Heavy metal, one might say, is a many-splendored thing. A few years ago, rock and roll filmmaker/anthropologist Sam Dunn did an admirable job of chronicling the history and mutations of this often misunderstood art form with his Metal Evolution TV series, but, even with its nearly eight-hour running time, barely scratched the surface. But for the novice, it’s a fine primer on the history and some of the major subgenre that have sprung from that fateful Friday the 13th in February 1970 when the first Black Sabbath album came roaring forth, changing hard rock forever. When the song “Black Sabbath” – side one, track one – exploded from the speakers of cheap stereos all over the world, a million kids picked up guitars, and music would never be the same. It may never be given the respect it deserves by many so-called ‘serious’ music critics, but those who dismiss it do so at their peril. Besides that, they’re just lazy and wrong. The genre has not only survived and prospered through all the musical fads of nearly half a century, but it has diversified to the point of the label ‘heavy metal’ itself becoming meaningless. Like Duke Ellington said, there’s really only two kinds of music: good and bad.
As the 21st century has progressed, so has the development of this music that is called ‘metal.’ The introduction of mathematical precision and use of complex polyrhythmic composition pioneered by bands such as Don Caballero and Meshuggah brought a new level of technique to the heavy riffs, sure, but it also often sacrificed the necessary emotion required for a truly satisfying musical experience.
But that’s evolution – ebb and flow, over compensation for a perceived weakness, correction, etc. More recently, a few creative and artistically brave souls figured out the right combination of skill and feel to create something completely new, with the appropriate levels of complexity, emotion, and melody.
Enter Blindead. Although the band features sometime Behemoth guitarist Mateusz Śmierzchałski, they are definitely not death metal. Their music is progressive in the true sense of the word (as in ‘prog’), and it is certainly heavy (as in ‘metal’,) but to label them ‘prog metal’ would also be a serious disservice; this is quite simply music without boundaries. On their new Ascension album, they joyfully defy easy categorization. Drummer Konrad Ciesielski agrees, “Our music changes from album to album. People who have been listening to us from the beginning know that every one of our albums is different. And this is what we try to do every time – to find inspiration in different tones, tunes and music. Our new album is less metal – more prog, but with many organic influences from nature and the world that surrounds us. Sometimes you can also hear trip-hop influences. Blindead is known as a post-metal band, but maybe someday we will record a calmer, more ‘difficult’ album. Or maybe a trip-hop or orchestral album? There are no limits for us.”
As an album, Ascension achieves the seemingly contradictory goals of creating Blindead’s most experimental music whilst simultaneously streamlining the length of the compositions. “I think there is also more energy in this material,” Konrad continues, “The songs are more powerful and tight. The compositions are more compact and shorter. In the past we had the tendency to extend sounds in time.”
It is dark music, to be sure, but it is a darkness that can be rich with complex detail one minute and stripped down to stark ambient space the next. No two songs are the same, and the live show promises to be just as unique.
Konrad is part of a new breed of metal musician. Besides Blindead, he plays with the instrumental stoner rock band Octopussy, and he is one of the architects as well as the percussionist of the darkwave electronic outfit Tranquilizer, featuring sensational vocalist/writer/artist Luna Bystrzanowska. (Tranquilizer will be in Kraków later this month with the excellent Tides From Nebula – watch this space for more information.) He is a living testament to the diversity of the new generation of musician who plays this kind of music.
With much of the next year being consumed by touring with all of his projects as well as the recording of a new Tranquilizer album, he conveys his ideology, “I try to have the same philosophy in music as in life. It is to never have limits. To explore and find the thing which is around the corner. The path is important, not the goal.” When asked if there is a thread that runs through all of his work, he simply says, “the common ground between all of the projects is never ending music.” As it should be.
In 2011, BLINDEAD were nominated for a Fredyryk award (Polish equivalent of the Grammys) and, if the early buzz on this new album can be trusted, 2017 is going to be their biggest year yet.
The KSB is a loose confederation of locals and street musicians playing horn-laden, ska-infected covers of everything from Creedence Clearwater Revival to Donna Summer and then some. Their last two shows here – welcoming summer and fall – were both outdoors and plagued by rain, but the joyous mood these guys spread is as infectious as it unstoppable. Their set on top of the building in the middle of Plac Nowy was a particular treat, despite a chill rain. So why not shake off the ennui of ever-shorter days, lengthening shadows, and colder temps with a party guaranteed to drive away the approaching winter gloom. And it’s indoors this time too, so there will be no interference from Mother Nature.
This Warsaw duo of Klaudia Szafrańska and Michäl Wu (né Michał Wasilewski) are touring in support of their very successful second full length album FWRD, and they are proving to be one of Poland’s most creative electronic acts, successfully balancing experimental beats and odd samples with pop sensibilities and little-girl-lost vocals (in both Polish and English.) Whether you want to dance, admire the cleverness of the songs’ constructions, or just bask in the trippiness of it all, this should satisfy your need.
This is part of a series that features Polish artists paying tribute to classic rock and pop artists in a symphonic setting that also includes upcoming Queen and Michael Jackson shows. In this case, the show is led by jazz/pop singer Kuba Badach and an ensemble of veteran Polish jazz musicians led by guitarist Marek Napiorkowski, who has worked with such international luminaries as Pat Metheny and Klaus Doldinger. If the arrangements play to Napiorkowsi’s strengths, this has the potential to be a step above the average tribute show.
We live in a time when nearly every possible musical reunion, no matter how much bad blood was in the past, has come to pass. Axl and Slash, David Lee Roth and the Van Halen brothers, Brian Wilson and Mike Love – even David Gilmour and Roger Waters recently put aside their differences long enough to release a joint statement condemning Donald Trump…
All of these reunions were once thought out of the question, until a combination of time and money (let’s be honest, mostly money) made the participants’ antipathy a thing of the past.
However, it’s still probably a pretty safe bet that The Smiths, or more specifically that mercurial icon of 1980’s disaffected youth known as Morrissey and guitarist extraordinaire Johnny Marr will NEVER reunite. The two don’t openly feud, probably because one of them is a gentleman (you can probably guess which), but entire books have been written analyzing their relationship and where it all went wrong (sample title: Morrissey and Marr: The Severed Alliance) and anywhere from 50 to a hundred million British Pounds (depending on who you believe) has been offered to put the band back together, to no avail.
Maybe that’s a good thing. Like the aforementioned reunions, it would be impossible to live up to the legend of The Smiths in the 1980s. Much like The Beatles, they quit at the top of their game and never made the embarrassing albums that nearly inevitably come with age.
LILLY HATES ROSES are a Polish alternative folk rock band taking a break before recording their third album to do this tribute tour, performing arguably The Smiths finest album, The Queen Is Dead, in its entirety.
Perhaps the most interesting facet of this concept is hearing vocalist Katarzyna Golomska’s (or ‘Lilly’ if you like) interpretations of Moz’s words and melodies. The perspective of his songwriting was always more feminine than masculine, but he was perhaps guilty of overplaying his ambiguity and exaggerating his feyness. Hearing a very good female singer tackle such standards as, “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” and “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others,” without affectation is to appreciate anew the cleverness and angst that used to come from the pen of Morrissey, as well as the sheer brilliance of Marr’s chord structures.
You might think that Axl Rose and Morrissey wouldn’t have much in common, but if you listen to a recent performance by either where they attempt one of their signature songs, you will hear the same thing; an older, corpulent, disinterested rock star with maybe 60% of the voice they once had, and about 10% of the conviction, doing the minimum they need to do in order to collect the check at the end of the night (and just for contrasts sake, compare that with The Who’s Roger Daltrey, who has maybe 25% of the vocal power he once commanded, yet still sings every note with the conviction that it could be his last.)
Whatever your personal history with The Smiths, this is one of the great British rock albums of all time. Relive your teen angst, or be introduced to a timeless classic.