Tuesday, November 22, 2011

rapid promotion and the challenges of the top flight

So as per the labelblag, Pilgrim has gotten picked up by Metal Blade; the reaction from New England has basically been "wow, that was quick". As noted a ways back, this band has potential in buckets, but on the evidence so far, it's difficult to say "yes, they're ready to debut on a major". They have, essentially, a single out, and while Forsaken Man is a wicked good doom single, these guys are getting signed a lot more for potential than for past performance. For comparables with other major-label bands from the area, this is a lot closer to their Chainsaw Sacrifice Ritual than Summon The Spawn.

This is where it gets a little sticky, because the guy assessing that potential and its labelreadiness is Alan Nemtheanga, and it's well known that when he's acting ex cathedra, he's incapable of a wrong opinion. Looking at the dynamics around this, it looks very much like a calculated risk; if Pilgrim do develop to that potential, they'll get sold up rapidly to the main label, and Poison Tongue will get more budget for similar artist-development endeavors. If not, the Cali operation will let one or both sink untraced. Hopefully, they do develop and blow up huge; for confirmation, though, we'll need to wait about two months until Misery Wizard drops/gets leaked.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Joe Stump with Benedictum and DesDemon [Ralph's, Worcester, 11/17/2011]

Since I was not paying attention as usual, I didn't know that this was a late start -- just figuring that the two touring bands would get slightly longer sets -- so I started out earlier than strictly necessary, but no later than I could really stand sitting around twiddling my thumbs. As I left the sub shop to head for the highway, the precipitation was coming down at weird angles; the air's getting colder, and the time when slick roads and excessive frozen water deposits tempt me to wuss out on excellent shows is coming back around. The slushy rain continued almost all the way out, but didn't stick, and the roads didn't freeze when I eventually came back, and the quality of the bands and performances involved demonstrated the other side of the argument: I'm still good enough, and my car is still good enough, to pretty reliably not get killed in these early mornings, and missing shows will lead to regrets.

In at Ralph's about normal doors, so with about an hour to kill, I sat around, browsed the merch tables, drank more beer than initially anticipated, and did a bonus shot with Yosh, Chris, one of the other bartenders, and the sound guy for being one of the few "regulars" in the building at the time; this show pulled in a lot of people who don't normally go to local shows, and the barkeeps were getting anxious over potential stress and non-acculturated tipping behavior. This also led to some examination of, but nobody actually doing, Cocaine....because said barely-nonpoisonous "energy drink" is no longer produced, and the single can by the bar remains for reasons of historical interest and lulz only. (And, also, the obvious reason that even if it was being actively produced, the thing contains the liquid-meth-emulator potency of about four cans of Red Bull in an equivalent delivery vector, and nobody was at that point either looking to have a heart attack or drunk enough to think that doing this kind of drugs was a good idea.)

DesDemon [5/7]
I hadn't heard of this band, so it was somewhat surprising to see such a high level of production value on their CD packaging....until I saw that it was in Japanese. To be fair, the market for this kind of music is absolutely huge in east Asia: in Korea, Helloween deep cuts just randomly come up on the jukebox, Morifade records are in print ten years on, and Dark Moor gets featured placing in HMV and extensive biographical inserts in the CDs. The band brought that high level to their live performance as well; if they resemble nothing so much as 2002- or 2003-vintage Nightwish, it is humbly offered that this is about the optimum period of Nightwish to clone. They had some sound level issues at the start, particularly with getting Chelsea's mic all the way on and responding to her vocals, and as kind of implied, they didn't really assert an identifiably original sound, but this is a sound that Nightwish isn't exactly using any more, and the execution was pretty kickass. Being from NYC, they'll probably be back up sooner or later, with the response they got, and they'll be worth seeing then as well.

During DesDemon's second or third song, one of my co-workers made a surprise appearance; he'd shown a little interest in the show earlier in the day, and apparently after dinner and a couple Ketel+krans, he decided to head over. Good dude, and he was genuinely into both the music and the scene, but if you were weirded out by the dude in chinos and the button-down shirt going bananas in the first row, yeah, mir schuld.

Benedictum [6/7]
I had wanted to see this band at Wacken a couple years ago (either '07 or '08) and had not been able to, a victim of the scheduling; the two or three songs that made it onto the DVD were straight-up killer, though, so I was well amped to see them. They certainly didn't disappoint, with a high-energy set of technical melodic metal that took things back in more of a thrashier direction. Veronica's vocal attack really suggests early Anthrax for some reason; whether you see the comparable as Neal Turbin doing Spreading... or Joey doing Fistfull..., it's hard to miss, and also indisputable that Benedictum's definitely pushing off in their own direction from that base. Veronica's plenty hot, but sticks to a classical Classen-following metal style rather than crooning, and Pete has some serious chops, but never lets shred become an end over a means in the song structure; Benedictum may not be the most fashionable or best finished metal band around, but they are a damn good one, and this was a killer set. The band appeared to enjoy the nearly packed house and enthusiastic crowd as much as us on the floor dug the band, and a smashing good time was had by all.

I almost picked up Benedictum's first record here as well, but didn't get the opportunity; just the two most current, then. Even as the CD heads towards the dustbin of history, it remains a more attractive proposition than a $20 t-shirt, at least as long as I have to spend a minimum of 90 minutes a day in a steel box not having a coronary at the idiocy of other drivers. Good metal releases rage at shows and bleeds it off on the stereo.

Joe Stump [6/7]
As before, a Joe Stump set follows some time-honored parameters: Jay and Hector lay down some rhythm structures ranging from the basic to the moderately complex, and Joe flips out and flies around wailing on guitar, because he is a mammal and shit, snakeskin on his feet to the contrary. Joe's act is to all intents and purposes nothing but shred, but it's to his and his sidemen's credit that he can make those shred virtues work over a full-set runtime. Those without a significant interest in guitar virtuosity might get more bored with this set faster, but this is heavy metal, and there is always going to be a place for sheer unadulterated guitar wizardry, and as it goes, Joe has it nailed, without any pretense of doing anything but shredding the fuck out. It worked, the audience who remained (down somewhat, but not a whole lot, from the peak at Benedictum) dug the fuck out of it, and it provided a class capstone to the night.

Joe eventually closed up just short of 2 AM, and the bar staff wasted no time shooing us the fuck out the venue. I ended up, through various circumstances, at a diner under 290 with Chris, 40% of Avariel, and also about half the other "regulars" that ended up being in attendance. A good time for sure, but as a result I didn't hit the road back till 3 nor, consequently, get to sleep until 4:30, resulting in a caffeine-undermined two-hour nap before heading in to work. And yet metal, still, is worth it: only by stepping away is there ever anything to regret.

If traffic is not awful and I'm not dead from the holiday, I may make it back out for Scaphism here the day after Thanksgiving, but otherwise it's looking a lot like nothing till after I get back from my turn around the old Hapsburg haunts. Bi'spätz, leutz.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Exhumed with Goatwhore, Havok, and Dysentery [Worcester Palladium, 11/8/2011]

I got an earlier start out to this one than last night, and turned out to need it: traffic was heavy as shit, and I ended up getting over, in, and through doors just barely in time to get Dysentery's new record off Drew (and crack wise about previous transactions) before he had to go downstairs and strap his bass up. I blame the economy sucking slightly less, and me forgetting how Palladium shows work, not having gone to ones on weeknights in like a year.

Dysentery [6/7]
While this wasn't the best, full-stop, show I've seen from Dysentery ever, it was wicked fucking good, full not only of slams, huge breakdowns, and crushing drops, but also a thick measure of more doctrinaire death metal brutality. They remain the ne plus ultra of slam, at least in-region, and still get kids going completely bananas on the drop, but in a lot of the new stuff, as well as the older songs as they've been reworked and tightened for Internal Devastation, there's a move towards one really huge slam breakdown rather than chaining breakdown to breakdown after each other. Still good stuff, and the record is flat killer; it'll be interesting to see where they go from here, especially with the lineup diverging from Parasitic Extirpation again, which should keep Dystentery focused and active even as Parasitic's shaking off the rust.

A quick merch break here did the obligate merch on the national bands; no tourdates and a lot of Carcass-borrowing logos put me off the Exhumed shirts, but I did get the new record and the far-more-early-Exhumed-than-anyone-really-needs Platter of Splatter comp. I bought Goatwhore's current album out of a perhaps-misplaced sense of duty, not because I especially wanted to hear five to seven attempts to make "Alchemy of the Black Sun Cult" part 2.

Havok [6/7]
I'd missed this band on their previous stops in the region -- I think they were at Ralph's last year, and they may have played somewhere in the area with Razormaze since -- so it was good to finally see them, and welcome on top of that that they're less completely, totally, pro-forma thrash-revival than might otherwise have been dreaded. I'd rather see Witchaven getting this kind of recognition, but at least it's not Bonded By Blood or Warbringer ("in Richtung Slayer, Kreator und Exodus"?! Scheiss drauf, mann, gegenteilig iss die Band ne Fälschung Slayer, Kreator und Exodus!) in this slot again. For those not familiar, Havok set out a straight-ahead set of Big-Four inspired thrash metal, the kind of music you'd get from a band that decided to be influenced mostly by Slayer and Metallica, and stopped listening to either band in 1985. It wasn't terribly original, but the execution was pretty killer, and they further diversified the bill while not deviating too far from the thrash elements in Exhumed that presumably got them onto the package in the first place.

At the end of their set, they introduced "Afterburner" with the usual complaints about karate mosh, and, because this is New England, several people in the crowd immediately marched up the front to throw down for the song in as exaggeratedly antisocial a manner as possible. Not because New England inherently moshes like a dick, with feet flying at head level, but because we are all sardonic trolling bastards up here, who delight in provoking and confusing outsiders whenever possible.

Goatwhore [5.5/7]
As weird as it may seem given how the band have taken Krisiun's slot as mandatory openers on every tour ever, I hadn't seen Goatwhore in a while, and was at least a little interested to see what the deltas were between this performance and the many, many, times I saw them in 2007. The difference appears to be a much stronger commitment to black'n'roll, via the agency of a new record that is mostly composed of attempts to clone the sound, and presumably the success, of "Alchemy of the Black Sun Cult" off A Haunting Curse. That's a good song, still, even today and it was good as delivered here, but it loses a little of its luster when the band plays three other variations on it in the same set. Goatwhore are still a fundamentally decent band, and they still put on a good show, but it's hard to see where the upside is here. They allegedly have a new record coming out next February, but given their level of material to date, and the direction that they took on Clawing Out The Eyes Of God (i.e., cargo-cult black'n'roll that knows where it wants to be but is clueless on how to actually get there), it's difficult to forecast any kind of material change. Goatwhore is going to continue to be, as a RTTP wag put it in advance of this date, "America's Second Billed" for the foreseeable future, and "unable to headline" is probably not where a band that's been touring nationally for five years really wants to be.

It was probably in here that I picked up a bunch of Dysentery kit and apologized to Dave from Havok for not buying his record immediately; I ended up far enough back, and enough people lamered out over the course of Exhumed's set that it wouldn't've gotten crunched, but all they had was vinyl, and not only is that an iffy proposition to survive on the floor at a death metal gig, but I'd gotten quite enough of holding a record sleeve rather than having my hands free the previous night.

Exhumed [7/7]
There are probably points to pick with this, and like Cynic the day before, this is not an especially "high" 7. However, it's undeniable that Exhumed set out a violent, abrasive, and generally very well-performed set of frenetic goregrind that got people thrashing around with appropriate reciprocal violence...and they eventually got around to doing "Matter of Splatter" in the encore (preceded by minimal bullshit), which was enough to put it over the top, at least for the easily-pleased simpleton writing this worthless text. This was a solid, killer, Exhumed set, and if you listened to it and thought the band was just turning the gears, or hadn't knocked all the rust off yet, see Carcass for a prior comparable of how that situation can still stat out to awesomeness.

After picking up Time Is Up as promised, I hit the road; I got back in good order, but picked up some kind of all-destroying lung disease that prevented me from seeing Absu at the weekend; I'm recovered now, but there's not a lot of shows between now and the Winterreise, and fewer still between there and the end of the year. I still need to plan for that...we'll see what shows, if any, are going down in Prague at the start of December.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Cynic with 3 and Scale The Summit [Worcester Palladium, 11/7/2011]

I thought, getting in, that this was going to be a close-run thing; work and subsequent traffic had put me right up against it over a stressful drive out, following an absent-minded morning where I left the house without my rig. Fortunately, this was a post-metal show that was doable without said rig over my back, and also fortunately, this was a Monday night show with bands that for all their lack of kvltness are still pretty niche: the parking lot was as empty as the queue to get in as the length of the bar. Beer, two 3 records, Carbon-Based Anatomy and a vinyl of Cynic's previous overly-fluffy space-rock EP that I already own for probably too much money, and it was downstairs to stand around and see if Scale The Summit was actually worth spending money on records.

The crowd here bears some mention; not only, as implied, skewing younger than normal shows, it was a lot more diverse (by certain parameters), looking a lot more like the 128-belt tech industry than normal metal shows do. There's definite bases for launching into a rant about girlfriend metal and how this is going to choke the scene dead, but there's zero evidence of this actually happening, and I can see nothing but benefit if more of the nerdy children of engineers get into metal: their future earning power means more disposable income redirected to musicians, and their relative social isolation means that they're more likely to keep doing this shit longer. The hipster Fraktion is of more concern, and more of a threat to co-opt black metal than this music, where you kind of have to be a try-hard at your instrument to even get in the door. Sure, at some points even I wanted to see the front row run over with a bulldozer, but if this audience keeps buying enough merch to keep Cynic, even this Cynic, touring, I can put up with it.

Scale The Summit [6/7]
This is the kind of band that sells guitar tab books at their merch stand. Little more really needs to be said, but they did justify that inclusion with a killer if somewhat retreaded set of instrumental post-metal that sounded like what you'd get out of Pelican if they listened to more modern Cynic and a lot more BTBAM. I'm not one to argue with Joey from 3 about anything, but I seriously take issue with his later classification of this band as 'innovators' alongside Cynic and his own band; "good", yes, and "original", sure, but this general sound is kind of the meat and bones of post-metal/instrumental post-hardcore, and at least from this set I couldn't identify anything that STS was doing to define themselves away from those three obvious forebears. Good music is its own justification, so this ultimately didn't matter to the set, but this is a band you see when they're opening for other bands, and listen to when you're digging deep into this music, not something that like Alaska or ...Fire In Our Throats... is going to get instantly dug out as a snapshot of the sound.

I did go up and buy a record off their stack in here, but only one, and no tab books; I was running out of money, and I don't even play guitar at the Old Skull level, let alone the level where I would be able to read, let alone make use of, something like the Carving Desert Canyons tabs.

3 [6.5/7]
Some derp did the obvious "BUT THERE AR FOUR OF THEM HURR DURR DURR" gag midway through the set. That's not the immediate problem, but it's an associated indicator thereof. This is the first sub-full-marks 3 set I have on record, and it's as much for the loss of their aux percussionist in cutting down to a four-piece as it is for the Opethisms and more conventional shadings on their newer stuff. The "thing" about 3 has always been, like Autumn Above, their facility in crossing back and forth between metal and plainly non-metal styles, but in a bizarre way both axes are diminished in this incarnation of the band: more prog and indie elements mean less metal, and the removal of the crosswise polyrhythms means that those less metal parts are also less challenging and less interesting. What remained was a good set, and the guitar and drum solos were pretty cool, but this band's ceiling is higher than shown here. When they're on, they've still got it, as the rather high arbitrary number up the top shows, but what they have now is not as compelling as it's been in the past.

I hadn't actually listened to them on record for a while, so it was only this morning, listening through The Ghost You Gave To Me in the car, that I was able to confirm that this set is a pretty fair approximation of where 3 actually is musically at present. Good, in that they didn't cut down the band for financial reasons (tour logistics), but bad in that that element is presumably just gone.

Cynic [7/7]
This was not as good a set as at Wacken, probably mostly due to Cynic's modern material not actually being out at that point -- we got demos of some of the Traced... material, but obviously nothing off ReTraced or CBA -- and the constraints of the shorter festival slot....but we didn't get the band reprising Reflections of a Dying World then either. Saying that, the Traced In Air stuff that dominated the set (only "Wheels.." off ReTraced, which benefited from the live presentation, and kind of half of "Integral Birth", showing I was more on track than I knew), as then, matched up well with the Focus material; if Cynic was not a death metal band at that point, as they certainly aren't now on latest recorded evidence, they were at least a prog metal band, and they remain capable of executing that kind of deathed-up prog metal live. Paul had issues with his mic the entire set, and was constantly swapping off guitars, but despite the technical issues and how ethereal and non-metal much of the Carbon Based stuff is, it is real hard to look at this set as a single piece and see the score coming out differently. Yes, they didn't play "Uriboric Forms", but Traced In Air is a better record than is often credited, and Cynic as a band, for someone at all interested in music, is still a must-watch. We don't have the option to go back to 1990 and hang around in Miami dive bars as Cynic lays out progressive death metal too far ahead of the curve for the audience to appreciate; all we can do is watch them march off into the weeds musically, still doing things that the audience doesn't quite get, and hope to hear the echoes of those days gone.

The most significant debit on this show was that it got out at like quarter past eleven; on a school night for a lot of the audience, and with a headliner with ADD (at least according to Paul in closing) and a shallow catalog, this was almost to be expected, but a local opener and a later close would not have gone amiss. As it was, though, I got home shortly after midnight and was able to cycle up again without great difficulty; if the cavalcade of retard tickets stops by six, I should be on my way out to Exhumed.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Hessian with Black Trip, Skull Hammer, and Triforium Dawn [Ralph's, Worcester, 11/3/2011]

The last show before yet another on-call stand that was going to endanger the schedule, this was also a strong bill in and of itself; the chance to see Hessian again does not go missed lightly. I was a little late getting out of work, but managed to get through the roadworks without much difficulty and in to Ralph's about as Triforium Dawn was finishing setting up. Some days you cut it close, some days you twiddle your thumbs for half an hour. This turned out to be one of the former, probably due to the need to keep things rolling for the headliners, down from Maine on a one-off.

Triforium Dawn [5/7]
I hadn't seen this band before, and if nothing else they were immensely interesting, doing what at times seemed to be a fusion of Final Chapter-era Hypocrisy's rhythm section with Dickinsonian vocals. The concept behind this band, though, is a little better than the execution at this point, as showed clearly in their cover of Emperor's "I Am The Black Wizards"; the abundance of guitar mistakes in the faster first half of the song and their almost complete absence in the second half is a really clear indicator that the weird fit in a lot of places in their originals is down to the guitar parts having an effective speed limit, beyond which the guitarist/vocalist can't play with predictable accuracy. The best performance, musically and vocally, though, came when he put down the axe and was able to concentrate on vocals, with the bass filling in both melody and harmony; this band used to be a four-piece (established by later research), and would probably benefit from getting back to that configuration, at least on the evidence offered here. This was still a good set, and showed off some incredible bass skills, but this band has the immediate potential to become much better.

In here, I went back to get another beer, and the barman had it to hand before I even got belly-up. I remain as ever embarrassingly predictable in my ongoing dedication to being cheap.

Skull Hammer [5.5/7]
Skull Hammer's slightly changed their lineup up since the last time I saw them, bringing in Matt from Seax on the four strings. This, though, didn't make as much of a difference as going from the Champions' PA to the much better Ralph's system; unlike the bands before and after them, Skull Hammer didn't have any problems with the vocals (or anything else) cutting in and out, letting them blast out a quality thrash battering. Nobody's going to accuse this band of doing anything particularly new or groundbreaking any time soon, but their execution isn't to be questioned; there's always going to be an audience at the DIY level for well-delivered straight-ahead thrash metal, and as long as Skull Hammer can keep executing, they're going to continue to satisfy that audience.

About here I did my merch for the night: a couple buttons off Skull Hammer due to already having both of their records, and another shirt from Hessian, which is a little more general-use-friendly than the last one, which I can wear out pretty much only in northern Europe, where standards of how much vagina you can show on a t-shirt are a little looser. Still a cool design, still will probably make it over to next year's Party.San.

Black Trip [5/7]
Most of this set was done instrumental, because the PA was not working; this cut off the vocals almost entirely, but since this was a DIY show, there was still plenty of sound coming out of the cabs and off the drumkit regardless of the micing. Ralph's has had equipment problems in the past, but in retrospect this one is probably down mostly to the band overloading the system: while the PA cut in and out intermittently, it was fine for Skull Hammer and also fine for Hessian. Regardless, the band still executed decently, doing, as previously mentioned, endZone with some tweaks for localization, and Ben continues to establish himself as one of the better and more underrated lead guitarists in eastern New England. I'm not 100% sure that this set would have been notably better with vocals in, but their absence was a definite distraction, and if they're turning up to an extent that habitually overloads the venue's circuits, this is something the band has to work on, if only from the logistics standpoint.

Hessian [6/7]
This was a little more developed of a Hessian set than last time, a little longer, with a few more covers, and some more new originals, but pretty much of a measure. The band's taken it up a notch, but the previous level was pretty damn high, and in some ways there's only so much that you can tinker with this sort of first-principles heavy metal before it mutates into something else entirely. Hessian are continuing to fully explore that space, though, and the next record, at least on the evidence that we got here, will at least be a worthy successor to Old, Wild, and Free. Hopefully, we'll see them down again sometime before that point; they got a strong response here as in Boston, and probably made a few converts who hadn't seen them here back in July. They played right up until the limits, taking an encore or two when offered by the soundboard, but eventually did have to close up; one of the perils of playing licensed establishments.

The bands having closed up, I beat feet back to the east, getting back in time to take a quick nap before work, then have my weekend hogged by production tickets, which meant neither Mayhem nor The Binary Code. No good; hopefully nothing catches on fire tonight before the end of Cynic. Work has to come first, but that doesn't mean I enjoy walking out on good bands.