Thursday, November 12, 2009

ALBUM: Slayer "World Painted Blood"

It doesn't matter what gig; who the band is, whether they are international, or local, brutal death metal or twiddly power metal, there is always some simian soul in the crowd shouting out 'SLAAAAYYYYYEEEER!!!'
Without fail. I've yet to be able to prove whether this cry is that of one man, or different die-hards, and if they are unique from one another is there some sort of covenant, a Slayer fan-base united in their cause to proliferate the name of their favourite band at every gig they attend.
It's a mystery...

Beyond all of that curious uncertainty I can assure of one thing though, this is a great record.

The previous album 'Christ Illusion' was a huge disappointment. Not much argument to be counter that stance. Slayer's black magic was well and truly absent. A couple of good songs barely lifted the album above being little more than a bland lap of the track for a band that have always managed to inject that little extra diabolism into each release. Regardless of the reams of rhetoric representing this new release, my hopes weren't high. Picking this up spur of the moment, and spinning it for it for the first without any real excitement or expectation I felt a sense of disappointment at my lack of enthusiasm. This is Slayer; one of the oldest, hardest, heaviest bands in existence. I shouldn't be this apathetic. The last time I felt that empty, almost disdainful, was when I put on the second album that Blaze Bayley recorded with Iron Maiden. ( and do you blame me?). Obviously it's hard not have some expectation, there is that itching impulse to want to demand: 'Don't fuck it up...or I'll have to write you off.' No-one wants to have to do that to a band that they have loved for years, since their days of nascent thrashing, but I was prepared to make a stand. If Kerry and Co. delivered another piece of poo I was done.
Ooh, harsh...I know.
Life is short, and my love is limited. ( Though I'll always love Tom Araya. Wait till you hear RiVeN and my feeble attempt to channel him. )
"So?" you ask, "Is it over? Have you made the call?"
The answer is simple, the sort of simplicity that Kerry King would respond with, "No."

'World Painted Blood' is a great album. Really great.
First thing first: the production. I really, really dig the way this album sounds. Produced and mixed by Greg Fidelman who did his best for Metallica, this album saw Slayer write in-studio and Fidelman has managed to capture a strong sense of what I refer to as 'Live in Studio A'. It may sound odd using the word 'relaxed' in relation to Slayer, but that's how they sound this time 'round. They certainly aren't relaxed in their playing and song writing because this album has some of the fastest, most aggressive songs they've played in years, what I'm talking abous is an 'ease'; a comfort to the song writing. Perhaps the difference sits with Lombardo on the kit, as opposed to Bostaph, leading to a loosening up, a lack of rigidity, while regaining some ferocity. ( Which is not to impugn Bostaph at all, he's an amazing drummer and one of my faves. )
'Christ Illusion' felt largely stilted and insincere, whereas here Slayer sound live, and livid, in your lounge; the sound is roomy, warm, humming. Fidelman's mix offers plenty of surprises, Araya's bass pops thoughout, while Hanneman and King trade axe blows from their respective corners left and right, allowing the listener to savour the shredding and soloing, as much as the re-united riffing, harmonised solos and twiddly cascades.

The weakest part of the album is easily with the opening, title track. Mounting harmonies and a backward-wound litany build to a fairly standard Slayer riff, that kicks into a mid-tempo thrasher that feels as if it trying to hard, and not amounting to much. Then King and Hanneman start rocking duelling harmonies and suddenly there is a definite feeling that something 'different' is taking place. A chunky riff stamps along as Hanneman lets rips with an utterly outrageous solo, a restrained exuberance; a discordant distress, the cries of kittens being killed. Here it is, finally, a sign that Slayer are pushing themselves.
'Unit 731' and the following tune 'Snuff' are both flat-to-the-floor; with Hanneman and King swapping quicksilver solos, as if they are blooded pit bulls in a drained-out pool ripping strips off one another. Check 'Snuff's' simultaneous solo; a hurricane helix of harmonised hegemonic hammering. Corker. The sheer joy of the verse-riffing in 'Snuff' as Lombardo octopoidally spans his kit with frantic fills, each seeming unique, is enough to thrust even the most arthritic and misaligned into a flurry of air guitar.
'Beauty through order' progresses from a moody chunker, exploding into frenzied solos, fluctuating from rage to restraint, as harmonic utterances float back and forth. The climax to this song is the perfect distillation of the quartet's rage.
'Hate Worldwide' is Slayer at their punkiest. In fact there's a very punky vibe across these songs. The riffing that escapes from the King's feral solo is raw, engorged, exhilarating. One of my favourite moments on the disc.
'Public display of dismemberment' is a fairly lousy title for what proves to be two and a half minutes of political polemic. That was a relief for I expected some-semblance to a Cannibal Corpse tune. It seems that while Jeff Hanneman is still reading books on serial killers, Kerry King is reading the paper gripped in clenched fists as he grinds his teeth.
'Human Strain' is one of my favourite songs on the album. The eerie see-sawing riff supported by Lomardo's unremitting kick, a catchy chorus, gives the tune a dark rocky feel to it. Something destined to want to make you want to churn windmills. Creepy, pinging, harmonies, crescendo around Araya's coarse whisper, and a swell of his always welcome singing voice, helping to keep this scary, and still slashing Slayer in spite of the initial sense of levity.
'Americon' is another King call-to-arms crunch, a pounding, almost (early) Rammstein, with seriously stout rocking riff under the verses. 'It's all about the motherfucking oil, regardless of the flag upon it's soil' is a lacerating lyric that Araya delivers with utter conviction. This is another example of Slayer working to expand themselves, without straying into jazz fusion.
'Psychopathy red' reminds me of 'Aggressive Perfector' from way back at the birth of the band. Another two and a half minutes of punked-out thrash, tight as a nun's nasty, with a some surprise changes, a ring out before sprinting to finish, all of which is more than enough to remind you why so many people love this band. Guaranteed to inspire apoplectic fits of air guitar and neck-wrecking.
'Playing with dolls' is a mid-tempo chiller, trimmed with a jarring jangly line that hypnotically raises hackles. Behold that bass-note behemoth that Araya enters with; warm, and formidable before slipping into the mix to rumble away. Araya's howls 'You'll wish you were in hell'! and 'Die in front of me!' will no doubt prove popular live, though the latter may needed be precarious considering the ebullience of most Slayer moshpits.
'Not of this God' offers the best surprise of the album. Starting out a standard thrasher, with white-knuckle riffing into the chorus, and Lombardo flourishing fills, the song to yields to a lumbering sludgy doom riff that is likely to make you want to clench your clacka and cup your knackers to make sure nothing erupts or falls off. My one niggle is that this isn't sustained enough. It's as if they jammed a cool idea, chucked it in, rocked it for a measure, and didn't know where to go with it. Still, it's seriously cool. Having said that though, this is consistent with the rest of the record; tight yet loose, clenched yet relaxed. The best kind of contradictions.

This album is like an old friend you haven't seen in ages; the one who used to be twenty kilos overweight who has had a health scare, kicked the take-away, the booze and the fags, hit the gym, ripped themselves out and now stands before you looking like Rollins bare-chested with corpse paint and nail-studded wristbands. Athletic, assertive, authoritative, intimidating.

( Slayer made it to number 9 on the ARIA charts in the first week of release. )
The hyperbole was bang on, this is not only one of the best Slayer records in a long time, it is definitely one of their better titles. Better for brevity 'World Painted Blood' lacks the density, and over-length that marred 'God Hates Us All' and 'Diabolos in Musica' (both top records mind you) clocking in just shy of fourty minutes, proving that less-is-more indeed. For those of us who remember vinyls, this means it would have fit on one side of a TDK C45 with room to spare.
It seems trite to state, and I'm hesitant to, but 'World painted blood' sounds like a natural successor to 'Season in the Abyss'. An older, more experienced band, annealed, not merely the same-old-Slayer, this time offering a perfect summation of their career, atmosphere and aggression, with clear evidence that the fires still burn in their own special Hell.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

It's all Geek to me 05/11/09

I'll start with what has to be the best news of the week: A new Overkill album, titled 'Ironbound', is to be released in late January 2010. A brilliant way to start the new year. Overkill are neck-and-neck with Iron Maiden as my favourite band of all time, and are one of handful of bands who can send me into absolute apoplexy over the propesct of a new album. 'Ironbound' will be the band's fifteenth full-length release. The track list goes: The Green and the Black, Ironbound, Bring me the night, The goal is your soul, Give a little, Endless war, The head and heart, In vain, Killing for a living, The SRC. The last album was a ripper, and with the new drummer Ron Lipnicki bringing some serious energy to proceedings, I have little doubt this will be another hard rockin' thrasher and that Overkill won't disappointment.
Now, all they need to do is tour Australia. I've waited long enough and considering every other band worth their salt, and even those that aren't worth a pinch of salt, have been out here in the last few years it's about time that New Jersey's finest make the trip. The day that tour is announced I may go utterly hysterical, and remain so for some time. Until that point though, I have the new album to look forward to.

Tom Gabriel Warrier has announced that the final recording sessions have taken place, and the mixing begun on the debut record for his new band Triptykon his successor to the seminal Celtic Frost, from which he parted in a considerably incendiary fashion. The much anticipated debut is known as 'Eparistera Daimones' (on my left, daemons ). In a typically verbose and vehement fashion his hyperbole for the album promises something darker, more complex and challenging that Celtic Frost's ( presumably ) final album 'Monotheist'. One song 'The Prolonging' is described as 'morbid, lumbering 19 minutes' ( which beats my 16 minute Celtic Frost inspired 'Event Horizon' by about 2 and a half minutes, so pardon me while I go and add another 5 minutes of droning amp and feedback as well as seven minutes of whispering in Magyar, to the end just to ensure i can pip the post on Tom.) Warrior claims the overall tone to be a 'bleak, black ocean of heaviness accentuated by moments of unexpected grace.' I waited over a decade for 'Monotheist' and it remains one of the best, and most influencial, records I have ever heard, and I looked forward to sitting alone in the darkness, allowing Tom's bleak, black ocean to engulf me.

The BBC have announced that November 15 is the broadcast of the 2nd 2009 Doctor Who special, 'The Waters of Mars' starring the dynamic demi-god David Tennant, and oh-so serious actress Lindsay Duncan. This, sadly, is the penultimate story for Tennant, who, come Christimas, bows out of the role that has provided him with the chance to fulfill a childhood dream of playing the character, as well as giving us, the audience, one of the best portrayls of the character since Tom Baker imprinted himself on our minds when we were children. The teaser trailer that came with the Easter special made this one seem scary, scary, scary. The mighty Graeme Harper is directing, which is good news for sure. Responsible for countless classic DW episodes from 'The Caves of Androzani' back in the glory days, to the emotionally charged 'Army of Ghosts/ Doomsday' combo, and the season four finale episodes, and I have no doubt that he will bring his muscular, kinetic style to what looks like a classic base-under-siege story.
The first of the Christmas two-parter is called 'The End of Time' which is enough to set my bottom lip wobbling. I can tell you now there will be tears. I will be alone with David, and Arnott's Barbecue Shapes ( another shameless plug there ), and I will be howling like a babboon with an aubergine-coloured bottomed who has just discovered that the Deep Heat is not a lubricant. The recent Doctor Who magazine blew a spoiler on the finale, (which I won't dare impart), but I can tell you that Timothy ( not-as-bad-a-Bond-as-some-make-out ) Dalton will be a guest star. That's cool, but nothing will beat Sir Derek Jacobi's turn as Professor Yana.

I'm three stories into the 3rd season of 'The Sarah Jane Adventures' and though it is intended for a 'tweenie audience', proving a little sacchrine at time for even my sweet tooth, the show proves to be hugely entertaining due to the enthusiasm of the cast and the consistency of the writing. The opening story often had me in gales of laughter, thanks to the rancourous rhino Judoon, performed brilliantly by long-time alpha monster performer Paul Kasey and the voice of Nick Briggs. The episode works to expand the Judoon character concept beyond a stomping grunting sketch with many hilarious Judge Dredd-like insistence on upholding the law, and enforcing it with overkill. These scenes make this an essential viewing experience. The second story gives Rani the stage, and though enjoyable it felt limited, with a narrative device serving to foreshadow following episodes, and one set in particular with obvious drapery for flattage that looked cheap, last-minute and a throw back to the 'old days'. Story three may have pushed the envelope for 'mature' content and concepts for the younger audience, but it offered an extremely moving piece for Liz Sladen to act her little socks off in. Added to that is a cameo to make those not-in-the-know to cry out in shock and jubilation. ( L-for-leather nearly went nuts the other night when she saw it. Oh, and she cried too. )

Speaking of Tennant as I was earlier, he's just been cast to join Simon Pegg in John ( 'Blues Brothers', 'American Werewolf in London' ) Landis' film project about Burke and Hare, the infamous bodysnatchers in Edinburgh in the early 19th century. Excellent. Nerd Fact: This isn't the first time Tennant has been involed with this story, he played 'Daft Jamie' in the Big Finish play 'Medicinal Purposes' alongside Colin Baker's Doctor tackling Burke, Hare and Dr Robert Knox.
After having spent the last couple of years immersed in Victorian Gothic fiction I have to admit I'm more than a little pleased see film productions of tales from this period: Tim Burton's the incredibly gruesome 'Sweeney Todd' was a joy ( though I would have rathered he had eschewed presenting the musical version ), Joe Johnston's new version of 'The Wolfman' looks pretty darn great, and Landis is no slouch when it comes to going over-the-top so I'm crossing my fingers that this new project succeeds.

The initial listen left me cold but the new Slayer album, 'World Painted Blood' is growing on me. It proves a much more confident and satisfying experience than the rather disappointing previous effort with a couple of ball-tearing tunes. There's nothing new or earthshattering, though there are enough touches and a raw production that really warrant giving it a listen, the 2nd half of the album is particularly potent.

Tonight I officially reached the third-way mark through Marvel's 'Civil War' series; an epic story spanning countless different issues that involes the proposal and subsequent enforcement of the 'Superhero Registration Act' which expects all 'heroes' to unmask and sign off to work for the goverment, or be detained as an enemy to the state. Iron Man agrees and consents, while Captain America refuses, and so the universe of Marvel heroes divides and goes to war. With the exception of some of the support titles like Young Avengers, X-Factor, and Thunderbolts, this is a largely gripping, intelligent story-line, with the Civil War Frontline series in particular a standout. Each issue concludes with a poem or an anecdote from history, be in Caeser's treasonous attack on Rome, or the US detainment of all Japanese immigrant post Pearl Harbour, that is illuminated in contrast to recent event in the overall storyline. These post-scripts are surprisingly effective, well-considered and, in one case, moving. The expanse of the story offers considerable detail, though occasionally repitition proves tedious.
Since I've started reading comics again I admittedly have been more DC than Marvel, not out of any conscious decision, rather that the stories and characters that interest me at the moment happen to be from that publisher. The fantasy spectacular of the multiple earth story lines that DC have flogged for the last few years, roiling with continuity and ret-con redacting, are an interesting contrast to the heavily subtextual Civil War storylines. I've reached the point where the each issue is offering a different perspective 'Rashomon' -style, and adding depth to the events as they unfold, retaining cohesion ( relative speaking, though I have been baffled by continuity references in some of the x-factor/ avengers sub-plots ) Though I have memories of the denoument of the series being publicised widely in the press I'm working my way slowly to that point, enjoying the ride immensely.
The art for the Wolverine issues around this period is seriously cool; grotesque, exaggerated, a striking contrast to the art in the core issues, while the Ed Brubaker penned Captain America issues have a murky, mauldin tone to the painterly renderings. In fact that is one of the true pleasure of the story-telling is seeing the different writers and artists offering their own versions of the characters, which in spite of my initial apprehension isn't a distraction at all. ( The X-Factor art does little for me, I have to say. )
As of now, I only have 60 odd issues to go.
Then there's the Secret Invasion and the Dark Reign to think about.
And don't forget all the DC crisis canon...


Also, must say I'm loving the new Spider-woman series as well. The art is absolutely amazing. Moody! Wonderfully gloomy, grim, evocative. The noir-like plot is served well with by the excellent art, near photorealism, with curious combinations of line and ink. While Alex Ross' work is bold, realistic, with often over-crowded frames, the simplicity of the panels and the attention to the tone is unique amid the work I have come across, and while I wish there were more stories illustrated like this I'm glad they're not, for this wouldn't seem so special. I'd love a Huntress run in the same fashion.

Still trying to finish off series two of 'The Sarah Connor Chronicles'. A series that has definitely improved regardless of the lame title, a near potential shark-jump from the get-go, the presence of Scot singer Shirley Manson and of a former 'Beverley Hills 90210' cast member ( though he does still, or did at least, shag Megan Fox for soe who am I to tip my nose at him. ) Shame it was cancelled. I have a feeling that things will end much as the did with the more-fun-than it-should-have-been third series of 'Primeval' I'm going to be left dangling. The little Aussie actress, Stephanie Jacobsen is great, her duplicitous not-quite-villainous character and story ard is especially engaging. I laugh every time she punctuates a sentence with the word 'love'. classic. I want more of her, if nothing else. As with most US shows of this type the writers/ producers go nuts with ninety-five narrative threads, constantly blowing out subplots, and rarely resolving anything. Let's call it Abrams Disorder. This elasticity is the main reason I wont commit to shows, simply because they go nowhere for two years only to be cancelled. It's like fumbling through frottage without fingers to curl a fist to finish yourself off with.
I only have about 5 episodes remaining...

Three episodes in to season two of 'Twin Peaks'. A lot is happening, slowly. I haven't seen this show since it was first broadcast and while so many telements of the program seem so vivid in my memory there's one thing I had forgotten: just how unspeakable sexy Sherylinn Fenn is as Audry Horne.

I went to the Scienceworks Museum to check out the Star Wars exhibition, and boy was that a treat. The small show was a collection of original props from the 6 films which means I stood in front of Chewbacca, Han Solo's costume, Yoda, C3PO and R2D2, Stormtroopers ( and the cool winter ones from Hoth in 'Empire...' ), models for the AT-ATs, the Millenium Falcon, the pod-racers, Princess Leia' ship which is the very thing we see in episode 4 ( the 'first' 'Star Wars' experience for most of us ). Admittedly, thanks to my own model making enthusiasms the models didn't blow me away much as other display items because I look at a Millenium Falcon every day, but the cozzies were awesome. I was as struck dumb and wowing along with the kids. The Mad Professor and I were both amused by the group of people wandering dressed as as Jedi Knights and Sith Lords posing out, duelling and entertaining the kids. While we mocked the overweight, and old-enough-to-know-better, I know that deep down if there'd been a Boba Fett cozzie handy you'd've had to send me for surgery to have it removed. The ticketing arrangement mean that the crowd was admitted in small groups so there was no crush and you were actually able to enjoy the exhibition without being crammed in like so many sardines. Can you imagine what the Dali exhibition must have been like on that last weekend? Considering that the line stretched about five city must have been a nightmare.

Clip of the week:
Two clips from the Graham Norton show featuring the ever so sexy Nigella Lawson and the mumbling, maudlin Marilyn Manson. Hilarity ensues... Pt 1 Pt 2

Site of the week:

Song of the Week:
Amon Amarth's 'Twilight of the Thundergod'
The title track from the Swedish melodic-death metal bands most recent release. In spite of my mate Richard's profound love of this band they just haven't clicked with me. He gave me an album and after a few spins I still couldn't connect with it, returning occasionally but never gripped. The problem was a simple one, I hadn't found the right song to enter with. Earlier this week I picked up the new album and...Shazoom! By Brian Blessed's bouncing bollocks this is an almighty anthem. I was instantly enamoured with this song; simple in structure, less sprawling than other titles, with a huge singalong chorus that has turned me into a stomping fist-banging maniac as I walk to work of a morning listening to it on my headphones. There's a feeling of a crushing Running Wild vibe at work, and though I'm still a little irked by singer Johan's voice I gladly bellow and growl along to this. A great way to start an album that has really grown on me in the last couple of days. I've found my way in, now I'm looking forward to see what other gems I can discover in their catalogue.