Monthly Archives: July 2011

Cultural Activities, for the week ending 31/07/2011

Welcome to another edition of Cultural Activities, in which I tell an understandably uninterested world what I will be imbibing, culturally speaking, over the next few days.

"Lavatory Love Machine". That's a thing, apparently.

As you’ll have seen, I’m jumping into the EdGuy fray with a collection of their singles, which is the strategy I normally employ when getting into a band who is new to me. I’ve found myself listening to a lot of EdGuy singer Tobias Sammet’s side project, the gloriously pompous, all-star concept outfit Avantasia and want to know what Tobias does for a day job when he’s not marshalling a cast of metal types.

Warhammer 40K compendium action - a paperback stocky enough to take down muggers with

A swift visit to comics writer and novelist Dan Abnett’s blog The Primary Clone put me in the mind to read some of his well-regarded military SF work set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and so I picked up what turns out to be later volumes in his ‘Gaunt’s Ghosts’ sequence. Start at the end…

Continuing this week's Metal themed-posts...

Also on my list of things to read is Joe Hill’s “Heart-Shaped Box”, which I am looking forward to quite a bit. Ageing rock star, sins of the past and paranormal weirdness impacting on the present, heroic dogs – I am all over this.

In closing, I have to break the news to you that posting may be a tad on the light side next week – for reasons which I will share with you later – so, enjoy whatever you’re doing and be excellent to each other, yes?

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Filed under Books, Gaming, Geekery

The Elements, Metalli-sized

Metal Sucks brought this to my attention, so I’m beaming it into your ocular receptacles – a periodic table of rock.

Night Ranger - what the actual frak?

You can buy your own conversation-starting piece of wall art at Pop Chart Lab.

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Cinematic Metal – The Rockening!

Inspired by posts on Steff Metal’s blog – go there, it’s good readings – I find myself in a mood to ponder on why films so infrequently manage to make such a bad job of incorporating Metal and Rock, both as soundtrack fodder and subject material.

Party Time! Excellent!

Contrary to popular belief, Metal fans love documentaries like “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” and “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey” or comedies like “This Is Spinal Tap”, and relish comedies such as “Wayne’s World” or “Airheads”.

This film rocks, eh?

There’s the love of the music, which is key – anything which depicts the culture that you love is open to a fair and open-eyed viewing by any fan of rock/metal, as mainstream exposure to our musical genre of choice has been traditionally limited, tucked away in the corners of the TV schedules or just plain blocked from view. Provided that you’re not completely taking the mickey, most rock fans are more than happy to check out popular culture which celebrates the music and if they do so, count on having a fan for life, as Metal/Rock fans are only rivalled by SF/Fantasy/Horror fans in their loyalty towards things which they love.

The flip-side of that loyalty, of course, is that Rock fans are remarkably belligerent towards something they once adored if they perceive it to have done the unthinkable and ‘sold-out’ – woe betide you if you get on the right side of a slighted Metal Head.

What about films, though, which can claimed as true to the spirit of rock, even if they don’t necessarily run about on screen sporting a Mastodon shirt, whilst doing a Phil Anselmo impression and humming the riff to “Blackened”.

For one, I’m claiming “Highlander” as a very metal film indeed. Celtic clans kicking seven shades out of each other, Brian May and Queen wailing on the soundtrack, huge bloody swords and bad guy par excellence, the Kurgan, who was very clearly Black Metal before the term was popular – certainly as spiritually metal as Dave Grohl wielding a Gibson Explorer, if not quite as ineffably rock as Lemmy (who, I believe, appears on the periodic table given his concentrated level of Rock).

None more metal. Shame that the sequels were nowhere near as compelling. More absurd, certainly, just not as good.

Anything with Vikings is, of course, a good bet. I’m fond of “The 13th Warrior”, Zemeckis’ motion captured “Beowulf” and Kirk Douglas being super-badassed in “The Vikings”.

Most super hero films tend towards the emo – Shouldn’t Peter Parker be a member of My Chemical Romance, by rights? – so can’t be considered possessed of the middle finger sensibility to convention and taste that the best Metal sub-cultural media provides.

“The Lord of The Rings” trilogy is, in my perfect universe, stripped of Howard Shore’s admittedly wonderful score and instead replaced with wall-to-wall Axxis, Iced Earth and Rhapsody of Fire tunes (anything would be better than the bloody Annie Lennox song on “The Return of The King”). Don’t forget the presence of Christopher Lee in the film – essentially an honorary member of Rhapsody of Fire at this point?

Tonight, we dine in Hull!

“300” – essentially equates to ‘Manowar – the Movie’

All Men Play On Ten - and wear lovely briefs...

Therefore, it is none more metal.

You’ve got to consider the likes of Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s documentary “Paradise Lost” and Tim Hunter’s fictional but wholly convincing tale of small-town disaffection, teenage apathy and horrifically off-hand murder, “River’s Edge” as films which depict the hysterical over-reaction of parents, community groups and organised religion when confronted by The Other in all of it’s forms.

Both are films which seem utterly timeless and are completely metal – replace fans of Metallica and Slayer in the Reagan & Thatcher Eighties with kids today in Dimmu Borgir shirts who listen to Kvelertak and you have stories which are as resonant today as they were on original release.

There’s probably more to come on this subject – I feel myself warming to it, curiously…

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Behold – Symphonic Metal!

Remember how I told you that I was reading the Motley Crue autobiography (as dictated to a no doubt increasingly bemused and horrified Neil Strauss), “The Dirt”? Yep, it’s every bit as eye-rolling, mind-boggling and stomach-churning as I predicted it would be. And, of course, it’s utterly compelling reading from first page to last. Funny how that happens.

I don’t know that it has given me any more appreciation for the Crue (Especially when Nikki Sixx essentially admits that a number of albums were so compromised by the band’s various addictions that they were basically ‘phoned-in’ efforts) but it does make me boggle that Amy Winehouse can depart the planet at such a young age when these guys are still merrily touring away despite having ingested enough chemicals and adult beverages to convincingly fell a herd of elephants.

All of which preamble, whilst delightful, buffers us from the purpose of this news post – Dutch symphonic metallurgists, Epica, have gone into the studio in Germany to record their next long-player, as reported today on the Roadrunner Records-affiliated Blabbermouth blog.

If you’re into the likes of Within Temptation and Delain, you’ll possibly have given Epica’s symphonic metal a listen. If this is your first encounter with the band, why not give “Never Enough” a try. Go on, I’ll wait.

If you waited thirty seconds before coughing “Evanescence”, then you’re a better person than I. Whilst you’ve got to wonder if Within Temptation, Leave’s Eyes and Epica would have careers without Amy Lee and co blowing up the spot with “Bring Me To Life”, there’s something distinctly European and pleasingly eccentric/old-fashioned about these bands and their slightly overwrought take on rocking your socks off.

It’s a bizarre thing, really. Who would have thought that record companies, in their infinite wisdom, would collectively reach the belief that what rock fans REALLY want is a less threatening Papa Roach fronted by Sarah McLachlan? Funny old world.

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Up the Irons!

Image via the estimable photographic talents of Mike Lawrence on Flickr,  - cheers Mike!

Bruce Dickinson, Iron Maiden, Newcastle Metro Radio Arena, July 23rd.

My first Maiden show was a corking experience from beginning to end.

Support band Airbourne were the definition of plucky, fighting a valiant uphill battle against a sound mix which wasn’t doing them any favours at all – the guitars were muddy and lost any definition somewhere between the stage and the arena’s Block 208 where I was seated. Singer Joel’s vocals and in-between song banter was so impossible to discern that a woman sitting to my right-hand side’s first words after Airbourne finished were “Did you understand anything that he said?”

They dropped a liberal smattering of tunes from “Running Wild” and “No Guts, No Glory” and made sections of the notoriously critical Maiden fan base move around, but the mix made all of their hard work (this is not a band who stand stock still behind their mics – the band ran a mini-marathon by my reckoning) for nought, sad to say.

They did their best, and may have won over a bunch of new fans, but I think that they’re a band who need to have a smaller room (oh, for an Airbourne secret gig at Sheffield’s Corporation club) and more immediate contact between band and audience to show themselves at their best.

A brief sojourn for the road crew to get Airbourne’s gear off stage, for people to grab Maiden merch and the obligatory plastic beaker of lager-esque beverages followed, and before I had time to ponder on why people come to live shows and then spend half their time on their mobiles (seriously, WTF?), UFO’s “Doctor Doctor” was playing on the PA and it was ON…

“The Final Frontier” staging won me over from the get-go – designed to look like the interior of a spaceship, the set reminded me of the loading bay from “Serenity”, Joss Whedon’s sf-western awesomefest. This digression, whilst entirely valid, soon was swept aside by the sonic and visual bombast of the opening film which accompanied the lengthy musical overture at the beginning of “Satellite 15” – accompanied by the audience faithful going over more bug-eyed as the band tore into the main portion of the tune.

I’ve read some online reviews which felt that Maiden were a bit off-sorts for the first two songs of the show, but I can’t say that I really noticed – it was a slick and utterly thrilling performance from all band members, although I did wonder how the blinking flip Janick Gers kept up in most songs given his typical stage presence is somewhere ‘twixt genial metal Morris Man and Yoga instructor – there was some serious, ‘Crouching Mantis’ position throwing whenever he flung his left leg up on his side of the stage rig.

The change in sound was really noticeable throughout Maiden’s portion of the show – utterly crisp, clearly differentiated guitars whirling, crashing and zipping around the stage, Nicko’s drums regularly kicking you in the solar plexus in a thoroughly entertaining but slightly hooligan-like fashion and Steve’s charging bass underpinning each song in an unfussy, controlled manner.

I’m sure that there are some people who would come to a show like this one and fling about accusations of cold professionalism and clinical performances which are the antithesis of rock n’ roll – a valid point if you’re comparing the scrappy, straight-ahead tunes of Airbourne to Maiden’s recent, progressive rock-style rebirth, but not one which I care to debate for long.

Iron Maiden are a precise, glorious live experience, who make up in attack, scale and emotional connection what they might lack in off-the-cuff improvisation and seat-of-the-pants, ‘What will they do next’ free-form stage craft. It’s part-gig, part-theatrical stage show, part-thrill ride and never less than completely compelling stuff.

The set-list favoured, inevitably, the current “Final Frontier” album but also had enough classics and recent singles to allow the band to play the songs nearest and dearest to them, whilst still allowing fans who wanted to sing, scream and go nuts in the pit to do just those things.

My initial reason for seeing the show was the realisation that I had enjoyed their music from my teenage years and had never managed to see them live before. Who knows how much longer they will want to continue – on the basis of last night’s show, they have more than a few years of performing at this level left in them – but I recommend that you take the opportunity to see this most stately, self-assured and accomplished rock band in your city if you get the chance. A great show, a great night, a great band.

Also, Eddie was awesome!

The great photo of Bruce Dickinson at the top of the post is kindly reproduced courtesy of Mike Lawrence on Flickr – you can see more of his excellent Iron Maiden live pictures here and a host of great live music and other subjects here.

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Cultural Activities

This weekend, I will mostly be reading….

Page one made me throw up in my mouth a little - how are these people not dead?

Whilst listening to quality, Anglo-Swedish Pop/Deathcore/Harsh/Clean Vocal splendour in the form of…

Sonic Syndicate - the old Shizz...

and

Sonic Syndicate's new, metalhead-confuddling direction.

and going to see Iron Maiden and Airbourne. Did I mention that I was going to see Iron Maiden and Airbourne? Must have plumb slipped my mind.

Whatever you’re doing this weekend, have a good one, won’t you?

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An unholy abundance of Van Halen

Online shopping can get confusing...

This stack of discs represents five copies of Van Halen’s “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” album, as supplied to me over recent weeks and months by the lovely and confused folks at Amazon shop, Zoverstocks.

The short version of a thus far long story is that I ordered the CD, the copy allocated for despatch to me wasn’t playable, and so a replacement was sent. And then sent again. And then sent – you get the picture. Look! Five copies! I’ll bet Ed and Alex don’t have five copies to hand, that they can form a rudimentary doll’s house from. Ahem…

I’m sending back the pictured copies and I’ll keep you up to date to see if this is the end of my multiple ‘Van Halen/Tribble’ situation or if I end up building an extension to our house made solely out of latter-Van Hagar-era discs. I’d say that stranger things have happened, but this is pretty darned strange all by itself…

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