Monday, 31 March 2008

.....and what will be left of them?

He staggers into the long abandoned dust bowl hamlet, beaten and world-weary. Inside his sunken, pallid eyes, one can faintly make out the nightmares past. Horrors untold but all too real in the continuing conflict between wickedness and increasingly improbable redemption. No nightmares could have prepared him for the bloodied desert road he was destined to walk, yet his footfalls continued, ever more uneven and unpredictable. The whiskey deflecting, deceit disconcerting him, still were not sufficient to stall the faint hope resonating deeper within.

He has witnessed encounters some would define as supernatural, others Biblical. Hell clashing with forces unknown and seemingly emerging victorious. The nature of his memories bewilders and overwhelms him, inhibiting the ability to separate reality from there any difference? He has fought the Devil, lost, broken free, lived, died, now escaped once more, knowing not in what order but unceasingly playing back the soundtrack in his broken mind. Matters may have improved for an all too brief moment, yet the searing heat and dehydration make this more of an oasis than the real salvation he craves. A temporary jailbreak....the line walking him just as he came to believe he finally dictated the direction.

So, here he stands. One would hope for a crossroads, a sign.....some guidance.....but nothing reveals itself as the unforgiving environment continues to take its toll on his humanity. Once again looking deep into his eyes, behind the trial and torment, one can make out a distant glimmer. A pinprick of light exists amidst the surrounding black. Slowly, surely, his legs begin to shuffle forward once more, away from the ghost town and traveling onwards towards the uncertainty of the horizon. Something is waiting there for him. What, he cannot say. Yet the soundtrack to his suffering has shifted, ever so slightly and almost imperceptibly, to songs of stoicism and determination. Whatever awaits him will be met with unerring certainty. Of this, if nothing else, he has no reservations. With renewed fervour, he strides boldly into the unknown.

Murder by Death - Red of Tooth and Claw


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Monday, 24 March 2008

Tuesday Choon - Favez

After originally digging Favez on their 2002 effort 'From Lausanne, Switzerland', I stumbled back across them again recently. Turns out I've missed a few albums in the intervening 5 years and, from the sounds of it, none better than the latest 'Bigger Mountains Higher Flags'.

Musically Favez are rooted in what may once have been tagged emo (they even had the thick-rimmed specs to back it up) but for now think somewhere between Idlewild and Jimmy Eat World and you'll hit home. The older stuff was a bit more raw and closer to that Far/Quicksand feel - in guitar sound at least - with the newer songs being more polished and laden with Jimmy-hooks. The whole album is a really satisfying listen that's unassuming at first but has that x ingredient of songs that you hum sans iPod, recall who penned them, then return to the scene of the crime for another spin.

Any of the first 5 tracks could be plucked out as an example, but 'When We Were Kings' probably pips them to the post. It's been a regular player for me in the past few weeks and is a great advert for the rest of the album. Anyone looking for some a straightforward rock album hungry for the chorus would be well advised to check this one out. Plus they're from Switzerland (as was helpfully established by said first purchase) and how many bands can you say you like from that neutral land of chocolate and time keeping?

Favez - When We Were Kings

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Band links:

Monday, 17 March 2008

Monday Memory

Still back in the mid-late 90's for this 'un, at a point when nu-metal was but a nascent genre without a red cap in sight and when emo had more to do with spectacles than eye-liner. Like spring following winter and boy bands having careers of 3 days, however, some things remain constant. At this point in time rap-metal was no less of a dirty term than it is to this day, which brings us to Stuck Mojo and some truly great study advice................

I found the Mojo crew thanks to a 50/50 split of the '
Pigwalk' video (see the link with the pic now....? I crack myself up and that's all that matters peeps) being all over Headbanger's Ball and my Dad's work buddy Mark being all over that band and sorting me out the album proper. I unashamedly admit to being totally engrossed in the rap/heavy fusion at the time and 'Pigwalk' still sounds raw and feral to me now. It's all crunchy riffing and the machine-gun vocals of Bonz that just top it off. The irony of 'The Sermon' with hindsight is also strangely satisfying on a return listen and worth sticking up here for posterity:

Brothers and sisters, we live in a troubled time.
We live in a time when lack of ability and talent is mistaken for genius.
When jumping on the bandwagon is considered originality.
Ahh, we live in a time when a world intended, much needed musical revolution
has been weakened, perverted, polluted, until it is no more than a hideous fashion show.
A fashion show that began as a rebellion itself against corporate mainstream,
yet today it finds itself to be the very mainstream that it claimed to be alternative to.
While the bands who would before criticize arena rock stars now find themselves arena rock stars!
What was once the antidote has now become the poison.
The cure has become the disease.
Ahh, let the church sing.

Being fair, this never came to pass for Stuck Mojo who remained pretty cult figures, if that. But clearly the rappers won out in the metal world for a while there, most horrifically culminating in Fred Durst's early noughties travesties (fine, yeah, I still bounce when 'Rollin' comes's not a crime, yet). There are points in there of interest in terms of scenes rising and falling but that's not the focus of this rambling, so back on point......

I remember making the decision to see these boys at the height of their 'Rising' tour in 1998, probably when they were most well known. It was summertime but not before exams were out and, of course, sods law deigned that the show fell on the eve of my French listening A-level. The gig was in Newport to boot, a good couple of hours from where I lived meaning an inevitable late return. This is my first memory of sacking off responsibility in favour of a good time and I reckon it's vindicated by the fact that I'm still recounting it now with a big smile. I went, drank too much lager beforehand with guys who had MUCH more tolerance than I, drank s'more in a venue - TJ's - that looked like your mate's kitchen, then almost lost my head surfing near the perilously low-ceiling. The journey home was a riot for entirely childish reasons and the next day was looking like a bit of a write off. Luckily I gathered my thoughts and navigated my way through some conversations about French socio-economics, resulting in a perfectly reasonable grade 2 months later.

Having lost Bonz some years ago and split a few times, the Mojo crew are still banging heads and snapping necks this very month, as they bolt through Europe with Ektomorf.They now have a fella named simply 'The Lord' filling the rap duties, with Rich Ward being the linch pin and providing the same Southern flavour that ran through most of the music from 'Rising' onwards.

For all the cliches that the music might cover, they can still pen a hook-heavy metal tune that keeps one entertained. That said, it's still the raw aggression of 'Pigwalk' and the memory of putting music first that initially springs to mind when iTunes throws them up on the playlist now.

Pigwalk vid - At 1:19, that's where TJ's got messy

Stuck Mojo 2008 -
Rich Ward (solo) -

Now playing: School of Language - Rockist Part 2
via FoxyTunes

Friday, 14 March 2008

Das Kapital

That last post got me thinking about life in Liverpool and the variety of musical possibilities that present themselves week after week. Being so close to Manchester, the 2 cities between them must form the best UK gigging area away from the big 'don, without the horrifying prices and gobshite Cockneys. But whilst propagating the North/South divide is a pastime of which I rarely tire, this post is directed more at Liverpool specifically and the high/low side of the music that flows from the city's crane-addled streets. Onwards.........

You can't really start anywhere without hitting up the Beatles first, which mirrors the reality of flying into the city via John Lennon Airport. I have no major beef with the bowl cut wonders but I'm also no huge fan boy. Whilst there's no getting away from the fact that they're the reason many abroad know the city exists, there's also the kitsch flip side of tacky tourist traps and overtly reverential city 'experiences'. Regardless, an overblown musical legacy is better than none whatsoever, so that's the glass filled just slightly over the halfway point.

The current music scene within the city and its environs (yes, Wirral 'woolybacks' can be included, lest my place of birth come into the equation) is quite a incongruous one, at least as far as my experiences paint the picture. The Cream club night at Nation closed its weekly session in '02 but the influence is still felt, in what I'm informed are massive nights at Chibuku. That's held at the Masque venue, above which is the reliable Barfly club, host to many different styles including my favoured indie/rock/metal. The rock scene is obviously well served both past, with Merseybeat's artists, and present with chart-hopping bands like The Coral, The Zutons, and The Wombats prospering in recent years. The line for me is quite thin between good alternative rock with the odd nod to the past (Hot Club de Paris), and the blatant, floppy haired Beatle-worship of the more pedestrian bands (Zutons). Other past notables include Echo & The Bunnymen, The Boo Radleys, The Farm, Space, and The Lightning Seeds

The glaring omission above, at least for those compelled by the powerful riff, would be Carcass.The reason for setting that band aside is that they pretty much stand alone as Liverpool's contribution to metal. It can't be argued that it's a significant contribution, of course, but they certainly stick out like a Scouser in Anfield when placed in between those referenced above! To me this is still obvious nowadays, mainly in the turnout at local metal shows and even when larger heavy bands roll through the city. The crowds are usually really sparse and the bands will rarely return if they go on to any small measure of success. I saw Arch Enemy play to a maximum of 15 people back in 2001 and only slightly more turned out for the legendary Crowbar this time last year. The punters seem to be much more inclined towards the pop-rock side of things or else the house/club scene, whose purveyors get much larger turnouts and to further evidence it have summers events like Knowsley Hall and Creamfields just down the road. No Download or Carling Festival for Merseyside folks.

This has all really been just to spout out how I have found the music here in the past 3 years of Liverpool living, no doubt fuelled by the impending exit to a much bigger city later this year. There is no real criticism, as the city does extremely well for its size and has Manchester 45 mins down the road whenever bands decide not to make the extra jaunt down the M62. Clubs like Korova, the Krazyhouse, Bumper, Magnet and Roadkill, all provide a good choice of alternative night spots in which to escape the plastic WAG chic of whatever uncharismatic trendy bar the masses choose to drink in that weekend. Then the gig calendar is always offering something, be it a larger band at the Carling Academy, the Uni, or new Echo Arena (beautiful despite the fact it should have been Royal Blue) or a smaller upcoming band at the Barfly or Cavern. Keeps me entertained and out of pocket, anyway ;-)

The best way to finish is clearly to flag up a few of my favourite local bands, many of whom are fresh-faced and hopefully going to go on to bigger things in the near future. Getting out to see them can only be a good thing, especially the ones with long hair and big riffs!

Monday, 10 March 2008

Back to School

I love independent record stores. There's more character squeezed into one corner of these grimy little side-street shops than in 1,000+ HMV branches, regardless of how many colours their liberated register monkeys may be permitted in their hair. Aside from the utterly spastic musical outbursts that pour forth from the indie store stereo, there's also the loving little recommendation notes that the staff will happily add to the discs you're perusing. Little nuggets of advice to steer you in the right direction and avoid shipwreck in a sea of tantalising releases. This is how I picked up on, amongst others, The Hold Steady, Alchemist, Channels, and now School of Language.

The best thing is that I know little or nothing of Field Music, the principal day job of one David Brewls, so I've had no prior expectations to taint my first listens of this gorgeous little twisted pop opus from his current artistic focus, 'Sea From Shore'. 'Skewed pop' or thereabouts was the description on the handwritten Probe Records label and I can see the point. This is really catchy but at first it's not totally obvious why. The songs weave in and out in an almost jerky fashion, which doesn't sound entirely as though it lends itself to mind inhabiting refrains but that's certainly what happens on standout tracks like opener 'Rockist Part 1' and 'This Is No Fun'. The latter is a superb example of the band taking a fairly simple melody, contorting it into different shapes and sounds, then bringing it ba
ck into the realm of the catchy with a memorable chorus and a hook that could catch Old Gregg. It's also a complete misnomer, as the entire album is chock full of enjoyable, fun tunes that keep you guessing and fully entertained from the first to fifteenth spin.

So this is a highly recommended new release over which I'm well chuffed to have stumbled. Kudos to Probe Records in Liverpool (corner of Slater/Fleet St.....pop down to Korova for a bevvie after and examine your new purchases to some electro-indie noise) for their continued existence and fighting the good fight. Like the US to a World War, I'm late but whole heartedly supporting you now!

Monday, 3 March 2008

Monday Memory

This week will be a swift one and linking in to the modern release schedules, by way of the brothers Cavalera.

My first gig, like proper-indoors-for-one-band gig, was Sepultura at Newport Centre in December of 1996. This was the one before they finally split acrimoniously that night in Brixton. It was a tour de force in contemporary metal at the time, mixing the rough, 'Beneath the Remains' era thrash with the more downtuned and tribal feel of the 'Roots' material. Whatever they played, though, blew my group away as the raw power of a full-on metal performance seeped into our collective minds. Even trying to get the hairiest of bikers pogoing during 'Roots Bloody Roots' seemed like a smart, life-affirming effort! Looking back at the rest of the bill, too, it featured some pretty cult bands from that era in the shape of hardcore vets Strife and the oft-overlooked Floodgate. We were only there for the Seps at the time, though, and they provided more than enough of a formative metal experience to fuel my love for the music to this day.

So then, the return of Igor and Max to meaningful musical creativity......or even two words to one a welcome one in the shape of The Cavalera Conspiracy. Even better is that it's sounding good! Like a more updat
ed version of the classic Sepultura approach. Bodes well for things to come and takes me back equally to those early years and mind-blowing shows at Donington and Newport.

Sepultura - Refuse / Resist (Live at Brixton Academy '96)

The Cavalera Conspiracy - Sanctuary

The Cavalera Conspiracy - Inflikted is released on Roadrunner - 24/03/08

More info here:

Now playing: The Gutter Twins - Idle Hands
via FoxyTunes