American Laundromat Records – A Tribute to Repo Man

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Many of you know how I consider this one of the finest movies ever made because it accurately nails the desolate and isolated conditions that thinking people found themselves in when the world when crazy in the 1980s. “Cult movie” does not describe a work of cinematic art that scoops up the narrative, shakes it out and shows its holes, then re-organizes it according to a broader and more realistic principle through which the artistry of the movie can make beauty out of dysfunction. To all of those who found themselves stranded in popular culture, caught between miserable careers and a constant crime wave of social collapse, hoping for some ray of light that could make sense or even comedy of it all, Repo Man delivered the goods.

Now, a dozen bands take on the original sound track, which back in the day featured bands as varied as Black Flag, Iggy Pop, Fear, Suicidal Tendencies and The Circle Jerks. That is a hard act to follow, especially since many of these songs went on to become classics in their own right, but American Laundromat Records assembled brave voyagers to give it a shot, and were gracious in providing us with this promotional release. With a release this varied, only a track by track view will work…

  1. Those Darlins – “Repo Man” (Iggy Pop): This track differs from the original mostly through the vocals, which take a candy-rock approach with ironic, saucy and sometimes surly female lead vocals that transform this song from the growly original into a more sinister take that approaches with soft sounds and turns into an acid monster.
  2. Polar Bear Club – “TV Party” (Black Flag): A faithful cover with overtones of punk nerd, this take on the well-known Black Flag anthem gives it a slightly faster tempo and more proficient guitars, but inserts vocals that sound like The Descendants back from a prison bash, capturing the surly of the original. Of note are the riot vocals which are both faithful and gleefully pure tribute.
  3. Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra – “Institutionalized” (Suicidal Tendencies): Most of this song is spoken word, which is modified here to be more about peer pressure than parents, and now gets stitched over a skacore take on the Suicidal Tendencies light thrash original. That creates a kind of lounge environment which shows off the vocal performance more, and Palmer accelerates her performance to Shakespeare-in-the-Park levels, which makes this track more unnerving but also somewhat overstates what was originally more subtle. This works less well on the thrash parts of the vocals, which become more whiny than the desperate violence unleashed of the original.
  4. New York Rivals – “Coup d’Etat” (The Cirle Jerks): As if giving the Morrisey treatment to this punk rock classic, New York Rivals drop in a male crooner vocal taken to Diamanda Galas extremes, then treat the guitars more like a late 80s synth/industrial band, complete with blatant drum machine. The result is compelling as a pure sonic treatment.
  5. Black Francis & Spanish for Hitchhiking – “El Clavo Y La Cruz” (The Plugz): A covertly jazz-infused take on this atmospheric tune, this cover remains faithful while often unrecognizable with more of a Tejano sound designed to capture a live recording or at least the feel of one. Additional guitar texture gives this added power, but the more dramatic internal rhythmic shifts do less for it, although they do handily distinguish this version from the original.
  6. The Tellers – “Pablo Picasso” (Burning Sensations): An electro-lounge take on this crowd favorite proves enjoyable but puts too much emphasis on the vocal performance, which reduces the effectiveness of the song as a mad rush of insanity and makes it sound more like background music that fades into the indie-rock milieu. That aside, this song is well-executed and could easily introduce a new generation to this song without them even knowing it. Interesting rhythm guitar playing.
  7. Mike Watt & The Secondmen – “Let’s Have a War” (Fear): This approach reminds me of the style of Cop Shoot Cop or Big Black, executed by The Minutemen’s Mike Watt and unnamed musicians. The pounding keyboards and synthetic sounds make this song even more disturbing, as does Watt’s megaphone-styled vocals which sound like an apocalyptic news announcement more than a pop song.
  8. The Suicide Dolls – “When The Shit Hits the Fan” (The Circle Jerks): Playing this song on guitars more like a straight later hardcore-influenced punk rock song, and then doubling male and female vocals, The Suicide Dolls give this song a different life. It becomes more disaffected and less ironically humorous, also picking up the rhythms and pacing of underground after-hours clubs. The increased guitar presence makes this a more enjoyable listen than the original.
  9. Matthew Sweet – “Hombre Secreto (Secret Agent Man)” (The Plugz): Nothing wrong with this energetic and fluid take on the original song, but it loses the unique feel of it and may not replace it with anything more than a sense of disinterested passion for life. The vocals dominate the song, and a more precise take on its rhythms makes it more forceful.
  10. Moses Coltrane – “Bad Man” (Juicy Bananas): Essentially a spoken word piece over some background music, this song paralleled the rants by the character Lite as he introduced Otto to the rougher side of automobile repossession, as contrasted to the overly optimistic and detached screeds from Bud. This new cover introduces more aggressive guitars and voice-over quality vocals, causing this song to pick up momentum instead of being merely background noise.
  11. Weekend – “Reel Ten” (The Plugz): Whole swathes of Generation X still get misty-eyed when this song comes on, and no challenge is greater than taking on an emotional classic. This industrial-tinged take on the song keeps the mystery, sounding like a hybrid between Erasure and Sisters of Mercy with an eye for the epic, complete with Tangerine Dream styled space effects. Well done.

It would have been easy to botch this album or make it cute. Instead, whoever organized this took the time to seek out musicians who would make interesting contributions. In my view, the weakest tracks are the Amanda Palmer and Matthew Sweet, but none are incompetent. Taken as a whole, Tribute to Repo Man renovates these songs in a language that newer listeners and older fans alike can appreciate, creating new angles of approach to one of the more idiosyncratic and yet purposeful soundtracks ever created. Whoever these American Laundromat guys are, I hope they do more like this.

http://www.alr-music.com/main.php?content=shop&no=alr-0028

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No God Only Pain Joy of Suffering (2015)

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Combining rough and rowdy energetic chaos music with the type of black metal staging and melody that proved effective on the first two Gorgoroth and Burzum albums, No God Only Pain could properly be described as a black metal-influenced attempt to create an atmospheric genre out of the fusion between underground metal and a hardcore punk take on more roadhouse material like Motorhead. No God Only Pain retains the gravitas of the underground while giving it the energy and flexibility of the wider metal world, using the black metal theatrical-style song structures to introduce a mixture of speed, death, punk and heavy metal riffs.

No God Only Pain start their songs with a simple progression, usually in a minor melodic scale, and build onto it with texture of drums, bass and vocals and through the use of similar riffs in opposition, forcing the progression to mutate into different forms of the same riff. Eventually the song reaches a point of conflict, and then launches off in another direction, eventually bringing it to culmination and returning to the original theme. Riffs are noisy and simple but widely varied within their chosen styles and appropriate to each part of the song, without the randomness that 99% of metal bands seem to adore intruding; the sensibility of this album emphasizes continuity through conflict, and this comes out songs that alternate between immensely gratifying dark sounds and energetic droning counter-themes.

It sells short Joy of Suffering to refer to it as black metal, as it is more like a thematically-nuanced form of doom metal sped up to Motorhead speeds with the aggression of GBH. Each song has a powerful melodic hook and yet never shirks on the sawing high-intensity riffs, which propel the song forward so that it may continue to be both simple and variegated. Bonus cover of the Ramones “Pet Semetary” shows this style applied to familiar pop-punk and in the process making it more vicious. As metal searches for new outlets, this style may help grease the wheels by escaping expectations and unleashing a wider metal style to absorb the cult and hard-rocking impulses alike, forcing them to forge a voice worthy of the darkness in metal.

http://nogodonlypain.bandcamp.com/releases

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Blasphemy – Fallen Angel of Doom (1990, 2015)

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Bringing together the grindcore of Napalm Death and the primitive black metal of Bathory and Sarcófago into a death metal way of thinking, Blasphemy gave the world a solid although juvenile Fallen Angel of Doom. Racing in consisting grinding expression while going beyond the riff and into an atmosphere-inducing state as a result of the progression of riffs that is fitting of that primitive black metal, the songs in this album open a portal through which disturbing visions come to alienate us, inducing a feeling of aloneness, doom and  fear.

That strong evocation is accomplished from the fusion of these two genres, in my opinion, because they are not just smashed together but rather assembled in a different mold, that of death metal and made into one language. The other thing is that you do not hear interleaving riffs in different styles, although we do hear a good deal of flexibility in riff type in terms of rhythm, texture and note length. The riffs themselves are both completely fitting for grindcore, but it is the duration of their repetition and the effect of their arrangement that results in a similarity with primitive black metal. In order to achieve a stronger result coming from goal-oriented development, the structural-minded songwriting of death metal comes to round off and concentrate the raw energy of the other two genres.

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M.H.X’s Chronicles – Infinite Ocean (2015)

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Playing a so-called melodic death metal in the vein of Insomnium, Chronicles try to step up onto the pop metal stage the . Infused with alternative metal inspirations and backed by keyboards playing standard progressions and happy-inspirational melodies, the only thing that tells us this is a metal release is that the drums are intense and that the vocals are growls. The squeaky-clean production is enviable and on par with pop metal divas Nightwish.  The way the music elements are carried, the contrast between sections that serve as verse-chorus rather than phrasal progressions place this squarely in the pop modality. The percussive riff carrying the voice, the single-mindedness of the contrasting riffs also point towards a metalcore inspiration. By the third track (which is actually the second song in the album) they have already introduced mellow and comforting young-man vocals.  In line with the modern tradition, when attempting to create variety, the band introduces incoherence in their music. Song’s are basically a long “inspirational melody” intro, pointless verse-chorus exchange, incoherent bridge and unrelated outro and/or verse chorus.

M.H.X.’s Chronicles have managed to unite in Infinite Ocean the diva-esque attitude of Nightwish, the boring melodic-based flatness of Insomnuim, the superficial pretentiousness of Epica and the easy-catchy, dumbed-down songwriting of metalcore inspired on Slaughter of the Soul. In other words we have here the summary of modern metal pop banality.

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Dysentery – Fragments (2015)

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Self-identifying with the “Slam” tag, Dysentery play a mid-paced, groove-oriented deathcore. The music is based on two poles. The first is very simple grooving rhythms either in slow tempo or in blast-beat-ridden sections with very obvious and simple stress points. The second is the use of pinch harmonics (aka squeals) to round off some phrases.

The music shows a single-minded ambition: grooving brutality. Simple rhythmic indulgence in a pleasure-oriented music. As such, this music is little more than the reggaeton of “extreme” metal. The band might as well change their guitars and drums for a computer software simulator of a mixer and start playing with beats and singing about big-ass girls and how macho you are and what not.

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Nyseius – De Divinatione Daemonum‏ (2015)

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While not profoundly insulting as most bands pretending to play black metal, Nyseius just plays very boring black metal. Now, this isn’t just an emotional remark, I have concrete reasons linked to the music’s construction to back it up and say what it is relevant. Nyseius is also rooted in the modern misunderstanding of black metal by its outer traits. Thinking that black metal consists in ad nauseam repetition of samey riffs to create atmosphere. And they get stuck in this word, atmosphere, as if it were music itself and not an effect of certain music. And thus they attempt to create that thing itself, mistaking it for music. This is the abysmal trap in which all metal that willingly identifies itself with that word falls into.

Arnold Schoenberg said that variation itself did not need justification, it was a merit on its own. He also said that this variation needed to be harnessed and guided by an equally powerful and balancing restraint and coherence. But in discussing De Divinatione Daemonum the first aspect becomes the most pertinent since this music lacks variation. Bent on forcing the creation and sustaining of this atmosphere, this featureless mass, this wall of same-length notes only seldom breathes in order to continue aimlessly towards oblivion.

The last factor that drives this into a wreck is that they have infected black metal with the superficial craving to be extreme. This is what drives them to this dissonance, and an ignorant use of dissonance at that. Dissonance not as a tool of tonal music, not even a dissonant musical language, it is just the use of single dissonant chords for their own sake, for the momentary and twisted satisfaction that it can bring to the human ear. Exemplifying yet another dead end of metal caused by a superficial appreciation of the classics or of music in general, Nyseius will gradually fade into oblivion as purposelessly as the notes they put together into atmosphere, not music.

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Gestalt – Infinite Regress (2015)

Infinite Regress Album Cover

More black metal from the people who do not understand black metal. This is in the now popular style of pseudo black metal that sounds like war metal trying to be progressive. This lot probably new about black metal through the profound music of Michael’s Pink Frothy AIDS. Incoherent as it is flat, Gestalt identifies itself as modern by the insistence on arranging awkward juxtapositions and superimposed elements that do not match in the least. Keyboards that were not there before jump into the fore with no warning only to disappear and never return again in the song. Maniatic blast beats that underscore nothing except the fact that they are trying to play intense music followed by macho man riffs, only to slide into quiet endings or bridges that seem placed there because they simply could not think of anything else to put there.

Even the average metalhead will know to stay away from this circus motley outfit pretending to ironically catch a pulp fantasy sort of occult imagery backed by equally uncompromising profoundness — or so their kind say in this sort of empty words. As the late bitterman (where art thou? we could use you) would say: Vapid. Avoid.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBkgL498GPA

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Temple Of Gnosis – Mysterivm Magnvm (2015)

Temple Of Gnosis - Mysterivm Magnvm

Gods of metal, please liberate us from the blithe of samey industrial and doom metal from atmospheric-minded twats! Save us from the ignorance that plagues metal artists and fandom alike! Only then can these empty husks that resemble metal be driven out and seen for what they are. This album is one more kind of subversive tendency under empty pretentiousness that affects those with a penchant for the occult and a short-sighted vision for composition.

Mysterium Magnum consists of four songs of basically the same thing. At points it approaches the industrial sound of Beherit on Electric Doom Synthesis but without the distinct ideas and development. Temple of Gnosis’ music is rather a snapshot of that industrial metal with some minimalist melodies played in subtle keyboard sounds along shadowed vocals that lend to the darkness of the atmosphere. And that’s it. You take that and basically play that moment again and again in slightly different ways. The songs even have more or less the same length, and all equally fail at developing or show any variety. Perhaps the length was the measure stick to decide when to stop the songs.

Temple of Gnosis show us with Mysterium Magnum just how gullible both the industry and the average fan of metal can be. Or how blind and undiscerning the industry takes the metalhead to be. To be honest, this probably deserved since most metalheads show they cannot see past “the riff” or “the melody” in the case of the more mainstream-minded. The average metalhead is still a pop music fan, he sees music as separate moments and what each of them individually make him feel. He is also driven purely by what makes him “feel good”. That means that he will measure the quality of music by the count of how many moments tickled his funny bone. Thus you receive what you asked for, mediocre metalhead.

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Survival – Shayda (2015)

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Hardcore punk band Survival offer us a humble release that although meager can give us a lesson on several album-writing guidelines that any metal band should follow. Shayda is a good example that riffs that are usually attributed to this or that subgenre of metal can be used in different contexts to different effects and reach. These Californians also show us the value of self-control, avoiding self-indulgence in favor of a juvenile honesty that is only fitting for a band in their genre.

There are a few moments in Shayda where one will recognize the predominance of an influence from 1908s hardcore punk bands , but then one will stumble over a happy punk riff, and then one or two brief moments that will flash by with the taste of deathcore breakdowns and even a little 90s hard rock. These are encased at very specific points and are only used extremely measuredly to push the song forward or twist it for a moment with a different taste only to warp back into focus. Their are also a few samples from a movie or a narration that are used as introductions or interludes in the middle of the album with incredibly effective results.

A major highlight of the album from the songwriting point of view is how aware these guys are of the “useful life” of an idea in the context of a style. According to its nature, punk is a genre of simple, direct and clear expression which does not lend itself to infinite variations of the pseudo-mathematical Bachean type. To remain fresh yet not start diverging, the length of the songs is necessarily short. Each of them gives the listener a very clear and single-minded idea. But as a whole Shayda provides a multifaceted experience that remains both consistent and coherent.

Like big brothers Blood, Survival dominate their tools of choice in their genre and work well within their limitations, creating a memorable and musically solid work that can and should be appreciated regardless of taste.

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