Rosetta - The Galilean Satellites
Originally posted November 28th, 2008
This is a 2-disc album. Disc 1 is the heavy stuff, disc 2 is the ambient noise. Both can be listened to separately (the ambient stuff is pretty good if you're into that sort of thing) but the idea is that you're supposed to play them simultaneously to get the full effect.
Rosetta are hands down one of the heaviest bands ever, yet at the same time one of the most atmospheric. They fill the room and tear up the floor. Chandeliers will fall from their celings in homes three blocks away from you. They're a post-metal band from
The album itself is about a man who becomes dissatisfied with the world around him, and leaves to find a place of solitude- Europa. However, upon reaching it, he realizes that he left behind things that were meaningful to him as well. The music reflects this theme of space travel, with a heavy spacey sound to it that permeates the work, especially on the ambient disc. The track names on disc two are all names of different stars, as well.
Production is decent, quite good really. The instrumentation is excellent, with some passages reminiscent of Isis as well as any number of post-rock/hardcore/metal bands. Sometimes it's not as coherent as Wake/Lift, due to it being produced largely by the band, but the difference is largely marginal.
All in all this is an excellent album, with distinctive artwork by Aaron Turner himself at the express request of the band's label. There's plenty here, with the metal disc and the ambient disc and the concept of listening to both simultaneously- an idea borrowed from Neurosis, whose album Times of Grace was meant to be heard alongside the album Grace from their ambient side project Tribes of Neurot. I wouldn't recommend this album to a newcomer to post-metal unless they were of an extremely open mind, or enjoyed "spacey" music without minding non-clean vocals. That said, I do suggest you give it a try- you might find you like it.
Red Sparowes – Every Red Heart Shines Towards The Red Sun
Originally posted December 13th, 2008
Red Sparowes is a Los Angeles-based post-metal band formed in 2003 out of current and former members of
Every Red Heart Shines Towards the Red Sun is their 2nd studio album. Despite having no lyrics it's a concept album of sorts, and basically follows the story of the Great Sparrow Campaign, part of Chairman Mao's ill-fated Great Leap Forward. The Great Leap Forward was Mao's attempt to convert
Back to the album. Instrumentally this is about what you can expect from a band like this- clean production, clean instrumentation, top-notch work all around. The album never gets boring and keeps up its dark, bitter tone throughout. The titles are ridiculously long, of course, which is a staple of post-rock as is the slow buildup into multi-layered crescendos. The songs all flow into each other and so it's hard to pick out specific moments, but one particular moment I enjoy is towards the end of "Millions Starved" where the crescendo that the song's spent 8 minutes building up to finally gives away into a sad passage with a gently pounding rhythm finishes up the song.
All in all this is a fantastic album, and if you're looking for something that sits a bit outside what you usually expect from metal this might be what you're looking for.
Anathema – The Silent Enigma
Originally posted January 16th, 2009
You can't talk about death/doom without talking about at least one of the bands that put it on the map: Anathema, My Dying Bride, and Paradise Lost, also known as the Peaceville Three, in reference to their association with Peaceville Records. In this case I picked Anathema- partly due to the weird shift they've developed in later years towards a more atmospheric rock sound.
Doom metal is a very old subgenre, dating back to Black Sabbath, and of course this may be why doom metal has so many subgenres and so much influence. Death/doom traces its origins back to the 80s when traditional doom metal was beginning to be mixed with thrash and the budding sound of death metal. Bands such as Dream Death and Winter were death metal bands that had some doom influences. In many ways death/doom was a logical progression- blending musical styles is a time-honoured tradition. At least when done right.
Anathema, My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost were three British bands on Peaceville Records that brought the mixture of death metal and doom metal into a more recognized subgenre in the 90s. Many later bands such as Within Temptation would cite these three bands as majour influences. The Peaceville Three's sound was essentially a combination of mid-80s Candlemass and Celtic Frost with various other elements such as keyboards. Out of death/doom came symphonic metal and gothic metal, again with the Peaceville Three as the main influences.
Towards the end of the 90s the subgenre sagged in popularity as many of its earlier practicioners moved towards a more accessible (radio-friendly?) sound. However, funeral doom continues the tradition, rising up in the 90s as death/doom matured, taking death/doom and mixing with dark ambient.
This album is Anathema's second. It would prove to be their last with this particular sound, taking on a much more accessible sound with Eternity. It proved a turning point- it was the first album without Darren White on vocals, being replaced by existing member and guitarist Vincent Cavanagh. This marked the beginning of Anathema's shift- The Silent Enigma would be their last offering in the old style they were known for. Cavanagh was in many ways a better vocalist than White, and it showed.
After this album came Eternity and that was when the band's sound began to change. The band had slowly been changing their sound ever since; Eternity took on a gothic influence, Alternative 4 was a much harder shift, sung entirely in clean vocals- but it wasn't until Judgement that the band made their most definitive departure from doom metal, focusing on alt-rock and 70s-style progressive. Finally Anathema would release A Fine Day to Exit in 2001, and it was basically the end result of Anathema's slow metamorphosis into a Pink Floyd clone.
Anathema's not the only band to follow a path like this- I've mentioned that many of the old death/doom bands started changing direction- two of the Peaceville Three have changed their sound entirely. Paradise Lost quit doing it after Shades of God, basically pioneering gothic metal as an official subgenre with Icon and Draconian Times. Outside of Peaceville, Novembers Doom would shift more towards straight-up death metal with The Pale Haunt Departure and Theatre of Tragedy's last album in this style was Velvet Darkness They Fear.
Of course, My Dying Bride continues to keep up the sound, Runemagick would join in the fun with Darkness Death Doom (clever title there chaps) and even Bolt Thrower (!?) made a contribution with The IVth Crusade.
In any case, death/doom is one of the biggest, most influential subgenres of doom metal, and is here to stay, at least for a while longer.
Thergothon – Stream From the Heavens
Originally posted January 23rd, 2009
As you know, funeral doom is an extension of death/doom. Where death/doom combined crushing doom metal with death metal, funeral doom takes it a step further and adds dark ambient. It is played at an extremely slow tempo- however it should be noted that it is a distinct subgenre from drone doom for many reasons, not least of which is that notes don't go for nearly half as long as drone doom and there is some semblance of structure. Metal has traditionally been on the more negative side of the range of human emotions- anger, hate, sadness, that sort of thing, but funeral doom takes it a step further with a strong emphasis on feelings of emptiness and despair. Synthesisers are often used in conjunction with more traditional instruments to create a dreamlike atmosphere and the vocals are typically deep growls.
Thergothon was one of the pioneers of this subgenre. Hailing from Finland, they initially released the demo Fhtagn nagh Yog-Sothoth and continued in that style with the more pronounceable Stream from the Heavens, which was their only full-length album- and was actually released two years after they split up. Their style was very distinct at the time- extremely slow, with riffs being crushing dirges and some of the deepest death grunts I have ever heard- gutteral sounds that seem to echo up from a tomb 60 feet below the surface of the earth. It's all very brutal and crushing, with a strong Lovecraftian overtone.
I must warn you- this album is rather inaccessible, and it was intended to be so. While you may find many later funeral bands pick up the speed a bit, Thergothon remains extremely slow. It was clearly intended to be difficult to sit through unless you're an asshole like me who likes weird shit and blasts it at max volume while slow-rolling your car past weddings in front of a church. As minimalism goes this is pretty much the definition of such. Don't download this album expecting some great riffs (though the drumming is pretty good)- download it expecting to hear some extremely heavy, atmospheric, crushing melancholic music.
It's a shame the band were so shortlived- I would have liked to see what they could have come up with in later years. As it is, after the breakup, the drummer and vocalist, formed a shoegazer (and later trip-hop) band called This Empty Flow, the drummer also composing songs for a popular Finnish band called PMMP and the vocalist records experimental electronica.
Darkthrone – Hate Them!
Originally posted February 7th, 2009
This album and Marduk's World Funeral were the first two black metal albums I ever owned. They were a gift to me from a long-time internet friend, who got them as promo copies from her job at a radio station. As she was more into power metal than this sort of thing naturally I was the obvious recipient. Well I'm glad she sticks with that stuff 'cuz without those two albums I probably wouldn't be nearly as big a fan of black metal as I am today.
Darkthrone's seminal Transilvanian Hunger remains my favourite black metal album ever. But Hate Them! is up there too. As you might surmise this album is all very traditional, with guitars all tuned to D with heavy riffwork. If you've heard any Darkthrone from before 2005 you know what to expect. The production is still wonderfully shitty- and Darkthrone is the only band that can get away with it because it's almost like an extra instrument. Fenriz' drumming is great as always, and Culto continues to impress with his vocals and guitarplaying. There really isn't that much to say about this album because it's like Iron Maiden- you've heard one album, you've heard them all (to oversimplify it). Some bands start out unlistenable and improve over the years; some bands start off great then you start wondering what the hell they're doing; and some bands don't need to change, because they start off awesome and only refine that awesomeness.
The strange thing is that a few people seem to think that it's not "raw" enough for some reason- usually because the production is slightly better, or because up until 2005 Darkthrone were doing largely the same stuff they did since 1992. Or, conversely, and this is rather hilarious, they complain that Darkthrone changed their style with this album. What? No. Just no. You know what? Screw those guys. Those guys are assholes. Black metal- actually, no, let's be fair, metal in general- is known for having a bunch of obnoxious, domineering assholes who seem to think their opinion is worth something because they only listen to obscure, poorly produced garbage nobody ever heard of. These are the retards who like to wave their metal penis and talk about how metal they are when the fact is that metal isn't about how loud or obnoxious you are, it's about bucking trends and breaking the "rules" that the music scene seems to have established. Being metal isn't being some pretentious asshole who only listens to obscure 80s thrash, and it's not about how many peoples' legs you can break in a mosh pit. It's about not being like the dimwitted scene kid who's so busy being "edgy" and "original" he fails to notice he looks like every other dipshit. When you can flip everyone the finger and go off and do what you want without having to worry about what the asshole in corpsepaint thinks of it, that's the most metal thing of all.
Horde – Hellig Usvart
Originally posted February 13th, 2009
You've all heard the rumours- whispers in darkened nightclubs of there being a strange, new kind of black metal, something that turns one of the core tenets of the genre on its head; hushed conversation in the basements of burned, abandoned churches that, horror of horrors, some black metal bands sing about Christianity in a- gasp!- positive light. Is nothing unsacred?
The rumours are true. They do exist. But here's the thing: they're not that different, musically, from bands you know and love such as Darkthrone and the like. What sets them apart is only their lyrical content. They look and sound exactly like the more "mainstream" black metal bands (if such a genre could ever be called mainstream), but those incomprehensible growls and screams are praising God.
... Well, it's a unique concept in this scene.
As the bands tend to be basically the same in terms of playing style and general look (dark clothes, corpsepaint, occasionally looking ridiculous), and there is no "Christian method" that these bands, typically called "unblack" or "white" metal, use to play, it's not so much a subgenre as it's a movement- an ideological subgroup that sets itself apart from the rest of the genre. In this sense it's like NSBM, or National Socialist Black Metal, which musically plays similar to more mainstream black metal but lyrically concerns itself with nationalism, racism, Nazism, and occultism in Nazi terms.
The movement can be safely considered to have begun with Australian band Horde's single studio album, Hellig Usvart. While similar bands existed prior to Horde (such as Antestor), Hellig Usvart was the first real album in the black metal style to use Christian lyrics. As you might expect, the scene reacted responsibly and logically, sending death threats to Nuclear Blast demanding that the label drop the band for soiling their precious blasphemy. A publicity campaign was begun in an attempt to destroy Horde and the burgeoning unblack metal movement (Antestor was originally a death metal band called Crush Evil, and Euronymous was going to try and force them to break up when Varg Vikernes killed him.) Attempts were made to discover the identity of Anonymous, Horde's only member- so called because he and the label were not to reveal his name, but a bit of a nice pun on Euronymous. Anonymous would later be revealed to be Jayson Sherlock. Nuclear Blast had hid his idenity well, and he only ever heard about the death threats second hand.
Sherlock had started the project as a response to the state of the black metal scene at the time, and was partially inspired by Darkthrone stating that they played "Unholy Black Metal"- Sherlock has stated that Horde was always going to be lyrically the opposite of what Darkthrone sang about, hence the term "holy unblack metal", or just plain unblack metal (does anybody actually say "unholy black metal" now?). His intent was not to parody, as has long been believed, but to give an alternative take. One can respect a band and their skill while disagreeing with the lyrical content- how else has Nokturnal Mortum achieved such wide popularity?
As to the album itself...
Well, it certainly SOUNDS like black metal. Lo-fi, old-school, brutal, growling vocals- and some great drumming. Sherlock utilizes an extremely fast double bass pedal and blast beat technique, and you will notice it, as while he is a competent guitar and bass player, drumming is his speciality. Production is about what you might expect- not the greatest, but listenable. Lyrically- and I want to make a distinction here- the album is a direct attack on Satanism. Many unblack metal bands don't make direct assaults on Satanism, but rather sing directly about Christianity; Horde does the opposite, as the praise for God is rather indirect compared to the more pointed criticism of Satanism.
As 'black' metal goes this is pretty much what you might expect- nothing really mindblowing here. As the spark of a firestorm of controversy and the roots of a musical movement, however, is where it truly shines.
Which leads me into something I want to talk about real quick.
It's well known that I have absolutely no use for NSBM. I've never felt it was necessary to make an entire musical movement out of political ideology- I mean it's one thing if you want to sing about communism and anti-capitalism like Rage Against the Machine (while making millions of dollars off your albums) but you don't need to declare an entire subsection of music dedicated solely to your chosen political views. This is one of the things that piss me off about white power music. The Rock Against Communism series of concerts in 1970s
And that pisses me off. I mean come on, as causes go anti-communism is actually fairly noble, but they never actually SING about that shit. It's all WHITE POWA RAH RAH RAH BILLY RAY COME OVER HERE AND HELP ME FIX MY HOOD
The point is, I find it frankly disgusting to try to claim a style of music for your political (or racist) ideology. But what about religion? Unblack metal bands are musically indistinguishable from their more Satanic cousins, they just have different lyrics.
I don't think it would be a double standard to state that I honestly have no problem with using Christian themes in music, particularly black metal. I've never quite understood the whole "black metal as an ideology" thing. You want to look stupid in leather and sing about Satan? Fine! Let the other guy sing about Jesus- 'cuz he looks stupid in leather, too. Don't try to claim that your musical genre is meant to cater to Satanists, or anti-Christian sentiments, or whathaveyou. Just because a majority of black metal bands (especially the older ones) tend to sing about that sort of thing does NOT make black metal necessarily anti-Christian. Lyrical content and musical style are mutually exclusive.
Carcass – Heartwork
Originally posted March 13th, 2009
Carcass are one of those bands that you occasionally hear about but unless you're accustomed to extreme metal and the associated vocal styles they're not going to appeal to you. That said, Carcass have made a name for themselves, being repeated pioneers in the music they perform. Hailed as one of the founders of grindcore (and the progenitor of grindcore's subgenre, goregrind), Carcass were (and are, I guess, again) a British band formed in 1985. Their lyrics have traditionally been quite gory, on an almost clinical level- as a matter of fact, they used an anatomy book to write their lyrics. The focus on body horror was quite influential on goregrind, and they made a name for themselves in the scene in their early years.
Their first album had very poor production, something the band was not happy with, but their second was much improved in that regard. By the time the 1990s had rolled around Carcass had begun to play more straight up death metal, with longer, slower songs with more intricate composition. By 1993 they had become a full-fledged death metal band, and in mid-October of that year they released Heartwork, considered a major departure from the band's previous work. Bill Steer's deeper vocals were gone and the lyrics were significantly less gory, and the song structure was slightly simplified. But the album's technical information doesn't speak very well to the massive influence the album had on death metal.
Heartwork has long been considered to be the first melodic death metal album, and while you could make a case for the Sentenced album North from Here (released February 1993) I'm going to have to side with Carcass on this one.
Melodic death metal is what it says on the tin. Combining the melody-focused style of traditional heavy metal with the harshness of death metal, bands working in this style tend to make more use of melodic guitar riffs, solos, and on occasion acoustic guitar. While bands in later years have evolved the genre with such things as the inclusion of keyboards (see Dark Tranquillity) the early years of melodeath were pretty much a straightup mix of heavy metal and death metal.
As to the album itself, production is a far cry from their first album which has some of the worst production on the planet. Sometimes the bass gets a bit muted but the album is otherwise very listenable. The instrumentation is skillful, and the vocals are well-delivered. The focus is definitely on the guitarwork, however, with plenty of solos for everybody and lots of consideration for technical skill and emotive expression.
This album is interesting from a historical perspective, showing that Carcass had quite a bit of influence throughout their career. The band broke up in 1995, largely due to record label interference, and reunited in 2007, but not every band can lay claim to founding not one, but two whole styles of music.
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
Originally posted April 3rd, 2009
Released in February 1970, Black Sabbath was heavily inspired by blues, a holdover from their early blues rock days as Earth (no, not the drone band.) It was one of the first albums of its kind to ever be released or even recorded, with lyrics and instrumentation that were considered quite dark for a time full of hippies and flower children and long-haired British boys in suits standing on round white plastic pedestals plinking on acoustic guitars and singing about pretty girls. The album faced withering criticism but saw broad commercial success. Rolling Stone hated the shit out of it, with renowned douchebag Lester Bangs calling it "just like Cream! But worse." (He's dead now.) Ironically Rolling Stone realized they'd totally pulled a Decca Records and in 2003 the album was ranked #238 on the magazine's 500 greatest albums of all time, as if what Rolling Stone thinks matters worth a good goddamn.
It's no question that the album is a great one, and that it's considered one of the foundations of the entire genre of music that we listen to, but the real debate that continues to rage to this day is: which is better, Black Sabbath or Paranoid?
For what it's worth, I prefer Paranoid for several reasons; that album along with Volume 4 and Dehumanizer make up my 3 favourite Black Sabbath albums, but the self-titled is a very easy number 4. But really, an argument could be made for both albums- they were both released in the same year and have generally the same sound, covering similar themes. My vote goes to Paranoid partly due to it being my introduction to the band (and one of my earliest metal albums) but also partly because it's a much more focused work and so is more consistent through the album.
But who gives a shit as they're both great albums.
Michael Bolton – Everybody’s Crazy
Originally posted June 5th, 2009
YOUR WHOLE LIFE IS A LIE
EVERYTHING YOU THOUGHT TO BE TRUE IS A LIE
Now that I've shattered your worldviews...
It's true that Michael Bolton is considered the king of soft rock, but it's equally true and far less known that he also used to be pretty heavy back in the day!
Everybody's Crazy is sometimes regarded as low point of Bolton's career but as far as I'm concerned this is the best thing he ever released, possibly also being the
Seriously. Get it. It's a lot better than you'd think.
MC 900 Foot Jesus – One Step Ahead of the Spider
Originally posted August 7th, 2009
One thing I've noticed about goons is that they nearly always hate rap. The ones that don't tend to say "I only like GOOD rap" then proceed to list a bunch of obscure white guys. Well, that's fine. Crunk ruined hiphop, but before that happened there was a lot of great stuff coming out of the West Coast. Most of us growing up in the 80s remember rap being the happy, tonguetwisting domain of guys like LL Cool J and Fresh Prince. It was pretty tame stuff, not a lot of swearing. Even Public Enemy, who brought a politically charged, militant tone to the whole thing, tempered things with Flava Flav's special brand of comic relief. So in spite of a few people declaring rap to be the end of society, nobody took rap too seriously. Then we started getting stuff out of the West Coast, especially
Kinda lost amid the "Natural Born Killaz" and "Nasty As You Wanna Be" was an obscure white guy named MC 900 Ft. Jesus. Also known as
MC900FJ's music is, at its base, hiphop for the most part. There is use of samples, as well as spoken-word sequences and quite a bit of jazzy weirdness. One Step Ahead of the Spider is by far his most experimental work, playing around with all sorts of effects, such as surf guitar. This album is famous for his cult hit "If I Only Had a Brain", the music video of which was directed by a young Spike Jonze and was included in a Beavis and Butthead episode. NPR will often use various tracks from this album as bumper music, as well.
So what's the album like? Well, it's pretty good. Don't expect something aggressive like you're probably used to hearing. It doesn't even really move fast like old-school East Coast rap. The best I can describe this album is if hip hop got really drunk and passed out, and jazz got a bunch of other genres to cover hip hop in rude words with magic marker and then pee on him for laughs. There's lots of weird, non-standard jazzy stuff, especially in songs like "But If You Go" and the Miles Davis-knobslobbering "Bill's Dream", and songs like "New Moon" and "New Year's Eve" may put you off if you're not interested in spoken word. That said, this album is quite groovy at times, with the standout track being "If I Only Had a Brain." Though I will be honest and admit that the song that got me interested in this guy in the first place was "Buried At Sea," which was featured on a compilation disc by American Recordings (the label this album was released on) that was included with the Sega Genesis game Comix Zone. That continues to be my favourite MC900FJ song, and I think you'll like the moody, oceanic feel of the song as much as I do.
It's really quite the shame that
Bob Dylan – Bringing it all Back Home
Originally posted August 21st, 2009
Yes, I like this. I didn't pick up an appreciation for it until a literature class I took a few years ago basically centered itself entirely around Bob Dylan, his lyrics, and the music's relationship to the 60s. Of the albums I've heard, this is my favourite.
There's quite a bit of discussion about this album and Bob Dylan in general, but I'm going to focus on a few salient points relevant to metal.
Everyone knows Bob Dylan is basically a folk singer. Not exactly the most metal thing you can think of, right? But he's more than that. One of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, he's a cultural icon, the original rock beatnik who started off as a reluctant spearhead of the civil rights and anti-war movements but refuses to this day to ever claim allegience to any ideology. He laid down the groundwork for what modern rock music would become, perhaps even moreso than the Beatles and certainly more than the Rolling Stones.
This album is a particularly important release in his career, featuring a major stylistic change that would prove to be of some serious controversy. It would be his first recording with electric instruments, and later that year (1965) he was the headliner of the Newport Folk Festival, where he was heavily booed, the story goes, by angry folk fans pissed because by playing electric guitar Dylan had "forsaken" his folk roots. Folk music critics were nearly beside themselves, calling Dylan "a youth of mediocre talent." (The guy who wrote that, Ewan MacColl, is dead now.) Later performances would bring about similar reactions, with one infamous moment featuring some asshole screaming "Judas!" to which Dylan responds, "I don't believe you, you're a liar-" then turns to the band and tells them to "play it fucking loud!" About as good a response as any, to be honest.
That said, the album itself was a smash hit, in spite of alienating Dylan from the folk scene. With this album, he distanced himself from the protest music that he had been identified with (against his best intentions), and continued a trend towards more abstract and personal lyrics. There really isn't much for me to say otherwise, other than that it was the start of an iconic trilogy of albums (the other two being Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde) that to this day are hailed as some of Dylan's greatest work.
I guess the real point of all this is that Dylan has never allowed anyone to lump him in with anything. He wrote a lot of stuff that became anthems for the 1960s political left wing, but when he started being put on a pedestal because of his status as the face of protest music, he dropped that like a bad habit and switched styles. He wasn't afraid to alienate anyone and everyone in the name of maintaining a sort of cultural independance, always influencing but never participating. He brought intellectualism to pop rock, created a song that was a very early forerunner to what would become hiphop and rap ("Subterranean Homesick Blues", available on this album), and forged a career that most artists only dream of. Even as he barrels his way through his sixties, he still does his own thing, refusing to be held down, refusing to pander to fans (his famous "neverending tour" never has the same setlist twice.) If you ask me, that's pretty metal. Metal, like punk before it, is about being yourself, it's about bucking trends and breaking the "rules." It's about remaining true to your ideals. What this means is that too often you're going to have some band or musician who doesn't want to be pigeonholed, so they go off and do what they want, and this ends up alienating a legion of fans because how dare a band not stagnate. I know people who hate anything Ulver's made since their Black Metal Trilogie because it's not black metal. That's stupid, but I can see where they're coming from. But I've also seen people who think Iron Maiden sold out after Bruce left, and I'm left thinking, what the hell? Iron Maiden are the last band to ever sell out. But I digress.
Bob Dylan refuses to be pigeonholed, he refuses to be labelled, and he refuses to be anything other than Bob Dylan. That's pretty metal. We should learn from his example. Break the rules of the metal scene. End this subculture of aggression, elitism and alienation, and teach your fellow metalheads to appreciate music of all kinds for what it is, now for how much it gets them "pumped up."
Robert Rich & B. Lustmord – Stalker
Originally posted August 28th, 2009
It's no secret that I enjoy a certain legacy of media commonly referred to as Stalker. In 1971 two brothers in the
In 1986 the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant's Reactor #4 exploded. It is to this day considered the worst nuclear power plant disaster in history, spewing fallout into the atmosphere that was detected as far away as
In 2007, Ukrainian game developer GSC Game World, previously known for some moderately-successful strategy games, would release, after a long period of development and hype, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, and the following year would release a prequel, subtitled Clear Sky. These two games depict a slightly futuristic Chernobyl Zone where a second explosion creates a more dangerous kind of zone, populated by monsters, and at the center of it is the plant itself. Taking visual cues from the real-life zone, and many small elements from the book and film (including a strange monolith in Reactor #4 that supposedly grants wishes), the first game was released to critical acclaim and became the sleeper hit of the year. (Clear Sky was marred by a rocky release, poor design decisions, and lots of bugs and stability issues.)
So what's the point of all this? Well, it's clear that there is a sort of "stalker meme" that has stretched through the last four decades, covering a book, a film, real life, two games (with a third on the way), and even a stage adaptation of Roadside Picnic. But there is one thing that often gets overlooked. And that's this album.
Stalker, released in 1995 by Robert Rich and B. Lustmord (also known as Brian Williams, also known as the guy who basically invented dark ambient), was inspired by the 1979 film. The cover art is a 1988 photograph by famous landscape photographer Brad Cole, and it was chosen, presumably, for its similarity to the sepiatone sections in the film, some of which are by the water. Described as "a guide to possible interpretations of ambivalent reality... to illuminate... and decode this landscape of fractured density" it's a rather soothing album for dark ambient, which is strange because Rich is known for slow, gradually evolving electronic music and Lustmord is known for creepy, ambient industrial soundscapes. The music is essentially somewhere in the middle of these two styles, with much of the album evoking a sense of emptiness. It's slow-moving and haunting, and from the distant sirens of the first track to the slow dripping of the final track the album effectively creates a soundtrack for whatever pops up in your head. Like a lot of dark ambient, you shouldn't pop this in expecting to have some butt jumpin' tunez to blast on your way to work. Instead, why not read a book to this, or draw, or perform some other creative work with this in the background? Or hell, do what I did with Fallout 3 (which I consider to be, ultimately, what Shadow of Chernobyl was originally meant to be) and use it as video game music.
Some other things to note: British sci-fi and fantasy author M John Harrison has written a book with his own spin on the theme, called Nova Swing; GSC Game World are developing another game in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series subtitled Call of Prypiat; and supposedly a 2nd film adaptation of Roadside Picnic, starring John Travolta of all people, is due out next year, though any and all information pertaining to it seems to have disappeared. Thank Christ.
Type O Negative – Bloody Kisses
Originally posted September 18th, 2009
I don't think some people realize that Type O Negative are metal. They seem to occasionally get lumped in with bands like the Cure and similar acts by dint of being classified as "goth" and appealing to, well, goths, but they're technically metal. Moreover, the specific kind of metal is a subgenre of doom metal.
Like funeral doom, gothic metal shares stylistic origins in death/doom, but where funeral doom was essentially a continuation of death/doom's aesthetics with the addition of dark ambient, gothic metal is more diverse, with a "gothic" sound applied to several different styles of heavy metal. As such there is a lot of debate over what is, and (more heatedly) what isn't gothic metal. One of the misconceptions of gothic metal is that it is the domain of fem-fronted bands, i.e. bands I (not always derisively) would call "estrocore". This is not true. While female vocals have been used as far back as 1985 with Celtic Frost's To Mega Therion, it wasn't until the mid to late 90s when female vocals became truly prominent when Theatre of Tragedy put out their self-titled that was entirely centered around the concept of a contrast between clean female vocals and aggressive male vocals, and in 2000 when Within Temptation's Mother Earth got rid of the male vocals entirely and The Silent Force brought in a symphonic element that created what we now call symphonic gothic metal. It's true that this style is dominated by female vocalists, but it is just one subsection of a larger genre that takes influence from everything from black metal to folk metal and lots of stuff in between.
Type O Negative were one of the early pioneers of gothic metal, forming out of the ashes of thrash metal band Carnivore. Their early sound was quite aggressive, for example the album Slow Deep and Hard was aptly named considering its aggressive, dirgy drone of industrial and gothic atmosphere. Their second album, Bloody Kisses, was a bit of a switch. Production was cleaner and the songs were better- much better. They were also more subtle- dropping most of the outbursts on previous releases, yet still maintaining a sense of dark humour, lending irony to their gloom-drenched cover of a bright and happy 70s song, and poking fun at goth subculture, as well as a sarcastic rebuke to accusations of racism (mostly due to the controversial lyrics of Carnivore.) Bloody Kisses essentially invented gothic metal, and it has actually been said that if not for Type O Negative there would be no gothic metal, bringing a sense of morbid masculinity and humour to a scene that until then had been thought to be relegated to scrawny assholes trying to look like Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club.