Month: September 2012

Album review: Bad Salad – Uncivilized

Been a while since I posted anything of value here so let’s kick off with an in-depth look at one of my favorite bands to imitate one of my favorite bands.

You guys are silly. You’re in a publicity shot. That’s not posing dramatically.

Vocals: Denis Oliveira
Guitar: Thiago Campos
Bass: Felipe Campos
Keyboards: César Zolhof
Drums: Caco Gonçalves

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BadSalad
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/BadSaladOfficial

A Brazilian progressive metal band initially conceived in May 2007, their debut album “Uncivilized” has apparently been in production for two years, and the sheer amount of care and effort they put into it over this time period shows. As I listen to the album, it seems to me as though they’ve been composing progressive metal for decades. There’s experimentation, sure, but these guys are definitely seasoned songwriters.

Bad Salad cite many bands as their influences, but are obviously madly in love with Dream Theater, because they pretty much imitate every iota of the band’s style. And while the guitarist isn’t quite John Petrucci, nor is the keyboardist exactly Jordan Goddamn Rudess, they come pretty damn close.

The band’s guitarist Thiago Campos set up this YouTube account to which he uploads “split-screen covers” of various songs, which are, and I say this in no uncertain terms, impressive as fuck. Every song that has been covered thus far that I’ve heard is absolutely note-perfect. And these guys do really complex stuff as well – mainly Dream Theater’s stuff, which is often very technical and meticulous, so their combined musical prowess is an undeniable trait.

I must concede that I find “Bad Salad” an odd name for a prog metal band. But bands names are by definition odd, so I’ll let it go. (Edit: It appears the name came from the initial writing sessions, during which every member of the band would toss an idea into the pot.)

Let’s take a minute to observe the album’s artwork:

Anyone want to play hot potato?

Alright, metal genre, I think this obsession with skulls is getting slightly ridiculous.

Regardless of the clichéd skull, this cover, to me, is immediately interesting, and puzzling. There seem to be a number of conflicting ideas within the image (the appearance of a skull, a symbol of death, but no blood; the dissonance between the bright background and the rather morbid imagery in front of it; the realistic representation of the Earth versus the clearly fake appearance of the gentlemen having his face scorched off).

On close examination, the man is dressed in a suit. He is suspending the planet Earth just above his hand in a Jedi kind of way, appearing to have a kind of gravity-defying physical control over it, rather than hold it like an ordinary object. As the hovering planet burns intensely in the palm of his enormous hand, its skin is seared away, revealing a hollow skeleton – no blood, muscle or any other kind of inner tissue; and his visage incinerates likewise, peeling away to betray a complete lack of flesh beneath his face, too.

Perhaps this image represents the corporate leaders who control this world, and indeed the very way we live, who are personified here as a giant, fleshless beast, possessing no humanity, showing zero compassion for the human race as we die helplessly, our cries unheeded, on the burning earthen orb he observes.

Or maybe I’m reading too much into it and I’m not listening to the music and I should be because THAT’S WHAT I’M HERE FOR AFTER ALL so let’s go.

1. Crowded Sky (6:31)

Oh my. What a goddamn beautiful album opener. It’s like Dream Theater condensed all the awesomeness from all of their shortest songs into an even shorter track. I can hear a tribute to “A Rite of Passage” in the opening chords and “Lost Not Forgotten” in… most of it, actually.

Lyrically, it’s about as anti-faith as you can get without mentioning actual religious practices. In fact it seems to be a big old “fuck you” song to not only God, but the people who worship His image. Here we get a glimpse at what vocalist Denis Oliveira is truly capable of – his throaty growling style is prevalent through most of this album, and while it’s certainly metal as hell, it’s still very clean and clear.

We start with a tolling bell… pretty cliché, but then HOLY CRAP a 15/8 dominant phrygian guitar riff comes in and this immediately tells me that this is what this band is all about. Denis sings with a decidedly sinister echo effect on most of this track which makes him sound as though there’s a whole choir of him singing in a massive hall.

The pre-chorus features some aggressive doubled-up monosyllabic shouts from Denis and Thiago (“Hail, fight, fear, pray”) which just sound cool. Then the chorus comes in, and the evil chord progression, complemented brilliantly by Denis’s angry melodies, is an immediate hit with me. After two of these choruses there’s a short middle section with some hugely dramatic string arpeggios courtesy of guest keyboardist Junghwan Kim, followed by an absolutely excellent keyboard riff and a blinding guitar solo from Thiago.

If it weren’t for the fact that this song is meant to serve as a kind of short introductory track to the album, I’d place it as my personal favorite. But that would be unfair because there’s still so much more to go.

2. Nemesis (11:33)

This is a truly evil track. The opening riff is the epitome of the heavy metal riff. E minor, slow and grinding, with chromatic bits inserted to add dissonance. Brilliant. I reckon the band listened to plenty of Train of Thought when they wrote this song in 2010 (particularly “This Dying Soul”).

The keyboard work in particular really shines on this track, with César using dramatic string chords in concordance with the guitar work, and a really cool square wave and Hammond organ lead sounds to overlap the awesome riffs and add his own, very Jordan Rudess-y twist to the music.

The first verse is almost as evil as that opening riff, with multiple layers of subtle sounds playing in the background to amplify the sinister ambience that the lyrics (to do with slavery and imprisonment) are laying down.

After the chorus, Denis delivers more epicness, singing in every vocal range he’s capable of as he switches between Matt Bellamy-esque falsetto and metal growl/scream (it’s alright – apart from this one deviation, his vocals are completely clean for the rest of the album). Some excellent solos from the rest of the band give him plenty of breathing space during this section.

The outro (ie. the final three minutes) is really cool. The tempo slows down, but the riffs coming from Thiago actually seem to get a whole lot madder. César goes especially nuts on the keyboards at this point, playing dissonant chords on an electric organ and then a crazy piano solo. The finale of the track, during which the strings beautifully complement an oddly-rhythmed guitar riff, is especially sweet, and well worth the 11-minute build-up.

3. Mourning (10:09)

Conversely to the last two tracks reducing my brain to a thin goo, here we have something of a breather track, although that doesn’t stop it from still delivering some face-smashing powerful guitar chords overlaid with some beautiful string orchestrations (as the previous ones did).

It opens with… I don’t know what that is, actually. I think it’s a heavily-echoed acoustic guitar with all trace of the frets having been erased completely from the recording, giving it a haunting feel. This continues for about a minute before the track opens properly with a short, ominous piano chord progression which just screams Opeth – the number of nods towards some of my favorite artists just keeps on climbing, and props to Bad Salad for pulling them off so well.

The lyrics deal with the loss of loved ones, and are worded very poetically (though you might find some bits to be clichéd) with an almost uplifting undertone. The chorus is very nice, playing off the myriad minors and majors in a very expert manner, but the cream really comes with the section after the second chorus, which is copied for the outro. The chords and the overlaying melodies are just delicious.

While this track is the least extreme on the record, there’s plenty of progressiveness in here from the erratic time and tempo changes delivered, and the work from keyboardist César Zolhof really shines here. The middle section soon devolves into something more bluesy, à la the monstrous instrumental section from “Beyond This Life“. There are certainly also elements borrowed from “The Ministry of Lost Souls“. However, Bad Salad are above copying the work of their many influences note-for-note – instead they interpret the stylings of said influences in a way that combines into something which, while not entirely original (but what is, these days), is still beautiful.

4. The Second Calling (12:37)

While this song’s triplety, guitar-driven intro sounds almost identical to A Dramatic Turn of Events‘ “Bridges in the Sky”, I’m reliably informed that the song was written in 2007, before DT’s song, and the similarity is pure coincidence. It starts out with a groovy B minor riff which soon transitions into C# minor and back again. After the strangely familiar two-minute intro, the verse begins, and the lyrics talk about the possibility of a second life.

There’s really no word to sum up this song other than “badass”. The guitar work from Thiago is just unceasingly awesome and he often seems to almost drown out the backing from the keyboard. The chorus is possibly the best one on the album. The middle section seems to do all sorts of crazily clever things with the song’s rhythm and tempo and has to be heard to be believed. It’s all kinds of “Glass Prison”-esque awesome.

The outro is a long one, spanning three whole minutes. It’s prefaced by a short but beautiful solo from Thiago, and has Denis singing three more verses while staying at a consistently dramatic level, before the music builds up into an impressive crescendo. The last minute or so is more or less a reprise of the intro with a few extra bits thrown in, but it handles the final chord very well.

5. Damned (9:29)

The intro of this song is an awesomely creepy minute and a half (is that a waterphone?) before the excellent guitar riff kicks in. The pre-chorus features some nice downplayed piano work from César.

The chorus kicks in and plays half in common time, half in 7/8, and once you get your head round the rhythm, it’s catchy as hell. After this, Denis returns to his excellent growling vocal style as the lyrics get darker and darker.

Six minutes in, Thiago introduces a fast, very DT-esque phrygian riff, and then proceeds to solo over the top of this with some expert assistance from César. The ensuing two or three minutes is basically a bunch of hectic key changes during which Thiago and César battle to see who’s the most Dream Theater-y, reminiscent of the insane solo section from “Fatal Tragedy“.

If it weren’t for the unusually long intro and middle solo, this track would actually be kinda short (relatively speaking).

6. Sights from Within (12:37)

Here we have another very long number, but it’s nowhere near as extreme as the rest of the songs. In fact, it’s comparatively slow and subdued, but it has a strange double-refrained structure to it, which might explain its length. The lyrics deal with an impending apocalypse that only the protagonist is aware of.

We open with a mellow acoustic guitar and a riff that I swear I’ve heard before – it’s almost “Through My Words” but not quite. The instrumentation slowly builds up into a beautiful symphonic breakdown, and about a minute and a half in, the tempo picks up a little bit and Thiago introduces a jaunty, simple chord progression. Before long, however, the chorus arrives, allowing room for the distorted guitar to come in, and things really begin to get dark as Denis once again returns to a low growl.

Things calm down again, though, and Denis returns to his serene tenor. However, with the advent of what appears to be a second chorus and a short interlude, things soon get evil again and the first chorus repeats with even more dramatic impact than last time, followed by a powerful Thiago solo and some sinister orchestral stabs from the keyboard.

The final verse is simply amazing, a wonderfully orchestrated finale to what has been a heck of a journey of a song.

The track ends with the same guitar playing the same two chords repeatedly (with some sweet birdsong in the background), gradually fading out as ominous machinery noises and American news reports begin to amplify, which segues nicely into the album’s epic closer…

7. Dawn of the Machine (15:29)

This track is just evil and cunning. Various bits of it, particularly the chorus, remind me heavily of Muse’s “Map of the Problematique“, but it’s just a beastly track on its own. Lyrically, it’s divided into two parts, and opens with a minute or so of ambience and crackly voices (I. “Release”). After that, the bass guitar comes in and plays some seriously weird chords, before being joined by the drums and keyboard playing some more dissonant and syncopated stuff over the top.

After another minute of this, the lead guitar comes in. And that riff. Dear God, that riff, I could bathe in it. The opening verse has Denis growling like a demented cyborg over some ludicrous power shredding from Thiago. This alone is brilliant, but then the chorus comes in and the Muse chords play off each other so nicely – in other words we get both the thrashy and melodic sides of the metal spectrum executed almost side-by-side.

Meanwhile, the lyrics are beautifully written, appearing to be told from the perspective of the Machine’s creators.

After the second chorus we get some lovely rocky riffs from Thiago interspersed with some unpredictable rhythm jumps assisted by Caco. Then madness descends, as the song progresses into a beautifully constructed “Dark Eternal Night“-esque instrumental frenzy, as Thiago just decides to fuck around for about two-and-a-half minutes. And what awesome, impossible-to-headbang-to fucking around it is.

For the second “part” of the song (II. “Revision”), the music takes a back seat for a little while, opening with a wonderful acoustic guitar playing a strange minor-augmented-minor-diminished chord progression. Denis soon comes in again, now singing with a far lighter tone, and with far more sombre words, now addressing the listener as the Machine itself, an artifical being of unfeeling metal, unable to comprehend the emotions that humans feel. However, things pick up fast again, with a monstrous guitar solo giving rise to a fantastic crescendo. Over the final chord, Caco decides to bash the everloving snot out of his drums and ends his impromptu solo with a phased snare that echoes out for the final minute of the song. What an ending.

Overall Rating: 4.8/5

I really have absolutely no major complaints about this album – it’s one of the finest I’ve heard in a long time, and is in fact a worthy contender for Dream Theater themselves. The band has immense talent behind them and I can only hope that they capitalize on it as much as possible. They have the werewithal to imitate Dream Theater, the technical expertise required to do it properly and also the imagination needed to give it their own unique twist.

They have balls.

Let’s hope this beast of a debut album serves as the launch pad necessary to catapult them into prog metal stardom. I for one will be watching their future endeavours like a hawk.

Outstanding stuff, guys.

Announcing: Rainbow Season

Remember how I announced that thing that my brother and I were going to do? That was like, months ago, and I did it in a fairly convoluted way, so those of you who read this blog might not entirely remember it. I realize now that I essentially buried this climactic announcement amidst a massive wall of text that I bet the majority of you (understandably) glossed over.

To be honest, until recently it’s taken a back seat to other things, which makes all the hype I delivered it with initially seem pointless. But right now, it’s at the top of our priority lists. As of August 23rd, my brother and I are now involved in a new project. I present to you:

For years I’ve wanted a career as a solo bedroom musician. It’s always seemed like the ideal life for me. I’ve never really trusted my ability to reproduce songs live because I’m more of a writer than a performer. To be honest, I’d still love to be able to earn a living just from writing songs that people can simply click a “play” button to appreciate – like being a video game composer or something. Don’t get me wrong, I think that being in a full band or an ensemble would be great, especially if I get to play my own stuff as part of it, but right now just taking my keyboard out into the real world feels like a major move outside of my comfort zone. Working with other people has always felt a little uncomfortable to me, but when I start feeling a kind of synergy from our combined efforts, I really start to pick up steam.

My brother Ben is a better singer than I. That’s just fact. He’s had more tuition than me. He uses his voice more on a daily basis (even when it means shutting himself in his bedroom and talking to himself loudly for hours on end). So to me, it makes sense to have him sing on our tracks. He’s also contributing to the songwriting process, as far as lyrics are concerned, at least.

The tracks that I’ve written for this project follow a far more rigid structure than most of the ones I’ve written so far. Until I started writing with a more “pop music” angle in mind, my songs never really had a chorus to speak of, just repeated riffs, and certainly not lyrics. While the tracks for this project are definitely more pop-oriented, there are still “progressive” elements to it, such as sudden key changes, odd time signatures (one of them uses 13/4 time) and slightly more complex riffs. Many of them are uplifting, high-energy synth-driven tracks, with the occasional emulated acoustic guitar, with plenty of strings and piano added to boost the acoustic department, as well.

Now, the reason for this project suddenly becoming important again? A battle of the bands contest is taking place not far from where I live, and my brother and I are eligible to enter. It’s being advertised as “the big break your band has been looking for” and it looks like there’s some great prizes available.

Today we were notified that we’ve been selected to perform. There’ll be three other bands at the event, all mainly in the age range of 12-18 (so the majority of them will be younger than me, but by no means am I ruling out the possibility of getting upstaged). We have until October 28th to get our live rig, our stage presence and a 25-minute set sorted out. This’ll mean playing pretty much all the songs we have planned for our eventual EP, but we need to get them into a presentable state, not to mention rendering instrumental versions of the songs that we can use as backing tracks, and setting up my laptop so that my keyboard can play bits of the songs.

Looks like we’re gonna be pretty busy for the next two months. As such, I’d like to point out that I won’t be taking a great deal of new requests, if any, until further notice.

Anyway, the two tracks we submitted are here on SoundCloud. One is an original called “Control”, the other is a remix/cover of Pendulum’s “The Island”. We’ve worked as hard as we possibly could on them, and overall I think we actually did pretty well with the final vocal take.

Control
The Island

(It’s nothing absolutely stellar, though. We still have a long way to go in the singing department.)

Eager to hear all of your thoughts. If any of you have any criticism, please take us to the cleaners. Please. 😛

We have a Facebook page, too. (Please “like” even if you hate us.)
Rainbow Season