Ihsahn-Amr

Ihsahn is kind of a weirdo.  And I mean that as a positive. He was one of the forefathers of the Norwegian black metal movement with Emperor.  They were known for blistering sonic assaults.  Lots of blast beats, orchestration and ear-piercing screams.  Emperor was always a challenging listen. Since Emperor broke up, Ihsahn has forged one of the more unique solo acts going on the metal scene.

Why do I say weirdo?  Well, maybe weirdo isn’t the word I’m looking for.  Maybe visionary would be more appropriate.  Each one of his solo albums is completely unique in its own right, but still captures an essential Ihsahn-type sound that connects all of his albums.  Once he left Emperor, it’s like he just said, “Fuck it.  I do my own thing.  I no longer give any fucks.”  Overall, he has slowed things down a bit.  However, things aren’t necessarily mellow.  This is still, as Ihsahn himself has put it “black metal”, but this isn’t your typical black metal of yore.  There’s a definite progressive element to his sound these days.  Clean singing, keyboards and programming factor heavily into the mix.  He was even one of the earlier champions of bringing saxophone into the world of black metal.

The new release, however, seems to be a step back to his black metal roots a bit.  There is a bit more aggressive guitar work and a lot more blast beats present than on past albums.  There are still keyboards and programming throughout, but there is a sinister center of focus on this thing.  There is an undercut of malevolence bubbling just under the surface.  Seriously, look at that damn album cover.  It’s classy, but there just something not right going on there.  It encapsulates this album perfectly.

4 flip flops out of 5

Babymetal at The Moody Theater at ACL Live, Austin, TX, 5/10/2018

Yep, I went to see Babymetal last night.  And you know what?  If you’ve got a problem with Babymetal, you’ve honestly have a problem with life.  It’s silly.  It’s goofy.  It’s unique.  It’s catchy as all hell.  And above all, it’s a lot of fucking fun.

For the uninitiated, Babymetal is a Japanese group that combines a heavy metal band with the vocal stylings and dance moves of a J-Pop group.  This group is basically the personification of the collective musical fascinations of the punk rock fiancée and myself (me bringing the metal obsession to her fascination with everything Japanese anime, J-Pop and other weird Japanese cultural shit).  As she observed later, knowing Babymetal exists makes her soul happy.

You had a bit of controversy coming into this show as one of the original three vocalists, Yuimetal, hadn’t performed with the band since December and wasn’t a part of the opening night show of the tour in Kansas City.  There was no official word from the band’s handlers as to whether she was no longer in the band or if she was just ill.  For our show, two of the original vocalists, Su-metal and Moametal, were joined by two unnamed dancers.  To be perfectly honest, had I not read about this stuff on the internet prior to the show, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed the difference.

At any rate, you had an over-the-top spectacle.  The backing band is nothing to scoff at.  These guys have some serious metal chops and the music they bring isn’t your average cheesy pop metal drivel.  You’ve got double bass out the ass and down-tuned guitar riffs all over the place.  Over the top of it all, you’ve got these adorable J-Pop girls dancing their asses off in synchronized routines.  Most of the songs are in Japanese, but it doesn’t really matter.  You’ll find yourself just humming along to these melodies all day.

I was skeptical about this group when they first came out, but I get it.  It’s fun and I had a really good time.  And seeing the number of young girls in the crowd, I can only hope that this opens a door for a whole new section of metal fans.  Start with Babymetal and end up becoming a fan of Anthrax or Immortal.  I’m honestly for anything that can act as a gateway drug for bringing new people into the metal community.

Karate

Gimme Chocolate!

GJ!

Sleep-The Sciences

This was certainly a surprise.  The band has been resurrected in live form for a few years now, but there hadn’t been much rumblings of them working on new material.  Appropriately released on 4/20, these long-standing weed aficionados debuted their first new album in damn near 20 years.

I think the most surprising thing about this album is how focused it sounds.  I mean, let’s face it.  These guys smoke a shitload of dope.  Focus is not normally a word I would associate with them.  Their last official album, Dopesmoker, was a single meandering song that goes on for over an hour.  It was the ultimate stoner indulgence and while it had some moments of pure genius, there was a lot of dead weight and musical masturbation throughout.  And seeing them in concert is much the same.  It’s pretty self-indulgent shit.  They are very jam band in their orientation.

So, it’s with this frame of reference that left me really impressed with this new slab of songs.  Each one is a well crafted song with a lot of heft.  Matt Pike contributes some of his more memorable leads.  It’s still stoner metal, but it’s almost as if someone opened a window in the studio and let a little bit of fresh air in.   I just can’t say it enough:  I am really amazed by this album.  It’s present and fresh.  I can honestly say that I think that it is the best batch of songs that they have ever released.  Such a truly pleasant surprise.

Light ’em up, boys.  I think you’ve really earned this one.

4.5 flip flops out of 5

Fu Manchu, Mos Generator and Speedealer at Barracuda, Austin, TX 5/4/2018

fu manchu

Good time stoner rock.  That’s the long and the short of it for this one.  No bad vibes. No bad attitudes.  Just grabbin’ some choice waves, tunes and buds, bud.  YouknowwhatI’mtalkinabout.  I knew that you did.  This was the perfect way to blow off some steam on a Friday evening after a long work week.

These guys aren’t deep and don’t take things all that seriously, but they really bring some serious chops to the proceedings.  You go to a Fu Manchu show, expect to move around a little bit.  You won’t be able to contain yourself.  You’re going to want to boogie a little.  You’re going to want to cut a little rug.  Just give into it and enjoy the ride with these So Cal goofballs.

Laserbl’ast

King of the Road

 

TesseracT-Sonder

Have you ever been turned off by a band simply because of the singer?  Like, you dig their sound, but for some reason, the sound of the singer’s voice just sort of ruins the whole vibe.  Coheed and Cambria comes to mind.  Dream Theater to an extent.  Both bands are really great musically.  But the singers…Man, I don’t know.  They just don’t do it for me.  Technically, they are really good and professional vocalists.  But there’s just something that just makes me go “Ehhhh…that was kind of painful.”  Leprous is another one these bands.  I mean, they’re the back-up band for Ihsahn’s solo shit.  Which is amazing and goes to show what a different singer can do for the dynamics of a band.

I feel kind of shallow and superficial even discussing this topic, but I’m 100% certain that every one of you out there has a band or two in which you feel the exact same way.  I know there are a ton of you who can’t get into death or black metal because the vocals bother you so much.

Which brings us to the album at hand.  TesseracT is a prime example of a band that I feel I should really like, but have never gotten into simply because the vocals bother me so much.  So, with that in mind, I tentatively listened to a couple of their advance singles for the new album and was pretty impressed with the music I heard.  So, I decided to put my shallow feelings aside and really give one of their albums an honest shake.

So, how’d they do?  Ehhh.  It really didn’t change my mind much on these guys.  Look, it’s well-played music and there are some really good cuts on this thing.  You’ve got a very modern progressive metal with a flavoring of the djent movement thrown in for good measure.  They’re like a good version of Periphery.

But, I still just can’t get past the vocals.  There is just something a little too precious sounding about the sound of his voice for me to fully embrace.  For lack of a better term, it’s just not “metal” sounding enough.

So, I’m left here feeling shame for being so shallow.  But, the good thing is that this may be your cup of tea.  If you’re into the modern sounding prog metal bands coming out today, give these guys a listen.  Even though it’s not really my bag, baby; it might actually be yours.  That’s the beauty of music.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Judas Priest, Saxon and Black Star Riders at Freeman Coliseum, San Antonio, TX 5/1/2018

logo

These are the special ones.  The shows that hearken back to the bands that first made an impression on a developing little headbanger.  The shows that feature artists in the twilight of long distinguished careers.  You never know if this is the last time you’ll get to see these guys perform live again.  These are the shows to really cherish.  Especially when a group of senior citizens flat-out obliterate an arena with a blitzkrieg of metal.

40 plus years into their career and they still deliver like a band half their age.  You see some singers lose their high range as they age.  Well, Rob Halford is apparently a robot.  He doesn’t quite move around the stage as he once did, but he hit all of the high notes without issue.  Guitarist Richie Faulkner ably filled the shoes of retired K.K. Downing both in sound and in stage presence.  Uber-metal producer Andy Sneap did an admirable job in filling in for the Parkinson’s stricken Glenn Tipton.  San Antonio was lucky enough to be one of the dates in which Tipton came out for an encore of Metal Gods, Breaking the Law and Livin’ After Midnight.  He looks frail, but it was really nice to see him able to perform on stage one last time.

The set list Priest brought to the table this evening was just outstanding.  They rolled out four songs from the new album, Firepower.  The oldest song from the remainder of the set list was from 1990.  So, it was really a show featuring the vintage Priest material.  All of the huge hits were represented along with some fairly obscure gems like Sinner, Saints in Hell and Tyrant.

Long time NWOBHM heroes, Saxon, opened up the show and also served notice that age will not slow down these metal giants.  Given an hour set, Biff and the boys alternated between a set of new songs from Thunderbolt and their many classic anthems.  Crusader, Denim and Leather, Wheels of Steel, The Power and The Glory and Motorcycle Man were are represented and met with a huge San Antonio reaction.

Judas Priest-Sinner

Judas Priest-Tyrant

Judas Priest-Saints in Hell

Saxon-Motorcycle Man

A Perfect Circle-Eat the Elephant

Well, what can I say about this one?  It’s not bad, but it’s not exactly great.  Ultimately, this album really makes me wish even more that Maynard and Tool would finally focus on finishing their new album.  So, I guess you can say that I’m somewhat underwhelmed by the material A Perfect Circle has come up with on Eat the Elephant.

This really isn’t a guitar album in any way, shape or form.  This is firmly in the alternative realm.  You’ve got a great deal of keyboards and programming dominating the sound.  You’ve got some fairly melancholy lyrics that are pretty spot on regarding many of the social issues going on today.  Maynard’s vocal approach is very subdued and finds him exploring a little more of his higher range than usual.

I think if you’re a bigger fan of A Perfect Circle’s past output than I am you’ll find a lot to like about this album.  It just didn’t hit me in that sweet spot that Mer de Noms did.  Like I said, it’s not bad.  It just fell somewhat flat for me.

3 flip flops out of 5