In which POWER battles GRIND!
After 365 and Stocky’s inaugural “Rec of Heck” I was pretty excited to partake in one of my own. After a few weeks I was getting antsy and needed to get it out of my system so I called up the Doctor and arranged a secret council to discuss our intentions. After our meeting we walked away, assignments in hand, and now present our findings to the good people of the Toilet.
Dr. Kolkey: I asked the Boss to send me some truly cheesy symphonic power metal, the kind of stuff I avoided in my thrash and death metal-loving youth because it was just too silly and melodramatic. These days, I’m quite a bit more open to enjoying a variety of music and more conscious of the fact that growling about the Ancient Ones is probably no less silly than singing in a high-pitched voice about elves – though I still prefer one over the other.
The Rossman opted to direct me toward the Italian kings of the genre, Rhapsody, with a song featuring narration from the great Christopher Lee. Given the weak voice acting that often goes along with this kind of conceptual efforts, his presence is definitely a major asset. And whatever misgivings I may have about the costumes, lyrical subject matter, and general ethos of symphonic power metal, there’s unquestionably some fun stuff happening musically here: a crunchy guitar riff and sweep picking that is almost tasteful by Luca Turilli, Alex Holzwath pounding the drums, and impressive vocal range from Fabio Lione. Plus, you just have to respect the work that keyboardist Alex Staropoli puts into arranging an orchestra to back up a heavy metal song, even if it always seems to go down in the most ham-fisted way possible.
The recommendation bar was packed with more of Rhapsody’s prodigious output, so I scrolled down to the first song from a different band. It turned out to be Epica, the Dutch, female-fronted symphonic metal band, with “Cry for the Moon.” This is a band I had never really checked out before out of a general prejudice against this brand of European melodic metal. I again appreciated the musicianship and orchestration, though in the early going the distorted guitars just seemed to be clashing with the rest of the arrangement rather than complementing it. It was definitely cool to see all the string musicians and the backing vocalists in the video, instead of just a long-haired guy with five keyboards. The coarse vocals from guitarist Mark Jansen are not among the more compelling examples of the style I’ve heard, but I still appreciate the insertion of some death/black metal influence in this context. Obviously, the technically accomplished melodic vocals from Simone Simons were the main attraction. This is a type of singing I can respect more than I can really enjoy it – it just seems like it belongs in a choir and not a rock band, lacking the spontaneity and emotion I really respond to.
I found myself falling deeper into the rabbit hole of European symphonic metal featuring female vocals with Finnish veterans Nightwish. This is a band I knew I had listened to before and never much liked. However, I had never heard this particular track, a live cover of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” featuring original singer Tarja Turunen dueting with bassist Marco Hietala. Their performances are unquestionably impressive and have considerably more feeling behind them than I heard in the previous song, even if some of the phrasing is a bit awkward and the overall goofiness can be overwhelming. The band’s songwriter, keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen does a nice job with the familiar melodies while guitarist Emppu Vuorinen brings some welcome heaviness to the proceedings.
I found my way to something a little different with a track of symphonic black metal from the Dutch band Carach Angren. This is a sub-genre I often enjoy, though I find the bands often lose sight of the importance of writing good riffs and putting them together in a compelling manner in all the bombast and pretension. That seems to be the case with this song, “When Crows Tick on Windows.” Keyboardist Ardek piles on the instrumentation, but I found my attention regularly wavering. Meanwhile, vocalist and guitarist Seregor spins a King Diamond-style narrative in growls and croaks. The only problem is he has neither the vocal power nor the Andy LaRocque guitar chops to make that tale sufficiently compelling.
Boss the Ross: Knowing that I fully sent Dr. Kolkey (and by proxy the rest of the Toilet) into a Symphonic Power Metal voyage, I opted for a different change of pace with my recommendation and requested two simple words. Grind and HM-2. I’ve been on a bit of a Grind/D-beat kick lately and wanted to know what Dr. K could give me.
Working Man Blues? Dr. K gave me a Merle Haggard cover? Ooh, nice drum roll. Aaaand complete chaos! The nasty tone of the HM-2 melts my face into a pool of gooey substance, and unfortunately for me, it stains my shirt on its way to the floor. Ever tried getting face goo out of a Sewercide shirt? Hell, maybe I’ll just leave it there. Anyways, this Feastem is MEAN. The band really melds on this track and each instrument stands really clearly in the mix, something that can get lost fairly quickly in a Grind setting. Around the 1:00 mark, this eerie voice fades in and whispers “working” over and over in my ears. It was kind of a trip at the time because I thought someone was sneaking up on me. This was definitely not Merle Haggard. Good work, Feastem.
As I scrolled through for my next track I saw the bands Birdflesh and Wolfbrigade mixed in with Red Rider and Gnarles Barkley. What are you trying to pull here, youtube? While Birdflesh was tempting on the name alone, I had to pass on them when Warfuck showed up. Yes, the band is called Warfuck. I’m not 100% sure what their message is with it, but it sure did grab my attention. “Modern Disease” ended up being a pretty straightforward song, good tone but not as gnarly as Feastem. Surprisingly enough this track clocks in at 10 seconds shorter, if there is one thing I love about grind bands it is their ability to get right to the point. The description on the video says this is the band’s first video clip which is pretty obvious (B&W with old timey after-effects), but I won’t hold it against them. They’re having fun and that’s all that matters.
As regretful as I was for passing up a Wolfbrigade track on the last go around, my HAILS were answered and here they were again. This time they brought STEEL! Everyone here knows that I am a sucker for just about any song with the word STEEL in the title. Whatever the usage is, you can bet your ass I will click on a link that says STEEL. So here we go. I was familiar with Wolfpack prior to this adventure, but had no idea they changed their name at one point. The slow, semi-clean intro subsided the adrenaline pumping in my system from the first two tracks and set my mind at ease. This was different, and I liked it. The intro gave way to an absolute crushing riff and I could feel the d-beat surging through me. My God, this was ecstasy. After finishing this damn near perfect song of STEEL I was not as eager to move on as I had been. What if the next song was a complete flop?
Trying to choose my next video wisely, I noticed a 7 minute video by a band called Disfear. It was a gamble, 7 minutes could mean either one long slow song or an EP of 13 high velocity headbangers. I took the plunge and was treated to a mixture of both. “Phantom” starts slow but soon picks up to a crusty d-beat pace with excellently intermingled Rock’n’Roll-esque guitar soloing. Another banger! I was 4 for 4 so far and having a great time in the process. “Phantom” was an amazing experience because while it may be a 7 minute song, it just didn’t feel like it. The band did a really swell job of keeping my attention, especially with the lyrics included in the description. Here is a little taste, “We feed the machines with our blood, our sweat/The phantoms are here, I can hear them/Gathered in flocks they watch over our steps/Our intellect, it must not be awakened”
I thought about stopping after Disfear but I noticed some album art in the corner of my screen that was worth investigating. A monster dude holding what appeared to be a mace/guitar/axe combo. What was the name? SCANDANAVIAN JAWBREAKER! Oh, yes, I’m clicking that damned link if it’s the last thing I do! With that fateful click I stumbled upon an album of pure, unadulterated, unrelenting prowess that emanated a high-caliber virtuosity of filth and hardcore. I had heard and read the name Anti Cimex before, but had failed completely in listening to them. As luck had it though, I was now exposed to their greatness, all thanks to one Dr. Kolkey. Thank you sir, thank you very much.
And that is it! Pretty painless and we both came out wiser than before. Does this kinda thing interest you? Want to give it a shot yourself? It’s easy, just hook up with a buddy, watch a few recommended videos, write something up, and submit it to the Toilet Ov Hell, subject: Recommendations Ov Hell. Be sure to include links to the songs.