Mastodon – metal for readers of The Guardian

Mastodon are one of the most successful metal bands of recent times in many ways. At least critically, they’re endorsed by most of the magazines that cater for the scene, plus they also seem to have the liberal-arts press on their side. And they play venues like Brixton Academy. Yes, they are approved by the types of “music journalists” who write for the Guardian.

As a fan of metal music, I have never enjoyed Mastodon. I have sampled their complex, detailed, progressive heavy ponderings several times and it always leaves me decidedly flaccid. Nope, nothing. If anything, it encourges my penis to shrink like when its really cold. Not that I’m a fan of music generally labelled “prog”, anyway. Mastodon are sort of the stoner-friendly equivalent to those insipid spermicidal music-twat-geeks Dream Theatre.

But now, Mastodon are back with another album. And here it goes again: metal for the middle classes – we don’t care if its enjoyable, as long as we can put it on our shelf amongst the fucking World Music collection and fucking Sting.

STING!
FUCKING STING!

This is metal where complex idea matters over flow; where elaborate time signatures destroy groove; where thoughts are thoughts, always played but never felt; where riffs are lost. Where Soundgarden’s intention to get on mainstream radio sounded good, but not complex enough. Remain in the middle of the road, but let’s just bring in some ideas from Pink Floyd, or some other overblown shit-specked flatulence. Nothing from King Crimson, mind – some of that shit was actually interesting. No, this is progressive where progressive means a genre and not an attitude towards the art in question.

This is conservative prog.

As I write this, I am listening to Mastodon, and FUCKING WHY? THIS IS BOLLOCKS, just bollocks. BOLLOCKS. This is metal as anti-Black Sabbath, metal for people who never understood the sheer joy in the lead riff of Black Sabbath; who think early Metallica is just juvenile; who think Motorhead are good, but could do with more time changes and more melody. This is metal for the anti-metal, made for people who paint their homes beige; who buy wholesale into post-modern academia; who don’t question Michele Foucault; who buys everything on BBC’s the Culture Show; who think Alan Yentob isn’t at all a bit of a pretentious knob; who read the Guardian and aren’t at all embarrassed and depressed by the fact it’s the only major faintly liberal-left voice in the mainstream in Britain, and who think their media journalists aren’t essentially failed wankers ‘cos they write about metal for the fucking Guardian.

Take your prog and shove it.

White Suns – Totem (2014, The Flenser)

IT WAXES AND WANES

Jesus H Christ on a bike, what a fucking album. It’s not good practice just to say something is good – I get really fucking fed up with it whenever anybody else does it. And, it’s just not good practice. But, this album is mammoth. Totem makes a sound that conjures an image of someone trapped down a boarded-up, dried-up well: hollow and almost pitch-black but with the occasional ray of blaring, blinding white light casting through the cracks onto the poor bastard who has clawed their fingers to the knuckle trying to get out, who can now only screech and gnaw with his stumps.

Or, at least, that’s what it seems like to me. I could be wrong.

Noise guitars, vocals and drums is what’s on offer, but it’s not what you get, exactly. This is record is nihilistic at its very core.  It’s dark, dissonant, and doesn’t care, or maybe it just can’t care. The sound is one of atonalist feedback occasionally punctured by hectic, hateful, loud “songs”. Strangely sensitive relentless drums; occasionally howling yelling’s and occasionally alienated spoken word. Basically, the sound of intense screams piercing the sobbing of the person trapped down the well.

Some might call the noise soundscape-like, but I don’t think that, that is not it’s purpose. Its purpose seems more like to isolate the listener – you’re all alone on this trip, and this trip isn’t fun. Just you and the noise. What’s more, the monsters (songs?) that leap out of the darkness at you aren’t actually there – they’re figments of your imagination. But, perhaps that’s worse than them being real. These songs will scare the shit out of you and return to darkness before you know you’ve been bludgeoned. The ethereal noise they make is only the parts of your experience of the well when you’re awake.

But, there’s something absolutely compelling about it – you keep returning to it. The dark hole is a comfort, the monsters are your friends.

Really, the only apt response after listening to this record is to find yourself bleeding from your ears afterwards.

Rating: This is a nihilistic, noise rock based in despair. And I’ve probably over blown it, but this is nevertheless one hell of a record and easily one of the most stunning things this year. I’m saluting this one.

MY GOD’S FACE IS MADE OF MIRRORS

MY GOD’S FACE LOOKS LIKE MY FATHERS

Merkabah – Moroloch (2014, Instant Classic)

Merkabah – Morloch (2014, Instant Classic):

http://instantclassic.bandcamp.com/album/moloch

I said I’d write about something new, and fuck it, I’m trying.

I hate to be patronising, but I barely know who this band is (if you can give more detail, it’s welcome) so forgive a brief description – Merkabah are a Polish post-hardcore, post-rock, avant-garde jazz noise band. That is to say, they play mostly noisy guitar-based music with a load of sax skonking meld into the mix. And they do it with aplomb, they do.

Now, I feel like I’m writing this review because even though he’s completely and totally entitled to his opinion, theneedledrop was wrong about this album. I hate to criticise (I don’t really) as he’s an excellent (one of the best, in my honest opinion – a shit load better than my half-arsed attempts that I can’t even bother trying to get published on another website let alone magazine, anymore) reviewer of music. He is tireless, in depth, much more astute than I, and all power to him. But, I’m flirting with academia in my life, so being a bit petty and pedantic is what it’s all about, yeah? Well, some of it.

Dear Mr TheNeedleDrop,

This album is not really ‘doom’ at any point, and I take issue with his inability to ‘find … electricity … between the band as they were playing. Just listening to the band play these songs out felt – I don’t know – uneventful?’

Perhaps the issue is the medium you listened to the band on – as much as I enjoy bandcamp and think it’s a wonderful way to preview bands, I’m not sure its way of compressing music would allow the contours of a well crafted, well produced album, such as this, to truly come out. I listened to it, firsts on Soundcamp, and then since I’ve bought the album and continue to find it a pretty engrossing album. Maybe the medium’s the issue, not the message?

Yours,
FuckIt

PS. You have no idea what punk is. This is upsetting. Watch Don Letts’ documentary on Punk Attitude – yes, it struggles to get and understand what happens after the London scene fades, but it’s an excellent start point.

Having said that, all I can find is the bandcamp stuff so … yeah:

http://instantclassic.bandcamp.com/album/moloch

So, in defence of Moloch.  It’s not all that frequently one finds a melding of heavy music that melds with jazz so fluently. Most of the time, one or the other is a bit too dominating, or a bit too ‘false’ – jazz by people who don’t really get heavy music; heavy music by people who don’t really seem to get jazz. Or the jazz they like is jazz fusion. Or they do it side-by-side of one another, conceiving music simply as genre’s, and never shall the twain meet (sorry, Mr Bungle, but my first few impressions of you were as cliché-genre-ridden crap with a singer who’s too clean).

Here, however, nothing feels out of place – in fact, the musicians seem to be intensely sensitive to both kinds of music and work towards bringing the best out of them when required, and not asserting them when not needed. This means that during the quieter, more meditative moments the sax doesn’t blare out most atonal Zorn impressions just for the fuck of it, but rather helps  in creating atmosphere.

For instance, the use of sax at the beginning of the 12-minute Hilasterion is all about atmosphere, swirling up, building a tension with spacious guitars and tumbling symbols. When the song kicks in, the sax still doesn’t dominate but plays its role as texture amongst the other instruments. It holds back – sensitive to the post-rockness of it all.

And neither are the avant-garde (‘free’ jazz) moments superimposed, but the jazz building on a heavy wall of noise to create firm-footed chaos.

 

Again. This is not domination, this is mixture. All is a vital part of the very meticulously crafted noise this band puts together.

Neither does the ‘rock’ stay in one space. While based arguably in post-hardcore, it flirts with post-rock, and sludge occasionally. The jazz parts veer towards atonal, yes, but it makes sense in the setting – most sax solos do actually seem to be based not around free jazz, but rather set to a backing that hightens the chaos of the Zorn-isms. The music’s tone is generally a very dark-grey (an excellent suit colour), but the size of it is a rather fine cliff: there’s a landscape to this music.

One of the best of 2014 so far. It’s extremely well thought out and the band perform admirably, and have a deep sensitivity to their wall of sound. Probably the best post- album of any type for a while. Maybe the production is a bit too smooth, but it doesn’t detract and make the band seem sterile.

Rating: Well, fuck yeah. Great thing, this: post-hardcore noise jazz stuff.