Tuesday, October 27, 2015

No Longer A Secret Society: Shining's International Blackjazz Society Stretches A Bit Closer to the Mainstream

Seven albums deep into their career (5 since they started incorporating hard rock and metal elements), Shining shows no signs of relenting.  At least, they show no signs of returning to the free jazz of their early days.  Indeed, the Norwegian extreme metalers seem to be making strides towards a more mainstream sound on International Blackjazz Society.  If 2010’s Blackjazz was the benchmark for extreme music, 2013’s One One One took the heaviness and brutality from its predecessor, and trimmed them down into more bite-sized servings.   Blackjazz had songs ranging from 5 to 11 minutes in length, whereas One One One’s longest was barely four and a half. 
On the hilariously-acronym’d IBS, their ideas are even more distilled.  The vocals are a bit cleaner and more understandable.  “House of Control” even includes some of the only clean-sung vocals in Shining’s entire output.  “The Last Stand” has a dancey backbeat reminiscent of mid-2000s Nine Inch Nails.  “Last Day”, with is screamed chorus and ample use of sonic dissonance, is still surprisingly catchy.  And let’s not forget vocalist/guitarist Jørgen Munkeby’s sax interludes and solos, which have long-since been a staple of what has become an otherwise pretty straight-forward extreme metal band.

Unfortunately, IBS is a bit top-heavy.  The band opted to pack the best songs into the first half of the album, the latter half suffering some from overly lengthy tracks or unimportant interludes.  There’s a fantastic drum solo on “Thousand Eyes”, though.

Sure, the record might be a bit dated sonically.  But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  If anything, it ensures that many fans of early-2000s metal will be willing to give the band a try.  And sure, Shining has their niche.  But for a metal band, they always find some way to be new on every record, which can’t be said for a lot of bands in the genre. And their music video for “Last Day”, filmed live atop a mountain in Norway, is proof enough that it’s worth keeping an eye on Shining, if only to see what they attempt next.

7.5 out of 10

Monday, October 26, 2015

Killing Joke Builds Pylon. Electricity Courses Through All Who Listen.

Above the door to the Western World hangs a sign that reads: Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here. –at least, that’s the impression one gets when listening to the latest Killing Joke effort, Pylon.

30 years after their brief flirtations with fame and mass acceptance, and 35 years since the release of their debut, Killing Joke proves they are unyielding in their attack.

And Killing Joke is not a band to pull punches.  Gone is the lush, introspective, synth-laden band of the mid-to-late 80s, penning songs contemplating the search for truth and fulfilling one’s spiritual potential.  Replaced instead by sharp, steely guitars, cavernous war drums, a heaviness so thick you could get stuck.

Pylon, the final installment in a trilogy of records that began with Absolute Dissent in 2010, and continued with MMXII in 2012, is the perfect end to a trio of records that could easily be the soundtrack to the impending apocalypse.  

Corporations and banks rule the economy, western religion is quickly becoming a mockery of itself, and the civilian cattle youth have lost their way, wandering aimless, hopelessly glued to their mobile devices, with a glazed look of cynical, jaded ennui.  “I am the fury/the spirit of outrage” growls vocalist Jaz Coleman in “I Am the Virus”.  One generation created the problems of the modern world, and the generation tasked with solving those problems has already given up.  Killing Jokes screams its message over the deafening droning hum of millions of blank minds: Everything is not alright in the world.  

Like much of their output, Killing Joke’s powerful sense of revelry and raw abandon comes from the repetition of one or two riffs.  Which, when combined with bellowed lyrics concerning anything considered a social faux-pas to discuss (Oil, corporatism, capitalism, religion, war-mongering, the pitfalls of a technology-based living), is what creates the frenetic exorcism of Killing Joke’s music.  To balance the repetition of the guitar, Drummer Paul Ferguson bashes out some of the most danceable, driving beats.  Songs like “New Cold War” with its disco-metal beat and the bluesy swing of “New Jerusalem” are never the focus of the song, but the feeling of catharsis is impossible to ignore.  Sure the world's going to hell.  Might as well enjoy it.

In truth, no one instrument stands out above the rest in the mix.  Killing Joke has taken great care to make sure that no single part is more important than the whole.  There are no guitar solos, only guitar breaks.  The drum work isn’t showy, opting instead for tribal drum breaks and samples in the middle of a song, like in album opener “Autonomous Zone” and the aforementioned “I Am the Virus”.  The music’s job is only to trap the listener and beat them into zombie-like trance, unable to disregard Jaz Coleman's call to arms against our corporate overlords.

As on the previous two albums, Killing Joke has embraced writing songs of more substantial length, giving themselves room to stretch and explore various motifs.  The shortest song on Pylon is still over 4 minutes long, with most tracks lying somewhere in the 5-7 minute range, giving the song space to build into a mighty juggernaut of intensity. 

It is clear what the band wants to say.  The Joke have a message to bring the world, and it will not be handed to us on a gilded piece of parchment, wax sealed and delivered by courier.  It will be shouted from the rooftops, bludgeoned into our souls.  It is unrelenting in its pursuit.  The mission is the Truth, the harbinger is Killing Joke.  They will not stop their assault until everyone is clear on their intention: the world must change, or face imminent destruction.  By the end of the record, the listener deduces that this is not, in fact, the soundtrack to the impending apocalypse, but the final bastion of reason standing between humanity’s vapid existence and its inevitable and fast-approaching doom.

Generally speaking, this kind of prolonged onslaught of the senses is probably not for everyone.  But Killing Joke doesn't care; they're going to make you listen, anyways.

9 out of 10

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Put Your Hands Up and Reach for the Sky: Cry for Ghost

Sweden’s Ghost injects a much needed sense of majesty into Heavy Metal with Meliora
By: Rylee Strange

For those not in the know, Ghost is a Swedish band shrouded in secrecy. Their singer, who goes by Papa Emeritus, is the only member with a name, as the band itself are merely known as Nameless Ghouls (each denoted by a different elemental symbol, fire, earth, water, air and æther, respectively). Papa dresses in satanic papal robes, complete with a miter, and Día De Los Muertos-esque skeleton makeup. The Ghouls, themselves, don matching black outfits and silver demonic masks. It would be reductive to call them a “gimmick band”, but clearly they’ve found the niche that works for them.

Their music is definitely indebted to the metal of the past (70s through early 80s). It relies on big crunchy guitars, a good chorus (or at least some cultish, chantable line), and a distinct lack of cookie monster vocals. Some might see this as a breath of fresh air in an otherwise extreme metal climate, while others might hear it as an ill fit to otherwise “heavy” music (and possibly the antithesis of the metal genre as a whole). But make no mistake, Ghost is a heavy band. They’re not extreme, but they are deep, powerful and really fucking evil. It doesn’t take blast beats and distorted screams to be truly terrifying.

2015’s Meliora is the next logical step from Satanic gimmick band to one of the most hard-working, exciting metal acts in recent memory. Their evolution is clear only in hindsight. Their debut album, Opus Eponymous (2010), sounds positively garage-band in comparison. Meliora is rife with big production, orchestration, strings, keyboards, satanic choirs, the works. And that’s not to mention the dual-lead guitars, the fat, thumpy distorted bass and round, reverb-drenched drum parts.
Right from the opener, “Spirit”, the listener can tell they’re getting into something big, as the album starts with organ, choir, church bells and a Theremin for good measure. Then the chugging metal riff arrives and the set really kicks into gear, right into the thumping groove of “From The Pinnacle to the Pit”, and the first single off the album, “Cirice” (which includes one of the best keyboard solos in recent memory).

From there, the album takes a turn to an interlude track unlike anything they’ve done before: a fifty-six second harp piece called “Spöksonat”, which itself is a reference to an early 20th century Swedish play, “Spöksonaten”, or “The Ghost Sonata”(spök = spook, or ghost, and sonat = sonata). It is a creepy and subdued piece that leads into the best trilogy of songs on the album, and ties the two halves of the record together quite nicely.

“He Is” is a glorious, spiritual love ballad to the dark lord himself, and could even be called beautiful in its majesty. “Mummy Dust” has big keyboards, and a ridiculously catchy, hissed refrain over a spooky piano part, an easy shoe-in for a fan favorite album cut. Speaking of majesty (which seems to be an over-arching theme of the album as a whole), the following track, “Majesty”, is another groovy rocker that wouldn’t have been out of place on an early-80s Saxon or Judas Priest album.

An organ-based interlude, “Devil Church” ties the track to “Absolution”, the last great song on the album, and possibly the best chorus of any song on Meloria. The album closes with “Deus in Absentia”, possibly the only misstep on the album which, by any standard, would have been a great song if not preceded by such a superior set.

All said and done, Meliora is proof that Ghost isn’t done pushing its boundaries yet. They are becoming less and less like another KISS and more and more a “serious” band, although anyone who follows them on social media will definitely see a clear humorous streak, tongue firmly planted in cheek. The humor does little, if anything at all, to detract from keen songwriting and a brilliant set of tunes, though, and like all good bands shrouded in mystery and mystique, Ghost seems to have quite a few tricks left up their sleeves.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Pull Your Zipper Down and Salute LA’s Rock’n’Roll Champions

Eagles of Death Metal's Zipper Down is a Shining Light In a Genre Buried Alive by its Own Excesses and Gasping for Air
By: Rylee Strange

The very thing that makes Eagles of Death Metal such an endearing rock’n’roll outfit is the same thing that turns a lot of people off from them; they just don’t give a shit. They’re not out to change the world, they’re not out to rewrite the rock bible. On the contrary, their MO is sleazy, stupid fun. 2015’s Zipper Down is no different from any of their other releases, in that sense. Right out the gate, the opening track (and first single), “Complexity” set the tone, both musically and as a mission statement: “It’s so easy without Complexity.” Strip away any of the pomp and circumstance out of the music and you’re left with pure unadulterated id.

The lyrics don’t break any new ground, even for the band. But it’s not all overtly sexual, shake-your-ass lyrics. “Silverlake (K.S.O.F.M)” puts spoiled LA hipsters on blast, while “I Love You All The Time” sounds like a sincere love song, about a man yearning for a woman who just doesn’t seem to be there for him. Still, it comes off a bit like, “I told you I love you baby, so why can’t we fuck?”

While most of the record falls in that garage/desert rock thing that producer/co-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age, ex-Kyuss) does so well, songs like “Skin-Tight Boogie” and “Got A Woman” stray into nearly vintage glam rock territory, full of bluesy grit and glitter spit.

The biggest surprise comes by way of the subdued and honest cover of Duran Duran’s “Save a Prayer”. It could have easily been done as a tongue-in-cheek throwaway, just another hip LA band covering an 80s pop tune that most people have forgotten. Instead, you get a song sung by someone who seems to genuinely enjoy the song, and wants to put his own spin on it, in this case, dirty guitars and a fat synth bass line. Hell if anyone can sing a song about a one-night stand and mean it, it’s singer/guitarist Jesse Hughes. That man embodies rock’n’roll in all its demented glory. This record is proof of that.

The biggest downfall is the shortness of the album, itself. With a running time of less than 35 minutes, that means EODM managed to knock out an average of 5 minutes of music per year since their last release, 2008’s Heart On. The good news is, it was worth the extended wait. There isn’t much below the surface of this record, but that isn’t its intention anyways. Like a good concert, it is merely an escape, a orgasm-burst of energy and endorphins (as well as maybe some other stuff you might not want to get splattered with), and isn’t meant to be studied and dissected for decades to come. It’s an incredibly fun, solid follow-up to Heart On, and worth a listen for anyone who enjoys sloppy, sleazy rock’n’roll for what it is.


As of Publication, the album is available to stream for free on NPR

Release date is October 2, 2015.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

What it Takes

I submit to you--Music will survive till time's twilight hour, fulfilling dreams and fantasies, supplying a soundtrack to one's romance, regret or redemption. Only one who does not feel can deny the power of music.

But in a close second comes the power of the written word, so fluid and formless. It will burn it's essence into your psyche and never let itself be forgotten, much like music. One can't deny their bond, music and words.

So why not, then, continue on in that tradition by writing about music?

SO--Welcome one and all to The Rock Word, an online blog dedicated to the review of Rock (of all forms) albums, concerts, dvds, books, and whatever else might be out there. As selfish as it may be, picking what I, the writer, feel most fit to review, i also feel like i might be improving your life (or at least your taste in music) by introducing you, the reader, to something that you may not already be away of.

You need nothing to lose yourself in my words, just as you need nothing to lose yourself in your favourite song. You have what it takes--shall we?