April 2007 Archives

Leaving Eden

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Last weekend, the weather was beautiful, the days are rapidly getting very long and spring has been quite nice over here so far, warmer than I expected, with quite a few lovely days, where the sky is azure and cloudless. It's actually been like that since Friday, and I tried to take advantage of this as much as I could over the weekend. Should have called in sick today as the weather is still fantastic!

Yesterday afternoon was mostly spent sitting out on the balcony (and later in the garden) following the sun, drinking whisky and reading a book.

I was also listening to a new album, Leaving Eden by Antimatter. This is the first release from Antimatter since the band split in half in 2005, with ex Anathema bassist Duncan Patterson leaving Antimatter to work on solo material.

The other half of Antimatter Mick Moss decided to release at least one more album under the Antimatter brand before maybe putting the project to sleep. Originally promised for 2006, Leaving Eden only came out a week or two ago.

I've only listened a few times, but the impression I have got is this is the most consistent and strong Antimatter album yet. Danny Cavanagh (Anathema) guests on this album extensively, playing guitar and piano. Danny's presence brings a lot to the release. However it's Mick's fantastic voice and great compositions that really shine on Leaving Eden.

Stylistically, it's less electronic, more rocky and for the first time completely lacking in the female vocal department. Mick's got such a great voice that I really think this is an improvement.

Having only just got my hands on this release I need more time for it to sink in, but so far it looks like a solid winner.

Lets hope Mick does not decide to kill off Antimatter after this release, if he does however, Leaving Eden provides a fitting farewell.

Marriage

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Just in case you haven't found out already, last Friday Astrid and I were married.

We've known each other for only three years yet we both felt it wasthe right time to take our relationship to a whole new level.

Unfortunately I had the flu on the day (and am still recovering from said flu), regardless it was still a fantastic day that Astrid and I will remember forever.

I'm starting to publish photos from the wedding, mostly taken by our good friend Kristin, although some were also taken by a work collegue of mine - Atle.

Also in answer to some people's questions, Astrid and I have discussed it and she won't be changing her surname. Right now we don't have rings either, mostly because neither of us are big on jewlery, this may change.

None of that really changes anything though, what matters is that we both said yes on Friday and now we're married! Once we both get used to our new status as man and wife, I'm sure this will be the beginning of a beautiful life together for the two of us in Norway.

It's interesting to contrast how radically different the approaches to the same issue are between Norway and Australia. Astrid and I could have picked either country to settle down in, and many have expressed puzzlement we chose Norway. However every time I hear something in the news about the direction Australia is going, my decision to leave Australia seems to be re-affirmed.

The case in point - the attitude towards file sharing, or in reality how the government balances copyright, intellectual property rights and not for profit private usage by individuals.

Australia's attitude shows that the government is happy to step aside and let big business run the show on this issue. Ignoring the fact that the same approach in the US has proved ineffective in halting the downward decline of sales for the record industry.
Music industry pushes ISPs for action on illegal downloads.

Speaking to my dad about this, his sarcastic response was, "how can we Australians have downloaded so many tracks when we have such crappy internet connections, replete with unrealistic download caps and congestion?"

One of the smaller parties in Norway has proposed a very different approach - which though unlikely to be adopted but will produce much debate and hopefully end up informing a sensible compromise. Norway's Venstre partiet suggests we pretty much declare file sharing to be legal for personal non profit use.

When it boils down to it, a creative industry like music can become a slave to business and this saps much of the spark and creativity out of the music. A country like Norway has an incredibly healthy semi-independant music scene, much more successful than it should have for it's population size. There also seems to be a healthy commercial music industry.

One of the biggest festivals in the world, South By Southwest has had a sizable Norwegian representation the past few years. This years event held a month or so back had about 15 Norwegian acts, Australia managed about 25, far fewer than it's 4x population should suggest, looking deeper than the numbers one sees that quite a few of the Australian acts are not new, they are bands that had their peak of successin the 80s and were likely included for nostalgic or "legendary status" rather than being a representation of what Australia is producing now music wise.
The experimental and art music scene is strong and producing critically aclaimed, well regarded output. Thanks to in part generous government funding. Then you have possibly Noway's biggest cultural export since A-Ha, the black metal scene, which is mostly handled through small independant record labels.

Contrast this to Australia, where our music scene is not great, we have 4 times as many people as Norway, yet we've been on a decline since the Australian scene peaked in the mid 80s. Sure one can argue that there's plenty of new music coming out of Oz, but it's not getting huge recognition or critical acclaim that either the current Norwegian scene (or that which was accorded to Black Metal).

Of course music scenes come and go in waves, Seattle was the hot place musically in the early 90s, now it's just another rainy city. However the right legislation to encourage small intimate smoke free performances and a healthy music industry (not one blindsided by the switch to digital distribution) were once both reqiured to nurture and distribute music. What will be the successful formula in the future? Have the music industry lost sight of the fact that people aren't keen to re-buy music that was created to be disposable in the first place?

Coda:
Maybe the Australian government is doing a little more than I expected to promote Aussie bands overseas, but I still think we are too focused on re-creating what was successful for us in the 80's rock bands. Rock is on the rebound right now, but you have to be a damn sight more interesting and quirky than in the 80's when it was how hard you rocked that mattered.

I think it's interesting the last line in the article - "For many artists and managers, the CD is now little more than an advertisement for more lucrative goods, like concert tickets and T-shirts." If this is the case, then should it not be free? Also what does that say about respecting the artistic merit that the CD is supposed to record for posterity.

Immortal Photos

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Photos from Immortal's 2007 reunion performance at the Inferno Festival.

Inferno Day 2

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Day 2 started in a gentle fashion, regaled in overpriced soy latte, the first time I've bothered to order soy in months.

Ended up having coffee with a cute Romanian girl who is staying in the same hostel room as me; she has consistently looked lost alone and confused - she seemed nice, and in talking to her as well as others staying in our room I have pieced together the story behind this. She and her Romanian boyfriend live in Brussels and they came up for a holiday, but he was not let into Norway, I'm not sure if he was arrested or just turned back. I'm not going to jump to conclusions, but considering how normally lax Norwegian customs are, this guy must either have a bad rap sheet or the Norwegians got a tip off. The girl though is very confused, she has her boyfriend's mobile, so he has no way to contact her if he's been sent back to Belgium or let go by the Norwegian police.

Saw some early bands, but missed the very first act Ravencult - an old school Greek black metal act. Enjoyed Red Harvest, they are a solid band, and had a really sizable crowd for so early in the evening, especially as they were a last minute replacement for a band who cancelled.

The next two acts were nothing special - Ground Zero System and God Dethroned. Neither did anything for me. So i skipped out and got some food getting back to catch the last song or so from Rotten Sound - who were a little more interesting, but I was focused on getting a prime spot for the later evening's entertainment.

Up next were Sigh, and after seeing them play for barely 40 minutes, I've decided that these guys are one of the few acts that I would fly halfway around the world to see play a full set. I've been a big fan of Sigh for years now, but held out little hope of seeing them live ever. I should have had faith in the deep appreciation of this band by those with influence in the Norwegian metal scene, this is the second time Sigh have been invited to travel from Japan to play Inferno. I'm hoping it won't be the last.

I didn't knew they had a female member, and that she played saxaphone. Nor did I realise that she was also co-vocalist and could growl really well. Mikannibal as she calls herself is a very recent addition to the band, but one that allows this previously mostly studio bound band to perform live a lot more. I thought the whole presentation was fantastic, Mirai (the primary songwriter and main vocalist) was stage centre, wearing a Monks habit and alternated between keys and vocals. Mikannibal roamed the stage like a wild beast really bringing out the best with both her sax and vox. The other three members belted out solid riffs, I was a bit disappointed the guitarist didn't really strut the stage as befit the uniquely killer licks he crafted.

Legion of the Dammned didn't impress at all.

Moonspell put on a good show and played a couple of tracks from their first album, which is the only one of theirs I like. The crowd loved them, particularly when they did Vampiria, which, whilst I preferred the other two tracks they played off Wolfheart.

Hecate Enthroned were okay, and not the Cradle of Filth rip-offs that I expected.

The finale of the evening finally arrived and I had to jostle for a decent spot for the first time in the festival, as this was the moment that everyone was anticpating the return of Immortal after a few years of retirement.

Abbath looked a little skinnier than when I saw him perform with I about 9 months ago. Apollyon was solid on bass and Horgh was masterful as ever on the skins.

Abbath seemed a lot more comfortable with the guitar than he had been 9 months back, he seemed to have been reahearsing steadily as his old confidence was back, unlike with I where Arve Icedale stole the show licks wise.

Playing the frontman well, Abbath joked with the crowd, stopping songs partway through to improvise or simply strut to stage centre and unfurl his pointy tounge and scowl at the crowd.

They played a good mixture of material, but definitely it was more biased towards the post Demonaz albums, which dissapointed some fans I talked to after the show.

Abbath also had some intermittent guitar problems, with I think his effects rack. His shin spikes also threatened to fall off once or twice, prompting some rapid adjustments off stage between songs. All this just served to ground and humanise a band that have rightfully been elevated to near god status in their absence.

In a show that was both minimalist and at times flamboyent, Immortal played for nearly one and a half hours, ignoring the published closing time and kept belting out great tracks for an unexpected extra 15 minutes.

There were some pyrotechnics and firebreathing, but nothing on the scale of spectacle that 1349 delivers, instead the focus was where its should be on three musicans belting out some of the most solid enjoyable Black Metal ever crafted.

Inferno Day 1

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I am surprised by how comfortable I am with Oslo now. Thinking back on how for a short while in 2004 I thought everything was going to fall apart at the start of my big trip.

Now I know my way around central Oslo, know where to stay and eat cheaply. Roughly which cafes have soy milk and all the important things.

On my arrival this time I realised the weather was exceptionally good for the time of year so I knew that the best thing to do was to find a sunny cafe and have a beer. Before I could do that I needed to dump my bag and go buy some victuals from the only open shop - a Middle Eastern grocer. Whilst in the grocer I was suprised to find they had fresh Loquats, one of my favourite fruits and a sure indicator that spring is here (or at least in Spain where they were likely from). It was very nice to have real fruit for once, rather than the tired excuses we normally get in Stavanger.

So after soaking up the afternoon rays and a few beers and coffees, whilst passing the time reading I figured it was time to check in at the hostel. There I met a young Aussie guy from Newtown who was pretty much doing what I did 3 years ago, only he was younger and a lot more drunk. I did my best to help a fellow Aussie, but he was really drunk and it was all I could do to get him to the venue and past the security. After that he started talking to another group and I left him be. Later when I got back from the gig, he said he could not remember going to the show or how he got home. Oh well.

Speaking of Inferno, I had a solid and enjoyable night. First up were Norwegian All Stars, a motley mix of individuals from well known Norwegian bands playing old school metal covers. They warmed up the crowd but it wasn't fantastic.

Up next were Trinacria, who consisted of half of Enslaved joining forces with individuals from the experimental electronic scene in Norway. I didn't know what to expect and in the end really enjoyed it.

Unspoken didn't impress with their straight forward death metal.

Next were the band I was probably most keen to see for the evening (and up there with Sigh as the most anticipated of the entire weekend) - Primordial. Based on a somewhat negative live review by my old mate Pedro Azevedo, I wasn't expecting much - however I ended up being very impressed. Sure some of the delicate dual harmonies got a bit lost in the live performance, but the mix overall was solid and the performance was fantastic - especially the way the vocalist Nemtheanga engaged the crowd. His vocals were only just acceptable live, but as a front man he really worked the crowd well. I was surprised at how much the sizable crowd enjoyed the show and they definitely justified their inclusion on the main stage. For me, aside from the actual performance, two things stood out. Firstly I noticed Cato (the drummer from Enslaved) made a point of watching these guys from the side of backstage and secondly, a Greek guy who I had chatted to immediately before Primordial's show came up to me after they had played "The Coffin Ships" and asked what album that track was from as he had to buy it. I know Nemtheanga has long standing friendships with the core members of the Norwegian scene, but it was good to see that Primodial really rock and impress both their long term fans and I'm sure cultivate quite a few more. Their shirts were reasonably priced and featured fantastic Celtic design so I grabebd one. I know that after their tour commitments are over the band are heading ino the studio to record a follow up to The Gathering Wilderness, hoping that they will continue the strong inroads they have made since that album came out 2 years ago.

Paradigma were solid for a band that haven't played live in 7 years, it's a pity their singer comitted suicide 4 years back, as they obviously have a lot of unfulfilled potential. Hopefully now they seem to be moving forwards again whilst paying tribute to the contributions their late singer made.

Watain were great putting on a solid black metal set on the cramped secondary stage. Their vocals were a bit strained, maybe the singer had a cld, but very enjoyable nonetheless. Great costumes and make up as well all added to mke a solid performance.

Suffocation were fantastic musically, but I found the vocalist not engaging, his onstage antics contradicted with his vocals, behaving more like an ape, but grunting out fantastic hardcore tinged death vocals. Being the headliners of the night, their drummer was the only one to have his own rig and he really impressed, actualy musically I really enjoyed them, just found them boring to watch after some really engaging frontmen earlier in the evening.

Oh, I went and grabbed a pizza whilst Zyklon was on, so my only impression was that they sounded great, just musically not my thing.

Three years ago, I began the Norwegian chapter of my life with a very long plane flight from Australia to Oslo, the start of a five and a half break from work that in retrospect began my saturn return.
There were a couple of reasons I decided to start my trekk in Norway, firstly - aside from Iceland and the Faroe Islands, it was pretty much as far north and west as you could go and still be in Europe. Secondly, I'd entertained a near decade long fascination with Norsk music. Thirdly, through the music, I'd fallen in love with a countryside and natural beauty that i'd not yet seen in person.

So, when the opportunity presented to start my travels with a metal festival in Oslo, I decided that was a fantastic way to begin my trip. In reality Inferno didn't live up to all my over inflated expectations, I got in too late for the 3 day passes, so had to be satisfied with only two days of metal, also I was severly jetlagged. What I did find was a well run festival that had a really good cross section of acts, I was seriously surprised by the small size of the crowd, especially considering the calibre of acts on offer. In retrospect, considering the population of Norway, the crowd was actually quite good. At the time though, I was really puzzled to find such small and intimate festivals and venues in the spriritual heartland of extreme metal.

In two short days, I'm set to do it all again - this time no jetlag, I know some Norsk, and most importantly understand a heck load more about Norwegian culture and have realistic expectations about what I will experience when I set foot in Oslo this weekend.

I was hoping to drag along some Norwegian mates this time around, but they couldn't make it for various factors, so it will be a solo, solitary experience yet again.

Last time I was there to see one band primarily - Enslaved, who are still amongst my favourite bands both live and on album.

This time around, the big advertised drawcard will be the return of Immortal from a few years of retirement. However I'm very keen to see Sigh pull of their strange Japanese blackened weirdness. As well, I'm hoping Primordial are able to recapture their unique atmosphere live. I'm also keen to see Dødheimsgard. Actually I think I'll be entertained by more than 1/3rd of the festival acts.

My only regret is that Negura Bunget are touring around Europe at present and they aren't on the bill. Having put out one of the better albums of 2006, it would have been nice to see them live without having to jet off to somewhere in the Netherlands or Germany for a day just to see them.

This was previously lumped in a blog entry that also talked about 2006 music I'd missed. As 2007 has progressed, I figure the 2007 albums really need their own placeholder, some albums will eventually get their own standalone reviews. So consider this as somewhat of a public notepad of sorts.

2007 Releases

Neurosis / Given to the Rising - Got this on the weekend, listened to it maybe 1-2 times, heavier than the predecssor, which is the only thing I'm not yet sure about. It's nice to see one act in the Post Metal style getting actually heavier, the rest seem to end up slowly becoming more accessible to the Post Rock/Punk crowd. The trademark Neurosis elements are all here though and although I need to delve deeper before making a conclusive statement, I think this one will be great, but not as long lasting as 2004's The Eye of Every Storm.

Crippled Black Phoenix / A Love of Shared Disasters - This is an album I came across whilst browsing around various music blogs and zines, seeing the long list of names involved, I worried it would be another all star letdown. The reality is that the marketing of this release is for once not completely overblown.

Billed by most as Post Rock, that uncomfortable label which really doesn't fit. It's an incredibly warm album - with the band describing how they aimed for a Victorian sound. This is achieved partly due to the use of muted strings and brass but also I'm sure due to Geoff Barrow's studio trickery honed to perfection on Portishead tracks. What it reminds me of is some of the best parts of the Post Doom/Death scene, those bands I prefer to refer to as Atmospheric Metal - who mostly dropped the screams and growls for a deep melonchalic atmosphere. I'm talking latter day Anathema, mid period In The Woods and Antimatter.

I've barely listened to this album 3 times, but I already like it a lot. Stylistically and sonically, it's right up my alley, despite my not having a solid interest in Post Rock generally. Musically, it's beautifully executed, tragic and powerful simultaneously.

Shining / Grindstone - Knew this one was coming out, then forgot to keep an eye out for it, in the end only getting a hold of a copy a few days before these guys swept into town on tour. I absolutely loved Shining's previous album - which sat narrowly between Art School, Jazz, Electronica and Metal, occupying the same space as acts like Mars Volta, Mr Bungle and Fantomas, but due to their scandic heritage straying closer to the Jazz/Metal side of the spectrum as opposed to the Rock/Punk. Love their albums, and seeing them live was great, however mid way through their gig, I was thinking to myself, one of the reasons I like these guys on CD so much is that they never drag an idea out till it's dead prefering to drop it and move on with something else exciting and new. Live, midway through their set however they comitted this ugly sin with a long drawn out improv section that quite honestly began to bore me, which has tarnished my appreciation for them somewhat. But this album is great and highly recommended.

El-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead - EL-P's second solo album is so far a little disappointing, the beats are mostly still strong, but the dense, verbose wordflow has lightened up a little, and somehow in the process become less exciting and rewarding. Maybe it's jus that the world is in a different place psycholgially than when El-P dropped two fantastic albums on us immediately post September 11 (Fantastic Damage and Cannibal Ox's The Cold Vein). Will give this album some more time, but feel a bit let down that this is all El-P could come up with after nearly 5 years.

Dälek - Abandoned Language After their previous album Absence, Dälek seem to have decided they are no longer interested in pursuing the noise barrier so ardently. This has resulted in a less abrasive release, but there's still a lot to enjoy here. I think Oktopus, Dälek's primary soundscape crafter is a real genius, managing to make music that is not so directly heavy and abrasive still have the same impact as music that is.

Rotting Christ / Theogonia - only listened once, enjoyable, accessible black metal with strong gothic/doom elements, I love a bit of hellenic metal by these guys on occasion. More listens will tell how strong a release this is, but so far I don't have any expectations aside from a bit of relaxing enjoyment.

Thee Maldoror Kollective / Pilot (Man with the Meat Machine) - listening now, jazzy avant-garde metal with some blackened influences. I've heard some of their previous stuff, so far don't dislike, but already unsure if it will become a fave - reminds me in parts of Norsk act Shining.

DHG / Supervillain Outcast - I have an early mix of this sans vocals, will hold my final thoughts till I hear the released version. Regardless is an enjoyable release - just seems to meander a lot, great musos though, little traces of black metal left - the drums were recorded more than 3 years ago before Carl-Michael Eide had his tragic fall which he was lucky to survive from - but unfortunately means he won't be drumming (at least using his feet) ever again, it's a pity as he had a very unique drumming style. WIll be seeing them live in a few days at Inferno. Looking forward to that.

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