AWOLNATION – Megalithic Symphony

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What’s originality, anyway?

Artists make breakthroughs all the time. People mix genres for the first time, all the time. It’s not so much that we invent stuff, but we discover it. Ideas are bones buried in the ground and we’re all digging. Every idea will be discovered someday. The original artist is the one that collects a few bones and constructs something unique to them. Their construction is something no one will ever be able to replicate.

It bogs down to ‘personality’ and that’s something an artist cannot copy. You can copy techniques or sounds, but you can’t copy the demeanor, the attitude in the singer or their overall approach. People who criticized Manson for ripping off Ministry missed their radically different approaches. The reason Mechanical Animals renders Ziggy Stardust irrelevant is because the latter is, at the end, mostly a melodic rock album. Its approach was easily replicated.

I doubt anyone will be able to replicate Awolnation’s approach. Some bands come close. Twenty One Pilots specifically sound like a more personal and sincere version of this. A lot of modern Pop bands now don’t see the lines between genres, but none blur them so explicitly and effortlessly like Awolnation.

A lot of genre-bending artists make a conscious effort to be weird. They’ll produce huge albums with long titles. Sometimes they’ll even inform you of the genre they’re imitating and will send the most obvious cues. That approach is far from bad, since their mere excitement of what you can do with music is engrossing. Bruno doesn’t sound like he’s experimental on purpose. It comes naturally to him.

You can hear traces of many genres in this music. Any attempt to put it in a single genre is misleading. Although the vocals are rough like a Hard Rock record, the backdrop is mostly electronic. It’s not all pleasant synths there, too. There is plenty of static, Industrial noise.

The center of attention is never the experimentation. By the time “Wake Up” arrives and Bruno starts rapping, he already experimented with screaming, aggressive singing and soulful singing. It’s hard to notice it, though. He’s so focused on the songwriting.

While the effortlessness is impressive, it also sounds like Bruno is holding himself back. If he’s capable of putting “Burn It Down”, “Sail” and “Kill Your Heroes” in the same album, what is he capable when he has ambitions? Only “Guilty Filthy Soul” is annoying with the pausing in the hooks, but until then the hooks are killer. “Sail” doesn’t dominate the album like it should. It’s the weirdest experiment, but the aggressive “Burn It Down” and the Pop masterpiece “Kill Your Heroes” rival it for attention.

The closing track is the heart of the album, and should’ve been one of the most talked about tracks of 2011. It’s a ten-minute Dance song with ten different hooks and a Rap verse. It’s a behemoth that’s hard to dislike unless you consider noise a necessary element in music. Music nerds will fall for its experimental nature, but anyone else has great hooks and a bassline to groove to.

It’s a clear attempt to make something important and attention-grabbing, but the rest of the album is casual. The approaches are both similar and different. It’s as if the whole album is a collection of B-Side for “Knights of Shame”. Until halfway through it, Bruno doesn’t even sound capable of such a song. He’s a great Pop songwriter but he’s too scared to go full-on weird.

The last track may be confusing, but it’s the perfect closer. Megalithic Symphony is a genreless, ear-friendly album. Bruno should be capable of bigger things. A person who can mix genres without even trying deserves to drop a classic. Still, it’s hard for me to imagine people finding this completely worthless.

4 knights of shame out of 5

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Fall Out Boy – Take This to Your Grave

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Anyone remember Teen Rock?

I use this as an umbrella term for the Rock that came out around the late 90’s into the mid-00’s. It was criticized for whining, for being angsty and being derivative. You don’t have to look at two bands from different genres to realize that was bullshit. Inspired by New Found Glory as they are, their demeanor is different. It seems most of the criticism came from people who either were metalheads (In general, not people to talk about music to) or people who didn’t realize hooks were a good thing.

Time does its thing. Now that these bands aren’t in everyone’s face and no one can hate them for having teen fangirls, we can actually listen to the music. There are plenty of surprises, like realizing My Chemical Romance is more of a Glam Rock act and that Linkin Park were pretty experimental. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Fall Out Boy used to be Emo.

Fall Out Boy aren’t Emo. This isn’t an attack on either Emo or the band. The genre is fantastic and the band is responsible for ridiculously catchy songs. Their later output is too happy, too hook-heavy to be called Emo. It lacked the sensitivity, the vulnerability and the sloppy sound that Emo so earnest.

Here, though, they’re gloriously Emo. It’s easy to miss this. They don’t rely on one-liners like Texas Is the Reason or sound like American Football. Stump has yet to gain rockstar confidence, so although he’s got stadium-sized hooks he spends the records looking back at how shitty his youth his.

I’m sure that sounds whiny to most, but these people can go listen to Slayer. What the hell does ‘whiny’ mean, anyway? What band didn’t sing about their troubles? Art is one way of humans to cope with the bad stuff. Heartbreak was a constant theme from the beginning. If you approach an album filled with songs about relationships and think to yourself that it’s whiny, you suck at human psychology.

Now, this subject can lead to a lot of embarassing lyrics. Politics can also lead to embarassing lyrics, though. Just look at Rage Against the Machine. What’s important is how the band approaches these subjects. Do the lyrics explore the subject? Can they put into words feelings you’ve been unable to describe, or are they regurgitating cliches?

Maybe this is what people meant when they said ‘whiny’. Some bands’ lyrics are just a collection of random words about how bad stuff is. The key to a good, emotionally releasing song is being specific. Either that, or just have good one-liners.

Where Nu Metal failed and Emo succeeded was the lyrical department. As much as I love Nu Metal, many bands just sung about how things are bad in general. Fall Out Boy are specific. It’s the great tradition of looking at your youth, looking at all these people (or single person) you hate and finding new ways to say ‘I hate you’.

Take This to Your Grave is a very hateful album. I’m talking about Glassjaw-level of hatred here. Wentz’s lyrics don’t go off about the gender of the assailant, but the hatred overflows the record. Here are some lines:

“Stop burning bridges and drive off of them
So I can forget about you”

“Every friend we ever had in common
I will sever the tie, sever the tie with you
You can thank your lucky stars that everything I wish for will never come true”

“You want apologies
Girl, you might hold your breath
Until your breathing stops forever, forever”

“I want to hate you half as much as I hate myself”

Poetry is about finding new ways to say old feelings. Fall Out Boy never repeats the same words too much. Each line is specific to a situation. Most of the album is either about hating yourself or hating another, but there’s wit in them. The band doesn’t just repeat “I hate you”.

It’s shocking to read these lyrics. The music isn’t pure Emo and their path towards pure Pop is evident. Stump’s voice, the fast playing and the ridiculous catchiness of it makes it sound happy. “Dead on Arrival” and “Where Is Your Boy?” are so gloriously melodic you can imagine teens singing along to them at the end of a party celebrating their summer. The lyrics are so vile though. The former is one of the least hateful songs here, but Stump teasing a girl about how she’ll grow to like him has bitterness in it. The latter condescends towards both the girl and her new guy.

If it sounds like Fall Out Boy are another band who sold out and let go of their aggression, it’s not. This record did have hits and the band’s lives improved incredibly. Of course they wouldn’t be so hateful after selling so many records. Take This is hateful not because the band’s mission statement is to make hateful music – they’re not Slipknot or Korn. The album often plays like a Greatest Hits records with only “Reinventing the Wheel” letting things down. At their heart, they were always one of the best Pop bands.

The album does suffer from a repetitive sound. The band hadn’t discovered varying tempos yet and most of the songs alter slightly, but even the most deviating songs (the incredibly melodic “Saturday”) don’t do much to add new color. All these 12 songs stay firmly in Punk-Pop territory as if no other genre exists. It’s impressive they could mine this narrow genre for 11 great songs, but the effect is tiring when listened to in full.

Fall Out Boy are a brilliant band and were great since their inception. People who hated the whole ‘Teen Rock’ movement won’t enjoy a thing here. The slightly raw sound doesn’t make this any less radio-friendly. That movement contained a lot of great music, riffs and hooks and  is one of its classics.

3.5 postcards from a plane crash out of 5

Arctic Monkeys – Humbug

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It’s amazing how you can both capture a sound perfectly and have no idea what to do with it. The problem with Humbug isn’t that it’s a departure. They didn’t sounded too excited about the Dance-Punk sound in the previous album anyway. The problem isn’t necessarily the lack of hooks because plenty of records can survive without hooks.

The problem is they’re playing a form of psychedelia that relies on melodies. Psychedelic music is often melodic and accessible. It uses weird sounds along with an easy melody to make something both weird and accessible. That’s why “Tomorrow Never Knows” is so popular (or at least covers of it).

This is not the Heavy Psych that blasts off to outer space. It’s closer to “Planet Caravan” and Monster Magnet’s ballads. These songs were brilliant because their sound enchanted already great melodies. “Planet Caravan” would’ve been nothing if the melody wasn’t sound so close to the lonely Bluegrass style.

“Crying Lightning” is the best song here for that reason. It’s one of the few here that actually has a chorus. The fact that it progresses and reaches a conclusion is just a bonus. It has a catchy melody that benefits from the sound. Turner drops words like ‘twisted and deranged’ which are perfect for this music.

Everything else, however, tries too hard to be ominious. The band is obsessed with beeing spooky. Turner stopped being a sex-mad smug asshole. Maybe it has something to do with erectile dysfunction. On “My Propeller”, he lets us know in the climatic bridge that he can’t get hard. Such issues affect a man, especially one who bragged about having sex with girls he doesn’t like.

That song sums up the album well. It has no chorus. The chorus has Turner whispering “have a spin of my propeller” not in a sexy manner. It’s as if he’s standing behind your back in a haunted house. It sounds pathetic because it’s such an obvious technique to make you look scary.

Or maybe it’s actually about drugs. That’s a better explanation of the rest of the songs. They sound druggy in a good way. The guitar licks and rolling drums in that sound like a calm before the storm. They can’t keep the atmosphere for long. It’s not even good enough for the song which saved by its catchy climax.

There are other tricks, many of them impressive and none of them are enough. “Pretty Visitors” has tempos shifts and thudding drums that are coming after you. The sound effects in “Secret Door” are supposed to fit the title, but too bad the melody is uninspired. Turner doesn’t even sound like he’s singing an actual melody but just mumbles things.

The sound fails mainly because it doesn’t serve the songs. The end of “My Propeller” and “Crying Lightning” would sound much worse in any other sound. Instead of sounding seductive, Turner sounds like a desperate and perhaps dangerous addict on the latter song.

On all the other songs, it just makes for a ‘huh, that’s cool’ reaction. They sound like demos, ideas that are worth attempting but are so new to the band that they’re only worthwhile for a B-Side compilation. The lack of confidence isn’t just because the band moved from the loud Dance-Punk. It’s because they have no idea what to do with the sound, even if it sounds cool.

Smack in the middle of this album you get the gorgeous “Cornerstone”. It’s a ballad that’s closer to “505”. The band has a fuzzy relationship with ballads. Turner is too arrogant to get them right but when they get it, they made brilliant ones. “Cornerstone” is one of those. It’s sad that this song got buried here. “Crying Lightning” at least makes everything around it worth attempting. “Cornerstone” should’ve been on the better next album.

It’s an interesting album and a stepping stone for the band. Their later albums proved they still got it in them and they were just confused. I’m sure this sounded worse when it came out. Albums like these are either a death sentence or a stepping stone to a new era. The Monkeys haven’t outdone their debut (and probably never will), but this sounds much better in retrospect, when you know they got over this confusion.

2.5 cornerstones out of 5

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)

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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

Clutch – Psychic Warfare

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Clutch are, what, 24 years old now?

That’s a very old age in Rock & Roll, especially when your music is about driving rock. Most bands burn out or get tired of rocking. They take the stage, get the girls and lose the frustration that makes for good loud music. Even the best turn artistic. Monster Magnet rediscovered Psychedelia and Local H flirted with Progressive Rock as soon as their started moving units.

Clutch never had that artistic bent. They were all about riffs and catchy hooks. You could lump them up other dumb Hard Rock like Drowning Pool and Nickelback. The only difference between them and Clutch is that Clutch had better hooks and and outsider’s perspective.

Clutch were outsiders, and still were. For all of their rocking and rolling, they had weird lyrics that were poetic as they made little sense. Neil isn’t a big rock star out for the sex and money. He’s a weirdo who likes turning up his weirdness loud.

That makes them an almost perfect band. Combine the hooks with the odd lyrics, and they sound more badass than anyone else. This also gave them a glass ceiling. They were so focused on just kicking rock songs that they will never make a masterpiece. If there was some hope in the past they might knock one out, it’s all gone on Psychic Warfare.

It’s a confusing album that will only make sense depending on what comes after. It’s either the sound of a band giving up and not even trying to make a “Mice and Gods”, or it’s the sound of a band being comfortable in their place and just having fun.

The first tracks rock hard and got the energy, but none of the hooks. They’re driven by sound with the melodies as an afterthought. “X-Ray Visions” isn’t sure what the melody for the hook is. If it wasn’t for Neil’s brilliant lyrics and charisma, the song would’ve been boring to death. “A Quick Death in Texas” is the only chorus that sticks, and would’ve been just another good song on Robot Hive/Exodus.

Clutch may be giving up, but every song is performed with enthusiasm. Clutch sound happy in their place. Neil sounds like he’s happy to spit big words like ‘dynamite’ and ‘telekenetic’ on “X-Ray Visions”. In another band’s hands, it would run out of steam in 30 seconds.

The second best song here is “Noble Savage”, and it’s where the band (again) declares how rock and roll is their life. It doesn’t have a melody, but the band sounds so energized that it’s convincing. Neil might be 43 years, but no one sounds better than him at capturing the appeal of rock and roll. It’s about having fun and letting out your weirdness. Other bands try to convince you they’re having fun by singing about how much sex they have. Neil has a wide-eyed approach that makes “Decapitation Blues” sound more fun than them. That one is about neck damage from headbanging.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Clutch are more interesting in performing live than writing songs. These songs are more about loudness and energy than melody. They’ve been rocking weird for 24 years. How much left do they have to say? Still, if they perform these songs with the energy it promises it means Clutch should keep going. If it’s a sign of things to come though, maybe they should stop. They’re still a melodic rock band, and a good live show is hard to make of bad songs nobody wanted to write.

3 noble savages out of 5

Black Sabbath – Paranoid

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I avoided this album for a long time on purpose. All the metalheads I knew were the most boring people to discuss music with. People whose musical world consists of Ed Sheeran, Rihanna and Coldplay are much better. At least they wouldn’t be afraid of the occasional bass drop or rap verse. Metalheads were so dull, generic and stupid that I couldn’t imagine their music to be any good. Dull, generic and stupid people probably listen to dull, generic, and stupid music.

It’s a hard album to avoid though. It haunted me like whatever’s haunting the protagonist in the title-track. It’s especially hard when you’re into Stoner Rock, and consider Monster Magnet to be one of rock’s greatest achievements. Eventually, I caved in and wondered why no one told me about how this record sounds sooner.

It sounds as influential as you heard it is. If you’re into the slower genres, its influence is more apparent. More than the birth of Heavy Metal, it sounds like the birth of Stoner. Sneak “Electric Funeral” in a playlist full of Electric Wizard, Sixy Watt Shaman and Kyuss and no one would notice the band playing it is from the 70’s. What’s far more interesting though, is that it doesn’t sound like a heavy metal record at all.

After playing some doomy riffs, Ozzy sings with that very familiar way of stretching syllables. I completely forgot that between the verses there are distorted guitars. By the time they turn it down again and Ozzy does his thing, I had to admit this doesn’t have that much to do with Heavy Metal. Paranoid is, at its heart, an American Folk record. It owes more to Dock Boggs and Blind Willie than anything. It’s a reinterpartation of the genre.

The reason it still sounds as brilliant today – aside from containing great melodies – is that Sabbath understood their source material better than anyone else. Death was a day-to-day reality in the Old Weird, but try to listen to “Oh, Death” again. It’s such a different era. It sounds alien and scary. Folk music wasn’t easygoing, but looked at tough subject matters in the eye.

Led Zeppelin tried to made a theater of it all. They tried to make big, loud music out of a genre that gained its strength from a banjo pluck and one powerful line. They worked against the style they’re interpartating. They turned up the volume and exaggerated everything, but it never had the emotional punch.

Sabbath knew that Folk Music was very dark. All they did was enhance the darkness with distortion, and some drums. How different is “Hand of Doom”’s lyrics to Dock Boggs’ “Oh, Death” or “Country Blues”? Ozzy may have been more opaque and updated his subject matter to nuclear apoclypse and sci-fi, but he didn’t work against the genre. The addiction he talks of in “Hand of Doom” is the same alcoholism folk singers been singing about. The title-track has a higher tempo, but the lyrics are the same thing as “Man of Constant Sorrow”.

Even “Planet Caravan” fits the concept. It’s weird and sparse, which is how folk music sounds like today. The Old Weird now looks like an alien planet to us, so actually singing about space travel makes sense. It’s far more deserving to be called Space Rock than anything by Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd’s songs sounded like they had space, but didn’t express what outer space felt like. Leaving planet Earth must be a pretty intense emotional experience. “Planet Caravan” has the wonder, the loneliness and the vastness of space in one song. The vocal effects are a brilliant touch.

People who are into guitars probably already own this. It will be forever considered a pioneering Heavy Metal record, but it will also always stand above the genre. Is there any follower of Black Sabbath that tried to replicate this album’s purpose? Most bands borrowed Black Sabbath’s noise and darkness. None of them were familiar with folk music and why it works, not even bands from that era. Even Monster Magnet, one of the greatest rock bands ever took a very different direction.

4 paranoids out of 5