Saturday, February 19, 2005

A bad decision

Just before the holidays, I decided to bring my home into the satellite radio age. I'd been tempted for a long time. Commercial-free radio, and the opportunity to listen to any type of music you want. I checked out both XM and Sirius and chose XM. I was so happy with it after listening to a trial online, that I bought a car receiver and a boombox for the house.

Only a few months later, it looks a lot like wasted money. Earlier this week, I got into the car, flipped on one of my favorite channels, XMLM, to find that they had taken it off the air to make room for more baseball. (For me, there are few worse things they could have cancelled it for.)

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I didn't think XMLM was perfect. As a matter of fact, I dissed song selection in my last entry. I thought the station focused too much on the death/grindcore aspect of metal and ignored a lot of heavy bands that deserved some play. Still, I did listen to it regularly, and its loss leaves a huge void for metal fans in XM's programming.

Now your options are the Boneyard, which plays a lot of the more commercial hard rock from the 1980s, and Squizz, which plays a lot of the more commercial hard rock from today. While I do like those channels, if you want anything underground or really heavy, you're out of luck. (Oh, they give one of the XMLM DJs three hours on Squizz during the day, when no one with a job can listen; and of course, you can pay an extra $3.99 per month to listen to the 64kbps online version -- sorry, but there are a lot of FREE online metal stations that I really like.)

The great thing about satellite radio in the beginning was that it provided a place for bands that aren't going to get exposure on regular radio to be heard. It was a place where listeners who were into musical genres that don't get airplay could find new music. But, as with everything in the music business, the corporate machine gets to it sooner or later. I fully expect that one day, satellite radio will be just as generic and boring as standard radio, all of the promise lost. It's already on its way.

My advice, if you're a metal fan thinking about satellite radio, go with Sirius. At least they still have a metal channel ... for now.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Where did all the singers go?

That's the question I ask myself every week when I watch Headbanger's Ball. I grew up with guys like Bruce Dickinson, Jon Oliva, Ronnie James Dio. All undeniably metal, but all guys that can really wail. It's what I find missing in most of the metal I hear today. Most of the bands out there now seem convinced that in order to be heavy, it has to sound like your singer's voice box is about to fly out and smack into the opposite wall. It's just not true.

Black Sabbath practically invented metal without screaming at all.

Let me qualify this so you know I'm not just some old geezer that can't handle the new sound. There are a lot of newer bands out there that I really like. In fact, I'm more excited about what's going on in metal right now than I've been in a long time. Bands like Shadows Fall, God Forbid, Diecast and Soilwork are producing some of the best music I've heard in a long time (and yes, most of them are screamers.)

What annoys me when I watch Headbanger's Ball now is that so many of the bands sound exactly the same. I feel like I'm hearing the same song 8 or 10 times during the course of a two-hour show. I grew up on thrash -- Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, Testament, Overkill, etc. They all played the same style of music but they all had their own sound. When you heard a song, you could tell immediately who it was. I don't hear that now. I was listening to Liquid Metal on XM Radio last night. They played three songs in a row, and I couldn't tell where one song ended and the next began. Three different bands, and it was so cookie cutter that I couldn't even tell when the song changed, much less tell the bands apart.

Maybe it's insecurity. Metal fans have a long history of ridiculing bands they don't consider "true metal." Maybe these guys are afraid of seeming weak. But singing doesn't mean sounding like the pretty boys in the hair bands. Look at guys like Zakk Wylde or John Bush. Both sing, and both have very masculine voices. Black Label Society's "Stronger than Death" is a great heavy album, and it doesn't lose an ounce of power because Zakk's singing instead of screaming. Or take Pantera as an example. Sure, Phil did more than his share of screaming, but he could also sing when the piece called for it. Is "I'm Broken" any less heavy for the singing? Would you give up a song like "Floods" just because it's not played 90 miles an hour with blast beats?

I understand that everyone has different tastes, and to each his own. There's obviously a market for that sound, so if they like it and can make money doing it more power to them. But would somebody, anybody, please give me a singer?

Saturday, February 12, 2005


Welcome to the new and improved Hall of the Mountain King site. I started this site in the late 1990s with grand intentions (or perhaps illusions) to make it something of a portal site for people interested in fantasy and science fiction or heavy metal. That didn't quite work out for me, and at some point in 2000, I just let it go.

For almost five years, the site sat here, an aging ruin in the ever-changing world of the Internet. A couple of weeks ago, I decided the time had come to undertake a major renovation of the old site, and I've been putting in a lot of hours during that time to try to redesign the site and get five years worth of reviews posted. Needless to say, the job was bigger than I thought when I started, and there are still many areas of the site under construction. My hope is to have everything active within the next two weeks. In the meantime, I thank you for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy the new look of the site and the content that's available.

I've resisted this blogging trend for a couple of years now for a couple of reasons, but it seems that I need a good place to muse and rant, and what better place? In this journal, I'll record general thoughts or interesting tidbits I pick up on music, books, movies or whatever else comes to mind. I welcome differing opinions, but ask only that you take a moment to think before replying to a post. I want the discussion to be intelligent and not devolve into name-calling and personal insults. Beyond that, anything goes.