Monday, October 31, 2011

G&P Review: Burning Ghats

Burning Ghats
Different Names for the Same Face

If Burning Ghats weren't accomplished at what they do (and if I wanted to be a complete asshole), I'd say this five song EP should be renamed Different Names for the Same Song. But I don't want to do that because, on the whole, I enjoyed Burning Ghats' followup to the Fool's Gold EP. However, I have to acknowledge the Canadian band's thrash-tinged hardcore feels a bit smudged at times. The barrier between songs is permeable and one tends to bleed into another, but no worse than a million other punk and grind albums. Four out of the five songs feature some variation on chugging guitars with screaming phosphorous leads, drums content to keep the beat with the occasional timely fill and vocals permanently set to spittle-flecked madness.
But it's that other 20 percent, closeout track "Copacetic Deadbeat," that redeems the whole package. It shakes up Burning Ghats' familiarity with down tempos that give the guitars time to ring and chime, a prominent spotlight on swinging power cable bass and the occasional chanting drone. I probably would have shuffled the song up earlier in the rotation just because I'm not a fan of every band sticking their odd song out at the end, but that's just me.
Though the songs suffer from an overall lack of distinction and variety, there's enough frenetic energy driving Burning Ghats to make that an easily forgivable sin.
As always, though, Burning Ghats have incredibly striking, subcontinental-inflected artwork. I'd really love to see this one pressed to vinyl with a giant cover to pore over while Different Names for the Same Face gets cranked on the stereo.

[Full disclosure: The band sent me a download.]

Friday, October 28, 2011

You Grind…But Why?: Carlos Ramirez

Right next door to grindcore lives its unemployed, dreadlocked, power violence. Carlos Ramirez has hopped the fence to crash on both of their couches repeatedly during his tenure with East Coast violence squad Black Army Jacket and the brutally underrated grind collective Hope Collapse. Turns out he may not have noticed much of a difference between them.

“I came into the powerviolence thing through death metal and grindcore,” he said. “I didn't know about bands like No Comment and Capitalist Casualties till after Black Army Jacket started. Andrew from BAJ turned me onto a lot of that stuff and in turn I got him into a lot of death metal bands.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Industrial Espionage

The early '90s, apparently, was the heyday of the "let's start our album with a bunch of sampled industrial noise" phenomenon. I guess I had kinda picked up on that before, but it recently gobsmacked me between the peepers when I sat down to blaze through a stack of classic Earache records. It's like sort of the Opposite Day equivalent of ending your album with a really slow song that probably doesn't need to be there.
Case in point, Napalm Death indulge in "Discordance," kicking off my favorite Barney-era album, Utopia Banished.

Dragging it out for 85 seconds is probably uncalled for when slamming straight into "I Abstain" would have been far more effective, but I'm not here to review 20 year old album choices but a British institution content to take a few more victory laps around former glories.
No, I'm here to pick on Carcass and Brutal Truth. Because what really struck me during my Earache binge is that Carcass and Brutal Truth kicked off Necroticism - Descanting the Insalubrious and Need to Control, respectively, with industrialized samples that sound like close enough kin that a wedding license for the two would be unlawful anywhere other than Alabama.
First off, I'll admit they're not perfectly identical, but they have the same crushing kind of vibe to them.
Let's start with Carcass ' "Inpropagation," which tees up 1991's Necroticism with a sound like a small hill giant in soccer cleats stomping over a blabbing bit about forensics.

Three years later Brutal Truth would go to the same well for 1994's Need to Control. Opener "Collapse" was a sludgy trudge that gets going with booming industrial sounds similar to Necroticism. Boom. Boom. Chsssk. Chsssk. Boom. Boom. Chsssk. Chsssk. It's the grindcore equivalent of Jason Voorhees' stalking noises.


As I said, it's not identical, but when I had the two albums teed up back to back, it was close enough to give me pause. I find this fascinating because, as you may recall, I noticed Brutal Truth may have been stealing Carcass' mail when they wrote the song "Regression/Progression." That opening drum and bass bit sounds, at least to my ears, an awful lot like the intro to Carcass' "Ruptured in Purulence." So to find Brutal Truth trailing a second Carcass-ism was especially intriguing.
As Pablo Picasso (and possibly T.S. Elliot and Oscar Wilde) is alleged to have observed, good artists borrow; great artists steal.

Monday, October 24, 2011

G&P Review: Vipe/Cat Massacre

Vipe/Cat Massacre

Control Force
I am the petrified forest of punk rock: my tastes calcified somewhere around 1997 and I doubt there's any flexibility left. So that may explain why I've had such a hard time sorting out my feelings about this Idaho twosome's split album.
Neither band strays far from the hardcore reservation over their combined 19 songs. In fact, Vipe could have written "Imposter" virtually any time in the last 30 years were it not for their penchant for croaking vocals that seem to work against the traditional punk aesthetic at times. I found it jarring, but younger punks weaned on modern hardcore may accept it as natural.
Cat Massacre specialize in short, direct songs that occasionally vary in tempo but remain largely consistent in shape and approach. So it's a pleasure when they bust out the inflatable bouncy castle riffing of "Jay Pfiffer," which hops on a hook that spirals throughout the song.
There are also nods to the classics, though, that make me smile. The intro to Cat Massacre's eponymous song reminds me a tad of Bad Brains' "Big Takeover" and Vipe pay tribute to the forefathers of the guitar buzzsaw with "Joey, Johnny, Tommy, Dee, Dee, Joel-Peter."
Wise Karlo, who is far more attuned to these things than I, really seemed to dig this one, and you know that guy has taste. You can also check it out at Control Force's Bandcamp page.

[Full disclosure: Control Force sent me a download.]

Friday, October 21, 2011

You Grind…But Why?: Defeatist

You wouldn’t think there would be a lot of cultural overlap between Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart and grizzled grindcore scene vet Aaron Nichols, guitarist and vocalist for Defeatist (who have posted their latest record, Tyranny of Decay, as a pay-what-you-want download at their Bandcamp page). But like the porn-bedeviled magistrate, Nichols said after all these years he still can’t even define grindcore, let alone explain its seductive attractions. He just knows it when he sees it.

“I was trying to come up with some clever answer to this question, but the truth is that I am a moron,” the self-effacing Nichols said. “How else do you explain a middle aged man still fucking around with blast beats? I have always been drawn to faster and heavier music growing up. I am old enough to have seen the first U.S. Grindcrusher tour and Brutal Truth when Kevin was belt-sanding car doors on stage and Carcass before they sucked. So I guess grindcore was always there. Even though the term is murky, at best. Are there even any formal properties for grindcore? I guess the only fundamental is blast beats but even that varies. I usually know right away when a band isn't grindcore, but if I think of who the best bands are, none of them sound alike.”

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Is it Live or is it Memorex?

Because I'm a geezer, I have not made it to a live show in longer than I'm comfortable publicly admitting. I twice made an attempt to catch Wormrot as they came to town the last couple of years, but both times life, my job, my family intervened. That's how it goes when you hit your 30s. The idea of spending a few hours on a weeknight listening to ear-splitting music with kids half your age only to get up for work a few hours later bleary eyed and exhausted doesn't compete with going home, reheating leftovers and falling asleep in bed at 8:30 halfway through an Iron Chef marathon. Don't ever get old, kids.
So that means for the last *mumble, mumble, cough* years, my musical intake has been entirely recordings. It's gotten me thinking about a close cousin of the punk v. precision argument: live music v. records.
Generally speaking, the metal community, even those of us without music talent, are conversant enough in technique to place a premium on bands being able to stand on a stage and actually play their songs. I think that has become more important as studio technology has improved to the point where bands can endlessly refine their recordings and conveniently gloss over mistakes, often from the comfort of their own laptops.
Knowing that the market for album sales, even during the best of times, was finite, bands that wanted to make music a career relied on touring to sustain themselves. I imagine that impetus has only taken on new importance as record sales have dwindled to near-zero and rampant pirating makes the suggestion of making money off mp3s laughable.
But as with growers and showers, I think there's a divide at work. I think punk-based bands place more of an emphasis on the live forum. I expect Squash Bowels, Wormrot or Repulsion to be able to band out their grisly grind from the comfort of a stage. Their songs live or die by that urgent, human element that's best conveyed during a live setting where the band can feed off an audience's energy.
For their more technical peers, I, at least, prefer the recorded article where I can savor every nuance. Sure, I'm astounded when I hear Discordance Axis recorded The Inalienable Dreamless live in the studio, as did GridLink with Orphan. However, those are the kind of albums I'd rather settle down with on a good stereo and a comfortable pair of headphones so I can drool over little tricks that would probably get lost in a live setting.
Then there are the one man bands like Body Hammer and Parlamentarisk Sodomi/PSUDOKU who obviously can't play live due to logistical limitations. Both Ryan Page and Papirmollen have turned in solo efforts that stand on their own even if you won't see them on your local festival stage. I don't think we've lost anything for that lack, and I'm certainly not going to arbitrarily relegate them to second tier status just because they may not be making the summer tour circuit.
There's a premium placed on live performances, but in a down economy on rural area your chances of seeing your favorite band decline precipitously. For those people, like for me lately, recorded music is probably their only access due to their circumstances. And to be honest, I can remember as a teen being disappointed by some bands seeing them live because my favorite songs didn't sound exactly the way they did on record. The tempos would be off - sometimes faster, sometimes slower - maybe the solos would change or the singer wouldn't articulate - or just skip portions of - the lyrics. Seeing Isis open for a revitalized Napalm Death, watching openers Opeth blow Amorphis off the stage, or seeing a then-largely unknown Pig Destroyer and Mastodon tag team a hall are all great memories. And I love the frenetic energy of a great live show. However, as I get older, more crotchety and incipient nostalgia seeps into my routine, I take more pleasure from hearing my favorite albums sound exactly the way they always do, every time I hear them.
Do you prefer live performances over records? Do you consider live music somehow more authentic than perfect takes and studio trickery? How does hearing your favorite songs live alter your perception of the music? Or does any of this make any difference?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Demo-lition Derby: Seminary

The Bow
There’s nary a skronk, scrape, scratch, squeal or screech Canada’s Seminary don’t pull out of their guitars on The Bow. Clearly, these are musicians who are intimately familiar with their instruments, but I felt there were times they overpowered the rest of the band. The staccato, telegraphing riffs dominate the eight songs that comprise The Bow. The straightforward drums and vocals seem to get lost amid the guitar-driven chaos to such an extent that barely heard cymbal crashes on “Protestant Work Ethic” add desperately needed pizzazz from the rest of the band.
Unlike the guitars, the vocals have only one setting: frothing J.R. Hayes psychosis. It’s an impressive shit fit (kiss off “Pellicle” closes with nothing but his ranting), but stacked against the musical piracy, the screams may be too restrained, too one-note for the multifaceted chaos behind them. The phrasings feel too familiar. I wonder if a more aslant approach would have set off the songs to better effect.
Right now Seminary’s skronk ‘n’ grind is all over the page, but a little more focus and some unity could really push them over the top. You can check out The Bow here.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Four More Years! Four More Years!

Four years and four laptops later (yes, I just destroyed another one last week), and I feel like I'm only beginning to harness what the blog is capable of. I started blogging for a simple reason: as a reader, I was disappointed in what was already out there. Link farms and poorly constructed reviews abounded. And while I've authored more than my fair share of poorly constructed reviews, in my naiveté /arrogance I decided I could bring something new and insightful to grindcore. How successful I've been, I'll leave to you. You guys keep reading and hanging around, so hopefully I'm not completely wasting your time.
From my very first story, a discussion of metal heads' relationship with the military, I wanted to do something different, dig a little deeper. Not every post lives up to that standard, but that has been my goal and my template.
In an era of instant musical gratification, I consider most reviews superfluous. They're filler, a chance to start conversations about what like about music rather than a "this sucks," "this rules" summation. In fact, I've moved on more to Bandcamp/demo releases simply because I think those bands are more worthy of attention than the latest big budget release from a (relatively) giant metal label. They're pretty good at their own promotion. While I think reviews are declining in importance, those are the posts that keep the blog fresh week to week and buy me the time to work on the longer, more involved pieces that I prefer.
Looking back, a happy confluence of life experiences has pointed me in this direction. I have a degree in English, with plenty of emphasis on textual criticicism. As a result, I'm enough of a postmodernist to believe the distinction between high and low culture is purely artificial. All cultural artifacts are equally deserving of critical scrutiny to better understand how they work, what makes them successful and the role they play in culture and society.
Falling off the academic track post-graduation, I tumbled into journalism, which I thought would be another notch on my impressive resume of random jobs (ice cream truck driver, phone repair, Christian day care; ask me about it some time). Though I had done some work at the college paper (an unreciprocated crush on the editor; don't ask me about it some time), I had always considered journalism hack writing because I was an arrogant literature snob. To a certain extent I still do, but here I am a decade later, still doing it.
What journalism has taught me is how to extract information and present it in a coherent form. My literature degree taught me to poke in the cracks and muck around with the innards of things. I came to that realization recently while reviewing my latest project, which I hope to announce soon. It's consumed the last six months of my life, and I think it will be the culmination of everything I've set out to do so far.
So for the fourth anniversary of G&P I simply want to thank all of you for sticking around during my learning curve, giving me the platform, time and feedback necessary to shoot for some personal goals. When I am finally ready to announce that project, it will be the result of not only my work, but all of you as well, for the space and support you've provided. I've grown as a writer and a thinker because of your feedback. Thank you for making that happen.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

G&P Book Review: From the Minds of Madness

From the Minds of Madness: The Origins of Heavy Metal Band Names
Blair E. Gibson

I had a lot of misconceptions about the whole music making process as a wee youngun. Among them was the mistaken belief that bands stood together in a studio and recorded albums straight through in order. Perhaps with a short break between the A-side/B-side of the cassette or record version. Another of my misconceptions was that bands actually put a lot of thought into a name to come up with something unique and personal and meaningful (I'm still fascinated by the power of band names). Blair E. Gibson of Regina, Saskatchewan, must have had that same inquisitiveness about metal nomenclature because he's done a yoeman's job of gathering together the stories behind hundreds of band names in his self-published book From the Minds of Madness: The Origins of Heavy Metal Band Names.
Having done my fair share of interviews, I can imagine the hours of labor involved, but after reading through the first dozen or so you realize most metal bands didn't dig that deep when the time came to pick a name. Many of them, as they relate, literally picked a name out of a hat. Others just went for some combination of somewhat scary sounding words. The book also skews heavy toward stoner metal bands, who, unsurprisingly, have stories that probably sound way more entertaining when stoned.
However, when Gibson does get a band to open up, such as Coalesce's intra-band squabbling after they realized the name Breach was already taken, Jucifer's connection to the O.J. Simpson murder trial or Kylesa's Buddhist demonology, that's when things get interesting. Stephen O'Malley's laconic pronouncement that droning doom band Burning Witch was "named after the sound of suffering" or Danny Lilker's restatement of Brutal Truth's rather obvious name, by contrast, don't add much. And while Gibson is to be praised for casting as wide a net as possible, does anybody really care how cock rockers Autograph or Great White settled on their nom de glam?
But those are superficial complaints compared to the glaringly amateur formatting of the book itself. For example, the entirety of pages 16 and 88 are blank as a result of a page break positioning error. And beyond a brief introduction from Gibson and Aaron Stainthorpe of My Dying Bride, there is no other context given and which is sorely missed. The book, which clocks in at less than 150 pages, is an alphabetical recitation of bands and a brief paragraph describing how they arrived at their name.
Fundamentally, I think From the Minds of Madness is a failure of formatting. This would make for a great blog idea (and Gibson does have a blog) but as a book it's briefly diverting skimming material, but I'm not sure anybody will care enough to read it cover to cover, particularly given the omnivorous swath he cuts through metal's multifarious niches.
However, if you're interested, From the Minds of Madness is available for order as an e-book or a paperback here.

[Full disclosure: Gibson sent me a review copy.]

Monday, October 10, 2011

Growers vs. Showers

There’s a certain cult that springs up around first albums. I’ve often heard people say first albums are the truest example of a band’s musical ambitions, freed from any contract-stipulated deadlines and unhindered by any kind of overt commercial taint. It’s an especially common perception (in my experience) in punk and grind circles where bands are driven as much by youthful bravado as they are by musical acumen.
However, I have noticed that if you plunk any number of grindily minded people in a room (n= >1) and set them talking about their favorite albums, within five minutes a familiar debate will ensue: punk vs. precision. Or put in other terms, growers vs. showers. It's the dividing line between people's preferences and expectations, whether they respond to raw energy and can overlook instrument proficiency or whether they get an intellectual jolt from something more complex and pinpoint.
Showers are the kinds of bands that pretty much lay out all they have to offer within an album or two. They may continue to crank out awesome records, but you don’t go into them expecting to have your musical outlook overturned. Has Agathocles, despite squatting in the studio for lack of an apartment [citation needed], shown any kind of musical growth for all their million albums? Hell, they’re the poster children for the punk side of grind because depending on membership and relative sobriety, it sometimes sounds as though the band is in a desperate fight to avoid total collapse before the end of the song.
Flipside are the growers, the bands, generally more technically gifted, who take a few albums to hit their groove and generally flourish later in life. Brutal Truth were weird and adventurous right out of the box, but they pushed themselves even further straight through what I consider to be their best album, Sounds of the Animal Kingdom. While Brutal Truth may have recycled a few of their prior excursions on Evolution Through Revolution, after a decade hiatus, the band is still not taking the easy route.
Obviously, it's a not a bright line division between growers and showers. Where do Nasum fit? The band obviously grew throughout their career but without necessarily deviating or expanding their trademark sound. Rather, it was a subtle refinement of their strengths. Every nuance of albums like Helvete and Human 2.0 were clearly plotted out. Ditto Norwegian solo maniac Papirmollen. Based on his Parlamentarisk Sodomi material, I would have pegged the guy as a shower because he crusted up old Terrorizer and took it out for a few more laps around the block. But then comes PSUDOKU, which suggests the sky (literally) is the limit for his space grind talents.
Taking these overbroad categories, I'm more curious what they say about our experiences and expectations as a listeners. Music is not a passive experience. What we bring to it is just as important as what bands put on stage or set to tape. I cringe when I hear bands say they don't like to discuss their lyrics because they let the listener draw their own interpretation.I think that's a cheap cop out. However, I will concede there's a certain truth to it. Our experiences and emotional states can drastically influence how we perceive music. My mood is going to be a huge determinant in deciding between Asterisk*'s cerebral philosophy grind or Looking for an Answer's old style beatings. Do I want to relax with Wormrot's 21st Century take on Repulsion or am I prepared to expend a little more energy and wrap my mind around Antigama's fifth dimensional shenanigans.
Am I completely off base here? Do you prefer punk or precision? Are you a grower or a shower? Or, like me, just a grind slut?

Friday, October 7, 2011

You Grind…But Why?: Cloud Rat

With a musical progression that goes something like Foreigner->Def Leppard->Metallica->Dead Kennedys-> Napalm Death, I completely get where Cloud Rat’s Rorik is coming from when he describes his meandering musical history. Here’s how the promising Michigan up and comer got his grind on and what keeps him coming back.

“I grew up in a really small town (Shepherd, MI), and I wasn't surrounded by a punk/metal scene until I got into my mid/later teens and traveled to other bigger cities,” Rorik said. “My mother was in bar rock bands her whole life, but by the time I was old enough to get into music she was a devout Christian. On a tip from a friend, she ordered some tapes through some Christian distro that I can't remember, and the bands were Vengeance, Mortification, Deliverance, and Tourniquet. At the time I was only about 9 or 10 and didn't really get into the more extreme Vengeance and Mortification stuff, but the other two helped to open my eyes to heavy music (it's funny that Christian music did this, because now I'm of a very different philosophy). I heard Napalm Death for the first time when I was 13, the BBC Sessions on CD. I didn't get it yet.
“It wasn't until I heard Pig Destroyer a couple years later that I started getting into it. After that it was a rapid progression into many extreme music styles, death/grind/doom/hardcore punk/etc. I've been in metal bands, hardcore bands, and rock bands, but nothing has ever got my blood to boil like playing in grindcore bands.
"I guess that I got into grind because to me, it is the fastest, heaviest, and rawest that you can get. And on top of that, to keep it interesting (for me at least), there has to be some sort of real songwriting going on, or some quirk thrown in there that keeps it fresh. And for a style of music that is defined by absolute speed and heaviness, it's amazing how much variety there is! Also, I'm a generally calm person, but I have a lot of intense thoughts and feelings that I can only get out when I play music that is as loud, fast, heavy, and cathartic as I can possibly create.
"I sometimes question my sanity when I'm in a putrid basement with 20 other weirdos, drunk and running into each other, having ear-bleeding noise pounding my ear drums. It's fun to stop and look around at those moments, wondering how you got there. I guess at this point I can't really see it better any other way."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Demo-lition Derby: Busuk

Beats of Rage

There’s a difference between stripping and burlesque. Indonesia’s Simpsons-sampling encrusted grinders Busuk nail a perfect musical bit of burlesque on their three song demo Beats of Rage. They taunt and tease but at the end of it all, you walk away with the sense that you haven’t seen all they have to offer. They haven’t stripped bare their full repertoire of songwriting skills, but they’ve shimmied and shaken enough that you won’t leave feeling disappointed.
Crusty and grindy in ways that may recall Resistant Culture, Busuk have the perfect blend of thick and jagged guitars and a snare that snaps with a palpable thump. Additionally, the singer, recognizing when the band is just on and raging, is smart enough to know when to just STFU and let them play, like on the first half of intro “Blow Your Mind.” That all speaks of an impressive confidence in their cheese grater grind and neither “Dance at the Freaky Circle” nor “Virus Mind” will let you down. The only negative to this demo is that it’s a scant five minutes and a mere three songs, but I haven’t been this thoroughly titillated and teased since Amputee’s two minute lap dance last year. You can download Beats of Rage here.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Panic! At the Discography: Discordance Axis

Discordance Axis
Perfect Collection: Original Sou
nd Version 1992-1995
Hydra Head
In addition to grasping for grindcore perfection with The Inalienable Dreamless, Discordance Axis also set the bar for fan service with the early efforts compilation Perfect Collection: Original Sound Version 1992-1995. Originally compiled by Devour Records and reissued by Hydra Head the compilation collects first album Ulterior as well as many of their early splits with innovators Hellchild and Capitalist Casualties. The overstuffed 69 track effort even clocks out with the band’s earliest rehearsal recordings, which are probably only of interest to the most die hard of DxAx obsessives (I'm betting the circles would practically overlap in a Venn diagram of "Discordance Axis fans" and "Discordance Axis obsessives"). If Original Sound Version included nothing more than meditative instrumental curveball “My Neighbor Totoro” and guitar scraping screamer “Ruin Trajectory” that would be enough to cement this collection as a mandatory buy. But so much more thought went into every facet of the reissue.
Given the DVD packaging treatment that would become Discordance Axis’ hallmark with The Inalienable Dreamless, the package shines because of the care singer Jon Chang put into his exhaustive liner notes. Where too many bands are content just to dress up discography packages with some rarity photos and maybe a few old show fliers, Chang illuminates each song, offering some unique insight either into its themes, genesis or performance that illustrates the care Discordance Axis put into their craft (something he would add to the reissued Jouhou as well). His self-flagellating assessment of his earliest lyrical efforts is often hilarious and humbling. It’s impressive to watch the continual critical evaluation of the band’s work that propelled them far past their peers. With Jouhou, the discography also includes Chang’s two-part biography of the band, one of the few authoritative sources of information on Discordance Axis, a band that never got their due in their day.
If you had a gun to your head and could only choose on Discordance Axis album, of course you’re going to pick The Inalienable Dreamless. However, anyone interested in the band’s progression or the baby steps of 21st Century grindcore should also boast Original Sound Version and Jouhou in their collection as well. This is exactly what a well conceived discography should be. It serves as the perfect entry point for new fans but includes enough details and rarities that even long time acolytes will have plenty of surprises in store.