“And now behold a feast befitting famine…”

When it comes to thrash, death, grindcore, and the heavier end of the spectrum, I tend to like my metal crunchy, guttural, and driven by huge sludgy riffs. There is nothing that gets my pulse racing more than a massive riff propelled by pummelling double bass drums, with vocals dredged up from the Seven Circles [1]. If the lyrics have a social conscience and/or political bent, all the better.

So when Chris Morley, a final year PhD student researcher here in the School of Physics & Astronomy — and fellow metal fan, accomplished musician, and quantum technologist — sent me a link to the new song he’s recorded with Beyond Grace, I was, let’s say, just a tad enthusiastic about the track.

Strap yourselves in. I’ll see you again in 4 mins and 56 seconds…

I f**king love that track. [2] There aren’t too many other bands (metal or otherwise), with the notable exception of Napalm Death [3], who would write a song that lambasts the breathtakingly simplistic fantasy of trickle-down economics. (And kick off by sampling Obama’s critique of that fantasy.)

As Beyond Grace themselves explain over at MetalSucks,

In The Arabian Nights there’s a story where a beggar is taken in by a rich man and served an imaginary meal and, after playing along with the illusion, is ultimately rewarded with a life of luxury and opulence.

“Of course, in the real world, this isn’t what happens. We wait and we wait, but nothing changes. We’re just told to do more with less, to keep our mouths shut, even as those upstream do their best to dam the river so that all that reaches us is the merest trickle of the wealth they’ve hoarded.”

And not only do Beyond Grace raise awareness, they put their money where their collective mouth is. They’re donating all the proceeds from the single to local food banks. You can purchase the track here, for however much or little you would like to donate. Go get it now. As MetalSucks put it, “killer music, killer ethos.” ‘Nuff said.

OK, are you ready? Growl like you’ve never growled before. Everyone. On 4.

1, 2, 3, fouuuuuuurggghhhhh…


[1] On other occasions, Abba, Zappa, or just about anything in between — except, of course, the aural enema that is country – are what I need for my musical fix. (And, if you, like me, have ever idly wondered what Abba-influenced death metallers might sound like …

A big thank you to my friend, and erstwhile colleague at Nottingham, Adam Sweetman, for introducing me to the majesty of The Night Flight Orchestra.

[2] Back in the days when I used to waste a lot of time “debating” pointlessly online, aggrieved anti-social-justice warriors often whined at me about “self-censoring” expletives in this way. (I kid you not. They really are exceptionally fragile individuals.) Let’s just say that it’s my homage to Kerrang! magazine, which I read voraciously as a teenager. I also think that partially “redacting” the word like that actually strengthens, rather than lessens, the written impact of the expletive.

[3] As I said to Chris, I hear echoes of Barney and the boys in “Barmecide Feast”.  

“Uncertainty to 11” Playlist

I was over the moon to find that a goodreads reviewer who goes by the handle of Hisacro had very kindly put together the YouTube playlist below for “When The Uncertainty Principle Goes To 11“. Hisacro diligently worked page by page through “Uncertainty to 11…” to add each of the songs I referenced therein, with a couple of key (and quite brilliant) differences to my selections and suggestions in the book. These include a wonderful version of Peanuts doing Rush’s classic 2112Thank you Hisacro, for taking the quite considerable time to put the playlist together. If you ever read this, please drop me a line so I can thank you slightly more directly than via the lines of a blog post!



Maths In Action

Just back from London where I had a fun — and ever-so-slightly daunting — time talking about the beauty of maths in music and physics for an audience of 700 GCSE students at the “Maths In Action” conference. The venue was stunning…


Just about visible at the front of the cavernous auditorium is the speaker before me, Hugh Hunt (Engineering, Cambridge), doing a remarkable job of entertaining and engaging the audience with his demonstration-packed talk on angular momentum, gyroscopic precession, and all things spin-y. Hugh’s talk was an impossible act to follow — he set the bar exceptionally high indeed. I did my usual spin on the quantum-metal interface but tilted it towards a discussion of the role of mathematics in physics. (I had to come clean right at the start and confess to the students that I am most definitely not a mathematician.)

The students were great throughout — they certainly were not shy to shout out answers to the questions I asked (and to sing musical notes back to me, occasionally even in tune). An extra big thank you to Korbyn — and my sincere apologies if I’ve got the spelling wrong — for coming up on stage to play the opening riff to Black Sabbath and help me introduce the concept of the diabolical flattened fifth.

And, of course, I have to say a huge thank you to David Matthews, coordinator of the event (and Maths Programme Manager for The Training Partnership, who run a very broad series of GCSE events of this type)  for both the invitation to speak and for such an impressively organised day. As someone who too often struggles to manage just two teenagers*, attempting to coordinate 700 would bring me out in a cold sweat…

* I’m joking, Niamh and Saoirse. You’re great.

Denim and leather brought us all together

After the thrash metal overkill of last weekend, this week it was the turn of some heavy duty NWOBHM to crank the volume to the point of pain. I’m still recovering from the early eighties flashbacks induced by Saxon’s set at the Royal Concert Hall on Saturday night so please forgive this relatively short review. (Fortunately, my voice is now rather less croaky — it spent most of Sunday recuperating from my hollering along to “Wheels Of Steel”, “Dallas 1 pm”, “Strangers In The Night” and a bevy of other (head)banging metal classics…)

Up before Biff and the Barnsley boys, we had the classic rock of Wayward Sons, fronted by Toby Jepson, the erstwhile Little Angels frontman. (Bonus review points before they played a note for wandering on stage to the strains of Johnny Cash’s “I Shot A Man In Reno”). As a thrash metal fan in the late eighties I had to keep my penchant for Little Angels material well under wraps — “Too posh to mosh” and all that — but I always had a soft spot for Jepson’s voice. (After all, he comes close to Geddy Lee’s stratospheric vocal register at times. Even now in the throes of middle age. Bastard.) She’s A Little Angel is still very welcome indeed when it appears on shuffle on my phone.

But Wayward Sons aren’t about capturing Mr. Jepson’s past glories — they’re a much more seventies-style hard riffing, hard rocking band with none of the hair metal pretensions of Little Angels. Their down to earth rock ‘n’ roll is imbued with a wonderfully infectious sense of enthusiasm, some beefy Bonham-esque backbeats, and even a very welcome Thin Lizzy feel at times. Last year’s “Until The End” is as good an introduction as you’ll get…

I’ll definitely be looking out for Wayward Sons in the future — high octane rock with a sound that may well not be fashionable ever again. But that’s just the way we like it.

Doro Pesch, the long-crowned Queen of Metal, was next to tread the Royal Concert Hall boards. I’ve never been a fan, I’ve got to admit, but Doro deserves quite some respect for flying the metal flag so loyally for quite this long. And she and her band certainly can command a crowd…

Doro’s set took the Spinal Tap influence and, it’s got to be said, cranked it far beyond 11. Here are the lyrics for the chorus of the closing song of the set, “All For Metal”…

Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh
All for metal (Metal)
Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh
Gods of metal (Metal)

How much more metal could this be? None. None more metal. (Metal)

And then it was time for the main event. Saxon were not only one of the first metal bands I got into but were a formative part of my musical education back when I were a lad. I distinctly remember feeling rather pleased with myself when I nailed the riff for “Strong Arm Of The Law” as a fledgling guitarist — one of the first “proper” guitar parts I learned — after rewinding and replaying the cassette of the album for what seemed like weeks (but was probably months). Here’s that riff reverberating across the Concert Hall on Saturday night…

Classic old school metal tunes were mixed with Saxon’s newer (and rather heavier) material. I’ll be brutally honest, however — I was there for the nostalgia trip. Kudos to Biff and the boys for not resting on their laurels and continuing to write and perform new material, but give me “And The Bands Played On” over “Sacrifice” any time. Fortunately, they did. Better still, the Barnsley ‘bangers closed their fan-pleasing set by belting out this anthem for the NWOBHM generation…

I can’t hear you…

Where were you in ’79 when the dam began to burst?
Did you check us out down at the local show?
Were you wearing denim, wearing leather?
Did you run down to the front?

Did you listen to the radio every Friday night?

Decades of Aggression



Ahhh, the comforting sound of the hirsute and happily inebriated Slayer fan at full bellow in their natural environment. Walking to the SSE Arena from Wembley Park tube station on Saturday evening, the streets were alive (undead) with the sounds of the Slayer swarm. I was in London, with my friend (and fellow physicist) James Theobald, his 11 year-old son, Jonathan, and twelve thousand or so other thrash metal fans for this:


Billed as The Farewell Tour, Slayer are retiring their plectrums, profanity, and pentagrams for a life of quiet reflection. Maybe. Given that Sabbath completed what seemed to be their fifth or sixth farewell tour a couple of years back, and that Ozzy has recently said that his “No More Tours” tour doesn’t actually mean that there will be no more tours (naturally), you’ll excuse my lack of surprise if Slayer give in to temptation and are reborn a few years hence.

Regardless of whether or not the bell truly has tolled for Slayer, it’s been a couple of years since I last did a review of a gig and there was no way I was letting this one go without putting pixels to screen.  Dom Lawson, one of the very best metal writers there is [1], reviewed Slayer’s performance in The Guardian [2] the day after the gig. He nailed it:

But tonight is all about the band that created one of metal’s most unarguably flawless albums, Reign in Blood (1986). From the discordant malevolence of their trademark riffs to the reliably unapologetic grimness of the lyrics, Slayer’s sound is seminal and ageless.

And here’s one of those seminal tracks [3]… (Some would say the seminal track.)

But Saturday night wasn’t all about Slayer. We also had three other major metal bands to whet our palette — sorry, assault our eardrums — before Araya, King, Holt [4], and Bostaph unleashed their demons. First up was the old school death metal of Obituary. Unfortunately, I’ve always found the Floridian deathsters to be rather one dimensional. (Perhaps it’s got something to do with the Tampa climate not exactly being conducive to metal. It’s not the sodden, grey landscape of Birmingham, after all.) “Slowly We Rot” hit the spot, however.

Up before Slayer were Lamb Of God. I’m again not a massive fan but they’re certainly an impressive metal machine; their drummer, Chris Adler, is worth the price of admission alone…

There are very, very few modern metal drummers who can match Adler’s proficiency, power, and prowess on double bass drums. And his band certainly can incite some fascinating non-equilibrium crowd dynamics (of a type discussed in a classic Physical Review Letter a few years back)…

I was, however, especially keen to experience Anthrax bringing the noise before they had to cede the stage to Lamb Of God. One of the Big Four of thrash metal, the New Yorkers were my “gateway” in the eighties from classic metal and NWOBHM (like Priest, Maiden, and Dio) to the heavier, darker, faster side. I didn’t “get” Metallica on the first, second, or even third listen — they were an acquired taste — but Anthrax I loved from the start, not least because of Joey Belladonna’s melodic and powerful vocals. (Scott Ian’s fandom for 2000 AD, a comic I devoured throughout the eighties and much of the nineties, also didn’t exactly put me off…) So it was wonderful to see Anthrax firing on all cylinders last Saturday, despite (a) them not playing I Am The Law (sob), and (b) Scott Ian berating those of us in the nosebleed seats for a certain lack of allegiance to the metal cause…

I’ll transcribe the key sentence from Mr. Ian’s rebuke, for those of you who may not have quite discerned what he said in the video above: “For those of you in the seats, stand the f**k up, you’re embarrassing yourselves“.

I dutifully got to my feet, suitably shame-faced.


Thanks to Taj Panesor for the wonderful shot of Anthrax in full flow above.

I’m writing this on the day of the US midterms. In an era when prejudice and hatred are stoked up on a daily basis in an increasingly polarised sociopolitical landscape, the lyrics of Anthrax’s Indians ringing out through the arena on Saturday night really paid testament to the cathartic power of music (be it metal or any other lesser variant)…

Territory, it’s just the body of the nation
The people that inhabit it make its configuration
Prejudice, something we all can do without
Flag of many colors is what this land’s all about

Or, as the Lemmy-endorsed — and what greater accolade could a metal/rock band have? – Skunk Anansie put it, Yes, It’s Fucking Political


[1] …although it’s a close run thing between Lawson and Andrew O’Neill, author of the fabulous “A History of Heavy Metal“. Even if you pull out the old air guitar only very occasionally, you owe it to yourself to get hold of O’Neill’s hilarious overview of the evolution of metal. Sample quote:

There are two types of people in the world: people who like heavy metal, and dicks. (Don’t worry if you fall into the latter category; I’m very persuasive.)

[2] Slayer in The Guardian.

Slayer. In. The Guardian.

Let that sink in, old school metal fans…

[3] It is verboten to write a review of any metal concert/album/song that does not include the word “seminal”. (Similarly, every physicist is contractually obliged to mention Feynman in every lecture they deliver.)

[4] Gary Holt is also with Exodus. I owe Gary and his bandmates a huge debt of gratitude because they were one of three bands who allowed the use of their lyrics in “When The Uncertainty Principle Goes To 11” free of charge. Other bands — well, more correctly, other publishers — charged up to $750 for the privilege of using a single line of lyrics as an epigraph at the start of a chapter.

Science Friction Braves The Pit Again

A very short post to say a massive thank you to Natasha Mitchell and Raphael Dixon (of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) for putting together the video trailer below. As Natasha put it, “Watch until the very end if you’re the real deal .”