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Old 04-20-2012, 07:23 PM   #1161 (permalink)
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Following Trollheart's recent review of “Caravanserai”, the worm thought he'd feature Santana's best known hit. This is “Samba pa ti”.
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Old 04-21-2012, 10:01 AM   #1162 (permalink)
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Let's take a sharp left turn and look at a few more musical items I enjoy that are way off the usual beaten path. Yes, we've been away for too long, and it's time for some more...

Here's the incomparably funny Alexei Sayle in an early cameo from “The Young Ones”... okay boots: do your stuff!

The greatest compliment you can be paid is often to be lampooned on a show like “Family guy”, and here they do a real number on us Irish!

Say what you like, I've a soft spot for ol' Perry Como, specially this song.

And who doesn't like Kermit?

But you have to laugh, both at Cartman's girly voice and his song about immigrants.
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Old 04-21-2012, 05:50 PM   #1163 (permalink)
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Old 04-21-2012, 05:55 PM   #1164 (permalink)
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Now this is something special! The great Jon Anderson, backed by a powerful orchestra, with a sumptuous version of his hit with Vangelis, also a hit for Donna Summer later. This is the one and only “State of independence”.
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Old 04-22-2012, 10:00 AM   #1165 (permalink)
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The Planets suite, Op. 32 --- Gustav Holst --- 1926 (Decca)


Note: the disc I have of this symphony is of course not from the twenties, or anywhere near it; not least due to there being no compact discs at that time, barely vinyl! But I've gone for this date because it appears to be the first time the suite was committed to any sort of actual proper recording for the mass market, and the work itself actually dates back to about 1917.

This is the first time I have ever attempted to review a classical album. Some purists might say, and they may be right, that classical music stands outside the norm, beyond review; that it cannot be compared to anything that exists today and therefore it should not be subject to any sort of attempt at criticism. This may very well be true, but it won't stop me trying this from time to time. If I had to pick out a favourite from my classical albums, this would be it, closely followed by Rachmaninov's piano concerto no. 1. Many classical recordings, while truly brilliant, can I find suffer from some tedious passages, some boring bits where maybe an extended piece of chamber music wanders on for so many minutes you lose interest, or a horn concerto just won't shut up, and you begin to think about skipping forward.

That's probably why for most people, collections of classical music are the best thing to listen to, and why series like “The Great Composers” sell so well; people in general want to hear the classical music they like, and are familiar with --- those tunes that have made their way into everyday life through the media of advertisements, film soundtracks or even those that have been sampled for pop songs (we all remember William Orbit's version of Samuel Barber's “Adagio for strings”, and even if we aren't familiar with that, we probably know the piece from its use in the movie “Platoon”) --- and are reluctant, loath even, to listen to classical music they don't know.

But this is one of the rare classical albums where everything slots perfectly into place, even for a non-classical fan, if you're one of those. It's not overlong, it keeps the interest and it has a recurring theme running right through it. It is, in essence, a classical concept album, of which there are probably more than you would think, but this is possibly the most famous, or at least the most popular and well-known.

It deals, of course, with the planets in our solar system, but not in an astronomical way. The suite is more based on astrology, which was a subject Gustav Holst (1874-1934) was very much interested in. Although the opener ties in with the Roman mythology surrounding that planet, it seems that in astrology too, Mars is identified with war and combat. From what I read, Holst was none too enamoured of the perhaps unexpected fame his Planets suite gained, complaining that it overshadowed his other works, and to be fair, I know of none other of his material, though there is a large body of work left behind by him. But he will, for better or for worse, always be known and remembered for this suite of music.

Even if you're not in the slightest bit interested in classical music, you will almost certainly have heard the opening movement, “Mars, the bringer of War.” If you've watched a sci-fi movie wherein there is a space battle, if you've watched a war movie or any other sort of drama where powerful, ominous music swells into a cacophony of pulsating, thumping drums and strings, you've heard this. If you're a fan of Diamond Head, it's used in the intro to “Am I evil?”, and in fact many metal bands will have used it as introductory music as they come out on stage. It's also used when there is an important football match, rugby match or indeed any sport where the stakes are high and two well-matched opponents face off against each other. It is the epitome of power and tension, and as an opener you couldn't ask for anything better.

Now, as I mentioned when reviewing Peter Gabriel's “New blood”, I'm not that familiar with all the instruments used in an orchestra, so I may get some wrong, guess at some, but I'll do my best. There's definitely a low organ sound as the piece gets moving, introducing the first movement which soon builds up with heavy percussion, strings and woodwinds until the whole thing is in danger of blowing out your speakers. For such a heavy piece, it starts deceptively low, so if you don't know it and are playing it for the first time, take my advice: don't turn up the speakers because you can't hear it at first. You will, as it goes on, believe me. A real fanfare of trumpets and horns brings the thing to a hammerpunch ending, almost, as the drums crash behind it and everything fades away for a moment, before violins and cellos rise again behind the organ and the drums finally thunder in to take the first movement to its almost apocalyptic conclusion (this is where you'll regret having turned up your amp so loud, and will rush to decrease the volume). “Mars, the bringer of War” certainly gives that flavour, the idea of an army marching to battle, the scent of blood in men's nostrils, the banners held aloft in the morning sun, or indeed a fleet of ships traversing the sea on the way to engage the enemy. Tanks rolling across muddy flats, helicopters zooming in over jungle canopies --- take your pick: “Mars, the bringer of war” anthropomorphises combat and leaves you in no doubt that the very God of War himself is in attendance.

As it punches to its end, the drums rolling out the cataclysmic ending, we slip into “Venus, the bringer of Peace”. The absolute antithesis to the previous track, this opens with soft viola and cello, sweetly humming organ and no percussion (or very little), flutes piccolos and oboes carrying the tune until a lovely laidback violin section drifts in, and indeed you may have heard this too, as it has been used in various films --- or at least parts of it --- usually in some sort of idyllic scene, which is exactly the image it conjures up. The horns get a little louder, the tiniest bit more forceful before the soft violin returns, accompanied by some beautiful brass and what sounds like a celesta.

The delicate notes of a harp pick their way through the melody as the piece reaches its halfway point, fading away almost as soon as they make their presence known, the violins now joined by cello and viola as the string section takes charge, and you can't help but relax in the luxuriant atmosphere created by this piece of music. The harp returns, the celesta chimes along and the violin as ever carries the tune. Some lovely little tinkling bells accompany the strings as the piece fades to its conclusion, taking in the shortest track of only seven on the album.

Upbeat, bright strings carry “Mercury, the Winged Messenger” in on indeed feather-light feet, the woodwinds coming up a little in the background, harpstrings adding to the tune before solo piccolo (or maybe just a flute) takes the melody, then the strings come in very heavily as the piece gets louder and more insistent, before everything fades out back to the somewhat playful intro we heard, the kind of music that might remind the older among us of those Hanna-Barbera cartoons. There's a flurry of violins then, some xylophone and some bells before the track sort of fades out, like one of those will-o-the-wisps dancing over the marshes and disappearing into the fog.

Coming in very strongly then with powerful percussion and heavy violin and woodwind, certainly the most uptempo and powerful movement since “Mars”, “Jupiter, the bringer of Jollity” is another one you may have heard. In some ways it is similar to parts of Holst's countryman Elgar's “Pomp and circumstance march”, which you over there know as “Land of hope and glory”. There's a real sense of fiesta and joy about this piece, with its almost dancy rhythm (for the time), the sense of going around and around in a circle until heavy trumpets and trombones combine with solid drums to take the piece towards a more restrained, piccolo-led part and then into a stately, almost grave largo, harp and cello keeping counterpoint while the violins and brass carry the main tune.

It all breaks down then into another playful flute run with attendant viola before the trumpets and horns pull the movement towards its powerful, triumphant conclusion, a real fanfare that draws back in the stately march from earlier in the piece, more happy flutes and violins and then almost silence before the brass fanfares bring us back into the original rhythmic dance from near the beginning, which gets faster and faster, like someone spinning around until they get dizzy. A final fanfare and the drums break in heavily, leaving the trumpets to blare out the triumphant ending.

Holst's own favourite, such as that he had one, in the suite was reported to be “Saturn, the bringer of Old Age”. It opens on low, ominous organ and bells, like the very approach of advancing age itself, with solo violin and then cello, a celesta keeping the slow heartbeat rhythm going, lower, more bassy cello then slowly approaching violins giving way to walking trumpets and trombone, then the strings soaring in a quite beautiful but grave way. This is in fact the longest of the compositions, coming in at just over eight and a half minutes. There's a very ominous feel about this piece, much more even than in the first movement. There at least, in war, one has a chance to survive if they can, but who can stand against the rigours of old age?

Swirling, frenetic violins are drawn in by heavy timpani and bass drums, and a sense of panic pervades the piece, then it all drops back to a slow and stately walk by the violins and clarinets too, with a glockenspiel and harp taking the tune as it gets much softer, sweet violins adding in to the mood, before it all goes dark and bassy again as the music swells against tubular bells, pealing out like those of a church or in a graveyard, ending on gorgeous, rising strings which fade away, almost as if ascending to the very heavens themselves, the tolling bell giving one last peal before it too dies away.

“Uranus, the Magician” comes in on powerful horns and thundering drums, then stops as flutes and violins reminscent of those in “Saturn” fly in, making the piece a little more whimsical, some glockenspiel and xylophone adding in to the percussive elements, before it all swells back up again in a powerful crescendo, riding along like a wave on the ocean, then crashing back down again and leaving the piccolos and flutes to carry things until heavy percussion and horns again come in, leading another heavy charge with a very militaristic theme. Definitely a sense of something going on, a sense of purpose. Brass plays a fairly strong part in this movement, as does the xylophone, if only heard in the background, but clearly, and adding a strong flavour to the piece.

It ends on a powerful explosion of brass woodwind and percussion, then in the fourth minute of its almost six goes quiet, with soft flutes and violin, until the horns again power in, along with the drums, one more time, making their point before the piece is left to finish on a fade out of celesta and flutes. And this takes us into the last movement, the closer, and the hardest of them all to review.

“Neptune, the Mystic” has been described as the closest thing at the time to abstract music, and indeed it's very atmospheric, with no percussion, low trumpets and harp carrying the movement in an almost ethereal way, the very forerunner of ambient music, more than fifty years before anyone would attempt such a thing. Spacey, eerie harp and celesta takes over mostly from the second minute of the piece, with some low violin coming in as it heads towards minute four, then the only vocal parts on the suite come in, a female choral vocal, otherworldly and ghostly, almost merging with the music. And these are human voices: synthesisers had not been even thought of, never mind invented, in Holst's time. From about the fifth minute then, of the total seven and a half, the movement begins fading down, borne on the lightest of touches on the harp, the violin and the slowly fading voices of the female chorus. Eventually, all we're left with is the celesta, and those lonely female voices, sighing to the end like some sort of early signal being sent into, or from, deepest space.

It's hard to write a footnote to something as seminal as this. There are albums I like, albums I love and albums I rate as being essential to listen to. But if you never listen to any classical albums in your life, you should really listen to this. As I say, unlike many others I've listened to, the interest never drops; it's neither too long, nor too short. Each piece meshes perfectly with the next and the one that preceded it, and each movement gives you a unique picture of each of the planets, astrologically speaking. Why is Earth not included, you ask? Apparently because, seen as it was as the “base” from which Holst was writing, in astrological terms it has no value, and so he did not write a movement for it. As for Pluto, well, that would not be discovered until four years after his death. Of course, this century it would be “decomissioned”, as it were, no longer recognised as a true planet.

So all those years ago, almost a century now in fact, Holst had it right with just the eight planets, seven if you exclude Earth, which he did. But seven, eight or nine, the “Planets” suite remains one of the most remarkable, cohesive, ambitious and enduring classical compositions ever attempted. Even now, as we approach the centenary of its writing, it's as popular as it has ever been.

TRACKLISTING

1. Mars, the bringer of War
2. Venus, the bringer of Peace
3. Mercury, the Winged Messenger
4. Jupiter, the bringer of Jollity
5. Saturn, the bringer of Old Age
6. Uranus, the Magician
7. Neptune, the Mystic
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Old 04-22-2012, 05:57 PM   #1166 (permalink)
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Old 04-22-2012, 06:09 PM   #1167 (permalink)
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Here's a real blast from the past from a band called Paper Lace, who had a hit with this way back in 1974. One of only two hits, in fact, but the other was so good that the worm is going to bend the rules to breaking point here, and feature both of the songs. First up is “Billy don't be a hero”, which landed them a number one hit in the UK, while the other single, “The night Chicago died”, got to number three. Two great songs. So what's the point of having rules if you don't break 'em occasionally? The worm will say nothing if you don't...
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Old 04-22-2012, 06:25 PM   #1168 (permalink)
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Trollman have I ever told you that your journal is quite obviously the best here on Mb?
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Old 04-23-2012, 05:01 AM   #1169 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dr. Rez View Post
Trollman have I ever told you that your journal is quite obviously the best here on Mb?
Hey thanks man, that really means a lot.
But there are others who write a lot better than what I do and I wouldn't dream of thinking myself better than people who have been here for years. Still, it's nice to know it's appreciated. I do my best.

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Old 04-23-2012, 11:46 AM   #1170 (permalink)
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Inhuman rampage --- Dragonforce --- 2006 (Roadrunner)


Okay, let's have this out once and for all. Why do so many people --- metal fans particularly --- despise this band? I don't understand it. Is it their reliance on sword-and-sorcery style lyrics? The fact that they augment their guitar sound with electronics? Do they appeal too much to young metalheads, and are they then seen as not a “real” metal band, or even a real band?

Formed in 1999, Dragonforce began life as Dragonheart, but after finding out that another band existed with this name already --- and a metal one, to boot --- they changed their name to Dragonforce. They have had, to date, five albums, their most recent only released last week. They have gone through some lineup changes, with the vocalist on this, their third album, no longer with them.

The album kicks off with one of their biggest hit singles, “Through the fire and flames”, with quite frankly incredibly fast guitar shredding by founder member Herman Li ably matched by some prog-tastic keyboard work from Vadim Pruzhanov, thunderous and steam-locomotive-fast drumming from Dave Mackintosh in a dramatic, powerpunch track that rocks along, unstoppable and as powerful as a thundering avalanche sliding down a mountain, taking everything in its path. Vocalist ZP Theart's voice is strong and clear, not growly or raspy, and though this is very definitely power metal it verges very strongly on the side of thrash metal. Very melodic though: you never get the feeling Dragonforce are just being fast because they can't play, which has happened with other bands on occasion. Each one here seems to be an expert on, or at least fluent in, his chosen instrument.

They also seem to engage in longer songs that your average power metal band, with two of the tracks nearing the eight minute mark, and one crossing it. Indeed, “Through the fire and flames” is a very respectable seven and a half minutes itself. There's no letup for “Revolution deathsquad”, and you can start to hear those electronic effects which do indeed give the idea of video games being played, but they don't really detract from the music to my mind. They don't add to it either, but they don't ruin it, not for me. I like their fantasy themed lyrics, and yes, on occasion the electronic fiddly bits get a little distracting, but Dragonforce balance this out by playing some of the fastest and hardest metal I've heard for quite a long time. Okay, at times they give you the sense of kids playing around, but hell, if my kids could play like that (if I had kids) I would not be complaining!

The twin guitar attack of Li and his bandmate Sam Totman works really well, giving Dragonforce a very full sound, and the inevitable comparisons to the masters of the twin axe attack, Iron Maiden, but they temper this with some truly exceptional keyboard work from Pruzhanov. Probably the fastest track yet --- and that's saying something! --- “Storm the burning fields” continues the battleground imagery of the first two tracks, with some smoking solos from Herman Li backed by the incessant assault of Mackintosh's nuclear drumkit. Even against this powerful cacophony of carefully orchestrated sound, Theart's voice rises strongly like an avenging angel, never needing to strain, just naturally strong and vibrant, magnetic even.

This is the first song so far to feature a solo on the keys from Pruzhanov, and may I say it has been worth waiting for! More electronic game-style bleeps sort of begin to get a bit annoying, but I really do think you can forgive Dragonforce that little hiccup, since they play so well, so cohesively as a unit and so effectively. Just a little bit slower, less frenetic is “Operation ground and pound” --- with a title like that you'd expect it to be a real... oh, it just sped up. Okay, then, another hammerfest on the drums, screaming guitars going twice the speed of sound, strong vocals. Still can't see anything wrong with this. Perhaps a little samey. I wonder if they'll tackle a ballad at any time on the album? Would be interesting to see that side of them.

For all that, this comes across as their most melodic and, dare I say it, commercial offering so far, even given that the opener was their big single. The vocal harmonies on this song are almost reminscent of the AOR greats like Journey, Night Ranger and Asia, though with a lot more kick behind them of course. Oh, looking at the Wiki entry I see this was released as a single, but failed to chart! Well, there's no accounting for taste, is there? Seems “Through the fire and flames” also only barely made it into the top forty, at least in the USA. There's no pause for breath as we charge headlong into “Body breakdown”, with vocals this time taken by Lindsay Dawson, changing the dynamic somewhat, as his voice is a little rougher and more raw than Theart's. Still very effective vocal harmonies though, and even with the shredding toned down a little on this track, it's nevertheless heavy as hell.

A pretty amazing keyboard solo here, a break for a powerful vocal harmony and the drums slow for just a moment before they kick back into gear again, and we explode into “Cry for eternity”, with a big, majestic keyboard intro, galloping drums and the twin guitar assault that makes this an instrumental beginning that lasts for over a minute before Theart's vocals come in. There are definitely elements of Thin Lizzy in the guitar work and Queen in the vocals, hints of the likes of Fairyland and Epica in the lyrics and style, and yet Dragonforce are very much their own band. Couldn't see anyone accusing them of ripping off or copying anyone. Certainly not an album you could fall asleep listening to, this. Lots to keep you interested, great musicianship and somehow it never seems to deteriorate into technical wankery, almost as if the guys know how well they can play but are shrugging and saying, so what? There's not a sense of “look at me, how fast I can play”, more an idea of “listen to the music we make”. I'm listening. I'm liking.

Things continue to blast along on rocket rails for “The flame of youth”, and you have to wonder if stagehands are standing by when Dragonforce play live, fire extinguishers at the ready! Those fingers must burn! A spacey, ethereal keyboard intro and piano opens “Trail of broken hearts”, and it seems like this may be that hoped-for ballad. Yep, it is. Nice to hear the boys scale back the shredding for once to show that they can play “normal” guitar, and play it well. Even Dave Mackintosh has had his batteries removed and is just thumping the drums slowly and in a measured way, and it really works, with more great vocal harmonies. Possibly could have been a good choice for a single too; certainly one to get the old cigarette lighters out for! Wonder if they still allow that at gigs now, with this obsession on health and safety, not to mention Homeland Security?

Lovely solo from Herman Li, great to hear something different on the album for a change, critics answered I think. Excellent piano from Pruzhanov, and fine interchange between Li and Totman make this song really something to remember, and quite brilliant as a closer to an album I have to say really hits the spot. I definitely don't get all the hate, but then, people will always find reasons, reasons they feel are valid, to tear something down. I personally would not be the biggest fan of Dragonforce, but I would never dream of putting them down. They play well, they write well, and they sell well.

And I think they represent power metal very well indeed. Now, where is that new album they just released?

TRACKLISTING

1. Through the fire and flames
2. Revolution deathsquad
3. Storming the burning fields
4. Operation ground and pound
5. Body breakdown
6. Cry for eternity
7. The flame of youth
8. Trail of broken hearts
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