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metal/hardcore songs of the day. March 3, 2009

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“The Great Red Shift” by Most Precious Blood. that song has SO. MUCH. GROOVE. omg. it’s awesome, and I REALLY need to see them live. actually, homeboys need to tour again so that I have the opportunity to see them live, but still. you know what I mean.

“Social Jihad And Genocide. The Only Certainty In An Uncertain World With No Promise Of Tomorrow” by Misericordiam. The fade-in/blasting intro to that track is SWEET. It’s simple and gratuitous and trendy and uses pig squeals, but whatever. It rocks. They, also, would be fantastic to see live.

“The World’s Havoc” by Maroon. Again, like the Misericordiam track, there are some concessions that have to be made when talking about this band, if you’re going to be honest. It’s Gothenburg-influenced German metalcore, in much the same vein as Neaera, Heaven Shall Burn, and Caliban (all those bands know each other really well, so that shouldn’t be a surprise), so it’s kind of derivative by nature. However, that doesn’t mean that it still can’t be enjoyable to listen to, and this song, in my opinion, has one of the best breakdowns EVER at the end.

“Spearheading The Spawn” by Neaera. More of a melodic death metal vibe going on here, as compared to the above Maroon song, which is more of a At The Gates-meets-Hatebreed kind of thing. LOVE the intro to this song. It’s obviously heavily layered and over-produced, and you can make the argument that it sort of takes away some of the song’s impact, but it still rips. Also, the instrumental outro part is FANTASTIC – the kick drum fills are awesome. I like songs like that – ones that feel like they don’t have to end just because the vocals do. Another good example is “Eyes Of A Criminal” by Chimaira.

Pantera – Official Live: 101 Proof. The whole album. Show me a metal live album that sounds better and has more groove than this one, and I’ll get a mirror, hold it up to your face, and show you a liar. There is no such thing. It’s amazing – Dimebag’s guitar sounds like it’s on fire (in a good way). There are no words for how powerful this band was, and for how much I wish I could have seen them play live and just completely rip some place apart.

Top 25 Albums February 25, 2009

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Ok, so, I found this the other day on a friend’s Facebook page, and, since I’m a music nerd, I was immediately interested by the idea – I will quote it below:

“Think of 25 albums that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life or the way you looked at it. They sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people, and emotions.”

So, it’s not necessarily your 25 favorite albums ever, or the 25 that you would take with you on a desert island, or something like that. It’s the 25 most important, most memorable, most life-altering, etc. That’s the perspective I’m doing this list from. Also, this is in no particular order – trying to rank some of these albums would probably make my brain break.

  1. Black Sabbath – Paranoid. This is a perfect example of the absolute textbook definition of a classic album. At least 75% of the heavy metal music that exists today – and that might be a conservative estimate – simply would not exist without this record. Some bands today can only wish that they could write songs that sound as good as “War Pigs”, “Paranoid”, and “Iron Man”, and those songs have been around for 40 years. Untouchable. Absolutely, positively, inarguably, irrefutably, 100% untouchable.
  2. Pantera – Official Live: 101 Proof. This is actually a live album, but it’s the best representation of what Pantera was. The metal that these guys played had so much groove – the DNA of their music was all about making it impossible for anyone hearing it to sit still. Listening to Dimebag’s guitar work is unlike anything else – it sounds like his amps are on fire. They remain the band I most regret not getting to see live before they disbanded, and Dimebag’s tragic death makes listening to their music now more somber than I know they ever wanted it to be. I don’t even know what I would give to somehow be able to go back in time and see them completely rip some venue apart – probably far too much.
  3. Fear Factory – Demanufacture. Absolutely my favorite album from this band, and it was the first CD that really showed me how well industrial/electronica instrumentation and flourishes could work with metal, if done right. Also, Burton doesn’t get near the credit he deserves for his vocals. Everyone forgets this now, but back in the early 90’s, when this band was formed, the whole idea of having one guy do a “dual-vocals” thing – like, one vocalist that was good enough to sing melodic parts and also handle the aggressive stuff – was nowhere near as prominent as it is now. Burton was one of the first people to really do it well.
  4. Metallica – any of their albums from The Black Album on back. This is kind of cheating, since I’m not picking one particular album, but I spent a good 20 minutes trying to narrow it down to one or two, and I can’t. It’s impossible. These guys, for years, were undisputably my favorite band on the planet, and I couldn’t even tell you how much time I spent listening to their early CD’s. On a cumulative basis, I would say 400-500 hours, easily. Probably more.
  5. Slipknot – Slipknot. This album … oh my god. People like to hate on this band now, but I don’t care. I’ll always defend them, especially this record, because … well, I don’t even know. I can’t explain it. This was the first CD I can remember hearing, that, upon listening to it for the first time, didn’t even sound like a band. It sounded like a force of nature – like the musical manifestation of a hurricane. That might sound like excessive hyperbole now, but at the time, right after this album came out, it was absolutely the most mind-blowing thing me or any of my close friends had ever heard, ever. Considering not just my close friends and I, but also all the other guys I knew who loved this CD, this band probably saved a couple of lives, and that’s not even a joke – words can’t do justice to how important this band, and this album, were to us back then.
  6. Slayer – Reign In Blood. One of the only albums I can think of where all the hype about it is absolutely 100% deserved. Best pure thrash album ever made, and I’m not sure that it will ever be topped, in that regard. I don’t know that it’s possible to do this style of metal better than what Slayer did on this CD. It will still scare people 100 years from now.
  7. KISS – Greatest KISS. All of my interest in the aggressive music I’m into now – ALL of it – was spawned from me listening to this album. Not their best album, and it’s probably not even their best compilation CD, but this was the first CD by a rock band that I can remember being really excited about finally getting, and then listening to it over and over. Everyone has a different story about how they got into certain music, but for me, as far as any sort of rock music or anything aggressive goes, it ALL started with this.
  8. Star Wars: A New Hope – Original Soundtrack. Laugh if you want, but this was the first CD I ever owned, and I still have it. John Williams is amazing.
  9. Apocalyptica – Plays Metallica By Four Cellos. Showed me that you could make ominous, haunting, aggressive music using non-metal instrumentation (four cellos, in this case).  It’s a shame that these guys have only recently started to get some of the mainstream recognition they deserve – they’ve been releasing albums for almost 15 years.
  10. Rammstein – Sehnsucht. WHOA. That was my reaction upon hearing this, way back in junior high. I still have some of the same thoughts about this band today as I did then – it sort of doesn’t even matter that they sing almost exclusively in German, and that the overwhelming majority of their American fans don’t know what their songs are about. Metal has it’s own language that doesn’t even need to cross the language barrier to be understood, and these guys are a wonderful example of that. I was (and remain) amazed at the theatrical power of their music.
  11. The Goo Goo Dolls – Dizzy Up The Girl. I love this band, I love their songs, I love John’s vocals – everything. It’s debatable whether or not this is their best album, as everyone seems to have a different opinion of how good their newer, more radio-friendly stuff is, but I love it, and whether or not this is their best album, I think it’s their most consistent. “Acoustic #3” is beautiful and criminally under-rated, and “Black Balloon” is one of my two favorite songs from them.
  12. N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton. This is obviously a gangsta rap record – that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone – but, if this makes any sense, I heard it and part of me thought I was listening to a metal album. Not that this album uses a lot of rock or metal instrumentation – it doesn’t – but the attitude is metal. Like, “Straight Outta Compton”, just that one song, shocked me. No doubt about it. It came off like no other rap song I’d ever heard, and I still think of it that way. Just listen to the first three songs on the album – even when the guys are flowing about simple things that aren’t overtly violent (which, admittedly, is rare), it still sounds threatening. Makes you understand why the FBI once labeled them as “The World’s Most Dangerous Group”.
  13. Wu-Tang Clan – Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). This thing – this monster of a debut album – is probably my favorite hip-hop/rap record ever. NO ONE knew what the hell they were listening to when the Clan dropped this. People had seen and heard rap crews before, but NINE MC’s, all with razor-sharp flows, wielding their rhymes and beats like samurai swords? It sounds like nothing else before or since. Absolutely timeless.
  14. Hatebreed – Satisfaction Is The Death Of Desire. The first hardcore album I ever owned, and at the time, I wasn’t even sure why I liked it. I didn’t really know what hardcore was back then, but I was completely unable to get over how good this CD sounds, and I still can’t. “Burn The Lies”, “Conceived Through An Act Of Violence”, and “Worlds Apart” knocked me over, because, until then, I hadn’t ever heard heavy music that was so no-frills and stripped down, and yet stayed just as heavy and suffocating as anything else I had heard. It’s a classic.
  15. Sigur Ros – ( ). Beautiful, alien, minimalist, ethereal, stark, hypnotic, cold, angelic … any of those words fit this album. It’s hard to describe, honestly – I once read a quote from Tommy Lee in which he described this band as what it would sound like if you mixed angels and noise, if that gives you any idea. The third track on this album (it’s usually referred to as “Untitled #3” or “Samskeyti”) is one of my favorite songs ever.
  16. The Parent Trap – Original Soundtrack. Say what you will, but I love this soundtrack. It’s that simple. I’ve loved listening to the songs on it ever since I was in, like, 6th or 7th grade, and I still enjoy them today. It’s just fun music – the songs never fail to put a smile on my face. To mention one specific song that I love, Jakaranda’s “Never Let You Go” is a treasure.
  17. Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine. This album has more energy and more fire than just about any other one. It’s so bombastic, so hype, so jacked up, so get-the-hell-up-and-go-start-something … it’s a hard rock album with funk. Listening to “Killing In The Name” is like a shot of adrenaline. The whole album is packed so tightly with so much conviction and energy – it tires you out, just listening to it. Gloriously pissed-off.
  18. Eric B. & Rakim – Paid In Full / Follow The Leader. I know this is cheating, throwing “Paid In Full” and “Follow The Leader” together, but they’re totally inseperable to me. Whenever you hear anyone talking about the “Golden Age” of hip-hop, like back in the late 80’s, tell them to listen to these two albums. It quite simply gets no better. To my taste, these two albums are the purest representation of what hip-hop is and should always remain, at least at it’s core. Two guys – one on the mic and one spinning the 1’s and the 2’s. When the two parts go together as well as Eric B. & Rakim did – I mean, does life get any better? Ever? EVER? What more could you possibly need? Listening to those two records is like listening to heaven.
  19. Throwdown – Haymaker. This band has evolved quite a bit, but this album will always be near and dear to me. It helped me understand that being straight edge and living a life free of addiction and the chains that bind so many others is not something to be ashamed of or reticent about – it’s quite the opposite. “Never Back Down”, “Forever”, and “Raise Your Fist”, at the time, completely blew me away. I’d never heard hardcore that was that heavy and that aggressive, and I loved that they could do that while still trying to send a positive message.
  20. Sarah McLachlan – Mirrorball. She’s an angel. Her music is magical and from a place that’s so personal, and yet millions of people have been able to connect to her and what she sings about, almost as if she is singing directly to them. I don’t really think about the concept of fate a whole lot, but with Sarah, I think she was, like, put on this planet to do precisely what she is doing. She was born to play music, and her songs have saved lives. I love this album. Her music has so much power and so much strength, and yet it’s still feminine and sexy and beautiful and vulnerable – she’s intoxicating. She goes to another place when she sings, and it’s like no other feeling in the world when she takes you with her.
  21. Despised Icon – The Ills Of Modern Man. Maybe the only modern death metal/deathcore album I can listen to straight through, without ever wanting to skip a song, and discover something new every time. Even with how crazy and technical their music gets, there’s still just an absurd amount of groove going on – almost to the point where it’s sometimes a stretch to even refer to their breakdowns as breakdowns. Brutal in all the best ways.
  22. DJ Shadow – Endtroducing. 50% instrumental hip-hop and 50% electronica. Also the first album in history to be composed entirely of samples taken from other albums. It’s shocking, how good Shadow is and how natural he makes everything sound. There’s so much going on and so many different elements and motifs happening in the music, but it never feels chaotic, cluttered, or out of control. You can freestyle rap to this album one night and fall asleep listening to it the next.
  23. Kid Rock – Devil Without A Cause. I don’t even know where to start with this one – just know that I used to race home from school every day just to try to catch the music video for “Bawitdaba” on MTV. I was crushed (I mean, CRUSHED) when he played a concert here and my parents wouldn’t let me go, lol, because myself and some of my friends were just amazed at what he was doing and how he was throwing rap, metal, and even some country together. Also, back in, like, 8th grade, “Devil Without A Cause” was totally one of the most intimidating-sounding songs I had ever heard. So that’s gotta count for something.
  24. John Mayer – Where The Light Is: Live In Los Angeles. Not a studio album, but the best representation of his music. Some people hate on him, but I love him and think he’s brilliant. He’s now to the point where, when he plays concerts, he can almost pick who he wants to be. Blues man, sensitive acoustic guy, pop-rock star, faux hip-hopper who messes around with samples and drum machines – he can do it all. And his fans, generally speaking, are smart enough and appreciative enough of his music that he knows he can pretty much play whatever he wants, and they’ll be happy. “In Your Atmosphere” is wonderful.
  25. Robert Johnson – The Complete Recordings. OK – some would say I’m saving the best for last. And by “some”, I mean “Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, and Jimmy Page”. Those are just a few of the artists who have said that Robert Johnson is the greatest bluesman that’s ever lived. It’s utterly impossible to overstate the impact that his songs have had. Even if you don’t listen to blues, you’ve probably heard 4 or 5 of his songs before and just didn’t realize it. They’ve been covered by hundreds of different groups. So, if you want the blues – and I mean the blues – you need look no further. Period.

Have Heart – The Things We Carry (2006) September 5, 2008

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This is sincere, passionate, aggressive East Coast hardcore.

One ace in the hole that Have Heart benefit from tremendously is their vocalist, Patrick Flynn. If one takes time to read some of the lyrics, they are almost perfectly balanced between having convictions and not being afraid to stand up for them, while not outright attacking opposing beliefs to the point where it becomes tiresome. For the music itself, HH manage to mostly avoid a common pitfall that the vast majority of bands who play this style of hardcore fall into, meaning that all the songs on this cd have their own personality, and even when HH re-uses certain elements (gang vocals, two-step parts, fast circle pit parts, etc.), you never really catch yourself confusing what you’re currently hearing with the previous track. They also throw just enough wrenches in the mix to keep you guessing, like the awesome drum intro on “Armed With A Mind”, the almost-instrumental “Old Man II (Last Words and Lessons Learned)”, and the incredible build-up in “Machinist”.

To touch on the studio side of things, Jim Siegel’s production suits this style of music very well. Unlike most other metal/hardcore albums, he actually makes sure that the bass plays a role, instead of being buried behind a thick wall of layered guitars. Check out Death Before Dishonor’s albums for other good examples of this. The production works alongside the composition itself to make the record very pleasing to the ear – it’s energetic, youthful, and ferocious, without being monotonous. In my opinion, Have Heart are one of the best around at taking the spirit of old-school hardcore and injecting enough fresh elements and thought-provoking lyrics to keep it interesting. To the unfamiliar ear, this cd, like most hardcore, is an acquired taste, but if you’re into this style, go grab it.


Cartel – Chroma (2006) September 3, 2008

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Aside from random thoughts on whatever I happen to be listening to, I’ll put up some album reviews from time to time, like so.

OK, if you’re even mildly into pop-punk, pop-rock, or anything of that sort, you MUST own this album. I know this band can be really divisive, but as far as I’m concerned, this is incredibly well-performed pop-rock that’s not only nearly flawless, but listening to it is just flat-out FUN. The production is as you would expect from this kind of music: a strong mix on the vocals so they sit right up front, bright guitar tones, punchy drum sounds, etc. I own hundreds of CD’s, and there aren’t too many that I can honestly say that, beginning to end, there’s no weak point. Well, this one comes extremely close, with “Save Us” being the only track that I sometimes skip over. Other than the two singles, “Say Anything (Else)” and “Honestly”, which are both outstanding, I really like “Burn This City” and “If I Fail”. The last three tracks also hint at different possibilities for future albums. “Q” and “A” close out the CD in spectacular fashion, being over 11 minutes long when listened to back-to-back, as they’re meant to be. “A” incorporates mild electronica and piano into their trademark sound, and even brings back an anthemic section of the lyrics from “Burn This City”, but it’s all done so seamlessly that nothing ever seems unusual or out of place.

The lyrics, as you might expect from a pop-rock album, are largely focused around topics like love and searching for truth, but there’s enough variation so that you don’t find yourself rolling your eyes. They’re written to be easy to connect with, and to also be easy to dig a little deeper with, if you want. It might not be the deepest or most introspective album you’ve ever heard, but that’s not what it’s intended to be. These guys are fully aware of what they’re doing, and you can tell by listening to the album that they have a lot of fun with it and make no pretense whatsoever to be anything more than what they are. Great, great stuff that’s perfect for those days when you’re in the mood to just drive and sing way too loudly.