Monday, April 19, 2010

one leg by foot, two legs by rail

As entirely befitting an enterprise conducted largely on the eighteenth of April into the wee hours of the 19th, this pair of shows involved a circuitous path around various environs of Boston, elements that can be clubbed into a rough allusion to Longfellow, and fortunately since this is the modern day, two bouts of awesome blasting metal rather than any encounters with foreign occupying military forces.

Nåthruzym with Blood of the Gods, Nachzehrer, and Bone Ritual
Midway Cafe, Boston, 4/18/2010

After bunging my car into the usual car-bunging-into-place, I crossed over a block and picked up the Red Line, then promptly missed the first train due to the dumb and impenetrable ticket machines screwing around again. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, though, because if I had gotten on that train and then picked up an earlier connection on the Orange Line, I would have been walking over to the club when the rain-mixed-with-hail came through. As it was, I was five minutes later than anticipated and had the smarts to stay under the roof by the subway stop until the worst passed, then go over after.

I still got rained on, but this is a casual hazard of going outside in New England any time it's not snowing, so no big deal. Getting in relatively early after doors, I had the chance to get a couple beers and get settled before the bands started playing.

Bone Ritual [6/7]
Despite the sun outside as the rain cleared up, this was a hellish set fully up to the standards that Bone Ritual's set in the past. They brought out some new material as well as the stuff from their now nearly-unavailable demo (the band's been out of the CD version for a while, and now they're getting low on tapes); this will eventually translate into some new material, and hopefully sooner rather than later. It's difficult for any time seeing Bone Ritual after the first to match up to that experience (well, maybe just for those of us who were there for their live debut and didn't really know what to expect), but this was a high-quality show that should at least match expectations for this seriously good band.

Since the club wasn't full absolutely to the brim, I had the ability to take some pictures, which are below. This got more difficult as more people came in, and then I was both late and bushed to the O'Brien's gig, so no photos from there.

Little known fact: Cody plays bass in his bare feet, at least in Bone Ritual.

Nachzehrer [5.5/7]
Nachzehrer was also up for this, with another set of driving, thrashing black metal. The place was starting to fill up a little more as the afternoon turned into the evening, and despite missing Bone Ritual, they still got some damned good music. Either because of where I was standing or just because of the way the balance was, the bass was a little higher up than when I've seen this band previously, which seemed to turn the sound more towards black metal. This is cool stuff, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the band eventually sorts their sound out on record, when they're at the mercy neither of engineers nor venue acoustics.

Mark thudding away on bass for NZ. This picture is not of Wren with a plastic 7.62 NATO stuck up his nose half out of basic respect, and half because I could not get my phone out fast enough. This, though, also happened during this set and is marginally more newsworthy than "Bass Player Good At Playing Bass".

Blood of the Gods [5/7]
I hadn't seen this band before, but they held up their own end, laying out a good set of doomish black metal. It wasn't really the most differentiated out there, but it was a solid performance and fit in well with the rest of the bill, which while staying fairly united under the banner of black metal did allow for a lot of diversity in sound. This is how we do in the Northeast; the unfortunate part of this set, though, was that the band didn't appear to have anything recorded. Something to look for next time.

Blood of the Gods, mid-set.

Nåthruzym [6/7]
Having come down all the way from Vermont, these guys would be the first to be discouraged by any shortfall in their performence. Fortunately, this wasn't an issue at all, as Nåthruzym presented a top-grade set of epic-tinged black metal to this mountain fastness of...well...a bar located next door to a Mexican pizza shop. Black metal has a tendency to set itself stiff challenges like that, but it makes identifying the good bands easier, as they, like Nåthruzym did on the night, are able to manifest an appropriate atmosphere through the music, bringing the audience, whatever the venue, into the cold dark heart of the ideas.

Mutis in traditional Vermont epic-black-metal regalia. Yes, that is an apparently whole bird wing being used as shoulder armor.

I was able to get a CD from these guys; the sound suggests a little more Immortal than what I heard live, but this is probably down to the band not having to balance cabs against the PA, etc, and make sure everything got out. Hopefully, they'll be back again; despite the distance traveled, they got a good reaction, and as much good black metal as we already have in this part of New England, there's always room for more.

Show concluded, it was time to get some dinner and beat feet towards the transit system. Fortunately, it didn't take forever to get a cheeseburger-and-fries-with-the-works (which, as should have been expected, included a liberal amount of salsa and some sliced jalapenos) from the aforementioned Mexican pizza place, nor to get it down on the march up to the train station. Even with that, though, the train change and having to go so relatively far out on the Green Line, then get hiking again, meant that by the time I got up to O'Brien's, the first band had already started. Missed it, so to say, by that much.

Boarcorpse with Scaphism, Untombed, and Forced Asphyxiation
O'Brien's, Allston, 4/18/2010

Forced Asphyxiation [5/7]
I got right in and took a few steps in past the door to immediately start listening to the band. Playing mostly basic but very solid death metal, they made a good restart to the night after the travel portion, and I was kind of bummed that they didn't have anything recorded available. This is a newer band, and it'll be interesting to see how they develop going forward; they had a good solid sound here, and definitely enough talent in the band to do something interesting with it.

In here, I got what would end up being the only beer of this show for me. Getting gilled at four in the afternoon at the previous gig may not have been the wisest decision in retrospect, but it sure as hell made sense at the time.

Untombed [6.5/7]
Wow. I'd seen these guys a couple of times before, and really, every band that hangs around for a while has the potential to unleash some absolute greatness, because otherwise they'd give up and do something else if they never caught lightning in a bottle in rehearsal and laid out some really killer jams. Juan, of course, is one of the truly classic death metal voices in New England, and the band's backed him up strongly before, but on this occasion everyone was really right at the top of their game. They got a good long set, and made every minute of it pay off, to a degree significantly better than what I'd seen from them before. Because, of course, bands and musicians can always improve, I'm not comfortable with going out and calling this a high outlier; maybe Untombed isn't going to be reliably this good, but they're going to play some good death metal whenever you see them, and additionally there's the chance for a performance this truly killer.

Untombed now has a five-song demo out, which I picked up in here, and which has proven to be full of nice crunchy death metal that strikes a good balance between old-school and slammier styles. Good stuff.

Scaphism [5.5/7]
When they started up, Scaphism had to deal with a bit of crowd depletion, but successfully yelled enough people back into the venue in relatively short order and had a decent crowd for a good, solid set of grind-tinged death metal songs mostly about rape, corpses, and raping corpses. However, this is also a band that will rhyme "snack" and "Sarlacc" when they need to, which really points up the essence of the band: the ability to take brutality out past the reducto ad absurdam, acknowledge the absurdity, and play it straight regardless. It's a tight needle to thread, but Scaphism does it very well, and I'm looking forward to when they have something recorded.

In here I went outside to take a brief rest on the sidewalk, because it was fucking hot inside. Unfortunately, this also procced concern from the organizers, who told me to get up before the Allston PD rolled up and started giving them shit about people lying around worse for wear outside. Apology!

Boarcorpse [6/7]
It was getting to the end of a long day, at least for me, but Boarcorpse, as they usually do, reached up and blotted nearly all of that out with a strong set of positive, brainwrecking groove-death metal. Jim had some issues with his pedals that were quickly fixed by a loaner from the Scaphism kit, but the mucking about with drum hardware didn't really break up the flow of the performance. They also brought a friend up who's just getting his feet wet on this live-performance thing to do some guest vocals, with pretty good results; not John Tardy by a fair stretch, but a lot of that was nerves and more will come with practice. Positive noise, positive chaos, and a good time by all; it may seem weird, but this is what you get with Boarcorpse.

Eventually, though, things had to end, and I dragged myself out over the bridges again to pick up the car, and manifestly got home without killing myself, as this entry makes manifest, though it is so fucking late that that may not have been clear for a while. In the interim, CNV kicked off their tour on the first non-Mos-Eisley Mos Eisley show, and there will be a writeup for that as soon as that one finishes.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Finntroll with Moonsorrow, Swallow the Sun, and Infinite Descent [Worcester Palladium, 4/9/2010]

"Summer is a-comin' in, arise, arise." The weather has turned here in New England, and with shows like this, it really does seem like the festival season is right around the corner. I may not be going to NEMHF, but between one thing and another, I'm already looking ahead to the coming run of dust, mud, beer, and pounding metal.

The rain was a little difficult, but didn't really interfere with the drive out, and there are certainly worse ways to go out to a Finntroll/Moonsorrow show than through a gray rain that throws clouds of fog off the road when driven on, deep green trees against a stormy sky, pounding Equilibrium on the stereo. I got up shortly before the first band started, in time to get a beer and some merch, but not soon enough to resolve that and get much more than halfway forward before they got underway.

Infinite Descent [4/7]
This band had some good ideas, but they were incompletely developed, and the soundboard gave them a pretty rough going over. Prog-metal seasoned with brutal bits verging on the metalcore at times, the idea seemed to be to aim for Into Eternity or Evergrey in that mix of the aggressive and neo-symphonic, but the songwriting isn't up to standard, at least yet, to carry those ideas forwards to a band that is going to make people stand up and take notice.

At this point, it is necessary to note that this is also a clear example of this record's relentless even-handedness and absolute focus on the music; those who were there will agree, looking at the way scores have gone in the past, that this is about where this band came out, allowing for differences in personal taste. There are no indications that the band was penalized for having inflatable swords, dragons, and battle flails at their merch stand, but nothing recorded, and I am exactly the kind of vindictive old stick-in-the-mud that this sort of thing rubs the wrong way. Seriously, what the hell is happening with our music? The inflatables played into the festival atmosphere later, but it was desperately artificial; people are supposed to lug these with them to fuck around in the campground with and accidentally throw in the fire, not to buy them from a band's merch stand.

Swallow the Sun [6/7]
Once again, as in the summer, these guys had a hard time getting the sound to pick up from the start, but this time it was the vocals, and the fault of the soundboard, rather than the guitarist having to tune up while the rest of the band was going through the first song. Once again, also, they laid down a strong, worthy performance once everything was brought in correctly. They showed a little more of their black metal roots than I'd seen (or at least remember) from them previously, but balanced it with some of the New Moon material, which continued the Katatonia-like trend towards accessibility that's been current in their material at least since getting off Firebox. All around, this was a high-quality performance of high-quality doomic metal; these guys have got to come back around headlining sometime, hopefully with Insomnium in support.

Moonsorrow [7/7]
The performance wasn't quite as long, or quite at the full level of the summer, but it was a definite step up from the last time I saw them in this building, and the audience, confined by the small space, was another level up as well. As at Party.San, the band's increased willingness to go back to the start of their catalog for rougher and folkier songs got people thrashing more intensely, and this was an American audience, not a German one. Absolute, total pit chaos, but unlike Finntroll's set, it always remained secondary to the music on stage. Taking it all together, this was one of the best sets so far in this relatively young year. If you missed it -- or potentially worse, saw if from the balcony rather than on the floor like an honest metalhead, it's your loss.

Finntroll [6.5/7]
After Moonsorrow, it would be difficult for practically any band to make a notable impression; fortunately, though, Finntroll did manage to break through to a degree. Not all of their material in this set was up to the level of what Moonsorrow presented, but those who came to mosh were here for this band, and they didn't hold back in driving the floor into a frenzy. Most of the time, there was enough of a buffer -- or enough people folkdancing in the middle to slow things down -- for me to listen up instead of just tossing people back to avoid getting smashed, but this, also, is what we go to metal shows for, to smash and get smashed, to drown in sweat and splattered beer, to bang our heads into oblivion.

Unfortunately, though, they wound down, downed axes, and the security started shouting at people to get them out the door. If you followed their directions, you screwed up; the rest of us pressed in on the stage, kept yelling, and eventually the band's people prevailed upon the venue operators to give them an encore. At this point, I went up, stuck my head practically into the PA cab, and got decleated on their final riff because I wasn't watching myself. If I squashed you between the wavebreaker and the stage or the cab, I apologize, but in reality that is what the goddamned wavebreaker is for, so don't stand on the wrong side of it next time and you won't get crushing injuries if someone gets fired into it.

From there, back out, and despite the exhaustion, it was clean sailing. Next show is back out here, Bloodsoaked at Ralph's for Metal Thursday, and then likely more on the weekend. Summer is a-comin' in, arise, arise.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Overkill with Vader, God Dethroned, Warbringer, and Evile [Worcester Palladium, 4/2/2010]

Right, this is quite late enough as it is, and if I dicker around any more on this, it's going to run into the review of the next show and cause a pileup like I had last year around this time, but this time without any semblance of reason for it.

There are a lot more bands on the bill than noted in the title, but unfortunately I missed Woe of Tyrants and all of the local support -- who were packed into the upstairs while the touring bands went on below -- due to getting out of work at a normal time and then crunching through the normal Pike traffic. It's good for kids and those on flexible schedules in the immediate Worcester area to see a bunch of good locals in with the touring bands for the same price, but it's a bummer, being kind of a completist and coming from the Boston area, to come out to a show like this and realize when you get in that you've already missed as many bands as you're going to be able to see.

Regardless, I paid my $25 without complaint and mustered myself down to the floor and got onto the rail, because Evile was already warming up, and I had missed goddamn near enough bands already just due to the trip in.

Evile [6/7]
I'd listened to Evile's new record since the last time they came around, and been thoroughly unimpressed, so I was unsure which was the real deal: the solid and in-command live thrash metal band that I saw upstairs, or the the uninspired, samey one that ground out Infected Nation. This performance swung it back to the live take: again, Evile laid out a quality opener set of blasting thrash metal despite stumping for people to spread the word and get them a headlining jaunt, and again, I was impressed by the overall execution. They're not ready for a headlining tour yet, no matter what they think, but if they can continue to deliver at this level -- and find some way of getting it onto record -- they'll be at that level in good time.

After their set wrapped, I went up to hit the merch decks and get another beer, not being emotionally invested in the idea of having to be on the floor for Warbringer. Along with a couple God Dethroned CDs I didn't have yet and a Vader tour shirt, I also picked up the DVD edition of Evile's first record, leading on to the disquisition that's about to follow.

Evile really is a tale of two bands. They deliver really well live, as attested by the two times that I've seen them and the sampling of live stuff that made it into the making-of DVD, and, as demonstrated by their two studio albums since getting signed to Earache, they have colossal problems sounding interesting on record. This is maddening, because self-apparently, it's the same band and the same goddamn material, but from the band's perspective, this probably isn't so bad: it's a lot better than sounding good on plastic and being lame and boring live. However, this leads to the conundrum that there are not going to be a lot of people who hear Evile on record first and then want to go out and see them (well, outside of the eighties-revivalists who will follow anything with a polka-beat that you can pit to).

They do have some good material, and it's a sign of their good judgment and strength as a live band that they can pick, pretty much, exactly those songs and make a solid opening set out of them, then deliver at an extra notch up when actually out on stage. This makes them a good bunch of thrash metal musicians, despite their difficulties in (so far) producing high-quality albums; if they go on to become the Overkill of the current thrash generation, the band will probably take that.

Warbringer [5/7]
Warbringer, another new thrash metal band touring behind their second generic and often samey record, was up next, and fired up a solid if completely unsurprising set. They're about as material-bound as Evile is, so the differences in relative quality of the material were down to execution (and, as always, subjective listener experience). Would that have been different if I was on the floor instead of on the lowest tier of carpet? Probably not; I saw Warbringer from the rail while waiting for Kreator last year, and then upstairs in front of Vader in November, and this is about where they are as a band. Warbringer are still good live, and even if I have my doubts about buying their next record, I'm certainly not going to complain about this set. They're not ready to headline yet either, but they do quality support, and even if they don't take it to the next level up from here, the kids in their audience will probably buoy them to headlining slots before they get old, grumpy, and fixated on comparing bands to Kreator.

God Dethroned [5/7]
God Dethroned lost a fair number of people with their set, which was kind of to be expected from the only black/death band on a largely thrash metal bill. I really don't know what they and Vader were doing here, but for those who were up front, able to give them a chance, and 'got' the melo-death influenced black metal, they put out a good set. Some of the Passiondale material did not mesh in that well with the other stuff, and despite it being Good Friday they did not do "Bloody Blasphemy", which was intensely disappointing, but it was still a good performance, all things considered. If all tours were booked by the same higher authority, God Dethroned should have been playing this building in the slot that Swashbuckle, for no immediately rational reason, has on Hypocrisy's tour at the end of May, with the aforementioned pirates playing somewhere on this package, but the world is not run to such general advantage.

Vader [7/7]
As will be discussed below, this was the reason that I came out mainly, and Vader didn't disappoint. Pounding out a strong set of blasting death metal, they justified their presence on this bill -- at least, for anyone primarily going on musical quality and not an absolute thrash purist -- with blast and fire. Abstractly, I might rather have seen them, as in November, on a purer death metal bill, but they led back from God Dethroned to thrashing metal in convincing fashion, and gave a real shot in the arm to anyone lost by the previous band or, like I was, with wavering uncertainties about the headliners. If this had been the headlining set, it would have been a worthy capstone to a solid concert.

Fortunately, though, Overkill was still to come. And fortunately, that's a "fortunately". I talked a bit with Aaron before Evile started up, and he was of the opinion that "Overkill never disappoints". Bearing Wacken 2005 in mind, I couldn't completely agree with that assessment, but it was a strong enough endorsement -- respected source, and I'd never seen Overkill indoors with a US audience before -- for me to stay on the rail, which turned out to be the right decision.

Overkill [6/7]
That rainy Saturday on the plains of Schleswig-Holstien must have been the anomaly, because Overkill, to pardon the pun, completely killed it, laying down a solid hour and a half running through their whole history as a band, which at this point is going on three decades. The performance was top-notch, high-energy and ceaselessly entertaining; the limitations of the material showed up in a few places, but given the band's history, you'd be hard-pressed not to expect this: if Overkill's writing was generally at that higher level, then with this level of performance, they would have taken over the world a long time ago. Overkill's M.O. for the past 25 years and change has been the same: to take good music and execute the hell out of it. Because this is, fundamentally, live music that finds its worth in the live experience, whether in a grimy basement, a mud-soaked infield, or a club like this, as long as Overkill plays out like this, they can afford to make albums, occasionally, like W.F.O, which contributed in long measure to my uncertainty about them.

I'm still skeptical about buying Overkill records, but for now and the future, they're a must-see whenever they come around.

Things being concluded, I made my way on home, in time for the rest of the weekend to be occupied with family stuff and another week of work. Tomorrow is Finntroll and Moonsorrow, and then the calendar starts getting dense with local shows again. Good stuff, can't wait, and fortunately, I'm not super let down by being on-call for Metalfest weekend (which I wasn't planning on going to anyway).