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Harvey Milk - A Small Turn of Human Kindness CD (album) cover

A SMALL TURN OF HUMAN KINDNESS

Harvey Milk

Experimental/Post Metal


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Guldbamsen
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3 stars The sound of doom in slow-motion

I hit my head here the other day. I was fixing to go to bed, and just as I had laid down and put my mind at ease, the family cat Speedy starts yelping outside the house. She is a small cat, and with the amount of big karate felines we've got lurking around in our neighbourhood, we don't have the balls to let her spend the night outside. Mostly because she's got the balls - never shying away from a good fight. Anyways, I open the door to our driveway, and SCREEEEEEECH she goes hammering her claws into my bare feet, with yours truly getting the fright of my life - loosing my balance and tumbling down the brick-lain entrance head first.......... Still got a bump in the back of my head, and I keep tasting metal for some reason.

This album, whilst not the best from the band, has continued to evolve during my recent anti ballet stint. For example: I needed to work out this afternoon - feel my body work and sweat profusely, just to get that feel of 'sick' and headache off my shoulders and out of my wobbly vessel, and off I went on my stationary fitness bicycle going nowhere fast.

The overwhelming raw power of this release then proceeded to take its effect on me. The slow crunching guitar riffing that feels like metallic waves of sound crashing over you - to the deep bellowing vocals, this album is anything but meek and whimsical. Instead it comes off like a huge gulp of sweat, blood and hairy iron stashed together in some towering musical wall that encloses you in a small paranoia inducing cell.

10 minutes before the automatic on-board computer tells me that it's ok to stop, I feel a sudden rush of fatigue and nausea - my heart races and cold sweat springs out of my forehead like small icy darts. I can't do this anymore, I tell myself and literally throw my increasingly large corpus off the bike - lying down on the cold dirty floor. I stay there for the remaining time of this album, and all of it's natural heaviness - the incessant riffing and big booming drums sweep right through me like a wild uncontrollable storm. I am helpless and yet oddly comfortable with this scenario, and my head feels better for some reason, I just need to keep still and finish the album, keep down big boy.

Now, from approaching this album like I would any other metal release these days, that is with some trepidation and lack-lust, it has now transformed into something of a mental voyage - I'll even venture as far as to say spiritual. The stark black themes here, revolving around the endless lack of humanity in the humans we meet on a daily basis, have already been covered brilliantly in the band's gritty teutonic past, and yet somehow this album still feels strong and cohesive without ever coming off as a carbon copy of themselves.

Their sound is one of doom gloom and slow-motion funeral corteges - like a huge metallic raven flapping its wings in ultra slow bursts. If you can imagine a solo-less Slayer being run at the wrong speed - ever so apathetic and crawling, then you're pretty close to the teutonic sludgy doom of Harvey Milk.

One thing I feel can get a wee bit bizarre is the fact that Harvey Milk originally was a hugely inspirational politician in San Francisco. The first openly gay person to be elected into the mayor's castle no less. And whilst I am aware of the odd fist-fighting, jawbreaking, tobacco chewing big lump of manly gay person, more than often you'll associate these men with jazz-hands, the limp wrists and ABBA - and those trades are just about as far away from this band as you can possible get. I actually got one of my old friends to listen to Harvey Milk, and seeing as he has a natural affinity for the same sex, I thought it interesting to hear what his thoughts were.

As it turns out these thoughts of his were actually very close to mine, and while we both were able to see the fun factor of this conundrum, he told me that it was nice to hear somebody out there spreading some light on this wonderfully inspirational figure without ever coming off as something taken out of a Broadway show. I tend to agree with him. Real human power and strength is something you can't lock up in stereotypes. 3.5 stars.

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Send comments to Guldbamsen (BETA) | Report this review (#804311)
Posted Tuesday, August 14, 2012 | Review Permalink
HolyMoly
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4 stars I recently heard an interview with Creston (guitar, voice) and Kyle (drums) from Harvey Milk, conducted by Jeff Olson (former member of the metal band Trouble), and I was surprised to hear that the band thought that their well-received "Life... the Best Game in Town" was their worst album. While I think it is safe to say that that album is their most accessible and conventional, it certainly doesn't reek of "sellout" in the least. It's a hard core Harvey Milk album with a few bones thrown to the more garden variety metal-heads, but the songs are consistently strong to my ears, and it really rocks hard and true. But given the band's thoughts on it, I guess their subsequent release of this album, "A Small Turn of Human Kindness", makes a little more sense.

Borrowing the title of the album from the first song on their first album, right away you can tell that Harvey Milk has decided to make a record like the ones they started with in the 1990s -- art-damaged, head-wrenching sludge. Like their early masterwork "Courtesy and Good Will Towards Men", this album plays like one long piece, divided into seven tracks but organically flowing together with the inevitability of a river of lava.

Before I get to the songs themselves, first a general word about what I mean by "art damaged sludge". Low frequencies, played slowly and loudly. Delivered in a way meant to feel like a blow to the head. It's more about heaviness and sonic impact than about "rock" per se. But here is where Harvey Milk differs from other bands that might bear that label: their instruments sound so natural and unbothered by technology (i.e. fancy effects or production) that you can almost FEEL the guitar pick hitting the string, or the drum stick hitting the drum heads. There's a very tangible, physical, REAL sound going on, and for me that adds immensely to its personal appeal. It's so natural sounding that I even have a hard time thinking of it as "metal", though that's largely due to prejudices from growing up in the 1980s that haven't quite faded away.

It begins with an untitled instrumental, a slowly plodding fanfare on electric guitar, an angular guitar riff played slowly and deliberately, punctuated by crashes on the bass and drums. This turns out to be an introduction to the first vocal track, "I Just Want to Go Home", where raging howls of pain are answered by a feedback-based guitar solo that demonstrates Creston Spiers's incredible control of his tone (playing that slow is harder than it sounds!). This leads directly into the linking piece "I Am Sick of All This Too", essentially a tension-building rhythmic exercise with the trio playing in unison. "I Know This is No Place for You" follows, for the first time giving us something that resembles a hard rock song (albeit barely), with a steady (though still slow) beat and an identifiable chord progression. The second half of the album follows suit, offering little in the way of recognizable hooks, but much in the way of difficult, emotional music. While the template of their early albums is clearly the inspiration here, their added tightness and sense of melody from their later albums keeps things fresh and dynamic.

Though it's hard to notice on first listen, since the music is characterized by spare simplicity and empty spaces, the band has clearly taken some time with the arrangements, adding piano (a key element of the aforementioned "Courtesy..." album), and usually at least one overdubbed guitar for texture and harmony. The overall "story" of the album, if there is one, concerns the agony of self-doubt, fear of the future, and helplessness one may face in dire circumstances - a personal crisis Creston went through, perhaps? Not my business really, but the lyrics read like a letter to his wife - a letter of complaints, fears, concerns, and serious questions about how to move forward. In a perverse way, though, there is a ray of humor through all this. Maybe it's the song titles, which thematically hold the album together with their similarity to each other and their over-the-top narcissism.

As of this writing, this is the last Harvey Milk album to appear. The band generally doesn't commit to much or show their hand very often -- they seem to record when and only when they feel like it, resulting in small bursts of activity bookended with long periods of silence. But this album has the ring of a new beginning, a fresh start based on the band's core values of art-damaged sludge that really sounds like nothing but Harvey Milk. This is a fine album that bodes extremely well for the band's future.

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Send comments to HolyMoly (BETA) | Report this review (#812684)
Posted Thursday, August 30, 2012 | Review Permalink

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