Tag Archives: Metal

Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats – Blood Lust

So I spent this last weekend participating in the free three-day trial of Killing Floor. Whatever notions you might have about a game called Killing Floor are significantly more nuanced and thematically complex than Killing Floor itself, I promise you. This is a game whose average gameplay-session runs to the tune of “Oh look! A zombie. You have shot him; you are in a haunted barn. Now you’re petting the cat. Another zombie! Try and shoot him while calling your girlfriend, or eating some corn chips for the extra challenge!” – they were thought-provoking times, indeed. Yet I found myself drawn to modest Killing Floor, the first-person shooter in a very long and proud history of FPS’s, doing exactly what it loved to do and doing it to the full extent of its slight ambition. I ended up playing a number of hours, hitting a groove, dropping those zombies like it meant something, man, and by the time the trial ran out I was bored and satisfied and moved on with my life. Looking back, though, I sure wish I’d had Blood Lust for my soundtrack.

I’d never heard of Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats before the other night, when Ryeburg pulled through with the weekly metal reconnaissance, predicting jazz and doom (in that order). As luck would have it, this is only the Cambridge startup’s second full-length (after last year’s Volume 1), and they’ve been hard at work perfecting how best to channel Black Sabbath into psychedelic sludge while making the whole thing sound like the soundtrack to some forgotten 70’s horror-exploitation flick. Who knows – maybe they even used broken amps and fuzz pedals to record in a haunted barn or something. Oh wait. Yes, Blood Lust really is the concept-album tale of an insane and sadistic drug-addict – whom apparently hunts a witch and then finds the devil – recorded in a spooky slaughterhouse by men with broken equipment: perhaps subtlety and sophistication aren’t Uncle Acid’s strong points. What is amazing, though, is how damn good they make it all sound.

Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats are revivalists at heart, churning up a blend of heavy, sludgy riffs into a blues chug that only ever slows down once, for “Curse in the Trees” (before the oddly pretty bonus track). Lovingly gathering the majority of their cues from early Black Sabbath, Uncle Acid makes doom metal, taking its time, plodding through a psychedelic cloud, their eerily high-pitched singer cutting something like a corrupted falsetto wail through the fog-machine haze. His lyrical themes wander from murder to witch-hunting to drug-laced murder again, and by the time the group closes out “Death’s Door” (the second track) you’ll already have formed a staunch opinion on their musical direction. Likewise, you’ll also have an informed opinion of what the rest  of the album sounds like: as with so many revivalist groups, luxuries like significant track variety are likely to emerge later down the line (notable exceptions being the aforementioned the crawling, menacing “Curse in the Trees” and bonus “Untitled”). There’s a storyline here too, but you won’t catch it on your first listen – and that’s perfectly okay. What you will catch is crunching and hypnotic riffs, echoing 70’s-style guitar solos (with the appropriate grain filter) and vocal harmonization with enough texturing and density to really sink your teeth into (bad joke, I know).

Blood Lust, like Killing Floor before it, knows exactly what it wants: as the proposed soundtrack to a 70’s exploitation flick that could never be, it functions brilliantly. As an extended homage to Black Sabbath, doom metal, and seemingly more recent progenitors of revivalist classic-metal like The Sword, it’s a love-letter, and quite a good one, avoiding the dead-boring copycat antics and posturing of so many other revivalist bands. Blood Lust stands quite handily on its own too, with its conceptual lyrical components uncomfortable and descriptively vivid enough to withstand critical readership, and its chillingly unique vocal ticks handily setting it them apart from its multitude peers. Like humble Killing Floor, Blood Lust slides really nicely into its groove, and while it is a bit low on ambition – tracks can be repetitive, and some run long – the final bonus track (“Untitled”) drops a tantalizing hint of what the Cambridge creeps are capable of in the long-term. For now, though, I think I can start stockpiling music for next year’s horror-movie season: Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats fulfill their promise in spades. Someone get Rob Zombie on the phone.

8.0

Originally published right here, December 2011. 

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , ,

Rammstein – Made In Germany

So sixteen years later, Rammstein finally releases a greatest hits compilation + 1 (“Mein Land”). Is it an essential document? Why not – the crunchy, dancy Germans have been a fixture of the post-industrial dance scene for a long time now, and their legions of fans and pyrotechnic live shows firmly affix their right to drop a collection of their greatest-appreciated hits. The quick verdict reads as such: if you don’t know Rammstein yet, this certainly isn’t a bad way to get acquainted. If you’re a collector, the bonus disc is packed with an hour of more or less every Rammstein remix (and the odd reimagination) you’ll ever need, and legend has it there’s a super-ultra-special-deluxe edition floating around with three DVDs chronicling nearly every music video they’ve ever made. However, if you’re a Rammstein neophyte, and their four-on-the-floor stomp and techno-leanings don’t really “do it” for you, you can safely avoid this one. Rammstein is absurdly consistent to the extent that many of their songs are indistinguishable to a non-German-speaking listener, and many of the remixes are incremental dance spinoffs of the originals, meaning that if you simply don’t like Rammstein, this isn’t going to change your mind. Made In Germany isn’t necessary, it isn’t comprehensive, and it isn’t particularly eye-opening, nor are the remastered versions on display here enormous improvements on the original mixes. To the extent that all this is true, I say Made In Germany is exactly as advertised: bite-size Rammstein for people that already love Rammstein, and are fans of neat packaging (and who isn’t?).

Disc 1: Like so many listeners, I was introduced to Rammstein in highschool, well after their career and fame had begun to develop (thanks to an entrepreneuring Trent Reznor nod on the Lost Highway soundtrack). This meant that Herzeleid, Sehnsucht, Mutter and Reise Reise were already out; this meant that I already had everything I needed to construct 90% of Made In Germany. And so I did, and I liked it, and in a sense that’s the end of this story. For the uninitiated, Rammstein is emphatically Neue Deutsch Harte, or ‘New German Hardness’: it’s industrial-tinged metal infused with a heavy, heavy dosage of electronic dance production. If that sentence turns you off, you can more or less ignore Made In Germany and go read my Deconstruction review (or YouTube their live performances, enjoyable by all metal fans); this collection isn’t going to change your mind. As a teen, though, I landed square in Rammstein’s sights: the odd combination worked, and Rammstein successfully became the first non-english band whose lyrics I can still recite by memory (the N64’s Mystical Ninja music notwithstanding).

As a collection, Made In Germany functions well enough. The majority of the tracks here (“Links 2-3-4”, “Ich Will”, Mein “Herz Brennt”, “Mutter” and “Sonne”) are drawn from Mutter, which makes sense – it’s their most critically-acclaimed album. “Du Hast” and “Engel” make their obligatory appearances, as do “Pussy” and “Rosenrot”. Speaking of Rosenrot, to my disappointment the eponymous track is the only cut from that album, leaving out a couple of personal favourites of mine – “Mann Gegen Mann” and “Benzin”, dealing with homophobia and oil, respectively. Every Rammstein fan, ex or current, is going to have an opinion on the track-listing here, though the compilation-closer “Mein Land”, with it’s bouncy synthesizers, fits nicely as a capstone to the whole project and a suitable reminder that – unlike so many other artists, Marilyn Manson – that a greatest-hits collection doesn’t necessarily spell death for a group’s career.

So the track listing is respectable enough – how are the tracks themselves? Their Rammstein, duh, and that means something very specific: four-on-the-floor. No Rammstein listener, new or old, can deny they have a signature sound. By ‘signature sound’, I mean ‘absurdly consistent’. If you don’t look up the surprisingly clever lyrics (typically filled with double-entendres, puns and social criticism), the chances of your mistaking one track for another or another (and so on) will increase significantly; a good portion of Rammstein’s success can be credited to their having perfected a distinct style and having clung to it as a drowning man might cling to floating wreckage (for better or worse). Sadly, stripped down to a greatest-hits compilation, the sequencing of these tracks almost necessarily cancels the inclusion of Rammstein’s more experimental (and by extension stylistically exciting) tracks, with the notable exceptions of “Rosenrot”, “Amerika” and “Mutter”. For this listener, that’s the sad reality of the greatest-hits format – I’ve always been of the opinion that these guys were one wild producer and a couple of collaborations away from making a really cool concept-album. Of course, that doesn’t happen here, and as a result you’re getting straight remastered power-Rammstein that at times exposes their weaknesses; though if you’re an uninitiated fan – and so haven’t played some of these tracks to death already – that likely won’t be an issue.

All in all, the critical failing of Made In Germany’s main listening experience (disc 1), is that I more or less compiled it at thirteen, and those four tracks that didn’t yet exist were easily swapped out other favourites (or, say, Eminem – I was 13, guys). Made In Germany isn’t bad, but it isn’t interesting or particularly vital either: it’s a document in the history of an extremely charismatic group, and I’m glad they’ve fired it off, but in Rammstein’s case a greatest-hits compilation only serves to amplify their weaknesses. There’s nothing here exciting or well-sequenced enough to stop me from throwing on Rosenrot or Mutter to get my Neue-Deutsch-Harte-on.

Disc 1 (the album proper) is getting a 6.5: just fine, but just fine.

Disc 2: Hey, it’s a handy little remix album, featuring what we can only assume is the definitive collection of Rammstein remixes! Do you know about Rammstein remixes? If you do, then you know they tend to get played during the ‘generic goth-club’ scene of many an action film  (XXX, Black Leather Fight-Time 7). This is not a compliment. This means that a band that already features a heavy techno/disco undertow is being swept entirely into the current, almost to the point of eye-rolling self-satire (for example, let’s all try and sit through Scooter’s “Pussy” remix). Yes, a lot of these toe the line all the way into completely absurd repetition territory, the sort of thing you can only stand “at da (apparently goth) club”, and even then only if your friends are already dancing and drinks are involved.

Rare and wonderful exceptions come from those artists willing to break the mold and either subvert the songs or embellish upon them: Faith No More turns “Du Riechst So Gut” into something resembling a late-night radio broadcast, complete with crackles and murky, shifting keyboards. Pet Shop Boys take “Mein Teil” (thoroughly disturbing video warning!) straight to the poppy, disco-happy territory that someone might claim they’ve always threatened to enter. Devin Townsend pulls the same trick (to much better effect) on his hilarious and banjo-inflected “Rammlied” remix. Meshuggah earns a special mention for isolating the vocals on “Benzin” and playing all the instruments themselves, meaning that it is now a Meshuggah song, and the result is appropriately entertaining. The absolute highlight arrives when Laibach, long known for their impressive (bizarre, absurd, subversive) covers breaches “Ohne Diche”. “I cannot exist without you” becomes “You cannot exist without me”, a guest female vocalist shows up to deliver the trademark chorus, the instrumentals are entirely reproduced by Laibach themselves; what could have been another tepid, industrial-tinged remix blossoms into a full-blown cover-duet that handily stands alongside (and may for many entirely outclass) the original.

Ultimately, the second remix disc, like so many supplementary remix discs, is completely optional. There are some neat tracks on here, though you aren’t likely to get the sort of traction out of them that demands nearly doubling Made in Germany’s asking price. There are some really cool moments here (all of which can be re-lived through YouTube), however five (of seventeen) thoroughly creative tracks aren’t enough to carry a largely unoriginal hour-and-a-third into necessity territory. An extensive curiosity, and potentially a must-have for collectors, but this supplementary disc fails to add anything essential to Made In Germany beyond the reminder that Rammstein has always led a double-life as both industrial-metal(-dance) act and a full-on club entity. Interesting, and an inevitable part of their history, but not a bonus I’d recommend trading additional currency for.

Disc 2 is getting a thorough 5.5: neat moments, overall complete mediocrity.

The sum total: 6.5

Originally published right here, December 2011. 


Tagged , , , , ,

Slipknot – Iowa 10th Anniversary Edition

Sure I love to review stuff, but I also love reading reviews – and like most readers, the more ridiculous a writer’s claims seem the better. So when I found out that Slipknot’s breakout 2001 album Iowa had one reviewer describing it as an “experience that will change you”? Oh I was so in. Luckily for me, Iowa saw it’s 10-year rerelease this month, accompanied by a bunch of bonus booklet material, an additional disc featuring the full audio of the London Disasterpieces show (available on DVD, completely entertaining) and a smattering (splattering?) of bonus videos. I skipped Slipknot entirely their first time around, so this was my big opportunity to see what all the fuss and disgust and Grammys were about. So here we go: a complete Slipknot noobie’s first impressions of the album that, to hear the news media of the time tell it, messed up a whole generation of kids.

Iowa is disgusting, disturbing, caustic, crushingly heavy, frightening, over-the-top, and will for some listeners prove a physically demanding listen. If you’ve ever seen an image of Slipknot, you know exactly how happy they are that I said that – it is, very blatantly, their mission statement. The numbered men in masks reportedly all hated each other during the recording of this album, which they produced under a hailstorm of substance abuse. This is the sound of a band of misanthropes, trapped in a band with one another, inundated with cash and overworked. What does Slipknot turn to, in these sad and desperate times? Why, anger, of course.

Alienation, self-hatred and the fury that is their natural consequence is Slipknot’s M.O., and Corey Taylor’s lyricism remains no less devastating than on their debut: on “Disasterpiece” his rapped/sung/bellowed delivery provides some of the most vomit-inducing lyrics you’ll ever read,on “People = Shit” he shoves his solipsism between self-loathing and oddly appropriate turntable scratches, and on “The Heretic Anthem” he gives us Slipknot’s most perennially quoted set of lines. Yes, Iowa goes way overboard with its imagery, and that’s more or less the point: exaggeration permeates every aspect of this band, and the repetitive (often violent, occasionally juvenile) lyricism is no exception. Slipknot’s greatest feat isn’t writing surprisingly affective primal-scream therapy (though Taylor’s straightforward wording and imagery, combined with his own history of abuse, does much to accomplish this), it is the degree to which they work to make their stomach-turning subject matter musically palatable.

Somehow Iowa, at its core, is a surprisingly listenable album! The musicianship on display here is undeniable, and surprisingly varied: Slipknot circa Iowa contains no less than three percussionists (timpanis!), a turntablist, three vocalists, two guitarists, a bass-player and a damn multimedia guy. That’s a total of nine musicians (the numbers double as their stage-names!), all of them pissed-off, all of them masked, and many of them on substances. While never left competing for attention thanks to Ross Robinson’s masterful production, Slipknot’s extended cast means every single empty space gets filled. Iowa never falls silent: it broods, it shifts, it rushes at the listener with nine musicians at once. I have a secret adoration for full-bodied, pounding percussion production, and Iowa absolutely indulges this (it’s my favourite thing about this band). At its best, and most comfortable, Iowa is an aural assault – simultaneously inducing the urge to rebel and the compulsion to cower in the corner.

I can go on about Iowa. I can describe the impact of learning that Corey Taylor was naked, vomiting and hurting himself while he recorded the vocals to the eponymous track, or enter the genre debate and try to figure out whether or not Corey is allowed to rap without committing his band to the Nü-Metal moniker (hint: he is). I can point out that, while the costumes are a great gimmick, it means no one will take them seriously, or that #0 has the coolest mask and the stupidest name (Ratboy, later DJ Starscream).  The fact of the matter is that this is a band whose music I expected to hate, and did not. Their production is fantastic. They overwhelm the audience with a carefully calculated wall of noise (albeit while running a bit long-in-tooth). Corey’s voice has enough body and enough variety to sustain itself over a full hour of explosive rap-sung-screamed performances. Joey Jordison (silly name alert) does some really cool stuff on drums, and so on. Ultimately Slipknot, the dead-serious guys in silly masks that probably freaked out your parents in the early 2000’s, are worth a listen, and it seems they’ve worked very hard to get that way. That being said, is Iowa really an “experience that will change you”? Well, it’s sure as hell an experience, and it’s not a listen you’ll soon forget. Were it 2001 and the first time I’d ever heard anything this cartoonishly angry, violent  and heavy? Yes, I suppose I might have been changed, too.

Iowa lives up to its retroactive hype and I am as surprised as you are. Go give it a shot – you might end up feeling sort of bad for all those times over the last ten years that you made fun of Slipknot, too.

We’ve all been there.

A-

Full disclosure: yes I listened to Slipknot first, though I won’t be reviewing it here. It is a wall of sound, and lacks the subtlety of its sequel (yes subtlety). To that end it accomplishes all its goals, and is a pretty impressive debut. That having been said, it isn’t as effective as Iowa. Slipknot doesn’t beg for you to be physically sick quite like Iowa sometimes does, and the production (my favourite part of this band, and a direct result of Slipknot-the-album’s resounding success) isn’t quite there yet. It is a B-something. Leave me alone, this part isn’t supposed to be a review.

Fun Fact: Corey Taylor thinks his band is positive, and does not promote the violent activities or self-destruction supposedly associated with it. As in all shock-rock, this is true.

That’s an essay for another time.

Originally published, in its extensive form, right here, November 2011. 

Tagged , , , , , ,