Saturday, May 30, 2015

Mysticum - Planet Satan

Comeback albums are generally tough to think about on their own merits; especially in a case like Mysticum’s  Planet Satan, the band’s first full-length release since the absolute classic In the Stream of Inferno from 18 years prior. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new release, or recoil against a changed identity like a child seeing its father without a beard for the first time. So, the inevitable question is: how does Planet Satan measure up against so many years of anticipation and such high expectations? Surprisingly well. While Planet Satan certainly doesn’t have the same impact as the band’s first full length, the music stays true to the band’s black industrial buzzsaw origins without being a lazy rehash.

To understand Planet Satan, a quicker primer on relativistic physics is helpful. When Mysticum traveled to Planet Satan and returned to Earth, 18 years may have passed for us, but for Mysticum it’s still sometime around 1996. Scientists call this time dilation, but musically it means that Mysticum preserved almost everything that made the band great. Planet Satan shows such strong fidelity to Mysticum’s roots that the band’s aggression seems completely uninfluenced by the past two decades. This makes sense, as some of the songs were apparently written many years ago.

Planet Satan is brimming with the classic black metal treble hiss and the kind of hyperspeed tremolo picking that makes even the phrase “wall of sound” seem inappropriate. For those uninitiated or suspicious, Mysticum’s use of a drum machine is entirely deliberate, calculated, and appropriate for the band’s industrial sound. The mechanical percussion melds into the band’s overall high frequencies (the bass even completely drops out briefly in “Far”), and the snare cracks like slabs of metal plummeting from the end of factory’s high-speed production line. Removing the human element from the percussion enhances the sense of speed because the flatter dynamics make it impossible to interpret anything as fatigue.  

Planet Satan is viciously irreverent. “All Must End” opens up with what may be a musette and has a bizarre synth-pop type interlude. “Far” incorporates a nice sonar ping effect.The varied vocals range from barked, to sounding like Tom Warrior (there’s even an “oooh” in there). Speaking of vocals, they are fairly uneven, but improve over the album. The higher pitched style works better, because of how it melts into the guitars and is strained with a complete disregard for long term health consequences, a la Wrath of the Tyrant era Ihsahn. On the lower-pitched side though, some signs of age seep into the delivery, despite the layering. The outlier, “Fist of Satan,” shows a punkier vocal style delivered with excellent passion - reminiscent of In the Streams of Inferno.

Sadly, the trip to Planet Satan has a crash-landing ending with “Dissolve into Impiety.” As you sit in the engine room of your spacecraft listening to the hum of your warp drive, or whatever, Planet Satan manifests its evil willpower by… possessing the 50-piece ratchet set in your toolbox and slowly turning each ratchet? In all seriousness it sounds like a bunch of ratchets. That, or half a dozen woodpeckers struggling to open walnuts on a smooth granite countertop. I have no idea what the band was thinking here, and while it is another example of how Mysticum marches to the beat of their own... walnut, it’s also pretty damn confusing. Still, it fits in with the band’s irreverence. While Planet Satan isn’t In the Streams of Inferno
it’s still a worthwhile album of pummeling industrial black metal with Mysticum’s characteristically charming eccentricities. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Tarpit Boogie, Laibach, and the World Between

It's been a strange past few weeks in terms of musical continuity. It goes without saying that I have eclectic taste at times. I find myself actively listening to more and more world music and non-metal of late. Many individuals I know would be aghast at what I value and I'm sure they would have some sly facebook comments and backhanded jabs at my lack of metal purity. Well, fortunately, I'm in this whole thing for my own reasons and my own exploration. I wasn't commissioned by a dying political power to discover something like a famous explorer. And so, I've always enjoyed the oft-ignored shows, the foul-line music genres, and the lack of really pigeon-holeing myself. Sometimes I actually confuse myself. So that whole musical-complacency feedback loop that I see a lot of people falling into definitely doesn't apply to the past ten to fourteen days of activity.

Also compressed into all this was an Electric Wizard show which I don't remember particularly well because of the beers and the residual haze that formed from the audience. I guess I should have written on that when it was still somewhat a blur.  Also I was able to make myself get to an excellent show at the Grand Victory in Brooklyn featuring a handful of bands styled in the late 90's alternative rock vibe including In 1933 and Bad Citizen who were both excellent. The highlight was seeing Ambiguity for a last time before guitarist Harold 'Fro' moved to Ohio (I believe). The show was great with lots of Husker Du vibes. Ambiguity played a vivacious set of instrumental progressive metal stuff. Excellent vibes all around.

Most of last week I was focused on getting the Paganfire live tape layout finished and dubbing some awesome tapes for Incisor (Philly thrash/punk) for an upcoming live show. It was a short tape so I was able to run off the thirty-three copies required rather quickly while cutting and pasting and searching through my box of spare layout images. The Gods of metal yielded a few more goodies. Earlier last week my intrepid fiancee and I were down grabbing some food in Asbury Park and I we dipped into a local record shop which had maybe twelve metal records. You never know what treasures may end up in your paws - which is why I stopped in four consecutive thrift stores tonight - and in this case, an old crudded up copy of Ample Destruction was perfectly priced at $10 and was waiting to find a loving home. I've been looking for the album for a while too. It was enjoyable.

On Friday, scheduling miracles at work allowed me to thankfully attend Tarpit Boogie's gig at the Clash Bar in Clifton, NJ. George, who've I known since his time in Maegashira, had emailed me earlier the previous month about the show and I had promised I would make it. The show was one of the more relaxed affairs I've seen in a long time and for this old-boned-body (at least according to the pops and cracks in my knees and ankles) it was relaxing after a hectic few days at work trying to come up with some explanation for my corporation's inability to properly merchandise to customers. I arrived at the venue early. The place looks the exact same as when I was last there - which was probably back in 2010 or something - seeing Nimdot, Clamfight, Maegashira and Iron Man. The bar is still too dark, there is still an obnoxious load-bearing post in front of the stage, and the beer selection is nothing to brag about.

This show opened with locals White Void performing an admirable set of Sabbath influenced stoner rock. Initially I was excited to hear the band based on their sound check which implied the band would be more stonery than they actually were. Opening with a slow, mumbling bass riff got their set off to a most-definitely too slow start which didn't do them favors. You can tell that they hadn't put much road behind them yet in the live arena.  Once they picked up the speed in second track though, the highlights started to appear. Guitarist Zach who turned out to be way too young to be in the actual venue simply ripped on guitar and was a definite highlight. His leads were spot on. Bassist Vinny has a lot of talent and definitely provides the main energy ingredient for the band but at times played a little ahead of the beat. Ray was cool and emotive on the kit. Though their original material was promising, without vocals it was difficult, though not impossible, to imagine the tracks complete and when they pulled an audience member up on stage for a cover of "The Wizard," they had won over my interest. They handed out a copy of their CDr demo which had absolutely no track titles on it.

With Useless cancelling their appearance - I was looking forward to their doom approach - Dead Blow Hammer was next. Originally Against The Grain, the band having changed names, Dead Blow Hammer provided some strong hardcore but I wasn't interested in the style that night so I stepped out to talk with the guys in White Void while I waited for Tarpit Boogie to come on. I offered an interview, they accepted, then somehow it never came to fruition. Oh well. Tarpit Boogie were better this time than when I had first seen them at Dingbatz (the Clamfight - Thank You Delaware live tape was recorded at that show). Tarpit, best described as sludge-boogie-doom, are comprised of ex-Maegashira members George Pierro and John Eager along with Chris Hawkins on drums and recently enlisted vocalist Anthony Ferrara. The change in vocalist to the harsher, more abrasive Anthony provided the extra ounce of energy the band seemed to lack at their Dingbatz show. I still am under the impression the band is finding their legs a bit stylistically though, as some tracks seem a tad too long.

The following Tuesday I made my way into New York City and The Gramarcy to see Laibach. Saxon and Armored Saint were playing a few blocks away but I've been partial to the martial industrial menace that Laibach has been providing. Ultimately, I was very pleased with their show. Arranged essentially into three sections with the first segment consisting of material from their newer album, Spectre. This was back-dropped with sharp geometric patterns and animations which fit well. After an intermission featuring audience antics which were more enjoyable to watch than to participate in, they went through tracks which appeared mostly on the Iron Sky soundtrack. Essentially the first three-quarters of their performance was soundscape styled material. Enjoyable... especially instrumentally, though I'm not totally sold on the female vocals in their material with the exception of a few harsher screams and outbursts but the overall ambience was killer. The final few tracks were classics. Leben hei├čt Leben, Tanz Mit Laibach and Geburt Einer Nation were really the era of material I was hoping to see more from. The visuals were excellent, incorporating imagery you would expect from Laibach such as political symbolism. To see the memorable music video for Tanz Mit Laibach essentially recreated as a stage performance was great to watch.

There was a period of time when myself and my co-conspirator had planned on ditching the show to try and catch Saxon, who apparently had an awesome setlist. Ultimately, the decision to stay was a good one. The show ended up being memorable. The beer prices at Gramarcy are fucking ridiculous though. I'm not going to pay $7 for a PBR. I wouldn't pay $7 for a PBR if you were giving me a keg with it's own wheelie cart which I could pull behind me the whole time. The fact that the seated area was all quarantined for "VIP" was also ridiculous. For a band so politically charged and visually ideological, the whole idea of separating classes of audience members based on how much they were willing to pay for the tickets seems comical. Surely this was not the band's doing but irony appears before the hidden structure of the promoter/venue/band spider-web.

I've basically come to grips with the fact that I relish the extremes of music. In one chair I've got metal and across the table a map of the world staring me in the face. Several weeks back I was heavily invested in the Bangladeshian metal scene and now I sit here and listen to I.K Dairo and Blue Spot Band sandwiched between Heaving Earth and Empyrium, prepared to go see Master and Sostice tonight and head down to Maryland Deathfest Friday morning. It has been a life goal fullfilled to finally see Aeternus live and strangely I will likely be listening to more music from Nigeria and Sierra Leone on my way there. If variety is the spice of life, than my life is a habenero pepper sauce on top of buffalo chicken pizza and music is pizza parlor.

My Grandfather (who recently passed away) had this globe which I've played with my whole life. Naturally I retained it for my own future use. It's old and half the countries are wrong on it.