Tuesday, 19 March 2013

A crash course in discouragement.

It's been a while since I posted up any blogs, I would go into the many myriad reasons why but then I would lose myself down a hopeless tangent never to return. Instead I want to write about something else. You see, I knew that when I wanted to blog again that I would need something really interesting, really striking and really mind blowing to hook the masses to my musings. So what did I pick? Mortgages? Are you kidding me??? Why in the name of God's holy hand grenade would anybody want to read about that? Well please do read on anyway as I certainly wouldn't be writing about it if I didn't think there was anything worth sharing.

It wasn't so long ago that I has leafing through the sheets of the Metro Herald when I came across an advertisement for a free mortgage information evening, it was pretty damn hard to miss as the advertisement took up the entire page. I figured I might as well go along since I have done zero research into the prospect of buying anything. So before I knew it I found myself in a nicely decked out function room in the Stillorgan Park hotel surrounded by people from  all walks of life, young couples, old couples, entire families, some from around here, some from further afield and of course a creepy looking bearded man sitting on his own, oh wait, that was me.

There were three presentations, I'll spare you the details of them and mention only the things that struck me (no, they were not throwing things). There first was a man who did his utmost to pitch this idea that the economy was taking the first formative steps towards recovery. Where had I heard that one before? The one point he stressed over and over again was that Ireland was "open for business", the point of his presentation was to restore confidence in ourselves as consumers so that we would stop worrying about our job security and just buy already, kind of like those people who bought during the boom and are now in arrears.

Despite my cynicism I should at least give him credit inasmuch that he delivered his presentation with enough conviction that he was able to convince the audience that he at least believed his own words. Whatever optimism he was able to establish however was quickly shattered when the third presentation took the stage.

There stood at the podium a smartly dressed young woman looking out over the well attended boardroom surveying each and every person from all walks of life before stopping at me and throwing me a wink.

Okay that didn't happen.

"I realise" she began "that there are many people here with different circumstances, whether they are first time buyers or selling their existing homes or whatever the case, so I'll make this information as broad as possible"

Fair enough, I think to myself. By the way I'm paraphrasing, I can't be expected to remember every single word given all the beers that have passed through my system since this occasion.

So she went through the whole deal about mortgages and all that stuff and junk and now we are finally arriving at the reason why I wrote this blog. Are you still reading? Okay good.

She wanted to give a broad yet typical example of a fictional couple who wanted to buy a house, how much money they earned, how much they would have to pay and so on. Notice how screwed I am already given how they are only dealing with couples and not single folk such as myself, it's almost as if they were trying to say only couples could afford houses and that I should find a wife as soon as possible only for this purpose.

Anyway they came up with a fictional couple named Mark and Lisa.

"Mark makes 50,000 euro a year" she said ever so nonchalantly.

If attendees heard some sort of dull thud after that admission it was my jaw hitting the floor. This guy makes 50,000 a year? That's what they think men are typically earning? I would give my left nut to be making that much!

"Lisa makes 40,000"

Holy shit, they're both minted! Notice how this example automatically assumes that the woman will be making less than the man? That's right Feminists, I'm throwing you a bone here. While you're feasting on that meaty goodness let's continue with our example.

"Mark and Lisa, having paid the bills have a take home pay of 5,089 euro"

Fuck me in a handbasket, that's their spending money?

"They want to buy a house worth 390,000"

I reckon that would either get them a boxed room in Killiney with a lavatory they have to share with at least ten other homeowners or alternatively they could go to Cavan and use it to buy the Quinn estate.

So she went through what they would have to pay each month for the house at the end of which they had disposable income of 2,067 euro.

Isn't that just grand? I thought to myself, that's a perfectly sustainable way to live isn't it? Yeah maybe if you're a manager in one of the few businesses left in this country that can afford to pay you that much. Are the organisers of this event insane? Have they completely lost touch with reality? Granted, there are people in this day and age making that much but surely they must know they're the exception rather than the rule?

I left the evening utterly despondent. There is no way I could ever afford a mortgage being a single man earning a lot less than 50,000 a year, even less after taxes. The only way I can buy a house that is even remotely habitable is if I sell off my organs. As the old saying goes, misery loves company, the fact that income like this is considered normal by these people makes me think that somehow I'm the only one not cashing in.

I didn't have a chance to ask them questions after the presentations even though I could have. I had to rush to the Gresham Hotel for a series of speakers from unions who had walked out of the talks between the government and other trade unions as they hammered out the points of the Croke Park Agreement II "The troika strikes back". Why didn't I write a blog about that you ask? Well if you can figure out the kind of warped logic that lead me to make that decision, then you win a prize!


There is no prize.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012


The turn of the millennium saw the final release of the band known as “At the Drive-In”, the name of the album was “Relationship of Command”. Merging elements of various different genres, it was one of those bands that were difficult to characterise. Not quite heavy enough to be considered metal but loud and frenetic enough to make many fans in that genre, At the Drive-In represented a different kind of attraction from many other bands at the time. What was undeniable however was that there was a progressive element in their music which made them exciting to listen to.  Many of their compositions would sound chaotic and disjointed, almost like a band indulging in a random jam rather than playing a coherent structured song but they would always have a catchy tune underneath all the sonic mish-mash that gave each song its identity. Choosing to abide by Cobain’s iconic logic of burning out rather than fading away, the band split up soon afterwards.
                Two of the members however, Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodríguez-López, chose to take the pioneering sound that characterised At the Drive-In and take it to new heights and beyond with a band that formed out of the ashes of At the Drive-In; enter The Mars Volta. Featuring lengthy compositions often segmented into various parts with an overall lyrical theme, The Mars Volta really explored to the full the progressive potential first hinted at by At the Drive-In. The Mars Volta saw Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez turn the weird notch up to 11 with psychedelic riffs and lyrics that were so far “out there” that one could sometimes have trouble knowing what language they were speaking.
                I’m not here to chart the band’s history though; I’m here to review their fifth studio effort “Octahedron”. Released in 2009, this album had to follow four full albums of progressive and truly unique material and would have much to live up to a fan base conditioned to expect the unexpected. The result is a fairly subdued effort in which the band have embraced more melodic material instead of their usual complex and disjointed output. “Since we’ve been wrong” starts the album off on a mellow note and sets the tone for the album that follows.  “Teflon” and “Halo of Nembutals” would offer fans more of what they were familiar with; it features the usual messiness along with a slightly off-time drum beat.
                The centrepiece of the album is “With Twilight as my Guide”. This is a beautiful melodic piece with a great tune. Many listeners may be frustrated by the fact that it never leaves 3rd gear, nonetheless the appeal of this song is infectious.
                The album finishes with “Luciforms”, this is a slow burning example of progressive mastery. Starting as a slow and almost haunting rhythm it then kicks into the kind of discordant atonal guitar work which really should sound terrible but yet strangely doesn’t. Indeed, the band very much base their sounds on a collection of dissonant atonal noise and allows them to coalesce together to form a tune, indeed it’s difficult to imagine how these songs were written.
                Despite some worthy offerings, this album has to be their weakest yet. It’s not a bad album, none of the eight songs on offer here are in any way bad, it’s just that they have done so much better. Most of The Mars Volta’s previous work was more dynamic, more varied, a lot more progressive and exploratory. They offered much more for progressive aficionados to sink their teeth into. It’s difficult to know whether I would recommend this album. If you are an existing fan then you will find a lot of the elements of the band you know and love to be found here. If you have never heard them before, this might be a good place to start seeing as its probably their lightest and most easily accessible offering yet, just don’t listen to this with the assumption that you are hearing the absolute best they have to offer because it only gets better from here.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012


Hello again! As promised, there now follows the review of Fleshgod Apocalypse's second album. How do they think up these names???

I had never heard of Fleshgod Apocalypse when I went to see them in Dublin not so long ago. All that I knew was that they were described as symphonic technical death metal, meaning that they incorporated symphonic elements into grinding death metal with a fast, frenetic and often technical style. Basically, If Decapitated had sex with Dimmu Borgir, the resulting progeny would be these guys. Being a fan of the aforementioned I was willing to give this band a chance and went into this gig blind, meaning, I hadn’t heard any of their songs.
                Selling for a reasonable price of 10 euro, I elected to buy their second album “Agony” before they went on stage. When they finally did, I found their sound to be chaotic. Their songs were too fast for me to be able to make out much of it and all of their output sounded kind of the same. Having consumed a lot of alcohol by this point, I simply assumed and I was too drunk to make out anything going on onstage. Good thing, I thought, that I had bought the album so that I could have a proper listen. It turns out though, that’s the way they normally sound anyway.
                To be fair, Fleshgod are talented enough musicians in their own right. Francesco Paoli’s drumming is insanely fast, seriously, it’s not even human; an Octopus on steroids could not do a better job. Franceso Ferrini’s piano and orchestral work add a great deal to the band’s sound. Grandiose and layered, Ferrini’s contribution gives the band a somewhat epic feel and will serve to remind listeners that beneath the blast-beat drumming and brutal riffs, there lies a discernible tune. Not only that, the orchestra links each song to each other resulting in the album sounding like an unrelenting juggernaut of noise and brutality. Guitar solos too add to the mix along vocal contributions from various band members resulting in a mix between death metal growling and a ludicrously high pitched clean voice.
                When one combines ridiculously fast drumming, blasting guitar riffs, solos, growling, clean vocals, keyboards, piano and orchestra, you get a band that is throwing everything including the kitchen sink at you. This arrangement will no doubt appeal to people who like their music fast, loud and grandiose however where the album really suffers is its lack of versatility. For all that can be said about a relentless sonic pounding, there are very few hooks to any of the songs and not a whole lot to differentiate one from another.
                When you come across an album where all the songs sound too similar, you inevitably search for something different and favour it. This is very much the case with standout tracks “The Egoism” and “The Forsaking”. The Egoism slows down the pace of the music dramatically, instead of sticking to the mind meltingly fast music that has characterised this band; they shift into a slow, deliberate, heavy yet ultimately catchy riff. The centrepiece of the other standout “The Forsaking” is a haunting piano piece that lingers in the background. Slow, deliberate and moody, this was the song they finished their set with when I saw them. I don’t blame them; it is a suitably grandiose yet forlorn way to end a set even if it is not the finish of the album.
                So all in all, I have mixed feelings about this album and this band in general. On the one hand I see in them great potential since they are talented musicians individually but their style is too fast, too reckless and too monotonous for my liking. If you like music to be uncompromisingly loud, fast and heavy you’ll love these guys but if you seek variety in music you might be disappointed by what’s on offer here.
                Where the band goes from here will be interesting to see, will they explore the vastness of their potential or will they couch their credibility in staying true to who they are right now? I hope it’s the former.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Unto the Locust

In 2007, Machinehead released their 6th studio album "The Blackening" to widespread critical acclaim. They would not release another album for four years. Finally in 2011, they released their long awaited follow up album "Unto the Locust". It had quite an act to follow but was it worth the wait?

"The Blackening" was a landmark album in many ways. When Machinehead released "The Burning Red" and "Supercharger" there were many who wondered what had happened to the heavy old school feel that the band had demonstrated from their first album "Burn my Eyes". It wasn't until 2003 when "Through the ashes of Empires" was released that the band finally started going back to their roots and rediscovering what it was that made them so well respected. Guitar solos returned, song duration's lengthened, their structures became more complex and their guitar work started to embrace old school thrash influences with driving riffs, and two part guitar harmonies.

The logical extension of this direction reached it's zenith in "The Blackening". This album represented a band at the height of its creative abilities and represented a level of musical maturity that their many fans had longed for since "Burn my Eyes". "Unto the Locust" therefore had big shoes to fill. Fans of Machinehead's new direction will be pleased to find that many of the aspects of their sound can be found in "Unto the Locust". With a tracklist of seven songs (not including the three bonus tracks) many of whom lasting seven minutes and over, this album retains the progressive grandiosity that made "The Blackening" such essential listening. The guitar work is positively dizzying throughout the album with riffs spiraling effortlessly throughout a musical maelstrom that will leave any fans of metal salivating for more.

By far the standout performer on this piece is Rob Flynn. Since "The Burning Red", Flynn has perfected an identifiable vocal style in which he screams and sings in unison creating a gritty melodic roar that allows him to display raw power while following a discernible tune. It's interesting to see just how high pitched he can be on their cover version of Judas Priests "The Sentinel" available as a bonus track. Not that the rest of the band don't pull their weight either, Dave McClain pulls no punches on the drums while Adam Duce and Phil Demmel complete a lineup of tightness and intensity.

So what are the standouts on this album? Hard to say really due to the consistent high quality of what's on offer here. Certainly "I am Hell" is a worthy introduction, starting off slow and heavy it then breaks down into the speed-metal we've all come to expect from Machinehead. "Be Still and Know" features a dizzy array of guitar work while "Unto the Locust" provides the kind of catchy sing-a-long anthems which is sure to provide a favorite among live audiences. The "Darkness Within" would perhaps remind fans of the band around the time of "The Burning Red" and "Supercharger", slow and melodic, it builds to a climax and is undoubtedly the most commercially accessible track on the album, this track is available in acoustic form as a bonus track.

It all leads up to "Who we are". This song continues a theme familiar in Machinehead's previous work; defiance. Consider the first song on "The Blackening" "Clenching the fists of Dissent" with lyrics like "Rise up and take your stand, and curl the fingers of your hand", consider also the first song on "Through the ashes of Empires" entitled "Imperium" with lyrics like "Fuck these chains, no goddamn slave, I will be different". This lyrical theme crops up once again on this song, it's a generous "fuck you" served on a silver platter dedicated to all those wrong with society today.

So in summation, is this the best record Machinehead has ever done? No. Does it compare to "The Blackening"? No. But was it worth the wait? YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! It may not compare to the previous effort but it's a damn good attempt and it leaves me optimistic about the band's future and is an easy recommendation from me.

Anyway, that'll do it for this week. Next week I hope to have a review set up for the Italian Synth-Techical-Death-Metal aficionados FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE and their second album "Agony". Should be interesting to say the least!