Friday, October 09, 2009

The Last Temptation of Popeye

After listening to Schaffer the Darklord's third full-length, Manslaughterer, I have come to regard his recording career as running oddly parallel to geek horror classic the Evil Dead trilogy. Seriously.

Stay with me here, people.

Meet My Maker, his debut LP, is much like Raimi's original film. It's a fun, violent and ultimately uneven ride that succeeds by precariously alternating moments of outright camp and extravagant shock value. The follow-up, Mark of the Beast, retreads a bit of the original, just like Evil Dead II, but, much like the film, properly finds its artistic center; it strikes an inspired balance between music and comedy that lends itself much more to be appreciated as a cohesive whole.

This, of course, means that Manslaughterer is Army of Darkness, the truly illogical conclusion that reminds you that, just like Sam Raimi, Mark Schaffer is a man who is not only a genuinely talented artist, but also the type of cat who refuses to take himself (or his success) too seriously.
And suffice it to say that, as unpopular a position as this may be, AOD is my personal favorite.

Manslaughterer, likewise, hits a lot of high points for me as a listener and longtime fan. It kicks off with "Opening from the Black Box," an appropriately creepy intro that, despite some leveling problems, leads expertly into "Arrival of the Fittest." "Arrival" boasts some amazing rock guitar work – a component that powers both this track and the bulk of the album – resonant background vocals that add a great deal of additional depth and exactly the kind of smarmy, rapid-fire references to classic triumphant protagonists you'd expect from STD.

From there, Manslaughterer segues into "Club Destroyer (feat. Removal)," a literal club banger with great vocal energy framed against a frantic musical backdrop. It's a proper theme song for any band who's had to deal with shitty venues, as well as the fans who suffered through it with them. In fact, it's very metal, but somehow sounds to me like a counter-intuitive cross between the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Dead Boys. (Neither of which, in case you don't know, are particularly metal.)

"Psyched" is classic Schaffer, with fast and snotty delivery, but it's more electronic-based than the tracks leading up to it. Still, it features more great use of female backing vocals and trails expertly into "The Bender," a track leaked some time ago as part of STD's vidcast. It's another anthem of overindulgence – a topic Mark has covered a lot recently – that delivers with a fantastic chorus and a great wind-down.

"H-Mail (feat. Coolzey & Lisa2Eyes)" comes across like STD's unique send-up of "Stan," only with less Dido and more venom. It's a great answer to artistic criticism, which, while certainly not a rarity in nerdcore, is a fine use of Schaffer's comedic snark. Truth be told, I don't wanna like the chorus on this one, but I do. Coolzey's verse breaks the track up nicely and adds a new flavor, and the ending jab – "P.S. you're gay!" – is firmly brilliant.

"Monsters of Rock (feat. MC Lars)" is an ideal Halloween track that's lyrically sound and well-paced but suffers from an unbalanced chorus and some odd use of panning and vocal effects, though it earns bonus points for a gory tour through rock 'n' roll history and especially for shouting out the late, great Dave Blood. The follow-up "Goddamnit," however, stands out as one of Scaff's all-time greats. The string-heavy backing and expert use of both vocal doubling and wah guitar combine with the over-the-top lyrics to make it one of those joints that's impossible not to sing along with. It also includes a sharp deconstruction of that spell-shit-out-in-the-chorus thing that pop artists are once again abusing. In summation: it's amazingly dynamic from top to bottom.

"Pixelated Vixen" fares significantly worse. Despite the great Donkey Kong intro and brilliant beat, it's a little flat compared to some of the other offerings. The use of auto-tune is novel, as is the double-time delivery toward the end, but it fails to rock my world on par with the bulk of Manslaughterer thus far.

From there we're treated to the "Message from a Former Employer" interlude that exists purely to lead us to "A Very Bad Man," another perfect joint with a memorable beat and a hilarious narrative as STD explains his uniquely dark nature. I love the variation on a theme – unlike Run DMC, Scaff is bad meaning bad, not bad meaning good – and, like some of his earlier work ("The Rappist"), it's another great take on the traditional hip-hop pastiche.

On the other side of the coin, "Buckets of Blood (feat. KABUTO THE PYTHON)" is an unbelievably enjoyable track that manages to stick much closer to hip-hop-proper, at least in composition. Okay, so maybe it's a borderline horrorcore jam, but it somehow manages to stay funny and light, and KABUTO again proves himself the ultimate guest star. Oh, and pay close attention to the scratching in the outtro. Fucking divine!

The album maintains this musical inertia with "The Other Devil," which, despite some more odd vocal effects, is truly the high water mark of Manslaughterer. Hilarious, frantic, breathless and… relentlessly panning, it adds in a thudding bassline and some more razor-sharp background vox to achieve utter perfection. It's the kind of structurally impeccable offering that I have no idea how STD plans to pull off live, but I can't wait to hear him try! Oh, and did I mention it's about Popeye?!

"The Invisible Man (feat. Shael Riley)" sounds almost dirge-like after "The Other Devil." It's a cool and creepy narrative to which Shael adds an expertly pained chorus, but the mix never quite seems right. "Scorpio" is similarly messy, with a crunchy, bleepy backing that makes it stand out. Still, while not skippable, it is a little weak.

Though my hatred of skits has already been well recorded, I'll give "Visit with MC Frontalot" a nod, as it's fairly entertaining, but it's also too long. Of course, the jab at Front re: "Tongue-Clucking Grammarian" is sort of worth the wait. From there, "Thunder Thief (feat. Jane Silence)" somehow manages to push the background vocals to the forefront, and has an overall enchanting feel. Maybe it's a little lazy at times, but it brings in a great new texture in the album's waning moments, and should serve as fair warning to Schaff's potential opening acts.

The much talked-about "Battlefont" winds down Manslaughterer with a wonderful concept and an equally top-shelf delivery in the style of a twisted limerick. It's an ideal way to to close things out, with strong drums and a power metal chorus that reminds you of the album's more organic leanings. Then "Goodbye, Cool World" stands firm as a final thank/fuck you from our humble host. Full of piss, vinegar and (hollow) threats of retirement, it’s all about that sinister fall-apart ending.

All in all, Manslaughterer is a perfectly pleasing ride. STD manages to walk a fine line with regard to the outlandishness we've come to expect from his work, while still offering surprises a-plenty. Lyrically, its damn-near impeccable, and both the album and the individual songs themselves are rock solid, structurally-speaking. In fact, the only thing really holding the work back is a series of seemingly odd production decisions that I can't help but assume are by design.

Why would Schaffer make an album with ultra-compressed vocals and constant panning? I have no idea. Of course, I don't know why he'd drop a record where the background vocals are almost as much a part of the songs' core aural palette as the raps themselves, but it fucking works.

As does, it should be noted, Manslaughterer's rock slant, which is clearly linked to Schaffer's recently unveiled live setup as backed by The Darklords. It's the kind of change that many would be afraid to make, as messing with the recipe is often a fool's gamble. But Mark does it, and he does it well.

He does it with a nod to the kind of nontraditional rap that is his calling card, as well as his sacrosanct heavy metal roots. Likewise, he does it in spite of the knowledge that his unique (and often sacrilegious) blend of herbs and spices isn't for everyone, but he does it none the less. With conviction. With heart. With balls.

And that's enough to make a believer out of me.

All hail the Manslaughterer!

"I'm the other devil on your other shoulder."

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

For the Kids

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to score a seat at the virtual roundtable that is the Epic Default podcast. Admittedly, this edition was of the drunken variety, so my contribution may have been a bit less weighty than usual, but such is the nature of the beast. The Epic Defaulters are currently sifting through the debris in an attempt to make our sloppy discourse listenable, and whenever the final product rears its knobby head I'll be sure to put up a pointer.

As I would imagine is the case with most of you, I first became aware of the Epic Default crew during PAX '08, when the guys Bad Horsed a veritable cavalcade of top-shelf geeks. Since that time, ringleader Jonny Nero and I have struck up the obligatory friendship, and he and the guys really made me feel welcome on the show. Or at least they acted as welcoming as a group of wholly intoxicated nerds - one of which seemed to be under the assumption that I planned to assault him - could possibly be.

But more important than their perfectly executed pranks or their propensity for intoxication is Epic Default's dedication to supporting nerd culture through the most positive channels available. For the second year in a row, Jonny and the guys are participating in Sarcastic Gamer's Extra Life fundraiser in support of Texas Children's Hospital. Essentially, it's a 24 hour charity gaming marathon. Gamers the world over forgo sleep and personal hygiene to raise money to help fight pediatric cancer.

If your schedule is open on October 17th, you might want to consider signing up to participate in the event while there's still time to round up some pledge money. Otherwise, why not toss a little scratch at your brothers from Team Epic Default? You'll be glad you did!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Nerd News in Brief

Sadly, I am forced to offer this edition of Nerd News in Brief a bit later than expected. Okay, so maybe a lot later.

I do make an effort to crank these bad boys out in a timely manner, but, sadly, sometimes life gets in the way.

So, without further ado…
  • Hollow: Last week's big new album release was, of course, Maja's Bleach'D Out. I've already said my piece about the project, but latecomers are encouraged to pick that shit up quick at Reverbnation.
  • Mash It Up: In other release news, Ultraklystron dropped a second mash-up album. Karl pulls in some songs from Stone Temple Pilots and Nirvana, as well as some unreleased tracks from his own forthcoming Romance Language 2 project, "albeit in mash-up form."
  • This Charming Man: Also making with the sweet new releases is Brandon "Blak Lotus" Patton. His Underhill Downs is available for purchase from his very own store, and he was even nice enough to include some freebies in the album's introduction post. What a guy!
  • Headshot: And while you're on the prowl for new tunes, be sure to peep Dale Chase's tribute to nerdy lady extraordinaire Snipeyhead. It is entitled "Sniped," but I like to think of it as "Coder Girl Chapter 2."
  • Touch Your Tunes: Another amazing release is Pixelh8's newest music-making module, Master Stroke for the Nintendo DS. Unlike previous official and homebrew DS music apps, this one is a performance tool instead of a sequencer. And just like Pix's other Music Tech products, it's available for free download.
  • JoCo Was Right!: With Halloween upon us – yes, I start celebrating Halloween on October 1st – this story seems particularly relevant. Italian Physicist Davide Cassi suggests that the best way to survive the zombie holocaust would, in fact, be to hole up inside a mall. Science fucking rocks!
  • Complete Control: Antisoc hit me up with a link to this fantastically geeky cross-stitch piece. The fact that I don't already have one of these above my mantle pains me so.
  • Coldblooded: Also on the visual art front comes this link from my brother Brooks. Man, that's just heartbreaking. Mario is a dirty bitch!
  • Fight the Future: Sci-fi geek rocker Americans UK have recently made their third band comic available for free download! It features time travel, robots and rock. What more could you possibly ask for?
  • Of Wizards and Rock: In addition to his obligatory weekly geek chic link – a tradition that has become the ultimate in-joke in our private circle – Church also turned up a pair of fascinating nerd culture posts. The first reflects on the unbelievable (but totally true) Dungeons & Dragons summer camp held at Shippensburg College in 1982. The second is a Daily Progress piece about the novel concept of… being aware of the music your children listen to? Yeah, that. Oh, and it includes a passing reference to nerdcore.
  • Hit the Road: With I Fight Dragons' tour with mc chris now in full swing, the band has launched a dedicated tour page. Check it out for up-to-date gig info, opportunities to score free tickets by volunteering at the merch booth and weekly chat sessions with the band.
  • Rock the House: In Nerd Invasion news, my pal Shael Riley has just been added to the lineup. Better yet, the recently released set list shows him going on right before the diabolical Schaffer the Darklord!
  • Ape Drape: On the video front, mullet enthusiast Steve Rudzinski has just produced his own vid for Glenn Case's So Be Yourself anthem "Sweet Canadian Mullet." And as much as I hate to admit it, Steve does sport pretty rockin' hockey hair.
  • I Heard a Rumor: And for the more adventurous, I'd also recommend the newest video from Florida's geeky art rockers Zombies Organize. It's centered on a well-worn internet meme concerning one Glenn Beck.
  • A Network of Wormholes: But surely this final selection is the greatest video in recent memory. It features the beauty of science. Auto-tuned.