Thursday, May 26, 2011

Converge with Trap Them and Burning Love, 5.25.11

Embarrassing confession: in all the time that I've lived in NYC, averaging at least one show a week, I've somehow never been to a Converge concert. I'm not sure how that happened; certainly, their two landmark albums (When Forever Comes Crashing and Jane Doe) were released while I was here, and I was definitely a Converge fan at that point. But for whatever reason - school work, lack of money, conflicting shows - I just never got to see them. So when this show at Santos was announced I was absolutely resolved that I wouldn't miss them.

The amount of dejected kids who were loitering outside Santos hoping to score an extra ticket vaguely resembled a refugee camp; I've never felt more velvet rope worthy as I sailed past them with my online ticket print-out and got patted down by, count them, 2 female security staff. [Take your time ladies, take your time.]

Psychic Limb were finishing up their set as I walked in; the sheer volume of the band was commendable, but their somewhat unimaginative version of power violence got old quick. The 15 minutes that I caught was still 10 minutes too long.

Burning Love are the essence of this new wave of American Heavy Indie Rock - too indulgent to be a punk band, not savage enough to qualify as metal. They've got the chops, but as singer Chris threw himself around the stage, waded into the crowd to start a moshpit, and crawled over the left side monitors, I wished that I was seeing his old band, the mighty Cursed. Cursed, after all, were way ahead of the curve when it came to bands injecting the Sunlight Studios sound into American hardcore. The Kyuss-meets-Stooges swagger of Burning Love certainly won over most of the crowd, but I'm still reeling at the idea of a Converge/Trap Them/Cursed tour. Tack Black Breath on that bill, and you could get distortion pedal manufacturer Boss to sponsor it. Call it the HM-2 Revival Tour.

Like Converge, Trap Them are a band I've been meaning to see live and somehow never managed to catch (they make reference to their tour supporting Napalm Death back in 2009, where "5 people showed up" - I arrived at that show minutes after they finished playing their set, FML). They make good use of that gnarly Swedish sound, injecting it into their fist-baiting hardcore without sounding overly indebted to it. They're the first band of the night to actually rival the headliners in terms of sheer brutality, and a reminder of what I've been missing the last couple years.

Some bands play in a genre, and some define their genre; Refused may have boasted about being "The Shape of Punk to Come", but Converge embodied it from the beginning, colliding blistering hardcore with Jesus Lizard skronk, and Slayeresque riffs. Fittingly, every band member seems to have been culled from a different type of band - Karl Buechner's flat top haircut and camo pants recall Earth Crisis circa 95, audience shout-alongs and all; bassist Nate Newton whirls around the stage like a heavy metal dervish; drummer Ben Koller looks like a cross between Bruce Dickinson and Henry Rollins circa 1985, grinning like a maniac all the while; and through it all the ever collected Kurt Ballou's serpentine guitar lines tie the chaos together.

The headliners throw themselves with abandon into every chord and every riff, and the crowd's response verges on becoming an indoor riot. Buechner thanks the audience for their enthusiasm, stating "Punk rock and hardcore are a dying art." Which, arguably, is due to a generation of hardcore bands that abandoned the hardcore punk template in favour of slow chunky metal breakdowns and blistering thrash riffs, both of which Converge has been guilty of, if not largely responsible for making popular. But though their music may not fit easily into the old templates, their work ethic and DIY mentality is as punk rock as anything that's been released on Alternative Tentacles or SST.

The foursome transcend any genre that may have influenced them; it's hard to say that they belong more to hardcore than metal, indie, noise rock, etc. More than the sum of their influences, Converge are just Converge. Glad I finally got to see them.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Miasmal @the Acheron, 5.23.2011

More than any of the recent surge of Swedish bands paying tribute to the golden days of Stockholm death metal, Miasmal's self-titled album captures the sound of early Nihilist and Carnage perfectly - mostly through a production that really does like a demo (their actual demo recordings are included at the end, and the sound quality is at times preferable). Not subway friendly listening.

Verisimilitude aside, Miasmal would benefit from a clearer and punchier sound, one that brings their power to the forefront without sacrificing their primitive leanings (see the last Repugnant album, which sounds like a long lost brother to Repulsion's classic Horrified sessions, grimy but never descending into vacuum cleaner droning).

A couple days before their first real introduction to American audiences at Maryland Death Fest, Miasmal played a small show at Brooklyn hole-in-the-wall Acheron. The sound in that venue is kind of terrible, and every set felt like listening to a boombox lodged in an AC vent, but whatever. I wasn't able to catch Miasmal at MDF and so wasn't going to miss the opportunity to watch them fuck shit up on my home turf.

Their live set took no prisoners, and sealed the deal with a full-throttle cover of Entombed's "Serpent Speech" (which apparently I alone recognized). I returned home with a sore neck and two Miasmal shirts. My only regret is that I wouldn't be able to catch their MDF set. Here's hoping they get an opening spot for one of their more prominent countrymen - a Dismember/Miasmal tour would make heads explode.

Friday, May 6, 2011

An Evening With Amon Amarth - 5-5-11

And so t'was on a balmy Thor's Day that the Best Buy Theater hosted "An Evening With Amon Amarth." A tide of excitement has definitely risen to buoy Sweden's leading exponents of Viking Death Metal (though Unleashed may dispute that particular platitude). So much so that the band are touring by themselves to promote their latest release, Surtur Rising, and playing two sets a night: The first set featuring the album in its entirety, and the second devised of a more traditional "greatest hits" live show.

It's a bold move for a band at Amon Amarth's level to embark on solo tour; clearly they (and their label, Metal Blade) have high hopes for the new release. Personally, I find the album to be unremarkable, and am not impressed by the band recycling ideas without bettering them. The exception being the epic opening track, which to these cynical ears ranks among the best that the band has released thus far. Can Amon Amarth claim their place among metal's elite on the strength of one song? If the crowd present tonight is any indication, then they've got the zeitgeist on their side; at any rate, vikings were nothing if not daring.

It has to be said, though, Amon Amarth hardly resemble the bloodthirsty vikings of history, and are more like the cuddly rendition seen in Asterix comics. Indeed, that explains much of their appeal to the young audience. Frontman Johan Hegg in particular is a lovable ham, happy to engage the crowd in banter about beer, beards, and the upcoming Thor movie (Amon Amarth are "very excited to see it," natch).

And so the band played their newest album from beginning to end, to the initial delight of their adoring audience. I was hoping that Surtur Rising would be more appealing live; it's not, and the crowd's enthusiasm noticeably lagged midway through the set. But after a short "beer drinking" break, it became clear what those assembled really wanted to hear: the second set (drawn mostly from the previous two albums, With Oden On Our Side and Twilight of the Thunder God) sent the assembled faithful into full-on madness; one dude at my side even had tears streaming down his face (bonus points to the kid who dressed up as Thor and raised his plastic hammer during every song break).

Disappointing album aside, it's hard not to root for these guys; as Hegg pointed out, they're coming up on 2 decades as a band, and have attained success the right way, through endless touring, hard work, and mutual love between fans and band. These guys have built up enough momentum over the last 5 years that even a dud release couldn't stop them. And it's not like they'd even hear critics like me over the roaring approval of their thousands of new fans.