“Ground Zero” archives released on Bandcamp

This has been long overdue, but I finally got around to actually doing it: I salvaged the Ground Zero archives from dusty, moth-eaten old compact cassette tapes that I’d had lying around in a drawer somewhere for aeons, tinkered around with audio forensics for a bit, and uploaded the resulting noise to Bandcamp. Here are the results…

Ground Zero was the first band I played drums in. By a sort of youthful inertia, it was formed in 1993 by a bunch of us kids who hung around the stage at what was then my secondary school. The initial lineup consisted of Aljaž Tulimirović, Aleš Kovačec and myself (none of whom went to that particular school), while the fourth founding member, my classmate Mitja Jurančič who was supposed to sing, immediately – at the first or second rehearsals – discovered that he couldn’t actually carry a tune, probably to the eternal gratitude of the band’s few future listeners. I’m not being mean: if Jurančič ever reads this, he’ll be the first to agree. Frankly, none of us – with the possible exception of Tulimirović, who was relatively good on guitar even then – could play very well at that time.

The band underwent the first permutations: Aleš Kovačec on bass was soon replaced by Boštjan Zorc, Aljaž picked up the vocal mike apart from the guitar, and with me on drums we soon made for a classic “power trio”. For about half a year or so we mostly played Jimi Hendrix covers as well as some other blues and rock tracks at high school parties and biker gatherings. When you are that young, you learn fast, and not much time passed until we were tired of vintage rock covers. Zorc was eventually replaced by Sebastijan Roškarič on bass and we started coming up with our own ideas. It soon turned out that we desperately needed a “dedicated” vocalist, and I was very fortunate to run into Marko Djukić as a freshman at the university about a year after the band’s formation. With Marko Djukić on vocals we focused almost exclusively on our own material, abusing covers only as fillers or a kind of jokery, and Djukić also stepped in as the band’s resident lyricist. As Djukić and I both studied English, using any other language for lyrics was never even a question.

The first recording that still exists and has now been “exhumed” dates back to 1995. The other three existing recordings – two from live concerts and a short DIY demo – were done in 1996. During that time we changed the bass player again: Roškarič gave way to Samo Pečar. Later, in the beginning of 1997 (or maybe at the end of 1996), if I remember correctly, we had some disagreements with Djukić, especially as it was difficult for him to attend our never-ending rehearsals and rock ‘n’ roll revelry far from his home every weekend. Besides, ravenous for new knowledge and eager to complicate our lives, Tulimirović, Pečar and I gradually strayed far into the realm of alter-prog-fusion-psychedelia, rendering the ground rather unfertile for vocalists, so we and Djukić parted ways, though on good terms. Of course, as barely anyone but ourselves was exactly crazy about our setlist that ultimately consisted of ten to fifteen-minute instrumentals riddled with incomprehensible, utterly undanceable odd-time meters and other intentional listener pitfalls like malicious breaks, malevolent random-sounding phrases played in unison, syncopated rhythms, atonal compositions and beat displacement, plus ample room designated for random improvisation and on-the-spot “freeform composition”, the band gradually evaporated, without much clamour, sometime in the course of 1997 or 1998, as the band members started pursuing other outlets for their unbridled creativity.

Marko Djukić dedicated himself to theatre, and thanks to him I started writing original soundtracks for theatre performances together with another long-term “associate” of mine, Stojan Kralj. Producing music for audio-visual works is also how I eventually got into the rather arcane music production business more seriously, and I also kept drumming in quite a few other bands. Boštjan Zorc went back to playing guitar (his primary instrument), and he has since been in several bands. He is now a great guitarist and owner of a well-known guitar workshop. Sebastjan Roškarič headed into the realm of magic: he is now an accomplished illusionist. Samo Pečar has become a professional bass player and has contributed to too many bands to list. Aljaž Tulimirović has gone on to form a few bands of his own as well as take part in a number of other projects. Both Tulimirović and Pečar participated in Juice Connection (1998–2002, the music production crew formed by Kralj and myself) as well as played in the live line-ups of both bands I founded later: SUR as well as, for a while, Cynicism Management.

As I’ve already mentioned, the Ground Zero archives were salvaged from mangled old compact cassette tapes. To make matters even more frustrating, most of the material was originally recorded directly from the mixer during rather “unpredictable” concerts of dubious quality, so forget about top-notch production by today’s standards: the recordings did undergo significant digital audio restoration, as far as I could manage it… But without a functional artificial intelligence with a knack for audio forensics, magically transforming this material into anything great-sounding will remain impossible. Nevertheless, all of the former band members agreed it would be a good idea to “immortalise” these fine audio documents by digitising them before they vanished forever. Not that they will have any mass appeal, of course – but they will certainly let us, the former members, take a few trips down the memory lane.

“Pendulum Pet” released on Jamendo

For reasons I will not go into right now, my main band – Cynicism Management – has been quiet for a while. The work on the band’s third full-length album (as well as my third novel, which is supposed to accompany it) IS proceeding, though not exactly as initially planned, so I cannot yet predict with any certainty when either will be done.

In the meantime, we have released the Pendulum Pet album on Jamendo, where you can grab it as a FREE download under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license.

Grumblin’ Ole Geezer @ Opeth

There’s a reason – besides my being a serial procrastinator, of course – why it took me almost exactly two months to finish scribbling the following “review” (or, my personal concert journal entry) of the Opeth concert in Berlin on 24 November 2016: it was so damn good that I didn’t have anything to grumble about. I’ll try my best to find something that was annoying – but be warned, the following account may be damn boring.

This was the second time I saw Opeth live. The first time was in Huxleys Neue Welt, my favourite venue in Berlin, but this time the gig was in Astra Kulturhaus, which I was not yet familiar with. Because the place turned out to be one of those semi-dilapidated (on the outside) squats-turned-businesses that I normally don’t particularly enjoy, I was worried about the sound. Furthermore, drinks were far too expensive for its outward appearance… But all my reservations were soon appeased.

Well, maybe not during the opening act, which was a band of cute Swedish shieldmaidens singing lullabies and Scandinavian laments, thus promoting suicidal tendencies in most of us, the audience, as we had already been moderately to fully depressed due to the eternal winter doom and gloom of Berlin. In short, it was OK, but nothing to write home about: however beautifully performed (and it was fine, musically speaking), this sort of ethereal angel choir over acoustic guitar or piano (not even both at the same time) can make me very sleepy in no time. And I had got up at 5 a.m. that morning, so three tracks in I was in serious danger of prostrating myself in a dark corner and missing the whole thing.

Fortunately, Opeth soon elected to get on stage and…

Well, what can I say. Flawless musicianship, superb sound (clear, well defined, loud enough, though not brutally so… actually I don’t have any negative sound-related comments whatsoever, which is very rare for me), and first-class stage act and presence. As far as I’m concerned, Mikael Åkerfeldt is the man. Not only is he a musical genius, guitar virtuoso and top-notch singer (despite his continuous protestations that he doesn’t really know how to sing), but I especially appreciate his sarcastic and cynical ramblings in between tracks that never fail to entertain. His communication with the audience is stellar (he even made the proverbially reserved Germans sing some godawful vocal line I didn’t know my way around at all – I suppose it must have been a hit in Germany or something, which is certainly an achievement in its own right, as it was definitely not a sing-along jingle). In this regard he reminds me of Zappa, and in a very good way, too. One of the self-ironic remarks I remember went something along the lines of “I was bored, so I changed the tuning on my guitar, played a few chords, and – lo and behold – another masterpiece.” Ha, ha, ha, indeed.

What else… Oh, there was one thing that pissed me off, besides the prices of drinks: there was a nasty pillar between me and the stage, so my vantage point sucked, but it was my fault – because I had no wish whatsoever to elbow my way further into the impressive crowd. However, another positive thing: this time there weren’t many hipsters around, unlike the All Them Witches concert the other day, which was a massive relief. Opeth do attract a great, loyal crowd of sensible people, and for a reason: they’re simply so damn good. If I ever have the chance, I’ll definitely go see them again.

Rick Neidlinger releases “A Taste of RickyRock”

For the last half a year or so I’ve been collaborating with a Kansas-based singer/songwriter, bassist and first-rate guitarist Rick Neidlinger. While he was in charge of everything else, I contributed drums and then mixed and mastered the tracks as well. The resulting work has just been released on Bandcamp. Have a listen and/or grab a download:

Released November 6, 2016
Music, guitars, bass and vocals: Rick Neidlinger
Drums, mixing and mastering: Borut Praper

Grumblin’ Ole Geezer @ All Them Witches

I hadn’t known All Them Witches at all before a friend of mine with compatible music taste, whom we’ve been exchanging musical tips with for the last 20 years or so (we’d even played together in my first band back in 1994/1995), happened to mention that they were playing in Berlin on 15 October. (Yeah, so it took me a while to write my impressions about it, what can I say, I’m a world-class procrastrinator.) So my pal decided to mount an expedition from Slovenia and drop by the now eternally dark and murky Berlin for a visit, and we’d go to this gig while he was at it. A grand idea, if you ask me.

I gave the blokes in question a good listen, like I usually do when I’m about to attend a concert by a band I don’t know, and, lo and behold, even though I hadn’t recognised their name, I already knew their whole Our Mother Electricity album by heart for some peculiar reason. Raising a semi-surprised eyebrow I thought, what the hell, man?!

Later I realised that my neighbour – this demented dipsomaniac who lives next door and keeps blasting his rock ‘n’ roll through the window for all the neighbourhood to hear – might have been a bit obsessed with this album for a while, so he must have played it frequently, without my registering it, really. As his musical tastes are quite OK – even if he’s otherwise an insufferable idiot – I don’t often get back at him back by playing Meshuggah or something, for example, to drown out his tunes… At least not until he really pisses me off. So I must have inadvertently picked up the whole All Them Witches album through the wall. Excellent.

Therefore this had been my favourite track by All Them Witches even before I knew the name of the band, and they did perform it here in Berlin, which I appreciated a lot:

The rest of their albums sounded perfectly cool to me as well, a sweet combination of blues and stoner rock, so I was looking forward to seeing them live. They played at White Trash Fast Food, a place I’d never been to before – a sort of a “moderately hipsterish” fusion food joint / tatoo studio / DJ lounge / (rock ‘n’ roll) concert venue. So of course I had my doubts with regard to sound and atmosphere and clientele et cetera – you know, the usual concerns of a cranky old fart. Unfortunately my pessimism once again turned out to be well-founded, though the actual reasons for the disappointment completely eluded me this time. I mean, we’re all used to bitching about the guy who is dying a slow, tedious death behind the mixer, but this time I couldn’t possibly imagine whose fault the poor sound was. I’ll explain.

My first impression of the place was very positive:

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The second impression was that half of Berlin’s hipster population ate there, and the third was that the concert venue security was totally weird. We had to go in through a side entrance (NOT through the restaurant), where they punched our tickets and felt us up, of course, you know the routine, in order to prevent us from bringing anything illicit inside. We ended up in this neat hall, quite large, I estimated you could stuff around 1000 people in there (turns out I was close, just checked it, and the capacity is 450 seats, 700 standing). Then we were once again forbidden from vaping (this was the second time after the Katatonia concert the other day, I suppose they’re finally onto us), but we were told we could go “smoke” in a “designated smoking zone”. So we did, but it turned out that dragging your ass there meant you had to get a stamp and vacate the premises through the restaurant, so we, for all intents and purposes, ended up where we had already been before: outside, in front of the restaurant. At that point we could have loaded up on beer and suspicious pharmaceuticals… Or grown jihad beards, put our passports in our pockets for the police to conveniently find later and fetched our scimitars, AK-47s, hand grenades, rocket launchers, suicide vests and sarin gas, because nobody gave any of us evil smokers/vapers a second glance when we reentered the venue through the restaurant on our way back from the “smoke break”. Of course not: after all, we had THE STAMP. How typically German.

The gig was opened by infernally loud (hell, yeah!) Israeli stoner rockers who call themselves The Great Machine. I must admit I was impressed: the sound rocked and if this was how the rest of the gig would go, it would be one hell of a concert. As impressive as The Great Machine sounded, I was starting to feel horrendously bored about four or five tracks into the set, which is just something a full-on stoner rock setlist consisting of virtually identical three-chord tunes will do to me. Still, the sound and the band’s stage presence were a plus. I wondered how many cymbals per year their drummer cracks, because he kept slamming down on them like a deranged methaphetamine-abusing blacksmith. Nice, it makes an average rocker all warm and fuzzy inside.

After a most welcome break – because The Great Machine took their sweet time – All Them Witches finally got on stage. I’ll just get it over with and spit it out: THEIR SOUND SUCKED DONKEY BALLS. Well, isn’t that odd? Usually it’s the other way around, isn’t it? I mean, hasn’t it been etched in the great rock ‘n’ roll tradition with letters made of titanium that the sound of the support act should suck so as to underline the monumental glory of the headliners? Well, this time it was the other way around, and the difference was shocking. To sum it up in short:

The Great Machine: excellent drums with a good kick and punchy snare, gut-punching overall sound, massive and well-defined bass frequencies, radical guitar; but barely audible vocals (which nobody missed, really, as they were mostly nonexistent or consisted of tortured screams, for the most part quite gratuitously provided by the bass player for some reason – though, as far as I can see on YT, it’s usually the guitarist who “sings”?);

All Them Witches: bass frequencies horrendously poorly defined (puffy, muddy as hell, so you couldn’t distinguish between the kick, bass, and anything else), barely audible drums with non-existent kick and flimsy snare, frail guitar and feeble vocals drowning under an excess of electric piano.

The proverbial tormented person behind the mixer apparently worked on it and gradually improved the sound somewhat as the concert went on, but didn’t succeed in saving the day for whatever reason (one of which might have been that the guitarist’s amp died and the Israelis lent him their hulking Marshall stack, which made a notable improvement). Besides, at least the infernal electric piano was eventually toned down a little and the vocals pushed some more, but the morbid muddiness of the bass/low-mid frequencies plagued me until the very end.

Nevertheless, it was good to hear songs like this one live:

…though I really ached to sit down, because my back and my knees were killing me. Next time I’ll get there sooner and appropriate one of the seats. Yeah, so I’m a grumblin’ ole geezer, but due to all of the above the concert felt as long as a day at the dentist’s. To make matters far worse, it was sold out, so one could barely move, which was quite a surprise after the “relaxed” Katatonia and half-empty Leprous concerts recently. Well, at least we could secretly vape by hiding in the crowd, just like everyone else (hell, people even smoked, the criminals!). What a crowd, though… You’d think that there’s something odd going on with the stoner scene, but judging from the sickening mass of full-blown hipsters around me I immediately suspected what it was. I mean, for crying out loud: where do they put all of the woodwork that such vast quantities of these bearded, man-bun-toting blokes, preferably sporting silly hats to boot, can crawl out of?

Rick Neidlinger: Faded Visions

Here’s the fourth track I’ve worked on with Mr. Rick Neidlinger. This wraps up the material for our first “collab EP”, which should be released soon. As always, I recorded drums, mixed and mastered it, and Rick did everything else.

NOTE: It has come to my attention that under unknown circumstances certain browsers (for now I’ve experienced problems with Firefox) refuse to display SoundCloud embeds for whatever unfathomable reason. Should that happen to you, you can try heading to https://soundcloud.com/rneidlinger/faded-visions.

Grumblin’ Ole Geezer @ Katatonia

Let’s get this out of the way immediately: Katatonia is one of my favourite bands, and since I moved to Berlin a few years ago I’ve kept an eye on their touring schedule to finally see them live (or rather, hear them, who cares about they look). Admittedly, they were here last year already, if I remember correctly, but that was with their “unplugged” or all-acoustic set, which I decided to avoid simply because… Well, it’s obvious why. Not that I dislike their digression from distortion (in fact, their acoustic live album Sanctitude, recorded at Union Chapel in London, is a real treat and I’ve listened to it many times), but I nevertheless decided to wait for a “thoroughly plugged” set, simply because I like it when the fillings threaten to fall out of my teeth as the band blasts away, and I love a good bassy punch in the gut. So sue me.

A couple of days ago I finally caught Katatonia on their “Fallen Hearts of Europe” tour.

At this point I’d usually start grumbling about things that got on my nerves, but this manifestation was simply too good to complain about (much). First of all, the concert was in Huxleys Neue Welt, which is my favourite concert hall in Berlin by far. First of all, it’s walking distance from my flat… Secondly, it’s exactly the right size and boasts a very handy bar… And most importantly, I have yet to hear any sound blunders in this hall. I’ve witnessed shitty sound all over Berlin, sometimes so much so that it ruined my evening completely, but to date Huxleys has been excluded from my list of grudges. So there it is: finally a concert that I don’t have any complaints about – I mean, sound-wise. And hell yeah, it was loud! Good! Great! Because sometimes I suspect rock ‘n’ roll is going down the drain simply because rock (and even metal) concerts have suddenly become too damn quiet. Health concerns in the vein of the smoking ban? (Speaking of which, for the first time ever the bastards didn’t let us vape in there, we got reprimanded despite of tons of the same shit being pumped in the air onstage already during the opening acts, VOLA and Agent Fresco, so we had to hide in the crowd where we blew vapour at the floor in the company of other clandestine vapers. I felt like a goddamn teenager again.) Or am I slowly growing deaf as the gap between my birth date and the present time is getting increasingly abysmal? I have no idea, but seeing a heap of people standing around with earplugs and goddamn cotton in their ears made me… Well, grumble a bit. I mean, why the hell do you go to a metal concert at all, then, if it’s too loud for you? OK, I get it that the waiters resort to earplugs: they have to be there on a daily basis whether they like the bands or not. But the audience?! I mean, really!?

But I digress…

And so it began:

The only thing that had me slightly worried at the beginning was that the singer’s voice was noticeably tired, maybe because they apparently played at the Epic Metal Festival in the Netherlands the day before (and who knows what was happening there, right?). However, the guy (Jonas Renkse) warmed up thoroughly after a couple of tracks and that was that. Apart from that infinitesimal hiccup that only grumblin’ ole musicians noticed at all, probably, everything else was flawless. Another thing that made me all warm and fuzzy inside was the light design – well thought-out and tempo-synced (yep, Katatonia are slaves to the metronome, no way around that if you use pre-recorded synths in the absence of an “analogue” keyboardist, loops, and tempo-based guitar effects) – which contributed significantly to the dramaturgy of the tracks. Kudos to whomever did that. I enjoy superb old-skool light design much more than (more often than not pretty lame) videos running in the background, which bands like so much to abuse these days. (Mayhaps to steer the attention away from their grim visages? Who knows.) As expected, both guitarists singing perfect backing vocals really put the “H” in the goosebump-inducing harmonies because of which I can’t get enough of this band… And last but not least, I loved Daniel Moilanen, the new drummer, and appreciated the fact that he looks like a physics professor and as such represents a heartwarming counterpoint to the rest of the long-haired Vikings. I mean, the guy can play (so can the others, of course).

And so it went on:

Speaking of long-haired Vikings – the only thing that got on my nerves in the second half of the concert was this two-point-ten-metre bloke with a huge hairdo who decided to stand and headbang right in front of me all of a sudden, interrupting my reverie… But even him I no longer registered as the band concluded the concert with one of my favourite tracks:

Anyway, to date this was the best concert I’ve been to this year. We’ll see if it stays on top of my list, though, because Opeth are dropping by at the end of November.

Rick Neidlinger: Brotherhood Brigade

Here’s the third product of the collaboration between singer, songwriter, guitarist and bassist Rick Neidlinger and myself (drums, mix, mastering):

NOTE: It has come to my attention that under unknown circumstances certain browsers (for now I’ve experienced problems with Firefox) refuse to display SoundCloud embeds for whatever unfathomable reason. Should that happen to you, you can try heading to https://soundcloud.com/rneidlinger/brotherhood-brigade-master.

Rick Neidlinger: What Comes Around Goes Around

The second track that songwriter, guitarist and bassist Rick Neidlinger and myself (drums, mix, mastering) have collaborated on to date is finished:

NOTE: It has come to my attention that under unknown circumstances certain browsers (for now I’ve experienced problems with Firefox) refuse to display SoundCloud embeds for whatever unfathomable reason. Should that happen to you, you can try heading to https://soundcloud.com/rneidlinger/what-comes-around-goes-around.