather brilliant word play in the lyrics. But Steve doesn't need to pun his songs, he just writes great stories in lyrical form which on the whole is more interesting than punning. Steve has now been with Marillion for longer then Fish, and released more albums. And although I do like the the Fish Era albums, I still prefer Hogarth's period. For example on the song 'Memory of Water', where Steve has to carry the tune pretty much on his own, I doubt that Fish could have done the same thing.

Now finally after such a long wait, finally we have a metal song! In the guise of 'An Accidental Man' though to be fair it's not really. It's the hardest song on the album and would qualify as a hard rock song, but heavy metal? Maybe in the 70's possibly in the 80's.

What is probably most evident from this album is that there's a strong focus on making songs that the audience can sing along to. But unfortunately that sort of fails a little bit with 'Hope for the Future', it's not a particularly bad song. It just pales a lot in comparison to the rest. It does have some great up lifting lyrics like the rest(bar Memory of Water and This Strange Engine), but on the whole it is probably the only song that can be truly called ordinary(take that Allmusic) on here.

The pinnacle of the album though is the title song, which is an ode to all of those 70's prog rock bands. It goes through nearly all the emotions you can go through. Mark Kelly can finally take centre stage with some great Rick Wakeman-like keyboard flourishes and solo's, Rothery goes ballistic going through his guitar pedals and changing the guitar tone several times, Hogarth goes all falsetto on us, Ian Mosley and Pete Trewavas do all they can to keep up, hold up and show up wherever and whenever they can! There's the expectation that this will all crumble any minute, but the song finishes just as it all should but doesn't. After 15 minutes.

To be honest I was a little shocked at the time when I listened to the album, I was not that enchanted back then, besides Man of a Thousand Faces and One Fine Day, I could just leave the rest. But it kept on coming back, the album that is. And as I've grown older I've started appreciating it more and more. So this blog is written with my 30 year old ears, but using the memories of my 14 year old self.

The love of prog sort of seems to stem from this album. It is not my favourite by Marillion, no that would be Anoraknophobia. The to be honest as well the prog scene is a minefield to walk through, especially when your standard is the song and not the instrument-masturbation-ship. Which is were Marillion is king, the manage to make proggy songs, but without draining your interest in the song itself.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Unusual Locations... Part Deux.

Well this is the second part of this series. This is where I talk about bands from what could be called unusual locations, but that quite frankly isn't enough though as they have to be good as well. Being novel is one thing, being good is something completely different.

The first project/band (and the inspiration for making this sequel blog) that I want to talk about comes from a tiny island that I had to look up, as I was sure that the last time I heard it's name mentioned was in a fantasy book. But no, there it is. Tiny teeny weeny island, the size of a walnut. The island is Aruba, and the project is The Isle Project. Apparently this is just one guy with his guitar, keyboard and computer. For anyone who's listened to say Animals As Leaders will recognise the style. The album is entirely instrumental with lots of effects being used, guitar pedals galore, synthesizers and computer magic on display. There is a lot of Tosin Abasi worship going on here, the good thing being it's not a straight of rip-off but a rather well played tribute. The album New Perspective is also sounds like it could have been used for a First Person Shooter, or possibly a Real Time Strategy a la original Command & Conquer. It is safe to say that this album has made a big enough impression on me to look forward to the next one.

Now with a country that has 1.2 billion people that there would be more famous bands springing out, but no the most famous musician that I'm aware of from India is Ravi Shankar. And he was dull. Way dull. But these next two acts are not. While they do both come under the Metal Genre, they are as different metal bands as you can get.

Bhayanak Maut have been playing and entertaining the Indian masses for 10 years. The first time I came across them was on one of Metal Hammers excellent Global Metal compilations, I'm going to have to dig up that album again because there were some excellent bands on show there. Apparently they started out as a sort of a joke band, which quickly, evolved into a working band with a joke to play. Not only that but a really good working band with their tongue firmly in their cheek. The name translates as "Terrible Death". Currently, at least according to themselves, they are the biggest metal band in India. If there is anything I could describe them as Groove Metal with Metalcore vocals. Which usually is  a bad thing in my books, but these guys to seem to pull it off. They've only released one full album but on the flip side they've done 3 EP's, my personal favourite being Malignant. I would love to see these guys in a live setting, as I can imagine it being a sweaty, neck breaking session of fun, filth and frolics.

The second band from India that I want to mention is Amogh Symphony. Lets get this straight right now. It's not a symphony. It's not even close to being a symphony, but if the dude who runs it ever decided to make a symphony I'd buy a ticket the minute he announces it. Now according to the Holy Book of Armaments, this band is classified as Progressive Death Metal. Which well, I do suppose could be true, but without the vocals it's pretty hard to classify it as such. But instrumentally Vishal owes a lot to Cynic and Atheist, in the sense that there's quite a bit of jazzy elements that both of those bands love to incorporate in their act but first and foremost there's the prog. The first album 'Abolishing The Obsolete System' is very much a solo project as it's just him with his guitars and a computer, no vocals. He does use some synthesized vocals that probably came with whatever music program he mixed it in. (I do wish I had at least a 1/10 of his guitar playing talent.) There's flamenco playing, some BollyPop with occasional orchestral touches. With the second album, 'The Quantum Hack Code',  he managed to hire a drummer that could keep up with him. And generally uses the same tricks as the first album, that is not to say that he's repeating himself. Dear Gods no, just that he consolidates what he did in the first album and adds more extravagant flourishes.  The Quanttam Hack Code is meant to be a concept album with interludes in between telling a story on how humankind is about to be annihilated in the far far away future. I sort of imagine that this album would be great as a soundtrack to System Shock 2

Picture South-Africa... lions roaming the savannahs, sun, sand, beaches, Morgan  Freeman as Nelson Mandela... so when you come across bands from this sun-ripened country that not only play metal, but metal of the variety that is more associated with ice, frost-bitten desolation, grimness and hypothermia. Not just one, but two! That's right. Two Black Metal bands. From South Africa. First up Warthane, they hail from a town called Alberton, but have since emigrated to Sweden. Though I would have thought that Norway would have been a better fit, but what hey. They've been around since 2004 and so far published 1 EP and 2 full albums. The only album I've heard is called Black Divine which came out in 2011, and it on show there is plenty of desperate black metal going on with what can only be said thrash riffs thrown in and death metal vocals. Straight from the get go you have a song that represents everything that they want to accomplish, buzzsaw guitars, blastbeats, shrieking, with the occasional operatic female singer piping in whenever the song calls for beauty. There's the iddly widdly guitar solo's. The barks. The fast drums. Yes, if I had to have a guess I would have said that these guys used to live next to Ihsahn and grew up with Varg.

Sean Gouws does have some great singing/guitar playing chops and I do hope that this is not the last we hear from him or Warthane. Don't get me wrong, it would be easy to dismiss these guys as gimmicks on the basis of the genre and where they come from, but that would foolish at best, stupid at worst. While people who don't like Black Metal already won't find anything to enjoy on here, those who already spent their minds eye and ears wallowing around tundras in animal skins will find plenty to enjoy.

Then we have Crow Black Sky. And they hail from Cape Town. Though they do come under the umbrella term of Black Metal, they are a completely different beast from Warthane. Crow Black Sky manage to invoke the sounds of Emperor, Dimmu Borgir and early Cradle of Filth very easily. Specially the latter two. Crow Black Sky have got this expansive sound going on with orchestral flourishes here and there, piano being exuberantly and expertly played, emotions building up and up and then crumbling down. There's even an instrumental power ballad! And for a debut album they've really gone all out on their sound. The sound that they also bring across is quite nautical in nature. The singer doesn't stray much from the black metal croaking. Then there's this Danish Blue Cheese-fest of a music video, that uses all the hallmarks of Black Metal Manowar, and I love it for exactly those reasons. For a self produced and a completely DIY project this has the hallmarks of professionally done album. It will be interesting to see what they will do next.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Time doesn't heal all wounds.

This post has come about after several days of contemplating. I thought it might be time to actually write this thing.

Recently I got a private message on Facebook from a guy who I didn't bear any particular grudge against, but wasn't to fond of either. It was a message of an apology for stuff said and stuff done to me some years ago. Though the person I would most like to get an apology from hasn't done so yet, and I'm not holding my breath for it either. It was the second time I've received a message like that, and both times sort of got me down a little bit because it forced me into thinking about past events.

On the whole I would say that I had a fairly happy childhood. I lived in a small town with less than 2000 residents(most of the time). What I didn't have was a happy school time. I hated every year of my ten years that I spent in primary and secondary school. For ten years I had to live with being called names, mocked, made fun of and generally being targeted for reasons unknown. I took every opportunity to make sure that I was sick so I wouldn't have to go to school. During those sickness periods I would spent watching TV, reading books and listening to music. So it could be said that they were the making of the person I am today. 

So yeah, I was the outcast, the loner, the freak if you will of my class. Anything and every thing that I did was wrong in some kind of way. I hated studying for school but I loved spending time in the library (where my mum worked) and read books. I rarely did my homework, which was one source of taunts and when I did do my homework I was also made fun of. So no matter what I did I would always be made fun off.




Made to feel less of a being than the rest. All of this was mainly due to one person, but the rest didn't help. Some encouraged him, some joined him, most just stayed out of the way and ignored it.

As my sister so elegantly put it, No one asks to be bullied. No one. And anyone who suggests otherwise never had to go through life thinking it wasn't worth living.

I remember once plucking up the courage to speak to the principal at the time, I never told my parents what was happening though, who very quickly dismissed it and mostly just didn't want to know. And the class teacher(the same class teacher for 5 years) seemed to give the class even more fodder, whether she did it knowingly or not I don't know. But to this day I do bear a little grudge against her as well.

A lot of people seemed to think bullying is just a normal part of childhood, that it is there to "toughen up" weak kids, while ignoring the quiet suffering of so many. Well it is not a normal part of any childhood, no one let alone a child deserves to go through life like they are some how inferior and less worthy of life then others. That is what bullying teaches the victims. Not self-sufficiency, so it teaches us that we are better of dead. But towards the end part of those ten years that is what I had started to believe. The sad truth being that sometimes it takes someone dying to make a difference.

At the tail of of the secondary school I was depressed verging on suicidal. But I didn't tell anyone. During that period I had also started listening to heavy metal quite intensely and I was open about my music taste at school as well, and again I was the odd one out. Though since then I've come to find out that shit loads of my peers listened to the same or similar music as I did. It might have been my affinity for classical music as well, that didn't help.

In my head it all sort of collapsed when I tried to kill myself.

I had been contemplating it for some time. How easier it would be all around for everyone if I just wasn't there any more.

Then I tried it again.

Neither time anyone knew of it. The first time I couldn't go through with it and the second time I finally realised what it would do to my family. Especially if anyone found my body.

I tried it twice.

What followed was a gradual realization of that I didn't deserve any of this. Why would I should I let bastards wear me down. My sisters didn't deserve what they were going through either. And at the time I created the first Icelandic website  dedicated against Bullying. Though that website seems to be lost in the midst of the might Internet Jungle. The idea at the time was to start a group, and I had started all the planning. Got some posters made by my brother(third one). Things written. But it wasn't to be. But I would like to think that it got the ball rolling, because now there's at least two big groups in Iceland dedicated to fight against bullying.

There had been discussion before in the media, some talk in the school that I had attended (New principal), and I still remember the day when I walked in there to complain to both the principal and the vice principal to complain about the treatment of my youngest sister. One of her bullies at the time also happened to be the vice-principals son.

Due to the website I started getting phone calls from both victims and parents of victims. And I realised that I was not on my own with my experiences. One of the phone calls was from a political blogger who wanted to make a documentary entitled Bullying: Hell on Earth, and he wanted to interview me. The day before it was shown on national television I had written a blog naming and shaming few people in my home town, especially some higher uppers in relation to my eldest brother and his treatment. It sparked a huge discussion in my home town, some of course questioned why I decided to publish it in an open forum. Some people suggested that what I had done constituted as bullying, which just goes to show that some people don't know what bullying is. Most supported what I had written and thanked me, because those were the sort of issues that everyone knew of in a small town. But no one talked about, because it just wasn't the sort of thing that was talked about.

Today. Today I am a fairly happy individual. I moved away from Iceland. I got two kids that I love dearly and I am finally enjoying being in the educational environment.

The memories still hurt, but not as much these days. Time doesn't heal all wounds, it just makes it more bearable to live with.

I wrote a companion piece to this entry called The Social Price of Bullying, with some selected studies on why bullying IS a very important issue and does affect all of us.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Glorious surprises, Disillusion comes out with Gloria.

One of my favourite albums of all time is Back To The Times of Splendor by Disillusion. I still pull that album out regularly to listen to, 6 songs spanning nearly 57 minutes of eternal beauty. I bought my copy in 2004, and I was captivated. But also perplexed as to why they didn't get the press that they deserved! Here's a band that shits out an instant classic first time trying and barely a whimper was registered in the metal press. And I could not wait for a sequel. Which never came. But never mind, they did publish another album called Gloria in 2006.

What an absolute off the wall straight from the left field that was. And I loved it. Most people didn't. Most people wanted 'Back to the Times of Splendor II'. But with 'Gloria' Disillusion were showing their progressive side, which for some reason seemed to irk people. There were shouts of sell-outs going of course, but you can't really be a sell-out if you are not delivering what people want.

So what happened. Welll, what seems to have happened is that Andy Schmidt, nee Vurtox,  got sick and tired of playing BTtToS live over and over again. And having the stress of trying to find a backing band and preferably a small orchestra as well. Probably wanted to play something slightly simpler. More hard hitting in some ways, and rest his larynx!

Andy uses on this album mostly, baritone singing, bass singing, occasionally he'll a sort of melodic spoken word or pure spoken word and only couple of times will he break and use his death rattle. I loved his vocals on BTtToS but he really does come into his own on Gloria. His vocal performance on here is simply glorious. The overtly German pronunciation of some words that has sometimes distracted me in the previous album and the EP's released before that.  I might be putting a lot compliments onto him, but the man deserves it. Though of course I don't really want to take away from the rest of the band, the drummer Jens Maluschka does fantastic job as well if only in keeping up with Andy's vision. The fills and the rhythm are just right every time and always interesting as well. Just listen to this song:

Though where Gloria really wins is how unusually built it is. It weaves, breaks and turns in all sorts of directions, but those weaves, breaks and turns are never unnecessary and most importantly never for show, well maybe a little but it never feels like it. I hesitate even calling this album Metal, because there is so much else going on but no other label really fits, and with metal being THE most diverse genre going it is probably the only label that fits. The closest would be industrial metal, some people will probably complain(and did) about how similar Andy sounds like Till, but the proof is in the listening. And while I love Rammstein, they haven't put out an album that sounds as interesting as this one. Yes in one song "The Hole We Are In" starts out as blackish Death metal song, but then just towards the end swerves into sort of lounge-ish dance song.

Then there are two instrumental songs one of the called Lava which always makes me envision flying over Iceland and seeing two separate volcano's going off in between grassland and black deserts. Maybe the reason I imagine flying is because of the previous instrumental called Aerophobic. Both of these tracks are very bass heavy and often it sounds like they've thrown away the guitars and replaced them with basses.

So as I said previously no it isn't 'Back To The Times of Splendor: In search for more money' that everyone was hoping for (me included) but it is a brilliant album completely blew away any misconceptions (mine included) about these guys and proves that they are quintessential progressive musicians. But the only problem is that this album was released in 2006, and nothing has been heard or seen since of these guys. Which makes me a very very sad blogger.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

It's Louder Than Hell! Manowar.

Soo... with all my writing on heavy metal and the like. I started thinking about an album that I've got in my collection and only comes out of my collection every 3-5 years or so now. Why? Well, every time I listen to it nowadays I cringe... just a little. But enough. I was in my teens when I saw this album on sale in my local store, and for some reason I got really really fascinated with the album cover. The overwrought testosterone on display. Plenty of metal on display. At the time it was my favourite album bar none. My teenage hormones overloaded. Big time. This was THE BEST BAND IN THE WORLD! They are the Kings of Metal. The true warriors of True Metal. The Loudest Band in Existence. The True Heirs of True Metal. The power that was being displayed was just AWESOME. Even the ballad was great. Those drums. Those guitar licks! Those basslines!! That VOICE!!! I mean they even have a song called Number 1 singing about how they are Number 1!

Nothing could compare to these Metal Gods. The cover was one of the best I had ever seen. The songs suitable simple to sound extremely complex to my teenage inexperienced ears. Bombastic and overblown, but fucking hell I didn't care. It was the hardest, fastest and most emotional album in my very very very small collection.

I did at some point acquire Hail To England, which unfortunately was to my ears just an unlistenable mess, turgid turd of an album that should never have seen the light of day or my money. Bridge of Death was good and the verse sections of Kill With Power were okay, but the rest was as bad as anything that Limp Bizkit shat out.

Oh dear.

Now that I look back. With slightly older eyes and listen to it with even older ears, I cannot really hear what it was that I used to love about this album.

For those who do not know Manowar, they are the self styled loudest, heaviest, truest metal band in the world. Today. Their motto is DEATH TO FALSE METAL, I'm still not sure what False Metal is, but what the hey lets just say that it's Linkin Park for the hell of it. But yeah, they dress in loin cloths and lots and lots of leather, well oiled and worked out muscles. They sing about Nordic Gods, Klingons without the foreheads, used Orson Welles to provide narration in their first album and when the remade that album they hired Christopher Lee as a replacement, you can never see the face of their mascot(Presumably the artist is just shit at painting faces, like a reverse Da Vinci), motorbikes, guitar solos, how they are united in everything lots of death and Valhalla singing, choirs, Wagner worshipping, songs about Heavy Metal and how they are the best and truest heavy metallers, overlong over complicated bass solo songs and so on and so forth.

It all started in the 80's, DeMaio was a roadie for Black Sabbath and during one of the tours he met his soulmate called Ross The Boss. Yes... Ross... The Boss. Somehow they found a drummer and their shining light of a singer Eric Adams. DeMaio has since got rid of Ross... The... umm... Boss, who now has a solo band called Ross The Boss. DeMaio apparently is the, mmm, brains, of this band. He writes most of the music, all of the lyrics and is generally the one who plans and pans out their ideal image and such like.

Now, this I will concede. Eric Adams is a phenomenal singer. Though he does use his 'rough' whiskey voice on most of the songs on Louder Than Hell, which does irk a little bit. But he actually pulls it off. But then he utilizes his natural voice on the power ballad Courage, a true lighters in the air, hug your metal brother song if there ever was one and most of King. He breaks out in falsetto during The Gods Made Heavy Metal frequently. The man has pipes made of steel, no doubt about that.

Karl Logan is a fairly nifty guitar player, nothing remarkable. Just a slightly heavier version of Ross... the Boss. Though he does get a chance to shine in both Today is a Good Day To Die and My Spirit Lives On. The latter one he is trying his very very best to channel Yngwie Malmsteen. This was his first album with Manowar, so I suppose he was still just finding his feet (fingers).

DeMaio. Well. Meh. He provides a good base with his bass (See what I did there!). Might just be a little bit one-dimensional with his music and lyric writing. But so far he's managed to make a living out of the same songs since the early 80's, so who am I to argue.

Scott Columbus, may he rest in peace, apparently needed specially re-inforced drumkit due to his heavy hitting. But it doesn't really come across on this album.

But yeah. I've still got this album in my collection, I will probably never get rid of it, unlike my copy of Korn's Untouchables or Linkin Park's Hybrid Theory. And while I was writing this I listened to it again. And actually, yes there are cringe worthy moments, like when they sing:

"Wearin Leather On A Horse Of Steel I Ride"

"Had To Punch My Teacher Out Now He's Chilled
I Might Stay In School Or Die In Prison
Either Way It's My Decision One More Beer And Heavy Metal
And I'm Just Fine"

"Brothers Of Metal
We Are Fighting With Power And Steel
Fighting For Metal Metal That's Real"

"The Gods Made Heavy Metal And They Saw That It Was Good
They Said To Play It Louder Than Hell We Promised That We Would
When Losers Say Its Over With You Know That It’s A Lie
The Gods Made Heavy Metal And It’s Never Gonna Die"

"The Time Has Come All Training Done
The Muscle And The Blood Will Come To Pay"

But you know what, yes it is all very silly, but the music isn't bad, Eric Adams has got great pipes, and on a drunken night this is quite enjoyable to put on. So far all of you who haven't listened to it, here's the whole album.

Friday, 4 October 2013

He is not the Silicon Messiah, He's the man who wouldn't die!

Blaze Bayley is a man who's career I've kept a fairly close eye on. He was working as the frontman for my favourite band of all time, when I first started getting into metal. I bought Virtual XI when it came out and loved it back then, still like it now. I just wish that the rest of guys had held Steve Harris down, and hired some one competent to mix and produce that album, oh and The X-Factor(Oh and if someone could have hidden the notes from The Angel & The Gambler that would have been even better). After listening to some of the Wolfsbane stuff I can understand why he was hired as Bruce's replacement, and of course after hearing how dark X-Factor is, Blaze's vocals fit perfectly.

But couple of years later he was asked to leave, in favour of the return of Bruce Dickinson.

Which in so many ways was the correct decision. That year (2000) we were honoured to be bestowed with TWO excellent heavy metal albums. One being Iron Maiden's Brave New World, and the other Blaze Bayleys Silicon Messiah. While Brave New World was a good album, Silicon Messiah was a mother-fucking great album! It just sounded to good, and Blaze sounded revitalized. Like a man with a point to prove, which he did in spades. Blaze has always had an interesting voice, a very bass oriented baritone, he carries his notes very well and has a lot of passion. There isn't a lot of breadth to it, but he more then makes up for that in emotion and he never hits a false note either.  For that record he hired 4 extremely hungry (metaphorically of course) and extremely talented musicians. And boy do they let rip throughout the album. And the one that came after this Tenth Dimension. Which follows in the same Sci-fi tinged Heavy Metal. During the early part of his career Blaze hired master music producer Andy Sneap, who does have this amazing ability to make things sound big, clean, yet not too polished, with a HUGE emphasis on the guitar sound. No wonder he has done jobs for Nevermore, Megadeth and many many more. Now maybe if only Steve Harris had hired him for both X-Factor and Virtual XI they wouldn't have been so violently shat upon. On his very first album Blaze wrote a song that he still hasn't been able to top, and probably never will. Not that it matters that much, but this song is massive, it's huge, emotional, victorious, ponderous and all around a beautiful song.

Unfortunately it wasn't to last. The band started slowly crumbling, with the drummer leaving first, followed by the bassist. Still he did have the guitarists left, and Andy Sneap was still around to help when Blood & Belief came out. This one was a lot more personal record. It seemed that Blaze's world was coming apart, as can be demonstrated in the song Hollow Head, which apparently was written using Blaze's counselling sessions. In some ways it's also the most controversial song he's done, but that's more to do with fucking metal hipsters who didn't like that fact that it had a lot of groove going on.

Fuck you Metal Hipsters.

There were some other great metal assault tunes like Alive and Tearing Yourself to Pieces. The former being a song where Blaze releases his catharsis of hatred towards his critics, very much like when Iron Maiden did a song(With Blaze) called Virus. As can be guessed Blaze doesn't have much love or patience for those who continually criticise him for nothing else except replacing Bruce Dickinson. Which unfortunately is a legacy Blaze will never get rid of, and shouldn't either. The latter is about... well I'm not entirely sure. It's sort of seems to be in the same vain as Alive... and Virus. But it's got a great groove, fantastic riff and a brilliant chorus section. It would appear that it's about someone who bigs himself up, but refuses to show why he thinks he's such a big guy. Essentially, possibly maybe it's a take down of bullies who suffer from low self esteem and penis envy.

But where Blood & Belief really really strikes gold is in the Power Ballad department. There are three absolutely mind boggling, lighters in the air, hair at the back of your neck rising power ballads to be shown. Blood & Belief, Life and Death and Regret. The one I can relate most to is the last one, where Blaze puts all of his regrets on the table, about all the things that could and should have happened, what he should have, could have done instead, how he should have learned his lesson sooner, that there's a hole in his chest. At first it could be said that he's singing about his time in Iron Maiden, but then again we don't know that for certain. But as I said before, this song is the one I can relate to the most, and it always without fail brings tears to my eyes when I listen to it.

Then things started going tits up. The rest of the band left. With Blaze having to piece is all together again. The one theme that has been going throughout of Blaze's career is that he soldiers on, never gives up, no matter how often life kicks him in the teeth.

After working with several journeymen musicians, even publishing a live DVD, he came across the Bermudez brothers. Formerly of Under Threat Columbian fame. Well sort of anyway. Under Threat play this Thrashy Death Metal, who's singer was probably their weakest link but musically. Not bad. Not bad at all. And thankfully those influences can be heard on the the two albums he made with them. With them he was joined by a guitarist and artist called Jay Walsh, who also created the album covers for both of the albums that he played on. And of course there's a journeyman drummer, who also wrote a book about their experience of working together called At The End of the Day. To round all of this off Jason Edwards from Wolfsbane did the music production, now there's a man who also deserve a great future in that field. Because the job he does on these two albums was phenomenal.

The first one being The Man Who Would Not Die, it seems now that with every album he has to make the point again that he's here, and he's here to stay regardless of what the nay-sayers say. Again it's just a journey of thunderous heavy metal, maybe slightly heavier then previous output. Which isn't surprising considering the musicians backgrounds. It starts galloping with the title song, and doesn't really let up one bit. Even the power ballad which is probably one of the most touching love songs I've heard. And it all ends with an absolute monster of a track called the Serpent Hearted Man.

I went to see them playing in Lancaster in the Yorkshire House. And I have to say that it was one of my favourite gigs that I've ever attended. I lost my hearing for three days, and it was worth while Blaze ripped through his back catalogue and even did some Iron Maiden songs as well. I had the opportunity to speak to Jay whilst out back smoking in between bands. Got a picture taken with Blaze! So I was an extremely happy metal bunny.

I can imagine that this period was probably the hardest for Blaze, but not musically speaking. Sweet Jebus, he had a sweet band going on. Had just released a brilliant metal album and was about to release another. Then in 2008, his wife died.

Then the following year his father had taken ill and died after battling an illness.

I just... I just... No. I've got nothing. Except enormous respect. He still toured through both of those tragedies. And I was always struck by that tattoo he had on his shoulder with scissors and a microphone crossing each other.

Through all of this, he still managed to publish Promise & Terror. Which was a logical continuation of solid block of newly minted metal. No new ground being broken, just solid lumps of metal assaulting your ear canals like re-inforced cast iron gondolas sailed by Charon himself. But the real crown jewel are the last four songs. Remember when I said that Blaze will probably never release as good as a song as Stare At The Sun. Wellllll, I lied. He did four songs tying with all the emotional shitstorm that had been plaguing him. The thing is, while each song are individually great, they are even better when listened together.

Sadly again, this wasn't to last. There were some major problems in camp, and Blaze dissolved the band citing financial and medical reasons. The financial aspect was mainly because of the Bermudez brothers Visa's, and the medical being Blaze's own fragile mental state.

Since then Blaze has been touring by hiring local bands all around Europe. Been doing stuff with guitar wiz Thomas Zwijsen. Mainly on the acoustic front. He's also toured with another former Iron Maiden singer and benefit fraudster Paul Di'Anno. And published another album bravely called King of Metal. Now it has to be explained that when he's singing about King Of Metal, he's not singing about himself but rather his fans. Then there are rather touching tributes to both Ronnie James Dio and Dimebag. The only thing is I've listened to the album a few times, and I just can't get myself to like it. I want to. The lyrics are as good as ever. But musically... and possibly production wise, well the whole instrumentation sounds a bit flat, there's hardly any oomph going on there especially on the guitars. What made such a big difference on the last albums was that Blaze had guys who were very very guitar oriented producing and mixing the albums... and that album cover. I just can't. I can see what he's going for and I'm really happy to see him going on.

But now that the Best Of is coming out with two new songs, I think the next album might actually be good if those two songs are any indication of what is to come. Though again, he might want to get either Andy Sneap or Jason Edwards to do the mixing again.

I am Metal
I hear Metal
I see Metal
I feel Metal
I think therefore I am