Sunday, December 22, 2013

My thoughts on Black Sabbath's comeback album, "13"

As some of you know, I used to be a reviewer on the Metal Archives. I have recently deleted all my reviews there. I am not getting into the whys and whatnots, I just did it and I am not unhappy about it. There is however one review I felt needed to be preserved, my review on the new Black Sabbath album, and so I decided to put it up on this blog. Here's the review:

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Oh boy.

Well, let my start this review by saying that apologise if what I am about to write may be overly melodramatic or whiny. It's just that this band has a special meaning to me as I am sure it does to many others who are reading this. And truth be told, listening to this album just fucking hurts. Not only in the way that it is painful to listen to, but it really fucking hurts on an emotional level. I feel let down, by people I idolise. To say it is disappointing or saddening is an understatement, it just hurts. So I apologise in advance if I am about to sound like an emo kid whose girlfriend just left him and who was just beaten up by Daddy with his trusty ol' belt. It's the way I feel, and there is nothing I can do to change it.

Now where to begin with this atrocity? Well, let's just go for the obvious and look at beloved frontman, solo artist and reality TV superstar Ozzy Osbourne first. He may never have been the best singer in the universe, quite far from it, but say what you will, his performance on the first six Black Sabbath albums have been something special and really enhanced the unique and never-matched atmosphere of these albums. Now I am well-aware that he is a couple decades past his prime, I have seen recent live performances by him and I know that in a live setting he can't seem to hit a single correct note. But naive as I am, I thought a little studio magic could do the trick of rounding his wonky singing attempts into something that carried at least a hint of past glory. Or was at least listenable. "Naive" indeed, no such luck. It seems there was simply not a thing Rick Rubin and his team of engineers could do to save his mess. The usual techniques of taking the best segments of many different performances, or the last resort Autotune, it was all in vain.

So this is the deal we have to suffer through: 1) Ozzy constantly slips off key. Now as I said, he was never the most technically proficient singer, but compared to the band's early recordings he sounds completely off the mark all the time.  Well, not just compared to the old stuff, but in general. This is not the type of performance that belongs on a professional band's professional album. It's amateurish and embarrassing to listen to. 2) Ozzy has a range of about three notes. Again, yes, not the most technically proficient singer even in the early days, but he did have a decent range on albums such as "Sabotage", we all know that. Here he has the range of a vacuum cleaner, monotonous and tedious. 3) Ozzy displays a complete lack of passion or any comparable emotion. His singing is lifeless and - to use a cliché expression kind of overused in reviews - sounds tired. He used to be captivating and really sucked you in, now he just really sucks. It's like a robot singing this, except that a robot probably wouldn't be off key all the fucking time. Droning and insufferable.

But enough about Ozzy. We all knew he would suck. Some of us were naive enough to think that, as I said above, some studio wizardly would salvage his performance, but it didn't. That's just how it is, but it's not even this album's biggest problem. The biggest problem is that the other musicians involved are not an inch better.

The drummer. Yes, they didn't get Bill Ward. There was some drama about an "unsignable contract" but I didn't follow the drama because I am not into that and I never use Blabbermouth, so I can't give you any of the details of why he isn't on this. And in the end it doesn't really matter anyway. So they got a replacement, and you wouldn't believe it if the facts weren't right in front of you, but they picked some guy who plays in Rage Against the Machine. And guess what: His performance on this album sounds like it belongs on a fucking RATM album. It's so painfully simplistic, one-dimensional and unimaginative. Another element that could have been taken over by a robot. A really basic robot a five year old could design and program. He belongs on a Roman slave ship with his droning 4/4 beats and stock and stale fills. Why did they hire him if they could have programmed what he plays in a drum machine in five minutes?

And the drum sound, oh my. The drums suffer from a type of production only someone like Rick Rubin could think is good. On the plus side it isn't as over-the-top as Metallica's Death Magnetic but damn is it stale. I've already said that they could have used a drum machine for the performance, but they could have used one for the drum sound as well. It sounds so lifeless and phoney, fakey, plastic, like a fucking robot could have, you know. Okay, I'll shut up about robots now.

The production in general is just terrible. Sure, you can hear every instrument, everything is crisp and clear, but that's kind of the problem. Rick Rubin, need I say more? It's so overproduced, in lack of a less overused term, and it is completely void of character. It kills any hint it might have had of atmosphere it might have had if the music was any good. It doesn't have any warmth to it, it is cold, clinical, almost surgical and it completely lacks any of the aural mystique of the early albums that so elevated and enhanced their mood. I've heard Guitar Pro songs that sounded more lifelike than this.

Back to the music. You know, Geezer Butler was always kind of underrated in the face of the overwhelming praise that Ozzy and Iommi are usually showered with. But among the die-hard crowd and a little beyond that he is loved dearly for his ever-playful and always imaginative playing that is just about perfect for the music this band used to create. On 13, he is still kind of playful, but not the least bit imaginative, in fact quite predictable, and just about perfect for a turd of an album. I don't know, he *is* kind of the strongest link here, but even that does not save his performance from utter mediocrity to the point of just being saddening. You just feel ashamed for him to play on this level. A legend. A god. Playing stock shit like this? What has the world come to??? He just keeps noodling these little fills that sound like some third-rate school band came up with the day they tried to emulate old Black Sabbath.

Now up to this point I have written a lot of text containing some of my musings on the various elements of this album, but in the end it is all inconsequential, because in the end, there's only one thing that REALLY matters: The riffs. Sure, vocals, drums and bass are important, but Black Sabbath, in a nutshell, is THE RIFFS! Tony Iommi is the man. I wouldn't go as far as to say he can do no wrong, there have been weaker riffs in his career, but he comes pretty close to perfect, and no matter which musicians he works with you can always count on anything on which Tony Iommi plays to have *at least* solid riffs, with at least a handful of moments of sheer greatness. At least. In the odd case when he doesn't actually deliver an entire album of sheer greatness. He is *the* riff-god in metal, and you can always rely on him for heavy, crunchy, catchy RIFFS! I cannot bestow enough praise upon this man, and I am sure many of you will agree. He is, again, *the man*.

This brings me right back to the first paragraph of this review: This album really fucking hurts. I have listed numerous reasons for why this album is an utter stinker. Ozzy sucks, the drummer sucks, Rick Rubin sucks, even Geezer sucks. But really, in a nutshell, in essence, what really, really hurts about this album is Tony Iommi's performance. Do I dare spell it out? I must. Every fiber of my body resists, but I must say it out loud for all the world to hear: Tony Iommi fucking sucks. There, I said it. Never in my life would I have believed that the point in my life would came at which I would say these words, but now this point arrived. Tony Iommi sucks.

Just what in blazes is it he is doing here? I've heard a lot of shitty music in my life, but rarely have I come across something sounding so fundamentally wrong. I have to think of the third-rate school band again that I mentioned in the Geezer paragraph. The riffing on this album is such shite it's hard to put into words. At times he is trying to go all dark on us, especially in the first two songs, trying to regurgitate the band's eponymous track, but failing miserably by means of droning note progressions that just lack any impact. In other parts he is trying to be all rocking and bouncy but again falling flat by delivering riffs that lack any punch, or hell, even the mandatory substance to even be called a "riff." A few quiet and peaceful moments and again no meat to them, just lifeless plucking that any guitar beginner without artistic vision or talent could have come up with in five minutes. Essentially, the riffing on this albums reminds me of the tired TV show staple of making the last episode of the season a clip show, except in this TV show the stock footage has the audio removed so you won't find any content. I have talked about this problem with other people who have heard the album, and they say that the problem is merely that the riffs sound stock and re-hashed, but I believe the problem runs deeper than this. It isn't just that Iommi listened to an old Sabbath record and said "yeah, I can do this" and starting winging it without any further thought put into it. It's not just that the riffs are "not good" - the riffs are *bad*. They are really actively irritating. I can't listen to any riffs on this album without cringing. You may think I feel this way because it is the "god of riffs" falling from grace, but quite honestly, no matter which one of the millions of guitarists in the world presented this to me, I'd still tell him (or her) to keep this crap. Go rehearse, do proper songwriting, think about what you do, and for fuck's sake, don't put all the first ideas that come to your mind onto an album that hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people are probably going to pay money for. Especially if your first ideas are the worst you ever had.

So yeah, fuck you, Tony Iommi. You may get away with a lot due to the immense respect millions of people have for you, but you are not getting away with this album. Not on my watch. You are destroying a band that means so much to millions of people, and you are destroying a core value of the loyal fanbase that you once worked hard to attract: The core value that Tony Fucking Iommi can be trusted to deliver. I feel that the moment I heard this album a hero died, and with him a little or not-so-little part of myself. This just really fucking hurts. I don't want this album to exist. It destroyed so much in such a short playing time.

You thought St Anger was bad? You thought that was the furthest the mighty can fall? Try listening to 13. It will blow your mind how one of the best bands in the history of music can make one of the worst albums to ever have existed. Listen, cringe, but don't buy. Fuck this shit.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Tales from the schizophrenia ward - Part II: Irene

Irene - not her real name. Out of all the people I met in the schizophrenia ward, this is the one who left the most lasting impression. Until I met her, I believed that chemotherapy was the worst torture patients were subjected to and which doctors derive their sadistic pleasure from under the guise of "treatment", but this encounter proved to me once and for all that the mentally ill truly are at the very bottom of the receiving end of our modern "healthcare" system.

Like so many in this clinic, this story first began to unfold in the smoker's room (mentioned frequently in the first installment of this series.) One day I go to have a smoke, and there she is. A middle-aged women, short, dark brown hair. I didn't notice it at first, but when I think back it was kind of a curious contrast between how precise her side parting was and how well-kept her hair was in general, and how ridiculously badly she was dressed. I'm not judging, it's just something that kind of sticks with you as unusual. Overall she looked no better or worse, for lack of better terms, than any other patient in the ward. Just an average patient at first sight, not worth noting.

Then she began to "talk." You couldn't understand a word she was "saying", it was literally just moaning. Over time, that being many weeks, I began to be able to work out that at least she was trying to talk, that it wasn't just moaning, and at times you could almost get a general idea of what she was trying to express, just barely. But at first, it was just moaning to me, just random noises she made for whatever reason. So obviously at first I thought she was not simply mentally ill, I was under the impression that she was severely mentally disabled. Think Down's syndrome. I felt like she had the intellect of a slice of toast and had no idea what she was doing in this place. I admit that is a snap judgement to make, but remember I was not exactly at 100% myself and was creeped out by the ward and its inhabitants in general, and didn't give people much of a chance at first.

So yeah, I thought she was a retard, it's not without shame I admit that. But weeks passed, and as both she and I were nearly always in the little smoker's room filling our lungs with tar and other poisons, and I began to notice more and more little things that just didn't seem to fit into my initial snap judgement of her as being mentally disabled.

It was quickly apparent that she was obsessed with the cleanliness of the room, and not just that, but with everything being in perfect order. Most of the times you met her in the room, she'd be bent over sweeping the floor with a hand brush, and when she was sitting to have a smoke, she'd clean the table. At first she rubbed off the ash spots with spit, and we had to explain to her how gross that was, and she'd understand and comment (with a moan), but she would not rest until the table was clean, so we had to make sure there was always a wet cloth around so she could keep everything squeaky clean. And it didn't end there. The chairs had to be perfectly parallel, and the legs of the table had to face particular directions, the ashtray needed to be exactly in the middle and the little aluminum box for cigarette butts had to be in just the right place. That's not something someone with a slice of toast for a brain is easily capable of, so I began to pay more attention to what she did, how she behaved and tried my best to decipher meaning from her moans. And so did others, and we talked about what we could make out, and pieced it together.

It took a few weeks of hard work, but we came to the conclusion that Irene was neither "retarded" nor stupid in any way, she actually seemed fairly bright once you were able to get a general idea of what she was trying to communicate. But there was the moaning, a frequent general sense of unresponsiveness and other things, such as the time when she little her cigarette at the filter end, we told her, she looked at it, then kept smoking the filter. Or how she kept falling asleep during group sessions. Something was clearly not right, and we all started to worry a bit, especially a young woman who was a fellow patient who had worked as a nurse prior to her illness. So we tried to talk to the doctors, we tried to talk to the nurses, we tried to get it across that we were worried. There was no response on the subject from any of the staff, every time we brought it up it was quickly and quite rudely brushed off.

Then we found out what was happening by chance. As I explained in the first installment in this series, there were set times when medication was handed out, and we all formed a line to get our share. One day one of our clique of sorts (a small group of people who got along and hung out) just happened to be behind Irene in the line, and got a first hand view of what she got. No less than SIXTY milligrams of haloperidol and SIX milligrams of lorazepam. This was a very small, slim woman, mind you. Haloperidol, an early and notoriously potent antipsychotic, is usually given at dosages between 5-10mg, once you go a little higher you end up turning into a drooling zombie, but with Irene they did not go a LITTLE higher, they went a LOT higher. And if that wasn't enough, there was the lorazepam, a sedative of the benzodiazepine class usually given at dosages between 1-2mg to treat acute phases of anxiety and/or agitation. Here she got a dosage that was far too high for a person her size, and she got it daily, and she got it on top of a huge dosage of haloperidol. You want to try that on yourself and see how well you do at pronouncing intelligible words or staying awake during group sessions or noticing you lit your cigarette on the wrong end?

Words cannot describe how sick and perverted this treatment of a human being is. And we were not the only ones to be outraged. Her husband visited her frequently, and he was furious. He told off every member of the staff, not only the nurses who we all realised were just clueless drones who were "just following orders", but he made every effort to request meetings with the doctors in charge to literally yell at them. Just imagine someone did that to your wife. The woman you love and care for and promised to spend the rest of your life with.  I think "furious" does not nearly do justice to the feelings he expressed. The reaction? None. In fact, after a while, not willing to put any effort into improving the situation, the doctors sent her home with her medication unchanged. Perhaps they felt satisfied that they did as much damage as they could, but I'm probably assuming too malicious motives, but it sure felt that way. Most likely they simply didn't give a damn.

What ever became of Irene I do not know. I hope she is doing well, and I hope her husband pushed through a significant reduction in her medication. I hope she never has to experience something like the months she spent in the schizophrenia ward ever again in her life. I wish her well, and I will remember her as a kind and intelligent woman who met the wrong people who were abusing in the worst possible ways to get off on their power trips. I'm sure she is not the only one who suffered such a fate in such a place, I reckon there is an Irene in every clinic in the "civilised" world.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The mutants are revolting: The treatment of the mentally ill in today's society - Part II

The content of this post was originally planned for the first part of this series, but something happened that I needed to focus on first, so now this has become the second part.

I have another post already on the time I was in the schizophrenia ward, but that was not the only time I was in a clinic, I have a total of three so far. The first one was a rather naive attempt at improving my situation that did little but waste my time, and the schizophrenia ward was the third and most recent. In between I've spent 14 weeks in something called a day clinic, a place where you go every morning and spend your day there and return home every afternoon. It was actually quite cool and I made a bit of progress there. The daily structure was what did the most, getting up every morning and bicycling my lazy ass to the clinic (in a harsh winter by this region's standards, temperatures down to -17C), doing a sort of morning ritual, then therapies to do all day, various weekly tasks and all sorts of stuff, I felt quite good there after a while.

Now there is one thing that was the same for all three clinic visits. As you near the end, they try to hit you up for some stuff to do after the clinic to reintegrate you into the workforce. That doesn't sound half-bad in principle, but it soon appears that things are not as nice as they seem at first. That is because the end result of all these "measures" ("Maßnahmen" as they are called in Germany) is always the same: The sheltered workshop.

What is this, you may ask if you're unfamiliar with the subject? Well, it is a workshop for the disabled. Basically, you are sent there if you are deemed incapable for a "normal" job and do simple tasks without pressure. Pretty great, huh? You see, the problem is that there is no differentiation. These workshops operate on the principle that every chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so the work is tailored to those who are the furthest gone. For anyone with a shred of sanity left these tasks can only seem utterly banal. There is not a hint of challenge. You are either bored to death or quickly build up a level of frustration that can only develop into aggression, whether you like it or not. I still think it's good such places exist for those who are really that far gone. It gives structure and a sense of purpose to those who cannot get these any other way.

But what about the rest of us? I estimate that 95% or more of all people going in for psychiatric treatment do not fall into the category of "that far gone." I mean, if you are part of these 95% (or more), you don't HAVE TO go to one of these workshops, do you? Personally, there were two things I experienced. First, there was the schizophrenia ward. They wanted me to do that stuff, I did not agree because I had ambitions of my own. Well, tough luck, buddy, because if you don't want to do that, we'll get a warrant to keep you in the clinic. Agree to join the workshop program or we won't let you leave. Am I making this up? Am I exaggerating? Nope, that is what they told me. So, not wanting to be locked up in the clinic for the rest of my life, I agreed to sign up for the workshop gulag. I did manage to weasel myself out of there eventually, but the fact that they threatened to lock me up in the clinic if I didn't agree to join that thing remains.

Then there was the second thing I experienced. Remember how a few paragraphs ago I thought the day clinic was a good thing and considered it helpful. Well, as I said, I had and still have ambitions of my own. I want to go back to school and re-do my top level high school graduation (Abitur in Germany) so I could go to university and study, and I feel well and capable enough to pull this off. So I go to the day clinic's doctor to sign up for a second term, and I told the doctor that my idea was to use the day clinic as a way of preparing for going back to school. Well, pardon me for showing a spark of ambition, because I was quickly told that they can't let me into the day clinic as long as I have such plans. She was however kind enough to let me know that if I changed my mind and agreed to join a sheltered workshop after my stay at the day clinic they could grant me a spot. So I was denied the treatment I needed because I wanted to make my own decisions on how to run my life, but if I decided to let THEM run my life I would mercifully receive the treatment I need.

That's not even as far as they are willing to go. A friend of mine is on social welfare (as am I, at the moment), and the social welfare office told him if he did not agree to have the sheltered workshop recruitment Gestapo run his life, his welfare payments would be cut to zero. Like me, he planned to finish his Abitur, but that's not supported in the Orwellian psychiatrist police state. Can't show a spark of ambition, because if you do, you are overstepping your boundaries as a second class citizen. You can't be trusted to function. You are a liability. We have to protect society from you.

This really is the issue. They are not doing this for your benefit. They claim they do, they only want your best and shit, but really, you're not getting anything out of it instead of being put in a backwater to rot in misery for the rest of your life. They are doing this to remove you from society. They are doing this so nobody has to see you, let alone interact with you. So that nobody has to deal with you. People don't want you around them, because who knows what you might be up to? So they create and maintain a system in which you are shoved to the side and locked up in a little workshop so your poison does not seep into the world of the healthy. It does not matter how intelligent you are, how many crafts you may excel at, what excellent skills you may have to make a valuable contribution to society - as long as you have this illness it is best you do nothing, as long as you do it out of everybody's sight. And if you disagree, well, get used to spending the rest of your life locked up in a clinic or be denied treatment you need or money you cannot live without.

That's the reality of things, my friends, and it will never change as long as our voices are not heard. We may never win our right to be considered valuable members of society, or at least win our dignity, but shouldn't we at least try?

The mutants are revolting: The treatment of the mentally ill in today's society - Part I

I was going to begin this new series with a post detailing something I have experienced a few months ago, but tonight I decided I am not going to do that, because, given current events that unfolded in my life, my focus is a different one as I am writing this.

This is the thing about mental illness in today's society. The biggest problems you face are not problems created by your illness. Doctors would like you to believe that your illness is the root of your problems, and that the only way to fix your problems is to work on your illness. That is a blatant and malicious lie. They are not ashamed to tell that lie, they do not have any regrets about telling you this lie, they do not even think about the fact that they are telling you a lie, it is their job to tell you this lie, that is what they get paid for, that is the whole reason for their existence. They do not do you any service by telling you this lie, on the contrary, it is as counterproductive as can be. Who they do a service for are the people who do not suffer from an illness and would like you removed from society, and they provide said service through this lie by getting you so worked up with introspection and obsession over every single brain cell that may be wrongly aligned that you so completely phase out the outside world that you get out of people's sight and cannot and will not address the true root of your problems.

No, the true root of your problems is not within yourself. The root of your problem is everybody else. Of course you have been brainwashed into thinking that admitting this equates to pointing the finger, pushing the blame away from yourself and being selfish and arrogant and irresponsible and worse than Hitler. But, for one second, try to reject these notions that have been shoved down your throat since you barely learned how to drool. Look at how people behave towards you once they know you suffer from a mental illness. Be realistic. You are no longer a human being. You do not have feelings. You have no wants or needs, you have no dreams, and God beware if you should utter so much as a hint of ambition. Everything you say is judged in the framework of how people view you as a mentally ill person. Every tiny mishap morphs from "well, that happens" to "you are such a fuck-up, you can never get anything right." Face it, in today's society, you are less than an animal. You have no rights. You have no value. Your very existence is a stain on everything people value.

The problem begins to get ugly once the attitude of people around you because of your illness interacts with the illness, because the latter - this is true for a huge variety of diagnoses - tends to make you take the things you are told day in and day out to heart and each single such utterance tends to fuck you up more and more. And people quickly realise that. You know what people do once they realise they have the power to fuck someone up? There have been a few pilot studies on the subject, such as the Milgram experiment or the Stanford prison experiment, but these deal with healthy people. Even in the darkest chapters of our history, be it the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany or the treatment of blacks in the United States' past, you were dealing with healthy people, who despite all the shit they faced were at least left with the ability to "suck it up." Still, even in those pilot studies or those periods in our history, a person in total control over a person's life will do anything to abuse this control. Now think of how this plays out when said person is in control not only over somebody's body, but also in control over somebody's mind. Just imagine the power to make someone experience a severe psychotic, anxious, depressive, borderline or whatever episode at the snap of your finger.

That's right, self-proclaimed "healthy" people get a huge fucking hard-on through making you miserable in every possible way, because they can, and it feels so very, very good to them that they can. It sure beats whipping a black slave who can suck it up and come out stronger and not lose any sleep over it. No, mental abuse does so much more damage and in turn gives you so much more pleasure. It is as traumatic as rape, if not more so. And you know the best part? You can do it every day, every time of the day, for year after year, and do you ever have to fear repercussions? Sure, that basket case can go to the police, who are they going to believe? They'll probably join in the fun and lock you up with no medication or have you committed rather than go through any trouble protecting you from constant mental rape suffered over the whole course of your life.

Well, there's a ray of sunshine. Because this post is the beginning of the end. Yes, I am aware of the fact that 99% of all responses I will get to this post will accuse me of whining, diverting blame, misrepresenting facts, lying, attention-whoring, playing victim or simply being worthless dirt that needs to be sent to the camps with the rest of my kind. But I've had it. I have made the decision that I am going to fight back right here, right now. This shit has to end. And this shit will end, or I will die trying to make it so. The mutants are revolting, baby, and the days of your total control over our minds and bodies are numbered.