Saturday, February 24, 2007

Dreaded Silence with The Accursed and Cythraul (but unfortunately not It Will End In Pure Horror) [Skybar, Somerville, 2/23/2007]

Before going down, I checked RTTP and found out to my disappointment that IWEIPH had cancelled. I'd been looking forward to seeing Rich et al, not least because of his legend, but it can wait. If I went to more shows that leaned more hardcore, I'd probably have seen them by now, and I'll probably see them soon enough anyway. Too bad, but there were still a bunch of good bands on this one.

I got down about on time, but due to the diminished lineup, Cythraul wasn't going on for a while. I had time to go get some Chinese from next door, eat it, and get a second beer by the time they got checked and their axes set up.

Cythraul [6/7]
I was seriously impressed by this band, despite their lineup issues at this one. This is the second time in a row that a band with female members played the Skybar without a bassist, and the second time in a row that a black metal band played a Boston bar show without their bass player, so there's obviously something going on here below the surface. This left Cythraul with zero female members present, but didn't noticeably diminish the coolness of their sound, which is the part that actually matters. They inherited most from early Emperor and mid-period Immortal without really cloning either, which is definitely a good thing. This was a great performance, which really makes me want to see them again with their full complement -- though this one, featuring Cody from Witch Tomb (not corked up just to go out to the bar) doing guest vocals on a few songs, was definitely something special.

Between sets, I talked with Larissa from Hekseri; I'm constantly humbled when people from bands thank me for coming out and supporting -- I don't thank them nearly enough for putting on good shows, playing kickass music, and being generally awesome. Unfortunately, they've sold out of FDHB, but their demos are being compiled by some microlabel in Singapore, so even if I don't make it to their gig on the 18th or if she gets caught up in other stuff and doesn't end up burning me the demos I don't have yet, I should still be able to get them eventually.

The Accursed [5.5/7]
This was another good set from this band, though somewhat marred by stuff that the band had more or less no control over. I'm referring, of course, to the casino around their sound, which nobody who was at the gig could have missed. Basically, the sound guy gave them a raw deal, then flipped out at them with little provocation. In fairness to the sound dude, it's eminently possible to see how he could have interpreted Jon dropping his (non-functioning) mic as throwing it, but he also shouldn't have flipped out at them over it, and if he'd managed the PA portion of the soundcheck better, he might have found out that the mic in question was dead before the band started and people started getting heated up that things weren't working.

That aside, The Accursed put on a solid set that improved as it went on; the problems were mostly in the first two songs, and mostly coming off the sound issues. Great bands rise up in the face of adversity, and just as an actively hostile soundboard is one of the most adverse conditions that a band can be faced with, the slaughtering performance of "Land of the Dead" that they closed with was little other than the very definition of "rising up", some of the best that I've seen from them. This set as a total experience could have been better, but you can't fault the band's performance.

Dreaded Silence [5/7]
There were a few loose moments, but most of this set was a miracle in progress, because despite the determined efforts of like half the room to get Ken completely wasted, he didn't start forgetting lyrics until the last song. Most of this set was really good, a nice blend of death metal and other elements that recalled the best of the two eras of Sentenced (who they didn't cover) as much as Edge of Sanity (who they did, not omitting the RTTP meme reference ("Dan Swano is an Opeth ripoff")). Despite the alcoholic haze, this was a cool performance in a style that I like, and I'm looking forward to seeing them sometime (like next month) when it isn't Ken's birthday, and he isn't as totally pissed. The drunken abuse will be missed, but the band's got a neat enough sound and good enough execution that it may not be missed much.

Storrow leading into 93 was again wall-to-wall due to tunnel closures; I'm really thinking about just always going back on 128 and the Pike from Boston shows. Next show is also in Somerville, kicking off a month of ten or so gigs, including the first big show at the Palladium in a while....well, except the one last night, but that was obviously disqualified for certain reasons.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

God Forbid with Goatwhore, Mnemic, Arsis, and Byzantine [Middle East, Cambridge, 2/20/2007]

Another Tuesday show, and another good time, but this time on the north side of the river with a few more people and the extraction process wasn't as stressful. I got started driving a little late and hit some slow spots on the way down, but still got in in time to join the lineup in front of the door. This lineup thing probably saves them a decent amount in heating, but it's still lame. I got inside just before Byzantine started up, and barely had time to order my first beer before they started playing. This turned into 1.75 beers for the price of one due to one of the kegs running out, but by the time I got said beers, I was already steamed about having to yell instructions over the band. Things fortunately got better from here, but it's a very minor inconvenience that results in you getting 1516 beer for 1933 beer prices.


Byzantine [5/7]
The nu-elements that I heard in Worcester now almost a year ago were not an illusion, and were still strongly present in this set, but the presentation was nonetheless different and probably better. Whether it was more time and maturity or just playing in a more normally-sized hall, they came off as a lot smoother and more fluid, more in command of their music and their identity as a band. While I'm not a huge fan of bands like Fear Factory and Mnemic, their approach of blending the nu and the true can be interesting at times, and the way Byzantine does it, with stronger death metal roots than either of the aforementioned, is fairly cool. I'd be interested in seeing them again after they put their new record out, but I'm not sure that at this stage in their development they'd get me out to a show as a primary draw -- or at least, not on a Tuesday night.

At this point I went back and picked up some merch, successfully not falling all over myself asking Doc for a "Real Black Metal" shirt and gathering a bunch of low-impact Goatwhore stuff; they're coming right back in five weeks with 1349, and I'll be able to pick up a shirt then. Unfortunately, I zweifelte my way out of Arsis gear; there were too many cool shirt designs available to choose before the band went on, and after their set, they were entirely sold out of everything XL. Of course, they're awesome and it's the end of the tour, so it's kind of expected; fortunately, they're playing in the area again sometime in March and will hopefully have refilled their merch tubs in the interim.

Arsis [6/7]
The new lineup is coming along fine, a lot smoother and tighter than when I saw them up in New Hampshire at the start of this tour. Six weeks of constant practice will do that for you. Their sound was really good, and the music of course top-notch; it's still very much the James Malone Band, but the other instrumentalists were also impressive in keeping up and executing his parts. The vocalist needs to work on his presence a little more, but he's got a tough gig trying to stand out among the composition and firepower that this band brings to the table. This incarnation of Arsis is still developing as a live act, and will probably do even better in the future.

Mnemic [6/7]
By cleverly timing my drinking, I was able to pick up my final beer, then slide right down front for these guys. Of course, I had no compelling interest in seeing Mnemic, but I did have an interest in seeing Goatwhore and God Forbid from the front, and the easiest way to do that is to move forward for bands that most people in the hall don't like. ZOMG campz0r l4m3. :roll: At any rate, this was a decent set; if I could have been persuaded to use fractional ratings, it would have gone as 5.5/7. While I'm still not crazy about their stuff, the execution was really good, and the presentation seemed more compelling, for whatever reason, than when I saw them at Mark's at the start of this run. The high point, though, came after the bassist blew out his E-string on the last song: with smarts and professionalism, he ripped the dead string out of the axe, then transposed everything he needed to play onto either the B or A strings (5-string bass, fortunately) and finished the song. This isn't as easy as it sounds, and they thus get full credit for this set.
Before Goatwhore went on, I leaned across and picked up the ripped-out part of the string in question. Even though I'm still fairly ambivalent about this band, it still makes a cool souvenir.

Goatwhore [6/7]
It's probably more that this band is growing on me than that they've made more than incremental improvements in the three and a half months since I first saw them; their blend of drone and crush inherits heavily from older Celtic Frost, and this also is a gradually acquired taste. Of course, it certainly doesn't hurt that they're constantly on tour, increasing their opportunities for acculturation, but it's most likely that anyone who saw this really good set would have reacted likewise. The set was basically the same as the two prior times I'd seen them touring on their current record, but the feel was a little more black'n'roll; "...Black Sun Cult" must be doing well for them, or even as good a song it is, its influence wouldn't be spreading through the rest of the set. The band also continues to level up their gear; the bassist has a Moser custom now that he didn't have at Mark's, which has the back wet-sanded and has picked up a few signatures in silver paint marker. No idea on who's signed it so far, or who he's planning to try and pick up on it in the future before he eventually gets it clear-coated to seal them in.

God Forbid [6/7]
I got pushed back a little by the usual rush of people up front for the headliner, but it was cool; I'm almost 2 meters tall in boots and can accordingly see over most people, and also not so passionate about this band that I'd feel cheated seeing them from the second row rather than the first. It was still a cool set, though it wasn't as transcendant as the other times I've seen them, probably due to being somewhat short. Also, while the execution was great, the band's energy level did seem lower than the last time I saw them, whether from being worn out from the road or from playing to a half-full house on a Tuesday night. Though God Forbid had the most intense pits of the night, they were still somewhat underpopulated, as it seemed like many people left after Goatwhore. Given that it was a weekday show, they can't be entirely blamed, but they did miss a great performance. The set, as usual over the 3 times that I've seen them, was dominated by Constitution stuff, though they did play a bunch of older material as well, of course, but so much of the stuff on that record is so good that it wouldn't be entirely surprising to still be hearing it as a large slice of their set the next time they come around, behind the next record. Despite the occasional energy issues, this was still a rock-solid performance that says a great deal about the band's dedication to their craft, as well as to the music and its culture.

Overall, this was a really good show, especially for a weekday, and the higher temperatures kept shit from freezing up and made the travel process more or less pain-free. Not all gigs can be amazing, but solid and entertaining for fifteen bucks and a quarter tank of gas is a definite win. Good stuff, and hopefully the enthusiasm shown by the just-under full house in the times when the crowd was at its high point will convince the bands on this bill to schedule Boston on the weekend the next time they come around.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Hekseri with Revocation, Witch Tomb, Volatile, and Mortalis [Great Scott, Allston, 2/13/2007]

This should have been up earlier, but with the storm and all, this was kind of a tough week. Driving on ice sucks.

Despite the high marginal cost of this show in terms of driving effort and nearly brewing up my car skidding in a snowstorm, this show was worth the hassle; the bands kicked ass, and I didn't get towed, get frostbite, or actually bang into anything on the way back.

I thought I was getting in about on schedule, as it wasn't snowing yet, but I somehow got turned the wrong way round getting off Storrow Drive and had a time of it finding Comm Ave again. I still like Boston; I just get really exasperated with driving around it at times. I ended up parking about 6 blocks away from the venue in one of the few zones that didn't threaten interlopers with towing, and got down to the club probably close to the start of Mortalis' set.

Mortalis [5/7]
I think I saw most of their set -- set times were shortish and pretty uniform -- and they gave a good impression, doing some cool groove-death. This band is still developing, but they've definitely got their feet under them in terms of skills and riffage. Though they were probably the least immediately different band on this lineup, they still put up a good performance and left a positive impression. I'm bummed that I didn't catch their whole set, but hopefully I'll get a chance to see them again -- and at that time, they'll hopefully have something recorded.

Volatile [5/7]
You don't see too many bands, especially on this continent, playing primal thrash metal with high vocals. The best comparison for this band is probably "3 Inches of Blood except not a gag"; the rediscovery by modern thrashers of the first wave of power metal -- King Diamond, Grim Reaper, Helloween, Grave Digger, etc -- and the accompanying realization that done right, this stuff can be pretty cool. They opened up with Slayer's "Tormentor", setting the stylistic tone; it's always cool when people cover stuff off Show No Mercy, though I'm still waiting for someone to do "Evil Has No Boundaries". This was a fairly loose set, but still well-performed and fun to thrash along to, even if they didn't dust off their Grim Reaper to close with.

During the set break, I talked with Dave from Revocation and got the approximate location of the basement gig they're playing on Friday. It sounds like a cool show, and I'm almost not sick any more, but whether I get down is going to depend a lot on the conditions of the roads. If the various DPWs involved get their shit together, it's a definite possibility, but if the storm hangs around or the state/city halfasses things, I won't be crazy about taking on 93 and Storrow under such conditions. (I didn't end up going...more due to still being sick than road conditions.)

Witch Tomb [5/7]
Another cool set, and it was definitely interesting to see the band still set up in burnt cork and sunglasses despite the change of scenery to a much larger and better-maintained bar (the last time I saw them was about the last show that DeeDee's had). The innate black metal vibe from the surroundings was gone, but the band's own black metal spirit soldiered on and put on a cool performance. To my ears, the sound system here didn't quite treat them as well as DeeDee's' necro setup, but this might have had as much to do with where I was standing at each venue as anything else, and it was still a cool set. It felt a little short, but this was the only point that could really be picked in an overall good performance.

Revocation [6/7]
Hooray, Just Another Awesome Revocation Set. Dave didn't throw any new guitar wrinkles into this one, but the total performance was great enough that they weren't really missed, and he's also leveled up his stage banter, providing more lulz around the totally sick thrash epics. There were some calls for "Mother Man" during their set, showing that I'm not crazy, and other people also can't help thinking of Atheist when hearing these guys. The Atheist-driven elements were especially prominent in this set, so it's more understandable why people should start yelling for it now. They were discussing adding some Unquestionable Presence material to their repertoire with some of the people who had been calling for it after the set, and while I'm sure they'll do a decent version of any song or songs they end up working up, having seen Atheist, there's not a lot of stuff that you can do from Atheist without having two guitars to play the two guitar lines. The more new stuff that Revocation gets together, though, the more they construct and develop their own vision of that same idea of technical insanity, so it's a moot point: either they spend time working up some Atheist, or they put that time into originals and parallel evolution takes them on the same path, to the same levels. The awesomeness is the same regardless.

Between Revocation and Hekseri, I got my last beer of the night, a Pabst, and the regret was immediate. Contrary to my prior perceptions, I'm still not healthy enough again to get away with drinking stuff that's not nach dem Reinheitsgebot. Aus mit schwulen "Wasser mit kunstlichen Biergeschmack", wir wollen echtes reines Bier! Given my Tankard spree of late, I'm really questioning why I didn't just correct the bartender. Fucking chemicals.

Hekseri [6/7]
Megan's protestations to the contrary, this was not the worst set that Hekseri's ever done. Of course, it could have been better, but this is largely an intellectual conclusion; I've seen Jason play with them, and he wasn't there last night, so obviously it would have been better had he been on hand slaughtering his bass. However, I can't really think exactly where those lines might have gone that would have resulted in an obvious improvement. As a three-piece, Hekseri feels perfectly balanced between black and thrash metal: on this gig, as of late, they seemed to favor their thrash side more, but the treble-high focus of the sound without the bass guitar kept the black metal vibe current. It wasn't the best set I've seen from them, but it certainly wasn't the worst either, and in any case it was a cool take on their sound.

I wanted to hang around, but environmental factors pulled me away; I had to get back north before the snow turned the highways into skating rinks. I collared the ten-dollar parking fee that the BPD left on my windshield (cheaper than some garages), then made my way back. I nearly achieved my objective; just after getting into Danvers, I came out of about the last technically demanding turn on 128, then went slaloming for about 100 yards or so; fucking climate iced the road and then put snow down on top of it. Unlike last year, I didn't spin out or hit anything; this was greatly aided by the fact that the closest car was about half a mile behind me when I hit the skids, but it's all improved technique (or, more likely, improved luck) that I kept the nose facing forward and was able to recover as soon as I slowed down enough that the tires would bite again. This was not fun and put a bit of a damper on the night, but I didn't damage myself, my vehicle, or anything else, and did manage to make it back in one piece.

Much more of a buzzkill was only getting 3 hours of sleep before I had to get up, play car tetris, and go to work...hopefully, this junk will clear off and this won't be a problem for either Revocation this weekend or God Forbid onTuesday. It's a shitty time for a show, but at least the Middle East is pretty accessible, and I'll get to see them, Arsis, and Goatwhore again -- and get one of those "The Real Black Metal" shirts, both for the cool factor and potentially to wind people up with at 1349. Of course, this is is presuming that they notice it under a jacket that currently has four Immortal devices on it, plus a bunch of kit from Sigh, Mayhem, Celtic Frost, and Dissection.

I went through my parents' basement over the weekend with a fine-toothed comb and found my old demos; there's like 80 minutes of crummy music on those, so now all I need to do is get a MD player, and I can convert them into crummy digital files, potentially to be released as a long and terrible CD-comp. Of course, I haven't listened to them in forever, so I'll have to do that, along with probably some post-prod cleanup, before I make the decision on whether to inflict them on anyone else.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Metal Winter Break last crack: Despotic Robot with Revocation and Mechannibal [Castle Greyskull, Allston, 2/7/2007]

And thus this final chapter doth close, upon one of the more awesome continuous stretches of shows in recent memory: with pizza, ersatzbier, and much thrashing. Maybe I could have made it up to New Hampshire for a few minutes of Unleashed as well, but it's really not worth it given the distance...and the fact that I wouldn't be able to get a ticket off one of the locals, given that all their sets had probably wrapped. This one was more than cool enough.

Careful inspection of a map will find that this 'venue' doesn't exist. This is because it's in a private basement, which though full of low-hanging pipes was still a cool place to watch some bands. Careful inspection of the bill will reveal that there was supposed to be a touring band from Tennessee on the roster, who are nowhere mentioned above. This bears some remarking on.

After circling the block a couple times to make sure I had the right place and no other options, I parked in behind Mike from Mechannibal/Unholy Trinity and went in. Under advisement from the people putting up the show, I stopped worrying about parking, and in the end did not get a bill from the Allston PD. Cool. There were only a couple other people there this early, so me and this Russian guy scared up a small collection for an extra 30-rack to be shared out; I ended up only getting like 4 beers out of it, but other people got beer who may not have been driving or may not have had the five bucks to spare.

While we were standing around drinking, we found out from Despotic Robot that Evil Army had canceled; this sucked, of course, but it sucked more for Evil Army, because they were stuck in fucking Cleveland, rather than in Boston playing a show, drinking our doods' PBRs, and brewing up a night of some of the most hardcore accent clashes possible in the English-speaking world. Apparently their gig in Buffalo fell through, and as such they weren't able to make it further east; weird, but that doesn't really explain why they're in Cleveland. None of this really explains why they're in Cleveland at all; sure, it's got a decent scene, but it, like most of the rest of Ohio, kind of sucks. They shoulda gone through Cincinnati or Columbus, then Pittsburgh, and up to Buffalo; more driving, but no Cleveland.

The absence of the touring band, though, didn't cut much into the relaxed vibe of the show, probably because the locals are abundantly awesome, and between them very capable of putting on a kickass basement show. The lineup drew evenly across metal and hardcore, with the crowd pretty much evenly sourced as well. Not evenly divided, though; no divisions at this gig. Beer, pizza, and thrash just bring people together.

Mechannibal [5/7]
Since I saw them last, they've obviously developed, and just from existing as a band in the intervening time, they're more comfortable with each other and performing as a unit. The music, as before, was mostly hardcore with shots of punk and thrash to flavor, and it really worked well in this setting, with the band and the audience right on top of each other, everyone pushed together by stone walls and broken furnaces restricting the floorspace. In about their second song, the pizza showed up, and it was time to pizza mosh. If you haven't eaten pizza while simultaneously thrashing out, you have missed out on a very cool experience, and need to throw or attend a basement show that will enable such posthaste. Unfortunately, many of the people who were actually at this gig missed out on the pizza mosh; about a third to half of the pizza that was lugged into the crowd was accidentally destroyed because people didn't grab it out of the boxes fast enough, and it got thrashed out onto the floor. Too bad for them, but it was great fun for those of us who did manage to scarf a slice or two while moshing or serving as human gym mats to keep people from bashing into the walls. Mechannibal's set seemed about right, maybe a little short, but in keeping with the DIY nature of the show.

Revocation took a while setting up, because Dave stepped out for some reason, so I got some more beers (the last two that I'd pull, as the crate was thoroughly plundered later) and then got to talking with Anthony and some other dudes, about a variety of things, but mostly metal. If I end up going to MDF, I may be giving Anthony a lift; I ought to also offer my services generally if I do go, as I have a fair degree of OTR driving experience and at least somewhat know my way around most of the route. The only problem is that given my car, if I'm driving three or more other people, I'd have to rent or finagle a van...more complications. At this point it's looking quite likely that I'll be able to go, but I need to double-check my vacation balance against what I'm going to need both before that (if any) and after (to do Wacken and be conscious on Thursday).

Also before Revocation went on, I got asked to pose for what was probably intended as a Symbolfoto of this event; me in my ridiculous studded and patch-ridden jacket, cheek by jowl with this punk kid in a hoodie with various fabric patches coarse-sewn in, metal and punk coexisting peacefully, having a good time together at the DIY gig. Of course, the better pic would have been any random shot of the pit, for any of the bands, as people from all scenes rocked out and brewed it up with each other, all in good humor, but it's understandable that the photographer didn't want to take his camera in where it might get elbowed or bathed in tomato sauce. Still cool, and if it inspires more people to throw more cross-scene shows, so much the better.

Revocation [6/7]
The sound, of course, wasn't quite as good as the several other times I've seen this band, and there were a couple times where they seemed to be fighting it, probably due to not really having any monitors as such. However, they battled through and did a cool though unfortunately short set that still managed to be tight and technical despite the sound system not really being set up for such. What this set, in the context of Metal Winter Break, really highlighted was the band's adaptability; Revocation can go on stage on a very progressive and technical bill like they did on Thursday in Worcester and play a progressive and technical set, or they can go into a basement and play some balls-out thrash, and they're able to do this off a single catalog, even most of the same songs, just with slightly different selections and points of emphasis. Most of their stuff has a foot in each world, and it gains its power from the side that isn't dominant: the brutal riffs and pace driving on Thursday, and the technical twists giving form to the thrash avalanche tonight. Killer stuff, but they probably could have gone a little longer.

Despotic Robot [6/7]
This band sounded mostly like I remembered, though they tossed in a few grindcore songs that I hadn't heard before, in what was an intentional departure from their normal style. The sound these guys get from colliding hardcore and traditional heavy metal is really cool and interesting, but it's also exactly how you'd do it if you for some reason were trying to derive thrash from first principles. Because nobody does that nowadays (easier to follow the patterns of existing thrash movements), Despotic Robot sounds fairly unique, but even if they didn't, they'd still have a good sound and put on a good show. Even though I wasn't right on top of the band, this was a cool set, and the circle pit that developed around the basement obstacles during their final song (Grim Reaper cover) was a fittingly lunatic way to cap off the musical festivities.

Afterwards, I went to hunt up some beer in order to stick around some; unfortunately, there was none readily available and absent fluids my cold was acting up. So I pulled, sorry to go but well satisfied: I saw some kickass bands, met some kickass folks, thrashed down some pizza, and got Mechannibal's demo, which I'm sure will be good stuff once I get around to listening to it. For now, though, Metal Winter Break is done, and I can get in some sleeping to recharge my batteries before the rest of February trickles on past. Anthony mentioned another Allston show on the 13th that's shaping up to be a local thrash/death jamboree; it's midweek, but given the relative dearth of shows on the calendar between now and March, I may well get down for that one as well.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Metal Winter Break part 3: Dark Funeral with Enslaved, Abigail Williams, Zircon, The Accursed, and Deconformity [Mark's, Bedford, 2/5/2007]

Despite some traffic -- evening rush hour and holiday weekends are the only times when people actually drive into New Hampshire in significant numbers -- I got in with time to spare, stood around for a bit, and saw the second stage set up again. Gott im Himmel. Gottes Pimmel. Despite the ridiculousness of having a second stage in a bar, the second stage at Mark's is probably the best implementation of this thoroughly bad idea yet. The sound is good, it keeps the inter-band latency to a minimum, and thus allows for longer sets for everyone, once you get over the ridiculousness of having 8 bands on the show.

The first band, though, was going on up at the main stage. New beer in hand, I went back up and hit the rail in front of the minimal crowd.

This band has the dubious honor of getting the second- or third-flattest crowd response I have ever seen in my life. Nobody was actually leaving the building like people did almost every time Halo of Thorns went on at Sputnix back when they were active, but there were seriously only a handful of people applauding after every song. Here, part of the same equation applied; these guys certainly weren't anywhere near as shitty and incompetent as Halo, but they were just as poorly matched to the overall bill. Their bassless technical death attack was well-executed, but the people here were waiting to hear black metal; they'd do much better lined up with one of the scads of local brutal/technical death bands from around the area, but their music wasn't quite distinctive or appealing enough to break through to a crowd that was primarily here for something else. Towards the end of their set, they showed some promise in some stuff that inherited heavily from Nile, but this band is still under development, and part of that development is finding appropriate shows just as much as it is solidifying their musical style.
In the realm of cheesy things that can be done with the drums, playing with no shirt and fingerless gloves at the same time is definitely number one on the list. However, somewhere between stick-twirling and gongs has to be placed an entry for "ceaseless gravity blasts". Though it sounds pretty intense, if you do it too often, someone's going to be looking in behind the snare and realizing "what the hell, that's all it is?" As a flavoring, it's cool, but you've got to question someone whose first response, when challenged to do some technical drumming, is to do a gravity blast.

Cold Northern Vengeance should have played in this slot on the second stage, but there was some drama that resulted in most of the band not showing up. Nearly enough of Martyrvore was there that they could have played instead, but I didn't spot the drummer; regardless, this was a letdown, but Paul did hook me up with a free ticket for 1349 by way of compensation. Of course, I can't blame CNV without knowing what went on, and internal band business needs to stay internal; it's probably most succinct and also acceptable to just blame the club and their pay-to-play policies. If bands know they're going to be losing money on a show from the get-go, there's no incentive for them to show up and play. I was looking forward to CNV, but there was still Enslaved and some cool local support, and hopefully they'll get everything squared away for the 1349 show.

Abigail Williams [5/7]
I have very little idea how this band got onto this tour. As far as I can remember, neither Enslaved nor Dark Funeral is on Metal Blade, and stylistically, there's virtually no points of connection. Yeah, In Flames and Dark Tranquillity took inspiration from black metal back when they were starting up the NWOSDM, but that was more than a decade ago, and it's been established as an independent style for a while now. The band put up a decent performance, but it was total NWOSDM; if keyboards make a band black metal, then Still Remains are also black metal, and if shirt choices make you a part of the same continuum as the bands they're from, then Trivium is an underground metal band with integrity. It was a decent set, but unfortunately they weren't even the best NWOAHM band on this bill.
This band actually had to dig themselves out of a fairly deep hole with me: when they were setting up, because CNV wasn't playing, the sound guys offered them to start five minutes earlier; the singer declined, stating that the band didn't have another five minutes. If you can't play even one more song when you get the opportunity, what the HELL are you doing on tour? This is frankly ridiculous. I really can't believe that Abigail Williams has no old demos to pull from, no cover songs from when they were local-opening bills like this, and can't even bring out some of the fill from some of their label releases to tune up with, but the alternative is that they're fucking lazy and don't like playing. What the hell, man.

Some people were talking about the drummer setting the action on his pedals really low, producing a triggered sound and reducing the power in his playing, but the most significant bit from the drums in this set was the gay porn found on his snare. This was the first strike from Enslaved in the process of pranking the other bands in this last date of their American tour, but it would not be the last.

The Accursed [5.5/7]
I keep squawking about split scores and how much I hate doing them, but I also keep passing them out. This, band, though, earned theirs; the sound wasn't quite as good as the last time I saw them, but they definitely put out a solid set. The Accursed definitely need to record some new stuff, because their CD definitely undersells them; they have a lot more power live, and the lyrics and patterns that come off as trite or re-treaded on record sound a lot more vital in live performance. They were quite easily the most hardcore-influenced band of the night, and got probably the most turbulent crowd response of the second stage, possibly overall as well. They also didn't really match the bill, but unlike Deconformity, they put on a strong enough performance that this didn't really matter to anyone.

For those without a clue, The Accursed were the best NWOAHM band on this bill, not the one that was hitching, remora-like, along on a black metal tour. We just grow them better here in New England.

Enslaved [7/7]
Like many people, I have no idea how they weren't the headliners, and the band delivered an absolutely awesome set that left no doubt that they should have been. Enslaved is one of those rare bands that anyone into heavy music can (and ought to) get into, despite their deep genre origins, and it's because the new stuff is so incredible, varied, complex, subtle, and deep. In this set, almost all of the material was from the last three albums, but they also tossed in a bunch of really, really, old stuff as well, and it worked perfectly, sliding along in perfect consonance with the rest of the set. This is really hard to do properly with a band that's changed this much; I'm not sure how Satyricon manages to go from "K.I.N.G." to "The Dark Castle In The Deep Forest" in the same set, or if they even can, but it's because they didn't feel the need to continue the band's identity in the changing sound the way that Enslaved did. Because the new Enslaved is still fundamentally coming from the same place as the old Enslaved, the band can play stuff off Hordanes Land in a set of Ruun and Isa material, and the transition is perfect as well as seamless. They didn't do "793", probably because it runs 16 minutes, but they definitely could have. If the set wasn't so absolutely awesome, I would have been disappointed at the absence of any Mardraum material, but you can't fault Enslaved for kicking ass on what they played. Maybe at Wacken I'll get to see "Storre Enn Tid", though likely not.

Zircon [6/7]
Zircon is allegedly playing a show every night this week, which was getting some people riled up, though it really shouldn't. They're mostly playing tour manager for this band from New Jersey, but when you listen to Zircon and approach them realistically, it's difficult to begrudge them shows, as they kick ass. There's also this more prevalent and persistent strand of people who claim they're not black metal, but these people are idiots, and have never heard of Naglfar or Zyklon. With ultimate accuracy, Zircon might be described as black/death metal, in much the same way that Zyklon is, but the black metal influences are primary and paramount, with Naglfar being the strongest that I could pick out. This was a really strong set, meriting the top billing on this stage, and I can now see why Zircon is so aggressive about marketing their shows: they have something really good going on here, and ought to be on a label that will get their discs pressed, not just put out on CD-R like their current split with Nephilim.
Hopefully, they will sign to Nuclear Blast, and then NB will add thongs to their merchandise, so that "Soul Absorbing Underwear" can be a comical slogan for the band rather than the exclusive property of people goofing on them. (I dare anyone to listen to "Soul Absorbing Underworld" and not immediately think of this.)

Dark Funeral [6/7]
I had never been really into this band, but over the course of their set they put on a very good performance. Initially, the sound was really thin, like one of the guitars wasn't plugged in or something, but it steadily improved through the course of their set. Unfortunately, the same can't be precisely said about their music, which remained basically the same front to back, and is the main reason that I haven't really been into this band. There are other words that you can use in your black metal lyrics besides "Satan", though this may not be evident if all you've seen from black metal is Dark Funeral. It was still a good set, but you really have to wonder how the hell they ended up booked over Enslaved on this tour.

The highlight of their set, then, from the perspective of much of the audience, was Enslaved's appearance, wearing only Dark Funeral's corpsepaint designs and their underwear, bouncing onto the stage on those handled balls they make for kids to hop around on. In terms of absolute lunacy, it was one of the best tour-end pranks that I've ever seen, and we get a fair number of them at this end of the country. Hopefully, someone got pics to spread around; there are other metalheads who'd be cracked up by stuff like this, but never get to see it, because nobody winds up a tour in Cleveland or wherever. Good stuff, and a cool conclusion to a good show.

Only one day to go; work tomorrow, then Evil Army in Allston tomorrow night, and the last day off on Thursday. All good things must come to an end, and there's a bit of a show shortfall after this, but to a certain degree this is ok, because it's been expensive; it's not a real problem, but I've got festivals to save for.

Metal Winter Break part 2: Destruction with Into Eternity, Municipal Waste, Defcon 4, and Hekseri [Middle East, Cambridge, 2/4/2007]

When I left, the Bears were up on the Colts by like 14-6, which would probably be the last time they led in this game. I didn't care, though, continuing to navigate south. I got in a little before doors...well, if doors had been at 8 as originally intended, and not at 8:30. This lameness probably cost Destruction a few songs and definitely pissed the audience off, because shortly after 8 we were shepherded outside into the subfreezing temperatures to wait for the official Einlass. This was pretty freakin' ridiculous, but not the lamest thing the club would do this night. In the process I got a discounted ticket from one of the guys in CSDO; it was probably a legit extra, because there's no way Ticketmaster would let an eighteen-dollar ticket out of their possession without a service charge that would make 'scalping' it for twenty bucks profitable. So I saved five bucks to drop on merch later.

Eventually they let us by drips and drabs in the fucking building, and I got in, processed, and drinkin'. It only took Hekseri a little while to set up once people started getting in, and from that point, the bands were go.

Hekseri [5/7]
This was a decent set, though their sound wasn't as good as when I saw them the last time, despite that being in a much smaller venue. It may be just where I was standing, but everyone was similarly within a few feet of the stage; it may be just that they were the first band on, but it's also likely that basically everyone inside was down for Hekseri, it's just that the staff wasn't letting people in the fucking club. Seriously, doors were some fucking bullshit. This time around, the sound seemed a little more thrash-oriented, though the black metal elements are still obviously present; this, though, probably is just a function of the bill. Good stufff, and they need to re-press FDHB so I can get a CD of it instead of just the shirt...for which I inadvertently gave Rich a hard time; I'll spot him some PBR the next time I get a chance.
It's germane here to mention that Jason is the best-kept secret in Boston heavy metal. Nobody ever notices him because in this band, he's on stage with two very good-looking and seriously talented female guitarists, but the dude can fucken play. I was parked in front of him for this set, and as a bass player couldn't help but notice his annihilating speed and technique. Just monstrous. The next time you see Hekseri, stop staring at Megan and Larissa for a second and look over at Jason; it's definitely worth it, and you won't question why you're looking at a sweaty dude instead of the other options available.

Defcon 4 [5/7]
Because I had stepped back to go through the merch tables and get some more beer, I was a little ways back when this band started playing, which was probably for the best; there were more people in the venue now, and those with more of an interest in this band's grindy style of hardcore deserved to get closer up rather than some old dude with prominent Blind Guardian patches on his rig. The band put up a good set, though not really one that was going to be immediately memorable for me. This has more to do with the style than the band; their execution was dead-on, and the crowd reacted well to them, finally getting the pit going on their second song -- though in fairness, there weren't really enough people in the building for a viable pit until the very end of Hekseri's set.

Municipal Waste [6/7]
It was between Defcon and the Waste that I got my Hekseri shirt, so by the time I got back to the floor, I was further back than I've ever seen a show in this building. The floor was fucking packed with both punks and metalheads, save the huge pit in the middle, and the Waste did not disappoint. They ripped through a bunch of old shit, but also tossed in some brand-new songs, and for those worried about them now doing "gay breakdowns" since they'll be recording with Zeuss, this is absolutely not the case. It's still good old kickass crossover, because it's still fucking Municipal Waste!
The only thing "gay" about this set was the behavior of the club security. Not only were they ejecting people for crowdsurfing, they confiscated the fucking boogie board. This is by far the lamest behavior I've ever seen out of secus, and not only have I been to both Mark's and Tabu, I was also at that North-Shore-infamous VFW show in Manchester where the bands got read that bizarre riot act before the show started. If you book a thrash or hardcore show, you are going to get crowdsurfing and intense moshing. If you book Municipal Waste, you are going to get people riding around on boogie boards. If you don't want to handle this, don't book the show! I can understand the venue's need to avoid liability from people cracking their heads open on the floor, but there's no need to eject people instead of just running them to the back of the hall, and it's not cool to confiscate band equipment.

In addition to the obligato shirt and patch, I also got the tape re-release of Waste 'Em All, mostly for the Tango and Thrash EP. I'll probably convert that tomorrow to listen to later; it's almost definitely the best EP based entirely on Kurt Russell movies ever released.

Into Eternity [5/7]
I and basically everyone else in the room would much rather have had Sadus, or instead that Hirax and Municipal Waste had both gone for the full run rather than splitting the third spot. However, this meant that as the floor emptied out, I could go over, get a beer, and get right up to the front pretty much unchallenged -- where I could not only see the band, but also hold down floor space for Destruction. Into Eternity put on a decent performance, but they'll fit much better with Dark Tranquillity and The Haunted when that tour comes around (Metal Spring Break, end of next month) than they did on this bill. In this lineup, they were out of place in style as well as intent, but there were still a bunch of people into them.

Destruction [7/7]
They didn't play quite as long as I'd ideally have liked, but I really don't know how this set could have gone much better on this continent. I was right up front, it got nice and violent, and the band freakin killed. They played a good mix of old and new stuff, and the crowd, in a good sign for a reunited band, knew stuff from both eras very well and about in equal measure. It was a nice long set, but cut off by a 12:30 sound curfew; if the freakin club had started the show when it was supposed to, we would have gotten more Destruction, and less time turning into metalheadsicles. Still a great show; all the Metal Winter Break shows are looking to be.

I'm going to have to look at the Wacken lineup again; if they have enough of the other people in place to do "Alliance of Hellhoundz" live, it will be freakin sweet.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Metal Winter Break part 1: Joe Stump with Polaris, Revocation, and Gutwrench [Ralph's Diner, Worcester, 2/1/2007]

The first day is in the books, and it was a fuckin' awesome start to this four-shows-in-seven-days stand. The drive in wasn't so bad, except for the part about briefly getting lost in Worcester. Next time it'll go much easier; Google's directions are highly biased towards shorter distance rather than easier navigation. I managed to get in though, and had time to get a beer and stretch out a little before the bands started. The grill was a little crowded, so no cheeseburger; maybe next time.

Gutwrench [5/7]
I got up to the upstairs (ambience somewhere between Middle East upstairs and Sputnix -- a really cool vibe and good beer under 4 bucks) just as these guys were starting up. They came off as a little flat, maybe due to opening on a Thursday or maybe because the guitarist was sick, but still put up a really solid thrash-death set, if probably the least technical of the night. Of course, considering the lineup, this isn't really surprising. This was a good performance even without considering any other factors, but the rest of the bands were going to be a significant step up regardless. I hope to see this band again sometime when they're on their game or hear them on record; there's a fair bit of potential here that was shown imperfectly at this gig.

Before Revocation went on, I hit the Oak Knoll distro table and picked up a bunch of stuff: a Toxik tape, Bethlehem's Dark Metal, demos from Zircon and Hekseri, and a bunch of other CDs that I can't recall right now. There were additionally about 5 or 6 other releases that I'd liked to have gotten my claws into; again, later when I'm not as broke.

Revocation [7/7]
For as long as I've been seeing them, the hurdle that Revocation has had to overcome has been this idea of 'casual awesomeness': the band does incredible stuff, but so easily and almost without recognizing it that it goes unnoticed. This was not the case here; I can't put my finger on exactly what with this set took it up to the next level, it was, indisputably, the best performance I've seen from them. Unlike the headliners on this bill, the ridiculous technicality never came off as for its own sake, always firmly applied to where the song was going. Revocation continues to move from strength to strength, so while this was one of the best sets I've seen at the local level, it's also eminently possible that we'll see even better from them in the future, maybe as soon as Wednesday, the last show in this odyssey.

Between Revocation and Polaris, I finally got around to getting the locale for the Wednesday show out of Anthony. I haven't been to a proper basement show in a while; if I can avoid injury to my joints and ears, it's gonna be pretty awesome.

Polaris [6/7]
Though the sound was really good for the other bands, for about half Polaris' set it sounded out of whack, with the bass thoroughly dominating everything else. I did pick up their current CD, so I'll be able to tell how intentional this was. Beyond the sound, the music was quite good and well-delivered, fitting in somewhere between Imperium and the heavier modern progressive bands. I'm also looking forward to seeing them again, though their style isn't the most usual in the underground around here and as such they seem to have problems fitting on bills. It's still good music worth checking out, and this was a really cool set.

Joe Stump [6/7]
Holy Shrapnel Records Batman. Joe Stump is Dave (Revocation) Davidson's guitar teacher, and also a ESP-endorsed shredmaster, and demonstrated why for the better part of an hour and a half. The rest of his band was very technically skilled as well, but this set was all about Joe shredding back and forth like crazy. Technically, it was amazing, faster overall playing than almost anyone I've ever seen, faster hand action than everyone except Dave Suzuki -- but with much less wasted motion, and everything kept perfectly composed, connected, and in tune. To a certain extent, this was more a guitar demo than a real set, but it was still a great performance; if I hadn't seen Tony Choy taking over the Party Stage this year, this would be the top individual metal instrumental performance I've witnessed. Technical fireworks aren't everything, but even when they're the only thing, they can create something pretty damn cool.

In addition to seeing all these cool bands, I'm gradually getting to know more of the scene and other area metal people. I definitely ought to try bringing more North Shore doods in, but most of the guys I know around the area are still in school elsewhere. Tonight, Destruction at the Middle East; maybe an update tomorrow, but the Enslaved show starts at friggin 4 PM due to pay-to-play nonsense. Mark's has got to get this shit under control; if they'd established themselves as a venue first, they wouldn't have to squeeze the locals for the money to pay good tours, because they could count on people buying tickets in the first place. DIAF.