Dark Eternal Might

Standard

Opeth have been, over the past decade-and-a-half, one of the most consistently interesting exponents of heavy rock music. Within the broad genre of extreme metal – itself a challenging, exciting and ever evolving scene – they’ve nonetheless stood out for some time, with a run of albums from Blackwater Park (2000) thru to Watershed (2008) that remain unbeatable. If Heritage (2011) fell a little short of that high watermark (to my ears anyway) it wasn’t for lack of ambition; rather that the band’s decision to scale back on the brutality and channel their love of smokey, retro psychedelia and acid folk robbed the songs of the light/dark dynamics that appealed to me in the first place. Much of that record I found initially discordant, meandering and forgettable. And Mikael Åkerfeldt‘s Death growls, which upon my introduction to the band back in the early 2000′s I had found impenetrable and initially off-putting, I found myself missing a great deal; and whilst his ‘clean’ singing voice is also a beautiful thing, woody and melancholic, he seemed to have misplaced his knack for writing memorable melodies and compelling song structures too.

As it happens, my appreciation for that album has grown over time: there are echoes of latter-day Talk Talk and Scott Walker in its subtle twists and turns; its complex, off-kilter rhythms that repeat listening has teased out. It’s actually a fine record in many ways, if one that – perversely, given the significant reduction in metal extremity – remains their most ‘difficult’ listen. So it was with some relief that I read in a recent interview that the upcoming (June 16th) release of Pale Communion marks a return to a ‘more melodic’ style, to quote Åkerfeldt, who elaborated ‘…I spent a lot of time on vocal lines’.  It also has ‘…a darker and heavier overall vibe than its predecessor’ according to Prog Magazine. Good news all round, then.

Read Greg Kennelty of Metal Injection‘s track-by-track-taster of Pale Communion here

(Though, as with the Åkerfeldt/Åkersson interview below, the album title and track-listing  had yet to be finalized at the time of publication).

Feel free to amuse yourself guessing which song titles correspond to the descriptions above.

Eternal Rains Will Come
Cusp of Eternity
Moon Above, Sun Below
Elysian Woes
Goblin
River
Voice of Treason
Faith in Others

P.s. whilst perusing the Metal Injection page, I chanced upon Mastodon‘s latest single release, High Road

This sounds fantastic! Effortlessly combining the bowel-stirring sludginess of their early albums with the instant hook of last album The Hunter without sacrificing the harmonic complexity and nuance of Blood Mountain and Crack The Skye. The Atlantans are a canny and ambitious lot, for sure. If the rest of the album is up to this standard our ears are in for a treat this summer. In the meantime I’m expecting Indy Cindy (Pixies‘ first new album in 20 years) to land on my doorstep in just over a week. Happy days :)

 

Degenderate Trend

Standard

Bit late to the party, so to speak, but look: GenderTrender has been suspended again! (scroll down to the comments section).

GT, for those unfamiliar. is a blog with a somewhat unfashionable stance on Gender politics, its proprietor, GallusMag choosing to frame her reportage on current affairs thru the lens of sex rather than the currently-popular language of gender identity.

The last story featured on said, prior to administrator, GallusMag being locked out of her own blog, concerned the case of Dana McCallum, recently charged with five felony counts, including Rape, False Imprisonment and Domestic Assault. Whether the suspension related to that post in particular, or the style and content of GT in general, one can only guess.

Framing McCallum’s (alleged) crime as female-on-female  (rather than male-on-female) indubitably alters readers’ perception of said crime; rendering it freakish on the one hand  (do women actually do that stuff? Surely not!) whilst simultaneously playing to both liberal – literal – oversimplifications of equality, and conservative suspicion of women. The latter two add up to the same thing:  in an ‘equal’ world, we’d both be as nasty as each other. Cynical at best; disingenuous, and still cynical, at worst. A woman accused of violent – and especially sexually-violent – crime is frequently subject to a doubly-potent judgement: guilty not merely of a crime not merely beyond the pale in a supposedly civilised society but also of transgressing her supposedly passive and nurturing rôle. This works against (so-called) cis-women but (covertly) in favour of trans*women, who liberals outwardly support (on principle of their much-vaunted, albeit specious hyper-oppressed status) but whose gender they – also covertly – doubt, since they also grew up sodden with the ‘hormone wash’ of gender (as understood by second-wavers). Clusterfuck is the word, and the last thing anybody with a modicum of agency wants is for you us to understand.

When – the male-defined society’s ideal of – marriage (or indeed, any analogous relationship) breaks down, cohabitants have a habit of substituting reason for emotion in their dealings with their estranged partner. Certain ex-partners might throw their former spouse out – if they haven’t already fled for pastures new – sell their Iron Maiden catalog via eBay or pour paint thinners on their car: others might stalk, threaten or attack their ex; set their former home on fire; kill or attack their children…* there’s a general pattern to the severity of their response, and it tallies uncannily with the binary classification of people preferred by GallusMag and GenderTrender.

McCallum is an employee of Twitter. Whether S/he was about to come into some money or not, Twitter is still, at present, a force to be reckoned with in online social media. It doesn’t need bad publicity right now. WordPress – and its bloggers – depend on Twitter and other sharing apps for consciousness-penetration. Nepotism is a prevalent – and at lest in part, patriarchal – force in industry. Join the dots, folks…

Despite recent-historical legal improvements made in the handling of sex-assault investigations, ‘the system’ is still fatally-loaded in favour of the accused. Days ago, Tory MP Nigel Evans was acquitted of a series of 7 allegations. Even – generously – allowing a 50/50 ‘benefit-of-the-doubt’ ratio for/against, the statistical chance of him being innocent of all 7 charges (or rather, of 7 witnesses independently accusing him of the same kind of offence) works out at .0078125, or, less than 1%. This less reflects the ‘no smoke without fire’ cliché, than it confirms a generalized failure on the part of the public to believe in sexual assault as a normal fault/consequence of patriarchal modes of human relation. Rape (and violence in general) are depressingly normal, yet we wish to believe them exceptional, requiring proof – even as we privately acknowledge such proof to be empirically impossible to procure – of their reality. Is Evans guilty? Is McCallum? I can’t answer that. What I can say is that their guilt would fall within the parameters of ‘normal’ male behaviours. The fly in the ointment is that we have been persuaded – propagandized – into believing that such behaviour is not in fact, normal, or indeed, as common as witness testimony would lead us to believe . We have to apprehend our condition truthfully if we are to fix it.

It’s a true indictment of our societies that reportage such as GallusMag‘s is read as controversial and worthy of censorship. One can only guess at their motives; but in the absence of proper information, guess we will. GallusMag sits within a tradition of conscious dissent that spirals back thru the likes of Copernicus, Joan of Arc, John Stuart Mill, Jenny Bonett and Germaine Greer – women, and the occasional man – who just won’t toe the party line. The internet was meant to make this shit easier, wasn’t it? It makes it easier for the dissenters to consolidate, for sure; it also makes it easier for the haters to hate, to bully. Who do you want to win? Is oiling the gears and keeping the peace more important than telling the truth? Is the medium your message?

Whilst at school, I did – to my shame now – laugh at all the homophobic jokes; even as wearing my hair long exposed me to ridicule and hurt. I’ve questioned my masculinity; but never my maleness; not even after sex with men. I understand the difference between sex and gender. It’s not even a fine line.

Like ‘misgendered’ vs raped: upset vs physically assaulted. Does McCallum’s feel ex any more or less injured for her alleged assailant ‘identifying’ as female? A recent UK case suggested our legal system was all for treating female sex offenders who identified as male as if they were just that? Does this work in reverse? In the US? Worldwide?

This is what the WWW is for, folks.

Grasp the nettle. Say what you think. What you feel.

 

 

*apologies, that link is no good – the programme in question is no longer available on iPlayer. In brief, it’s a documentary about sex offenders including a guy who started molesting his ten-year-old sons to get back back at his wife whom he suspected of cheating on him. This kind of behaviour is, by many accounts not uncommon and is highlighted in Louise Armstrong’s 1994 study on incest, Rocking The Cradle of Sexual Politics. I’ll try to find a new link for the doc, or another suitable case.

 

 

 

 

 

Out of ‘The Whirlwind’…

Standard

Prog supergroup Transatlantic‘s 2009 album The Whirlwind is that rarest of musical beasts, the double-album with nary a dull moment. To say that this is no mean feat is an understatement: it might be cliché to mention Tales From Topographic Oceans, The Beatles, …And Justice For All…, Use Your Illusion and Be Here Now but aficianados of classic rock will surely get the point: 80 mins is a long time in music – to paraphrase another cliché – and the potential for misstep and indulgence is high. Actually, unless you’re one of those listeners harbouring a pathological aversion to all things prog, you might perhaps concede that Transatlantic have a pretty solid track record for recording and releasing music of remarkable quality in behemoth-sized chunks. The band’s debut attracted many accolades including “some of the best progressive rock music ever written” (Robert Taylor in Allmusic)). I’ve been a huge fan since I discovered the band via Marillion‘s website in 2004 and especially since seeing them perform The Whirlwind live three years ago: to say my expectations were high would be an understatement…

..and initial signs weren’t encouraging. The band released Shine as an album trailer back in December 2013 and after a five-year wait for new material  I wasn’t impressed:

‘…Whilst I wouldn’t go as far as to say I don’t like the song, it’s by far the least immediately-impressive tune released by the band thusfar: not since Asia‘s 1982 debut has the ‘super’ been so conspicuous for its absence in output from a group so deserving, talent-wise, of the appellation. The collective talent in Transatlantic is indeed an embarrassment, yet had this been my introduction to the collaboration I can’t say I’d have been won over…’

I still don’t particularly like the song: it’s a big power ballad with Floyd-ey knobs on and kinda uninspired by TA standards.The second album trailer was Black As The Sky (which follows Shine on the album) and I like this rather better: it bounces along at a good clip, propelled by Pete Trewavas‘ groovy, thunking bass, and Neal Morse‘s synth figures are catchy, building excitement from the off.  Around three minutes, there’s an instrumental breakdown which adds interest with some tricky time sigs, more nifty runs up and down the ivories, topped off with guitar flourishes from Roine Stolt – very ‘Cinema Show‘ – before the song concludes with a triumphant return to the chorus. All in all it showcases what the boys do best – catchy, melodic prog which demonstrates musical skill without succumbing to indulgence. And following on from that, Beyond The Sun is a lilting Neal Morse piano ballad in the vein of Bridge Across Forever. the title track from their second album. Accompanied by some lovely pedal steel guitar – courtesy of mix engineer, Rich Mouser – and a tasteful string arrangement – by longtime Morse collaborator, Chris Carmichael – it’s four minutes of understated, faintly-psychedelic bliss.

Which leaves two ‘songs’, or rather, song-cycles. TA have returned to a tried-and-trusted format with this album, namely opening and closing the record with extended symphonic workouts with two or three more compact numbers in between. The first two TA albums – SMPTe (2000) and Bridge Across Forever (2001) set the bar high with tracks such as All Of The Above and Stranger In Your Soul. If you’re a lover of classic symphonic prog epics such as Supper’s Ready and Lizard, and/or more recent variations on the form such as Milliontown or Gaza then you owe it to yourself to hear these brilliant pieces. Kaleidoscope, and particularly Into The Blue are, I’m pleased to report as good as if not better than the aforementioned. The latter opens the album with a string theme which is instantly recognizable as Neal Morse/TA – variations of which recur thruout the song and album – which gives way two minutes later to some dirty guitar and organ riffs reminiscent of vintage Purple or Crimson at their earthy, weighty best. Interesting aside, Elbow detoured into very similar KC-inspired territory on their recent album-trailer Fly Boy Blue which is well worth a listen. Over the course of 25 minutes and 13 seconds Into The Blue takes us on the kind of twisty, predictably-unpredictable musical journey that is the hallmark of symphonic prog rock. Detractors of bands such as TA will point out that their music is derivative to the point where progressive is scarcely an apt moniker, and it’s an allegation I shan’t even attempt to refute – it’s impossible to listen to a song like Into The Blue without making mental comparisons to the likes of Crimson, Yes or Genesis – all I can say is that the band tear into their job with such evident relish and aplomb that I can’t help but be carried along. The title – and closing – track is even longer at nearly 32 minutes and yet the time seems to fly by, immersed in the rich soundworld the four musicians create.

And the album is a handsome thing to behold, coming dressed in suitably progged-out attire:

The four discs (r-l) CD1 Kaleidoscope (stereo), DVD1 Kaleidoscope (5.1), CD2 8 cover versions recorded during the album sessions, DVD2 ‘Making of’ documentary.

The image doesn’t quite do justice to the full psychedelic effect of the lenticular sleeve design (also reproduced inside in postcard form) or include the Kaleidoscope t-shirt included with pre-orders, all of which makes the package a snip at around £40 for the discerning prog-nerd. TA, who have courted this element in their prospective fan-base with limited editions from album one, have really outdone themselves this time; producing a package that stands comparison with previous KScope high-end releases from the likes of Steven Wilson, not to mention Marillion‘s plush campaign editions. Musically it arguably lacks the freshness and back-to- front consistency of previous releases: their stall is set now and the element of surprise regarding ‘what will the collective efforts of these four veterans sound like’ is long gone. Kaleidoscope sounds just as one might imagine: well-crafted and impeccably-played, unashamedly-retro prog rock. The more complex compositions are still agreeably leavened by keen melodic sensibilities, albeit those are a little less to the fore this time around, and this still sets them apart: by way of comparison/contrast listen to their cover of King Crimson‘s willfully-gnarly Indiscipline on the bonus disc. Like all the covers – including Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Nights In White Satin – it treads a line between being faithful and distinct and as with previous efforts it gives a peek behind the curtain of the band’s influences. Only And You And I slightly misses the mark, sounding somehow bereft without Jon Anderson at the helm (attendees at the recent Progressive Nation At Sea festival were treated to hearing the latter join TA for a ‘proper’ run at the song, amongst other classics from the Yes canon) but I digress…

The Indiscipline and And You And I covers highlight, in different ways, what Transatlantic don’t offer: music that’s genuinely challenging or possessed of a single, focal, unifying voice. They recreate the bombast of the prog of yore for an appreciative audience and they do it very well: to quote Mike Portnoy/Adrian Belew ‘I like it!’ But for all its occasional highlights, Kaleidoscope hasn’t surpassed The Whirlwind to these ears. It’s good – very good at times: those dirty Purple/Crimson chords, and guest performer Daniel Gildenlöw‘s ‘Demis Roussos‘ vocal on Into The Blue – but the melodies are generally less memorable; the performances somewhat less impassioned; and where there was a clear progression of ideas and approach across the first three albums, the return to the familiar track-listing formula of earlier releases seems like a – literal – step back.

If you notice something of a decline in enthusiasm on my part between the beginning and end of this review, then there’s a reason for that: I started it a month or so back when it hadn’t long arrived. Real life has left me with increasingly less time to myself over the last year or so – no bad thing: my relationship and social life is going from strength to strength – and blogging has taken a back seat and as a result I’ve been working on a number of posts piecemeal without actually publishing much. In the interim the ‘Shine’ has worn off: I’m listening to The Whirlwind now – as I’ve also unearthed Bridge Across Forever – and the contrast is not flattering to Kaleidoscope! There’s nothing here as spine-tinglingly sinister as Roine Stolt‘s vocals on A Man Can Feel; as emotively epic as Neal Morse‘s elegiac Rose Colored Glasses; as climactic as Is It Really Happening? (and perhaps more worryingly, as joyous as their Beatles knock-off, Suite Charlotte Pike). And the band commit the cardinal sin of ending the album on a fade-out. Symbolic maybe? Can we expect a TA hiatus such as that which followed Bridge…? Those 8 years set the stage for The Whirlwind so maybe a break to refresh the creative juices might be in order?

Dear Mike Huckabee: You do know how reproduction works, right?

Standard

Originally posted on Emily L. Hauser - In My Head:

The original title of this post was Dear GOP: You do know how pregnancy works, right?, and it was my single most viewed post, ever, getting more than 100,000 hits in March, 2012. Apparently, though, Mike Huckabee didn’t get the memo. So I’m re-upping it.

I have been pregnant four times.

These pregnancies led to the following four results, in this order: abortion, baby, miscarriage, baby.

These pregnancies occurred over a span of many years, across two continents, and in three different homes. There were at least seven different health care professionals involved, my hair styles varied widely, as did my levels of nausea. The only constant, in all four cases, other than me, was the presence of a penis.

It happened to be the penis I eventually married, but regardless, that is how reproduction works. No matter who you are, no matter your sexuality, ability…

View original 425 more words

Gender Trends of 2013 – the Year in Review

Standard

Guls:

The good news is that men seem to be kicking back against masculinity: the – less-heartening – news is our collective failure to distinguish the former from maleness, a biologically-inherited reality. (some) Transgenders defend their position with the same entitled-zeal employed by MRA’s. The human race moves no further forward. In one sense, the issue of gender is rendered moot: the dichotomy in behaviour re-creates the classic dichotomy in agency. Since reading Demonic Males – a well-researched tome with no pretence to feminism albeit full of insight – I’m of the mind that behavioural change in and of itself is insufficient and a more social engineering-based strategy is called for: to wit; a reversal of the long-standing mode of selective abortion in favour of males. This cannot practically be accomplished in plain sight; a degree of deception is called for, at least in the short term. Nature grants females the upper hand in matters reproductive: backed-up by history and biology: active defiance of this is the root of ‘man’kind’s untenable position as top of the tree. Gender is the problem. ‘Whitewash’, ‘Gaywash’ and ‘Transwash’ are increasingly desperate responses to a deep-rooted dichotomy that we CAN reverse, God-willing.

Originally posted on GenderTrender:

2013

Taking a quick glance at last year’s Top Trends list it becomes clear that the overall trend towards reducing the social role of women via the enforcement of cultural subordination rituals (femininity) shows little sign of abating. While there has been notable increased feminist activism and consciousness-raising against gender, the trend continues towards increased sexualization, objectification and dehumanization of women and girls with no improvement in female participation in social, economic and civic life.

Rather, conservative male supremacist power has increasingly targeted for reversal the scant gains won by the “second wave” of the women’s liberation movement, including reproductive autonomy, freedom from beauty mandates, economic parity, protection from male sex-based violence. The sole exception is in the area of women’s rights to legal parity regarding state support for monogamous romantic attachments- an unintended artifact of the successful male homosexual rights movement.

Currently the increasingly subordinate social role of women is…

View original 3,922 more words

The Greatest (3)

Standard

I was a devoted Metaller thru most of my school days, which made acknowleging the genius of artists in other genres an exercise in losing face, if not an outright no-no. Two ‘bands’ stood out from my hard-rockin’ playlist (not that I thought of it as such back then) Pet Shop Boys – from whom I first learned to love music – and The Sisters Of Mercy – who served as a kind of transition band who lead me from being a fan of chart music towards a more ‘hard rock’ direction.

I put bands in quotes, because at the time neither were bands in the traditional sense: both were duos and drawing on the emerging – into the mainstream – electronic music tradition. The original line-up of The Sisters had imploded whilst ‘living above the chemist’ and PSB were one of seemingly many acts eschewing the established vocals-guitar-bass-drums format in favour of newly-affordable sampling and sequencing technology. The Sisters had, since their inception made something of a feature of their ‘drummer-less’ line-up, relying on the talents of the so-called Doktor Avalanche.

More pertinently, both acts were unashamedly musical, not afraid to straddle the purported divide between striving for popular success and demonstrating intelligence and knowledge of pop history. Can you imagine a band like SoM receiving airplay today? Maybe you can, though – look at The Arcade Fire. I discovered them (SoM) tuning into TotP to hear the new PSB single, as it happens. Music was relatively hard to come by back then: you either had to tune into TotP or the radio at the right time or take a chance on a CD (or more likely an LP or MC) purchase. When Brandon Flowers (of The Killers fame) inducted PSB into The Brits award ceremony he spoke of having to choose between buying The Smiths and PSB‘s hits compilations: YouTube was some ways off. Thinking of that reminds me of another song that made my original top ten all-time greatest, so I’m gonna include it here as a seasonal bonus along with the alternative Sisters take below… Despite having abandoned my slavish, juvenile devotion to genre and its social trappings, I’m not a lover of The Smiths first album – though the following three are excellent and I remain a devoted Johnny Marr fan, His ‘new’ album has really grown on me, and he’s played lots with the PSBs, doncha know – but What Difference Does It Make is a killer track; one of the all-time great rock riffs.

Enjoy…

Merry Xmas… with bells on!

Standard

Had a bit more to drink than intended last nite so work today was a little more effort than it needed to be. Only fifteen lunches to cook so not too much of a trial though. Thanks to my good friend Sam for the loan of her couch for the nite, and Wayne for his company this evening. Managed to catch up with Mum & Dad, my sister Angela and my lovely girlfriend Julia by phone (she’s visiting family) so all in all, an Xmas well-spent. Off to bed in a mo – work again tomorrow before a clear run of a week off to carry me on to the new year.

Yay!

So without further ado here’s my Christmas song for the year, Marillion’s just-released charity single, their version of the traditional song ‘Carol Of The Bells‘:

If you like what you hear then click on the link to download the song in either iTunes or regular mp3 formats for just 79p. Alternatively, you can give a few quid directly to the Matt Elworthy Fund (or my lovely employer, The Sussex Beacon) whether you like the song or not: Matt, a resident of Marillion‘s hometown, Aylesbury is recovering from an operation to remove a brain tumour.

Goodwill…