DEMONSPELL’S SONGS TO WATCH Scratching the surface to find the best new music. “You’d cling to your pleasant hope, it is twisted fascination…” Issue 86: Gigantour Reveries Important notice: I am considering a long overdue format change, following the realization that what I have been contributing to this site for the past four years is essentially a music weblog. What I am leaning towards is regular updates for the standard entries on an offsite blog (preferably through a free host like Blogspot or Xanga), which will give me an incentive to write about new music on a daily basis, and posting them in digest format here every 15-25 entries or so, and I will continue to write full-length reviews here, either in their present location or in the Your Reviews forum. BTW, any thought of moving offsite has absolutely nothing to do with server issues. Cheers for the upgrade. Opeth – Ghost Reveries summary & analysis Before getting into the actual music, a few pertinent thoughts on Opeth bashing, which has become ubiquitous on metal forums, especially on this one, doubtlessly as a reaction to the high fanboy concentration on the official forum, recently reopened here. While the backlash is understandable given Opeth’s prominence, exalted status by mainstream outlets (metal’s most brilliant band! & The hottest metal sensation since Slipknot…some people actually believed that was a genuine ad?), widely perceived missteps on the D/D albums, and frequent intelligence-insulting threads on the Opeth forum, I don’t believe they deserve the sort of hatred they’ve inspired…elitist disparaging of Opeth has become as predictable and tired as right wingers roasting Ted Kennedy. And then there’s the uproar over signing with Roadrunner…sure that label’s a black hole, but I’d wait until the next album (as opposed to one written & recorded in advance) before accusing them of meddling with Opeth’s intentions. I’m going to break with my usual format of following the album order in order to get the negatives out of the way. Simply put, I loathe The Grand Conjuration, chosen with typical Roadrunner ineptness as the lead single and video. Beginning with a moronic chug & squeak riff, it greatly misrepresents both the album and Opeth as a whole. The lead riff is simplistic and underwhelming, and on an album that contains more twists and turns than anything since Morningrise, is just unacceptable, and the use of Mellotron and hand percussion (one of the few redeeming things about the track) just serve to add false atmosphere…it reminds me of an inferior version of By The Pain I See In Others. Even the lyrics resort to standard devil imagery: “The hands of Satan assembling his flock”. And the last three minutes of the song are just that dumb riff with the added elements that come across as window dressing…one of the few times I agree with people who accuse Opeth of padding three minutes of ideas over ten. Worst Opeth song ever. Fortunately, the rest of the album is much stronger than that piece of elephant dung, beginning with leadoff track Ghost Of Perdition, which immediately begins to set GR apart from the rest of the catalogue with more frequent tempo shifts, greater use of clean vocals in the heavier sections, and some of their strongest (and least typical, although the unmistakable Opeth sound appears often) riffs since the days of Still Life. The stuttering riff in the first half contrasts nicely with the main theme, and the transition from the acoustic section with the repetition of “higher” leads seamlessly into the “darkness by my side” part with its energetic riffing. The song continues to build before ending with a well placed reprise of the acoustic interlude. The lyrics here return to the poetic style of earlier albums. Oh yeah, did I mention Per Wiberg is now a full time member? His presence is felt both in the Mellotron choirs that show up in Ghost and in second track Baying Of The Hounds, in which he doubles its furious opening riff with a Hammond. This is the album’s heaviest track and contains only one clean verse, in which the title of the next song appears. In contrast to the cutting and pasting present on earlier Opeth albums (and this one, especially in Beneath The Mire), the transitions from the two proggy sections emerge naturally from the often savage riffing on this track, and Mikael’s growls are in fine form as well. This is the closest the album comes to the Damnation’s tour guarantee of some brutality on the next album. Beneath the Mire jumps between sections very frequently, and has some of the album’s best soloing, but retains the same sense of menace throughout. Its most striking features however are the intro and outro that are both independent of the body of the song, consisting of an Egyptian styled march led by the keyboards and Mikael & Per playing swirling notes as the rhythm section gradually drops out respectively. From this point the heavier tracks alternate with the mellow ones. Atonement has become my personal favorite from GR, and is unlike anything Opeth has recorded (except maybe the closing section of Closure) as it goes headlong into psychedelia and Eastern modes, creating a mesmerizing atmosphere, and is the best argument for Per’s presence as his vintage setup & piano solo adds greatly to the track, as does Martin’s hand percussion and the other Martin’s serpentine bassline. Mikael puts a ripple effect on his vocals that enhances the psychedelic homage. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this song has gotten its share of bashing in reviews. Reverie/Harlequin Forest, a track consisting of three distinct sections and a backwards-counting intro that separates it from Atonement, is next. It begins as a midtrempo track with one of the album’s catchiest melodies (“a trail of sickness…”, and then inserts a short heavy section reminiscent of Serenity Painted Death before going into an extended acoustic section structured like a progressive rock composition, beginning minimally before breaking into a rare for Opeth dual guitar harmony. The third section is driven by a circular riff played both with and without distortion, and the lyrics here are particularly interesting as they can easily be interpreted as being about the destruction of the environment. The song, along with Ghost Of Perdition the strongest here compositionally, also contains a veiled acknowledgement of their critics: “it is all false pretension.” Hours Of Wealth ditches the rhythm section and finds Mikael singing one of the most pop-friendly vocal melodies I’ve heard on an Opeth album (it sounds vaguely familiar… over a spare backdrop of keyboards, and the song ends with a bluesy guitar solo similar to the one on Benighted. Isolation Years closes the album on a note of sadness, this composition follows the simpler structures of Damnation with its understated instrumentation and harmonized guitars in the chorus…if not for the fact that it provides welcome relief after sitting through the failed experiments in The Grand Conjuration, it would have been an anticlimax. And there is definitely some sort of loose concept going on, links are provided in the form of lyrical recurrence, the plot a gothic horror story that finds the protagonist taking refuge from some sort of demons in an equally threatening forest…maybe this is what Mikael meant by promising black metal influences. But then, Opeth hasn’t had a really convincing album ending since Blackwater Park. Ghost Reveries is successful at adding some new elements into the Opeth sound and sounding more progressive, and with a few exceptions avoids the lapses into formula committed on the Steven Wilson-produced albums…I know this should be obvious coming from an admitted PT fanboy, but I still find it necessary to say I do not blame him for any of the lapses committed on those albums. It contains only one obvious stinker (of course, if you’re an Opeth hater, this will not convert you) and songs 3-5 in particular measure up to anything in the catalogue from MAYH onwards (not that I consider the first two superior to everything else, I don’t think it makes sense to compare GR against them.) PS: In the thanks list Mikael continues to be very upfront about his band’s tendency to borrow heavily from his influences. Among the obvious names to show up are Steven Wilson (who may soon be working with Akerfeldt again in a project also containing…Mike Portnoy?), Camel’s Andy Latimer, and two founding members of Morbid Angel, along with less cited but still readily apparent ones like David Gilmour and Ritchie Blackmore. Concert review – Gigantour at Jones Beach Theater August 23, 2005 First the disclaimer about this review being incomplete: I missed Nevermore (and the two opening acts, as if anyone cares) on behalf of my tickets incorrectly listing the starting time, even if I should have guessed that it was ninety minutes earlier by doing the math…never trust Ticketmaster about anything. And I didn’t catch the vast majority of Fear Factory and Life Of Agony’s sets, not a fan of either. I’m also not a fan of festivals or Jones Beach, if I hadn’t got my ticket for $25 I would have considered it a waste of money. Oh yeah, fuck FYE for forcing fans to buy albums they already own at inflated prices just so they can wait on line for autographs. I arrived in time to catch most of the oddball, to borrow some Progpower terminology, of this tour’s set, the surreal spectacle of Dillinger Escape Plan in a (mostly empty) arena rock setting. They drilled through some highlights from Miss Machine (Highway Robbery, Setting Fire To Sleeping Giants, Baby’s First Coffin) to a mostly indifferent audience with reckless abandon and insane energy, plus some leaping on top of the amplifier antics. Unlike most of the presumably hardcore-hating crowd, I was very impressed with their set. This was immediately followed by an unlikely but smooth transition into Symphony X’s five song set, and they proceeded to own the second stage. All of the songs they played are staples of their live shows and thus offered no real surprises for anyone who’s seen them on their own, but they were all solid and felt right at home amidst the heavier acts, especially raging renditions of Inferno and Evolution. (intermission in the form of FF and LOA…all I know is that the former closed with Replica and kept plugging their new album, and the latter played their signature River Runs Red tunes and said “New York” and variants of “fuck” in the same sentence ad nauseum.) Now it’s time for the band whose waning personal interest has failed to prevent me from blowing money on them for four straight years…Dream Theater. For those of you who’ve wondered why I never reviewed Octavarium, here’s a quick rundown: Root Of All Evil – enough with the AA shit. The Answer Lies Within – boring beyond words ballad. These walls – possibly the most blatantly commercial DT song yet, but still more tolerable than most of TOT. I Walk Beside You – would get a point if U2 hadn’t been doing the same thing their whole career. Panic Attack – Proof they can still write a good metal song after TOT. Never Enough – I like this, mainly because it’s different for DT and I’m not a fan of Muse…try following your own next time. Sacrificed Sons – Not bad musically, but overlong and with awful 9/11 lyrics. Octavarium – Solid epic and the best thing on the album, but not without its embarrassing moments and the whole symmetry gimmick is just that. In keeping with the obsession with fives and eights, they played at least one song from each of the albums, two in the case of the new one (both of which sounded better live) and Images (an encore medley of Pull Me Under and Metropolis). The usual “never thought they’d play that” moments were kept to a minimum, only A Fortune In Lies gave any surprise. Like Symphony X, they stuck mostly through the heavier songs, a welcome development as it didn’t mean sitting through Spirit Carries On yet again and it yielded reminders of why DT initially sucked me in, in the form of Lie and Home. And some reminders of their decline, like As I Am and Just Let Me Breathe (never cared for that live favorite)…Glass Prison is much better live and infinitely better than its sequels. The latter was followed by a guest appearance from Richard Christy, who took part in a cheesy but entertaining drum duel with Portnoy largely consisting of them doing instantly recognizable drum intros (among them YYZ, We’re Not Gonna Take It, Run To The Hills, the slightly lesser known Where Eagles Dare, and Raining Blood…finally a legitimate excuse to yell Slayer! at a DT show.) Viva arena rock. And now for the guru of Gigantour, Dave Mustaine and his latest temporary sidemen. The notoriously lousy Jones Beach sound didn’t cause annoyance until the first few songs of Megadeth’s set, which absolutely sucked to the point that I was barely able to recognize the first two songs of their more or less greatest hits set. The pyro didn’t help things…arena rock for you. The sound problems became less apparent as the set progressed, unfortunately Megadeth never rose above the level of being a decent live act on this occasion, even with a set that left few of their classics unplayed. I wouldn’t put the blame on the newcomers, who did a solid job (although Hangar 18 without Marty Friedman is by default inferior), maybe Mustaine was going through the motions as a result of the tour eating it financially or lukewarm at best response from the crowd (great moment: Mustaine holds the microphone to the audience for the chorus of A Tout le Monde. Near silence follows.), who treated Dream Theater and Symphony X the best…so if there’s a Gigantour II, more quote-unquote prog metal. None of the songs however came across as being bad, which would be a hard thing to do when albums like RIP and CTE were heavily represented, the former’s big guns (Tornado Of Souls killed) saved for the last half hour. The early years were mostly restricted to rousing versions of Wake Up Dead & the obligatory Peace Sells. Mid-period highlights that equaled the originals were Reckoning Day and She-Wolf, and the System tunes came off pretty well (except opener Blackmail The Universe thanks to the poor sound), especially the album’s best song, The Scorpion. Symphony x set: inferno – wicked – sea of lies – evolution – of sins and shadows Dream Theater set (chronologically): a fortune in lies – pull me under/metropolis (encore) – lie – just let me breathe – home/drum battle – the glass prison (opener) – as I am – panic attack – never enough Megadeth set (chronological, probably incomplete): wake up dead – peace sells – in my darkest hour – holy wars (encore) – hangar – tornado of souls – skin o’ my teeth – symphony – sweating bullets – angry again – reckoning day – a tout le monde – trust – she-wolf – blackmail the universe – die dead enough – the scorpion – back in the day CONCERT REVIEW: Porcupine Tree featuring Robert Fripp – Town Hall – 10/1/05 Reviewing ambient is much harder than actually listening to it, and I was not surprised at all to see bored faces throughout the crowd during Fripp’s approximately forty minute soundscape improv, some undoubtedly coming from diehard Crimson fans. I myself found it fascinating and tedious, but not to the point where my attention wandered, at the same time. Aside from a few splintering guitar notes, the improvised performance consisted of cold and floating textures created by adjusting synth settings, at once intimate and isolated. A montage of photos of Fripp, his home and places he’s traveled, and various associates (read: everyone he’s ever worked with, Crimson and otherwise) lightened the ethereal moods which enveloped the theatre, which showed a much more personal side of the famously unapproachable musician. Among the more amusing slides were a street sign reading “Crimson King Ct.” and a landscaping company truck also bearing the same name…how much were the lawsuits? For those interested or already familiar with Fripp’s ambient work, a CD of soundscapes recorded this year will be available later this year. This was my fourth time seeing Porcupine Tree, and the first not to take place at Irving Plaza, and the difference in both sound quality and atmosphere was readily apparent. Along with an even greater tightness than usual and a set with lots of surprises in the middle, this made for an excellent show, undoubtedly the best of the four. They kicked off with Open Car, the only song from Deadwing not performed in the tour earlier this year. It made for an unusual but effective opener, and was far more explosive than on the album, and the momentum was continued with another song they’ve used to open shows, Blackest Eyes. Two tracks from Deadwing followed, the lush sounding Lazarus which found Steven switching to acoustic, and a deadly precise run through the title track. After this came four consecutive rarely performed songs. In describing the Lightbulb Dream leftovers compilation Recordings (out of print and commanding obscene prices on the net) upon its release, Mikael said “they kicked everyone’s ass with their B-sides.”. This is exactly what happened. Steven announced his intention to play some lesser known tracks, beginning with Don’t Hate Me, a languid highlight from Stupid Dream, finally due for reissue early next year (supposedly). Even in the opera house setting, it still perfectly captured its morning after a one-nighter atmosphere, and the extended instrumental section, in which both Richard and Steven brilliantly subbed for the original’s Floydian sax solo, sounded great. Next was a track even I was unfamiliar with, the instrumental Mother & Child Divided from the DVD-A of Deadwing. Musically, it used contrast between heavy, almost Opethian riffs and Richard’s foreboding, Mellotron-like sounds to great effect. A shortened but still highly emotional version of Buying New Soul, considered by some fans their best song ever, followed, with the evocative intro and harmonies on the chorus sounding especially gorgeous. After this, Steven announced that the next track would be something that didn’t make the cut and “you probably wouldn’t know this”, but at least one fan screamed the title anyway…So-Called Friend, a furious rocker which, especially after hearing it live, has more intensity than any of Deadwing’s heavier offerings. Next was an absolutely perfect version of Arriving Somewhere But Not Here, by this point their hold over the crowd was so complete I was convinced that the material could be played in stadiums without losing an ounce of its passion…something that was present in spades for the next track, an intimate Heartattack In a Layby, again with the harmonies perfectly preserved. At this point the band’s projector finally started working, which Steven apologized for (not that anyone noticed) by saying that the next film would be the best one. Yet another expertly played Deadwing highlight, Start Of Something Beautiful, provided a great showcase for the interplay between the band members. The aforementioned film was a creepy animation featuring an insectoid robot, which reminded me of Tool’s videos…and sure enough I learned after the show it was made by Adam Jones…any chance of bringing PT on tour? Another song driven by the highly underrated Colin Edwin’s bass, Halo, closed the main set. The encore began by reaching all the way back by bringing an old concert favorite, Radioactive Toy, out of retirement, but not in the extended version featured on Coma Divine. After this Steven explained how they had dropped a song from their set only to have it brought back by popular demand the previous night. This, of course, was the now obligatory closer Trains.