The Path of Thorns

inspiration

Velvet drapes, glowing candles.

by on Dec.02, 2010, under heavy metal, inspiration, music

Another favorite band of mine – top 5 all-time, I’d say – is an Italian band who recently found fame out west.  They call themselves Lacuna Coil, and last year they came out with an album entitled Shallow Life.

I couldn’t wait to hear it.  When I did, I found myself disappointed.  Their debut album, In a Reverie, was brilliant, though a bit unfinished; I feel the same way about this new record once again.

They had continually grown – through the excellent melodies and strong songwriting and harmony in Unleashed Memories, which also happens to include my favorite song of theirs, the Italian-worded “Senzafine.”  That song has a chorus intense enough to wake anyone up from any somber state and make them feel like they can take on anything.  It was heavy, it was soft, it was developed and a large growth from In a Reverie.

They really hit the center of the target with the perfect (in my opinion) record Comalies.  Familiar songs in the hard rock community like “Heaven’s a Lie”, “Swamped” and “Self Deception” blew me away when I first heard them at a club in Chicago when they were opening up for the late Peter Steele’s goth-metal band Type O’ Negative.  The songs are a perfect craft, a well-blended mix of catchy melody with the same bone-crushing guitar work and epic-sounding vocals that make them as excellent as they are.  With Comalies, they stayed true to their core while perfecting their sound on an album of songs that could only go together, like a fine-woven quilt.  I figured this would take them to the top of the charts to come – unfortunately America still hasn’t noticed them enough yet – but I digress.

They began to sound a bit more commercial in Karmacode, which excellently put out their biggest song yet, “Our Truth”, and a powerful cover of Depeche Mode’s most well-known song, “Enjoy the Silence”, a song with a title you could never forget.

Sorry, wanted to catch you up on Lacuna Coil a bit before I begin my slightly disappointing post of Shallow Life. If you like Evanescence, you’d like Lacuna a hell of a lot more.  I can’t get enough of this band.

Shallow Life, to me, reflected a problem a lot of bands go through.  They work hard, hone their skills, perfect their songwriting and direction, get fairly well-known, and end up selling themselves short trying to gain approval from a mass audience.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the album because like very few other bands I love, Lacuna Coil can do no wrong to my ears.  But I think they limited themselves too much with this one.

They continued the trend of having an album-busting song entitled “Spellbound”, which had the same strong effect on Shallow Life that “Our Truth” had on Karmacode.  Makes sense – if you want your album to be heard, open it up with a catchy, strong first single.  However, Shallow Life mostly goes a bit downhill from there.  The songs are shorter, and they hurry themselves up the same way a great storyteller rushes a story when they’re not in the mood to tell one.

“I Won’t Tell You”, “Not Enough”, and “The Maze” are nicely crafted tunes with riveting choruses I spend a lot of time listening to, but the rest of the album falls forgotten on my ears despite hearing them hundreds of times.  I don’t believe they ‘sold out’ because I rarely believe in such a meaning in the first place, but Lacuna Coil could have let these songs grow, develop and widen like they have so well in the past.  You hear a song, you like it, you want to experience more, and then the whole thing’s over when you feel it just began.

It’s a common flaw when trying to find a commercial sound when you should only spend time making an album for yourself.  And maybe Lacuna Coil did, maybe Shallow Life was written with the same frame of mind that they always have in the studio.  Beats me, I don’t know them personally, unfortunately.  However, it seems like they went into it with the thought that it would be a short-sweet, catchy album.  And it is; but Lacuna can do even better.  They can give their songs that heavy, epic, wandering sound that makes them one of the best hard rock bands on earth.

I hope they find their perfect sound again, without getting bored of what they’ve done so far.  I never want a band to sell themselves short, no matter what they want to do, but I worry one of my favorite bands did that with Shallow Life and I don’t want a band with their talent, passion and intelligence strangle their own sound like that going further.

They’re at the highest level of performance and songwriting, in my book.  I want them to write like they know that!

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Chase that pain on your brow…

by on Oct.22, 2010, under inspiration, love, music

I mentioned recently that one of my favorite all-time singers, Anggun, was on the unbelievably brilliant album Atemlos by Schiller.  Her work is as remarkable as his, in terms of talent, uniqueness, and a passion in their music that is so rarely seen in this day and age where we seem to be manufacturing music without any real feeling.

Anggun first caught my ear in 1998, when her first English international album Snow on the Sahara was released, and it was played once and only once on a local radio station here.  She’s Indonesian with a French background, and not yet known in America.  Google wasn’t a superpower back then, nor was Yahoo, so I really had to hunt the song down.  I found it on this magnificent album, a record that truly stands on its own apart from any other female vocalist I’ve ever heard.

Snow on the Sahara is relaxing, intelligent, heartfelt, and it really takes you away to a place of tranquility in your head.  I used to listen to it all the time when I’d study, or go to sleep, or just about any other time in my life where I wanted/needed to be at ease.  It doesn’t have the empty cheesiness that Enya commonly falls into – it’s deep, it’s soulful, it’s as pure in sound as any.

Songs like “By The Moon”, “A Rose in the Wind” and “On the Breath of an Angel” make you feel like you’re sailing away somewhere far from any of your troubles.  I know that sounds corny, but it’s absolutely true.  They’re melodic, simple and a perfect lucidity.

Not all songs have the ability to put you to sleep – “Over Their Walls”, “Dream of Me” and “Valparaiso” have more of an island sound in my opinion, and are nothing short of bright and vibrant in their harmonies and chord progressions.  She comes to life in everything she puts a tune to, and these songs have an epic feel that makes you only want to hear more.

She immediately seemed well versed to me when she even did a cover of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars”, an odd choice I thought, but it worked perfectly with her own touch.  Her voice just blows through the song, and though it does vary considerably from the rest of the album, it’s one of the better covers I know, and certainly one of the most original.

Altogether, Snow on the Sahara has become one of my favorite all-time albums, and her work since has developed and advanced, continually keeping herself fresh and reinvented with each record.  Anggun Cipti Sasma is one of the world’s best female solo artists, and I hope she finds great success on our shores someday.

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Sweden’s best music will never be from ABBA.

by on Oct.01, 2010, under heavy metal, human emotions, inspiration, music

One of my favorite all-time bands, one of the best metal bands ever created, and one of the most promising groups of musicians I’ve ever heard, lived briefly in the mid-to-late nineties.  Their guitars were heavy and ugly enough to silence any other in their genre.  Their rhythms were as nasty as they were catchy.  The music they spanned in a few short years could have changed the scene forever.  They put on an incredible aggressive show, and captivated anyone that saw them.

That band was Drain STH; a band formed by four Swedish women that would lead you to believe they were Motorhead gone mad.  They made melodies ugly and phenomenal at the same time; something I haven’t heard before, or since.  Eleven years since their breakup, and I still miss their bone-crushing symphonies.

Horror Wresting ought to be defined as a metal necessity for any fan of the genre.  From the jaw-dropping heaviness of “I Don’t Mind” to the anthem that is “Serve The Shame”, to their hellfire cover of “Ace of Spades” that literally makes you feel like the apocalypse is about to incur its wrath all around you. And, in case you haven’t had enough of a powerful record thrown at you, they write the brilliant “Crack The Liar’s Smile” that sounds like something Nancy Wilson could have written.

But beyond that – their harmony, their excellent timing and their remarkable dark songwriting skills makes them as unique of a band as any I’ve ever experienced.  They were ahead of their time, and still are.  Every track had the same moodiness, but with different elements each time.  And having such a feminine looking band writing something so disgustingly fantastic made them even more interesting.

Their lead singer, Maria Sjoholm, married Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi and that was the end of that.  The other members play here and there, but they’ve never been able to find their niche since.  It’s such a shame, because in less than five years of playing music together, I easily mark them as one of the most unheralded, intelligent and mesmerizing metal bands in history.

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Save love from anger.

by on Sep.16, 2010, under inspiration, music

My album of the year 2010 is, without a doubt, ‘Atemlos’ from Schiller.  The album is as relaxing as it is surreal, and as surreal as it is powerful and moving.  The album defies anyone who say you cannot put a true musician’s emotion in electronic music.  The melodies, the harmonies, the fusion of Christopher von Deylen’s performance with the many singers he brings in to sing over it is nothing short of perfect.

“Sunrise”, featuring Lenka, is a symphony in itself.  Her voice is as soft as the melody, but the music is as gripping as Grisham at his best.  It’s tranquil and an ambiance all in itself.  Deylen made the song feel like something some used to find miraculous – a sunrise, for example.

He also features one of my all-time favorite singers – Anggun – on two songs of this album.  “Blind” has the same relaxing intensity (Deylen makes that paradox come true) that flows through several of the album’s tracks, while “Always You” is one of the more soft and inventive romantic songs I’ve ever heard.  Her voice with Deylen’s music is brilliant fusion not seen very often between two artists so defined separately.

Deylen’s exceptional ear for vocals on his own music does have a flow that matches in perfect syncopation with his music.  A male singer I wasn’t familiar with, named Henree, sings on a track called “I Will Follow You”, and though his voice is masculine, it’s as gentle and as perfectly placed as the rest of the female singers on the album.  Needless to say, this is Deylen’s largest vocal experimentation in terms of quantity of singers, and none of it was any less than perfectly pieced together and mastered.

If Schiller were to spend much of any time in the US promoting his work, he’d no doubt be a superstar.  There’s no one that writes music with the electronic, yet pure, serenity that he does – and that sort of work is a huge gap in America.  That purity lacks here, the puzzles Deylen pieces together in such an epic manner lacks here as well.  If I were to sit with him in the studio listening to him work, I believe I’d find myself dumbfounded day after day.

Atemlos does what many artists can’t do very often anymore, and that is show the brilliant work of a musician so many years after first paving their way on their respective scene.  It’s flawless, it’s gorgeous, it’s full of emotion and relaxation at the same time, and it’s something you can listen to in nearly any mood, or in any time of your life.

As someone that wants a lot of honesty, purity and passion in the music he listens to, I got all of that and more with this album.  Simply perfect.  Well done, Deylen.

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Before you judge me, try hard to love me…

by on Jun.29, 2010, under death, goodbyes, human emotions, inspiration, love, music, nature

It’s never fair when you’re given the world, and are expected to live up to it.

A year ago now, we lost a King, a leader, a sensation and most importantly, a seemingly wonderful human being.  I can’t imagine being the center of the world’s attention, and then on top of it going through such trouble, despair and confusion.  While still being all of that, for earth to see.  We all like to jump to conclusions, judge as soon as possible, and with that judgment tear people down like moldy old wallpaper.  The second something isn’t what we imagine it to be, when it’s something we can’t understand without tearing down our own walls of perfect image, we condemn and destroy it.

I may be wrong.  This man may have been a sexual deviant, a double-crosser and a disgrace to generations worldwide.  We’ll never really, truly know if he was.  What we do truly know is that he showed the world nothing but love, dedication and endless talent that we ate up and later chewed out when it tasted a little funky.  I myself have dealt with emotional issues, heartache and awful depression.  Letting the world see not only that, but how I’d deal with that, is a trauma none of us could ever begin to imagine.  He dealt with his issues with physical changes, interactions none of us gave any time to listen to or understand (including myself, absolutely), and decisions that were questionable at best.

I was having a panic attack once.  I was in financial distress, dealing with more uncertainty than I’ve ever experienced, and dealing with losses I never thought I’d have to.  If the world saw my reactions to that, and knew nearly every last detail of it, I might have changed myself and made bizarre relations as well.  I nearly lost my world; and when you want that world back, and you don’t know how to, you don’t always know your own reason.  All you know is, you lost something and you want it back.  But you don’t want to be hurtful to anyone, and you don’t want to make a fool of yourself either.  Well, to err is human, and there’s no margin of error when the scale is that large.

This man gave us every last drop of all he had to give.  His talent, his creativity, his ecologic intelligence and passion, and even a good deal of his sanity.  Yes, as we’ve all violently pointed out, he had his mistakes and character decisions that made him far, far from perfect.  But are you?  Am I?

He pleaded with us, with so many of his songs and lyrics within them.  He tried to get us to listen.  And of course we didn’t, myself included; he practically lived in obscurity and financial demise for years before he gave his final breath.  The same market of journalists, TV hosts and press that glorified his imperfect mistakes and actions all of a sudden felt compassion and loss, and gave their best words.  In the world’s best example of not knowing what you have until it’s gone, we lost the Polaris of the entertainment world.  Had we heard him out a little better when he begged us to, maybe he wouldn’t have led such a life of inner misery and with such a lack of self-understanding.

He had everything there was to have, absolutely everything – and I can’t imagine he realized much of any of it.  He paid dearly for trying to go back in time within his own life, with his home, with choices he made, and he knew it.  Still, he died wondering if the world ever even gave a damn about him beyond what he gave and gave until he literally no longer could.

…I take that back.  I saw his final documentary that hit theaters last year, and he had all the heart and talent he ever did, and it made it that much sadder to know that never got a chance to develop again.  While he should have known better in some way, he paid the price of being cast off too soon.

Do we owe his spirit an apology?  Who knows.  Should he have shown remorse for his own trouble?  Yes, and he did plenty of times.  It’s an altogether tragic, sad and confusing loss of one of the best entertainers and activists we’ll ever witness.  And if you scoffed at that last statement, I certainly can’t blame you, but I can’t help but understand and even relate a little to someone as in need of help as they were profitable in their deserved success.

He said it best in his own words, which is cryptic and even more melancholy to listen to now:

Like A Comet
Blazing ‘Cross The Evening Sky
Gone Too Soon

Like A Rainbow
Fading In The Twinkling Of An Eye
Gone Too Soon

Shiny And Sparkly
And Splendidly Bright
Here One Day
Gone One Night

Like The Loss Of Sunlight
On A Cloudy Afternoon
Gone Too Soon

Like A Castle
Built Upon A Sandy Beach
Gone Too Soon

Like A Perfect Flower
That Is Just Beyond Your Reach
Gone Too Soon

Born To Amuse, To Inspire, To Delight
Here One Day
Gone One Night

Like A Sunset
Dying With The Rising Of The Moon
Gone Too Soon

When his sunlight began to dim, we shut our blinds well too soon.  I absolutely hope the anguish you felt in this lifetime is long gone wherever you are now.  Rest in peace and quiet, Michael Jackson.

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Get your bodyguard to pick up your trash.

by on Mar.18, 2010, under heavy metal, industrial, inspiration, music, politics

It took me awhile to figure out if I liked Pain.  I think the band name’s pretty cheesy and unoriginal, like Death.  They’re also industrial, and at first they didn’t stand out as much to me as i:scintilla does.  Then I really listened and really studied their newest album, Cynic Paradise.  The album is a great comedic summary of how the band seriously feels.  And that’s where I got intrigued.

The more I studied this album, the more I got attached to it, and I ended up absolutely loving it.  They tackle the lack of glamor and honesty in my favorite track, “Clouds of Ecstasy”, where they really tackle the nonsense that goes on in Hollywood’s artificial atmosphere.  “Monkey Business” tackles similar fakes and liars, calling them out while delivering unbelievable industrial anthems that just blow you away.  The band thoroughly, completely and entirely calls out people they can’t respect or dignify, and they do it bluntly, but with enough tact to really understand what they’re talking about.

“Reach Out (And Regret)” and the incredibly fierce & catchy “Follow Me” with Anette Olzon of Nightwish continue the eager, aggressive industrial/metal force with feeling most new music doesn’t have.  When I think of ‘damn the Man’ bands, historically I think of the hippie generation mostly.  Having such strong messages about corruption, scandals and falsehoods from a band in such a genre is by far the most original and most interesting aspect of Pain.  These are intelligent guys, with a lot to say, and I know this will sound comical but they have the strongest opinion out of anyone I’ve ever heard from Sweden, of all places!

Pain is a outspoken, brilliantly talented industrial metal band with some of the catchiest tunes I’ve heard in quite awhile.  They’re a band to blare loud and proud, with lyrics that stick.  I’m a fan, a big big fan, and I recommend it to anyone who likes to rock out.  With meaning.

Get the album here.

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We are trying to communicate a fulfilled ideal. Does anybody remember laughter?

by on Feb.01, 2010, under human emotions, inspiration, music

Before I critique another album, I’m taking this time to make a point, or statement, whatever it is.  My thoughts are so jumbled and layered that I don’t know if I’ll make more sense to myself than I might right now.  It’s an exhausted argument and a very narrow one as well, but one I feel will always be addressed.

You know who the biggest bands in the world are right now?  That’s right, the same damn ones that have been on top for three, four, five, SIX decades now.  U2.  The Rolling Stones.  AC/DC.  Metallica.  Madonna.  The Who.  Iron Maiden.  Can Phoenix sell out 100,000 seat arenas?  No, but Edward The Great can.  They’re the biggest draws live, and they’re just as big now as they ever were.  These artists and the scores more at their level have sealed their legacies and legends, and have inspired masses and generations, and always will.

Now, granted, they’ve had the time to keep it together, stay together and stay inspired enough to stay relevant.  Time to create these legacies.  But these artists defined their generation, revolutionized music, whether they wanted to or not.  There’s no way to know if something you did will be groundbreaking and a worldwide favorite, but there’s always something magical that happens when it’s made.

These artists are the master at what they do.  Whether it’s brilliant lyrics, defining entertainment, groundbreaking musical talent, they mastered it.  You see them live, they define your own lifetime, they move you, they become a part of your own dreams and loves.

Kings of Leon?  They’re as marginally forgettable as Kingdom Come.  Rihanna?  Incredibly talented, but is the millionth R&B singer to shout out songs about relationships.  Lil Wayne?  I’ll admit that hip-hop has had many brilliant talents in their innovative and culture-defining uprising, people like Russell Simmons, Grandmaster Flash and Dr. Dre, but at what point does it begin to sound like self-obsessed noise?

I don’t write this blog to attack people who live their dreams and make great careers for themselves, and I’m trying to pick my words wisely now.  But there’s a point where you just have to take a leap and say “Will this inspire?  Will this song live on?  What is the point here?”

I’ll also say that artists, many of them, don’t want to lead the pack.  They’re not looking for infamy, or an avant-garde musical lifeline, and that’s fine.  But there’s got to be someone who can take the torch from the artists that have held it for generations.  It’s going to have to happen sometime.  The Rolling Stones are nearing their mortal end.  So is Paul McCartney, Jimmy Page and Roger Daltrey.  Rock n’ roll isn’t old enough to see its direct originators play it through their 80′s, but it’s far from easily possible.

Music isn’t defining anymore.  If it is, I consider myself dated.  Music’s movement has been technological; vocoders and auto-tuners are “in.”  Bands like The Postal Service, Owl City, VNV Nation and Shiny Toy Guns are successful due to their computerized sounds that stem as far back as Nine Inch Nails and before that, 80′s synth pop.

In that, music a continuance.  Maybe that’s all it is.  I don’t know if music is going to define our lives like it did our parents and grandparents.  I think we’re forced to grow up too fast in a harsher reality, and music doesn’t always have the sway it used to.  With more ways to get music out there, with more media and with so much created in an always-corrupt recording industry, maybe there will be no one to step up to the likes of The Beatles.  Then again, we’ve never been able to see what’s to come in music, so why start now?

I’m rambling.  I knew I would.  I guess my bottom line is that I’m bummed I missed Woodstock, missed the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, missed the foundation of bands like Aerosmith, Cream,  Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.  Those bands changed the world.  They’re honored and worshiped today and will be forever.

Is there anyone else coming?  Will my generation and those after have such incredibly earth-shattering swarms of talent that would overcome any dry spell in popular music?  I don’t know, and I don’t see it, and that worries me.

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