Saturday, December 20, 2008

Warpig—Warpig (Relapse)
My wife told me today that a local record store has an original pressing of this album that can be yours for just $800. Fortunately, Relapse reissued it a couple years ago, making it a little more affordable to fans of musty old hard rock like myself. Warpig came charging out of Woodstock, Ontario in the early '70s, obviously inspired by overseas bands like Deep Purple and Uriah Heep. Warpig’s own interpretation of this nascent sound is pretty bang-on the money (maybe a little too accurate in the case of “Speed King” doppelganger “Rock Star”), while approaching the style with a certain Canadian deliberation compared to the balls-out boundary pushing of their more regal British counterparts. While Dana Snitch is no Jon Lord (his somewhat prissy Clavinet sound can’t compete with Lord’s roaring Hammond) and Terry Hook is no Ian Paice, the band as a whole can certainly play—Rick Donmoyer in particular is a first-class guitarist, and as a singer can hit high notes to rival Heep’s David Byron (even, at times, King Diamond!). The songs are impressive in their riffcentricness and speedy pace, as well as their eccentricity. Warpig obviously recognized that the pop song form had by then become an infinitely malleable entity, filling their songs with strange twists and turns to augment basic verse/chorus structures. A song like “Melody with Balls” manages to fit some early metal riffing, slide guitar solos, freeform descents into noise, and a lot of pace changes into six minutes. Or “Advance Am,” an downright barmy instrumental led by Snitch’s harpsichord-like riffs. The opening of “U.X.I.B.” features a similar keyboard sound before diving into a blues-by-way-of-Black-Sabbath groove. I’m happy Relapse unearthed this one; it slots in nicely along with their two Pentagram compilations in putting the spotlight on North America’s neglected proto-metal heroes. If there’s someone out there who wants to drop $800 on an original copy, more power to them, but $20 for this lovingly packaged and annotated version is an excellent value.

Monday, December 15, 2008

21 Tandem Repeats—No Junk Mail Please (Canada Lynx)
I must tread carefully here because our man Super Robertson has taken an occasional drubbing with this here album, and I feel some pressure to weigh in and save the day by bestowing album of the year honours upon No Junk Mail Please. It's difficult to review friends' work. I mean, if I didn't know these people and this crossed my desk, would I really give it a chance? If I did throw it on, I'm sure I'd quickly appreciate its spirit and lack of pandering 'n' posturing and clichéd boy/girl angst bullshit. And I'd dig the marauding, smoke-laced vibe of "Heidi Stopover." Yeah, lots to like in these 36 minutes.

However, I'm not some distant pair of impartial ears. I've seen 21 Tandem Repeats play, on average, every month for the last three years. I know what they're capable of on stage. Based on that, and based on what I hear on No Junk Mail Please, maybe it's time to don my picky pants and administer some tough love. I've often thought that past Robertson releases had production that was a little too polite for the music at hand. While this sometimes suited the jazzier, busier moments of his former band Roadbed, it stamps down the dynamics of 21 TR's more direct, groove-based sound. This isn't much of a problem at the album's outset—the first four numbers whiz by enjoyably—but the trio of songs in the middle takes the album down a sleepy little path. "The Key of 5," with its skittish rhythm section and wandering lead guitar, feels like it was still being worked up in the studio. (Although I don't advocate the band redoing old tracks, I'd like to hear them take another crack at this one—the song has a solid hook that needs to be exploited.) "Mr. Greenie," the last of this trio, should have been the song to take the album to a new peak. I've seen the band rip this number up live many times, but here it merely grooves along amiably, in a situation where the stomping of distortion pedals is required—which Robertson’s old foil Shockk could have supplied if this was a Roadbed track. A new, twangified recording of SUPERSIMIAN's "On Frozen Pond" helps put the band back on track, but the odd choice to follow it up with a cover song featuring a guest vocalist only reveals another pothole to negotiate. While I have nothing against the song (Roger Dean Young is godhead in my book) or Rebecca Till's voice, the sudden shift of style and tone makes it feel like the band have left the building.

So, I think this album features a few missteps from our heroes. That’s how it goes sometimes. Knowing how hard Robertson works to keep music in his life, he’s to be saluted, not belittled, and if you drop by the Supper Show and like the band, then you should pick this up. But now I want to hear the “rage hero” in Robertson's music. I know he’s got it in him. I hear a hint of it in the tense edge to his voice on “Disappear.” And if he wants to balance that sort of crankiness with jubilant expressions of hope along the lines of “Robertson’s Dream Orchard” (track 2), that would suit me just fine.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ah, Jex Thoth. You are moss-smothered and messed up, conjuring proto-doom hymns by the light of a dying candle. You are not made for these times. You are overheated tubes and saturated tape, muddied signals on frayed cables. You are held in high regard by The Energizer and myself, and slated to appear in the next issue of Unrestrained! You are Julian Cope's Album of the Month. You are, in his words, "currently Sat In The Lap of the Motherfucker!" Yep.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

My friend Adrian 'The Energizer' Bromley passed away suddenly on Sunday morning. I've been absolutely gutted for the last couple days with shock and heartbreak. For the last nine years, Adrian was a presence I could feel vibrating all the way across the country, an embodiment of enthusiasm and humour and love of life.

The Energizer was, of course, a co-founder of Unrestrained! magazine, the publication I've been copyediting (and occasionally writing for) since issue #8. The magazine was Adrian's chief passion, and it's been a thrill watching it grow and improve over the years. My first issue was the first with a colour cover; the issue after that had all glossy pages, and then colour gradually spread across the magazine until it reached the full-colour thing of beauty it is today. Adrian spearheaded each little improvement. He was justifiably proud of it.

He approached each issue with the same excitement. It usually started with a phone call. "Are you at your computer? Hold on, I'm going to send you something." An email with a mocked-up cover attached would arrive. He'd want my opinion right then and there. That cover's first appearance, to me, was the kick-off to the next few weeks of work—a flurry of interviews and emails and phone calls and editing and proofing, followed by a two-week pause for breath before the finished issue arrived. Adrian immediately wanted to know what I thought of it. He was always looking for ways to make it better.

I've been reading a lot of tributes to Adrian lately—dozens and dozens, hundreds probably. Everyone has Energizer stories, even people who never met him in person. They all marvel at the positive outlook he had, his generosity, and his energy. It's clear that he treated everyone the same way, and he gave everyone his best.

Nothing got Adrian down...for very long, at least. I remember he was between music-industry jobs a long time ago, and he'd taken a job with a debt-collection agency. When he told me where he was working, I think I audibly blanched at the idea of dealing with angry people on the phone all day long. Adrian jumped in and reassured me that he was having some really good conversations with a lot interesting people. It was all good. I'm sure he was a kick-ass debt collector. And when he had to leave his job doing PR at The End Records in New York and had to come back to Canada and start over again, he set up his own PR business, Ixmati Media, and was soon doing better than ever.

He was unfailingly kind and generous with his time. Whenever I was in Toronto he'd take me out for lunch on the U! tab (i.e. the bank of Adrian) and take me around to all the worthy record stores to haul some vinyl. He played a big part in helping Toronto become one of my favourite cities. And I remember when I flew to Montreal for Voivod's Katorz listening party/press day, after I arrived at the hotel he made sure I got something to eat and found my bearings before he had to attend to Jason Newsted's arrival. (That was the only time I've seen Adrian nervous. "Rock stars" of Newsted's stature didn't usually enter the underground metal realm Adrian was so ultra-comfortable in. Newsted was way cool, though, and he and Adrian hit it off right away, of course.)

And his nickname wasn't 'The Energizer' for nothing. As so many others have noted, the guy could do a dozen things at once—he'd be firing off IMs and emails while on the phone, writing press releases, reviews, articles, interviews. He loved to be connected to people—truly a man for these high-speed wireless times. He was raving about Facebook the last few times I talked to him and was a constant presence on the Brave Board, a place where so many people are mourning his loss right now.

He could write 18 articles for Unrestrained! in a single day. The first email with, say, eight Word documents attached would arrive on a Saturday morning. The subject line: "I'm on a roll!!"

Everyone mentions The Energizer's phone calls. They were quite something—one-sided affairs during which you'd be lucky to squeeze a syllable betwixt the Energizer's conversational bursts. After you'd hung up you could only shake your head and chuckle.

Then there were the extra-excited calls after he'd heard something amazing.

"Dude. The new Witchcraft album is amazing!"

Or the extra-extra excited calls when simply telling you wouldn't suffice; he would have to play it to you over the phone. I remember a few minutes from Agalloch's The Mantle, the resurrected Voivod, and the second album from some band called Woods of Ypres echoing, barely discernible, down the line. But they were all amazing!! (especially when I got to hear them properly!)

He loved vinyl, Cheap Trick, John Candy, Amy Sedaris, stoner rock, PJ Harvey, his cat, and his fiancée Renee. He was the genuine article, a true one-off, and we're all going to miss him terribly.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Although I can devour 33 1/3 books like so many Kit Kats, I’ll admit they’re not all created equal. I’ve preferred the nuts ‘n’ bolts “behind the scenes” volumes to the ones that attempt to capture an album’s appeal in fictional or personal essay form. The last two 33 1/3 books I’ve read have won me over to the latter approach, though.

First, there was Mountain Goats mainman and Decibel magazine columnist John Darnielle’s novella concerning Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality. Through his narrator, a troubled youth confined to a psych ward (and having had all his tapes confiscated, to boot), Darnielle manages to capture the appeal of Sabbath and their heaviest album, as well as depicting exactly how, for some of us, music functions as a stabilizing, essential constant in our lives. It’s a moving little book.

The last 33 1/3 I read was one I’ve picked up many times in stores, wondering exactly what its deal was. Author Carl Wilson’s choice of subject jumped out at me as surprising, if banal—Céline Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love. Was he kidding? This wasn't exactly up there with The Velvet Underground and Nico or Unknown Pleasures in terms of albums with rock crit credibility. The book’s subtitle helped to clarify the author’s intentions a little bit: “A journey to the end of taste.” Well, that was nearly enough to sell me on it.

Instead I checked it out of the library. It was better than I could have imagined. Wilson picks up and connects many threads in his very personal exploration of Céline Dion’s appeal—notions of kitsch, schmaltz, “lowbrow” art, Quebecois culture, the talent show as genre, and so on—but the question this book really seeks to answer is “Why do we like what we like?” And that’s a big question, comprising personal decisions and impulses both conscious and unconscious.

It’s a small thrill when a writer connects their subject matter to something I enjoy. Wilson, bless him, does it here:
“As her songs rocket to their predestined apexes, she does not resist, she goes along for the ride, leaning on the accelerator and seldom the brake, emphasizing intensity not difference. It reminds me of nothing so much as current ‘underground’ metal, which has thrown out the spare musical parts of past hard rock and pared down to loud guitars, drums and screaming. Today’s metal has no power ballads, no more Nazareth doing ‘Love Hurts,’ no more Kiss doing ‘Beth,’ no more Guns N’ Roses ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine.’ So Céline is singing them instead. It’s been said that ‘pro wrestling is soap opera on steroids,’ so maybe Céline Dion is metal on estrogen.”

Friday, October 31, 2008

I stumbled upon this article about double albums in the Guardian right before I interviewed John Cobbett of Hammers of Misfortune this afternoon. The new Hammers release (out this week on Profound Lore) is a double too. Although I can discern a theme in the artwork and lyrics for each half of the album, I wouldn't call it a concept album à la The Lamb... or The Wall. As the band themselves say, it's more like a split release with themselves.

I reviewed it for the last issue of Unrestrained!, so I won't rehash that here. Listening to it again now, I hear a lot of Blue Oyster Cult and Heep in it, along with the expected Lizzyness and Maidenisms. The singing throughout is also amazing, considering the tossed-off grunting that a lot of metal bands proffer. They've clearly put a ton of work crafting melodies and harmonies to carry the songs along. Hammers of Misfortune are doing remarkable things on a shoestring, and have earned the right to unleash a double LP. It's well worth forking out for.

You might also want to read this post on their blog for some defiant, inspiring words.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Anekdoten—A Time of Day (Virta)
The latest Anekdoten album contains a golden moment in the form of a jarring musical event that almost made me fall off my chair the first time I heard it. This moment occurs during the album’s second track, “30 Pieces,” a jagged waltz that gets more and more intense, building up to a crazed unison passage before releasing, suddenly and gloriously, into…a flute solo. And not just a flute solo, but a flute solo introduced by an almighty whack from a vibra-slap. Two good things that go great together. I believe the band were trying to kill me with coolness.
A lot of fans still cling to Anekdoten’s earlier albums, where their King Crimson influences were more blatant, but over the course of five studio full-lengths they’ve refined that style to become very much their own thing, and that thing is still compelling to me. Their sound is anchored by Anna Sofi-Dahlberg’s vintage-sounding keyboards and the raspy, stealthy bass lines of Jan Erik Liljeström, both of them combining to infuse the songs with overarching melancholy. The songs themselves are pretty economical by prog standards. Never ones to solo at any length, Anekdoten prefer to steer verse/chorus structures towards mini-instrumentals before returning to a previously established part. It’s often these detours that produce the most thrilling, dark moments, such as the monolithic riff that erupts in the midst of “A Sky About to Rain” or the ethereal drone section that bisects “Prince of the Ocean.” Sometimes I think I should change the name of this blog, because music by bands like Anekdoten is such an effortless pleasure. Whatever further refinements they make to their material in the future, as long as they retain their solid songwriting and—most importantly—their sound, I’ll be listening.

Friday, October 24, 2008

I've never actually tried concocting recreational hallucinogens (those long DIY articles in Flipside involving morning glory seeds, acetone, and cold medicines always sounded to me like a surefire route to brain damage and/or third-degree burns) but I happened upon an effective recipe last Wednesday night.

1. Come home unexpectedly tired after having downed a couple pints at a book launch.
2. Lie on couch, close eyes, and drift in and out of consciousness while this album is playing:

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Recent activity...

Missing: Sigur Ros, October 7 at the Chan Centre.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Just skimming through Mogwai's tour diary tonight:
"Ah Vancouver, there’s nothing quite as awe-inspiring and life affirming as stepping off the tour-bus and seeing 2 people emerging from a huge dustbin. We even had a special guard to look after the bus while we were away from it."

I did a twin set of interviews for my Ascend piece in the upcoming Unrestrained! magazine. I talked to Greg Anderson first, then followed up with Gentry Densley the next day. They're both fascinating chaps in their own ways: Anderson earnest and talkative; Densley laid back and thoughtful. Densley works as a prison librarian in Salt Lake City, which is one of the greatest day jobs I've ever heard of. Anderson, of course, runs Southern Lord Records and tours the world with SUNN O))).

One of the reasons I wanted to cover Ascend was the chance to talk with Anderson about Engine Kid, his band from 1991 to '95. Engine Kid toured and released a split LP with Iceburn, Densley's jazz/hardcore outfit from the same era, but the pair's roots go back even a few years before that.

Engine Kid were a misunderstood band at the time. I remember a review of their first single, which the writer declared a Slint rip-off before smashing the record to pieces. True, the band's approach on the "Astronaut" single and Bear Catching Fish album owed a lot to Slint and Rodan. I saw them once opening for Sebadoh at the Town Pump in 1993, and I'd never heard a band play so quietly during quiet parts. The stage microphones barely picked anything up. Then they'd stomp on their pedals and bend back your ears with the incredible volume.

They quickly outgrew the obvious influences and displayed an altogether heavier and deftly dynamic sound on their next LP, Angel Wings.

And that was about it, apart from the split album with Iceburn. So when I got Anderson on the phone I wanted to ask him about his impressions of the scene at the time, and why Engine Kid sounded the way they did.

Was that era actually a good time to start a band?

"Well it’s kind of funny. We were always kind of misfits in Seattle. We started the band in '91 and we lasted till about '95 during the whole explosion and boom of the grunge scene. I liked some of those groups—Nirvana, Soundgarden, Skin Yard—I thought those bands were great, but that’s not really musically what we wanted to do. We were a lot younger than a lot of those bands too.

"The irony of Seattle is that all those bands came out of a scene that was the 21-and-over bar scene. Seattle had these really messed-up, strict laws. If you were under 21, there were just no venues and it was impossible to have an all-ages venue too because the insurance costs were so high. So all the all-ages venues closed down in the city and you basically couldn’t go see music unless it was at a huge venue, like a 2000 or 3000 seater. So as all these bands were really happening and this community was happening, we were too young to go to those shows. And by the time we were 21, and those bands had exploded and they were playing in front of thousands and thousands of people, you could go to their shows anyways! They were all ages. But at the time it was like we were more involved in the hardcore community and our tastes were diverse. We were into bands like the Melvins and stuff like that, but we really couldn’t go see them play. So we really missed out on the blossoming and the exciting time of that happening. The only band I really got to see in a small club setting back then was Nirvana, but other than that, we weren’t really a part of that. So I think Engine Kid’s sound stems from being outcasts and trying to do our own thing, even though we were taking cues from what was happening in Louisville, Kentucky with Slint and Rodan and Bastro. We weren’t trying to mimic the Stooges and Led Zeppelin. Our heads were elsewhere and our energy was elsewhere too. Engine Kid was more aggressive in some ways and eventually we splintered off into more of a metallic sound, and that was because we were just young, energetic and had a lot of aggression in what we were doing."

That isolation had some artistic benefits then…

"Yeah, again it's completely ironic because to me the whole concept of the grunge scene and all those bands coming up was based on isolation as well. It was hard to get to Seattle if you were a touring band, so we didn’t get a lot of the really cool touring bands from Los Angeles or from Chicago or from New York coming out our way because they’d basically get past San Francisco and it was kind of a dead hole. It’s a long drive to Portland, and it’s a longer drive to Seattle. So to me that was the thing with grunge, it’s like we’re going to do our own thing and we’re going to do our own bands, and that’s how they started. And ironically it trickled down also in theory to what Engine Kid was, where we just felt isolated from that as well. So it was like double isolation!"

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

“Global Metal is more of a documentary in the true sense of the word,” says Sam Dunn, “because it’s about more than just music; it’s about culture and about youth and about globalization. These are buzzwords that even the CBC loves.”

I interviewed Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen for Unrestrained! last May, when they were in town promoting their latest documentary, Global Metal. Their visit coincided with the Rush and Iron Maiden gigs here—Dunn and McFadyen went to both shows, as they're shooting separate films about each. At the Maiden show, Dunn was actually on stage during "Heaven Can Wait," singing backup with a gang of contest winners. Lucky bugger.

It was a great kick to meet the two of them, and here are some outtakes from our interview, which took place at one of them Starbucks. (Dunn, by the way, was very impressed by the Mule Mobile, which has been my mainstay portable recorder for 25 years.)

Metallica's "Fight Fire With Fire" was a perfect choice for a theme song, seeing as kids around the world seem to have latched onto metal in response to societal or governmental oppression. How did you come to choose it, and when?

Dunn: I guess we ended A Headbanger's Journey with Metallica at Wacken, and we just kind of picked it up where we left off. "Fight Fire With Fire" is a great Metallica song. It set a template for extreme metal that continues to this day. It’s one of the first and one of the most well known that started with the acoustic guitar intro and then blasts you into this thrash metal song. And that’s something that bands are still doing to this day. So there’s somehing historically in there, but it’s mostly just picking up where we left off.

So it was more of a musical choice than a thematic choice.

Dunn: I guess. We met Lars and obviously we talked to him in Global Metal this time around. They really liked A Headbanger's Journey even though they couldn’t be in the film because they’d just finished Some Kind of Monster and were pretty burned out with cameras. He liked it enough to allow us to use "Master of Puppets" in the first one, so…

McFadyen: He was pretty awesome on this one. He found that Indonesian footage for us and sent it to us and he was like, “Don’t ever make a doc without us again.”

Dunn: I think Lars has learned that Metallica is big, but it’s not as big as the Internet. He can’t really stop it. I guess my perception of it... I mean, he’s got a bad rap because of his stance on Napster, but at the same time I think it was admirable that he was able to acknowledge [in the new movie] that this is something that is here to stay and it’s obviously something that is getting metal music to people around the world. I’m sure he would be shocked to discover that there were Saudi Arabian Metallica fans, right? I think he’s come around, which is a sign of wisdom.

Apart from your entry into China, lugging armfuls of professional film equipment through customs while on tourist visas, what were some of your hairier travel moments or experiences while traveling?

McFadyen: Our whole philosophy was that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. That was the whole way we went through this. They told us not to film in Tiananmen Square. That was a big thing. And we went in there with our little 16 mm camera, just walked in and filmed the Square. 15 guards came over eventually and put their hand on the camera and we were like, "Sorry." So that’s the way we try to go through things. It’ll catch up to us one day, maybe.

Dunn: We get asked a lot, "Was it difficult getting into all these countries, and were you intimidated or scared going to all of these countries?" We actually discovered that things were safer and more open than the way we had perceived it to be. Unfortunately we didn’t get into Iran. We wanted to get into Iran because the metal scene there is pretty interesting, but we couldn’t. We went to the Desert Rock Festival [in Dubai] instead, but apart from thtat, our experience was that we were really embraced by the metal scenes and generally it was a lot safer than we expected.

We don’t look like your average TV crew or like we’re with CNN. We liked our footprint to be small. I think that’s sort of what we like about making these documentaries is that you can be mobile and try and capture something that’s a little more human, a little more ground level than what youget through CNN or major news sources.

About the segment at Blackmore’s, the Deep Purple-themed bar in Japan, where drunken businessmen screech "Highway Star" at the top of their lungs—was that a typical night there?

McFadyen: That was the second time we had been there. We went when we were doing promo for the first film—just to drink. And we were like, "This is crazy." Because the bartender looks exactly like Ritchie Blackmore. We went back and there was a few more people there. I think they’d gotten wind that we were coming and as soon as we walked in, there was a cheer.

Dunn: Something we wanted to show there is that there’s a well-known phenomenon of the salary man in japan. It’s a slang term that is for the typical hard-working Japanese businessman, and the culture there is very much that you work, work, work, work, and when you leave work you drink with your workmates. That’s where you socialize, because the work environment in Japan is very work focused. The way you actually bond with your workmates is in that environment. So we just thought it was so funny to find these guys in, of all places, a Deep Purple-dedicated bar rocking out to "Highway Star." It was just something that people had to see, because we couldn’t believe we were seeing it.

McFadyen: There’s a few moments when you're filming where you think, “This is going in the film.” That was one of them.

As Canada’s metal ambassadors, in a sense, did you hear any interesting perceptions about Canada from people you met? Who’s the best-known Canadian band?

Dunn: Well, everywhere we go and we tell people we’re Canadian, they either mention Rush or Voivod. Those are usually the first two bands that come out of people’s mouths. I think Canada has kind of come into the fore because we are so close to the United States and yet we’re recognized as being quite different...especially post 9/11. I think that as Canadians, because of the society we’ve grown up in, we’re able to look at what’s going on around the world with pretty open eyes and have a certain balanced perspective on it that maybe other countries can’t.

McFadyen: We have a pretty healthy cultural perspective as Canadians. I think that comes across in this film. It’s kind of a positive message when you think about it. All these people were pretty amazing around the world.

Dunn: Another element to this is that if we were to do Global Metal 2, Quebec would be a good candidate because it’s recognized as a home of top-quality death metal music, has been since the days of Gorguts and Obliveon and all those old bands. It has its own unique scene. And it’s interesting—the Catholic, French-speaking, much more European section of Canada became the home for metal in this country. Next to Bergen, Norway, there's more metalheads per capita in Quebec City than anywhere else.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Generals gathered in their masses,
Just like witches with pint glasses...

Friday, July 25, 2008

I just thought, "Oh, bugger this. I want to listen to a bit of Rush."

Believe it or not, this clip from Saxondale gets better from there.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

I think I've mentioned Banzai Records a few times on this blog. Banzai played a HUGE role in disseminating underground metal in Canada during the '80s. It licensed the cream of American, British and European independent metal labels—Neat, Megaforce, Metal Blade, and Noise in particular—and, through the distribution might of Polygram, put them in every damn record shop across Canada. Sure, their product could be "budget" and stingy on the packaging, but the fact that they got the music out there was the most important thing.

I still remember the excitement of seeing albums by bands I'd only read about in Kerrang! up on the wall at A&B Sound...and for $5.99, too! Kill 'Em All was the first LP I sprang for, little knowing that that album was the lit fuse on a scene that would quickly explode. Over 20 years later, I'm still listening to the dust and debris settle.

A few years ago, Adrien Begrand of Decibel & Popmatters captured that era much more skillfully than I can here. While I consider his piece the definitive Banzai retrospective, I'm always thrilled to find anyone else reminiscing about the label in print.

So it is in the latest issue of Decibel, where pro wrestler and Fozzy frontman Chris Jericho talks about being a metal fan in Winnipeg in the mid-'80s, and manages to neatly sum up the egalitarian nature of the new metal in the process:

"There was this label Banzai Records in Canada—it was the imprint for Metal Blade and Megaforce. Anything that was on Metal Blade or Megaforce in the States was on Banzai in Canada. We bought everything on that label... I remember buying Kill 'Em All because it was on Banzai and because the guys in the photo on the back had more zits than I did. I thought if those guys could be in a band and make it, then so could I."

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Simian Special—The Cougar Stands Its Ground (SN Ratio)
Max (Sim Special) Arnason is a huge talent on the local scene, whether as part of the legendary Roadbed in their final days, teaming up with Super Robertson for a marvelous one-off album, or designing gig posters and CD packaging (he did stuff for my favourite Norse troll Mortiis, for Odin’s sake). The guy’s voice can transition effortlessly between a Martin Tielli-esque earnestness and David Lee Roth's partay yelp. Get him behind the drum kit, and he’s a similarly commanding presence. To see him take the stage at the Supper Show is always a treat. Simian Special is his own baby, a quartet with tight songs rooted in guitars from the 4AD school of texture—imagine a more gregarious Cure or a Rheostatics who’ve shucked off the burden of forging our national identity. The arrangements are detailed and precisely rendered, very much like Sim’s own visual designs. The drums snap, the harmonies soar, the guitars chime, synths snake in the background—something’s always going on. For me, the experience of listening to the album was a process of absorbing the minutiae over the course of a few airings, and after that the songs and hooks emerged in all their glory. There are an awful lot of 3 1/2 minute songs to take in—16 in all—so there’s a risk that some will be lost in the clutter. Nevertheless, there are a number of tunes I wouldn’t want to live without, like the hard charging “Frank Slide” (joining my own "Hope Slide" in the canon of songs named after western Canadian natural disasters) and “Solid Hole.” The high point of the album for me, though, is “Beloved Jane,” which gracefully unfurls a single chord progression, drapes a compelling vocal and ethereal guitar overtop and results in something majestic—their very own “Plainsong,” if you will. Graceful and unpretentious, it’s beautiful work.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I nearly had an aneurysm when I spied this ad on the back page of Exclaim! Here we see Noah and the other creepy Rogers Wireless kids eagerly having their phones scanned to gain admission to a hot Live Nation concert featuring Simple Plan. Fortunately, it's an exaggeration. Our favourite communication conglomerates are not actually offering virtual tickets via cell phone...yet.

Still, this ad gleefully condones flaunting your phone at rock concerts, and that to me is a bad thing. Many people agree, and you can read about it here. Roger Waters—surprise—finds them irritating. I hope the tide turns soon, and at some future gig, we'll see Noah and his friends taking out their phones for the doorman, who will confiscate the devices and feed them into a crusher.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Capillary Action—So Embarrassing (Pangaea Recordings)
Capillary Action picked an apt name. The band dips into and draws from many musical pools, with each rivulet terminating in a thick vein flowing with smooth pop, hardcore, jazz, and general prog goodness. If aliens flew over Nanaimo, beamed an unwary Elvis Costello into their craft and forced him to mind-meld with the Dillinger Escape Plan and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, old Declan’s subsequent compositions might sound like something off So Embarrassing. The album is packed with brief songs that flirt with catchiness but inevitably fly off in all directions. Bandleader Jonathan Pfeffer’s songwriting philosophy is apparently “Get in, get out, and leave them with their heads spinning.” There will be no casual background listening once this album goes on. The amount of activity and detail in each song demands your full attention. The arrangements and production are both top-notch—the soothing pop moments are downright orchestral, while the production (engineered by aural punisher Colin Marston of Behold the Arctopus and Orthrelm) renders the loud/quiet contrasts with neck-snapping precision. Pfeffer’s lyrics, a minimal poetry of extreme anxiety, seem to direct the ever-shifting music that underpins them. Skimming the lyric sheet reveals much to fret over: “The secret exit that leads to an intricate trap.” “I think I heard a sound. There’s someone in side the house.” “I still sleep with gritted teeth.” “Deep-seated in a cement-filled gut.” Yes, the neuroses are tumbling out with the same manic drive as the music, and we’re all the better for it. Some lyrics are concerned with music itself, a topic that, when handled with style and skill (as it is here), is the best subject matter of all. So few artists can do it without being cheesy. “Self-Released” explores the parallels between two types of committed relationships: musicians/record labels and men/women. And in “Pocket Protection is Essential,” the author wants the song’s unnamed subject to “Pummel that fucking noise into my head. Make it burn, make it throb. I need a fix—where is it?” For me, it's right here on this album.

As luck would have it, Capillary Action play the Railway Club this Sunday, June 15. Lord knows how they pull off this kind of mayhem on stage, but it should be a visceral thrill anyway.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Progressive Nation Tour with Dream Theater, Opeth, Between the Buried and Me and Three, May 6, Orpheum Theatre
The unstoppable caravan of overachieving musos known as the Progressive Nation Tour rolled into my increasingly prog-friendly city a couple weeks ago. Being a proud citizen of that great nation (my dual passport is up for renewal, but I didn’t find any application forms at the merch tables) I ambled into the palatial confines of the Orpheum to pay tribute to the prog godz old and new.

Three started the night with a well-received half-hour set. Their sound was a little too polite and smooth for my tastes, but they didn’t lack for showmanship. Their two drummers—a chrome-domed standup dude with timbales and assorted percussion, as well as keyboards, and a rocker kid behind the drum kit—contributed much to the action, and the guitarist/frontman got himself a standing O with his acoustic interlude at the end of their set.

After that, I was a bit concerned about how Between the Buried and Me would go over with this crowd— an “all ages” gathering to be sure. Kids from 6 to 60, as Milton-Bradley might say. While I’m sure their epic death/prog metal + Queen approach was a bitter pill for some, the band did their best to whip the crowd up, and I think it worked. The audience certainly gave them a fair listen and responded well to BTBAM’s abrupt shifts and diversions. The band sounded great on the two (2!) songs from Colors they had time for; it’s a shame they couldn’t add a song or two from Alaska or The Silent Circus.

Swedish titans Opeth sounded almost minimalist by contrast, providing a refreshingly grounded performance compared to what came before and after them. With only 45 minutes at their disposal, this was an efficient set—a new song (“Heir Apparent”), a few heavy epics (“The Baying of the Hounds,” “Wreath,” “Master’s Apprentices”), a ballad (“In My Time of Need”) and a “hit” (“The Drapery Falls”). Not a comprehensive stroll through their catalogue, but enjoyable nevertheless. Their merch woman said they’d be back in September to headline, so once I’m through counting the days till Watershed comes out, I’ll start the countdown to September.

Dream Theater had the lot—projections, elaborate lighting, cameras to catch every fleet-fingered flurry of notes and ace display of stickmanship (James Labrie thankfully lacked a vocal-cord cam) and a nifty street-scene stage set. What they didn’t have was enough good songs to sustain my interest. I enjoyed them a little more than I thought I would. I expected half the set to be solo spots, which was not the case. We ducked out prior to the encore to hang out at the BTBAM merch table, only to have their bassist Dan persuade us to go back in for the closing medley, which to my pal Smash’s disgust, lacked anything from When Dream and Day Unite.

Despite the airing of a few complaints on the ride home, it was a fun evening of music, and I hope the Progressive Nation can unite again with a few more adventurous bands in tow. How’s about Behold… the Arctopus, Guapo, Kayo Dot, Upsilon Acrux, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Thinking Plague, Titan, Present, Time of Orchids, Ahleuchatistas… ? Like I said, I’m a citizen—I’m entitled to my vote.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

I love our OM poster. I'm afraid my picture does it scant justice. David V. D'Andrea has done some stunning work, including album covers for Witchcraft, Ulver (the LP version of Shadows of the Sun) and Asunder.

I finally hung it properly today, in a spot where it presides over the record collection. In the fine print it lists the final date of the tour in Seattle, and once again I'm kicking myself for not going down for the show, especially because drummer Chris Hakius left the band shortly after this tour. It would have been great to see OM in their original lineup. Still, I'm looking forward to hearing how the new duo of Al Cisneros and Emil Amos sounds.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Railway Club isn't the most relaxing place to be on a Saturday night, but I toughed it out last weekend in order to catch some hard-rocking bands. I went solo, but ran into some of the usual suspects at the club—the alliterative quartet of SR Jones, Sim, Snappy, and Shockk.

Victoria's Crown the Wolf were on first, with a set of solid songs in the Kyuss vein. Hey, who wouldn't want to sound like Kyuss? The singer/guitarist had a great voice for this style. Nice job!

Black Betty is a band I've wanted to see for ages; ever since I came across them at and checked out their tunes at MySpace. Jonas and Ana's pummelling set—mixing the weighty riffs of Sabbath with the good times vibe of, say, Grand Funk—didn't disappoint at all.

The only letdown was that there was no merch to be found; I need their album. I don't do enough local bands for Unrestrained! (Antiquus and SYL/Devin Townsend have been the only Vancouver-area acts I've covered, I think), so I have to get in touch with them at some point.

Mongoose were on next (Sprëad Eagle headlined the night, but I had to hit the Skytrain before they went on). These guys have logged a million kilometres in the van since I last saw them, and their music's progressed way beyond the catchy punk bursts found on White Plastic Deer. Although they've gotten a lot more "rock & roll" and added a lot more diversions and complexity to their material, they still exude an all-ages basement show energy that's a joy to witness. This lineup—stalwarts Shockk, RC, Johnny, and new drummer Radar—is their strongest yet, and I hope they get a chance to record a followup album really soon.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Guapo—Elixirs (Neurot)
Elixirs has some unexpected twists and tangents. The British outfit’s previous two albums, Five Suns (Cuneiform) and Black Oni (Ipecac), which formed the first two chapters of a trilogy (a notion that the band likes to downplay because of its obvious prog-cliché nature), were steeped in aggressive complexity in the tradition of King Crimson and Magma and full of eerie, muscular music. Elixirs eases off to an extent that’s immediately apparent, and incorporates a lot more guitar work, vocals, and varied percussion. Overall, though, they haven’t changed their style all that much; they’ve just tweaked some of the dynamics and shading. A track like the opener “Jeweled Turtle” shows a lot of restraint over its nine minutes of simmering menace. Compared to Five Suns, where every lull led to an explosion, this piece refuses to pander to that expectation. “Arthur, Elsie and Frances” returns to the jagged rhythms and dynamics that abounded on earlier albums, but with a little less aggression than before. “King Lindorm,” the closing epic track, contains some of the most exciting passages on the album, with a compellingly slow buildup over a repetitive but complex piano figure and a satisfyingly weighty release at its climax. A pair of very interesting tracks occupy the middle of the album. “The Heliotrope” and “The Selenotrope” were previously released (as instrumentals) as the Twisted Stems EP and are a kind of yin/yang pairing, one with male vocals (by Alexander Tucker), one with female vocals (from Jarboe, who’s keeping pretty busy these days); one in a minor key, one in a major key. Both are very much in the vein of recent Ulver or old Brian Eno—sparse late-night ballads in no hurry to get anywhere. Elixirs doesn’t end the trilogy with a bang, but not quite a whimper either. If you’re already a fan, you won’t mind at all.

Friday, April 04, 2008

I’m not really into April Fool’s Day, and jokes where you’re made to feel gullible are the most terrible thing on earth to me. I remember Terrorizer magazine’s prank from about 10 years ago when they awarded Album of the Month to a black metal band called Arktyk, unknowns from Alaska who’d just signed with Relapse. The album’s description, something like extreme black metal mixed with Pink Floyd parts, sounded right up my alley—and, alas, they were entirely fictional. For about two hours I was all set to order their album before I realized I’d been reading the April issue. I was crushed. At least these days I can listen to Deathspell Omega, who basically fulfill all my progressive black metal requirements.

I did go out and have a hell of a time on Tuesday anyway. After work I headed to the Railway Club for Jen Currin’s book launch. Her latest collection is Hagiography, and my first impression is that it’s her most accessible work yet. Her poetry can be a little tricky and elusive (for want of a much better word), but I like it because every line is a surprise. When Jen reads, she reveals the amount of care and humour she puts into her work, and it becomes even more impressive. At times during her set I’d get derailed by a particularly brilliant line, like “He’s old enough to be her mother” and have to force myself to quit pondering it and rejoin the poem already in progress. The first poet of the evening, Bill Stobbs from Wisconsin, went over really well too. It’s a shame he sold out of books (he only had four copies on hand) so quickly.

From the Railway I went straight to La Casa Del Artista on Main Street for Stitching and Unstitching, a monthly jazz/improv event that Jeff Younger helps to put on. I don’t think I’ve mentioned Jeff Younger here before, which is a damn shame. He’s a sick guitarist with a twisted mind. Jeezly talented. You’re never quite sure what’s burbling beneath his gleaming pate, but you know it’ll inevitably express itself in some really cool musical way. He’s also a top man, and fighting the good fight in this here town. Last Tuesday’s Stitching and Unstitching featured Jeff doing his Devil Loops project and The Sukha Trio. Devil Loops saw Jeff, his guitar, and various digital confabulators and doohickeys work through a few different pieces that flowed really well, from mellow to skronktastic and back to mellow, building up layers (i.e. these newfangled “loops” alluded to in the project's name) with delay and stripping them down again. Despite what Jeff said between songs, none of it sounded like Santana.

The Sukha Trio consisted of Jared Burrows (guitar), Stan Taylor (drums) and Colin MacDonald (saxophone) and Daniel Hella (flute), Hella also threw in occasional toy accordion, bells, vocals, a noisemaker thing that looked like a Big Gulp cup with a wire hanging out of it. They set themselves up two-by-two on the floor in front of the stage, facing each other across the floor with a video projector between them. The projections showed blurred/abstracted footage of birds and planes, kids playing in water, and pots boiling. I’m a sucker for live music and visuals (slides or video), and The Sukha Trio’s presentation worked out nicely. Sometimes the video segments would finish before the music did, but with their loose-seeming arrangements I can’t say they were really intending to time everything to the exact second. My only real quibble would be they went a little long (I was tired, I admit, full of poetry and beer), but I’d definitely like to see them again, especially if they work up a new set. I feel pretty lucky that La Casa is right down the street from me. I’ve seen some cool things there recently, including a triple bill of punk rock (including moviecore monsters Graf Orlock) where I was undoubtedly the oldest dude in the room.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Woods of Ypres—Woods III: Deepest Roots and Darkest Blues (Krankenhaus)
Inspiring, uplifting and positive aren’t the usual adjectives you’d associate with a ragingly superb black metal album. So let’s say the third Woods of Ypres release is also dark, fierce, and uncompromising. The Toronto trio have reworked black metal conventions—especially in terms of lyrical subject matter—to create a style that’s very individual and not a little brave given its plain-spoken openness and shunning of anti-Christian, pro-pagan themes. Musically, despite guitarist/vocalist/drummer David Gold’s self-declared status as a “black metal being,” I wouldn’t even say this is pure BM. WoY instead offer a hybrid of black and doom and the dark melodic Scandinavian sound of Amorphis and Katatonia, over which Gold alternates clear/harsh vocals as the music shifts pace and mood. It’s a bruising combination—don’t expect watered-down ear candy for goth kids—that allows for healthy variety in songwriting approaches and a satisfying flow of material across this lengthy album. Gold’s view of the world is a mite vengeful and intrinsically Canadian (more on that later), yet he exists in a moral universe where hard work and self-belief are rewarded, and the weak-willed are cast aside. He’s got a lot get off his chest—the four years since their last album, the similarly lengthy Pursuit of the Sun and Allure of the Earth, must have seen some mighty struggles—and delivers years worth of spite in his copious lyrics. When he roars “Suffer!” on the crushing “Iron Grudge” it’s not directed at the Lord or his followers; he’s castigating some weak soul who obviously screwed the band over—perhaps an ex-bandmate who showed up late for practice one day. I personally find that the most affecting tracks are the mid-paced ones. “December in Windsor,” for example, has a memorable tune and acoustic guitars that ring out in stirring fashion. Looming majestically over everything, however, is “Your Ontario Town is a Burial Ground,” a melodically infectious yet vicious potshot at small-town apathy that I’d like to declare our metal National Anthem for 2008. As for my “intrinsically Canadian” claim, the penultimate track “To Lock Eyes With a Wild Beast” explores our uneasy relationship with nature—as Canadians, we’re surrounded by it, celebrate it, brag about it, but we ultimately fear it. We build suburbs ever higher up the mountains, then shoot the bears who wander down to sniff the household garbage. Gold’s Beast isn’t the one from the Revelations; it’s the one lurking just beyond the trees. As the song’s pathetic protagonist is chased down and eaten alive, Gold scolds, “You wanted nature? Nature wanted you as well.” I know I’ll have some pepper spray at the ready next time I go for a hike. Woods of Ypres continue to provide a powerfully original and articulate voice in a genre where so much clamour and misdirected menace often amounts to nothing. Woods III is a triumphant conclusion to their first trilogy of releases.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Here's a lazy ol' YouTube post to ease back into this. Black Mountain did the business on Conan's show the other night...

Before the sweater and the beard, Steve McBean used to play in Victoria's Mission of Christ, a great metal band who mixed DRI, Slayer, and Celtic Frost into a caustic melange of deathly goodness. I regret I never got to see them; I didn't have any thrash metal buddies in the late '80s.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Check out this thread on Italian prog at Metafilter. You know you want to. The beards, the bombast—fantastico! If the Banco link doesn't frighten you, nothing will.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I spotted this at the entrance to the Hard Rock Cafe in Niagara Falls. Alas, I didn't heed Keith, Greg and Carl's call—we checked out the Casino slots instead and lost it all. A Lucky Man I wasn't.

Some bad pictures taken from inside a moving vehicle.

Niagara Falls is extremely classy, with many amenities for the discerning gentleman.

One of the last vestiges of the Guccione empire? Needless to say, next time I'll stop in for a Caligula Calzone or maybe a Corinne Alphenburger.

I don't even want to imagine the kind of sick stuff that goes on in here.