New Music Report

Napalm Death – Scum
Kata Sarka – Crucible of Misanthropy
The Who – Tommy
Nuclear Hellfrost – I
Chaotic Neutral – 2011
Bloodbath – The Fathomless Mastery

New Music Report

No prose tonight.  Too exhausted.

Enshrouding – Time to Kill the Beast
Antestor – Omen
Misled Youth – demo
Weregoat – Unholy Exaltation of Full Moon Perversity
Diocletian / Weregoat – Disciples of War
Rorschach – Autopsy
Cream – Disraeli Gears
 

New Music Report: Incantation, Mountain, Rat Storm, Chaotic Neutral

Incantation coverIncantation – Vanquish in Vengeance

Incantation are probably the most consistently awesome currently active death metal band.  I’m pretty sure they’ve never released a bad record and, despite tons of lineup changes, they’ve never deviated from the core sound that makes them Incantation.  I credit that to the mastermind guitarist and current vocalist John McEntee.  Despite the waxing and waning of trends in death metal and a little trouble with a pretty big label, Incantation have thrived for 23 years and developed one of the most frequently copied sounds in the genre. (But, if you’ve got to copy someone, why not copy Incantation?  I would.)  Some bands are fun because we never know what to expect from them; Incantation are fun because we always know what to expect and they never let us down.  Vanquish in Vengeance proves to us all that Incantation are truly masters of their sound.  The riffs are disgusting, the drums are earthquakes, John’s voice is a volcano of growling rage, the McEntee/Alex Bouks solos blaze, and the songs range in all Incantation tempos from the speedy title track to oppressive and inexorable guitar magma of “Legion of Dis”, which ends the record in a classic Incantation sea of feedback and sonic nausea.

As I grow old, I find myself listening to fewer death metal bands.  I’ve been into this stuff heavily for over 20 years and now that I am older and have a family and a “career”, I find my brain growing in unexpected directions.  Much of the death metal fades into the background noise; however, Incantation have managed to grow on me more and more with each record.  Vanquish in Vengeance is no exception.  Now I just need to see them live again.  I think it’s been about nine years.  If this recording is any indication, I’m sure they haven’t lost any of their live fire.

Give a listen to the title track on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=WdHbT5wSckM.

climbing coverMountain – Climbing!

A few weeks ago, I borrowed a huge stack of records from my dad.  Among my favorites in the stack: Mike Rutherford, The Move, Robin Trower, Spooky Tooth, and Mountain.  It is of Mountain we will now speak.  Everyone who lives in North America and has ever had an ear within 20 yards of a commercial FM rock station has heard “Mississippi Queen”.  If he has any brains, he has thought, “Hey, that’s a rad song,” but he may have foolishly never investigated further.  This was my mistake until Dad corrected me.  Climbing! is one of the most solid and exciting rock records I have ever encountered.  After “Mississippi Queen” launches the record into the listener’s face, Mountain chill out for a bit with the beautiful “Theme From an Imaginary Western”, with absolutely lyrical guitar work by this under-appreciated Leslie West, a guitar hero who deserves way more spotlight than I think he is afforded.  After we’ve relaxed with “Theme…”, Mountain drive the fury again on “Never in My Life”, a raging song with a recurring groove that really grabs us in our guts.  This interplay between ragers and gentle compositions is the magic of Climbing!  A real highlight for me as a bass player is “For Yasgur’s Farm”.  Felix Pappalardi weaves a tapestry of bass bliss around Leslie West’s sublime guitar work.  Beautiful.  Toward the end of the record, “Sittin’ on a Rainbow” ignites the heart with this thick drum groove before the guys close things with the rather epic “Boys in the Band”.

I’m so glad Dad shared this record with me.  Climbing! is pretty much a perfect rock guitar record from a time when guys like Leslie West were pushing the limits of volume and depths of soul to lay the groundwork for the heavy metal I hold so dear to my heart.  If you are like I was and the only Mountain song you know is “Mississippi Queen”, check this record out.

Thanks, Dad!

Someone put the whole record on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0h4u7J7kwI.

Rat Storm and Chaotic NeutralRat Storm / Chaotic Neutral – split 7″

If you know me a little well, you may have heard me go on and on and on and on and on and on about how much I love this little punk band from Indiana called Rat Storm.  After my friend John gave me a copy of one of their tapes a couple of years ago, I became instantly hooked on their unique brand of completely uncompromising fury.  Do you need to light up a few city blocks or resurrect any dead people?  Plug in a Rat Storm record and you’ll have more than enough energy to re-write the very laws of physics.  Their work on this split with Chaotic Neutral is blissful spitting mayhem.  I love it.  I’m pretty sure no one at Rat Storm practice ever says, “Hey, that’s not pretty enough,” or, “This is too loud.”  When I think of “real punk”, I think of a certain spirit instead of a sound.  That spirit is the truly addictive thing about Rat Storm.  Then add their blasting crust with Nathalie’s unleashed vocal venom and we have an exhilarating musical catharsis that rips through four songs in just over four minutes.  I couldn’t pick a favorite, but “Flex Your Heart” ends with this rad gang vocal that makes me want to experience Rat Storm in person even more than ever.

Flip the record over and we get to hear more Indiana punk crazies Chaotic Neutral tear through three cuts of their own built-for-basements abrasiveness.  “Entertainment” is my highlight of the Chaotic Neutral side.  It’s a fat mess of adrenaline driven by seismologic bass and a couple of lethal tempo explosions.

I really hope to see these two bands get some more exposure.  Rat Storm’s Nathalie runs the label responsible for this split, Reality Is a Cult.  I’ve never met her in person, but she seems to set an example of the ideals of punk: she loves her art, she works hard for it, and approaches it with no pretense.  Give it a listen on Bandcamp.

New Music Report – Paganini’s Last Stand

Paganini's Last StandMaestro Alex Gregory – Paganini’s Last Stand

Let’s get one thing straight from the beginning: Maestro Alex Gregory has no reason to depict himself peeing on the graves of Malmsteen and Vai.  This guy is obviously a great guitarist, but he doesn’t hold a candle to those two guitar gods.

Long ago in high school, my parents gave me a compilation CD called Rock Guitar Greats that featured the song “Paganini’s Last Stand” as the closer.  From then until now, that was the only Maestro Alex Gregory song I knew.  It’s fun and heavy, it tells a tale of Niccolò Paganini battling the devil, and it explodes with furious shredding.  But for whatever reason (most likely because I just can’t own every record I want), I never picked up the whole thing until I recently got a good deal on Amazon.

little people

Little People city

It arrived today and I just listened through it while the kids built a Little People city in the living room.  Seriously, the Little People construction project was 100x more interesting to behold than listening to this record.  While the title track is fun and heavy, the rest of the record mostly comes across as a joke.  Maybe Maestro Alex Gregory was trying to lampoon or parody the 1980’s shred guitar movement.  If so, it isn’t a very funny joke.  If he was aiming for a serious shred guitar record, he falls short.  Fast and fancy leads are only part of the formula; a killer shred record also requires killer songs.  As much as it may seem like my own joke (most people my age were taught by the 90’s that guitar solos were to be avoid or at least pruned), I think Yngwie Malmsteen has presented us with lots of killer songs.  If you don’t believe me, go grab a copy of Trilogy and tell me you aren’t headbanging and shredding your own air guitar.

So, I say cork it, Maestro.  You’re a fine guitar player, but your cover art bravado is unjustified.

And here’s Paganini’s 24th in a way that will blow your brains.

Choosing a Sacrifice

Note: for this article, the term “record” will refer to any recorded music, including tapes, CDs, DVDs, vinyl, floppy disks, etc.  People who speak to me in person will already know that I do this, but I don’t want anyone to be confused or to misrepresent myself.

As I prepare to post a new list of music for sale on eBay, I realize that I have a few unwritten rules for selling music by which I attempt to abide.  I think I will share them with the blogosphere to enhance the sum of human knowledge.  I don’t always abide by these rules.  In fact, they’re not really rules.  They’re more like patterns of behavior that I usually follow.

To some it may appear that I have a giant music collection.  Indeed, it is probably much larger than the average American’s collection and I am extremely grateful to have so much music at my disposal, but it is certainly far from the largest personal collection I’ve ever seen.  If I have such an awesome collection, why would I ever reduce its size?  It is probably worth a few bragging rights.  My friend Amy, who also had a massive mountain of music (we have lost touch, so I have no idea how it looks now), and I once discussed the virtue of quality vs. quantity in a music collection.  We concluded that it’s much better to have a few hundred really awesome records than a few thousand mediocre titles surrounding a small core of great stuff.  Armed with that conclusion, I find it easier to part with music that I rarely listen to or don’t really enjoy — especially in order to get a few more records that will remain special.  Even with the following rules, however, it’s sometimes hard to part with music.

1. Don’t sell records written by or featuring friends, dudes I’ve known, or dudes with whom I’ve worked.

This one is simple.  Even if I didn’t like my friend’s band or some band with whom I worked closely in college, it’s hard to part with the recorded material.  I don’t know if it’s simply proof that I was once almost cool or that I like to remember fun times.  Either way, I do my best to hang onto this kind of stuff.

2. Don’t sell records by Christian bands.

That seems arbitrary and ridiculous.  Why keep a bad record just because it’s about God?  Now that I’m in this position of youth leadership, I hesitate to ever get rid of something loud and heavy that might one day come in handy in bridging a gap or starting a conversation about God with a kid.  To be fair, if I think it’s just a boring record, I’ll send it on its way; however, if it’s in danger of getting caught by rule 6, I’ll probably keep it.

3. Don’t sell records that relate deeply to a special time in life.

I have several that fall into this category.  Example: Deftones – Adrenaline.  I never listen to this.  Seriously, it probably hasn’t been out of the case since I moved back to Winchester after college.  Nonetheless, it represents a really important time in my life: 12th grade.  To part with Adrenaline would be like parting with important memories.  In the future, my kids may ask me about the person I was in high school.  If they do, I’m pretty sure Adrenaline will be part of the conversation.

4. Don’t sell records that may have future academic use.

Some music speaks to me on a spiritual or emotional level and I return to it because of that power.  Some music speaks to me exclusively on an academic level and I rarely return to it unless I want to think deeply about whatever it was that intrigued me in the first place.  Example: the John Cage CD I never play.  It’s fascinating stuff for the left side of my brain, but it does little for the right side of my brain and even less for my spirit.  When I return to that one, it’s usually because I’m in an academic conversation with someone about music; I don’t usually walk in from work and feel like the very thing I need to hear after a frustrating day at work is a guy beating on a mutant piano.

5. Do sell any record that feeds a negative attitude.

Adulthood and parenthood are not simple.  Work is often frustrating.  Relating to other humans is often complicated.  Since music means so much to me, the last thing I need to keep are records that just bring me down or make me mad.  For example, this is why you’ll no longer find A.C. or Deicide in my collection.  For whatever reason, I always found myself feeling either mean or angry after listening to those guys.  Since Once Upon the Cross was always a favorite, saying goodbye to Deicide was a tough decision.  I’ve lived, though.

This one actually illustrates an interesting point.  Some of the stuff I really love and find joy in would probably make most people feel the polar opposite.  When I listen to Incantation, for example, I just feel pumped by sweet riffs and raging guitars.  I guess art’s value is truly about the beholder.  There are probably even people who get deeply spiritually connected to John Cage’s prepared piano music.

6. Do sell any record about which I am lukewarm.

This is why I removed my three remaining Foo Fighters CDs last night.  They’re great records, but I never listen to them.  Since I never listen to them, I had a hard time thinking of a good reason to keep them.  Perhaps they will end up with a new home where they will be loved frequently and I will earn a little cash to put something new and closer to my heart on the shelf.

7. If I don’t need the money to buy some new music, give the records away.

Cleaning out a few records and getting cash for new ones is usually a requirement for me buying new music these days and the little PayPal boosts are often exciting, but it’s even more fun to just give music away.  So, when I am not in need of the money for something new and I run across a record I just won’t be listening to any longer, I love to give music away.  After all, music is the greatest art form and, like Pooh and his honey jars, I can’t imagine getting a nicer gift.

 

Quoth the Ashley

Last night after putting the kids to bed, I went to the living room to play my 12-string.  A few minutes later, Ashley came downstairs and asked, “Don’t you have all day tomorrow to play guitar?  Can you do that when I’m not trying to sleep?”

New Music Report

Dream Theater – Uncovered 2003-2005

uncovered coverThis is my second purchase from YTSE Jam Records.  That’s where Dream Theater nerds go when we can’t wait for a new record.  My first was their live cover of the entire Master of Puppets.  While that’s something pretty cool to have, I don’t often return to it except when I want to play it for someone else.  I’d just rather hear Metallica play Metallica and Dream Theater play Dream Theater.

With that said, I’ll keep my thoughts about Uncovered 2003-2005 very brief (also because it’s late as I write this).  While Master of Puppets falls short of amazing (a true fan can still admit the band’s fallibility), Uncovered 2003-2005 is beyond amazing.  I think this is mostly due to choice.  When a band cover an entire record, they can’t very well just leave out the songs on which they don’t shine.  Also, by starting with a large pile of cover recordings, the band can simply select the ten favorites regardless of continuity or context concerns.  In the long run, this makes for a much more solid record.  So, although I rarely listen to Master of Puppets, I think I will frequently return to Uncovered 2003-2005 — especially for the surprisingly great versions of “Heart of the Sunrise” (Yes), “Heaven and Hell” (Black Sabbath), and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (The Who).

New Music Report

Mutilation Rites coverMutilation Rites – Devoid

Honestly, it just came in the mail as a freebie with my Bastard Sapling package and I haven’t listened to it; however, if it’s anything like Empyrean, I’m sure it will be awesome.  Nonetheless, I was quite pumped to find this in my Forcefield package along with patches, stickers, and a beer cozy.  I guess I’ll keep my water frigid with that.

xLooking Forwardx coverxLooking Forwardx – Down With the Ship

If you, like me, found The Path We Tread to be a pretty big letdown in the wake of the explosive What This Means to Me, definitely check out Down With the Ship.  The old energy is back on this 7″.  While it still doesn’t match What This Means to Me, it’s clear that these guys rediscovered whatever it was they lost sight of a few years back and they are once again in the business of writing the type of infectious hardcore that made me love them in the first place.  I know that for some reason “true” hardcore dudes don’t like these guys, but Down With the Ship deserves a listen.  I bet you won’t regret it.

Sacred Revelation coverSacred Revelation – Revelations of the End

Hey, let’s spend a long time debating whether or not Christians should play black metal.  Or if we should call it unblack metal.  Or if it’s true.  Or blah blah blah.  Sacred Revelation is another project from Polish metal mastermind Fire (Jarek Pozarycki) of Elgibbor, Firethrone, Frost Like Ashes, Amarth Sargon, No Return to My Vomit, and more.  Impressive pedigree, but I don’t like all of this dude’s other bands.  Sacred Revelation, however, is a much different project.  Grimy vocals, grimier riffs.  Revelations of the End is only four songs long, but those songs span some of the best elements of this sort of black metal — crust, speed, magma, oppressive heaviness.  The songs are engaging, constructed expertly, and produced with a great balance of lo-fi and plenty of rumble.  Don’t waste time trying to figure out if Christians can or should make black metal.  Just check this out.

Blood of the Martyrs coverBlood of the Martyrs – Once More, With Feeling

Yeah, I wrote this band off before seeing them live.  Another ________core band.  Big deal.  Then they crushed my face live.  Honestly, I’m not even talking about the fancy synchronized moshing or guitar tosses; rather, I’m talking about simply being loud, tight, and extremely passionate.  These guys were having a blast and I couldn’t help but enjoy myself as well.  I picked up the cassette of this recording after the show because it was $1 cheaper, it has one extra song, it is hand-numbered (8/25) and gives me format cred (“Oh, I have it on tape.  Oooooh.”).  Glad I made this decision.  Massive guitar tones quake through endless mosh riffs and breakdowns with strange keyboard atmospheres.  I guess this is what kids love these days.  Well, maybe I’m a kid because I have played it several times since Thursday night.  With feeling indeed!

Love and Death coverLove and Death – Chemicals

Marriage, fatherhood, and being over 30 mean I don’t need to worry about upholding some true metal image.  Thank God.  That’s a waste of energy.  These songs by Former Korn guitarist Brian “Head” Welch’s new band, Love and Death, are 1 million tons of fun.  Not falling far from the tree, the sound is extremely like Korn, but let’s be honest: I still have and listen to my copy of that first Korn record.  I was really disappointed by Head’s solo record (Save Me From Myself) that he released after accepting Jesus, but Love and Death are far beyond solo Head.  These songs are heavy as anvils and catchy like the flu (similes suffer after midnight).  A mere peek at the fun awaiting us when the band release their full-length in January, Chemicals is two originals, two remixes of those originals (which I am surprised to enjoy as much as I do), and a really fun cover/restructuring of Devo’s “Whip It”.  Head is an extremely capable frontman, handling both guitar/vocal and vocal-only duties with intensity and has some extremely capable musicians along for the ride — including a 17-year-old guitarist who is every bit as talented as Head and is clearly having the time of his life.  The band’s set at Heaven’s Pit (Agape Church) in Stephens City on Thursday only reinforced this.  I was at the very front of the stage, close enough that sweat from Head’s hair had to have sprayed on me.  I have been blasting this for a few weeks now, but I was glad to get a physical copy.  Is it January yet?

Bastard Sapling coverBastard Sapling – Dragged From Our Restless Trance

May I name-drop for a second?  Cool.  Mike Paparo, the singer here in Bastard Sapling, did some vocals with my death metal, Dystopia Rising, band back in Harrisonburg days.  This guy has been in countless bands and even the ones I don’t like are still pretty great.  A charmed metal life, indeed.  When I learned that Bastard Sapling had a new record, I made haste to get myself a copy; fortunately for me, the fine folks at Forecefield records made me an offer I wouldn’t refuse: beautiful white marble vinyl and a cassette.  I geeked out a little.

Anyway, Dragged From Our Restless Trance is a real mental journey guided by twisted black metal.  The songs are huge, weighty, extensive sonic labyrinths.  All of the requisite epic black metal ingredients are here: blast beats, immersive atmosphere, dark riffs, thickly layered guitar, frightening vocals that will give children bad dreams.  What’s missing?  Pretense or any hint that Bastard Sapling are proceeding from anything but a deep love for metal and a passion to create the best listening experience possible.  I usually come back to Horn of Valere as a standard for this type of black metal since I loved them and their live show stunned me; Bastard Sapling are just as good at this craft.

Or just forget all that I’ve written and note what Forcefield Records has to say: “Bleak, atmospheric black metal in the cold vein of Ulver, Drudkh, Bathory, and Immortal, filtered through Richmond crust.”

New Music Report

Flying Colors – s/t

flying colors coverWhat a cool post-Dream Theater project for Portnoy!  Mike joins up with Neal Morse (Spock’s Beard, etc.), Dave LaRue (Dixie Dregs, Steve Morse Band, John Petrucci, etc.), Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple, Kansas, etc.), and a singer/songwriter named Casey McPherson of whom I’d not previously heard for a really interesting, varied, and extremely mature progressive rock record.  Melding these different musical backgrounds results in a range of sounds that make me think of Weather Report, then Dream Theater, then Kansas, then Yes, and so on.  The songs are more focused on strong structures and great writing than self-indulgent musical passages, but there’s more than enough musical virtuosity from each musician to amaze anyone.  This record almost makes me glad Portnoy parted ways with Dream Theater.

Mutilation Rites – Empyrean

mutilation rites coverThis came as a recommendation from my good friend Corey and that guy can feel free to continue recommending great metal to me.  Nothing really groundbreaking (as is often the case in metal), but they do perform extremely well-constructed and passionately executed black metal in this modern style that combines bleak wails, numbing blast beats, hints of punk, and ethereal guitar layers.  This is a great headphones record.  When I start Empyrean in my headphones and look at that cover art, I feel like I’m about to fall into that vortex.  I think it’s increasingly obvious that Europe doesn’t have the exclusive environment for great black metal.

Behemoth – Grom

behemoth coverThis is a classic, but I’ve never actually owned a copy.  I had some discount love to spend at FYE, so this ended up being a very good and cheap addition to the collection.  It’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating here: fans of current Behemoth who have never heard this older stuff should check it out.  It is quite different (and I would say better!).  Chilling, massive black metal epics of frozen sound will transport your mind to a different world.  I also recommend listening with headphones for maximum transportation to that fantastic black metal world.

Six Feet Under – Undead

sfu coverAfter Haunted, Six Feet Under went straight downhill and I haven’t cared about them in years.  They weren’t even good for a laugh.  When this record came out, my buddy Parker, who is actually friends with Kevin Talley (ex-Dying Fetus drummer who is now with Six Feet Under), urged me repeatedly to check it out.  I did just to appease him and I’m glad to say I was so wrong.  This record is lightyears beyond other Six Feet Under records because of really great songs that just keep me coming back.  The verse riff starting out “18 Days” is in my head all the time.  Catchy death metal?  There it is.  In fact, I’m listening to this as I sit here and write this blog entry.  Also, Chris Barnes actually sounds pretty crushing on this one.

The Casualties – Die Hards and Resistance

I’m a total poseur.  I’d never heard The Casualties before this.  Punk was never totally my thing in high school or college, so I never really bothered with things friends weren’t listening to.  Mistake.  Holy carp, these guys blaze.  The music is fast and chaotic, the vocals are disgusting, and the entire vibe is violent and gets me pumped.  As far as I can tell, there’s no dilution of rage in the eleven years between these two records.  The Casualties may be my next discography band.

New Music Report

The Orchid – Beyond the Vast Endless Sea
Antidemon – Apocalypse Now
Sacred Revelation – Revelations of the End
Divulgence – Future Seed
Mike Rutherford – Smallcreep’s Day