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: 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 (, 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!


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  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.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Slough Feg - Digital Resistance

Rome wasn't felled in a day

I think I'm pretty much done getting hyped for Slough Feg.

I know, that's an extremely bizarre thing to hear coming from me, considering I've reviewed three of their albums to date and none of them have scored below 96%.  And hell, I've planned on hitting Hardworlder a few times and that would just keep the streak alive.  But no, today I find myself reluctantly bringing down the axe.  It's been something in the pipeline for a while, and I really shouldn't be too horribly surprised at this, but it's still very disappointing to say: Slough Feg's ninth album, Digital Resistance, is kinda shitty.

I can really sum up the album really well by paraphrasing something Scalzi has said in interviews recently.  Basically, he says that the early albums were the result of him trying really hard to prove himself as a musician and songwriter, so he put in a shitload of effort into going over the top and being as ambitious as possible to craft albums unlike any other.  He feels like he accomplished it on Traveller, so ever since then he hasn't been wracking his brain so much when it comes to their sound, and he's been much more content and laid back about his music, just writing what feels comfortable to him.  On one hand, that's very respectable for an artist to say "I don't want to compromise myself and will only write and release music I'm comfortable and happy with".  On the other hand, it just shows that he's much, much better when he's putting 1000% effort into writing things.  It's pretty clear to me that the ambition and urgency of their early work took a bit of a nosedive after Traveller eclipsed damn near everything else Scalzi had ever and will ever touch.  Atavism had much less epicism and more of a dirty rock n roll vibe, while Hardworlder managed to regress a bit by keeping a fairly laid back rock style with a slathering of an epic space opera.  Ape Uprising and Animal Spirits just felt... nondescript to me.  The Thin Lizzy vibe was more amped up than ever, and the albums seemed to dictate their own pace, lolling around wherever they felt like going, lazily drifting to whatever they felt like doing with no regards to pacing or themeing.

Digital Resistance continues this theme, and I just can't bring myself to give a shit anymore.  Mike Scalzi, for all that wild haired, foul smelling brilliance he emanated in the band's early days, simply doesn't try to write songs anymore.  No, he waits for songs to write themselves.  As a result, I just found myself waiting four years after two mediocre/forgettable albums for another collection of meandering half-songs.  I'll be the first to admit that I'm clearly not the target audience for this album, since the only song that sounds like it could have found itself on any previous records would be "Laser Enforcer", which is a great, upbeat rocker with tons of hooks.  It's exactly the kind of thing Slough Feg is good at.  The problem is that every other track on the album is just... bizarre.  I like the dark jubilance of "Habeas Corpsus", the eerie grooving of "Ghostly Appendage", and the sheer head bobbing funkiness of "The Price is Nice" but even though I like all of those songs, most of them feel unfinished.  Like they're missing layers or sections are repeated/put in as placeholders before the actual bridge is finished or something.  Most of the album happens of little consequence while at the same time being head scratchingly confusing. It's like every song is "Troll Pack" from Down Among the Deadmen, except that track was a neat diversion on that album since it was one song. Not eight.

I don't even know how to describe this, honestly.  There are a lot of soft parts that are cacophonous and hard to follow while simultaneously being groovy and bouncy without being energetic or interesting.  It's a big melting pot of everything and nothing all at once.  If you don't sit down at the table and write your music or set up in the practice space and jam, instead opting to sit around drinking Skol and watching Red Dwarf, patiently waiting for inspiration to strike you, you're going to end up with a bewildering mishmash of galloping percussion and clean, uninteresting guitar parts like this.  The band doesn't feel like they're trying at all, instead just half-heartedly recording every half baked idea that pops into their heads without refining them or making them coherent in any way.  There's no logical flow, neither between nor within tracks, and everything seems to go through these really bizarre, contorted motions without any hint of passion or emotion.  Digital Resistance is like a very perplexing interpretive dance routine where the performer twists himself like Voldo and pops water balloons filled with jelly with a tack taped onto his penis to a with a look of dead-eyed blankness on his face to a soundtrack of utter silence before bowing out to an empty auditorium.  It's strange and uncomfortable, but you can't help but feel like all the nonsense meant something to the performer.  I fully believe that this album is very important to Scalzi and his cronies, and means something profound to him.  But to me, as an outsider, it's a very deliberately meticulous maelstrom of bewildering nonsense that never goes anywhere worth going.

If you liked the more primitive Animal Spirits or the more daring Ape Uprising, I can see Digital Resistance working for you.  For some, this is a bold and experimental metal album that rests in that forever unclassifiable zone that Slough Feg perpetually exists within; an introspective delving into Scalzi's existence in seemingly wide-awake REM sleep.  For others (like me), this is just the fifth album in a row to find the youthful exuberance of the band sorely absent, instead replaced by a bunch of old men toying around with any idea that pops into their head without any sort of meaningful filtration.  Yes, I'm fully aware that Scalzi is indeed an old man now and will never recapture the lofty ambition of Traveller or the drunken vibrancy of Twilight of the Idols again.  But hell, Atavism was still urgent and Hardworlder was melodically sensible enough for the laid back style to work marvelously.  But Digital Resistance just sounds like the band isn't trying.  It's a series of things that happen with no consequence other than me scratching my head and saying "This is... uhh, cool I guess?"

Old fans should check out "Laser Enforcer" and I guess "Magic Hooligan", and maybe you'll like a handful of the weirder songs like I do as well, but for the most part, you can pretty much accurately deduce whether or not you'll like this album based entirely on your opinion of the post 2003 stuff.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  Fool me three times, I've finally learned my lesson and won't be fooled a fourth.

RATING - 40%