Basically, the Truth About Puppets

01/06/2005 § Leave a comment

“I never said actors were cattle. All I said is that actors should be treated as cattle” – Alfred Hitchcock

Humankind is an unnerving pastiche of misfits, and ferries bring together the very worst aspects of the species in one convenient box-shaped melting pot.

I boarded the ferry from Holland to the UK not 45 minutes ago. We are at this point 30 minutes late leaving and the hordes are still spilling on in all their football-shirted glory. It’s like some kind of working-class parade, some kind of non-beauty contest. I feel as if I’m not in the right environment, that I’ve stowed away on the wrong carrier having been deceived by some bored and malicious stewardess. So now, on the deportment vessel from the Hoek back to the industrial wastelands of Harwich, I sit taking notes on the detainees. She’s probably grinning now behind her hair bob, mindlessly twizzling a Stena Line pen and chewing glibly and bovine-like on the thought that she’s sent me off to be digested in the tract of this monstrous monument to marine mass-travel with the rest of the classless cud.

It’s tragic to see the way that people can be, what they can become if left to their own devices. The Brits are an embarrassingly sour race. Their faces seem to hold the misery of years of underdevelopment and dénouement. What we lack, more than anything, is a sense of shame. But that, as with the Americans, is replaced with a sense of pride in what we are, whatever that may be. A sense of pride also in things our ancestors accomplished, but that we never did. A sense of feat and achievement in winning battles of every sort, but the only battle you’ll ever see these kinds of people winning are those based on pie-consumption.

But the English aren’t altogether a pointless race and every class has its lamentable aspects. We may have spent a large portion of our existence learning how to dominate other cultures, locking up minorities and imprisoning nations, forcing others to only now assert their independence from us, but musically, at least, we have a lot to be proud of. Not so much in the likes of Radiohead, Coldplay and Keane, but the other denizens of the alternative music factory. We should also not forget what we had to contribute in the way of genre creation. Black Sabbath were the reason that metal appeared, Paradise Lost are the reason that Gothic Metal exists, and therefore the reason why you’re reading this article now.

Pause. The couple next to me have given birth to a banshee. A sprawling, spittooned little dervish that slings saliva around as it screeches in an ear-shreddingly tinny pitch. Some people have no control over their offspring. Some people choose to have no control over them. Some people had control until they threw the towel in altogether a while back – too much like hard work – too much like effort – so muggins here has to abide the pasty-faced moron child while another gaggle of cardigan-wearing Kwik Savers enters the imaginatively-named ‘Ferry Shop’. Out of the corner of my eye I can see the infant spidering towards me, an overgrown mite in an orange babysuit. Maybe someone should tell these people they’ve given birth to a parasite. Maybe they already know and they’ll turn a blind eye while it attempts to sink its milk teeth into my arm. No, I can’t wait to be the proud father of an octoped either.

There are many similar theories on the origins of Gothic Metal and how the genre came about in the first place, but it also depends on how far back you’re willing to go, where you want to draw the line. Most people accept Celtic Frost’s Into The Pandemonium as the seminal Gothic Metal album since they experimented with placing female vocals alongside the heavier guitars which, I imagine, back in the yuppied and Thatcherite 80s, was a maverick thing to do, but how does that translate now? Anyone think of it as a masterpiece? Maybe, if you’re from the older genre and you remember metal’s heyday and perhaps the stuff bands are producing these days is not up to scratch for you. Another heavyweight that vies for the title is Paradise Lost’s Gothic, a gnarly Gothic Metal piece of gristle with female vocal passages dotted around sporadically. And then, of course, there is The Gathering’s Mandylion, the first metal album from the new era with all female vocals, and what fantastic vocals they are. I would say that no-one has come close to matching the perfection of Anneke from the first note of Strange Machines to the last of In Motion #2.

But how far have we come since then? The first band to properly utilise violins and choirs was Tristania, followed by Sins Of Thy Beloved. Since then, any band who could afford a violin wanted to get in on the act, and there are many bad copycat albums with drizzly, slurry violin-playing now. Take a look at Macbeth, early Naamah and dare I say it, Draconian. In spite of all the new bands making an appearance on the scene, no-one recently can contend with the masters. There is, however, a fine line between producing good music and your label telling you what to produce. Most of the major players brought out albums last year. This year, Leaves’ Eyes brought out an altogether terrible offering in comparison to last year’s; Epica brought out a Latin-inspired Gothic freakshow of an album, and we’re still waiting with baited breath to see what Lacuna Coil will come up with in answer to Comalies. After Forever also aim to jump the Transmission ship with Remagine. A year after Invisible Circles, maybe it wouldn’t be too unrealistic for one to assume that this, like the hastily-drafted Napalm effluent that was Vinland Saga, will not be altogether deserving of being called part of the band’s oeuvre.

All of a sudden, Gothic Metal is becoming a serious business. All of a sudden it’s becoming more fashionable to be alternative, but in an acceptable mumsy-loving way. The cyber-goths [whoever they are] must sneer at the nu-breed with their eyeliner and spiked hair, and as the genre becomes more popular, the Gothier Than Thou race will become more pretentious and more fierce. But in the meantime, it lacks a certain genuineness, a certain emotion, but we should have all learned by now that emotion has nothing to do with it when you’re making money. You want emotion in the music? Check out the smaller bands. You want feeling? Listen to the tramp of those who are not told how they should shape their music. At the end of the day, everyone is told what to do when under the control of a label. Labels are not charities. They do not exist to do bands favours. They are businesses, controlling their bands like metal marionettes and raking the cash in. Successful labels are not controlled by ‘artists’, but by businessmen.

It’s a sad fact to realise and many are in denial about it, which is why it’s important for the reviewers to write honestly, rather than pander to the needs of the well-oiled media machine. It doesn’t matter what business you’re in. In one lacking in honesty in so many ways, even the slightest tinge of truth can feel like a godsend. But you can’t please everyone, though you can try to please most of the people most of the time, though many don’t like having the scales lifted from their eyes anyway. We are all controlled by one hierarchy or another, and so in a way, we’re all in the same boat. Though next time I’d rather it wasn’t a ferry.

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Lucid Fly – Adapting to Gravity

01/06/2005 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2005
Label: s/f
7 Tracks
Language: English

I’m quite dubious when it comes to listening to anything described as ‘rock’, because that’s how open-minded I am. I know that, technically, metal comes under the rock banner, but a lot of the time rock music, for what it is, is too bland, too angstily punchy and too predictable. It would take a lot for a band to move me from this attitude, partly because I’m happy festering in it and partly because I am even more particular about what is required when it comes to bands who aren’t metal. However, Lucid Fly plopped humbly into my life a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been hard-pressed to find much else which is better to listen to. This album may only be seven tracks, but it is firmly a case of less being more, I can think of many bands who would put out albums with more songs than this just to make up the numbers, and Adapting To Gravity is surely a very unpretentious and successful addition to the world of female-fronted rock.

But describing it as such seems awkward. There’s something grander about this, something bigger and more mature. The sound that Lucid Fly create is progressive and different. Though they may adhere to the token verse and chorus structure of the more mainstream media, just how they manage to fill the verses and with what they construct the choruses really is a wonder. The music here is light, shining rock with heavy undertones, and the best thing is that it is what a lot of rock music is not – unirritating. Lucid Fly have done respectably well here, not only because of the experimental nature in which the songs are written, but the way in which they’re played – the musicianship – is fantastic. As if that weren’t enough, the vocals are astounding, and in a genre where it’s getting harder and harder to find any decent vocalists, when you find one it’s more than a bonus, it’s a relief.

There’s really something special about the kind of music that Lucid Fly produce, and with only one album under their belts, things look very promising indeed. Nikki Layne’s vocals really are spectacular, she has a very clean yet sharp tone to her voice, can hold notes strongly and perfectly and throughout the album never misses a mark. The album opens with No Sleep, a quiet, slow song with a beautifully reflective chorus, directly contrasted with Splinter, which opens with some heavier, buffeting chords and retains the same strong-paced rhythm all the way through with Nikki’s vocals pleasurably softening the blow. Though this may be rock, sometimes the numbers almost veer into metal with the strength of the guitar that is used. But not only is the guitar strong, it’s also quite inventive, the band using this inventiveness to its fullest ability in numbers like Collide and Para11el.

What’s even stranger about the album, is that for a debut, there aren’t too many things that really require changing, though there are a few ideas that Lucid Fly might want to employ to make themselves an even classier act. The most unusual thing in this regard is that even though Nikki’s vocals are prominent and impressive a lot of time, they’re a little overused – there are very few breaks in the songs, very few times when she’s able to take much of a rest and some of the numbers do suffer as a result of this since they don’t have the room the breathe. Lucid Fly have the right to enjoy the luxury of more instrumental passages, to create songs of greater length and even to be a little indulgent with their song-writing and playing, since sometimes the songs do feel a bit short and that the band could have exploited their musical resources more. Not only this, but Derrick‘s drumming sometimes lacks a little flair, a little extravagance, and there are various moments where the odd egocentric fill certainly wouldn’t go amiss since it would actually fit well with the music.

Nevertheless, these are minor criticisms and it’s hard to find too much fault with Adapting To Gravity, mostly because it’s a fantastic shot at a first album. The sound production is also quite crisp and clean, and it’s refreshing to hear a band put so much into their first full work. But what’s strangest about this is the fact that the entire septet of songs sounds so smooth, unrushed and unforced. There’s something wonderfully natural about the music and its execution which makes Adapting To Gravity something to really take notice of. If the band can get a little more progressive and a little less afraid to experiment, we’ll be seeing some impressive material from them in the near future. There’s really very little to hold these people back.

8/10

Leaves’ Eyes – Vinland Saga

01/06/2005 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2005
Label: Napalm
12 Tracks
Language: English

It’s nice of Leaves’ Eyes to feel the need to educate us in some Norse mythology, because I don’t know about you, but I was feeling a little down on my knowledge of Erik the Red and Arctic Norwegian settlements. It seems, since the day that concept albums became popular, that a lot of the metal-devouring public chose to ignore the fact that there’s something ever so slightly naff about them. There’s not much you can do to make a concept album look credible since they’re generally pretentious offerings created by bands who are running out of ideas and end up struggling to make some kind of ontological, social or historic point, though few people can actually work out what it is.

It’s not surprising then, that one year down the road, Napalm’s flagship Gothic Metal lovelies are engaged in a little bit of a struggle about exactly what to do with their songs. These are difficult times, especially when music is your number one cash-earner and you need a constant influx of ideas in order to get bread on the table. However, at the rate that this album deserves to sell, I think that’s all that’s going to be served in Liv Kristine’s house for the foreseeable future. Out the window will go those romantic nights spent with Alex enjoying lobster thermidor and Chianti, and it’s a big hello to baked potatoes, cut-price pasta and UHT orange juice. Or Sunny Delight, which, dare I mention, is actually only 5% fruit juice. So what the hell is the rest of it made of? God only knows, but it’s probably stuffed with as much ballast and bilge as Vinland Saga, which is in itself a heavily diluted Gothic Metal splattering. Such is the danger of releasing another album almost a year to the day after your last one.

And it’s a bit of a shame. I enjoyed Lovelorn for what it was – a nice, pleasing Gothic Metal tea-cup ride with many moments of family-friendly merriment. It didn’t bite in its heaviness, it just kind of nuzzled you into submission, and I’m always open to a bit of that. A band’s second album is an important work since it generally sets the tone for their reputation. Nevertheless, in spite of this, I don’t get the impression that many stops were pulled out at all for Vinland Saga, in fact, many of them remained firmly wedged in the bottles, Sunny Delight or otherwise, since there is hardly any variety in the songs and many of the numbers lack the punch that had been hinted was to come by Elegy and indeed Lovelorn. Maybe it’s a case of expecting too much, but I was a little hung on the hope that this would be a more polished version of its predecessor when what it seems to be is little else but leftover scraps from other Leaves’ Eyes and Atrocity ideas thrown into some kind of musical reject bin and held together by concept album glue. Let’s face it, there’s not a huge amount of work that a band can put towards an album in the space of one year, especially when the rest of your band is, well, an entirely different band.

After the – I hate to say it – ‘intro track’ called Vinland Saga, the album belches it’s first proper song at us, Farewell Proud Men, which boasts an intro so reminiscent of Within Temptation that you could be forgiven for thinking that you’d got this CD mixed up with the Silent Force. Hey, they’re both blue and we’re all prone to those moments of scrabbling for items in the late, bleary-eyed hours of the evening. What will become clear after a very short space of time though, is that this isn’t in fact Within Temptation, but Leaves’ Eyes playing the Gothic Metal conformity card and my, is it tedious. The biggest problem is that the chorus is terribly unarousing due to the very dull vocal melody which farts about drearily and unadventurously, doing nothing much but leaving you hoping the next track will be better, which fortunately it is. Well, it is the single after all. Solemn Sea, which follows this, isn’t too bad a number either, but yet again we have a very monotonous chorus with Alex grunting over the top. These are really not great songs, and I have the impression that Leaves’ Eyes know this and don’t care that much about what they’re creating here. This is not a band who are giving their all to this record and it almost seems as if they’re having a laugh at their gullible public who will hoover up anything that they spit out.

Still, it’s not altogether terrible, since after we’ve trudged through the sludge of songs like The Thorn, the quite terrible Amhrán and New Found Land [We sail the sea – yeah! We fight the storm – yeah!] songs like the unexpectedly tuneful Mourning Tree and Twilight Sun really do something to salvage the reputation of not only Leaves’ Eyes, but that which this CD has set itself up with so far. Unfortunately, the most bewildering moment is yet to come since the final track, Ankhonst, has an intro which is almost identical to that which fronts Norwegian Lovesong – same tune – same guitar effect – same rhythm. You could, if you wanted to be clever, posit that this is a harking back to their previous album in an endearing way, or you could just say that they’re running out of ideas. Either way you want to look at it, both reasons are probably true.

What really needs to be done is for this lot to spend time off writing some seriously good stuff as Leaves’ Eyes, rather than Atrocity members cobbling together a few numbers for the hell of it. I don’t mind admitting that I was really looking forward to this album, and having put these twelve tracks through their paces quite a few times and looking for some kind of elevating factor, I have to say there’s not really too much here to enjoy, or to take seriously. What Vinland Saga has done, more that anything else, is lead me to question the entire point of this ensemble and whether it is realistic or feasible to have a band like Atrocity lead a double-life with a female vocalist. I’m sure that given a little more concentration, the combination could certainly work, but the key lies in being a little bit less flippant about the song-writing. Such an attitude has, I’m sorry to say, culminated in this, which is little more that a 12-track femme-fronted snoozefest. I know that Leaves’ Eyes have the potential to do better, so it’s almost frustrating that they haven’t this time round. My hope is that they’ll spend a little more time working on producing good music rather than just any music which Napalm will put its hallmark on, because at this rate, such a formula won’t wash for too much longer.

5.5/10

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