29 June 2008

Album of the Week: Sunn O))) - White1

The Brainchild of Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson, Sunn O))) (pronounced simply "sun") plays a brand of music unlike anything you're likely to have heard before. Sunn O))) takes the lumbering and heavy sound pioneered by Black Sabbath, Saint Vitus and Pentagram and takes it to a new, earthshaking extreme.

Released in 2003, White1 is one of Sunn O)))'s more accessible efforts, although it still requires a pretty open mind to listen to and appreciate. Despite clocking in at just under an hour of playing time, the album features only three tracks. As you might imagine, these are long, slow and heavy. Like all of Sunn O)))'s outings, White1 is a slow, plodding behemoth--unlike most other forms of music, riffs here can take several minutes to develop, and they are crushingly heavy.

The album begins with "My Wall", a twenty-five minute piece throughout which runs a lengthy (big surprise, there) poetic monologue, written and delivered by Julian Cope, that is reminiscent of T. S. Eliot in his more nihilistic moments. Indeed, Sunn O))) is the kind of music that is ideally suited to accompany Eliot's poetry. "The Gates of Ballard" is next, opening with a recitation of "HÃ¥vard Hedde" (a traditional Norwegian Folk song) before giving way to a Sleep-esque bass riff. This is also one of the few Sunn O))) songs to employ percussion. "A Shaving of the Horn that Speared You" closes out the album with an eerie and unsettling ambient passage.

I'll be honest: I wasn't thrilled the first time I listened to Sunn O))). You might not be, either. Therefore, let me pass on to you a piece of advice that a wise friend gave me: to be properly enjoyed, Sunn O))) (and indeed all Drone Doom Metal) must be played loud. Maximum volume for maximum results, so the saying goes. To that, I would add that a good sound system is necessary. A good subwoofer is crucial, though with a pair of decent headphones one can still appreciate the music. Sunn O))) sounds godawful on laptop speakers (actually, this is true of all music, but especially so of Drone Doom).

White1 is probably the best place to start for those who are new to Sunn O))), as it contains "Gates of Ballard", one of their faster and more accessible songs. It takes some patience and an open mind, but an astute listener will find the album to be a rewarding experience (although their neighbors might not think so much of it).

27 June 2008


I'm all wound up and giddy, because I just got received in the mail the copy of Stars of the Photoplay (from 1930) that I ordered. At a little more than $20, it was a pretty serious steal.

25 June 2008

Relevant to my Interests, Ep. 12

Myrna Loy was one of the most successful stars of the 1930s, being crowned the Queen of Hollywood in 1938 (opposite Clark Gable, who received the miter and scepter of the King of Hollywood). Her amicable on-screen persona (which earned her honors as the "perfect wife") was matched by the all-around awesomeness of her actual self--she made only one movie during World War II, as she was working full-time for the Red Cross (she had previously been blacklisted by Adolf Hitler for denouncing him). She was also a proponent of the civil rights movements of the 1960s, and opposed the anti-Communist witch hunt of McCarthy and the House Unamerican Activities Committee in the 1950s.

Also, she was hot. Let's not forget that ever-so-important detail, shall we?

24 June 2008

More Lost Freedom

Guess who got denied parole yet again? Better luck next time, Varg. It's probably a safe bet that that Norwegian government won't let him out before 2015--they probably aren't eager to have a convicted murderer and political extremist out and about. As an aside, Mr. Vikernes looks a lot like this guy who asked if I had any spare change at the Seattle waterfront one time.

Photo originally found on Burzum.org.

23 June 2008

The King is Dead...


I just learned of the passing of George Carlin. This is the worst news I've heard all year. I had a feeling this was going to happen any day now, and lo and behold...

George Carlin was not only one of the best comedians of the twentieth century, but also one of the most under-appreciated philosophical minds of our (or indeed any) age. The world is diminished by his absence. In pace requiscat, Mr. Carlin. As my feeble words are hardly enough to do justice for so great a man, please read the New York Times obituary for a more fitting tribute.

22 June 2008

Album of the Week: Sodom - In the Sign of Evil (1984)

Before Mayhem, Darkthrone and Burzum created Black Metal as we know it today, such bands as Bathory and Venom pioneered the sound. Equally influential upon the Norwegian scene was German Thrash Metal outfit Sodom. The first studio effort by Tom Angelripper and company was 1984's In the Sign of Evil, a five-song EP that is highly regarded in extreme Metal circles.

In the Sign of Evil is composed primarily of furious Thrash Metal with a notable infusion of Death Metal and elements of what would eventually become Black Metal--essentially, a mixture of Hellhammer/Celtic Frost riffs and the speedier tempos of Bathory or early Slayer. The result, while certainly not a thing of beauty, is nevertheless a real treat. Sodom's modus operandi on In the Sign of Evil is speed. Save for song intros and the occasional breakdown, Sodom cranks out five tracks of breakneck, undiluted Thrash.

Like any album, however, In the Sign of Evil is not without its drawbacks. For one thing, the drums aren't always as precise as you might want them, and though Tom Angelripper's vocals are suitably evil, the English-as-a-second-language nature of the lyrics have the unfortunate effect of making them seem a little silly. Take the first verse of "Blasphemer," for example:
Black metal is the game I play
'cause no one show me the right way
I am a bloody Antichrist, only believe in bad
Spit at the church, Evil I get
Of course, looking for profound lyrics in Thrash Metal is like looking for an apartment in New York that's both spacious and affordable--you probably aren't going to find what you're looking for. One last problem with In the Sign of Evil is its brevity--the album is a scant 18 minutes long (it is an EP, after all). This problem, however, was remedied on the 1988 re-release, which included Obsessed by Cruelty (Sodom's inaugural full-length album) in its entirety.

Despite its drawbacks, however, In the Sign of Evil is still one of the most significant releases in the developmental history of extreme Metal. It is a worthy purchase for collectors of Metal history, or indeed anyone looking for quality Thrash Metal. Just don't confuse it with 2007's The Final Sign of Evil, which is a modern re-recording of the 1984 original (and with which, naturally, many fans were not pleased).

21 June 2008

Topper (1937)

Topper (1937) chronicles the postmortem adventures and misadventures of George and Marian Kerby (played by Cary Grant and Constance Bennet, respectively) as they attempt to inject a healthy dose of liveliness into the humdrum life of banker Cosmo Topper (played by Roland Young). It is a film that is widely loved by old movie fans, and understandably so--it's downright charming throughout.

Cosmo Topper is a banker who lives a bland and boring life, which centers around a boring routine proscribed by his wife (played by Billie Burke). It is a stark contrast to the freewheeling lifestyle led by the Kerbys, who drink hard, drive fast and sleep comfortably under the stars in their mammoth customized 1936 Buick Roadmaster. However, the two take the old adage of living fast, dying young and leaving a good-looking corpse to heart, as George's reckless driving winds up killing the happy couple in a crash.

George and Marian soon come to the realization that they are deceased, but deduce that they must do a good deed in order to earn a trip to the great gig in the sky. They determine that their good deed ought to be helping Topper (whom Marian affectionately names "Toppy") learn how to enjoy life. Hilarity, of course, ensues.

As the Kerbys are phantoms, they are capable of becoming invisible at will. As a result, they are capable of wreaking havoc undetected--the source of much of the film's comedy. Cary Grant and Constance Bennet are rather charming, and are a pleasure to watch--Cary Grant, lady killer that he is, drives with his feet in the opening scene of the film, and Constance Bennet vamps it up with tongue planted firmly in cheek, and to great effect. Roland Young does a great job as the stuffy banker, and serves as a great foil for the Kerbys.

One of my favorite details of the movie, however, has to be the Buick. Truly the land-yacht of land-yachts, this immense beast of an automobile looks as though it could take a round from a Panzerfaust and remain unscratched (it is, after all, a relic from the days when American car manufacturers were still making good cars!). Should I ever become a millionaire with dollars to burn, you can rest assured that I'd get that car, if only for the novelty of it all.

Like many classic comedies, Topper has withstood the test of time. The forthcoming remake won't have a quarter of the charm that the 1937 original has.

19 June 2008

Frostland Tapes

On 23 June, Darkthrone will release Frostland Tapes, a compilation which contains all four of their demo tapes. Also included is the material which was intended for their second album, but which was set aside after Fenriz and Nocturno Culto decided to change direction and pursue a Black Metal sound (Darkthrone, as you might know, was originally formed as a Death Metal band under the name Black Death).

The Ecyclopaedia Metallum entry for Frostland Tapes has the necessary info:
To coincide with the band's 21st anniversary, this is a fascinating trip into the earliest years of the band and the first official release ever to contain all 4 of Darkthrone’s demos in one place.

Frostland Tapes also includes a rare live recording from Denmark in 1990 (one of only a handful of live appearances that Darkthrone has ever made) and, perhaps most significantly, the previously unreleased version of the infamous 1991 Goatlord rehearsal session.

These songs were intended to feature on the proposed second album, before the band changed direction and the tapes were confined to the vaults. Vocals were subsequently added in the mid-nineties, but they are presented here as the recording sounded in 1991.

Collectors will no doubt leap at the chance to get a hold of this rare material, and rightly so. Darkthrone has almost never performed live in concert, which makes the included live recordings all the more intriguing. Some of the material present was previously available through the Limited Edition of Preparing for War, which was originally released in 2005. Still, there is enough new stuff here to merit obtaining Frostland Tapes, even if you are one of the lucky few to own a copy of the earlier compilation. It would have been nice if the two demos recorded during the Black Death era were included, but those have probably gone the way of London After Midnight.

18 June 2008

The Scarecrow

Avantasia is the solo project of Tobias Sammet, the front man and principal songwriter for Edguy. Then again, it may not be quite right to call it a solo project--Tobias recruited a small army of guest musicians and vocalists to take part. 2001 saw the release of Avantasia: The Metal Opera, followed by a second installment a year later. The Avantasia saga was an ambitious work, but generally well-recieved among Power Metal enthusiasts. Six years later, Sammet has recruited yet another horde of guest musicians for another Avantasia outing. Far from being a third episode in the Avantasia saga, The Scarecrow is instead more of an all-star jam session.

Whereas I was extremely pleased with parts one and two of The Metal Opera, my feelings about The Scarecrow are somewhat mixed. What sets the latest Avantasia outing apart from its predecessors is that the new material is more along the lines of conventional Rock music than Power Metal. Most of the songs here are of the radio-friendly, mid-tempo rocker variety, and thus lack the intensity of Sammet's earlier Avantasia material. For a metalhead like me, this has the unfortunate effect of making The Scarecrow less engaging than The Metal Opera. On the other hand, there are a few truly solid songs here; "Shelter From the Rain," "Devil in the Belfry" are fast and properly Metal, and the more rock-oriented "Lost in Space" is also a quality song.

Yet there is one thing that every song does possess in abundance, and that is passion. Even if I don't always like the final product, Tobias Sammet always injects a healthy dose of enthusiasm into his music. His lyrics and music are always passionate, and I have to give him a lot of respect for that. Even if it fails to live up to its predecessors, The Scarecrow is not without its highlights. Those who are more interested in conventional Rock music might find The Scarecrow to be a satisfying listen, and hopefully it will inspire them to look into the diptych of The Metal Opera. I recommend giving The Scarecrow a listen, and enjoying it for what it is.

Bonus youtube magic:

15 June 2008

Album of the Week: Deicide (1990)

Deicide, along with such contemporaries as Morbid Angel and Obituary, was one of the biggest names to come out of the fertile Florida Death Metal scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Glen Benton and company released two demos under the name Amon, but adapted their new name in 1990, the same year in which they would release their autonymous debut album.

1990's Deicide is a prime example of old-school Death Metal (as well as one of the most successful). It features the muddy production that was typical of the era, with down-tuned guitars and deep, pounding drums. Benton's vocals are extra-distorted, just to give the album that little extra demonic spice (indeed, this is one of the hallmarks of Deicide's sound). The bass (played by Benton as well) is fairly prominent in the mix, which is something of a departure from the extreme metal standard.

The dual guitar work of the Hoffman brothers is praiseworthy; every song on the album is loaded with chunky, heavy riffs, with intermittent shrieking solos. There is plenty of variety in the rhythm section, thanks to the the time changes and breakdowns that occur. Standout tracks include "Carnage in the Temple of the Damnded" (a song about the Jonestown massacre) and "Dead by Dawn", which may well be one of the best Death Metal songs of all time. Deicide is a milestone in the history of Death Metal, and an essential item for any metal collection.

13 June 2008

Things I Have Learned in the Past 24 Hours

  • It is possible to do the Charleston (or at least a modern approximation of it) to Drum and Bass music.
  • Sometimes, another guy will buy you a drink for no other reason than the fact that he likes your hat
  • Even if you don't actually have a job just yet, walking around downtown Seattle in a suit makes you look and feel important
  • I am actually capable of city driving without bursting into flames
  • I need a more fuel-efficient car
  • I can, apparently, type fifty words per minute
  • Microsoft Office can do a lot more than what I already knew it could
  • How to tie a necktie

12 June 2008

Non Sequiturs, Ep. 5

The pretentious classicist in me abhors this, but my inner nerd thinks this is the greatest thing ever. Katanas make everything better. Even Grand Hotel, which in a perfect world would end in a stylishly-choreographed swordfight between Flaemmchen and Grusinskaya in the lobby of the hotel (with Flaemmchen winning, naturally). Not that the plot of the film really provides for such a scene, but it still would have been fantastic. And stop staring at me like that.

09 June 2008

Relevant to my Interests, Ep. 11

Bebe Daniels was one of the biggest names in Hollywood during the 1920s, and if the accounts are to be believed, one of the most dedicated actresses in the business. I found one of my favorite anecdotes about Bebe on the Silent Movie Blog, the details of which are as follows:
She's a hardy perennial. I can recall but one picture in which Bebe was not ill or injured. Her most serious accidents occurred when, on location, the protruding branch of a big tree swept her from a truck, and during the sword play of Senorita, when she was accidentally stabbed in the corner of one eye. Her bravery is no publicity myth around our first-aid hospital. Regardless of suffering, she is always ready with a joke.
Bebe now has a website dedicated to her, which claims to be "bringing Bebe back." Because those other girls don't know how to act! A noble cause, to be sure; I'm always in favor of a little idolatry, myself.

Credit given where credit it due: the above photo comes to you through the courtesy of flickr user Catchpenny.

08 June 2008

Album of the Week: 1349 - Hellfire

1349, along with Carpathian Forest and Gorgoroth, was among the first Black Metal bands I tried to listen to. In retrospect, that might not have been the best idea. I might have opted for something a bit more accessible and subtle. 1349's brand of Black Metal is among the most intense in existence, giving Marduk and their numerous Norsecore imitators a real run for their money. Where 1349 surpasses those competitors, however, is in the quality of the musicianship.

This fact was not readily apparent to me when I was a Black Metal neophyte, but though I found 1349 a bit overwhelming at first, it would eventually become one of my favorite Black Metal outfits (and the only one I have managed to see live, for that matter). One of the keys to 1349's success is that the band makes the old Black Metal formula a bit more interesting by injecting elements of technical Death Metal into their songwriting. This is especially true on Hellfire, which the band released in 2005. 1349 intersplices the ubiquitous blast beats with breakdowns and time changes, all done with crisp precision, thanks to the talented drumming of Frost (on loan-out from Satyricon, his primary project).

With Hellfire, 1349 launches a vicious, face-melting musical offensive and doesn't let up until the curtain falls. "To Rottendom" and "Sculptor of Flesh" are the strongest tracks on the album, though all the tracks have their strengths. Of interest is the title track which (not coincidentally) clocks in at thirteen minutes and forty nine seconds. By and large, Hellfire is an intense experience, but a rewarding one for the listener who is willing to tough it out.

06 June 2008

Great Lady-Killers of Yesteryear: Johnny Mack Brown

Like so many actors and actresses of the day, Johnny Mack Brown enjoyed a fair bit of popularity at the end of the silent era. He shared the screen with such leading ladies as Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Anita Page and even Mary Pickford (hence the expression "macking it" and "mack daddy"). A noteworthy achievement in an of itself, but Johnny's successes were not limited to the silver screen. He was the featured Halfback for the Alabama Crimson Tide (where his nickname was "the Dothan Antelope," after his hometown of Dothan, Alabama), and achieved MVP honors in the 1926 Rose Bowl. Seriously, if Johnny Mack Brown had a lightsaber, it would have "Bad Motherfucker" engraved on the hilt.

Unfortunately, his big-name success did not last terribly long--though he was being groomed to be one of MGM's leading men, the studio execs opted to go for some guy named Clark Gable instead. Johnny went on to star in a myriad of B-movie westerns, however, so it wasn't a total wash.

The above photo was originally found on Virtual Film History.

04 June 2008

Vignettes of Absurdity: Poverty Row Luncheon

Poverty Row, c. 1935Dorothy: Wait a minute, are we really going to eat a puppy?

Anita: Well, it's either that or McDonald's again.

Dorothy: Ugh. McDonalds. No thank you.

Anita: Really. And besides, Garbo threatened to call the cops if she found us going through her trash again.

Dorothy: Couldn't we just mooch off of Joan for a while longer?

Anita: Dot, I know Joan's been a real sport about letting us crash on her couch since 1934, but I think she's gotten a bit tired of us. Every time she brings home a virile young man, there we are, stinking of gin and playing Mario Kart until all hours.

Dorothy: Yeah, you're right. And I think Joan's still secretly pissed at me for downing her entire bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label in a single night.

Anita: You might say that.

Dorothy: Ah, the good old days.

Anita: Oh man, I can't wait to eat this puppy. Say, what goes best with puppy, red wine or white?

Dorothy: Well, considering we only have a bottle of Night Train and two forties of Olde English 800, I'm gonna say red.

Anita: It's gonna be an Easter weekend to remember!