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Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus
Mute

Nick Cave -- the black-clad, cigarette-sucking Dark Prince of goth-carny balladry seated at the right hand of the King, Tom Waits -- is David Johansen with ideas, Elvis Costello with a crack habit, Bryan Ferry with a (more pronounced?) taste for S&M. Equal parts lounge singer and lyricist, pornographer and poet, Cave's music exists in the margins between rock and jazz, between avant-garde and the bar stool.

Cave's new double-CD release, Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus is much in the same (painfully open) vein as his criminally underrated 2003 release, Nocturama. That is, full of love songs to God, the Earth, and several unnamed "babes" and "honeys" that mostly serve to illuminate Cave's own dark recesses of love and longing -- "dears" in the headlights, if you will.

Abattoir Blues is the more delightfully unhinged of the two discs, featuring more gospel singers than a Woman, Thou Art Loosed convention. Even weirder, it all works. Cave sings about gargoyles and butchers and cannibals and Nabokov with the same bright-eyed sincerity. Which is not to say that The Lyre of Orpheus is all babbling brooks and wind-blown melody. Songs like that record's "Spell" suggest a woodsy clime not unlike the hallucinogenic thatch in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" -- equal parts earth, myth, and dream, all tied together by the devil's tail. Album closer "O Children" is almost hymn-like in its presentation, but soon becomes a hellfire wonderland of regret and remorse, simultaneously a rant against fascism and a paean to lost innocence.

In other words, classic Nick Cave. But never before has Cave's grasp come so close to matching his reach than with Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus. They are perhaps the two finest Bad Seeds records he's done, no mean feat some 20 years into the game.

Track(s) to Burn: "There She Goes, My Beautiful World"/ "Babe, You Turn Me On"
Grade: Abattoir Blues 1/2
The Lyre of Orpheus
--Timothy C. Davis

The Arcade Fire
Funeral
Merge

From the opening organ wash, staccato cello bursts, cascading piano, fevered guitar riff, thumping bass and Win Butler's desperate yelp, Funeral demands your attention, urgently and viscerally. Indifference is an unlikely option.

This Canadian quintet's debut full-length is an arresting ode to winter -- the season and time of life -- dedicated in the liner notes to several of the band's recently deceased elderly relatives. The four central "Neighborhood" cuts ("Tunnels," "Laika," "Power Out," and "7 Kettles") are analogous to the quadrants of the human heart, and like the other six songs, pulse with a vibrancy reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, early Roxy Music, and, in Butler's near-frantic caterwauling, Heroes-era Bowie or Talking Heads-Byrne.

Butler sings like he's on fire, but the rest of Funeral fairly blazes, too, for even the quieter songs generate tempos hot enough to melt the snow that blankets many songs. The record's centerpiece, "Wake Up," encompasses all that captures the imagination about The Arcade Fire: massive rock guitar chords, swelling strings, an avalanche of harp notes, thunderous percussion and 15 of the record's participants belting out an anthemic chorus. It's a transcendent moment on a record that features almost nothing but memorable ones.

Track to Burn: "Wake Up"
Rating:
--John Schacht

Lamb of God
Ashes of the Wake
Epic

Lamb of God's new full-length is reminiscent of their previous album, As the Palaces Burn (2003), except that the production is much more clear-cut and refined, allowing that mid-80s speed/thrash metal influence to stand out more. It also reflects the integrity acquired from 10 years of playing metal together. Aggressive, precise song structure and an acute interest in the current political climate make it an apocalyptic vision come to a daunting sonic fruition.

The improved production better integrates front man Randy Blythe's versatile vocal range with the intricacy of LOG's overall sound. He belts out these King Diamond-like banshee wails and some spoken-word snippets, and a consistent gritty growl permeates this ever-changing, technically complex album. The razor sharp thrashing of the twin rhythm guitars (Mark Morton & Willie Adler) tirelessly engage riff after devastating riff in fierce and melodic counter-play.

Morton once said that Armageddon needs a heavy metal soundtrack, and Ashes Of The Wake might be a good candidate.

Track to Burn: "Hourglass"
Rating: 1/2
--Lydia Marlon

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