Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Review of "The Bedlam in Goliath" by The Mars Volta

The Mars Volta- The Bedlam in Goliath

More original and challenging art from one of modern music’s most creative bands

Like them or not, The Mars Volta has to be one of the most difficult bands in music to critique. Even within their fan base there is a huge divide between reactions and interpretations of each new album. This is largely due to both the band’s variety and willingness to try things that no other band will attempt, sometimes for good reason. However, it’s important to keep in mind that there are no absolutes in The Mars Volta’s music. Everything is cryptic, and no two listens are ever the same. There will always be a good chance that even the most faithful fan of the band will absolutely hate the direction of the next album, and the reason for that is largely due to different interpretations. If one were to list all of the flaws associated with a TMV album, the list would be exceptionally large, and the grade would be relatively low if that was the criteria for grading. However, if The Mars Volta are at their best, there should be a long list of flaws. More than anything, The Mars Volta take risks. It shouldn’t be easy to interpret which aspects of the sound work and which don’t, and it should be even more difficult to interpret just what their sound is. If the band ever succumbs to a particular reoccurring sound, then it is not a true Mars Volta album.

Thankfully, The Bedlam in Goliath is a flawed album that will most likely alienate a large portion of the band’s fan base. That is to say, The Mars Volta have taken significant risks in order to create this album, and the various interpretations of the brilliant lyrics will continue to be debated years from now. It’s not for everyone, but such a unique and breathtaking album should not be missed.

Right off the bat, one of the biggest misconceptions about the band is addressed. For some odd reason, one complaint of The Mars Volta has always been their lack of energy. This might be due to the slowly progressing “The Widow” being their most recognizable song, or possibly their live shows that sometimes contain more jamming than actual songs, but to say that The Mars Volta lack energy is completely ridiculous. The album grabs the listener by the throat from the very first note and never lets go. Gone are the moments of silence that plagued their past albums, and in its place comes a new and more energized Mars Volta. In its own way, each song is a fully energized jamfest that would have been enough to drive the album to greatness on just that alone. However, there is thankfully more to than just the energy, and it’s simply amazing that the lyrics and progression somehow outdo that aspect of the album. Even on songs like “Wax Simulacra,” which could very easily be considered a jumbled mess upon first listen, the energy is enough to bring things together. “Wax Simulacra,” staying with that example, is a song that packs a nearly full fledged epic into just over 2 minutes. The combination of that song’s seemingly random progression and energy is certainly staggering, but it’s also packs more into a such short time than any maybe other song of its kind.

The opener “Aberinkula” is another song that is built from The Mars Volta’s stunning energy, while the song’s cryptic lyrics make it one of the overall finest starts to a rock album in some time. The aforementioned cryptic lyrics are one of the most impressive parts of The Bedlam in Goliath, as almost every line reeks of intelligence and careful wordplay. There is a clear religious and almost supernatural theme to the lyrics, and the way they are structured is fascinating to say the least. There is somewhat of a strange story to be found that some will likely find one of the more interesting aspects of the album, while others will skip it altogether. The story and themes of the lyrics cannot be fully understood by a single listen, or even a few listens at that. The Bedlam in Goliath is a challenging work of art, and even the mystery itself that is embedded within the lyrics is difficult to fully grasp.

As is generally the case with progressive music, The Bedlam in Goliath is an album of many influences. The mixture of hard rock, punk, jazz, folk, Latin, and psychedelic experimentation makes for one of the most truly progressive combinations in music today. The band’s ability to turn such a variety of influences into unique tracks that never sound like one before it is nothing short of astonishing. The album’s sound is wonderfully refreshing and original, and the reason for that goes back to risks that The Mars Volta take. If The Mars Volta didn’t have a track record of making obscure things work, it would be absolutely insane to attempt something of the magnitude of The Bedlam of Goliath. Ever since their At the Drive-In days, Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez have been experimenting with truly unique sounds, attempting to find something completely original and revolutionary. The Bedlam in Goliath is the closest they’ve come to achieving that, as this is truly one of the most unique albums to come along in quite some time.

The lyrical talents of The Mars Volta may arguably be their biggest strength, but the sheer talent of the musicians that worked on the album comes awfully close. Some may not be able to stomach Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s unique vocal style, but his passionate delivery and often unpredictable experimentation is one of the most refreshing aspects of the album. There isn’t a vocalist alive that sounds quite like him, just as there isn’t a band out there that sounds quite like The Mars Volta. Even more impressive than the vocals is Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s superb guitar skills. A large portion of the album’s energy comes from Omar’s exceptionally unique playing, and it’s no secret that the man can shred with the best of them. Even the drumming is surprisingly fitting, as new drummer Thomas Pridgen sounds like he understands the band’s sound far more than what anyone could have expected of him. However, it’s not the skill of the instrumentals that makes them worthy of such praise, but instead the progression. Near epics like “Goliath” and “Cavalettas” remain mind blowing from start to finish, partially due to the band’s seemingly never ending array of different riffs and instrumentals. Even if they may not be the easiest songs in the world to follow or understand, the sheer uniqueness of the songs makes them easy to appreciate. “Goliath” in particular is an example of how to do a progressive rock song right. It all goes back to the risks again, as nothing about that song is safe. On such tracks, The Mars Volta dare to experiment, and the result is one of the most challenging and progressive songs the band has ever done. “Ilyena” is another songs that features outstanding progression, and the experience found in that song cannot be expressed in words. Just like the album itself, it draws the listener in and keeps them thoroughly intrigued until the end.

Of course, The Bedlam in Goliath would not be a Mars Volta album without a large number of flaws. Whenever a band takes such a large number of risks, there will always be shortcomings that vary from listener to listener. Particularly on the initial listen, the album seems somewhat unpolished and messy. However, that’s the trade off associated with taking risks in music. The Mars Volta try to pack so much into a single album that there is hardly ever time to breathe. Some will say that The Bedlam in Goliath has too much energy, and that it makes things a bit too difficult to follow. This is an album, however, that cannot and should not be judged based on initial reactions. There is a lot of substance to be found here, and it’s hard to image The Bedlam in Goliath being any more intelligent or unique than it already is. Instead of continuing with their softer and somewhat unfocused (at least for The Mars Volta) approach on Amputechture, they have once again taken the risk of doing something they’ve never done before. This is a heavier, more energized, and even more focused band than they have been in the past, and they deserve a large amount of praise in taking such a risk to evolve their sound.

An album like The Bedlam in Goliath should not be judged on small flaws, but instead the many things it does well. An album like this one should be praised for doing more and having minor flaws that go along with large amount of unique content than making a perfect album that doesn’t do quite as much. Not everyone is going to be able to understand it, and even many who do might find small things that perturb them. However, the risks The Mars Volta take make this one of the most original rock albums to come along in some time. To call it one of the best albums of its kind would simplifying it to an absolute, and thus selling it short, but The Bedlam in Goliath is an album that should not be missed under any circumstances.

Key tracks: Aberinkula, Ilyena, Goliath

Grade: A-

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Review of "Scream, Aim, Fire" by Bullet for My Valentine

Predictable, Generic, Unoriginal

The only good thing that can be said for Scream, Aim, Fire, the sophomore release from Bullet for My Valentine, is that it isn’t any worse than the average metalcore album. That may be because Scream, Aim, Fire doesn’t attempt to be any more than an average metalcore album. Every aspect of the album, from the predictable chord progression to the boring songwriting to the unbearably pointless lyrics, features the same overdone techniques that were found on Bullet for My Valentine’s debut, not to mention countless albums before. Scream, Aim, Fire is the type of forgettable mess that makes absolutely no attempt to differentiate itself from the rest of what’s out there, but what’s worse is that it doesn’t even make an attempt to be any better than what else is out there using even the most generic of formulas. Bullet for My Valentine seems completely content with using only the basic metalcore conventions and then running them into the ground.

When a band relies on generic conventions on their debut album, it can be at least somewhat tolerated. However, there needs to be at least some sort of attempt at progression over time. That, in essence, is the worst and most prominent flaw with Scream, Aim, Fire. Not only is there absolutely no progression to speak of, but there isn’t even a sign of an attempt at furthering their sound. After 30 seconds of this album, you’ve heard everything there is to hear. The formula is simply all too familiar and even more basic. The instrumentals follow a pattern of generic riff followed by breakdown followed by generic riff, and so on. The vocals are the run-of-the-mill mixture of clean and harsh that becomes predictable within the first seconds and never strays from that throughout the rest of the album. The clean vocals are comprised of the usual one-note off-key singing that Bullet for My Valentine shares with nearly every other band played on MTV these days. The harsh vocals are even more generic, as they lack any sort of passion or emotion. The vocals simply sound artificial. The same can be said for every other aspect of the album, and there gets to a point when Scream, Aim, Fire becomes depressingly pointless. Every song is nearly identical to the last, and there’s barely any variety to speak. The lyrics aren’t even worth mentioning, as their only point seems to be to incorporate an aspect of every popular trend in modern rock music.

There are slight moments where Scream, Aim, Fire breaks the generic mold that the album is comprised of. “Deliver Us From Evil,” for example has moments that venture away from the album’s strictly formulaic sound, albeit only slightly. Even though the track still contains much of the generic conventions that plague the rest of the songs, it at least shows signs of progression. The same cannot be said for the rest of the album, however. “Hearts Burst Into Fire" may start out with an acoustic intro, but it quickly starts to sound all too familiar. “Waking the Demon” is another track that has its moments, as it’s easily the heaviest song on the album, but playing the same generic song in a slightly heavier way is only praise when compared to many other tracks here that are even less worthy of praise.

It’s unfortunate that the few times Scream, Aim, Fire does try something different, it always returns to safety. There are hundreds of other equally safe and generic metalcore albums that have been released over the years, and the fact that Bullet for My Valentine is still relying on this formulaic sound in 2008 makes this a very difficult album to recommend. Unless you absolutely love generic metalcore, there is no reason to listen to this album. It’s been done before, and more importantly, it’s been done better. Granted, there are worse metalcore albums out there, but it may be better to try and fail than to achieve mediocrity without trying at all.

Key tracks: Scream Aim Fire, Waking the Demon, Deliver Us From Evil

Grade: D+

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Blog Update

I've been extremely busy the last few weeks, so I apologize for the inactivity. Last week was finals week and that combined with some personal issues and the end of the semester have forced me to delay everything I've been planning to write. For anyone who still reads this (and thank you to people who do), I will be posting updates at least every Saturday and Tuesday. I will try to post more than just two times a week, but I can guarantee that there will be an update every Saturday and Tuesday, so check those days for reviews, lists, editorials, or anything else that I feel like posting. In the coming weeks, I plan to the have the following posted on here:
  • continuation of my Top 100 Songs of 2007 list
  • list of my Top 10 albums of 2007 (possibly in audio or video blog format and (hopefully) featuring a guest critic)
  • review of "Scream, Aim, Fire" by Bullet for My Valentine
  • review of "Runnin' Wild" by Airbourne
  • review of "01011001" by Ayreon
  • review of "Fortress" by Protest the Hero
  • review of "The Bedlam in Goliath" by The Mars Volta
  • various reviews of other albums that I happen to get my hands on in the coming weeks
  • editorials on the subject of modern metal, art in modern music, and the future of mainstream music
Thank you to anyone who happens to be reading this. I would greatly appreciate comments from anyone reading this so I can have an idea of who still reads this and so I can personally thank you in my next update.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Top 100 Songs of the Year (100-91)

Now that 2007 is officially over, it's time for my annual Top 100 Songs of the Year list. Just like last year, any song that was released as a single during the year is eligible for the countdown. After hours upon hours of listening to hundreds of songs in the recent week, I have finally narrowed my list down to what I believe are the 100 best songs released as singles in 2007. Most of the songs are rock, metal, and alternative, but there are a few gems from other genres that made the list as well. So, without farther adu, here is the first part of my list for the top 100 songs of 2007.


In a year filled with music that reached new creative milestones and featured some of the most important and emotional lyrics of the decade, there’s no better contrast than to start a list of the best songs of 2007 off with Korpiklaani. Korpiklaani does not reach new creative milestones, and they certainly do not write lyrics of any importance whatsoever. In fact, “Tervaskanto” isn’t even written in English, and it’s unique to this list in that regard. However, what Korpiklaani lacks in songwriting skills, they more than make up for in sheer fun. “Tervaskanto” contains and a fast and fun melody that’s both catchy and amusing. It doesn’t exactly venture away from being formulaic folk metal, but that’s not the band’s intent either. It’s clear that the point of “Tervaskanto” is simply to pack as much fun into a 3 minute folk metal song as possible, and Korpiklaani succeed with flying colors in that regard. “Tervaskanto” is not a song that should be analyzed, but instead heard simply for the fun of it.

The Apostasy

Death metal is often measured in terms of brutality. Very few bands in the genre make an attempt to write worthwhile lyrics, as the growling vocals are used as another instrument to add to the brutality. Behemoth, however, is not your typical death metal band. Behemoth is a truly unique band for the genre, both in terms of the black metal influences in their sound and lyrics that at least attempt to have a message and purpose. “Prometherion” isn’t the best example of that, as lyrics like “fuck the flesh!” don’t quite get their message of creating your own morality across as well as possible. However, Behemoth can still be as brutal as the genre’s best, and “Prometherion” certainly works from that perspective.

Black Rain
Ozzy Osbourne
Black Rain

There have been quite a few great political songs written in the last few years, and although “Black Rain” is a solid song with commendable intentions, the lyrics simply aren’t strong enough to call it one of the better songs in that category. That being said, “Black Rain” works well enough to warrant a spot on this list. Ozzy has recorded some truly outstanding ballads over the years, and “Black Rain” is an example of how to do a power ballad correctly from a musical perspective. Zakk Wylde does an excellent job of conveying the dark mood of the song with his guitar, and Ozzy’s vocals are surprisingly as good as ever. The ambiance of “Black Rain” is excellent, and it’s a perfect example of why Ozzy has been successful at writing ballads over the years. It’s unfortunate that Ozzy doesn’t have anything new to say, but he still deserves credit for at least attempting something political.

Goatriders Horde
3 Inches of Blood
Fire Up the Blades

Much like the rest of Fire Up the Blades, “Goatriders Horde” is a fun and entertaining song that isn’t quite up to par with the best 3 Inches of Blood has done. Cam Pipe’s hilarious vocals may be taken as comedic at first, but 3 Inches of Blood is talented band that has a fairly unique sound. As previously stated, “Goatriders Horde” isn’t the best song the band has done, but it’s still a ton of fun. It’s not a song that can be taken seriously at all, but to discount it strictly as comedy would be selling it short. Even with the excessively high vocals, 3 Inches of Blood is one of the best bands to headbang to, and the addition of the comedic vocals make them even better. Whether you laugh or simply bang your head in enjoyment, “Goatriders Horde” is a quality song by one of the more amusing bands in music today.

Dark Passion Play

Although “Eva” is a beautifully written song in its own right, it works best as showcase for Anette Ozlon’s vocals. The song was released at around the same time Ozlon was announced as Nightwish’s new vocalist, and it’s clear that its point is specifically to show off her vocals. For that reason, it can’t be compared to the other masterful ballads Nightwish has done through their career. However, it achieves what it set out to achieve. Ozlon’s vocals are exceptionally beautiful on “Eva,” and the story found in the song’s lyrics is worth praising as well. “Eva” is a great song for what it is, but it does lack the mastery and polish found in most Nightwish songs. For that reason, it’s not a song that anyone should use to judge Nightwish, but instead take it for what it is and appreciate Ozlon’s exceptional vocals.

As Long As I Fall
Gambling with the Devil

Being a band that practically created the modern power metal sound 20 years ago, Helloween doesn’t need to reinvent the way power metal is played. All they needed to do to return to form was stop trying to do that and go back to what they know how to do to. “As Long As I Fall” is a song that does that. It may sound like a generic power metal sound, but Helloween plays generic power metal far better than most (even at this point in their career). Above all else, this is Helloween’s sound, and “As Long As I Fall” is proof that Helloween can produce quality power metal. It may be cheesy and familiar, but it’s also the best this classic band has done in some time.

The State of Massachusetts
Dropkick Murphys
The Meanest of Times

“The State of Massachusetts” is not a song that is meant to be analyzed. More than anything, it should be praised for its uniqueness and likeability. In a time where quality punk is hard to come by, the Dropkick Murphys play a unique style of punk and play it well. There’s nothing particularly complex about “The State of Massachusetts,” but one of the song’s strengths is that it doesn’t try to do too much. It’s nothing more and nothing less than an exceptionally fun punk song, and that’s enough for it to be called one of the best punk songs of the year.

Sleeping Giant
Blood Mountain

“Sleeping Giant” is an excellent example of both Mastodon’s versatility and uniqueness. Last year, they released three brilliant singles that didn’t sound anything alike. “Sleeping Giant” continues that trend by having a sound that’s different from anything else Mastodon has done before. That’s part of the brilliance of Blood Mountain. All of the songs on the album sound like Mastodon, yet none of the songs sound especially similar. “Sleeping Giant” isn’t one of the better songs the album has to offer, but that’s not to say it isn’t good. The song’s sound could be described as almost progressive stoner rock, and it’s that unique combination that makes “Sleeping Giant” worthwhile. “Sleeping Giant” is also the type of song that works exceptionally well in the middle of an album, as its uniqueness and variation from the rest of Blood Mountain can make the listener appreciate just how unique that the album really is. However, it doesn’t work quite as well on its own, and the song can best be appreciated as simply a unique song by one of the finest bands in metal today.

North American Scum
LCD Soundsystem
Sounds of Silver

LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy has received a fair amount of criticism for the lyrics to “North American Scum,” an indie electronica song that is much more intelligent than many have been giving it credit for. Murphy is not implying that all Americans are “scums,” but instead saying that the citizens of a country should not be judged by the government. In all actuality, Murphy is supporting most Americans, as he points out that not all Americans support the current administration. However, that message is more hidden than it should be, and the lyrics don’t measure up to songs the other singles LCD Soundsystem released this year (“All My Friends” and “Someone Great"), Even with that, LCD Soundsystem continues to blend intelligent lyrics with exceptionally catchy beats, and “North American Scum” is a great example of that.

Black is Back
Public Enemy
How to Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul?

“Black is Back” not only marks a return to greatness for Public Enemy, but also reminds the listener of why Public Enemy is a truly incredible group. Public Enemy know how to rock. They know how to rock better than most rock bands out there, and “Black is Back” is certainly a reminder of that. The latest Public Enemy song to mix rap and rock samples AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” and it could be argued that taking an all-time great riff and rapping meaningful lyrics over it (contrary to the practically pointless lyrics of the original) make this a superior song overall. However, it’s not nearly as good as the version of “Bring the Noise” Public Enemy recorded with Anthrax, and it’s nowhere near as good as their outstanding lyrically-driven rap songs of the late 80s and early 90s. However, “Black is Back” is a hard rocking song with great lyrics and some of the finest rapping of the year. Public Enemy is back, and it’s about time.

As always, thanks for reading! Feel free to comment and post your opinions. The next part of the list should be up within the next few days.