|Posted by jargononline on July 7, 2013 at 11:30 PM||comments (0)|
Let’s face it, when most of us think of Sweden, we think of meatballs and hot blondes. They can be girls or guys, whatever your preference may be. However, I’m here to change all that. In fact, I’m here to utterly destroy and ruin those notions for you. Because I care so much. When I’m done with you dear reader, the next time you hear some random homeless person on the street ranting about Sweden, you’ll think about clowns.
Death metal clowns. Don’t question me.
Swedish metal band Avatar has been around since 2001, though you may not know that. They’ve just now started getting recognition here in the states. Listen to any hard rock station and you’re bound to hear them at some point. They’ve got four albums for Christ’s sake, but it’s their album Black Waltz that I’ll be reviewing for you today. And I’m here to assure you that it is an adventure in auditory glory.
Avatar has taken to opening this uplifting sounding album with an even more uplifting sounding song. “Let Us Die” kicks off the album with a surging anthem about a man who loves his country, while all the while, loves to rape children and commit homicide. Everything is lost, we’re all dead, and there is no escape from our horrible fates. It’s typical metal language here. The vocals are brutal, and that’s probably the only real theme this album has. This is mainly because every song has its own musical identity.
“Torn Apart” is a song about confusion, which works because it confused the ever loving shit out of me the first time I heard it. It’s an effective song, apparently. This song would be perfect if it was playing during a street fight between Paula Dean and Martha Stewart. I’m a huge fan of dramatic irony. And I’m a prick. It’s another song with pounding rhythm that you can sink your teeth into.
“Ready For The Ride” is a shorter song that starts off with an articulated, clean guitar riff before descending into another tale of what I’m sure is Slipknot inspired madness. The guitar chugs along to a fast, angry beat that never lets up. The constant, powerful double bass is a highlight here.
“Napalm” is one of the album’s songs that features clean vocals in the chorus. That’s the part that doesn’t remind me of Satanic chanting. The first verse literally reminds me of what I might find should I travel down a dark alley and enter a bloody, unmarked door that I know I shouldn’t be within ten miles of. That being said, the chorus is very much in the vein of the 80’s glam rock we all love to hate.
“Black Waltz” rears its head next as the title song of the album. It begins with damn near a minute and a half of a mellow instrumental. It’s a pleasant experience, and it reminds me a little of something the Doors would have done. Then you suddenly remember the album you’re listening to. Right when you do, the song screams in your face like an angry Sasquatch you pissed on in the woods because you though it was a fucking tree. They look like trees sometimes. Permeated by the line “no one gets out alive,” the song is loud and raucous enough to melt your heart.
“Blod” continues the angry Sasquatch trend with style. Lots of double bass and lots of angry growls and screaming flooded by juicy guitar work lays the foundation for another brutal adventure.
“Let It Burn” is an interesting song. It sounds like a deranged hillbilly metal outfit ran into Marilyn Manson on the street and said “Fuck it, sing with us”. He went to the studio with them, had a musical orgy, and birthed this piece of music for the rest of us to enjoy. It’s actually a refreshing break from the norm for these guys.
“One Touch” returns to the furious, manic style that Avatar carries proudly on their shoulders. Pantera comes to mind with the verses, but the chorus sections change into something entirely different. They’re slow, dark, and once again remind me of the 80’s. I had wondered if they featured Billy Idol on this song.
“Paint Me Red” adds a bit of an electronic vibe to the Avatar sauce, but it doesn’t sacrifice what they’ve already established within the album walls. The guitar is dialed back a bit more with this track, allowing the vocals to power most of it on their own. More clean vocals dot the chorus, and this song gives off a little bit more of that “mainstream” vibe, if there’s such a thing nowadays.
“Smells Like A Freakshow” is next, and this is the song you’ve been hearing on the radio. To me, the song is a pounding rendition explaining what happens when you get on the road to excess and end up going completely nuts. Everything moves at a constant, demanding rhythm, and the chorus brings a trippy electronic melody to the mix nicely; much like the downward spiral of substance abuse.
And then there's "Use Your Tongue". The strangest, most fucked up case of Bi-Polar Disorder I've ever laid ears on. It’s like Dethklok meets “When The Levee Breaks”. It starts off in Avatar style, but then it spirals into a symphony of harmonicas and guitar slides. This song would be playing at the blistering hot crossroads in the Deep South, where you go to sign your soul over to the Devil himself. If there was a real-life heavy metal train, this song would be its anthem. At nine minutes long its best if you sit back and let it take you on a journey. You just may be a different person when it is finished.
If you buy the deluxe version of Black Waltz, you get some bonus tracks.
“Dying To See You Dead” is a song the band members wrote when they were all working at the Department of Redundancy Department. For anyone familiar with video games, I dare you to listen to the guitar solo in this song and not imagine Sonic The Hedgehog running through loops collecting rings.
We then get the radio edit of “Smells Like A Freakshow”. The only difference with this version is the lyrics during the verse are more talked/whispered instead of growled and screamed. This is what you’re hearing on the radio, obviously. On a side note, this song would be perfect for a stripper to do her thing to. Just throwing that out there.
We then get yet another version of “Smells Like A Freakshow”; the Walter Backlin Retro Mix. Remember when I mentioned the stripper doing her thing to the regular version of the song? This version would be like if she dropped acid for an entire week straight and then the listener was teleported into her mind.
Last up we get a live version of “Torn Apart” and the band is just as solid of a unit live as they are on the album.
The band members themselves are masters at what they do. Guitarists Tim Öhrström and Jonas Jarlsby do incredibly well at producing tasty licks and blistering solos. Bassist Henrik Sandelin hold the low end down nicely while adding elements of funk and jazz to color things even more. Drummer John Alfredsson is one of the most consistent drummers I’ve ever heard in the metal genre. Think of Dave Lombardo from Slayer and you’ve got the kind of double base Alfredsson is a whiz at performing.
Lead singer Johannes Eckerström has a very interesting vocal style. He also paints his face like a clown, and that’s why you’re going to forever associate Sweden with death metal clowns. I’m not sure how he maintains his screaming and growling, but his clean vocals are very much styled like the legendary Ozzy Osbourne; before Ozzy got permanently batshit fried out of his fucking brain and became a permanent resident of Narnia. What I’m trying to say is the guy has a very good set of pipes on him. In an interview I watched on YouTube, Eckerström stated that everything the band does leads to a means to an end, which is the live show. These guys are passionate about what they do, and I just may go see them the next time they tour the states.
Avatar has given all of us a brutal, interesting piece of art with Black Waltz. Yet it is a very good piece of art. Give it a listen. It just may expand your library in a favorable manner. If you’re a musician, it may also give you some new, fresh ideas to try the next time you sit down to write.
It’s about eight bucks on iTunes. What the hell are you waiting for?
|Posted by jargononline on July 3, 2013 at 1:55 AM||comments (0)|
Album: … Like Clockwork (2013)
Artist: Queens of the Stone Age
Ginger-swag giant Joshua Homme once said: “I think if you play music and you join a scene, you are already too late.” Being the frontman of Queens of the Stone Age, born from the “stoner-rock” group Kyuss from the mid-90’s, he has crafted a sound unparalleled to his peers. Much as Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, Jimmy Page, Billy Corgan, and contemporary Jack White, one note struck by these legends can force your subconscious to recognize the artist, album, and song, and for the more autistic listeners, production credits. Mr. Homme and friends in QOTSA have managed to release full albums that act as that single note; there is a harmony among its members that hasn’t been reached since The Who reached their peak.
Although …Like Clockwork represents an entirely different era than their previous efforts, there is a definitive and classic sound within the macabre foldout artwork, reminiscent moreover to classic metal than the throwback robot-dance party QOTSA is characteristically fond of. This change in artwork is also representative of the change in attitude; on the cover, two individuals embraced in the cape of the male, presumably a vampire, and a crying and beautiful woman. Aside from the blatant attempt at campy 80’s horror, there is an overt intimacy projected toward whomever’s eyes rest on the cover.
Luckily, the cover art segues majestically into the trudging notes of Keep Your Eyes Peeled. QOTSA is particularly fond of its immaculate bass players and abusing their talent has always been something of a motif. Paired with a “traditional” Homme sex appeal, the vocals play out slow and methodical, and the name of the song sticks to your palette immediately, quickly solidifying when the chorus blasts into the stratosphere with a warped, heavily distorted guitar riff. What sets this song immediately apart from those that have come before on previous albums is the distant, dissonant dream-like atmosphere; the incoming sound of complexities found in bands more mature than QOTSA. “If life is but a dream, wake-me.”
In an almost too-abrupt tonal shift, I Sat By The Ocean bursts from its seams with the funk-ridden bass lines and crunched riffage that have rippled through crowds for the last 14 years of their career; this is the QOTSA that we fell in love with, and they are reminding us that the new girl you just dry-humped was the appetizer. With opposingly-stripped down production, those raw, self-titled sounding notes emanate outward with gusto. The confidence of a band who has made a name for themselves is dripping through its weaving verses and choruses, but the familiarity also feels like an easy-out for a veteran band who took such a brave leap of faith on their fifth studio effort, Era Vulgaris.
Just as that familiarity sets in, an Elton John-esque ballad arrives (who appears on a later track, Fairweather Friends; one of the numerous cameos on a heavily cameo studded album). Vampyre of Time and Memory appears initially to act as filler, but after a multitude of listens, and rest assured, there was an elephant shit-ton of replays, you recognize that this is the first track on the album that Homme has written to wear his heart on his sleeves, his vulnerability palpable, his light piano chords affectionate; it illuminates the frustration of a plaguing and arduous session, just in order to maintain order and produce something fruitful, all the while branding the track with the amazing melting-pot of QOTSA trademarks. “Does anyone ever get this right? I feel no love.” As a side note, this song has one of Homme’s best solos, parallel to Make It Wit Chu’s twangy masterpiece sectional.
With a Rolling Stones-style introduction, If I Had A Tail immediately asserts itself as a standout track. The ability of QOTSA to coax sexuality out of the strings of a guitar is unimaginable, making it even more erotically driven by Homme’s thick, sexy cockiness; that feeling of “let me show you how it’s done”. And the kick drum laden beginnings of the track is instantly supported by that twangy Richard’s vibe that may have been equally as suitable on an Eagles of Death Metal album (one which I am still awaiting, fuckers). Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys makes a guest appearance on the track, further showcasing the incredible influence that Homme had on him as an artist, and likewise, the respect and eye Homme has for talent. With a huge chorus, an impeccable rhythm and well-timed lyrical quirkiness, QOTSA gives us a track that knocks you on your ass for the first time in the album.
When If I Had A Tail knocked you off your feet, My God Is The Sun keeps you at your feet begging for both mercy and forgiveness for ever doubting QOTSA’s stance as one of the most prominent rock bands in the world. This was the world’s first taste of … Like Clockwork, and it’s obvious why. The unassuming maracas played by the forever loyal Troy van Leeuwan kick off an other-worldly wall of twangy high-end guitar, pounding drumming (performed by the infamous Dave Grohl), and rolling bass guitar. As QOTSA are the masters of momentum, all of this sound stops abruptly, introducing arguably the best bass work that Mikey Shuman has been granted to produce. This is the erection-inducing, droving powerhouse behind the entire song. Uncharacteristically, the chorus wastes no time asserting its presence into the membranes of your consciousness; one chorus that will keep with you the rest of the album.
After the adrenaline rush of My God Is The Sun, a heartbeat synthesizer helps syncopate your senses, forcibly dragging you to a halt. This is Kalopsia, and it is the strongest song on the album. Its calculated beauty gently swarms into the frame in the form of Homme’s falsetto, “I never lie/ to myself / tonight/ rose tinted eyes/ color my sorrows / a shade of ‘why’.” The slow pulsing of synth, gently applied piano notes, and dreamscape production provide a beautiful backdrop to an onslaught found abruptly, initiated by the legendary Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame) as he screams into your ear; you know, just in case the meditation-inducing twinkling put you to sleep. Just as with If I Had A Tail, Homme, who co-produced the album, perfectly blends the vocally different shades of his talent with his voice into one harmonious, earth-shattering chorus, where its counterparts are indistinguishable, making those counterparts only as good as the sum of its parts, which certainly isn’t a slide against the artist. If kalopsia means “the delusion that something is more beautiful than it actually is,” the title of this track is most certainly ironic.
Perhaps it is because the next track followed up Kalopsia, but after heavy discussion amongst QOTSA peers, the consensus has been the same: Fairweather Friends, although certainly a grower rather than a show-er, is easily the weakest track on the album. Although the talent behind it is immense (Homme’s wife, Brody Dalle, with Nick Oliveri, Elton John, and Mark Lanegan as its scribe), the end result is rather too straight-forward, and although I didn’t know this could ever be a problem, too tackily nineties sounding. With a few listens, the track becomes tolerable; however, a track should never be considered tolerable. Instead of sounding like a QOTSA song, even with its signature Homme guitar tones, it sounds more like a B-Side to a Screaming Trees cover band, which in and of itself wouldn’t be a terrible occurrence, but in the digital folds of this album, simply don’t flesh out as fully as they should have.
Smooth Sailin’ quickly picks up the pace, stealing all of that underwhelming thunder from Fairweather Friends and forcing it to tango on a disco-ball lit, dank and dirty garage party you throw with your swinging friends. If ginger-fever had a carrier, this song would be it. Even Homme reassures us that everything will be better from this point in the album on as he quirkily swoons and croons: “it’s all smooth sailin’/ from here on out/ I’m gon’/ do the damage/ ‘til the damage is done.” With a hook-ridden verse that the lovechild of Elvis and James Brown would be envious of, Homme’s bravado has never been so pervasive. “I blow my load/ over the status quo.” He never even had to say it; actions speak louder than words.
All of the orgy-in-the-funhouse optimism comes, once again, to a jarring but appropriate transition into I Appear Missing. Replacing the funhouse with an evil, emotionally dense carnival carousel of guitar swinging magic, Van Leeuwan and Homme craft a dangerous riff that cradles the equally gentle and insistent vocal work. With the chorus coming in swiftly and accelerating the bounds of the song to stellar proportions with an equally awe-inspiring Floyd-ian guitar solo, Homme cries “shock me awake/ tear me apart/ pinned like a note/ in a hospital gown.” The song fades out with a haunting, dissonant collective wailing: “you…. With my toes on the edge it’s a lovely view… you… I’m over the edge what can I do… you… falling through”
This fade out provides a natural transition into the most heart-wrenching, intimate, and stripped down track the band has ever provided, and the titular track to the album. It’s a fitting conclusion to an album that is not only one of the most notoriously labor-intensive albums produced in recent years, but also to the conclusion of the relationships between the artists that the band has aggressively maintained, whether it be the departure of their long-time drummer Joey Castillo, or the past departures of Homme’s best friend Nick Oliveri, and musical partner, Mark Lanegan. With a soft, bouncing piano line, it is just Mr. Homme and his emotions on display. However, this does not last for long. Although Homme is the mastermind, his band-mates provide a reigning prominence on their own accord, and the sense of musical control each band-mate has over that prominence is illuminated here; there is an elusive technical show of skill behind the forefront tameness one feels when they listen to the end of an album long anticipated by its fans. As Homme croons: “most of what you see my dear/ is purely for show/ because not everything that goes around/ comes back around you know.” Let’s just hope that this band decides to come back around just as they went, because the world will be waiting to see what Queens of the Stone Age has to say next.