Armageddon It

On the eve of the new millennium, you will find me at the gates of Neverland Ranch, praying for the mortal souls of all humanity. I just read on the Web that the Antichrist is, in fact, the boy-child of Michael Jackson, one Prince Jackson (so named by Satan in cruel mockery of the Prince of Peace, and also of the living incarnation of Jesus Christ, Prince Rogers Nelson—a/k/a the Artist himself changing his name to a symbol decipherable only by the archangel Gabriel and his winged min ions). There will be a battle fought betwixt heaven and hell for the fate of earth and all of us on it. All we can do now is pray.

For those of you strong enough to search for further portents of the end-time to come, I suggest you delve into what is commonly referred to by biblical scholars as "heavy metal." Through all of metal's many twists and turns over the years there is one constant thread that unites the most disparate styles of this hallowed heathen music: man is evil and he must pay. Not even evangelical Christians have so much faith in the fact that we are doomed and that apocalypse is around the corner.

Take Neurosis. Starting life years ago as punk rock brutalists in the Bay Area, they have, through the fine art of metal plod, churned out album after album of music that is positively Kleboldian in its vision of doom and gloom. Their newest, Times of Grace, whittles the plod and violence down to the very essence of blue-eyed sludge. Aided and abetted by Steve "Crazy Legs" Albini (who's really paranoid that you're not going to hear the drums, so as usual he takes extra care to make sure that you do, even if it means everything else takes a shellacking in the clarity department), Neurosis sustain a strangely poetic mood of anguish (for what or for whom isn't really clear) that makes for pretty compelling listening.

The members of Neurosis also record as a more "experimental" group under the name "Tribes of Neurot." (You should be scared, but don't be.) The new Tribes disc, Grace, is a companion piece to the Neurosis album, designed to be played simultaneously for, and I quote, "a multi-dimensional sound experience." I'm guessing that just combining the two elements in the first place on one re cord might have been a bit heady for the bone-and-gristle set that is the heavy-touring Neurosis's bread and butter. (Since I couldn't find a copy of Grace, for the purposes of research I played the Neurosis disc simultaneously with The Best of Maggotron: Early Maggots, thinking the Miami bass legends would provide an added depth to the eternal sadness of Neurosis. It did, in fact, provide a "multi-dimensional sound experience.") I only hope that on their next album the two sides of this band do merge. Mono chromatic fury goes just so far, especially if you've been doing it for a decade. Aside from some strings and a killer bagpipe solo, Neurosis plod valiantly, but they plod all the same.

If you can't wait for the next Neurosis album, however, and you want both sides of the coin, and your local black-metal shop is out of the new Ulver (black-metal legends who have followed up their werewolf song cycle with an indescribable double-disc based on William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell), and you're tired of listening to the best rock al bum of '98, Katatonia's Discouraged Ones, and you don't care about the end of the world, and you just want to hear something heavy, beautiful, innovative, modern, and Dutch, then go buy the Gathering's How To Measure a Planet?

Once upon a time, even the Gathering were scary monsters and super creeps. But when they found their Lilith fair, singer Anneke van Giersbergen, their mood lightened, and all was good. Their last two albums, while pretty as a picture, were merely a training ground for this 3-2-1 blast-off rocket of a record. I'd give it a 10 if I gave 10s.

With a sound as big as the great outdoors, their version of metal bears absolutely no resemblance to a Dokken T-shirt or a Limp Bizkit sing-along. They're often lumped in with continental European Goth weirdos like Tiamat and Moonspell. (I tried to explain how Gothic-type metal sounds to someone I work with, and she said, "You mean like 'Stairway to Heaven'?" And I guess that sums it up pretty good!) But the Gathering don't traffic in the bugbears of Goth: to die is gain, the beauty of death, death becomes you. The Gathering just want to get a good night's sleep, and every one can relate to that. Traveling, dreaming, longing, swooning. The space-travel theme and romantic mood of the album only lend more gravity to the guitars when they decide to kick out the dikes. It all ends with a 20-minute blast that out-revs the Mercury Project, and there's no where left for the Gathering to go but up.

The Gathering play the Cooler August 4. Scott Seward can be berated at Skotrok@earthlink.net.

 
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