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Shred/Metal Mash-Ups

9 Apr

The first 5 minutes or so of this video featuring guitarist Ben Higgins superimposing licks by (mostly) first-class shredders on top of rhythm sections from well-known metal bands is the most fun I’ve had all week:

To my ears, the real gems are the shred/death metal mash-ups. There are some great lead guitarists in death metal (like Trey Azagthoth, featured here) but they tend to default to atonal chromatic runs. This makes sense since the abrasive flight-of-the-bumblebee thing fits the genre aesthetic. The lack of deviation from this approach, however, is largely a function of how atonal chromaticism spares guitarists the hastle of conveying and maintaining a more traditional tonality while playing over frenetically complex, harmonically mercurial riffs. But when skillfully executed (as in the Yngwie/Morbid Angel and Satriani/Nile mash-ups), a solo built from more refined scales tends to sound dramatically more interesting as a complement to lurching down-tuned aggression than 99% of post-Slayer atonal flurries.

Also on offer here: further confirmation that Kirk Hammett is wasted struggling to achieve “shred” over Hetfield’s speedy thrash rhythms—the Load/ReLoad years demonstrated he’s far better suited to languid hard rock grooves and bluesy cadences. So much so that (apparently) he can make even Motley Crüe sound appealing.

 

Brief Reflection On #CancelColbert

28 Mar

What most agitates me about this brouhaha is that it already happened on a somewhat smaller scale last October when The Onion took a far more provocative stab at satirizing the same guy with essentially the same joke.

I have an acute memory of noticing The Onion’s inflammatory headline in my twitter feed the morning the article was posted. And I remember immediately taking a depressingly sibylline inventory of who would be dripping with scornful outrage, who would be saying “I appreciate your concerns but I’m also okay with this style of humor,” and who would use it as an occasion to indulge their gluttonous appetite for cruelty by gleefully antagonizing vulnerable people.

Dan Snyder—the intended target of the lampoon—and his qualitatively more egregious offenses were secondary here because they’d already been etched into the national conversation. Already at that juncture, as per our discursively preoccupied political culture, it would feel redundant for bloggers and tweeting micropundits to keep up visible apoplexy over Snyder. In the realm of social media, even the squares and politically apathetic old people were more-likely-than-not to have already gotten wind of the debate over a football team’s beloved racist iconography and taken a fixed position on it.

The appearance of antisemitic language on the homepage of a smart and increasingly leftist (fake) news outlet with considerable cachet, however, was striking—and it was something new to talk about.

On the woefully fissiparous Left, riven more than ever by the growing fashionability of neo-Mau Mauer posturing via twitter and tumblr—what, for better or worse, Mark Fisher has dubbed the Vampire Castlewe know what happens when a proud Castlevanian catches sight of a hip publication stepping into the ambit of a controversy and onto terrain that, prima facie, bears any resemblance to The Wrong Side. Namely, she perceives an opportunity to assert her social media-anchored, outrage-fueled identity. (Often, said identity is imbued with some quantum of careerist ambition: it’s hard not to see Suey Park, whatever her merits, in this light.) If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck—viz. the kind of duck that makes cavalier use of ethnic slurs—then there will be a widespread impulse on the cultural Left to seize on it full bore, even if it seems obvious that any intelligent person (and I’d never dispute that the Castle crowd is generally a bright one) would have to squint and plug their ears to maintain the conflation.

The truth hiding in plain sight is that in neither this instance nor yesterday’s Colbert controversy has the energy investment on display in the social media blow-up been easy to square with how one imagines a seriously committed activist would spend her time in the struggle against racism in American society (a manifold phenomenon, to be sure). Listen, I know what concern trolling is. But the disparity here between any serious triage of racist injustices and what thousands of twitter activists apparently deem worthy targets for hours of teeth-grinding dissent and resistance is so immense that it’s amazing one has to point it out at all.

Accordingly, I judge this intervention to be much too long already (and myself to be more bound up with Castlevania’s social ecology than I’d like to admit). That said, I won’t pretend I’m entitled to a posture of repose, as one sitting in judgment at a healthy distance above the fray—as if I didn’t also reflexively fall into one of the three predictable camps, as if being Jewish really allows me to have no stake whatsoever in prominent appearances of antisemitic language—so I’ll lay my cards on the table directly (even though you’ve already correctly placed me in your own mental inventory): both times I found the over-the-top style slightly grating, but wholeheartedly appreciated the spirit of the satire. I think it made better use of the same caustic outrage at injustice it inevitably attracted. And regardless of what might be problematic in this position, it bears asking why a position on something so relatively trivial should matter so much on the Left.

Update: The extraordinary traffic this post has generated with scarcely any self-promotion (and the giddy buzz said attention ineluctably generates in even the most staid blogger’s ego) inclines me to believe my cynicism is well-founded: that is, outrage-oriented “twitter activism”  primarily runs on attention-seeking and careerist brand-building desires. Enlightened thirst for justice and political change are indisputably in the mix, much in the same way that Jason Newsted’s bass tracks are indisputably in the mix on Metallica’s …And Justice For All album

A Valentine from Warrel Dane

14 Feb

Celebrate cultural diversity with a traditional Valentine’s Day metal ballad. (And as a bonus, enjoy the most beautiful guitar solo of the nascent millennium courtesy of Mr. Jeff Loomis).


Besides, fellow Americans, BLIZZARD AND FROST ABOUND–you bumpin’ Katrina & the Waves? No. Embrace the metal.

Thanksgiving Youtube Spread

28 Nov


And finally, some text, just in case you’re one of those zealots who takes ritalin even on holidays. I share with you a heartwarming note from my old MRIHR comrade, Harvard researcher John Spritzler:

A holiday in a class society such as ours has two generally opposite meanings: the official meaning that reflects the world view and values of the ruling class, and the meaning that most ordinary people give it. Yes, Thanksgiving’s official meaning is a celebration of the European upper class’s success in dominating the natives of North America (and also, by the way, dominating the working class of European and African descent.) But for the vast majority of ordinary Americans the meaning of Thanksgiving is that it is a day when the family shares a special meal together even if they are living in separate regions of the country normally and it is a day when they give thanks for having each other in their lives and a good meal to enjoy together.

So, which is the more important of the two meanings? Which is the meaning that we should emphasize? I would say that if one wishes to remove the plutocracy from power, then the latter meaning is the most important one, because it helps people see that there is a positive, decent force in the United States–hundreds of millions of good, decent people who no more want to engage in genocide than you or I–and this force is the basis for hope in building a mass revolutionary movement to remove the genocide-committing plutocracy from power.

But, if one has no serious intention of building such a revolutionary movement, if one wishes merely to complain about the problem rather than solve it, if one wishes mainly to show others that one is not a supporter of genocide (as if anybody thought one was), then I suppose it makes sense to emphasize the former meaning of Thanksgiving.

I choose the latter.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

In Praise of Palace Burners

11 Nov

Any respectable list of the nascent millennium’s best metal albums would have to include Lamb of God’s 2003 career high-water mark, As the Palaces Burn.

What a joy it was then, having woken to a cold, blustery Monday morning and now steeling myself to endure its attendant Monday morning hangover commute, to learn that these rugged Virginians have put out a remixed/remastered edition to commemorate the 10th anniversary of this, the band’s best–and, incidentally, most sonically lamented–record.

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While anniversary reissues are often given a fresh mix/mastering tweak as a way of enticing fans into repurchasing something they already have, there were likely additional reasons behind the decision on this one. Both the band and producer (eccentric Canadian maestro Devin Townsend) have admitted in interviews that they were unhappy with the low-budget production. So much so that Randy Blythe has said that he can’t listen to it and prefers live recordings of the material.

I never had an objection, though. The gritty guitar sound lent those dissonant, trebly riffs a suitably jagged, piercing quality that I wouldn’t trade for the cleaner but less lively production of LoG’s breakthrough follow-up album, Ashes of the Wake (2004). And the punchy, organic quality rarely trespassed upon the dense precision of the arrangements. The airpockets buffeting the tight blasts of ‘Ruin”s obliterating post-solo section register clearly and noiselessly.

That said, the retooled audio production does nicely enhance the record’s already crushing suite of sturm und drang. The bottom end has been disinterred and rendered pronouncedly audible, and it blends more smoothly with the (now crisper) shredding guitars. Some clever processing has expunged the slightly cheesy quality from Blythe’s spoken intro vocals on ‘For Your Malice’. In short, it’s a fresh and polished sonic patina on what was already, at core, a flawlessly executed post-thrash album.

I was struck at the end of my first complete listen by the overall concision here. As the Palaces Burn is a remarkably lean and unhesitating novella of a metal record. From front to back it clocks in at a little under 40 minutes (38:06) and feels shorter.

That relatively quick runtime is a key virtue, staving off monotony. For AtPB is neither particularly dynamic nor stylistically diverse. Relatively subtle flourishes like the spectral keyboard tones (classic Devy) which weave under the final syncopated waves of riffage in ‘A Devil in God’s Country’ stand out like a mantis shrimp in a deli lobster tank.

And the songs, for the most part, grind out at a brisk, ceaselessly aggressive pace. Some at a steady gallop; others, like the title track, are sprinting torrents of aural carnage. The lurching downtempo grooves featured on some of the band’s subsequent work (eg. Omerta) are deployed sparingly (though when they are, as on the menacing ‘Ruin’ outro, the results are damn impressive).

When at last we arrive–limping, strung out from adrenal fatigue, probably bleeding internally–at ‘Vigil’, AtPB‘s worthy conclusion, something strange happens. By now accustomed to relentless surging aggression, we’re suddenly disoriented by an unfamiliar sound: clean, chorus-tinged guitar tone, demurely ringing out a softly arpeggiated chord progression. As the guitar is presently complemented by an uneasy electric bass pulse and palpably restrained drum-and-synth flourishes, we rightly flinch, as if in expectation of a blow.

We’ve been abruptly dropped at the eye of the storm. It lasts less than a minute.

Then, the inevitable: Blythe’s deep, rhasping–”Our father, thy will be done…”–announces an upsurge of heavy, overdriven guitar doom. And soon even the layered, plodding stonermetal dirge dies off, to be eclipsed by the frenetic staccatto barrage that’s reigned over our ears for the past half-hour or so.

In short, when these guys switch it up, they do it right.

If the occasion for the remixed reissue and its attendant celebratory fanfare is the 10 year anniversary of a landmark metal album, then I think it’s worth closing with some praise for As the Palaces Burn‘s sadly neglected significance as a small-but-meaningful piece of American cultural history.

It has always struck me as shameful that in the years following the horror of 9/11, as the US decimated and occupied two countries in the name of a transparently propagandistic “War on Terror,” American bands provided disgracefully little in the way of protest music. We should, then, also honor Lamb of God’s unflinching willingness to place front-and-center a fiercely defiant stance against the rampant militarism of the Bush II regime.

Here, I want to caution the metallically  uninitiated against a (blandly literal) misreading of what’s at work in LoG’s rebuke of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld junta. It exasperates me to periodically encounter reviews that indulge in facile condemnations of the lyrics’ witheringly grim political pessimism. 

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The apocalyptic vision is only fitting.

Lamb of God is, after all, a metal band. And read in the appropriate context of their genre, these lyrics mattered.

Speaking personally, I keenly remember being an outspoken budding leftist on fairly conservative college campus. At a time when reactionary frat mooks were prone to do things like scrawl “Go join al-qaeda, faggot!” on my door in permanent marker, I was grateful to Blythe & co. for writing righteous antiwar lyrics (see also) and making videos like this one:


(PS: You can watch the accompanying documentary packaged with the 10th anniversary reissue here.)

Re: My lawn, damn kids, emancipatory social struggle, etc.

11 Nov

Let’s take a neat quiz I found on facebook. The version that appears below has been slightly amended.

Tools of Social Justice
or

D. A willfully obtuse 4,000 word tumblr post of apoplectic PC cant calling out fellow activists for their insufficient outrage at how THAT POP STAR did something VAGUELY OFFENSIVE.

With Parks & Recreation gifs.

Because if there’s one thing that unfailingly dumbfounds bigots and empowers disenfranchised communities in equal measure, it’s boring, insipid sitcoms where white people talk to the camera about their frivolous non-problems.

I’ll give those of you playing along at home a minute to deliberate.

…Okay, pencils down, you miscreants.

Aaaand–surprise!: the answer was

E. None of the above.

Hooray! Summer school for EVERYONE!

I look forward to feigning disapproval at your sexy pleas for leniency after class.

Seriously, even if we assume that certain violent means of achieving Social Justice are both effective and justifiable, since when has a brick gotten the pseudo-Fanonian CrimethInc. poseurs who favor them anything but cracked skulls and prison?

Oh! Maybe it’s supposed to be for constructing office buildings so your militant political org’s planning committee can set up a permanent base of operations…?

C. it is.

Namaste

7 May

My buddy Filipe, who blogs over at Social Pulses, recently recounted to me his experience seeing Eddie Pepitone perform in London.  Reminded me of this outpouring of comic brilliance.