Metal Monday #7


All those clean vox! This can’t be metal Monday, surely there has been a mistake. I digress, as a stickler for classification this is mostly progressive rock. I promise to make it up to you later in the post.
So why do I like this, based on the fact that I just told you it isn’t really metal? What stands out to me the most about this band is its seamless transitions from section to section. Prog bands have a tendency of putting as many different sounding sections in a song, sometimes not repeating one at all. It makes for a more thought provoking listening experience if not an unpredictable one. What makes all these stick together and make sense is what happens in-between them. Every time the song ends a section it seems to land right on the beginning of the next one without any awkward key or rhythmic changes.
Another thing I like, which goes against what I would normally like, is how minimalist this group is. Sometimes metal/prog music overwhelms the listener with notes and it happens too fast for a human to be able to perceive everything that just happened in one listen. Like I said, normally that is what I like, but this group uses simple flowing phrases to effectively say more with less. It makes it much easier to listen to while still giving me the same satisfaction.

You know your metal band name is bad when Spotify automatically thinks you are the same thing as a wedding music collection. However despite the name this band brings level of diversity that was unexpected. Do you ever find yourself listening to a death metal album, only to halfway through realize that you are way past the first song and you didn’t even notice a change? It’s a detriment to the genre that is hard to get past for a lot of people. Almost every song on this album to me was distinct and has its own flavor. It is all death metal, but they have all kinds of grooves to get the heads banging.
METAL IN THE NEWS
In a startling upset, Cattle Decapitation was defeated by Selena Gomez in the “Best Video” category at the VMAs last night. “Forced Gender Reassignment” went down to “Come And Get It” with CD not even taking home a nomination! I will not stand for this travesty on the music industry, clearly it’s just a big beauty contest or the true work of art would have easily won.

Metal Monday #6

I had quite the busy last two weeks, but that’s not going to stop Metal Monday from happening. This time of year is my favorite; many metal albums come out between the months of August and November. This is because they do their recording in the winter, when touring is less common, finish in spring (when many albums leak illegally on the internet) then the album comes out right about now, while they are on big summer tours. This week we will take a look at the new Fleshgod Apocalypse release Labyrinth.

I always chuckle to myself when metal bands use mythological metaphors or over-exaggerated gore to get their point across in lyrics. To me it often seems like a guise to seem to be talking about something greater than what they are still actually talking about; the evil ex-girlfriend. If I had to take a guess, a wild estimate, I would say 80% of all metal, actually 80% of all music today is about the evil ex-girlfriend or boyfriend. How I have been wronged by society! My love has left me for reasons I don’t understand so I must share my now negative outlook on life with the world!

Everyone loves a good breakup song, me being included. For a song to really have a lasting impression on me, it has to be about something that makes me think or learn a new idea about the world. Maybe life is all just a big Labyrinth that we are trapped in, because we just wander around the whole time instead of peaking over the edges to see what is really out there. Maybe we can use the themes of an existing story that most of our culture is familiar with, to help the audience understand this concept.

FA is known for their epic symphonic synthesizing mixed in with their relentlessly fast and pounding style of metal. It almost seems juxtaposed at first, like some sort of gimmick they put on to stand out from the rest of the melodic death metal bands. That it may be, but the symphonic arrangements cause the cadence structure to be much easier to notice to the non-metal head. There is a lot of good V-I resolution and lateral movement of the structure of the song, as opposed to repeating the same 4 chords the whole time. It feels like the song is going somewhere. On top of that they have a great sense of album order. The first song “Kingborn” starts off with a good mysterious building song that doesn’t give away the entire album, and then the second song is one of the better tracks on the whole album, just like it should be based on my Album Structure review(first link). There are some surprises with the guest vocals of Agnete Kjølsrud in “Towards the Sun” and “Warpledge,” but she fits very well with the sound the FA wants. This album in general seems to be more vocal/lyric centered than usual, although they are never lacking in instrumental technicality.

If you want something slow and peaceful you will have to look elsewhere. FA does blast beats and fret shredding as good as anyone, but this is a heavy metal album and there is a deficit of diversity of song types. There is lots of diversity in structure and note use, but every single song is going to pound your face into the ground with high-tempo blast beats and wailing guitar solos.

As if mandatory to every conceptual album release, the 2 songs titled “Epilogue” and “Prologue” are my biggest complaint, only because they are just that, mandatory. It seems every album that tries to tell overarching story seems to have songs with this title, often instrumental and completely filler. It makes even less sense here, where they aren’t the shell of a legitimate song, they pose as a sort of distraction from the rest of the songs taking you out of the albums zone. Some people might like the break since the album is very exhausting to listen to, but I think they could have been left out and were created only to put more tracks and run time on the album to keep the record company happy, especially since this is such a recurrence.

http://www.darklyrics.com/search?q=prologue

http://www.darklyrics.com/search?q=epilogue

Labyrinth is some good metal. Expect to hear more next week on…

METAL MONDAY

Summer Slaughter 2013 (live performance reviews)

 Before I say anything about my experience at Summer Slaughter 2013, know that my opinion has been altered against my will. I had what I will call “hype syndrome.” We have all had hype syndrome in the past, either a movie that is coming out soon, a video game, any event that you look forward to with great excitement and anticipation has caused you to be a victim of hype syndrome. This skews the entire experience for you psychologically, either making the event seem extremely disappointing when really it wasn’t all that bad, or the event seems like it was the greatest thing to ever happen ever when really it was just mediocre. I will try and remain un-biased by the hype I had going into Summer Slaughter, but take my words with a grain of salt because I was indeed VERY hyped for it.

Now my first major point harps on a previous post about live performance venues. Every band was too loud (The Ocean was especially loud). I took decibel level readings of every band at a random point during their performance (using a shitty smart phone mic). Most were around 112dB, The Ocean read at 118dB (WTF) and the always quaint and calm Cattle Decapitation came in at 110dB.
118dB is very close to the average threshold of pain in the human ear. Since it is an average, this means many people in the venue (Besides me, I saw 5 fans wearing earplugs) were being CAUSED PHYSICAL PAIN by the sound system in the House of Blues. I don’t care who you are, what you think you know about live sound, or what justification you have for this ridiculous level.  You are wrong; you caused people pain, and most importantly you KNOWLINGLY PERMANANTLY DAMAGED EVERYONES HEARING.  If it was unknowingly, you shouldn’t be doing live sound. I wish my words could be heard by every person who goes to shows. There are laws, federal laws, which prevent the extensive use of noisy machinery when it could harm those nearby, and people operating this machinery are required, BY LAW to wear hearing protection. These noisy machines are often less than 100db, with 85 dB being where the law draws the line.

Think about that. It is illegal to expose people to sounds over 85dB for long periods of time. Every person in the House of Blues was exposed to OVER 110dB for almost 8 HOURS. Why is this not illegal? Why are concert venues around the world allowed to hurt you and even cause you physical pain just because its rock n roll? Even with my 25 NRC earplugs (the best I could find) I was still being exposed to sounds above the threshold of hearing loss. I had to hold my rage for the duration of the show because I know nobody would care, or worse they would laugh at me and say it sounds good. Metal is not an excuse to slowly kill one of the 5 senses that you perceive your surroundings with.

 

Now that that is off my chest, I will actually talk about the content of the sets. Many bands made very good decisions as to what their very short sets would include. Thy Art is Murder opened the whole night with a track from their new album, Purest Strain of Hate. TAIM doesn’t really have any “easy going” songs, but this one is definitely one of the songs that are known for its heaviness on this album. I think it was the perfect start to a show like this. They then played some more new songs that were more forgettable, ending with their two most well-known tracks “Whore to a Chainsaw” and “Reign of Darkness.” The vocalist was very entertaining throughout the set, and he had great audience interaction. One of my favorite moments of the whole night was during “Whore to a Chainsaw” when, without aiming for anyone in particular, he tossed the microphone into the crowd. There was a temporary battle over the mic, before all the people who were near the mic ALL screamed the lyrics to the latter half of the song.  “Eradication of them all, Whore to a chainsaw” Repeated far more many times live than on the recording, giving many fans a chance to lay down their own interpretation of how it should sound.

Next was Rings of Saturn. They played mostly songs off their debut album “Embryonic Anomaly,” with the exception of my favorite track on that album “Embryonic Corpses Thrown Across the Sky,” and my perception of them was not at all what I was expecting. I was expecting it to be a musical mess of sound as the instrumentals tried to play their songs for real, but they actually sounded quite accurate to their recordings (aside from the typical bass-reverberant mess that is a live performance venue). This was ruined by their lack of showmanship. They looked bored, even the vocalist standing still while belting out some of the most rage-induced lyrics. I don’t understand. This is the band everyone voted on to get to go on this tour. This is their chance to break out, to impress everyone. The lead guitar and vocalist kept cracking jokes to each other, causing an annoying shit eating grin on both of their faces, DURING SONGS. Maybe it was lack of experience on the big stage, maybe they were nervous, but they need to step up their game if they want to get attention, especially when they gave away their album for free.

Then I took a break during Revocation and Aeon for beer and dinner. FYI a 24oz beer was $11. While I appreciate both of these bands, they are not what I like at all. Revocation looked like they were having a great time. The singer for Aeon was out with a cold or something so the guitarist doubled on guitar and vocals for him which was pretty cool. That’s really all I can fairly say about them.

 

Next was The Ocean. I won’t belabor the loudness issue; they had more issues than just that. It was very hard to tell what was going on instrumentally. Some songs were near un-recognizable until the chorus.  Big speakers mean low frequencies are louder, but the levels were just way off. It’s really too bad, from a recording standpoint they have become one of the leaders in progressive metal. Also, the set list they chose to play was questionable. I really enjoyed the song “Let Them Believe” but I feel it was inappropriate to play during a 20 minute set seeing as it is 8 minutes long. I liked the songs they played, but they should have picked more and heavier songs. People who aren’t The Ocean fans would have enjoyed it more that way.

I took another beer break during Cattle Decapitation. I have a confession to make that will upset all you ”tru” metal heads out there. I think Cattle Decapitation is stupid. They have such talent, but they choose to sound as dissonant and fast and brutal as possible at all times. Sure, I “just don’t get it.” Read the rest of my blog then tell me that again.

Finally the four bands I came to see were who was left, starting with Norma Jean. I like NJ, never saw them before, had no idea what to expect.
This is how everyone should see NJ for the first time.
As far as the quality of the mix, it was the best one all night, topping Periphery and Animals as Leaders who are more known for their tech. Everything was clear to me (with earplugs in) and every song was identifiable right from the beginning. On top of the great sound, the vocalist has a gift for connecting with the audience. He came out into the crowd, touched people, and let them sing parts everybody knows. The audience fed off of their energy, it was like something out of Dragonball Z. Norma Jean stole the night for me, bringing a level of performance I haven’t seen a metal band give before.

Animals as Leaders switched slots with Periphery for reasons unknown, but they took the stage next. This is now the third time I have seen them so I knew what to expect from them. They played everything as crisp and technically as always. They are definitely the most consistent band, never missing a beat or losing control. It was also a great chance to calm down after the thrashing that was Norma Jean, most people in the pit agreed that for AAL it is best to just stand still and thoughtfully listen to the large amount of notes being played at a time. My only complaint is Tosin was too quiet. I know he is humble and doesn’t want to outshine the rest of the band, but the truth is he DOES, and everyone wants to hear him play. When he was playing on the bottom of the neck he wailed above the rest of the group but otherwise you could only watch his fingers and assume he was getting everything right, because for all I know he may be the most talented guitarist in the world right now.

I had my doubts about Periphery. I had heard in the past that due to the heavy amount of effects they use in recording, their live performances aren’t very clean. They opened with MAKE TOTAL DESTROY (yes all caps) played some more stuff off of Periphery II This Time Its Personal, then closed with Scarlet and Ragnarok. The problem wasn’t at all that they use too many effects during recording, due to the skills of Misha Mansoor they can replicate a lot of that live; the problem was that they don’t take themselves seriously. It was very apparent the whole time that they were enjoying what they were playing, but not in the way that Norma Jean did. They constantly were wise cracking to each other and doing typical metal gimmicks as if it were a joke. I never have taken Periphery seriously and now I never will. I really think some of their songs are great, if they gave it that little bit of magic they could have  a great show.

Well I guess that’s all the bands. No wait there is one more, but I can’t seem to remember their name… Something something Escape Plan. Anyway, this last band clearly didn’t have any idea what they were doing, strutting around the stage playing random notes whenever they felt like it. The vocalist could have used a tin can and sounded just as good. The drummer couldn’t keep an even beat. The guitarist was clearly on illegal narcotics of some sort. Totally awful. I don’t know why they let these jokers headline this thing when Cattle Decapitation is much more br00tl and tru. Summer Slaughter went soft this year picking all these lame prog bands that don’t even have breakdowns or lyrics about spilling guts everywhere.

The sad part is some people I talked to at the show actually think this. At least 5 people who I tricked into giving me their opinion thought SS this year was weak and the bands weren’t heavy at all except Aeon/cattle. Being pretentious as I am, I asked them a simple and fair question “in your opinion, what makes XXXXX better than XXXXX?” It doesn’t matter which bands filled the XX’s, the answer always amounted to the same thing, “They are more technical and talented” or “XXXXX makes REAL metal, not progressive pussy bullshit like XXXXX” (that one is a direct quote I remember). If you are going to say something like “they are more talented,” I am going to ask you to prove that to me. Because I know you can’t. Most of the musicians are vastly more talented than their music portrays, it’s just a preference of style. This is the point I want them to understand. This goes back to my state of the union post; we are all in this together. It doesn’t matter who is more talented, who is more brutal, if every band sounded like maximum brutality it would all be the same, and then we are no better than those mainstream music schmucks. What matters is the energy you can feel at the shows, the raw emotions that flow through the air as the vocalist screams into your face. You can’t go to a Kanye West show and be guaranteed to physically touch him, or even sing part of his song. No other genre can replicate the personal connection you get with smaller venues. During “Memphis Will Be Laid To Rest,” the vocalist for NJ cried out “Stop saving your energy, stop holding back, you can get all the energy you need from each other.” And sure enough, tired sweaty and sore the audience got back into it, even after the exhausting moshing of Cattle Decapitation. At the end of the night, all of the members of the pit had a giant sweaty group hug, after pushing each other around for 7 hours. Those of you who were in the pit with me the whole night, thank you for the energy I got from you all day.

What was the absolute highlight of the night? Greg Puciato deepthroating the microphone during Sunshine the Werewolf and then ripping the head of it off with his teeth. The intense shriek the sound system let out from this right on the last “LOVE KILLS” was a sound that will never again be replicated, it was perfectly terrifying.

 

 Random guy I made friends with Andrew, if you somehow read this, thank you for the beer.

Psycho Acoustics (how the brain reacts to sound)

Why is it that sometimes a certain tune catches our ear? We know everything there is to know about how the ear works mechanically, but what happens between the ear drum and the brain? Psycho-acoustics is what this phenomenon is called. If you don’t think it is a phenomenon, answer for me the question I ask everyone about their taste in music: why do you like it? Everyone has an answer, it’s the beat, it’s the lyrics, the melody, and the instrumentation, whatever. All of these things aren’t really why you like music though. These are simply mechanical properties of sound waves that our ears send to the brain which then decides what you think of the sound you just heard. There are people who enjoy listening to classical music while others find it boring, both here the same sound with the same acoustics properties, so why does one person like it and the other doesn’t?

This isn’t about the ear. This is about the brain. Once the sound leaves the auditory nerve and enters the cerebral cortex something happens, and it happens differently for every person. This post is going to try and figure out why.

First let’s start back at the beginning, the ear. Like I said, every sound has set mechanical properties as the wave propagates through air. The ear has a series of tools to figure out what these are, the ear drum determines the frequency response of the sound, the middle ear then decides how loud the sound is, and the inner ear has cilia to send this mechanical vibration into a electric signal to send to the brain. I believe that this mechanical process of the ear does have an effect on our music tastes. It’s easy to make a broad statement and say everyone is born different so of course the exact shape of all those ear parts is going to be different, but what does it mean?

The ear drum being shaped differently, even in a matter of micrometers, can affect the way it initially responds. Every sound, aside from flat frequency sine waves used for testing, is made up of hundreds of poly-harmonic frequencies. This is why a trumbet sounds different than a guitar even when they play the same note. Our brain doesn’t overload with information on each frequency, instead finding the “brain averaged” response of all these poly-harmonics. The ear drum will always vibrate at the same frequencies of the sounds going into it, but the amplitude of each frequency is what varies by size of the ear drum. A smaller ear drum will have a different set of resonances (the “sweet spot” of any vibration) than a large one, therefore affecting your individual perception of the sound. For example, let’s say your ear has a resonance at 200Hz frequency. When you hear sound, and that frequency is within the harmonic makeup of the sound, your ear will vibrate at maximum amplitude at that frequency causing it to change the “brain averaged” response that you hear compared to someone who does not have a resonance at 200Hz. I feel that this is getting overwhelming very fast but bear with me.

The next part of the ear are the oscicles, the 3 tiny bones in your middle ear that transfer the mechanical vibration of the ear drum to the inner ear, which is filled with fluid. For you scientists and engineers out there, this basically changes the units of the sound so that the brain can understand it. The brain doesn’t speak mechanical vibration, it speaks electric impulse. Since these bones are directly attached to the ear drum, they also each have their own resonances. This creates even more poly-harmonic diversity from one person to the next.

Now I will bring you out of nerdy acoustician mode and into music theory mode. I hear the song “baby” by justin beiber, my brain lashes out in disgust and commands me to make it stop. A 12 year old girl hears this same exact song, and can’t get enough of it. It isn’t just because she doesn’t know any better (hopefully she doesn’t), her ear drum is differently shaped than mine, and fortunately it is going to grow and change again once she hits puberty. Her ear drum is probably smaller than mine, only by a matter of fractions of millimeters maybe, but which frequencies are most effected by small changes? High ones. If you have ever heard “kidz bop” or recordings of nursery rhymes, they are usually kids singing, or some adult singing in an obnoxious voice. There is a mechanical reason that this is what you want in children’s music. While I can’t say what frequencies kids respond to better, but a smaller ear drum will have more resonances in higher frequencies than a slightly larger one. We are talking very small, nearly unnoticeable differences, but all these parts in our ear change the way our “brain averaged” sound is perceived in our brain. When you hear it when you are older it just sounds annoying.

In reality this is a bad example, because the real reason kids like kids songs is because of their simplicity, then as we get older we desire more complexity (most of us anyway). The point I’m making is that the “brain averaged” sound changed from person to person, and even throughout your life, just based on the mechanical response of your ear.

The brain doesn’t speak mechanical vibration though. It needs electric impulses to form a thought about it.  Say we have two identical twins. We will assume that their ears are exactly the same shape and therefore the mechanical response is exactly the same. Even in these cases, their tastes can and will differ. Now we are at the part that is hard to understand. After the sound leaves the ear and goes to the brain, there is still a difference from person to person on how they will perceive it, even if they have the same ears.

Back to the twins example, the sound enters the brain of each twin with the same “brain averaged” response to the sound. One twin thinks the sound is awful while the other enjoys it. This is due to psychological phenomenon. Since this is a metal blog, the song that the twins are hearing is metal. One twin, while physically identical to the other, had a harder life. He got made fun of at school for something he did one time and the classmates never let him live it down. The other one socially integrates just fine. Fast forward 15 years, they are just finishing up puberty and beginning to understand themselves as an individual. The twin who got along with everyone just fine, well he is probably going to like what the majority of people do. He is going to respond well to songs that are about having a good time, social situations, and disrespecting women. After all what more can he ask for? He responds to the feelings he is accustomed to feeling the most. Since he has always had a good time, always been accepted by everyone, he is going to like music about having a good time that is accepted by everyone.

What about the other twin, the one who gets bullied? Well life is a little different for him. He has few friends, and the friends he does have are weirdo’s who he can’t really relate with. He often feels angry,  hurt, isolated, even afraid at times. This twin hears a song about having a good time in social situations, well he isn’t going to like that very much is he? Sure he wants to have a good time, but to him he can’t relate with the feelings that the music is trying to portray. He is going to respond to what he knows, those negative feelings.

I just took a lot of words to explain that people like music because of the way it makes them feel. When I ask people “what do you like about it” and they say “because I like the way it makes me feel,” I have no arguments to make. Obviously I’m looking for a little more insight into the persons mind as to how they perceive the music and why, but the truth is this is all there is to say. Music DOES make us feel things, whether we like it or not. All it is, is a series of mechanical vibrations going through an extravagant unit conversion into the “brain averaged” sound, but when it gets there our brain reacts to it. The brain can have a number of different reactions, all amounting to “I like this” or “I don’t like this” even if we can’t explain what it is that we like about it. Every person not only physically interprets sound differently (which I think is more a minor factor in the equation overall), but based on their feelings, their past experiences, what makes them who they are, the brain will have a different response to it, for every single person on earth. It is my belief that no two people have EVER heard a sound exactly the same way another has. The only person who can hear what you hear, is you.

So tell me
Why do you like it?