Archive for September, 2015

Review: The Siege Fire

Posted in Reviews with tags , , on September 25, 2015 by Magadh

The Siege Fire, Dead Refuge (1859 Records)

[I’m a bit distracted today, as I have been for the last few. I’ve been waiting on the new Black Breath disc, which drops today and my excitement level is making me kind of stupid (well, more than usual). I’ve been meaning to finish this review of The Siege Fire for the last few days, but I just haven’t been able to concentrate properly. But now, as I sit here checking my email inbox about every 90 seconds I feel like I’ve just got to do something to dissipate the pressure before I go mental. So here it is.]

ruins

I have mercifully few regrets in life. But one of them certainly is having left Portland, Oregon apparently a couple of days before it started along its path toward being the melodic crust capital of the world. The Rose City had always had a pretty thriving underground scene, from the Wipers, through Poison Idea, Sado-Nation, and Final Warning, and up into its more anarchist phase with bands like Resist, Unamused, the Deprived, and Defiance. People who follow this scene will know that this barely scratches the surface, but my point here is not to display the breadth of my knowledge of Portland bands (about which I could go on ad nauseam) but just to register my surprise at the effect that one signal event (the relocation of From Ashes Rise in 2001 from Nashville to Portland in the very early oughties) seems to have wrought.

tsfOk, I know the story is more complicated than that, both in terms of personnel and in those of the histories of style. Fragments of His Hero is Gone showed up first, and Tragedy arose out of those embers, but my view is that From Ashes Rise has always been among the purest exemplars of the melodic crust style, while Tragedy and His Hero is Gone were darker and more dissonant. Which is not to say that they were not awesome, quite the contrary. Still, for me From Ashes Rise is actually stylistically closer to a band like Sarabante, or even to a more d-beat styled group like Martyrdöd than they are to Tragedy.

All of this is splitting hairs. What is undeniably the case is that in the years since I left Portland has become a sort of rookery for dark, melodic crust and I think that the results have been, and continue to be, quite positive. A case in point: The Siege Fire. Their Dead Refuge 12”, released by 1859 Records earlier this year features some really ripping tracks, coupled with some effective atmospherics. It’s the kind of record that gives one the feel of walking through the remnants, like the jackals howling in the ruins of Ephesus. With civilizational collapse imminent, The Siege Fire has delivered the perfect soundtrack for our collective demise.

In one sense you could hear this disc and recognize it as clearly within the stylistic ambit of melodic crust. At times they sound like HHIG, at others like Burning Bright, at still others like Agnosy. But this is not to say that their sound is derivative or tired. There is an energy and freshness to The Siege Fire’s songs that carries the listener along. Their licks are simple and to the point, while the vocals have the sort of urgency that grabs the attention. You (or at least I) can actually make out the words, which is a good thing. One of my real pet peeves with extreme music the way that vocalists simply give themselves over to sounding like a wookie with its paw caught in a blender. Anyone can grunt incomprehensibly. Contributing to the extremity of a band’s sound while still allowing your audience to have some idea what you’re going on about takes a bit more in terms of imagination (and effort). Yeah, The Siege Fire ticks that box as well.

I think it’s fair to say that we are living in the golden age of this music. In a few years the hardcore scene will probably have moved on to some other fascination. But we will still have the artifacts of this era, and I suspect I’ll be spinning this one for a long time to come.

In Case You Were Wondering…

Posted in Dispatches with tags , on September 22, 2015 by Magadh

“So now we finally know who John Galt is – the idiot responsible for the 2008 financial meltdown and, consequently, for the threat of the shutdown of state apparatuses.”

—Slavoj Žižek

lehrman

Leatherface Top 15

Posted in Playlists on September 20, 2015 by Magadh

People who know me will know that my love of the band Leatherface approaches the level of obsession. For those leatherface2unfamiliar, or those who aren’t, here is a list of my Top 15 Leatherface songs in order of preference:

  1. Not Superstitious
  2. The Scheme of Things
  3. Isn’t Life Just Sweet
  4. Andy
  5. Little White God
  6. How Lonely
  7. Skin Deep
  8. Deep Green Beautiful Leveling
  9. Baked Potato
  10. Peasant in Paradise
  11. Not a Day Goes By
  12. Cabbage Case
  13. Dreaming
  14. Bowl of Flies
  15. Never Say Goodbye

Flying the Nerd Flag High

Posted in Reviews with tags , on September 18, 2015 by Magadh

Felicia Day, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost): A Memoir (New York: Touchstone, 2015)

weird1I used to play World of Warcraft (WoW). It feels funny to admit this in public. I started in 2005 after spending the previous four years heavily engaged in Ghost Recon/Ravenshield online play. As such, I viewed WoW as numbering among the childish things. A friend of mine who was, at the time, a nationally ranked Tribes player summed up his disinclination towards WoW by saying, “I already have a job.” But since my best friend had devoted a lot of time to it, and since we were now living on opposite coasts, I took it up predominantly to have some gab time with him. I was never all that great. I just didn’t have the patience for grinding and I just could never master PvP. But I hung in because of the people.

They were a lot nicer than the folks I’d met playing Ravenshield. True, I’d met some cool folks there, but the vast majority of people that I came in contact with in the online FPS community fell on a gamut running from hard right to monster raving lunatic fringe. I didn’t quit when I was subjected to a two hour discussion in coms about where Saddam had hidden his WMDs. I didn’t quit after one of my clan mates hassled me for an hour about liberals (which I’m not) being wishy-washy (which I’m also not). I did quit after I logged on to coms one day to hear one of my clan mates (one that I’d always sort of thought was a right guy) talking about how if he became president there would be one day a year when every American could kill one homosexual. I never logged on again.

The people who played WoW were, mostly nicer, and with a few exceptions my interactions were pleasant. Which is not to say that there was not some weirdness in that community as well. After I’d been playing for a while I decided to experiment with playing a female avatar to see if people treated me any differently. They quite often did. One fool chased me across three zones trying to get me to date him. Yes, that was a thing that happened. Finally I was like, “Look, in the first place, if this was an open PvP server you’d be in the graveyard and I’d be running around with your stuff. In the second place, I’m a dude.” The second thing took a remarkably long time to sink in. Other experiences ranged from slightly nauseating “Yes, Milady” faux chivalry to comments about the quality of my (completely fictitious) boobs. Women of WoW (and of the gaming world generally) I salute you for your willingness to put up with that crap. Men of the gaming world, please grow the fuck up.

In any case, relatively soon the game got boring for me. You can’t build anything that endures in WoW, and it’s really weird to kill a monster with some spectacular effect only to have his friends five feet away go on with their lives as if their colleague has somehow not just been burned to cinders. I got to the point that I would fall asleep while raiding. Want to make yourself really unpopular? Cause a 40-man raid to wipe because you’ve nodded off at your keyboard (“Ahhh Magadh, I see your DPS stream has dropped off dramatically…”). Still, I soldiered on until 2009 or so before I finally worked up the energy to shift to another platform.

In the waning days of my WoW career I tumbled onto Felicia Day’s pioneering web series The Guild. It was funny, mostly in a way that only people immersed in the WoW culture would get. But it wasn’t dismissive of the subculture as, for instance, the South Park episode “Make Love, Not Warcraft” pretty clearly was. At the time, neither I nor practically anybody else recognized how important these little windows into the world off MMORPGs would turn out to be.

Felicia Day’s recently published memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), makes clear exactly how important The Guild was, although one has to interpolate a bit due to Day’s graciously self-effacing writing style. Along the way, readers learn a lot about Day’s path from a (sort of) hippie home-schooled kid, through double majoring in music and math at UT-Austin, to her current status as one of the most fascinating characters in the modern media landscape.

There is so much interesting stuff in her book it’s difficult to get to it all, but the most interesting story line is that of how she turned her obsessive interest in WoW (and in online gaming more generally) into a media enterprise that sidestepped the established channels of production and distribution and, in doing so, opened up a new path or, more properly, new paths that challenged the media entities’ standard operation procedures. One of the most enduring features of Day’s personality is her love of performing. As a child she sought out amateur theater groups wherever her family touched down. As an adult she showed a remarkable facility for finding creative outlets that didn’t require her to cave in to the expectations of the media establishment. Her ability to do so is the hallmark of her career to date.

There is a lot to respect about Felicia Day. She has a wry sense of humor that illuminates the weird and the beautiful without ridiculing. She is seemingly endlessly creative but, as her story makes clear, also subject to the full range of doubts and personal insecurities. There is a very inspiring quality to this. Even in those areas where she is a virtuoso, Day always also has an element of insecurity. The reader comes away (or at least this one did) with the feeling that pursuing creative outlets it worthwhile simply out of love, and that too is a worthwhile message.

Certainly the saddest part of the book is toward the end when Day describes her experiences with #gamergate. I very much regret that I wasn’t actively posting here when that was going on, if only because I missed the opportunity to support the victims and say appropriately nasty things about the bunch of numpties behind it. Day made the mistake of believing that what was going on was, at its root, some sort of misunderstanding among civilized people. The wave of abuse that she received in return from the gutless halfwits who associate themselves with #gamergate, sadly, came as a real shock. And while she was not subjected to quite the level of aggro received by Anita Sarkeesian, Zoë Quinn, and others, she did get a large volume of exactly the sort of invective that illustrates exactly how timely critical analysis of gender issues in gaming currently is. And she got doxed. Which is bullshit.

Day’s book is light-hearted and enjoyable to read. It’s also important. In general terms it’s important because it gives succor to those people (whose numbers must be legion) who have the creative itch but don’t feel like they have the courage or wherewithal to realize their dreams. But it’s also particularly important because of the role modelling that Day does for girls and women who are generally underrepresented and almost universally undervalued in media related industries. Day has a wealth of the sort of anecdotes about what happens to women in the world of media (i.e. the general unwillingness to take them seriously, the insistence of viewing them as pleasant furniture or potential sex objects, etc.) that make thinking people want to vomit. But hers is a sort of simple unwillingness to play by bogus rules. Maybe that’s not a path open to everyone. But it’s an aspiration that is (or should be) available to anyone.

What Did I Miss?

Posted in Dispatches with tags , on September 16, 2015 by Magadh

Deafheaven, Sunbather (Deathwish Inc.)

Occultist, Death Sigils (Primitive Ways)

sunbather1It’s not like I don’t spend a lot of time surfing the web, reading magazines, talking to people, and doing all the other things that one does to discover new music. And, truth to tell, it’s not like I don’t dig up a lot of stuff. I’ve perpetually got eight or nine things hanging around waiting for me to listen to them, and it’s a rare disc at this point that I’ll listen to more than once. Still, I’ve managed to miss some pretty crushing stuff. My most recent “find” was the Deafheaven Sunbather disc from a couple of years ago. After I heard it for the first time, which was about three days ago, I was exchanging texts with a good friend of mine, and he was like, “Yeah, we talked about this in 2013. B. [another mutual friend] said these guys were the shit like four years ago.” I dunno, maybe I was drunk, but I just don’t remember this.

In any case, Sunbather is undoubtedly the most remarkable record I’ve heard in years. It combines black metal song structures and vocals with spiraling melodies that bring to mind the likes of Pelican and Russian Circles (with whom they’ve apparently toured). The drummer spends much of his time blasting for all he’s worth, but still manages to slow things down in ways that are interesting and subtle. The whole effect is very much atmospheric and, I must say, quite intoxicating. My attention was so transfixed during my first listen that I nearly crashed my car. And perhaps there is a lesson in that.

The question that I keep asking myself is: Is this black metal? I guess it’s not that important, but it is kind of intriguing for one obsessed with the boundaries of musical style such as myself. Their visual aesthetic is definitely well outside the black metal norm, and I don’t just mean the fact that they don’t wear corpse paint. Only real atavists do that these days, and that’s saying something given that the whole subculture has a fascination with atavism so large as to be visible from space. No, the thing that really makes clear the stylistic difference is that the cover of Sunbather is pink. Yes pink.

Whatever one classifies this as, this is a direction that black metal should have been smart enough to take a decade ago. The component pieces were already there. In fact one thing that this kind of reminded me of was the Shaxul and Hasjarl’s pre-Deathspell Omega project Hirilorn. In any case, I regard Sunbather as a major stylistic advance. Since its earliest days black metal has been mired in a sort of anti-aesthetic that made a fetish of ultrasimplistic structures and mild dissonance. Deafheaven’s melodies are jaw dropping and the melding of these with black metal’s dense sonic palette creates effects that are hypnotic and breathtaking.

They are slated to release a new record at the beginning of next month (New Bermuda, expected on October 2). I await in hope and expectation.

***

occultist 1I have little excuse for having failed to at least give Deafheaven a shot. Admittedly, I probably looked at a picture their album cover in Metal Maniacs and decided that it wasn’t worth my time. I feel rather less culpable for missing out on Occultist and their absolutely crushing Death Sigils, also from 2013. The fact of the matter is that Occultist have flown below a lot of people’s radar.

One reason for this is that they too have a bit of genre-defy issue, although it’s a bit less esoteric. Occultist is a band with a very metal name, a pronouncedly punk aesthetic, and a racing metal style. You can kind of see how some people on both sides of the punk/metal divide might not be able to decide whether they were fish or fowl. What they are is extremely hard rocking. Occultist’s approach is stripped down death metal, less whooshy than bands like Sacrilege or After the Bombs, which I mention because, like them, Occultist has a female singer. And oh does she howl. It was, and sadly is, kind of a rarity to see women fronting bands like this. But maybe the more it happens maybe the greater chance that people will learn how perfectly women can fill this role. Kerry Zylstra takes a back seat to absolutely no one, riding this crashing metal waves with a voice that blisters.

I commend both these records to you all. In the meantime I’m off to try and figure out what else I missed.

Review: Monolord

Posted in Reviews with tags , on September 14, 2015 by Magadh

monolord1Monolord, Vænir (RidingEasy Records)

I have to admit that I have a relatively short tolerance when it comes to doom as a musical style. This might have been different back in the days when I was sparked all the time, but the new more sober version of myself more often than not doesn’t have the time and/or tolerance to listen to one down tuned note played over and over for five minutes. Admittedly this is kind of a caricature, or it would be but for Sunn O))) and the bands that imitate them. There is still some life left in the genre, and Vænir, released by Gothenburg’s Monolord in April makes this point in crushing fashion.

monolord2On the doom gamut running from Sabbath (or Sleep) to Habsyll, Monolord plod down ancient pathways closer to the former end. Their recorded sound is satisfyingly chunky, their licks simple but evincing a range of pleasing and subtle variations that hold one’s interest nicely. In other respects they tick a lot of the boxes in terms of what you want from your doom band: judicious use of the wah wah, atmosphere that’s dark to the point of obscurity, and vocals that sound like someone singing a lament for lost souls from a ruined battlement.

Their six songs clock in at just over 50 minutes, which is respectable, and they have only two songs that run over ten minutes (“Died A Million Times” only just makes the cut), so you get a reasonable amount of variety. I was listening to this on my car stereo on the way to work. This usually isn’t a very promising format, in the first place because the speakers don’t provide the optimum low end response, and in the second because doom is really meant to be something in which one loses oneself (usually after about half a dozen bong tokes). But I took an extra detour on my way just to hear a bit more of this, which is a pretty good sign.