Friday, February 12, 2010

420 Ways to Fail (Choose One)

            The Cephalic Carnage Vaporizer: A Monument to Failure

There's a weird juxtaposition in regards to popular drugs, or at least the one's that everyone knows about, as opposed to less ubiquitous stuff like "cheese" and whatever synthetic farmland amphetamine rock is being invented through NyQuil alchemy as I type this. When it comes to opiates, we detest the substance but find the actual drug itself, its use, culture and ramifications fucking fascinating. When it comes to weed, we (especially myself) have absolutely no qualms with the actual substance (which is practically Vitamin Water to cocaine's Sunny Delight) but a quick overview of the wastelands of pot culture since the 70's or so leaves a very palpable feeling of embarrassment approaching disappointment and sometimes disgust.

Any kind of drug that you overuse is going to make you appear gross. Over the last few years I've run into one or two Colombians who clearly knew Mr. Sniffles personally and showed the almost corpse-like signs of wear in the heavy bags under their eyes, loose, sweaty, pallid skin and general jumpiness. Heads end up looking like they're wearing Edgar suits, MIB-style.
But that has more to do with the perceived lameness of extremity than the particulars of the drug itself. "Health nut" and "Jesus freak" are pejoratives for a reason; despite the positive connotations of the interest, that consuming impulse can can be alienating to most people.

It boils mainly down this this: cocaine, marijuana and alcohol are recreational; with a few exceptions most people will use them when they feel like it. Meth and heroin, and to a lesser degree ecstasy, are fucking lifestyle-changing commitments. You can't really pick up meth for a weekend and then go retreat. Fergie's grill and scores of Chelsea rentboys suffering from crystal dick will attest to that. So in theory, the latter three will get thrown out the window in people's conception of what is okay, and they have. Coke, weed and alcohol are really the recreational mainstays and though there's a lot of people, myself included, who are off-put by cocaine due to its obnoxiousness, its race/class implications and the kind of people who normally use it, its still clearly popular enough to be considered scourges like, say, crack or heroin.
 Of those three, cocaine and alcohol are typified as being drugs that make you seem ridiculous and embarrassing to anyone not on it, so any extreme behavior is taken for granted. But when its pot, there's something particularly eye-roll-inducing about the depressed infant state a lot of people go into. You know its harmless and the person's retardation/complete inability to be of any use aside from the $1.33 people are chemically worth when you melt them down into goo is temporary. But really after a long enough time it isn't.

When I think of the detrimental effects of prolonged investment in being a complete pothead on someone's music and likability, the artists that immediately come to mind are Brutal Truth, Cephalic Carnage, Cannabis Corpse and, of course, Snoop.

Brutal Truth falling the fuck off both live and on record is something that I suggested when I first saw them at MDF in 2007 but still felt not educated about grind enough to really argue. It wasn't until seeing them numerous times afterward and hearing the more than a little boring and sometimes annoying Evolution Through Revolution that it became apparent that it wasn't just having their original guitarist replaced by the dude from Sulaco that's transformed them into a pretty craptacular and frequently embarrassing band; clearly this has been a long time coming.
Everyone smokes pot. Unless they don't. But it's assumed, so to make your love of weed that much of a focal point of your band's identity signals on one hand an inability to tell a good idea from a bad one and a sign that your band is going to make frequent and questionable forays into the lamer depths of pot culture. Getting high and playing technical grind is kind of impressive given the effect of really strong pot on awareness, reaction time and gait, but when you really think about it, it isn't. You'd be just as right to assume that the whole "sleep.smoke.grind" this is just a means of scavenging free pot or making it known that if you were holding that they'd like some. But the band was far more interesting and competent on all fronts prior to this. Need to Control is a fucking great album. But somewhere after that they thought the bass-less, compressed and muddy production for Sounds of the Animal Kingdom was a good idea. The kind of "good idea" that, considering they were professional musicians and had made two albums prior to that, only a pothead could conceive of. The kind of "good idea" that could only come from the sort of potheads that think Evolution Through Revolution is a profound album title and not a cringe-inducing attempt at sociopolitical insight. The quirk of listening to an album that sounds like it was recorded through the wall as they practiced was cool at first but a year and a half later it just makes me wish there was a cokehead on deck in their crew to nix that kind of shit.

I mean, have you ever actually read Brutal Truth lyrics?
"humanity rising life depriving
mankind decline
black humor falls in place
evolve in catalogue
prey of progress
self-evolution contribution
retributin at hand
pitch your fall for the big show
grand illusion of fruition
through suspicions of our end

next in line
step to me and bass the buck
it's only human actions
force me to lash out and crush

every day i see
the cattle march by
clueless victims of society's
numbing effects
told to listen, forced to turn off,
obey... non-thinking

conform to norm
or be tagged as wrong
wake-up sleeping nation
or be gone, gone"

A lot of metal and grind bands, faced with the difficulty of getting vocal phrasing to fit over increasingly weird and disjointed music kept the trick of employing a nonsensical and truncated approach that BxTx only made that much worse by informing it with a pothead's version of political grind lyrics.

Lyrics aside, seeing them live is an undertaking dull enough to almost be on par with watching Nile play live. In fact, it's pretty much only saved by Hoek's drumming style/faces. Even Kevin Sharp's ability to make four guys standing on stage like statues playing increasingly annoying and boring grind seem tolerable has waned, summed up by Christian and I rolling our eyes and remarking "This sad old hat again" when they opened for Municipal Waste. To say that At The Gates and Emperor had the right idea to quit, come back for a brief cash-in tour, and then bounce again is an understatement when you see bands like Brutal Truth and, to a smaller extent, the Pixies that come back and just sort of float about not doing much of anything good for a while.

Cephalic Carnage themselves haven't done anything good in nearly 5 years, but they've always been really quirky and weird and legitimately great. Up until the last few years when the combination of Xenosapien, a few reports on their road antics from Tom Warrior and the leap into self-parody with the production of their own vaporizer made the reaction to their name for me go from "FUCK YEAH CEPHALIC!" to "...ew".

Cool is a commodity that can be measured in how many other people go "...ew" when you bring up something's name. And Cephalic are currently thigh-deep in Killswitch/Pantera/nu-metal/Fred Durst territory. I'd say the first sign of decrepitude was how disappointing Xenosapien was, but as Metal Inquisition pointed out, it was probably the song "Kill For Weed".

Cephalic Carnage - 'Kill For Weed' (From the Anomalies album)
I have to qualify this by saying: I love Cephalic Carnage. I think they're great, they're cool dudes and they all shred at their instruments. It pains me to write them up like this (much like Brujeria in the first post) but I have to mention this song cause it seriously made me laugh out loud. Truth be told, I think this song is awesome. I love the brazen, ridiculous concept of "killing for weed" cause that shit is just so plain extreme you have to - whether you like it or not - begrudgingly respect it cause they go there. The music is sweet, and the lyrics ain't too bad either UNTIL you get to the last few lines vocalist Lenzig bursts out and the song’s coolness is almost undone. In short, the song talks about how cops are fucked up, they'll tear your house apart looking for weed, the system is fucked up, weed should be legalized and how he kills to stop the cop mistreatment... sounds all good right? That is, until the last few lines where he says:
"This is a song about a schizophrenic,
I met on the street,
Told me how he killed for weed"
I thought my head spun around like in the exorcist in a true WTF moment? Did he just answer an interview question within the context of a song? Let me explain, those lyrics are actually IN the song ABOUT the song they are in and not just a liner note explanation. Talk about utter hilarity in some weird twist of circular logic. He might as well have said, "By the way, this song is based on a true story of my encounter with a mentally handicapped derelict, the names have been changed to protect..." except SUNG in the song as part of the song (in death metal vocals no less). Wait, maybe I should give them a pass for originality and good use of narrative dialog?
The second thing which made me start to re-assess the band is a really unflattering, and realistically probably a bit biased, blog post from Averse Sefira that I ran into through Tom Warrior's blog. What caught my eye was that not only did they tour with Cephalic, but there was an interesting exchange between the two bands and their other tourmates Watain (aka Wu-Tang):

After a savory meal in Chinatown, we discovered that the band had the room adjacent to ours so before long we were in their suite and catching up. Soon after there was a knock at the door and guitarist Set answered to find the lead singer of Cephalic Carnage and a roadie. They invited themselves in and began making overtures to us about partying and smoking pot with them. Mere minutes before they arrived we had all been discussing the incongruous choice of this act as the other headliner, and we also wondered why they were set to go on last. We also resolved that since we and Watain played back to back, we would deliver a unified front on stage and leave Cephalic with no way to compete. With that in mind, Watain politely declined the offer of drugs and invited the duo to leave but they did not seem to take a hint and seemed puzzled at the idea that people might actually be tired and want to go to bed. Guitarist P. of Watain, ever the diplomat, stood up and stated that he'd smoke with them even though he did not like their band. Instantly the mood changed and our festive new friends were suddenly not interested in a good time. "Well fuck you then," snapped the singer, "I don't like your band either!" They left the room and P. followed them in an attempt to explain that there was not a problem but that he was just being honest, etc. The Cephalic people weren't having it as most Americans are deeply threatened by directness, particularly the European variety. Set became agitated and also walked into the hall and for a moment I expected beatings to commence. More fuck-you-mans mingled with Set's sharp and snakelike tone but no violence occured. Set and P. returned to the room with many choice comments about "life metal" bands.
 The slightly superior tone of the guy from Averse Sefira notwithstanding, which itself makes me hope that Cephalic played "Black Metal Sabbath" in full regalia every night of that tour, I only got a slightly rumpled image of the band after reading that post. Cephalic were one of the few bands with interesting lyrics, the ability to craft both interesting riffs and songs and a good sense of visual aesthetic, which itself often came across like mid-Westerners who watched too much X-Files in terms of it's kookiness and obsession with aliens. It would take more than two blog posts and a disappointing album, right?

 MetalSucks posted this around early October and at that point the band went from Fonzie to Potsie. There's a danger of becoming the Cheech 'n Chong grind band, which if you've seen Tommy Chong lately, is clearly a bad look.

Even moreso, there's the danger of becoming something like Cannabis Corpse. Having one or two weed-themed songs on your record is whatever, but forming an entire shitty novelty band off Cannibal Corpse x weed puns is kind of the best example of the conceptual fail of pot culture in music. Per their Myspace page:

Cannabis corpse was formed in the summer of 2006 as a way to express our love of smoking weed and listening to Cannibal corpse. We thought that combining the speed and intensity of death metal with outlandish stories involving marijuana monsters, weed cults ect. would be a fresh take on the genre.

Three years later and I'm still shocked that they had the gall to use the phrase "fresh take on the genre". Someone from Municipal Waste has the balls to actually say anything he does is a "fresh take". A band that lists the most obvious mainstream death metal bands in their influence section, perhaps both betraying how little they know about or actually genuinely like death metal. A band that seems completely unaware of the existence of Cephalic or even Six Feet Under who've been doing the "shitty pot-friendly death metal" thing for a while and actually sport a former member of Canonical Conch to their credit. Unsurprising of anything Waste related, the only people who enjoy Cannabis Corpse are the more unfunny ironic hipster crossover kids, decades-too-late neo-thrash kids and faux-crusties and the sort of forum dwellers that actually make arguments in favor of Metalocalypse.

Cannibis Corpse are the logical low-point in regards to pot-themed metal, but irrespective of genre, the black hole of likability is Snoop. Snoop's wikipedia page is an unintentionally hilarious inventory of the many detrimental decisions someone with too much disposable income and pot can make regarding their image. It's hard to pick a point to start at; Snoop's gang of straight-to-DVD horror movies, his kind of low-rent involvement in both hardcore and softcore porn, that song with The-Dream, or his KISS-like tendency to wantonly merchandise his image and name to anything even vaguely related to or rhyming with his name or dogs in general. In fact, dude is pretty much the pothead version of KISS, not only in prostrating himself to the capitalist gangbang (Where I assume he'll be playing the role of Marie Luv) but in his inability to do anything worth a shit musically to redeem himself. Outside of "Sexual Eruption", Snoop hasn't released anything that would convince anyone that he hasn't become a creepy, gaunt uncle figure preying on culturally confused suburban white kids while releasing just enough ghost-written trend-hopping weedplates to remind people that he was once kind of the next Slick Rick.

Is it cooning if you let an entitled blond heiress previously caught on tape calling "the help" "nigger" put on her best Harlem flapper stereotype impression without backslapping her? Yes. Yes it is.

However Slick Rick is rapping incredibly on Mos Def and Raekwon albums 25+ years into his career while Snoop has given up on even concealing his inability to personally author anything that isn't a play on the letters of his name.

Like everything, though, there are exceptions. One is Willie Nelson, who succeeds in being alternately likable, intense, and old enough that anything that might come across as weird and embarrassing can be blamed on his advanced age and not "the pot".

The other is the simple fact that weed (and alcohol seems to satisfy us all. Damn.) informed so much of 90's rap. But then again, there's a large difference between references and use in and out the studio and reducing yourself to a caricature that lives and dies with your pothead fan base like Cypress Hill did.

And that's a bad look.


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