Thursday, April 7, 2011

Meshuggah - Catch Thirty-Three

Explorers of New Metal Ground

Alright, I usually don't like all-screaming vocals, but this band really does it for me.

For one thing, he's not screaming all the way through every song. Oftentimes he just lets the band do its thing, sometimes for several minutes at a time. I can imagine him onstage, feeling the energy of the crowd, the band, and just waiting for that chance for his part to come up, building up that energy, walking the stage, feeling his own inner zen, being at peace among the heaviness and the fellow math metal bretheren, and when he does finally release his screams, he's had time to build it up and concentrate and make it sound awesome.

He's also really just about using his voice as an instrument, rather than a way to make you feel sorry for him. There's no angst in his vocals. No childishness. No room for love. He stares death in the face and feels the fear of the images his band's metal conjures.

And the guitars.... oh my god. On Catch, the two guitarists are playing custom-built, Ibanez 8-string guitars. The band's very informative Wikipedia page contains a quote from one of the guitarists where he says that trying to play power chords on one of those 8-string beasts sounds too mushy. It makes sense. You ever try to play a low power chord on a bass guitar? It sounds like shit, unless you really know what you're doing and have a good sound. That's why all the riffs on Catch are single-string riffs, similar to bass lines. Somehow it's still ultra-metal and ultra-brutal. This album certainly conquers new ground in metal.

One feeling I get from this album is one of ... I dunno, a mechanical mechanation of some sort. Like the people making this music aren't human. Lots of metal, especially screamo metal, reminds me more of human weakness than strength..

The combination of two guitarists and a bassist playing those single-note lines, all the same, give those lines a big sound. A less discerning listener might think that the band is just one guitarist, a drummer and the vocalist. But that's cause all three of those Swedes are playing in exact unison. It's a sound you won't get with any other band. It's thick and mechanical and human. Meshuggah borrows from no one, except maybe Metallica, and every metal band must do this. It's in the rules.

Another important thing about this band--they almost never are playing in 4/4 time. It's beautiful. You have to remain open to suggestion with Meshuggah, cause you can never predict where they're gonna go. It's not really easy metal to follow, but it is easy to listen to. Because, somehow, you can bob your head to almost all of their riffs. Metal definitely needs a beat you can get behind, even if every rhythm is a polyrhythm. Somehow their drummer is so kickass that he can go along with these insane guitar lines, and yet make it head-bob-able.

Every song on Catch is a movement in the one song that comprises the whole album. Lots of tracks will change without you realizing it, unless you dutifully watch the track times, which is boring. It adds a prog element to the music. There are recurring themes and riffs that are heard all throughout the album, and yet there are still individual songs to pick out. Here is a video for one such song, "Shed." It comes near the end of the album. It's the epitome of badass. Enjoy.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Radiohead: The King of Limbs review

The new Radiohead album, King of Limbs, is a perfect example of a band stepping out on a limb.

Either that, or it's about a big giant tree. I can't tell. I don't want to exactly find out right away--the exploring of new Radiohead material, to find your own meaning in their weird music, is what I like most about the band: the exploration factor.

I'm not going to pretend that I know exactly what to feel about Limbs. I'm not crazy about the album, but I don't dislike it either. It's too advanced for me right now. It's hit me in an unexpected place. It's from a plane of existence I have not experienced yet. Something foreign. Alien, but from Earth. I want to listen to it more to find out what it's all about. You can probably find somewhere to stream it, if you look hard enough.

What I will not do is say something stupid, like, "I can't believe they'd betray their listeners like this." Additionally, I will not pass undue judgement on the album, as if I have any claim to it or know anything about the writing process the band went through to create it. I'll bet some of the band members were as apprehensive about putting this out as they were Kid A.

Artists must be able to put out what they want, when they want. We'll still eat it up with a spoon. We need new, interesting art, and artists need to be free to make whatever art they want, free of boundaries and gatekeepers and worries of how they might piss off their undeserving fans by creating art that doesn't sound similar to their previous work.

Many people really want to hate this album. I've heard one reviewer say that he wanted more sweeping, emotional moments on Limbs, like he found on In Rainbows. It seems like Radiohead were sick of giving people emotional, sweeping moments, and I don't blame them. It made them into rock stars, caught in the whirlwind of fame. It's made them jaded as hell, and who wouldn't be in that situation?

A friend of mine said, "I sure hope this is a joke album, and not the new Radiohead." Well, go cry over a cup of tea and How to Disappear Completely if you're so worked up about it. Let out those demons. Then realize that Yorke, Greenwood, Selway, O'Brian, and Greenwood don't have to do anything they don't want to; further, they must be allowed to fulfill themselves creatively. If Limbs is how they do that, then they must be respected for their choice. If not, they may just get too pissed at the world, say Fuck you, I'm leaving and you can't have any more of my sweet music, and we'd have to right to complain. Ever read Atlas Shrugged?

Radiohead choose not to dwell in the past; their fans should, too. I mean, come on, it's not like all their old classic albums are going to disappear completely. What many people will realize, after the smoke of Limbs' release clears, is that this album is an integral part of Radiohead's collection, and a natural following of their previous works. They're sick of fame anyway. They have been since OK Computer. They don't want to be big rock stars anymore; they just want to be themselves--weird, quirky, having fun, not worrying about critics.


I totally respect Radiohead for, once again, going out on a limb and creating music nobody expected them to create. We don't need more of the same, no matter how much we want it.