West Cork Chamber Music Festival, Part One

I returned yesterday from the wonderful surroundings of Bantry in West Cork, where I was helping out at the town’s annual Chamber Music Festival. I am still wrecked from attending 35 concerts in 9 days; five concerts nearly every day. I’m away tonight but I’m going to post up some thoughts while they are still fresh in my mind, and outline the important details of what I learned and what I got up to. More detailed posts to come in the days that follow.

I’ll need to run the figures again but I think I heard every string quartet. All of them. Continue reading

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Gig Review: Red Fang and Wizards of Firetop Mountain, June 18th, Whelan’s

I’m going to admit I couldn’t have been more excited about this gig.

I’ve been into Red Fang for a bit over a year now, ever since I saw the video for Prehistoric Dog on the Relapse Records Youtube Channel. They instantly became one of my favourite bands; deliciously riffy stoner metal with a few tasteful glimpses of prog complexity. Somewhere between Queens of the Stone Age and Mastodon, maybe.

So when I hear Red Fang have announced a Dublin date, and that date is the same date as my final exam in college? Super.

So I arrived before doors open, get my Red Fang t-shirt as soon as the merch guy comes out, and secure my place right in front of the stage. It’s then a long wait until the opening act appear.

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Gig Review: Devin Townsend Project and For the Imperium, May 4th, The Academy

Proving that their country can master any music that involves heavy guitars, Finnish post-hardcore act For The Imperium opened the Academy last night. It was a thrillingly energetic performance, complete with climbing the stage, mounting the barrier, and great crowd interaction by the guitarist; the actual singer doesn’t seem to speak much English, despite singing in the language.

It’s a band like this that show why the label post-hardcore applies to bands as different in sound as At the Drive-In and Bring Me The Horizon (If you don’t know these bands, start knowing At the Drive-In, but BMTH can probably be safely ignored). For The Imperium combine the riffs and clean vocal passages of the metalcore end of the spectrum with the spontaneity and rhythmic energy of At the Drive-In, and impressive guitar and bass work of their own. They’re definitely worth keeping an eye on.

The main act, the Devin Townsend Project, took to the stage after a lengthy video introduction – his signature Ziltoid TV (a collection of comically bizarre videos, curated by Ziltoid the Omniscient himself) entertain the crowd during the band’s soundcheck.

When it comes to the band’s set, I have to make a small confession: I love Devin Townsend, having seen him twice before and enjoyed the hell out of his show both times, but I never remember to invest the time in his albums. This means that when I do see him, I don’t know the songs – but it doesn’t matter.

Devin Townsend is the most charming front man in metal. Every aspect of the show seems to be carefully planned – from keeping the audience entertained (and preparing them for Devin’s highly silly sense of humour) with the pre-show Ziltoid TV segment, to the videos playing in sync with the band – everything combines to present a well-polished, extremely entertaining stage show. The sound quality wasn’t quite up to his usual (exceptionally high) standards at the beginning of the show, but that got resolved within a few songs.

His stage banter shows how well he knows his audience – asking “Does anyone smell NERD in here!?”, and his general charming self-deprecating humour. He also knows how to send up the music itself – two segments where he lampoons Meshuggah and Between the Buried and Me (complete with puppet videos, of course) were not only hilarious, but the BTBAM skit managed to sound exactly like the band in question.

As for the music itself – I just find something so feelgood about Devin Townsend’s music. The songs are so full of positive emotion and affirming feelings, without ever compromising on heaviness. Every song strikes a good balance between being heavy, interesting and catchy – I don’t know of anyone else who can write such commercially appealing music that is so musically interesting.

Laugh, love, live, learn!

Response: “The Negative Effects of Rap and Heavy Metal Music”

I recently read Julian Treasure’s interesting Sound Business, a book aimed at getting business to make sound design a core element of their management. Overall, I found this to be a rewarding read – however, late in the second part of the book, Treasure writes something startling

 Of more concern lately have been the negative effects of heavy metal and rap music, which combine tempo, rhythm, pitch, texture, density and sheer volume to create a profound effect on their listeners and are strongly suspected of creating unhealthy psychological and attitudinal states, including misogyny, aggressiveness and depression, and of causing a range of violent and antisocial behaviours such as violence, crime, self-harm, cult membership, and even suicide.

This surprised me. I had thought that the era of heavy metal moral panic had passed, or at least passed into the domain of individual parents and isolated events. Yet further down the page, Treasure makes a yet bolder statement:

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Book Review: Sound Business by Julian Treasure

Julian Treasure is the Chairman of British company The Sound Agency, described as ‘the world’s leading business sound consultancy’. “Business sound” may seem like a strange concept, and it is precisely for this reason that Treasure wrote this book, which claims to be the the ‘first book to map the unexplored land of sound in business’.

Treasure, who is well-known for his TED Talks on sound (1, 2, 3) intends this book to create awareness in businesspeople of the various sounds their businesses make, their causes, and – most importantly – their effects. Treasure believes that sound is a largely untapped field in business, with great potential for improving a company. Consider branding – how many companies have associated visuals beyond logos into consistent colour schemes, distinct product design, and even recognizable fonts? But other than ad jingles, most companies have not extended their brand into audible forms.

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Gig Report: Lamb of God and Sylosis, Jun 13th, The Academy

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this gig; I hadn’t listened to Lamb of God in about five years, though I liked them back then. I had no idea who the support act were; the first time I ever heard of Sylosis was when I saw their t-shirts in the merch booth.

For a warm-up act, Sylosis were extremely well-received. A four-piece British band delivering technically impressive, engaging and entertaining melodic death metal. Definitely a band I intend to check out in the future. The six-song set was a little shorter than I would have liked, but otherwise my only criticism is how the singer kept urging the audience to start a circle pit. People start pits because they’re getting into the music, you shouldn’t have to tell them, and besides, circle pits are stupid. Unfortunately when I went down to get a Sylosis t-shirt after their set, the only available sizes were in XL and XS – hopefully a sign that they had a good reception at the previous night’s gig opening for Lamb of God in Belfast.

If Sylosis were well-received, Lamb of God were welcomed to the stage with near-rapturous applause. Continue reading

Overdue Album Reviews #1 – The Hunter

I make no real effort to stay on top of what’s current in music – I rarely listen to the radio, and I don’t know what bands are hot. This isn’t me parading my hipness by “not listening to overproduced corporate pop, man“; I’m equally ignorant of indie hipster bands and up-and-coming pop singers. And it’s not that I don’t like popular music either. I just find it takes too much damn effort to keep abreast of what’s happening in all of the scenes, far more effort than it’s worth expending to find music I really enjoy.

Unfortunately, this weak excuse doesn’t even apply when it comes to today’s blog post. Mastodon has been one of my favourite bands for years now, ever since 2004’s astonishing second album Leviathan. I’ve seen them two or three times, and one of them was one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. So the fact that I’m using this post to review their most recent album, The Hunter, four whole months after its release, cannot be excused by my lack of hip. There are several other albums by equally cherished groups that have been out for months now. Expect further entries in the “Overdue Album Reviews” series – I doubt this is a problem I’ll ever get on top of, so as long as bands I love keep releasing albums, expect me to keep getting them months after everyone else has gotten over it already.

Onwards to the review!

The Hunter comes in a pretty box – though I miss the art style of the previous albums (all by the same artist), the front cover features a quite disturbing depiction of a mythical, multi-jawed beast. Something about it makes me think of Picasso’s Guernica. This album is also a departure from their previous albums because it doesn’t correspond to one of the classical elements.  Each of their earlier records is in some way inspired by or based upon fire, water, earth, or ether. They have yet to release an album that represents air, and it’s a little disappointing to the completionist in me that The Hunter doesn’t finish off the cycle; of course, this doesn’t take away from the quality of the music itself and Mastodon have to be allowed to write the album they want to write.

So what of the music? As I write this, I’ve listened through the album fully once, and I’m about halfway through my second listen. I’ve always found Mastodon’s albums require a bit of getting used to; it took me a while to warm to Leviathan, and their last release Crack the Skye was considered by many to be a difficult listen and a huge departure from their typical sound. Not so with The Hunter.  The opening track, “Black Tongue”, is if anything a more traditional heavy metal track than Mastodon tend to release. Solid riff, good vocals, and from the middle of the song onwards we have some classic heavy metal guitar harmonies. “Curl of the Burl” is a bit closer to  the familiar Mastodon sound. “Blasteroid”, Stargasm” and “Octopus Has No Friends” are interesting; some the riffs have a jolly, almost folksy, new flavour.

It’s around this point on my first listen that I look at the liner notes and see the album was produced bt Mike Elizondo, a name previously familiar to me as the session bassist on Dr. Dre’s album 2001, probably my favourite rap album. Mind somewhat blown!

From “All the Heavy Lifting” on, the album gets more proggy. Ethereal guitars soar over riffs and Brann Dailor’s typically virtuoso drumming. These songs have a little bit more of the 70’s influence, but don’t compromise on the heaviness. The mood changes surprisingly with the tenth track, “Creature Lives.” After a creepy intro of demonic laughter and swelling synths, this is practically a pop song; its melody and harmonies could nearly come right out of the charts, but with a prog twist. The following track “Spectrelight” resets the heaviness meter, and how! This track calls right back to the ferocity and energy of Leviathan; Iron Tusk in particular comes to mind. I am astonished that Spectrelight hasn’t been taken as a band name!

The final two tracks on the album continue in much the same fashion – Mastodon flirt with that typical prog-metal sound that so many bands have nowadays (to the point of it becoming a cliché, surely antithetical to progressive music, but that’s a topic for another blog post) but always do it tastefully and with enough individuality to pull it off.

In short, this is a very accessible album. Where Crack the Skye was impenetrable but ultimately rewarding, The Hunter is easy to listen to but complex enough to keep you interested. Anyone seeking genuinely interesting prog metal that doesn’t hold back when brutality is required should definitely try out this album. But of course, you probably bought it four months ago.