June 2003 Archives

I'm a pretty happy individual tonight, got a package of metal releases from the US. It's amazing, how some stores manage to excel at what they do wheras others just know they have their cusomers by the balls and don't care anymore.

I am quite jaded by the options for purchasing CDs locally and had not seen many places that offered an alternative for the diverse range of music I listen to. Recently, I'd heard a lot of good things about a mailoder/record label called The End Records. Excellently priced, cheap shipping - even to Oz and they distribute 90% of the metal acts I still listen to.

So, after having just released my first order from them, I'm happily re-ripping Enslaved's Below The Lights so I can continue to blast my ears with this wonderful album at a higher quality. Plus some new goodies by artists like Agalloch, Ulver and Tenhi.

Not the kind of person

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Not the kind of person who has to link to everything I find on the net, however this site had a style I liked. I have a penchant for line-work (vector art) pixelfucker.net Not really work safe, particularly the more erotic stuff. But the guide to giving a good hand job was kind of funny.

Was having a few drinks with some friends from work a while back, one of them mentioned a concept/term he had come up with which really struck me as apt/amusing.

This concept was Britney Metal. Initially it seemed destined as an insult for a band that wasn't proper metal. On the other hand, I knew in a way he was having a shot at me, knowing that I was a metal head (or as I prefer to think of myself, a reformed metal head). After all who aside from a metal head would care if a band is proper metal or not.

Most of the time, I stay out of this kind of debate, because I really don't care any more. If I hear someone arguing about say Metallica's new album being good or not, I just shrug my shoulders and say something positive but non committal. For example, if asked if I like System of a Down, i'll say that I think the vocalist is very talented. Or Linkin Park; I will talk about how it's good to see extreme vocals find their way into popular music.

But I couldn't resist grinning at this oxymoron, the pairing of "am I a slut or a virgin?" pop princess Britney with the testosterone fuelled grunt and down-tuned guitars that is metal today.

Another album I have been enjoying recently is the latest from Enslaved, titled Below The Lights it is a refreshingly good release that shows the Norwegians still know how to make great music.

Despite the fact that my copy of the CD is still winging it's way from the US, I have had promo mp3s for the past few weeks and keep on finding myself playing them on my iPod when I'm out of the house.

Enslaved earnt their black metal cred by appearing with the much better known Emperor on a split EP when both bands were still quite young. Emperor of course went on to dominate the Black Metal scene whilst Enslaved have ventured more down the path of paganism. These days, they prefer to be known as Viking Metal even though their music still incorporates many Black Metal elements.

Only recently eschewing their native tounge for English lyrics and not signed to a major label. Enslaved have never hit the big time as other BM bands like Emperor and Dimmu Borgir have.

Moving away from the overt Viking themes of their mid career albums (like Eld), Enslaved have over the past couple of albums broadened their musical sphere without coming across as a dilution or sell out.

The end result is the just released Below the Lights which integrates many influences and styles into a suprising coherent whole. One finds early Slayer hardcore thrash riffing rubbing shoulders with guitar techniques inspired by 70's avant garde legends King Crimson. The intro to Queen of the Night hinges on a flute piece that would not be out of place on a Jethro Tull record. Dirge Rep's drumming draws equally from modern metal and 70's punk.

Vocally, Grutle makes extensive use of his well honed black metal rasp, occasionally shifting to a more death metal growl. As with the past few albums, clean vocals also appear frequently as does a heavily accented gothic tinged spoken voice and the occasional raspy whispered vocal is used to great effect.

Comparisions have been made to Opeth, not so much in sound but in the diversity both bands are attempting to bring to the metal genre. Enslaved do manage to get quite close to the Opeth feel on the track: The Crossing which features extensive use of accoustic guitar.

Their Viking and metal roots are not totally forgotten amidst all this avant garde rock, particularly on the track Havenless which features some killer metal riffing and an anthemic styled vocal that I could just imagine chanted by a Viking army as they marched into battle.

Significant use of keyboards gives depth to the album and balances out some of the experimental and repetitive riffing. However unlike earlier albums which had a much more overall conceptual bridging that spanned the album, this album lacks a coherentness between tracks.

Production wise this album has a simple, clean and effective sound, with each instrument clearly given it's own space in the mix, in some areas this is quite an effective approach, especialy with the bass which thunders along omnipresent throughought. However those who are used to a beefy guitar sound counterbalanced by a driving rhythm section where the bass and drums share the same space sonically may be disappointed.

All considered, an album that could be equally apprecieated by broadminded metal fans or those who have a taste that extends more towards experimental rock.

Other's Opinions

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In retrospect, spending so much of the 90's mostly listening to metal was quite narrowminded.

Over the past few years I have tried to expand my musical tastes - without comprimising on quality. The other mistake I used to make was assuming quality and mainstream music were mutually incompatible.

One of the areas I missed out on a lot of quality music is that of Hip-Hop/Rap. I have the pestering of my good mate Andy to thank for me finally giving this style a listen. I will never forget the first time I heard DJ Shadow, that was the turning point for me, realising the importance and relevance of the production in Hip-Hop, prior to that I placed too much emphasis on the rap vocals.

Anyway, one of the best Hip-Hop producers around is RZA who is part of the collective the Wu-Tang Clan. When RZA is on the ball, his production is flawless. One of my favourite movies - Ghost Dog: Way of the Samuari has an excellent and entirely appropriate soundtrack composed by RZA

A closely related member of the Wu, GZA/Genius is actually RZA's cousin in real life. Following the success of the Wu's first album, many members of the collective released their own solo albums. One of these was GZA's Liquid Swords, which is actually his second solo album.

Featuring excellent and innovative production by RZA, overlaid with intelligent well thought out lyrics delivered in a relaxed confident style by GZA, there is barely a dud track on this classic from 1995.

Sure many other Wu members guest on the album but unlike other solo albums, the guest spots are well placed and add depth rather than shoring up a weak album.

Completely absent are the infantile skits that mar some of the other Wu albums, however the trademark Wu-Tang kung fu samples are present and give depth to the verbal sword play theme of the album.

One of the most interesting songs is Killa Hills 10304, this features a long intro which could be classed as a skit, but is grounded in reality by the addition of someone singing a-capella in the background whilst the skit gansta deal is played out in the foreground.

Another track: Labels showcases some brilliant lyrical work as the entire song is constructed from the names of record labels large and small.

My personal fave is however Investigative Reports, which features exceptional forward thinking production, whilst GZA, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon and U-God all contribute excellent verses with spot on delivery and phrasing.

It's just a pity that it took me 8 years to discover this excellent album.

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