Archive for the ‘Metal’ Category

Epica + hired gun at Jaxx

Friday, May 9th, 2008

Epica 12

Last Saturday, I went to Jaxx in Springfield, VA to see Symphony X, Epica and Into Eternity on the last gig of their current tour. Of these bands I’m mostly a fan of Epica; I used to really like Symphony X but I moved away in large part from the prog-metal type stuff, oh, five or six years ago. Unfortunately, Epica was missing their inimitable frontwoman Simone Simons, who has been ill for some time now. Amanda Somerville, Simons’ voice coach (who makes an appearance on the We Will Take You With Us DVD), filled in, and her voice was remarkably similar to Simons’ — if not actually a little stronger all around. She seemed comfortable on stage with the band as well, which I suppose makes sense since it was the last gig of the tour. Still, Simons has an unmistakable charisma that I witnessed last year when Epica played this same venue — even though that time I was watching from afar and this time I was right up front — and her presence was definitely missed.

Epica 6

All the bands put on very good performances. The two local openers, Apothys and Tolerance for Tragedy, were solid, and the former band certainly knew their audience when they played a cover of Opeth’s “Demon of the Fall.” I’m not much of a fan of Into Eternity — singer Stu Block’s more high-pitched wailing moments just don’t really do it for me, to say the least — but Block is an excellent frontman and Tim Roth is a pretty awesome guitarist. As for Epica, well, they rocked it, although I did wish they would have played more stuff from The Divine Conspiracy. I generally find that album much more compelling than the older stuff, but of their older material they did play the best of it, so I suppose it all evens out in the end. “Sancta Terra” was a highlight for me, all cheesy bombast that’s pretty much just sheer awesomeness once you accept the nerdiness factor.

For Symphony X, I retreated to the back of the club and actually ended up leaving early. I just don’t find their music all that compelling these days, although admittedly in a live setting they are way heavier and more engaging than on record (Dave Kerman would still call it “panty-waist mallcore/prog-metal b.s.” though :). Part of my decision to give up my spot near the front of the pit was that or the last couple songs of Epica’s set, some dude who probably weighed 200 pounds more than me decided to shove his way up front and lean his entire weight into me while pumping his fists and screaming. I pretty much had to stop taking photos and brace myself against the stage railing (doing the folks in front of me a favor). After Epica’s set, he didn’t move, and I decided to find a different spot. Unfortunately, that proved impossible, the crowd was so densely packed. So I retreated to the bar and enjoyed probably half or a bit more of Symphony X from afar.

Into Eternity 6

One final note: the bands were unruly themselves, it being their final show. It was actually kind of hilarious; they were throwing food and other things (silly string, as in the above photo of Into Eternity’s guitarist) at each other during the sets, and apparently things got even crazier towards the end of Symphony X’s set, after I’d already left. It was cool to see these guys having so much fun, and in front of a very appreciative crowd to boot.

Lots more photos in the full set at Flickr. Of them all, my favorite shot of the night is probably this one, of the singer for Tolerance for Tragedy:

Tolerance for Tragedy 1

Great show: Earth & Kayo Dot

Monday, May 5th, 2008

Okay, sorry for the major delays in updates both in the site proper and this blog. I’m going to try something here. In 2008, I’ve been focusing a lot on my photography, and doing a lot of live music photography in particular. I’ve started a photography blog, and will be cross-posting concert reviews, with photography notes, at that blog and this one. So at this blog I’ll continue posting my usual ramblings, as well as concert reviews, but the concert reviews will now include more photographs and a few paragraphs of photo-geek stuff that you can safely skip over if you’re just in it for the music. We’ll see how this works. Not that the photos will usually look better at the photography blog thanks to the black background there. Anyway, here’s my first shot at it — a review of a great show I saw last night, Earth and Kayo Dot. Sunday night metal.

Earth 9

“Metal” is stretching it a bit, but both of the touring bands I saw last night at Rock & Roll Hotel, Earth and Kayo Dot, have their roots in it - the former in their classic drone-metal albums of the early 90s, the latter in their evolution out of avant/prog-metal group Maudlin of the Well. Still, this was about as different from Saturday’s prog-metal (when I saw Symphony X and Epica, review to come) as it could get. Earth plays glacially slow, crushingly loud instrumental music that, were it not for the volume and subtle drone tendencies, could almost be called doomy country & western. Kayo Dot is pretty much uncategorizable, straddling some invisible line between rock and rigorously composed modern classical music. The opener, Stymphalian Birds, was a solo noise/drone act that was surprisingly quite excellent. Needless to say, there was no symphonic metal bombast going on here, no drunken screaming fans, no call-and-response fist-pumping.

Earth was who I’d come for and they did not disappoint. The touring version of this band is a four-piece of guitar, bass, drums, and keys/trombone (trombone very sparingly used on one song only). They played almost exclusively stuff from the new album, The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull, which was fine by me as I think the album is pretty excellent. Live, their music sounded pretty much identical to the album versions, with one key difference: sheer volume. This stuff, when heard at bone-rattling loudness levels, becomes even more doomy and impactful than on record. Yet it still retains its beauty, with slow, repetitive melodies shining through wonderfully. It was also impressive to watch these guys play so damn slowly - drummer Adrienne Davies (pictured below) especially. I’m sure it takes massive concentration to play these songs, where sometimes there was a full second or even more between individual beats, and they pulled it off easily.

Earth 6

I’ve never been a huge fan of Kayo Dot (sorry Aaron). I always get the feeling that much of their material is going straight over my head - lots of abstractness and subtlety when I am longing for more intensity. Live, they held my attention better than on record, and it was fun to see just how intricately composed some of the pieces are, with all the musicians either reading from their charts or watching bandleader Toby Driver (below) intently for cues. The majority of the set was very quiet and slow-moving, with a few heavier parts intermingled; calling this band “metal” at this point would be a total misnomer. The pleasant surprise was a stunningly lyrical guitar solo from Driver during the last song - not sure what song it was but it was gorgeous. By that point, it seemed like they had already completely lost some of the audience, though - a couple of the guys in the front row next to me looked noticeably impatient with the whole affair.

Kayo Dot 7

Photographically, this was a tough show to get anything exciting, between the mostly static performers and completely static lighting. At least there was enough light (barely), but it was patchy and strongly hued. This weekend, in fact, I had a first: I blew out the blue channel in several of my photos. I’m used to screwing up and blowing out red highlights, but blue is a new one for me. Still managed to get some decent shots, but nothing as dynamic as Saturday night’s show - which, all things considered, is hardly surprising. I shot wide open with my rented 17-55 again (boy was I sad to return it this morning), between 1600 and 3200 ISO, shutter speeds as high as 1/160 to preserve blue/red highlights, as low as 1/40 at times to try to get the performers who were standing deeper in shadow.

The nice thing about shooting at Rock & Roll Hotel is that, except at completely sold-out shows, it’s relatively easy to move around. I mostly shot from right in front of the stage, but during Earth’s set I moved to the side and slightly behind (which I how I got the headline shot of Dylan Carlson haloed by the spotlights up front). No problems like Saturday at Jaxx where I was pinned to one spot and not even in the front row.

One last Earth shot to close out this post… check out the full set at Flickr for more.

Day 125: Earth

Befuddled

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

Wow, absolutely classic mismatch of reviewer and reviewed: PopMatters’ Filmore Mescalito Holmes, who normally seems to review electronica, drum ‘n’ bass and the like, tackles Ocrilim’s new one, Annwn. Not surprisingly, he can’t make heads or tails of this stuff, and the result is an amusingly clueless couple of paragraphs that say little more than “this guy’s just wanking, you might as well listen to a jackhammer.” (To which I say: don’t ever hand this guy an Einstürzende Neubauten album.)

In all honesty, this is the kind of review that makes me more interested to hear this than I would have been otherwise (I like Ocrilim’s first, Anoint, but not enough to make me go get this one sight unseen).

Unexpect minus violin: still fun

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

Last night I saw my first show of the year — Unexpect at Jaxx in Virginia. I really like their latest album, In a Flesh Aquarium, although I think folks are blowing its “avant-garde-ness” way out of proportion. Just because it’s pastichey and schizophrenic and draws from a wide variety of styles doesn’t make it avant-garde. But I digress: it’s a very good album regardless, and I was excited to see these guys pull off some of these all-over-the-map compositions in a live setting.

Sadly, the band was missing their violinist for this tour. As far as I could tell, they didn’t so much compensate for that lack so much as just play over it; there was no rearranging of parts and no transcribing of the violin parts to keyboard or guitar. This actually turned out fine. There were a few places where I really missed the violin melody, but for the most part the music didn’t suffer the loss much at all. A lot of that can be attributed to the band’s sheer energy level, which was through the roof, and their enthusiasm for playing their material. This was an extremely entertaining show, to say the least. My favorite piece live is also my favorite on In a Flesh Aquarium, “Desert Urbania,” which has a totally crushing sludgy riff towards the end that was the highlight of the show.

I took my camera to this show, as I’m embarking on a project this year to take as many photographs as possible. So despite the reservations I have about concert photography, I spent the whole concert taking photos and came away with a bunch that I’m pretty happy with. These are up at Flickr and sampled below. Thanks to the band for letting me shoot and for being extremely warm and friendly in general.

Music books!

Monday, January 7th, 2008

I got a bunch of music-related books from my brother for Christmas: Improvisation: Its Nature and Practice in Music by Derek Bailey, A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album by Ashley Kahn, and (perhaps most excitingly) Music and the Creative Spirit by Lloyd Peterson. I’m about halfway through Bailey’s book and, after finding it a bit of a slow starter (the sections on improvisation in Indian music and flamenco are interesting, but coming as they do at the very beginning of the book, it was a little unclear to me how they fit into a larger thesis), am starting to get really engaged. I’ll have more comments once I’m done with the book, but the ideas that Bailey presents about the effect of formalized notation on the history of music are fascinating. There is also some interesting material about how the systematized version of improvisation present in “traditional” jazz essentially kills the improvisation’s vitality and capacity for progress — this is where the sections on Indian music and flamenco come in, as Bailey stresses in these sections that there is absolutely no way to learn improvisation “by the book” in the context of these musics, as opposed to in trad-jazz.

On another book-related note, a few months ago I read Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground by Michael Moynihan, but forgot to write anything about it here. In short, I found some of it a fun read, but it doesn’t read so much like a book about music as it does a true-crime kind of book. In fact, there’s a pretty disappointing lack of analysis about black metal itself, and instead the author chooses to talk endlessly about the twisted ideologies of the major players in the Norweigian black metal scene. I suppose the title should have warned me about that, but I was let down nevertheless. I guess I’m going to have to pick up a copy of Albert Mudrian’s Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal and Grindcore and hope that it does a better job of sating my appetite for intelligent commentary on the actual music being made in these extreme-metal scenes.

Dream Theater: still sucks

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008

Wow, the “new” Dream Theater album, Systematic Chaos (which I just picked up because it was super-cheap and I am a masochist), is really pretty terrible. Not in the same way that Train of Thought was aggressively awful, but more in a I’m-bored-out-of-my-mind kind of way. I sort of feel bad reviewing their albums these days (even though Octavarium was really okay, nothing too bad) since it’s a bit like poking a stick in the eyes of fanboys around the Internet, but I’ll probably review this one anyway for the sake of comprehensiveness. In the meantime, feast on this amusing review of it at PopMatters.

Gorguts’ Obscura continues to melt my face

Sunday, December 9th, 2007

And speaking of albums that are long-lasting classics, I’m currently turning my brain to mush by listening to GorgutsObscura. I’m continually amazed by two things about this album: one, that it still sounds so fresh to me after years of listening; and two, that it seems like no metal album released ever since has come close to matching it in terms of the combination of absolute brutality and sheer complexity. And this thing came out almost ten years ago. Sure there are some fiendishly complex tech-death and grindcore bands out there, but I don’t think any of them compare to Gorguts in brutality, and my uneducated ear also wants to believe for some reason that Obscura is more complex — maybe not rhythmically, but harmonically and compositionally.

This review at Rate Your Music is pretty amusing and describes the extreme-ness of the album pretty well. I think it’s by the same “asmox” as inhabits ProgArchives.

ADDENDUM: Also, I think the following image is funny.

Om: WOW

Friday, November 16th, 2007

At first, I thought the pairing of post-rockers Grails with stoner-metal gurus Om was a weird concert double-bill, but as soon as I showed up at Rock & Roll Hotel on Tuesday night and the former began their set, it became clear that this was in fact quite an inspired pairing. Both of these bands take a fundamentally rock style and add to it distinct Eastern influences — in Grails, it’s the acoustic guitar scales; in Om, the overwhelming Eastern mysticism that dominates their lyrics and overall approach.

I’ve never been blown away by Grails — with every one of their albums, including the new Burning Off Impurities, I feel like there are some really great moments, but they are separated by long stretches where nothing is really going on. Seeing them live only reinforced this impression, although the great moments were pretty freakin’ great. Unfortunately, the acoustic guitar parts kind of got drowned out in the louder sections, especially with their drummer pounding madly away (too loud). One of the band members was wearing an Ash Ra Tempel t-shirt, and I felt at their best this band evoked a kind of meditative mood that reminded me of classic Krautrocky ambience.

Om’s live performance also reinforced my impression of them based on their recordings. This band’s albums are meditative, heavily repetitive, stripped-down stoner metal, just bass, drums and vocals that are chanted more than they are sung. Somehow they manage to be mystical in a neo-hippie kind of way while simultaneously being heavy as fuck. Live, they pulled off this unlikely marriage of stylistic elements impeccably. Bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros is one intense-looking dude, staring into space the entire show as if he was being chased by demons no one else could see; and drummer Chris Hakius was all over the place, the driving force of the duo much of the time, weaving and bobbing his entire body even during the passages where his playing was mostly minimal.

They played four songs, I think, which lasted for over an hour. The clear highlight was an absolutely transcendent rendition of “At Giza,” my favorite piece of theirs, from Conference of the Birds (a brief excerpt of this song is on their Myspace page). The majority of this song is quiet and meditative, although in concert Cisneros’ bass was crushingly loud even in the softer sections. When the climax hits, Cisneros kicks in the distortion and Hakius starts bashing, the effect is unbelievable. The closing to this rendition of the song was just as awesome: the volume dwindled gradually, and Hakius ended the song by slowly reducing the volume of his drumming, tapping his cymbals delicately long after Cisneros had stopped playing, as the entire crowd listened in total, enraptured silence. When it ended I felt compelling to jump up and down screaming my brains out. That doesn’t happen very often.

They ended with “Bhima’s Theme” off the new Pilgrimage, but sadly this was ruined by excessive volume levels. On record, the middle section of this song is incredibly slow and quiet, just Cisneros’ bass playing quietly as he chants his mystic lyrics without accompaniment. Live, the bass was way too loud, killing the near-stillness that the quiet section evokes on record. Still, when the loud section kicked back in — distortion cranked and Hakius beating out a killer rhythm — the effect was awesome. I can only imagine how powerful this would have been if the quiet section had been properly quiet.

I was pleasantly surprised at how many folks showed up for this show. The crowd was pretty thin for Grails, but it seemed like the club, which fits 400 people in a pinch, was almost full for Om. Who knew that stoner metal had such an audience in DC?

This can’t be right

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

I’m watching the Patriots-Colts NFL game this afternoon, and I swear I just heard CBS use a Within Temptation song. It was just a quick instrumental part, chugging guitars fading out just as some characteristically symphonic-metal keyboards started to play. That was weird. Couldn’t quite identify the exact song right off the bat, but I’m holding the melody in my head until I can figure it out.

Going deeper into the world of metal

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

On a whim, and because lately I’ve found myself listening to more and more metal of all kinds, I just subscribed to Decibel Magazine. I’ve never actually even read a single issue, but I know Adrien Begrand writes for them and I like his work, so there was at least some inkling that I might like this publication. Also it was way cheaper than paying import rates for Terrorizer. Anyone a fan (or not) of this magazine?

More concert reports will be coming soon; I still need to write about Yo La Tengo, and last night I saw Robert Fripp, and tonight I’m going to see Alarm Will Sound (a 20-piece chamber group that plays interpretations of, among other things, some techno artist that named a song after a Mr. Bungle piece, Aphex Twin, and more expected things like compositions by Ligeti and John Adams), and tomorrow I’m going to see Bill Frisell. Whew!

One quick note about my current listening: the new Om album, Pilgrimage, is completely and utterly kicking my ass. Doom/stoner metal at its best. Can’t wait to see them live with Grails — I’m more excited about that show than I have been about anything I’ve seen in the past few months.