Sunday, 24 April 2011

Killing Joke - What's THIS for... (1981)

1. The Fall of Because
2. Tension
3. Unspeakable
4. Butcher
5. Follow the Leaders
6. Madness
7. Who Told You How?
8. Exit

Well… what is this for? – 7,2/10

For the real Killing Jokers! It’s the year of 1981 and there are a bunch of frustrated adolescents with a record deal and a debut album just released. They’re about to release their second LP and are confident about putting their frustration in that record. Yet, they do not want to get enormously heavy and/or turn their sophomore album into metal or hard rock. How did they do this? In a way only Killing Joke can.

Killing Joke is a very fascinating band at every stage of their development. Especially the early albums in the original lineup, including this one, share a very interesting atmosphere, mixing anger, frustration, disappointment and pure, primitive emotions with the hypnotic, entrancing rhythms of tribal drums, 80s dance-beats and hooligan-like vocals on top. They emit the all-for-one-attitude. Top that of with Geordie’s high, soaring guitar riffs and Youth’s independent bass lines and you have a very intriguing result. What I find really well done was the inclusion on this record of frustration and anger, without making the music too heavy and hard. We are taken into a trance by the monotonous, tribal drums of Big Paul Ferguson while being brainwashed by the rebellion-lyrics of Jaz Coleman, whose vocals are mixed surprisingly to the background of the music. As if he is not the main focus of the album. While I first disliked it, it actually added to the atmosphere of hypnotism. After the classic debut record this album really was a lot less accessible partly due to the vocal mix. Other reasons are probably the lack of hit singles.

But a lack of hit singles has never stopped us from liking a record before. “The Fall of Because” is threatening throughout, but never bursts into the explosions you’d expect it to. “Tension” showcases a catchy drum rhythm, very similar to Queen’s “Party” of their 1989 album The Miracle. Coincidence? Anyway, the ambience is similar to the opening track and never bursts out into that aggression you just feel there is. Especially when Coleman tells us that ‘the tension builds’. But then comes “Unspeakable”; a song lead entirely by the tribal rhythm our dearest Mr. Ferguson brings us. The riff is just furious here and the chorus also has difficulties containing the fury of the band. But then “Butcher” takes a few steps back. Instead of finishing what they started, they backfire before the anger really comes out. It’s still a threatening track though, but quite a relief after “Unspeakable”. Back to the concept we go with “Follow the Leaders”; a danceable and catchy song that certainly doesn’t have the threat of the first few tracks, but does contain the magic of the previous moments. “Madness” is one of my least favorite songs of What THIS for… and it sounds like it’s a leftover from the debut album for good reason. It peaks almost at eight minutes and is monotonous and totally unadventurous and especially throws away all the frustration built up by the previous few tracks. The meaningless instrumental “Who Told You How?” is followed by “Exit”, which closes the record at a high level, re-establishing the threat and reminding us of the Killing Joke.

This album is a fine record, but not one of Killing Joke’s finest. They are clearly frustrated and found a unique way to let us know, but the fact that there’s a constant threat, a constant tension that builds, builds and builds but never unleashes the fury, never reaches its peak is quite unsatisfying. The inclusion of a few mediocre tracks even more diminishes the quality of the listening experience. This is an album I’d only recommend to the real Killing Jokers, to the die-hard fans.

Strongest tracks: “The Fall of Because”, “Tension”, “Unspeakable” and “Follow the Leaders”.
Weakest tracks: “Madness”.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

System of a Down - Steal This Album! (2002)

1. Chic 'n Stu
2. Innervision
3. Bubbles
4. Boom!
5. Nüguns
6. A.D.D.
7. Mr. Jack
8. I-E-A-I-A-I-O
9. 36
10. Pictures
11. Highway Song
12. F**k the System
13. Ego Brain
14. Thetawaves
15. Roulette
16. Streamline

Turn in the Thieves – 7,8/10

The follow-up to System of a Down’s breakthrough record Toxicity had an odd story to accompany its unique packaging, which was to mimic a burned disc. I won’t bother you with that tale, but I can assure you those who stole this record have now sinned even worse for Steal This Album! turns out even better than its predecessor. Since it was not supported by a tour, some people believe this to be a bunch of leftovers from the Toxicity sessions. It’s partly agreeable, for this album is not very coherent, but it’s mostly very disagreeable since this record contains some of the finest System tunes you’ll ever hear.

Demos of this album once surfed on the net as Toxicity II and that still left its marks on the final album. It literally picks up where Toxicity finished. It’s equally barbaric, primitive and heavy, yet also mean, political and thought out. Even the structure of the album shows similarity. Opener “Chic ‘n Stu” is as wacky and chaotic as “Prison Song” and “Innervision”, “Bubbles” and “Boom!” show equal amount of barbaric metal as “Needles”, “Deer Dance” and “Jet Pilot”. Then “Nüguns” parallels with “X”, and so on. If you’d mix up the two records, you wouldn’t tell which song is from which album production- and sound-wise. It really looks like they were trying to get that sound they got famous with one year ago.

The main difference is the amount of tracks on this record, which is a lot and which does mean a higher amount of filler tracks. Tracks like “Mr. Jack”, “Pictures”, “Highway Song” or “Thetawaves”, but also the very short “36” just don’t add a thing to the record and become sources of irritation for your ears. That is quite a lot. Luckily the other material is very strong and original. In particular the politically aggressive “A.D.D.” is very powerful, as well as the anthem “I-E-A-I-A-I-O”. Towards the end the songs start becoming a bit mellower but also a little flash-forward to the Mezmerize/Hypnotize records is being given in tracks like “Ego Brain” or “Streamline” where they tend to focus more on song structure and melody rather than the barbaric power of “A.D.D.”. What also adds to the flash-forward is the increasing presence of Daron Malakian’s voice next to Serj Tankian’s, which blend uniquely if you can bear Malakian’s sharp voice for so long. Near the end I find the wacky “F**k the System” and the ballad “Roulette” to be the highlights.

In the end, Steal This Album! may well be System of a Down’s finest moment if you reduce the amount of tracks to twelve. I recommend, however, not to steal this album but to buy in your local store if you love System of a Down or nu-metal.

Strongest tracks: “Chic ‘n Stu”, “A.D.D.”, “I-E-A-I-A-I-O” and “Roulette”.
Weakest tracks: “Pictures”, “Highway Song” and “Mr. Jack”.