Sunday, December 31, 2017

Tycho: Epic

It kind of looks like the album cover for Gojira's Magma rendered by an Atari 2600.

Happy New Year!  On this blessed day, dear reader, I have come to the realization that I am, in fact, a changed man. Previously, New Year's Eve was my excuse to drink far too much, dance on far too many rickety tables, and almost be ignited on more than one occasion (as shown in one of my Post New Year's blogs from my sister site- oh God cheapest of cheap plugs!).

These days are far, far quieter, however.  I mean, not musically of course, I still have delicious levels of RAGE (tm) but behaviourally.  Instead of dancing the night away on a beach surrounded by crazy Russian ladies, I am sitting on my comfy couch writing this screed whilst my daughter dreams of whatever 22 month-oldsters dream about and my wife watches Netflix, probably wondering all the while if I'm typing about the Russian episode again.

But my loss is your gain, because I have discovered yet another gem that I think y'all will love.  Last week I found an album that really got my toes tapping off my normally crushed, battered, and beaten path.  They led me to this group which I have been playing nonstop throughout the week.  In fact I went out and bought a speaker system so I could hear it better.  That's dedication right there.  Without further ado, let's talk about Epic, the new album by Tycho.

If this was my rehearsal space, those Russians never would have left.

When I delved into SURVIVE last week it really gave me a hankering to see what other electronic madness was out there as a bit of a Black Metal palate cleanser before  getting my face melted off in the usual way.  As is often the case with me, one thing led to another and, yadda yadda yadda . . . this album kicks ass.

I have seen it described as "Post Rock" and I don't know what that means, other than it sounds like something an expensive Brooklyn coffee shop would play, but what you get here are songs that are so layered it's almost dizzying, with catchy drum beats and keyboards surrounded on all sides by some amazing guitar work.  The guitar riffs and melodies grab these songs like a drunken Russian beachcomber and push them forward- you'll soon have these riffs embedded in your brain.  It isn't that the tracks are super complicated (although there's lots of interesting stuff happening) its just that they are so artfully put together, and each note has a purpose.  Right after the first song kicked in I knew this was gonna be good.  As another sign of its accessibility and ear worminess, I played a few tracks for my daughter and she didn't immediately demand to watch Frozen for the 147th time.  Of course, one time she smiled when I started playing Chainsaw Gutsfuck while her mom was out jogging (Mayhem Rules!) so who the hell knows with her.  Kids, amirite?

If you liked SURVIVE's latest (and I'm sure you loyal readers all went and swooped it up) you'll love this.  Definitely more on the rock spectrum then the soundtrack feel of that work but with an equal sense of fun and mesmerizing craftsmanship, it's worth checking out.  If you get through the first three songs and haven't started tapping toes, fingers, or whatever, you're probably dead inside.  In that case,your New Year's resolution should be to get on that beach with the Russian girls, undeaden yourself, get this album, and tap your damn toes to it.

Sunday, December 24, 2017


You ever just wake up one miserable day and walk down an alley, slightly hunched over against the wind, collar popped up, hand in pockets and, after an interminable commute, head into the office, sit down heavily, sigh, and go, "Man, I would look so frikkin cool right now if I was  comprised of a series of 8-Bit snapshot photos like in those old NES games?"

Mondays . . 

Well, we've all been there, I'm sure.  What would the appropriate soundtrack be for that moment, I wonder?  May I beg your indulgence, dear reader, as I take a slight detour down my usual pathways and suggest RR7349 by SURVIVE.

First of all, sweet cover.  I have no idea what the album title refers to, as research is anathema to me, and I don't even know how I came across this record because it lies far outside my normal rage filled realm, but I'm glad it crossed my path because it's nice to find something new, even at my age (which is like 900 in Black Metal Years).  I really enjoyed this and I think some of y'all will feel the same way.

First, fair warning- this in't a metal album in any sense of the word.  Not Black Metal, Prog Metal, Djent, Post Metal, Hardcore, Death Metal, Viking Metal (goddamn we have a lot of genres, don't we?), Folk Metal, Shoegaze, or any other primordial scream against the light of day, no, this is the perfect compliment to our regular, mundane lives as video game superheroes.

Mostly electronica, with lots and lots of synth action, it reminds me of what John Carpenter would have composed if he was into creepy disco music.  For fans of Goblin, Tangerine Dream, Zombi, and their ilk, this album has a similar "soundscape" feel, albeit one that is a bit on the lighter side than those works- not really as heavy and ponderous, but with tons of stuff going on- catchy riffs and a great sense of energy.  It still has its intense, ominous moments, and it's easy to find scenes unfolding in your head as the songs slip into your brain like a really friendly earworm.  Basically what an NES would sound like if it was trying to impress the ladies, and actually pulling it off.   

You dog you.

So, should you check this album out?  Well, consider the following question: Do you want to know what song was playing while Jean Claude Van Dam brushed his teeth upside down in a super tight tank top in 1987? 

Still don't believe me?  Listen to the first two tracks and, when you've come in first place in the local BMX Championships, beating your high school rival, Rex Endicott, in a close contest in spite of the long odds against you-what with him being rich and given every opportunity and you having to build your own bike not once but TWICE after Rex and his goons smashed it during the prom because you danced with his best girl-but now you don't care because you've found out that what really matters isn't winning some stupid race but believing in yourself, then we'll talk.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Jess And The Ancient Ones: The Horse And Other Weird Tales

So who has two thumbs and is in the mood for 60s psychedelia?  Well, not usually this guy.  I know “retro” is officially “nowtro” (great movie!) but for the most part a lot of the bands inspired by past decades of rage don’t tend to do much for me.  However, occasionally I fall down a rabbit hole and end up really digging something that normally wouldn’t be in my wheelhouse.  That is the case with the latest broadside from Jess and the Ancient Ones (which totally sounds like a great, Cthulu themed Threes Company ripoff sitcom).

The Horse and Other Weird Tales is an album that answers that age old question: what would happen if The Gathering were playing at a music festival in a picturesque corner of Eastern Europe and some college kids wearing sweaters as scarves came up and called them pussies in ridiculous Scandinavian accents?  Feeling humiliated and enraged, eager to prove themselves, I think they would angrily blend The Doors with Janis Joplin and throw in some awesome Dax Riggs (Goddamn man put out a new album).  

Dax Riggs probably made that for her.  Might be where he's been this whole time, in fact, crafting wicker based neck warmers . . .

Wow, that was a convoluted reference.  Totally works for this album though because it’s pretty wacky stuff.  Trippy, catchy, powerful, but dark.  It's that kind of vague darkness where you’re not entirely sure if the band is messing with you or not.  One might even call it fuliginous, if one were an asshole.  

The guitar sound itself is worth getting the album for.  Great riffs but super fuzzy (not distorted, oh no) sounding at times like the dude is playing is, in fact, an Ancient One- a really mellow one though, who kicks back 10000 Fathoms under the sea with a beat up guitar just NAILING it, before rising to the surface to bring down the moon with awesome solos and then descending back into the ooze, decimating legions along the way.  What really is at the forefront here is the killer keyboard work (Doors!).  The keyboard playing here is definitely the driving force keeping every song rolling alongside sweet, hoppy drumming and raging female vox.  As if to drive the point home the first song is called Death is the Doors.  Cheeky bastards.

This isn’t my usual jam, but I really liked it.  The driving rhythms and the vocals work really well together and the songs manage, through their shroom induced haze, to have a degree of epicness to them that surprised me.  If you don’t believe me, listen to it and imagine yourself sitting on a couch staring at a lava lamp while Gorgoroth kind of .  .sort of . . . lingers awkwardly on bean bag chairs.  Production is great, and everyone plays their parts masterfully.  If you like trippy rock music, if you still have that one super sexy Janis Joplin poster up in your garage, and if you are the one person in the world who can pull off humming The Doors at work without coming across as a huge tool, jump in to this.  Standout tracks for me are sure sure You and Eyes, Death is the Doors, and Return to Hallucinate, but the album works better as a whole then in pieces.  Also, at 35 minutes, it’s just long enough to put on, sip an artisanal brew with an absurdly funny name and finish the last drop as it ends.  

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Zmey Gorynich: Malafya

In Soviet Russia, the pit moshes you.

One of my favorite things about being a greasy, debauched metal head has been, and always will be, that giddy feeling when discovering a new band sends you on a frantic chase to find others of their ilk.  By the end you've become an expert in yet another obscure corner of the metal realm and are the proud owner of twenty new shirts to wear ironically at Starbucks.  Even now at 40 this happens to me with astounding regularity made even easier by youtube, bandcamp, apple music, and the millions of other info sharing sites out there. 

When I dove back into my review blog the other day little did I know what delicious paths it would take me on; in looking up Haze of Summer I found out they were Russian, which was awesome.  I have always wanted to have like seven beers in Russia, though the nearest I have gotten thus far has been Latvia (my adventure covered on my sister site- cheap plug!) and a brief flirtation with becoming a metal God in Poland and so, whistling like the guy from Cloak and Dagger (sweet movie) I began digging into Russian metal music and found a style I never knew existed but now am ready to overthrow a whole steaming pile of bourgeoisie to get more of.

I have punched through that rusty iron curtain and arrived at a group that will forever be identified in my stererotyping brain with Russian metal, in all its madness.  That band?  Zmey Gorynich, who very much bring the thunder (or sandstorms?  I'm not up on Russian meteorology).  The album in question is Malafya and y'all need to grab this sumbitch right now.

Have you ever wondered what would happen if Meshuggah made sweet love to Vladimir Putin?  The offspring of that union would either be an orange skinned homunculus with nuclear weapons or perhaps a wonderland of killer riffs and crazy, genre blending tunes.  Oh happy day, in this case we received both.  This album sounds like a union (get it?) of Alestorm, Meshuggah, Thyrfing, and weird Atrocity.  It's great- a blast beat will turn into a churning, ponderous riff while vocals will morph from a shreiky black metal wail into chanting, singing, low end growlies.  The production is clear but still raw, sounding like Black Metal if it was recorded in a beer garden.  Every song is super catchy, every riff stands out, and the whole freakshow is accompanied by something that better be an actual accordion this time so help me frikkin God.  

And then, once you think you've made since of it all . . . 80s Eurotrash disco!?  

Don't believe me?  Jump to Track 6 and revel in how ludicrous and wonderful this band is:

The lyrics are all in Russian, I think, so other than the first track (Welcome to Mother Russia!) I have no idea what they are about.  I will hazard a guess and say it involves lots of drinking on a corroded balcony in the rain at like 3 in the morning and being really tired of people still bringing up Yakov Smirnoff jokes like thirty years too late.

Seriously, grab this album.  It's in my top five of the year.  I have now added seeing this band to my metal bucket list.  Great stuff.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Music Review: Haze of Summer- Znoi

Man, it's been a long, long while since I've written any reviews, but the pull of random black metal always tends to suck me back in Godfather style.  In keeping with the original Godfather movie I can't find a way to free myself from the greasy underworld of blast beats, glistening high end guitar crescendos, and fuzzy production.  Sadly, much like the third film, my only choice is to wrap those powerful impressions into a disappointing and disjointed narrative.  Nonetheless it's good to be back, ladies and gentlemen.

(Dusts off metal horns)

I have always loved black metal, ever since I first listened to Beherit's Oath of the Black Blood and all my friends ran out of my bedroom.  The grimness of it, the imagery, the cold madness that replaced the death metal rage I had been enveloped in . . . good stuff.  Loved it for years and even drew comfort in the predictability of it all- bad production, repetitive riffs, fast drums, screamy screamy vokills . . . for me listening to black metal was like wearing my favorite blood stained socks.

The first black metal release which surprised me, in the sense of doing something different with the genre, was Windir's Arntor album.  I bought it because I was told it had an accordion.  I pictured black metal infused polka.  What a got instead was an awesome album that I instantly fell in love with, and to this day Windir remain one of my favorite groups- all of their releases are worth owning and smashing bottles to.  The tragic loss of the founder and leader of the band is still one of the worst things snow has dumped on the world since recording Informer.  Also, due to this being the pre-internet age and the genre's love for illegible band names, for about 10 years I thought the band was called Arntor.  So that should tell you the level of my awesome street (or crypt, I guess) cred.

So here I am, many many years later.  Writing this on my couch while my daughter is asleep and my wife rocks Anne of Green Gables (original, hard as fuck).  Life's changed, but I still love those moments when an album rolls in and gives me the giddy feels again by doing something unexpected.  

Haze of Summer's awesome release, Znoi, sounds like what I expected Arntor to be all those years ago except played with major chords and an ear toward melodic smashery.  Seriously, the guitar work is wonderful.  These notes glimmer up and down the song like light reflecting off of a snow cone, held by a baby wearing one of those swimming onesies with smiling crabs on them.

 The cvlt is alive.

Some of these riffs are almost danceable, if you dance like a Latvian, and the keyboards play such a fun role in the music I couldn't help but smile the first few times I listened.  As Sacred Son has proven lately black metal has never lost that capacity to poke a blood-encrusted fist at conventions, even self imposed ones.  The music sounds like a mix of Deafheaven, Windir, and Morphinist.  Production is reasonably clean, guitars are killer, the voice is a proper tomb soaked wail, and the songs actually do give me that summer feel.  Not a sunny, laze around on the boardwalk eating snickerdoodles, getting your first grope, and enjoying a round of frog flipping kind of summer, though- more like that summer where you sat at a bar and drank warm beer through gritted teeth while watching everyone else get married against the setting sun type of feeling. The album stands out amidst the hundreds of samey black metal works that darken our shores and is definitely worth a listen or three.  Well done sirs.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Book Review: The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle
Probably one of the best books about the I Ching and Nazism ever written.  Probably.

Well, everyone who is anyone knows that Philip K. Dick is one of those writers whose books have at least two levels to them- batshit crazy and profoundly moving. Much like Vonnegut, in Mr. Dick I found an author whose books I devoured when I was a wee lad, and am now reading them again and find myself (gasp!) getting a lot more out of them as I get older and wrinklier. He is a challenging dude to read, for sure, but man, such good stuff.

I remember when I first read this book- I had a really hard time getting into it.  It might have been all the hexagram talk, or the weird "what is actually happening here?" vibe, or the stilted Japanese thought patterns used by everyone on the west coast in the story.  Or it could have been the fact that I was 12, and the only fantasy I had read at that point consisted of the Xanth trilogy.

Which was also an awesome series of books (at least through Question Quest, before it got super creepy and old man pedo-flavored).  Comparing the two, however, is like comparing Rocky with Ricky 1.

Hint- the difference is not in the size of the posters.

So what would I call this book?  Fantasy?  Science Fiction?  Speculative Fiction?  I think it can be given any of those labels, but it doesn't fit neatly into any of them.  This is the type of novel, dear readers, that transcends those kind of boundaries and became something bigger, something much more than the sum of its parts.  To judge a book like this using those shallow genre criteria would be akin to analyzing Hulk Hogan's wrestling career simply in terms of how realistic his leg drop looked.

Leg Drop from the High Castle.

On the surface it seems a pretty standard, albeit very well written, "What If?" story, positing a world where Germany and Japan (and Italy, sort of) win WWII and split the world up into two zones. They then immediately vie for domination. There is also some space travel thrown in.  It follows a few weeks in the lives of various characters who are loosely connected to each other and scattered throughout what is left of the United States after the war, the country having been split into three different areas: one run by the Japanese, one by the Germans, and a bit in the middle, around the Rocky Mountains, which has been left alone, at least for now.  Everyone in the book is painted with varying shades of miserable, even the "victors".  Not a happy world, for sure.  Mostly, they are trying to get by, and do the best they can in a world they clearly don't belong in.

So, nothing too interesting, right?   Throw in some sparkly douchebags, and it could be Twilight.  Been there, done that.  Well, except . . . the characters don't seem to fit into their own narratives. There is a sense of wrongness which pervades the book.  Not just in what the characters say, or do, but in how the very book is written.  Nothing really seems to belong, and what the hell does the I Ching have to do with anything?

As always with his books, there is much more to say. This is much more a meditation on perception and reality, on what we choose to believe, to compromise every moment of the day just to get through life relatively unscathed.  This book has been very influential on me as a writer, and in fact was one of the main inspirations for my own novel, Endtyme (cheapest of cheap plugs!).  The way that Mr. Dick plays with reality and narratives was groundbreaking at the time, and you can see the influence everywhere (Inception comes immediately to mind, as does Mayhem's Order Ad Chao album).

Our High Castle goes to the 11th floor.  Eh?  Eh?

Regarded as a classic, and for good reason. If you have read it already, awesome.  I will buy you three "literati" beers.  If you haven't- c'mon, bro.  Be cool.  Read it- trust me.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Game Review: Stick It To The Man

Stick It To The Man
Point And Stick (get it?  Eh? Eh?)

To give y'all a bit of a background, the "Point N Click" graphic adventure games have always been my favorite genre.  As a young lad, growing up in a small Rage Cage, my brothers and I would spend hours pouring over text adventures like Jinxed, Zork, Wayfarer . . . oh man, good times.  Then, graphic adventures happened, and we immediately spent the next 5 years swooning over the epic great times of games like Monkey Island, Indiana Jones, Maniac Mansion, Kings Quest, Space Quest (Oh Goddamn Space Quest), and countless others.  These games were probably some of the few that we would all play together, helping each other solve the puzzles, giggling over the humor (Goddamn Space Quest) and raging (tm) over the cheap deaths inherent therein.  While the evolution of games over the last 15 years have brought some sweet, sweet things, one of the saddest losses, for me, was the old Point N' Click.  They were left by the wayside as companies began putting out waves of identikit platformers, sports games, FPSs, MMOs, and a number of other fun acronyms.  The lowpoint for me was when King's Quest 8 was released as a crappy clone of Tomb Raider:

I think that Satan guy wants to play a different game.  Probably one that gives a damn.

There was a huge lull for me after the two Discworld games came out on the Playstation.  For the next two generations, almost 10 years, I pretty much had to do without graphic adventures (not being a PC gamer).  Then, with the rise of the Wii, and it's sexy pointer controls, those games began to come back on home systems (along with the increased output from Tell Tale games).   There were some changes to the structure, of course, but to me these last four years have been such a great nostalgic trip.  Good times for adventure fans (and a cheap plug for my upcoming "favorite adventure games" entry).

Awesome intro aside, we now arrive at Stick It To The Man.  It's available on tons of platforms.  I played through it on my shiny Wii U, but all versions are more or less the same.  To put it simply, I loved this game.  It's essentially an old school game, with it's focus on puzzle solving and story over action.  The main premise is that the main character (a fantastic, Homer-esque lovable loser) can read minds.  Everyone's minds.  This is the gameplay concept that creates all the comic situations in the game. And these moments of hilarity are legion.  You move from level to level by helping everyone solve their problems, which could range from giving an old man a new toupee to fixing a women's teeth to helping a crazy old dude catch a zombified whale.  Great writing, awesome graphics (done in a cool diorama/paper cut style), kick ass voice acting . . .  this game is awesome.  Play it, you bastards.  And, for busy sumbitches like me, the length was perfect, at a few hours for the first playthrough.  Anyone who, like me, misses the days of huddling around an old Amiga, working through the first scene of Space Quest I at 1130 at night, owes it to themselves to give this one a whirl.  Doubt me?  click on this trailer and tell me you don't want some: