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Posted on 27 Apr 11 REVIEWS | 3 Comments
metal
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Spending Quality Time with Metal

Being a music lover is easy. You can be a music lover without ever moving beyond your local radio stations (except for your one ‘Captain and Tennille’ Pandora station for when you’re mad at Pam at work and have to hide behind your earbuds). But to be a true audiophile (for lack of a less sex-fetishist-sounding word), you really have to work at your love for music. It is a nuanced journey through disparate and tortured themes and musical concepts to fathom the fine line between random blips and experimental electronica and the demarcation between irony and true aggression in white hip-hop music. This path is wrought with tortured, talentless punk bands grating their vocal chords across a washboard of distorted fuzz to the rhythm of a garbage can falling down a set of metal stairs. You endure this to get to that amazing two-piece math / post-rock band they are opening for at the smoky, hot-as-hell bar downtown. You endure this because you have to. They don’t have any music recorded. It is up to you to attend a show and record it discretely with your iPhone so that you alone can listen to it again. It is a difficult path, but its rewards are magical.

I spend most of everyday reading and writing. Although not usually the materials I prefer to read or write—90% of the time spent doing this is strictly for money—I often restrict myself from listening to music with vocals or lyrics during my workday as the words the artist uses tend to get tangled up in my brain with the words I am reading and writing. How embarrassing it is when a Dead Prez lyric accidentally ends up in the text of a client’s website. Thus, during the workday I listen to a good deal of experimental and instrumental music. Sometimes the Synconation Song of the Day or Top Five article will start me off and I’ll spend the day listening to Last FM to discover artists in a variety of post-rock, instrumental hip-hop, and other genres which I immediately pull up in Grooveshark and listen to their entire catalog. It is a great method for discovering music. However experimental music can get boring and tedious, even for the hippest indie rocker . . . even if you live in Williamsburg. What up Brooklyn!

In an attempt to evade the malaise brought on by an entire afternoon of listening to the Xiu Xiu or Holy Fuck stations on Last FM, I took to listening to post metal. I’ve never really been much of a metal fan. I appreciate it during fast-edited action sequences in big budget movies and as the object of satire in Metalocalypse, but outside of those very specific contexts—eh. I lamented the emergence of rap metal as the worst fusion since alternative and country, but that wasn’t really fair since I hadn’t listened to any real metal other than my brief (maybe a month) period of exposure to Slayer when I tried to jam with some guys back in high school. The one song we played required me to play nothing but an E on bass—the easiest task on the easiest instrument. They decided I couldn’t pick fast enough for their project. They left their Slayer and Pantera CDs for me, I guess so I could bone up. I gave them a few listens, mustered some angst, but quickly left them behind without a look back. Until now.

It all started with Pelican. You don’t even have to like metal to like Pelican. They manage to take you on epic Nordic sea adventures in their music without ever uttering a word. The swirling layers of sophisticated guitar work and fascinating drumming never once descends into that horrid Satriani-style shredding that makes traditional metal seem unbearable. It does, however, evoke that punch, a choppy palmed power chord riff with mean double-bass drummery that can make metal powerful, putting a sneer on your face even if you aren’t angry. It’s a fun sneer. It’s metal! You’re doing it! When you’ve made this passage from regular music lover to potential metal lover, you are well on your way.

Next stop: Russian Circles.

You are ready for this. Russian Circles is a lot like Pelican, with the layers of intricate guitar and dynamics that create dark, cold landscapes shaded and punctuated with serious drudging metal sequences that incite some primal excitement. Russian Circles has a much more northern or eastern European sort of minor-chord focus. Their songs haunt their way in and quickly crescendo into some mysterious cavern. Rumbling bass notes creep up under the snappy but bellowing drum-sound akin to black metal but with more shape. And once the Circles are carrying you like some otherwordly ogre -cradling you as he runs through a dark Czech forest—you realize there is something mythic and profound about what metal does. Metal does things musically that no other genre can achieve. It doesn’t penetrate your mind, it draws something fierce out of you, something subconscious. You are in now and how deep you choose to go is up to you. If I took you any further, I would bring you out of post metal into something totally new.

When you think you are ready for a leap: Genghis Tron.

I was speaking to another music lover and a good friend about my strange new hunger for a cross between dub-step and metal (ironic considering my disdain for rap metal, I know) and he introduced me to Genghis Tron. He described it as a cross between Apex Twin and speed metal. I cannot get enough of it. It is like Euro-discotheque-robot-metal with humans trapped in its gears and an almost Mike Patton-like spastic attention deficit instrumentation. But it is for the prepared. Don’t try to go straight from Mogwai or Explosions in the Sky to Genghis Tron, there is some middle work to do first. When you are ready, metal has been waiting for you for quite some time.

  • Jesse Kennedy

    our journeys into metal are exactly identical. to the tee.

  • Micah Redmond

    Great article, Jon. I haven’t listened to much Pelican, but I rather enjoy both Russian Circles and Genghis Tron. Might I suggest a couple more bands for you to listen to? Isis and Converge. Without Isis, I can’t imagine Pelican and Russian Circles would exist. Converge will give you more of that super intense, spastic hardcore goodness you get from Genghis Tron…just without the electronics.

    • Jon Bosworth

      Thanks! I agree about Isis, but there is something about their vocals that makes it hard for me to endure for too long. I will have to check out Converge. Some of the others I’ve been really into: Krallice (black metal), Gifts from Enola, If These Trees Could Talk, and Datura. Next time I will do a top five – I constantly start my day with your Top Five Instrumental Hip-Hop suggestions.