Thursday, May 24, 2007

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.

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