Mares of Thrace 2: ‘Perpetrator’ switch doesn’t irk Lanz; your vocabulary might

Yesterday we visited with Théresè Lanz, vocalist/guitarist for Canadian noise doom warriors Mares of Thrace. We talked about the band’s excellent new album “The Pilgrimage” and their new home at Sonic Unyon, who have put out other notable metal releases as of late from bands such as Augury, Untimely Demise, and some little-known cosmic thrash band called … Voivod.

Today, we dig a little deeper into the record as well as what it was like working with Sanford Parker at Engine Studios in Chicago, Théresè’s longtime musical partnership and friendship with drummer Stefani MacKichan (this is their third band together), and the representation of female artists in the metal world. As you hopefully learned yesterday, Théresè doesn’t pull punches or opt for the politically safe way to say things, which made our conversation that much more fun.

At the end are links to the Mares web site, as well as links to buy their devastating new record. If you don’t buy it, I have it on good authority you might wind up buried beneath a whiptail scorpion (threw up a bit in my mouth just typing that) someday soon. You don’t want that –they don’t want that, right? Thanks again to Théresè for taking time do the interview and for not screaming at me when I coughed every five seconds.

Meat Mead Metal: OK, after you sent me the album a few months back, you noted that the song “Nazi Ballerina” (now called “The Perpetrator”) would have to get a name change. What went down with that?

Théresè Lanz: It definitely wasn’t a controversy, and I don’t want to single out Sonic Unyon as some evil manipulators who were trying to cramp me creatively. Because nothing could be further from the truth. They just felt that if the song was a single, it should not have an inflammatory title in it. But you know, that’s not what my mom would call “a hill to die on.” It wasn’t an issue for me to dig my heels in and make a stink about. So I changed the title, the video is ready, and theoretically everyone’s happy. But the title is about a Nazi ballerina who was a spy for the Nazis in World War II, and I enjoyed that the main riff in that tune, and especially with Stef’s playing, is graceful but hideous and evil. I imagine that’s how a Nazi ballerina would be.

MMM: Oh, those poor Nazi ballerinas.

TL: (laughs) Yeah, and after they told me it was a little inflammatory, Palmerston immediately sent me an e-mail apologizing and said that don’t worry, no one thinks that a band with a Filipino woman in it is going to be espousing Nazi ideals. But hey, they’re giving me money to make songs, so they get to weigh in once in a while.

MMM: Now, you worked with Sanford Parker on this record. What was that like?

TL: That guy, I just want to hug that guy. (laughs) He’s just a huggable guy. It was awesome. We could not have wished for a better producer. He had a really good instinct for reading my mind. Like I’d say, “Can you make the guitar sound chocolatier, or can you make an electronic sound that goes (makes wooshing sound)?” and he’d just do it. That whole experience was pretty magical. Walking through Wicker Park in the November sunshine to the studio and drinking craft beer and eating real tacos, because you can’t get those where I live, and going to see Zoroaster in the evening. It’s a great city. I’m really excited about moving there.

MMM: Going back to the label interest, were you surprised the band generated such interest?

TL: I was a little surprised. I was flattered. When some of the more commercial metal labels came sniffing around, I was baffled. Without shit-talking anyone in specific, I thought we would have been a really strange fit on some of the more commercially inclined record labels. And I wasn’t particularly into their rosters.

MMM: You and Stefani have been friends for a long time and have played music together forever. Talk about your creative relationship. It would seem by this point you must finish each other’s sentences.

TL: Yeah, I mean, we have such a long-established dynamic that it’s pretty automatic. But Mares of Thrace is the first band where she ever wrote. She doesn’t write guitar riffs, but she writes … I think of them as drum riffs. (laughs) And I’ll write stuff to that. That’s sort of a new part of our dynamic, and that’s nice. It’s hard to be a sole writer. Writing on a deadline blows, and I’m not the most prolific writer anyway, so when someone else pitches in, it’s great. Also, other bands I was in, someone could come up with a riff and no one else would be into it. We don’t have that luxury, so it’s great. (laughs) I never have to throw out a riff because I’m really excited about it and some fucking Debbie Downer isn’t into it in my band. So yeah, we don’t have to think too hard about things, and they just happen. It’s like old married people who have been together for 40 years having sex. I’m sure that’ll be used someday.

MMM: (laughs) That’s going to be used in this story. Are you kidding? Now, what would she say if she heard you say that?

TL: (laughs) She’d probably agree!

MMM: Do you pay attention to reviews of your work and whatnot, or is that something that you don’t pay a lot of attention to?

TL: See, this all goes back to my tendency to befriend metal writers and our interviews turn into hang-out sessions. (laughs) Um, the ones I pay attention to are (the writers) who I know have good taste. Then I want to know if they like my record or not. Those are the only ones I care about. Like, if someone’s favorite band is Trivium and they give our record a 2 out of 10, that’s cool. (laughs)

MMM: Yeah, you’d have to consider the source.

TL: Really the only thing that bums me out is when (writers) use a different language to review us or a different vocabulary to review us than they would a band with dudes in it.

MMM: OK, I’m glad you said that. I feel like it’s 2012, should we be past the gender issue by now?

TL: Well, it’s the vocabulary thing. In one review, we were referred to as “fuck-a-licious hotties.” (laughs)

MMM: There goes my headline.

TL: (laughs) Look, I like when people say nice things or people think we’re cute or whatever, but for God’s sake, you would never say that about dudes in a band?

MMM: OK, now, you did the Revolver “Hottest Chicks in Metal” monthly feature, but yours was totally different than everyone else’s. 

TL: I was fully clothed from my collar bones to my wrists and to my ankles, and I talked about video games the whole time.

MMM: Now, whenever they asked you to do it, did you want to do it right away, did you go back and forth?

TL: I was incredibly conflicted about it. The reason I did it is Josh Eldridge (publicist, now with The Musebox) said it was good exposure. I don’t think it was good exposure. For starters, it said KEN mode. That’s the name that was big and huge in the article, and that’s not even my band. And I’m sure that having one of the “hottest chicks in metal” is not what KEN mode wants to be known for either. My filling in for that band definitely got referred to as a gimmick. But, you know, what should I be to be perceived as authentic? What would they prefer I be?

MMM: You’re probably supposed to have a penis.

TL: Like a fat, hairy dude? I don’t want to be a fat, hairy dude. No, but chiefly what it did was a bunch of dudes with beards and bad taste in music and no friends then friend-requested me on Facebook.

MMM: Do you regret doing it?

TL: Some women I hugely respect and admire did it, and some women I hugely respect and admire declined it. If I had to do it over, would I … oh, I don’t know. I don’t know.

MMM: What if they asked you to do it again?

TL: It depends. When people like Laura (Pleasants) from Kylesa declines it, it’s because she doesn’t need free press. My band still needs free press. Ultimately, it comes down to pragmatism, and one day I’d like to not be pragmatic about ideals. That said, if they said they were going to pick my wardrobe, I’d say, “Get fucked.”

For more on the band, go here: http://www.maresofthrace.com/

To buy “The Pilgrimage,” go here: http://www.sonicunyon.com/metal/artists/mares%20of%20thrace

For more on the label, go here: http://www.sonicunyon.com/metal

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Mares of Thrace Pt. 1: Lanz dicusess new label, ‘The Pilgrimage,’ and goat thieves

Canadian noise-doom duo Mares of Thrace blew shit up a couple years ago with their volcanic debut “The Moulting,” a cataclysmic, punishing display that sounded like nothing else in the metal world. It also was astonishing that just two people – vocalist/guitarist Théresè Lanz and drummer Stefani MacKichan – were responsible for all the raucous, and their album immediately became a favorite at Meat Mead Metal.

Now, the Mares are back with their impressive follow-up “The Pilgrimage,” a record where they keep intact the things that made “The Moulting” so damaging – baritone guitar magic, jazzy, spazzy drum work, from-the-guts growls – and manage to make them even more effective. Recorded with one of metal’s go-to producers Sanford Parker, Lanz and MacKichan made Engine Studios their personal battle ground, hammering out the 10 cuts that comprise this deadly new record.

Théresè, who soon will be moving to Chicago to begin a program focused on video game development at Tribeca Flashpoint Academy of Digital Arts and Media, took some time before she started the next step in her education, as well as Mares’ current U.S. tour, to talk to my sick ass (I literally was ill… I even had a temperature) about their sophomore album, their new label home at Sonic Unyon, and their band’s suddenly expanded profile, something to which she’s still adjusting.

“In my head, I’m still a DIY punk rocker playing on the floor of community halls for 25 kids and being really happy about it.”

Meat Mead Metal: So, the new album is called “The Pilgrimage.” Is there special meaning behind that title?

Théresè Lanz: I don’t know if you ever took English in high school or colleges, but (Geoffrey) Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” has a piece in it that was a long piece of poetry describing a pilgrimage with a bunch of individual characters. I don’t want to call this a concept record, but that piece kind of inspired it and each of the songs, and that’s why they’re named after these little fucked-up characters that live in my mind. Also, I just did an interview for the Deciblog about how I’m going back to school for video game development, and they wanted to know if any of the songs are inspired by my love of video games. And in fact, the album title also is somewhat inspired by the “Mass Effect” franchise. This one alien race in “Mass Effect,” their planet got destroyed so they live in this mobile space flotilla, and when members of their race come of age, they’re required to leave the flotilla and not come back and until they go find something of value to bring back. That trip is called the pilgrimage. I would be a total, giant liar if I said the title wasn’t somewhat inspired by that.

MMM: Well, yeah, I was going to ask if video games played any part in the album.

TL: Not overly. For the most part, I find metal to be somewhat of a corny thing as a whole, but I like to try to keep the super-cheesy shit out of it. (laughs) I like to keep those two parts of my life reasonably separate.

MMM: Metal wouldn’t be what it is if it wasn’t corny.

TL: Hell no!

MMM: You’re on Sonic Unyon in Canada, and while they’re starting to make an impact in the States a bit, I don’t think we have the same understanding of what an important label it is. What was it about Sonic Unyon that made you want to go there?

TL: They were not the only offer we got, but they were probably the best offer. I like to kind of keep things in the family. I know Sean Palmerston, their PR dude, and I have a hard time dealing with people from whom I don’t get a good family vibe, and I get a good family vibe from them. The terms they offered us were awesome. There were some bigger labels that made offers, but personally, I’d rather be a smaller label’s top priority than a bigger label’s bottom priority. I’ve had friends in that position, and it didn’t look like fun.

MMM: What do they mean to Canada?

TL: Anyone who’s a musician in Canada is aware of or has had dealings with them in some way, because they’re one of the largest distributors. Over the years, they’ve put out some pretty seminal Canadian records and did a lot of stuff with worldwide artists. They’ve put out stuff for Jesus Lizard and Frank Black, and I do very much like supporting Canadian companies.

MMM: Canada’s also known for the government offering assistance for artists through grants. Did you get any help in that area?

TL: Yeah, you guys don’t really have that in America, do you?

MMM: Not really. And if Rick Santorum somehow got elected (NOTE: Thank fuck, he dropped out), I fear we’d be back to the 1940s and musicians would be forced to just play trumpets in some back room.

TL: Yeah, we have a lot of federal and provincial arts funding, but it’s not free money. I mean, we have our own delicious flavors of right wingers who have certainly made comments that it’s a waste of money and if art isn’t commercially viable, no one should give a shit about it. So there’s been controversy about that. But I mean, Cursed “III” was recorded partially with government money. But the grant writing is up to (the label), and I’m sure they’ve using it to recoup, but I’m not really involved in that end of it. We’ve incidentally benefitted from it. We’ve played a few cultural events. Like, we just played one in Northern Saskatchewan at an art gallery, and I’m pretty sure federal funding flew us there and rented gear for us. It was awesome. It was a great event. And when I was playing bass for KEN mode, oh! (laughs) The Canadian government put gas in our van and iHop in my face. But trust me, it’s not free money. You have to apply for those grants the way any business would apply for a loan. And they don’t just give those to anybody.

MMM: OK, well getting back to the record, you said it’s not really a concept record.

TL: (laughs) No, I’m not that arty.

MMM: OK, well then how would you describe what the record is supposed to be?

TL: It’s not a concept album in the sense that it’s not as cohesive as I imagine a proper concept record would be. I’m too ADHD to stick to an entire concept for one record. How’s that? (laughs)

MMM: (laughs) OK, I understand. I guess let’s look at it this way: The songs seem somewhat interconnected, there’s the David/Bathsheba thing. Is that literally based on the Biblical story?

TL: No. It was a jumping-off point. It’s about a similar situation in my life. That’s what inspired that trilogy. It’s metaphorical.

MMM: Well as far as the songs sort of being character-driven, is the bulk of the album also metaphorical?

TL: The titles are specific metaphors for specific scenarios or interactions and people that I witnessed or my own little fucked-up idiosyncrasies. I’ll tell you an amusing story, though. The song “The Goat Thief,” which also inspired the cover art, that title came from six months or so ago I heard about this news item. There was this guy driving around a rural area in British Columbia and stealing goats, because apparently if you steal a goat and you can find a goat dealer, you can sell those things for $500-$750 each. Around the same time, I read a story about this Nigerian village in which they arrested a goat because they claimed that he was a sorcerer who committed armed robbery, and he used sorcery to turn himself into a goat. So in the same span of time, I read stories about a goat thief and a thief goat. Everything kind of lined up there. It’s a hard time to be a goat.

Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion! Find out what Théresè has to say about Nazis! Sanford Parker! And what one hilarious term was used to describe Mares in a recent review!

For more on the band, go here: http://www.maresofthrace.com/

To buy “The Pilgrimage,” go here: http://www.sonicunyon.com/metal/artists/mares%20of%20thrace

For more on the label, go here: http://www.sonicunyon.com/metal

Dreaming Dead’s Schall, Caffel talk progression that led to ‘Midnightmares’

Not every band grows in leaps and bounds, and not every group should be expected to do that. Some run in place and just do fine, while others have more ambition than that. Dreaming Dead fall into the category of artists who probably never will stop growing and progressing.

From their start as Manslaughter to their transformation into Dreaming Dead, the shape-shifting already was evident.  Their debut album “Within One” was released in 2009 on Ibex Moon, and from the moment it dropped heads were turned their way, ears tuned to their unique carnage. Now, three years later, the band – vocalist/guitarist Elizabeth Schall, drummer Mike Caffel, bassist Juan Ramirez – are back with a self-released follow-up “Midnightmares.”

The changes from first to second record are astonishing and impressive. No longer can this band simply be labeled as mere death metal, as they do so much more along with that. The songwriting and musicianship are razor sharp, and it’s easy to hear how they’ve grown as players and as a unit. As for Schall, her vocal work has expanded along with her always-consistent guitar-playing skills, which are gaining her accolades among the metal community. Caffel and Schall were kind enough to answer some questions we had about the new album and the band. Check out below what they had to say, and when you’re done, but their album “Midnightmares” at the link at the end. You won’t be sorry, and you also won’t be able to tear yourself away from the multi-headed beast.

Meat Mead Metal: You’re getting ready to release “Midnightmares.” Originally, this was to be a Halloween release. What happened?

Mike Caffel: We recorded the album independently, and were therefore under no obligation to get it to a label at a specified time.  So we got pretty picky about how it sounded.  We took a lot of time to mix and master the album, and I think the final product reflects our efforts.  We also took a lot of time to get the tracklisting of the album just right, along with the placement of some mood-setting samples.

MMM: You’ve chosen to release this record independently. Did any labels talk to the band about putting out the album?

MC: Not really.  We talked to labels a bit and labels talked to us, but nothing came of it.  It’s surprising to me, really.  We’re not the best band ever, but I think we have a lot going for us.  I mean, Juan and I are totally hot!

MMM: What are the advantages and disadvantages to going to DIY route with releasing “Midnightmares”?

MC: Advantages include having the final say about the final product — whether it be the mix, the artwork, or the tracklisting — and being able to pursue our own artistic vision fully without outside pressures.  The album is all us, unfiltered.  The disadvantages are that we won’t get a label pushing the album and providing us with distribution, and that we won’t be as likely to get on tours since labels typically do package tours with their own bands.  Another disadvantage is that we paid for the entire recording out of our own pockets.

MMM: Musically, the sound definitely has expanded. You can hear more musical influences on the record, and I’d say that while it’s death metal, there are shades of gray. Do you agree? What led to the expanded sound?

MC: The progression towards our current sound has been very natural and unforced.  Juan, Liz, and I wrote a lot more together on this album, and we even put a lot of parts together just jamming in the studio.  I’m really pleased with the track “Into the Depths,” and that was a song that we wrote on the fly. I kind of like the term gray metal, but I’ve hesitated to use it because it just isn’t dark enough.  I like the term Bethlehem uses to describe their music: dark metal.  I also think part of the evolution of our sound has been due to us getting more comfortable in our own shoes.

MMM: Vocally, Elizabeth, you show even more range on the album. The growls are there, but it sounds like you’re more confident. Your voice sounds stronger — not that it wasn’t strong before. Is that a product of time and touring? Something else?

Elizabeth Schall: It’s actually something I’ve been working on for quite some time. Adding more range and actually pitching my screams to a specific note helps with variety and overall color. I pushed for it more on this album than “Within One” and expect to go even further on the next album.

MMM: Lyrically, what did you draw upon for the album? Are the songs personal? Observational? Philosophical? Combination?

MC: I feel like our primary focus with the lyrics was to achieve a particular tone: the sometimes absurd and fleeting imagery of dreams, and the juxtaposition between terrifying nightmares and the serenity of sleep.  There is an ebb and flow to the album musically as well, between super brutal and very mellow.  I wouldn’t go so far as to call “Midnightmares” a concept album, but there are definitely strands that exist throughout the entire work.

MMM: Two cuts I wanted to ask about — “In Memoriam” and “Departure.” Both are very interesting tracks. The songs are a little cleaner, a little more delicate. Very emotional. What inspired those songs?

MC: “Departure” is a song that I wrote as a reprise of the first track on the album.  If you pay attention, the final guitar melody in “Departure” is the same as the melody in “Wake.”  “Departure” ended up being a really mellow track, and pretty different from our typical tunes, but I think it worked out really nicely as a way to finish up the album. I’m really proud of how the first and last track stand as bookends to the album.

Liz brought “In Memoriam” to the table, and we really ended up making a cool instrumental out of it.  It has a cool bridge that builds slowly to a big climax.  I think a few of the riffs sound like Tool, so I hope our more brutal fans will be patient.

MMM: Elizabeth, you’ve been recognized for your prowess as a guitar player, you have your own model of guitar. You’re sort of a guitar hero. Did you ever think you’d attain that status? Is it cool that not only does the band get attention, but you do as well for your playing?

ES: Wow, thanks! I actually never looked at myself as being a guitar hero or thought I was at any status. There’s so much talent out there, that I’m not quite sure I actually stand out much, but I’m super stoked with my own guitar model, for sure! It’s something I’ve been talking about with Fernandes Guitars for some time as well. Regular-sized guitars are just too big for me so they totally hooked me up and made one of their Revolver models to size. It’s a beauty and plays wonderfully! On the other hand, attention is always a nice thing for anyone. What I mainly think is most important is to feel pride in your work and person, and that’s exactly how I feel right now.

MMM: On a side note: Elizabeth, you played with the Iron Maidens. Is that still going? Are you a big Maiden fan?

ES: I was an official member back in 2006, then left to form Manslaughter with Mike, which is now Dreaming Dead. I’ve filled in for a few South American and So Cal dates in the past year, but that isn’t really going on right now, but that’s just about it. Maiden is a big influence to a lot of folks, for sure. It was never one of my favorites, but after learning 40+ songs I definitely became somewhat of a fan of their music and song structure.

MMM: Will Dreaming Dead be doing full touring for the new record, or will you keep it regional for now? What do you hope the band accomplishes with this album?

ES: We have a small West Coast tour set for July in the works right now, but I think for the most part we’re gonna keep things local, although I wouldn’t mind getting on a sweet ass tour or fest in the U.S. or anywhere else. We’ll see what lies in store for the future for us. For the time being we’ll continue writing and rockin’ out as hard as we can!

For more on the band, go here: http://dreamingdead.com/

To buy “Midnightmares,” go here: http://dreamingdead.com/dd/index.php?option=com_wrapper&view=wrapper&Itemid=4

Paradise Lost remain as vital, passionate as ever before on 13th disc ‘Tragic Idol’

It’s not uncommon or unexpected when, two decades into a band’s run, things start to slow down. The music isn’t as urgent, the band’s voice isn’t what it once was, and the expression isn’t as vital or immediate. That’s often when bands start relying on the hits, going into the studio just to make new music so there’s an excuse to tour and make a quick buck from the diehards.

Luckily for us, long-tenured doom metal band Paradise Lost does not fall into that category. While there have been highs and lows over their extensive recording career that began with 1990’s “Lost Paradise,” the band has remained mostly consistent. In fact, their last two offerings — 2007’s “In Requiem” and 2009’s “Faith Divides Us — Death Unites Us” — were pretty solid and demonstrated a band that didn’t seem anywhere near running on fumes. Now comes their 13th studio offering “Tragic Idol,” one of the year’s more highly anticipated records, and results are nothing short of powerful. This band has no quit in them, and even though they’ve been down every road and tackled every corner of the globe, they still have something relevant and exciting to say.

Another impressive anecdote about England’s Paradise Lost is they have maintained basically the same lineup since their formation in 1988. They’ve shuffled drummers a few times, with Adrian Erlandsson sitting behind the kit now, but the core of vocalist Nick Holmes, lead guitarist Gregor Mackintosh (we spoke with him a while back about his Vallenfyre project), rhythm guitarist Aaron Aedy, and bassist Steve Edmonson has stood the test of time and only grown stronger over the years. Listen to “Tragic Idol” and try to deny the fire that still rages in their bellies or that they’re not still incredibly important and influential to the metal scene. This is a fantastic, killer record that’s one of the best they’ve put together in a long time, their recent run of quality music aside.

Mackintosh, who got his vintage death metal hunger satisfied on the Vallenfyre release, said the new album would be guitar-oriented and feature more melody than before, and he was right about that. The songs do bristle and crush in spots, and some of the tracks are among of the band’s heaviest ever, but there is a gothic loveliness underneath a lot of the compositions, hooks that strike and floor you, and memorable moment after memorable moment that should make for some really exciting live shows. I imagine these songs will be fodder for much crowd participation.

Even when Holmes howls and growls, “Love fails today!” at the start of “Solitary One,” you’re not headed on a trip that’s quite as brutal as that salvo indicates. Yeah, it has its thorny moments to be sure, but it dissolves into a watery, gothy chorus that contains some of the most soulful singing on the entire album. It’s a song I can’t get out of my head. “Crucify” kicks in and lets things get a little rowdier for a bit, with a charging guitar line from Mackintosh that envelops the somber melody. “Fear of Impending Hell” is one of the catchiest songs on the record, and it could be a stand-out track for them, especially with a chorus this sticky. Try to ignore Holmes calling, “Never see the light, I don’t know where to escape.” You’ll fail, trust me. “Honesty in Death” is another that has hit written on it, with a nice chorus and a structure that keeps your blood flowing; the title cut has some deeper, less forceful vocal work from Holmes, as does “Worth Fighting For”; and closer “The Glorious End” is a true, slow-moving doom epic that’s utterly moody and dark.

I did note some of the material is heavier than usual, and you’ll find that evidence on “Theories From Another World,” a driving, fast, riff-rich song that simmers and shakes in its aggression, as well as “To the Darkness,” a song that catches onto a power metal-style gallop and keeps the tempo rambling forward.

“Tragic Idol” is not only a fantastic later-career entry for Paradise Lost, it’s one of the better albums of their collection. They keep finding new ways to be effective and keep their perspective fresh. They don’t sound like they’re slowing down one bit, and I’m guessing the live shows surrounding the new record will be some of their most passionate, ferocious yet. That’s not something you can manufacture, proving they have just as much heart as talent.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.paradiselost.co.uk/

To buy “Tragic Idol,” go here: http://www.cmdistro.com/Item/Paradise_Lost_-_Tragic_Idol_-PRE-ORDER-/41193

For more on the label, go here: http://www.centurymedia.com/

RSD aftermath: Pelican, Sabbath, and the jerks who think they own music

Allow me to open with some annoyance and a bit to get off my chest. Saturday was Record Store Day, one of my favorite days of the calendar year. It’s like second Christmas. I got up early on one of my days off to get to my local indie shops in order to get the few things on my wish list. We were out for about three hours and had a great time. Everyone else we shopped alongside had a blast, too.

But you know people, especially those who feel like they have some kind of ownership in something. Like records. Newsflash to the vinyl dorks, who seem to spend all day on the Internet: Other people are allowed to buy and enjoy records, too. It’s not just yours. So all the people who went on Facebook and Twitter this weekend to bitch about how you buy records all year long and you don’t need a holiday to do so, congratu-fucking-lations. You’re special. But you’re not the target audience here. Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to worry about our local record shop — if we’re lucky enough to have one — shutting down due to lack of traffic? THAT is the point. Get those who lost their way to find their way home. In Pittsburgh, we are blessed to have a few indie shops, and trust me, I hit as many as I could. And I buy records and CDs all the time too and don’t need a holiday, but I’m happy it exists. It’s fun. Record shopping should be fun, you assholes. So get off your chair and quit acting like you invented music.

Other people bitch that RSD if for major labels to gouge people. How? Are people forced to buy stuff? If you report to a record shop, are you not permitted to leave until you spend money on some major label fluff? And funny, but I spent upwards of $75 on Saturday, and not one of the things I brought home was a major-label RSD release. Not that I wouldn’t have bought something on a major if I wanted it. Because I don’t give a shit as long as what I’m buying appeals to me and I wish to spend the money. There were plenty of indie-related (and in my town, local artist-related) stuff for purchase, so you know, you can just go with that stuff.

Another complaint is people go out on RSD, snap up the exclusives, and then post them for sale on eBay for higher prices. Yes, this happens. I was lucky to score the final copy of Pelican’s “Australasia” double-vinyl reissue at Sound Cat, and that was my top priority. Out of curiousity, I went home to see if anyone was gouging people for copies they landed, and sure enough, there were some up with bid prices near $50. That’s $20 more than I paid for it, but I went home and played mine. That thing’s not getting sold to anyone. This aspect does suck because people are assholes. But this happens at Christmas when there’s a hot toy on the market and limited supply. It sucks, and if you can’t find it in a store and really want it, you’ll have to cough up more cash. Two points about this: 1. The person selling the stuff on eBay still had to buy it, so it still helps the store and labels. 2. If you don’t want to be gouged on eBay, then don’t buy there. It’s that simple, and no one is forcing your hand.

So let’s get onto RSD festivities for a moment. As noted, I grabbed the coveted Pelican release, and I was pleased to see, an hour after the store opened, that the other Hydra Head releases for doing really well. There were no more copies of Botch remaining on the shelves, and I only saw one copy of Circle, which looks so awesome in person. As neat as the packaging looks online, it doesn’t compare to when you hold the real thing in your hands. But I passed on Circle for the time being because I didn’t want to blow my whole load in one place. We then went to Eide’s in the Strip District, where they were holding an awesome anniversary sale in conjunction with RSD that got you 30 percent off any new CD or LP. I landed a physical copy of Pelican’s “Ataraxia/Taraxis,” that was reviewed here a couple weeks ago, as well as the tough-to-find debut ISIS EP “Mosquito Control.” Grand total: $17. Not bad at all. Our final stop was at Dave’s Record Mine in the South Side, where they were having a very generous used vinyl sale, as well as RSD specials from this year and years past. I landed the St. Vincent 7-inch (the only store that had any left) as well as a brutally cheap copy of Black Sabbath’s “Master of Reality.” My wife also scored many things in the non-metal category (including an awesome live Cure album from the “Disintegration” tour), and we both returned home feeling satisfied with out hunt.

So yeah, RSD is a good time. I hope it happens every year. If people want to whine about it, great. Don’t go. But don’t make other people feel like lesser beings because they’re not as astute a buyer as you. Or so you think. It was great being in small indie shops and standing shoulder to shoulder with people who were perusing all of the record racks, not just those containing the day’s specials. Again, that was the point. Renew interest. Get people into stores. Hopefully get them to come back. If every record store created one new buyer Saturday, think about how much that’ll help.

If you want to get your hands on the HHR stuff, go here: http://www.bluecollardistro.com/hydrahead/categories.php?cPath=4_425

For more on Record Store Day, go here: http://www.recordstoreday.com/Home

If you’re too good and witty for all of this, go here: http://bit.ly/13gVzY

Wreck and Reference open veins, bleed their fury on self-released ‘No Youth’

Photo by sfsludge.blogspot.com/

I don’t relish when the artists I like find their muse and magic in pain. Quite simply, I don’t like to see people hurting. Yeah, metal is kind of fertile ground for such thing, as are most genres of rock, and just because the music of tortured souls appeals to me doesn’t mean I find gratification in their woes. I just find pleasure in their art and ability to express such blackness.

There’s no certainty that the members of Wreck and Reference have suffered personally, psychologically, or physically while making their new opus “No Youth,” but holy shit if it doesn’t sound like they did. Much like their excellent debut “Black Cassette,” the 10 songs that appear on this new album are raw in a human perspective, emotional in a sense that mimics thick, dry thorns being dragged across your heart, and naked like one’s name day. You can’t hide from what’s going on, and it’s really difficult to just listen to these songs for music’s sake. The gushing veins are flowing too hard and forcefully that you can’t help but get lost in this. And it hurts.

This dual-headed electronic doom beast has put out this album themselves as a pay-what-you-want release on their Bandcamp. It’s pretty easy to hear from just a few minutes of this that their musical worldview has expanded somewhat. The sound is richer and fuller (they recorded at the Howling Wasteland, and it was mixed and mastered with Colin Marston at the Thousand Caves), and while they still relish noise — a ton of noise — there’s even more melody than what they unfurled on “Black Cassette.” As for the vocal emissions, they’re honest and direct. Often, the diatribes sound like a wounded man’s poetry he writes to himself because he understands no other voice than his own. Sometimes, such as on “The Solstitial,” it sounds threatening and menacing. After the admission, “I hope you die before springtime,” we get the next step: “You were skipping stones, toes in the water, when I opened you.” It’s like a real-life horror movie. It’s the work of someone that, if you heard a person talking this way in public, you’d alert the authorities. It’s that real and affecting. Know that going on, because a weak-hearted listener might have a hard time dealing.

As noted, the music is much more wide-open this time. It’s not like they added a hundred instruments to the thing or an orchestra or a fucking choir. It just sounds more in your face, more opened up, and a lot of that likely has to do with the production end of things. But it works, and while “Black Cassette” is great for its muted fury, Wreck and Reference lose not one ounce of their danger by the music sounding better. It’s a glimpse into what this band can accomplish, and it’s an exciting look ahead to what the band’s future may hold. Truly, they are one of the most interesting bands in all of music.

The elements of doom and even black metal still remain in the mix, but the band has moved a little closer toward post-punk fire. Yes, comparisons can be made to Bauhaus and Joy Division, but a metal fan isn’t going to feel lost in the dark forest, unless, of course, that person has a closed mind locked to anything other than riffage and brutality. “Spectrum” opens the collection with buzzing noise, quiet strums, and raw singing, eventually dissolving into hisses and siren-like madness; “Nausea” has some calm, borderline prog-rock vocals, sort of like gentle Alan Parsons Project (there’s a band you wouldn’t expect to see referenced), and the music is dreamy and Goth-like. “Inverted Soul” is built on robotic beats and alien vocals; “Cannot” reveals more sprawling poetry and eventually erupts with manic screams and shouts, eventually choking out a panicked, “I cannot breathe!” “I Am a Sieve” contains our album title in its lyrics and floats on fluttery melodies; “Winter” has some stronger, poppier vocals, but of course it’s layered over total weirdness. Closer “Edifice of Silt” is zapped with lasery sound effects and machine-like chaos, with a storyline that would chill the hardest-hearted heathens.

Wreck and Reference might not be pure metal, or even close to it for that matter, but their work is as bloody and scar-filled as any black metal warrior’s heaviest transmissions. This music is can’t-look-away mangled and miserable, yet there’s a beauty and vulnerability to it all. So far the limited amount of material this band has put out has captivated me in a way few bands do these days. Wreck and Reference are real human beings who aren’t afraid to unleash their worst nightmares upon you. I don’t exalt in their misery, but I do appreciate and bathe in their red, penetrating lights that burn their way through my soul.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/wreckandreference

To get “No Youth,” go here: http://wreckandreference.bandcamp.com/album/no-youth

To get “Black Cassette,” go here: http://theflenser.bandcamp.com/album/black-cassette-remastered

Record Store Day to get a little bizarre with Circle’s millionth album ‘Manner’

In the time it took me to think up something coherent to say about them, Finnish avant-garde-metal-krautrock-artsy-wacky artists Circle completed five albums. They’re that prolific, and I’m not. I can’t even promise what I just wrote even is digestible, but I can assure you the band likely really is thinking many records ahead. So let’s just move on, shall we?

Circle, since their formation in 1991, have put out a ton of content. None of it sounds the same at all. Not even a little bit. The band has a knack for reinvention — at times taking on the title New Wave of Finnish Heavy Metal — and letting things go where they may, even if that’s to the weirdest, toughest-to-grasp musical terrain you can imagine. No one can predict what a new Circle album will bring, other than unpredictability. You either love that about them or it’s one of the reasons you’ve stayed away. Well, you might also have kept your distance because these guys are as unconventional — both in strategy and execution — as they come, but it’s what I’ve always admired about the band. I also admit I have had one hell of a time keeping up with their avalanche of work, but I’ve gotten to know their music well enough to know to leave all expectations at the door.

If you’re the daring type or a listener who has long worshipped Circle and need a new addition to your collection, Saturday’s Record Store Day will be an even more special event for you. For on that day Hydra Head Records, who have reissued many of the band’s catalog selections recently, will bring you the group’s latest “Manner.” It has an eyeball on the cover. Try not to stare directly at it. And almost like an embrace over Circle’s entire diverse career, this six-track offering sprawls all over the place, giving you little tastes of the numerous things Circle do so well. None of these songs sound anything like each other, and at times it comes off like a soundtrack made up of six different groups. Um, sort of, kind of.

You always can identify Jussi Lehtisalo’s (Split Cranium, Phantom Overlord) quirky, mad-man, gibberish-leaning vocals, and he’s one of my favorite people to hear sing because he sounds like there’s no plan and he’s just going for it. I can see how some people may be annoyed by him, but that just means you have no sense of adventure. He sometimes reminds me of an unhinged David Byrne on the doorstep of murder.  When the songs are heavier, like on the awesome “Blue King,” he can come across like Denis Belanger or Bon Scott. Sometimes it sounds like he’s just muttering to himself. Say what you want, but you can’t deny he’s unique.

This 40-minute album should keep you guessing your first time through. Maybe even you second time through. It opens with “Lintu Joe,” a weird song that pushes that Talking Heads comparison and is jerky enough to dance alongside. If you don’t mind looking like you’re having a seizure. As noted, “Blue King” blows shit up, as its straight-ahead rock and catchy, shouty chorus makes it the easiest cut on here to grasp for newbies. “Here Come the Warm Jets” really pushes their trademark repetition to the max, as it lingers and pops for eight minutes, with very little changing along the way. There are some slight instrumentation additions, some minimal “na-na-na” calls that slide in and give you something to sing back, but for the most part, the whole thing jogs in place. And does so quite impressively. “New Fantasy” pulls the lid off again, with ’70s prog keys, some jazzy rock, and falsetto coos that might remind you of early David Bowie. “Mustaa Kultaa” pushes the tempo again, as the band settles into some classic Deep Purple-AC/DC-style riffing, and it’s the most metallic selection on here. “Potero” lets things get weird and slinky for the album’s final nine minutes, sometimes jamming on something jazzy that would make Steely Dan wonder what’s up, and eventually letting some cosmic interference into the room before Circle slip out the back door.

Lehtisalo and his mates have come up with one of the most jarring, inventive records you’ll find on RSD. Or any day. And you’ll have to actually hit a record store to get your hands on this first, because Hydra Head is not doing an online preorder like last year. But that’s the point, right? Go buy something physical. Be a kid again. Stare at an album cover, even if it has a weird eye on it, while you listen to the wonder inside the sleeve. You can’t go wrong with Circle’s new one, especially if you have an imagination that knows no limits.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.circlefinland.com/

To buy other Circle titles, go here: http://www.bluecollardistro.com/hydrahead/categories.php?cPath=4

For more on the label, go here: http://www.hydrahead.com/

For a list of shops carrying Hydra Head RSD titles Saturday, go here: http://hydraheadlines.blogspot.com/2012/04/rsd-store-list.html

There are some other metal-related products coming your way Saturday. Here are some of the selections below. Get up early and go support your local record store. You’ll be sorry if one day it isn’t there anymore. Also, while some of these may be regional releases or tough to find, go out anyway. Some shops do other specials. Last year, I scored a ton of cool shit for great prices that weren’t RSD releases but were specially priced for the event. YOB‘s “The Great Cessation” on double-vinyl for $10? Yes. That was one.

BOTCH — “An Anthology of Dead Ends.” 180-gram vinyl version of band’s final EP, out on Hydra Head. Originally released in 2002 following band implosion.

MASTODON/FEIST — “Commotion/Black Tongue” 7-inch. A weird project where each artist covers a song by the other. Could be one of the day’s more interesting gets.

MASTODON/THE FLAMING LIPS — “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton” 7-inch. The original Lips song, along with Mastodon’s take on the track. WB is keeping Mastodon busy, are they not?

METALLICA — “Beyond Magnetic” silver 12-inch. Whatever.

NIGHTWISH — “Trials of Imaginearum” 10-inch picture disc. A bunch of demo songs with their bass player on vocals. There also are two tracks from the film “The Piano.” I don’t know what any of this means.

OZZY OSBOURNE — “Believer” 7-inch, black-and-white polka dot disc in tribute to Randy Rhoads. Live version of “Believer,” along with 2010 guitar/vocal mix of “Goodbye to Romance.” Sounds cool.

OZZY OSBOURNE — “Live!” A RSD First-Release. 180-gram, double-vinyl package, recorded on Ozzy’s 1981 tour with Rhoads. Today’s your first crack at this thing, basically.

PELICAN — “Australasia” on 180-gram double-LP format. I’ll be headhunting for this bastard.

RAINBOW — “Long Live Rock n’ Roll” reissue picture disc. Awesome, awesome, awesome.

REFUSED — “The Shape of Punk to Come” double-LP reissue. Just in time for the reunion!

RINGWORM — “The Venomous Grand Design”/”Justice Replaced By Revenge” 12-inch. First time either will be available on vinyl.

SNAPCASE — “Progression Through Unlearning” 12-inch yellow vinyl. Has been out of print for half a decade.

TOMAHAWK — “Eponymous to Anonymous” box set. First three albums packaged with their upcoming fourth record, due this summer. I’ll slap a baby for this.

For more on Record Store Day, including a full list of everything planned for release, go here: http://www.recordstoreday.com/Home