Monday 8 December 2008

Blood and Thunder

Mastodon are described in various quarters as a 'sludge-metal' act meaning they play with a kind of stoner-esque crunchy sound whilst retaining the brutality normally associated with more conventional hard rock bands of heavier genres. Think a mix between early Metallica, Kyuss and Iron Maiden and you might have an idea of what I'm on about.

Now truth be told I was not a big fan of these chaps until about a week ago. Sure I owned both Leviathan and Blood Mountain but I'd never bothered listening to either album since after the first few songs I'd become disinterested with that 'noise' and wrap myself back into a comforting cocoon of Metallica and Lamb of God.

This all changed (as I mentioned, about a week ago) when this Georgian (that'd be the state, not the country) outfit arrived in Dublin to play Vicar St. After a spot of confusion whilst trying to actually find Vicar St. we managed to arrive having conveniently missed the usually dire first support act. The second support band turned out to be a 'rockabilly' (thanks to Dan for that term) side-project of Mastodons. And they were brilliant.

A downright bizarre mix of bluegrass and rock music coupled with equally strange stage theatrics automatically put Mastodon into my 'good guys' list. Here was clearly a group of musicians who don't take themselves overtly seriously and aren't afraid to mix things up a bit. Jolly good.

To be honest any band that writes a concept album based on Moby Dick automatically loses the right to take themselves as a serious outfit and Mastodon didn't disappoint. Sure the music was still suitably heavy (and ridiculously impressive) but there was an element of, dare I say, fun about it all. Whoever doesn't find the idea of a concert hall full of people yelling 'WHITE WHAAAAAALE' at the top of their lungs a little amusing needs their brain examined.

There is a major problem amongst rock bands that they too tend to take their music overtly seriously. Radiohead, for example. Mastodon are one of these brilliant groups that recall the good old days when rock was about having a laugh, getting drunk and falling over and encouraging your legions of fans to yell your admittedly hilarious lyrics at gigs.

0% pretentiousness 100% more White Whale

More power to them
Mastodon - Cover of Thin Lizzy's 'Emerald'. Recorded live @ Vicar St. Dublin 3/12/2008

Wednesday 3 December 2008

Piece Of Mind

My recent graduation from the esteemed UCD(D) got me thinking about the pros and cons of my college existence. What I liked (school of Classics, minimal hours, potential to become Indiana Jones) and what I disliked (school of History, the Business school and administration) are, I find, not really worth my ranting. The ultimate questions are; did I like my course? would I have preferred to do something else? just how screwed do I feel with an Arts degree? Was it all worth it in the end?

Well I won't lie when I arrived in college I hated it. The Soviet architecture, the legions of idiots, the Quinn school. UCD felt like an educational regression initially, a step back towards the swamps of ignorance. I never felt remotely challenged in first year. A feeling compounded by the school of History's plan to teach us the Leaving Cert. course again. In LESS detail then we had studied it in Secondary School.

Luckily for me, my other major Classics was run in a much more satisfactory manner. The courses were a progression from the LC. Not only that but there was a definite structure to the Classics programme. One could begin a basic module in, for example, ancient philosophy and then follow it through intermediate and advanced levels in 2nd and 3rd year. So one could pick and choose just which fields of Classics to specialise in. In stark contrast the school of History was a mess, a potluck of random time periods and subjects. The only constant module being the perennially uninteresting Irish history module.

However as the years went on and more and more people were left by the educational wayside Arts became a far happier place. A kind of survival of the fittest left a far more agreeable group in Classics and made History slightly more tolerable. In History I learnt to take the bad modules (British Empire) with the unbelievably good (medieval Japan, age of exploration Europe, Vietnam War). Classics, like a fine wine, only got better with every passing year.

In a way I'd come full circle from plans to burn the Arts bloc to the ground in first year to becoming the looming monolith's numero uno cheerleader by 3rd year. But now looking around at my friends and family in other courses (or perhaps more tellingly jobs) do I think I made a poor choice in picking Arts? I remember in sixth year when it was CAO time and I had positively no idea what to throw down on my form. I was told to pick a subject I like. Simple advice, simple answer; History and Classics = Arts.

Obviously the main argument levelled against Arts is the apparent lack of careers available after college. This is a valid point in many ways, an Arts degree is clearly not going to leave you in any way qualified to become a brain surgeon. I'll also freely admit that if you want a 'good' (good by definition being a high-paid job) specifically in Arts you will need a MA or PhD. On the flip side so long as you have a good enough degree you take your history and classics qualification and go completely off the Arty path into graduate programmes in Law or Business.

So whats the point of all this Arts malarkey if its just a stepping stone to something completely irrelevant to the study of old things? I've found the level of disdain held for Arts shocking throughout my time in college. Unnecessary and useless being two much used adjectives when describing an Arts degree. This common view stems from aforementioned 'no jobs' problem with Arts. Most folk can't understand why anyone should care what happened 50/100/500 years ago if it won't make you $$$$$$ in the near future.

I shall give some examples why it is important; to preserve and understand our own direct past, there is nothing more important than understanding just where you stand in the world and how your immediate environment has been shaped. You shall find a greater appreciation for your own history and the achievements of your ancestors. Going further afield you could learn about the events and the people that have shaped the world (personal favourites being the shogun in Japan); leaders, explorers, scientists, theologists, generals etc. History is the means by which a student can learn the most about the world around them and preserve the truth for future generations.

With Classics the ideals and virtues of history can be expanded upon by the study of ancient art, architecture, poetry, literature, plays, law and philosophy. Ancient Greece and Rome were the cradle of our western society; there is arguably no better way to understand the western world as it exists today than by studying classics. Roman law forms the basis for common law throughout Europe to this day. They gave us government, philosophy, Christianity (in a way). The history and mythology of ancient Greece and Rome inspired men for generations. The ideals of their philosophy and the grandeur of their art and architecture survives still. If one wishes to comprehend the potential of civilisation, study classics.

I'm still holding out for becoming the next Indy though.