Thursday, September 11, 2008

The interim // Seconds

I will spare any explanation for the extended delay since the last post--I don't really have one, to be honest--and just say, "Hey, thanks for bearing with me."

Since we last spoke, I caught the mighty Cheer-Accident at Prog Day--I'm researching the band for an upcoming project to be revealed soonish--and took a very enjoyable weekend trip to Cleveland with my own band STATS to record a few tunes with the extremely hospitable and talented John Delzoppo, drummer for the highly ripping Clan of the Cave Bear, expert audio engineer and just plain nice dude to hang with. More info on that soon as well.


And the order of business on every respectable metal-inclined blogger's lips is of course... Death Magnetic, the latest from Metallica, which drops this coming Friday. Actually, who am I kidding? It leaked a few days ago, so if you're resourceful enough to type the album title and the word "blogspot" into a search engine, you'll be checking it out in no time. If you need some convincing, here is my long-ish review, from this week's Time Out New York (with an addendum of five of my favorite Metallica "deep cuts"):

Death Magnetic review

Of course, most other heavyweight sources have already weighed in, in one form or another. The Times' Ben Ratliff checked out the band in Romania and had some favorable, insightful words on the disc and what it represents in the context of the band'a career. Cosmo Lee over at Pitchfork administered what I'm sure won't be the last smackdown the disc is going to receive; the piece has its needlessly schadenfreude-ish qualities--see also the site's pointlessly withering string of Mars Volta reviews--but makes some fairly convincing points.

The most interesting commentary I've read, though, comes courtesy of Phil Freeman, whose post on the disc is entitled "Fuck You, it's Great." What I like about this entry is that it attempts something few critics ever undertake: namely a reassessment of one's past published judgments. Freeman admits to laying a major dis on St. Anger when it came out, but in this piece he takes a more accepting view of the record and attempts to jettison some of the critical deadweight that has accumulated around this not-great-but-certainly-not-crappy record over the past few years. I like that; more critics should be accounting for past work, stepping up and saying, "You know what? I was wrong," or even, "You know what? I was right, but maybe not quite in the way that I said I was."

I guess the latter is sort of how I'm viewing my own Death Magnetic review above. I wrote it a few weeks ago based on one listen. Yes, I heard the album exactly once, straight through without even a pause. I did check out the tracks that were floating around on the net--"My Apocalypse" and "The Day that Never Comes"--a few extra times, but for the most part, what was published in that review was my *initial* reaction to the disc. And I think that's a perfectly valid, if not necessarily ideal, way to approach a record review. (The ideal thing would be to have several months, or even years, to spend with a record. It's a total cliche, but it's true: The stuff I end up loving the most, I tend to not really get on the first listen.)

One of my most coherent reactions to hearing the record for the first time was that I really, really wanted to hear it again. I got my chance today, long after my published review had gone to press. Having spun the disc a second time through, I can say that I basically agree with myself, that is to say, Death Magnetic is--at least, according to the Time Out NY rating scale--a four-star record--in other words, "recommended" or "very good" but not quite "great."

But a few things jumped out at me this time around. Number one, the record is not *quite* as fast and brutal as I remember it being. Maybe it was that I was listening to it on mondo speakers at an extremely high volume, but hearing it today on headphones, it sounded more... manageable, I guess would be the word. On a first listen, I heard an impossible-to-parse blur of ever-unfolding parts. Today, I just heard some long-ish yet pretty-easy-to-follow Metallica songs in a style that sounds like the Black Album-era band trying--pretty successfully--to integrate their "mature" (i.e., poppy/alt-rocky) style with their progressive-thrash roots. In other words, it's not a return to form in that it sounds more like the '80s material than the later stuff. What it really is, is just a convincing reconciliation of the two eras, whereas St. Anger seemed more like an overprotesting forsaking of the old Metallica. On this second listen, I heard as much "Enter Sandman" as I did "...And Justice for All." And though it's easy to write off late Metallica as watered-down, it's also easy to forget how catchy the band has become. No song on "Death Magnetic" lacks convincing hooks, and that is really the record's greatest strength. (If I were to ID a greatest weakness, it would be lackluster riffs--as I said in the review, too often it seems as though the band is trying to mask the blandness of the fundamental material with chaotic arrangements.)

And even though it's not as coldly unrelenting as the mid-'80s stuff, it's still a very heavy record. Not Slayer heavy, mind you, but Metallica heavy, which has long been more stylized and less raw. I'd still be surprised, though, if any listener with any foreknowledge of Metallica didn't lean back at least once while checking out the album out and say to themselves, "Damn, this stuff is pretty brutal. I didn't think they had it in them."

Check out new Hexa audio and video here, including my favorite song by the band, the gorgeously bittersweet "Classes." The "Owl Is Yellow" video is pure homegrown pop fun. As I have indicated before on this blog, these are songs I would recommended to any person who is human and likes to feel.

Speaking of music that's for everyone, two old feelings-rock obsessions are cropping up big time of late, those being Action and Action and Used for Glue. Music like that makes me soar, and how postadolescently adorable are these videos? Another current jam, "If Only"--which "Stony Rock" Gedrich hipped me to--doesn't have a proper video, but as you can hear here, it's just as universal in its no-b.s. melodic-rockdom.

STAY TUNED: debuting very soon, the Dark Forces Swing Blind Punches podcast series!

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