Monday, December 31, 2007

My Pet Demon (CD-release) with Only Ash Remains, Pyad, and Barron [Welfare Records, Haverhill, 12/29/2007]

Though it was a little late -- I had Raise The Flag back before I went to Texas the last time, which was more than two months before this gig -- this release show was a lot better done late than never, and MPD and their support definitely rang out the old year in style. Of course, most people were either at the Bullpen's last show or watching the Patriots make history, but for those who were there, it was pretty damn cool.

It was wicked foggy getting up, but otherwise not real difficult; Welfare Records is easily reached by largely empty back roads from about anywhere in Essex County or southern New Hampshire, and is served by both a MBTA parking lot and a large public garage within two blocks, which is just another factor in why this is an awesome venue. Getting inside, this was re-confirmed: anywhere that has "DO NOT SWING ON THE PIPES: THEY WILL NOT SUPPORT YOU" signs posted instead of disclaimers about moshing being illegal is automatically a good spot for aggressive music, and the presence of little craters at boot and elbow level in the walls of the main floor area proper is definitely heartwarming. The house distro was a little punk-heavy (surprise surprise, as Welfare is, um, a punk and hardcore specialty store), but I managed to find a Scorn disc that I remembered from the radio station and never thought I'd see again, and also an oi comp that looked promising -- and for two discs for five bucks, there is a lot of room for error. As they do more metal shows and get more crossbreeding from the area's other underground distros (Y HALO THAR Oak Knoll and Pathos; Obscenity Cult seems to be OK at this point, at least going by the number of Psycho shirts on the staff), they'll probably start stocking more metal, but even as it is, it's pretty cool.

Eventually, the first band started, though this had to be accompanied by a bit of haranguing the other people to get on the floor; attendance was sparse for sports-related reasons, and there would not be a lot of moshing at this gig -- probably the least there has ever been at this venue -- but seriously, when the bands start, get on the floor and off the damn couches by the Golden Axe machine.

Barron [4/7]
I hadn't seen this band before, and there's probably a reason; what they presented was a fairly formative sound of dense thrash with a few more expansive touches, like mid-'90s Testament if they were somehow also Agalloch and Isis fans. Yes, this makes no sense, but this should probably be excused; this band seems to be just starting out, and as soon as they figure out what the hell they want to sound like, their songwriting should take that next step up. The technical riffage was competently done, but there weren't a whole ton of unique riffs, and the lack of experience in the writing department was palpable. These are common symptoms of new bands and underfinished material, though; as they rehearse more and get a stronger sense of their stuff, they'll definitely be able to push forward with stuff that's more differentiable and more self-contained.

Pyad [4/7]
Where Barron seemed to be just stepping out, Pyad seemed to be stepping back in order to step forward; this was one of, if not the very first, shows for them as a five-piece, and the new second guitarist didn't know all the material yet. This held them back to a degree, but it's easy to see that it will have a positive effect going forward. I hadn't seen them since like August of '06, but in that time, the whole band has greatly improved, and if they aren't as strictly experimental as before, they're a whole lot tighter, and are producing thrashed-up doom-death that will or ought to bring them to wider notice. This pretty clearly wasn't the optimum performance from this version of the band, but it was pretty decent, and the knowledge that they'll continue to improve as the new guy gets more worked in is really encouraging.

Only Ash Remains [5/7]
Next on the list, Only Ash Remains, doing, as those accustomed to South Central shows have come to expect, a set of decently executed, non-groundbreaking metalcore. They may not have their sights set on the Palladium, but they can be relied on for, as here, a half hour of highly listenable music, and the work that Mark has done in setting up shows in this part of the state is definitely laudable. Unfortunately, despite being the last band to start before the football game, they were short on a lot of their usual audience thanks to the Patriots' run at perfection, and as a result got next to zero crowd movement, which is kind of a shame, especially at a place like this. It was a decent set, and there would have been some nice chaos had the Patriots lost to the Ravens or someone and just been playing out the string for 15-1.

My Pet Demon [6/7]
First: they did nearly all of the "real songs" from the new album, which included "La Maudite", which like the rest of said material is extremely kickass live.
Second: they went back and actually did "Self Destruct" and "Demons Are Forever" from their first demo, even though they normally assert that the first song does not actually exist.
Third: they did both "Fight For Your Right", which included Matt going out into the crowd and bodyslamming people, and "Rockin' in the Free World", which was again so thunderous and B-side worthy that you really have to check yourself and remember that it's by the same guy who wrote "Heart of Gold".
Fourth: they closed with a new instrumental that at this point seems somewhat half-written (several riffs seemingly dropped in from other recent MPD songs) at this point, but still fully badass.
Fifth: this band's guitarist/lead-vocalist has apparently changed his name to Kenny Pellmister. Either that, or he is a huge Chester A. Arthur fan. With facial hair like this, there is a fine line between awesome and hilarious, but when MPD is on stage, there's enough metallic power going that Ken can pull off the Lemmystache.
Though there were a few rough moments at the start, and a bunch of mood-breakers from people getting text updates on the Pats score between songs, this was overall an excellent outing in support of a really good album that ought to get these guys a little more noticed. They would have benefited from a denser and more active crowd, like about every other band here; the breakdown in "Between the Pages" demands attention, and then there's that monster section at the end of "What Would Jason Do". At this point, they need to think about opening their horizons up a little; there's few bands left on the North Shore or in the Valley that they're not going to draw well over, but Boston, as well as points south and west, is basically unconquered territory, and there are enough melodicish thrashish bands out there to get them early on a decent bill at a Metal Thursday or something. Even now, they're a bit of an odd act out musically, but opening for, say, Graveheart or Dreaded Silence would go a good ways to getting them into more of the right ears south of Lynn.

All in all, it was a good show, and though I had to bail basically as soon as MPD finished, there was still a positive to this: I changed into my Hoops shirt to go to a friend's party, and from that point on, the Patriots stopped losing and started to play kickass football. This is not a coincidence but a cause-and-effect relationship, so I will continue to wear a Scottish soccer shirt for all succeeding games until the Super Bowl or the magic runs out and they lose.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

2007 - a year in show reviews

I tried to pick out only one gig to officially designate the best show of 2007 (even though MPD's release show is still on the calendar), but unfortunately couldn't come up with any one gig that would get the nod, so instead, here's a brief review of the seven best gigs I went to in 2007, and what made them really stand out. These are selected from the 46 shows that I went to in 2007, in which I saw 282 individual sets from 204 different bands; this does not include three Autumn Above gigs, which would add another 11 sets and nine bands to the total, because until said indie-pop/prog-metal band gets their act together and starts doing more shows with post-hardcore bands, I go to their gigs much more to support them than for the overall musical experience.

#0/Honorable Mention:
Wacken, Schleswig-Holstein
W:O:A 2007
Wacken does not and should not count as a normal show for these purposes, especially as it's not something people in North America can generally get to. Regardless, this was about the top Wacken that I've been to; last year had debatably better music, with high flyers from Atheist, Emperor, and Amon Amarth, but this year was the best-managed festival experience, overall, and musically, there was the thrash Altliga-Cup of Destruction, Sodom, Sacred Reich, Possessed, and Sabbat, plus Blind Guardian, Iced Earth, Immortal, and Cannibal Corpse headlining. "Stunning" is almost too mundane a word for it, but this is why it's worth the $1500 in ticket and travel expenses.

Middle East Upstairs, Cambridge
Watain, Angelcorpse, Nachtmystium, Cold Northern Vengeance, Witch Tomb
This was one of the more anticipated "mundane" gigs this year, and it definitely lived up to its billing. This was a difficult tour for Watain marked with several cancellations, and it may be difficult for them to come back given the amounts of animal blood employed in their set, but that just makes this performance, which was fucking ace musically as well, that much more special. Additionally, the whole of the undercard was really strong: Angelcorpse gave a headliner-quality set, Nachtmystium did probably the best performance I've seen from them, and both Witch Tomb and CNV brought their A-game, making this likely the signature show, or one of the signature gigs, of 2007 for both bands. The appeal of this bill is somewhat insular, but black metal as an art form seldom gets better than this.

Worcester Palladium
Summer Slaughter: Necrophagist, Decapitated, Cephalic Carnage, Cattle Decapitation, The Faceless, As Blood Runs Black, Ion Dissonance, Beneath The Massacre, In Dire Need, Zircon
There were some subpar bands on the bill on this one, but there was a lot of real quality as well; with the top four, this was probably the most technically intense show that I saw this past year. Necrophagist demonstrated just how far the gap is between them and the rest of the tech-death field, including a fantastic clinic in creative drum technique from Marco Minneman, and Decapitated absolutely blew the doors off the venue with the kind of incredible, perfect, skullcrushing sound that the Palladium occasionally manages to produce by accident. Though it doesn't lessen the impact of the tragic accident that has at press time put the band on infinite hold, this performance is a hell of a last memory to have of one of death metal's leading lights. Of the multi-band package tours that crawl around the US between June and August, substituting for real festivals, Summer Slaughter is the most promising: Ozzfest has a lot of crap, and Sounds of the Underground is trending that way, but on this bill, you're more likely to hear a very good band than a bad one.

Castle Greyskull, Allston
Despotic Robot, Revocation, Mechannibal
Beer, metal, pizza, and a hole in the ground; though Evil Army never made it out of Ohio, this one still makes it into the top three shows of the year. Basement shows have a special vibe all their own, and this was a very good one, with the locals creating more than enough thrash chaos to make up for the headliner's no-show. Directly or indirectly, this one also kind of lead to the purportedly very cool Benefit For The Advancement of Dudes series of thrash basement shows -- of which I have missed each of the three installments, usually due to being on the road. My new job doesn't require half as much travel, so catching more basement shows due to not being in Seoul or Texas or somewhere is an important side benefit.

DeeDee's, Quincy
Hell's Infinite 6, Baphomet's Horns, Hekseri, Martyrvore, Witch Tomb
This was one of the first gigs of the year, and one of the last at this venue, which looked like it was under partial demolition at the time, and was supplying itself with beer from a local package store rather than an actual distributor. The sound was of indifferent, the layout was weird, the night was excessively khold and grvm, and a bar that runs out of beer is of debatable utility, but in music and atmosphere, this was an excellent show, providing close to optimum presentation for a bill full of local black metal bands. If you don't understand the appeal of frigid weather and squalid accomodations, raw black metal like this is probably not for you.

Bedford, NH Mark's Showplace
Katatonia, Scar Symmetry, Insomnium, Swallow The Sun, Dreaded Silence, Tripmynd, Frozen, Eternal Embrace
There were almost as many bad moments as good at Mark's this year (much like every year), but this was debatably the best of the shows I caught there. While Tripmynd and Eternal Embrace were duds to a certain degree, DS and Frozen both put up very strong sets, and the headliners represented about the overall-best four-band tour I've seen at this place. Scar Symmetry was a little off, but Swallow The Sun was great, Insomnium made a good case for headlining on their next jaunt, and Katatonia simply outclassed the venue by further than about every other band I've seen here.

Worcester Palladium
Municipal Waste, Skeleton Witch, Toxic Holocaust, Doomriders
Probably the best non-festival show I saw at the Palladium this year, but then again, it seems like I only ever go to the Palladium for festival-type gigs (actually, it's about even). In the more confined space of the upstairs portion, this was like a mini-thrash-convention, showing four killer performances in a good atmosphere. Skeleton Witch may just be the best band to debut on Metal Blade this year, Doomriders almost convinced the audience that they deserved to go on next to last rather than opening for the touring bands, and of course the Waste just killed the hell out of everything. Toxic Holocaust seemed a little flat, but those who hadn't seen the classic lineup of Sodom playing essentially a headlining set two months prior probably didn't think so, and at any rate, Toxic Holocaust live is pretty goddamned special just of itself. The weather was shitty getting back, but the show itself was awesome.

Bedford, NH Mark's Showplace
1349, Goatwhore, Nachtmystium, Averse Sephira, Mortis Deveia, Aura of Aquila, Zircon, Cold Northern Vengeance
Mark's always has a hard time with consistency, but on this outing at least, the bill shaped up so direct and focused (even considering Mortis Dev) that it might as well have been set intentionlly rather than by the exigencies of who could sell tickets. Though Averse Sephira played a strong set, they had difficulty setting themselves above New England's best in a strong outing from both Zircon and CNV, and the other local openers definitely made a decent case for their inclusion (even if this wasn't the best set I saw from Aura of Aquila in '07). Nachtmystium was really good, and Goatwhore put out absolutely the best set I've seen from them; 1349 may not have been as on their game as when I saw them at Wacken later, but they put on a really good performance, capping debatably the second best show at Mark's this year.

There were, of course, a lot of other killer gigs along the way -- Suffocation and the victory over TNT, Amon Amarth roaring into the mainstream at the Palladium, Pelican in the fog at the Middle East, Nile and Cthtonic, that whole week at the end of June where the Skybar was on its deathbed binge, Lord Bacon supporting Finntroll, any show involving Goreality -- but in the end, these are the ones that came out best or most memorable. Counting Autumn Above and the MPD show next weekend, it'll be an even 50 shows on the year; on average, every weekend, I saw a metal show or at least a somewhat metal band, which is pretty impressive given that I spent two weeks in Korea and another two in Texas. I'm so glad I didn't have to move to Rochester, and instead can stay in this much more metal and less snowy part of the world.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Amon Amarth with Sonic Syndicate and Thy Will Be Done [Worcester Palladium, 12/1/2007]

This is an ample reward for showing up early (for those who can't tell, the signatures are, counterclockwise from top left, Olavi, Johan (Soderberg), Johan (Hegg), Ted, and Frederik) and enduring the openers, who in total were more than a little uneven. Of course, even if you didn't have a kutte to get signed at this show, you still got a fucking balls-out set from Amon Amarth, and that should be reward enough in itself.

The drive in was pretty easy, being a weekend, and so I got through the line for doors in fairly short order, which was a definite positive with the thermometer in the teens. It wasn't nearly as cold or as far to walk as those black metal shows back in January that set a new benchmark for grimness, but the cold in your lungs heading in definitely set the right atmosphere. Once inside, I was somewhat disheartened by the Kindermenge; it's always good to see younger people into metal, but an inveterate pessimist can't help but conclude that this was a hangover from Bodom's crowd (Amon Amarth played with Bodom here last year), and these kids wouldn't provide the right atmosphere for a proper gig. Fortunately, I was completely wrong about this. One of these days, I'll start not thinking of the worst in people.

So I got a beer, and then stood around for a while, and the show didn't start, so I went and got some merch (Amon Amarth tourshirt, and Thy Will Be Done's CD), and then stood around some more. The show still didn't start, so I joined the line wrapping around the merch pod to get stuff signed. Most people were getting posters or their tickets signed, but I was using my ticket stub for taking notes, and most ways, toting a poster at a show will either tie up your hand for the rest of the night or get reliably destroyed. Also, five guys writing with sharpies will leave most tickets just a mass of black scribbles; I fortunately had a lot of free space around my patch from this band, and if it broke up the monotony of getting writer's cramp for the band, so much the better. There's also the side benefit that my rig is now significantly more awesome than it was before, but that went without saying right as soon as the picture loaded above.

After I got through this, I got back down to my 'usual' off-floor spot in time for the first band, who despite the weird fit, did get things roling properly.

Thy Will Be Done [4.5/7]
Though they come from Rhode Island, this band made a positive impression, at least at the start, by setting up in more of a European metalcore style, sounding like they were trying more to be Heaven Shall Burn than Shadows Fall. The sound decayed more towards straight hardcore as the set went on, like the band's half-life was running down, but they definitely did show some positive chops, at least after the sound board brought the guitars up to a normal level after the first song. Their set was a little short, but it was pretty decent, and people into this style probably enjoyed the hell out of this set.

During the set break, I got another drink, and ran into both Ken (MPD) and some Worcester people that I'd hung around with at shows before, and emphasized caution about Sonic Syndicate, as well as the positive fact that there was only one band more left. Of course, we'd rather have had two, but due to the tragic accident that took Vitek earlier this year, this tour wasn't an option any more for Decapitated.

Sonic Syndicate [3/7]
This was not a good performance from a fundamentally unoriginal and mediocre band. However, it was not the worst set I've ever seen, despite getting the worst crowd reaction that I've ever seen.

To understand why nearly everyone on the floor sat down about halfway through their set, and mostly stayed seated for the rest of the performance, we need to look at their setlist, which was probably more of a contributing factor than the band's Tokio Hotel haircuts.
1. Ordinary Story
2. [some In Flames song I couldn't immediately make]
3. Come Clarity
4. Goliaths Disarm Their Davids
5. Pinball Map
6. Hours Passed In Exile

Of course, they didn't actually play these songs, which might have even helped; what they did was take an obvious, fully-developed riff from the song in question, and then make a subpar "original" song around it, then play it indifferently, with a lot of mic problems and feedback squeals because, as usual, the Palladium soundboard was giving an opener the business. In the end, though, this couldn't disguise or ameliorate the fact that Sonic Syndicate is an In Flames coverband, and not a very good one, and absent Nuclear Blast's marketing push, there is no way they would be even signed and playing internationally, much less opening for Amon Amarth. The crowd recognized this, and acted appropriately.

Is sitting down en masse disrespectful? Yes, it is, but respect is neither universal nor a gift; it must be earned, and to the audience's credit, they did give Sonic Syndicate a fair shake. After three songs, when it was clear that they weren't going to get any better, they lowered the boom. If this is repeated enough, Nuclear Blast may eventually get the message and stop promoting them, at least until they can improve to the point where they don't need a label handing them everything on a plate. I didn't sit down, but I respect the decision of those who did; if Sonic Syndicate wants people not to sit down during their sets, they need to stop sucking or stop playing metal shows.

(Background for those who don't follow the Euro scene so closely: Sonic Syndicate did not come up via the normal route of demos, limited-release albums and EPs on tiny labels, and DIY touring. They won a contest sponsored by Nuclear Blast, for reasons that very few European metalheads have been able to understand, and have been massively promoted and oversold beyond their talent level ever since. They are as close to a 'made' band in the pop sense as exists in metal today.)

So after people stood up, it was fortunately a fairly short wait for Amon Amarth to go on. Though it wasn't quite as packed or as long a wait as Blind Guardian last year (one year to the day), the feel down front was much the same -- and fortunately, the awesomeness to come approached the same level.

Amon Amarth [7/7]
This wasn't quite the best set I've seen from these guys, but it was the best that I've seen indoors. With only two openers, they got a nice long set, and in the course of it played virtually everything you could want from the band (unless, of course, you were looking for Sorrow Throughout The Nine Worlds material or "Bloodshed") -- and if you missed something and actually feel bummed about it, there's something wrong with you. They dedicated "Fate of Norns" to Vitek, with also the wish that Decapitated will continue, as unlikely as that may be. There was an even mix of new and older stuff, and in their encore, they did "Victorious March", which I'm not sure I'd ever seen live; they didn't do it last time, and it's kind of wicked long to do in a festival slot. The sound was great, though not as good as this venue can do on those rare occasions when the stars align just right, and the overall experience was simply excellent.

Seeing this band really pack this venue nearly all the way up (though they didn't open the balcony) brought me back to the comments from their tourmanager on the Wrath of the Norsemen DVD; "I don't listen to heavy music myself," he said, "but this band could go very far. I don't think they've anywhere reached the peak of their popularity yet." This on a discbox that includes an appearance playing after midnight at Wacken, and it's certainly borne out by the way they've conquered North America to date. This is a death metal band that sings about vikings, and you don't really expect such to draw so strongly with both young and old, core metal fans and more peripheral people, as were in evidence at this gig. For an explanation, you have to look at the music: it's not enormously difficult to listen to, full of melodic hooks, but still powerful and stone-heavy, and it does in a certain way play into the revival of metal in the popular imagination that produces stuf like Dethklok and Brutal Legend. In a millieu where metal's sincerity is fodder for over-the-top irony, Amon Amarth stands straight in and goes merely right to the top; the deathviking thing is a hook for the culturally curious, and then the enduring power keeps people committed once they actually listen to the band.

Unfortunately, there was more than a little far-right feel down front at this one. On the one hand, this is somewhat to be expected given how the right has co-opted Norse heathen ideas and symbology; if rightists are going to listen to non-political death metal, it's probably going to be Amon Amarth. (The debate on whether Malevolent Creation is political in this sense is by no means settled.) On the other hand, this is a metal gig, and metalheads ought to know better. There are problems with our society that aren't being answered by the standing system, but the far right doesn't have the answers either, and they tend to cause a bunch of their own problems as well. If you're going to put your right arm up, put a fist or the horns at the end of it. Don't do the Roman salute: that wasn't cool 80 years ago, and it's not cool now.

The worst part about rightists is that they force digressions like this that take away from the actual events of the show. This was by any measure an awesome gig, and I certainly can't wait to see Amon Amarth again -- though hopefully with a more consistent undercard -- whether in Europe, here, or in a larger venue as they continue to gain support and interest.

Next gig's either tonight with Autumn Above if the weather cooperates, or Lair of the Minotaur headlining Watchmaker's curtain call Tuesday.