Saturday, September 29, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 28, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 23, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Pet Demon with Only Ash Remains, Indignation, Rend The Veil, Rohirrim, and The Turn [Haverhill Elks, 9/21/2007]

If you live south of Manchester and north of Lynn, between Route 3 and the ocean, you could do a hell of a lot worse than keep up with South Central, who put together a really good bill for this show and looks to have the right ideas and the right business sense to keep good music coming back to this venue, which has a lot of potential. A nice big room with all-ages admission and a full bar, the Haverhill Elks is exactly what the underground in the North Shore and the Valley needs, and for the next couple months, there's a really good show in about every three weeks.

I got in early due to some confusion about when doors was, but used the time profitably -- results to be seen in this space in October -- and got in as the bands were setting up.

The Turn [5/7]
I hadn't seen this band before, but was not tremendously surprised when they came out and played some hardcore -- albeit hardcore that would fit in well at a show where half the bill was composed with northeast-Mass metal bands. This means heavily NWOBHM-inflected, though probably from different influences, and while this probably makes them too poppy or "posi" for the xPunchxYourxFacex crew and the like, they played some decent music, especially starting off the evening's entertainments.

Rohirrim [6/7]
This was billed as a double-release show, but apparently MPD's CD hasn't got back from the production facility yet; hopefully they'll have them in by the next gig. Rohirrim, on the other hand, did have their debut record available, and did a strong job of advertising it with a really killer set. Despite the Wolverine mask that Brandon started the set wearing, their performance was mostly serious and thoroughly dialed in. Rohirrim are one of the few bands on this continent, at least that I've heard, to really get viking metal; most of the material they did in this one is best described as a slightly different take on classic Enslaved, though "A Grevious Gift" is heavily suggestive of Einherjer -- even the part that was announced as a break for people who really like Type O. They've come a long way since I saw them early this summer, and it's going to be really cool to see them at Welfare Records with a more extreme surrounding bill.

I got their CD, of course, but haven't listened to it yet; I've got a crapload of stuff to do before I go to Finntroll tonight, and Monday isn't going anywhere.

Rend The Veil [4/7]
I'm not much of a hardcore fan, but I do know what a clipped amp sounds like, and I can accordingly say with a fair degree of confidence that this set would have done better and been better received if they guitarist hadn't had his amp clipped out too high for his speakers. Personally, I thought it sounded terrible in several spots, and good when he was using settings that did not get the signal mutilated, but if he actually likes the clipped-over tone that they opened and closed with, more power to him. The band played a decent set of by-the-numbers HC, and seemed a little disappointed that a giant arena opened up in front of them with no one to fill it. They probably do much better and have much better crowds when they play with all hardcore bands instead of half-hardcore, half-metal, but that's a hazard of them playing shows like this -- and doing shows like this without getting more of the doods who saw them with Killing Kings the previous night to come over and support.

Another reason that a huge void opened up is the presence of ninjas. When you have a metal pit, as happened during all of the metal bands on this gig, and get mostly doods pushing each other around, more people will jump in. When you have three guys throwing spin kicks and doing somersaults, your pit will be those three guys, and if they get tired or go get a beer, nobody will go in the pit, because they don't want to get kicked in the face. The way to fill in a pit like this is either a) don't book bands that draw ninjas or b) draw more ninjas if you're going to going to book HC bands that play dojocore. The idea of splitting a bill half-hardcore, half-metal, is a good one in the abstract, but you need to draw more hardcore fans to make it work, or book different bands so that the ones who come will also go in the center, unafraid of losing teeth.

Indignation [6/7]
It's moving by fits and starts, but in this set Indignation played, if I remember correctly, more originals than covers, which is a definite step forward for them. I've written elsewhere about the unique way that this band has developed from hardcore into power/thrash metal, so it may not be necessary to repeat; what should be repeated is that if you're in the area, this band is not to be missed; mostly for the music and the pure power of their delivery, but also because one of their sets is probably the only place in the world that you're going to see girls grinding on each other to somewhat obscure Megadeth songs (yes, most casual fans don't know "Tornado of Souls", and yes, that's an injustice, but we have to deal). They went back to their oi! roots on their last song, but through the whole of their set, there wasn't really anything that wouldn't appeal to both the hardcore and metal audiences in attendance, which is how it should be.

I got a sticker from Justin of their PBR logo, and I'm uncertain what to do with it; it'll probably go on the men's room wall at the Palladium early at the Municipal Waste gig next week. The HC-rooted thrash revival is the people who need to hear Indignation who haven't yet, and a Peeb logo over the john is the way to catch their eye.

Only Ash Remains [4/7]
This was the promoter's band, and the cynical out there might conclude that the sole reason that they got on the bill was that the guitarist was the one who set it up; this fortunately was not the case. Their set consisted mostly of run-of-the-mill metalcore, but it was executed strongly and with a proper sense of itself, so nobody there who was into this style of music could have been disappointed. I'm not crazy about it myself, but the execution was solid, and they definitely deserved their slot.

My Pet Demon [6/7]
Though they got cut off at the end by a little bit, this set still kicked a lot of ass. As mentioned, they didn't have CDs available yet, but they did play a bunch of stuff off the forthcoming record, which still seems to be as cool as anticipated. "Raise The Flag" was killer, and got a nice pileup from the crowd; their blues-based thrash attack meshed well with the surrounding hardcore lineup, which bodes well for future gigs here, especially the next on the slate, on the 12th. They closed with a novel change, putting Kenny on drums to bring Matt out for vocals on "Fight For Your Right", and didn't give in to the few voices needling them to play old stuff -- which they're probably quite glad to let slip out of memory.

All in all, a cool gig, and I'll probably be up again in three weeks. I wasn't able to get MPD on disc, but all this means is that we'll have to wait a little longer to get the new stuff -- some of which hasn't been done live yet -- and visually confirm that I got into the thankslist.

This weekend, I also incidentally dug up the remaining portion of my old cassette tapes for review and potential posting; in addition to typical juvenalia like Silverchair's debut and Diabolus In Musica (which doesn't suck as much as advertised), this includes Medieval's only label recording (AFAIK) and a first-run copy of The Number of the Beast. Rare and out-of-print stuff may be converted and up here; all in good time, and probably after November. I've got two rather ambitious projects lined up for ~130K words estimated, and not only will this kill the whole month, going through the research materials will take most of October as well.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Edguy with Into Eternity, Light This City, Echoes of Eternity, Mortis Deveia, Chapter 50, and Troll [Mark's, Bedford, 9/14/2007]

I actually got out of work early for this one due to my boss telling us to just go the hell home; he's got some kind of inverse Korean complex and doesn't feel comfortable leaving while we're still around; as a consequence I got onto 93 before the big clot of traffic coming out of Boston hit, and got up just before doors. Hopefully this'll keep up; the fall touing season is just lousy with Mark's shows, and a bunch of them are really good.

Troll [4/7]
This was the third time I've seen this band, with, as far as I can tell, the exact same setlist. They added a little wrinkle this time by letting a flanged-out low end dominate their sound, but it was the same songs in mostly the same order. The vocalist referred to them as "the generic opener that nobody remembers", and while this is true to a certain degree, Troll does have some memorable riffs and lines; it's just that they get tiresome after a while.

In contrast to a lot of Mark's shows, the front row was full right from the start, and there was never any question about there being more people on stage than in the crowd. Of course, this was probably due to the "non-core" people who came for Edguy (and camped the front all night), and weren't aware of how this place operates. Hence the exchange between one of the newcomers and the security while I was coming in, which went something like this:

N00b: Do you have anything to eat in there?
Secu: No, I don't think so. They sometimes get pizza in later, but we just opened.
N: Ok; when's the band start?
S: First band goes on at seven.
N: That's the opener, right?
S: Yeah, that's the first opening band. The first local opener, there's seven bands tonight.
N: Seven?! When does the show get out?
S: Uh, around one, I think.
N: Wow, one o'clock, I didn't realize that. (N00bs huddle up in consternation before leaving to find a BK.)

SRSLY, LERN2P2PVENUE. I was actually surprised that there were only 3 locals against 4 nationals, but the bands got longer sets, and this may be an indication that Bernie's working out who's going to draw from outside the core scene, and will continue to refine the moderation of his policies in the future.

Chapter 50 [4/7]
I'm sure that it's possible to have a more pedestrian metalcore band than this one. I just have no idea how that would be implemented. The sound was pretty much a direct follow-on to almost everything going currently in the "bands who wish they were as cool as Heaven Shall Burn and Shadows Fall" caption, and there was the persistent suspicion on the part of several people (documented elsewhere) that some band members were actively trying to look like people from bigger and better metalcore bands. Whether this was to drive interest in their band or just to pick up girls with lip piercings and Myspace haircuts was unknown at press time.

As a convenient distraction, while this band was playing, one of the guys from From The Shadows came up and tried to sell me Firewind tickets; I didn't bite, but might end up going to the gig anyway. The 29th is a busy night; if I can remember to order a ticket I might go to Megadeth (though I'm not real thrilled about their openers), and if I'm poor and my knees are feeling all right, it might be Toxic Narcotic up in Haverhill. Otherwise, sure; the drive's as long but less intense than going to Worcester, and I like Firewind better than Sonata Arctica anyway.

Mortis Deveia [6/7]
Duuude...I don't know what's up with Henry, man. The new singer for Mortis Deveia is, like, the ugliest chick in the world. SERIOUSLY. ;P
Ok, now that we've got the required-by-law lame joke out of the way, let's have some real information about the band. Andrew presents a different feel than Caitlin did, but the sound is still thoroughly Mortis Deveia, and this was one of their better outings. This was a moment of truth, and the band rose to the occasion, showing that any previous gimmick was incidental to the core purpose of just playing awesome music, and that they remain a leading contender for the next band to break it big out of New England. They had sold out of CDs again coming in, unsurprisingly, but there were also a few songs not on the current demo, so there's likely the prospect of more MD recordings in the non-distant future, and as in the last time I saw them on a properly raised stage (the Skybar had more of a one-step riser, and I think everything else was just on the raft at the back of Mark's), they did "Raining Blood" to close. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite as good as back then, but only because the bassist snapped his E-string at the end of "The Disappearance". The bass dropping out is not, of course, necessarily fatal to a Slayer song, and they blasted it up as a two-guitar, two-vocal lineup for a bit to a great audience reaction, but in all likelihood it would have gone better if everyone's axe was still in proper working order.

In between the local and touring lineup, I went back and got some merch; no kutte parts, but I did spring for a CD from Light This City, as it definitely felt like they were the odd band out on this tour and the most in need of support, which was fortunately justified later. Their merch guy commented favorably on my Watain patch as a rare find; he, however, was wearing a Craft shirt, which is the absolute definition of kvlt (hint: if you like black metal, Terror Propaganda is killer.).

Echoes of Eternity [5/7]
Thus started the mostly progressive, mostly power-metal touring bill, which was a bit of an odd composite hooked together in an uneven chain rather than a truly solid package. Unfortunately, it's not really possible to put together an economical and strongly connected undercard for Edguy that will draw in this country. Echoes of Eternity was decent, but ultimately didn't leave a tremendous impression; the music was good, but seemed to lack impact and immediacy. I don't know if this is a personal thing or a "this is Boston, not L.A." dynamic, but it really seemed like the best thing this band had going for them was pretty much the same thing as Robin DeSanto's electoral advantage. There's nothing wrong with having attractive people in your band, but it's got to be "this band kicks ass, and the singer's hot", not "wow, the chick singing is hot, this band must rule".

Light This City [5/7]
I had a pretty good idea what to expect when I flipped over Facing The Thousand back at the merch stand and saw that they were on Prosthetic, though the name itself was a clue; a thrash band that used to be hardcore and hasn't completely accomplished the transition yet. There were still strong metalcore elements to their sound, but this was a lot more of a thrash performance; some progressive elements, but not on the whole on-topic with the rest of the tour. They fit in with Into Eternity's Headbanger's Ball mode, while Echoes of Eternity connected to IE's deeper cuts and IE's power metal split personality provided the connection to the headliner. It's like mapping hydrocarbons back in chemistry class. On topic, Light This City did a good set, better by a slice than Echoes of Eternity, and people were into them, but they probably would have been better served with a different environment in terms of staging as well as surrounding bands; Aaron mentioned that they were also allegedly playing some "off dates" on this tour with locals around the various stops, which is probably the better bet if you're not as into the rest of the headlining bill.

Into Eternity [6/7]
When this show was being booked, Bernie probably thought to himself, "wow, I've got a lineup with four bands with girl singers in a row, that's got to be a first on a normal show." Then Mortis Dev changed their lineup and he found out that Stu was a dude all along. ;P I kid, I kid.
There were a couple problems with the sound at the start, not that many of them really came through to where I was, and given that they seem to be on every time I put on the cable metal station, I'm thoroughly sick of the hits off Scattering of Ashes, but this was still a good performance, and one of the better I've seen out of them. I'm not a fan of the band, but they play some good music, and there's always something technically amazing on every set; here, Tim was basically just executing rather than stunning on guitar, but Stu was hitting some notes that even Maynard (R.I.P.) might have had a hard time with. That's just not natural, but it's friggin' killer when someone can pull it off.
I had a chance to observe Tim's hand action, which is something you get to do when you're in a small club and a music geek, and while he is fast, he's also fast because he has to be; his finger spread isn't the widest out there, and so he has to reposition a lot more to play stuff that someone with larger or more stretchable hands might be able to play without shifting their arm. His right hand, though, is where the really notable speed and accuracy comes in, much more than in the left.

Despite this obvious plug (ignore the emo first row and start from the first panel in the bottom row), I didn't see Tetraccino at this gig; maybe he hit the gig down at the Webster in Connecticut, or maybe he was in the back in the main part of the hall. I was up front in front of the bar, in the thick of a bunch of doods who were yelling for some kind of reaction from the drummer, who used to be in Beyond The Embrace, and for whom this was the homecoming gig. With this band and Despised Icon, there's the sense of the start of a troubling trend for Massachusetts metal; it's good to see musicians getting into bands with more visibility, but it's kind of embarrassing when your state is the farm system for freakin Canada. Seriously, it's a good thing that no one actually cares (and that there are a lot of Mass bands that succeed on their own), or it would be hard to live this down. ;)

Edguy [7/7]
Unfortunately, they came to the venue in a normal tourbus instead of by air, but while Tobi did cut his hair (he's thinning on top and it's a little less obvious now), he also left his zebra-print spandex pants back in Fulda, so the result was a net IMAGE UP. The music was also a step up from Wacken two years ago, partly from the longer set and partly from somewhat better conditions; I was right on top of the band instead of a hundred yards back, and nobody could get lost on here. Though they talked a good game about playing old stuff, this meant basically "playing stuff they hadn't done since the Mandrake tour"; if you have Burning Down The Opera and the two studio records they've done since that one came out, you basically have this set. Older stuff was replaced with newer material, but their deep back catalog material has remained basically the same since that time. "Save Me" from the new one has replaced "Land of the Miracle" as the requisite 'gay ballad', though in this part of the US, they probably could have made the Manowar reference that they used in Brazil (c.f. "for the wimps and posers out there...and women" on the bonus in the digibook version of Rocket Ride) and people would have gotten it. They ran through their normal crowd-participation antics, despite being in a hall of about a quarter the size needed to really sustain them, and definitely provided a good German Heavy Metal experience. They need a bigger stage, so Tobi can do his kicks-above-head-level without risking injury to anyone else in the band, and a bigger audience to play their side-vs-side games with, but I'm not sure that they can get either on this continent, as they may be a little too confident in their own heterosexuality -- and thus in their willingness to camp up the "straight band from Germany playing Gay-Metal" angle -- for the American power metal audience. We'll see, and we'll hopefully see them again, and in a more accessible venue thanks to their flouting of the ridiculous no-drinking-on-stage ordinances. Es sind hier Deutsche Musikannten! Es ist ihnen Alkohol kein Suchtgift!

On getting out, it was raining, and I steeled myself for a long, wet, and accordingly dangerous drive home. Fortunately, between exits 6 and 5 on 93, a miracle happened, and I outdrove the weather. The rest of the ride back was dry, fast, and stable, which you don't get much coming back from Mark's in the fall. It's raining now, but I'm on my couch and it doesn't matter, the show in the books.

Some words about Autumn Above from Thursday night: this was a remarkably heavy performance, though it might be expected as the band is composed mainly of people who are better known as being in several North Shore metal bands, mostly Endless Ruin. Sure, they're all-acoustic, and on CD their sound is a lot easier to interpret as more indie-rock (verging perhaps on emo due to the lyrical obsession with suicide), with nicely plucked guitar lines and close vocal harmonies, but live, up front, the impression is much different. The stop-on-a-dime riff blasts are pure metal, and if Ryan's been able to change his vocal style for this project, Chris has still definitely got his other influences (specifically, the ones that animate Cocaine Tongue) going strong. "Burn With Me", to call out a particular example, was significantly heavier, played sitting down on acoustics on Thursday night, than anything Chapter 50 did with synchronized headbanging on Friday night. As a result, this is a band that presents various sides that any rock fan can get into; the intent is still indie, but they were coming from a notably different place than the other bands at this gig, and the resulting sound is really interesting. If you know anyone who likes post-hardcore, point them at the band and tell them to spread the word; I haven't heard a whole ton of post-HC, but from what I have, listeners may find something to like, and I'm not sure that the band is going after that audience as of now.

This coming week is thick with gigs; Metal Thurday has a good lineup, MPD, Indignation, and Rohirrim provide eminent excuse to skip the drive and expense of going to Machine Head, and then it's Finntroll on Saturday. It may get expensive, but it's a fine time.

Friday, September 14, 2007

one-time Pats and other conundra

As a Patriots fan and a computer scientist, I'm having a really hard time getting concerned about the current "Videogate" or whatever brouhaha surrounding the team. It takes 3 hours to play a football game. Only 60 of those 180 minutes are spent in game action; the other 120 are spent with each side trying to figure out what the other side's going to do so they can beat it, and concealing or obscuring what they're going to do so the other side can't beat them. Because the game mostly stops between each set-piece play, allowing each side to decide on and set up a complex move, American football today is about 33% execution and 67% information warfare. It should be surprising not that the Patriots have a sophisticated real-time SIGINT program to puzzle out the intentions of their opponents, but that more other teams don't. Seriously, the Pats were running a football Bletchley Park, and to hear the other teams and their fans howl, you'd think they were all still using CrackerJack decoder rings. Additionally, teams that get signals stolen have nothing to cry about; the methodology for creating a virtually uncrackable system has existed for about a hundred years, and the technology to implement it has been around since the invention of Kinko's. Seriously.

If you really want to avoid having your defensive signals stolen, here's a system that's going to work as well as anything:

Say you have a total of 80 defensive looks, but prepare only 60 for any given game, based on opponent tendencies. Each look is assigned a normal play call sign, which is referenced to a number in a card work on a wristband on each defensive player. Before each game, a set of 30 new cards is prepared, each 'run' of reference cards bearing a unique permutation of the looks assigned to the numbers 1 to 60. This allows for 30 defensive drives per game, as the cards are changed at the end of each drive and subsequently destroyed -- and the defense is seldom on the field for more than 15 drives per game. Since no team will play more than 20 games in a season, this is a true one-time pad; 600 possible cards is an infinitesimal fraction of the [80|60]x60! possible permutations. (That number, incidentally, is about 3 googol - 2.94e100. For comparison, the number of atoms in the universe is generally reckoned to be on the order of 1e80. Given that there's going to be a core range that will represent most of the defenses called, the important factor is those 60! possible arrangments, which evaluates to 8.32e81.) There are going to be occasional collisions, but the space is large enough that the same signal is probably not ever going to represent the same play after the drive on which it is called -- and absolutely cannot be deterministically associated with any particular call over the course of several games.

For more obfuscation, give each defensive assistant two sheets: one containing the drive's play permutation, which is changed after every drive and destroyed, and the other containing 100 randomly generated numbers in the range covered on the wristband, which is destroyed only at the end of the game. Before each drive, the defensive staff informs the players who's going to be calling the signals in -- a responsibility chosen, also, by random-number generation. Before each play, that coach calls in the signal -- and everyone else, about the same time, some before and some after, calls in the next unused random number on their sheet. The DC still makes the call, but with the miracle of headsets everyone else can get the call simultaneously and transmit message or noise as agreed on. Because the play call is a one-time pad, there's no way to tell what is signal and what is noise, and the "transmitting frequency" changes stochastically. Ideally, the coach calling in the actual play should change on every play as well, because there's a trivial known-plaintext attack to be made (only by, of course, a team with an appropriately-developed SIGINT operation, but now, if you don't assume your apponent has one, you're as bad as Henry Stimson insisting that gentlemen don't open each others' mail) as soon as a defense is repeated in the same drive: the opposition is tracking all the coaches' signals per play, and once the defense runs the same look again, there is likely to be only one signal in common on the two events, and they now know who to watch for the rest of the drive. However, getting players to switch between signal-callers on a per-play basis when they're also trying to play football is probably too much to ask and opens the door to a lot of confusion. There are some other tricks with repetition of plays and otherwise gaming the space that can be done from a multiple-coach setup, but we have to leave something to the professionals to develop.

The expense of creating and managing the piles of cardstock that this plan created needs to be considered, and the team has to be trained and disciplined to execute it, but the actual encryption can be done in less than an hour per week by an intern using UNIX rand() or a more solid function if so desired -- if, say, the team is run by a Wesleyan graduate who might be able to appreciate the value of hard random numbers from radioactive decay over 'soft' random numbers coming from clock and salt. ;) Of course, the real problem is that most teams don't know about combinatorics, or cryptography, or one-time-pad usage, and can't see a way out of the trap....but do understand that Belichick might, or would at least have someone on staff who might, and once it's revealed that one side can penetrate another's signals, the way to one-time pads is short, and perilous for those who can't implement them.

If you don't care about football or cryptography, you can either stop here and go to Edguy like I'm doing, or look at this and laugh yourself stupid. (Laughter not guaranteed for non-German-speakers.)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Katatonia with Scar Symmetry, Insomnium, Swallow The Sun, Tripmynd, Dreaded Silence, Frozen, and Eternal Embrace [Mark's, Bedford, 9/7/2007]

Despite being at Mark's, this was a really good show, and the drive back was a lot less dangerous than it's been in the past. Good time.

Leaving directly after work again, I fortunately managed to get up and in just as Eternal Embrace was starting; the traffic was still kinda thick, but after Labor Day, it starts to get a whole hell of a lot easier to get into New Hampshire on the weekend. This is fortunate, because there's an absolute ton of shows coming up at this place, and many of them are worth going to.

Eternal Embrace [3/7]
I did see nearly all of this band's set, and while some people will dispute the score, this is a critical opportunity to showcase the distinction between doing something well, and doing something good. The band executed well, but what they were executing was boring as all fuck. Their goth-metal sound may have fit in all right with the overall tenor of the show for some of the attendees, but as a rule the guys in ridiculously overbuilt kuttes with seven rows of studs on each shoulder are not in that group. This was not the worst gothed-up metal performance I've ever seen, but it was on about the level of when I saw Tristania at Wacken, who got the exact same score for, similarly, being largely uninteresting and failing to provide anything new. In the eyes of the band and their fans, though, being on the same level as Tristania is most likely a good thing, and they -- or at least the handful who were there, showing that selling tickets for Mark's is a losing proposition, because you may have to go on first and play to barely more people than are on stage -- doubtless enjoyed this set while I was trying to avoid falling asleep.

Frozen [6/7]
This is the first time I've seen Frozen that they couldn't be put into a bucket; the Evergrey influences were a lot more subdued on this outing, and the sound seemed to be a lot more well-rounded and mature. Their progressive NWOSDM-driven sound fit in well with the traveling undercard, and it particular contrasted nicely with Scar Symmetry as an alternate (and, personally, more appealing) way of turning out a heavier take on Tom Englund's sound. While this wasn't as good as when I saw them out at Ralph's, it was a really good showing and hopefully converted some of the people who hadn't heard of them yet and were camping out for the headliners.

Dreaded Silence [5/7]
In a marked contrast to when I saw them back in April, Dreaded Silence didn't sound so much like Sentenced, which is probably due more to the band maturing than to Ken being more or less sober on this go-round. The older material is still strongly reminiscent of the Northernmost Killers, but their new stuff blends in a strong degree of Opeth; the forthcoming record sounds like it's going to be really cool from the stuff that they did in this set, and the performance was very strong overall.

Tripmynd [3/7]
This is the price of pay-to-play gigs: you will occasionally get crummy bands that can, for some reason, sell their fans on paying 20 bucks to see them on a bill that they completely don't mesh with. As has been stated elsewhere, when you have 'i's replaced with 'y's in band names, the band is going to be nu-metal, deterministically, and that also has pretty strong deterministic implications for the quality of their music and performance. This band was more laughable than sleep-inducing in their aspirations, and concordant failure, to be Tool, instead settling for a third-rate imitation of a second-rate radio rock band trying to be Tool, but after a while it stopped being funny and just started sucking. They allegedly covered "Refuse/Resist", but when a band is going to make a Sepultura song sound like this one did, they usually just refrain from playing it to save themselves the embarassment. This set was completely unnecessary, and if Bernie didn't need their doods' money to pay the headliners, there is no way that they would have gotten on this bill.

Swallow The Sun [6/7]
Probably the most completely doom-oriented of the headliners, these guys got the show back on track with a depressive but stone-heavy set that, as might have been expected, tilted more towards later material. I knew them only from The Morning Never Came until picking up their current album from the merch stand, so while I knew only a little of what they were playing, I was decently impressed with the progression. I don't recall if this was their first US tour or not, but they did go a long way to justifying the degree of interest I've seen in them from various quarters.

Insomnium [7/7]
The first impression of this band was "wow, Warheart-core." ;) It'd been a while since I last heard ...Day It All Came Down, so while I knew, abstractly, what I was getting into, the impression of a non-urban Dark Tranquillity was the dominating one from the first row, and also, completely awesome. Where DT's keys and electonics are all sharp angles and modernistic push, Insomnium's fill in -- when they're used, which was not universal -- around the edges of the sound and give a sense of space and nature, which is probably associated with Drudkh only because I was listening to Estrangement before coming up for the show. As the above indicates, the second and more lasting impression of this band is that they were totally amazing, and stole the damn show; Katatonia were similarly impressive, but as will be discussed later, this was the band of the night for the dyed-in-the-wool metalhead.

From the conclusion of the set:
Niilo: Thank you, Bedford! This is our first US-tour, but we will be back.
Crowd: YEAH!
Dude B: Headline?!
Dude A: Why the fuck not?!

Indeed, why the fuck not? Insomnium is definitely good enough to do so over a room of this size, and if this set is any indication, has thoroughly convinced American audiences of this fact, so if they do come back as support, it had better be with Dark Tranquillity at the Palladium or a similar hall.

Scar Symmetry [6/7]
After the Finnish portion of the bill concluded, this was somewhat of a letdown for the start of the Swedish half of the headliners; lacking a standing doom or black metal component, Scar Symmetry fit in only tenuously under Katatonia, and while their set of modern NWOSDM was well turned-out, it seemed to lack a certain degree of inspiration or fire. It was good music, and well-performed, but while this band took a step forward from the last time I saw them (at the Palladium, I think touring with Bodom and Amon Amarth), it wasn't a huge step, and they were probably the down point among the headliners.

Katatonia [6/7]
This band is a continuing testament to the injustice of commercial radio in this country. Their most current material is good and interesting enough in its dark indie colorings that they ought, by rights, to be playing the Paradise in Boston and likely selling it out, but because they have that remaining extreme metal strand running through their music, they're playing Mark's, sponsored by 'AAF, who don't exactly make this style a cornerstone of their brand. While they demonstrated with "Deadhouse" and "Murder" (the de riguer closer in a setting like this) that they still have strong pure metal chops -- the sound on these was so clean and fluid that a whole show of similar old stuff would have been just sublime -- they also demonstrated with the bulk of their set that their older sound just isn't as interesting, or perhaps, as challenging, to the band any more. Katatonia has pushed off from what might be considered a doctrinaire metal sound into waters that are damned interesting, even if they're not quite as appealing in a live setting, and thoroughly original, but it's frustrating to think that the other ports may be closed to them because what they're doing is also too challenging to fit neatly into a playlist pigeonhole. This is a really good show, but it's frustrating to think that a band like this can't get their sound out to the audience they need to cross over into to get as big as they deserve to be.

All in all, a killer show and a great time, and at least this time around, the roads were dry on the drive south. The bands were mostly really, really cool, I got a chance to talk kutte shop, and hung out a bit with Frozen, which included some surreal moments as Colin and I conversed in German, which is not totally out of the ordinary at a metal show, but not something either of us do much on this continent. There was also some kid in a Wacken '07 shirt and wristband, but I wasn't able to successfully corral him and find out whether he was from here and had gone there or vice versa.

Most importantly, though, I picked up a rumor from Aaron that some frickn' huge band that every metalhead in New England will want to see is going to be playing Mark's next spring. He, of course, didn't drop the name, but if this gets around, it's going to be an entertaining six months of guessing until it finally gets announced for real. Based on the available, albeit limited information (translation: the conclusion about to be drawn has been pulled out of my hindquarters and should not be regarded or disseminated as real), the current conclusion is that through some means of skullduggery or other black arts, Bernie has gotten himself another date added to the King Diamond/Kreator tour. Granted, the King only dubiously fits the qualification "normally, like, opening for Iron Maiden at the Tsongas Arena", and it's difficult to see how any concert promoter in New England could win the cage match with Scott Lee that this would require, but this is the only tour that's been announced for the spring so far, and thus has a slightly lesser chance of being completely left-field wrong than any other wild-ass guess at the moment. It probably still is, of course, completely off base, but then again, most rumors are.

Thanks to being broke and short on gas, I didn't pull myself away from Reid Fleming, World's Toughest Milkman #1 on Saturday to go up and see Epica; next show is a friend's (non-metal) band in Boston on Thursday, with the next reviewed show being up at Mark's again for Edguy. I'm going to bring up my two digibook Edguy records, and if they won't sign them, yell "ey, wo iss euer Heli" after every song until they tell me to shut up.