Chevelle – Point #1

I am not a Chevelle fan. If you have a list of Chevelle fans and my name popped up there among the frat boys and guys who like metal but are too chicken for metal bands, and especially if being a fan means I like any album produced after their debut, you may cross my name right off.

However, that debut is such a wonder of nature that I just have to talk about it:

Ladies And Gentlemen, the faux-palindrome, a HUGE device in the design of rock album logos.

Now, I bear no ill-feelings towards Chevelle. They just play a particular style of rock that is decidedly not for me. I could probably listen to one or two songs from Vena Sera or Wonder What’s Next without much squirming. But hey, did you know Chevelle started out as a Christian Rock band?

Yep, that’s what Point #1 is. The guys were signed to Squint entertainment, a short-lived Christian label started by Newsboys songwriter Steve Taylor. I had read rumors before that the band intentionally used their album deal as a springboard to get into the mainstream quicker than through conventional means (acting on the assumption that Christian Rock labels are more gullible than secular ones) which is brilliant, but I found out much later that one of the reasons the band was signed to Epic was that Squint fell apart. It’s too bad, given that the youngest member of the band was 17 when this album came out, that the band wasn’t as brilliant as I had hoped.

Still, the album they released through Squint is something else. People familiar with Chevelle’s newer stuff might make the criticism that the band is a touch repetitive and far too in love with the 3/4 time signature. While all that is true, you really gotta hear the debut to get down on some TRUE repetitiveness.

The album starts out with a drawn out palm-muted chunky guitar sound that is interspersed with chunky guitar strumming. It’s supposed to be an introduction, and indeed you could stop the album right there, having achieved all the variety the album has. That may have sounded overly critical, which isn’t what I’m all about, but bear with me here…

The entire album, from start to finish, uses the exact same tones. It makes sense since the band didn’t really have a variety of gear or guitars or amps, and they recorded the thing across 17 days. In those 17 days, the band did not touch a knob on any controls. It really sounds like you’re hearing the band play all the songs in a row, and that actually has an effect that I’m very fond of. It’s like you’re listening to a really good practice in the band’s garage, a very humble setting and one that lets some pretty interesting ideas through, when there are any. Also, the fact that they use the same tones through the album is all right because it’s actually quite a good tone.

After the palm-muted introduction, the album’s title song comes on. It’s actually not bad at all, except for the psuedo-Christian lyrics. Not that I have a problem with Christian music (I will be talking more about it in future), but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do religious lyrics. One of the wrong ways is to be totally vague all the time. However, I have never actually read Chevelle’s lyrics for this song or the others, mainly because the guy’s instrument is much more suited as another instrument than something that is actually saying something. It’s a bit like a much duller version of Refused in that way. This guy does know how to scream though, and demonstrates it towards the end of the song. Quite nice.

We then plod through “Prove To You” which is a very ploddy song indeed, straight to “MIA”, which is a bit faster and introduces some interesting rhythmic challenges that the band handles quite well. It’s nice in a way to hear the product of a band who has played shows for 3 years before even releasing a debut, there’s an undeniable “everyone knows the songs really well” kind of vibe to it.

Then, if you can get past the mostly-dead-air introduction to “Skeptic”, you hear a song that’s just like the previous 3 songs, only a bit more metal. Then “Anticipation” comes in and is the first of MANY Chevelle songs in the afore-mentioned 3/4 time signature. It’s interesting to note that the bassist, the youngest of the 3 Chevelle Brothers, was brought into the band not because he’s a relative, but because they liked his bassing more than the guy they had, which begs the question, just how boring of a bassist was their previous guy? The bass up to this point and for all but 1 of the rest of the songs is simply plodding along with the guitar, never daring to venture into the tasty realms of adventure that tempt the mind of bassists with imagination, but I digress.

After screaming “face” a lot, we get my favorite song on the album: “DOS” (diminutive song titles seem to be the fashion for this release). I like this album not because it’s a little more chilled out or because it’s long or in 3/4 time, but because of the story behind the song, which I can’t find sources for but believe me I have known this story for a while. Basically, the band wrote the song when they played a gig for 2 people, and some of what become the song came from an improvised song they did when asked to play a request. The song becomes fairly endearing after that. Also, while looking that story in print somewhere, I ran across an article that compares Chevelle to Tool… what? I guess people really don’t know anything about music… tragic shame, that.

After “DOS”, we plod on through many more songs like “Long”, “Blank Earth”, and “SMA”, which was apparently “good” enough to be included in some of the band’s newer shows (and also sounds like it’s being played out of tune on the recording). Finally, we come the final song, “Peer”, a song that, for a minute, is a welcome change from the formula, mostly because it has a real bassline. It’s traded off for the usual sound right after that.

With that, we have a dull but endearing album by a Christian garage band that sold their souls to the Devil of Ozzfest. I dig that, however, I guess because I am totally fine with a separation of Church and Music, except when both elements are hit with full force. As for Chevelle, I will forever puzzle over how I could dislike a band so much yet still enjoy the one release they did, totally bare-bones, that nobody else likes. It could be nostalgia, but who can ever tell.

Well, until tomorrow!

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Refused – The Shape Of Punk To Come

There are some days where even the most mild-mannered and normal of us has a hole that can only be filled with Swedish hardcore metal. If you are having one of those days, might I humbly recommend Refused’s The Shape Of Punk To Come:

I like that part of the shape of punk to come is ballroom dancing!

I first came upon this unlikely favorite while watching MTV2 late at night. Remember when they had channels that played music videos? Neither do I, but this is the story I keep telling myself, so it must have happened at some point. Amidst some particular rad videos, a certain one came on, and I happened to have been recording that block on a VCR, so I actually still have the video on tape. It’s for the song “New Noise“, and it is an uncomfortably rockin’ video (notably at 2:21 and in other parts, the guy screams so hard he’s upside down).

A few things stuck out with this band over the other metal, noun-core, and otherwise extremely heavy bands I had heard and not liked. For one, the screaming is so high-pitched that it almost becomes pleasant, in a way. There’s a tonal quality that, for whatever reason, is more exciting and “extreme” than the more grunty metal guys. For two, the same can be said about the guitars, they actually sound like guitars and less like completely over-processed synthesized effects that make the guitars in those other 3 videos sound like 300 sheets of paper being ripped at the same time. For three, the drums are not just the standard double-bass-plod nonsense, there’s an actual beat, and it’s often set all the way to funk! Basically, these Swedes have taken a genre I usually pass off as nonsense and turned it into something really interesting, all mixed in with some electronic elements and a total lack of plodding.

So how does all that, diagnosed after hearing just one song, hold up in an entire “Chimerical Bombination in 12 Bursts”? Turns out, well enough that this is probably the only “extreme” metal album, as of this writing, that I can safely say I really enjoy.

Not every song is like “New Noise”, in fact the song may have been called that because it IS new compared to the rest of the album up to that point. All good things, though, as the album starts off kickin’ with… a pretentious spoken word line of poetry! I am glad it’s there though, because it shows you out of the gate just how effeminate the singer sounds (that’s the word he describes himself with in the liner notes anyway) when speaking. The guitar feedback fades in and “Worms Of The Senses/ Faculties Of The Skull” kicks off. The whole song is little more than 4 notes total, but it starts the album’s habit of bringing the sound up to a crescendo of crunchy guitars and primal screaming before dropping it down to a subdued funky beat on top of which the entire song is rebuilt. Then the song ends and, with the fake sounds of a radio station being turned, we drop in on an announcer introducing “Refused Party Program” with a trance beat for about a minute.

Then “Liberation Frequency” takes us through some jazz guitar chords while the guy who was just screaming our ears off sings in an almost flaccid falsetto before coming back in with the command “We want the airwaves back”, then the song brings it up to the level of the previous song. It’s really too bad that most English-speakers who don’t listen to much hardcore Swedish metal will not understand the lyrics, because some of them really ring true, at least to me:

It’s coming through the air
For all of us to hear
Could it be the sounds of liberation
Or just the image of detention?
Control my flower
Business, news all ready to devour
Who’s in charge and what does he say?
Is he playing the alternative or does it sound the same old way?

I think you’ll remember my previous complaints along these lines. After the song ends, there’s another announcer who announces a “bit of a session” in which you hear some jazz drums and a horn, but don’t listen too closely, because “The Deadly Rhythm” will take you by surprise with the first guitar hit. This song is one of maybe a couple of songs on the album that I would consider “punk”, but only because it’s faster and less funky than most of the album. Don’t miss the Jazz breakdown about halfway through, though, great stuff there.

Summerholidays Vs. Punkroutine” is a pretty fun song too, a little bit like an actually-rocking version of “indie rock”, like if Bloc Party were a rock band, you know? That’s also a fun title. The next track, “Brutish Poem #5“, is perhaps slightly less like a Chimerical Bombination and more of a “segue into the next song” which is “New Noise”, which we’ve already discussed but may I point out once again that this song, despite being in the film Crank, is totally kickin’?

How does one follow up a totally kickin’ tune like that? With more poetry! Again, I’m glad it’s there, in case you missed all the screaming lines where the guy is conveying the message that Capitalism is terrible, in the opening to “The Refused Party Program“, he just tells you plainly. This song is actually not dense in the least, it appears to be little more than a couple of minutes of pounding guitars and drums and screaming the song’s title before fading into a disturbing sounding frequency band that leads us into “Protest Song ’68“, a disturbing yet epic little tune featuring a cool drum beat.

Still, despite the grooving metal beat of “Protest Song”, nothing can top what I consider the album’s peak of rocking, “Refused Are Fuckin Dead“. There is so much funk and low-frequency fun in this song that it is seriously hard for me to not skip every other song and just listen to this one on repeat about 9 times. A couple of minutes in, the rest of the instruments drop out to where it’s just the drums and guitar riff, and whoever recorded those things deserves a trophy, is all I can say.

Just when you think the album can’t get any more rockin’, well, it doesn’t, but it at least stays that way! The next song, “The Shape Of Punk To Come” is a bit more straightforward than the previous track, but it’s not without its charm. One thing that can be said about Refused is that they really know how to mix up the sound so that it doesn’t get monotonous.

Speaking of which, the last two tracks on the album really switch things up, “Tannhäuser/Derivé” is an 8 minute oddyssey that breaks out the cellos and then metaphorically throws them against the wall after a while to bring in the guitars and screaming, and then more poetry! I’m glad this poetry is here though, because otherwise the song might not be 8 minutes long. While the song is fading out, we’re treated to a nice upright bass and accordion jam, because what’s Swedish hardcore metal without accordions?

And finally, “The Apollo Space Programme Was A Hoax” comes in with more upright bass, joined this time by acoustic guitars and more accordion. It’s quite a gentle song, actually, and despite being slightly dissonant and the singing being borderline unforgivable (but mercifully pushed to the back of the mix), the song is nice way to end the 12 Bursts of Chimerical Bombination.

Even after spending 1200 words attempting to explain why I like this album so much, it’s still a bit of a mystery to me. It’s pretentious, predictably anti-establishment and really noisy, but I guess I just really can forgive just about anything if a funky beat is involved. I can’t think of any other way Rage Against The Machine ever got popular.

 

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