Thursday, November 24, 2011

"More meditative than violent."

Found this very good article from New York magazine about "doom metal," written back in 2007. The author, Joe Hagan, is a non-metal fan who writes about Boris, Sunn, and Southern Lord Records, without the insincerity or condescension that usually accompanies these kinds of articles in the mainstream media. I'm not a huge fan of Southern Lord, but props to anything that earns this kind of sincere and intelligent praise from an actual journalist. Classic quotes from the article:

"Imagine if someone put a microphone to rows of ocean waves battering a rocky shore and then ran the result through distortion pedals and a wall of eight-foot amplifiers."

"Little wonder that doom-metal bands have names that wouldn’t be out of place at the local yoga center: Om, Ocean, Earth. It’s extreme-volume therapy, a spa treatment in black Satan T-shirts."

Welcome to the dark side, Mr. Hagan. If all-encompassing doom/drone floats your boat, then someone needs to send you the Black Boned Angel discography, immediately.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

RIP Dismember

"Let's pour a little for our homies, as Dismember recently called it quits."

In their latest podcast, Mark and Jason brought up the fact that death metal OGs Dismember broke up earlier this month. I've been out of the loop since I've been bouncing around the region, so this came as quite a shock. The band released a statement, saying simply "After 23 years, DISMEMBER have now decided to quit. We wish to thank all our fans for your support."

WTF? Dismember are no more? 2 years short of their 25th anniversary? With the sound they pioneered more in fashion than ever, and while their peers like Grave enjoy their highest profile in years? Seriously, WTF?!?!

My history with Dismember goes back to 1996, when I bought Massive Killing Capacity on cassette. At the time, the album's slower tempos were not well received by either critics or long-time fans; Dismember later admitted that they were pressured by their label, Nuclear Blast, to pursue a style more akin to Entombed's Wolverine Blues, which was a huge hit at the time (never mind that Entombed were enjoying the support of Sony/Columbia's major label promotional machine). As a death metal n00b, I enjoyed the album and its NWOBHMisms - truth be told, it was the first time I understood what the NWOBHM's twin guitar melodies were and how big an influence Iron Maiden and Judas Priest were on Swedish death metal.

But I only truly understood Dismember's legendary status when I heard Like An Everflowing Stream a year later. With only Entombed ahead of them, Dismember pioneered Swedish death metal, and in opener "Override of the Overture," created two of the greatest riffs of all time (the fantastically twisted intro, and the epic chorus).

Dismember countered their fans' Massive disappointments with the succinctly-titled Death Metal; ironically, as the popularity of melodic death metal bands like In Flames and At the Gates superseded that of older death metal bands, Dismember found themselves embraced by that audience as well.

Throughout the 00's, Dismember remained fairly prolific, releasing a slew of albums that were consistent if not classics. In 2007, drummer and founding member Fred Estby left; instead of this being a killing blow, the band soldiered on with one last self-titled album.

I never got a chance to see Dismember live, but I did have an unlikely run in with them in 2008. On a flight from Kuala Lumpur to New York via Stockholm, a group of totally heshed out Swedes were seated in the row adjacent to mine; they were all decked out in shirts of old school Swedish death metal bands like Grave and Entombed, and one of them even had a Dismember belt buckle. I considered striking up a conversation with them, and then decided against it; Swedes tend to be pretty reserved, and I didn't want to come off like a weirdo. As the flight neared its stopover in Stockholm, I got up to go to the bathroom and one of the group was waiting in line behind me. I commented on his Dismember belt buckle and told him what a big Swedish death metal fan I was; he listened politely as I name dropped Entombed and talked about seeing Demonical in Prague a few months earlier. He smiled and said that he was friends with all those bands in Stockholm.

"Our band just played a festival in Australia," he mentioned casually.
"Oh yeah?"
"Yeah. Dismember."
It was then I realized that I was talking to David Blomquist, a guitarist that I'd admired (and ripped off) for more than a decade. I was so stunned that I blurted, "Oh my God, Like an Everflowing Stream is one of the greatest albums ever!" He seemed tickled by the comment. I would have continued the conversation but the toilet was suddenly free, and I sheepishly decided to avoid any further awkwardness by disappearing into it.

On the way through the Stockholm airport I got to talk to Blomquist some more; he answered my questions politely. Vocalist Matti Kaerki caught up to us and greeted me with a booming "Hello!" I was still pretty starstruck, and all I could say was, "The new album is fucking killer!"
"Thank you!" he boomed back.

That whole experience changed my attitude towards flying: I've never gotten on a plane, looked at the people sitting next to me and thought, "I bet those guys are in a band, and I have all those albums." But now, the thought is never far from my mind.

Anyways, RIP Dismember. The metal world is a poorer place without them. Dibs on their HM-2 pedals, if some American hardcore kid hasn't gotten them already.

Mark and Jason did a terrific show about the band here.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Brimstone in Fire / Clutches of Reality EP release @Headstock Bar, 10.08.2011 which I continue my work as a metal missionary while on vacation in the Philippines.

When he found out I was going to be in Manila, my buddy Ian told me to clear my schedule on Saturday the 8th of October, as he was playing a show in Marikina with his new band Brimstone in Fire. I haven't been to many shows in South East Asia, and the only other show I saw in the Philippines was when Ian's old band Demiurge played in 2005. Naturally, I was keen on not just seeing his new band play but checking out the local Filipino metal scene.

On the day of the show, I met Ian at his and Isa's home/design studio/recording space. We talked metal for a while as the other members of Brimstone in Fire filtered in. Once their drummer Mike arrived, they practiced their 5-song set for the night, plus an extra. No fine tuning needed, they sounded pretty tight.

After grabbing dinner at a nearby vegetarian restaurant, we headed to the gig. We left a little after 8; by the time we got to the Headstock bar it was close to 10 pm. Though the start time was listed as 7pm, Ian kept telling me that the show probably wouldn't start until much later. He was right; the first band Leiden was just finishing up by the time we got there. I didn't get to hear much of their set, but appreciated their early 90's styled death metal a la Death and Malevolent Creation.

The Headstock bar is a 2nd floor walk-up on top of a Schwarma restaurant and across the road from a girlie bar. Like all good underground metal shows, there's no stage, with only a few PA monitors separating the area meant for the performers and audience. What's unusual is the tables that are set up, with buckets of bottles of Red Horse Beer set in each. The gig was 100 pesos (barely over US$2) with free beer, which I'm assuming was the main draw of the night, as most of the crowd seemed less interested in the bands playing than they did hanging out. The vibe was less of a raucous local death metal show but more of big scene get together, complete with live music.

The first band whose set I saw in total was Resurrected - a scaled-down version of vintage Megadeth, full of fire and attitude if not necessarily Mustaine's fretboard genius. It's bizarre to hear someone work so hard to imitate Mustaine's caterwauling, but considering Megadeth have never played this part of the world in their 30 year career, it's understandable (and maybe inevitable) that some band would spring up to fill that void. Resurrected ended their set with a cover of "In My Darkest Hour" - sometimes there's no hiding from your influences.

Operatic female vocals are usually not my thing, but the next band Anhura layered them over a kaleidescope of goth, prog, and black metal that occasionally resembles In The Woods (the best band to ever use operatic vocals in metal). There's a lot that's interesting about Anhura but even more that doesn't mesh; I spent most of their set wishing they'd find a cliche and stick with it.

Mothership play stoner rock of the Nebula/Fu Manchu kind. They're secure enough to stick Kyuss' 'One Inch Man' as the second song of their set, but where those desert rock titans threatened to engulf the sky, Mothership are content to hover blissfully overhead, phaser pedals set to stun.

Transcendent, sharing Brimstone in Fire's bassist Christian, play jazz-infused death metal in the vein of Atheist and Cynic, complete with processed robot vocals (which in fairness, sound more Evil Deadite than Paul Masvidal). They start with an instrumental which meanders into funk territory - a pretty bold move, but with the chops on display there are no complaints. Their high level of musicianship gets the loudest crowd reaction of the night - or maybe that Red Horse was finally starting to kick in. They play 2 Death covers, including a brainbusting jazz/funk deconstruction of "Secret Face."

One of the earliest death metal bands in the Philippines, Brimstone in Fire are the first band on the bill to have an identity separate from their influences, as well as the first to not play a cover. While their roots are in the late 80's death metal explosion, their sound is more akin to the period of experimentation in the mid-90's that delivered Heartwork and Symbolic - death metal that's not afraid to spread its wings (or slow its tempos). With Ian and Isa newly installed in the band, Brimstone in Fire are both veterans of the scene and almost a new band, but any recent line-up changes are belied by their presence, confidence, and professionalism.

The bands set up and broke down quickly all night, and with a strict 5 song limit, the sets flew by; all the same, by the time Brimstone had finished it was nearly 2 am. I stood outside while the next two bands played; it was pretty late even by my standards and I really didn't have the energy for Sentido Kumon's ska punk or Deceased's beersoaked covers of Iron Butterfly and Motorhead. I did make my way back in for the headliners Clutches of Reality, whose newly released EP was the impetus for the gig in the first place. headlining set consisted of all instrumentals.

As with Transcendent before them, Cynic hold a strong influence on Clutches of Reality, but instead of veering further into jazz-prog territory, Clutches steer their tech inclinations into classic Sabbath power riffage. It's not hard to imagine this band on a mix-tape with Baroness and Kylesa, though CoR are thankfully free of any hipster affectations.

And with that my Filipino metal adventure was over. Ian and Isa dropped me back at my hotel (conveniently located between a girlie bar and a karaoke joint). I had scored a cd from local band Mass Hypnosia (which Ian called "the best CD of the decade;" while on stage, no less). Hopefully I can time my next visit to Manila to coincide with them and Brimstone playing a show together.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Obscura, Toxic Holocaust & Nafrat @The Substation, Singapore 9-27-2011 which I renew my efforts to get more involved with the South East Asian metal scene.

The last time I was living here (from 2003-2008), the scene was starting to pick up steam; more and more foreign bands were playing in the region, and there were regular gigs at the Malaysian Chinese Association Assembly Hall in Kuala Lumpur. Not really sure what the state of the scene is like now, but once I settle into a groove I'll go out and explore a little. Hopefully there will be some great bands to discover amidst the 2nd tier copycats that were inexplicably popular.

My metal friends from the Philippines Ian Cuevas and Isa Pilapil had told me months prior to me returning to the region that Obscura and Toxic Holocaust were going to be playing Singapore shortly after my arrival. Knowing that it would probably be the only death metal show I'd see for months (if not years), I resolved myself to take the trip down to hang out with Ian and Isa, even if I wasn't exactly a huge fan of those bands.

Day of the Show, I took a bus down from Kuala Lumpur (it's about the same distance as travelling from Boston to NY) and booked a bunk at a backpacker's inn called "The Prince of Wales," one of the bars/backpacker dormitories that are so popular here. It's a pretty savvy business model - give young tourists a room to sleep, and then get em drunk. And if they're too hungover the next morning to catch their bus or connecting flight, well, no worries - they can always pay for an extra night (and presumably, more booze). I personally don't drink and don't particularly enjoy the company of drunks, but I did like the location (right at the waterfront at Clarke Quay) and the price was ridiculously low.

But when I got to the Prince of Wales, I was turned away by the (white) owner for not being "a real backpacker" since I was Malaysian. Really? Being from Malaysia makes me not a real backpacker? The proprietor was keen to send me on my way ASAP, telling me that I hadn't paid any money, so I could leave; when I pointed out that I paid a deposit online, he refunded it to change. Asshole. I wonder if I had said I was American whether it would have been a different story. I ended up checking into another hostel 5 minutes away, and took a quick nap before the show, dreaming of arson.

Finding the Substation was a little bit of an adventure, as the street it's located on (Armenian Street) is called something else for a block and a half, until you actually get to the club. Luckily, by haranguing various local passerbys on the way from the station (hats off to Singaporean politeness) I was able to get to the club and meet up with my friends Ian and Isa. I used to hang out with them and talk metal every time I visited Manila, but hadn't seen them since I started grad school in 2008. Plus, I hadn't been to a show with those two since I saw them play with their band Demiurge in Manila back in 2004; that was the only metal show I'd seen in South East Asia at the time (and even at the time I write this, I can count all the shows I've been to here on one hand).

Anticipation was high, and it was up to Singapore's own Nafrat to both open up the show and represent the local scene, though technical difficulties with one of their guitarists stymied them for almost 5 minutes. Their singer didn't seem to know quite to handle it, attempting to banter with the crowd in his Cookie Monster persona before jumping up and down as if to overcome their sound problems through sheer enthusiasm (he get points for rocking the leather pants through the Singaporean humidity, but I don't envy whoever gives him a ride home). When Nafrat eventually launch into their first song, it sounds like each of their band members is playing a different song; this, alas, is their style, a mishmash of tech, grind, and prog that sounds like Human Remains and Cephalic Carnage battling it out; indeed, for most of their set, Nafrat sound like the kind of spazzcore that you'd find on a Relapse comp (before Relapse started signing every stoner with an amp in Atlanta, GA).

"Is anyone a fan of Decapitated in the house?" their singer asks, introducing a cover of 'Spheres of Madness' before anyone has a chance to reply (insert Mitch Hedberg joke here). Decapitated started off in the shadow of bigger bands before eventually finding their voice. Nafrat will likewise have to find theirs if they want to break out of the local scene.

It feels weird to travel 5 hours and pay almost $60 to see Toxic Holocaust when I used to be able to walk down the street and pay $10 to see them play in my old neighborhood of Greenpoint; in fact, I actually got to see them play for free in the Lower East Side. As they did then, they set up with a negligible fanfare, telling the crowd, "It's too quiet in here" before launching into their blackened retro-thrash; the local crowd responds by throwing themselves with abandon in the pit. Are Toxic Holocaust original? No. Formulaic? Well, yes, but when the formula is pure napalm, why fuck with it? The three-piece from Philly play the most stripped down set of the night - a little too stripped down at one point, as the bass cuts out completely during one song (frontman and sole guitarist Joel Grind plays on regardless - hope Nafrat were paying attention).

Because of the crowd's enthusiasm, Toxic Holocaust allow themselves an encore, closing with the venomous 'Rip the Cross.' Having been one of the few American metal bands to play Singapore twice, the crowd's hellbent enthusiasm is much deserved (a commentary on Singaporean moshpits - a pair of emo glasses that were thrown to one side at the beginning of Toxic Holocaust's set is retrieved completely intact at the end).

Headliners Obscura play the kind of dizzying technical death metal that fill message boards if not clubs, but they soundcheck with the Scorpion's 'Rock You Like A Hurricane' - as if their German-ness was ever in question. Despite the high-minded nature of their music, the band are modest and frequently funny. Frontman (and first runner-up in a Dan Swanö look-alike contest) Steffen Kummerer invites the audience to have a beer and hang out with the band after their set, a sentiment met with roaring approval.

Obscura, luckily, don't suffer any of the sound problems that plagued the other two bands, and despite mostly appealing to guitar geeks, their live presence is as formidable as any melodic death metal band, with that aura of authenticity that can only come from being European. Though they don't get the same frenzied reaction as Toxic Holocaust, the crowd's appreciation never wanes, with dozens of cameras trying to capture the set for posterity.

After Obscura's set ends, both foreign bands stick around to meet their fans, while most of the audience lines up around the barricades to get autographs and take photos. It's like a comic convention for heshers, and brings home the nature of metal fandom in this part of the world: The attendees almost literally can't afford to just stand around with their arms crossed or walk out before the headliner plays, like they do in the States. Shows are rare, and tickets are expensive. There can't be more than 300 people in the audience, but each one of them will be talking about this show for months to come. I miss that kind of enthusiasm.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Rainy Day Fun Mixtape

Hurricane Irene is finishing up its NYC visit, and Le Poisson Rouge put together a playlist in tribute. I thought it was a good gag, and considering that I was kind of excited by the apocalyptic possibilities (and let down by the lack of same), I thought I'd join in the fun.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

In the beginning there was Napalm Death and Terrorizer

My buddy Mike Dabaie found a tape I made for him back from our trading days circa 97-99. I'm sort of tickled by my own unabashed metal geekiness.

Safe to say, not much has changed since then.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Break Thru Radio interview about metal and The Road Not Taken

I did an interview with my buddy Matt Lehtola for his radio program/podcast "In the Den." Matt's journey from teenage hesher to indie rock DJ is fascinating to me, as we're the same age and at one point in time were both listening to the same music; the way Matt tells it, he could've easily fit in with me and my friends as we stalked the hallways of our high school in black shirts and steel-toed boots. Yet at some point our musical journeys took very different turns; I figured it would make an interesting conversation to figure out when and why, a la Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken.

The interesting thing about this is we're still very similar; as a radio DJ, it's Matt's job to search out and document up and coming artists, which is something I myself try to do with this blog and my photography. So even though the genres switched, we're still living very parallel lives.

Listen to the podcast here.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

How many Napalm Death shirts is too many Napalm Death shirts?

What do you get a man who owns 4 Napalm Death shirts? Why, 4 more Napalm Death shirts.

Big shout-out to Indie Merch Store, because I received the order within 3 days, and the prints all look fantastic. They're definitely going to get some repeat business from me, though I wish I put in a smaller order so I could have taken advantage of the 15% discount codes they sent me. Live and learn, I guess.

The hoodie especially looks and feels amazing; putting it on was like slow-dancing with a girl for the first time. Seriously, if this hoodie was a woman I'd marry her immediately.

I think if you asked the 15 year old version of me how he felt about having a Napalm shirt for every day of the week, his head would have exploded. Actually, his reaction probably would have been something like this.

Sunday, July 31, 2011


I have an executive producer credit on the latest episode of the Requiem Podcast, about Gothenberg's unsung heroes Eucharist. The band is mostly remembered as the debut of Daniel Erlandsson, brother of At the Gates' drummer Adrian Erlandsson (that the younger Erlandsson went on to play in Arch Enemy with Mike Amott and his younger brother Chris always struck me as strangely appropriate).

My experience with Eucharist goes back to 1997, when I read a fawning review about Mirrorworlds in Terrorizer magazine (my late teens/early twenties hesher bible). It was at the height of my Gothenberg death metal fixation, and during a period when I spent most of my money ordering albums from the obscure likes of Sacrilege, Ebony Tears, and Ceremonial Oath. Eucharist always stood out from the rest of the scene, with a sound that seemed closer to early At the Gates and Darkthrone with its mix of raw blackened power and off-time quirkiness. Eucharist's use of melody was never quite as twee as that of their townspeople, and the production of the albums seemed tailor-made to turn off all but the most discerning ears.

One of the reasons I became such a big booster of Requiem early on was the fact that Mark and Jason were big Eucharist fans, which is an exclusive club within an already niche scene. When I found out they were doing a whole show on Eucharist, I had to get my name attached to it. Check it out here.

Eucharist have most of their discography available for free at their website here.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

I shall call him...Mini Me.

This video of a toddler dancing to Pantera is probably the greatest thing to ever get posted on FB. He headbangs! He windmills! He starts his own circle pit! He's basically me at 4 pm.

Hopefully by the time he's potty trained, he'll have moved on to something more KVLT like Origin.

I want my own little hesher baby immediately. Especially knowing that I can get a Beneath the Remains onesy from Amazon. How soon can I adopt?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Two Words

When I was 15, two words changed my life and the way I thought about music, limits, and extremity.

The words were "death" and "metal," and these were the guys who put them together:

"When the sun doesn't rise
And the day is like night
Know that your life is at its end
Rendered helpless
So scream out in fright
Death Metal came in the wind."


Friday, June 24, 2011

Meeting Metalion at the Slayer Diaries Release Party

Not the best of days, but I put aside all the bullshit and made it to powerHouse Arena in Brooklyn to attend The Slayer Mag Diaries release party. There was a good sized crowd, but I was still disappointed in the attendance. C'mon Bedford Avenue metalheads - you can dress up like the back of a Kreator cover, but can't make it to see the guy who actually covered all the kvlt metal you profess to love? You fucking poseurs.

It was pretty much what you'd expect from a black metal book party - Dissection and Bathory blared through the second floor of powerHouse, and black candles burned on the floor. Pinned to the walls were photos of metal's elite, with a special centerpiece dedicated to Euronymous.

The book itself is gigantic - at over 700 pages, it really does feel like the bible of black metal. The interviews are simple and often times a little too fanboyish, but pretty good considering Metalion was writing in a second language. The best part are the introductions he writes to each chapter (the book is divided into the 20 different issues he put out over a 15 year period). In these, the legendary metal figure bares his soul and talks about his emotional state while preparing the magazine, as well as his various struggles to keep connected to the underground metal scene as it grew exponentially and changed. These passages are extremely touching and frequently profound without ever being pretentious. Towards the end the man's devotion to the metal lifestyle paints him as something of a tragic figure, compared to the legendary metal gods that he interviews from the beginning. Dead and Euronymous are celebrated martyrs, and bands like Emperor and Immortal have reached near rock star status, but Metalion's life is decidedly lacking in glamour.

Of course, I had to get a picture with the man himself. I made it a point of wearing my t-shirt of the Requiem Metal Podcast - the best representation of carrying on Metalion's legacy I can think of. I don't know if they'll ever get to meet in the flesh, but I did my best to bring them together in spirit.

C'mon you fucking heshers - put aside some beer money and buy the fucking book.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tombs and A Storm of Light @Webster Hall 6.09.2011

By the time I got inside Webster Hall, Bastard Sapling were already on. The incense sticks they had burning at the front of the stage was a worrying sign, but luckily their take on black metal was more evil than pretty. In fact, they reminded me of strongly of Winterfylleth (whose Mercian Sphere album may be my favourite black metal album from the last couple years). Their guitarist is formerly of Richmond weed enthusiasts Cannabis Corpse, so he's definitely got the metal chops (and cred) that a lot of modern American black metal bands lack. Looking forward to the full-length.

Despite their ties to Neurosis, Battle of Mice, and the Red Sparowes, A Storm of Light were rarely as exciting on record as their pedigree invoke. It's still very much rooted in the axis of post-doom that Neurosis pioneered and Isis ran away with, but seeing as one of those bands is largely in hibernation and the other is broken up (for now), A Storm of Light have every opportunity to make a bid for their abandoned thrones. On their latest album they draw more from the kind of catchy heaviness you'd expect from Tool or the Deftones, which one could uncharitably label A Storm of Lite. But it mostly works, especially with the addition of Nerissa Campbell's haunting back up vocals.

At their best, Tombs' rhythmic assault is jarring and and assaulting in a way that recalls Mike Hill's former band Anodyne, except much heavier. Things start to get pear-shaped when they incorporate traditional black metal into their sound. As much as I am an unapologetic whore for unrelenting blasting, in Tombs' case it makes them sound stiff and uninteresting. They're better off with their slower material, where their pummeling makes them sound like an analogue Godflesh. There are times though, like on "Beneath the Toxic Jungle", when the two approaches come together brilliantly instead of just sitting next to each other uncomfortably. Still, even if they aren't the most thrilling black metal band, they're at least more convincingly dangerous than Liturgy or any of the other hipster black metal bands currently plaguing Brooklyn. Once they've figured out how to make their art match their blackened hearts, they'll be unstoppable.

Breakthru Radio Podcast on cassettes

My buddy Matt Lehtola at Break Thru Radio invited me and a couple friends to talk about cassette tapes and how the change from an analogue to digital medium has affected us. Of course, this was already an issue I like to rant about, so I jumped on it immediately.

Listen to the episode here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Maryland Death Fest Sunday 5-29-11

I skipped Saturday's line-up to recharge my batteries, returning to Baltimore on Sunday. The security staff confiscated the veggie stir-fry I packed for lunch, but were nice enough to let me keep my ibuprofen...though not before some good-natured ball-busting.
"What is this?"
"It's aspirin...Advil."
[Disbelieving look.]
"No, really."
"[Inspecting pill] It don't look like no aspirin I ever seen."
"It's the generic kind."
He gave me the bottle back. Most likely he looked at this rapidly aging hesher with the receding hairline and pear-shaped physique and figured I probably needed aspirin to get through an all-day metal fest. A question about writing my name on my stir-fry container was met with a dismissive, "Trust me, no one's going to want to eat it."

Repugnant might be the politest band to ever put a rotting corpse on a t-shirt: "Can I have a little vocal in the monitor? And maybe a bit of bass drum?...and a little of this guitar?" In 2011, the old school Swedish death metal revival was already becoming a little crowded, but Repugnant stood above the rest of the Johnny-come-latelies with their mix of Repulsion and Nihilist. Sadly, their time on the stage was too short, even if the crowd that assembled for them was too sparse. Or maybe they were saving their energy for later in the night...

This might have been the performance that finally sold America on Orange Goblin. Frontman Ben Ward made the most of his role as frontman, leading the crowd in chants, and hamming it up for a few (shockingly young) kids in the front row. Even the security guys were grooving along behind the barricade. Seeing the Goblin play their good-time doom metal with the sun setting behind them will remain my definition of the perfect Sunday afternoon for years to come.  

"I love Satan but I gotta see," vocalist Aimee Artz informed the lighting guys early into Bastard Noise 's set. Defying easy categorization, they may be the most progressive band of the line-up; their guitar-free, power-electronics driven rumbling makes me think of a cross between Harvey Milk and a particular localized earthquake. Watching a kid headbang to one of their noise interludes, I wondered if he was really that into it or having a seizure. Halfway into their set I decided to act my age and sit down. I've never missed the stadium seating at NY's Gramercy Theatre so much. At that point in the afternoon, I was flabbergasted by all the kids who went through the entire 3-day fest without any hearing protection. My brain turns to jelly just thinking about it.

I had time to check out the last 20 minutes of Nuclear Assault's set, but the chance to snag a sweet spot for Coroner was too much to pass up. For what it's worth, NA sounded good from my vantage point: all the way across the parking lot in front of the opposite stage. With Death Breath and Lock Up having dropped out of MDF on short notice, I was counting on Coroner to save the week-end for me. Coroner was a band I never thought I'd see, and I'm sure most of the audience felt the same. The band themselves seemed to regard their return with the same importance, with a gold drum set and gold lettering on their backdrop [my hopes for them coming out in gold lame suits were sadly dashed]. The setlist skewed heavily to the proggier material from their last album Grin, which brought home the fact that what may have seemed off-kilter and transgressive in 1993 is now merely quant; in that light, the three songs they played from their No More Color opus were greatly appreciated (and in truth, that's all I was there for).

With their downtuned riffs and catchy breakdowns, Wormed were as close as MDF got to traditional American brutal death metal - which is doubly surprising because a) I remember when American deathfests were crammed from top to bottom with that style, and b) Wormed are actually Spanish. It's to the organizer's credit that Wormed actually stood out that night. It wasn't enough to get me back on my aching feet, but I did rock back and forth in appreciation.

Well, they stood out until Last Days of Humanity got on stage. Even on the best of days, I have a low threshold for gurgling death metal, but after six straight hours of metal I grew increasingly annoyed - and that was before the glowsticks started flying around and a kid dressed as a Teletubby waded into the pit. They drew a sizable and enthusiastic crowd, but I would have traded my close vantage point for a quiet corner and a nap.

The drummer and guitarist from Repugnant came out to soundcheck for Ghost - multiple theories abound to why that is, but I was just happy that they got a little bit more time on stage after their cruelly short set. The excitement for Ghost was palpable - the crowd tried unsuccessfully to chant the band's name before settling for "Satan". When the band finally took the stage for their headlining set, the place exploded. In his bizarre (and dryly funny) stage performance, Papa Emeritus didn't say a word between songs. He may not have needed to sing a word either, as the audience had that pretty well covered. Exhausted as I was at that point, I was buoyed by the band's performance (much heavier live than on record) and the crowd's enthusiasm (where else will I find a couple hundred people to sing "Hear Our Satan Prayer"?) As wary as I am of hype, and the bands that ride that wave only to disappear without a trace a few years later, Ghost really captured 2011's zeitgeist (pun intended). 

And when it was over, I had to drag this sore, decrepit body to Baltimore's Penn Station. I hurried back to catch the last train to NY, and was followed by a crackhead for my troubles. She took the time to explain that she "wasn't no trick" before asking for a dollar. Thanks for the memories, Baltimore.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Maryland Death Fest Friday 5-27-11

Through the window of my Chinatown bus, I saw a man with holding up a sign that said "REPENT." There's been a spot in hell with my name on it since Slayer's Seasons in the Abyss caused the 15-year-old me to draw pentagrams and upside down crosses on everything that I owned, but I can't think a better start as I began my trip South of Heaven for a weekend packed with the devil's favourite music.

This was my first time attending the Maryland Death Fest; I missed previous years because of Grad school and lack of funds, but with neither of those things being an issue (at least during the week I purchased tickets) I committed to making the trek down to the Baltimore (hometown of both Wino and the Wire) for the 9th installment of the East Coast's best metal fest.

In truth, the major selling point for MDF was Death Breath and Lock Up, both of whom were originally scheduled to play on Sunday. The fact that both those bands dropped off was a huge blow to me, but even so, there were enough acts left that were on my "must see" list; and what better way to cross them off that list than one after another over a single week-end?

I had to skip Thursday due to work commitments, which conspired to keep me in NY an extra day. This was especially harsh as I got offered a free ticket by none other than Jason Hundee of the Requiem Podcast. Not only did I miss out on Cathedral and BuzzOv*en, but I also missed out on hanging out with the two best commentators on metal out there. Fuck.

I got to start my MDF experience with style, as I arrived on Friday afternoon just in time to catch Nails tear through their set, to a larger audience than I've ever seen them play. This was my third time in front of the Californian trio, and recently became a devoted fan after seeing them quell a near riot at Union Pool when overeager stage divers and overzealous security staff went head to head (power violence with peaceful hearts - quick, somebody stick that on a t-shirt!). At MDF, though, there was no quelling for them to do; though the room was still half empty, those present gave them a roaring response. It was good to see Nails on a big stage - hopefully in a few years, this will be the norm for them.

[Here's a fun drinking game: take a shot whenever I mention how many times I've seen a band before. You'll be fucked up in no time].

I've been pretty vocal about my feelings on thrash revivalism: I'm sick of it. But one thing I'm not sick of yet is pretty girls. And Nocturnal has by far the prettiest singer of any thrash band (and I can remember when they were all sort of pretty). As the first band to play outdoors that day, they were a magnet for everyone with a sleeveless denim jacket covered in patches. In truth, there wasn't much to them musically that sticks with me, though they did bring pleasant memories of early Kreator and Bathory. And theirs may be one of the few singers in all of metal who can wear tights without me complaining.

After taking an (in?)appropriate number of Nocturnal pictures, I headed inside to see Pulling Teeth, whose slow chunky hardcore quickly created a big empty hole for a handful of dedicated circle pit enthusiasts. Hometown crowd aside, I was surprised to see a hardcore band get this much love from heshers, but their real achievement was introducing a song as "realizing that eating and wearing animals is wrong" and still getting the deathfest crowd to love them.

I skipped Funebrarum, since I used to see them almost monthly back in the early 00's. I had no real reason to check them out except to see if their bassist was still rocking that skullet. Which is the only thing that they can claim to be ahead of the curve on. Their retro Bolt Thrower/Grave style of death metal may be somewhat in vogue these days, but it still wasn't all that enticing.

Instead I decided to claim a spot up front for Aura Noir, who were making their first Stateside appearance. Great minds must think alike, as I saw Dan Lilker hanging out behind the stage. Though he was there with Nuclear Assault (who were playing Sunday), he could probably fill a whole metalfest line-up with all the bands he's been in. Call it Lilkerfest; in these days of unfiltered nostalgia, someone better jump on that idea fast.

What is it about Norwegian bands and one-liners? Aura Noir's Apollyon has the best onstage banter this side of Abbath (no surprise, as he serves as Immortal's touring bassist). "We are Aura Noir...the ugliest band in the world. How's it sounding? Like shit? All right!" Later on in the set: "This song, like half our songs, is about hell!"

Truth is, I don't know why I was so excited to see Aura Noir, besides a vague hope that Mayhem's Blasphemer would be playing with them (he wasn't). Aura Noir were part of the original wave of retro thrash that filtered through the Norwegian black metal scene in the mid-to-late 90's. Perhaps my tolerance for their version of thrash nostalgia stems from the fact that they don't romanticize the old days - their warts-and-all version of thrash is clearly based on the fact that Sodom and Destruction were NOT the greatest of musicians or songwriters. Even so, Aura Noir put on a hell of a show, and powered by the drummer from Obliteration (one of the few bands making the retro thing interesting) they put on one of the best sets at Death Fest.

Credit to the sound indoor at the Sonar, even grind bands sounded crisp. I stopped by to see Machetazo tear it up with their primitive brutal grind. A nice throwback to the early days of grind - if only Lee Dorrian could have made an appearance to see himself outdone by the only singing drummer more evil than Phil Collins. Though I suppose, if Lee were around that day, he would have bailed like me to get a good spot for Corrosion of Conformity.

How many Corrosion of Conformity fans were wondering, "What happened to Pepper Keenan? Did Reed Mullin eat him?" Of course, Pepper is missing from the current version of C.O.C., explaining the notable lack of any of the Deliverance/Wiseblood material. Which is a shame, as my favourite songs came from that period - the fact that I finally got to see C.O.C. but was deprived of "Clean My Wounds," "Albatross," and "Pearls Before Swine" was a huge disappointment. Still, there's no denying that even before Keenan was in the band, they were on their way to being legendary. They did everything before practically anyone else - played hardcore, discovered metal, slowed down, got seduced by major label greenbacks, wandered lost through the dregs of the music industry, before finding their way back to their roots.

But the old Animosity-era material lacked the punch and fury it once had. Whereas the recorded versions of "Mad World" and "Holier" are of a young band thrashing as if their lives depended on it, on that Friday afternoon in Baltimore, C.O.C. were a band divorced from the era that created them, playing old standards the way any classic rock band would. And though I can't deny feeling a twinge of nostalgia at finally seeing a band I spent so many nights in high school listening to, it was a none-too-subtle reminder that for all these attempts to package and re-sell our past, most of us really can't go back again.

I ducked inside the Sonar again to catch Italian grind veterans Cripple Bastards, who I once was supposed to see at ABC No Rio back in 2002, before the promoter Ned pulled them off the bill over a completely NSFW piece of album artwork. I remember the reasoning at the time was that the club was that the artwork was "promoting rape" and that was something ABC No Rio couldn't condone. Frankly, I'm actually on the side of Ned on this one - I think it's bullshit for an artist to do something provocative and then whine when people get provoked. But I wonder what the ABC folks would have made of the numerous young girls who were dancing with abandon to Cripple Bastards. One of them told me that Cripple Bastards was the reason she came to MDF. I wish I could have interviewed her in depth and gotten her opinions on the album cover, but I was paranoid about getting to the front of Outdoor Stage Two to see Neurosis, and left midway through the Bastard's set.

As it turns out, I needn't have worried. Rain delayed Neurosis set (leading to numerous jokes about being "In the Eye of Every Storm"). Given their frustration, the crowd was remarkably patient, though one girl in front of me took to repeatedly screaming "JUST PLAY ALREADY!" ("No more bourbon for you, sweetie," was her friend's response).

But once the rain stopped and their tent was no longer in danger of falling on top of them,they starting off with "A Sun That Never Sets", which sent the entire crowd pulsing forward in one huge surging wave.

That night was Neurosis at their apocalyptic best - with lightning tearing up the sky throughout their set, it really was like hearing the soundtrack to the end of the world. The last time I saw Neurosis was 11 years ago, shortly after Times of Grace was released. I had previously seen them at a Relapse-sponsored CMJ show, where they played that same (then unreleased) album from beginning to end. What started off that night as a raucous metal show ended up with a couple hundred people shuffling out forlornly, beaten down through the oppressive weight that Neurosis cast upon them. It wasn't that way at Maryland Deathfest, though: the crowd was probably the most enervated they'd been all week-end. Even the drum circle at the end of the set started a moshpit. I had a hard time getting shots while being jostled back and forth; I probably would have had a better chance if I used the flash on my camera, but watching Scott Kelly roar at a photographer in the front row "NO FUCKING FLASH!" made me reconsider. I'm fairly certain this is a guy who'd throw his guitar down to smash my camera and/or face.

Kylesa started immediately after Neurosis; though it had only been about 6 months since I'd seen them when they played NY, they sounded significantly more impressive. "Running Red" got the fists in the air of nearly everyone at the front of the stage (including the security guys!), and Laura Pleasants' vocals on "Forsaken" and "Tired Climb" have never sounded more haunting. Credit to the sound at the Sonar, I'm sure. Having to play right after Neurosis and ending their set with a round tribal drumming was kind of unfortunate, as it underscored that amazing performance aside, Kylesa still followed the Oakland collective too closely, in more ways than one.

Exhumed took to the stage next and played their first show in 6 years like they owned the festival. After their first song they held their guitars up high to let all before them know what their mission was: GORE! FUCKIN! METAL! It was especially great to see Murder Construct/ex-Impaled guitarist Leon Del Muerte on stage with them. I hadn't seen him live since Impaled toured with Origin back in 2000. Like Impaled, Exhumed are the epitome of a good time grindcore band. It was a headliner-worthy performance, filled with chainsaws, thrashy grind, and the confidence of a veteran band taking back their throne. It ended as it should have: the stage covered in blood, and band leader Matt Harvey's arms raised in triumph, severed head in hand. "This Axe Was Made to Grind", indeed.

Marduk was left with the daunting tasks of following Exhumed and closing out MDF's Friday night. Truth be told, the only Marduk albums I really make time for are Nightwing and Panzer Division Marduk, neither of which featured prominently in the setlist. Not that their set was particularly long: Due to the time it took them to get their corpsepaint on, Marduk was left with about half of what they expected to play ("I don't want to be that guy, but this venue has a strict 1:45 AM curfew," the soundguy deadpanned while the band was still getting ready). This may have been to the band's benefit, as their style of unrelenting black metal is most effective in small doses. At this point I was pretty exhausted, and spent most of the set leaning on the people in front of me to keep upright. Though somewhat anti-climactic after Exhumed's triumphant return, it was an appropriately blasphemous end to a day of death, gore, and doom.

Next: Sweden saves Sunday with Repugnant and Ghost.