Saturday, 18 July 2015

NOSTALGIA CORNER: Grateful Dead-American Beauty

Alternative chief Ryan Sweeney takes a look back at a classic album in his new series The Nostalgia Corner. This week, in honour of their recent farewell tour, Ryan shares his thoughts and feelings on the Grateful Dead and the legacy of their standout studio LP American Beauty.

Welcome to what I'm going to call The Nostalgia Corner, I decided that if I'm going to do classic album's I might as well make it a little more formal and give it a name, so from now on all classics reviewed by me will be given this heading. Now that the formalities are out of the way, let's take a look at The Grateful Dead and my favorite of their work; American Beauty.

The Grateful Dead are one of the most influential and recognizable bands in American music history, psychedelic rock, folk, Americana, bluegrass, jazz, reggae, nothing ever quite seemed the limit with these guys and their live performances, whilst often bloated and odd, gave birth to the very concept of the jam band and long instrumental intro's. However, as of last night the band officially called it quits on their 50 year career following a string of sold out farewell concerts. This has lead me to ponder several things: does the music still stand up? Does the music still have anything to offer? Are they as important as many from the time would have us to believe?

13 Studio albums, 10 live albums and over 50 retrospectives, no one has been quite as prolific as The Grateful Dead in their career that spans over 50 years and over a dozen members. Starting out as one of the major players in the 1960s San Francisco psychedelic rock scene with peers such as Big Brother and the Holding Company and Jefferson Airplane, they quickly established themselves as one of the most interesting and diverse touring acts the scene had to offer, with their long winded jam sessions, jazz breakdowns and instrumentals taking up the vast majority of their live set they garnered a loyal fan base out of the thriving hippie movement of the era that would follow them throughout the rest of their career. Seriously guys, "Deadheads" are some of the loyalist fans I've ever seen and it's this devotion from the fans, their devotion to the art of the live performance as well as classic studio LPs such as American Beauty and Anthem of the Sun that have allowed them to become a cultural mainstay across America throughout their career,

American Beauty, the band's 6th album, was released in the November of 1970. It is a great album without a doubt; it perfectly blends Americana folk, bluegrass and psychedelic guitar licks that few albums have ever been able to. A masterclass of songwriting and delivery, you only need to listen to the first track Box of Rain to work out this track is a great opener, the song is chugged along by a great rhythm section (drums, bass and acoustic guitar) that all feel great to listen to and keep the pace for the rest of the track, which includes really subtle but masterful electric guitar licks from David Nelson and these great vocals from Phil Lesh that are astounding. They are seriously great, I love them and the little Beatles-esque harmonies every now and then sound awesome if a little off key. This album shows the bands incredible range and musicality with tracks like Sugar Magnolia, Candyman and Brokedown Palace that all manage to capture the the stylistic influences of the band and meld them together without ever missing a beat as well as still allowing the band to put their psychedelic and jam band style twist on them, which is an incredibly difficult thing to do. I know many a band that has been unsuccessful at trying to do this, but this is a great example of how it can work and I feel that bands can learn from it. An unfortunate downside to this album however; it does sound a little dated. It's low cost production and some of the almost rockabilly nature of some of the songs have not helped the album. Having listened to both the original and the remastered edition I can say that the remastered edition is noticeably clearer and some of the mix issues of the original are solved, however like I said, the issues lay a lot in the style. While all the folk/bluegrass style songs do still sound great, the style of the classic rock/rockabilly just feels old and dated, taking away a little from the overall experience. Does this album deserve the praise it has garnered? I think it's a great album, I really like it and I can see why it has such critical acclaim. Does the album have anything to offer? I believe it to be a masterclass in melding genres as well as developing your own identity, in that sense I believe those who listen and enjoy it can still learn from it. Does the music still stand up? Yes and no, it suffers from some age problems but all in all it still sounds great and still has a lot going for it.

Let us know your opinion, did you love it? Did you hate it? Whatever you felt be sure to keep checking out Musical Chairs for more news, reviews and blogs, for now though I've been Ryan Sweeney, this has been Nostalgia Corner and it's all been for Musical Chairs

R.Sweeney (@TheCautiousCrip)

Video Release-Armilus by The Green River Burial

As promised in our previous article, Musical Chairs brings back its lobotomised article monkey, designated "Gary Lee", to cover the new video released by German death/hardcore metal band The Green River Burial Armilus. 

Cheers, applause and good wishes are in order. We finally have a video, for you to listen to and decide if you like it enough to order Blight; the forthcoming EP by The Green River Burial. Alongside are some pre-order links! Hurrah!

As noted in the previous article, the song starts with a tension building intro of ambiance, a bass hit and a rumble of light percussion brings the tension up further before the drums begin to herald the peak of the intro and the impending crescendo. Finally, a Slipknot styled heavily distorted riff seems to suck it all back in again before the song explodes into some Meshuggah like jerky bass line, filled with all the jangly, heavy basstone and disjointed syncopated drum fills. After the bass and the drums have wrestled each other for the right to heavily assault your ears, the vocals split out. Guttural, visceral and everything this song needs; it kicks it to the more groove based motifs that swing together well to keep your elbows swinging and your head nodding.

The pre-chorus changes pace just a little as the aggression of the song emanates a smidge more, before the chorus hits and the clean vocals almost seem to plead with the listener. The song continues in much the same ilk from the second verse, very rarely slowing down, until the fade outro. I see this song being a live crowd/pit favourite and if The Green River Burial can continue to produce work as groove based and visceral as this, then they have my vote.

Blight is available to order now.

Bastardized Recordings:

Article By: Gary Lee (@thewheelbear)

For more info and to keep up with everything we have to offer here at Musical Chairs, please like and support our Facebook page!

Saturday, 11 July 2015

EP Preview:The Green River Burial-Blight

Musical Chairs are back! Gary Lee is back! Metal is back! So come celebrate with us by getting yourself all perspired and excited by the news that a Blight is coming....The Green River Burial announce their new EP! Expect more news to come...

Frankfurt's The Green River Burial and Bastardised Records are pleased to announce the impending release of their new 2 song EP Blight. Blight sees the four members of the band evolve from their hardcore roots and into more groove driven territory and man, it pays off well! Now I'll be honest, I am not familiar at all with their past work. However, as their hardcore style meshes with their passion for grooves it's creating a beastily tech-death sound, almost progressive....almost Messuggah-ish, this makes me very happy for where they are going.

What makes me more excited is that Blight is simply a taster, as the band are working towards their next release following 2012's Separate and Coalesce. Ok, so enough with the fanfare and pomp! I've said it's good and now you want to know why. Don't worry I still remember how it goes!

Blight opens with Armilus. A dark and tense song with an ominous intro, thumping down tuned bass guitar that leads the grooves, disjointed and syncopated drums pepper through the mix.  The vocals are smouldering and angry, mostly screamed/growled but occasionally a clean vocal peaks through a thumping track and to be honest I think it would be a shame if this song did not make it through to the full release, I see this being a great way to open the album, or indeed kick off it's second act. I also feel that the grooves and syncopation would make this a live act favourite.

However, the second and final track on the release Dajjal leaves me with less of an impression. I feel it has less groove and certainly doesn't have that musical hook that makes me want to listen to it again and again. It's a solid track and builds on things already discussed on Armilus but doesn't have as much "life" to it I feel. I do however like the occasional industrial glitches that are thrown in here and there.

Blight will be available for purchase on 7 inch vinyl and digital formats from the 1st of August and with a new video due on the 12th of July, expect to hear more from these guys soon! I do believe that if these two tracks are anything to go by, they are worth hearing!

If you want to keep up with these guys then find them on their Facebook Page

Article By: Gary Lee (@thewheelbear)

For more info and to keep up with everything we have to offer here at Musical Chairs, please like and support our Facebook page!

Album Review: Helloween - My God Given Right

It would seem to take a lot to get The Editor to appear from his bunker and share his opinions with the masses. Hidden away and unapproachable, he loiters in his murky lair. This, however, has proven enough to cause his emergence; Helloween's latest album.


Do I really need to explain the greatness of Helloween? For over 30 years the German power and speed metal kings have reigned supreme. Sharing a sound not too dissimilar to Iron Maiden, the band quickly forged a devoted following in the UK and overseas. Despite releasing their masterpiece works of Keeper of the Seven Keys I and II fairly early in their career (1987 and 1988 respectively) and then trying to sabotage themselves with the two albums that came next (albums I find so abhorrent I refuse to even name them), Helloween have established themselves as one of the most enduring and successful bands of the genre. As with most bands, the members can chop and change and Helloween have been no stranger to a few roster shuffles. This release sees the first time that they have reached five consecutive albums with the exact same lineup. But unlike some others, the group have kept mainly loyal to their original sound whilst evolving with the times. So here in 2015 they spoil us with their fifteenth studio album, back under the Nuclear Blast label for the first time since 2003, My God Given Right.

I fully intended to be one of the only people to review a Helloween offering without talking about the album artwork, but I found that to be an exercise in futility. Known for their thematic covers, they have fully embraced this and created a great ‘post war’ scene depicting the infamous pumpkin as a race of mecha-like beings rising up over the winter landscape. The album opens with Heroes, which starts with a humble, muted intro before getting into a nice, heavy beat. In fact, it is heavier than the usual Helloween opener and gets you bouncing straight away. The chorus is simple, yet solid and the solo is perfect for rocking.

The track itself combines wonderfully with the second track to deliver a ‘one-two punch’ effect that is missing from many releases these days. Heroes is about empowerment, the small scale heroes doing everything they can to make a difference. Battles Won (the albums 1st single) is also an empowering track and let's you know that the fight you have is worth it because you won.

Battles Won has a very rousing intro with a slight rising intonation to get that feeling of victory and has a strong traditional Helloween style bass line. This begins the very 80’s/ early 90’s feel of the album, which I am not opposed to but may put newcomers to the sound of Helloween off. The distinctive voice of power metal going over speedy drums and an increasing solo leaves you in no uncertain terms to whom you are listening. The track has a powerful finish and I can easily see this song becoming a closer at live shows, pre encore obviously. “Rejoice forever more. Victor to the core”

My God Given Right, the title track of the album, is a decent offering. The reliance on the drums here makes the song seem familiar despite it being brand new. The bridge gets almost floaty with some distant keyboards thrown in which is potentially jarring. However, given the story behind the track and the message is delivers, I can let that slide. Andi Deris (vocalist) had stated on many occasions whilst promoting the album that his father had once told him that if whatever he did made him happy, that would make him happy also.

Following this is Stay Crazy, some standard speed metal fare with an almost happy lilt to the riffs. The track builds very nicely and contains a fantastic solo with some brilliant guitar work from those talented fingers which made me yearn for an instrumental. The outro is odd however, it slows down to an almost ballad like pace and cuts out. Lost in America is based on a true story that has a very classic 80’s outro. The track itself unfortunately fades into the background compared to the other songs on offer.

Russian RoulĂ© is one of my favourite tracks on the whole album. Obviously with a play on words with the word roulette and the incorporation of good ol' rock ‘n’ roll. It is a more modern song which perfectly captures the evolution of Helloween. In fact, this track sounds very much like it could act as diegetic music in an action movie during a high stake chase or moral decision or life montage. Especially now in the ‘Superhero Era’, just close your eyes and the track evokes all kinds of images.

The Swing of a Fallen World has a slow and methodical pace, with a metronome quality to it. This track would not be out of place on 2000’s Dark Ride album. You can envision the ‘fallen world’ swinging like a pendulum. It is a good track but it markedly slows the pace of the album from the previous freneticism. The 90’s style inquisitory guitar work is very much in the vein of Alice In Chains, which meshes brilliantly with the ever pulsing throb in the background of this track. Like Everybody Else displays the variety that Helloween can do, the track contains southern US style strumming and heralds the return of the empowerment theme. The change in style is a welcome break and makes Swing’s slowing of album pace work very well.

Creatures In Heaven is a great rock track with a great keyboard intro. It sounds quintessentially 80’s; distant choral chants over lamentous keyboards that picks up pace and emotion as it goes, gathering steam until we enter a full on rock disco. Over the 80’s style ‘future sound’ it progresses into almost swing metal territory. The vocals create a sound that despite it’s obvious roots, it matches the output of the past two albums by both Helloween and Iron Maiden (the two are spiritual twins after all) including the Dickinson laugh!

If God Loves Rock ‘N’ Roll is an eventuality that we’ve all questioned ourselves about at some point and Helloween provide the answer. He does. So let's all go to heaven as it has metal and rock. It’s an instant foot tapper and provides a nice change on the whole ‘rock is the devils music’ shtick. “Even in heaven, you need a bass guitar.” Living On The Edge is a classic Helloween styled track; the drums fade out and the lyrics are highlighted in an almost conspiratorial manner – very Helloween. Everything you love about speed and power metal is in this track, despite the mildly generic lyrics, the musical quality is off the scale and has a beautiful fade out.

Claws is very energetic track but again, like Lost In America, it seems to be an ‘also ran’ and becomes forgettable. You, Still of War is the longest song on the album and like all classic Helloween ballads, tells a brilliant story. With a standard, distant ballad-y opening, you know exactly what you are strapping in for. The combination of ballad and trash works very well, unlike most songs which use the effects like a roller coaster, this feels more like a snaking highway. One side has the usual powerful ballad offerings and the other has a trashy styled fast paced output. The track blends the two fantastically and does not become too disparate. It’s almost seamless and the journey it takes you on should close the album.

I Wish I Were There and Wicked Game suffer very much from track placement. I Wish I Were There sounds like an early track but comes off like filler material here. Although, props to getting an iPhone reference in a heavily 90’s style song. Potentially the only thing that lets you realise that this song wasn't recorded in 1994. Free World is a bonus track that is a much more modern song that follows on directly from the style of the previous album. Containing all the speed metal tropes, the track is socio-political in a way that is very well executed.

Despite how much I love this album and have listened to it many times, I feel I can't fully recommend this to someone who has never listened to Helloween before because there is so much love and joy to be gained from the reminiscence of this heavily 80’s/90’s based album. The inspiration for the sound is evidently from this era and if you have no desire to place yourself back there, this album will leave you wanting. However, if you appreciate power metal, speed metal and the days when music wasn't all created by auto tune and random squeaky voices; this album will keep your soul warm at night. Still, If you are looking for your first foray into Helloween, I would first recommend Dark Ride or the seminal Keeper of the Seven Keys part II, but this record will more than suffice and is a great listen. If you have enjoyed the likes of Helloween, Gamma Ray or Iron Maiden before and have not yet listened to this album, I highly suggest you rectify this.

My God Given Right is available now through Nuclear Blast