album review

Anyone who knows me, or has read enough of my writing, knows that I'm not much of a fan of death metal. Most of it is too sloppy, too noisy, or just too far removed from what I consider the heart of music for me to get a lot of enjoyment from it. I understand why people love it, but I would never be able to throw myself headlong into the genre. In a discussion I had with my colleague Drew a while back, I challenged myself to make a list of my five favorite death metal albums. Smack dab in the middle of that list was Carcass' landmark “Heartwork”.

Music is art and, as such, there are endless interpretations and styles to be had. Throughout history, there have been many, many musicians who have used a basic and culturally approved composition structure to put together a product which is readily digestible by the masses and the "art" of the music becomes lost in a sea of glory-hounds and pre-cast corporate templates. Every once in a while we are treated to an artist who breaks the music down to it's most basic parts and attempts to create a product that pushes the boundaries of what we have come to expect from our musicians.

The bedrock of progressive metal as we know it is built upon two bands; Dream Theater and Fates Warning. With apologies to fans of Queensryche, it's the truth. No bands have been more instrumental in the development, propagation, and flourishing of progressive metal than those two standard-bearers. While Dream Theater has been earning accolades, and racking up bigger sales and a higher profile through the years, Fates Warning has faded into the background. After their landmark “A Pleasant Shade Of Grey”, Fates Warning has been the forgotten legend of progressive metal.

As time goes by, it becomes increasingly difficult to do reviews of GWAR albums. The simple fact is, there are only so many ways in common English that you can say “well, it sounds like GWAR.” Amidst all the blood and fluids that GWAR has dispensed over the last thirty years (or thereabouts, which seems unbelievable,) the band has quietly been highly prolific, never waiting more than three years to unleash a new album on their faithful followers.

I'm often confused by the things that become popular. My mind and my aesthetic aren't compatible with common wisdom, so I'm often at a loss when it comes to understanding how certain elements become wildly popular, while others that may have more obvious merit are left by the wayside. Tyr brings this to mind, here presenting us a concept album about the voyage of a Viking warrior riding off into battle to impress the Gods. Viking mythology is certainly interesting, but it baffles me how Viking -themed metal has become such a large part of what we hear every year.

With each passing generation of popular music, there are tropes that remain constant despite an ever-shifting landscape. One of the most prominent roles that has been played by many capable actors is the role of pleasantly listenable, broadly appealing and emotionally based rock and roll band. It’s been an important niche coming and going in the different eras of music history, the successor to the genre-defining acts that blazed rock’s trail in the late sixties and early seventies. Any band that can carry a melodic tune easily provides a recognizable touchstone of a given musical era.

Both as a journalist, and as someone with an interest in heavy guitar music, it's difficult for me to admit the staggering gaps in my knowledge. I wish I could say I know more than I do about every aspect of the music we cover here, but I came to the party late, and with a musical basis predetermined that makes it difficult for me to appreciate certain types of heavy music in anything but an intellectual way. One of those gaps in my knowledge is punk/hardcore.

Confession time, kids. I have long been, since my college days, a closet Saliva fan. I hear the rampant, frothing criticism already – ‘Drew, that’s less metal (and therefore worse,) than your general support for the mainstream Five Finger Death Punch and the cupcake that is Sick Puppies.’ I know. I get it. Bear with me. Just like those other two bands, Saliva has long distinguished themselves by being able to execute a quality formula for pop metal (if I can call it that.) while maintaining a certain credible edge. With that in mind, we venture forth into “In It to Win It.”

We metal fans are not above snobbery. We love our pedigrees as much as any blue-blood. When a new band comes along, we tend to look and see who the members may have played with in the past, hoping for an indicator of quality before we ever hear a note. Seeing a familiar old name attached to a project makes us feel better about getting involved with yet another new band, even if it does tip the scales before our brains are ready to make an informed decision.

By this point, the saga of Kyuss has been fairly well reported. To tell the story fully would require a documentary film of appreciable length, a flowchart with Cliffs Notes and a very long afternoon. What began simply as the band that invented and molded desert metal became a long and drama-ragged tale of music and litigation.

The upshot is this: out of the ashes of short-lived revival Kyuss Lives! comes Vista Chino, spiritual successor to the original Kyuss and composed of that band’s co-founding members Brant Bjork, John Garcia and occasionally the enigmatic Nick Oliveri.