About Me

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I'm Chris. I'm 22 years old and I'm into a large variety of music, from Metal in its many forms (mostly the extreme ones) to Goth and Postpunk, Reggae, Jazz, Prog, Techno, Ambient and Film Scores. This is where I rave about albums I really like, and other stuff.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

"Big" Steeve Hurdle 1971-2012

Former Gorguts, Negativa and Purulence guitarist Steeve Hurdle has apparently died aged 41 following "post surgical complications". The former Purulence guitarist joined Gorguts in 1993 and contributed to the infamous "Obscura" album in 1998. Following this he formed the band Negativa with Gorguts mainman Luc Lemay and released just one EP before Lemay began focusing on the Gorguts reunion. His style of guitar playing was unique and inventive, total schizo riffing making significant use of atonal sounds and bending of pinch harmonics. "Obscura" took the principle of death metal, and turned it on its head before shoving it through a blender. The musical equivalent of a free jazz band throwing their instruments down a flight of stairs, or the death metal version of Captain Beefheart. All of these are apt descriptions for this intense, beautifully repulsive cacophany too often dismissed as "noise" by a lot of death metal fans for not being just another recycling of the same old boring power chords and degenerate lyrical concepts. Funny when you consider that the whole point of death metal and extreme metal in general is its limitless potential and the ability to push boundaries. Still, fuck em, "Obscura" OWNS and this is a serious loss of a great musician. RIP.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Death - Human

Album review: Death - Human (Roadrunner Records, 1991)
Tech/prog death metal

Ask any metalhead what their favourite DEATH album is and the answer will always vary. This legendary band who, along with the likes of Possessed and early Sepultura, were responsible for the birth of extreme metal during the 1980s.  Over a career that lasted nearly 20 years (from the formation of Mantas in 1983), Death was a band that progressed musically with every album, refusing to rest on their laurels and produce the same record twice, thanks in part to frontman Chuck Schuldiner's constant revolving door of lineups that took in some stellar musicians over its existence.  Through the primitive and thrashy "Scream Bloody Gore" to something approaching a more technical take on classic Heavy Metal on their final album before Schuldiner's untimely death in 2001 of brain stem cancer, the discography of Death is an enduring statement to evolution and the dismantling of boundaries within extreme music.

"Human" is the band's finest achievement in my opinion, a crushing slab of cerebral death metal boasting astonishing instrumental and songwriting prowess, and thought provoking, introspective lyrics. "Individual Thought Patterns" is constantly vying with this one for the top spot in my mind, though this is the one I have chosen to write this review on. This is the first album, I feel, where Chuck had surrounded himself with musicians capable of matching him and making his vision possible. I won't give in to the Dimebag-esque fellating he (like all deceased "metal legends") has been subject to since his unfortunate death, but the guy was a genius and that much is certain. By this time, Death had already made significant advancements with the transitional album "Spiritual Healing" of the previous year, the zombie holocaust lyrics of the first two records replaced with a more thoughtful social and religious commentary, and a marked advancement in composition and structure (which was of course largely rejected at first, by the backwards purists of the day). Floridian metal legend James Murphy joined Schuldiner on lead guitar for that album, the first time he would work with someone who's skill was a good match for his own. On "Human", the lineup is completely changed again with the welcome addition of half of the band Cynic (who at the time were still unsigned and yet to release their first album), namely guitarist Paul Masvidal and drummer Sean Reinert, and bass virtuoso Steve DiGiorgio borrowed from Sadus and who had also done session work with Autopsy.

This lineup wastes no time in going straight for the neck with some absolutely massive riffs and drumming. Reinert's propulsive double bass pedaling and inventive fills provide the groundwork for Schuldiner and Masvidal's excellent riffing and soloing, Masvidal's flowing, jazz inspired leads providing a great contrast to Schuldiner's own playing. Bassist DiGiorgio has been the cause of a little controversy on this album, being criminally mixed out and rendered mostly inaudible, although there are some parts when he can be heard if you pay attention (more on this later). Scott Burns gives another one of his signature production jobs, perhaps a little boxy sounding on the original release but with atmosphere of its own and fitting to the music. The lyrics (along with "Thought Patterns") are some of the greatest I've ever read on a death metal album, offering introspection at a time where a lot of bands were still clinging to outdated B-movie cliches (as fun as those can be, admittedly). To finish, I can only say that this album is a must for any metal fan or any music fan in general, to be honest. Get it and hear for yourself.

A note on the 2011 remix/remaster: For the 20th anniversary of "Human" Relapse Records released a remixed, and remastered edition available as a two or three disc edition with loads of bonus material including demo and live tracks, and (on the three disc edition) a veritable goldmine for fans in the form of scratch tracks with just drums and bass. The album itself was remixed and remastered and in a totally unprecedented move, not completely ruined by over-compression and loudness like pretty much every new release or remaster of recent years. What is equally impressive is that the bass tracks were raised to a more acceptable volume, still not as audible as some would like (as in "Individual Thought Patterns" audible) but on the whole DiGiorgio's playing is clearer and the scratch tracks of course allow all the details to be heard. The rest of the album, particularly the drums, has a noticeably wider stereo image and less muddy sound than the original release, the vocals are also clearer and the reverb on the solos is more noticeable. I think this newer edition is absolutely worth  purchasing and I was genuinely impressed at how much effort seemed to have gone into it compared to so many other similar things these days. It ensures that this influential and groundbreaking record will live on.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Sisters of Mercy - Some Girls...

Album review: The Sisters of Mercy - Some Girls Wander By Mistake (1992, Merciful Release)
Goth/ post-punk

Surely this has to be an essential score for anybody with an interest in this style of music, perhaps yes, however given how different it is to the likes of "First and Last and Always" or "Floodland" I would be tempted to label it "for hardcore fans only" despite the fact this was the first album of theirs I actually bought and listened to. This is for those of us who like our Sisters with a bit of old skool grit on the side, very punky material and not exactly "Goth" as you may know it from the overblown pomposity of "Floodland".

"Some Girls..." presents a history of TSOM in their formative, indie label years between 1980 and 1983. The very first single is included, alongside the very second and arguably first "proper" single. The original 12" version of "Temple of Love", the first thing that got them any real attention, is present alongside the entirety of "The Reptile House EP" (a defining statement of the original goth rock movement). "Alice", another well known (and hideously overplayed by now) early track is present with its four B-sides including a riotous cover of "1969" by The Stooges. Also featured is a brilliant cover of The Stones' "Gimme Shelter", not the only time this band would knock out a cover that well and truly demolishes the original, in this writer's opinion (one word: "Emma"). However the defining feature of this album is the inclusion of "The Reptile House", an EP which contrasts starkly with a lot of the other amphetamine fueled songs on the disc, offering six doomy atmospheric tracks which make it unique among this era of the band.

As a compilation this works excellently, despite not being chronological. The tinny production and equally tinny drum machine beats give the songs an added edge which the more polished production of the later albums is missing. I have some of the original 12" vinyl of these tracks, and you could argue that is the better format to have them in, but to have them all on one disc (alongside Eldritch's endlessly readable sleeve notes) makes it essential not to mention the absurd prices original copies of "Body Electric" and "The Damage Done" are going for currently.

Pestilence - Testimony of the Ancients

Album review: Pestilence - Testimony of the Ancients (Roadrunner Records, 1991)
Progressive/ technical death metal

One of the debates most commonly brought up when discussing death metal relates to that of Holland's PESTILENCE. Which is better, "Consuming Impulse" and the debut or the albums after (this and "Spheres")? Who is the better vocalist, Van Drunen or Mameli? Opinions seem pretty divided on the matter, with rarely any opting for the middle ground of "I like both". I think "Consuming Impulse" is a great slice of old school death metal and a classic everyone should hear, but I also think with "Testimony..." this band really showed what they were capable of, with more experimental song structures and a slight injection of Jazz Fusion influence as was happening with a lot of this music at the turn of the 90s...mostly thanks to Death and their groundbreaking album "Human", this and other albums that began pushing the envelope at the time.

The most significant difference here is that vocalist and bassist (who never actually played any bass lines on "Consuming"...) Martin Van Drunen is departed, replaced on vocals by lead guitarist Patrick Mameli and the legendary Tony Choy on bass (borrowed from Cynic and who would later play in Atheist). When I first heard this album at a younger and more intolerant age, I hated it mainly because the vocals were "weaker". Let's face it, Van Drunen's vocals on "Consuming..." is one of the nastiest, most caustic performances captured on a death metal album and would be hard to follow up for anybody, yet upon reflection Mameli provides a perfectly good substitute, less extreme but more suiting to the music here...which is also slightly less extreme, but more dynamic and introspective as opposed to the sheer blunt force trauma of a track like "Out of the Body" from "Consuming...". The production quality is smoother and substantially cleaner on this album, which gives it more room to breathe and explore atmospheres. The bass is nice and audible and provides occasional counterpoint to the guitars although the main feature is Choy's undeniable skill at the instrument, effortlessly matching the technical and thrashy riffs.

The structure of the record itself is also different, with 16 tracks of which half are interludes of various kinds used to break up the main songs, such as the weird heartbeat/insect noise of "Blood" and the Choy bass solo in "Soulless". The main highlight of this album for me has to be "Land of Tears", where a fast technical riff gives way to a breakdown using chords that seem uncommon for death metal, leading into a brilliant solo almost reminiscent of Iron Maiden before falling back into the thrashy main riff again. In fact a lot of this album comes across as almost like technical thrash (akin to early Cynic) as opposed to death metal, the guitars aren't down-tuned like on the previous album and they are a lot more melodic. Any flak aimed at the band over this or "Spheres" is completely unjust in my opinion, this is a prime example of great musicians experimenting with a formula that was already beginning to run a little bit dry, and is one of the great progressive metal albums of its time.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Peter Gabriel - Secret World Live

Album review: Peter Gabriel - Secret World Live (Real World, 1994)
Pop/rock, World

A good live album should always make you wish you'd been there to see the concert. Secret World Live is one of those for me, a vast 2 disc recording capturing PG and co. live in Italy in late 1993 during the Secret World tour to promote "Us", his most recent studio album at the time. Gabriel has always known how to put on an elaborate and atmospheric show, with this being perhaps his most adventurous stage set ever, which can be properly appreciated by seeing the accompanying (and brilliantly shot) concert film. Although the CD version may not offer the complete experience, it does differ from the video slightly in track listing ("Red Rain" on the CD and "San Jacinto" on the video, though apparently the upcoming remastered DVD/Bluray release will change this) and I think the sound is different in some parts (mix/editing). The track list itself takes liberally from "So" and "Us", and all the hits from those two albums are present including a massive 11 minute version of "In Your Eyes" closing the album. Indeed the set list does play out like something of a greatest hits, with only "Solsbury Hill" representing the earliest stage of his career (on the CD), and even that is basically a hit single. A surprise inclusion however is "Across the River", originally a more obscure B-side to a 1982 single, perhaps the most intense of the album's early tracks and featuring some amazing vocal improvisation from Gabriel and Shankar's violin playing. Other inclusions such as "Slow Marimbas" or "Shaking the Tree" (which admittedly does drag somewhat in the middle, audience interaction is a bit less interesting when you can only hear it) may not have been as obvious, but welcome nonetheless. Most of the songs from "Us" are performed, and seeing as how "Us" is perhaps my favourite album of all time it isn't a surprise this is my favourite of his live albums/videos (if only "Plays Live" had been filmed...). I do wonder why the songs "Love to Be Loved" and "Only Us", aren't included, or "Lovetown" but from what I know those songs were rarely ever played anyway which is a bit of a shame, I think.

The lineup for this show features perhaps the best band he ever worked with. Guitarist David Rhodes and bass master Tony Levin are present as always, alongside stellar percussionist Manu Katché (his drumming on this album must be heard to be believed), Jean-Claude Naimro on keyboards, Shankar on (double necked, electric) violin, vocalist Paula Cole (who's strident and powerful voice enhances many of the tracks, most notably "Don't Give Up") and the man himself performing keyboards and harmonica (on one track) in addition to lead vocals. The sound of the album itself is fantastic, definitely very polished and "arena rock" sounding although the textures and atmosphere, along with the brilliant performances more than compensate for this in my opinion. Gabriel is a notorious perfectionist so there is no doubt that some extensive post-production must have been done. Does that really make SWL a truly "live" album? I don't know but that is fairly standard practice for live albums, and the end result doesn't bother me at all seeing as how I wasn't there to see what was overdubbed or edited.

Though it might make more sense on film, the album of "Secret World" is an essential for any Gabriel fan and anyone who just wants to hear an energetic and powerful performance.

Deicide - S/T

Album review: Deicide - Deicide (Roadrunner Records, 1990)
Death Metal

Whether or not you agree with my statement that this now laughably predictable US death metal act should have hung up their guitars at least 15 years ago, if not earlier, the fact remains that their first two albums are absolute classics that anyone who claims to be into death metal is arguably not into death metal if they don't own copies. I personally prefer "Legion" but this album is such a cornerstone of the early 90s death metal movement that it can't be ignored.There is a raw, savage energy that emanates from this recording which is irresistible and taken in context can be considered somewhat groundbreaking for its time despite the fact it sounds a bit dated nowadays, but then again who even cares, old school DM albums always have way better production than most of the sterile nonsense that comes out now. Compared to a lot of other metal albums released in 1990 this is surely one of the most brutal.

You know what I think? Glen Benton is an underrated comedy genius. That is, assuming the idea to use pitch and harmonizing effects on his vocals creating the death metal equivalent of watching Evil Dead 2, was his. They are arguably quite tacky but, just like that film, humorous and add a nice silly horror film feel to the music whenever used, which you might hate or like me find it adds to the whole thing. His unprocessed vocals are a venomous bark and scream quite different from the monotonous drawl of later Deicide albums, and of course the infamous double tracked growl/scream is present. Bass? Practically non existent, no matter because Eric and Brian Hoffman have GOT. RIFFS. Lots of very good riffs. Thrashy in the old skool death metal style, and sinister. Steve Asheim is one of the genres most renowned drummers giving a driving and punishing performance which lends a great deal to the album's energy. Glen Benton's lyrics run the usual gamut of SATAN ad nauseum, highlighted with a little Manson and Jim Jones for good measure. When the music is as good as this, the nonsense satanic lyrics matter little and in fact I find some of them pretty well written (the Manson song is, anyway). It is amusing to think that in its day music like this was taken as a genuine threat to society by idiots and evangelicals everywhere, and given a lot of hype and attention by the media.

The production is quite heavy, although somewhat "inferior" sounding to the previous "Sacrificial" demo which featured most of this album's tracks recorded a little more clearly and without the vocal effects, however the added rawness helps I think and the guitar tone is just great. The overall effect is clearly meant to be that of a sledghehammer to the face and it succeeds at that.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Opeth - My Arms, Your Hearse

Album review: Opeth - My Arms, Your Hearse (Candlelight, 1998)
Prog/ metal


This is probably my personal favourite Opeth album, so reviewing it seems appropriate. From the cover art to the sound itself, MA, YH is positively swamped in thick, murky atmosphere. It also marks a significant change for the band, abandoning the vast compositions, almost black metal tonalities and dual lead melodies of "Orchid" and "Morningrise" for shorter, more focused songs with an emphasis on RIFFS and lots of them. It is a transitional album between that older style and the one which would become fully fledged on the following "Still Life", a sound which would carry them for their next several albums. Because of this MA, YH is somewhat unique among the Opeth discography. It is also (like "Still Life") a concept album, featuring something I've never seen done elsewhere where the last word of the current song is the title of the next, making following the lyrics like reading the concept as a story which is a nice touch. I forget exactly what the concept is at the moment, no matter. 

Aside from the overall sound being noticeably different, Mikael Akerfeldt's vocals have changed drastically since the last album, becoming much deeper and less raspy which I think suits this album better. His clean singing on this album is also perhaps my favourite performance of his, with a chanting multi-tracked style not repeated on any other Opeth album. The fact that he supposedly had a cold during the recording doesn't seem to make a difference as his performance is just brilliant especially during the all-clean "Credence". The trademark Opeth acoustics are present, along with some great clean electrics (see the cascade of phase shifted guitars that opens "When") and some really memorable riffs. Martin Lopez makes his first appearance on drums which contributes massively to the different feel present here with a much more metal feel to the drumming instead of Anders Nordin's more Mediterranean inspired beats. I feel like Opeth hasn't made an album this good since this one, although I do really enjoy parts of Still Life and Damnation/ Deliverance I think everything comes together on this one in a way they would not repeat.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Peter Gabriel - Birdy

Album review: Peter Gabriel - Music from the film "Birdy" (Virgin/ Charisma, 1985)
Ambient/ film score

Film scores can be a tricky thing to discuss, especially if the film in question (Alan Parker's "Birdy", starring Nicolas Cage and Matthew Modine) is one you haven't actually seen yet. Enter Peter Gabriel, who crafts such an incredibly visual soundtrack that actually watching the movie isn't as important, as he creates scores that function as proper albums in their own right. This was his first, and predecessor to the acclaimed "Passion" soundtrack for Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ", which I'm sure I'll be going on about at length some time in the future. However, just because the "Birdy" album is less renowned means nothing, this album functions on the same high level of AMAZING as its successor, presenting a moody and subtle soundscape that is perfect for drowning one's head in true ambient fashion. This was also the first time Gabriel worked with producer Daniel Lanois (U2, Eno and others), who brought his own ideas to the table regarding texture and ambience, and who would later go on to produce Gabriel's breakthrough "So" album the following year.

The unique feature of this album is that about half of it consists of "recycled material" as displayed on the cover. The material in question is taken from Gabriel's previous two self titled albums (better known as "Melt" and "Security"), including such tracks as "Not One of Us", "San Jacinto" and "The Rhythm of the Heat". Don't let this discourage you however as this is no cut and paste job, the chosen songs deconstructed and reworked to astonishing effect as instrumentals, blending in perfectly with the new pieces. Speaking of those, they are well worth hearing too. "Floating Dogs" is one of my own favourite Gabriel compositions and "Sketch Pad with Trumpet and Voice" is VERY "Passion"-esque featuring his wordless vocal incantations and the muted trumpet playing of Jon Hassel. I don't like to go on and on about individual tracks so much when discussing records so the rest is down to the listener to discover. Whether you've seen the film or not this is an essential album for those interested in (mostly) dark and (always) moody soundscapes.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Cynic - Focus

Album review: Cynic - Focus (Roadrunner Records, 1993)
Progressive tech-metal

Let's be honest. This is NOT death metal. If you listen to this album and expect to hear death metal, you will be disappointed. The technicality associated with death metal (particularly early 90s "progressive" death) is there, as are certain elements also associated with death metal such as the distorted guitars and the fact that half the vocals are harsh...but it is not death metal (although to be fair "Uroboric Forms" does come pretty close in parts). Now that is out of the way, Focus can be discussed and taken for what it is - a powerful, impressive blend of progressive, metal, psychedelia and jazz fusion influences. Stylistically you could accuse it of being a bit of a mess - you might not be far off but I think the daring nature of Focus is what makes it work the most.

The musicianship is absolutely top notch. Paul Masvidal (known to many as the other guitarist on Death's seminal "Human") and Jason Gobel's guitar playing is flawless, both rhythm and solos (they are also using guitar synths here), with an abundance of heavy melodic riffs and brilliant clean parts all performed with absolute precision, the start of the song "Textures" in particular reminds me a lot of "Discipline" era King Crimson - too cool. Sean Malone performs fretless bass and Chapman Stick (on a fucking metal album!!! perhaps the first to do this) - contributing some real adventurous and interesting bass lines, with a great tone that is nice and audible in the mix just as it should be...he has to be one of the greatest bass players I've heard. Sean Reinert (who also played on "Human") is simply an awesome drummer - he does use plenty of double kick when the intensity needs to be turned up but on the whole his performance is quite subtle and fascinating with occasional use of synth drums. Paul Masvidal performs the unusual vocoder singing and Tony Teegarden provides the harsh growls with a Schuldiner-esque touch not too uncommon for the time, and there are some female vocals scattered across the album. Scott Burn's production is certainly of its time but everything is there and it isn't too muddy. I can't fault it really.

This album is a real grower, but it doesn't surprise me a lot of typical death metal listeners don't get it. Because it isn't really death metal, rather a landmark achievement in modern progressive music and IMO with "Traced In Air" even they didn't really top this.

Gorguts - From Wisdom to Hate

Album review: Gorguts - From Wisdom to Hate (Olympic Recordings, 2001)
Technical/ experimental Death Metal

Gorgut’s fourth and (until their recent reunion) final album, 2001’s “From Wisdom to Hate”, is one that I have long meant to acquire and hear in full for some time now, only managing this very recently. The album seems to be the black sheep of the Gorguts discography, being quite unfairly underrated by some in my view. Boasting some crushing production values, and with songwriting resembling something like a compromise between the overt headfuck of 98’s “Obscura” and their classic first pair of albums, FWTH is not a piece that should be ignored by any Gorguts fiend. It is of course not hard to compare this to “Obscura” (one of the most polarizing releases in all of Death Metal) and perhaps find it lacklustre by comparison. Whereas its predecessor presented an all out demented assault on the senses, the sonic barrage of From Wisdom... is arguably more refined and focused here to its own advantage, the album is a lot more “accessible” (an entirely relative term here, of course) in comparison but there are no shortage of wierd and interesting riffs to satisfy the “Obscura” freaks. Indeed, the opening riff of first track “Inverted” has to be one of the most bizarre riffs I’ve ever heard, utilizing the “pick scrape” technique to jarring effect alongside a pounding blastbeat (that snare sound...!!!). There are also a lot more mid paced grooves and very doom-like passages, notably in the title track and “The Quest for Equilibrium”.

Musicianship wise, Luc Lemay is as brilliant as ever, this time supported by Daniel Mongrain of fellow Canadian tech-metallers Martyr. Although he is no Steeve Hurdle he is a more than adequate replacement although I’m not always sure which one of them is playing which riff or lead so it is a little hard to tell. Steve Cloutier’s bass is mixed somewhat low compared to the previous album, a sinister rumbling underneath the guitars occasionally punctuated by more audible passages and chords. Steve McDonald provides an impressive and varied drum performance, were it not for his unfortunate suicide sometime after the release of the album (the cause of the first breakup of the band) I wonder how many other albums Gorguts might have created in the 10+ years between this and their long awaited follow up, coming “sometime this year”. This album was recently reissued on CD in 2010 and vinyl in 2011 by killer Canadian label War On Music (who have also re-released “Obscura” and the first two essential Cryptopsy albums and demo on vinyl), thankfully as it had become a little hard to get hold of (a CD reissue of the even harder to find “Obscura” is yet to see the light, but is coming apparently) so now there is little excuse not to own this prime slice of inventive Death Metal from the masters. I am eagerly awaiting the follow up (featuring an all new lineup) and hopefully it will be the devastating masterpiece that it promises to be.