Perfect Picture of Wisdom and Boldness
Henry Rollins has a bit he does, wedged in the middle of 3 hours of material of varying quality in his epic-length spoken word shows, where he describes the virtues of Black Sabbath, saying that when the girlfriend takes you off to shop for duvet covers and Venetian blinds, just drop some Sabbath on the hi-fi and he belching smoke of "Sweet Leaf" will send the vagina-bearers scurrying off to the shoe store, or whatever they do. Its a bit "Too the Moon, Alice!" sexist for my tastes (not that I'm against sexist jokes, I just require that they be funny) but I do get the sentiment. There are sectors of the musical map that we dudes like to subconsciously pee a border around. It varies in styles, but its common characteristics have a lot in common with sports: knowing the extensive details of the player's backgrounds is key and the individual virtuoso points often take precedent about the quality of the whole. Like take Jazz. How many Charlie Parker albums are endless arrays of alternate takes of the same song? I mean, he's a great player, and its a connoisseur's joy to experience each glowing facet, but c'mon. If you drop this at a party, you are just trying to make a point. Same with copious blues archival recordings of every Ailment Willy Surname that ever stumbled over a Stella. The plantations must have been lousy with recording crews back then to have harvested the material available. Or the nether regions of metal, where the listings make note that this features the guitar work from some other nebulous outfit and is the greatest thing since Demonic Star Trek Name's seminal release Sounds Like Necronomicon But Isn't. This is where the music descends into baseball card collecting, what I call Dude Music. I'm not saying that it is completely exclusive to the testosterone-poisoned, but its rare to find a woman that is willing to shave off considerable years off her timeline to memorize the errata of this stuff.
But we live in enlightened times, and Dude Music is evolving. Look at Tool. They are a band that in my youth would have been relegated to pure guy territory, but they embody complicated music with deep melodies and sex appeal and offer something for everyone. Some may say they are trying to be the new Pink Floyd, but really, have you heard what the old Floyd has devolved into? Be happy with the new. Another group that is elevating the status of Dude Music is Oakland's The Mass, who push all the envelopes, inextricably combining batshit thrash theatrics, death metal intricacy, hard rock monoliths power, and jazz off all things. Some may say that John Zorn mined this territory first with Painkiller and Naked City, but I'd say his work, while powerful and about as obtusely Dude as it gets, has more to do with putting metal into his bag of tricks than actually being metal.
The Mass is straight up experimental Metal. "This is Your Final Dream" opens Perfect Picture of Wisdom and Boldness with a relentless fret workout and throat scraping vocals, replacing the usual double kick drum workout with something more intricate and less, well, adolescent. "Cloven Head" pushes the group closer to Doom Metal territory, with its stepdown transformer buzz drone and cement mixer chug, and then takes an interesting turn 3 minutes in (the songs are long on this bitch) when the sax shows up first trading intricacy with the guitar and then joining it in its laser guided psycho-freakout, then descending into majestic power chords. You can't be afraid of wankery if you are going here, but then no Dude is. But instead of this being the showboat riff-off it could be, the group has a jazz synergy about them, being able to pull recombinant elements into an interesting whole that makes more logical and interesting turns than any progressive metal act of recent vintage.
The rest of the record keeps up that pace as well. "Corspeweilder" has a classic rock tinge to it, augmented by demented demon vocals and a great Bells-of Doom slow passage toward the end. I've heard this described as Doom Jazz in other pages, but I'm not sure I'm willing to go all the way there. They have their jazz leanings, but its put to good use in the service of the Dark Lord. "Gas Pipe" ramps up the intensity and madness, showing that these arty fuckers can thrash with the best of them, having break-slamming stops that almost eject you from the vehicle. "Meditation on Some Carcass" pretty much paints its own picture with the title alone, but here the sax is best used as a texture instrument in this desert stoner rock excursion. "Ride of the Juns" is pure adrenaline overload, with seismic riffs and vocals that sound like they are being torn violently from the singer, getting all Pier Gynt on our aseses in the middle section. One notable thing I've failed to mention is the presence of narration that crops up every once in a while, adding some vocal texture you don't get on a lot of metal projects. "Little Climbers of Nifelheim" is a slow spacious horn led excursion through the fabled land of the Frost Giants (or perhaps the infamous Black Metal act) present in the name. Finally, "The Bringer" does exactly that, brings this multifaceted beats to a close, mixing jazzy horn runs, scrambled-egg trash workouts and free-skronk explosions in quick secession and recursion, as if the rest of the album was being processed through a blender to get to a synopsis.
Now back to Dude Music. I'm sure there are plenty of women in the world that will groove on the cosmic terrordome of The Mass, and that this in no way is an exclusionary piece of world, there is more than plenty of everything for everyone. But if there is ever needed an example of Dude Music, I nominate this complex sinewy and ultimately rewarding beast up for a standard. And should your significant other not be of the chin-stroking/head-banging variety that appreciates an hour of cataclysmic racket worship, it might just get you out of furniture shopping. I'm just sayin'.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com
The Review of the Year of Things #1: Jason Lewis surveys the years' great albums and noting so many, compartmentalized, as men do. So, here, albums by those so profoundly impacted by Death