Archive for intronaut

Dear Metalheads, Stop Trying To Sing

Posted in essays, math-rock, music with tags , , , , , , , , on 02/16/2011 by alex c

Just shy of two years ago, Mastodon issued their fourth lp, Crack the Skye. I’d been a major fanboy since first hearing 2002’s Remission and had avidly awaited each subsequent release. One Friday night not long after, I got together with two good friends so we could all have a first listen together. The three of us nearly cried as that vapid husk of pablum plodded towards a conclusion that could not arrive fast enough. While a new listening public ate it up, we felt alienated and betrayed by a record that lacked—in all but track 2, “Divinations”—all the elements that made their previous records so enthralling: raw, grinding, often sludge-encrusted, yet still intricate string work combined with the most active, pummeling and rhythmically-nuanced percussion. From early eps through three studio albums Mastodon consistently delivered goods that satisfied the libidinous, reckless inner teen within the maturing adult in need of intellectual stimulation.

Then, on Crack the Skye, Mastodon began to do the unthinkable: they began to sing. Whereas previously the vocals featured a mixture of primitive howls and bellows that perfectly complimented the power and finesse of the instrumentation, the newest record brought to the fore the one element of ’70s-era prog rock that they had thankfully jettisoned: the vocals (which is not to mention unnecessary guitar wankery on songs like “The Czar”). The “prog rock” stylings pioneered by bands like Genesis, Yes, King Crimson and others had, in almost every instance, become bloated by an infatuation with technique and operatics, particularly with respect to vocals. Mastodon’s success as a modern variation of progressive metal lay in its skillful negotiation of this terrain, balancing incredible technique with savage animality. And to top it all off, the production values were even more noticeably cleaner and slicker than on 2006’s Blood Mountain (a major-label debut that sounded the part while retaining the characteristics that had brought them to that point). Continue reading

Meditations on “Math”, Pt.II: Technical Death

Posted in math-rock, music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 01/07/2011 by alex c

Why did I decide, in just my second post on mathematics in rock music, to discuss one of most alienating forms of extreme metal? I really have no idea. Mostly it comes down to the fact that I had made a long list of bands and, as I sorted them, these fellas just ended up here. And by “fellas” I mean it. Females are notably absent from this realm and the reasons for this have weighed on my mind for years now (A friend and former roommate, Mary Iatropolous, attempted a rudimentary study of this phenomenon and her conclusions were both obvious and obscure). It’s a discussion well worth continuing, unfortunately it will have to be in a future post (thoughts in the comments are more than welcome).

Death metal, from its roots in thrash and hardcore, was always predicated on superlatives: Who could play fastest, whose sound was “heaviest”, who wrote with the most complexity? This kind of competition, friendly or not, has always been a generative force in art; here, among the most extreme exemplars of metal, we find a synthesis of high and low art. There is no middle-brow here: anti-bourgeois; this is scum divinity, sacred filth; “untouchable” is a word used for only to describe the richest & poorest.

I need to read Albert Mudrian’s book, Choosing Death.

Hank, in his post, provides Necrophagist and Cynic as examples of prog/tech metal. The former display an almost inhuman technicality in their music, a legacy that goes back at least to J.S. Bach (and likely farther). Personally, I find Cynic to be a terribly cheesy abomination, like walking into a Guitar Center wank-a-thon. Where Necrophagist plays brutal video-game soundtracks, Cynic exhibit the worst indulgences (overwrought melodies, too-sleek production, operatic vocals) of ’70s prog-rock and never get heavy. But that’s just me, for contemporaries I prefer Atheist.

I tend to dislike “genre bands” who follow an established template in their aesthetic. Mix it up, add something of your own. No two people like all the same stuff, so why write like that? The following bands are all ones who’ve taken risks with their sound and, to varying degrees, been successful in their execution…

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Sound Investments of 2010

Posted in best of 2010, music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 01/06/2011 by alex c

New Albums I Picked Up This Past Year:

In what was likely a memorable first for me, I spent far more time in 2010 immersed in literature than music. Realistically, it’s probably always been a 40/60 split that just happened to flip this year, but that doesn’t mean it feels any less odd. Additionally, the attention I gave to new music significantly decreased in favor of catching up with musical lineages or bands I had been meaning to hear. As I parse through myriad “Best of…” posts and catalogs of releases, the new stuff I heard boils down to a meagre pile. It’s mostly a good pile, though. I could add High on Fire‘s Snakes for the Divine to the list, but I found the opening track disappointing and haven’t bothered to go back for a real listen (They’re always great live, though; the latest albums have been too “produced” for my tastes, lacking the punch).

The albums I spent time with and a list of ones I want to check out after the jump… Continue reading