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Get Off My Train Bag

By David King

The Acacia Strain

Continent (Prosthetic Records)

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 pioneered.

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 petty.

Hespèrion XX

Purcell: Fantasias for the Viols (Alia Vox)

Le Concert des Nations; Jordi Savall, conductor

Handel: Water Music & Music for the Royal Fireworks (Alia Vox)

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 well.

—B.A. Nilsson


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