Off My Train Bag
Massachusetts death/metal core band the Acacia Strain are
pissed. And while it’s not surprising for a metal-core outfit
to be angry, the Acacia Strain’s anger is a little more interesting.
They’re not a complicated band, and they would be the first
to tell you that. In fact, they do, on the track “Dr. Doom”
from their new release Continent. Singer Vincent Bennett
bellows, “Take this job and shove it!/I’m not here to break
ground/I’m not dressed to impress.”
However, the band are known for pioneering the tritone breakdown
(otherwise known as the “brown note”). And for the last three
or four years, a number of other bands have begun to ape their
style. Needless to say, the Acacia Strain are not happy about
that. And their anger comes across brilliantly on Continent,
an album that is a return to form, of sorts, from the band’s
more straightforward 2006 album The Dead Walk.
On Continent, rhythms shift, guitars squeal, and sludgy,
gut-wrenching riffs crush before the inevitable breakdown
throws everything into chaos. “Plagiarism is the highest form
of flattery/Why would you ever want to be like me?” screams
a vitriolic Bennett on “Skynet.” “You are all bastard children
and you’ve taken it all the wrong way,” he continues.
Sure, metal-core is a bit of a stale genre these days, but
Acacia Strain are like the Jack Daniels of the genre—if you
want to get hammered there is no better substitute.
It is almost thrilling to see the Acacia Strain take on their
“bastard children” through their latest work. To the Acacia
Strain, a hammer is a hammer—you use it to build things or
throttle people, you don’t tart it up and pass it off as something
else. And they feel the same way about the breakdowns they
So when they take bands like Emmure—who tart up tritone breakdowns
with warbly-sad emo choruses—to task, it puts a smile on my
face, even though it is quite possibly a little sick and certainly
Fantasias for the Viols (Alia Vox)
Concert des Nations; Jordi Savall, conductor
Water Music & Music for the Royal Fireworks (Alia
Jordi Savall has a deserved reputation for breathing new life
into antique music, and these two re-reissues of 15-year-old
discs present him the context of two different ensembles and
two different worlds of music. Purcell’s Fantasias are rich,
fascinating, aloof works that bear repeated listening; Handel’s
Water and Fireworks Music are about as well-known as such
pieces can get.
So let’s start with the Handel. His “Water Music” became famous
in arrangements by others, most notably former Proms fixture
Sir Hamilton Harty, but the original- instruments crowd has
since reclaimed it and provided more Baroque-ishly plausible
accounts. There are some lively recordings by such groups,
but Savall and his ensemble, Le Concert des Nations, take
it a few steps further with one that shapes every movement
into a richly textured account that never stops dancing. You’ll
be surprised at some of the tempos and the reordering of movements,
but, seeing as how there’s no authoritative guide to what
should go where and how quickly, this is as valid a treatment
as any other. What’s usually a set of three suites is presented
as two, with the D- and C-Major sections plausibly entwined.
When “Music for the Royal Fireworks” premiered in 1749, the
fireworks misfired and ignited part of the neighborhood, perhaps
divine retribution for the king’s insistence that no fiddles
be employed in the music. But the fiddles are here in this
five-movement work, and the antique instruments Savall’s group
employ add a gorgeous, gutty sound.
Savall serves only as conductor in the Handel; the Purcell
Fantasias put him back behind his viol as part of a small
ensemble that offers intimate tonal continuity to these works.
Written when the composer was 21 (in 1680, five years before
Handel’s birth), the Fantasias comprise three three-part works,
nine in four parts, one apiece in six and seven parts, and
a fascinating five-part “Fantasia upon one note,” in which
a pedal C sounds at great length—a Baroque precursor to Ellington’s
“C Jam Blues.” Harmonically, there is much to reap upon close
study, including such crunchy characteristics as the false
relations incurred when the melodic minor scale is explored
its differing directions.
And there are many minor-key renderings here, befitting the
melancholy mindset that seemed to inform composers of the
English courts—Dowland, a century before, was the gloomiest.
But the works still are melodically rich, inviting an aural
retreat from the current environmental cacophony.
What unites these CDs are two major elements. The recorded
sound always has been superior, keeping them in the catalogue
for over a decade through two releases. Reengineered as super-audio
CDs, they scintillate even more. They’re part of an extensive
reissue program Savall has introduced with his Alia Vox label,
and the care that went into the performances and recordings
carries through to every detail of packaging and booklet as