The Irony of the Watain Ban

So… Watain was supposed to perform in Singapore last night for the first time ever (and I conveniently forgot all about it until the night before), and this happens:

And it all started with a petition, courtesy of a certain Rachel Chan, which garnered more than 15,000 signatures overnight. Yet in this whole shitstorm of negative bad press, came along some unexpected benefits to the local scene, and black metal in general.

1. Black metal has never seen more press coverage in Singapore

Seriously, every major English media outlet has at least 1 coverage of the event:

Channel NewsAsia
The Straits Times
The New Paper

So rather than shutting down the band and the scene, this issue has instead raised the status and awareness of Watain and the Singapore metal scene higher than before. And while we’re at it, for the curious, here is what Watain sounds like:

2. It exposes the insecurity and the weak faith of Christians

The vocal minority of Christian extremists claim to have strong faith in their religion, their God. Yet something as minor as a concert that has the potential for a crowd of *gasp* 150 strong is powerful enough to shake your faith. This says more about your beliefs, and your faith in your religion, than black metal and its fans.

3. A private event goes public

Should the event gone ahead undisrupted, what would likely have happened would have been a toned-down version of a Watain show. The multiple conditions that the IMDA originally imposed on the show in order for it to go on, would have likely ensured that there is no blood, and no fire, whatsoever.

In a private, ticketed space, with an M-18 rating. And with limited personal interaction between the band and the attendees.

Instead, with the cancellation, Watain and the event organisers held a meet-and-greet session outside of the venue, bringing what was meant to be a private event into an open space. As an added benefit, fans got to interact with the band personally, and more intimately. So, joke’s on you.

4. The metal scene is more tight-knit than before

For what it’s worth, rather than causing the scene to crumble and disintegrate as intended, the whole saga has brought the scene closer than before. Even people who have been dormant (like yours truly), or people who have been listening to metal but not active in the scene, are coming out to respond to the ridiculousness of the whole saga.

5. The goal of maintaining an intact “social fabric” has resulted in more animosity

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam justified the ban by saying such acts will result in more divide between racial and religious groups, and the intention is to maintain an intact social fabric. 2 days later, Shanmugam then talks about how most of the people in the following photo are Malays, and how it affects sentiments in the Christian community:

Source: Watain

One has to be pretty daft to think that the middle-finger were to the Christian community. Rather, the middle-finger serves as a “fuck you” to the fickle-minded authorities who first approved the license, before changing their minds at the last minute, as well as the small-minded people who caused the ban.

Yet, our dear minister has decided to weaponise the photo to stir racial and religious sentiments, all in the name of scoring political points with the Christian community. And through this ban, rather than helping to bring the different communities closer together, metalheads have been demonised to look like Satan-worshippers, while Christians have become a target-board for despise and hatred.

So, pray tell, who is the one causing harm in the social fabric here?

6. In the midst of it all the negativity, it warms our cold hearts that there are still logical people out there

Coming from a non-metal musician, no less.

The whole hoo-ha reminds me of the case of Nergal being sued for tearing up a bible in his concert. The multiple times the case got thrown out teaches the intolerant a simple lesson: if you can’t deal with it, then don’t watch it. It’s a ticketed event, so if you are there, you chose to be offended.

Metalheads do not force metal down your throat like you force your religion down everyone else’s throats. Not everyone deep throats like you, so learn a bit from your God whom you claim to be so merciful, and grow some humanity and intelligence.

Dream Theater – Distance Over Time

Ever since the departure of Mike Portnoy, my interest in Dream Theater waned over time. The band’s drummer audition web series managed to retain some of my attention, and seeing Mike Mangini’s genius behind the kit initially got me somewhat excited to sound what the band would sound like with the new lineup. Unfortunately, A Dramatic Turn of Events turned out to be a rather boring affair, with Mangini’s drumming sounding uninspired, and the overly-generous usage of the triggers making him sound overly mechanical and machine-like. Apparently this was largely due to the drum portions being pre-programmed, and then re-recorded over by Mangini.

2 years later, with Mangini comfortably integrating with the band, Dream Theater released their self-titled album. With 2 years’ worth of synergy, one would expect an improvement in the band’s output, right? Turns out, the songs remain as sadly boring as their previous output. Which led to me dismissing their next release, The Astonishing, as well. What little that I heard didn’t lead me to listening to the album in its entirety.

This year, the band releases their fourth album with the current lineup, Distance Over Time. Initially I wasn’t keen at all to listen to the album, what with 3 albums worth of material that has caused my disinterest. One day though, Untethered Angel popped up on my discovery playlist on Spotify, and the track sounded surprisingly… Good! And hence this review.

Unlike previous albums where the band sounded like they placed their focus on producing the most technical music, Dream Theater instead attempts a more melodic, emotional approach this time around. Untethered Angel sounds like a throwback to my first (and rather late) introduction to the band with Octavarium, albeit with a more technical edge to the songwriting.

For the first time since Octavarium, it sounds as if Dream Theater has finally found the sweet spot of writing music that sounds effortless enough without sounding as though they were trying to hard. While their sound remains largely rooted in progressive metal, there are moments where the band ventures into hard rock territory, like in the first quarter of Paralyzed. Touted as one of the fastest drummer in the world, Mike Mangini also proves himself to be able to sound human, and not sound overly mechanical on the album, even on faster sections like on the intro of Barstool Warrior.

The attention that the band has put into the record’s detail extends to the album’s production value, where unlike recent works with the over-production, the sound on the album sounds sufficiently organic, making Distance Over Time an easy listen on the ears. To make things more interesting, the band even plays with some slight binaural effects towards the end of At Wit’s End, giving a sort of live atmosphere to the track.

At just short of an hour long, Distance Over Time has been the most enjoyable Dream Theater record with their current lineup. While not the most technical, it feels as though Distance Over Time contains some of the more coherent writing that the band has put out over the last couple of years.

Voices - Frightened

British progressive black/death metal band Akercocke left me in suspension right after I got into them, as they announced their hiatus after their excellent 2007 album, Antichrist. Their avant-garde take on black/death metal, along with their Savile Row image, left a mark on my then-very impressionable mind as I embarked on the arduous journey that is extreme metal.

Fortunately, along with the (seeming) demise of the band in 2012, drummer David Gray decided to carry on his blackened journey with a new project, Voices, bringing along with him compatriot bassist/vocalist Peter Benjamin. The musical style of Voices, while being somewhat reminiscent of the material of Akercocke, brought in a more experimental edge. While I enjoyed that weirdness of Akercocke, Voices lost me with their first two full length releases, From the Human Forest Create a Fugue of Imaginary Rain, and London, which were chock full of chaos.

Last year, Akercocke made a surprising return with their first full length in a decade, Renaissance in Extremis, continuing the darkness that they left with fans on Antichrist, albeit with a more polished production. A year later, Voices follows up with their third full length album, Frightened. It’s said that the third time’s a charm, and with the positive experience with Akercocke’s latest in mind, I decided to give Frightened a chance at hopefully leaving an impression. Would this leave me (ironically) pleasantly surprised or disappointed?

*face palm* – not!

Kicking off the album with Unknown, one may be forgiven for mistaking Frightened as yet another Akercocke release. The single notes picked on the guitars (reminding me of Axiom, my first Akercocke exposure), down to the clean vocals of Peter Benjamin (who also did clean vocals on Antichrist’s closer Epode all reek of Akercocke. But the thing that really did it for me is the drumming style of David Gray, and the tom fills that are so signature of his playing style.

But Voices stand their ground as a separate act stylistically, as they incorporate more progressive, and atmospheric elements in their material. A departure from the abrasive sound of their first two albums, Frightened sees the band experimenting more with the ambient aspect of their songwriting, conjuring the full range of negativity through the atmospherics. The layering of demented shrieks beneath the clean vocals that are so prominently featured, backed by the dissonant riffs and disjointed time signatures certainly helps in sending constant chills down the listener’s spine as well. Even softer moments on the album — with the exception of the almost post-black metal sounding finale Footsteps featuring violins and the whole shebang — such as the first half of IWSYA isn’t particularly soothing or comforting, instead bringing with it a disturbing vibe.

It is also this high emphasis of the softer sections that make the moments of pure aggression so cathartic — as heard on Home Movies, where one feels that indulgent sense of satisfaction the moment Peter Benjamin unleashes his growls after the prolonged suppression of rage and anger.

Atmospherics and theatrics aside, the musicianship on the album is not compromised at all as the band masterfully incorporates different moods and styles into a single track, often accompanied by sudden shifts in time signatures and rhythm to create a jarring effect on the listener. For instance, Evaporated sees the band putting the listener through a completely disconcerting experience for the first half of the track with that almost staccato riffing, before easing it off slightly towards the end of the track with a more melodic segment.

The ingenious of Voices is also observed when tracks are broken down into their individual elements; the playing of each instrument can get rather simple and straightforward, like on Funeral Day and the simple piano featured in its background. Yet put together, the compositions take on lives of their own – proving that simplicity sometimes makes for the most elegant and effective solution.

Right off the bat, Akercocke, and later Voices, have set themselves apart from their competition in writing unique, progressive music. Frightened as a record is no different, and further showcases the versatility of Voices when compared to their past releases. With Frightened, I have been convincingly converted into a fan of Voices.

Bullet – Dust to Gold

It seems that old school heavy metal revival is in full swing in Sweden. Bands such as Enforcer, and VOJD (formerly Black Trip) have grown their fanbase considerably since their humble beginnings, and even legendary musicians have gone on to worship the old school through projects like The Dagger. Since 2001, this has been the modus operandi of Bullet, and this year the band drops their sixth full-length album, Dust to Gold, after a four year wait.

The first time I encountered Bullet was with their 2014 release Storm of Blades, after going on about The Dagger‘s debut in the same year, and Enforcer‘s Death By Fire a year earlier (which admittedly, took me quite a while to digest and get hooked on). Each of the bands presented different tributes to various styles of old school heavy metal, with Enforcer taking on a speed metal approach, and The Dagger a more hard rock, Deep Purple-esque style. Bullet on the other hand manages to strike a nice balance between the two similar, yet rather vastly different styles, resulting in a release that is catchy as fuck, yet stands out from their compatriots.

With Dust to Gold, the band continues in their musical direction. Album opener brings back the familiar screechy vocals of Hell Hofer, that sounds like a cross between the screams of Rob Halford and the soprano of King Diamond. Immediately one is brought back to the glory days of 80s heavy metal, and the riffs that guitarists Alexander and Hampus unleash easily reminds us of the work of bands like Judas Priest, or more recently, White Wizzard. Every element that is included on the album screams old school, from the hard-hitting drums, to the duelling lead guitar solos, or the gang-shouts on songs like Highway Love. The inclusiveness of their musical influences even includes Black Sabbath and their titular Heaven and Hell on the title track, easily discernible through the Tony Iommi-inspired riffs, and Geezer Butler-esque bass lines. Hell, even the rather simple and cheesy lyrical themes on the aforementioned track, or opener Speed and Attack fit so well with the accompanying music that one can’t help but find himself grinning at the, erm, cheesiness.

While the material on Dust to Gold mostly sounds similar to what the band has put out thus far, they have seem to toned down a little bit in the speed department, and most tracks on the album take on a mid-pace. This isn’t to say that the music isn’t any less entertaining, as the band still manages to include catchy hooks with ease in their writing, though perhaps including a ballad would have made Dust to Gold a perfect old-school tribute album. If you love and miss the old school of Judas Priest, Loudness, with the swagger of Motörhead, Dust to Gold is one record that should not be missed.

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