Sunday, 6 December 2020

Log #219 - New Pleasures With Others Remaining Unknown

Eddy Bamyasi

OPETH'S STILL LIFE AND DAMNATION

A continuation of my discovery of Swedish group Opeth this week proceeds with one of their classic early albums - their fourth Still Life (from 1999). As an early record from their "death metal" days I wasn't expecting to like it so much as their later work. But actually it was great. The growl vocals are used relatively sparingly and I didn't mind them too much once I'd tuned in. 

Furthermore when lead singer Mikael Åkerfeldt sings cleanly he has a great voice. And the music (and the musicianship) is amazing. Most prominent is the super fast guitar riffing. 

This has got to be one of the band's most powerful albums (but then again there are plenty of gentle acoustic guitar interludes too including the lovely Benighted which has that gentle interlude feel of the quiet tracks on Black Sabbath's massive Master Of Reality album with its reverbed vocal and jazzy finger picking). 

The cover would also indicate a certain Black Sabbath influence and I guess if you played a Sabbath album on 45rpm it could sound like this - Sabbath on speed if you like!

The Damnation album is an odd entry in the Opeth catalogue even in the history of a band not afraid of change. Apparently originally conceived as part of a double album recording sessions were eventually released as two separate albums (Damnation following 5 months after Deliverance in 2003). 

The split made sense as both albums are very unlike each other - the former (which I haven't yet heard) more metal, the latter more mellow prog (you might have thought the titles of each might have suggested the opposite). As such the latter album is a revelation with In My Time Of Need the most beautiful Opeth tune I've heard and the whole album my favourite by the band to date. 

Considering this album came out nearly 20 years ago it is a surprise to me to still read about Opeth fans bemoaning how the band have gone soft relative to their metal days; it would seem they've been "progressive" for a lot longer than they've been "death metal". To be fair it's not like the early albums were devoid of progression (far from it) and the later albums are certainly not soft!

THIS WEEK'S FULL SELECTION:

~

Opeth - Still Life
Opeth - Damnation
Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures
The Enid - Something Wicked This Way Comes 
Eloy - Silent Cries And Mighty Echoes
Pink Floyd - Atom Heart Mother

~

JOY DIVISION'S UNKNOWN PLEASURES

It's not a massive jump from Opeth to Joy Division. They are equally dark, well even darker actually. JD were a band I held in a lot of contempt when I was at school in the late '70s for no good reason apart from I thought they were laughably bad musicians (in that respect you couldn't get further poles apart between Joy Division and Opeth). But of course I was missing the point entirely. I was coming from a point of view of liking (or more to the point admiring) the fancy musicianship of prog bands like King Crimson and Yes. The tuneless singing of Ian Curtis, the one note bass playing of Peter Hook, and a guitarist who had to look at his right hand to pick out feeble 3 note leads, therefore didn't do it for me. 

However seeing old footage of the crazed elbow dancing Curtis fronting the band is pretty mesmerising. How did they come over on record though? I'm about to find out with a spin of Unknown Pleasures.

Mmmm, not sure I've been missing much. Save for a few more fleshed out songs on side 2 of the album like Wilderness where the band approach a Doors sound (Curtis was a fan) and the atmospheric I Remember Nothing the majority of the record sounds very basic almost to the point of amateurish. That's not necessarily a bad or unexpected thing (think Velvet Underground) but it just doesn't sound like the band particularly had much chemistry together: It sounds like four young guys jamming in their bedroom each playing slightly different tunes in slightly different keys and time signatures on cheap instruments they've only had a few weeks. It begs the question whether Joy Division would have become so iconic without Curtis's death.

The drummer sounds pretty good though which is no mean feat at a time when electronics were just starting to infiltrate drum beats. I know this album (and band) is a bit of a sacred cow but here I am 40 years later and I'm still not really feeling it. Christ, if I ever come back to this record again I could be 90 years old! That's a grim prospect too. 

Were New Order, who rose from the ashes of Joy Division in 1980, any better? Different as I understand it, not knowing much from them save for Blue Monday of course.

Oh, by the way, the film Control is excellent. The lead actor really pulls off Curtis. It's pretty grim as you'd expect, and just had to be shot in black and white. And one other thing, I saw Peter Hook's current band a few years ago at a festival and they were a highlight of the weekend.

Iconic cover too of course (see top) which is now much more famous than the actual music. A classic of minimalist artwork and fitting for the contents. Those contours make me think of the Misty Mountains in Lord Of The Rings.

THE ENID'S SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES

Apparently The Enid's Something Wicked This Way Comes was the band's first album with vocals (and their fifth released in 1983). This makes their mostly instrumental music even more "stageshow". The album's lyrical content is apparently about a post apocalyptic reality and not based on the well known Ray Bradbury 1962 novel although the carnival setting for the latter would fit well with the music. 

ELOY'S SILENT CRIES AND MIGHTY ECHOES

The most remarkable thing about Eloy's Silent Cries And Mighty Echoes from 1979 is how similar the opening is to Pink Floyd's Shine On You Crazy Diamond (1975). I mean, really similar! Give it a listen. Is it a deliberate homage? It seems too similar to be a coincidence.

After the opening guitar sequence Astral Entrance jumps into that galloping sort of rhythm also favoured by Pink Floyd (particularly on Animals I'm thinking but also think of One Of These Days). Eloy to be fair are often compared to Pink Floyd. Or Pink Floyd with Arnold Schwarzenegger on lead vocals I read from one online reviewer (perhaps a little unfair). The Acopalypse continues the Floyd sound with Clare Torry (The Great Gig In The Sky) like vocals and long Rick Wright synth string chords.

PINK FLOYD'S ATOM HEART MOTHER

To complete this little tangent final record of the week was a revisit to Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother. This came out in 1970 and was already the band's fifth album. It's still Pink Floyd in development: The sound moving slowly towards a fuller fruition on the follow up Meddle. Indeed the side long title track could be viewed as an Echoes forerunner. However Atom Heart Mother is more baggy round the edges. It has a nice main theme but with it's brass section and choir is somewhat overblown. The best part is a central section where the core band groove (as they do in the central part of Echoes).

Side two, like Meddle's side one, contains some catchy more acoustic numbers - a rock song, an acoustic picker, and a piano track (with some more brass), plus a classic early Floyd piece of avant garde whimsy in the literal form of Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast complete with "found sounds" from Alan's kitchen. Who was Alan? He was Pink Floyd roadie Alan Styles as pictured (left) on the back of the Ummagumma album cover.







About The Author

Eddy Bamyasi

Eddy is a music writer from Brighton, England, named after a Can record. Each Sunday he logs and reviews the albums that happen to be in his vintage Pioneer 6-CD magazine changer, amongst other things.

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