Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Watain with Withered, Book of Black Earth, Cold Northern Vengeance, Revocation, Blessed Offal, and Ipssisimus [Middle East, Cambridge, 10/7/2008]

Long awaited, it was finally here; the return of Watain to North America (well, techncially they started in Canada 3 days earlier, but still), along with a top-class bill of support, good enough to make up for being as long as your damn arm. Even though this was on a Tuesday, anticipation was still high as they'd been tremendous on the last pass -- their gig upstairs was the short-listed show of the year of 2007. As is getting to be usual for these early-start Boston shows, I left directly from work and got in too early. This gave me time to drink an IPA out of a bizarre triangle-bottom glass, then stand around outside for a while, waiting for real doors. The Middle East was, as usual, a little slow with their Einlass, and as a result, I didn't get in until after Ipsissimus had already started.

Ipsissimus [5/7]
Fortunately, their last song and a half turned out to be about half their set. Well, fortunate for someone who came in late; they, like the other locals, were a little constrained by the fact that there were seven bands on this bill, but they did a good job with the time provided. They've come up significantly since I first saw them, and this was a class performance of melodically complex but still true black metal, which impressed those who were down early and probably led to a bunch of CD sales, even though their EP's been free online for a while. The sound wasn't perfect, but the parts where they were cutting and cool greatly oughtweighed the down bits.

After Ipsissimus, I did most of my merch-getting; some cool shirts, a few CDs that I didn't have, some patches, pretty much the usual. The most notable thing in this was the realization, via Withered's tourshirt, that New York City is actually in Cali. I blame the Pail and Shovel Party, personally.

Blessed Offal [6/7]
To this point, I'd had difficulty getting a firm handle on this band; now, though, they've established themselves a lot more cleanly. There's a lot of good black metal bands in New England, but with this raw, dirty, pummeling black/death performance, Blessed Offal should be out of the pack and readily recognizable. They've still got some issues establishing their lineup (Bobby from Hirudinea on bass for this one rather than Cody from Witch Tomb), but if they can keep this one together, they may well get up into that first rank. Unfortunately, they didn't have anything recorded, but this, too, will probably come with time.

Revocation [7/7]
Prima facie, Revocation did not belong on this bill, as every other band on it is at least partly black metal, and Revocation are composed almost completely of death-thrash. So, naturally, they remedied this situation by writing a long neo-black metal instrumental intro, then ripping through it and playing everyone else off the damn stage. Fortunately, technical execution isn't absolutely necessary for black metal, so this didn't matter a whole lot to the overall enjoyment of the rest of the show, or, I suspect, make the touring bands think they were being upstaged (which, really, they weren't), but god damnit are Dave, Phil, and Anthony good at what they do. Everyone and their brother is thrash-revivaling 1986 in the Bay Area, and these guys are doing Wisconsin, Florida, NYC, and Germany circa 1990 -- plus all this modern tech-death stuff in the bargain.

Revocation were the only band that had merch that I did not buy at least something off of. I felt bad, but I'm full up on their buttons and stickers -- if they made, um, a PATCH or something, I'd definitely put down for such.

Cold Northern Vengeance [6/7]
In their first appearance since putting out Domination & Servitude, CNV came out with a new lineup and a new sound, sticking closer to the old Norwegian sound than their previous resemblances to the east. This is not entirely out of character with their previous stuff, but just darker, more direct, and more droning, and the result is one of the more truly original sounds in USBM. They did only 3 songs (due to length), and all new stuff -- "The Abraxas Trance" was simply massive, and on their closer, they cut out one of the 3 guitars and the bass for a truly cultic sound on the order of Agalloch from the regrowth forests instead of the old-growth. They had a better set the last time they opened for Watain -- which due to recording issues and misconceptions people have about the band, was I think their last show before this -- but there was nothing wrong with what they delivered here.

Book of Black Earth [5/7]
Throughout their set, this band exhorted the crowd to move forward and move around more. If less of the audience had been around for Ipsissimus, and CNV immediately before them, they might have had more success with these appeals; on a musical basis, Book of Black Earth steps away from the 'hipster black metal' tag that may be applied based on the appearance of some of their members, but in this performance they didn't really set themselves a part as being better than the (very good) local support in inaugurating the touring part of the bill. This was a good performance, but Ipsissimus handled their melodics in a more interesting way without resorting to keyboards, and CNV out-grimmed the living fuck out of them. Decent, and worth the CD that I picked up, but they definitely went on in the right place relative to the rest of the touring bill.

Withered [5.5/7]
I was standing further back for Withered, and subsequently; I'd seen the rest of the bands remaining and didn't feel like wedging forward just to say that I was at the front, at the expense of someone who may not have seen either. The result was that the sound felt a little messed-up during Withered's set, and at least less powerful for Watain; others have also commented on the intermittent quality of the board at this gig, but much of it I didn't notice because I was up front getting the sound from the cabs rather than the PA. Regardless, this set wasn't quite as inspiring as the last time I saw them -- here, opening for Grave and Dismember, incidentally, and surprisingly two years ago -- but still provided a nice slice of quality crunching death/doom/black metal. Next to Revocation, this was the least black metal outing of the night, but it was well-delivered, and those who would have objected to them took the opportunity to have a last smoke break or whatever before Watain.

Watain [6.5/7]
There were a lot of high expectations for this performance, and most of them were met. However, while this was a really great set, it wasn't perfect, and the expectations made for a high wall to climb. Last year, Watain played upstairs and produced debatably the best gig of the year, and on this run, they were playing in a larger space, and had loudly advertised their intent to go whole hog, with more blood and Satanism and dead animal parts than they'd been allowed to do on the last run. Unfortunately, the plug got pulled on new blood -- the red-brown dust all over their gear, and the accompanying reek, testified that they are serious about this stuff -- or dead flesh, and what was left was a solid musical performance that fell a little short of the peak, perhaps also hampered by the sound being less than optimal. This was still a Watain gig, and a damn good Watain gig, but between the PR and the word-of-mouth from last year, people were expecting Live In Leipzig part II, and it didn't happen. It may be unrealistic for anyone to be disappointed with this set, but it's certainly understandable: even in the raw and bloody-minded world of underground black metal, people can build castles in the air, and get run down when they crumble on contact with reality.

There was allegedly some aggro between NS skins and SHARPs afterwards, but I didn't see it, having bugged out ASAP; I had to work in the morning, and the demands of work have gotten this review impossibly delayed down to the current point. Next gig's tonight in this same hall...though Kamelot and Edguy will draw a LITTLE different crowd. Iced Earth tomorrow, then I get my extreme-metal bonafides back with Amon Amarth and Master on the weekend.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Amorphis with Samael, Virgin Black, and Hypersolid [Worcester Palladium (upstairs), 10/2/2008]

Second verse, not quite the same as the first; as per the day before, I left right from work, but there were a few contributing factors that slowed down the ride out, and as a consequence, I got in right after doors rather than right before. With the lack of a lineup, I got "VIPed" in; security at this point knows my ID by heart and is pretty confident I'm not going to stab anyone, but as professionals they're not going to wave 'regulars' through while they've got a lineup to process correctly.

As on Wednesday, the attendance was a little sparse, especially at the start, but it would pick up as the night went on. I picked my way through the few there and picked up a couple CDs as well as a first beer, then tried to finish up the text I was writing to avoid being "that guy" for Hypersolid.

Hypersolid [5/7]
Unfortunately, I wasn't completely successful, and I was a little zoned for their first song or two. Once concluded, though, they cetainly didn't disappoint, and in contrast to the last one, there was a lot more late Carcass (mostly Swansong, but some Heartwork too) in their prog-thrash sound than I remembered from before. Their overall execution level's come up since 2006 as well, despite the fact that they were working out a new guitarist; if you missed them here, you can see them with Edguy in a week or two, and marvel that with the change in their sound to more prog-thrash (which fit better here) than prog-power, they're still able to get opening slots on power metal bills.

Virgin Black [6/7]
The crowd was still a little light at this point, and between the volume and the band's sound, it definitely felt like this would have gone even better upstairs at the Middle East. The only really cult band on this tour, they made their presence felt with a deep, solid set that closed with a shattering rendition of "Walk Without Limbs". In contrast to the more accessible bands at the head of this bill, Virgin Black's vicious blend of gothic black metal and funeral doom was pitched straight for the undergrounders in the audience -- which on a Thursday, and at the start of the touring bill, was maybe more than a significant minority.

Samael [6/7]
It's hard to find a dedicated Samael fan these days, and the balance of this set definitely testifies as to why; the black metal in their sound is deprecated in favor of more mainstream, accessible, stuff, and while this was a decent time, Samael have been better than this. Those who missed it, though, missed out: not only is Xy still about the best live drum programmer going, but they did "Into The Pentagram" for the first time in the US (allegedly), and for the duration of the song, new Samael was old Samael again, just with the instruments a little changed up. They did a couple more after, and while they should have just closed up after "Into The Pentagram", the little extra blackdustrial is to be forgiven since we, y'know, got "Into The Pentagram" out of the band.

At one point, Vorph referred to Passage as an "old album". It is, but that makes me an Old People -- what the hell is Ceremony of Opposites then? Well, besides 'awesome', but you get the idea about how this band currently looks at their catalog, and how that varies from how we see it out in the cheap seats.

Amorphis [6.5/7]
There'd been some scuttlebutt before the gig that Tomi had lost his voice earlier on the tour, but he'd recovered enough by this gig to put up a stellar performance. He was still swigging tea rather than water or beer throughout, but his voice held up all the way through a long and diverse set covering a bunch of tunes from the last couple albums, but also more early stuff than likely anyone was anticipating. It was a better outing than I saw last year at Wacken, and on the music rather than just on the minimum qualification of the venue not catching on fire. Like Samael, Amorphis may get written off these days due to the changes in their style, but more unambiguously than the band that preceded them on this bill, they've improved as well as changed. Another Thousand Lakes tune or two instead of taking a break before their encore, and this might have gone full marks; regardless, it was a great set to cap off a great show, and a great two-day stand at this venue.

The trip home wasn't that difficult, and the next show promises to be awesome; Watain Tuesday night in Boston with six other bands including CNV and Revocation. After that, free time to take care of personal matters, and then something like 6 or 7 gigs in 8 days. We'll see how many of those actually get attended.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Kataklysm with Dying Fetus, Eluvetie, and Keep of Kalessin [Worcester Palladium (upstairs), 10/1/2008]

In the middle of a hard week at work, I also get the bonus of two high-line shows in a small space at reasonable prices, which I guess makes up for getting blitzed over the weekend and being first busy drinking, then tremendously hung over, for last weekend's gigs, both of which planned I missed. This wasn't the case here; I finished up a couple knotty problems and headed out directly from the office, arriving a little early due to light traffic. I got in and processed smoothly once the doors opened; this was upstairs, and the floor area wasn't anywhere near full at first, though as the night went on more people piled in.

With time to kill I hit the merch stand and got the Eluvetie swag that I hadn't been able to afford at Metalfest, and also Keep's new disc. This was in the upstairs of the upstairs, which remained sparsely populated throughout the show; Wednesdays will do that, and if this was less convenient to get to than had it been at the Middle East's upstairs, it was a lot easier to move around.

Keep of Kalessin [6.5/7]
I don't know that I've headbanged this hard to a black metal band since Emperor. I saw them on Metalfest, of course, but that performance paled next to this one; a lot of it echoed Emperor, but to call it "standard-form" in any way is not only a disservice to the band, but also an indication that you may not listen to as much black metal as you think you do. There's a lot of black metal that's a hell of a lot worse than this, especially in the modern era; that we went back convincingly to the sound of the Norwegian second wave, and the band blew the roof off in the process, should not be treted as an everyday occurrence. Great stuff, and maybe a couple songs short of full points.

This was, as can be seen up top, a really, really weird lineup to be all touring together. It seems like the idea was that there'd be people who liked Keep and Eluvetie, Keep and Kataklysm, and Kataklysm and Dying Fetus at this one, thus bringing in three distinct audience segments, but that's kind of a weird organizing principle, and when you do it on a Wednesday night, you may get into rougher shoals. They did draw more, though than any of those three tuples would have as their own tour playing the Mideast Upstairs, so perhaps there's something to be said for it.

Eluvetie [6/7]
Also back from Metalfest was this Swiss horde, who were short their piper for this outing. How much of a problem this was is debatable; they did a really good set, if not quite as strong as back in April, but there was next to nowhere for anyone in the band to move around on stage, and it's difficult to see where they'd've found space to add a seventh across the front. Some of their tunes, particularly the one they closed up with, reminded me really strongly of In Extremo; part of this is the founder effect of said band basically re-inventing folk metal, but some of it may be intentional: since In Extremo's basically let North America go by singing almost exclusively in German, why shouldn't another band that does more in English bring that same sound over here, and earn a share of the success? Not the best set I've seen from them, but to say this about a Swiss folk metal band in North America at all is pretty damn staggering, and this was quite a fine performance even so.

The funniest moment of the night was doubtless about 3 songs in, when the singer yelled "ARE YOU GUYS STILL SOBER?!" and more people answered with "HELL YEAH!!!" than "FUCK NOOOO!" If you're either a) not paying attention and just yelling whenever someone does stage banter, or b) so goddamn drunk on a Wednesday night that you can't understand what the singer's saying at the start of the second band's set, you deserve to get ripped on, as the band briefly did before hitting back into the music again.

Dying Fetus [6/7]
I was talking with some acquaintances before the show started up, and one mentioned that he'd never seen Dying Fetus; I'd been in this position as recently as before Carcass, and he found it just as odd as I did then. Anyone else in the audience who hadn't seen DF live yet got a solid representation of the band; a nice thick set of relentlessly arranged stone-brutal death metal. It didn't stand out to me as superlative, but even when Dying Fetus is just simply executing, the result is impressive to behold. I'm more of a fan of other kinds of death metal, but this was a great (and ridiculously battering) time, and a high-quality set.

Post-DF, I was significantly impressed enough to go up to the merch stand again and pick up one of their "antipope" shirts; while bumming around as Kataklysm set up, I ran into a short sample of several North Shore metal bands....who were bummed out that they'd only gotten to the venue in time to pay $20 for 2 Dying Fetus tunes. They weren't much into Kataklysm either, and a little at loose ends about what to do with themselves. Some of the answer to this involved sitting around upstairs heckling the Canucks as they set up, and some of it involved yelling Manowar memes at people downstairs who weren't listening; hail creativity.

Kataklysm [5/7]
I didn't stick for their whole set, but I resolved to stay long enough to give them a fair shake; my opinions on this band's rapid and seemingly nonsensical decline have been made very clear in the past, but every new album is a chance to get back to relevance, and every gig is a chance to wake up and play soe interesting music. I hung around for four or five songs, but the verdict is still unchanged; not so much Canadian Hyperblast as Canadian warmed-over Hypocrisy. This wasn't a bad set, but Kataklysm will continue to run aground as long as they a) continue to ignore their earlier material, which has a distinct voice of its own, and also b) continue to suggest a lamer Hypocrisy to anyone who listens to them. Sure, echoes of more famous bands were kind of a theme tonight (except for Dying Fetus, who are the imitated rather than the imitators), but Keep and Eluvetie's material can stand in, more often than not, with that of their exemplars, and Kataklysm's new stuff just can't. Those who came for them appeared to be having fun, but those like me who came for any of the other three were either upstairs or shortly on the way out.

Leaving early, I managed to get back home a little after midnight. Tonight's probably into the breach again; Amorphis, Samael, and Virgin Black, same time same station.