Mike Patton – The Solitude of Prime Numbers

Mike Patton
The Solitude of Prime Numbers
Ipecac

The ever unpredictable Mike Patton throws yet another curveball at us with the release of ‘The Solitude of Prime Numbers’, a musical score to the film of the same name (2010’s La Solitudine dei Numeri Primi). The film (based on the book of the same name) applied the theory of twin primes – numbers that differ from another prime number by two. Having not seen the film yet, I’m not in a position to judge how well it applies to the silver screen, but Patton makes the theory work well here in a musical sense.

Each musical track is sequenced by Patton according to prime numbers – so therefore, only 2, 3, 5, 7…all the way to 53 feature musical content, the remaining tracks between filled with four seconds of silence or a slight overrun from the previous track. Patton himself is largely absent vocally, only bookending the album with some ‘la la la la’s’ to open and conclude. Instead, its down to the musical arrangement to carry the album’s concept and the lonely listener on a distant journey. The general mood of the songs runs anywhere from ominous and unsettling (’11 – Cicatrix’ being one example) to dream state (’19 – Radius of Convergence’) and simply beautiful (’29 – The Snow Angel’). Ultimately though, the music shouldn’t be dissected – the album must be listened to all the way through as a whole, to ensure you capture every mood and emotion going through the music.

Conventional rock or metal fans probably won’t buy into this due to its abstract nature and admittedly it will appeal more to the art masses. But Patton has scored this film incredibly well, much likes his previous work on ‘A Perfect Place‘ and on ‘Crank 2: High Voltage‘. It’s an excellent slab of modern classical music from the man of many guises. Needless to say, I found this an excellent diversion from the daily shredding, blasting and growling of metal, and indeed of the daily grind, as I made my daily, long commute home. An excellent companion, particularly within the loneliness of nightfall.

Peter Clegg
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The trial of Conrad Murray – a musical analysis

As Dr. Conrad Murray awaits his sentencing for the involuntary manslaughter of Michael Jackson, We Must Obey implements a musical analysis at three other elements in this court case: money, the media, and those who gathered outside the courts on a daily basis. Needless to say, there’s going to be some true words, and some harsh ones too – PC

Many of us will never know exactly what went down at the time of the death of Michael Jackson and the guilty verdict delivered to his doctor, Conrad Murray, with only the accounts of what was stated in the courtroom and on the newswires as word.

One thing is certain. America, don’t take this the wrong way, but I hope you’re happy you’ve got your scapegoat.

Throughout this whole trial, Murray looked like a rabbit in the headlights. Rightfully so, because yes, he is guilty of not following medical code, guilty of unethical practice, and guilty not doing enough to save Jackson when it was critical to take action, and ultimately allowed himself to get caught up in the media circus that was Jackson’s life, though it wasn’t he who admitted the lethal dose in the end.

But whatever your opinion and regardless of the verdict, some of the fervour from the mainstream news outlets and the shameful hoo-rah brash triumphalism of Jackson’s fans really got me in the mood for some commentary on justice, whether true or fair or even clearly decrepid. That, or songs that tell of the downfall of a subject in general. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the songs serving as an alternative musical analysis to this sorry situation.

Metallica – …And Justice For All
[from ‘…And Justice For All‘, Vertigo, 1988]

It’s plain for all to see that such was Jackson’s celebrity status that there was a huge amount of money to be made from Murray’s trial. And like it or not, it’s hard not to look past that fact and wonder what influence it played. The title track from Metallica’s ‘…And Justice For All’ may be twenty-three years old, and a beast at nine minutes, fourty-four seconds in length, but to this day musically and lyrically remains relevant – indeed it sticks out like a sore thumb on the issue of justice. For Murray, justice really is ‘so grim, so true, so real‘. And ultimately, the client with the biggest team of lawyers won. No prizes for guessing who did have the largest ensemble. The only flaw here of course is that I’m not suggesting the trial was corrupt, although no doubt there had to be a lot of outside influence by the money men.

Bad Religion – Los Angeles Is Burning
[from ‘The Empire Strikes First‘, Epitaph, 2004]

There’s not many songs that hit the nail on the head about mainstream media than Bad Religion’s ‘Los Angeles Is Burning’. The standout single from ‘The Empire Strikes First‘, while not as memorable as some of their other classic material across their 31 year history, showcases Greg Graffin’s incredible lyrical ability as he weaves here a scathing attack on Los Angeles’ ‘media mecca’, who in this instance gave this story incredible levels of coverage. But LA isn’t the only one to blame.

In this country, I can’t remember a time when I wouldn’t flick to Sky News to see yet more coverage of this case. At a time when the eurozone is in meltdown and when conflict is rife in other parts of the world, you wonder if the mass media have their priorities straight. Clearly only viewing figures matter to them, and when you see the kinds of gatherings of ‘fans’ outside the courts, practically eating from the hand of sensationalised coverage, in itself no doubt creating this sort of frenzy. It only perpeturates the circus that Jackson created around him and turns the whole thing into a sordid sideshow.

D.R.I. – Think For Yourself
[from ‘4 of a Kind‘, Metal Blade, 1988]

This is more a broadside I’m using at the masses of people who gathered outside the courtroom, Michael Jackson’s fans. Quite simply, I don’t agree with fans of anyone getting tried by law gathering outside a courtroom. What exactly have you to do with the case? But more appropriately, what brought you there in the first place? Clearly Jackson’s cult of personality and the media coverage had a lot to do with it, but were those people – some of whom I swear must’ve been tagging along – actually so programmed simply to believe Murray was instantly guilty, leading the the mob mentality of people chanting ‘guilty, guilty!’ outside the courts, as though they were baying for the blood of a Roman gladiator. Do these people have jobs to go to, families to look after?

‘Think For Yourself’ sums up these morons quite appropriately from the get-go: ‘How can you be so quick to condemn/By word or rumor, heard from a friend?‘, and advises caution against going with the flow: ‘Inspect each situation, see from both sides/Seek out the truth, bury the lies‘. Anyone with half a brain could at least measure up this trial by looking at the facts obtained to come to a logical, objective conclusion, and actually just observed the trial from the vicinity of their home, workplace or other. Unfortunately, nobody told the zombies who descended upon the courts like a plague, the majority (if not all) having jack to do with Michael Jackson or his family, other than being a fan.

The purpose of We Must Obey wasn’t to necessarily get involved in matters like this, but as proved with the earlier article on the England Riots, I felt inclined to put such a spin on matters through metal/alternative/rock music as a social commentary. And quite frankly, the sooner this is all over and we don’t hear about it again, the better. Report real news. Go get a job and care for YOUR family. Let Michael Jackson rest.

Peter Clegg

Visions: Immortal – Call of the Wintermoon

I checked out this video the other night whilst browsing other Immortal videos. After watching it, my only thought was this:

Is this shit for real?!

Seriously, watch the video and tell me this is straight up serious. ‘Cos I don’t think it is. Fire breathing, corpse paint, uber metal poses, pointy wizard hats and more! It is gleefully over the top in the way only Immortal could be, however cheesy or shite it may be. I just can’t believe I haven’t seen it before.

Peter Clegg

Revocation – Chaos of Forms

Revocation

Chaos of Forms
Relapse

Despite accumulating a cavalcade of plaudits for their previous albums, swallowing up top positions in year-end lists like Sebastien Vettel snatching pole positions, Revocation can consider themselves unlucky not to have risen to the cream of the crop unlike recent metal success stories such as Mastodon, Kylesa, The Black Dahlia Murder, The Dillinger Escape Plan, etc. Their music is certainly on a par with those bands at least, possessing a care-free swagger fuelled by main man and guitarist David Davidson’s style and sheer confidence that most rock ‘n’ roll bands would give their right arm for, never mind heavy metal bands.

Revocation can best be described as a technical death/thrash metal band, but to describe this trio in these terms is scraping the barrel slightly. ‘Chaos of Forms‘ is certainly their most complete record yet, surpassing their previous albums for ambition and even quality by some distance. ‘Chaos of Forms‘ could not be a more appropriate title, as Revocation churn, skronk, twist and waltz and more whilst effortlessly blasting away the competition in virtuostic fashion.

It’s death metal, with thrash elements, technicality, classical flourishes and a hard rock swagger. The majority of what they do is aggressive, tight as Ken Bates’ chequebook, with catchy nuances and hooky riffs all over the place. ‘Cradle Robber’ offers the first chance for an anthemic chorus , but not before a savage blasting and a devastating riff. This track and the songs either side of it are Revocation at their most primal, delivering pure technical riffs and shreds, mixing up thrash and death metal beats and all with killer precision. Even when they’re not going full speed ahead, things are glorious, the closing melodic monotone to ‘Conjuring The Cataclysm’ being a particular highlight as it backs Davidson’s screams.

Revocation then start to show a more experimental side from then onwards, ever subtle at first, before going full throttle for the outrageous. The title track itself showcases most of ‘Chaos’…‘ characteristics, absolutely on the front foot at first…before suddenly stepping back around the 2:30 mark with a spacey solo, and a virtuostic melodic section follows that to immense effect. The following song, ‘The Watchers’, going all Dillinger Escape Plan one minute a la the ‘Ire Works‘ album, and stunning with a Hammond organ solo straight after that. The charm beyond that is that nearly every song is a potential anthem – Revocation certainly know what makes a killer song, and do possessing a melodic edge without sacrificing heaviness, and not for the sake of airplay either.

The brilliance of this band is there to behold – although they’re not unique in that they do share similarities with similar bands of the moment, they’re smart enough and ambitious enough to stand out. Not too flashy to become pretentious, essentially heavy and brutal without sounding the same as the other 99%. That I’ve listened to this album numerous times and have yet to find a discernable flaw is a testament to the level of performance on this record. A must-have.

Peter Clegg

Ghoul – Transmission Zero

Ghoul
Transmission Zero
Tankcrimes

Before we get into the skinny on Ghoul’s fourth album, ‘Transmission Zero‘ – their members are or were part of other groups such as Impaled and Exhumed, and keen inherit their gory themes across from those bands. This is known despite their efforts to keep their identities secret, performing in executioner-style masks and going by the monikers of guitarists Destructor and Digestor, bassist Cremator and drummer Fermentor. Oh, and all their songs revolve around happenings in their ‘hometown’ of Creepsylvania (aka Oakland, California), which I assure you is as welcoming as a bout of voodoo-induced insanity.

Much of Ghoul’s appeal is likely to depend on whether you first and foremost like thrash riffs pulled straight from the 80’s Bay Area scene, and given a death metal sheen through the various vocal styles spread across all four members; and secondly (and not far behind), the penchant for schlock-horror themes that provide much of Ghoul’s lyrical content. That might not work for all, but it certainly worked for Alice Cooper and GWAR among others and the blood and gore approach that Ghoul is even self-referencing – Destructor even has an eponymous song about himself on here. Albeit one which sounds a little too close to S.O.D’s ‘Sargeant D & the S.O.D.’ But that’s a minor flaw we can overlook.

Ghoul are a band unashamed to display their influences and are all the better for it, however varied they are. The opening track (the instrumental ‘The Lunatic Hour’) sets the scene as a fist pumping thrash intro, before the full introduction of vocals in ‘Off With Their Heads’, a call to Ghoul’s brothers to join them in battle, punctuated with a gang vocal shout  That’s just the start of an enjoyable romp, as Ghoul infuse surf (‘Death in the Swamp’), doom (‘Morning of the Mezmatron’) and more besides into ‘Transmission Zero‘. The riffs, the drums, the vocals, the production – everything is delightfully old-school, right down to those gang vocals, for which their love for is confirmed more than one more occasion.

There’s nothing about this album not to enjoy – it might not be the most original, but Ghoul are content not to take things too seriously, and just have fun instead, and so long as you loosen up and immerse yourself in their world for 40 minutes, things should be fine. Especially when the riffs are rocking and the blood is flowing.

Peter Clegg

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Hammers of Misfortune – 17th Street

Hammers of Misfortune

17th Street
Metal Blade

If John Cobbett had been around about the time when heavy metal ruled the airwaves, he could well have been a metal god by now. Steadfastly remaining dedicated to true heavy metal through his time served in The Lord Weird Slough Feg, and more recently, he was one of the driving forces in now defunct, but critically acclaimed US black metallers Ludicra. Inbetween, he’s also the main visionary for progressive heavy metallers Hammers of Misfortune, who’ve made a name for themselves in the States among critics in particular for their third three albums, all of which received high praise.

17th Street‘ is the fifth album from Hammers, their first for new label Metal Blade, and while not as sprawling as past releases, there’s still a smorgasbørd of styles and slants going on here within one CD’s worth of material. The opening few tracks are in the vein of straight up traditional heavy metal, yet all sounding distinct from one another all the same. The opener ‘317’ sets the scene in much the way an overture would for a musical or cinematic score. This makes way for the galloping title track, stuffed with alternative male/dual female vocals and plenty of guitar noodlery without being too over the top, owing to the twin attack of Cobbett and new addition Leila Abdul-Rauf. They follow this up with  the immense seven-minute track ‘The Grain’, which simply has a chorus to die for thanks to a soaring vocal from new vocalist Jon Hutton, and the trad-doom stomp of ‘Staring (the 31st Floor)’, absolutely crushing in its delivery.

Where it truly gets interesting is around the middle. ‘The Day The City Died’, is awash with pianos, keys, melodies and solos that would befit any Broadway musical, and very much in thrall to the likes of Rush and Queen rather than the NWOBHM qualities of the previous tracks. Lyrically it appears to be about the decline of San Francisco and the migration of its people (‘Skinny dips on crystal ships sail through the Golden Gate/I left my heart in a shopping cart at the bottom of the Bay‘), and the chorus (‘this one’s called I’m getting evicted‘, etc.) will leech onto your brain for days. As far as heavy metal goes, that’s one of the most ambitious and quite simply splendid tracks I’ve heard for quite a while.

It returns briefly to straight up heavy metal on ‘Romance Valley’, possessing a dazzling speed metal riff and some clever transitions that keep the song hacking away with a headbang friendly mid-section. More Queen/Bowie influence rears its head for a second before returning to the main riff. The next track is a ballad – ‘Summer Tears’ gets its mourn over six and a half minutes, with piano taking center stage and more alternating male/female vocals, and though its a little out of place with the other tracks (even ‘The Day the City Died’), its a competant effort and shouldn’t simply be skipped. It still fits the concept of the album and if there’s going to be cheese, at least they’ve done it fairly well here.

The album finishes a little more straight ahead, with the speedier ‘Grey Wednesday’, suitable Maiden and Priest-worship abound, and the closing monolith, ‘Going Somewhere’. Following a piano introduction, the riffs chop and change over the course of the 10 minutes, from a fleeting pub metal swagger to a series of NWOBHM-style licks and some impressive fretboard workouts. It runs the gamut of Hammers’ many guises and by the end, just plain rocks out with a simple crunchy riff.

It’s a damn shame that for all their dedication to the cause, that Hammers of Misfortune, like Cobbett’s previous connections, are often met with many a positive journalistic eye but not a wider public one. That probably owes to heavy metal not being the mainstream force it once was, as this sort of stuff could well fill arenas. Hammers of Misfortune should be celebrated for holding up the old-school values of heavy metal without sounding retro, and for sounding modern without watering down or sounding 80’s for the sake of it.

I’m still trying to get my head around the lyrics of ‘17th Street‘, and its more than likely to be a paean to the decline of city life and the way the subjects of the lyrics are dealing with it. In today’s world, where recession is in the headlines everyday, there aren’t many albums more befitting that this one to be the soundtrack (although the recently reviewed Pyrrhon record did pretty well from describing it from another angle). With that considered, ‘17th Street‘ is one of the most complete records you’ll hear all year round. A masterclass in classic heavy metal revelry.

Peter Clegg