Music

Meshuggah, I

I like bands I don’t get. I like authors whose work I have to struggle to understand. I feel it makes me smarter in the long run to have to run, intellectually, to keep up.

Meshuggah, I feel 100%, make music specifically designed to make you have to fucking sprint to keep up.

God bless you, Swedes: bless you for not pandering to the lowest common denominator. Bless you for going straight up your own asses for the sake of the exploration of art.

Yanno, I go out of my way to find “weird,” i.e., statistically anomalous music, art and literature– I’ve studied Asian and African music and their use of micro-tones (i.e., notes outside the typical Western 12, i.e., the notes between The Notes), and though these can sound quite odd to my Western-trained ears, Meshuggah is much weirder.

And, even for Meshuggah, I is weird: constantly changing, many rhythms at one time (I want to be the first reviewer of Meshuggah to not use the word “polyrhythms” in the write-up*), asymmetrical time signatures (e.g., 3/4 or 6/8), and so on.

It’s an EP, it’s 21 minutes, it’s one song. It’s weird as shit, but it’s fascinating.

Listen here:

*Well, shit.

Bloodlines: Howl release the first great heavy record of 2013

Bloodlines, cover imageI love riffs.

That’s pretty much why I play and/or listen to metal: RIFFS.

In 2013, no young band knows riffs like Howl– no album like Bloodlines.

Having written about Providence, Rhode Island’s (home of my old Zen school headquarters*) groovy doomed sludge-meisters Howl several times before, I was psychotically psyched, or sycoti-psyched©, as I like to copyright it, to get an advance copy of this, my no. 1 most anticipated album of 2013 (Howl’s full-length debut, Full of Hell, was my no. 3 of 2010 and, in retrospect, should’ve been tied for number one).

In the few years since Full of Hell, Howl tuned their guitars down another half-step (to C), found a sound much warmer overall than before, made the drums bassier, and made the vocals more comprehensible and raspy –a bit like Nachtmystium‘s Blake Judd– while still sounding like Howl, they don’t sound particularly like the Howl of Full of Hell.

Much like FoH, though, this is much more overtly aggressive, both in lyrics and tempo shifts, than most doom/ sludge– the Blake Judd thing adding to this somewhat last time, but definitely more so now….

Overall, mix/mastering-wise, Bloodlines evolved like Metallica’s late 80s discography, though this chronologically backwards: where Full of Hell was very raw, trebly-sounding, and overall bone-dry, not unlike …And Justice for All (which I think actually worked for Howl), Bloodlines is warmer, with noticeably more bass, and with a much thicker, fuller, “studio” sound– much like Master of Puppets.

(This Metallica comparison isn’t entirely undeserved, either– Howl took a few big chances here, but not too many– thus preserving/ establishing their signature sound –they didn’t Cold Lake this or anything– and evolving– and this, wellThis is how you want your favorite bands to evolve.)

At around 1:30 into “Midnight Eyes” you get a beautiful, disjointed riff; just as the verse sounds like it’s going to full-on D beat, it then disrupts that thought/rhythm every few seconds; at 2:30 there’s a nice single-note riff that later adds a harmony, sounding like Iron Maiden for a second, at then at 3:30, when the bass comes back in from a silence, you realize you can actually clearly hear that bass (without simultaneously making the guitars sound tinny).

Bloodlines just sounds good, man– who mixed this? Hang on, must check…. says Chris “Zeuss” Harris… this dude (and Howl, who also co-produced) knows his stuff, like a slightly warmer Sanford Parker. Each part somehow managing to stand out.

There’s the same nonsensical-yet-sinister lyrics and titles. “Midnight Eyes,” with its slow, undulating refrain of “kill, kill, kill the light…” nicely creepy.

“Demonic” sounds something like the devil & the sea covering Nachtmystium, a bit of Disfear/Discharge creeping in just long enough to tease you (Howl are great at stopping a good riff before you’re done with it– only one track here is over five minutes, and that one, “With a Blade,” probably the weakest track on here, and still quite good, is barely over 5 minutes)… at 2:00, holy fuck… when the bass comes back in, and this over a lovely slinky riff– Goddamn it’s cool. That made me mad I don’t play bass– it was fucking badass.

They definitely trimmed what little fat there was on Full of HellBloodlines is barely 40 minutes long, and invites immediate second listens. Bloodlines captures a young band starting to realize what they can do– and having the confidence to follow through with it. More bands should seek to refine their sound like this between releases.

Bloodlines is actually starting to piss me off, because I wanna wrap this review up, and I keep remembering parts I have to write about.

“One Last Nail” has a vaguely-creepy NWOBHM riff (like the end of Full of Hell‘s “Heavenless,”) and man… there’s that awesome, clean, detuned, fat-strings-having bass again… badass…! And there at 1:31 after another brief fast section, we slow waaaay down with an “Ugh!” from singer/guitarist Vincent Hausman, who is actually enunciating enough that you can often appreciate the quietly-disturbing turn to his lyrics [“One last nail, my coffin’s sailed…?”]

“Down So Low” is actually a bit catchy, and somewhat more atmospheric than the previous tunes, but there’s a very clear melody line through it…. “You’ve never prayed like this before….”

“Your Hell Begins” starts with blastbeat/hyper-tempo drums, of all things, while “With a Blade” has another mournful-groove/ doomy breakdown riff at about 3:16, and then about 3:54, with another “Huh!” from one Vincent Hausman, which sorta-breaksdown again, into an even simpler “Domination”-ish riff.

“Of War” spits out yet another awesome riff at around 2:00, and “The Mouth of Madness” is Pantera if they were from Norway in the early 80s and loved Bathory. Fucking wow.

Closer, “Embrace Your Nerve” begins with an awesome downslide into the main riff, one awesome in and of itself, and the chorus sounds like a slowed-down version of every other NWOBHM record (yes, record) in 1982….

I think the overall crux of this review is– Howl spit them some mad riff, yo.

I don’t know how I can recommend them more highly than this.

I keep replaying little sections here and there just to re-experience them; this is fun stuff.

The last time I kept saying “Holy shit, that was cool,” this often (especially on first listen) was listening to Revocation’s Chaos of Forms almost two years ago. There have been many good albums since then of course, but none keep making me go, “Fucking sweeeet, brah, mein broheim…” like this. Anything whose appreciation makes me sound like a frat guy is definitely worth your time.

And Holy shit: every listen just gets Goddamned/Satanapproved better.

Bloodlines, sonically/master speaking, fucking vibrates— Howl love to stay on their lowest note, and you can practically smell the shit they’re forcing out of you… brown notes for everyone!

That’s my unofficial subtitle of Bloodlines: Brown Notes for Everyone.

This is one of the longest articles about a single album I’ve written: it doesn’t matter if you read it (that’s why I highlighted certain parts, so you could skim)– just get the damn thing already.

There’s two more albums coming out soon this year, Ghost’s Infestissumum, and Orchid’s The Mouths of Madness (30 years after first exposure and Lovecraft references still rope me in); if those don’t rock me like this, or something doesn’t really surprise me later on in the year, this is the best of 2013.

I don’t care it’s fucking February.

10/10

Pre-order here or here.

[Bloodlines is released via Relapse records on 4/30/13.]
*What? I can like metal and still be serene, motherfucker.

Pharoah Sanders, Jewels of Thought

So. Some discussion. I actually researched this one, motherfucker. Dig, you bastard.

Here follows some points from one Ashley Kahn’s book:

Ed Michel: “The Jewels of Thought session was ‘a sort of a traveling gypsy orchestra complete with cooks and camp followers. The room [Plaza Sound’s studio] was huge, and they’d set up a table with lots of food, lots of incense. It was a party. This was the first time I’d recorded Pharoah. He was a guy who is not a talker [but] everybody knew what they were doing. Leon [Thomas] yodeled. There were two bass players: one of them was Richard Davis there was this other young guy I didn’t know. What an eye-opening experience that was: Cecil McBee! I was more stunned by Cecil McBee and Roy Haynes than anything else, and Pharoah was easy. The music would roll on.'”

“It was just a good band,” Michel continues, “and the only problem was that Pharoah’s tunes tended to run as long as they could run. I had to find a way to let him know when he had to bring it down and get out. He decided that just flashing the lights on and off would work fine, except that Pharoah frequently played with his eyes closed. But we worked it out.”

Jewels of Thought established the feel and flow of  Sanders’s releases of this period: lengthy jams filled with percussion and world-beat rhythms, spiritual titles referencing Eastern and Western religions.

For two simple reasons, Jewels of Thought remains Sanders’s personal favorite of his Impulse! recordings: the sidemen and the sound. “They were great musicians,” he says, “and the engineer brought the horn up [in the mix] on that one.”

“The band on Jewels of Thought is largely the same as on Deaf Dumb Blind and Karma, with a few changes. Idris Muhammad has, with the exception of “Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah Hum Allah,” replaced Roy Haynes, and Richard Davis has permanently replaced Reggie Workman and Ron Carter, though Cecil McBee is still present for the extra bottom sound. Leon Thomas and his trademark holy warble are in the house, as is Lonnie Liston Smith.”

Tell me that does not sound fun as fuck.

It makes me wanna light some incense and just jam out, metal-style, with these jazz guys who would almost certainly school me on jamming out.

Know what I mean? Yeah, you do.

I just wanna get down with my horn and/or guitar, you dig?

Yeah, you dig. You get me. You feel this record.

Jewels of Thought is, in total, only two tracks: “Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah,” and “Sun in Aquarius.”

“Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah,” very much like “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” the perfect stoner jazz tune, opens with and mostly relies on, a recurrent 3 chord (tenor sax D#, C#, B or concert C#, B, A) melody that seems to pick the 3 least likely chords for anyone, let alone a tenor, Leon Thomas warbling, sounding not unlike Wayne Brady as a religiously/jazzish-ly zealous preacher… an extended semi-holy party of 15:10, three chords and everyone just streeeeeeetched out over them… overall, the religious stoner version of Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown soundtrack….

“Sun in Aquarius” starts with percussion, as is Sanders’ wont: gongs, many, many bells, rhythm in excelsis, no melody of any kind; string rakes at 3:20, still setting mood and tone, albeit dissonantly– the initial mantra/ party atmosphere suddenly rent by those string rakes…. then a rumbling piano, storms through the black and white keys (a Cage-ed Schoenberg?)… then the shrieking Sanders, shrieking through the horn (have you ever tried to growl like that through a tenor…? it shreds your voice… Pharoah must have vocal chords stronger than John Tardy….)… then comes Leon Thomas, then a bass solo at around 16:45… 21:00 and we’re in chaos’ed, shrieking land

Overall? Is it “rote” Sanders? Is he phoning it in…?

Yep, pretty much, yeah. But it’s still better than 95% of jazz out there.

Buy here

Begin to listen here:

Pharoah Sanders, Black Unity

Over ten minutes into this fucker, and we’ve got trumpet over organ over every freakin’ type of percussion reasonably imaginable… we start with bass lines like fingertips massaging you… then bells, then maybe a harp…?

Black Unity, all told, is one track, at 37:21… it’s an exercise in tribal rhythm: it builds, and it builds and it FUCKING BUILDS, repeating and repeating and reiterating and synonymizing and reflecting and recapitulating… (and during all this where the trumpeter’s still trying to out-scream and/or arpeggio Sanders… and he’s giving it a pretty good go…!)

Just a great photo.

Black Unity is the free-jazzish version of black metal and/or grindcore:

it’s a delighted, religious swoon of a ceremony, and this ceremony, this sonic invocation… about chaos: a celebration of the unknown, and of our relationship to it… swelling keyboards at 19:30, again….

Dig that xylophone at 19:00… bass plucked at random as though dictated by the Gods… strings plucked above their bridge at 28:00…

It waxes, it wanes… it’s sometimes a melody, sometimes a percussion, often both… it’s “music” deciding, however coyly, whether or not to make an appearance….

Black Unity shows the majesty of tenor sax, as, above all, a leader, a sonic Herald, a modernized tribal conch shell… it rarely plays, yet completes the scene when it does… and you can feel it, when it’s silent, dictating the action from behind the scenes, a leader in sound… but then THERE it is, with 2:55 left in the tune, swelling in and out over the pulsing organ, so much activity, saying such a simple thing… with 1:11 (left) we’re fading out… with Asian harpsichord…. fading out for over thirty seconds… dig that applause… dig that laaaaaast bell….

It’s chaos in hand, via reed, as is the way it is, and should forever be… all hail!

Consider, audially, for yourself at CDuniverse.com

[See? You can totally write about jazz as if it were for a metal band.]

B-level Late-80s Thrash, Including (Deep Breath): Razor, Xentrix, Hallow’s Eve, Blood Feast, Laäz Rockit, Voivod, Destruction, Panic, & D.R.I.

I got the cassette of Razor’s Violent Restitution in a trade for something around 1989:

The cassette and its J-card smelled like the mildew and incense of Dave’s house, where I got it.  (Originally released late 1988.) Decibel magazine’s Top Thrash of all time ranked it as #31.

Enjoy some lyrics:

“Here I come… now you’re dead… got your woman… in my bed… now I laugh… while you cry… it’s been fun… now you die!”

“Out of the Game” opens with a great thrash riff, and continues the barbaric-if-awesome theme so far established….

Britain’s Xentrix (“Eccentrics”) and their 1990 release For Whose Advantage? comes out of the gate like a B version of …And Justice For All; title track is pretty great; 20 years later, I still remember the whole version of “Questions,” lyrics and all, as well as the the title track….

Atlanta’s Hallow’s Eve and their third (1988) release, Monument, rocked me well-beyond-all-pertinent/modest -boundaries. The first side I still remember note-for-note, including “Speed Freak,” “Sheer Heart Attack” (a Queen cover),”Rotgut,” and “Monument (to nothing).” The riffs and lyrics were B- at best, but they were as great as B- can be (which is surprisingly awesome). I clearly remember how the Enigma/Metal Blade J-card smelled; even typing those song titles makes me nostalgic for high school and jamming with drummers who only knew one (and this mediocre) beat pattern.

“Drink the Blood of Every Corpse,” (nostalgia portal here) was writ large on the backs of a few black t-shirts from my high school days– this, an epigram of the awesomeness of the “east coast version of Slayer,” Blood Feast, and their 1987 thrash-nearly-death album Kill for Pleasure.

It’s terribly-produced, furious, they-are-obviously-doing-this-for-love hyper-early-highly-primitive death/ thrash metal. Please enjoy their ecstatic rage in this Youtube link….

Lääz Rockit were one of the original (though lesser-known) San Francisco bay-area thrash metal bands; their sound was one of the more distinct of the metal bands of any time, heralded by their ultra-ultra-high-gain guitar tone (sounding similar, if more raw, to prime-era Exodus)– to me, Annihilation Principle (which I bought on cassette the same day I bought Fates’ Warning’s No Exit, minutes before being late to my guitar practice) is their pinnacle, containing “Fire in the Hole,” a cover of the Dead Kennedys’ “Holiday in Cambodia,” and “Chasin’ Charlie”– and there’s also a great, undeniably-metal-tastic cover.

We can talk about Quebec’s Voivod all day in terms of their overall metallic-influence, but I’m only dealing with their late-80s output, specifically what I liked:

“Forgotten in Space” and “Ravenous Medicine” from 1987’s Killing Technology (which I got on a green cassette, unlabeled, dubbed from a kid named Kevin in my freshman high school biology class), and “Tribal Convictions” from 1988’s Dimension Hatröss, via one particularly-awesome episode of Headbanger’s Ball (which also debuted Testament’s “Trial by Fire” video).

Destruction, being one of the three “Teutonic Greats” of late-80s thrash metal (beside Sodom and Kreator), released three records definitely worth revisiting: the Mad Butcher ep (1987), complete with awesome title track and Plasmatics coverRelease From Agony (1988) with its awesome cover, as well as its sonic highlights “Release From Agony,” and “Dissatisfied Existence“… finally, there’s 1990’s Cracked Brain— enjoy, in particular, the title track and the strange-yet-fun cover of “My Sharona,” a cover from The Knack, of all people.

Next to last, via Seattle, and produced by te H-team , Gary Holt and Rick Hunolt of Exodus, we’ve the thrash band Panic and their debut Epidemic, particularly their single, “Blackfeather Shake,” and its great-hooks-via-video….

And finally, we finish with the fathers of Crossover (i.e., punk via metal, i.e, thrash metal), D.R.I., and their singles “Suit and Tie Guy” from 1988’s Four of a Kind, and “Beneath the Wheel,” from 1989’s Thrash Zone.

Here then, is the sum total of what I love. Enjoy the video images:

 

Segment of the day: Intronaut, Gleamer (2:27 to 2:45)

In my mind “Doom Jazz” may be the single coolest hybrid genre title. Intronaut definitely embodies this.

It’s not a riff that I wanted to highlight here, but a particular section: and one in, off all things, 7/8 time.

It starts at nearly two and a half minutes, and only continues for a quarter minute, but man… it is fun stuff.

AND, perhaps more importantly, it’s also fun METAL stuff– it seems like most times, when music gets into weird/unusual time signatures, there is a definite intellectual reaction to this, accompanied with some delight, but the headbanging, “Did it swing/rock?” ethos is inevitably left behind.

This is psychedelic, doomy, jazzish, vaguely-grindcorey intellectually swinging metal.

For what more could you ask?

[To go to beginning of the segment click here.]

A jazz guy listens to Sleep’s “Dopesmoker” in one sitting

[Cough, coughcoughcough….]

No drums for nearly 3 minutes! Nice….

Cecil Taylor-ish; one note, and that one more about percussion than melody; recurring bass drum over snare is awesome. Funny that they’re only detuned to C (cello tuning); not really that far by doom metal standards… their use of, and confidence in, the musical idea of resonance, is wicked cool. They know the power of a open chord on a stringed instrument, especially if detuned, and they’re not afraid to beat you in the face with it….

First vocals at nearly 9 minutes… funny that they’re playing in C, the easiest key to play in… it’s like they opening their hearts up musically, to allow anyone to improvise over their riffing… a very generous sonic gesture… first solo at nearly 15 minutes… continues the generous idea, as they’re clearly not concerned with impressing you with music chops… of course, now we got a guitar solo that would make Kerry King wince at the simplicity….

“Proceeds the Weedian…” first lyric I could understand… these are like, lyrically, scary Dune-type nerds who also rock out… holy shit….

[Burning really thick, dense sage smoke…]

Holy God, I actually feel connected to you….! Matt Pike, you fuckin’ shaman…! Show me the netherworld…! The shadow world, that beyond the glimmering world… the other…!

[Now a restrained, subtle nag champa…]

Man, I fucking FEEL that low chord [C]…!

[From 39:00:]

Almost Clapton-y, just sitting way back behind the beat… fingering whatever comes along (hah)….

At about 42:00 everything goes away except the guitars, and once they re-enter, the Riff has changed… the phantasmigoric stoner….

[From 45:00:]

The Vedder-like vocals again…!

At over an hour now… that Riff has promised me more in its sheer power than any of the testaments… and in the end, it just stops. It just fucking quits.

Well done, man… well done.

[Amazon.com link to the reissue]