Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Mother Country Music Loving... 2

Brain Police is one of the biggest rock bands in Iceland, all in all they have been playing since 1998. Though they seem to go through regular cycle of touring, someone quitting or all of the them quitting, then lots of kisses to make up, then touring. The name comes from a song by the almighty and all powerful Frank Zappa, called "Who Are The Brain Police?". Their biggest influences are without a doubt Kyuss(the fact that they regularly cover 100° should be a good clue), Fu Manchu and Monster Magnet meaning that the play Stoner/Desert Rock, with a big party vibe. Their gigs tend to be sweaty and full of life and thrashing about. So far they've released 4 albums, But they haven't released an album since 2006, called Beyond The Wasteland in 2006, which didn't feature the founding guitarist and it got lambasted. For reasons I do not understand, fair enough it doesn't have songs like Jacuzzy Suzy, Johnny Babas or The Journey is The Destination. It's not intense as the self titled album, it is more relaxed and probably bit more funky. The focus is more on the bass and the singer, who if Soundgarden ever wanted to continue without Chris Cornell, would be the perfect replacement. Though there are undoubtedly good rock songs on there like this one:

Botnleðja is a punk rock band that decided to reunite last year after many many years of non-activity(one of them became a nursery teacher). They started of, in 1994, as very basic very simple punk rock band that barely knew how to handle their instruments, into some fun loving punk rocksters who blended in brass instruments, into a mature punk rock band... only kidding. And from what I can hear of the new album that they released this year sounds like a great amalgam of all the stuff they had done in the past. They are one of those bands that just ooze fun and frivolity from every pore. For some time they were heavily associated with Blur, because when Blur played in Iceland Botnleðja were their supporting act, and Blur tried their best in helping Botnleðja getting famous, so assisted with their tour in the UK where they played under the name Silt. In fact if you listen to Song 2 by Blur, you'll hear that influence. In their time they've released 5(possibly 6) albums, but only one of them got an international release, Icelandic National Park, which has a wonderful album cover.

Emiliana Torrini, has been around for as long as Botnleðja. But her strengths lie purely on ethereal beauty of her voice. She's done electronic music, acoustic and pop, and always done it very well. Most people will know recognise her from The Two Towers, where her contribution was Gollum's Song.  What does bug me very often, is that because she's Icelandic, Female and Sings, people's first automatic reaction is either "Does she sound like Björk?" or "She sounds like Björk?", my responses to that are usually "No" and "Fuck off". Although she does have a solo career going on it doesn't seem to stop her from writing songs for/with people like Kylie Minogue, Moby and Sting. She had released three albums in Iceland before embarking on a moderately successful international career. First up was the electronic laid back Love in the Times of Science with classy songs like To Be Free, Baby Blue and Easy. From there she went to the acoustic Fisherman's Woman where we can close our eyes and relax to Honeymoon Child, Heartstopper and Serenade. And straight into fun loving poppy jazz of Me and Armini where she had a rather big hit in the form of Jungle Drum and the rather jolly title song. It has to be said that she comes across as a fun loving elf with a constant smirk on her face that just makes her adorable and every level.

Well, that's part 2 finished. I've got some ideas on what to write for part three. But reminders are also good.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Mother Country Music Loving

Most of my blogs have been about bands from other countries(from my point of view), so I thought it was time to write a little about some bands that come from my country of birth. There are few bands so I'll try to be brief on each. I've already talked about Kontinuum in a different blog, so I'll skim over them. And Solstafir unfortunately isn't my bag, except two songs maybe.

First in line is HAM. This band is legendary in Iceland. They started in the late 80's and quite after a couple of albums in the 90's. just as they quit they participated in songwriting and acting in what is now legendary movie in Iceland, called Sodoma Reykjavik. They didn't reunite until Rammstein came to Iceland to play 2001. During their downtime their reputation grew, and grew and grew. The best way to describe their music is possibly as Classic Heavy Metal with dash of Blackness. They had two singers the ruff and gruff Ottarr(Who is now a city councillor in Reykjavik) and the mighty majestic bassy Sigurjón, these two guys wrote most if not all of the music, acting as sort of an Icelandic Lennon/McCartney couple. As far as I can see they recorded two albums that were never released, one live album and one studio cut off album. Until they reunited of course. Since 2001 they've released a live album and one studio album. The studio album was called 'Svik, Harmur og Dauði'(Betrayal, Harm and Death). And what an album it is. Already a classic. It is just so, so very very good, and rocky, and expansive... and... and... well I don't know any more words that fit the album.

XIII has been my favourite Icelandic band. Ever. Since my friend played me a track called Nowhere, from their phenomenal record Serpentyne. What most people in the world call Six Degrees of Seperation in Iceland we call it Throw the Stone Next Door and We'll Know him. The main guy, and for some time the only guy, Hallur Ingólfson used to drum for HAM for some time, but then decided to branch out with his own project along with composing music for the National Theater and various movies in Iceland. The first album Salt, was very Gothic, akin to Type O Negative, just not as tongue in cheek. From there they played slightly more rocky, Soundgarden-y even in Serpentyne, with it's Grade A artistic case and booklet. Both of these albums are fairly simple, with no overtly progressive sounds or anything like that. Then Hallur decided to go all NIN-industrial on us and out came Magnifico Nova.  An album I love, for all it's faults and quibbles. Hallur Ingólfsson went around construction sites and suchlike in Reykjavik recording the sounds that he came across there and incorporated them brilliantly into the album, with songs like Wishbone, Daisy Chain and Miracle Sun being the perfect examples. He even attempts the high notes on Wishbone, and wrote one of my favourite love songs in the form of Amorica. Briefly the band name was changed to Th1rte3n, thankfully that only lasted this one album, because the publishing company XIIIbis wanted to make them more sellable. Then it all went quiet. So very very quiet....

...Then all of the sudden I heard rumblings of a reunion, just to play in Eistnaflug. Even an album. Which came... sort of... in the form of a Best Of... plus an EP, called Black Box. Seems like Hallur has become all grown up, and decided to play all out Rock Songs. There's even a recreation of Wishbone with out the industrial bits.

Now every country needs their own version of Isis and Neurosis. The Icelandic version is Momentum. This band came as a very very pleasant surprise, as they started of as a rather bland, generic Black Metal band(like Solstafir come to think of it), working into a Progressive Metal Band(like Solstafir, though to be fair any band that works for a long time in the Black Metal field will eventually turn progressive... unless your Mayhem) and into this Post Metal(Unlike Solstafir, saved by the bell). On their album Fixation, at Rest they made this rich textured post metal a la Isis, Neurosis and Cult of Luna. What really does set Momentum apart from other Post Metal bands, besides sounding very original is their use of three singers... sometimes five. And the drummer, sounds like an octopus on LSD. There's this wall of sound with the heavy use of downtuned guitars, with a dark underbelly of the rhythm section. Red Silence is a perfect example of this. If there is such thing as the perfect soundtrack for a beached whale exploding, then Momentum have written it.

So there we have it, a very small dissection of the Icelandic Music Scene. There are more, and I will write about them next time.

It's not that I dislike Solstafir particularly, it's just that I've never really got into them except for their track Love is The Devil.

Monday, 22 July 2013

And now for something completely different... Baby Dee

Baby DeeNow... I know some here will be quite tired of reading my musings about Heavy Metal, some will be tired of reading my musings full stop. Well fuck you then.

But to alleviate my own tiredness of my musings, I thought I'd write about a rather unique musician called Baby Dee. Baby Dee has not really been in the music business that long, but has a very very varied career of all sorts. In the 70's she was an organist in a Catholic Church in the Bronx, from there she went onto being a hermaphrodite accordion player as part of a circus act, then she played a harp around Manhattan on a tricycle. I believe she now works as a tree surgeon in Cleveland, along side touring the world and releasing albums. She has played with some great names in the past, including Antony & The Johnsons and David Tibet from Current 93.

I first came across Baby Dee when she played at the Yorkshire House in Lancaster, as part of a night organized by Little Argument With Myself. The only other act I remember playing that night was a guy called Martin Chitty.

The first album I bought by her was Safe Inside The Day(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0s-94S63HfA). Which was a very much a band effort, playing songs written by Baby Dee. With names that people might recognise, like Andrew WK, Will Oldham and Bonnie "Prince" Billy. The songs are very heartfelt and with some great stories attached to them. There is hint of rock, baroque, folk and cabaret. It sounds very obvious that Baby Dee is enjoying the opportunity to work as part of a band, but she is definitely the star of this show. I would like to say that there isn't one highlight, because all the songs are great.  The whole album goes from jazzy-swing scary-fun filled extravaganza as in "Teeth Are The Only Bones That Show" to sombre and serious instrumentals of "Flowers On The Tracks"(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rgULChIgG4M) onto tongue in cheek crazy of "Big Titty Bee Girl (From Dino Town)"(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnk3Jhyh8nc) to what sounds like a Russian drunken debauchery in "Bad Kidneys".  And of course the albums ends with sounds from robins tweeting.

It's a shame that this album isn't on Spotify, but I do recommend it if you do get your hand on it. 

The second album I bought by her was "A Book of Songs for Anne Marie" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzZCkyMbGbU), which is a minimalist album that's produced by Antony & The Johnsons alumni Maxim Moston. It's on here where you can really feel your heartstrings being pulled and played with, like a harp. Here she sounds like a mother torn with grief and is singing for her child that, well I'm not to sure, either passed away or in a coma, and she doing what she can to make the memory of her child happy. There are moments when you feel like you've intruded into Baby Dee's personal space, while she's playing in a room in front a photo of her child.

When listening to her albums, you can hear that she is a master of the instruments that she plays on, namely the Harp, Piano and Accordion, she knows how to use all those instruments to their greatest effect. She also comes from the Tom Waits school of Singing. She doesn't have a particularly beautiful singing voice, it's gravelly, out of tune and all over the place, but the way she uses it to squeeze out every emotion she can, and she does it well. You can also visualise her face when she is singing, whether she's smiling or nearly crying.

Baby Dee has earned the distinction where I buy her albums pretty much as soon as they come out.

So far I have been privileged to see her playing live twice, and I can't wait for the time when I can see her again. So I'll let her finish this blog off.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Gateway Music: Disillusion - Back To Times of Splendor

Now everyone here I hope has heard of the term Gateway Drug, of course you have most of you have higher IQ then you duvet Tog number, so I won't explain it. Now here's another one, Gateway Music, the sort of music that opens your mind to other genres out there. For me there are so many that I've stopped counting, so I'll stick to the one I do know kicked down my prejudiced door of pure metal music.

Disillusions Back To Times of Splendor.

Prior to listening to this album, specifically the title song, I was very much into my metal with good melodic vocals. I had very little time for Thrash Metal, let alone Death Metal, and as for Black Metal. Forget it. I think I did try Opeth, but I just couldn't. Sepultura, was the lone exception. What had happened was that I was just browsing the internet and was on the lookout for a Heavy Metal Radio, couldn't really afford CD's and MP3 sales hadn't really caught on at that point. So I came across Snakenet Metal Radio, perfect! So I put it in the background and kept on browsing with a sleeping baby in the same room, so I couldn't have it to loud. Then this one song came on, unfortunately I sort of noticed it in the middle, with these gorgeous acoustic guitar and lovely voice singing, slowly building up to a fantastic crushing crescendo, then ebbing out again into a great guitar solo, again building towards an even more crushing pulverising crescendo of desperation and anger. Finishing of with death metal vocals, that I could understand! Double bass drums!! Synthesised violin section and choir!!! That song, Back To Times of Splendor. An epic rush of Progressive Death Metal running for 14 minutes. Fucking hell I had to get that CD.

When I finally got the album, with it's sweet melancholic album cover and well written lyrics. I was in hog heaven, and to imagine that it was 56 minutes, but only contained 6 songs, absolutely astounded me. And there were more things to amaze me. There was the contrast between light and darkness that I had not really heard before, until of course I discovered that Black Sabbath had used the same trick on several occasions. Though Disillusions ace in the hole was their singer. When I first heard that song, I assumed that there were at least 3 singers, how on Earth could all of those singing styles come from one vocal chord! But, yes to my surprise it was only one guy, who called himself Vurtox(Real name Andy Schmidt). Who also wrote all the songs. This man has talent by the overflow. He has got a very beautiful clean baritone when he just wants to sing, but his death metal vocals are also impressive and also understandable(which doesn't happen very often), then he croons, and yearns, pleads and begs with his vocals.

The album was published with generally glowing reviews, the average score on Metal Archives for example is 90%. But somehow this album managed to fly under the radar for so many many people. Which is a shame. And due to them publishing it with Metal Blade it's not on Spotify.

All the songs meld into each, and follow this one long thread of commonality. The panting at the end of Fall which starts Alone I Stand In Fires for example. Fall is the shortest song on the album clocking just under 5 minutes, but what a great song. One of the great examples that Power Metal doesn't have to suck. Alone I Stand in Fires is a song of desperation, and you can feel that desperation oozing out everywhere.

There is also the obligatory ballad called A Day By The Lake, which doesn't start out as a ballad at all. But the calmness it imbues at the end is so very very nice and out of character.

The crowning jewel is the last song, the very very epic The Sleep of Restless Hours, which like the title song and the first song, swings back and forth from light to darkness, from harsh vocals to pleading, from chaos to order and ends with the most exquisite riff.

Now what came out of this album is in fact that I started listening to more Progressive Death Metal, like Opeth. Vocals, while still important, weren't the focus any more. Or at least they stopped distracting my attention from the music. I don't think I would have started listening to bands like Agalloch, Aeternam, Be'Lakor, Enslaved, Testament or Negura Bunget, amongst so many others.

So thank you Vurtox. I am really really looking forward to your next album.

Before anybody else says anything, yes I've listened to Gloria. And I love it.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Lasting Impact: Bruce Dickinson - The Chemical Wedding

"In the darkness, the raven's head
In the courtyard, clothed in fear
I see gates that are opening
There's only one way out of here "

Well, it's Take Two time. This is the second time I am writing this note as the last one got sucked into the interspace like The Newborn from Alien: Resurrection. Never to be seen again, except during my hindsight moments of regret.

This is my second in a series of blogs about albums that in my mind have made a lasting impact on my psyche, not just on a musical level but on a more fundamental level. There are few other albums that I might write about in the future when the fancy takes me like The Beatles - White Album, Bill Hicks - Arizona Bay and possibly some others. The last one I wrote about Iron Maiden - Live After Death I talked about how that one had influenced my literature choices and interest in history.

Bruce Dickinson, is a modern day polymath. He sings with Iron Maiden, has a solo career, runs a airline, writes books, writes movie scripts, avid fencer apparently trained the UK Olympic team in the 80's, has a radio show on BBC 6, TV host, got a BA in History, is a guest speaker for business events and probably more than that. He joined Iron Maiden in 1981, replacing the more punk style singer Paul Di'Anno and they went on to become possibly the biggest Heavy Metal band in the 80's. He stayed with them up until 1993 to start of his solo career, which is an interesting and varied one. He didn't really do a Heavy Metal album until his fourth album, Accident Of Birth, which was essentially what an album Iron Maiden would have wanted to make during that time, when they were struggling with Blaze Bayley. Then came The Chemical Wedding.

The Chemical Wedding was my introduction into his solo career. I bought this album blindly to be honest, I just phoned up the music store in Reykjavik and asked if they had any albums by Bruce Dickinson and the sent me this. The first time I put it on I thought "What the fuck is this?". Oh man it was heavy, well at least to my ears then it was heavy, so I put it away. But I couldn't stop reading the lyrics and looking at the plethora of portraits that were included in the booklet. The lyrics were mainly based on poetry by philosopher, painter, poet and all round mad genius William Blake.

William Blake was an English poet and painter, who people ignored generally when he was alive between 1757 - 1827. William was very much ahead of his time in terms of writing, painting and thinking. He was a Christian when it was in fashion, but the way he practised Christianity was not. At all. He wasn't against being religious, but he did oppose the institutions of religion. He had what could only be called a Buddhist view of Christianity. Satan, God and Jesus weren't actual beings but rather states of mind. With the goal in life to become as God, or in his words "He is the only God ... and so am I, and so are you.". Satan was to be beyond salvation. William opposed slavery and championed free love, the soul isn't separate from the body but rather an extension of it, "Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity. / He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.". In his writing he created his own world and mythology that was meant to symbolise his vision of Christianity. He was also a very unwell man mentally, though of course that could depend on how you want to interpret that. From a very young age he had visions, and these visions kept on coming to him throughout his life, which included being encouraged and instructed by Archangels on what to write, and that those writings were read by other Archangels. It could be argued that without those visions we would not have his wonderful poetry or paintings today.

If people are really struggling, think of The Great Red Dragon which featured quite heavily in movies The Red Dragon and Manhunter. The Francis Dolarhyde identified so strongly with. Just such a shame that the former was so shit compared to the latter. The book was better than either though.

The Great Red Dragon

And of course without those visions we would not have been given the pleasure to listen to The Chemical Wedding.

The Chemical Wedding is, in short a masterpiece of Heavy Metal. This I found out after I got over my fright of the heaviness. Bruce Dickinson alongside Roy Z, Adrian Smith, Eddie Casillas and Dave Ingraham completely excelled themselves. While most lyrics are based on William Blake's writings, Bruce Dickinson decided to use the whole of the psalm Jerusalem for his song... Jerusalem, only adding choruses when needed. But William Blake is not the only inspiration, because Bruce does seem to be a big fan of Alistair Crowley, like so many others in Heavy Metal, hence the title The Chemical Wedding. Now for the music, most of the songs were written by Bruce Dickinson and Roy Z, with two songs written by Adrian Smith with Bruce.

And... The... Songs... Are... Amazing!

This album is still in my mind the best Heavy Metal album of all time. Everything on here is composed perfectly and played perfectly, just listen to the guitars on The Tower. In that song Adrian plays a guitar solo, and with the aid of studio magicianship pulls it off with five guitars. The Rhythm section in the form of Eddie Casillas and Dave Ingraham(Who, with Roy Z, double up as Latin Rock band Tribe Of Gypsies) is one the best I've heard since Black Sabbath's original duo of Geezer and Ward. Roy Z quite frankly is one of those guitarists and producers who should be more recognized than he is. Since this album he has embarked on a very successful career as a music producer for the likes of Helloween, Rob Halford, WASP, Judas Priest and more. As a further treat Arthur Brown (He of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown fame) read out two poems by William Blake at the end of Book of Thel and The Alchemist, with his deep baritone voice that just fitted oh so perfectly with the mood of the album.

The album does start of with a thunderous song in the shape of King In Crimson then straight after there is a power ballad in the shape of the title song, which has a very very nice guitar melody that I imagine isn't very easy to reproduce in a live setting. But that is also something that the album does very well, it swerves from light to heavy very easily. Melodies are revisited frequently to provide a common thread between the songs, which is a dangerous game to play as it can come across like the musicians are just to lazy to write fresh material. But there is no such worry on this album, it all comes together in the end.

So far I tend to have the habit of listening to this album from start to finish several times, every couple of months. I would have loved to have got a sort of a sequel to this album with the same line up, but alas it wasn't to be, not long after Bruce and Adrian rejoined Iron Maiden. But thankfully due to their reunion, Blaze Bayley started his solo career with almost equally strong albums as Bruce put out during his downtime from Iron Maiden. It's a shame the same can't be said for Paul Di'Anno.

And I am still in awe of it, and slightly frightened.

"And so we lay
We lay in the same grave
Our chemical wedding day... "

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Unusual Locations

Well some people on my friend list might have noticed that I have the tendency to share links with bands playing usual(so to speak) music from unusual places. It is not that I go out of my way to hear bands from Backanistan or anything, though it does always peak my interest when I see a band that is advertised as anything beside Death or Black Metal or Pop coming from places like Pakistan or Bangladesh. It's even better when they sing in their native tongue. I find very few things as annoying as a non-English speaker singing in a faux-American accent with horribly cheesy lyrics, most often then not rhyming Fire with Desire, Madness with Sadness, Oranges with Blancmanges... And so on and so forth. It is not enough of course just to be unusual or from what can be relatively called unusual location, the musicians have to have the talent to actually play the music. Good intentions are all well and good, but those good intentions turn into waste of times if not done correctly.
Even better I find is finding usual(so to speak) music blended with whatever the ethnic music making is. For example Tengger Cavalry are from China, they play fairly consistent heavy metal a la Iron Maiden and Judas Priest but in with it they blend Buddhist Throat singing and a Mongolian Instrument that bears the very savoury title Horse Head Fiddle. And it sounds great. It sounds like it should fall apart any moment but it never does. Which of course is the mark of a good band. Tengger Cavalry manage to evoke so many feelings and emotions it is hard to believe, in their native tongue as well. I have no idea what they are singing about but I like to imagine that it involves the Mongolian Expansion across Asia on horseback. Galloping, slaying, freeing, consolidating, resting and repeat.

The Nine Treasures hail from Mongolia, and they do sort of the same thing as Tengger Cavalry, except the play more like speed metal with lots of native Mongolian instruments. They also did what has become my favourite version of Whom The Bell Tolls.

My current favourite Avant Garde band  is Thy Catafalque, who hail from Hungary. Well it's a one man project by a guy called Tamas Katai(Or Katai Tamas, if you want to be pedantic). So far Tamas hasn't released, as far as I can tell, a bad album. Even his 'solo' album Erikas Room, is superb. Thy Catafalque is intense, supremely intense and close knit. Where as Erikas Room sounds loose and mellow. Thy Catafalque, is angry, the first albums were furious, but the last two Roka Hasa Radio and Rengetag are still angry, but supplemented with gorgeous interludes.

My latest discovery is a band called Saturn. From Pakistan, and the play Progressive Metal. Apparently they've been around for 9 years. Very competent musicians and very interesting music. A friend of mine said that they bear certain resemblance to Tool and Riverside. I've never listened to Riverside(yet) so I can't really comment on that, but I think he's spot on with the Tool comparison. I'm looking forward to checking out their past albums and future albums, provided they don't do another ballad.

So far I've talked about bands that sing in their native tongues. Here's one that sings in English, and don't sing with silly lyrics. Ka Mmen, hail from Ukraine. The play what has been described as Post-Metal/Prog-Rock. They are most definitely proggy. But I wouldn't put them in Post-anything personally. They have got a very unusually sound, almost indie like. They again sound great. Love their latest album, The Sands. The singer has a very unusual singing voice, but it fits. As far as I'm aware they've only released one album, so they are worth watching out for.

One instrumental band to be aware of is The Phoenix Paradox. From Mexico. Who are, well, happy. Very happy. In fact they've would have been perfect as an alternative soundtrack for Grim Fandango. Again they fall under the Progressive Metal, and they are very progressive. And happy. They sound like a good mixture between the instrumental songs by Iron Maiden like Losfer Words and The Ides of March played with Combo De La Muerte

Maybe it is because I am from Iceland, and every time some band or singer from there is featured in a magazine outside of Iceland it is mark of unusual music. Though annoyingly it somehow is always compared to either Björk or Sigur Rós. Which is completely unfair of course. Kontinuum for example sound nothing like either, but put out one of the best metal albums I have had the joy to listen to last year, Earth- Blood - Magic. Though it somehow gets lumbered with Black Metal. It is epic and alternative, it swings from feeling to emotion, it is simply a brilliant album. According to Last.fm I've listened to their songs 198 times, though I'm sure that is an understatement. They have only released one album but the main guys are veterans of the Iceland Metal scene and got fair few albums between them.  One thing that is quite good about the Icelandic scene is the size. It is small which does result in a lot of mixture and side projects.

So, if you'll excuse me. I'm just going to do some Buddhist Throat Singing to get rid of this phlegm.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Lasting Impact: Iron Maiden - Live After Death

Iron Maiden is, and always will be my favourite band. Not just metal band, but as a music band. Why, well I'm not to sure about that one. Maybe it's the galloping riffs, maybe it's the progressive stuff they inject their music with, possibly because they sing about historical things and focus more often than not on real life as opposed to Dungeons & Dragons lyrics, could be Bruce Dickinsons wailing, Paul Di'anno's rasping or Blaze Bayleys bellowing, or is it Steve Harris thunk-a-dunk-a bass playing, the twin lead(now triplet lead) guitar assault that is inflicted upon us. Or maybe it is just a combination on all of that.

"... We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender ..."

Now, the first song I heard by Iron Maiden, at least the first song I remember hearing by Iron Maiden was the speed-demon of a song Aces High(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmWE3QEUYr8). But the first album I owned and listened to (in no less then a tape form!) was Live After Death. The double one no less that was recorded at Long Beach Arena, LA and London's Hammersmith Odeon. Boy did it have some killer tunes, which you would expect since it is a live album. What you don't expect though is the crystal clear production, the crunch of the guitars, to actually hear the audience participation and the bands interaction with the audience. All the songs sounds so better here then they do on their respective albums with the biggest difference being in Hallowed Be Thy Name(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vP2hFFV57E) on Number of the Beast it sounded good, on Live After Death it sounds GREAT! All the musicianship is top-notch, I remember listening to Rhyme of The Ancient Mariner and being spellbound through the entire song.You can clearly hear that the band themselves are having a great time playing these songs, even though they just finished a tour that lasted 11 months covering three continents. It is quite simply the one of the best Live Recordings ever. It's a shame that I was only 2 when it was recorded, this is one concert I would have loved to have attended.

But with the title of this note Lasting Impacts I should maybe mention other things that this album influenced. I do think that people should not underestimate the impact a simple tape or CD can have, specially the booklet that comes with it. So many things left a lasting impression on me, there's a little poem on Edward. T. Head's tombstone "That is not dead, Which can eternal lie. Yet with strange aeons, even death may die." sounds a bit grim, but I started reading and learning about H.P. Lovecraft (No that is not a special edition of  the brown sauce) after this. Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner was an epic progressive song which was basically a condensed version of the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Winston Churchill speech at the beginning of the whole thing, and Aces High, got me to read up about WWII, the man was an obvious inspiration, just such a shame that he turned out to be all in it for the glory and was a racist who wouldn't hesitate to use mustard gas on civilians in British Mesopotamia mainly the Kurds and not to mention quite happy to let Gandhi starve. But I digress. Powerslave and Revelations got me into Egyptian Lore and mythology and so on and so forth. The other impact it had was the development of my English and how I use it. The lyrics on all of Iron Maidens songs are very well written and have this excellent flow to them. Run To The Hills got me to look at the impact of Europeans on the Native Americans.

So yeah, this album has probably made the biggest and most lasting impact on my psyche, and I am grateful for it. It did help me through my lean years and I continue to return to it like an old friend to listen to.


Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Musical upbringing and influences

Suppose most of you will know me as a purveyor of heavier music. Which strictly speaking is true. I do listen to a lot of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, though I tend to splash that with healthy amount of Classical FM and BBC Radio 3, along with Johnny Cash and Townes Van Zandt. So yeah, I would say that I have got a fairly broad taste in music with a heavy centre of metal. But couple of days back I was listening to The Beatles. I hadn't listened to them for quite some time and I did not realise how much they've influenced my musical choices. And in turn it made me think of WHERE my musical influences came from. My brothers obviously were strong influences. My second oldest gave me The Ultimate Classical Collection, "So you'll stop listening to this heavy metal shit!". I still got that collection, love it to this day and all it did was to expand my horizons. Then the following year he gave me CD's by Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck. Þórður gave me a Ministry(No not the Techno-Dance shit, the REAL ministry) "So you'll stop listening to the Herbert shit!". And again all it did was expand my musical horizons.

But, yeah THE musical influence in my life have been mum and grandma. She had(and hopefully still HAS) the biggest vinyl collection I have come across. And in that collection she had the entire collection of The Beatles, some The Kinks, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, BB King, Louis Armstrong, Elvis Presley and many many more, including The Muppet Show Album(which is still a bit of a favourite, especially the songs 'Time in A Bottle' and 'Lydia The Tattooed Lady'(Every time I listen that first song I tend to shed a tear while thinking of grandma)). So from my mum I got a very strong basis in rock 'n roll, along with progressive tendencies and blues and traditional jazz. Mum still has the ability to surprise me with her musical choices as I still remember her tapping her feet to Diablo Swing Orchestra and then recommending The Tiger Lillies to me! I used to spend a lot of time at my grandmas and she would always have at least two radios on, both with different stations on. Radio 1 would generally play classical music amongst other things where as Radio 2 had talk shows and slightly more in the now music, but she herself would also teach me(and others of course) about traditional Icelandic music and poetry. So there came my folky influences.

But my heavy metal journey started when I came across a VHS tape(remember them folks?!) called Kerrang Video Kompilation, which had such superstars as Iron Maiden, Mama's Boys, WASP, KISS, Helix, Armored Saint, Motorhead, Twisted Sister, Queensryche and Madam X! Iron Maiden is still my favourite band, along with Queensryche. And for many many years I would and could not listen to anything but the Melodic side of Heavy metal, couldn't stand growls and such like. But the past few years I have found that my musical tastes have actually gone towards the heavy, darker, murkier side of things. And in some cases it collides into things like Septic Flesh, who play very symphonic death metal and Sear Bliss who play Black Metal with brass instruments. So yeah, thanks for that John.

I am forgetting one element that is a very strong one as well. Musicals. Jesus Christ Superstar still blows me away when I listen to it, and Rocky Horror Picture Show. I like albums that play as concept albums and have either a running theme or a whole story. One of the best one's I've come across was album called Christ.O by Vanden Plas which apparently is based on Count of Monte Christo.

All in all, as can be seen. I love music. So thank you to everyone, especially mum and grandma. It is a journey that is still full of wonderful surprises and delights.

Monday, 1 July 2013

New German Hardness

Hmmm. Tanz Metal or as it is also know Neue Deutsche Härte. Is a rather bland genre, for the most part though some absolute gems of course can be found. The thing with this kind of music is that it is generally written to be played in places with low-ceilings, low-lights, high-humidity, high-alcoholic environments. And knowing this I still keep on going back to it.

The most famous example of Neue Deutsche Härte is of course Rammstein. Now I LOVE Rammstein, and that includes the albums Rosenrot and Reise, Reise. I still remember listening to the first album as a teenager with my brother, after a friend had recommended to him. But those two albums don't strictly speaking fall under the banner of Neue Deutsche Härte the first three albums do though with Mutter being the masterpiece. That is another album I keep on going back to, it is an absolute joy to listen to. From the orchestral leanings of Mein Herz Brennt, to the army rhythm of Links 2 3 4, the heartfelt and heartbreak off Spieluhr and the magical riff on Zwitter. Rammstein as a band are also built for the stage, huge members with huge personalities and huge stage-shows. Their concert in Iceland is still one of the highlight of my life!

There are other bands who seemed to live well enough off playing Neue Deutsche Härte, there is Oomph, Hanzel und Gretyl, Eisbrecher, Megaherz and [Die!]. The first three are, for my taste, a bit too polished, bit too calculated. And the all have singers that sport the mid-range baritone like Till Lindemann. Which is usually not a bad thing, but even Till has started mixing up with his vocal style.

Now Megaherz started out as more like an alternative rock/metal band with slight dance/techno leanings. The first album was definitely like that, then they decided, for better or worse, to follow in Rammsteins footsteps with the next four albums. The difference being between them and the competition (Bar Rammstein of course) was that they knew how to play their instruments and weren't too afraid of mixing it up. Gott Sein is probably still the best song to come out the whole Neue Deutsche Härte scene. Then the singer, Alexx Wesselsky, quit because he found that Megaherz weren't danceable enough and formed Eisbrecher, who while are quite danceable are also fairly unlistenable! In his place they poached a singer called Matthias Elsholz from a band called Twelve After Elf(Yes it is a horrible band name), boy could he sing and not only in the mid-baritone note either this man is a Heavy Metal singer with full right to the capital letters I put in there. With him they released their best album, 5, which is easily on par with Rammstein's Mutter. I was at the time really really looking forward to the following album, but then Matthias quit. Whoomph, vanished. And that dream was kaputt. And instead they hired another mid-range baritone who doesn't stray too much above or below that, and who resembles Alexx a bit too much for my liking, named Lex(Even his name seriously!?) Wohnhass. And since released two albums that sound sterile, mathematically rhythmic and polished. And I lost interest, at least I have 5 and et al.

Recently I went through a bit of a Tanz Metal phase on Spotify and came across a band called [Die!] and their album 'Still'. Who apart from daft name and name design(I mean what is meant to mean? "THE!" Common!! Makes it nearly impossible to find them on Facebook or anywhere else on the internet) sounds absolutely brutal, in tanz metal terms anyway. With Matthias at the helm! Fuck YES!!!  If they keep on releasing stuff of this quality they will hopefully get far. A singer with that quality vocal range and talent deserves to go far and possible further then that.

If there is any justice that is.

Note: Come to find out later on that Matthias Elsholz has left [Die!]. Damn.