Posts Tagged ‘grandpa’s musical criticism’


Megadeth: Killing is My Business … and Business is Good!
This is a time machine of American heavy metal. No matter who and how old you are, by listening to this album, you will be delivered to LA in 1983. You will be sixteen and male. You will have long hair and tight jeans. You will be ready for the pit. This is not dark music. It is fast and loud. It is immature fun. The lyrics involve comic book heroes, Monty Python rabbits, and the sexual fantasies of a gas station attendant. Still, you get a hint of Megadeth’s potential. In particular, Dave Mustaine shows himself to be an undisciplined prodigy on the guitar. That discipline would come, but not yet. It’s 83. Enjoy yourself.


Iron Maiden: Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
Maiden offers a different version of heavy metal. For me, this album marked the end of their Golden Era, which includes four albums (this one, Somewhere in Time, Powerslave, and Piece of Mind). I’m almost certainly wrong about this, but I believe it’s the first fully-fledged metal concept album. It is the complete though not exactly flawless story of a doomed prophet and his doomed people. Where Megadeth offers low-end riffs, solos out of nowhere, and pure speed, Maiden offers harmonized guitars, operatic singing, and attention to detail. Each song is a composition, as is the album.


Ash Borer: Cold of Ages
These guys have a fraction of the track record of Maiden and Megadeth. They have a fraction of that fraction’s rep. They’ve put out a couple of albums and LPs, but they’re representative of the best of metal today. The songs are much longer and much darker. They offer no lyrics, just guttural screams. They depend upon a reverb/distortive quality that reminds me, really, of Sonic Youth. No guitar solos. They do not play mosh songs. They do not tell stories. I kind of wish I could still stay awake till two in the morning, alone with a quart of Mickey’s Ice, just to see what they sound like then. I mean, they just seem designed for lonely insomniacs. Still, I find Ash Borer interesting. They’re finding new sounds, new ways of being metal. Thank God. I don’t always want ’83.

*If you’re looking for more genre specific adjectives like “speed,” “thrash,” “black,” or “postapocalyptic-post-rock-avant-black-atmostpheric” heavy metal, you’ve found the wrong blog.

The Coup’s Genocide and Juice came out in my first year or two of college, I think. The mid-to-late nineties was the high point of my rap fandom. It’s never ended, exactly. As a style of music, I still enjoy it well done. The problem is that it’s rarely well done.

I’ll discuss reasons for that another time.

The Wife bought me a new copy of this album for my birthday. I’d been telling her about it and had shown her a YouTube clip of “Fat Cats, Bigga Fish.” She thought it was interesting and wanted to hear the album herself.

Some albums you buy and keep forever. Some albums get lost in moves. Some albums get stolen by roommates or lovers. Some albums end up sucking with time. Some albums you sell for food money. Other categories must exist, but who cares? Genocide and Juice got sold for food money in the mid-nineties.

The album is brilliantly descriptive:

The streetlight reflects off the piss on the ground

Which reflects off the hamburger sign that turns round

Which reflects off the chrome of the BMW

Which reflects off the fact that I’m broke—

Now what the fuck is new.

“Fat Cats, Bigga Fish” really is the album’s jewel. It’s told from the point of view of a wannabe hustler who steals bus passes and scams free burgers off ugly girls. But when he poses as a butler at a rich man’s party, he learns how small-time he really is. In this and many other songs, we see the various economic ropes which bind us and choke us. By “us,” I really mean poor people.

The album’s vision is both funny and bleak: “If everybody in the hood had a phd, you’d say, ‘Doctor, flip that burger hella good for me.’”

The prescription is far less interesting, though. In 94 or 95, I probably thought violent revolution was the obvious road to travel, but home invasions and fairly random murders described in “Takin’ These” and “Gunsmoke” seem like copouts today.

Of course they do, Pactor. You’ve always been white, and now you’re middle class. True, true, but that doesn’t mean my response is purely white and middle class. But I’ve been reading Aristotle lately. He thinks of ethics not just as a system of action, but as a system of reaction. We let the world affect us in a variety of ways, and when we let it provoke our most violent, savage responses, we are not only revealing our character but shaping our character for later action and reaction.

Violent revolution has a definite, clear history. Rarely do the masses get to enjoy the spoils. A new elite takes revenge on the old. Regular people get new orders. They get trapped in a new system which they have not designed. The revolutionaries become the cruel psychos they wished to depose. This can’t be the answer for kids in the hood.

I don’t know the answer.

I do think it’s much easier for me to offer these critiques as a white, middle class adult in little personal danger from the cops.

Anyway, regardless of their faults, you should listen to The Coup. Drake sucks infinitely more.

it’s moby dick’s birthday! that book has inspired so much of world culture, including patrick stewart and doom metal.

I have not heard of all the world’s fine bands, but Ahab is the finest band you’ve never heard of. Each of their albums reworks and retells literature of ocean adventure gone bad into the slowest, coolest doom metal. Their most recent work is “The Giant” based on a novel by Edgar Allen Poe.

You may wonder about doom metal. You’re right to do so. Metal may be the most fragmented of musical genres. But consider that all metal is the spawn of Black Sabbath. Doom metal takes the best elements of the slowest Black Sabbath songs. Note: this does not mean the softest of songs. We’re not doing “Changes” here. Think more of the first six minutes of the song “Black Sabbath” or “Wheels of Confusion” or “Lord of this World.” These songs feature some of Tony Iommi’s greatest low end slow riffs.

Many tracks on “The Giant” feature variations on those riffs, but they also have moments that remind me of “Planet Caravan,” low, bluesy acoustic guitars which build into those angry riffs. The movement from big, mean guitars to low and pleasant (even to The Wife) very much suggests the effects of loss and being lost on the ocean. These tracks are long and melodic and mean and kind, a kind of spiral of emotions, tossed and turned on the water.

The vocals offer even greater variety. Maybe “polarity” is a better word. Sometimes we hear mournful, bluesy singing and sometimes we get classic death metal Satan-yelling. But these polarities work especially well on this album. They’re set up by the album’s opening lyrics (from “Further South”):

“I’m Arthur Gordon Pym/Or is he me?” Bluesy man is one half of Pym, sensitive and uncertain. Satan is not particularly Satanic at all. He’s the “subconscious creator” of Pym’s misery and, simultaneously, questioning the need for his creations. He’s a real fallen god.

We follow Pym on his journey south where he has encounters with an Ancient Mariner-like ship of the dead, the vast emptiness of Antarctica, and, of course, a giant (which might be a great Antarctic whale). Pym’s great enemy, though, is time. Time slows about as close as it can to a stop, or feels as though it does. A stop would be a release. He could cease movement and cease wondering what he should do with himself. But time goes forward, miserably, slowly forward.

The music in some sense mirrors that slowness. For sure, this is some of the slowest metal you’ve ever heard. Some tracks are twelve minutes long. But they are beautiful, and they tell a fascinating tale.

Dave Mustaine is the most talented American heavy metal guitarist of all time.

Dave Mustaine doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about.

This is not a left wing/right wing debate. I am no Democrat. I’m no democrat either. The problem for Mustaine is a problem for any follower of modern politics. The more you follow and the more you read, the stupider you become. That’s because almost everything you follow and read is propaganda of the most pathetic sort. In otherwise normal conversations, you end up spouting the opinions of thousands or millions. The more you follow and read, the less critical analysis you apply to what you follow and read. Because there is such a surplus to follow and read, you never have the time, capacity, and real information with which you can form a critique. You end up parroting another fool’s critique, which is, in fact, propaganda.

So here’s Dave Mustaine spouting off about Obama’s birthplace and gun control in precisely the manner and nearly the language of various right-wing callers to radio talk shows who spout off in precisely the manner and nearly the language of those radio talk show hosts who spout off in precisely the manner and nearly the language of pundits … keep following that line through TV ads to politicians to “think tank” “scholarship.”

Mustaine is an easy target, particularly for liberals who listen to classic rock or jazz or fucking Metallica, but those liberals might wonder about all those graphs and pictures of Obama laughing with children as though he couldn’t kill one and as though he has improved their lives and yours by a factor of ten thousand, even though he’s doing just about all the shit Bush did and even a little more.

But  dig that second paragraph again. When we grew up, we were told to read, because reading would bring knowledge, and that knowledge would bring power. Hey, man, Dave Mustaine can read. He probably reads a lot. So do you. Do you think reading what he’s reading has helped him understand the world? Or has it shaped his world so tightly and weirdly that he ends up sounding like a fool when he talks to someone who hasn’t read the same stuff he’s read? Has reading all those newspapers and speech transcripts shaped you in similar fashion?

Literacy does grant power, but that power is limited, particularly in these dumb times. As noted everywhere, we live in a land of ridiculous surplus super-sized everything. So many people write books and papers and blogposts and so much of all that is an echo of others’ writing and speech, half-heard and remembered.

Know that, and know this: reading helps you understand and makes sense of words, but not necessarily the world.

ImageSlayer’s Decade of Aggression (Disc One) makes me remember parts of high school. The results are weird.

Hell Awaits—At 16, I was 5.2 feet tall and weighed 110 pounds with a loaded backpack. It was never loaded. White Jew midget in the heavy metal shirt, orange shorts, and Scotty’s Hardware cap, feeling something like Ellison’s Invisible Man. I wasn’t, of course. I suffered neither racism nor anti-Semitism.  No one wanted to be my mentor for purposes shady or otherwise. When I grew up, I wanted to be dead or a poet. The grinding riff and drum which opens this song made me feel like the baddest, meanest kid in school.

The Anti-Christ—So much of metal involved and involves Satan, though maybe 1% of metalheads have ever thought seriously about the worship of any Dark Lord. On occasion, they’ve dreamed of punching cool kids and bosses, but who hasn’t? We love dogs and rock. This song rocks.

War Ensemble—This song was released either right before or at the start of the First Gulf War. I remember absolutely no one giving even the tiniest shit, even a fartlet, about the prospect of a war, even though it was the first war named a war of our lives, and if it went on long and the country started a draft… Anyway, there was no draft and that was awhile ago. My point is that no one cared. It set the stage for a lot of the nonsense now. Anyway, the only musicians who took up the war subject were heavy metal bands and hardcore rappers. Among thrash metal war songs, this tune is tied with about a hundred other tunes for third place, behind Metallica’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and way behind Megadeth’s Holy Wars.

South of Heaven—If you’re a metal band of any stripe, you better get to the apocalyptic future song sooner or later. “South of Heaven” is Slayer’s best version. The phrase “South of Heaven” sounds obvious, but only after you hear it. Always interesting to hear these songs twenty-something years down the line. This particular described future hasn’t arrived, yet its retained the power to stun.

Raining Blood—Slayer’s most recognizable opening notes. Even people who haven’t heard much of Slayer beyond the name kind of know this song. I’m thinking we have a communal memory that works something like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon or whatever that game is. Anyway, we might know the song, but we know enough about the song. What else? This tune is quintessential Slayer: mean, speedy doom.

Altar of Sacrifice—In senior year, I took “Intro to Psychology” with a stoner named Mr. Edwards, who cared about teaching about as much as I care about Katy Perry. People basically talked to each other all period while I sat in the dead center of class listening to tunes on the Walkman as loud as I could. Two of my principle awful moments of high school occurred in that class. This fat kid who wanted to be cool reached over and turned down my Walkman and put his finger over his mouth, and I did nothing. Another legit cool kid who wore his Polo shirt tucked into his Garth Brooks tight jeans pressed “Stop” on my Walkman, and asked what was wrong with me, and I did nothing. Is it wrong to still kind of wish I could put them on an Altar of Sacrifice? I mean, I wouldn’t, but the visual is sometimes nice and pleasing psycho.

Jesus Saves—Another staple: the anti-Christian deal. Now that I’m older, this is probably the silliest of the staples. Also, this is my least favorite song on the disc. This is a good spot to say that, in retrospect, this was the last great American thrash metal album. Basically, ’91 was both the highpoint and end of this brand of music. Shortly afterward, Metallica would release the Black album, and its disease didn’t infect the other bands (no love song epidemic ensued), but it stunted their growth. That Black album was a signal, like the first sacking of Rome, that the game might go on, but it was basically up.

Dead Skin Mask—They really do hit all the staples. The song’s based on the career of Ed Gein. The title implies the particular weirdness of this serial killer. He used to lure kids into the basement and, well, you know. On the studio album, a girl’s talking to him, begging him to let her go. Pretty haunting tune.

Seasons in the Abyss—The slow opening’s got this Egyptian desert vibe going down. You know it’s going to get faster, way faster, but you don’t know how it’s going to get there. Then you get there and you say to yourself, I didn’t even know I was moving, but you were, obviously, and it’s kind of like growing up, and, yes, in this sentence the act of growing up has basically been compared to a song about sadistic torture, which is about the truest thing you and I have ever read.

Mandatory Suicide—Another war song, not as good as “War Ensemble,” but cool, especially at the end, when Tom Araya is ranting in rhymes over a nice thick riff and guitar-bomb effects. When I was 16, I had that entire rant memorized. I’ve only got this one scream left: “Bloodshed is everywheeeerrrreee!” Memory’s a tricky bitch: you can see the shape of the past, but as you approach, you realize it’s the shape of a fragment which you’ve mistaken for the whole.

Angel of Death—How often I wanted to be the angel of death, not Dr. Mengele as described in the song, but feared and powerful. What days, dusted over and replaced by a new wardrobe of fitting shorts and plain t’s. I used to air guitar this song, dreaming of a life onstage with thousands of people wanting to be like me, just as I wanted to be like Kerry King, making those guitars bomb. Those dreams and days are over, and I am still alive.

RE: Greek tragedy. Somewhere along the way you’ve heard terms like catharsis and deus ex machina. You know tears must come in buckets. You’ve read something about the roots of man-boy relations in ancient Greece and wondered about the secret roots of NAMBLA and how you’re going to react if something less than American happens on stage. Maybe these things come to mind when you imagine Greek tragedy. Or not. Maybe I’m just projecting my funky ignorant associations onto you.

Sorry.

Last Friday, the Wife took me to see a production of Euripides’s The Trojan Women. I didn’t expect any man-boy love, exactly, but I have recently read some Greek tragedies, including Euripedes’s The Bacchae, and what is clear is that although our culture owes a great deal to the ancient Greeks, we are at least as different from them as Jews like myself are from the ancient Israelites.

In Shakespearean tragedies, a basically likeable dude starts on high and ends bloody on the floor, the last of many bloody dead. We know how they’ll end, but they at least begin with hope. The tragedy is that hope is inevitably squashed under a patient mean thumb. Greek tragedies go from black to deeper black. Few of us are prepared for it. The Wife sure wasn’t. By the time Astyanax was sentenced to a splat from on high, she was chuckling to save her sanity, or she felt it was melodrama.

I think she felt what a lot of the audience felt: this was too much. By the end, when the Trojan women were marched to their separate ships and and lives of slavery far from Troy, they felt wrung dry.

You won’t be surprised to learn I felt differently. In fact, I walked out all smiles, and it wasn’t just because the Wife had taken me out for an evening of culture rare in Jacksonville. Some folks, a small set, are wired for the real darkness. Like, dig this.

Even though they chart black maps of awesome, Loss will never be popular, precisely because the maps are pure black. Most of us mostly want entertainment to be a sweet escape from these rough times. We are culturally programmed to want that, which explains every sorry shit band you and I love. Yeah, I include myself. You think I’ve escaped Poison and Whitesnake? I still listen to Whitesnake. I can see the awesomeness of Greek plays and Loss, but only in limited doses.

Listen: escape is not release.

We understand catharsis–in our brains. That’s not where the real thing is found.

*Despite what any or all of this post may suggest, I am happier now than I have ever been.