Archive for February, 2006

Things I like: Stoner metal

Feb 25, 2006 in Music

I’ve been getting back into metal lately. I spent my formative years as a teenage metalhead – albeit a rather dorky one, with a greasy mullet and a wardrobe consisting solely of sweatpants, “skater” pants and metal t-shirts that were often a tad too small for my bulky frame. I cut my teeth at the age of 12 with tapes by Twisted Sister and Motley Crue, lent to me by my slightly older but ever so cooler uncle. By the age of 15, I had dived full on into the thrash metal underground, guided by magazines with names like Metal Maniacs, college radio, and the few cool videos they managed to play on Headbangers Ball.

By the time I was 19, I had pretty much outgrown the genre, its glory days outshined by the grunge/alternative revolution. (Of course, just two years later I would abandon the now-hopelessly commercial “alternative” for the greener pastures of indie rock.) But nostalgia has a way of creeping up on you. I still consider Ride the Lightning to be my favorite Metallica album, and one that I have recently taken to listening to again. I still get a rush of adrenaline listening to Slayer’s Reign in Blood.

My interest in stoner metal was borne out of curiosity – one day I found myself browsing the genre on eMusic for reasons I can’t quite recall. Stoner metal bears obvious comparisons to the music of Black Sabbath: slow tempos, heavy riffs and the occasional solo. The Sabbath classic “Sweet Leaf,” their ode to Mary Jane, is the genesis for stoner metal.

Many stoner metal bands also bear a close relation to doom metal, another genre heavily influenced by Sabbath. Early 90s bands like Kyuss and Monster Magnet solidified the sound that would be dubbed stoner metal – detuned riffs, lengthy jams and heavy psychedelic leanings. And there’s the obvious affinity for marijuana, which becomes apparent in the titles and subject matter of the following albums.

I’ve sampled quite a few of the fruits of the stoner metal genre, and as far as I can tell, there are really very few albums truly worth owning for the non-metalhead. So, without further ado, here’s a non-metal fan’s guide to the essential stoner metal albums. All two of them.

Sleep - Jerusalem/Dopesmoker (1995)

Sleep’s breakthrough album, 1993’s Sleep’s Holy Mountain, was hailed as a doom metal juggernaut in it’s day. But it was their long-delayed follow-up that cemented their status as the ultimate stoner metal band.

Dopesmoker was a concept album with a single, 63-minute long track, reportedly conceived after the band blew their advance on vintage amplification and weed. The lyrics, what few of them there are, marry biblical themes with stoner mythology, replacing the Jews with a wandering tribe of dope smokers (”Weedians”) searching for “the riff-filled land”.

Musically, Dopesmoker is a plodding, droning, buzzing, mammoth opus that has more in common with Metal Machine Music than Black Sabbath Vol. 4. The opening chords slow the basic Black Sabbath riff down to a glacial crawl. From there on it’s 60 minutes of hypnotic, repetitive dirge, highlighted by the occasional guitar solo (the solos alone are worth the price of admission) or lyrical passage.

Sleep’s new record label, London, refused to release it, even in a shortened and resequenced version dubbed Jerusalem. The label soon dropped the band, who broke up shortly thereafter. Jerusalem was eventually released in 1999 to much acclaim. The full 60+ minute version, Dopesmoker, was remastered and released in 2003, and to this day stands as the definitive stoner metal album.

Julian Cope has a brilliant review of Dopesmoker at his site Head Heritage.

Electric Wizard - Dopethrone (2000)

Electric Wizard has been called “the heaviest band in the universe.” I can certainly say that Dopethrone is the fucking heaviest album I’ve ever heard. This was my introduction to the doom/stoner metal genre and the best metal album I’ve heard in years.

Dopethrone is so heavy that if it were any heavier, it would supernova upon itself. Electric Wizard had become known for massive doom metal opuses, but Dopethrone runs the gamut from the relatively brief opener “Vinum Sabbathi” to the 20 minute title track. The 15 minute “Weird Tales” trilogy begins with the thrashing “Electric Frost” and devolves into 12 minutes of Hawkwind-style space rock. The riffs on “Barbarian” and “Funeropolis” could saw through bone.

I mean, the guitar amp tones on this record are heavy. It’s the most impressive thing I’ve heard since I first picked up a My Bloody Valentine record, or listened to Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream. It makes me want to start a doom metal band of my own. Anyone got a huge amp for sale?

Bush: “Startling” source of energy just on the horizon

Feb 20, 2006 in Humor

Bush: U.S. on Verge of Energy Breakthrough - Yahoo! News

During a speech on his administration’s energy proposals, Bush declared, “Our nation is on the threshold of new energy technology that I think will startle the American people.” Startle? I can only wonder what kind of revolutionary energy technology is just on the horizon…

  • An endless souce of energy, powered by a) human stupidity b) righteous conservative indignation, or c) liberal outrage.
  • Methane production. There’s an endless supply from Taco Bell burritos and all you can eat buffets.
  • Harness energy from global warming. Oh wait, that doesn’t exist…
  • Millions of tiny hamsters exercising in millions of tiny wheels.
  • You’ve seen those potato clocks? Giant potatoes!
  • People.

Sunday Night Thoughts

Feb 20, 2006 in Pop Culture

I’ve always wanted to play Katamari Damacy, but I don’t have a PS2. Turns out the creators just released an old-school Flash version. The objective, as far as I can tell, is to collect all the objects into a giant ball, starting from the small ones (birds, eggs, cats) to the large ones (people, vehicles). If the ball gets too big, it’ll suck up your king’s head/cursor. (Clicking the mouse will reset the ball.) If anyone knows how to beat this game, let me know.

Why does Adult Swim insist on running the “Boo Boo Goes Wild” special every Sunday night? For a month straight? Seriously, they could stick an episode of Mission Hill or something in there.

Bill seeks to outlaw online poker — again

Feb 17, 2006 in Current Events

U.S. Takes Aim at Online Gambling - Yahoo! News

Now, I’m willing to bet that a handful of you readers have partaken of online poker or some other kind of online wagering. While I don’t gamble very much, I do make a nice income from other people’s gambling activities.

Internet gambling is currently, and always has been, illegal in the U.S. But a slew of online gaming companies — some who are publically traded, such as online poker giant Party Gaming — have met the public’s desire for online gambling to the tune of $12 billion a year, much of it from U.S. customers.

Instead of legalizing, regulating and collecting taxes from online gambling, people like Virginia representatives Bob Goodlatte and Rick Boucher seek to criminalize it — a futile task considering that all online gambling companies do business outside of the U.S. where their activities are perfectly legal. Not to mention that this proposed legislation could conflict with a WTO decision that declared U.S. prohibitions on internet gambling as an unfair trade practice.

But let’s hear it straight from the horse’s mouth: “For too long our children have been placed in harm’s way as online gambling has been permitted to flourish into a $12 billion industry,” Goodlatte said in a statement. Hey, Bob? Kids don’t gamble; adults do. You’re basically telling adults what they shouldn’t do with their money in the privacy of their homes, in the name of “protecting the children.” Bullshit, Bob.

“These Internet gambling websites typically operate offshore and often serve as a prime vehicle for money laundering and other criminal enterprises.” Proof? Like I said, most online gaming companies are as reputable as Vegas casinos. They operate under the jurisdiction of their localities and international gaming authorities, and their random number generators are regularly audited by well-known accounting firms. By criminalizing them, you only make these unsavory activities more likely.

This isn’t the first time this bill has been introduced. It was voted down in 1999, due partly to the efforts of lobbyist Jack Abramoff. But even with Jack out of the picture, I think it’s unlikely this thing is going to become law, since it’s largely unenforcable and will do little to stop online gambling.

Frank criticism about the suckiness of your MySpace page

Feb 17, 2006 in Personal

So I finally decided to jump on this MySpace thing recently. Oh, I knew about the whole social networking craze, of course — I still have an abandoned unused Friendster account out there somewhere. So I filled out my profile (here, if you care to know more about your humble webmaster) and started browsing some profiles. A few things that I found incredibly annoying:

  • Those plugins that play one of your favorite songs or videos when someone visits your page? Fucking annoying as hell! I went into the habit of looking for it and hitting pause as soon as the page loaded, because almost everybody has ‘em.
  • I thought the phenomenon of terrible amateur web design (unreadable backgrounds and fonts, “cute” graphics and gifs, general lack of content) went the way of free hosted web pages like Geocities. No, it’s alive and well on Myspace. Now, I have the design skills of a chimp with ADD, but the average Myspace page is a crime against eyesight.
  • The whole enterprise just strikes me as a huge popularity contest. At least on Livejournal you can read the personal angsty ramblings of the people on your friends list.

I think I’ll go delete my account now.

Happy John Frum Day!

Feb 15, 2006 in Linkage

A blog post at The Accuser, linked to from Fark, pointed out that today is John Frum Day. (I wrote about the John Frum cargo cult last year in this post.)

The Accuser links to a current Smithsonian Magazine article on the John Frum cult — probably the best expose I’ve seen on this anthropological oddity. He mentions the Vanuatuans use of kava, a mildly psychoactive and medicinal root that is ground and drank by many in the South Pacific. (I strongly doubt that kava consumption has anything to do with the oddity that is John Frum, though.)

I had the opportunity to try kava in Hawaii. It’s brown and muddy, and very bitter. But if you can stomach the taste, kava gives you a very mellow and relaxing feeling. The first effect you’ll notice is that it makes your lips and mouth numb. I had three servings, and while I really enjoyed the experience, my lips still curl just thinking about the taste. If you’re inclined to actually try kava, powdered kava root is readily available. Vanuatu kava is considered to be the strongest.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978), starring Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees

Feb 15, 2006 in Film

In 1978, film producer Robert Stigwood — who was responsible for such musical films as Jesus Christ Superstar, Grease, Saturday Night Fever and Tommy (the latter a psychedelic trainwreck that should have foretold the fate of our current subject) — hit upon a seemingly brilliant concept:

Take two of the biggest pop acts of the day — the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton, who were coming off the massive success of Saturday Night Fever and Frampton Comes Alive, respectively — and put them in a musical based upon the music of the Beatles. Line up an all-star cast, and release a double-vinyl soundtrack album in tandem with the film. It seemed like a sure-fire success. Instead, it ended up being one of the worst commercial and critical failures of the seventies, and derailed the careers of almost everyone involved.

The soundtrack album, with a sky-high retail list price of $15.98, reportedly shipped over 3 million copies — many of which were sent back to the label. (According to my recording industry contracts professor, this debacle was responsible for the provision that limits returns from retailers.) The album remained a cut-out bin staple for years — as an eight-year old, I received a copy from my (admittedly cheap-skate) father. Stigwood’s RSO Records, at that time the number 1 label in America, was practically bankrupted. The movie didn’t fare much better: It cost $12 million to make, and reportedly failed to recoup its production costs.

More than two decades after its release, the Sgt. Pepper’s movie lives on as a minor cult classic — one of those “so bad it’s good” films that’s mostly remembered by those who were young in 1978 and saw it in the theater. (Not me. I was only 4 at the time. I did see it on cable about 4 years later.) It’s even earned a DVD and CD re-release in recent years.

Screenwriter Henry Edwards cobbled together a childish and cockamamie plot loosely based around Beatles’ songs (mostly from Sgt. Pepper or Abbey Road). Since none of the principal actors had any acting ability (with the exception of George Burns, who narrated), they were given no dialogue and spoke only through song. Frampton’s acting is especially wooden and noncharismatic — not to mention that he couldn’t carry a Beatles tune in a bucket.

Our heroes, the second incarnation of Sgt. Pepper’s titular band (the Bee Gees) led by Billy Shears (Frampton), are lured from the wholesome town of Heartland, U.S.A. to L.A. by record producer B.D. (Donald Pleasance), where they are corrupted by fame, drugs and women. Mean Mr. Mustard, a villianous real-estate agent who drives a bus with an ex-boxer and two robots, steals Sgt. Pepper’s magical instruments from Heartland, and turns the town into a sleazy den of video arcades and adult hotels.

Billy Shears’ love interest, Strawberry Fields (played by Star Search champion Sandy Farina) hops a bus from Heartland to L.A, to warn our heroes of Mustard’s plot. The band proceeds to rescue the instruments from Dr. Maxwell (Steve Martin, in his feature film debut), and Father Sun (Alice Cooper), leading up to the confrontation with head villians Future Villian Band (Aerosmith, in the film’s best performance). Strawberry dies, and Billy Shears attempts suicide, until suddenly Billy Preston pops out of a weathervane singing “Get Back” and zaps everything back to normal. No, seriously. The film ends with an all-star chorus, where they seemingly dragged in every celebrity on the studio lot that day to badly lip-sync the closing theme.

The musical performances are often as hilarious as the film. Steve Martin steals the show with “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” and in only the second performance of the film, George Burns’ performs his rendition of “Fixing a Hole.” But as previously mentioned, Frampton can’t sing worth a damn. (His rendition of “Long and Winding Road” is especially gut-wrenching.) Donald Pleasance’s opening to “She’s So Heavy” is hilariously cringe-inducing. “Mean Mr. Mustard,” performed by robots, is sung through a vocoder.

On the other hand, the Bee Gees harmonic, vaguely-disco-ish renditions are quite enjoyable. Earth, Wind and Fire are decent, and Aerosmith’s “Come Together” actually became a minor hit for them.

So, should you actually see this film? If you’re sensitive to bad covers of Beatles’ songs, then you should probably avoid this. If, on the other hand, you love bad movies, then this film is essential viewing. And yes, it’s available on DVD.

New Look

Feb 12, 2006 in Personal

I’ve been neglecting this blog for a while, so I decided to upgrade the software and install new templates. I’m playing around with the default styles for a while, because I suck at design. I’m also trying to figure out a direction for this blog (as well as my life), since the tendency for me is to be a jack of all trades. I could do an mp3 blog – they’re pretty popular. Or I could just write about politics, like my pal Fritz. Actually, I’ll probably just do all of the above and then some. I can’t be pigeonholed, man.

Which brings to mind the question: Just what is a pigeonhole?