Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Miseria Cantare

For over two months, I have attempted to write a review of an album that has completely taken over my musical mind. In part, this control is due to my inability to achieve what seems such a simple goal-- I am seldom at a loss for words. Mostly, it is simply the fact that the album is just that good.

The music I speak of is A.F.I.'s Sing the Sorrow.

Every aspect of this album is promethean. In fact, it is precisely this fact that has caused so much delay in this review. It is the nature of a review to attempt to convey an understanding of the content of some artistic work in an alternative medium. In so doing, it is inevitable that some essence of the original will be lost, and this loss is an accepted part of the effort.

I have simply been unwilling to accept that loss in this case. A rose, once picked, can be shared with a wider audience-- but it can and will die more quickly than if left to florish. Pressed and dried, it retains a certain beauty, but not the beauty of the original. Nonetheless, at some point in time, it becomes necessary to inflict this damage if there is any hope that others might gain for themselves the desire to travel through the garden and discover the truth for themselves. So, here it is.

WARNING: my musical tastes run wide and deep. While I will never consider for a moment correlating the quality of a musical effort with decibels, I will also not shirk away from decrying the value of music others might consider...harsh. Such is this album. Harsh, dark, and expressive. If you are in any way unable to deal with the artistic rendering of tragedy, this album is not for you. You have been warned.

Musically, the range is amazing. Elements of folk, symphonic, grunge, and even accompanied poetic recital fill the senses with their depth, creating quintessential aesthesis. Pointedly counterpunctual, harmonically discordant, naturally synthetic, energetically forlorn-- all come together in a schadenfreude that is not only encouraged, but demanded. Know the pain, and love the pain. To do less is to diminish the accomplishment.

Vocally, Davey Havok (along with a variety of backup vocals, including choral) carries the music even further by serving not just as a conduit for lyrical expression, but as an instrument unto itself. Never afraid to be unclear if that is what the music demands, this instrument, like the others, is perfectly aligned with the needs of the work. Smooth as silk, harsh as a dentist's drill; soft as a rose petal, hard as a steel beam. Here is a voice in torment, attempting a sisyphean catharsis that, rather than purging the soul of bile, seems to emasculate the heart.

Lyrically, this work brings to mind the classical tragedy of Every Opera Ever Written. Expressed through a singularly self-absorbed perspective that no staged play could effectively convey, the personal involvement in the pain is all the more engaging. Interestingly introspective, the song (secretly titled) This Time Imperfect contains an autological reference that contextually describes this essence:

"There are no flowers, no, not this time
There will be no angels gracing the lines,
Just these stark words I find."


As I mentioned earlier, there is no expression, formed in a medium other than the original sound, that can come close to providing what is available through Sing the Sorrow. If you have the emotional wherewithal to withstand the assault, I encourage you to absorb the essence of this effort. It is most assuredly worth the anguish to realize that in this age of cookie-cutter bands performing me-too works of profiteering, there are still those true artists who want nothing more than to express the full depth of human emotion.

A Fire Inside are just such artists, and Sing the Sorrow is just such an expression.

Monday, May 24, 2004


Sleeping beasts require no charm. Better to let them lie. Art has always been present in my life, but it was a very peripheral thing. My awareness was focused on things of science; there was little time for everything else.

As best I can recall, my artistic awakening occurred through association. Specifically, near my 17th birthday (as hinted at already, I was a late bloomer) a band called Rush started a tour for their upcoming release of Hemispheres. Like any average American youth, I was quite into television, and the advertisements for this tour (which were rare in those days) hinted at something that I had never heard. Here was a band that purported to be about more than music. Indeed, the metathematic aspect of this album appealed to my metamathematical mind. So I listened. And I was hooked.

For those who are not aware, the theme of the album is that of a clash between two Olympic gods, Apollo and Dionysus. These gods are in a possessory conflict over the soul of man. Representing reason and emotion, the struggle plays out in a battlefield all too familiar to most listeners-- the battlefield of heart and mind. Cygnus brings balance to the picture by revealing that only when reason and emotion work together can the best in mankind be realized.

Of course, the mythological specifics are a bit strained, but I was (and am) willing to forgive that concern. After all, mythology speaks to a listener, and often evolves with them. The interesting part to me was the intellectual exercise of not just making music, but making metamusic-- a theme the band had already started with their 2112 album. It was, perhaps, here that I realized aesthesis for the first time.

The theme, carried forward in a musically adept mythological parable, presented with a cover art reflecting both the hemispherical brain structure (hence the album's name) and the naked artist versus the masked intellectual, was a unit of beauty that exceeded that of every component. A tangled aesthetic hierarchy indeed.

The rest, as they say, is history. Rush moved on, continuing to explore the world of music in a way that I eventually found less inspiring. And to this day, I reminisce about my awakening, and all the good that has come to pass.