Friday, October 19, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 14, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soon enough, though, the metal bands started.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 04, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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