Rammstein: Rammstein (untitled) album review

This is a sample 500-word album review.

Popular artists with established catalogues often face an ancient paradox with every new release. Make it too similar to what you’ve put out before and your fans will think you’ve gone stale. But deviate too far from what you’re known for, and you risk alienating them.
New albums from established artists are the embodiment of the old maxim that you can please all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but never everyone all the time — and the longer the wait between releases, the more pronounced this phenomenon appears to be.
Such was the weight of expectation about Rammstein’s latest untitled album (for the nit-pickers, the release is technically untitled, although it’s widely referred to as self-titled). In their 25-year career Rammstein have remained enormously influential on alternative music, yet somehow they've also captivated relatively mainstream audiences. More to the point, it’s been 10 years since the release of last studio album, the lukewarmly received Liebe ist für alle da. After all this time, there was one question above all hanging about this album: was it worth the wait?
The short answer is a resounding: yes.
My copy.

Quite simply, the new album is Rammstein doing what Rammstein do best, while throwing you enough curve balls to keep things interesting. For hardened fans, a couple of listens may have you reminiscing about the Mutter era, for the new album invokes the spirit of a time when Rammstein attained a superb balance between rock solid industrial metal and unexpected experimentation.
There are Teutonic stomping tunes aplenty here, like the successively released singles Deutschland, Radio and Ausländer. Then there’s the lurid groove on Sex and Was Ich Liebe, and the fist-banger that is Zeig Dich.
However, there are enough deviations from the template to keep things compelling. For instance, Rammstein have demonstrated on almost every album that they can do heart-rendingly mournful ballads, despite being typecast for machine-precision metal riffs, they’ve. That’s the case here with the Kraut rock-inspired Weit Weg — which incidentally, has one of the most brilliant (and yet laughably simple) synthesizer lines you’ll hear this year. Puppe meanwhile sees vocalist Till Lindemann adopt a disconcertingly savage snarl unheard of on previous releases, suggesting that his range has in fact improved over the decades.
The only questionable track is the riffless Diamant. Sounding suspiciously like it began life as a discarded intro, it goes for under three minutes, something which actually adds to the suspense preceding the next track.
As expected, the production is unmatched. The experimental elements (including a full national Belarussian choir on Zeig Dich) are all there but not overwhelming while the meat and potatoes heavy riffs are ever-present, but never stagnant.
Whether you’ve just discovered Rammstein or you’re a veteran fan, whether you’re a riff-loving head banger or a stomping rivet head, whether your wardrobe consists entirely of black band shirts or Rammstein is your sole foray into heavy music, the Rammstein's latest is a superb and yet accessible album — and a masterpiece of industrial metal.
Thank goodness they're still at it.


Genetic Selection: Darwin’s Voyage | electro industrial on Ant-Zen

One of the great thing about art you love is how you can interpret it in your very own and highly personalised way.
One of my most prized paintings, for example, depicts a scene on the surface of an unknown planet, stars and interstellar space behind it, with a few streaks meant to be space craft zipping by the distant sky.
This piece took less than 10 minutes to create and cost me around $20 from a street artist in Sydney. The medium? A couple of cans of spray paint on glossy paper, along with inventive use of spray can lids to create perfectly round shapes.
It’s a simple painting, made on the spot according to a formula. I also suspect the artist churned out several dozen of these by-the-numbers creations every weekend. Yet for me that in no way diminishes its artistic value.
Art is what you love. And art that you love is what you make of it. Indeed, over several years I have derived enjoyment from the fact that this piece hung on display in my man-room. At various times, when I found myself staring at the wall (something I did probably far more than I care to admit), I would occasionally imagine what was going on in that scene. What was this strange planet that was being colonised? What degree of technological advancement had this civilisation attained? And what else could be going on off the frame?
The artist who made the painting undoubtedly had no backstory in mind when he used the round bases of spray cans to create planetary shapes. Nor would his motive for creating it have been for a buyer to subject his work to serious intellectual evaluation. It’s just a space scene, churned out on demand for a tourist audience.
But that’s ok by me. Not all art has to be open to interpretation. If something can make you do that, then great, so much the better.
I suppose that’s why it’s called art, not science.
The same applies to music.
If you let it.

How good is the artwork? Absolutely stunning! Painted by Michael Hutter.

Imagination and artistic interpretation: Genetic Selection by Darwin’s Voyage

These very thoughts occurred to me after I began listening to the 2005 album Darwin’s Voyage by German electronic artist Genetic Selection.
Released on the experimental Ant-Zen label, it’s an instrumental industrial album that merges techno, rhythmic noise, smatterings of ambient, industrial (in all its wonderful manifestations), and other moderately dark and nasty sounds. And no, I hadn’t heard of Genetic Selection either until then.
Now I must emphasise that the sound and style didn’t blow me away. While I love all sorts of electronic industrial music, including the hard-hitting and stomping noisy varieties, I’m often drawn back to the EBM cheese and more synth-centric terror banana melodic stuff.
However, this album intrigued me. The hook was the album artwork, which you can see above.

“One thing music collectors learn over many years of accumulating physical media is to be wary of unfamiliar artists that bear exceedingly good artwork and intriguing names. Sure, it’s not an absolute rule, but in the imperfect world we inhabit it’s sometimes a sign of things being too good to be true.”

My copy of Darwin’s Voyage was acquired as part of a bulk purchase of EBM and industrial CDs from a mate. There was no pre-conceived sussing out of what this album sounded like. I did not look at it online nor (if like me you’re still into physical media) did I make some value judgement when holding it in my hands prior to acquisition. In fact, I only discovered that it was in my possession when I went through the collection after it had come home with me.
One thing music collectors learn over many years of accumulating physical media is to be wary of unfamiliar artists that bear exceedingly good artwork and intriguing names. Sure, it’s not an absolute rule, but in the imperfect world we inhabit it’s sometimes a sign of things being too good to be true.
After a first listen, my first impression was that my suspicions might be correct. Darwin’s Voyage is entirely instrumental and while it combines hard techno, rhythmic noise, EBM, electro-industrial and a whole range of other electronic music sounds that I generally approve of (plus minimal and generally very short use of samples) it wasn’t my cup of tea.
The album sounded kind of stiff. It’s hard to describe without listening to it (which you can totally do here on the official Bandcamp page). I guess it sounded to me like a techno album having a go at industrial. If that’s your bread and butter, then good for you. It wasn’t quite for me, and with something like another 100 CDs to get through, I was on the verge of passing this off as just another album that might get a few listens and then most likely never get aired again. Believe me, I own and have paid money for many such releases. Yet, I was captivated by that fantastic cover art. I’m a sci-fi nerd and that creepy, dark, human-alien hybrid was fantastic.
With that in mind (in more than one sense), I listened to it again. Thinking of the artist’s name — Genetic Selection, what a name — got me thinking, especially when I imagined the album title to be a reference to distant space travel.

Wonderful Alien, Aliens and It-inspired track names here. 

My interest really got piqued though when I paid proper attention to the track titles (I rip all my physical media to lossless but the actual listening occurs predominantly via my phone, where it’s easy to forget track names).
Now I found that I was getting really interested. I found that I was starting to ‘construct’ a story for each track, based solely on the titles.
There was the slow intermittent sound of the track Drop Ship, which in my mind could happily pass for mechanical processes of a descending vessel slowly floating to the surface of a distant planet. Or there were the somewhat wilder sounds of the opening track Xenomorph Attack, which in my mind (and I do mean, in my mind) could pass for the chaos of a violent confrontation with an alien aggressor.
I found I got into this imagination play so much that I was somewhat obsessively checking back on track names, which is not something I usually do with purely instrumental albums.
Eventually, by the time I had ‘learned’ this album, I’d constructed my own story. While it was nominally a concept-album, I allowed my imagination to fill in the blank spaces.
Incidentally, the liner notes do contain a short description (in German) of the album theme. It details how colonists are attacked on a distant planet by an irresistible and predatory alien creature. It differed slightly to the way I imagined it, but I wasn’t too far off.

Imagination and track selection

I have since listened to another Genetic Selection album: Orbital Ground Attack. This second on was the Genetic Selection debut album
It too is an instrumental album and while its songs bear titles that are entirely hard sci-fi themes (which I love) — earth under attack, interstellar combat, human resistance — it was much more ambiguous. I couldn’t quite spurn my imagination in the same vivid detail that I did for Darwin’s Voyage.
Perhaps Orbital Ground Attack wasn’t the artist’s best work, what with it being his debut work? I felt it was a bit different, but I didn’t regard the quality to be any different.
More likely, I feel that I preferred one over the other their entirely instrumental nature meant there was a ‘gap’ that could be filled with imagination and personal interpretation. Let’s be honest with the fact that the track names could have been anything. Yet, the artist chose to call them Xenomorph Attack, Through Hyperspace, Drop Ship, The Creature, etc.
The song names on Darwin’s Voyage are clearly inspired by Alien, Aliens, It and other sci-fi-horror greats. I love that stuff and I allowed myself to imagine things accordingly. Orbital Ground Attack, with its ambiguous track names, is not inferior in any way musically. I just couldn’t get my imagination to envisage things on this album in the same way.
And with less imagination, there was less enthusiasm.

Art is what you make of it

I’m apprehensive when it comes to talking about an artist’s ‘vision’ or intent. We live in a time where, more than ever, art and culture is arguably seen as more consumable and about immediate gratification. From the nature of music streaming to what passes for pop music, it’s easy to lose sight of the intention of art, and how we value it.
And yet, as I said previously, good art is what you love.
Art is not rational. It’s not a scientific experiment with measurable results. It’s not a definable or quantifiable. There is no art without imagination (except perhaps in the machine-learning art sense).
Art is what you love. And if that fires your imagination in a fulfilling way, then it’s art that is worthwhile, regardless of whether it’s a masterpiece that took years to create, or a painting made with spray cans in a couple of minutes.


The Devil, not like other heavy metal bands - supporting the Therion Australian tour

Six years ago I came across an obscure heavy metal band on a Terrorizer magazine compilation.
It was Terrorizer magazine #229 from November 2012. Dani Filth was on the cover promoting Cradle of Filth’s then-new album The Manticore And Other Horrors. Ghaal was back in black and on the scene again with God Seed. A collaboration called Mrityu between Ihsahn and Matt Heafy from Trivium, of all people, was announced (incidentally, it appears that nothing has come from it to date). And an obscure group calling themselves The Devil had a track featured on the accompanying Fear Candy #113 sampler CD.
Despite the criticism that is traditionally heaped onto free samplers, I was a fan of the Fear Candy series. While I acknowledge that the inevitable rule of thumb with the free CD is to discard nine tenths of what you get, those Fear Candy compilations nonetheless got me into some fantastic music. December 2012’s Fear Candy 114, for example, was directly responsible for introducing me to Tengger Cavalry.
The track that got me into The Devil was an intriguing one. Titled Universe, it stood apart from the rest of the compilation due its lack of vocals. And yet, it wasn’t a traditional instrumental track though. Instead, it was made up a multitude of samples detailing UFO sightings and alien conspiracies, overlaid to some reasonably well-produced gothic metal.
The samples were put together in such a way as to construct what a friend termed “a narrative” (an accurate way of putting it, but alas, I’m not a fan of the term) — a story constructed from samples in lieu of vocals.

I was very interested. I was able to find out that The Devil had a self-titled album on Candlelight Records — no small achievement for any heavy metal outfit — but not very little else was known about them. For one thing, all band members summoned the spirit of Ghost by remaining masked and anonymous.
Here’s what I said about The Devil back in 2013:
“This artist is another Terrorizer magazine discovery, and a group about which public knowledge seems to be strangely lacking. What I know comes from a small and somewhat silly magazine interview in which they kind of explained why they remain anonymous and wear masks. Nonetheless, they’re one of those bands that are so mysterious and elusive that their music hasn’t even leaked (yet) into the usual channels.
What is legitimately available for public viewing, however, is a collection of two videos that showcase not only their style but also their awesome multi-media skills.
The first of these videos, Universe, deals with alien conspiracies. The other, Extinction Level Event, is cut up speeches about nuclear war post-WWII. Both make superb use of actual footage and tell a story (because I refuse to use the term “narrative”) put together from various samples. A written description couldn’t do justice to these tracks.
I love them both, so please, watch these videos.”

The Devil: not like other heavy metal bands

I really did dig those tracks. While the audio alone was something I really enjoyed, the multimedia delivery in the form of those videos was something else.
Ever since the heavy metal music video became a medium (fun fact: the first heavy metal music video aired on MTV was by Iron Maiden) it has usually been an accompaniment to a track. Not so with The Devil — here the video was an art form unto itself. It didn’t just accompany the music — the video was the story driving it.
Unsurprisingly, what little information I did find about The Devil included liberal use of the term ‘cinematic’. Nonetheless, this was every bit an obscure outfit. I played those two videos to a few people, to mixed results, and I acknowledged that The Devil would be a group that no one would ever hear of.
I certainly never expected to meet anyone who had heard of them, much less so much as even entertain the thought that I would see them live — and in Australia of all places.
Yet somehow that is precisely what happened.
And here they were.
Pic: Vereance Lucitria

The Devil support the Therion Australian tour

There should be a word for the phenomenon that is a double take resulting from the good-natured disbelief of discovering concrete evidence that a band you love and never expected to see live is visiting your country.
Whatever that term is, it describes how I felt when I saw the promotional flyer announcing the Therion Australian tour.
There it was: Therion. Supported by The Devil.
The only reason that The Devil didn't receive profile shots was because they wear masks.

Oddly enough, the word “devil” is exceedingly popular when it comes to heavy metal band names. At last count, Metal Archives listed 126 results for just [devil] and 22 containing [the devil]. For this reason I was understandably incredulous that it was one and the same The Devil from years back.
“What? Not the The Devil?” was a fairly accurate paraphrasing of my thoughts at the time. “As in, that unbelievably obscure sample-based instrumental heavy metal outfit that released those amazing videos five or so years ago? Surely not?”
Sure, that’s not an entirely accurate paraphrasing of how my brain works (the daily through process is more like, “potato tomato banana oh I’ll just check the weather on my phone and oh I like the look of that band that’s come up on Facebook I’ll have to remember to listen to it later tonight agh where did I put my keys oh wait what was I doing again and what was I going to do on my phone again”).
But it was to be — and on September 12, 2018 I found myself in the crowd at Max Watt’s in Melbourne watching a band that until recently I’d never contemplated would be one I would see live.
And I was mesmerised.

The Devil’s music is divisive

"It's too dark to see their faces."

I loved what I heard and saw. But The Devil’s music is divisive.
Heavy metal music, or rather the people who love heavy metal music, are a morally anarchic bunch. One of the great virtues of heavy metal is the outspokenness of its adherents. If they love something, they’ll figuratively shout it from the rooftops (think Slayer fans whose main word in their vocabulary is SLAYER!). But that goes both ways.
With a group like The Devil, there were detractors who made their displeasure known.
I have spoken extensively in the past about how fortunate we are to live in a city where we are spoilt for choice when it comes to gigs playing hard, dark, nasty and heavy music; how the real enemy of what is popular music played on commercial radio and not that local band who are starting out by playing generic metal because they’re still finding their feet; and how you don’t appreciate the value of any gig playing any music that sounds even remotely like what you love until you live in a town that doesn’t have weekly punk, grind, metal, rock, stoner, noise and industrial shows.
Nevertheless, I’m not other people, so I understand that someone who would not know what to expect could feel underwhelmed from the performance. A major element of what makes The Devil unique is the previously mentioned audio-visual component. In the live environment of Max Watt’s (although in my heart it will always be the Hi-Fi Bar, just like Southern Cross Station will forever be Spencer Street Station) the projector on which much of the performance depended could best be described as ‘decent’. It went down to waist height and was not so much obscured, as interrupted, by moving black-clad masked figures intercepting the perspective of the crowd, looking, as they were, up to the stage at an angle.
I also suspect that the gravitas of various samples may have been lost on some of the crowd due to no other reason but for the original sound quality of those record. For many of the tracks, the narrative, sorry, I mean theme, is based on post-WWII or Cold War-era speeches. While those punters with history nerd credentials would have really gotten into it, the clarity of scratchy recordings from 60 or more years ago may have been lost in the live environment. At least for normal – people who delight in trainspotting Eisenhower’s military industrial complex speech or Truman’s announcement of the use of atomic weapons on Hiroshima during Extinction Level Event would have loved it.
Again, if you weren’t sure what to expect, I can see how someone going to the Therion gig, perhaps expecting bombastic from the support act, could feel that their expectations weren’t being met.
But if you knew what you were in for, or if you love samples (like I do!) you hopefully ‘got it’.
The performance of the track World Of Sorrow was especially poignant. Played over heart-wrenching footage of fires and collapsing buildings from September 11, it plays an on-the-scene TV reporter describing eyewitness accounts of what 9/11 truthers would later cite as the controlled demolition of 7 World Trade Center.
To be clear: September 11 conspiracy theorists, of which Building 7 is one of the most popular, have been repeatedly debunked. I do not subscribe to the views expressed in lyrics (or in this case, samples) of that track, in the same way that I don’t subscribe to lyrical themes found in Slayer lyrics, like Satanic sacrifices or dropping nuclear weapons or getting even through violence and murder. Nonetheless, the combination of samples, masked performance and video was for me, an almost gut-wrenching “wow” moment.
It due to moments like these that I was mesmerised. I loved the performance and I can say with sincerity and appreciation (rather than pretention) that I ‘got’ what The Devil were doing.
Knowing their original music helped, as does the fact that I love industrial music and samples. So too does being a massive history nerd. The live performance by The Devil was, for me personally, a stunning coming together of so many of the things I love about dark and heavy music.
Oh, and that slightly less obscure act going by the name of Therion were up next.
As for the identities of those behind the masks who are The Devil?
Well, I’ve got a conspiracy theory about who it might be… but who would believe me…?


“I forgot how good they were” | When you re-discover music you’d forgotten or dismissed

One of the wonderful things about being into awesome music is how it’s possible to ‘rediscover’ a band that you’d either forgotten about, or otherwise thought you knew well enough to have dismissed.
While I can only speak for myself, I suspect many others may have experienced this same phenomenon. It usually occurs years after you became familiar with an artist — and inevitably, the rediscovery manifests in a random or unexpected way.
Do any of these sound familiar?

Maybe you re-assessed a band after you saw them at a gig or festival?

I had this precise experience after seeing Rammstein at their final Big Day Out appearance in Australia, all the way back in 2011. I love much of the Rammstein discography but at the time I’d dismissed 2009’s Liebe Ist Für Alle as mediocre — that was, until I saw much of it played live.
That show changed my perspective about this album. I can, with full confidence, say that I got back into Liebe Ist Für Alle with a whole new level of appreciation post-concert, precisely because I saw half of it played live in all its fiery glory (tragically, almost 10 years have elapsed since the last full-length Rammstein studio album, so until then we at least have the wholesomely glorious cheese of Lindemann).
Similarly, a good friend saw Gary Numan and subsequently had an even more electric experience. It began when she went to one of his gigs even though she was not familiar with his discography. Having elected to see Gary Numan with no preconceived expectations, she emerged as a true believer. Now she's the proud owner of vinyl test pressings and hand-written lyric sheets.
I never gave Sabaton much thought until I saw them live on the 70000 Tons Of Metal cruise. What they lack in technical wizardry they make up for with the right attitude. And songs exclusively about military history.

Maybe a friend or acquaintance got you into a new group?

Those who are into fantastic music tend to gravitate towards others who are also into fantastic music. To ask someone “are you into so-and-so artist” or “have you heard the latest this-and-that?” is not so much a conversation starter as a way of life. On the other hand, when you've figuratively heard it all, and when you’re so deeply and heavily into your music that you rarely get surprised by new sounds, it’s inevitable that new and old things occasionally get tuned out.
One way to filter out the noise is to have a trusted source, such as a respected friend, invoke your full attention and articulate a new perspective.
Indeed, I would struggle to list the vast number of artists and tracks that I’ve gotten into as a direct consequence of one-on-one conversations and recommendations from good friends.
In fact, one of my all-time favourite activities with one of my best mates involved him bringing over a bag of CDs (yes, physical media), whereupon we would have a few beers while chilling out to and talking about tunes. While on almost every occasion the evening’s proceedings would close with’90s Eurotrance YouTube videos, I rate it as one of the very best ways imaginable to discover new music.

Maybe you forgot how good an artist was until you heard track played in your randomised shuffle playlist?

My shuffled playlist, more than any other factor, brings me back to music I’d tuned out, dismissed, mentally put aside, or otherwise forgotten about for months or years. I have facts to back this up: my playlist logs the Last played date next to each track, so when I see albums and artists that I know and love, I’m often surprised by how many years have passed since I last played them.
By that I mean track six from an album I’d long forgotten about suddenly grabs my attention in ways it never had previously, and for no other reason but that it came on unannounced in that shuffled playlist.
Left to run its natural course, this phenomenon often concludes with words that might best be paraphrased as “I forgot how good they were” and “I never really paid much attention to them until...”
This once more got me listening to Hocico. Pic: Discogs.

My Hocico ‘re-discovery’

This very thought occurred to me after I’d ‘re-discovered’ Mexican EBM electro-industrial champions Hocico the other day.
I was going through some photos on my hard drive of old music purchases (I’m just that kind of person) and I came across this single from EBM industrial outfit Hocico, purchased a few years back. The single is Dog Eat Dog, released in 2010.
Many months had passed since I’d last listened to big blocks of Hocico, and two things happened after I re-listened — or ‘re-discovered’ — this single.
Firstly, it immediately reminded me of how fantastic the Hocico discography is. Indeed, I’ll concede that, in this instance, it wasn’t a case of appreciation for a band that I’d dismissed but rather a case of “I forgot how good they were”.
To the point: I’d never dismissed Hocico. They are superb. It’s just that, for whatever reason, Hocico are a group I regularly revisit, but probably not regularly enough because there remains an unimaginably vast volume of awesome music still waiting to be discovered or revisited. Indeed, my hardrive playlist, consisting almost exclusively of music copied from my physical music collection, lists 55 continuous days’ worth of music.
As I said, it’s a bit too easy to filter out things when you’re so heavily into it. Other times, things just gather dust in the archive.
55.1 days of continuous music. If I played my entire collection 24 hours a day, I would get to listen to each track just 6.6 times per year.

The other thing to occur with the ‘re-discovery’ was that I was reminded of how privileged I was to have seen Hocico live in Australia. In 2012 I caught them at the Melbourne leg, a show that I thought was fantastic even though there were some technical difficulties throughout the gig. Despite sustaining a minor back injury — not from moshing-induced action, but merely from wearing a sombrero covered in gaffer tape — I had a fantastic time and you can see more about it in the above links.

Album art and association

In conclusion, a very small stimulus can be a powerful evoker, be it a track that stands out from the shuffle playlist, or actually picking up the *gasp* album art in your hands.
Not to denigrate digital and streaming (I am a heavy Spotify and Bandcamp user as I find both are excellent ways to discover artists that I then spend money on), but I feel the very nature of the physical presence of physical media is one edge it has over digital.
To get really metaphysical for a moment: the physical release is art that you’re holding, whereas the digital release is a representation of that art. Both are entirely valid and have advantages in that they’re equally capable of fulfilling whatever it is you’re hoping to get out of them.

Of course, for those of us who still love physical media, or who listen to their digital versions of legitimate purchases in the full format that they were created in, there’s still the dilemma of how to enjoy the historically maligned single.
Here’s how I get the most out of a release that consists of four remixes and a b-side: how to appreciate the much-maligned CD single.

How to re-appreciate the maligned CD single with four remixes and a b-side

I had a nice ‘re-discovery’ moment recently when I was unexpectedly reminded of how excellent electro-industrial and EBM music can be. As is so often the case with such things, it occurred by chance after I came across this 2010 Hocico single, Dog Eat Dog, that I’d purchased some years previously.
I love physical media but I still copy all my legitimate music purchases onto my hard drive in lossless format. So, when a track from this release got played at random from my playlist, I ensured that it in turn it in turn led to the rest of the release getting played, which in turn led to more of the Hocico discography getting played.
It was one of those moments where I could genuinely say that “I’d forgotten how good they were”. Yet for all the quality and brilliantly sinister depths in Hocico’s dark and nasty EBM electro-industrial, I was confronted with an ancient dilemma faced by people who still accumulate physical media: how does one enjoy and derive the most out of a single?
All these tracks are, individually, quite good.
Played back-to-back in this original format, though, they get a bit samey. Pic: Discogs.

The CD single in the digital streaming age

The single is an anachronism in the streaming age. It’s been that way for years, ever since the advent of digital music. Indeed, I recall how the biggest physical media music chain in my home country of Australia announced almost 10 years ago that it would cease stocking CD singles.
Yet for those of us who still love physical media, or are artist or label completists, the single represents a nice break from innumerable full-length albums.
This particular single is the CD version of Hocico’s Dog Eat Dog release from 2010. A ‘lead track’ (or rather, a fairly decent track) from the Tiempos De Furia album, it was released in two versions: the six-track version here in a digipak; and a two-track seven-inch, limited to 666 copies (of course). Incidentally, both are in formats that the label and distributor can conveniently refer to as limited edition.
As I said, the single in its traditional form is an anachronism.

Dog Eat Dog

Dog Eat Dog has six tracks: the lead track, four remixes, and what would in old-parlance be referred to as the b-side.
All the tracks on Dog Eat Dog are reasonable on their own merits. Since Hocico remain a high-profile electro-industrial harsh EBM act, it’s not surprising that comparable high-profile names contributed remixes: Solitary Experiments, Aesthetic Perfection and Arsch Dolls (the latter I know nothing about other than that they seem to be a Tamtrum-related project).
Of the remixes, the most interesting is by mysterious Japanese act Diabolic Art. While the remix itself is okay-ish, its most intriguing element is the way it is indicative of Diabolic Arts’ wider style. What original material I’ve heard of this artist — and there is extraordinarily little original material out there — is an incredibly dark and Satanic-sounding mix of dancey industrial and psy-trance. Maybe you’re best to check it out yourself…
As stated, all the tracks on this release are on their own merits quite decent. Yet one lead track, four remixes and a b-side easily makes one’s attention waver.
Singles are a throwback to radio airplay days, when proper exposure for an artist meant attempting to capture as many ears as possible to lock onto one track via a medium controlled by third-parties.
Selling more singles was one way to achieve that aim. Consequently, not only did a CD single contain a track that was already available on the more expensive full-length, but it was often the only ‘good’ item on the release, with the ‘filler’ on singles notorious for consisting of forgettable remixes, acapellas, instrumentals, live versions and dubious b-sides.
Naturally that wasn’t always the case and this release is a good example of where that hadn’t occurred. However, the fact that it was such a routine occurrence goes a long way to explaining why the CD single was so maligned.

Getting the most out of the old CD single

So how do you get the most ‘satisfaction’ out of five variants of the same track and one probably-not-their-best-work b-side?
What works for me is this: get a single that isn’t inherently crap. I suggest that the best way to go about this is to embrace a simple solution. Namely, listen to good music.
No seriously, by not listening to rubbish music you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how rarely you encounter this problem.
So, assuming you are in possession of a decent release, how do you then beat the repetition while still retaining the enjoyment?
If you’re still into music the old way and have a multi-disc CD player, or if you’re actually a normal person and just streamed it or ripped it onto your device, take the single, then select an album from the same artist. Ideally, it’s not the same album from which the single originated.
For best results, pick an album with which you’re not super-familiar, or that you feel has been relegated to the not-their-best-work bin.
Then play them on shuffle.
You can now kick back and get more out of both the album and the single. The sum of their parts will be greater than their whole.

It works for me and it could work for you

There are some people who cannot abide by shuffling full albums. That’s perfectly fine. All I would say is: the combination of both, shuffled and mixed at random, spreads out the repetition of the single, while potentially providing a new perspective on a full-length album you might have otherwise dismissed.
I’ve mentioned how one of the greatest things about being into awesome music is how it’s possible to ‘rediscover’ a band that you otherwise thought you knew well enough to have dismissed.
The method of listening to singles described here does exactly that. We all have or know (or thought we know) albums that aren’t necessarily among our greatest and most beloved, but which we still know. It might be a lesser-known item from a long discography or it could be a newer album that didn’t meet expectations the first time round. Inevitably, said album does not get listened to for months or years because it presumably got dismissed long ago as not warranting further investigation.
Then a track from the second half of the album one day pops up in your playlist. In my experience, when this happens, I’ll often hear new elements and subtle things that I might have tuned out previously. At its most rewarding, when a track comes on unseen at random (because it’s hidden behind another window) my response will be “wow, that sounds amazing, what is it?” — followed by the realisation that it was an artist I’d dismissed long ago.
I could go on endlessly about why randomness and unexpectedness is such an effective way to re-appreciate music (at its most molecular, I believe it has a lot to do with deciding what our expectations will be). In practical terms, not having the half-hour block from the first half of the album to ‘desensitise’ or distract us from the second half can very much lead to a new-found appreciation for a track that I thought I knew.
That can in turn (hopefully!) lead to new-found appreciation for the previously-dismissed album as a whole and, if you’re really up for it, even further appreciation for the artist and their discography.
Personally, my ideal mix (where applicable) is a full album, a live album, and a single, all played at random and mixed in at unpredictable intervals.

Incidentally, this is one reason while I love EPs. Whereas singles are inherently short, EPs can be repeated far more often. Enough has elapsed — not just in terms of measurable, chronological time (the best kind of time), but also variety — for the first and final track on the attention-meter to reset.
An EP can be re-listened to multiple times throughout the day and it doesn’t feel like your brain is leaking out of your head from repetition.
Plus there’s a subtle kind of satisfaction to be had from completing an EP. Sort of.
Isn’t there?

As for that other much-maligned release, the full-length remix album. Well, the potential for both glory and failure is so much more pronounced there. That may require a different approach.


That time the speakers at the Hocico gig had blown up but it was still a great show

I was going through photos of music purchases the other day (I’m just that kind of person) and I came across this single from Mexican EBM industrial outfit Hocico that I’d purchased a few years back from Heartland Records — Dog Eat Dog, the first single off the 2010 Hocico album Tiempos De Furia.
The nice cover art — note the surprising lack of biohazard symbols, campy socialist realism and industrial wasteland landscapes — in turn gave my brain sufficient stimulus to motivate me to play a few tracks from it. That, in turn, reminded of when Hocico toured Australia in 2012. But before I get onto that, allow me to digress.
Hocico - Dog Eat Dog. A rare instance of the cover art on an industrial release not featuring biohazard symbols - or even an industrial wasteland. Also, Heartland Records is an amazing shop that's still going.

It's all about expectations

I recently posted how what we get out of a gig can very much depend on what we decide ahead of time we will make of it, and a lot less on what actually occurs while we’re there.
The genesis of that thought was my wholly unexpected and recent impromptu attendance at a gig by New Zealand thrashers Alien Weaponry. It was a performance on a weeknight in the middle of winter at a small venue for a band I knew almost nothing about, so I’d attended not so much with low expectations but rather with no expectations.
It turned out to be a marvelous evening, despite the fact that I wasn’t a massive fan of Alien Weaponry’s mid-tempo thrash-lite. The reasons why are amply described in the above link.
If you want the short explanation, though: essentially, those aspects that ultimately determine how we rate a gig — these being the things that are best articulated as quality and fulfilment and fun — are in many ways dependent on whether those aspects meet the expectations that we set ourselves in our mind, rather than what actually occurred.
I feel strongly about it because I am indeed privileged to live in a town that has a legitimately world-class live music scene. Seeing that photo, which in turn made me play some Hocico, which in turn made me think of the 2012 Hocico Melbourne gig, brought up some long-buried thoughts about that show.
For one thing, it was a divisive show.
It doesn't show that well in this shot but those were some sick visuals.

Hocico in Melbourne

Hocico is a big deal in EBM and industrial music. For years they've headlined or otherwise notched top-level billing across Europe. So when the first ever Hocico Australian tour was announced it was preceded by significant (and by all accounts, justifiable) hype. In particular, much was made of the energy and vigor of the live performance. Those who weren’t overly into Hocico were urged to check them out on that strength.
I will skip ahead and emphasise that I thought it was a brilliant performance. Except for a back injury which, I discovered the next morning, I’d acquired on the dancefloor as a result of my decision to wear a sombrero covered in industrial safety tape (seeing a Mexican industrial band naturally means wearing an industrial sombrero, right?), it was one of those memorable shows.
Here’s what I said about it in 2012:

When you see live bands that you don’t avidly follow, it’s so often a case of getting into those songs you recognise and maybe even liking a few you don’t recognise. “They’re not bad,” is as absolutely stock-standard behaviour at a gig as is having a vaguely appreciative and not-very-responsive crowd for much of the time. But not so with these guys. I own a few Hocico releases and yet I can honestly say I recognised all of two songs that were played. Yet at every moment there was this powerful you-had-to-be-there energy, this awesome, dark, killer world complete with sensory-depriving lights and visuals. At the risk of running off an old cliché, it was much of a case of you could “feel” it rather than just see and hear it.

When looking back at things I said or wrote more than half a decade ago, I sometimes get a slight cringey feeling, perhaps due to some long-passed naivety? But not this time. It really was a great show.
This was despite the fact that it was a show marred by a couple of mishaps and technical problems.
Throughout the evening, before I got there, at least one speaker had proverbially blown up. Consequently, bands started late. The Hocico show was eventually shortened — and throughout, the sound cut out more than once. On top of that, only one ‘official’ member of Hocico supposedly formed part of the show.
Years later, I was talking about that gig with a friend. A seasoned gig, festival and club goer, he said, much to my surprise, that he had not liked it and how he felt genuinely embarrassed by what transpired onstage (and presumably behind the sound console).
And yet I rate it as one of the best electronic shows I’d ever seen.
In my view, all the elements came together to form an atmosphere that was dark, heavy, foreboding and intense. This was the nightmare underworld of Hocico’s music in an audio-visual manifestation. It absolutely was, in every sense, a performance where it didn’t matter whether you knew any of their music. As I said, I have for years cultivated the view that I am exceedingly fortunate to live in a town where dark, heavy and nasty music is a regular occurrence.
Looking back at that show from years ago, it reminded me once again that what you make of a gig has a lot to do with what you tell yourself it will be, before
  • As a gig-goer you cannot control what goes on with the sound. 
  • You cannot prevent a speaker from blowing up. 
  • You cannot make a gig start on time. On the other hand, you’re seeing (as was the case here) an international act.
  • Nor can you make a missing band member materialize on stage. 
Did any of these things matter? Not to me they did. Not one little bit.
You can't control the sound or whether the band starts on time.
You can control how you feel about it.

A good gig is inherently about what you make of it, whether it’s an international electro-industrial act like or a group of teenage thrashers.

And incidentally, I’m reliably told that the correct pronunciation is hɔ-si-kho.


How to easily enjoy a heavy metal gig (when you're not into the bands)

I mentioned in another post how I got to see New Zealand thrash metallers Alien Weaponry on three hours’ notice. It was on a weeknight, during the middle of winter, at a small venue — and to be entirely honest, I’d barely heard of them.
The three or four top tracks of relatively simplistic, mid-tempo groove thrash that I hurriedly streamed for all of 40 seconds said to me that this was a group that under usual circumstances I would not go out of my way to see.
And yet, I had a brilliant night out.

Make your own perspective

There was once a time when I would leave disappointed if the music at a gig failed to grip me. I can’t quite articulate it, so the closest I can come up with might be something akin to a feeling that I’d invested time and energy and money into something that had not impressed me.
But not this time.
I attribute it to something very simple — I merely made a conscious point of setting out to get the most out of the evening.
I have come to believe that what you get out of a heavy metal gig (i.e. how much you enjoy it) has a lot less to do with what you expect, and a lot more to do with how you decide in advance what you will make it out to be.
In short: how you feel about a gig after it’s finished can, if you want, be determined by what you wished it to be before you got there.
Or, it can depend on perspective. And expectations.
So what does that mean?

Great (thrash) expectations

 They were on their way to a European tour and will even plan Wacken Open Air. But some at Metal Archives still don't feel they're metal enough to warrant listing.
Pic: Abby Phillips

The unexpected invite for Alien Weaponry was at Melbourne’s Last Chance Rock & Roll Bar, with tech-metallers Primitive in support.
The Last Chance Rock & Roll Bar is a wonderful, albeit small venue in inner-city Melbourne. It’s the sort of locale that comes to mind when one uses term “cosy”.
As mentioned, I’d never heard anything from the Alien Weaponry discography when I accepted the invite from a friend. Nonetheless, I accepted and pledged to myself that I would have a great time, for the simple reason that I had no expectations. Importantly, no expectations is distinct from low expectations.
Expectation is a funny thing. Of all the complex thoughts and emotions that we understand as human feelings, the thoughts that amount to what we define as expectation arguably have the most power to influence how we felt AFTER doing a Thing — because we created pre-conceived perceptions BEFORE we actually did the Thing.
The nature of expectation is why established artists are guaranteed to always disappoint a minimum proportion of fans, yet if a new artist were to release identical material they would garner praise (yes, that’s a bit metaphysical, but bear with me). Similarly, a show may not “live up to expectations” because of what fans have “come to expect” from a high standard that occurred in the past. Or a talented musician may form a new group but the artist’s “long-awaited” debut is either insufficiently original or too far removed and unrecognisable from what we expected… in other words, what we imagined and hoped it would be.
We then feel disappointed or even angry because we’ve invested emotionally (and probably monetarily) in something and we find the return is not what we desired.
To get a little bit more metaphysical, our evaluation of art and performance risks becoming less about the merits of an individual work of art (for example, a new release) and more about how it compares to our pre-conceived ideals and expectations. Indeed, those expectations are in themselves based entirely on previous works of art, such as an artist’s discography.
Expectation can influences how we feel about almost anything — be it a gig, meeting a new person, a movie or even sporting event — before we’ve even left our home. It is for this very reason that I often explain how unexpected gigs and performances can often be the most memorable.
As mentioned, it was a fantastic show. But not because I was a frothing fan of their music. Alien Weaponry is a band that I would not have considered seeing on the merits of their sound alone, yet I made a point of removing expectations in my mind that would traditionally have told me that a variety of heavy metal that I’m not much into would fail to be enjoyable.
Instead, I consciously saw the very best in the fact that this was a heavy metal gig, at an accessible venue, where just about everyone was thoroughly enjoying themselves, and that there would be many more gigs like it to come.

·         Having said that, if you actually want to know how the gig went, see my Alien Weaponry gig review.

Support came from Melbourne's Primitive.
Pic: Abby Phillips.

As I say behind the above link...

“It made me once more supremely thankful that I live in a city where I am spoilt for choice when it comes to weekly gigs that play music that is hard, fast, nasty and heavy.”

And no, metal Metal Archives currently still won’t list them.


Alien Weaponry + Primitive gig in Melbourne at the Last Chance Rock & Roll Bar

Picture the following. It’s Thursday evening and I’ve got work the next day. It’s dark and cold because it’s the middle of winter. I’m making dinner when a text arrives with an entirely unexpected invitation to see Alien Weaponry, a band I know nothing about. The venue is a small bar which I’ve been to just once, coincidentally also on what turned out to be a quiet week night.
Should I go? Would I have a good time despite not knowing their music? And would heading out on a week night (with sooo many adult responsibilities and all that) be worth the risk?
Alien Weaponry at the Last Chance Rock & Roll Bar.
Pic: Abby Phillips.

How to get the most out of a gig

You’ve read countless gig reviews before, each a blow-by-blow description of what the artists did on stage, what tracks were played or were neglected, whether the sound was on point, how the crowd responded, what those on stage were wearing, and on it goes.
This is not one of those gig reviews.
The Alien Weaponry Melbourne gig was great, but not necessarily for the traditional reasons that you might associate with a gig. To explain, I’ll have digress for a moment.
Quite simply: believe and accept that a brilliant night out has a lot less to do with what you imagine and expect it to be, and a lot more to do with how and what you choose to make of it.
Say what, I hear you utter?
I encourage you to delve further into this idea. I’ll concede that it comes across as an over-thought philosophical approach to something as unassuming as going out and drinking alcohol and enjoying heavy metal music. And yet I feel seeing things a particular way has real merit. That’s because how to make the most out of a heavy metal gig (or any other recreational occasion, I would say) can come down to something as simple as consciously deciding beforehand in your mind how you will actually go about it.
The other reason it was a brilliant night came down to the quality of my friends. Let me tell you a little about them.
Friend 1 was the source of the unexpected invite. She’s a battle-hardened gig veteran (and who incidentally is eight months’ pregnant) who does not hesitate to go to metal shows to see the bands and music that she loves. Friend 1’s partner was ill, hence the spare ticket.
Friend 2 is another gig veteran who can well be described without hyperbole as the life of the party. Friend 2 rarely misses a gig or event — if she does, there’s usually a damn good reason — and when it’s over and finally time to head home you’re left feeling, in large part thanks to Friend 2, that it was definitely worth doing.
Friend 3 is Friend 2’s partner. I’ve known Friend 3 for less than a year but he’s irrevocably now one of squadron, whether he likes or knows it or not. Friend 3 is also a highly talented guitarist and song writer.
Between Friends 1, 2 and 3 are at least 30 years of accumulated friendship. We’ve been through some amazing times together and, as happens with those who are closest to you, we’ve also overcome some darker times. These were the people that would be with me at this unknown show. The venue could have been uninhabited and I’m confident that we still would have had a rocking great time. Fun is what you make of it.

Alien Weaponry sold out the gig

Primitive may be up your cup of tea if you like complex but not unnecessarily flavours.
Pic: Abby Phillips.

Initial concerns about it being a quiet evening were quashed because the Alien Weaponry was in fact sold out. Looking around the venue it was a spectacular array of black band t-shirts. There were rockers, metal heads, old, young. Can you believe it… it was so diverse that some people even had non-black shirts?! On a mid-winter school night no less. That was a great start.
Support Primitive began proceedings with a tight and technical performance. I compensate for the fact that I don’t play an instrument by pointing out that I’m an expert at listening to other people’s music. To my ear, I would describe them as having an almost groove-like vibe while not venturing anywhere near djent or needlessly complex lands. I had no objections, even though it’s not quite my pint of cider, and there were some fantastic ensemble riff moments that got the compact room’s attention.
If you like it a bit technical without the snooty prog-tentiousness, then Primitive may be a Melbourne heavy metal band for you.

Alien Weaponry came on soon after. Mercifully, at a respectably early time for a school night.
“This is our first time in Australia,” announced vocalist Lewis de Jong. “Actually, this is our first time outside of New Zealand,” he added.
Like almost anyone who has something to say about Alien Weaponry in any kind of official capacity, I’m yet another person to hyper-focus on what has already been said numerous times before. Namely, that this is a teenage heavy metal act from New Zealand and that only one of them was able to drive when they got their first tour bus.
Taken out of context, three teenage metal heads playing their first gig outside of their home territory on a Thursday night during winter would seem mildly endearing.
Tonight it was three guys doing just, but on the back of a recent signing to Napalm Records while on their way to a European tour that includes a little-known heavy metal festival called Wacken Open Air.
How many local bands get to do this?
Also, metal kudos for touring with Nervosa, who are as thrash metal as you could want.

What is it that brought out so many people to see Alien Weaponry on a winter weeknight? I would say it was many things, mostly of which have something to do with what makes heavy metal inherently great.
Alien Weaponry play a mid-tempo kind of groovy thrash. It’s not Destruction or Exodus-grade neck-snappingly heavy, nor is it Annihilator or early Megadeth-level complex. It’s fun and, most importantly, has a distinct and brilliant element: the use of Māori haka (look it up if you’ve never heard of a haka).
For the uninformed, think ritualised tribal shouting in another language. Not only was it fantastically original but the result was a vocal style that was neither shouted, growled, screeched or even distorted — yet it was, in every sense of the term, So Metal.
The fact that it was live also made it so much more authentic than if it had been a mere pre-recorded sample. That, and it’s not just occasional featured chanting. Various songs are in native Te Reo language.
As I said, this one element is so incredibly metal.

Everyone loves a Kiwi

Another possible explanation of the good turn-out may have something to do with the nature of New Zealanders. Like Canadians, there is something about Kiwis that somehow seems to make them statistically just that little bit more likeable than just your average person.
Alien Weaponry are from the tiny town of Waipu, in New Zealand’s Far North. They come across as being honest, down-to-earth guys with the right attitude and who are mad for heavy metal (and a bunch of other music too).
To prove the point, and also because you should definitely do yourself a favour, watch this six-minute documentary about them. From what it’s like to be a heavy metal band in a town where everyone knows you, to the benefits of being able to legally drive the tour van, it’s not your ordinary metal doco. Honestly, just watch the damn thing to understand why they are winning hearts and minds.
So they played the Last Chance’s cosy and tightly packed band room. Moshing soon began, its movement being immediately felt and seemingly transferred through bodies in the tight room. Then one mosher went down, crawled to the hallway, and proceeded not to go anywhere. He was clearly in strife and when he managed to remove his boot it looked like he’d seriously damaged his ankle.
The moshing seemed to get more sedate after that. Turns out the poor bloke had broken his ankle in five spots. Even so, after the gig, Alien Weaponry gave him a shout out for insisting he stay and not miss the show.

"Big shoutout to this dude who fucked his ankle up in the mosh last night and insisted on staying to the very end propped against the wall ... that’s some Melbourne dedication right there".

Incidentally, he started a GoFundMe to cover his expected financial difficulties.

All that is great about heavy metal

When it was over, and then, with one encore, it really was all over, I left delighted. In fact, I can say everyone left delighted.
Here, on a school night, at the heart of winter, at a small venue, did a rag tag bunch of misfit punters venture out and have a brilliant time, showing legitimate appreciation and respect to two heavy metal groups, one of which contains members who aren’t event 18. At the time of publication, Alien Weaponry are playing gigs across Europe, including the appearance at Wacken.
To borrow a line from Venom’s 2011 song, Punks’ Not Dead:
“It don’t matter about your age. It’s how you feel. It’s not a phase.”

Their first show in Melbourne... and the first show outside of  New Zealand. Then onto greater things.
Pic: Abby Phillips.

It made me once more supremely thankful that I live in a city where I am spoilt for choice when it comes to weekly gigs that play music that is hard, fast, nasty and heavy.
All these things came together in the form of another reminder of why heavy metal is great — even if Metal Archives currently still refuses to list them.
And it was entirely unexpected.