23 March 2006

5 Albums

... That changed my life. Yeah, I was asked to write a little something something at another board and I figured that seeing as it was quite (but not very) meaty that I might as well Blog it~! So here we are.


PoisonFlesh & Blood (1990)

This started it all for me. Ten years old, staying in a hostel. Some teenagers put headphones over my ears and I was blasted with the sound of rock. Found out who it was, got it bought. Didn’t belong to parents or a sibling – this was my own album and my first rock album ever. It is also the first album I have ever loved, and one of the two that really changed things for me.

Everywhere I went, for a good year or two, I took my cassette of this and my massive black Aiwa Walkman. That thing was indestructible. Anyway, I can go for months or years without listening to this, but whenever I return to it, I love it as much as I ever did and will always know all the words.


Kerrang!The Album (1994)

I think it was between this and Megadeth’s Youthanasia in HMV that time. I picked this because it was two discs and featured loads of bands I had only read about. Plus Megadeth were on it anyway. This was very definitely an eye-opener in terms of Metal.

I spent ages not liking most of it. The set was divided thematically between the two discs: Kontemporary Kaos was the modern stuff, which included the likes of Pantera, Sepultura, Biohazard et al. it was too heavy for me, but I liked the Alice In Chains, Wildhearts and Duff McKagan tracks.

The Kerrang! Klassix disc was more what I was into. In fact, what changed my life about this was more the poll Radio 1 and Kerrang! ran in about 1992. that featured some classic rock songs that really educated me. ‘Stargazer’, ‘Stairway To Heaven’, ‘One’, ‘Youth Gone Wild’… and a lot of these found their way to this disc, so it was all good.

Eventually, though, there was a change. Slayer’s ‘Angel Of Death’ was on this disc. Too heavy for me. However, it was so heavy that my friends and I used to play it just as a ‘wow, this is heavy!’ freak show. Eventually it started to grow on me. Then I got into the heaviness on the more modern disc, and I was transformed into a proper extreme Metal fan...


NeurosisThrough Silver In Blood (1996)
…Which resulted in this. Long story short, I read a 1996 end of year poll. This album was nowhere near the writers’ lists, but was either top or near top of the lists of musicians I loved then (Burton C Bell, Patrick Wiren, Phil Anselmo). Still, I figured it was just a Black Metal album or something, so didn’t bother.

Flash forward to Las Vegas, August 1997. I’m in Tower Records and have bought the Limp Bizkit debut, Pantera live album, Spawn soundtrack and Fear Factory remix album. I have ten bux left and figure I might as well spend it. So I look around for something, and happen upon this album. I remember the recommendations and, thinking the artwork looked interesting, bought it.

Didn’t like it. It was too weird. The first track took too long to kick in. Man, it’s 12 minutes.

*Skip*

Track 2. This is just noises.

*Skip*

What the fuck?

*Skip*

This is taking ages to kick in as well, and made me jump when it did. This is 12 minutes too.

*Eject*

Anyway, we went on a road trip to a log cabin in Utah. Looking down at the eerie front room with its rocking chair from my sleeping position on a ledge over the door, the intro to ‘Aeon’ made sense. It was like the start of a horror film. On the way back, the starkness of ‘Eye’ really resonated when driving past the equally monumental mountains. Dusk drew in and I could see the Vegas cityscape on the horizon. Suddenly the apocalyptic darkness of ‘Aeon’ sounded like the most powerful soundtrack to my life.

Got back and they were bizarrely featured (for the first time ever) in the current issue of Metal Hammer. They were touring, and releasing back catalogue albums I had no idea existed. Saw them on October 2nd that year and realised they were my favourite band in the world.

What’s weird is that, unlike pretty much everything else in my collection, this improves with age. The more music I hear, the more amazing I realise this album is. Equally, the more underground and experimental music I hear, rather than diluting the effect of this album, makes me appreciate it all the more.


RadioheadKid A (2000)

Metal as a whole was kind of turning me off by this stage. The genre had been reduced to some cartoon parody of its former self, thanks to bands like Coal Chamber, Limp Bizkit (half a good album does not a career make) and Static-X. I needed something new to save me.

I had got into OK Computer in 1999, after a couple of years of resisting. Reading an article in Q magazine in September 2000 got me really excited about an experimental dance album from Radiohead.

Around this time I was starting university and as a result was encountering changes on personal, social and aesthetic levels. The album came out at precisely the right time. I bought it on the morning of release (eschewing a lecture for it, which would become a recurring theme in my time in Manchester) and its greatness hit me from the start.

It didn’t sound overly experimental to me; in fact, opener ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ sounded quite 80s. But it was all good, and opened my eyes to the fact that what I had dismissed previously as ‘just dance music’ could be intellectually and emotionally engaging. Cue months of just buying electronic music and HipHop, as it kicked off a phase in my life of checking out any type of music possible, as long as I thought it might be good.

I now have varied taste in music, which covers many genres and decades. While I’m sure that would have happened at some point anyway, this album and the context in which I experienced it facilitated this as a massive and immediate shift in my life.


ProbotProbot (2004) This is not a classic album. It’s not even an especially great album. However, it most definitely affected my listening tastes – and therefore my life – in rather a big way. Years of dismissing most Metal had gone by, and I’d rather listen to Autechre than any Thrash band.

Anyway, I had been reading for years about Dave Grohl’s Metal project. Was kind of interested but not that bothered. Anyway, I had been reading interviews with the man, and his enthusiasm was infectious. I loved the idea of a young Grohl listening to his hardcore and Metal vinyl at home in Virginia, while rocking the Trouble and Corrosion Of Conformity in his beat-up truck.

So I got the album and it just… connected. It rocked, and it was almost as much of a return to the roots (Cavalera, Dorrian, Wino and the boys) for me as it was for him. I loved it. More importantly it kicked off a new appreciation within me for the heavy music.

I changed tack and went totally underground, into the world of Doom and hardcore that Probot reminded me of. My love for Electric Wizard, Khanate, Corrupted, Boris, sunnO)))… even Converge to an extent, can all be traced back to the Probot album getting me back into things.

21 March 2006

Megadeth - 'Holy Wars / The Punishment Due' (1990)

So in this post I'm really just going to gush about a song that I've been into for [thinks] most of my life, now. However, it's only recently that I have been hit by quite how masterful a song it is. Anyway, before I go any further it's probably best for those ignorant of the greatness to take a listen to it for themselves, and for those in the know to revisit it:

Megadeth - 'Holy Wars... The Punishment Due'
Right, we're back. Yeah, I've always liked this song a lot, but for some reason viewed Rust In Peace as some kind of no-man's land between the classic 'In My Darkest Hour' era and the streamlined pop-metal brilliance of (the first half of) Countdown To Extinction. However, this song is an absolute classic. The kind of genre-transcending thing that Metallica used to do so well.

The first thing that hits is the mania of the piece. Guitar notes descending like someone who's running so fast down stairs that they've lost control of their legs and are now just falling. And on top of that we get the bizarro lead melody which sounds like someone learned to play it backwards before they learned it forwards. And it's all more punk rock/hardcore than metal in its delivery, especially for 1990. There's an immense aggression to it that even goes beyond what Slayer were doing at the time with their excellent Seasons In The Abyss.

What will undoubtedly be a sticking point for many is Dave Mustaine's voice. It's very high-pitched and weird. However, I reckon that works really well on the best Megadeth music. The very fact that he is not some gruff, masculine Hetfield/Anselmo/Thomas lends an emotional fragility to the bluster - the listener really gets the sense that this talk of holy war and general mayhem is not just something to get righteous about, but is actually very real. And scary.

Then we get that Spanish guitar breakdown (which I guess is supposed to sound Middle-Eastern), which leads directly into the more traditional realms of macho staccato metal. It's a really rhythmic segment, with strangely phrased lines about 'know-it-all scholars'. And it goes crazy, because that doesn't last either. Classic riff kicks in ('wage the war on organised crime'), and the emotional poignance is there once again. No idea what he's singing about this time - Mustaine seems to have turned himself into a super-soldier, and there is a sadness in his voice when he sings 'either way, they die'.

The song seems to have settled in now, as Dave tells us about 'their' mistakes - killing his wife and baby for a start. He prefaces the first solo with the warning of 'no more mistakes'. And then it all breaks down again, into a thrash-fest that is punctuated by some ejaculation-delaying palm-muting. Then the proper nutty solo that Thrash of the time was so happily full of. And it's a really good solo, too. Marty Friedman goes all-out in showing why he's comfortably a peer of the likes of Kerry King and Kirk Hammett.


Oh, it turns out that the lyrical content of the second half of the song was inspired by the Punisher comics - explaining the 'Punishment Due' part of the title, natch. That lends more sense to the superhero lyrical content of this portion, as I thought it had just gone completely off-kilter. What was it with Mustaine in this era, and his dual songs? We have this one, as well as 'Rust In Peace / Polaris' and 'Good Mourning / Black Friday'... it's actually a good idea, lending a sense of dynamic and variety to a type of Metal that can get samey in the wrong hands. Either that, or he had some kind of alcohol-fuelled ADHD.

Anyway, by the end of that it's really roaring along. We get a really energising and heavy conclusion to a song that is a really fucking great six and a half minutes. So yeah, vague lyrical content aside this is a top notch song from the turn of a decade, and Megadeth really do deserve more props than they get. While I am generally very modernist in my listening to heavy music, I do wish more of the big modern metal bands had songs like this - most of them have nothing to compare. I suppose the closest would be System Of A Down with their excellent 'Chop Suey!' (though that doensn't really get great until the second half). Worryingly, a very real modern equivalent would be 'We're All To Blame' by Sum 41. I always hated them, but I'll be damned if that's not a great song.

It's a shame Mustaine was so deranged due to drug intake during this time. He once said about the song: 'It's revolving around the way that war is imminent and it doesn't really matter what country it's in... Khadafi [Libya]... Khomeini [Iran]... It's funky (sic) how these guys have weird names, these idiots that lead different countries. But it shows you... war's war, no matter where you're at.'

A bit bigoted there, but anyway, it's sad that sixteen years later, Jihad is still as real a threat as it ever was, whether the 'idiots' in power are in Iran/Iraq/Afghanistan or England/America/Italy. I didn't mean for this to turn into a political blog post (and it won't), but it's sad that people in power within each major religion never seem to learn from past mistakes.

'Next thing you know, they'll take my thoughts away', indeed.

18 March 2006

Film Review: Memento (2000)


This was a confusing film. I started watching it with the knowledge that it was the number one film of the 2000's according to a message board I frequent. I expected it to be great.

And it was, to begin with. From the start I could see that it was based around a messed up narrative syntax. I should mention that I avoided any and all spoilers, even to the extent of not reading the back of the DVD case, nor looking at the snapshots inside the case.

It got confusing, though, especially irking when I thought I had a handle on it early on. The narrative was going backwards. So he killed his man, and it went back from there. Except, when it got to the end, it turned out that was what we saw at the start. Or was it? So it was working backwards after we saw that bit?

I initially thought it was very good but not great, on account of it’s narrative-driven, and a lot of the narrative was driven through the tool of Leonard talking the story through. It all seemed a bit expositional to me.

But then that didn’t seem to be so much of a criticism. The phone calls, through which we learned a lot about him and his boy Sammy, weren’t just some tacky on the nose device, but a method within the storyline for him to get caught out. I think.

See, the thing about this film is that it confuses me to The Usual Suspects levels. I really don’t know what to make of it; perhaps a re-watch will sort me out. Perhaps I can glean some info somewhere on the two discs of extras. Perhaps, like that other film, my mind will never let me know the answer in the end.


What I do know is that this was a very intelligently written film. I love when people mess with the linearity of traditional narrative anyway, and this overcame initial fears that the backwards thing was just a gimmick ripped off from a Seinfeld episode. The dialogue was great – I especially loved Leonard’s line to Natalie (man, this conditioning works – I normally have to look character names up) about how the world doesn’t stop existing when you close your eyes. That’s the kind of ostensibly throwaway metaphysical line that gets me thinking far too much.

Funnily enough, it turned out to be rather an important line after all, seeing as it was something of an epiphany for our man Leonard. But that’s the rub, I guess. I’m not sure whether giving our protagonist such a massive disability was a masterstroke in playing with our perception[1], or whether it was just a cheap tool to distract us.

Hey, I’m just a very suspicious film-watcher. This was a really good film though, like I thought. Just not too great. Still, the fact that this was based on a short story by Jonathan Nolan bodes well for the next Batman film, which he is apparently writing. Could be interesting.

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[1]Such as the ‘don’t trust your imagination as fact’ deal in Almodovar’s La Mala Educación, where what we trusted as our characters in the film were just characters in a film within the film, and the real characters were different.
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