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 metier....it'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.

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