An Anti-Social Grace

05/09/2005 § Leave a comment

inexpressive bunch. However, in spite of the blandness they seem to exhibit and also the apparent misery that underlies this, they have a few ways of expressing themselves positively and none is so accessible, or expressive, as that of appearance. Appearance is a fine leveller of judgement, it is the way that we want others to think of us, as well as exhibiting how we feel about ourselves. So it’s unfortunate, given this extraordinarily simple premise, that most people choose to ignore its importance altogether.

A lot of people choose to wear things like denim. Knitwear. Roll neck sweaters. Sandals. Even cagoules. These things, even as concepts, are utterly beyond me, but to actually manifest them physically takes things to a whole new level of human fallibility. And it’s not only the everyday man on the street that shares this rather ark-like boat with many of his kin, but the Gothic Metal industry seems to be firmly opposed, or is at least in ignorance, of how to use the tool of band attire to its advantages. In fact, it’s downright terrible at it.

Cut to McDonald’s along the Archway road a couple of months ago. A seedy, detestable hovel rammed with seedy, detestable people. There’s something about the burgers here that makes these people angry, but they always come back for more. In their shell suits and braids they look like little fur cones chomping rodentially on 99p cheeseburgers. Food in fast food joints is thrown together carelessly out of some sense of corporate demand, there’s no sense of real creativity. The only thing that’s created in places like these are new strains of viruses and new urban spaces for the chavvy underclass of North London to bicker and snap at each other. There are a couple of kids at the table next to me with Bluetooth devices strapped to their heads looking like something out of Universal Soldier, shouting about how they’re going to get their names stitched into the seats of their Fiat Puntos. At every level of society it’s interesting to see what people choose to spend their money on.

However, I am obviously very much regarded as an impostor here and people seem to have taken offence at my appearance. There’s nothing overly gaudy about the way that I look, quite the opposite. You’d think that black was effective at fading into the background, but on a night like this where I foreground myself against the blues and whites of the Archway shell-suit mafia, subtlety has most certainly gone out the window, and I’m likely to follow it headfirst if I don’t make myself scarce pretty soon. I take the remainder of my quarter-pounder and leave, blithe to the slurred, French-fry affected murmuring of the beatniks behind me. It seems that people are averse to things which appear out of place or that they don’t understand.

Nevertheless, what is mine and McDonald’s dear loss should be the gain of the music industry when it comes to marketing yourself, when it comes to flamboyantly showing off what the denizens of your label have to offer. However, this is something that remarkably few of the record-regurgitating media have grasped. I remember last year in Poland asking Anja from Closterkeller when the definition of Gothic was, to which she gave the reply that it was a state of the human soul. I think the answer is far more objective. Many people’s definitions of what Gothic is are different. The more classical definition of the word was something that was darkly extravagant, lavish and gloomy, but if you check out the attire of the majority of Gothic Metal bands, you’re likely to see them sporting little else but a black t-shirt and trousers. Where is the style, the flair, the finesse, the desperate exploiting of a gaping hole in the market? Maybe the t-shirts and the drainpipe trousers are trying to redefine what Gothic in the mainstream is. Sure, the females may look extravagant occasionally, but there’s no idea of the band as a unit. Look at the promotional pictures for Epica, Nemesea, Within Temptation, where the female is pictured as the dominant icon while the other band members appear as purely expendable commodities, necessary only for the completion of the musical package. Bands have to earn status rather than be depicted as status symbols. The only band who are truly thought of as a single unit are Nightwish, but that has only come about after a lot of hard work and a lot of money have pumped them mercilessly and gratuitously into the limelight.

The idea of the Goth is not really something exploited to its fullest degree by the Gothic Metal media. Bands like Marilyn Manson and Korn have been considered Gothic in the past, while many would think such a moniker was out of place alongside bands like Within Temptation or Lacuna Coil. However, whereas you may get to see Sharon del Adel in a meringue puff, and rightly so, you’ll only see other ‘Gothic’ bands like After Forever in ridiculous Blakes 7-style jumpsuits. This would be, presumably, due to the fact that After Forever hate being labelled as producing ‘Gothic Metal’ so they are going more and more overboard in order to disassociate themselves from the tag. So what comes with disassociation? Looking ridiculous? Dressing yourself so you inhabit no relatable territory in the metal scene? These are dangerous times when I can wonder whether a band’s outfits have come from Xtrax, charity shops, or the 1970s BBC wardrobe. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to see any of the bands I actually like suited and booted in Sally Knyvette‘s hand-me-downs.

It’s a shame that out of all the things that people associate – and want to associate – with this form of music, a shockingly extravagant appearance is not one of them. I’ve seen pictures of Blue and the Coronation Street cast all wearing black before and if you put them alongside Epica or Nightwish on a bad day you’d hardly notice the difference. But then we’re missing an important point here. Gothicism is still a niche, still a little bit of a closed community, and if the bands went for the full-blown all-out Gothic look then some people might feel a little bit alienated from a scene that they want to get into. Such style and cliquiness would seem a little further away and a little more unattainable.

For the labels this is also bad news. Exclude your listeners and one of the first things you’re going to suffer from is a drop in sales. It’s far better to go for the halfway house approach, to dip your toes into the waters of Gothic, to hint at it delicately and to give others the feeling that they can have what they want without having to be too blasé. Maybe as time goes on and as the genre reaches greater popularity things will change but it’s a shame that it’s not a case as ‘Gothic is as Gothic does’ but ‘Gothic is as it’s allowed to do’. I would love to see the next Within Temptation, Nightwish or Lacuna Coil gig with the band fully kitted out as a unit with all the right frills, flows and flairs of Gothic attire, but apparently it’s only the music which is allowed to be extravagant, and this increasingly less and less so too. Gothicism is one of the only genres which is all about not holding back, physically, emotionally or introspectively, and to enforce restrictions is to suffocate a natural process. The best way to let this scene develop is to let it gather its own momentum and not to hold it back for the sake of commercialism. I hope that somewhere, style and substance – the key ingredients to the perfect Gothic package – can still overcome the necessity to make a hard sell.

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Ram-Zet – Intra

02/09/2005 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2005
Label: Century Media
9 Tracks
Language: English

I really must give Century Media more credit than I do, since I had kind of typecast them as the equivalent of a metal fast food chain, flinging the hits to the wailing public like burgers thrown unceremoniously out of a drive-thru window. And a lot of time they’d get your order wrong. You’d look inside the bag and you’d see they’d put in growls with your classical instrumentation or power metal-style vocals with doom guitars. You just can’t get the staff these days, can you. Nevertheless, Century Media must be doing something right, and enough for me to be able to forgive them for being metal Ubermensches even though they often produce albums that are so bland they may as well be packaged alongside the rice-cakes in a Chinese supermarket. For that matter, if you can’t find the new Sentenced album or anything by Rotting Christ in your local HMV, pop along to Wongs and you should see it somewhere among the crackers, bags of as-yet-unidentified puffed wheat snacks and some mangled animal which would be best identified by NASA rather than Attenborough or Johnny Morris.

Though Century Media may not have excelled in the world of Chinese cookery, they certainly have done something wonderful in the world of progressive death metal by bringing us Ram-Zet, the Norwegian equivalent of an H-bomb, threaded together in digital binary and woven for your listening pleasure onto a small plastic frisbee. In case you haven’t come across these people before, Ram-Zet play a very scatty, disorganised form of metal with apparently no real form or focus, pumped with Zet’s ear-bleedingly sharp growls and Sfinx‘s beautiful contrasting melodies. I don’t know what it is about Norway that produces these kinds of bands. I can only put it down to the fact that the further north you go, the more boring and dark the days get so it’s logical that you could end up creating musical brutes like these in order to keep yourself mildly amused.

However, though on first listen the sounds caressing the airwaves and then shaking your ear drums with the vigour of a pole-cat in nuclear heat might seem rather outlandish and distressing, as you go through the album you’ll start to understand the ground that these people are coming from and that what has originally seemed a demented hotchpotch of BnB clatter will become something rather amazing. Nevertheless, don’t be prepared for anything too gentle since from the start of the album the wonderful The Final Thrill will its pounding, drilling power chords will shake you into submission with Zet’s high-pitch screams coming very sharply soon after. For many this will be metal like they’ve never heard and it’s certainly challenging. It’s not only the sharp vocal lines but the harsh changes in speed, time signature and meter that make this something a little different. And the numbers get better and better. Left Behind As pieces is probably the best song on the album with an intro so fast and precise it’s reminiscent of power-metal with its wonderful vocals and an absolutely killer riff in the mid-section.

Overall though, in comparison to Escape, Intra is heavier, faster, and above all, darker. Ram-zet are technical masters and carry off the more difficult passages with skilful aplomb, done in such as way that it’s almost as if they’re setting themselves challenges to see how far their own abilities can be pushed. But by far the best moment of the album comes in the final track, Closing A Memory, which is the most melodic track of the album, really giving Sfinx‘s vocals a chance to shine among the pitfalls of the drum blasts and tempo changes. Some of the riffing in this song is incredible and it takes a few listens before you can actually tune yourself in to the brilliance of what’s presented before you. This also goes for the complex Born with its magnificent chorus and drumming intermingled with piano melodies and violins. This really is some of the harshest and most dynamic BnB that you’re likely to come across.

The only problem with music such as this is that it’s so far-reaching in its dynamism that a lot of the time it’s possible for it to float over your head, not only that, but the songs are so intense that it’s very difficult to listen to the entire album in one go and not feel like your brain’s been injected with plutonium. Intra is hardly an album that you can put on and drift away to, it demands your attention to the very ends of your dendrites and axons to the point where it will force you to feel every last blast and guitar shimmy in its whim. Intra is not for the faint of heart or for the frail of ear, nor is it the kind of music that you might get into over a period of time, you’ll know pretty soon whether its for you or not and whether it’s the kind of stuff you’ll want to spend your time exploring. Intra is one of the heaviest and uncompromising albums to hit the Gothic Metal scene this year. Rarely do such carnivorous, obdurate compositions come to light for the casual listener so it’s worth paying this one serious attention, because there’s no other way you’ll be able to experience it.

8/10

Mortal Love – I Have Lost

02/09/2005 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2005
Label: Massacre Records
12 Tracks
Language: English

It’s important not to have too many expectations, that is how a lot of things get ruined. Think about the charge of the Light Brigade, for instance. The Earl of Cardigan had expectations about how his military manoeuvre was going to go, the manoeuvre failed and lead to, well, a lot of people dying. Also, on a slightly lesser level, my cat has the expectation – not altogether unreasonably – that he will be fed around 5pm. When this does not happen it leads to disappointment on his part. And also a lot of meowing. Possibly a frog being brought in around 7pm. I also had the expectation that the next Mortal Love album was going to be distinctly average. I say ‘distinctly’ because All The Beauty carried a certain drone, a certain monotony that it was clear Mortal Love had made all their own. In the absence of any good music they should have at least been proud of themselves for inventing an altogether new musical method of expressing boredom, not to mention annoyance, the way that songs like the whiny title track and Beautiful One resounded cacophonically in the ear even after the damn thing had finished. God, it was a wrench playing that album sometimes. Pushing the stop button felt like putting a dying animal out of its misery.

But this time round, the story is a different one since Mortal Love have been given an altogether new lease of life. It wasn’t unreasonable to expect a poor effort after a result of the debut, but my expectations have not been met at all. In fact, they have been surpassed since what Mortal Love have created this time round is a highly enjoyable and thrilling package. I don’t know whether it’s the fact that they’ve had three years to do it, whether it’s the fact that it is produced by Zet, one of Norway’s finest musicians in metal, or whether it’s the result of three years of solid effort. Whatever the reasons are, they don’t matter and fade away into obscurity since I Have Lost is an altogether superior – and laudable – successor to the band’s debut.

Listening to this, there was clearly a fork in the road about where Mortal Love could have gone after All The Beauty. It would almost be impossible to create another album of such marvellously repetitive drivel, so they could have either made an even worse album of tepid, flat dirges, or they could have gone the other way with a little help, and that’s exactly what’s happened. One thing that becomes clear on listening to the first track, Existence, is the solidity of the production. The guitars are satisfyingly crunchy and heavy, they carry that beautiful kind of force that feels as if you’re being punched by the distortion, but what a beautiful strength it is. This track also starts with a killer riff, and after a plinky plonky Alice In Wonderland-esque section, Cat’s vocals come in, and my, how they have improved. She is clearly far less afraid of her voice and what she can do with it, and many times on this album she slides and trills the notes with such ease it’s as if she’s playing with the vocal melody, toying with it the way a cat would with its catch. She is most definitely in control of the music, rather than the other way round, and it’s marvellous to hear such a composite singer in full command of the notes she is swirling her voice around and sometimes, but only sometimes, this can transport you to somewhere different altogether.

But it isn’t only the first track that blows you away here, far from it. Almost every number on the album is enjoyable in its own way – we’re not talking killer tracks here, ones that will be instantly likeable and commercial – but songs that, after three or four listens, you start to hear the beauty in, pay attention to and end up respecting for what they are. These range from the fabulous Adoration and marvellous Empathy, to the stunning lucidity of Identity and Memory. Every song here has something of worth and something appreciable about it.

However, even though the songs may have merits in their own rights, what stops this album from being brilliant is the fact that the music doesn’t have enough of an edge, it doesn’t have the inimitable X-factor that could really push it one stage further and as a result a couple of the songs do sound rather similar. Sometimes the heaviness of the guitars and the shrillness of the notes gets a little too much and this album really cries out for a tiny bit more variety in order to make it something really special. Not only this, but some of the choruses do seem a little out of place in the songs which makes me think that some of this album was a musical array of ideas with various segments being switched from one song to the other in order to see what could work the best. Zet’s influence is also clearly noticeable in a few of the tracks, but this is far from a bad thing.

Thankfully, though these little niggles may prey on the conscience somewhat, they don’t really do I Have Lost any disservices since the album is by far a resounding success. The more you come back to it, more hidden sections will start to peer out at you. This is not overly complex music, but it doesn’t need to be in order for the listener to appreciate it and enjoy it, there’s still a lot here to commend in the song writing and the execution of the music. Mortal Love have definitely come up with a winner here, and one which they deserve to be recognised for. I certainly pray that they know what to do from now on and where to take their sound since I Have Lost is a perfect base for even better-sounding follow-ups and I await them anxiously and excitedly. Maybe sometimes it can be nice when your expectations are met.

8/10

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