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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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Bandcamp Picks: eyeswithoutaface, Latitudes, Inheritage, Within The Fall

Toronto's eyeswithoutaface walk closely in the footsteps of the dearly departed Red Harvest; black, death, doom, and power electronics are all blended together into a noisy hate smoothie that'll give NIN fans nightmares. Their new album Warguts is the heaviest thing to get tagged "industrial" that I've heard in a long time. All their releases (including their amazing debut Monotoneoteny) are available either as free or Pay What You Want downloads.

I never checked Latitudes out before, probably because on paper their shoegazey post-metal sounds derivative and uninteresting. But Individuation is surprisingly awesome. Trippy, heavy, and blackened at the edges, it's like Deftones and Pelican hiking through the woods with Deafheaven as their guide. Not free, but downloadable for a respectable $7.

"Lithuanian Death Metal" is a thing, and on Inheritage's debut EP Morbid Grace of Death, it's a very good thing. I'm immediately reminded of bands that blasted out of neighbouring Poland in the late 90's (Decapitated, Yattering). The riffs are sharp, the drums are programmed (but not obviously so), and the vocals are guttural. Four songs (and an extremely discomfiting  Happiness sample) are available as a free download, and well worth your time.

I have a feeling I'd get along with the dudes in Within the Fall; we seem to share the opinion that the only thing wrong with Brave Murder Day is that there's only one of it. Anyone lamenting Katatonia's shamble towards more commercial pastures is better off getting Through the Shadows instead. This four track EP is available as a PWYW download.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Disgusted Interview

Disgusted were one of the biggest discoveries for me this year, and introduced me to Vietnamese death metal. I caught them when they played Rumah Api in Kuala Lumpur and at this year's Singapore Deathfest. I e-mailed some questions to bassist/co-founder Hoàng Nguyễn, who was kind enough to fill me in on his band and the Vietnamese metal scene.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Violence Warfare 2012 @ Doppel Kafe, 11.09.2012

Seeing as "Malaysian Time" is an established thing, I viewed the 4pm start time for this all day grindcore fest with suspicion. I decided to show up at 6:30 to be on the safe side. I mean, how far off could the actual start be? Two hours? Three?

Try six.

The tardiness was blamed on heavy rain causing traffic delays, but I get the sense that no one really took the advertised start time seriously - including, apparently, the promoter, who didn't show up til around 8pm. The staff at Doppel Kafe did their best to placate people that the show was, in fact, happening, when there was little evidence of it to be seen. In the meantime, the venue was taken over by a group of older Indian gentlemen who worked diligently to finish a bottle of whiskey and several cans of beer. Occasionally one of them would get up and extol the virtues of the BeeGees' "You Should be Dancing" to whoever was in shouting distance. It was awesome. I crossed my fingers that those old dudes would stick around and try some body surfing.

As members of the performing acts arrived to find the gig delayed, most killed time one floor below at the local mamak stall. Thinking about the number of cigarettes smoked while people waited, I began to wonder if the increasing lateness of KL shows is being orchestrated by Philip Morris and their local distributors just to increase sales. They seem to be the ones with the most to gain from people sitting around bored every week. Like the best conspiracy theorists, I have no proof. Just planting seeds...

When the show finally did start, it was up to the young 3-piece PunahRanah to kick it off. With their guitarist and bassist sharing vocals, their deathgrind is actually more thought out than songs like "Unholy Gut Defecation" would suggest. I was hearing a lot of early Brutal Truth even before their cover of "Walking Corpse" confirmed it. A mid-set turn for more deathly things was a welcome change - KL has more than enough grind bands, I figure, and not enough death metal. It's a shame that the guitars were buried throughout their set, but that was made up for by some stellar cymbal work on the part of their drummer. A good start after that interminable wait. 

Since School of Prison soundchecked with "Astrozombies" and two of their members brazenly wore Misfits shirts, this paragraph should write itself. So, let's try that: feel free to assemble the following phrases as they seem fit: "horror punk" + "Misfits covers" + "Danzig impression" + "well worn" + "non-essential but fun" + "oooooooooohhhhhh -oh -oh -oh" + "needs more devil locks."

Grind trio Diseksa ramped the violence quotient up considerably. Despite the "dis" prefix, their style is closer to the hypergrind of Insect Warfare (who they cover). A three-piece with just a drummer, single guitarist (also in Deforming Torture) and vocalist, they represented the "Rumah Api" style of grind that night. Their drummer had a gig the same night with Hatred Division, and two more over the weekend with Shitbox Noise; which may make him the hardest working man in Malaysian grind.

Ventrical reminded me of Agoraphobic Nosebleed with their short blasts of anti-song grind, but mostly I was impressed by how low their tiny singer could growl and how high he could jump. Despite the fact that they're one of the few local grind bands with an actual bassist, I was left wondering how many nearly-identical bands one small scene can support.

Compulsion to Kill were the only band in the lineup that I'd seen before, and I was keen to see them again. Down to a 3-piece from the last time (their other vocalist was sick, apparently), the level of experience between them and their Malaysian peers was significant. Playing off of the short stage and spurring the crowd to action, their confidence came through not just in their stage presence but also in their music. Looking forward to that split with Tools of the Trade.
If someone hadn't told me that Psychotic Sufferance have been around since the early 90's, I wouldn't have guessed it - most of their line-up is incredibly young. New blood keeps them going, I guess. Firmly on the crust/noise side of the grind divide, their longevity speaks volumes about their dedication to their genre. They don't lack passion or intensity; what they do lack is something to separate themselves from the pack, OG status aside. But seeing as half their line-up is also in Ventrical, maybe they just really, really love this stuff.

The sameness of the majority of the line-up was starting to wear on me, so Fadedface's throwback to 90's punk was a welcome escape (even if I did spend the majority of their set sitting down). Filling in for local punk heroes Carburetor Dung couldn't have been an easy task, but they pulled it off pretty well. As if in consolation to those disappointed with the line-up change, they ended their set with the Carburetor anthem "Boo Hoo Clapping Song," to the delight of the crowd. Watching kids in death metal and grindcore shirts singing and dancing to a 90's punk anthem is a sure sign of something, I just don't know what.

Grind has always had a performance art/noise element to it, and Agent Sundal dial it way up. If I were to try and understand their appeal, it would be along the lines of how some people preferred Sore Throat's glibness to Napalm Death's seriousness. (It should be pointed out though that Sore Throat are long gone and Napalm just released their 15th album). Without a discernable riff and drawing their set out way too long, it was a litmus test of "how much grinding noise can you stand?" In my case, not much. Still, masks make metal fun, right?

Headliners Proletar were in a class of their own that night. The grIndonesians (I will make that term a thing) know not to let genre fidelity get in the way of a good hook, and are just as heavy when they're heaving as they are when they're blasting. With their political bent ("George War Bush" is a song) and their bassist and drummer sharing vocal duties, they have an obvious appreciation for Nasum. For those who showed up early (ie "on time") and stuck it out to the end, this had to have been worth the wait.

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Metal Mascot Cagefight

Bandcamp Picks: Pig Destroyer, General Surgery, Cripple Bastards, Weapon

Described by Jason Heller of the AV Club as “Grindcore for people who don’t like grindcore,” Pig Destroyer's latest album Book Burner seems primed to make every end of the year list; or at the very least, be a topic of conversation between you and your not-as-metal friends. The hooks are heavy, the vocals are mostly decipherable, and you can see the festival circuit mayhem from here. The deluxe edition includes 7 covers of classic hardcore bands like Black Flag, the Misfits, and Minor Threat. Not sure that justifies the hefty $16 price tag for a digital download; especially since, this being a Pig Destroyer record, there's only about 40 minutes worth of music. Deluxe version for the die hards, regular one for the rest of us, I reckon.

A snarky play on the title of a classic Swedish death metal album? It must be General Surgery (formed, it should be noted, by two Dismember-ers back in 1988). Of all the bands who've combined the Stockholm buzzsaw sound with Carcass' medical grind (and grime), General Surgery have been doing it the longest. Like An Everflowing Limb is their tightest and most cohesive release in years. As an EP, it also never wears out its welcome, which so many grind albums do nowadays.

I guess the uproar over Cripple Bastards' Almost Human album art has died down; or maybe Relapse is just testing the waters by releasing their Senza Impronte 7". The vocals are in Italian, so I can't comment on how far CB have strayed from their PC punk-baiting. It has to be said, however, that the music is unimpeachable. It's much more metallic than I expected; I've always put CB on the crusty/punk side of the grind divide, but some of these riffs wouldn't be out of place on a Vio-lence album. I've seriously listened to this 3 times in a row, a testament not just to its quality but also its brevity.

Taking a break from grind, last month brought Embers and Revelations, the first Relapse release by Canada's Weapon (and third overall).Vaguely occultist lyrics and running mascara aside, I find Weapon has more in common with the Quo Vadis/Neuraxis camp of Canadian melodic death metal than the blackened death bin that Relapse seems intent to stuff them into (seriously, Behemoth and Impiety would eat these guys alive). This style still has a lot of mileage in it; whether Weapon will get it is debatable. Maybe not essential, but enjoyable.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Bangkok Shopping Binge

photo by Farezza Fadinha
Due to a dislocated elbow and a non-refundable plane ticket, I found myself in Bangkok at the end of October with time and energy to kill. I figured I'd give myself a crash course in the Thai metal scene by hitting up some local metal record stores and seeing what they might recommend. A wiser, more measured person might have actually started that search on Google before reaching Thailand; but leaping into the unknown yelling "Adventure!" is kind of my thing, and I figure there's no changing me now.

I started off in the much recommended Triple Six Records, a little shop in the basement of Century The Movie Plaza mall, next to the Victoria Monument train station. Triple Six has a great assortment of imported death, black and thrash CDs; unfortunately, at the time I stopped by they didn't have any local CDs in stock, which was the exclusive purpose of my visit. And since I haven't owned a cassette player since 2003, the rare local cassettes didn't hold much interest. But they did give me an impressive list of Thai bands to look for, which I took with me to the next location on my pilgrimage.

In the sprawling, labyrinth-like Jatujak Market I found Heaven & Hell and its proprieter "M," who friends (including the Atomicdeath guys) helped to put in touch with me. At the beginning of my visit, M pulled out a huge stack of local CDs; with limited time on my hands, I cut it down to bands that were on my Triple Six list and bands that M deemed were essential/seminal. After an hour-long listening party, I left the shop with about a dozen CDs (and some generous donations by M). Safe to say, I could make a great mixtape with my haul (Ha! Ha! ...foreshadowing).

The biggest find from my trip to Bangkok was Dei Tetra. Playing black metal with a female singer, Dei Tetra are already making themselves known outside of Asia with their Marduk-worthy anti-religious invective. Devotees of Flame is their new two song single, which comes with an embroidered patch for all you jacket patch kids out there. A good introduction the band and appetite whetter for their upcoming full-length.

Revelations of Blasphemy is Dei Tetra's 2011 split EP with the Australian black metal band Naetu. Dei Tetra's side features four studio recordings and a lo-fi, fairly impenetrable live recording. Gasoline soaked, tinder burning fun. Naetu's no-frills black metal holds its own on the other side, with two new songs, two live recordings, and a cover of Zyklon B's "Warfare."

Formed in 1992, Macaroni are one of Thailand's longest running death metal bands; I was kind of relieved to find out that their distinctly un-kvlt name was chosen on purpose and not out of some tragic lingual miscalculation. Working in the sometimes blasting, sometimes lurching style of Immolation, their new album A Gift for Corpse shows an aptitude for combining hyperblasting with seasickness-inducing grooves. Simply fantastic.

Sometimes erroneously referred to as a demo, Cremation is Macaroni's first album, released on CD for the first time this year (it was first made available in 1996 on cassette). In the 16 years since this album was first issued, it has aged well - amazingly so, in fact. I'm enjoying this more than I ever have Incantation.

Deathguy, now disbanded, were another long-running Thai death metal band; Rot in Pus is a collection of their previous EPs, as well as a live show from Singapore and, for some reason, their final jam. The sound and production varies wildly throughout; the Singapore show, while interesting, is too muddily recorded to fill any need other than curiosity, while the songs from their debut EP are hampered by some pretty egregious drum machine abuse. Still, a good overview of what I've been told is one of Thailand's seminal death metal bands.

Soul of Revenge is the first EP from Lacerate, released back in 2002. This is brutal death metal that takes its cues from Cannibal Corpse and Suffocation, with the requisite slow mosh parts. Very accomplished for a debut, and hellishly enjoyable in its own right. I would love to see them on a SEA tour with Disgusted and Pus Vomit.

Purgatory are another female fronted Thai extreme metal band, and I bought their two CDs EP Loke and Part 1 (The Earth). Like Grave's Soulless or even Amon Amarth at their chuggiest, Purgatory play mid-paced death metal with big grooves. The vocals, described by M as a female Glen Benton, are unbelievably low. It's solid stuff that's badly let  down by the production, which is demo-quality at best. I know a lot of people like their metal raw as sushi, but the paper thin guitars and soda can drums aren't doing Purgatory any favours - especially as this style of death metal needs to sound as big and bottom heavy as it can. I desperately want to send them a copy of ProTools in time for their next recording. Maybe a kickstarter campaign to get them a decent recording budget is in order.
I can appreciate nekro thrashers Killing Fields and their most recent album Gigantrix Extinction purely on the strength of its violent delivery. But honestly, I hit my threshold on new thrash years ago, and this doesn't do much to sway me either way. For once, I can say that the raw production works in their favour; it's easy to suspend your disbelief and imagine that this is a demo from the early 80's that slipped under the radar. [That the same description can be applied to thousands of releases from the last couple years should raise alarms about the current state of metal.]

Evil Days is Killing Fields and Purgatory guitarist Bundit Ruckveratham's one man band, where he handles all the instruments and vocals. Unfortunately, Life Pain Death too often sounds like what it is - the solo album of a metal lead guitarist. Indulgent and often lacking in focus, it's as if these songs were odds and ends discarded by or written around his other bands. In addition, it sounds more like a pre-production mix and not a finished product. And the less said about the mixed-too-high programmed drums, the better. Bundit is clearly a gifted multi-instrumentalist with a fever, and the only prescription is more metal. He may someday burst out of the local scene as Thailand's answer to Dan Swanö; but this album won't be the vehicle he does it with.

Big thanks to M at Heaven & Hell for his knowledge and patience, and the staff at Triple Six for their recommendations!
Metal BFFs.
Should you ever find yourself in Bangkok, these are the places to go:

Triple Six Thailand

Heaven & Hell

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