Thursday, November 19, 2020

Led Zeppelin DVD


  [Someone lost in time once asked me online, "Straight up, bitches. give it to me! What's the deal on those Zep releases, CD and DVD?"]  

   I can't speak on behalf of the CD How The West Was Won (will have to get that later) but I can fill you in on the DVD, mate. It runs at 5 hrs: 20 min of Zeppelin brilliance captured for posterity. It features four concerts nearly in their entirety, plus highlights from some other small venue performances, in particular two or three from 1969 featuring them still green about the ears. The audience members are so well behaved, it's interesting to witness humanity before moshing. Although there are four separate versions of their early staple classic tune Dazed & Confused, the best thing about it is that all four versions are unique enough in their own right to keep you glued to your set through each and every one. 

    Zeppelin were never a band to just show up onstage and go through their sets by the numbers. They would approach their songs from a new angle and in a different light entirely, time and again. The amazing thing is that this band featured only one guitarist, Jimmy fucking Page, despite rollicking riffs + leads that bands today would require at least two if not three guitarists to achieve. 

    Robert Plant is an intelligent being, despite some of you having concluded otherwise. There are several frank interview scenes on this DVD that will not only show this to be true, but also reveal that Plant was one awesome, badass motherfucker. His stage presence was electric, and his vocals unmatched. 

    Jimmy works himself into a drenched sweat at the Knebworth '79 set, played right at the end of their career, before Bonham died & they were forced to break up. Watching Jimmy & Bonham play off each other is fascinating... you really get the sense of how Bonham was far more than just the "rhythm guy"; his contribution with the sticks was as musical as any of the other guys in the band. I just wish the camera would focus on John Paul Jones more often. He must've asked not to be shown too much. His bass on that Knebworth show looked as if it were designed by Klingons! 
   Led Zeppelin were and shall always be the quintessential rock band. The fact they never allowed a single to be released in their homeland only illustrates their genuine standard of preserving album integrity. Can you imagine that-? Yet they managed to sell millions of albums anyhow. That, my friends, is the mark of one serious ass rock band. 

    I actually feel quite sorry for any of you who never "broke through their skin" to marvel at the glory beating underneath this legendary band. These were truly musicians of the highest order, who just happened to be gifted with the skills to do nothing more than rock the fucking world. 

    The Messiahs of Rock are precisely what they were. And they deserve every ounce of worship they get to this day.  

Thursday, October 8, 2020

The Black Labyrinth


The Black Labyrinth {1st impressions review by Thornswrath} 
|2 & 1/2 years overdue: Written on May 31st, 2018 ~ six days after the album dropped

   Jonathan Davis strikes back with a vengeance, I'll say. Today [circa: May, 2018] I listened to The Black Labyrinth for probably the ninth time. This is an album whose legendary status transcends even that of time itself.

   It's the apotheosis of everything I ever loved about Jonathan's artistry, boiled down into one defiant concept album. One of its brilliant aspects is that the concept isn't a storyline with characters, but rather a thematic presentation of the singer's experiences in real life striving to be an individual and retain his sanity in a very dark world that would otherwise compel him into its cult of the masses or drive him completely insane. The music of these thirteen songs ranges from new wave post punk to world gothic, which really lends it the cutting edge necessary to separate it from most other commercial music out there on the airwaves. It really does take a sincere devotion as a listener to pick out all the lyrics from Jon's impassioned singing, and just as it's ever been since his original band's inception a quarter of a century ago, the vivid emotional scenes grab you by the throat and won't let go until the final decaying note.

   What we have here are thirteen songs which explore very different sonic terrains and styles. What I find particularly amazing is how every last song stands up on its own merit. This album fits somewhere on a lost alternative timeline within the same range as Bauhaus, Peter Murphy, Depeche Mode, the Cure, Nine Inch Nails, and most surprising of all, yes the world music of Peter Gabriel. (One of the reasons for this, of course, is that Shenkar, who actually played with Peter Gabriel, lends some of his otherwordly violin playing talent in addition to his bewitching middle eastern vocals to some of the tracks.) Not to mention there are some tabla drum sequences that really take the listener on an extended journey during some key songs.

   Simply put, Jonathan Davis exists at the heart of a deep inner echelon that represents the best and most intense alternative rock music on the planet for me, period. What makes it so wonderful is that it doesn't matter a hill of beans whether anyone else gets it or not. I consider him the pinnacle of outsider, anti-establishment rock'n'roll and an icon in the field that towers above his contemporaries to rub shoulders with other legends that came before him (like David Bowie or Robert Plant, for example). He's in good company with the best of the best, as far as I'm concerned, and a lot of it has to do with his undying devotion to exposing his bare soul in all its ugly twisted honesty and beautiful truth. David Stoupakis, the NYC artist which rendered the artwork for the cover of this album, has one-hundred-percent nailed the essence of the man himself. I now think of him as Saint Jon the Infernal (the savior of rock'n'roll). Without a doubt, Jonathan Davis is my patron saint for the legion of dispossessed, today.

   The Black Labyrinth should satisfy any fan of the aforementioned 80s punk/goth subculture, if they'd only give it the chance it deserves. But hey--as I've already implied here--if they don't bother to, it's their loss, honestly and truly. Although I used to want to share the glory of this music with everyone, these days I'm more grateful for the sneering ridicule and casual dismissal I more often than not get from peeps, because honestly it leaves me with the sensation that this is something special, for my ears and soul only, and to be truthful it's pretty gratifying knowing I sort of get to keep this all to myself. (Nevermind the worldwide fanbase that continues to grow, and occasionally sheds, listeners.) I get "growing out of" certain bands or types of music. It takes a special sort of individual, with arrested development or otherwise, to steep themselves in this sort of extreme mode of expression. How much longer can one identify with defiant teenage angst, right? I myself identify with the spirit of Korn and especially Jonathan's iconoclastic outlook to the point I'm happy to be an acolyte in support of his anti-establishment legacy. He's also got a killer vocal style unlike any other I've ever really encountered. Turns out his lyrics, always revisiting the same corrupted and well-tilled terrain, have evolved to a fertile place that continues growing the blackest and most alluring flowers. This is a melodic narcotic I am completely hooked on.

   The best music, for me, has always been difficult to appreciate on first listens. Conversely, the stuff that immediately grabs my attention, more often than not, ends up leaving my interest just as quickly as it came. Not this album. I have to admit, that at first, there was a modicum of resistance on my behalf, as I listened to tracks whose apparent differences seemed mitigated by a sort of homogenized production, resulting in the illusion that it all sounded more or less the same. This was especially evident in the 30-second clips of every track which served as the "trailer" for the album, before it's release. Although I liked certain aspects of these clips, the nagging suspicion that they all sounded too much alike kept bugging me. The miraculous thing about the album is that only after six, seven, eight, and now nine listens, has it become altogether obvious that each track is startlingly different than the next, yet they do all manage to blend together into a cohesive whole (just like the best albums should). This becomes more and more apparent with every listen. I've also been able to figure out that the best thing about this album is the uncanny fact that what it has to offer isn't just one or two tracks, generally accepted as being fan-favorites, but rather, every song on this album is fated to be someone's favorite track; after processing and absorbing it fully, this conclusion remains indisputable.

   The opening track, Underneath My Skin, sneakily works its coils into you and eventually completely possesses you with it's undeniable anthemic quality. When Jon sings "There's something inside of me, this is my time again!" you don't really figure out the context of how positive the song actually is, until you've run the gauntlet of the whole album, so that after it's over, and you begin the cycle again, that's when the realization has settled in that this opening track is a positive affirmation of personal independence from the parasites dominating the world. But at first listen--the lyrics "Something's crawling underneath my skin I fear, something's dying, rotting deep within"--lend a negative impression to the song, but further exposure to the remaining lyrics, "something's crawling underneath my skin I fear, something's dying, I will not give in", indicate a positive note of personal redemption that anyone struggling through this chaotic life should be able to identify with. At least, I do. 

   2nd track Final Days is a bonafide epic in the "world music goth" vibe, more akin to an evil Peter Gabriel tune than anything, and it does not disappoint. This track is the first indication of what sort of role model our lead singer has fashioned for himself. It has deep connections with Anne Rice's titular vampire Lestat, who Jonathan embodied eleven years ago or so when he penned five epic songs for Queen of the Damned, the vehicle through which he transformed into Lestat on his Alone I Play tour, back in 2007. I witnessed that performance in Los Angeles at the Orpheum, and I can tell you it remains one of the pinnacles of my extensive concertgoing career. That's when Jon played the violin and proved he's an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, and not just a deranged frontman belting out vocals. It's no secret Korn have been paving their way into a corner of the goth subculture for the last thirteen years at least (since 2005's album See You On The Other Side dropped, although I can testify that goths showed up to Korn shows in droves way before that) and this album absolutely leaps onto the goth center stage and demands to be noticed. All the themes this singer has obsessed over during the past twenty years coalesce into their perfect expression on The Black Labyrinth. One could easily argue this album is superior to Korn's output, and I wouldn't blink an eye. It's almost as if the past 25 years in Korn have only been a gestation period ultimately giving birth to Jonathan Davis as a bonafide solo artist, with the release of his debut album dropped in 2018.

   One of my personal favorite songs is track seven, The Secret, where Jon employs what I call his "Neil Diamond voice," one of my favorite vocal modes of his. He uses it to great effect on this track. It's a song to induce goosebumps, featuring a direct, low register sort of growl that conveys its intent with spectacular melodic self assurance. I will never grow tired of listening to The Secret, and now that I've absorbed all thirteen tracks, the same could be said for the album, which arrives with a crack of thunder that will roll out across the alternative music landscape for a long time. This isn't a game being played by some star-struck singer assuming a fake, tortured posture for commercial ends. (You are welcome to nurture that cynical idea, but rest assured, you'd be mistaken.) This right here is the bonafide real deal, one hundred percent raw sincerity from an extremely passionate individual who has something to say about this fucked up world we've all been trapped in, and it’s reflected clearly in the eyes of his legion of fanatic listeners.  (I don't want to go into the remaining tracks on this album simply because its harvest of dark secrets is best left for the listener to discover for themselves, I think.)

   The one alternative rock album released this year that even begins to compare with this, for me, is A Perfect Circle's masterful Eat The Elephant (which I personally believe could very well qualify as Album of the Year, to be honest, along with Laurie Anderson's LANDFALL and Eno's Music For Installations). Except that Jonathan Davis cuts just as deep with his own idiosyncratic personal take on plumbing the depths of the darker side of the human condition. There may be no doubt that Maynard James Keenan takes the prize as the male diva of rock music, with his exquisite vocal enunciations and powerful set of pipes and superb lyrics; but for me, Jonathan comes across with more immediacy and ultimately, just more fun to listen to when I get right down to it. There's something a tad too measured, stately and grandiose about APC, while Jonathan's approach seems wilder and more unhinged and diverse. In the end, this all comes down to a matter of personal taste and aesthetics. I wouldn't dream of ranking the many artists I've become devoted to over the years, since I first discovered rock'n'roll by listening to Aerosmith's second album Get Your Wings, and being led up the plank by the hands of such classic bands as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Rush, Yes, Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath, King Crimson, and then ushered deeper into the underground by David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Brian Eno, and finally after diving off the edge of sanity into the harsher realms of punk, industrial, death and black metal. There's just too much of a widespread variety of excellence across the board.

   One lone figure remains standing amid all of these mentioned, howling in defiance his anthems of pain, loss, misery, hope, sex, and redemption. The lost and lonely prince of despair. The uncrowned king of desolation. The demon child grown up to become father figure and champion of the downtrodden and hopeless, my own personal hero and savior of rock'n'roll, Mr. Jonathan Davis, aka Saint Jon the Infernal. His debut solo album The Black Labyrinth has proven to be everything and more than I could possibly have hoped for. Strangely, considering he's been doing this for twenty-five years already, this solo debut marks the official arrival of a real legend in the realm of alternative music. He's always been a prodigious artist who's constantly writing new songs and developing musical ideas, make no mistake about it. As of six days ago (the official release date of The Black Labyrinth) it's been made crystal clear. Jonathan Davis really is here to stay.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Energizing the Transition


   It's been awhile since I've posted anything here, but a lot of vinyl has slipped into my grasp since then, it would be a rather strange overhaul, I must say, if I could get it together enough to convey the half of it to you. 

   Considering some of it takes shape in 7" form, there's opportunity there for further exploitation in my blog. I should only dream that I could comprehensively cover the variety of seven-inch singles and mini albums that I have crammed into my collection, mostly unused and unlistened to. It's a sad reality overlooking the seven-inchers, they're just not worth bothering for when you get right down to it. I mean, the people who really care just don't represent a significant enough portion of the remaining populace to make a difference, sounds like your presidential elections nowadays, don't it? Ok, nevermind I'm getting off track here.

   Right now I'm listening to the Mario Bros. soundtrack blasting from the deep level my son has gained out there in the other room, it sounds like he's made it pretty far up the hierarchy of foes defeated and traps overcome. It's industrial clairvoyant bouncy digital beat rings in my ears to the point of becoming infectious. This is how possession takes place on a musical scale, with the lifeblood of the heart and soul coursing through it.  A lot of great bands came and went. How would I know.

   All I know is I'm mighty bummed to hear the news that my favorite post-rock band in town, 2-Headed Whale, has flapped its mighty flukes through the primordial depths no more.  They were my favorite band to see live here in town during the last few years, and its not just because every set they delivered was different and devastating, it was because their live performances were transcendent electrocutions of a primeval soundscape the imagination filled in with feverish ease. At least I was there to witness what I consider to be Salt Lake City's offering to the post-rock scene. 

   Listening to them live always sent me into a hypnotic trance deep beneath the waves and somewhere toward the fathomless bottom of the ocean envisioning the lower order of a sunken kingdom thriving in secret synchronicity. An empire of coral forming a sunken cityscape beneath the waves. 

   I'm bummed they may never release their first album on vinyl, as they'd planned on doing. Maybe with some luck, that might still end up happening. Otherwise, 2HW was one of those legendary elusive bands that you just had to have witnessed live to understand. The first time I saw them was at a Crucialfest when they were in a lineup opening for Wovenhand, I think. Memories tend to blur in pre-pandemic times; afterward, they're steeped into legend. 

   Their set was mesmerizing so after its final tones diminished into the distance I went out back on to the smoke deck to introduce myself to them. Ned, his brother Chase, Angela, and Ian are just super approachable and extremely down to Earth people. They were always super cool and mingling with the crowd at all their shows. I'm very lucky I laid down the bucks for the T-shirt, one of only less than a half dozen made, I believe. It serves as a comfortable reminder that this scene really happened and wasn't just a conjured up fever dream in my demented imagination. 

   I don't think I can put into words what 2HW live shows mean to me.  Notice I say mean. That's because the repercussions of those shows are all still slamming into me. The reverberations went that deep. They retired well over a year ago and I'm still listening to the echoes they instilled within my head. [Grayden's got a new project he's been working on as of late, called A Loving Hell, that I"m looking forward to.] 

   Listening to 2 Headed Whale live at Diabolical Records once I found myself feeling as if I were suddenly deep under the sea, on some strange ocean floor's terrain. Their music reached orchestral peaks of descending levels of dissonance that incurred strange and wondrous visions. Everyone in the place was rooted to their spots, entranced by the subdimensional power of Chase and Grayden with Ian and Angela's dedicated input. I stood rooted to the spot before their colossal pillar of sound. 

   I consider 2 Headed Whale to be one of those bands shining bright just as we slid into the turbulent waters of the pandemic. Mix that with politics and you have the recipe for class A world disasters brewing. I saw them perform many times and grew to cherish both the anticipation and deliverance of each one of their unique and devastating sets. In terms of post-rock, Two Headed Whale put Salt Lake City on the map, as far as I'm concerned. 

    Long may our memories of hanging out in front of Diabolical Records waiting to see the fantastic array of local talent assemble for some truly phenomenal evenings of performance art rock unparalleled in our time continue to haunt our dreams and fuel the memories of all the live shows we used to see together. Energizing the transition between us and the next era we've locked with and sliding into. 

   Eventually A Loving Hell will perform at the Metro and I will go wearing my 2HW shirt and my heart on my sleeve. Stay tuned to this blog for future reports to come on a chill crisp winter's eve. 

Monday, September 28, 2020

The Ship: A Song That You Can Walk Around Inside

 If you didn't acquire or listen to Brian Eno's 25th studio album The Ship when it launched four years ago in late April of 2016, you missed out on an altogether extraordinary excursion with Capt. Eno at the helm. I did write a review of it caught in the midst of my first listen, which probably reads like the feverish diary entries of a madman trapped in a lighthouse. There would be good reason for that, considering this album takes you on a journey below the darkness of the subconscious and back into a fresh burst of light. 

Brian Eno | The Ship  (First impressions)     by Shaun Lawton 

As The Ship began streaming from my PC speakers the first thing I thought of was glass. A filament beneath fogged glass. A filament beneath fogged glass lighting up slowly. The light going from warm yellow toward white and then blending through the spectrum. The glass clarifies then liquefies then disappears altogether, leaving just the light to wallow in the vacuum. Pin pricks allow echoes to flower in the darkness. Deep below decks an engine switches on, muffled by steam engines behind sound proofed glass. The lights dance through the bricks of green glass slowly as more sounds come alive.  A symphony wakes up from its coma to gradually stretch out and yawn. The Ship was sprung from a willing land. Echoes of gaseous vapors steam off the surface of a crystal sea. And there's a globe of powdered sand. We live in clothes we wore. Air bubbles elongate as they plummet and drown. The Time is still. The Sky is young. Drawn on towards the gulf of stars whispering. And we are as the undescribed. Reverberations coalesce into an uprising. A voice through a vibraphone speaks. Distant percussion keeps time. My desert in a grain of sand. My life within a day. So stew the storms that some tied. The black plague is sitting. But we are as the undefined. Reeking of the wind. Whispers begin emanating underneath the skin. Shimmering Cymbeline trapped beneath quiet ice. The sail is down the wind is gone. The sky is black with mold. A slave to hope and destiny. Illusion of control. And we are as the unrefined. The waves about us roll. Spearheaded echos of crystal arrowheads repeatedly diminish triggering smaller fishes of their reflections. Awash in ambient protocols diffused in all directions. Sonar tones arise and sink. Submersibles arrive guided by phosphorescent headlamps. Deeper we go while more voices grow, probing our innermost thoughts. Penetrating the sunken canyons in our little dreadnoughts. The spotlights search left and right, revealing all the whispers in bone. The water is more like marrow here. Our thoughts are all we own. Memories ping and rebound off the inner rubber of our skulls. The pressure stretches these interlocking seams. Even deeper we fall further into fissures transformed to trenches. Microorganisms streaming by our windshield. The vibrations of our tectonic crust. Submerged under wave after wave after wave after wave. The last gossip gradually drowns in our skulls as the final light arrives to wink completely out

It now sounds like I've been captured like a mayfly in a lighthouse.  There's a fluctuating lozenge of light that narrows and winks out before flashing back brighter than before. Apparently I was already onboard the Ship and its since launched without my even suspecting it. I feel at the outset as if we've already traveled distances in terms of a fraction of a light year. As if gliding into another dimension crosswise through our solar system. As the clouds form into egg shapes before the dilated pupil of my eye another level of the submergence opens up to swallow us whole. Now I know we've traveled more strangely than I thought. Not backwards in time but laterally. Sending incandescent ripples reflecting intimate alternate opportunities wavering as if dreams offered up for selection. Everyone wakes up from the Ship, shedding its carapace. A single day focused upon through a milky grain of sand. But we are as the undefined breaking on the wheel. Eno's lower register singing conjures what almost sounds like a summoning. A slave to hopes of destiny. Illusion of control.  And we are as the unrefined, the waves about us roll.  The keel of the song's cutting through the fog now as we seem to keep full steam ahead toward an unimaginable shore. Wisps of steam blur by on the surface of the water as the ship's prow cleaves through calm still surface of the sea. 

|ed. note end side A

|side B   The echoing timpani of voices drowning in an evaporating sonic cloud greets us as we're brought closer in tune with the Ship's navigational circuitry hidden behind sleek embedded panels unnoticed by the eye. The Ship's computer has awakened as a surge of power reboots it to artificial consciousness. It speaks in foreign, reassuring tones to what I can only conjecture must be the passengers in some remote area of the fuselage. There's a sense of passing through distant depths, of bells calling up a memory of having once been lost at sea. This is when you wake up talking to yourself. The memory seems to be dematerializing with signal decay. There's a sense of stretching across the dimensions. A feeling of having been unmoored and set adrift on a celestial current on course to an unfathomable destination. The question of the replenishment of oxygen fades from the mind like a fleet of disappearing ghosts. Our inner narrator, pacified to the molecular level, drifts off as he reports the wave after wave after wave after wave of his dissipation into the wind. 

Side C  "Fickle Sun" (i)

This is a new excursion or memory of one but the listener gets the sense he is captured in the belly of the whale this time set sail on a heretofore unprovoked course. And the living's done. We toiled away in the fickle sun. And all the day the wire is spun. And so the dismal work is done.  This song reaches cascading depths of glorious sensurround turning into a drone guitar drifting off into the distance while a marvelous spiraling doom bass effect swirles around the speakers until it morphs into a flowering brass symphony of enveloping tones evoking a stentorian fulfillment of some dubious prospect or other. In the gently flowering aftermath of this destructive storm, all the boys are turned around, all the boys are falling down, fallen to ashes in the ground. Listening to this I can see how easy it would be to take it seriously. It seems to me that Eno is piloting us on the journey of life until death.  In any case it doesn't matter--each listener may take away their own reflective experience from the music--there's a world of subharmonic sound effects filtered into this epic recording to make it a veritable microverse of detail by contrast to my pale remarks. Let me assure you all that this album charts new frontiers in terms of the conceptual space albums are ordinarily allowed to explore. Eno's taken the vision that's been evolving since pioneering ambient music and really directed a sophisticated example of audio cinema verite with The Ship, which by comparison to its visual counterparts evokes the clinical lensing and the shadow drenched noir cinema of my favorite movie directors yet in a thrill-a-second performance that keeps listeners on the cusp of their ears.  

          Side D  "Fickle Sun" (ii) and (iii)

A reassuring male reporter capitulates on the events undergone, presumably, on the aforementioned Ship's odyssey, almost providing an epigraph for a fallen soldier in the aftermath of a war. Set to a languid yet hopeful piano theme. His final concluding words, "The universe is required. Please notify the Sun," segues directly into the Velvet Underground's I'm Set Free. A sudden wonderful cover song from out of nowhere as if we made it alive off the deck of the Ship's maiden voyage. Set free to find a new illusion. And here we have the reflective nature of Eno's tilt to the mirror he's provided, this periscope of a sonic terrain mapping out a virtually impossible journey across time in a shimmering homage to living the life of a dream chased after and found. There's a strange closure achieved in this simple cover, when he croons "let me tell you people what I have found. I saw my head laughing, rolling on the ground, and now I'm set free. I'm set free to find a new illusion." Really a refreshing finale to what has proven to be, upon repeated listenings over the last four years, a truly remarkable and unsettling visionary acoustical work that I'd almost venture to dub post-ambient because, why not? When the man who began the movement remains to continue mapping out the vectors it has previously pushed, watch out! There's a world of flesh, blood, and backbone not to mention a nerve net from whence that has evolved, which is my way of suggesting that Eno's work remains the real deal, the genuine article, and listening to this album is really a trip. It's getting me thinking "what other albums were conceived in order to transport the devoted listener on a journey?" so if anything comes up, maybe a compilation of said albums might appear in a future article here on the crossover vinyl site hidden among the leaves somewhere in the Blogdom of Thorns