Sunday, December 30, 2012

KL Death Devastation 12.29.2012

As much as I enjoy crust, grind, and avant shows, it was nice to finally hesh out at a full-on metal gig at Rumah Api. As pointed out to me by my buddy Metal Mike (president of the Atomicdeath and Sarjan Hassan fanclubs) the show was scheduled to run from "3 pm - Mental Funeral." Malaysia being Malaysia, I took only half of that seriously, showing up close to 8 pm and expecting mental funeral to happen before midnight.

Black Abyss were certainly "on that upside down cross dick," as the vocalist from Pretty Mouth memorably puts it, with multiple satanic symbols painted on their bodies. Not sure if that's really scandalous or blasphemous in a Muslim country [ol' JC is a pretty safe target here in Malaysia, where his followers number less than 10% of the population...just saying.] The plastic bullets on the singer's strap were a pretty good metaphor for the band: looking dangerous isn't the same as actually being dangerous.

If a venue's sound can be accused of prejudice, then Rumah Api's is definitely biased towards grind trios over 5-piece death metal bands. Hellghast from Singapore suffered through a muddy sound drenched with feedback and their guitars cutting out. What was discernable (besides a Vomitory cover) was death metal that's solidly in the old school vein, with hints of Swedish melody. Also noteworthy during their set: Faiz from Atomicdeath headbanging with a tote bag under his arm. Truly a "jejeje" moment.

Sandwiched between local heroes and visiting foreigners, and without a spot of panda makeup on them, there was the possibility that Succubus could have gotten lost in the cracks. With two of their members wearing Merciless shirts, and highlighting a Merciless cover in their set, there's no overthinking who or what they're trying to sound like. They've tightened up considerably since the first time I saw them and, powered by one of the best drummers in the scene, are already drawing a healthy buzz. Not bad for their third show ever.

Printing up shirts just for their 5 date Malaysian tour was a clear sign that Angelholocaust were excited to be in Malaysia; what's not clear is whether Malaysia was excited in return. The audience's standoffishness was unfortunate, but understandable: strange, dischordant black metal in the vein of Von or Beherit triggers more furrowed brows than banged heads. I can't say what they were doing is my thing; but I also can't say I entirely understood what they were doing. I did buy a shirt though.

Lavatory were the recent recipient of a harsh review in Terrorizer, which took a bat to the band saying they "have little to offer in the way of fresh ideas or interesting, leftfield spins on the music of their heroes." Ouch. While I myself have lost interest in new bands jumping onto the Stockholm bandwagon (I avoid old school fetishism in general), I have to say that Lavatory are nowhere near as bad or generic as that review makes them seem. Mixing Entombed, Dismember and Carcass certainly doesn't seem like much on paper, but they have the songs to back it up. That night, the vocals were reverbed to an unnecessary degree, possibly not just singing about Stranger Aeons but from them as well. They've got the chops and stage presence to make them a big deal in the region, but finding an identity separate from their heroes is in their best interests.

This wasn't the first time Argentinians Infernal Curse played South East Asia; I can't imagine touring the region is either cheap or easy for a band from South America, but being a two piece (with a member of Angelholocaust filling in on bass) certainly eases the logistics of travelling. Their records make them sound like the world's most satan-loving vacuum cleaner, but live (that night at least) they were simple and to the point, with their guitar tone had the hyper compressed tone of early Deicide. Throwing Sepultura's "Antichrist" into their set vindicated my suspicion that South American bands exist in a timewarp oblivious to any metal after 1987. There's an authenticity to Infernal Corpse that's hard to explain; but you don't travel half-way around the world to play primitive black metal unless you live for the stuff. Hope they come back soon.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Pretty Mouth Interview

One of the more interesting - and irate - hardcore records I heard in 2012 was Pretty Mouth's Men of the Tie, Men of the Cloth, Men of the Lie. Considering the incendiary lyrics, I figured this was a band that had a lot to get off their chests. I fired off ten questions to the band, and vocalist Lance Marwood did not disappoint with his responses. Strap yourself in, dude's got something to say:

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Bandcamp Picks: In the Company of Serpents, Necronomicon, War Wolf, Trench

Released at the beginning of 2012, the self-titled debut of In the Company of Serpents slipped way under my radar; I'm glad it found me before the year was over. This is excellent doom metal, walking solidly in Sleep's footsteps. Available as a digital download for $5, and worth every penny. [Note: Though it's not on the Bandcamp page, the album comes with a cover of Electric Wizard's "Vinum Sabbathi."]

I could have been fooled into thinking that Necronomicon's The Queen of Death was recorded in the 70's, and only unearthed now. The Brazilian trio do the proto-Sabbath "occult rock" thing, and from the bassy production, to the psychedelic keyboards, to the vocals, they have the style down pat. I usually wrinkle my nose at retro fetishists (looking at you, thrashers in white sneakers), but I have to respect the lengths to which Necronomicon went for authenticity. And since it's free, this six song EP is almost compulsory for fans of the style. Black light poster not included, sadly.

War Wolf might be Britain's answer to Trap Them, as Riding With Demons finds the three-piece putting HM2 pedals to good use in the service of vein-popping, Entombed-loving hardcore. [As an aside, have War Wolf met Waranimal? That's a tour that needs to happen.] Available as a "name your price" download, these 8 songs are recommended for any HC kid with a case of the Wolverine Blues.

Further evidence that Canadians are really angry these days is the self-titled EP by Trench. Produced by Fuck the Facts' Topon Das, this four-song EP is feedback-drenched metallic hardcore in the Converge vein, and available as a "name your price" download. [Also available on Bandcamp and worth checking out: the EP and demo that Trench released under their previous, wisely abandoned name The Gillingham Fire Demonstration.]

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Not A Fest III - Vaz, the Vaginors, Apparatus and more 12.16.2012

...a uniquely eclectic installment of Ci Chaan's monthly Not A Fest shows, held for the first time at the Black Box venue in KL's upscale Publika mall. I'd been to the Black Box once before, when Tools of the Trade were getting ready for their first European tour. Though a few people mentioned to me they preferred the intimacy of Rumah Api, seeing a show at the Black Box was a refreshing change. I'm sure all the drummers that evening appreciated the fancy Premiere drumset that was leased for their benefit.

The show started late - because of course it did - a fact that multiple people seemed to delight in pointing out to me, possibly just to see my reaction. It's clear that my constant harping on Malaysian tardiness has been noticed; it's also clear that none of it makes any difference. At this point all I can do is shrug it off. For once I was able to turn it to my advantage: wandering around the swanky mall, I found an upscale supermarket that makes fresh bagels every day. Real, honest to goodness, freshly-baked bagels: my Malaysian white whale. I snapped up the few they had left and made a mental note to return every chance I get. Now I just need to find a place that sells Tofutti cream cheese and breakfast will officially be a thing again.

The Abang Guard took the stage to signal the beginning of the event with their version of sax-led experimental rock. The band may not consider themselves either punk or metal, but there was something about them that brought Zeni Geva to mind, only with a tenor sax taking the place of the guitar. It had to be said, despite being their most notable feature, the sax was mostly buried for most of their set, peeking (and peaking) only slightly from the under the bass and drums. Their set seemed to be mostly improvised, but I couldn't tell how much - usually the sign of good improvisors. Not the John Zorn phreak-out I was expecting, but also not bad.

Shoegazers Stellarium (from Singapore) begin their set, as bands of their ilk do, with an all encompassing BWWWWWOOOONGGGGGGG. Armed with suitcases full of FX pedals (not an exaggeration), they're definitely fans of reverb and delay on instruments and vocals alike. Though they're much heavier than the average shoegaze band, Stellariam are still what the Wizard of Awesome calls "sitting down music." Crouched in my little corner, the cavernous Black Box space turned claustrophobic as notes melted into each other and echoed into infinity. The endless reverberation and ghostly vocals climaxed into a Who-style spazz out; at the end of the day, rock bands will be rock bands, "post" or otherwise.

Just when it seemed it was going to be a whole gig dedicated to beard stroking and head scratching, Appäratus showed up to give the night a shot in the arm and a kick in the pants. The band are local crust heroes, but I mostly know them as Pat from Atomicdeath's "other" band. As with most of the hardcore acts in the region, they're heavily influenced by the Scandinavian d-beat style. Their laidback stage presence is almost in direct contradiction to their destructive music - until their singer accidentally broke the mic stand. Whoops. Someone's not getting their deposit back.

With their jorts, leopard print jackets, and silly eyeglasses, Australian guests the Vaginors are proof that Williamsburg is a syndrome more than a geographical location. "Punk" in only the shallowest sense of the term, their set consists of a lot of jumping around and crowd-baiting sandwiched between complaints about the sound (which, strangely, didn't seem to affect any of the other bands). Two "songs" and getting water spit on me were enough to be somewhere else til they were done.

VAZ hail from Brooklyn, a place I called home for 8 years, and yet I'd never heard of them until this gig was announced. If anyone in KL is wondering how that could be, A) NYC is a fucking huge city, and B) I was never an Am Rep fan and kept most of those bands at arm's length. Thankfully, VAZ (whose drummer and singer/guitarist were in the seminal noisecore band Hammerhead) are heavier than their AmRep pedigree suggests, and their songs are furious and driving in a way that's reminiscent of the mighty Unsane. Breaking three strings and collapsing the drum set during their time on stage was proof enough of their passion and conviction. Not bad for three guys who look like they could be on either side of a PTA meeting.

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Sunday, December 9, 2012

KL Thrashed: Bahasa Melayu Edition

A Malay version of my KL Thrashed post appears in the new issue of Darahhead Metalzine. I can't vouch for the quality of the translation - I've never written "jejeje" in my life - but I'm still kind of stoked on it.

My grasp of the Malay language is tenuous, so I can't tell how much of what I was trying to convey survived the translation. I'm going to have to look for someone to tell me what it says ASAP, as I have a feeling the next time I'm at a gig I'll be asked to explain myself to someone who read this version and not the original. Then again, maybe plausible deniability is the way to go. Especially since the article is credited to "Mr. Adrian Camoens from Singapore," a gentleman who no one has ever met. We may never find you, and we should probably all stop looking. But one thing's for sure… you do exist.

My writing is so in-joke and wordplay heavy, that I don't really see how any of it could be translated to another language. Then again, my experience here in South East Asia is that people rarely know what the hell I'm talking about anyways, so maybe I should just go with it. Wizard of Awesome: Published Author (well, xeroxed in large quantities anyways). It's probably not ending up in the NYPL special collection, but it's not bad either.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Narbeleth Interview

In discovering the Cuban metal scene, I discovered a scene whose passion and devotion shames virtually every other on the planet. I've done my best to track down some bands from there, but one stands out above the rest: Narbeleth. With a sound that distills the best parts of early Norwegian black metal, this Havana Kvlt are one of the best black metal bands I've heard in recent times; and yet are currently well below most metal fans' radar. I knew I had to do something. I e-mailed some questions to main man Lord Dakkar, which he was kind enough to answer. Unleash the hailstorm!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Bandcamp Picks: Pest Productions

Based in Jang Xi, China, Pest Productions has been around since 2006. Though they have artists from all over the world, I'm primarily interested in their roster of Chinese black metal; as such, they give a pretty good overview of what's kvlt and trve in the Middle Kingdom. [As an art school dork, I would be remiss if I didn't note the visual design on their releases, which evokes black metal and Far East folk art at the same time. Simply top notch.] All their releases are available as $6 digital downloads through Bandcamp.

Despite only forming early last year, Nagzul is one of the more accomplished black metal bands on the Pest roster. Summon the Spirits makes for an engaging listen, as the pacing varies throughout from depressive black metal a la Bethlehem to full on blasting, to even the occasional chugging moments, Anaal Nathrakh style. If "True Chinese Black Metal" becomes a thing, Nagzul would be a great representative of it.
[As an aside, apparently "Nagzul" is the band's "English" name... their actual Chinese name "Yin Chai" allegedly refers to creatures from the Taoist mythological underworld. Way more interesting than a token - and taken - Tolkien reference, in my opinion.]

If traditional Chinese landscape paintings could be re-interpreted as black metal, Zuriaake would be the ones to do it. "Epic" is a term I use sparingly, but few other words sum up the kind of atmospheric black metal done on Afterimage of Autumn. The only mis-step is the instrumentals, which skew to the twee side of "symphonic" - it's like those sections in a Zhang Yimou film when the wuxia badass stares off into the distance and talks about his feelings ...yuck.

A one-man black metal project will immediately bring comparisons to Burzum and Xasthur, and there's no denying Dark Fount contain several elements of those bands, not least of which is their ultra-fried guitar tone. A Sapless Leave Withering In The Night Fog follows a well-travelled style of primitive black metal, but that rarely brings complaints when the results are this good. Something for the introverted misanthrope in all of us.

Not sure what the label is talking about when it states that Deep Mountains uses "traditional Chinese musical elements" on its self-titled debut; what I hear is more reminiscent of Agalloch's early work, with forlorn acoustic passages morphing into long stretches of atmospheric black metal. Occasionally things speed up, as on the Darkthroning closing track. Quibbles with promotional rhetoric aside, when it comes to the forest metal, you could do worse.

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Monday, December 3, 2012

Pretty Mouth: Men of the Tie, Men of the Cloth, Men of the Lie

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a member of the Canadian band Pretty Mouth ("Four dudes who want to fucking kill you and everyone you know"), who asked if I was interested in reviewing their new release Men of the Tie, Men of the Cloth, Men of the Lie. I'd never heard of the band, and am pretty ignorant of most things that aren't Swedish or death metal; but I figured sure, why not. While this might set a terrible precedent for lots of bands to send me free stuff to review, as a dedicated metal blogger and underemployed scrub, I'll have to take that chance.

Coming from the land of Nomeansno and Voivod, I guess it's to be expected that Pretty Mouth (great Deliverance inspired name, BTW) would throw out the rule book and go their own way. Standard terms like "crusty hardcore" or "power violence" don't do them justice. I can't remember the last time I heard hardcore that sounded this dangerous and unpredictable. Nails? Coalesce? "Damaged 1?"

Noise isn't just a tool for Pretty Mouth; it's their raison d'être. At times it seems like the band is on the verge of imploding amidst all the screaming, feedback and blastbeats; this is what crazy people hear in their heads before movie theatre shooting sprees. Three songs explore their title theme ("Men of the Tie", "Men of the Cloth", and "Men of the Lie"), spewing bile and fury at big business and organized religion. It all gels together on "Men of the Lie", which swings like Botch without all that pesky math getting in the way of the carnage. Elsewhere, on the song "Tabula Rasa," when vocalist Lance Marwood snarls "We are satan's cunt, just a mercy fuck...We are the fallen/We are the forgotten," 90% of modern black metal is made to sound like empty posturing.

But at barely 5 minutes (minus intro, outro, and a noise interlude titled "Choose Hate" that samples Hell on Wheels), it's over way sooner than it should be. Clearly Pretty Mouth are a band with a unique take on hardcore; I would have liked to have heard where else their fury takes them. I can't imagine them being this merciful in the live setting. Maybe they had a movie screening to rush off to.

Men of the Tie, Men of the Cloth, Men of the Lie is available through Pretty Mouth's Bandcamp page.
Find Pretty Mouth on Facebook.

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Not A Fest Vol. II, with Snaggletooth, Last Chaos, Osmantikos, Nuclear Summer and more 11.25.2012

The first Not A Fest back in September had the unlikely distinction of being a local show that actually started on time. Not only did I get to hesh out like there was no tomorrow to bands from Indonesia and Japan, I didn't have to rush to catch the last train and arrived back home before midnight. It was one of life's little victories. Would it happen again this time?

....not a chance. Malaysian Time trumps all. I heard the delay this time around was because one of the opening bands didn't wake up on time. I wish I was making this shit up. If anyone else at Rumah Api was perturbed by this, it wasn't apparent. Most looked content to hang out and kill time with cheap alcohol from the nearby liquor shop. Several distros set up in the duration, and soon the little foyer space had turned into a bustling DIY pasar malam.

The event also served as the release party for the 5th issue of the Shock and Awe zine, the centrepiece of which is an article about the history of KL's punk scene, written by Carburetor Dung's Joe Kidd. I was probably more excited about this than any of the bands. I'd seen little previews of it on Facebook, and it seemed essential to my understanding of this place and its history. Packaged along with the zine was a 4-way split 7" featuring local fixtures Pusher, Sarjan Hassan, Garrison and xCrimescenex. All in all, a recommended purchase for anyone who wants to know more about the Malaysian DIY scene.

When the gig finally did start, it was up to local guys Skitsofrenia to kick it off, which they did by playing D-Beat hardcore in that glorious Swedish style. It's notable that while recent releases from ground zero Göteborg seem intent on subverting the crust punk paradigm (Disfear, Martyrdöd, and Eskatologia), bands in South East Asia still take an almost dogmatic approach to the style. Skitsofrenia's passion and vitriol are commendable; but a little risk taking never hurt anyone.

Singaporeans Vaarallinen are similarly reverent of Scandinavian hardcore, but add an interesting/amusing gimmick that separates them from the rest of the scene: all their lyrics and song titles are in Finnish (as is their name, which translates to "unsafe/dangerous"). Other than that, their crust punk is business as usual, for die hard fans of fast songs and umlauts (though maybe not Umlaut).

The last time I saw xCrimescenex, their set was waylaid by mic problems. This time, with no technical difficulties to hamper them, they were able to build a momentum through slow, sludgy doom before erupting into bursts of manic power violence. With a line-up comprised of Rumah Api regulars (Man and Manusia from Sarjan Hassan among them), it was given that the audience would treat them like local heroes. I did my best to stay off to the side and avoid the carnage as the bodies started flying through the air.

Garrison, as DIY punks playing reggae, were an oddity in the line-up (and possibly the entire scene). I appreciated the change of pace, but even the Bad Brains couldn't sell me on reggae-influenced punk; punk-influenced reggae, it turns out, holds my attention even less. After a few songs I took my leave to try get some writing done outside the venue. I was scribbling down some notes when a young (and very drunk) fan sat next to me to see what I was doing. He made his way up from the southern state of Johor just for Not A Fest. I tried prodding him for his thoughts on the gig, to record what he had to say for posterity's sake; what he did say, unfortunately, was garbled and lost into the ether (which may have been what he was drinking, for all I know).

If nothing else, Garrison's chilled reggae served as the perfect segue between the crusty earlier acts and Nuclear Summer's off-beat post-hardcore. You can see why they were selected as an opening act for Refused's recent Australian tour, as these guys embody everything that's progressive and cerebral about heavy rock right now. Transitioning from upbeat sections, to slow ethereal parts reminiscent of Rosetta (also a recent touring partner), to guitar noodling straight out of Steven Brodsky's playbook, there was a sense of both history and inventiveness to their music that, frankly, is missing from a lot of the local scene. Hope I wasn't the only one paying attention. A perfect set, except maybe they should have headlined.

Looking like three guys who wandered into a punk show on the way back from a fishing trip, Osman Tikos were the most pleasant surprise of the evening. Crust bands aren't in short supply in Malaysia (and certainly not around Rumah Api), but these guys take the style to a new low - I mean that in the best possible way. This aging hesher doesn't know much about punk, but he does know a lot about heavy; and Osman Tikos are fucking heavy. Fast and bass-driven to the brink of incoherence, Osman Tikos sound like Doom and early Bolt Thrower in a duel to see who can wreck your sub-woofers the fastest. Even with my earplugs in, I thought my brain was going to melt.
Touring Aussies Last Chaos, as their name suggests, play blistering anarcho-core (heavily influenced by Finnish/Japanese hardcore, the internet has just informed me), with the occasional rock and roll moment. [In a bizarre coincidence, I saw some of the members last year in Brooklyn when their other band Teargas played there. These dudes get around.] Rumah Api loved it, and crowd and band were in sweaty, crusty heaven ....until a well-meaning attempt by the audience to carry around the vocalist ended with him crashing unceremoniously to the floor. Ouch. [My malaysian friends - if you're going to pick up visiting bands, please DON'T drop them on their heads.] Noticeably irritated, and with his mic chord snapped, he attempted to clear the stage, to little avail. [The tree of anarchy must be refreshed from time to time with broken mics and bruised scalps, as Thomas Jefferson never said.] Kind of a down note for the band to end on, but credit to them for giving the crowd one last song to rage to, even if they couldn't exactly sing along.

I was tempted to call it a night after that, but on the recommendation of Pat from Atomicdeath (a man who clearly knows good metal), I made it a point to stick around for Singapore's Snäggletooth. There's tremendous buzz around them due to a cassette EP that was cleverly promoted, limited to 50 copies and then sold out immediately. I'm happy to say that for once the hype is justified. With Vaarallinen's drummer on deck, their crust-fueled mix of Motörhead (natch) and Venom held few surprises, except for how much I enjoyed it. Their take on black 'n' roll is one of the more straight forward ones I've heard, but also one of the more bludgeoning. They may have ended up headlining this month's Not A Fest more out of happenstance than intent, but they closed out the proceedings in style.
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Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Gathering of Madness, with Sarjan Hassan, W.I.D.B., Atomicdeath, Vault, Succubus, WWHIRR @Rumah Api

Shows at Rumah Api usually feature several bands that I'm overly familiar with, with a few thrown in that I haven't seen before. Sometimes I wonder if it's worth going, especially as I've seen a few of these bands almost monthly since my first appearance in April. Honestly, how many raw angry grindcore bands does one need to see in a lifetime? But there's always the nagging feeling that I may miss something crucial and original happening in my own backyard, so I drag myself away from my computer and suspend my natural disposition to hate everything for about 4 hours.

With Man and Manusia from Sarjan Hassan and Emi from Tools of the Trade, openers WWIHRR are something of a Rumah Api supergroup. Their guitar-less, bass-driven power violence and epic slow parts instantly recall Man is the Bastard/Bastard Noise. Throughout their set, religious-tinged choral music played in the background, adding an extra layer of subversion to their music. A good start and a pleasant surprise for a night that I assumed would hold few of them.

There's no end to bands worshiping at the Altars of Madness, and Succubus is among them. Their style of thrashing death is well worn, but since I'm usually disappointed by a lack of Malaysian death metal, I'll keep my complaints to a minimum. All told, their set was solid and extremely entertaining, even if they played each song like they were racing each other to the end. They ended with Merciless' classic "Nuclear Attack," so if nothing else I got to hear that live for the first time in my life. With a cassette that's destined to be plugged heavily on the NWN Boards, you might as well clear a space on your patch jacket for these guys now.

Right now one of the least appealing styles of music to me is thrash, especially when done by anyone who wasn't playing it prior to '92. Vault features members of Lobotomy and Nightwolf (thrash perm is still thriving), so clearly they love this stuff. But do the rest of us need it? They plough through all of the genre's cliches without adding anything new to the dialogue, and after a few songs I had heard enough to politely excuse myself.

It may seem contradictory that I'm so reticent about retro thrash, and yet I love Atomicdeath. I don't really have an explanation, except to point out there isn't another band in Malaysia doing quite what these guys do. As I looked around at the small crowd who are present for AD's set, I wondered how many people in the local scene realize how special these guys are, and what it'll take for them to break out. In addition to their anthems ("Zero Tolerance," "Forever Black Hell," "Kombat 666") they included two new songs, hinting that a more blast-heavy direction is in their future. I for one can't wait. And to think I almost skipped this show. Somewhere in Bloomfield, NJ, the president of the Atomicdeath fanclub is saying "I told you so."

If the amount of heckling during soundcheck can be used to measure an audience's interest, than anticipation was high for the first live appearance of WIDB ("What Is De Because", I don't get it either). They label themselves "death grind," but besides a vague similarity to Impaled and General Surgery at their gnarliest, actual grind parts were used sparingly and judiciously. More often than not, WIDB slow things down to a mid-paced stomp that lets the riffs breathe and the audience engage. With members of Malaysian veterans like Infectious Maggots and Carburetor Dung, their confidence and maturity is telling, and the dual guitarist/dual vocalist approach worked in their favour...even if the tiny Rumah Api stage doesn't lend itself well to such a large line-up. A good addition to the KL scene and the highlight of the entire evening. Plus, extra points for the singer's Napalm Death shirt can never have too many Napalm Death shirts.

Whenever headliner Sarjan Hassan takes the stage, two things can be expected: crossover and pandemonium. With the new(ish) stage monitor at Rumah Api, dog piles and stage dives were kept to a minimum, but that didn't dissuade the audience from dragging singer Man offstage in an attempt to carry him around the room. I'm sure it only got better from there, but I had to bail to catch the last train home. Somewhere in Bloomfield, the president of the SH fanclub (also president of the Atomicdeath fanclub) is shaking his head in disapproval.

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