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.
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.
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.
My first novel, the sci-fi / satire Cynicism Management, will be on sale on Amazon until 17 July. During this time you’ll be able to get it for only 99 cents. For more information about the novel – or to grab a free direct download of the original soundtrack for it – head here.
I’ve recently started to collaborate with Rick Neidlinger from Kansas, USA, whom I’ve met on SoundCloud and I happen to like his true “southern rock ‘n’ roll” tunes and sound. So we decided to come up with a four-track EP: Rick would write and record everything, and then I’d contribute to the project by recording real acoustic drums, mixing and mastering the tracks.
This is the first result of the collaboration, entitled Rattlesnake:
More coming soon.
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/rattlesnake-2016.
My second novel, Pendulum Pet, is FREE on Amazon on Saturday, 28 May, and Sunday, 29 May, as a part of KDP Select. During this limited time you can grab it without risking any of your capital assets for something you don’t like. In fact, even if you’re never going to read it, you’d be doing me a favour if you downloaded a copy, because all downloads contribute to the book’s stats and visibility on Amazon. Head to this page for more information about the book.
I have been shamelessly procrastinating for quite a while now and have avoided writing this review, figuring that I’ve had many more “pressing things” to do – for the very simple reason that this is one of those books that are certainly not “easy”. As such it has called for quite a bit of pondering, because writing a hasty review would have not done it any justice. Let me start by typing a few words about Rick Harsch first. In fact, I’ll just pilfer a bit of my own text from the review of Harsch’s Arjun and the Good Snake that I wrote a couple of months ago.
Once upon a time, Rick Harsch was well on his way to becoming internationally renowned for his traditionally-published and widely acclaimed “Driftless Trilogy” (The Driftless Zone, Billy Verite, and The Sleep of Aborigines), which has also been translated into French and made its way into the curriculum of the somewhat obscure University of Tasmania (as Rick defines it in Snake, “the intellectual center of the only block of land to exterminate all its aboriginals“). However – rather unsurprisingly, if you know what an onerous conundrum of uncalled-for incidents tends to surround Rick most of the time – due to an extremely unfortunate sequence of events, including but not limited to the vastly premature death of his Hollywood agent, a bitter though hilarious (to an external observer) dispute with his subsequent literary agent, the bankruptcy of his French publisher and other similarly torturous circumstances, Rick Harsch’s tenacious infiltration of the world literary canon has been on a rather involuntary and undeserved hiatus of late. The infamous downward spiral of the traditional publishing industry that has got out of control after the advent of e-readers has only further complicated Rick’s theretofore cunning world-domination scheme.
In light of all of the above, Rick has recently decided to join the indie author tribe, and I’m helping him out by formatting his books for e-readers. Arjun and the Good Snake was the first book of his to be re-released as an e-book, in a series of others that should follow shortly. The Appearance of Death to a Hindu Woman was the second e-book to be published, and I’m almost done with three more, which should be out soon. Appearance goes together with Snake and represents the second half of Rick’s Indian Duology, or however he may refer to the pair of novels. Like in Snake, in Appearance he once again focuses on India; on, as he puts it himself in his description of the book, “…the spaces where love and delusion, myth and existence weave sinuously, rhapsodically, through the Indian world.”
The resulting “love story” is an extraordinarily poetic and meticulously thought-out narrative, describing a pilgrimage of an US American man through India in an attempt to overcome the dark forces (mundane as well as otherworldly, even demonic) that would prevent his reunion with his Indian love. However clear and relatively simple this basic plot may seem when you “boil it down” like this, Rick’s writing is, of course, not nearly as straightforward. What starts out as a tale of love in the face of culturally-related obstacles (with the traditional Indian family opposing their daughter’s relationship with a Pisaka, eater of dead flesh, as the girl’s mother refers to the narrator) soon develops into a feverish, phantasmagoric journey of a man-out-of-place through the unknowable intricacies of Indian history and myth. The pilgrimage itself may or not be real, and on his path the narrator is derailed by “suspicious” characters, assailed by demons, and drawn into “the foul game” (as one of the characters refers to it, and which involves a horrendous case of dysentery). Soon the story takes on a somewhat magic-realist dimension that makes it difficult to separate reality from delusions. After darker and darker turns the story culminates in a feverish monologue of the narrator whose pilgrimage has, apparently, not succeeded quite as he has imagined – or has it? Perhaps what really happens is that he finally succumbs to the demon Theengu Karuppu, as he suspected he would (and was warned about it)?
The Appearance of Death to a Hindu Woman is the sixth book by Harsch I’ve read, and such “uncertainty” with regard to his writing, resulting from the frequent “phantasmal” passage, seems to be his modus operandi: it’s simply something one comes to terms with and learns to love, or one doesn’t. When reading Appearance one should also be prepared to tolerate the frustration one might feel (if one is not exactly an expert in India) by all the Indian names, places, Tamil and Hindi words and concepts, and especially Indian mythology, which Rick, naturally, rarely bothers to explain (such “India-for-dummies” explanations would not have any place in a narrative like this, anyway). Rather than resorting to googling all of this one can also do oneself a favour and just remain relatively ignorant – as far as I’m concerned, one doesn’t have to know exactly what is going on to appreciate the story.
What I mean to say is, if you happen to be one of those readers who like their books clear, to the point, and lacking any digressions and seemingly gratuitous “asides”, you would probably do yourself a favour by staying away from Harsch’s Appearance (and probably Snake as well). However, if you can appreciate a random hint of obscurity and see value in an occasional internal monologue and cryptic passage, this is for you – especially if you can relish the exquisite “prose poetry” language that Appearance has to offer.
Leprous is a Norwegian prog-rock/metal band I found out about from a pal of mine with a compatible taste shortly after they released The Congregation last year. As soon as I got around to listening to it carefully, this and their previous album, Coal, easily “qualified” among some of my favourite albums. The band brings everything I like go the game: superior musicianship; goosebump-inducing vocal lines and superb harmonies in combination with mind-bogglingly complex polyrhytmic (often odd-time, yay) structures; and massive sound.
I was overjoyed to find out they were about to play at the Musik & Frieden club in Berlin on Thursday, because I really wanted to hear them live, obviously. I am even happier to report that their live act is just as great as their last two albums: these guys can play, and they can sing (the lead vocalist is incredible, and the guys on backing vocals are really good as well). And, finally (after two very “subtle” concerts I’ve been to), last night’s gig sounded really good – and was actually loud enough that I felt as if I was actually attending a damn rock ‘n’ roll concert!
The music of Earthside was great, actually, and quite an unexpected bonus to the evening. Unfortunately they resorted to a rather extreme kind of “semi-live” performance that I just couldn’t get into. OK, I really understand the ins and outs of live (or pseudo-live) acts and I understand why bands without lucrative budgets will often resort to various “provisional solutions” in order to bring their vision to life despite the “logistic obstacles”. But I tend to be somewhat old-school in this regard: using sequencers, loops and pre-recorded synths in case you don’t have a small army of proficient keyboardists at your disposal is one thing, but having a whole symphonic orchestra and even SINGERS accompany you from a projection screen at the side of the stage just makes me grumble. There’s something about a four-piece band (guitarist, bassist, keyboardist and drummer) accompanying a pre-recorded vocalist that’s just unholy, and such a solution will bother me to the degree where I can’t seriously enjoy the show. I’d be much happier with unembellished instrumentals, which the guys would have easily been able to play, had they wanted to (they are, without any doubt, awesome musicians). I’m also too old to appreciate statements like “you might have seen the following song on YouTube”… Yeah, I might have, and if I wanted to see it yet again, performed in a completely identical manner, then I could have just stayed at home and listened to YouTube real loud. Too bad and a wasted opportunity, because music-wise these guys have a LOT of great things to say. If somebody happens to throw some cash at them, they’ll definitely be going places, because they can rumble with the best of them.
Voyager was, fortunately, more “organic”, though they still used loops and pre-recorded synths. But OK, as long as an actual human is singing and two guitarists (one of them female!), a bassist and a drummer are blasting away, fine with me. However, music-wise I wasn’t very convinced by this particular blend of techno-metal. OK, if it floats their boat… But I couldn’t help scowling a bit at quite a few relatively cheesy tunes (with major chords, perish the thought) and a specifically mellow voice of the singer. This also resulted in one of my more cynical pals defining Voyager as “Modern Talking thirty years later (including perms)”, so after that the whole thing became hilarious: I couldn’t get the notion out of my head, so I couldn’t help laughing into my Weinschorle LightTM (heavy on mineral water) for the next fifteen minutes. As Voyager exhibited a clear ambition to be a “party band”, and did manage to persuade a good portion of the audience, our whole gang snickering at my cynical pal’s diatribes was actually in line with the general sentiment. Voyager was definitely not bad, don’t get me wrong, and they’re obviously great musicians, but their particular blend of genres and “let’s party” attitude is simply not my cup o’ tea. I much prefer your normal gloomy, dark, depressing epic metal – and I finally got my share when Leprous finally came on stage.
As I’ve already stated above, in my book Leprous are simply amazing. Their live act was completely on par with the best bands I’ve seen over the years and did perfect justice to the ingeniousness of their last two albums. If anything in this world still happens because of merit and superb achievements, they should be one of the bands that go places. Their professionalism and amazing music will hopefully place them on more “prominent” stages in the future, because it was somewhat sad to see them pour their guts out to a half-empty hall (which I really didn’t expect: I mean, what the hell do folks do with their time these days, if in a city of 3.5 million people not more than 200 souls can be bothered to spit out the meager 21 euros for a prog-metal feast such as this triple concert)?
But OK, at least this way a wish I’ve been toying with for a while came true on this occasion: we found a great spot on the comfortable bleachers in the far corner, where the sound was absolutely the best due to the extra bass boost, and we could lounge there in our makeshift thrones, in a strategic position slightly elevated over the enthusiastic crowd jumping directly in front of the stage. Even visibility wasn’t too impaired because of the relative emptiness of the hall, and whenever one of us felt like it we could actually stroll to the front and stand six point six six meters from the stage. Perfect for grumblin’ ole geezers. The only thing I was worried about throughout the continuous onslaught of the greatest tracks from The Congregation and Coal was whether Leprous would play my two favourite tracks –
– and they finally did. Down, my (temporarily) second-favourite track, was (without counting the single-track encore) their penultimate choice; and they blasted through my (momentarily) favourite track, The Valley, last (with perfect vocals: the stamina of their lead singer / keyboardist is simply astounding, and this was after tracks with growls and screams et cetera). Perfect.
The only hesitation, preventing me from being completely fascinated by the whole affair, was a peculiar, nagging suspicion that I was once again witnessing the death of “rock ‘n’ roll” concerts as I have known them; live performances on their way out. First of all, the lack of people interested in this event was astounding; and as I stood in front of the stage absorbing The Valley it was blatantly obvious to me that I was standing among musicians, mostly – a small, inbred tribe of fans that knew many an insidious syncopated trick, pulled off by Leprous, by heart. There was a notable lack of any innocent bystanders (save for the few obligatory bored-looking musicians’ girlfriends); of people who weren’t “in the know”, but still enjoyed the show; just another case of musicians playing for musicians.
Furthermore, prog rock/metal has – in the last decade, with the technological advances in music hardware – progressed (pun intended) to the point where the sound of these bands is virtually indistinguishable from one another, as well as from their recorded work. Three hours into mastodonic, larger-than-life, “God’s-own-amp” riffs I started thinking, holy fuck, when did this happen… And the zero-tolerance-for-any-errors-or-deviations attitude, exhibited by the bands, obviously stems from the absolutely rigid, in-ear-monitored, metronome-dictated song structures of today’s top-notch performances. Once upon a time underground bands were happy if they could get their hands on a few beat-up Marshall heads, and rejoiced at every opportunity to decently record anything… While nowadays underground bands actually live in their own studios, and all the “zero-mistake” perfectionism of creating (and editing) music in studios trickles over to live performances to the degree where you’re actually listening to studio albums, only louder… And everything is fuelled by the digital conundrum of computers, sequencers, software, amp simulations, cab emulations, time-synced effects and visuals, eight-string guitars quadrupled through Kemper/Axe FX/etc. processors, gates, compressors, EQs, exciters, saturators and limiters and maximisers to the point where you’re not sure – particularly if you’re a grumblin’ ole geezer – that any of what you’re hearing is actually organic at all… Or whether the bands are simply aspiring to simulate every nuance of the digital fabrications they have been constructing in their virtual studios to the point where the once separate sides of the creative process (songwriting, studio production and live acts) become indistinguishable. I mean, how far away are these simulations from simply becoming full-blown “virtual” performances? Hell, for all anyone seems to care, what would actually be the difference of modern rock/metal bands simply performing in their own living rooms and being projected as holograms into their audience’s living rooms (or clubs, for the purpose of sheer loudness) all over the world? I’m afraid the only thing separating us from that is some good and affordable 3-D projection technology.
I know, the last paragraph makes me sound like a technophobe, which I certainly am not (quite the opposite)… But the methodical approach to music – mechanically blasting through a collection of flawlessly-rehearsed mathematically-inspired phrases without an inch of room for improvisation – can be rather tedious and the bitter “inorganic” aftertaste of the whole affair lingers nevertheless.
My second novel, Pendulum Pet, is FREE on Amazon this weekend (25 – 27 March), as a part of KDP Select. So during this limited time you can grab it without the risk of wasting four bucks on something you don’t like. In fact, even if you’re never going to read it, you’d be doing me a favour if you download a copy, because that contributes to its stats and visibility on Amazon. Head to this page for more information about the book.