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Saturday, July 26, 2008

An ode to vinyl

or about being an audio-nerd...

The most recent event of my nerdiness: a guy of Music Buy Mail found a topic in the progulus forum and felt the need to send out his comment to a couple of people who ordered the Koyaanisquatsy album. I felt the need to answer it and, as I am, asked if they consider offering 320 kb/s mp3s. He replied and promised to do so.
The normal metal guy may like those 192 kb/s mp3s, I don't, a 'lossy' compressed audio format doesn't sound as clear as a lossless one. The one's who love metal because of it's noisyness may like the 192 kb/s version even better. And on most home stereos, people even may not hear the difference.
I did spend quite some money for my stereo and I love using it.
Having some hundreds of vinyl discs in my shelf, there had to be a good old-fashioned turntable, too. Equipped with a modern high class needle, I started to listen to those old black monsters again, and I was quite surprised!
Yes, most of them crackle, some more some less, some even don't at all.
I purchased a couple of cds though having the vinyl version in the shelf in the last 20 years. Now, in the meantime, I rather listen to the vinyl version because they simply sound better than the cds.

Some weeks ago I stumbled over the leak that enabled me to download the new Opeth cd "Watershed" even before it got released. I couldn't resist. But it was clear to me that I need to buy the album now, and I indeed wanted to.
Well, in this case, I decided to buy it as 2lp (when you remember that abbreviation, you're old... ) vinyl.

The sound of the vinyl is quite different. Not worse or better, but different.
All in all it sounds a tad smoother. The guitars for example are less earbleeding; not less aggressive, just a bit nicer to the ears. Therefore, more room is left for Ackerfeld's vocals. The vocals are more intense on the vinyl version, which is rather good, because he does some real great work on this recording. All in all it is like comparing guitar amps. The cd would be the transistor amp, vinyl the tube amp.
The only big issue is the sound of the drums. As vinyl doesn't have the same dynamic range, the drums sound really old fashioned and don't fit the metal genre somehow. but I like them hearing this way as well as I like the mellotron they play on the disc.

Well, despite the drum problem, I think the vinyl still sounds more natural to me.

Allow me to talk techincally, just a bit.
They sample audio at a frequency of 44,1 kHz. They say the human ear doesn't hear a sine higher than 20 kHz. that is true, but we do recognize higher frequencies, not every noise we hear is a sine. And music does not consist of sines only. for example you discern a trumpet from a violin not because of the sine they play but because of the different harmonics they produce. That is ignored, when deciding to not sample high frequencies.

If we consider the Nyquist an Shannon theorem of scanning, the formula is even worse. The theorem says that the scanning frequency must be 3x as high a the original for an accurate result. So 44,1 kHz divided by 3 makes a frequency of 14,7 kHz. Any higher frequency will be scanned erroneous. Distorted guitars and vocals produce those frequencies.

I agree that the analog world is imperfect, but the digital techniques that are offered to us are nothing more than a lame compromise.

I shall listen more to knackles and rumbles....

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


The name's Alex Ricard, but please. Call me T-Bo. Or even better, by my rightful title as mighty King T-Bo.

I, too, am a regular on Progulus Radio, dating back almost to the site's inception in 2005. I believe I joined a month or so after it was created. My tagname comes from another site I frequent, RPG Chat, where my username is Terry_Bogard, after the fighting game character. Somebody once shortened it to T-Bo, and I liked it, so the name stuck.

Anyhow, my journey to prog began as a young boy. My dad is a quite talented guitarist and vocalist, and while not the best in the world at it, he is certainly capable. There was always music playing in my house growing up. My dad loves everything from Bob Dylan to Led Zeppelin to Robert Johnson to Django Reinhardt to bluegrass. I'm serious, his music taste changes constantly. He's even been digging some of the Dream Theater, Neal Morse, and Sigur Ros I've been throwing to him lately. In 1999, I was nine years old, and my dad went on a religious retreat. It was then that he started playing guitar regularly again, for the first time since he'd been in college. That Christmas my little brother and I both recieved small guitars, and he taught us basic chords, and eventually enrolled me in formal classical music lessons. For years and years I played classical guitar, but with no real passion for it. I played, and I enjoyed the music, and I practiced, but outside of my own tinkling of nylon on wood, I never really took the time to listen to music.

But that all changed one day at my friend's house. He put on a CD of this band he had just discovered. It started quiet and calm, with a theatrical singer saying something about fearing darkness. And then it got HEAVY. I was instantly hooked on Iron Maiden, and from that point on I constantly listened to music. Maiden, Metallica, Dio, Megadeth, Rush, Led Zeppelin, you name it. I became a guitar disciple, exponentially increasing in my abilities as I switched over to electric guitar.

One day, in school guitar class my freshman year, I was jamming out some Maiden with a friend of mine and he turned to me and told me about this band called Dream Theater. He had me download their song "A Change of Seasons", and then made sure I sat and listened in its entirety. From there, there was no turning back. Opeth, Tool, Ayreon, Pain of Salvation, Symphony X, Frost*, Spock's Beard, Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, Meshuggah, Porcupine Tree, Devin Townsend, Vanden Plas, Muse, Transatlantic, OSI, et al.

I began to love all forms of progressive music, from the epically pompous stylings of Rhapsody (of Fire) and Blind Guardian (always sticking to my metal roots), the ethereal minimalism of Tangerine Dream and Sigur Ros, the brutality and intensity of Spiral Architect or Behold... The Arctopus, the intense emotional journeys of Arena and IQ and Everon and Marillion and A.C.T., the simple weirdness of The Mars Volta and Magma, and the pure beauty of Mostly Autumn and Panic Room and Parhelia, and so on. I still enjoy extreme metal, and rock, the occasional blues or jazz, lots of classical, and pretty much everything. Even hip-hop.

And so, I've begun my own prog-ject. It's called Hopefactor, a word I discuss quite frequently on my main blog. Hopefactor is very much a prog-metal project, but my music has touches of electronica, acoustic music, and symphonic metal in it. The official site is here, but there are no samples up yet due to the lack of technology. However, I've already written a concept album's worth of material (INCLUDING a 20-minute epic!), and more.

So, there's your T-Bo in a nutshell. I will be reviewing music, offering my opinions on modern music (being a young guy, I'm still very aware of mainstream music, though one of my favorite things to say is that I "stopped listening to the radio once I got into music"). And I'll be throwing out rants as well. I'm sure you'll be entertained. I'm looking forward to posting! And maybe, if I do enough, I can go on the sidebar as one of them FEATURED AUTHORS... :O

Also, bow before me. I am your King, after all.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Review: Second Society – All solutions are artificial

A short while ago I got in contact with one of my Childhood friends (seems that Facebook can actually be used for something). I also discovered that he has recently joined a Danish rock band as their bass player. So I thought that I would do him the favor of reviewing their latest album. Just one warning: This is not progressive rock/metal, but that does not stop me from reviewing it, since I am open to all sorts of music.

This is actually a difficult task. First of all my friend Lars Holmboe is...well…my friend and I would not like to write anything negative about him and his band activities. Secondly Second Society does not play the kind of music that I would normally listen to. So, since I am already rather biased, I will not rate the album on lets say a 0-10 grade scale, but just try my best to give a balanced view of my findings.

On the band’s MySpace page they name themselves a Danish PowerRock Band, and I agree in the sense that they are playing rock not heavy, death or other forms of metal, but the style is nevertheless powerful.

So what elements make this album stand out from the rest?

The first thing I noticed was that it is very well produced coming from such a relatively new and unknown band. I can already think of some other bands I listen to that would have benefited from the same production process. I feel that the resulting songs compliment each other well and belong on the same album, so yeah, it sound pretty much as if they know what they are doing and where they want to take their music.

The album takes the use of synth (in rock) to a new level. Where other bands mostly use keyboard synth as a way of creating a background for the songs, this band uses it more as a regular instrument, which is quite refreshing in this day where so many bands sound similar.

The Songs:

The album opens with the rocker “A New Dawn”, which quite well introduces the band and gives you an idea about the rest of the album: Fast guitars, synth and voice distortion. This would be one of the obvious single contenders (are people still buying singles?).

“The Waiting”: Not a bad rock song, but I find this to be the weakest track on the album. I find it a little too straight forward, although the last 3rd has a good heavy feeling to it.

Like the opener “The Only One” is synth driven, maybe a little too much for my taste, but I find this song has the most enjoyable drum patterns I have heard for a while (also compared to what I normally listen to).

“Devil With Two Hearts” is my favorite song on the album, and could be another choice for a single. The introduction of piano to this track makes everything more interesting, especially how it stands in contrast to an otherwise heavy track. This is probably the most diverse track on the album, which in my book also makes the best.

The album is closed with “Bring me the renegades” which is my other favorite track. The band here shows that they have an excellent rhythm section, which I feel could have been put to better use throughout the album.

Some criticism:

All band members play their instruments well, nothing there to put my finger on. Everything fits together like a well oiled machine. Unfortunately that is where I must criticize the most, the album has some great moments, but overall I find it a little mechanical, as if part of the album was recorded on autopilot. Simply put, I miss some more surprises. Voice distortion and piano helps a bit, but more range and complexity in the vocals and melody would have made the listener experience more enjoyable. A way to achieve this would be to break away from the “verse, chorus, verse in 3½ minute” formula on some tracks, which would force you to come up with some new and hopefully brilliant ideas. But all that would be for a future album, which I would surely take for a spin.

Dear band members, if you read this, please take my criticism with a grain of salt. As I usually listen to Progressive rock/metal I am used to music that often has a structure more similar to that of classical and jazz than to rock/pop, and I usually favor the more complex sides of music. But, for the style of music you play I find that you do more than a decent job.