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Musical interlude

Noumena, an excellent Finnish melodic death metal band (yes, there is such a thing as melodic death metal; it’s a known subgenre), have just released their new album, Death Walks With Me, seven years after the preceding album. I have bought it and it is very good indeed. Noumena have also decided to promote the new album with a promo video. And here it is. Enjoy.

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A musical interlude

I mention music far too infrequently on this blog, despite the fact I have it playing almost constantly throughout the day – on my iPod when I’m at work, on iTunes when I’m at home. So here’s a top tune by Laethora, a side-project of two of my favourite bands, Dark Tranquillity and the now sadly disbanded The Provenance. ‘The Sightless’ is from Laethora’s latest album, The Light in Which We All Burn, which could almost be a title from the Apollo Quartet. The video is by Niklas Sundin, Dark Tranquillity and Laethora guitarist, and graphic artist.


Metal scorchio

Every year, I say to myself I’m too old for this shit; and every year, I find myself in a field in Derbyshire listening to some of my favourite bands and having a great time. I say “every year” but Bloodstock 2012 was only my fourth Bloodstock since 2008 (I missed 2009 and 2010). But it has definitely got better every year. And bigger, too.

After packing the Toyota Tardis Yaris with all our gear, the four of us – Craig, Emma, Rowan and myself – headed to the local Asda for our final pre-festival shop. Naturally, this meant beer. And water. And baby wipes. And items for the Bucket o’SnacksTM. We also wanted something to eat on our way to Catton Hall, since it was already lunch time. Annoyingly Asda makes its pork pies with milk, which is not how they should be made. Fortunately, we found some very nice sausage rolls instead which I could eat.

Then it was back into the car and down the M1 and A38 to Catton Hall, Derbyshire. We made good time and, despite leaving a little later than intended, managed to arrive as planned at two pm. Craig had bought himself a collapsible trolley after the difficulties we had last year carting everything from the car park to the camping ground. It proved a wise purchase, although it did mean he had to drag along about 400 kilos of booze and tents. But at least we never needed to return to the car for the entire weekend.

I’d been worrying for weeks beforehand that we’d have torrential rain during the weekend, so Craig had lent me one of his tents – my pop-up tent would probably have been destroyed by the first downpour. In the event, we had blinding sunshine for three days, and a warm slightly overcast Sunday with a couple of weak showers. In fact, Craig managed to get sunstroke on the Friday.

After meeting up with Roger in the car park, we began the long trek to the festival ground entrance and the camping ground. Cat and Sly joined us, and once we had put up our tents – in pretty much the same spot as last year – we headed for the arena.

photo: Craig Andrews

First band of the festival was Saturnian, whom we’d seen last year. They were playing on the Sophie Lancaster Stage, which is in a huge marquee. Beer had gone up a little in price since Bloodstock 2011 – £4 for a pint of Bloddstock Ale, or £3.90 for a plastic bottle of Carlsberg. And Monster were no longer sponsors; this year, it was Red Bull, but their presence was very low-key. After Saturnian, we wandered about the arena, which more or less resembled last year’s. Mr Tea’s was there – which pleased Craig, Emma and Rowan greatly, as they’re big tea-drinkers. There looked to be a wide selection of food available, so it was unlikely I’d have to go hungry or subsist on the contents of the Bucket o’SnacksTM.

When we got back to the tents, Roger – who had waited in the car park to meet friends – had arrived and put up his tent. As had Burnie, Gray and Will. I remember the night being really cold. Though the tent I’d borrowed was double-walled, I was using the same Argos sleeping-bag as previous years and it’s not especially effective. I’d taken the precaution of buying a fleece to use as a blanket, and that sort of worked. Fortunately, Thursday was the coldest night of the weekend.

My first two times at Bloodstock were spent mostly drinking or suffering from a hangover. Last year, we’d decided to focus more on the music, and make an effort to see more bands. The same plan was in effect for this year. Emma had marked down those with female members for Femetalism; other bands we decided might be worth hearing from their write-ups in the programme. And then there were those bands we knew and liked and had always planned to watch perform – for me, that would be Alcest, Winterfylleth, Nile, Paradise Lost and Anaal Nathrakh. Which is not an especially large number for a festival lasting three and a half days…

Friday and Saturday were spent almost identically – wandering from stage to stage to hear bands, sitting out in the sun, taking occasional breaks in Mr Tea’s, drinking beer… As per the last year, for lunch I “falafelated” (the falafel wrap, however, was much better this year). Dinner was chips and gravy. I watched Moonsorrow on the main stage, the Ronnie James Dio Stage, and, appropriately, Dio Disciples, who played a bunch of old Rainbow and Black Sabbath tracks (the best ones, of course, from the line-ups with Dio). On the Sophie Lancaster Stage, I watched some of The Commander-in-Chief, a female guitarist, but didn’t much like her semi-operatic vocals. The following act, Swiss band Gonoreas, despite the unfortunate name were quite good. The main attraction that night was French metal shoegazer band, Alcest. They were good, but it’s music to be sitting down for, I think. We did catch a couple of acoustic sets on the Jägermeister Stage, the best of which was Manchester folk metallers Andraste.

At one point during the afternoon, I was in the audience for Pythia’s set on the Sophie Lancaster Stage, but several people had lit up joints and the smell of weed was making me ill. So I left the tent. There were clearly-posted signs saying “No Smoking” in the tent, but dopeheads seem to think that doesn’t apply to them. Cigarette smokers had the decency to smoke outside, but the smell of weed was constant throughout the weekend. That, and the heat, made several of the sets unpleasant to watch. I’d not noticed the dope on previous Bloodstocks. But then Sonisphere had been cancelled the month before and it was suggested a lot of people that would have attended that had come to Bloodstock instead. Perhaps that accounted for it.

Also that afternoon, I chatted with Leon of Mithras at the Zero Tolerance stall and we had what is turning into our annual moan about not being able to make decent money recording music or writing science fiction – or at least the sort of music he records and the sf I write. Later that night, Cat, Sly and myself had a go on the dodgems. The others were, I think, watching a band on the New Blood Stage. Top tip: when on the dodgems, don’t leave your phone in a thigh pocket. I did. Mine now has a small crack on the screen.

We didn’t stay in the arena to see the day’s headliners, Behemoth, but returned to the tents to drink beer. We hadn’t seen Watain either, as they clashed with Alcest. I don’t think we missed much – Leon had described Watain as “black metal for people who don’t like black metal”.

The only acts playing the Ronnie James Dio Stage I really wanted to see weren’t on until the Sunday. I did hear the occasional song by those playing on the Saturday as I wandered about the arena, and I did stay for the first few songs by Machine Head, that day’s headliner. But I saw more bands perform on the Sophie Lancaster Stage. Rising Dream, a Croatian female-fronted power/death metal band were the highlight of the day. I’d wandered in to see who was performing at the beginning of their set, and stayed for the entire performance. Winterfylleth, on the other hand, I’d planned to see. I’d seen them live once before at the Day of Unrest in 2008 (see here). They were good and the tent was packed for their set. I may well pick up a copy of their latest album.

That night, there was the usual Saturday night shenanigans in the camping ground. A group of about a hundred tried some bin jousting, but managed no more than two jousts before security staff came and took away the bins. So they made do with finger-wrestling. It was noisy but good-hearted. There was no re-occurance of last year’s trouble.

Sunday was easily the best day for me in terms of music. And it proved even better than expected. The others were taking their time getting up, so at 10:30 I decided to head into the arena on my own. After a bacon sandwich, I wandered across to the New Blood Stage to see what was happening there. It was the first act of the day, Seprevention, and they were excellent – old school death metal with duelling shredding guitars. I wandered round for a bit more, before returning to the New Blood Stage to watch Aethara, who I also thought very good. By this time, Craig, Emma and Rowan had appeared, so we stayed for So-Da-Ko, though I didn’t like them as much as the two bands I’d already seen. Then it was outside to watch Nile. I’d been warned they weren’t that good live, but I thought they were excellent.

The others settled down in Mr Tea’s but I headed off to the Sophie Lancaster Stage to see Ancient Ascendant. They weren’t bad but their write-up in the programme had suggested they’d be better. I wasn’t especially keen on seeing Anvil on the Ronnie James Dio Stage. Yes, I know it’s meant to be bad, but I’ve yet to be convinced metal and irony mix (no pun intended). Anyway, we staked out an area on the grass pretty much where we’d spent the Sunday afternoon the previous year. After Anvil – who were mildly amusing – it was Paradise Lost. They were good, but I’d seen them in the Corporation in April and they’d been much better then.

I had no plans to watch Dimmu Borgir – I’ve caught them live twice before, despite not being a fan – so after a couple of songs I headed off to the Sophie Lancaster Stage to see Anaal Nathrakh. I’d thought the others had planned to see them too, but it turned out I was on my own (though Craig did turn up toward the end of the set). The tent was packed – and filled up even more after Dimmu Borgir finished their set after halfway through Anaal Nathrakh’s. So much so, in fact, that I found myself slowly being herded further back, and I wasn’t even near the stage to begin with. Anaal Nathrakh were excellent, definitely one of the best performances of the weekend.

And then it was Alice Cooper. I don’t get it – an old man playing music for fifteen-year-olds. His music makes MTV sound edgy. And no matter how you dress it up with a fancy stage show, it still sounds like some insipid Hollywood version of metal. I stayed for a couple of songs and then headed back to the tent. The others stayed. But even they couldn’t manage the whole set. After they turned up at the tents, we sat around and drank beer for a bit. I didn’t get much sleep – there was a group near my tent who larked about all night and kept me awake. One of them was apparently on “gas”, and the rest were loudly egging him on. Next year, I think we’ll camp somewhere a little quieter…

So that was Bloodstock 2012. And great fun it was too. Best bands of the weekend for me were Rising Dream, Anaal Nathrakh, Suprevention, Winterfylleth, Aethara, Nile, Paradise Lost and Alcest. So far, Anthrax have been announced for next year. Hopefully, there’ll be plenty of better bands on the bill by August 2013. And if not, perhaps some of those unknown to me will prove to be really good – as has been the case for the Bloodstock 2011 and Bloodstock 2012.

Finally, I can’t write about Bloodstock without mentioning Metal Meerkat. Craig had recently bought house insurance through, and so they’d sent him one of their stuffed toys. It was Vassily, dressed in a t-shirt and leather jacket. Throughout the weekend, Craig and Emma took photos of Vassily in various parts of the arena and camping ground. Craig even took some mpg footage. And he’s edited these together. Enjoy…

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Ten essential metal albums

I don’t write about music very often on this blog, but given that my tastes in that field are just as fringe as they are in literature perhaps that’s no surprise. (Mind you, there probably is a small overlap between science fiction readers and death metal fans – certainly I know a handful of people who qualify as both.) But another reason is that, as the late great Frank Zappa once said, “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”. And it’s only recently that I’ve starting buying books on architecture – well, books of photographs of Brutalist and Modernist buildings, and those designed by, for example, Oscar Niemeyer…

Anyway, on my way home from the Gojira gig earlier this week, I challenged a friend to come up with a list of ten essential metal albums. He’ll post his on The Mix Eclectic. We didn’t bother to define “essential”, but agreed only that we were allowed five additional “honourable mentions”. At the time I issued the challenge, I thought it would be quite easy… but, of course, such things never are. There were a few obvious picks, and they, in turn, defined what “essential” meant to me as regards this list. It means albums I always return to, ones I play again and again, even years after I bought them. They’re not necessarily seminal in their chosen genre, they’re not especially important albums in the progression of metal (death or otherwise). They’re just albums I love.

And the list goes like this…

Skycontact, Phlebotomized (1997, Netherlands) Phlebotomized were a short-lived band during the Netherlands’ brief flowering of great death metal talent in the 1990s. They recorded a pair of EPs and a pair of albums. Skycontact was their second and last album. Their CDs now go for silly money on eBay. Skycontact is elegiac, mournful, and yet quite beautiful at times. There’s even a violin in it. ‘A Cry in July’ is an especially stand-out track.

Projector, Dark Tranquillity (1999, Sweden) This is the album that introduced me to Dark Tranquillity, and made me a fan of the group. It’s perhaps their most commercial album, and certainly it shows the breadth of their music – from the crunching riffs of the opening track ‘FreeCard’ to the synth-heavy ‘Day to End’ to the near-ballad ‘Auctioned’. Despite the somewhat mordant tone to the lyrics, Projector is an album that never fails to put me in a good mood. To date, I’ve seen Dark Tranquillity perform live four times, and it’s about bloody time they toured the UK again.

Blackwater Park, Opeth (2001, Sweden) This may well be the high-water mark for Opeth. It’s the first album by them I bought and I still consider it their best. The preceding album, Still Life, is excellent, but its songs don’t quite gel in the way Blackwater Park‘s do. This album has the perfect mix of Opeth’s trademark complex heaviness and acoustic interludes. The title track alone is a work of genius. I’ve seen Opeth live four times to date, and will be seeing them again later this year. They usually put on a damn good show.

Still At Arms Length, The Provenance (2002, Sweden) The Provenance disbanded in 2006 after four albums. Still At Arms Length was their second. It’s a hard-to-describe mix of death, gothic, doom and progressive metal. With a flute. Like some other Scandinavian metal bands, vocals were shared between male and female, with the male vocals often sung as growls. But there’s something about The Provenance’s songs which lift them above others of their ilk. They were more experimental – in their sound and their song structures – than their peers. And like all the best death metal bands, they could play a mean and heavy riff. I regret never getting to see them perform live.

Worlds Beyond the Veil, Mithras (2003, UK) I forget where I first heard Mithras, but I remember being immediately captivated by the combination of spacey ambient synth and furiously insane guitar and drumming. They’re probably the most science-fictional death metal I’ve ever heard – or rather, there’s something about their music which speaks to me of the best of science fiction. Which is probably why I used the lyrics to this album in a short story – originally published in Jupiter magazine, but also posted on my blog here. I’ve seen Mithras live twice – the first time at the Day of Unrest mini-festival in 2008 at the Purple Turtle in Camden; and I remember being exhausted after their set just from listening to the music. They have a new album due out later this year, On Strange Loops; and I’m very much looking forward to it.

Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone, Akercocke (2005, UK) I first came across Akercocke in 2005, when they supported Opeth at the Forum in London. I vaguely recall being impressed by the sheer noise they made, and the fact that they all wore suit and tie on stage. (They were sometimes called “Satan’s bankers” because of their stage attire.) However, it wasn’t until I saw them perform in the small room at the Corporation, supporting their Antichrist album, that I became a fan. I saw them once more before they split up. Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone is my favourite of their albums (and has a great title, too), with its abrupt changes from furious blackened death metal to slow and mournful acoustic parts. The opener ‘Verdelet’ is probably my favourite Akercocke track, too.

Red for Fire + Black for Death, Solefald (2005/2006, Norway) This one is a bit of a cheat as it was released as two albums, though the band wrote it as a single project. It is based on an Icelandic edda about Bragi, a court poet who dallies with the queen but is forced to flee when it is discovered. The album is a mix of post-black metal, Icelandic poetry, and even some jazz fusion. It’s the sheer variety that appeals as much as the individual songs.

The Diarist, Dark Lunacy (2006, Italy) Metal is well-suited to concept albums, and this is true of death metal as much as any other branch of the genre. The diarist of the title is a woman trapped in Stalingrad during the siege by the Nazis. The tracks successfully evoke the time and place, though without losing sight of its musical genre. There’s an epic quality to Dark Lunacy’s music which I think this album showcases especially well. I have never seen the band live but I would very much like to.

A New Constellation, NahemaH (2009, Spain) I was tricked into buying a NahemaH album. The label had put a sticker on the cover of the band’s second album, The Second Philosophy, which likened it to Opeth. Thinking that might appeal, I bought it. And listened to it. And discovered it was nothing like Opeth. But I hung onto the CD because I suspected it might be a grower. And so it proved. Within a few months I was listening to it constantly. And everything that was good, and that appealed to me, about The Second Philosophy is just more so in A New Constellation. It’s a death metal / prog metal wall of sound, accomplished and complex. I really want to see NahemaH live.

Annihilation of the Wicked, Nile (2005, US) I wanted Nile to be in this list of ten, but I couldn’t think which album to pick. In the end, I plumped for this one because it best displays their fusion of Ancient Egyptian themes and relentless US death metal. It’s like exploring the pyramids while suffering from a heart attack. The track ‘The Burning Pits of Duat’ allegedly features drumming at 320 bpm. Which is astonishing. Nile are a fixture on the death metal scene, and for good reason. I’ll get to see them for the first time at this year’s Bloodstock festival.

For my five honourable mentions, I picked:

Reflections of the I, Winds (2002, Norway) A mix of classical music and progressive metal by a side-project of four members of other metal bands.

Mabool, Orphaned Land (2004, Israel) Death metal, prog metal and Middle Eastern music in a concept album about the Flood.

Shin-Ken, Persefone (2009, Andorra) A polished mix of death metal and progressive metal from Andorra’s finest musical export. It’s a concept album too.

Leviathan, Mastodon (2004, US) Another mix of metal subgenres, and another concept album. There seems to be a pattern here…

Sowberry Hagan, Ultraphallus (2011, Belgium) It should sound like sheer noise, but it doesn’t. An astonishing musical balancing act.

There were so many other albums I wanted to pick, like As Night Conquers Day, Autumn Leaves (1999, Denmark), wihch is a favourite album, or something by Anathema (but I couldn’t think which of their albums was especially typical), or Themes, Silent Stream of Godless Elegy (2000, Czech Republic), which provides an excellent sample of their sound but does include a couple of duff tracks…


Let’s hope it pays off…

Crystalic is melodic death metal band from Tampere in Finland. I’ve liked their music since stumbling across one of their demos a few years ago. In 2007, they released an album, Watch Us Deteriorate, on a small label. I bought it. Apparently, things have not been good since then and they no longer have a record deal. So they’re giving away their new album, Persistence, on their website here. It’s very good. Download it, listen to it, and spread the word.

The band are also going to self-release the album as a limited edition CD, which you can pre-order here. I’ve put my order in already.

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You’ll have to speak up a bit…

Last night, I saw one of my favourite bands perform live: Persefone. They’re from Andorra. Yes, Andorra. They’re currently touring Europe with Obituary. Persefone were excellent and, halfway through their set, they suddenly broke into the theme tune to Star Wars, including the Cantina Band tune. After their set, I went to buy a T-shirt from the merchandise stall. One of the guitarists from the band was behind the table, chatting to the person manning it. When I confessed I’d actually come to the gig to see them and not the headliners Obituary, he was so chuffed he gave me a hug.

It was clear, however, that most were there for Obituary. By the time they appeared on stage, there were about four or five times as many people as there had been for Persefone’s set. I’d never heard Obituary before. I knew they were an old Florida death metal band, dating back to the beginnings of the genre. And I like a few bands from that period – such as Death and Morbid Angel. Sadly, Obituary were nothing like those two. They also seemed to be only going through the motions. And they looked a bit like a shampoo advert…

Anyway, here’s a bit of Persefone to enjoy. It’s from their 2009 album, Shin-Ken. I gave it an honourable mention in my best of the year post here.


Astonishingly good music

Okay, so it feels like it’s pandering to stereotypes – or at least to public perceptions of the genre – but Dark Tranquillity‘s new video, released in advance of the March 1st release of their latest album, We Are The Void, contains one of creepiest chorus riffs ever – sort of like the Addams family on acid – and a general amazingness that shows why Dark Tranquillity are simply the best metal band on the planet. I shall be buying the album. Special edition. You can just enjoy the video below. It’s called ‘Shadow In Our Blood’. It is amazing.

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Best of the Year Addendum

I’ve already done my best of the year blog post – see here – and picked my top five books, films and albums. But as I write this, I’m listening to an album I really should have listed in my honourable mentions. So I’m going to mention it now.

The album is The End Of The Line and it’s by Necropolis, a British death metal band from the 1990s. Formed from cult Newcastle thrash band Atom God and Oxfordshire death metallers Gomorrah, it’s real Old School NWOBHM-influenced death metal. The End Of The Line is their own only album and also features some guitar-work by Fast Eddie Clarke. In fact, the guitar-playing throughout is bloody impressive (although I’m not sure which is Clarke, and which is band-members Billy Leisegang or Keith More).

And just look at the lovely cover-art.

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Normal Service Will Be Resumed Shortly…

I’ve been feeling a bit uninspired blog-wise recently, but since I’ve just done another “double whammy” on the music front I’ll post about it…

A double whammy is two gigs on two consecutive nights. This time it was French metal band Gojira on the 13th March, followed by prog rock band Magenta on 14th March. Both were excellent.

Here’s some Gojira for you.

And here’s a bit of Magenta.