I’ve been obsessing about music since about the year 2000. Over this time I’ve bought what must now be nearly 1,000 albums, and heard hundreds more through friends, relatives, streaming services and whatever else. I’ve also watched over a decade’s worth of music videos and heard countless individual songs on the radio, free covermounted CDs, websites and whatever else. All that, as well as read years and years worth of music magazines and websites.
I’m a nerd. Basically. Only, instead of Anime or painting garden gnomes, its Music that I obsess about. Lots of people are nerds and don’t even realize it. Sometimes its obvious; trainspotting, stamp collecting etc. Sometimes its less obvious due to presentation. Some (make that many) football fans’ depth of knowledge about players and transfer costs and club histories would make many tram-enthusiasts seem normal by comparison. The amount of information that some people know about Reality-TV celebrities and their sex-lives would easily overpower my knowledge of bands, or the most dedicated Dr. Who fan’s knowledge of the Tardis.
But I don’t like Football or Reality TV or Trams or Dr. Who. I like Heavy Metal music. That’s what this Blog is all about.
Welcome to my First Impressions series of articles too, incidentally. In this series I (or sometimes my friends, or readers) pick an album for each entry that I will listen to for the first time. I then write in depth about what I know about that album or the artist that created it and the genre and subgenre to which they belong, before describing the experience of listening to it in real time, in a sort of semi-stream-of-consciousness way intended for entertainment purposes. I also enjoy writing reviews of albums, but when I write reviews my goal is to be helpful and provide you with information with which to aide your decision about whether to try out an album or not. When I write a First Impressions article however my goal is purely to entertain the reader, explore how much I know about music and be my own psychiatrist in the process.
I may go into some very specific detail and assume you have heard everything I’ve ever heard and perceived everything in the manner I’ve perceived it, and call out very specific sections of music and draw comparisons between things that the casual listener may find completely unrelated. Don’t worry, most of these songs are on Youtube and most of the terminology is on Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary anyway, so if there’s anything that goes over your head, you can always get clarification in a second web-browser-tab (or ask about it in the comments).
According to the aim of the series, the albums are considered by the public and music critics knowledgeable about the subject to be Classic albums within Rock and Metal, or at least within their own Subgenres. Classic albums that I’ve somehow missed out on, despite my nerdly need to hear and understand almost every piece of recorded Metal music ever.
If you have an album that you’d like to read a KingcrimsonBlog First Impressions article about, please suggest it in the comments, I’m game, I’ll give anything a try.
So that’s the preamble out of the way, on to the article: This entry will be about the Australian Grunge band Silverchair’s second full length studio album Freak Show, which was released in early 1997, kind of after all the Seattle Grunge bands had fallen apart a bit or lost their sparkle with the magazine writers at least.
I remember I used to really like ‘Freak’ when it came on music TV when I was a teenager, but hate the video. I watched the episode of Metal Evolution about Grunge last night and noticed some Soundgarden video that looked a bit like it. Music videos can be really off putting. Its kind of good nowadays that they’ve lost a lot of their importance.
Anyway. I’ve talked extensively on this Blog about how a lot of the music videos being shown when I got into music were by Grunge bands. I’ve talked about how I liked some Grunge like Nirvana and Pearl Jam and how I got three Silverchair albums and had a mixed relationship with them over the years. I’ve talked about how a friend of mine listened to Nirvana so much it kind of killed my love of them somehow. I’ve talked about how when my brother hates something it sort of puts me off a lot of the time and Grunge falls in that category, or at least did, for a long time.
I also got into Alice In Chains recently, because I bought Dirt, because I like writing these articles about discovering classic albums that I missed out on up until now. I’m here to do that same thing again with this missing Silverchair album in my collection. Getting into Alice In Chains kind of accidentally got me stuck in a bit of a discover-Grunge mindset.
I mean, I played in a Grunge band one year, a year in which I also discovered Blind Melon and Sugar for the first time. I didn’t much care for either of those bands or for the sound of Grunge though. I liked the band I was in better when they played bits that weren’t Grungey. Awkward git, aint I? Now, through Alice In Chains I’ve sort of found an entry point way in, to that elusive Grunge-liking that I’ve seen others do but only had a brief flirtation with.
Speaking of which… in addition to the album that this article is about, I also got Facelift by Alice In Chains today. Its interesting to hear the heavier more Metal bits that sound a bit like Black Label Society, next to the tracks like ‘Confusion’ which are really stereotype Grunge and call to mind both ‘Black Hole Sun’ and ‘Heart Shaped Box’ a little bit. (A very little bit). What’s even weirder is to hear those beside the album closer ‘Real Thing’ which could absolutely be a Monster Magnet song, but then also ‘I Know Somthin (About You)’ ‘Put You Down’ and ‘Sunshine’ which all call to mind one hair band or another, be it Extreme, Skid Row or Bon Jovi ever so slightly.
Its kind of cool listening to all the different ways that Grunge and Grunge bands sort of share parts of the Rock and Metal jigsaw with other bands. Some of the stuff on Louder Than Love is almost outright Doom.
Speaking of which; I had already written a First Impressions about discovering Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger, and I’ve listened to it a number of times now, as well as Louder Than Love and Superunkown (which I got afterwards for just 4p). I’ve noticed some Zeppelin in there (mostly in the ballads), I’ve notice a fair bit of Black Label Society, and I’ve noticed a surprisingly large amount of similarities to Black Country Communion.
It’s a weird thought though, because BCC marketed themselves on their Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin heritage (and Dream Theater keyboardist), but now I’ve heard the other bands, who they really sound most like is a mixture between AC/DC and Soundgarden. Or at least, about a quarter of their music does.
There’s a bit on ‘Spoonman’ which reminds me a bit of Powerman 5000, specifically because both of them sing about a skeleton playing the percussion on their bones.
What I also discovered, is how much Cornell, with his very varied vocal approach, sometimes sounds like Eddie Vedder. On ‘My Wave’ Soundgarden even sound a bit like Pearl Jam. It’s a link that should be obvious, but its nice to hear it so clearly.
I also gave Pearl Jam’s Ten a re-listen. Why not? All the other Grunge bands are getting a chance. I’d kind of been avoiding it since it got all that anniversary praise and I’m an awkward character sometimes.
One thing I’ve noticed is a massive similarity in the bass guitar on Pearl Jam’s debut with Belew era King Crimson (check out the bass in ‘Oceans’ or the intro to ‘Once’ before it really starts.)
I notice a few Zepplinny touches too. (‘Oceans’ again, in the high notes that jangle as tails). My favourite song is still ‘Porch,’ its just got such a powerful energy. Its very big. The mid section with the guitar solos is absolutely sublime. Its actually got a weird drum-similarity with the drums on Queensryche’s Empire album that I never noticed before.
In fact, speaking of Black Country Communion, the intro to ‘Garden’ even reminds me a bit of them. Who’dve thought that they were listening so intently to the 90s? (That’s right! To not In)
I have to say, even though Ten is a good album, and has some amazing songs on it (‘Porch’ in particular) and some quite Power To Believe moments (the end of ‘Release’) I don’t actually like it all that much. There’s just some slimy grey cloud over it that my brain doesn’t like. Their next album Vs on the other hand, is a crunchy open pringle that my brain can’t get enough of.
With all this Grunge craic floating about my head, I even went on amazon and got myself a super cheap 2nd hand copy of Stone Temple Pilot’s debut Core. It hasn’t arrived yet though. Even if it’s a bit crap, it cost eff-all and it will help with this brain situation I’ve got going on, re: Hearing the bits of Grunge that sound like other things and deriving shallow satisfaction from cataloguing them.
My listening habits at the minute are a bit weird and compartmentalized. Its either very big, glorious Power Metal (and Power Metal sounding things like Queensryche’s debut and Children Of Bodom) or else Grunge. Somewhere in the middle, I’ve managed to listen to so much Protest The Hero that I’m not sure that it isn’t just the sound that humans hear naturally. While I’m typing this I’ve taken a break from those three directions of listening to discover Babyshambles’ new album, which is a lot better than their recent ass-quality concert I saw in Manchester would suggest. Every time I think of the band now though, all I can hear is Pete drunkenly spouting that some critic said their new album was “the best thing he ever fucking heard” with big brown Guinness stains discoloring his white top.
That’s not really got anything to do with Silverchair though, so I guess I’ll stick the album on and get back to the subject at hand. But hey, if I listened to the album while I was typing out the start bit, I’d miss the first few songs entirely, so I’ve got to listen to something else while doing that.
[Side note, I have nowhere else to put this, so, apropos of nothing; Arctic Monkeys’ song ‘Arrabella’ sounds like ‘War Pigs’ and ‘Feel Like Makin Love.’ – Thanks for your time.]
Ok. Time to actually listen to the album.
The album opens up with ‘Slave.’ There’s some on-off tom pounding with distorted stabs, then it kicks into a slow Sabbathy riff that sounds like a halfway point between Korn and Black Label Society (how many references to them am I going to bloody make?). After a while it kicks off a bit, picks up a nice bit of speed. Its like one of the heavier Incubus songs. This song is a lot more up my street than anything off of Neon Ballroom or Diorama. Daniel’s voice is quite good, he keeps the melodic side of Cobain’s voice but not the annoying bits. There’s this really heavy breakdown that literally sounds as heavy as Sepultura and Machinehead. Where the fuck did that come from? Then it speeds up in a sort of Hardcore beat over feedback, and they kick into the main bit for one second before fading out. Nice opener.
‘Freak’ comes next. Its got a more fun but less heavy riff than the last one. The chorus is more Grungey than the verses which are actually a lot more Nu Metal than Grunge. The shimery pre-Chorus cut to just guitar and vocals reminds me a bit of Nirvana’s ‘Lithium’ and ‘Come As You Are.’ Y’know, keep the music the same and Rob Zombie could happily take this track as his own, or at least Powerman 5000 when they ditched the congas. Its an interesting midpoint between Grunge and Nu Metal. I’d always felt a connection between the two (Godsmack are named after an Alice In Chains song too) but this musically cements it for my brain a little more clearly.
‘Abuse’ opens up with a very grungey clean guitar bit, it sounds like those two aforementioned Nirvana songs again. Its general speed and rhythm reminds me a bit of Hear In The Now Frontier era Queensryche. When the acoustic jangles come in it sounds a bit Pearl Jam-esque. After two minutes the distortion comes in and he starts singing about throwing the Sailors overboard. This is a decent song. Its got a Floydy backwards solo, a mixture of non-shmaltzy clean, and big chugs hidden in there. It’s the acceptable face of a “nicer song” on a heavy record.
‘Lie To Me’ comes next. It’s a faster, heavier, punkier number. This sounds a bit like Bleach era Nirvana but also ‘Radio Friendly Unit Shifter.’ I can actually hear a slight connection to that Poison Idea album I wrote about. Its quick. Its energetic, and then its over. Job done.
‘No Association’ opens up with a very Korn reminiscent slow dirty bassline over a menacing beat and some noise effects. It cuts into a big fat Nu Metal part ala Pulkas, Korn or Downset without their Hardcore side. There’s a really cool part where he really leans in on the kick drum when the guitars cut out. This song is very enjoyable. Its actual heavy riffs are stupidly massive sounding without actually being all that heavy. Its basically just the ‘My Own Summer’ riff played less aggressively but with a way bassier production for a large part of it, but its got some brilliant spin offs and it just, it just rocks, ok?
Wow. I did not expect the album to be this heavy. I thought that ‘Freak’ would be the heaviest moment by a mile. Its actually one of the less intense moments by the looks of things.
‘Cemetary’ opens up sounding a bit like the Silverchair sound I expect. The acoustic intro, the melodic cleans vocals, the strings. It’s a bit of a hint towards the Diorama sound. Except, y’know, done tastefully and not overly saccharine. This has actually got a bit of a cementary sound. It sounds like the bit in the film where commissioner Gorden visits the grave of the child he doesn’t save. When the drums kick in its when the camera pans up and reveals batman has found a clue and has the vow of ending this criminal’s reign in his eyes. Y’know what, this is straight up a bloody brilliant song. Ok? Its better than any of the Alice In Chains ballads I’ve heard so far. Its waaaaay better than ‘Black Hole Sun.’ Its tasteful and effective, and big without being overwrought. Well done.
‘The Door’ kicks off with that sort of jangly 60s Psychedelic tinge of some Grunge (remember ‘Days Of The Week’ by Stone Temple Pilots?). It reminds me a bit of These Boots Were Made For Walking in some really abstract way. There’s a rhythm in the Chorus when they play it heavier towards the end, where you pick up the faintest whiff of ‘Even Flow’ too.
‘Pop Song For Us Rejects’ starts off as a very poppy pleasant affair and then gets interrupted by a heavy bit that sounds like general Alice In Chains and Louder Than Love era Soundgarden sped up a bit.
‘Learn To Hate’ sounds like what I expected the album that had ‘Anthem For The Year 2000’ to sound like. Its more solid and confident than Frogstomp, but less arty and sugary than parts of Neon Ballroom actually turned out to be. I like it all, the heavy bits, the cleaner bits. Some of this sounds like Burning Red era Machine Head, y’know not their peak of heaviness, but heavier than the Foo Fighters.
‘Petrol & Chlorine’ follows. Its another soft, violiny artier floaty affair. Its got the ingredients of a ‘Black Balloon’ about it (Sitars and congas and all the trimmings), only without that specific wild card of absolute perfect magic. You can definitely see from this how they ended up how they did in their sort of no-fun prog direction. Its not the best song on the album but its not off-putting.
‘Roses’ is sort of another “this is what I expect” sort of moment. Very satisfactory, if not particularly interesting to talk about.
‘Nobody Came’ is next. It’s got this sort of haunted, vaugely country and western undertone, like Monster Magnet sometimes do. Its sort of slow and hypnotic without being obnoxiously slow. Then it goes into a big build up like Nirvana’s ‘Drain You’ does only about a quarter of the length, and instead of exploding goes pack into that hypno-jangle. When it does that ‘Drain You’ bit again it kicks off into a louder version of the hypno-jangle that makes it sound like an album closer. The song commits more fully to a build up like that in the middle, longer and more intense. It pays off into a new bit altogether. Its even got double kicks. It is sort of unstable. There’s a guitar solo. Its over. It was good.
The closer ‘The Closing’ reminds me a bit of the aforementioned Foos actually. It kicks into a nice Rage Against The Machine heavy bit halfway through, almost out of complete nowhere. It’s a decent song. Maybe they should’ve ended with ‘Cemetary’ though, since it was the biggest moment on the record.
Anyway. That’s it over. Overall, I’m pleasantly, pleasantly surprised by this record. The heavier stuff is way heavier, the ballads are way more tasteful and the middle ground is way less boring than I expected. I initially thought that this was just a throwaway few quid for a Blog article and a nice copy of ‘Freak’ but instead its actually a bloodly good album. Now admittedly, the first half was stronger than the second half, but absolutely none of it was bad. As a whole it contained very little of the bad points of Grunge, but was still close enough to it to fit in with my current genre exploration trend of the moment. This was a good purchase.
I’ve followed it up by listening to Nirvana’s Bleach for the first time in years.
I think I’m going to have to wash all this down with something overblown and gigantic. Right now that’s a toss up between Dragonforce, Iced Earth, Hammerfall and yet another spin of Protest The Hero. Fuck I can’t stop listening to Protest The Hero. Its going to be Protest The Hero.
Goodbye. Wake me up when Protest The Hero break up.