Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Google Reader absolute gold.

The only downside is that it concatenates everything in your RSS feed onto a single page. So some troubling, serious post from No Right Turn melds straight on into whatever hardcore porn stills are on the front page of Fleshbot (NSFW).

And speaking of Fleshbot and RSS, I wonder why they split their feeds into 'gay' and 'straight' (and 'all'). It seems a little sexist. Shouldn't it be 'people who like boys', 'people who like girls' and 'people who like everyone'?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Lost Season 3

Like many I was very disappointed by the tedious wheelspinning of last year's Lost. However the final few episodes were really quite good and hooked me in enough to give it another chance. As it happened the first batch of episodes from season 3 stank so bad that they could smell it on Doctor Who. When the series went into hiatus following the sixth episode, I declared that I was through with the show and was never coming back.

However a chance comment from my sister convinced me to give it a try when the series restarted, and thank god I did. It continued to get better and better as the year wore on, and ended last week in a stunning climax that was brilliantly done even by the high standards of the last two season's cliffhangers.

Some people have been complaining that they're still introducing too many new mysteries, but by my counting there's only one major new one this year (Jacob), and they actually closed off a few of the minor ones towards the end too. They've now officially announced that there will be three more seasons before the show ends, so there's still plenty of time for them to wrap it all up nicely. Or fuck it up totally. Time will tell.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Friday Night Death Metal Egyptology Lesson

Live at Manning Bar, Sydney, 25th June

As I mentioned the other day I'm not a huge fan of Nile but I had so much fun at Suffocation earlier this year I figured it was worth taking a punt on another brutal death metal gig.

Nile are certainly more popular than Suffocation, and there was a pretty large crowd in attendance, a large contingent of whom were there to see the support band, Polish death metallers Decapitated. I missed the first opening band (who's name I didn't even catch) but caught Decapitated's set. They ran into a bit of trouble right from the start, with the vocalist striding on stage, bellowing his head off and getting the crowd ready for a frenzy. “Are you ready Sydney!” he growled in his best death metal voice, “We are Decapitated, lets fucking go!”, and the band launched into their first song, only to find that the guitar wasn't plugged in. The band slunk off stage to mocking laughter from the crowd.


However once they got it all sorted out they played a pretty good set. I'd never heard these guys before but I found most of the tracks they played pretty agreeable, they had plenty of catchy riffs and a talent for a nice brutal groove. Manning Bar has an amphitheatre kind of setup, with a couple of raised levels surrounding the area in front of the stage. It was pretty cool looking around and seeing the big moshpit in front of the stage going nuts while a semi circle of black clad metallers looked down on them Colosseum style, all of us windmilling our long hair in perfect unison. For a change it actually felt good to be metal.

Shortly thereafter Nile took the stage and played a set based mostly on material from Annihilation of the Wicked. For those keeping score they played 'Cast Down the Heretic', 'Sacrifice to Sebek', 'Lashed to the Slave Stick' and 'Annihilation of the Wicked'. They also played two or three tracks from their new album, Ithyphallic, due to be released next month sometime. And of course there were scattered fan favourites from older albums that I was unfamiliar with throughout. I liked the new material, there seemed to be a bit more fast/slow dynamism and the riffs seemed slightly more worthy of being what I would call 'technical death metal'

Nile. Manning Bar has particularly shitty lighting, so my photos are even worse than usual.

But to be frank, these guys were not as good as Suffocation. It was a decent gig, but they just lacked the energy and theatre of the Suffo gig. On the other hand, while I am usually dismissive of bands who confuse speed and complexity with musicianship, it was a real treat to see these guys playing some of the most physically demanding music I've ever seen. The look of concentration on George Kollias' (drums) face during 'Sacrifice to Sebek' was actually quite inspiring.

More drums than you can shake a stick at. So to speak.

Best Song: 'Annihilation of the Wicked'. The perfect death metal riff that opens the song that I mentioned in my review of the album went off like a monster.
Best Stage Banter: “You call that a growl? Those motherfuckers in New Zealand were louder than that and there were only half as many of them!”

Friday, May 25, 2007

I Hath Dreamed Bleak And Grim

Nile – Annihilation of the Wicked

Nile are an American brutal death metal band much in the vein of Suffocation, who you may recall as being my band of the month back near the beginning of the year. I prefer Suffocation in many ways, their songs are just a bit heavier, a lot more fun and the songwriting is more interesting and catchy by virtue of their not being restricted by a somewhat cumbersome gimmick, which I shall get to in a paragraph or two.

Like any decent death metal band these guys are astonishing musicians. The guitarists didn't quite blow me away to the degree that Terrance from Suffocation did, but the vocals are outstanding. Incredibly deep and guttural while maintaining definition and control. Sometimes you can almost understand what he's saying! Their drummer, George Kollias, is a bit of a legend, and this album contains some of the fastest death metal drumming ever committed to record. During 'Sacrifice To Sebek' his double kicks reach a peak of 265bpm. Rumour on the internets has it that studio trickery was used to achieve it, but even if we don't count that particular track there are plenty of other points on Annihilation of the Wicked when he is almost that fast.

As for the aforementioned gimmick, these guys are about all things ancient Egyptian. A flick through the CD booklet reveals, alongside each songs lyrics, a brief Egyptology lesson, explaining the social, historical or religious aspect of ancient Egyptian life that inspired the song. For example, the brutal tortures inflicted on wayward slaves, the deposition and execution of a megalomaniacal pharoah or the unbelievably horrific countenance of the malevolent god Set.

This is all well and good, but the conceit stretches to the music as well. Their super fast, intense death metal is overlaid with traditional middle eastern musical figures, and unlike with Secret Chiefs 3, who seamlessly blend traditional and rock music, the Egyptian styled riffs often feel awkwardly imposed over the heavier music.

The brutal music underneath is still pretty fucking good mind you. Even if it's not quite at the level of Suffocation, the thunderously awesome main riff of the title track approaches my conception of the platonic ideal of a death metal riff. I also appreciated the scattered acoustic interludes throughout the album, which use traditional instruments such as bazouki. They differ from Secret Chiefs 3's work in that while they are traditionally instrumented songs, they still carry a metal mood which is very well done.

Good album, but not as good as their cool Egyptian conceit.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Martial Arts Beatdown

Kiai is supposedly the art of fighting using only your breath... MMA just means 'Multi martial artist'. Take a guess which style wins between the esoteric, mystical bullshit artist and the guy who actually knows real martial arts:

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Split Your Guts With Blood And Thunder

Mastodon – Leviathan

Blood Mountain that came after it, Leviathan is a hardcore (as in punk) concept album with a mythic aspect. However unlike Blood Mountain's opaque and difficult to interpret story, Leviathan is based on the novel Moby Dick, which makes a surprisingly good accompaniment to their brand of spastic yet epic metal.

Musically this album is not quite to the standard they achieved with the next album but it's still very good. Where Blood Mountain schizophrenically leapt from genre to genre, Leviathan stays on a pretty even keel of powerful, chugging hardcore throughout, save for the occasional country or jazz flourish. The riffs are still fucking brilliant, but in composition the songs on this album don't live up to those of their successor, and about midway through the album I usually start to feel a little unsatisfied by the failure of the music to progress meaningfully beyond one incredibly mean riff after another.

It doesn't help that the two standout songs on the album come at either end of it. Leviathan opens with the stunning 'Blood and Thunder', three minutes of the meanest fucking riffs you've ever heard arranged perfectly to create the toughest, most menacing sensation you'll ever associate with an 19th century novel. It sets a high standard which unfortunately isn't matched until the second to last track, the quarter hour epic 'Hearts Alive' which ebbs and swells over it's ponderous running time before erupting into a mighty climax, complete with an orgasmically triumphant guitar solo.

For the technically minded there's plenty of nice guitar work and drumming to be admired. While it's not as good as Blood Mountain it's still a very worthwhile purchase as the songs all stand really well on their own. It's just a bit unfortunate that the album as a whole suffers from a little too much homogeneity. Still, it really made me want to read Moby Dick!

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Barbie Drug

I found this via Hard News a few weeks back. Even on its own it's a bit of an unsettling concept to imagine people hacking their physiology in these ways, but I'm sure it's only a hint of what will be possible in the not too distant future. I've always been a bit dismissive of the whole singularity concept, but things like this make me start to wonder. Maybe our own grandchildren really will be virtually a different species to us.

Of course, the U.S. government pulled the plug on the drugs development. Presumably because making people more physically attractive and increasing their sex drive is the devil's work. Naturally it was bought by an Australian company, because of all the countries in the world Australia is the one that most needs people to be fitter, more tanned and hornier...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Random Music Video of the Day

I have no idea who these guys are, or what you call this style of music, but it's fucking cool:

via Ruthless Forums, of all places.


by Malcolm Boyd

It occurred to me one day that while I could recite the biographies of every member of Pink Floyd past and present to anyone who would listen, I knew next to nothing about the lives of most of my other favourite musicians from a little longer ago. While I might personally attribute roughly equal musical merit to both Bach and Pink Floyd, I am aware that from a more objective view point knowledge of the former probably makes a more important contribution to one's artistic education.

For roughly half of this book I found myself wishing I had bought a biography of Syd Barrett instead. Recalling Bach's life is a little soporific for two reasons. Firstly, there's just not that much historical source material detailing his personal life. His private behaviour and his personality are mostly a complete mystery to us. As a result his biography becomes just a list of towns he lived in and jobs he held. Secondly, from what we can tell he didn't really do much that was exceptional (besides the obvious). Here's a guy who grew up, moved to the city, got a job, got married, had some kids and then died, and just happened to compose the most amazing, transcendent music ever written along the way.

On the other hand the rest of this book is the story of his artistic development and that's a whole other subject. While his contemporaries may have sadly forgotten to record what Bach ate for breakfast most days, they were sharp enough to recognise that future generations might be grateful to have access to his music. While I found these sections hard to follow a lot of the time (the author of this book assumes a basic familiarity with the forms and conventions of Baroque and Classical music that I just don't have) I found it interesting, and the later sections were especially fascinating. Towards the end of his life it is obvious from his work that Bach recognised his gift and became concerned with leaving a legacy that would do it justice and act as a summation of his achievements. In fact, his last composition (The Art of Fugue) was not even intended to be performed (which is not to say it's not OK to perform it), but to be appreciated in the abstract, in the mind of the skilled musician reading the score. The esoteric and almost superhuman nature of his later work is frankly a little frightening, but in a good way. It's both humbling and inspiring to realise that the chubby, smirking visage looking out at you from the cover of this book contained a mind capable of producing the most transcendent and complex music ever written.

In a way, Bach's music represents a pinnacle of human artistry. Up until him the styles of music (triggered into rapid progressive development by the invention of the printing press) became more and more complicated. After him music became simpler and simpler (perhaps reaching it's nadir with punk rock). While it's impossible (and misguided to even try) to argue whether Bach was 'better' or 'worse' than say Mozart, Beethoven or Wagner, his genius stands out from the rest as, while the others represent major milestones along the linear path of musical development, Bach was a unique aberration, writing music that uncovered something that never occurred to his contemporaries and has never been reproduced by those who came after. It stands alone as something unique and untouchable.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Tuesday Night Gypsy Bacchanal

Secret Chiefs 3
with Dr. El Suavo
Live at the Factory Theatre, Sydney, May 15th

For the second time in two weeks I found myself at the Factory Theatre watching a bunch of guys dressed as monks play some real crazy music.

Secret Chiefs 3

Secret Chiefs 3 is the project of one Trey Spruance, who of course we all remember as the guitarist (and number two personality after Mike Patton) of Mr. Bungle. Their music is a unique and harmonious blend of death metal, Mr. Bungle style cheeseball rock and traditional music of an ethnicity that is best categorised by the useful Australianism 'woggy', meaning Eastern European, Middle Eastern or Central Asian. Shamefully I only own one of their albums, which I loved when I first bought it and which I loved when listening to it in preparation for their gig, but which fell out of my favour in the intervening years. I suspect this was because it's one of those albums that works a lot better when listened to as a whole than when the songs occasionally come up on the random shuffle. Nevertheless I was very curious to go along to this gig, and I'm glad I did because it was totally fantastic.

Metal monks going metal

I arrived a little late and was greeted by the sight of this guy:

Dr. El Suavo

DJing a whole lot of crazy goofball shit. This was Dr. El Suavo [wp] who I can't recommend terribly highly as a DJ or a stage magician but who was a pretty good comedian:
“C'mon Sydney, even Adelaide was better than this. You're not going to let those serial killing motherfuckers beat you are you?”

“Oh I get it, you're all on heroin tonight. Tomorrow night all the coke and meth heads will come out and it'll be real crazy.”
Well he made me laugh anyway. Plus he gets bonus points for playing a (old-school, non-light based) theremin.

At about ten o'clock Secret Chiefs took the stage. Coincidentally enough dressed as monks (Christian, Masonic and several varieties of Buddhist. I didn't see any Satanists.) The lineup included Trey on guitar, bass, two percussionists, one violinist/ second guitar/ trumpeter, keys, flute/ sax and one guy playing some freaky Asian bowed instrument I don't know the name of, but do have a very bad picture of:

Said strange instrument

Trey's guitars fascinated me, they weren't really guitars but electric versions of traditional instruments and I'd love to know what they were called. I'm not sure but the intonation of the fretting looked pretty unconventional to me, so I'm guessing it was Middle Eastern. In this incarnation Secret Chiefs 3's touring lineup includes two other former members of Mr. Bungle, Danny Heifetz on drums and Bar McKinnon on flute and sax.

You can't really tell from this photo, but Trey Spruance is real fucking awesome

The first set was really good, what came later was even better. During the intermission some random guy came out, assembled the crowd in front of the stage into a circle and led everyone in an Arabic (at least I think it was Arabic) chant. After a while the drummers joined in and it was really pretty cool. You don't get that kind of audience participation at a Lamb of God concert!

The concert had been very good up until then but the second set and the encore were just brilliant. Trey was pretty relaxed and unassuming for most of the show, but in the last song of the second set and the first song of the encore he let it all out for a few amazing solos. I've seen incredible guitar playing up close before in a metal context, but these were traditional style on the traditional instruments. I was so excited to get to see it up close I nearly peed my pants.


However I was even more impressed by the violinist. Maybe it was just the novelty of seeing that instrument in this context (OK Sarena Maneesh (the band that opened for Nine Inch Nails) had a violinist but he didn't contribute a hell of a lot) but I was totally enraptured by him, most notably by his soulful lead in 'The End Times', in which he awakened in me a whole new motivation to become a real musician; so I can travel to the other side of the world and play a gig on a Tuesday night for a bunch of people who have just wandered in after work and just totally break their fucking hearts. If that wasn't enough, he followed up Trey's solo in the encore with one of his own that almost made my eyes pop out with astonishment.

The violinist

They played again the next night and I would have loved to have gone but it was sold out. There was a great vibe and despite the slightly obnoxious drunk people (something it's hard to avoid at any concert in Sydney) there was a really good, intimate vibe between the band and the audience. I'm running out of adjectives to describe all the great concerts I've gone to recently but this was one of the best so far this year, perhaps only beaten by Tool and Isis.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Our Eagles Become Our Vultures

Converge – You Fail Me

You Fail Me
comes chronologically right after Jane Doe and right before No Heroes, and there's not a lot to say about it that I didn't say in either of those posts. It's all about brutal, raw hardcore, with a bit of arrhythmic craziness thrown in.

That said, out of those three albums You Fail Me is probably my favourite, mainly because there are a few more departures from their typical style. If there's one thing I look for in a good album it's dynamism. You can write the ten best brutal death metal songs in the world, but if they all do more or less the same thing they won't make for a great album. You Fail Me contains a few gentler acousticy tracks, most notably 'In Her Shadow' which undergoes a very cool rhythmic transition at the halfway point from maudlin to impassioned. The title track is worth mentioning too, a slow, grinding song that's just a wee bit doom metal and which also makes a nice break from their usual style.

Of course, an equal part of this album's goodness comes from the fact that the songs in their typical hardcore style are fucking great too. Just about every one is a classic, but I'd have to give a nod to 'Drop Out' as being exceptional above the rest. It just plain rocks.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Remember When The Onion Was Always This Funny?

Bush Refuses To Set Timetable For Withdrawal Of Head From White House Banister

I know it's old and I know it's lame to post links to stuff from The Onion because everyone reads it anyway but it made me laugh so damn hard I had to anyway.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Fight! Hyperpower!

Nine Inch Nails
Live in Sydney 9th May

So much for my big plan to see NIN three nights in a row. The second two shows were cancelled for unknown reasons (the semi official rumour is that Trent had a sore throat but I wouldn't put much stock in it, this is the industry standard bullshit excuse and is tour manager code for "We don't know" or "We don't want to tell you"), but unlike many unfortunates I at least had the opportunity to see them once on Wednesday.

The first time I saw Nine Inch Nails was on the Fragility tour in 2000, where Trent had trouble playing the piano and singing in tune on account of being trashed out of his fucking head. It was a very different Trent (with a completely different backing band) who I saw on the With Teeth tour two years ago. Much grumpier, but a better performer. Nevertheless I felt that both those concerts lacked a bit of energy and were not everything I expected from one of my favourite bands. Little time has passed since the last tour so this time they had almost the same line up (Jerome Dillon got booted and replaced by Josh Freese on drums) and a fairly similar setlist.

The opening band, Serena Maneesh, were OK, kind of a mix between Sigur Ros and Sonic Youth. They passed the time well enough but didn't really do a lot for me.

Trent sings 'The Beginning of the End'

The Beginning of the End


Nine Inch Nails opened with the first three tracks off the new album. 'Hyperpower!' was the walk on track, with Trent appearing in time to provide vocals and tambourine for 'The Beginning of the End'. Remember what I said about how funny it was when he pulled out the tambourine for 'With Teeth' on the last tour? He was playing the damn thing for almost the whole concert this time around.
Said tambourine

The band seemed a lot more passionate and aggressive this time, and all three of these tracks were rapturously received by the audience. 'Survivalism' was a highlight for me, especially the noisy extended outro.

March of the Pigs


'March of the Pigs' is a setlist staple of theirs now for obvious reasons. It's virtually guaranteed to go off like a motherfucker every time. 'Closer' was the same version as on the last tour (with a bit of 'The Only Time' added to the end). 'Heresy' was an unexpected but very welcome surprise! I love that track and it was great to finally hear it live. The setlist in general sounded a bit like Trent had raided his earlier albums (mainly The Downward Spiral and Broken) for songs that matched the themes of the new album.

The light show was pretty cool

Gave Up

I was a bit surprised to hear 'Burn' again, as it was a bit of special fanservice when they played it on the last tour, but it's still part of the standard setlist on this tour. Again this is probably because it's lyrics fit in with Year Zero quite nicely. Like 'March of the Pigs' 'Gave Up' would be pretty unlikely to be left out of their set. Not only is it a great rock out track, its fantastic singalong parts are perfectly suited to live performance.

Help Me I Am In Hell

Me, I'm Not

La Mer

Absolutely brilliant. If you were to ask me which three NIN songs I really wanted to hear but was extremely pessimistic about getting then it may well have looked like this. 'Help Me I Am In Hell' and 'La Mer' were little solo instrumental performances that covered up a change in stage setup for 'Me, I'm Not' (keys and laptop for Alessandro and Trent). After it was done Trent retreated to the back of the stage and started plinking around on his keyboard, before coming back out front to snarl at the lighting crew, “I like the dark as much as the next guy, but can I get the lights turned on over here? I can't fucking see shit.” Then, too my delight he began playing the lovely melody of 'La Mer', and I couldn't help but scream “Fuck yeah!!”, to the apparent amusement of the people standing around me. What, I'm not allowed to get excited by a piano and acoustic guitar song?

'Help Me I Am In Hell' was played in almost complete darkness by Aaron, Josh and Jeordie. It was a heavier, eviller version than that on the album, and it turned out pretty awesome. Out of all the tracks on Year Zero 'Me, I'm Not' was the one I thought least likely to be played live as it's so quiet, moody and electronic, but it went down really well with the audience. One of the good things about playing a number of shows in a smaller venue like this is that the band can be sure that the majority of the audience at the first show is a serious fan, so they can do something like play a weird, mellow song from the new album which has only been out a month and get a good reception. 'La Mer' was Trent on keys and Aaron on guitar, and although it was only an abbreviated version (without the noisy parts), I almost creamed my pants in delight.

You can't really tell in this photo, but that's Trent playing 'La Mer'

The Good Soldier

One of my favourite tracks off the new album! That makes four unexpected songs in a row that I was just thrilled to hear. Aaron played the guitar solo at the end with a lot more aggression than on the album but I still really liked it. Third best song of the night, after 'La Mer' and another one that I'm coming to.


No You Don't

After a long mellow out the band started getting heavy again with these two. 'Wish' is another of their standard crazygonuts songs, and 'No You Don't' is a random pick that seems to have been chosen for its conceptual alignment with Year Zero. Other than 'La Mer' it was the only track from The Fragile that was played (and it was one I'd heard them do before in 2000), which was slightly disappointing.

"I am so dirty. On the inside"

Mr. Self Destruct


Dead Souls

'Mr. Self Destruct' and 'Only' were pretty good. The other two I was less fussed about (I'd heard them both live before). Trent had a funny speech before 'Dead Souls': "We tricked you and got back here sooner than you thought we would! We have a new album out which many of you will have have stolen already. This song is not on it... it's not by us, it's by one of my favourite bands.”

"I am so dirty... ohhhhhh!"

After knocking his keyboard over again in another tantrum, Trent got around to

This was the third time I've heard this one live, but even considering that and the various live versions floating around on record this was the best performance of it that I've heard. Trent solo with piano for the first half of the song (and the whole audience singing along) was just brilliant. Highlight of the show.

The Hand That Feeds

Head Like A Hole

And finishing with a couple of catchy, aggressive crowd pleasers. Everyone had great fun screaming along with these two.

Obligatory single decent photo

In general, the things I was disappointed about:
  • No 'In This Twilight' or 'Zero-Sum'... maybe next time.
  • No stage show. I've seen the things they've done in the past on their live DVDs and it's really fucking awesome. I really wish they'd bring the whole show out to the antipodes some time. Maybe in September...
  • Almost nothing off The Fragile.
The things that were good:
  • The audience was great. Everyone was a genuine fan (tickets were sold out in half an hour to this first gig) and I met some really nice people. The moshpit was great (and not really a moshpit). Everyone was really packed in as you expect at shows with this kind of popularity but there was no pushing or shoving, just everyone jumping up and down. It was heaps of fun.
  • Being the first to hear 'Me, I'm Not' and 'The Good Soldier' live.
  • 'Hurt'. Just brilliant.
The thing that really sucked ass:
  • Coming home the next night to find the second (and later the third) shows cancelled with no explanation. What the fuck?!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Five Possible Reasons Why Nine Inch Nails Cancelled Two Of Their Sydney Shows

  1. Trent fell off the wagon.
  2. Josh fell off a literal wagon and broke his arm.
  3. Government agents broke into Trent's hotel room, kidnapped him and shipped him off to a concentration camp in Guam.
  4. It's part of an elaborate practical joke that Trent and Thom Yorke are playing on Bex.
  5. The crushing disappointment of having a concert cancelled on you mere hours before the event is all just part of the Year Zero experience.

Friday, May 11, 2007

All We Ever Were. Just Zeroes And Ones.

Nine Inch Nails – Year Zero

It was a Christmas miracle. Not only did Trent Reznor release a new Nine Inch Nails album a mere two years after the last one (four years ahead of schedule), but at the same time he put out a live DVD, masterminded a brilliantly original promotion campaign for the record and started an international tour (Sydney show reviews coming soon!)

Calling the Year Zero promotion a marketing campaign is a little dismissive, it's really an extension of the album itself in which the plot and setting behind the album's concept are fleshed out and explained by a cluster of secret websites. The album on it's own probably wouldn't make much sense out of this context and reading the websites is a fun experience in itself, not to mention the liveliness of the little community that has sprung up around trying to unravel the clues to reveal the next site and piece it all together.

Before I even get to the album there are three things that need to be mentioned about how well Trent handled the release of this album. Firstly, he's been very savvy about the use of the internet in promoting his music and in his handling of piracy. While most of his peers in the music industry are still, even five years after this stuff went mainstream, viewing the internet with mistrust, as if it were some kind of fad that they just have to weather until they can deliver DRM strong and draconian enough to make your computer grow legs, jump out the window and run down to the police station to report you if you try to play anything that you haven't paid for. The Year Zero ALG (dopey terminology but it's the only name we have to describe this stuff for now) got the online fanbase onboard in promoting the album before anyone had even heard it. The deliberate leaking of a few songs well in advance turned out to be a smart move too. But the thing that impressed me most was how on the very day that a high quality leak of Year Zero appeared online, the whole album was made available for streaming off the official website. Rather than being tempted to download it I just listened to it once off the website and then waited for the proper album release. I doubt it made a lot of difference to how much the album was pirated but it's probably the smartest thing that can be done about it in this day and age.

The second thing that impressed me was the very idea of the Year Zero ALG itself. Trent has been bitching for years about how no one does proper album art any more, the days of big beautiful LP artwork are long gone and it looks like even the cramped, small confines of the CD case shall soon be a thing of the past. I've been waiting for someone to click and realise that with online distribution they now have the whole internet as a canvas on which to supplement their music. I should have guessed that NIN would be the first ones to do so.

Lastly I have also been impressed by this Open Source Resistance thing that they've started up. It's worse than a cliché when a band stands up and rants about politics and the state of the world, but rather than just bitching Trent is actually using his fame and influence to actually try and start something that could make a difference. It remains to be seen where this OSR business will end up going, but even if it does nothing more than to promote peace and art then it will be a worthwhile endeavour. At the very least it will make a refreshing antidote to Rage Against the Machine's uncomfortably violent exhortations.

It easy to dismiss artists taking pot shots at the powers that be. They don't have any power to change anything and it sometimes seems like they never make any real difference. But while listening to Year Zero I realised that the fact that I believe the things I do is at least partially attributable to the fact that while I was growing up people were willing to stand up and say “Hey this is bullshit” when they saw it, either directly or via the medium of popular culture. It might not seem like much on it's own, but little by little the influence of these things does accumulate and does make a difference in shaping the world.

The dystopian future world of Year Zero is fairly unoriginal. Climate change is starting to cause real harm, the western nations are embroiled in war in the Middle East and their governments are taking increasingly aggressive moves to curtail the freedoms of their citizens. Yes, the future is just like today, only more so. Such a generic sounding story would be a little thin for a movie or novel but it is perfectly suited to being the concept for a rock album where a more complicated narrative would drag things down.

So anyway, onto the music. If you've heard the single 'Survivalism' then you know pretty much what to expect. Trent has kept the music pretty uniform in texture for the duration of the album; crunchy, minimal, electronic and totally laptop-mungus. This is an appropriate (if not commercially savvy) decision, as it reinforces the message of the album's concept and it makes the few spots where the music departs a little from that style so much more striking.

The album opens with 'Hyperpower!', a short instrumental prologue in the vein of a military march which is the closest thing on the album soundwise to Nine Inch Nails' previous output (possibly because the screaming in the background reminds one of 'The Becoming' or perhaps something off Broken).

Most of the tracks on Year Zero are, like those on With Teeth, short, succinct and to the point. This suits Trent pretty well as he has always had a flair for putting his dirty industrial instrumentation in pop arrangements. 'The Beginning of the End' and 'Survivalism' are the best examples of this (the former track has a beat lifted straight out of 'My Sharona'), and most songs on the album exude a wealth of catchiness.

The next few tracks stretch out their running time a little more, 'The Good Soldier', a gentle song with violent lyrics, ends with a sweet guitar solo that is one of my favourite moments on the album. In contrast 'Vessel' (a dirty, sexy song about drug addiction that recalls 'Closer' and 'With Teeth') ends with a freaky electronic glitch out which is also very satisfying.

As a whole I think this album has some of the best lyrics Trent has ever written. I'm impressed with how well he has succinctly and unpretentiously presented the story behind the concept while also making each song at least somewhat relevant and interesting on it's own. Sure this is kind of easy because every element of Trent's freaky dystopian future nightmare is drawn straight from today's headlines (imminent environmental catastrophe, authoritarian governments keeping the population stupid, kids taking lots of drugs) but it's still very well done. The lyrical highlight of the first half of the album is the tremendous (and tremendously unsubtle) 'Capital G':
I pushed a button and elected him to office and ah,
He pushed a button and he dropped the bomb.
You pushed a button and could watch it all on television,
Those motherfuckers didn't last too long.
That's a pretty cool opening stanza, but it gets better. It's immensely satisfying to hear someone so sharply stick it to all the right wing media blowhards who have sold their integrity in order to brainlessly toe the party line no matter how inane, stupid or dangerous it gets.

Later on the music starts to deviate more from the style and mood established early on. 'The Greater Good' is one of the best tracks on the album, a creepy ambient piece with whispered lyrics describing brainwashing in both overt and more subtle forms. After the brilliant 'The Great Destroyer' (in which a crazy ex-soldier gone terrorist announces his intention to “murder everything”) comes 'Another Version of the Truth', a peaceful piano piece (no NIN album would be complete without one). Is it just me or is the motif of the first half straight out of Chopin's 'Mazurka'? It's not the first time I've heard a snippet of a Romantic composers work in a Nine Inch Nails song.

The last two tracks, 'In This Twilight' and 'Zero-Sum' are sad album closers in the vein of 'Hurt' or 'Right Where It Belongs'. At this point in the album's story the world is literally coming to an end, although it remains unspecified exactly why. At various times it is suggested that it is either by environmental catastrophe, the vengeance of God, the vengeance of angry aliens or perhaps the work of the psycho narrating 'The Great Destroyer'. I like the implication that from a certain perspective these are all the same thing; “...and all of this is a consequence, brought on by our own hand, if you believe in that sort of thing”. In terms of sadness the lyrics of these songs give even 'Hurt' or 'Something I Can Never Have' a run for their money. Honestly, the first time I heard 'Zero-Sum' I almost started crying. At work.
And the sky is filled with light,
Can you see it?
All the black is really white,
If you believe it...
from 'In This Twilight' is sad enough, but then you get to 'Zero-Sum':
And I guess I just wanted to tell you,
As the light starts to fade,
That you are the reason,
That I am not afraid
And I guess I just wanted to mention
As the heavens will fall
We will be together soon if we
Will be anything at all.
Sniff sniff...

A maudlin ending to a Nine Inch Nails album is no surprise but this time Trent has found a way for his miserable message to become one of hope. The internet sites associated with Year Zero reveal that they, and the album, are actually artifacts sent back in time from the date of this future armageddon in the hopes that those of us who receive the message can do something to avert humankind from the course it is on. We'll try future Trent!

Year Zero may not be quite up to the musical standard of The Downward Spiral or The Fragile but it's not far off and it's concept along with the brilliantly well done supplemental material raise it's profile to that of a pretty legendary album in my estimation. Plus it has a song about George Bush dying and finding himself in hell. Awesome.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Sunday Night Satanic Head Fuck

Sunn O)))
Live in Sydney, May 6th

I just came back from another mad weekend. At least this time I stayed within Sydney and it's immediate environs but I still ended up snatching only a few hours sleep on Friday and Saturday. This meant it was time to unenthusiastically shuffle along to another concert on the Sunday night, with a part of me wishing I was in bed but knowing that I would regret missing either of these bands.

The show was at the Factory Theatre in Enmore, which I'd never heard of before but turned out to be a very nice, spacious venue. The audience were generally an odd mix of metallers and hipsters, with black rimmed glasses and 'Trve Norwegian Black Metal' t-shirts combined comfortably in the same outfit.

You can't really tell from this picture but he's playing a double necked headless guitar, with one neck normal guitar and one neck bass guitar. Cool.

Boris were up first. I'm not that familiar with their stuff currently (although this will be remedied soon because they were fantastic) but I have been exposed to a fair amount of it via an old flatmate. These guys are a three piece from Japan and their music is pretty hard to categorise. The first half of their set comprised of a couple of long slow doom metal songs. Sparse vocals, moody melodies and long drawn out ambient build ups erupting into bursts of heaviness. After about half an hour of this stuff they suddenly launched into a set of high energy, upbeat numbers, which were punk in arrangement but retained a good dose of screechy electronic strangeness. In both modes they completely rocked my pants off. They're an absolutely brilliant live band in every respect (all three of them stunned me with their technical chops), with the drummer providing all the over the top stage antics expected of a Japanese band.

Cute petite Japanese girl played some seriously mean guitar. Awesome.

Also, it was nice to go to a metal gig with no moshing. Everyone was headbanging enthusiastically so there was a good vibe, but it was a pretty arty, geeky crowd and it was a welcome relief not to have to battle a thousand smelly meatheads just to hear some music.

Sunn O))) are named after a brand of amplifiers. Makes sense, they sure use a lot of them.

Next up were Sunn O))). These guys are an American drone metal band, and for this tour their line up featured the drummer from Boris on percussion and Attila Csihar (vocalist for Mayhem when they recorded De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas!). It was a very unique performance. Four of the musicians basically just stood there and let their guitars feed back for the whole hour, pausing only to occasionally twiddle knobs on their amps and effects decks, and very occasionally to play a note or two, while the percussionist rumbled away on a huge gong and Attila chanted ominous nonsense. To be honest while watching it I was pretty bored. It's a cool concept but there wasn't enough going on to keep the audience interested and in my worn out state I really just felt like going to sleep (it probably would have been better to have been seated for their set). Even just a couple of minutes into the set when only one member had appeared on stage and was just playing two bass notes over and over again I was tempted to turn around to my friend and sing 'Booooooooooooooringggggggggggg' along with the music. I didn't because I felt it would have been uncharitable that early on, but it did prove to be a fairly accurate prediction for the set ahead. There was one cool bit near the end when the drummer got to get up front and do a bit of screaming, posturing and crowd surfing, which injected some much needed dynamism into the act, but for the majority of the set it was much of the same.

Attila with the bass player. Like all good satanic monks they are dressed in spooky red robes.

On the other hand once you just let your brain switch off it became quite meditative. These guys like to play pretty fucking loud (although it wasn't as loud as I was expecting) and the constant drone of feedback is a pretty intense sort of sound (I could feel my trousers vibrating against my leg from the bass) so that the concert becomes as much a physical experience as a musical one. I have to admit my head is still ringing even now, and even though at the time it was a bit boring it's an experience that effects you on a subconscious level (I certainly had some interesting dreams about satanists dressed in red robes that night) and something about it has stayed with me in a way that Boris hasn't.

Time for a spot of ominous gong bashing.

Still for me (and from what I could tell for the rest of the audience too) Boris were the highlight. Those guys rocked out like motherfuckers and they're a contender for the best concert I've seen this year.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

New Music In Brief

A few musicians I'm interested in have released new songs recently:

Marilyn Manson. I had vague hopes that this might be a return to form but it's not to be. Much to my dismay he seems to be courting the emo crowd. Dude, you made Antichrist Superstar and Mechanical Animals! You're so much better than that!

Korn. To no ones great surprise their new song is a big pile of shit. Only these knuckle heads could enlist the likes of Terry Bozzio and still end up with crap music. He does get an awesome solo in the middle but other than that you'd barely realise that it's him. I don't think I can listen to this album, it'd just be too depressing.

Thank god for Jordan Reyne, who we can still rely on for total brilliance.

And in the interest of keeping abreast of everything Tool related. Watch this, even though it's seven or eight years old.

Friday, May 04, 2007

You're Still More Of A Man Than Anyone I've Ever Known

Casino Royale
Directed by Who Cares

I'm not much of a James Bond fan, but this was the only film I was tempted to watch on the airline's playlist when I flew back from Auckland (they only had the same Family Guy ep I watched last time and no Simpsons! Disgraceful!). I've seen most of the Pierce Brosnan films in theatres and in an incredibly stupid action movie kind of way I found them satisfying, scratching that masculine urge to see things go fast, blow up, drink cocktails and show cleavage, not necessarily in that order.

This one fucking sucked though. There was not enough action, terrible pacing and boring villains, basically the plot was rubbish. Daniel Craig makes a decent enough Bond, but the story is paced like it was the debut novel by a second rate potboiling hack. Oh wait, it was. At any rate I don't know what soulless audience-testing money hungry multinational picture company greenlighted a script in which the titular climactic casino scene is over by the two thirds mark and most of the rest of the film is a long drawn out hug and kiss between Bond and his new girlfriend, during which he may as well have written 'target practice' on her forehead.

Which brings me to another topic, the confused error of the writers in assuming that James Bond should have a personality or human motivations. In the recent films at least James Bond is not a person, he is an emotionless robot consuming Martinis and releasing them at high velocity in the form of bullets, ejaculate or one liners as the situation requires. Any attempt to humanise what is really only a laughably shallow Hollywood projection of a hyper masculine Ur-Male is misguided in the most amusing way possible. Which is why when the female 'lead' (why even bother with the indignity of the term, any woman in a Bond film is there only to be fucked and/or die (OK except for Judi Dench, but I bet the studio execs are wishing they could replace her with a man)) utters the line “If the only thing left of you was your smile and your little finger, you'd still be more of a man than anyone I've ever known,” I had to resist the temptation to turn around, wake up the old lady sleeping beside me and gesture at the screen saying “Can you believe this shit? How stupid do they think movie goers are today?”

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

I Know That I Suck

Skinny Puppy – Mythmaker

I was ready to bag this album. The Greater Wrong of the Right had engendered some high expectations, but just yesterday I gave their latest album, Mythmaker, one last listen and found that it had suddenly raised significantly in my estimation. Maybe it was because I was jogging when I listened to it this time (a bit of adrenaline can be just what some music needs to be appreciated), or maybe it was because my shitty iPod earphones finally gave up the ghost on Friday (ripping them to pieces was ever so satisfying) and I bought new ones; cheap ass thirty dollar Sony jobs but they still sound like a chorus of angels when compared to Apple's headphones, which do their best to reproduce the acoustic properties of an epileptic beating a trash can lid during a violent fit.

Whatever the reason, I've decided it's not so bad. It's certainly a departure from their signature sound (even more so than The Greater Wrong of the Right or The Process) and even though it is a logical progression from their previous album, it sounds more than anything like the fractured dance pop of Oghr (vocalist Ogre's side project that he worked on during the years that Skinny Puppy were broken up). Compared to what would be considered their classic albums it's extremely poppy and far less edgy or abrasive, but there's still quite a bit of interesting stuff going on musicwise. As usual these guys are masters of electronic texture and crazy beats that still somehow come out catchy.

A few tracks really stand out. 'Pedafly' is absolutely brilliant, with an awesome talkbox style hook that ranks among the most infectious things I've heard all year. It's followed by 'Jaher', based around a pretty acoustic guitar riff which showcases their downbeat, moody side. It's a bit of a weird album and not what I, or probably what anyone, expected from Skinny Puppy, but while it's certainly not amongst their best albums it has it's moments and is worth a listen.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Bigger. Heavier. Woodener.

Lamb of God – Live in Sydney 19th April

Again We Rise
Walk With Me In Hell
As The Palaces Burn
11th Hour
Blacken the Cursed Sun
More Time To Kill
Now You've Got Something to Die For
Laid To Rest
Black Label

(Completely accurate for once.)

Turns out you can take better photos from outside the moshpit.

Things were not looking promising for the Lamb of God concert come Sunday night. I'd had a bit of a mad weekend and had in fact flown in to Auckland on the Saturday, partied all night, flown back Sunday afternoon got straight off the plane and off to the concert. I also made a bit of a miscalculation in regards to how far away the venue (the Roundhouse at UNSW) was and it took me about three quarters of an hour to walk there. By the time I arrived I was pretty much ready for bed. The opening band, Sydonia, did nothing to change my disposition, despite assuring the impatient audience that they had been personally asked to support by Lamb of God themselves. They were competent but everything about them felt like something I'd heard before and they did nothing to overcome my weariness. Fortunately a few stiff drinks gave me the energy to shuffle off to the moshpit, and Lamb of God themselves did the rest.

On the other hand photos from in the moshpit probably convey a little bit of the smelly, sweaty experience of being there.

As you might recall I saw these fellows last year opening for the shit-tastic Killswitch Engage. Even though if I were to give an interpretive dance performance to demostrate my opinion of Killswitch Engage, it would involve me vomiting on a pile of my own faeces and then wiping it all over my face, Lamb of God gave a satisfying (but not outstanding) performance. So I was a little surprised when they appeared onstage this time around and rocked out like motherfuckers from the word go.
"You guys have heaps of cool shit over here in Australia. Nice beaches, good weather, some weird fucking animals, but the best thing about this country is your hot fucking women!" Your humble reviewer didn't have the heart to tell the skanky metal mum screaming her heart out next to him that Randy wasn't talking about her.

The audience was great. When I first arrived I was a little nonplussed upon realising it was an all ages gig because there's nothing I hate more than having to rub shoulders with teenagers all night, but I must concede that the little shits mustered together a pretty decent moshpit, wherein I had a lot of fun even in my zoned out, cranky, tired state.

It's called the Roundhouse because it is ROUND.

There's not much to say about the band themselves, they can only be described as metal done metal, but they do it brilliantly. Vocalist Randy Blythe is genuinely witty with his intersong banter and the entire band delivered nothing less than a flawless and energetic performance. The highlights were (again) 'Blacken the Cursed Sun', for it's brilliant singalong part and 'Walk With Me In Hell' for rocking out just a wee bit more than everything else.

"I dunno what the hell you call people who live way out in the outback and get drunk all the time over here, but back home we call 'em REDNECKS!"

Fucking excellent concert, these guys are now on my 'must see at any opportunity' list.