Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Me, browsing the new releases.
Shrinkwrap sticker: “Limited edition with bonus DVD.”
Me: “But of course.”

Aren’t record companies clever these days, with their strategies to get us to buy their product? Well, they are. They’ve sure seen me coming lately.

Here are a couple recent purchases with audio/visual bonuses.

Mogwai—Mr. Beast
It comes in a nice hardbound case displaying Emily Carr grad Amanda Church’s art in its jizz-splattered glory. It's a great album—heavy metal mood music and ominous post-rock jamming in 3 1/2 to 5 1/2 minute bursts. I’ve never been disappointed by a Mogwai album, though I admit I don’t revisit them often after the new-purchase honeymoon. The bonus 40-minute DVD is a fractured document of the album’s recording whose main aim seems to be demystification. Band members take turns answering questions (What’s the worst part about being in a band? “Trying to make up music. That’s hard”), lounging around on couches playing with their laptops, and laying down tracks. Brief and underwhelming live clips interrupt the studio footage. I pride myself on being able to decipher all varieties of accented English, but I’ll admit I wished for subtitles to clarify the Scottish mumbling at certain points. This special edition was worth the extra few bucks, as it’s saved me the $25 that I’d have spent on a ticket to their upcoming gig if I hadn’t watched this DVD first.

The Devin Townsend Band—Synchestra
Having received two promo copies of this marvelous album, I felt duty-bound to buy the fanciest legitimate copy I could. This one comes with a live-in-the-studio DVD featuring the guys running through the DTB back catalogue, augmented visually with a lot of split-screen effects and what looks like the iTunes visualizer fading in and out of the picture. Low budget, for sure, but the execution is in medium-to-good taste. The studio set lasts about an hour. The sound is pristine, and the band rock out mightily, proving that Devin’s multi-layered orchestrations are very reproducible live. Drummer Ryan Van Poederooyen in particular puts on a clinic. It must have been nerve-wracking for the band to subject themselves to such an up-close, multi-camera shoot. There’s also a video for the song “Storm” off Accelerated Evolution, a Devin-guided tour around Armoury Studios (where the live set was shot), and a DTB-on-tour segment. Professional and impressive, this is well worth the extra 10 or so bucks if you’re a fan.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

I delivered fancylady to a baby shower out in Maple Ridge this morning. We listened to Rock 101's "Guitar Gods Weekend" for an hour in the truck. Rock 101, being the big classic rock station in town, is usually a reliable option for a drive—some Creedence for her, a little Floyd for me, and they'll inevitably get the Led out to make us both happy. It being "Guitar Gods Weekend," we figured our trip out to the burbs would rock pretty hard.

It was a letdown. Instead of getting Hendrix, Trower, Page, etc. as promised by 101's promo spots, we hit a block of music that strung together Peter Gabriel, The Band, U2, and The Beach Boys. When The Tragically Hip came on as we approached our destination, fancylady said, "God, it's gonna be great when they have 'Drum Gods Weekend' and they play lots of Def Leppard."

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Woods of Ypres — Against the Seasons (Krankenhaus Records)
The five-song EP Against the Seasons was Woods of Ypres’ first foray into their world of summer black metal, a theme established by the subtitle, “Cold Winter Songs from the Dead Summer Heat.” Recorded in 2002 and released the following year, it’s now undergone a remix from producer (and current WoY bassist) Dan Hulse, who did such a great job on Wetwork’s album last year, along with classy new artwork. The music on this 30-minute EP shows a raw-yet-focused approach that formed the basis for the refinements and diversification of their superb Pursuit of the Sun and Allure of the Earth album from last year. Extremity abounds, emphasizing the blast and the rasp, while still leaving room for acoustic passages, melodic vocals and tempo shifts, sombre arpeggios mingling with fierce blasting (executed with more enthusiasm than perfection, admittedly)—the elements the band fully realized in the more varied songs on the follow-up album. The black metal influence is more pronounced here, recalling Satyricon, Immortal and Primordial—particularly the latter band’s fondness for triplet-feel tempos. I like the symmetrical running order of the tracks, with two shorter songs framing three epics. "A Meeting Place and Time" stands out for its memorable clean-sung passages, as does "Awaiting the Inevitable," which features some terrific riffs in its doomy intro and mid-song death-metal breakdown, complete with a patented Tom G. Warrior death-grunt! Great stuff. Considering that two-thirds of the band on this EP didn’t appear on Pursuit…, the sound and approach between the two releases are remarkably consistent. This is probably down to drummer/songwriter David Gold’s vision…a uniquely Canadian vision, I should add, tied intimately to our geography and the correlation between climate and emotion. (If ever a metal band could be diagnosed with S.A.D., WoY would be it.) The recording-in-progress reports for WoY III indicate that its musical direction follows this EP more closely than Pursuit…, making Against the Seasons not a curio of juvenilia like many debut releases, but a key work in the band’s young discography.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I’ve probably done twice as much flying in the last few years as I did in the previous 20, now that I have friends and other connections east of the Rockies. Still, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the ways of the modern air traveller. These people have powers of interpretation that I’ll never be able to fathom, much less ever adapt.

For example, in the departure lounge, when they announce pre-boarding for families with children and passengers who may need assistance boarding the aircraft, I’ve never understood that that is my signal to grab my things and jostle for position at the counter. I usually assume that there’ll be another boarding announcement for regular passengers like myself.

Similarly, when the plane lands and the flight attendant asks everyone to remain seated while we taxi to the terminal, I don’t take that as a cue to stand up and start pulling my stuff from the overhead bins. The seasoned traveller knows better, though. Having been flown to his destination at 550 MPH, he's now determined to shave time off his journey. It’s up to him. Every second counts. Some other a-hole out there might hail all the taxis!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

I’ll hold off sharing the meat and potatoes of my Montreal trip—the specifics on new Voivod album and my interviews with the band—for now. I'll post a link to the Unrestrained! Web site once my write up is done. What follows are some general observations of the events leading up to the main event.

I arrived on Tuesday evening, and took a cab to the hotel. Adrian from The End Records and U! had set up his PR command post in our room, with receipts, forms, and Blackberry spread out on the desk. Not only was he setting up two days of Voivod listening sessions in Montreal and New York, but The Gathering (another band on The End) are also due shortly in North America, and mini-crises abounded. He came out for something to eat with me, though he had to watch the time carefully. Jason Newsted (who joined Voivod shortly after leaving Metallica) was due at our hotel in a couple hours. I’d never seen the Energizer so nervous or quiet. Jasonic operates on a different plane of fame and fortune than the usual metallers he and I deal with. Adrian wanted damn sure to be there when he arrived.

After dinner I met up with the gang from Toronto, who were noshing at another restaurant a few blocks down Ste. Catherine. I’d talked or otherwise been in touch with both Martin Popoff and Chris Bruni in the past, so it was good to finally meet them in person. Richard from Caustic Truths, Laura from Exclaim and BW&BK’s David Perri were there as well. Their food had just arrived so I sat and had a beer while they noshed. After we’d settled the bill we checked out Archambault Music and the magazine store across from the hotel. I was pleased to finally be able to find an issue of Signal to Noise (Dirty Three on the cover), a magazine that I first read about on Brandon's blog at Ground and Sky a while back.

We split up after that, with Bruni, Richard and I heading to a pub for a few beers. I had a couple pints of Guinness then went back to the hotel where I found a very relieved and chilled-out Adrian. Newsted had arrived and all was good. He and Away (Voivod's drummer) were listening to the final mix of the new album up in his room. Away came down and I shook his hand—I may have even involuntarily bowed a few times—followed by Jasonic a few minutes later. I’d had enough brushes with greatness for an evening, so I went up to my room.

After the complimentary breakfast Wednesday morning (superb overall, though few things are more upsetting than buffet eggs) I went for a walk to scope out the neighbourhood. My West Coast candy-ass nearly froze to death after being out for 90 minutes. I retreated to the hotel, where Bruni and Adrian were about ready to pack up banners and t-shirts for the listening party that afternoon. The venue was the upstairs 200-capacity room at Metropolis, an awesome concert hall on Ste. Catherine. We got a tour of the main floor, which features a 2500-capacity hall, which I can only describe as a cross between Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom and the Orpheum, if you can imagine such a thing. Just a beautiful place. Dream Theater are playing there later this month.

We hung up some Voivod banners, organized a reception table and sorted the commemorative t-shirts by size, and waited for the 30-odd invitees to arrive. Snake was the first band member to show up, followed by Away and Jasonic.

At 2:00 Jason introduced the album on behalf of the band, urging us all to stay quiet for the duration as a mark of respect for Piggy, their guitarist who passed away late last summer. Like I said earlier, I’ll save all the musical details for my upcoming piece for the U! Web site. I will say that the new Voivod album lacks nothing in terms of mystique, atmosphere and surprise.

Adrian organized the post-album interviews for everyone who wanted to talk to the band. I talked to Away first, mainly about how he saw the new album in terms of their past albums. The fanboy in me took over at various points, and we talked about Magma, his artwork, the Voivod character, and my favourite Voivod album, Angel Rat, which I’d conveniently brought a copy of for him to sign. Away’s one of the nicest guys you could ever meet, so amazingly modest and self-effacing. I’m looking forward to arranging a follow-up phone interview with him closer to the album release date (June).

(I actually wish Away had been a little more self-promoting, because on my last afternoon in Montreal I picked up a free local entertainment paper and learned, upon opening it up at the airport, that he had an art show on right then, featuring the original paintings of the first four Voivod album covers. I’m still bummed out about missing that.)

What I remember of my interview with Jason was his incandescent passion for Voivod. He’s the guy who’s going to see Snake and Away through these dark days and make sure nobody forgets about their band. And according to what Away told me, the next couple years will be busy ones. It sounds awful and wrong for me to say this, but it’s going to be a good time to be a Voivod fan. Hang in there, because the band certainly will.

After the event, the Toronto gang got back in the van and headed out. Only Richard was planning to stay on. He and I went out for dinner and compared notes. After a day of being repeatedly knocked on my ass, Richard floored me again by mentioning, of his own accord, the Laser Voivod concept, which is a long-running fantasy my friend Smash and I have nurtured. He had an interesting twist on the idea that I can’t mention here.

On the way back to the hotel, we wandered through the main HMV downtown, where I got a good chuckle out of one of their displays. It was something you’d only see in Quebec—Gentle Giant topping the music DVD chart with their Giant on the Box release.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

I just got back from Montreal, where I got to hear Katorz, the new Voivod album, and interview Jasonic and Away for an upcoming issue of Unrestrained! More details about the trip later.

It was pissing rain in Montreal today, and out my window tonight I can see Vancouver-style snow (i.e., chunky precipitation) in the street-lights' glare. It's a "Meteorological Inversion," which is not a Voivod song title, but should be.