Mix Six: “Let’s Get LOUD!”

Download Mix Six “Let’s Get Loud” HERE

This week’s mix comes from Dw. Dunphy — a multi-talented, inveterate and literate commentator on this crazy world of music blogging (and a musician to boot!). If you have a pair of headphones, you might want to plug them in because we’re off on a trip of epic proportions. Enjoy this trek into the more melodic side of metal. Take it away Dw!

–PK

A couple weeks back I had a blast reading guest contributor Taylor’s (from T-Sides) top six rap tracks; so much so, in fact, that I sent word to your lovely Blog host here that I would be willing to take a shot at a mix myself. Not that Py Korry needs guests, mind you, as readers know they’re going to get a hot chunk of MP3 goodness from the man himself on a weekly basis, but my skills as runner-up has always superseded those of being the beauty queen.

I ain’t taping my ass up for no one!

But what to present? It has to be something a little different than the norm, something that justifies my presence more than simply ‘giving it a shot’. Then it occurred to me: let’s get loud.

The following six tracks are technically “metal” tunes, but each band and/or performer has moved away from the perceived role, so there won’t be any demon succubi, horny witches or black masses happening here. I was tempted to throw in Sepultura’s “Roots Bloody Roots” (a/k/a “OOTS! BODY OOTS!”), but calmer nature prevailed… goddammit.

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“In My Time of Need” Opeth (Download) Coming from the Stockholm black metal scene, Opeth quickly established themselves as innovators in a genre begging for a freshening. Mixing punishing thrashing and pounding and lye-gargling death growls with long progressive passages and surprisingly beautiful “clean” vocals, they found fans on both sides of the musical river, fans that would likely never have anything to do with the others’ choices. In 2003, as a companion of sorts to their album “Deliverance”, a particularly brutal offering, they released “Damnation”. The artwork still smacks of black and white gothic madness, the titles still promise things that weep and mourn…

…but then comes the switch-up. This is full on classic rock with fantastic, tasteful guitar, sensible tempos and some of the best vocals ever to come from bandleader Mikael Akerfeldt. “In My Time Of Need” is a prime example featuring a little spooky Mellowtron and a sound that could have been as 1968 as it was 2003.

“Heal” Catherine Wheel (Download) From the alt-rock archives comes a band that not only enjoyed switching up their sound mid-album, but frequently did it mid-song. Catherine Wheel featured a penchant for power chords, amplification and Rob Dickinson, cousin of Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson. At least, that’s the start-off point.

Somehow the band fell in with producer Tim Friese-Green who previously helped 80s synth poppers Talk Talk turn into an incredible jazz-rock unit. Friese-Green drew out Dickinson’s love of many things Floyd (as in Pink) and encouraged his breathy inflections over the common screeching fare of the time. The album “Happy Days”, while having been produced by Gil Norton, got a lot of mojo from Friese-Green on two important tracks: “Eat My Dust You Insensitive Fuck”, perhaps the first blues ballad to feature “fuck” in the title, and “Heal”.

“Heal” starts like a pretty cool grinder of a song with chunking guitars, a little edge in the vocal delivery and a bit of an attitude. Midway though however, like a spinning carnival ride that suddenly flips into slow motion, the floor drops out, the guitars step back and organ takes over. The mood completely shifts.

It shouldn’t work, let alone work this well, and yet even if the audience wanted to bang their head, the band’s not going there. Thankfully so!
“Sweet Nurse” Katatonia (Download) Coming from the same background as Opeth, Katatonia is another unlikely candidate in the listenability category. Death growls, doom chants, guitar flogging. It was all there, but change came knocking, albeit in moderation. 2001’s “Last Fair Deal Gone Down” can’t be considered a pop album, but it sure isn’t black metal anymore. Jonas Renske’s voice is sort of smooth, but he knows how to use it and even when he barely is able to hit the note, it works.

“Sweet Nurse” is a twisted tale of the highest order, inferring a “Misery”-like relationship between a nurse who is drugging her patient into submission and, mostly, sleep. It’s just easier to take care of ’em that way. They’re not so lippy. In this respect, Katatonia is mining a narrative that wouldn’t have been out of place for, I don’t know, Alice Cooper? And still, these dark goings-on are eminently enjoyable slabs of hard rock.
“Sentimental” Porcupine Tree (Download) A change for you now. Porcupine Tree started out as a homebrew psychedelia project by Writer / singer / guitarist / keyboardist / Ist-ist Steven Wilson. Psychedelia turned into prog rock with “The Sky Moves Sideways”, “Signify” (which heralded a full band line-up), then classic pop-rock with “Stupid Dream” and “Lightbulb Sun”. They moved into metal territory with “In Absentia”, “Deadwing” and this year’s “Fear Of A Blank Planet”. However, calling them metal is kind of a disservice. While they still slam the crunch frequently, they bring all those previous styles along too.

We’ll call them “mutts”.

“Blank Planet” is a concept album, a rumination of the modern, disposable society where everything can be had via the internet – music, movies, games, relationships, sex. The point of it is that overload creates a numbing desensitization to all of it. Music is yanked out of the air like breath, strangers can meet and yet always be strangers, and the most intimate, perverse or violent act you can imagine can be tracked down as quick as you can say “Google”.

So is it strange that I’m offering a tune from an album that naysays the act of downloading (in part at least)? Yes. Can’t lie. But the album is pretty spectacular and I’m hoping that by offering a track to you, you’ll go and buy the rest. That’s my hope at least. At worst, I’m feeding steak to the tiger that will eat me.

“Sentimental” is out of place on a metal album, but as previously stated, Porcupine Tree is less a metal / prog / classic rock than it is… uh, er… Porcupine Tree. You’ll just have to trust me.
“Nobody’s Here” Devin Townsend (Download) That brings us to the man who brought us “Far Beyond Metal” with his visceral, crushing, and sometimes hilarious band Strapping Young Lad. Devin Townsend is nothing if not willing to bite the hand that feeds. While SYL and their benchmark album “City” are widely regarded as modern metal deity, they’re as apt to throw a middle finger at the stupidity of metal stereotypes, as they are to throw up the devil horns.

It’s mainly because Townsend has a lot of duality happening. He respects yet mercilessly wedgies the conventions. He shreds his guitar yet finds time to make utterly beautiful music too. His stint as a member of Steve Vai’s band was not wasted, and those moments devoted to soaring on pure amplification are all over his solo disc “Terria”.

The moment I heard the track “Nobody’s Here”, I had some immediate reactions. First, it is the album’s “Comfortably Numb”, both in intent and content. It is an ode to self-medication, to drowning out the pain of life and alternately being a little scared by what it is doing. “I wanna feel like this for a year” alternates with “why can’t I remember?” And while the song that this might have inspired equals the epic quality, Townsend goes at it with fangs bared. On that first listen, I literally got goosebumps, which is a reaction I seldom get from listening to music.

“Travel” The Gathering (Download) That leads us to The Gathering.

Again, with black metal roots, this group from the Netherlands did the growl and the goth hunch. However, after a couple of fair-to-middling efforts, they wound up with a new lead singer who had vocal power, a musical vision and (most important) wasn’t going to destroy her vocal chords for anyone. Anneke van Giersbergen, with her pixie face and fiery red hair, could belt with the best, but she could coo, insist, haunt and wail if necessary. In terms of an ideal front-person, she was the complete package.

Her first album with the band, “Mandylion”, is no-nonsense gothic melodic, as is the follow-up “Nighttime Birds”. The ambitious “How To Measure A Planet?” adds yet another wrinkle to their evolution, working in elements of psychedelia and electronica to produce a sound the band deemed “trip-rock”.

Presented here is a lengthy track, “Travel”, but I couldn’t imagine offering anything else. It’s lush, it’s quiet, it’s loud, it rocks, yet is never truly schizophrenic. Van Giersbergen works her charms in all kinds of ways, guitarist Rene Rutten stomps Iommi-esque crunch and Frippertronics in equal portions, drummer Hans Rutten flips the beat in unexpected ways as keyboardist Frank Boeijen “puts the spirits in the corners of the stage”.

You may know of Lacuna Coil’s Cristina Scabbia. You probably know Evanescence’s Amy Lee. You should have gotten to know Anneke when you had the chance. She recently announced her retirement from the group to form her new project, Agua de Annique, presumably a more stationary unit so she can spend more time with her new family.

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