HOW COULD IT ALL BE? (One Of Us Is The Killer review)

The time has come. My review of One Of Us Is The Killer is here. DEP has been pretty consistent in releasing album after album that I can’t get enough of. Their song writing is always so different that it keeps my attention for longer than any other band, which is why they are my favorite. Everything they do seems to be well received by critics and fans (except for those who think calculating infinity is their only good album). Even this album, now several weeks old, has received many perfect scores and rave reviews.

http://heavymetal.about.com/od/dillingerescapeplan/fr/Dillinger-Escape-Plan-One-Of-Us-Is-The-Killer-Review.htm

http://www.metalsucks.net/2013/05/15/the-dillinger-escape-plan-fuse-frenzy-with-heart-on-one-of-us-is-the-killer/

http://www.metacritic.com/music/one-of-us-is-the-killer/the-dillinger-escape-plan

and believe me, metal heads are hard to please. So what is my take? I can not say anything bad about this album.

The first thing that stood out to me after my first listen of this album: there were a lot of catchy songs. More than usual. In fact both of the songs so far have followed the formula that I talked about a lot in my first post. This song especially was stuck in my head for days. The chorus repeats many times, the lyrics are easy to remember, and of course it has the beautiful V I resolution. This makes these songs very approachable to non-DEP fans, hell even non-metal fans. The sound DEP is known for is their unsettling chaos, yet this wouldn’t put many people out of their comfort zone. It seems to me like DEP is trying to expand their audience without upsetting their core fan base, something that almost never works. What does this song bring to the core fans that will keep them around? Its the same thing that keeps me coming back. The lyrics, the themes within them are still very far from what you would normally sing along to. “every life is but a death to me” “blunt self belief too big to fall, lead shadow stands just inches tall.” I’m not going to preach about how deep and meaningful these lyrics are, but it is about something and he says it in an interesting way, while still rhyming.

(NSFW video)

This song was released ahead of time by the band, along with Prancer, while leaving all the catchy stuff for the fans to find on release day. This song is very different than what you have heard so far. This is more what should be expected out of these guys.

TAKE

WHAT YOU CAN

Te way the the the rhythm is dictated by the number of syllables in the lyrical phrase is very poetic. There is no question the emotions this song wants you to feel, even if you can’t understand what he’s saying the first few times through. Fear, confusion, mixed with rebellious anger. One fo my favorite parts of this whole album is at 2:55, “on your hands and knees so you can take, all that you can” When you first here the line “take what you can” at the start, obviously the listener is in the dark as to what exactly the singer is talking about. Then he tells you about the situation that he (we) is in to recapitulate why and what we need to take all that we can of.

The last example, is my favorite song from the album. What I like about it is that this is the song that is most characteristic. It starts without warning, and you can’t expect what is coming next at any point. It spews its venom into your ears for 3 minutes and at the end you are not sure what you just listened to. I guess it is a weird thing to like that about a song. What made it my favorite is the same thing that makes Sunshine the Werewolf my favorite on that album. The music changes with the lyrics. There is some similarity to I Wouldn’t If You Didn’t from Option Paralysis here in the way the song is structured. The first section of the song, up until :54, is the end of the story. “took my lover to the sea, drowned him, precious bride to be” which is what is causing the singer to be so upset. Then the song has a section where he repeatedly asks sarcastic questions, “my aren’t you_____?” the person this is about clearly seems to portray themselves as a good person, “surely the finest of the brigade, always right a portrait of dignity” then the song changes, “wait.” Wait a minute, I know you, this is just a veil you put up, not who you really are. “you smell like shit, not the truth, full of device not devotion” “you smear your filth across the world.” My interpretation of this song, is that it is about big media outlets. They tell you the news, a tragic story like at the beginning of the song, but they don’t tell the whole truth. They all compete with each other, and talk trash about each other to try to get on top, to be the “finest of the brigade.” The truth is however they are full of device, not devotion. “to you its above as below” it doesn’t matter what kind of news it is as long as its news. “You smear your filth across the world.”

I haven’t very much talked about what I actually think about this album. Well here it is. As someone who has spent way too much time listening to this band, I don’t think this album has the depth of Ire Works, or the cohesiveness of Option Paralysis. It doesn’t hit as hard as Miss Machine, nor is it as chaotic as Calculating Infinity. What this album does have, is character. I don’t have any idea what they are “trying to say” with this album or “what it stands for,” but I know that it stands apart from the rest of their catalog with better mastering and musicianship. Mix chaos and music and you are going to get some messy songs, but there are no messy songs to be found on One Of Us Is The Killer. DEP has refined their formula for taking a mess of sound and words and putting them together to the point where their songs can be understood in fewer listens, but are catchy enough o keep you coming back for more. Is it my favorite of their albums? No, but this isn’t the album we need right now. Its the album we deserve.

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Wait For The Drop (tension and release in musical form)

Many fans of electronic music of all types (including me) will often tell you to “wait for the drop.” Because it is the most exciting part of the song and it is what all electronic music is built around, this method of tension and release musically. Remember back to my post about cadences and the”magic of V I”? This plays a role as well as many other things in creating musical tension. For example if you play a scale, any scale, starting at the root then go up stepwise but stop at the VII, it doesn’t sound complete. You are expecting it to resolve, to release. This is a “drop” in its simplest form, a harmonic resolution. Start the first video at 3:17. It is really soft and low, but it gradually gets louder and higher. Then more instruments begin to add in on top of the ones already playing. The notes continue to increase in intensity and pitch until finally at 4:24… The drop The composer plays with your feelings, it fluctuates dynamically, and the repeating line goes up and down pentatonically. It makes me, as a listener, begin to think “come on… come on…I know its coming! Come on!” and then when it finally does it is more satisfying than I ever could have imagined (assuming I never heard it before). Classical composers have been creating sick drops since before Skrillex was ever born.

Right from the beginning this song establishes the melody. I don’t just mean the vocals, the synth line that is going to be used during the drop is introduced to that when we hear it later in full it has a bigger impact. At :09 the vocals start, and the instruments are very sparse and soft. At :24 the cymbals come in to get the beat more in your head. :39 the instruments get louder and more full. At :54, its hard to hear at first but the beat begins to “build up.” Zedd also uses an arbitrary pitch and has it gradually gain volume and pitch to increase the tension. The drum instruments begin to get faster and faster until 1:09 when finally, the drop happens. Notice what Zedd did to create this tension/release effect was the same thing Gustav Holst did in Mars. It starts soft with few instruments, ends loud with many. The rhythmic pattern increasing in speed also adds to this effect, which is something that cannot be done by human performers. This gives electronic music an advantage in creating tension over genres with real instruments. Time for a new drop.

Borgore decides to give a bit more away at the start than Zedd did. The beat starts heavy and full all the way until the build-up section at :55. At this point only a single instrument remains while the “melody” of the drop slowly gains volume. More and more instruments slowly enter as the melody continues to increase in intensity. 1:21 Yup that’s a drop. Again, same effect as the Holst piece from the beginning. The difference between this and the last song by Zedd (besides one being electro-house and one being dubstep) is the prominence of the “melody.” Many dubstep enthusiasts incorrectly call this the bass, but in reality these are the mids. The “bass” is ONLY the kick drum, and the reason it is often called the bass drop is because it is where the kick drum enters in the music to create the “drop” effect. It’s not wrong to call it the bass drop but it is important to understand what it means. Wub wubs do not equal bass. As always, this effect can be found in metal as well

At the start the strings slowly get faster and louder, while introducing the theme for the guitar melody at the drop you hear at :51. To me there is no difference in the effect between this, Clarity, or Mars. Musicians across all genres use this effect to draw attention from their audience. It’s exciting, It’s memorable. Movies get an hour or two to draw you in, to build up drama and tension before the climax. Songs only get a few minutes. For instance, do you remember scene for scene the plot of the sixth sense, or (SPOILER ALERT) the fact that Bruce Willis was dead the whole time? Most likely the ladder, because the movie built up to that jarring plot twist that blew your mind. This is similar to why the drop is such a common tool used in song writing. You may not remember what the song is about, but if they can build up to an over dramatic moment that leaves your face melted on the floor from how amazing it was you will surely at least remember that.

This song doesn’t begin to create tension until 2:25. The singer continually repeats the line “left with no decision, my body falls to the floor, if only I finally found the center, its exactly what I was searching for.” This leaves the listener wondering, what was he searching for? Also the typical techniques for a drop are here, softer instruments getting louder and fuller. The singer then reveals what it he is singing about, “I’m high enough to reach salvation, but I will suffer no more” as the song reaches its climax. During this drop he says “I never hoped for the final glimpse of my life but I will suffer no more.” The person in the story is realizing the only escape from the pain of living is to kill themselves, by jumping off of something very high. The song/album all builds up to this moment, the pain and suffering of the person trying to get through breakups, deaths in the family, losing their job, not being good enough, where they finally just end their life, at the climax of the whole thing. You can even hear the pain, the feeling in the voice of the singer as he repeats “I will suffer no more” building up until eventually he is screaming at the top of his lungs. All that this band did was exactly what all the other examples did to build tension, but in conjunction with the story of the song/album and the lyrics, it is very memorable, even if you haven’t listened to the rest of the album.

This last example, while mostly playing the role of a segway into my next post, has two notable drops in it. The first is right at the start, you hear the drums in a constant rhythm slowly get louder, then drop out for a measure before the first chorus hits like a truck. But the more interesting drop in this song is later starting at 2:41. The beat suddenly becomes more frantic and driving. This continues throughout this section of the song, while the instruments take turns with the vocalist doing breaks, with each section of breaks becoming even more frantic than the last. Finally it starts to spiral out of control and then quickly slow back down to the original chorus at 3:46. Due to the fact that the rhythm is hard to really put your foot to for the last few seconds of it, when the beat comes back into a solid 4/4 time signature, you feel it even stronger than you did before. Because of the tension, you knew something was going to happen to resolve this musical stress. The drop is always the best part of every song, even a Dillinger Escape Plan song.

On that note…

I’m sure many of you who have subscribed to me (AKA best people on wordpress) are wondering why I have said nothing yet about DEP’s new album One Of Us Is The Killer. I don’t want to give anything away quite yet other than the fact that due to my strong bias I am giving the album a VERY thorough analysis before sharing my opinion about it. It already got my money, now I have to give it time. Perhaps my next post, or maybe the post after that, will be an in depth review of it. Until then, enjoy it for yourself and form your own un-biased opinion about it before I trick you into liking it.

We’ll do it live! (why good bands can sound terrible live)

Recently I have attended quite a few concerts at all different venues. All of the bands were bands I knew and liked, yet every time I left the concert feeling disappointed. We have all heard the myth that “They are so much better live” or “I didn’t like them until I saw them live” because of the atmosphere and the energy brought by the performers. Psychologically it makes sense, but as far as the music goes, this post is going to bring up some things that really suck about live performances.

This first example is of a tried and true band that has been performing for years. They sound very true to their recorded sound live and have all the venue space and money to put on such a huge show like this.


there are definitely some differences in the quality of sound from the record version here, but the singer is intelligible, the instruments levels are well mixed, and the musicians play well together. What I’m saying is this is an example of a good live performance, at least in terms of sound quality.


(nsfw language)

This is a live performance by the band Whitechapel in HD, from 2 years ago. Whitechapel, in terms of popularity of metal bands, is upper mid-tier. They aren’t as popular as bands like Lamb of God, Killswitch Engage, or Disturbed (cough), but as far as the sub-genre of death core goes they are cream of the crop. This is as high quality as it gets for deathcore bands and by watching this you can tell the sound is not anywhere near as clean and crisp as the Rolling Stones are live. This is not because Whitechapel aren’t as talented or as good of performers as RS, that’s not what I’m saying at all. The blame goes to the venues that host these bands, and the “sound engineers” that do the live mixing for them. It’s time for me to put my acoustical engineering degree to use. These are the specs of the venue that Whitechapel performed this in

http://aceofspadessac.com/production/

This probably means very little to you, so let me point out some of the flaws of this system. First, look at the size of the venue. It’s pretty small, probably fits a few hundred people, now look at the speakers they have (listed as monitors, which are what the band hears on stage, mains, what the audience gets sound from, and subs which you have probably heard of as sub-woofers). The mains, what the audience hears, are all one type of speaker (which any engineer will tell you is a big no-no) and they are Meyer MSL6’s. now lets look at those specifically.

http://www.meyersound.com/products/concertseries/msl-6/

“Designed specifically for very large-scale sound reinforcement, the self-powered Meyer Sound MSL-6 is ideally suited as a stand-alone system for vocal public address applications. For high-powered music reinforcement, it works in combination with Meyer Sound subwoofers and/or the DS-2P and DS-4P Horn-Loaded Mid-Bass loudspeakers.”

This venue doesn’t look VERY large-scale too me, nor do I think is it every used for vocal public address applications. It says that if you combine it with Meyer Sound subwoofers (as the Ace of Spades did) it can be used for high powered music reinforcement.

Why on earth, would a small venue like this, buy such ridiculously large speakers AND an equal amount of ridiculously large sub-woofers? Let’s do some simple sound-math. You have 6 main speakers, designed for all ranges, and 6 sub woofers to focus on the lows. You have 6X Highs, mids, lows, + 6Xlows, what is that going to sound like? Well quite frankly, it is going to sound like that! A big muddy bassy mess where you can’t understand what the vocalist is saying or interpret fast rythms well because it all gets mushed together on the low end. Plus its going to be simply TOO LOUD. These speakers are designed for stadiums arenas and concert halls, not dinky bar+stage venues. Not only could they have saved money getting less powerful speakers, it would have sounded better in the space and made all the performers lives a lot easier.

I also want to specifically address this issue that I have with small venues and performances of all types. It is always too loud. I am 22, I am not old, I don’t hate the genre, I don’t live in the apartment upstairs. It is too loud. Our ears have limits, its not an opinion, they can be damaged by loud noise just like our eyes can be damaged by bright light. The threshold of hearing loss is just 85dB. If you are wondering how loud that is, it’s about as loud as a car horn from 10 feet away. It’s not as loud as you think. The threshold for pain in hearing is 120dB. Now THAT is really loud. This is about as loud as a jet engine on a commercial airliner during takeoff from 10 feet away. If you had to guess, how loud do you think a concert in a small venue like this is? Back to the meyer MSL-6 specs

http://www.meyersound.com/sites/default/files/msl-6_ds.pdf

on page 2, at the top, it says the acoustical specifications of EACH SPEAKER (one speaker). The maximum output is 145dB at 1 meter. One hundred and forty five decibels. I cant… I don’t… I won’t even say anything more. Bring GOOD earplugs with you to every show if you value your ear’s health. They still won’t save you completely from hearing loss (a -60dB reduction is impossible even with rifling gear on) but they will help.

Let’s pick a venue that I have been to personally, and is a chain of venues around the US: the House of Blues.  I will use the Chicago location.
http://www.houseofblues.com/venues/clubvenues/chicago/production.php
You have to click on the production specifications drop down menu to see the specs.

This setup is much better shaped for a small to mid-sized indoor venue like the House of Blues is. They have smaller speakers (4 EV xw15 and 9 EV xw12, http://www.electrovoice.com/product.php?id=29 here are the specs if you are interested) and side fills for the high range coverage that is necessary for clarity, and only 2 18’’ Subs instead of 6. This is why this venue is the best in Chicago, and why the House of Blues is successful around the country. They don’t overspend on absurd speakers and build the sound system to the space. Having been there many times, it still can be too loud sometimes, but the performers sound very intelligible and are well mixed.

Here is what the venue sounds like

here is another poor sound system in a venue, also in Chicago

the vocals sound fine, but the bass is too heavy and distracting from what is going on in the mid-high range of the track.

What I’m trying to say with this post is the next time you are at a live show, instead of just going nuts and enjoying the atmosphere; don’t settle for this terrible sound quality. Bands don’t always get choice on venues, but if you must go see them at one of these smaller places that it’s too loud and too muddy, let the band and the venue know (vie social media at least) that there were problems so that maybe something will be done about it in the future.

FYI:

Yes I have seen the Dillinger Escape Plan live, twice now, and they sounded awful because of the venue setup and mixing. Probably the worst sound quality of any band I have seen live. It was a great experience, but if you want to go to just listen to the music I wouldn’t recommend it.