progressive metal

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.

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.]

Cynic, Carbon-Based Anatomy (EP)

Cynic are pretty much the only really progressive metal band I like, but I really enjoy them (see here); Opeth is another, but they’re not as obviously progressive and I’ve a limit with even them; Cynic, on the other hand, get a full pass from me. I’ll buy pretty much anything Cynic put out.

This lil’ EP is 6 songs, though it’s essentially three full tracks with “intermissions.”

Track 1, “Amidst the Gods” is a chant [note: if you’re listening to this stoned, you’re just asking for an in-all-probability-wonderful psychotic episode]

Track 2, “Carbon-Based Anatomy,” fades in, sounding like the sad fade-out of a particularly well-made art film that’s probably in black and white and about the struggles of some admirable protagonist from a country where horror and genocide spatter like rain in Seattle. It’s loaded with gorgeous gossamer clean guitar tones; at 4:10– a beautifully symmetrical, logarithmic solo hits (“loga-rhythmic,” more like, amirite?), stunning and sublime… with that constant undercurrent of sadness and regret– there’s genuine pain and longing in all the sounds contained here that can be hard to listen to, even in the relatively-simple music of Carbon-Based Anatomy— proves that old adage that “everyone’s got a story that’ll break your heart.”

Track 3, “Bija!” another instrumental, with its Indian tabla and obvious Eastern influence ends up sounding a lot like Tirtha, an ostensibly jazz record by pianist Vijay Iyer, which I don’t mind at all, also being a jazz writer/reveiwer, but be forewarned if that’s not your bag, baby.

Track 4, “Box Up My Bones,” is beautiful gossamer tones, with a female voiceover of a whisper darting in and out. The song’s refrain:

When I feel scared
I declare
I have everything I need
Box up my bones, I’m free

…Doesn’t that sound very doom metal? Very Mournful Congregation?

The lyrics are much simpler overall and more obviously personal than Traced in Air, their previous full record. As a whole, Cynic, on Carbon-Based Anatomy, are masters of the acoustic arpeggiated riff. Which I did not know existed before listening to this. Which also explains probably why I get drawn back to it– it satisfies that same basic internal need for riffs. You know what I mean.

Track 5, “Elves Beam Out,” is loaded with the type of sci-fi or fantasy lyrics that doom metal loves; at 1:45 a riff surfaces, and the track ends up sounding like Yes or a soft Opeth.

Track 6, “Hieroglyph,” starts with the by-now-requisite angelic/ In Paradisum fade in… which makes me think: Cynic in general and Carbon-Based Anatomy specifically, are unique, in a way, in the metal world– rather than depict and discuss the many ideas there are of Hell, they envision Heavens; they’re the Paradiso to most metal’s Inferno.

Because It’s Hallowe’en: How to Psychologically Engineer Death/grind

Having recently, for whatever reason (paging Doctor Freud) been listening to a shitton of death/grind, and being the in the psychological sciences and all, I naturally came to wondering about the possibility of shaping the behavior of (“engineering”) a musician who loves to play death/grind?

Not unlike John B. Watson (the behavioral psychologist, not the “thin as a lathe, brown as a nut” one) and Professor Higgins, I was thinking about designing, though shaping of behavior, a death/grind musician– my pigeon, my little Albert… my Doolittle of deathgrind.

Step 1:

Begin with your subject pool, technically accomplished musicians: they know their scales, key signatures, modes, and can generally read music, at least to an extent;

Step 2:

Make them love progressive rock and metal, but long for something even harder to play (especially for drummers);

Step 3:

Now quickly, before they quite naturally become a tech-death band, tell them they can only play punk/hardcore covers or some derivation thereof;

Step 4:

(This is the pivotal part)– introduce great trauma into their lives. And I don’t mean being annoyed or bored or even genuinely angry (like punk/hardcore)– I mean extended, reinforced, seemingly-at-random abuse of some kind, be it verbal, psychological, physical or sexual (and don’t’ let them talk about or process it with anyone else, ever)– that leads to things like:

demonstrating very disordered thought processes that will tend to manifest under stress;
being overly intense in emotional displays (these lapses in regulating feelings generally being highly inappropriate and maladaptive);
having low frustration tolerance;
and being prone to lose control.

Once you’ve installed these wildly pathological stimuli, serve and enjoy deathgrind!*

Happy Hallowe’en!

*Note: approximately 1 in 5 of these subjects will exhibit severely maladaptive behaviors, namely serial crimes, most likely serial sexual homicide. Results may vary. Not applicable in NH, MA, ME or NY.

Queensrÿche, Rage For Order

With Operation: Mindcrime in my top 5 albums of all time, if not at the top, and Empire in the top 20… it seemed as though Queensrÿche’s Rage For Order should be addressed.

Notable track: “Walk in the Shadows” Geoff Tate’s voice full of menace and self-loathing (“Our secret’s safe for one more night… But when the morning comes, remember–I’ll be with you.”)

A ton of early/mid-20s self-loathing, hating the relationship we’re in yet unable to get out vibe to this record, but it also solves Queensrÿche’s primary (if only at the time) flaw: they’re borderline fruity/too abstract progressive metal, in danger of disappearing up their own butt, BUT: the anger (“Rage”?) present in this record (and in Operation: Mindcrime, though already diminishing to an appreciable extent in Empire) makes it a Truly Great Record, one immune to age and trends, one that can be as appreciable in 2011 as in 1986.

The first side (fucking records and cassettes, how do they work?) is perfect: the second not nearly as, but still great. “I Dream In Infrared” with its haunting, gut-wrenching lyrics (“When you woke this morning, and opened up your eyes… did you notice the tear stains lining your face were mine?” and “I even feel alone when you’re near, ’cause you… never understand. When we first met, I must’ve seemed… a million miles away. Strange, how our lives have touched, but… the time is right… I leave tonight… don’t look in my eyes ’cause you’ve never seen them so black….”)

Queensrÿche, Operation: Mindcrime

1988.

Prime impressionable/adolescent years.

Operation: Mindcrime.

Progressive metal laden with heavy hooks,  complex guitar solos, and political messages.

Everyone’s “greatest album ever” is usually indelibly linked to the most emotionally-impressionable times in someone’s life: usually mid/late high school, though it obviously varies.

This emotional connection can obviously bias listening– maybe I wouldn’t like Operation: Mindcrime if I heard it for the first time today.

But the fact is– I did hear it for the first time, on cassette, after a glowing review of it in People magazine –of all places– in 1988.

If I absolutely had to pick– was forced to at gunpoint to– just above Master of Puppets, I’d have to place Operation: Mindcrime as my Greatest Album Ever.

“I Remember Now,” the spoken into to the concept album that Mindcrime describes, then “Anarchy X,” a rousing militaristic instrumental… and then–

“Revolution Calling” and its clarion call to action… nearly 25 years later and it still gets me the same way it did in the late 80s… at 0:32 Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton’s solos still represent to me the Ultimate Musical Statement of Revolution….

I know every Goddamn note by heart. Seriously. Not a single sound coming from this record –bass, guitar, drums– do I not know like I know my own dick.

“I used to trust the media to tell me the truth, tell us the truth… but now I see the payoffs everywhere I look… who do you trust when everyone’s a crook…? Revolution Calling…!”

My teenage world was completely rocked.

Ideologically, musically, in all ways, really….

Maybe for old(er) readers Crosby Stills Nash & Young represent what I’m talking about… maybe it’s Hendrix, or Dylan… for me, Operation: Mindcrime was the last gasp of angry political comment or activism (one that to this day makes me angry about political deception… makes me worry that the current generation is too hip/ironic enough to be angry about these political maneuvers….)– one that taught me, whether intentionally or not, that we (as plebians, as groundlings, as common citizens) were consistently being lied to, and we had to, as a People, respond with anger and outrage to effect legitimate change in the political system….

“Operation Mindcrime,” the title track,  with its minor third Riff of Riffs (unusual for a progressive band to have a riff like this): F# to C# or D, and back again….

“I’m gonna take away the questions, yeah– I’m gonna make you sure….” Exactly what you did, Geoff Tate and Company….

“Speak” with its Epic lick and riff… a guitar solo worthy of any other, anywhere….

“Spreading the Disease,” with its innocence-shredding lyrics and verse riffaliciousness…. This song made me angry I wasn’t an assassin in Service of the Truth… “He takes her once a week, on the altar like a sacrifice… religion and sex are power plays, manipulate the people for the money they pay, selling skin… selling God, the numbers look the same on their credit cards….Fighting fire with empty words, while the banks get fat, the poor stay poor… the rich get rich*, the cops get paid, to look away– as the one percent rules America….”

It pierces that facade of irony, even now– it makes me angry, it makes me wanna find a way to effect change and impact the political system….

“Suite Sister Mary,” the greatest metal ballad ever. It begins with:

“Kill her. That’s all you have to do.”

“Kill Mary?”

“She’s a risk. And get the priest as well….”

“The Needle Lies,” perhaps the most rocking/metal tune ever, describes the narrator’s struggles with heroin after his beloved dies… “Now, every time I’m weak, words scream from my arm….”

In all seriousness: my most perfect album ever.

20/10.

Decide for yourself.

*Which references several literary allusions, from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, to Shelley, who also applied the idiom (scylla and charybdis) politically in an analogy of how society is poised between anarchy and despotism in his essay A Defence of Poetry (1820). The passage reads: ‘The rich have become richer, and the poor have become poorer; and the vessel of the state is driven between the Scylla and Charybdis of anarchy and despotism’.[7]

Symfonia, In Paradisum

You ever get really drunk and order a pizza?

And even though you were so bloated you couldn’t breath, let alone sleep, it was the greatest pizza ever?

In Paradisum is that experience, in album form.

It’s everything you might imagine: European metal (e.g., Helloween, Riot, Stratovarius, Rising Force, etc.), modeled distantly off European composers, playing heavily-distorted metallic symphonic music; so cheesy it’s beyond semantics: tapped guitar solos and, ahem, symphonic chord progressions….

In the right mood, it is goddamn glorious.

Track one, “Fields of Avalon” intro’s with fucking harpsichord…! Then operatic vocals, telling a tale of epic woe over a riff George Lynch is mad he didn’t write! An updated version of Yngwie’s “I’ll see the light tonight”….

[You’re either totally in by now, or not. You know. If not– you disgust me. Don’t even look at me. I can’t stand the sight of you.]

Next– the fucking solo starts with harpsichord! Then…! a guitar solo that would make Herman Li ejaculate!

“Come By The Hills,” track 2– again with the harpsichord! Yes, they will abuse it, and you will love it, bitch! Then: a menacing guitar/bass backup! Holy Fucking Buddha, could this get more awesome?!

Yes.

Yes it can.

Track 3, “Santiago,” is symphonic Motorhead, complete with D-beat… somehow managing to squeeze in a solo reminiscent of Warrant, of all bands….

Holy Shit– I’m actually trying to listen to this in sections, a bit at a time, but I can’t stop listening… In Paradisum draws me in….

“Alayna,” the exemplary power metal ballad, won’t let me stop listening… it’s every relationship I had my Junior year in High School, down to its up-bent final note… It’s actually freaking me out how it’s completely transporting me back to 1987…. I feel so sad about this chick Alayna, and I have no idea who she is… whoever she is, she fucked up the singer…that whore!!

[This is what I’m talking about! This fucking cheesy shit grabs you and makes you take a stand…! Regardless of how stupid you sound!]

“Forevermore,” (who else would dare call a song that?) starts with manic riffs, both heavy and melodic….

“Pilgrim Road,” melody in the thin-guitar-stringed riff with keyboards, 1987’s Helloween in 2011, essentially… face-fucking solo at 2:15….

Possible album highlight “Rhapsody in Black” is Accept meets Queensrÿche with a dash of Journey and Kiss’ “I Was Made for Loving You….” “I walk in neon” suggests Geoff Tate and Co. again with the title and the opening harpsichord….

Closer “Don’t Let me Go,” another ballad with what is probably a cello in the background… this should’ve been on MTV’s top 10 in 1986… sad, cheestastic: my inner teenager could not be more involved now….

You will hum every Goddamn inch of this album. It’s a earworm waiting to happen, again and again….

All irony aside: In Paradisum is cheesy as shit– but it’s completely unironic, optimistic, exalted Heavy Metal, in all senses of the term– and it will rock your goddamn face off, like nothing else.

“Irony” has a half-life. “Irony” is for hipsters and people too cool (read: afraid) to believe in something.

Symfonia believe.

Mock them all you want, but they love their music.

The term “Heavy Metal” either has a religious, holy, sacred connotation to you… or you smirk at the notion.

If you know, and I mean know, in your heart of hearts, know to your very studded soul, throughout your denim-jacketed world, what Heavy Metal means–

GET.

THIS.

ALBUM.

10/1o, two thumbs up, Gold Metal, whatever:

Beer chugging, horn-throwing, spliff-smoking perfection.

Thank me later.

PS: Fucking suh-weet album cover. Get that shit airbrushed on the side of a van, PRONTO.