30 April 2010

Some Darker Shades of Metal, with Fantasy

I haven't blogged about Bal-Sagoth yet, have I? I've only begun listening to it recently, although I was vaguely aware of its existence for some time. I ignored it for long because of the harsher black metal style 'screaming' vocals, which, as a rule, haven't really interested me. Perhaps it was getting more accustomed to harsher vocal styles through listening to Epica (who feature them in suitably small quantities) that finally made me decide to give it a chance. And I don't regret it.

What most drew me to it was the subject matter. The lyrics draw their influence from pulp fiction, dark fantasy and horror, and particularly the works of Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft. While they don't exactly form a continuing narrative like Rhapsody's albums, the stories are set in a shared universe, with many recurring characters and concepts. So carefully reading through the printed lyrics (which often contain much more material than is actually sung on the tracks) is really a must when getting to know the band.

Musically Bal-Sagoth is... unique, and hard to describe, really. It's often classed as (symphonic) black metal, probably mostly due to the vocal style, but I don't think that's really an accurate description (although I can't pretend to be very familiar with the black metal field in general). Epic, symphonic, and surprisingly atmospheric, I think, even with its many aggressive elements.

Although with my taste for fantasy and horror listening to this kind of music is perfectly logical, I could hardly have imagined myself listening to anything described (by some) as 'black metal' not that long ago. But horizons are there to be broadened, right?

29 April 2010

Rainy Days and Delightful Cliches

It's a rainy day. More than that, it feels like a rainy day. Lazy, a little melancholy. There's stuff I ought to do, but I have my doubts. Today's just not a day to be taking anything too seriously. (Besides, it's a Thursday, innit...)

Onwards with the post. I've been reading far too little lately. With all the broadband, music, TV, video games and whatnot out there these days, it's an easy habit to let slide. It's not the only medium for stories and entertainment, after all. But every medium is different, of course. One can't entirely replace another.

So I've been trying to get back into the habit, making it a daily practise, even if it's just a few pages each night before bed. I read a few of Jeff VanderMeer's Ambergris stories, and enjoyed them. After finishing one a few days ago, I thought it's time for a little variety. And I started thinking, hang on, it's been ages since I've read any really clichéd high fantasy. Indeed, I've barely touched the stuff since the 90's. (Tolkien doesn't count, of course.) After all this time, thinking back to the days of reading Dragonlance and the likes brought on a nostalgic yearning for simple, honest magical adventure.

So, semi-randomly, I picked up an unread Shannara novel (the third in the series, The Wishsong of Shannara, to be precise). I remember the first two, as clichéd as they were, being a fairly entertaining experience back in the 90's. We'll see how it fares this time.

27 April 2010

A Post with Some Sequels In

The thing with many of your favourite things is, they tend to make more. And when you hear they're making more, a sequel, another album, whatever the medium, you'll wait and wait for it, with growing excitement (and, more often than not, you'll end up disappointed). Two of the most noteworthy publications this spring, for me, are undoubtedly the new Final Fantasy and Rhapsody of Fire's new album.

Final Fantasy XIII came out a couple months ago already, of course, but I didn't have money to buy it at the time. Which was probably for the best, as I got it now for half the price. With 35 hours on the clock, I'm still working out how I feel about it. It is quite pretty, of course. The brand new battle mechanic is surprisingly functional and fun. The world and story are reasonably interesting as well. However, it is, thus far at least, probably the most linear Final Fantasy game to date, and the focus is almost entirely on battles. There's practically no exploration or NPC interaction. It's lots of fun to play at its best, but it can get a little monotonous at times, and I find myself longing for the wide worlds of PS One era, and earlier, titles.

I received Rhapsody of Fire's brand new album, The Frozen Tears of Angels, in the mail this morning. It hasn't perhaps been the mind blowing experience it could have been (as was to be expected), but I'm not disappointed either. I got the digibook version, of course. The booklet looks pretty good, as usual. The story, of course, carries on the Dark Secret Saga from the previous two albums. It doesn't really progress much, which is probably the most disappointing aspect of the album. Basically, our heroes just move from point A to point B, doing rather little in between. But it does paint a pretty nice and coherent landscape, both visual and emotional, which I guess is the purpose of the album, storywise. Musically the album is not uninteresting. There is a more aggressive feel to it this time, a more straightforward metal approach, with less orchestral elements, which is refreshing, at least.

There's also a new album out from Swedish glam rock act, The Ark. I enjoyed listening to In Full Regalia, but it didn't make as big an impression as the previous album, Prayer for the Weekend, did a few years ago. Many of the songs have a delightfully retro feel. But of course my listening habits of late have been leaning more to the metal side, and new efforts of a more traditional rock style might have a more difficult time getting through to me as they once did.

We'll just have to see how I'll feel about the new Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers album due out this summer, Tom Petty being, after all, possibly the number one favourite of my teen years.

11 April 2010

Another Day, Another Idea, Another Pseudonym

OK, so I've recently talked about my new fantasy world, Va'ita, invented primarily for use in role-playing games. I've also talked about making up my own language for this world.

For quite some time I've thought it might be fun to do a fantasy concept album, of sorts. Something quite different from most of my songs, drawing influence primarily from video games. I considered setting it in my other fantasy world, Wyrmvoid, at one point, but after 'discovering' Va'ita I soon decided it would be much more interesting and suitable for the purpose. Now, in an unforeseen but entirely logical turn, I thought, hang on, I've got my own language for this world, why not write the lyrics in this language? This would be something totally different, and, possibly, if it worked out, quite cool.

As this would indeed be something totally different from my usual music, and rather specific in scope, I thought it might be appropriate to use a pseudonym for it, a sort of 'band' name. This should be something short and to the point, and naturally in the language my world. The word I came up with is 'Otagek', which means 'I make music'. I've got a little place holder site for the project here (nothing there to see, let alone hear, yet).

Now, as of this time, this project is just as much fantasy as the world of Va'ita. Like so many of my ideas, it may well never see the light of day. Which is a shame, of course, but what can you do...

4 April 2010

Easter vs Metal

Just a little filler post, as I haven't blogged in a while. A happy Easter to everyone! Personally, I think this is a perfect time to think about all the stories about sacrificed gods of light, such as Osiris and Baldr. It's fascinating how similar elements can be found in stories from cultures separated by time and distance. No one version is the 'true' one, I think. But that does not mean any one is entirely 'wrong', either. All myths and religions have their value. It's just sad that so many of them are spoiled by individuals who take them much too seriously and literally (often grossly misinterpreting them in the process).

On an entirely different note, the 'Paste Your Taste' feature at Last.fm is always interesting. The genres it lists keep changing a lot according to what you've been listening to recently, so it's not, perhaps, a very accurate description of one's real musical taste. Right now mine says I'm 'into rock, symphonic metal, power metal, metal and gothic metal'. Wow, that's a lot of metal. When did this happen? Has my taste really changed that much over the past year?

I guess it's true I've been listening to a lot of metal lately. Some of the more recent additions to my playlist include Epica and Kamelot. Epica, in particular, is a prime example of the melodic and atmospheric, yet powerful, even cinematic, metal I like. I was a little sceptical about the 'grunt' vocal segments they use for a long time. I've never been a fan of that type of singing. But it's funny how you get used to some things if you give them a chance.

Nightwish and Rhapsody of Fire are still probably my top two groups in the genre. I'm eagerly awaiting Rhapsody's upcoming new album! I'll undoubtedly blog more about it when I've heard it. Just have to try not to get too hyped about it beforehand. That way lies disappointment.