Monday, June 25, 2012

Los Vengadores!

When a friend went to Bilbao recently, she came back with a back issue of The Avengers in Spanish. And, what is more, a Stan Lee/Jack Kirby original from 1978 (at least in Spanish form)! Here are my favourite panels.

1. A leopard bouncing off Captain America's shield. Great idea, kinetic execution, love the typography

2.Hank Pym/Giantman is so happy to see Captain America return safely from safari that he gives him the bumps. Hank - this is not doing your modern reputation (post-Ultimates) as an overcompensating jerk any favours, mind you.

3. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver have secret identity clothes in the same colours and patterns as their costumes. Genius. Also, and ditto, the Avengers advertise for new recruits in the paper like anyone else.

For some reason (grr Blogger) these next two panels won't upload the right way up, but I loved the surrealism of the hammer-circle in the first and the Kong-isms of the second.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Bonus Butcher Babies feature - satirical caption competition

Recently I wrote about Butcher Babies playing to the boob gallery in Metal Hammer and the rather sad things that says about the magazine, the band and the subculture, in that order of culpability.

In the interest of light relief, I've decided to run a quick caption competition to 'improve' the BB poster the magazine gave away as part of their Road to Download feature. Sometimes satire is a better response than po-faced critique. 

Here's my best attempt so far to get you started.

The rules: no misogyny, be funny, judge's decision final. All suggestions by end Monday 25 June. Best three suggestions included in the blog next week.

This week's links - deconstructing Limp Bizkit and Download

Stop. Being. Tits - awesome article from @Eve_Barlow about depressing, rather coercive culture of boob-flashing at Download. 

"I’m not going to paint a picture of rapey tragedy - some of the girls were up for it (if you consider Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo up for it) but many looked hesitant, almost reluctant and caved into flasherdom at the very last second."

It's good to know someone else - with a considerably bigger readership than me - is flagging up that while metal may be awesome it maybe needs to resit feminism 101 at some point.

And more Download, with a review by Bryce (AKA @Wreckferretzero) parts one and two. 

"On Kyuss: Song. Silence (to get their breath back & drink water). Song. Silence. Song. etc... He did say thank you just as he left the stage. That was it."
And finally Richard Warrell (AKA @TheRamblingElf) deconstructs nu-metal through a highly enjoyable academic analysis of Break Stuff by Limp Bizkit

"Instead of offering a full-fledged alternative culture for audiences to immerse themselves in, Limp Bizkit’s nu-metal sound left its ideological definition open and vague, defining itself only as being in opposition to many mainstream, conformist ideals, but not offering any alternative approach."

Somewhere right now, Fred Durst is stroking his chin in ponder-satisfaction.

Metal listening suggestions for Magpiemoth

I've been handed a lot of suggestions for metal bands to listen to and feed into my exploration of the music. Or in a few cases go back and listen to more closely if I remember them first time around.

Thanks to Gio, Mark, Rach and Tom for the following

[Deep breath]

Adrenalin Mob 
Cavalera Conspiracy
Dream Theater
Faith No More
Linkin Park
Machine Head
Megadeth (the old stuff) 
Obituary - Cause of Death
Prong - Beg To Differ/Cleansing
Slayer - Reign in Blood
Suicidal Tendencies
Tool - all the albums (though I guess Lateralus is the big one?)
Trivium - Ascendancy
Within Temptation

I was also lobbied to include hardcore - but it feels culturally and ideologically if not necessarily musically quite a different space from metal so I'm going to park it for now.

No Metallica, curiously.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Metal Hammer Butcher Babies Poster Headdesk Incident

Yes, I'm still writing about Metal. Yes, I'll keep going until I run out of things to write about.Yes, other topics will no doubt intrude from time to time.

There are so many difficulties in critiquing a subculture from the outside that – you know what? – I'm going to explore it a lot more before I write the 'metal and gender politics' piece that's bubbling away at the back of my brain.

Having said that, I feel that I'm on fairly safe ground when I ask: Butcher Babies poster – WTF Metal Hammer?

Do a Google Image search for Butcher Babies - there's ... ah ... more striking images than this, to say the least.

I mean. Think band fronted by blood-spattered women with gaffer tape over their nipples. Think self-proclaimed 'slut core'. Think poster in a magazine aimed at a (with qualifications) mainly young male audience.

You might as well cut out the middleman and sell the fish in the barrel their own ammunition.

To be clear though, I'm not arguing on grounds of good taste, or of prudishness. Why would I need to use either when this is selling sexism pure and simple? A false, limiting equation of sexual license with empowerment. An alienating image to be dangling in front of either gender.

And for the record, I can imagine a context in which the BB's imagery wouldn't be exploitative. Where it might actually be an interesting comment on the commodification of sexuality. I'd be curious to know if the band are playing this card in their defense. If anyone can track down any interview statements to that effect, that would be interesting, but they're undermining their own case by playing to the boob gallery in Metal Hammer.

Perhaps strangely, I'm rather more disappointed with the magazine than the band. It's perhaps unfair to take Metal Hammer as a mirror of metal itself, mediated as it is through the imperative to sell copies. But what does it say about MH and (to some extent) the subculture itself, that this poster got through whatever ethical and aesthetic filters apply up in Asgard?


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Metal week: Father's Day hard rock intermission

In honour of Father's Day, I'm going to pick five of (what I hope are) my Dad's favourite hard rock numbers from the 60's and 70's. 

In a tragic loss both to my Dad and his children's musical education, his entire record collection got stolen in Manchester some time in the early 1970's. To be fair, he had left it in his car. With the only copy of his PhD thesis, prior to its submission.

The family joke is that the thesis was found in a skip, with corrections. The records never turned up, and I'm not sure he's ever gotten quite over the trauma.

Be that as it may, with a combination of Record Collection Mark 2 and passing on memories of gigs and Record Collection Mark 1, he did successfully instill in me, my brother and my sister a not very latent interest in 60's and 70's hard and blues rock.

In a way, the fact I'm sitting here listening to Opeth right now can be traced back to my Dad playing me some of the classics below as an impressionable youth. 

1. Led Zeppelin - Heartbreaker

As a child I got very excited when the riff suddenly pivots mid-way through the song.

2. Fleetwood Mac - Oh Well

Could have gone with The Green Manalishi (With The Two Pronged Crown) but will satisfy myself with noting that this is a very metal song title.

3. Thin Lizzy - That Woman's Gonna Break Your Heart

Lyrical misunderstanding: I used to think that said woman was going to wreck Phil Lynott's hair rather than just mess with this head.

4.  Free - All Right Now

Let's move before they raise the parking rate? Yeah, 'cause that's what The Man does.

5.Nazareth - Razzamanazz

One of Dad's epic losses from Record Collection Mark 1, forever spoken of in reverent tones.

Happy Father's Day Dad!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Metal week: On volume

Amplification and volume create altered states - are psychedelic. Therefore metal is also psychedelic; a music which grips you by lizard brain, by gut and sinew, rather than 'merely' by heart and head.

There's a reason why I wear earplugs to most gigs these days, and it's name is Earth.

I'm at the back of the concert room in The Hare & Hounds, so far away from the stage I'm practically in the doorway, half-reeling, half-dancing. On stage, Dylan Carlson and his band Earth play their metallic instrumental blues very slowly, very loudly. They use their amplifier stacks as a fifth player, as each note from the guitar triggers another reverbration which breaks over and through the audience.

I've had to back away from the stage to a place where I can bear the impact but I'm still overwhelmed by the volume and the music to the point where choice has been taken from me and it's all I can feel.

And this was the comparatively mellow modern incarnation of Earth. Compare and contrast:

1. Earth: Omens and Portents II: Carrion Crow - latter day Earth, wierdly polite and Dad-friendly for home listening, like David Pajo-era Tortoise rocking out (!) even if you can still feel the reverb beneath. 

2. Earth: Tibetan Quaaludes - during the 'inventing drone metal' years.

I haven't yet experienced overlords of volume worship Sunn O))) yet - live and to be honest I'd be a little scared of them in an enclosed space. And that's because they sound like this on record.

3. Sunn O))): Caveman Orthodox
Told you. 

Even on my battered old stereo, with one speaker weaving in and out, this growling treacle-drone of a riff - never mind a song - takes over the fricking room as I type. 

One of the things I want to touch on in another post is how the lines between metal and ritual music have become increasingly blurred for me. Part of that is lyrical, part aesthetic, but some of it is also volume and repetition. Sunn O))) make spiritual music, whether they would describe it as such.

The loudest band I've ever heard were Monarch, at Supersonic 2011. I remember nothing coherent about them save a) they played at a rate that made Sunn O))) sound like speed metal b) they had a female vocalist c) they were so loud they blotted out all rational thought. 

I overuse and misappropriate the word 'awesome', but Monarch were awesome in the no- questions-asked, staggering, definitive sense.

Metal week guest post - Stephan reviews Download Pt 2

Stephan Burn is a far better and more diligent writer than I will ever be.You can read his Endless Realms blog and find him on Twitter at @onlystephan. He filed this report from the muddy trenches of last weekend's Download festival.


Halestorm were pretty good, and one of the very few female fronted bands over the weekend. I wonder though whether that fact alone made them stand out in my head, because subsequent listens tells me they were outstanding in their field, but not in my headphones.

Black Veil Brides. Oh my, where do I start? This is what happens when a bunch of Hollywood, CA emos take up the metal baton and refuse to put it down again. Precious, affected, thin-skinned perma-victims. The music? Genero-metal.

Gun. One song. You know which one.

Steel Panther. Now, here I am in a bit of quandary and its name is ironic misogyny. Steel Panther stood out to me an incredible amount, not by their music but by their performance, their show that consisted of a very knowing playing up of (glam)rock stereotypes. Take The Darkness, throw away the subtlety (yes, I know), add the “Boobs! LOL!” mentality of a 15 year old boy and you have a band that tries to carefully balance on that razor’s edge of parody. 

They were fun, I was entertained a lot, they were a much-needed antidote to the over-bearing seriousness of the whole festival, but I am constantly reminded of the editor of one or other of the lad’s mags in the late 90s claiming they weren’t sexist, but merely being ironic. I didn’t buy it then either.

Theory of a Deadman? MMRRPP. Kids in Glass Houses? MMRRPP.

Biffy Clyro still haven’t learnt to speak to the crowd, bless them. I wonder if it’s painful, crippling shyness. Their set was dull too, compared to other times I’ve seen them.

You Me At Six, or You Meat 6 as they became due to a typo? MMRRPP.

We caught parts of Metallica from a distance. They were doing what Metallica do as only Metallica can do. Only more so.


God I hated this day. We were kicked out of our campervan early on the weakest day of the festival and we ended up lurching from one disappointment to another. By this time I was metalled out, grumpy and wanted to go home and sleep.

Kyuss Lives, I barely registered as happening, though I do recall there was less interaction with the crowd than even Biffy Clyro. A talent they shouldn’t squander.

Black Label Society was METAL. Old men with beards and spikes and leather and a 15 minute guitar solo that actually put me into a coma for a while.

I went to see Ugly Kid Joe with Bryce, not because I’m a fan, but because Penny and Olly were going to see Lamb of God, who they both liked but were too hardcore for me. UKJ did exactly what you’d expect of them. I’m told the LoG Jam was very good though, if you were into that kind of thing.

Dropkick Murphys were fun and again were memorable for being different. When I heard the concept of metal/hardcore Irish battle-hymns, nobody needed to tell me they were from Boston. This bouncy, energetic band could perhaps be described as IRA-core, but, you know, in a good way. On subsequent listens though, post festival? Celtic Diaspora MMRRPP.

Rise Against: MMRRPP.

We caught a few minutes of Sabbath from a distance but weren’t enticed closer. Ozzy frequently called out to the audience that he couldn’t hear them. We nodded sagely and hoped that he’d be able to afford that hearing aid soon.

So that was Download for me. I did enjoy myself, for the most part, my irascible diatribe aside, but I’m unlikely to ever go back. Most of the bits that were fun were hanging out with my friends and the bits of Download that broke the sameness of Download. New bands that I might start listening to more? Probably Halestorm.

Penny will probably end up listening to more Marmozets, Lamb of God and Dropkick Murphy’s.

Bryce, I believe, is preparing his own review as I write this. (He is, and it's here in all its awesomeness - Tim)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Metal week guest post - Stephan reviews Download Pt 1

Stephan Burn is a far better and more diligent writer than I will ever be.You can read his Endless Realms blog and find him on Twitter at @onlystephan. He filed this report from the muddy trenches of last weekend's Download festival.

Download was never going to be a natural fit for me. Not ‘now me’ anyway; maybe when I was younger, but not now. Now I’m about as metal as tofu. Don’t get me wrong, I rock, I roll, I’ve even been known to loll around drunkenly. But moshing? Headbanging? No.

Aside: It actually struck me this morning that some stereotypical metal shares some of the same kind of slightly insecure machismo as stereotypical hip-hop. A similar amount of swaggering around, talking about your ‘bitches’ and how oppressed you are by The Man. No wonder each genre’s acolytes hate each other so much: “No, our blend of repression and oppression is superior to yours, yours is just noise!” I hear them both cry.

So, why did I go to a festival that was once much more descriptively called Monsters of Rock? Where the headliners were a band playing an entire album that had ceased to have meaning to me by the third listen, and a loose collective that can barely be called anything as cohesive as a band and can barely be recollected by its shambling leader? Sacrifice. Sacrifice, bloody loyalty and some bizarre notion of broadening my horizons. Also, I look good in black.

So there we were: Penny, the aluminium briquette to my tin foil; Bryce and Olly, hard rockers both. There were others, a supporting cast of local friends, Twitter followers and passers-by congratulating me on my pipe, but it was the four of us who looked a muddy field squarely in the eye while kicking it soundly in the shin.

The first impression I had was how very lucky we were to be in a campervan, especially one we didn’t have to pay for. Two campsites were aflood in mud and all suffered from sub-Somme conditions. According to a friend who worked the festival, 2000 people went home before day one was out due to weather and/or tent loss. On Friday night 500 people were put up in the shower rooms due to either having lost their tent or being unable to find it as the fields were unlit.

Then there was the ‘entertainment’. I’ll admit I’ve been spoilt by festivals like Glastonbury where there is non-band entertainment aplenty, partly facilitated by the fact that there is no separation between campsite and the music arena. Download has this balkanisation, but throws a sop to those wanting something to do between 11pm and 11am by providing The Village. Imagine Shyamalan’s blunder, but with more burger vans and a ‘comedy’ tent.

It was not permitted to bring alcoholic drinks into the arena, an inevitable effect of the fragile economics of the modern corporate-sponsored music festival. It meant that we had to queue to buy tokens at £4 each and then queue to trade these vouchers in for weak Tuborg or Magners. We were drinking, yes, but never in any danger of proximity to drunk.

After a page of rambling, you’ll be pleased to hear that I’m going to cover the music now, yes?


We skipped the easy choices of Terrorvision and Europe, as we only knew one song apiece by these blasts from the past. Instead we opted for NOFX, the first of many modern metal/rap/rock/pop/punk (MMRRPP) outfits we saw that I enjoyed at the time but have now merged into one indistinguishable mess in my head.

Next up was a wandering expedition which chanced us on new, young band the Marmozets, who Olly liked and Penny loved. There was a lot of shouting, but it seemed heartfelt.

Next, a band I was actually looking forward to! This could well be because, while Chase and Status were a good opener for headliners The Prodigy, they were a controversial choice for Download as a whole. Seemingly they went down okay with the teeming masses, and I enjoyed them immensely in perhaps the least surprising event of the weekend.

Next up was The Prodigy, who did a better set than when I saw them last at Glastonbury, with more energy and revitalised songs. However Penny and I still left them after about an hour. There was nothing wrong with the performance, they were doing okay, but I think I could extrapolate the remaining 40 minutes in my head and doubt I’d have been very far from the truth. Solid, not exhilarating.

Pt 2 later this week - Saturday, Sunday and overall musings

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Metal week: How I Learnt To Stop Worrying And Love Heavy Metal, Sort Of.

If this was going to happen – it should have happened years ago. Decades ago.

I mean, I'm a fantasy and science-fiction-reading role-player of a certain age, for Gaia's sake. By rights, I should have cut my musical teeth – like most of my gamer friends - on thrash, or at least G'nR. Or even Extreme. Should I have been shuffling around moodily, dressed in black and declaring 'We are the noise marines?'

But I spent my Games Workshop years listening to the decidely un-rockist Pet Shop Boys rather than Metallica. After further re-education by the NME at university, I believed that the years between Ace of Spades and Teen Spirit were a dead end of Neanderthalia in spandex.

An friend was able to reconcile me to 70's hard rock – Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple but I couldn't press on beyond Lemmy. Alright, Back In Black, at a push.

I distrusted metal's lack of restraint, its commitment to excess in music and – at least rhetorically- in lifestyle. It was a caricature of maleness. It was in love with death. It took ten minutes to say something punk could say in two.

It wasn't just the music: the iconography of skulls, sex, soldiers and steroids didn't work for a morbidly religious teen who didn't need any more unpleasant visual metaphors in his life, thank you very much. And bar one ill-advised flirtation with an Iron Maiden t-shirt, I've always been a mod rather than a rocker in sartorial terms.

What happened to change this?

Appropriately enough, in the beginning there was Ozzy. The Best of Black Sabbath found its way into my record collection some time in the mid Noughties. And stuck out like a sore thumb – at least initially.

I didn't like Dio and thought Tony Iommi took too many solos, but I loved the riffs and the jazz-inflected drumming. And Ozzy didn't go AIEEEEEEEEEE! or URGGGGGGG!, he sang his own peculiar blues, shrill and baleful. Sabbath might have been hamming it up something rotten, but there's a strange, paradoxically sincere intensity to their best songs of universal or personal catastophe.

Having established a small redoubt, a … oh why not … a lonely fortress of metal … in my record collection, things stayed that way for quite some time. But Sabbath had planted a seed – which under the right conditions – moving to Birmingham, official Home of Metal, say would ripen in blackened soil.

That's another thing about the genre – the cliches of writing about it are almost impossible to resist. We'll put my powers of trope-avoidance to the test in the next week as we accept the self-imposed gauntlet of writing A Week Of Metal (thunder booms, lightening strikes, lamentations of the lost, thunk of head on desk in shame)

I'll be looking at some of the bands that have belatedly reconciled me to The Metal like Baroness, Comets On Fire, Sunn O))), The Sword and Wolves In The Throne Room. I'll be reviewing Terroriser magazine with an eye to how metal culture perceives (and writes about) itself.

If I'm feeling particularly brave I'll tell you why I still don't really like Metallica.