[Punk] Brian Deneke 30/09/1978 – 12/12/1997

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Brian Deneke. His death did not made the international news much, but for those that live in Europe, his death is sharing similarities with the death of Sophie Lancaster (died on 08/11/2007). Many metalheads know about her death, enough to have Delain dedicated a song on her named “We Are The Other” in their album named similarly. Both deaths share the same motivation: murdered because they were different, because they were not fitting the mold of society, because they were ostracized by their attire and their style, because they wanted to live their lives as teenagers using music subgenres as a vehicle for their catharsis. Brian found in the punk culture a liberating moment, Sophie found in the goth culture a liberating moment. Myself found mine in the doom metal culture.
I heard the story of Brian only recently, as a stranger, from my few years living in Yellow City. Some call it Bomb City, because of the nearby Pantex assembly that constitute some vital part of the economy. But I felt in the story of Brian, the same story that many others that do not fit to the mold of the society feel: being labelled as a misfit, as an outcast, as an indesirable of the society.
Interestingly, Brian and me share roughly the same age (+/- 12 months), come from the same generation (Gen Xers) and have been in our troubled teenage years in the same time. We both are not actual to the punk movement, if we consider the movement “golden age” was in the end 70s-beginning 80s. Yet, the punk movement was alive and kicking proud in the 90s. Some classmate embraced punk as a way to rebel against the system, embracing some anarchist ideas. “Fuck the system!” was the motto. I was like Teflon to embracing punk: it did not stick long on me. I rather was seeking the melodic riffs of the other major genre that grew alongside the punk movement: the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. I was driven by the escaping and incensing tunes of Iron Maiden, swinged by the lyrics of Bruce Dickinson and the guitar melodics. Sure, I was an outcast, I was a nerd and I was the dude that sit quietly in a group of friends. But what I experienced was nothing to what Brian and many teenagers in the US experienced.
As an European, the only exposure to US teenage years was through the TV: you had the posh and falsely glamour pictures from “Beverly Hills 90210” or “Melrose Place”, the funny “Saved By The Bell” (although sometimes opened discussion to serious matters) or what appeared more realistic as “21 Jump Street” (by discussing some real issues). But the one that was really in phase with me was MTV “Daria”. She was also an outcast in her sense, nixing being part of the cheerleader team or being the girlfriend of the football star. She was also a punk at heart along with her friend Jane, without having a crush on Trent (Jane’s brother) that was playing into a rock band during the weekends. It also showed me that the meaning of belonging to a tribe in the US was really much more amplified in the US than it was in Europe.
Where I had no pretension for a music career, Brian saw himself part of the local punk scene dreaming of becoming a leader for a punk band that could make a living of his art. The events that lead to Brian’s death are unknown to me and mostly garnered from reading on different sources.
It seems all started on the IHOP facing the former Western Plaza mall (what seems to be the current strip mall located on I-40@Western corner). On Saturday December 6th, an altercation occurred between Dustin Camp (a honor student and star football player at Tascosa High School) and John King, a member of the local punk scene. For those who are not familiar, Tascosa High School is usually considered one of the most preppy public HS in Yellow City, surrounded by the posh Tascosa neighborhood (since the Colonies neighborhood claim the title of “posh neighborhood). There are contested claims that Camp tried to run on King and his group with his Cadillac, some claiming King hit Camps windshield with a baton. On Friday 12th, Camp and King (alongside their group of friends) set a showdown in front of the same IHOP at 11:00pm. During the fight, Camp retreated in his car and ran over Deneke in an apparent hit-and-run.
The trial was set on Camp with a first-degree murder. The defense attorney, Warren Clark, apparently try to divert the attention of the jury by ostracizing and trying to put the blame on the punk community. Considering the Yellow City community, putting blame on the misfits is an easy target by portraying them with some infamous cliches: “They are lawless, they worship Satan, they are punks.” These are the same kind of stuff we metalheads have to go through: our music is noise, garbage. We are Satan-worshipper, we have tomb-destroyer. We are evil incarnate.
The trial concluded with Camp found guilty as involuntary manslaughter, 10 years probation and $10’000 fine. This is a very mild sentence for someone that voluntarily (according to witnesses) run over Brian and left the crime scene. This case has possibly some signs of “affluenza” in which the social position of the person prosecuted is used to downplay the severity of the crime (“He is a good boy! He is in the Honors list! He is the football star player!”), something we have been already seen. Nevertheless, he was arrested in 2001 for underage drinking, followed by charges on false statement to police and ultimately sentenced in September 2001 to 8 years in prison for violating his probation.

More recently, a movie documentary named “Bomb City” retracing the story of Brian Deneke has received some remarkable standing ovations and awards at various film festivals. I would strongly recommend to watch it and I hope to attend the local airing.

Although the punk and metal scenes rarely mingle (although some can argue that thrash, death metal are intertwining of punk and metal), the small scene in Yellow City make us closer. We don’t have much gigs in town, so when we have some local bands performing in a bar, it is more than welcome. I try to think that what if Brian was still amongst us, maybe I would have been sitting in a bar watching him perform and enjoying his gig.

However, I will never have that chance. I really feel sorry for Brian’s parents about what happened to Brian. I wished I could give them “my sincere condolences” even 20 years after the facts. Rest in Peace Brian 😦

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[Metal/Gothic] Evanescence – Synthesis (85%)

ortexAfter several years of hiatus, Amy Lee and Evanescence broke their silence by releasing “Synthesis”, an album providing a re-orchestration of their previous songs. Amy dropped the guitars and the drums to let place to other instruments. Amy is already gifted by a beautiful voice and a talent to play piano. When Evanescence mixed her voice with her piano melodics, this is where my auditory and limbic system explode into a serendipity.
Evanescence played a sort of gateway for me to explore the symphonic metal genre (this is how I got introduced to Nightwish and Within Temptation) but never went fully symphonic. How does the album stands without metal riffs and drums?
It stands good, some songs are impressive by their intimacy and their simpleness, some are kind of a disappointment. Let’s go through together the 16-tracks spanning a bit more than 63 minutes.
We start with “Overture”, an instrumental opening track that introduce us to the piano and violin tones that are the trademark of the album. The first track is the cover of “Never Go Back” from their third album “Evanescence”. Listening to the piano opening sequence is just a thrill on the skin, giving me some goosebumps. This is an example of a successful cover by its ability to remove the heaviness of the original and still sounds so wonderful to the ears. The third track, “Hi-Lo”, was one track that was initially planned to be in “Evanescence” but was not retained. As is it is, it is such a beautiful and intimate song that makes you wonder how it would have sounded in its metal version.
In the opposite, “My Heart is Broken” (the 4th track) sounds much better in its original cover because it already provided such a wonderful blend of the metal, piano and Amy’s voice. The 5th and 6th tracks were sounding as good as the original cover are “Lacrymosa” (The Open Door), “The End of The Dream” (Evanescence).
“Unraveling”, the 7th track posing as an instrumental and melancholic piano solo interlude is sounding so beautiful by its own.
“Imaginary”, the 8th track, is one of the biggest disappointment. The original one, already present in their EP “Origin” was simply perfect as it was, a perfect blend of Amy musical and vocal performance with the heaviness. It was one of my favorite of “Fallen”. This cover just axed it and fail to give justice. What the heck Amy on that one?
“Secret Door” is as good as the original one. Both were instrumental in their conception, very light and sober so they are very comparable. Some of the finest compositions of the band and kind of make you wish they pursued into the direction of Within Temptation or Nightwish. “Lithium”, another of my favorite from “Fallen”, also received the good treatment even amplifying the beauty of the original version.
“Lost in Paradise”, the 12th track, is another failed attempt and liked the original more than the cover in this one. “Your Star”, contrasts and shows how a cover can give back some justice to a track often went unnoticed in the original album (The Open Door).
Track 14, “My Immortal” is the litmus test. I have listened to two versions of the track back in the days: the radio edit version that was heavy and one bootleg downloaded from P2P (Kazaa or eDonkey, I don’t remember) that had the instrumental segment purely on the piano. The cover one revives the bootleg ones, embellishing it and making it even better. Damn, I wished this track and “Bring Me to Life” were not appended to the cinematic turd called “Daredevil”.
“The In-Between” is a piano solo new song written for the album. Oh my! Such a delight of listening Amy playing the piano on this one and emphasize the grave notes giving this melancholic feel to the song. Nobody plays the piano in the metal scene than Amy.
“Imperfection”, the last track is the last “meh” on that album. Not a big fan of it, sounds like a mishmash of styles that makes in my opinion an undigestible thing to listen.Be a judge by yourself you can listen to it below.
https://youtu.be/7_XoKJP1XK4

Now I am really mad and disappointed i missed on the latest Evanescence tour (due to scheduling conflict) because after 15 years and the loss of Ben after “Fallen”, Evanescence still stand strong of its feet and really should explore some facets of the symphonic metal. A recent meet and greet between Amy and Simone Simons (Epica) could open up some collaboration, especially with some input from Mark.

 

 

[Metal/Gothic] Beyond Forgiveness – The Great Wall (80%)

US metal bands playing Gothic Metal or Symphonic Metal are fairly rare birds, in contrast to Europe in which I found the market on the verge to precipitate. Beyond Forgiveness (Colorado Springs, CO) is one of these band that attracted me attention with their EP “The Ferryman’s Shore” and released a couple of weeks ago their first album “The Great Wall”.
How does it fare for a first album? It fares very well, navigating into the current of gothic, symphonic and folk metal keeping upmost of the musical composition “hand-crafted” (in others not over-relying on the keyboards and the studio processing). The result is very pleasant, maybe lacking some ambitious songs that hook you on, but a very nice escaping album that result me in calling the band some metal “troubadours” telling tales, fables and fiends straight out of the middle ages.
This is an album spanning over 10 tracks spanning over 58 minutes. The good point is all the stuff inside are all original materials, no rearrangement of existing materials from their previous EP and singles.
We get into it by the “End of Times”, their first track. It is setting the tones: some good classic metal tones, from the early days of gothic and symphonic metal. Personally, I like that especially considering that a lot of new comers playing the “symphonic” card abuse and overuse the keyboards and post-processing. We quickly transition into the second track and third tracks “The Great Wall” and “Sanctuary”. Good stuff so far. “Imprisoned” fare into more the symphonic metal than the previous track.
“Interlude”, an instrumental melodic ballad track gives the rest of the wandering bard, very nice interlude allowing to appreciate the guitar plays from Richard and Greg. This interlude track also announce a transition in the album, towards a more symphonic type of tone. Whereas “Moment of Truth” sounds more like the first half of the album, “Never Before” has this kind of old-style Nightwish style into it that is not bad. “Dream Before I sleep” is what I call an acoustic track with the voice of Talia accompanied mainly by a piano solo. Good. “I will fight Till The End” brings back the heaviness, just for this track as the last track “Every Breath” brings it more a folk feeling to the music.
Overall the album is quite good but I failed to find something to hook me on. Usually I have one or two “must-listen” song in an album but not this time. The album is very homogenous, maybe a bit too much. Something is still missing to make it a great, I don’t know something bold.
Nevertheless, it is a good starter, give a try and if you like your metal seasoned into some old school gothic and symphonic, give these guys a try, their album is available on Bandcamp and iTunes.

[Metal/Doom] Candlemass – Nightfall (30th Anniversary review)

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Candlemass second album “Nightfall”, released a year after their seminal album “Epicus Doomicus Metallicus” and featuring Messiah Marcolin. It follows the same path set by their first album and further establish the basis of what will become the flagship band of classic doom metal. Considering the album was written, recorded and mixed within a year of their first album and simultaneously improved the quality of the song is in my opinion an impressive effort from the band.
It is a 10-track album spanning 46 minutes. We start with a melodic introduction named “Gothic Stone” that set the tone of the album: a bolder, heavier and more elaborated sound than “Epicus…”. Its only a ramp to introduce to the second track “The Well of Souls”. Messiah Marcolin nails again with his remarkable voice and putting into music the lyrics. The third track,”Codex Gigas” provides an instrumental interlude and a damn nice interlude allowing to enjoy the Candlemass sound by its own. “At The Gallows End”, the fourth track, is one of my favorite by the melodics, Messiah singing and the lyrics talking about death. “Samarithan” marks a step down but also a sound closer to what we call today modern doom by playing slow even in Candlemass standard.
“March Funebre” marks the second melodic interlude, providing a metal cover to the classic composition of funeral march, allowing to our introduction to “Dark Are The Veil Of Death”. A faster than usual Candlemass song, but still a nice a nice one.  “Mourners Lament” is instead sticking to the doom and one of my favorite, with its dark lyrics and Messiah’s voice. “Bewitched” is the only track that had an official video clip.

“Black Candles”, is the last track of the album, providing an instrumental epilogue to the album.
With this second album, Candlemass cemented the foundation of what we call today the doom metal genre, setting a milestone in the genealogy of the doom genre. It also settled for me Messiah Marcolin as Candlemass singer. Marcolin left the band after their fourth album but none of the singers that took over never reached the quality of Messiah.
If you want to enter the gloom of doom metal genre, Candlemass second album “Nightfall” should be in your itinerary before you decide to fork and head into stoner metal or into something much darker.

 

 

[Metal/Symphonic] Nightwish – Angels Fall First (20th Anniversary)

Today marks the 20th of the release of the Finnish Symphonic Metal band Nightwish “Angels Fall First”. It is interesting to think that for some reason Tuomas does not consider it as their first album. Sure, it had a limited release, mostly in Finland, but I still consider as their first album.
It is interesting to listen back to this album in its retrospection. It is an 11-track album, lasting a 67 minutes. Coming back from that day, the first thing that comes into the attention is the use of keyboards elements wrapping the guitar riffs. But foremost, it is Tarja that brings on the attention. In my knowledge (and I maybe wrong on this one), this is the first instance of the presence of a trained of a professionally trained mezzo-soprano. Sure, femal-fronted metal bands were already here including in gothic metal bands like The Gathering.
It starts with “The Elvenpath” setting the tone, with excerpt quotes from the 1978 cartoon movie “The Lord of The Rings”. The second track, “Beauty & The Beast” somehow sounds like more Nightwish as we know it today, in which Tuomas keyboards lead the charge. A 10:22 track of some awesomeness in the blend of the instrumental symphonic elements with the guitars melodics played by Empuu. Thats it, the prototypical symphonic metal track that surely inspired many to also experiment the same in their studio. You can take anyone in a blind test, ask him or her the band behind the song and get “Nightwish” cited most of the time. I discovered this album much later than the release, but I can imagine the reaction folks had back then. “The Carpenter”, third track of the album is more in line with gothic metal elements, sounding more familiar. It is also the first track of the album featuring Tuomas in the vocals. I guess there is a reason Tuomas hates this album and also why he does not sing in the other albums :p. It’s okay but yeah kind of a let down from “Beauty & The Beast”. Just listen here.
https://youtu.be/Z4A5HwMOfW8

“Astral Romance” brings up the album to a higher level, that is another favorite in my playlist, some good old Nightwish here (I somehow prefer these kind of outdated tunes from their most recent albums). “Angel Fall First”, the fifth track, is somehow introducing us to the powerful keyboard ballads that Tuomas will produce later in his career. Again, Tarja’s voice is magnificent even in her beginning career. “Tutankhamen” brings the metal kick back in, making it very enjoyable. Again, I could serve it into a blind playlist and someone would swear this track is part of their later album. “Nymphomaniac Fantasia” is a nice one too, but maybe a bit “cheap” in my opinion. “Know Why The Nightingale” is another good one from the album.

“Lappi (Lappland)” is the only Finnish song but oh boy, I can guarantee a lots of headbangers rushed to a Suomi dictionary to understand the lyrics. But who cares? You don’t need to understand it to feel the beautiful in this song. Again, it hints us about the whiz inside Tuomas in handling the keyboards, much more at ease than singing. Some damn good old Nightwish!

The album concludes with “Return To The Sea” inspired by gothic elements and finally “Once Upon A Troubadour”, that is honestly not much my favorite. Blame it on Tuomas or not, I don’t know just not that fond.

[Metal/Doom] Hallatar – No Stars Upon The Bridge (95%)

Hallatar, a side project band former by Amorphis vocalist Tomi Joutsen, Swallow The Sun guitarist Juha Raivio and ex-HIM drummer Gas Lipstick released the tribute album “No Stars Upon The Bridge” to late metal singer Aleah Starbridge, band member of “Trees of Eternity” and partner in life to Juha.
What I can tell that after a year that we lost Aleah to cancer, the pain and sorrow is still present in the metal scene. Hallatar, through this album, is playing into a much more darker and black tone that any of the members usually play in their respective bands. These bands are already playing some fine doom, already heavy in dark and despair. Imagine achieving the most concentrate black tone you can from sadness, sorrow and pain. This is what this album is basically giving us: a very painful, sad and heart wrenching requiem to Aleah, using her own poems put into lyrics and offering into a majestic album that distillate some of the best spirits of all three bands into a masterpiece of modern doom metal.
The album is a 9-track album, a 40 minutes requiem that will shake your from deep in it, reviving some of these painful souvenirs of the lost ones. I am warning you, this is not for the fainted of heart. It is very depressing but so liberating and cathartic.
We start with “Mirrors” with the vocals of Tomi and the signature guitar tones of Juha (that gives this trademark to Swallow and Trees). Slow, doom and gloom, damn good funeral doom introductory track.

The interlude comes from hearing Aleah’s voice reciting her poem “Raven’s Song” (Track 2) and followed by “Melt”. Straight into the playbook from Swallow the Sun, Tomi’s clean voices allows us to fully appreciate the lyrics, accompanying us into the processing funeral march. “My Mistake”, the fourth track song, features Heike Langhans (Draconian) as guest lyrics and keep on into our funeral processing march. “Pieces”, the following track, provides an interlude with its solitary piano with Aleah’s poem haunting us. “Severed Eyes”, is in my opinion this kind of track that is made to heal and remember our dearest love ones that we lost by playing on the dry guitars and the simplicity. “The Maze” is a damn good funeral doom track, an amazing track by its ability to wrench your inner mind and rediscover these dark corners that often get buried into our lives. “Spiral Gate” is the last interlude of Aleah, leaving us with her last goodbye poem and nicely transitioning to the last track “Dreams Burn Down”, the concluding track of the album. Majestic piece of work, like a last farewell to the casket before the burial with Aleah haunting voice. You realize that as the casket is brought down and the first pile of dirt covers it that this is over. That the nightmare is not a nightmare anymore, it is the reality of life and we cannot reverse anything to it. It is time to give our farewell do our dearest love and remember it into our hearts and mind.
What I can say is rarely such an album, fruit of a collaboration of some of the finest doom/gothic Suomi (Finnish) metal bands, can shake someone inner psyche and let it tears the emotion apart. Yes, it is sad and depressing. Yes, it is dark and heart wrenching. But it is also a cathartic album allowing us to anyone listening to it to make the last grievance and keep in our mind the loss one of the most beautiful feminine metal voice we lost in the person of Aleah Starbridge. Rest in peace nightingale :(.

[Metal/Melodic Death] Arch Enemy – Will to Power (90%)

Finally, after a week in waiting….got my Arch Enemy pre-order by mail including a tee and a digital version of the album (including a poster and three stickers, yikes!).
So how does Arch Enemy’s latest album hold? How does Jeff Loomis brings in the band? Interesting to do this review a week ahead on the 10th anniversary of their album “Rise of The Tyrant”.
Well you have the choice: the short or the long comment. The short one? A damn good AE album! The long one? Gonna have to read it through. This is an album made of 13 tracks totaling 54 minutes.
We got introduced by “Set Flame To The Night”, an instrumental opener that for AE fans reminds us the intro of “Khaos Legion” album. “The Race” brings on the big guns and set the tone of the album: its gonna loud, fast and furious. You know something from the good old times when Angie was fronting, that stuff that raises your adrenaline serum levels and gives you to jump into a mosh.
“Blood In The Water” slows down a bit, bringing the classical Michael Amott melodics riffs backed by Jeff Loomis, some classic AE style as I love it :). The “World Is Yours” marks this blend of the old and the new (brought with “War Eternal”). The tunes are catchy, certainly a great one as flagship song for promotion but I am not much impressed. That can be a great primer to the band if you have not listened to the band before. Listen by yourself and judge:

The fifth track, “The Eagle Flies Alone” is slower in pace but it is like the melodic power ballad with Michael and Jeff bringing on the riffs. Thats what I like about AE, powerful melodic riffs with fast-paced brutality. AFE!

“Reason To Believe” is the one posing as a power ballad, imagine stretching the Michael’s interlude into half a song with Alissa bringing on her experience on clean voices from the Agonist on that one, distilled inside this song. Turn on your lighters on that one. Oh yeah!
The seventh track “Murder Scene” brings back the brutal AE, good stuff but not too impressive. That compared to the eight track, “First Day In Hell”, starting like “We Are A Goodless Entity” only to bring it the heavy, hammering tough lyrics.
“Saturnine”, the the 9th track is this very nice instrumental interlude that Michael used to serve to each album. Short but sweet gothic one. “Dreams of Retribution” starts with Michael melodics a la Yngwie Malmsteen only to bring us the power melodic riffs surfing on some tunes we grew accustomed in “War Eternal”. Damn good track! “My Shadow And I” is nice but yeah not really talking to me much. “A Fight I Must Win” is a nice one to listen, straight outta AE playbook. The last song is “City Baby Attacked By Rats” is a very nice cover of the original punk song from GBH. I am not into punk music, but the cover is pretty rad. The original below.

So here we are at the end of the album. What can I say? I got introduced to AE via “War Eternal” and went into their discography retrospectively. Paradoxically, listening to “War Eternal” sounded one of the weakest link of their album. But, there is a big but here. I consider “War Eternal” as a transition and may explain this weakness. “Will To Power” brings the good old AE, Alissa settled into the continuation of Angie but in the same type pushing the band to foray into new avenues like “Reason to Believe”, there is also this idea of reaching out by Michael, maybe as his experience in pushing his Spiritual Beggars project, with the cover of “City Baby…”.
Arch Enemy brings on the big guns, followed by the engaging melodic riffs, bringing you in this state of frenzy prime for some memorable moments in the mosh! Thats some AFE album you handle here!