Aug 272014

(Andy Synn wrote this piece. Your comments are welcome, as always.)

Isn’t it funny how when bands sell-out, they also seem to feel the need to denigrate and insult their former fans at the same time? It’s a woefully common phenomenon – a band changes its sound in order to target mainstream success, and then goes to great lengths in interviews to talk about how they’ve “gone beyond” metal, or “grown out of it”, simultaneously insulting the genre wholesale whilst confirming all the worst clichés about it being “childish” or “immature”.

The latest offender to play this game of PR politicking is All That Remains frontman Phil Labonte, who posted the following recently, after announcing that all the tracking for their new album had been completed:

So in the past six months bleeding through called it quits, god forbid called it quits, and just today shadows fall has announced that for all intents and purposes they’re calling it quits. I’m so glad ATR have transcended “metal” and have become “musicians.”

And it inspired me to address the topic, and maybe call Phil out on his bullshit a little.

Aug 262014

A detail from “Green” by Philadelphia artist Taisya Kuzmenko

I preface this article, which asks some questions, by telling you that I’m looking for honest answers. I think most of our regular readers are good-hearted people who actually care about this site and therefore may be prone to say things that will make us feel good. Don’t do that. Tell us the truth. If the truth isn’t what we want to hear, don’t worry. I can tell you with near certainty that it won’t change what we do, and we’re thick-skinned enough that it won’t hurt much. The questions are more a matter of curiosity than a gathering of information that would lead to a change in what we do here.

*****

We’re long-winded. Compared to most metal sites our posts tend to go on… and on… and on. Though Andy Synn occasionally brings us reviews in haikus, most of our reviews are long (DGR recently wrote a 600-word piece about one song). Most of the other features are long, too.

For example, I write almost all of the “round-up” posts, which focus on news and new music, and I have a habit of cramming those with a lot of items and a lot of words. Same goes for the MISCELLANY posts (when I get to them) and other regular or semi-regular features I put together here. I could break them up into a string of smaller features and sprinkle them through the day, or many days, as some other sites do. I’m not even sure why I don’t.

Same goes for the song and album premieres — we tend to describe our thoughts and feelings about the music before we come to the music streams. Many other sites don’t do that. They include a few sentences of introduction and then BOOM — there’s the music player.

The posts today that are going to follow this one are typical of what you’ll find here — the jumbo round-up of news and new music that will follow this post, Andy Synn’s 50th edition of The Synn Report (in which he reviews an entire seven-album discography), and Gemma Alexander’s thoughts on Day 2 of Iceland’s recent Eistnaflug festival. None of them will be short and sweet.

So, here’s the serious question:

Aug 152014

 

(Time to get some discussion going.  Tell us about bands you used to adore but hd to break up with. Andy Synn starts things off with a break-up story of his own.)

Now, to assuage your fears, I’m not leaving either Beyond Grace or Twilight’s Embrace. Like a persistent rash that you can’t quite explain… I’m sticking with both bands for a long time.

No, this is about what happens when a band you love, a band you’ve followed and supported for years and years, decides to make a change and, in doing so, changes the way you feel about them.

What do you do?

The one thing you don’t do is fly completely off the handle, insult and troll the band online, and basically make yourself look like a jackass. Like any break-up, it’s better for everyone if you handle things with dignity.

Remember what happened when Peter Dolving rejoined The Haunted? The outcry that prompted was both utterly disproportionate and thoroughly amusing at the same time. I remember clearly one commenter threatening to “go and take all [the band’s] cds from the store and burn them”. Now not only would this be very much against the law, but what does it really solve?

Aug 062014

(Here’s another installment of Andy Synn’s irregular series devoted to his favorite things that come in fives. As always when he does these things, please feel free to share your own list in the Comments — in this case, your favorite bands you’ve never seen live.)

It’s been a while since I’ve written one of these random little columns. I bet you were beginning to think I’d forgotten about them, hadn’t you?

Well, my strange predilection for numerical lists of my favourite things has reared its ugly head again, and this time we’re dealing with the mournful issue of bands I’ve never (for a variety of reasons) managed to see live!

EXTOL

Let’s start with a big one, shall we? I love Extol. They are one, if not the biggest, of my favourite bands. Their dissolution back in 2007 seemingly put paid to my chance of ever seeing them live, but now they’re back with an amazing new album and are playing a few select live shows… well, let’s just say that there are few things I wouldn’t do for a chance to see and hear them perform!

Jul 312014

Eno (photo by Richard Burbridge)

 

Yesterday I read two articles that jarred a few thoughts loose in my head. One was a feature (here) by Sasha Frere-Jones in The New Yorker about the musician Brian Eno and one was a Q&A (here) between Kim Kelly and Bölzer’s guitarist/vocalist Okoi “KzR” Jones that appeared at Stereogum.

Eno is credited with coining the phrase “ambient music”. He first became visible through his membership in the band Roxy Music and his subsequent solo albums of pop and rock songs that made extensive use of synthesizers. He produced Devo’s debut album, produced and performed on three albums by Talking Heads, produced seven albums for U2, wrote music and performed on three David Bowie albums, collaborated with King Crimson’s Robert Fripp on multiple records, and worked as a producer and/or performer with many other musicians too numerous to mention. On top of that he is a visual artist, and he has continued experimenting in the creation of music to the present day.

When he spoke to Sascha Frere-Jones in 2013, Eno said:

“I think negative ambition is a big part of what motivates artists. It’s the thing you’re pushing against. When I was a kid, my negative ambition was that I didn’t want to get a job.”

Listening to Eno’s music and reading about the evolution of his life as an artist, you get the sense that his “negative ambition” extended beyond not wanting to get a conventional job. As Sasha-Jones wrote of his art, “Eno fights against received wisdom and habit”. Even in his work as a producer, “Eno often works with highly skilled musicians and then asks them to play against their own virtuosity”.

Jun 022014

(In this post NCS guest contributor Kevin P, who I had the pleasure of meeting in person for the first time at this year’s edition of Maryland Deathfest, provides his thoughts about the 12th installment of this amazing U.S. festival.)

This was my third MDF and the first one I planned on attending all four days.  In 2011 I went Friday through Sunday, and last year on Thursday only (yes, I flew out simply for Bolt Thrower).  As luck would have it, Triptykon cancelled three days before their scheduled performance on Thursday, which made me rethink my plans.

We have a brand new baby in our house (three months old) along with a ten-year-old, so the wife wasn’t what I would call “pleased” that I was going to be away for almost five days while she played the single parent game.  The only bands that really mattered  to me on Friday were Necros Christos, The Ruins of Beverast, and At the Gates (who I’d just seen twice on Barge to Hell in Dec 2012), so once Triptykon made Thursday utterly useless for me (yeah, Coffins are cool and all, but nothing that gets me all chubbed up at night), I decided to cut my trip to only Saturday and Sunday (ya know, help out around the house, make the wife happy, all that kinda shit).

Then, in their infinite wisdom (and possibly me gently nudging and requesting it on their Facebook page), the organizers decided to add a second Bölzer set on Friday night (in place of Aeturnus, who had visa issues at the airport).  Bölzer was originally scheduled to play Saturday night, opposite Dark Angel, which was my sole pain point for the whole festival.  I don’t live and die everything Dark Angel, but they are a legendary band I enjoy and have never seen.  But when the hell am I going to get a chance to see Bölzer again?  So once they added a second Bölzer set on Friday night (opposite At the Gates’ time slot), the wife said “go, why not at this point”.  So at 11:50pm Thursday night I rebooked my flight AGAIN to arrive on Friday early afternoon.

May 292014

I’ve been reliving my experience at Maryland Deathfest XII through these “travelogue” posts. Maybe “extending my experience” would be a better way to say it, because I really didn’t want it to end and still don’t. But I need to move back to what I usually do at the site (as soon as I remember what that is), and so this will be the final installment.

When I left off yesterday I was in the middle of giving a round of applause to the bands I saw at the Rams Head venue during the course of MDF who made the biggest impact on me. To be clear, I enjoyed the performances of every band I heard at MDF, but the ones I’ve mentioned in these posts were the highlights. I’ll wrap up my thoughts about the performances at Rams Head next, and then turn to the bands who were at Edison Lot.

Saturday night after Bölzer finished their set and I finished waiting in line at their merch table to throw money at them, I caught the last half of the set by Finland’s Hooded Menace, a band I like a lot. They were hooded and they were menacing, boulder-sized doom chords falling down like slow rain (if it were raining boulders) and bleak (but entrancing) guitar melodies rising up like graveyard mist.

May 282014

Diocletian at Rams Head Live — MDF XII

So far I’ve written about two of the venues at Maryland Deathfest XIIThe Edison Lot and Soundstage. Today I’ll cover two more and begin discussing more of the bands who provided, for me, the musical highlights of the four-day event.

My two Seattle friends and I arrived in Baltimore in the early evening of last Wednesday after a long cross-country flight to D.C. and then a numbing crawl through rush-hour traffic from there to Baltimore. It was a steady 20 miles per hour all the way, except for the times when it wasn’t moving at all and about 10 minutes when we accelerated all the way up to a blistering 40 mph.

We hooked up with my NCS comrade BadWolf at the hotel (he had driven all the way from Toledo), and since all of us were feeling hungry and sort of beat to shit, we had some food and drinks at the hotel after checking in and before making our way to the Ottobar for the pre-fest show on Wednesday night.

May 272014

photo by Kusha of Theories

One of the most striking aspects of Maryland Deathfest XII was something that hit me even harder after I returned home to Seattle: As one of my new MDF acquaintances put it on Facebook today, it was a place “where EVERYTHING in totality, literally, everything in a 360 degree view, was ‘metal’ oriented in some way or another.”

You get that feeling at just about any metal show, but it’s a feeling that usually only lasts a handful of hours and then you’re back in the world. At MDF, it went on for days. Everywhere you looked, at almost all hours of the days and nights, even on the streets of Baltimore, you saw and heard the sights and sounds of metal. And especially at the Edison Lot, it was like being transported to another planet populated solely by metalheads. I’ve never seen so much black (or so many patches) in one place in my life.

People-watching was definitely one of the primary MDF spectator sports, second only to watching the bands on stage. Given that this was like a metal homecoming party (or, as Kim Kelly put it, “metal’s version of Spring Break”), lots of people obviously put a lot of thought and care into their selection of finery — including the dude in the horse-head mask pictured above, just after he had successfully crowd-surfed over the barricade at Edison Lot’s Stage A.  And of course the official mascot of MDF, Chicken Man:

May 272014

(This is a follow-up to a widely read piece we published last month about The Loudness War by guest writer Alex (the co-founder and chief editor of Metal-Fi and an audiophile who has been listening to metal for more than 20 years).  This article is also being cross-posted at the Angry Metal Guy blog as well as at Metal-Fi.)

“But I like my metal loud. It just sounds better to me.”

This is bar none the number one reaction I get from fellow headbangers, who after they read one of our articles, go off in a frenzy and measure all their record’s dynamic range only to discover they almost always prefer the hyper-compressed albums over the dynamic ones.

Not surprising. In fact, most of the time their results only reinforce why the Loudness War exists in the first place. Let me explain.

From a strictly Darwinian standpoint, the ability to hear is critical to your survival. It allows you to perceive the natural sounds in your environment, find food (as well as avoid becoming it), keep your balance, and most importantly in this day and age, communicate with your fellow headbanger more effectively. Consequently, your ears have developed into a highly sensitive instrument. You have the ability to hear a whisper in a sound-proofed room as well as detect the loudest scream at a Pig Destroyer show. Putting that into numbers, the human ear has about 140dB of dynamic range (the CD is only 96dB) and can hear up to three orders of magnitude in frequency (20Hz – 20kHz).

However, the perceived response of human hearing is not linear with respect to frequency. In English, the apparent loudness of a sound depends on its frequency and intensity. As I stated in my previous article, the study of how our ears perceive sound with respect to volume was first researched by Fletcher and Munson back in 1933. They came up with the first Equal-loudness contour, a plot that shows how your hearing changes depending on a sound’s intensity (sound pressure level or SPL). The curves are measured in Phons, which is the value of SPL that has constant apparent loudness for average human hearing.

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