Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Jon Lord - Pictured Within

Jonathan Douglas Lord(Otherwise known as Jon Lord), may he rest in peace, has a lot to answer for, for re-awakening my love for classical music. Most people will know him as the King of the Hammond Organ when he played with Deep Purple. For those who did not know, he had quit Deep Purple in 2002 to concentrate on his classical music aspirations. Which is fair enough, he did after all invent the Hard Rock/Symphony combo in 1970 Concerto for Group and Orchestra. I remember when Metallica did the S&M albums and my class mates crowing how it was the first time a Rock/Metal band had done anything like it. To which I just wanted to punch them, ignorant fuckers. But hey, I digress as I often do. I did really enjoy Concerto For Group and Orchestra and to me it still is the pinnacle of the rock/symphony mash up.

Now, this was when I used to live in Ulverston, which is a lovely little town in Cumbria, which is too expensive to live in if you don't have a car. This is a town which does conflict itself quite a bit, on one hand it's full of hippies and alternative seeking folk, yet somehow always manages to vote Conservative. But they had this fantastic Oxfam shop, where I did my book and music shopping on a very very regular basis. And boy did I find some jewels there, amongst them was Bruce Dickinsons Skunkworks, which was the only album by Bruce Dickinson that I didn't have at that point! Then one day when I was flicking through their CD collection I came across this one... I instantly knew the name, but didn't know that he had published a solo album. I decided to take the risk to leave it there, while I went home to investigate. I checked on and I checked on Allmusic, just to see what other people thought and the major consensus was that it didn't suck. The next day I spent my hard earned pounds on that CD.

That album was Pictured Within that came out in 1998 and it is beautiful. There is nothing overpowering, just subtle nuances throughout, slight emphasis here and there. But mostly it's Jon Lord on his piano accompanied by strings. It's got singing on as well, but only one of them would fall under operatic, From The Windmill and Wait a While, but generally the singing would fall more under the blues/ballad style of things. There are heart breaking moments like Music For Miriam, which Jon Lord wrote for his mother who died that year. Jon Lord did rework that song and made it longer on his subsequent album Beyond The Notes. What is probably remarkable is how easy and natural Jon Lord makes it all sound, but then again this man did study classical music in his youth, but the jump from all out rock and mayhem in Deep Purple is still a great one. I do think he was right in leaving Deep Purple when he did so he could concentrate on his classical ambitions, and from we got Durham Concert, Boom of Tingling Strings and To Notice Such Things. If I had to compare it to anything I would say take all the softest, nicest bits from Beethoven, Vivaldi, Strauss and Bach, and you're pretty much there. It's a great album to put on and just leave in the background, or read to. Though possibly the best time to listen to it is when you've got your headphones in, sitting in a bus, preferably on a long journey, in the rain, during autumn time.

What this album did more then most was it made me dig out my classical music collection that my brother gave to me few years back for Christmas(So as I would stop listening to the bloody heavy metal), and I went out searching for more classical music. Like Gustav Holst The Planets Suite, Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet and the like. And of course like minded current neo-classical composers like Eluvium, Clint Mansell and Joe Hisaishi (he of Ghibli fame)

In recent years, Jon Lords death is probably the one death in the celebrity world that affected me the most. The man was an idol after all, he had been on my to see list ever since I bought Pictured Within in 2005. And I suppose it doesn't help that he's the same age as my dad. It never is nice to get such a stark reminder on how brief life is. But it is what it is. Thank you Jonathan Douglas Lord, for the memories and for the tunes.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Lasting Impact: Sepultura - Roots

Man. Sepultura and me have some history. The first time I listened to this it had just come out and Radio 2(Think BBC1 mixed with BBC6) in Iceland played it in it's entirety. I was 13, and I was gobsmacked. This was up to that point, or at least until I heard The Chemical Wedding by Bruce Dickinson, the heaviest thing I had ever listened to. And it was on mainstream radio! The underlying political message has stayed with me ever since, and made me an even bigger socialist then my parents could(The other influence being Bill Hicks, but that's a discussion for another blog entry). Then there's the use of native instrumentations, which is peppered throughout the album and Native American singing in both Itsari and Canyon Jam.

I've previously written about an album of theirs, Roorback to be precise. But this time I want to write about an album that I think gets way to much flack for the most ridiculous reason. The main one being that it seems to be in to hate it, I suppose I could understand the reasons given. But then I listen to the album, and those reasons just seem, well stupid. First of all, it is very connected with the nu-metal movement, now I can sort of understand that reason. But nu-metal to be is more about rapping, hipping, hopping, generally raping of instruments and the like. But there is not one song here that is vaguely like that. Except maybe Ratamahatta. Then there's the fact that Jonathan Davis guests on LookAway, but so does Mike Patton! And everybody loves Faith No More. Ross Robinson produces it, now he was hired because Max Cavalera like his work on Korn's debut album, deservedly so. Korn's debut album is great and sounds great. It's got meat, it's muddy, it's got style that hadn't been replicated until Roots came out. Besides Ross also produced an album by Fear Factory, sound engineered WASP - Crimson Idol, and many many more(Oh and there is that one blip of Vanilla Ice, but everyone is allowed to make mistakes). The man knows how to get good sound from bands! Nu-metal seems to be just another label to throw at bands that the metal hipsters don't like without any foundation. It's a bit like when you hear old metalheads shouting "It wasn't published before the 90's so it's shit!".

Well fuck you old metalheads and metal hipsters.

Then of course there is the fact that this album sold millions of copies, and if there's one thing that metal hipsters(you'll find a lot of them on Metal Archives) hate, it's when bands reap from their hard work. One thing that their accused of is selling out because they don't sound like one of their old albums. Now this is an accusation I hate, it always seems like that bands are not allowed to expand on their sound. Yes, Beneath the Remains is a fantastic death metal album, Arise is a brilliant thrash metal album, Chaos AD is wonderful groove album, but Roots is just a brilliant metal album full stop. Some people like to say that they went all "groovy" on them with this one. This usually comes from the same people who love Pantera. They obviously didn't take their time and listened to Spit or Dictatorshit.

Andreas Kisser really does come into his own on this album, it is such a shame that he is not talked about more when the conversation of great guitarists comes up. Jasco is a fantastic finger picking tune by him.

Max's song-writing did reach maturation stage at this point, he definitely knows how to write anthems, but at the same time he also writes great straight up metal tunes. His lyrics could still do with some work, but generally he doesn't hold back and when he has a point he likes to hammer it in. In Roots Bloody Roots he sings:
Bring Me The Strength
Is Breeding Me This Way
To Get To Another Day
And All I Want To See
Set Us Free

Cut Throat:
You Promise This And Promise All
Deep Inside Nothing At All
In A War Of Filth And Greed
We Don't Need None Of This Shit

Both Igor and Paulo have their parts, Igor is one of the hardest hitting drummers around and also one of the most tribally rhythmic that I can think of(Scott Rockenfield being the another), and Paulo's fingers are fully exercised through the album when trying to follow both Igor and Andreas.

But then of course the event happened. Sepultura split. I'm not going to go into what or why it happened, but safe to say now we have two bands to enjoy. Even though it did take Sepultura couple of albums to get used to it.

In conclusion, I still listen to this album on a regular basis. Because it is good. It is without a doubt one of the major landmarks of Heavy Metal as we know it today.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Mother Country Music Loving... 3

Skálmöld - Is the latest hottest shit to run wild in Iceland. They play what can be only called Viking Metal of THE purest variety, Evian style. They came out of nowhere, but now you have Choir of the Elderly and pre-school kids singing their songs. They've only been going since 2009. All the members are veterans of the Icelandic music scene, but none, as far as I'm aware of anyway, ever played in a metal band. They are melodic to the extreme, well rehearsed and well written. And jolly, lets not forget jolly. The first album "Baldur" was a work of conceptual masterpiece and it came out in 2010. The story is as follows:

Baldur is a hired farm hand,  who has a wife and two boys. And he's very happy with his little lot in life. Considering that most of his life has been about bloodshed and fighting as a Viking mercenary for years. One day while he goes out fishing, with his family tucked up in bed, a creature arrives and attacks the farm. The creature goes about and slashes, rips, claws and half-eats all living beings on the farm, including Baldur's wife and children, then torches the farm. Baldur wows to avenge their deaths, calls for his former fighting partners and they go hunting for the creature that did this evil deed.

So the tale is set for a revengeance story of the highest calibre. Blood, guts and glory. With a little sprinkle of love. There's sprinkle of all sorts of music styles going on, from Iron Maiden is invoked in the song Kvaðning(which also has an exceptionally over-wrought music video to boot.) to Slayer inspired tune in Dauði onto power metal style in Upprisa. Björgvin the singer, has a vocal style that does taking used too, Unlike the music, which has more melodic hooks to catch people's unawares then Pinhead's Hell, but it fits perfectly. He's got this gruff, rough, commander/authoritative bark, and you believe every word he says(when you understand what he's singing of course). What does help as well is that they break it up with choir singing, where everyone in the band join in and they also got a proper real Viking Gods Goth to chant at the beginning of the album. There is a happy ending, of sorts. Baldur finds the creature, who is vocalized by the singer from Solstafir, and after a long battle manages to kill it but only after getting fatally wounded. But during his dying moments, he sees his wife and children, happily playing on the other side and looks forward to joining them as well as getting his rightful place in Valhalla.

This album is my favourite album to work out with, the tempo is right and it gets the testosterone juices flowing. Musically it's all very tight and well rehearsed. Which brings me to another point, because they are so tight and well rehearsed and spend ages one each riff, each drum beat and each instrument to get it all just right, has brought them some scorn from a minority of people who seemed to have something against bands being, well... professional, hipsters who have this tendency to dislike anything and everything that becomes popular, because their parents or grandparents like it. Seriously get a fucking grip and let go. This is music on epic scale with plenty of cheese grated on, and it's delivered with gusto and panache!

Now as for their second album Börn Loka, which was published in 2012, is more of the same. And it works. Again. It is brilliant. On par with Baldur, if maybe a little bit more progressive. They even touch on black metal in the song Hel, where Edda from Angist makes an appearance as Hel. This time the story is centred on Loki and his children. There's not an awful lot I can say about this album, that I haven't said about Baldur. So... I won't. Except that I do love both albums.

Mammút. Is probably the most indie band that I've written about and own an album by. So far you can listen to the first album on Gogoyoko and the second album(Karkari) on Spotify. They've got this kooky, loose way of playing, and the drums always seem just a little off. The first album was well a little forgettable. Some songs like Mosavaxin Börn and Þeir Reyna, gave good indications of what was to come. Karkari on the other hand is exquisite. Pure champagne. It's a very rocky album, you can hear a bit of stoner rock going on there, there's a gorgeous ballad, a bit of Smashing Pumpkins(except with good singing), and this time I will concede that the singer does echo Björk(uggh), but only slightly, in as much that she comes across like a mischievous elf with a bit of malice bubbling underneath the surface.  It is definitely a great rock album, and there's a lot of fun to be had with it. I did see them live during Eistnaflug in 2008, and that is what they were. Fun.

In a very good sense they do stand out like a sore thumb in the Icelandic music scene, and I do really look forward to listen to their future output.

There. I've exhausted my supply of bands from Iceland to write about. In the meantime, may I introduce Norn and Tentacles of Doom.

Edit: You can read the first part and the second part.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

The curious case of Queensryche.

The curious case of Queensryche. I've been a fairly big fan of Queensryche for a while now, probably as long as I have been a fan of Iron Maiden. Just not with the same intensity. Quite a lot of people will probably recognise them more now due to court case that is happening in November, where it will be decided whether Geoff Tate owns the name Queensryche or whether the founding members own it (You don't really have to guess who I think should win).The first song I ever heard was the classy classic Iron Maiden worshipping song Queen of The Reich with it fantastic Dungeons & Dragons / Highlander video:

But my first album that I bought was Operation: Mindcrime, which has been dubbed the best Metal Concept album of all time. And it still is. What a effing masterpiece that is, not one dud song or needless tracks on there at all, with the particular standout being Suite Sister Mary. For those who don't know, the story of Operation: Mindcrime, revolves around a man called Nikki. Who's become disillusioned with life and society. During one of his many herion induced benders he's recruited into an organization that is dedicated to starting a revolution in the US. This Organization is headed by a mysterious man called Dr.X, who also supplies his followers with drugs and special orders. Nikki becomes an assassin without his knowing, and Dr. X wants him to kill a corrupt priest. During his time, Nikki starts getting friendly with a nun who used to moonlight as a prostitute, named Sister Mary. Dr. X takes notice of this and then orders Nikki to kill both the Priest and Sister Mary. After Nikki the priest, it seems like Dr. X has Sister Mary killed by someone else but lays the blame on Nikki. Nikki loses his mind, goes on another drug and alcohol induced bender, then ends up in a mental hospital. Where the story started.

This album had it all, cracking music, cracking story and cracking lyrics. Shame it never got turned into a cracking movie.

The next album I actually bought was Promised Land. Which just blew me away, big time. The riffs in I Am I and Damaged. Then there was the melancholic meanderings of Out of Mind and Lady Jane, Out of Mind influenced how I approached my job in mental health quite a bit, though it took some time to realise that. Lady Jane is a very very creepy song, and Geoff Tate expresses that creepiness exceedingly well. There's a lot of mental health issues being discussed on this album, and they are very upfront about it. DIS CON NEC TED which seems to be sung from the point of view of someone who's been lobotomised(my interpretation of it anyway), Bridge deals with absent father issues, Someone Else? is about someone(HA!) dealing with depression and stage fright. And so on and so on. The title song is a delightful example of organized chaos in tune form, the only downside seemingly being Geoff Tate's obsession with playing out of tune saxophone for no real reason.

The thing that always impressed me about Queensryche was the fact that they never seemed to repeat themselves. They went from NWOBHM style of their EP and The Warning, into slightly more accessible Duran Duran influence metal in Rage for Order(where Geoff goes full on stalker mode), then Progressive story telling metal of Operation Mindcrime, to pop metal of Empire, slightly more alternative progressive turn in Promised Land, Grunge/Seattle rock in Hear to the Now Frontier.

Hear in The Now Frontier is seen by many as a watershed in Queensryche career, slightly because it was so different from their epic Operation: Mindcrime but mainly because Chris DeGarmo quit after that one. But that is one thing I've hated about a lot of Queensryche "fans", with every album especially after HitNF, the common complaint was "Well it isn't Operation:Mindcrime or Empire", "They need DeGarmo back.", whine whine whine, bitch bitch bitch. Yet, commonly the same fans will say how well shit HitNF is. The problem with that, DeGarmo wrote all the songs bar two(Which also happened to be the rockiest songs on here), Hit the Black and Anytime/Anywhere). I fucking love that album, except for two songs(Cuckoo's Nest and Get a Life). Yes it is different, yes it is stripped down, but it is delivered with style that only Queensryche could do. It does include one very progressive song in the form of Sp00l. DeGarmo mounts the microphone in All I Want. There are great rock tunes(besides the ones I've previously mentioned) like You and Reach, some soulful thinking in Miles Away, desperation in Saved.

But my favourite song has to be this:

Obviously DeGarmo was heavily influenced by what was happening around them in their home town of Seattle. He even played with Jerry Cantrell(he  and did a few gigs with Alice In Chains. But hey, he quit. Get over it. Now he's flying for Lear Jets.

So what should a band do. A band that has a great history, fantastic back catalogue, know how to play and put together albums without what was arguably their most influential songwriter?

Well carry on that's what. Which they did. They bravely soldiered on through many albums that were consistently poo-pooed on. Which again irked me a lot. I like Q2K, with it's relaxed, slightly, jazzy atmosphere. I LOVE Tribe, I'd go as far as to say that it is my favourite album. But then again DeGarmo did come back and wrote a couple of songs with them on that album. But that album is amazing. Again there is a lot of thought gone into the lyrical content behind them, mainly on world peace, harmony, love(in the platonic sense) and generally how life is most of the time good, but we could do more for each other since we are essentially all one tribe. I loved the muddy production behind it(I was heavily influenced by Roy Z's style of music production), the well tribal sound of the drums and Geoff Tate's singing is inspirational. As it always had been. Yes, he isn't hitting the high notes as much, but then again I was never a big fan of falsetto singing. But he does focus on his mid range vocal style a lot, he's got a fantastic timbre and operatic style. 

Then, I don't know what happened. Mainly from what I can gather Geoff's ego got to him. He started treating Queensryche as his baby rather then the bands baby. I mean I didn't dislike Operation: Mindcrime 2, even though it did reek a bit of money grabbing, I did really like Take Cover, but American Soldier had a fantastic concept, but fell flat on extremely boring and basic song writing. And the less said about Dedicated to Chaos the better. Actually no, I take that back.

Dedicated to Chaos, was rank. It was horrible, I tried so so badly to like it, I tried to take it on face value. But sheesh it was bad. There seemed to be way to much U2 worshipping going on. Geoff hired some outside charlatans to write songs instead of... ooohhh I don't know... listen to what his band members were producing outside Queensryche. If he had only taken his time and listened to Rockenfield/Speer's Hells Canyon or maybe Micheal Wiltons Soulbender project. Both of which were rocking and full of ideas. But nnnoooo, he listens to Jason(fucking)Slater instead, who's past was some garbage industrial wanabe The Cure style of 'rock'.  He had a fantastic new guitarist on Tribe in the shape of Mike Stone, but he was gotten ridden fairly quickly after O:M2, for "financial" reasons.

I've still got my copy of Dedicated to Chaos, and I'm keeping it just to remind me there are such things as expensive beer coasters.

The thing is, I liked Geoff Tate's solo album that he released in 2002. It was fresh, it was laid back and very enjoyable to listen to. Now maybe, if he had been honest and actually put out American Soldier and Dedicated to Chaos as solo albums(that they are!) then I might have had more respect for him. But instead he goes on and does this:

So, they were right in getting rid of him. His version of Queensryche shat out this stinking pile a cow shit in the form of Frequency Unknown, which was essentially the spiritual heir to his solo album Kings & Thieves. Both of which are just horrible, absolutely horrible. No Geoff, I won't tell you that I luv it, stick it up your fucking pie hole and be gone. Those Glory Days are over. No just stop. Please.

But Queensryche with the rest put out an album of amazing quality. With a new singer called Todd La Torre, who is close enough in style to Geoff to pull it off, but has enough of a personality to put his own stamp on things. Parker, the man who replaces Mike Stone and Kelly Gray(please just stop playing solos!) and in a sense replaces DeGarmo, does a fantastic job. He might be "The Kid", but he's got talent to equal DeGarmo. They easily reference everything prior to Promised Land, without repeating themselves and although it is short, it is full from start to finish with pure quality songwriting. If they don't win the court case in November, I do hope they will keep on going. Because Geoff has lost my spending money.

Top 15 Artists of all time according to Last.Fm

This is the current list of top 15 artists according to Last.FM as of 10.8.13.


Septic Flesh

Armored Saint


Andrew W.K.

Steve Von Till

Clint Mansell







Diablo Swing Orchestra

Squirrel Nut Zippers

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Top 15 Songs according to Last.Fm.

Here's a rundown of what songs I've listened to the most according to Last.Fm.