Clearly, I’ve not kept abreast of world news – if I had, the treatment of Russian art-punk collective Pussy Riot by Darth Putin would have moved me to write this post previously. Your usually scheduled daily helping of power metal, Christopher Nolan worship and complaints about video game storytelling will be along anon.
I don’t suppose I should feel any surprise that Vladimir Putin‘s zero tolerance response to criticism of his dictatorship presidency is to round-up the geeky art students responsible and sling them in the clink, but the brazenness of his actions is sufficient to raise an eyebrow in the West, where our freedom to yell slogans and strum two chords is mostly protected and unlikely to get us into any serious trouble with the law.
Seriously? A trial with a potential jail sentence of seven years for playing a few songs in a church? It’s fair to say that those of us who have reasonable freedom of speech, assembly and dissent in our countries don’t realise just how fortunate we are when we see people protesting on TV and being arrested (or worse) as a matter of course.
Tired of Olympic hype? Try living in the UK. Your humble (and normally quite reasonable) blogger has had it up to his Musketeer-style chin beard with all things sporting after a year or so of relentless build-up to London 2012 and would happily go into suspended animation until the whole thing is over.
As a dyed-in-the-wool, adopted Sheffielder, I obviously wish Jessica Ennis well in her heptathlon campaign but I really would rather ignore the vast majority of the Olympics – a feat made quite challenging by the approximately 906 channels being devoted by the BBC to the imminent hostilities glorious sporting spectacle about to unfurl.
To distract those of you who can’t get that excited by athletes doing things slightly more quickly than they did them previously, take in the joyful image above of Iron Maiden‘s mascot Eddie, as originally found on the Metal Hammer website.
If you needed another reason to love Iron Maiden – other than their superlative back catalogue, Janick Gers’ manic metal pixie stage presence, Nicko McBrain’s deranged fizzog, the three-pronged guitar attack, that fellow on bass and lovely, delightful Eddie – here’s one that will ring true with anybody who’s been to a gig in the last five years or so:
Who hasn’t wanted to do just that (without being removed from the venue and abruptly deposited on the pavement outside by a zero tolerance bouncer)? I complained about this practice when I went to see Dutch symphonic metallers Delain earlier in the spring and it really, honestly boggles my mind to see three or four teenagers standing around in huddles updating their Facebook statuses and sending texts whilst the band are playing, apparently oblivious to the show happening around them. Are people so utterly obsessed by their mobile devices and so addicted to social media that they can’t experience social situations without having to furiously input their every notion into their phones lest it be lost to eternity?
You’ve paid for your ticket – shouldn’t you, y’know, watch the gig?
It would be remiss of any blogger who loves rock music to not mention the passing of Deep Purple‘s keyboard player and all-round suave dude, Jon Lord, who died yesterday at 71 years old having fought a valiant battle against cancer.
He co-wrote Purple’s defining tune “Smoke on the Water“, did time with David Coverdale in Whitesnake and composed classical work in his later years. To hear him at his best, check out this vintage tv footage of Purple’s “Child in Time”.
If you’ve ever owned an iPod whose internal hard drive began to make the dreaded clicking chime of doom, you’ll know just how I feel right now – yep, my beloved 80gb MP3 player has gone to the great gadget graveyard in the sky.
Getting over the undeniable fact that this is a first world problem, and that there’s a lot of people dealing with a lot more on a daily basis than merely the end of a beloved leisure product, I don’t feel embarrassed to confess that I felt absolutely sick as Poddy gasped and clicked his last. Anybody who has had this kind of device fail befall them will no doubt attest that the feeling is rather akin to that clearly evident on the face of Wile E. Coyote in the RoadRunner cartoons, as he looked directly into the camera seconds before plunging towards the canyon floor.
Did I back up my music? Is it all there? What about the podcasts? A range of questions begin to present themselves, not the least of which is “Do I want to keep going down the Apple route or should I cut my losses and get a cheaper MP3 player and manage my music the old-school way?” Because, friends, an 80gb iPod Classic isn’t a cheap thing to buy – and the less said about the hilarious price of a 64gb iPod Touch the better (oh Apple tax, will you ever stop providing me with entertainment?).
Not that moving past Apple is easy, once you take format quirks and the fact that the iPod is now synonymous with MP3 player for many retailers and users – the various flavours of iPod are the only game in town…
Inspired by Angry Metal Guy’s list, and because everybody loves a top ten (no matter how arbitrary they end up being), here’s my selection of the best records in 2012 so far. I can’t really say that anything which I’ve picked up has been a massive disappointment, and I’ve even found a band in the form of Diabulus In Musica who I totally adore and had never heard of before taking a chance on their second release. Excellent returns from old-hands, convincing albums from established Euro Metal acts and cracking debut collections – you can’t say fairer than that from a year, can you?
1) Delain – “We Are The Others”. Clearly the best album this gifted Dutch symphonic metal quintet have released so far – as much for the ways that it diverts from the established musical template of that genre whilst still retaining their identity. It’s the kind of record with enough diversity that your favourite song will change with each listening session – for me, the late-album track “Are You Done With Me?” is an alternate universe smash hit, but “I Want You” is also a genius slab of knowingly overwrought, sweeping metal balladry whose lyrics take a delicious, twisted about face in the last minute or two.
2) Luca Turilli‘s Rhapsody – “Ascending to Infinity”. Face-melting operatic insanity from the former Rhapsody of Fire guitarist. The soundtrack to movies not yet made, with a lovely cover of the Alessandro Safina opera/pop crossover hit, “Luna”, which somehow perfectly fits in with the neo-classical influence and metal flourishes evident elsewhere.
3) Epica – “Requiem for the Indifferent”. Confident, seemingly effortlessly melodic symphonic goodness from Simone Simons and co – but with the underpinning, genuinely metallic riffing and musicianship which carves the band out a distinctive place of their own amidst the multitude of European bands playing in a similar musical field. This is a record which I’ll be returning to repeatedly in the months to come, ahead of the band’s UK tour at the end of 2012.
4) Van Halen – “A Different Kind of Truth”. I was an early doubter of this legendarily fractious band’s ability to bounce back, record a record and tour it without something bad happening. Thankfully, that doubt is more than eclipsed by the quality of this album – it might be a selection of reworked seventies cuts which never made it onto studio records first time around, but the end release is classic Van Halen. End of debate, I guess. The proof’s in the likes of “Blood and Fire”, “She’s The Woman” and “Stay Frosty” – all evidence that the VH you know and love still has it.
5) Firewind – “Few Against Many”. A departure from Firewind’s expected Power Metal sound, introducing 70’s hard rock influences into the mix and doing it without sacrificing the riffs and splendid solos that you want from guitar genius, Gus G.
6) Sabaton – “Carolus Rex“. Sweden’s finest purveyors of fist-pumping, martial tunes about war and gubbins head way back into Swedish history for a tale of divine presumption, flawed military campaigns and good old-fashioned hubris married to some of the best tunes they’ve ever written. All that and inter-band strife which led to the group splintering and taking on a new rhythm section and guitarists right as the record released. For my money – currently £5.00 and coffee stamp card for the local java palace – “Lion From The North” is the best damn thing that they’ve recorded yet. I look forward to seeing Joakim and co. pile drive it into the faces of the faithful at their Sheffield show in November…
7) Lacuna Coil – “Dark Adrenaline”. Many fans were split on the merits of Lacuna Coil’s fifth album, “Shallow Life“. I wasn’t one of those who didn’t care for it (There’s some classic tunes on there – “I Won’t Tell You”, “Underdog”, “The Pain”) but I think that most fans will agree that Lacuna Coil’s 2012 record is a genuine monster of an album – not that these things count, but it’s been the highest charting release in their career in many countries. Sleek, modern production makes the likes of “Against You” and “Tell Me Something More” sound impressively huge and expansive– a progressive and contemporary sounding record which skilfully integrates their electronic underpinnings with fantastic, gut-punching riffs and solos. Modern Metal for the discerning? I should say so.
8) Halestorm –“The Strange Case Of…”. I’m inclined to say that this is the closest thing that this list will get to provoking controversy, as in some corners this band is very much persona non grata – a radio-friendly US rock quartet led by noted spell-check confoundress, Lzzy Hale whose tunes have been tearing up US radio and sneaking into “Glee”, just for the hell of it. There’s no doubt that they have their detractors, but I’m not one of them and I’m pretty sure that this record is a quantum jump forward from their debut album.
That wasn’t a terrible record by any sensible application of the term, but it pales in comparison to this record – go and listen to “American Boys” or “I Miss The Misery” and be hooked by the riffs, Lzzy’s voice – which goes from zero to ‘whisky-soaked, bar-room fight starting hellion’ in five seconds flat. Not Metal, but bloody magnificent.
9) Diabulus in Musica – “The Wanderer”. This appallingly photogenic band of Spanish symphonic metallers are one of the few bands with the ‘beauty & the beast’ vocal divergence that I can get behind without feeling slightly as though I’m being growled and simpered at by a sugar-deprived Cookie Monster and his mate, Dame Olivia Von Divason. The symphonic synths, galloping guitars and dark operatic vocals on “Ex Nihilo” make for some of my favourite tunes of the year – in fact, it may be my favourite trad metal song of 2012. UK shows, please!
10) End of September – Self-titled. One of the bands that I’ve discovered through a review in the UK’s “Power Play” rock magazine, and a genuinely nice surprise. Hailing from Sweden and straddling the middle ground between Delain, contemporary Within Temptation and, say, Kamelot, End of September have a female vocalist in Elin Redin who doesn’t go for operatic flourishes but a soulful, distinctive and plaintive tone which serves the band excellently. If you love your rock big, dramatic but not veering into the full-on metal attack of many groups in this top ten, End of September are a band that you’ll definitely want to listen out for. Their single “Isolated” is a great indicator of their sound – if you like that, you’ll love their album.
And to finish out the week, an arguable classic slice of European Power Metal – with sleeve art almost precision designed to irk the irksome, traumatise tiresome hipsters and cause kvlt elitists to kvetch.
To the artwork – it’s a painting of Luthien dancing in front of Morgoth, painted by Andreas Marshall. I confess to having something a blind spot for Tolkien’s novels, something which I propose to address in the near future via the medium of a series on the blog – is it ambitious to read “The Hobbit” and the whole “Lord of the Rings” cycle before part one of Peter Jackson’s“The Hobbit” opens at the end of the year? I like to think not, but I’m ever one for taking on challenges which ask more than I can reasonably cope with. It’s an epic fantasy thing, people – realise…
What the cover doesn’t capture is just how delightfully cheesy the spoken word portions of the album are – for viewers used to the earnest storytelling of the Jackson cinematic trilogy, this album’s (let’s be honest) amateur dramatic performance of the Tolkien material is a splendid thing.
And it’s a killer record – if you like your heavy metal to be bold, powerful, driving and unabashedly unfashionable, Blind Guardian do this kind of stuff better than anybody else. If your new D&D campaign needs a stirring musical accompaniment to really get those 20-sided die flying, you need this record on your iPod/stereo pronto…
But until now, they’ve involved a lot of travel to get to the embarking port – well-heeled (or childless) metal heads who fancy a cruise-based holiday with their better halves now have a European option for this kind of holiday and it’s coming from the people who bring you the legendary Wacken festival every summer.
You can expect the usual delights of one of these holidays – as much food as you can consume, excursions and shore-based activities, libations and regular gigs on board with 20 bands promised for the inaugural event.
To me, it sounds kind of like bliss but my delightful dog Hagrid’s needs come first, so I’ll be sitting this particular voyage of the damned out for now – a metallic cruise where the scenery changes regularly, the bands are fantastic and the viking vibes are ever-present? If that’s not a holiday to remember, I don’t know what is.
A pox on Amazon and the cheap CD sellers who reside therein – a pox, I tells ye!
In the first couple of weeks of the month, your humble blogger has found himself purchasing these fine examples of metallic riffery…
That’s a lot of stuff to wrap my ears around, let me tell you. The Ozzy best-of, particularly, is a sizeable beast, reflecting a large swathe of his solo career, from the eighties to his “Down to Earth” album from the early noughties. And as the caption suggests, my purchase was motivated by it being super-cheap and fresh in my mind after watching the “God Bless Ozzy Osbourne” documentary when it was televised on the UK’s BBC Four Arts channel last week. A great film, too, if you haven’t seen it – it puts the double O in some kind of context for people who thought that they had a handle on him and for those who were only familiar with the rough edges smoothed off version depicted in “The Osbournes” reality series.
I’m also getting a head-start on Firewind’s back catalogue before going to see their gig in Sheffield in September – their album “Allegiance“ is also on the way, and they’ve been in fairly heavy rotation on my Spotify for the last couple of weeks.
I’m sure that this isn’t the end of my musical acquisition spree this month – much to the lamentation of my delightful better half, who’s going to have to use the D.I.Y. side of her brain to figure out some storage solutions quick smart, lest we be drowned in a sea of power metal cd’s…