Friday, September 30, 2005

Even though they're as much a blight on this city as crystal meth and international students, I'll admit that I sometimes read a free daily or two during the week. I usually have to pick them up just so I can sit down, such is their proliferation.

Last Friday's 24 Hours published the results of a poll to determine the world's favourite song, which turned out to be Queen's "We Are the Champions." My pick, "By-Tor and the Snow Dog," didn't even crack the top 20. Even more surprising was that 24 Hours' photo editor chose a photo of a Freddie Mercury impersonator to run with the piece.

And bad mistakes, they've made a few...

Monday, September 26, 2005

Wetwork – Synod (Krankenhaus)
This album is world class in every way. From the arresting artwork (cybernetic anti-religious imagery by Mattias Norén of to the flawless production (by Dan Hulse and the band) to tautly drafted songs superior to anything Morbid Angel’s released lately, Toronto’s Wetwork have delivered in savage style. Each member contributes something crucial. Vocalist Doc combines a Jeff Walker-style rasp with guttural imprecations, adding some disquieting clean singing at various junctures. Guitarist Bryan has a knack for merciless, palm-muted riffs and discordant fingerings that evoke the late great Piggy of Voivod. Bassist Chay alternates between grinding away alongside the guitars and claiming his own territory when the opportunity arises. It’s a bonus that he’s clearly audible in the mix, which is almost a novelty in this type of music, to my eternal regret. And to take things over the top, drummer Mezz elevates the whole affair to sustained levels of controlled fury with his crisp snare/kick attack and surprising cymbal flourishes. While my immediate preference is for bands who shamelessly mash up genres and employ extreme dynamic shifts, Wetwork’s relatively pure strain of death metal clicked with me from the opening track, “Prae Laetum.” I don’t want to label Wetwork’s style as melodic death metal, because in the hands of the accepted proponents of the style (and their blinkered b-league copyists) it’s a subgenre that bores me to death, but that’s what Wetwork undeniably play—with the emphasis on Death Metal. Imagine a collision between At the Gates and the Canadian Voivod/Gorguts tech-death tradition, and this is what you get. Synod packs a lot of highlights into its 38 minutes, including the syncopated chaos that erupts around the 2-minute mark of second track “Heaven’s Advocate” (the point at which this album’s lethal nature became apparent) and the grinding atmospherics of the brilliantly original “Nature of Repention,” which evolves into what could be almost be a jam, where the bass really comes forward and the guitar plays clean until heaviosity erupts anew. This song introduces the more experimental last third of the album, with both “Venison” and “Pontius Pilate” linking together to form a disturbing duo before the final track flails the last remaining patch of skin raw with a full-on burst of death metal. Listening to Synod puts me in the mind of Poe’s nameless narrator in the pit, assessing the razor-keen craftsmanship of the pendulum as it swings closer and closer. Synod has a similarly deadly trajectory.

Friday, September 16, 2005

I'm not a big fan of Steve Austin and Today Is the Day, but I certainly respect the guy. Here's what he has to say about "the increasingly diminished lack of dynamics—and integrity—in commercial metal" in the new Decibel magazine, a publication that's become a mandatory purchase every month:

"We need to be putting some motherfucking Miles Davis albums on and listening to some goddamn Bitches Brew instead of whatever the fuck people are loading their heads up on, thumping out the same old 'I am angry. I'm pissed off. I'm kinda cute and my jeans are just a little too tight on my ass.'"

Sound advice.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Black Mountain, September 13 at Richard’s on Richards
Smash pointed out on the drive home from this gig that it’s no good to describe music as “evocative” unless you mention what the music actually evokes. He gave the example of the sticker on the new Opeth album, which indeed claims the contents are “evocative.” What it really should say is that Ghost Reveries is evocative of early Genesis, Porcupine Tree, shafts of sunlight through cathedral windows, the high points of all other Opeth albums, the finest wines available to humanity, and a really good shag. I like it very much.

The Christa Min opened for Black Mountain, and they were evocative of a big dog let loose on a muddy trail—all energy and shaggy momentum. Unlike that runaway dog, though, it was difficult to tell how much fun they were having. When we used to play the Waterfront Cabaret, I remember someone in the seven-strong crowd telling us to smile onstage. I never forgot that. Because when you’re up there playing your strange songs to strange people, you should enjoy (and acknowledge to others present) the ridiculousness of your privileged position. Henceforth, I encourage everyone—not just performers—to smile, especially in this town, where too many people have adopted bitchface as part of the civic uniform.

S.T.R.E.E.T.S. were evocative of ’80s crossover bands, epic heavy metal, and, during certain dual harmony instrumental passages, The Fucking Champs. After the first two songs I thought “This is a job for Logan Sox,” but their material got better and more intricate as the set progressed. In the local metal for hipsters genre, I’d give them an edge over Three Inches of Blood.

Black Mountain were evocative of Can, PJ Harvey, Uriah Heep, Pink Floyd, the blues, breached levees, and the relief of exceeded expectations. Never having seen them live before, I thought maybe they’d be smug from local acclaim, content to trainwreck their way through the new album. Not a possibility, it turned out. Black Mountain were as solid and imposing as their name. The songs did lose some of their fine studio details in a live setting, but the fivesome (plus Masa, on occasional saxophone) more than compensated with their musicianship and control of dynamics, as they stretched out songs like “Druganaut” and “No Hits” with sexee, pulsating guitar & synth battles. Their music isn’t intricate on the surface; its complexity lies in the combination of tones and attack they use. A less-experienced band might deliver the same material as a tedious smudge, but the band I saw last night looked great, sounded great, and left me happy, unburdened, and wanting to hear more ASAP.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Give 'Til It Hurts
Walking along Kingsway this evening, I noticed a discarded piece of cardboard on the sidewalk. It had obviously served as a sign for a panhandler, who had described his plight in felt pen: "blue balls."

Monday, September 05, 2005

Mattias IA Eklundh — Freak Guitar: The Road Less Traveled (Favored Nations Entertainment)
Shred guitar albums can take one of two opposing approaches. The first is the portentous faux-classical approach, with featured guitarist as Paganini figure—the Malmsteen school, if you will. At the other end of the scale is the Satriani/Morse approach, with approachable, accessible chunks of shredding—some jazz fusion here, a little tech-metal there, with the off chance of getting on the radio and having a “Surfing With the Alien”-type hit. Mattias IA Eklundh is firmly in the latter camp on his second Freak Guitar album—unpretentious and fun, eager to please, and more than willing to show off his chops across a bewildering variety of material. The Road Less Traveled contains a synapse-scrambling 23 songs ranging in length from 15 seconds to 9 minutes. Eklundh, who doesn’t work with effects other than distortion, processes all the styles on this album through his own mental effects box, producing some enjoyably warped results. For example, his nylon string tribute to “The Woman in Seat 27A” could be a pleasant meandering number, yet it’s rendered unsettling by a backing track of menacing pizzicato strings and dripping water. One of the only songs to play it relatively straight is also the only vocal track, “Happy Hour,” which rocks along in unobtrusive 7/4 time. The album contains no information about backing musicians, so I assume that Eklundh programmed his backing tracks himself. If so, he did an amazing job; they’re more than up to the task of supporting all the shredding on offer. “There’s No Money in Jazz” sees “Flight of the Bumblebee” speed metal battling with staccato fusion passages (as the title hints, the metal wins out), “The Battle of Bob” showcases some prog insanity of near-Japanese intensity, and the Nintendo-core of “Insert Coin” sends you helplessly caroming around a short-circuiting pinball machine. His electro-bounce take on “Smoke on the Water” makes a nice companion piece to TOC’s similarly irreverent cover on last year’s Loss Angeles. Eklundh’s aim with this collection was to “make it easy for everyone to listen to and not just be a platform for showing off,” and he’s clearly succeeded. Guitar purists and old-school bluesmen might blanch at Eklundh’s over-the-top squeals and squalls, but anyone else interested in sonic extremes would do to well to strap themselves in for this album’s near-hour of six-string splatter.