April 2004 Archives

Look at all those tour buses!
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Serres Royales
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Scratch off another band from the list, one I was unsure of wanting to see at some points because I'm not a die hard fan.

The Dutch band the Gathering is whom I'm speaking of, I got into them following their late 1995 album Mandylion which was the first to feature Anneke van Giersbergen on vocals, who has a powerful melodic voice which is kind of unique in sound and sometimes an acquired taste.

Despite paying vague attention to the next few albums, I totally lost interest because they were floundering a bit trying to find their place/sound.

However early last year they dropped an album which finally showcased the fruits of their long metamorphis. Called "Souvenirs" it has excellent production, an interesting and a well balanced mix of electronic and rock layers. This album impressed with the production but the songs still took their time to grow on me.

But enough rambling, how were they live??

Well in a nutshell excellent, they played some songs in a stripped back, almost acoustic mode, which I liked and thought was mostly done well.

Anneke seemed annoyed early on before she really got into the performance, not sure whether her foldback was wrong or she was somehow too focused on the video cameras recording the show rather than the audience! However she got over this and started belting out her trademark melodics.

The guitarist had a couple of rackfulls of equipment to ensure he could replicate the unusual sounds he creates on record, which mostly came across extremely well. One thing that really distinguishes The Gathering how how the guitar is not the loudest component in the mix.

To my mind the keys were a bit heavy in the mix, but they were an essential part of the sound, particularly as many tracks featured significant amounts of triggered samples to replicate the layers that appear on their recorded work.

In the case of a band where heavily processed guitar and samples make up so much of the sound, I think this is justified but I'm also a fan of bands that strip back their work to a rock basis. The Gathering cut a fine line with some tracks stripped back to just keys and vocals, others full on multi layered trigger fests.

Highlight was to heard old and new contrasted with a short piano/vocal piece from their latest EP sleepy buildings followed by "In Motion II" from 1995's Mandylion which began in near acoustic mode with cymbals played with mallets to build and switch two thirds of the way through to a full rock/metal sound, very nice.

Lowlight was near the end with a track I didn't recognise that the band jammed on for an extended period. IT sounded like it must have come from the sprawling "how to measure a planet" album. Jams can be fun, but this didn't have enough variance in the extended jam to keep me interested.

The encore came quickly and was "These Good People" which is a particular favourite from Souvenirs

All in all they played for about one and a half hours and closed the night, which was a kind of cheap festival, due to the fact so many free stages were nearby I guess it was hard to get people to pay that night. So it was not crowded despite being only €15 (AUD$25) entry.

Well now I'm in Amsterdam, enjoying the hospitality of Mendy and her partner Bas.

Already hired a bike and got in some practice riding around at 3AM! One day I'll get used to this wrong side of the road thing!

Train trip was uneventful, today is a public holiday, last night was queens night so I guess today is queens day. Kind of the same as our queens birthday holiday but here they actually feel a bit more nationalistic pride, might have something to with their queen not being half a world away in another country!

So this "queen's night" is more like a combo of Anzac day patriotism with new years eve drunken revelry and street music/parties.

Yayyy!!!

Got my Czech visa, which means my extended stay in the surprisingly interesting city of Brussels was worth it!

Off to Amsterdam in an hour to visit my long lost friend Mendy and tonight will be off to see the Gathering who are #3 on my list of must see bands in Europe.

Seeing Katatonia who is #2 on the list seems to be more difficult, both the venue in Finland and in Italy don't sell tickets in advance, this seems okay for a venue the size of say the Annandale but I was expecting Katatonia to be playing bigger venues than this.. Also this is a huge amount of travelling for me to see them with no guarantee of a ticket. Not happy, especially as I was contemplating seeing them in both places.

Earlier today I encountered the most dangerous type of travel hazard known, 15+ bus loads of tourists

I went to see the Serres Royales or Belgian Royal Family Greenhouses

These generous royals only open the place to the public for 10 days a year in spring! This means the crowds are huge, as it attracts not just international tourists like me but many Belgians as well.

The greenhouses are huge, old and beautiful - built in 1870 and all wrought iron and glass everywhere. To someone from a semi-tropical climate, the plants weren't anything hugely unusual but they were in great health which is a testament to the design of 100+ year old heating system!

They are also a lovely work of architecture

Plenty of photos taken, will be posted at some point.

Spent today trying to plan more of my trip. As I keep on telling people, i'm in Europe to see all the bands who never come to oz. This takes priority over seeing touristy things and such.

I'm also here to visit old friends who I haven't seen for far too long.

But back to the bands, my tastes are varied and the summer tours and festival lineups are still being finalised.

Really want to go to see Katatonia in Milan, with Ephel Duath as support, but my inquiries tell me that the venue does not do presale!!!!! So I have to travel to Milan to chance getting a ticket at the door!

Same with seeing Anathema in Austria, they only sell tickets cash on delivery. But I don't have a fixed address!!

Finally I want to see some good noise done the Mego way, the crew (including the genius of blackened noise Kevin Drumm) are playing in Brussels on the 8th May, but i'm leaving Brussels tomorrow!

I can see if I keep up this approach then it will become an expensive trip! Oh well...

On Saturday, went to a nearby museum which had two exhibitions related to the middle east.

One was simply named Islam and featured artefacts from different Islamic historical periods and was quite interesting but small and focused on ceramics, coins and clothing. I would have loved to have seen some of the scientific and technological material that the Islamic world is not so well known for, there was a couple of astronomy related artefacts but some of the mathematical and scientific texts that preserved and expanded on the Greek/Roman foundations which were mostly lost/forgotten in Europe during this period would have been good.

Also purely out of specific interest, I'd love to see a genuine damascan steel product preferably a sword. The metallurgical techniques that this period utilised are only now being understood and replicated in the western world.

The other exhibition was preferred by my Sylvia and her friend. It consisted of large sized photographic prints taken in Baghdad and other nearby areas of Iraq before, during and after the recent US invasion.

Some of the images were extremely disturbing despite me being prepared and knowing a fair bit about the whole conflict.

Despite it being a good thing long term that Saddam is no longer running Iraq, after seeing this exhibition I am even more sure that there must have been another way to achieve this end.

Also highlighted by this exhibition was how the 10 years of UN sanctions really took Iraq back a lot further than Saddam's reign in many ways.

Add this to the aftermath of the invasion and Iraq is nearly back to the conditions it was in before Saddam's reign began.

One hopes that the post US occupation government will try and undo some of Saddam's actions that may be able to be reversed (like the draining of the marsh lands that border Iran).

One thinks though that the reality will be US companies will be awarded all of the infrastructure rebuilding contracts and they will just continue to exploit Iraq without regard to it's extremely diverse and sensitive population or the fragile ecology they are inextricably linked to.

Well today most of the museums are closed, so... probably a chilled out day drinking coffee and watching the world go by.

Yesterday Sylvia and I went to a market at Gare du Midi which was nice, size wise a bit smaller than Paddy's markets in Haymarket but outside.

Picked up all kinds of African foodstuffs that I've never cooked with previously, been reading up on traditional recipes. One thing we bought which I'm kind of scared about cooking is cassava, this vegetable is incredibly starchy but requires some significant preparation to make it not poisonous as naturally the higher yielding varieties contain high amounts of cyanide which needs to be removed by a 3 day fermentation of the grated tuber and then significant cooking.

After this we went to a park in the south of Brussels and had a mini picnic, after eating lots I felt the need to walk and wandered around the park for a while was very nice walking around the wooded area surrounding a small lake in the middle of the park, saw some kind of squirrel like animal who was quite unfazed by the volume of humans nearby.

I was surprised at how densely populated the park was, Brussels has about one quarter the population of Sydney but this park was pretty densely packed, probably the kind of density you would only see on an exceptional weather day in Sydney or one step down from the kind of crowd that a festival would attract.

Belgium is one of the most densely populated countries in Europe, so I guess this is to be expected really.

Didn't have much time to post yesterday, today has been a much more leisurely and I guess expensive session. Mostly cause I just bought 6 extreme metal CDs....

Anyway yesterday I went on a Belgian comic overdose. When one thinks of comic art, you wouldn't really think of Belgium straight away, but in many ways they have significantly influenced the development of the medium over the years.

The most famous Belgian comic creator is Herge the creator of that timeless reporter Tintin. This year marks the 75th anniversary of Tintin and as such the Belgians are celebrating one of their national icons.

Other comics are less well known outside the French speaking market but one other that I recall reading but not enjoying anywhere near as much as Tintin was "Lucky Luke" a western pastiche which enjoyed significant English market popularity with a spin off animated series made by the sausage factory of animation that was Hanna Barbara

There are also quite a few long running and well known daily strips that were created in Belgium but ended being exported to the rest of the world.

The big success story though is Tintin, to the point where in the late '30s Herge and some of the other already established creators set up a magazine with the same name which has published family orientated Belgian comics to French speaking markets as far away as Canada till recent times.

I saw two different comic exhibitions, one was Tintin and the City, which was a special exhibition that explored the real life backgrounds for Tintin's fictional locales. This was not bad, but I was expecting more.

The highlight for me though was the building this exhibition was housed in, it's instantly been elevated to one of my all time favourite spaces. Simply called Halles St.Géry it was once a meat and seafood market and to my untrained eye represents an example of early Art Nouveau architecture

Secondly I went to the centre for Belgian comic art, which is also housed in an Art Nouveau building designed by the architect Victor Horta who designed much of the buildings in this style within Brussels. As a result in addition to the comic material there was a small section on Horta which was fascinating especially as many of his buildings were demolished in the boom of the 60s

As a museum of comic art, I think this place is hard to better. My only complaint was that the Herge section was closed for renovation but will reopen very soon to catch the summer tourist crowds who should not miss this gem of a museum.

So much raw material, unfortunately not a word in English, I got by on a loan English guidebook from the friendly staff. Also, due to my reasonably wide reading of European comic art I recognised artists and strips by name, which helped anchor the experience.

Still I needed to take two breaks to get through the lot, there is so much comic art there and if you want to properly appreciate it, much time is required.

The current temporary exhibition is centred around another key Belgian comic artist Edgar P. Jacobs who was born 100 years ago, his most popular creation was the post war series Blake and Mortimer.

The exhibition was excellent with much use of original art, sketches early drafts, guides for the colourist and most importantly a wealth of photographs collected printed material and handwritten notes which show the incredible detail to which Jacobs researched his stories.

Yesterday I had another go at finding this brewery that I had mentioned previously.

As usual, I walked straight past it the previous day, from the outside it is quite unassuming.

Inside is amazing, particularly that this is within 10 minutes walk from the centre of the city. Unlike breweries like James Squire which although brewing good beers are not independant, nor do they really carry on the traditions associated with the name.

Cantillon are truly a family run brewery very much focused on tradition. The place is an amazing experience, intimate and almost entirely lacking in any hi-tech stainless steel that has been the predominate impression I have received from touring wineries in the past.

The most stunning aspect was the huge copper cooling tun where the spontenanous fermentation occurs.

I tasted two beers, their basic gueze which is a mixture of 3 year aged and young lambic. I also tasted the raspberry (Framboise-Lambic) which was definitely the nicer of the two.

As a standalone beer, this is a difficult beer to apprecieate, mainly due to the way the beer is produced all sugars in the original wort are exhausted by the time the beer is bottled. This in combination with use of aged hops (which are not very bitter) makes for a sour brew which is worlds away from the bitter hoppy but slightly sweet beers we are used to consuming.

The addition of tart fruit, like cherries or raspberry in the later stages of aging really complements the basic lambic flavours.

I'd love to come back at the beginning of the brewing season to see the public brewing on the 6th November.

Also I was disappointed to find that the beer line I was most interested in was unavailable, called Iris after the marsh iris which is historically linked with brussels.

This beer, is made using pale ale malt and no wheat. It is also cold hopped, where fresh hops is soaked in the beer for two weeks before bottling.

All good reasons to come back and visit this wonderful piece of living history time and time again!

I guess I should have posted this earlier but... hey

due to last time I was over here, receiving calls at 3AM from work colleagues who thought it would be easier to wake me up rather than work out the solution themselves.

This time, although I have my mobile, anyone who calls it gets surepage

The only way to contact me is via sms, i still have the same number, but to get it to work internationally, drop the zero at the start and add +61 instead.

You can get + on your mobile by hitting # twice rapidly

Of course email also works, but the only mail address I am checking actively is:

firstname at olethros.com

I am thinking of getting a prepaid SIM and using that instead, if I do the number will be made available to all interested parties.

Well with progress on the visa front I can start talking about other stuff.

I've done quite a few "firsts" in Brussels so far, mostly of a gastronomical nature:

As outlined by Herge in one of his first Tintin books, the Belgians took an interest in colonisation and colonised (enslaved) the region of central Africa called the Congo. As a result of this, Brussels has a sizeable population of people originally from central Africa. In my wanderings I stumbled on a street which was the main marketplace for African food stuffs.

There I picked up and ate my first ever Scotch Bonnet, this is the close cousin of the Habanero which many consider to be the hottest chilli in the world. The Scotch Bonnet is native to the Caribbean and is used in a lot of Jamaican dishes. Very tasty chilli and one I'd love to grow if I had the climate!

Last night I also had a Belgian beer I'd been wanting to try in oz but as with most boutique Belgian beers, this has it's own unique glass and patrons had stolen all the glasses for this beer from the Belgian beer cafe in Sydney.

The beer is called kwak, and it's a lovely beer the drinking of which is indeed enhanced by the uniquely shaped glass and wooden handle.

In keeping with the colonial theme, last night I ate at an African restaurant and the food was quite different to the north African style food I've had a few times previously.

Had plantains (cooking or green banana) which were lovely, pan fried on the outside, soft and faintly sweet on the inside.

Still yet to try this Lambic brew though...

Well, finally some success with the Czech embassy

they gave me a form, which I filled out and found to be not the mini novel I was expecting!

I gave them my passport and the form, they checked it, made one change and told me to come back in 4 working days. This is cutting it mighty fine as I leave Belgium in 4 working days... but it should be OK, and it will cost €43 not too bad really for a multiple entry visa!

If like me you are a near or complete touch typist, using a keyboard designed for a different language is a very frustrating and slow experience

Not trying to sound completely like an Anglophile but some of these keyboard layouts seriously need to be redesigned to cope with the internet age. In Scandinavian countries I had to type an arcane key sequence to get the almost iconographic internet symbol @ I guess it's some consolidation that one of the symbols of the "New Europe", the Euro is just as hard to generate.

in addition, the :// sequence which is at the beginning of every URL is a bitch to generate on most European keyboards.

The solution to this is simple if you are using a modern operating system like Windows XP or Mac OS X and the machine isn't locked down ridiculously.

Both these operating systems allow you to change your keyboard layout pretty easily, then you just need to ignore the printing on the keys and rely on your muscle memory!

Out of courtesy to the internet café, remember to change the keyboard layout back at the end...

After yesterdays fruitless wandering around the major upmarket and touristed areas of Brussels, looking at the sights and more importantly looking for an internet cafe concluded with finally finding one place just near a major metro stop, which was of course "full" when I found it at around 5PM

Today, I wandered in different directions, looking for a brewery cottilion which is family owned, and brews a style of beer called Lambic. I've yet to taste this, but the descriptions have really piqued my interest. This is a naturally fermented beer, with no commercial yeast added, instead the wort is left in the open air for a few days to pick up wild yeast strains from the air.

Effectively this is the beer equivalent of sourdough bread and is one of the last remnants of a very ancient beer making style that has been supplanted by commercial yeasts or at the best yeast strains kept alive for generations like that used by Coopers.

In addition to this wild fermenting phase, this beer is aged in barrels like wine for three years and then blended with fresh beer before being bottled where the fresh beer introduces a secondary fermentation which re-fizzes the aged beer.

Unfortunately in my wanderings I found the right street but could not find the brewerey. Will do more research and try again.

Well another frustrating day, got to the czech embassy at 11:50AM and found them already closed for visas the bastards wouldn't even give me the form they had sitting right there to take away and fill out!

Ok admission time, this whole experience has put me in a bad mood and I'm considering bypassing the bloody czech republic entirely.

I have an irrational fear/hatred of forms, which I think comes down to my generally atrocious handwriting skills which mean that I usually need two or more goes at filling out forms. The tiny spaces to write in irk me, the obscure, terse wording of questions that made perfect sense to the form creator but not to anyone else drive me nuts.

well i'm in brussels now, and yesterday I managed to avoid two of my most dangerous addictions coffee and the internet!

Yesterday was also a collossal waste in terms of getting the things I wanted to do done.. which was mostly find czech embassy and get visa.

went to the wrong place, at the wrong end of the street and walked up the most twisty, poorly labelled street, started at house #1 and got to #555 about an hour later to discover it was too late and they were closed.

Research on the internet today indicates this is the wrong place for getting visas anyway!

oh well about to embark on try#2 and yesterday I got a chance to see quite a bit of this paris-lite, city.

The city of Oslo, view from the Akershus Fortress

Well here are some of the better pictures from vigeland park.

As I sat reading and drinking danish beer yesterday, I thought one thing that sydney sadly lacks are decent squares, there's a lot of factors counting against this ever happening though.

Instead we get the near travesty that is the italian forum in leichhardt. In their attempt to copy the squares and forums of europe, they forgot one important factor, evolution.

These areas have developed character like a tree grows rings, slowly. Watching generations of children grow up around them, become a living part of the city.

Other factors that count against sydney ever achieving this european highlight are; lack of deciduous trees, which allow the square to get the winter sun, modern safety regulations - the type that allowed a set of giant steps to be built in the italian forum and then get roped/fenced off due to the fear of public liability if some kid hurt themselves. Generations of children grow up running around the uneven cobblestone squares, plazas and forums of Europe

Oh well, the world can't be the same everywhere, one wouldn't want to travel if it was...

Well, today - day 2 in denmark and also of being 28!

last night had a bit of a hassle getting a place to stay, didn't fancy the huge hostels with their 24-72 bed dorms, so I went upmarket to the basic hotels, but they were all booked out, I finally found one who had one room left for 595 Kroner (AU$130), so as it was my birthday I figured why not splurge for once!

When I asked about why ever place was full, I was remeinded that eric clapton was playing that night, in fact i'd seen the sign on my wanderings earlier that day and it was literally just around the corner from the hotel I was staying in.

Exhausted by staying up late on the ferry trying to get into the part spirit then eventually just watching norwegians make fools of themselves, I decided to lie down and read the book I'd bought myself as a birthday present. Iain Banks - Raw Spirit (a semi travel book about single malt scotch) : My plan was to read a chapter or two, have a shower and then go out and enjoy the nightlife. Instead I got into the book and read over 100 pages before crashing for the night, oh well!

For the price thankfully, my accomodation included breakfast and whilst I was stuffing myself I observed that I was about the only person staying there who didn't see clapton the night before!

It's quite warm here and the city seems to be slowly waking up after a bigger saturday night than I had! So... I might just sit and enjoy the sun whilst sipping beer like many of the others seem to be doing today.

There are plenty of galleries and museums, including in true dutch spirit one on erotica, pretty much my first experience after stepping off the boat was to be handed a brochure from two blonds in their early 20s, looks like a bit of fun.

However, the weather is too nice to be indoors so I think the beer in a street cafe option sounds nice, maybe combined with a few hours bike hire later on.

Thoughts on Norway

After about a week in Norway, I feel a bit more qualified to talk about the place and people than before. I've long had a fascination with the natural splendor of Norway and the extreme metal of scandanavia, however ovver the past few years I have not been ignorant of exactly how conservative the Norwegians are.

They are a people who have been pushed extremely rapidly from a rural life to modern ways, combine this with their relatively late conversion to christianity and you get quite a different culture to mainland europe.

As for Black Metal, I now understand a lot more why such an extreme style could find it's roots there. So much is simply a backlash, and when the population is so steadfastly conservative, the reaction must be equally extreme.

It is obvious that despite the scene's worldwide recognition, locally it is still mostly deliberately treated as invisible by locals.

The outdoors is definitely in the Norse blood, which is good for them I didn't see too many obese types which is suprising considering that their obsession with america definitely extrends to their fast food!.

The men are quite goofy looking and I was continually amazed to see some tall nordic beauty on the arm of a slightly chubby, goofy looking guy! The men need to grow beards and wear their hair longer, as this look better suits their face, however of course they are too conservative for that!

The land itself is stunning though and it was for that and the extreme metal for which I went.

When I think about it, I keep coming back to the thought... what would norway be like if they didn't have oil?

Well I'm copenhagen after a realtively low key ferry trip from oslo. From the descriptions, I was expecting to have fun getting drunk with the norwegians who only take the ferry for the tax free alcohol and the weekend shopping in copenhagen.

The ferry was attempting to be very grandiose but not yet old enough to look hugely tacky. It was comfortable and although I booke da bert in a two person sleeper ended up getting it to myself which was nice.

The food and tax free shopping did little for me, but was adequate I guess.

Early on before people got too drunk for conversation, i had a lovely short conversation with a Norse couple who had just become first time parents, their little boy was only 10 days old, babies are always amazing at that point, so delicate. Somehow I ended up trying to explain the significance of Anzac day to them and failed dismally! I got the same from various Norwegians when I tried to understand what "maundy thursday" - public holiday on day before good friday was all about.

However, there were very few people my age on the ferry, mostly older Norse some with families. Also as I watched them get drunk, I realised how disconnected I was from their culture and idea of fun. They are such an ultra conservative lot, and they worship america. As I sat and sipped on my martini whilst watching these guys make mild fools of themselves, I spared a thought for one of my friends Nick who spent a while as a drummer with a cruise ship band, must have been a strange experience as the crowd really just wants the most popular ultra conservative music from yesteryear.

I brought my own music along to drown out the atrocious cover songs and enjoyed watching the crowd get deeper and deeper into their happy drunkeness

It is also strange to note that the parties started in the rooms, i guess fuelled by and early raid on the tax free shops. True we sometimes have some form of pre-party drinks in some cases when being social in oz, but the point for the Norse seems to be to get sloshed before you leave your room/house so you can avoid paying too much for the grog when out!

Speaking of prices, the grog was a little better priced than in Norway, beer was 30kroner for a pint, which is translates to a reasonable $6.50. They only had lukewarm pilsner on tap, and pilsner is definitely a beer best enjoyed ice cold in a chilled glass!

Copenhagen is so different to Norway, today has been lovely 13-15 degree weather with mild sun and warm breeze. The city is a lot less bleak than Oslo, with a large enough population to properly feel cosmopolitation. Like in Norway, the popular pastime is to sit in outdoor cafe/bars and drink dutch beer. However here it's warm enough that you don't freeze your nuts off doing this!

Coffee seems a bit improved, I tried my first overseas soy cafe latte today, asked for a soy mocha and got a pyrmaid chunk of dark chocolate on a swizzle stick which I melted into the coffee, which was a nice touch. The coffee was nice, but the soy was thin and watery crap.

Had a good wander through the streets of copenhagen and am amazed by the prevalance of cyclists. It's one of those things where veryone tells you and you go.. oh yeah so they ride a bit more cause it's flat! However bikes seem to be the preferred transport for many, and particlularly pleasing is to see so many women riding bikes, after trying my darndest to get an ex to ride a bike in sydney and failing.

Most streets have a pavement and then a second separate section for bikes, the area that in sydney is reserved for car parking really!

Tomorrow, I want to rent a bike and do some riding, it's a must seeing as it's such a cycling friendly place.

As part of my walks, I went to the botanical gardens which were a bit bare still being early spring but still pleasant to walk around. I also went to the museum Ny Carlsberg Glytotek which is mostly dedicated to scupture, with extensive greek, roman, egyptian and etruscan. The Etruscan section was unfortunatly closed (till 2006!) but the roman stuff was fascinating as this museum is using modern scanning techniques to uncover original pigments from the marble statues and constructing replicas that are coloured according to their findings.

I also have located the local hare krishna food place, planning on getting a decent and well priced vego buffet there tonight, after mostly getting by making my own salad sandwiches in Norway where the freshest vegetables and best range was to be found inthe small shops of the immigrant district.

Was hoping to stay at a place out of town, which was a converted millitary barracks and right next to the studio facilities where a lot of modern danish cinema was shot including dancer in the dark. Unfortunately they are all full, so I need to do some hunting around for a place to stay. Don't really want to but might end up in one of the huge dorms in the city area.

It's news like this that makes me glad I dragged my heels on some visa applications.

With the effect of 1 May 2004 the Republic of Hungary will apply a visa requirement exemption to all Australian passport holders

Unfortunately the czech republic can't be as friendly on this matter, mostly due to their high volume of illegal migrant workers and Australia's still quite bad foriegn policy in recognising these former eastern bloc countries!

One wonders what the hell our politicans do all day, when we get poorly negotiated free trade agreements with the USA and despite the EUs acceptance of many former eastern bloc countries on 1st may 2004, Australia still can't get with the times and ease the visa hurdles!

EU member states
Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands, United Kingdom

New Member States from 1 May
Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia

Today I explored the vigeland sculpture park, took heaps of photos but don't have the time to upload them now, been at this puter for too long already!

It's a wonderful park, and the scupltures are beautiful, vigeland was obviously infuenced by rodin but definitely found his own voice. The array of scuptures is amazing, particularly those around the central column.

Here are some of the pics from my fjord trip

View from Gudvangen
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Ferry Journey
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Fl�m Village
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Fl�m *Mountain Goat* railway
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Well, i've been away from oz just long enough to occasionally get rose tinted.

thought I'd list a couple of things I miss about Sydney/Australia

decent coffee!! Plenty of places here do half decent espresso, but nothing beats a soy latte single ristretto from campos.

dr who - i'm not going to argue about whether or not pertwee is good, fact is his era is my most fondly remembered from my childhood and I am sad to miss it.

flavourful and resonably priced beer! $10 for a weak as piss lager is atrocious!

David notes the appearance of security guards on the harbour bridge. This has been this way for quite some time now, at least a year. Until recently i'd cross the bridge twice a day on the train and look out at the security guards.

Not sure what started it, possibly after the bali bombings

Well decided some culture would settle my roiling stomach, so went to the national gallery and nearby museum. Both were free and quite good, saw the Norwegian equivalent of the Mona Lisa - Edvard Munch's The Scream and quite a few other works by Munch. His art in the period during which the Scream was composed was obviously a major influence on the colours and form used by one of my favourite comic artists: Dean Ormston

The museum had a lot more pre-Christian artefacts which was good, despite coming late to Norway - around 1000 AD it seems that the Norwegians are not very interested in anything that pre-dates it, aside from the occasional tacky troll figurine or horned Viking helmet in a tourist shop.

True Norway wasn't the sole home of the Vikings nor did they build a huge civilization like say the Romans so the archaeological evidence might be harder to find but they played an important role in history which the native population seems disinterested in.

Today, as I was not feeling great has been a slow but productive one. Plenty of internet usage and organising the next part of my trip!

After extremely expensive Norway, I need to plan a bit ahead to save some $$

Did some reading up on this concert I am interested in seeing in the Netherlands, will be interesting, from the sound of it I shouldn't be expecting the typical rock gig, they will be playing semi-accoustic and it sounds like a more arty event.

Cheap though at 15 Euros!!!

Well yesterday I did the "norway in a nutshell" tour, this consisted of a train from Bergen to Voss, bus from Voss to Gudvangen then ferry to Flm finally a 20 km trip on a private railway that brings you up from the bottom of the fjord to the top and connects with the main Oslo - Bergen rail line at Myrdal, a vertical distance of nearly a kilometre!

All in all it was spectatular, the fjords are amazingly beautiful with such contrasts, white snow, waterfalls down sheer cliffs and tiny settlements which manage to somehow farm on these steep slopes!

The ferry was half populated by a japanese bus tour, who mostly sat in the warm interior and chatted, letting such glorious scenerey pass them by!

I took literally hundreds of photos, expecting very few of them to turn out as it was difficult photographic conditions, I was shaking due to cold, the boat was moving at a fast pace and the weather was overcast so light was poor.

The only negative was Flm which is a tiny little tourist village, catered to the day tourist who wants to go there, eat lunch and then leave again. As i'm trying budget and not really into places like this - I chose to forgoe the sit down lunch and ate food i'd packed instead. Then went for a short walk around the nearby environs, which were picturesque and ignored by the tourists all inside stuffing their faces!

Later, when I was tired of wandering (and in need of warmth) I retreated to the railway office and tourist centre, where cause I was bored I tried to hack into the very well locked down internet cafe pcs there. I was very close to success (defined as free internet access) when I had to catch the train up to Myrdal.

The train was nice, but I think the ferry was the better portion from a scenic perspective. The main appeal of the train is the way it hops up the side of the fjord like a mountain goat, it does this by using spiral tunnels, bridges and at points a very steep gradient. So the appeal is mostly as an engineering masterpiece, and when not in tunnels the view is amazing!

Got back to Oslo late and stupidly grabbed a late night snack, not sure if it was teh late night nature or something in the food but it didn't agree with me at all! Still have a stomach upset today, so taking it easy!

Today the weather was much more typical of Bergen, overcast drizzly and cold!

So, perfect weather to stay indoors and check out museums and art galleries!

I saw one museum, the oldest church in Bergen (dating back about 800 years) a historic hall that was built for the Norse royal family in the 1300s when Bergen was Norway's capital and three art galleries, well three buildings but all managed under the one body.

The pace I set would have had some (they know who they are) harassing me about not apprecieating what I was seeing, going too fast blah blah!

I feel no need to justify myself or my approach and I would have done this even if I wasn't limited by the ridiculously short opening hours. As this is still technically winter, many places were either not open at all (like the Theta museum which I was very keen to see) or open for a paltry 3 or 4 hours - usually 11AM to 3PM.

Despite my breakneck pace and Bergen's small size - I missed entirely those museums near the uni district, which included the natural history museum and bergen musem as these had closed by the time I got out of Bryggen!

Realistically, though the only one I would come back to Bergen if I could, would be the Theta museum which is situated in a tiny room that was used by the Norse resistance movement in WWII until the Nazis uncovered them and shut them down. Now the room is a reconstruction of how the place was set up under the resistance. However like much in this area, it isn't open in winter at all!

Part of me is interested in the Fantoft stave church, but it too is closed in winter and the appeal of a meticulously reconstructed building that in reality is only 10 years old isn't that great, more of interest is it's history with the church dating back 900 years but less than 200 years in it's present location and being the key icon that sparked the majority of the norse populace's outrage when it was burnt down by black metal arsonists in the early 90s

The royal hall, was more interesting particularly for it's huge size considering how long ago it was originally built. Only the stone portions are original, the wooden roof and floors have been reconstructed several times, the most recently was after WWII when a german artilery ship exploded in the harbour and caused extensive damage.

Of the art, the stuff I enjoyed the most was some of the naturalistic / romantic period norwegian art, which is the point where Norwegian artists first recieved significant training from the leading european art colleges.

Some of the modern photography was also very impressive, especially that which utilised modern digital techniques like one series of photos which together formed a spilt second 360 degree panaromic shot and another series which seemed to be separated and printed on layers of transperancy to give depth and a filmic quality to the presentation.

If you have an interest

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If you have an interest in seeing more of the pictures I have taken, including all of the crap ones! Here's the photo album for todays Bergen photo session

This afternoon, I walked around most of the rest of Bergen, in particular I went and took a look at Byrggen - the old town of Bergen which is a world heritage listed area.

To be honest I'm amazed a district like this has survived so long, as any good fire would totally wipe it out. These Norse are historically big on their wood in construction, of course they did use a lot of stone as well but this old town which dates back a few hundred years is pretty much entirely made of timber.

I took quite a few photos, but in reviewing them I couldn't find much worth posting, the appeal to me lies in the rough hewn finish to much of the wood, the foundations built of stacked roughly cut stone and the narrow passageways between two and three storey wooden buildings.

In general Bergen is a lovely little place with cobbled streets everywhere and architectural elements that often hint at it's significant maritime past.

Tomorrow I plan on getting a museuem pass and checking out the small musuems that are dotted through the old town.

Easter is definitely over, with it being a beautiful spring day the streets were full of locals walking and soaking up the feeble sun.



This morning I went for

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This morning I went for an early morning walk around bergen. Mostly through the university district. Spring is just starting and the plants have a beautiful starkness to them, with new buds everywhere.





In the Woods / Omnio

Seeing as I listened to this album heaps today, heres a review.

I recall being played In The Wood's debut Heart of Ages by the friendly staff at the now long defunct Warhead records in Parammatta. I could see the potential but it didn't grab me.

A few years later, the same band produced Omnio, which abandoned much of the elements that were present on Heart of Ages, suprising me by how much their sound improved.

On the surface it seems like they abandoned all vestiges of their black metal heritage with Omnio, however if you listen further one finds these elements muted and mutated to better mesh with the whole.

Definitely an album to listen to as a whole, the strongest single influence is Pink Floyd and the general field of epic 70s prog and psychadelic rock.

Opener 297 796 km/s (better known as the speed of light in a vacum) begins at a rocking pace but soon segues into glorious strings. Testing the pop listeners patience this track clocks in at the 14+ minute mark. Utilising both male clean vocals and near operatic female vocals, which mostly form backing but play lead later in the album. Both vocalists have lovely voices, some might find the male voice a bit difficult as it's not as trained as the female voice but the small imperfections and slight air raid tendancies work with the music.

In keeping with the black metal spirit there are a couple of glorious screams littered throughout the album, the first appearing 5 minutes into the second track - I am your Flesh.

In keeping with the trend of the later black metal releases the album features top notch engineering with one of the best recorded bass sounds ever seen in the genre.

Like all great compositions the music ebbs and flows between differing moods and tones exhibiting great depth and emotion within each piece.

An album which grows and grows on you, don't give up after the first listen, this is a masterpiece of a release.

Oslo to Bergen, play list

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Oslo to Bergen, play list

In the Woods - Omnio - 3 times! this album is perfect for journeys as it must be enjoyed as a whole
Enslaved - Below the Lights, the boys are from near Bergen so why not give them their due
Ulver - Bergtatt, the first album to mix folk music, trolls and black metal. Perfect match for the scenery
Emperor - A Fine Day to Die, excellent cover of the bathory classic
Ulver - Lucantropean Themes, fitted in perfectly with the bleak snowscape where only a a wolf could survive.
Solefald - The Linear Scaffold, the first album by this two piece, written and recorded whilst they were still in Uni, it's rough around the edges but that's all part of the charm.

Well I'm in Bergen, after

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Well I'm in Bergen, after a lovely train journey that did live up to it's reputation.

Traversing the high mountains of central norway the train climbed to a height of over 1200 metres above sea level to a tiny little station that is the highest in Norway which was pretty much a step off the train and ski all year round thing.

Before and after this we were treated to the sight of amazing glaciers and snow covered peaks, it was lovely coming from Oslo where all one saw was patches of dirty ice/snow and deciduous trees to slowly see the landscape change to feature larger and larger patches of snow and conifers until finally at the higher points the only plant life was lichen.

Bergen is so much more vibrant than Oslo, which was extremely dead aside from the metal festival and the immigrant district which I was staying on the edge of.

Speaking of the immigrant area, which is mostly filled with Middle Eastern, Asian, African and Indian people who either immigrated in the 60s and 70s when Norway was in need of additional workforce or if they arrived recently they are strictly refugees.

The native Norse are in general not very tolerant of this immigrant population with a lot of xenophopbia being openly exhibited. Much of this is due to the impression that they bring down the overall high standard of Norwegian living, and definitely this area is more run down than other parts of Oslo. However they overlook the fact that until this population is accepted into society they will end up filling menial functions which place them closer to the poverty borderline than the majority of the population. Thus they will need to live in the run down and poorer parts of town. It's a self perpetuating cycle.

Hopefully this is changing with the upcoming generation who are taking advantage of the cultural diversity offered within this suburb to make it a popular nightspot.

Personally I really took advantage of my proximity to this vibrant area, which due to their differing religious beliefs were about the only shops open during this easter period!

Also, I had the great pleasure of watching a master flatbread maker at work, needing some fresh air at one point during the metal festival, I went for a walk only to be stopped amazed at the sight of a guy making pita bread from scratch through the window of a kebab shop. As I was looking for food anyway, I ordered a falafel roll, which ended up being the best falafel roll i've ever had. The falafel was fresh as was the salad. The bread was made in front of my eyes and best of all it wasn't drizzled with excess sauces that many places use to hide the low quality of the ingredients used and ends up making the whole thing fall apart due to the bread going soggy. My only regret was that I didn't get some onion (which of course was sprinkled with sumac) with my roll. I rectified that when I went back for another roll the following day.

The place had a warm and homely atmosphere with africans and middle eastern types sitting around chatting, enjoying the fine food and playing backgammon at a breakneck place.

If anyone ever wanders over to Oslo and is up late, Nesrin Grill & Kebabs is a must visit!

On my last day in

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On my last day in Oslo, being Easter nothing much was open, aside form one solitary kebab shop.

Needing food, I gave them custom and had the place to myself.
Was amused to note that next to the food and drinks, one could gamble! With a few slot machines conveniently available. This gave me a good chuckle, and even more so when not much later a customer came in and had a flutter whilst waiting for his kebab!

Reading up on the situaition with Bard (Faust), it's not clear if he has been released form jail instead he seems to be in a parole period where he is not technically free yet. As he has been involved with the prior two Inferno festivals, its likely he did perform with Aborym

After browsing his most recent news page, I have a lot more respect for the guy, his years in jail have really changed him. I couldn't condone his murder of a gay man who he claims tried to sexually solicit him in Lilehammer, nor do I agree with his role in the stave church burnings but he has grown up to realise his actions have cost him 1/3rd of his life.

For a while I had heard he was going to revive the band dissection with the also recently freed from jail lead singer of the swedish band. However he's now stated that he will not be doing this due to conflicts of viewpoint of the political and lyrical approach. I read this as Jon (of dissection) not having changed his national socialist and anti gay views.

This is a pity as if one ignores the political and criminal side, dissection created one of the most interesting black death hybrids around. However I respect Bard for taking the high moral ground on this.

Ephel Duath / The Painter's Palette

This Italian relase took quite a while to grow on me, and still isn't a firm favourite. One of the first albums released on the sub earache imprint (Elitist) curated by former candelight records owner Lee, this album shows Lee hasn't lost the knack for signing unique and new bands that served him so well in his years running candlelight and signing bands like Opeth and Emperor.

Ephel Duath hail from Italy and display many of the hall marks of this countries long standing obsession with progressive rock juxtaposed against a smart and deep understanding of modern eurpoean metal, particularly black metal. However the strongest element is their heady jazz background.

All things considered, many bands can claim this musical skill base so what makes Ephel Duath so special?

Firstly their approach seems less theoretical and more improv based, arrangements seem to flow rather than jumping chaotically from style to style as many in the genre of experimental extreme metal do. In addition, there is almost no emphasis on classical elements which are almost omnipresent in other acts from the loose genre. This is good as neo-classical arrangements often come across as a bit too much symphonic backing without substance.

Like early 90's pioneers Cynic and contemporary Oregan based group Sculptured jazz is the favoured tool for Ephel Duathl's form of musical destruction.

Vocally, the harsh vocals sit between blackened screams and hardcore punk shouting. he guitar work has a real jazzy swing to it, which is accentuated by a lively bass performance. Drumming is chock full of jazz cymbal fills, probably 2-3 times as much as is found on the average black or death metal release. However the prevalance of doubel kick phrasing is minimal, showing more reliance on a live jazz kit and tom phrases. Keys are used sparingly for layering only, never for the primary melody line.

Each track has both a name and a colour (continuing the theme of the album's title)

One of my favourite tracks is Ironical Communication (amber) which features a muted horn intro layered over excellent jazz guitar.

Plenty of clean vox and lengthy non metal sections make this album not feel extremely heavy to the extent that some tracks like Praha (ancient gold) have barely a passing reference to metal.

In places the syncopation and dexterious speed achieved by the drummer approaches drum and bass territory or at least the down beat amon tobin variant.

A highly recommended release for those who apprecieate intricate accomplished music created without boundaries.

I am planning on seeing these guys perform live supporting Katatonia in a bit over a month. The more I listen to this album the more this is shaping up to be a highly anticipated gig!

Well the Inferno festival is over for me at least, I didn't stay for the full set from closing act Mayhem.

As I expected, Mayhem were all about theatrics rather than interesting or new music. I've not a doubt the individual members are incredibly talented but they just don't create music that appeals to me.

I did have a good chuckle at the pigs heads on stakes, which lit up with a pyrotechnic blast mid way through the first song. The singer had the requisite corpse paint makeup and jewlery that doubled as weapons. They also made excellent use of the lighting rig and smoke machine to create a full on visual show.

At least now I can say I've seen Axel/Hellhammer perform live, which has long been one of my goals. However to be honest he looked so in control of the vast kit he sat behind that he almost seemed bored/going through the motions.

But I guess Mayhem pays the bills for him and has got him the name that means he is the most in demand black metal session drummer in scandanavia.

Earlier acts were much better, one act who preceeded mayhem on the main stage - Holy Moses were extremely good, if not totally my style. More importantly from a statistical perspective I can chalk up one more extreme metal band with a female lead singer who growls. Still can't name more than a handfull of bands who fit into this category, which is a pity as most of them end up putting out performances that leave most male extreme vocalists to shame. My personal favourite is still Michelle from Sydney band Tourettes, i swear she takes testosterone to get a voice like that!

Myrksog who closed the night on the smaller stage really impressed with their music along the style of old school death metal mixed with Cannibal Corpse inspired grindcore. They infused this old style with a norse blackened vitality and pulled off a powerful and tightly executed set for a three piece.

The guitarist/vocalist put his all into the performance, in between screaming his vocal lines, he would kneel down and hammer out the riffs with an intensity rarely seen.

Japanese metallers, Defiled who hail from Tokyo also impressed with their energy, but the music wasn't entirely to my taste. The singer had soem of the longest hair i've ever seen on a male, with it reaching well past his waist and ending closer to his knees!

Also on the smaller stage was a tight hardcore/thrash 3-piece called Forgery who were almost as intense as myrksog in their set. Despite not always enjoying hardcore/punk influenced stuff, I stayed around for their full set and really was impresed by their compositional skills.

Earlier in the night on the main stage was the under apprecieated Aborym who are one of the few bands that were willing to take black metal into new territory.

Featuring electronic percussion and backing that somewhere between industrial and glitch electronica, the guitars were low key and sparse. Vocals were delivered by Attila Csihar, who had previously sung for a number of cult extreme acts including Mayhem. His vocal performance was amazing, drawing upon a whole denzien of extreme and evil vox styles.

I think music this suits headphone listening or as a late night home horror soundtrack, it just doesn't work well in a mid or large sized live space. This sentiment was echoed by the audience who were listless and uninterested despite this being the most innovative performance of the festival.

Realising they needed to please the crowd, their last song featured a guest/live drummer, who's name i didn't quite catch but was most likely bard faust. If it was Faust, he would have to have been released from jail, the last I heard he had nearly served his 9-10 years for murder and the church burnings of the early 90s.

Regardless, I actually enjoyed the black/industrial soundscape more and will be making an effort to pick up an album or two later in my travels.

None of the other acts impressed much, in retrospect I should have made an effort to buy a ticket for the first day - as I was in Oslo (although extremely jetlagged), or purchased a 3 day pass before they sold out. I just organised this at the last minute, but it would have been good to see bands like My Dying Bride and Rotting Christ, although I am quite over My Dying Bride's doom/death style, particularly Aaron's vocals are no longer interesting to me at all. Nor do I like their move away from using violins and keys that gave their early albums such a glorious romantic/gothic texture.

faut metter le main la pte

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Maybe it's my hippy upbringing but I cannot understand our obsession with enriched and over processed foods.

Despite asking for a vegan meal on all my plane flights, the closer I got to germany the worse it got food wise. On the flight into Frankfurt, I had a floppy croissant plonked on my plate, and then on the flight out of frankfurt, a sugary highly enriched roll filled with cheese chicken and lettuce was offered. I dutifully asked if a vego alternative was available but got told that this was all they had. I laughed when a short while later another passenger was arguing with the same hostess over the lack of beer & alcohol on an international flight. It was 10 AM and she was trying to explain how beer was not considered part of breakfast/light meal catering.

I've been baking bread for much of my life, only getting seriously into the science of it in the past year or so but never at any point have I enjoyed the butter and egg enriched dough that forms the basis of a croissant. Yes I can understand how the butter makes for a wonderfully flaky texture but the same effect can be achieved by oil, avoiding the butter flavour entirely. For example, use oil, and add a little whole wheat flour, mix and fry as a flat bread and you have a flaky paratha, which can still be drizzlled with molten butter if so desired. What i'm trying to say is that I don't get why breads are made which hide the inherent complex wheaty flavour inherent in the flour.

There is a beauty to the simplicity of a rustic loaf even if it's made french or italian style with white flour. The magic occurs at a lower microbiotic level with flavours forming out of trace elements that are naturally present in the flour. No need for eggs, butter, sugar or anything else.

Even when I bake using ingredients outside the basic quinella of flour water salt & yeast, I try to ensure the key bread flavour is not lost. Take for example my beer and chilli bread. THe beer changes the texture whilst the chilli acts as a flavour enhancer rather than being overpowering. In addition the lengthy prooving stage is carefully controlled to bring out a depth or bread flavour.

Most croissants are made to suit modern shipping and shelf life requriements, as well as to stand up to reheating. If someone was to serve me a croissant which was baked with passion and eaten fresh from the oven my opinion may well change.

I dream of starting a bakery that becomes as respected and unbowing to modernism as that of legendary french baker Lionel Poilane

Arcturus / La Masquerade Infernale

For 1997, this album came out of the blue, although it's myriad of elements was not new, what was new is the way that these elements were combined and the drastic shift from the previous album.

Instead of trying to release another black metal classic, the band took the approach of making black metal just one part of their many styles rather than the core as previously.

La Masquerade Infernale is where the continuing obsession with circus and jester personalities began, by both the band and particularly singer Krystoffer "Garm" Rygg who now runs a record label - Jester records

Arcturus was foudned by the keyboardist Sverd and drummer Axel (better known as Hellhammer) whilst other members have been drawn from various big name black metal groups, which gives Arcturus the tag of black metal supergroup

By far the most grandiose (almost to the point of comical pomposity) release in the Arcturus roster, la masquerade sounds like nothing else out there. Large sections are filled with string orchestration, obviously arranged by Sverd he of the neo classical leanings.

Overlaid on top of this old world opulence is the always stellar percussion of hellhammer, who I am looking forward to seeing perform tonmight with his main band Mayhem.

Axel always injects an equal mix of technicality, individuality and raw energy into his performance with phrasing that goes well beyond the standard kick triplets, tom rolls, jazzy ride and hi hat fills.

As always with Arcturus the guitars are not the focus, which in itself is odd for a black metal band, instead the guitarist plays phrases that either echo the keyboard melody or utilise abstract pentatonic phrases to add overall depth.

The first part of Garm's later leanings towards hip hop, drum and bass and glitch/experimental electronica can be found in the opening half of track 2 "Ad Astra" where a hybrid of trip hop stripped back percussion and black metal kick phrasing is overlaid with string arrangements to form a relaxing 5 minute instrumental intro.

Garms vocals also add significantly to the overall sound with him almost abandoning the blackened screams that were part of the prior Arcturus album and also omnipresent on the black metal classic from the prior year "Nattens Madrigal" by Garm's main band Ulver.

Instead of the limiting black vox, he shows off his gorgeous tenor singing voice as well as taking his first steps into utilising falsetto, which adds much to the circus feel of the album. There is also significant usage of a mike patton inspired range of vocal effects.

Overall, this is a wonderful album, which in some ways reminds me of what would happen if the muppets tried to do black metal. The amazing thing is how well it works, which is the mark of the bands raw talent.

Well, day 3 in Oslo already. Last night was interesting, the jetlag I never experienced in Bangkok (only 3 hrs different to sydney) came home and brought the party with it!

I struggled to stay up till 11PM which was when Enslaved played. Saw a few of the other bands, but wasn't that impressed by them in general. Zyklon were professional played well and had an enthuastic crowd but their music (death metal) is nothing like that created by Emperor which is where some of their members came from. This in itself is a good thing, people need to evolve and try different styles but with Emperor now no more, they have left a huge void which I was hoping some other bands might take up the challenge of filling. Alas no.

I'd forgotten how much stoner rock took off in scandanavia, saw another band which were very competent stoner in the style of fu manchu and kyuss. Actually quite enjoyed them, although would have been nice to see my favourite scandanavian stoner act "mushroom river band"

Getting a decent spot for Enslaved was easier than I expected, but staying awake was harder. I spent an hour or so zombie like in the second row dead centre waiting for the band to come on. Members kept on flitting on to converse with crew and ensure their gear was set up properly, giving many false alarms but finally they came on at their alotted 11PM

Enslaved opened with "The Dead Stare" off their latest release "Below the Lights" which although enjoyable, but has never been a firm favourite to me.

They then played "The Voices" off Monumension, which they seem to enjoy playing live but in itself is a strange choice having such a distinctly kraut/space rock middle, after getting the crowd all worked up with a heavy opening to the track.

Following this, was the track everyone was waiting to hear the anthemic opener from below the lights, "As Fire Swept Clean the Earth", this had much better keys than the only other live performance I have heard of this track (the live DVD) the keys still lacked a lot of the reverb and depth of character that marks the recorded version. The rest of the music was excellent though, with the crowd going crazy.

I won't go through a track by track break down but other highlights were Ansuz Astral from their heaviest album Blodhemn. And the suprise but reverently apprecieated inclusion of "The Crossing" from below the lights, this is another one i'd not expect live due to it's length (11ish minutes) and it's frequent time changes and melodic sections. I guess the crowd like me was just happy to hear the track as we simply stood in awe and let the stark beauty of this song wash over us.

The new drummer was very competent, but they didn't play that many tracks that required the really complex fills, like Queen of Night. I was disappointed with the drum sound, the key drum framework was shared between all the bands on the main stage, each artist would bring their own cymbals and ancillary percussion. However the drum sound was too orientated on the double kick, which I know is the core of the black metal sound but many of the bands they had didn't fit into that mold. The kick was miked to mechanical perfection, almost sounding triggered but was mixed way too loud, at the expense of the midrange - guitars and toms

I was trying to stay awake for Sadus, who from memory are an old school thrash/death act but ended up stumbling back to the hostel and sleeping soundly.

Well, i never thought it would happen, but here I am in Oslo/Norway

Arrived quite jet lagged yesterday, wandered around the centre/city area trying to get my bearings.

Everyone told me these Norwegians are very devout, but I didn't realise exactly how much, I timed my arrival for a thursday, thinking I would have one day to organise everything before easter hit and the place shut down. But of course being more christian than us, they have an extra public holiday, maundy thursday. There went all my plans of booking the next bit of my trip!

So I ended up calling the brother of one of my close work collegues who kindly put me up for the night, which in this extremely expensive society saved me a lot of money and more importantly gave me a safe and friendly environment to get over my jetlag. Tonight however, I am staying just around the corner from the metal festival that dragged me half way around the world for.

In typical metal fashion, I am serverly under dressed but for the first time I can understand why some of these clothes are popular in the metal scene, they make some modicum of sense in this cold country.

Later tonight I will be seeing Enslaved, the band for whom I came halfway around the world for. It will be interesting to see what I end up thinking of them live, they do strip back the layering and orchestration for a rawer sound when playing live. Also, they have a different drummer to that from their last recorded performances.

Fixed some bugs with the

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Fixed some bugs with the templates on this blog.

Apologies to all who were forced to have their email display. I thought I had nailed this one months back but missed one occurance which was causing email addresses for those who posted comments to still be displayed.

I want to collect valid email addresses to allow me to respond privately and to help stop comment spam/abuse, but do respect peoples right to keep their email addresses off the web, so they won't be harvested by spam bots.

Well, I'm starting to get

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Well, I'm starting to get over Bangkok, well at least Khao San Rd or as I prefer to call it the backpacker ghetto.

Over the past few months my attitude towards personal possessions has swung very much so towards the negative, so unless they sell fresh food, markets are somewhat of an anathema to me these days. All those useless trinkets which look great when you buy them but just gather dust when you get them back home. I've become a much bigger fan of personal experiences, at least you don't need to pack memories in boxes and store them! So the idea of a large backpacker frequented area selling all manner of cheap trinkets and pirate goods is not really my thing. However as I am leaving the country today, rather than pay for another nights accommodation I chose to hang out in the local district. Lugging one small day pack around all day browsing second hand book stores and other vaguely interesting shops soon gets boring. Yes there's plenty of visual stimulation in the way of scantily clad, lobster skinned twenty something female backpackers, but one even gets jaded of this after a while.

My excursions to other parts of Bangkok have been much more interesting, the only thing I continue to enjoy is the vegetarian alley off the end of Khao San Road. I have become quite addicted to the spicy Som Tam (green papaya salad) and Black Sticky Rice with Coconut Milk, Mango and Banana served in this little back lane. All in all, I think I picked well in terms of accommodation, well priced - a lot quieter due to not being on the main Khao San strip and friendly helpful staff.

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I tried an Indian place just off Khao San and had by far the worst Masala Dosai in my life - they are supposed to be crisp not soggy! Plus had the embarrassing experience of trying to use the café's toilet which had a broken lock, was sitting on the bog searching for toilet paper (there was none! Yet another good reason to always carry tissues!) when a lovely blonde lass opened the door and took one look at my startled expression and rapidly closed it again. I'm pretty sure she was quite embarrassed (the whole thing didn't faze me) as she was sitting back at her table pretending the whole event had never happened when I left the place.

Today's posts have been brought to you by the letter A - Arcturus - La Masquerade Infernale, Alchemist - Austral Alien, At the Drive In and Agalloch - The Mantle.

For those of you who didn't catch up with me in the week before I left, I did something quite odd (at least for me) - knowing that was going travelling, I got my hair chopped quite a bit shorter than I have worn it for the past 10+ years.

The photo below is not excellent, but gives you an idea of the length (shoulder)

Depending on how I feel, it might get even shorter during my travels.

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Looking through the images on my camera, I noticed these pics from last year when I received a surprise visit from a friend Sylvia. Thought I'd post one, especially as I'll be paying her a visit shortly. The picture was taken in my backyard, which I already miss - was very sad to have to chop down/dig up the various plants that broke up the harsh lines of inner city living.

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In excellent news, UK based label Candlelight records (the label who gave early support to both Opeth and Emperor by signing them when they were relatively unknown bands) has signed the French one man band Blut Aus Nord for UK and USA distribution of their fifth album - last years "the work which transforms god". This release which I've reviewed previously is the first album in years to truly progress the black metal/extreme soundscape genre.

Candlelight Press Release

One of the darkest and most sinister releases i've ever heard it alternates between cavernous dark ambient soundscapes and mid paced but intense black metal, exploring tonal harmonics that fall well outside what the western ear is used to hearing.

With a US release scheduled for next month, I hope finally many more will be finally able to appreciate the glorious sounds this album explores.

Well, this is my last day in lovely Bangkok.

Yesterday I went wandering again, this time checking out one of the sex districts (Nana Plaza), mostly because I have been told that they are definitely worth a look by many people I have met here. I just wandered around, didn't buy a drink or see a show at any of the places despite much enticement from some of the staff.

And yes, they do put our paltry kings cross to shame. I wandered around one district early - still daylight and was amazed. The main complex I walked through was just chock full of places that primarily did live dance/shows, although I've read that recent crackdowns by the police have prevented them from utilising a lot of nudity in the shows.

Because it was early and the shows had not started yet, most places had all the staff sitting outside with hair dryers and make up everywhere. Very much like being backstage, which I guess is the point.

The whole place was incredibly seedy and I didn't hang around for long, reminding me of a trashed up gold coast - definitely not my idea of a fun place to hang out. However it was amazing how rapidly the quality went up once you got away from the sex orientated places, within a few blocks of the seedy complex I walked through was an upmarket western office/hotel tower complete with chain coffee shops and very swanky restaurants.

On the other side of the main road, there were the obligatory kerbside vendors selling clothes, trinkets and pirate DVDs, however most of them were deaf or at least it seemed so as they communicated with each other via sign language and haggled with customers via a hand-held calculator.

After this I returned to the different squalor of the backpacker district, where due to it being a holiday everyone was partying, including the locals who were even more friendly than normal, drunk Thai guys giving me big hugs of camaraderie and offering me sips from their big jugs of beer.

After looking down upon the leafy courtyard next to the place I’m staying in all week. I finally got around to having lunch there.

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The guidebook had highly rated the food there, maybe I didn’t pick the right dishes but I wasn’t entirely impressed.

I had two dishes, one was wing beans and tofu in a spicy lime, chilli, bean sauce. It was quite hot, i’d say 7 out of 10 in heat and quite nice, I think this might have been the first time i’d had wing beans.

The other dish looked nice, but disappointed - being a stir fry of vegetables and tofu served with fresh pineapple. However when I tasted it, it reminded me more of Chinese than Thai. The sauce was pretty much the standard Chinese sweet and sour sauce and none of the classic Thai spicy flavours of galangal, lime, lemongrass or chilli were present.

It made for a lovely and quiet meal though in one of the most relaxing settings I’ve experienced in Bangkok so far. Leafy shade, nice breeze and only one other diner combined to transport me away from the constant hubbub I’ve experienced since coming here.

In spite of my intentions of getting a massage, I ended up going for a walk in the hottest part of the day, which was interesting. I just wandered almost aimlessly, ending up in the nearby suburb of Dusit and rapidly found myself well outside of the tourist scene, which was pleasant. Feeling a bit dehydrated I grabbed a bottle of iced tea and sat by a canal cooling off. Seeing as I was one of only a few westerners in the vicinity, I was approached by a group of Thai men, who looked to be the equivalent of our road/council workers taking a smoko. The oldest, 62 spoke English very well, the result of a world trip in the year of my birth. We had a lovely conversation despite his expectations of my intentions in Bangkok being quite stereotypical.

After this I ended up walking to Amphon Park which contains the Abhisek Dusit Throne hall, didn't go in as I was under-dressed (despite the heat Thais expect people to wear long pants)

Despite being tempted to take a taxi back, I ended up walking and after losing my direction a bit finally found my way home to have a cooling shower and collapse for a siesta.

Today, is Chakri day - a public holiday celebrating the founder fo thr curent thai dynasty.

Today's post has been brought to you by: Unholy - Rapture, Salmonella Dub - Dub Plates and The Streets - Original Pirate Material

As one of the primary aims of my trip is to see katatonia perform live, I felt it prudent to give some of their transitionary albums a decent listen. In the past, partly as a result of my losing interest in the doom scene as I branched well away from metal I didn't even bother to listen to these two albums when they were first released. In retrospect I misjudged them, however they are not masterpieces especially when comapred to the albums that frame this period. The trademark blackhiem guitar sound is as always omnipresent, however on tonights decision the drumming is ordinary and the production academically dry Anders vocals show some of the later greatness but are way too whine filled for my tastes. Also the expirements with vocal effects are mostly not worthwhile. However some exceptions exist, the glorious track "a darkness coming" ditches the whiny vocals for a bit more harmony, with accompanying accoustic guitar. In typical Katatonia fashion, the bridge kicks the tempo up to a rockier pace, thus ensuring the song doesn't end up as a total dirge.

On discouraged ones, the transitionary style is less pronounced potentially because teh guitar sound is much improved with more metal edge to the guitar. Blackhiem has always been capable of extraordinary melodies coupled with unique phrasing but the transition focused more on Anders' vocals sometimes at the unfortunate expense of a well engineered and mixed guitar sound.

Despite it's slightly more metallic sound, Discouraged Ones is the perfect soundtrack for late night relaxation when one can't sleep whilst the mind is still racing.

Sigh - Hail Horror Hail
Musically, this album is all over the place and is probably why despite rapidly becoming a favourite, it's taken me so long to write a review of it!

The potential to confuse the listener is such that the band felt it necessary to add a mock disclaimer to the rear cover which is worded along the lines of "if you don't get this album then your brain is simply not wired right"

As with most releases by Sigh, the music coalesces around a core of distorted guitars and vox with a primarily old-skool rock/metal rhythm section.

This foundation is of course laced with musical excursions lifted from entirely unrelated genres - another sigh trademark. Add to this an arrangement style that seeks to emulate musically the cinematic editing process results in a distinctly unique blend.

Metal wise, Sigh are not that extreme, despite their early ties to the proto-black metal movement, it's only really the raw vox that draw extreme metal comparisons, guitar wise they play a melding of blues/thrash which is simple but effective.

Aside from metal, the primary influences is various movements loosely lumped under classical, with orchestral instruments and passages interspersed almost at random. Occasional samples are used to layer the music, but the end result is worlds away from industrial which would be the expected influence for a metal act.

Jazzy sax is also used sparingly to add a sultry air to some tracks, in a similar fashion to the way Solefald utilise the instrument on their latest opus. One track features Stravinsky inspired syncopation.

Lyrics are in both the bands native Japanese and English.

Aside from the main rock/metal instrumentation, the most prevalent instrument is keys which are played in many different ways demonstrating a wide mastery of the instrument both from a technical and aesthetic perspective.

Personal favourite is the second track with it's lycantropic chorus of "I stalk the night" I also enjoy a later track which features an unusually recorded bass sound that shows how to do DI'd 80's style bass right!

Holding true to my promise, last night I left the backpackers ghetto and travelled to bangrak to find some south indian food.

One can immediately see why so many backpackers stay within the safety net of khaosan rd and the immediate vicinity, I had little trouble getting to bangrak but then wandered for quite some time trying to find the small café listed in the guidebook. Eventually giving up I wandered into another place which purported to offer the desired dosai but was quite empty - if you discount the extended family who filled the tables until a "real" customer entered.

Initially I was quite concerned - the place didn't give much of a good impression but the food was passable but not up to the standards of some of that which I have had in Sydney. Ended up striking up a long conversation with an English guy who had lived in Thailand for many years. We talked about music and colonial architecture, he was a huge fan of mid 70s prog/experimental groups like king crimson and van der graf generator.

Getting back to my accommodation was a bit of an experience, I was tired and rather than picking my transport, let it pick me. This led to a hair raising tuk tuk ride through heavy traffic followed by being ripped off - charged 4x as much as it cost me on my earlier metered taxi journey. Despite costing twice my actual meal, it was simply not worth arguing over but reminded me of stories one of Michelle's friends had told me about arguments with tuk tuk drivers to get the correct "local" fee.

Today I plan on getting a decent Thai massage and checking out some of the other districts.

Soundtrack for today: Neurosis & Jarboe, Ulver's Bergtatt and a bit of Mars Volta, Katatonia - Discouraged Ones, Tonight's Decision, Sigh's Imaginary Soundscape, Tea Part's Splendor Solis, Solefald's In Harmonia Universali.

Well I have safely arrived in lovely Bangkok - wandered around the backpackers district and planning to head towards the Malay/Indian area later this arvo to feast on Dosai.

All in all - i'm impressed with how friendly and helpful the locals are, admittedly they are all out for my Baht, but I still wish I was staying longer.

Wandering this morning saw some amusing engrish translations - for example a "Gay Lord" Indian Curry house.

Had a great vego lunch in a quitet back street off the main backpackers drag. The chef was younger than me and quite cute/friendly. I had som tam and Massaman curry with red rice.

Music consumed today - Prefuse 73's Uprock Narratives, Low's Trust, Enslaved's Below the Lights, RJD2's Deadringer and a bit more Mars Volta.

A while back, one of my friends had advised me that when travelling, I should have everything ready three days prior to my departure. Wise advise which I studiously avoided. The morning of my departure found me waking late after a pleasant farewell drinks and after a fruitless hour trying to force various mainstream web sites to submit to my will and work together I headed into town to do some last minute shopping.

The previous night, after too many Beez Neez beers I had boasted how I was going to get up early, bake at least one final loaf of bread then quickly do some last minute purchasing at Kathmandu's sales before riding my bike to the storage unit. Fat Chance! All I ended up doing was the Kathmandu stuff.

After a relaxing farewell coffee with some close friends at the airport, I had a mini security scare which in retrospect is quite humorous. The X-Ray machine showed a suspicious object in my hand luggage. After inspecting the myriad last-minute additions in my birds nest packed luggage for 10 minutes, the offending object was finally identified! A brass tap fitting I'd thrown in my bag as I was doing the last sweep of my old place. Switching almost instantly from harsh security mode to the more relaxed oz attitude the guard commented "don't throw that away they're worth a few bob these days!"

The plane flight was uneventful - trashy movies consumed - Paycheck and Love Actually (which despite not being my type of film at all was chock full of some of my favourite British contemporary actors) Music consumed - Enslaved - Below the Lights, Sigh - Hail Horror Hail and Mars Volta - Deloused inside the Comatorium. I also got through the first hour or so of the hitch hiker's guide - original radio play.

Taxi ride to the B+B was amusing, with the driver ending up ringing the place on his mobile to get directions! Then driving straight past the place, luckily I spotted it and yelled out to stop.

Well the travel plans are rapidly hurtling to reality, yesterday I took my last load of stuff to the storage unit, got a bit teary eyed as I closed the door on my lock-up.

In a bit over 24 hours, I'll be on a plane to Thailand. Still so much to sort out before then and so many loaves of bread to bake!

Bags to be repacked, key decisions to be made - what songs to take on my iPod and such.

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