Tag Archives: metal

Metal health (2): Gender edition

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Following on from Metal Is Gay, another enlightening and welcome article from  Terrorizer staff addressing sexism within the metal community

On the one hand, I applaud Yardley for his, at least partial, honesty and willingness to confront – after a fashion – said sexism. I Blogged the article on homophobia he references (above) in a recent mbg post: as a longtime metal fan and occasional reader of Terrorizer it’s heartening to see exponents of that community addressing the bigotry – sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism etc – that are all too often glossed-over within a scene (extreme metal) that, musically at least, champions progressiveness and originality.
Aaaaand, yet, his article throws the elephant, the big contradiction into sharp relief: if Yardley is passingly familiar with the feminist position, enough to be gender-critical, just why does he still embrace the ‘Trans* identity? Stop short of owning up to being a fetishist, or at least jaded by the putative demands of masculinity. Or maybe he doesn’t see it that way? Maybe Trans* means something else to him? Which loo does he use, I wonder, in any case?
Still glad (GLAAD?) he wrote this piece, though. It’s noteworthy that whilst the definition of Trans* (Gender questioning/queer) grows ever broader to the point of near-meaninglessness; that the ideological criteria for inner-circle membership continue be confined by good ol’ boys club values of masculine entitlement and fear.

(This post is based on a comment I posted on GenderTrender; your one-stop-shop for gender-critical analysis and discussion in a hostile, narrow-minded media).

An extreme metal injection at this point seems apposite: Baying Of The Hounds fits the bill, I think….

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Heavy metal is gay…

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…is a statement guaranteed to trigger apoplexy in not a few rockers of the old school, not to say bafflement amongst some only passingly familiar with the genre. But bear with Tom Dare, writing over at Terrorizer.com about homophobia in the rock and metal world:

‘…metal is totally gay. It’s a predominantly male audience watching predominantly male bands act as butch and masculine as possible. It’s leather, denim, tight trousers … and a bunch of other shit that has more to do with 1970s San Francisco gay clubs than anything vaguely hetero. It’s all phallic metaphors, homoerotic imagery and sweaty (frequently topless) men grappling each other in a dark room.’

He’s got a point: consider the ‘classic metal’ look, as exemplified by Rob Halford of Black Country metal stalwarts, Judas Priest, amongst others from that New Wave Of British Heavy Metal era. That leather and stud look is still popular within certain of gay clubbing circles: and whilst Halford IS gay – now openly so – he’s very much the exception. German industrial metallers, Rammstein, took that camp/macho, homoerotic look to its natural conclusion more so than many latterday exponents of the genre, as seen here on Bück Dich (Bend Down):

Clearly a band comfortable enough with their sexuality to play around with it as camp, vulgar exhibitionism (mind you, this was their first album cover 😉 )

As Dare writes, though; such is not the norm. Homophobia in metal circles, as elsewhere, is undoubtedly an issue. Back in 1984, Queen lost a lot of fans Statesside with their cross-dressing video clip for I Want To Break Free. (OK, Queen aren’t a metal band per se, but they’ve flirted with the genre on many occasions and count not a few metal aficionados amongst their fan base). It would be heartening to think we’d moved on from there.

Homophobia, at its root isn’t a fear of male-on-male sex as such; so much as a fear of men not being seen to perform their proper gender rôle (i.e. fucking – and putatively impregnating – a bunch of women). As such, it’s rooted in misogyny – a fact that can be inferred in the colloquial use of gay to mean worthless or inferior. The best critical analysis of homophobia I’ve read is by American feminist writer and activist Andrea Dworkin in the ‘Law’ chapter of her classic Intercourse text.

What homophobia within subcultures such as metal tells us is that men still yearn for ‘safe spaces’ to indulge their homophobic – and thus, misogynistic – feelings without admitting it to themselves.

So I beg to differ with Dare when he writes

‘(When) Oli Sykes …screams about the girls he’s read about on the back of toilet doors (which paints a rather grim view of Sheffield, if that kind of misogyny is commonplace …) that’s a separate issue…’

But agree wholeheartedly with the following

 ‘…it brings love and shagging into metal. And that makes some people – particularly young people less likely to realise that phrases like “fuck this gay shit” or “faggot metal queers” cause real harm to real people – uncomfortable, and lash out.’

Metallers often adopt a posture of aloofness and superiority with regard to the ‘mainstream’ pop industry: I know I sure did back in the day – and that’s bullshit for any number of reasons, not least because much metal, as much punk, is really cranked-up, distorted pop – most often in the claim that for them it’s ‘all about the music; divorced from popular, consumerist trends; glossy, sexually-explicit marketing. It should be all about the music; and would be in a world less prejudiced.

Dare‘s call for metal fans to confront homophobia is, at heart, a call for them to know themselves better.

 

 

Dark Eternal Might

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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 🙂

 

Dream Theater – the Opus is upon us

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Dream Theater‘s self-titled 12th studio album is due to be released this Monday; in the meantime I’ve been enjoying the stream via Prog magazine‘s website. It’s been up a few days but due to technical issues I’ve only been able to listen since yesterday. Nonetheless I’ve had a few listens right thru and initial impressions are, if not great then certainly not bad either. Here are a few thoughts on each song…

False Awakening Suite is the title of the previously-mooted instrumental intro. As intros go it’s ok; cycling in short order (2.41) thru a series of contrasting dramatic themes. Think a compact variation on the 6DOIT Overture. By comparison it suffers somewhat from its brevity: there’s scarcely time to appreciate the merits of one theme before the next one kicks in. I can see it working well as the live intro it’s reportedly been written to be, though.

My initial thoughts on first ‘single’ The Enemy Inside are here. Sufficed to say, although – like many songs – its placing within an album context changes the listening experience somewhat, and its metal directness makes it both a strong opening cut proper after the tease of False Awakening and an effective contrast to some of the more proggy and balladic moments.

Instant impression of The Looking GlassRush! Definitely a melodic tip of the hat to the Canuck power trio here (they do it again later in the intro for Surrender to Reason, too). Probably the most immediately-impressive song so far to my ears, as it happens.

Enigma Machine is the second instrumental track: a showboating interlude that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Awake, or even Scenes From A Memory: like Erotomania or The Dance of Eternity it demonstrates the band’s instrumental and compositional prowess without pushing the bounds of indulgence or outstaying its welcome.

There are hints of of …Puppets era Metallica and latter-day Pendragon in Behind The Veil and that’s no bad thing, and where the contrast between crunchy riffing and sweetly-melodic sections come off as disorienting and jerky elsewhere they’re really effective on this track. Another highlight for me.

Neither Surrender To Reason nor The Bigger Picture have really made much impression on me yet. I’ve listened several times but nothing’s sticking and they kind of exemplify the ‘mushy’ comment below…

Along For The Ride is a short, quietly-epic ballad with a feel not unlike This Is The Life from the last record. Wasn’t hugely keen when RR released it as the second album trailer but it grew on me pretty quickly with each listening and tracklisting-wise it provides a welcome moment of pure calm prior to the full on prog-ness of Illumination Theory. Nice solo spots from Petrucci and Rudess too: economical and understated by their standards and all the more effective for that.

Illumination Theory is the album’s only real excursion into the extended, symphonic mode, and as such it’s a daunting, multi-faceted beast of a track. Of all the songs here, it’s probably going to require the most digesting so take this early analysis with a pinch of salt. I’m reminded a little of song suites including Marillion’s Gaza, Fair To Midland‘s The Greener Grass and Frost*s Milliontown insofar as there’s a definite sense of disparate sections stitched together in a way that’s not initially pleasing to the ear: a jerky start-stop-start feel which contrasts poorly with previous DT epics such as Octavarium and The Count of Tuscany. Those songs, though equivalent in complexity and ambition clicked pretty much right away for me. Having said that, Gaza, …Grass and Milliontown now rate amongst my very favourite ‘epic’ prog workouts, so only time will tell whether Illumination Theory will become a favourite also. And speaking of Milliontown, that song sprang to mind when the false ending gave way to Rudess‘ piano fadeout.

To briefly summarize; the intricacies of this album will perhaps assert themselves more strongly over the course of time and repeat playing; I certainly hope so, because at the moment, a few highlights aside there’s a mushy, blandness to the album as a whole which after the near-triumph of ADToE I wasn’t expecting at all. It’s almost paradoxical, insofar as generally, DT have pulled back from the extended and twiddly prog workouts – for which they are both reviled or revered in certain quarters – and distilled their essence into more compact, more conventional songs. The average track length here is around the 6-min mark, for a start. Somehow though a number of the compositions feel unnecessarily cluttered and somewhat jerky, with few immediate hooks standing out. So what?! I hear prog fans snorting dismissively – this is DT not 1D right! Fair enough, but the two aren’t mutually-exclusive, as ADToE and much else of DT‘s best work attests. What made ADToE such a breath of fresh air was the ease with which it flowed as a complete piece: there were few gnarly moments of musicality for its own sake and it was chock full of memorable melodies and occasions for each player to shine. DT feels less well-balanced, though compliments are due to both Mike Mangini and James LaBrie who have certainly pushed themselves here. By contrast, Jordan Rudess and John Myung are afforded less prominence, which is a shame because their more up-front presence was again one of the most appealing aspects of ADToE.

False Awakening and Illumination Theory aside, the emphasis on this album is definitely on the hard rock rather than the prog side, albeit with a healthy smattering of ballad-ness and plenty of musicianly detail to make multiple listens a necessity. It’s perhaps closest to Awake than any other of their albums in this respect and yet nothing like that album in so many ways (Illumination Theory, for example has a feel very much at odds with anything they recorded with Portnoy, featuring shocking contrasts of crackling aggression and soothing lushness that bring to mind Oceansize or even Between The Buried And Me).

DT are buggers for defying expectation, though, which is precisely what keeps them interesting; and ensures that they never manage to please all the fans all of the time. If nothing else, DT (the album) offers further proof that those who wrote the band off in light of Portnoy‘s departure were mistaken: they certainly haven’t run out of ideas, it’s merely a question of which ideas resonate with, and stand the test of time for, whom.

Back to the listening booth, then  😉

Opus Eponymous: In the Presence of ‘The Enemy…’

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First things first: the Dream Theater pre-order is now open. But if you’re a fan, you probably know that 😉 With over a month to go the band have released a trailer in the form of The Enemy Inside…

Truth be told, this shows the facet of DT‘s repertoire I like the least. When Radiohead said ‘anyone can play guitar’ they were perhaps being a little tongue in cheek – and certainly not everyone can play guitar like John Petrucci – but this kind of ‘speed metal for radio’ doesn’t really do justice to the embarrassment of musical talent in the DT camp. In spite of protestations that the band have been masters of their own musical destiny – most notably since Scenes from a Memory (1999) – there have been occasional signs that the band have tweaked their sound to appeal to a more mainstream/trendy metal/rock audience – Never Enough (very Muse), The Dark Eternal Night (pseudo-‘Death growls’, A Rite of Passage and strayed from the essence of their sound in the process. This sounds like another one of those times to me. …Enemy… is a very pedestrian slice of metal by DT standards: fast-paced, suitably-shredding, dizzyingly-widdly but finally not that memorable.

Previous excursions into full-on metal – most notably with Awake (1994), Train of Thought (2003) and Systematic Chaos (2007) – remain the weakest episodes in DT’s career to date, in my opinion anyway.

I didn’t miss Mike Portnoy‘s playing on A Dramatic Turn of Events at all, but I do on this song – I think his ‘manic Moon’ splashes and fills would have lifted this song in a way that Mike Mangini‘s precise yet predictable batterie doesn’t. And Jordan Rudess is criminally underused here. When his solo spot arrives at 4.43 my heart almost skips a beat, but then it settles back down pretty quickly when I realise I’ve heard these kinda figures done before, and better.

It’s a shame, because I don’t think this song will either sate the appetite of established fans or win them any new ones. This is a crucial album for them in many ways and they need to impress. Much as the lacklustre A Rite of Passage (accompanied, like …Enemy… by a pretty lame video clip) didn’t put me off pre-ordering Black Clouds and Silver Linings this won’t stop me going ahead and purchasing Dream Theater but it has dampened my enthusiasm a little. ADToE came on the back of two albums that only really shone half the time, sporting a freshness and economy of writing that put it up there with the band’s best work. I’m looking for more in the remainder of the tracks, and I doubt I’ll be entirely disappointed, but lets wait and see…

Opus Eponymous

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Via Roadrunner site, tantalizing early news regarding Dream Theater‘s upcoming, self-titled new album. Has it really been 2 years since the Long Island quintet released their last, aptly-titled, A Dramatic Turn of Events? Where did that time go?

ADToE was apt for two reasons: as long-time followers were aware at the time, it marked the band’s first studio release and tour without founding-member and ‘back seat’ driving-force, drummer Mike Portnoy. Although Portnoy was never a principal songwriter, his immersion in DT‘s career trajectory in every other way – de facto spokesperson, fan club manager, (co) producer (with guitarist, John Petrucci) oftentimes lyricist, backing vocalist and over-arching musical director –  gave him enormous influence within the DT organisation.

Happily, ADToE turned out to be DT‘s strongest album since 2005’s Octavarium; dialing back a little on the rock virtuoso showboating to concentrate on more focused songwriting and memorable melodies. Said music was already written by the time the band selected Mike Mangini as a permanent replacement for the departed Portnoy, and his playing, competent and powerful as it is, reflects that. Portnoy, a devotee of the Keith Moon school, demonstrated a propensity for elevating percussion to almost lead-instrument position. Intricate fills vied for attention with Petrucci‘s guitar pyrotechnics or doubled Jordan Rudess‘ synth lines; cymbal splashes and double-bass figures provided signature, omnipresent punctuation. In playing around existing, almost-finished compositions, Mangini created parts that were sympathetic whilst taken down a notch: DT‘s signature sound very much present and correct yet subtly-different. This time around he‘s been involved from the off, so it’ll be interesting to see how that affects the dynamic of the music. Will his parts sit so unobtrusively – albeit tightly – within the compositions as before or will the confidence gained from two years touring allow his percussive personality to take the fore and pull the band in new directions?

Progressive bands ought to progress after all. Whether or not you cared for all the resulting music, there’s no doubt that changes of line-up and circumstance forced protagonists of the old-guard – Yes, Genesis, Crimson – to try out new ideas, instrumentation and styles. If DT have been guilty of one musical crime over the years, it’s pushing the limits of their virtuoso talents at times at the expense of their songwriting and lyrical development and the abandonment of strong melody in favour of dizzying speed and tricky rhythmic shifts. 2007’s Systematic Chaos was perhaps their nadir in this respect: In the Presence of Enemies part 1 was a storming opener, Forsaken a great power ballad and Atonement perhaps the most satisfying segment of the 12-Step suite since it began way back on 6DOIT (and I liked, and miss Portnoy‘s embrace of contrasting, death-influenced vocal stylings). But there was far too much instrumental wankery elsewhere, and Petrucci – a patchy lyricist at best – really let the side down on the lyric front with some cringeworthy Dungeons & Dragons cliches. Black Clouds & Silver Linings (2009) was a partial return, still struggling lyrically, albeit back in the real world but worth a punt for Petrucci‘s lovely power ballad, Wither, and epic album-bookends A Nightmare to Remember and The Count of Tuscany – the latter a career highlight up there with Blind Faith, Hell’s Kitchen/Lines in the Sand and the mighty Octavarium suite in my opinion. And by the time ADToE rolled out they really hit a new stride, songwise, with only Lost Not Forgotten and Outcry outstaying their welcome, and This Is the Life, Far From Heaven and Beneath the Surface demonstrating genuine, ‘tug-the-heartstrings’ mastery of emotional and melodic nuance. Build Me Up, Break Me Down had a pleasing, contemporary pop rock sensibility about it, too; and I for one would love to see DT develop this aspect of their oevre (mind you, I like Falling Into Infinity, which was made under commercial sufferance and is none the worse for it – not a popular opinion, mind) so I’d be curious to hear what they could come up with if they discovered their poppier sensibilities of their own volition, much as Marillion did with .com or Crimson circa Discipline).

Self-titling their 12th studio album could be read (as Petrucci implies, above) as a statement of intent; an attempt to record the definitive Dream Theater long-player. For many, that accolade belongs to their second album, 1992’s Images and Words, though the aforementioned Octavarium is also a critical and fan favourite. In truth, though, their fanbase well reflects the adage that you can’t please all of the people, all of the time; and the record is sure to divide the following once again. For me, they haven’t produced an album of wall-to-wall brilliance for a long time: Octavarium came damn close, but given the upward curve since Systematic Chaos I’m expecting good things.

In the meantime, here’s a few personal highlights from the band’s career to date:

Gods are dead

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Bit slow on the uptake here, I admit; but as a fan of the original Black Sabbath and an increasingly uninterested observer from a distance of ‘Sabbath’ and Ozzy’s subsequent work I’ve been reluctant to give the latest reunion a chance. Anyway, this is the track God is Dead that the 3/4 line-up have been premiering on the current world tour:

Initial impressions do little to dispel the notion that rock is a young person’s game. This is Sabbath-by-numbers pure and simple: the riffage couldn’t be anyone but Iommi, or at least 30 years back it couldn’t. In the wake of the Doom/Stoner rock movement that Sabbath did so much to pioneer, however, it feels over-familiar and as comfortable as a much-worn and faded black tee, which isn’t what rock’n’roll ought to be about.

I’ve no doubt that the song plays well live, and slots in nicely alongside such classics as Hand of Doom, Electric Funeral and of course, the mighty eponymous title-track; but it plods rather than compels.

Whilst (producer, Rick) Rubin has clearly fulfilled his trademark remit of reconnecting Sabbath with their characteristic sound, one can’t help but wish the band had had the courage to push the envelope a bit more with a younger, more fiery act at the helm (I’m thinking of Rush – a band of similar vintage – and their last two recordings with Nick Raskulinecz).

Then again, maybe they’re playing it safe by trailing the album launch with a single that harks back to past glories and the album is an altogether more diverse affair? Sabbath are often – rightly – acknowledged as pioneers of the ‘metal’ sound: what casual listeners often miss is just how fearlessly inventive they became in the space of that initial six-album-long burst of post-adolescent expression. Departure tracks such as soulful piano ballad, Changes and the rolling, psychedelic brainwash of Planet Caravan; the jazzy inflections of Sabbra Cadabra, Am I Going Insane‘s Bolero and the choral backing on Supertzar. Much of their output wasn’t really ‘metal’ at all, and their last two ‘proper’ albums (Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Sabotage) are as exploratory in their way as The Beatles (The Beatles), Strangeways Here We Come (The Smiths), Signals (Rush), Zen Arcade (Hüsker Dü) or any other high-watermark of rock inventiveness you care to name.

My main gripe with the post-Ozzy years of Sabbath‘s career is just how quickly it became a meat-and-potatoes hard rock band, with a preponderance for cheesy Dungeons & Dragons lyrics. Here’s hoping upcoming release, 13 has more to offer than that…

edit:

here’s a couple more tracks the Sabs have been airing on the current tour – thanks to Atleastimhousebroken from AMetalStateOfMind for mentioning that they were doing the rounds, below…

The End of the Beginning has a similar feel to God is Dead, very much in the mould of classic Oz-era Sabbath. Methademic – one of three bonus tracks on the ‘special edition’ CD release – by contrast, sounds more like an Ozzy solo song to me. The main riff is punchy and powers the song along at a good, headbanging pace; and whilst it lacks the compelling melodic hook of say Paranoid or Sabbra Cadabra, I can see it stirring up the moshpit some. A direct, uptempo hard rocker.

I refrained previously from getting into the moshpit of critical opinion re the two big elephants in the room, which is to say a) the absence of Mr Ward behind the drumkit and, b) Ozzy‘s sometimes shortcomings in the vocal department. In light of hearing these live recordings, however, I have to say I’m impressed on the second count. Osborne was never a great singer, but his voice and delivery were always distinctive and an integral part of the Sabbath sound; and he sounds great on the Melbourne recordings. For me, though, Ward‘s contribution to the band’s feel is always going to be missed. With respect to the likes of Vinny Appice, Mike Bordin and Brad Wilk – more than capable players – who have deputised over the years; nobody ever made Sabbath swing the way he did.

 

 

 

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And in other metal news, it has been announced that Slayer guitarist, songwriter and founder-member, Jeff Hanneman has died from liver failure. He was 49. Along with Metallica, Slayer were amongst the early pioneers of the ’80s Thrash Metal sound which is currently enjoying something of a resurgence. As well as drawing on the sound of Punk, New Wave and NWOBHM acts such as Misfits, Killing Joke and Judas Priest, Slayer were big Sabbath fans as can be heard in the clip below which is included here as a tribute to Hanneman.

R.I.P.