May 2003 Archives

I've been listening to some tracks from the forthcoming album by Dutch band, The Gathering, entitled Souvenirs. These guys have long been known for mellow rock albums melded with electronica fronted by a pretty reasonable female singer. I've not always liked their work, in truth sometimes the female vocals have been a bit forced, and if pushed to pick an album of theirs, i'd pick Mandylion their first with just female vocals, although very rock and metal in places and rough in production it had some great songs.

Their sound has evolved so much since then, taking influence from modern downbeat electronica (particularly trip-hop). It seems they are finally getting a grip on a decent balance between the psychedelic, guitar driven and programmed components of their sound.

I'm still not always sold on Anneke's vocals, they do fit a lot better than on some of their mid-career albums where she tried too much to be a more powerful (read rock) singer, nowdays the vocals are less brash and better suit the mostly sparse production.

However the standout track is the final one on the CD, titled: A Life All Mine this is a duet between Anneke and Krystoffer G. Rygg (aka Garm, Trickster G) Ulver's esteemed vocalist/producer. I've long been a huge fan of Garm's voice, from the first Ulver CD Bergtatt to his work with Arcturus, he is one of the most talented vocalists to emerge from the Norwegian scene.

Rather than stealing the limelight from Anneke. Garm instead pushes her to match his vocals thus elicting her strongest performance on the album. Production wise, this track also smacks of Rygg's excellent production, extremely bare and slightly harsh it forms a solid backdrop to an excellent song.

With melodic, clean performances as good as this, I can almost forgive Garm for putting an end to his extreme vocals.

Overall though, if you like your music along the lines of recent Radiohead, the less quirky Bjork, Portishead or recent, darker Massive Attack, you would probably be pleasantly suprised if you picked up Souvenirs

I’ve wanted to write something about extreme vocals for a long time. In short - it’s one of the single biggest aspects that can put people off some genres of music. Many years back, I was travelling back to my home town and sat next to a close friend from high school on the plane. At the time, I’d recently discovered the glories of Kyuss so I played Amy a song: Space Cadet from Welcome to Sky Valley. This is a mellow sparse piece with clean & acoustic guitar and hand drums. It’s always been a particular favourite of mine. I recall she also listened to the beginning of the next track - Demon Cleaner.

Amy’s comment could have typified the reaction of most that were into the alt-post-grunge scene of the period. It was something along the lines of:

“The music is good, but I don’t like that vocalist, he’s too raw and harsh”

To prove the point, Kyuss was never commercially successful. Yet one of the post Kyuss bands - Queens of the Stone Age has enjoyed wide commercial success. Queens has a different less throaty singer.

Like the green portion of the visible spectrum, humans are more sensitive to the subtle variations in the human voice than many other instruments. This is an evolved thing, we use our voice to communicate with each other and subtle nuances in the delivery can be the difference between a joke, a lie and a vicious insult.

Also vocals have a dual nature that is immediately apparent, there are the lyrics and the voice as an instrument. All instruments have properties that can be appreciated for their aesthetic and technical merits, like tone, timbre and phrasing. A lot of listeners latch onto the vocals as they can be interpreted, emphatic, argued over, political, offensive, romantic, poetic etc. This puts the vocal as an instrument in a more subliminal role and thus evaluated at a more instinctive level.

Now back to extreme vocals, anyone who knows me well - understands that I enjoy a lot of music that is on the heavier side. This includes vocals that are harsh/extreme. If people unfamiliar with the genre listen to these types of vocals, then they often dismiss them from a technical perspective with comments like: “they can’t sing”, or “how can you understand what they are saying?”. I’d be the first to admit that many of these vocalists are not well trained, or technically adept. Lee Dorrian - the first vocalist for seminal band Napalm Death required singing lessons for his current band Cathedral most because he needed to sing in a more melodic, rock style.

However if you are capable of getting past the preconceptions associated with extreme vocals a whole range of vocal nuances and styles are opened up to you as a listener. Just as we don’t notice our own accents or a close friends speech impediment after a while, a regular listener who grows accostomed to extreme vocals begins to be able to make out some/most of the lyrics.

Describing the range of extreme vocals is difficult, every vocalist is unique - just like every person has a unique speaking voice. However it is possible to group (roughly) the styles into classes:

  • Growls
    This is one of the most common extreme styles and is most associated with the subgenre of death metal where it is the default vocal. Some argue that Lemmy of Motorhead was the originator of the style. Generically dubbed “Cookie Monster” vocals they can range from a throaty growl to a deep rumbling roar but always gutteral. It’s agreed that the key to singing well in this style is to not use your throat and instead bring the growl from your diaphragm/stomach. This style focuses on texture rather than melody and a good death metal vocalist will vary the phrasing and intonation but not attempt much melody. Instead the melody (if there is any) will derive from the guitar parts
  • Screams
    again these can have quite a large range but generally emphasise a more raspy sound and are pitched higher than growls. Sometimes to the point where the scream is in falsetto. More commonly associated with Black Metal where they suit the more buzzsaw styled guitars and the evil asthetic. When done well they can range from frigid to harrowing and spine chilling. Early progenitors of the style were Bathory and Venom
  • Female
    Despite the perception that extreme metal is male only territory, many extreme acts feature female singers. Just as some of the most famous female singers have been raw and throaty (Janis Joplin) women can growl and rasp - I have heard examples of both styles. As a counterpoint, clean female vocals often feature - to give an angelic/demonic effect (example early Theatre of Tragedy), more traditional stylings (choirs, soprano) are also used to good effect by some extreme artists.
  • Whispered
    this can be done with either a growled or rasped edge and is a great counterpoint for the more aggressive styles.
  • Shouted
    popular with metal that has hardcore/punk influences, comes across as angry and monotone - used mostly for emphahsis
  • Sung
    of course it is possible to use normal singing techniques in extreme metal, sometimes used for emphasis, any more than 50% clean vocals will generally be enough to move the work out of the extreme metal genre.
  • Spoken
    often this veers into the slightly gothic - usually very deep/dark and often with a slight emphasis on the vocalist’s accent.
  • Other techniques
    some vocalists use effects (pitch shifters, mild distortion, vocoders) to achieve a different edge, this is generally frowned upon (and seen as cheating) unless the band has a more open/experimental audience (despite the accepted widespread use of other effects like chorus, delay, reverb etc)

I've been listening a lot to a Canadian band called Gorguts recently.

Despite the reasonably awful but predictably metal name, these guys are really worth listening to. or at least their last two albums.

Short story - after putting out a couple of middle-of-the-road death metal albums in the early 90's they were dropped by major label Roadrunner who was clearing out it's roster to embrace new metal trends. Thus in the late 90's the band took a major about turn and released one of the most challenging and complex extreme metal releases I have ever heard: Obscura on a small label - Olympic records in 1998.

This was recived with much confusion by the scene, to be honest it was too complex for most metal heads - probably would have been a bit too much for me even then. Had I known about it.

Following the mixed reaction Gorguts' 2001 album: From Wisdom to Hate toned down the complexity and repackaged it in a more accessible format. Again this excellent release totally slipped me by.

Then in 2002, their extremely talented drummer Steve Macdonald committed suicide after battling with depresson. Yet again this news passed me by. It was only in March this year, after reading two interviews that mentioned the band I finally decided to check them out.

Finding their CDs locally has been nigh on impossible - I raided 3 capital cities in Oz and ended up being lucky to find From Wisdom to Hate. Hearing this I then set out to find Obscura but have had to settle for low quality mp3s from the net for now. Over the next few weeks I will be placing an order to get this and a few other hard-to-get CDs from Europe.

Dissapointed by how the scene had been evolving I took a deliberate step away from the death metal world in the mid to late 90's. This was mainly as a result of being let down by mediocre releases that were over promoted by labels like Roadrunner and the short lived Columbia/Earache partnership.

Disaffected by this, I dove head first into the European underground metal scene (in particular doom metal) and also started exploring the non metal music scene seriously. This has continued to a point today where my tastes in metal are very specialised and focus on unique, technical and extreme. Regardless, much of what I listen to today has on the surface no resemblance to metal.

From this perspective, listening to Gorguts I wonder what else I have missed by my move away from metal? At the same time, if I hadn't been exploring artists that broke down the boundaries between genres I'm not sure I would have understood Gorguts' opus Obscura which is in essence free jazz extreme metal.

On Obscura, Gorguts take all the elements that make up metal and deconstruct them into their core essentials before re-working into a totally different yet equally heavy form. Despite this, the music does not come across as pretentious or composed purely for an idealised asthetic.

Whilst not for everyone, I am for one happy to have discovered one of the few pieces within the metal genre that I would argue as truly innovative. However learning of their drummer's sad demise tempers this joy somewhat. Depression is sadly not given the focus it needs as one of the most damaging diseases in our society, thus we continue to have people kill themselves when this could be prevented by a combination of support and medication. I for one would understand if out of respect for Steve the rest of the band decided to hang up their hats. However this would mean losing one of the brightest paths forward in an otherwise moribund gernre.

I now understand how my father felt when he discovered Jeff Buckley as a result of a tribute night to him on late night music video show Rage - scheduled as a result of his untimely death a week or so earlier.

Slice 5 dried dates into thin strips and then marinate in 30 mls sherry for at least 5 minutes.

peel & julienne/matchstick the following:

3 baby chokos
1 carrot
1 red capsicum
1 red apple
3-4 radishes

finely dice 1/4 serrano chilli
finely chop 1/2 bunch fresh coriander

once cut, mix the above roughly in a bowl.

remove dates from sherry, add to bowl.

To sherry add: 1tsp orange-blossom water, 2tbs vegetable oil, 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp salt and juice of 1/2 orange, mix and add to salad.

Just before serving: dry roast 2tbs sesame seeds until they are golden brown and add stir through salad while they are still warm.

I've been playing a lot of chess recently, mostly against the computer.

Chess is something I've never played enough to be good at, but enjoyed the occasional friendly game of.

Of my friends, only Dave seems to enjoy the occasional game and once we get warmed up our matches usually end in a draw - because we ponder over each move so long we are soon sick of it

On the basis of some excellent recommendations from a number of guitarists in the european metal scene, I downloaded some mp3s and then immediately bought 3 CDs by Nick Drake about 2 months back.

To be honest, this ended up being one of the best CD purchases I have made in quite some time.

Many American's know of Nick's music through an ad for Volkswagon that I don't believe we got in Oz.

Nick's story has been well documented elsewhere on the web; suffice to say he was a singer songwriter who released 3 albums between 1969 and 1973 before dying of an accidental overdose of prescription medicine in 1974.

If you love music or play guitar, you should own at the very least Nick's 1st and 3rd albums. For guitarists, the attraction is complex songs written in open tunings featuring intricate textures achieved by careful picking techniques. Those who just love music will find immaculately composed songs that draw you into their soothing blend of positive melancholy.

Went to see DJ Krush on the weekend. Was originally planning to go solo, which is the usual mode - my friends don't share much of my musical tastes.

At the last minute a friend from Melbourne dropped me a line - would be in Sydney for the weekend - we ended up meeting for the gig.

I'm a fan of Krush, own a couple of CDs and have mp3s of the really early hard to get stuff (that i'd snap up in an instant if I ever went shopping in Japan). he's one of the handfull of artists in the downbeat, trip hop, illbient genres who manages to make music that stands up well to the test of time.

The Krush I grew to love was the one who displayed such a mastery of subtlety and originality, not famed for his drum programming skills but more for the jazz influenced dark edge he adds with carefully chosen samples and scratching.

There was a great deal of disconnect between what I saw and what I heard on Sat night. At points I saw Krush throwing vinyl on the decks, queueing, playing a 5 second sample and then repeating the process with 5-10 12"s over the period of around 3 minutes. During this time, despite straining my ears, I barely heard anything different to the very familiar track playing on the other deck. Sure he jazzed up the drum solo with some fancy fader work but to the entire audience, his frenzied efforts were entirely lost.

Despite this, the majority of the audience seemed to be having a good time, dancing away to the extremely unbalanced mix that allowed the rather ordinary hip hop beats to dominate the overall sound.

You know that's something I don't really get, are most of the audience only there for a good time and really couldn't care about the DJ's particular style and technique? Do they care who is up on the stage at all?

Having experienced the same shitty mix a scant month ago for a band from a totally different genre (Opeth) at the time I blamed the bad mix on the place having been set up more for rave style music. Now I'm sure that's the case - or otherwise the mixing desk staff are deaf.

It's been a while since I've been to a gig where the audience actually respected the band on stage, the last I can recall was the Tea Party who I saw last year on the central coast. True to recent form, the crowd for Krush were pretty bad, there's nothing wrong with showing apprecieation for the artist(s) on stage, but why chose the quiet intricate parts to show this? There are some in the audience who paid for the gig purely to hear such sections live. I would have been less disappointed if the mix had allowed me to enjoy these subtle elements constantly not just when the bass wasn't present.

Sure, there were few convenient gaps between tracks - that's the point of DJ based sets, everything flows. And hey, those who came with the intention of dancing the night away deserve the right to get their money's worth.

Due to spending a goodly period of time catching up with my melbournian friend I didn't catch any of the support acts, was kind of hoping to catch the post Krush set by James De La Cruz (Avalanches) but was put off by the ordinary posturing of the MC who had the difficult task of keeping the crowd from leaving after Krush finished.

Wasn't tired, so walked up to Oxford St and my mate grabbed his bus back to Randwick. As I was walking back past the venue, noticed that Jame's set must have finished, lacking any interest in hanging around the rapidly dying night life, I decided to walk home. For some contrast listened to some Emperor and Enslaved, the intensity and complexity of which was the key to distracting me from the racing thoughts that were preventing sleep and by the time I reached home both mind and body were exhausted enough to get some decent rest.

Yes i've already posted a lot of entries about Katatonia's latest release Viva Emptiness these past few months, however as an album it's not at all growing old on me. I keep on listening to it and finding more to apprecieate, despite having already played it to death (some tracks have been played over 100 times)

As a comparison, I have spun their 2001 release Last fair Deal Gone Down a few times recently. This has really highlighted the areas where Viva Emptiness has improved, i've already mentioned some earlier: tighter more focused sound, re-adoption of older sounds/techniques. However two other areas stand out: The lyrics and the bridge.

In general, the lyrics on Viva Emptiness are a bit more mysterious and multi-faceted.

More importantly is the bridge, like many who had the opportunity to hear the old style Katatonia, I lament it's passing. True this sound can be heard in other bands like Rapture. However in Viva Emptiness, pick a bridge from pretty much any track and listen closely, for the duration of the bridge (and sometimes for the remainder of the song) you start to hear the experimental abstract arrangements that we so loved from the old Katatonia (Brave Murder Day era)

It's funny, but within a few days of getting Viva Emptiness I knew that this would be one of my fave albums of the year. Despite Opeth's Damnation being the more anticipated one (perhaps over anticpated).

Many might be put off by the lack of catchy guitar leads, something Katatonia have never been good at. This is missing the point, instead Anders creates rhythmic guitar textures that seep into your very being.

I'm dissapointed this will never break into the mainstream, because even though on the surface it's not heavy - no screamed vocals or buzzsaw guitars. The heaviness is still there, present in the dark and introspective lyrics, the deceptively soothing yet impassioned vocals and the rock songs gone subtly wrong songwriting structure.

These kind of tactics are concerning:

In an apparent effort to enforce DRM, some of Apple's applications (iTunes) have a flag set on them that cause the kernel to uncerimoniously kill any program that attempts to pause them.

A poll:

Which is more important/powerful/significant in music? a rhythm or mode?

Together they form what we think of as melody.

Some definitions:

melody  Succession of single tones or pitches perceived by the mind as a unity.
mode  Scale or sequence of notes used as the basis for a composition; major and minor are modes.
rhythm  The controlled movement of music in time.
phrase  Musical unit; often a component of a melody.

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2003 listed from newest to oldest.

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