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September 2017

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Sep. 2nd, 2017 12:45 pm
wshaffer: (incapacitated)
Reader, I must confess - I made it to the age of 43 without ever having done karaoke. Primarily because the idea terrified me. I have genuine anxiety about singing in front of other people. Seriously, I've been at parties where we were playing Rock Band, and I've gotten shaky hands and sweaty palms at just the thought that someone might hand me the microphone. Also, given my music listening habits, my knowledge of contemporary pop music is best described as spotty. (I'm trying to work in a pun about how most of it comes from Spotify, but no dice.) I've always envisioned the experience as trying to croak awkwardly through a selection of barely familiar top-10 hits, which sounded about as much fun as poking oneself in the face with a spork.

But last night, a friend was celebrating her birthday, and had reserved a private karaoke room at a place up in San Francisco. Which meant, at least, that I would only have to croak awkwardly in the presence of half-a-dozen good friends. I figured that if I tried out karaoke in the most stress-free environment possible and it sucked, I could just write it off as a thing I don't do and carry on.

And, lo, it did not suck. I was, in fact, a sweaty-palmed, heart-racing anxiety bunny when I picked up the microphone to do my first song, but I played into it by choosing a song by the Smiths, the musical patron saints of the socially anxious everywhere. I think it's probably impossible to sing the chorus of There Is A Light That Never Goes Out without laughing. ("If a double-decker bus smashes into us, to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die.") And it's very difficult to be anxious while laughing.

We sang a lot of the songs together. (The only songs I really had to sing solo were the ones that I picked that were obscure enough that no one else knew them well enough.) I was also pleasantly surprised by the range of music on offer - it was not just top 10 pop hits. And it turns out that Black Sabbath works pretty well for karaoke.

Not only did the experience not suck, I'm actually looking forward to doing it again. Once I get my voice back.
Lacuna Coil recorded a Christmas song. Hah.

I can't remember whether I mentioned it here before, but I bought a new phone recently. I got an iPhone SE - I was pretty happy with my old iPhone 5 and I probably wouldn't even have bothered to upgrade for a while except that the screen was falling off. When I bought the iPhone SE, I was pretty much expecting to get an iPhone 5 with more storage and a somewhat better camera, and I was happy with that.

However, on Monday, I went to a concert at the Oakland Metro, and I discovered something that completely blows my mind. I took some video of the headlining band, because I wanted to show Daniel a little bit of what the show was like. Now, most cell phone videos taken at concerts sound like crap, because the music is just so loud that it overloads the sound inputs and you get tons of clipping. So, I was very pleasantly surprised when I played the video back and it sounded like this:

Somebody in Apple marketing is missing a trick somewhere. Because if someone had told me, "Get an iPhone SE and you can record listenable concert video even in the second row at the Oakland Metro," I'd have upgraded ages ago.

(no subject)

Jun. 16th, 2016 11:47 am
wshaffer: (Default)
Some days you* just need a fresh dose of Swedish symphonic metal. Spotify found this one for me. I'm rather taken with it - it pretty much adheres to the standard formula (mournful soprano + growly baritone + chuggy guitars + synthesized strings + noodly keyboard solo), but there's a reason it's a standard formula. It works.

* For values of "you" equalling "me". Your mileage may vary.
Every time I hear this song, I can't help but be weirded out by the presence of an (inadvertent?) Audre Lorde reference in old school epic doom metal.

They've always said,
You can't destroy the Master's house with the Master's hammer
I laugh and say,
"I will use any tool I find to tear down his manor"

Let It Go

Aug. 26th, 2015 02:09 pm
wshaffer: (ace)
Yesterday, I stumbled across this cover of "Let It Go" by the French deathcore band Betraying the Martyrs.

I'm not even generally that fond of deathcore, but this is well worth a listen. (If the growling vocals put you off, try to at least listen through the first chorus - from that point on, the song does a better job of balancing the harsh and melodic vocal elements.) I like the fact that, unlike many metal covers of pop songs, this isn't just a tongue-in-cheek exercise in seeing how silly you can make a pop tune sound with death growls and palm-muted guitar riffs stuck on it - it feels to me like the band genuinely put a lot of work into making the song work in a different genre. I actually think that if you somehow hadn't seen Frozen or heard the original song ever before, it might never occur to you that this song was not originally conceived as deathcore. Lyrically, it even fits pretty well into a long lineage of deathcore songs about alienation and power fantasy - although on average deathcore lyricists tend to use more swear words and more explicitly violent/destructive imagery.

I'm really liking Spotify's new "Discover Weekly" playlist. Every Monday, I get a new playlist of about 2 hours of songs that Spotify thinks I'll like, based on my previous listening history. It's much more varied and interesting than what I usually get out of Spotify radio, and requires less effort than manually clicking through a list of recommended artists and albums. It's kind of a stupidly simple idea, but it works.

One of my favorite discoveries to come out of this so far is a band called Unleash the Archers. Like all my favorite power metal, they go straight for that part of your brain that wanted to be your D&D character when you were twelve. Plus, lead their singer is pretty impressive.

Plus, they are totally rocking a Mad Max thing in this video:
A few pictures from my latest foray into pointing cameras at people holding guitars. I'm quite pleased by how some of these turned out:
Pictures )
I recorded and posted a 4th episode of the Stumbling in the Dark podcast over the weekend:

Entombed were kind enough to share the podcast on their Facebook/twitter feed, probably quadrupling my listenership overnight. You guys, I got tweeted by Entombed! Achievement unlocked.

So, I thought I'd share another Entombed song here today. "Wolverine Blues" is not only a classic bit of death-n-roll, but the video is a testament to the days when Marvel was not the mainstream entertainment titan it is today and was totally cool with the idea of allowing Wolverine's image to be licensed and used in a cheesy video by a Swedish death metal band. This would not happen today.

...or, as the rest of us call it, Wintersun.

I still find that these guys are much better live than on record, which is why I'm going to see them when they come to San Francisco at the end of August, but by any standard, this song is pretty epic. 13+ minutes of technical epic melodic whatever - "Sons of Winter and Stars":

Today's musical selection is Overhead, Without Any Fuss, the Stars Were Going Out by Station Disthymia. I haven't actually had a chance to listen to this complete album yet. The first song is over 34 minutes long. The other three are shorter. But I am liking what I have heard so far, and this band has three additional factors going for them:
1. They're from Siberia!
2. The album title is, Overhead, Without Any Fuss, the Stars Were Going Out. Clarke shoutout in my heavy metal. I likes.
3. Writing a 34+ minute song is surely a sign of something. I'll be quite curious to see if it holds up to repeat listens, but it may take me a few weeks to find out.

My attempts to embed the bandcamp music player are failing miserably, so if you want to have a listen, go to the Station Disthymia band camp page here:
Much as I love doom metal, it bugs me that it often seems like such a boys' club. I mean, where do all the girls who love Black Sabbath riffs and gloomy lyrics end up? (Translation: Where are all the women like me?) I once googled "female-fronted doom metal" and wound up on a page that suggested...Nightwish. Bzzzt. No. I mean, I love Nightwish for what they are, but what they aren't is doom metal. In any way, shape, or form.

So, I was tremendously pleased to stumble across Blood Ceremony. The weird thing about Blood Ceremony is how staunchly retro they are. There's precious little in their music to indicate that it was recorded any later than the mid-1970s, but it sounds sincere rather than self-conscious. As if their albums happened to fall through a time warp onto the desk of an A&R guy at Metal Blade records in the 2010s. They sound almost exactly like you would imagine a jam session between Jethro Tull and Black Sabbath sounding if Ian Anderson were a woman. Complete with flute. Flute! How I love rock-and-roll flute.

Here is "Goodbye Gemini" from their most recent album The Eldritch Dark:
Last Sunday, I got to see a legendary British band, pioneers in their genre, playing a show on one of the most eagerly anticipated tours of the summer. No, I'm not talking about the Rolling Stones or Black Sabbath. I'm talking about grindcore/death metal legends, Bolt Thrower.

That the stars aligned to put fellow Brits Benediction and equally legendary California death metallers Autopsy on the bill was a nice plus.
more below the cut )
I have been really enjoying October Tide's new album, Tunnel of No Light. Much as I love doom metal, I have to admit that it can be the sonic equivalent of oatmeal: indisputably nourishing, but occasionally a bit difficult to choke down in all its unremitting heaviness.

October Tide have the knack of infusing doom metal with a dose of atmosphere and melody. If I may be permitted to stretch my culinary metaphor, it's like adding nice fresh blueberries to your oatmeal.

So, October Tide. Part of a complete breakfast, delivering 100% of your RDA of vitamin Doom!

Interesting atmospheric gothy thing from new band Liar In Wait. This is a sample from their forthcoming EP, Translations of the Lost, which will be released on May 28.
Veteran British doom metal band Cathedral have announced that they're calling it quits this year with a final album. And they have released their final video for the song, "Tower of Silence".

The song itself is quite good, starting with one of those relentlessly plodding doom metal riffs that just make you want to turn up the volume and brood. The video is...maybe a tad cheesy? But, yes, I'll take some cheese with my doom. Thank you, Cathedral!

On Saturday, I went and saw Candlelight Red, Lacuna Coil, Coal Chamber, and Sevendust at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco. I might get around to posting a longer review later, but it was a great show all around, though I particularly enjoyed Candlelight Red and Lacuna Coil.

I got a couple of halfway decent photos of Lacuna Coil. Here's my favorite:
Regency Ballroom 3/30/2013

The sound at the show was excellent, but also very loud, so unsurprisingly I haven't seen any audience-shot footage that sounds remotely bearable. So, instead, I'll include the official video for "Spellbound", a Lacuna Coil song that has actually never been one of my favorites, but which I found myself really enjoying when they played it on Saturday.

Early last week, original Fields of the Nephilim bass player Tony Pettitt "liked" Fields of the Nephilim on Facebook, prompting fan speculation that he would be rejoining the band. (Neph fans get into reading the tea leaves. Sometimes years go by where we get nothing out of this band but tea leaves, so it's become a bit of a habit.)

Much to my astonishment, he did in fact appear playing bass for the band's show in Helsinki last Friday. Even more delightfully, based on both eye-witness accounts and YouTube video, the entire band appears to have sounded fantastic. (Alas, the sound quality on the YouTube videos is not great, but it's enough to let you imagine how it might have.)

As far as I know, nobody's made any statement about whether this is a one shot appearance or if Pettitt is back in the band long term. I kind of hope it's the latter. (If the stars align right, I might get a chance to see Fields of the Nephilim perform live during a trip to the U.K. I'm planning for next year. Would love to see them with this line up.)

Again, apologies for crappy sound, but here is the band playing "Psychonaut":
Listened to two more CDs from the grab bag. Again, they present a remarkable contrast.

Arch Enemy. Khaos Legions: This is going to sound like a criticism, but it really isn't: if I had to describe this album in two words, I'd say, "refreshingly unoriginal". Musically there's almost nothing on here that would have felt out of place on a metal album of twenty years ago - maybe a few groove metal-ish breakdowns just to prove that the 90's really happened. And some of the riffs and guitar solos are so predictable that I felt like I could sing along with them on a first listen. But the thing is, I wanted to sing along with it on a first listen. Heck, I wanted to go find a mosh pit on first listen. And play Warhammer. At the same time. No, I'm not sure how that would work.

Act As If. The Iron Is Hot: As far as I can tell, this band are not and never were signed to Century Media records. Presumably it got into the grab bag by accident - or perhaps via a deliberate plot to make some metalheads' heads explode. It's got chimey, reverby guitars, tinkly keyboard bits, a laid-back male singer, and some fairly minimalist percussion provided, I think, by a drum machine. The closest musical comparison I can come up with is that it's a bit reminiscent of Death Cab for Cutie, although (unfortunately) without the humorously dark lyrics that I associate with Death Cab for Cutie. This is good music for driving on an open road on a lazy sunlit afternoon when you're in no particular hurry to arrive at your destination. I probably will not rush to acquire the band's other albums, but I'll probably keep this EP and give it the odd listen from time to time.