Stone Sour: House of Gold and Bones Part 1

HouseofGoldandBonesPt1

When I was a kid I often submerged myself in music, or more specifically whole albums. Operation: Mindcrime (later LIVECrime). Master of Puppets. Images and Words. High Tension Wires. Focus. Albums that are not necessarily immediate, but requiring attention, patience to get the best from.  Life was the thing that happened between slipping on a set of headphones and disappearing into the music, delving into the songs, learning the parts, melodies, rhythm patterns, lyrics. The above often had me finding new things after weeks of constant listening.

These are all albums that work best as total entities, consumed whole rather than dipped into or put on in the background as aural wallpaper. The sorts of albums to put on when you can listen to them start to finish without interruption. Gestalt albums where the whole thing is greater than the sum of the parts, no matter how great those individual parts may be. Which of course should set you up nicely for what I’m going to say about this one.

I’ve been looping House of Gold and Bones Part 1. It gets stronger with each play, and reveals a greatness that the band have more than hinted at before but never quite attained. HoGB1 (as it shall be henceforth referred) is a concept album about the inner struggles of the protagonist after a catastrophic relationship failure. Rather than talk about individual tracks (many of which hit or clear the heights of  the band’s previous best), I’d simply say that the album is by turns brutal and beautiful, savage, delicate and raging. Instrumentation is varied – armour piercing guitar tones give way to strings and delicate synth parts. Corey Taylor once again proves himself one of the best vocalists in rock today. Whilst he may not have the range of, say a Dickinson or Tate, he has a great melodic sensibility, projects powerfully, and has great versatility going from a contemptuous snarl to a whisper to a scream in the space of the same song. He also has great character – whether it’s wounded and vulnerable or raging and pissed off, the vocals are as much a part of the instrumentation as the actual instruments. Lyrically it’s clever and blackly funny (‘I don’t mind my self-loathing, and I don’t need help from you’). The rest of the band acquit themselves in equal fashion – rhythm section drummer Roy Mayorga and on-loan-from-Skid-Row bassist Rachel Bolan bring the assault and battery, whilst guitarists Josh Rand and James Root lay down taut, precise, inventive rhythms and scything fleet-fingered solos. Basically HoGB1 takes everything that was good about Stone Sour on past albums and cranks it to eleven. In line with the concept album idea, the song arrangement and ordering has a very definite ‘narrative flow’ to it

Absolutely magnificent. Do your ears and brain a favour and get a copy. Here’s hoping Part 2 can match up, and also that they perform both albums in their entirety live…

SkyWorld – Two Steps from Hell

‘OK’, I hear you ask, ‘who are Two Steps from Hell and why are you reviewing them?’  Well, if you’ve played video games, watched TV or been to the cinema in the past five or six years, chances are you’ve heard one of their awesome orchestral/choral tunes as backdrop to a trailer for a genre property. And also UEFA 2012. And the Olympics.

My introduction to them was the release day trailer of Mass Effect 3, and the unspeakably, monstrously epic track ‘Protectors of the Earth’. I watched the ad god knows how many times on repeat then found out who wrote it. Seriously, go look for it on YouTube now and if you don’t rate it as one of the most awesome pieces of music ever written you’re dead to me. Dead.

Since then, the duo of Nick Phoenix and Thomas J Bergerson have been a first port of call when using music to create mood when I’m writing. There’s almost always something appropriate on their albums, and it seems like they write both to archetypes – ‘Master of Shadows’ from ‘Invincible’ for example could be a theme for Batman, Dracula or a master ninja, and to specific films – ‘Am I Not Human?’ (also ‘Invincible’) seems a perfect fit for a replicant, or indeed Deckard.

Opener ‘All is Hell that Ends Well’ starts quietly, before engaging ‘Epic Mode’. A playfully baroque interlude more epic then… Dubstep. Not what I expected, but it is a perfect moment, thunderous and surprisingly apropos. Two Steps manage to integrate disparate styles and instrumentation into succesful, organic pieces of music. There’s an increased playfulness in the arrangements this time, with that wider sonic palette and in that respect, it reminds me of John William’s ‘Attack of the Clones’ soundtrack.  Dark Ages (Nemesis) makes a remixed re-appearance, this time with added metal guitar. Standouts for me include the previously mentioned tracks, also ‘For the Win’, Star Fleet’ and the lovely ‘Breathe’. And ‘Icarus’ has a really lovely sonic pun in it’s composition.

SkyWorld is another array of sweeping tunes that are the perfect soundtrack to the movies in your head, a tabletop RPG session (a good choice for an ‘Exalted’ campaign, you munchkins…) or just lying back and listening to on a set of good headphones. Love it.