Sigh-Scenes From Hell

2010; The End Records

I'll be up front: In terms of extreme metal, you generally have to put a little bit of a spin on your music in order for it to catch my attention. Unless your black metal is symphonic or your death metal has progressive elements, I'll likely become bored pretty quickly. There are exceptions to this, of course, but by and large these genres have to do something different in order to keep me listening.

Sigh's Scenes From Hell, thanks to manic saxophonist Dr. Mikannibal and a stunning orchestra ensemble , separates itself from the fold immediately and jumps to the front of the pack for (admittedly early) consideration for best metal album of 2010.

"Zany" is a word I'm slightly remiss to use in describing the first portion of this album, but I fear it might be the only word that truly describes the sound that Sigh has concocted here. Thumping drums and growling, raspy vocals smash head first into classic rock-tinged guitar solos and brass arrangements that might be described as peppy to create a sensation composed of equal parts anxiety and jubilation. "L'art de mourir" probably has the most memorable chorus of the album, something not unlike if Mr. Bungle and early Emperor had a child, and "The Soul Grave" sounds as though all Hell's demons started jumping out of the floor right below you, and they're having a grand old time of it too, thank you very much. If anything, the first three songs probably describe the feeling of being on the street during a Godzilla attack: It's pure terror and bedlam, but you just have to smile because, come on, this can't actually be happening. It's one of those rare albums that's close to impossible to sit still while listening to. This is music you'll want to put on when you need to go for an angry walk, or just as an appropriate sonic background while you lose your mind.

Scenes From Hell then moves into a pair of similarly titled dirges called "The Red Funeral" and "The Summer Funeral". They move the album into somewhat darker territory, as the classical arrangements both become more prominent and less bouncy, and the whole tempo of the album slows down a bit for the fourteen minutes these songs take up. This is not to say that Scenes From Hell loses even a modicum of intensity during this middle third. Indeed, the Gothic leanings that these songs take present an image of Apocalypse and fragmentation that is at once unnerving and undeniably exciting. "The Summer Funeral", in particular, mixes waltz, folk and black metal elements that explode into the bleakest, most romantic cocktail this side of a Godspeed You! Black Emperor album.

The final three songs eschew the classical/movie soundtrack elements a little bit and go head-on towards more traditional black metal fare. These are, predictably, the weakest songs on the album, but since Sigh is still an exhilarating band with or without their orchestra backing them up, these songs still thrill more than 80% of black metal could ever hope to. "Musica In Tempora Belli" is more or less typical moshpit fare, but the violin solo and spoken word segment that arrive in the middle of the song call back fond memories to earlier in the album(and yes, you won't even have time to finish it before you have fond memories of Scenes From Hell). "Vanitas", sadly, close to completely abandons the brass and strings that made the rest of the album so memorable, and in effect it becomes the least memorable song on the album. Thankfully, the title track wraps things up with a stirring horn section and breakneck pace that summarizes the whole experience and puts a nice bow on it, to boot.

Scenes From Hell is essential listening. If you've never gotten into metal before but have an open mind, this could be a great place to find out what the big deal is. And if you're already a hardcore metalhead, well, there's absolutely no reason-none whatsoever-for you not to have this in your collection. Sigh has created an utter triumph that mixes the avant-garde with indispensable metal fundamentals and sounds like nothing else on the scene today. Scenes From Hell has set an incredibly high bar not only for future metal albums of 2010, but for all music to come out this year, metal or not.



Iron Maiden Was the Shit: A Rundown

I went to see Iron Maiden with some friends on Sunday. It was, as the title might suggest, the shit. Here are the particulars.

  • Any concert will pull in a fair amount of miscreants, but the sheer variety and ubiquity of the yahoos and malcontents present for the Final Frontier World Tour at Concord's Sleep Train Pavilion was almost inspiring. You had white trash, tremendous fat people, abrasively terrible haircuts as far as the eye could see, and you even had some teenagers who looked like they were waiting for Ace of Spades to hit record stores circa 1980-studded jean jackets, hair down to the ass and all.
  • Just outside the gates, there was a Christian group(three whole people!) protesting the concert, which in many ways was not a huge surprise. What was a surprise was when one of them said, "Yeah, you ARE a slave to the power of death!" For those not in the know, this is a paraphrased quote from the song "Powerslave". So not only are they familiar with the material, they're using a line from an Iron Maiden song to make Iron Maiden fans...feel bad about themselves? What was going on in that guy's head? Hypothesis: Not a ton.
  • By any objective standard, opening act Dream Theater's performance was mediocre at best, but compared to what came after them, they completely bit ass. Their stage setup was a joke, and they only played about five songs to boot, with their traditional lack of pizazz when it comes to their live shows. You're in a progressive metal band, you fucks! Put on a cape or something!
  • Thankfully, once Iron Maiden started the atmosphere positively detonated with excitement. After an opening involving a menacing classical music score, a video series of constellations and other outer space displays, and a whole ton of red mist that draped the front of the crowd, the band let loose with an exhilarating rendition of "The Wicker Man". It's also worth noting that the stage was built to look like the control deck of a spaceship, which is awesome.
  • Bruce Dickinson proceeded to talk up Iron Maiden's new album The Final Frontier a little bit before playing a track from it, "El Dorado", and went on a rant against the entire idea of MP3s: "Some people are saying that this song sounds like shit, and when you hear it on a CD, what you were supposed to hear from the studio, it sounds fucking amazing. But when you hear it on your little earbuds on a machine powered by a little fucking battery made by Steve fucking Jobs, yes, it's going to sound like shit. For the record, this is what it's supposed to fucking sound like!" And then they totally ripped it out, giving possibly the most energetic performance of the night.
  • A confession: I'm not terribly familiar with Iron Maiden's newer material. I mostly listen to their golden age albums-Number of the Beast through Seventh Son of a Seventh Son-so I was a little bit scared that, given that they would mostly be preforming songs off of their last three albums, I would be lost. This turned out to not be the case, as between the light show, Dickinson's impassioned vocals and Spiderman-esque leaps from end to end of the stage, Janick Gers' guitar showmanship and a stage background that changed with every single song, I found myself enraptured throughout the entire show, whether I knew the song or not. Thankfully, they did play a couple that I knew from their past few albums-"Dance of Death" and "The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg"-and those were by far two of the funnest songs of the evening.
  • Later in the show, Dickinson made a little speech about the brotherhood aspect of being an Iron Maiden fan before taking a moment to honor the memory of Ronnie James Dio: "I know we've got some bad blood due to the World Cup or whatever, but it doesn't matter what your skin color is, whether you're a dog or porpoise[which he pronounced "poor-poyss] or whatever...if you're an Iron Maiden fan, you're family." They then launched into a rendition of "Blood Brothers" and not only was the entire audience singing along with the chorus, they were harmonizing, myself included. It was honestly a pretty touching moment.
  • To close out the "official" part of the show before the encores, Iron Maiden preformed "Fear of the Dark" and "Iron Maiden". The first song was tremendous fun, given that one part of it that's so easy to sing along with("Woah-oh-oh-oh, Woah-ohhh-oh-oh"), and I just about snapped my neck headbanging once the song kicked into high gear. During "Iron Maiden", a gigantic alien version of Eddie lumbered onto the stage and stole Dave Murray's guitar. My friend Jack was saying "un-fucking-believable" for the entire time this was going on.
  • For their first encore they played "Number of the Beast", wherein everybody in the crowd, myself included, went absolutely clownshit. They then moved on to "Hallowed Be Thy Name", my favorite Iron Maiden song. I was described by my friends as having "completely freaked out" as soon as I heard the opening notes to the song, which is actually understating my reaction a little bit. They finished the whole thing off with a jam version of "Running Free", during which somebody threw a bag of weed onto the stage and Bruce Dickinson, somehow, managed to procure a police hat and jokingly chastise the crowd. It was a funny end to a wonderful show.
  • Traffic sucked getting out. It was not quite as bad as it could have been, however.
If you hear Iron Maiden is going to be playing in your area, I wholeheartedly recommend going to see them. Even if you're not particularly fond of their music, they put on such an impressive show that you'd have to have a heart of stone not to be thrilled by the sheer energy of their performance. Combine this with incredible production values in terms of lights and staging and you have a concert that'll raise the bar for all others this year.



A Token of My Extreme: Einsturzende Neubaten- Halber Mensch (1985)

1985; Some Bizarre Records/Potomak

Einsturzende Neubaten's name means "Exploding New Buildings" in English. As early pioneers in the art of brainpan-eviscerating industrial noise, this West Berlin act has lived up to their name while steadily refining their sound over the past thirty years. Their performances have always been a combination of highbrow Euro performance art, improvisational insanity and the joy and freedom of making a huge goddamn racket, and even though they've actually discovered an excellent sense of melody and subtlety over the years (probably adopted from frontman Blixa Bargeld's other band, Nick Cave's Bad Seeds), they are still determinedly unconventional as evidenced by their predilection for makeshift instruments such as pneumatic air tubes, sheets of metal and barrels used for percussion, power saws and drills, etc. If you ask dyed-in-the-wool EN fans where the evolution from brutal clanging sonic terrorism into nuanced songcraft started, they may point to 1989's Haus der Luge (whose "Feurio!" became an underground club hit and the topic of several remixes) or they may cite later opuses such as 1993's Tabula Rasa or even 2000's Silence Is Sexy (which remains my favorite album of theirs).

However in this reviewer's opinion it starts right here with Halber Mench. Early EN recordings before this were basically straight jackhammering with no melody whatsoever, with found objects, construction implements, rudimentary synths, even Blixa's voice, all reduced to a single role: percussion. It's fun stuff, albeit in small to moderate doses. While there's still plenty of crazy scraping, clanking and crackling noises in Halber Mench, the core membership of Blixa, Alexander Hacke, Mark Chung and crazed percussionist FM Einheit had discovered how to incorporate a sense of structure into their junkyard madness, and there was even some prominent guitar in a recognizable state of tune (!), a semi-melodic pop song with noise solo (!!) and a borderline dance tune (!!!). Blixa's voice was no longer all harsh Teutonic screaming, either--on songs like "Seele Brennt," "Letztes Biest (Am Himmel)" and "Sehnsucht" he revealed a menacing whisper and some poetic, baritone singing--elements that he would expand on over the course of his career. These art school kids were growing up, as were their musical ambitions.

The album begins very strangely even for these guys. The title track is a haunting, shamanic chant, completely a capella. Its alien quality carries across the rest of the record, even as the vocals yield completely to sheer mechanical clatter as they do on "Das Schaben"--a nine and a half minute noise bath that is the clear centerpiece of the album and hour-long movie (also named Halber Mensch) depicting their 1985 tour of Japan--like Germany, a place once similarly ravaged by war and post-industrial decay. Coincidence? Don't think so. All over this album you can find themes of death, deconstruction ("Desire comes out of chaos"), Cold War sociopolitics and existentialism/nihilism in the Nietzschean tradition proving that under the din, EN always had something intelligent to say. If you can speak German. Don't worry, a translation is provided.

Halber Mench is essential to an understanding of the development of this extraordinary outfit from a bunch of angry Teutonic punks with power tools into the amazing, cinematic sonic juggernaut they are now. Along with Throbbing Gristle's D.O.A., Foetus' Nail and SPK's Leichenschrei no discerning rivethead should be without this early industrial document in their collection.


If you thought that Rammstein or even KMFDM was the epitome of scathing Germanic noise, well.... you may want to put this album on hold for a little while. Try Silence Is Sexy, Perpetuum Mobile or Tabula Rasa first before coming here. You don't have to hear SPK or Throbbing Gristle beforehand, but that can't hurt either. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Yes I know that is a Nietzsche quote, I'll cut this review off before it gets any more pretentious.



The Next Guitar Hero's Track List is Perplexing

This is essentially what it sounds like. I'm mainly posting this because nobody has said anything in like a week on this blog, but this is music related after a fashion, and it caught my attention in a pretty significant way.

I think we can all agree, if we care about rhythm music games at all, that Guitar Hero 5's track list was kind of stupid and weird. It was largely composed of a few songs that were awesome and totally fun to play on a fake guitar("2 Minutes to Midnight" by Iron Maiden, "Sultans of Swing" by Dire Straits), songs that were terrible("In My Place" by Coldplay, "Plug In Baby" by Muse), songs from guitar oriented bands that weren't actually all that guitar oriented at all("Make It Wit Chu" by Queens of the Stone Age, "Sweating Bullets" by Megadeth), and songs that were awesome but had no business at all being in a guitar game("Superstition" by Stevie Wonder, "Under Pressure" by David Bowie and Queen).

Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock is taking a weird approach to solving that problem. The good part is that a lot more of the songs look to be guitar oriented. The bad part is that a lot of those songs suck. And still, there are a couple of outliers that don't really have any business being in the game at all.

On the one hand:

  • Been Caught Stealing-Jane's Addiction
  • Bloodlines-Dethklok
  • Children of the Grave-Black Sabbath
  • Money For Nothing-Dire Straits
  • Stray Cat Blues-The Rolling Stones
Whoa! Those are five awesome songs that will be awesome to play on the plastitar! I mean, "Stray Cat Blues"? Shit yes, son!

But then you look a little closer, and there's:

  • Bat Country-Avenged Sevenfold
  • Bleed it Out-Linkin Park
  • Bodies-Drowning Pool
  • Dance, Dance-Fall Out Boy
  • Feels Like the First Time-Foreigner
  • I'm Not Okay(I Promise)-My Chemical Romance
  • Love Gun-Kiss
  • Uprising-Muse
  • Wish-Nine Inch Nails
  • Psychosocial-Slipknot
Good Christ, that's a lot of completely terrible shit! With those two setlists combined, it's like if you won the lottery, only to find out that the money is only valid in Botswana.

And then you have a couple where you don't even really understand what they're doing there. Like:

  • Bohemian Rhapsody-Queen
  • Sudden Death-Megadeth
  • Indians-Anthrax
  • Sharp Dressed Man(Live)-ZZ Top
  • Aqualung-Jethro Tull
Okay. "Bohemian Rhapsody" is mostly piano. "Sudden Death" isn't even out yet. "Indians" is by far one of the easiest, least remarkable songs from the otherwise pretty guitar-driven Among the Living. "Sharp Dressed Man" already appeared in their first game, and they ripped "Aqualung" from Rock Band 2's track list.

Should it really be this difficult to make an excellent game based on songs that have guitar playing at the core? I know there are a lot of things to take into consideration-licensing and lawsuits and so forth-but there's been such a humongous library of guitar music made over the last 50 years, it should be impossible not to please everybody.

I dunno. Do you want to make a better one? You should try, I bet you could. The full track list for the game hasn't been announced, but let's see how many people we can get to make a better set of songs then the folks who decided the tunes for Warriors of Rock.

This is assuming anyone who reads this blog has any interest in this kind of thing at all. If not then I might just make a list myself at a later date, since I love doing shit like this.

Anyhow...if you have ideas for some tracks you'd like to see, sound off in the comments section!