Thursday, May 24, 2007

Wacken Wacken Wacken Wacken

As of last week, the running order is out, and it is so incredible that I may need to hit up one of my fitness-freak coworkers for stimulants to stay rolling through it. This is what I'm looking at:

16:30 Gutbucket
17:15 Blitzkrieg
18:15 Rose Tattoo
19:45 SODOM
22:00 Saxon

11:00 Suidakra
12:00 Amorphis
12:55 Communic
13:50 Therion
16:15 Grave Digger
17:30 Turbonegro
18:45 J.B.O.
20:00 Enslaved
21:15 Blind Guardian
23:00 Dimmu Borgir
23:30 Sahg
00:30 Iced Earth
02:00 Kampfar

12:00 Disillusion
13:55 Heaven Shall Burn
14:45 Stratovarius
16:10 Dimension Zero
17:25 The Vision Bleak
18:45 Destruction
23:15 In Flames
00:55 Chthonic
02:00 Vital Remains

Unfortunately, I miss Tyr and All That Remains for Sodom, Electric Eel Shock for Saxon, Belphegor to see Blind Guardian, 1349 for Iced Earth (good thing I saw them in NH then), Municipal Waste for Type O and Immortal, Moonsorrow for Immortal, Cannibal Corpse and Haggard to see Chthonic (probably the only real dilemma in the mix, but they come all the way from friggin China), and Subway to Sally to support the local scene in foreign lands (VR at the very end). However, the only time when there's no band I have interest in is Strato, and that's pretty damn incredible for a three-day festival. The cost of attendance is steep, but you can't look at that list of bands (and the alternatives mentioned above) and not immediately think it's worth it.

Watain with Angelcorpse, Nachtmystium, Cold Northern Vengeance, and Witch Tomb [Middle East Upstairs, Cambridge, 5/13/2007]

Despite leaving a little late and getting backed up on 128 going down to 93 for some bizarre reason, I managed to make it in right about doors, which was a definite positive seeing that given the size of the upstairs and the profile of the bands on this bill, this show was a definite risk to sell out, and I didn't have a ticket. While this was good luck and good practice, it turned out not to matter so much, because actual entrance was delayed by about ten minutes or so; I paid and got banded, then spent the intervening time skimming lemon bits out of a hefeweizen. It's been a long time since I was in Germany, but I persist in the belief that it's a good idea to call doors Einlass to remind the venue that that's when you lass the people ein, and I just can't understand the compulsion to throw fruit wedges in a perfectly good unfiltered beer. WAT ISS DAT FA KACKE?!?

Soon enough, though, they did let us in, and there was time enough to go rummaging for some obscure records at the merch table before Witch Tomb went on. I wasn't initially quite sure what all I got, but if they're selling it at a show this cult, it's almost certain to be cool. (It was, nearly all of it.)

Witch Tomb [5/7]
Despite the fact that this is the same score they've gotten both other times I've seen them -- I don't remember these things so hard so I can just experience the show as it happens and then react to it later -- this was a definite step up for Witch Tomb, both musically -- they've added a fourth member to do effects and second guitar, and the overall sound from the rest of the band is up a notch in general domination as well -- and visually, as Cody's no longer the only one blacked up. As remarked before, it's a cool difference from normal corpsepaint, and in this case it worked especially well with the setup of the venue; four filth trolls in a hellcave howling hate at the world. Of course, all the presentation in the world wouldn't help if the music underneath wasn't cool; as it is, this was a really good set, with some Enslaved touches that I hadn't previously heard/noticed in their crushing necro assault, and I'm definitely looking forward to that coming split with Martyrvore. The set ended a little weirdly, with them throwing a filth-befouled Bible into the audience and then walking off as the effects guy wound out the outro, leaving people unsure as to whether they should cheer yet or not, but it was a kickass performance and a sign of more cool things to come.

Witch Tomb brought Devin from December Wolves up on stage for one song; my ears were still adjusting and I didn't catch what band he's with now, and I also probably lose True Points en passant for admitting that I didn't recognize the song. I can live with this; I've already recognized that not picking up various December Wolves records when I could have was one of the more significant mistakes I've made this decade.

Cold Northern Vengeance [6/7]
Cold Northern Vengeance playing "A Past Forgotten" [7/7]
Fortunately, this show was too cult to be disturbed by leftextremists. And if there were any in attendance, they were likely shown the error of protesting this band by another great set from CNV. The sound here was better than at Mark's, giving the music fuller rein, and the result was definitely impressive. All of CNV's material is really strong, some of the best stylistic succession to the less necro side of the Black Circle done outside Norway, but there are few more sublime experiences in this genre than CNV on a good, solid night like this doing "A Past Forgotten" through good PA. The song eats almost half their set time in a slot like this, but every second's worth it. If you live in New England and pass on their shows, either out of ignorance or because somebody's been lying to you to the effect that they're a political band (which they're not), you need to get your head turned around and come out to see them.

Between the local and touring parts of the bill, I hit the merch table again and picked up a pair of cassettes as well as two Watain patches, which were as well-finished and well-manufactured as you'd expect from a European band. It's a good thing I've got that ultralight that I'm working on, because both patches are too cool not to feature, and there's a limited number of feature slots left on my main jacket. BLACK METAL MILITIA!

Nachtmystium [6/7]
Someone described this band as "psychedelic black metal" since the last time I saw them, and the description does fit at least a little, even with the more necro sound that they were driving here. Overall, they still inherit strongly from Celtic Frost (if not as strong as Goatwhore), but the sharper and more malevolent sound helps them step forward on their own, and to really good effect. This was probably about the best set I've seen from this band, who I've now seen three times in the last month and a half. If this keeps up and Nachtmystium becomes the next on-every-show band after Goatwhore now and Krisiun a couple years back, I don't think anyone's really going to complain.

Angelcorpse [6/7]
I was pretty sure that they were the headliners going in, and it was written up as such on the set times, and they definitely kicked out a headliner-quality set of graveling black/death metal. The sound was tight and focused, more so than you might expect from a band that took most of the last seven years off, and the most prominent death metal elements of the night also drew them the most significant moshing. When they finally closed up, people were still yelling for more; if, as on one of the previous dates, Watain ended up canceling this one, people would have been disappointed, but also would have to be honestly satisfied with the bill so far and Angelcorpse's dominating performance.

Watain [7/7]
Watain, though, did show up, and also showed that there was a reason that they were headlining beyond "we lugged all this stage-dressing crap over from Sweden and it takes too long to clean up". There were a lot of banners and backing props, but the music taking place in front of them, necro but still complex and driving black metal inheriting most strongly from early Dissection, was the real attraction, delivered with straightforward power and conviction. The Dissection influence was made a little more solid towards the end of their set, with a superb 'cover' of "The Somberlain"; 'cover' quoted because more of this band (at least the live lineup) has been in Dissection more recently than any competitor, and in not only heritage but in spirit they're probably the most suited to carrying on Jon's legacy (with, hopefully, less suicidal crazyness). They promised to return -- and given the response from the packed house here, this isn't by any means out of the question -- but more preferable would have been just returning to the stage to do, say "Thorns of Crimson Death" and a couple of their own songs as an encore, but unfortunately at this point the club put the lights on and started encouraging people to evacuate out the back door into the street. Oh well. The immediate general thought was that this sucked, but it was just a small touch of venue bullshit that didn't materially affect the result of a really great, kickass show.

Before I went down, I ran into Ken (MPD); the new record is finished and mixed, and I'm definitely amped up to hear it. Hopefully, it'll be out presently and they'll gig aggressively behind it; My Pet Demon is good stuff, and people beyond the salting of metalheads that we've got on the North Shore need to find out about them.

pics from Seoul, man

If you were in the BHS band or otherwise have seen the Blues Brothers movie several dozen times, you'll be content to just sing along with the post title ad infinitum. For everyone else, there are a hundred or so pictures from Korea, being the few pictures I was able to take when not at work at one of the world's most tightly media-controlled semiconductor fabs. This is a generally accurate depiction of Seoul, even though I don't hit a lot of normal tourist points.

1: Construction across the street from my hotel. While there's not quite so much as in Beijing, there's still a lot of building on going on in and around Seoul; it's just amazing how many new apartment buildings are going up everywhere.

2: Traffic interchange, also from the hotel. It's early in the morning, so there's not a whole lot of traffic on the roads. Later on, like when I had to go through it going to work (in a taxi; I'm sure I could drive Korea, but not all the time), it gets a lot more packed.

3: Road office. This jumble of beer, junk food, receipts, and way too many cell phones for any normal person follows me around the world and actually has to be a work environment in the rare case that there's no field office to operate out of. This was not, really.

4: Trees and cranes over the road next to the hotel. This probably looked better live, but now it works as a subtle statement about man and nature also.

5: Greenery, opposite. That this is photo-worthy tells you a lot about what this part of Seoul is like...and again, it's probably better live.

6: Inset tiles in the sidewalk leading up to the bridge over the river north. Cool stuff, and in good condition for the amount of foot traffic.

7: Shot across the river. I can't read the inscription on the rock, but the tower in the far background is the somewhat-famous Seoul TV tower.

8: How you know it's my kind of country. Serious. I did not, obviously, eat this pizza, but the very idea of a "garlic special" pizza is something to be respected. An entire nation of people who are OK with eating raw garlic; if I spoke the language I'd be preparing naturalization papers.

9a: South bank of the Han, part 1. I was trying to do a panorama shot, but the angles didn't line up at all.

9b: South bank of the Han, part 2. The floodplain left between the river and the road reminded me of similar land management on the Elbe in Dresden.

10: Downriver to the east. There are better shots of the distant building and the other bridge -- which I would cross back on -- later on.

11: Older Seoul, on the north side. These were among the first houses, as opposed to high-rises, that I'd seen in Seoul proper.

12: LOL KOREA LOL. If you know why this picture is funny, you spend too much time on the wrong parts of the internet. If you don't get it, there may be hope for you yet. CHEVY RUSH KEKEKEKE.

13: Modernistic Christian spire. South Korea is about the most Christianized nation in east Asia, at about 20-30 percent betwen various denominations. I didn't get any closer to this building and thus can't tell whether it's Catholic or Pentecostal.

14: Graffiti on a handrail. Korea is not a very graffitied country, and this is probably the most immediate example that I saw, on a rail on a footbridge across the street heading up towards Itaewon. No idea on a translation.

15: Barbed wire expressionism. If I'd gotten to Germany a decade earlier, I might have shot something like this around Dresden. As it is, this is the wall around the US Army motor pool across the street from their main complex entrance.

16: Shot into the US base. I was trying to get the signs in front of the guard shack, but at least I got the streetsign on the traffic lights.

17: The first, but not the last. Hines Ward endorses a bunch of other stuff in various places; this was just the most photographable. Somehow, I don't think that Martin Grammatica would get this much attention in Argentina even if he did something as noteworthy.

18: Itaewon arch. This shopping street is a proverbial hive of scum and villainy after dark, but I was cruising through on a Sunday morning, so the bars were closed and the hookers off the streets. There's a bunch of legitimate activity as well, but this street is about 200 yards from a large military base and was known as "Hooker Hill" even before the soldiers showed up. If I get sent back, I'll try to report on the night version and at least attempt to make it back alive.

19: Local information board, Itaewon. Some general information about the area; this is at 40% original dimensions (16% original area) so the English text is unreadable. Apology.

20: Pileups aren't just for HC shows. The way these houses stack up the hill towards the church just looks really neat.

21: Dome and more towers. Again, this is mostly just visually interesting. Most of "downtown" Seoul is actually north of Itaewon (the way the camera is pointed here), but you'd never know it with the way the hills dominate the landscape.

22: Trainer plane on the grounds of the War Museum. Why Koreans bother saving trainers will be explained later.

23: B-52 dwarfing everything else, same grounds. B-52s were never used in the Korean War, as they didn't enter service until '54 or '55, but we made so damn many of the things and it's so expensive to mod them to survive on a modern battlefield that the USAF probably just gave the surplus away to good homes as best they could after Vietnam.

24: The memorial stone of King Gwanggaeto. There's a caption shot for this later; I don't remember whether this is the original or a replica.

25: General-view shot of the Korean War memorial that dominates the front yard of the War Museum. The design recalls the symbolic landscaping of the US Vietnam Memorial while still blending in the expected statuary of a traditional monument. The design is really cool, but somewhat spoiled by putting APCs down in the bottom of the basin (carefully excluded to the right in this shot).

26: Memorial spire. The lighting was kind of bad on this, but there are reliefs running up the inside of the sectioned bronze pillar.

27: Explanation of the memorial. Unfortunately too small to read again; I'll check to see if the original has more readable text and transcribe.

28: Detail of the bronze statuary surrounding the spire. There are two flows of this, suggesting the yin-yang design of the Taeguk emblem, rounding after one another.

29: The other side. Walking up close to these is really chilling; the mass of metal presents a feeling of weight and immensity that drives the dynamism and movement of the overall design.

30: Full view, commemorative pillar (Greece). Several of these can be seen in shot 25 above; there's one for every foreign country that contributed personnel to the UN forces in the Korean War -- some of which may surprise you.

31: Ethiopia?!? Yes, once upon a time Ethiopia contributed troops to UN efforts rather than having them address issues in their own country. Troop levels were minimal (see later pictures), but they were there.

32: Colombia?!? Once upon a time, Colombia could send troops over to stabilize the international community, instead of having to keep them at home to fight gangsters and rebels...and needing American military intervention besides.

33: T-34 tank, doubtless restored since being captured. They also had a Sherman here, but I just need to drive about 5 miles up the road to see one of those.

34: Caption shot for shot 24. I'll transcribe this from the original if there's enough interest.

35: Three guesses what country this is. Countries with syllabic languages tend to misspell stuff, but by stripping out the parts that we don't pronounce in English anyways.

36: The US stele. As long as I'm shooting other countries, I had to shoot my own; despite the suicidal idiocy of some of the current government's policies, I'm still an American and still proud of the American idea.

37: The Statue of Brothers and supporting dome. Though the story behind it may be apocryphal and was certainly anticipated by the Armistead-Hancock saga (among, doubtless, hundreds of others) in the US Civil War, this memorial is still a uniquely touching reminder that for Korea, the Korean conflict wasn't about about ideology or geopolitics; it was and is a fratricidal and thus suicidal disaster that tore their country and their culture in two.

38: Caption shot for shot 37. This one is actually large enough to English, the Japanese and Chinese are a little small.

39: Plate inside the dome under the statue. The inside of the dome has the real feeling of a tomb or chapel, and I was uncomfortable taking a lot of pictures.

40: Taeguk flag flying over the museum. Because there were some other people in the way, I didn't shoot the reliefs on either side of the stairs going in the front; on the right, there were the expected heroic depictions of ROK and UN soldiers, but on the left there were similarly syled figures that could only be NKPA and Chinese. Sooner or later, North Korea is going to give up and join the rest of the world, and when they do, united under this flag, they can also be proud of this building.

41: "Turtle Shaped Battleship". On the video there is footage of this craft (or another replica) actually sailing; the deck armor is really interesting.

42: Bronze artifacts. I forget what this shot was supposed to be demonstrating; from here on in, a lot of the pictures are shot with low-light settings and thus somewhat blurry.

43: what. Maybe the Chinese or the Japanese on this one makes sense, but the Engrish is completely out to lunch. (By the way, I would likely buy a rap album from Beat Mr. Wae, whether Korean or not.)

44: Bronze figurine. This was also originally a functional teakettle; pretty cool.

45: Traditional costume, middle ages. Mannequins in military uniform continue down to the present day in the rest of the museum.

46: Inscription on a medieval statue. As can be seen, this is in Chinese characters, which means that I or someone I know will eventually be able to pick out meaning despite not speaking Korean. This is one of the good things about an ideographic writing system, but it's a little degraded due to wear and low shutter speeds.

47: Tapestry, suggestive of the Bayeaux but a little later. There's an uneven approach to curation in this museum and I'm not certain that this is original.

47c: Caption of shot 47. Future caption shots will have no notes as they have little content.

48: Medieval Korean records, in bronze (reproductions, the original was a scroll that was necessarily destroyed in the transcription process -- the fragments still conserved), and a bound book. Again, written in hanzi/kanji.

49: The world's first Stalin Organ. This mobile multi-tube rocket launcher dates back to the 15th century.

49c: caption shot.

50: Crossbows, including a repeater (rear). Thanks a lot, Korea. Now I can no longer ban repeating crossbows from any games that I GM on the grounds that they don't exist.

50c: caption shot.

51: There's a fine balance between camouflage and usability. The leaves on the rearmost spear were probably great for hiding in a bamboo forest, but they're made of metal and would have cut the hell out of anyone trying to wield it.

52: Cannon arrow. Why fire a random rock when you can shoot a bore-perfect fin-stabilized projectile with a hull- or wall-piercing head and a shaft that's going to fragment into anyone standing nearby? There are a lot of smaller and larger examples of these, but none that I saw were fitted for an explosive warhead.

53: Large swords made normal by lack of scale. The Japanese-styled swords at the rear are between 5 and 6 feet long overall and seem to be at least reproductions of battlefield gear -- there were also obvious bearing swords in this area that were even larger. Thanks again, Korea; now I can't just rule out no-dachi either.

54: Another originalish painting. I don't know when perspective entered general use in east Asia, so I can't accurately date this.

55: Early modern machine gun. This is a multibarrel muzzleloader that could technically be rapid-fired by two people, I guess; the barrels are strung onto the backing bar like wind chimes.

56: Early-modern map of Korea. This is an original, and the first I saw here showing the whole country.

57: Japanese WWII surrender document_ This is an original, one of the several signed on the deck of the Missouri.

58: Counterfeit money and news articles on it. This is one of a series of cases on the runup to the start of the Korean War that should have made it obvious that the North Koreans were going to start something.

59: The Suicide Soldiers of Mt. Songak. In one of the first engagements of the Korean War, the NKPA crossed the line of demarcation and assaulted ROK positions; to drive the enemy out, these ten soldiers charged a key machine gun nest carrying 81mm mortar shells. Their sacrifice was successful, and this sculpture is moving, but it gets creepy a little later, because there are several more similar memorials to suicide squads later in the museum. (And one wonders why, if they had the mortar shells, they did not shoot them out their mortars -- there are terrain-dependent reasons why this might not be possible, but still.)

59c: caption shot.

60: ROK medic's kit from the Korean conflict. The picture, presumably of the medic who donated the kit, though this wasn't immediately clear from the exhibit, adds a human touch.

61: Little kid looking at other kids bayoneting and getting shot by NKPA. During the initial surge of the North Korean invasion, North Korean infantry assaulted a girls' middle school which was held by high-school- and college-age volunteers, which is now immortalized in this realistic and gory diorama. There is a didactic (or, cynically, propagandic) purpose to many of the exhibits here; this one should be obvious.

61c: caption shot. Since no mention is made of victory, the defenders were probably next to wiped out.

62: Personal effects of student volunteers. The enrollment of highschoolers (most student volunteers were college-age returnees from abroad, but there were others) should bring to mind the last days of the Confederacy (c.f. Richmond Greys) as symptomatic of a nation in extremis, which South Korea certainly was during the retreat to Busan.

63: Printing press and arms of ROK partisans. Koreans had a lot of experience from 40 years of being a Japanese colony to fall back on when the communists overran the south; much of this kit was probably just taken out of storage and the irregular units that had fought the Japanese just reformed.

64: Scribbles on paper. These are original battle plans of several ROK units from the Incheon landing, but half-century-old pencil on yellow paper doesn't photograph well in low light. Much cooler when you're there.

65: Various propaganda leaflets dropped on North Korea. Note Stalin pushing Mao pushing the poor NKPA private into the fire in the lower right.

66: Leaflets dropped on the UN forces. The shot is blurry enough that you can't really tell that the leaflet in the center isn't some ad cut from Life magazine of the day; the production values are really good.

67: Another leaflet. The Communist dialectic is obvious; Mr Big Business vacations in Florida while Joe Proletariat freezes his ass off under occasional fire at the Chosin Reservior.

68: Cross if you dare... Uniquely effective, as you cross into the exhibit on the UN surge, you also cross across the 38th parallel and into a world of thick green and unfamiliar noises; into the unknown, and you get the feeling wondering if you -- and by extension the UN forces -- should be there, invading as much as liberating. In the background, you can see a diorama of ROK soldiers filling their canteens on the south bank of the Yalu River (Chinese border for those who don't know the regional geography so well).

69: Red Army soldiers from the Chinese intervention. Further left out of the frame is another Chinese armed only with a pair of hand grenades; due to supply shortfalls, a lot of Chinese soldiers were just issued grenades and told to acquire a rifle off the enemy (or a PPsh off one of their comrades, like the guy on the far right) as soon as they were able to free one up. The human waves advance to the sound of flutes and gongs, as played by the two mannequins in front of the flag.

70: Machine gunner's shackle. To hold up the UN advance as long as possible, a North Korean machine gunner chained his leg to this iron staple and drove it into the ground. The will to not retreat meets the realistic assessment that the smart thing to do is probably to run the hell away like everyone else, and prevails.

71: Sign from the Military Demarcation Line. Unfortunately, due to poor planning, this was as close as I got the the DMZ. Bus tours run from Seoul daily -- it's like 30 miles north of the city, North Korean artillery could probably fire in right now without a lot of problems -- but I was too busy to schedule a slot in time.

72: Locations of the four invasion tunnels discovered so far, with dates of discovery. The dotted line on the map is the MDL/DMZ; the red blob in the lower center is the Seoul metropolitan area. It's a 20-minute bus ride from Seoul to the airport out in the other little blob labeled Incheon, and the closest point of the border is not much farther.

73: The UN joins in. Being the document of all countries involved in the "police action" taking place on the dates noted.

74: Breakdown of troop levels. With almost 2 million troops committed, the US did most of the fighting, but you probably didn't know that Turkey sent a full infantry brigade, or that there were seven thousand Filipinos and six thousand Thais on the ground as well. (Total commitment from Ethiopia and Colombia as noted before, 8618 soldiers combined.)

75: UN memorial. The hanging sculpture is composed of myriad dog tags to represent the soldiers lost.

76: Another trainer, suspended. We'll see in a moment why planes like this were important to the Korean War.

77: HALO parachutist. On the floor below you can see some of the scale models of military equipment and the placards describing them and their makers...who have names like Hyundai, Daewoo, and Samsung.

78: Divided nations faceoff. Though the light levels are too low and I had to get too far back to read the captions, those are ROK arms on the right, and on the left, typical weapons carried by the NVA. I was also surprised to learn that South Korea sent three infantry battalions to Vietnam, you're not alone.

79: Miscellaneous NVA/VC artifacts. A field doctor's manual is center; the metal object in the upper left is a tea kettle.

80: Random crap scavenged by ROK medical teams in Iraq. Koreans were there in Desert Storm. They were also there in Yugoslavia, they went to Georgia (former USSR, not current US) during the civil war there, they went to Somalia and Haiti, and they were in Afghanistan for Enduring Freedom. Whenever the UN or the US puts the balloon up, the South Koreans go, probably because they still feel in the world's debt for saving them from the North, but since the end of military rule, they tend to send medical support rather than combat forces. This still does not explain why they bring back the crappy bread that Saddam Hussein gave to his troops, and then preserve it and put it in a museum.

81: Relief celebrating the Korean armed forces. Few non-American democratic societies celebrate their armed forces the way that the Koreans celebrate theirs...though this may be the result of the fact that the armed forces are the reason that they are still democratic.

82: North Korean spy materials. The lists of numbers hogging the center of the frame are one-time pads used for cryptography and instantly identify the photographer as a computer geek, because the crypto kit is what is classified as most cool and interesting. :roll:

83: Cart as used by North Koreans in one of their invasion tunnels. The technology is crude and the bore of the tunnel (a reconstruction here, obviously) is small, but the NKPA did build other tunnels large enough to drive a tank through.

84: ROK air forces bombing from trainers. The explanation of all those unarmed junk planes hanging around a war museum. Due to a total lack of modern combat aircraft, the South Korean air force was forced to drop improvised bombs by hand out of unarmed and unarmored trainers to slow up the initial North Korean advance. It is one of the greatest testaments to individual ingenuity and bravery trumping organizational stupidity in modern military history. Seriously, you have a dissatisfied neighbor to the north glomming up all the Soviet Union's WWII-surplus hardware they can get their hands on, how the hell do you just decide not to have an air force??

84c: caption shot.

85: North Korean MiG-15. This was parked inside with a bunch of uninteresting APCs rather than outside, probably due to vandalism concerns.

86: Forend, same MiG-15.

87: National Defense Drum, main rotunda. This drum was marked as such but not explained in my museum guide. It still looks really cool.

88: War photography as macro bait. This was one of a long series of photographs showing the combat and devastation of the Korean War, just lined up on easels, but it was one of the few whose absurdity -- the intact tank angled as though ramming itself into the concrete wall of the other side of the ruined bridge -- really stuck out. You will probably be able to find this picture on the internet somewhere, but show a little respect as you cook up a lulztastic caption.

89: A rare example of Engul. This is more noteworthy because all the OTHER gates, RIGHT NEXT to this one, were marked correctly as WAY OUT. How does that even happen?

90: Ceremonial procession outside the War Museum. I'm not sure what this event was.

91: Procession again, slightly better view and lightly less HAET FURRINER. Seriously, go back to shot 90 and look at that guy in the lower left.

92: The procession advances.

93: Yes, that says what you think it says. All Korean males are required to serve in the military for two years. There are probably not too many of them, though, who can convince their fiancees that they ought to get married in the national war museum, even as traditionally Confucian as Korean society is.

94: North Korean minisub/speedboat. This was used in an intrusion attempt recent enough that I actually remember reading about it in the papers, and is now parked between some fontains here.

95: Flags of the UN participants. This is a good 'image shot' of the museum and grounds; behind me are a bunch of tanks, APCs, and SPGs with little kids climbing all over them that are just as valid an image shot, but less aesthetically pleasing.

96: Korean MP covering his face. This was about the only security-conscious thing this guy did over the minute or so I was watching him, and he only got his hands up because I had to punch in on him from across the street, then wait to shoot until the traffic cleared. There are plenty of police walking around on the sidewalk in front of the US base (which this guy is standing inside of) with four-foot riot-baton-cum-kendo-swords, but no actual threat from anything.

97: American soil, for now. The Us is giving this base back in a couple years, and I'm sure the soldiers who have to live there are glad, because a lot of the buildings look pretty crappy, old, and ill-maintained.

98: Wicker sculpture on a traffic island. Finally, an end to the drab and depressing war stuff! I was getting sick of it too when I got here, and a giant wicker dragon was just what the doctor ordered.

99: Seoul as normal East Asian city. The signs and the looping telephone wires cutting across them provided the visual complexity that caught my eye. I can recognize "world" in the middle of the Chinese sign in the upper right, but I don't know most of the other characters.

100: Old handcart in amid modern cars. It's like this was deliberately set up as a contrast of old and new, but this is obviously still a working cart, just set down while whoever owns it went to buy a drink or some cigarettes.

101: The new Seoul. Somehow, the rows on rows of high-rise apartments don't seem as depressing as those in the Hong Kong territories, maybe because I've been to China and know what real soulcrush looks like, maybe because they're just all over the place. If there's open land in this part of Korea, either it's a thirty-degree mountainside or someone is trying to build an apartment building on it.

102: Facade of the National Museum. I was thinking about going in, but it was late, I was beat, it was on the other side of a huge road, and I still had another 5 or so kilometers to walk to get back to my hotel. If I get sent back, I'll be sure to make it here as well as up to the DMZ.

103: Loltastic traffic sign. Sixty km/h speed limit? No swerving around other cars? What country do they think they're in?? This was on a ramp going up to the bridge over the river, so people did mostly obey it, but it's still really funny in the context of how people drive around Seoul.

104: Korean highway traffic. This is only a still photo of Seoul's answer to Storrow Drive, so you don't see the drivers taking it like you'd expect people to run Storrow Drive: going too fast and trying to get into every lane but the one they're in. As a Massachusetts driver, I would have felt right at home except for all the dimpled side panels and fenders I saw on the highways. "Ramming is how we say hello in Korea!"

105: Blue-arched bridge going south across the Han. Not quite a Blaues Wunder, but close; trains run in the section under the arch frame.

106: Golden skyscraper and park below. Pretty much just a postcard shot...except I couldn't get the sky to turn blue.

107. South bank towards the national cemetery. Just above one of the hills you can faintly see a plane coming in to Incheon.

108: Road in front of the national cemetery. This is a crop rather than a resize to show the detail of the sign in the center of the frame, and it really was kept pretty quiet.

109: National cemetery, terraced into the hillside. My camera batteries gave out after this shot -- too many long exposures in the museum -- so I wasn't able to shoot a couple interesting points on the way back to the hotel.

This is the end, so far; I'm not scheduled to go anywhere in the near future, but you never can tell.

Zircon with Frozen, Nocturnum, and Deconformity [Ralph's, Worcester, 5/3/2007]

Partly because this was a good bill on the first anniversary of Metal Thursday, and partly because I missed a fair number of shows while I was in Korea and will miss more this weekend due to other commitments, I made the longish and moderately strenuous drive out to Worcester to thrash it up. This isn't a general change, because getting home from a weekday show at 2:30 and waking up to go to work at 6:00 isn't something I can do on any kind of sustained basis, but for certain bills, the drive out to Worcester from the more populated parts of the state is eminently worth it. This definitely turned out to be one of them.

Deconformity [5/7]
Oddly enough, Deconformity also opened the first Metal Thursday back last year, which sets up commentary on the band: it shows that they're good and dedicated enough to stick around, but also that, in the dense New England scene, they still haven't differentiated themselves enough that a year later, they can go on somewhere besides first at Metal Thursday. Of course, this may not be wholly the band's fault; their CD got pushed back again, so there may be other factors at play keeping them from leveling at a faster pace. Regardless, the difference between this performance and the last time I saw them, up at Mark's with I think Enslaved, was enormous and obvious: having their bass player on hand really thickened up and unified their sound, setting up and giving context to the guitars. Where that earlier set came off as thin and tired, this one was dense and fully-developed, even if not all of the material was the most original. They played a fair degree of new material -- there's allegedly enough new tunes to do another full-length behind the one that got delayed again -- which mostly came off as a definite step up, so if they do end up releasing a double album, the second disc may have more attractions than the first, but anyone into brutal death metal is definitely going to dig, to some degree, everything that this band does at this point. A nice solid set, even though the vocals, bass, and drums cut in and out a couple times -- all together, as though they were being run through the same piece of hardware and that was having problems.

In between here I buzzed Jeremy's table and among other rarities from eastern Europe (including Silent Stream of Godless Elegy, who I'd been looking for for a while) legitimized one of my Drudkh albums; while this can be read to mean that one less person gets to randomly experience the pure awesomeness of Drudkh, the reality is that the band gets supported, and that at this point everyone who wants to hear Drudkh has already stolen all their albums from the internet, and are also among the ones trying not to seem too mental in grabbing the physical CDs out of the rack. Also, immediate Drudkh-grabbage is an unmissable clue to distro operators that they need to import more of this band, because there are few better inducements to metalheads to drop extra cash.

Nocturnum [5/7]
This was a night of firsts -- first local band announcing possible plans for a double-album (almost certainly a joke, but it'd be hell of cool if they actually did a limited double-CD release in addition to normal separate discs), first Rush cover at a local show I've been to, first Zircon cover done live (latter two explained later) -- and this band got into the act as well with the most material among them, being the first band I've seen locally playing d-drums. The sound actually wasn't too bad, which probably should be expected now as sampling bitrates and fidelity have improved significantly since the things were first introduced in the early '80s, and once the band got going it was almost impossible to tell that it was synth percussion rather than organic drums. The obvious benefits are that it's a lot less mass and volume for the same kit sound, and also that meth addicts aren't going to steal your cymbals to sell for scrap, but the cost of this kind of rig, even relative to a good normal drumkit, probably means that we aren't going to see a lot of local metal bands going digital. This band had a decent sound when it finally got dialed in, but it took almost half their set for the sound guy to get both guitars up to where they ought to have been; when the sound was dominated by the bass and keys, the efffect wasn't nearly as good as when all instruments were properly brought into balance. While they were pretty good once they got the sound problems (odd for this venue, Steve the sound guy is kind of a local legend in Worcester and almost always sets up great sound on the first go) ironed out, they did come off as a little unfocused at times; I'll have to see them again to tell whether this is a legitimate issue that the band's working on or just an artifact of a rough night for technical difficulties.

Frozen [6/7]
For this gig, Frozen came in 'uniform'; totally unplanned, all six band members showed up to the gig wearing Metallica shirts, which is so statistically bizarre that most people didn't notice it until it was pointed out -- your mind just blocks it off as impossible; "all six guys in an underground metal band showing up in Metallica kit? No, it can't be, that just doesn't happen." In contrast to the other times that I've seen them, the sound was rawer and thrashier on this outing, less transparently suggestive of Evergrey, but with still enough elements that it's pretty clear that the guitarists at least have The Inner Circle or maybe In Search of Truth. The performance was well-executed and well-finished, including their cover of "Tom Sawyer" alluded to above, which was pretty faithful but also not slavish in doing so; the effect of Alex Lifeson's guitar lines recast through distorted 7-strings was pretty cool, and it's safe to say this is one of the few places in the world where you'd see pileups and HC-style crowd vocals on a progressive rock song. This was about the best I've seen from this band, continuing the steady improvement, and I don't think too many people would have been unhappy with it as a headlining set.

Zircon [7/7]
Though this was the third time I've seen Zircon, it was the first time that they weren't packed onto a raft made of two shipping pallets wedged between pool tables and a merch stand; on a stage and doing a paid homestand rather than p2p at the back end of Mark's, Zircon took it up a notch as well, resulting in a completely dominating performance. There were parts that were merely excellently executed rather than transcendent, but the cumulative effect of almost a full hour of complete slaughter including a guest stint from their old guitarist and one of the best versions of "Pull The Plug" that I've heard from any band not including Chuck Schuldiner to close out the night definitely deserves top marks. Zircon also keeps getting better, and the traveling undercard of the Summer of Slaughter should watch out, because come July, they'll surely be even more of a force to be reckoned with.

Metalfest (NEMHF) Report

New England Metal (Blade) and "Hardcore" Festival 2007
Worcester Palladium, 4/27/2007 and 4/28/2007

This is the rundown of this year's Metalfest; the snideness in the title is the result of the writer's inherently sarcastic nature rather than any real displeasure with the fest. This was a decent year, not as good as last, but not as bad as it could have been. There are probably two reasons for this.

First, last year was not merely great, but historically great in terms of lineup depth, drawing across all styles, running 3 full days, and gathering in a large number of bands from overseas. It was an expensive ticket, but worth it when it was considered that we got a lineup worthy of, say, Summer Breeze or With Full Force to do an indoor fest in North America that ran in the low four figures attendance-wise. This year was a step down, but still good, and very importantly a lot less expensive to put up. If Jabba the Scott (no disrespect intended, especially since he got Revocation on this year) took a hiding last year, it makes sense that he'd tighten his belt a little this year and do something like handing the second day (of only 2) over to Metal Blade. This is the second reason; while they do still have a bunch of good bands, I'm not entirely satisfied with the current direction of Metal Blade as a label. I recognize that it's difficult to survive as a record label in the present day, and if Job For A Cowboy's record sales help underwrite 3's recording and tour support, that's cool; the real issue is that if marketed properly, 3 could sell a ton of records on their own hook, and I still believe that labels have a responsibility to promote good music over crap that sells easily.

Of course, this is my definition of "good music" in play, and at this kind of festival I'm slipping out of the general population and into that upper tier of "cranky old men in kuttes who think everything (new) sucks". This is not precisely the case -- yet; give me another five years and I'm sure that I'll be insufferable if the band onstage isn't either Kreator or obviously ripping them off.

or, God Damn It, Scott, Buy A God Damn Whiteboard

The weather for this weekend was wet, meaning that it was actually a good thing that I had a normal jacket on, not my kutte, while I was standing in line waiting for initial entry, which was forced by the fact that my hotel wasn't opening for check-in for another couple hours and I was squatting a space in a mini-mart parking lot. The line was a little shorter than last year, which mean that I actually got inside fairly close to the start of The Funeral Pyre's set.

The Funeral Pyre [5/7]
I was pleasantly surprised by the raw quality of this band's mix of black and death metal, especially going on so early on the second stage with a name that evokes the hordes of xYouthxCrewxRevivalx clones that are expected to pad the front of the bill at NEMHF. It just goes to show that you can't tell a book by its cover -- though in this case the band's Enslaved shirts did indicate that they were actually influenced by Enslaved. I didn't get to pick up their CD as a result of various antics trying to get my car off the street, but I will have to pick it up in the future.

Colin of Arabia [4/7]
Since I don't have a dominant interest in hardcore and didn't seek out the hardcore or alleged HC performances on the bill, I can't really comment on what proportion of the real hardcore at this festival this band represented. They were decent for their style, but while I often find hardcore intellectually interesting, I can't really bring myself to actually listen to it being played for any non-trivial amount of time. Those who are into this style or who were on the floor for it rather than up in the (sparsely populated) dealers' area buying the first installment of too many CDs from Oak Knoll would probably have enjoyed this set rather than simply appreciating it.

xDeathstarx [3.5/7]
The people who see commonalities between the rise in the early '80s of rap and thrash metal as racially divided responses to the same situation -- "urban blight music", in Peter Steele's words -- might want to take a look at the current generations of gangsta rap and toughguy hardcore: coming from someplace authentic, but often taking everything so far over the top as to make the result impossible to take seriously. This band fits the description, executing an average set of menacing but completely generic material while spreading the vocal load across three singers with approximately zero variance in style or range, and concluding their performance with an altar call. We've had Christian bands at Metalfest before, and while they weren't shy about declaring their beliefs, they kept it much more on the lines of "Jesus is there" rather than "come to Jesus". This is the first time I've actually seen a band laughed at at a gig; a significant portion of the second-stage crowd just cracked the hell up at the God promo. Musically, they were basically the same as any other random toughguy act, nothing special either way, but the instantiation of their Jesus-message was just laughable. (And yes, Nergal's rantings about how Behemoth hates Christians soooo much later at night were just as lame, so this isn't a religious discrimination issue.) God is Lulz.

Palehorse [4.5/7]
The main comment on this band in my notes is "When does it end?" which is not really fair; Palehorse is a toughguy hardcore band like many, many other toughguy hardcore bands on this bill, so while they were decent, they did kind of get caught in the undertow. My tolerance for extended exposure to this kind of music is kind of low, so if they'd been on a shorter local hardcore/thrash bill, I'd probably have liked this fairly decent set better.

Bloodlined Calligraphy [4/7]
Despite (or perhaps because of) their female singer, this band came off as yet another fairly generic hardcore band, with precious little particularly memorable about their set. Neither particularly good nor particularly bad, they didn't leave much of a strong impression, but they might have on someone who was either into this style or paying attention instead of wondering when the hell Revocation was going to go on, damnit.

At this point, those who have seen the schedule are going "Revo-who?", because Boston's best tech-thrash band is nowhere to be found on the programs. Well, welcome to the First Day of Metalfest Circus, in which the second-stage schedule gets it in the head with a shotgun and the organizers play Humpty Dumpty with it while not telling people who they're getting in to fill holes. What has been posted so far looks like the online schedule, but doesn't resemble at all what was posted on a single sheet of office paper next to the doors, let alone what was in the program. It surely would not kill the budget to get a whiteboard and write on it in magic marker who was playing when, then put it behind the second-stage bar where everyone could see it, and most people couldn't erase bits or draw penises on it. Revocation were a late add, and Scott could have hardly found better.

This wasn't their absolute best outing, but for a twenty-minute set from a complex and challenging band, it's difficult to ask for more. They pretty much played Summon The Spawn straight down, then closed with a sharp and cutting cover of "Symbolic" to complete the devastation. I hadn't heard this from them before, but it's Revocation covering Death, of course it's going to be good. They hopefully made a bunch of new fans as well as a good impression, but the confusion and anxiety they induced in the streams of kids leaving at the start may be more immediately satifying. Better that they'd stayed to experience the awesomeness, but it meant that I got up towards the front, and it's not as if everyone got Atheist on the first pass either. The hope is that, like 3 who was musically challenging and completely awesome early on the second stage last year, Revocation will get a decent slot on the main stage in the succeeding year as a followup.

Having seen Revocation, I could stop camping the second stage, go check in at my hotel, get some food and non-overpriced beer in, then come back in time to catch much of the metal portion of the main stage.

Still Remains [NR]
I got back in just at the end of their set, which they didn't announce as such, but which everyone was able to easily recognize because they were playing "The Worst Is Yet To Come". LOLZ WRIET ANOTEHR SONG BAND. I like this song, but I also have heard enough Still Remains to know that it's not sufficient to judge the band -- or any random performance of theirs -- by.

Despised Icon [5/7]
What do you call six Canucks -- sorry, five Canucks and a Masshole -- who can't decide whether they want to be Morbid Angel or Hatebreed? Replace the simple "?" with a ", Alex?", and you have a correct Jeopardy answer-question pair. Silliness aside, this was about the best performance that I've heard from Despised Icon, the most together and with the best sound, but while they've gotten their feet under them as a band, they now need to go out and do something with that foundation. Deathcore fans may be willing to take them as they are, and this set was pretty solid, but they showed enough talent here to demonstrate that they can do more than this -- as soon as they decide which direction they're going to move in, whether more death, more core, or forward to create something more distinctly their own.

Skinless [6/7]
I almost went up to Mark's to see Skinless on the Sunday following Metalfest, but didn't due to being sick and also because the last place you want to see Skinless is at a no-mosh venue. The snide thing to say is that they spend the time that they save by writing fairly simple death metal on thinking of new things for the audience to do, but this ignores the fact that Skinless is fun, if not very challenging, to listen to, and it's always a trip to see what they'll think of next. This time they had three "prepared" "mosh events"; first a normal but epically-sized circle pit that actually stayed going in a circle for a while rather than immediately breaking down into kung fu, then a few songs later their patented Tsunami of Death, and finally, at the end, the "zombie mosh", a full-floor Wall of Death done at a snail's pace against slow, brutal, riffage, which was one of the few times that the whole floor was actually moving. I wasn't down in among them, but watching the action and hearing the music was still plently cool.

Nachtmystium [6/7]
Black, thrashy, and grooving, this performance may or may not have been better than when I saw them at Mark's with 1349, but I definitely got more out of it due to being somewhere that I could actually hear them. Good stuff, and I'm going to have to get some of their records sooner rather than later.

Kataklysm [5/7]
This set focused on new music -- kind of hard not to, when you only get 20 minutes -- and as a result everyone was hugely into them...except one cranky old man in a kutte, who was standing on the first row above the floor grumbling to himself about how this was bullshit easy-listening-Kataklysm, and that they had no business hanging up their old logo and then not doing anything that could reasonably be described as hyperblast. Abstractly, Kataklysm did a solid and well-received set of mosh-friendly brutal death metal. Subjectively, this was easy-listening sellout bullshit that stomped all over the legacy of their old material with football boots, but this is hardly anything new. I feel bad for anyone into only their new material who bought Sorcery, like I did, from the CM table, but without knowing what's on it and then either crying as they get their ears spiked or becoming immensely disappointed with the band's current direction.

3 Inches of Blood [5/7]
The jury is still out on whether this band is a gag or not, or if they ever were, but regardless, they're a fun time, and they put together a solid set here. If hardcore was a template that you could add to various kinds of music rather than a genre of its own, this would be what you'd get on applying hardcore to power metal. As yet, there's no genre for this, but all that means is that 3 Inches of Blood don't have any competition (yet...still waiting for Volatile to record something), and fortunately this hasn't really induced them to slack off.

Walls of Jericho [4.5/7]
Before getting into this review, note that I went into this band's set with an open mind and did not have any existing prejudice against them for being from Ypsi. If I hadn't gotten a cheap apartment within walking distance of the Engineering campus while I was at Michigan, I'd have lived in Ypsilanti too.
That being said, if this band had a dude singer rather than a chick, nobody would care about them. Actually, they might still be a big deal, but this doesn't mean that they should be; there's just no accounting for taste when it comes to absolutely, totally generic metalcore. Most of the set was well-delivered enough, but the wheels came off over the last few songs to a certain degree; they need to get it together as well as come up with something to hang their hat on as a band other than their vocalist's gender, because otherwise they're going to be rapidly lapped and forgotten by the next wave of generic hardcore/metalcore bands with chick singers.

Devildriver [5/7]
Other people have been convinced somehow that Dez has seen the light and turned away from the darkness, but on the basis of this set, what he's done is salvage the rolling chassis of nu-metal and rebuild it into something worthwhile rather than doing something new from the ground up. This set was definitely more metal than nu, but in a wide sense could still be described as nu-metal and a little more narrowly as kinda boring. Respect is due, though, for coming out strongly against the pit ninjas, telling them to go back to the karate dojo if they want to kung fu fight, and just let people in the pit mosh. Maybe it's that we're both old farts at this point, but definitely, respect as well as lulz.

Bury Your Dead [5/7]
Though I hadn't seen this band before, they basically fulfilled expectations: strong and competently delivered brutal hardcore, but also fairly one-dimensional. There's only so far that passion and dedication will carry you, and this distance is right up to the point where people realize how silly it is that your biggest hit involves screaming your band's name over and over while the audience throws themselves into a pigpile in front of the stage. There's a fine line between clever and stupid, and we all think we're on the 'clever' side while other people are laughing up their sleeves and placing us in the second caption. BYD was entertaining, but unfortunately tough to take seriously without a large grain of salt.

Behemoth [5/7]
This was a nice set, and at least more visually black metal than the last time that they were around -- I can't recall whether they were corpsepainted when they came around with Morbid Angel, but they were this time -- but this is still, at least from my lookout, a fairly mediocre band; just good enough that some people wanted an encore, but not good enough that many people were disappointed when they didn't do one. I was glad for my part; I had heard quite enough Behemoth for one night and had a riddle to crack.

There is a riff in "Conquer All" taken directly from one of the few good or memorable songs that Morgana Lefay ever wrote; the riddle was in figuring out that it was from Lefay that I'd first heard this riff. Unfortunately, I don't have the time or the stomach to listen through Maleficarum again to figure out which song in particular it was. (A quick look at metal-archives found that the lyrics matched the title track, one of the few good ones, again.) Weird as all hell, and I have no idea how Nergal found it given his supposed tastes (though there weren't many in the Polish underground in the late '90s who had a lot of respect for him); probably a re-invention at this point.

Dimmu Borgir [6.5/7]
This was a really well-staged and well-executed performance, but Dimmu's material isn't, overall, good enough to merit a top score. Regardless, it was a hell of an entertaining set, and at least Shagrath has finally ditched that ratty bathrobe that he used to wear all the time. At times, the visual aspect seemed creepily like Judas Priest, which may not be a bad thing; Dimmu Borgir has long since lost all credence and standing with the true kvlts, so they might as well bring their symphonic black metal attack to the largest possible audience by taking on a more universally-appealing and nostalgically-resonating image. It's still good music, just not especially true any more...if it ever was.

or, No, We Are Not Just A Metalcore Label, Look At These Good Bands We Still Have

So after getting a good dose of schadenfreude watching the emo QB from Notre Dame squirm on the verge of tears because nobody'd drafted him yet, I headed over for Metal Blade day, with anticipation (3 and Cannibal Corpse) as well as trepidation (many other bands), because Metal Blade quite obviously isn't exactly what it once was.

The Destro [4/7]
This bunch was from Dallas, but it's really difficult to tell how you'd know that without being told; their sound is basically the same kind of brutal hardcore/metalcore that we see all the time locally in New England. It had its good points, and admittedly I was on my final scalping of the dealers' tables at the time, but overall it did come off as somewhat generic.

Jacket now thoroughly packed with CDs, I headed downstairs to see what Metal Blade had set up as headliners.

Shai Hulud [5/7]
The performance was pretty good (even though this band's material has been described in the past as "everything about '90s hardcore that needed a bullet in the head and a shallow grave"), and the oddly-somewhat-sparse crowd dug them, but it's not as though we haven't all heard this kind of material before. I missed Beyond The Embrace and Hallows Eve, but this was a decent enough start to the main stage for me.

3 [7/7]
As last year, this was simply a superb performance, though with a little more guitar firepower (both flamenco and conventional metal styles) and a few minor difficulties with the drum/percussion solo than the last time I saw them. The overall effect was still as stellar, with the only difference being that there were a hell of a lot more people standing around being impressed this time. There are not nearly enough bands like this, in metal or out, and if you like great music, they, like Pelican, should definitely be on your short list to check out.

Goatwhore [6/7]
Oh, Goatwhore. It just wouldn't be a metal show without them, and I'm surprised that they didn't find some way to get onto the first day as well. This was one of the better sets I've seen from them, and they definitely seemed a little better adjusted to this stage than the last time I saw them here, with Celtic Frost back in November. Five-plus months of constant touring will all kinds of bands over all kinds of venues will do that for you. A nice set, but you're likely to see a similar or better one from them within three matter where you are...and then another one three weeks after that...

Impious [6/7]
I hadn't heard or really heard of this band prior to seeing them, and now I'm mad at myself for this fact. No pretensions, just a damn, damn good set of solid NWOSDM-driven thrash fuckin' metal. Kickass; just hope that they come around soon with a tour where they'll get more than 20 minutes to show off.

God Dethroned [5/7]
People besides me were calling out for their older material, but they focused principally on the new stuff; while kind of a bummer, this is unsurprising, as playing, say, "Soulcapture 1562", would leave approximately no room for anything else in a 20-minute set (sure 11 minutes, but when 20's all you get, every minute counts), and the new stuff is solid as well. It was at this point that I started to feel the effects of whatever virus I picked up while my system was surpressed from jetlag, exhaustion, and mild food poisoning, and at several points I literally was falling asleep on my feet -- while listening to live black/death blasting, natch.

Lizzy Borden [5/7]
I had not seen this band live before, but I'd heard enough of their material to wonder why in the hell Lizzy thought it was still worth trying to have a career. The answer is that the stage antics around the music are at least somewhat entertaining: the short definition of this band's style is "prop comedy of NWOBHM", and if that doesn't suggest "entertaining but played out", nothing will. The music was decent most of the time, but the gimmicks were often pretty much half-assed, like King Diamond without a budget for blood capsules. They didn't seem to be too happy with the crowd's less-than-exuberant reaction, but still hammed it up at the end like they'd just blown them out of their seats with a triple-encore at Madison Square Garden or Hammersmith. Metal Blade was filming this for a DVD, so my guess is that they were hoping the crowd would be brought up in post. For the historical record, NEMHF cheered these guys in accord with the quality of their performance, but any kind of "going wild" is false representation.

Job For A Cowboy [4/7]
This band more than any other illustrates the divide between the old and the new internet, because since Trey Azagthoth was too busy doing Sailor Moon RPG chats with his Quake-clan buddies over IRC, JFAC was able to eat his lunch by whoring themselves on Myspace. Generic in concept and execution, they would probably still have put me to sleep even if I hadn't been sick at the time, and everything they do that's actually good is done much better by other bands. In the last analysis, JFAC is a much less-inspired, less-interesting clone of Morbid Angel that unexplainably a bunch of 12-year-olds are into. This may not be the popular opinion, but it does happen to be TRUE. :P

The Red Chord [7/7]
This is the first proper set I've seen from this band (they did a three-song fix-the-schedule fill-in at last year's fest), and damn if they weren't absolutely impressive. They brought a tremendous amount of thrash sophistication and complexity without losing the power and directness of their hardcore roots, creating probably the optimium single set for this festival, reminding people that the idea of 'metalcore' need not be solely the wasteland that it's become since becoming popular. Great stuff, and maybe now I can finally persuade myself to buy some of their records -- I should have listened to Kreider and gotten into them back in '01 and '02.

The Black Dahlia Murder [6/7]
I have absolutely no idea how this band continues to do such killer live sets yet suck so relentlessly hard on record. The total effect of their performance was pretty much the same as the other two times I've seen them, both in this hall; we'll see how well they adapt to the Party Stage this summer as far as variance goes. Somehow, the power of their delivery pushes the material that comes off as so pedestrian on CD, and so it's hard to think of someone who'd really react negatively to this set.

Unfortunately, I was in no condition to continue on for the last three acts of the night. I wanted strongly to see Cannibal Corpse, but I'm seeing them at Wacken this summer, so it wasn't worth turning myself into one of their album covers to stick around for their set. And then, of course, there was no motivation to survive Unearth and make it to the "special guest jam"; people had been rumoring about Sacred Reich and Slayer, but Slayer is an active band, so you can see them sometime else, and Sacred Reich is also on the Wacken bill, so even if this had been how it went, I wouldn't have felt bad missing it. CC with Barnes? Also not interesting, and it also didn't happen; the only way I would have legitimately felt bad about not staying for this alleged once-in-a-lifetime event is if they somehow got Cirith Ungol back together to play down Frost & Fire. Metal Blade being what it is now, I was pretty confident that this wasn't going to happen -- and it didn't, though maybe sometime in the future NEMHF will be big enough to do the "cash offer you can't refuse" to get bands back together like Wacken and other top Euro fests regularly put up (the famous rumors of a million-euro guarantee for a Carcass reunion are probably fiction, but probably not far off the mark).

All in all, this was a good festival, though not great, but if all festivals were great, the standard would just be raised. This year was hurt greatly by several bands cancelling late; Cellador scratched due to illness, I Killed The Prom Queen and Abigail Williams broke up, and Satyricon couldn't get visas due to past criminal behavior. While I don't much miss many of the above (only Satyricon, and better to try and see them somewhere where Fenriz and Nocturno Culto may come out to play a few "covers"), the cancellations played hell with the schedule and enhanced the atmosphere of pure chaos that often seems to surround the fest. After the super-A-list lineup of last year, this two-day version has to feel like a letdown, but it's really just coming back to earth; as always, there's the hope that next year the scheduling will be tighter, the overall lineup quality a little better, and a little more real metal and real hardcore instead of just all metalcore, all the time, and it's realistic to believe that this step can be made from this year, while last year's was really too good to be sustained. Contrary to what might be implied from a lot of the commentary on the Saturday headliners, I did have a good time at this fest, met a bunch of cool people, and stuffed my ears and jacket with a bunch of good music. NEMHF is at least on the short list of the best festivals in North America, and we in New England are fortunate that it's right where we live.

I Survived A Korean Enkai And All I Got Was This Lousy Hangover

Well, not really. I don't have much of a headache, but that's mostly due to copious amounts of Pocari Sweat (Japanese Gatorade) rather than the actual circumstances of the party, and I feel fortunate that the local office here isn't as nuts about after-hours drinking as the rest of the country appears to be.

Those who know Japanese know that an enkai isn't just any excuse for people who work together to get wasted; in this case, our install team got a machine built and accepted by the customer less than 7 days from the day the first crates showed up at their loading dock, which happens to be a world record -- at least for our firm, but given the nature and size of implanters, probably for the industry as well. So the team lead gets a spot bonus, and the whole office goes out for Korean sushi and a hell of a lot of soju. As any expat who has done time in East Asia will tell you, there are two functions to any enkai involving foreigners: first, the usual one of bullying any junior and/or female employees into getting ridiculously trashed, and second, to haze the Westerners with food that is usually uncooked and often still alive, and which usually comes from animals that people with roots west of the Ural-Caucasus line don't consider food sources. I had already passed the spicy-foods test of Korean cuisine the first time that I went out with the local manager, using my Italian racial bonus to stun him by consuming large amounts of raw garlic slices, so this was actually the easy part.

Of course, "easy" is a relative term, and for a lot of people it does not cover snacking on octopus tentacles that are still squirming on the plate, looking for all the world like maggots roiling a carcass, slugs, or any number of species of parasitic worms. Death metal racial bonus to the rescue! It's a lot easier to eat things that look like they're still alive with "Where The Slime Live" or "Beyond The Unholy Grave" playing in the back of your head. Also, once you actually start chewing it, the octopus stops squirming rapidly, and most of the sea-worm bits that are also on the menu (plenty of normal sashimi for normal eating, too, when the freakout part is done) basically taste like nothing. Like octopus, it's a lot like eating rubber bands, except it doesn't taste like rubber: you chew and chew and chew and there's no content.

PROTIP: Dunk your living octopus tentacles in the hot sauce provided and hold them up for your colleagues to see. The tentacle freaks out at the capsacin content and will turn into a mini-octopus boner. Laugh a lot, eat it, and drink more soju.

In Korea, as in most other places, it's bad form to get so trashed that you need assistance getting home, but given the Confucian social structure and the office culture enforced by a decade and more of military dictatorship in the '80s, it's even worse form to refuse a drink at an office gathering, especially from someone in the organization who is more senior than you. This means that survival at one of these shindigs is heavily dependent on having a liver of complete iron -- and outweighing the rest of the participants by around a hundred pounds certainly doesn't hurt either. I feel really sorry for the other juniors in the office, who don't have this advantage to fall back on and drank about as much as I did, but they're probably glad that they're not working in a normal Korean office, where drinking like this after work is the norm rather than the exception. There have been a series of articles in the IHT here recently on the theme of excessive drinking, and Korea basically leads the world in lost productivity due to alcohol consumption. I'd believe it, but the economy is so ridiculous around here that it's almost scary to contemplate what it would be like if Korea sobered up and started taking work seriously.

PROTIP: Soju is served in shots, but is about half the proof value that Westerners expect from shooting liquors (around 19 percent, which is closer to sake). This means that you can do twice as many shots as you would normally -- and, in a setting like this one, you will drink that much. At least. In an extremely compressed amount of time. I'm pretty sure that I had somewhere between 14 and 20 in the space of a little less than 4 hours, some with cola, which M.D., as the least senior guy at the table, was very happy about (blame him, not me, if you're in Korea and get half-soju, half-Coke when you ask for a SoCo, even if I did come up with the name), but most without, which is definitely not something to try at home unless you also mass north of 110 kilos and have a habit of casually drinking several beers with your dinner. And yes, this was on a Thursday night and we all have to go in to work, most of us on highly sensitive and expensive and dangerous industrial equipment, in the morning.

Octopus and suicidal drivers aside, Korea has been a fun, cool, place so far; beer comes in plastic bottles of the size and construction that you'd expect to see cola in in the US, the roads are a lot safer than Beijing and not much crazier than Boston (yes, that is what is called "damning with faint praise", but it's not so bad), raw garlic is on the menu rather than on the Geneva Convention's hitlist, the people are nice, the climate is livable, and unlike some other places I've been in the Far East, they've left a fair bit of the natural landscape up as well, in addition to the huge concrete apartment buildings. It's a nice country; I'd rather be home, but there are worse places to get extended four days in.

a month and a half of catch-up

Damn, I didn't realize I was so behind. Korea, Metalfest, and cleaning up at work from several weeks spent overseas have left this record a little out of date, so here goes what's been going lately.