Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Return of the Nineties

So, I'm not so high n mighty as to deny that in the mid to late nineties, my focus on "post hardcore" included some stuff that now gets called "Nu Metal". I honestly don't care. The primary way to understand my tastes in music is to picture Alex from a Clockwork Orange, only set it in the 1980's. With me so far? See, I was basically a brute, only teen aged and skinny. But, I had a fairly innate sense of sonics and music. So, usually, I was going to hardcore shows at Safari Sam's, or the Fleetwood. But, I was also drawn to new wave/Punk rock shows at the Vex, or at Madame Wong's, and I was getting into the nascent noise/industrial scene. I really haven't changed all that much from 1980 until now. My bread and butter is still simplistic loud rock music, but I have an appreciation for other, more refined things.
This means that when there's a new Therapy? or Prong, or Prodigy release, I'm not struck by the same notion that it's probable you have: "Those idiots are still at it?" I feel a sense of solidarity with them.
For example, the new Prong record- Tommy Victor is a lifer. I remember working "with" him back in the late 1980's- he was the sound guy at CBGB's, and quite frankly, he wouldn't let me touch the board. Probably a wise choice. So, I don't think of him as some dumb Metalhead trying to follow up his 15 minutes- I think of him as "one of us"- a kid who was rejected by everywhere, but tough enough to take that abuse, and made something of himself by way of hardcore. That his tastes lean way more into metal than mine doesn't matter as much as the fact that he was there, same as me. So, the new Prong record- a collection of covers called "Songs from the Black Hole" doesn't strike me as some aging metalhead trying to garner false authenticity by doing a bunch of songs from other genres- he's doing the same thing as me- his base is that hardcore scene, but his tastes flow out into other scenes and genres, and he's just going back to his comfort zone. It's too bad that people will never understand that, and that the other narrative will surely win out- because the world has, rightfully, moved on, and so, they see what Tommy and I will never comprehend, truly- that you are what others say you are. It doesn't matter that Tommy still thinks, like I do, that he's still that hardcore kid from 1985- the rest of the world knows that he's pushing 60, and played Metal, in Metal bands, for Metal fans the vast majority of his career. This record might re-write history, but I doubt it. Still, I don't think it's for history. I think it's for him and me, and people like us. For us, the world changed, but we didn't.
Prodigy, or Liam Howlett, likewise is still the guy he was in the mid 1990's. See, whereas I'm a hardcore kind of guy, he's more a punk and rave guy-the kind of northern town UK yob that seems to be the equivalent. He's trying to update the sound, but it's still the same kind of grind as "Firestarter" from Fat of the Land. Martina Topley-Bird still gets the best hooks on the LP. You'd be forgiven for writing it off as a nostalgia-fueled cash in on their best years. But, that misses the point, completely- they weren't copping this sound, just like Tommy isn't copping his Metal crossover sound- this is genuine. Liam has never stopped doing exactly this- a yobbish punk riffed electro rock. You can take it or leave it, but it's not a revival- it's his thing, his method of communicating.
Which leads me to the new Therapy? record, which I like much better than both of these others. Therapy? got little respect going all the way back to the early 1990's- people forget that the band formed in 1989, not 1994- they're not catching the pop punk or grunge bandwagon. Therapy? was, is, and most likely always will be an industrial noise rock band with Bad Religion styled choruses. They aren't trying to write post grunge anthems- they're still a metallic post punk band. I know, I know, they've been on so many Heavy Metal bills, and must surely know they have a metal audience, but I know what I'm hearing, and it's still Big Black meets Bad Religion, maybe with some Jesus Lizard and some detroit techno thrown in. Are they yet more yobs? Not exactly- these are Art college types, who just so happen to be northern Irish, which means that they'll never get the credit for their intellectual capital. Instead, people hear the aggression and tune out. Their loss, I guess, in that they are missing out on Andy Cairn's rather astute takes on mental illness- he moved much further on from the Steve Albini industrial "observational" style of just talking about mental illness, as if it's a laboratory experiment, and gone inside and outside it- sometimes confessional, sometimes observational. The question mark may have started as a typographical error, but it's gone on to become the central focus. His songs are all about questioning sanity- both his and yours. That's far more intellectually engaging than the political discourse that lends a lot more respect to rocknroll bands.
So, this new record "Disquiet" shares Prong and Prodigy's stubborn tenacity- sticking with the sound they always have had- but adds a layer of humanity that they don't have. See, they are telling us that it's a "return" to their best selling LP "Toublegum"  which is a record they've always had problems translating. The issue has been that it sold very very well as a "pop metal" album- and they never saw it as such. Here's what they're doing now: attempting to solve that problem. First, they're doing so lyrically, thematically, and intellectually: in essence, they're admitting that all that angst, all that rage, all that alienation was self-created- that the insanity might have come from drugs, and unaddressed childhood fears. They're admitting that their own shortcomings might have done more to them, than other people's. This, already, though not popular with the Yob crowd, is more human and genuine than Nu metal could ever get to being. Musically, they are also solving the problem- the sonic experiments are less ends to themselves, and more about serving the pop song format. People might see it as pandering, but I think it's more honest than that- they have just stopped trying to be difficult, in the hopes of being recognized as artistically sound. It's a way of saying "Sure, we play pop music, with a slightly eccentric bent- but that has value, too!"
So, a nineties revival? Maybe, but I prefer to think it's more about revisiting things left unsaid, to see if there's still any merit to anyone's beliefs.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Ufomammut- Ecate

Do you have a problem with Metal? I do. But, I don't have a problem with this new Ufomammut record. It's like the best parts of Neurosis- all brood and fanfare and crushing atmosphere, mixed with the best parts of Hawkwind- hypnotic mantra-riffs, Space electronics, and a rejection of anything organic, or folksy. The result is like being abducted by alien vikings, and recruited into a war to retake the universe for everything heroic and noble.
Yes, guitars, drums, bass,keyboards and vocals figure all over this, but, like Neurosis and Hawkwind, that's not what this is about. It's about creating a scene, and blasting off from there. It's heavy, and hypnotic, and psychedelic, but it seems light years away from jamming, and musical traditions. I know it has happened, but I cannot envision Ufomammut being on the same stage as, say, Baroness- even though it's part of the same genre- this seems properly from outer space. That's why I'm good with it being "sludge metal". It's not really part of  genre or even music in that sense- this is about world building- about putting the audience into a different way of thinking, and a different perception.
So, if metal is your thing, you may like it.But, if having an open mind, and an affinity for loud music is more your thing, I really think you might like it more.