Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mastodon - The Hunter (2011) - First Listen and Review

These albums get leaked and then I listen to them for the first time all the way through while typing out my inane thoughts as each song flashes by. Why do I do this?
A) Because I am deluded... living in a fantasy world thinking I am Hunter Thompson and Cameron Crowe ...
B) because I am amused to read what I wrote a year later and see how stupidly wrong I was ...
C) because none of my real friends and relatives will listen to me babble on about relatively obscure forms of musical expression such as ECM solo piano or in this case extreme metal
D) all of the above

For the record I am writing this in New Delhi and drinking Chivas 12 year, chilled but with no ice.

Purging of the pre-conceptions - I already had heard the first two songs on this album. I also heard that on this album they used all the songs which were too heavy, too brutal or too written by somebody not named Brent Hinds on the last album. Are Mastodon taking the piss? Is this their "Houses of the Holy"? Inconsistent collection of leftovers and off-topic experiments? Who knows. Crack the Skye was awesome, Leviathan was awesome too, Blood Mountain was fantastic. Remission was their first and the last one I owned and its brutally uncompromising and hard to hear what they are singing. That's what I know. (the 9 songs on Call of the Mastodon are even more brutally screamed aggressive cave paintings with over the top drumming. so all their shit is great... so far...)

and off we go.

are damn unique. Because they permit their drummer to go off and go nuts. The detuned guitars are very powerful but lots of bands have done that (the first being black sabbath to the best of my knowledge). Very few have let their drummer consistently take the lead role --- even during verses. Playing through, over, against, between ... almost never repeating the same part for more than 16 measures in a row. That's Mastodon.
This song reminds me of some of the great stuff on Leviathan. And its got some nice guitar work, nothing too shredding but quite powerful nonetheless. The singing here is in a similar vein I believe to Leviathan but perhaps is a bit clearer. It took them awhile to believe in their vocals enough to set them free in the mix.

Piss officially taken. Some disco influence here. Still crazy shit going on in the guitars in the chorus, some doubling back and cutting the time. But what the fuck are they singing about and why? Is this the first Mastodon party anthem since... ever??? (maybe the song with the scratching in Blood Mountain). The middle section opens it up ... just a bit... into that alice in chains space --- at least guitar wise --- but we are still neurotically propelled forward by the drums. the drums and mostly the snare, which is used throughout the bands career as a rapper uses a turntable ... to control the space --- to ripple time. Its all about the snare with this band.

what are these titles? what am i supposed to do with this southern rock intro? wild stuff. i need some more chivas. I think Brent Hinds is a great guitarist. He doesn't always make it out of the mix --- but on the last 2 albums the mix is cleaned up and you can better appreciate all the different styles he can throw at you and always sound unforced.

beep beep whistlestar pop. and some nicko mcbrain type tom rolls. very dramatic. where are we going with this one??? If we are playing the which album is this an outtake from then obviously its from crack the skye... isn't it? That album was originally rumoured to be about rasputin and then ... they decided that was too obvious??? I wish I had a lyric sheet for the Brent songs cos its not easy to hear wtf he is singing. oh wait "you're on fire" x 8 ... of course that's what he's singing (?!?!) The rhythm guitar in this song, and in this band, is damn propelling. In some bands like Maiden its the bass but in Mastodon its the rhythm guitar which is the tank treads and the bass is like underground party streamers of color. Buried under six feet of muddy fuzz of course. That's just the way it is. oh and by the way "you're on fire"

from the title i am going to guess its an aqua hunger teens outtake? Great vocal layering, they obviously learned a lot doing the last record. I'm a little shocked by the poppiness of it all.

"can you show me where to find the stream - i've been told before that the water's clean"
great guitar playing in the verse --- the chorus reminds me (for the first 4 or 5 chords) of the track "public enema number one" from no prayer for the dying - and why shouldn't it be so seeing as Brann Dailor is a massive Maiden fan. or maybe I am and I am making a connection that doesn't exist. apparently. but wasn't it fun activating dead cells of my brain which haven't been heard from since that night in January 1991 at the GMU Patriot Center when I saw eddie live for the first time. Actually the last time too since in 1996 at Hammerjacks there wasn't an eddie. No room on stage for that stuff. Just a raw club gig with Fear Factory opening. But this is supposed to be about Mastodon and they just switched gears on me in this song. and then again. in the space of like 10 seconds. "we didn't come this far just to turn around". true enough. nobody is gonna confuse this stuff with an attempt to suck in a wider audience --- this is more indulgence, a purging of the spirits, abstract painting on an invisible canvas. fade out. and i'll shut up now.

I guess its not a song about Ted Nugent. But it has a cool Mastodonian acoustic + electric guitar double tracked arpeggioed out opening. cool. This is how phasing should be used. Phasing should take you back to 1978. Or 1968. Or something. "All the love I make is equal to the love I take" ... now they are inverting Paul McCartney. Damn, they are bigger now after Crack the Skye. And that's the cleanest vocals Troy has laid down... ever? Confidence in hearing their own voices --- a good sign. Classic Brent leads. The guitar part will remind you of another old gem that appeared --- oh wait --- on their last album (The Czar). But why quit while you're ahead. And they're ahead by all measurements. This song is the best on the album so far. They front-loaded the album with oddities in order to prove something... but what?

Brent channels the edge? just for a bit. Then these guys show what they learned from Josh Homme in the vocal dept. Vocally, Mastodon have gotten better with each album. You can hear what they are singing, and they actually have some nice harmonies now.

A song about Jeff Hanneman in the 90s? No, no, just kidding. Seriously? the second half of this album is twice as good as the first. Better songs, better lines, better singing, what does it mean? Usually by the way with this band its the opposite. The first 4 or 5 songs on Leviathan are just the best streak of throat grabbing metal awesomeness ever. Blood mountain opens damn strong as well too before it goes WEIRD. Here for some reason, the album keeps getting better and better as it goes along.

Maybe this one belonged in the first half of the album. WTF. I don't get it.

And we're back. Just when you thought Mastodon had gone all theatrical on us --- they reemerge from behind the barn with a freshly sharpened axe and some furious forward pedaling rhythm.

The bass shines in the song, but it shines underneath, in the dark, beneath all the other moving parts. But the bass playing here carries the verses and makes the song.

Starting out like it could be another instrumental Brent album closer... is it? Its not an acoustic instrumental but it is a mid-tempo strolling trip through coolness. Groovy lead guitar, reverberated vocal ah-ing... its an atmospheric curtain coming down on this interesting, although perhaps not very consistent album.

overall: 3.5 stars. too weird to be their greatest but many moments of brilliance. Can't wait for their sixth album.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Moneyball Trailer 2011 HD

An absolutely fantastic (non-fiction) book --- I'm interested to see what kind of movie they can make out of it...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Watership Down (Full Lenth Film)

A great - if somewhat disturbing film.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


I only use the time machine for research purposes - but last night I used it to fly into the future and get a copy of the new Opeth CD. I'm sorry if I disturbed the time space continuum and I promise to buy (another) copy on Sept 16th when the album comes out.

[note... later bought a copy the same day Sept 3 from a Tower Records which clearly didn't read the note about the release date being Sept 16. So you got my money Mikael.]

this really does sound like something Keith Jarrett or Thomas Stanko would release on ECM. Not sure how this fits in with everything else, who played it, who wrote it... its fairly pleasant but maybe not their greatest track ever.

The Devil's Orchard:
I had heard this already when they released it on July 20th on stereogum. Crazy loops within loops and mellotrons, if there were some growling in this it would sound like the natural progression of the band from Blackwater park - Deliverance - Ghost Reveries - Watershed ...
Akerfeldt covers Nitzche? "God is Dead", he sings twice.
I can say that the drum sound here is a bit different and jazzier than Watershed. It seems like the drums are lower in the mix and the snare is a bit brighter. Some very interesting percussion things happening with bells in the middle section.
Lots of progressive type organ fiddling here in the style of 1969-1970 king crimson or 1974-1976 Camel if you prefer ... And then comes the Opeth rhythmic craziness and the obligatory epic guitar solo ... still Opeth after all these years.

I Feel the Dark:
Starting with some precise acoustic guitar and Mikael Akerfeldt channeling Nick Drake, he's quickly joined by some mellotron and piano in the background before bringing in the full band. A very brooding and bubbling underneath with heavy echo type guitar solo opens up into a kind of middle keyboard section. Reminds me that I haven't listened to Anekdoten for years now...
Whoops... the aliens just landed at 2:58. We'll see if they are willing to sit in for a few bars. For a while the vocals will go one way and the drums another ... will they meet again?
At 4:20 we bring in a bit of heavy riffing which then gets replicated on the acoustic before this crazy keyboard bubble machine effect brings in some more singing. The textures, layers, sounds, keyboards, guitar tones rolled out already on this album is quite impressive and we are only on song 3. Regarding the lyrics (the first song was instrumental) they seem to conform to the time old Opeth theme of I am an evil guy who is being possessed by some darkness and that's why I had to kill those people/women/townfolk/children etc.

Now the Opeth boys have opened up the throttle. This song moves in a 70s rock 4/4 speed demon way which i'm not sure they've ever tried before (certainly not with this Ian Paice backbeat). Its a pretty cool tip of the hat to Deep Purple and what have you and Opeth make it their own by changing and chopping up the beat now and again on the drums. Classic Mikael Blackmore Akerfeldt mini solo at 2:14. This guy has done his homework and probably heard "Burn" about 1000 times in his lifetime. Followed by some great layered vocals and their own special crazily times breakdown which dissolves into renaissance guitar. Well, Blackmore never did THAT.

wiki says:
Nepenthe play /nɨˈpɛnθiː is a medicine for sorrow, literally an anti-depressant – a "drug of forgetfulness" mentioned in ancient Greek literature.
Opeth? shocker.
We start out deep in the underworld of reverb and classical guitar. jazzzzzzzzzzzzzzzyyyyyyyyyy.
This album really has covered every style in my music collection (except perhaps death metal) in 4 1/3 songs. Opeth is probably the only band who can turn that corner on a dime and go from black metal to ECM new age folk jazz within a measure of 4/4. This album will do that in every song it seems :)
And now a great guitar solo before diving back into the ECM ocean to avoid the helicopters hovering ahead with the depth charges.
And then the guitars break the surface - this solo has to be Frederick Akesson. I don't think Akerfeldt can do that sort of fast tapping.
Its going to be interesting to see how they pull this stuff off live - there are so many sections of quietly plotting between the very fast sections of actually cutting peoples heads off musically. lyrics? more feeding demons and receiving instructions from Lucifer. He's not being honest with us - he's receiving instructions from Ritchie Blackmore and Bobo Stenson on this 10th album.

Opeth is the best sounding jazz trio never to have played Newport. Or Winterfell. Not enough will be written about the excellent drumming here. Axenrot is really cooking with the Miles Davis Quintet here. Its so far back in the mix that it never takes over or interferes with the delicate piano and vocals --- but it adds another layer or interest.
Haxprocess is apparently a swedish chemical term for taking progressive rock keyboards and distilling them in "black metal nonsense" lyrics before suspending them in Manfred Eicher's wet dreams. Its an innovated process that has only been done... once? I guess the next album will need to prove that the thesis can be replicated. Its a new genre and I have to admit by listening to Keith Jarrett, Camel, Deep Purple, King Crimson and well... Opeth for the last 8 years I seem to have been preparing myself to receive the gospel. Not sure what I'm going to do with it just yet ... But how many other death metal bands leave you with the strange compulsion to listen to Jan Garbarek when you finish their records?

To his credit, Akerfeldt feels like he can now write for planet earth as an instrument and not just a 4 piece metal band. This song starts out with some classical type flute run which then segues into some indian percussion and tangerine dream electronic background fizzing. Its a rather interesting minute of world music as black metal brooding which is cross cut with some more ECM piano and a heartfeldt "Ä man needs a maid" moment. But if you make it that far you will get some great jazzy guitar runs with the full band in tow. In perhaps the heaviest moments so far, the full band goes electric and drags the waters for about a minute or so. The guitar riffing here twists and turns with the best of them. And around 5:00 Ian Anderson gets a bit of a nod too. It seems flute and heavy metal can coexist after all. Maybe the Grammy should have gone to Tull and not Metallica? In any case, you can't accuse Opeth of being too conventional at this point or repeating themselves. They don't even repeat themselves with a verse chorus verse in the same song. This song dissolves with distant piano tinkling and old school static... don't they all ? (no, they don't)

The Lines in my Hand
Tony Williams gets to start this one off. Martin Mendez gets a bit of a moment in the sun - maybe he is underrated. This song is a really cooking jazz rock jam with some acoustic guitar overdubbed on top. The later sections of this song get heavy - very heavy by the standards of this album.

Starting off with the itsy bitsy spider on PRS guitar and tube Laney the rest of the band falls in to a mid speed 6/8 stroll through poisonous forests and leslie rotating speakers. "Feel the pain / in your brain / insane". When the clean Akerfeldt voice breaks through triumphantly we are soon back in more cross cut waltzing. The technical and graceful playing of these four guys (and whatever keyboards they have tacked on) is almost taken for granted on their tenth album, but its not easy to get metal musicians to glide together like that. As producer, composer, player, arranger --- I have to give Mikael Akerfeldt a lot of credit. Nobody does this better than him. And as far as I know nobody does this at all.

The Marrow of the Earth
twin guitar funeral of the rest of the genre of "music made on planet earth"

Overall rating:
Maybe they are the best metal band of all time? The argument can be made. So what if this isn't even a metal album. It has to be one of their best albums of all time --- maybe Blackwater Park has better anthems, maybe Ghost Reveries is heavier and has better riffs and maybe Watershed has better guitar solos --- but clearly they have never rolled out all of the chops, all of the effects, all of the orchestration, all of the black metal lyrical nonsense (well on that point nothing changes), all of the time signature + 1 trickery like on this album. Maybe it can't be proven to be their best ever after just one listen (and ... ahem... 13 days before the album is even released) but i can say with conviction that

this is the most opethy album opeth have ever made.

they did it.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Spot Getafe 2011

"When I got to Spain... I said ... what the ****..."

(This is actually a commercial for a football team in Madrid...but again... wtf...)