Friday, December 08, 2006

Ü2K6: Delayed Coma Death

On Mars, "today" actually means "three days later". And I'm Martian. Hence, here's the next three albums in the Ü2K6: Arivia's 25 Musical Days To Christmas countdown.

22. Magneta Lane - Dancing With Daggers

This is not the pop album of the year. There were other, better albums, and we'll get to them. Similarily, there's little to recommend this on a first listen: there's no immediate hook, no one lick to rattle around in your skull for days after one listen. What really makes Dancing With Daggers worth your time and ears is the pure stability, style, and realism of it.

When you're mixing any sort of pop and punk, it's easy to overshoot your target and end up in radio-friendly candy floss land, especially if your primary members are women, and especially if you're trying to do it with flair and a little sass. Magneta Lane keep things grounded, and for that alone they earn a commendation.

The other real standout is frontwoman Lexi Valentine's voice: it's slightly nasal, a bit flat, and both of those make it all the more real. Her vocals bring Dancing With Daggers closer to the listener: it feels more immediate, more real, and far more meaningful. (Note should also be made of drummer Nadia King's wonderful, reverberating work.)

Once you've given it time, Dancing With Daggers opens itself up: it doesn't truck in normal album merits, and in a year where Joanna Newsom is the popular darling, that's fine. It's earned this spot.

Buy it here.

21. Angtoria - God Has A Plan For Us All

Angtoria is the child of prolific metal backup singer Sarah Jezebel Deva (too many projects to name, including Cradle of Filth and Therion) and the Rehn brothers (nothing notable). God Has A Plan For Us All is something that has been in the metal genre's cards for awhile, but never really hit the table: a symphonic metal album with no subgenre baggage. Plenty of metal bands (Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, Therion) have included full orchestras in their albums before, but they've always added them, never really starting with "doing metal with an orchestra", instead going after "How can adding an orchestra help us make a better album in our subgenre?"

None of the baggage is evident here, and the album's sound is all the better for it. Instruments trade off as necessary to provide the best sound possible: the guitars are around, but only really make their presence known when a driving riff is necessary. (Keyboards are far more prevalent, as shown in "Six Feet Under's Not Deep Enough".) Deva doesn't even live up to her name, throwing out a balanced, controlled performance that shows off her experience, not her pipes: she soars when it's best, and sticks to calmer lines for verses. The garnish is an almost anti-subgenre focus: the title song takes a lyrical twist that's terribly unmetal, while the Kylie Minogue cover ("Confide In Me", and it's done well) chases off anyone with ideas of how harsh metal is supposed to be.

To be honest, I think this is going to be a very influential album in years to come. However, as a listening experience, it's diminished for two reasons (the same that land it at only 21 on the list):

1) There's a male vocalist that makes an odd appearance (such as on "Deity of Disgust"). He's almost trying to copy Sarah exactly, and it doesn't befit him at all well: he's too slightly gothic, too rough around the edges to soar, and puts too much emphasis on simple lines.

2) Unfortunately, there's not a great wealth of catchiness here: there's no real standout song, no obvious single, no one section that demands a replay over and over again. It's the sort of album you want to listen to as a whole, once in awhile, and that's fine, but they can definitely improve in this direction for their next release.

Buy it here.

20. Iron Maiden - A Matter Of Life And Death

Yes, Iron Maiden is officially decrepit, at 31 years of existence. Yes, your dad probably listened to them. But you know what? They've been around for 31 years and they're still making new albums. Not "new albums to please the fans", but actual new albums because they feel like doing it. They could easily rest on their laurels and just keep at the "best-of-the-best" tour, but they don't. And you know what's great about those new albums? They're still artistically relevant (Take a look at frontman Bruce Dickinson's The Chemical Wedding. Just look.)

But, with all that said, A Matter Of Life And Death is also the album you expect from this old a Maiden. It's obvious that they have been around for 30 years. In Iron Maiden's case, however, this is not a "we got stuck in a rut ten years ago" album. This is a "we've been around for thirty years. By now, by Jove, we should know how to actually write good albums, having had a few ourselves." And they do. All six members, carrying it right through from idea to implementation. "We're going to make a good album. It's controversial, but we think it might be fun."

This means everything good about Maiden: wonderful melodic guitars, understated yet excellent drumming, and mastery of songcraft. Songcrafting is the most controversial part of A Matter Of Life And Death, to be honest: the songs here are mostly long, careful builders, and there's no immediate hook to be found. Instead, it's a simple approach. Hear the chorus of "Different World"? How about "The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg"'s guitar work? Right, they have that part of your brain right there. And you're going to come back because, well, it's the new Maiden. And that part is going to grow. And then you're going to hum the melody in the 15 items or less lane... and it's obvious from there. A Matter Of Life And Death is really not about life [and/or] death: it's about a band recognizing that they're old, that they're experienced, and that that's a good thing, and that they can do something with that thing. If nothing else, give it a listen because they influenced something you listen to. Something. Unless your diet consists solely of Sufjan, in which case Fedex the engagement ring already.

Buy it here.

Next post: Someone you should hear more of, someone you've never heard of, and someone everyone's never heard of.

1 comment:

Roland said...

Thanks, nice work! :)

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