Gallows – Grey Britain

2009’s Grey Britain is the seminal sophomore album (and Magnum Opus) by the unique British Hardcore Punk band Gallows. It was their major label debut and final album to feature original singer Frank Carter.

It was released through Warner Brothers, who gave the band a substantial budget which allowed them to hire an orchestra, and despite now being beholden to a major label, Gallows somehow managed to turn in something nastier, more artistically relevant and furiously biting than anyone could want or expect. It was produced by Garth Richardson (of Biffy Clyro, Rise Against, Mudvayne, Sick Of It All and Testament fame) and featured guest appearances from Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil and Black Hole’s Richard Carter.

The album, in terms of quality, is an absolute gem. The combination of monster riffs, savage and politically astute lyrics, passionate energetic performances and the great deal of variety and clever ideas make this album feel like an absolute classic.

Everything; from the crushing sludgy intro “The Riverbank,” to the catchy “The Vulture” and the almost Mastodon-esque album closer “Crucifucks” this album is excellent. Pianos and string sections mix with Metalcore influenced breakdowns, ragged Hardcore power and some of the best lyrics going. Its all absolute gold. There is no filler, no weak moments and an absolute feast of memorable moments. Moments like the ‘beat by beat as the blows reign down’ section in “Death Voices” or the ending to the anti-Knife Crime anthem “Queensbury Rules” are utterly unforgettable and really connect on a raw, gut level. When Frank venomously spits out the lyrics to “Misery” you practically fear for his life.

Its hard to pick stand-out moments because this is such a powerful, effective and consistent album that every song can be your favourite song at one time or another. It also gets better and better with each new listen and is a real grower. Every song is excellent on its own, but when combined they come together as a sort of menacing black-hearted semi concept album that is even better than the sum of its parts.

Overall; this is an utterly superb album on every level and I highly recommend that you pick yourself up a copy. The sheer raw passion oozes through every moment of the album and the themes of urban discontent, violence and the breakdown of society all come across as brutally visceral and honest, never for a moment feeling contrived. This is an artistic masterpiece and deserves to be hailed as a classic album from this point on.

Black Label Society – Shot To Hell

Shot To Hell is the seventh full-length studio album by the American Heavy Metal band Black Label Society, the biker-themed band started by ex-Ozzy Osbourne virtuoso guitarist Zack Wylde.

It was their first album on Roadrunner Records, and it was released in 2006, one year after their successful Mafia record. The album was co-produced by band leader Zakk Wylde and Michael Beinhorn (of Korn, Marilyn Manson, Soundgarden and Ozzy Osbourne fame).

The band are purveyors of big meaty riffs, frequent guitar slides, bends and squeals and of course Zack’s blistering solos for which the band are famous. The mostly guitar based songwriting is accompanied by Grunge-tinged singing, solid uncomplicated rhythms designed for head-banging and fist-pumping and a mixture of fast or mid-paced Metal songs with acoustic numbers (often with a slight Southern Rock hint or the inclusion of piano).

The vocals here have gone from a sort of blend between Neil Fallon and Layne Staley to having a larger Ozzy influence this time around. Other than that, this isn’t one of the band’s most talking-point albums. Not the rawest, the fastest, the doomiest, the most quiet, or anything else. This is just Black Label Society, doing their thing (meaty, simple, enjoyable Metal songs). It could be argued that this is a slightly more commercial effort due to the mostly shorter song durations and frequency of ballads, as well as the inclusion of the MTV friendly hit single “Concrete Jungle.” So; if you aren’t into the bands rawer, doomier side, skip their debut and start here, and vice-versa; if you want the band at their gnarliest start with the early stuff and work forwards.

No matter what direction you prefer from the band however, there are some really killer BLS songs on here; especially towards the end of the record. “Faith Is Blind,” as well as the acoustic-but-bouncy “Blood Is Thicker Than Water,” and especially the speedy “Devil’s Dime” are all particularly strong.

If you are a fan of Clutch, Alice In Chains, Pantera, ‘90s Corrosion Of Conformity, ‘90s Metallica, ‘90s Ozzy Osbourne, or even Soil then Black Label Society are well worth your time checking out. This album, while not boasting any easy descriptive label, is a good addition to the collection. I would also recommend Sonic Brew and Order Of The Black too if you haven’t heard them already.

Hello and welcome to my “Get (Into) What You Paid For” challenge, in which I attempt to not buy anything for a month, and reevaluate my opinion of records I bought previously but never really became a true fan of, taking this purchase-abstinence as a chance to finally “get my money’s worth” out’ve the more undervalued albums in my collection. That; and present thoughts and musings that don’t fit elsewhere on the blog.

Ok. Its now Day 18. Apart from the mistake with the excitement of the Machine Head tickets, there have been no purchases. I damn near bought the comic book Crisis On Infinite Earths but fought it off at the last minute. I also nearly bought a few Megadeth b-sides as single mp3s but shook that off too.

Other than that, I’m pretty temptation free. I’ve spent most of my time watching documentaries on Netflix about health and food and vegetarianism (I’m not a vegetarian myself, but it was still good entertainment), lifting weights and eating more fruit and veg than I did in the entire last two months, maybe three months (I let my healthy eating slide about a year ago and am getting back to normal again now). If you watch the documentaries it really reminds you to get your vitamins and minerals. If I was in charge, I’d make kids watch them once every year to just remind them. At least they’d probably eat veg for a month every year. Even that small thing would add years to their lives and oodles to their quality of life later on.

But enough health propaganda. What about music?

I am also happy that my copy of Accept’s Blind Rage has dispatched. I should hopefully receive it tomorrow. Just in time for my free holiday to mainland Europe. It would be nice to have Blind Rage for the bus ride to the airport.

What else? I finally finished Dave Mustaine’s autobiography. It was really interesting, it goes from his childhood right up until the writing of Endgame, and although the period from United Abominations to Endgame is really, really short compared to everything else (every other album and tour cycle gets a detailed story), this is a remarkably consistent, honest, interesting and deep book.

He discusses his flaws, his embarrassments and his mistakes in a way that makes you understand how he thinks and how much of this can be attributed to drugs, and how much is just his personality. You can see where the different parts of his problems come from. You can see why the Metallica-firing hurt so much and really understand him. You can also see what a jerk he was to people. He points out his hypocrisies and bad decisions. On a human level, its just a really interesting and brutally honest book. (A warning though, it is a tad too homophobic at times.)

In addition to finishing that book I’ve also finished the DC Comic Book Crossover story Final Crisis. This is a story in which the stories from a bunch of different superheroes (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern etc.) all crash into one larger story. It’s an apocalypse sort of story. Mind control, dark gods, the end of the universe. Big name characters die or are injured. The consequences of this story affected things for a while afterwards. Apparently it was a huge deal at the time.

It’s a remarkably intelligent work that works on several levels as a commentary on comic books, stories, authors, and the responsibilities and rights associated with those things. The first time I read it, roughly one year ago, I was beyond baffled. Impenetrable would be a fair description. This time around, armed with documentaries about its author, Wikipedia breakdowns of the plot and characters, a years worth of Batman experience, a detailed series of fan analysis online and more patience than last time… I went in prepared and was rewarded. I enjoyed it a lot. I was entertained, I was impressed, I was educated. Good job. I’d happily read it again now that I’ve “got it.” I’d recommend it too, so long as you already like Grant Morison’s style.

I’ve also been watching The Metal Voice. I had watched things like this before at times such as Dom’s Iron Sandwhich and Cover Killer Nation. Youtube shows that are basically a podcast about heavy metal, often in the form of a man looking at a webcam and reviewing a Metal album. The Metal Voice is slightly better than most others in that they put some effort into it and its more like a public access TV show sometimes. Plus its Canadian. I thought they were really unfair with Slipknot… but oh well, can’t have everything.

So… time to appreciate some albums I bought but never felt like I got my money’s worth out of:

Serj

I’m going to re-listen to Serj Tankian’s debut studio album, 2007’s Elect The Dead. This solo record, recorded shortly after the dissolution of the at-the-time absolute superstar band System Of A Down (an acrimonious demise that left you unsympathetic to the guys in the band), this album kind of passed me by as a bit throwaway.

Sure, here’s a new album, but who really cares?

It opens up with “Empty Walls” which is pretty much System Of A Down. Its also surprisingly awesome. I remember not liking it at the time because a) I had kind of got bored of SOAD and b) It seemed repetitive. Furthermore, it was 2007, so I was probably listening to nothing but Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd, Camel, Rush, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull and ELP… Serj doesn’t really fit in with that sort of palate.

Listening back now, this song is a real “hit single” or “classic song.” Regardless of its actual financial success, artistically, this is as good as any SOAD hit. Its as good to me as “Sugar” or “Chop Suey” or “B.Y.O.B.”

The next song, “Unthinking Majority” is pretty much the same… a brilliant catchy single that is as good as any SOAD banger. It has a bit more of an Eastern-tinge, and an awkward time-change dynamic with keyboards that is similar to stuff on his next album Imperfect Harmonies. This song is pretty great too.

Next comes “Money.” It starts off as a soulful, piano-led sort of ballad. Then there is an explosive BYOB-style racket of energetic metal/punk noise. Then it goes back to the keyboard stuff. This is also a pretty great song, and the softer side provides contrast to the previous tracks, but the chorus keeps it from feeling like a slowing-down. The pre-chorus is excellent. Nice song.

This is followed by “Feed Us.” Oh, what’s the point? You know what? This WHOLE ALBUM can be summed up by my feelings for “Empty Walls.” I wasn’t in the mood when the album came out, but this is way better than it is given credit for. A forgotten gem.

Every song is a short 2-4 banger that could be a lead single on any other album. Well, except the somber album closer… but apart from that moody number, every song could be a bouncy first-single.

Apart from the lack of Daron’s backing vocals you can barely tell it isn’t a SOAD album. The highlights for me are “Lie Lie Lie,” “Saving Us” and “Sky Is Over.” Even the track “Baby” which I used to hate for being a bit too wacky (in a cheesy way, rather than in a Protest The Hero tasteful-but-hectic way) with its silly pronunciation of the word “Baby” is actually a fabulous song. This is a rock solid album. Way, way better than it is given credit for. More consistent than most SOAD records. Better than the majority of solo albums from anyone in the Alternative Metal/Nu Metal spectrum.

Serj 2

Wow. This is good. Its lead me to listen to Imperfect Harmonies too. Its good. Not just as good (and if you are in the mood for a Rock Band playing Rock Songs its not right for you because its more like a Nine Inch Nails album, in that one artist with a laptop and a keyboard has written an electronics and vocals based record.) If it wasn’t for the big style-shift, this would be a lot better received. If you’re in the mood for it, this is a real strong album. In and of itself, for what it is, this is really strong.

Following that, I’ve just given his most recent effort, Harakiri, again. Its good. It sounds trite, but it is the halfway point between both of those records and his discography would make more sense if this was released between the first and second albums. I liked it at the time, I like it now. Its highlights, including “Figure It Out,” “Occupied Tears,” “Uneducated Democracy” and “Weave On” are all strong and worth your time. It mightn’t be the most strong and consistent record ever, but its highlights are all pretty sweet.

MSG

What else is it time to get my money’s worth? How about my boxset of Michael Schenker Group albums? I listened to all four studio albums in preparation for this article. They are a pretty decent band. They are sort of like a mixture between Thin Lizzy without the Thin-Lizzy unique touch, with 70s Judas Priest without their heaviness, with Coverdale era Deep Purple without their funk. Also some real pop radio choruses that can feel out of place. Awesome guitar solos as you would expect. Its really a guitar album (or albums). Its such a weird point between Rock and Metal that I can’t compare it to anything else I know (apart from UFO, obviously). I would love to hear Children Of Bodom or someone like that cover their songs. “Attack Of The Mad Axeman” is the prize find of the collection, an absolutely wonderful rock song. Such a fun riff! – The rest of it is a mixed bag of mostly good but rarely memorable. Every time I’ve ever listened to them, I’ve liked them more, but I’ve never gotten to the boy-oh-boy-I-love-this-band stage. Still, I don’t regret buying the nice cheap boxset of five albums (there’s a live album in it too), but I think it’ll take a few more listens before I feel I’ve gotten my money’s worth.

FF

On the subject of getting your money’s worth. I also spent last night listening to Burn My Eyes and Demanufacture. What can I say, I liked these two albums a lot anyway, and I already feel I got my money’s worth out of them, but I had some sort of real revelation last night and I really, really “got them” in a new way.

Its like, every other time I listened to them, there was a cloud of static in my brain. Like when you see a difficult math equation and you can’t even try to solve it because there is a cloud of static in your brain. Its that same exact feeling, and it has just cleared. I heard what a truly wonderful album Demanufactue is last night in a way I never knew before, in the entire decade (and more) since I bought it.

Sometimes its hearing another album, or seeing a documentary, or using new speakers, or a new EQ setting, or simply aging, but sometimes my brain just totally changes shape and new things come in. On first listen, Dream Theater’s Scenes From A Memory was a cheesy mess of stolen ELP parts and no Metal, and now it is a masterpiece and surprisingly heavy.

Now, Burn My Eyes and Demanufacture just got some “golden ticket” invitation to the awesome centre of my brain. Interesting how this stuff happens. I’d like to see some neurological data about it, but…. Failing that, I’ll just blog about it here and see what you guys think is going on?

What is the cloud of static in my brain, and why has it shifted away from these two records?

Hello and welcome to the 15th day in this fourth round of my “Get (Into) What You Paid For” challenge, in which I attempt to not buy anything for a month, and reevaluate my opinion of records I bought previously but never really became a true fan of, taking this purchase-abstinence as a chance to finally “get my money’s worth” out’ve the more undervalued albums in my collection. That; and present thoughts and musings that don’t fit elsewhere on the blog.

I’m half-way through the challenge and have not caved in yet. Its been about a week since I last did a write-up. I have been pretty tempted at times to go into town and see what I could pick up… a quick visit to HMV or Forbidden Planet couldn’t hurt, right? NO! Stay focused….

I’ve also found myself drifting onto Amazon a lot. Maybe I’ll just pick up a copy of Emperor’s In The Nightside Eclipse, what with all this reunion concert stuff in the news…. NO! Just listen to the three Emperor albums in your existing collection idiot!

Well, maybe I’ll just go on Amazon and read reviews of Death’s Leporasy and Venom’s first three albums….whoah, what’s this, “add to basket”?…. Aaaahhhh! Undo, Undo Undo!

“Ok, I’ll just distract myself by re-reading DC’s Final Crisis, since it confused me the first time I read it but now I know more background and might be able to understand more… oh, Green Lantern is kind of cool, Captain Marvel is kind of cool. I wonder if there is a Justice League TV show… oh there is. I wonder if its available on Amazon……..Oh no, not again!…undo, undo, undo!”

I did eventually manage to distract myself by finally cracking open my copy of Dave Mustaine’s autobiography, which I actually received back in December as a Christmas Gift. Great book. I’m enjoying it a lot (despite the homophobia practically seeping through the pages and making me want to wash my hands) and I’ve got through the bits when he was in Metallica, to when he invented Megadeth and all the way up to where they’re just about to record Rust In Peace. Its cool. I never knew Ellefson was a drug addict too. I never knew the backstory of how Jeff Young and Chuck Behler got and lost their jobs. I never realized that Megadeth were almost as bad as Motely Crue for Sex Drugs and Rock N Roll decadence.

This made me go on a gigantic Megadeth listening spree, which is always a good spree to go on, if you ask me. Like Pantera, I never want to go too far without hearing some Megadeth. Its easy to let the bands that you really love go un-listened to when exploring new things, but its always good to just cast off the explorer’s hat and sit down in your favourite country. (What an odd analogy).

I really like rock star biographies and especially autobiographies. I’ve read Marilyn Manson’s one, no exaggeration, at least 20 times. If anyone would care to recommend some in the comments, drop me a line. Is Motorhead’s White Line Fever any good? Are there any good Metallica ones? Is Heavier Than Heaven good? Has anyone written one about Judas Priest? How about Anthrax?

Also, my non-music time can still result in a Metal-spotting news update; I watched the movie Zombie Land on Netflix recently. Metallica and Van Halen tracks were used. Reminds me of spotting Pantera on Orange Is The New Black. Sons Of Anarchy was great for that sort of thing, lots of stuff like Monster Magnet, Clutch, Soundgarden etc.

Zombie Land itself was OK. I like Jesse Eisenberg now, after The Social Network made him seem more than just “we can’t afford Michael Cera, hire someone similar” so just his presence is enjoyable. I wasn’t never a zombie fan and that always put me off trying out this movie. It just seemed like a lazy cash-in on what internet-users enjoyed that year (like if they made a Bacon movie last year). I’ve also watched the documentaries Supersize Me and Food Matters, but you’ll be disappointed to hear that there weren’t any Cannibal Corpse tracks in their soundtracks.

So yeah anyway… the week was going OK temptation-wise. Getting shaky but nothing I wasn’t able to stop when I thought about it. Then comes today…Oh, dear. You know what I just did? I just broke my damn challenge, didn’t I?

At the time of writing, I’ve just received an email about Machine Head tickets going on sale, and I automatically went and bought some straight away in case they sold out… temporarily forgetting the whole “don’t buy anything challenge” even as I was simultaneously writing about it here. Idiot. I should’ve waited until September to buy tickets, and if they sold out by then C’est La Vie.. at least I’d saved money, at least I’d learned discipline. Woops. Well, I guess this challenge is now going to be extended then, to make up for it. Damn. Shall we say another 15 days? A month from today, instead of a month from August 1st? No, today had a purchase in it, so I better make it 16 days. So, on September 15th it now ends. (August has a “31st”).

“Couldn’t have put tickets on sale a few weeks later, could you, 02 Apollo?” “Its not as if Machine Head are going to struggle to sell them out quickly in the UK. Are they now?”

Oh well. Nobody’s fault but my own. Still…. Machine Head tickets, ey? I haven’t ever gotten to see Machine Head before. This will be great. Think of the absolute thunderous up-wards trajectory they’ve been on for the past decade or so! Three absolutely superb albums, a fourth about to drop that seems every bit as excellent. I’m very excited about this. Its not like I broke the challenge by buying an album of Obituary B-sides or something… they say the key to happiness is buying memories instead of possessions. I reckon I’ll remember seeing Machine Head for some time to come.

Or so I’ll tell myself so I don’t look too stupid for breaking the challenge.

So. That’s the temptation and random thoughts aspect covered. What about the whole listening to things aspect of these articles?

B.J

I decided to augment my weightlifting experience today by listening to Jethro Tull’s Aqualung (hardly an under-listened gem seeing as its one of my favourite albums of all time and I listened to it almost daily for the three years or so after I initially bought it) and Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet; which I bought a while back, along with some other Bon Jovi albums, to celebrate the end of my Exams. I’ve not listened to any of the Bon Jovi albums as much as I should have since that purchase, but they still aren’t in the under-appreciated zone yet, even if it is starting to look a bit like they might head that way. They are still in my new-purcahses drawer in the filing cabinet of my brain.

Slippery When Wet is a lot of fun. The hits are excellent. Even “Wanted Dead Or Alive” which I used to hate as a teenager, due to never sitting and listening to it all the way through. I had a gut-reaction of “yuck” and never questioned it. Well, much like the million faces Bon Jovi have seen, it now has rocked me. The only moment that is a bit questionable is the slow ballad “Without Love” which sounds too much like a high-school dance in an 80s movie for my tastes, but that is easily skippable. The rest of it? “I’d Die For You” is a monster. Really enjoyable song indeed. “Wild In The Streets” is similarly fun. I like “Raise Your Hands” a lot too. I certainly wouldn’t mind if this became a regular-listen of mine. Wouldn’t mind at all. OK… its not as heavy as W.A.S.P, or as infectious as Quiet Riot, or as brilliant a guitar-show as Dokken, or whoever else I’ve been listening to lately… but it is a very smooth, enjoyable listen.

The rest of my day has been spent listening to Kings Of Leon and Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged album because I’m visiting someone else’s house at the minute and they’re fans of acoustic Nirvana and electric Kings Of Leon. Its like how I listen to Arctic Monkeys’ new album AM even more when my girlfriend is round… not everyone can listen to Megadeth and Exodus without feeling a little put-off, but AM is a record no one could find too crazy. That and its awesome. So if you have non-Metal-fans visiting, you can still listen to music you enjoy, without putting on something your companions don’t enjoy. No need to be so Metal that you are just selfish, ey?

K.O.L

But anyway… Kings Of Leon got a lot of flack in the Metal community over the last few years, especially around 2010-2012. Listening to them now, I notice a lot of similarities with Pearl Jam, and sometimes their use of slide guitar or bluesy shuffle evokes a certain Zeppelin-y-ness. I think, yeah… they’re a credible rock act. A real band of actual musicians who write real songs in a room together. Its not some cynical pop music and its not an elevated-above-their-station-by-NME band with one hit single and no substance. They’ve got a lot to offer people who listen to 60s and 70s rock bands, and the less-metallic 90s Grunge-era bands (Pearl Jam, post-Core Stone Temple Pilots, Smashing Pumpkins etc).

I’ve got a lot of respect for them now after hearing deep cuts and songs I didn’t hear-to-death on the radio or in adverts. I mean, listen to “McFearless” with its awesome drumbeat, buzzy production and lead-bass. Until the singing comes in, that could be off of Antichrist Superstar. The intro to “Charmer” has a dirty punk feeling like Bleach-era Nirvana, and when the guitar solo and bouncy beat are going in “Black Thumbnail” they could be Black Country Communion or something… its that old rock done nowadays sort of thing. “My Party” wouldn’t be too out-of-place on Pearl Jam’s Vitology album. I’m not saying that you could mistake Kings Of Leon for Slayer any time soon, and they shouldn’t get on a concert bill with Lamb Of God or anything, but… they’re not exactly Jedward.

But hey, I am a huge Libertines and Arctic Monkeys fan (and a decent-sized Frattellis fan), and most of the people who hated Kings Of Leon in 2010-2012 would see that as a reason not to trust my opinion.

So um, yeah… **Cough Cough** “Death to false Metal, only listen to Manowar” and all that…

Am I credible now?

In honour of my un-Metalness, today’s Top 5s will be of the British Indie bands in my music collection. There aren’t many, but I like them just the same as Testament, Fear Factory or Carpathian Forest.

The Libertines :
1. Good Old Days
2. Never Never
3. The Man Who Would Be King
4. The Delany
5. Skag And Bone Man

Dirty Pretty Things :
1. Bloodthirsty Bastards
2. Last Of The Smalltown Playboys
3. One To My Left
4. Kicks Or Consumption
5. Best Face

Babyshambles :
1. Back From The Dead
2. Fall From Grace
3. A’rebours
4. The Man Who Came To Stay
5. Baddie’s Boogie

Yeti :
1. Never Lose Your Sense Of Wonder
2. Midnight Flight
3. Up And Down
4. Working For The Industry
5. The Last Time That You Go

Arctic Monkeys :
1. You Probably Couldnt See For The Lights But You Were Looking Straight At Me
2. Still Take You Home
3. RU Mine?
4. My Propeller
5. If You Were There, Beware

The Fratellis :
1. My Friend John
2. Got Ma Nuts From A Hippy
3. Creeping Up The Backstairs
4. The Acid-Jazz Singer
5. Tell Me A Lie

Pissing Razors – Live In The Devil’s Triangle

You can tell from the very first seconds of Pissing Razors’ first and only official Live Album, Live In The Devil’s Triangle, that the band mean business. It kicks off instantly into a noisy powerful fury, and from that point onwards scarcely lets up in intensity at all for its sixteen-tack, hour-long duration.

With the enthusiastic crowd riled up, tracks like ‘Burning Bridges,’ ‘Dodging Bullets,’ ‘Mass Corruption’ and ‘Cursed’ are blasted through with a fiery and sincere performance that is at once razor sharp, but still utterly teeming with energy and passion.

Do you know those rare brilliant live albums where the songs are just even better than in the studio? Live albums that make you feel like you are at the actual gig and aren’t overproduced but still sound fantastic? Albums like Pantera’s 101 Proof? This is such a live album. If you were only to get one Pissing Razors album, you could happily chose this and get a stellar, no-filler collection of their brightest moments, all put together in a great performance.

The album features the then-new singer Andrew Acosta on vocals on his first recorded appearance with the band, as well as Cesar Sota on guitar filling out the line-up alongside long time member Rick Valles on bass and absolute virtuoso drummer Eddy Garcia. The 2002 record features a career spanning setlist that, more than any other release, really shows what this underrated Texan Groove Metal band were capable of. The band have a superb formula, and here that formula is made manifest, and elevated beyond its station to become greater than the sum of its parts for once, and it is really worth your time checking it out.

Do you like bands like Pantera, Machine Head, Fear Factory, Prong and Soulfly? You may love Pissing Razors too if you give this album a try.

Hello and welcome to the sixteenth installment of Amateur Batfan, a series of blogposts here at Kincrimsonblog where I try something new. Instead of writing exclusively about music like I usually would, I’m dipping my toes into the field of writing about comics. I’m fairly new to comics. You can read about my history with the comics medium in the first entry of the series.

Long story short, I liked comics-related stuff but found the whole idea of being a comics fan too embarrassing, and some of the comics I did try were lacking-in-depth, so I didn’t like comics themselves until my friend Paul opened my mind, multiple times over the years until I finally allowed myself to enjoy them. I had a sort of snobbery to overcome. Its been overcome now though, and I’ve spent most of the last year buying and reading Batman comics, which I will now blog about for your reading pleasure and commenting-inspiration (seriously, I want to know what you think about these comics).

Following my previous discussion of Kevin Smith’s Batman debut Cacophony; I will spend today writing about the second part of his Batman work, The Widening Gyre.

Cacophony was 3 issues long. ‘Gyre was double that length at six. With more space to play with, it is a lot wilder and more adventurous. Its a lot less enclosed and more sprawling. Its picked up on the most bombastic elements of its predecessor and used that as the default. Its also added a whole romance and couples-having-fun-and-being-silly-together angle, as well as taken a shining to highlighting the less realistic side of Batman comics.

The linear notes credit Walt Flannegan’s requests to draw numerous favourite characters as a reason for this as much as Smith’s initial story vision, and the fusing of these two goals creates something pretty memorable. If you are kind its a colourful (arguably gaudy), less-psychedelic and metaphore-filled version of what Grant Morrison was doing. If you are unkind, its an anachronistic mess and self-indulgent wish-fulfillment session by a duo with no taste.

Where do I sit, kind or unkind?

Batman

Batman – The Widening Gyre:

- Writers: Kevin Smith
– Art: Walt Flanagan
– Colours: Art Lyon

- Continuity: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint

- Timeline Position: Late Career, but Pre-Morrison’s story.

- Batman is: Bruce Wayne

- Villains: Baron Blitzkrieg, Atomic Skull, Killer Croc, Poison Ivy, Joker, Deadshot, Calendar Man, Crazy Quilt, Polka Dot Man, Cornelius Stirk, Black Manta, Funland, Mr Freeze,

- Allies: Alfred Pennyworth, James Gordon (Police), Baphomet, Dick Grayson as Robin & Nightwing, Tim Drake as Robin, Catwoman, Superman, Aquaman,

- Bystanders: Silver Saint Cloud, Gavin Adam, Mulligan, Arvin Flemming, May, June, Dirty Dan Yellpoon, Barry “Stiff” Saunders, The Spade of Clubs, Dr. Wolper,

- References: Barbara Gordon, Jason Todd, Mad Hatter, Onomotepeia, Riddler, Clayface, Connor Hawke as Green Arrow, Etrigan the Demon, Tweedledum, Two-Face, Evan Gregory, Toyman, Aqualad, Cyborg, Changeling, Kid Flash, Raven, Starfire , Wonder Girl, Black Spider , Doctor Phosphorus; Harley Quinn, Ocean Master, Planet Master; Captain Stingaree, Cavalier, Killer Moth, Kite-Man , Black Lightning, Geo-Force, Halo, Katana, Metamorpho, Baron Bedlam, Coldsnap, Heatstroke, New Wave, Shakedown, Windfall, Swamp Thing

- Story: [/Spoilers] Nightwing calls Batman to Bludhaven to view an old villain’s costume in a fit of sentimentality, as well as to inform him of a murder by Poison Ivy. Batman goes to meet Ivy in Arkham, where he finds out she is trying to hide from Etrigan the daemon. Etrigan turns on Batman, and Batman is overpowered, but saved at the last minute by new superhero Baphomet. Fearing Tim Drake will one day leave him just like Dick Grayson did, Batman starts toying with the idea of partnering-up with Baphomet, who is nervous and over-familiar, but likeable nonetheless. Bruce respects Baphomet’s lack of publicity-seeking or media interest, and Baphomet catches a villain that Bruce lets escape in order to save a hostage, making the two seem like a good team.

Multiple flashbacks to various periods in Bruce’s past go on through the story to underscore points. Scenes are saw of Batman with a young Robin, with a teenage Robin, with Robin becoming Nightwing, with Batman joining The Outsiders.

The other part of the plot is that Batman’s former lover Silver St Cloud returns and the two start a relationship that builds and builds until Batman eventually proposes to her, and the two get engaged. Silver allows Bruce to feel less obsessed with crime-fighting than usual and he starts to question his future.

Batman spends more time with Silver and leaves Gotham to Tim Drake and Baphomet. He is mistrustful of the new people in his life but after investigating them both all fears are removed. Life is good. Bruce is becoming a little too happy… maybe he’ll give up the Batman career in a few years.

I won’t spoil the ending because it is really, really strong.

- Art: Much less inconsistent than Cacophony in terms of quality, but fittingly inconsistent in style to reflect all the different eras of Batman. Its well done. There are hidden View Askew references (Buy Me Toys, Nails Cigarettes etc). There is a lot of detail, a lot of effort is clearly vissible. I don’t really like the style myself on a personal-taste level, but a lot of effort has gone into it, and it is functionally good as well as a huge improvement over the previous installment.

- My Thoughts: This is a real multiplication of the first one. Everything that was wrong with the first one (inappropriate language and swearing, jokes that don’t fit, dialogue Bruce would never say by any other writer’s choice, open discussions of sex, rude jokes etc) are here, way less subtly, way more often. If you don’t like the sound of that, you won’t like this book.

If you think it’s a bad idea for Catwoman to say “Wait, I’m not wearing any panties” then you won’t like this book at all. Because she does indeed say that in this book. Poison Ivy also tries to get Batman high on cannabis. Its Batman as written by Kevin Smith… so if you don’t think Smith’s personal taste fits in with the tone you want from Batman, then avoid, avoid, avoid!

Even I had huge problems with some parts, and found it difficult to continue reading at points. (And there’s a lot of Jewish jokes that seem a bit dodgy to me).

Once you get past the taste issue, the story is a big, colourful, bombastic tour of Batman’s history, as I’ve stated its very much like Grant Morrison’s “it all happened” style with a lot of references to the past and obscure characters and things like Batman’s work in teams (Justice League/Outsiders) with Superhumans. If you only want Batman to be realistic and only deal with humans… this isn’t the book for you…

Then there’s the love story. The Bruce can retire because he found love story. The Bruce lightens up a bit story. Depending on your taste this can be interesting or really lame.

As for the controversial “Batman wet himself” thing that people obsess over in this book… it is really not a big deal, or sacrilegious or anything like that. That issue is blown way out of proportion, and out of all the non-Batman things in the book, that is probably actually the least important. Its arguably handled rather well in the book actually.

On the plus side, some of the comedy is good (Calendar Man’s attitude to being sick was funny), some of the story is interesting, some of the references are neat (a young Dr. Wolper in particular). Baphomet is a good character and really likeable. The ending is superb. The ending is worth reading the book for alone. I won’t discuss it further to avoid spoilers or hype-disappointment-syndrome.

Overall; a very hit and miss book. It really depends on your mood and your sensibilities. It is intended to be colourful and fun and show off the bits of the Batman universe that aren’t over-done all the time in the grim and gritty era. Just like everyone praises Grant Morrison for. Smith definitely has a unique voice too. The ending is great, the amount of effort is great and the new guy is great.

However… there is so much just, un-Batman stuff in there that even with the biggest leniency and fandom for Smith, and a “this is his take on it, not mainline continuity” attitude, all the dirty jokes and drugs-talk and madcap ideas work way better on a podcast as a hypothetical than in the actual comic. Its kind of Smith-has-gone-too-far almost.

Its hard to get over that, and recommend it for being the very good book that it is, because I know fine rightly how awful it might seem if you aren’t forgiving of the sheer un-Batmanness. Smiling-Batman-of-the-70s as a fun book yes! Recall that spirit, good idea. A Bruce Wayne that isn’t psychologically tortured or borderline insane, yes! Refreshing, good idea.

Calling people “bitches” “turds” “emo-boys” “goths” and being overtly sexual… not for me thanks. That aspect, while again, it would be great to hear on a podcast with excitement in Smith’s voice and his co-host laughing, just doesn’t sit right with me in a comic.

So; In answer to the question, “where do I sit?” I’m afraid my answer is “On The Fence.”