Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Korn - The Path Of Totality

As dubstep gradually attacks an increasingly more general public and moves ever-forward towards mainstream acceptance, much to the chagrin of “purists” (also known in some circles as “twats”), it was only a matter of time before it infiltrated the metal world in a way beyond simple remixes and the odd wub-wub in an Enter Shikari track. With that in mind, who could’ve guessed that Korn of all bands would be the first to the finish line? And not just with a one-off collaboration – a full length album marrying dubstep and metal in blasphemous matrimony? Considering the patchiness of Korn’s career (last year’s fantastic return to form with Korn III: Remember Who You Are not withstanding), you’d be forgiven for going into this album expecting utter ridiculousness. And not the good kind. And yet, equally, it makes total sense. Korn have always in their greatest moments operated in the low-bass-frequency that dubstep almost exclusively inhabits, and their patented grooving, staccato riffs that ultimately gave birth to nu-metal have often centred around that ballsack-swinging tempo that is so paramount to the “filthiest” dubstep drops in the world (let the record show that I have lost at least twenty-seven respect points for myself by making use of the utterly meaningless terminology dubstep fans shamelessly use to describe their beloved genre while still claiming to have perfectly functioning penises. And we wonder how the Tories got into power). On paper, this has more than enough potential to be fantastic. In practice? Let’s have a look then.

Before we delve in, a few things must first be made clear: a) This is not just Korn with a bit of wobble. It is a full on melding of two different sounds – b) Nothing else on this album is as strong as lead singles ‘Get Up!’ or ‘Narcissistic Cannibal’ – and c) You are probably going to be a little disheartened on first listen. I make the last point simply because the aforementioned singles had this pegged as one of my most anticipated releases for the whole year. When ‘Chaos Lives In Everything’ kicked into the open the album however, I couldn’t help but feel my heart sink a little. The authoritative Jonathan Davis that was showcased on those previously mentioned tracks is this time replaced with a slightly limp sounding 40 year old man self-indulgently whinging through some of the most adolescent lyrics you’ll hear in 2011, and while I recognise that Davis has never been the kind to offer insightful lyrical gems to live your life by, there’s something just a touch too tedious about this. Thankfully, ‘Kill Mercy Within’ and ‘My Wall’ pick things back up a little, fully opening up a new side to Korn that they have in all honesty been sorely needing for a good while now. It all just builds up to the impact of ‘Narcissistic Cannibal’, which is one of the best songs Korn have written in years, absolutely brimming with vocal hooks and a groove built for the clubs, whatever they are. Elsewhere, ‘Burn The Obedient’ and ‘Let’s Go’ are two massive highlights, the former an addictively twisted piece of electronic nu-metal that sounds like the kind of thing Gary Numan would come up with if he did a dubstep experiment of his own, the latter an example of the more restrained and atmospheric side to this album, with shades of Mike Patton and Trent Reznor weaving throughout. Unless you’ve been living in an opium den for the past few months, you’ll have probably heard ‘Get Up!’, which is the album’s call-to-arms anthem and undoubtedly a future Korn classic. It remains the strongest point of the album, and that chorus is going to sound larger than Davis’ belly itself when they hit the UK in 2012. The album is not without its fair share of chaff however. ‘Illuminati’ and third single ‘Sanctuary’ womble along with all the charisma and energy of Nelly The Elephant, and come across similar to how it felt to see Darth Vader in Revenge Of The Sith – looks like the blackest brother in the galaxy we’ve all come to adore, but don’t even try to be badass with a script as poor as this, mate. George “Flaccid” Lucas, I hope your scrotum one day gets stuck in a bear trap. Anywizzy...where was I? Ah yes. Despite the low points, the successes of this album vastly outweigh the failures, and Korn still manage to finish on a high yet moody note with the epic (the actual meaning, not the other word people to this day use to describe anything not even remotely epic ie. “this ciabatta is FUCKING EPIC”) ‘Bleeding Out’.

The problems with this album, while few, are undeniably evident. One is of course the consistency of quality, but the other more glaring problem is simply the lack of cohesiveness on show. Given that a total of seven different producers of the electronic world collaborated with Korn on the album, it often sounds muddled and confused, suggesting that had they perhaps stuck to one producer (love him or hate him, Skrillex is the obvious choice. The strongest tracks on this album are his. The boy’s got an ear, accept it) then the experiment would’ve gone much further. But that’s what you have to remind yourself going into this album: this is an experiment. And it is, for the most part, a very successful one, and Korn should be applauded for trying it if nothing else. They’ve struck the proverbial new ground and have, for better or worse, opened the floodgates for any band to dip their toes full on into the dubstep world. While granted this will give way to a veritable flood of mediocre bands making even more mediocre music than they already do, the hope is in all cases like this that we’ll be able to find the few pearls within the hoards of phlegm. Here’s the original pearl – hold it and its creators in high regard. Korn deserve your respect once again.

[7/10]

Thursday, 17 November 2011

A Day To Remember - Manchester Academy, 15th November 2011

A Day To Remember are just one of those bands. You can lump them in to varying degrees with Asking Alexandria, Paramore, You Me At Six and all of these bands that the scene queens attach themselves to: you see them in Kerrang! every week, you see their t-shirts on the bodies of be-fringed teenagers on any given weekend in Liverpool, and don’t even try going to a rock club if you want to avoid music of this persuasion.

But nonetheless, there is something oddly heart-warming about A Day To Remember. They have gone from strength to strength since their humble beginnings in 2003, only getting bigger and bigger as time has gone by, their success never waning by even the slightest margin, and they have done all this without relying on any kind of discernible image, controversy or pretentious values. Here is a band who write dumb songs with massive hooks and they bloody well know it. Here is a band who feels no shame in doing so. Here is a band who seem scarcely aware of their own success.

Predictably, Manchester Academy 1 is packed out tonight and as such you can practically smell the anticipation (or at least you could if these cock-knocker’s ever got a wash. Seriously chums, even I smell better than you, and I appear to be one of only three males with long hair in the room. Stereotype’s be damned). The old ‘dropping-the-curtain’ routine is one of my favourite techniques bands use in the live environment, and the sudden adrenaline rush when the curtain drops and ADTR [8/10] launch into ‘Sticks & Bricks’ from last year’s bordering-on-flawless What Separates Me From You is just ELECTRIC. It’s a ridiculously strong marking of the territory for them as a band, and the first time that stirring chorus kicks in sends shivers through your entire body. There’s nothing quite like that sense of community you get from being part of a crowd that’s just as loud as the band. Elsewhere, the hat trick victory of ‘All I Want’, ‘I’m Made Of Wax, Larry, What Are You Made Of?’ and ‘All Signs Point To Lauderdale’ is practically genius. The sheer amount of sing-along moments compacted into those ten minutes is enough to make you feel like you’ve collapsed a lung, and you barely have time to give a fuck before ‘Mr. Highway’s Thinking About The End’ sends you back into literally rubbing shoulders with complete strangers once again (and struggling to maintain anything resembling “balance”, whatever that is). Tonight’s highlight award however goes to ‘This Is The House That Doubt Built’, for nothing else but the sheer amount of chills it conjures up. In what has been the only “light” moment of the set so far, every last lyric rings true in the ears of nearly 2000 fans who for the next three and a half minutes all feel like part of a family. If you’ll allow me to get all serious with you for once in my life (it’ll only last a few lines, fret not), everyone in the entire flipping universe has some aspects of their life they’re not happy with. Whether you hate your job (or lack thereof), you’re struggling with education, there’s something not quite right with the family or you’re just sick of being single, we all have our own struggles, and that’s one of very few things we all have in common, at any stage in our lives. This is a song that not only highlights that, but gives you the means to battle it. The lyrics, while predictable and clich√© on first glance, connect directly to the centre of your heart, and the sentiment isn’t lost on anybody. “Forget everything just for tonight, we’ll sing like everyone when their alone”. Don’t mind if I do Jeremy, mate. You fucking lovely bloke.

ANYWAY. Back to more pressing matters. From here on out it’s crowd pleasers galore. ‘It’s Complicated’ and ‘Homesick’ (which Jeremy uses as an opportunity to jump into the crowd. IN A MASSIVE INFLATABLE FUCKING BALL. How much of a legend do you have to be?) are absolutely superb, as is a lovably danceable ‘The Plot To Bomb The Panhandle’. After an encore of an astounding rendition ‘If It Means A Lot To You’ and the obvious finale of ‘The Downfall Of Us All’, replete with happy breakdowns and balloons, ADTR exit the stage leaving a very palpable sense of a job well done.

If tonight has opened my eyes to nothing else, it’s how much kids genuinely adore A Day To Remember. Despite being one of those annoyingly cynical minded folk, even I couldn’t help but lose myself in the unmistakeable feeling of fraternity that came with being in that audience. It’s at a live show where these songs come to life, transforming into much, much more than metalcore infused pop-punk anthems that are easy on the ears to make a bus ride seem shorter. Beyond the fact that they’re commercial as fuck and it’s absolutely no surprise they’re the size they are, tonight is the first time I’ve seen the success they’re enjoying and wholeheartedly believe they deserve every second of it. There is not a shred of pretention in sight among them. It’s not often that a band in this realm of the genre can embark on two UK tours in the same year and completely sell both of them out. That’s how truly massive they are, and that’s how much love people the world over have for them. They will make outstanding festival headliners one day. No questions asked. I called it first. Nur-nur.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Opeth - Manchester Academy, 11th November 2011

Opeth are among the most reliable bands in heavy metal. Critically acclaimed the world over for consistently releasing some of the most intelligent and forward thinking metal the genre’s ever seen and sustaining an over 20 year career with all the humble candor of music’s most seasoned veterans, you can always rely on Opeth to deliver the goods, whether it’s through redefining your perception of progressive music every time they deliver another batch of inimitable genius or simply through being one of the few bands in metal who don’t take themselves very seriously at all (it defies belief, I know).

However, if you pay attention to the chin-stroking muso side of things then you’ll know Opeth divided opinion fairly strongly with their latest offering, Heritage. Abandoning metal completely for a swirling, hour long tribute to the rich, analogue tapestry of 70’s prog, it’s an absolute tour de force of completely bonkers music. This of course is the Heritage tour, and as such, a large percentage of tonight’s setlist is dedicated to the albums schizophrenic melancholy. The pints are in, the speck is chosen, and the merch is plentiful and surprisingly cheap. All systems go.

After Pain Of Salvation [6] fail to incite any emotion from an impatient audience whatsoever despite boasting a fantastic singer in Daniel Gildenl√∂w and pulling off absolutely mesmerizing three-part vocal harmonies with not a shred of effort in sight, Opeth [7] practically stroll on stage following the obligatory “eerie intro tape” and launch straight into ‘The Devil’s Orchard’, the immediacy of which is at once both rousing and completely fucking stunning. The band are on fine form and, don’t tell anyone but, they’ve only gone and found themselves a bloody hook line in “God is dead” haven’t they? Following this is the gorgeous ‘I Feel The Dark’, which absolutely typifies the sound and ideology behind Heritage down to the ground, beginning with that simply divine acoustic guitar refrain and promptly tumbling into Opeth’s evil, signature brand of prog rock – and THAT riff sounds effing huge in the live setting. ‘Face Of Melinda’ sounds absolutely wonderful too – but it’s in ‘Porcelain Heart’ that there’s a distinct change in the room. About 3 minutes in, the band lets up and Martin Axenrot launches into a ridiculously unstructured drum solo that goes on for literally about five minutes. This is the exact point in which a set that has so much potential to be genuinely spellbinding transforms into an absolute snoozefest that occasionally shows signs of picking up, particularly in the downright groove marathon that is ‘Nepenthe’, but never sticks around for long.

Usually when a band pulls out the stools and the acoustic guitars during a show, it’s at the point where you’ve been bombarded with so many hits or crowd pleasers and you’ve screamed your throat out so much that even you need a rest. Opeth don’t seem to adhere to this school of thinking, and instead bring them out when your inner mosher is practically pleading: “Please, just play some fucking metal”. Nonetheless, Opeth play some deep cuts from seldom visited albums during this portion, so it’s not all bad, and ‘Closure’ from the beautiful Damnation album is legitimately sublime. Finally, the pace starts to pick up a little with ‘Slither’, one of Heritage’s highlights and a poignant tribute to the late Ronnie James Dio, but again this hardly lasts, and by the time ‘Hex Omega’ comes around, you’re sincerely bored, and you don’t even feel bad about it anymore. ‘Folklore’ rounds off an evening of mixed emotions and eventual bitter disappointment, with only the true die-hards lashing praise upon the band as the venue exits open.

Opeth themselves know better than anyone how confusing Heritage is even to those who enjoy the album, but it seems like they’ve made no real effort into integrating the new style naturally into the setlist and weaving it into all the qualities that made people fall in love with the band in the first place. Instead, tonight feels like song choices have literally been picked out of a hat and flung together with no real consideration for order, balance, peaks or themes. It’s not that the band are bad tonight – truth be told, they’re magnificent; the sound is near spot on (which is more than can usually be said for Manchester Academy 1), the musicianship is of the highest quality and Mikael’s voice is shockingly good. It’s just that it feels more like an exhibition than a gig. You feel, on more than one occasion, like you’re being forced to endure the whole spectacle out of sheer politeness, of all things. Having said that, Opeth have never been the kind of band you turn up and beat the ever loving shit out of each other to. But when you’ve got a pint in your hand and you’re mixing with the more metal side of the underbelly of the Northwest, sometimes all you want to do is bang your head a bit. It’s just by the time an opportunity for such an activity comes around, you’re already far too underwhelmed to even bother, which must be how women feel when I roll off them and assure them I’ll be “better next time”.

Sort it out, boys. Do your prog thing, but just remember – half the reason most of your fans love you is because you do metal better than 99% of bands on the planet. Don’t sack the genre that made you off completely.