Friday, December 30, 2016

Europe - The Final Countdown

I have been doing this for ten years now and this is the two hundredth music in review.

I have seen a lot of people start projects and let them die as quickly as they dreamed them up, because the struggle is real, doing creative things is hard work and time consuming. Few people maintain a blog for a decade and even fewer maintain the consistency that I have, and I am happy to say this speaks to work ethic and will power.

I have been pondering what special song should be elected to represent the two hundredth music in review. I was at times counting down the reviews until this moment always thinking about I should hold up a uniquely worthy of number two hundred. A quick turn of phrase was charming enough to me to decide upon one of my favorite one hit wonders Europe and “The Final Countdown.”

The aptly named Europe is one of Sweden’s first notable rock bands. Europe, the band, created big waves outside of Europe, the continent, with their huge hit “The Final Countdown.” It was the eighties and “Final Countdown” is one of my favorite songs from the hair band era, so while I was not old enough to enjoy this hit’s songs rise and fall on the charts, and because of this I never heard the song until the mid 2000s. “The Final Countdown” somewhat disappeared from popular listening for a couple decades, and I cannot recall a time when I have ever heard it on terrestrial radio, but it has proven to have lasting power as many other than just myself have rediscovered and enjoyed the song at length.

“The Final Countdown” appears to be about space colonization. People leaving Earth and heading for Venus, where other living beings will greet them, and there is this curiosity regarding what the future holds and whether or not any of them will return to Earth. At least that is a fair assumption from the two verses provided:

“We're leaving together,
But still it's farewell,
And maybe we'll come back,
To earth, who can tell?
I guess there is no one to blame,
We're leaving ground,
Will things ever be the same again?

We're heading for Venus,
And still we stand tall.
'Cause maybe they've seen us,
And welcome us all, yeah.
With so many light years to go,
And things to be found,
I'm sure that we'll all miss her so.”

The unknown is the condition of the Earth. It would be fairly standard to tell a tale about how humankind has ruined the planet with pollution, and the single line that suggests to me that this is the case in “The Final Countdown” is “I guess there is no one to blame.” Blame for what? Blame for ruining Earth? This of course casts doubt as to whether our space wanderers will ever return. One thing is for certain, everyone leaving will miss her; her being Earth.

Ever since the invention of the electronic keyboard the sounds produced were part of progressive rock and used to assist in musically story telling of science fiction adventures. This method is being used in Europe’s “The Final Countdown.” It is clear from the lyrics we have a science fiction theme, but even without them, the opening synth which becomes the rhythm for the choruses and outro could not be mistaken as anything other than a grandiose space adventure. Amazingly this holds true for even instrumental acoustic and orchestra versions, though perhaps that has more to do with my mind’s already associated connection to such themes now imbedded into this song, no matter version.

Earlier in the review I mentioned in passing that “The Final Countdown” is a one hit wonder, and this is primarily true from a non-European perspective, which I have. However Europe enjoyed great success and fame beyond “The Final Countdown” the song, within the continent of Europe, most notably in their native Sweden. The entire album, also titled, “The Final Countdown” was a huge hit in Sweden and other European countries. Some fans note “Carrie” as their magnum opus, though I have always been a little more partial to “Time Has Come” and “Rock The Night.” Because of this perseverance within Europe for the band Europe, an interesting cult following has emerged and now Europe, the band, is regarded, justifiably so, as a brilliant gem of eighties rock and roll.

Nonetheless, how I could ever love any Europe song more than “The Final Countdown?” It is such an instantly catching and recognizable song with a fun theme and great sound. If I were to consider Europe a one hit wonder they would be right up there with Zager and Evans as the greatest, and interestingly enough, both songs indulge into science fiction. It is a fantastic fun time song and absolutely worthy of being the two hundredth music in review.

Until next year, keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves.


I initially wrote this with Finland as Europe's native country.  A friend corrected me on this and the post has been edited appropriately.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Billy Idol - Rebel Yell

When I was in high school I was convinced that Billy Idol was most likely the coolest person alive at some point in time in the 1980s. He must have been right? Billy Idol is a really good dude. He is a solid singer and song writer, he was part of the popularization of punk music, and that hair, not a lot of people can pull that off.

I listened to Billy Idol’s greatest hits approximately a few hundred times when I was in high school. As impressive as that may be, I will forever be a poser fan, since that is the only album of his I have ever owned; and as we all know best of albums are for posers. The point is I used to listen to Billy Idol a lot.

Based on numerous past reviews and comments made by me it should be pretty clear that I consume a lot of youtube, and I often allow myself to drift down rabbit holes and just see what comes up. I was listening to a random mix based on various songs I had recently listened, virtually every song was a video I had listened to multiple times recently, but there was a handful of videos by the same artists I was listening to. Then, somewhat randomly, the next song up was Billy Idol “Rebel Yell.” That was the next recommendation by youtube, and it was certainly a good one, for I really did want to listen to that song next, even though I would not have picked it out by myself uninitiated. I do not think I had heard “Rebel Yell” for eight years or so at that point. How did that happen? I guess I moved on? Only I didn’t because I was so happy to hear Billy Idol again.

Then it started happening, the radio station I wake up started playing Billy Idol as my morning alarm. The usual four songs played, “Dancing with Myself,” “Mony Mony,” “White Wedding” and my favorite “Rebel Yell.” Systematically I heard all four of these songs over the course of about a week while rising from my slumber. As you see Idol is one of those many musicians who’s musical arsenal is largely ignored, which is a huge injustice, he has some really good songs beyond those four, and to be fair, I used to watch the music video for “Eyes Without a Face” all the time on MTV back when MTV actually played music; also I believe I have heard “Catch my Fall” on the radio once before. “Catch my Fall” is a wonderful balled from the otherwise punk rocker, and if I was a smarter man I should probably be reviewing that underappreciated song but not today, my love of “Rebel Yell” supersedes other motivations at this time.

Roberta Wesley's "Rebel Yell."
The year was 1982 or possibly 1983, I am not entirely sure, Billy Idol’s first album had come out and was a big hit. Idol was attending a party in the southern states, I am not entirely sure which one, when he gazed upon the Roberta Wesley painting “Rebel Yell,” at least I think that was the painting he saw. In case you could not guess it has been a long time since I last heard this story.

The “Rebel Yell” is a very common phrase used by the confederate soldiers to describe their battle cry, so it is entirely possible that this story I heard once many years ago may have involved a different painting titled “Rebel Yell” but Wesley’s appears to be the most famous painting titled that, so I am going to guess that was the one Idol saw. Regardless Idol was very taken with that simple phrase “Rebel Yell,” he thought it was fucking brilliant, and his next song, and in fact album, would be titled just that.

Despite the southern confederate fountain head of inspiration, Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell,” the song, has nothing to do the civil war or the confederate army. Idol just really like the expression “Rebel Yell” and who can blame him? It is a fantastic pair of words to exclaim the passion of rebellion, something the southern forces and a punk rocker would connect with.

Idol’s “Rebel Yell” is about sex, well mostly, about sex. This is hardly surprising, most of Idol’s songs had very sexual themes and his videos presently had very strong sexual imagery in them. Recall that “Dancing with Myself” seemingly a rather innocent song at first glance is actually about masturbation; so, when the chorus of “Rebel Yell” comes at us with:

“In the midnight hour, she cried more, more, more,
With a rebel yell she cried more, more, more.”

Why a rebel yell? You might ask. Well I suppose there are countless ways to approach this, but the broadest angle from which to attack would be that we live in a world of sexual shaming. The act of sexual expression in most cultures is one of shame, so Billy Idol writing songs about sex is a sort of rebellion in it’s own right. The little dancer who came to his door, as described in the song, is breaking our archaic norms of intimacy and coupling, and this is perhaps best captured in the line “she don’t like slavery, she won’t sit and beg,” and by invoking the metaphor of slavery Idol has firmly entrenched this song into a rebel’s cause.

The rest of the song dwells in Idol’s obsession to please his little love angel. I am particularly found of the bridge before the final chorus, where things slow, and Idol lists all the things he would do for this woman:

“I walked the ward with you, babe,
A thousand miles with you,
I dried your tears of pain, babe,
A million times for you,

I'd sell my soul for you babe,
For money to burn with you,
I'd give you all, and have none, babe,
Just, just, justa, justa to have you here by me.”

This leaves me pondering, at least a little, if “Rebel Yell” is actually something of a love song? Self sacrifice, is often the behaviour of a man in love, although this is the sort of actions taken by a man enthralled in lust; so really it could go either way. In rock and roll there are a great many unconventional love songs, and drowning love in lust should not necessarily diminish it’s quality. Perhaps we only think so because of the afford mentioned culture of sexual shame we all live in. Perhaps also this blatant flaunting of raw human sexuality is even more of a corner stone of punk rock. At last we must also ponder the possibility that “Rebel Yell” is little more than the mad ravings of a prisoner of lust, and hey, that is still fantastic. Perhaps I only peer into “Rebel Yell” for something deeper because of songs like “Catch my Fall” which are surprising sweet from the otherwise cock out cock rocker.

I enjoyed my reconnection with Idol. Though I was too young to properly appreciate the man’s work when he was fresh on the music scene Idol served a similar role in my youth to those a decade older than me experienced. Billy Idol is a really cool dude rocking out to all the things young people enjoy, notably sex and rebellion.

- King of Braves

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Boston - More Than a Feeling

When choosing songs to review I often like to discuss songs that no one I know in my social life are talking about. I often talk about songs that have little to no presence on terrestrial radio. I like to shine a spotlight on songs that are underappreciated or unjustly unknown. This however is not my only criteria and hardly my sole motivation.

Younger readers of this blog may struggle to relate to this, but when I was young discovering new music was hard. The only realistic means was to listen to the radio, and in my part of the world we only had a handful of radio stations, in fact I could probably count them out if I was serious and I believe there would have been no more than six, and that would be including talk radio. Naturally the only station I liked at that time was CJay 92, the classic rock station. As we all know there are some songs that get played routinely on classic rock stations and in turn are understandably titled the dreaded status of “overplayed.”

A song being overplayed in theory weakens its appeal, and I am not immune from this phenomenon, there are doubtless many songs out there that I now underappreciate because of their constant presence in my life. In turn it is the songs that defy this rule that have always stood out to me. Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” has never gotten old to me and I must have listened to that song well over a thousand times in my life by now. Guns N Roses “November Rain” still resonates as strongly to me as it did the first time I heard it. Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” still sparks within me a joy and comfort every single time I hear it.

I have discussed “Stairway to Heaven” and “November Rain” before, so it is now time to discuss “More Than a Feeling.”

Tom Scholz
“More Than a Feeling” was a true passion project for writer Tom Scholz, as he spent five years creating it. Even before Boston was a band Scholz was working on “More Than a Feeling” and the final product does ooze with deep emotion and a very fine refinement in structure and sound. It is a great success story because “More Than a Feeling” is now a stable of classic rock, and the debut album of Boston was a huge commercial success and was loved by critics.

The lyrics suggest a longing for a lost love Marianne, and how an old familiar song reminds the narrator of Marianne. The chorus is very clear in this regard:

“It's more than a feeling (more than a feeling),
When I hear that old song they used to play (more than a feeling),
And I begin dreaming (more than a feeling),
Till I see Marianne walk away.
I see my Marianne walkin' away.”

It is easy to get wrapped up in Marianne when analyzing this song, so many songs are about lost loves and longing thereof for a return to togetherness, however the true focus for Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” rests within the “familiar song.” This song is primarily about the feelings old familiar music invoke in us. Call it nostalgia if you must, but there is something very powerful about the slipstream of memories and emotions we can experience through song. I talked about this before in several reviews about how something tangential or completely unrelated to the song’s actual meaning is called up in my mind because of where that song was most heard by me or how it was introduced to me. That old song, Scholz refers to the chorus, just so happens to remind him of Marianne walking away. Marianne is just one wonderful example of old feelings of potentially countless being brought up by music.

There is apparently a real Marianne, but she was not some lost love of Scholz, rather she was one of his cousins. When Scholz very young he thought his cousin, Marianne, was the prettiest girl he had ever met and thought he was in love with her. Evidently this is a very innocent love, one of extremely youth filled with simple wonderment. Nothing more than, “my cousin is pretty” but that too is an old memory and rather a kind hearted one at that.

There is something potentially unintentionally meta about “More Than a Feeling,” a song about music bringing out emotion in us all, ultimately has the exact affect itself while describing the experience itself. How befitting “More Than a Feeling” is now an old familiar song that invokes in countless people a wide range of tangential and unrelated feelings and memories from those in Scholz’s heart. How appropriate that “More Than a Feeling” be titled what it is, it is not just a fun little line to emphasize the intensity and power of the feeling in question, but has become much more than a singular feeling. Within the context of the song is meant to be something more significant than just an emotion, a surge of memories and music combining to be something more. The cultural significance is now a nearly infinite number of all those things with every person who loves this song, and has become to represent so much more than a feeling.

In finality “More Than a Feeling” is a perfect song. Thank you, Boston, you rock.

Until next month, keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Sabaton - Shiroyama

“Encircled by a vulture,
The end of ancient culture,
The dawn of destiny draws near.”

Speaking of new albums in 2016, Sabaton released their eighth studio album titled “The Last Stand.”

I have discussed Sabaton twice before and they are likely to become a mainstay on this blog since they are one of the most exciting active bands I have discovered in recent years. Sabaton’s whole thing is that they are a metal band and all their songs are about European military history. Seriously I learned a lot about the rise and fall of the Swedish empire and many major battles in world war two just by listening to these guys. It is like I am getting an education while rocking out, which is pretty ideal.

Sabaton’s latest work is, more or less, the same sort of thing we have seen before, more badass metal songs about military history, the only notable slight difference is that there appears to be a theme of finality, the end of something, many of the battles presented in music form on “The Last Stand” are exactly just that, a last stand, a final conclusion to things.

The song “Sparta” is about the battle of Thermopylae, the hot gates, where famously three hundred Spartan warriors held off a Persian invasion that outnumber them absurdly for an absurdly long time, resulting in the death of every Spartan hoplite. While this was far from the end of the Sparta city state or their military presence in Peloponnesian peninsula, it was certainly one of the most epic ends to a military campaign and the lives of those who fought in history of all warfare.

The title track “The Last Stand” is about the Pope Clement the seventh’s Swiss guard defending his escape from the Hasburg Spain attack. The Swiss Guard was thoroughly annihilated and ceased to exist for a long time until the Hasburg occupation ceased, so this was literally the last stand of the Holy See’s military guard.

Lastly, we have “Shiroyama” which is understandably about the battle Shiroyama, the final battle in the Satsuma Rebellion. As Sabaton points out, this is the last stand of the samurai, and in many ways, I feel this song better captures the spirit of the album “The Last Stand” than even the title track of the same name. Spartans would bounce back from the loss of three hundred men and arguably win the war against their Athenian rivals. The Swiss Guard exist today, so while temporarily removed from activity the Swiss Guard did recover. Samurais however are no more, and Shiroyama was the last time the way of the samurai would have any meaningful military or political significance. Of the three songs I have pointed too only once depicts the literal final end of a military body and way of life, “Shiroyama” is a song that literally is about the last stand of samurais in all human history.

“Shiroyama” is my favorite song from the new album. It helps that I love Samurais. I made it an issue to see as many castles as I could when I visited Japan. Also I made a day trip to Kitakyushu and Ganryujima where the famous duel between Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro took place. It also helps that “Shiroyama” has one of the catchiest guitar rifts in all Sabaton’s playlist. “Shiroyama” stands out as one of Sabaton’s best songs to date and that is saying a lot given how strongly I feel about their previous albums “Charlos Rex,” “Coat of Arms,” and “The Art of War.”

One cannot do a review of a Sabaton song without a history lesson so here it is.

The Satsuma Rebellion was fought between the newly established Empire of Japan and the Satsuma Domain.

The Empire of Japan came from the Meiji Restoration/Renovation/Revolution/Reform/Renewal, or whatever we decide to call it, where Emperor Meiji was restored as the emperor of Japan but more importantly, at least for this conversation, the Empire of Japan ushered in the technological advancement in both industry and military. The Empire of Japan would lead Japan to becoming a world power and transformed itself in 1947 into the modern Japanese federal government that we know today.

The Satsuma Domain was one of the most powerful feudal domains in the Tokugawa Japan and among the wealthiest throughout the Edo period. Unsurprisingly they remained a classical samurai culture and were hugely disenfranchised by the rapid changes in the politics and culture of Japan’s primary ruling forces. The rebellion spawned from a resistance to these changes as well as a shift in power dynamics. It is difficult, or impossible, for the old ways to survive in the face of change, especially when that change represents technological and military advancement; or how Sabaton puts it:

“It's the nature of time,
That the old ways must give in.
It's the nature of time,
that the new ways come in sin.

When the new meets the old.
It always ends the ancient ways,
And as history told,
The old ways go out in a blaze.”

It was not just military supremacy of the Empire of Japan that resulted in their unavoidable eventual victory over Satsuma Samurais, but also the power of numbers. The old ways were dying out, and there grew to be less and less people living in Japan who held on to the traditions of the Samurai by the time the Satsuma Rebellion transpired. They were impossibly outnumbered as well as brutally out armed.

“Imperial force defied,
Facing 500 samurai.
Surrounded and outnumbered,
60 to 1 the sword face the gun.
Bushido dignified,
It's the last stand of the samurai,
surrounded and outnumbered.”

Saigo Takamori.  Leader of the
Satsuma Rebellion.
Argubably the last samurai.

Given the basic common knowledge we all possess of Samurais it should come as no surprise that the Satsuma soldiers elected to fight to the death instead of surrendering. Their leader Saigo Takamori suffered a bullet wound and escape to either die from the injury or was killed by his own men who then buried his head elsewhere so the enemy would not find it; all of this done to preserve their leader’s honour. Then the forty remaining samurai drew their sword and refusing to surrender die in battle.

"An offer of surrender,
Saigo ignore contender,
The dawn of destiny is here."

The wind of change is an unstoppable juggernaut and will not be denied. It is easy to point to the guns and cannons as the deciding factor in the demise of the samurai, and the failed Satsuma Rebellion, for how could they possibly combat such a superior fighting force? However the Satsuma samurais were also in use of some canons and guns, the change of face of combat and war had already affected all serious fighting forces on the islands of Japan, and indeed everywhere. It was always just a matter of time before the sword was replaced with the gun.

War will forever be a dark yet glorious subject, however in the conversation of the battle of Shiroyama there is an added level of tragedy. The bravery and extreme devotion to their warrior’s code of honour is inspiring and everything about that way of life was wiped out in this fateful battle in Kagoshima. It is very tragic, but then again, all war is.

- King of Braves

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Avantasia - Draconian Love

If there is one takeaway from this blog it is this: Avantasia is the greatest music act in the world today.

I love a lot of bands but few have I reviewed five times, in fact I believe Avantasia takes the lead now with this new review. I have been devotedly following Tobias Sammet’s career ever since I discovered the Lost in Space LPs, the teaser before the launch of “The Scarecrow” album, and as such I have reviewed every album as they came out since then. This year, 2016, Tobias released the seventh studio Avantasia album “Ghostlights,” naturally I feel like I should talk about it.

There is one downside to falling in love, everything else seems less special. I fell in love with “The Scarecrow” and “The Wicked Symphony,” I still regularly listen to those albums and I cannot honestly say that about the other four albums predating “Ghostlights.” It is important that we understand that, “Angel of Babylon,” “The Mystery of Time,” and the original “Metal Opera” albums are all really good, it is just that everything, and I mean basically everything, in all of creation, pales in comparison to “The Scarecrow” and “The Wicked Symphony.” So really… no matter how good “Ghostlights” turned out to be I would always compare it to those two titan albums and be at least partially unimpressed.

Tobias Sammet, still earth's greatest
song writer.
“So how is ‘Ghostlights?’” You might ask me. It is really good.

The wonderful adventure of Avantasia has been such a joyous journey (to Arcadia) that there is really only so much more Tobias can do to allow it to feel original. The continue addition of new guest singers is a perpetual development that helps keep things fresh but surely Tobais is slowly, but surely, running out of heroes to invite to his super group.

Similar to “The Mystery of Time,” “Ghostlights” appears to have a fantasy/science fiction theme involving once again time as focal point, and once again, most wisely, Tobias has left the story open enough for individualized interpretation. The similarities to “Mystery of Time” are in fact so great that it turns out this new album is meant to be the conclusion of that story.

I really like the first two tracks on the album “Mystery of a Blood Red Rose” and “Let the Storm Descend Upon You” and for exact opposite reasons.

I really like “Mystery of a Blood Red Rose” because there is no guest singer and it is one of the very few tracks in the Avantasia library where Tobias sings alone. It gives the creator of the whole thing a chance to truly shine and it is a really good song. 

Mystery Of a Blood Red Rose

I really like “Let the Storm Descend Upon You” because it has the most guest singers of any song on the album, including Jorn Lande, Ronnie Atkins, and Robert Mason. A twelve-minute epic that does in fact descend us into a storm of music that is the album itself. 

Let the Storm Descend Upon You

I have thought long and hard about which song to focus on and after four hundred and ninty-three words of introduction I think I have settled on “Draconian Love.”

“Draconian Love” opens with a nice piano that segues into the rhythm section, and is joined mostly by the haunting tone of Herbie Langhans’ voice repeating what will become the chorus:

“You shed draconian love.”

It is an effective chorus and tells us basically all we need to know about the metaphor for this song. Draconian, meaning dragon like, shedding its love, not dissimilar to not a snake molting, shedding its skin. Dragon love, sure that works, and evidently it is fleeting, or peeling if you will.

“Draconian Love” is a song of peaks and valleys as far as volume and intensity fluctuate. The verses are somber and gentle in tempo, meanwhile whenever the chorus hits everything picks up with the drums rising before every instrument strikes all at once and Tobias and Herbie sing with spite and anger. We get the full gambit of emotion with a sense of rising tension as we near the song’s climax. Before the last repetition of the chorus we are met with our greatest contrast; every instrument goes silent except for the keyboard and Herbie both being their quietest during this song, then when the last chorus opens it crashes into us with the greatest of intensity.

This contrast in sound is also a contrast of emotion, the verses are sad and lonely grieving over lost love. The chorus is a fury demanding to know “where are you now?”

Herbie Langhans.
One last thing to note is just how good Herbie is on “Draconian Love.” Which raises the question that you might ask me, “who is Herbie Langhans?” Honestly? I have no idea. This is actually why “Draconian Love” won out in the end for my song of focus, because it brings forth this paragraph of discussion. Apparently, Herbie is part of Sinbreed, Symphonity, Beyond the Bridge and Whispers in Crimson, four bands I have never heard of before, though he appears to be most famous for his work with Seventh Avenue, another band I have never heard of before.

This is one of the greatest things about Avantasia however. I had never heard of Bob Catley or Magnum before “The Story Ain’t Over.” I had never heard of Ronnie Atkins or Pretty Maids before “Invoke the Machine.” Amazingly I had never heard of Michael Kiske or Helloween before “Another Angel Down.” I had heard of Jorn Lande and Masterplan, before I heard “Promised Land” but still, you see my point. How I have Herbie Langhans and Seventh Avenue, and apparently, a bunch of other bands, to go and discover now, and if they are even half as good as the bands and artist mentioned above then my life is about to be immeasurably enriched once more.

The moral of the story is “Ghostlights” along with it’s predecessor “The Mystery of Time” cannot compete with “The Scarecrow” and “The Wicked Symphony” but they are fantastic nonetheless. The awesome adventure that is Avantasia continues and they are still the greatest musical act in the world, and I will never, ever, understand why it is so difficult for me to get more people to listen to them.

- King of Braves

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Ghost - Square Hammer

I really like Nuclear Blast Records. They produce a majority of my favorite active bands and I keep discovering new artist I love through Nuclear Blast’s website and youtube channel. One band that kept popping up in my recommendation feed recently was a Swedish band simply called Ghost, and after having multiple songs thrown my way I decided that I really liked the song “He Is.”

This is where I would normally start talking about the song mentioned in the opening paragraph, but “He Is” may have to wait for another day for a review, because there is another song that boldly stood out to me.

I made a number of really interesting friends when I travelled to Europe several years ago and they really paid off as facebook friends, as it turns out I have a lot in common with the random cool dudes I met in Hamburg. One was a fellow Canadian working in the United Kingdom, whom recently, shared Ghost’s “Square Hammer.” I am so thankful he shared that song, I love it. The moral of the story it is wise to make friends, presumably for a lot reasons, but one of those reasons is discovering more awesome music.

Before we go any further I should give Ghost a proper introduction because they are a complicated entity. Coming from the Daft Punk School of wishing to keep their identities secret, everyone in the band is dressed completely in costume of their fictional entities. The lead singer is called Papa Emeritus and he wears full face paint that resembles a skull and is often deck out in the mock attire of a satanic version of the Vatican’s pope, so yeah, that is pretty intense. The other five members of the band all wear ghoul masks and are literally referred to as “Nameless Ghouls” and are only identifiable by the unique alchemy signs they wear representing the five elements of fire, water, earth, air and ether. Hey remember when people thought ether was a thing? That’s some old school archaic science. 

Papa Emeritus and the Nameless Ghouls
There are a few advantages to hiding your identity the way the band members of Ghost have. The first is that it forces the audience and listeners to focus less on the men behind the craft and more on the actual art itself.

Another advantage is turnover; a lot of European bands have experienced major issues with band turnover. If no one knows who any of the band members are, then replacing them can go largely unnoticed and theoretically not harm or change the style of the band and its music in any meaningful way. The band Ghost, claim they have had a different Papa Emeritus on every album thus far, totaling three. The fictional reasons behind the replacements has to do with Emeritus the first and second failing to destroy churches and promote Satan effectively, which as I type out, sounds ridiculous, but hey Ghost are playing Satanist so that’s what we get. Rumor is that it has been the same Papa Emeritus this whole time and Ghost is just joking with us claiming they have ran through three lead singers and since we do not know the real identity of anyone in the band we cannot confirm or deny the validity of this claim.

Another interesting rumor is that Dave Grohl was one of the ghouls on one of the tours, just for a goof, since you know, Dave Grohl is kind of a lovable goof and that is the sort of thing he would do.

Now let us return to “Square Hammer.”

The song “Square Hammer” is a very catchy song, and when I first heard it I found myself bobbing my head along and let every hook catch unto to me. I read somewhere that Ghost were heavily influenced by Iron Maiden and that I think is a fair comparison, the base line gallops like Steve Harris, and two lead/rhythm guitars is arguably the greatest charm of later days Iron Maiden music and is mimicked in nature by the band Ghost. As an intense lover of string instruments, having three guitars filling the sound of the melody and harmony is something I also love. “Square Hammer” is a song I would describe as full and rich, there is very little empty sound in the song, a note or a beat fills every part of the song and is flush at every second from beginning to end, a very alive song.

I did not take particular notice of the lyrics at first few listens but around listen twenty or so I naturally started to memorize the chorus and verses and in that moment I knew just how casually Satanic Ghost was.

“Are you on the square?
Are you on the level?
Are you ready to swear right here, right now,
Before the devil?”

Well that is fun. Despite being so very Satanic, worship of the devil is not something that is forced into the song, it is just there, like it is the most natural thing in the world to bring up swearing before the devil, because for the fictional entities Papa Emeritus and the Nameless Ghouls it is the most natural thing.

Appropriately dramatic.
The video itself is fantastic. I really like Papa Emeritus, I liked his dramatic body language, every gesture he made significant and made me pay greater attention, it was almost like he was a silent film actor, which is appropriate since the video for “Square Hammer” is an ode to the 1920’s German silent film era.

I got the impression the video was a silent film concept but I did not pick up on the smaller details until I showed the video to a friend of mine who is a huge movie buff, upon seeing the opening shot, he says to me “Ah Metropolis.” I had actually seen that one and had to agree with him. He then continued pointing out the 1920’s German silent film references for me, most notably the part where a coffin opens on its own was a direct reference to “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.”

“Hiding from the light,
Sacrificing nothing,
Still you call on me for entrance to the shrine.
Hammering the nails,
Into a sacred coffin,
You call on me for powers clandestine.”

Like I said earlier, it is good to have friends, you can learn a lot about the history of film.

One last thing before I wrap this up. While writing this review, it was a Sunday night I thought I would check and see if Ghost were coming to town anytime soon. Tuesday. Literally two days and they would be in Calgary. So naturally I went. I was excited because I freaking love “Square Hammer” and “He Is,” I had learned a passing familiarity with a few of their other songs but I mostly going into the concert blind, not entirely knowing what to expect. It was a perfect storm of a good time.

My discovery of Ghost was still so fresh that not one second of the show felt slow of mundane, everything was exciting and new to me; most of the songs were new to me anyway. The live performance was masterful with excellent execution. Papa Emeritus had amazing stage presence and all those gesture and body language of quirky interest from the “Square Hammer” video were present on stage. The bits of dialogue were amusing on every imaginable front, curious and humorous and wonderfully casually satanic. When introducing the final song of the night “Monstrance Clock” Emeritus said, “This song is celebrating the female orgasm... in the name of Satan!”

I had a really good time.

It is not every day I get to discover a band like Ghost were literally about them and everything I learn about them I enjoy and crave more. This is indeed a wonderful world we live in where a satanic metal band can be so thoroughly enjoyable.

Until next month, keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves


They won a Grammy:

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Priestess - Blood

Priestess is a Montreal based rock and roll band. With all the genres and sub genres of music in the world today a band like Priestess is rather refreshing insofar that they are a straight forward rock band, there are not too many of those nowadays.

In 2005 Priestess released their first album “Hello Master,” an album I am quite fond of. Outside of Norwegian black metal and other more intense metal bands there are not a lot of musings about Satan, but if you examine the overarching theme of “Hello Master” it becomes more and more clear, at least to me, that the “master” in question is probably Satan. However there is nowhere on the album an over indulgence about the lord of darkness and the album’s songs focus on such things as love, violence and death, usual rock and roll fare. The closer “Blood” for example is about a vampire.

“Blood” represents an interesting moment on “Hello Master” as the closer it is literally the final note from the band on this offering, and it is the most unique song on the album as it is structured uniquely different and represents a notable shift in style from all the songs previous. The entire albums sounds somewhat similar to Wolfmother or to a lesser degree Queens of the Stone Age, with inspirations coming from Black Sabath and ACDC, but this last song “Blood” is less clear in what modern and classic inspirations and similarities it shares with other bands. This is probably why I like it so much.

The most popular song off of “Hello Master” has to be “Lay Down” a good rock and roll song. It helps that this song was features in Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, and this inclusion on this popular video game is the source of the majority of Priestess’ fame, which serves as a double edged sword. By being on Guitar Hero III significantly more people discovered Priestess however few purchased “Hello Master” and even fewer familiarized themselves with the album as a whole.

In 2009 Priestess would release a second album “Prior to the Fire” an album I failed to notice upon release and have to this day never found the time to pick up a copy, only now I have learned my apathy and poverty were only part of the problem preventing me from acquiring a copy. Priestess had a hell of a time finding an international distributor for “Prior to the Fire” as the content was not considered “commercial” enough, it is strange to discover that this is still happening given the deep well of genres and sub genres enjoyed by the international community representing the consumers of the music industry. This problem was exasperated as their local Canadian distributor refused to release the album until they found an international distributor; thus barricading Priestess from any meaningful commercial release or marketing.

There is a high level of mystery how surrounding the existence of Priestess and they appear to have more or less disbanded at this time; they are calling it a hiatus, but I am not so sure I believe them. Unknown and un-discussed problems in the band prevented them from committing to a European tour and the producing of a third album. While I hope Priestess can return on day, it has been eight years and I am dubious of their musical future.

Returning to the song “Blood” there are few lyrics to dissect but we a presented with a short narrative that tells of a lady vampire seducing a mortal man with some hesitation, possibly because of love, after all we have romanticized vampires to extraordinary lengths in modern fiction. The second verse appears to have a reversal in narrative as it is now describing the human’s side of the relationship as someone urges him to slay the lady vampire via a stake through the heart, as failing to do so would only allow her to further control and dominate him, presumably leading to his death.

It is short and it is simple.

I like the lyrics, and I like the juxtaposition of the two narrative forces; one warning of the dangers of the human and the other warning of the danger of the vampire. It is charming and clever. However it is the strong base line and punching drums that really give “Blood” its kick. It is instantly identifiable as its own unique entity in music from the very first note and is unforgettably catchy.

I honestly expected Priestess to do a lot in times gone by and it is sad to see that they have fizzled out of existence, and will unlikely ever create any new material but alas we can rest comfortably knowing that at the least we got “Hello Master” and songs like “Blood.”

- King of Braves

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Covenant - Brave New World

Let us return to that kitchen prep hall I mentioned in the last review, where my younger brother and I are listening to a lot of HIM and that one song by The Kovenant, among other things. We were in a used record store buying used CDs, as was the custom back then when people still listened to CDs. My younger brother decided, entirely on a whim, to buy an album by Covenant titled “Northern Light.” The Kovenant, spelled with a “K” was unknown to us back then, we thought it was the same band and even though neither one of us could identify a single song on the album my kid brother, adventurous as he is, decided to pick it up.

We loved it.

You see, we were also listening to a lot of VNV Nation in that prep hall and Sweden’s electronic band Covenant, spelt with a “C,” is a fine contributor to that whole music scene. We were a little thrown off at the clear difference in style compared to “Mirror’s Paradise” by Kovenant, and it took a year or so before we discovered the small, but important spelling difference.

I had thought this mix up was a silly mistake made exclusively by the two of us, but no, apparently this was actually a big thing. Kovenant, of Norway, used to be Covenant but were sued and forced to change their name to “The” Covenant, but that did not work either because there was already a Dutch metal band called The Covenant, because of course there was, so The Kovenant was the final name for the Norwegian metal band discussed in the last review.

Nonetheless Covenant, the Swedish one, and their 2002 fifth studio album “Northern Light” was enjoyed among one half of the Kelly brothers so much that my same kid brother went out and got their at the time new album “Skyshaper.”

We loved it.

“Skyshaper” came out in 2006, and holy shit, that was eleven years ago, where has the time gone.

I really enjoyed songs like “Call the Ships to Port,” “We Stand Alone,” and “Invisible and Silent,” off of “Northern Light” so it seemed doubtful that a better offering of music could have been put forward by the Swedish electronic band, but Covenant delivered with “Skyshaper.” From the fantastic opening of “Ritual Noise” to the satisfying ending of “The World is Growing Loud” a more or less perfect electronic album exists. There are a great couple of humours, but somewhat introspective songs like “Happy Man” and “The Men.” More than anything the track that stood out to me was “Brave New World.”

As someone who makes the effort to read a lot, my natural instinct when someone utters the words “Brave New World” is to make a connection to Aldous Huxley. In Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” technology has made it possible for people to be produced in labs and everyone is sedated into numb happiness. That is not what is being described in the song by Covenant.

The “Brave New World” the idea, the term, the expression, has become a vague colloquialism to broadly mean “the future.” Much like how “Utopia,” which is Greek for “nowhere,” and Thomas More was attempting to describe a civilization that was the total opposite of English society, but now the word is thought to describe paradise; Huxley’s “Brave New World” now simple means a radical, often assumed, technologically advanced, super society. This is the “Brave New World” which we are engaging when listening to Covenant; Covenant’s “Brave New World” is the promised land.

“Where is the promised land?
Where is the brave new world?
Where do all dreams go when they die?
Oh, we can move the streets today.”

Covenant in this song is describing the disappointment and the surprise that the future world is not what was expected, it is not paradise, it is not brave or new, or really anything to be thrilled about. The future just ain’t what it used to be.

There is a verse describing growing isolation:

“The lights are fading out,
Before our eyes.
We lose each other,
And we celebrate the peace.”

Another describing a lost sense of purpose:

“Our lives are changing,
Faster than we think.
We flow like dancers,
Crashing in the dark.”

And another about pollution, physical and psychological, very topical:

“Another morning broken,
Shattered sheets of lead.
Clouds the size of oceans,
Inside and above our heads.”

There are not many words outside of the three verses listed above. The chorus repeats many times, asking the same three questions and no answer is ever given to the rhetoric. It feels very natural for a song of the nature and style of “Brave New World” to be repetitive; it is an electronic song and as such indulges into the hypnotic and atmospheric sounds. The “celebrated” beat is naturally both catchy and symbolically able to lull the listener into a complacent state of relaxed acceptance.

I would argue that the overall symbolism of this song is mild, but the sound is wonderful and attractive, and that is such a fine offer of art it leaves so little to demand more. The fact that there is anything of a conversation of value put forth is encouraging in its own right, Covenant could have elected to be a purely instrument/synthesised band but they elected to enrich their music, and us the listeners, with little drops of poetry, and in the end that is pretty much exactly what we all want in our music.

That random purchase by younger brother really worked out for the best.

Until next month keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Kovenant - Mirror's Paradise

My younger brother and I worked together in the kitchens for many years and we often found ourselves working the prep hall and listening to CDs, because people still listened to CDs back then. We both really enjoyed the music from the CKY soundtrack which was mostly songs by Finnish love metal band HIM, but there were other tracks we really enjoyed like Kovenant’s “Mirror’s Paradise.”

We must have listened to “Mirror’s Paradise” hundreds of times back then, and then as my music collection grew and grew the song was half lost in my now nearly ten thousand song playlist on my computer. It came up on random the other day, and for probably the first time in five years I heard “Mirror’s Paradise” and thought of my kid brother, those prep halls, and everything else that ran with my memories and those times.

It has been over a decade since I discovered “Mirror’s Paradise” and I surprise myself how I had never looked any deeper into Kovenant, and to this day I have barely heard an album’s worth of their tracks. Who are Kovenant?

Kovenant are a Norwegian black metal band, I probably could have guessed that, what from the screaming and everything; classic Norway.

To date they have released four studio album, with “Mirror’s Paradise” appearing as the first track on their third 1999 album “Animatronic.” They managed a fourth studio album release in 2003 but have been largely inactive since then. I would have suspected the band had dissolved but apparently there is still talk about producing a new album and the band claims Kovenant is still a thing. I have not had the time to dig up the details but it appears that fan reception to change was negative enough to really upset some of the members of Kovanent. Where they darker heavier before? I do not yet know.

If I am being perfectly honest about it, as I go through the various songs on youtube by Kovanent, I like them, but I do not love them. Nothing compares to “Mirror’s Paradise.”

Perhaps it was the right song presented to me at the right time in my life but “Mirror’s Paradise” is the sort of song I will never get tired of and could listen to every day for the rest of my life.

If you look at the other one-hundred ninety one reviews on this blog you will see that I like European metal a lot but I have little to no love for the “black” metal scene. The raw growling of a Gwar or the screeching of Cradle of Filth is a little too much for me. As someone who loves the melody of vocals these... interpretations of singing; and I use that word with its most liberal meaning imaginable; largely fail to be used effectively as a melody.

Someone on the track “Mirror’s Paradise” is doing their best Dani Filth impersonation. Ten plus years ago I did not think, or perhaps have the means, to look up who was singing on this track, but I always thought it might have featured that demon singer from Cradle of Filth, checking now I can find no such evidence suggesting so. What distinguishes “Mirror’s Paradise” from other extreme metal songs is the stoic and deep voice that sings the chorus, this strange notion that we should be able to decipher the words is present. I also really like the female harmony vocals. The overall final product is a more symphonic experience, which is exactly what I like.

The song “Mirror’s Paradise” still feels very demonic in sound and theme, but the lyrics reveal that true meaning of the song is an anti-religious one. This song is an aggressive song about how there is no after-life.

“How can you love it...
How can you believe it...
How can you need it...
When there’s nothing there?”

There is a very strong movement in Norwegian black metal towards Satanism, but there is an even stronger movement in Norway in the general population towards atheism and agnosticism, so I cannot feign even the smallest surprise that a Norwegian metal band would so directly and forcefully sing about the horrid nightmare of having all your dreams of an afterlife spirited away from you when you close your eyes for the last time.

It is a dark take on the subject, but reality is a brutal uncompromising beast with zero consideration for our emotions, and a if we wish to be honest in our philosophies about life and death we will have to weigh the overwhelming probable certainty that Kovanent are correct and there is literally nothing waiting for us when we take our great leap into the dark.

“You smile... but it’s all despair.
You love... but there’s nothing there.”

So when we pause to take “Mirror’s Paradise” as a whole there is so much more than just sound and fury of their black metal origins, but an emotional and thoughtful truth being thrust forward to our ears and hopefully our minds. It is typical that a metal song should be about death, but “Mirror’s Paradise” evokes something a little more than raw death, it challenges the uncomfortable notion that we can cheat death; it demands a look at our true morality, and all that we are, one day ends. You can see why this song has stayed with me over all this time.

- King of Braves

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Electric Youth & College - A Real Hero

They say history repeats itself, and in many ways they are right. Musically they are right.

There are a lot of reasonable explanations as to why trends and fads from the past can become popular again but I suspect the most powerful motivation is nostalgia. Young people are very impressionable, and your first love will typically carry greater weight on your heart then the loves that follow, and again I am talking about music here. So when people grow up and become creative persons there is often a very powerful urge to embrace the sorts of sounds and songs they adored when they were young, and this is probably why every decade has a resurgence approximately twenty or thirty years after the fact. If you do some quick math you should be quick to realize I am currently talking about the eighties.

The eighties were a different time, but I suppose all times are different from all other times when you think about it, anyway the eighties was a strange animal. Glam rock had influenced hair bands, garish bright neon colors were the new black, but so was black, metal music was born, and pop music entered its golden age. I was there; I was alive during the eighties, I was too young to fully appreciate how important Guns N Roses or Def Leppard would become, I just thought they were cool dudes, with cool music, and I had a cool T-shirt of them, and it is interesting to think I witnessed the whole gambit of their careers over my lifetime, but I am not the only one, my whole generation went through this together and it affected us; the eighties is our decade of nostalgia, whether we like it or not.

The eighties are popular again and this is no surprise, it has been thirty years past and artist now in their thirties are looking back to their childhoods and remember how much fun they had back then. Edguy’s last album “Space Police” was adverted as “more eighties than the eighties ever were” and Tobias Sammet made a serious effort to prove that claim true. Tegan and Sara’s recent album release “Love You to Death” is embracing the eighties style in a big way. It is sort of weird those two acts are the first examples I think of to prove this point, but the point still stands.

I think I should finally get to the point, another place we have seen a return and an embrace to the eighties is cinema, and since this is a music blog I should probably focus on soundtracks.

In recent years a handful of movies have stood out to me as very eighties, not just set in the eighties but embracing eighties themes and style. I am very fond of movies like “Nightcrawler,” “It Follows,” and the “Maniac” remark, all of which were very eighties and had really strong eighties inspired soundtracks. I also enjoyed the comedic “Turbo Kid” and “Kung Fury” but those movies while comparably eighties are in a whole other category of their own. Most importantly is the movie “Drive,” not only is this the best movie of all the films I just mentioned but it also has the best soundtrack and the best single song we could pull from this collection, Electric Youth & College’s “A Real Hero.”

Bronwyn Griffin and Austin
Garrick; Electric Youth.
Electric Youth is a musical duo from Toronto, where basically Bronwyn Griffin sings and Austin Garrick plays the synthesizer and drums.

College is one of many projects by David Grellier, who for as far as I know, functions similarly to Austin Garrick as far as purpose and function when it came to the collaborative creation that is “A Real Hero.”

“A Real Hero” is so convincingly eighties that I struggled to believe that is was a new song when I first heard it. Clearly very careful consideration and deliberation was invested in the selection of sounds that creates the rhythm section of this song, I would suspect a time machine was used, but time machines are not a thing still... thanks Obama.

But, what is “A Real Hero” about?

My first instinct was always to tie it to the movie “Drive,” and I always suspected the course had a direct meaning to Ryan Gosling’s character;

“And you, have proved, to be,
A real human being,
And a real hero.”

Ryan Gosling in "Drive."
Ryan Gosling effectively plays a sociopath in “Drive.” His lack of empathy comes across more stoic than anything else, but there is an uneasy intensity in the cold and cool way he handles the conflicts facing him. This manifests itself in the elevator scene where Gosling efficiently and brutally stomps a man to death in front of his love interest who is left horrified of him, with his reaction being one of distant indifference. So... it could be argued, and I believe very effectively, that Gosling’s character in “Drive” did indeed need to prove himself to be an actual human being, perhaps by becoming a hero and avenging Bryan Cranston’s death, and after all Gosling’s character is in fact “emotionally complex.”

Oh... spoilers by the way.

Mel Gibson in "The Road Warrior."
However there is an alternative source of inspiration for “Real Hero,” and that is the “The Road Warrior.” Speaking of the eighties... “The Road Warrior” is an awesome movie that tragically has been eclipsed in very nearly every way by “Mad Max Fury Road;” but this is not a movie review, though I doubt myself sometimes, this is a music review, and “A Real Hero” may be about Mad Max.

Against the grain of dystopic claims,
Not the thoughts your actions entertain.

Mel Gibson’s Mad Max, comes across as a heartless stranger, indifferent to the plights and struggles of others, but in the end he goes very far out of his way to save the day. His actions are not the same as his thoughts.

Captain Sully
Sullenberger, a real hero
But there is one more verse to consider:

A pilot on a cold, cold morn,
155 people on board.
All safe and all rescued,
From the slowly sinking ship.
Water warmer than,
His head so cool,
In that tight bind knew what to do.

Well... that is very specific, this has to be something; and it is! It is about Captain Sully Sullenberger, who successfully safety landed a plane, presumably with one hundred and fifty five passengers, after a flock of geese flew into the jet and disabled it. I think it is safe to say that Sullenberger is a real hero, a real life hero, and I doubt anyone has reason to question his qualification as a human being, a real one at that, unlike the last two fictional characters we just finished discussing.

I have to give credit to The Hollywood Reporter for informing me about some of the details here:

Evidently it is not reaching to project Mad Max onto this song; it is in part Austin Garrick’s intention.

It is an interest soup Electric Youth have stewed with “A Real Hero.” Triple heroic inspirations, with a collaboration of talents, and very heavy eighties influence. Not to repeat myself but “A Real Hero” so perfectly captures the sound of the eighties I thought for certain it was some lost classic from that decade, or maybe an Italian hit that never surfaced in North America. I always suspected Electric Youth to be Italian... I do not know why.

So the eighties are back, and depending on how you felt about it the first time around, this may or may not be a good thing. This too will pass and we will have yet another odd catalogue of great songs that seem out of time, belonging to other moments in history altogether, and that thing, history, will continue to repeat itself.

Until next month, keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves


I really like this live version:

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Lindsey Sterling - Shadows

In 2010 Lindsey Stirling competed on the fifth season of “America’s Got Talent.” She was voted out in the quarterfinals where professional British jerk Piers Morgan told her the world had no use for a hip-hop violinist. Like a lot of things Piers Morgan has said, he was wrong.

The music industry is changing. There was a time when most people were dependent on the radio to discover new music; then came music television; then for unknown reasons music television stop playing music, now we have the internet. No one, including Piers Morgan, could possibly have known how the internet would support and encourage musicians in so many new horizons. For Lindsey Sterling it was youtube; with a variety of videos comprised of original material, covers, and many collaborations, Lindsey Sterling has become incredibly popular, now maintaining eight million subscribers.

Sterling is an interesting case study for a variety of reasons; she is a fine example of the new blue print on how to gain an audience and become a musical sensation in the modern world, and also she is yet another reminder that the world craves original, unique experiences, and a hip-hop violinist is a new thing that Sterling currently holds the monopoly on. Lastly is the interesting divide between consumers, Lindsey’s audience exists almost exclusively online and it is almost entirely interacted with there, and then there is everyone else who still depends on radio and television to assist them on this front and they almost entirely have and could not have heard of Lindsey Stirling or any other internet based musician.

Two of my closest friends are huge fans of Lindsey Stirling. Many a drunken evening we have embarked upon taking turns choosing youtube videos to watch and every evening my two friends would go down a rabbit hole that always thoroughly endorsed Lindsey Sterling. To be honest I was not taken with Sterling initially. I had no negative comments to share but she struck me primarily as an interesting but forgettable creature. Given just how wild the internet has become a girl covering pop songs and video game music on violin did not overly impress me, but this got me thinking why do people like Lindsey Sterling so much?

There are several reasons.

Yeah, she is pretty cute.
Lindsey is unique. Piers Morgan was too quick to dismiss the popularity of something new and daring, and violin covers of hip hop songs was certainly something new.

Lindsey is talented. It is so strange we tend to overlook such obvious things when writing critiques, but we do. Lindsey is a very good violin player, and people like that, believe it or not.

Lindsey is cute. Yeah, she is pretty cute. She has captured the market for magical violin playing frolicking elf girls. Speaking of magical frolicking elf girls:

Zelda Medley:

Lastly, video games, Lindsey is popular because of video games. My friends are gamers, a title I cannot honestly claim to wear anymore, I played the hell out of World of Warcraft for a while there (for the horde!), but as a “gamer” I checked out long ago. There is something fantastic about gamers they are infinitely loyal and supportive. If you like the game they like, you are suddenly friends. If an actor voice acts in a game, gamers will start following their entire acting career. If cute girl dresses up like a video game character, gamers fall in love with her; should she thereafter make music videos about games like “Assassins Creed,” “Halo,” “Dragon’s Age,” “Skyrim,” “Final Fantasy,” and “The Legend of Zelda,” she is set for life. Lindsey Sterling having done exactly this, she now has a huge loyal fan base who will follow and support her forever.

Well I am not a gamer, so that angle did not hook me.

I was on a rabbit hole adventure on youtube by myself when I stumbled across Sterling’s “Shadows.” It was then I began to truly appreciate what she was all about.

“Shadows” falls into the category of original material. It is no surprise that an original musical composition is what won me over, I firmly hold to the value that creation is just as, or more so, important then performance.

Broadly, Lindsey does two primary things, she plays violin (obviously), and she dances. Most of her music videos are a combination of playing violin and dancing about the place with the energy of a magical elf girl, as explained earlier. “Shadows” is a full on embrace of these two talents with a charming concept that is both artistic and fun.

The video for “Shadows” has Lindsey playing before a propped up wooden base board in presumably a garage, possibly a warehouse. The light is shot at such an angle to project her shadow upon this said baseboard and as the song progresses her shadow begins to deviate from her own actions, and then breaks into a full dance while Lindsey plays, then they play together again for a while, with the shadow’s accompaniment possessing a sound distortion that is muffled. This visual ascetic gives the viewer a very engaging representation for every sound that this song produces. I really, really like it.

I really like the song “Shadows” itself as well. I really like the ebbs and flows of Lindsey’s violin and I love the subdued accompaniment of the “shadow’s” violin. I also really like how the climax of the song punches out with a silencing of the backbeat just before it arrives. It is a really good instrumental, has a lot of personality.

My two friends, have discussed at length how one day they would plan a trip down to Seattle, or Portland, or Denver, or really anywhere in the United States and see Lindsey Sterling perform live, because they were quite convinced she would never tour Canada. I, the more experience concert goer, always told them to just wait. A few days ago, on August 4th, of this year, Lindsey Sterling played the Jubilee Auditorium in our home of Calgary. Naturally the three of us attended.

I have seen a lot of concerts now, and visually, Lindsey Sterling may have been one of the best. There was some very intelligent thought put into how to present the liveliness of her music videos into a live performance. I suppose I should talk about “Shadows.”

"Shadows" live in Los Angeles

The fourth song of the show was “Shadows.” The road crew brought out three projections and as Sterling played her shadow was projected onto one of the blank slates behind her. Then Lindsey acted all surprised and cute when her shadow began deviating from her own actions. Then about midway through the song a stage size projection screen was dropped and Lindsey’s shadow was then cast onto that and dances away as the song concludes.

This full screen backdrop served the next couple of songs really well. “Elements” was next and the visuals for the rain and then flames were very impressive. Then they played a song I am not familiar with, but I really liked it, Lindsey used one of those machines that records what you play and plays it back in a loop, allowing a single person to create their own rhythm section for a song live, I really dig that kind of stuff, and as for the visuals a bird cage was gradually drawn upon the empty canvas behind her and then a pair of trees, it was simple but nice.

I think Lindsey Sterling made a
pretty good Aerith.
If I had one complaint, it would be Lindsey did not indulge her gamer fans enough live. She performed a nice medley of five or her most popular video game covers, but it was fairly short. Dare I say most slyly, “do not forget who brought you to the dance Lindsey.” The bulk of Sterling’s popularity can be directly linked to gamers, and while not a gamer myself I thought that medley should have been at least twice as long. Also a huge part of Sterling’s charm is her willingness to dress up as video game characters. I cannot fault someone for preferring to focus on their own creative work, but still, you see what I am saying.

The music industry has changed. Taboos such as nerdy or non-mainstream subject matter and weird creativity techniques are no longer a barrier to entry, now they keys to success. The old music industry would never give Lindsey Sterling a serious chance, but the new one embraces her and lifts her up to heights once thought impossible. The times, they are in fact, changing.

- King of Braves


It does feel a little bit odd/needless to post on the Internet an article promoting Lindsey Sterling, as this is the one realm she is so well known.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Cheap Trick - She's Tight

A couple of years back I got to see Cheap Trick and Def Leppard in concert at the Stampede Roundup. My ticket was a gift from my boss at the time, she wanted to reward me for all my hard work and she knew I listened to a lot of music, and she correctly guessed that this included Cheap Trick and Def Leppard. It was great seeing Def Leppard but I was more excited to see Cheap Trick.

Live, Cheap Trick like to introduce themselves as the “best band in the world,” while this is surely meant as a playful boast I take such claims seriously, and I must disagree with Cheap Trick, they are not the best band in the world, in fact I suspect only the most diehard of Cheap Trick fans, and presumably Cheap Trick themselves, could believe such a claim. When we consider the greatest bands of all time we tend to think of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Queen and Black Sabbath, and all those bands are British, so perhaps an argument could be made that Cheap Trick are America’s best band, but I still wouldn’t believe that, I mean The Doors are a thing. Anyway that is enough over-thinking regarding that.

Cheap Trick is one of those bands whose repertoire of songs is very deep and enjoyable. The greatest hits album for Cheap Trick could never suffice as proper appreciation for the band, they have too many great songs that were never hits, or just minor hits on the radio, and as a consequence many great songs are largely forgotten in the sands of time. Cheap Trick’s three most famous songs are surely “Surrender,” “Dream Police” and “I Want You to Want Me,” which is somewhat tragic because I do not like two of those songs. “Surrender” is such a classic that I have nothing but praise for that song, but the other two, I have always felt were kind of lame, not bad songs, but certainly not great, at least in my opinion, so it is something of a bummer that these three songs dominate Cheap Trick radio presence, and also their live performances.

This problem, if we can call it that, manifested itself when I saw them live, or any time I watch a live performance of Cheap Trick on DVD or youtube. During the Stampede Roundup I was really hoping to hear songs like “Southern Girls,” “This Time Around,” or “Gonna Raise Hell,” I thought if they would play at least one or two of those songs, or any of the other songs I adored I would be a very happy man, and they played none of them. This is not to claim the concert was bad, it was good, they were good, they played “Surrender” and that rocked, but they also played “Dream Police” and “I Want You To Want Me,” and I was lukewarm of that. It is a bizarre position to be in when you have so many songs but only so much time to play them live, Cheap Trick by necessity needed to focus on their three most popular songs and other hits that and choice picks, and it just happened that it did not align with what I would have preferred.

Alright we are four paragraphs in and this review is beginning to read like a criticism of Cheap Trick, when in reality I am attempting to give them a runabout compliment. The compliment being Cheap Trick have so many great songs that a fan like me will always be disappointed with any greatest hits album or live concert, because there is too much Cheap Trick I want to hear. They may not be the greatest band ever, but they are a really freaking good one. That’s the take away here.

I mentioned my admiration of songs like “Southern Girls,” “This Time Around” and “Gonna Raise Hell” but in addition to those three, and perhaps my favorite Cheap Trick song is “She’s Tight.”

There are countless rock songs about women, and many, if not most, are hyper sexual. It should require literally no meaningful insight to deduce that a song titled “She’s Tight” is sexual in nature and referencing the high quality of a woman’s genitals. We often refer to songs like “She’s Tight” as cock rock songs, as they are ultimately the ideal sort of songs to rock out to. The pace is fast and the subject matter is encouraging, cock rock songs are always ideal for enjoying ourselves and bonding with one another, also they assist in broaching the subject of actual sex with would be lovers, because intentions can become painfully obvious in the embrace of such song and lyrics.

What separate “She’s Tight” from the run of mill cock rock songs is quality, which is really just another way of saying personal preference. There is a lot of praise, and not necessarily all of it sexual, being heaped upon this mystery women being described to us in “She’s Tight,” and there is a flimsy argument that “tight” might be referring to “cool” as that was an alternative for “cool” in California at the time of this song’s release, but it is impossible to interpret this song as anything other than purely sexual, in fact it might be a song about a prostitute.

“She’s Tight” may not be the classiest or deepest of songs I have brought up on this blog, but not everything needs to be. It is a great song regardless of its lack of depth, and it is a very fun song from a band that focus was primarily on good times and other positive themes.

- King of Braves