Thursday, August 30, 2007

I Thought I'd Try Another Tack I Drank a Litre of Cognac

Grinderman - Grinderman

It's a standard part of the rock and roll story that, should an artist survive the drug overdoses, bus crashes and inadequately expectorated vomit of their first fraught decade of stardom, they will inevitably mellow with age. Nick Cave is a perfect example of the phenomenon. The band that first brought him stardom, The Birthday Party, made most other punk bands look tame with their chaotic, gothic darkness and nihilism but when Cave moved on with his new band, The Bad Seeds, he gradually grew less and less angry and they are now producing albums such as the hushed and gentle The Boatman's Call and their latest work, the articulate, well mannered double CD set Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus.

The year however Cave has decided for whatever reason to reverse the trend and, taking with him a subset of the members of The Bad Seeds, has formed a new band, Grinderman, with the intent of delivering a bit of the raucousness of his early music.

This is clearly still music made by the same guy who wrote No More Shall We Part and The Boatman's Call, but the persona conjured by the lyrics is a much less pleasant figure, one no longer afflicted with the inflamed rage of youth but suffering from the bitter spitefulness and cynicism of someone grown old ungracefully. Delivered by a younger voice a song called 'No Pussy Blues' might be a straightforward statement that one wishes to get laid but has not yet succeeded in doing so, as in rock and roll's perennial gross totem of mediocrity, the Rolling Stone's 'Satisfaction'. Grinderman's version however is rife with ironic wit and seems to be more about the confinement of being in a long term monogamous relationship than the typical rock cliché.

Musically this is a step away from The Bad Seeds, the arrangements are straightup raw punk, with just a trickle of jazz heard in the drums and piano (and by this I mean the rollicking dirty Jelly Roll Morton kind of jazz, not the sophisticated trendy Duke Ellington kind of jazz). The songs are dominated by a mean guitar with buzzsaw distortion reeking of frustration, and of course Cave's unmistakable voice. While he's obviously reaching for the bitter anger that defines the album's concept I get the impression that it's not genuinely heartfelt, and the ironic humour in the lyrics reinforces the feeling that this gritty, masculine fuck you album is all really a bit of a lark. It just goes to show that even if a band as skilled as these guys attempts to return to their roots, they're not going to end up exactly back where they're trying to get to, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

About two thirds of the songs found here are loud rockers, and they're definitely a lot of fun but I generally preferred the mellower songs, most notably the title track and 'When My Love Comes Down', which trade in the punky growls of the rest of the album for spooky, haunting ambience. These of course also happen to be the songs that sound most like Bad Seeds songs. While I enjoyed this album I'm still more excited about the new Bad Seeds album due next year. Which is not to say that I'm not excited about Grinderman's concert here in October!

Here's 'No Pussy Blues':

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Hot Fuzz

Directed by Edgar Wright

Some years ago my faith in the ability of movie industry to create something genuinely funny was restored by the brilliant British film Shaun of the Dead. Now the same writers and director are back with a new film, Hot Fuzz, which does to cop movies what their last offering did to zombie flicks.

Simon Pegg plays a badass cop from the mean streets of London who is (for no sensical reason) transferred to a sleepy cowtown in the depths of the English countryside. Naturally his gung ho demeanour is unappreciated by the complacent, underworked local constabulary, save for his partner, played by Nick Frost, who looks up to him as an action movie come to life.

The first half of the film gains a lot of mileage from the obvious fish out of water comedy. It might be straightforward slapstick but the team's first assignment (to catch an escaped swan) had me in fits. Later on the town's dreadful production of Romeo and Juliet (an unbelievably tacky travesty sourced primarily from Baz Luhrman's movie) tops that scene, demonstrating the writer's best asset: a fine control of absurdity that keeps things subtle and understated.

Later on things get a little more serious as the plot proper is resolved. There are fewer laughs to be found here, save for the final climactic action scene which is an over the top parody of the films admired by Frost's character near the beginning (Bad Boys 2, Point Blank). It's amusing but nowhere near the standard of the first half. Shaun of the Dead had a similar problem and the two films also share a tendency to start taking themselves seriously and invest themselves in the character's dramatic arcs near the end. The partner's bonding, and the climactic dramatic scene in which the police force is rallied behind Nick Angel, felt pretty cheesy. It's a common fault of comedies (both good and bad) to attempt to have a serious emotional heart to them and it's a decision that always mystifies me. I simply cannot think of a movie that was a comedy first and foremost that actually managed to pull off a genuine romance or other emotional arc, yet the sappy ending is an obligatory setpiece for any movie of this kind. I guess the test audiences demand it. It's easy to look past it in a movie such as this one which is actually funny, but in some shitty Adam Sandler flick or tripe like Meet the Fockers it can leave the viewer writhing in their seat in embarrassment for the actors onscreen, who stand there mugging away at the camera, blissfully unaware of just how nauseating their hamhanded, saccharine, self satisfied bullshit really is.

However I do have to applaud the implied message of Hot Fuzz. For once it's nice to see a film where rather than having the good hearted, simple but wise country folk teach the arrogant, superficial city dwellers a lesson the roles are reversed, and urban drive and sophistication triumph over the conservative, petty mindset of a small town hierarchy.

Great movie, but not quite as funny as Shaun of the Dead.

What I Did In My Weekend

There will be no instalment of this feature this week on account of J.'s birthday party being too hot for the internet.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Wildebeest Asylum Birthday Extravaganza!

Today is the third birthday of the Wildebeest Asylum! A blog's birthday is a special occasion deserving of celebration, and I've never said anything different.

Lets take a walk through memory lane and share some of the special times we've had here since that fateful day in August 2004.

Greatest Hits

I trawled through the archives and retrieved a few of my personal favourite posts:
  • My Sonic the Hedgehog post was pretty much bullshit as a review, but it made me laugh.
  • I prefer to leave political coverage to those more angry and self righteous than me, but I do indulge in it occasionally. My rant from the 2005 election is one of the better posts here on the subject.
  • My Calvin and Hobbes review was popular too. With a record number of compliments in the comments section!
  • It wouldn't be a proper retrospective if I didn't mention Buffy, the season seven posts are probably the best.
  • I used a review of the new Muse and Thom Yorke albums as an excuse to make fun of hipsters.
  • I really fucking hate Dragonforce.
Nine Inch Nails

I wrote a trio of posts about Nine Inch Nails earlier this year and I think they're probably the best things I've written here:

It wouldn't be a proper retrospective if I didn't mention Tool either.
  • I saw them live twice this year.
  • My 10,000 Days review garnered a record seventeen comments.
I Lol'd

It's poor form to laugh at your own jokes but I honestly laughed out loud at a few of the posts I came across in the archives:
  • I've tried my hand at parody a few times and Metal Cop Outrage was easily the best attempt.
  • It's funny because it's true: Conversations with Drunk Women
  • “[...]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[...]"
  • "'So this is what it has come to.' I thought to myself, 'One of the meanest fucking death metal bands in Australia literally reduced to playing for a handful of fifteen year old girls.'”
  • "They also had hot girls in sexy black outfits dancing on stage and throwing giant black beach balls into the crowd. Believe it or not this is actually pretty typical for what passes as goth culture in Australia."
  • “At the beginning of the year, it looked like the album might be out soon. Every week or so Trent would post a picture to of the three of them working in the studio, or a blurred out tracklisting, or Trents dog."
  • “Notice also the rubbish tin stuck to the side of the kit. That's for beating with a baseball bat, or alternatively, one's head."
  • “[...]it turns out to all be about believing in yourself and perservering through hardship. Surely there's room for just one song about a demon that wants to eat your soul?"
  • "If Nietzsche was alive today, I think he'd make a good rapper."
  • "Sweet! The girls boyfriend just got eaten by a rubbish bin, and replaced with a mannequin! This is more like the Dr. Who I remember!"
  • "Now it's the news (the real news). Apparentely it's raining. Thanks Prime News!"
  • “[...]sandwiched between Mariah fucking Carey and Bono's Generically Uplifting Happy Clappy Band"
  • “Crazy old people in the moshpit: Drunk, high on P or just plain mental? Modern science remains uncertain.”
  • "Whoa there Jon, I'm the 'Don't Take Too Many Drugs, Dance Around Like A Gimp All Night, Make A Total Idiot Of Yourself And Then Lie In Bed All The Next Day Wishing You Were Dead Panda', and I've got a song to sing to you called 'Don't Take That Second Pill'"
  • "Afterwards the Brain Eater sat weeping, knowing that it had become an addict but unable to ask for help, having driven all its friends and family away by being emotionally unavailable. Don't be like the Brain Eater. If you or someone you know has an unquenchable desire for human brains, act now."
  • "Apparently being a cop (A commando cop! Called John Blade!) in the future means that you drive around looking for suspected drug dealers, and whether they're in a warehouse, a cargo ship, or a big office building, you kick down the door and blow everyone inside to fucking pieces."
  • "It was good to see the Wellington ten year old community getting in to the hardish stuff."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Because He Gets Results You Stupid Chief!

The Shield Season 1

I know I'm really late to the party with this one. The Shield is almost about to (or perhaps already has, I've been keeping myself in the dark about it to protect myself from spoilers) finish its sixth season, whereas I've only just cottoned on to it by way of the breathless anticipation echoing around certain internets of what was supposed to be its grand finale (the sixth season was intended to be the last but it was granted another at the last minute).

In broad terms The Shield is a plain old cop show. It's set in a seedy suburb of inner L.A. and follows the police department responsible for keeping some kind of order in the middle of rampant drug use and gang warfare. The focus is on a small group of about half a dozen main characters, all of whom are conceived with originality and skilfully acted. Of these Vic Mackey, leader of the anti-gang strike force, is central to the show as a crafty and charismatic man who does a good job keeping the peace but whose methods range from the corrupt to the outright abominable. Countering him is the district captain Aceveda, who appears to be the straight and narrow foil to Vic and his dubious attitude to policework but who gradually reveals more shades of grey on his soul as the season wears on.

While the morality of the show ultimately seems to come down against Mackey and his techniques it does show his perspective well and poses a genuine moral question. The corrupt cops of the strike team do honestly want what's best for the community, and if thuggery, planting evidence and even murder are necessary to catch the crims then to hell with those bureaucrats and their red tape! If they get results, isn't that what matters? The actor behind Mackey, Michael Chiklis, does a great portrayal of a man who honestly believes he is in the right even as his means grow more and more morally untenable, not only in the way he justifies his actions but also in how his cheerful, easy going nature persuades his fellow police, some of whom have a few more moral qualms about pocketing confiscated cocaine in order to put their kids through college, to go along with his schemes.

Most of the time when recommending a good TV show it's customary to note that 'you have to watch until the thirty-eighth episode before things really hit their stride' but that is by no means the case here. The first episode is easily one of the finest hours of TV I've ever seen, introducing the characters just to the bare degree necessary and launching straight into a instantly engaging setup for the rest of the show, culminating in a tour de force scene where Mackey commits a heinous crime that will haunt him for the next thirteen episodes and beyond.

Later on in the season more and more drama is added, to the point where a lesser group of writers would sink into a morass of mediocrity under the weight of it, but these guys take the tired old soap opera clichés, from repressed homosexuality to a kid with autism, and make them work. None of the later episodes recapture the intensity and sheer mainlined dramatic goodness of the first episode but the whole season is top notch.

Coming soon, season one of The Wire, which I'm told is even better.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What I Did On My Weekend

PVC and Corsets Edition

I had no intention of making these posts a regular fixture on my blog but I keep doing things that I think are worth mentioning. I'm sure you'll forgive me a little livejournalness.

Saturday night wasn't that exciting. One group of friends is still holidaying in NZ, others were worn out from Friday night (more on that in a second) and the rest were either busy or boring so I was left on my own. I decided to head out to AbductionX because I hadn't been there in months, and it's comforting to see that nothing has changed. Everyone is drunk and there's a competent but generic thrash band playing. Anyway I got to see a few people I hadn't seen for a while so I'm glad I went, but next time I'll have to make sure I gather a bit of a posse because it can be a little dull on your own.

Friday night was a little more interesting. Once a month there's a fetish club held on Oxford Street called 'Hellfire', and I knew it well by reputation but I'd never been. Anyway my friend N. had gone last month and came back totally buzzed about how great it was and insisted that I come. I was a little skeptical but I decided to go around to his place for pre-drinks anyway. Upon arrival I had a real 'small world' moment when two of the people I met through the Death Metal Kindy Teacher were there. In a city the size of Sydney you wouldn't expect to run into people you know in unexpected places all the time the way you do in Christchurch but it still happens just as often. I guess even if the city is larger the social scenes remain the same size. As it happened there were a lot of people I knew there and they all talked me into coming along.

So once again I found myself in the Columbian, the least gay gay bar in Sydney, for more pre-drinks. It's a place where I have an unfortunate trend to get off my tits, but I restrained myself this time. We then went down the road to Hellfire, and as soon as I walked in the door I was glad I went.

It's not really a serious fetish club, more of what they refer to as an in-betweeners club, where genuine fetishists make up less than half of the attendees and the rest are merely curious onlookers who look just alternative enough to get in the door. It's worth going just to see the outfits and costumes, I suspect that for most attendees it's more about the fashion than any extreme sexual proclivities.

Mind you it must be noted that you'll still see some moderately crazy stuff there. People will just spontaneously start tying their partners up to conveniently placed scaffolds and start spanking or whipping them, or just engage in generally exhibitionist behaviour. The official entertainment involved rather more blood than I expected too. Still, it must be emphasised that it's not nearly as scary as it sounds, since it's a pretty mellow environment and kinky weird people generally tend to be easy going, friendly and approachable. I will probably go again and may even make a small effort to dress more appropriately.

As I write this it's a dirty grey Sunday afternoon and I'm trying to remember what we used to call all this wet stuff coming out of the sky back in NZ. More excitement next week...

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Sunday Lessons

Because I haven't done one of these for a while.
  • Drug dealers have very nice apartments.
  • B&D clubs can be more fun than you'd expect.
  • I must be getting old. Getting drunk and heading out clubbing by myself has lost a lot of appeal.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Lunar Park

by Bret Easton Ellis

I surprised myself by giving Bret Easton Ellis another go. Earlier this year I read American Psycho, which was indeed a masterpiece but was also among the most disturbing, horrifying works of art I have ever been exposed to. Fortunately Lunar Park goes easy on the gore (although it's certainly not completely absent) and the existential malaise that made American Psycho so affecting (any idiot can write an incredibly disgusting torture scene, but it takes talent to make it haunt your thoughts for days afterwards with it's mood and it's comment on the human condition) pops up only as a sarcastic background prop, in a sly wink to the lugubrious nature of his earlier work.

There are a lot of sly winks in this book. Like Yann Martel's Self, it is presented as an autobiography, and while the broad strokes of Ellis' story are, at least at the beginning, true, I suspect that some scenes and scenarios may be embellished, such as those in which the fictional characters of the author's previous works come to life and torment him and his family, or when his mansion slowly transforms into his childhood home. It also reminded me a little of Joe Hill's Heart Shaped Box, as they both deal with a man haunted by ghosts from the past both literal and allegorical, but while Hill's metaphors are about as subtle as Jack Bauer with a length of electrical cable and thirty seconds left to make the terrorist explain his relationship with his father, Ellis leaves a lot unstated and wields a sure mastery of irony and restraint.

The book begins with an account of Ellis' life and rise to fame. Again, while the bare facts are more or less correct, the man portrayed is not the real Ellis, but the warped, drug addicted caricature of an author concocted by the media in the wake of American Psycho's release. After all, in the mind of the mainstream only a monster could write such a book. Later on things tone down a little, and the book settles into its main narrative, on one level examining the fictional Ellis' relationship with his fictional new found family while the plot is propelled by the intrusions of the aforementioned supernatural terrors into their lives.

The beginning is easily the best part of the novel, as Ellis gleefully satirises both himself and the media but the book as a whole is still very good, if not quite living up to the virtuoso writing of American Psycho. The family dynamics could have easily became nauseatingly sentimental but he keeps it grounded in the sad realities of a recovering junkie who's not doing a terribly good job of recovering. The plot, while made in the mould of a generic horror such as the aforementioned Heart Shaped Box, comes to an unexpected conclusion and puts its own weird meta-fictional spin on the genre clichés. Finally, after a solid four hundred pages of wry irony, we're hit out of nowhere by a surprisingly heartfelt and moving coda, evoking a beautiful sense of nostalgia, regret and final goodbyes. The reader is left in the polar opposite of the place they found themselves at the end of American Psycho.

Friday, August 17, 2007

From The Pretty Fucking Cool File

Via Fourth Eye, Tom Morrello joins Tool for a wank solo during 'Lateralus':

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

People Will Be People

Battles – Mirrored

Imagine all the craziness of Dillinger Escape Plan, Don Caballero and free jazz and rhythm unfriendly hardcore in general combined with the mathematical esoterica of Meshuggah and shorn of any genre trappings and you'll be partway to conceiving of what Battles sound like. Heavily processed drums, guitars and vocals are accompanied by artificial synth noises culled from pop, R&B and less thinly disguised electronica, creating an almost completely abstract musical landscape, devoid of any kind of emotional or thematic grounding. Then they're arranged into mind melting rhythmic arrangements that are at least as insane as anything Meshuggah have ever produced while still remaining catchy and even danceable.

There are a few familiar names in the band's lineup. Guitarist Ian Williams used to be in Don Caballero, while the drummer is none other than John Stanier, most famous for being in Helmet at one time but whose special place in my heart comes from his work with Tomahawk.

Battles' peculiar warping of rhythm is an interesting and original one. As difficult as some of their songs are to follow a bit of close attention will reveal that most of them are composed in plain old 4/4 or 6/8, and their complexity comes from the inventive and unconventional application of syncopation and phrasing, an approach that I've never heard the likes of before and which is ingeniously executed by the band.

The first four tracks on the album are straight up classics which will have you scratching your head wondering what's going on at the same time as your foot is tapping to the infectious beat. Later on the album drags a little as the melodic hooks become more infrequent and the music sails further out into the realm of the completely abstract. The wonky math rock masturbation stays but they leave out the exuberant joy that manages to shine through the heavy, formal production on the first few tracks. For their originality and compositional talent alone this album is worth a listen, but don't feel too bad if you stop after a couple of songs.

Here's 'Atlas', the most approachable track on the album by a large degree:

Monday, August 13, 2007

What I Did On My Weekend

Sobriety Edition

Was invited along to a random gig on Friday night. The venue was Bar Broadway, which is always an odd place to visit. It's right next to central station as well as being two blocks down the road from a trendy indie club and literally over the road from a popular metal club, so on a Friday night you'll find it packed with an interesting melange of subcultures; office workers stopping in for an after work drink, girls in expensive dresses heading to swanky CBD clubs and an assortment of goths, metallers, hardcore kids and whatever those tragic indie kids who go to Purple Sneakers call themselves.

So anyway, the bands. I had no idea who any of these guys were so I had no idea what to expect. First up were Judgement Party, who are pretty hard to describe. There are seven of them: guitar, bass, drums, two keyboards and two vocalists (one guy, one girl) and they mashed together an original blend of funk-metal and this upbeat industrial-pop kind of thing that seems to be popular in Australia. A lot of what they did seemed cliché, but it was combined ways that I can't say I've ever heard before so it didn't matter. They sure had tons of energy and the vocalists especially harmonized really well with one another. I'd definitely see these guys again.

Next up were .hinge, visiting from Melbourne. If you're a fifteen year old emo kid who can't believe how underrated Incubus are then these guys are highly recommended. Otherwise look elsewhere.

Many Machines On Nine were up last, and they were pretty good too. They play that kind of industrial rock that is clearly derived from Nine Inch Nails but sounds nothing like them. Maybe Stabbing Westward is a good point of reference but to be honest I can't remember Stabbing Westward well enough to be sure. At any rate these guys rocked out pretty hard and while their songs ranged from light and poppy to heavy and angry they were all big stompy industrial anthems that got the whole dancefloor bouncing. Highly recommended for everybody.

That was Friday. Saturday I did nothing, as I was in preparation for the fun run on Sunday. Last time I managed a respectable ninety minutes and I was determined this year to SMASH that record. We'd trained pretty hard for it over the last few months (I think we started in May), and it's no exaggeration when I say that we had ex-military trainers yelling at us as we ran up and down the stairs, just like Rocky. Of course all that preparation was effectively rendered for naught when I came down with the flu last week. A fifteen minute walk after lunch on Friday almost incapacitated me, and my girlfriend remarked as I lay wheezing in bed after a round of laboured, slothful love making, “How the hell do you think you're going to run the City to Surf in that state?!”

Refusing to listen to those who didn't believe in me, I still manfully strode up to the starting line on Sunday morning. It didn't go so well. For the first half of the race I struggled to maintain anything faster than a shuffle. It's a bad sign when you see creaky old octogenarians and guys dressed in drag passing you. I kind of picked up a bit of energy for the second half and my result, while nowhere near what I was aiming for, still knocked a solid five minutes off my previous time. (This might sound pretty good but all of that and probably more can be accounted for by the fact that they let you start closer to the front when they have a decent (sub-100 minutes) time on record for you for previous years.)

My boss kindly invited everyone back to his place for a shower and refreshments afterwards which was nice and after that I decided to go home. Recalling that last year I opted to catch the bus and spent half an hour waiting for the damn thing and then an hour sweltering inside it as we slowly crept through traffic (before giving up completely when the road was blocked by a gay pride parade). I decided to be smart and walk up to Bondi Junction (twenty to thirty minutes uphill) and catch the train home. Unfortunately I forgot to take into account my legendarily bad sense of direction. I walked five metres out the door and ran into two friends, E. and J., on their way out for a drink. I ended up walking home with them and then realising I had no idea where I was. E. helpfully pointed me towards a major road that ran towards Bondi Junction, and I set along down it. Before long I noticed that most people were travelling at ninety degrees to the way I was going so I turned and followed them for a while, before getting confused and deciding, in typical Jon-getting-lost fashion, to compromise and head off at forty five degrees. An hour later I finally reached the train station, having seen some interesting parts of the city that I'd never been to before (including all the incredibly tacky mansions and gated apartment complexes on Bellevue Hill) but after running for fourteen kilometres it was the last thing I needed.

I went to bed at about 10pm (very early for me) and fell asleep so fast I didn't even have the time to turn out the lights beforehand.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

New Blog

Not actually new at all, but new to me.

When flipping through the morning newspaper, I inevitably stop to read the comics page, maybe out of some kind of habit left over from when I was seven and the comics were the only things in the paper I understood. Nowadays it's more like watching a car wreck. If you hate and loathe the quarter page crime against humour that is the daily comic strips, then you should be reading The Comics Curmudgeon.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Dream Over. Grieve No More

Machine Fucking Head – The Black-fuck-ening
“In our eyes, and with all the fucked up shit that’s going on in the world today, the only thing they can find to sing about is their goddamned girlfriend is something that’s really pathetic. They should open their fucking eyes.” - Robb Flynn
If Robb's lyrics were half as good as that soundbite I'd be far more generous to this album, but unfortunately the guy tries just a bit too hard.

The popularity of heavy metal climaxed in the late eighties, when bands like Guns and Roses stood astride the charts, guitars cocked at a phallic angle and their hair blowing in the breeze, and as is the way with all musical trends this marked the point where it began to quickly nosedive into the next phase of the pop culture cycle, the dark place where the ill-thought out misadventures of burned out has-beens dwell alongside shameless commercial cashins bereft of artistic merit. More than a decade later metal, in particular the thrash subgenus of that art form, seems to be making a bit of a comeback, following a long period in the Nineties when genuine metal was almost completely absent from the mainstream (although the black and death metal scenes were healthily blast beating away in the underground) and until now was only represented in the new century by nu-metal, the unmentionable shame that all true metal heads must now live with for the rest of their days. (“Yes, I moshed to Linkin Park... You don't understand man...! There was just nothing else to mosh to!!!”)

It's nice that newer bands like Lamb of God and Mastodon as well as genre elders like Slayer and Megadeath are reintroducing thrash to the mainstream (although I predict that the inevitable correction will follow when a bunch of terrible talentless bands jump on the bandwagon in a year or so, if not sooner) and one of the most well received metal releases of the year so far is Machine Head's The Blackening, which has been lavished with praise, partly on it's own merits and partly as a kind of life time achievement award for Machine Head, in recognition of the fact that they stuck it out flying the thrash metal banner throughout a long period of commercial disinterest over the last ten years and survived to deliver their masterwork just in time to reap the rewards of the genre's renaissance.

Machine Head's music is clearly derived from classic Eighties thrash such as Metallica or Slayer but, like contemporaries such as Lamb of God, they have a relatively relaxed, catchy nu-metal style groove behind the shrieking guitars. The songs on The Blackening are long (as in eight to ten minutes), epic and with barely any respite from the full on metal assault.

The album has a fairly consistent anti-war message, and even though the lyrics are not terribly good -
They say that freedom isn't free
It's paid with the lives
of sons and families
Cause blood is the new currency
And oil pumps the heart of money
it's good to hear that after years of waiting and several false starts, heavy music has finally gotten fully onto the protest song bandwagon that it so belongs on.

The album starts out strong, going straight into the ten minute anti-war epic 'Clenching the Fists of Dissent' which rocks out solidly from beginning to end and almost renders the remainder of the album superfluous, seeing as every other song simply reiterates elements of this one, usually with less success. Nevertheless the single, 'Aesthetics of Hate' is also worthwhile and 'Now I Lay Thee Down' is my favourite track on the album, injecting genuine pathos into a metal song without draining it of it's heaviness. Poison take note! This is how a power ballad should be done! From there the album goes through a bit of a slump, 'Slanderous', 'Halo' and 'Wolves' are all dull and samey, and the lyrics start to get a little cringeworthy here. Fortunately The Blackening redeems itself a little more at the end. The album proper ends with 'A Farewell to Arms'which builds from a moody, quiet intro to deliver a crushing summation of the record. It's basically System of a Down's 'Holy Mountains' rewritten by a band who still have talent. Finally as a bonus track they've tacked on a superfluous but listenable cover of Metallica's 'Battery', which goes down well, even if it doesn't really sound all that dissimilar to the original.

I can't quite toe the party line in saying that this is one of the best releases so far this year, but I will acknowledge that it's a pretty good listen, at least if it is only taken a song or two at a time.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

What I Did On My Weekend(s)

For no particular reason, except that I did a bunch of cool stuff over the last couple of weeks, I'm going to indulge in a little cat blogging and recite the (hopefully not too tedious) details of my life over the last few weeks.

Last weekend (the 28th and 29th) my work flew everyone up to Port Douglas for a holiday (thank you U.S. stock market crashes!) I'd never been up to that part of Australia before (I never even realised how huge Queensland is compared to New South Wales, but I guess that's what you get when most of the country is desert that's no use for anything) so it was pretty exciting. Unfortunately the weekend was somewhat marred by the fact that some of my luggage was lost on the way up (and I'm still waiting to get it back), but other than that it was great fun.

On Saturday we went on a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef to go diving and snorkelling. I passed on the diving on account of feeling a little unwell, but I regret that now. At least I got in the water (unlike some people), and at least once I got in the water I didn't jump straight back out again because I saw a big fish (unlike some other people). The reef is a very unique, beautiful place (almost as good as New Zealand) but unfortunately none of my photos turned out very well. At least I got this one of a whale on the trip back:

Later that night we went out to dinner at Nautilus, one of the swankiest restaurants in this swanky resort town. It was open to the rainforest and the ambience was superb. The waiters certainly knew what to do when they saw a big corporate group come in with the company paying the tab and plied us with all manner of expensive wines, and even egged us on by telling us that the next table had spent more than us and we should try to catch up. I hate to think how much I drank and considering that I woke up without a hangover when red wine usually seriously disagrees with me it must have been very good quality. The food was excellent too.

Afterwards there was a spot of clubbing and then a long walk down the beach back to the resort. The beach looked amazing in the moonlight even when perceived through my hazy drunken memories. Back at the hotel much room service was consumed and drinking games continued well into the morning.

The next day was spent lounging by the pool and on the beach, with a spot of Coconut Olympics in the afternoon (won by the UK in a controversial round of 'who can throw the coconut the furthest', which could not be resolved due to the object of play bursting open and leaving smelly, rotten coconut milk all over the hands of the contestants).

It was a pretty cool holiday.

This weekend just been was supposed to be a quiet one but the Death Metal Kindy Teacher was ill, leaving me to wander the streets of Sydney without the tender oversight of a woman to keep me from going off the rails. Friday night ended up being work drinks, and a few unsuspecting co-workers were press ganged into a slow, meandering ramble down Oxford Street, during which I learned the following valuable lessons:
  • Doing two consecutive jagerbombs is easier than a single shot of 42 below.
  • Living so close to Oxford Street has made me surprisingly comfortable in gay bars.
  • It's always the foreigners who go home last.
I actually got a little too wasted that night but my friend E. was having a birthday party on the Saturday so I soldiered on the next night too. We began with a very nice home cooked meal before heading off to the Crystal Boudoir, Sydney's trendiest burlesque club. The term burlesque seems to be a fairly unspecific one, and can mean anything from a slightly classier variety of stripping to something quite arty and pretentious. Crystal Boudoir is located right in Martin Place, more or less the most sophisticated (or at least perceived as the most sophisticated) part of Sydney (home to the most expensive bars and stores like Armani and Louis Vuitton) so it tended towards the latter. Things almost went awry with the door staff having issues with some of our shoes, but a party of twelve with prebookings pretty much does as the proverbial five hundred pound gorilla so in we went anyway.

But man, what a great show! The bar itself is a very nice venue, with lots of class and ambience. The drinks are expensive but not too bad for that part of town. You sit there and drink and eat nibbles, and periodically the performers take the stage and entertain the crowd for a while. The first few dances leant very much to the 'arty' side of things, being slow, graceful and moody, while still sensual. Later on things got more fun and light hearted. The performers themselves, male and female, were just brilliant, exuding so much grace and sexuality that the entire room was enraptured every time they took the stage. A bit of audience participation never fails to go down well either, as one relatively straight laced girl in our group learned when she got a face full of hot, jiggling burlesque dancer arse. Anyway, if you get the chance to go to anything like that do it, because I don't think I've been so well entertained for a long time.

Afterwards we ended up back on Oxford Street at Spectrum, a club that I loathe with every fibre of my hipster hating soul, but it was the birthday boys choice so there we were, hanging out with eighteen year olds who think they invented cool because they've heard of The Smiths.

Overall it was a very fun night, especially the burlesque, but what goes up must come down and on Sunday night I found myself sicker than I can remember being in eight years. I trundled off to bed at about ten (pretty early for me) where I was beset by a fever and dreams that three wizards were having a fight (complete with purple and green lasers shooting from their staves) inside my head. Finally at about midday on Monday one of the wizards triumphed, emerging from a shattered hole in my crown that had been opened by a final climactic concussion, and declared victory. I then returned to the realm of the sensible, although I was still unable to get out of bed until four hours later, when I staggered down to the dairy to buy the only dinner I could stomach the thought of; several cans of tinned fruit and a big tub of chocolate ice cream. A worthy reward for such a tiring couple of weeks.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Charlie Brakowski

I'm not very familiar with Charles Bukowski but this mash up of his writing with Charlie Brown (via Neil Gaiman) is still pretty funny.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Black Throne

Burzum – Det Som Engang Var

There's not a lot to say about Burzum's second album that I haven't already said about their first and third. Sludgy guitars knocking out diminished fifth happy riffs and drums that sound like they were recorded in a goblin filled cavern provide the backdrop for screechy lead guitars reciting slowed down, cheesy Scandanavian metal melodies and Varg's ghastly (and I mean that in a positive way) gurgles and growls.

It's worth noting again that the production is excellent. Black metal is supposed to be stripped down and raw, almost to the point of indecipherability, but unlike many bands who slip right past that point of good taste Varg knows just how grungy to make it sound without compromising the melody and rhythm of the music for the sake of texture. It's even more impressive that (he claims) he recorded it himself in less than a day.

It is a cool aesthetic and when Varg finds a good riff or interesting song idea to hang it on it works really well, but less than half the tracks out of this album's eight songs fulfil this promise. One of my favourites is the opening track 'Den Onde Krysten' ('The Evil Shores') which is a nice scrapey, droney ambient industrial track which is a good fit to the work of Coil or Jordan Reyne (in fact, I'm sure I've heard the backing synth line sampled on an industrial album somewhere...). It's a pity he doesn't do more of this kind of thing because in my opinion he's much better at it than straight up black metal.

I also quite like 'En Ring Til Aa Herske' ('One Ring To Rule'), which combines the usual black metal conventions with a sorrowful backing chant as a nice counterpoint to Varg's usual howling. This song's title is far from the only embarassing fantasy reference to be found here. According to Wikipedia Det Som Engang Var's cover was inspired by the old Dungeons and Dragons module The Temple of Elemental Evil. NEEEEEEEEEEEEEERD!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Good Monkey Vs Evil Monkey

Via Arts and Letters, an interesting article about bonobo monkeys. The conventional wisdom is that while chimpanzees are violent, warlike and patriarchal, bonobos are gentle, matriarchal and highly sexual.

Of course the truth is not so clean and tidy, but it's still an interesting insight into human psychology to see the way people have projected these yin and yang personalities onto a bunch of unsuspecting monkeys, one group embodying the altruistic, nurturing side of human nature and the other the destructive, warlike (but also industrious and creative) side.