An Auditory Experience

Every now and again here at Pigeon Towers, usually while we are cleaning out the cages of those ex writers who cannot again face the outside world, we attempt to have some kind of editorial meeting.

Sometimes these affairs take the form of long despondent howls of ennui towards the moon that form a kind of mantra, the end result of which is a vague agreement that we need to do stuff. Sometimes these are full on enthusiasm rages that produce reams of notes on things that we can do to envelop the planet with the brand of Demon Pigeon. All of which, naturally, come to nothing. Which is why you have yet to see Demon Pigeon flavoured condoms, Demon Pigeon thongs or a great big zeppelin hovering over the great metropolis of Swindon playing both halves of the new UFOmammut album on constant repeat through a series of antiquated speaker systems.

At one of these such meetings, the idea surfaced briefly of us doing a podcast. This idea was shot down fairly quickly in a flurry of protests, most of them quite legitimate. We are singularly incapable of creating anything more complex than stream-of-consciousness ramblings in type. We cannot use technology (remember when we said we were going to redesign the site?) and we are, all in all, far too shambolic in our engagement to put our minds to such a task. It was folly.

But now, while a Demon Pigeon Auditory Experience is no closer to reality than Jesus, one of our fine scribes (Mr Will Downes of making Testament fans angry fame) has gone and found some people who aren’t quite so utterly incapable of facing the world and gone and made a podcast with them. We would say that we’re jealous, but the truth is we are all just relieved that this means we won’t have to do it.

The podcast is called Meavy Hetal and you can find the first episode below, and ‘like’ them on ‘the Facebook’ here. In the first episode there’s some very good songs from the likes of Origin, Testament and other such bands, there’s an interview with York based up and comers RSJ, and some general banter and stuff. I think it is very good, and not just because I hope that if I say that then they’ll invite me on next week and allow me to play a 20 minute long Colour Haze song and a 30 second long Pig Destroyer one.

Wo Fat – The Black Code

(Small Stone)

I’m going to go ahead and label Texans Wo Fat the most dependable band in rock. Four utterly belting albums into their career as bona fide vintage stone rock riffwrights, they show no particular signs of changing gear. And why should they?

Global interest is peaking in these underground stalwarts, with appearances at Roadburn and Desertfest on the slate for April 2013. Meanwhile, stone rock seems to have some vague cachet with the hipster elite at the moment; so if you want to get in on the ground floor of something and trump the scene-chasers at their own game, now’s the time.

Thing is, the music biz being what it is lately, Wo Fat are asking for some help to get their trans-atlantic riff-trip off the tarmac. On their Kickstarter, you’ll find a bunch of exclusive loot for contributors, as well as a promise of a full European tour built around their gigs at the two main tentpoles of the stone rock season. I’d recommend kicking in some money, because everyone should just do what I say without really even thinking about it.

Anyway, The Black Code.

Solid. Dependable, like I said. Wo Fat set out to achieve an idealised form of heavy duty 70s rock, drawing on all the mainstays you’d expect: Hendrix, Sabbath, Grand Funk, etc. As usual, though, there’s a heavy tendency toward loose, jammy builds and tapers, rolling through hazy riffs, swerving grooves and hot, dripping bass fuzz. Wo Fat don’t muck about with pop songs, either. Three of the five tunes here top 10 minutes.

In essence, you’ve got five ultra-tight, crushing hard rock tunes, bobbing about in a swamp of moody psychedelic blues. Sleep of the Black Lotus, for example, chimes in with a minute’s worth of drifting chords and rumbling toms, before popping into a groovy verse-chorus-verse song-type thing, and then beginning what, for any other band, would be the traditional outro climax. Here, that’s just the prelude to another riff, a fresh groove. As it turns out, we’re only halfway through the track.

Shard of Leng, by contrast, loads the jamming front and rear, sandwiching the two-minute sing-song bit. It does more or less all the same things as everything else on this album, so I can’t really tell you precisely why Shard of Leng is my favourite song here, but it is. Maybe it’s just the way the different sections emerge out of each other, or maybe it’s that the riffs are the best. It’s good, okay.

Lost Highway and Hurt at Gone don’t really muck about with the jammy stuff. The former is a meaty five-minute rocker with a throbbing bottom and an elasticated chorus, while the latter is not unlike Phantasmagoria from their last record; another chunk of heavied-up bar room blues, except the bar is sinking into a quicksand of PCP and LSD.

That’s about as much as I have to say, because like it or not, Wo Fat do what they do, and they do it very well indeed. If you like what they do – and of course you do – then you should like this.

Also, click the link and give them some money because I want to see them live.

www.kickstarter.com/projects/wofat/wo-fat-is-going-to-europe

www.wofat.net

Between the Buried and Me – Parallax II: Future Sequence

(Metal Blade)

In 2011 Between the Buried and Me released the EP Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues, the first part of a conceptual work which is now completed by Parallax II: Future Sequence. At a running time of just over 30 minutes Hypersleep Dialogues is a minute longer than Slayer‘s Reign in Blood which would seem to blur the distinction between EP and album until you compare it to the massive 72+ minute space opera of Future Sequence. While both parts of Parallax share conceptual continuity and a common style there is no doubt that this is the more successful sibling and arguably BTBAM’s masterpiece to date.

I won’t pretend to understand what’s going on with the story. It’s all very sci-fi and begs questions about the nature of the self, using quantum realities or something. I’ll get back to you when I understand it, in a year or two. It’s pretty much Schrödinger’s Cat Lies Down On Broadway. The important thing is the music and they seem to have condensed three hours’ worth of the stuff onto one CD.

Goodbye to Everything is a short intro with strummed clean guitar which leads into the prog metal fanfare of Astral Body. The atmospheric scene-setter followed by balls-out overture is a tried-and-trusted rock opera device; see QuadropheniaThe Wall or Dream Theater’s Scenes From A Memory. We’re very much in prog/prog metal territory but never before has it been so densely packed, so unpredictable and yet so cohesive. BTBAM graft on a dizzying array of styles to the main prog trunk, taking in death metal, surf music, Vaudeville pastiche and any number of homages to the compositions of Frank Zappa.

Extremophile Elite features Eastern microtonal sitar-like melodies, sounding like Home from the aforementioned Dream Theater album. The Black Box, with its piano backing and clean harmonised vocals, comes across as a sci-fi Anathema before a swell of synthetic strings and palm-muted arpeggios swirl and drag us headlong into the maelstrom of Telos. The first of three stand-out tracks, Telos is part technical death metal, part jazz fusion workout, part prog metal of the Porcupine Tree variety.

Telos is, as I’m sure you know *checks Wikipedia*, the Aristotelian concept of the ultimate destination of a goal-driven process; and the fact that the many facets of this track coalesce to form a cohesive logical whole reflects the concept rather neatly. Coming at approximately the mid-point of the album, Telos feels like the pivot that holds the album together. Its position marks the point where, rather than flagging under the weight of dense material so far, the listener’s attention is boosted and, like a projectile in gravitational slingshot, propelled onward for a stellar closing act.

Melting City, the second of the stand-out tracks, keeps up the mind-bending technicality but amongst the finely crafted unison playing a hook emerges, an actual honest-to-goodness earworm: “Faceless in a sea of space/My propulsion from their pain”. For all the instrumental brilliance on show throughout Parallax II BTBAM never lose sight of the important centripetal force of melody. It is what holds the chaos in check and stops the listener’s mind from waving a white flag and ejecting itself via the air lock.

It’s a good thing too because after almost an hour of being pummelled into near-submission you’re going to want all your faculties for the climactic 15 minute epic Silent Flight Parliament. Clean and growled vocals merge and conflict to convey the duality of the protagonist’s identity. I think. Each section of this monumental track urges the next incessantly forward, culminating in another unlikely earworm, sing along now: “Jet propulsion disengage/Dancing towards our future”. Not the catchiest of phrases I’ll admit but it’ll burn itself into your brain like a coronal eclipse on an idiot’s retina.

The album is rounded off with a 2 minute reprise of Goodbye to Everything. After a 72 minute trip into outer and inner space, you’d be forgiven for thinking there’d be a fair bit of listener fatigue. Not a bit of it. The interest level is kept high throughout such that Parallax II:Future Sequence seems to be about half as long as it actually is. After over a dozen plays I’ve still not come to grips with the music or the story. This is an album which will continue to grow with subsequent listens. One of the best prog metal releases of the year and an instant classic of the genre.

http://www.betweentheburiedandme.com/

Pig Destroyer – Book Burner

(Relapse)

You know that moment when somebody from the so-called ‘real world’ takes a vague interest in you, and you find yourself suddenly forced to justify yourself and your ludicrous tastes to a bona fide human being? Perhaps you are talking to someone at work and they ask about what you like, or god forbid a ‘normal’ of the opposite gender shows an interest.

You cringe inwardly as you watch their face fall in disappointment while you try and mumble something vaguely coherent about the fact that you like films where people get brutally killed a lot, or that you have a collection of what most people call toys, or that you read books that either have spaceships or trolls in them, but never books that have both trolls and spaceships together. Or that you paint tiny figurines and then make those tiny painted figurines play your friend’s painted tiny figurines. Or that you measure the success of an evening by how many new niche porn sites you have discovered and by how encrusted your sock is. Or, worst of all, that you like music that to the outsider sounds roughly akin to throwing a set of instruments down a fire escape while a man shouts a confused commentary of the event.

In the event you have to undertake this explanation, there can be few genres as difficult to justify to an actual human being than grindcore. After all, with hardcore you can talk breathlessly about things like ‘unity,’ death metal you can talk about musical dexterity, stoner fans have ‘the groove’ and the fact that Black Sabbath are still considered vaguely cool. Thrash fans have a reference point most people understand in Metallica. Even Power Metal fans could even mumble something about Tolkien while they wonder in amazement that someone is actually talking to them and they’re not even logged into World of Warcraft.

But grindcore? Music so chaotic it is barely comprehensible, vocalists obsessed with stalking and misery and rage, and song lengths so short that you couldn’t even put your drink down in a club before they’ve ended, let alone make it onto a dancefloor to do ‘a mosh’. Oh, and the bands have names like Pig Destroyer. Try explaining that to a ‘person’ and see how long they want to carry on talking to you.

It is this very sense of bewilderment, of course, that makes grindcore so appealing, and there are few bands as adept at engendering that self same bewilderment as Pig Destroyer, who for well over a decade now have honed a genre most associated with Napalm Death’s short sharp shocks in their own image. That image is one that harks back to the original Black Sabbath blueprint of ‘horror movie music,’ although where Sabbath were a reflection of the haunting ethos of seventies horror, Pig Destroyer are a day-glo modern slasher, replete with torture scenes, questionable gender politics and cartoonishly violent dénouements.

‘Book Burner’ is the new album by these masters of grim, and over the course of nineteen tracks Pig Destroyer take every brilliant thing they’ve ever done, do it all over again even faster and then spit it out at you in a blur of ludicrous dexterity before grinning maniacally and scaring the living bejeesus out of you. Owing much more to their brilliant ‘Terrifyer’ than the so-so ‘Phantom Limb,’ they seem to have realised that while ‘songs’ and that are all well and good, what we really want is the sense of being beaten around the face with a bag full of smashed crabs. The guitars are like daggers, raw stabs of perfect precision. The bass is all groove and low end, and the drums are as dizzyingly incomprehensible in their approach to time signatures and the general laws of physics.

But it is as ever the vocals of J.R.Hayes that make Pig Destroyer stand out from your average grind band, sounding as they do like the last howls of the criminally insane cult leader. You have no idea what he’s on about half the time, but you sense that that’s probably a good thing, since those bits and pieces you do get are like little windows into the mind of someone you should probably stay on the other side of the street from. In case the intensity of grindcore’s most entertainingly unhinged frontman weren’t enough, he’s also joined at various stages by Jason from Misery Index, as well as Richard and (*swoon*) Kat Katz from AgNos, who all do their best to fill your head with howls of insanity.

Over the course of its near 33 minutes, ‘Book Burner’ is unrelenting, unfathomable and unerringly entertaining. If you are looking for something to talk about with, y’know, people, then maybe not. But if it is catharsis from spending time in this unrelentingly horrible world you are after, look no further.

On Public Relations

Games journalists have been getting upset, and it’s all TV’s Robert Florence’s fault.

After a year of watching ‘journalism’ receive an overdue public bollocking, following decades of editors cheerfully wiping their filthy arses all over the rulebook, it’s weird to think that there are people who are still trying to fit the debased crown of ‘journalist’ on top of their silly, misguided heads. As soon as games journalism comes in for a bit of the Leveson treatment, suddenly everyone’s shrieking ‘corruption’, which has got the games writer elite up in arms. What on Earth happened?

In an article for Eurogamer this week, Florence pointed out a number of examples where corporate cosiness has undermined the ‘journalism’ of particular games writers. For the severe crime of hinting the line between the enthusiast press and the PR agents feeding them content might be too blurred, he receives an apparent threat of a libel writ from Lauren Wainwright, writer for such ethically-sound organs as Gamespot and The Sun. Meanwhile, armies of games mag staffers and their Twitter groupies – hoping for a scrap or two of freelance as reward – are mobilising punchy defences of their profession.

The worst of the bunch immediately dam their ears to all suggestions of self-reflection and quickly move to portray themselves as low-paid honest brokers, just trying to encapsulate their feelings about children’s computer games for the enjoyment of the rest of us. Some make hilarious jokes about being loaded down with PR loot, as if anyone is suggesting the situation is as simple as ‘free stuff = good review’. Some cretins label the entire thing a ‘conspiracy theory’.

Florence himself, meantime, gets the offending parts of his Eurogamer article subbed out of existence, and consequently, he resigns from the column. At the same time, John Walker of the never-knowingly-proof-read Rock Paper Shotgun gets all self-loathing about it, then calls the whole affair ‘a disgrace’.

It’s a fucking fuss and a half, I’ll grant him. But as usual, everyone is wrong but me.

The problem is that enthusiast ‘journalists’ (games writers, and by extension, music writers, film writers, etc) are just an arm of the PR industry. That’s what we are. Suck it up. We’re not ‘journalists’, we’re a promotional tool.

In order to gather content for our various publications, we build working relationships with people who want to get featured in them. Most PRs won’t pick up their ball and take it home if you don’t play quite the way they want you to, but it can happen. And speaking from my own lowly experience, once you properly piss someone off, then bang, there goes your access, nine times out of ten. Fair enough, I say. Why should a PR waste their time and money on someone who upsets their clients?

That’s an untenable situation for a print magazine or an ad-supported website, though, because both rely on monies from the very entities they are supposed to be criticising in order to survive. Nobody really believes that advertising departments carefully oversee all editorial decisions, but the conflict between church and state, so to speak, is all too real, and well-documented with examples. To pretend it just doesn’t happen, as many journalists do, is disingenuous.

In an ideal world, everyone would be happy, readers and advertisers both. But then you’re instantly forced to tread a line between writing whatever you want and conforming to what conventional, received wisdom, the kind that slips out undetected, tells you should say to avoid upsetting people.

Of course individual ‘journalists’ don’t think they’re compromised. Of course individual PRs and publisher reps don’t think they’re exerting undue influence over writers. That doesn’t mean they aren’t. In most cases, I would dare suggest, the cosh never even needs to be applied, because by and large, it’s simply taken as read that there’s certain things You Must Not Say.

When Lauren Wainwright lists consultancy work for Square-Enix on her CV, while also heavily promoting Square-Enix’s forthcoming misogyny simulator Tomb Raider on her personal Twitter page, she can just handwave that as a simple expression of her personal enthusiasm for the game. What’s more, she can be thoroughly convinced that this is the case. That she is just doing her employer’s PR work for them, by clothing herself in approved marketing materials entirely of her own volition, is apparently lost on her; just as the lessons are lost on Mr Swag and Mr Conspiracy mentioned above. Never mind that it makes them look a bit like they might be for sale, they’re all just really looking forward to Busty Spelunker Adventure Part 10.

John Walker, meanwhile, exhibits a few admirable principles in Florence’s defence, recalling moments in his own career that could be considered ethically dodgy, and then inviting criticism for it. But then loudly exhorting that he can’t actually be capital-c Corrupt because he hasn’t got the energy for it is mealy-mouthed, naive and childish. Objectivity is precluded by the job you do, Walker. You’re not engaged in the pursuit of truth, you just write down opinions that you have had about kids’ toys and hope someone will buy them off you. And you can claim not to care about your advertisers all fucking day long, but I bet you’d start caring the minute they stopped paying your rent. Get out of your pulpit.

And that’s what has really annoyed me about all this: An absolute insistence on dismissing criticisms of the established business practices of journalism as ignorant, paranoid wool-gathering, and this coming from those who have the most invested in the status quo (Walker included).

To a degree, though, they’re right. It’s not their corruption that’s infecting the PR-journalist system, it’s precisely the opposite. This is the system working as intended: Driven by unspoken motives of profit, bending everything it possibly can to that end. Nobody conspired it, it just grew this way over the course of decades doing business, until pursuit of profit was written into its DNA. These journalists are compromised by the very organisations they’re a part of and they rigidly refuse to see it.

So when Rab Florence gets told off for exposing the inner machinery of enthusiast journalism to a cursory examination, leading his employers to immediately censor him, shoving the author himself even further outside the journalist clique like an organism rejecting a foreign body; and when John Walker conspicuously and proudly declares himself no longer impartial enough to provide reviews of a particular company’s games because he sucked the lead programmer’s dick last weekend, just remind yourself of the following:

The system is working as intended.

Mono – For My Parents

(Temporary Residence)

If post-rock is essentially soundtrack music – and I’d argue that a) it most definitely is, and that b) that’s no insult to the form at all – then Mono are the sine qua non of the aesthetic, an exemplar and boundary condition at once.

The unasked question in that definition is “a soundtrack for which film?” I’m no student of cinema, but it takes little imagination while listening to Mono’s latest album (or any of their older stuff, for that matter) for me to see the grainy nostalgia and herky-jerky newsreel antics of the pre-digital past unspooling in front of your mind’s eye: flags, marches and monuments; the shuddering flanks of a steam train, glimpsed through smoke and top-hats; the muted pomp and sepia ceremony of empire, back before empire became a dirty name for a game whose popularity still hasn’t waned among its foremost players. There is yearning for a poorly remembered past here, but it’s bitter-sweet, state-funereal – a lament for the pastoral lost, while the mountains breathe snow down the back of your neck. (Or, for those frustrated by my attempts at poesy: it’s like Explosions In The Sky, but soft where they are brittle, and blurred where they are bright and hard of edge.)

This is an interesting example of projection, of course: Mono, being Japanese, probably have very different sources in mind (if they have any at all) than my own interminglings of interwar Pathe footage and the pinched faces of poverty that peer out from civil planning textbooks. But that’s the beauty of instrumental music: the foreground is left clear, so you might project your own narrative onto the grainy yet shimmering surface of the soundfield; that I find myself doing a sort of steampunkish bricolage says more about the cultural flotsam in my head at the current time than any sincere effort of Mono’s, or so I very much suspect. That said, there’s probably room for someone more steeped in Japanese culture than myself to draw out the latent similarities with Britain: I feel safe enough in suggesting that they have a lingering nostalgic conservatism in common, not to mention a troubled relationship with their imperial pasts, and that the stately melancholy of Mono’s music speaks to that complex of emotion, albeit without words.

So perhaps that’s the true magic of post-rock done right: all the affect, none of the narrative. Texture, emotion, motion, space, time… Mono sculpt these abstracts into mountainous landscapes of glacial beauty, and stubbornly refuse to litter them with anything so transient and hollow as language. ‘For My Parents‘ has no killer riffs, clever lines or devastating hooks; those are the brash techniques of portraiture. Here instead are depth, contrast, the play of light and shade: a space to explore in the company of solitude. Step through the frame, and lose yourself.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

( Constellation)

There’s always been some debate in my head as to whether Canadian instrumental noodling oddities Godspeed You! Black Emperor (you have to get the exclamation mark in the right place, or people will shout at you on The Twitter) are maverick pioneers who delight in breaking down the barriers of modern popular music, or utterly self indulgent indie hipsters who wouldn’t recognise a melody if it came up the them, shook their hands and said ‘Hi, I’m Melody.’

Over the course of nearly a decade they pushed the outer boundaries of ‘post-rock’ with meandering songs that mostly last longer than time itself, and which at times manage to fall into that magical place where the only response the listener can have is to stare listlessly into space and think about the absolute futility of all existence. Which is nice. The rest of the time, however, they are the sonic equivalent of talking to someone who has cats or children about their attachment to them. It’s all very nice and you can kind of see the point, but you’d rather be doing almost anything else. After a handful of albums and almost the same number of songs, they disbanded, possibly after a conversation that revolved around whether they were all wearing the wrong type of knitwear.

After a hiatus of a decade where they all individually decided their previous work was somehow too mainstream and all went off in search of musical endeavours that were even more obscure and meandering, Godspeed are back, with the not-at-all-gratingly-hiply-monikered album ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!’ This album is of course only available on vinyl, and possibly only if you order it from the back of a Humus truck in Vancouver on a chilly morning before the bakeries open and you are wearing the right lapel pin on your corduroy jacket and you are friends with Ryan Gosling.

The four tracks split into two halves, each with one long sprawling twenty minute epic that reminds you exactly why you liked Godspeed before, followed by a pointless, shorter (relatively speaking, this is still Godspeed after all) song that reminds you why they annoyed the living piss out of you as well. Opener ‘Mladic’ starts with a portentous build up that has a definite tinge of eastern influence, its frenetic freewheeling mood somewhat at odds with my memories of them, and very welcome. It doesn’t really go anywhere with the motif it uses, but then it doesn’t really need to. Gradually layers of violin drop in, the beat goes on, the guitars drop back and it transforms into something quite beautiful. Then the final five minutes crank up the bombast, and you can’t help but think that a decade away was exactly what this band needed, because this is pretty bloody good. At which point, of course, they go and shoot themselves in their collective feet.

The grammatically challenged second track ‘Their Helicopters’ Sing’ may only be a fraction of its predecessor’s length, but its brevity does not mean they are suddenly flirting with traditional song structures. Far from it, this is nothing more than a dull traverse of a flat field of noise. Herein is everything frustrating about not just this band, but every band who followed in their footsteps. Drone without anything to make it more than that. You can just sense the band sitting in their studio, eyes shut in manic concentration as they hold onto an atonal collective note, convinced somehow that this will transcend into something profound. Maybe they did, but the profundity fails to make the leap across to their audience, and after six minutes I’m massively relieved to be confronted with something approaching a melody.

The second half opens with ‘We Drift Like Worried Fire,’ and while it takes a little while to get started, when it does it reveals itself as a haunting and epic bit of loveliness. While they may have practically invented the scene they now find themselves in (or at least contributed amply to its foundations) you can tell that they’ve not been oblivious to the bands that followed in their footsteps, most notably the Scottish band who you should never, ever feed after midnight. Much lighter in tone than the opener, it is delightful, sprawling and grandiose, which makes the fact that they follow it up with the woeful ‘Strung Like Lights At Thee Printemps’ all the more disheartening, seeing as it actually sounds like they left the room with feedback going and forgot to press the stop button on the recording console until the cleaner came in ten minutes later and knocked it with the duster.

As a return from a much loved and lauded pillar of the underground then, you could say this does an effective job. No doubt fans of the band will be heartily pleased as they clutch the artwork to their knitwear and knock their skinny jeaned knees together in sheer joy, their lenseless glasses fogging up with excitement. As a standalone album it is an almost complete representation of a band’s strengths and weaknesses, their ability to find moments of beauty, then muddy those moments in pointless tracts of noise. At turns bewildering and boring, this is a welcome return, if not always a convincing one.