Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

It happened a while ago, but I am finally getting around to blogging about my trip up to Seoul to attend the second day of the Hyundai City Break Festival. I was pretty excited about this when I heard about it because the love of my life, Metallica, were to headline the second day – and I’d never seen them live before. It seemed like the perfect opportunity. It was a little frustrating that it took a long time for single-day passes to become available (at the price of ₩165,000 – a bit less than £100; two-day passes were ₩250,000), but become available they did, and I bought one. None of my closer friends were attending, but I made plans to hook up with a couple of Englishpersons I’d met once (separately).

Getting a coach up to Nambu Terminal was easy enough. Finding somewhere to stay in the area nearby where there are a lot of motels was a little less straightforward. The first place I went to seemed a bit pricy at ₩50,000 for a night, but I walked around and asked in other places and it turned out to be the cheapest, so that’s where I stayed. I tried to take my room key with me when I left for the festival, but the desk ajumma wouldn’t have it, so I had to go back up to my room and retrieve the gigantic fob that activated the electrics and which I’d removed.

Wearing my Metallica T-shirt, I passed the touts near the entrance to Sports Complex subway station and headed towards one of the stadiums (stadia?). I queued up at one desk to get a little packet of stuff, and then at another for my pass. Well, there weren’t many people, so there wasn’t any actual queuing involved. Then I went in.

I took a look at the main stage (or Super Stage) first. It was in the stadium proper; a very loud, noisy metal band – Apollo 18 – were bashing out some loud, noisy noise. A field next to the stadium hosted the second stage (the Culture Stage); there were also places selling food and drink here. A smaller area closer to the entrance that might have been a car park held the third stage (the Music Stage); there were more food and drink places here. There were hundreds of dragonflies buzzing about anywhere there was grass.

And it was at the Music Stage that I saw one of my favourite bands of the day – not that I’d ever heard of them before – Southway – who are a British-Korean duo who play upbeat electro-rock. The guy and the girl were both very enthusiastic and always smiling – even though there were only a couple of dozen people watching them. It was lunchtime. They had a drummer, and for their finale, they both took to playing their own drums, which were set up next to them.


Then I met Fip – a friend of a friend down in Daegu. We got some food together (I’d figured out earlier that you couldn’t pay for the food with actual money – you had to use a traffic card, which you could buy and charge up at a couple of places near the food and drink stalls). We chatted and wandered around. Listened to a bit of Spyair – a poppy Japanese rock band – and a bit more of Rocket from the Crypt – an old punky alternative band who have a great song called ‘Hanging on a Rope’.

Rocket from the Crypt

Then it was time to meet Alex – a chap I’d met on a subway train with a bunch of other people who were with another acquaintance. Alex was with a few other people and together we watched Japandroids – a Canadian indie rock duo who looked like a couple of guys who had walked in off the street and decided to play the guitar and drums. Their song-writing skills were at a significantly lower level than that.

I went for a wander round and listened to Kim Chang-wan Band for a bit before heading back to meet the others for Ash. When I got there, Alex and his friends were talking to the two Japandroids; I didn’t interfere. Ash were OK. I don’t like their music at all, mainly because the singer has such weak, bored-sounding voice, but he showed a little more animation here and I warmed to them a tiny bit.


We had some food and briefly checked out a couple of the other acts – an old Korean funk-rock guitarist with long, white hair, Shin Jung-hyun, and the utterly generic American heavy rock band Rise Against.

Then we started waiting for Metallica.

Alex and his main friend had gone to camp out earlier, so we edged through people seated outside the moshpit area to rendezvous with them. We chatted for a bit and waited and sipped our water and waited as the crowds grew around us.

Metallica were supposed to have been on at nine o’clock. It was closer to nine-thirty when a clip of Eli Wallach wandering through a graveyard in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly started showing on the screens to the sound of Ennio Morricone’s ‘The Ecstasy of Gold’ – Metallica’s intro music. After a few false starts caused by roadies adjusting things on the set, the crowd was pretty excited and everyone surged forwards a couple of steps. A volley of open and partly full water bottles rose into the air.

Finally, they were on stage and playing ‘Hit the Lights’ – the chorus of which got everyone jumping. There wasn’t too much banter as the show progressed – just song after song. Most of the set was older songs – giving people what they want, I guess. There were only two post-Black Album songs: ‘The Memory Remains’ and ‘Cyanide’ – played back to back. The end of ‘The Memory Remains’ was one of the highlights, actually; the audience took to singing the Marianne Faithful ‘na na-na na …’ part at the end … endlessly. The band stopped playing and just listened to the audience singing for a minute. And then abruptly launched into ‘Cyanide’. I imagine that happens every time they play that song.

Rob Trujillo

Another highlight was at the end of ‘Nothing Else Matters’. Most of the band had left the stage, leaving James Hetfield picking the melancholy E-minor arpeggio/riff. (The band did this a lot, disappearing from the stage while one person played alone, until, almost without transition, they were all back performing.) He fell to his knees facing away from the audience; the big screens zoomed in on his picking hand and he showed one side of his plectrum – it bore a Pushead skull logo – then he turned it around, displaying the classic Metallica logo – to a big cheer from the audience. An even bigger cheer followed when he started playing ‘Enter Sandman’.

James Hetfield

‘Enter Sandman’ was the last song in their main set, but after about ten minutes of the audience shouting for an encore, they came back to do three more songs. During this lull, Fip went home, fearing not being able to catch the subway; we’d lost the others earlier on as we inched forwards through the crowd. After the encore, it was over and I walked half of the way back to Nambu Terminal before realising it was quite a long way; then I caught a taxi.

I was tired, but satisfied: I’d finally seen Metallica live. The concert itself was pretty exhausting for the audience. Fip and I ended up pretty close to the front on the left hand side of the stage (as you looked at it). I’d brought a 500 ml bottle of water with me to the wait; I tried to ration it, but eventually it ran out and I crushed it under foot. Once the concert got going, it was hot and stuffy in the press of bodies. My view wasn’t amazing, but much better than thousands of other people. Some way into the performace, staff started handing out bottles of water, which people took a swig from and passed around (I developed a bit of a cold in the following week, possibly because of that). I saw one girl get lifted awkwardly over the barrier just in front of me.

Metallica gave a very polished performance. Their musicianship was as fantastic as you would expect from a 30-year-old band. There was a sense that this was just another performance for them, a late stop on a long round of touring. Hetfield, in one of his addresses to the audience, made a brief allusion to being late on stage, but no explanation was given. At the end of the concert, they spent a good few minutes walking along the stage, waving to people and throwing out picks (Lars Ulrich threw away some drum sticks). A barrage of big, black balloons was released. I didn’t get any goodies, unfortunately.


So, it was a good day and a good Metallica performance. Not exactly life-changing, but I’m too old for that kind of stuff, anyway. I’m glad I did it, but I won’t be rushing to repeat the experience. Several years will pass before I’m likely to have the chance to see Metallica again. Apart from that, it was good to hang out with Fip and Alex and the others, and the early band, Southway, were surprisingly good – and I would consider seeing them again, which is a possibility as they seem to be based in Korea for the time being.

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… another year, that is.

Having met Mary the day before, we’d made plans and I duly went to meet her at Ewha Women’s University, where she’s a student. We went to a cat café – the first time I’d been to one, which is pretty astonishing, given how much I love cats. We were the only customers there until four schoolgirls came in later. There were about fifteen cats in the moderately sized café, perhaps more, of lots of breeds – longhairs with and without squishy faces, some tabbies, including something like an ocicat, and a calm, assertive pair of Siamese or similar cats that sat on our table and let us adore them. I’m not really up on cat breeds, so I can only guess at their types.

Idae Cat Café

The place looked very clean, but was a little smelly. The cats were mostly friendly and inquisitive, but some of them evidently didn’t like some of their fellow inmates. We got coffees for ourselves and a tiny cup of treats for the cats and mused on the kind of life the cats must have and must’ve had in the past.

Afterwards, Mary took me a museum on the nearby campus that contained lots of hanbok – traditional clothing – and furniture. We walked down the trench that is the main architectural feature of the university – as a building, it’s appropriately uterine rather than phallic – and had a look, and lunch, inside.

Ewha Women's University

For much of the day, we’d been expecting Matthew to join us, but he turned out to be excessively busy with work. We even went to see a film (One Day; annoyingly will-they-won’t-they-ish at first, but it grew on me somewhat; Anne Hathaway was especially lovely as the freckly, bespectacled, northern British protagonist) to wait for him. He turned up as we were having dinner and we had drinks together afterwards.

The following day, I played Magic and a new (to me) game called Zombies!!! with Eric. I’ve not hung out with him that much, but he’s a very nice chap and it was good to chat with him.

The next day, I went on a hike near Anyang – for which I’d especially bought crampons the day before from one of a series of outdoors gear shops I’d seen lots of times when I lived in Cheongdam. The crampons worked extremely well; having slipped and slid on packed snow the last time I’d gone for a hike, the grip provided made me feel especially stable.

The hike was organised by a couple of groups: Indigo Hill and the unfortunately named SHITY – Sunday Hikers Interested in Trekking Yet-again. It lasted over five hours and the weather was very cold and very sunny. The snow wasn’t very thick on the ground, but thick enough to beatify the landscape in that way that only snow can; it clung to the limbs of pine trees in lumpy lines.

Mountain Near Anyang

Afterwards, we went for a meal of chicken stew with lots of side dishes. The leaders of the group were very friendly – as, indeed, were all the hikers. There was an American guy who could apparently teach you anything – scuba diving, skiing, salsa dancing (but this latter only if you were of the opposite gender). I exchanged numbers with a few people. Later, a smaller group of us went to a singing room or noraebang in the nearby city, where I gave a rather unsteady rendition of ‘The Day That Never Comes’ by Metallica (and rather better performances of ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘Strange Kind of Woman’). A cute hiker with not much English and the unusual name of Ok (pronounced something like ‘oak’) dragged me to my feet to dance.

The next day, New Year’s Eve, I met one of the hikers I exchanged details with the previous day for coffee. After meeting her, I headed straight over to Gangnam for the first stage of the New Year’s Eve event I’d signed up for on Meetup.com. This consisted of dinner at one of the chains of western-ish-style buffet restaurants that are popular in Korea – Ashley’s. The food was mediocre at best, but there was a limitless supply of four wines (which I mostly liked, so they were probably crap, too). I said hello to various people and exchanged introductions, sat with three American girls for dinner and we were joined by a Korean and a South African couple.

Afterwards, we had to take the subway across the city to Hongdae for the other part of the package – Club Mansion. There’s really nothing mansion-like about this place, but it’s one of the more exclusive places, apparently costing ₩20,000 to get in. I danced with a couple of women that I liked; had a brief and fairly innocent romantic moment with one, but, alas, I don’t think anything will develop between me and any of the three women I met that day.

I did quite get into the dancing – which is surprising. Shocking, even. The very idea of dancing usually fills me with a vague sense of humiliation. But with five glasses of wine and a few beers in my belly as well as no one around that I knew (and therefore no expectations on me to behave in the way that I expect them to expect me to behave), I was able to enjoy the time in the way that one is supposed to enjoy it. Mary also turned up at the club (which is how I know how much it cost), but we didn’t spend much time together.

Later, I hung out at the Hongdae Tom N Toms, waiting for the subway to open, with a young guy I’d met in the group of people I’d tagged along with. He fell asleep as we sat at a table and I was deeply engrossed in my smart phone – and pretty sleepy myself. When I woke him up to leave, he didn’t have his phone – the upshot being that it had almost certainly been stolen. Someone might almost literally have snatched it from under my nose as it sat on the table. The fact that my own phone may have been taken from someone in similar circumstances made me feel extra crappy – although not nearly as crappy as my New Year’s acquaintance.

That morning, I got back to Zach’s place at maybe seven o’clock. I woke up at 10:30 and decided not to try to sleep more. Matthew and I played Magic later in the day and I headed back to Cheonan in the evening.

The following day, I met three people at an Indian restaurant near Cheonan Station for dinner. The food was great – I had a buttery chicken curry (can’t remember exactly what kind) – and the three women (Americans) were nice and friendly (as, too, was the chatty guy (American) who didn’t join us, but hung around for a while after he’d finished his own, separate meal). They’d all travelled varying distances for the meal – which someone had suggested on a Facebook group – and, with my hours of 2:00 to 9:30 and my determination to do lots of social stuff in Seoul and Daegu at weekends, I’m unlikely to see them again soon.

At some point in the day or two after the, dare I say, euphoria of New Year’s Eve, I had a kind of emotional crash. A small one. I don’t often spontaneously cry – by which I mean, not without reason, but without a trigger – but this was one of those times. I was feeling lonely and pitiful and kind of stupid. To some degree, I became someone else on New Year’s Eve and I was expecting him to be more successful at flirtation and romance than I’ve ever been. Naïve of me to think that kind of thing is ever easy.

Still, the year is yet young, and, in just a few days from now, I will have money to spare for trips and events and suchlike and we will see what happens.

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Metal for Christmas

So Rage Against the Machine won the Christmas number one contest. Good for them. Good for Jon and Tracy Morter, who concevied the campaign. Good for music. I should look into getting hold of some of Zack de la Rocha and Tom Morello’s respective new projects’ work. I had a listen to some One Day as a Lion and Street Sweeper Social Club stuff on Myspace, and I liked what I heard.

I’m in a strange lull at work. I finished the first draft of my third workbook, for Jake Drake, Teacher’s Pet last week, and am waiting to get it back for my turn at proofreading it; after that, I’ll get it back to re-write it. I asked last week if there was somethign else for me to be working on, but was told that the list of future workbooks hadn’t been finalised. I could ask again, but I don’t want to. It’s nice to have a bit of downtime at work.

My criminal background check came through a while ago, so, after farting around for a while trying to find the best way to do it, I sent my sister some money to cover costs and she’s taken it to Colin Rowe, the notary I went to last year. It should be notarised and apostilled this week and on its way over to Korea. I should be sent to Japan next month to get my visa.

I’ve been doing a pile of shopping lately – gifts for family and a few people in Korea. I’m quite happy with what I’ve got. And it was really nice to do much of it with Habiba. In fact, the only stuff I didn’t buy with Habiba was the stuff for Habiba. Which makes sense. I wonder what she’s got me.

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In a few hours we’ll know if the noble campaign to displace Simon Cowell’s evil X-Factor hegemony in the Christmas number one spot has been successful. I hate Christmas, so anything to introduce a bit attitude into the brain-melting, tinsel-covered, asinine, commercial, feel-good fascism is fine by me. I bought a copy of Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name’.

I heard part of an interview with Simon Cowell where he accused the campaign of cynicism because it was apparently working to diminish the chances of the hard-working X-Factor finalist. He doesn’t seem to realise that a contest like this could ony be good for whoever it is that won the programme.

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Death Magnetic

It’s been quite a while since the new Metallica album, Death Magnetic, came out so it’s about time I write something about it (actually, I’ve been working on this review for about four or five months).

Metallica – greatest band in the universe, in case you didn’t know – went through a lot of trouble at the beginning of the millennium: Jason Newstead, replacement for Cliff Burton who died in a tour bus crash in 1986, was driven to leave the band after years of getting the short end of the stick from the rest of band, and their singer and rhythm guitarist, James Hetfield, went off the rails, spending his time in a cabin in the forest, hunting and subsisting on a diet of vodka.

Hetfield eventually went into rehab – as did lead guitarist, Kirk Hammett – and the band brought in a therapist, Phil Towle, to try and help them move on to healthier places. So they recorded St. Anger without a bassplayer (their producer since the ‘Black Album’, Bob Rock, took up bass duties for the recording) and the album was released to disappointing levels of indifference and disgust. Just before its release they took on Rob Trujillo as their new bassist.

Some time into the songwriting for the 2003 album they ditched all but two of the songs and refocussed on making a record about anger. The sound raw and brutal – grungy, even. Many people slated the sound of Lars Ulrich’s drums, which had a certain hollow, metallic feel to them. There wasn’t a single guitar solo on the album.

I liked St. Anger a lot – I thought its superficial lack of polish was a masterstroke of song- and album-craft. Some of the tracks had more visceral impact than many of Metallica’s best previous songs (‘The Unnamed Feeling’ comes to mind) – and there were a handful of stonking riffs on there (like the one right at the very end of ‘Invisible Kid’). The album was too long – but so were their previous two albums (and arguably the two before that, as well).

I had hoped that now that everything in the band seemed to be on an even keel the wait for a new original record would be somewhat shorter than the five years between ReLoad and St Anger … but no. After what seems like about two years or more of reading bits of news about a forthcoming recording, the news of its release began to acquire specificity. The Rick Rubin-produced album was originally suppposed to be out in February 2008, but then this was briefly pushed back to April, I think, then to September. All we had to listen to were two songs played live in 2006: ‘The New Song’ aka ‘Death is Not the End’ and ‘The Other New Song’ aka ‘Vulturous’.

But finally the album was finished, a release date released, a name chosen, and a song previewed on Metallica.com, ‘The Day that Never Comes’. And this preview song was actually rather disappointing – it seemed like a step backwards in terms of songwriting and production. On their MySpace page the band released a live version of another new song, ‘Cyanide’, and this was much better. The next preview song was ‘My Apocalypse’, and again it wasn’t exactly their best material. In the following weeks more songs were previewed, these ones better, until finally, just before the album’s release, the whole record was put up on Metallica.com. And two of these last previewed tracks turned out to be the best on the album.

The first track on Death Magnetic is ‘That Was Just Your Life’. This opens in ominously gentle style as per some of the greatest Metallica tracks. A heartbeat fades in and then there’s a clean guitar riff evocative of the opening of ‘Enter Sandman’, but a little more eerie. After some portentous power chordage, the tempo leaps upward and the main riff begins – a simple but effective thing. The verses are a rapid-fire monotone barking of images of frustration:

Like a siren in my head that always threatens to repeat.
Like a blind man that is strapped into the speeding driver’s seat.
Like a face –
That learns to speak –
When all it knew was how to bite.
Like a misery that keeps me focused though I’ve gone astray.
Like an endless nightmare that I must awaken from each day.
Like conviction –
A premonition –
Not worthy of so I deny.

The verses are lengthy, as are both the prechorus and chorus. Which introduces one of the main differences between this album and its predecessor, St. Anger – The lyrics are far more detailed, intense, extensive. Which is nice. After the second chorus there’s the strongest riff in the song, which is reprised towards the end with a great little variation very reminiscent of the riff just before the final verse of ‘Harvester of Sorrow’. A pretty damned good start to the album.

Number two on the record is ‘The End of the Line’, and this begins with a familiar riff – one cannibalised from ‘The New Song’. The track is a little slower than the previous one, but still fast-paced, and is a critique of celebrity life and living fast and dying young.

Hooked into this deceiver –
Need more and more.
Into the endless fever –
Need more and more.
New consequence machine –
You burn through all your gasoline.
Asylum overtime –
Never mind,
You’ve reached the end of the line.

The best riff here is the one under the first part of the chorus – again, a simple but effective two-note rhythmic tune made progressively more intense by rising harmonies. This riff reccurs just before the interlude, where its second repetition is palm-muted and is given an unusual harmony (a second interval, I think). The interlude itself is soft and melodic and rises to a crescendo and lyrcally segues into the renewed fury of the chorus.

‘Broken, Beat & Scarred’ is, in terms of lyrics at least, one of the simpler songs on the record. The opening verse is:

You rise,
You fall,
You’re down and you rise again –
What don’t kill you, make you more strong

which is then repeated. Then it’s repeated in a simpler version:

Rise, fall, down, rise again –
What don’t kill you, make you more strong

but here the first line is done with an almost un-Metallica-ish harmony. It’s not quite pop but that one line wouldn’t be out of place amid the punk-rock stylings of a Blink 182 or a Green Day. The verse riff (for the first half, anyway) debuts just before the first verse and is an intricate palm-muted tune with a fascinating rhythm; for the verse itself the riff drops down an octave. The guitar is pretty standard, as are much of the riffs of the whole interlude section. The riff that concludes the song is stronger and much more effectively used.

Track 4 is ‘The Day that Never Comes’ and was the first song on the record to officially see the light of day, being the first single. In many ways it’s a rip-off of Metallica’s classic anti-war anthem, ‘One’ (also the fourth track on its album, … And Justice for All). It starts off softly, with ethereal yet steely arpeggios, which is then accompanied by a somewhat plasticky lead melody. After a few bars the music changes to a more natural-sounding clean guitar and rhythm section, which then becomes the first verse.

The lyrics are about abuse and the hopelessness of the one being abused. The chorus is a heavier affair (just like ‘One’ – and I think the use of that particular word in the chorus here isn’t a coincidence), with a rather leaden riff overlaid with plasticky lead guitar harmonies. It goes thusly:

Waiting for the one.
The day that never comes.
When you stand up and feel the warmth.
But the sunshine never comes.

The song ups the intensity for the whole latter half. After a bridge the tempo rises and there’s a machine gun riff followed by a winding lead guitar part (again, more memories of ‘One’). The rest of the song is marked by heavy but unmoving riffs and more old-fashioned Kirk Hammett lead guitar.

‘The Day that Never Comes’ is very retro and the weakest track on the album (I would say ‘by far’, but I don’t like the final song much either). When I first started listening to it – when it was the only track from the album available – my initial excitement quickly faded to an unwilling disappointment. I’m so happy that in fact it turned out to be a weak link in a strong chain.

‘All Nightmare Long’ starts with a swift-moving but soft clean riff, similar to that at the beginning of ‘Harvester of Sorrow’, but less doom-laden. This is soon joined by a few thunderous power chords, and then the song launches into a trademark Metallica heavily palm-muted riff that goes exactly like this: d-d-de de de de de de de de de de de de de de de, d-d-de de de de de de de de de de de de de de de…. This riff evolves into something more complex; a two-beat hiatus allows James Hetfield to bark somthing unintelligible (it may simply be ‘One, two!’); there’s another riff: a combination of power chords and rapid palm-muted chugging; all this culminates in more rapid palm-muted chugging, but more delicate (it’s reminiscent of the verse riff from two songs earlier, ‘Broken, Beat and Scarred’), and this then becomes the first verse. The verse ends rather wonderfully – like so:

Still life – incarnation.
Still life – infamy.
Hallucination, heresy!
Still you run, what’s to come, what’s to be?

The second chorus gives way to a heavily wah-wahed lick (a Kirk Hammett specialty) that’s pretty good. This leads into a short guitar solo, and after more riffage there’s a longer guitar solo. When this ends there is the second of the two riffs cannibalised from the earlier work-in-progress, ‘The New Song’ – and this riff wouldn’t have been out of place on Master of Puppets or … And Justice for All. The final riff is very similar to that at the end of ‘My World’ (St. Anger).

All in all, four of the first five songs (‘The Day that Never Comes’ being the odd one out) are all pretty similar in feel, length, tempo, theme (well, all the songs are supposed to be about death), quality and enjoyability. I’m not entirely sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing…. Well, I enjoy these four songs, so it must be a good thing. On to the second half of the album.

A live version of the sixth track, ‘Cyanide’, was another early slice of Death to be served up, and it was my favourite of the three early tracks. The album version still disappoints me a little, as it’s somewhat slower than the live version and I keep thinking that it ought to be faster. It’s more concise than many of the other songs on the disc (and third shortest), and isn’t brimming over with dozens of different riffs. The riffs themselves have a slightly different feel to those of the other medium-fast tracks on the album – they’re simpler, and there’s a slightly Middle Eastern vibe to the bridge. ‘Cyanide’ is more similar the ‘Black Album’ material than any other track on Death Magnetic.

One of the things I like about ‘Cyanide’ is how the rhythm guitar mimics – imprecisely – the vocal line of the chorus; in between phrases there’s a pleasing chug chug chug on the low E. The chorus goes:

Suicide –
I’ve already died,
You’re just the funeral I’ve been waiting for.
Cyanide –
Living dead inside –
Break this empty shell forever more.

Number seven on the track listing is the album’s epiphany. ‘The Unforgiven III’ begins with a piano. A piano! On a Metallica song! The gently cascading melody is soon joined by strings and brass instruments. The whole effect is fantastically soft and melancholic. The song halts for a moment, then opens a new section with a clean guitar playing a quietly urgent part, with the other instruments coming in in the background – this is the backing to the chorus.

The verse changes tone, with a distorted guitar riff that is at once elegant and furious – as are the lyrics:

How could know this new dawn’s light would change his life forever?
Set sail to sea but pulled off course by the light of golden treasure.
Was he the one
Causing pain
With his careless dreaming?
Been afraid –
Always afraid –
Of the things he’s feeling.

After a pre-chorus in the same vein, but with a heavily wah-wahed lead guitar lick added into the mix, the song takes a breath for the chorus. The words are desperately sad:

How can I be lost, when I’ve got nowhere to go?
Search for seas of gold; how come it’s got so cold?
How can I be lost? In remembrance I relive.
And how can I blame you, when it’s me I can’t forgive?

The bridge is another quiet, urgent section, building to a crescendo, while the lyrics demand

Forgive me.
Forgive me not.

The guitar solo plays over the verse riff, a thing of blistering fire, its grainy, distorted sound achieved by more wah-wah use. Once this fire dies down the track recapitulates the first two lines of the first verse, but in reverse order and over the much softer chorus music. The song ends almost on the last word of the chorus, the final, ringing chord fading into a hiss that could be that of an old speaker, or the sea.

‘The Judas Kiss’ is possibly the best of the fast-paced songs on the album. It begins with a series of riffs – the first slow, then building in intensity; another riff very similar to the main riff from ‘Eye of the Beholder’. The verse riff moves swiftly and has a certain slippery feel to it.

The verse lyrics focus on being down and out, at the nadir of existence:

When the storm has blacked your sky,
Intuition crucify,
When the ego strips your reign,
Assassinates the living flame.

So what now?
Where go I?
When you think it’s all said and done.

The chorus contains the answer to these questions, and for me is perhaps the most pleasurable moment on the entire album:

Bow down,
Sell your soul to me,
I will set you free,
Pacify your demons.
Bow down,
Surrender unto me,
Submit infectiously,
Sanctify your demons
Into abyss,
You don’t exist,
Cannot resist
The Judas kiss.

The interlude following the second chorus takes one of the earlier riffs and expands on it, makes it a little more complex. Then there’s a half-speed slightly ominous section, and then the guitar solo. About halfway through which is this venomous couplet:

Judas lives, recite this vow –
I’ve become your new god now!

The guitar solo concludes with some interesting licks (and more wah-wah) and leads into the bridge – another slow, ominous section, full of tribal-esque drum rhythms. It builds in intensity and rage and segues neatly into the final chorus. As you can tell, I like this song, so I’m going to quote the bridge lyrics in full:

Followed you from dawn of time.
Whispered thoughts into your mind.
Watched your towers hit ground,
Lured your children, never found,
Helped your kings abuse their crown.
In the heart of feeble man,
Plant the seeds of my own plan,
The strong and powerful will fall,
Find a piece of me in all.
Inside you all so bow down,
Sell your soul to me …

Track 9 is another revelation – the first intrumental on a Metallica album since ‘To Live is to Die’ from 1989’s … And Justice for All. ‘Suicide & Redemption’ is very much in the vein of all three of Metallica’s previous instrumentals (‘The Call of Ktulu’ and ‘Orion’ being the other two): mid-paced, dark and epic. However, it’s easily the best of the quartet. And, at a few seconds shy of ten minutes, it’s the longest track on any original Metallica studio album (the original version of ‘The Outlaw Torn’ is longer, but it had to be cut down for Load).

It begins with the bassline and stabbing power chords. The guitar part builds in stages to become the main riff – the first beat and a half of which feels like a pause, with the note bent up and down, then the rest of the bar consisting of a palm-muted mechanical up-and-down tune. This riff alternates with another much heavier one reminiscent of the heavy down-sliding riff from ‘To Live is to Die’. The next go around, the main riff has a simple, repetitive, echo-laden lead guitar lick over it.

After a variation on the heavier riff, the piece moves into a quiet interlude. First there’s a delicate clean rhythm guitar part, which is joined by a soft melody on the lead guitar. The clean guitar is replaced by more heavy riffery, and the lead part, now harmonised, becomes stronger, more melancholic, somehow evoking nostalgia. The opening of the song is reprised in another bass-heavy section which then leads into the guitar solo. This solo – another expert bit of Kirk Hammett tune-weaving and shredding – is markedly different depending on whether you’re listening to the album version or the Guitar Hero version. The riff that follows this is a simple but intense up-and-down affair that repeats in different registers, building in intensity, before leading back into the main riff. The piece ends with a version of the heavy riff that has overtones of the ending of ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’.

Finally, track 10, ‘My Apocalypse’, the other song that was previewed along with ‘The Day that Never Comes’, is a traditional high-speed conclusion to a Metallica album (although quite a few of the band’s CDs also end with turgid epics). It’s also fairly weak, and expresses the need for violence in rather juvenile terms:

Crushing metal, ripping skin,
Tossing body, mannequins,
Spilling blood, bleeding gas.
Mangled flesh, snapping spine,
Dripping bloody Valentine,
Shattered face, spitting glass.
Split apart,
Split apart,
Split apart,
Spit –
Spit it out!

And at five minutes long it’s the shortest song on the disc by about a minute and a half. I can’t help thinking that ‘The Other New Song’, aka ‘Vulturous’, would have been a much better choice, but somehow, for some reason, it didn’t pass muster for the new album.

One random note about pronuciation on the album. I can’t remember many instances of specifically American English pronunciations on Metallica songs (maybe only a long A in ‘nadir’ from ‘The Shortest Straw’), but there are a couple of examples in one song that stood out for me. In ‘The Judas Kiss’ there’s ‘patronize’ with a long A, and ‘tourniquet’ in the non-French style. Finally, there’s also the unusual correct pronunciation of ‘deity’ in ‘The End of the Line’ – videlicet, ‘DEE-i-ti’.

Despite the amount of enjoyment I’ve got from the album so far, there are a couple of problems with it. The best riff on the album, for me, is the main tune in the instrumental – the one that begins with the bent up and down note. But this is by no means among Metallica’s strongest riffs – and it’s this ability to create amazing riffs that helps make Metallica the greatest band in the universe. A Metallica album without a couple of stonkers like the much-played-in-guitar-shops theme from ‘Enter Sandman’ or the thunderous riff from ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ (which a magazine once described as sounding like Godzilla stomping through your hometown), is a little disappointing. This isn’t to say the tunes on Death Magnetic are bad – but by and large there’s nothing special about them.

Another major sticking point is the sound quality. I’d noticed this on the early preview tracks and had assumed they’d been compressed for web broadcast. But it turns out the whole album had been sonically amputated – supposedly to increase the volume (or so I’ve read). Compression strips out the very high and very low frequencies – usually the difference is negligible, but this album release has a distinctly plasticky sound quality. The solution, it turns out, is to download the Guitar Hero version, which sounds like it should do, with crunchy guitar sounds, crisp hi-hats and meaty bass. There are a couple of content differences in the Guitar Hero version, mainly to ‘Suicide & Redemption’, which has a slightly different guitar solo, and loses its fade in and fade out. There’s also an extra refrain after the first chorus of ‘The End of the Line’.

So there we have it: ten large slices of death – Death Magnetic. Four months or more after its release I was still listening to it regularly (although not so much in 2009), so my response is certainly very positive. There are five or six solid, enjoyable metal songs, two or three sub-par tracks (‘Cyanide’ is the one I can’t make my mind up about), and two out and out masterpieces: ‘The Unforgiven III’ and ‘Suicide & Redemption’; the third in the ‘Unforgiven’ trilogy is one of Metallica’s best ever songs. In short, the album is pretty damn good – though it could have been even better.

Track Listing (CD version)

1 – That Was Just Your Life (7:08)
2 – The End of the Line (7:52)
3 – Broken, Beat & Scarred (6:25)
4 – The Day That Never Comes (7:56)
5 – All Nightmare Long (7:58)
6 – Cyanide (6:39)
7 – The Unforgiven III (7:46)
8 – The Judas Kiss (8:00)
9 – Suicide & Redemption (9:57)
10 – My Apocalypse (5:01)

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I’ve had a rough few days. From the start of the week, the new schedule at the hagwon has left me rather sleep-deprived. Then I woke up in the middle of the night on Wednesday night with a headache and feeling sick. I vomited a mouthful of pizza and returned to bed – where I couldn’t get back to sleep.

By the morning, not only was I incredibly tired, but I had a sore throat and a cough – a combination which has left my oesophagus feeling like it’s been sandpapered (with the coarse kind, at that). I felt pretty miserable going into work for 8:30, and, during one of my morning classes, I had to leave to go and throw up all over the washroom floor. Which wasn’t deliberate – with the Asian squat toilet, it was simply difficult to get it on target.

I went to bed when I got in on Thursday and woke up some time during the night. I entertained myself by watching some Fawlty Towers and Red Dwarf – and actually this made me feel a lot better. On Friday I felt somewhat better than I had the previous day, but I was very low on energy, having not eaten much since Wednesday. Fortunately, my classes – probably picking up on the fact that I was under the weather – didn’t cause me any problems.

That night I went straight to bed again, got up a couple of hours later and decided I didn’t have the energy to do taekwondo. I watched the latter half of season one of Red Dwarf and went to sleep again. I slept for about ten hours and woke up before 7:30 – the perfect time to get up, get ready and go to Korean class. Which I did.

Right now, I’m over my nausea and my appetite is nearly back to normal (although I chose not to have breakfast this morning); my cough is a pain, and I have to take care not to walk too fast in case I trigger it. I also still have a sore neck and shoulders – that’s been going on for a couple of weeks now and I’m thinking about seeing a doctor about it.

On a more positive note, I’ve just bought Dreamer of Dune, Brian Herbert’s biography of his father, Frank, Queen + Paul Rodgers’s new album, The Cosmos Rocks and Guns N’ Roses’s new album Chinese Democracy. Even better, a slew of great TV programmes start or restart this weekend.

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Lest old acquaintance be forgot

I went down to Gangnam on Saturday to see Paul for only the second time in the three months I’ve been in Korea this time. We used to see each other every week for a few months because we went to the same Korean language hagwon. So the meeting was long overdue and was a very pleasant interlude after a couple of fairly stressful weeks of the new schedule.

Of possibly greater significance than spending time with a friend, was the fact that we went to Kyobo bookstore where I bought the new Metallica album, Death Magnetic. As we started looking at other things, the Metallica single ‘The Day that Never Comes’ came on over the PA; about a minute into the song the volume suddenly doubled – like it was being played just for us. I also bought The Essential Judas Priest (in a nice bit of synchronicity one of the tracks on Death Magnetic is called ‘The Judas Kiss’) … which I haven’t yet listened to or ripped to my computer.

Paul talked about wanting to resume his Korean classes and I’m tempted to join him, but my enthusiasm for that particular subject isn’t especially high. I’ve been thinking about doing French classes and taekwondo, but I haven’t got round to doing much about either. Maybe after next pay day.

There hasn’t been any roleplaying action since Peter left for the States. He sent Botond and me a couple of e-mails to continue the game, but there hasn’t been anything for a couple of weeks. I should e-mail him and ask how he’s doing. And I should start looking for other roleplayers.

And I haven’t heard much from people outside Korea recently. I should send out an e-mail with links to my new pictures.

There are many things I should do, but it’s too easy to let time pass by while I follow the same old rut.

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Guitar zero

Last weekend I told Botond that I wanted to buy a guitar. He spoke to his wife and came back with the suggestion that we go to a place near Insadong. I’ve seen the building a number of times, and walking round the area once I saw a number of music shops. The building in question is on stilts – which is to say that a road runs under it at ground level. Inside, it’s brimming with guitars, amps and all sorts of musical instruments and equipment. Wandering around you realise that the whole place is the size of a decent-sized shopping mall. There are countless individual glass-fronted shops and the space between is crammed with displays of guitars, pianos and speakers, leaving fairly narrow gangways for you to walk down.

Buying any one-off, expensive item is a pretty stressful experience and is a balancing act between looking at and testing various options and, on the other side, cutting through all the contemplation and dithering and plumping for something. Without Bo on hand I may well have just spent some time looking around and left to think about it – possibly indefinitely.

I tried a couple of guitars at one place, then a couple at another place. Then we went for coffee (well, I had coffee – Bo had every pastry at Starbucks). After another cicuit of the shopping centre, this time looking at small amps, we went back to the second place and I bought one of the guitars I’d tried there – a Gibson SG-style guitar (actually, it says Gibson and Epiphone on it, but I suspect it’s just a Korean rip-off).

Along with the guitar (₩200,000), at the same place I got an amp (actually a bass amp, but the man talked me into buying it after demoing it and another small guitar amplifier) and a Boss distortion pedal. The total bill was ₩300,000 and included a padded guitar bag, two cables, a strap, a packet of strings and a handful of picks.

New guitar

I’ve subsequently discovered that the guitar is ridiculously badly balanced: if you stand up with it on the strap the head end falls almost to the floor. I think I’d need to attach a metal plate to the body to weigh it down on that end. There are also a couple of bad frets where, if you pick the string it rasps against the next fret down (or up – I’ve never been sure how to refer to the neck- and bridge-end directions).

Still I didn’t need or want anything special, and I can see selling the guitar and amp and accessories (but not the distortion pedal) next year when I leave for maybe ₩100,000-150,000.

I haven’t been using the guitar excessively, but I’ve written a couple of cool riffs on it.

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Metallica and Hans Moleman

Metallica and Hans Moleman

Metallica’s new album, Death Magnetic is due out on 12 September. I’m quite excited. Queen + Paul Rodgers also have an album out about the same time. New albums by my two favourite bands in the same month – that’s almost … silly.

Anyway there’s a moderately interesting photo gallery of Metallica on the NME website.

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‘Be afraid, don’t be afraid’.

Source: ‘Sonne’, Rammstein.

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