Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Nicklas Barker – El Último Fin De Semana

Reviewing a soundtrack is tricky because the music is meant to be part of a greater whole; not necessarily an experience unto itself. Without having seen the movie for which this music was made, I can’t comment on how it serves the visuals and storyline, which is the true criterion for a soundtrack’s success. However, as a prog head and fan of Anekdoten, Nicklas Barker’s primary band, I declare this music to be quite fantastic on its own.

It’s mostly hushed, eerie stuff. Given titles like “Night Ambience,” “Entering the Lost Village,” and “Confrontation/Doom,” I’d guess El Último… is a pretty creepy film. Barker—a guitarist in his main gig—piles on Mellotron, Hammond, and Theremin to create these ethereal snippets. An atmosphere of melancholy pervades everything; occupying a realm between Air and Morte Macabre (the beloved Anekdoten/Landberk collaborative one-off). Fans of vintage keyboard sounds will be in their element.

“Celestial Ghost” is the longest, most “rock” track on here. Once the drums and bass kick in beneath its hypnotic organ line, it’s clear that it’s descended from the Anekdoten family. “Chase/Purgatory” is structured like its title, starting with a driving rhythm just like one of Anekdoten’s peppier songs, then giving way to massed Mellotron choirs and buzzing synthesizers. Only the comparatively jaunty bossanova of “Beach Girls” pokes through the gloom—some light relief at the end of a series of little nightmares.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Primordial — Redemption at the Puritan's Hand (Metal Blade)

This is another masterpiece from Irish black/pagan stalwarts Primordial. You could argue that Opeth or Enslaved can stand alongside them in terms of consistency, although recent albums by both bands have plenty of detractors. I’ve never read anyone accusing Primordial of dropping a discographical turd. For me, Primordial’s main “problem” is their consistency—I don’t know if they have that one “Hall of Fame” album for the ages. Hence, I listen to each new album a lot then file it away till the next one (I’d hate to part with any of them, though). Maybe Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand will be the one. I have been playing it a lot lately. I’ve tried to get sick of it, but it refuses to get old for me.

When I get a new Primordial release, I worry that all the songs will fall into the same rhythmic rut. The rolling 6/8 feel is Primordial’s thing and I feel they’re a little too comfortable with it. I was happy to hear that they break out of it a couple times on Redemption… on “God’s Old Snake” and “The Puritan’s Hand.” “Lain With the Wolf” also stands out for its unique rhythm, a propulsive, ultra-fast triplet feel that I don’t think I’ve ever heard in a metal song before. It sounds like it was a difficult song to record. The drums are right on the edge, but they always come back to hit hard on the “one” with the help of the locked-in bass line. The song generates huge momentum, and by the time it charges into the final frenetic 90 seconds you’re feeling as exhausted as the band must have been laying it down.

Singer (as opposed to vocalist, note) A.A. Nemtheanga is as articulate and passionate as ever here. He made last year’s Blood Revolt album a genuinely moving experience, and his work on Redemption… proves he can still go for the throat and the heart. “Bloodied Yet Unbowed” is the kind of song you want played at your funeral; a grim hymn to defiance and an instant classic that I’m sure Primordial will be playing live for the rest of their career. You can’t write a line like “Raise a glass, raise hell” without expecting people to respond in kind!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Obscura, Septicflesh, and The Devin Townsend Project, June 28 at the Commodore

2011 marks my 25th year of going to the Commodore. My first show at this grande dame of local venues was Marillion on the Misplaced Childhood tour. It’s still a great hall, but with most metal shows happening at the less ritzy Rickshaw Theatre these days, my trips to the Commodore have become increasingly rare.

Going to a show solely to see the opening acts can be risky. I’ve been burned in the past with tour lineups getting reshuffled or smaller bands getting turned back at the border, leaving me holding a ticket for a different gig than I’d hoped to see. This gig, however, went off as planned. Seeing as the three bands opening for Children of Bodom constituted a sort of mini Progressive Nation tour, I couldn’t miss out.

A decent crowd of keeners arrived early to catch Obscura, who were the main draw for me. I’ve been digging their last two albums and their Necrophagist/Cynic/Death-style shred death. Opening with “Septuagint,” they put on a slick half-hour show. My favourite section of “Vortex Ominium” got spoiled by some guy who wanted to take my picture because I reminded him of some dude he knew. This has been happening to me a lot when I'm out by myself lately. Guess I just have one of those faces.

My friend Chris claims the seven-string guitar is “an asshole’s instrument,” but in Obscura’s skilled hands they are weapons for tech-death domination. Dedicating “Ocean Gateways” to all the real Morbid Angel fans (fans of the pre-Illud Divinum Insanus Morbid Angel, I presumed) was a nice touch, seeing as that track is pure “Where the Slime Live” worship. Like I said, this was a polished performance. I was especially impressed with how Steffen Kummerer fit most of his stage raps into the songs themselves. There was even an extended jam section at the end of the set. Of the three openers, Obscura came across as the most solid, traditional metal band. I’m a bigger fan than ever now.

I was a Septicflesh (or Septic Flesh) fan around the time of Esoptron and The Ophidian Wheel, but only caught up with their recent work with their latest, The Great Mass. Their stage setup was more elaborate than Obscura’s, with twin backdrops and some kind of alien dragonfly bauble on Spiros Antoniou’s mike stand. Their set was rousing, all right, but it didn’t quite do it for me. While the new album skilfully balances classical orchestrations and metal, in concert this translated to very prominent backing tracks to recreate the sound. As a result, Septicflesh came across as more of an act than a band. Antoniou is a bassist in the Tom Araya mold, playing the most basic parts only occasionally. (He still needed to retune after the second song!) The crowd loved them, but I got tired by the sixth exhortation to go “Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!” as the backing track churned away.

Wow, what a transformation Devin Townsend’s undergone. His Strapping Young Lad persona could be summed up in the “buy a t-shirt and eat a dick!” sort of remarks he’d fire off at the crowd. The crotchety, skulleted DT has been replaced by a gleaming superbeing who wants only to spread joy through his music. He mugged and gurned up a storm for an adoring crowd, introducing the band as the evening’s “nerd contingent” and ordering the tough guys in the pit to “get happy, man!” I don’t have the money or free time to keep up with DT’s output—Ocean Machine, Terria, and Synchestra are enough for me to ponder for a lifetime—so the setlist was a mystery. I think he opened with something from Ziltoid. After tuning down to B mid-set, the sound turned into a horrible pudding and I couldn’t discern what was happening at all. I blame extreme downtuning as much as the iPhone for impeding my enjoyment of live music. You can still make cool music in standard tuning, you know. But whatever my preferences, it was still a triumphant display. As the crowd hailed him as the hometown hero he is, he promised he’d be back this fall.

Having seen what I paid for, I headed out before Children of Bodom. Three pro bands and a good night’s sleep for 40 bucks—not a bad deal at all.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Happy Canada Day

It's been a cool, cloudy summer here, so it's been hard to get into the seasonal swing of things. Jazz Fest is on—I actually got a sunburn watching The Unsupervised in Gastown last Sunday—and it's now Canada Day. It's summer all right, but we're not really feeling it.

I've just been hanging out at home all morning spinning records and killing time before I head downtown this afternoon. I started the day with what I consider Canada's rock National Anthem:

and have now moved on—via many songs/albums too nasty to mention here—to Neil Young's Tonight's the Night. is running their traditional Canada Day special. This year we were asked to pick a favourite Canadian metal song, or metal song about Canada. Pretty much everybody went with the former, and as always the crew made some excellent, original choices. I found this a tough assignment. I originally did 200 words on Sacred Blade's "Of the Sun + Moon" (the title track of the album I reviewed here) before changing my mind and picking a song a little outside the metal box. I had to go with my heart on this one. Check out the feature and feel the hoser love.