Sunday, January 30, 2011

Kylesa, Rosetta, Fight Amp @ Santos - 1.26.2011

Boy was this a night to be a balding pearshaped metalhead in your thirties. Especially if you have a propensity for beards and horned rimmed glasses. You know what I'm talking about: HIPSTER METAL. The term actually makes me kind of sick, even if I do listen to a lot of those bands. Therefore, I suggest a new term for Baroness, Kylesa, and the like: The New Wave of Heavy Indie Rock. See? No more accusations of who's "troo" and who's not. Besides, the sensibilities of the bands in the "hipster metal" oeuvre match up better with 90's post-punk and alt rock bands than any period of metal, except maybe the 70's (and let's face it, punks and indie kids were always more partial to Motorhead and Sabbath than the likes of Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel).

I got in late, so I only caught the very end of the opening band, NJ's East of the Wall. A brief Youtube search shows that all I missed was more shoegaze/doom rock hybridization. Meh. I still have 3 Baroness albums that I keep promising myself I'll listen to, so East of the Wall will have to wait.

If I had to describe Fight Amp in one word, the word I'd use is "Unsane". And you should too, as the influence is fairly obvious. Of course, I have no problems with this as Unsane are one of the most under-appreciated bands in heavy music. Fight Amp are largely lacking Unsane's sheer abrasiveness, but successfully channel their rhythmic sensibilities. Hell, if even Entombed wanted to be Unsane for an album, who can blame these guys?

Rosetta were a revelation to me. Though I'm mostly bored with this type of earth shaking post-metal, Rosetta remind me of the best band in the style whose name doesn't end with "sis": Sweden's mighty Cult of Luna. Like Cult of Luna, Rosetta put their effects racks and echo pedals to maximum hypnotic evil use, before bringing the hammer down with huge waves of crushing sound. Though I couldn't hear a thing the vocalist was doing, his enthusiasm was laudable, and possibly the most thrilling performance of the night. Definitely a band I want to hear more of.

Credit to Kylesa for nearly filling up Santos Party House on the night of the much talked about "Thundersnow." I guess their music really strikes a chord with people. On their most recent album, they've taken their indie influence farther than they have before - some songs sound like Igor Cavalera jamming with My Bloody Valentine. Why they need two drummers to achieve this is beyond me, but the parts where all the band members started banging on drums made me wonder whether Sepultura are getting the appropriate royalties.

There were moments during Kylesa's set when I wondered how much of their appeal to the indie crowd was nostalgia for the days of Alt Rock past. As far as female singers go, Laura Pleasants certainly seems more Courtney Love than Angela Gossow, and the direction they've taken on Spiral Shadows is overly reminiscent of the fuzzed out sound of Seattle. Which leads me to believe that Kylesa (and indeed, most "hipster"/"post" metal bands) really belong more with indie rock than metal. Certainly at no point in their set do they reach the apocalyptic heaviness of Neurosis, or the sheer caveman barbarity of High on Fire or early Mastodon. Not that they're any worse for it; after years of metal bands watering down their severity to appeal to other audiences, it is nice to hear a band err on the side of heaviness even if their interests may lie elsewhere.

Open Casket

The best feature in Decibel from month to month is its "Hall of Fame;" though the bands they choose are sometimes questionable (the Jesus Lizard?...really?), it's always fascinating to delve into the personalities involved in creating these classic records.

With Chuck Schuldiner gone, Death will unfortunately never get their HoF due. Though those articles would be largely redundant anyways. Which Death album is essential? That's easy: All of them, stupid.

The other unfortunate aspect of appraising the works of a dead mastermind is that you'll never get a chance to ask him what it all meant, and are forced to rely on the memories of ex-bandmates and family members. Credit to Decibel's Chris Dick for attempting to paint a nuanced portrait of such a legendary and at times controversial figure. In "Chuck Schuldiner's Death World Exclusive 12-Page Oral History" (an appropriately convoluted title considering Death's tech/prog leanings), "Evil Chuck" mostly comes off as an amicable if sometimes headstrong personality. There are brief mentions of his "personal problems," but frustratingly no attempt to illuminate what those might have been.

A facet of Chuck's personality and attitudes towards collaboration that repeatedly comes up was his tendency to ditch bandmates and start Death all over again from scratch. This hits home for a lot of reasons. Sometimes vision and collaboration come at odd ends. True leadership is knowing when to listen to suggestions and when to ignore them. And sometimes you have to leave salted earth behind you and plant somewhere else.

I guess if I learned one thing from this article, it's that even though Chuck Schuldiner was responsible for taking death metal and twisting it into its present form, he mostly wasn't a dick about it. We miss you, Evil Chuck.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Weekdays with Digby 2

Dig's Facebook page is the gift that keeps on giving. He posted a December Wolves song with this pouting tag:

Earache did 2 albums by these in 1998. Nobody cared much. Brian (guitar) later formed Trap Them. 

For the record, I did buy the first December Wolves album...used, for about $5, but still. They were an odd band, but definitely worth checking out. I think they were hurt by the stigma against USBM at the time (most of the black metal bands coming out Stateside in the 90's were either musically inept or spouting some kind of Nazi ideology). On the plus side, they were signed to Wicked World, the Earache subsidiary that also had Berzerker and Decapitated, which seemed to signify Dig's recommitment to extreme metal (and the end of his torrid 90's love affair with terrible, terrible house music). Anyways, good to know that those guys are still around as Trap Them, and that Trap Them actually have some solid metal cred.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Behemoth's Nergal makes cancer his bitch

Behemoth mastermind, Luciferian philosopher, and all around ubermensch Nergal is apparently on the road to recovery from his recent battle with leukemia. From Behemoth's Facebook page:

We are happy and relieved to inform you, that Nergal left the hematology division of Uniwersyteckie Centrum Kliniczne (UCK) in Gdansk on Monday, January 17th, four weeks after he underwent a bone marrow transplant procedure. Below you can find his comment:

"Hey! What's up! At last – one could say. After almost half a year of treatment in various hospitals, several cycles of chemotherapy, irradiation and a bone marrow transplant, I have been finally released home in a pretty fuckin' good condition. I'm feeling ok, taking the intensity of treatment under consideration. That was not an easy period of my life, but, as I envisioned, I left the hospital victorious. I never considered any other options, but anyway, there were rough moments too… At this point I must express my thanks to the people who made all of those downs fairly bearable. My parents – thank you. You deserve a monument for all your love and patience. Dorotka, thank you for your heroic attitude, love and support. I can't forget Doda's fans, who made a gigantic effort for me and other ill people. You rule! Absolutely fantastic Behemoth fans from all over the world were organizing various events to make people aware of what leukemia is. To all of you out there - my deepest respect! Thank you – the real heroes - Prof. Hellmann, Dr. Piekarska, Dr. Knopinska, Doc. Giebel, Prof. Hołowiecki and all the nurses of the hematology division of the Medical Academy in Gdansk and the Oncology Clinic in Gliwice for all the professionalism and great hearts. My band mates for all the friendship and never-ending support. All my friends for sticking to me throughout the whole period of my illness. The list is too long to mention you all, but remember, you have special place in my heart."

Nergal will now go through a recovery which will last for several months. During this time he will stay in his flat in one of the Gdansk's districts.

"Although the whole treatment went really good, as well as the bone marrow transplant and the post-transplant period, the next several months is the time when I must really take care of myself. Of course I will have plenty of time to recover, think about the strategy and my return to the stage – which approaches imminently (laughs). First of all however I must rebuild my physical condition… apart from that, I hunger for playing, I haven't been playing the guitar for a half of year now! Really much to catch up, but also a huge motivation and a desire to work again at the same time. This year will be a really important one for me and the band!"

FUCK. YEAH. Clearly the dark lord decided that Nergal had too much important work left undone to be taken away just yet. In celebration, here's the man himself getting his Nietsche on:

Weekdays with Digby

So one of the wonders of Facebook is I get to be "friends" with legendary music figures, like Earache founder Digby Pearson. Apparently, the man who started the very first death and grindcore label has nothing better to do than paste Youtube links all day. This explains how second tier deathcore bands like Oceano got signed. Maybe Earache really was better when Dig answered the phones.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

If metal bands were MMA fighters

One of my favourite writers is Ben Fowlkes, who covers MMA for Sports Illustrated, and his articles have gotten me thinking about what would happen if we started rating metal bands like we did professional fighters. So in homage to Fowlkes, here are some highly anticipated bands releasing albums in 2011, their fight records (as judged by the quality of their actual recordings) and what they can do to get to the top of the rankings.

Weight Class: Heavyweight
Record: 13-0 (studio albums only)
The undisputed champions and creators of grindcore, Napalm Death are the Gracie family of extreme metal; the band who ushered in a new era for metal and changed the rulebook on how it was played. Napalm have been on a hot streak for the last 10 years, with 5 exemplary albums from 2000's Enemy of the Music Business to 2009's Time Waits for No Slave re-establishing their dominance of the genre, and yet without abandoning the experimentation that made them so unpredictable in the 90's. With a new album in production, the odds are that Napalm will deliver another definitive statement on why they're so highly revered.

Weight Class: Light Heavyweight
Record: 5-0
The best Swedish black metal band since Dissection, Naglfar have been working slowly yet steadily to make their presence felt as one of the top-tier bands of the genre. Though they have a reputation of straying a little too close to the commercial side of black metal, one can hardly argue with the results: Harvest, one of my top ten albums from 2007, is an absolute beast of an album, one that perfectly balances Naglfar's flair for catchy tunes with blackened perfection. If they can follow it up with more of the same (without having it sound like just more of the same), their place at the top of the totem pole may finally be secured.

Weight Class: Heavyweight
Record: 5-4
The previous decade was not kind to Deicide. Starting with 2000's bafflingly groove-oriented Insineratehymn, Deicide released a string of uninspiring albums that made it hard to remember why they were such an awe-inspiring force in the early years of death metal. But 2006's The Stench of Redemption was a complete reversal from all that, a jaw-dropping display of melodic virtuosity seemingly on loan from Glen Benton's other band, Vital Remains - only delivered in blistering 3-4 minute pockets. Unfortunately, their most recent album, Til Death Do Us Part, was a Deicide-by-numbers release in which most of that excitement evaporated. Here's hoping that Glen and the boys have learned their lesson, and that the upcoming To Hell With God - out in March - will re-establish them in the ranks as death metal top contenders.

Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 2-0, 1 NC (the unreleased Portal demo from 1996)
No band risked their legacy more with a reunion than Cynic; their 1993 album Focus was almost immediately considered a death metal classic, signaling a shift in death metal attitudes from pure brutality to musical maturity and a fearless love for melody and experimentation. No less than death metal cornerstone Chuck Schuldiner championed the album, and Cynic's influence went on to colour the last 4 albums of his career. So when they announced Traced in Air, their first new album in 15 years, the potential for tarnishing their good name was high. Thankfully, Traced was an absolute masterpiece, a stellar example of how to write progressive death metal that's actually listenable, and an album that may actually eclipse their debut. How their third album, tentatively scheduled for Summer 2011, can compete with that is unclear, but there are few things I'm looking forward to more in the coming months.

Weight Class: Middleweight
Record: 8-3
No band's decline has been more painful for me to experience than Sepultura's, as they singlehandedly dragged me into the underground. Since Max Cavalera's departure in 1996, what was once the most important band in metal has been losing ground with a series of somewhat interesting but not necessarily great albums, the nadir of which was 2009's A-Lex, a pointless concept album that lacked conviction and seemingly tried to be all things to all people. The absence of drummer Igor Cavalera does not bode well for Sepultura, who haven't been relevant in almost 15 years. Just as MMA legend Chuck Liddell was forced to retire following a series of brutal losses, Andreas Kisser and Paulo Junior should be urged to put the Sepultura name to rest until the inevitable reunion with Max and Igor. Otherwise, they run the risk of permanently ruining one of the most important institutions in metal.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Of Wolves and Dogs

I probably spend more time than I should obsessing about whether a band is "true;" ever since I first got into this music, there was always some kind of "heavy" corporate rock that I wouldn't abide being considered metal. Glam rock, grunge, nu-metal, metalcore, and now so-called hipster metal bands have all been chastised by snobs like me for not being heavy enough. But the line between "true" and "false" metal keeps getting thinner, as the mainstream becomes more accepting of heavier and heavier bands; there's no doubt that bands like Saviours or As I Lay Dying would have passed 15 years ago, but that's not good enough now. So where do you draw the line? What's to determine who's true and who's posing?

For me it's always been a gut feeling that I couldn't put into words, until today. The difference between "true" and "false' metal is the difference between wolves and dogs. Wolves have to hunt for their food, dogs simply eat what's placed in front of them. It's the difference between liking whatever's on MTV, or tracking down on your own through esoteric zines, blogs, and podcasts. And like wolves, "true" metalheads will tear apart anything that's different, that doesn't smell like one of the pack. Trendy. Poseur. Hipster.

So the next time someone asks me why I'm not into the Sword or Baroness, I'll tell them it's because while they may sound metal, and they may look metal, they sure don't smell metal.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

5 Albums That I Wish Came to Me in the Middle of 2010

Every year I get a few albums that blow my mind and make me wish I heard them when they came out. Here are 5 albums that may have been on my top ten of 2010 if I got them in June instead of December.

Winterfylleth - The Mercian Sphere
Maybe it's just as well that I only found this at the very end of the year, as snow blankets everything around me and the winds make my apartment sway. Winterfylleth, a four-piece from Manchester, England, play black metal but eschew everything that other British black metal bands have become [in]famous for. No gothic keyboards, no dinner theatre Satanism, no fancy get-ups. Instead, they fall in line with other folk-influenced bands like Wolves in the Throneroom and Drudkh, while having the occasional yodeling Enslaved moment. Definitely an album that I plan on spending a lot of time with while my city thaws itself out.

Laethora - The Light In Which We All Burn
Featuring Niklas Sundin of the mighty Dark Tranquility, it's baffling to me how I didn't discover this band sooner. The DT connection is misleading, however, as Laethora's mission statement is "grime, filth and uproar," with only traces of Gothenberg's signature melodicism. It's not pretty, but it is epic, and considering the talent behind it, Laethora is already my favourite obscure band to name drop.

Grave Desecrator - Insult
After seeing the words "Brazilian" and "death metal" together, I jumped all over this, and was not disappointed. Insult is the best kind of retro album: one that actually sounds like it was written and recorded in 1986. Imagine a band who'd fit on the flip side of Sepultura's epic (and under-rated) debut Morbid Visions; throw in a little of Scream Bloody Gore-era Death, and you've got Grave Desecrator. Their moniker is a total misfire though; even in this time of instant nostalgia, I can't think of a single band who dug up the past with more care and reverence than these dudes. This is the blasting death metal album I spent all year waiting for.

Tryptikon - Eparistera Daimones
Now that I'm no longer buying metal magazines, I really have no clue what's going on outside my own little hesher orbit. Oh, how foolish I felt when I discovered that the Tryptikon that I dismissed as more hipster poseurdom was actually Tom "OG" Warrior's follow-up to the mesmerizingly heavy Monotheist album. I was completely clueless that the Celtic Frost mainman had a new band, and this album (and the US tour to support it) completely passed me by. It only came to my attention when it was on every metal "best of the year list". Some catching up is definitely in order, but my first impression is how much of an impression Sepultura must have left on Tom Warrior; there is a definite similarity between their mid-90's classics and Eparistera Daimones in terms guitar tone and style that makes Tryptikon more than just old-timers rehashing their glory days. Speaking of which...

Sodom - In War and Pieces
Sodom are a band who I somehow only manage to check out every other album; partially because they're so damn prolific that I really can't keep up, and partially because their albums all sort of sound the same. But In War and Pieces is a perfect end to a pretty good decade for Sodom, and Deutschthrash in general. Maybe it's the deluge of new thrash bands, but something has lit a fire under Onkel Tom and friends, as they haven't sounded this good since 1999's Code Red. Another few months with it, and IWAP may join Persecution Mania as my go-to Sodom record.


WarAnimal are three kids from Portland, Maine, who have a habit of singing their own band name in their songs. I saw them a couple nights ago at a basement show in Brooklyn, sharing a bill with Acid Tiger and Canada's Barnburner. I can't say they're the tightest or most original band, but they won me (and the 8 other people who stuck around) over with their enthusiastic mix of Motorhead, crust punk, and Killers-era Maiden. And for the low, low price of $6.66 I got the most lovingly handcrafted and environmentally friendly cd packaging I've ever seen for a metal band.

Everything you need to know here.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


I've been bugging Jason from the Requiem Metal Podcast about doing an Unanimated show for the last 6 months. Well, you can't say those guys don't deliver: Not only is it their first show of the year, but I get an "Executive Producer" credit and THEY PLUGGED MY CARTOON CHODEGA!

Check it out here.