How about UNEARTH?

It has been some time since I formally disregarded the notion of resurrection. Until Saturday evening that is. I saw a heavily intoxicated man, on the brink of expiry, emphatically jump back to life during one of the many, powerful breakdowns with which Unearth were “assaulting” the crowd in South Africa on Saturday.

I have seen many local acts before, and in the last 4 years, I have been fortunate to see many of my favourite international acts too. I am always amazed at quality these international bands manage to put together, especially on stage.

I have massive admiration for metal bands in South Africa. There is almost no market, little support in terms of infrastructure, few international acts with which to rub shoulders and share stages. That said, the separation between album quality production and the live versions, is often noticeable. At times, the act seems overproduced in their recording efforts, which is not quite delivered during the live renditions and on other occasions, the production does not seem to capture everything that they have to offer on stage.

The case with these seasoned international bands is different on several levels. Not only do they have some of the most talented musicians out there, writing and recording their material, these guys are so good, they can reproduce this sound on stage, whilst dislocating their vertebrae. It shows, and the sound is unbelievable. They have to ability to capture all those musical nuances and salient features, which makes the song what it is.  That which provides to the songs a fundamental authenticity, a signature that reverberates all around the venue.

In the case of Unearth, they took this identity to a brand new level for me. The last time I experienced this kind of intense, physical, head banging, euphoria was in the Bring Me The Horizon moshpit at their 2013 Rock AM Ring show. This was at the height of my obsession with BMTH, which optimally translates into vicious head banging. I haven’t actively listened to Unearth since my initial run in with them in 2007-2009, but they did manage to awake, with some fury, some dormant Unearth obsession which I had buried and forgotten about.

The drums were loud and crisp, like you have come to expect from the headline acts. The bass was in your face, shaking loose the bones in your chest like heavy bass does to a cheap car speaker. I would like to say that the guitars sounded on top of the drums and bass, but it didn’t. It took its rightful place alongside the drum and bass foundation, playing with little auditory duplication, each instrument taking care of its layer as though it had been engineered to fit every song in a very precise manner. The vocals took its place alongside the rest. It produced, with incredible unity and accuracy, the thickest sounding live performance I have ever seen. It is amazing how they managed to shape the auditory assault that is Unearth, into easily digestible portions of extremely heavy, extremely powerful, balls-to-the-wall metal, without any of it getting lost in the massive acoustic overload.

Also, it sounded as though Buzz and co were playing 75 foot wide 1000-string Ibanez’s, which produced a sound so thick it could derail trains. How do you do that? How do you even…? The precision, the accuracy, the sound!

I have seen many bands in the past, none quite as heavy. Protest the Hero, it must be said, are instrumentally superior, both live and on record, but no band has ever extracted from my legs, and my back, and my neck, and my head, the fury that Unearth managed to on Saturday. That goes to the top of my list of live bands seen. Wow they were good!

The video here for me set the tone for what we experienced on Saturday.

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Flaw makes a return after a very long absence

For those of you that remember a hard-rock/nu-metal band from earlier this century called Flaw, you are in for a treat in 2014! For those of you that remember Flaw from their soundtrack appearance on Vin Diesels XxX film and are secretly hoping for another XxX movie, this might be bit of a disappointment.

The main songwriter and vocalist for the band, Chris Volz remains one of my favourites to date. I am not sure why, as he is not in really line to eclipse vocalist-songwriters such as Tim Lambsis or even Serj Tankian on technical terms in my book.

Seeing as he does bring something special to the table, I find it interesting that I never really grew into his Five Bolt Main side project, nor did I really enjoy any of his solo stuff to any appreciable extent.

He was a really good fit with Flaw, especially with the original line up. And it turns out they are releasing an album, written and recorded by the original Flaw line up, some time in 2014!

On that note, I enjoyed their second album (Endangered Species – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bsjSaIDPig) more than I did the first, simply because I always felt they had only properly matured into their signature sound around this time. I think they had also replaced one guitarist by then, so I cannot account for the influence of the new guy on the sound second album, but an original line up is close enough, so I’ll be hoping this new release will be enough to warrant excitement.

Back to the original line up and their first album – Through The Eyes, this song is one of their lesser known-, but more radio-friendly, tracks with quite the display of Chris Voltz’s vocal ability. It is seriously pretty! (If this can be ever considered an apt description of a “metal” song)

There is one more song I think really never seemed to get the attention I always felt it deserved, it was a song called Amendment – Through the Eyes. This song has gone under appreciated in my personal experience, and probably has to be considered one of their most progressive. Try it out. It has distinct early 2000 nu-metal tinge to it, which can be expected since that was what was “trending” in metal in the days before “trending” was thing.

To end off this post which originally started merely to share an update of what these guys were up to, the have launched an Indigogo campaign to gather monetary support for the upcoming US tour in support of the new album. You can support them here. http://igg.me/at/Flaw/x And since I am too retarded to get this embedded in this here weblog I will give you the poor man solution – screenshot + link 🙂 By the way, there are 50 T-shirts up for grabs to those who contribute $35 or more.

Flaw Indigogo campaign
http://igg.me/at/Flaw/x

Now there remains little else for me to do but stick to my two-Flaw-album-playlist for the rest of this Friday and get on top of this Otsu threshold algorithm for my contribution to the EBImage package (R), should the author be so kind as to accept my code contribution.

Good morning coffee, playlist routines and a euphoric (Chevelle) Friday: A treat for my OCD!

It is interesting how my morning routine has been refined to reflect my, what is developing as, a full fledged case of OCD.

Every morning I get into the office, I turn on my notebook and whilst it is getting warming up my brand new Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, I take a step out to sanitise the necessary components of my Russel Hobbs coffee percolator. I take care to fill up the water mark to just above “10 cups”. When done percolating a fresh brew, some water is lost in the system and the coffee mark sits agonizingly close to “10 cups”, but never exactly. I pour some coffee into my cup and I look forward, toward my vertically stacked screens.

By this time my earphones are on my head. I purposely left them charging the night before, to ensure that I get almost a full days uninterrupted play without having to plug it into the charger. Never over the weekend, for fear of damaging the battery!  (http://www.parrot.com/zik/uk/)

Parrot Zik Wireless earphones

This morning was not different from any other, with the exception of music choice. I sat down, started my playlist, like every morning, with Amarok’s (Linux’s far superior version of Winamp) Theme song (Jingle) by allMeadow & Rob Costlow, called Art Of Nations. Here it is.

I take the 0:40 song on offer to make my choice as to the band and Album I am going to start my day with. It limits my time to make a decision, in order to avoid the over complicated process of optimizing a decision. Call it optimization by maximum likelihood if you will, as the decision is really based on an impulse.

This morning’s decision lead me to the Chevelle album called Sci-Fi Crimes. This albums tickles a host of my obsessions. It was recorded live in studio, with all the members playing together as a band. They employed very little trickery, other than standard, with vocal production, guitar production, drums etc. Now for those that don’t know, Pete Loeffler does both guitar and vocal duties in Chevelle, so most of what you are hearing when listening to this album, is a man, delivering his most honest rendition of the songs he has written.

From the Wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sci-Fi_Crimes) the quote below:

Unlike previous albums, Sci-Fi Crimes was recorded live in the studio as a band, without the use of samples. “We wanted to do a record that was more true to what our live sound is like,” explains Sam Loeffler. “We wanted to go in the studio and play the tracks and just record them and not make a perfect record the way I think a lot of our records in the past have been made. We wanted to compete on that same level by not tuning the vocals and not tuning every single chord and not adding samples so every single snare hit is exactly the same. We just went in and recorded. It’s not a sonically perfect record; it’s more like you get if you go into a studio and just play. And I’m curious to see if people notice a difference.”

Curious if anyone noticed the difference. I like to think that I do. Particularly the the vocals. It is as though he reached a level of intensity with the vocal delivery that we are not ordinarily spoiled with. There is an added level of intensity that I’d like to imagine, that I get.

Try it out if you want here: 

I have not listened to this album in some time, but this morning it really stood out as a win for my morning routine.

Covers for added dimension

The phenomena of liking songs more after hearing (non-perfect) covers of original songs can sometimes add a new dimension to allow you to appreciate the original even more!

I was watching a drum cover of the new Soilwork album – The Living Infinite I, which by the way is the title track off of their new, absolutely must have, double album.

I came across the cover in the video below. At first I thought that the drummer was simply tracking over the original song, like most guys do, but the I realized the guitar work sounded a little “empty”.  I did not investigate thoroughly and attributed the phenomena to (assumed) poor audio mixing.

When the chorus came and I heard the vocals sounded non-Bjorn-like, I thought that it must be a live recording, as nothing was amiss during the first part of the song. Obviously I had to investigate more thoroughly.

Turns out that the entire song is a cover of the original title track for the album, Stabbing The Drama. Some dude was doing the guitars, while Alex Rudinger, the now the ex-drummer of Threat Signal did the drums and Mike Semesky did the vocal work. This is a quote from the Youtube video informations section.

A few months back Threat Signal had some gigs in Ontario, Canada. Bjorn Strid happened to be in the area and we decided that it would be cool to do a live cover of this song and have Bjorn perform with us. The show was a lot of fun and performing with a member of Soilwork was kind of a dream come true for me - I've been a huge fan since I was a kid. 

Since I learned this song to perform live I figured I might as well do a video for it. I asked Greg to record guitars for the tune so I wouldn't have to mix in a filtered audio track, and Mike Semesky said he'd be down to record some vocals. So, we decided we'd do a full 'Ordinance-Soilwork' cover. It's definitely safe to say that Soilwork has been a huge influence to all of us (both in Ordinance and Threat Signal!) and doing a full cover of one of their songs with my bros was a lot of fun.

Mixing/Guitars/Keys record by Greg Macklin
Vocals recorded by Mike Semesky 

Drums were recorded a few months back, sometime over the summer.

Now the interesting thing about Mike Semesky (formerly of the HAARP Machine etc.), and the reason I recognized his name, is that he will be the new (harsh) vocalist for the Danish melodic death metal band Raunchy. The should just about be recording their latest album round about now. Here is a snippet off their latest record, which very quickly made its way to the “most-played tab” in my music player.

Although generally speaking their older stuff has a bit more grunt and in an attempt to avoid digressing too badly, I will leave you with one more song to contemplate, the title track off the album Confusion Bay.

I often look at Youtube covers of songs that I like a whole lot. Even if given the choice between seeing the original artist do a an instrumental play through and a cover by a guy in his bedroom, I think I would prefer seeing the cover. The reasoning behind this is not exactly clear in my mind, but I think it has to do with the appreciation and admiration for the original musician that both the cover artist and myself share. Seeing someone else attempt playing the particular does justice to the original by accentuating every small element that makes the song what it is, albeit in the absence thereof in the cover version.

Here is another cover of a song, to which I might have contributed half of the views on Youtube.

Anyway, all of this reminds me of a simpler time (during my school days) when I could enter my “music room” at my parents’ house and play the entire Creed – Human Clay album on my guitar back to front, being annoyed with my mistakes, but rocking out by me lonesome, feeling like a super hero/rock god. It was never truly about aspiring to become a true rock star, it was always about appreciating the music more intensely, which I now get to do by-proxy, thanks to a selection of very talented guys and girls on Youtube.

P.S. I have purposely avoided mentioning piano covers, as it deserves more attention than a note this post.

The allure of metal music

I don’t get why I like metal music so much. I like it in preference to all other types of music to the extent that I hardly listen to anything else these days. In fact, I don’t really get how someone does not like metal music. Especially if given enough time. Enough time to get used to the screaming, the pounding of drums, the excessive guitars and distortion, the sometimes incomprehensible rhythm, the “aggressive” breakdowns.

Even so, I find it weird that I do like metal at all. Or that anyone might like metal. It is as though someone tried really hard to hide the most soulful melody in a myriad percussion and distortion, and you might even ask yourself why this is appealing at all. The ability to find that melodic/rhythmic/technical magic in a barrage of instrumentation allows one, for the briefest of moments, feel superior to those who simply don’t get it. Surely though this cannot be the only reason for its relentless allure.

One might suggest that it is a question of taste. The reason for my liking metal cannot be explained unless you want to indulge in the philosophical question if what taste really is and whether someone’s liking of any music, or anything at all for that matter, can not simply be compared generically by simply evaluating its intensity/amplitude? I think there is more.

Perhaps half of the reason of my liking metal music so much has to do with the apparent chaos that, at first glance, even the greatest metal bands seem to present. Sometimes they are simply just overwhelming. In fact, some, if not most, of my favourite bands were those whom at first, I did not like at all. Most of them I found too heavy, too fast, too aggressive. Simply stated, I didn’t like them for the same reason most people don’t like metal. It was just noise.

Now I know I like metal, because for some reason during my youth I (mis)spent the time listening to something I did not like at fist, barring maybe one or two songs, and discovered something in the chaos that completely captured my fascination. Now when I am presented with something I don’t necessarily like, I can take the time to look behind the initial auditory assault and find that something glorious that exists in there somewhere, as though placed there only for the few of us who persevere. The reward is remarkable. It is not comparable to anything else. It cannot be shared with someone who doesn’t understand it. Someone who hasn’t taken the time to filter through all the same noises, to find the magic in the information overload.

Another reason might be that when you eventually spend enough time to find the melody (or  “beauty”) in those hidden musical notes – hidden amongst the screamed lyrics, distorted guitars, overloaded drums – it jumps out at you like the image hidden in one of those 3d-cards where you can only see the image if you cross your eyes. You don’t know what it is that you should be looking for until you find it and it is as obvious as daylight. The melody hidden in plain sight, seemingly obscured by complexity and aggression, is more rewarding somehow. Maybe it is the reward of working so hard for it. I suspect it has to do with the way in which all the random elements seem to,  at one very specific instance, align just so that that it resonates with your mind. With your soul.  Once you have experienced that moment, you have trancended. Your mind now exists in a place where it is possible to truly evaluate that which has been created, and you get it. You just fucking get it.

I have always maintained that someone who doesn’t like music, hasn’t tried the right music. Someone who does not like metal has not spent enough time. I don’t really know whether this is true for all music and I just tailored these ramblings to fit a genre that resonates with me. Perhaps it holds true for anyone who likes any type music of a whole, whole lot! I don’t know. I certainly hope so.

How “Laid to Rest” by “Lamb of God” suggests that the “Trivium” album, “Vengeance Falls” is not on par.

I know that many of us out there has certainly listened this song to death in the past, but it remains one of my very favourite music pieces of all time, right down the structure composition of the lyrics.

This is one of the very few songs conceptually composed by Mark Morton, another notable song is “Descending” from the Album Sacrament. 

It starts out with a blinder of a riff, played by none other than Mark Morton, who is soon joined by the rest of the ensemble. The riff continues, in discretized fashion for a few bars, with the stand-out, fall-in-love, heavy-double-bass-followed-by-snare signature drum style of Chris Adler, that makes me fan of Lamb of God all over again. This riff has a uniquely precise-lazy signature to it that remained unrivalled in my music collection for some time.

This riff soon makes room for a more even-tempo, drum and palm-muted guitar with a keyboard-sounding lead guitar melody overtone of the original riff, before alternating back to the original sticky riff.

Then they change up the tempo, with the guitarists doubling up on the starting riff, and Chris Adler adopting a more groove-metal style, smoothly incremented double bass riff, that for me, remains the groove-metal home frequency. After a few bars, he [Chris Addler] adds some off-time bell accents, just shows the level of detail that this song contains.

The chorus, is a re-worked version of the original riff, with a strategically altered palm-mute pattern, before running with the original riff once more.

This pattern repeats once more from the sticky bit, to the chorus, where they add a post-chorus, which is the first time they really break the momentum of the song, only to rebuild it soon. With the focus falling away from the guitar driven nature of the song, and focus falling on the lyrics momentarily, along with the breakdown. Started of by a palm-muted riff, soon joined by the other guitar, boasting the opening riff, they regain the momentum by jumping into the chorus riff with Randy wielding a violent scream, and guitars doubling up on the opening riff once more. This is the pinnacle of the song for me.

To conclude this epic journey, they add a new riff that serves to build the momentum again, just before skipping to a brilliantly relaxed outtro with a melody of the opening riff playing over the same palm-muted mono-tone guitar riff.

This was the very first Lamb of God song I ever liked, and to this day remains one of the very finest I have ever heard.

I cannot wait to see them live in two week’s time! But back to the point…

This entire song is composed mostly of one riff, with minor accents alterations and stylistics variations. The entire rest of the song, in terms of tempo and groove is determined solely by the drums of Chris Adler. The entire emotion of the song is directed by the drums in this song.

And just to add that special something that will forever distinguish this song from all others, the lyrics are, well, very good. I have never been much of an interpreter when it comes to the original meaning of lyrics, but I am creative enough to find deep and meaningful interpretation in these well written, and well structured lyrical arrangements.

The drumming is the primary reason why I believe that the recent Trivium album, “Vengeance Falls”, will not supersede any of their previous release, barring “In Waves”, in terms of brilliance. It is not because of the quality in song writing, vocals, technical guitar ability or even the reduced Matt Heafy screaming on the recent record. I will simply state that Trivium is not the same band it was before the departure of Travis Smith, and consequently, have lost that tempo infusing factor that Chris Adler gives Lamb of God. The “Vengeance Falls” album has striking vocal and melodic elements, which no doubt has been contributed to by David Draiman’s production efforts. The guitar work, as always, remains of superior standard, and the bassist does his thing, and does it very well. But the factor that lacks for me is the drumming of Nick Augusto, which is too “interrupted”, for lack of a better term. This suppresses the thrash metal roots of Trivium in favour of a more nu-metal drum influence, that in my opinion clashes somewhat with what Trivium really ought to be, or at least in my mind’s eye, could be, and certainly once was.

For an even better argument as to why a drummer is so particularly important, I invoke the rhetorical arguments: The new “Protest the Hero” album “Volition”, with Chris Adler, and the new “Avenged Sevenfold’ album, “Hail to the King”, without their long time drummer, The Rev. Also, here is, Protest the Hero – Claritywith Chris Adler, Avenged Sevenfold – Hail to the King, without the Rev, Avenged Sevenfold – God Hates Us, with The Rev in support of the argument above. Also, above was Trivium – Ember to Inferno, with Travis Smith, and compare that with “Strife” below in terms of continuity and tempo.

And one last Travis Smith hoorah below.

Some would argue that perhaps Trivium were drifting in this direction in any case, and will have ended up at “Vengeance Falls” none the less, which certainly is a possibility, and in all probability, the reason why their creative collaboration with Travis Smith ended after “Shogun”, which in my opinion remains Trivium’s masterpiece. It also remains a strong possibility that the song writing in the new Trivium set up demands a different song structure, and perhaps Matt Heafy himself has drifted from his thrash roots. But I still want to blame it on the influence of the drummer at the time of writing.

In my circle of friends, “Shogun” remains the “de facto” standard against which all other releases has since been compared, both as a measure of any one album of any one band to its [band’s] best album, and the staying power of the album in it’s own right, amongst all other releases during the same time frame. I would say, it is the musical equivalent of the commercial success of Metallica’s “Black” album. (I make the distinction primarily because I believe that “Justice for All” is a better album, and so too are many of the previous albums, but it is an argument best reserved for later.).

“Vengeance Falls” is no “Shogun”.