Killing Your Darlings, Humpty Was Pushed, Just Being A Contrary Bastard

The Sounding of the Gavel of Musical Judgment.

The Sounding of the Gavel of Musical Judgment. Gaze upon it and tremble, ye doubters.

Rating music is obviously subjective, and if you don’t like one artist in particular, well, there are several hundreds of thousands of others [1] out there to help sooth the pain. Everybody’s heard someone gush about a band who you just could not fathom, and wondered what the big deal was. I’ve even gone back and listened to bands again, at points willing myself to try to like them, until realising that’s a stupid thing to even try. Whilst opinions can change with time (for me this includes Mastodon, Kill ‘em All, Lamb of God, The Smiths, Converge, Megadeth and As I Lay Dying) (actually, no, I still don’t like As I Lay Dying) (well, sometimes), and disliked artists can be appreciated as technical listening exercises (but probably more so from a musician’s point of view) somebody telling you why you should like an artist, even in a totally benign way, generally doesn’t work. Nevertheless, there remains a lingering curiosity in my heart, mind and ears, to just try to figure out why some bands are praised when everybody’s got it all wrong, and actually there’s this other band you should check out instead.

This, combined with Invisible Oranges’ Head Shots and Deciblog’s Disposable Heroes columns, got me thinking, damn, I wish I had that idea first. Mixed in with my ‘should I, shouldn’t I’ treatment of Torchrunner’s Endless Nothing, I decided that, as is the fate of all great art, I’m going to steal it. I would normally try to be a bit more original than this, but there are just a few too many bands who present this curious itch for me, needing to be scratched into a bloody gouge of satisfaction.

I’m going to listen to an album by an artist that somebody has spilt superlative–ridden digital (or real) ink, or spittle, upon, and see just what all the fuss is about. Rest assured, I will be doing a bit of research beforehand to avoid the token duds, unlike the time I wasted 90p borrowing The System Has Failed from the library, then spent several years thinking Megadeth were rubbish. I will then spend the next few weeks listening to whatever record it may be, digging into it, and if it grows on me, I’ll buy it, it spends the rest of eternity in music Valhalla, and I’ll make a note to listen to that artist’s other albums. I did consider listening to entire backlists, but sooner or later I’m going to run out of money. However, this does mean I’ll spend longer with each album, and dig into it a lot more.

I’m going to focus on artist who are established and critically–praised in the heavy metal press, as anyone can give a kicking to the newly popular band of the moment. I also think that the critical and commercial standing of a band takes a little time to figure out; there will always be a couple of up–and–coming bands who everyone but me seems to love (oh well), but whilst some of their coverage turns out to be hype (and history suggests it will), it’s also possible that I may come round to liking them.

First up is Gridlink. I mean, have you tried listening to Longhena?

 

 

 

[1] (Spotify’s website says it holds 30 million songs. That’s without Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Youtube).

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Review ‘Em All: Ithaca, Trespassers         

Disclaimer: I am friends with one of the members of Ithaca. But don’t let that put you off. They’re awesome. Buy the E.P.

Having enjoyed Ithaca’s first E.P Narrow The Way, with its balance of dissonance, melody and strong songwriting, I’ve been looking forward to their next recording for a while now. Recorded at Nø Studio, their second E.P, Trespassers, is available as a download or on 7″ vinyl.

This is not a fun or even a cathartic listen; it grips, it screams, screws its face up, grits its teeth, places its head in its hands and rocks in corner of the room. Ithaca have gone for intensity over expansion, and it has resulted in four very angry, pessimistic songs. Trespassers is faster, more piercing and skronk–heavy (that’s a word, right?) than Narrow The Way. It is music generated by and made for pain, the vocals raw like the result of an overheated shouting match. Despite the thick, choppy riffs, this is music about fragility, and is sonically painful as its lyrical pessimism, Life Lost finishing on ‘There’s nothing left to lose in life/Because life is lost on me’.

Opening track Otherworldly starts at thrash pace, halting into a single guitar before chiming arpeggios (it’s early days, but I’d say that’s one of Ithaca’s signatures), changes in pace and touches of dissonance. The intro to Life Lost flips between minor, major, hard, soft, fast, slow, silent and 10,000 revs, before an off–kilter breakdown at 1.15. Ithaca’s ability to completely wrongfoot with unconventional songwriting is one of the things that keeps them on repeat, like the lovely, Sikth–esque bursts of wriggling lead guitar in Otherworldly at 1.06 and Wither & Wane at 1.15, or cleaning up all of a sudden, like Lifelost at 2.14 and Wither & Wane at 2.00. Towards the end of closing track Trespassers a viola (I think) weaves in, a touch of mellowness, quickly sandblasted by ugly, shrieking feedback, then by the best riff on the E.P, a massive, vibrato–heavy guitar chug.

After a while, eardrums can become calloused to this sort of music (or ‘noise’ as you’ve probably been told several times), becoming immune to music that most people consider to be a sonic extremity, no matter how confrontational, abrasive or misanthropic it tries to be or is described as. With Trespassers, Ithaca get right underneath these callouses, right to where it hurts.

Face The Deep

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Like I said I would, between swabbing the deck and hoisting sails whilst sailing over the last three months, I did my best to listen to a couple of albums quite intensively, and only partially to block out the sound of bilge water sloshing back and forth or the engine gunning at 2600 revs at 3am. There was the expected recurrent rotation of a couple of heavy albums, but also of a couple which are in no way heavy, which have been a real surprise to myself. I said in my previous post that the artists I thought I’d get the most out of would be those who create a sense of immersion in another world, with an expansive feel and a musical breadth and depth that borders on the philosophical, and this proved to true. But sometimes albums which I didn’t think would fit this description turned out to do so very aptly. I think the uniting characteristic of the albums that stayed on rotation was a successful balance of immersion and escapism.

Another thing I learnt (which is the point of travelling, non?) is that, like how absence makes the heart less hateful, being away from home and limited to listening to whatever I had chosen to put on my iPod[1] built up my appreciation for the much wider choice of music I had upon arriving home. This wasn’t because I quickly came to dislike each piece of music I had put on my iPod (the opposite in fact, and I would be worried if this had been the case; after all, I had chosen the music on it), but just part of an increased appreciation for what can be taken for granted in daily life; food, water, shelter, family, friends, reading material and music. I’ve been away from home and lived out of a rucksack for weeks at a time beforehand, so this wasn’t something new to me; in fact, it’s something that I enjoy, and it was a conscious choice. Hemingway said that training to fight burns the fat off of the soul, and whilst I’m quite happy to take a more gentle, gentle approach to things, I understand the concept. I think that this is one of the most valuable realisations I’ve gathered through travelling.

Mastodon, Leviathan. What more is there to be said of Leviathan? Given that its narrative thrust is a retelling of Moby Dick, and that one of the vessels I was on was a wooden–hulled tall ship, rigged with canvas sails and traditional ropes, I thought it would be an appropriate listen. I actually found it to be a hard album to listen to for several years, having approached with cultural baggage and expecting big things, great things, and finding it underwhelming, especially in comparison to Blood Mountain’s slightly more streamlined songwriting, which came out just as I started to listen to Mastodon. However, with time, Leviathan’s barbs have caught me, and on this trip I heard something in this album that inspired a sense of wonder, a sense of travel, and of being divested of one’s familiar surroundings, creating that feeling of forgetting your own name as you float along in the cosmos. Leviathan is a story, and one told through more than lyrics, as poetically rich as they may be. Besides the already–mentioned barbed riffs, the jazzy drumming (does anyone else wonder how drummer Brann Dailor remembers it all?) and the contrast between the space and the dancing guitars gives the songs a wealth of content to dig into. Each of the instruments contains their own little intricacies and flurries of notes, with the story finished by the psychedelic, tumbling Hearts Alive.

Isis, Oceanic. Absorbing, distinctive, influential, clever, and forever building. Whenever Oceanic finished playing through my headphones it kept on going in my head, and I felt a little older, a bit more reflective, appraising the world anew, much like finishing one of those books that takes ages to finish and in the process finding your world view changed.

Parkway Drive, Deep Blue­. Imperative and catchy, but unlike a lot of metalcore, well written, being distinguishable and substantial from first to last. The themes of loss and pain resonated, as did the plentiful nautical imagery.

Gorillaz, Demon Days. Varied and escapist, yet forming a cohesive dark and twisted world. It’s a mix of styles, with each track better than I first realised. The highlight is the gospel–heavy closing track Don’t Get Lost In Heaven.

Action Bronson, Dr Lecter. Its urbanity provided a total contrast to the environment I was in. I enjoyed just listening and picking up on some different lyrics each time, as well as the excellent choice of samples.

Wolfmother, s/t. Only now have I realised its full excellence. Lots of lyrics about travelling and cutting loose old ties, accompanied by John Bonham–style drumming and elements of psychedelia.

So there you have it. You and the world can finally stop holding your breath. I’m back home and have finished travelling several weeks earlier than expected due to a torn ankle ligament (which scores 0/10). Whilst this means I’ve had to cancel my plans of listening to soaring anthems on top of mountains, it does mean I have a lot of time to listen and write about a large variety of music with a rekindled interest. Besides some more Four String Thunder, and finding those couple of perfect songs to add to the summer mixtape, Ithaca’s new E.P is out soon imminently now, which I’ve been keen to hear, so expect a review of that soon.

 

 

[1] (As well as the pub jukebox, for which The Swordfish Inn in Newlyn must get a mention. A lot of Born To Run got played there).