Skeletons Of High Society

There are very few bands that take me back to the 80s and my awkward teenage haircut more than Slayer. Over the last couple of years I’ve found myself falling down a satanic speed metal rabbit hole where I’ve been revisiting and adding to my collection some of the most important speed metal albums to my existence on wax. I never realized growing up how much Slayer affected me. From age 13 to 18 I was all about Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax. While I did dabble in Slayer I always seemed to keep my distance. Call it a fear of satanic panic, paranoia of ritualistic killings I’d hear about on the evening news, and just the general feeling that Slayer fans were basically the kids in The River’s Edge, and those kids scared the hell out of me. As much as flirting with the dark side seemed exciting and the best way to keep the jocks at bay, I just felt like there might be a Pandora’s Box of evil just waiting to open as soon as I’d hit play on that Maxell copy of Hell Awaits for the 666th time. I just didn’t feel I had enough moxie to hang with the Slayer crowd. I was too much of a square, man. I thought I was cool with the occult and Hell and all that “Angel of Death” noise, but really the most ritualistic I got was listening to Motley Crue’s Shout At The Devil on my boombox in the backyard playing badminton with the neighbor kid and watching the edited cut of The Exorcist on network television.

I was living on the edge, guys.

So in my revisiting of those classic speed metal albums I realized just how amazing Slayer were. At their core they were a southern California hardcore band. Even in some of their most progressive moments Slayer were pure nihilistic punk rock. Reign In Blood, Hell Awaits, Show No Mercy/Live Undead, and South Of Heaven have become favorites of mine, but I think the album that hit me the hardest was Seasons In The Abyss. That came out in the fall of 1990, my junior year of high school. My older brother bought it in February of 1991. I went with him into town when he grabbed it. I remember I bought Queen’s Innuendo at the same time. Talk about the ying and yang. I remember seeing the video for “War Ensemble” and thinking that nothing could get that heavy. Nothing before it or what came after could reach those kinds of metal highs again. Then you hear a song like the title track “Seasons In The Abyss” and you realize these Slayer cats were almost a damn progressive rock band. The chicken scratch guitar solos of Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman didn’t matter. When they locked in rhythmically with the monster drummer that is Dave Lombardo there was no stopping these guys. Seasons In The Abyss was indeed the most progressive and technically on point record they ever made.

Even back then with me attempting to drown out my brother blasting that Seasons In The Abyss cassette in his room with myself blasting Freddie Mercury secretly telling the world goodbye with “These Are The Days Of Our Lives”, I couldn’t help but notice just how good that album was. By the time I’d made it to my senior year Slayer had released the video for “Seasons In The Abyss” and all bets were off. It was like a cross between Lawrence of Arabia and Headbanger’s Ball, but in the desert. It was this amazing mix of cinematic grandeur and progressive speed metal. It was also this crossover song that seemed to fold in fans of all makes and tastes. I can remember even my girlfriend’s marching band buddies digging the track as much as my hesher Music Appreciation classmates. In-particular, the drum line guys were pretty floored by the skill and precision of drummer Dave Lombardo. Seriously, to this day I think he’s one of the best metal drummers to ever walk the face of the earth. I feel every Slayer album he played on was top notch because of him. Nothing against Paul Bostaph, but Lombardo is the man and one of main reasons Slayer was so good(my opinion, what’s yours?)

Anyways, when I delved into the speed metal re-christening a couple years ago Seasons In The Abyss was at the very top of the list of albums to get. Prior to snagging it, I was able to find OG pressings of Hell Awaits, Reign In Blood, and South of Heaven. When it came time to grab an OG pressing of Seasons I instead grabbed one of the recent 180 gram reissues. I have no complaints. Though I prefer original pressings of these speed metal classics, this reissue sounds amazing, and at over half the price of the going price of 1st pressings I’m fine with it(btw, those new Metallica reissues sound amazing, too.)

As far as the songs? Man, they all retain their power, aggression, and dark eccentricities very well. The nice thing about Rick Rubin producing is that nothing sounds dated. He didn’t kowtow to current engineering and recording trends of the time. His style was to let the band do the talking, not let gated reverbs and bright treble on everything do it. Because of that all of Slayer’s records sound of the time they’re being played in. I think that’s what appeals to me so much with them. Their music sounds good anytime. You could be frozen in a cryogenic state for 200 years, wake up from your sci fi nap, and then put on Reign In Blood and even the alien warlords running the planet by then would be like “IRUYC *$&CKDHF ++UCHRXM~?”, which roughly translated means “Hey, is that the new Slayer album?” So much of the stuff that came out in the mid-80s and early 90s has a certain musical “taint” on them that puts a very specific expiration date on the record. Songs like “War Ensemble”, “Hallowed Point”, “Deadskin Mask”, and “Skeletons of Society” get better with age, like a fine wine(blood red, of course.) When Slayer started out they weren’t the most proficient players, but what they lacked in skill they made up for in animalistic rage and fury. By the time Seasons hit they’d had 8 years of recording, touring, rehearsal, and societal woes and missteps under their belts, which turned them into this precise and jagged speed metal behemoth of a band.

From “Show No Mercy” to “Seasons In The Abyss” these California metal freaks grew leaps and bounds, while still retaining all of the youthful abandon and punk rock attitude they started out with. Not all the of the “big four” can say that.

Seasons In The Abyss is still a solid album, even 26 years after its initial release. I still don’t think I could hang with those River’s Edge kids, but really, who would want to?

The Adventures of Jesus Bros : Chapter 420

So I had this incredibly weird dream last night. I dreamt that when Jesus was born he had a twin brother. The twin brother died so that Jesus could live, and then the twin brother became a time traveler at the moment of his death. He could only travel forward through time until he locates a scroll from an ancient Chinese alchemist who created a serum from the black lotus. This allows him to travel back in time. He can see the past through his ancestor’s eyes, but his enemies can kill him if they kill the ancestors he’s currently inhabiting. It’s basically a sci-fi biblical version of Quantum Leap.

I woke from the fever dream thinking that I might have been touched by some cosmic hand from the ether and shown an existential truth that no one else knew about. But then I realized that the dream was just an after buzz from listening to High On Fire’s excellent 2012 album De Vermis Mysteriis(translated from Latin it means “The Mysteries Of The Worm”.) I’m guessing that worm can be found at the bottom of a tequila bottle, as the album is completely bat shit crazy and also near genius.

Matt Pike comes across as this philosopher hesher that crawled from a dirty sleeping bag lying in a watery ditch you pass nearly every day to work. Inside that sleeping bag is a portal to some THC-powered alternate reality where there’s not much difference between an IQ of 40 and 180. Pike is this heavy metal warrior that is constantly sweating and wheezy, espousing stoned philosophy and warning of conspiracy theories pertaining to alien abductions, government experiments, and hash laced with galactic dust which allows ones mind to expand and see the true meaning of it all. Though if you’re not open-minded enough you’re liable to go completely insane. Pike and High On Fire take Pike’s other band Sleep’s slow churn doom and crank it up to 14. HoF rumble through stacks of Orange and Marshall amplifiers at breakneck speed that would make fans of Slayer and Black Sabbath equally happy. Pike writes songs that are part Philip K. Dick and H.P. Lovecraft tales, while musically its as if Reign In Blood was equally influenced by Loose Nut and Master Of Reality.

I got into High On Fire after a few late night beer fests with an old friend. He left several of their albums on my hard drive for me to peruse. It took a couple years but I finally got around to listening to Blessed Black Wings and Death Is The Communion. I can say without a doubt that High On Fire single handedly got me back into metal. I’d moved away from the darker, heavier fare years before thinking I’d “outgrown” that stuff. Of course the real reason was that I’d simply lost my way in the ways of the dark metal arts. High On Fire scorched a path for me back to classic speed and thrash metal I used to love in my younger days. They also led me to Pike’s other epic band Sleep. But this isn’t about Sleep, or any other band. This is about Matt Pike and High On Fire and, in my opinion, their masterpiece De Vermis Mysteriis.

How do you think the meeting went between Matt Pike and the record executives when he came to them with the concept for De Vermis Mysteriis? “Well, it’s a concept record about Jesus’ twin brother who dies at birth so Jesus can live out his destiny, and in turn this dead twin becomes a time traveler. What do you think?” I’m sure there never was a meeting like that because by 2012 Matt Pike had made his musical intentions very much known. Scream about demons, wizards, warriors, battles, and make the music as hard and heavy as possible. Who gives a shit what Pike is screaming about, just as long as the skin on my skull begins to rip from the bone by the time we reach the first chorus. Actually, I do care about what he’s singing about because that’s an important part of the High On Fire trip. He may be a dirty hesher, but Matt Pike is a hell of a story spinner(as well as a shredding fiend.)

When you have a song like “Madness Of An Architect” you’re pretty much set for sensory annihilation. This song is like a sludgy trip through 40 years of doom, death, and blues all in the course of 7 minutes. This is a slow ride as far as High On Fire go. Usually things are at a breakneck pace, goosing the tempo just short of South Of Heaven territory. But on this track this metal three-piece take their time. Things even get downright melodic on the excellent “Interlude”, a song that has the bass sound of Cliff Burton and even the vibe of something like Metallica’s “Orion”. It leads right into “Spiritual Rights”, which is like dropping acid at an amusement park and you peak just at the top of a 200′ high rollercoaster. Pike gargles blood and Jameson as this truly power trio pummels minds like Thor tenderizing his steak with Mjölnir. I can’t help but think of the late great Lemmy Kilmister when I hear Matt Pike on this track. I feel there’s a thru line from Lemmy to Matt Pike. Both made extreme music and lived extreme lives, yet you talk to anyone close to either and they’d tell you they were the nicest guys. Down to earth guys that took everything in their lives to extremes(R.I.P. Lemmy.)

There’s a lot of melodic moments on this album, which I think was a precursor to 2015s Luminiferous. But there’s also plenty of blood-boiling and gnashing of teeth here as well. Album opener “Serums Of Liao” charges through the speakers with the dexterity of a baby xenomorph bursting through John Hurt’s chest. Not graceful; forceful, violent, and with deadly precision. As metal as these guys are there’s still plenty of progressive rock oomph here, too. High On Fire are the epitome of “power trio”. Pike is one of the premier metal guitarists working today, but the rhythm section of bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensel are a force to be reckoned with. Kensel gives Dave Lombardo a run for his money while Matz lays down some thick, barb-wired bass lines that fill whatever spots Pike might not with his massive guitar tone. “Bloody Knuckles” sounds like Slayer on steroids, man. Seriously, if Pepper Keenan-led Corrosion somehow devoured the violence of Slayer it might sound like this song. Then there’s “Fertile Green”. It’s like the battle hymn of the stoned republic. This is how 21st century metal is supposed to sound. Those kids in River’s Edge would’ve totally gotten drunk and stoned to this track. I could see my brother at 18 driving in his Cutlass with this bashing through his Pioneer Super Tuner whilst wearing my dad’s army trench coat covered in rock patches and the faint odor of prime “Tijuana Magic” stinging the nostrils. Hell, I bet my brother would’ve hung with Matt Pike if time and happenstance would’ve allowed.

Elsewhere, “King Of Days” hints at more introspective work that would be put out on Luminiferous, while “De Vermis Mysteriis” sounds like a thousand demons howling from a near empty bottle of absinthe. “Romulus and Remus” is slow-churning dread that’s part desert biker knife fight and part end-of-days blood orgy. “Warhorn” sounds like Black Sabbath on mescaline. Pike brings things down for the album closer, his vocals gurgle tales of battlefields and muskets blowing fire.

It’s a hell of a period at the end of one blood-soaked, sweat-drenched sentence.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Matt Pike and High On Fire for bringing me back to the true ways of metal. I think High On Fire are keeping metal dark, mysterious, and something your parents might be wary of. That was always a good thing for me. But also, High On Fire place musicianship very high on their albums. They can bash with the best of ’em, but they bash like the best jazz musicians bash. There’s conviction in those brutal riffs and speed demon drumming. De Vermis Mysteriis is a batshit record, but it’s also a near perfect metal album.

In the immortal words of David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel, “It’s such a fine line between stupid and…clever.” Indeed.

Gigan : Undulating Waves Of Rainbiotic Iridescence

As I find myself getting further and further away from being a young man and am firmly walking the path of a middle-aged dude, I find myself expanding my brain in ways that young man never tried. No, I’m not eating peyote and going on spiritual journeys, or skydiving over miles and miles of Midwest acreage. I’m not buying sports cars or getting into firearms(you know, to protect me and my own from the Communist droves disguised as bearded hipsters.) And no, I’m not taking adult learning classes at the local community college so I can learn Spanish or how to build a computer from the ground up.

I’m expanding my mind with extreme metal.

Yes, my midlife crisis is shoving doom, speed, and death metal into my head. 20 years ago I was all about power pop, Much Music, and the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Sure, there were other bands I was digging at the time. But by 1997 metal was so done. So commercial. This was the time of eyeliner-wearing Metallica, nu metal, and the overall mellowing of metal. Screaming in metal went from sounding vicious and frightening to sounding more like a temper tantrum. It didn’t carry the weight it once did. There were occasional moments of reminiscing with my older brother in the garage with one too many beers and smokes where we’d pop in some Slayer or Corrosion of Conformity and have ourselves a grand old time till 1am. But for the most, part I was out of the metal game.

Then a couple years ago I started to get the itch for something more extreme. I wanted to feel that rush I used to get when I’d put on Seasons In The Abyss and Ride The Lightning. I started collecting some of the classic metal records on vinyl. Slayer, Metallica, Anthrax, and the first four Sabbath records. Then I got a sweet copy of Sleep’s Dopesmoker and then fell into High On Fire. Found myself digging Deafheaven and Ufomammut. Electric Wizard and Beasts In The Field.

I was back in the metal game. Big time.

So this past week I’ve found myself trolling through various “best of” lists from different music rags and came across a best of extreme metal list. After burning through a bunch of Zdzisław Beksiński-looking album covers I came across Gigan’s Undulating Waves Of Rainbiotic Iridescence. The album cover instantly grabbed me. Bright, radioactive greens, very sci-fi-meets-cyberpunk-purgatory vibe going on. It’s this cloaked being looking out into some spatial, existential void(it pretty much sums up every morning as I walk into work.) There were a couple albums that peaked my interest, but dammit Gigan won me over with their album art, album title, and song titles like “Elemental Transmography”, “Plume Of Ink Within A Vacuum”, and “Hideous Wailing Of The Ronowen During Nightshade”. There was an element of batshit crazy staring at me and I felt I needed to explore. I’ve been exploring for about a week now and I think I’m starting to unlock the madness on this album, but I’m nowhere even close to understanding what the hell I’m hearing on  Undulating Waves Of Rainbiotic Iridescence. But that’s what makes it so much goddamn fun.

It’s very rare that I can get into that “Cookie Monster” singing when it comes to metal. I prefer actual singing. It took me forever to get past the screaming in Deafheaven, but I finally found my in with them. Gigan is a Chicago three-piece that consists of Eric Hersemann on bass, guitars, synthesizer, theremin, and xylophone, Nate Cotton on drums, and Jerry Kavouriaris on vocals. When I say vocals I mean growling through what sounds like blood, glass, and a thousand tortured souls. As I’m typing this I’m still not sure if I can ever find my “happy place” with those bloody belches, but that’s just me. The music is the real treat here. Imagine Voivod, King Crimson, Cannibal Corpse, and early Mastodon all coming together freaking out on mescaline and being pulled through a demonic wormhole into a nuclear purgatory. If you can hear that you’re getting close to Gigan’s ultraviolent music trip.

Opening track “Wade Forward Through Matter And Backwards Through Time” moves from space-y grooves into chaotic madness that sounds like the band being ripped apart by intergalactic demons, then back into some sickly rhythms. Hersemann is like a mad genius on the guitar. His work sounds both improvisational and well-calculated. He chases the drums like a buzzing, poisonous creature out for destruction. I know there’s more instrumentation going on in there, but for the life of me I can’t tell a theremin from the guitar from the xylophone(?). It really doesn’t matter, though. I think the purpose here is to overwhelm, and overwhelm they do. “Elemental Transmography” sounds like a thousand android steed being ridden by ghostly alien life forces marching across an aluminum-lined field firing lasers from their eyes and nostrils as the meek that were supposed to inherit the earth burn to ash. It’s kind of an uptempo number, really. Nate Cotton’s drumming throughout is absolutely intense. It’s like Dave Lombardo doing his best Tony Williams impression with hornets stinging him constantly. It’s well-constructed madness. One minute he’s locked into a groove and the next he sounds like the little engine that could destroy all existence.

Musically Gigan is all over the place. One of the things that caught my attention when I first discovered them was the descriptor “psychedelic”. I love the idea of hallucinatory passages in extreme metal. But this isn’t the hippy dippy, color blots on a white screen kind of psychedelia. This is eating a pound of angel dust and then sitting through a Gaspar Noe movie marathon. These trips make Hubert Selby Jr’s writing seem more like Dr. Seuss. If you’ve ever read Grant Morrison’s Nameless you might get an idea of the type of hallucinatory, psychedelic madness going on here. The execution here is precise, but if you’re “distance” listening to  Undulating Waves Of Rainbiotic Iridescence you’re going to wonder what in the hell are you hearing. Distance listening is when you’re listening while cooking dinner, or picking up the house. Or in my case I was at work with the speakers down low. Listening to something like “Ocular Wavelengths’ Floral Obstructions” when you can’t hear it all that well or you’re trying to input data is a recipe for “WTF?” Sitting at home with the headphones on really opened my mind to what these guys are doing. It’s still kind of an endurance test, but repeated listens delivers many aural rewards.

This album is one sonic psyche-shredding after another. It’s like melodic white noise. “Hideous Wailing Of The Ronowen”, “Hyperjump-Ritual Madness”, and album closer “In Between, Throughout Form And Void” run the gamut of speed of light shredding and melting into the universe as your family watches in horror. Despite all this overwhelming sensory overload I still keep coming back to this album. There’s something very unique about these guys. Maybe it’s the sci-fi, space madness vibe. Or maybe it’s the musical intricacies hidden under the hornet’s buzz squall. It’s probably not the cookie monster vocal madness, but that’s growing on me as well. Gigan paint in extremely abstract brush strokes, and usually with chewed up brushes and exotic colors. Undulating Waves Of Rainbiotic Iridescence is disturbing and challenging in the best ways possible.

Does this qualify for a mid-life crisis? If so, I’m good with it.

8.5 out of 10

 

Melody For A Dead Computer

I remember my first computer. It was a Little Professor calculator. It wasn’t your typical calculator, mind you. You see, instead of punching in a math problem and the happy Professor providing you with the answer, the Professor would provide a math problem and you would have to provide the answer. Kind of backwards, but it was meant to help the math-deficient kids of America to catch up with the rest of the world(this was 1981, so it wasn’t nearly as bad as it is now.) Despite my lack of math fundamentals I loved playing with this Texas Instruments tool, but not nearly as much as I enjoyed playing with the Tonka twin engine plane I got that same Christmas.

Ehh, such is life.

The next “real deal” computer I owned was a Compaq computer system my wife and I bought in 1998 at Radio Shack. It was over $3,000 and came with a copier/printer/scanner and about $200 worth of software(mostly educational stuff like ‘The Oregon Trail’ and ‘Where In Time Is Carmen San Diego’.) It sort of felt like a whole new world once we had that computer….and the internet! Holy shit. Despite the dial-up snail’s pace it still felt like we had somehow tapped into this secret connection to the universe and had access to galaxies that were far reaching, right from the spare bedroom in our house. I can remember sitting at that desk in the spare room choppily typing and looking for websites dedicated to favorite bands till the wee hours of the night.

I went from feeling like Captain Caveman to feeling like Buck Rogers(or Flash Gordon.)

Those were pivotal moments, discovering man made technology so intricate and catered to me. Were they pivotal enough to make me want to dedicate an album to them? Probably not, but they were pivotal nonetheless. Johann Johannsson on the other hand seems to have been quite moved by a computer. So much so that the Icelandic film composer wrote an album based on one.

Over the last couple years I’ve come to be quite a fan of Johann Johannsson. His work in films such as Prisoners, Sicario, Arrival, and The Theory of Everything is filled with such boundless emotion and otherworldly eccentricities that it seems Johannsson has found some new musical language. He’s quickly become one of my favorite film composers, as well as composers in general. Until recently I wasn’t aware of his original works(as in, stuff not for film.) I saw that 4AD was releasing his 2006 album IBM 1401, A User’s Manual on vinyl for the first time and felt I needed to investigate further. Upon filling my head with this record all weekend I can safely say that Johannsson is one of the best working today. This is a glorious work filled with lush strings, ghostly sounds, and feather-light passages that teeter between desolation and consolation.

So what’s Johannsson’s connection to this long extinct computer? Well here’s what I found:

In 1964 the IBM Data Processing System arrived in Iceland. Seven years later, when it became redundant, it wasn’t simply thrown away. Instead, the melancholic melodies produced by the machine’s electromagnetic waves were recorded for the final time by the computer’s chief engineer (and Johannsson’s father), Johann Gunnarsson. After stumbling across the tapes in the family attic, the only natural thing for the ever-thinking Johannsson to do was to incorporate their seminal splutterings into his work.

Ahh, the emotional connection. Johannsson’s dad was a chief engineer on the computer and had recorded the melancholy sounds of the defunct machine. Johannsson finds these tapes in an attic and decides to write a piece of music based on it. Makes sense.

The album was originally written for a string quartet, organ and electronics and to accompany a dance piece by long-standing collaborator friend, Erna Ómarsdóttir. For the album recording, Jóhann has rewritten it for a sixty-piece string orchestra, adding a new final movement and incorporating electronics and vintage reel-to-reel recordings of a singing 1401 found in his father’s attic.

I’m sure the original concept would’ve been equally moving, albeit maybe slightly more spooky with the organ and electronics. But with a sixty-piece orchestra this music soars.

Despite the size, there’s still a very intimate atmosphere with this record. It’s written in five parts: “Part 1/ IBM 1401 Processing Unit”, “Part 2/IBM 1403 Printer”, “Part 3/IBM 1402 Card Read-Punch”, “Part 4/IBM 729 II Magnetic Tape Unit”, and “Part 5/The Sun’s Gone Dim And The Sky’s Turned Black”. There’s a very cinematic feel on this record. Each piece moves effortlessly into the other. At times Johannsson comes across as an orchestral counterpart to fellow Icelandic musicians Sigur Ros. The concept here comes through beautifully with old, spoken-word moments as a voice explains the various IBM machines, giving the music a ghostly feeling. Like finding some withering audio tutorial, with Johann Johannsson scoring these tutorials. Something that was probably very dry and free of any emotional investment now comes across like a memorial to a long lost mechanism from a bygone era.

I’ve never been a big follower of classical music. I’ve enjoyed certain pieces throughout my life. Some Bach, some Beethoven, some Mozart, and Debussy have hit me hard here and there but I’ve never followed modern classical music. Johann Johannsson has opened me up to the possibility. He takes the traditional approach to composing for an orchestra and turns it on its head. He adds mechanical resonance, eerie atmosphere, and an overall ethereal feel to his work. It’s like Philip Glass, John Cage, and Steve Reich morphed into a Voltron-like compositional music super hero. Johannsson adds experimental vibes to his work that at times almost feels like avant garde, but not in some pretentious way. Rather, taking well worn conventions and turning them into something new and beautiful.

IBM 1401, A User’s Manual is an overwhelmingly beautiful listening experience. And knowing where the inspiration for its creation lies makes the album that much more powerful. I mean, the IBM 1401 is no Little Professor, but it seems pretty important to Johann Johannsson.

The original Texas Instruments ‘Little Professor’ from the JHubner73 archives

Journey Through A Burning Brain

The room is dark and humid. The only light I see in front of me seems hundreds of feet away. With each step I take the floor beneath me feels as if it’s getting softer and softer, limiting my stride as I make my way forward into the abyss. Where am I? How did I get here? I can’t remember where I was prior to this black hole I find myself in. In the distance I hear noises; an organ, what appears to be drums, and garbled electronic bleeps and blips. It sounds like a hippie love-in in Hell. There’s a feeling of being on the edge of sanity with the music I hear. Like it’s building to something, but what I can’t tell. It’s like some radio frequency that keeps going from John Cage to Morton Subotnick to Jefferson Airplane to the early sound experiments of Pauline Oliveros with no rhyme or reason. 

Is that something burning that I smell? 

Is that someone yelling in the distance? 

Just when I think I’m getting closer to the light at the end of this endless tunnel I can feel myself being pulled backwards as my feet rise from the spongy floor and I feel weightless. In my mind I imagine myself as a helium balloon, rising from the ground and making my way through a cloud-filled night sky. No way to gauge where I am or how far I’ve risen into the atmosphere. The light I once thought I was gaining traction with is but a dust speck beneath me. Wherever I have entered, I don’t foresee myself leaving any time soon. There’s still music in the distance. It’s like some acid-burnt guitar jam with flute and feedback coalescing in this galactic womb I feel myself floating in. My skin moist from the humidity and aged air I’m surrounded by, it’s as if I’m beginning to melt into my surroundings. I can’t tell where my flesh ends and the blackness begins, all the while still rising into the atmosphere. 

Is that a voice I hear? It sounds like it’s talking in reverse. Am I still wearing pants?

I think I see another way out. The noise is deafening around me. I need to find an exit to this madness before I succumb to the insanity that surrounds me. I keep hearing “Genesis, Genesis” over and over. Is it a message from whatever exists in this darkness? What does it want with me? And how did I get here?

And where are my goddamn pants?

Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of Komische Theater with your host, J Hübner. Tonight we brought you the one act play, Electronic Meditation, written by Edgar Froese, Klaus Schulze, and Conrad Schnitzer. It’s the story of one man’s madness taking the form of an existential crisis inside his own subconscious. He grapples with the confines of adulthood and maturity as he becomes a father for the 5th time in 6 years and wonders how life would have been different had he sold his father’s Schnauzer farm and left the Leipzig countryside for the leather bars of Munich. Spanking was always his passion, but a traditional lifestyle is what he found himself in. It ends with our Schnauzer farmer-in-crisis finding himself dissipating in the wet heat of his own crumbling subconscious.

NEIN!


Hey there, J. Hubner here. No, not the host of Komische Theater, just the boring Midwestern clod you know and love(you love me? You don’t even know me, fella.) I’m coming to the end of a lovely week off from work. Lots of cleaning projects and lots of cerveza was enjoyed. Movies and shows were watched ,shopping was done, and on Friday, November 25th I hit up Karma Records of Warsaw and saw my pal John V in honor of Black Friday Record Store Day. I hadn’t even looked at the lists of what was coming out, and frankly I didn’t really give a holy hoot about it. But earlier in the week John posted some of the goods that were going to be sold on that consumers-be-damned day of days and I saw Tangerine Dream’s Electronic Meditation was being reissued. Well shit, that’s one I didn’t have and hadn’t yet bought an OG pressing. I guess that means I need to buy that bastard.

So yesterday I jumped in the van, the boy and I got some groceries and before we headed home we stopped into Karma and I snagged the TD record, as well as Future Island’s Singles. It was 10% off everything in the store and I’d wanted that one for a long time now(it’s brilliant, btw.) I almost bought Slayer’s Christ Illusion, too. Alas, that will be for another time.

I’ve now listened to Electronic Meditation twice and I have to say I’m pretty underwhelmed. Here’s the thing, Froese was in his artistic infancy, man. He was feeling his way through the darkness and figuring out how to expand minds. In order to expand minds, you’ve gotta learn to expand your own. Edgar Froese was still figuring that shit out with that first record. I had high hopes with both Klaus Schulze and Conrad Schnitzer on this with him, but alas with the exception of a little aural weirdness, this one just comes off as just overreaching. There’s a lot of free noise and electronic warbling, but Froese had yet to find that existential vein he would eventually tap into with Alpha Centauri, Zeit, Atem, and then the masterpiece Phaedra. Froese hooked up with Christopher Franke after this record and things seemed to start to come together quickly. There’s too much of that dated “jamming” noise on this record for my taste. Too much Jefferson Airplane and Doors vibes for me. I mean, we’ve gotta start somewhere, right? It’s not a complete loss, but once Froese found his footing there was no stopping him.

But for all my bellyaching, I’m glad I snagged this one. I love seeing where prolific musical geniuses start. It only took Tangerine Dream two years to get from Electronic Meditation to Zeit, and then two more years to get to Phaedra.

That’s one hell of an evolution of the mind and spirit.

From 1970 to 2000, Tangerine Dream put a record out a year, with some years having two records a year(usually a film soundtrack followed by a studio record.) Honestly, there’s nearly one TD album released every year up to this year if you count live albums and reissued older stuff. It’s pretty fucking impressive, man. I think you can forgive “Journey Through A Burning Brain” and “Resurrection” with that kind of track record.

Let the brains burn, man.

For Whom The Blue Bell Knolls

It wasn’t always easy being able to admit my love for Cocteau Twins. Now that I’m in my 40s, middle-aged with an odd-shaped balding head it doesn’t really matter what I admit freely. No one is listening, nor do they care even if they’re in earshot of my incessant Midwest groaning. But being a metal head in Yuckety Yuk, Indiana in the late 80s/early 90s was a balancing act of testosterone ragin’ while keeping your sensitive side neatly tucked away. Maybe you’d keep that soft side of you in some old shoe box under your bed with a pair of your baby shoes, or buried in the backyard with a signed head shot of Soleil Moon Frye and a Popeye t-shirt your mom bought you when you were 8. You couldn’t show weakness in front of other sweaty, over-nourished metalheads or you were likely to be shunned from the group. You’d be sent to the woods to be eaten by wolves. Or worse, Pentecostals.

Point is, a band like Cocteau Twins was about as alien in my adolescent stomping grounds as ,well, aliens. You know, like Hanger 18 aliens. But there was something about Elizabeth Fraser’s voice that dug right into my freakish, greasy teen soul. It was haunting, ghostly, and ethereal like some divine whisper from the universe itself. Of course at 16-years old I would’ve said something more like “What the fuck? This is weird…but good weird like Brazil or potato chips on my bologna sandwich.” I can distinctly remember sitting over at my best friend Jason’s house on a Saturday night re-watching the previous week’s episode of 120 Minutes. We’d dig into Concrete Blonde, My Bloody Valentine, and whatever other 4AD band was the “it” alternative flavor of the week. Then Cocteau Twins’ “Heaven Or Las Vegas” came on and I sort of felt stunned. Like, what was happening? Is this what it feels like to be touched by an angel? Or groped by a ghost? As Jason started to fast forward the video I say to him “Hey man. Let’s just let this one play, you know for shits and giggles? We could just sit here silently and make fun of it in our minds without words. Or something.” Fortunately, Jason was thinking those same thoughts I was thinking about these Scottish dream poppers. We couldn’t put it into words, but we both knew there was something special going on. Of course we immediately threw on some Suicidal Tendencies or Faith No More and pretended we didn’t just have a moment.

I moved on, 120 Minutes was cancelled, Matt Pinfield got a new job, and I sort of forgot about Cocteau Twins for a couple years until The Crow came out and that soundtrack ruled my brain for most of 1994. One song in-particular got my attention. Medicine’s “Time Baby III”. It was a really cool song, but what really stuck out was the guest vocals of Elizabeth Fraser. It was a voice I hadn’t heard in a long time and it reminded me that I needed to go back to Cocteau Twins and investigate further.

Then about 20 years went by.

Back in 2014 I started up on Cocteau Twins. Having gone “full vinyl”, I knew I had to find some of their albums on the big, black circle. The first album I bought was Heaven Or Las Vegas. It had to be that. That was the album that broke through my big dumb brain in the first place. “Cherry-Coloured Funk” and “Heaven Or Las Vegas” were in my DNA. But the the second one I bought was Blue Bell Knoll. On a streaming binge I happened across the album and was pretty much floored by the whole thing. “Carolyn’s Fingers” felt like a chill going down my spine. Once I heard that I was done.

There are better albums by Cocteau Twins than Blue Bell Knoll. I’m a big fan of Garlands. I love the post-punk vibe and that I can hear where The Cure got their sound from on a song like “Wax and Wane”. Treasure was the first album that saw that truly mesmerizingly beautiful tone they would go on to perfect on Heaven Or Las Vegas. So where does that leave an album like Blue Bell Knoll? Well, to my ears, it’s the last Cocteau Twins album where they still sounded like a small band with very big ideas.

“Blue Bell Knoll” starts out with some of those dark, ominous tones of the early records but quickly adds some synth flourishes and stacks Fraser’s beautiful vocals on top to give the song a much welcomed dreaminess. “Athol-brose” is just absolute brilliance. It’s the moment Dorothy steps from her black and white farmhouse to soak in the technicolor beauty of Oz. It’s dizzying and an overload of the senses. No band sounds like this. Just Cocteau Twins. That’s it. “For Phoebe Still A Baby” feels like some alien lullaby. The bass puts me in mind of mid-80s Cure. I think there’s a thru-line between the two bands. It’s like they both drank from the same Gothic well and somehow worked through whatever demons they were struggling with. This track sounds like contentment with an overcast day.

I have to admit that for years I thought Cocteau Twins were Swedish or French or Finnish. There was something in Fraser’s vocals that made me think what she was singing was not English. I thought it was a very foreign language that was being sung. I was wrong. Cocteau Twins are a Scottish band, but I still think there’s a very alien lean to the words sung by Elizabeth Fraser. She sings beautifully, but it sounds like a language made up by Fraser. The magic in Cocteau Twins, besides the dream-like clouds of flangered bass, guitar, and walls of synth created by Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde, was that voice. It got me every time I heard it. Elizabeth Fraser had a voice like no other. For my money no one has yet to top it.

Every song on Blue Bell Knoll carried some sort of strange magic. “Cico Buff”, “Spooning Good Singing Gum”, “A Kissed Out Red Floatboat”, and “Ella Megalast Burls Forever” all contain some bit of melancholy genius. There’s absolute pop perfection contained on every track here. If it was a fair and just world, Cocteau Twins would’ve been played on pop radio stations worldwide instead of Debbie Gibson, Taylor Dayne, and NKOTB. Of course the population at large couldn’t take this kind of beauty on their commute to work or bus ride to school. There would’ve been massive existential crisis, love-ins in every county courthouse, and the world as we know it would’ve changed exponentially for the better. We couldn’t have that.

Come to think of it, this actually might be their best album.

I guess it’s better this way. A band like Cocteau Twins will live on forever, allowing future generations to discover their timeless dream pop. Their ghostly songs can fill earbuds in the future and maybe shine a little ethereal light on whatever shit show we may be enduring in 10, 20, or 30 years. And hopefully by then, no matter a metal head in the Midwest or a goat herder in Afghanistan, the Cocteau Twins can be enjoyed openly, freely, and without shame.

I love you Soleil Moon Frye. I always have.

 

 

Impetus

I’m looking down the barrel of a 3-day weekend. What better way to celebrate that than partaking in a couple libations? Founders’ ‘Backwoods Bastard’ was my first delight. 11.2% of barrel-aged loveliness. It’s sweet, syrup-y, and just enough kick on the low end to let you know you’re not drinking something mass-produced. I’m currently enjoying a Samuel Adams’ ‘Maple Red’, which is part of their fall sampler collection. This is probably the best seasonal collection old Sammy Adams has put out, at least since that Winter Sampler from like six years ago where they had ‘Ol’ Fezziwig’ and their delicious ‘Chocolate Bock’. Good stuff, guys. Seriously.

Anyways, I took tomorrow off because I’m taking the two-hour drive south to pick up my oldest from school. She wanted to come home to see us(actually, she wanted to come home and see her friend but a dad can dream.) Mom usually makes the trek to pick our girl up, but my wife started a new job so she wouldn’t be able to head down till late. I have plenty of vacation time left for the year so I said what the hell and took the day off.

I’m sitting in the living room, enjoying the beers, and thinking about music. I thought I had my music year pretty much summed up, but then I hear Causa Sui’s brand new mini-album Vibraciones Doradas  and now all bets are off, people. Holy moly what a monster that is. You’ll be hearing more about that album from me next week. Right now, we’re going back to last year.

Impetus – the force or energy with which a body moves

If you’re lucky enough to jump on Causa Sui’s releases early, occasionally those Danish mind melters offer a bonus 10″ record with a couple bonus nuggets of psych rock heaven that don’t end up on the album. They did it in 2014 with their Pewt’r Sessions 3, and they did it with Return To Sky last year. Of course I devoured it when it hit the front porch, but then it gets situated among the other LPs for a later listen. Well, in honor of Vibraciones Dorados, I thought I’d pull Return To Sky‘s bonus 10″ out and give it a re-listen.

So here’s the thing, just because these tracks don’t make it on the official LP doesn’t mean they aren’t worthy of that official release. I’ve got a feeling that Causa Sui go into the studio with lots of lagers and candles lit and vibes for miles and just let things flow. With four cats like Jonas Munk, Jess Kahr, Rasmus Rasmussen, and Jakob Skott the mojo must get flowing pretty quick. They’re all more than proficient at their instruments, and their solo output only proves they are one hell of a creative lot. So I’m sure everything they put to tape(or hard drive) is worthy of our ears. But albums, at least the great ones, need to flow in a certain manner in order for the right vibes to bubble to the surface. Return To Sky is perfect just the way it is. Any more or less and it would’ve been an entirely different beast altogether. So that goodness that doesn’t get used still deserves to be heard and devoured, hence the bonus 10″.

Side one is a 12-minute scorcher. Skott pushes the song along on a jazzy, breezy rhythm while Jonas Munk pushes a psychedelic trip with phaser-infused guitar. Kahr holds down the fort with some incredible bass lines while Rasmussen adds some Ray Manzarek-like keys to give the whole jam a grounded feel. The beauty of Causa Sui is that they sound so much larger than their 4-piece should. They create this universe of noise within the context of a 12-minute jam. Even with a song that doesn’t end up on an album, there’s more than enough mojo to go around.

Side two opens like Sleep, with Munk’s guitar getting as scuzzy as it gets(Matt Pike is smiling somewhere right now.) The track keeps the doom vibe up while Skott and Kahr lay a foundation the Empire State Building would be comfortable standing on. Rasmus adds to the psychedelic vibes with his keys that are like a mix of Moody Blues and King Crimson. Pretty soon Munk lays down some heavy blues licks down while the rest of the band continue to keep the psych fires burning. The track keeps that up through another 10 or so mind-melting minutes.

So sure, these two tracks were better left off the album. Return To Sky is a perfect entity the way it is. But with a bonus 10″ like this I feel like we’re given this inside look into the process of Causa Sui. There is this wide open space where the band let loose and jam on instincts and feel and it’s pretty fucking amazing. For my money, this is more along the lines of the great jazz greats. You have cues and keys and time signatures, but within those general lines you let the spirit take you where it may. Causa Sui amaze me every time I listen to them. There’s something new to explore and something new to discover on each of their records. And knowing their solo work very well I can say quite confidently that they’re pulling from all corners of the universe(how many corners are in the universe, anyways?) to create that all-immersive, all-encompassing sound that they create in their tiny corner of Odense, Denmark.

Enjoy the weekend. See you on the flip side. And keep an eye out for Vibraciones Dorados. It hits in two weeks. My review hits next week.