23 July 2008

The Nighthawks

"The Nighthawks" is a famous piece of American painting by Edward Hopper. Hopper began the painting shortly after the bombing of Pearl Har... wait, who in the hell is that guy?

22 July 2008

A Few Old Photos...

I happened across a dozen or so old photos of mine that had been collecting dust in my Photobucket account. Some of these I haven't seen in years. They all date from 2004 or 2005. I've excluded the more mediocre attempts.

An unknown species of tree outside Harrington Hall at the University of Puget Sound. I was pretty heavily into Nine Inch Nails at the time, which is why this picture seems like an attempt to imitate typical NIN album art from The Fragile era.

One of my earliest attempts at macro photography. Previously, I was into landscapes. The symmetrical composition of this is decent, but otherwise it's kind of boring.

Probably the first decent photo I ever took, and it just happened to turn out that way. I don't remember it being so cloudy and dark when I took the picture; as I recall, it was a late evening in June, and the sky was pretty damned blue.

21 July 2008

Stalingrad, 1943

Adventures in Blogging

I am continually tempted to fiddle around with the formatting of my blog (regular viewers have no doubt noticed this, as the blog has a tendency to look different every month or so). I'm just obsessive and compulsive about it, I guess. I have spent whole afternoons fiddling with the layout of my blog, and as soon as manage to get it to look how I want it to, I'll find something else that I like. I know I ought to pay more attention to substance rather than style, but my absurd sense of aesthetics often distracts me.

I was also thinking I might focus more on images, and less on abortive attempts at writing. As I see it, this blog should represent an insight into my somewhat irrational stream of consciousness. When I try to focus on a single subject--for example reviewing albums--I'm not always happy with the result. I have a hard time producing paragraph after paragraph of prose; it's always been my habit to be short and to the point. Sometimes writing comes easily, and sometimes it doesn't. Nevertheless I feel obligated to produce, although the results aren't always what I would like them to be. Recording my stream of consciousness is the only thing that I can really do at length without forcing it.

I think I might cease featuring an album every week, and simply offer commentaries on albums when the mood strikes me. I'm not really any kind of music critic, but I do know good music when I hear it. For me, music isn't really a matter of molding notes into pleasing melodies; rather, it's about creating an atmosphere and conveying an emotion. This is part of the reason I don't like generic pop music--it doesn't have atmosphere, only simplistic hooks and catchy melodies to keep the interest of listeners with short attention spans. I admit I'm a pretentious, elitist asshole when it comes to music (everyone who listens to Sunn O))) is).

One thing I will promise, however, is that I will not bore you with the tiresome minutiae of my personal day-to-day life. It's all very mundane, and nobody really gives a shit (and besides, I have a livejournal for that).

17 July 2008

New Dragonforce Album

DragonForce is one the hokiest bands to ever walk the face of the earth (with a name like that, how could it not be?). The British Power Metal outfit will release their fourth album next month. Entitled Ultra Beatdown, it looks more like a video game than a Heavy Metal album. Power Metal is goofy by definition, but DragonForce really seems to be pushing the envelope with their latest effort.

As for the music... well, it's DragonForce. If you've heard one DragonForce song, for all intents and purposes you've heard them all. "Heroes of Our Time", one of the songs on the forthcoming album, is nothing if not proof of this. On the other hand, anyone who likes Dragonforce knows how formulaic the band is, so it's not likely to be a bother to them. Sure, the band is a one-trick pony, but at least they do that one trick really well.

I've got a feeling that a lot of metal purists are going to hate this album as much as (if not more than) they hated 2006's Inhuman Rampage.

14 July 2008

Album of the Week: Green Carnation - The Burden is Mine... Alone (2005)

I know I'm a bit late--it really should have been written yesterday, but forgive me, I've been distracted--so I'll keep it short this time around.

Green Carnation was a Progressive Metal outfit from Norway. It was composed primarily of members of the now-deceased In The Woods... and two of the more laid-back members of Carpathian Forest. Every one of Green Carnation's releases was a bit different from its predecessor, and The Burden is Mine... Alone, a four-track EP released in 2005, was no exception to this trend. All the "metallic" elements were stripped down to bare-bones acoustics, and The four tracks on the album all feature a discernably melancholic (though hardly despairing) atmosphere.

"The Burden is Mine... Alone" is the first track on the album. It is quite soft, but nonetheless pulls the listener in. "Sweet Leaf" is the second track, and though its faintly martial tempo has the effect of giving it a more upbeat feel than its predecessor, it maintains the melancholy of the album. "Transparent Me" is the third track, an emotional ballad of love lost. "Six Ribbons" closes out the album, and it is an appropriate choice. It is a faux-traditional folk song originally composed by Australian songwriter Jon English. Its folksy composition is simple, but nevertheless Green Carnation's rendition of the song is perhaps the most stirring song on the album.

The first two tracks on this album would reappear on Green Carnation's follow-up LP, Acoustic Verses, which, sadly, would prove to be the band's last effort, as the members went their separate ways in 2007.

Though short, The Burden is Mine... Alone is one the strongest offerings in the Green Carnation discography. It is a moving and satisfying listen.

10 July 2008

The Art of Grimness, Ep. 7

Nortt, a one-man project hailing from Denmark. Nortt refers to his music as "Pure Depressive Black Funeral Doom Metal." It's a mouthful, but it fits. His third full-length LP, entitled Galgenfrist, was released earlier this year, and like its predecessors, the album is full of the darkest, most soul-crushingly depressive music one is likely to hear (and I mean that it the best way possible). In one interview, Nortt had this to say about his music:
...the philosophy of Nortt is to dwell around death, which is viewed as an inevitable and alluring phenomenon. Death is described from the perspective of the dying and from the dead. The uncertainty of death is preached as more thrilling than the well-known pain of live [sic].
I'd say he captures that essence pretty damned well in his music.

07 July 2008

The Booze Report, Ep. 1

Night Train Express

In my erstwhile attempts at humor, I have made reference to a infamous concoction known as Night Train. It's been something of a running joke for me. It was not until last night, however, that I actually managed to get my hands on a bottle of it.

The proper name of the low-end fortified wine is Night Train Express. It weighs in at 17.5% alcohol by volume (sci. 35 proof). Thus, in the standard-issue 750ml bottle, you get 131.25ml of pure, sweet alcohol. Well, maybe not pure, but definitely sweet. Though the label claims that the liquor is a copyright of "Night Train Limited", Night Train Express is actually a product of the E & J Gallo Winery (though they'd probably prefer that you forget about that little factoid). Night Train was also the subject of a popular song by Guns 'n' Roses, which had the effect of increasing the sales of the wine by a considerable margin.

But does Night Train live up to the hype? Indubitably. Aside from being quite potent, Night Train is also quite drinkable. I wouldn't go so far as to say it tastes good, mind you--the overall sensation is that of alcoholic Kool-Aid, although Night Train is naturally of a bit thicker consistency. Add to that combination the fact that it's light on the wallet--the bottle cost a mere four dollars--and Night Train is a recipe for success (actually, its more a recipe for drunken stupor, but you get the idea).

Of course, Night Train is not without its drawbacks. Though it goes down easy, those with weak stomachs might find that the potent potable does not sit all that well, and it definitely has the potential for some fairly intense hangovers. Night Train has also been cited for its narcotic properties, and not without reason--I did feel a bit more tired than I usually do after a vigorous bout of drinking.

Will it be a repeat purchase? That depends on whether or not I am able to find a job and a girlfriend (so the odds are it probably will be). My experience with Night Train was actually quite positive. No queasiness, no hangover, and only mild drowsiness. Of course, I should probably mention the fact that I only had half of a bottle--this guy took care of the other half. We also each had a 40oz of Olde English 800 before we got aboard the Night Train, but that will have to wait until the next episode of the Booze Report.

06 July 2008

Album of the Week: Candlemass - Epicus Doomicus Metallicus (1986)

Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, dating from 1986, was the debut album from Candlemass. It is also one of the most important and influential albums in all of Doom Metal. It contains only six songs, but every one of these is a classic. Perhaps even moreso than the three other albums that Candlemass released in the 1980s, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus is slow and heavy, moving at the deliberate pace of a thunderstorm on an August afternoon. What really sets this album apart from the Candlemass curriculum vitae is the excellent performance given by vocalist Johan Längqvist; he croons with great passion and demonstrates impressive range, though he is most effective as a baritone (Längqvist's voice is, in fact, deeper than Messiah Marcolin's).

The album opens with "Solitude", a canonical Doom Metal track. Next is "Demons Gate", the longest song on the album, but perhaps also the heaviest. The third track is "Crystal Ball", which not only showcases Längqvist's vocal range but also features an almost Thrashy passage. "Black Stone Wielder" is next. It is for the most part a mid-tempo affair, though it features a suitably Doomy breakdown midway through the song. The excellent "Under the Oak" follows, my personal favorite. Closing out the album is "A Sorcerer's Pledge", a powerful and epic track (though still quite in keeping with the Doom Metal ethos).

It's difficult to determine which rendition of "Under the Oak" I like best--this one, or the later version from Tales of Creation. This earlier version definitely feels more like traditional Doom Metal, but though the later rendition is a bit faster, it is more powerful and evocative. Ultimately, it's too close to call.

Its historical significance aside, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus holds a special place in my heart. Back when I was still working as a Security Patrolman for the university, I used to listen to this album when I was out doing my rounds. As a result, this album always reminds me of cold, dark Autumn nights and empty hallways in old Tudor-Gothic buildings. "A Sorcerer's Pledge" in particular will always make me think about Thompson Hall, and the silhouette of its observatory tower against the purple night sky. I imagine that, in the future, this album will make me very nostalgic for my college days (along with Pink Floyd's The Wall, but that's a matter for another post).

Epicus Doomicus Metallicus is an essential classic of Doom Metal. I can't recommend it strongly enough.

04 July 2008

In Celebration of July 4th...

Because it would be un-American not to wallow in patriotism today, here are three songs that celebrate the good old US of A. When you're done watching, you ought to go do your patriotic duty and blow things up while drinking beer. Lots of beer. And better be some good American beer, not some import from those godless, liberal communists in Europe. While you're at it, you might shoot something, too.

02 July 2008

Der Fünfzehnjährige Krieg der Absurd

Few bands can boast as sordid a past as can Germany's Absurd. Absurd was formed in 1992 by Hendrik Möbus and Sebastian Schauseil, who were later joined by Andreas Kirchner. Needless to say, they were heavily influenced by the then-burgeoning Norwegian Black Metal scene. The band achieved their first bit of notoriety in 1993, when the three bandmates conspired to murder Sandro Beyer, their onetime friend. Not content simply to strangle Beyer with an extension cord, the band used a photograph of his headstone as the cover art for Thuringian Pagan Madness, their 1995 demo tape. The band continued to pursue music while incarcerated, temporarily adapting the moniker of In Ketten (meaning "in chains" in the original German).

The band members were released on parole in 1998, as they were still minors when they committed the murder. Hendrik Möbus (pictured at left) soon found himself in trouble yet again, when at a concert he performed a Nazi salute, a gesture which is forbidden by German law. The result of this latest offense was the revocation of his parole. Möbus fled to the United States, for a time taking asylum with William Luther Pierce, an influential white supremacist and founder of the National Alliance. Möbus was arrested in 2000, and was extradited to Germany in 2001. At present he remains in prison. Sebastian Schauseil remains active in the German Black Metal scene (he currently serves as the guitarist and vocalist for the band Wolfsmond), though he has distanced himself from his earlier radical-right politics since leaving Absurd in 1999. Andreas Kirchner also left the band in 1999, and has since flown under the radar.

Though none of the original members are left in the band, Absurd continues to be active under the auspices of Ronald Möbus, Hendrik's brother. 2008 has seen the release of Der Fünfzehnjährige Krieg ("the fifteen year war"), which contains re-recordings of songs that were originally recorded during the Möbus/Schauseil/Kirchner days. What is one to make of music that has such a sordid history behind it? Truth be told, the music is actually pretty good, although it is pretty difficult to countenance the band's political leanings.

Musically, Der Fünfzehnjährige Krieg is something of a departure from the standard Black Metal mold (and no doubt something of a departure from the earlier sound of Absurd). Most of the tracks are of the mid-tempo variety, and do not rely heavily on blastbeats. The guitar riffs, though they demonstrate the prerequisite post-Euronymous distortion, have more of a straightforward Rock feel to them, rather than the Thrash Metal feel one normally hears from Black Metal guitarists, and possess simple--though catchy--melodies. Finally, a balance has been struck between the reptilian harsh vocals and the martial-sounding clean vocals (indeed, the latter sounds eerily like Rammstein at times).

Though I enjoy their music, I find that, in addition to be morally repugnant, Absurd's political message fits the band's name quite suitably. Aryanism and White Supremacism are, at best, laughable fallacies from which little to no good can emerge (kind of like intelligent design, but I digress). It is an unfortunate reality that some bands who write and play excellent music also espouse such atrocious ideals.