Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bandcamp Picks: The Gathering, Cryptopsy, Murder Construct, Beastplague

The Gathering have returned with Disclosure, which is self-released under their own Psychonaut Records. Don't expect the witchy doom metal of their early years; this is much, much better. Emotive and spacey, it's closer to shoegaze/post-rock than anything remotely metal. But even if you're one of those who wrote the band off when Anneke left (myself included), Disclosure is still their best work in almost a decade. The purchased package includes the video for the song "Heroes for Ghosts."

Usually a self-titled album signals an intention to re-invent, a defining statement, or a return to form. In the case of the new self-released, self-titled album by Cryptopsy, it's an indication that there are no keyboards or clean singing (the reason why so many fans spurned their previous effort, The Unspoken King). It's not quite a return to the berkerker fury of Whisper Supremacy, and a little "djenty" for my tastes, but I respect this band's continued desire to grow and push their boundaries.

Murder Construct is the main gig for grindcore journeyman Leon Del Muerte, who served time in both Exhumed and Impaled during their best years; however Results bears little resemblance to the Carcass/Dismember worship that those bands traffic in. Instead, what we have here is an album of thinking man's grind that doesn't skimp on the blasting and has only occasional appearances of Travis Ryan's clean singing. My only complaint is the production, which is washed out and reduces the guitars to a wall of noise. With the level of talent on hand, I'd actually appreciate hearing them clearly.

Hat tip to my buddy Lucas Lee for letting me know about Beastplague, a three-piece from Florida playing Assück/Insect Warfare-style death/grind. These guys are so new, they only played their first show last month, but don't let that fool you; these are six songs (and a goofy intro) of very accomplished rage. So good, it's hard to believe they're giving it away for free.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Kuala Lumpur Thrashed 2012: 9.02.2012

This is part three of a three day live show binge, between Friday, August 31st, and Sunday, September 2nd. Three shows in two countries in three days... how much metal is too much metal? Can this old hesher still bang his head without having a senior moment? We're about to find out...

The last of three days of metal brought me back to home base for KL Thrashed 2012. I was excited for the gig, mostly because of Atomicdeath; but two straight nights of heshing out were beginning to take its toll. Sunday morning, I woke up in Singapore to find that I slept through my alarm and had to rush like a madman from the backpacker's inn to make my bus. I caught it just in time, and after going through customs, I shut my eyes and didn't open them until I was back in KL. Any overpriced corporate coffee I may have sought out on arrival was only purchased to keep me vertical.

The gig was at the annexe behind KL tourist trap Central Market, and a few flights up from the Doppel Kafe (itself a pretty good spot to catch gigs). Any doubts that a thrashfest was scheduled were dispelled by loitering clusters of Jacket Patchers (and even a few Patcherettes). I've long thought that denim vests are an impractical way to show your cred, but a few dedicated heshers went as far as to wear leather jackets in the tropical heat. Style trumps comfort in metal (of course, there's still the case of that idiot running around South East Asia in his Napalm Death hoodie: Suspect is most likely sweating while throwing stones from inside a glass house).

Unlike the crowds at Rumah Api and Singapore Deathfest (where there were a good number of non-Asian foreigners), the KL Thrashed audience was almost entirely Malay - not in an exclusionary way, it just happens to work out like that here for some reason. Inside the hall, local distros set up tables filled with cassettes, patches, and rare (often bootlegged) shirts.  It was like a NWN! message board come to life. If anything, the festival demonstrated that thrash isn't waning in popularity here in Malaysia. That may seem strange, considering how many of the American Thrash Revival bands (Skeleton Witch, Bonded By Blood, etc) are slowly backing away from the label, most likely in an attempt to survive the glut and growing public backlash. But I can testify that old school metal never lost its appeal with Malaysian metalheads; back in 2003 when I was trying to convince friends here of the greatness of the Red Chord and Behemoth, it seemed all they were interested in was Slayer and King Diamond (and, to my utter bafflement, Grip Inc.).

Night Wolf kicked off this night of old school heshing with possibly the oldest school in thrash, a raucous blend of Motörhead, Hellhammer and Venom that was so popular in Bello Horizonte 30 years ago. Night Wolf feature the guitarist from KL's Lobotomy, trading in his axe for bass, vocals, Frost-style corpse paint and a few upside down crosses. His thrash'fro was still in resplendent effect, I'm happy to report. A cover of Abigail's "Satanik Metal Fucking Hell" should tell you what these guys are all about.

A covers band might seem out of place at another fest, but considering this whole event was paying tribute to a bygone era, Central Disposal didn't seem out of place. Dark Angel, Death Angel, and Exodus were all given their dues, but Central Disposal really shone with a cover of Vio-Lence's "Kill as One," which I couldn't help but shout along with. Actually, considering how almost none of the classic thrash bands have ever played Malaysia (the exception being Death Angel), maybe hearing those songs in a live setting was a rare treat for the audience.

Possibly the only band at the fest to do more than merely follow a wellworn path, Atomicdeath are the secret highlight of the fest. If mixing thrash and dis-core sounds like it's been done before, I can honestly say I haven't heard it, not the way these guys do it; and the applause they earn tells me I'm not alone. For real though, if the audience didn't give these guys the reaction they deserved, I might have smacked some kids upside the head. AD are the best band in Malaysia, and along with Tools of the Trade, the most likely to break out of the region.

If Bestial Kommand Nuklear Wrath were a real band, they'd probably sound a lot like Storming Steels: Skeksis-like vocals over blackened thrash. Coming from the northern states of Kedah and Perlis, they remind me of Absu without the blasting or sequined headbands. A cover of Sepultura's "Antichrist" is a nice touch and shows where their hearts are at, even if it didn't get a huge reaction from the crowd.

In sharp contrast to the blackened/Teutonic bias of most of the other bands on the bill, Heareafter offered a more technical and melodic take on the genre, reminding me more of new school kids like Warbringer. Their popularity was evident from the number of Hereafter shirts that were present and the fact that the audience's enthusiasm swelled when they got on. Maybe with Dave Mustaine banned from playing Malaysia for the foreseeable future, these guys can fill that niche?

Even if my overall enthusiasm was starting to wane, I was eager to check out Thai thrashers Remains. High pitched yelps, ultra-fast drumming and palm-muted tremolo picking, these guys were remarkably tight and focused, even by thrash standards. Though you might not have expected that as the empty bottles of beer multiplied behind them as their set progressed. Their swagger was amusing, but considering their prowess, not unearned.

After Remains, I badly needed a break; one was already scheduled for 7 PM, but I decided to skip out on Catarhh and Demonification as well - as I left the hall, the intro to "Beneath the Remains" segued into a Metallica cover, leaving me fairly confident that I wasn't missing anything revolutionary. I seriously considered going home after Atomicdeath wrapped up their set, but instead I headed down to Doppel Kafe to escape the cigarette smoke and wait for some feeling to come back to my feet (and neck). I figured I probably wouldn't get another chance to see the two bands at the top of the bill, Thailand's Nuclear Warfare and Sabah's Inside.

Were Nuclear Warfare more new school than old school? Closer to the Teutonic style of Kreator and Sodom than the Bay Area thrash of Testament and Exodus? Honestly, at this point it was all a jumble. All I can recall is members of Atomicdeath, Night Wolf, Lobotomy, and Kathgor showing their enthusiastic support at the front of the stage, and that the audience got so raucous that at one point I was pushed into and nearly knocked over the table with the mixing board. Who's got two thumbs and nearly shut down an entire metal fest? THIS GUY! Luckily that didn't happen, and Nuclear Warfare finished their set unhampered, to the adulation of fans and peers.

Inside, from the Western Malaysian state of Sabah, have been around since the late 90's - by no means the golden age of thrash, but compared to the relative youth of everyone else at the gig, they're practically Venom. Their status at the top of the bill must say something about the regard they have in the region. Excitement was definitely high as they marauded through a set of blackened thrash (more black than thrash from where I was standing). Crosses were inverted, horns were raised, and heads banged appreciably. I'm not sure their Antichristian message is all that scandalous in a Muslim country, but their showmanship was appreciated and provided a decent end to a good, if wearying, night of hesherdom.

Somewhere in a different part of KL, Tools of the Trade were playing a hardcore fest; I'd originally planned on making an appearance at that as well, to rack up my total score to four shows in two countries in three days. But alas, age has taken its toll, and my legs gave up on me. Considering I'll probably be seeing Tools at Rumah Api on the 16th, I figured they'd give me a pass.
Next: I get some well-deserved rest, and decide I don't want to listen to any metal for at least 20 minutes. I manage about 4.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Singapore Deathfest: 9.01.2012

This is part two of a three day live show binge, between Friday, August 31st, and Sunday, September 2nd. Three shows in two countries in three days... how much metal is too much metal? Can this old hesher still bang his head without having a senior moment? We're about to find out...

I got back home from the Disgusted show late, and decided that sleep was for the weak. And pretty pointless, because after showering, eating dinner, and packing my backpack, I'd only be able to shut my eyes for an hour before I needed to get up and catch my bus. And so I made my way to Singapore Deathfest without any real rest, hoping that the bands would be enough to stave off exhaustion.

The event was held at the Singaporean Chinese Chambers of Commerce, close to Fort Canning Park (where both the Opeth and Judas Priest shows were held earlier in the year). The auditorium's huge stage dwarfed everything in it: the amps, the bands, and the audience. It may be the perfect venue for Immortal if the Blashyrkh ever goes to Singapore, but most of the bands that night looked like they were struggling with its enormity. The marble floors, combined with the size, were also not ideal, causing everything ten feet past the stage to echo into an indiscernible cacophony of blastbeats and guitar noise.

Those issues aside, the hall is in the perfect location for a music festival. It's walking distance from Clarke Quay, where there are least a dozen backpacker inns, and just around the corner from the Peninsula Plaza mall, home of Hell's Labyrinth, one of the best extreme metal music stores in the whole region. Singapore's reliable mass transit system means easy travelling to and from the venue, and the preponderance of shopping centres in the area means that there's always some way to kill time between sets.

Killing time was exactly what I needed after I arrived, as the fest was running a few hours late - ironic, since Singaporeans have such a reputation for organization. It would appear Rumah Api Time had followed me south of the causeway; if I'd known that, I would have asked for a few extra body scans at customs. We can never be too safe.

I decided to head to a nearby Indian restaurant and take my time with the Kashmiri pulau; as a result I missed Penang's Butcher Bastard completely, and arrived to see the similarly named Whore House Butchery were already on stage. Their jokey gore/grind wasn't an ideal way to start my Deathfest afternoon, and their masks left me believing that at heart they really just wanted to be Slipknot or Mushroomhead. After a few songs, without much holding my interest on stage, I decided to sit the rest of their set out.

While waiting for the next band, I ran into Mikey Thunder, the singer/bassist of the excellent Singaporean thrash band Bloodstone. I hadn't seen him since Bloodstone played Rumah Api back in April, and he filled me in on the Singaporean scene.

Flesh Disgorged play death/grind with plenty of catchy parts and fake blood, and at least one of those things got the audience's attention. Their drummer (who used to be in Bloodstone, go figure) is clearly the MVP, navigating the band's mix of blast and groove with ease. I tried to predict the mosh parts based on when the singer jumped in the air; I don't know if I was alone in doing that, but I was at least 60% successful. Other than that, FD's style isn't really my thing, but they do it as well as anyone else.

From their set the night before, I knew Disgusted would deliver the goods. But the assembly hall was noticeably sparse while they played. What's up, Singapore? Asian brothers can't get no love? Undaunted, the band tore it up, and the crowd swelled as the set went on, eventually earning them a decent reaction. Not bad, but for the distance they traveled to be there, Disgusted deserved better.

Truth Be Known describe themselves as "rojak," a Malay word meaning "mixed" - which could refer either to the mixed ethnicities of its lineup, or the way their songs mix death metal, hardcore, and stadium rock. They're the first (and only) band that night to really set the crowd off, with girls windmilling their hair and boys taking off their shirts (first time I've seen that particular combination of those things). Things get slightly dodgy mid-set with a Beastie Boys cover that's more well-intentioned than it is sound; but by that point, it didn't really matter. From their between song fistbump trains, to their constant wandering off-stage and into the crowd, to their finishing move of trading places with the audience (who headbanged in unison on stage while the band played in front of it), Truth Be Known stole everyone's hearts, and goddamn if they didn't steal the whole show.

[Truth Be Known postscript: sometime after their set, I approached the band to buy a shirt, deciding that there'd be no way I'd get on a bus back to Malaysia without one... only to be told by their singer Subash that they had tossed all the shirts they brought with them into the crowd. I then asked if he had any CDs for sale, which prompted him to yell gleefully, "It's online! Just download it!" People, I implore you: We need to band together and stop Truth Be Known before they crack the planet in half with the sheer weight of their awesomeness.]

After TBK's set, I walked to the ritzy Raffles City Shopping Centre to try and find a reasonably priced beverage, and returned to find Rust Phantom struggling with the audience's attention. I don't know if it was because their style was too techy, or if it was just the misfortune of having to follow Truth Be Known. Maybe everyone was just burned out. Whatever the issue, it wasn't Rust Phantom's night. Which is a pity, because their music is commendable, especially considering their pared down lineup of guitar/drums/vocals. It just didn't move many people that night (a notable exception being one little girl who ran around the auditorium like a one-person circle pit - that's gotta be worth something).

How does a band get booked at SG Deathfest?  Well if you're Asilent, I'm sure it helps that your bassist is also the show's organizer. And considering Asilent's very capable take on thrashy death metal, I'm sure no one minded. Other questions still linger, however:
1) Who hates silence more, Asilent or Malaysia's Break the Silence? (I guess since Break the Silence have broken up, Asilent wins by default)
2) How did their Swedish singer end up speaking English like a Singaporean?
3) Why was the bassist so high in the mix? Oh right... [ha ha, I kid, I kid...]
4) What is it about guitarists wearing shades on stage these days? Is this another metal fad that slipped by me, like djent or hummus?

Headlining SG Deathfest must have seemed like a cakewalk for Tools of the Trade, since it wasn't that long ago that they were sharing a bill with the likes of Exhumed, Nasum, and Suffocation. For three guys who are constantly smiling and friendly offstage, their transformation into a raging grind monster is somewhat startling (are they secretly always angry?). It's clear to me that their recent European tour pushed them to a new level, as this was the best Tools of the Trade I'd seen (and I've seen them a whole bunch in the last six months). It's a shame that more people weren't there: For a headlining band at an event that has the word "fest" in the title, the turnout sure wasn't what I'd expected.

While Tools of the Trade conducted a post-show interview, I spoke with Disgusted's bassist Hoàng and singer Tom. Tom, with his hand heavily bandaged, explained the roughhousing he does with the audience is to get them engaged and amped up. Considering the tepid reaction that day compared with the boisterous Rumah Api crowd the night before, I had to concede he had a point. Hoàng spoke at length about how in Vietnam, the audience supports every band, regardless of who they came to see; it left me wondering if the amount of big acts that pass through Singapore have the metaheads there spoiled for choice. There were some great bands at SG Deathfest, and kudos to everyone involved for making it happen. But for a scene to succeed, the fans have to do their part too. Hopefully next year, they will.

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Next: Hey kids, tell your mom to sew some patches to your jacket, because we're going to Kuala Lumpur Thrashed 2012!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Disgusted @Rumah Api, 8.31.2012

This is part one of a three day live show binge, between Friday, August 31st, and Sunday, September 2nd.  Three shows in two countries in three days... how much metal is too much metal? Can this old hesher still bang his head without having a senior moment?  We're about to find out...

Day One of Three Shows in Two Countries in Three Days, starting in the very familiar confines of Rumah Api: I was looking forward to checking out Disgusted from Vietnam, about whom I've read nothing but good things. I'll admit, the novelty factor played a big part in my excitement. Vietnamese death metal - what does that even mean? [a google search proved unproductive, leaving me to believe that it's a lot like Thai death metal, only with more pork and less peanut sauce]. The show was organized by Emi from Tools of the Trade, who I ran into on the way in. By the time I arrived, the show was already running 2 hours late, because of course it was. Set your watches to Rumah Api Time: 3 hours late is the norm.

It was my first time seeing the Tools guys since they returned from their European tour (they played a show at Rumah Api the previous week, but I was in Manila for shawarma and phat beats). I also ran into the dudes from Atomicdeath who assured me that they were saving a shirt for me [somewhere in Bloomfield, New Jersey, their bigggest fan is pounding a desk in envy]. They also let me know about a thrash festival happening in KL the following Sunday. I was originally planning on returning from Singapore for the What the Heck fest that same Sunday, but an all day thrash gig seemed much more appealing than 6 hours of old school hardcore.  Plus, I hadn't seen Atomicdeath in about 2 months, so I couldn't pass up the chance to sing along with "Kombat 666."

This show was also my first chance to check out Blood Legion, which now has my friend Hann on guitar (the astute reader of this blog will remember him as the metal insider who took me to see Impiety). With its barebones set up, Rumah Api isn't the place for death metal (some nights it isn't even the place for more than one guitar). With that in mind, Blood Legion's set may not have put them in the best light: The vocals cut in and out (a problem for most bands that night) as did the lead guitar.  Regardless, they banged through their death/thrash with endearing gusto, winning the crowd through moxy and their bear of a singer's stage presence, even as their songs teetered on the brink of falling apart. A cover of "Mandatory Suicide" got the rabid response a Slayer cover usually does, and their closer cribbed the voodoo beat and galloping guitars of "Children of the Grave" before erupting into thrashing overdrive. Once this monster gets its bolts tightened it'll really be ready to take on the village.

Besides Tools of the Trade, Malaysia's other contribution to SG Deathfest is Penang's Butcher Bastards. They got a good-natured heckling from their KL brethren (especially their diminutive guitarist who elicited several cries of "Jack Black" due to a questionable resemblance). Their guitar tone (courtesy of a hefty effects rack) was impressively corrosive and burnt sounding, and they wisely let their goregrind breathe with big pounding rawk moments, while the vocalist's squeals and grunts proved a reasonable imitation of a train hitting its brakes. A closing cover of Napalm's "Infiltraitor" certainly put them in my good books.

Sarjan Hassan bring a welcome element of unpredictability whenever they play, and I'm happy to see them as long as I'm not immediately between them, their bodysurfing fans, and the hard concrete floor. From my safe vantage point behind the monitors, I had to appreciate the fact that they're not just crossover fast but tight musically as well. A cover of Discharge's "Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing" made a welcome mid-set appearance. Actually, these dudes do a lot of covers; most bands will end with a Slayer song and leave it at that; Sarjan Hassan actually double downed from their usual closer of "Raining Blood" with a rowdy version of "Seek and Destroy" that somehow gets an even bigger reaction (with Dinesh from Blood Legion and Emi from Tools jumping in as well). Attempting to follow that up with "Ace of Spades" was maybe one classic metal song too many -  that song is about the risk of overplaying your hand, after all. Still, it's almost impossible not to like these guys - they're like a Taz whirlwind set to fastcore. Less covers and more carnage!

Daighila may have looked a little out of place in the middle of all this, but credit to Emi as an organizer for knowing that a little variety was needed. Their style of screaming hardcore (the good Orchid kind, not the bad Alexisonfire kind) was a nice break from blastbeats and mic cupping. They do well with tension/release, songs building to full-on rage mode before giving way to spacey post rock sections. The band said little between songs, furthering the tension (a tendency more Asian bands should adopt, frankly). They're a month away from an ambitious European tour; I have a feeling they'll do quite well.

Too smart to be slam, and too gnarly for techheads, Disgusted wisely skirt through sub-genres and come out the other side with nary a head left unbanged.  I'm not sure why Vietnam's biggest death metal band has a white dude singing for them; I'm also not sure how I feel about him shoving audience members off the stage. But I do know that dedicating a song to dissing Tiger Beer is awesome, and I can't wait to see how that plays out in Tiger's home turf in Singapore. Elsewhere, a techy number gets the bassist's fingers tapping, and that in turn gets the audience cooing in appreciation. Near the end of their set, the room's oppressive humidity looks like it's wearing Disgusted down, but they soldier on through an encore (even if most of the audience decided to bail). I was already excited to see them the next day, but getting a chance to experience them in Rumah Api's chaotic closed quarters was worth forsaking sleep and going home drenched in sweat.

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Next: Putting the "gore" in "Singapore" at SG Deathfest!