Monday, November 30, 2020
For this winter edition of the Diamhea Challenge, I am only going to be reviewing bands and albums that reference Final Fantasy in some way. Why? Because it's a stupid thing to do and I love doing stupid things.
So we're gonna start today with Ultima Weapon, one of Jared Moran's ten gazillion shitty half-hearted projects. If you're unfamiliar with the guy, Moran is one of those special types of metalloids who has several dozen one-man-bands that all sound more or less the same, releasing new material under rotating names at an alarmingly high clip. Sometimes they're a bit more grindy, sometimes they're a bit doomier, but I've stumbled across like eight of his projects over the years and each one reads the same. It's lo-fi death metal with songs that sound like they were finished in a half hour and there's really nothing more you can say about them because that's all they are. His output is functionally identical to Bob Macabre or Rogga Johansson if he didn't have any friends.
I walked into this with the intention of making stupid FF-nerd jokes about like "'Ronso Rage' sure is a fitting name since the main riff is a total copy of 'Liege of Inveracity' by Suffocation" and "This is probably such a weak release because they based it on the FFX version of Ultima Weapon, which is the shittiest one in the franchise", but once I realized this was a Moran band my mindframe completely shifted because who the fuck cares? He's less a Weapon and more of a Mimic, because I thought I had blundered into a potential gem since it's so rare to hear metal based on videogames that aren't just straight up covers, but then I opened the chest and fuck it's the same shitty scratchy BDM he always pumps out. It's a short eleven minute blast of mid-paced kinda-slammy death metal with no lasting impact shat out by a guy who has done this exact thing literally dozens of times. There's only one sentence of musical description in this review because that's all it's worth and if you listen to it yourself you'll agree.
For good BDM that is super tangentially related to FF just stick to Jenovavirus.
Thursday, November 26, 2020
Imperial Triumphant is one of those hot new properties that has taken the music snob world by storm, and it's easy to see why. This is utterly whacked out, high concept avant garde madness. Their aesthetic is not only incredible and unique (a type of art deco/retrofuturist pastiche with an undercurrent of decay seeping through every jagged angle) but it perfectly complements their overarching theme of high society elites being not-so-secretly baby eating monsters. This discordant juxtaposition between the callous sociopathy of the upper class and the mud-caked destitution of the lower class is flawlessly executed in the way the music itself works as well, with dissonant jangleblack, amelodic walking basslines, and utterly chaotic percussion clashing against big band brass, barbershop quartets, and tribal hand drums. The entire experience is fractured and disorienting in a way that feels entirely intentional. It's rare you get a metal album so unafraid to step outside the boundaries of what metal is "supposed" to be (something I wish more bands explored) and to hear a concept so seamlessly intertwined with the music itself. You don't need to read anything that spells it out for you to understand it, the industrial clangs and high-falutin' phoniness of the glitzy elements are so square-peg-round-hole against the cyclonic whirlwind of the dominant metal sections that it's obvious on its own.
The problem with all of this is that it sucks. It's... it's so, so unbearable to listen to, holy shit.
In Robin D. G. Kelley's biography of Thelonious Monk, he tells a story wherein he is desperately trying to replicate Monk's unique style of jazz piano, complete with weird off-time clunks and blangs (he wasn't nicknamed "Melodious Thunk" without reason) and no matter how hard he tried he simply couldn't get the sound right. It became clear to him why when he had a dream where he was struggling during practice before Monk himself approached him and said "You're making the wrong mistakes."
That quote never left my mind throughout the entirety of Alphaville. Imperial Triumphant is so clearly doing everything in their power to create a disorienting soundscape of jazzy avant garde black metal and despite doing seemingly everything correctly, making all the fucked up noises in all the spots you might expect, it still sounds like they're screwing up in all the wrong places and wind up creating a discordant nightmare that physically hurts to listen to despite their intention being executed perfectly. The climax of "City Swine" sounds exactly like what I'd expect metalheads who completely misunderstood Monk to sound like; a hellish whirlwind of amelodic piano smashes against seemingly free time blast beats an atonal bass runs. It conceptually showcases why the planet-sized thumb of class inequality absolutely sucks to live under when you're not on top, but in doing so they wind up creating music that... well, absolutely sucks. Monk is also the originator of the famous quote about jazz being just as much about the notes you aren't playing as the notes that you are, and Imperial Triumphant apparently threw this piece of advice straight the fuck out the window because they play every single note in existence at every second. The value of silence seems to be approached during more introspective moments like the bass and snare outro of "Atomic Age" that leads into the solo piano intro of "Transmission to Mercury" but it comes at the tail end of eight excruciating minutes of indecipherable nonsense. The off-puttingly weird quiet moments actually work pretty well, all told, but they're bookended by unlistenable bullshit. "Transmission to Mercury" is one of the standouts purely because that smooth intro goes on for so long and gives the most welcome reprieve from the eyeball-spinning cacophony that populates the rest of the record.
I gave extremely high marks last year to White Ward's sophomore album, Love Exchange Failure, particularly because I thought the smooth saxophone melodies didn't add a new dimension to atmoblack as much as it filled a space that I didn't realize was empty before. Alphaville does the exact opposite thing by cluttering every space with so many 2smart4u elephant noises, rattling clangs, and screeches that it makes me beg for sweet release the longer it goes on. Each new track introduces a new sonic element that intentionally clashes against what the band was doing ten seconds before, which in itself was already a cacophonous mess. It's the musical equivalent to letting a six year old choose toppings for a sundae. The title track is basically the only piece on the whole album where it manages to go a solid five minutes or so where the concept is executed in a way that doesn't sound like a kid fucking around in Guitar Pro, and that's with the caveat that once those five minutes are up it goes right back into sounding like a shootout in a music store.
Maybe all of this sounds great to you, and that's fine. This is certainly tailor made to appeal to flannel-clad /mu/people, bearded pipesmoking hipsters, and hygiene-deficient avant garde unmusic fans to jerk themselves off around while normies like me grimace and stick my fingers in my ears, and there's nothing inherently wrong with being those things (but please, take a shower). But something like Liturgy breaks all of metal's rules while creating something that resonates emotionally, blending incoherent, pretentious philosophical sophistry with music that punches you directly in the heart and forces you to reassess what black metal is even supposed to be. Imperial Triumphant breaks all of metal's rules while creating something that sounds like flailing children who have no fucking idea what they're doing. Alphaville is the high budget version of "terrible on purpose" and I didn't enjoy one single second of this disaster. Maybe I'm missing the point or it simply isn't for me, but that doesn't prevent me from hearing a discordant hellsong like "Excelsior" and considering picking up smoking again just so I can die slightly sooner.
Saturday, November 21, 2020
Playing skittles with the heads of the French Aristocracy
This year has been weird for everybody. I'm not gonna pontificate on all the havoc wrought by covid and such because I'm sure you've all experienced your own unique hardships, but for the purposes of a music review blog, I found a pretty big shift in my listening habits. That whole Relitigating High School series wasn't just a shelved idea that I resuscitated to cure writer's block, it's also just where my music listening habits were for most of the year, seeking comfort and security in a past that I know already happened and didn't kill me. As a result, near the end of the year as I do my yearly scramble to listen to everything that might be worth considering for my year end list, I've found myself shifting away from the more grand meta way I've been looking at metal. Less brainpower spent on "Does this philosophically clash with the presentation? Is this doing anything truly new? How does the context of the wider scene affect this album's impact?" and much more spent on adolescent surface-level stuff like "Do these riffs fucking rule?" And that's what leads me to today's subject, New Zealand's Stalker (there's an umlaut in the name but my stupid english keyboard doesn't have a button for that so you'll have to deal).
Black Majik Terror is the band's sophomore album, but their debut completely slipped past me despite being my exact jam purely because 2017 was jam packed with raucous throwback speed metal and they just slipped through the cracks. In a much less crowded year, Stalker has managed to jump out of the darkness and punch me in the face with a force akin to a coked out Butterbean. Taking a more surface level approach to music lately has helped Black Majik Terror spring to the forefront of my listening cycles because this is some of the dumbest shit I've ever heard. There isn't one single heady idea, no new interesting or creative twists on an old formula, nothing of the sort. This is tried and true speed metal with obscene tempos, ludicrous soloing, and endless tuneless yelping but it's played with so much fucking gusto that I can't fault it one bit. This is the Zapp Brannigan of speed metal - all CHA with zero INT. Apart from the brief moments of respite in "Holocene's End" and "The Cross", this is forty unbroken minutes of straight ahead downhill pummeling. It's actually kind of hard to talk about because that's really all there is to say. Tracks like "Intruder" and "Of Steel and Fire" are loaded with so many riffs and screaming leads that there isn't any way to really dissect them without disorienting yourself.
This frantic lack of restraint calls to mind OG heavyweights like Agent Steel and Razor, and if you don't like Razor then when the fuck are you doing here? The very nature of playing throwback speed metal gives them a pretty limited pool of influence to draw from, but I'd say they stack up against (and surpass) most of their contemporaries drinking the same juice like Ranger or Vulture. I'd say they're most similar to Evil Invaders simply because they both ape Razor so hard, but in reality, the correct answer is Seax. The big difference between the Kiwis and the Massholes is that charismatic intangible I mentioned earlier. Both bands aim for pure speed above all else and include vocals that aim for raucous squawking and incoherently bizarre falsetto wailing, but Seax never really felt confident in doing so, instead just kinda imitating John Cyriis while being self conscious of how ridiculous it sounds, whereas Stalker's Dave King just strides out on stage with his cock fully out and makes eye contact with you while pointing directly at it while making noises somewhere between a deer mating call and Massacration. It's so rad, I fucking love it. It's the same reason I love Scanner's Hypertrace so much. This kind of vocal approach lives and dies on the vocalist's ability to sell it. In objective terms it sounds like ridiculous wailing, but in context and presentation it sounds like unhinged primal fury, and Stalker absolutely sells it. I would trade my wedding ring for the vocal stems just so I can blast them out of my front window all day.
So yeah, Black Majik Terror is just pure speed and wailing and that's all there is to say about it, but conveniently that's all I want out of this style. This is the exact opposite of "thinking man's metal" and I'm fuckin' here for it.