Tag Archives: Metal

My Life in Music: Datastacks 0.2

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About sixteen months ago, I opened this series of blogs with an uncomfortably-geeky look at my music collection and extraction of a whole bunch of statistics on a whole bunch of inconsequential data.

It’s been long enough now that it’s time for an update, so let’s begin with a brief breakdown of what my music collection currently consists of:

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Unsurprisingly, standard long-play albums make up the vast majority of my collection (93.7%); not a shock. Of the remaining 6.3%, though, two-thirds are EPs or collections of B-sides and rarities, while the remaining third consists of ‘Greatest Hits’ collections or live-recorded albums. In many ways, and in this age of digital interfaces and the ability to release small collections of new material online or through mechanisms like Bandcamp, it’s arguable that the humble EP is going extinct; though the meteoric rise of vinyl in the last few years might be its saving grace.

Still, I’m minorly proud of my collection of 576 long-play albums, so let’s investigate what’s changed in my collection since my last blog. The most interesting findings lie in the genre breakdown of my CD collection since March of last year:

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In general, the proportions remain fairly the same: my most favourite genres grow whilst the lesser ones continue to trickle on. There’s been a slow expansion in both my flavour for “Steampunk” (mainly due to finally acquiring the entire Steam Powered Giraffe back-catalogue as well as the smashing new record by The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing last year) and, more recently, black metal coming with growing respect for the genre. Equally, I’ve seen my interests decline in the likes of thrash metal, power metal and metalcore but become no less intense; it seems that my taste continue to evolve rather than undergo full-scale revolution.

Plotting these growths on a logarithmic scale (comparing the new additions to my collection with the genre counts as of 19/03/2015), one can see the fourfold increase in “Steampunk” records on my shelf but also observe the fairly consistent growth in genres across the board. I’ve always been aware that my musical taste is eccentrically-broad (who else can boast a music collection that features both Cradle of Filth and Ke$ha; Fleetwood Mac and Mr. Bungle?), but it’s reassuring that the trend continues.

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The notable gains on the swing-o-meter come under the category labelled “Indie”, and there’s a fine reason why: “Indie”, at least in this little project, has come to classify anything that can’t – for particular reasons – be described as full-on “Rock”, but is something lighter; more atmospheric; or ‘different’. In the last couple of years, I’ve absorbed more and more interest in the genre of post-rock (c.f. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sigur Ros, 65daysofstatic, God is an Astronaut et al.) and fuelled by a rampant voyage of discovery at festivals like ArcTanGent.

On this second iteration of Datastacks, it’s high time to devolve the “Indie” category a little further and delve into the numbers. Whilst ‘indie’ might, these days, have only grazing reference to the truly “independent” music scene, it’s come to mean catchment to a lot more than simply one musical style; much in the way that “rock” encompasses a thousand sub-genres. So, let’s have a look to see what that means in terms of my collection:

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Unsurprisingly, my ever-expanding collection of post-rock makes up most of the category; particularly emphasised with a raft of spectacular albums released in 2015 and 2016 by the likes of Explosions in the Sky (The Wilderness), Three Trapped Tigers (Silent Earthling), God is an Astronaut (Helios/Erebus) and Godspeed You! Black Emperor (Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress).

Of the remains, post-punk (in this study, meaning the likes of Killing Joke, Hüsker Dü and The Cure) hoovers up what isn’t what I’d call the more ‘traditional’ indie fayre (Death Cab for Cutie, Chairlift, KT Tunstall, Snow Patrol), whilst the couple of entries tentatively labelled “swing” are delivered by the mighty Dresden Dolls.

So, there you go. Naturally, I’ll retroactively modify the genre split for the next Datastacks, so I can properly track how my tastes are evolving. I’d apologise for being such a massive maths/music nerd, but we both know that I’m by no means ashamed at all. So, nyer.

Anyway, let’s take a look at how the geographical split has divvied up in the last sixteen months:

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No spectacular changes, but there’s some interesting mini-growths: Canada and Sweden showing particular, short spurts for no pre-arranged reason; and new entries coming from Luxembourg and Ireland thanks to my interests in post-/math-rock stalwarts Mutiny on the Bounty and And So I Watch You From Afar. I’d expected Norway to be surging ahead, given the sheer amount of Norwegian black metal I’ve been getting down my ears in the last few months, but maybe the charts haven’t fully caught up with things quite yet. Hopefully the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union won’t affect (too much) the trickle of European rock/metal into the United Kingdom; even if it will negatively influence my access to cheap metal records from the continent. *grumble grumble*

That being said, it’s minorly interesting that the advances of homegrown artists in my collection almost matches the progress of US bands; again, through no particular alignment but reflecting, perhaps, efforts to fill back-catalogue gaps in my collection for the likes of Bowie, Muse, [spunge], Cradle of Filth and Funeral For A Friend. Not surprisingly, the NATO countries still dominate my collection, as evidenced by PIE CHARTS: clearly, were NATO to deploy heavy metal-based warfighters towards invasion of the rest of the world, then it’s likely that they would annihilate the opposition.

[FYI, the non-NATO countries reflected here are Finland, Japan, Australia, Ireland and Sweden, who I’m sure would all put up a good fight.]

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Upon moving flat, I recently took the opportunity to bolster my music shelving with a few more bookcases and fully alphabeticised my collection by artist name; something I’d been meaning to do for a long time but had never gotten around to. Anyway, beyond the satisfaction of filing everything neatly onto the shelves, the exercise also highlighted some interesting facts about the alphabet.

For clarity, bands are sorted by name (any “The” bands, e.g. The Birthday Massacare, are sorted by the next word in their time) and solo artists are sorted by surname. Let’s take a look:

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Clearly, I own a buttload of ‘A’ artists, which owes a lot to AFI but also to the likes of Alkaline Trio, Alice in Chains, Amen, American Hi-Fi, Akercocke, Avenged Sevenfold, Audioslave, Alestorm, yada yada yada. I do wonder whether bands are inherently more likely to choose monickers which are closer to the head of the alphabet for the sakes of prominence in record stores; something that’s far more a study in sociology than I’ll attempt to address here.

Curiously, I haven’t bought a single record by any artist beginning with ‘J’ in the last sixteen months; and only a single album each to the ‘E’ and ‘Q’ categories. In the positive side, though, there’s finally a tally in the ‘Z’ column thanks to the wonderful new self-titled album by Zoax, so let’s continue to watch the progress with interest.

And on that bombshell, I’ll leave things until the next time. Boo-yah.

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[Zinar7]

 

 

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In my last, mid-week post I detailed a little bit about what my physical music collection looks like in the year MMXV. So, to flesh out the journey of how I got here a little bit, for my regular Friday blog I thought I’d explore a little of why music means so much to me.

I’d always been ‘into’ music, even as kid. Maybe I hadn’t quite figured out at that point which aspect of it was calling me most strongly, but I was always drawn to listening to – and playing – music. I’ve always been a sucker for a beat; something primitive like a rhythm overlaid with a melody. That was always there from birth and never really went away but, to properly engage with the wild, unexplored territories of rock, metal and punk (at least, unexplored by me), I needed some sort of sonic sherpa to pilot me ‘thru the wilderness.

That guide was Mary Anne Hobbs.

I recall, with enormous fondness, staying up every Tuesday night to listen to the BBC Radio 1 Rock Show which started at midnight; listening to it with my headphones until at least 0030, when my tape recorder would kick and record the final hour-and-a-half using a 90-minute cassette tape. Already, on the Wednesday morning at college, we’d discuss what new songs (or old songs) we’d heard on the show before we had to go to bed; before going home after school to immediately pop our recorded tapes into our Walkmans (Walkmen?) to catch up with what we’d missed. There was no iPlayer back in 2001, only whatever (now completely archaic) analogue technology you had to hand. And I fucking loved it.

I can pinpoint the exact moment that I fell in love with rock music: it was a Rock Show sometime in March 2001, and the show opened with Foo Fighters’ ‘This Is A Call’ followed immediately by Tony Iommi’s ‘Goodbye Lament’ (which features Dave Grohl on vocals). From that humble point on, I was a complete acolyte to the distorted guitar.

The Rock Show ushered in introductions to some of my very favourite bands – Amen, Funeral For A Friend, Rammstein, Deftones, The Mad Capsule Markets, Pitchshifter and Rival Schools. I remember first hearing Biffy Clyro’s ‘There’s No Such Thing as a Jaggy Snake’ and having my mind absolutely blown, and Cradle of Filth’s ‘Bitter Suites to Succubi’ alerted my ears to the wondrous delights of black metal. I recall those times being a killer time for UK post-hardcore: Hundred Reasons hooked me for life when I first heard ‘Remmus’, and it was a time when Lostprophets were still very much among the underground and letting loose the likes of ‘Shinobivs.dragonninja’ which still holds up today (even if the legend of Lostprophets has sort of taken a bit of a critical hit in recent years).

Not long afterward I became a discipline to the Church of the Rock Show, I became a Kerrang! devotee. I know that it’s cheesy to have nostalgia for things that used to “good” in the past but are “rubbish now”, but Kerrang! was totally one of those things: it was properly glorious in about 2001-2003; covering the full gamut of rock and metal and punk, and being (relatively) unaffected by the fads or the tastes of the mainstream. Naturally, I suspect that I’m looking through rose-tinted goggles at K!s ‘golden’ years, but I genuinely miss the days when – once every few months – the magazine would be adjoined by a free, mix CD containing new music. Again, before the widespread popularity of digital music and downloads (ha, you try downloading a full album on a 56.6k modem 😛 ), the free K! CDs were the fuel to my fire and ushered in discovery of many of my now-favourite bands.

For mega nostalgia, some awesome person (hint: not me) catalogued all of them over here: Discogs.com/Kerrang Magazine. Without them, I’d never have gotten into Weezer and Jimmy Eat World (‘Knock-Down Drag Out’ and ‘A Praise Chorus on Hot Stuff: The Noise of the Summer); The Distillers (‘Sing Sing Death House’ on The Devil’s Music: Vol. 4); Silverchair and Finch (‘The Greatest View’ and ‘New Beginnings’ on The Best of 2002); and Probot, Murderdolls & Turbonegro (‘Centuries of Sin’, ‘I Take Drugs’ and ‘Sell Your Body [to the Night]’ on Reload). Picking up a copy of Kerrang! nowadays may fill me with disappointment at both the dumbed-down journalism and the downgraded quality of the music being covered, but I still hold massively fond memories of my formative years with the K! brand that I still find it hard to hold a grudge against it. I never found the same sort of charm in other magazines like Metal Hammer or Rock Sound as I did with K! itself; and the walls of my room were sprawled for most of the tail-end of my teenagedom with tiny pictures (and strips of the Pandora comic) cut out of various issues.

But yes; while I may have made my peace with the demise (or deterioration) of my favourite music magazine, I still miss the Radio 1 Rock Show the most. Mary Anne left full-time duties of the show in 2003 or so, and despite both Mike Davies and then Daniel P. Carter being very competent hosts ‘right up ‘til the present day (or so I’m led to believe, when I’ve caught the odd show in the last few years), I was never quite as enthralled by the music as I was when Mary Anne was at the helm. I kind of drifted away from the show around the time that I moved away from home to start University and my time as a weekly Kerrang! subscriber kind of came to an end. If I’m being brutally, brutally honest, then my years of college – absorbed 100% by music and the joy that it brought me to passionately engage with it with my friends around me – are the ones from the past that I look upon with most fondness. Sure, it’s probably fairly common for thirtysomethings (or, in my case, almost thirtysomethings) to go a bit glazey-eyed about their time as a carefree 17/18-year old, but it’s with valid reason.

Of course, you can never go back. But if you could, then if I could be transplanted back into the sixteen year-old me once again then I would fucking love to go back and make of my mistakes again; at least, this time, I’d do it safe in the knowledge that they were some of the best times of my life, accompanied by some of the most life-changing noises that I’d ever hear.

Never forget, never surrender. Keep your heart open to music; always.

[Zinar7]

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My Life in Music: Datastacks 0.1

Datastacks1

You may not know it, but we’re currently living in exciting times.

The major news media may be ignoring all discussion of such world-changing events, but monumental waves of excitement are currently rippling away from my general area.

I’ve been re-organising my music collection. Oh yeah.

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A few years ago, a catalogued all of my favourite albums from all of the years that I’ve been alive. You can find them here:

Part 1: From Out of Nowhere (1985-1991)
Part 2: Where Boys Fear to Tread (1992-1998)
Part 3: Dancing Through Sunday (1999-2005)
Part 4: Set Fire to the Hive (2006-2012)

But yes, while re-organising all of my various musics, I’ve taken the opportunity whilst doing so to properly catalogue everything I have and to generate some tedious statistics about all of it. For example: as of 19th March, I own 466 full albums and EPs (after having a bit of a prune of those records I’m not likely to listen to again). Furthermore, 4.07% of those albums/EPs are AFI albums or EPs. That’s quite interesting, right?

So yeah, because I’m a nerdy engineer and I like looking at pages and pages of data, I’ve made a spreadsheet listing every CD; the year it was released, the country that the band is from and what genre it inhabits. You may say that that’s a colossal waste of time, but I say “nyer” :P. Thus, on that immature little note, let’s probe into the stats and see what we can uncover.

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Interestingly, my music collection seems to be predominantly ‘punk’. There’s a significant chunk of it already taking up my shelf-space it seems; especially when you add the ska-punk total to the mix as well. I was well aware that punk is one of my primary musical outlets, but I’m not sure I would’ve predicted that it occupy quite such a large proportion of it. [Of course, this fact is perhaps a little skewed by the fact that I’ve divided ‘metal’ up into more sub-genres than I have done for punk – the whole range of punk stuff from Green Day to Turbonegro to Amen to Sum 41 is all under one umbrella whilst I’ve split metal more into its established sub-genres]. Broadly, AFI would probably come under ‘punk’ as well if I didn’t separate them into their own genre, so there’s that to add up, too.

On that note, here’s a little chart of how many records I own from the top ten bands in my collection:

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AFI obviously take up a significant proportion of my collection, and I own literally every LP and EP they’ve ever put out on compact disc (and, in most cases, own multiple copies of them to reflect different versions or covers or international editions); even the super-rare stuff like The Days of the Phoenix EP, which only ever had 500 copies. [For further AFI geekery, I own both a legit copy of it as well as a fake/bootleg version].

But yeah, it’s satisfying that my collection is (broadly) even across the many sub-genres of rock ‘n’ roll: to establish this, let’s have a look at the pie chart because PIE CHARTS.

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For clarity, “Popular Rock” encompasses stuff like Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age; pure pop (Ke$ha, Bowie, Prince) is lumped in with “Dance/Electronic”; all types of rap/metal crossovers and stuff like RHCP and RATM all slip into “Nu-Metal”; and heavy metal stuff like Iron Maiden, AC/DC and Black Sabbath were immersed in with “Thrash/etc.”.

I’m a little sad that my “Steampunk” section still rounds down to 0% of my collection. Granted, it currently consists of just The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing Cannot Be Killed by Conventional Weapons and Professor Elemental’s The Giddy Limit, but I’m working on it: hopefully I’ll import the whole Steam Powered Giraffe back catalogue sooner rather than later, and TMTWNBBFN will soon have album #3 under their belts. Boom.

Okay, so where are my albums from? Let’s have a look.

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No big surprise; most of my music hails from across the pond. The US dominates so much of rock ‘n’ roll music that you can tell how much of an influence it wreaks upon my own listening. It’s still good to see that around a quarter of my music comes from our own shores; although mildly strange that nothing hails from the Republic of Ireland. Naturally, there’s a strong Scandinavian contingent given my predilection for power metal and Finnish folk-metal. Canada has a strong showing, but it’s worth noting that most of those are Rush albums (15 in total). Furthermore, all of my records from Italy are associated with Rhapsody or Rhapsody of Fire (or Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody). Aw yeah.

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Proportionally, of course the US absorbs more than half of my shelf-space. Interestingly, though, the entirety of the rest of my collection comes either from Europe, Australia or Japan. Before the 2015 cull, I did at least have a few things from Brazil (mainly Sepultura), but it’s curious to know that there are vast swathes and surface areas of the globe (the whole of Africa!) that have never even come close to seeing a position on my CD shelf.

Another question that my CD re-shuffling was aiming to answer was: “When Was My Collection Released?”. Naturally, I expected that a sizable chunk of my collection would have come from around 2001-2005, where my main musical addictions were formed (and I’ll talk about these in a little more depth in my next blog). While this is certainly not untrue, I was a little surprised to find that the most prolific years were actually 2012 and 2013 (with 28 and 27 albums from them, respectably); probably arising because, at the time, I was deep in the wrangles of trying to finish my PhD and research stuff and hence likely to want to hear nice, new and noisy things in my ears to take away some of the pain.

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I also anticipated that 1994 would be a bumper year, given that some of my very, very favourite albums were released in (or around) that year: [1993 // In Utero, Siamese Dream; 1994 // Punk in Drublic, Superunknown, Smash, Weezer (The Blue Album), Stranger than Fiction, Dookie, Welcome to Sky Valley, Burn My Eyes, The Downward Spiral; 1995 // Mellon Collie…, Foo Fighters, King for a Day/Fool for a Lifetime]. But yeah, whilst the hit rate of what albums were released in 1994ish and those which are cemented as some of my favourites is incredibly high, it turns out that I don’t own as much from that period as I thought I did. Huh.

I know I probably seem a little like a bit of a dinosaur for continuing to rely on (and thrive upon) little shiny, plastic discs containing lovely things destined for my ears. But yeah, I have 466 CDs in my collection. That’s pretty cool.

Please don’t burgle me.

[Zinar7]

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Sinister Sevens: Sonisphere 2014

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Okay, let me start off by making one thing clear: Sonisphere 2014 was just EPIC. For four days, Knebworth was host to wall-to-wall awesomeness, and I suppose that it’s now my job to try and boil that down into a short(ish) summary of all the rad stuff that happened, and the major outcomes of the festival. In that spirit, then, here’s a quick run-down of the seven bands I enjoyed the most over the course of Sonisphere 2014, along with the recounting of a few memories. Let’s crack on, shall we?

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1. Metallica [By Request]

Without a doubt, Metallica were the band of Sonisphere 2014. They may have shared headlining duties with the mighty Iron Maiden (and The Prodigy), but you could just tell that Metallica were going to be the band hitting the top gear. This was pretty clear once we entered the arena on Sunday morning to find that Metallica had completely torn down most of the main stage and replaced it with their own setup (and still hadn’t finished it, meaning that Gojira came on late). From the entire backdrop of video wall, the ‘D’ walkway out into the crowd, and the beach ball-deployment mechanisms (see later), Metallica meant business.

And what business it was. With a setlist constructed by the fans, Metallica By Request was always going to be some kind of monster and from the opening twangs of ‘Battery’, the show was unstoppable through ‘Master of Puppets’, ‘Welcome Home (Sanitarium)’ and onward toward more choice cuts from Kill ’em AllRide the Lightning…And Justice for All and Metallica [the Black Album]. Despite the popularity of Death Magnetic, the only songs extracted from beyond 1991 were ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ (which went down a storm) and the steamrollering ‘Fuel’, which led to one of the biggest sing-alongs of the night. Even “the new song” ‘Lords of Summer’ went down a treat, along with the standard classics like ‘One’, ‘Creeping Death’ and ‘Enter Sandman.

The master-stroke, though, comes in the final moments: out of nowhere, hundreds of black “Metallica by Request” beach balls fall from the heavens of the stage into the front of the crowd; ricocheting around the arena during the closing songs with gay abandon and a sense of universal glee shared by both band and audience. And heck, when { Metallica } are having this much fun, you know you’re in for a real treat.

p.s. SIT DOWN, LARS

KillEmAll

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2. Ghost (B.C.)

I’ll be honest: before Soni 2014, I’d only really heard of Ghost (B.C.) in passing. I’d only ever really encountered them visually, and so had (not unjustly) assumed that they were a standard Scandinavian black metal band after having seen their outlandish stage garb and semi-religious iconography. Oh, how wrong I was.

Earlier in the weekend, a friend described Ghost as “black metal channeled through surf rock,” and yet that doesn’t really reflect what Ghost is and are: they’re simultaneously the heaviest and not-heaviest band; a bizarre mix of style that you wouldn’t think would work on paper, and yet triumphs spectacularly. The band themselves are anonymous; five bemasked Nameless Ghouls providing the backing noise over which Ghost’s frontman vigilantly presides. Papa Emeritus (II), naturally, is the band’s lifeblood and conduit with the audience, yet he’s so unconventional a frontman that it’s almost refreshing how much an antidote the band are to the traditional ‘rock star’ image and caricature.

Throughout the set, Emeritus paced the stage with a gentle, faux-papal demeanour, gesticulating to the crowd like a preacher addressing his congregation. If the band’s fascinating music-scape is anything to go by, ‘congregation’ is an appropriate term to reflect the awe in which the Sonisphere masses drank in Ghost’s performance, undoubtedly winning over a large swathe of new followers; me included. Certainly, their foray through a handful of album tracks along with a cover of ‘If You Have Ghost(s)’, they most definitely affirmed their place as [my] “Discovery of Sonisphere 2014,” and guaranteed a place for their entire back catalogue in my ever-expanding music collection. (F)rock on.

IfYouHaveGhost

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3. Karnivool

I admit it, I ❤ Karnivool so hard. They’re a monumentally good live band, and one that seems to constantly be on tour in some form or other (this is the fifth time I’ve seen them in less than five years). Hitting the Saturn stage in the middle of Sunday, even I must concede that I was worried that the Vool’s meandering, progressive rock/alt-metal would wither in the daylight and without their ambient, atmospheric lighting and stage presence. I needn’t have worried, though, since the music – as ever – is perfectly capable of transporting you to a hypnotic, dreamlike world of robust prog-metal, regardless of the time of day.

Karnivool’s forty minutes on stage were woven from their typical headline set; drawing from 2009’s Sound Awake and last year’s Asymmetry albums. There are no surprises in the order, nor ad-hoc song changes; just the regular Karnivool machine delivering the tight, sonic experience that they’re expertly-programmed to output. Whilst fellow Aussie band Airbourne were vomiting forth faux-rock’n’roll and pre-planned ‘spontaneous’ acts of rebellion, Karnivool graced the Saturn Stage with maturity, charm and precision. Sound is the factor which holds it together.

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4. Babymetal

Of course, a lot of the pre-Sonisphere hype circulated about the inaugral UK (and European festival) appearance of “internet sensations” (yuk) Babymetal, and how they’d go down in front of a stoic heavy metal crowd that would, later in the day, be gearing up for real metal delivered by Anthrax, Iron Maiden and Slayer. The three girls from Japan were accompanied to the stage by projection of a tongue-in-cheek ‘back story’ video, heralding their status as the new Goddesses of Heavy Metal, before launching into album openers ‘BABYMETAL DEATH’, ‘Megitsune’ and ‘Gimme Chocolate!!’.

Of course, while Babymetal will forever be associated with The Girls, they’d be nothing without the juddering metal backdrop. The backing band provide the foundation for Babymetal’s cosmic stage presence; painting the musical stage on which The Girls sing, dance and cavort around with choreographed abandon. Inter-song solos and noodles from each of the members also goes light-years to proving that they’re not just a dance/pop band; they’re an (albeit constructed) machine of genuine musical talent and merit under the curtain of semi-contrived gimmick.

It’s a shame that, at least for the day, Babymetal could only grace the Apollo Stage for a fleeting half an hour, but it’s certainly enough to satiate the ravenous and (maybe) convince a few of the naysayers to rethink their stern opinions. Either way, for thirty minutes on a gloomy Saturday in Hertfordshire, we were witnesses to the arrival of the new Goddesses of heavy metal; and how refreshing that was. The revolution is here; the time is now.

BabymetalDeath

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5. Hundred Reasons

The assembled crowed at the Saturn Stage on Saturday afternoon felt small, but perfectly formed. After a few years of splitting-up, re-forming, playing comeback and anniversary shows, Hundred Reasons haven’t released new material for seven or so years. Sonisphere 2014 saw them going back in time twelve years, with a full rendition of their essential debut album, Ideas Above our Station; addressing a small but rabid fanbase who can sing along with every word.

Throughout their set, 100R looked for all the world like a band enjoying themselves. With each member now otherwise invested in other projects, the Sonisphere semi-reunion (they got together back in 2012 to do a few proper renunion shows to celebrate the Ideas… ten-year anniversary) had all the feeling of a weekend get-together rather than a run-of-the-mill show. Dutifully, Colin Doran’s lyrics soared over the backing provided by Hibbitt, Gilmour et al. and the voices of the assembled congregation, delivering an atmosphere worthy of a band in their heyday rather than one that’s been off the circuit for far longer than most of us would like.

If nothing else, Hundred Reasons reminded us why 2002’s post-hardcore soundtrack meant so much to so many, and convinced us (if we ever needed convincing in the first place) that the UK music scene is a poorer place without Hundred Reasons in it. Boys, you’re sorely missed.

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6. Max Raptor

…And the award for “Craziest Moshpit of Sonisphere 2014” goes to Max Raptor!

I’m not sure what I expected when I walked into the Satellite Stage tent to settle in for Max Raptor. What became clear was that, within seconds of launching raucously into their opening song, most of the central area of the tent was taken up by a frenzied [mosh/circle] pit that continuously ebbed and flowed with the motion of bouncing limbs and beaming smiles until well after Max Raptor had left the stage.

Not elsewhere across the weekend did I witness such a constant whirlwind of bodies, fervour and fun as during Max Raptor’s short (but sweet) set – the boistrous (but cordial) moshing throughout the show was accompanied by a jovial wall-of-death and, at one point, the sight of two guys dressed as 1970s long-distance runners sat on each others’ shoulders and jousting across the pit.

I wasn’t familiar with any of Max Raptor’s material before I saw them; even now, I’m almost tempted to keep it that way. Because, you see, to hear them on CD and in the manacles of a recording studio would ruin the memory of witnessing a true punk rock band being completely let off the musical leash for a festival show. They’re a band to see in the flesh, not just on record. Their debut album (Mothers Ruin, fact fans) might be the best ever written, but I’ll never know because I’ll never listen to it; nothing can compare to the real Max Raptor experience, smiles abound.

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7. Nirvana Defiled

I’m not sure what I was expecting to hear from Nirvana Defiled; a regular, main stage hardcore(ish) band [The Defiled] playing an 11pm show in a titchy tent as a Nirvana tribute band. I think, in the main, I was just hoping that they wouldn’t screw it up – having watched The Defiled play their regular set on Friday and not been bowled over, a friend and I headed into the Bohemia Stage on a high and settled in to watch the potential car crash of the same band attempting to raid the Nirvana back catalogue. Instead, what we got was one of the most enjoyable musical experience in recent memory, and hats well and truly eaten.

Nirvana Defiled took to the stage in complete costume – ragged cardigans, plaid shirts, pink hair, bras and baseball caps; even with the other (redundant) member of the four-piece The Defiled dolled up in drag as Courtney Love being pushed around in wheelchair – before belting into a perfect rendition of ‘Breed’. For the remainder of the show, The Defiled crushed through the likes of ‘In Bloom’, ‘Negative Creep’, ‘Rape Me’ and ‘Heart-Shaped Box’, before sending the entire tent into a mass frenzy with an intense rendition of the obligatory ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ before exiting the stage and leaving genuine smashed guitar all over it.

It may now be twenty years since Kurt left this world, but for forty or so minutes in Knebworth, late on a Sunday night, Nirvana were alive and well and full of the kind of reckless energy that took them from mere rock band directly to musical legend. And, without a shadow of doubt, it was glorious.

SmellsLikeTheDefiled

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So there we go; my brief (if a little late) review of most of the awesomeness from Sonisphere 2014. Honorable mentions should also go to all of the other bands I managed to watch over the course of the weekend: Hounds, Atari Teenage Riot, 65 Days of Static, Anti-Flag, Limp Bizkit, The Prodigy, Fort Hope, Centiment, The Virginmarys, Alestorm, Deftones, Devin Townsend Project, Reel Big Fish, Alice in Chains, Kerbdog and The One Hundred. Special mentions should also go to the ‘extra-curricular’ activities over the weekend, from the Official Unofficial Sonisphere Bin Joust International Invitational to the Toolbox Hill-Descent Masters. For four or so days, my life was filled with music and other tomfoolery, and it was spectacular.

Thanks, Sonisphere; you were awesome. Same time next year, yeah?

[Zinar7]

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My Life in Music I: From Out of Nowhere

Music_1

Over the next four days, I’ll be posting a series of entries about one of the things closest to my heart: music. Most of my post-puberty life has been spent adoring the plethora of (primarily) rock-based sounds that the world has to offer, and so I thought an interesting study would be to examine and document my favourite full-length records from each year that I have been alive.

These are, of course, my opinions now, not at the time (because I didn’t take note of these things), and obviously I wasn’t listening to G’NR and Metallica, etc. when I was three years old. However, I think it’s an interesting study since it follows not only the trends in my listening habits in the 10-12 years that I’ve been intimately following the rock/metal scene, but also the trends in how genres have developed or evolved over time. The primary measure which I’ve used to measure this is the ability of certain albums to never grow old to me: those records that I could listen to over and over again, without tiring, and which consistently stir emotions and passions inside me in a way that sometimes only music can.

This post covers the first seven years: 1985-1991, which describe a fondness for the rise of thrash metal and kicking ass. I kick off with 1991 because over the next three days I’ll be posting the remaining three parts of this chronology, followed by a quick round-up of those records that didn’t make the cut. And on that bombshell, let’s get going. Enjoy!

1991: Metallica – [self-titled]
(aka The Black Album)

Critics and fans unite may unite in the opinion that 1986’s Master of Puppets is the definitive Metallica album (and I don’t deny that it’s the more technically accomplished and defining), The Black Album remains my personal pick. Beneath it’s black-weathered cover, there’s evidence of the evolution of Metallica’s sound from their thrash era in the ’80s; in particular with the presence of slow-paced songs like ‘The Unforgiven’, and the haunting, ethereal ‘Nothing Else Matters’. Metallica still feels like the uncontrolled, charging beast it once was (nowhere is this more plain than on monsters like ‘Sad but True’), but now a band that has learned to pace itself every so often. It’s also reassuring that Metallica still know how to write a killer opener in ‘Enter Sandman’ (still the most accessible song for the masses, and kicking the record off spectacularly like ‘Blackened’ and ‘Battery’ did on …And Justice for All and Master of Puppets before it) and a snorting, raging closer in ‘The Struggle Within’. 1991 may be best remembered for the explosion of grunge, but for me, Metallica still take the crown.

Song Choice: [Enter Sandman]

1990: Pantera – Cowboys from Hell

Cowboys from Hell

Judging from my record collection, 1990 was a bleak year. Out of it all, Cowboys from Hell was pretty much the only release that fits the bill, but that shouldn’t really detract from the quality of the record. Bridging the gap between Pantera’s lesser-known glam-rock phase and the full-on thrash/groove-metal destruction which commenced with Vulgar Display of Power, from the get-go (the iconic ‘Cowboys from Hell’) there’s a sense of the brutality that would come to define Pantera’s later career in ‘Primal Concrete Sledge’ and much of the middle-ground of the record. It also remained a stark reminder of how spectacular Pantera could be in their prime, and how the combination of Phil Anselmo’s harsh vocals, Dimebag Darrell’s superlative guitars, Vinnie Paul’s solid percussion and Rex Brown’s grooving basslines can combine in perfect harmony. Defiantly my favourite Pantera record, it’s a sonic barrage of skilled musicianship summed up by Cowboys‘ closing song: ‘The Art of Shredding’; and what an art it is. Long may it reign.

Song Choice: [Cowboys from Hell]

1989: Faith No More – The Real Thing

1989

On every audible level, The Real Thing is an absolute triumph. Faith No More showed superb promise on their previous album Introduce Yourself, but it’s the addition of Mike Patton (replacing previous vocalist, Chuck Mosley) that is the real turning point in the band’s trajectory: Patton brings both vocal skill and unbridled energy to the combo; rousing genuine excitement from the listener with his unique, avant-garde style and diverse range. Sure, Patton’s arrival brings the band into their own, but it’s nothing without the consistent spine of FNM and solid backing delivered by Mike Bordin et al., streamrolling through the likes  ‘From Out of Nowhere’, ‘Epic’ and onwards. Never a band to be pigeonholed, FNM’s grungey-metal is supplemented by a diverse range of funk, jazz, prog rock, hip hop and soul;  and finishing with the sublime cover of Black Sabbath’s seminal ‘War Pigs’.  with such a range of influences and new things to hear with each subsequent listen, The Real Thing is the gift that keeps on giving.

Song Choice: [Epic]

1988: Iron Maiden – Seventh Son of a Seventh Son

Iron Maiden - Seventh Son of a Seventh Son

This was a tough year to call; one of the first in this chronology that had no clear victor. In the end, Maiden’s conceptual opus just sneaked past the post over Metallica’s (undoubtedly great) …And Justice for All. Introducing more of the prog-rock and keyboard elements which had developed on Somewhere in Time two years prior, Seventh Son… represents a full-blown Maiden concept album, full of nods to mystical powers, the paranormal and subject matter which matches the musical ambiance. There’s certainly no lack of Maiden’s usual galloping flavour of NWOBHM but this time comes bundled with a more introspective and story-driven tack, most prevalent on the album’s singles ‘The Evil that Men Do’, ‘The Clairvoyant’ and the seminal ‘Can I Play with Madness’. Sadly, the album also represents an end to Maiden’s killer run of records, since the formula couldn’t be recreated on the subsequent No Prayer for the Dying, but if ever there was need to remind oneself of how persuasive and poetic Maiden can be when they’re in the zone, this is it.

Song Choice: [Can I Play with Madness?]

1987: Guns ‘N Roses – Appetite for Destruction

1987

‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ may be the seminal song from the album, but Appetite for Destruction is major accurately summed up by opener ‘Welcome to the Jungle’: unhinged, bombastic and rock ‘n’ roll as hell, G ‘n R leap out of the box with a pocket full of arrogance and a sneer at the establishment, but possess skills enough to back up their anarchy. There’s a staggering number of classics on here: in addition to the two previously mentioned, it’s difficult to name a song that isn’t a surefire hit: ‘Paradise City’, ‘Mr. Brownstone’, ‘My Michelle’ are but a few. It’s a cohesive effort: an example of how, when working together, Axl, Slash, Duff, Izzy and Adler could produce something truly special and where ego doesn’t dominate. G ‘n R may have lost the plot going into the Nineties, but they’re far better when ignoring the nine-minute epics and the haunting strings and remain focussed on playing straight-up rock and roll. An undoubted classic, it’s also a benchmark for every rock band that has come since, and with good reason. A triumph.

Song Choice: [Welcome to the Jungle]

1986: Metallica – Master of Puppets

1986

What can be said about Master of Puppets that hasn’t been said already? The ultimate metal album, almost flawless in every regard, this is the sort of occasion when the stars align and eight songs are crafted with such beauty and brutality that the like of which will likely never happen again. There’s not a dud song on here; in fact, quite the opposite. ‘Battery’ still has (probably) the most killer intro of any metal song ever; ‘Master of Puppets’ still the rampaging, furious steamroller it ever was. The album’s crowning glory, however, is ‘Orion’: an eight-and-a-half minute instrumental epic that ebbs and flows and rages and quietens in an almost dream-like fashion. It’s a huge shame that this would be Metallica’s final album with bassist Cliff Burton, as one can only imagine where the Bay Area titans would have gone had his untimely death not occurred, but instead we got Jason Newsted and …And Justice For All a mere two years later; a clear reaction to Cliff’s passing. Puppets remains Metallica’s masterwork, though, and inspiration for every metal band existing today. An absolute powerhouse.

Song Choice: [Battery]

1985: Iron Maiden – Live After Death

Live After Death

I debated for a long time about whether I wanted to include a live album on this list. A long time. But heck, I figure that if you’re going to bend the rules, you may as well bend them for (arguably) the greatest live album of all time. Live After Death is a double-album of Maiden hits culled from the ‘World Slavery’ tour in support of Powerslave and featuring live versions of Maiden classics across ‘2 Minutes to Midnight’ through ‘The Number of the Beast’ across to the classic show-closer, ‘Running Free’ – as such, it effectively summarises the band’s first five years of recorded history; a live ‘best of’ compilation of some of Maiden’s best work; delivered at the height of their mid-80’s power. A finer live metal band you will never find, and Bruce Dickinson’s glorious crowd-pleasing and teasing still inspire goosbumps nearly thirty years on.

Song Choice: [2 Minutes to Midnight]

[Zinar7]

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PhD Fraud #08: Songs in the Key of Strife

PhD8

It’s sometimes unnerving how much ‘music’ has me in its clutches, and purely at its bidding: often, I won’t know how much of a ‘low’ mood I’ve been feeling until I listen to something that delivers a ‘hit’ of pure energy (Exhibit A) or nostalgia (Exhibit B), that I’m mentally put into ‘overdrive’ and gain access to some unknown, hidden source of vitality with which to, at least for the duration of that song or record, overcome (almost) any obstacle. In this vein, I’ve at least learned a few tips about what tunes to put on when I’m struggling with work; of which I’ve provided a brief run-down of here:

1. Fixing Matlab and Shit

Coding is one of the key parts of many PhDs, primarily those in the sciences. However, sometimes you’re forced to use Matlab or something equally painful, and therefore writing, fixing or debugging code can often be a drag. Sticking on some sort of electronic/dance music usually helps; delivering a shot of both energy and mindlessness that kind of lets you see ‘through’ the code to see the inner workings of Matlab rather than the numbers, letters and symbols presented onscreen. Kind of like the Matrix, except it’s still Matlab we’re dealing with so you still have to put up with the constant desire to headdesk when your code fails for NO APPARENT REASON. But hey, at least you’ll have a better soundtrack to do it to, yeah?

2. Getting Shit Done

Sometimes, you just need a kick up the backside to get you going, or it’s getting towards the end of the day and you’re starting to slack off a bit. Well, thankfully, a man was placed on this Earth to help solve just that problem. His name is Andrew W.K. For a 35-minute burst of pure motivation, insert I Get Wet into your CD drive, push ‘play’ and let the productivity commence. WHEN IT’S TIME TO RESEARCH WE WILL RESEARCH HARD

3. Getting Inspired and Shit

Sometimes we all need some sort of muse with which to dig into our inner psyche and bring forth creativity, inspiration and ideas. Anyway, it turns out that my musical muse is Ke$ha. A slight disappointment, since it could so easily have been someone with an actual modicum of musical talent, but we all play the hands we’re dealt and instead of fighting it, I’ve come to embrace it. Animal/Cannibal is supremely glorious piece of work (essentially the I Get Wet of this decade), elevating me to a higher level of knowledge and reasoning, and while it continues to do so, I will feel no shame at bopping along to her white-trash, catchy slut-o-rama. Long may it reign.

4. Kicking Writer’s Block in the Face and Shit

Writing up research work is an essential part of being an academic. Getting gob-smacking results is all very well unless you’re able to communicate that to the general public or the rest of your field, and thus putting pen to paper, or finger to keyboard is essential. It can be a miserable business sometimes though, when you can’t figure out what to say, how to say or why.  I find that progressive metal is a delicious solution to this conundrum; offering a sense of elevated intellect and distinguished literary ability that is largely absent from, say, the works of Sir Snoop of Dogg-shire. Let it wash over you , and you’ll absorb complex time-signatures, lyrics and musical interludes almost by osmosis and as a result, see your written work flourish into a burgeoning manuscript of academic prowess. See, it works.

5. Calculating Shit with Maths and Stuff

The basis of most science is, somewhere, based on some sort of theory or set of equations which hope to explain the physical world in terms of a variety of numbers and letters. Often, calculating those numbers or deriving that set of formulae is boring as hell, and some sort of external energy drip is required to keep you on mission. Step in Anamanaguchi with the 16-bit chiptune punk, and the superlative Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game original soundtrack. Suddenly, maths is made of brightly-coloured pixels, chirpy sound effects and SPEED RUNS. So, plug in your controller, give the cartridge a blow and press UP, UP, DOWN, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT, A, B to Falcon Punch those equations into touch.

6. Getting Shit in Just Before the Deadline

Despite best efforts, a lot of things which are produced to a deadline (abstract/paper for a conference, research proposal, getting stuff ready for a supervisor meeting) are often only finished and sent off seconds before their actually due, and there is an important lesson to be learnt about how to get it all done on time and not end up in a mad panic. Something calming, soothing but upbeat is the order of the day, and you can do a lot worse that drinking in the swirling, dream-like qualities of lo-fi, acoustic/electronic indie-pop. I recently discovered Gregory and the Hawk, whose floating melodies helped dispatch a journal paper right near the deadline whilst keeping me safe from full-blown insanity; may she rescue your mind from oblivion, too.

7. Crying and Shit When Things Inevitably Go Wrong

Okay, so you’re doing a PhD. Things will inevitably go wrong; that’s, like, programmed into the DNA of the PhD process. Quite possibly, like in my case, things will go horribly, horribly wrong and you’ll have to re-do months of work or start again from scratch. This can be seriously harrowing, and lead to severe doubts of depression and anxiety that are probably not great for the mental well-being of any sane person, let alone someone who was unstable enough (at least at some point) to think that doing a PhD would be an enjoyable thing to do. What’s the musical remedy for this, then?

Power metal. And lots of it.

Think about it, it’s like the perfect cure: catchy melodies, uplifting lyrics, powerful vocals; it’s pretty much just Katy Perry with bearded men, leather codpieces and songs about dragons. And if that’s not something to instantly warm the soul and make you forget about your plethora of research problems, then I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.

[Zinar7]

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Sinister Reviews: Ascension – Far Beyond the Stars

Ascension – Far Beyond the Stars
Genre: Power Metal
Release Date: 21st March (Japan), TBC (Europe, NA)
Label: Spiritual Beast (Japan), Universal Music (rest of world)
Band Website: http://www.ascensionband.co.uk
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Ascensionbanduk

It’s been an interesting rise to fame by Scottish power-metallers, Ascension. Still but youngsters in the spectrum of rock’n’roll, their first release was the Moongate EP deployed in 2009, before that was followed up by second EP Alchemy the following year. Honed, then, by continual touring and recording (most notably a UK tour with Axenstar at the end of 2011), the band retreated to Sonic Train Studios in Sweden with Grammy-nominated producer and King Diamond player, Andy La Rocque (Falconer, Dragonland, Evergrey) to record their debut full-length album, Far Beyond the Stars. Was it worth the wait? Oh, you bet.

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