Manic Street Preachers – Gold Against the Soul

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Many find this to be the awkward one, the child that doesn’t belong anywhere. It’s slotted between two punk-spirited albums full of anger and vitriol, often eschewing melody for lyrics. The Manics sounded on their previous album like they’re more interested in starting fires than playing rock music. The Holy Bible was a philosophy professor going off-topic and refusing to let his students go. What does this collection of depressed soft rock has to do with anything?

Maybe these two albums were actually the abnormalities, not this. If you listen to them closely, you’ll find the same despair lurking there. Generation Terrorists wasn’t a victorious, rabble-rousing album but a car on fire just waiting to crash. What fueled its anger was despair, the thought that no matter how loud they’ll play nothing will change. That’s why it sounds so different compared to other political music. As for The Holy Bible, beneath the philosophy and big words it had “This is Yesterday”, “Die in the Summertime” and “4st 7lb”. The only reason the lattermost doesn’t fit here is because it’s not melodic enough.

This is the definitive Manic Street Preachers. It’s not their best album and it suffers from filler, but it’s one that captures their essence. If you have to distill the Manics, they’re a melodic rock band with as much brains as they got despair. ‘Despair’ is the key word here, because every song drips with it.

Just look at the song titles. It’s one of those albums that can convince you of having a concept – “Life Becoming a Landslide”, “From Despair to Where”, even a title like “Roses in the Hospital” hints more at despair than anything else. Even when they sing about something other than despair, it comes to that. “La Tristessa Durera” – a contender for their best song – is about a veteran who’s been abandoned by society, forced to live with his memories alone. I wasn’t in combat duty, but I did have a tough role in the military and that song is dead-on in expressing the alienation, the loneliness, how everyone treats your service like everyone goes through it. To me, this song is a godsend, showing us someone understands the loneliness of a discharged soldier.

The music is more softer, more melodic. Some expressed astonishment at this, but were the Manics ever brutal? Even The Holy Bible has its melodic, almost poppy moments. They just play at mid-tempo, which brings their melodic chops to the surface. If it was odd that their later records were so melodic, it’s only because we wanted to forget this record and believe in the Manics as explosive rock-n-rollers.

They never were that. Gold Against the Soul is the only logical continuation of their debut. All its fury and politics and anger and telling to people to fuck off were a last attempt at recovering from despair. Here, they wake up, quite indifferently, to a reality they knew they couldn’t change. How else to react to a rebellion you knew was lost in the first place?

The album’s power comes not just from despair, but a unique hopelessness. There was never a good time according to this music. Everything was always bad, but they just happen to sing about it now. “Life Becoming a Landslide”, in one sentence, points to a past that’s the same as the present. A lot of depressive music wax sentimental about a fall from grace. The fall is a common element in our thinking in dark times. Nostalgia is a place to run to, knowing that if things used to be good then maybe they have a chance of improving. The darkest albums have these, since they describe some kind of deterioration. There’s none of that here, just a monotony of despair.

The mood and sound are strong, but the songs alone don’t reach these heights. The album especially falters after “Roses in the Hospital”, and the final tracks are bursts of noise that only help to keep the overall mood, but not add to it too much. It’s also reliant on its sound more than anything. It sounds great when played from beginning to end, but if you find yourself choosing an individual song the choices narrow. “Sleepflower” is fantastic as an opener only.

When it’s good, it’s brilliant. “La Tristessa Durera” is a masterpiece. “Roses in the Hospital” is the second highlight, a funky Alternative Dance number that turns its despair into a protest. It’s the one song that captures some of the debut’s anger with the cry of “We don’t want your fucking love”, but only to fall back to despair. Other songs need the album’s mood to stick, but they’re good enough – “Life Becoming a Landslide” is strangely pretty, “From Despair to Where” is okay with brilliant lyrics and “Drug Drug Druggy” captures some Hard Rock intensity.

It’s also the album where the Manics begun their career as some of Rock’s best lyricist. The poetic titles are enough, but there are countless quotables here – “My idea of love comes from/A childhood glimpse of pornography”, “I am just a fashion accessory”, “I feel like I’m missing pieces of sleep”. If you need words to give your thesis or your book a title, there’s plenty here.

So it’s not their best album, but it is their best album, but if I have to direct a beginner I’ll direct them to this. They have more explosive albums, angrier albums, smarter albums and catchier albums. No album captured their essence like this, a poetry full of despair and intelligence that happens to go along with Pop hooks and guitar noise. Start your exploration here.

What the hell does the album title mean, by the way?

4 roses in 5 hospitals

The Nu Metal Revival

It’s sad how the most dynamic genres don’t last for long. Nu Metal’s fate was like Big Beat, and it shared a lot with it. It relied on a synthesis of styles, accessibility, aggression and fun. This is the sort of genre that should’ve kept going, surviving by its ability to always change.

Of course, critics were angry. How dare these bands not spit pseudo-poetry over thrashing guitars about how Jesus is evil? We all agree that Slayer (Ripping apart/Severing flesh/Gouging eyes/Tearing limb from limb) is a lot of fun while Limp Bizkit’s lyrics about rollin’ are just stupid. The critics had their way and Nu Metal was replaced for a while by uber-serious Metalcore that had no sense of melody (Hello there, Killswitch Engage).

Thankfully, times are changing. That Metalcore has now been replaced by a more hedonistic, Pop-influenced version that sometimes borrows ideas from Electronica. While this new version of Metal is still making waves, Nu Metal has also been making a comeback. It’s not a well-publicized one, but it’s a great new addition to the genre. These are some bands that are parts of this revival. I do not include Nu Metal bands that are still active in their genre or re-united. Korn, Slipknot and Coal Chamber are still going on if anyone’s interested.

1. Islander


Of all the bands in this list, Islander sound the most disconnected from the trends. They’re not a Metalcore band who discovered you can do more than breakdowns and screaming. They’re not a band who are Nu Metal by chance – borrowing ideas from distant genres. Islander is a good old-fashioned throwback. They sound like all they know is Nu Metal. There are no Hardcore or Metalcore shades in their music. The ‘rapping’ is more informed by P.O.D.. There are sludgy downtuned riffs. The vocalist jerks from clean singing, to screaming to half-rapped vocals in the wild Patton-esque way. The screaming is also very Nu-Metal-ish, not sticking to one tone but alternating.

What makes Islander different is something that a lot of revival bands share. There’s an emotional depth that the original Nu’ers didn’t have. Slipknot couldn’t make “The Sadness of Graves” or something as beautiful as “Kingdom”. They also stray from the hedonism. Nu Metal was music for an angry youth, but it cherished the youth and hated the idea of growing up. No one would write about how being young is shit. Being young is fun, wild and all that stuff. Even “Counteract” sounds more mature than other anthems about how to defeat the world.

Recommended tracks: Cocount Dracula, Counteract, The Sadness of Graves, Side Effects of Youth, Kingdom

2. Of Mice & Men


Everything this band made before their transition towards Nu Metal is crap. You might find in total 4 good songs on their first two albums. If any band makes Metalcore sounds like it ran out of steam it’s these guys. The screaming was horrible, high-pitched and unpleasant. The guitars just made a lot of noise. There was some good melodies but it was mostly acrobatics. All that noise amounted to nothing.

It’s amazing how good their transition is. Maybe it shouldn’t be, because they had a knack for ballads. Like Islander, Of Mice & Men have an emotional vulnerability to them that makes them sound different than the original style. You can tell from the titles like “Another You”, “Would You Still Be There” and “Glass Hearts”. It works. The main problem with Nu Metal is that it tried to be macho while still talking about sorrows. These songs have a humility and warmth to them. For all the screaming and chugging that “Bones Exposed” has, it’s very tender.

Of Mice & Men’s version of Nu Metal is more limited. They have some atmospherics which may remind you of Deftones, but they borrowed the harsh-clean vocals dynamic and that’s it. They did way with Metalcore structures and made the screaming coherent, which is great. Still, even if they’re not one of the more creative bands they add some of the best melodies the genre has.

Recommended tracks: Would You Still Be There,  Another You, Bones Exposed, Feels Like Forever, Something to Hide

3. Bring Me the Horizon


How come nobody talks about this? Sempiternal isn’t just Nu Metal, it’s one of the best Nu Metal records there is. Sure, there’s pretty much no Hip-Hop or Funk, but Electronics and atmospherics were a big deal too. The album sounds like Mudvayne’s early output the most. It’s artistic rock that’s full of teen angst.

That’s a good thing, of course. It gives every experiment a purpose. The main element of that album is that it does the melodic-aggressive thing. There’s no more alternating between clean and harsh vocals. The best bands always blurred the lines and Horizon does it here. Is the chorus of “Go to Hell” clean or harsh? “Antivist” was a deliberate attempt to make a Nu Metal song, and you can’t get more Nu Metal than asking people to put their middle fingers up.

That’s the Spirit goes in an even more melodic direction, but it has plenty shades of Nu. “Happy Song” has a Hip-Hop beats and the atmospherics and electronica sounds a lot like Linkin Park. Even the blunt lyrics are Nu Metal-ish. The genre’s lyrics were always frank and made things as obvious as they can be. There was never much room for big words or pretense that this is poetry.

Recommended tracks:¬†Happy Song, Go to Hell for Heaven’s Sake, Antivist, Throne, Can You Feel My Heart?

4. King 810


This is the oddest one on the list. King 810 are full of angst like any band, but this time is serious. The band hails from Flint, Michigan which is supposed to be a crime-infested city. The band doesn’t just talk about this life of crime but express the hardship of it. It’s a contrast to the Gangsta Rap, where a life of crime is something to be proud of. For all the songs about how the streets have no mercy, the rappers express more strength than sorrow.

King 810 are tortured over it. The whole thing is the musical version of PTSD from constant robbing and shooting. The band stops like a tank but the screaming is hurt, not powerful. When he screamins he’s going to “Killem All”, he doesn’t sound very happy or excited about it. He sounds hurt because he knows that’s all he can do. It’s a band that’s more suited for listening in darker times. It’s often uncomfortable, but fascinating. If any band on this list deserves to become viral it’s these guys.

The music borrows heavily from Korn and Slipknot. The vocals have those emotional crackles and while there’s a lot of screaming, it’s always coherent and never buries the lyrics. Although Slipknot influence should be obvious, it’s quickly overshadowed by the band’s life. The harsh life of crime informs the sound more than anything.

Recommended tracks: Eyes, Killem All, Fat Around the Heart, Write About Us, Best Nite of My Life

5. My Ticket Home


My favorite on this list. This is the most stereotypical Nu Metal will ever get. The harsh vocals that are pretty comprehensible. The aggressive, groovey riffs that aren’t Groove Metal. The rhythms make it sound like a guest rapper will appear any minute. The vocals are melodic, tender and are a complete opposite to the harsh ones.

You can trace so many elements to other bands. Linkin Park, Korn, Slipknot, RATM, Dry Kill Logic, Deftones – the band borrowed from them all. It didn’t make them sound unoriginal, but made them sound like they understand the genre better than everyone else. They sound like they didn’t just listened to the well-known bands but to every obscure ones, too. Their transition was only informed by Nu Metal but it was informed by a lot of bands.

There are also F-bombs dropped everywhere, which makes it even more fun. “Kick Rocks” is the best fuck-you song the genre ever produced. The guitarist mistakes his guitar for a turntable occasionally. Best of all, it’s both fun and angry. Their album works perfectly whether you need to vent because things are going wrong, or whether you want to throw a metal party. The lyrics are as silly as they are on-point. I first thought this was just a fun Nu Metal throwback, but it’s one of the genre’s defining albums.

Recommended tracks: Keep Alone, Kick Rocks, You All Know Better Than Me, Painfully Bored, Hot Soap

Iron Man (2008)

Iron-Man-2008

I almost wish she was the center of the film

“Has he lost his mind?
Can he see or is he blind?

There’s a reason why the film ends with the riff from the famous Black Sabbath song but without the lyrics. Black Sabbath’s song described a flawed and conflicted person. He might be interesting, but nothing we’d hope to be. The same thing can’t be said of Iron Man‘s Tony Star. Black Sabbath said about their character that nobody wants him. You couldn’t find a more unfit description for Tony Stark

If this was just a dumb superhero film, I might have forgiven that. It wouldn’t work well as one anyway, though. There isn’t enough violence and the characters aren’t insane enough. Too many moments hint that the creators wanted to make this an important superhero film. The nature of weaponry is an obvious theme. The creators understand a superhero should be a symbol for some idea, not just a human with superpowers.

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A time before duckface

Tony Stark’s suit leaves little room for exploration, though. It’s not a Medabot. Medabots symbolized toys as weapons, and were an exaggerated portrayal of violent toys. It’s not a Terminator, which was a weapon with the appearance of a human being. Tony Stark’s suit is just a means to save people and instigate the final action scene.

There is something about how weapons can be harmful in the wrong hands, but that’s an idea that goes nowhere. The film never asks if there is more to do with weapons other than attack other human beings or if weaponry (and violence) is a part of being human.

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No hair, no heart?

The people who represent the bad way of using weapons are evil clowns. The Ten Rings are just a gang of mooks who are like the bandits from Borderlands without the humor. As for Obadiah, he was stuck under Tony’s shadow and for some reason we’re expected to dislike him for his evil deeds. No matter how hard the film tries to make Obadiah look like the devil, his story remains more interesting psychologically.

Obadiah’s development happens off-screen, but his is a story that can never get old. He’s a man stuck under another’s shadow who felt like he never got what he deserved. This is a common sentiment and the fact Obadiah still lives a kickin’ life makes it even better. Even as a villain, these ideas could’ve been explored. Why Obadiah wants Stark’s place so much? Why can’t he be content with still being stinking rich? They say no matter what you do there’s always someone better than you. What if there’s only one person who’s better than you?

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This is a sci-fi film, in case you didn’t notice

Obadiah’s motives have nothing to do with these. He’s evil so there will be someone to fight with (and also because he’s not as pretty). These so-called motives are here to put a cover that a film is serious and that its villains have motives.

Tony has some sort of arc, but it barely qualifies as a cheap psycho-drama. His development happens in 20 minutes. After spending some time in a cave and seeing that people shoot each other in real life, he develops a desire to save the world. That’s all that happens. It doesn’t affect anything else. He’s still a womanizer and he still loves being funny.

He was a selfish person in the beginning. That was why we saw him have sex with a lot of women and being told he has nothing because he doesn’t have a family. You’d think that such a person would change dramatically along with his desire to save the world. You don’t have to make a complete 180-turn. Impmon became less of a bully but he still retained his sarcastic personality. Tony doesn’t become anything new but is just given a desire to save the world.

Allow me to be cynical, but that’s because the film wants to keep Tony’s coolness. The beginning isn’t meant to satire the lives of the rich and famous. It’s meant to portray them as cool, charismatic and living an ideal life. Tony may have given up selling weapons, but no way will he give up the cool lifestyle of casinos and having sex with anyone he wants. Even if the rich truly live such perfect lives with no problems at all, isn’t it insulting? Most people will never live this way, so why dangle the carrot?

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Tony aims for Chris Martin’s ex

The seriousness of the film is ridiculous when you look deeper, but there’s a good side to this. The storytelling is so focused that it feels much shorter than it is. No scenes are unnecessary. There are no extra characters that don’t serve some purpose later. Action scenes don’t clog the film with incoherent explosions. In fact, there are few of them and even in those scenes they don’t go full retard. They’re not a series of endless explosions but a collection of set-pieces that build up to a conclusion. It’s not one of the best action scenes ever, but it’s purposeful.

Pepper Potts is also a unique character to see in such a film. It’s been a while since we had a female side kick that could be worthwhile without packing heat. She’s not developed, but the script never lets her fall into cliches. She never becomes pure eye candy, or a woman whose character is passed off as strong because she kills people. She almost ended up as an empty character, but Paltrow’s performance gives her a humanity everyone else lacks. Everyone is charismatic enough, but Paltrow is the only one who plays like her character can star in a variety of other stories.

Guitars also make constant apperance in the musical score. It’s a bold decision. It’s not the most uncommon element yet but it’s still rare compared to cliched orchestras. This adds some punch to many scenes. If the only point of Tony’s character is that he’s cool and macho, add some macho guitars to go along with it.

Iron Man became popular because it’s a well-constructed film. All the professionals in the film industry and I still see a lot of incoherent stories. Simplicity is rarely a death sentence in films, especially when you want to make some easy fun. Iron Man’s attempts at depth aren’t convincing, but it’s fun enough.

3 cool suits out of 5