Friday, September 29, 2006

Who Said Satan Could Have All The Good Music

Antestor is a Christian doom/death/black metal band from Norway. They are the second Christian band to be signed to a major label after Horde and the only Christian band to be signed to Cacophonous Records. Not for long though. They were dropped and their album (The Return Of The Black Death) was limited release. The album is now only available through underground internet-based Christian music stores (I thank Blastbeats for my copy!). However I will not be discussing "The Return ..." today, I'll regale you all with that and further stories of death threats at a later time. No, today I will review "The Defeat Of Satan" the re-issue of Antestor's first 2 demo's, "The Defeat Of Satan" and "Despair". Limited to just 999 copies (all numbered! I can't remember what number mine is and it's in a box in the basement.) this is a look at how Antestor (called Crush Evil for the original "The Defeat Of Satan" release) began.

These 2 demos are in the doom/death metal category with black metal coming into play on "The Return Of The Black Death" their 3rd release. The production is raw, but not bad with "Defeat ..." a little rawer than "Despair". This is slow, crunchy doom metal with death metal vocals the likes I've not heard before. It's like The Reaper himself calling forth lost souls. This is prominent right from the beginning of the album. After a short atmospheric intro "Preludium" we get the sinister beginning of "Demonic Seduction" with its demented cackle and Brutal, brutal death metal vocals. Like the voice of the Reaper himself The song establishes the mood of the album upfront. I'll just say it now, this is my favourite track. It's heavy, doomy and eerie. The rest of the "Despair" ep is much the same. "Message From Hell" is crunchy and dark with a doomy riff and skin peeling vocals. "Lost Generation" is more doom laden with Church organ keyboards and more clean vocals. "Human" gets a little speedier at times and is passionate. It too features a stronger doom feel and also is unapologetic in its lyrical boldness. With lines like ~Thank you Jesus for saving me!~ how can you not tell they're Christian? But that aside, Antestor are not so much preachy as they self effacing and humble. They are aware of their own weakness and sin, which gives the album a feel of prayer. This is very much the case with their cover of an old Norwegian hymn "Jesus, Jesus Ver Du Hja Meg" (Jesus, Jesus Be With Me) the last song of the "Despair" portion of the album. Their version is doomy with clean vocals and church-like organ. The guitars enter subtly part way through and features some fine solos.
"The Defeat Of Satan" ep brings up the rear (though it was their first demo)and feels rawer and more epic. The title track of this album is 9+ minuter which starts with a dark and eerie symphonic intro leading into a slow sludgy doom/death metal tune with varying tempo changes. "Jesus Saves" is the other epic length track and is probably the most death metal like track and features a freaky bridge/solo. "New Life" has a heavy death metal chunkiness to it and military style drum work and borders a little bit on progressive.

This is not my favourite Antestor album, but it is the Antestor style I prefer ... their doomy death metal is fantastic and peaks with their follow up independent release "Martyrium". It's here that some of the black metal styles are introduced and starts the transition into full out black metal. I'll get to that one shortly, but let me introduce a few more Christian Extreme metal players ...

Sunday, September 24, 2006

I'll Have The "Kermit The Frog Legs" With A Side Of Self Respect, Please

Who butchered Kermit the Frog? That is the question I've been hearing as of late. Unfortunately, it twas I who throttled, choked and beat senseless our beloved Kermie. I'm sorry. My intent was to do a rockier version of "Rainbow Connection" fro a company BBQ over lunch. What was so so working at home during practice sessions came off as ridiculously amateurish, pubescently performed and just down right terrible. I was hopefully going to have a full cover of me playing a heavy version of "Rainbow Connection" all fun and cool, but all I have to offer is a little over a minute of me butchering a childhood classic.

I will redeem myself! But til then, shall review the original song.

Rainbow connection was written by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher in 1979 for the The Muppet Movie. It was performed by Kermit the Frog (Jim Henson)during the first scenes of the movie in Kermit's swamp. The song speaks of hopes and dreams which not only not only applies to the film, but to the Jim Henson Company as well.

"Rainbow Connection" is a sweet banjo strummin' tune sung with heart. Jim's performance is passionate and the song which could have ended up sappy and cheesy soars with thoughtful lyrics and orchestral heart stirrings. What I've found while I was slowly killing the song is that there are deeper darker undertones. Like the haunting bridge before the last verse and lyrics like ~Who said that every wish would be heard and answered when wished on the morning star? Somebody thought of that and someone believed it,and look what it's done so far. I love the song, it's magical yet grounded in reality, it's cliche without actually being cliche. It's no wonder the song rose to #25 in the Billboard hot 100. And I'm not surprised for the Muppets have been more than just a puppet show, it was intelligent and original and we just don't see a lot of that these days. But alas, I digress. If you are not aware of this song, please check it out, it's fun. And don't let my cover ruin it for you. And with this I'll end my "shocking, surprising" non metal reviews and I'll be back with some brutal albums. Till then feel free to check out my very first gig (much better than my Kermie) to get into the metal spirit.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

DCD Presents Music Not According To The Book ...

Dead Can Dance are a duo of Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard who not so much write music, but create a sound that is not quite World Music and yet not New Age or Folk. It's a little of everything with a glop of Goth added for effect. There is not much else to tell you about the duo, so I'll get right into the review.

"Aion" is the third album I owned (or the second purchased album) on cassette and have only just recently acquired off itunes. It is hard to say which album I like the most, but this one is up there. It has a more tribal/celtic feel, but loads of gothicness. The album starts with "The Arrival And The Reunion" which is essentially what I just described. Tribal feel with percussion and chant like rhythm with Lisa's signature chilling vocals. We then move into "Salterello" which is celticy and upbeat, magical. "As The Bells Ring, The Maypole Spins" is similar in style with Lisa's chant like style which gives the song more goth. It has a very dance inducing feel, much like Loreena McKennitt's "Huron Beltane Fire Dance", it's very catchy.

If you want unsettling gothic songs, just check out "The Song Of Sybil", "The End Of Worlds" and "Wilderness". These all feature church like hymn vocals and simplistic music. Keyboards and percussion (bells, timpani and such) along with Lisa's baritone solo vocals and choral singers create a very eerie atmosphere perfect for halloween music. "The Promised Womb" and "Redharc" are haunting, but have a bit more yearning and sadness. Lisa's vocals are more chilling and cut right into you.

But let's not forget about Brendan Perry now. Along with background vocals and chant/choral work he also spearheads a couple songs and on this particular album they happen to be my favourites. "Fortune Presents Gifts Not According To The Book" is a somber tune that borderlines uplifting. A little emotional turmoil brought on by melodic picking and atmospheric instrumentation. Brendan's vocals are strong and passionate. My favourite track is "Black Sun". It has a creepy, dark feel with tribal percussions and trumpet like bits of melody. Brendan shines with his signature baritone vocals and here he is at the top of his game. It's powerful, passionate and above that, it's catchy.

"Aion" has a more celtic/tribal feel which is a little branch away from some of the earlier work, but does not lose the gothicness that gloomy teens have swarmed too.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A Voice Which Parallels None

Loreena McKennitt is a Canadian singer/harpist/pianist and is my favourite female vocalist. I was first introduced to her by a Loyola Highschool student drama production called Ancient Flames. It was an original student play about witch burnings and utilized a number of Loreena McKennitt songs. Most notably "Huron `Beltane' Fire Dance". And this song is featured on "Parallel Dreams" Loreena's third album, which I'll be reviewing today.

"Parallel Dreams" is a more ambitious effort with more players and a broader vision of what was to come for her future releases. The liner notes state ~If there is a recurrent thread that runs through these dreams, it is one of yearning toward love, liberty and integration.~
And the music is a clear reflection of just that. The album begins with "Samain Night" which is a haunting piece with chilling melodic vocals and beautiful harp work (Loreena's signature instrument). "Breaking The Silence", "Moon Cradle" and "Annachie Gordon" all feature narrative style poetic lyrics, beautiful harp playing and haunting vocals. "Moon Cradle" is bard like and a bit lullaby-ish. "Breaking The Silence" is atmospheric and was written as a tribute to Amnesty International. "Annachie Gordon" is a tale of love denied an just reeks of longing and sadness.

"Dicken's Dublin (The Palace)" is a unique piece which features a radio recording of an Irish child describing the birth of Jesus. The song itself is a bout a street girl longing for a home and features nice piano and guitar work. "Standing Stones" is a pop like song without being pop. The song features powerfully chilling melody by Uillean pipes which screams of anguish and longing. The piano and harp are a nice mix that lead into a very catchy sing a long chorus (which gives the song a pop feel).

My favourite song would have to be the afore mentioned "Huron `Beltane' Fire Dance" which is an instrumental piece that features haunting vocal melodies with a very celticy feel, before the percussion takes over and builds into a fiery rhythm of violins, cellos, guitars, percussions and more and blazes through the rest of the song. I'd love to see the person who can sit through this song without moving. The music demands motion and one cannot help but dance.

Though this is not my favourite Loreena McKennitt album is certainly one her best and as the liner notes say, you cannot listen to this album without being moved by the emotional impact and passion that's magically entwined in Loreena's music. It's truly an album that dreams are made of.

Up next I'll be featuring another powerful female vocalist, Lisa Gerrard, who is one half of Dead Can Dance. This is not the first time I've explored DCD, but I feel now is an appropriate time to visit more of their albums as I continue in my non-metal "surprising" musical tastes.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

What's The Difference ...

Imagine yourself sitting in a half circle booth with some friends in a seedy bar downtown. The lighting is dim and the air is smokey (So it's obviously not Ontario, with it's no smoking laws) so let's say L.A. The bar is filled with quiet chatter as old friends reminisce and co-workers joke at their employer's expense. The lights on stage brighten and then a piano tinkles a bright jazzy melody then hands over the reins to the guitarist who starts up a bass string riff which flips the mood into a somber feel and a female vocalist croons in with a very loungey, haunting voice. The air is chill now but warms as the chorus begins and a bongo lightens the mood....

This is how I feel each time I throw on Same Difference's self-titled (?) album. This is another gem pulled from the bag O tapes from my brother. It's rough packaging tells of independent production and self financing. But the quality is great and mixed well. The vocals are powerful, but not overbearing. Janine has a beautifully haunting voice and a nice alto almost baritone sound. No soprano here, just belting power from the gut.

In the first track "The Party" (as described above) the album sets the mood and Janine's haunting voice brings such atmosphere to the song. The bongo's add a little rhythm to the dark mood. "Cigarette (You Say) continues without the darker edge but enhances the smokey bar feel.

I guess they would be called jazz, but being unfamiliar with anything outside of metal it's hard for me to pinpoint. Lounge act sounds too cheesy so let's mix the 2 and call them jazzy lounge act. "Kiss Of Ice" and "Can't Hear You Anymore" follow in the jazzy upbeat crooners with rage like rhythm and funky feel.

"Love Is Over" is smooth silky song like a slow drag of a cigarette and the bongo use adds nice groove. The use of percussion as apposed to straight drums allows for a wider range of musical moods. "Summertime" brings a sunshiny romantic mood to an otherwise mostly somber/angst feel.

There are 2 songs that I struggled with as my favourite. The album closer "The River" is melodic and atmospheric. The bass plays a standard riff and the keyboards add an element of pleasantness, but then the vocals power in with loads of emotion and lyrical poetry which gives the song a darker/somber feel. Janine's vocals just shine. However, in the end I went with "In This Life" which starts with a guitar picking riff which the vocals mirror for the first part of the song. It's a sweet melody, full of emotion. Then the song picks up with catchy strum work and an upbeat feel without losing the emotional impact. Up next is a Canadian Gal whom I just adore.

I love this album. I also have a tape of demos by Same Difference (Bag O tapes ... where did you get that bag o tapes brother?) but the songs are more jazzy and I find aren't as memorable. I've heard nothing else about this group and assume they are caput. All the same this is a great album.

Monday, September 11, 2006

When The Celts Get The Blues ...

Celtic Blue play traditional Celtic folk music and "Live Legless" is a fine example of true Celtic spirit and are damn fine drinking songs too! Celtic Blue hail from Guelph, Ontario, Canada and is where they recorded this live album over a period of 2 shows in the spring of 1989. I have to thank my brother for this gem. He gave me a bag o cassette tapes to sort through and take what I liked and Celtic Blue was one them. This album really got me interested in folk music such as Clannad and The Chieftains and certainly influenced my appreciation for folk metal. Being a cassette tape posed a problem for me. Tapes wear out and I was listening to this a lot and I'll be darn sure I wasn't going to find another copy. I managed to dub the cassette to my computer into Cool Edit as 2 tracks (1 per side of cassette) and then proceeded to split each song into its own track as well as adjust the audio levels. It took a while, but it worked (as well for my 50 cent bargain tapes). Now Celtic Blue reside in my Ipod for generations of enjoyment. So what is the album like you ask? Well .....

Let me start by saying this is a heck of a foot stomping, beer chugging, back slapping good time. The album begins with the fiddle driven romp "Fairy Dance" which gets the blood flowing and blends seamlessly into "Soldier's Joy" with contemporary lyrics like ~ 25 cents for the morphine, 15 cents for the beer. 25 cents for the morphine, let's get the hell outa here!~ A sheer joy of an opener. Then we get raw sound of the ballad like song "Bank Of The Roses" which is sweet and lovely. You can hear a bit of feedback at the beginning, which gives me the impression that these guys just wanted to get playing and fiddle with the sound as you go. A real raw recording, professionally mixed but exudes a powerful stage experience. Before we can take a breath we are presented with the toast worthy beer chugger number "All For Me Grog". If not for this album, I'd have been terribly unprepared for the energetic Pub Sing at our local summer Renaissance Fair. Thank You Celtic Blue!

Other songs consist of traditional pieces like "Liverpool Lou", "The Wild Rover" and "Donald, Where's Your Trousers?" Played with bouncing energy which is contagious. The band performs with a raw professionalism. Performance artists who (not to knock their talent) are not necessarily proteges, but perform with exuberance and don't care if the fiddle or flute hit a sour note or the timing of the acoustic picking is slightly off. The sound is that of a group of musicians who love the music and love performing.

We are also treated to other traditional pieces which are a bit more thoughtful, passionate such as "As I Roved Out" and "Whisky In The Jar". And let's not forget about the instrumentals on top of "Fairy Dance". I'm talking about "The Reel Chicken" a fiddle loving' foot stomper and the mandolin/acoustic pickin' masterpiece "Auntie Mary & The Canary" an original tune penned by guitarist Doug Watt.

The stand out tracks are the album closer "Ye Canna Shove Your Granny Off The Bus". A morbidly fun sing a long (and the crowd does) song which brings the show to an energetic "wanting more" end. And then there is my favourite track "This Is It". Another original tune by fiddler (and vocals for this song) Rikki Gee and Cribbs (In the liner notes they thank a Willie Cribbs so it might be him). This is a blast of a downer tune. Depressing in its rollickin' catchy tune with an inspiring chorus of ~ This is it (this is it) This is it (this is it) Got a lot of hopes, They ain't worth shit ... well it ain't so bad y'know, wheeeeeeee! ~ Each chorus is followed by a blistering romp of a fiddling solo. Fantastic song.

Celtic Blue's live album is great and I can only imagine what fun watching them would be. You can hear the hoots and cheers of the crowd as they sing along and party it up. Al Clarke's vocals are gruff with hints of an Irish accent and bring a real traditional feel to the songs. And his Tin Flutin' ain't bad either. I don't think these are still playing, and I know nothing of a studio album, but I'm glad to be able to experience the sheer joy of their performance if only in my head and in me Grog! Cheers!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Let The Cat Out Of The Bag ...

Cat Stevens is the former frontman of legendary Death Metal band Cannibal Corpse. Formed in 1989, Cannibal Corpse excelled at brutal grind metal and are considered one of the best selling Death Metal acts .... (cough,cough) ... OK seriously now, Cat Stevens is a Folk musician from the 60's and 70's. The album I will be reviewing today is his 2nd 1970's release "Tea For The Tillerman". This is the album that garnered Cat Stevens international fame and features 4 songs that were used in the 1971 movie Harold and Maude. More recently the title track was used by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant for the end credits of their TV series "Extras".

"Tea For The Tillerman" introduces a more pop sound to Cat's already established folk style. The feeling I get while listening to it is a fun camp fire sing a long with a 60's protest songs edge. This is evidenced in the album opener "Where Do The Children Play". This is pop catchy with a sing a long feel, but lyrically has a "friendly backhanded compliment" to them. A wonderful start to a fine folk/pop album.

"Hard-Headed Woman", "But I Might Die Tonight" and "Wild World" are hooky upbeat songs. "Hard-headed Woman" features nice use of strings, "But I Might Die Tonight" has a funky (almost reggae) feel and "Wild World" is poppy and polished which is why it was most influential in Steven's international exposure.

"Sad Lisa" and "Into White" are piano based with a haunting darker side to them and "Into White" has some beautiful violin work. "On The Road To Find Out" is an energetic, playful song which has a child like innocence to it. The title track sounds like a happy after thought that closes the album.

The stand out tracks are "Miles From Nowhere" and "Father And Son" (though realistically every track is great). "Miles From Nowhere" starts off slow and ballad like with great vocals by Cat. It then gets injected with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. A peaceful track of someone enjoying being away from it all. My favourite song is "Father And Son". This is the very first Cat Steven's song I ever heard ... Thanx brother.... and decided to here the album. "Father And Son" is a passionate, powerful song and Cat's vocals alternate from a deeper fatherly tone to a higher rockier youthful feel with each verse. The subject is timeless, about a father and son who envision (the sons) future in contrasting ways. Brilliantly heart wrenching song and a wonderful acoustic guitar solo.

I'm reluctant to get any other Cat Steven's work. I'm sure it's great, but how much would I listen to it. This album is highly recommended and fun light listening. My one complaint is that recording jumps from quiet to loud in extremes. Kind of like classical music so it is hard to put on in the background with company over or while at work.

So was that a huge shocking surprise of a review?!!???!?! Probably not, and now you all are probably disappointed. But my next review! It'll wow you! 3 words .... "Live And Legless" ....