Monday, 22 July 2013

Some Problems In The Punk Scene

Before I dive in, I would like to say that this is no dig at punk in general. In fact punk was my first love, long before I delved full in to the realms of metal. However, I'll be quick to point out any problems in the metal scene and a genre that prides itself on staying true to yourself and proporting brutal honesty as much as punk screams to be called on it's bullshit whenever said BS rears it's unwashed, scabies-laden head.

More than anything, punk prides itself on it's stark anti-conformist attitudes. Eschewing mainstream ethos, they have created something truly of their own, a strong subculture with its own structure, ideas and mores. While carving out their own niche meant to abandon notions of conformity within the mainstream, something very ironic has happened - the scene has become undeniably conformist in itself. How much punk music sounds the same? How many punks dress the same? Have nearly identical political views? It's something very common to subcultures - it starts off as a vibrant, diverse smorgasbord of ideas and sounds, and eventually succumbs to sameness and finding comfort  in familiarity. Pioneers such as The Stooges and Black Flag never looked back and were such good bands not just because of their songwriting, riffs or any other quantifiable aspect of their music - what made them so great was innovation and the reach towards something more, something different.
I remember reading an interview with some crust punk band, who's name I can't recall (probably because they were unremarkable) where the interviewer asked something along the lines of "what do you guys feel you add to the crust scene?". The band replied that they weren't really doing anything new musically but were just happy to be part of the scene and carry on the crust tradition. This is the problem - one which I've especially noticed in the crust scene. So many bands sound exactly the same and are happy to sound identical to the next band as long as they have a place in the scene. While there are certainly innovators in the crust scene such as Behind Enemy Lines, Amebix, Dystopia, Cursed and the like, as well as a decent handful of bands creating quality songs using the same old formulas, a lot of bands just don't try to be anything more than crust punk band number 5591. This also applies to other punk genres, as well. While innovation is not always necessary to create quality music, a scene where bands by and large are happy to sound like the next band will quickly sink into stagnation. You're against conformity right? Fucking act like it.

Politics is something intrinsic to the punk scene. With ideology so deeply entrenched in the sub-culture, this question is bound to pop up - what is the best way to go about espousing your political views? I've increasingly become averse to the preachy I'm going to shove my views down your throat and if you disagree you're a horrible person approach that sadly many bands have no qualms with using. It's fine to have political essays as part of your packaging, but lyrics coming off as intro to poli-sci essays is rarely a good thing. Sure, Behind Enemy Lines has used essay style lyrics to great effect, but in the vast majority of cases they come off as stale and emotionless. I've always felt in art it's better to show why your ideology is right rather than to tell. American History X is surely a better anti-racist tool than a dry lecture listing bullet points about why racism is harmful to society. This is why the lyrics of political bands that use evocative metaphors and potent imagery have always had a greater effect on me than bands like Iskra that basically have essay style lyrics about where they forcefully hammer their ideologies down your esophagus and more or less make you out to be a human parasite if you disagree.

Perhaps this forceful preaching and demonizing of people who don't agree is most prominent with vegetarianism and veganism. I recently came across an article Profane Existence, a label (and former magazine) I generally like, on dumpster diving. While I personally find the act rather gross, if that's how you want to live you're life that's fine with me. The article derides dumpster divers who eat meat, not because spoiled meat is gross, but because meat in general is disgusting and you're basically an immoral person if you enjoy a nice steak every now and again. While I certainly have problems with factory farms, and think it's better to buy local from more ethically inclined farmers, accusing the majority of the population of essentially being nazis for following the dietary choice of eating meat, which is completely natural as humans are omnivores, is quite simply absurd. It is fine to promote your beliefs and explain why you think it's right, but to outright call everyone who opposes is the type of extremism that might make newcomers more weary about diving into the punk scene.

Immortal Technique has a song called Beef and Broccoli, starting off with "look, let me make something abundantly clear to people who are so bereft of activities that they feel like they gotta comment on every one of mine", that lambasts the type of left-winger that feels like he can't be one of them because he enjoys eating meat. Surely ethics are a factor, but aggressively asserting an agenda down everyone's throats that is so blatantly subjective, will never be the most effective way to convince people of your logic. In the end all they'll hear is your anger. Tech makes this clear with the line "I like beef & broccoli motherfucker, mind your goddamn business".
Punk's unapologetically DIY attitude is to be commended, but the amount of sameness found within its walls is betraying its anti-conformist ethos. Discarding the conformity of mainstream culture is all well and good, but when you're all starting to dress the same, have similar bands and almost consistently congruent world views, are you not falling into the same pitfalls of the mainstream? Wouldn't a vibrant scene full of different ideas, music challenging the notions of what punk can be - one that strives for originality, be preferable? Also, the whole either you wholeheartedly believe exactly what we believe or you're a bad person attitude is not one that is doing the scene a great service. Isn't an open dialogue preferable to a one sided conversation with a crusty screaming at you for not being as unflinching in your opposition to the establishment as him? It's not as if morality and politics are always black and white issues.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

City Spotlight: NYC - Part 2 of 3

Morning Glory

Although having been a member of Choking Victim and currently a member of Leftover Crack, the two biggest bands in the closely related circle of 'Crack Rock Steady' bands, Ezra Kire has never been content with just doing one thing. He originally also lead INDK, which didn't last long. After Choking Victim and INDK broke up, he formed Morning Glory. Although the earlier work did feature raw production value and more aggressive passages, it always featured catchy song structures and a British classic rock tinge, with The Beatles being a notable influence. The first album, "This Is No Time To Sleep", was both raw and catchy. The lack of a clean production provides an interesting contrast to the infectious songwriting.

The follow up, "The Whole World is Watching", was shorter and featured a variety of song styles. There was a good mix of ska, more rocking material and poorly produced punk rock. "Gimme Heroine and the title track featured much better production then the rest and where instant hits in the Crack Rock Steady lexicon. 

After a long hiatus, many fans began to wonder if Morning Glory would ever release another album. In 2012 they quelled fan's fears by releasing "Poets Were My Heroes", which is by far Morning Glory's most consistent and well produced album. The album chronicle's Ezra's recovery from a crippling heroine addiction (one interview regarding the album started with ""When a guy that calls himself "Stza Crack" tells you that you've got a drug problem, you KNOW you've got a drug problem"). For this album ska was omitted, with Ezra admitting that he never really was a huge fan of the genre. The addition of strings and piano make a great addition to this album. 

Although rooted in the whole Crack Rock Steady scene, Morning Glory have a decidedly different sound than one would expect from the style. They have less ska, less metal influenced passages and catchier songwriting. Although much of their stuff doesn't contain the same grit as Leftover Crack, they never set out to be overtly heavy or aggressive. Above all else, Morning Glory is about writing songs you can't get out of your head. 

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Review: The Ocean - Fogdiver

Brilliant Instrumental Work 

Fogdiver marks the first non-demo release by atmospheric sludge mammoths The Ocean. This German based collective, lead by Robin Staps, has delved into many interesting ideas over the space of their career. This EP not only lays the groundwork for what will come, it remains one of The Ocean's most interesting works - all with the omission of vocals. While there is no man behind the mic for this release, this is certainly not to the detriment of the music. The music is undoubtably strong enough to stand on it's own, and unless the vocals matched the caliber of the music, their inclusion may have resulted in the marring of an otherwise fantastic release. 

Much of the success of this release lies in it's lush atmosphere. The album is produced in such a way that it sounds both clear and full. As their name might suggest, this release evokes images of the sea. Not being as violent and confrontational as some of the band's other work, this still has it's share of crushing riffs. These riffs remain relatively simple and to the point, but the band only puts forth their best ones. The riff that reoccurs  in the second half of "Isla De La Luna" remains one of the most memorable The Ocean have ever written. While they still would be very effective, if put in a different context, the heavier riffs might not fully have had the same crushing effect. What makes them seem particularly devastating in this case is their contrast between the lighter sections. These lighter sections, while certainly not an exercise in minimalism, do contribute much of the album's atmosphere. 

While this release is consistent in terms of having a fluid atmosphere, it is comprised of many distinct ideas. While the main feeling behind the music remains relatively congruent, there is an abundance of different timbres, instruments and dynamics.  The classical stringed instruments not only enhance the atmosphere, but on multiple occasions become the main driving force behind the music. The exotic piano in "The Long Road to Nha Trang" is a welcome inclusion, conjuring images of Old World Eastern European coastal villages. The more tribal oriented drumming parts in "Isla De La Luna"  create a feeling of depth. This release does not seem decidedly dark as many lighter, more hopeful passages make up a fair bulk of the music. The hopeful yet vaguely melancholy melody that starts off "Endusers" may remind some listeners of Pelican. This melody is beautiful in a bittersweet way, providing a wonderful contrast of emotions.  Dissonance is also often used for the purpose of contrast, creating a compelling clash with the fluid forward motion of the EP.  It is especially interesting when they play a more hopeful guitar line under the lens of dissonance. 

One of the main reasons that the inclusion of vocals may have been an intrusion is that it could have resulted in the release feeling cluttered. There is a lot going on here, from the occasional psychedelic clean guitar tones to the well-placed voice samples. From the deep, rolling bass lines to the recurring crawling dissonant guitar lines, it becomes apparent that this release would not have faired as well without room to breath. The addition of vocals may have suffocated this need for air. This is an album of varied dynamics, timbres and instrumentation and the intricate and often changing way the songs are composed would have made it hard to figure out how and where to fit vocals in. Although vocals are indispensable to many of The Ocean's releases (with the band having used a nearly absurd number of vocalists throughout their career), Fogdiver is astounding as it is. 

Fogdiver is a composition of many diverse layers. With the success of a good number of their full lengths, most notably Precambrian, this early EP is often overlooked. It would be wrong to assume that this is just a rudimentary early release by a band still struggling to find their sound. This couldn't be further from the case. This is a fully developed exploration of the more progressive and atmospheric side of sludge. This exploration was no doubt a great success.


Wednesday, 19 December 2012

City Spotlight: NYC - Part 1 of 3


While Naam's debut album definitely fits into the realm of doom metal, it would be unfair to pigeonhole them as a metal band. Just as much about psychedelia as heavy guitars, Naam displays no shortage of outside influences. Much of their stuff borders rock (with a stark classic rock influence taking root) territory and it's not like they've never done an acoustic based song.  

Escaping the bustle of Brooklyn, they went to a Cabin in the Catskills to record their self titled masterpeice. The album seemingly came out of nowhere - it was fully engrossing, encapsulating a perfect contrast between psychedelia and darkness, atmosphere and riffs. Between more substantial releases, they put out two wonderfully done Nirvana covers - considerably reworking the bridge to "Drain You" and putting a drug-ladden psychedelic spin on "Pennyroyal Tea". 

Their subsequent and latest release "Ballad of the Starchild" isn't such a far cry from their debut album. There is some essential tweaking that stops it from being a repeat offering; namely the introduction of warmer tones as well as an increased classic rock influence. The EPs opener "Sentry of Skies" is a sorrowful yet warm psychedelic folk song that really sees Naam exploring new territory. This EP also spawned Naam's first music video, which features the band playing on a cliff, plugged into a large pyramid shaped amp as well as some trippy shit I won't ruin for you.

Part of what makes Naam such a successful band is their fluid integration of influences. While they do draw on the tropes of different genres, they blend them in a way that is original. They have a unique sound and no qualms with experimentation. Hell, they even include a black metal inspired section in one of their songs. Heavy psychedelia seems to be making a comeback lately, and Naam are no doubt one of the best of this school. As an added bonus, they have some of the best facebook posts of any band I've seen. 

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Electric Wizard - S/T

No Hope, No Future, No Fuckin' Job

Electric Wizard's debut is often cast aside as a mere Sabbath clone. While doom metal certainly has it's fair share of Sabbath worship, it would be unfair to disregard this as a half-baked Sabbath duplicate. While the Sabbath influence is certainly there, just as it is on countless other doom records, Electric Wizard add their own flavour to a traditional sound. Calling this a Sabbath clone is just as silly as calling the majority of modern black metal no more than Burzum and Darkthrone clones (or saying that Autumn Aurora is no more than a Filosofem rip off). It has been often asserted that with their debut, Electric Wizard has not yet found their sound. This is only half true at best. While they do have their signature sound, it manifests itself in a more traditional setting the first time around. Their drugged-out vibe and slow infectious riffs are there, they just aren't pushed to the extremes that they would be in subsequent records. This isn't quite as heavy and sludgy as they would later become. Make no mistake, this still is damn heavy for a more traditional doom sound.

This album is pretty straightforward stoner doom, while they have their own unique subtleties, this certainly isn't far from what you'd expect when the name of the genre is mentioned. It should be kept in mind, however, that at this point the genre wasn't as well established as one might think. Sure, Sabbath had certain songs that exemplified the stoner doom sound back in the seventies, but it was only in the 90s that the stoner strand of doom started to really blossom as a sub-genre. Many people seem to forget how influential this album is for the time it came out. Every little subtlety on this album exemplifies a laid-back stoner vibe. This sound has become somewhat of an archetype for the genre. While taking some queues from  Iommi's riffcraft, they take a preexisting sound and adapt it into something new. 

This album is much more accessible and straightforward than any of their other records. While this does feature some relatively long songs, the songwriting remains to the point. These songs are catchy without coming off as overtly melodic. "Black Butterfly" is a prime example of the heights their songwriting can reach. Definitely the best track of the album, this song is one of the most memorable in Electric Wizard's discography. Although the album is almost always slow, a faster section is thrown into this song. This provides an interesting shift in dynamics and is quite a surprise upon first listen. "Stone Magnet" is also a track that stands out, featuring top notch songwriting and general all around badassery, something that is magnified greatly by the song's lyrics:

"Looking all around, the world's a dream
Traveling to places that I have never seen
High up here is where I'm really free
Listen people, you've got to free the weed

Yeah, you knew the deal
You knew I would make you feel
But look around you, what you got
No hope, no future, no fuckin' job"

 The riffs are simple, but do much more than merely get the job done. They're the type of riffs that refuse to leave your skull after the album's duration has come to an end. The riffs have a nice groove to them, which is an occurrence that remains throughout the album. The solos aren't really that much a far cry from what they are on later albums. Spaced out and bluesy,  they often start slow and crescendo to lightning fast pull ons and pull offs. This release does have occasional tinges psychedelia, with "Mountains of Mars" being the most prominent example of this. Otherworldly free-floating psychedelia is rooted by deep bass notes. This is something to drift off to in a daze. 

Often looked over as that Sabbath worship album they did before they found their sound, this record rarely gets the respect it deserves. The riffs are 100% killer, the songwriting is great and the overall vibe is something worth hearing. It's one of those albums you can really tune out to. This is much more than just a decent starting point for the band, it successfully achieves everything it set out to do. Sure, it isn't as experimental or crushing as some of their later works, but this album does a spectacular job at creating an outstanding sound in a more traditional framework.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Review: Dystopia - S/T

See The World Through Sunken Eyes

Dystopia are a difficult band to pigeonhole. Sure, you could try to label them as a crossover between crust punk and sludge metal, but that would merely be scratching the surface. They are one of those bands that wholly posses their own sound. Their self titled album is the final chapter in their abysmal, misanthropic existence. “An endless downward spiral of misery and pain” is part of a lyric on “Leaning With Intent to Fall”. These words seem to be an appropriate way to describe Dystopia. The band has always focused on negative – the inevitable corruption that plagues politics, drug abuse, domestic abuse, violence and suicide are just some of the unpleasant aspects of modern life that Dystopia dwell on. Their final release is as negative as ever; a deep-rooted hatred of society runs through their music. The band is able to channel that negative energy into something truly creative.

I actually was into Dystopia before I got into metal at all, for me they served as a gateway into the genre. When I first heard Dystopia (I was 14 at the time) I was really into punk, especially crust punk. When I mentioned my tastes, someone recommended Dystopia. I looked them up on the internet and I was immediately intrigued. For one, graffiti isn't something one would usually relate to crust punk. Dystopia had bleak images, as did most of crust punk, but they were doing something much more interesting and creative with those disturbing images. Upon first listen they were a bit more harsh than I was used to, but I quickly became acclimatized to their abrasive sound. This rough sound piqued my interest as to what metal had to offer. As I became more and more obsessed with the band, I learned that the looming release of the final record was to be soon. The band had already broken up and this album was recorded between 2004 and 2005, but was delayed until 2008 because of artwork concerns and whatnot. I soon picked up the album at a record shop in Toronto on clear vinyl, which to this day remains one of the most prized items in my vinyl collection.

This release's sound wavers a bit from Dystopia's previous material. For one, this album is better produced. While the production is not quite as abrasive as some of the band's earlier work, it is still quite a filthy affair. The guitars remain dirty and distorted, and the spirit of the music is as raw as it ever was. While the music is poignantly murky, no instrument is obscured or lost in the mix. The drums are especially well thought out, being high in the mix and produced with more clarity than the rest of the instrumentation. Strong songwriting is an integral component of this music, and like the drums, it does not get lost in the filthy mass that is Dystopia's sound. 

On Dystopia's past releases, both conventional and unorthodox songwriting was applied in fairly equal proportions. While songs like “Hands That Mold” and “They Live” feature pretty conventional songwriting (not to say that the instrumentation isn't experimental) songs like “Sanctity” and “Sleep” spit in the face of convention. The success of “Sanctity” is due largely to it's samples and it's intriguing bassline. On their final effort, the band relies largely on more conventional songwriting. This is no problem, as every song is carefully thought out and made with skillful craft. Dystopia are a band who experiment a lot and this album is no exception. However, that experimentation would be fairly pointless without this strong songwriting. 

Instrumentally, this is largely riff driven. While Dystopia have a penchant for repeating a riff for an extended period of time, they choose their riffs extremely carefully. The riffing is always memorable and hard-hitting. The repetition of the riffs is very effective, as it makes sudden riff changes, which often come with tempo changes, something very forceful and enthralling. For example, on “Illusion of Love”, the change between the fast riffing at the very beginning and the slow sludgy riffing that follows is an extremely effective way of making a dynamic shift that keeps the listener interesting. The fact that it comes after a fast grindcore section makes the sludge riffing all the more crushing. This album's riffs are almost exclusively rooted in sludge. These slow, churning monoliths of riffs are the meat of the record, proving to be an unbreakable backbone. 

The reason Dystopia works so well is that every element of their sound is interesting. Their rhythm section is no exception to this rule. As previously mentioned, their drums are much less abrasive compared to other releases – here they possess an almost organic quality. The drumming is generally somewhat minimalistic, which works well with the way they are mixed. Since the drums are high up in the mix, a constant bombastic fury might drown out the rest of the mix and prove to be a colossal headache. Fast aggressive drumming is included on this released, but it is reserved for the grindcore sections as well as the occasional fill. The fills are a large part of why Dino's drumming is so successful here. While the drumming is usually somewhat restrained, the fills are always well done and imaginative. They make sure the drumming never fades into the background. 

Dystopia have always used the bass as much more than a background instrument. In the past, Dystopia has used loud, fucked up basslines that were heavily distorted. Unfortunately that aspect of their sound is not too prevalent on this release. However, the bass is still put to good use; it does not resign to constantly following the guitar haphazardly. The bass is best put to use in the more atmospheric sections. As the often harrowing atmospheres linger, the bass provides interesting textures, furthering the sense of dark atmosphere while creating tangible (albeit often subtle) melodies to follow. This can be best seen in the intro to “My Meds Aren't Working”.

Much of the Dystopia's charisma lies in the chemistry between the two vocalists. Mauz's vocals are the deeper of the pair. This is by far the best they have ever been. Here his vocals feel more cavernous and ominous than ever. When he screams “See the world through sunken eyes” (a lyric that relates to drug addiction) on “Leaning With Intent to Fall”, you can hear the contempt for humanity in his voice. If Dystopia stayed together and released another album, it would not be a stretch of the imagination to assume that his vocals on that album would be a full blown death growl. Dino's voice is much higher pitched than Mauz's. His voice is filthy and raspy (although not in a way that relates to black metal), which perfectly fit in with the band's crust punk influences. On previous releases, his voice would sometimes end with a whimper, while however silly as that might sound, it was highly effective at portraying the pain prevalent in Dystopia's music. On this release the whimpers are completely omitted from the music, which while effective in the past, works out for the best here. The whimpers wouldn't work very well with this songwriting.

The album starts off with “Now and Forever”, a song that explores time and it's effects on politics and war. It's unlikely that Dystopia could find a better way to start this album. The slow build up that makes up the first three minutes of the song is one of the best releases of tension in metal since, well, ever. Samples run through this section of the song for it's entire endurance. The instrumental component of the song begins with only a buzzing dark ambiance. Eventually a bass line joins in, which, after some time, is joined by very slow and simple riffing which gradually grows louder and louder. When the devastatingly crushing sludge kicks in, the build up makes it infinitely more powerful than it could of been (that said, if completely removed from the song, it would still be really powerful). The atmospheric introduction to “My Meds Aren't Working”, which completely lack samples, is also very effective at building up tension, which this time is released in the form of a more mid-paced (yet still hard-hitting) riff.

Dystopia's use of samples has always been very effective. The sample's used on previous tracks such as “Sanctity” and “Love/Hate” were truly disturbing, and went a long way to portray certain negative aspects of modern society. The samples used on this album are (for the most part) fantastic. The samples that make up the first section of “Now and Forever” relate to time and it's impact on power and society, just like the lyrics. They are deeply political, very interesting and highly critical of society. The samples are layered, with one voice in the foreground. This effect adds atmosphere and depth. The samples end with “Humans have learned to split the atom. Instead of killing ten or twenty people with a board or club, one person can now kill a million by the pushing a button.” After that, one voice says “Do you find that frightening?” and the other says “Is that real change?”. The samples at the beginning of “Leaning With Intent to Fall”, taken from a documentary called Union Square, sounds like what you might expect in an episode of Intervention. It details a heroin addict's descent into his own personal hell. 

While the samples are a great addition to this album, they also lead to it's one and only real flaw. “The Growing Minority” is an interlude which is based around samples. The samples detail mental illness and the government's response to mental illness. While the track leaves a strong impression upon first listen, it lacks replay value. It is hard to deny that the track is disturbing and even hard to listen to at times. The main problem with it is the lady who starts the samples off by saying “I have to put a lot of effort into keeping sane”. Her voice is quite annoying and is not something I want to hear for nearly two minutes every time I spin this record. Although the track is initially interesting and definitely proves a point, it is ultimately replaceable. 

Wether or not you agree with Dystopia's politics and worldview, which is by no means subtle or moderate, it is impossible to deny that the band wholeheartedly believe in what they are singing. The lyrics are filled with misery and hostility directed at society. The band sings of hard times, which is a common lyrical theme in both sludge and crust punk. The band aims it's fury at people in power – business men, politicians and warmongers are all targets of Dystopia's rage. “Leaning With Intent to Fall” paints a harrowing tale of crippling drug addiction and it's effect on a person's friends and family. “Number One Hypocrite” points out many problems with American society. “Illusion of Love”, originally performed by Dino's previous band Carcinogen (their demo Kure is definitely worth checking out), points out the hypocritical nature of many Christian establishments. The first easily discernible lyric in the song is “Jesus, fuck your love”, proving Dystopia isn't exactly subtle in their lyrical approach. This album easily features some of the band's best lyrics:

“See the world through sunken eyes
Infected soul, Infected brain
Feel your flesh turn stone cold
An endless downward spiral of misery and pain is what remains

You used to do that shit for fun...

A steady march of slow death 
With no intention of turning back
Feel the pleasure, you taste the pain
Getting high just to get sick again

You don't seem to be having much fun...”

Dystopia's image is just as much a part of their allure as their music. Their aesthetic is deeply rooted in crust punk, but it goes beyond that. Dystopia is a band that always put a tremendous amount of effort into their packaging. While bleak imagery has always been a staple of crust punk, Dystopia's packaging is more than that. While bleak, there is much more than recycled pictures of the aftermath of war. Their designs are aesthetically unique, thought provoking, in-depth and more than anything, interesting. One thing that always intrigued me about the band is their use of graffiti. Their logo points towards neither crust punk or sludge metal. In the booklet they have a two page spread where graffiti is juxtaposed on top of a photograph of wreckage and barbed wire. The graffiti is composed of such subject matter as skeletons and organs from the human body. The inner parts of the vinyl disc features graffiti on both sides. The A side features a different graffiti logo with a fish-eyed view of skyscrapers. The B side features circular abstract graffiti, which I must say looks pretty damn cool once the record is spinning. Their use of graffiti aesthetically distances themselves from a generic crust punk look.

The booklet is a true achievement. On the vinyl version I have, the booklet that comes with the record is about two times the size of a normal CD booklet. The cover of the booklet is their usual logo with a couple cages filled to the brim with people. There is a reoccurring font in the booklet (which also makes an appearance on the back cover of the album) that really goes well with Dystopia's image. It is somewhat similar to a typical black metal font, perhaps a bit more legible. Bleakness is a recurring theme in the artwork (as well as the music). Even the two satire pages for “Number One Hypocrite” have dark undertones in the imagery. 

The pages in the booklet often relate to the songs. The pages for “Control All Delete”, a song that explores internet's effects on society and the erosion of privacy, is very clever. The artwork for the page that contains the lyrics is a computer screen. The lyrics appear on different pages that have popped up over the desktop. The page for “The Growing Minority” has a newspaper clipping titled “More mentally ill in jail than hospitals”. The page for “My Meds Aren't Working” particularly stands out. The artwork is a suicide note placed on a desk which also has some personal items on it – weed, a vandalized ID, car keys and medication. The lyrics are on the suicide note, and they read like the thoughts of a suicidal individual:

“My body still clings to life
Only my spirit is gone inside
I pray for death every night
But I Keep waking up alive

I cut myself for infliction
And I still spit at my reflection
I hate everything I am
I have my friends to thank for that”

The lyrics end with “I'm sorry if you know my name, I'll probably fuck up your life”, which is how an actual suicide not might end. While disturbing, this image perfectly embodies the lyrics of the song.

No discussion of the artwork would be complete without mention of the artwork. To be honest, this is probably my favourite album cover of all time. An enthralling collage of juxtaposed images, mostly people, this is truly an innovative triumph of graphic design. It features a diverse group of people from all walks of life on the top, many of them cheering. In the middle, there are three people joyously celebrating, who are juxtaposed in front of the Eye of Providence, taken from the dollar bill. Their logo is dead centre. The bottom half is just fucking wonderful, it features George W. Bush (or King George the Second, as bands in the crust punk scene often call him) with a bloody chain saw juxtaposed in front of rebels holding guns above their head. There are missiles on both sides of this scene. Words can't describe how brilliant the gritty vigour of this cover is. While being ripe with social commentary, it can stand alone as a wonderfully engaging piece of art.

The major complaint listeners have about this album is that it's too short. Many people have said that while the music is great, there simply just isn't enough of it. The thing is, Dystopia aren't really an album band. Technically, this is their debut album. Anyone who knows the band certainly wouldn't consider this Dystopia's first full length, though. The way that the band has previously functioned was releasing compilations that served as albums. 1994's Human = Garbage featured songs from an Ep of the same name (which is Dystopia's best work) and various splits. 1999's The Aftermath featured songs from two Eps (one being of the same name) as well as songs from splits. Releasing a long album is just not how Dystopia works.

This only features seven songs, one of which being a brief instrumental. Some copies have an untitled bonus track, which is made up almost exclusively of samples, but for some time features subtle sludgy riffs and almost tribal drumming. I actually wish more bands release albums like this. There are countless bands who could have turned good albums into great albums if they shaved off ten minutes of filler. It seems that bands feel obliged to have at least 40 minutes worth of material on their full lengths, even if that means including filler. Here Dystopia not only prove that short full lengths can be successful, but show that sometimes a shorter length should be desirable. 

It really is a shame that Dystopia broke up, but at least they went out with one hell of an album. This album is successful on multiple fronts; the songwriting is amazing, the flow is great, the production is well thought out and the artwork is just as jaw dropping as the music. Dystopia has managed to finish not only with their legacy intact, but with their legacy strengthened. The band is a huge inspiration to both the sludge and the crust scenes, and they no doubt deserve the respect they get. With their final release they cement their place as not only one of the most interesting bands in sludge and crust, but one of the most interesting bands in extreme metal as a whole.


Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Ides of Gemini - A Black Metal Aesthetic Without The Black Metal 

When referencing a genre, or in most cases a sub-genre or theme as genres grow to be too wide, there is more than a subset of technicalities a band must follow. A (sub)genre often possesses a certain aura. One of the most prominent vibes in black metal can lazily be described as "Burzumic". Obviously, this is a vast generalization, not every band that possesses this sonic quality has an obviously Burzum influenced sound and some may not be looking to Burzum at all for information - the reference is just a generalization that serves to give a general idea. This particular breed of black metal (which is pretty much the most prevalent vibe) is hypnotic, often fuzzy and atmospheric (even if the atmosphere comes from the distorted ringing of the tremolo picked riffs). 

Ides of Gemini's debut EP The Disruption Writ is intriguing because although it is undeniably not metal, let alone black metal, it gives me the same feelings as listening to a Burzum or Drudkh record would. It has that hypnotic, hazy vibe. No doubt Ides of Gemini are influenced by metal, seemingly doom as well as black. I see to remembered them saying that they were honoured to be on Neurot Recordings as they were all big Neurosis fans. While the black metal influence is overt on the tremolo riffing present on The Vessel & the Stake the simmilar vibe would remain even if tremolo sections were completely omitted from this EP. It should also be noted that the starting of the video I posted has an ambient section added to the start of the song, ambient is often used in black metal to create a sense of atmosphere, and here it is used in a similar manner. 

The Ep is not wholly unlike Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, although musically they are obviously very different releases, the vibe remains the same. That atmosphere, that feel is just so prevalent in both releases. It goes to show that a band does not have to go down a conventional route to attain a preconceived aura. Obviously this is an extreme example, the type of music Ides of Gemini is pretty freaking far away from black metal on a surface level, but dig deeper into the sonic landscape, and Ides of Gemini and Burzum aren't really that far off.