Monday, December 31, 2007

My Pet Demon (CD-release) with Only Ash Remains, Pyad, and Barron [Welfare Records, Haverhill, 12/29/2007]

Though it was a little late -- I had Raise The Flag back before I went to Texas the last time, which was more than two months before this gig -- this release show was a lot better done late than never, and MPD and their support definitely rang out the old year in style. Of course, most people were either at the Bullpen's last show or watching the Patriots make history, but for those who were there, it was pretty damn cool.

It was wicked foggy getting up, but otherwise not real difficult; Welfare Records is easily reached by largely empty back roads from about anywhere in Essex County or southern New Hampshire, and is served by both a MBTA parking lot and a large public garage within two blocks, which is just another factor in why this is an awesome venue. Getting inside, this was re-confirmed: anywhere that has "DO NOT SWING ON THE PIPES: THEY WILL NOT SUPPORT YOU" signs posted instead of disclaimers about moshing being illegal is automatically a good spot for aggressive music, and the presence of little craters at boot and elbow level in the walls of the main floor area proper is definitely heartwarming. The house distro was a little punk-heavy (surprise surprise, as Welfare is, um, a punk and hardcore specialty store), but I managed to find a Scorn disc that I remembered from the radio station and never thought I'd see again, and also an oi comp that looked promising -- and for two discs for five bucks, there is a lot of room for error. As they do more metal shows and get more crossbreeding from the area's other underground distros (Y HALO THAR Oak Knoll and Pathos; Obscenity Cult seems to be OK at this point, at least going by the number of Psycho shirts on the staff), they'll probably start stocking more metal, but even as it is, it's pretty cool.

Eventually, the first band started, though this had to be accompanied by a bit of haranguing the other people to get on the floor; attendance was sparse for sports-related reasons, and there would not be a lot of moshing at this gig -- probably the least there has ever been at this venue -- but seriously, when the bands start, get on the floor and off the damn couches by the Golden Axe machine.

Barron [4/7]
I hadn't seen this band before, and there's probably a reason; what they presented was a fairly formative sound of dense thrash with a few more expansive touches, like mid-'90s Testament if they were somehow also Agalloch and Isis fans. Yes, this makes no sense, but this should probably be excused; this band seems to be just starting out, and as soon as they figure out what the hell they want to sound like, their songwriting should take that next step up. The technical riffage was competently done, but there weren't a whole ton of unique riffs, and the lack of experience in the writing department was palpable. These are common symptoms of new bands and underfinished material, though; as they rehearse more and get a stronger sense of their stuff, they'll definitely be able to push forward with stuff that's more differentiable and more self-contained.

Pyad [4/7]
Where Barron seemed to be just stepping out, Pyad seemed to be stepping back in order to step forward; this was one of, if not the very first, shows for them as a five-piece, and the new second guitarist didn't know all the material yet. This held them back to a degree, but it's easy to see that it will have a positive effect going forward. I hadn't seen them since like August of '06, but in that time, the whole band has greatly improved, and if they aren't as strictly experimental as before, they're a whole lot tighter, and are producing thrashed-up doom-death that will or ought to bring them to wider notice. This pretty clearly wasn't the optimum performance from this version of the band, but it was pretty decent, and the knowledge that they'll continue to improve as the new guy gets more worked in is really encouraging.

Only Ash Remains [5/7]
Next on the list, Only Ash Remains, doing, as those accustomed to South Central shows have come to expect, a set of decently executed, non-groundbreaking metalcore. They may not have their sights set on the Palladium, but they can be relied on for, as here, a half hour of highly listenable music, and the work that Mark has done in setting up shows in this part of the state is definitely laudable. Unfortunately, despite being the last band to start before the football game, they were short on a lot of their usual audience thanks to the Patriots' run at perfection, and as a result got next to zero crowd movement, which is kind of a shame, especially at a place like this. It was a decent set, and there would have been some nice chaos had the Patriots lost to the Ravens or someone and just been playing out the string for 15-1.

My Pet Demon [6/7]
First: they did nearly all of the "real songs" from the new album, which included "La Maudite", which like the rest of said material is extremely kickass live.
Second: they went back and actually did "Self Destruct" and "Demons Are Forever" from their first demo, even though they normally assert that the first song does not actually exist.
Third: they did both "Fight For Your Right", which included Matt going out into the crowd and bodyslamming people, and "Rockin' in the Free World", which was again so thunderous and B-side worthy that you really have to check yourself and remember that it's by the same guy who wrote "Heart of Gold".
Fourth: they closed with a new instrumental that at this point seems somewhat half-written (several riffs seemingly dropped in from other recent MPD songs) at this point, but still fully badass.
Fifth: this band's guitarist/lead-vocalist has apparently changed his name to Kenny Pellmister. Either that, or he is a huge Chester A. Arthur fan. With facial hair like this, there is a fine line between awesome and hilarious, but when MPD is on stage, there's enough metallic power going that Ken can pull off the Lemmystache.
Though there were a few rough moments at the start, and a bunch of mood-breakers from people getting text updates on the Pats score between songs, this was overall an excellent outing in support of a really good album that ought to get these guys a little more noticed. They would have benefited from a denser and more active crowd, like about every other band here; the breakdown in "Between the Pages" demands attention, and then there's that monster section at the end of "What Would Jason Do". At this point, they need to think about opening their horizons up a little; there's few bands left on the North Shore or in the Valley that they're not going to draw well over, but Boston, as well as points south and west, is basically unconquered territory, and there are enough melodicish thrashish bands out there to get them early on a decent bill at a Metal Thursday or something. Even now, they're a bit of an odd act out musically, but opening for, say, Graveheart or Dreaded Silence would go a good ways to getting them into more of the right ears south of Lynn.

All in all, it was a good show, and though I had to bail basically as soon as MPD finished, there was still a positive to this: I changed into my Hoops shirt to go to a friend's party, and from that point on, the Patriots stopped losing and started to play kickass football. This is not a coincidence but a cause-and-effect relationship, so I will continue to wear a Scottish soccer shirt for all succeeding games until the Super Bowl or the magic runs out and they lose.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

2007 - a year in show reviews

I tried to pick out only one gig to officially designate the best show of 2007 (even though MPD's release show is still on the calendar), but unfortunately couldn't come up with any one gig that would get the nod, so instead, here's a brief review of the seven best gigs I went to in 2007, and what made them really stand out. These are selected from the 46 shows that I went to in 2007, in which I saw 282 individual sets from 204 different bands; this does not include three Autumn Above gigs, which would add another 11 sets and nine bands to the total, because until said indie-pop/prog-metal band gets their act together and starts doing more shows with post-hardcore bands, I go to their gigs much more to support them than for the overall musical experience.

#0/Honorable Mention:
Wacken, Schleswig-Holstein
W:O:A 2007
Wacken does not and should not count as a normal show for these purposes, especially as it's not something people in North America can generally get to. Regardless, this was about the top Wacken that I've been to; last year had debatably better music, with high flyers from Atheist, Emperor, and Amon Amarth, but this year was the best-managed festival experience, overall, and musically, there was the thrash Altliga-Cup of Destruction, Sodom, Sacred Reich, Possessed, and Sabbat, plus Blind Guardian, Iced Earth, Immortal, and Cannibal Corpse headlining. "Stunning" is almost too mundane a word for it, but this is why it's worth the $1500 in ticket and travel expenses.

Middle East Upstairs, Cambridge
Watain, Angelcorpse, Nachtmystium, Cold Northern Vengeance, Witch Tomb
This was one of the more anticipated "mundane" gigs this year, and it definitely lived up to its billing. This was a difficult tour for Watain marked with several cancellations, and it may be difficult for them to come back given the amounts of animal blood employed in their set, but that just makes this performance, which was fucking ace musically as well, that much more special. Additionally, the whole of the undercard was really strong: Angelcorpse gave a headliner-quality set, Nachtmystium did probably the best performance I've seen from them, and both Witch Tomb and CNV brought their A-game, making this likely the signature show, or one of the signature gigs, of 2007 for both bands. The appeal of this bill is somewhat insular, but black metal as an art form seldom gets better than this.

Worcester Palladium
Summer Slaughter: Necrophagist, Decapitated, Cephalic Carnage, Cattle Decapitation, The Faceless, As Blood Runs Black, Ion Dissonance, Beneath The Massacre, In Dire Need, Zircon
There were some subpar bands on the bill on this one, but there was a lot of real quality as well; with the top four, this was probably the most technically intense show that I saw this past year. Necrophagist demonstrated just how far the gap is between them and the rest of the tech-death field, including a fantastic clinic in creative drum technique from Marco Minneman, and Decapitated absolutely blew the doors off the venue with the kind of incredible, perfect, skullcrushing sound that the Palladium occasionally manages to produce by accident. Though it doesn't lessen the impact of the tragic accident that has at press time put the band on infinite hold, this performance is a hell of a last memory to have of one of death metal's leading lights. Of the multi-band package tours that crawl around the US between June and August, substituting for real festivals, Summer Slaughter is the most promising: Ozzfest has a lot of crap, and Sounds of the Underground is trending that way, but on this bill, you're more likely to hear a very good band than a bad one.

Castle Greyskull, Allston
Despotic Robot, Revocation, Mechannibal
Beer, metal, pizza, and a hole in the ground; though Evil Army never made it out of Ohio, this one still makes it into the top three shows of the year. Basement shows have a special vibe all their own, and this was a very good one, with the locals creating more than enough thrash chaos to make up for the headliner's no-show. Directly or indirectly, this one also kind of lead to the purportedly very cool Benefit For The Advancement of Dudes series of thrash basement shows -- of which I have missed each of the three installments, usually due to being on the road. My new job doesn't require half as much travel, so catching more basement shows due to not being in Seoul or Texas or somewhere is an important side benefit.

DeeDee's, Quincy
Hell's Infinite 6, Baphomet's Horns, Hekseri, Martyrvore, Witch Tomb
This was one of the first gigs of the year, and one of the last at this venue, which looked like it was under partial demolition at the time, and was supplying itself with beer from a local package store rather than an actual distributor. The sound was of indifferent, the layout was weird, the night was excessively khold and grvm, and a bar that runs out of beer is of debatable utility, but in music and atmosphere, this was an excellent show, providing close to optimum presentation for a bill full of local black metal bands. If you don't understand the appeal of frigid weather and squalid accomodations, raw black metal like this is probably not for you.

Bedford, NH Mark's Showplace
Katatonia, Scar Symmetry, Insomnium, Swallow The Sun, Dreaded Silence, Tripmynd, Frozen, Eternal Embrace
There were almost as many bad moments as good at Mark's this year (much like every year), but this was debatably the best of the shows I caught there. While Tripmynd and Eternal Embrace were duds to a certain degree, DS and Frozen both put up very strong sets, and the headliners represented about the overall-best four-band tour I've seen at this place. Scar Symmetry was a little off, but Swallow The Sun was great, Insomnium made a good case for headlining on their next jaunt, and Katatonia simply outclassed the venue by further than about every other band I've seen here.

Worcester Palladium
Municipal Waste, Skeleton Witch, Toxic Holocaust, Doomriders
Probably the best non-festival show I saw at the Palladium this year, but then again, it seems like I only ever go to the Palladium for festival-type gigs (actually, it's about even). In the more confined space of the upstairs portion, this was like a mini-thrash-convention, showing four killer performances in a good atmosphere. Skeleton Witch may just be the best band to debut on Metal Blade this year, Doomriders almost convinced the audience that they deserved to go on next to last rather than opening for the touring bands, and of course the Waste just killed the hell out of everything. Toxic Holocaust seemed a little flat, but those who hadn't seen the classic lineup of Sodom playing essentially a headlining set two months prior probably didn't think so, and at any rate, Toxic Holocaust live is pretty goddamned special just of itself. The weather was shitty getting back, but the show itself was awesome.

Bedford, NH Mark's Showplace
1349, Goatwhore, Nachtmystium, Averse Sephira, Mortis Deveia, Aura of Aquila, Zircon, Cold Northern Vengeance
Mark's always has a hard time with consistency, but on this outing at least, the bill shaped up so direct and focused (even considering Mortis Dev) that it might as well have been set intentionlly rather than by the exigencies of who could sell tickets. Though Averse Sephira played a strong set, they had difficulty setting themselves above New England's best in a strong outing from both Zircon and CNV, and the other local openers definitely made a decent case for their inclusion (even if this wasn't the best set I saw from Aura of Aquila in '07). Nachtmystium was really good, and Goatwhore put out absolutely the best set I've seen from them; 1349 may not have been as on their game as when I saw them at Wacken later, but they put on a really good performance, capping debatably the second best show at Mark's this year.

There were, of course, a lot of other killer gigs along the way -- Suffocation and the victory over TNT, Amon Amarth roaring into the mainstream at the Palladium, Pelican in the fog at the Middle East, Nile and Cthtonic, that whole week at the end of June where the Skybar was on its deathbed binge, Lord Bacon supporting Finntroll, any show involving Goreality -- but in the end, these are the ones that came out best or most memorable. Counting Autumn Above and the MPD show next weekend, it'll be an even 50 shows on the year; on average, every weekend, I saw a metal show or at least a somewhat metal band, which is pretty impressive given that I spent two weeks in Korea and another two in Texas. I'm so glad I didn't have to move to Rochester, and instead can stay in this much more metal and less snowy part of the world.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Amon Amarth with Sonic Syndicate and Thy Will Be Done [Worcester Palladium, 12/1/2007]

This is an ample reward for showing up early (for those who can't tell, the signatures are, counterclockwise from top left, Olavi, Johan (Soderberg), Johan (Hegg), Ted, and Frederik) and enduring the openers, who in total were more than a little uneven. Of course, even if you didn't have a kutte to get signed at this show, you still got a fucking balls-out set from Amon Amarth, and that should be reward enough in itself.

The drive in was pretty easy, being a weekend, and so I got through the line for doors in fairly short order, which was a definite positive with the thermometer in the teens. It wasn't nearly as cold or as far to walk as those black metal shows back in January that set a new benchmark for grimness, but the cold in your lungs heading in definitely set the right atmosphere. Once inside, I was somewhat disheartened by the Kindermenge; it's always good to see younger people into metal, but an inveterate pessimist can't help but conclude that this was a hangover from Bodom's crowd (Amon Amarth played with Bodom here last year), and these kids wouldn't provide the right atmosphere for a proper gig. Fortunately, I was completely wrong about this. One of these days, I'll start not thinking of the worst in people.

So I got a beer, and then stood around for a while, and the show didn't start, so I went and got some merch (Amon Amarth tourshirt, and Thy Will Be Done's CD), and then stood around some more. The show still didn't start, so I joined the line wrapping around the merch pod to get stuff signed. Most people were getting posters or their tickets signed, but I was using my ticket stub for taking notes, and most ways, toting a poster at a show will either tie up your hand for the rest of the night or get reliably destroyed. Also, five guys writing with sharpies will leave most tickets just a mass of black scribbles; I fortunately had a lot of free space around my patch from this band, and if it broke up the monotony of getting writer's cramp for the band, so much the better. There's also the side benefit that my rig is now significantly more awesome than it was before, but that went without saying right as soon as the picture loaded above.

After I got through this, I got back down to my 'usual' off-floor spot in time for the first band, who despite the weird fit, did get things roling properly.

Thy Will Be Done [4.5/7]
Though they come from Rhode Island, this band made a positive impression, at least at the start, by setting up in more of a European metalcore style, sounding like they were trying more to be Heaven Shall Burn than Shadows Fall. The sound decayed more towards straight hardcore as the set went on, like the band's half-life was running down, but they definitely did show some positive chops, at least after the sound board brought the guitars up to a normal level after the first song. Their set was a little short, but it was pretty decent, and people into this style probably enjoyed the hell out of this set.

During the set break, I got another drink, and ran into both Ken (MPD) and some Worcester people that I'd hung around with at shows before, and emphasized caution about Sonic Syndicate, as well as the positive fact that there was only one band more left. Of course, we'd rather have had two, but due to the tragic accident that took Vitek earlier this year, this tour wasn't an option any more for Decapitated.

Sonic Syndicate [3/7]
This was not a good performance from a fundamentally unoriginal and mediocre band. However, it was not the worst set I've ever seen, despite getting the worst crowd reaction that I've ever seen.

To understand why nearly everyone on the floor sat down about halfway through their set, and mostly stayed seated for the rest of the performance, we need to look at their setlist, which was probably more of a contributing factor than the band's Tokio Hotel haircuts.
1. Ordinary Story
2. [some In Flames song I couldn't immediately make]
3. Come Clarity
4. Goliaths Disarm Their Davids
5. Pinball Map
6. Hours Passed In Exile

Of course, they didn't actually play these songs, which might have even helped; what they did was take an obvious, fully-developed riff from the song in question, and then make a subpar "original" song around it, then play it indifferently, with a lot of mic problems and feedback squeals because, as usual, the Palladium soundboard was giving an opener the business. In the end, though, this couldn't disguise or ameliorate the fact that Sonic Syndicate is an In Flames coverband, and not a very good one, and absent Nuclear Blast's marketing push, there is no way they would be even signed and playing internationally, much less opening for Amon Amarth. The crowd recognized this, and acted appropriately.

Is sitting down en masse disrespectful? Yes, it is, but respect is neither universal nor a gift; it must be earned, and to the audience's credit, they did give Sonic Syndicate a fair shake. After three songs, when it was clear that they weren't going to get any better, they lowered the boom. If this is repeated enough, Nuclear Blast may eventually get the message and stop promoting them, at least until they can improve to the point where they don't need a label handing them everything on a plate. I didn't sit down, but I respect the decision of those who did; if Sonic Syndicate wants people not to sit down during their sets, they need to stop sucking or stop playing metal shows.

(Background for those who don't follow the Euro scene so closely: Sonic Syndicate did not come up via the normal route of demos, limited-release albums and EPs on tiny labels, and DIY touring. They won a contest sponsored by Nuclear Blast, for reasons that very few European metalheads have been able to understand, and have been massively promoted and oversold beyond their talent level ever since. They are as close to a 'made' band in the pop sense as exists in metal today.)

So after people stood up, it was fortunately a fairly short wait for Amon Amarth to go on. Though it wasn't quite as packed or as long a wait as Blind Guardian last year (one year to the day), the feel down front was much the same -- and fortunately, the awesomeness to come approached the same level.

Amon Amarth [7/7]
This wasn't quite the best set I've seen from these guys, but it was the best that I've seen indoors. With only two openers, they got a nice long set, and in the course of it played virtually everything you could want from the band (unless, of course, you were looking for Sorrow Throughout The Nine Worlds material or "Bloodshed") -- and if you missed something and actually feel bummed about it, there's something wrong with you. They dedicated "Fate of Norns" to Vitek, with also the wish that Decapitated will continue, as unlikely as that may be. There was an even mix of new and older stuff, and in their encore, they did "Victorious March", which I'm not sure I'd ever seen live; they didn't do it last time, and it's kind of wicked long to do in a festival slot. The sound was great, though not as good as this venue can do on those rare occasions when the stars align just right, and the overall experience was simply excellent.

Seeing this band really pack this venue nearly all the way up (though they didn't open the balcony) brought me back to the comments from their tourmanager on the Wrath of the Norsemen DVD; "I don't listen to heavy music myself," he said, "but this band could go very far. I don't think they've anywhere reached the peak of their popularity yet." This on a discbox that includes an appearance playing after midnight at Wacken, and it's certainly borne out by the way they've conquered North America to date. This is a death metal band that sings about vikings, and you don't really expect such to draw so strongly with both young and old, core metal fans and more peripheral people, as were in evidence at this gig. For an explanation, you have to look at the music: it's not enormously difficult to listen to, full of melodic hooks, but still powerful and stone-heavy, and it does in a certain way play into the revival of metal in the popular imagination that produces stuf like Dethklok and Brutal Legend. In a millieu where metal's sincerity is fodder for over-the-top irony, Amon Amarth stands straight in and goes merely right to the top; the deathviking thing is a hook for the culturally curious, and then the enduring power keeps people committed once they actually listen to the band.

Unfortunately, there was more than a little far-right feel down front at this one. On the one hand, this is somewhat to be expected given how the right has co-opted Norse heathen ideas and symbology; if rightists are going to listen to non-political death metal, it's probably going to be Amon Amarth. (The debate on whether Malevolent Creation is political in this sense is by no means settled.) On the other hand, this is a metal gig, and metalheads ought to know better. There are problems with our society that aren't being answered by the standing system, but the far right doesn't have the answers either, and they tend to cause a bunch of their own problems as well. If you're going to put your right arm up, put a fist or the horns at the end of it. Don't do the Roman salute: that wasn't cool 80 years ago, and it's not cool now.

The worst part about rightists is that they force digressions like this that take away from the actual events of the show. This was by any measure an awesome gig, and I certainly can't wait to see Amon Amarth again -- though hopefully with a more consistent undercard -- whether in Europe, here, or in a larger venue as they continue to gain support and interest.

Next gig's either tonight with Autumn Above if the weather cooperates, or Lair of the Minotaur headlining Watchmaker's curtain call Tuesday.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Suffocation with Immolation, Skinless, Downfall, Never The Next Day, Slayed Innocence, Devil's Champion, Seize The Day, Severed Survival, and Judecca

(show is from Mark's in Bedford, on 11/17/2007, but the local openers completely filled up the title field)

(also, apologies to the Summoning Hate dudes; I wasn't thinking when I did up the title and used their old name, and now I can't replace it without pushing some other band off the end.)

So I got up shortly after doors, as usual for a Saturday show, and got reacquainted with stages on shipping pallets, insipid pseudobeer, invasive security, the long parade of local bands, and all the other accoutrements of Mark's. I had almost forgotten how bad Coors Light is. This was enough 'nostalgia', though; the bands started up quickly, and the music got underway.

Judecca [4/7]
With their Pantera roots and death metal aspirations, along with the singer's scenester look, Judecca presented what many outside observers would categorize as a neat snapshot of metal in the Myspace age, and probably would include an egregious comparison to Job For A Cowboy. The only similarity between these two bands, though, is in that neither is particularly original or interesting; where JFAC cribs directly from Morbid Angel, Judecca are much more of a Pantera-following bro-core band who occasionally try to play death metal. They weren't in any sense bad, but they didn't do anything in this set that gave any indication that they're going to do anything as a band; the riffs were decent, but composition was lacking and as a result the songs never seemed to go anywhere.

Judecca started things off from the main stage, which led to a double-clutch later; given the lack of doods in-house, I'd have started the first local on the second stage to reduce total latency and give more bands longer sets. I'm surprised, though, that Bernie didn't – or, hopefully, couldn't – just add another local to the second stage.

Severed Survival [5/7]
I was quite pleased to see these guys again; aside from Summoning Hate, I hadn't seen any of the other locals I'd seen mentioned around yet, and it's nice to get a positive sure thing on a pay-to-play bill. This time around, they were a little more deathy and less thrashy, but it's really a matter of degrees, and this was still a kickass set of old-school extreme metal. They closed with some Dying Fetus rather than early Death on this one, and the impression was inescapable that they really ought to try to get slots that are not at Mark's; these guys would kick ass at O'Brien's or at Welfare Records with any number of other bands, and they'd probably have a better time if the crowd was moving around.

The same girl who was screaming for Suffocation (and maybe some of the other nationals, but she wasn't right on the rail next to me for Skinless and Immolation) was also screaming for these guys, so she probably knows the band. Regardless, it's a positive; every band needs someone to scream for them, and it's better to have girls doing so than the normal complement of sweaty hairy dudes.

Seize The Day [5/7]
Now, back to the main stage, for a decent but unfortunately somewhat forgettable metalcore band who at least did pass my most basic test: does this band adequately sound like second-rate In-Flames-circa-1997. They did, and it was a decent time; I tried to find the demos they said they had available later, but unfortunately did not. Like a bunch of other bands from this area, they could be the next new band out of Gothenchusetts, and they were pretty good. Interestingly, they had a third guitar on a stand for their bassist to swap onto, rather than adding a sixth member to play mostly rhythm and occasional leads. The sound balance didn't always bring it all the way through, but it was definitely an interesting wrinkle.

The most fortunate thing about this performance, though, was that the singer's ass managed to stay in his pants for the whole set. The same cannot be said of his boxers.

Devil's Champion [5/7]
If Judecca was a bro-core band attempting to play death metal, Devil's Champion came off as a solid death metal band trying to play bro-core with their standard tunings. More death metal got into their sound in the process, and the result was fairly good; I'd seen their name on a couple Pyad bills and some other shows from the Valley, and they're definitely worth checking out for folks on the North Shore and surrounding areas. I did get their demo, but haven't listened through yet; it'll be interesting to see these guys develop, and which direction they decide to take. If this was the sound of "modern death metal" in the US, there'd be a lot fewer people complaining about it.

If you're a real nitpicker and wanting to know which of the three bands at each of the 4, 5, and 6 points on this gig was better than the others, there's an easy solution: go to more shows. The comments only go so far, and you really need to be there live to get an accurate handle on these situations where I resist the urge to do split ratings, which are inherently kind of dumb.

Summoning Hate [6/7]
Changing their name definitely hasn't changed Boston's best Latin death metal band; despite a few hitches – which later caused David (drums) to insist that their performance sucked – they were easily better than the other locals on the bill, and hung in well with the nationals, meriting the billing that had them WSGed for the touring bands on most of the venue flyers leading up to the gig. Despite those few points where the Avilas were out of phase with each other, this was a good set featuring some really good music; death fans in the Northeast should check these guys out, not least because at least according to the band, you're likely to see even a better set than this one.

This was the part where the stage scheduling double-clutched and left no band playing while they did a set change on the main stage. On one level, it's understandable; Summoning Hate belonged on the same stage as the nationals, both in skill level and general degree of recognition. On another, it's not, given that they could have started with the second stage, played around with the lineup, and had less latency and longer sets. The hopeful part in here is that there was another band originally scheduled, who had to drop due to not meeting their ticket commitments, and Bernie wasn't able to convince any of the other brutalish metal bands in the area to submit to the required reaming. Henry was looking around before the gig to see if there would be enough Mortis Dev supporters going to make taking a slot viable, which apparently didn't pan out; it's always good to see bands get shows, but it's better for them to get paid for doing those gigs (which MD has no problem doing).

Skinless [6/7]
This is what we were all waiting for, the irresistible force (Skinless) versus the immovable object (New Hampshire's anti-mosh laws and TNT's rigorous implementation thereof). This round was a draw, but it was a draw done to the strains of some killer slammish death metal, drawn heavily from Skinless' early catalog, which is being reissued on CD by a combination record label and wrestling promotion. Hooray for the internet driving disruptive business models! This set's crowd-participation activities included the Wave, jumping jacks, and the Zombie Wall of Death, as well as one guy unfortunately getting thrown out for, you guessed it, moshing. The band was quite upset about this last, but this didn't show up for another couple sets.

With the nationals starting up, the venue started to fill up, with a lot more people that I recognized coming in. I gave Brandon (Rohirrim) the Graveland patch I'd woven into an order of some other stuff a while back, and noticed, courtesy of the Summoning Hate posse coming up to see their guys, something that does not happen often: Megan from Hekseri standing next to a guy at an 18+ show that she was legitimately taller than. ;) This was in addition to a bunch of other people I recognized, but unfortunately for the Skinless drummer, not any of the Sexcrement guys (because he was wearing one of their shirts). They, like a lot of the scene in the area, were occupied with not supporting this club due to the pay-to-play and anti-mosh policies.

Slayed Innocence [4/7]
I went back to take a look at these guys, and found them to be mediocre bro-core. I decided I had different priorities and finished getting my merch, then went back to camp the rail for Immolation and Suffocation. They didn't do much by hearsay to convince me that I'd made a mistake, but they weren't actively bad either.

Immolation [6/7]
Immolation, by contrast, put up a killer set, much more tilted to their new stuff than when I saw them at Metalfest. Of course, they were touring behind a new record this time, and the Shadows In The Light material is tremendous, but if you hadn't seen Immolation prior to this, you did miss a bunch of their classics. Of course, the music and delivery thereof was so good that any first timers probably didn't notice or care; the dual leads and prominence of melody in Immolation's music made them a strong contrast to the denser brutality of the other nationals, and should have attracted the interest of people who came out mostly to see the less brutal local bands.

Never The Next Day [4/7]
Like, for, example, these guys, who presented very little evidence that they should be anywhere near a Suffocation bill, let alone playing it. What this group offered is what should be understood as "scenegrind", a new and mostly crummy variant that people need to stop calling grindcore just because scenesters think it is. The mixture of metalcore vocals and a few slammy riffs repeated incessantly did not do much to help the band's cause with the death metal troopies there to see some of the genre's leaders in technical brutality, and, truthfully speaking, the music wasn't really good in any kind of independent sense – and you'd need to be really good to overcome having your singer in a white dress shirt and a gelled-up nohawk with this crew.

Suffocation [7/7]
Then, of course, there's Suffocation, who could debatably come out wearing spandex and Devo hats and still slay. Of course, they didn't, keeping their keep-it-brutal maxim as always, but they did slay, delivering a top-class set of death metal, including a bunch of stuff that they hadn't done in a long while. The sound wasn't quite as good as last year in Worcester, but the performance was maybe a little more consistent. Either way, it was damn killer, and provided an excellent cap to the evening and a perfect soundtrack to victory in the Battle of Bedford.

During Suffocation, two guys got thrown out, but they didn't go down without a fight, and managed to take out two of the security guys in the process, including the huge guy who stumps around for intimidation effect. After this, the secus were a lot more cautious about stepping in down front; core death metal guys fight back a lot harder than most of the opposition they probably get in ejecting scene kids.

The finishing blow, however, was delivered by the guys from Skinless, who blitzed in across the stage and jumped out into the crowd, who managed to keep them from just going straight into the floor. I was concerned that they might get tossed and cause a huge blowup, but Jason (vocals) resolved that as soon as he got out: "They can't throw us out, Frank!" At that point, the balance of power shifted; if the nationals are down front brewing things up, the security can't charge in and brutalize anyone without running the risk of injuring them and causing major trouble with the promoters. From then till the end, there was a nice little pit running down front, a first, at least for a while, at this venue.

So, we won the Battle of Bedford, at least in this particular confrontation, and hopefully, it'll force a shift in how TNT and Mark's approach the moshing issue. The state laws aren't going to change, but the enforcement has to; you cannot really have a metal show in a strict, ejection-only, no-mosh environment. People will get violent and get carried away at times, and if you want a no-mosh environment, just give them a bear hug and tell them to watch where they're throwing their limbs, try not to hit anyone smaller than themselves. There's no need to eject people violently for moshing, rather than actually fighting, even under a state ban: the caution signs at the Palladium work just fine to shield them from liability, and similar signs, subject to state constraints, would probably do it here at Mark's.

The problem here has always been artificial: fascist security, bad location, and ill-advised booking regimes. The second isn't that bad, and the other two can be easily overcome. If more bands are refusing to buy into p2p tactics and the security is starting to get a clue about how to handle metalheads, this could be a decent place to see a show. Could be – for once there was a positive trend at the end of a Mark's show, but there's no sure sign that it's going to continue.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Ipsissimus with Aura of Aquila and Dominatus [Ralph's, Worcester, 10/18/2007]

Despite Zircon scratching late due to injury (if you're an extreme-metal drummer, you kind of want both your legs to be in perfect working order), this was still a killer show with the great atmosphere that people have come to expect from Metal Thursday. Zircon scratching meant that the likely start time was pushed back, so I was able to both drive in a little later -- missing a lot of the traffic, but not any of the funeral fog that's been hanging over the whole of the North Shore the last two days -- and survive the delay from multiple backups on both the Pike and 290 where the cops had brought everything down to one lane. As it was, I made it in plenty of time to get a beer, pillage Aura of Aquila's merch table, skin some obscure stuff off Jeremy, and read a few bits of a recentish Grimoire of Exalted Deeds -- I think the zine relaunch after the glossy folded, with Bill, of course, as zany and self-obsessed as ever -- before the music started. Since I'm going to be going to Texas Sunday, both the Grimoire and the copy of Enslain mag (bonus points for metal crossword puzzle in the back) that I picked up were going to be rolled forward as terminal reading material...and plus, if you sit around a more or less unlit bar trying to read while bands are playing, you are a huge bozo.

Dominatus [5/7]
This was a significant step up from the last time I saw them, where Dan wasn't playing bass yet, and the addition of the low end really filled out and enhanced the sound. Most of the set was death metal, with its influences more or less obvious, and the band's original essence working in around the edges, but this took a significant turn on "The Wolf of Man", a new one, which was straight-up Black Circle violent black metal. Dominatus definitely has the potential to develop further into a kickass original death metal act, but this bit showed that they could concievably also pull a Darkthrone and change fields with equally good results. This is a band to watch, and not only because their future course is apparently wide open, but because they are really good at this extreme metal shit.

Aura of Aquila [6/7]
Apparently the sound was really crappy the last time I saw this band, up at Mark's, because there they did not immediately bring to mind Forest Stream, as they did here. Of course, there's the usual course of artistic development to be considered -- and the fact that Jim and Chris had to replace their bass player again in the intervening time. Since there were only 3 bands playing and sets were longer, they were able to do, like, six or seven songs, which if you're familiar with this school of flowing, doom-influenced black metal, is a hell of a long time covered. While they aren't going to be to everyone's tastes, if you can handle a bit of necrotism in the sound -- keeping it true with small, heavily overdriven gear -- and the fact that these pieces go on and on and happen to like, well, music, you should be glad that you don't have to go to Russia to hear a band like this. A great set, and on its own well worth coming out for.

Ipsissimus [6/7]
I'd gotten their demo a long time back, and dug it, so I was definitely interested in seeing them live. Whether it was bad memory on my part or additional development on theirs, they came off as more experimental than I was expecting, but this was definitely to the good. They had the scream-and-blast side of black metal down pat, but also branched off from established forms with some interesting digressions in both form and tone. Some of them didn't really work, getting to someplace where it was difficult to see how the music could be tied back to the main thrust of the song, but most of them did, which means that whatever they release next (obviously, they overran their sole 4-song demo to date) will be really worth looking out for -- and the band is worth going to catch live in the interim as well.

I don't know if they're quite worth going three hours' drive to see, though, even in support of Enslaved (and potentially also Zyklon and Daylight Dies). That bill is pretty fuckin' killer, though, and up at Mark's Screwplace all we're allegedly getting is Arsis (good) and The freakin Agonist (who keep getting on tours for NO APPARENT REASON). If it wasn't in November, I'd have to entertain the idea more seriously; unfortunately, that month, I've got books to write.

I got back from the show in good order and finished cleaning up the first stage of the stuff I needed to handle before going to Austin, and happily also saw that the Sox won. There may be a correlation between "game on the tevilission at metal show" and "good guys win" (sorry Cleveland, reflex; I've been through north Ohio and know I really shouldn't be piling on) that needs further exploring -- and continued metalhead eyeballs at After Forever (not going to due to family commitments) and Overkill (not going to due to Dudes^3 XOR resting up for Texas) at Mark's.

If Dudes 3 is on, I will be there (provided I can find the new locale); the previously planned location has gotten dusted due to neighbor issues, but they're looking for an alternate venue. If you're in the Boston area and you like thrash metal, you should be there too -- and you should go to Newbury Comics and pick up Ramming Speed's 7" in advance so that it doesn't get broken bouncing off walls or other doods. After that, I'll be in Austin spamming restrooms at rock clubs on Sixth Street when I'm not at work (got a bunch of Open Grave Records cards, and the stuff from Hell's Headbangers I haven't passed out yet), so if you have flyers you want spread in the cool part of Texas, find the guy in the crazy jacket.

In case you didn't know, At The Gates is playing Wacken this addition to Carcass, and Kreator, and Iron Maiden with their Golden Years set. Just thought you might want to know. Tickets are here, a good place to start looking for flights is here, and you want to get in to either Frankfurt, Amsterdam, or Berlin and buy your train ticket to Hamburg after you hit the ground. I may do an updated Wackenguide this year given the huge interest in people from this area going; some things changed with the attendance cap, and these should be noted.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Type O Negative with Mushroomhead, Dark Funeral, Lordi, Naglfar, Daath, and Unexpect [Worcester Palladium, 10/13/2007]

I got a little late start, but still got out in good time due to the lack of traffic and managed to get good parking despite the all-day horror convention. This meant that I could get right up front (relatively speaking) for Unexpect, and didn't miss any of their set. They were the only band that I had any interest in that I hadn't seen before, and like everyone who'd heard In A Flesh Aquarium, I was really curious to see how they could bring that insanity of sound live.

Unexpect [6.5/7]
Of course, the answer to that is "frenetic and precise"; against all logic, the band threw up a dense wall of sound with amazing execution and surprising fidelity for a technical opening band at the Palladium. Of course, the ridiculous intricacy lost a lot of the crowd, but this would happen with just about any bill they could open; most people can't keep up with a sound like this, and there were a lot of people here to see Mushroomhead. They'd do a lot better at the Middle East rather than opening a gargantuan hall like this at half-full, but they'd have to play in front of, like, Finntroll and Solefald, because that's the sort of demented black metal that's going to give them an audience that'll be into their sound. I like them, and if you like complex post-black metal, you ought to too.

I picked up their prior record to ...Aquarium and a patch from their merch dude; I got lucky in that they still had a small-size patch available, because even though they were going to let me get the larger size for the same price, there isn't really anywhere that I could put it on my rig. As it is, I'll probably be able to fit it in somewhere, especially as I've got to do a fair bit of design to get my new Old Wainds patch on somewhere that doesn't suck.

Daath [5/7]
They came off as a little more metalcore than black-metal-and-rockish on this outing, but still put up a fundamentally decent performance. I'm not a huge fan of this sound, but it's still good music, and a decent time. I may not be into them, but there were a lot of people at this gig who were, and there's nothing to complain about with good metal.

Naglfar [6/7]
I was down front for these guys, because while the atmosphere couldn't be better than the last time I saw them (in an icy rain at Wacken '05), I could get a hell of a lot closer. This is the advantage of American club shows; most of the time, you can see bands from right up front if you really want to, without elbowing through a space measured in hectares and packed like a sardine tin. Their set was really short (or so it seemed -- music this good really makes the time fly) and balanced towards their later stuff, but still relentlessly good overall. Naglfar may not have thoroughly separated themselves as a leading original force in black metal, but they execute extremely well, and on a mixed bill like this, a great set of doctrinaire material is always going to be well-received.

I stayed up front, because either Dark Funeral or Lordi would be up next; I didn't especially care about either, but seeing either from up front would be a good time. As it turned out, Lordi was next, which was good all around; even if I see them in Europe, it will not be from the first couple rows, and I've already seen Dark Funeral from closer at Mark's, so I could go back.

Lordi [5.5/7]
If Unexpect knocked the crowd for a loop, Lordi plonked them one up over the Monster seats. There were a lot more people in the house, and they had basically no idea what they were going to be like; the monster suits and melodic hard rock, coupled with a few technical difficulties, led to a lot of "GWAR! GWAR! GWAR!" and "You suck!" in the early going. As the band continued, they won over some people, and others stopped caring, so the reaction got a little better, and a big part of this is that the music got better as they went on. In addition to the obligato closer ("Hard Rock Hallelujah"), they also did the infinitely better "Devil Is A Loser", but unfortunately not "Supermonsters"; still, I got to see Lordi from effectively the front, and to observe that the "tall" guys in the band are mostly that way because they're in twelve-inch platform boots. That they're able to stomp around stage in such, play music at a high level of execution, and convert at least part of a hostile crowd says a lot about their professionalism. Unfortunately, Lordi is still a band to see live rather than hear on record; apart from a song or two, they, like KISS before them and unfortunately unlike GWAR, have very few attractions besides the stage spectacle.

Now that I was sure that there weren't any more bands I needed to see from up front -- I didn't care about Dark Funeral and wasn't going to submit myself to Mushroomhead in order to see Type O from no closer than I'd seen them this summer -- I hit the head, got my jacket picked over by these girls who were for some reason in the men's room line, saw Crazy Dan in corpsepaint, flyered the urinals with some Hell's Headbangers junk, and got a last drink before heading back down. It wouldn't be a big Palladium show if the bathrooms weren't completely insane; at least there was re-entry so they weren't completely full of smoke.

Dark Funeral [5/7]
If there is a more boring black metal song than Dark Funeral's "Open The Gate", I want to hear about it. I don't necessarily want to hear it, though; DF has a couple decent songs, but is largely about the most boring black metal band that I have ever seen. They execute well, and they do have those flashes of quality, but most of their sound is extremely doctrinaire, and it really seems like every other word in the lyrics is "Satan". The sound was better overall than when I saw them up in New Hampshire, and they had, as mentioned, some decent songs, but the main function of this set was to be better than Mushroomhead. This is not hard, but it's definitely more the band's speed than to try and catch Naglfar.

Mushroomhead [3/7]
I sat down for most of this band, incidentally with some of the guys from Dreaded Silence and crew, until Nick knocked over somebody's trash cup by accident and we had to wait until the NEPGM flyers soaked up the liquid and we could sit back down. On principle I stand and watch all bands, every song, but this principle is safely discarded when you're talking about a "band" that a) steals gimmicks from Blue Man Group (viz. the water-topped drums on the stagefront) and b) has spinners on their bass drums. I am seriously not making this up. The actual music was pretty terrible, crummy enough that even ten and more years ago, when I was still in high school and a lot more willing to headbang to Korn and Sevendust than I am now, I probably wouldn't've gotten into it, but the sound was even worse. Much like when Fear Factory was in last year, they overdrove the loudness to compensate for a lack of technicality, and the resulting noisefest was just absolute crap. Contrary to the singer's protestations about what you get when you go to a metal show, this was not "metal shit". This was instead only "shit metal", and all the loudness in the world cannot compensate for that.

For the impression that more loud is necessarily more metal, I blame Motorhead; they've done a lot of good, but this is one bit that is not. Metal often is better loud, but loudness is not necessary, and excessive loudness is a debit. A good metal band is just as able to play a kickass set through practice amps in a coffeehouse as through three-story PA stacks to acres of fans at an open-air. More importantly, it's possible to be loud without sounding like shit. I've been on the fence in front of PA banks that are responsible for filling those infields without incurring hearing loss or getting a damaged sound, and every single other band at this gig had at least a decent sound, with only a few feedback squeals; that Mushroomhead sounded this bad, and was this overdriven, indicates that they were deliberately mixed to sound this way, and that this is what the band and their fans actually wanted. Raise your hands if you're surprised that a second-tier nu-metal band and the people who like them have an impeded sense of what's musical or what sounds good.

In front of us, there was this guy jumping around and dancing, despite the fact that we were not on the floor. I liked some nu-metal back in the day, so I was prepared to cut him a little slack. Then he turned around; in addition to his bald spot, his face made it clear that he was somewhat over 30, and thus at least in the neighborhood of five years older than me. There's little enough excuse for anyone to like nu-metal in this day and age; those who are older than me and liked in back when it was actually current have no excuse at all. If you were born prior to 1980, and were thus older than 14 or 15 when you first heard Korn's self-titled, and like or liked nu-metal anyway, feel free to explain yourself and try to change my mind.

Type O Negative [7/7]
In some ways this wasn't as special as the set I saw at Wacken, but if it wasn't as good an experience, it was probably a better musical performance; the band was more together and Peter was less impaired, probably due to no jetlag and more bodymass. He's still thin, but he's looking a lot better than he was this summer. They got a nice long set, slanted more towards their gothic stuff than thrash (probably the environment), and leavened with a lot of new material. The stage presentation was basically flawless, and the result was a stellar musical and overall experience. Great stuff; here's hoping that we can catch another performance like this with a little more uniform undercard.

I should have grabbed a bunch of Zircon flyers on the way out to pump Metal Thursday at Welfare Records tonight, but did not, being more focused on getting home before I fell asleep driving or something -- the show didn't get out till like 2, and I was already on short rest after the gig Friday. It's probably ok, though; Aura of Aquila will be pimping their set, and should put up a cool enough performance to make our North Shore doods make the drive out. That should be a good 'uniter' show; between the four bands, there's Worcester, Connecticut, North Shore, and South Shore represented, and that'll hopefully lead to more cross-region shows in more areas and more cross-pollination, which is always better for the scene.

Only Ash Remains with My Pet Demon, Emily Russo, and the Haverhill P.D. Extravaganza [Haverhill Elks, 10/12/2007]

I got in about doors, but initially thought that the show was bagged or something, because there were originally five 'band' bands on this bill besides Emily's Mambo Kurt schtick, and when I got in, there was a total of one drumkit kind of set up, and a couple doods sitting around noodling on acoustic and lap steel guitars. Apparently, most of Broken Banner (those who were not also in Only Ash Remains) did not show up, and Even The Ground seemingly disappeared (their guitarist did show, and did the Sublime covers, but the rest of the band was not in evidence). So people slowly filtered in, and we drank beers and listened to acoustic-rock (from Broken Banner's bassist/Only Ash Remains's non-Mark guitarist) and Sublime covers and piano renditions of classic-rock hits and ate ten-cent Frostees (hails to Matt from MPD, who probably made almost as many fans at this gig by giving away ice cream that he got at ten for a buck as they did playing music to the people who didn't manage to get free foods), and watched the Red Sox knock the stuffing out of Cleveland. Nothing to argue about; the team was winning, the music was decent, and the company was as cool as could be desired, but if the Sox weren't on, this could have gotten old, boring, and ugly real fast.

Exactly why the first two bands mostly bagged is unknown, but at the risk of generating scene drama (which I hate more than death), there is the possibility that this was a "book us above the puppet show" incident; while Emily plays a good set, it's understandable that aspiring rock bands wouldn't want to open up ahead of her. Understandable, yes; reasonable, no, not really. If you're going to hang around in local music, you need to get used to promoters making weird decisions, and you really need to take and show up for any non-P2P shows that you can get.

Soon enough, though, the metal bands started.

My Pet Demon [6/7]
I know they've done better, which is why this one didn't go higher. Otherwise, wow. They opened with "Expiration Date", which was a good song before, and is light-years better now, a theme which is going to come up again and again with the Raise The Flag material. This set was kind of short, and almost all new material, the exception being "Ace of Spades", which they've been playing since about forever; hopefully, they'll be able to do a full-length set at their release show, as there's still a lot of good material from their earlier records. They closed with a somewhat surprising rendition of Neil Young's "Rockin' In The Free World"; it's difficult in the normal course of things to see this tune as a metal song, but that's certainly how it came out here; we'll see if they end up B-siding it somewhere in the future.

Only Ash Remains [5/7]
These guys started kind of slow, but were decent once they got going; unlike last time, either the sound was better or I was just standing in a better place, and I heard a little more Pantera and AAF-core in their metalcore sound. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of this sound, but they had decent execution...until the plug got pulled.

Here comes those unintentional headliners; Indignation was supposed to top this bill, but a little after 11, the cops came in with a directive to turn down. This was not met with an immediate reduction in noise output, so the PA plug got pulled. Things snowballed from there; the cop pushed, Mark (the organizer and the guitarist in Only Ash Remains) pushed back, and the po-po called for reinforcements and shut the show down. This was, of course, bullshit, but hopefully the mostly temperate and restrained reaction will prevent this cool venue from getting shut down. This could be a blip, or it could be the beginning of the end; hopefully not, but local venues continue to go down for crummy reasons all the time.

This brings us to the moral of the story: because the police have, essentially, arbitrary power as long as they don't physically harm anyone, the right thing to do in a situation like this is to bite your lip and go yes-sir-yes-sir, then agitate for better police oversight after they get out of the situation where they might start the ball rolling to get the venue shut down. A good all-ages venue, especially with a bar, is worth more than any single set from any one band for what it contributes to the scene and the opportunities that it gives to local bands, and these do not grow on trees. There's Welfare Records in Haverhill now, but it's better if we have both Welfare and the Elks; the one does not make the other dispensible.

With that in mind, I'll wind it up with this observation from Philly thrash-punks Rambo (available as "Skate, Bike, Mosh" on their sweet LP Wall Of Death The System):
kids, experiment with drugs
there's nothing you can do
giving them nothing
is not a solution
bikes and skateboards and dancing at the shows
if we do not have these things where are we to go
we the kids, have found something to do
but it's always ruined by those without a clue

It's a little trite, but it's certainly true; if you kill off venues for physical activity and creative expression, you shouldn't be surprised when kids turn out sedentary, surly, dumb, and chemically addled.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Sexcrement with Pillory, Bane of Existence and Revocation [O'Brien's, 10/3/2007]

Midweek shows are, in general, a crapshoot; most touring bands know that we have an extensive scene, but with extremely irregular employment and school commitments, in this area, and tend to book their shows on weekends. Smaller tours that have to do a minimum-travel-distance cover are the exception, and there's always the risk that a band doing a DIY tour is doing so not because they just don't have any label/booking support, but because they can't get any. This was going to be one of those smaller tours -- was going to be, because as a quick look at Metal-Archives will reveal, all of these bands are from Boston.

The reason for this is that Lecherous Nocturne -- who would have really slayed on this gig -- was billed as the headliner up until the moment where they got their van and all their gear stolen, leaving them stranded in Houston, penniless and half a continent away from home. As touring catastrophes go, this is about as bad as it gets short of fatal injuries; if you like death metal and don't have their CDs yet, hit up your favorite distro and order them. If you go to underground gigs, some of your friends probably also will hit the road with a van, no budget, and three weeks of gigs to play, and you certainly wouldn't want them to stay marooned wherever some methhead decides that ripping off the van is easier than breaking in and just stealing the cymbals for scrap.

When I left to go in, the Sox were up 1-0 in the second or so; the drive was uneventful, despite the candlelight vigil for Burma on the front steps of MIT as I came up Mass Ave, and the walk over into Allston not especially demanding. I stood around outside basically just long enough to explain why I was dressed out of twig -- unsure of the ground on the insert/extraction route, I passed up my kutte as it tends to attract notice, though it wouldn't've made a difference and won't going forward -- then went in and got processed. The Sox were in the 8th, up 4-0, and had won the game by the time I finished my first beer. One down, ten to go.

It needs to be mentioned at some point that O'Brien's is almost not the same place any more. The stage is still wedged in a corner, and there are still a bunch of poles running through the middle of the floor, but in the place of the broken and beer-soaked old floor, there is nice varnished hardwood that the staff actually mops to keep it from going to shit again, and the tables and weird hump that used to break up the space even more have been pretty much effaced. O'Brien's is a real venue now, with a real mixing stand and suspended lights and PA, instead of a crummy bar that bands play at. It's a hell of a lot more livable now, but despite the cleanliness, increased space, and improved sound, there are still moments where you're nostalgic for the old days when things wasn't all so high-toned an' sivilized, to follow Twain (I've been re-reading Huck Finn lately, and in addition to being better than Twain's other novels. it does improve with repeated reads).

Enough about the venue, this isn't fuckin' Zagat's; there was four hours of death metal here, which was the real point.

Revocation [6/7]
They played down a very similar set to the one they did down in Taunton last time, but a little abbreviated and a bit tighter as well. The sound was a lot better here than I anticipated, and though the guitar and bass weren't miked -- no point in a room this small where the cabs are going to dominate the PA anyways -- the balance was as good as the sound was clear. The newer material is starting to take over from the Summon The Spawn stuff in the setlist, and you can't listen to it and not be immediately impressed; there's been no noise about new recorded material, but the band has no shortage of new stuff that they don't do live, the reason for its absence obviously being that they still have to tweak and rehearse it until it becomes as letter-perfect as their current live material.

Bane of Existence [5.5/7]
I was really impressed with the band's technical execution, which in places -- especially Mike's drums -- is just flat staggering, but the band unfortunately came off as a little flat. It may have been where I was standing, though the later bands sounded better from the same spot, or just less 'on' of a night than I saw from them last time, but while it was definitely an enjoyable set, it didn't really reach out and grab you as much as the other bands. They were still damn good, and the return of their old vocalist to guest on a couple songs was a cool touch, but for me more intellectually than viscerally appealing.

Pillory [6/7]
I hadn't heard these guys before, but came away with a good impression; they don't fit the mold of what people may think a "Unique Leader band" should sound like (specifically, "exactly like Deeds of Flesh"), but they definitely gave a solid performance and strongly presented their take on brutal death. Their material was debatably the most techncially composed of the night, vying with Revocation for that title with a lot of separated lines that didn't immediately line up with each other. If I can remember correctly, there was a wee bit of grind influence as well, but it could just be the beer portion of the evening playing tricks on my memory. Regardless, it was a pretty killer set, again featuring some contributions from the band's former vocalist. To some these might just be typical local-band antics, but this leaves aside the point that these bands are pretty damned good, and the opportunity to see these kinds of performances isn't afforded to others who see them when they gig out.

Sexcrement [6.5/7]
The last up, they were also about the least technical of the night, but no less heavy, compensating with solid grooves for the decision to not engage in as much fretboard wizardry. As might be expected, from being the last band, groove driven, and the audience thoroughly gassed, this is where it got violent, maybe more than might have been abstractly expected for a local show on a Wednesday. It was certainly more than was expected by the people who had chairs out on the floor at the start, and then had to make tracks for the bar before they got knocked over. The music was quality, more than just a backdrop for shoving one another all over the place and into various walls and support poles, but the antics were what really took this set up the additional notch -- though my unambiguously positive view of these developments may well be colored by not seeing Adam (the singer)'s wang at any point during the time where he had his pants yanked down below his ass. This seems to not have been universally true, and if you did get an eyeful of weiner when you weren't expecting such, it might well put a damper on your night.

It's self evident, though, that this was a good enough show that just seeing one dick wouldn't be nearly enough to ruin an overall killer night.

The walk back to Cambridge was uneventful, but on the drive out, I got screwed over again by the MA DOT, who for reasons known only to them closed down Rt 1 and Rt 93 northbound -- and 90 westbound from 93 south. There was, within degrees, no reasonable way to get home, so I got on Mass Ave again and rode that out until it crossed 128. I can understand the safety risks presented by allowing people to just glue concrete to the roof instead of bolting it in place like a sane person would do, but do you seriously have to close ALL northbound roads AT THE SAME TIME to do the repairs? Blockheads.

Next show isn't until next weekend; I'll spend the intervening time doing research for this year's books (last year's are free, by the way) and potentially cooking an arbitrarily large number of pork buns on the weekend. Then again, thanks to our penchant for industrial-scale cooking -- my brother was house manager in his frat at college and I worked in a dining hall for four years -- we spent all last week scarfing chicken parm, and are this week working through like nine pounds of baked potatoes and about a half-gallon of baked beans. At least the pork buns I might have a chance to give away at some point. Who wants a bushel?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Abnormality with The Accursed, Revocation, and Do I Exist [Club Aurora/Band Stand Live, Taunton, 9/28/2007]

This is the inaugural Metal Showcase from last night; this could have been a little better, but for a first gig it was pretty damn cool, and the bands definitely kicked ass.

I took off from work right around five, and managed to battle my way down through Boston to the venue in a little under two hours. The roads weren't too rough once I got out the south side of the city, and it was more or less fair sailing once I got off the Southeast Parkinglot. With a less awesome lineup, there would be all manner of reasons for northerners to beg off slogging through the traffic morass to get down.

This is too bad, because Club Aurora is a really good venue with a lot to recommend it, even if it's buried in back roads and at the other end of the populated part of the state. The room is huge, with an easy safe capacity of two or three hundred, clean and witha good stage and PA setup that for the most part treated the bands really well. The parking lot's all gravel, but there's on-site parking, which is all but a mythical beast in the underground, and if there's no alcohol being served, they do have a full-service grill in the building, and South Shore bands who practice there don't have very far to lug their kit. As Anthony (Revocation) mentioned later, this place could play host to some serious gigs if they can build it up. This show will hopefully go a ways in influencing that.

Do I Exist [4/7]
I hadn't seen this band before, but in some ways I had; they played what probably might best be called "modern death metal", especially since it's a lot shorter than "less inspired late Carcass with a lot more breakdowns". The crowd for them was a lot more active than for the later bands, and more or less distinct from those who'd be in later; this is probably because the other bands were a lot more death metal and less moshable, but also potentially because the other bands, without exception, played them off the stage. As demonstrated, with the right crowd these guys get a good reaction, but they didn't match well with the rest of the bands on this lineup.

The next time you see a band like this in a large room, watch the toughguys carefully. I'm not saying that solo hardcore dancing looks just like aerobics, just that you need to watch closely and draw your conclusions from such observations. ;)

There was a bit of down time here, which is coincidentally when Mortis Deveia was supposed to play. Henry showed up a little later, while Revocation was setting up, but I'm not sure I recall seeing anyone else. They ended up not playing, and while most of that is on the band for not getting down in time, there's a share to be handed back to the organizers as well. I can understand Jeremy wanting to put the bands who draw in this area on later, and Mortis Dev earlier, but there's also a practical consideration to be made in that on a weekday, it is next to impossible to get off work at a normal time and drive from the New Hampshire border (in Lawrence) to the Rhode Island border (here) in the two hours that they would have needed to do so in order to get set up on time. There was probably a lack of communication involved, and the band may not have been aware of how time-intensive it can be to get to this place, not having played down in this area much; hopefully, they'll be back for one of these in the future, and everyone involved will have a better idea of the logistics necessary.

Revocation [6.5/7]
I hadn't seen these guys in a while -- they were on tour for most of August and I was in Germany for their kickoff -- but they were just as tight as ever, demonstrating some new stuff as well as new hooks on their old material. They even made Death's "Symbolic" their own, which is no mean feat, but even something as comparatively small as trem-picking doublets out of single notes, if applied in the right places, can have a drastic effect. There were a few rough spots, but others where the effect was as good as any set I've seen from them. It remains to be seen if I'll get down to O'Brien's on Wednesday, but the Advancement of Dudes combine is a virtual cert.

The Accursed [5/7]
They got off to a rough start but improved as the set went on; most of the improvement, though, was not on the band's part, but in the sound. Jon's vocals started off way too far forward, and it seemed like George's bass was buzzing or cutting out or something in parts. Nevertheless, they continued to press on, and eventually the mix got balanced right; the last half of the set ruled, and unlike the first half, it was a lot easier to tell.

It should be noted that the band doesn't pick up any extra points for Tim wearing a DFB Nationaltrikot. People should support good soccer federations, of course, but music does need to be judged as music. ;)

Abnormality [6/7]
It took a while for me to finally get around to seeing a full set from this band, but the wait, to a certain degree, was worth it. "To a certain degree" because, while this was a killer set, I'm not sure of the logic of that construction as applied to local bands. Despite not having a bass player (if I was still playing regularly, I'd, likel, file a union complaint or something (:roll:)), there isn't really anything lacking in Abnormality's brutal death sound, the guitars laying down a thorough barrage of crushing riffs. Unfortunately, there were several long pauses between songs, which did cut down the energy some; at a dry show, things have to keep moving quickly, as there isn't a bar for the crowd to default to, or beers to be concentrated on while the band's tuning or working on monitor balance. When the band was playing, at least, the effect was pretty damn awesome; they may need to work on their stagecraft a little, but the music is definitely there, which is the actually important part.

In sharp contrast to the drive down, the return trip was over largely empty roads and took less than an hour. It was a little tricky getting out of Taunton and back onto the highway, but not every local show can be at the Haverhill Elks or equivalent. In conclusion, more people from north of Boston need to come down to these things, but this will be aided greatly if their travel needs can be more taken into account. Of course, there's no reason to actually do this unless more northerners show up; either the chicken or the egg will have to step up and get it started, and if Jeremy can consistently assemble lineups of this quality, it'll be worth making the trip down regardless of weekday or weekend, whether more northern bands are on the bill or not.

Next show is either on Wednesday in Allston, or the clot at the end of the week after with two in Haverhill or one in Worcester. Midweek shows in Boston are a tough sell, but missing Revocation and Bane of Existence isn't something you like to think about.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Municipal Waste with Doomriders, Toxic Holocaust, and Skeleton Witch [Worcester Palladium Upstairs, 9/27/2007]

I might have gotten out of work a little earlier, but as it turned out, despite the congestion coming out of Boston and having to stop for gas on the Pike, I managed to get in before the first band started. I didn't know it at the time (as detailed later), though, but that didn't matter a whole lot; I got an unduly-expensive 1516-style beer to go with this otherwise inexpensive gig, and a good place to stand and probably not get hurt.

Skeleton Witch [5/7]
The only band I hadn't heard anything from before, these guys seriously impressed; the fusion of black and thrash metal was well done and fully worthy of a slot with the surrounding bands. Having them open the show might be a little dubious, given how cool their stuff was, but they did happen to be the only out-of-area band besides the headliners, which makes it a little more understandable. Though they had a lot of cool music, there were a bunch of parts where the riffage felt kind of undifferentiated; this is a common pitfall with underground thrash, though, and it's more likely that they'll continue to improve in the future rather than just staying at this level.

After their set, I joined in the huge lineup in front of their merch table to get a CD and a shirt...and a sticker and beer hugger because they were short change. It's cool; better to support bands than not, and a skull wearing a beer hat will make even the most tasteful and correctly-brewed beer super-kvlt. Surprisingly, there was a general shortage of kutte parts on sale at this gig; I got another Waste patch to put on the ultralight, but neither Skeleton Witch nor Toxic Holocaust had anything even screened. This is too bad, and kind of illogical; these bands appeal almost exclusively to people who build jackets, so it's pretty weird that they're not selling kit to be pinned/lashed/painstakingly hemmed and stitched onto such jackets after the gig.

Toxic Holocaust [5/7]
Coming out of the merch deck, I couldn't really get forward for this band, but this was okay; it's not a huge hall, and Sodom-reworking is decent even without the risk of knee damage. I didn't especially pick up on the D-thrash influences on Hell On Earth, but live, it was extremely obvious; mostly drawing on early Sodom with some Kreator for flavor, this was a decent and intense set of material that, in principle, I've seen several times now done better by its originators on larger stages and occasionally closer. This isn't anything against Toxic Holocaust; this was a killer performance featuring some new stuff that hasn't been recorded yet, and it does need to be borne in mind that the German thrash bands that they're building from either don't sound like this any more (Kreator) or don't generally tour the US (Sodom).

Doomriders [5/7]
Before these guys started, I thought that I'd missed their set or something; I'd seen the guys around the venue during Skeleton Witch, but figured that since I got in like 40 minutes after doors, they'd played a short set and closed up early, but then they set up and came out -- as local openers, after two of the bands that were on the tour. There are several potential reasons for this; the cynical one is that half the band is also in Converge, making them probably the most high-profile band playing. More concrete, in view of later events, though, is the possibility that they went on before just the Waste in order to allow the two touring openers, who would be even less likely to have a driver/tour manager, to load out and hit the road to the next gig early, since there was some fierce weather coming through. Whatever the reason, they played next to last, and there was enough crowd shift that I was able to move up almost to the edge of the pit, with the eye of sticking there through the end of the show. In the intervening time, Doomriders played a decent set of doom- and punk-influenced thrash that, if I recall correctly, was better by a bit than their set at Metalfest last year, but not by a large bit. Almost alone among the bands on this bill, they showed some variation in tempo and sound, but mostly stuck to their vision of fast, semi-crossover thrash. It was pretty good, and, honestly, I can't think of another Massachusetts band with the right sound and enough visibility to play as sole opener on a bill like this. (Sure, Volatile would work, but they're probably not even on Scott's radar at this point.)

While Doomriders were pretty well-matched to this bill, they'll be a better fit opening for Danzig next month as announced. I don't know if I'll be going to that; it's probably in Rock and Shock, and there's several other really good gigs elsewhere around then. And, also, there is no guarantee that Glenn will get punched out on stage by some hardcore dude whose band will afterwards be remembered solely for said kapow. ;P

Municipal Waste [6.5/7]
When you go to a Municipal Waste show, you have a fairly good idea of what you're going to get: old-school crossover thrash, sick circle pits, pileups, injuries, and dudes crowdsurfing on boogie boards. Only the last was missing, as the surfers and divers had to go it unaided, perhaps because of the dickish Middle East security taking the band's boards away back in February. They got most of everyone's personal favorites (among mine, no "Guilty of Being Tight", but yes, "Drunk As Shit", "Sweet Attack", and "I Want To Kill The President"), and for those who missed something, there was no shortage of opportunities to work out aggression up front. Nobody dove off the upper balcony (though one kid was ejected for attempting), which was probably just as well, as there were a bunch of people just diving off the stage who were being unevenly caught and sliding in weird directions down to the floor; fortunately, injuries were minimal and most people just had a thrashing good time. When they finally turned the lights back on and started getting the doods who flowed over the barrier on "Bangover" to jump back down off the stage, though, it was barely ten o'clock, and there are probably others out there besides me who thought it might have gone on for a few songs more. The set kicked ass, but as always, you always want more.

In this instance, it was a mixed bag; from about exit 12 on the Pike, I drove into an occasionally stupid-violent downpour coming back. In addition to my usual gripes about driving in the rain, my wipers were streaking and reducing visibility even further. This, in a word, sucked, but I came through with a whole skin and undamaged vehicle, and once I got north of the 93 cut-in on 128, it was pretty much down to mist. If the show had gone on longer, maybe the storm would have passed through my route entirely by the time I had to drive it -- or maybe I'd have been in the thick of it longer. One way or another, despite the slowness due to water falling in sheets and stopping for late eats -- in addition to the stress of driving, I'd come straight down from work and didn't really eat anything before doing to -- I still made it back narrowly before midnight, in plently of time to rest up and prepare to do another long-drive show tonight.

That one's in Taunton; here's hoping I can find the place based on the current directions, and that it won't be so choked coming down through Boston as it used to be when I was regularly going down the South Shore. With the bill that they've got, though, I should be able to see a significant fraction of Mortis Deveia, The Accursed, and Revocation no matter when I show up -- and when they're not playing, Abnormality is also cool, and getting on this show in itself speaks well of D.I.E., who I haven't heard yet.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Finntroll with Frozen, The Accursed, Provocate, Lord Bacon, Morgirion, and Habitual Offendaz [Mark's, Bedford, 9/23/2007]

I left what I thought was a little late, but managed to get up right around doors; we're out of that part of the year where people go to New Hampshire when they don't have to work. There was a fair number of people hanging around carbaring in the parking lot; again, Saturday show, and also, Finntroll, where the zaniness is enhanced by being well-oiled.

Habitual Offendaz [3/7]
To a certian degree these guys deserve sympathy. Unfortunately, none of it has to do with their music. This was a monotonous set of nu-metal boring; I'm not going to say that they were untalented, because they didn't actually play anything wrong, but nothing they did convinced me that they had much in the way of actual ability. Even more than the bands getting ripped off, this is the worst thing about pay-to-play shows: that you get bands that suck and don't match to open for Finntroll. Yecch.

Morgirion [5/7]
Despite the lack of a bass player, they put up a decent set of death metal that varied in its influences from black to doom metal. Unfortunately, the crowd wasn't enormously up for them; part of it was the style, but part of it was probably that they were wicked out of area; they come from Connecticut, and it's difficult that they could have gotten many people from their home ground to buy tickets to a show in New Hampshire. This was a good performance, but unfortunately they didn't have CDs; this, again presented a common strand at this gig.

During their set, there was a low-lvl Photog running around taking pics. He looked about lv 5, but I couldn't tell for sure; he had the blue bandanna, but I don't know when you get the quest for that class token. The body model he was using was familiar to other examples I've seen, but the ponytail was a little longer and the goatee a little sparser; the art department needs to get their ass in gear and do some more variations. Since he was low-lv, though, he couldn't dual-wield or use the flashchuck, so he was doing a bunch of noob things like walk around on the front, and it was pretty obvious that he didn't have enough bag slots to pack the right gear. gb2/ah/, n00b. He was gone, though, by the time the normal purple-decked lv 70 showed up after shooting SBC.

Lord Bacon [7/7]
This band has the largest ratio of actual coolness to name coolness that I have ever seen. You'd never know it from not listening to them, but this band is one to watch out for, following close on the heels of Atheist with aggressive, dense jazz-influenced instrumental technical death metal. This was an absolute technical feast, which I had the privilege of seeing front and center, mostly by accident, and with some comradely good fellowship, which was completely incidental to the music and continued through most of the rest of the show. They're playing again in November; I didn't get a ticket from them, but I'm definitely going to make a point of seeing them next time. Seriously, record something, dudes!

Provocate [4/7]
This is almost the clinical definition of letdown. My ears were on the point of falling off from boredom after one or two songs, and I got the impression that they somehow learned death metal from, like, a correspondance school or something without actually listening to any. It was bizarre in addition to sleep-inducing; they were obviously technically competent, but absolutely incapable of writing interesting songs -- despite being buds with the Lord Bacon guys! SERIOUSLY WHAT THE HELL. Like Habitual Offendaz, they didn't fit the bill, but they sucked less, and at least have the potential to eventually improve.

The Accursed [6/7]
I didn't remember them being this thrash-driven previously, but it was definitely a good thing. They played a bunch of new stuff in addition to the Season of the Scythe material, which is definitely encouraging for any new record; no news on this, but it'll probably be dropping sometime in the next year. They closed with Carcass' "Generation Hexed"; yes, it's Swansong material, but that's still good in itself, and they did a raw and tight version of it that might well have blended in on Heartwork. Good stuff, but things were still improving.

Frozen [6/7]
They sounded a lot less like Evergrey last time, but this one was still really good regardless; John added an uncanny edge to "Ghosts of War" with his camo pants and desert boots -- a sobering and thought-provoking reminder of those in our generation for which these subjects are all too real, both when they're over there and after they get back. This band continues to kick ass, but the crowd was unfortunately a little less for them; they were the only openers not to sell tickets, and this sadly translated into a lot of people staying outside to smoke butts. New Hampshire's state laws are mostly good, but if they keep doods away from seeing Frozen, it's a difficult but bearable sacrifice.

Finntroll [7/7]
The crowd really filled in for them, and they got a hell of an outing. I'd technically seen them before, but this was really the first time I'd seen them seen them; I could have almost stayed home and seen them from closer than last time, which was at Wacken, from half a mile away, and through so much beer that I really don't think my eyes were focusing correctly any more. This time I was on the front rail, incidentally packed in with most of Rohirrim, and got the best of the ensuing outing from Finland's premiere alt-country analogue.

Seriously, they are. Think about it. The roots of the band are in humppaa, and the bass and drums still drive throughout with the folk-polka rhythms, the keys setting up the folkic melody, and then the guitars add the metallic punch that brings them up into modernity for their country. The result, of course, is the ultimate metal bar band, with the attendant guzzling and riotousness that makes for a classic time. Unfortunately, despite the awesome music offered, the other components were lacking. The venue is out in the middle of nowhere, cutting down on the beerconsumption, and more importantly, the security was completely mental, breaking up the least little bit of turbulance and tossing people for breaking into jigs. IDIOTIC. They've always had a no-mosh policy, but the TNT guys took this to absolutely stupid extremes last night, ejecting several people, and allegedly macing some kid. Sooner or later, this is going to backfire on the club, and only because I was right up on the rail did these dumb overreactions not sour an excellent performance by one of the best party bands going in metal.

We should have organized better and just thrown a giant riot-cum-moshpit on their last song; soon enough, someone is going to, and they may well also taze all the security first, which could get heinous. The drive back was okay, but I'd rather have gone into the car with a clean thrashout rather than redshirts fucking people up. Bullshit.

Next week, I'm pretty sure there's no Mark's gig on the slate; Firewind in connection with security bullshit isn't compelling, and there's also two gigs on for next week, so poverty is probably going to be an intervening concern. Next, of course is Municipal Waste (Is Gonna Fuck You Up) at the Palladium. I don't know if this is upstairs of down; upstairs fits better with a thrash-revival lineup with more latitude for pileups and sick pits, but the Waste is probably popular enough to get a good crowd in the downstairs. Regardless, it's time for kutte rivalries and knee injuries and pushing through herds of anklebiters to hit the bar.