Wednesday, February 28, 2007

There Was A Great Earthquake, And The Sun Became Black

Satyricon – Nemesis Divina

One last Satyricon album before I put them out of mind forever. Nemesis Divina is probably the most enjoyable out of the three albums of theirs I've been listening to. Faint praise but praise nonetheless. Nemesis Divina does not differ in style much at all from their earlier albums but it is a bit more professional in terms of both production and has some catchiness and life to it, capturing a sliver of Emperor-esque awesomeness. It also contains theit most popular song, 'Mother North', and my personal favourite Satyricon track 'Du Som Hater Gud', which gets the award because of it's brilliantly cheesy piano outro.

The album as a whole is still not terribly exciting however. Ideally you should listen to Emperor or even better Mayhem but if I were stuck on a desert island with only one black metal album and it was Nemesis Divina, I'd at least be glad it wasn't one of their other albums or god forbid, Cradle of Filth.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

They All Lack Taste Sometimes

Soundwave Festival – Sydney Park 25th February

I must admit I have been a bit disappointed by the increasing lameness of the Big Day Out over the last few years. While the two headliners this year were among my favourite bands, the whole festival experience didn't come close to living up to all the fun I had in those first few years of attendance (ah the memories... Korn, Marilyn Manson's naked arse, Courtney Love's naked breasts...) where the whole day was excitement from beginning to end. I assumed my greatly lessened enthusiasm was just because I'm getting older and crankier, but judging by how much Soundwave reminded me of the first few times I went to the Big Day Out, and by how young the kids there were, I must conclude that the Big Day Out is just getting crappier.

The Big Day Out in Auckland has always been a bit of an alternative affair, mostly populated by goths, metallers and general freaks, whereas the Sydney one was horrifyingly mainstream; twenty thousand bimbos in bikini tops and big sunglasses, and twenty thousand douchebags wrapped in Australian flags. Soundwave on the other hand was a giant sea of black t-shirts. I felt like I fit in a lot better.

Of course, after sweltering in the heat all summer Sydney decided to treat us all to a massive downpour (massive by New South Wales standards of course, in Christchurch it would've been considered 'a bit showery') and for the first time in almost nine months I actually felt cold. I was actually quite surprised that so many people braved the weather to attend. The last time it rained like this here (in June) the CBD practically emptied out. One of the weirdest moments of the day was hanging out in the bar area when the rain peaked at it's heaviest and everyone (including myself) ran and packed in under the limited sheltered area by the bar. For some reason everyone just started screaming their heads off for no reason. It was totally random but funny as hell.


Anyway. The music. Out of a half hearted sense of dutiful nationalism I went along to the first band on the secondary stage, Blindspott. The last couple of times I saw these guys I was not too impressed, but god bless them they did all right by our little island nation on this occasion. And it turns out that the Aussie meatheads who sit there cracking sheep jokes for the first half of the set are the first to rush into the moshpit when they crank out 'Nil By Mouth'. Fancy that.

Just like at the Big Day Out the drink queues were insanely long. I was quite keen to see Flyleaf, solely because I saw a music video of theirs once and their vocalist is a tiny little chick who does crazy death metal vocals, but I spent the whole forty minutes they were playing trying to get a drink, only just getting out in time to hear the last chord of their set. That fucked me off pretty bad, and I think the organisers should have planned better for the incredible amount of drinking that was inevitably going to happen. I shit you not there were actually guys crowd surfing over the queue into the bar (where they were immediately set upon by bouncers, but it was entertaining nonetheless). Funnily enough this doesn't happen back home. Is it because Kiwi's drink less or because concert organisers over there are more scared of what might happen if a whole bunch of munters run out of beer? Discuss.

MxPx: featuring the rain. (The rain sounded better)

The rest of the afternoon was completely forgettable. I made a point of seeing MxPx, on account of having heard their name before, and was fairly disgusted. I thought the Blink 182/Green Day pop punk fad was dead and had been buried (by its more worthless but more entertaining offspring emo) but apparently there are still some dumb kids out there keen on this shit. And the less said about the shitty indie rock acts that played the main stages for the majority of the day the better.

Parkway Drive

Later in the evening I visited the little stage to see the hard shit. Parkway Drive were OK, I've never heard them before but I enjoyed their set. It was a good warm up for Hatebreed, who didn't play for nearly long enough but were just as awesome as the last time I saw them. Despite the downbeat lyrical content of their songs these guys just look like they're having shitloads of fun on stage. The moshpit wasn't as mental as the insanely huge death pit they started up at the Big Day Out in 2005, but it was still pretty fun. Violent, but with a good vibe.

Hatebreed again: you can't really tell from this photo but there's all sorts of crazy shit going on behind me.

Suicidal Tendencies

I missed Terror, on account of being in the drinks queue again, but returned in time to see Suicidal Tendencies, who were pretty fucking awesome. I hadn't really heard them before either but they were also a hardcore band but with a bit of a hip hop influence and plenty of flashy metal guitar wankery. I liked it. They were great performers with an impassioned and entertaining frontman and the crowd was very into it.

The Deftones. As you walk/ onstage.

I left Suicidal Tendencies set early to get a good spot for the festival's headliners, the Deftones. After much thoughtful deliberation on their performance I have upgraded them from a 'crap live band' to a 'not terribly good live band'. Sure there's no way that munting out and screaming along to 'Be Quiet and Drive' and 'Passenger' could not be fun, but they just don't seem to have a lot of energy or even much interest in performing, especially compared to some of the outstanding concerts I've had the good fortune to see already this year. Their setlist was a bit surprising too. Mostly Adrenaline and White Pony material with not a lot from the new album and nothing at all from the self-titled:
  • Korea
  • Knife Party
  • Be Quiet and Drive
  • My Last Summer
  • Beware
  • Engine Number 9
  • Root
  • Hole in the Earth
  • Xerces
  • Passenger
  • Kimdracula
  • Bored
  • Back to School
  • Change (in the House of Flies)
  • 7 Words
The standard disclaimer, that this setlist is probably highly inaccurate, applies more than usual this time. The Adrenaline and Saturday Night Wrist material especially I'm really sketchy on. Normally I'd try and confirm it against other setlists online but I can't seem to find any. As you can probably guess, I wasn't particularly enthused by most of the selection. The stuff off White Pony was awesome, especially 'Passenger', even if I seemed to be more into it than the band was. Oh yeah, they also randomly played a Boards of Canada track ('Dandelion') before 'My Last Summer', which was kind of random and cool, even though most of the audience just yelled at them to get on with it.

Chino Moreno: Still fat.

Now for my big bitch. The moshpit sucked. Maybe I've just been spoilt by gigs like Tool and Isis, where I was actually able to stand at the front and enjoy the show without having crowd surfers kicking me in the head every ten seconds, or those like Suffocation or Hatebreed, which manage to be very violent while still being fun for those of us who don't enjoy kicking people in the back, but it seemed to me that the mood in the moshpit was quite ugly. Afterwards someone told me that ten minutes into the set (before I had made my way up to the front) he'd seen some dude getting (deliberately) stomped on for a couple of minutes in the moshpit, and I could believe it. Anyway, I felt the aggression rubbing off on me and I was starting to get pissed off and not enjoying myself, so I moved back and managed to get a good photo! That's karma for you.

OMG it looks like an actual photo taken by an actual photographer with an actual camera

While the Deftones were not all I hoped they would be I saw more than a few good bands and more importantly I had a good time hanging out with randoms and not so randoms in a social setting that I felt far more at home in than at the Big Day Out (punk assed teenage kid wrapped in Aussie flag count: 1). Here's hoping there'll be a few more festivals like this here before the year is out.

The Monday Lessons

I'm starting remember why I used to drink rum. Something to do with me going nuts and being crazy...

I definitely remember why I don't drink bourbon. It makes me want to puke.

I'm tired of being shy. I want to be outgoing and confident. Without having to drink a dozen rum and cokes to achieve this effect.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Always Upon You, But Never Tasting

Isis – Clearing the Eye

The Isis love on the Wildebeest Asylum is not quite over just yet. As well as their new album and their recent concert they also have a new DVD out. Clearing the Eye contains a good two hours of live footage, plus their solitary music video.

The video (for 'In Fiction') is OK but doesn't do justice to what is a truly outstanding song. (Plus there are edits! Fucking edits I tell you! That song was meant to be nine minutes long and making it any shorter is an abomination unto the Lord!)

The live footage is more interesting, covering material from a range of albums up to and including Panopticon. About half of the tracks are older songs pulled from a variety of different gigs, but they also include a full concert (from the Sydney date on their last Australian tour, at the Annandale (a much smaller venue than the Metro where they played this year)) where they play Panopticon more or less from beginning to end, including my favourite 'In Fiction' and also a really great version of 'Altered Course'. The songs are included warts and all (with no post recording fixes) so you can feel sorry for the bass player when he is way out of tune for the first half of 'The Beginning and the End'.

The visual element of the live footage is more or less superfluous. Once you've seen Aaron Turner's guitar face up close a couple of times you don't need to see it again in the remaining twelve songs. As an auditory experience the DVD is highly recommended. You'll never get the transcendent experience of actually being at one of their concerts from a recording, but it's enough to evoke a nice memory of that feeling again.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I Just Want To Go Blind

Converge – No Heroes

As previously reported, Converge are pretty fucking awesome. In anticipation of their concert next month I've bought their most recent album No Heroes. It's mostly similar in style to Jane Doe, fast, angry and brutal, with some of the most hair raisingly intense vocals I've ever heard (seriously, how can this guy still talk?!), but there is a little more variation in tone and mood here, even stretching to the point of including a ballad or two (with a different vocalist mind you).

Most of the songs are quick one or two minute blasts so intense and both rhythmically and tonally fucked up so that your brain barely has time to say 'What the fuck was that?' before it's on to the next one. The exception being the ten minute centrepiece of the album 'Grim Heart / Black Rose', which starts out as a sad, relatively gentle ballad and ends with an almighty build up to a good, hard, solid rock out, featuring some virtuoso drumming.

Unfortunately while No Heroes is much slicker in terms of production and a bit more sophisticated in composition it just doesn't quite match the intensity of Jane Doe. Still it's no disappointment and the new tracks will hopefully go down a treat live.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

I Bathe Myself In The Entrails Of You

One of the nice things about living in a big city like Sydney is that you get more opportunities to attend sophisticated art and cultural events. Sunday night was one such opportunity, as the international short film festival Tropfest was playing in the botanic gardens. As my loyal readers would expect nothing less of me, I passed on it in order to see these people:

Because there's not much that can beat an evening of crazy go nuts brutal death metal.

Suffocation - Live at The Gaelic Club, 18th February

The headliners were Suffocation (coincidentally reviewed on this very blog last week), but they had a full complement of three opening bands. The gig was at The Gaelic Club, a venue I hadn't visited before, although I'd been tempted to go and see both Cannibal Corpse and Deicide there. It's a pretty small place, probably only holding a few hundred, and is perfectly suited to metal concerts. You've got your dankness, your grime, and your angry no nonsense bouncers. The crowd was pretty much as you'd expect for this kind of thing, mainly male, and mainly fitting into the caricature of either the scrawny metal geek or the big fat sweaty metal munter, although there were a bunch of well dressed 'Sydney princess' type young women there for some reason. They stood out because they weren't wearing black.

As I arrived Vaticide were playing. They were competent death metallers but I don't really have much to say about them other than that I was impressed by their technical musicianship and little else.
Vaticide: Featuring the backs of a bunch of fat ugly dude's heads

Next up were Degeneracy, who were a bit more interesting. The music was pretty average but they made up for it with shitloads of energy. Their songs were short and punky, and very goofy. Sample stage banter: “This next song is called 'Covered in shit and semen. Don't laugh! This is a very personal song!” They had a really good drummer.

Degeneracy: featuring fat ugly shirtless guy in front of stage

The third band was Ebolie, who were a lot more interesting musically than their battlerish appearance may suggest. They had the proficiency of Vaticide and the energy of Degeneracy, and they were easily better than both. They also win the funny song title sweepstakes for the night for 'Why are so many fat chicks into metal?'

Ebolie: featuring dude jumping on stage and about to get beaten by angry security guys

Finally Suffocation arrived. Like their opening bands they didn't take themselves too seriously and just went all out to have a head banging, hard moshing good time. Frank Mullen is a really good front man, always paying attention to the audience and pumping up the front rows with his antics (during the numerous instrumental breaks he either runs up and down the front of the stage shaking people's hands or stands by the soloist and gesticulates wildly in time with them). The entire band are total wizards on their instruments, and it was awesome to see them performing close up. I managed to get a place right in front of Terrance, the lead guitarist (he even shook my hand!) and watching him solo was pretty fucking mind blowing. Unfortunately I couldn't focus my complete attention on the musicianship due to the (not unexpected) perils of the moshpit. It wasn't too bad (I've been in far worse) because there were only a couple of hundred people in attendance, but with music this brutal it was easy even for such a small crowd to make things pretty crazy.

Suffocation tune their guitars. This is actually the best picture I got of them.

The only disappointment was the absence of an encore. Since the band and the audience both seemed to be enjoying themselves this was a bit surprising but rumour has it that the band (hailing from grim, frost-bitten New York) were about to die of heat exhaustion in Sydney's humid February climate (exacerbated of course by 355 people going nuts in the tiny venue).

Suffocation: featuring Terrance's back and Frank's side.

Taken as 'serious' music these guys are nothing on Tool or Isis, but for a fun, unpretentious show with lots of brutal chugging and amazing musicianship, where you can just munt around like a gimp for a while these guys are fucking excellent, as long as your idea of a good time won't be spoiled by being jammed between smelly, sweaty metalheads thrashing their long hair around for an hour.

An attempt to capture one of Terrance's solos. You can't really tell from this picture but this guys fingers were actually that blurry in real life.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Flat Hunting

Chuck Norris doesn't go flat hunting, because the term 'hunting' implies the possibility of failure. Chuck Norris goes flat killing.
Man is flat hunting a chore. Especially in central Sydney where it costs a bajillion dollars to live in a cardboard box on the side of the road. I thought I'd been quite clever by deciding to look at apartments in Kings Cross; it's a lot cheaper than elsewhere and it's a nice quick walk to work (plus close to lots of bars and clubs), but after spending a Saturday morning wandering around and looking at places there I decided that maybe there were just a few many junkies, hobos and general vagabonds in that area even for me.

However I also looked at a few places in neighbouring Elizabeth Bay and Potts Point. This is one of those situations where you're walking through one suburb (Kings Cross) where there are strip clubs and seedy bars everywhere and meth heads swearing at you from the gutter, and suddenly you cross some imaginary ley line and you're surrounded by trendy cafés, swanky apartment blocks and dolled up eastern suburbs princesses with big Paris Hilton sunglasses and little dogs. I hadn't visited those suburbs before and I was really impressed, on a sunny Saturday morning it's like being back in the Mediterranean, with all the little cafés overlooking beautiful harbour views and a pleasant, relaxed, social atmosphere. The only difference is that the fat obnoxious Australians ruining it all aren't tourists, they're the locals.

I did find one apartment I would consider renting there, it was a bit small but very nice, and boasted the most incredible view of the harbour, the CBD skyline, the harbour bridge and the opera house. I wish I'd thought to take a photo, it was just stunning. The only reason I said no to the place was because even though it was only eleven a.m. it was like a sauna in there, and the apartment was west facing! I still haven't acclimatised enough to the heat here to handle that sort of thing.

I've put a deposit down for a really nice place in Surry Hills, which seems to be in the sweet spot as far as central Sydney suburbs go in balancing niceness, affordability and junkie/hobo population density, but it remains to be seen whether I'll get it or not as the property market here is pretty harsh towards renters right now.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

WTF?!? FFS!?! Moment of the Day for Sunday 18th of February

Hearing the reggae version of Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety. Who could possibly have come up with this abomination?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Brain Eaters' Greatest Hits Part 2

Some time ago I posted the first article of this two part series, promising that it wouldn't take me a year and a half to finish it like the last series I wrote did. I have kept that promise, taking merely a fleeting nine months to get around to writing this second, concluding post. Refresh your memories by rereading the first post and then continue on to see what other sad victims of the brain eater continue to shuffle around issuing shitty new albums or novels from the empty shells of their former artistry.

4. Audioslave

Rage Against the Machine and Soundgarden were two of the best popular bands of the early 90s, and everyone was disappointed to see them break up. A few years ago when Chris Cornell (Soundgarden singer) joined with Rage (minus their vocalist Zach) to form Audioslave, it seemed like a brilliant proposition. Unfortunately their first album, while passable, was nowhere near as good as anything produced by the original bands. There was still hope that they could improve, but that was confounded when their second and third releases turned out to be truly appalling four-and-a-half-minute-pop-rock-song middle of the road boredomfests. The Brain Eater must have been truly sated after reducing guitarist Tom Morello from his former brilliance to a four chord strumming zombie, barely capable of stuttering out a half way decent solo.

3. Shihad

They were the biggest rock band in New Zealand for much of the 90s, and for once the popularity was deserved. The Fish Album, Killjoy and The General Electric are packed with classic songs, and I have many fond memories of seeing them perform live touring for The General Electric (and it's preceding EP Blue Light Disco). However the subsequent album saw them trying to remake themselves for an international (i.e. American) audience as Pacifier and releasing a horrifically bland 'nu-metal for pussies' album, a career move that could only have been made by a band left with barely enough neurons to feed themselves following a sudden and vicious attack by the brain eater. They tried to redeem themselves with their most recent album Love is the New Hate and the attempt was appreciated, but they just don't have the spark anymore.

2. Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb's Assassin series is one of the finest fantasy trilogies I've ever read. All three books are very good but the last one is truly fantastic, with one of the most emotionally moving endings I've ever read. She went on to write a sequel trilogy (only loosely connected to the first), The Liveship Traders, which was OK, but nowhere near the standards of the preceding books. Then, in one of the Brain Eater's most unholy crimes yet, she returned to the characters and setting of the first trilogy and RETROACTIVELY RUINED THEM FOREVER!!!! If you ever read and enjoyed Assassin's Quest then never ever read Fool's Fate. At the time I wondered what would possess someone to take an incredibly moving and sad story and render it all meaningless by reversing literally everything that happened and turning it into a lame happy ever after ending. I now know the terrifying truth. It was the Brain Eater!

1. Bob

Man, Bob used to be so awesome you know? But now that he's popular it's like he doesn't care about his original fans any more. But that's cool, I can still enjoy his older work without letting it be ruined by thinking about all the crap he's done lately.

Here's a Better Link

Funny video. Warning, contains nudity, and not the good kind.

Boring Friday Night Metal Link

A moderately interesting article on black metal at the Chicago Tribune. I hate flat hunting.

Friday, February 16, 2007

New Nine Inch Nails Song Leaked

See here. I like it.

What's cool is the manner in which it was 'leaked'. It was found on a USB drive left in a toilet after a recent NIN concert in Lisbon, complete with lyrics and artwork.

There's heaps of other cool stuff that's being clandestinely slipped onto the internet about the new album (or rather about its concept), if you're interested...

Games I Haven't Played

There comes a time in every man's life when he must take a good hard look at the things listed in the 'Now Playing' sidebar on his blog and admit to himself that he's just not going to finish most of those games. Lets go through them one by one and discuss why they're being dismissed to the 'waste of money' pile.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

I really enjoyed Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones and having heard that The Sands of Time was the best entry in the series I assumed I would enjoy it too. Sadly it is not the case. The gameplay mechanics are not as polished as they were in the more recent game, and the focus is more on fighting than on the cool acrobatic tricks and nifty leaping around that made The Two Thrones so much fun. I reached the first boss monster, got frustrated and never went back to it.

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth

I heard a few good things about this one on the gaming blogs and it was cheap so I picked it up. There is quite a bit to recommend it: the gameplay is smooth and reasonably bug free, and the designers have done a superb job of evoking both the visceral and the existential dread of Lovecraft's writing. Sadly one cannot say the same for the game's writers, who have pretty much made the overall story a Disney ride through a bullet pointed list of Cthulhu mythos scenarios. Considering that they start out breaking the cardinal rule of these stories (“Don't show the audience the whistling octopus until the end”) it's remarkable that the designers managed to make the individual setpieces work so well. The sewers level (cardinal rule of game design: “Always have a level set in the sewers”) is one of the scariest gaming experiences I've had since Thief 3's orphanage. You know, maybe this one deserves a second chance...

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds

This one on the other hand is just a stinker. You control a selection of characters from the TV show in what is basically a graphically updated version of Double Dragon (and not a very good one at that). The fact that it says 'Buffy' in the title got me most of the way through, but the sad facts are that the game doesn't actually do much with it's license (for some inexplicable reason most of the action takes place in an alternate reality, rather than the actual locations of the TV show), the story sucks and the gameplay is simply dead boring. I reached the last level but just got so bored that I can't be fucked finishing it.

Xenosaga Episode II

When I was a kid I used to love games with elaborate, overwrought storylines and big cinematic cutscenes. If I was still a kid I would probably love this game, as it's story is dramatic and epic, even by Japanese RPG standards, and it's probably about 90% cutscenes. Maybe it would have helped if I'd played the first game, but I never really got a handle on the combat system, so I stopped playing about halfway through.

Heroes of Might and Magic III

This on the other hand is a fantastic game. I probably sunk a good forty or fifty hours into it last year, finishing the main game and making solid progress through the expansions, but it got very hard, and after taking a two month break from it (after moving to Australia and not having a computer) I found that I'd lost my edge and couldn't get any further than where I'd saved my game before moving.


The only reason I stopped playing this one was because I lost the disc. I found it again (actually I found another copy, I thought it had been stolen in the great CD heist of aught-two, but it turns out it was packed away in a box at my Mum's house) over Christmas, so when I have time I intend to get back into it.

Final Fantasy X

You haven't defeated me yet Final Fantasy X, I will get back to you one day! Just you wait!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Inconceivable Power Unleashed

Suffocation – Suffocation

Finally I get round to writing a post about a band before I get to go and see them live! (It means I'm almost on top of my blogging backlog, it'll be the first time that's happened, ever.) Suffocation (Suffo to their friends) are playing here this Sunday, and it should be an experience. These guys are of a subgenre of death metal known as 'brutal death metal', because all those other bands hammering their drums and shredding their guitars are really only gruff or unmannerly death metal. I have no idea what kind of a crowd will show up, but I expect that it won't be pretty.

As far as I can tell in these guys' case the 'brutal' adjective describes the straightforward way these guys go about making a big noise. There's no crazy spastic stuff like Cryptopsy, and no carefully arranged melodies like Opeth, it's just one mean riff with jack hammer drumming, shredded guitars and guttural vocals going full tilt after another. It might sound a bit boring but once you get past the angry, confrontational presentation of their music this album is actually pretty catchy and fun. They don't take themselves too seriously either, well at least I hope that “You are so fucking beautiful. I bathe myself, in the entrails of you” is not meant seriously. You can tell from their pictures and videos that they have that ironic gleam in their eye (as most extreme metal bands do) that tells you that they're really just having fun, despite the morbid trappings of the genre.

These guys are all at the top of their game technically. The lead guitarist especially is inspiring. It's a great relief to hear someone who can shred amazing solos (in terms of speed and technique) but also knows how to keep them short and sweet and sounding cool in and of themselves while also enhancing the song that they're a part of. His style is quite distinctive, it's typical death metal squealing and fiddling but presented in a quirky and off-kilter way that makes it quite unique and gives the songs a nice counterpoint to the straight up thrashing that characterises most of them. Definitely a welcome improvement on those tragic wastes of talent in Dragonforce.

Anyone interested in heavy metal should definitely check these guys out. It may take a few listens to get into because they do make a good hard effort to put the 'brutal' in 'brutal death metal', but it's fucking fun stuff.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Argh! My Ears!

For centuries philosophers have pondered the age old question: are Korn a good band with a few crappy albums, or a shit band who somehow manage to crank out a decent tune occasionally. With the release of their new unplugged album, the band themselves have sent a clear message that it is the latter. Watch the trailer, if you dare:

Poor old JD seems to have no idea as to how to sing his songs rather than scream them, so while his compatriots sensitively plunk away on their acoustic guitars he yells out the words in much the same way as as when he's backed by a big noisy nu-metal band. However things don't get really bad until they pull out the guest stars: fellow has-been Robert Smith and Amy "It's just as well I look good" Lee. Listening to Lee and Davis try and out emote one another with no regard for cohesion or even being in tune is more than a little dismaying. Way to make me that much more embarrassed to say I listen to either of your bands guys.

Monday, February 12, 2007

My Food Is Problematic


I sure took my time getting to it but I have finally been a good obsessive fanboy and bought Firefly on DVD. In brief Firefly is a sci-fi TV show by Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy (and Angel). The show is broadly in the mould of similar shows like Star Trek; every week the characters fly their space ship somewhere new and find something interesting yet dangerous. The attributes that set this show apart are the setting (in which the outer reaches of human colonised space are very much like the American wild west of old, right down to the deserts, outlaws and train robberies), and of course Joss' distinctive writing style.

This was the third TV show that Joss helmed and he does a confident and assured job of introducing the characters, setting the scene for future story arcs and hinting at the backstories of the people and places involved. Sadly this is pretty much all he got to do as after only fourteen episodes the show was shitcanned by those notorious idiots at Fox. Fortunately the movie Serenity was made to finish up the story and resolve the most immediate loose ends of the plot, but it's a pity that the series itself never got to do much more than show it's potential.

It's just as well that the episodes that did get made are nothing short of great. The setting is very well thought out, and while unfortunately Joss never got to show and explain a lot of what was going on what we do see is pretty cool. The series' strong points are really exactly the things that were good about Buffy and Angel, done by Joss with the years of experience working on those programmes behind him and none of the overwrought emotional baggage that the other shows had accumulated. The humour is as brilliant as you'd expect, but unlike Buffy Firefly works well as a drama too. A lot of this can be attributed to vastly superior acting, which gives it a genuine emotional side that Buffy never really achieved, but I think savvier, less cheesy writing played a part too.

The characters are also one of the reasons this show is so great. Our major protagonist Mel (the spaceship's captain) is a wisecracking but haunted hero in the mould of Angel, but he's far more interesting than Angel ever was because (a) he's played by an actor who can act rings around David Boreanz, and (b) because his backstory is far more down to earth and relatable than 'I'm a 400 year old vampire who's killed thousands of people for pleasure'. At the other end of the spectrum we have River, a damaged young girl who provides loads of humour (in a similar vein to Delirium in Sandman), but who also evokes genuine sadness and pity with her pathetic brokenness. It's a shame we never got to see most of these characters make their way to their originally intended fates, but at least in the movie we get to see River's somewhat predictable, but still way cool, transformation into, well, Buffy...

Incomprehensible Screaming

Satyricon/Enslaved – The Forest is My Throne / Yggdrassil

It's time for another Satyricon album. This one is a split EP so Satyricon only have four songs on it, and there's not really much to say about them that I didn't say about Dark Medieval Times. Save for a nice acoustic moment in 'Min Hyllest Til Vinterland', and the cool pleasure/pain moaning during the intro to 'Night of the Triumphator', it's inoffensive but boring.

Enslaved's stuff is a lot better. They have more of the intensity and energy that characterises decent black metal and it's a lot more fun to listen to, even if from a purely technical perspective there's little to differentiate them from Satyricon or Emperor. Unfortunately they're let down by some atrocious production. I know black metal is supposed to have shitty production, but there's a big difference between shitty as in 'giving things a raw, primal feel' and shitty as in 'barely being able to discern the drums because it sounds like they were recorded from a mike embedded in the producers rectum'.
In spite of that they've still managed to make a fun EP.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Saturday Thrash Metal Blogging

The band I saw last night (Murder World):

They sounded pretty much exactly like they look.

I am pretty proud of this photo though. The lighting looks cool and I caught the dude moshing on the left at just the right moment.

Friday, February 09, 2007

She Was His Queen

Isis – In the Absence of Truth

But before the fantastic concert last week came a fantastic album. Not quite as fantastic as their previous record Panopticon but close to it nonetheless.

On this album Isis have lightened up and opened out a bit. There's still plenty of heaviness but while Oceanic and Panopticon were both mostly one oppressive dirgelike drone metal anthem after another, they've found room on In the Absence of Truth for ambience and more cheerful emotions. The production also seems a lot better, which is most appreciated. The drums on the earlier albums always sounded a little anaemic, despite the talent of the drummer, and it's good to hear them get the solidity and power they deserve this time around.

As is standard form with these guys there's a weighty concept behind the music. The lyrics are mostly incomprehensible and they haven't been posted on their website yet so it's pretty hard to tell exactly what it's all about beyond the hint given in the liner notes, that the title is derived from the quote “Nothing is true, everything is permitted”, attributed to the Muslim mystic Hassan-I Sabbah. This might seem a little opaque but Isis are old hands at rendering their concepts and narratives impenetrable enough so that it adds flavour to the music without getting too heavy handed.

The opening track 'Wrists of Kings' immediately takes a departure from Isis' earlier albums, as they ever so slowly build from a delicate, sad motif to a final thunderous climax over seven patient minutes. The next track 'Not in Rivers, but in Drops', is more conventional by their standards but still shows a lot more textural variation than their older stuff.

'Dulcinea' is their version of a soft, sad love song, at least until the end when it suddenly drops into a heavy, menacing riff before breaking out into a brilliant climax, complete with wailing lead guitar and an inspired rhythm part that drags even the most sedate listener out of their computer chair for an impromptu headbanging session.

'Over Root and Thorn' took a while to grow on me, partly because the opening few minutes of ambience, while great, is so quiet, and the rest of the song is a bit left field for these guys, featuring far more keyboards and clean vocals than usual. I've come to really like it though. I was disappointed when they didn't play it live.

'1000 Shards' and 'Holy Tears' are good songs in the vein of their older material. I'm almost perplexed listening to 'Holy Tears' now, it was so brilliant live but merely registers as 'good' to me when I hear the recorded version.

Those two tracks are separated by 'All Out of Time, All into Space', the first track to really grab me off this album and a truly beautiful piece of ambience.

'Firdous E. Bareen' is the most unusual track, taking electronic percussion and building a tribal rhythm up over the course of seven minutes, only introducing the barest essentials of a melody at the end. An unexpected twist for such a melody oriented band.

The last track, 'Garden of Light', starts very prettily, but goes downhill from there and is the only song on the album that doesn't really impress me. Not that it's not good to listen to, but it just doesn't live up to the high standard of the rest of the album.

As far as musicianship goes the band have done an excellent job moving their sound to the next level after Panopticon, introducing more varied textures and more dynamic moods. On the other hand the songwriting doesn't quite live up to the expectations generated by it's predecessor. There are no 'holy shit' moments like those scattered throughout the last album (most notably the climax of 'In Fiction'), and although every song is at the least very good, it simply doesn't achieve the constant level of total awesomeness that Panopticon achieved.

In Case Anyone Needed A Laugh

Fred Durst shows off his passionate virtuosity in one of the finest guitar solos ever committed to YouTube.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

I Know Your Type... MURDERER! Hey, It's The Champion Of Cyrodiil!

Oblivion (Bethesda Softworks)

It only took me nine months, but I've finally finished Oblivion. When I say 'finished' of course I'm just referring to the main storyline, I still have all the guild missions to finish off, plus all manner of side quests and half the map still to explore. And I just bought the expansion pack.

Oblivion is the fourth RPG in the Elder Scrolls series, and stylistically it is virtually identical to it's predecessors. You are given complete customisation of your character, informed of a direction to go in should you wish to follow the main storyline and then dumped into a huge, detailed world where you are free to go anywhere, do anything, talk to (or kill (or attempt to kill)) anyone and of course to engage in Barnes' favourite pastime, picking up everything no matter how worthless it is in order to sell it for more money.

The story of Oblivion is based around an attempt by an evil demon prince, long ago banished from the Earth, to conquer the empire in which Oblivion is set. He does this, imaginatively enough, by opening huge fiery portals everywhere which spew forth nasty demons who head off and wreck havoc. If this sounds like typical fantasy tripe to you then you're quite right. It was a little bit disappointing to have such a straightforward 'battle against evil' tale in this instalment after the more nuanced, original back story of the previous game in the series (Morrowind). Still one of the strengths of the series is the writers determination to present these fantastical scenarios with realistic consistency and believability, and I appreciated the hints here and there that the invading army of demons (a bloodthirsty, warlike lot who come from a lava filled dungeon world and are fond of saying things like “Kneel or die, slave!”) are really just trying to get back to the home they were exiled from many years ago.

As a game Oblivion is superb. The art and graphics are truly breathtaking, and on a decent computer you feel fully immersed in a genuinely huge, living, breathing world as you traipse around the countryside, admiring the views, picking pretty flowers and getting mauled by wild animals, bandits and wandering demons.

The gameplay is almost perfectly balanced. No other game in recent memory has kept my attention for such a long time. You'd think the endless dungeon clearing and errand running would get old fast but the designers have shrewdly extracted loads of variety from the same old RPG game mechanics that have been employed for decades now. Even just sitting here thinking about it while writing I'm tempted to go back to it... there's a Daedric shrine near where I am at the moment and those quests are always fun. Plus I've got to return to the assassins guild for my next mission from them (and there's nothing more fun than sneaking into a highly secure fortress and offing some unsuspecting chump)...

If I have one criticism it's that a poorly chosen character type can make the game unnecessarily hard. I played a destruction magic/archery based character, and only made progress an inch at a time until about five months ago when with the aid of a few choice magic items my character hit that sweet inflection point and began carving a swathe of destruction through his enemies (and any friends with poor enough AI to get in front of him). Still, the game was good enough to keep me coming back to it often enough to reach that point.

I figured it was past time to write something about this game now that I've finished the main quest, but with the first expansion sitting on my desk and another due in a few months I don't think I'll be putting it aside any time soon...

Edit: Misspelt Cyrodiil. Fucking fantasy names...


Torchwood is the more adult spin off show of the new Dr. Who series. It follows the adventures of a secret extra governmental agency in charge of protecting Earth from aliens, monsters and other bugaboos. For some inexplicable reason they are based in Cardiff.

The show inherits a lot of its parent's goofiness, even though it tries hard to take itself seriously. Combined with the underwhelming acting ability of the cast this results in a lot of cringe inducing moments. But for every episode that stinks, like the regrettable Fight Club tribute 'Combat' or the 'where the hell did all this shit come from' moments of the season finale, there's one that works quite well. The characters are fairly well thought out and whenever they focus on them rather than some absurd sci-fi monster of the week things work pretty well.

It will be interesting to see where it goes in its next season, as the writers seem to have weighty topics in mind for it. Life after death (or the lack of it) continually pops up, as well as the agents inability to relate to the mass of humanity that they are supposedly protecting, which increases as they have more and more experiences with things beyond the mundane world of normal people, and don't much like what they see.

Dr. Who remains, of course, far superior, goofiness and all.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

We Cannot Hide Ourselves

Isis – Live at the Metro, Sydney, February 3rd

Considering all the crazy shit that happened after this concert I was almost surprised to remember when I woke up the next morning that, on top of almost being arrested, I'd also just seen yet another amazing concert, just a week after Tool and Muse!

Like Mogwai and Satyricon this show was at the Metro, which is quite a nice venue. Very similar to the St. James in Auckland. It was an unusual crowd in attendance, with most of the punters being weird amalgams of the glasses and cardigan set that came to see Mogwai and the beer chugging munters that were at Satyricon. Surprisingly the theatre was completely packed; Mogwai wasn't full, and Satyricon's show was almost empty. I would have thought that either of those bands would be more popular than Isis.


The opening act were Laura, who were fairly good and played to a very receptive crowd. Other than when My Disco opened for Mogwai I don't think I've ever seen another opening act be so warmly appreciated. Their sound can pretty much be described as by the numbers post rock. Most of their songs sounded very much like their obvious antecedents, Mogwai, Sigur Ros and Isis, which I guess made them a good choice for an opener.

Laura again

These Arms Are Snakes followed. I was looking forward to seeing them, even though I knew nothing about them except that they had a cool name. They started out very promisingly, with lots of crazy feedback and delay drenched screaming from the singer, but it didn't last. The singer's rock star preening and posturing was delivered with total confidence but that lame indie faux-cock rock shit just annoys me. Their music, a heavy variety of indie rock, didn't impress me much either. Mind you I did like their guitarist. He had a bit of a crazy Mars Volta thing going on.

These Arms Are Snakes

I found a good spot close to the front for Isis. Unfortunately I was sandwiched amongst a bunch of big, drunk, sweaty guys, but they turned out to be friendly enough (you just have to remember when amongst metallers that when they say “Don't fuck with me, I'll kick all your fucking asses! Give me my beer back, cunt!” in metallish it translates to “Hey bro nice to meet you” in English).

It was kind of weird that Isis didn't have roadies to set their instruments up for them. They came on stage, fiddled around with their equipment for twenty minutes, walked off for five and then returned to enormous applause.


The sound wasn't nearly as good as Tool. The vocals were definitely too quiet, and some of the heavier parts lost all definition and just became a big blur of noise because the gear apparently couldn't quite handle it. The band themselves were very quiet and unassuming, not really saying much between songs except for 'thanks', and giving polite waves on the way on and off the stage.

The setlist is easy to remember because it was basically the new album played from beginning to end with a couple of omissions and old songs inserted here and there:

Wrists of Kings

It's always great going to the concert of a band with about Isis' level of popularity. There are lots of people but not so many that it's too crowded, and absolutely everyone is there for the music, rather than to be able to say they've seen Bono close up or to get sweaty and gross while shoving around strangers. It was really cool to see so many people enjoying the long moody and mellow intro to this song, when most metal bands would be being told to play the hard shit or go home.

Not in Rivers, But in Drops

This one was a stunner. When these guys dropped into the heavy section at the end I felt it in my gut, and not just from sheer volume but because the music itself is powerful in a way that just reaches in and forces you to respond from the inside out. No other band I've seen live has blown me away quite like that. Not even Tool.

A little digression. Tool's music is very cerebral compared to Isis'. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but it explains why they stand there so formally on stage, while Isis are big fans of a bit of the old jumping around, and why it's better in some ways to watch Tool from the seats, which would be unthinkable for Isis...

False Light

The only track from Oceanic. There wasn't much old stuff (nothing off Celestial or anything older) played tonight... hopefully they'll come back again before they make another album and do a bit more of a retro set.

Isis rock so hard that you get that shaky camera effect like in nu-metal music videos, even with a still photo


Slightly disappointing as this track is a standout on the album, but that monster of an outro wasn't done justice by the sound setup.

Syndic Calls

Every track from Panopticon was greeted with cheers and applause as soon as the first phrase registered with the audience. Good to see that I'm not the only one who think this album is beyond awesome!

1000 Shards

They had to stop and retune their guitars between every song. That's what you get for playing in drop B!

Wills Dissolve

Contrasting Isis with Tool again, Tool were very polished and played their instruments (almost) to technical perfection. Isis were a bit sloppier, I heard a couple of genuine stuff ups but I was impressed by the way that they always recovered immediately, even if they hiccuped on one of their complicated rhythms.

Holy Tears

On the album this song is good but not a highlight. On the other hand at the concert it was a genuine holy shit moment. That heavy being-pulverised-by-an-ocean-of-noise-(in-a-good-way) feeling I mentioned above was at its strongest at the end of this song. Just amazing.

Funny comment feature is currently unavailable, due to incredible awesomeness

And then they walked off stage! Maybe I was spoiled by Tool's two hour set but I was expecting a bit more. The encore was paltry in length too, only one song but they made it count:

In Fiction

I just don't have the words to describe how much I loved hearing this. This is a genuine contender for my personal favourite song ever and it would be fair to say that I was close to wetting myself with excitement when they played the first few notes. They drew this song's dark, moody intro out nice and long and the audience dug it which was great. Often audiences aren't interested in the quiet introspective parts of songs and this in turn affects the band's performance, so it was most impressive that they played this part with the same passion and emotional intensity as the heavier parts. And as for the heavy parts, as I said, I don't have the words. Just wow.

You can't really tell from this photo, but this is some heavy fucking shit

And then they walked off for good. I was hoping for more but what we got was still amazing. I honestly couldn't tell you whether I preferred them to Tool. Both bands have similarities but are quite different live acts, but both were among the best concerts I've seen. It's kind of weird... I'm getting to see a lot of good bands over the next few months: Suffocation, Deftones, Mastodon, Converge and Lamb of God (again), plus Nine Inch Nails just announced an Australian tour in May, but I'm not getting all that excited about any of them. I simply don't think any of those bands could be as good as Isis or Tool, but hey, you never know...

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Sunday Lessons

- Typical Sydney: If you spend $100 on swanky new trousers you'll quickly get them covered in dirt and ditch water from crawling through a hole in the wall to get into an illegal warehouse rave that has been shut closed by the police.

- Don't try and argue with the riot police. They get angry very easily.

This picture was probably the best of what I took of the actual crowd. There must have been at least 500 people still there at the end of the night when we were forced to leave.

Even the dog was getting into it
La Polizia!

Guilty of:
Selling liquor without a license
Playing music without a license
Having fun without a license...

Saturday, February 03, 2007

A Cure For Cancer

Well Maybe. But it looks promising at least...

Obligatory Google Bombing

Because I must do as my master Neil Gaiman commands and link to this post: Penn Jillette

Friday, February 02, 2007

Your Lucky Day!

Special Friday evening 'Jon is too drunk to write a post with content' bonus link!

Britain's Most Massacred Regiments (thank you Making Light)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Australia Day

What a weird couple of days. Like most people I thought that the Sydney Big Day Out's threat to ban the Australian flag was a little stupid (not to mention likely to cause more harm than good), even though I was somewhat appreciative of their intentions and explanations of their actions (Yeah! Lets celebrate our country by listening to a bunch of popular bands from overseas! And Jet!). Even though I was expecting a significant reaction from the kids on the day of the Big Day Out, I still was surprised by just how strong it turned out to be, almost everyone there was either wearing a flag or a stick-on tattoo of the flag. Plus of course there were plenty of munters wearing those shirts with a picture of the Aussie flag saying “Support it or f*%k off”, which piss me off for a number of reasons. Firstly I'm aesthetically annoyed by little tough guy twats who're trying to appear intimidating but at the same time are too scared to wear a shirt with a real swear word on it. Secondly I wonder what they'd make of me. I live in Australia but I don't support their flag, would they tell me to fuck off or would they say “Oh no, we didn't mean you. You're OK, you're white”? I'm not sure which would be worse...

Anyway despite the unpleasant tone of some of the participants the day passed without incident. The next day (which was actually Australia Day) I largely avoided contact with any Aussies at all, spending most of the day in Bondi and the eastern suburbs with a big bunch of Kiwis. The one time I did venture into town I ran into a couple of drunk guys dressed in Australian flags. They came up to me and started chatting, and while they seemed friendly enough there was definitely a vibe about them that I disliked. Sure enough just then a black (i.e. Aboriginal) woman walked past and yelled out “Happy fucking Australia Day you fucking Aussie cunts” (or something along those lines) at them. At this point these guys started hurling abuse back at her. What disturbed me was the way that everyone else around was eager to join in the heckling. Now this kind of thing certainly doesn't happen everyday, at least not around where I've been living and hanging out. It's like for two days the whole country, normally so relaxed and easy going, undergoes some kind of nationalistic psychosis, and makes Waitangi Day look positively civilised. At least the two guys I was talking to were provoked by the incident into a discussion about whether it was 'fairdinkum' for the blacks to say 'fuck Australia', the final verdict of which was that they should be grateful that the poms showed up and conquered them, because otherwise the Japanese would have done so, and they'd be even worse off. Right...

Anyway I found this all somewhat frightening. Not in an 'oh my God it's just like Nazi Germany' sort of way but because it disturbs me how readily this nations youth can be persuaded to venerate an inanimate object. I seriously hate John Howard more every day. At least the actions of George Bush and his government are explicable, they may be motivated by greed, pride or some pathetic strain of religion but at least a connection between action and motivation is apparent. Not so in Australia, everything that comes out of Howard's mouth seems to be inspired by nothing but pure malice. He's like some of warlord from a b-grade eighties fantasy movie who simply wants what's worst for everyone. His recent comments about the flag seem to imply only one thing, Australia will probably want to go to war at some stage in the not too distant future, so we'd better make sure that we have plenty of young people ready to die for a flag. And the shaven headed 20 something boys of suburban Sydney are only too keen to oblige.