Thursday, January 28, 2010
PARADISE REGAINED : Thoughts Pertaining To Paradise Lost’s “Faith Divides Us, Death Unites Us” ~ by C-RON from Chandler
This is a bit long. It has been edited down. It is still long. I have much to say and my fingers have the “gift of gab.” You’re not afraid of reading, are you?
Alright…there are a number of metal groups that I just cannot escape from. People won’t let me, no matter how disappointed I’ve become with them. They are just too famous for people to stop obsessing about. As such, they will always come up in conversation. Years go by between releases, but their fans continue to wait impatiently. Whether what they eventually put out is any good or not is apparently irrelevant, as the records will sell in the gazillions regardless, but regardless, fans will fight furiously with one another trying to make it relevant, one way or the other. In the meantime, other worthy bands will go unnoticed by anyone other than aficionados, and the ones that do manage to get a bit of attention and respect are quickly cast aside and forgotten about if they do anything that their fans find upsetting. This is quite unfair, in my view, but I’ve bellyached about this FACT with many a disinterested acquaintance or co-worker enough times that I am sick of hearing it myself. So, why do I bring it up here?
Okay, maybe you’ve heard of a British metal band named Paradise Lost. Maybe you haven’t. They were quite a big deal in the UK and Europe during the nineties. As far as Europe goes, they still are. Not so much here, though, although the fans that they did accumulate in America tended to idolize them more often than not. As near any synopsis of the group will tell you, they were once positioned by the metal press to become the next big thing, or more specifically, “the next Metallica.” It was an interesting prediction, considering that Paradise Lost’s releases were all quite different from one another and that none of the band’s albums were without noticeable flaws, but like that aforementioned “mega-star” act, these guys were very original, imaginative, innovative and daring, and they were, in a big way, changing the metal landscape. They were one of the main architects of not one, but two metal subgenres. They crossed Death Metal with Doom on their earliest records, and in the process went on to become one of the originators of Gothic Metal.
So, after building up consistent praise and respect for especially four of their first five full-lengths, the group decided that they needed a stylistic makeover. It was the mid-nineties. It was time to “get a clue.” It wasn’t long before they became a clean-cut Depeche Mode-inspired synth-pop band. You think some of your favorite thrash metal groups shifted gears? This was a “Cold Lake”-level switch-up. Unlike the Frost, however, Paradise Lost didn’t seem that regretful about their decision to go even more commercial. For a band that had started out as a pretty harsh proposition, they were now quite clear about the fact that they had become “tired of metal.” They lost a multitude of fans, but were adamant that their decision had been worth it.
As I mentioned before, many groups are left behind rather easily if they aren’t big names. This was a band that I felt quite strongly about, but since they weren’t a constant topic, life could go on. They had stopped making music that I liked, and they were seemingly going to stick with that.
That is part of the reason why I am so shocked right now.
There are plenty of “long-in-the-tooth” metal groups who, as of late, have been trying to “get back to their roots.” Some of the results have been laughable. On the other hand, some of those bands are, or are close to, pulling it off. Truthfully, not many have won me over. Personally, I can understand why an artist would feel the need to change things up a bit. If it seems to me that they are sincere in what they are doing, then it is my opinion that they should do it, even if I don’t actually like it. By the same token, if and when they eventually try to head back, I must, once again, question their sincerity. Sorry, but a lot of these rehashes of late seem to be, at least to me, quite phony and desperate. When it comes to the new album “Faith Divides Us Death Unites Us”, however, I have to say that I am simply astounded.
The band were pretty clear, even before starting the recording procedure, that they would be making an effort to make this record one of the heaviest releases of their career. Yeah, I’ve heard that stuff before. I had read that they were making an album with seven-string guitars and with intentionally unfriendly chord progressions. Sure, whatever. They had been heading in this direction for some time, slowly, but surely, moving back into metal territory. However, from what I had heard up until this point, I hadn’t been won back as a fan and wasn’t that concerned.
Now, I just feel like a bonehead. Honestly, how can a group that drifted so far away from this music make an album this heavy and this terrific? How can musicians who were once so defiant and unapologetic in their stylistic shift shift once again to release one of the best metal offerings of their career? The sheer heft, force and quality of this disc make this very genuine “return-to-form” such a surprise for me, and it is because of this record that I have found myself rethinking some of their previous releases, recognizing things that I had missed. I deserve to feel dumb.
If I have given you the impression that this album is just a contrived recreation of their earlier work, let me just state that this is not the case. This release is not a retread, just a return to kicking your ass and squishing your skull. Old dogs will be happy that their human has come home, but this record is clearly focused on the “here and now.” Also, while the group has put more focus specifically on creating doom-laden, weighty and dark material, elements such as atmosphere and depth have not been pushed out of the songs in the process. This IS Paradise Lost, after all. Something that I find interesting about the album is the way that it balances such crushingly heavy bleakness with approachability. As dark as it is, it contains music that is very easy to take in, the dynamic nature of the material keeping the sound fresh while the songs manage to remain compact, and of course, as should be expected, Gregor Mackintosh’s trademark “sobbing” guitar lines are very much in abundance, sticking in my head and causing the hairs on my arms to stand up. Reviews of the release have been, from what I have seen, universally positive, but may be confusing to those who have yet to hear it, with some stressing the heaviness of the material, and others referring to the record as “accessible” (yeah, so it’s not a death/black/grind/shred/noise/sludge/core disc). I can honestly say that I can appreciate it either way. It may not be an instant gratification record, but if it doesn’t register the first time, it will by the second or third. In fact, this is one of those uncommon albums where, for me, every song is special.
If you do know anything about these guys, you know that they are not a party band. You don’t put their records on for a lively night with your pals. It is doubtful that you would want to get hammered, shake your ass, puke up a hot dog, crush a beer can on your head and fall into the fire pit to this stuff. Paradise Lost have always been quite miserable lyrically. Vocalist Nick Holmes has never seemed to have had a problem with being able to convey sorrow, bitterness and anguish in such an understandable, connectible fashion (especially in this case, with the topic of the obstructive nature of religious beliefs inspiring some of the material). As such, Paradise Lost have influenced many, many of whom have influenced many others to such a degree that the genre that the group helped pioneer bears little resemblance to what they themselves have created at any point in their now twenty-plus-year history. As Mackintosh put it, “We coined the term “Gothic Metal” in about ‘88 or ’89. Over the years, it’s become very dilute. Any band with black nail polish now is called “Gothic Metal.” I would say that our new album is REALLY what Gothic Metal is.”
It is tough for artists to get on the right foot again once they’ve tripped themselves up, but every now and then, some pull it off. I remember the excitement that I felt when I listened to Iron Maiden’s “Brave New World” for the first time. Bruce and Adrian were back and the band had managed to make their best record in over a decade. I could not stop playing the thing (no matter how many smirks I received from the condescending snots that I had to deal with at the time). That familiar feeling was exactly what hit me the first time that I played this disc. Suffice to say, I am now overwhelmingly enthusiastic about this group again.
I read that “Faith Divides Us…” sold around 500 copies in the US during its first week of release. Wow, that’s amazing…an average of ten people per state. Granted, not everyone bought a copy that quickly (myself included), but gee whiz! I can’t help but think that this record deserves better. Maybe people will pick up on it as time goes by (“Appetite For Destruction” didn’t sell that well until about a year after its release), but I wouldn’t bet on it. It probably doesn’t matter much, as the band are doing fine elsewhere, but it is still a hard pill to choke down when there are so many groups, who wouldn’t sound anything like they do without the existence of Paradise Lost, who are now thriving. However, I have to say that unlike many other artists who, ultimately, are bound to continue leading their fans on, unlikely to ever make that album that so many followers will continue to wait for (and who, because of this, do not deserve the kind of undying devotion that they’ve received from said devoted), these guys have crafted a piece of work that is really worth getting excited about. I feel like it is much more worthwhile for me to blog about this one than about something else that is already going to get tons of promotion, press and attention. If you are a fan of Opeth, My Dying Bride, Celtic Frost, Dark Tranquillity, Type O Negative, Moonspell, Katatonia (who were, at one time, quite open about emulating the group) or even Black Sabbath/Heaven & Hell, you should look into this one.
Seriously, I can be a hard guy to win as a fan. I am also hard to lose, but I am definitely hard to win back once I’m gone. In this case, though, I AM back, because, well…so are Paradise Lost. My favorite metal album of 2009, without a doubt.
Posted by Zia Records Blogs at 8:13 PM
Monday, January 25, 2010
Have you ever laid your eyes upon a perfect piece of art and just felt so much behind it that it leaves your thoughts completely and utterly bound to it? I know I have. I grew up spending many nights gazing at the stars and said to myself “that is perfection.” Even to this day, it is still true. Despite the downfall of the worlds economic stability and the troubles and trials we all are suffering through each day, one thing will never change, the beauty of space. I thought such perfection could only be found amongst the stars, but that all changed once my ear caught a glimpse of a present voice. Well, aside from my lovely girlfriend, I am speaking of the voice of Glen Hansard.
Now, I’ll admit, I had no idea who he was before I got my job at ZIA Records, but the moment I discovered his voice, it was impossible to be content with a single cd. I was first introduced to him while listening to the Into The Wild soundtrack, which is another great piece of work done by Eddie Vedder. I was checking on iTunes for similar styles to the Into The Wild soundtrack and stumbled upon Hansard through the “people who bought the Into The Wild sountrack also bought” link they have in the iTunes store. The moment I listened to his song ‘Say It To Me Now’, I was hooked. It begins with soft singing and the struming of his old takamine acoustic guitar in a slow pace, but erupts into a burst of very loud beautiful singing and a quickened pace on the guitar. After hearing this, the next day, I bought the soundtrack to the movie Once which is a movie Glen Hansard starred in and made the music for.
I was left wanting more after finishing the soundtrack and was VERY pleased to find he had his own band he is in also called The Frames. Together, they have done 6 cds and I’m hoping they’re working on their 7th. The thing I love most about Hansard's style is his passion for the music is present in every song, and he writes them all himself as well which is something many artists don’t do these days. It’s more personal listening to his music and a great experience to hear his unique style of singing. My favorite song he has sung is the song 'True' on The Frames ‘The Cost’ CD that was released in 2006. The lyrics are brutally honest and the vocals at the end are enough to empty my expression on my face and drown out my thoughts into the song.
If you’re a fan of powerful and moving vocals, great instrumental playing, and unique styles, Glen Hansard is my TOP recommendation. Check out ANY of The Frames CDs or even the 'Once' soundtrack or 'The Strict Joy' he recently released with another artist he worked with named Marketa Irglova. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
Posted by Zia Records Blogs at 10:14 AM
Is it just me or has there been this FOUL stench lingering on rap the past 5 years Eminem was gone? Like he says on his new "Relapse : Refill" song 'Elevator', “I can’t believe I leave for one brief second and you pussies queef all over the rap game naked.” I have endured many countless arguments when it comes to the unjust opinion that there are better mainstream rappers than Eminem. THERE isn’t. And he proved it in his return to the rap game with his cd, "Relapse".
For the years Eminem was gone, all I began to hear was this infectious and annoying style people were calling “rap.” Autotune. It still is present despite his return, but since he has made his appearance again, REAL rap feels like it’s making a way back into the mainstream again. I mean, yes, there was already Jay-Z maintaining the original style and other good rappers such as Nas, but the fact Eminem has more fans based on his number of sales, just feels like he’s filling in a pretty big gap on bringing rap back.
Many of the current fans don’t know this, but Eminem has been sober now for 19 months from drugs and alcohol. He got heavily into drugs and depression, which caused him to hide away for quite some time, but when he came back, he did it with a flare and an entire new look. He got out of his sweat pants and blonde hair and went back to his natural color and is now wearing denim to all interviews due to the fact his old style “is an image of his past” as he put it in a recent interview. But aside from physical appearance, he also has a new way of rapping. In my opinion, his present style is refreshing and something new. A lot of fans find his new Slim Shady voice annoying, but I think it’s great. It helps distinguish between both the Marshall Mathers side and the Slim Shady side in songs.
Most of 'Relapse' was all Slim Shady style…therefore, a lot of the joking voice and a hell of a lot of offensive material. He chose to do it as a tribute to Proof, his past friend that was shot and killed who always liked Eminem better when he was being funny and letting go in his rhymes. But in Eminem's re-release of 'Relapse' with 7 new songs, we find Eminem is heading more towards an Eminem fans missed. A lot of of Marshall Mathers voice comes out, in which case you can feel the emotion and the anger that was once present in his “Eminem show” and “Marshall Mathers” albums. Also, the more Eminem is recording, the BETTER he is getting. His rhymes are getting so sick these days, I don’t see ANY mainstream rapper ever catching his trail. Listen to songs like “Music Box” on the new cd and you’ll see what I mean. Especially when you get to the 3rd verse where he lets it be known he has his OWN flow and style and trust me, it will NOT be easily duplicated or outdone.
Another song to check out online is a Lil Wayne one featuring Eminem called “Drop The World.” Lil Wayne's part is ok, but Eminem didn’t hold ANYTHING back on this one. In a way, you can say he has a habit of murdering rappers on their own songs as Nas would say about Eminem's talent when he did the song ‘Renegade’ with Jay-Z. The fact of the matter is, sober or not, Eminem was always a great rapper. But I HIGHLY encourage any old fan, and EVERY person who reads this to check out Eminem's "Relapse:Refill" CD. It’s a small prelude to what is coming up in his "Relapse 2" he will be releasing hopefully this year. And trust me, "Relapse 2" will be great. As Eminem said about "Relapse 2" in comparison to "Relapse 1", 'making Relapse, I was still working the drugs out of my system, so there was a lot of...just jokey shit. It was a lot of punchline-y, funny, shock value—kind of going back to The Slim Shady LP. And that was cool, but I've kind of flipped the page. Now I'm going for songs instead of one-liners. I don't want to make shit that you hear once and then the joke's over; I want to make records that you could play a hundred times, a thousand times'. And that stretch he’s making towards going for songs instead of one-liners, it’s apparent that is EXACTLY what he is doing when you hear the Refill songs.
You won’t regret buying Refill if you already bought the original Relapse. That is, if you’re a true fan of course. I know I am.
Posted by Zia Records Blogs at 9:41 AM
Monday, January 18, 2010
On January 9, Zia Records on Eastern in Las Vegas hosted an exclusive in-store performance by Motion City Soundtrack. Zia fans were treated to 9 songs at an exclusive performance at our store! MCS stopped by our store after an appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show. MCS were on a promotional tour and decided to do some record store only free shows!
The band started playing around 6PM. The set list included fan favorites like “Let’s Get Fucked Up and Die” as well as songs from the new record “My Dinosaur Life” like “Worker Bee”. MCS has an incredible relationship with their fans. Between each song they answered questions and let fans songs they wanted to hear. After the extended set the band signed auto graphs for every fan in attendance. If you are a fan of Motion City Soundtrack and missed this in-store you should be bummed because it really was a special event.
Posted by Zia Records Blogs at 1:16 PM