Album review: Ámr by Ihsahn

Ihsahn’s latest album, Ámr, is characteristically Ihsahn—progressive without getting too fancy, catchy without getting too clever (usually), all the while treating the restrictions of what makes metal metal not as something which confines but to be toyed with. That is not to say that this is one of his more experimental albums, such as 2013’s Das Seelenbrechen* or Peccatum’s early work.

This can lend to a sense of repetition at times, such as when a good riff can outstay its welcome in a song, such as in “Lend Me the Eyes of Millennia” and “Arcana Imperii.” This feels a minor complaint, however, when one considers that none of the songs are very long, with the longest just going over the five minute mark. Ihashn also varies the sound of the music throughout the album through different vocal styles as well as a heavy use of synthesizers interchanging with guitar parts (as opposed to filling out the sound with ambient effects or “orchestral” voices). A perfect example of these variances are in the song “Twin Black Angels,” which starts off with a mild synth part and clean vocals, progressing to a soaring bridge accentuated by Ihsahn’s distinctive blackened death metal vocals.

If Ámr is your first Ihsahn album, then it’s a good place to start as it’s the culmination of the best elements of his work so far. However, if you’ve been listening to his work from the beginning, even just as a solo artist, then you may find it a bit lacking as it sounds like yet another Ihsahn album but not his best work overall. Still, it’s certainly worth a listen or two in its own right. In fact, Ámr comes across as one of Ihsahn’s more accessible albums since his sophomore release Angl. Ihsahn has matured as a songwriter and producer, applying what he learns throughout his carreer towards each successive release and Ámr is not exception to that rule.


*Which I still argue is his most successful solo album artistically, if not commercially.


How should I buy this book? #books #reading #harperlee #gosetawatchman

I’m trying not to skip to many days anymore, even though I’m already anticipating a profound lack of productivity from me this week. I know that tomorrow I’m likely not going to have time to write a blog post as I may just go against my cheap-ass nature and buy a book that hits the shelves tomorrow, It’s making quite a stir in my Twitter feed today, so I think I want to read the book tomorrow after work in order to hopefully get a blog post out of it on Wednesday. I don’t want to write what might be considered a full-fledged review; rather, I just want to jot down my reactions to it and the press it’s been receiving.

That is, if I think of anything to write about it. I’m sure I could, but at the same time I don’t want to force myself and write crap. If anything, it’s my way of trying to keep up with the times. If I don’t have anything to say tomorrow perhaps I can draw on the experience of reading the book at a later time. I don’t watch television and I still don’t feel like I’m getting the best out of the Internet, so reading the latest books is probably not the worst idea.

I shouldn’t justify spending money on a book, either. I could go cheap and get the Kindle version. It may be a trendy book but I’m not going to head out to a coffee shop after work to read it, where somebody could see me. Then again, should I? If I spend the little bit extra for either the hardcover or paperback versions (which, after all, don’t look that expensive in the first place), pay a little bit extra more for a cup of coffee and then hope that somebody sees what I’ll be reading. It could lead to some stimulating conversation that could be beneficial to my blog. However, it could also lead to me getting frustrated that everybody’s interrupting my reading. Plus, because of the problems with this tooth I can’t drink hot coffee right now. I could easily get around those problems (just let the coffee sit a while) but I have to consider these things.

Besides the cost, an advantage of getting the Kindle version is that I could download the book right when I wake up tomorrow morning and start reading it. This would only give me the little bit of time that I could read it in the morning and then on my lunch break at work. Then again, that time would be offset by the time it takes to drive to the bookstore and buy a copy there. It’s not like I’m in a race to finish the book before everybody else in America—or before I go to bed, for that matter. If I don’t finish it tomorrow, I don’t finish it tomorrow.

If I did buy a physical copy of the book, where do I go? There’s a chain book store near where I work which is easy to get to with their own parking lot. However, I usually prefer to buy locally when I can. There is a book store within walking distance of the coffee shop that I would go to, provided I can get a parking space. (Considering I’m taking the motorcycle tomorrow, that shouldn’t be a problem.) But as they’re a small store I worry that they might not have as many copies of the book, and I run the risk of them selling out before I get there. It’s a small risk, probably, but another thing I should consider.

I could also go to the library, but not if I wanted to read the book tomorrow, or even this week. I checked the online catalogue for all of the libraries in the state that participate in the inter-library loan, and there’s at least five times as many holds on the book as there are copies available. Any chance I have of reading the book tomorrow is through buying it. Again, by this point I’ve justified the cost to myself. I just have to figure out how to spend that cost.

You’ll notice that by this point that I haven’t mentioned the name of the book. It’s no big secret, nor did I care to make a big dramatic reveal at the end of the post. I’m referring to “Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee. But as I was mulling over the above problems I realized that they don’t apply to just that one. I figured I’d write the post referring to “the book” and let it apply to a larger issue. The only specific problem with this one that I face is that I haven’t read “To Kill a Mockingbird” since high school. That’s the primary reason why I don’t want to think about any blog post about the new book as a full-on review. I want to be able to react to the new one soon after reading it but I’m not well-enough informed in order to properly critique it. I’ll just have to wait and see what I write about it, if I do.

Cleaning out files… and memories. #nostalgia

There’s a reason that I haven’t gotten around to writing a blog post for the last couple of days. It isn’t anything to do with the screenplay plot I’ve started working out—more on that later—but to do with some cleaning up that I’ve been putting off for a while. Despite my routine throughout the work week I decided to start cleaning out my filing cabinets. I inherited a bad habit of my parents of keeping every little scrap of paper that has to do with financial information, regardless of how old it is and how unimportant it was even when I got it.

I ended up with two large stacks of paper: one to go directly to recycling and one that I want to have shredded. They may be old financial statements (power bills going all the way back to 2004 come to mind) and one that I want to get shredded. They may contain outdated information but they also have account numbers that somebody may still be able to use to steal my financial identity. This includes old college paperwork which includes my social security number. So I think the expense of a shredder would actually be worth my while. I don’t want to spend the money on one just yet. The milk crate they’re stashed in will do. But one of my two filing cabinets is a lot emptier now.

I didn’t get to the other one yet because of time. This is going to be a lengthy process. I think the second one is going to take a little longer. That one contains a lot of my old college coursework as well as some creative pieces, such as some older drafts of stories that I’m still working on. I’m not sure exactly if I’m going to use a filing cabinet for those or perhaps a binder instead. But that’s not the most difficult problem I face.

There’s really no reason for me to keep a lot of that old college coursework. I kept it for years, even the subjects that don’t pertain to anything that I want to do or even care to know. I kept convincing myself over the years that I could use some of that work towards something. If I ever get around to going for my Master’s (which I’m leaning towards not doing after all) some of that work just might come in handy. But for the most part it’s just taking of space that I could be using for the work I’m doing now.

I have no real reason to be sentimental about it. I keep going back to the feeling that it’s a part of my past which I still have memories of, and therefore it’s a part of me now. But there are objects that I have bad memories of that I had no problem over the years getting rid of. At any rate, how many food packages have I gotten rid of simply because I ate the food?

It’s one thing to keep actual work that I created, such as essays. However, I have no reason to hang on to syllabi or even quizzes that I wrote answers on. All that reminds me is how bad my handwriting can get when I’m rushing it. Overall, I want to purge a lot of this paperwork. I just have to get over some mental block that’s slowing me down.

As far as the screenplay plot: it is moving, albeit more slowly than I wanted to. I wanted to take the week to dedicate solely to working on it. However, as I had a guest over this weekend I had to push some chores off over the course of the next few days. I got carried away with the filing and lost track of time. But I do have a screenplay idea. I don’t have a full three-act story fleshed out yet, but I’m hitting some key points. I won’t delve into the subject now as its too soon. I will say that I felt a bit dismayed when I found out about a new movie that contains similar subject matter. But for one thing, the story idea that I had come up with isn’t the same, only some of the general subject matter. For another, if this screenplay ever gets turned into a movie, it will be too long for anybody to make the connection, if they were to do so in the first place. That’s another hurdle I had to get over. Now all I have to do is formulate the plot and dive write into writing a new screenplay.

Bands I like versus bands I respect. #music #metal #blackmetal

I’ve been thinking lately about the difference between bands that I respect versus bands that I simply like. That’s not to say that I don’t like any of the bands that I respect; but at the same time I don’t like all of them, or at least everything that they do. In fact, that’s the key difference that I’m looking at with this blog post. One of the main reasons that I respect any artist is the variety of their work. This signifies to me that he or she is willing to experiment in expressing himself or herself.

I also can respect somebody’s technical ability as well, however for the sake of this blog post I’m referring only to respecting somebody’s artistic merit, not playing ability. This post could also apply to writers, painters and so on, but I’m going to focus on musicians. For one thing, I’m such a music lover that I have some idea of what I’m talking about. For another, the commercial influence on musicians demands that those in certain situations produce albums on a fairly regular basis, which makes my job here easier. The metal world really exemplifies this, so I’ll specifically look at metal bands this time.

Let’s start with two bands, Darkthrone and Amon Amarth. Darkthrone is considered one of the classic Norwegian black metal bands, putting out several records since the early nineties that sometimes stray from their roots but never too far. Yet some albums are better than others. I especially don’t care for the latest album, The Underground Resistance, which pays several homages to the band’s influences. Yet just because I don’t like listening to it doesn’t mean I don’t respect it, as it is what the band wanted to do. I’m glad that they’re in a position to release such a project.

I like what Amon Amarth does. They’re a fun band to listen to as they tap into a powerful sort of energy that matches the viking-themed lyrics while keeping a strong melodic sense throughout. Unfortunately, it feels like they put out the same damn album every time. That’s not to say that I can’t tell the difference between specific songs but they’re so close in style that if you like one, you’ll like them all. The band is quite popular, which suggests that they figured out what sells well and stuck with it.

Therefore, while I like Amon Amarth more consistently than Darkthrone, I respect Darkthrone more than Amon Amarth. That’s not to say that I dislike either band, just that I regard them differently.

Let’s look at a band that I consider one of my favorites, Emperor. I know it goes against popular opinion but I don’t like the releases before their first full-length album In the Nightside Eclipse. I love the next two albums. The last album, Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire and Demise has some excellent songs but for the most part it feels stale. (Although I tend to consider Prometheus more as Ihsahn’s first solo album than as Emperor’s last album, anyway.) Yet even though I don’t really like the first two releases, one can hear the progression towards the first album (including some songs that were re-recorded and in some cases, re-written). That combined with the quality of the first three studio albums makes them one of my favorite bands: a band that I both like and respect.

Other bands that I would throw under that category would include Moonspell, Celtic Frost and Behemoth. Musicians that I would include that aren’t part of the metal world: David Byrne, Frank Zappa and King Crimson (all incarnations).

What about writers? The sad truth is that because there’s so much out there, I try to read as much as I can by different authors. This results in me only reading one or two books by each. I’m catching up but it’s too soon to tell. I get the feeling that I would throw Cormac McCarthy in this category, as well as Karl Ove Knausgård.

Of course, I hope to add myself to that list.

Doing things versus getting them done.

As I brushed my teeth after breakfast a few moments ago it occurred to me how often I do things just to get them done, without any thought as to why I’m doing them. I know that brushing my teeth, followed by mouthwash, I’m taking care of my oral hygiene. However, when I go to do it I’m only doing so in order to follow my morning routine. A long time ago I accepted the fact that I have to brush so I gave it no more thought as I was doing it.

That all makes sense but it brought to mind the question: how often do I do things just to get them done, not giving any thought as to why I’m doing them? Moreover, what about enjoyable activities, such as reading a book or watching a movie? How often do I engage in such activities simply because they’re on my “to-do” list without any intent on actually enjoying them? That isn’t to deny that sometimes I do end up enjoying myself. But I have to sometimes wonder about my own motivation.

I think a large difference comes from doing things versus experiencing them. For example, by “doing things” I’m including activities like brushing my teeth, taking out the trash, cleaning dishes and so on. By “experiencing them” I’m including reading a book, watching a movie, listening to music, playing video games—in other words, engaging in arts and entertainment. With the former category I’m carrying things out while with the latter I’m taking them in.

It isn’t necessary to think about the fact that I’m making my dishes and silverware sanitary for me to use while I’m cleaning them. At some point in my life I accept that was why it’s necessary to do after using them. Since them I simply carry out the task. It isn’t something I find particularly enjoyable or harrowing. I simply do it in order to get it done.

When watching a movie, however, I should enjoy myself if I find it entertaining and/or enlightening. However, I convinced myself that I had a backlog of movies that I should have seen by now. In the past few months I’ve been borrowing titles from that list from the library. I would rent about five out at a time and then spend a good amount of time on the weekends watching through those movies. Maybe that isn’t the worst way to spend my time but I ended up forcing myself to watch movies that I wasn’t in the mood for just so I could “get through” them. I don’t want to think that colored my perception of a few of them but I have to wonder if it might be the case.

The idea of “getting through” something rather than enjoying it applies to books as well. Right now I’m reading the first of a trilogy of Star Trek books that I got for the holidays. Despite the fact that I can tell it’s not the best writing out there I’m still enjoying it. However, books that are more “meaningful” and “intellectual” stack up in a pile in my living room. When I get to one of those, I read it because I feel I have to. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy reading a book in its entirety in one sitting, but how often am I rushing them without taking the time to enjoy the experience of reading? This is, of course, barring the fact that I read quickly to start with. Even aside from that I should still enjoy the experience of what I’m reading versus making my way to the last page.

The biggest concern I have about this issue is when it comes to creating art. Obviously I enjoy writing. I feel the need to write. Yet when I’m working on a large project like the novel I’ve been writing, I often get into the mindset that I want to finish what I’m doing rather than do it. My mood during a particular writing session certainly affects that. Still, I find myself adopting that attitude more often than not.

Then there comes forms of expression that involves different tasks, some of which I enjoy more than others. The RPM Challenge is happening this year after all. I signed up as Shadows of Immurement again, which means I’m doing everything myself. I find writing and recording music highly enjoyable. However, I dread the prospect of production this time. I’m using much better equipment than I have in the past. At the same time, I know that I can’t make it sound too perfect. I don’t like when Shadows of Immurement sound too polished. I have to find the right balance when I’m fiddling around with the virtual knobs in the recording software. I have little knowledge about what I’m doing, and I fear that I won’t acquire enough during the course of the Challenge. Fortunately, making an album sound great isn’t a requirement in this project. I just want it to for my own needs.

Finally, where does blogging belong in this topic? Not to take an easy out, but I think I’ll just let my regular readers figure that one out.

Can I still watch Cosby on television?

With Bill Cosby once again in the news because of the allegations against him, I want to revisit a theme that I’ve discussed before on this blog. Is it possible to separate the art from the artist? Before we get carried away here I want to stress that I make no assumptions about his possible guilt. Yes, I am aware that several women have come forward to speak out against him. It’s still a matter of “he said/she said.” Besides, whether or not anything happened is irrelevant to the main point of this blog post. The amount of damning testimony against him is enough to make one think twice about his character if it turns out that he’s not guilty after all. Even if it wasn’t for the sexual allegations over the course of the last few years I’ve found myself detesting his conservative viewpoints on a lot of issues. That doesn’t mean I hate the man but I feel like I have to justify to myself supporting him.

So, can I enjoy anything that he does without feeling weird about it? Before I go into any of Cosby’s works specifically I should reiterate the point that I made on an earlier blog post* that if I couldn’t separate the art from the artist I wouldn’t be able to listen to the metal bands that I do. My CD collection includes works by arsonists and murderers. I watch Woody Allen movies and I’ll listen to Wagner. I can’t sacrifice my own personal enrichment based on the views or activities of somebody else.

In Cosby’s case, would the allegations against him affect my viewing of The Cosby Show or my listening of his comedy albums? In this case it can feel a bit weird, considering the sexual nature of the allegations and the family friendly atmosphere of his works. But I always took The Cosby Show on its own merits, knowing full well that I don’t even agree with the points made within the show. I still have nostalgic feelings for it. Most of all, even though The Cosby Show was initially based on Cosby’s stand-up and was more or less “his” show, it was the product of many people. I can only assume that they didn’t all agree on everything.

Furthermore—and I don’t think this is a point that I raised before—just because somebody did one thing that’s undesirable it doesn’t make them an undesirable person overall. We’re only discussing one aspect of their personality or past. I know that’s a hard argument to take when it comes to a murderer or rapist. I doubt that I would associate myself with those people on a personal level. But at the same time they could also have a great creative side. They might have political views that I agree with. They could just have a pleasant personality. Punishment is another topic altogether but we have to recognize that nobody is just one “type” of person. Everybody has different aspects to their personality.

So maybe the question isn’t a matter of separating the art from the artist, but separating the artist from the overall person. In the meantime I’m going to still enjoy The Cosby Show as lazy afternoon viewing.

*Sorry, I would normally link to said post but this time I’m embarrassed to say that I can’t find it.

Separating the actors from their beliefs (or, The sun revolves around Kate Mulgrew).

I again visit the topic of separating the artist from his or her beliefs. In this case, I’m referring specifically to actors. A story that has been making the rounds on the Internet was that there’s a new documentary coming soon regarding the theory that the sun revolves around the Earth. I have a hard time actually referring to it as “geocentrism” because that makes it sound like the load of bunk is actually some sort of science worth studying (or making a documentary of, for that matter). Interestingly the biggest controversy wasn’t the documentary itself—probably enough people know that it’s garbage—but that Kate Mulgrew appeared in the trailer. There was a big shit-storm that Mulgrew was a “geocentrist” despite the fact that she was barely in the trailer itself. Finally Mulgrew issued a statement that said that she was misinformed about what she was doing and that she was “a voice for hire.” She also stated that she does not believe in geocentrism. Apparently she wasn’t the only person in the documentary that this happened to.

I’m glad to hear it. But in terms of today’s blog post that doesn’t matter as much. What I’m focusing on is that when people saw that she could have been a “geocentrist” they went nuts. I saw such remarks that ran along the lines of “She’s a great actress and was my favorite captain in ‘Star Trek,’ and it’s sad to see this news.” The implication being that one would have a hard time watching the show now that they think she has a conflicting view to their own.

I have written before that I am able to separate the artist from his or her beliefs. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to listen to much of the metal that I love. But I would think that with actors the process is easier. They are just part of the overall piece of work. For example, Kelsey Grammer’s politics are unsupportable but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying his work in “Frasier.” He doesn’t write the scripts, he’s just paid to play them out. For that matter, he seems like somebody I wouldn’t mind hanging out for a cup of coffee with as long as politics don’t come up.

For me the hardest part of separating the artist from the belief is when that belief is in message of the work itself. When actors  are paid to read a script they aren’t necessarily saying something that they believe in. They aren’t their characters. If they were in a show that I did disagree with I wouldn’t watch it. Still, I wouldn’t necessarily hold it against them if I thought they did a good job in a show that I did like.

I have no problem enjoying music by Wagner. I can easily pay to see a Woody Allen movie. Just because the inventor of the MRI is a creationist doesn’t mean I wouldn’t get one if I needed it. Likewise, if it turned out that Kate Mulgrew was a “geocentrist” that wouldn’t stop me from watching “Star Trek: Voyager.” The weak writing would.