album review

We’ve discussed on these pages before the talent of Wes Borland and the underground metal community’s grudging respect for the sole interesting member of Limp Bizkit.

The proliferation of media means that bands can't merely be bands anymore. Everyone needs some sort of a gimmick, whether it be sound or image. Four or five guys wearing jeans and playing instruments won't capture anyone's attention, not with the cornucopia of options the consumer has at their disposal. Perhaps this helps explain the decline in relevancy rock music has encountered in recent years.

One of the greatest benefits that has come about as a result of the shifting nature of the music business is the establishment of a relative meritocracy. If a band is good enough, no matter where they come from, and no matter if they are signed to a label or not, word will spread and they will find an audience. At no time has there ever been such an ability to hear music from all corners of the earth, to uncover the gems that in earlier days would have remained hidden forever.

Fozzy is a band that has no right being successful. The combination of Rich Ward from rap-metal stalwarts Stuck Mojo, and wrestling superstar and lifelong metal fan Chris Jericho, topped off with a ludicrous back story explaining that they were the true legends of heavy metal whose songs had been stolen, was the sort of joke that was barely funny the first time you hear it, and only gets worse with repetition. But a funny thing happened along the way, and Fozzy somehow turned not only into a serious project, but one that garnered plenty of acclaim for all involved.

There's something about the Viking heritage that makes every bit of music that plays off it seem larger than life. No matter the genre, songs about the ancient warriors give songs a grander scope, a larger vision, the kind of epic scale that can sometimes make us forget exactly what we're listening to. I rarely doubt the sincerity of artists, but there are surely bands on the scene that know the effect that can be gleaned from a gimmick like this.

We sometimes forget that a song is a larger entity than what we hear when we put on a record or turn on the radio. The things we are familiar with are not songs, they are performances, interpretations of something bigger than can be expressed through sound. Even for the artists who write them, songs exist out of their hands, malleable to the whims and inspirations of other people's creativity. We all know songs that have taken on new meaning and new identities when taken up by someone else, but no matter how much the sounds changes, the song is still the song.

Among the dozens of factors that can impact the effect music has on us, geography cannot be ignored. Whether its the pull of a hometown act, or the joy in discovering music you love that comes from a world away, it does matter where the music we listen to comes from. Often, the music is indistinguishable enough that its a trivial factor that gets lost amid the more important details, but there are times when the origin of the music is intrinsic to not only how we hear it, but to what it is at all.

As the 90's drew to a close, the state of rock music was slipping into a state of decay. It was lazy to conflate all modern rock bands, sentencing them to live under the title 'post-grunge', but there was always a grain of truth to be found in the stereotype. After the grunge movement came and went, the color had been sucked from the palate, and rock music became a bland canvas where every painter assembled their art from the same template.

Testament has managed a remarkable feat; they have spent their entire career one step into the shadows. During the 80's, the natural cutoff for establishing the group of thrash bands at the top of the heap left them one step away from immortality, despite their sales success. As bands shifted their sounds in the 90's and found greater audiences, Testament went the other direction by becoming more extreme with each album, doing nothing to ride the wave created by their peers.

The world of hard rock and heavy metal is a difficult one for women to exist in. The tougher-than-thou image that overtook the music is dependent on testosterone to survive, and even when women dare enter the fray, they are looked at with a curious eye. The spots reserved for women, for the most part, are either as keyboard players in the background, or as operatic sirens with the looks of a model.