Music

Metal merch: timeless fashion

Even outcasts living on the fringe of society have their own fashion codes. Life shouldn’t be a fashion show, but the reality of it is that every group of people have their own personal style, even those who are consciously anti-fashion.

In my opinion, fans of metal music have the best sense of fashion. Here’s why:

Our clothing allows us to meet new people. Don’t believe me? Try this: put on a Slayer t-shirt, and walk down the street in a reasonably populated area. 9 out of 10 people will probably cringe in horror, but the last person will say “FUCKING SLAYERRR!” and commisserate with you about the bands you like or point you towards the nearest party. Hell, many people across the world have found friends, lovers, and even spouses, simply by wearing metal band t-shirts!

Now, does this happen with any other style of clothing?

“Wow, you like salmon colored Ralph Lauren polo shirts, too? HELL YEAH, THAT’S FUCKING AWESOME! ME TOO!”

Um, no.

You get to dress like Halloween…every day! So go ahead and wear corpse paint and arm spikes on the regular, we won’t judge you.

At least, I won’t judge you, anyway…

Camo pants and shorts are the ultimate in utilitarian fashion. They might camouflage drink stains better than your “dadbod”, but at least they are cheap, comfortable, and durable.

Most metal merch is black, which is the easiest color to accessorize with. Just don’t wear a Metallica watch at the same time as a Metallica t-shirt, because even I know that would be a fashion faux pas.

It is the only mass-produced clothing with obscenities and offensive artwork, if you are into that sort of thing.

It can actually appreciate in value. For example, here is a picture of a 1990’s vintage Tool t-shirt selling on Ebay for $87…pre-owned! The funny thing is, I actually had this EXACT same t-shirt when I was a kid, and I bought it at the mall for like ten dollars.

I ended up trading it to a friend for a Metallica t-shirt, and I still have no regrets.

Instead of supporting faceless corporations, ridiculous fashion trends, and soulless fashion designers, you get to financially support your favorite artists and bands by buying their merch.

And, the best part: most metal band t-shirts sell for $25 or less.

Cost-efficient AND stylish!

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Ektomorf: kickass metal music from Hungary

Ever since I met my wife, who is of Finnish descent, ten years ago, I have delighted in sharing with her new metal bands from Finland. Of course, finding metal bands from Finland is like finding a Starbucks coffee shop in the United States: they are everywhere. In fact, I read somewhere that Finland has the most per-capita metal bands of any country worldwide, which I totally believe. Those Scandinavian winters, and tales of Vikings and Norse gods, must be very conducive to metal music.

But, what about me, someone who is of Hungarian and Italian descent? Now, I am aware of a few Italian metal bands, one of the most popular being Lacuna Coil, of course. I was never aware of any popular metal bands from Hungary, however, until a few days ago, when I randomly stumbled onto some Ektomorf videos on YouTube.

And, wow, what a fucking awesome band! Imagine some stripped-down “nu-metal” such as “Roots” era Sepultura, and Soulfly, but with their own Roma (Gypsy) influences on it. Incidentally, they seem to get a lot of hate just for sounding so similar to Soulfly (frontman Zoltán Farkas does sound a LOT like Max Cavalera), but so what? Most metal music is unintentionally derivative as hell nowadays, especially in the United States. There’s only so many riffs that you can play, especially when everyone is downtuning. Sepultura undeniably influenced many bands worldwide. In fact, they were one of the first metal bands outside of the “Big 4” that I had ever heard, when Chaos A.D. was first released.

Think about it: metal is the ONLY musical genre which basically sounds the same no matter where you are from. Rock music is predominantly from the U.S. and U.K., rap music is almost solely a U.S. export that has influenced people worldwide, and pop music has its own certain touches that distinguish its nation of origin, even if the basic formula of writing a popular song remains the same. But, no matter where you come from, if you are checking out a metal band, you can be guaranteed that it’s going to be motherfucking METAL.

Ektomorf is seriously great, though. I’ve always been partial to simple, stripped down hardcore, punk rock, and metal music, which they effortlessly deliver. Now, don’t get me wrong, they can play. They can rip out some nasty guitar leads. Farkas is even endorsed by guitar manufacturer ESP, and has one of the most awesome signature guitars that I’ve ever seen. Daniel Szabo, the drummer, locks into some killer grooves and beats his drumkit like it stole something (their former drummer Robert Jaksa was also awesome). The entire band plays with such passion and energy that I can’t help but like them.

Zoltàn Farkas holding his signature ESP guitar

Admittedly, I haven’t heard all of their music yet, but the albums “Black Flag” and “Fury” are fucking fantastic. Some songs in particular of theirs that I like are “War Is My Way”, “Aggressor”, “You Can’t Control Me”, “Black Flag”, and “Souls On Fire”. They have many songs and videos on YouTube to check out, but almost no Internet presence otherwise, beyond a Wikipedia page and random articles. That, more than anything, is what pushed me to write this article (even though I only write sporadically nowadays, I still get a considerable amount of viewers from Hungary, and Europe in general). If you are an Ektomorf fan reading this, I salute you. And, in the off chance a member of the band reads this, I want to thank you, for giving me some kickass metal music from Hungary to listen to!

"A fém soha nem fog meghalni!"

P.S. pardon the loose Google Translate transliteration 🙂

P.P.S. If anybody wants to recommend other bands from Hungary to check out, I’d appreciate it!

The funniest music videos on YouTube

 

The 2 Live Crew: “The Funk Shop”

Back in 1989, The 2 Live Crew had just released their infamous album “As Nasty As They Wanna Be”. It was the first album to ever have a Parental Advisory – Explicit Lyrics sticker, and the album was so controversial that it was outlawed in many places, including their home state of Florida (where The 2 Live Crew would then record a new record called “Fuck Martinez”, dedicated to Florida governor Bob Martinez and Broward County sheriff Nick Navarro). Not only did 2 Live Crew fight and win for 1st Amendment rights for musicians, they also fought for fair use in parodies with their “Pretty Woman” song where they sampled and interpolated Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman”. They fought it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court…and won. It was a groundbreaking album lyrically, but not enough credit goes to their DJ and producer Mr. Mixx, who was one of the first rap producers to fully utilize the Roland 808 sequencer. His mix of Kraftwerk samples, samples from comedy records, and samples from rock bands such as Van Halen, Guns N’ Roses, The Beatles, and The Kinks, helped lay the foundation for modern rap music.

Also back in 1989, they were on the Phil Donahue Show (a groundbreaking show itself), for an episode about explicit lyrics in music. From the performance itself to the video editing, it is hilarious:

 

HIGHLIGHTS:

0:18 — “Oh, my God…”

0:20 — Luke talking shit to the audience. “Now we know what kind of audience we got!” “Tell some of these narrow minded people what’s going on…”

0:42 — Fresh Kid Ice (R.I.P.) starts rapping. His verse is censored, which is a perfect setup for the next verse by Brother Marquis…

0:43 — “Did he just call us narrow-minded?”

0:55 — Luke doing the chicken dance with a shit-eating grin on his face

1:25 — “Now how many of y’all ever been to a hotel, and y’all had sex at a hotel? Put your hands up!” *nobody puts their hands up* “The whole lot of y’all out there lying!”

1:39 — Brother Marquis starts rapping the uncensored version. The 2 Live Crew immediately laugh their asses off when they hear him cussing

2:15 — Lady with the Sarah Huckabee Sanders screw face

2:27 — “Now how many of y’all have Penthouse magazines in your house? Put your hands in the air!” *nobody puts their hands up* “Y’all lying again!”

2:56 — “What does ‘Splak’ mean?”

3:04 — Luke pointing at the audience and calling them hoes. AT THE 3:04 MARK! That is some brilliant editing.

3:27 — “What the hell did I just see?”

 

Cordier Street Beatdown

Somewhere in France, there is a street called Cordier, which is known for its beatdowns. Beatdowns of comedy, that is! I’m not sure if this video is a parody, but it has to be, right? It contains all the hardcore cliches of spin-kicks, tough guy stances, and circle pits, but I’m not entirely convinced. Here we go…

 

HIGHLIGHTS:

0:03 — I don’t know what the hell he is saying, but he’s holding a baseball bat, so I’m guessing he’s talking about baseball?

0:12 — Requisite gang vocals

0:13 — Requisite walk down the train tracks. Holy shit that vocalist’s voice is shot

0:18 — Requisite spin-kicking

0:31 — This vocalist sounds like Jamey Jasta from Hatebreed, if he had a French baguette shoved up his ass

0:48 — Vocalist spin-kicks the crowd. That’s not how it’s supposed to work, guys…

0:52 — Who the hell are these people in the cages?

0:56 — Requisite spoken word part

1:08 — Whoa…this vocalist’s voice is super shot!

1:10 — Requisite performance in a cemetary. You’re not supposed to actually stand on someone’s grave marker though, guys…

1:26 — 10 wannabe thugs in a Renault

1:48 — Ghost ride the whip

2:02 — Someone gets hit over the head with a piece of wood

2:03 to 2:45 — What in the actual fuck…

2:45 — Uh, guys, you left a bottle of water on that dude’s grave…

 

 

25 Ta Life Backyard Extravaganza

Well, it does take place in a backyard, but I wouldn’t call it an extravaganza, except perhaps ironically…

 

HIGHLIGHTS:

 

0:10 — Is Rick Ta Life actually going to perform without a drummer or a backing track? Why yes, of course he is.

0:35 — “Everybody sing along!” *nobody sings along*

0:46 — “WHFIOUFHGDHHFGHDH BLECH!”

1:00 — “Everybody sing along!” *where the hell is everybody?*

1:25 — “Straight-edge!”, next to somebody holding a beer

1:30 — Random chicks walking by and laughing

1:38 — “VCMBFBJMBSBSBMBSM BLECH!”

 

 

 

 

MUSIC REVIEW: The Acacia Strain, “Gravebloom”

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Good old TAS, the OG’s of nihilistic downtuned modern metal music. Ever since their inception around the turn of the millenium (has it been almost 20 years already?!?), they have been kicking our collective asses. In their first 10 years, they released three legitimate classics: 2006’s “The Dead Walk” (is there anything heavier than the beginning of “4×4”?”); 2008’s “Continent”, which was/is 10/10 perfection from beginning to end; and 2010’s “Wormwood”, which would begin a shift from the mid-tempo malevolence into the slower, doomier sound that they are known for now.

Now it’s 2017, and there are probably hundreds of bands out there operating from The Acacia Strain’s influential musical template. So, what do they do? Why, record and release “Gravebloom”, of course, which certainly ranks among their best albums (released June 30th on Rise Records).

It opens with “Worthless”, a self-loathing song set to swirling guitars which has a surprising dynamic shift around the 2:45 mark. Things don’t get any happier: the indictment of society on “Plague Doctor”, exploring how to not be a model citizen on “Model Citizen”, the funereal dirge of “Cold Gloom”, and the Deftones-esque dissonant wall of sound on “Abyssal Depths”.

“Bitter Pill”, “Dark Harvest”, and “Calloused Mouth” pick up the tempo and are more reminiscent of the old-school TAS sound that we all know and love. “Dark Harvest” in particular is musically and lyrically reminiscent of the awesome “Holy Walls Of The Vatican” off of their previous album Coma Witch.

The lyrics of Vincent Bennett alternate between suicidal desperation and hostility towards the corruption of society. When he screams “We exist inside a wasteland / Rolling fields of agony / Bodies hanging lifeless / In a forest of dying trees / The last great disciple of the human race / Slipping through the cracks of time and space” on Bitter Pill, he paints a dystopian picture that is bleak, yet defiantly in acceptance of its fate.

When you get a TAS album, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. Aside from the occasional shift in song dynamics, Gravebloom pretty much sticks to the sound that The Acacia Strain is known for. And let’s be happy they did, because they have released one of the top metal albums of 2017.

 

The 25 Ta Life soap opera just had a plot twist

Anybody who is familiar with the hardcore band 25 Ta Life, knows how much drama surrounds them (check out one of my earlier articles if you are unfamiliar).

In a somewhat unexpected plot twist, however, James “Stikman” Ismean from the New Jersey hardcore band Fury Of Five has signed on to be the vocalist for 25 Ta Life’s upcoming performance at This Is Hardcore 2017.

Considering Stikman recorded a diss track towards Rick Healey (the longtime vocalist for 25 Ta Life) a couple years ago, this is unexpected indeed…

 

Remember when Axl Rose first started performing with AC/DC, and how ridiculous THAT sounded? Well, imagine if Axl had talked shit about Brian Johnson and threatened to kick his ass, and THEN signed on to do performances with AC/DC.

Yeah, it’s like that.

25 Ta Life with Stikman admittedly sounds good, however, especially with the return of OG guitarist Beto…

 

Either way, TIHC 2017 will be awesome, and as a longtime fan of both 25 Ta Life and Fury Of Five, this will be one of the most anticipated performances.

From White Stripes to black circles

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I never was a big White Stripes fan (although “Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground” is still my jam), but I have always had my respect for what Jack White has done for music. He brought a punk ethic to a music industry that was, at the time, full of boy bands and second-rate nu metal bands. He proved that you could take a shitty 1960’s Strat copy guitar and (along with Meg White) a basic 4 piece drum kit, to become a successful artist. Sure, part of it was image, as Jack would fully agree to. But the songwriting was always there, and the White Stripes had some good songs. To this day, you can’t go into a college football stadium without “Seven Nation Army” blasting through the PA system at some point during the game.

But what Jack White has done goes way beyond creating music. In recent times, he was one of the early champions of analog recording and vinyl records. With his Third Man Records, based in Nashville, he constructed a top of the line studio with analog recording equipment. Except for Steve Albini and Electrical Audio in Chicago (which Albini started in 1997), there have really been no top studios dedicated to analog recording in the U.S.

And, now, Jack White has went full circle from musician and producer to record distributor. His new Third Man Records factory in Detroit is dedicated to producing vinyl records for his label, and to pressing records for other musicians and labels. Records aren’t just some trendy hipster scene anymore, as they are projected to be a billion-dollar worldwide industry in 2017.

But WHY are vinyl records, and analog recording, so important? My thoughts:

Analog recording (reel-to-reel tapes, as you might picture on an old school movie projector) has been the only constant in the music recording industry. Cassette tapes (which is basically a miniaturized tape reel in a plastic case), with their much smaller sizes, became popular in the 1980’s, but were only suitable for consumer use, and were eventually replaced by compact discs.. CD’s have been the consumer audio standard, but they are quickly falling to the wayside, with digital audio sales and streaming providing the vast majority of music sales nowadays.

Digital audio tape (DAT), which looked like cassettes but were considered suitable for professional music storage, were briefly in vogue in the 1990’s to 2000’s. There were even ADAT tapes (Alesis Digital Audio Tape, which were Alesis proprietary tapes the size of video cassettes for VCR’s). But these soon fell into obsolescence. Back when I was studying and interning for music production in the early 2000’s, DAT and ADAT was still being used, but fully computer-based digital recording was quickly overcoming it. Digital recording software has been in use in the music industry since the 1980’s, but the limitations of computers back then made it impractical. By the late 1990’s, digital recording would become the standard, or at least analog recording with digital mixing and mastering.

With that being said, analog recording has been the only constant recording format. Vinyl records will last many decades without suffering any appreciable loss of sound quality. Compact discs (CD’s), on the other hand, are quick to scratch up and will eventually rot (I have CD’s at home I bought less than a decade ago and are already rotting out). Cassette tapes, with their thin magnetic tape, will eventually lose sound quality. For consumers who want to archive a music collection, vinyl records are at this point in time the only product that will be guaranteed to last their lifetime. 

Sure, you could archive a collection of digital music, such as 99% of us have done. Who doesn’t have songs on their computer or phone? We have MP3, WAV, and AAC files for basic sound quality without requiring too much memory, and FLAC files for higher sound quality. Unfortunately, these audio coding formats aren’t guaranteed to last. There have been many changes in consumer audio and video formats (remember Betamax, laserdiscs, and Mini-Discs?), and things could change yet again. Plus, what if your hard drive seizes up, or you accidentally erase your digital recordings? You can easily transfer analog files to digital formats…but it’s a hell of a lot harder to transfer digital audio to an analog recording.

I can also argue that vinyl records are beneficial for ALL musicians, even the ones who don’t record onto them. With the prevalence of digital music, songs have become as disposable and fleeting as any other trend. But having a tangible product in your hand such as a record, with the artwork and liner notes, makes the music listening more of an immersive experience. It makes you actually appreciate the music, because you’ve invested more time into getting it than simply pressing “download” on Google Play. Now, this doesn’t mean I’m not a fan of digital music; on the contrary, it has many upsides. It is much easier to listen to music nowadays, and much easier to create and edit music when recording (ever try to splice a reel when editing tape?). However, that doesn’t mean that digital music should be the only format. Analog recording has its place, especially for audiophiles and music archivists.

Selling physical products, such as records, is important because that’s where a lot of a musician’s profits are going to come from. Merchandise (“merch”) is another good profit source unless you are signed to a major label with one of those God-awful “360 deals”. Sure, you can make most of your money touring, if you are a big enough artist who doesn’t have to “pay-to-play” at some shitty club. But what about musicians who don’t go on tour, or have a bunch of merch pressed up for sale? Let’s take a look at royalties. For Spotify, one of the largest digital music streaming services, the average per-stream payout is .0005 cents. For an actual album purchase, digital royalties are still less than royalties for physical album purchases, although this is finally starting to even out. 

If I were to record an album and sell 1,000 copies of it, I might make a few cents per copy from iTunes. But for the average independent musician who presses up a physical album and only pays for distribution (to stores, etc.), he or she will make a few dollars profit for each album sold. If they were to have their own website and only sell the album from there, they would profit even more. This goes for any physical album format: records, CD’s (which, believe it or not, still exist) or cassette tapes (which, believe it or not, also still exist, as the newest hipster trend in music recording and collecting). The more records that get pressed up and sold, the more that physical music releases will become popular again. As a consumer or as a musician, this is a good thing.

Jack White has done a great service to musicians and music fans, and also to the city of Detroit for building this factory. I certainly hope for his success, as a music fan and as a proponent of analog recording.

Kurt Cobain and Nirvana’s influence on music

Today, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana fame would have been 50 years old. He, unfortunately, committed suicide in 1994, leaving fans in shock. As talented as he was, Cobain was by all accounts ill-prepared for the fame that Nirvana gained.

Growing up as a kid, Nirvana was one of my favorite bands. I can still remember hearing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for the first time on the radio (I used to listen to the radio with a blank tape on cue so I could record songs that I liked). Even through my Sony boombox’s tinny speakers, Teen Spirit had a massive sound that I had never heard before. It was simple yet powerful, and the production and mixing on the Nevermind album is still one of the best in modern music history, in my opinion.

And it wasn’t just Cobain who was the sound of Nirvana, because without the melodic and prominent bass lines of Krist Novoselic, and the dynamically powerful drumming of Dave Grohl, the songs that Nirvana had would have never been nearly as good. The angular interplay between Cobain and Novoselic made for some killer songs, and Grohl would eventually come into his own as a songwriter, showing his metal influence by co-writing Scentless Apprentice off of In Utero, and by eventually recording his old songs written during Nirvana’s existence for the excellent Foo Fighters S/T debut album.

I have recently revisited Nirvana’s music to play on the guitar, and it’s pretty amazing how simple and similar many of their songs are. I can hardly read music, and I usually use open tunings on my guitar to bang out barre chords more easily. If you open tune to E flat, B flat, and E flat on the top 3 strings, you can easily play almost every Nirvana song. Most of their songs use many of the same chords in different combinations. And, here are my 10 favorite Nirvana songs, in no particular order:

-Aneurysm

-In Bloom

-Stain

-Dive

-Lithium

-Negative Creep

-Territorial Pissings

-Drain You

-Radio Friendly Unit Shifter

-Breed

I can still remember the day I heard of Kurt Cobain’s suicide. I am usually non-plussed by celebrity culture, but as a kid I can remember shedding a few tears upon hearing of his death. I had just moved to a different town, and a girl who I had met in school tearfully called me with the news. At that age, even though I have struggled with depression most of my life, suicide was an otherworldy thought: it was incomprehensible, and all I knew was that one of my favorite musicians was no longer with us. 

Cobain was a huge influence on me: as a left-handed guitarist, he would help inspire me to pick up the guitar since I’m a lefty, too. His usage of simple barre chords was influential, too, as I am a rhythm guitarist at heart and love banging out some heavy power chords. As someone who was introverted with social anxiety and who felt out of place like many teenagers, Cobain’s honesty was also inspiring. He was certainly one of the best songwriters of the modern music era, and his influence will never be forgotten. RIP Kurt.