Bring Me The Horizon – Sempiternal

sempiternalIf the name doesn’t sound familiar, the sound of Oli Sykes’ fiendishly captivating shout will. Bring Me The Horizon are the golden boys of metalcore, (I will deliberately use this genre as a label for the band. Regardless of how much debate sub-genres of metal now cause; I’d rather it didn’t get in the way of any initial, musical and natural reactions to the way the album sounds) since their inception in 2004, the Yorkshire fringe toting pretty boys exploded off the bat and became immensely popular locally and with “Kerrang! kids”. Their earlier releases were somewhat generic however, featuring gnarly guitar solos and very common (although still impressive) growls and screams popular at the time.
BMTH’s second outing: Suicide Season (2008) allowed the band, with their impressive following, the space to discover a distinct and fantastically brutal sound, suddenly the guitars carried with them a unique chug, Matt Nicholls’ drums sounded much more impactful and arena fueled and Syke’s screams had become an unholy mixture of growls and flat out shouting. In 2010, it wasn’t just the kids in venues and black skinny jeans paying attention to BMTH. There Is a Hell, Believe Me I’ve Seen It. There Is a Heaven, Let’s Keep It a Secret (2010) was released to critical appraisal as well as the usual swell in the band’s popularity received with each release. This album isn’t just a good metalcore album; it’s a good album, mixing the band’s patented face kicking sound with some fantastic electronica mixing and some perfectly selected collaborators. Sempiternal (2013) then, has a tough act to follow; and the very premise of the album is a frightening project for any musician who would like to make progress in their music. There Is a Hell being such an enormously brave leap in terms of sound and development for the band has placed them in front of an enormous wall of expectation amongst fans and music lovers. Fortunately, Sempiternal brings with it an arsenal of noise, all masterfully crafted specifically to bring this wall down without relent.

There is no denying that Sempiternal is much more the sister album to it’s immediate predecessor than BMTH’s earlier albums, in that it continues to soar into the relatively unexplored sound-space of electro-metal. The album hammers this point forward hard from its opening. We’re re-introduced to the band through an aggressive but pleasantly melodic synth loop in Can You Feel My Heart, already the ambient and atmospheric malice of There Is a Hell can be heard, but in a much more developed and polished way. Much of the album employs this synth driven epic writing, and when the layers of guitars and synth collide alongside a conviction filled shout in the choruses of songs like Sleepwalking and Go To Hell, For Heavens Sake the new BMTH separate themselves from the dozens of unremarkable heavy bands that rival them.       The album is not purely filled with these synth anthems however, the absolute raw power of the band reminiscent of Suicide Season is present in some of the albums heavier, and sometimes stronger tracks. Antivist sounds brilliantly brutal, in all senses of the word, and the album’s flagship song Shadow Moses (Which includes an orchestral introduction derived from the legendary Hideo Kojima playstation title Metal Gear Solid (1998)) hosts what may be the band’s most festival suited chorus yet. Musically, the band seem to improve drastically each time they release a full album in terms of production and technical ability. Guitars are no longer needlessly flashy, every note seems ‘necessary’, and pretentious solos are all but present in this album. The songs may be much more electronically produced, but live presentation has obviously gone into the writing process of them, cleverly accommodating bass lines in support of powerful choruses ensuring that drums assist with the structure of the, at times, complex songs (rather than bullying the rest of the band into thrashing out a track as some metalcore seems to sound). Lyrically BMTH deliver a curious mixture of songs about fame, and the tribulations that accompany this (Seen It All Before) and some tracks tackling faith and seemingly opposing organised religion (House Of Wolves). This writing provides songs with a sense of raw conviction, and plenty of meat to get listeners’ teeth into, having said this though; lyrics, I have found, are a very subjective element of songwriting to interpret (and thus analyse). To people unfamiliar to Bring Me The Horizon, the following statement will sound insane, and perhaps deter readers from listening to the band. Please believe me when I say that the albums prior to Sempiternal are not poor, regardless of their absence of their singer’s  ability to sing. That’s right, in many of Sempiternal‘s 11 tracks (13 if you count the Deluxe version of the album): Oliver Sykes sings (and he’s not bad either). If there was one thing There Is a Hell lacked; it was a consistent sense of voice, some of the more emotionally driven songs needed a singer, and not a stand in (although Josh Franceschi and Sam Carter have provided great vocal samples for BMTH in the past). Oli Sykes’ singing is put to use very carefully alongside his screams in this album; and this combination absolutely dominates the album in finale track Hospital For Souls in a heart wrenching crescendo of convincing and raw passion.

Sempiternal may not be as grand a leap as There Is a Hell was for the Steel City lads, but it takes the voice they had established in the latter and applies it to the stellar level of songwriting that they have acquired through rigorous touring and constantly being thrust into the limelight of modern heavy music. This is what metal sounds like now. Old school Pantera fans will moan, mums will give their radios confused looks as Shadow Moses tears up the insides of their cars; but these guys are going nowhere. bring-me-the-horizon-500x250


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Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance – An Exercise in Cutting People into Hundreds of Pieces

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It seems essential to establish with gamers and non-gamers unfamiliar to the Metal Gear universe; that this shit is absolutely batshit crazy and has slowly gotten more and more insane over the years. Having said that, Metal Gear games have really made this lunacy their own, and it has become a staple of the series to present players with obnoxiously long (but very beautiful and captivating) cut scenes, convoluted, awkward and at times nonsensical dialogue, and “try hard cool” characters whom will stop at nothing to be the kind of heavy metal badasses you’d expect them to be from the get go. Amazingly, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (I demand that this word be put into the dictionary right now) pulls this off with a spectacular amount of style and finesse; providing players with a very different Metal Gear experience within the familiar, exaggerated version of modern war of Hideo Kojima’s design.

It becomes obvious very early on in MGR that this game is trying extremely hard to be “cool”. We are re-introduced to Raiden, the infamous protagonist from Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2001) as he bodyguards an African Prime Minister. Clad in a stylish suit, riding in a limousine, subtle hints at Raiden’s cybernetic characteristics litter the opening sequence. Raiden’s client refers to him as “Mr Lightning-bolt”, this conversation also introduces Raiden’s deadly sword as it rests in a case below his seat. Then the shit hits the proverbial fan; it does this quite dramatically and unashamedly brutally. I’ll leave the plot details out, but let’s just say Raiden is presented with a real gosh dang mess and is forced to clean up this mess with his “tool of justice”. Thankfully, the game’s trying to come across as cool works, and playing as Raiden does actually feel cool because of this. Most other characters are pulled off just as successfully (except for one glaring exception), and players will find themselves absorbed in the obviously corny, but massively enjoyable sense of Japanese stylishness.

As aforementioned, MGR is not your typical Metal Gear game in terms of game play. It feels unfair to label MGR a “Hack ‘n Slash” title, because it feels so much more elegant than that. All of the hacking and slashing in the game flows beautifully, and relies heavily on skill and timing in order to successfully produce the ninja-like results expected of players. This kind of game play is extremely rewarding and little else feels cooler than using quick swordplay to defeat a barrage of enemies against the odds. This level of badassery is hardly spoon-fed to players however, primarily through the lack of any specific block button. Instead of simply blocking and countering attacks, players have to employ the, difficult to master, parry system, in which you must pay very close attention to your enemies movements and attacks in order to put to good use. It’s not all about parrying attacks though, when Raiden builds up enough electrolytes, he can engage “blade mode”, a slowed down version of reality in which he can (quite literally) slice and dice his enemies into hundreds of pieces. Just in case you were wondering, yes, Raiden can do this to more than just enemies, and yes, it really is that fun.

Combat in MGR really thrives the most in what has always been an integral part of Metal Gear games: Boss Fights. The boss fights in this game are almost all spectacular bouts, that are both challenging and stunning to take part in. A mixture of employing ordinary sword skills and well placed quick-time events, accompanied by an often powerfully metal score, makes boss fights in this game feel like they genuinely do matter. Awesome is a word overused in games criticism; but how else am I supposed to describe running vertically down a clock tower, dodging missiles and plasma rays whilst wielding an enormous blade.

Metal Gear games have, since Metal Gear Solid (1998), been pioneering in terms of cinematic gaming experiences. Over the years this has developed into an often very deep and philosophical exploration of human nature (in the context of conflict) through dialogue, at least for video games. Sometimes though, these philosophical discussions can become obnoxious and lost within their own characters’ logic; Metal Gear Rising takes this cooky over analysis aspect of the games to the next level. Without spoiling too much of the game’s ending and story, the game attempts to express a mixture of different political agendas, representing the different perspectives and intentions of leaders and soldiers; and in attempting to do so (at least narratively) falls flat on its face right before the end, when it begins to take itself too seriously…or not…it becomes very difficult to tell. That’s not to say the game is too long either, as with far too many releases today, a couple more hours of game play would not have gone amiss in MGR.

Awkwardly forced political narrative aside, Metal Gear Rising is one of the coolest hack ‘n slash titles to be released for this generation, and its unique blade mechanics make for painfully stylish game play. It really isn’t necessary for players to have any familiarity with the Metal Gear universe in order to just pick up Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (dat word), unsheathe their High Frequency Blade (as cool as it sounds), and have a quick go at being a badass ninja cyborg. An ostentatious, lightning fast and incredibly cool effort.

7.5/10

5 Weirdest Interviews With Musicians

Drugs are weird. Even weirder, is when you thrust a camera into the faces of some of societies most creative and misunderstood minds, and try to probe said minds for the purpose of furthering our understanding of the subjects. Not to say that any of the musicians included in this article are under the influence of substances (legal or not); but you’d be forgiven for assuming otherwise. Here are my top five strangest explorations into the psyche of musicians caught on camera.

#5 – Butthole Surfers: Bad Jokes, Pants and Scabs (1988) 

“Well…I’d first like to be able to pull down my pants, I think I will.” Gibby Haynes was never going to make an interview for television easy. The Butthole Surfer excels at this in this particular interview: demonstrating bad jokes, toy-gun sound effects and an affinity for scabs.

#4 –  Dead Kennedys: Jello Biafra Runs For Mayor (1979)

Context is important here. It’s not so much Biafra’s political claims that make this video so funny; but the fact that this actually happened. That and amongst this brilliant punk statement, there’s something positively spectacular about Jello Biafra cleaning a plant with a vacuum cleaner.

#3 – Beck: Interviewed By Thurston Moore (1994)

I can’t decide what’s better about this clip: Beck, answering a question by throwing an item of clothing, or Moore, responding as though this constitutes a valid and substantial answer to his question (also, I have no idea what on Earth is going on at 0:46).


#2 – Nirvana: Escalators (1992)

Nirvana were experts of sarcasm and dry wit in interview situations; so I was not short of weird and often humorous interviews to choose from here. One thing made me choose this interview: it wasn’t the fact that the trio have no idea where they are and it wasn’t their sarcasm and promotion of drug use. The thing that makes this video so great is Krist Novoselic’s rant about “people standing on escalators” which begins at around the 2:00 mark. Write to your congressman!

#1 – The Sex Pistols: “Shit” (1976)

As soon as Bill Grundy catches Rotten swearing in this interview; the entire situation breaks out into a spectacle of anarchistic foul language, all on television. Even better than Steve Jones calling Grundy a “dirty fucker” on live television is when Rotten is scolded by his interviewer for using a “rude word”.

In Utero: A Review of a 19 Year Old Album

I was two years old when Nirvana’s final studio album ‘In Utero’ hit shelves in 1993, but since falling in love with the band when I was 18; it remains one of my all time favourite albums and is somehow completely relevant and impactful to me even today, regardless of its release date. Why is it then, that of the three studio albums Nirvana released, this one stands out to me? At this point in Kurt Cobain’s career, he was often critical of his own success. Not always critical of this particular album, but of the experience and his personal position as a successful “rock star”; various interviews saw Kurt toying with the idea of quitting Nirvana altogether to join Courtney Love’s Hole. Criticisms of the album at the time included poor reception to the obscenity within the album, particularly the song “Rape Me”. Now it is often perceived by certain indie elitists as the over-produced bastard child of Nirvana and their corporate masters, undoubtedly a result of the huge success of Nevermind. The album strikes me however as perhaps Nirvana’s most punk of moments; reeking of whimsically sick sarcasm and genuinely dark and disturbing imagery. A huge “fuck you” to the music industry and what they expected from their new golden cash cow, Nirvana. I payed £4 for this CD, practically snatching it from the shelf; here’s why:

Serve the Servants: This catchy opener pitches ‘In Utero’ and its entire sentiment excellently. The bitter sweet juxtaposition of an almost sickly pleasant melody and nihilistic, cartoonish lyrics makes for a baffling but fantastically entertaining listen. The average “consumer” listener will hear the catchy tune and tap their feet, those who listen to Cobain’s lyrics will do the same; but also notice the comical, ironic effect of the words Cobain so lazily drones:
“Teenage angst has paid off well, now I’m bored and old”.                                                                                     Along with the trademark heavy distortion of Nirvana’s guitar(s), the song evolves from a joke about media consumption and production, to an almost scary portrait of Cobain’s real role as a musician.                 This sense of surreal pleasantry peaks as Cobain repeats the monotonic chorus “Serve the Servants”: a guitar playing zombie for the masses.

Scentless Apprentice: A nod to a novel I have not read, Scentless Apprentice is in so many ways brutal. Grohl’s drumming opens the track in a sporadic and almost frantic fashion, clueing listeners into the gnarly guitar chug that will dominate the next four(ish) minutes. Perhaps the heaviest song on the album, Scentless Apprentice’s lyrics are disturbing to say the least; reference to infancy, wet nursing and the scent of semen all contribute to a brilliantly jagged, frightening sounding piece of music. The screamed chorus’ “Go away”, drowning in feedback, secures this song as one of Nirvana’s loudest songs.

Heart Shaped Box: An obvious single, Heart Shaped Box is, perhaps more than Teen Spirit, the perfect Nirvana song. No other song in Nirvana’s catalogue sounds more like Nirvana than this. Catchy, rumbling bass and guitar; a melodically enchanting piece of work built upon the powerhouse drumming of Dave Grohl. Lyrically observing his own relationship with Courtney Love, Cobain’s writing was never more poignant. “Broken hymen of your highness I’m left black, throw down your umbilical noose so I can climb right back.” Vaginal, repulsive and melancholic: these metaphors are as poetic as Nirvana gets. As dark as it may be, this track is a single; and a fantastic one at that, one of the reasons it sums up Nirvana so well for me is that it is engaging pop music, not out of place on a car radio. The track sells itself to the general public, as its twisted little lyrical nuances drift easily over their heads. The accompanying minimalist solo also helps to establish the Nirvana trademark.

Rape Me: The opening power chords to this song may sound familiar. They are. Smells Like Teen Spirit was (and still is) an enormous hit, with good reason. Rape Me parodies the track hilariously. The song perhaps references the pressures of producers and the demands they could have made of Nirvana in the studio to produce another hit like Teen Spirit. Nirvana, in entertaining fashion, obliged. As the pressures of studio and producer demands “Rape” Nirvana’s creative rights; Cobain responds by ensuring that this recycled former chart buster will never be played before 9pm due to its explicit lyrics.

Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle: This song title references a once famous Hollywood actressImage, she was institutionalised. Themes of illness and alienation are intensified on this track, “I miss the comfort in being sad”, conjuring a clearer picture of a warped yet familiar mindset. Once again the ‘quiet/loud/quiet’ formula makes this song a hard rocking, grunge loving joy to listen to at full volume and one particular chunk of riffage midway through the song really ties it up as a slow head hanging, guitar swinging favourite for lovers of the genre.

Dumb: Another track featuring lyrics referencing alienation, drug use and the human psyche (it’s shortcomings primarily). This song is one of the few respites from the skull crunching, distorted, beautiful noise of In Utero. A merry acoustic sounding guitar accompanies a stoned sounding Cobain as relaxed if not dreary violins coat the song in a layer more fitting to In Utero’s negativity and genuine sense of sadness. Dreary, but encapsulating.

Very Ape: In two minutes this song absolutely rips apart the moment of rest provided by Dumb, and tears out into more frenetic and enthusiastic noise. A song about irony and being ‘hip’ in the eyes of peers, Very Ape’s self reflective sense of scrutiny is as brief as it is brutally honest.

Milk It: The drumming in this song is phenomenal. Rhythmically, it stops and starts in an intense manner, a sense of fear and urgency accompany the songs garage/band practice feel due to Cobain’s mid song guitar fiddling and at one point chuckling the start of a chorus. More explicit and vulgar lyrics make this another rough and punk track: “Her milk is my shit, my shit is her milk”.                                                It’s difficult  (perhaps deliberately)  to derive meaning or coherence from a song so manically sporadic, that’s how the song feels, and it’s most certainly how the song sounds. Perfect for smashing stage equipment.

Pennyroyal Tea: Pennyroyal Tea is yet another prime example of Nirvana and Cobain’s typical song writing. Everything about the song screams Nirvana. More lyrics concerning illness and the treatment of sicknesses along with yet another single-release worthy hook all contribute to what sounds like a song recorded live in just one take. The beauty of so many of these songs is that they do sound as Grohl once said like “Nirvana in the room”. Pennyroyal Tea is no exception.

Radio Friendly Unit Shifter: There is a moment early in the screeching introduction to this song in which a cow may or may not be heard “mooing” somewhere amongst the distortion of the track; this song is by far the most outlandish and amusing of the tracks on In Utero. The title of the song further parodies the band’s position as a commercially successful rock group and the hilarity of studio expectations of the band. The song is most certainly not Radio Friendly; it screeches and growls where it should be silent, and flat out refuses to be what it says on the tin. Along with the songs offensively distorted guitars, lyrics constantly second guess listeners, steeped in irony Cobain yells: “This had nothing to do with what you think, if you ever think at all.” Radio friendly? Hardly. Unit Shifting? Yes.

Tourette’s: Another brief blast of noise; the only discernible lyrics within Tourette’s onslaught of fantastic thrash/grunge are the words “Moderate Rock!” sarcastically slapped onto the start of the track. The lyric book accompanying the album merely features the words “Cufk, Tish, Sips”. Fuck, shit and Piss. Brilliant.

All Apologies: Immortalized by Cobain’s suicide; All Apologies has become iconic as an unofficial suicide note. It fits; the song is haunting in its sound and lyrically through the repetition of an apology. The most melancholic song on the album; it closes In Utero beautifully and in hindsight quite tragically. That and it’s seriously pleasing melodically. It’s All Apologies that leaves a lasting mark from the album, and maybe even Nirvana. Cobain’s intensive and increasingly serious drug use had almost killed him before, this song of self blame and in some ways self pity is a befitting goodbye, tragically hip and ironic all at once.

Nirvana, in the production of In Utero, were expected by many to produce an album equalling the commercial success and acclaim of Nevermind. Although Nevermind may always be the band’s defining album in the eyes of many, it is In Utero that saw the band release some of their most punk and heavy tracks under the scrutiny of a much more demanding audience both corporate and public. In Utero seems to spit in the face of the ones who love it so much, and in doing so, retains what makes Nirvana so appealing: a humour loving, guitar smashing, punk attitude. Under the enormous boot of Simon Cowell and other media giants, the message in In Utero remains positively essential to young musicians who are being told what they should and should not produce musically today. Fuck, shit and piss indeed.