Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Spiral Out. Keep Going

Big Day Out Sydney, 25th January

After attending stunning performances by Muse and Tool back to back over two nights, I got to see them both performing together at the Big Day Out. This was pretty exciting in and of itself, but as it happened there wasn't a lot else in it for me at this years festival. I'm obviously getting old and out of touch with what's cool in music.

Nevertheless my friends and I dutifully took the day off work, got up early and had a very nice champagne breakfast. In a throwback to the days of tertiary education we drank two bottles of champagne between four of us before 11am (not counting the spirits we added to give it kick).

Seeing as there was little that interested any of us playing early in the day we didn't show up until about 1pm, and spent most of the afternoon in queues. Queues for the toilets, queues for food and oh god you'd better believe there were queues for drinks. You were looking at at least half an hour per drink. One suspects that this was a deliberate decision on the part of the organisers to prevent drunken violence. They certainly seemed more concerned with safety and did more to boss the punters around than what I was used to at the Big Day Out back in Auckland.

The show was held at Olympic Park and it was very similar to Ericsson Stadium, the Auckland venue. The layout was much the same and the individual stages were similar sizes, there was just a lot more room between them. The major difference was the dance tent, which was absolutely cavernous compared to the shitty little supertop back at Ericsson. The other difference was all the Australian flags, but that subject is probably best reserved for a post of its own...

The first band I made an effort to actually go and see was The Butterfly Effect, who are more or less the Aussie equivalent of The Bleeders, or maybe Blindspott. I was surprised to realise I knew a few of their songs (they're often played in the clubs around here) and they put on an OK show, but The Bleeders would blow them off the stage. I really missed seeing all the Kiwi bands who you can rely on to play almost every year early in the day. The Bleeders, Deja Voodoo... you know, I even miss 8 Foot...
The Butterfly Effect

Immediately after them we made a hasty exit from the main stadium in an attempt to hide from the shame of coming from the same country as Evermore and Scribe. Now there's a couple of bands I wouldn't have missed.

At that point there followed a few hours of aimless wandering. We finally decided to sit down and watch a bit of My Chemical Romance. In the past I have often dissed these guys quite strongly, characterising them as worthless, turgid, talentless little shits capitalising on the most inane kind of teenage angst who would only be worth watching if you put them in a blender, but I've come to reconsider that position. Maybe it was the bourbon but I came to realise that there is a lot of entertainment to be found in watching a really shitty band perform really shittily while a bunch of pubescent emo losers jump up and down and squeal. For added comedy, ensure that half of the little morons are wearing Australian flags over their black t-shirt and boardies.

My Chemical Romance. From a good safe distance.

At that point I jettisoned my friends and made a solo mission to see Peaches. I first saw her at a Big Day Out in Auckland years ago, and was surprised (but entertained) by the overt sleaziness of her act. This time I knew what to expect going in and didn't enjoy it as much. She was cool and delivered what was expected, but failed to really get the crowd going, at least around where I was standing. Points though for causing some dopey hick battler to get all pissy and drag his 11 or 12 year old son out of the crowd, announcing loudly and angrily “I don't want my son to see this kind of thing!” apparently referring to the giant penises flying across the huge video screens behind the stage. Even if Peaches' music didn't do much for me this year I do wholeheartedly approve her attempt to pervert the youth of Australia.

Peaches

The line up was looking pretty sparse for the next few hours so after a half hearted attempt to reunite with my friends I decided to cut my losses and head into the D barrier to get a place for Tool. I was faced with two tough dilemmas; firstly should I stand on the barrier and be right in front of the stage, but have to put up with the moshpit for the four and a half hours until they finished (plus being right by the speakers for the whole time) and secondly should I stand stage left so I could see Muse play, or stage right so I could be right in front of Adam Jones but be unable to see Muse. I eventually settled on 'almost right on the barrier, in front of Adam'. Most satisfying. But before I could enjoy the fruits of my careful decision making, I had to suffer through my greatest trial yet. An hour of The Killers, followed by an hour of Jet! A truly horrifying prospect, and a lesser man would have caved and gone home rather than face it. Or perhaps enjoyed it.

The Killers weren't too bad. I do say nasty things about them sometimes but it's more that they're overrated than that they are actually bad. I certainly don't dislike them nearly as much as say Green Day or My Chemical Romance or The Arctic Motherfucking Monkeys. Of course when I say 'weren't too bad' what I mean is that I endured through it without too much trouble, and in fact all I can remember about it now is that the singer is an annoying little b-grade Morrissey impersonator who I wanted to punch in the face.

The Killers

Jet on the other hand were abysmal. I can scarcely fathom how they got placed so highly on the bill but I suspect it had something to do with misplaced Aussie nationalism. They're nothing more than a second rate copy of The Datsuns, and The Datsuns are pretty shit to begin with. Fortunately I was not alone in my assessment, judging by the healthy amount of verbal abuse, obscene gestures and broken glass that was hurled their way in a steady torrent from the moment they took the stage until they played their last song and mercifully departed. It was almost worth it, but unfortunately none of them received any head injuries.

Jet

Finally, my long dark winter of the ears was over and Muse took the stage. I couldn't see them at all except for on the big video screen so I have no wild tales to tell of on stage shenanigans or breathtaking visuals, but I can say that they sounded awesome. The setlist was a subset of what they played the other night:

Knights of Cydonia
Starlight
Butterflies
New Born
Supermassive Black Hole
Hysteria
Map of the Problematique
Invincible
Time is Running Out
Plug In Baby
Stockholm Syndrome
Take a Bow

Good stuff but no one else around where I was standing seemed that into it. And to be honest even I was feeling a little impatient...

Matt Bellamy Fashion Watch:
I dunno, I couldn't see him.

Maynard Fashion Watch:
Pretty much the same as the night before. Only with a hat.

So after a long long wait (the girl in front of me claimed to have been hanging on to that barrier for seven hours before Tool walked on stage) the headliners finally appeared.

Stinkfist

Seeing Adam play this song from a couple of metres away can only be described as being like dying, going to heaven and having Sarah Michelle Gellar ask me to poop in her butt. To tell the truth, this whole concert was amazing.

Yay it's Adam!

The crowd got pretty mental during this song. I saw no fewer than three semi conscious girls get carried past me by St. Johns before it ended. I became mildly worried for the well being of my friends back in the moshpit and for that of the gaggle of cute little goth chicks I seemed to had found myself surrounded by but things actually mellowed out completely by the time this song was over. Rumour has it that the moshpit the night before was brutal, and that Muse's BDO set had been really rough, so maybe the munters had just worn themselves out.

The Pot

I was a bit disappointed not to hear this one the night before so I was very pleased that they played it this time. Justin played that crazy assed bass riff like a motherfucker. Awesome.

46 & 2
Jambi
Schism

Probably not quite as good performances as the night before (even Danny's solos, while still amazing, weren't as mind blowing as at the earlier show), but being right in the crowd, surrounded by (refreshingly mellow) people who were as into the music as I was made it personally more enjoyable for me. I liked Maynards little dance with his hat while Adam played his talk box solo during Jambi.

You can't really tell but in this photo Danny Carey is transcending time and space.

Epilady Solo

I was stoked to see this one again from up close. Go Adam go!

Sober
Opiate

A couple of nostalgia trips tonight. I appreciated that they made an effort to play a few different tracks for the sake of those of us who attended both concerts!

After three days I finally take a decent photo. Adam playing Vicarious.

Lateralus
Spacey Instrumental
Vicarious

Aenima

All just as much fun as the previous night, if not more. The stage show and performances weren't quite as good but the vibe in the crowd was fantastic and it was by no means anything less than fantastic. Things are just always a bit less polished and not as intimate at a festival. Was it just me or did Adam stuff up the intro to Vicarious a little? If so it was the only time I heard him make a mistake over the two nights. Seeing him up close like that was like a spiritual experience for me (I was still grinning my head off two days later, so that on Saturday night people in bars kept asking me what drugs I was on). At the concert I (barely) refrained from yelling out “Adam I love you and want to have your babies!” but between the constant waving about of my hands and the singing along with the guitar solos and so on, I think he probably got the picture anyway.

And then they left, promising to be back in December. (A year!?! But I want it now!) We stuck around for a bit of The Crystal Method (DJs) but my legs were about to fall off by that stage, so it was off to bed for me.

I seem to have outgrown the Big Day Out a little but it was still a good day. The highlights being, in this order:

Adam
The rest of Tool
Muse
Champagne breakfast
Laughing at My Chemical Romance

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I Suck

My lovingly recounted tale of this years Big Day Out has been delayed until tomorrow. In the meantime, The Beast's 50 Most Loathsome Americans List for 2006 is required reading:

14. Britney Spears

Charges: Boozy celebrity bimbos are replicating at an alarming rate these days, but the difference is this bilious tramp has two doomed children, both cursed with the warped ribonucleic helices of a beer-chugging swamp princess with a defective larynx and a lucky low-rent wannabe hustler who may actually be the more responsible parent. Spears' marriage to a universally detested embarrassment to humanity was trashy in two flavors: showbiz in its brevity and trailer in its impressive babies-per-year output. But the worst thing about their unholy matrimony is that we ever had to know who Kevin Federline is. His fame is entirely her fault, and her fame has by far outlasted her initial perverse schoolgirl/jailbait appeal.

Exhibit A: If Britney had shown the world her bald crotch four years ago, it would have caused widespread rioting and possibly a national holiday. Today, even Madonna thinks it's gross.

Holy! Fucking! Shit!

Tool – Live at the Sydney Entertainment Centre, 24th January

It's been almost five long years but finally I had another chance to see Tool in concert once more. Tickets went on sale in September so I have suffered months of anticipation leading up to it, but the day finally arrived and after the longest eight hours of work ever I shrugged off the effects of my cold and headed down to Darling Harbour for the crowning centrepiece of my week of awesomeness.

Upon reaching Haymarket it quickly became apparent that we were not the only ones to whom this concert was an 'Event' with a capital E. A huge swarm of goths, bogans and general freaks had descended on central Sydney like some black-clad biblical plague. Back in Christchurch it never seemed like a big deal to see a huge crowd of alternative people hanging around in a mob but it was genuinely unusual to see the metalheads invade sophisticated, trendy Sydney. I wish I'd taken a photo.

Unfortunately tickets to this concert sold out in less than an hour, and I refused on principle to pay six hundred dollars to a scalper for moshpit tickets, so I had a pair of seated tickets which were unfortunately not together. Investigation revealed that one seat was right in the centre, more or less the best seating available, whereas the other was right around the side against the wall where you could barely even see the backdrop screens behind the band. Basically I had one ticket for the best seat in the house and one that was almost the worst. Shrewdly I gave the good ticket to B, reasoning that if she was in the crap seat she'd miss out on the visuals and a lot of other stuff, whereas the muso in me would be more than satisfied by having the perfect vantage point to overlook Danny Carey's drumkit. I was also on Adam's side of the stage, even though it's harder to see guitar playing from so far away he is my idol so I take what I can get.

Yeah my photos suck. At least it emphasises how crappy my seat was.

The mood in the concert hall was totally amped, almost euphoric. Even though the people sitting immediately around me could be charitably described as dour and taciturn, the room as a whole was buzzing with energy and excitement, about a dozen mexican waves traversed the room before the band appeared and I've never seen so many of the black t-shirt set smiling at once.

A few general comments about the concert: the sound mix was really good. All four band members came through crystal clear but there was still enough punch to feel the heaviness in your guts. I did like sitting in the seats as a change from the moshpit as it meant that your whole attention could be focused on the performance without having to be concerned about someone crowd surfing over your head or the stinky guy next to you rubbing his armpit in your face. On the other hand the area where I was sitting was a bit subdued compared to the rest of the room, I wanted to have the whole 'shared experience' thing and sing along and wave my arms about with everyone else, but it just wasn't happening where I was. Also I was quite a long way away from the band. Better seats would have helped these problems but it still would have been no substitute for being in the crowd.

But on to the songs. The lights went out, and a low bass drone filled the room. The band walked on stage to rapturous applause and launched straight into 'Stinkfist', complete with the usual extra guitar solo before the 'I'll keep digging' part. I hung on the edge of my seat with my tongue hanging out watching Adam play it, thinking that it couldn't get any better than this, but I was wrong.

A bit of keyboard noodling from Adam introduced the second song, '46 & 2'. Both of these tracks were performed with expert musicianship and genuine energy, which is rare for a band to do with singles that they've played to death a million times before. One of the highlights of the night came when Danny played his legendary solo in the middle of this song. It was amazing in and of itself and I was almost wigging out thinking, 'This is only the second song and this concert is already blowing my mind and I'm going to get to see it again tomorrow!'. I can't describe how awesome that moment was without stringing an endless list of superlatives together so I'll just say that I nearly shit my pants out of excitement.

The aforementioned keyboard noodling.

Once they'd finished Maynard took the time to inform us that the word of the day was 'holyfuckingshit'. A phrase that was to emerge unbidden from my lips more than a few times before the concert was over. The next song turned out to be 'Jambi', a catchy, relatively accessible song from the new album and an obvious choice for inclusion in the setlist. Maynard's delivery was soulful and powerful and Adam's guitar solo was just as awesome as on the album.

Maynard Fashion Watch:

Maynard still has a mohawk. He also wore blue jeans, sunnies and an ATF jacket. The jacket disappeared pretty fast.

Next was 'Schism', with a sad little guitar intro added at the start and a new drum solo before the quiet breakdown bit, with Adam playing a fast, heavy version of the quiet riff and Danny Carey causing me to cream my pants for the second time in half an hour. I thought the '46 & 2' solo was insane enough but this one was even more unbelievable. There must be something to this sacred geometry crap because I can scarcely believe anyone can play like that without supernatural assistance. 'Holyfuckingshit!', said Jon.

This photo didn't turn out too bad, but better ones can be found here. Thank you mainstream media.

Following that song the haunting, feedback drenched 'Lost Keys' started up. I was very pleased to hear this one, as it's one of my favourite tracks off the new album and it seems to be unfairly bagged by a lot of people as 'filler'. As expected it segued right into 'Rosetta Stoned', with Maynard babbling his stream of consciousness lyrics into a megaphone. On the album the guitar solo for this song didn't do a lot for me but in this live performance Adam infused it with the emotion it lacked in the recording. Very satisfying.

'Rosetta Stoned' was followed by a bit of a random jam, with Danny playing a repetitive tribal rhythm while Adam soloed with his epilady over the top of it. Fantastic stuff.

After that it was time for the nights obligatory nostalgia trip. The only track from Undertow they played was 'Swamp Song'. One of my least favourite Tool songs to be honest, but they certainly looked like they had a blast playing it. Justin was going nuts (I guess it's more fun to play other peoples songs) and Maynard goofing around trying to psyche Danny with fake starts into the outro.

Then it was nap time. A bit of ambience started playing and the band all put down their instruments and lay down on the stage to have a rest. I guess they decided it was a bit antisocial to hide backstage for their intermission like they did on the previous tour.

Once they returned to their positions they played 'Wings for Marie/ 10,000 Days'. The light show was very impressive, with green lasers being fired across the hall. The performance was quite subdued and had a very different vibe to the rest of the show (which is no surprise really). Maynard especially was very memorable. I've been known to bag him for being a bit overrated as a singer but seeing him perform this song live will probably shut me up for good, I was really struck by the power in his voice. Ninety nine percent of the audience were respectful and obliged the band when Maynard asked for no flash photography during this song, but of course there are always a few who don't get it. I'm actually pretty impressed that they play this song at all. Maynard has a prickly reputation and it must be hard to get up and sing a really personal song about a the death of loved one while a thousand shirtless bogans wave their arms at you and scream 'Woohoo!'.

A trio of fan favourite anthems closed out the night. 'Lateralus' was probably the highlight of the concert for me, I was never a huge fan of the song on the album but live it's just amazing, with Adam playing some of the most inspired melodies and solos he's ever come up with and Danny offsetting them with sublimely inventive rhythms matched with his typical virtuosity. It gives me a huge kick that Danny sets up that huge big gong behind himself to use it just once, at the beginning of the climax of this song. The crowd knows it too; a huge cheer erupted when he hit it.

A really spacey and pretty electronic, ambient instrumental led into 'Vicarious', which appears to be a favourite of the band. After that headfuck of an opening riff, the drop into the main melody of the song could only be described as 'thunderous' and the song came off with energy even greater than that of the rest of the concert.

The night was capped off with 'Aenima'. The band made a point of hanging around on stage for a bit after the lights came on and waving to everyone, which I thought was really nice, especially for a band that supposedly hates their fans.

The hordes of goths, westies and outcasts then tumbled out on to the streets with huge dopey grins on their faces. A pair of well heeled young ladies strolled out of the hotel lobby over the road as I walked past. “Oh my God!” one of them cried with a mixture of panic and disgust, “Where did all these goths come from!?” For one glorious night Sydney took a break from shitty indie rock and boring house and let good music have its day in the sun. Or evening under the moon, as the case may be.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Heh

My political views according to the ozpolitics political spectrum test (via No Right Turn):


(Click for larger image.) I think it sums me up pretty well. Nontraditional and proud of it. Why didn't I get 100% damn it!

The Time Has Come To Make Things Right

Muse – Live at the Hordern Pavilion, Sydney, 23rd January

And so begins the chronicle of my week of awesomeness. I was a little leery of seeing Muse; while on one hand I've attended two of their concerts in the past and both of them were supurb, on the other hand I was not too impressed with the big shit that Matt Bellamy and co took in my ipod earlier this year so I was prepared for potential disappointment.

Although my lovely companion and I were beset by numerous pifalls and terrors on our way to the concert venue, involving burst water mains blocking off major thoroughfares, tight transportation connection times and mixed drinks of highly variable alcohol content, we arrived with about half an hour to spare before the main act started (fortuitously completely missing the opening act).

Matt Bellamy Fashion Watch:

Matt wore a red tracksuit with white stripes. He's also had a haircut so that he looks like a dorky indie rock guy as he did on the Origin of Symmetry tour. His haircut on the last tour was much cooler.

Take a Bow
Map of the Problematique

They opened with two of the better tracks from the new album. The pit was rough but very appreciative, even of the new songs. 'Take a Bow's intense build and release is custom made for arena rock spectacle.

Butterflies and Hurricanes
Supermassive Black Hole
New Born

A trio of popular and catchy singles got the crowd well and worked up. They've added a cool extended break down to 'Butterflies and Hurricanes', and 'New Born' was the same version as on the last tour, with Matt playing an extended feedback solo bridging the intro and the first appearance of that awesome main riff, just to crank the anticipation up.

Starlight
Forced In
Bliss
Feeling Good
Hoodoo


After all those rock out songs the audience probably looked a bit worn out so it was on to a few mellow 'wave your hands in the air' tracks. 'Starlight' and 'Hoodoo' are new songs and worked a lot better live than on the album. 'Forced In' and 'Feeling Good' are random older tracks and were most welcome surprises, at least for me. 'Forced In' was performed without vocals in front of video screens displaying images of fire (see figure 1). Very cool and moody. During 'Bliss' they released the big confetti filled balloons like at the end of their set on the last tour. Not as fun as at the Auckland show, and there's nothing grosser than being squashed up against a greasy sweaty munter with red confetti stuck all over his shirtless torso.

Invincible

Bleh. Don't like this song, but Muse are such a powerful live act that they can inject even their more average songs with undeserved energy.

Time is Running Out
Plug in Baby

And two big anthemic singles to close out the set. By the end of these songs it was fair to say that I was completely fucking wasted from my hour in the moshpit. I got a bit of a rest at this point but it wasn't over just yet...

First Encore:
Soldiers Poem

A nice acoustic interlude from the new album. For some reason seeing and hearing it live made me finally 'get' the song. Damn you Muse for giving me new appreciation for an album that I bagged!

Hysteria
Stockholm Syndrome

And just in case there was anyone left in the pit with an ounce of energy left they belt out their two most hard rocking songs back to back. Total insanity ensues.

Second Encore:
Knights of Cydonia

And they finished with their most recent single. I thought this one would go off better (the 'No one's going to take me alive' sing along section is pure calculated live performance gold) but maybe the crowd was just too worn out to get into it.

After that it was just a long wait for a taxi in the rain with a pair of the saddest (and drunkest and tackiest) wannabe groupies I've ever encountered, all the while coughing my guts out on account of the nasty cold I caught.

Muse are the anti-Placebo. Placebo can release a pretty good album and then proceed to retroactively ruin it with an incredibly lackluster live performance. Muse can release a total stinker but walk out on stage and belt the songs out with such enthusiasm (Dom had a look on his face while smashing the shit out of his kit during 'Knights of Cydonia' that can only be described as total joy), flair and virtuosity as to completely change my opinion of the album, if only for the duration of the concert.

I think the Auckland concert on the Absolution tour was better, as they played a little more random stuff whereas this time they mostly stuck to their singles and tracks off the new album. Plus the energy of the crowd there was more positive and less muntery. But those are not serious complaints, it was still a fucking awesome concert. And yet it was only the first leg of my long weekend of awesomeness, over the next couple of days, things were only going to get better!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Quick

There have been no posts for the last couple of days (and there probably won't be any for a few more) on account of fucking shit up.

For those who are interested, just quickly:

Sydney, 24th Jan:
Stinkfist
46 & 2
Jambi
Schism
Lost Keys
Rosetta Stoned
Danny and Adam jam
Swamp Song
Nap time
Wings for Marie
10,000 Days
Lateralus
Aenima
Spacy electronic jam
Vicarious

Short verdict:
Fucking awesome

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

In Which You Follow The Gospel Truth

Deftones – Saturday Night Wrist

The Deftones are a notoriously uneven band, capable of being both absolutely brilliant and completely disappointing, often almost at the same time. Their b-sides album (released the year before last) contained both an audio disc (pretty average) and a DVD containing their music videos interleaved with random footage (totally awesome). Their albums are usually pretty strong, the high points being Around the Fur and White Pony (opinions differ as to which is better, I prefer the latter but I can see why the former is well loved too), Adrenaline is not bad for a first album and their fourth (self titled) contains a lot of very good songs but for some reason is usually too dense and hard to listen to all at once. On the other hand I can't recommend them as a live band. I saw them live at the Big Day Out in 2004, and I hate to say it but they were a tremendous disappointment.

So it was with grounded expectations that I bought their new album, Saturday Night Wrist, fortunately I'm pleased to report that it's pretty good. I doubt that they'll ever recapture the brilliance of White Pony, but this album is a solid effort. These guys are one of those bands who go in a different direction on each album, and on this one they've chosen an interesting, promising one. A lot of bands continue to pretend to be angst filled youths when in actual fact they've long ago begun comfortably settling into a tame middle age with their bags of money, so it is nice to see on this album that the Deftones have managed to introduce a more upbeat mood while still remaining heavy. This is complemented by an increased use of electronics and loops, and lots of generally weird noises and kooky scales. A Faith No More influence is definitely in attendance.

The first single, 'Hole in the Earth', sounds like it could have come off one of their earlier albums but is not representative of the rest of Saturday Night Wrist. A more typical track is 'Beware', which combines a haunting but slow and heavy chorus with a quirky off-kilter verse riff, and a nice, heavy, more traditionally Deftonesy outro. Other notable tracks include 'Mein', which features Serj from System of a Down, and 'U,U,D,D,L,R,L,R,A,B,SELECT,START', which is an instrumental with a sad, lonely mood that belies it's goofy name. The only song I like more than 'Beware' is the outstanding 'Pink Cellphone', which sets sultry spoken word female vocals atop a minimal electronic backing loop. The lyrics start out as strange religious phrases but end up mutating into dirty sex talk. Frivolous but endlessly entertaining.

Most of the rest of the album is good but not superlative. These guys have done a lot better in the past but the highlight tracks more than make it worth the purchase and I'd probably rate it higher than their self-titled. They'll also have another chance to increase my opinion of them next month when I see them live again...

Sunday, January 21, 2007

I Can't Say No To You

Evanescence – The Open Door

There should be some kind of music snobs anonymous group where you can go and admit to all the terribly uncool music that you secretly like. "Hi. My name's Jon and I listen to Evanescence." Maybe I'm just subconsciously biased because Amy Lee is hot but for some reason I'm prepared to accept and enjoy their brand of histrionic goth-metal cheese at face value.

The new album is more or less the same as their first. The band lineup has seen a few changes but you'd barely notice, save for the regrettable absence of Josh Freese on drums. On the first album, Fallen, it was the heavier songs that were worth listening to and the ballads, like the cringeworthy 'My Immortal', were Celine Dion-esque exercises in rectal bleeding. In contrast The Open Door's heavy tracks tend to be generic and forgettable, whereas the ballads range from 'embarassing but fun' (I'm thinking of 'Call Me When You're Sober') to genuinely moving ('Like You'). Usually Amy has a great voice but unfortunately years of struggling to be heard above a distortion laden backing band in a live setting seem to have instilled in her a tendency to go into foghorn mode when the music gets heavy. For these reasons I found the first album to be more consistently good overall but the stand out tracks on The Open Door easily surpass anything on Fallen.

As of the time of writing my Amy Lee vs. Natalie Portman poll had them both tied on six votes each. My analysis of the results is: 'What the hell is wrong with you? Get the fuck off my webpage.'

Having said that, I'm not inclined to argue the point much more, as like all celebrities eventually do Amy has succumbed to Hollywood Makeup Drenched Skeleton Disorder. Disregarding the portraits in the album art, which are so airbrushed as to be considered anime, take a look at these:

Before:

After:

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Is This Shit For Real?

Old school men's magazine cover. (via Fleshbot)

"The coming homosexual explosion of the 70s!"

Friday, January 19, 2007

Smoke and Mirrors

by Neil Gaiman

Most fantasy authors, even those fond of writing huge multi volume doorstop epics, really shine when it comes to short fiction and Neil Gaiman is no exception. The absurdities of the genre make it hard to sustain belief and take the story seriously, and the longer and more complicated the story becomes the harder it is to pull it off. Even a brilliant writer like Gaiman drops the ball once or twice when working on a years long serial like Sandman, but in a short story collection like this one he is free to introduce an interesting fancy or a witty perspective and play with it for a few pages before moving on.

As with his other writing the fantasy aspect is fairly is not really all that fantastic; there are no clich├Ęd Tolkien-esque conventions here, every story is set in what is more or less the 'real' world and the magic works in a manner more like that of a fairy tale or an urban legend rather than the more typical Dungeons and Dragons type mechanics. This realistic grounding is one of the things that makes Gaiman's work so resonant. He always starts with a story or a premise that is completely drawn from real life, and the supernatural elements merely serve to emphasise or reframe that premise.

The stories in this collection are drawn from over a decade of his career so there is a fair amount of variation in style, tone and subject matter. Just as a few examples: a science fiction version of Beowulf with a werewolf as the hero, a pair of unique and perverse takes on traditional stories (namely Snow White and Santa Claus) and Gaiman's version of the last book of the bible. Some of the stories are obviously earlier work and aren't up to his usual standards, but even taking them into account the collection as a whole is such high quality that it would be impossible to pick a favourite tale.

His latest collection, 'Fragile Things', is awaiting consumption and as much as I'm keen to devour it, I'm forcing myself to finish the history books I've had lying around for months before I do so.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

In the Shadow of Deepest Darkness

Satyricon - Dark Medieval Times

Yes I realise I bagged these guys fairly hard for their shitty concert last year, but I figure I'll still write up their albums, as the ones I've listened to were at least passable enough to convince me to go see them live.

Dark Medieval Times is their first album and is probably their best. This is of course a relative judgement; Satyricon's best is still pretty average by most standards. There's nothing on this album that Emperor haven't done better, and there's almost nothing that makes them memorable or stand out from other black metal bands.

The one gimmick that is uniquely theirs are these cheesy medieval folk instrumental interludes featuring flutes and harpsichord style keys, which are just that, a gimmick. They're kind of funny the first time you hear them, but I doubt that it is intentional humour. I will admit that there are a couple of good points about this album. The album divider '
Min Hyllest Til Vinterland' (My Tribute to the Winterland) is a very nice acoustic guitar interlude, and at one or two other points on the album they actually do manage to legitimately rock out, so the album is saved from complete mediocrity. And if that sounds like damning with faint praise, well that's exactly what these guys deserve. Take the balls out of black metal and you're left with mostly just spooky photography and bad production.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Holiday Watching

A few movies I saw over the summer holidays.

Hart's War

A courtroom drama set in a Nazi P.O.W. camp. Starts out promisingly enough with some interesting characters and plenty of moral ambiguity, but rapidly devolves into typical Hollywood hocum complete with grand speeches about honour and Bruce Willis dying to atone for all our sins.

Walk the Line

It would be pretty hard for this movie to really fail, as it has the sure fire asset of Johnny Cash's awesomeness to rely on, but they've still managed to take his story and render it impressively bland and lifeless. It's a waste and a pity, but hopefully sometime in the future when a bit more time has passed since Cash's death someone will make a biopic about him with a bit more guts.

Silent Hill

I was prepared for this to be absolutely terrible and in most ways it was; bad directing, terrible pacing and actors that could benefit from coaching by the cast of Shortland Street. But it turned out to be worth the trouble both for the 'so bad it's good' factor and for its surprisingly good backstory.

Kung Fu Hustle

A perfectly decent martial arts comedy. Works great as a comedy, but not so well as a martial arts film save for one really cool fight scene involving a pair bad guys armed with a guzheng (Chinese harp) with deadly magical powers.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Holiday Reading

A few quick reads from over the holidays.

Girl Genius – Phil and Kaja Foglio

A nice breezy steampunk manga style comic. It's complete fantasy cheese without being stupid or cliched and has a very original story and setting. It's been a long time since I read a decent by-the-numbers epic fantasy so this was a nice discovery. A few teaser chapters are available online at their website if you're interested.

The Plot: The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – Will Eisner

Another graphic novel. In stark contrast to Girl Genius this book is about as dark and depressing as they come, diving into the nasty details of anti-semitism in the 20th century by chronicling the history of the forgery known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. As you probably know The Protocols is a vile piece of hate literature that continues to be published worldwide today, despite being debunked as lies many times since it first appeared.

It's grim stuff, but as well as being interesting to know the book itself is stylistically an interesting implementation of a non-fiction comic. Just don't read it at the same time as Girl Genius. Too much cognitive whiplash.

Water From The Sun/ Discovering Japan – Bret Easton Ellis

A pair of short stories by the author of American Psycho published in one tiny book. These are really pretty superfluous; they merely retread the same territory as his infamous novel, only quicker and with less ickiness, and with the protagonist replaced by a soulless TV news presenter and a soulless has been rock star respectively. Not worth the half an hour it'd take to read them.

Holocaust Tips For Kids/ Smite The Heathens, Charlie Brown – Shalom Auslander

I have no idea who this guy is but these books were only $3 each so I grabbed this one at the same time as Easton Ellis' on account of its amusing titles. The first story, Holocaust Tips For Kids, delivers almost exactly what the title promises. A young Jewish boy learns about the holocaust in history class and details his intended courses of action in case the Nazi's should ever come for him and his family. I think it's meant to be comical and serious at the same time but coming on the heels of The Plot it was really just depressing.

Smite The Heathens, Charlie Brown
is a lot lighter. Using the time worn characters and scenarios from the Peanuts comic strip, the author recounts a tale of religious rivalry growing from innocuous mistrust to all out war. The message is serious but who can't laugh at the idea of jackbooted 'Snoopy Youth' marching the streets to flush out 'Great Pumpkinites'?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Breaking News

After six months of unsuccessful searching researchers uncover trace amounts of good local metal in Sydney.

A spokesman for the research group said they were alerted to the discovery by the fact that their name is a Mr. Bungle reference.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Wildebeest Asylum User Feedback Time

On account of Jungle Rhino's wrongheaded and unfathomable comment to the previous post:
Oh come on she's not that hot. Now if Natalie Portman goes and gets married before becoming washed up and posing for Playboy - that would be a true tragedy...
I have created a completely unbiased poll to prove that he's nuts.

Reference photos:

Natalie Portman:

Amy Lee:






Take care to examine the reference pictures carefully and make your decision.

Natalie Portman

Amy Lee







Thursday, January 11, 2007

If Anyone Wants Me I'll Be In My Room

Crying.

In unrelated news, cats and dogs now living together. In Soviet Russia, incredibly talented classic rock drummer collaborates with Korn!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

I Am... The EMPEROR!!

Emperor – Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk

My little overview of black metal has been continuing apace over the holidays. We now come to one of the most iconic bands in the genre, Emperor. Yes they're Norwegian, but I believe it is up for debate as to whether they're trve or not.

Anyone who's curious about this kind of music should definitely start with Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk, as these guys seem to be the black metal band most easily enjoyed by people who don't like black metal and this is probably their most well regarded album. Indeed it is very accessible when compared to other bands of a similar style. Despite containing all the standard trappings of the genre (low-fi production, raspy vocals and spooky keyboards) it has some pretty solid and catchy songwriting which is still eminently enjoyable even when buried under a layer of fuzz. Compared to their contemporaries these guys have a far more epic sound, they're more about majestic satanic ritual whereas Mayhem and Burzum are more about grim frostbitten moors under moonlight.

Like those other bands these guys have had band members incarcerated for murder and arson but musically they don't compare to Mayhem for manic intensity, and in fact they seem to be deliberately aiming for a more commercial sound. While they're more sophisticated and have one or two great melodic moments on this album (for the record the tracks in question are 'The Oath' and 'With Strength I Burn') I'd still prefer to listen to Mayhem. Nevertheless I'd recommend these guys as the church burning, queer bashing murderers you can play for your Mum.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Now Everyone's Doing It

Making a sex video that is.

New to me is one featuring the dude who played Screech on Saved by the Bell. Rumour has it that he used a cock double.

There's a one minute preview up on pornotube. I don't recommend watching it.

Doing Your Mom And Trying To Kill Your Dad… There Should Be A Play.

Angel Season 4 Part 1


Yes I am still watching these, although at a very, very slow rate.


Angel was always a much darker show than Buffy but in its fourth season it became truly grim and the humour, while still present, started to become somewhat out of place. As in earlier seasons the plot is quite well done on the larger scale. The main storyline, in which L.A. is menaced by a seemingly invincible Satan-like demon is nicely intertwined with the dangling plot threads from the end of season 3, namely the arrival of Angel's teenage son, Cordelia's mysterious disappearance and Wesley's involvement with the show's perennial bad guys, the law firm Wolfram and Hart.


The grimness of the season is in part due to the hopeless nature of the heroes' battle against the big bad, who despite Angel and Co's best efforts persists in doing unpleasant bad guy type things such as blocking out the sun, making the sky rain fire and your standard general slaughter, but mostly the sad, depressing mood comes as the constant messing around with the main character's relationships done in the last season bears fruit, leaving the heroes mistrustful and resentful of one another. Lots of nice angsty character development ensues.


The highlight of the first half of the season comes at the end, when the heroes, out of desperation, are manipulated into transforming Angel into his evil alter ego Angelus. This cheerful, maverick psychopath is a smart addition to an already tense scenario and revives what was starting to become somewhat of a miserable, depressing plot arc. It's disappointing that we didn't see more of Angelus during the show's run because he's a great character. While I understand that the writers didn't want to overuse him, I think there still should have been more of him (other than in this season he only shows up in one episode in season one, and in flashbacks in season two), as his evil deeds are the basis for the whole backstory behind the show.


Despite the writer's numerous missteps this show continued to be worth watching, it's just a pity that the same could not be said for its parent.


P.S. Even though I'm a bit late with this news some of you may be interested to know that season eight of Buffy is in the works, as a comic series.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

New Years Resolutions

Are made to be broken. I only had two and the first one was "drink more moderately".

I acquitted myself very nicely on Friday up in Brisbane, achieving only a responsibly pleasant level of drunkenness before calling it a night at 4am.

Flash forward 24 hours, and I am throwing up in the toilets of a club in Kings Cross before returning to the bar, sculling the rest of my beer and buying another sambuka shot to mask the smell of vomit on my breath. At least I retained the presence of mind to stay out of the strip clubs this time but it wasn't the finest hour for my new year resolution.