It’s often said by language teachers that one perk of your job is meeting people you’d ordinarily have little chance to meet. This is true. Since I quit running my own English school in suburban Japan, I haven’t spent nearly as much time with office workers or high schoolers. On the other hand, I have spent a lot more time with my guitars, who are only late when my right hand isn’t cooperating.
A reliable topic for language teachers is food. Another one is music. Both tend to produce conversationable (now there’s a coinage I won’t be crowing about) differences in students that are unlikely to produce argument or unpleasantness, just “oh, I feel I know you better now” slightly better rapport.
I’ve been regularly exposed to music that I would never have listened to on my own, and only some of it has made me grumble something about kids these days.
Read on for a selection of the only Japanese music I’ve listened to on purpose since Shiina Ringo and Seikima II.
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In Flames has had a lot of power ballads for a band that is nominally death metal. Their vocalist Anders still spends about half of each album making noises with his larynx that we would normally associate with radiator problems, but somehow they’ve fit in about one song per album for the last ten years in a recognizably Stairway to Heaven or Every Rose Has Its Thorn mold, with quiet verses, bombastic choruses, and chord progressions from the Diane Warren songbook. The band is quite open about its 80s infatuation and between the suffocating atmosphere induced by relentless double bass and compressed, downtuned guitars it can be refreshing to find an open meadow of lush green melodies on a record.
Mind you, the band wasn’t always melodic in the sense a non-metal fan would understand. Their first ten years had melody confined to the guitars, and even Anders’ growls were more guttural then than now. The pop sense that infuses their current output really only became apparent in 1999 with the hummably catchy opening track of Colony. They also had hints of their ballad-writing potential with tracks like Satellites and Anstronauts off the wonderful Clayman album. These two albums marked a departure from the Swedish folk (at least as metal fans understand it) -influenced sound of their early work to a more conventional rock sound that TROO FANS (every metal band more than 5 years old has these) still resent.
On to the top 5 (out of 5).
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I spent much of my college years and the years immediately thereafter listening to a fairly popular subgenre of metal called “Swedish Death Metal”, supposedly identifiable by the “Gothenburg sound”. For the layman, imagine Iron Maiden or other meat-and-potatoes melodic metal bands with screamy, not grunty, death vocals.
Several such bands, including In Flames and Arch Enemy, have achieved almost legendary status among younger fans now, much like Megadeth or Anthrax were to my generation.
Just to make sure we’re on the same page, here’s a mid-90s In Flames track. To me what makes it supremely Gothenburgy is the Iron Maiden-esque guitar interludes and the implied melody underlying the vocals. In a lot of other death metal bands the vocals are almost a rhythm instrument, but not so with Gothenburg bands.
(Anders, the vocalist, was still starting to learn English at this point, leading to some fun mispronunciations a la “architecture” around 0:45)
One of the less known bands from the late-90s surge in Gothenburg-style bands (most of which were indeed from Gothenburg, Sweden) but which has been one of my favorites since I was introduced to them by a drummer friend is Gardenian. Gardenian had enough unique qualities to make them stand out among their class, and actually has gone on to play a role in the careers of other, still-surviving bands.
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