New Releases - early August 2012

Testament - "Dark Roots of Earth"'

Those many late nights at The Keystone Berkeley, The Stone, the Old Waldorf and Wolfgang's left me keenly attuned to many of the early-80's thrash metal bands. I watched closely as ExodusLääz Rockit and Testament cut their teeth before gaining national attention. That Bay Area trash metal scene was hard for me, because I often struggled to reconcile my desire for melody and harmonic motion with the relative lack of those qualities in the thrash scene. Thrash metal has wandered in and out of my musical tastes over the years but only rarely has a thrash-related band really made its way into my top bands list (e.g. see Megadeth).

So, when I received notice at KGLT that Testament's brand new album, "Dark Roots Of Earth" was available for airplay, I was really not quite sure what to expect. In retrospect, just a week or two later, I really had nothing to worry about. "Dark Roots of Earth" is a powerful release; it is entirely consistent with what we all expect from Testament, and yet assimilates itself naturally into today's dark and foreboding metal styles. I've been listening quite a bit to Mastodon, Orange Goblin and, recently, Baroness and feel that all the songs on "Dark Roots of Earth" would fit perfectly in a shuffled playlist with those sludge/stoner metal bands. There's a darkness to the new Testament album that makes it a natural fit.

I've been playing the "Native Blood" single on my radio show lately, and I love "Rise Up", especially the extended guitar solo. If you're short on time, check out those two songs, along with "A Day In The Death". Honestly, though, just play the album top to bottom. This is true thrash metal...and a lot more.'


Korpiklaani - "Manala"

Even as I write this, I have that same silly smile on my face. It's really hard to avoid that while listening to Korpiklaani; there's something about folk and/or pirate metal that does that to me. But there's more to it. Korpiklaani's latest release, "Manala", is Heavy. Sure, it has all the catchy melodic motion, the accordion and gritty vocals but it also hits you over the head with its sledge hammer guitar tones. An example of that is "Rauta" which begins like a fairly well-behaved folky metal song, and then the rhythm guitars hit you like a cannonball in the gut. Wow.

I have no Finnish chops at all but as best I can tell there are no alcohol songs on this release. You'll have to look to Korpiklaani's earlier releases to get your "Vodka" and "Tequila" fixes (Karkelo and Ukon Wacka, respectively). On this latest release, start by checking out the first three songs on the album ("Kunnia", "Tuonelan Tuvilla" and the aforementioned "Rauta"). See whether you can avoid that silly smile...

Regardless of your facial expression, you can get a full swig of Korpiklaani during their upcoming North American tour in late August and September of 2012. I know that there will be a number of Bozeman metalheads making the drive over to Billing for Korpiklaani's show on September 5th at Manny's. Wherever you live, if Korpiklaani's playing nearby, hoist yourself up off that couch of yours and get yourself to the venue. You owe it to yourself and there's nothing quite like Korpiklaani.


Music Production Analysis - my latest class through Berklee online

Awhile back I mentioned some of my experiences taking Lyric Writing: Tools and Strategies through Berklee College of Music's online program. Even in retrospect, that class was by far the best music-related class I've ever taken. The balance of learning, collaboration and fun was perfect and I discovered that even after a couple of decades ignoring the lyrical part of my songs, I still can express myself effectively in lyrics. Because this experience was nothing but positive, I decided to keep going with Berklee, this time taking a class about music production.

I'm about a month into Music Production Analysis and am once again enjoying the experience. Unlike the lyric writing class, we don't typically have homework every day; it's more like every 2-3 days but in bigger chunks. There's a lot of listening and analysis, trying to really get a grip on the key elements of a musical composition and performance. It's been fun because I regularly need test subjects, and that means my wife and daughter get to listen too and provide their own thoughts and impressions.

I think, though, the real benefit for me, at least so far, is that the course is driving me to listen to a wide variety of music. The focus is on musical productions that had real impact. We've listened to Doris DayBillie Hollidaythe BeatlesRandy Travis and Bob Marley, plus many more, spanning a wide variety of styles and eras. In essence, what I appreciate about the class is that it formalizes a thought process that has lurked in my mind for years.

I've know for quite awhile that my perspective on music was different from many of my peers. That difference is perhaps most pronounced relative to my non-musician friends, but even stands out a bit relative some of the musicians around me. Somewhere along the way, I realized that I love music and that the less I intellectualize my choices in music, the happier I am. Yes, metal and other forms of loud rock are clearly in my wheelhouse, the core foundation of my musical experience. But, I love a song. I love when music can deliver a message or just an emotion and I try hard to simply open myself up to -any- musical piece. What we are learning from Music Production Analysis is that, to be a really effective producer, you have to be capable of opening up in just that way.

Now, more than ever, I will do everything I can to shut off the naysayer in my own head. I will let my heart and my body respond naturally to what I hear and feel in music. Only once I've allowed myself to respond naturally to a piece of music will I let my intellect join the party and start structuring my response. It's not about rules or doctrines, it's just about the music and the response that results from it. The more I embrace that, the better I will get as a musician, recording engineer and producer. In the process, I will also enjoy more music and enjoy music more.


Kudos to Calgary: Iron Maiden at the Saddledome

We just got back yesterday from our road trip through the national parks of Alberta (BanffJasper) and northern Montana (Glacier). Most of the trip was spent as a family, appreciating the natural wonders, disconnected from technology and population. The trip, though, was really built around last Thursday's Iron Maiden concert at the Saddledome in Calgary.

Wow, I've gotta give credit to the people of Calgary. They know how to put on (and how to attend) a metal show. The lines for food and T-shirts were long, but everyone was in good spirits. I think a lot of us got a kick out of the special-issue Canada 2012 T-shirt showing Eddie as The Trooper riding on a moose from hell. Three of the Hearst-Reynolds clan got shirts, and two of those were the "moose from hell". It just felt right to celebrate Canada's contribution to the show and looking around the arena between acts, I suspect they sold a lot of that particular shirt.

Coheed & Cambria put on a a great set, albeit it short. I've seen them at a festival (Shoreline Amphiteatre and I've seen them headline (The Warfield) and I know they can rule the stage when it's appropriate. In this case, they played the support role well, keeping things short and sweet and getting the crowd amped up for Maiden. I enjoyed hearing their take on Sabbath's "Heaven & Hell", a great match for Claudio Sanchez' voice and the bands eclectic musical approach.

By the time Iron Maiden hit the stage, the Saddledome was packed. That's a good thing because I'd hate any space in the arena to have been wasted. Bruce Dickinson was in true form, singing like a banshee and prowling the stage, egging us fans on to sing along whenever possible. The rest of the band was spot on, both polished and edgy. As always, I spent most of the show fascinated by Steve Harris and his unmistakeable bass techniques. He held my attention effectively, interrupted only by the massive pyrotechnics display, combining flames and fireworks at a level that would make Gene Simmons proud. My son, Zane's jaw dropped and eyes went wide open the first time the flames rose up behind Bruce on his over-drum kit walkway.
I think both kids especially liked the various mechanical and stilt/costume versions of Eddie that were integral to the progression of songs in "Maiden England 2012" set. The only failing for the massive stage production, in my opinion, was the placement of the drum kit. I only saw Nicko McBrain's human form twice during the set, once before the encore and once after the encore. Basically, the walkway for Bruce flanked the drum kit so closely and projected so far forwards and up that (from the midline of the arena where we were sitting) there was no way to see anything except the front of his kick drum and a few cymbals. Nicko is a machine behind the kit and it's a shame we couldn't see his work more closely.

What really struck me is what a great collection of fans shared the Saddledome with us that night. We were not the only full family at the show. We saw tons of parents with their kids; there was another mom/dad/daughter/son combo sitting right in the row in front of us. My wife, Nancy, also commented that there were quite a few women of all ages in the venue, and that's not necessarily the norm at a metal show. Everyone seemed happy to be there and no one seemed interested in fighting or showing how tough they are. We got a lot of smiles from other fans when they saw our two kids with us. Calgary knows how to rock and knows how to make guests welcome, providing a perfect introduction to arena concerts for our two kids.
The next morning, the first breakfast stop we could find on the route out of town was Denny's. For better, or for worse, you know what you're getting at Denny's, so we stopped off to get some food. The waitress brought me a left-behind copy of the Calgary Sun and I quickly stumbled onto a review of the previous night's show. I was a little wary, concerned that it'd end up like so many shows over the years where I had a blast and the "critic" shot holes through the whole thing. We were all pleased to know that the reporter, Gerry Krochak, did in fact attend the same show and was there with the same positive energy that I saw in all the other fans. Gerry's article really captures the mood and feel of the show.
It was a hell of night, and, by now, Maiden has finished up the Canadian leg of their tour. Still, there are still a bunch of U.S. tour dates left. If you've already got tickets, get ready and do not miss the show. If you don't have tickets, beg or borrow your way into a ticket (No, don't steal. That's just stupid - see Michael Todd). This is a "can't miss" tour for any respectable metalhead. Up the Irons!



Protect Your Ears

I was talking to a friend recently and realized that our senses vary greatly in fragility. Generally speaking, taste, smell, sight and touch are fairly robust. Obviously we can lose our sense of touch through trauma, and there is similar risk for our eyesight. Our eyesight is also often imperfect from early in life and degrades later in life. Even so, what my friend and I discussed was how much more fragile our hearing is. It's the one sense we can severely damage from what we currently consider "normal" use.

I knew all that, but just hadn't quite focused the thought. I've worn ear plugs since junior high school for band rehearsals, gigs and concerts. But this recent conversation clarified how unique the risk is with our hearing. Of course, I'm particularly concerned about exposure to loud music, anywhere from earbuds and headphones to movie theaters and concerts. Modern technology has made it easy to reproduce full bandwidth audio at ridiculously loud and dangerous volumes. The general consensus amongst audiologists is that prolonged exposure to sound at even 85 decibels (dB) for long periods is dangerous. Yet, many of the concerts you and I attend are amplified to levels well about 100 dB. It's easy to generate dangerous levels using earbuds or headphones, and even acoustic instruments in large quantities (symphonies or orchestras) can easily exceed 85 dB.

How loud is 85 dB? It's not really that loud. It isn't painful. It's actually right around the point when music starts sounding really good. At lower volumes our ears and brains don't perceive the music with as much liveliness and excitement. If you take a look at the chart included in this article about loudness you will see how our hearing frequency response doesn't really flatten out until we're listening to between 80 and 100 dB SPL. But remember, at that volume, our ears are at risk. If you don't have a sense for how loud 85 dB is, I suggest picking up a Radio Shack SPL meter, or purchasing an SPL measurement app for your iOS or Android device. Any of those will be accurate enough for your purposes, to just teach yourself what dangerous audio levels sound like.

Of course, music isn't the only risk. Ambient sound levels in many city settings can be unbelievably loud, combining un-muffled motorcycles, subways, jet planes and diesel trucks. Monster trucks and aerobatics shows can put you at risk as well. In fact, the act of living a modern lifestyle exposes you to hearing risk nearly every day.

So, why do so many people put themselves at risk? Well, unlike our other sense, the risk factors for hearing are part of normal daily life. We experience them while being entertained, while commuting and while working many normal jobs. That's in contrast to the risks to eyesight, smell, taste and touch, which are much more recognizable as unusual. Most of us don't have to worry about being blinded by excessively bright light, or physical injury that leads to loss of smell.

It's hard to reconcile the fact that when you're just having a good time, you can put your hearing at severe risk. It's not "cool" to wear earplugs, and even the expensive ones alter the listening experience a bit. But, sometimes "cool" isn't really worth the risk. I'm willing to bet that Pete Townshend and Paul Gilbert would have worn hearing protection much earlier in life if they'd known the alternative was severe hearing loss. As musicians, I am guessing that each would have preferred to preserve as much of their hearing as possible before old age took its toll. That way they could hear the full bandwidth and texture of their own and others' music throughout their careers and lives.

If this is surprising information for you, please take the time to research hearing loss and raise your level of caution. I recommend beginning your reading here: Are You At Risk?. Then explore the rest of the information available on H.E.A.R's website. You will find some good information about purchasing musician's earplugs on their site. Keep in mind, you don't have to be a musician to buy high quality earplugs. In fact, if you are exposed to loud music as a fan, a music professional or even a regular moviegoer, musician's earplugs can help preserve your hearing. Etymotic also carries a wide array of hearing protection, much of it quite affordable. Take this seriously, please. When it comes to hearing loss, we live in a very dangerous world.


O Canada: Thanks and a question...

Dear Canada,

First and foremost, I want to thank you for your magnificence and your hospitality. We've been visiting from Montana for a few days now and have had a wonderful time. It's been cooler here than recent temperatures in Bozeman, and yet much warmer and drier than on previous visits we've made to Alberta and BC. Everyone has been friendly and helpful, including the wildlife. On our first night near Sunwapta Falls, we had a chance to watch a mountain goat perform one of their usual daredevil acts. It took my son (7) quite awhile to figure out where we were pointing but eventually even he achieved a solid viewing through binoculars. Just tonight we had two separate black bear sightings, one of which was a mother and cub. The second sighting, a lone bear near the roadside, included a once-in-a-lifetime view of the bear, balancing on his/her rear, hind feet up in the air arranged just right to get a good, extended and solid belly scratch.

Now, for my question, and, honestly, I'm not trying to be confrontational in any way. I'm mostly just perplexed and looking for assistance from those of you that are more experienced at life in Canada. So, here goes: How exactly am I supposed to interpret your speed limit signs? We've covered many kilometers here in Alberta, everything from Calgary's main roadways to the nooks and crannies of Jasper National Park. I've tried driving 5 over the speed limit, 10 over, even 15 over but I still find myself going 20-30 km/hr slower than just about everyone on the roads. Our 1995 4Runner gets pretty squirrelly at speeds beyond 110 km/hr, and literally cannot even get to those speeds on a grade. So, even if it's common practice to drive 120-130 km/hr around here, we just can't maintain that pace. Even so, I'm just curious. Do people here in Canada ever get speeding tickets? Is there some understood fudge factor to the speed limit? A lot of money went into producing and installing all those speed limit signs (70, 90, 110) and it seems a shame that they can all be that off the mark. Or, maybe they're meant to be interpreted as miles per hour? That'd definitely be closer to the speeds we've experienced during this trip...

So, once again, thank you, Canada, for making us feel so welcome and for a great family vacation. Thank you for welcoming Iron Maiden to the Saddledome, giving us the incentive to schedule this road trip. And, if you can spare a moment, please help me understand the practicalities of your speed limits. I'd appreciate some experienced insights.

Sincerely, David

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