bITS 'N CHUNKS
I am very excited about Alice in Chains's new album Rainier Fog, their first in over 5 (!) years released last month. But before we get to that, walk with me a second here.
As writers and maybe creatives in general, we are bad at externalizing things and great at internalizing. We have all felt the weight of frustration that we are not making a living doing the Thing That We Do full time; meanwhile we project the image that it's okay. It's fine. You work your way up the ladder. We give each other pep talks and advice while internalizing the comments of others not within the industry.
The thing is, though, we are bad at normalizing that very thing. I'm willing to bet a lot of us have day jobs that have nothing to do with creative endeavors; and if you're one of the lucky ones that was able to parlay your passion into a career. That's great. Both sides of this are fine but we need to normalize one of these things.
I'll start. Hi, I'm not the mythical hellbeast I wish I was. I'm actually currently working in the financial sector while I'm still staying afloat with freelance writing. That's fine but sometimes I admit it's not. It's very hard knowing that the thing I want to do most doesn't always pay consistently, whereas my day job is just a day job. And as my city goes through the growing pains with costs of living outpacing wage increase and bills keep stacking up higher, it gets really hard to fathom going back to a time where I could work on fiction undisturbed and swing high profile rejections like, "that's okay, I'll get em next time". In fact, no. It's really discouraging, fam.
The job affords me benefits and the ability to take care of myself, my family, and a herd of cats. Writing brings me joy. I have the ability to increase my profile when things are going well and I'm steady. But I can't act like things don't get a little funky sometimes. I can't act like I don't wish it was more. I can't act like sometimes I just don't have the strength to keep trying and I wonder what it would be look like if I didn't.
I'm not always steady. As a human being, I'm not immune to taking serious Ls from life as I've alluded to previously. Those Ls have slowed down my contributions to my own site and the others I write for. That's all okay, except when it's not. The truth is, as much as I'd like to have a complete breakdown and get past the Anger stage of grief over my turbulent situation this year (and believe you me whether I want them to happen or not, those meltdowns came), my bills don't stop because I'm depressed. My obligations do not slow down because shit is tough. Those things are... not okay but to put it best it kind of is what it is right now.
That's the part I'm trying to get to. Normalizing real ass experiences that color our world. Things aren't fair and they suck and then sometimes they suck a lot. A lot of the success stories you see are just that... success. And stories. Theirs, not ours all the time.
Alice in Chains was the biggest band in the world to me when I was little, right up there in my metal pantheon with Megadeth, Metallica (I know), Judas Priest, etc etc... and Pearl Jam! Even into teenagerdom I couldn't imagine them struggling, even after Layne tragically died I didn't really comprehend what all went into keeping an artistic dream alive. There's a lot to be said about de-mystifying things. Some people need the drama and allure, and some people need to hear the truth but maybe slant. It was okay that I was living a mild delusion about one of my favorite bands and I had no concept of how tough the music business is because, well, I wasn't in the biz nor was I trying to be.
Jerry Cantrell's solo album Degradation Trip came out in June 2002 and in my young life I had seldom been readier for an album release. One of my favorite singers had died, the band was over, Boggy Depot was pretty dope but I was interested to see what Jerry was going to do on his own, so to speak. Back in those days (and still now) I read a lot of music journalism and I love artistic insight interviews. What do these songs mean? What are the lyrics? Where and why did you write them?
You know how things, sometimes, get lodged in your brain and you think about them for days or years? To this day, I still think of an interview from around that time that I glimpsed, off hand. It wasn't in a big magazine. I actually had to hunt it down with the help of Wikipedia and the Way Back Machine because I know I saw the damn thing. Jerry is a pretty open guy and this humble but brutal interview with NY Daily News contains several takeaways about how difficult making this album was, emotionally and financially. Nestled almost like an accident amongst the information in the short article -- so scant I had to Ctrl+F the damn thing -- is this line:
In fact, it cut off his funding while the album was being recorded and Cantrell mortgaged his house to keep it going.
I thought: wait a second. That can't be true. Mortgaged his fucking house? At that age, I couldn't really grapple with the severity of that statement but I felt it. So that's what it takes? From then on, I really started reading behind the scenes interviews with my favorite authors and musicians. I mean, really started paying attention. I listened. Rather than the de-mystification breaking any illusions of an easy life I had, I actually respected and appreciated the honesty. I started turning away from anything fake and superficial and that represented my break from a few ideals.
So here we are, all these years later and I'm asking myself to do the same. Can I still respect myself and preserver through perceived failures? I listen to Rainier Fog and I hear the weariness. It's a kind of weary that only gets more intense with age, tempered by hope and optimism but always with skepticism and self-deprecation hiding behind it with a garrote. There's a bit of passive anger as well as we scream in shock and shake our fists at world events that keep blossoming to horror.
There's a lot of things we don't understand until we hit a certain high, a certain bottom, or a certain age. Pre-teen me didn't understand the concept of home ownership let alone borrowing money off the house (way, way pre-recession) to fund a studio album that may not even show returns. Who could care that much? I do. Someone does. It's in you and you care. But we've got to stop beating ourselves up and consistently not do it.
The album? I love it. Not quite as hooky Black Gives Way to Blue and not as loud as The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, but it sure is a record for when you're going through some serious shit or walk your way out of it. And I wish you well.
I detailed my first Fotocrime concert a while ago if you'd like to check that out; and I hope to go to another soon... meanwhile, as I wait patiently in my little lace gloves and my aviator shades, Fotocrime released their debut album! Check it out on Bandcamp above. On the heels of their Always Night EP featuring excellent tracks such as "Always Hell" and my favorite "Duplicate Days", looking at the cover of Principle of Pain I could sense this was going to move away from the punky moodiness of Always Night and into proper post-punk territory...
Indeed, this album is a lot darker, a bit clean, and pretty damn coldwave anchored by R's strikingly vulnerable baritone vocals sliced with Shelly Anderson's drowned siren call.
I could tell you what it sounds like if you need that -- a little mid-period Sisters of Mercy, a little Pink Turns Blue, a little Clan of Xymox. It bridges the gap between Coliseum's Anxiety's Kiss and the ridiculously danceable "Trance of Love" in a way that makes sense, which is a little frightening. But, I let myself enjoy this over a period of weekends because I was so hype for this album that I backed it on PledgeMusic. Not to brag, but I stand outside my mailbox awaiting my vinyl. Someday...
Anyway, adjectives like moody and dark get thrown about way too much in goth and post-punk because I suppose that's the point, but when I tell you the drums and bass featured here will crush your spirit and your heartache I want you to listen to "Love In a Dark Time" and believe me. I've seldom heard work so open and vulnerable to loss, longing, and pain. The guitars slink, both seductive and already burned. The gravel and clean vocals flit between hesitancy and resignation. It works. It's very evocative of the genre and maybe leans on it too much, but it works.
In the future, I'd like to see a little more of the duet action and a bit more variety in vocal melody. Unfortunately, the same or similar vocal phrasing will make songs sound a bit, well, samey. But I'm confident because I know R is capable of a lot, so hopefully we get to see him flex soon. I'm confident about the whole project and I'm glad, in this sea of synth and darkwave, to see my mode of guitar-based goth slowly dragging its way back up to the surface. Other standout tracks for me include the dark, cobweb-riddled club ready "Gods in the Dark", the rueful reminiscence of "Don't Pity the Young", and the sweet antipatriachy sounds of "Nadia (Last Year's Men)". Lift us up, break us down, and let's do it all again soon!
Twelve years (no shit!) after their formation and the metal community is still out on Ghost.
Are they more gimmick than music? Is T___as F___e running game on all of us? Are they actually metal? These are mere philosophical questions in the end; me, personally, I've outed myself as a metal purist a couple of times so to classify Ghost as, say, "doom metal" is a bit painful to me.
But death 'n doom is what the band pays stock in (in addition to hilarious dark mockery of Catholic institutions) and I'm not going to tell them what to identify as. There are times when I honestly just don't care because the music is good. Ghost especially caters to the part of me that loves camp and kayfabe. I just wrote two fucking heartfelt wrestling entries in a row, I obviously don't take everything super serious.
That being said, I'm going to my 2nd Ghost concert in just a few days here. My first encounter with the nameless ghouls and their Papa was a couple of years ago at good ol' Marathon Music Works. Then, they were leaning heavily into their psychedelic period even as the 3rd incarnation of Emeritus (Papa III) brought in a new era of sleazy late 70s/early 80s inspired cock rock. The floor was hazy, the lights swirled, and everyone smelled like incense. I don't think I needed to bathe for a few weeks. The stage show was fantastic and already gearing towards something a little more theatrical, so for Rats on the Road I'm not terribly surprised they're hitting the theater circuit.
I've held off on video and indulging in a lot of fan lore to be able to enjoy the show as it is: a show. Anything that you have to read three volumes of back story, for example, to "understand" is playing games. But in preparation, I'm taking time out to mistily and fondly remember Ghost's first official album, Opus Eponymous. This record cemented me as a fan for life, is still my preferred period, and the peak moment where gimmick and musicality collided into the perfect mesh of doom, trad metal, and unironic Satan worship. Finally, the music your parents ASSUMED you were always listening to, now made flesh!
All band lore and singer controversy aside, Opus Eponymous still wins me over with its blend of melody, chugging early-Sabbath tendencies, and Gothic horror. Songs about the fallen archangel himself are augmented with odes to Countess Bathory and the Beatles. And... ABBA, because they are Swedish and who doesn't love a good folk melody? Anyway, it seemed like from this point on Ghost could do no wrong and by the time "Year Zero" rolled out they were well on their way to actual annunciation. Popestar and parts of Meliora were steps back, showing off Papa's pipes but not furthering too much else. But even while he new regime under Cardinal Copia (who is NOT using his boom box enough) is giving me Spinal Tap vibes, but I'm hoping Prequelle can turn us around. I'm just hoping by this time next year they will have gone full Queen-meets-Alice-Cooper, utilizing some kind of gilded guillotine as part of the act, no?
Dare I say black-black metal.
Well, ship mates, I intended to do this post a LOT earlier in the month, but like quite a bit in my life this cruel quarter of the year it fell by the wayside. BUT I refuse to be late at least in my own time zone, so I wanted to present you all with my favorite subject to digest during February: black people in places we don't usually belong!
As you might realize from my tags and music posts, I'm a big metal fan. Specifically, speed/thrash, groove, some of the early nu-metal when it was still cool and not at all derivative, industrial (and regular Industrial), prog... I could go on. I am and always will be some sort of metal trash.
But in the year of our lord T'Challa 2018, I don't need to tell you that POC representation in the metal scene is... lacking. Ironically, not really in the audience itself, but still on stage. I and many (many) others whether as hobbyists or professionals do these lists of black people in metal every so often and each year it's a struggle. At one point it was so bad that every black-specific list had to be expanded out to include everyone black and brown for coverage. I feel like for every ten years there is one or two more new bands that crop up. A lot of the problem is exposure but a bigger part of the problem that's KIND of getting solved is simply location. For example, a few years ago we learned that many African countries have quite large metal scenes. Do Americans see this? Probably not. Do people in Canada know about goregrind in China or Trinidad & Tobago? I'm willing to bet "no" unless they're on the look out for it.
So, there's that. What do these lists do? Bring attention to the issue and, hopefully, encourage you to go find more for yourself. Finding lists like this and trailing down the bunny hole definitely helped me find my way as a young'un and made the world seem less lonely, so I wish to pass that on to others. For more, I suggest BandCamp and the extremely arbitrary but useful Metal Archives. For reading I suggest Laina Dawes' What Are You Doing Here? memoir.
Now, before you hit the Read More you might be wondering, why black people specifically? There are groupings of all POC in music scenes out there, this seems a little specific. And the true answer to that is, representation and visibility matter E V E R Y W H E R E, I like to see people like me enjoying the things I enjoy, and lastly, why the hell not.
So here we go, a short list of black-black metal artists that inspired my young life. Oh, and song recs.
Since we deal in a lot of nostalgia here, I must say that I have loved AMVs since childhood.
Growing up, it was a real treat to even get to see a really well-made AMV or anime music video. You knew a lot of time and effort had gone into making them high quality and often I had to wait for my risky download to finish to watch a 3 minute clip.
Some of them even got broadcast on TV, which was so cool. Due to a lot of legal reasons, much like fanfiction, AMVs were and still are quite underground. Curiously, they don't get spread quite as much as fanfiction which makes me wonder if they're losing popularity? Or maybe it's just not worth it to anger the copyright gods for a really cool set of clips.
My old Youtube playlist of liked videos feels like a time capsule. There's so many AMVs from like ten years ago and most of them pre-date YouTube. Especially the AMV Hell compilations.
And like my love of songfics, I love AMVs so much because they thematically link an anime (or western cartoon if you're so inclined) to a song to capture a moment in the show, a feeling, to make something funny, or give fight scenes a really boss soundtrack.
Ia! If you've come this far, you're either looking for weird or you know you've found it...