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Monday
Dec202010

The Top 10 Metal of 2010 - #2

Finished in the Golden Hall of Asgard we descend into the long darkness - into the Spiral Shadow...

#2
Kylesa - Spiral Shadow
I went to Georgia. I met the devil down there. Luckily, I escaped with my sanity and balls in tact - just. It's like another world - a world I'm lucky to escape from. Nevertheless, I'm still able to enjoy what the state has to offer - namely the seductive insanity that Kylesa produce each time they commit their sound to tape (or hard drive.) 

It does feel like this record is from another world. It's like a metal album that's slipped up through the portal depicted on the cover, landing in your hand from a parallel universe. If they want to beat both their drumsets to dervish-like guitar patterns, they will. If they want to pen browbeaten marches with an oozing Celtic black magic jig through the middle like Crowded Road, then it's a case of "fuck you" - they will. It's metal that feels scary because it's so alien yet wonderful. It's not done ironically like The Sword (thanks for nothing, guys) or as pretentious, pompous "art" a la Isis; it's a criminally enjoyable fusion of unadulterated brutality and jammin' sludge melody.

The track Don't Look Back was lent a considerable portion of my initial review just dedicated to its deconstruction:

Don’t Look Back is a true original. It’s in a league of its own. Imagine if Weezer made good on their promise to bring “Death to False Metal.” This is what it would sound like. Cascading, bright power-pop riffs abound this track, the right amount of despondent longing in the vocals with “oohing” and “aahing” female harmonies bubbling underneath; it’s some of the slickest songwriting you’ll hear all year without a doubt.
It stretches the limit to what metalheads will find acceptable - sludge metal, grunge and psychedelica heard on the same record? Are you shitting me? No - I'm not. That's why this record is so damn good. Crushing, wicked and brilliant.

Friday
Dec172010

The Top 10 Metal of 2010 - #5

Returning from the inky blackness of the void we're thrust into the land of sinners...

#5

Helloween - 7 Sinners
I said in my review earlier this year that Helloween's new record is a result of "the fresh blood injected into the wintry veins of Helloween in the form of guitarist Sascha Gerstner and drummer Dani Loble...[resurrecting] a sleeping metal leviathan from the bed of mediocrity." I stand by my words since 7 Sinners greatness increases more and more with every spin.

If the band went back to the drawing board and came back with this, the time spent polishing their riffs, beefing up their sound and taking a symphonic and detailed approach to their songwriting was exceedingly well spent. The band have never been one for pomp and pageantry - and when they have they've always done it with their tongue firmly in their cheek. There's cheesy and forgettable and then there's fun and Helloween. With flutes and bombast and choirs galore they're not afraid to dig deep into their memories of childhood rock heroes to treat their cherished cliches with love to bring them new life. Yes, it's power metal at its core - but it's also a virulently catchy form of rock n' roll that deserves careful attention.

7 Sinners is a really complete Euro metal record that celebrates our diverse genre from past to present and adds to the future giving it the respect it deserves. From bluesy licks, pounding thrash rhythms, touches of death metal vocals it screams from the high heavens that Helloween aren't just a power metal band, they are band that plays - and loves - heavy metal music.

On this record they ask each and every listener - Are You Metal? If not, that's fine. You're just missing out.

The Top 10
#6: Dark Tranquillity - We Are the Void

Wednesday
Dec082010

Scientific Journalism? Like Artistic Mathematics?

Most people in the Western world already know of the Wikileaks Cablegate and it's intrepid founder, Mr. Julian Assange and his recent legal troubles. Government enemy No. 1, he's either hated for shining light on the dark, shadowy recesses of authority or hailed as a champion for free speech and the rights of citizens to keep their governments in check.

Like him or not, he and his cohorts have swung an almighty hammer that's left a noticeable and almost unrepairable crack in the facade of international relations and politics. We are reminded once again that governments are in the service of its citizens and not the other way around.

But one element of the defense for his activities is insistence that his brand of iconoclastic reporting is to be called "scientific journalism," as he writes in the Australian:

WikiLeaks coined a new type of journalism: scientific journalism. We work with other media outlets to bring people the news, but also to prove it is true. Scientific journalism allows you to read a news story, then to click online to see the original document it is based on. That way you can judge for yourself: Is the story true? Did the journalist report it accurately? 

To me, as a student of General Semantics and a media professional, linking a primary document as a source of a story isn't really scientific, it's also sort of lazy. It's like using one map against another map of the territory to assess which one is more a true-to-fact re-presentation of territory. At the core of it, scientific journalism has its limits much in the same way new media or citizen journalism does as well as the entire debate surrounding "objectivity", ethics, etc.

If all media outlets adopt scientific journalism then they will also lose the human element in the process. Not every story can be reported via scientific journalism and it would be folly to call for every media producer to do so.

I also believe he misuses the word "scientific" in lieu of the more accurate "evidence-based and cross-verifiable." Science (or rather the scientific method) requires a hypothesis to be tested which is then either refuted or confirmed by the observed results. The nature of human reporting does not bode well for writing stories based on "science." Stories are not experiments to be replicated by other scientific practitioners. The "event" happens only once; we can only infer sense data after the fact. Stories are a medium to convey information from one person to a mass and will contain inaccuracies much like our language which involves a complicated abstraction process.

If our sources are people - witnesses, insiders, etc., we tend to gather information from their impressions - the byproducts of their semantic reactors. How do we know that what they know is accurate and so on into infinite regress.

I am all for an ethical, accurate press and free, open and limited government and I applaud Mr. Assange for his desire (and to a lesser extent, his methods) to tip the balance of power from bureaucratic government toward the people; those who pick up their tab and legitimize its authority. But as for "scientific journalism" Mr. Assange? Stick to what you know - but don't give up.

Thursday
Nov182010

Black Mass, Black Media

A story that I was working on for Metal As Fuck has completely exploded into the mainstream media much to my chagrin. The organizers of the Black Mass Festival in Sydney were forced to find a new venue after the Newtown Returned and Services League (RSL) Club canceled on them after a barrage of Christian lobbyists protested the gig. The organizers and fans were undoubtedly up in arms. But then a few of them got a little stupid, sending death threats to the national president of the RSL, Derek Robson.

Though regrettable, the argument that the RSL curtailed the freedom of these musicians falls very deaf in comparison to the RSL's counter-argument: They all fought and some of their comrades died to protect our freedom. The point being, you have to act very shrewdly when taking on a prominent, national organization with a prestige that is almost unequaled in this country.

The ABC published a story online and also featured it amongst the "top stories" on ABC NewsRadio, replete with an interview with Mr. Robson. One phone call from one of their members can do that - or their PR division. The heavy metal community hasn't even got a one-hundredth of the clout or resources the RSL has or will ever have. That's just the reality of the situation.

Of course, the morons who sent the death threats to Mr. Robson probably didn't have the foresight or knowledge of any of this - they most likely thought the RSL was just a network of pubs that serve cheap drinks. Now they will most likely be visted by nefarious tabloid journalists with steel-capped boots wedged firmly in their front doors, especially when the ABC prints tracts like these, oblivious to the nuances of our particular argot:

"The festival was billed as a "diabolical union of Australia's black metal elite" and was to have featured a "once in a lifetime live ritual and special black mass performance."


The smart option would have been to find co-belligerents - the Secular Party of Australia and other like-minded groups and had them lead the counter-protest on their behalf (since the Black Mass festival is a "fringe" group in terms of the popular consciousness.) The NSW State Government will always favor the RSL, be it Labor or Liberal. If there was a contract signed between the RSL and the Black Mass organizers, the Black Mass, with their added publicity could have found a progressive, secular lawyer to take their case pro bono. The financial burden on the musicians and promoters is now amplified since they will take a massive loss returning money collected for tickets in addition to what has already been spent on flyers, posters, internet advertising, etc.

So some heavy metal fans have protested the wrong way - and that's perfectly normal. We aren't a politically motivated group of people anyway. We just like to rock out, listen to metal and have fun. In the rare cases in which metal and the moral majority collide, metalheads need to draw on the resources they already have - the metal media - to advise them which route to travel to get the best outcome with minimal backlash.

We may be volunteers but we aren't amateurs.

Sunday
Nov072010

Returning to a Fold

Last week, I pledged to take a break from Facebook and Twitter. I've mentioned previously that Facebook was almost "unavoidable" due to my running of advertising on behalf of a company I work for. But overall, I feel that my social media "embargo" was a liberating experience.

I saw The Social Network with Steph last week and we discussed whether Facebook is popular because it has a purpose or rather, people discover uses for it ex post facto. We couldn't come up with an answer. Social media, like most media, is created by loathsome people with loose morals for egotistical reasons. Well, it holds true for Mark Zuckerberg, anyway.

So, what the hell have I been doing?

Reading More
I have been reading more. News articles, blogs, magazines, books; you name it, I'm reading it...more. All the while not having any desire for electronic pats on the back, distracting me from actually reading what is written.


Getting Fit
As part of my ongoing personal challenge, I've been going to the gym more. I would usually struggle to go once per week, but this week I have gone there three times and plan to go once more before the week is over. My girlfriend says she notices the difference; I sure as hell don't!


Talking
Relying on social media to get critical messages (as in, ones that initiate action) is like telling a dog to pick you up from the train station. Social media, as a process has different meanings to everyone. Some see it as frivolous, others see it as a marketing tool, more as "agenda" or "trend" setting. (If they did, they certainly require the audience to be as passive as possible.) Using the phone, communicating clearly and concisely without losing the "fidelity" of the message has been a byproduct of this embargo.

Of course, my favorite part of the entire experiment is that people ask me how I'm doing. They no longer have a repository of personal information to make those judgments themselves. They become interested; they listen. I can talk with them instead of at them. Friends are genuinely surprised to know what is happening in my life and how these events effect me.

Social media had for the most part, made me feel I had reduced my life to a rolling headline. But it doesn't and shouldn't; social media attempts merely to make Princess Adelaide's whooping cough front page news all day, every day.

So what now?
I suppose I will use Twitter and Facebook again; albeit not to the inanely rapid frequency that I once did. If I ever "lapse," I can always go back into my personal social media rehab and have a great time there. I have missed talking to some people on there since we also talk outside of Twitter but not to the extent we do "on."

I do feel that Twitter and Facebook are good tools for people to have. However, like every good tool - a spoon, for example - they aren't meant to be used all the time, for every possible application. They have limitations and so do we.