Friday, June 12, 2009

Another semi-relevant bit of coursework for you.


Madness (Is All in the Mind): Is This Really England?

“But I've got one question to ask you. Do you consider yourself English, or Jamaican?”

A seemingly simple query, directed at a young Jamaican-born skinhead by the name of Milky by an elder statesman of the gang, comes spring-loaded with decades of hatred and resentment. Unbeknownst to Milky, his very life may hinge upon his response; luckily for him, he answered “correctly,” identifying himself as “English.” Now then, one must ask: what does that mean? No one really seems to know for sure. Ask anyone walking down the streets of London whether they consider themselves to be British, English, or something else altogether, and you’re sure to get a different response every time. Is Englishness imbued in any individual who happened to be born on this particular island in this particular sea, and a force in his character from the first breath he takes? Is it learned? Assumed? Chosen? Technically, a third-generation Bangladeshi who lives on Brick Lane is as English as Adam Walker, but which of them is more likely to see it as a source of pride? It’s a complex situation, and one the bears examination. Director Shane Meadows, one of England’s rising stars, explored the issue in his landmark film This is England, touching upon some of the very uncomfortable stereotypes and issues that plague English society in the process.
Milky, his gang of affable skinhead mates, and their adopted mascot, young Shaun, are the central characters in the gritty semi-biographical drama, which takes place in the English Midlands. Its protagonist, a scruffy social outcast by the name of Shaun, lives in a dingy little house with his mother and wakes up to a photo of his late father, a casualty of the Falklands War, each morning. One afternoon, on his way from a particularly rough day at school, Shaun stumbles across a bunch of good-natured skinheads, led by the charismatic Woody, who immediately take him under their wing and welcome him into their group. A freshly shaved head, brand-new Ben Sherman shirt, oxblood Docs, cuffed denims, braces, and an attitude adjustment – with a haircut, a trip to the shop, and a couple cans of lager, Shaun is transformed, and suddenly, he’s found himself a place in the world. He even gets a girlfriend – the unfortunately nicknamed Smell, an older punk/new-wave type, who shows him genuine, if slightly bemused, affection. Newly empowered by his army of benevolent, though slightly rough, companions, and armed with his mother’s blessing, Shaun enters the happiest period of his life. Everything changes, though, once Combo comes to town. Racism, violence, radical politics, intimidation, confusion, and bloodshed enter young Shaun’s life, eventually leaving him shaken, disillusioned, and, once again, alone.
The film paints a grim picture of working-class England in the early eighties. July 1983 was an unhappy time to be English; unemployment had risen well past the two million mark, the country was nursing still-fresh war wounds, and its people were struggling to scrape by and eke out a living under the iron fist of Margaret Thatcher. The relative success of the Falklands War brought reelection for the Iron Lady, and a surge of patriotic feelings swept the nation. Unfortunately, a healthy sense of national pride was twisted by some into something much harsher, and much more dangerous. This increase in British nationalism and the problems it caused were represented by the character of Combo – a bitter, racist, violent fascist who returns to the fold following a sting in prison, and rapidly becomes a surrogate father figure to Shaun. The young boy looks up to him as a strong masculine figure, and latches onto his ideals in an effort to please him and prevent him from leaving the way Shaun’s real father did. Preaching intolerance thinly disguised as patriotism, he forces Woody’s gang to chose sides, effectively separating the skinheads into rival factions that eventually found it nearly impossible to coexist.
It’s important to note that This is England is set in 1983 - one year after the New National Front and a faction of the British Movement merged to form the new British National Party. Combo brings Shaun and several other young skins to a BNP rally, where they are exposed to the party’s radically nationalist doctrines. The BNP plays a pivotal role in the film’s development, imprinting its ideology into young Shaun’s psyche and molding him into its own xenophobic image. The change in the boy is immediately noticeable, and made most glaringly obvious during a violent, Comno-aided encounter with Mr. Sandhu, the Pakistani shopkeeper with whom Shaun had had minor tussles before.
As the film progresses, Combo cultivates an unlikely friendship with Milky, (a nickname which in itself distinguishes him as something “different” – inadvertently pulled between two cultures by his own best friends). One scene shows the two bonding over marijuana and reggae, a situation that alludes to the hand ska and reggae played in uniting the white skinheads and black Jamaicans of the era. The pleasant atmosphere evaporates as Combo beings asking Milky about the boy’ family; during the course of the next few minutes, the friendly questions turn into a hard-edged interrogation, and eventually end in violence. Milky’s warm stories about his family and the rejection Combo had recently suffered from his former love, Lol, combined to trigger something in the man’s own dark past and damaged psyche. Combo’s savage beating of Milky and the old skin’s ensuing emotional breakdown have a profound impact on Shaun, who saw everything. Suddenly, the tough little skinhead sheds his tough outer shell and once again becomes the scared little boy that all the boots and all the braces braces in the world could not hide.
The closing scene – when Shaun throws the St. George’s Cross flag into the sea – is poignant on several levels. On one, it shows him rejecting his surrogate father and his teachings. One could also take it to mean that Shaun was disowning his English heritage altogether, after seeing it tainted and twisted so terribly by a person he trusted. The St. George’s Cross is still a bone of contention amongst English folk today; while some try to claim it for their own, to celebrate their own unique brand of Englishness, others still see it as a dangerous symbol of nationalism, one that should be kept under wraps and supplanted by the broader-minded Union Jack. It’s anybody’s guess which side will ultimately prevail, and what exactly was meant by Shaun’s parting gesture, but such is the beauty of This is England – much like real life, it leaves the ending up to you.

Maybe I'll update this more often now that I'm done with classes.

Until that pans out, here's an essay I wrote for my British Culture class about the effect of British heavy metal on the American metal scene.


COME TO THE SABBATH: The Lasting Effects of British Heavy Metal

In the beginning, there were the blues. They came howling out of the muddy waters of the Mississippi, bearing the still-beating heart of Robert Johnson in their tobacco-stained fingertips, and stopping, briefly, at the crossroads, to see a demon about a soul. Once the blues calmed down a little and branched out a bit, there was skiffle. This half-grown redheaded stepchild bridged the gap between the past and the future with its jug band aesthetic and pub-ready mishmash of blues, country, folk, and jazz, and spawned a generation of soon-to-be-legends. Skiffle paved the way for the first primal stirrings of British rock’n’roll, and served as a crucial jumping-off point for the Beatles, Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, and Van Morrison . The frenetic tempos and laid-back attitudes of the skiffle players paved the way for the sweaty, upbeat urgency of British rock’n’roll, which slowly but surely stole across the nation once the Swingin’ Sixties took hold. Brit rock rolled in at the tail end of the ‘50s and dominated the UK charts for many years after as countless British teenagers, all revved up on boogie woogie American blues and the slicked-back cool of Elvis, picked up a twelve-string and started their own bands. Of course, it is impossible to write about British rock’n’roll without making mention of the world’s most famous Liverpudlians – those wisecracking moppets that made it bigger than Jesus – the Beatles. They stormed onto the British music scene in 1962, and didn’t stop ‘til they’d changed the world a few times over. Their influence was felt ‘round the world, especially in the United States and in their own nation. The Beatles were, for a brief period, the biggest, best, and most beloved band in the world – everyone wanted to be them, or at least, sound like them. Their invention of and forays deeper into drugs, paisley, and psychedelia inspired a host of new bands, including Pink Floyd, who themselves became a massive inspiration on generations of drug- and riff-enthusiasts for decades afterwards. Their album, “Dark Side of the Moon” is hailed as a milestone of progressive rock, a musician-friendly genre that sprang up in the late sixties and drew upon extended song structures, jazz fusion, and classical music to enthrall and perplex their audiences. The jazzy excess and convoluted concepts of bands like King Crimson, Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer exemplified the best and worst aspects of prog rock, but their focus on musicality provided inspiration for other bands, who took the idea and ran with it – in the opposite direction. Legions of British bands came strutting out of the woodwork during the early 70’s; Steppenwolf, The Kinks, The Who, Cream, and the Yardbirds kick-started the hard rock movement, then Thin Lizzy gave it its soul.Hard rock and proto-metal, pioneered by bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Blue Cheer, and Iron Butterfly, took the bluesy stomp of rock’n’roll, toughened it up with the distortion and electric guitar squeals of acid rock, and somewhere in between blowing ganja smoke over the water and climbing the stairway to heaven, accidentally laid the groundwork for heavier things to come. Hard rock had grit, it had riffs, and it had just enough danger to mythologize some of its leading men, but there was still something missing. And then…there was Sabbath.
Black Sabbath were the first heavy metal band, and they are from England. In the simplest possible terms, this means that heavy metal comes from England, which in turn means that every single country in the world and millions of headbangers owe their lives to those four lads from Birmingham. The debate rages on to this day, pitting ‘Sabbath against hard rock heavyweights like Led Zeppelin and Blue Cheer, but the outcome is clear. It’s all in the fingertips.
In 1970, a great roar came rumbling down from the blackened hills of Birmingham. It was loud, it was slow, and most of all, it was heavy. It was a bone-shattering homage to sonic excess and the evil that men do. It crawled along at a crippled pace as a cackling ghoul of a singer with a voice like a banshee invoked dire images of demons, witches, and impending doom. Soaked in distortion and draped with an occult atmosphere ripped straight out of Crowley’s boudoir and held down on the lowest of the low end by a man in black, this new sound was borne of hard rock and working-class blues, of alienation, depression, and the smog-filled air of an industrial wasteland. This was 1970, which, after Black Sabbath’s eponymous debut hit the scene like an atomic bomb, would forever be known as “the year that heavy metal was born.”
Black Sabbath’s career has spanned three decades, and their influence has reached to every corner of the globe. Alongside fellow Brits Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath form the most important and legendary trifecta, the Unholy Trinity, of what has become known as “traditional heavy metal,” and gone on to inspire literally every metal band that has formed from then on out. Their influence has been felt particularly strongly in the States, largely in part to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal phenomenon that swept the country in the late seventies. This group of bands incorporated the faster tempos, chunky power chords, and rough attitude of punk rock into their Sabbath-inflected savagery, and pioneered the now familiar metal “look” of long hair, denim, leather, boots, and bullet belts.
The NWOBHM bands that had the greatest impact on American music scene were those that provided a foundation for the more extreme metal subgenres that were to develop in the coming years. Motorhead, Venom, Diamond Head, Saxon, Girlschool, Def Leppard, Angel Witch, and Iron Maiden are the most commonly cited influences for American bands of both that era and more recent times. While lesser-known bands faded quietly into obscurity, the heavy hitters carried on and have made an indelible mark upon the international metal scene. The easiest way to comprehend just how important these British bands and the ones that predate them were to the development of heavy metal in the States and abroad is to trace the evolutions of the various subgenres and styles that they either directly or indirectly inspired.
Together, NWOBHM and the traditional heavy metal forebears that predated it single-handedly kick-started the development of power metal and thrash metal, two of the main branches of the heavy metal tree.
The most full-blooded offspring of the NWOBHM, power metal, remains one of the purest forms of metal, given its similarities to Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and the original NWOBHM bands. The hallmarks of power metal include soaring male vocals, fast upbeat tempos, blazing guitar solos, melodic elements, and fantasy or mythology-related imagery and concepts, which were, of course, found in the vast majority of the NWOBHM. It must be noted that power metal is much more popular in Europe than it is in the United States; the biggest fanbase and most well-known bands are found in Germany (Helloween, HammerFall), though two of the most popular power metal bands in recent memory, Kamelot and Manowar, both hail from the USA.
The offshoots of thrash metal span far and wide, encompassing several strains of black metal, a good deal of punk rock crossover bands, a variety of modern commercially-oriented bands, and death metal as a whole. Thrash metal as it is known today began in the early eighties, after the NWOBHM had run its course and left a swath of shellshocked new metal fans in its wake. One of the biggest American metal bands of all time, Bay area thrashers turned arena-rock superstars Metallica, openly acknowledge the huge debt they owe to Diamond Head, Motorhead, and Blitzkrieg and have covered a number of NWOBHM songs throughout the course of their career. Metallica were the first of the Big Four of American thrash metal to form, and were swiftly joined by Southern California’s Slayer, New York City’s Anthrax, and fellow Bay Area locals Megadeth, which featured Metallica’s original, and now former, guitarist, Dave Mustaine. Elements of the NWOBHM sound are apparent in each band’s early recordings, though most of them, and especially Slayer, eventually strayed from the melodic past and embraced a more extreme sound. Drawing heavily upon Judas Priest’s quicksilver guitars and Motorhead’s rough, punk-influenced riffage, thrash metal’s main focus is on speed, aggression, gruff vocals, the “shredding” guitar style, and manic, high-register guitar solos, and was one of the first styles of metal to openly discuss sociopolitical issues and the darker recesses of humanity – war, death, and isolation. The Teutonic thrash scene, which was itself heavily influenced by the NWOBHM bands, provided a rawer, more violent approach, made famous by the ominously monikered, leather-clad Germans in Sodom, Kreator, and Destruction. American bands like Testament, Death Angel, Overkill, Vio-Lence, and Sadus joined the bloodthirsty Brazilians of Sepultura and Sarcofago and the technicality-obsessed Canadians in Annihilator and Voivod in spearheading the worldwide thrash metal scene. England had her own thrash brigade (Onslaught, Sabbath, Acid Reign) but, for the first time, was outstripped by the Americans’ stronger and more widespread scene. In recent times, however, a resurgence of interest in traditional, or “retro,” thrash has yielded a crop of new British bands (Gama Bomb, Evile, Savage Messiah, a reformed Onslaught), whose popularity has increased drastically in both the States and on their home turf, thanks to a massive push from established British extreme metal label, Earache Records.
Once thrash metal became more popular and accepted amongst the mainstream, metal fans began to search for something new – harder, heavier, more extreme. The next logical step in the evolution of extreme metal was, of course, death metal. Death metal was fast, it was technical, it was aggressive, and its vocalists employed painful-sounding, deep-throated growls to share their gory, masochistic lyrics with their fiercely dedicated audiences.Heavily influenced by the faster and more occult-focused thrash bands like Slayer, Kreator, and Switzerland’s Celtic Frost, the first death metal bands came from the States – Death, Possessed, and Morbid Angel. Death metal is the most uniquely American of all the metal subgenres, but its roots run deep beneath British soil, and the aforementioned British label Earache Records was instrumental in the genres expansion. The most important British contributions to the international death metal scene came from Carcass, who themselves pioneered the goregrind and melodic death metal scenes, and Bolt Thrower, who are best known for their talented female bassist and enduring obsession with warfare. Other British bands like the “Peaceville Three” (Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, and Katatonia) started out in a death metal vein, gradually incorporating more elements of doom metal throughout the year before giving rise to an entirely new, very British sound - gothic metal, which is now one of the most commercially successful strains of heavy metal in the world.
England is renowned for its doom metal bands, and rightly so – it has given rise to some of the most important and best-loved doom bands of all time. Doom, which borrows heavily from Tony Iommi’s playbook, focuses on slow, heavy, amplified riffs and exceedingly long song structures, and is the closest modern counterpart to Black Sabbath’s original sound. Electric Wizard, Orange Goblin, Witchfinder General, Cathedral, and Iron Monkey are veritable institutions as far as modern doom metal is concerned, and they are joined by their younger countrymen in Ramesses, Moss, Esoteric, and Warning, who are making waves in the international scene themselves. These hugely influential bands inspired thousands of longhaired Americans to stop spinning the first Black Sabbath record long enough to learn a few basslines and plug into an amp; the American doom metal scene is quite strong, but cannot hold a candle to the original British riff masters.
The British record label, Peaceville Records, were also instrumental in the early British anarcho/crust scene, and released influential recordings by Doom, Electro Hippies, Axegrinder, Agathocles, and Deviated Instinct. In 1981, England’s punk rock roots, combined with the foreign fury of death metal with the disaffection and anti-government sentiments of early anarcho-punks Crass and Amebix, gave birth to the particularly nasty subgenre of grindcore. Extreme Noise Terror and Napalm Death were the first true grindcore bands, and their furious live shows, incredibly fast and short songs, and sociopolitical rants gained them international recognition and respect within the extreme music community. Grindcore has splintered into a dozen smaller sub-subgenres, such as noisegrind, powerviolence, and deathgrind, but purveyors of the original style still exist, and the two original British grind bands are still touring and releasing records.
One particular subgenre owes its entire aesthetic, down to its very title, to one NWOBHM band from Newcastle upon Tyne, England. The intentionally primitive, overtly theatrical and gleefully blasphemous Venom went on to start and christen an entirely new subgenre of their own called black metal, which remains one of the most musically adventurous and ideologically extreme styles of heavy music. Venom were a direct influence on the First Wave of black metal, which included groups like Bathory, and Hellhammer, who in turn influenced the Second Wave – Darkthrone, Burzum, Mayhem, and Emperor . Black metal is characterized by its emphasis on atmosphere and rawness, with buzzing guitar tones, low production values, and shrieked or howled vocals, and is associated with strong misanthropic, anti-religious/Satanic sentiments, and in some cases, with fascism, and violence. Until recent times, England has been bereft of notable black metal acts, but in recent years, has witnessed a renewed interest in the style. Commercial acts like Cradle of Filth and Hecate Enthoned headline major festivals while folk-influenced groups like Forefather and Winterfylleth and avant-garde extremists like Anaal Nathrakh, Code, and Axis of Perdition continue to push the aural envelope and keep British black metal on the map. If there had been no Venom, there would be no black metal, and the thriving global black metal scene would not exist.
The intent of this essay is to show just how intricately connected the metal scenes of England and the States are, and just how incredibly important England’s contributions to heavy music and rock have been. This is only a very brief overview of the evolution of a very long-running, infinitely multi-faceted style of music that has a profound effect on millions of people of every nationality. From a common template of Delta blues to skiffle, then on to rock’n’roll – for Beatlemania, for psychedelia, past the “Dark Side of the Moon,” from Genesis to Motorhead, from Electro Hippies to Cradle of Filth, and far beyond into the future, we have England to thank for all it.
Black Sabbath invented heavy metal, Judas Priest fueled it with fire and gave it its edge, and Iron Maiden brought complexity, fantasy, and a degree of intellectualism to the table. All three bands are still active, still releasing records, and still hitting the road every so often. Thirty-odd years later, the old guard have yet to falter, and serve as fresh inspiration for legions of new fans and allies. There are countless routes that a young band can take in order to achieve the particular sound and aesthetic that appeals to them, but in the end, all roads lead back to Birmingham.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I'm utter shite at updating this.

You would be too, if you'd managed to cover 5 countries in about as many weeks and drink your weight in Strongbow in the process. Legitimate updates soon, but for now, here's a review of a play I wrote for my British Theatre class.

Literary Review
Kim Kelly

We are being watched. Constantly, persistently – twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year. You are being watched, and what’s more, you know it. That’s why you chose to wear that particular shirt today, why you decided to wear your hair up instead of down, why you grabbed the blue umbrella instead of the green. Other people are always watching, judging, and evaluating, and receive the very same treatment from you. Such is the nature of our day-to-day life, but imagine for a moment, if you can, those who observe silently – the security guard, the plainclothes cop, the pickpocket, the shadowy figure lurking just beyond the next corner. Not all those who observe harbor malicious intent, and may in fact be quite benign, but the very notion that a pair of unseen eyes is following your every move makes for an unsettling feeling at the very least. Alan Beckett’s absurdist nightmare deals with that very feeling – that shiver down the spine and prickle on the back of your arms that tells you that someone’s eyes are upon you, and they do not have your best interests in mind at all.
Enjoy is a piece of theatre that demands attention – there is simply too much going on for a casual theatergoer to stomach without giving into the urge to plunge into its deeper meanings. Equal parts comical, puzzling, endearing, disturbing, and heartbreakingly sad, Enjoy follows a day in the life of Mam & Dad – Connie and Wilf Craven, the world-worn residents of one of Leeds’ last back-to-backs. The play revolves around the unexpected intrusion of a silent, well-dressed stranger called Ms. Craig, whose entrance into their messily monotonous life unlocks a chain of events that twists and turns them straight out of their comfort zones and smack dab into bedlam.
For one thing, Ms. Craig is not only a “sociologist,” ostensibly sent by the council to observe the Cravens’ way of life; she’s actually a man in drag – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Ms. Craig’s cross-dressing actually seems rather mundane, after one sees how Enjoy’s story unfolds. Richard Glaves’ icy portrayal of the old folks’ mysterious visitor borders on the clinical, underpinned by a sometimes comic, sometimes disturbing aura of vague menace and glimmers of genuine emotion that shine through during his scenes with the Cravens. David Troughton’s Wilf (whom Connie refers to as “Dad”) is a cantankerous old fusspot with a host of semi-imagined health problems, a penchant for girlie mags, and a massive soft spot for his acid-tongued daughter, played to a side-splitting tee by a heavily-rouged Josie Walker. Mam (or Connie, as everyone but her husband refers to her) is a gentle soul, a tragic character in her own right, and is the most human out of all of them. Cheerfully suffering from the early stages of Alzheimers’ and muddling along as best she can, Mam flutters about like a flustered old hen and tries her hardest to convince their posh-looking visitor that her dysfunctional family is something close to normal - that the increasingly-bizarre events of the day don’t represent what her family is “really” like. She’s forever rearranging the pillows and trailing off into silence as she struggles to retain both her memories and her grasp on reality. A revolving cast of supporting characters comes and goes, but the main focus is on Mam and Dad, their stale marriage, and their interactions with their silent observer, for whom they put on (inadvertently or otherwise) an act. After all, Big Brother is watching.

As previously mentioned, Enjoy takes place in Leeds, entirely inside one of the last back-to-backs in town. Its residents cling to the idea of their upcoming move into a modern facility (with non-slip vinyl flooring!) and express mild bewilderment over the council’s interest in their day-to-day lives. A lovingly constructed model house, complete with tiny kitchen, winding stairs, and ratty sofas, comprises the set; shades of beige and gray clothe the stage and its denizens, with the exception of daughter Linda’s garish getups. Enjoy dances with the devil on several occasions, bringing the taboo subjects of homosexuality, incest, prostitution, and death into play and boldly challenging the audience to ask themselves what they would do when faced with these situations. Enjoy reminds us that all the world’s a stage, and that we are all being watched. How we choose to act is entirely up to us.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Well, I'm awful at updating this. Luckily I'm able to cobble together a decent account of what I've been up to from Twitter and Livejournal (yup, still have one! Mad old school). I believe I left off on Monday? Tuesday and Wednesday can't have been that eventful; I do remember going out to the Intrepid Fox an 12 Bar with Jess, Kevin, Rock, Jo and Anastasiya, after which I had to deal with Jess being the WORST DRUNK IN THE WORLD and met a nice Aussie boy in the process. Thursday we all went and saw a play, "Entertaining Mr. Sloane," for our theatre class. One of the most awkward things I've ever witnessed - the Brits are really, really good at making their audiences feel uncomfortable. It was quite cool actually. Friday ruled because I went over to the Terrorizer offices to hang out with Louise and see what the deal is with the internship I'm supposed to be doing there this summer. All the dudes that work there are rad, especially James and the intern whose name I forget already, and Louise sent off a bunch of emails to some of her mates in Norway telling them to look out for me. As a result, I've been invited to four listening parties - Borknagar, Skitliv, Code and Madder Mortem - and offered a place to stay during Inferno weekend, so clearly she did me a big favor. Sweetest most badass lady ever - i can't wait to work with her this summer. Well, intern. That's going to be my co-op, I've decided. I also believe I'm going to be writing for them now? Blogging for sure, and possibly doing a bit of print stuff somewhere down the line. I'll be representing Terrorizer at Inferno, which is ridiculously rad in and of itself. I can't wait for this weekend!!!!!

It took forever and a half, but I've finally got everything sorted for my travels this month. I've got the flights booked, at least. I've got someone to crash with in Norway, am crashing with a lovely German couple in Nuremburg then with Manegarm at Ragnarok fest in Germany, will probably be with the Terrorizer crew in Holland, and Portugal...well, Portugal's like three weeks away. I may just buy a little tent and camp out if the weather's nice. I'm also going to Wales sometime soon to hang out with Aled; we're going to go hiking and visit some castles and trade music. It's a 3hr trip each way, but he offered to pick me up in his car from a halfway point; suuuper nice chap.

As far as metal/work things go...Metalsucks went for my heavy metal pilgrimage idea, which should be pretty cool. To explain that - I'm going to make a trip to Birmingham, the REAL birthplace of heavy metal (i.e. BLACK SABBATH, and fuck you if you say otherwise) and wander around, take some photos of Sab's old stomping grounds, maybe even get some quotes from the locals about the band. I think it'll be a good story. I still need to write some things for Metal Injection, and I think I have to interview Moss, Alestorm, and Pestilence for Hails & Horns (which should be interesting since i haven't even heard the new records yet). I'm supposed to do something on the latter for Noisecreep, too, now that I think of it, and will be taking mad notes on the fest so's I can blog about 'em for Terrorizer/write it up for whomever.

On Friday after I left the office, I met up with Evan and we went to Brick Lane for Indian food (SO GOOD) then to Rough Trade Records, where I narrowly avoided buying a 'Scum' picture disc, and took down the email address of some girl that put up a flyer looking for people to start a black metal/sludge/post rock/noise mashup band with. You never know, right? Maybe she needs a throat. After that, came home, went on the fifty billion cheapo airfare sites I've got stashed away, and got things settled for this month. My next big trips will be to Czechoslovakia and France for Obscene Extreme and Hellfest, respectively, then hopefully Scotland, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain thrown in for non-metal fun. I want to go to Russia too, but we'll see - it's a helluva long road to those onion domes.

Saturday was the best. Went to the Victoria & Albert Museum with Rock and Kevin and got more Indian food, then headed up to Camden for the British Steel fest. I need to get used to this 'shows starting on time' thing they do here, 'cause I apparently got there quite late and ended up missing all the bands but Pagan Altar and Cloven Hoof (which were the only bands I cared about anyway). Met some cool people from Birmingham, rocked out to some ridiculous old-school NWOBHM, then headed over to the Hobgoblin, this killer metal bar. I met loads of awesome dudes there from all over the place, and made some legitimate friends, half of which are apparently in bands (Savage Messiah, who're on Candlelight, and Necrosadistic Goat Torture, who are my new favorite dudes ever). Turns out half of Destroyer 666 were hanging out there that night too! Be still my heart. I ended up staying there 'til 3am or so, then, when confronted with the nightmarish prospect of finding my way home via night bus at that hour, gratefully took up one of the NGT dudes' offer to crash on his couch. His name's Duncan, and we stayed up chatting and talking music 'til 5-6am, then woke up mad late, went grocery shopping, then had a lovely picnic in the graveyard (yes, you read that right) the next day. I think he fancies me, and he i quite cute, but I'm not looking for anything like that right now. I'm just happy to have made a good friend. He told me all sorts of things about London, and about growing up in Germany, which if you take his word for it is the best place in the world. I also found out why Londn doesn't have any goddamn trash cans - the IRA used to put bombs in them and cause a ruckus, s they got rid of 'em. Pretty wild, right? Duncan's taking Jess and I around to some vinyl stores tomorrow, too, which should be cool.

After I got home from Duncan's on Sunday, I realized how shitty I felt (sick - congested, headache, sore throat) and went to bed early after talking to Grzesiek on Skype for two or so hours. i miss him SO much. Woke up hella late today, went for a walk around the neighborhood and got some medicine from Boots, then went to on a tour of the National Theatre and saw a play, 'Death and the King's Horseman,' which was brilliantly done but very depressing. Got home quite late from that, did some metal work stuff, and am off to bed soon. I've been missing Kelly and Matt really badly, and am compensating for their absence by sending them ridiculous random texts as often as I can. I'm also trying to find a good piercing studio in this city - one of my micros has been acting up again, and it always makes me feel better to have a professional look at it and tell me to stop being so paranoid.


Monday, March 30, 2009

A Few Days Pass

Well then. I've learned a thing or two by now, one of which is that while I'm living in the equivalent of Society Hill or the Upper East Side, it's only three stops on the Tube to a shopping complex that boasts the English equivalents of Walmart, Shoprite, and Wegman's. Thus, my cupboards are now fully stocked with Nutella, pears, Darjeeling tea, some red meat, sharp cheddar,celery, lovely crusty bread, and, er...not much else. I never said I was good at balancing meals, but at least I'm good at avoiding junk food.

The last few days have been a bit of a whirlwind. I believe I left off on Friday night? Which was a shitshow. Word to the wise: NEVER attempt to coordinate the schedules of 16 people in order to get anything at all accomplished. The lto of us went out for Indian (went to this great place called Masala Zone that was as authentic as a chain restaurant in London cna be) then stopped back at the flat to plan the rest of the evening. After at least an hour of discussing and waiting and fucking around, we split up into two groups. Mine went to Leicester Square to check out the clubs there, and when we arrived and realized that clubs cost money to enter, everyone except Raquel, Kevin, and I bailed. We basically said fuck it and went to Oxygen, and proceeded to have a great time drinking overpriced cocktails, dancing like mad to silly techno, and goggling at the abysmal dancing skills of the English people. I also got surprise-snogged by a cocky English boy and ran into some cuties from Colorado before we stumbled back home.

Everyone was hungover on Saturday, which did not excuse us from the walking tour of S. Kensington that we were forced to take. It turned out to be a rather lovely time, and our tour guide ruled. Our neighborhood if beyond ritzy, but there are plenty of adorable tiny French cafes and shops tucked away along the alleys to keep it interesting. Can't remember the rest of the day, but I do know that I went out for Thai with Jess, Rob and Rainier and thusly managed to miss Extreme Noise Terror. Bummed about that. I ended up staying in and talking to Grzesiek on Skype for about two and a half hours then crashing when the girls came home from whatever gay club they'd tripped off to.

Sunday was a 10am bus tour of the city that took us all over the place and crammed about two days' worth of sightseeing into about three hours. We saw Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the House of Parliament, Scotland Yard, London Bridge, the Old City of London, and about a billion other spots, effectively knocking out about 2/3 of the shit I'm supposed to go see to satisfy my grandmother. Afterwards, I went to lunch and shopping with Jess, Rob, Jo and Lili, and escaped early because H&M is an awful place. Raquel and I went for a run through Kensington Gardens, during which we discovered a couple ponds, a statue of Peter Pan, and a nifty little art gallery called the Serpentine smack dab in the middle of everything. After that, made dinner, then a bunch of us went out for a quick beer before the pubs closed and went to bed early.

Today was our first day of classes! We only had one, a 3-hour lecture on British Culture and Society. I really enjoyed it, and love the professor already, so am looking forward to the rest of the semester with that class at least. Evan, Raquel, Kevin and I went out shopping for necessities afterwards (which took ages), I made a badass dinner (soy chicken w/ basmati rice, baby corn, and mangetout) and now I am settled the fuck in for the night. Cheers.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Since I write/talk about my ridiculous life all the time anyway, and am way too prone to getting absurdly busy/distracted to send out lengthy updates and detailed emails to all my friends back home with any sort of regularity, I figured it'd be a good idea to start (and hopefully keep up with) a blog to document the more interesting experiences I have over here. The internet connection here is spotty at best, so bear with me.

I left the United States at 10:25pm on March 25, 2009. As always, my perception of time - and the amount I had of it - was off, which meant that I spent the hours leading up to my departure leisurely doing my radio show, saying goodbye to Matt, and buying a rucksack, then upon noticing the time, growing more and more frantic as I attempted to pack my entire life into a brown suitcase, matching tote bag, and the aforementioned rucksack. This was not going well at all until Kelly showed up, gently forced me to remove about a dozen of the band shirts I'd been desperately trying to shove into any remaining pocket of space, and generally calmed me down. Diana swung by, I doled out my remaining booze (there was no way I was leaving that for my now-ex roommates - or for my dad), spun into panic mode over last minute complications, then finally managed to say my goodbyes, drop them off, and sped like mad down to my granddad's house. Looked up my flight info while I was there then hauled ass to Newark International. Breezed through security then unexpectedly ran into Evan and Katie in the waiting area - somehow I'd booked myself on the same plane that the Drexel group flight was on without realizing it, which was a bit ironic since I almost always vehemently despise flying with people and had done my best to avoid dong so. I sent out a ton of goodbye texts, gave G a call, then turned off my phone for good. The flight was about 6.5 hours, which I spent watching movies (Doubt, Choke) instead of sleeping (terrible decision) and the on-flight meal they served was absolutely adorable. Fly Virgin Atlantic - they hook it up.

Upon our arrival, we waffled around the airport for a bit before being collected by someone from the school and deposited onto a double decker bus. Evan and I snagged seats at the very front of the top deck and settled in to check out the scenery. My first impression of England was, well, that it's green. For a highly-developed, densely-populated island nation and to my immense delight, the Brits have managed to maintain a wonderful amount of forest, field, and park space. We're living in a house right across the street from Hyde Park, actually. The place I'm staying is in the South Kensington/Chelsea area, which is super nice and super expensive. Everything looks the same, buildings/shops-wise, so it's a given that I've already managed to get lost a few times. I' in a room with Jess, Rock, and Jo, and everyone from Drexel is in the same flat, which is on the goddamn 5th floor and has a bunch of bedrooms, a couple bathrooms, a little kitchen, and a living room/dining room area. Once everyone arrived, unpacked, and had a chance to catch our breath, we went out en masse to explore our surroundings and change our worthless American dollars into distressingly-expensive pounds. Jess, Jo, Katie and I went to a pub, where I made the first of many unpleasant realizations - pub food sucks, and while most pubs don't card, this particular pub did, and I'd left my ID at the dorm. At least our waiter was a cute Pole with a nice smile and plenty of beer suggestions. After that, we came back and had the first of about a billion "orientation" meetings and were led around like a bunch of schoolchildren on a field trip by our infallibly perky Resident Adviser type. I really dislike the "stick together!" mentality that a lot of the kids here already have; I didn't come here to make new BFFS with a bunch of kids from school, I came here to go out on my own and explore. I don't mind hanging out with the Drexel kids, and am of course already tight with Jess, Rock, Jo and Kevin so it's a given that we'll all hang out; I just feel like a goober walking around in a big seething mass of confused, loud Americans. Throughout all of my travels, I have never been so conscious of my accent; I feel like I sound like a Southerner or something, since all the Brits talk at hyperspeed.

So last night, galloch, Dornenreich, Mely and Fen were playing the Underworld, and I'd gotten tickets months ago. I took a cab over 'cause I don't have the subway figured out yet and wasn't sure when the show was actually starting; it said that doors were at 7pm, but I'm ued to being "punktual" at Philly shows, and wasn't about to show up late to this one. Sadly, Fen went on first so I mised them anyway, but Mely was decent, and Dornenreich were great! It was really strange to walk around a packed metal show and not know at least a half dozen people - that's what made me realize just how far away from home I am, but was comforting too. Everyone there looked familiar, because metalheads everywhere tend to look more or less the same. The only visible differences were that there was a bit more of a "gothy" vibe to some of the attire, there were more chicks (generally sporting said gothy attire), and a LOT of the dudes were, well, really, reeeeeally hot! I nearly broke my neck checking some of those lads out. Even better, I ran into my friend Louise from Terrorizer right before Agalloch, so we got to catch up then rock out during their set. I'm probably going to be interning/blogging for them, and may be traveling with Louise and her counterpart James to Roadburn next month. She's the best. Agalloch are PERFECT live, by the way - absolutely untouchable. They played a lot off Pale Folklore and the newer one, but everything sounded amazing. This was their first London show ever, and they played for 65 minutes! I finally found Aled too, as soon as Agalloch were done being amazing and most of the crowd had cleared out. Had a nice chat with him and promised to come up and visit Wales soon, then peaced out and headed to the subway, which I decided was worth wrangling since the show has finished at 11pm. The London Tube/Underground is just like the NYC system, which means it's easy as pie to navigate if you've got half a brain and can read a color-coded map. A few minutes before my train came, this wobbly, incohrent old man came up and started wheezing at me. I assumed he was just another homeless dude an told him I didn't have any British money, but he shook his head in irritation and snapped that he didn't want money, he wanted to get to Highgate. Apparently in the UK, homeless people beg for directions, not change? I told him I wasn't local and couldn't help him, to which he replied "I'm as sick as a donkey at sea!" which was an interesting way to end the conversation. He was right up close to my face and was starting to freak me out a bit, so I backed away and ignored him. He tottered off to ask a few other peole, then came back around to me and got right up in my face - not okay, so I started yelling "I'M FROM FUCKIN' PHILLY MAN, I DON'T KNOW WHERE YOU'RE TRYNA GO" exaggerating my accent a bit so he'd believe me. Someone finally came up and tried to help him with the map; in the meantime, some absolutely gorgeous boy in an overcoat had come and stood between the old man and I, and started talking to me. Turns out he and his friends were from Brazil and were passing through London on a European vacation. They got off a few stops before me, and the lovely one leaned in and gave me a kiss on the cheek as he got up to leave. Damn suave non-Americans. Came back, talked to Rock for awhile, then finally crashed - I'd been up since 10am on Wednesday, so I was a zombie by then.

Today, my room woke up late and had to rush down to one of the school buildings for another orientation session. Rock and I ended up getting there 20 minutes late because we had no idea where we were going, neither of us have phones, and our two roommates decided not to wait for us, so it took awhile to find our way over there. Got orientated, then after that I went grocery shopping for necessities (i.e. meat, rice, fruit and Nutella), somehow got dreadfully lost, and ended up taking a cab back. I think we're going to go ride the buses around and see the city a bit before dinner and, I'm sure, drinks. Everyone's going nuts with the booze already - Jess and Jo got in at 5am last night. I'm not too impressed with the alcohol selection over here yet, so we'll see how long I can make it 'til Whiskey Month in Scotland!