Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Louder Than Thou

Lest you fear that all I do for fun anymore is go to classical music concerts featuring relatively recent pieces of forward-thinking art music from Italian and French composers, I can also report that the most recent concert that I attended (last Monday), was the amazing Canadian band Black Mountain, touring their new album Wilderness Heart. They play, basically, throw-back metal, though it's my opinion that they play a generally forward-thinking version of throw-back (listen to their previous album, aptly titled In the Future, and you'll hear what I mean). Or, actually, follow that link and download the freely available "Old Fangs." And listen to it, and listen to the way that the chord progression moves the first time after it leaves the opening chug-a-lug: the song sounds absolutely within the idiom of, say, Deep Purple or Iron Butterfly (especially that organ sound, eh?), but then, the way the chords move, I would argue, is very new; they turn in an unexpected direction.

I've steadily been listening to metal and punk and hardcore types of musics, alongside my fierce adoration of cutting edge art music, since High School (with particular props to my friend (Tuba) Dave for helping in the fostering of an abject adoration of the band Fugazi), but a lot of that listening has melted down in the last half-decade to a preference for what's generally called "stoner metal." You could call Black Mountain "stoner metal." Basically, though, all hardcore and most post-punk and all the metal that I care for grew and grow out of Black Sabbath (this might be a stretch, but I take the sheer number of bands with the name "Black... xyz" as further evidence of that), and that's more or less what you get with Black Mountain. But "stoner metal" acts have cut out the nonsense, and mostly stick to grooves, riffs, and the occasionally never-too-unhinged solo. It's the kind of music you would expect your father to enjoy, but would be nervous to share since it involves saying the word "stoner" over and over again.

The other thing about ("stoner") metal, and most of the types of metal that I find worth listening to (including other such awesomely named sub-categories like "psychedelic," "doom," and "sludge" metals), is that it's much better heard live, at incredible volume. I was always proud of my college space rock band for playing really loud (which, I think, of all people, our mother can actually attest too, since I recall her coming to see us when we played CMU's Spring Carnival back in '03, and were easily audible from halfway across campus. Of course, back then, I always wore ear plugs, both while performing and when at concerts. But the other night, here, when I went to see Black Mountain, I forgot my earplugs.

So this was easily the loudest concert I've ever witnessed without something protecting those little hairs in my ears. (Oops.) But one realizes that it's really okay. Sure, you do some damage early on, but once your ears adjust, apparently, you're not going to do that (that) much more harm to them. And it caused me to kind of surrender to the music in a way that I might not have had I had ear plugs in, since listening to carefully would bring out the fact that the volume was probably uncomfortably high. But I don't mean to dwell on the volume, because the band was really really really good, seriously. Go see them play when they tour through your town in the States this Fall. They will not disappoint.

There's a particular guitar sound that comes from running a Gibson SG into a Marshall head that hits in the middle of your body (especially at the aforementioned loud volume) which is perhaps the single greatest development in the history of amplified music. I remember being fairly young, at some concert or another (maybe an Oldies festival at Three Rivers Stadium...), and having my father point out the way that one could feel the amplified bass rumble in one's body. Which is true, and interesting. But this guitar sound is like someone swinging a brick wall like a tennis racket and hitting you on the front side of your spine with it; that is, fucking amazing. It's the type of thing that makes AC/DC so lovable.

And another tip, in case you ever find yourself going to a metal concert: if you ever notice an extra long pause being taken between songs as the guitar and bass players down-tune one or a couple of the strings on their instruments, note that this means that abject awesomeness is imminent. If, after this down-tuning takes place, the bass player begins to scrunch up his face as if he's a '60s or '70s era guitar god in the middle of an epic solo, before even striking the first note, be aware that this may be the apex of awesomeness for the whole concert.

Writing such things, my musical aesthetic pretty much makes perfect sense to me. I will probably always prefer acoustic music to amplified music, but if we're going to electronically enhance our volume, let's do it in the most spine-vibrating way possible. Which involves playing mostly loud and not too fast, with a fair amount of noise just ringing about. It's kind of like a short cut to the sound-fields of Berio, with the aleatory of ear-ringing pitches taking the place of the notes-written-and-prepared-and-played. Additionally, both the singers, especially Amber Webber, are great too. And now I'm bored with blogging about this, but there you go. All caught up on the Berlin concert-going front (with only three weeks of living here left).


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