music

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.

 

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Strange moments on the pop music charts

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Popular music is usually a decidedly mainstream affair. There have been some anomalies, however. Even the Beatles, The Who, and The Rolling Stones had controversial singles. However, I’ve picked a few that you may not know about. Here are my top picks:

Sex Pistols, “God Save The Queen”

By the time God Save The Queen was released in 1977, the Sex Pistols were already infamous throughout England, and were banned from most clubs and radio airplay. How could they piss off the British monarchy even more? Why, by releasing a song called God Save The Queen, of course. And by attempting a publicity stunt where they would play the song on a boat named The Queen Elizabeth. Needless to say, the queen was pissed, especially when the song inspired by her made it to the British NME charts at #1 (but only #2 at the British singles chart, where it is claimed it was kept from #1 purposely).

To this day, it is still one of the Sex Pistols’ most remembered songs (especially since they only wrote around 20 songs total!), and it is one of punk music’s most defining anthems.

Rammstein, “Mein Teil”

Picture this: In Germany, a man lets another man cut his penis off, where they both attempted to eat it…which was all on videotape. The man with his penis left killed the penis-less man, and eventually ate over 40 pounds of flesh from his body.

Now, picture this: A couple of years later, in Germany, a band writes a song about that cannibalistic killing, where it became the hit first single on their album, and a Grammy nominated song in the United States. In fact, “Mein Teil” charted in a few countries, and was #2 in Germany on its first week release.

“Mein Teil” is a brilliant song that manages to be catchy and creepy at the same time. Even though it is a fairly well known song, it remains highly controversial in Germany.

Pantera, “Far Beyond Driven”

The mid 1990’s were a peak time for physical music album releases, and not a peak time for conventional metal bands to be popular. Therefore, the #1 Billboard debut of Pantera’s Far Beyond Driven in 1994 is definitely an anomaly. It sold almost 200,000 copies the first week, one of which I personally bought myself when I was a teenager.

It is now considered one of Pantera’s best albums. I would consider it THE best, no matter how much I like Vulgar Display Of Power (and the rest of their albums). RIP Dime.

Rage Against The Machine, “Killing In The Name”

A 1992 metal song that is anti-establishment, and that contains 17 F-bombs (don’t worry, I counted!), actually manages to become a #1 holiday hit in England 17 years later.

How, you may ask? The Christmas music chart in England has been irreverent for some time, and thanks to a Facebook campaign, Killing In The Name became the Christmas #1 song in 2009. Reportedly, former RATM vocalist Zach de la Rocha was “ecstatic” upon hearing the news. Now, that’s sticking it to the machine! I’m sure families all across England were singing “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me” during Christmas carols that year.

TOP TEN GUNS N’ ROSES SONGS

Here is the definition of pure rock n' roll, folks. Missing a top hat, of course...

Here is the definition of pure rock n’ roll, folks. Missing a top hat, of course…

Every generation has its ultimate rock bands. The 1960’s had The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who; the 1970’s had Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and Black Sabbath; and the 1980’s had Van Halen, Motley Crue, and Guns N’ Roses. The 1990’s had Nirvana and Pearl Jam, and the 2000’s (the aughts?) had…Limp Bizkit and Creed. Oh man, so THAT’S why I was so fucked up as a young adult!

As a kid, GNR was the first rock band that I really got into. Yeah, the occasional cussing was a plus (The 2 Live Crew’s “As Nasty As They Wanna Be” was another childhood classic!), but the songs were undeniably great. The riffs, the grooves, Axl’s magnetic voice. Here’s my top ten favorites from them:

1. “It’s So Easy”, Appetite For Destruction

Here’s my all time favorite from the boys. The ringing bassline that opens the song is like an alarm that lets you know this band isn’t to be fucked with. That hook: “It’s so easy, easy, when everybody tries to please me, baby” is sheer rock and roll decadence at its finest. And when Axl yells “FUCK OFF” during the bridge, it opened my innocent ears to another level beyond what I had heard in my short life thus far. It still is a brilliant song, and always gets me fired up to this day.

2. “Reckless Life”, G’N’R Lies

“I lead a reckless life, and I don’t need your advice”. Enough said. Another anthem that is still one of my favorites.

3. “Mr. Brownstone”, Appetite For Destruction

When I first heard this song, I remember thinking about how weird it was to be singing about dancing with a guy. Of course, I didn’t know what it was REALLY ABOUT (that wouldn’t come for a few years later, haha), but the groove in this song always had me hooked. As much as people rip on Steven Adler, his drumming is what made Appetite For Destruction in my opinion. It wasn’t always technically perfect, but it had soul and swing, and Mr. Brownstone is a shining example of how good he could be.

4. “Shotgun Blues”, Use Your Illusion I

Axl was obviously an incredible singer and performer, but he also had some great moments in songwriting. This is one that he wrote, and is one of my favorites. That riff is just badass, and the lyrics, such as “They say I walk the line, fuck, they move it every time”, are just brilliant. From what I understand, this is one of the few GNR songs that has never been played live by them, which is a shame, because it really is a fantastic song.

5. “One In A Million”, G’N’R Lies

And here’s another one written by Axl. Sure it has its questionable lyrical moments, but deep down it is one of their best ballads. Stripped down to just vocals and acoustic guitar, it is simple and catchy, and holds up better than some of the overwrought ballads that they would come up with on the Use Your Illusion albums.

6. “You Could Be Mine”, Use Your Illusion II

I actually remember having the cassette (remember those?) single for this song. And what a great song it is. That intro alone: the tribal drums, the guitar riff that sounds like a howling banshee. And the song has such a great groove to it.

7. “Nighttrain”, Appetite For Destruction

Now here’s a perfect driving song. “Ready to crash and burn…I never learn…I’m on the nighttrain”…well, just don’t take those lyrics literally. Apparently, it was written about the Night Train cheap wine that seemed to be popular back in the day. Personally, Boone’s Farm was my favorite when I was a teenager, as most nights you could catch me chillin on old Strawberry Hill.

8. “Locomotive”, Use Your Illusion II

Matt Sorum joined the band during the recording of the UYI albums, and this is his finest moment in my opinion. That groove is tighter than tight, while Slash and Duff contribute some funky ass riffing to complete this song. It’s a little overlong, as is quite a few of the UYI songs, but is still one of the best from them.

9. “Yesterday”, Use Your Illusion I

Here’s the second greatest song ever written with the title “Yesterday” (if you can’t figure out the greatest, then get the hell off my blog immediately!). It captures the band at their catchiest, and sums up how they were feeling at the time: “Yesterdays got nothin for me”. Of course, the future had nothing for them either, until Chinese Democracy came out a couple decades later (The Spaghetti Incident was a throwaway album solely released to satisfy their record contract).

10. “Paradise City”, Appetite For Destruction

And here’s the song that captures them in all of their glory. It has the powerful blues-based riffing that they were known for, with the catchy hooks and rhythms that defined them. TAKE ME HOME!

CRABS IN A BUCKET: THE HARDCORE/METAL SCENE

This band: Worst band ever. I really hope they take the time to read all that!

This band: Worst band ever. I really hope they take the time to read all that!

When Al Gore Tim Berners-Lee first invented the World Wide Web, I’m sure he had no idea that the relatively benign Geocities websites and simplistic messageboards would soon proliferate into literally thousands of dedicated music websites, each with their own messageboards of hatred and sarcasm. Back when I was growing up, things were different. It wasn’t cool to listen to multiple styles of music since you were either a punk, metalhead, prep (who listened to popular radio), or wigger fan of urban music. Of course, I happily listened to it all except for the radio bullshit, and was ostracized by most people because of it. Popularity contests didn’t excite me back then, and as a middle aged man they sure as hell don’t excite me nowadays.

But go on to any music messageboard, and look at the complaints:

That band/artist “sold out”.

Well, what the hell do you expect? Touring as a musician means that it has to be financially viable, or at the very least you have to be able to break even. If you can do anything that gives you greater media exposure, even if it is headlining some stupid hipster festival where you are the single token hardcore band, then by all means go for it. If you can sign a major label deal even if they own all your merch rights into perpetuity long after the band is broken up, then go for it. Of course, I believe it is much wiser to do as much groundbreaking as possible as an independent band or artist, so that you will have more leverage when signing a recording or distribution contract. But as long as you are fully informed as to what contract you are signing, then more power to you. James Hetfield of Metallica was once confronted about “selling out”. His response: “Damn right we sold out, we are selling out arenas now!” Well said James, well said.

That band/artist isn’t “real”, they are rich kids from the suburbs.

I hate to piss on your fantasies, but most bands and artists are from the burbs, even the ones who act like inner city thugs. Most of the members of groundbreaking hardcore bands such as the Cro-Mags (except for Harley Flanagan), the Bad Brains, Black Flag, and Negative Approach were from the suburbs. In fact, tough guy hardcore bands like Fury of Five and E.Town Concrete were from suburbs of New Jersey. So what if some trust fund kid starts a hardcore band complaining about how tough life is? It’s important for US ALL to realize how tough life is, and living in a shitty van while eating Cup O’ Ramen and 7-11 hot dogs while playing to 10 people per night is a stark reminder of how shitty it can be. As long as life has its enjoyable moments (the time on stage, or the time creating music), then the shitty times aren’t so intolerable.

That band/artist changed their sound, the only album I like is their poorly recorded demo that no one knows about except for me and some random sound engineer.

What the hell do you expect, them to play the EXACT SAME shit over and over again? Unless you are AC/DC or The Rolling Stones, consistency in music isn’t the best thing. Ideally, a band or artist should have a core sound that they then expand upon through subsequent albums. Of course, the basis of hardcore music is a simple two-step drumbeat with simple barre chords and palm muted breakdowns. There isn’t really too much to add to that, and yeah some bands try wayyyy too hard. But ANY musician is going to get bored playing the same shit over and over again. Which is exactly why bands break up (“musical differences” is code for “I’m sick of playing this goddamn shit”) and is exactly why most successful bands have members that have side projects where they can play other styles of music. And as an audiophile, who the hell wants to listen to some poorly recorded demo? These aren’t the 1980’s anymore (and even Greg Ginn was able to get decent recordings back then).  Any musician, even with consumer grade equipment, can record, mix, and master a recording that will rival any major label release. Your demo is your calling card, make sure that card kicks as much audio ass as possible.

That band/artist never plays shows around me, that is some bullshit!

While it is true that most tour managers chart touring itineraries much like a three-year old might randomly draw lines on a North America map, again tours must be financially viable in order for them to work. Driving or flying all the way out to Alaska or Hawaii isn’t going to be viable for most artists, and the ones that do usually take a loss in order to play these places. It is getting close to impossible for many bands to play Canada due to their overly restrictive visitor laws (if you’ve had any assault or DUI charge in the past 5 years, forget about it). It is much more viable to do regional tours, and to hit up as many venues as possible in the process. You want a band to play your town? Put on your promoter hat, come up with a financial figure that you and the band both agree upon, and bring them out your damn self. Problem solved!

That band/artist is a ripoff of another band/artist, they sound exactly alike!

Last time I checked, there were a finite amount of notes that could be played on a guitar, and a finite amount of drum rhythms. Even singers will have similarities (i.e. Michael Poulsen from Volbeat sounding exactly like 1990’s era Mina Caputo from Life Of Agony). Sure, some musicians steal ideas from others, but that has been going on ever since blues legend Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul at the crossroads. All music, even if it is metal music, can be directly traced to early rock n’ roll like Chuck Berry and The Beatles. Early hardcore bands jocked the MC5 and the Ramones, the Cro-Mags jocked Negative Approach and the Bad Brains, and most deathcore metal bands nowadays jock Limp Bizkit. Personally, I like this so-called “nu-metal” revival, but my point is that all music is derivative in some capacity.

Now…there is nothing wrong with having opinions. Sarcasm and the Internet go hand in hand like Jagermeister and Red Bull. But there is a difference between being serious, and just joking around. Try not to take stuff so seriously, and try not to get caught up in the bullshit. If you don’t like an artist, then just go listen to someone you do like. Support touring bands by going to their shows and buying merch. Stop worrying about looking or sounding “cool”, and just have fun! Life is seemingly more enjoyable that way.