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Harvey Milk - Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men CD (album) cover


Harvey Milk


Experimental/Post Metal

3.96 | 4 ratings

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4 stars [November 2012: Changed rating from a '5' to a '4'. As impressive as it is, it's not *quite* cohesive and consistent enough to earn a 5. I'll leave the review as is for now, see below]

One of the most uncompromisingly bleak albums I've ever heard. Not even "horrid" and "terrifying" as is the case with Scott Walker's latest album. But in this case, it sounds like a musical version of a man dying on his deathbed, in severe pain but unable to do anything about it. Whoda thunk that a band from sunny Athens GA could produce something like this. Recorded by Dave Barbe, formerly of power pop band Sugar (with Bob Mould). It just doesn't make sense. To further confuse things, the very next album they made ("The Pleaser", 1999) was riff-happy classic rock and roll, a la ZZ Top, Thin Lizzy, or Lynyrd Skynyrd. And it was also good.

It's hard to tell where this band is really coming from on this release. It's a long double-length album with most tracks clocking in over 7 minutes. The exact words are mostly inaudible, but the message comes through loud and clear. Creston Spiers (a rather normal looking tall and lanky man who is a teacher for his day job) sings like a grizzly bear with its leg caught in a trap, and plays guitar like the guitar has a cold, but you can tell those choked sounds are well rehearsed and developed, as he repeats them flawlessly throughout the recording. The rhythm section rarely falls into any sort of pattern, just a meandering sludge pit of misery and despair. I don't know what it is, but it sure as heck feels like art, and damn good art at that. You'll usually find it listed under "Metal", but I think that tag is only accurate to the extent that the guitars are heavy and slow, and the vocals howl and growl. Switch a couple of instruments, and you might as well call it RIO, though. What is going on here?

Deathly quiet sections alternate with tortured howls and guitar/bass/drum assault, never reaching a tempo much beyond a painful crawl. Towards the end, everything else drops out, and Creston sings in his pained voice with just an acoustic guitar, a deathbed rendition of a Leonard Cohen song "One of Us Cannot Be Wrong". The placement and song choice certainly have some gravity to them -- maybe to give a touch of old school class to this otherwise completely-out-of-nowhere album.

Join Harvey Milk through an unpleasant trip through Pain. One of the more intriguing bands I've discovered in years, and this is their Pain Opus, sometimes called their Masterpiece. After a several year hiatus following the Pleaser album, they came back in the mid 00's with a more approachable brand of sludge (not unlike the Melvins), and continue to be on fire creatively, albeit sporadically.

This is one of those "Life" albums that you can just tell is Important (with a capital "I"), even before you've fully understood it, and which sounds like nothing else you've ever heard. Beautiful ugliness, confounding yet really hits you in the deepest pit of your heart. As strange as it feels putting this album in the same class as "Close to the Edge", I think "5" ratings were made for this kind of experience. For me, anyway, this album is a near-perfect specimen of Sludge Art; of Rage, Despair, and Surrender. Noise. It may not be Prog as you understand it, but it's really something else.

HolyMoly | 4/5 |


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