Summertime Blues, News, and Views: Metropolis Part 3 — The Dancing Turtle

Sometimes, you just have to get it out of your system.

See, in less than six months’ time here at the Pulse, it’s already been permanently etched that I am, indeed, a huge Dream Theater fan. I’m inked (please excuse whatever the hell was going on with my hair that day). And while I enjoy hold this sickening fandom near and dear, I’m not opposed to debating the bands’ strengths and weaknesses. I have yet to date anyone who appreciates the band whatsoever. There’s no mistaking the masturbatory quality of their ten minute instrumentals which forsake songwriting and pop sensibility in the name of showing off. Hell, while I’m ripping on my favorite band, I’ll even mention the severe downturn in lyrical quality ever since Kevin Moore left the picture (although their last album seemed to turn that around somewhat, and there are examples here and there which prove they’re not hopeless in this department).

In other words, yes; I am capable of talking about my favorite band without being completely subjective. I may have a tendency to sugar-coat and gloss when I can, but really, doesn’t everyone do that for the people and things they love most?

I received an email from a reader who hadn’t heard of the band outside of my constant mentions of them. He had read an interview with bassist John Myung (for DT fans, you must appreciate how astounding the existence of said interview truly is) and was very interested in my thoughts and recommendations for someone new looking to get into Dream Theater.

So, I figure until another concert or another album is released, this should get my Dream Theater name-dropping out of my system. (And as I do this, I’m actually sending a few DT songs to everyone’s favorite comics geek and Raw recapper, James Hatton. READ IN HIS LIKENESS today!)

First and foremost, with Dream Theater, the genre we’re speaking of here is progressive metal. If you’re not familiar, imagine a heavy metal version of Rush; just as geeky and technical, but very loud and crunchy. If you’re not typically into prog music in general, I’ll be blunt: it takes a number of listens before you really start to follow and enjoy it. Anyway, DT went through a few periods, and each album is distinctly different.

When Dream And Day Unite (WDaDU): Their first album from 1989. They had a different vocalist who may remind one of Joey Belladonna (former vocalist for Anthrax). Point blank, the vocals made them sound rather cheesy. The songs are good, but it’s definitely a 1989 album. For diehard fans only.

Images And Words (IaW): This was the album that blew them up on Headbanger’s Ball; “Pull Me Under” got quite a bit of airplay in the winter of 1992-1993. Most older-school fans think that this is their greatest album. It’s very progressive in style, with meandering songs and mystical lyrics. This is when I discovered the band as well, in March of 1993, and that’s when they became my favorite band, just on the strength of this one album. IAW also features “Metropolis Part 1,” which is their signature song in the same way that everyone identifies Led Zeppelin with “Stairway To Heaven”.

Awake: This is my personal favorite album and their last with keyboardist Kevin Moore. It’s their darkest, most dismal album, and quite heavy to match. I’m very biased about this album and have difficulty being objective about it. The first and last songs on the album are absolutely amazing (“6:00” and “Space-Dye Vest”, and “Erotomania” is regarded as one of their best instrumentals.

A Change of Seasons EP (ACoS): This is also a seminal recording for fans of the band. “A Change of Seasons” itself is a 20+ minute song. The rest of the album is live material, all covers, of everything from Led Zeppelin to Elton John to Journey to Deep Purple to Pink Floyd.

Falling Into Infinity (FII): This is definitely a different album than everything prior. Under pressure from their record company, they were partnered with hitmakers to try and make songs that would “sell.” It doesn’t ruin the entire disc, but some of the songs simply don’t sound complete or entirely Dream Theater. Some fans love this era most of all, as this is when they were their most accessible. There are some really good songs on the album, particularly “Hollow Years” and “Trial of Tears,” and I have warmed up to it a lot more over the years, but from what I understand it also nearly broke up the band.

Metropolis Part 2: Scenes From A Memory (SFaM): The whole album is one big concept disc, and at this point, some of the band’s most loyal fans say it’s better than IaW. They acquired a whole new following with this album. It really is a masterpiece in its own right and might be the best place for one to start: the band went back to being more progressive and incorporated a lot of experimental sounds (as well as took bits and pieces from obvious influences). This disc markes the addition of keyboardist Jordan Rudess, a phenomenal musician.

Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence (6DoIT): A two-disc album. The first disc is five very long songs; “Misunderstood” is my clear favorite, although “The Glass Prison” is more widely regarded as the standout. The second disc is one big sweeping 45 minute epic. In retrospect, 6DoIT seems to be a transition album of sorts, with the band coming off one of their most impressive outings, yet not really knowing what to do next.

Train of Thought (ToT): Definitely a metal album vs. a progressive album, there’s a lot of anger and fury throughout. It may be a good place to start if you’re more into metal than the happy loopy fruity side of prog rock. It has its prog moments, but it’s certainly more metal than the band had ever been up to this point. Tracks like “In The Name of God” and “Honor Thy Father” are positively brutal compared to anything on IaW or SFaM. It’s good to hear them get angry.

Dream Theater also released a rather large number of live albums: Live at the Marquee (EP from the IaW era), Once In a LIVEtime (2-discs from FII era), Live Scenes from New York (3-discs from SFAM era), and Live at Budokan (3-discs from ToT era). They also have three DVDs – one is a combo of their first two videotapes, Live In Tokyo/5 Years in a LIVEtime; one Live Scenes from New York (all of SFaM played straight, live; the same as what is on the live CD set, but shortened somewhat); the final is Live at Budokan (and is by far the most beautiful music DVD I’ve ever seen). This band, in all honesty, is best appreciated live.

So, my recommendations for those just looking to discover the band would be to start with Scenes from a Memory and perhaps Images and Words (if you like IaW, definitely get Awake). After that, get the Live at Budokan DVD. Most importantly, see them live if you have the opportunity. Five times and counting, I have yet to be disappointed.

There. It’s definitely out of my system now.

Alice In Musicland

After all that happy fluffiness, I must rant.

U2 released their tour schedule this week, as they finally begin the Vertigo Tour.

Needless to say, if you’re anywhere west of Colorado or east of Philadelphia, your only option to see the Dublin quartet is Chicago. Anyone in the southeast US who wants to catch the show had best book their flights to NJ/NY.

That’s right. No shows in Ohio (hello, Cleveland?). Nothing in Minneapolis/St. Paul. No St. Louis, no Memphis, no Miami, no Dallas.

God forbid the entire damned country doesn’t live in one giant ball on top of each other in eight states huddled together, pounded by approximately 57 inches of snow this past weekend. Oh, wait, there are four shows in California, and one in Phoenix as well? Gee, I guess I have no reason to complain then.

Honestly. While the market for big-production tours has been slow in the last few years, the tour dates given by U2 are nothing short of a spit in the face to all of those of us who aren’t living on top of an ocean. Sadly, this tour is no exception to the rule, as giant chunks of farmland are skipped heartily by anyone who needs to book something larger than a barn. Still, when Guns ‘N’ Roses were planning to tour, they had booked a date in Iowa. Metallica has played Iowa on many occasions. If those two bands can hit our sorry mass of corn, why can’t U2 play Texas, Florida, or Ohio, at the very least?

At least I’m only a 3 1/2 hour drive from Chi-town. I can see U2 if I want, without too much effort. Neener neener neener.

Band vs. Band

I have been far too serious in this column. Though it rarely shows here, take a peek into my LiveJournal every so often (or if you’re not the blog type, just read my “about me” page) will demonstrate that I am a very silly little girl. With that, DOWN WITH JOURNALISM and UP WITH FUNNY FUN FUN.

Today’s band-fight is Journey vs. Foreigner.

Journey has the power of the Steve Perry psych, which scores points in important sports games. They also managed to find a Steve Perry Soundalike when the real Steve Perry fell apart and needed to be rebuilt. As such, Journey has amazing powers unlike any the world has ever seen. I even remember seeing “I (heart) Journey” bumper stickers when I was young. Now, remember, this was the early to mid ’80s, and there were plenty of middle-of-the-road rock bands to like. Bumper sticker status? That only says that these guys clearly went above and beyond the call of mediocrity.

Guitarist Neil Schon is old. He played with Santana, people! That’s OLD! But even with Journey, rocking out stadiums and watching girls cry over Steve Perry’s mullet, he’s done plenty of side projects. One of these was the hair band Hardline, and the album Double Eclipse made my pubescent loins quiver with excitement. He was also in Bad English, whose sappy ballad “When I See You Smile” did not make me quiver, but today makes me shake uncontrollably in search of a way to get the song to stop as soon as humanly possible. Still, this did not taint Journey’s history, and does not discolor my flavor for them today.

With all of the magic of Journey floating around, this leaves a big mystery as to why their slightly-harder-rocking cousins Foreigner would even be a party to this comparison. Well, mystery solved — it’s because I COMMAND IT.

Journey may have powers, but as we all learned thanks to Cartoon Network, Foreigner has the powerful Belt of Foreigner which allows the wearer to use the energy from their songs to defeat the enemy. “Double Vision”! “Cold As Ice”! “Hot Blooded”! “Head Games”! And to think, the powers of their album tracks weren’t even tapped; what this band could do with “Headknocker,” “Spellbinder,” or “Heart Turns To Stone” is luckily something we have not had to witness.

Alright, enough with the ridiculous babble. To objectively compare the two bands, one must consult the Rolling Stone Top 500 Songs of All Time: “I Want To Know What Love Is,” sappy Foreigner ballad that it was, clocked in at #476. Where did Journey rank? What? NO JOURNEY? Then it’s clear that RS finds Foreigner to be the superior of the two AOR heavyweights.

But how many people dance at their weddings to “Open Arms” or “Faithfully”, huh? JOURNEY RULES THE RECEPTION, BABY. Nobody gets married to “Juke Box Hero”.

Is there a winner here? No. Certainly not me, for spending the last twenty minutes researching Journey and Foreigner. Still, now I have a serious itch to find a copy of the video for “Oh Sherrie.” That Steve Perry, he never stops amusing me. HOOOOLD ONNNN, HOOOOLD ONNNN…

File Under…

In a takeoff of my last SBNV column where I talked about the metal community, indeed, the point was risen by an astute and confused reader: What the hell is stoner metal, anyway?

First of all, it has nothing to do with MARIJUANA. Okay, maybe it does, in a way; stoner metal bands hold the characteristic that they are watching the ’70s in a rearview mirror, trying to recapture the psychedelica that was Black Sabbath or Blue Oyster Cult. The most prominent or recognizable forefathers of this would be Monster Magnet and Kyuss; Queens of the Stone Age are also tossed into this grouping, as are Fu Manchu, Masters of Reality, Electric Wizard, and Sleep.

Truly, it’s no mystery how the genre got its name. Ever been to a QotSA show? Hell, ever see a Monster Magnet video? There’s a clear motif of drug glorification, whether it be in the songs themselves or merely the image conveyed by the overall package. In essence, if you’re listening to hard rock which unashamedly glorifies a retro drug-addled psychedelic feel, you have hit the hammer on the head. It’s a simple package. And if you were to take my advice, you would look into Sheavy, Fireball Ministry, or Unida.

My Opinion Matters

I’m actually quite surprised (and somewhat ashamed) that I haven’t used this space to pimp some very rad folks: The Project Hate MCMXCIX.

It was once a running joke on a message board that I used to habit; what genre is this band? All Music Guide notes “progressive metal, death metal, black metal.” What they don’t note is techno. Indeed: take the three metal genres listed above, toss in a female vocalist alongside the cookie monsters, and add techno dance beats liberally sprinkled throughout. Some have likened it to Fear Factory, but the band members do not agree with that ascertation. Just be safe in assuming there is no way to classify this stuff and enjoy it for what it is.

At the center of the band is Jörgen Sandström (vocalist for Grave, bassist for Entombed) on vocals, and Lord K Philipson, who messes around on far too many instruments for his own good. Together with Petter S. Freed (of 2 Ton Predator) on guitar and Jonna Enckell on vocals (replacing Mia Ståhl, who appeared on the first two albums), the result is nothing short of entirely unique. Three albums (plus one live disc) are currently in the can, with the fourth being recorded as of this writing.

The song titles, quite honestly, say it all. “The Divine Burning of Angels,” “Christianity Delete,” “I Smell Like Jesus… Dead,” and “Hate Incarnate” really leave little to the imagination as far as the almost hilariously over-the-top heathenism is concerned. While clearly the band aims to offend Christians (let’s not ignore their pentagram logo), somehow, they make it fun.

If you’re in the states, it might take some effort to find some of their albums. They’re Swedish and typically the distribution networks run through various channels when you’re dealing with tiny labels; you may do better with eBay or scrounging around small online stores than you will at your local Sam Goody, to say the least.

While I’m plugging: check out the online metal ‘zine ran by Lord K: Global Domination. If you enjoy seeing subpar bands get ripped to shreds, you’ll never see anyone do it better than K.

The Rad Ones

When I look for a good flick to watch, I look for something a little bit strange. Sometimes unsettling, sometimes completely obnoxious, but rarely something cookie-cutter. So with that, Arturo Garcia has pointed at one hell of a weird-looking indie gem.

Michaelangelo McCullar tackled the DVD release of another oddball flick I managed to catch. I wasn’t very impressed with it myself though. I’m so very non-BBC.

A friend of mine is obsessively watching the MLB signings and trades; this filters down to me whether I like it or not. Dr. Jay Gauss analyzes, analyzes, and analyzes some more.

I don’t know up from down over there, but it seems like there sure is a hell of a lot going on over at the TV section. There are a bunch of interviews, a ton of recaps, and more chunks of pop culture that I have never encountered. As if living in Iowa doesn’t remove me from modern society enough as it is.

Botter is back from sabbatical, Gordi is giving away free stuff, and Fernandez covers all the music stuff from last week that I never plugged.

And because it’s internationally known how much I dig Lucard, his LJ, and his column, he pretty much gets glued to the plug area. It’s worth your time just to go visit his journal and see how he got himself fired from his job last week.

Finally, a plug for ME: catch my RSS feed (or add it to your LJ) for up-to-the-minute reports of when my half-comprehensible babble can fill your screen. Ta da!

Outro

I have been spending the last week listening to Genesis’ Platinum Collection, three discs that span the career and manage to hit on every single bright spot.

I may not have said it in this column before, but I’ll say it now.

I love Phil Collins.

I don’t know what it is or why it is. Clearly, it’s not a sexual attraction. And I have even been told that he’s a jerk in real life. You know what? I could care less. I push Peter Gabriel and his lilty voice to the wayside and embrace all that is jumpy and exciting about the vocalizing of ol’ Phil. Favorites? Oh, I know you want to know favorites; Duke and Abacab are some fabulous listening, my friends. I could listen to “Misunderstanding” on repeat for eighteen hours, even if it was met with only the tiniest of rewards. And even nearly twenty years later, I can vividly picture nearly the entire video for “Land of Confusion” as the song plays. That’s some nurse!

If you feel this completely discredits me as a music journalist, so be it. Every music-obsessed nerd has some sort of completely unexplainable weakness, whether they admit it or not. The difference is that I’m not ashamed to not be listening to the Velvet Underground all damned day. Screw Bob Dylan and give me Phil Collins. At least for right now, anyway. Another month of this playlist and I’ll likely go into seizures at the mere mention of Mr. Collins.

I have clearly said too much.

Death is the first dancing turtle,

–gloomchen

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