Category Archives: Music

Things I Watched This Week: “Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet”

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As an aspiring guitarist and metal head in the mid 1980’s, it was difficult to escape the influence and artists of Mike Varney‘s Shrapnel record label.

From Paul Gilbert and Racer X to Tony MacAlpine and the first stirrings of neoclassical fret fury from Yngwie Malmsteen, Shrapnel had what you needed if you loved noisy, 300 mph speed metal and had no fear of men in skin-tight, animal print spandex.

One of the major leading lights of that movement was Jason Becker, who first came to prominence in the duo Cacophony with fellow corkscrew-curled fretboard mangler Marty Friedman (who would later go on to a gig in Megadeth and improbable late career J-Rock fame in Japan).

Becker is the subject of a superb documentary “Not Dead Yet”, which I saw at the weekend on the UK’s PBS America channel and can heartily recommend to any fan of inspiring stories, nostalgic metal fans and people who like good stuff.

So, most of you, then?

See, Becker’s rapid ascent through the metal guitar ranks was cruelly interrupted by illness just as he had scored a prestige gig as lead shredder in David Lee Roth‘s band – as he recorded the album, Becker was diagnosed with ALS, the affliction more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease and his once promising musical career was abruptly curtailed.

How Becker now communicates with those closest to him - a communication grid developed by his Dad

How Becker now communicates with those closest to him – a communication grid developed by his Dad

The film tells Becker’s story carefully, being certain to emphasise the importance of his family background and how their support for his musical gift helped him achieve success before the tragic onset of illness seemed to rob him of the successful musical future which seemed his for the taking.  It’s that family and his network of friends which are the revelation of the film – nobody walked away from him once his ALS diagnosis was confirmed and it’s perhaps only due to the family’s determination to support Becker through his ongoing illness that we have this story to watch.

Though now in a wheelchair, tube-fed and on permanent life support, through a vital network of friends and technology Becker still composes music and is a regular guest at gigs in his honour, where the likes of Friedman, Joe Satriani, Richie Kotzen and other luminaries of the whammy bar assisted arts rock out in a celebration of music and its ability to communicate even through the most seemingly insurmountable barriers that the human body can present.

Jesse Vile’s documentary is a film that can’t help but inspire you – the problems which many of us face don’t really stack up to much when you see what kind of obstacles Becker and his family have faced in their efforts to beat the odds and circumvent the three-to-four year life expectancy which Jason was calculated to have when first diagnosed.  By the time that the film ends, it’s not really a spoiler to tell you that the musician is 42 years old and…well, the title tells you everything.

See it – it’s a fantastic piece of work.

 

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Metallic Faith Malarkey

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When I’m not learning how to write my name in Elvish, I’m being utterly perplexed by my fellow citizens.

In data extrapolated from the 2011 UK census results, it would appear that 6,242 of Britons declared  Heavy Metal as their religion (for the record, that’s more respondents than self-identified as a Scientologist, Druid or Shaman).

To which one can only remark “Huh?”

I love a bit of Maiden as much as the next middle-aged, dog-walking vegetarian but can’t quite get behind the notion of aligning my musical genre of choice with organised faith – the goals of one seem quite at odds with the professed beliefs of the other, surely?

Obviously this result should probably be taken in the spirit of the kind of lightly subversive, nose-thumbing surrealism that I suspect it to be (note the high ranking of ‘Jedi Knight‘ as a faith of choice in the UK census, even after the quality of the “Star Wars” prequels should have killed aligning oneself to Uncle George’s franchise outright).

So, if I’m reading all of this correctly, the proper conclusion to draw from this census is that agencies of social control (which we normally oppose with all-consuming fervour) are a very bad idea until they provide you with the opportunity to make a snarky response to a survey.

Swell.

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Come Cover Me

Nightwish/symphonic metal nerds? This one is for us.

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We’ve been wondering a lot about Floor Jansen becoming Nightwish’s permanent singer – she’s boldly stepped into the breach to do replace Anette Olzon after her departure from the Finnish symphonic metal titans and done a brilliant job of it.  Fans seem to appreciate her and Floor’s vocal range is more than up to the task.  Conversely, she has her own band, ReVamp – which has just rescheduled their second album to Autumn 2013 – and might not want to join such a high-profile band on a permanent basis.

Seems that any decision on Floor becoming the Flying Finns front woman is a little premature – keyboardist/band leader/batty visionary Tuomas Holopainen is keen to just take things steady and leave any major decisions on the vacant singer’s position until 2014 at the earliest.

Now that, fellow nerds, is a poster…

Still, whilst we’re waiting for some news – there’s always the movie to look forward to.

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Sabaton/Eluveitie/Wisdom, Corporation, Sheffield, 11/11/2012 live review…

Corp! Not pictured, my freezing extremities, suffering whilst waiting outside last night.

I must apologise to Hungarian Power Metal chaps Wisdom, whose show I didn’t really get to see on Sunday night in Sheffield – due to pressing telecommunications issues which would not be denied, I was late to the gig and heard a slab of their set from outside the venue.  The Maiden cover, “Wasted Years” sounded chunky and faithful through the walls and the eponymous “Wisdom” and “Judas” seemed riffy and well-played slices of chugging traditional metal – the already decently sized crowd seemed to be enjoying what they saw.

Some brief set dismantling and roadie magic later, the Swiss Folk Metal onslaught of Eluveitie was amongst us and the band turned limited space to their advantage – Corporation’s stage isn’t massive at the best of times, and with eight band members on stage that bijou performance area was stretched to its limits.

The perfect soundtrack to your next medieval battle – Eluveitie

The band had never played in my city before, as singer/whistle/bandola/bagpipe  player Chrigel Glanzmann informed us, and I suspect walked away with more than a few new fans as they were pretty phenomenal live – the traditional metal attack which you might expect married seamlessly to folk instrumentation and impassioned vocals of the harsh and clean persuasions from Chrigel and Anna Murphy respectively.

I’m most familiar with their recent “Helvetios” album, so I got to hear a smattering of songs from that record to appreciate as well as material from their back catalogue – the gig was very much a case of being interested in the band before going to see them live and being wholly won over by their performance thereafter.  Am I a new fan of this band?  Very much so.  Just a cursory hearing of their glorious, Celtic-inspired, stirring sound is sufficient to inspire thoughts of painting your face with woad, donning furs and a kilt and setting about tyrannical land owners with a sturdy club.

Ahem.

Not that Sabaton don’t inspire similar feelings – the Swedish band have recently undergone a fairly major line-up change around the release of their recent “Carolus Rex” set but haven’t let this shift in personnel unduly affect their splendidly self-aware live show.  New members were integrated well into the gig, with lead guitarist Tobbe Englund’s accidental discovery of a kitschy knick-knack secreted above the Corporation main stage providing an accidental comic highlight in the show – it’s the humour of this band and singer Joachim Broden’s chipper, off-the-cuff stage banter which mark them apart from their other contemporaries in the upbeat, fast-paced Power Metal sub-genre.

It’s important to state that the Corporation crowd LOVED this band.  From the moment that the lights went down and Sabaton’s intro tape – fellow Swedish rock titans Europe’s classic “The Final Countdown” played in full (!) – erupted through the PA, the audience was here to see one band and shortly thereafter the roars of “SABATON! SABATON! SABATON!” filled the room and didn’t stop for the rest of the night.  If there was a moment of silence between songs, that chant seemingly started up again and Joachim’s face was plastered with a massive, cheesy grin.

Sabaton – for the glory of Sweden!

South Yorkshire loves a bit of proper, fist-pumping, 100 miles-an-hour, head-banging metal mania and as Sabaton’s catalogue is mostly composed of peerless examples of same, they were bound to go over like ice cream on a blazingly hot day.  If the band had a more vocal crowd on their UK tour than this one, I’d be surprised.

What’s as remarkable as the overwhelmingly powerful reaction to the band is the fact that Sabaton’s overriding lyrical theme is war, battles, soldiers and conflict – real ‘Boy’s Own’ glory, honour and valour stuff – and yet the material never gets distasteful, jingoistic, objectionable or reactionary, which for a gig which occurred on Remembrance Sunday felt quite important.

Any gig where you learn about the secret Swedish plan for global domination (Those IKEA warehouses? Pro-Tip? Lovely homes for battalions of tanks), get to hum along to a few bars of “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme” by Abba and bellow out the chorus of the band’s anthemic “Primo Victoria” on a chilly Sunday evening is my definition of a fun time.

To paraphrase a certain Matthew Broderick/John Hughes classic of the 1980’s, if you get the opportunity to purchase Sabaton tickets, I highly recommend picking them up.

 

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Sabaton? Eluveitie? Wisdom? Oh My…

Yes, I’m off to see a gig – entry-level image manipulation courtesy of Paint.Net

Hark at me with my beginner’s level image manipulation skills!  I’m off to see Sweden’s finest lovable Power Metal loons Sabaton at Sheffield’s Corporation tonight – I’ll probably be the guy in the Delain shirt.  Be sure and say “Hi!” – and their ready, willing and able tour mates Swiss Pagan Metal folks Eluveitie and Polish Trad Metal dudes Wisdom.

Expect a noisy time to be had by all and ear-plugs to be firmly stuffed in-ear by anybody over the age of 35 once things get going.  A report will be with soon, I imagine.

Two gigs in a week- surely some mistake?

 

 

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Nightwish, Manchester 05/11/2012 gig review

Nightwish pictured recently or a roguish band of Steampunk bandidos?  Who can say?

I went to see Nightwish last night in Manchester – they were sublime, needless to say.

This is the first time that UK fans have had a chance to see the band since they parted ways with previous singer Anette Olzon, with former After Forever and ReVamp singer Floor Jansen stepping into the proverbial breach and helping the band finish the rest of the dates on their “Imaginaerum” world jaunt.  Some early reports on the US leg of the tour were mixed, but I strongly suspect we can put them down to allowing a new singer to learn a lot of material in a short time period, under pressure, in front of fans with very distinct ideas about how the songs should sound.

The show which Mrs Rolling Eyeballs and I saw last night was fantastic and confirms that we should be very happy if Floor decides to stay with Nightwish for a while – she can certainly handle the more operatic, multi-octave material with original Nightwish singer Tarja Turunen was synonymous with and the more recent albums which Anette sang on hold no problems for Jansen either – she’s neither copying the vocal style of her predecessors or trying too hard to stamp her own identity onto the songs – she’s just singing them quite brilliantly.

Swedish purveyors of industrial/metal/sleaze tunes, Pain, were the opening band and they were…fine, I guess?  The crowd got into them a lot more than I did, and certainly seemed to know more of the songs – I’ve heard their “Shut Your Mouth” on Spotify and it’s a decent tune, but much of their set last night blended into one unholy mush, thanks to one of the more unsympathetic sound mixes that I’ve encountered at a gig.  Singer Peter Tägtgren was, by his own admission, having an off-night too and admitted that he had lost his voice somewhere between Stockholm and Manchester.  A bad day at the office, as they say.

Nightwish, to be fair, didn’t get on any better with the Apollo’s mercurial sound system – a lot of the subtleties and musical texture of their songs were well and truly gobbled up somewhere ‘twixt stage and the circle seating where I was safely ensconced for the evening.  Audio woes didn’t spoil the gig, though, and I was able to enjoy the band in what amounts to an intimate and up-close gig for them (in mainland Europe, Nightwish tend to play festivals, arenas and that size of venue).

My personal highlight was the section with the multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley“I Want My Tears Back”/”The Islander“/“Nemo”/”Last of the Wilds” – which took the volume down a bit and amounted to an acoustic interlude and amply demonstrated just how versatile this band is and how diverse their sound can be.  They’re nominally a metal band which has a vein of orchestral/soundtrack/score composition underpinning and complementing the massive riffs which are their stock in trade – this is almost certainly why I like them as you never know quite where the next song on an album will go.

Although, “Everything AND the kitchen sink” is a pretty good rule of thumb.

I enjoyed everything about the band’s performance – bassist Marco Hietala‘s gurning faces and eccentric on-stage banter, guitarist Emppu Vuorinen‘s apparent inability to stay still for more than a second, drummer Jukka Nevalainen‘s curious habit of hovering low over his drum skins (almost as though he’s talking to them) before starting a song, band leader Tuomas Holopainen‘s ‘lost in music’ reveries and sneaky quaffing from a bottle of vino between tunes – there’s a lot to love about Nightwish and going to see this film only made me love them more.

They play London tonight (5/11/2012), Birmingham on Tuesday and Glasgow on Wednesday this week.  If you’re near any of those venues in the UK, I highly recommend a night out with Finland’s finest musical export.

 

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Last Ride of the Day


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What, me – excited?   I’m only going to see Nightwish tonight, in Manchester, with Mrs Rolling Eyeballs!

She, of infinite charm and patience, who has never been to a metal show before (The more melodic and film score-like textures of the mostly Finns seemed a better bet to me than, say, Cannibal Corpse…).

I’m sure that I shall chime in with a report on how things went – wish us good luck…

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