The Inner Mounting Flame (1972)
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Meeting of the Spirits A+
This song picks up a hellstorm! You can hear its thunderclaps right at the beginning of this with those thick chords and epic drum rolls. There's a little bit of quiet before you start to hear the guitars and violin slowly fade into play, and man! Those things are playing like it's the end of the world! (Yes, there's a violin... One of the main things I like about this band is they have a violin player jamming away with the guitars.) This piece goes on for nearly seven minutes and it's one roller coaster ride of intense emotion. Sometimes it's loud and hellish, other times it's calmer and ominous, and I hold onto every second of it.
It starts to seem like it's going to be a somewhat calm song (at least compared to the thunderstorm we heard in the previous track), but it is a little bit creepy especially with that foreboding bass. Of course they aren't going to let us off easily, as McLaughlin comes in with the wildest electric guitar solo that you could possibly imagine. Of course the other instrumentals follow suit and jam away like mad. Maybe it sounds like he's overplaying it, but I'm sure he's trying to illustrate in music what it's like to go insane. This song is pretty much what the previous four months of my life was like! It started out OK, but everything just started to run together... It even has a mini Thanksgiving Break in there!
The Noonward Race A
OK, here's for some nitpicking. I liked the earlier songs because they gave me distinct feelings, emotions and atmospheres. All I really get out of this song is a bunch of incessant instrument playing! Granted, it's masterful, and their instruments actually talk and perhaps even argue with each other, which is amazing. I'm surprised their fingers didn't fall off, but the emotion is a bit bare in this. As I said, though, that's just a nitpick since this thing continues to be dazzling to my ears. And, seriously, you have to hear it simply to hear the instruments have it out with each other! It goes on for more than six minutes, and I could listen to these rapid paced scales and noodles twice that amount!
A Lotus on Irish Streams A
It's kind of crazy, but I was apparently more impressed with this when I wrote my original review of this album. Mind you I still find it fascinating, but … maybe I'm not quite as starry eyed about it as I once was. This piece sounds exactly like the title suggests. It features twinkly pianos, guitars and violins illustrating beautifully what a lotus on an Irish stream must look like. (Yes, indeed, these sounds show you something! Isn't that what all great music is supposed to do? All the way from Bach to Mahavishnu Orchestra to Lady Gaga?) It's quite indistinguishable from that, too! The theme the violin plays, whenever it's actually present, is quite mesmerizing too!
Vital Transformation A
Listening to these guys go at it is exactly what it's like listening to a machine chugging along (except this has tones!), which is great if you're the type of person who has been known to get mesmerized by that sort of thing. Of course their instrumental work is dazzling and wild, and you can't take this sort of thing lightly! On the other hand, my nitpick of “The Noonward Race” applies to this as well. I don't get a whole lot out of this other than extremely decorative clutter. It has nice textures but it doesn't really get me excited. In fact, I'm not even sure I'd be able tell this piece apart from “The Noonward Race” unless I were to study them closely... Like I'd study for a concrete test... (Uggh! I need to stop thinking about that! It's over! I got a C+!! Woot!)
The Dance of Maya A
I really like the darkness and seediness of this. That disjointed dark guitar playing evil chords while a squeaky lead guitar makes these high-pitched windy noises. The emotion present in this addresses some of the complaints I had about “Vital Transformation” about their songs veering toward emptyish virtuosity over atmospheres and emotions. Parts of this song really cook, and I'd venture to say that McLaughlin comes up with some of his most compelling lightning fast solos in this track. But other parts of this seem just a tad slow to develop, particularly those deep, slow R&B chugs that pop out from time to time. I don't know why, but those chugs always seem to lose me.
You Know You Know A-
I know I know! I've gotten more used to slow songs probably since the time I originally reviewed this album, but why am I having a hard time getting myself into it? That quiet, subdued riff sounds like some creepy thing in the shadows. As it progresses, it seems to start to come out of the shadows or something. (Like those sudden violin hits!) Of course this song continues to be performed masterfully, particularly those extremely tight and punchy drum rolls at the end. The instrumentals continue to be fascinating. ...But why am I not more excited about this? I guess I can't force myself.
And one final roller coaster to close out the album! It's surely one of the most rabble-rousing, mayhem causing ones of the lot, which makes it a very appropriate closer. The instrumentals don't seem to be extremely disciplined, but that's the whole point, I guess. This is the awakening of somebody on speed. It even has a completely insane drum solo at the end. DRUM SOLO! AGGGHHH!!! But count this as one of the good reason such a thing as drum solos exist on this stupid planet. The drum solo is dazzling, cool, and not more than a few seconds long. Boo yeah!
Birds of Fire (1973)
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Birds of Fire A+
There are a few lonely crashes of symbols to issue in the fading in apocalypse of disjointed guitar arpeggios and doom-ridden violin loops. McLaughlin comes in with such an evil guitar solo that it could very well be Satan himself playing. Is that what these guys were trying to illustrate? Satan rocking out in hellfire? In that case, they did a great job! The guitar solo itself has a ton of personality in it. And that, in a nutshell, is the appeal of this band and this album in particular! The guitar solos are wild, bold and illustrative.
Miles Beyond B+
Miles Davis!! (I don't hear a trumpet in here... They could have found a trumpet and pretended this was a tribute. Or maybe they didn't want to, because Miles was a first-class jerk.) Anyway, this track harkens back to my main (petty, insignificant, etc.) complaints about The Inner Mounting Flame. It's dazzling to listen to, but it's not moving me, or inspiring me, or anything. And they did the whole “dazzling” thing better in the previous album. This one has an extended fade-in, which would work if I had a feeling they were slowly unveiling something, which would give me a great feeling of anticipation or fear. But this just seems dead to me. Of course, the solos continue to be great, and this piece is entertaining.
Celestial Terrestrial Commuters A
This is like Tim Burton's Mars Attacks in the form of jazz-fusion! It's a full-scale, mayhem-inciting alien invasion in three minutes! Within the guitar solos, you hear people panicking in the street, until a quacking alien comes out of the spaceship (in the form of a synthesizer) comes out to argue with everyone. ...Like I said in “Birds of Fire,” that might not what these guys had in mind when they wrote this. I might completely be off the mark. But that's part of the fun, you know! That's why you listen to music! It inspires your imagination! This track is great, fun, too. Just hearing these soloists barking at one another. You really have to hear it.
Saphire Bullets of Pure Love
20 seconds worth of zippy spaceship noises. It sounds neat, but I'm not sure what the point of this was. Just 20 seconds? Why not just have tacked it onto the previous track and thus perpetuating my belief that it's about an alien invasion?
Thousand Island Park B+
Sort of calm and sweet, but also sparse and rather boring. I don't want to call it emotionally sparse, because it does rather churn my imagination... Its patterns and textures are unusual enough to pique my interest, and I can claim that it inspires me to dig deep in my mind and try to picture what “Thousand Island Park” looks like. On the other hand, this isn't so entertaining. The scaling keyboards in the last half help matters, but it's too little...
The title track is a little misleading, I think. This is rather unsettling and seems to have fear and apprehension trying to seep out of the backdrop. Maybe it sounds like it's contemplating doing physical harm to somebody. That violin is the start of the show this time, really taking the doom-ridden sound the instrument already has to its full potential.
One Word A-
I was so freaking impressed with this track in my original review of this album! It must have been because I was brand-spanking-new to this type of music, and it was blowing my mind! I've grown a little lukewarm to it now, thanks in part to that extended drum solo they had to throw in there for no reason at all. (If they have to do a drum solo, let it only be a few seconds long like the one from The Inner Mounting Flame!) Other than that, this track is impressive as hell. It sounds like, perhaps, a family holiday get together where perhaps the family isn't as civil to one another as they could be! I'll never get over how these guys can noodle around each other with their instruments and make it sound like they're having a conversation with each other! They didn't exactly jam-pack as much as they could in this huge 10-minute running length as I might have hoped. It just seems like a funky jam session. An above average jam session, mind you. It's a hell of a lot more entertaining than a Cream jam session.
Here's another slow song that is atmospheric and creepy as hell! It sounds like there's something evil and sinister lurking beneath the floorboards. It seems to be partly missing momentum, though, because I have to constantly struggle with myself to pay attention to it. Sure, there are some crescendos that come out and smack me in the face, but other parts don't interest me quite as much. But at least the atmosphere is compelling. Sometimes horrifically so.
Open Country Joy A-
After all that sinister seediness that they subjected us to in earlier tracks, it's about freaking time they got out and delivered some country joy! Truth be told I'm not extremely impressed with this one, although I love it that they're still employing their conversation-style guitar solos, but it takes a bit too long to get started at the beginning and I listen to the rest of it somewhat shrugging my shoulders and saying that I've heard them do this so many times earlier in this album. Of course, I love listening to more of it, hence the A-, but they might have worked on something that sticks out a little more.
Definitely an epic closer! It's little more than an epic fade-in. It starts out quietly, but gradually gets louder as that electric guitar gets more high pitched on the scale. It's little more than two minutes long, so that's all there is to it. It does create a very cool atmosphere, as most of these other songs do, therefore it is fully deserving of this here A. Whoop-de-do!
The Lost Trident Sessions (1999)
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It seems that the original Mahavishnu Orchestra were starting to turn to space-rock by the end of their tenure. (They're often referred to as a space-rock band, but I never got that impression reviewing their first two albums.) This starts out rather subdued and minimal as a violin wisps about and ponders for a few minutes before the instrumentalists start to come in and start to buzz around like mad. Like a swarm of bees. It's business as usual, except they start to play themes that really capture my interest. There's even one point when they introduce a crunchy riff and it sounds like it's threatening to turn some sort of heavy metal anthem! Wow! And it sounds really awesome when that comes up, too! While I can't say this gives me any images or emotions like the beginnings of their two previous albums did, this is a phenomenally entertaining track. The solos are flashy, and that drummer goes off like total mad through much of this. It seems slightly more immediately accessible than most of the stuff in their previous two albums, although you pretty much still have to be a fan of instrumental rock to fully enjoy this. (At least this doesn't give me scary visions of Satan! So maybe your mother would have a better chance of liking this?)
Again, I get a pretty solid space-rock vibe from this, particularly the moments they stop this song, and a bunch of whooshy space sound effects come in. It's kind of neat, and maybe they were imitating some sort of space ship or something? Would that explain why these songs seem much colder than those appearing in their previous two albums? Most of this song is ace, though. They jam around completely like there's no tomorrow! Yes, it's more of that insanely fast-paced stuff that's pretty much their main trademark. My favorite bit occurs at the middle where they bring out those heavy and extremely flashy fuzz guitars. It really sounds like they were metalfying their sound, which wasn't necessarily a bad thing for them! Their soloing sounds like the solos that a lot of hair metal bands did, except this is good.
Sister Andrea A+
I can't say I ever remember a Mahavishnu Orchestra riff being this catchy before. It's a completely bad-ass one, too, and all fans of riff-rock really need to get a whiff of this. It's up there with the Rolling Stones, I'm not kidding. It's catchy, it has 'tude, and I can stand to hear it done over and over and over again. It's quite a way to open this seven-minute track! Of course they do other things than repeat that riff over and over... In fact, the riff doesn't constitute much of the running length. They spend the rest of the time going off on their noodly, spacey tangents! Will you ever get tired of their tangents? NO!!! While I don't get quite a lot of emotion or feelings out of this, I've gotta say, this is one of their most entertaining songs. Perhaps *the* most entertaining song I've heard out of them.
I Wonder A
These remaining three songs aren't very long at all. This one's just three minutes long, and it features a rather Bach-like minor-scale chord progression. Of course, you can expect these guys to bring in all sorts of scaling guitar and violin solos, and the drummer continues to play like it's the end of the world. In other words, this is more classic Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Steppings Tones A
This one's more creepy and slower paced. It's also only three minutes long, so it won't take up a whole lot of your time. The atmosphere they create is creepy and affecting, and I would even say that the disjointed violin tune is catchy and memorable. More kudos for the drummer for bringing in so many fills! It sounds like he could have been rat-tat-tatting too much considering how quiet and subdued all the other instruments are, but everything he does makes the song seem more awesome!
John's Song #2 A
This was the only wholly unreleased track that comes with this album. The first three tracks were done live (Bill O'Reilly style) on Between Nothingness and Eternity and the other two showed up on Jerry Goodman's and Jan Hammer's Like Children in 1974. But this one is completely new! It's as entertaining as the rest of the songs, thanks to their gifted soloing abilities. Again, I have to say that this doesn't quite have the “wow” factor of the title track of Birds of Fire, for instance, because it's not giving me any particular visions or emotions. But you'd have to be dead if you don't find all these free-flowing incessant noodles dazzling...
Between Nothingness and Eternity (1973)
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Trilogy: Sunlit Path / La Mere De La Mere / Tomorrow's Story Not the Same 9.5/10
GONGSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!! ... And after one minute of that, a completely Mahavishnu jam starts up. Fortunately, it is very much like we've heard from these guys in previous albums. It doesn't so much follow a tune, but they're rather like instrument conversation. Then, everything quiets down and another song-style pipes up (which I can only assume is the "La Mere De La Mere" portion of the song). This finally gives me at least some concrete evidence that The Mahavishnu Orchestra is that "space-rock" band people keep telling me about! (The song has a very open and spacey atmosphere, fully equipped with the occasional computer-ish blip or bleep.) This portion is very nice and inventive ... it is something very professionally done and easily enjoyable by anyone with half an imagination! Around the six-minute mark, it picks up pace (the violin goes wonderfully bonkers!!!) It's energetic, chaotic ... quite good, quite good. The 8 minute mark, we get more of this wonderful musical instrument conversations (and they're having a fight) that I've come to crave from this band since listening to their previous album! ... Brilliant! ... I'll never get tired of listening to this. ... And then they all sort of reach their climax with more blistering instrumentation ... And the audience cheers, and they grow quiet ... mumbling as if they were discontent ... and a brief explosion ... it's over.
Sister Andrea 9/10
An utterly splendid groove characterizes this song! ... Did so many Mahavishnu Orchestra songs ever have grooves? ... Not so much like this, anyway. It's really threatening and evil! ... Eeeeekkk!!! ... And then things get quieter and ominous (and the groove disappears). Things grow bleaker and lonely and desperate ... and then it grows into an entirely different groove that sounds like a culmination of its desperation! ... And then the sweet wicked groove starts up again ... and that violin thing goes nuts in the foreground. That thing goes insane for quite awhile ... and ... then things grow calm again. And then things go nuts again ... The last three minutes of this, I can take it or leave it. Nevertheless, this is another super-duper song ...
A 21-minute song! ... Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeekkk!!! Well, it starts out very quietly. ... Just sort of piddling around with the acoustic guitar (though interestingly) and a scant few other instruments. I do find it a little bit boring, but their instrument virtuosity is well-noted and this is quite successful, in the artistic sense, an avant-garde musical painting of a "dream." It's all fairly minimal ... and the only way I can totally enjoy this it just to let myself become lost in it ... which is probably what it was meant for! And then things start getting a little bit nuts! ... And quiet again ... And loud again (around the 8.5 minute mark, seeming to be something like a traffic jam). To be frank, I'm not too excited about this song in particular. I don't get the whole emotion-thing like I did with previous Mahavishnu Orchestra songs! ... I mean, there's a little bit on here (and the instrumental innovation, again, is pretty much TOPS) ... but I'm not quite getting the same vibe! ... Eeeee!!! It just seems bland for a Mahavishnu song! ... I guess that's one of the drawbacks about doing this stuff live.
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Power of Love 9/10
Noooooooooo, this isn’t that 80’s hard-pop song featured in the Back to the Future soundtrack. This is the orchestral-pop song by the Mahavishnu Orchestra! … Um … Did George Gershwin’s zombie pop out of the ground and become the new and somewhat Nazi-esque band manager? … Because … um … this definitely ain’t the Mahavishnu Orchestra that I remember from Birds of Fire and all that … This is FRIKIN easy listening MOOD MUSIC!!!!!! And to that, I say: WHAAAAA--? Where are the ELECTRIC GUITARS THAT TALK TO EACH OTHER?????? … Oh, man!! … I want my money back! This product is DEFECTIVE! ……
Okay, I’m blatantly not being fair, because as you probably noticed already, this song deserves a 9. It might not be SWEET or anything, but as far as easy listening orchestral stuff, this is pretty good. It’s artistically valid, at any rate, taking its inspiration from awesome 20th Century composers like Gershwin and maybe Stavinsky. It’s hardly cheap music …
Vision is a Naked Sword 18/20
It starts off very Gershwin-like … Apart from it not sounding like a total masterpiece, you might assume that Gershwin might have written that. The song is a whopping 14 minutes long and … doesn’t make a bad listen. The beginning is very thunderous and emotional. Then, the song basically piddles around from there. Sort of quiet, cosmic piddling. About the five minute mark, emotional violins start to flare up … I really like those violins! … Then, there’s some weird piddling around. And … HEY! THERE’S AN ELECTRIC GUITAR!!!!!!!! … Then, the song grows quiet and we hear WHALE NOISES! … They must’ve been watching some Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. There’s some nice violin work around the 9-minute mark, which does manage to recall some of my favorite moments of Birds of Fire. Then, some crazy guitar starts playing … very nice, I say. Then the mighty orchestra pipes up again and … does its thing. … I liked this song. It might not have the same sort of stamina as earlier stuff from the band, but it remains artistically valid … and we must not forget that.
Smile of the Beyond 8.5/10
An eight-minute song and the first Mahavishnu Orchestra song to feature singing! … Nah, I don’t think that really means that it detracts anything from the band. I mean, they already pretty much lost their talking/bickering instruments … might as well bring in a singer. … It’s gorgeous singing, at any rate. Whoever is singing this is a great female singer, and she sings a pretty song, too. The song itself remains very Gershwin-like (but maybe too overburden with orchestration) with a decadent melody and bold instrumentation. … This song is prettier than a bed of roses in the springtime … with dew collecting on the pedals … and sexy, naked supermodels fluttering in the background. After four minutes of that, the song picks up its pace and turns into an almost regular Mahavishnu song. … Despite that, I actually like the pretty part better! … Not that I don’t enjoy crazy electric guitar playing … I guess John McLaughlin is still in the band … and if he’s still in the band, then the electric guitar simply must be played! … It reverts back to the pretty part at the seven-minute mark. It’s not Mahavishnu’s greatest work, but it’s a fine listen.
Wings of Karma 9/10
They’re still being the ORCHESTRA! It starts off with some orchestral stuff … that’s kinda pretty … and then it turns into a normal-ish Mahavishnu song with tension, electric guitar, and all that wonderful stuff! … It remains a highly decent song and … yay! I like it! … Nothing like the good stuff on Birds of Fire, but a fairly worthy successor, I think.
Hymn to Him 17/20
Yay! More of the Mahavishnu Gershwin Orchestra! … The 19-minute song starts up with some more ORCHESTRA and it slowly begins to incorporate some of McLaughlin’s guitar. About five minutes into the thing, the crazy guitar starts a-playin’! I don’t think that we, as a society, will ever get sick of the crazy guitar playing. … Or I hope not! It’s very maniacal and nuts! Woooooooo!!! That all culminates by the 8-minute mark, and a new jazzy theme emerges. This part is very quiet and piddly. The bass that eventually emerges out of this is very nice with some fine guitar licks from McLaughlin. The same theme very slowly (and I mean within about eight minutes or so) gets busier. About at the 13-minute mark, things really start getting nuts with some weird interchanges between the crazy orchestra and the crazy guitar! … This is fondly reminiscent of those wonderful interchanges from Birds of Fire. They’re not quite the same, but … they’re still quite awesome! Then, the orchestral theme is revisited. … Why do all these songs seem to have the same basic formula? … There’s only five songs on this album, so I guess it doesn’t totally matter!
Visions of the Emerald Beyond (1974)
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Eternity's Breath Part 1 8/10
OK ... some tapping of a drum there, a hammond organ coming in and out, a subdued solo ... Things are warming up in at atmospheric, avant garde way. But then there's a drum roll, and some very peculiar singing pipes up. The drumming is nuts, but it's expert! The violin is expertly played and keeps this section of the song exciting. This is a crazy song! And it's pretty entertaining, too.
Eternity's Breath Part 2 9/10
A new off-kilter groove (based on some horns) begins in an unusual time signature. McLaughlin does his usual virtuoso stuff with the guitar, and that keeps the entire experience very exciting! The drums are doing their own thing ... and then a violin (an electric violin?) chimes in and goes nuts. The song changes rhythm at around the three-minute mark and a twinkly, avant-garde piano lends the song a needed, fantastic mood change (it came at the right time ... it was getting a little boring). The creepy choir sings a few notes... Wow, this song is so strange!!! If you love hearing odd stuff, then this is your ticket!
Lila's Dance 8.5/10
A brief and disjointed piano sequence begins the song (that makes Tony Banks' work in Selling England By the Pound look like a real dork ... I hate to admit). Some acoustic guitar work gives the song a twinkling effect as that violin with a personality disorder begins to play. The drums are patting away ... putting me in a trance .................. oh, you techno people have the wrong inspiration!!! This song takes me to the stars around 2:20, but then it all stops and changes gears. It's reduced to a quiet bassline ... I kind of wish they would have gone further with it instead of stopping it, but once the crazy drum pipes in and we get some highly excited electric guitar noodling, I tend to not mind so much!
Can't Stand Your Funk 8/10
...they must be addressing this song title to the Bee Gees! Or maybe the Bee Gees are expressing this to them?? Well, this song isn't exactly funk music. It's another disjointed jazz fusion tune, naturally. The off-kilter groove is another odd time signature thingy and they don't go to great expense to diversify it up. I guess that's why this song is only two minutes long!
The song begins with some bird tweeting noises, and then a very majestic violin begins to play. The violin gets more busy and it's accompanied by an acoustic guitar off and on. It's a pleasant song ... trust me, avant-garde/classical music can be worse! But this is quite good because it works to put forth an image and feeling. Alright, the image could have been bolder, I suppose, but you can't deny that the instrument playing is dazzling! (I'm betting I'm hearing the same species of bird that we hear on Kate Bush's Aerial.)
The beginning of this track features some well-plucked acoustic guitar ... and it turns into a song that's almost folky but then, as sure as rain, the awesomely crazy drum comes in and plays around with you .......................... and then we learn that the song was actually in a pretty weird time signature all along. The end features a very strangely played electric guitar. It's played very rapidly like it accidentally got in a blender. There's a very brief mayhem-esque coda where it's accompanied by other instruments. I do think this was a well performed song, but ........ it all seems pretty meaningless to me.
Cosmic Strut 8/10
Again, this isn't one of the more amazing works on the album, but it's still quite fun. It's odd I say that because this one seems pretty accessible in the sense that it doesn't seem too alien. Some funky guitars chug along in lower registers, and then a crazy (but not as much) violin solo chugs away. Some horns come in later on ....... All in all, this isn't that inspiring to me.
If I Could See 9/10
Give this brief one-minute song extra points for adding another creepy dose of weirdness to the mix. One of the few tracks to feature singing, it sounds like this song came from a different planet ... you know from one of those weird guys in Star Trek. Plus, it's isn't that difficult to the ears.
Be Happy 9/10
Ah, it's an instrumental free for all! That's what this band's most famous for, at any rate! Instrumentals going in and out of the mix having quite a brawl with each other. The guitar work is so dazzling that my fingers are tired just by listening to it. Woooo!!!
Earth Ship 8.5/10
Much more subdued and classically oriented. Some low string rumblings begin this one, and we quickly hear a flute playing a nice, avant garde solo. Some not-so-creepy singing comes in spots as well as the usual amount of guitar noodling. This song is relatively more sparse, but don't count that as a negative!
These comic sound effects are kind of neat! Weird waves of sounds go in and out of my speakers and this thing is VERY CREEPY ... thank goodness the song was only two minutes long ....... it would have been testing my patience!! There's no jazz noodling, though!
Opus 1 8.5/10
Twenty-four seconds of creepy avant garde violin.
One the Way Home to Earth 10/10
I don't know if this is suggested to me by the song title or what, but this guitar sounds like it's imitating something mechanical ........ not so much a human being like these guys have been known in the past. This is probably the most impressive (or at least flamboyant) display of guitar virtuosity on the album .................... geeks the world 'round will feel energized after hearing this rip roaring thing!!! This song is exclusively the guitar and drums, which is going nuts as usual, up until the last minute when a creepy orchestra starts playing chords. Who needs anything more than this? It's ugly and beautiful at the same time.... I guess that means this is good art-rock.
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