Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Swans @ Music Hall of Williamsburg, 05.19.2014

As is so often the case these days, bands I never thought I'd get a chance to see are experiencing a second career with new audiences. Swans are one such band, and since my trip to NY coincided with hometown shows in support of their new album To Be Kind, my presence was all but certain before I even set foot in the country.

I'd seen Swans once before when the band reunited for shows at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple, an appropriate venue for a band that inspires such religious fervour. What was memorable about the experience was that the guitars were so loud that they made my skin vibrate as I stood at the front of the stage; and a woman yelling incoherently throughout the set proved that "drunken douchebag" need not be gender specific.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Napalm Death @ Red Bull Music Academy Festival: Hardcore Activity in Progress

A kind of spiritual successor to the House of Vans shows that ran a few years back, Red Bull sponsored a number music events in New York over the summer. The highlight for me was obviously the one with Napalm Death. It seems strange for bands like Napalm and Bastard Noise to glad hand with, ahem, "multinational corporations"; and frankly, what companies like Red Bull and Scion see in sponsoring extreme metal events is baffling. But with extreme music being split into smaller and smaller pieces by increasingly niche scenes, and very little money going around any of them, metal can use all the help it can get. I say we take their sickly sweet energy drink money and run while we still can.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Mixtape 9: Grey Skies Fallen

Here is the 9th installment of the Dreams of Consciousness podcast, featuring an interview with New York's own Grey Skies Fallen. The band was playing a show at Saint Vitus Bar while I was in town, so I used the opportunity to interview guitarist/vocalist Rick Habeeb before their set. We talked about the band's newest album, The Many Sides of Truth, their history, their influences, and their plans for the future.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Ulcerate, Inter Arma @ Saint Vitus, 05.10.2014

It's a rare and heartless city that makes you choose between death metal shows on a Saturday night. At the same time Ulcerate were playing Saint Vitus in Brooklyn, hometown heroes Suffocation were doing a show at Blackthorn 51 in Queens. Not that it was a hard choice for me: Though I love classic Suffocation, their last album was a dog and Ulcerate's Vermis was one of the most important records of 2013. Why wallow in lazy nostalgia for death's past when given a chance to see a glimpse of the genre as it's yet to be?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Sadistic Intent and Deathhammer, 05.09.14

Any day that starts with jiu jitsu and ends with death metal is a good day in my book. But fill that day with old friends, new friends (hi, Josh from Limbs Bin!), and vegan pizza, and you have a contender for the best day I've had in the last three years.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Body, Whitehorse, Gnaw, and Theologian @ Saint Vitus, 05.08.2014

I turned 35 on this 8th of May, 2014. Most of my afternoon was spent standing in front of The Colbert Report studios hoping for stand by tickets. I ended up not getting in, but those three hours I spent waiting were in the greatest city in the world, talking to interesting people. And there was a metal gig for me to go to right after. It could have been worse. I could have spent my birthday in Malaysia.

City of ghosts

Being back in NY has been a little strange this time around. On one hand, I don't feel the constant rage and alienation that I experience in KL. But there's also a sadness I never felt before as I walk down old streets that are rapidly changing and I sometimes can't recognize.

One of my close friends told me that seeing me back here is like seeing a ghost.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Floor, Darsombra, Hot Victory @ Saint Vitus, 5.5.14

Floor wasn't particularly high on the list of bands I wanted to see while in New York - I'd heard a total of one song prior to seeing them, and aren't particularly a fan of Steve Brooks' other band Torche. But the show afforded me an opportunity to see Darsombra, who I'd only ever seen once back in 2008. (It also afforded me the first trip back to my old neighbourhood of Greenpoint, and an excuse to visit my old BJJ gym and grab something at my usual Chinese take out, as well as pine for the days when my training, banking, and metal gigs were all within a 15 minute walk). Plus, I'm going to be spending a lot of time at Saint Vitus this month - I might as well break the ice.

Sunday, May 4, 2014


Mikah "Phat Beatz" Azurin
I found out last night that Mikah Azurin of Brimstone in Fire passed away recently. I don't know the whys or wherefores - I'm not sure it's any of my business, frankly. All I know is that he's gone.

I met Mikah for the first time near the end of 2011, when Brimstone played a show at Headstock Bar in Marikina. I was slightly awed by Brimstone in Fire - they were pillars of the "lokal" scene, and even though they were only a few years older than me, they had been writing songs and playing shows before I ever heard the term "death metal". But despite their OG status, they couldn't have been nicer guys.

A few months later I sat in on a recording session for their Live + EP. I was blown away by Mikah's confidence and experience, which shone through in the way that he played. Afterwards, as the band sat together joking around, I pulled out my cheap Sony MP3 recorder and did an impromptu interview. It was the first time I'd ever interviewed a band, but it couldn't have gone smoother. 

I was immediately struck by the yin and yang of Brimstone's two founders: Don as the imperious, precise guitarist, Mikah as his jazz-leaning foil. In the interview, Mikah explained the dynamic as such:
Don plays the way he plays, I don't force him to play any differently. Because if I did…well, one: He wouldn't agree; and two: It would sound like a jazz band. So it's a mix, it really meets in the middle.
Mikah wasn't your typical metal drummer, and his unique style was integral to Brimstone's sound. It's become something of a cliche to refer to metal bands as "jazz-influenced", but in Mikah's case it was true - he referred to Roy Haynes as one of his heroes, and played the snare like a jazz drummer.

Mikah always came off as thoughtful, intelligent, and good natured. He had a playful sense of humor; indeed, goofy ball-busting was part of Brimstone's group dynamic. On one drive to practice, when discussing his live drum and bass band Helen, I teasingly said that his appeal with the opposite sex was due to his "phat beats" - the term stuck, at least within the band. I never found out what he thought about the nickname, but he seemed amused by it. [He was less amused when I referred to Helen as "chillwave" - I had no idea that it was an actual genre.]

The last time I hung out with Mikah was after a Brimstone practice, when he was creating a new character for a role-playing game. Even in his approach to RPGs, he was thoughtful and methodical. It occurred to me that he was one of those guys who probably excelled at whatever he put his mind to.

Hanging out with Mikah and the rest of Brimstone was always the highlight of my trips to Manila. I didn't know him that well, and I can't pretend I was one of his close friends - but I'm going to miss his intelligence and good humour. I had been hoping for a few years to sit down with him and Don to do an interview about the roots of the metal scene in the Philippines - I regret that I didn't push harder to make it happen. But that loss is pretty shallow compared to what his loved ones must be going through. My condolences to his friends and family.