Interview with Deron Miller of CKY

May 13, 2009 at 8:59 pm (Essays, Interviews) (, , , , )

Carver City

Carver City

What do a tide-soaked corpse, a roller rink, a rat-infested infirmary and a shipwrecked crew have in common? They’re all a part of the story of Carver City, a resort-town-turned-hellhole that has its very own soundtrack from CKY. But it’s not a concept album, said guitarist and singer Deron Miller in a recent phone interview.

“I guess it was an accidental thing,” Miller said, “(The album) gave us the same vibe even though the songs were completely different. It wasn’t something that we preconceived, it kind of happened after the fact.”

There are songs that seem lyrically related (perhaps the girl who disappears in “…And She Never Returned,” resurfaces as “The Boardwalk Body,”) but Miller wouldn’t explicitly state any connections. “It was our idea to leave it open to interpretation, rather than put it in your face,” Miller said, “We wanted to make it vague—not so vague that it was pretentious—but vague, so that it fits together but it’s all up to your own imagination and how you view it.”

One difference that fans are sure to notice is the album’s production. Mixed and produced by lead guitarist Chad Ginsburg and Miller, it is more uniform track-to-track than earlier works like “Volume 1” or “I.D.R.” And For a CKY album, the drum sound in particular is remarkably consistent.

“What people are recognizing as a similar drum sound is that the drums are sound-replaced. All rock and metal records are done that way now,” Miller said. “‘Woe Is Me’ had a really cool organic drum sound that we didn’t want to replace. This is our first record where we went for a little more, we used technology a little more to our advantage and got a thicker, fatter sound.”

Deron Miller

Deron Miller

The thick sound comes from layer upon layer of tracks. How many guitar and vocal tracks does it take to make a CKY song? “You lose track. . . .” he said, “We like to build vocals. Some are really low, some are in the background. We definitely don’t limit ourselves and say ok enough is enough.” This leads to a cascade of harmonies piled upon harmonies, which is closer to CKY’s earlier albums than riff orienteed 2005 release “An Answer Can Be Found.”

“Some people might say in their heads ‘This is overproduced,’” Miller said. “I think music could use more overproduction, actually. Two guitars, bass and drums is dull. I think 99% of bands could be doing more with their songs on their albums, aside from getting basic tracks down. We like to hear more creativity. We enjoy layering, we enjoy putting sounds on, I guess, ‘overproducing’”.

The thickly layered and harmonized vocal harmonies are at odds with garage-rock minimalist conventions, but that’s not the only remarkable thing about Miller’s singing. Even more striking is the seeming change in his vocal range in comparison with CKY’s older albums. “These sessions for vocals were probably my first sober vocal sessions,” explained Miller, “I never used to go into the vocal booth without some kind of buzz on. It was nerves, I wanted to loosen up. On AACBF the vocals were so straight and so aimed at perfection that I think they, not to take anything away from that record cause I love that album, but they came out a little too straight and too perfected. They lacked personality. There wasn’t that many dynamics to it. These vocals have a lot of dynamics.”

CKY are going on tour this summer in support of “Carver City,” and with an ever-expanding list of fan-favorites to pick from, they could easily settle in to a setlist that remains the same from night to night. But CKY isn’t a band to fall into a rut. “We never stick with a setlist,” Miller said, “We’re happy to have more songs to pick from. There isn’t a song that I wouldn’t want to try. I love all the songs I think they’re all amazing, I think they’re all equal. I wouldn’t even mind playing instrumentals. But it’s up to us as a band to decide.”

Asked if he was nervous about trying to recreate the density of the album live, Miller said “I think the bands that have any substance and try to recreate their record live, it’s boring.” But he added, “We were talking about hiring a synth player. . .We wont know until we start rehearsing.”

It’s no secret that people have already heard “Carver City.” Message boards have been alight with discussion and analysis of pirated digital copies of the album. “All bands can do is sit helplessly,” lamented Miller. “(Fans) have been listening to the record, probably a lot. It’s very valuable to them, and us, that they go out and they get a physical copy.”

So on May 19 head out to a record store and show Roadrunner how badly music fans are craving original—and “overproduced”—rock.

Take a trip to Carver City.

Just don’t look under the boardwalk.

Links:

CKY Myspace

CKY Official Website

Roadrunner Records Homepage

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Masuji Ibuse – Black Rain book review

January 20, 2009 at 3:51 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

Masuji Ibuse – Black Rain (Original: 黒い雨; Kuroi ame)

300 pages

Translated by John Bester

Black Rain

Black Rain

Facts are what survive any calamity. It’s with facts and numbers that students of any age learn about the world. But Ibuse’s Black Rain dispenses with scientific fact in the interest of exploring Hiroshima’s bombing with characters that cry, laugh, limp and lament. While political and statistical information is missing, the human characters reveal a different “truth.” Ibuse collected the stories of many people from Hiroshima and related them in a work of fiction that is every bit as important in 2009 as it was decades ago.

Black Rain’s structure is phenomenal. In overviews of Japanese fiction you’ll read of “I-novels” (私小説, Watakushi shōsetsu) in which the author relates realistic stories about himself. This literary form was popular in Japan, and Black Rain’s translator John Bester situates the novel in this category during his introduction. The narration, however, is not from the author. The primary narrator is Shigematsu Shizuma whose post-war life is hampered by the radiation sickness that erupts after any difficult physical labor. In an ingenious literary move, Ibuse has Shigematsu “copy” his journal from August 6th through August 14th, allowing us to see life during the bombing in addition to life after. Other viewpoints are woven into the text as well, including the gruesome story of a draftee who survives the blast, Shigematsu’s niece, and other characters that he meets. A formative moment in a country’s history will be engrained forever in the mind of people both collectively and individually. They will remember the moment through the lens of their own experience, and Ibuse captures the need for humanity to hear and tell their own version of what happened through this narrative technique.

The novel’s “present” setting tells the story of Shigematsu, his wife Shigeko and their niece Yasuko. Yasuko was brought to Hiroshima by Shigematsu to keep her safe from the air raids. This error causes a great deal of guilt for Shigematsu. There are several instances that cause Shigematsu undue stress, and the reader will be awed at Ibuse’s portrayal of the delicate intra- and extra-societal forces that shape all human societies. Black Rain succeeds in examining Japanese society in tandem with human culture as a whole.

Shigematsu and some of his friends are hindered by the radiation sickness that flares from too much activity. Yet they are also told to be as physical as possible. This results in one of the most poignant vignettes in the story: Shigematsu and Shokichi are fishing from a communal lake in an effort to occupy themselves and remain healthy when they are belittled by a woman on the shore.

“Both fishing, eh? Some people are lucky, I must say, seeing how everyone else is so busy.”

Shokichi retaliates that “. . .I’d only be glad to do some work, I can tell you—any amount! But people like us only have to do a bit of hard work and their limbs start to rot on them. This damned disease starts to come out.” The argument escalates to obscenity and name-calling, but the most painful remark was surely the woman’s first. For Ibuse to write a scene in which survivors of the bomb are ridiculed for laziness so soon after the bomb shows a keen, painfully acute understanding of stigma and prejudice.

Black Rain portrays the difficulties of military and political bureaucracy. Any government and military large enough to invade other countries will have its own bureaucratic structure with which it is able to shuffle responsibility, guilt and aid around. Ibuse portrays this in Shigematsu’s partly comedic quest to obtain coal for the factory where he works. He presses multiple bureaucrats regarding the vanishing of the designated coal supply company. Their replies are polite, oblique and always unrealistic.

His persistent quests to find coal for his factory bring him through the desolated areas of Hiroshima. The text’s pace grinds to a halt as Ibuse relates the detailed routes that Shigematsu takes. This overbearing amount of detail may create a deeper realism to a Japanese reader, but to foreigners it is a mess of superfluous names. To maintain or eliminate the mess of train lines and locations would be a difficult choice for editors and translators, but I felt that it hurt the story’s pace.

The power of the prose is also hindered by sentence structure. Open to any page and you will see many commas that cause the text to lurch instead of flow. The translator walks a fine line between textual fidelity and smooth English, though I’m not sure how the original reads. I understand that Japanese is capable to skip punctuation all together. Here the paragraphs are broken by persistent and easily reworked comma breaks. One of the many reasons I lament my inability to read the original Japanese is that I hate to blame the wrong person (Ibuse, John Bester, editor, etc). So I will conclude my criticism of style by reiterating that the novel is incredibly moving and structurally well-written despite the hindrances of detail and hyper-punctuation.

I’ve written to this point without mentioning the carnage that Shigematsu witnesses. I certainly wouldn’t know where to begin describing the details of such horrific sights and commend the author for his style. Ibuse balanced perfectly the importance of detail for realism against using too much detail which would result in a pointlessly macabre novel. Shigematsu’s reaction to the littered corpses and corpse-removal teams differs often. Ibuse has subtlety detailed how one might react to such overwhelming horror: numbness, repulsion, and many in-between states. There are several images that will stick with you after the book, and while Ibuse was delicate in his descriptive imagery, there are several very upsetting passages.

The immediate wave of deaths and torturous radiation disease, woven with the bureaucratic and political stubbornness, produced a question that has haunted me since I finished the novel. Almost no human being would inflict these deaths and disease single-handedly on so many other human beings. In other words, I doubt the pilot and crew of the Enola Gay would be capable of inflicting such agony on Japanese families and soldiers if they were face-to-face. Therefore, the military and political structures are to blame for the incredible amount of suffering inflicted during the war. But without those same structures, modern life would be primitive, with less distribution of medicine and technology, education, civil protection, and so on. Where does that leave the citizens of countries run by immensely powerful governments wielding frightful technology? Citizens who are always subject to propaganda? Forgive me if I sound naïve or un-initiated in struggling with this. It is a testament to good fiction’s place in society for Black Rain to have raised such a lofty and essential, if rudimentary, question.

I only hope there are authors who are now creating works that will allow future students to learn from our actions, listen to the stories of others, and question the world that they live in. Masuji Ibuse has certainly done his part by creating the sad, yet dignified, story of the Shizuma family and the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

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On Modern Japanese Literature

January 14, 2009 at 3:13 pm (Essays, Reviews)

Just what the internet needs. Another American writing about Japanese culture, right? Well, I can tell you that my interest in anime doesn’t go beyond Shinchan, and while I enjoy Pocky, I’m just as content to eat Reese’s cups. My interest in Japan lies outside the realm of sweets and manga . . . and I have zero interest in the next cosplay convention! Some people may assume these stigmatized nerdy interests are all that Japan has to offer but they’d be neglecting decades of fantastic literature that has, via a batch of brilliant bilingual academics, become available to English speakers around the world.

My stack of books

My stack of books

The Dancing Sheep on the Shore, Wearing Clogs of Norwegian Wood, Gazing at Sputnik, Which is West of the Sun After Dark

To start, I’ll say that the very nature of something being foreign allows it more leeway in my mind. I’d guess that I’m not alone in “forgiving the foreign”: sometimes I’m less skeptical of the parts that build a story from a different culture—plot, dialogue, setting, and so on—partly because I’ve been raised in a culture that bends backwards to be tolerant. That may be why my first taste of Japanese literature with bizarre and fanciful Haruki Murakami’s novel Kafka on the Shore I found the absurd plot points, including talking cats, a homocidal Johnny Walker, and a pimp Colonel Sanders, less of a sticking point. I expected something “out there” from a popular modern Japanese author. But there was more to it than a patronizing tolerance given to the product of a culture (not to mention language) that I’d never really grasp. I was also touched by the characters, how they rang true despite their insane surroundings. Plausibility and resolution be damned, my love for Murakami sparked an interest in modern Japanese literature. The fantastic surrealism of Murakami never failed to delight me as I worked through his oeuvre. Well, except for the time I picked up Ryu Murakami’s seedy murder novel In the Miso Soup by accident. That served as an excellent (and gristly!) reminder to always check first names when getting a book at the library.

Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami

After reading many more Haruki Murakami novels (and subsequently failing to impress some well-read friends, who seemed to place Murakami a few rungs above cell phone novels) I branched out. An Oxford book of short stories, along with a class in Modern Japanese literature, enabled me to find those authors who had been canonized and translated. My next deep foray into Japanese literature came from Nobel prize recipient Kenzaburo Oe (pronounced OH-ay).

Oh, Oe

Kenzaburo Oe

Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids has been described as a Japanese Lord of the Flies by reviewers. Abandoned reformatory school children battle a plague and malicious adults while finding brief respite in the utopia they create. The novel is set in a rural area, and is as allegorical as you might expect from someone who feels he is a member of the most important group of writers in Japan’s history (the post-war). His work was later reshaped around a less political theme after the birth of his mentally handicapped son Hikari, though he would still consider his work to be focused on the post-war generation. Regardless of the author’s intention, the novel A Personal Matter seems to me a study of personal relationships and parental responsibility that spans generational and cultural limitations. The incredibly brave manner with which Oe examines parental duty strikes the casual reader harder than the politically-charged post-war listless malaise that surrounds the narrator. The novel’s setting in Japan following the end of WWII shapes the novel, but the question that invades the reader’s mind is larger than any political matter: What would I do if I had a mentally handicapped child? A Personal Matter is a powerfully honest book that will leave you ruminating on a dark topic despite the story’s rushed “happy ending.”

I’ve had difficulty reading other works by Oe. The rest of the prose that I have read from him (written post-Hikari) seems to be exceptionally wordy and focuses on descriptive detail as much as plot itself. This can result in painfully slow going. The first time I’ve stopped reading a novel in years was on account of the wordy, obtuse writing of The Silent Cry. These are the opening sentences of the novel that I stopped reading after 75 pages :

Awakening in the predawn darkness, I grope among the anguished remnants of dreams that linger in my consciousness, in search of some ardent sense of expectation. Seeking in the tremulous hope of finding eager expectancy reviving in the innermost recesses of my being—unequivocally, with the impact of whisky setting one’s guts afire as it goes down—still I find an endless nothing. (1)

Painful. I’d like to know if the fault lies in translation or the original text is just as overly complex.

The first of four stories in Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness is even harder to follow on account of a Faulknerian stream of conscious narration. The short stories anthologized are still much easier going than The Silent Cry. The third and fourth pieces in the collection were the ones I enjoyed most. The short story called Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness is my favorite piece of Oe’s work. Predictably, it deals with a father and his mentally-handicapped son. The two share a daily ritual that involves biking to a Chinese restaurant for “pork noodles and Pepsi cola.” The lunch ritual is deeply moving in its honorable, yet futile goal: the father has tried desperately to escape his impending hereditary insanity by grasping at a bond with his son as a life preserver.

It is uncommon for a novel’s characters to wear the many masks that a society requires. Many characters in literature are mere sprites that serve a plot function. And yet here, in a 48 page short story, Oe has created a protagonist that must engage with the cruelly indifferent world as a father, son, husband, and as a member of society. He copes with each interaction in a correspondingly different way, though his meek manner and fierce, unrealistic love of his son remains the same. To summarize the crushing conclusions reached by the father at the story’s end would weaken the efficacy of Oe’s piece. I can’t recommend this short story strongly enough!

Difficulties in Translation

It is important to note in any discussion of foreign literature the importance of translation. Japanese is very different structurally than English. A translator’s duty then is not simply word substitution, but also preserving an author’s voice, diction, as well as altering idioms and cultural references in to not hinder a story’s flow. Hundreds of footnotes in a Shakespeare play are welcome, but in modern fiction they would serve as a distraction. The difficulties of translating Japanese are compounded on these universal translation problems. Japanese lacks definite and indefinite articles – “the” and “a.” There are also indicators in address and speech about who is speaking and in what manner which have no direct English equivalent. A prime example is Natsume Soseki’s novel I am a Cat. The Japanese title “Wagahai wa neko de aru” uses an exceptionally formal tone of reference for comic effect that is lost in the English translation. But a great translator is able to work around the honorifics in Japanese and create a text using English to express the nuances. For these reasons, translators deserve far more credit than they receive for their work.

Mishima’s incredible life and death

Yukio Mishima

Yukio Mishima

In the modern times of education many authors work directly with their English translators. Both Kenzaburo Oe and Yukio Mishima worked with Professor Johnathan Nathan. Mishima was a jack-of-all-trades. A body builder, playwright, short story author, novelist, movie actor, militarist, and more. But, his legendary death precedes his life. After a failed military rally Mishima committed ritualized suicide and cemented his position as staunchly conservative right-winger.

He is undeniably important as one of the first literary superstars to emerge from Japan via his consistent output and translation-friendly work. Personally, his work doesn’t hold my attention as much as other authors. I respect his obvious passion in learning, however, and his submersion in the topics he was writing about showed a commendable love of knowledge. His first novel Confessions of a Mask deals with a narrator who struggles against his homosexuality. While it was not meant to be an autobiography, the novel is an undeniably believable tour through the difficult realizations that come with sexual identity in Japan. It is no stretch to see the vicious circles of denial and desperation as autobiographical because of the detail and realism with which Mishima wrote. A biography by Professor John Nathan, Mishima’s translator, would be the first place I would turn if I wanted to read more on the life of Mishima.

Kowabun-, I mean, Kawabata, dude!

Yasunari Kawabata

Yasunari Kawabata

The only Japanese author to receive a Nobel prize besides Oe was Kawabata Yasunari. The introduction of Snow Country praises his delicate use of haiku-like contrasts. In fact, I challenge you to find a review of Kawabata’s work that doesn’t contain the words “delicate,” “elegant,” or one that doesn’t call him “quintessentially Japanese.” I enjoyed Snow Country, particularly when I slowed down enough to focus on the oft-mentioned contrasts in descriptive passages. Truly majestic writing (or translation, perhaps) would draw my attention without conscience effort. But sometimes I don’t mind working for pleasure, and this form of disciplined, conscious reading seems appropriate for the personal dramas that Kawabata wrote.

My largest complaint with Kawabata’s work is something I’ve never encountered before. I noticed that there are very rarely declarations of “he said” or “the geisha quipped,” or any sort of reference to who is saying what dialogue, nor must there be in the Japanese. I frequently found myself re-reading mundane dialogue in an effort to find who was speaking. Assigning characters via even and odd lines to a section of dialogue certainly hurt the overall effect of his writing. Perhaps someone with a background reading plays would have an easier go of Kawabata. For my own part, I didn’t dislike the books and they were brief enough to be read and ticked off my ever-growing “should read” list with pleasure. He is possibly most known for his semi-autobiographical short story “The Izu Dancer,” though of all his short stories I most enjoyed “Silence” which can be found in First Snow on Fuji. His life and work certainly merit your time.

What have I missed? A lot.

There are authors I haven’t mentioned and authors that I’ve never even read. To think that I could ever “complete” my readings in this area is foolhardy. Nevertheless, I hope to continue exploring with further reading by Kobo Abe, Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, Shusaku Endo, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Natsume Soseki, Osamu Dazai, and more. If you have any suggestions I would be delighted to hear recommendations for or against any authors or translators. I am currently reading, and enjoying, Masuji Ibuse’s Black Rain

Naturally enough, my interest in the Japanese language has been sparked by all of this reading. Due to a full schedule and the huge learning curve, however, I have only recently begun to learn the kana and have no great plans to read any of these works in the original. If you have any recommendations about learning Japanese, please, let me know!

Note

I have written this expository piece with the voice of a scholar who has been immersed in the texts for years. In actuality, I’ve been reading Japanese literature for less than a year, and always in English. I owe a great deal of my information, along with little tidbits that I’ve peppered in, to a very informative class that I’ve taken. I hope to encourage others to explore into this great, but manageable, field of reading. I hope that if I have made any factual errors or unfair representations that a reader will correct me. Please leave a comment with any kind of suggestions regarding things I should read, or comments on my writing style. I would love to add to this piece as I continue to devour Japanese lit.

Note also that I have put the surname second and “first” name first, as you will find these authors in American libraries and book stores. I have also omitted long vowel notations, such as Ōe, as this will not impede any understanding in English.

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Interview with Defeated Sanity’s Lille Gruber

October 22, 2008 at 2:24 pm (Interviews) (, , , , )

Defeated Sanity have been making waves in the metal community for a few years now, though they remain surprisingly underground. Even so, backed by a rabid diehard fanbase they were able to recently tour the United States and even played a slot at the famous Maryland Death Fest in May of 2008. I had the pleasure of meeting the band at MDF and their set was far and away one of the heaviest live sets I’ve ever seen. I thought it’d be a good idea to check in with Lille, the band’s drummer (though he composes on guitar as well), about the status of the new album, his experience in the United States, and more.

First of all, thanks a lot for doing this interview. How’s it going?

I am doing fine here, we are writing new material for the next album and we will be ready soon.

How is the search for a new vocalist coming along? Are you trying out all styles, or are you aiming for one particular sound?

It is very hard ’cause we wanna find the perfect guy this time around. We need someone who is extremely deep and powerful, and at the same time able to understand the really complex material with all its time signature changes and stuff. Also, we definitely wanna keep singing lyrics.

We don’t want screams in our music anymore, just guttural vox!

Realistically, when do you expect to release a new album?

We hope to be done with the songwriting process in January. Then begin finishing the lyrics and everything. If everything goes right, we can use the summer holidays for our studio sessions and release the album in late ’09.

How many new songs do you have written for the new album? Will the Promo 2007 tracks be on it?

The promo tracks will of course be part of the album. We have about 4 more songs finished or in the stage of being 95% finished right now. Just gotta show them to all the band members still. Other than those 7, we have beginnings for 2 more songs, one of them being the first one that Chris wrote mainly and the other one is the first that Jacob contributed to.

Do you have any new merchandise plans? What are you selling right now?

We wanna probably let fans on our forum vote for the next design we wanna print. This way we can make sure to satisfy most of our fans. Right now we’ve only got our Exorcised to Death hoodies left. We will soon print new stuff, though.

Lille Gruber

Lille Gruber

You toured the USA in early summer. Was that your first time in the States? What did you like? What did you dislike?

This was our first tour in the USA. I loved the hospitality from all the bands and fans that we met, as well as the many many great acts we got to play with. If there would be something I disliked, I gotta say it was all the violence and cop bullshit at MDF. We don’t have that much of that here in Europe. Here people can even drink on the streets and no one cares about it. (Defeated Sanity, and other bands, got a hard time on several occasions from Baltimore police about open container laws, and had their belongings searched -Transient)
By the way, you guys don’t know what bread is…..period! Haha.

Do you enjoy touring? Do you have plans to tour the USA or Europe again at any point?

We love touring and we feel that we haven’t even started with this stuff. To be honest, this was our first tour that was longer than 4 dates in a row. Right now nothing is planned but we would love to tour in the both continents, especially if the financial thing would go better than last time. Right now we are losing a lot of money through touring because we can’t make the money that we normally make at home at the same time.

What is the writing process like for Defeated Sanity? What instruments do you compose fastest on?

Every song is written on the guitar of course. Sometimes I come up with a rhythm and we transfer it to the guitar. Our songs are written with more care than 95% of the other bands around. We combine a shitload of riffs with each other before we actually decide on one connection of riffs. If that one part fits jut “ok” to the other one, we will look for something else. Sometimes I think that I am going insane doubting myself. It is really torturous sometimes. You walk through the streets and think through songs and try to find a solution. Then sometimes you think you have one but one day later you get disappointed again. Everywhere I go I’ve got those songs in my head.

What song was the hardest to learn yourself, or instruct the other band members?

I have a feeling with each song it’s getting harder. “Salacious Affinity” was a pain in the ass to write. Luckily, I got Chris to help me with riffs and inspiration. Hmmmm, one song I am thinking about being a pain in the ass to instruct was “Butchered Identity.” There is a hilarious tape of me and Wolfgang bitching at each other and trying to play the song for the first time that’s 45 minutes long.

Will the new album have any changes in direction? An acoustic intro, longer songs, anything we don’t expect?

I think one thing people didn’t expect was a song like “Engulfed in Excruciation.” That is like the one extreme of the record and there will be another extreme on the contrary side. There will probably be one thing that is not really common for brutal death which will have something in common with Malevolent Creation’s Ten Commandments and Megadeth’s So Far, So Good, So What?. You guess what it is…

(I’m not sure myself, my guess is a slow intro song? Or a singer with a real drug problem? -Transient)

How do you plan on recording the new album, live-in-the-studio ala Psalms… or more deliberate and clean ala Prelude…?


We have not decided yet, but we will definitely need a more clean production again. I am sick of no one being able to to hear what we really write. Guitar sound wise we wanna get maybe a mix of Prelude to the Tragedy and the Promo 07.

Do you have artwork for the new album? New song titles?

We don’t have artwork yet, but an idea and concept for the whole album. Don’t wanna reveal more song titles yet.

How important are lessons to someone learning an instrument?

Hmmm some people may not need them. When I see what a piece of cake it is to show Jacob a song in like two rehearsals, I gotta say it can’t harm anyone to know about theory. And now that we are trying out singers that mostly have little or no theoretical knowledge….it is hard to show those vocal lines to someone without the language of counting 1-2-3-4 or 12345671234567, etc. . .it’s hard to find words for that. On the contrary side there is Chris who doesn’t know shit about theory and he certainly gets the music. Passion is the most important thing, if you wanna understand something you will eventually.

When you’re on stage its great to see people moshing and enjoying the show, but when you’re in the audience do moshers bug you?

Moshers bugged the shit out of me when I wanted to see Disgorge one time. I was in the first row and every 2 seconds someone wanted to stagedive and put his combat boots in my face! I don’t mind headbanging though, it rules!

What’s more painful to watch, someone trying to air drum to your songs or those guys in the front row that wiggle their fingers in the air when a guitarist plays a lead?

Haha, you mean the Frank Mullen thing? I don’t care, I don’t look into the audience a lot anyways. I care more for good applause/screaming.

Either/or:

Erosion of Sanity or Retribution?

EROSION

Would you rather have your next album sound like Stillborn or Breeding the Spawn?

Tough one. Stillborn has at least some punch to it but it’s too trebly. Since I love dark sounding shit, I gotta go with Breeding then.

Alex Marquez or Alex Hernandez?

Marquez is the lord! Fallen Christ ruled though.

Gebäck or Strudel?

Strudel!

Copremesis or Immolation? Remember…Paulo‘s reading this….

Old Immolation wins, new Immolation loses…

Desert island top 3 picks:

CDs:
Disgorge – Consume the Forsaken
Bach stuff
Confessor – Condemned
…Too hard though!

Movies:
Fearless Vampire Killers
Goldmember
The Shining

Books:
Haha I don’t ever read

Thanks!!!
Thanks for the interview!


Links:

Official Myspace (with merchandise!)

Official Website

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Farewell, Last.FM! Farewell, Weekly Charts! Farewell, Addiction!

October 9, 2008 at 1:26 pm (Essays) (, , , , )

Good? Evil? A neutral computer program?

Good? Evil? A neutral computer program?

I’ve deleted my Last.FM page. Permanently. Wiped it cleand. Deleted all of the plays. Every single song out of my 70,000+ profile. More than three years of my listening at the computer.

Every Sunday Last.FM updated my page with my “Most Played” songs and “Most Played” artists for the week. The new software release even allowed me to scrobble plays from my iPod. No longer was I bound to the computer, I could share what I listened to at work and more!

So why did I erase my profile? The very reason I frequented the site and even logged into my account while using friend’s computers. I was obsessed. Completely. In writing this article I wanted to do two things: put into writing how music became joyless as a reminder to myself, and to seek some companionship in the form of a support group.

Yes, it’s that bad. Yes, it’s also that silly. And probably very hard to understand if you aren’t a Last.FM user yourself. But I honestly want to know if there are people out there like me! I can’t have been the only person to have descended into a kind of dark obsession, creating a myriad of rules and regulations for my favorite pastime.

What are the symptoms of Last.FM addiction? There may be more. I am breaking ground here, and I fully expect to be cited in the next DSM. All I can do is provide my own symptoms, as they gradually set in over years of use.

Avoidance of long songs in favor of short ones. The more scrobbled, the merrier, right? Except grind bands with 30 second songs are cheating. That doesn’t count. So it looks something like this: Malevolent Creation > Opeth as well as Nasum.

Only listen to full albums! Too many scattered songs and your Last.FM weekly roll call will be a mess of 4 or 5 play-count bands.

Once you get on a roll with a band, you start to play that band’s music more often simply to boost their stats for the week, not because you want to hear them more.

Competing against yourself. Watching your top bands struggle for the top spot.

Competing against others. Don’t let their total number of plays beat yours!

Avoiding listening to music when it won’t be scrobbled.

All of these were stupid rules that very slowly grasped the love of my life and throttled the fun out of it, until it was a stiff act that was done for something other than myself. In my mind, music is a personal thing. Last.FM embodies the polar opposite of that. There may be some of you who can listen to what you want, when you want, consequences-be-damned. But if my extensive music collection says anything, it’s that I have a tendency to become obsessed.

Deleting Last.FM may be a wise legal move as well. For those of you with illegal mp3s, scrobbling them probably isn’t a great idea. Last.FM is owned by CBS, after all. So after you download that new album leak from a torrent, think twice about scrobbling it. What a convenient way for a label to find people who obtained an illegal leak of an album. You could file this under paranoia if you want, but keep in mind a mother was recently ordered a more than $200,00 fine for making 16 Opeth songs available for download. Yes, it was on Limewire, but don’t think that the RIAA is unaware of “mp3 blogs” and Last.FM.

So, RIP Last.FM. I’m already thinking about making another one, but I am also enjoying my new found freedom. Leave a comment if you’ve experienced the addiction or if you think I’m an oddball. Or both.

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Name that riff, Version 2

October 6, 2008 at 6:18 pm (Name that riff) (, , )

You guys did pretty well with the first one, and I had a lot of fun making it. I raised the difficulty level this time, so let’s see if you all can keep up! Comment with any or all of the riffs and I’ll let you know if you’ve got it or not. If you have any other comments or questions, let me know, I love to hear from you!

Edit: This is turning into a real group effort! Was this too hard? Check the comments to see the guesses and my response….Still no takers for Riff 7!

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Name that metal riff, version 1

September 30, 2008 at 3:32 pm (Name that riff) (, , )

Hey everyone.

I love to hear from readers, but I think that reviews and interviews don’t lend themselves much to feedback. So, I decided to do a “Name that metal riff” game for you! I created a Youtube account just for this, so if I get a lot of feedback and you all want more, I would be happy to do more videos.

These get progressively harder! Good luck, I bet most metal fans would be able to get a few. Only the TRUE can get all seven!! Leave a comment and let me know what you thought. Guesses, technical advice (My picking hand looks strange!), insults, whatever you want. The whole point of this is to hear from you.

EDIT: As of October 1st, 2008 we have a partial winner. Silence got six of seven right. Hats off to him or her, so if you’re stumped you can scroll down for the correct answers. If you want hints, I put some hints for the only remaining mystery: Riff 6.

Have fun!

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Pillage the Village tour review

September 17, 2008 at 6:59 pm (Concert reviews) (, , , , , )

A Turk, a German, a Finn and a Frenchman walk into a bar in upstate New York. Sounds predictable, right? Only there’s no punch line: the multicultural Necrophagist are very, very serious. This Germany-based quartet are some of the most skilled musicians playing metal today. This tour, the Pillage the Village tour, had a bit of a revolving lineup as it merged off and on with the Carcass reunion dates. Clifton Park’s Northern Lights was lucky enough to get a date with Necrophagist, though the lineup wasn’t nearly as strong as the recent NYC show featuring Carcass, Suffocation, Necrophagist, 1349 and Aborted.

Openers Veil of Maya are one of any numerous “technical hardcore” bands that attach to death metal shows in apparent money-grabbing ploys from promoters. Very rarely is there a fan cross-over between the humdrum hardcore openers and death metal headliners. In fact, it’s common for a venue to thin out after the hardcore-dancers have had their evening calisthenics. Their music was a sterile mix between Meshuggah breakdowns and noodle-heavy melodic riffs. Their Myspace boasts their new album available for only $9.99 at Hot Topic, so. . .

Beneath the Massacre

Beneath the Massacre

Beneath the Massacre are a band that I’ve seen twice now. I remember hearing their EP when it came out and being somewhat impressed. Apparently the band lacks a second guitar player, and the guitarist makes up for it with some sort of sampler or harmonizing pedal. Cool. I guess this band could technically be considered death metal, thanks to the monstrous vocalist’s voice, but the set carried better with the super tuff Troycore kids. Theyre all talented guys, but it’s sterile and a bit monotonous, and carries better on CD than in a live setting.

Some of my disdain for the hardcore scene may not be understood outside of my region. It’s possible that you’ve never even experienced it, I’ve heard that Europe and some of the States don’t get these guys at shows. Picture 5 or 6 very skinny guys with size small shirts boasting “DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR,” flat brimmed hats, gauged ears and bad attitudes throwing their limbs around like they want to dislocate something. I’m not saying death metal fans are perfect, but I’ll take a fat dude in a Skinless shirt headbanging by himself any day. The core kids posture, pacing around during non-breakdowns with a semi-aggressive expression, biding time until the chance to “throw down.” That’s another reason I dislike them: they rarely know the music they’re hearing- they go to any and every show hoping for some open strings and slow drums.

If you’re into death metal at all, you’ve probably heard Dying Fetus at some point. I’ve heard a few of their albums over the years and none of it ever stuck. “One Shot, One Kill” and “Praise the Lord (Opium of the Masses)” are great songs, no doubt, but the band is about as exciting as Deeds of Flesh in my opinion. Still, this band of only 3 members sounded full, the mix was good, and the drummer was very solid. I didn’t recognize many of their songs, but I was glad to have seen this legendary band, if only for the experience. There’s nothing wrong with them, really, the music just doesn’t work for me. The crowd had turned a bit by now, and was now focused on the musicianship as much as the breakdowns.

I should note that Northern Lights ran the tightest show I’ve ever been to. The doors opened at 7, Veil of Maya were playing around 7:45, and there was very little set change time. On a Wednesday night, it was a beautiful thing to have headliners Necrophagist take the stage before 10 PM. At this point I was standing in the second row and able to make eye contact with all of the members, save drummer Romain who somehow played the entire set with his eyes closed. Necrophagist don’t jump around on stage, but each member has a unique stage presence and this is a band whose performance you want to see clearly. Guitarists Muhammed and Sami play the dual harmonies unbelievably well. Unfortunately for Sami, Muhammed gets all of the glory. Even the mix from where I stood seemed Muhammed-heavy, even though Sami handled every lead very well. The solo for “Epitaph” had a bit of a rough start but none of the musicians ever completely gaffed.

Necrophagist

Necrophagist

They played a great number of songs from Epitaph, but also played a few songs off the first album Onset of Putrefaction. The crowd was yelling for “Extreme Unction” and luckily enough, we got it. They also played “Foul Body Autopsy,” “To Breathe in a Casket” and closed with “Fermented Offal Discharge.” It’s surprising how heavy those songs are, on CD the band comes as a bit clinical on account of the musicianship. Live, though, there are a lot of riffs to satisfy the headbangers in the front row. There was little banter in between songs. The show was over around 10:45. I’m always glad to be left wanting more, and while an encore would have been great, it’s hard to imagine playing music that complex for more than an hour. So, unceremoniously, the show ended and the crowd emptied out into the night. No matter if you were there for breakdowns or sweeped solos, you got plenty of both on the final stop of the Pillage the Village tour.

Note: Pictures by me.

Links: Necrophagist Myspace

Necrophagist official site

Dying Fetus Myspace

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Matti Johannes Koivu

September 14, 2008 at 8:31 pm (Essays, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , )

Helsinki, photo by me

Helsinki, photo by me

It was a frigid February night in Helsinki when I first heard Matti Johannes Koivu. I was traveling with my brother and staying with Helsinki natives, one of whom recommended we go to Tavastia to see a show that evening. I don’t remember much about the walk, because it’s hard to focus when it’s so cold your jeans harden in a matter of minutes. After the opener, a DJ for Radio Helsinki, did his part, Matti and his band took the stage to perform. I was thrilled to have literally stumbled (hey, it’s icy in Helsinki…) into such a great show. You might chalk it up to the fun of travelling and maybe the Karhu, but the impression Matti left on me has remained more than a year and a half later.

At the time of the gig Matti was playing songs off of Kovat Piipussa and Puuhastellen. I didn’t buy the CDs there, but the song “Kiitokset” made such an impression that I remembered it weeks later when I found Matti’s myspace. I’ve since had a kind Finn buy and mail me Kovat Piipussa, though for those who are impatient or don’t want to pay 30 dollars for a cd, his albums are available on iTunes.

Photo from the gig I saw, taken by me

Photo from the gig, taken by me

What does Matti Johannes Koivu sound like? Well, the unifying theme for his music is a man’s voice and acoustic guitar. The backing is sometimes lively, reminiscent of old American country. Sometimes there aren’t be any drums at all. Matti sings with a soft, medium-range voice, occasionally in duet with a soft woman’s voice. He sounds as at ease as most people do speaking, but if you try and sing along to a song like “Autopihaltaa Kohoaa” you’ll find he actually has a good deal of sustain in his voice. The guitar parts are often capo’d, plucky acoustic chords while a glassy slide guitar plays another melody on top. His most recent album, Irwin Goodmanin Lauluja, is almost all acoustic guitar and singing. Irwin Goodman is a well-known Finnish folk singer, though I much prefer Matti’s earnest and gentle voice to the harsh nasal tone of Irwin Goodman’s originals.

You may at first consider it a hindrance that the songs are always in Finnish. In fact, I have never seen Matti use English, not even on his website. But Finnish is a beautiful language with uniquely trilled R’s and unbelievably multi-syllabic words. You don’t have to be a linguist to appreciate the language, though, and the mystique that the songs have in an unintelligible language is wonderful. The melancholy of songs like “Esineet ja Aikataulut” (“Things and Schedules,”) or “Se Oli Eilen” (“It Was Yesterday,”) is only helped by the language. How better to hear emotion in music than through only the tone? Besides, I guarantee you’ll be singing along after a few listens regardless.

Don’t expect a world tour from Matti Johannes Koivu. While some Finnish-only bands can break through to a multinational market, I have a feeling that Matti will remain a well-kept secret within Finland. Nevermind, though, because between Youtube, iTunes, Myspace and Last.Fm you can stay abreast of most anything. It’s hard to recommend an album in particular, though I would suggest Kovat Piipussa for the incredibly powerful “Kiitokset” and the playful title track. It’s his most varied work containing Americana style folk as well as ballads, so if you’re in the mood for consistency get his first album Puuhastellen instead. None of the albums will disappoint, however. His songs show the universal nature of music, which is perhaps why I have suggested him to anyone who will listen. If talent like Matti Johannes Koivu and his band are playing in small Helsinki bars unbeknownst to most, music in this over-saturated and jaded market is a long way from dead. There’s hope yet. Paljon Kiitoksia, Matti.

Links:

Official Myspace with song samples

Official website (In Finnish, Google translation here)

Youtube live clips (pro-shot):

Kalatehdas

Isän Vanhassa Talossa

A personal note:If you’re into his music, whether you’re a Finn or not, please leave a comment and let me know what you think and how you found out about him. If any of the translations here are off, it’s entirely my fault, as most of the translations are recalled from memory.

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At the Gates – Slaughter of the Soul review

July 24, 2008 at 8:11 pm (Reviews) (, , , )

At the Gates - Slaughter of the Soul art

At the Gates - Slaughter of the Soul

Slaughter of the Soul is one of the most important metal releases of the 1990s. The production style, atmosphere, and most importantly riffs forever changed melodic death metal. “They’re just At the Gates rip-offs!” is one of the most commonly heard criticisms of derivative melodic death metal bands. But when you write the book, you have to expect some sentences to be copied…

Slaughter of the Soul is their last album, but At the Gates have a respectable back catalogue of work. From more primitive, visceral Swedish death metal ala Entombed or Dismember on the Gardens of Grief EP to the very ambitious With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness full-length, their progression was slow but persistent. The EP before Slaughter, Terminal Spirit Disease, hinted at what would appear next: the oddly-picked rhythm guitars, Tomas’s increasingly desperate vocals and creative drumming were present, but the ingredients hadn’t solidified.

The first thing you notice about Slaughter of the Soul is the production. The drums are very apparent, the cymbals are bright and the bass drums have enough treble to pull them out of the muddy swamp that engulfs too many metal drum sounds. The snare cracks viciously while the toms are perfectly balanced. The guitar tone, product of a homemade speaker cabinet, is thick and deep while still distinct. The production has a definite clean, almost industrial feel. Aided by the machine-tight musicianship the album speeds forward with mechanical precision. The production is even more impressive after watching the “Making Of” DVD. It shows how low-budget the recording process was. For example, Tomas was forced to run towards a microphone while screaming in order to create a “fade in” effect.

Tomas’ vocals are perfect. On the previous albums his voice sounded forced and a little tiring, but here he performs with undeniable authority. He delivers lyrics with conviction and desperation. My favorite moment on the entire album is the break in “Cold”: the guitars drop out and Tomas pleads “Twenty-two years of pain/And I can feel it closing in…”. The lyrics are claustrophobic, simultaneously isolated from and overpowered by society. They paint images of modern day chaos: “There won’t be another dawn/We will reap as we have sewn” and “Only the dead are smiling”. Many of the lyrics repeat song titles from the album, lending Slaughter more lyrical cohesion. Other Gothenburg bands may have similar riffs and production, but no other Gothenburg album is as lyrically powerful.

The guitar parts on Slaughter of the Soul are unparalleled. Many bands harmonize intelligently while alternating between open strings and pentatonic notes. But the guitarist’s years of experience result in the some of the best riffs and song structure in the genre. Part of AtG’s unique sound is a product of picking style – root notes are sometimes simply alternate picked, or double picked, or “galloped” like Iron Maiden. Pay close attention, sometimes the guitars are picked with a mix of styles, a strange shuffling pattern that flits dangerously around the simplistic “Slayer beat” of the drummer. The songs are streamlined, usually with only four or five riffs. Slaughter of the Soul is perfectly lean. The band only allowed the best material on the album. A bonus track on the re-release called “The Dying” did not make the final cut, despite being better than most melodeath tripe released today.

A few beautiful instrumental interludes tie the album together perfectly, providing an ominous respite during the chaos. “The Flames of the End” works perfectly as the album closer. It plays out like the end credits to a movie. The album would be too jarring with out the closing track. It’s the final song after the musical soundtrack to the Apocalypse. As the ashes are settling the tension mounts one last time before the album returns to darkness. We are once again blind to the worlds within us, waiting to be born…

Links:

At the Gates myspace (includes current US tour/Euro festival info)

Link to official At the Gates guitar tablature (.zip file)

At the Gates official site

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