Decibel Metal & Beer Fest, 2018

An Easter weekend music fest might seem whimsical – but it’s heavy metal – and it is Decibel fest. Except for some metalheads and lost travellers, an otherwise crowded Philadelphia streets were absolutely deserted by Sunday. At the Gates on Easter Eve and those picturesque Old City images on a drizzling Sunday morning – Decibel fest Day 2 had the best of preludes.

Spectral Voice, with an absolutely dim stage lighting and a matching sound is an ideal opener. Dial down those doom metal like qualities and we pretty much get the sound created by New York City death metallers — Incantation. The final three bands seek no introduction or picturesque settings. They would simply make their mark even in the void. The calmness with which Repulsion vented dissonance might have defied all the laws of physics. These grindcore veterans, perfectly composed on stage, wrecked pandemonium below.

Needless to say, Mayhem would simply double down. After that initial intimidating stage presence, an unprecedented frenzy befell. The Fillmore has seen its performances, but here the decibels were off the charts. Only the fittest survived to finally face Carcass. Two days of beer and dissonance ending with an unyielding train — of grindcore and melodic death — riffs which simply explain metal as we know it.

In the Passing Light of Day

Pain of Salvation makes a grand return to their metal roots — album does manage to pack more than adequate amounts of dissonance and melody. ‘The Beatles’ like undercurrents still remain intact. In short, along with caustic riffs and coarse vocals, we get more than subtle glimpses of blues rock — vividly expressed through the same old characteristic Pain of Salvation torment.

Drums run a tad out of phase with hardcore punk like riffs — effortlessly blending into those matching vocal screams — add those precise temporal switches and the rare combination of aggression with progressive metal harmony is complete.

Heavy and mellow – discordant and melodic – In the Passing Light of Day integrates not just sonic contradictions, but emotions uncomfortably fragile for heavy metal – “You’re watching me slowly slip away, Like the passing light of day, Watching our colors turning grey, Like the passing light of day”

Rated 5/5 – for that unparalleled experience.

Image Attribution:
By Selbymay [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Black Clouds & Silver Linings…& More

Five days of listening to Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, another couple of days with Octavarium — no doubt, with this band mind is always in a great place. But, “just when I thought I was out…Bryan pull me back in”. Black Clouds & Silver Linings is the last Dream Theater album I thoroughly enjoyed. Always play it from start to finish – like how all progressive albums should be explored. On top of their usual run-of-the mill complexity; we get to hear some grungy riffs, narrative vocals, extended melodic passages and a violin. Essentially, it’s another astonishing display of Dream Theater School of craft.

Years ago I used to be a regular at this metal bar. The place had two categories of head-bangers — ones who resented Dream Theater, but admired Tool. Then there was the faction obsessed with the former, but at best indifferent towards Tool. Most of the Dream Theater critics were tripped by that brazen exhibitionism. Usual complaints include: they take themselves too seriously, or the band is mostly about Rudess and Portnoy sharing time slots whenever Petrucci takes a break. LaBrie is awfully off-pitch was also a rather popular opinion. Myung was generally spared from these searing insightful dissections.

Perpetually warring metal tribes aside, Tool is also a lot about that brazen self-indulgent exhibitionism. As much as these bands differ musically, they do share that striking quality. So it’s merely a question of choice – of your brand of pretentiousness. My preference is obvious, but more crucially, Dream Theater tickets are affordable.

Image Attribution:
By dxburbuja [Public domain or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence

From classical music to thrash metal, all within six degrees of musical separation. For Dream Theater, channeling this stunning wealth of influences is nothing novel. But, a concept album clocking 96 minutes and without any weak moments is extraordinary.

Covering the full spectrum from Overture to catchy choruses — “Are you justified, Are you justified —- Justified in taking, Life to save life”  — they comfortably elevate progressive musicianship to stratospheric levels. Layered passages with grinding riffs and complex time signatures — that sheer jazz like drumming with adequate doses of coarse and clean vocals. These drawn out compositions simply demand our undivided attention.

Within a world of carefully orchestrated concept albums, this level of spontaneity with elaborate structural progression is uncommon. In short, brazenly intricate and yet restrained, Dream Theater composes a rare aesthetic blend of metal and prog mindset. Musically and emotionally complex, Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence is a progressive epic even without attempting to be one.

Featured Image : Shot by yours truly (San Francisco, circa 2012)

As Fire Swept Clean the Earth

Ivar Bjørnson (from Enslaved) talks to Decibel about his favorite song from Below the Lights.

I feel we reached a new level with the band with that song. It felt like I had broken some kind of code for the band in terms of communicating something emotional, atmosphere. We kept the rawness and aggression, but we managed to sneak in something more tender, a bit more fragile into the body of destruction, aggression and madness that extreme metal is about.

Almost a year ago, an obscure post at Progarchy:

Enslaved blends that melancholic overtones of ‘The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’ with the ferocity of Viking metal….We can safely state; abstraction of the quirky melodic aspects of a ‘Selling England by the Pound’ and placing it within the context of 90s extreme metal has now been accomplished – with captivating surgical precision.”

Excuse the brazen self-promotion, but the mighty Ivar Bjørnson did sort of confirm my modest take. Or maybe it’s just my sleep deprivation and high blood caffeine levels talking — that 35000 ft perception – from a flight to the Atlantic coast for an Easter weekend with the likes of Incantation, Mayhem, At the Gates and Carcass.

Organic Hallucinosis

“I remember when I first heard DECAPITATED’s ‘Organic Hallucinosis’ and it just blew me away!!!!”–Tomas Haake, from MESHUGGAH. This was in the context of Vitek’s unfortunate death, at the age of 23.

Importance of Decapitated cannot be exaggerated. Intensity aside, that layered combination of rhythm, leads and complex drumming pattern is absolutely devastating. Whether it’s “Day 69”, “Post(?) Organic” or the intricately progressive “A Poem About an Old Prison Man” – Organic Hallucinosis shifts technical death into even more demanding musical terrains. And Decapitated accomplishes that by largely remaining rooted in old school structures.

Extending the scope of an already established genre mandates more than just musical skill – a broader grasp of the context is equally crucial. Essentially, Decapitated captures those alien progressive tendencies into the same old confines of tried and tested death framework. Needless to say, it’s a surgical balancing act. Sheer progressive melody brewed into old school death — and without many deviations from the genre playbook. In short, Organic Hallucinosis is a ruthless exhibition of musical and aesthetic craftsmanship, and undoubtedly a masterful swan song too.

Vitek (R.I.P. 2007)

By Selbymay (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons