Wednesday, 11 April 2007

I guess it's should be for good this time

This pain is getting extrememly tedious now. It's slightly concerning when the Dr tells me that at 25, I shouldn't be getting gout and am too young, but then does not seem especially mostivated to find out why I might be getting it. 2 years later, as a 27 year old, I am still considered too young to be getting it, but attack it does and today is especially painful. Maybe it was the coffee I had at the weekend. Surely not though, really. Despite my intense regime of healthy eating and drinking having slipped away to almost 0% of my lifestyle nowadays, compared to this time last year when it was all soya milk, no wheat, endless fruit and veg juices and careful eating, I still rarely ever drink alcohol or eat meat - the two traditional ingredients of causation.

So, what the fuck, yeah? Maybe it takes about a year for all the acid to build back up in my system enough to cripple me like this. Pain has been hovering round my feet for the best part of a month now, on and off, and this time it is ON!

Back on the intense regime again I guess, and I guess it's should be for good this time, since giving it 16 months didn't permanently purge it. Looks like this is how it's going to be.

Rock and fuckin' roll.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Hair Raising

Since this is still by far and away the greatest album i heard from last year, here's my review of it again for anyone who needs something new and exciting in their lives.

Wolves In The Throne Room
Diadem Of 12 Stars
Vendlus Records

Living in a self sufficient commune outside Washington USA, eschewing pantomime corpse paints and the distracting regalia of weaponry and spikes, Wolves In The Throne Room are not your regular black metal band. Perfect black metal in fact and their music is no less rebellious towards the genre.

Whilst there are many bands honing the form, creating equally masterful and progressive recordings (see USA’s Leviathan, Sweden’s Watain and Woods Of Infinity, UK’s Anaal Nathrakh and Axis Of Perdition, France’s Blut Aus Nord and Deathspell Omega for examples of how to push the limits of a genre), the continual adherence, even amongst most of these aforementioned bands, to sartorial and musical codes needed a radical shift in attention. For a genre so concerned with rebellion, adherence of any kind should be strictly outlawed, but such is the way of things that the scenes within black metal increasingly constrict themselves and disregard too much which they consider ‘untrue’. This is where Wolves In The Throne Room come in.

With two equally mesmerizing demos behind them, it was with great anticipation that I awaited the album proper, to see what this band could achieve in such a formal setting. From the highly atmospheric, misty forested cover and the scenes depicted on the sleeve, it was clear that this would be something else entirely, including as it does, ‘The Queen Of Borrowed Light’ from the second demo. The shortest song on here is 13 minutes, dead on, which tells you how grand a scale this band work on; cinematic, operatic but deadly serious and not prone to posturing theatrics, this album covers a huge amount of musical ground, seamlessly incorporating Norwegian droning, flights of technical fancy and grinding segments into songs that undulate like rivers, ghosting through the misty forests of the cover art. The album, whilst tense, nervy and aggressive, conjures a pagan, earth-worshipping atmosphere that is being slowly eroded from the black metal field to be replaced with head down violence of the likes of Black Witchery and Revenge and the necrotic filth churned out by the Finnish hordes of bleakness. More akin to Negura Bunget and Drudkh in spirit – the eastern European forms – where spiritual, naturalistic elements are the higher concerns. The force of Gaia is represented on this album through the presence of female vocals from Jamie (this band only ever use first names, real ones at that, not stage names – Aaron on drums, Rick and Nathan on guitars and vocals). Female vocalists are becoming popular in the more Death-oriented forms of metal, much rarer in black metal and their presence here is striking. Not only does the sound of them – ethereal, ephemeral, sleepily intoned, rising high over the surging motorik riffing – contrast with the caustic shrieking of Nathan and the more guttural vocals of Rick, but they represent the harmony of the earth, echoing the cyclical, sexual nature of the world, of birth, nurturing and creation. They are beautiful. A word rarely used with this form of music, and not in a sexual as in lusting, fucking beauty either, for they are too innocent, too pure and they don’t convey a human sexuality, more an angelic presence watching over the maelstroms of noise beneath, occasionally being smothered as happens in life, then returning wings unfurling, majestic, exuding femininity amongst the masculine energy as she sings of her “Heart beating against the soft rush of the river”. A section of acoustic guitar breaks up In A Night Time Mirror Part 1melting away Jamie’s vocals before being consumed by a violent storm as the electrics strike up and the drums come thundering in.

Nathan and Rick’s vocals are not excessively harsh, not high in the mix, not overbearing. Instead they sit gently amongst the guitars and drums, themselves not overly intrusive, so that the whole thing drifts along, dreamlike. They are strong and forceful, especially in Face In A Night Time Mirror Part 2 where after a suitably entrancing drone accompanied by a grave vocal undercurrent from guest singer Dino, the drums pick up into a forced march and the rhythm quickens; guitars clang and reverberate, panning out into a blissful vista where Nathan slowly screams through gritted teeth “Death was my angel”; a wraith like entity already dead, thanking its’ maker for putting it at peace with itself.

This album is elemental; conjuring spirits and evolving scenes of wilderness, the effect being to make the listener small and insignificant in its presence as if staring up from the foot of a mountain, yet the blood surging through the epic choruses embolden and energise. A return to the ancient sounding BM of old, quite unlike the current breed of destructive misanthropic bands seeking to annihilate and bludgeon everything in their path. Diadem Of 12 Stars is a life spirit, not a death spirit, astral and regal, as the title suggests, not of the earth, the bowels, fire and horror. With no blastbeats and no evilness, what makes this Black Metal at all? It is good to remind oneself that is while listening to this, as there is nothing quite like it around. It may be that with genrefication so acute nowadays, that this band can be considered Post-Black Metal, in the same way that Slint and Mogwai helped forge the term Post-Rock out of the shogazery noise bands.

The title track – (A Shimmering Radiance) Diadem Of 12 Stars – begins with guitars softly intertwining, shrouded in distortion, breaking into gulps of drum beats as crushing guitars crash in and out, the air in between adding weight. Slowly the density drifts apart, a shimmering guitar line slicing through the space, increasing in intensity before bursting into hammering lunges careening towards a thundering section where Jamie and Nathan sing together, one shining light, the other sucking it away. Drums roll turbulently across the churning guitars with the pressure increasing and dispersing like wind, the tone lowering into minor keys and the atonality veering off into soaring near-melodic passages. The lead guitar picks up for a brief moment as the rhythm gets choppy; crunching and biting into the drums, peaking with a sole high note then instantly descending into a funereal stomp with Nathan gradually increasing the strength of his guttural noises until real words gush out, space opening up in the music to allow him through. The drums gather pace as Jamie comes in, effortlessly shifting the album into the realms of spirituality with her softly gliding vocals, then slowly recedes into the shadows. The drums strike up again, cantering forward and the guitars give chase, thrashing and lashing out, though the ambience has shifted and a rising melancholy begins to creep in, sensing an end to things. Harsh screaming vocals bear down on the music, sweeping it aside as the track slowly fades out to the end. It is an exhausting and exhilarating piece of music, not unlike a Godspeed You! Black Emperor movement.

Which brings us neatly to the point where I started. The essence of Black Metal has always been a rejection of wasteful peripheral materialism and distracting influences, of rejecting normalities and dogmatic instruction, of free spirits and the value of individual expression. The old order has been deposed. The wolves are in the throne room

Grizzle Yo Nizzle

Here's another interview from the end of last year. Since Grizzly Giant are now reformed and rollicking round Brighton again I'm putting this up to spread the word. Not because they need all the help they can get. That's what alcohol's for.

Grizzly Giant

I’m at the Engine Rooms, and it’s swathed in dark red light, bodies sticking together on contact in the sweaty summer heat. Onstage there is a band of three people. Solid framed, bearded guitarist George is holding a video camera and filming the crowd for the benefit of member Lee, who is on holiday in Scotland. He is getting the crowd to shout jibes about his absence into the lens. Behind him Ryan, bearded and diminutive in comparison is shouting harsh insults in a thick Welsh accent and fumbling around, eventually producing a large hard-backed book. George puts the camera down and they ask the audience to pick a number between 1 and 74. ‘24!’ yells a voice clearly. As Ryan turns to the page, Rich starts a drum machine beating and releases glitchy noises into action as George hammers his guitar – Ryan begins singing from the book about myelination and greater specialization of function of neurological pathways, magically phrasing the lines so they fit with the music.

Meet Brighton’s art-punk terrorists Grizzly Giant.

I joined them in a pub before a rehearsal to understand how a band like theirs comes about.

“We’re like a cross between a bad punk band and The Price Is Right” says Ryan, animated band poet, surreal lyricist and Welshman, who was once described by a woman in a pub as “an ugly Elvis, but good looking Johnny Cash”. “We’d never be the kind of band to walk coolly onstage and take ourselves seriously as people” says Lee, the band’s founding mastermind.

So how did it all start?

Lee says that he’ll “Miss out the relationship bit” but found himself “Living in a shed with a desire to get on stage. I said to Ryan, ‘We’ve got a gig at the Albert tomorrow’ and got him to come. I said ‘Right, I’m going to play guitar and you say one of your poems’ and that bit went o.k., so I said ‘Right, now we’re both going to moan like zombies and when we stop moaning, I’ll play guitar for a bit’” Ryan interjects “I’d just like to point out that at the time I was playing a turntable with a plank of wood coming from it and an elastic band strapped to it” “Yeah, a Technics record deck guitar” confirms Lee matter-of-factly. “I’d wired a microphone under the stylus so it sort of went BOOWAAUUUNNNG”. Ryan says “The idea was sprung when we crashed that open mic night. It was at The Farm and we were pissed as fuckers, just invaded on the hippies and did a fucking screaming, howling fucking punk poem. Then there was the Rock Rave where we did the werewolf song, which is a bit like the Zombie song but with howling instead of moaning, and this dog came and sat right in front of me and went AWROOO! Fucking mental”

Do you rehearse or plan for this kind of audience interaction?

“No, we rehearse a really tight set, then on the night we play we just get shitfaced – it’s just nervousness” says Ryan “And these two have microphones trying to get some validation from the audience” says George, indicating Ryan and Lee “but we’ve played as a 1, 2, 3 and 4 piece, depending on who’s here, and we never play the same songs again, not even if we’ve got two gigs in one week.”

Ryan stresses he has “No emotional attachment to any of the songs. I don’t get precious about them, just use them at a later date if they’re any good”, so I ask how this transient approach to songwriting affect their recorded output, the band, formed under a year ago, having not actually recorded anything other than live shows.

“We’re doing an album” says Rich excitably. “We’re going to treat the studio very differently” asserts Lee. “Still raw, but layers of instruments that we couldn’t do live on stage – and we’ll probably learn from it stuff to take on stage.” Ryan’s vision of the band’s recording process is somewhat more apocalyptic “We want to hole up somewhere, treat it with a real bunker mentality, lock ourselves away with whatever we need and it will turn into Project Zombie. We’ll convince ourselves that the whole world has turned to zombies and the only way of getting out will be to produce an album that it so good it will hypnotize them. We’ll have intricate ways of smashing their heads in. Oh, and we’re bringing out our own liquor as well.” He says, becoming increasingly enthusiastic “The Grizzly Giant Project Zombie – we’re buying a still and worked out we could knock out about a litre of vodka every four hours.”

Expect to get shitfaced, expect to have your head caved in in any number of unimaginable ways, but most of all, as Lee says “”Expect the unexpected”. Grizzly Giant are coming for you. Prepare yourselves.

“The savage bows down to idols of wood and stone, the civilized man to idols of flesh and blood”

This is an interview I conducted with Brighton band The Flesh happening last Summer. Thought I'd stick it up here in case anyone wanders through.

The Flesh Happening

With a feverish lust like a fire in your chest / You drug and you fuck till there’s no fucking left / Your mind is a mire of hunger and hate / Your body’s the temple that you desecrate

The Flesh Happening create music full of thrusting imagery and surreal unpleasantness, amped-up, irresistibly catchy, infectious hooks and surges contrasted with introspection and mortal humility. They are in many regards the most exciting band in Brighton with a volatile nature that extends to their relationships with each other as well as in the music.

I meet up with them at Bassist Ben Sumner’s flat as they prepared for their Brighton Live gig at the end of the month.

The name is perfect for your band. Where did it come from?

Oliva Spleen – front-man, lyricist, homosexual explorer, undisputed focal point of the band and owner of an incredible soporific pan-European accent says the origin is “A cheesy pulp novel about gay wrestling. It’s really funny. I only just managed to get hold of a copy because they won’t send it to England so when we stayed in America I got a copy sent to the people we were staying with.”

Can you describe your sound?

“I don’t know. It’s sort of a naff, lame version of David Bowie” says Rich (Leppard, the bands guitarist) belligerently in a mood which will both entertain and intimidate throughout the course of the interview. “We’ve been compared to loads – Roxy Music, Sonic Youth, fucking Queen” says Glaswegian Ben, sounding flattered yet unconvinced. “No don’t put Queen” snaps Rich.

Oli: “I just feel like I can’t say anything, I can’t be bothered to say anything with Rich around”

Well tell me about your lyrics Oli, and where they come from.

“Oh God, shall we go down the pub and come back in a few hours” sighs Rich. Tim Fearless, band drummer and partisan peace-keeper halts him “No Rich, let him talk, just let him ask the question”

“What was the question?” asks Oli, distracted, then laughs “A shit Roxy Music?”

The frankness and shocking quality in some of the sepulchral acts depicted in his lyrics are extreme, even by the Marquis De Sade’s standards, though Oli’s actions onstage go someway to convincing us that they are all true. “Mostly all are very autobiographical” he begins. “Some use character based stuff to communicate stuff that might be harder to talk about in the first person. The Jacques Brel thing of talking through characters that David Bowie ripped off and we’ve ripped off – Like Waste – everyone assumes that song is about me getting fucked up the arse and passing on the disease, but some of the stuff like Hitler and Jesus is just about nothing, it’s like a nursery rhyme and Shit On Me…I’ve never had anyone shit on me…..intentionally.”

Is that because you’ve never met the right person?

Oli: “No! Ha ha ha No! It’s more about the idea of giving yourself up to depravity. I don’t know, I don’t want to intellectualise it too much. It’s very lowest common denominator stuff. Shit On Me’s got a very good message about nature and about…the environment.”

Ben: “Has it?!”

Oli: “Yeah, about recycling”

Rich: “Generally, we’re a very ecological band.”

Oli: “Most of the songs come from lyrics that sound good or stupid, then I add them to more lines that sound stupid to make a big thing that sounds stupid. Useless Pumping…I didn’t even know that was about wanking…”

Rich warms to the subject: “The only lyrics I like are Rent Boy, Shit On Me and Hitler and Jesus”

Ben: “No, that’s complete rubbish Rich

Oli: “You don’t like Waste?”

Rich: “I like the bit about ‘Fuck me up the arse’ it’s the only bit I ever remember”

Oli: “You know, when we first got this band together he said that ‘Everything you write is shit, why do you bother, everything you write is shit’, then I went home and just wanted to kill myself. Then people told me that Rich is just like that”

So how collaborative are you as a band?

Rich: “Generally, if it’s kind of subtle and clever, Tim probably wrote it, if it’s slightly poppy and thematic Ben probably wrote it, if it’s punky, I wrote it and if it’s just a standard crappy chord progression Oli wrote it”

Oli: “People say those are our strongest songs.”

Tim: “They’re beautiful lovely simple tunes”

“Simplicity Kendall….” says Oli dreamily “What was the question?”

A lot of your songs are quite aggressive sounding, musically and lyrically…

“I don’t think they’re aggressive at all” says Rich, cutting me off. “No, I don’t think they are” agrees Ben. “I’d never rape anyone” says Oli flatly.

“We’re too fucking tuneful to be aggressive” continues Rich, “There’s only one song that people said was aggressive and that’s Will To Kill because…”

Ben: “…It’s got Kill in the title…”

Rich: “…No, because it’s so off kilter”

Tim: “It’s also to do with the energy”

Oli: “And the screeching”

Ben: “Yeah, I think it’s the energy and the fact that Oli is quite full-on when he performs”.

“You can look a little bit scary Oli” confirms Tim.

“I don’t know why people say I’m scary I have no desire to dominate other people” Oli replies, exasperated.

Tim: “When you’re 6 foot 2, got 6 inch heels and you’ve got a gimp mask on, you can cut quite an imposing figure.”

Oli: “Well I’m sorry”

Tim: “His passion and his honesty is probably very intimidating”

Oli: “That’s very kind of you”

Rich: “Are you going to stand by that?”

Ben: “I know people who refuse to come to our gigs because they’ve never been before and they’ve heard this stuff”

Rich: What about the girl that read the lyrics and was too scared to listen to the CD?! You’ve read them! How can you be afraid to hear them sung?! I think people are just wankers”

Where does the inspiration come for your outfits?

Rich: “Crisp packets”

Ben: “No, just ignore everything he says”

Oli: “I like fisting gloves because they’re good for fisting and I like leather ‘cos it’s made of dead things, so I try and combine it all but make it feminine. My Grandmother was a big influence – she was the person who I used to dress up with when I was four and put make up on and then go back home and my dad would be like ‘Oh, I see the boy’s been wearing make-up again’ and he’d growl, he would never talk to me or look me in the eye and I thought I’d done something really bad but I never found it a perversion…I did find it a perversion when I put on my fathers clothes and got an erection. But the weird thing was that it was a normal thing like a suit and I though he’d get really stressed and growl at me like he had when I’d been wearing my grandmother’s make-up and find it offensive because I’d found it so sexually ‘Eeeeurgh’…oh I was only four like, but he actually went ‘Oh, the lad wants to be like his dad’ and gave me a pat on the head, whereas I’d found it more normal to be dressing in my grandmothers clothes, fur and make-up. Masculine stuff felt more like a perversion. I feel more normal in extravagant clothing and the gay wear like fisting gloves, bondage cuffs and gimp masks and all that other stuff, but it’s essentially…..My grandmother in a gimp mask.”

Would you play any cover songs?

Rich: “None of us could agree and anyway, it’s a waste of time. If you want to play covers join a covers band.”

Tim: We’ve got 26 of our own, we shouldn’t need to”

Oli: “‘He Hit Me And It Felt Like A Kiss’ by the Crystals, written by Carol King, ‘Send Me To The Electric Chair’ by Betty Smith, I don’t know the author, they were the first two songs we did. We were going to do ‘Smalltown Boy’ by Bronski Beat. I’ve seen Jimmy - he’s given us his seal of approval and said ‘When are you playing next?’ and got really excited. I did want to do a video. I want to do Anal Joy as a duet with Jimmy Somerville dressed as a hamster and have him running up a tube to my anus.”

Tim: “Well he’s not going to do it now! Scratch that from the record.”

Rich: “I think Jimmy Somerville might agree to being a hamster swimming up someone’s arse.”

Oli: “Scurrying! Not swimming”

Rich: “I think with your arse it would have to be swimming”

Oli: “I just had this idea in mind. He does like us but I don’t know if he’s that far into it.”

Any plans on releasing a single?

“Yes, we are” says Ben, pleased to be back on musical concrete.

And have you decided on the songs to include?

Tim: “We’ve decided, we’ve agreed.”

Rich: “Useless Pumping, Waste, Kamikaze, just because we know Oli can’t fuck those ones up and we can do the complicated ones later. I never really liked Useless Pumping. It was me that held that one up – everyone like Useless Pumping.”

Oli: Tim was like, ‘Let’s go la la la on the backing vocals’ and the song came alive.”

Rich: “No, he just did it.”

Oli: “Oh yes, that’s right and I had to force you into doing it again.”

Rich: “We had to spit in his face continuously.”

Tim: “We’ve got the studio booked and we’ll have something out by the end of the year.”

Rich: “Your last question should be ‘How long will the Flesh Happening actually last?’ – 2 years.”

Oli: “That’s quite good.”

Ben: “Haha, no, I’d just like to have an album out to leave a legacy.”

Rich: “Well obviously, ‘cos Tim’s a hippy, Oli’s got a deathwish and Ben’s frugal but despondent with his own mentality…”

Ben: “Blimey, I get a whole sentence, the rest of you got a word and I got a sentence.”

Rich: “I don’t give a shit right now, I just know it’s only going to end in tears.”

The Flesh Happening are all about decadence and excess and also tragedy to a degree, so I wonder about their potential to fit into the Rock and Roll cliché hall of fame.

Rich: “We’re a hideous rock and roll cliché, the rock and roll standard – one drum, guitar, bass, singer with the personalities – we are it. Oli will kill himself and the last ten years of his life people will say he’s the most talentless person on the planet. One day I’m going to write a horrible acoustic folk album that will probably get completely ignored, Ben’s going to despondently disappear into an anal job, Tim will probably open a school for African kids to learn drums.”

Tim: “Rock drums…none of that fucking…..Rock drums!”

Rich: Tim’s going to single handedly ruin all the rhythm cultures that have existed around the globe for millions of years.”

Tim: “4/4. You can’t beat a kick drum on the first beat and a snare on the third – it’s just something magic.”

Oli: “I’ve already done the sex one…”

Ben: “I haven’t – for me it would be the sex one”

Oli: “…and the drugs one almost killed me a few years back”

Ben: “For me it would be loads of groupies throwing themselves at my feet. Oli, you’ve got the coolest cliché of all”

Oli: “What, having AIDS? I want to die of a mystery disease that no-one’s heard of.”

Rich: “I’m going to fucking die before Oli, I’ll make sure of it.”

And with that, it’s time for them to all go separate ways for previously arranged engagements.