Tuesday, April 19, 2011

NEMHF 2011 - day 3 driveby [Worcester Palladium, 4/16/2011]

Sometime in the week leading up to Metalfest this year (the New England usage will remain throughout, as we've apparently usurped this title from Milwaukee), I found out that if things stayed lined up correctly, I could see the following bands in the following order:

downstairs - Cephalic Carnage
upstairs - Withered
upstairs - Revocation
upstairs - Believer
downstairs - Dying Fetus

The chance to roll up, see that lineup for $35, and then go home before the sun went down proved to be a powerful inducement for me to go back to NEMHF after a year's layoff in frustration with the, from my perspective, steadily decaying overall worthwhileness of the bill offered. As another festivalgoer (who played on Saturday) opined, "third-rate hardcore band after third-rate hardcore band" really saps the patience of the audience, especially someone like me who is more interested in the "metal" part of the festival as advertised. To see Believer, though, live in the flesh again and hopefully playing something off Dimensions, and to pack in Revocation, Withered, and most of the interesting death metal on offer over the entire three days as a bonus, I'd put up with 20-minute sets, schedule chaos, and the occasional second-run hardcore set. This story, then, is also about acceptance: accepting NEMHF for what it is, and enjoying the festival the way you can, in a way that minimizes the parts that people bitch about.


The Pike being nearly empty for most of the way out, I got in a little ahead of schedule and got set up: cheap beer, crap festival food, a browse through the merch stands, and then down to the tier above the floor, not really noticing the bands that were on to that point. As almost could've been expected, the schedule had gotten delayed by about 20 minutes, nearly a full set, so there was no way that The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza was going to finish in enough time that Cephalic could go on after them and not clip Withered. No worries; you accept this sort of thing at this festival and roll with the punches.

The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza [4.5/7]
Not quite in the does-this-festival-spontaneously-generate-these-bands caption so exhaustively bewailed in 2006, these guys did a crunchy but somewhat idea-light set of noise-fueled hardcore that stayed interesting for most of their allotted set time. Some of this, at least from the perspective of the old cranky metalheads in the audience, was in watching Josh do his shit; there's a real sense that his chops are wasted on this band, and I'd like to see what he'd do in a tech-death context, but if he had any interest in that, he'd have a death metal band by now. Still, good guitar work is good guitar work, no matter what it's applied to, and it lessened the sting of missing Cephalic.

Though I probably could've caught at least the start of CC's set, I went upstairs straight away, on the idea that it was anyone's guess when any given band was going to start, and doing it this way would minimize the potential sets missed. This pretty much turned out to be the case.

Withered [5/7]
Severely pinched by the format, and maybe by the sound -- which several people, including some who'd played earlier in the fest, had complained about -- Withered still delivered three good songs, at least, if in a thrashier manner than I'd seen from them previously. The change in sound was ok, overall, with the ripping black and crushing doom parts still coming through as needed. Bands like Withered and Believer (see below), though, are really hurt by the format that the festival imposes; while a lot of hardcore bands benefit from a 20-minute set by playing six to eight songs and getting out before people can get tired of it, metal bands that rely on longer and more complex compositions get into this kind of hole where you play three songs and pack it in before the audience has a real impression of you. For volume (not quite to say variety), there's nothing like NEMHF, but that volume comes at a price.

After some ranting about pretty much that exact issue and another beer gathered, I was able to get marginally further forward. Revocation'd played previously on this stage, but that was as a late replacement, while they still only had the Summon the Spawn demo out (well, besides the Cryptic Warning material), and now, they were back with several Relapse-backed tours and a nationally-released record under their belts. The delta between performances was going to be interesting.

Revocation [6.5/7]
You're not really going to get a "7" level set on this stage, at least this early in the day; the time allotted doesn't really allow for it. However, Revocation sure as fuck made the argument that the above arbitrary number is too small, ripping through a frenetic, blasting set of Existence... material -- leading off with current T-shirt song "Re-Animaniac" and closing with "Exhumed Identity" -- with all the fire, chops, and humor that they've had since forever ("Who likes unnecessarily-long guitar solos? Then you must make THE WEEEDLY FINGERS!!"). There are changes, of course; more of the vocals are spread more evenly across the three non-drummers, and adding a live second guitarist's thickened up the sound somewhat, both working to overall benefit as Dave can put more into his solos. The crowd ate it up and was flying around like crazy, even before the "obligato breakdown" (ripping, of course, on the way this festival always pans out), which bodes well: if NEMHF may not be a tastemaker, it's pretty predictive of the mainstream in modern metal, and good performances upstairs here tend to lead to good performances downstairs further down the line.

Believer [6.5/7]
Actually determining which of these sets was better than the other is going to be an extremely close-run thing, and an exercise in utter futility for, alone, the subsection of useless anoraks who are incapable of just listening to good music, full stop. They didn't play "Dies Irae" (not surprising), or, as far as I could remember, anything else off Dimensions, and 2/3 of the set was off the new record, but Believer is still Believer. They may be not as out-in-front Christian as on the old days, certainly not doing the Jesus-shoutouts that I've seen from hardcore bands on this fest in the past, but they're still playing, even on the Transhuman material, that same heavily-but-not-overbearingly-technical "culmination thrash" that has, for the most part, utterly disappeared. Realm, Toxik, Demolition Hammer, Devastation (the one from San Antonio), Xentrix, Dark Angel, all gone, only Believer having made it back from that oblivion so far; if you want to hear this music live, you go see this band, or see Revocation and hope that they pick only those songs where the influence from that period of thrash is the heaviest. As mentioned above, the set times limitation was a real pain, but the band claimed that they'd be back; hopefully this is the case, and we can get another set out of them in this part of the country. A full hour set with more stuff from Dimensions than Gabriel and later, maybe not likely when they've got a new record to push, but it'll be more Believer and Believer again, and that, as noted recently about a different band, is not something that many people thought we'd ever have the opportunity for even five years ago.

Via the offsets mentioned up at the start of this writeup, there was some un-inititally-planned-for lag time between the end of Believer's set and when Dying Fetus ended up starting. Since it's Metalfest, and you already paid your ticket, this is time to watch bands that you wouldn't bother to see otherwise; I picked up a Revocation shirt and the sports-parody festival shirt from this year (basketball, to compare with football two years ago), got another beer, and actually paid attention to most of Oceano.

Oceano [5/7]
I'm pretty sure there's better deathcore bands out there, even if I'm not listening to them either. That being said, these guys put out an eminently satisfactory set for this festival; a lot of brutality, a sprinkling of technicality, and not much that would complicate dudes in the pit moshing the fuck out of each other. Just as "it wouldn't be Metalfest without a breakdown", as Dave Davidson noted two sets back, it wouldn't be Metalfest without this band, and bands like them, composed largely of breakdowns if not breakdowns alone, bringing the violence to the floor downstairs. This is what the culture is here, not just at the fest but in the region, and as long as it works (and gets people in the door for Dying Fetus), there's not much that can be said against it.

Dying Fetus [6/7]
Since being surprised that I hadn't seen this band yet (admittedly, that was two and a half years ago), I've seen them what feels like over and over, in what feels like deliberate irony. This set maybe wasn't quite to the level of the set this summer, but I was less drunk for it (having to drive home rather than stumble back to a tent) and can thus remember more of it, and I'm not sure that we got "Grotesque Impalement" in Bad Berka either. Pick 'em; perennially awesome death metal band is perennially awesome at death metal. This set did feel a little short, but you can't argue with even this ration of Dying Fetus.

The bands that I cared about over, I went up to the balcony for a last swing through the merch stands. What really struck me about this fest was in this department: namely, that the dealer area was almost entirely depopulated, and that fuck-all anyone was selling music. In the past, this wasn't the case. You'd go up and there'd be four or five labels with actual CDs for sale, plus three or four DIY distro outfits; everyone had T-shirts taped to the wall in the back, but they had CDs out, mainly, and their setup was built around moving them. How quickly things change. This year, I'm not sure it'd be even possible to pick up 20 different CDs, let alone past years where it was wicked normal to end up with 20 new records by the end, not even counting promos and grab-bag swag. Either Scott's priced out the DIY dealers, nobody decided to run a shingle out on Saturday, or the market for physical copies not on vinyl really has crashed that badly, at least among this festival's target demographic. I did end up buying stuff -- new albums from Ensign and Black Anvil, plus Cannabis Corpse's newish EP (all on vinyl, pay to die) -- but could not escape the feeling of change and melancholia. Darkness and silence, the light will flicker out.

3 Inches of Blood [NR]
These guys were playing during said merch run, to a packed upstairs that was so close to capacity that the security were only letting people through the door who were going up to the balcony. They played well enough -- "Deadly Sinners" an especially ripping closer -- but I wasn't paying enough attention to paste an arbitrary label on the set as a whole. The impression, though, is that they deserved the crowd they had, and that the audience was about as for-serious about the music as the band, a good sign for diversity at this festival as long as someone picks it up.

Records under my arm, I headed out; unlike CDs, this is really all you can do with a stack of vinyl, however few or many, as 12" slabs of wax with no rigid hulls around them don't really lend themselves to getting stuffed in a kutte inside pocket. You put down on records, and you've got to carry them around, and somewhat necessarily stop thrashing. However, I'd seen four of the five bands I'd planned to see, and two and a half that I didn't, gotten for the most part pretty good to really good performances, and now was hitting the mark I'd originally set to leave. This is how I can approach Metalfest now: to take on defined terms and to leave satisfied even at six in the afternoon. Others, with a greater tolerance for "third-rate hardcore band after third-rate hardcore band" than I've got remaining, can stick for every set on every day as I've done in the past, but with so few bands I had a legit interest in, even relative to other years (this stretch was pretty much it, modulo Faces of Bayon and Death Ray Vision on Friday), it's not so much the fact that the festival's a parade of mediocre deathcore as how uninterrupted that parade is.

NEMHF has always been a parade of mediocre deathcore and metalcore. It is in the festival's DNA, maybe in the DNA of the New England metal scene at large over the past decade and a half. We can't ignore or hide from this fact. This region is one of the major producers of blended hardcore and metal, of various stripes, in the US and in the world at large. It shouldn't be surprising that there's a lot of this blended music on a big commercial festival located smack dab in the middle of it, population-wise. The strength of the festival in previous years, though, has been to salt enough underground or "true" stuff through the run of the bill, on all days, that people from deeper in the scene "have" to go, not just to see one band -- like Believer for me this year -- but half a dozen, and end up seeing more or less the whole run of the bill; not only does this get the underground in, but it exposes the people who go to the festival for the headliners and the balance of the acts to kinds of music they might not have heard otherwise. The last two years, that's fallen off; I was pretty much in the same position last year, but all the bands they had, I was going to be seeing in Europe. We'll see how the balance works next year; this may be the last one for me, but it doesn't have to be. This fest is ours, all of ours in New England, and I remain optimistic about its potential to continue to regenerate itself to appeal to every corner of the New England scene, not just the most commercially attractive ones.

Regarding other festivals, even if NEDF is no more, my ticket for Wacken is in, and the ticket for Party.San should be in shortly (though I may need to do some re-organizing). Formal "tour" RFM (request for merch) to go out once plans are actually finalized.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sarcomancy with Oneiric Realm [O'Brien's, Allston, 4/14/2011]

I got out of work a little later than expected, but still managed to make it over to the venue in good time. It's one of the virtues of a late start; among the others, that I avoided watching most of a particularly slapdick and hopeless Bruins opening loss. Rage at hockey players mailing it in gradually boiled off, more people got in, and presently the bands started.

Oneiric Realm [5.5/7]
The changes from July are probably down to time as much as a different presentation; the band's continued to develop, and if there's less third-wave in their sound, it's been to make more room for early-90s Enslaved and mid-90s Twin Obscenity. The resulting sound made for a really good blend, and the Emperor cover ("Curse Ye All Men", reminding most of those in attendance "oh yeah, IX Equilibrium was a pretty good record after all, what the hell did I do with my copy?") was pretty well delivered as well; maybe a little less tight than their originals, but probably less badly than the band slagged it as. Weirdo yelling about lack of grimness aside, this was a good solid set from a band that we'll hopefully be seeing more of.

In the set break, I got flyers from Nachzehrer promoting a gig with Black Anvil and from Dysentery promoting Defeated Sanity. Both are in the must-catch list; Triumvirate is a killer record and the support is solid on the first count, and I've been kicking myself for most of the last three years for missing Defeated Sanity the last time they came around. For Boston people, if you don't know where "Gay Gardens" is for the DF gig, ask someone in one of the bands on the bill; it's not like Blue isn't all-present at DIY shows in this area or anything.

Sarcomancy [6/7]
Sarcomancy's also improved since that gig; more material and more firm development along the lines of a more lyric turn-of-the-century Immortal make for a hell of a headline set. Josh's bass technique is pitch-perfect in this context, complex but never dominatingly technical, lyrical enough to drive the songs and interesting enough internally to make bassists nerd out over it as demonstrated in the last sentence. I wasn't able to pick up a demo off the band; either they'd moved them all during the hockey game before I showed up, or they just decided not to set up, and I missed asking, but it's definitely one to watch out for.

The turnout on this gig was a little light relative to past Born of Fire instances; this may be due to neither of the bands really being established on their own yet, probably a lot more than the no-evidence hypothesis of the show being on the same night as day 1 of NEMHF. Looking at the bands that played Thursday night, it will be readily apparent that there was about zero overlap between the target audience for that bill and a DIY black metal show.

Heading out was a quick hike back, and I didn't get syrupbottled this time; all the better for a quick regeneration to get ready to go out to Worcester on Saturday, as NEMHF, like a decaying fission product, flashed briefly into an interesting state.

Friday, April 01, 2011

What Is This Record I Don't Even XV: W.A.S.P. - Animal (Fuck Like A Beast)

The picture and the controversy is iconic, which makes owning this 12" single worthwhile. Doing the single as a 12" rather than a 7" is still a huge waste of vinyl, and the song, in 2011, is nothing to write home about. At least it's better than the B-side.

What Is This Record I Don't Even XIV: Ramming Speed - Full Speed Ahead

Four punk thrashblasts on a colored-vinyl 7" 33. What's not to like? For some in the Boston scene, that would be the part of the lyrics sheet shown. Stuff like "I love pizza more than my mom" was taking the piss out of pizza thrash at a time when people weren't sure that pizza thrash itself wasn't itself an ironic pisstake. Later events have vindicated the band more than their detractors -- and anyway, if you haven't thrown a pizza around in a moshpit in someone's basement listening to a band like this, what the hell did you do with your years of immaturity exactly?

What Is This Record I Don't Even XIII: Laibach - Sympathy For The Devil

As the packaging should indicate, this record has pretty much fuck all to do with the Rolling Stones song that's supposed to be covered six times on it, and a lot to do with Laibach (and technically-independent Laibach permutations Dreihundert Tausende Verschiedene Krawalle and Germania, in descending order of contribution) taking some lyrics and a few samples and running with it. The result is really cool, and it will take a very hardcore Stones fan to argue that it's not also immensely better than listening to the same song six times straight down.

What Is This Record I Don't Even XII: Coctopus - Twelve Inches Of...

This record only has one side; the flip side, as shown, has some cool diecut artwork instead of music. The music does the presentation justice, too, as the band demonstrated back when I picked this one up, which is always good.

What Is This Record I Don't Even XI: Aus-Rotten - Fuck Nazi Sympathy

Straight-ahead, dirty, shot-from-the-hip antifa punk single. Good yes, groundbreaking no, still cool yes.

What Is This Record I Don't Even X: Doctors' Mob - Headache Machine

As close as I can remember, I got this disc around the time that I was spending periodic amounts of time in Austin, and an Austin band with a clever name was worth picking up for cheap. The music is decent mid-80s alternative, from before Seattle and the mainstream destroyed the idea of alternative. Probably not worth anything, and not as historic as the last one (from my perspective at least), but cool enough to keep around.

What Is This Record I Don't Even IX: Metal-Rock v.1

This is the sort of record that gives this series a point. A comp that looks barely out of bootleg status, issued in France in the early '80s, this is an original example of how the NWOBHM spread to other territories. If I could remember where I got it from, I'd point others to more copies there. And the music is pretty good as well, but if you put this much Saxon and Demon on, that's kind of expected.

What Is This Record I Don't Even VIII: Covenance - Ravaging the Pristine

I got this single off the band for super cheapfree a while back, and it delivers. Crunchy brutal death with hardcore elements, and the vinyl's thick enough to almost stop bullets. I haven't tried dropping it off anything, because I, like, want to listen to it going forward, but you don't get the feeling that you do with some of the mainstream stuff that it's going to snap in your hands taking it off the spindle.

What Is This Record I Don't Even VII: Judas Priest - Point of Entry

Content-wise, this is a Judas Priest album, which means that there's a side's worth of classic songs and a side's worth of phoned-in filler, unevenly distributed. Design-wise, though, this is wicked awesome. Not overdone, and probably pretty cheap to set up and photograph, but that sleeve is fucking art, man. The willingness to do stuff like this, more than the actual artwork, is what people are bitching about when they bemoan the end of the large canvas afforded by the LP sleeve.

What Is This Record I Don't Even VI: Melt Banana - 666

In Which I Continue To Own No Melt Banana In Standard Gauges. This is a 6" 45 of three fast, shrieky, grooving noise-punk songs; good to listen to, maybe not so good to sit down while it's on the record player.

What Is This Record I Don't Even V: Wishbone Ash - Live Dates

This is still a good band, there's still good music on here, and "The Pilgrim" is still awesome live, but there's more of a sense of 'generic '70s band' here -- probably abetted by the double-live format, where you play three songs a side and ramble on and on and on and on. It's cool in places, but you reach the saturation point for that coolness pretty quick.

What Is This Record I Don't Even IV: Wishbone Ash - Pilgrimage

Wow. If I'd known that this record was so classic, I wouldn't've fucked around without a turntable working for so long. The Harris-roots are a little more prominent than seven years later, but the point is really that this album is straight killer. Proto-metal in some parts, thickly prog in others, this immediately reverses the impression I had from No Smoke of these guys as Just Another 70s Band. There are parts of "The Pilgrim" that sound like nothing so much as old Atheist with the distortion turned off -- definitely one to keep for me, and one for the rest of yous to hunt up.

What Is This Record I Don't Even III: Hellhunter / Unholy Goatfucker split

Picked up off the Nachzehrer table a couple weeks back, this got into the stack because it's UGF's only label recording -- and it's going to stay that way, due to the mix of unfortunate and tragic circumstances surrounding the lineup that will probably prevent any iteration of the band from coming back together. The A side, from Cali's Hellhunter, is pretty standard dirty black metal, good if not groundbreaking. The Goatfucker side is the standout: underground black metal fused with expansive atmospheres out of '70s Spanish horror movies, and the real kicker is that this is not studio trickery. The band had the personnel to do all the sounds on this track live, and did so when they played out. There's a lot of good black metal in New England, but nothing precisely like this any more.