Rock of Ages

Shaftesbury Theatre

                                    rock_of_ages

Generally speaking I consider musicals to be pretty ridonkulous. If I want to listen to music, I’ll put on some music. If I want narrative I’ll read a book or watch TV/a movie. I don’t really want the two mixing. Oh the emotion, oh the drama, oh the angst, the pathos. I know, let’s share the deepest workings of our souls by bursting into song… Nope, you lost me there. Not for me, thanks. And no, I didn’t think ‘Once More with Feeling’ was all that either.

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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.

FireFest Friday 19th October.

Nottingham Rock City
Or Tyketto, anyway.

Had planned to do a write-up of the whole Friday Fire Fest. Unfortunately, a buggered clutch got in the way of that, so we ended up hearing two songs from Ten and Tyketto (who were our main reason for going, anyhoo).
Ten, from what I saw were really good – strong melodies and excellent musicianship. Just wish I knew their stuff at all and had actually gotten there in time to see their whole set. And indeed the first two acts.
So, then Tyketto. A band I first came to appreciate at a Rock City trip, far longer ago than I care to think about. They were played, whilst the video played up on the big screens and I took time out from dancing to actually listen. The song was, of course, ‘Forever Young’ which is basically ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’’s much hotter younger sister. I got their albums a couple of days after that, and was very impressed, then they split up, reformed and I lost track before they even recorded their third let alone fourth albums. Anyway, one of the main things I love about Tyketto, alongside their ability to craft really strong hard rock tunes is their grasp of dynamics – acoustic guitar seamlessly merges with harder, crunchier tones, and songs go from whisper to shout in a way that is totally unforced and organic. I never understood why they weren’t absolutely massive.
Opener ‘Strength in Numbers’ gave way to ‘Faithless’ which is one of my favourite tunes – again, that dynamic alongside a slinky Eastern melody that is a bastard of an earworm, and a massive guitar riff make it one of the best hard rock tunes in years. The rest of the set blended stuff from the first two albums and a couple more from ‘Dig in Deep’. It was a depressingly short set – only about an hour and a quarter, and there were a couple of mix problems early on that were rapidly sorted out.
Danny Vaughn is a charismatic frontman and the only one who looks almost exactly like he did back on the cover of ‘Don’t Come Easy’. I want to know what his secret is. Git. The voice is as powerful as ever, and he hit (and projected) some alarmingly high notes. The rest of the band acquitted themselves well too, with Brooke St James’s muscular, elegant guitar playing holding the whole thing together. If I have a nit-pick, it’s that he can be too elegant and too… polite – he should cut loose a bit more, but that is a very small, personal preference and I’m a guitar player so can’t really be trusted on these things…
The closer was, with pleasing circularity, of course, ‘Forever Young’, and whilst I may prefer ‘Faithless’ as a song, it was ‘Forever Young’ that made the hairs on my arms stand up most.
Tyketto are a seriously under-rated band who’ve been making great music for years. They also make my wife shake her thang like nobody’s business. I thank them. So too, I think do the guys standing behind us…

Marshall 50 Years of Loud Live

Wembley Arena: September 22, 2012

 

Well that was… interesting.

There was some astonishing talent, great cover tunes performed by what could be considered some of the greatest tribute acts ever, an awful lot of notes, Al Murray being really, really funny (who knew?) but also, unfortunately a venue (and, to a lesser extent) audience that were inimical to the mood. When Corey Taylor and Kerry King are tearing up ‘Ace of Spades’ and ‘Mouth for War’, it demands a mosh pit not a bunch of aging rockers sitting with their arms crossed. Have to admit, though it was pretty good to be in an audience that was mostly older rather than half my age…

So there was some pure awesome, the majority in the first half of the show. Pretty much everything Corey Taylor was involved in and Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens impersonating Ronnie James Dio, Rob Halford, David Coverdale and Bruce Dickinson were vocal highlights. Guitar-wise my picks (ha, see what I did there?) were Paul Gilbert’s blues-o-matic renditions of ‘Cheap Sunglasses’ and ‘Manic Depression’ both surprising in their restraint for a man with hemi-demi-semi-hemi-demi-semi quavers (256th notes to Americans) festooned on his plectra and Doug Aldrich’s rampage through blues rock and metal classics, ‘Living after Midnight’, ‘Slide it In’ and ‘Flight of Icarus’. Along with the aforementioned mayhem (also including ‘Mouth for War’*). The first half was mostly great with only Zakk Wylde’s set being a bit of a disappointment (he appears to have either eaten Ozzy or is channeling him vocally), and his song choices weren’t that interesting.

After the break, Yngwie was first up. Yngwie. Whingie. Yingyang. Like Paul Gilbert and Joe Satriani he was, back in the eighties and nineties, a big influence on my playing, expanding the vocabulary of rock and metal, and showing how far and fast and insane metal guitar can get. So going into this, be aware I have a colossal amount of respect for what he’s achieved and his ability. Unfortunately, his performance was kinda depressing, like ‘Speed 4 – Shred of Death’, someone maybe wired his head to explode if he dropped below fifteen notes a second. For a man who played so fast, his performance was somewhat ironically, not only one-note but tone-deaf too. He also came over as the egocentric, arrogant douche that he’s often portrayed as in the press. Meh.

It got better.  Absolute highlight of the night for me was Joe Satriani’s stunning ‘Always with Me, Always with You’, a piece which always gives me chills. This is one of the songs I learned to play when I was learning myself. It’s not that difficult to play but extremely difficult to play well (goddamit my hands aren’t big enough for some of the arpeggio stretches…) Satriani said more in one elegant melody than Yngwie did all night. Paul Gilbert rejoined Joe for ‘Going Down’, which, quite frankly rocked.

Once again things went downhill with the introduction of Glenn Hughes who has, an admittedly belting voice but seemed an odd choice for closing act and the introduction of Andy Fraser of Free was a bit embarrassing. They performed ‘Mr Big ‘which was a wasted opportunity to get Pablo Gilberto back onstage, then Yngwie returned to murder Deep Purple and BB King tunes. Hey ho. The night closed with, of course ‘Smoke on the Water’, although unfortunately the sound got rather muddy.

So pretty great overall. Never thought I’d hear Corey sing Cult songs, and the sight of Al Murray taking pics of Satriani from backstage as much an awestruck fan as anyone else was really cool. The house band were awesome, there was a lot of great music and mis-steps aside it was a fitting tribute to the late, great Doctor Marshall without whom rock would probably sound a lot different. Oh yeah, drum elder god/octopus Mike Portnoy now also has one of the worst beards in the recorded history of facial topiary.

 

*Love Dime, but he was a Randall user. Surprised there was no Olympic style corporate sponsor enforcement thing going on