Friday, March 28, 2008

a crap cascade

In the last 15 hours, three bad things happened. In order:

1. I majorly fucked up my left knee at soccer, meaning that I basically couldn't walk and thus
2. I missed Vital Remains and Monstrosity last night, and will in all likelihood have to give Napalm Death a pass tonight. Not cool.
3. I find out that Avenged Sevenfold is playing at Wacken this year. SERIOUSLY WHAT THE HELL.

Look at this:
As I Lay Dying
Avenged Sevenfold
Job For A Cowboy
Killswitch Engage

Doesn't this look like a garbage metalcore fest? Of course, all the good bands mentioned earlier are still playing, but as a metal purist I hate to see these bands on the marquee at Wacken (even though Soilwork did some good stuff before about 5 years ago, and I can actually stand Killswitch). On the other hand, the more lame mainstream bands are added, the greater the chance that I won't miss anyone I actually want to see in order to catch the underground portion of the bill.

I have no idea what to expect this year, and no idea what the 20th iteration of the fest will present next year. It's getting freaking surreal.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

the cat escapes the bag in Allston Rock City

I'd held off on writing this particular show review for a while, because the subject matter is of debatable metal content, and I was holding back in the interest of the band's desire to sit on the fence between the metal and not-metal worlds. My brother's fiancee thinks they sound like Dashboard Confessional, but those sworn to the black would run out of fingers counting up their Opeth parts, heavy sections as well as those Akerfelt signatures to their acoustic work. They can be all things to all people, and in their ability to do so, they deserve a long degree of crossover success; bearing Katatonia and their jobbing by the music world in mind, this is less likely if people realize that they've got metal roots, and that a nontrivial chunk of their vitality is based on the fact that blood will tell.

However, all sense of subtlety and under-the-radar intrusion goes out the window when you have the band headbanging and thrashing on stage, the bassist forsaking crooning for hardcore barks, and among the past and current metalheads rocking out down front, some dude in a Manowar kutte, and not just a kutte built around a Manowar backpatch, but a kutte whose sole source of patches is the Kings of Metal. Autumn Above is not a metal band, but they are definitely not not a metal band either, and it is highly incumbent on them to get a promo disc together in time for Dream Theater's coming tour, where spamming the audience gets them into the ears of fans of Between The Buried And Me, 3, Opeth, and Porcupine Tree, which is about their natural's just unfortunate that they're about the only band of this type in eastern New England and have difficulty getting pure prog shows. If it was all on pure music, they could play with Ehnahre and Lord Bacon, but people mainly go to shows because they like the sound, not for abstract contemplation.

Autumn Above
Harper's Ferry, Allston [3/19/2008]

Even with many New England schools on spring break, a Wednesday show out of market is a difficult sell -- especially a solo show like this one, in a hall that was debatably a little large. Still, Autumn Above managed, by the end to get their door quota, and they also presented a pretty awesome set that had a lot of attractions for both the metal- and non-metal-listening segments of their audience.

On this go-round, it was only raining, not snowing, and I had both my brothers en suite, though James left ahead of us due to his friends not knowing how long it takes to get places in Boston. Mark and I left at a more normal time, got to the venue shortly after doors, and because this was a solo show had plenty of time to move my car somewhere it wouldn't get towed -- valuable info for future O'Brien's and Great Scott shows, so that I only have to walk two blocks, not two miles -- and drink some beers with the rest of the gang before the band went on. Harper's Ferry is a pretty big club, but through the delay before they went on, more people filtered in to at least give the impression that it was getting full. (Church would probably be a better fit at this point, between room size and promoters' pulling power, but this place has a little more name recognition.)

Autumn Above [7/7]
When the band did get going, it was definitely worth it, especially as they rolled on for a good long set and were well-served by the excellent PA. This was the second show I've seen the band standing on, and they were much improved in this outing as regards staying on pitch despite the increased energy that comes with moving around. Ryan's formative ideas about taking more vocals off Jim and giving him more of the solos and leads still make sense, but the band continues to show improvement across the board as they tweak and tune their material. They did all of the songs off of To The Inferno (as it exists now), plus the now-requisite Opeth breaks, a couple covers ("No Excuses", "1979", and "Ramble On", which should reinforce that not-metal-and-not-not-metal trope alluded to above), and two new songs, "Heaven Without", which has been recorded, and another new one that hasn't been released yet. The execution of this material, even more, though, was top-class, and even if the audience hadn't been liberally salted with people who've known the band members for extended periods of time, the applause would likely have been just as long and loud and enthusiastic. Autumn Above is a really good band; it's just problematic that they don't really fit in any existing genre, and that they showed a performance this good at a solo gig on a Wednesday night, rather than on someone else's bill on a weekend where they'd be more able to get more new ears interested.

It's at times like this that I really feel how lucky the metal underground has it; if you're willing to accept the drawbacks of heavy music (i.e., nobody listens to you and you make no money), your growth path is basically assured around here: there are regular venues for metal gigs, small labels are always looking for new talent to put out albums and van-based DIY tours around, national labels look to the smaller ones to do their A&R discovery for free, and if it wasn't economical to open for larger tours, and have this whole huge summer megatour economy, it wouldn't be happening. What the fuck do more mainstream bands do to have a similar trajectory? As far as I can remember from the radio station, they put out a bunch of 7"s that nobody buys, then do two albums on Matador, maybe a tour, and break up and go to law school. That ain't me, and hopefully it ain't Autumn Above either, and they find their way onto some decent prog package and get the fans they deserve.

In more strongly metal-related news, my brother's getting married on NEDF weekend. This is good because he's not doing it while I'm at Wacken, and also because he and his fiancee are a really good match, so the likelihood of him getting married against some other future show is pretty small. It's bad because I'm probably not going to be able to go to said fest, or if so only on Sunday, but this saves me money on gas, hotels, beer, and admission that I can roll towards more Wacken enjoyment or, more likely, a stupid number of patches and cult recordings from Hell's Headbangers. Of course, I ought to apply the patches that I have left to some kutte or other first, but there's enough Internet Not Working time in the immediate future that this shouldn't be an issue.

Friday, March 14, 2008

a late show review and some bad news for procrasinators

Later on in this post, some content about the recent Embryonic Devourment gig at O'Brien's, but first, a brief comment: as predicted back last year, W:O:A '08 has officially sold out. This sucks for everyone who doesn't have a ticket but was thinking of going, but it's good news for me: my ticket's value will sharply appreciate, maybe even faster than it had been earning so far -- according to exchange rates, I've "made" about $15, or a little less than 10%, by buying when I did based purely on its face value in euros versus the dollar.

It remains to be seen how many Wacken tickets were bought en bloc by Americans looking to speculate in the foreign exchange market, but it will probably be a low number, because even though this was about the soundest investment you could make -- the value of the dollar was virtually guaranteed to continue to drop, and the festival, especially this year, was basically guaranteed to sell out -- it still sounds really stupid.

Sexcrement with Embryonic Devourment, Dismal Lapse, and Composted
O'Brien's, Allston, 3/12/2008

It had been, at this point, a long fucking time since I'd been to a show, and I was feeling somewhat down due to various personal issues, and significantly because I'd missed Goreality at Metal Thursday the week before, as well as the sole installment of the Benefit For The Advancement of Dudes that I've been in town for on the weekend. It was well and truly time for some death metal; no qualifiers, no ancilliary crap, no bullshit. Just brutal music, sick topics, and large people in black shirts hitting one another. There's a purity in it, but that's a digression for another article; writing show reviews on their own is pretentious enough in assuming I actually have something to say.

I stumped the two miles in from my regular car depot in good time, and managed to get a beer before Composted started. More than anything I was surprised by the turnout: this was a Wednesday night gig featuring some relentlessly straight-up brutal death metal, but the place was packed, maybe in the neighborhood of a hundred. It was quite certainly the largest bunch of people that I've ever seen in O'Brien's, and a definite contender for the most people I've yet seen at a DIY show. What's more, most of them stuck around all the way through, so it wasn't just Composted's non-musical elements that brought them in...or if it was, their musical elements definitely pulled them in after the hook was struck.

Composted [6/7]
Short descriptions of this band have been fairly succinct, if non-musical: "GWAR for /b/tards", "retards", etc. To a certain degree, this is fair; they wear silly costumes, engage in performance art, and their drummer has a Pedobear suit on order. However, like GWAR, they also have an immense amount of musical ability: the pedigree of this band includes (among others) Terminally Your Aborted Ghost, The Body Farm, Bane of Existence, and just about every powerviolence band that has ever formed in the Boston area. (Even if Rich is mostly there to do demonstrative eating, he still does do backing vocals, and also presumably influences their direction.) Said direction is a combination of a lot of slammy threads, and at least at this show, it produced a killer final result; if you took off the duck masks and took away the baked goods, Composted would still be a kickass band. However, they'd be less visually interesting and a lot less likely to weird out touring bands -- this was the first gig that they've done with significant out-of-New-England participation in the lineup, if I recall correctly, and the Californians were at least at first a little confused as to how and why this band was playing killer slam-death and simultaneously smashing cupcakes on their faces.

Dismal Lapse [5.5/7]
The first of these bands with the unenviable task of "follow a local supergroup that wears costumes and does antics" was this three-piece, who had a few equipment issues but still delivered a really good set of technical death metal. Dismal Lapse started out a little flat, but they improved over the course of the set despite (allegedly) the guitarist's head dying on him about midway through. They weren't quite as brutal, maybe, as some of the other bands, and they were a little frustrated with the crowd not moving for them, but they put out a quality death metal set, and I was more than a little bummed that I wasn't able to purchase any recordings off them (Deepsend Records will have an EP from them in the near future - put it on your list, definitely at least to DL if the band isn't coming to your area for you to check them out live), though their tour shirt was still pretty damn cool.

Note for those who are somehow both plugged into this scene and behind on current happenings: Dismal Lapse used to be called Bled, but had to change their name due to legal pressure from what the band referred to as "a bunch of emo queers". I'll take the band at face value, because in every other aspect of their performance and attendance they appeared to be stand-up dudes, but there are still some points of suspicion: first, Dismal Lapse is a better name than Bled, even if their Bled logo did look really cool, and more importantly, second, "Bled" is short by like eight words of typical emo band names. Maybe it's different in California, but here in New England you usually see emo/screamo douches Our Band's Name Is Actually A Complete Sentence opening up for stereotypical metalcore combo Three Word Name....and then someone swings from the drop ceiling rails and the police show up and close the venue.

Embryonic Devourment [6.5/7]
Insidious Decrepancy dropped off this tour for personal reasons, leaving this outfit as the last touring band of the night -- the "keep Allston hipsters around for the nationals" rule seems to have stayed in effect from the last time I was down at this place, though "Allston hipsters" may have a different definition when it's Sexcrement closing up -- and those who were staying around mainly to see their friends in the last band definitely got a prime earful of kickass death metal out of it. While not as slammy as the New England bands, ED definitely took the brutality up a notch, and interstingly worked in fairly seamless transitions of spoken-word verse between songs; hella different, but still a killer overall effect, especially considering how good the music was surrounding it. There wasn't a lot of crowd motion for them, either, but by this time, it looked like the nationals had the measure of the audience, and since there was a lot of cheering and other general approbation, they didn't seem to mind so much. Their merch was done up at a high level, really good production values for a tour hitting mostly or totally DIY venues, and it was also justified in that a lot of people did spring for it; mine's about the best shirt I've picked up this year, in terms of total design and execution. The conclusion is that the band knew their music would bring a lot of people over to the merch stand rather than the bar, and it made sense to do thoroughly kickass design and presentation to close the deal on that volume of sales.

Sexcrement [6/7]
As per last time I saw these guys here, the pit went apeshit for them; even though I moved back some in preparation for their set, I was still catching and tossing people most of the way through, as well as sweeeping up shards so that those who fell down wouldn't be diving onto a bunch of broken glass. Normally, the micro-shelves around the pillars in the middle of the floor at O'Brien's are perfectly functional for holding drinks, and if everyone had just been slugging back PBRs, there wouldn't've been a problem, but glass bottles, pint glasses, and vigorous moshing do not mix well. There was a fair amount of breakage, but we had it under control. The band also kept it fairly under control: the music was cool, if not quite at the same level as last time, and Adam, despite the audience plying him with at least two tequila shots and a couple beer cans -- on top of what he may have had before the band started -- managed to keep his dick in his pants. Their set was a little short, or at least, so it seemed, but didn't lack for activity, interest, or quality death metal, to say nothing of progressively more incoherent stage banter. I was planning to pick up one of their "Music You Fuck To" shirts, but was unfortunately out of money at this point: supporting the touring bands, plus picking up an obligato Broken Hope record and some other stuff, had chunked up nearly all of my wallet contents that weren't committed to paying the garage fee and purchasing food for the rest of the week. I'll see them again, though; maybe not next week, as I can't do the next-day-off thing needed for a proper show in Providence due to jury duty later in the week, but some other time, as a band this good and well-supported doesn't usually just strike the tents and give up.

The trip back wasn't that difficult, either on foot or by highway, despite exhaustion and nearly 2 liters of rotten beer, but it hit hard afterwards; hence this thing is late. Next show is probably going to be Autumn Above (likely not reviewed), then Metal Thursday with a bunch of doom bands...and then Metal Spring Break looms large in the following weekend.