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Ground and Sky » Metal
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…is now over at the Washington City Paper, print version out tomorrow. I liked the album. Some of the diehard grindcore freaks on the Internets are already all pissed off because Agorapocalypse isn’t, well, pissed-off enough, but I have a feeling they’ll be in the minority. It’s a good record.
Things that didn’t make that review due to a pretty strict word limit:
The album starts off all thrashy and grindy, but then seems to slow down as a whole by track 5.
“Question of Integrity” ends with a drum solo, which is implicitly hilarious since all the drums on the album are programmed.
Those programmed drums sound really good. In the past they clearly didn’t sound real, although that wasn’t really a problem since it almost seemed intentional (after all the band was going for unrealistic bpm heights).
Kat’s vocals fucking slay. I think her voice might annoy some of the old fans, but as a fan coming from as much a death metal as a grindcore background, I love what she adds to ANb’s sound.
“Moral Distortion” ends with the quote, “My National Enquirer says that musicians cannot play a single note unless they eat drugs first!” Which I just find really hilarious for some reason.
That’s all. Fun album. Out next Tuesday, and the vinyl version contains a bonus track apparently.
So Baltimore hosts a crazy death metal festival every year since 2003… the lineup has never really caught my eye that much, until this year. There are a ton of bands I want to see this time around, so I’m going to Saturday and Sunday (missing Friday for work reasons and to see St. Vincent here in DC).
Here are the bands that will be there. The ones in boldface are the ones I know and like and plan to see, but many of the others I’ve never heard (there are only a couple I’ve heard and dislike). If you know anything about any of these bands that I don’t, make a recommendation!
I also posted this to the extreme metal private thread at ProgressiveEars, and from recommendations there so far, I’m going to be checking out Maruta and Rotten Sound in addition to what’s highlighted below…
Saturday, May 23rd: Bolt Thrower, Atheist, Napalm Death, Brutal Truth, Immolation, Hail of Bullets, General Surgery, Phobia, Birdflesh, Pig Destroyer, Wolves in the Throne Room, Misery Index, Rotten Sound, Flesh Parade, Unearthly Trance, Pretty Little Flower, Crowpath, Man Must Die, Weekend Nachos, Maruta, Drugs of Faith
Sunday, May 24th:
Pestilence, Abscess, Destroyer 666, Aura Noir, Absu, Sigh, Devourment, The Red Chord, Trap Them, Despise You, Antigama, Yakuza, Krallice, Splitter, Kill the Client, Catheter, Lair of the Minotaur, Magrudergrind, The Endless Blockade, Complete Failure
I’m most excited about Crowpath by a long shot, but also really psyched to see Yakuza, Pig Destroyer and Kill the Client. This is going to be awesome. Even if I have a monstrous, pounding headache when all is said and done.
Here’s a nice piece by the Washington Post Express‘ Chris Porter on deluxe/limited edition packaging (specifically regarding the new releases by Lamb of God and Mastodon) in the era of the MP3 download.
I’ve never been one to fetishize the hold-the-vinyl-in-my-hands-while-listening-to-the-album experience, even though I came of age in the LP era, bought super-stacks of wax and like the format just fine. But I’ve long since moved onto CDs and, more recently, MP3s, and now I don’t really think twice about not having physical artwork and lyrics in front of me while listening to music; if I want to see what the album cover looks like, or what dudes are yelling about, I can find the info online. And while I still want a hard copy of the albums I really love (on CD, not even vinyl), like with music people, the majority of the music I listen to these days is in the MP3 format, played on my computer, with no extra-musical doodads influencing my experience.
That about describes my experience as well, except I’m a little younger than Chris and grew up in the dawn of the CD era.
Anyway, I’m not psyched about this new Mastodon, but then I haven’t heard it yet. I was so disappointed by the direction the band went in with Blood Mountain that I’m pretty sure I’m going to dislike Crack the Skye just as much. Seriously, I was shocked that Blood Mountain got such a good critical reception, and now that the new one is getting equally good reviews I don’t really know what to expect. I plan to buy it anyway (the basic CD version for $9.99, not any limited editions) and see what’s what.
Pitchfork reviews The Hazards of Love and gives it a lowly 5.7. In the summary blurb, the phrases “stoner metal sludge” and “prog-folk” are invoked. On the other hand, while PopMatters’ review starts with the ominous phrase “There have been signs that this was coming” and compares the album to Genesis‘ Lamb (usually a kiss of death in a mainstream publication these days), the review ends up being very positive indeed. All this makes me feel cautiously optimistic about how I might like this one. I haven’t bothered listening to the low-bitrate version that leaked a couple weeks ago, so I’m looking forward to hearing the release with fresh ears.
Also reviewed today at Pitchfork: Kylesa’s new one, Static Tensions. Kylesa are a hip sludgy metal group with at times very distinct Pink Floyd influences, two drummers, and a rotating cast of vocalists (though the chief screamer is guitarist Laura Pleasants, who rocks). Pitchfork gave it a good review, and I agree: this is a good ‘un.
In the deal of the year, I recently got Nasum’s Doombringer for six bucks from The End Records (sorry, the sale is over, but if you’re into this stuff you can still find the two Crowpath albums there for six bucks apiece). It absolutely slays. I’ve never managed to get into grindcore all that much, but this is amazing.
In other news, I’ve reviewed the new record by Richard Pinhas & Merzbow on Cuneiform, Keio Line, but not here — it’s my first print review for the Washington City Paper, DC’s alternative weekly. It’s on their website here. The short version is that I really, really like this album, and in fact it may be my favorite non-Heldon Pinhas record. Go get it if you like this guy’s music.
First off, in the Washington Post music blog, Post Rock, comes a scathingly amusing dismantling of the new album by indie-pop sensation Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley fame): “If you were wondering why you couldn’t find a review of the album in today’s paper, it’s because all the potential reviewers either fell asleep or forced themselves to sleep via a hammer to the cranium by the 43rd time Lewis moaned “black sand” on the album’s bore of an opening track.” Ouch!
Secondly, this video, which is hilarious and painful and embarrassing all at once:
You might imagine that all the metal blogs have been sneering at this. A lot.
Finally, thanks to those who have been asking — yes, I’ll be writing reviews of some of the recent shows I’ve seen, including Extra Life and Mogwai. In the meantime, check out my photos and brief recaps of a couple shows over at Black Plastic Bag: one of a great show by Sigh and Unexpect, and one of the aformentionedMogwai show.
Speaking of Mogwai, looks like they’ve had to cancel the remainder of their U.S. tour because their drummer started having problems with his pacemaker. Bummer for them and the fans, best wishes to the drummer for a quick and full recovery. I’ll particularly miss the updates to the band’s USA tour diary that they’ve been posting on their website — it has been absolutely hysterical. Some choice excerpts:
“People loved Fuck Buttons’ set and it made me wonder how brutally strong the LSD must be in this city. I mean, some guy shouting into a children’s toy while another mentally ill person screams monkey noises into a cheap effects pedal really just isn’t enjoyable unless you’ve been fed an heroic dose of hallucinogenic drugs.”
“The show was really quite good in San Francisco apart from the usual idiots who are afraid to keep their mouth shut for 10 seconds in case they start having an introspective tour of duty into their own minds and then nervous breakdown… [the next] show was a bit of a stinker we thought and the tourettes victims were out in force. One exceptionally stupid man shouted for a song he happened to like halfway through a song we were playing. I do wonder what he thought this would achieve…… let’s stop playing this and start doing requests.”
“Washington D.C. SHOWTIME! Here we are in what is hopefully not going to become Sarah Palin’s new hometown. I suppose there’s a real chance of her becoming VP seeing as the Americans had a cocaine and alcohol cowboy in the whitehouse for the last 8 years.”
On Tuesday night at the Black Cat, Boris (pictured above), Torche and Clouds played one of the loudest shows I’ve been to all year, to one of the most raucous crowds I’ve been a part of all year. All three of these bands are very heavy rock bands - many fans would call them “metal” but for their own reasons, I believe Boris and Torche tend to eschew that label. But this was almost as “metal” a show as any I’ve seen so far this year, right down to the mosh pit that exploded during Torche’s set, and the wild stage dive by Boris’ drummer at the end of their set.
Clouds (above) were first, replacing Wolves in the Throne Room who (very sadly, for me at least) dropped off the tour after being pencilled in as the openers. I’m not familiar with their material at all, but they put on an entertaining set of what seemed to be fairly straightforward sludgy metal. Their new album is on Hydra Head, and if this show was anything to go off of, it seems like their music is just a tad poppier than the norm for that label. Solid opener, but I wasn’t inspired to pick up their album right off the bat.
I saw Torche (above) a couple months ago at Rock & Roll Hotel, where I thought they stole the show from headliners The Sword. These guys play a very catchy brand of metal, with melodic hooks galore embedded in their jackhammering guitar riffs. They’re also not afraid to bring the noise, eschewing the poppy stuff in some songs in favor of pure cathartic brutality. But for the most part, they’re a crowd-pleasing band, and that was in full effect last night, as throughout their set a fairly large (by Black Cat standards at least) mosh pit roiled violently in front of the stage, at times threatening to push those of us in the front row practically up onto the stage itself.
The Torche dudes were loving it, playing to the moshers with huge grins on their faces, and seemingly upping the energy of their performance as compared to the one I saw in May. As before, they put on a hugely enjoyable show, even if the music is a little too straightforward for my tastes on record. Also as before, they closed their set with a monstrous, extended version of the title track from their most recent album, Meanderthal, that absolutely brought the house down. Good times.
Boris took the stage after a 45-minute set change, obscured by fog pumping out from the drum riser, playing the opening strains of their newest album, Smile. Their setlist was actually just Smile in its entirety, played in order, except with “Pink” and “Floor Shaker” inserted into the middle of the set. As such, their set exhibited by far the most dynamic range of any of the three bands performing, ranging from hard-driving stoner metal to meandering, pretty soundscapes to breathtakingly exciting extended jams (the final, set-ending song).
I’m not a huge fan of Boris‘ studio output - as I just mentioned, I generally find stoner metal and stuff like this (I realize Boris is not really easy to pigeonhole in any one genre) a little too simplistic - but like Torche, these guys really shine in a live setting. Something about how they bounce between peaceful melody and merciless pummelling is just really fantastic to witness live. Wata is a beast of a guitarist, but you’d never know it from watching her, as she just stands there, expressionless, barely moving, while cranking out some killer riffs. But Takeshi made up for her stoicism with his manic stage presence, flailing around wildly on his headless double-necked guitar (as in the above photo). Atsuo, if anything, was even crazier, but ensconced behind his drum kit as he was, that never really became obvious until the end of the set. And all the while, guest guitarist Michio Kurihara (”guest” even though he’s been on Boris‘ last couple tours) stood quietly in the corner, barely lit, often completely obscured in fog:
The highlight was the end of the set, which was “You Were Holding an Umbrella” followed by its 16-minute closing section, a spectacular jam that built from a near-ambient beginning into a series of noisy, cathartic crescendoes. Almost post-rock-like, except a couple of the noisy parts tended to come more out of nowhere, giving the piece a much less linear feel than your average post-rock epic.
Towards the end, with guitars wailing and feedback screaming, drummer Atsuo started dismantling his kit, chucking cymbals against the giant gong hanging behind him and generally going apeshit. After he had thrown everything around, he jumped up on his bass drum, arms raised, face upturned, reveling in the glorious noise, and then hopped down onto the stage and dove into the crowd. From what I could tell he crowdsurfed half way back into the heart of the club before climbing back on stage, striking another pose, and exiting backstage with the rest of the band still hammering away. The wall of sound subsided shortly thereafter, leaving the crowd to cheer lustily in the hopes of an encore that did not come.
Also check out another nice review, by someone who’s a much more enthusiastic and knowledgeable fan of Boris than I, here at last.fm.
Okay, I just found a freakin’ amazing 2008 release that I missed in my lists below. The Washington City Paper of all things alerted me to a new release by Virginia-based Wrnlrd, called Oneiromantical War. Wrnlrd apparently has six albums out and a recent interview at Pitchfork, but I’d never heard of them (him) until reading the review in the City Paper. I went and downloaded Oneiromantical War from eMusic and am now completely obsessed, to the point that I almost immediately went and ordered the band’s three most recent albums preceding this one from their website. This stuff is atmospheric black metal, with vocals infrequent and almost completely buried in the mix underneath gritty buzzsaw guitars. The 20-minute “War” is an epic of fantastic proportions, all claustrophobic and evil and soul-crushing and shit.
So if you need your soul crushed, hop over to eMusic and check this mutha out.
Understandably, this whole Progressive Nation thing is a big deal in prog-rock (or at least prog-metal) land. At one point I think there were four separate threads going on about this tour over at ProgressiveEars, and who knows how much activity there’s been on Mike Portnoy’s forum, the Opeth forum, or the various relevant Yahoo! groups. The tour made its stop in Washington, DC on Monday night, and I went to see what the hubbub’s all about, camera in hand (all photos are at Flickr).
Of the four bands participating — Dream Theater, Opeth, Between the Buried and Me and 3 — I’ve seen the first two (2-3 times each, I can’t remember anymore), am a big fan of the third’s new album Colors, and am totally unfamiliar with the last. Overall I was most excited to see BTBAM; I haven’t been a Dream Theater fan for a long time now, and once I started getting into the more extreme end of extreme metal, Opeth started seeming a little less interesting to me as well (though I still quite enjoy their stuff when I get the hankering to give it a spin).
In any case, I showed up at the venue, DAR Constitution Hall (a 3,700 seat theater), a little before 7pm. I’ve never photographed a show at DAR before, so I spent a few minutes wandering around figuring out what to do. I picked up my photo pass and then got conflicting instructions from staff about where to go from there. I ended up going through some backstage door and getting led to the stage area by a friendly member of BTBAM (I was too distracted by wondering where the hell I was going to engage him in much conversation, but did find out that he’s one of the members from my hometown, Winston-Salem). He actually led me to the stage itself — and I found myself at the very back of the stage just as 3 were beginning their set. Uh, not exactly what I had planned, but ok. I made my way around the wings and got down to the audience area where I was supposed to be. DAR has no photo pit, but I was told I could shoot from the aisles, and found out later (during Opeth’s set) that I could also shoot from the front row of seats right up against the stage, which were unoccupied.
For more on the photography end of this show, check out my photography blog. Now that we’ve gotten to the point in the story that I’m in the venue, what about the music? I was mildly interested in 3, mostly because people have been absolutely raving about their opening set for this tour. In the past I never read anything about their music that made me think I would particularly like them. Unfortunately, I’m still not sure whether I particularly like them, as their music made almost no impression on me. Most of that is my own fault; I was paying attention to getting my bearings in the venue instead of listening. So, put that one down as an incomplete with apologies from the grader. Circumstances were only slightly better for BTBAM as I had to spend the first half of their 30-minute set working out a pass issue, but I did get to see them do “Viridian” and “White Walls” and they fucking blew my head off. Colors was an album that I thought was just ok at first but has really grown on me, and in the live setting these guys pulled it all off with aplomb: the quick shifts in mood, the tricky time changes, the range of styles from Floydlike shoegazing to death metal volume and intensity. The bass solo in “Viridian” raised the tension just enough for them to bring the house down with “White Walls.” The crowd seemed fairly responsive, but then again I was in the front, where folks were bound to be most engaged.
After BTBAM I figured I’d seen my highlight of the show already, and I was more or less right. Opeth put on a solid set — interestingly, thanks to the compressed time limits (they only had an hour to play), they opened with “Demon at the Fall,” which was actually a little disconcerting to me. I kept expecting them to walk off the stage at the end of the song, since that’s what they usually do. They played a range of stuff from their career, including one of the snoozers from Damnation and a song from the forthcoming album Watershed. I don’t really do the illegal downloading thing, so I haven’t heard the leaked version of Watershed that’s been making the rounds for a few months, but I liked the new song (”Heir Apparent,” I think) with reservations. There were some awesome riffs but it probably could have been cut shorter by a couple minutes (really I could say this about a lot of Opeth songs, so that’s nothing new).
Otherwise, it was Opeth and not a lot more needs to be said. Lots of slow sections that burst into killer riffs and death-metal growls. Lots of banter from Mikael Åkerfeldt. Someone yelled “Freebird.” (Someone always yells “Freebird.” Seriously, I think we need legislative action here. Note to people who like to yell “Freebird” - you are not anywhere near as clever or funny as you think you are.) The sound was awful. Like, really awful; the bass drum overwhelmed everything, especially the vocals. This seems to be the case every time I see this band and it makes me sad.
Apart from the sound, though, I dug Opeth’s set and waited for Dream Theater satisfied that I’d already seen two pretty good sets, with absolutely no expectations for the last. Just to clarify: I used to love Dream Theater. Images and Words and Awake are two of the albums that originally got me into the whole prog thing, and by association into adventurous music in general. Even as recently as Scenes From a Memory (and especially Live Scenes from New York) I would count myself a fan. But things went quickly downhill from there, and I can’t really say I much like anything that came after Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. It’s telling that the last time I saw the band live (a long time ago in 2002, back when Usenet was apparently still relevant judging from my old post), I thought the best stuff they did was a medley of old material and a cover of Metallica’s Master of Puppets.
This time around, I went in with no expectations and came away pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed Dream Theater’s set. I think I would have liked it even more if I stuck around for the encore, in which they played, well, a medley of old stuff. But what I saw was pretty decent; the new material still doesn’t do a whole lot for me, but these guys have the showmanship thing down, and even if I don’t really dig what they’re playing, at least they are entertaining. When they played “Take the Time” I was really, really reminded of how much better I like the odd-time riffing from the old albums as opposed to the mile-a-minute shredding on some of the newer ones; and some of the songs they played from Scenes From a Memory also came off quite well.
I did start getting a little restless after Jordan Rudess pulled out his wireless keytar thing and played a shredding duo with John Petrucci, and when James LaBrie’s voice started going from somewhat coherent and controlled to, uh, less so. So I booked out of there before I was reminded of all the reasons I don’t like this band as much as I used to. It seems to have worked, as I look back on the concert now with good feelings. The highlight for me was definitely BTBAM — and I would really like to see them on a headlining tour sometime — but the rest of the sets were pretty solid as well. The venue seemed pretty full and folks were getting into the bands, though the turnout for Dream Theater was way, way higher than for anyone else, which was understandable but still made me a little sad to see. It was interesting to see the tension of folks who were there for Dream Theater listening to metal with growled/screamed vocals — not surprisingly, during the BTBAM and Opeth sets there were a fair number of people that retreated to the concourse and downstairs lounge.
(Random note: you wouldn’t know it from this and my previous couple of show reviews — to say nothing of the Progressive Nation tour review I have coming up next week — but I have been seeing music other than metal recently. In fact, this week, I could have gone/could go to a great show every single night except last Sunday — Candlemass on Monday; Pattern is Movement yesterday; my housemate’s ex-housemate’s band tonight; either Adam Caine/Nick Lyons or Twin Earth tomorrow; A Silver Mt. Zion on Friday; Thee Maximalists on Saturday — but unfortunately I will be seeing none of them. I’ll use the time off from showgoing to post an overdue concert review.)
Last Thursday: Rock and Roll Hotel. The headliners were The Sword, a mildly ridiculous and fairly straightforward stoner-ish metal outfit who sing about things that your average stereotypical nerdilicious prog fan might enjoy. Opening were Philly’s Stinking Lizaveta (also known in prog circles, partly because guitarist Yanni Papadopoulos has appeared with Thee Maximalists, I believe) and show-stealers Torche. The former went on first and played their trademark herky-jerky heavy instrumental prog, complete with weird time signatures and turn-on-a-dime riffing. They pretty much blew the crowd away, which surprised me. Last time I saw them was when they opened for Sleepytime Gorilla Museum at the Black Cat, and I was less than impressed. Their material seemed kind of sterile and contrived (”odd-time riff after odd-time riff,” I said in my review of that show, and little more). It definitely came off better this time, but still, I headed out for a break about halfway through the set and didn’t really feel like I missed all that much.
I’m ashamed to say I’m not familiar at all with Torche’s recorded output, but I knew there was a good chance they would be my favorite band of the night, just based on everything I’ve read about them over the past year or two. I was right. They fucking crushed. How to describe this show? The first half was accessible, heavy but melodic, nice stuff but nothing extraordinary. I suppose when people talk about this band and say things like “stoner pop” or “pop metal,” this is what they mean. It’s a skewed version of pop to be sure, but I dig it. But the second half of the show, they brought the noise. Honestly, I don’t remember much other than the last song, which was extended out to what was probably 10+ minutes but felt like twice that long. Howling feedback and white noise combined with brutal riffing: I was in a happy place. So was this guy:
As for The Sword, pictured above… eh. Color me unmoved. Their records are entertaining enough, but for some reason in the live setting (maybe it had to do with followed the brain-frying performance that Torche gave), their songs seemed remarkably unremarkable. Middle-of-the-road, melodic metal, clean vocals, basic chunky riffs. The crowd was loving it; the show was sold out fergodsakes (seriously? a metal show in DC selling out?) and from where I was standing I couldn’t see anyone who wasn’t pumping a fist. But after photographing the first three songs, I quite happily retreated to my car, where Gaza’s I Don’t Care Where I Go When I Die awaited me in my CD player. Guess I just like my metal a little more extreme these days.
Photographic notes: the lighting was difficult for this show. Rock & Roll Hotel has some nice backlights above and behind the stage, but for some reason they almost never use the equally nice frontlights that they have. For all three bands I was at ISO 3200, wide open with a 50/1.8, struggling to keep my shutter speeds above 1/80. I really needed faster shutter speeds because all three of these bands were moving around a lot (those damn metal bands, they’re energetic and all). I was right up against the stage, too, with a packed crowd behind me, and the 50mm lens was a little too narrow — really could have used that 17-55 I had a couple weeks ago.
Finally, one unusual thing was that The Sword requested that we (myself, a guy shooting for spin.com one other dude) only shoot the first three songs. There was also a “no flash” sign on the door, making this the first “three songs, no flash” concert in a small, no photo pit venue that I’ve ever done. Thought that was unusual, but wasn’t a problem. My photos of The Sword weren’t great, but I don’t think shooting for more than the first three songs would have gotten me anything much better. The conditions just weren’t ideal for the equipment I had (or my limited talent, I suppose).