Sunday, July 27, 2014

Game Over - Burst Into the Quiet

Shattering the silence

It's been two months since I've written... well, anything at all.  Lately I've been finding myself unable to review unless I'm making some huge grandstand or a big sweeping statement about something.  It's lame, I know, but it's just kinda where my mind has been at.  Blend that with a waning interest in most new releases I stumble across, and I just find myself at a loss for words.

That is, until I came across this random Italian band by the name of Game Over.  The bright green logo and hackneyed rethrash font already tell you exactly what to expect before you even listen to their 2014 album, Burst Into the Quiet.  The artwork is a lame throwback to 80s horror (I'll give them credit for not taking the quadrillionth Ed Repka ripoff, at the very least), the band logo is a lame throwback, the name is yet another throwback to a classic 80s movie, everything about this band is aesthetically wrong.  I couldn't have been less interested to give this a listen, but I decided to soldier on and see what they could actually offer before writing them off completely like I did for the last two dozen no-name bands I had recently seen.  Don't wanna be a grouchy old curmudgeon forever, ya know?  Oldnoobs are the worst.

And... well, it's exactly what you're imagining it is.  But, and I can't really explain why without going off on a huge tangent, but it's really good.  I'm sitting here stupefied, belching and scratching myself as I am wont to do, but in between the grotesque, cyclical bodily expulsions of mine, I'm finding myself banging my fucking head in a way I haven't done in years.  Hell, in a way that precisely zero thrash bands have managed to do in the last five years outside of Vektor and Gargoyle.  Even stuff I liked (like Pripjat and Essence) have completely lacked in staying power and even the initial burst of energy that makes thrash so enjoyable has just seemed... I dunno, weak lately.  Here I am, completely rocking out to Game Over despite it sounding exactly like the parenthetically aforementioned bands, and I find myself asking an eternally relevant question for metal fans the world over:

Have we actually forgotten how to enjoy thrash metal?

This is gonna be less of a review and more of a stream of consciousness essay, but I think the only thing that's really changed between the last pure thrash album I checked out months ago (which I honestly can barely remember, I think it was Sons of Tschernobyl by Pripjat (which I must reiterate is a good album despite what I may be implying)) and this one here has been myself.  I need to go off on a bit of a history lesson to fully explain myself here.  So please, hold my hand, look both ways, and let's cross memory lane together.

Stardate - Some time in the fall of 2004: A 14 year old BastardHead is rehearsing with his two friends for their first ever "band".  "Band" is in quotes because we weren't very "good".  We were three kids who'd collectively been playing for like two years apiece at that point.  During a break, the guitarist and I were probably trying to see who could say "fuck" the most amount of times in a sentence while the drummer was trying to preach the gospel of power metal to us two thrash freaks.  In trying to explain something, he slammed down his can of apricot juice (because there needed to be at least one drink that was exclusively for insane people) and strode to the computer to show us a band.  He loaded up Encyclopaedia Metallum, and one look at the website was all it took for me to fall in love.  A website with every metal band in the history of ever all cataloged in one place PLUS reviews and shit like that?  Guh law, that was exactly what somebody like me, who was intent on exploring the genre but not entirely sure how to go about it, needed.  The site was still young, so browsing bands by genre and randomly picking them rarely left you with hordes of inconsequential bullshit.  I would sit there for hours, just lost in a haze of fascinating clicking.  Learning.  Discovering.  Absorbing.

During this time, most oldfags probably remember who ruled the roost when it came to reviews.  Two guys you could find on almost any reviewed album you could find on the site.  Big or small, old or new, chances are you could find out what either UltraBoris or Gabometal86 thought of it.  And what were those two dudes best at, genre-wise?  Thrash.  Fucking thrash, that was the shit back then.  Thrash was cool, thrash was the subgenre.  Fuck mindless brutality, fuck flittery synths, fuck everything that wasn't based around the riff.

It's hard to imagine now, but back in that time, everything was about riffs and how fucking powerful or headbangable they could be.  Obviously every subgenre had its niche, but the biggest and most visible was riff worship, which obviously lent itself well to thrash, trad, and USPM.  Thrash was seen as basically the holy grail of heavy metal, it was the purest form of sheer aggression you could possibly attain while still working within the framework of the classic bands.  Death and black metal are their own things, but thrash is just classic metal combined with classic hardcore punk to create a completely new classic sound, and that was fucking admirable.  We worshiped at the altars of Overkill, Dark Fucking Angel, Sodom, Kreator, and even bands that weren't thrash, as long as they had balls (WASP, Virgin Steele, Grave Digger).  Balls, riffs, heavy fucking metal.

Now, imagine being wholly entrenched in that mindset when classic bands like Exodus and Destruction started releasing honest to goodness thrash albums again.  Imagine being there when Merciless Death, Fueled By Fire, Evile, Bonded by Blood, Municipal Waste, and all these other revival acts started cropping up.  People like me were fucking STOKED.  Man, thrash is fucking BACK!  This is what I and so many others wanted.  New bands, new songs, new riffs, a fresh take on the classic 80s attitude.  That unbridled fury and pompous swagger of thrash with a new injection of youth.  Yeah, it's cool the old bands were being awesome again, but they were undeniably old, it's time for the kids to retake the thrones.  Inherit that which was left to them.  THRASH CAN NEVER DIE!

And then... thrash promptly died.

I think a lot of people lacked the foresight to realize that thrash reached it's logical end around 1992 for a reason.  Most of the ideas were just completely used up.  The only way to keep the style fresh was to add new elements or change existing ones to the point where they were no longer recognizable as an inherently "thrash" trait.  Make the riffs more atonal, the vocals deeper, the drumming more frantic, and bam you have death metal.  Make it more melodic, increase the amount of skill needed for the vocal lines, and bam you've got USPM.  Make it simpler and bam you've got punk.  You can't change thrash too much or it becomes something unthrash, and that's why it all but disappeared in the early 90s, and it's the exact same reason why all the new revival bands (called "neo thrash" at the time) soured the metal fandom's opinion on thrash so quickly in the mid to late 00s.  So many of these bands found themselves trying to be either Exodus, Slayer, or Kreator, and that was the extent of their goal.  Nobody wanted to explore, nobody wanted to push boundaries anymore (ya know, the thing that made thrash a thing in the first place).  It's the same shit over and over again, dozens upon dozens of bands stuck to a formula that worked twenty years ago and steadfastly refused to mix it up in any way.

And I feel like it's because the sour taste of rethrash is still in the back of the collective metal fandom's throats that thrash as a whole is kind of looked down upon nowadays.  Perhaps I just hang with a shitty crowd, but thrash is seen as a poison to metal it seems.  Somebody recommends a band, "it sounds like riffier melodeath with a healthy dose of thrash", and somebody will respond with "a dose of thrash is the opposite of healthy".  I remember a time when that was the most backwards statement in the universe, but nowadays it seems to be the accepted position.  Thrash is for dumb neanderthals with no creativity, it's an artistic dead end and the only bands that seem to get universal love from the metal fandom at large aren't even fully by-the-numbers thrash bands anyway (like Vektor or Skeletonwitch).  It's always kinda perplexed me, because there's definitely acceptance for big, stupid caveman metal.  It's why Jungle Rot and Mortician have such a strong contingent of fans, why can't thrash metal get a pass?

Well, frankly, I agree with the assessment.  Thrash is essentially creatively bankrupt.  I outlined it up two paragraphs ago, you really can't change it much without making it un-thrash.  So this genre made a resurgence, presented very few new ideas, and fell out of favor in half the amount of time it took for thrash's initial run to become uncool.  So does that mean ten years from now we're gonna have another groundswell of thrash bands that'll stick around for three years and then disappear again?  Who knows?  The point is that rethrash died extra quickly, and it was very likely because of how few new ideas were presented, how lazy the songwriting was for most of the band, how obnoxious the aesthetics were, and just an overall changing of what we as fans expected out of a new band playing thrash.

But, here I sit, listening and rocking out to Game Over, and I can't help but ask why did we move the goalposts?  See, thrash in the 80s was consistently breaking new ground, but that's not why it was good.  It was good because it fucking sounded good.  It was fun and/or cathartic to listen to, that's really the be all end all of it.  The best things are enjoyed when context isn't needed.  You don't have to know how ahead of the game Judas Priest was to know why Stained Class is a great album.  You don't have to know how impressive it is that Iron Maiden released seven genre defining classics in a row to understand why Seventh Son of a Seventh Son is so good, and thrash is no different.  Do you really need to know how much faster and heavier Pleasure to Kill was than all but a handful of albums at the time to understand why it's so fucking good?  Do you really need the context of where metal was in 1983 to know that Show No Mercy is a phenomenal album?  Fuck no, you just need to listen to them and rock the fuck out.  The riffs do the talking, the energy propels it all forwards, the attitude makes it stick with you, that's all you needed.  Why now do we start asking people to be all high minded and make their neck wrecking riffs smarter?  Why are we no longer satisfied with sheer energy and riffing prowess?  When we start turning on a genre simply because we began expecting to be something they're not aiming to be, and generally never aimed to be, that's not thrash getting shitty, that's the scene getting shitty.

Now, I'm not saying we should have accepted mediocrity and let rethrash multiply like it was in a petri dish, there were definitely throngs of shitty bands that weren't even trying to be entertaining.  There were fashion bands like Fueled By Fire and Merciless Death, but we also had bands that were just bursting with youthful exuberance and let hard and heavy riffs just shine through, like Diamond Plate.  ACTUALLY NOW THAT I THINK ABOUT IT DIAMOND PLATE COMPLETELY FUCKING PROVES MY POINT.  They started off writing simple thrash songs with tons of energy, check out something like "Criminal Justice" or "Maelstrom".  Were they overly complicated?  No, not at all.  What happened when they started to get more proggy and technical?  We got Pulse.  When we start asking thrash bands to stop being thrash bands, we get even shittier hybrids that nobody really wants.  It took this random Italian band to write riffs so simple and so goddamn effective to remind me why thrash was so fucking awesome in the first place.  I feel like we stopped wanting riffs.  We wanted something smarter.  Man fuck that with dynamite, I'd take Sadus over Queensryche any day of the week.  Fuck off with that intelligent bullshit, we need to go back to understanding that masterful riff writing backed with boundless enthusiasm and/or sheer anger is what made thrash such a force to be reckoned with in its heyday.  It wasn't just that it was fresh and pushing boundaries, otherwise we wouldn't still have love for Slayer and Znowhite today. 

Basically, thrash got shitty because we got complacent and wanted growth.  Growth isn't a bad thing, not in the slightest, but we shouldn't try throwing out or discrediting an entire genre simply because it doesn't lend itself to such a thing.  We, as a fandom, need to remember what it was that made the genre so fucking powerful, and we should accept the bands that still carry that flag.  I love Vektor as much as the next guy, but Game Over is carrying the more traditional torch in a way that we've all forgotten how to appreciate.  I'm not saying ask for less, merely we should ask for something more specificBurst Into the Quiet is chock full of everything that made an album like, say, By Inheritance or Taking Over or Among the Living so good, and Game Over understood this so well that it actually managed to snap me out of my trance that saw me drifting away from a style that can scratch a very particular itch like no other. 

No gods, no masters.  We've forgotten what it was that made thrash worth listening to, and Game Over fucking reminded me.  Maybe they'll remind the rest of you as well.

No I'm not going to actually review the album.  It's good, that's all you need.


RATING - 83%

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Arch Enemy - War Eternal

I tried thinking of a title, but I farted instead

Show of hands, who listened to Khaos Legions

*crickets*

See, 2011 marked a strange time for Arch Enemy.  For the first time since the turn of the millennium, nobody gave a shit about the band or the fact that they had a hot blonde growling like a demon.  People had finally gotten tired of their shtick, and the grrl power fangirls and horny zitfaced dorks that helped propel them to superstardom in the early 2000s had presumably finally grown up and become a cog in the machine or touched a boob for the first time.  Arch Enemy is one of the safest bands in the universe, and Khaos Legions was their wake up call that they needed to do something different, challenge themselves, or even just fucking give a minute amount of effort in order to regain all the fans they'd apparently lost over the course of the decade.

Enter War Eternal, the heaviest, most aggressive, and most creative album they've presented fans with since Black Earth all the way back in 1996.  Those soaring melodies are now unlike almost anything I've ever heard, creating soundscapes that elicit haunting imagery and empowering violence.  The vocals have been amped up and given a huge amount of diversity, ranging from really deep, Immolation-esque bellows and high pitched shrieky insanity like Nattramn or Maniac.  There are little touches of brilliance scattered throughout the runtime that they'd never have dared to touch on before, like much more aggressive drumming, dissonant, twisted riffing, and a new focus on atmosphere above all the straightforward rocking.  It's so different from the uninspi-

PSYCHE! You didn't buy that shit for a second, did you?  Of course they didn't do anything new, they just replaced Angela with a younger and hotter girl and then wrote Wages of Sin for the sixth time.  Because of course they fucking did.

I gotta say, I may have thought their music sucked for the past fifteen years, but I did actually respect Arch Enemy for never overtly sexualizing Gossgow.  Amott kicked out Liiva because he was an awful vocalist (and if you disagree you're in denial), Gossgow got the job because she was a fan who loved those old songs, had a much better voice, and great stage presence and chemistry with the rest of the guys.  She dressed like a metal fan, she acted like a metal fan, she just simply was a metal fan and the fact that she was thin and attractive was just a peripheral thing that she and the rest of the guys never put much stock into.  When Angela decided to step down from performing, Amott could have hired anybody to fill her shoes, and the fact that he chose Alissa White-Gluz shows that I was wrong all these years and the band really does just want to milk the "hot frontwoman" card.  I gave the band the benefit of the doubt and now I look like a fucking idiot.  Take one look at the music video for the title track here and you'll see how unashamedly shallow the band has gotten with their image, with Alissa in this sexy skintight outfit with strategically placed rips and tears, moving her hips seductively and pointing at the camera.  Gossgow put on war paint and combat boots and raised her fist, White-Gluz gives fuck-me eyes and dances like a stripper.  Fuck all of you talentless hacks.  You wanted attention?  Well fuck you, I'll give it to you, it just won't be anything remotely positive.

War Eternal is, at its core, just another bland and faceless Swedish melodeath album.  If you couldn't see this band, you would never care about them; I feel like the band has come to realize this, so they put minimal effort into the musical aspects of their business, instead making damn sure they look good enough to sell tickets and VIP meet and greet packages.  The album tries to fake you out a few times, like with legitimately very aggressive verse riffs in "Never Forgive, Never Forget" and "Down to Nothing", and a few melancholic acoustic intros in the middle of the album, implying that they might let the vocals showcase their talents (I mean the girl sang with Kamelot and filled in for Nightwish, she obviously has to have some pipes) by moving the songs into completely unknown territory.  But no, there are just three songs in a row with a fakeout intro before going straight back into the old "Iron Maiden with growls" thing the band always does.  Alissa is relegated to hitting one note the whole album, and I guess I get it since that's the same note the band has always hit for the past several years and they clearly didn't want to try anything different, but it just hammers home how terrible of a choice she was for the part.  She has range, she has diversity, she has talent, but she's pretty and can growl, so just stand there and look pretty and growl.

I realize it seems like I'm letting the outside aspects of the band influence my opinion of this album, and maybe I am, but this is a rare case where such a thing wouldn't be unfair.  It all just coalesces into this giant statement that hammers home how hollow the record truly is.  There's no passion here, it's just eleven cookie-cutter melodeath songs with two pointless interludes and that's it.  It feels like nothing more than a necessary prerequisite for promotional photos and touring.  I wish I could explain in more detail precisely why War Eternal is so inconsequential, but really you could just listen to any of the last six albums and understand exactly why.  The whole album is full of passionless non-riffs and harmonized leads while a rhythm section exists in the background and some vocals function as white noise in the foreground, that's it.  That's the whole album in one sentence.  Potentially the worst part is that, like always, the leads are very, very good.  This is the first time they've released an album without the greater Amott, but Michael and the dude from Arsis do a fine job of playing off each other, widdly weeing away very frequently and almost always with exciting results.  It's such a shame that a talented player can be such an atrocious writer, because as soon as he sits down to write anything that doesn't sound like it could be played on a breezy mountaintop complete with sweeping crane shots of his hair blowing in the wind, he presents one of three inconsequential riffs and seven of nine Iron Maiden melodies layered on top.  With the exception of some (admittedly pretty neat) synths in "Time is Black" and "Avalanche", every single song follows the same template with the same key and same tempo and same theme and same everything.

War Eternal is just uncreative and uninteresting and that's really the beginning and end of it.  One aggressive riff and one synth line don't make up for the other nine songs of pointless filler, recycled melodies, and uninspired vocal lines.  It's melodeath-by-numbers and I can guaran-goddamn-tee you that once I press the "publish" button, I'm never going to listen to this again.  It's a pointless nothing-album that inspires no emotion other than all encompassing boredom.  There's nothing worthwhile to be found here and all but the most diehard fans of the band are going to find nothing to warrant more than one curious listen.  And the band has shown time and time again that they really have no intention of injecting these new hook focused songs with the dark splendor of the older songs, despite that being essentially the only thing the band could logically do at this juncture to make themselves interesting again from a musical standpoint. 


RATING - 15%

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Destrose - Destrose

(づ。◕‿‿◕。)づ

I am a man who likes manly things.  In my free time, I like to chop down trees and oil my beard (which is approaching three feet in length).  I chew on car tires because it helps strengthen  my jaws, which is imperative when I participate in my bi-weekly bear wrestling matches.  Those fuckers may be strong and fierce, but it doesn't matter what species you are, a bite to the nipple is a bite to the nipple regardless.  There are no real rules in underground bear wrestling circuits, it may seem like a dirty tactic, but there's no honor where your opponents are concerned, believe me.

And amidst all the grime and bear blood and Motorhead, there's Destrose, the cutest fucking thing I've ever seen.

I've long stopped caring about the outside perspective on my taste in music, and it's that kind of detached apathy that is almost required before delving into a group like Destrose.  I've voiced my love of sugary Japanese power metal in the past, and Destrose's self titled first album is no exception, but unlike... say, Light Bringer, this is more than just sugary or light.  This shit is... just... fucking cute.  I don't know any other way to describe it, just look at the band members!  They're all dressed like Rozen Maiden characters and have the most innocent faces I've ever seen, I had no choice but to fall in love at first sight.  I want to buy all of them ice cream.

But pushing the obvious gimmick aside, this is an alleged metal album, right?  Therefore, the music should be the focus, and it's clear from looking at the album cover that the aesthetics definitely came first with Destrose.  Well... actually, I don't know how true that is, because the music contained is actually really, really good.  I don't mean solely in the realm of giggly J-pop, because of course anything with heavy guitars would stand out (why do you think Baby Metal has been making such waves lately?), I mean standing alone as a heavy metal album, Destrose does an extraordinarily great job of letting the music stand on its own merits.  You're not going to find any riffs as brilliant as on Don't Break the Oath or something, but everything here ranges from serviceable to great, and then amps everything up with a massive jolt of energy.  For a band so clearly designed as a marketing gimmick, it really shouldn't even be allowed to be this strong.

Like most heavy/power metal, the melodies are the main attraction here.  That's not to say the rhythm section isn't impressive, but they don't stand out nearly as much as the subtle keys and soaring guitar lines.  The vocals are a huge draw as well, but if you take them away, there's nothing that would clue you in to the band's image or country of origin.  Really, these riffs can get surprisingly dirty (check "Sword of Avenger", "Lifer 13" or "Hakai no Bara"), and there are big heaps of punkish aggression peeking through select songs, especially near the end of the album.  Overall the band leans more towards the "heavy" side of "heavy/power metal", and it helps set them apart from the countless Nightwish clones of the world who think that a pretty voice can only be accompanied with light, easy to listen to music.  The shredding solos sprinkled liberally across the duration are another huge plus for any fan of metal in general, as it keeps any given section from growing dull and shows that Mina has got some chops to go alone with that adorable visage.

I'm doing my damnedest not to keep mentioning the band's image or stereotypes associated with their country of origin, but dammit it's just too much of an elephant in the room to avoid.  The vocals are very much that style of saccharine-smooth giggliness you would normally associate with J-pop, so even though the music is 100% hard and heavy, her voice will almost always be involuntarily knocking your mind back into that sparkly mindset that you really should do everything in your power to avoid.  Despite that, she's still a damn good vocalist, with some killer range and a totally wicked vibrato.  She has a shitload of control over such a powerful wail, and it's very impressive.  It helps that her technical skill meshes so brilliantly with the music on hand.  In another universe, Doro Pesch could be behind this album with very little changes (maybe a little less keys and a dirtier tone), but this girl instead commands your attention with a very clean, precise, and voluminous wail.  Hell, she even gets in some Doro-esque snarliness on the "Hakai no Bara", so she's not only impressive and ear catching, but sports some unexpected variety as well.

Overall Destrose is an album that could (and likely will) be defined by western audiences by its gimmick of populating the band with the five most adorable women in Japan, but in a just world, the sharp hooks and catchy choruses would propel the music past the far too easy to criticize image.  Alas, it's a very solid heavy metal album with a thin veneer of melodic power metal looming over the traditional riffage.  It's admittedly a very niche sound it's catering to, but apparently I have just enough of the spirit of a little girl to be totally into it.

Also the bassist and drummer are so fucking cute I just wanna hug them and aaaaaaahhhhhh!


RATING - 85%

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Iron Reagan - Spoiled Identity

I'm a slow writer

Obviously, this is gonna be a short one, I've only got so much to work with here.

But it's all so goddamned awesome.

Really, Spoiled Identity is the latest EP from the crossover supergroup and contenders for the Best Band Name Ever award, Iron Reagan.  Sporting thirteen tracks and clocking in at a whopping five whole minutes, this whole ordeal just never takes its foot off the gas.  And, in a testament to how blistering and straightfoward and to-the-point the whole album is.  I'm gonna do something a little different, something to give y'all some insight as to how I write reviews.  After this next sentence, I'm going to finish this review in the time it takes for this EP to finish.  In five minutes, the rest of it will be done.

START THE TIMER!

Basically if you were a fan of Municipal Waste's first full length, Waste 'em All, you're gonna find more of the same here, with some added punkiness ala M.O.D. and the other assorted acronyms you all know so well.  Foresta's vocals are at their most vicious here, with the lyrics being as inconsequential as always, if steeped in politics and violence like always.  Really, this is just the logical continuation of Worse than Dead, so if you dug that album as much as I did, you're going to be more than satisfied with Spoiled Identity.  In fact, I'm blown away that what is essentially a collection of throwaway microsongs can still end up being so intense, memorable, and well executed.  I mean really, only three songs are longer than thirty seconds, with one of them (the best one, "Cops Don't Like Me") having a nine second sample to start it off.

There's a surprising amount of variety here, from the hyperblasting one-note insanity of "Your Kid's an Asshole", to the deep death metal vocal stylings of "I Spit on Your Face/Grave", and the punky melody of "Cops Don't Like Me".  It's a five minute burst of thrash/punk insanity and there's only so much that can logically be said about it.

Time's up, album's over, it's great, go get it, it's free.


RATING - 93%

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Tuomas Holopainen - The Life and Times of Scrooge

Suck Tales! A-WOO-OO!

This can't be real...

No seriously, this is like, a Simpsons joke come to life, right?  This is shit you'd find in the Achewood Underground.  There exists, in this universe that you and I both occupy, an album, brought to you by the creepy dude from Nightwish who keeps whacking off to Disney movies and kicking pretty cougars out of his band when they won't blow him, an hour long symphonic album based off of motherfucking Scrooge McDuck.  Like... did the guyliner seep into Tuomas's bloodstream and poison him enough to make him completely shit-tits bonkers but not enough to mercifully kill him?  I mean, I just keep stuttering and using far too many commas and run on sentences here because my brain is just still struggling to process the colorful disaster in front of me and I just what.

But do you want to know what the worst part is?  The absolutely, indisputably, irreversably worst part about Music Inspired by the Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck; Written and Produced by This Really Fucking Unnecessarily Long Title?  This is going to sound crazy, but you know exactly the kind of over-the-top cornball nonsense you imagine when you hear that the MILF Hunter from Nightwish was making an album about the fucking grouchy old codger from Duck Tales?  Yeah, this album has none of that.  I mean come on, are you fucking serious?  With a premise so goddamn ridiculous as Scrooge McDuck and his epic adventures before Donald had to join the navy and leave those three shitty kids in the care of the neglectful dickhead and produce the defining ohrwurm of late 80s/early 90s children, this should be much more stupid.  I know, I can't believe BH is knocking an album for not being as dumb as he expected, but really, this album doesn't even have the balls to be as utterly fucknuts wrong as the premise leads you to believe.

Maybe I just had my mind so set on hating and berating this from the instant I heard about it that the fact that it's actually decent is just pissing me off and my brain is just twisting logic to fit my prejudice?  I wouldn't say so, considering it's bad in just an entirely different way.  Yeah, I fully expected this to be an overly bombastic chili con queso, but instead it's just a goddamn snoozefest.  This is essentially the sound of Nightwish with all of the traditional rock elements removed.  You expected this to sound like the poppy shipwreck of post-Wishmaster stuff?  Not today, homeboy.  You get none of those stupid singalong moments, nor any of the kitchen-sink ballyhoo that you'd expect when Tuomas would get full control of a project.  No, this is just relaxed, symphonic lullaby music through and through.  It's lame as fuck because the mood just never changes.  "Glasgow 1877" starts off with a dreamy, sweeping epicism that brings visions of a magic carpet ride over Agrabah, and then for the next hour you're treated to that exact same theme.  It's just so goddamn dull, who the hell thought an orchestral album with absolutely no progression would be a worthwhile endeavor?  It's why metal songs need bridges, hooks, solos, fucking anything to keep it from sticking to one riff throughout the entire album, otherwise you'll end up with Six Feet Under.

And yeah, pointing out specific tracks for anything is kinda pointless since this whole thing is just one uninteresting blur of calm strings and pleasant piano.  I'm not gonna knock this for not being particularly daring or adventurous in of itself (I mean you should have know that Tuomas wasn't going to break any barriers here), but when the theme, as retarded as it is, is based on the adventures of a specific character, I shouldn't feel like I'm taking a dull sightseeing tour instead of embarking on journeys to ancient lands with the guy.  I guess it's nice lullaby music, but the whole experience is so static and bland that it just ends up being a waste of time to listen to.

On one hand, I know I'm probably being unfair for expecting this album to be something it isn't, and Tuomas clearly put his heart into this, but on the other hand it's just so fucking aggravating and uneventful that I still feel justified in hating it.  Nothing ever seems to move anywhere, each track begins and ends on the same note and everything in between is completely inconsequential.  This is an album full of nothing, just bursting at the seams with dead air.  Nothing on it sounds bad, all the instruments sound just fine and are arranged in ways that aren't confusing or anything, the female vocals are gorgeous and soothing and the male vocals are... well kinda shitty, but that's really the only technical aspect I can say sucks.  Everything else is just... there.  It's ten ballads in a row with no sense of adventure or loss or excitement or sorrow or anything.  It's a completely emotionless hollow of nothing.  And believe me, even if you hate Nightwish, at least something happens with that band.  It might be terrible, but it elicits some sort of emotional response out of you.  I can't see anybody even vehemently hating this, and the only reason it's getting a really low score has more to do with the absence of anything good as opposed to the abundance of anything bad.

There's no real ending to this review.  I could say it's symbolic because there's no real end to the album, since it just kinda putters out as weakly as it starts, but really I can just chalk this one up to laziness and a lack of anything worthwhile to say.  I wrote this purely because I thought my title was funny, fuck you.


RATING - 15%

Saturday, April 5, 2014

An Evening with The Bastard: Jon Macak (ex-Diamond Plate)

Longtime readers of mine know that I shifted from a throne atop the mighty penis of Chicagoan thrashers, Diamond Plate, to a spot in the gutter, silently cursing them as they flew away.  What that basically means is that I was a gigantic fucking fan of the band before they just suddenly started to get worse and worse, with Generation Why? being a huge disappointment to me, and Pulse being so brain numbingly dull/stupid that I've only been able to listen through two or three times.  The apex of my frustration with the band was likely reached when founding member, Jon Macak, was suddenly and mysteriously replaced with the unknown Matt Ares, another young guy with a much worse voice and completely bland delivery.  Recently, it dawned on me that Macak likely didn't hightail it to Istanbul after his time in Diamond Plate finished, so I took it upon myself to track him down.  After a few years, he finally relented and agreed to sit down with me for a spell on the condition that I stop throwing rocks at his car.  What follows is the surprisingly unsexy encounter.


I used the old logo because fuck you that's why


BastardHead: Well I suppose the logical place to start would be: the metal fandom hasn't heard much from you since 2012. What have you been doing since your departure from Diamond Plate? Any new projects on the horizon we can look forward to?

Jon Macak: Well mostly I've been keeping my ear to the ground waiting for the right opportunity to present itself while continuing to get better at what I do. I did not want to jump into anything unless I knew it was worthwhile and unfortunately that took about a year and a half. So I do have something coming up but as of now that information is classified!

BH: You tease! Can you at least throw us a bone in the sense like... is it gonna be along the lines of what we know you for or is it gonna be a different direction than thrash? Or is the answer still "shut up and wait", haha.

JM: Well its a little early to pin it down into any subgenres, but it's heavy and I enjoy what's been done so far. I think that's about as far as I'll go, so shut up and wait! 

BH: I'm a patient man, thankfully. I suppose I should just get the elephant in the room out of the way early. Your departure from Diamond Plate really caught a lot of fans off guard, including myself. Was that a decision that you kind of knew was coming down the pipeline, or was it as much of a shock to you as it was to us? 

JM: Well I certainly do my best to avoid drama, but to me there's nothing wrong with being honest. It was the biggest shock of my life. I pride myself on being very self aware and mindful of what is happening around me and I had absolutely no idea that it was coming.

BH: Any particular reason as to why? The press release had a vague mention of "musical differences", so would it be safe to assume that since Pulse wound up being much more experimental and proggy that the other guys were pushing for that direction and you were aiming to keep it more straightforward and heavy?  

JM: That would be the most obvious thing that you could draw from such a broad statement. In reality I would say "musical differences" is pretty far off from what the problem actually was. I won't get too far into the details but if I had to summarize everything I would chalk it up to a disrespectful lack of communication and understanding on their end in combination with me being a bit too trusting and naïve. 

BH: I can feel ya there, it's never good to have that surprise launched on you. Well working backwards from there, I personally didn't like Generation Why? NEARLY as much as the preceding demo and EP. I felt like the youthful exuberance was traded in for a more calculated precision, and I felt like the music suffered for it. Now obviously you guys were all very proud of the record at the time, but now that a few years have gone by, is there anything you would have changed about the process or the end result if you could do it all again? Or do you still think it holds up to the vision you guys had at the time? 

JM: We worked extremely hard on it, and to me it was our best effort up to that time. Obviously there's no debating it because you (and others) undeniably got things from the EPs that you did not get from the full length. Looking back on it, however, It doesn't excite me the way it did when we were working on it. We absolutely put our all into it and did our best, but the songwriting for the most part just wasn't anything exceptional. Personally I was ok with that because I felt like that was the best we could do while being so young and inexperienced and that the knack for songwriting would be the next step in the progression of the band. In hindsight I always thought, "ok, the first album had some moments but the next one is really going to be on another level". 

And there's another aspect that makes writing music such a delicate process. A lot of people loved the EPs, and they will always have some charm in my opinion, but we were hell bent on what we considered "getting better" but some of the fans didn't perceive it the same way.

BH: I thought you guys already had quite a knack for songwriting myself. "Relativity" is a beast of a track. Was there any one member who was sort of "the leader" when it came to the songwriting process? Or were most of the songs written by committee? Simply jamming on some riffs and letting the songs go naturally or were they planned out ahead of time?

JM: We were always together when we wrote, everyone was free to make suggestions. Based on our history and personalities I usually conceded to Jim and Konrad for quite a few reasons. There were times when we were young that I tried to be more proactive in the creative process and did not get the type of warm responses that I'd hoped for. I think that caused me to be a bit more self conscious and tentative with presenting my ideas. And on top of that it seemed to me that the other guys cared more about being in control than I did so I was comfortable with the fact that my best role would be to let them do most of the talking and contribute with little tweaks here and there when I knew that I had a really good idea. That was with the instrumental side of things, lyrics were a more independent process. I wrote a good amount of them, Konrad wrote a good amount, and Jim wrote some too.   

BH: So I personally first saw you guys open for Destruction in Mokena back five years ago, and your stage presence and energy just blew me away. After that I caught every show I could, and as such I watched you guys grow and mature and move on to bigger shows and stages. Since you have experience with doing a real North American tour, would you say that was more exciting for you than trying to prove yourselves against legends like Overkill and Sanctuary? Or was it more fun for you guys to be the underdog with the hometown crowd on your side? And furthermore, were you guys as warmly received across the country when you traveled? 

JM: That to me is what was always the key to our potential. Even though the songs were never on the same level as some of the bands we toured with, our performance always seemed to get through to people. Whether people like the songs or not they can get into a band that they know is playing their asses off onstage. So my idea was that if we could just get the songs where we wanted them to be that there would be no stopping us because people always seemed to get into our live show. Pretty much every crowd we played for around the world responded positively to our live performances, we always wanted to be the best band on the bill. 

BH: One thing I'm always interested in is an artist's FAVORITE albums/bands/whatnot, as opposed to just their influences. Like, anybody with ears can hear the Megadeth and Overkill and whatnot in the music, but if you've got a quiet night and you're gonna plop down in your comfy chair and light up a cigar, what albums are you reaching for? 

JM: Well being brought up in such a die hard metal scene as Chicago's, heaviness was king growing up. As I've gotten older I've learned to appreciate the bands that were true to themselves but are so immensely talented that they managed to become huge still. It's a very delicate balancing act between trying to make music that will attract as many fans as possible while still writing music that you love to play. A few off the top of my head that might surprise you: Audioslave, Sublime, Alice in Chains, System of a Down, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Avenged Sevenfold. 

BH: Man I grew up on Sublime and still spin that self titled on occasion, no shame!

JM: It's golden.

BH: I've kind of re-gotten into Alice in Chains as well. Black Gives Way to Blue is much, much better than it logically should be.  

JM: That's absolutely true. It was a very pleasant surprise for me.

BH: Haha, well I know I just mentioned that influences are boring to talk about, but I think there's a bit of a difference when it comes to the initial spark. Was there any one record or bassist that kind of delivered a "eureka" moment to you and made you decided that this was what you wanted to do?

JM: Cliff Burton was the first one, and I'm sure that goes for just about any metal musician. After that I got really into Dream Theater so John Myung would be up there as well. But as far as a guy that opened my eyes at just the right time to help me become a better player, I'd say Billy Sheehan. I discovered him at the most perfect stage of my playing and his lessons that I found online gave a me a lot to practice at a time when I was in need of new things to learn.

BH: Cliff was my first one as well, so you got that right, haha. Well that's about all I got for today. Thanks a ton for playing along, any parting words?

JM: Anytime dude, I appreciate that you reached out to me about this. I've been in exile for about two years and it feels good to talk about music again. And for anyone else reading, especially musicians, keep it real. Don't let the music industry turn you into a politician.


Interesting shit there!  I've been speculating internally about what the whole deal with Jon's sudden departure was, and it was definitely great to hear his side of the story for a change.  Since leaving the band, Jon's definitely been quiet, so I'm very pleased with the fact that he was willing to sit down with a professional dick-joke-maker like myself and shed some light on his time with a band that was poised to become kings of the world, but somehow derailed with alarming speed around the time he was replaced.  Massive, MASSIVE thanks to Jon for playing along and answering some stupid questions for me and for y'all.  He genuinely would not let a single detail slip about any upcoming projects other than the fact that there was one, so I'm just as in the dark and excited as the rest of you are.  In the meantime, here's a throwback to when they were all a bunch of adorable little children with no real idea what a vagina looked like:

      
PS: I saw Diamond Plate open for Vektor and Exmortus three days before Christmas in 2009 at the Beat Kitchen in Chicago.  Before the show, I met Jon outside and attempted to make some small talk.  I asked "Hey, how old were you again?", to which he responded "How old was I?  Well I was four".  My friends still make fun of me for that. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Hades Archer - Penis Metal

HORSE COCK

There are some things in this world that deserve the utmost praise; the things that naturally gifted people can accomplish with enough hard work (like landing on the moon with less computing power than a TI-83 calculator), little marks of genius that only the insane would stumble upon (like finding out that if you sniff the gas right before whipped cream comes out, you'll get high for five seconds), and what the bottomfeeding scum of the universe dream up in a flash of fluke brilliance (like whoever invented r/tittydrop). Sometimes, all three will morass into one grody, sticky glob of god-knows-what, like whatever stoned Chilean savant wandered into band practice one day and said "Guys, we absolutely must name our next release Penis Metal." And with that, Hades Archer blundered into what is hands down the greatest release title of all time.

And does the music inside hold up? Ehh, kinda. All Hades Archer truly is is competent. No individual aspects of the band stand out, the songwriting is pretty generic (if energetic), and the vocals are of the more lazy croaking style of black metal, of which I'm not a fan. I can give props for the EP being so cohesive, with the entire thing melding together as one solid fifteen minute explosion of blasphemy and noise, but beyond the heinous cacophony there isn't much I can really hold high as exemplary. The riffing is certainly not flaccid, but it isn't particularly rigid either. The percussion pounds away in that constant battery of one dimensional blast beats that anybody who has heard South American black metal before is surely quite used to. I do like the hypnotic throbbing in "Gloria Rex Infernus", but it's one of the few moments where Penis Metal isn't just shooting ahead at full speed. It works as a nice, very brief reprieve in betwixt all the harsh walls of noise. The title track also stands out for one of the only acceptable one-phrase choruses in the history of metal. Man if you can't rock out to PE-NEES ME-TAL PE-PEES ME-TAL, then I don't ever want to be your friend.

Otherwise it's nothing special apart from the obvious aesthetic genius. Typical bestial black metal with almost zero outside influences (you aren't going to find any thrashy riffs here), but I do admit that it's pretty charming in its enthusiasm. It's fifteen solid minutes of Chilean black metal and there isn't much else to say about it apart from the stunningly brilliant title and art. It's just a lot of fun to rock out with your cock out all willy nilly. Dick cock wiener schlong schwanzstuckers tallywhacker KNOBEND MEMBER STAFF WILLY BOABY PEEN DINGALING KNEESLAPPER TURTLENECK TODGER TROUSERSNAKE.

SPURT.

REYNOLDS.


RATING: 65%

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Slipknot - Iowa

The most important avant-garde death metal album ever

You're gonna think I'm crazy, but hear me out when I say this: Slipknot's second album, Iowa, is a fucking masterpiece of avant-garde death metal.  We metal fans, as a fandom, owe the existence of bands like Portal, Ulcerate, Deathspell Omega, and pretty much any band who has decided to buck convention and take a path of twisted morbidity over the beaten path over the past decade or so to Slipknot.  Everything music was, Slipknot wasn't.  They dared to take the harsh tones of Morbid Angel and the groove of Bolt Thrower, blended with the harsh groove of Jungle Rot, slather it with a prominent and important aesthetic (not unlike so many pioneers of black metal like Mayhem and Dartkthrone), an outlook of sheer nihilism and a creative use of percussion, and just put it all together with a craftmanship yet unseen.

I mean really, think about it.  This gets pegged as yet another casualty of nu metal all the time, but how many nu metal bands sounded even remotely like Slipknot?  Even on their first album, the Stainds and Mudvaynes and Linkin Parks and Alien Ant Farms and Papa Roachs and yadda yakkity yoo of the world were sonically worlds apart from the ground Slipknot was treading.  They were heavier than anybody in the mainstream at the time, and they used that visibility to push the envelope straight over the edge of the cliff.  I mean really, how many platinum selling, grammy winning albums can you name that start off with a cacophony of blast beats and incomprehensible screaming like the beginning of "People = Shit"?  Everything about this just screams "We will not conform, we will not be consonant or pleasurable.  We are here to sonically decimate your eardrums and you will all buy it and enjoy it like good little maggots".  This is abrasive and confrontational to the point of utter genius, while at the same time retaining a powerful groove that entrenches every last note into your memory, burrowing into your consciousness like a cerebral bore, fragmenting everything you thought you understood about music into a morass of negativity and hatred.

All nine members of the band are fully utilized, with there being creative and well-placed turntable scratches and samples all over the place in tandem with the creative rhythm section.  The drum production is over the top and nothing short of genius.  The snare has a really sharp *pop* to it and it just stands as a metaphorical razor piercing the band's musical skin as often as possible, much like the mentality the band was surely going through at the time. Tensions between members were very high at the time, and it shows in how dark, abrasive, and nihilistic the entire ordeal is.  Listen to something like "Disasterpiece" or "Heretic Anthem" and try to tell me that that isn't pure, genuine hatred spewing out of Corey Taylor's mouth like a bile hydrant.  So much of the album's runtime is spent barreling through droves of nihilistic fervor, beating down every living being in your way, slitting throats and fucking wounds.  Not only is this far, far too antagonistic for logical mainstream radio play (even in 2001, arguably the height of nu metal's popularity), but it's just simply too heavy, too out there, and too bleak to be called anything other than "avant-garde death metal".  And I'm sticking to that claim.  Not only is Iowa precisely that, but it's also the best album the genre has ever seen.

I mean really, what other metal band at the time could so brazenly pummel listeners with clearly Sandoval-inspired drumming while at the same time maintaining scalpel-sharp hooks and then throwing in the occasional knee buckling curveball like "Gently", "Skin Ticket", and "Iowa".  Those three songs lend the most credence to my claim of avant-garde death metal.  Would a band that was allegedly so mainstream and kid-friendly really throw in not one, not two, but a whopping three extended, atmospheric tracks that focus on an oppressive, suffocating aura like that?  Those tracks, most especially the title track, are some of the least accessible things I've ever heard.  Rumor has it that while recording the vocals for that track, Corey was curled up on the floor of the studio, naked, cutting and vomiting on himself in order to get the proper amount of anguish for his part.  Really, that's fucking dedication, and the result is more than worth it.  You know how much I adore In Somniphobia by Sigh for being such a brilliant representation of insanity during a man's last moments?  "Iowa" is exactly that, but eleven years earlier.  I can't praise it enough, it's the band tearing down the walls of convention and taking a big smelly shit on people's expectations.  How can fans of metal, fans of spectacle, fans of anything not adore this?

I can point to any song to make my point.  Iowa has a little bit of everything. Catchy hooks in "Left Behind", blistering extremity in "People = Shit", powerful grooves in "New Abortion", skull squeezing heaviness and heart melting insanity in "Iowa".  Just... everything they do strikes bullseye, and Celtic Frost's resurgence owes everything to this album.  Take the best parts of War Master, Altars of Madness, Music for a Slaughtering Tribe, and pretty much everything else that fucked a boundary with an iron spike, and you'll end up with this, the album responsible for Monotheist, Hangman's Hymn, In a Flesh Aquarium, Eparistera Daimones, Miss Machine, and countless others.  It's hard to go on at length about why the popular opinion on this album and band within the metal scene is so unbelievably fucknuts wrong, so all I can really do is hope you take my word for it.  Listen again, listen for the subtleties, the variety, the bravery, hooks, aggression, nihilism, everything.  Throw your preconceived notions out the window and let Iowa sweep you away into the land of one of the most influential death metal albums of all time.

I'm not joking, don't be a fool.


RATING: 100%

Friday, March 28, 2014

An Evening with The Bastard: Markov Soroka (Eternium/Slow/Aureole)

Welcome once again, to this stupid thing my friends.  I'm not mad you could attend, but are you high, are you high?  Continuing with my new excursion of sitting down and talking to people who would much rather be screaming in the studio than to talk patiently with a hairy critic with a bum eyeball who yells at geese, I managed to track down the ever elusive and always busy, Markov Soroka.  Most of you probably know him as the guy behind Eternium, but to me he's also the guy behind (in my opinion, two superior bands with) the funeral doom project, Slow, and the Darkspace project, Aureole.  He's a tricky little gopher, but I smoked out his foxhole and managed to stop him long enough to ask him a few questions.



Bitch has too many fucking logos

BastardHead: Well let's start off with a sort of obvious one here.  You gained your initial visibility via Eternium, but nowadays you've been pimping two other projects as well.  Care to give us a brief rundown on everything you've got going project-wise?

Markov Soroka: Well, Eternium has always been the main "issue" and story in my mind, but others seem to cross and turn inside my mind. In the last few years or so, I've been getting "voices" or whatever sane word inside my head that tell me their stories, so to speak, but not get off topic, here is a current list of my projects, and what the style of each one is:

Eternium - Symphonic black/death metal (now Melodic black metal/doom metal)
Slow - Funeral death/doom metal
Aureole - Atmospheric/Ambient black metal.

A few other active projects involve collaborations with members of some German bands, and various splits coming out with a few of the above projects.

BH: I was actually unaware of the collaborations.  Any light you can shed on that or is that still under wraps for the moment?

MS: I can't really reveal much about the projects on a public scale, mostly because we're not totally sure of whether or not it's happening, so I don't want to get the hopes up of the (few) fans that might actually enjoy the music we respectively write.

BH: Absolutely fair enough.  Now, you've referred to Eternium as your main deal.  How long has that been going on for you?  The first demo is almost two years old now, which places you at a pretty young age at the time.

MS: Eternium's doing quite well, actually. I've been having setbacks, but I'm due to start recording the new EP soon. The EP will address the 23:45 minute gap in between Aura Titian and Aura Sentium, where Amethyst dies and travels to another realm. It's not really revealed where she actually went while she was dead, so that EP is going to address that. I've had a few setbacks in the regard that it's proving hard to have found a drummer, but I recently spoke to one that I will be able to work with, so I'm excited about that. The genre is taking a new direction into something I'd call "melodic black/doom metal," since almost all if not all death metal influence has left.

Well, I actually started to write the songs when I picked up guitar for the first time. At the time, when I was around 13, I listened to nothing but Cradle of Filth and Amon Amarth and all of that stereotypical stuff, so you can see the influence pretty prevalently in the song "Aura Sentium" which I actually wrote at 15 years old, if I remember right. I don't think age is a big deal nowadays, but I'm glad that people listen to my music regardless of me being young.

BH: I don't think age is important either, personally.  I just find it interesting when artists have had ideas swirling in their head for eons before finally getting a chance to release it to the world. Anyway, Eternium is somewhat notable to me for the fact that it started as a solo project of yours, expanded into a full band for about a year, and then faded back into a solo project.  Was the intent always for this to be a one-man deal and the band was more for the purpose of live shows? Or was it more of an experiment that you didn't feel worked out as well as you'd hoped?

MS: What happened with the members was that I was moving around a lot, and some of the other members were trying to write for the project, and it kind of put me off. These stories I got in my head were something I felt personal, and it didn't feel like the other members could portray that. It sounds pompous, but music is all I really have. I have written all of the Eternium music, and I feel like it should stay that way. I still respect them and talk to a lot of them, and I can never thank them enough for their support and motivation.

The above, and the fact that I'm constantly moving from place to place makes it inconvenient for it to remain a band. It doesn't feel fair that I'm doing that to them by keeping their hopes up. There's always situations at home, and I have to leave or be kicked out, so I'm just trying to retain my life in order before getting the hopes up of others.

BH: Speaking of those stories in your head, one criticism I've heard towards your music (and one that I really don't disagree with) is that it seems like whenever you get a new idea, a new project springs up.  Have you ever considered blending the atmospheric black metal and the funeral doom or all these other styles you play into one project? Or do you feel the stories you dream lend themselves to particular styles and that's why there are three projects swirling around in parallel right now?

MS: Actually, I believe that the stories of each individual project are unique and should be portrayed. Eternium is doing this heavily, as well as Aureole. I've had a few ideas here and there for Slow for another album, as well. Blending the genres? Hmm, I'm not sure. It would have to be if it feels suitable for the story. Unless you mean if the worlds of Aureole and Slow were to mix somehow, which would be an absolute messing with the mind, but I have yet to find any evidence that they do.

BH: Haha, I was just using them as examples really.  It's pretty clear which three styles you're working with here, and I was always curious if there were any plans to not keep them as cut-and-dry as they have been. Well anyway, another thing I've noticed was that Aureole recently nabbed a deal with a record label that's wholly removed from what Eternium works with.  I know fuck all about how the music business really works, but was that another thing you wanted to do, or was Blast Head not interested in Darkspace worship?

MS: Put simply, some labels specialize in other genres better than others. I was a bit cautious with the Blast Head deal in the initial time Eternium was offered it, since it was mostly known for brutal death metal, but it received a positive response, and Paul has been one of the greatest supporters I've ever met. As for my other projects, Aureole recently got signed to Fallen Empire Records, which I was familiar with because they had released one of my favorite atmospheric black metal albums, Xothist's self-titled album. I knew that if I aimed for that label, then the same fans of Xothist would listen to Aureole first, and that excited me because I really felt like they would like this sort of material. Slow is actually on two labels currently, Metallic Media, and Black Plague Records. It's just a matter of branching out as well, I love meeting and working with new people that are truly devoted to the cause of music.

BH: Networking definitely does seem to be one of your strengths (other than simply writing good music, of course). Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I recall hearing an Aureole track a long while back that was much more in the vein of Sargeist than Xothist.  Was that a gradual change or was that more of a "eureka!" moment?

MS: Haha, yeah, I released that track too prematurely because I wanted people's reactions to the production, or maybe I was just a teenager who wanted some attention for his projects, but that was definitely much more Sargeist-influenced. However, if people are wanting that style more, they shouldn't fret; the second Aureole full length is being recorded and it's a mix of the current Aureole and the past Aureole, which will feature artwork by Luciana Nedelea*, rather than the Ariella Vaystukh on the current record in production.

It wasn't much a gradual change, but for the current Aureole release, that was actually 5 or so days of improvisiation. I had a lot of free time, so I just wrote and recorded on the spot, and apparently I had turned out something good. I usually don't like telling people this part because it almost makes me sound pretentious in some way, haha.

BH: Well pretension was debatably the subject of my next question, haha.  Most people who talk to you notice that you tend to visualize and experience music more than just listen to it.  How does this play into your own projects? I guess a better way to word that would be "Does the story/visuals lead the music, or vice versa?"

MS: I'd definitely say yes, the reason I play music in the first place is just because I've realized that it's my favorite thing I can do, and by extension that means it's the best art-form that I can give justice to these voices and visuals that I sometimes get of my own, but I really want people to visualize stuff as I do. I feel like every artist feels it to some extent, or "good" ones, in my opinion. Those who do not appeal to stories or some kind of back-line in their imagination while writing music usually end up writing bad music. Some people have suggested that I am not like others, but I do not believe that. I think everyone has the potential to "see" things in music. Or maybe I'm just insane! Who knows? I'm under the notion that people who are crazy only think they're getting saner, but I suppose that can be questionable.

BH: So that's mostly it, any future plans with any of the three projects you've got going on right now? Maybe plans to assemble some more cronies and hit the stage again in the future?

MS: I actually have been offered a few festivals to play, believe it or not, obviously I have to turn them down. I'm actually hoping to have Aureole play live with some interesting stage setups. Future plans for the projects include further releases in all of them, with some passive wants to play live, but I have a few other things I'm participating in, so maybe!

BH: Very excellent. Well I've only got the fluff questions left.  One thing I'm always interested in is an artist's "favorite" albums, not much so their most "influential".  Anybody can hear the influences at play in your music, but if you've got a nice quiet night to yourself, and you're gonna plop down in your comfy chair and light up a cigar, which albums are you reaching for?

MS: Well, as I have been doing this interview, I've actually been listening to Moon (Aus)'s discography. I usually am always on the hunt for new music, and I've really been enjoying this year's albums so far. Those who know who I am generally know that I am infatuated by The Ruins of Beverast, so that's always a safe assumption. Lately I've been listening to less metal-oriented bands though, and have been listening to more calming and less percussive things. For instance, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble is something I've been really liking ever since discovering.

BH: Most importantly: Rin or Lilly?

MS: Rin. Lilly is second, because Rin's craziness will always ensure she is creative. Maybe she gets voices, too!

BH: Well that's about all I got, thanks for playing along.  Any last words before I hit the ejector seat on you?

MS: Keep listening to music! To write music, you have to listen to a lot of it. Also, I'd like to give a shout-out to some projects that deserve some recognition! Utstøtt, Glass Shrine, Mare Cognitum, Borgne, Kawir, Halberd... Sorry if I missed you, I'm not very rested.


And there we have it, the drugged out lunacy of an accidentally brilliant kid.  I personally think I rated Eternium a tad too highly when I reviewed it (it lacked staying power and the Tengu parts are still really stupid, it's closer to mid 70s score now), but I'm not just sucking up when I say that I really like the Esoteric/Mournful Congregation worship of Slow and the Darkspace/Xothist spacey BM of Aureole.  Definitely be on the lookout for Unsleep and Alunar, respectively.  Also, since I'm a super important guy and all, I've actually heard some previews of Glass Shrine and Halberd (two bands in his shoutout that haven't released anything yet), and those are both very good as well.  Glass Shrine is a style of black metal that focuses on the pretty and uplifting (the man behind it compares it to bands like Furdidurke and Cirrhus, but I've never listened to those bands so I'll just take his word for it), and Halberd is a fucking brutally grimy take on what they call "beanie worship" (basically Monotheist era Celtic Frost and Tryptikon) very death, much doom, mega deep roaring vocals, definitely another band I'd love to get the opportunity to interview when the album gets closer to release.  So basically this interview has a lot of good small-time stuff hidden within it, and you should totally check them all out whenever possible.  Massive thanks to Markov for sitting down and BSing with me for a while.  Check out some previews of Slow and Aureole, while you're here.


(not linking Eternium because you already know them and these two bands are better anyway)

* - Editor's Note: Luciana Nedelea will no longer be handling the artwork, it will now be done by Ariella Vaystukh, whenever she decides to fucking finish.

Monday, March 24, 2014

An Evening with The Bastard: Andres Felipe Murillo (Prajna)

So lately, I've decided to try expanding my craft a bit.  Y'all know me for my reviews, it's my bread and butter and certainly what I feel I'm best at.  But life is dull if you never try new things, and for that reason, I give you An Evening with The Bastard, my new segment where I interview people you've probably never heard of.  Today, for the inaugural edition, I sat down with the drop dead sexy Colombian weeb behind one of my most anticipated releases of the year (The Summer Eclipse, by Prajna), Mr. Andres Murillo.


BastardHead: Well I guess let's just get it rolling then, thanks for agreeing to be my guinea pig. Anyway, let's start with the first thing most people notice, the name itself.  What exactly is the meaning behind it?  It's certainly not a common word.

Andres Murillo: "Prajna" is Sanskrit for 'wisdom'. However, I just picked it because it seemed like a pretty cool-sounding word, and it actually has nothing to do me. I didn't even know how it was correctly pronounced until a few months ago; not that I care.

BH: Narrowly avoided the Catamenia debacle I see.  Now, most people don't usually care too much about a band's entire history (how and when you started and whatnot), but Prajna is interesting in the sense that it started as a full band and later became a one man project of yours.  What was the motivation behind that and what do you feel makes the one man approach more effective for you?

AM: We recorded a 4-track EP back in 2010-2011. It took almost an entire year of work and coordination, and those songs weren't very technically demanding, so to speak. When we started thinking about recording a full-length, my bandmates spent around a year and a half learning and perfecting around four songs - the album is 10 tracks long. It was clearly going to take way too much time, and I've never been too comfortable about playing live (due both to personal preference and how just generally terrible the local metal scene is), so I decided to just record everything myself. By playing every instrument the way I generally intended to, I managed to tweak the songs as they were being recorded, add more arrangements, and generally have a lot more freedom than I would have had with other musicians. Thus, I managed to record 10 tracks in around the same time that we recorded the EP in.

BH: Well you actually managed to preempt my next question with that one, but I'll ask anyway in case there's more to elaborate; Colombia isn't necessarily known as a haven of great trad metal like England or something.  Did the local scene do anything to shape the band's sound?  Either because of or in spite of the scene or lack thereof?

AM: There's a pretty large trad metal scene in Colombia, the problem is that, well, it's not very good at all. I've never been or wanted to be connected/associated to it, so Prajna's sound is very different to what you'd normally find over here.

BH: So the scene is populated with cheap Iron Maiden knockoffs?

AM: If only! I already write cheap Iron Maiden knock-offs, but that's not what you would find in the Colombian trad metal scene. In my opinion, it's filled with very talented musicians who don't have a clear idea about songwriting, and for that reason don't write very good songs.

BH: Haha, always an eternal plague with smaller scale bands it seems.  When you made the jump to solo artist, did you end up writing Summer Eclipse entirely on your own, or where there some songwriting holdovers from the previous members?

AM: Most of the full length's songs are old. Old as in they were done around the time the EP was first released!

Now, most of the songs 100% my own both music and lyrics-wise, but there are a couple with shared credits. "Mystic Sign" was originally a song by Sebastian, the ex-drummer, who wrote the main riff and the harmony after the guitar solo; but it was a little bare-bones when he showed it to me, so I ended up re-arranging it and adding a bunch of other stuff. in the end it was the last song I finished! He's a very talented guy, and probably the only one I wish would have stayed to record the album.

"Killing the Vice" was originally written by Jorge, the ex-bass player, but that one was just too amateurish except for a couple of very good ideas that remain in the final product; particularly the harmony with the changing time-signatures before the climax. I obviously gave him songwriting credits for that, because stealing ideas is not nice.

Finally, "Nowhere" is actually a cover! with very few added elements from my part, to be honest. It's a song by Keita Haga, included both because I think it closes the album in a very good fashion and for personal, geeky reasons.

BH: Have you looked at my fucking notes or something? My very next question is about "Nowhere". I recently read through the VN Tsukihime on the suggestion of a very talented and sexy human being, and couldn't help but notice that the credits song also happened to be the same thing that rounded out Summer Eclipse.  Is that an isolated incident or are there other nods to anime and Japanese culture strewn throughout that most listeners probably wouldn't catch?

AM: There are a lot, actually. I've always been a fan of anime and Japanese video games, so of course there had to be plenty of references that the average, normal human with healthy hobbies might never catch. They're mostly in the lyrics, but I'd say the general tone and idea of the album, if there's any way to put it, is very Japanese. To anyone not very, very familiar with the sources, though, they'll just look like strange lyrics for a metal album.

BH: So when is this gonna see a release? I've been looking forward to it for a while and I can't imagine most fans of the style wouldn't fall in love with it as well.

AM: I don't really know. The songs are done, the mixing is done, the mastering is done, everything is done! The issue is the pressing for the physical copies; over here there's a minimum amount of CDs they can press (around 300), and I just don't have the money at the moment to pay for all of that. The release will have to wait until either I save up or manage to get enough donations/pre-orders to cover the costs.

BH: If anybody would like to donate, how would they go about that?

AM: Well first they'd have to have money. Money is exchanged for goods and services. Once that important requirement is met, they can PayPal some dollarydoos to me at my email: andres.murillo2010@gmail.com. Sketchy as hell, I know, but I guess that's what I get for living in Colombia and not having access to a crowdfunding option.

BH: I apologize on behalf of my country for owning the internet.  What does the future hold in store for Mr. Murillo?  Be it Prajna or any other musical endeavors you may have?

AM: I love to write, arrange, play, and record music. It's probably one of the things I enjoy the most in the world, so I usually do that when I'm not studying or busy with other real life unpleasantries. I have a YouTube channel where I upload all the terrible music I make every so and so (www.youtube.com/user/SephirothXXI), but there's definitely more Prajna to come after this full length. I have more than an entire album's worth of songs to work through and perfect, so even though I can't tell you when it's going to happen, it definitely will at some point.

BH: I'm definitely going to be looking forward to it.  Before we wrap up here, one thing I've always been curious about are musicians' favorite albums and such.  Not necessarily most influential to you (anybody with ears can hear the Iron Maiden, early Helloween, and Fates Warning in Prajna), but just your general favorites.  If you're gonna sit back on a big comfy chair and light up a cigar, what albums are you reaching for to accompany you?

AM: Of course, Iron Maiden's entire discography is a favourite of mine, as well as Fates Warning's first few, but if you want to go deeper than that, I'd start with my favourite album from last year: Light Bringer's Scenes from Infinity. It's definitely the kind of album I'd like to write if I had the required skills.

There's also Héroes del Silencio's El Espíritu del Vino, which is Spanish hard rock, and Kukui's Leer Lied, which is j-pop. The Rozen Maiden soundtrack by Shinkichi Mitsumune is up there for me as well, as well as the Touhou Project soundtracks by Team Shanghai Alice. On the more metal side of things I love Crimson Glory's first two albums and the Marriage/Atreus albums by Virgin Steele. I could go on forever and across several other genres, but those are probably the ones most special to me.

BH: And most importantly: Rin or Lilly?

AM: Lilly master race. Rin is an autistic weirdo.

BH: Let it be known that you're a man who hates personality.  Well then, that's about all I got.  Anything you'd like to end on?

AM: Well, thanks for the opportunity to be interviewed by the famous BastardHead. I've been reading your reviews for years so it's a strange, fuzzy feeling. I hope the few (I'd rather them be lots, though!) people who listen to the album like it and feel some kind of special connection to it. Hit me or Mike for a download link if you want to listen to it before it's released, though!

I'M TOO STUPID TO MAKE THE EMBED THING WORK SO JUST CLICK ON THIS TO LISTEN TO ONE OF THE BEST SONGS FROM THE ALBUM ON REVERBNATION DAMMIT.



Well there you have it, folks! Trust me when I say that Prajna is one of the better acts mulling about right now, and almost certainly the best thing in South America.  The link to donate is right up there, but if you have a short attention span, just Paypal some money to andres.murillo2010@gmail.com.  It's totally worth it, believe me.  I donated and you should to!  Anyway, a big thank you to Andres for playing along and being my guinea pig for my first whack at this interviewing thing!  Y'all really should check out his stuff.  Prajna is legitimately gunning for a very high position on my year-end list for 2014, so just take that as a solid recommendation.