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Death Metal; ironically, as the popularity of melodic death metal bands like In Flames and At the Gates superseded that of older death metal bands, Dismember found themselves embraced by that audience as well.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.