Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Behemoth with Watain, The Devil's Blood, and In Solitude [Worcester Palladium, 5/11/2012]

Due to the early start I got moving quicklike, and despite the traffic and having to stop to refuel, I got out and parked and processed in before In Solitude started playing.  Beer in hand and some buttons, a foldy single, and Murrum's demo in my coat, I headed down front, where I ran into Carmine and got a sneak peek at the cover art for their coming demo/record.  (And no, you jerks, it does not involve penises.)  Right exactly on time, though, the band started up.

In Solitude [5/7]
This set showed a less girlfriend-metal side of the band, and a little more vital one, but this was still a short set held back by the band's cycle time and the terrible, terrible house sound.  They didn't really get going until "Witches' Sabbath" -- the last song -- and a song and a half out of those four were unlistenable due to the mismix.  In Solitude are better than they sounded here, and they will sound better in Schlotheim, but not everyone has the freedom to put gigs by international bands by the boards like that, and those who came out to see them got jobbed by the soundboard.

Seriously, this is not fucking hard.  If your first instinct, even using the first band to dial in the board, is not "turn the guitars up to 11, fuck the bass", you probably should not be mixing heavy metal.

The Devil's Blood setting up.  In addition to nailing the '70s guitar tone and composition, the instrumentalists in this band also have the '70s "look like total addicts" thing down pat.

The Devil's Blood [6.5/7]
Another shorter set, but with proper mixing and better material, it came out as ceaseless quality.  This was comparable to and highly reminiscent of the last time I saw the band, but given that this set had some technical problems, maybe a better performance on music and stagecraft.  They are not and will never be the most metal or hardest-hitting band out there, but Ghost trend or no Ghost trend, they're only headed up from here.

Watain [6/7]
This was a new side of Watain for me, with nothing bleeding or on fire, but it was still a damn cool performance.  The stadium-ready black metal that they inherited from Dissection has been further developed while still keeping most of its black metal essentials, and if the economics will probably keep them out of actual arenas, they'll continue to be viable headlining large rooms like this for a while yet.

Standing in the back of the floor area, I had difficulty seeing Erik over the front row.  This, much more than any inadequacy issues (the other 'outfield' members of Watain are all fairly normal-height Swedish males, or 'wicked tall' as it's known around Boston), is probably why he was standing on a box.  This has not been an issue in other venues, either in smaller clubs where the sight angles don't get cut down as much, or on festivals where the stage is higher up.

Done drinking and still uninspired by Behemoth, I went back, nabbed a Watain hoodie, and ended up talking a while with Phil Revo-Coyne on various subjects.  If you haven't seen Revocation in a while, you're going to have the opportunity soon enough; this was a breather a couple weeks in advance of a marathon touring stand that will go around the US twice over June through August with no two days off in a row, and then proceed on to other territories (dates and package not set/announced, so no leaks) later on in the year.  As far as they've gotten, it's still a long way to the top.

The better part of a thousand people go nuts for Nergal.

Behemoth [6/7]
This is probably the most attention I have ever paid to a Behemoth set, and as little as I remain into the band, their execution is definitely at a level where headlining these kinds of packages is warranted, even with the material still being what it is.  There is still a lot of Morbid Angel worship going on here, but the separation is a little cleaner, more of the material more strongly branded.  This was a good, functional, and extremely professional set, and it's good to see Nergal back wearing silly hats rather than a hospital gown (even if "Conquer All" has a life-positive intro now, in what's likely a first for black or black-descended metal), but Behemoth's material is still where it is, largely outside the domain of my interest.

I did stick around through the encore and until the lights went up, but this was still fairly early, and even with taking alternate routes due to holes in the road and getting stopped on a state police roadblock, I managed to get back right about midnight.  I then went on to get shattered watching BVB take the double and Barca steal a last futile point the next day, but that is what it is, and these kinds of delays should be taken for granted at this point.  I have a minivacation at least planned for the end of this week, with three shows and the CL final over Thursday through Saturday, and those should get done up in a more speedy fashion.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Graveheart with Sauriel, Obsidian Tongue, and Weregild [Ralph's, Worcester, 5/3/2012]

Though the (six-six-)sixth anniversary of Metal Thursday was a little less flashy than the fifth (not to mention contained in one night rather than spread over two), it was still, as usual, a pretty kickass bill on offer, and with two bands releasing fairly anticipated CDs.  (Graveheart's record is, so far, only out digitally; the prediction referenced last time is still on for an eventual physical release.)  So it was out across the hills and through the rain, under the light of towns and strip malls bouncing back off the blanketing clouds, jamming Sagas again, because for some reason the wet New England spring calls out for this music.  Also, under the prevailing traffic conditions, the disc will play through exactly once during the ride from Burlington out to the Ralph's parking lot, which is convenient.  I got in, as expected, a little early, and after establishing that there probably weren't going to be any Weregild shirts on offer, I sat about and cooled my heels waiting for the bands to start.

Weregild [5.5/7]
Cape Cod's finest locally-sourced low-fat Amon Amarth substitute have taken their game up a notch since last time, both in design and in execution, despite the fact that they had Kyle from Sentinel covering the second guitar on short notice.  There were a few desyncs that probably came down to that, but for the most part, the band was dead-on, and if they didn't ever get the floor motion they were looking for, even on the final breakdown in "Journey Through Muspellheim", they did get a lot of headbanging and a good strong reaction from a crowd that had not yet begun to drink.  Weregild remains, and likely will continue to remain, so obvious an Amon Amarth clone that their ceiling in terms of exposure is pretty low, but the excellent execution involved here -- to get to the point where you can actually clone Amon Amarth live in the first place --  also guarantees the band a fairly high floor.  This isn't a band that's going to take over the world, but they're likely going to continue to improve local bills around the area for a while yet.

Weregild (permanent members and loanee) concentrating wicked hard.  This is the final and most vital part of cloning Amon Amarth as an original band.  First, you have to write Amon Amarth riffs, which with the body of work they have, is an easily-referenced task.  Then you need to tweak your instrumental and vocal tone to match; with experience, the right gear, and some trial and error, this is also eminently doable.  Then comes the hard part: ceaseless precision.  It's not immediately obvious, but a lot of Amon Amarth's separation from other bands, and how they got to the top of the game, is that they are incredibly precise about staying locked in and keeping all of the guitars exactly on top of each other.  This is, of course, wicked hard to do, especially in a small club where most of the sound is coming out of the cabs rather than the PA and the monitors can be intermittent, but it's also expected if you're going to try to sound like Amon Amarth.  Weregild's commitment to precision, even as here at the expense of looking at the audience rather than their own hands, is what keeps them on the right side of the enormous gulf between "cool Amon Amarth clone" and "failbad Amon Amarth ripoff".

Obsidian Tongue [6/7]
In the past, I've had concerns about how far Obsidian Tongue would be able to take what they're doing as a guitar-and-drums duo.  Six months on and with a full-length album under their belts, those concerns have been convincingly laid to rest via a fully-developed and significantly diverse set of third-wave black metal.  Neither excessively hipster nor necro for its own sake, OT manage to convincingly balance their atmospheric and raw elements as well as keep the music vital despite the reduced instrumentation.  They dropped in a couple keyboard passages for effect, and since this was a local show, were able to bring Christina up out of the audience to do her parts on "Distant, Residual", but for the most part, this set was guitar, drums, and two throats, and of this proved to be entirely sufficient.

Brendan contemplating the infinite.

Naturally, in this break, I picked up OT's new record and also a shirt, and continued to weigh the options on Sauriel's stuff.  They didn't have the full packaged CD yet, so they were giving away burns in half-height cases with the insert, and though I was not crazy about having to take home another shirt (I purged like 30 a couple months ago, and the stacks have built right the fuck back up again) in order to give the band money, I remain reluctant to take CDs with actual production value on them without paying.  Had I known that these were MP3CDs instead of something with uncompressed audio on them, maybe I'd've been less reluctant, but things worked out the way they eventually worked out.

Sauriel [5/7]
I hadn't seen Sauriel since they were putting out their demo seventeen months ago; in the intervening, they've gotten a little more deathy and a little more vital, but are on the cusp of another member change, on this gig bringing in a new drummer and saying farewell to a guitarist.  (The incipient sound changes are still undefined of course, but more significant of the fact is that Rob didn't really deserve to have his last show with Sauriel be the one where he lost his balance and fell over backwards into his amp 30 seconds into the first song.  Still happened.)  On this sample, playing the new Akasha record pretty much straight down in order, they showed a sound more inspired by the likes of Behemoth and Belphegor in its mix of death into black metal, but independent of those influences even if they stayed within that generally mainstream ouevre.  It's decent, to be sure, but given the members' previous history, there's more that they can -- and should, in the future, be able to -- do to distinguish themselves.

Sauriel gets Chris (Smite The Righteous, ex-The Accursed) up to draw some "Ritualistic Circles".  Seeing this band is in a way pretty bittersweet; everyone involved is/was in fairly major NWOSDM-driven bands back when "Gothenchusetts" was a thing, and now, they're playing NEMHF-mainstage black metal and having internet bampots question the continued relevance of their sound.  Acaro notwithstanding, the tide on that part of the scene has well and truly set.

In the present, though, I still did get Sauriel's new CD, picked up a bunch of stickers to take over, and ended up via the pay-the-band impulse with a shirt that I can wear but won't; it's on the pile with the Herugrim one for export.  These things work out, but pack space is, thanks to having to take shirts again, getting more limited faster than anticipated.  If you want CDs exported, take action quick.

Graveheart [6/7]
This set started a little slow, but got cranked up as the band got going, building to a frantic and hammering climax as the floor finally, finally got moving, partly due to "civilian" "tourists" and partly due to Chris and Samantha passing out gratis whiskey shots.  (Those who dodged the cover weren't supposed to partake, but there were enough of us stalwarts not partaking due to an impending hour-plus drive through the depredations of the state police that it probably came out in the wash.)  Alcohol and metal girls flipping out, in addition to the band's Metallica-Slayer-Sepultura-based deathed-up thrash hitting into a couple of their better tunes right at that point, got things proper violent, and if the "tourists" started out taking the piss, it was pretty clear that at least for a moment, they were into it for real by the end.  Graveheart's mix of the accessible and the extreme tends to work that way, and the band delivered a really killer second half after a good first half, and ended the night on a definite high note.  We're still waiting for a physical release of Return of the Curse of the Creature's Ghost -- though you can download it, and as a wag noted last night, you can't download alcohol -- but when that does arrive, it'll be a releaseshow and a half.

Graveheart chugging away (trololololol) on "Drinking From A Horn".

After it was clear no encore was on offer, I beat feet for the exits and got home shortly after 2, with a minimal exhaustion load, and accordingly got this turned around quicklike.  I go on call tonight, but if everything goes right, I may make it to Sabaton and/or Black Pyramid before the shift finishes.  We'll see.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Inquisition with Abazagorath, Morgirion, Nachzehrer, and Herugrim [Middle East Upstairs, Cambridge, 4/28/2012]

Saturdays normally I devote to hiking, fitba, and excessive alcohol consumption in and around Cambridge; this show threw that for a loop, but it was an exception I was glad to make, especially as it turned out to be what will surely finish off as one of the highlight shows of the year, if not the top of that stack.  It'd seriously somehow been nearly 3 years since the last show at the Middle East Upstairs, but it's a space that's personally associated with really good kvltic black metal shows -- Sigh in '02 and Watain in '07 being particular highlights.

Getting in presented a fair minimum of hassle and delay, and left me enough time to scoop Inquisition's available catalog, though not a shirt (out of fat bastard sizes), and waste several minutes racking my brains to try and remember if I already had Nachzehrer's Pestilence... on CD.  I never did recall corectly, but it turns out I didn't; oh well, have to pick it up off them at Horna then.

Herugrim [6/7]
The Halley's Comet of Boston black metal came around again, with a significantly different lineup than four years ago, but to the same impressive, high-grade effect.  The Black Circle casts a really long shadow, to the extent that most of the bands on this gig, like most black metal bands going even now, can be described as having Norwegian elements to them, but there are few that carry that sound forward as legitimately as Herugrim does.  This was real black-water-in-the-crag music, even without the woodwind elements (well-done and definitely vindicating the decision to play all of it live on real instruments rather than resorting to keys or playback), and it made a strong impression on the rest of the audience as well.  We only got three songs, but Herugrim songs tend to run longer, and the real point is that Herugrim played a show again, which is something that should happen more frequently than it's tended to in the past.

Wilford Grimley (kidding, Steve) leads the line for Herugrim.

I picked up a Herugrim shirt afterwards, but unwilling to stiff the band the last dollar (blame venue beer prices for leaving my wallet out of phase), I doubled up and got a second, which is going to get lugged over unless the band needs their XL back and wants to swap out for a smaller size.  It was also around here that I also picked up Abazgorath's available recordings.

Nachzehrer [6/7]
Nachzehrer was up from last time back to five members, at least for most of this set, and it manifested itself in a better and more familiar sound, at least once Eric had gotten his axe restrung after blowing a string midway through the second song, and once the band (as per Mark afterwards) had gotten used to the unusual experience of playing with actual working monitors and being able to hear themselves.  This was a good, strong, Nachzehrer set, still thrashy but unrepentantly black metal, and if they've done better in the past, it's a certain indicator that they will do better in the future -- in all likelihood, including that gig with Horna and Kommandant next month.

Nachzehrer spitting fire.

This incarnation, at least, of Nachzehrer as a five-piece properly belongs to history; Eric's moved across the country, and that's a bit of a commute for doing local shows.  We'll see if they go on with four, or if they decide to get another guitarist in on a permanent basis.

Morgirion [6/7]
It had been less long since the last time I saw Morgirion, but this was another strong step forward for another really good band.  They've ditched the keyboards (at least in this outing), but not the abrasive attitude, or the piss-and-vinegar intensity that characterized this set from start to finish.  This was an excellent set of balls-out black metal that stood out even on a night like this where there was a lot of that on offer, and on this evidence, it's more likely than not that Morgirion will follow Ipsissimus (who they were filling in for in this slot) out of the CT scene and into wider recognition.

Connor attempts to devour the mic.

Abazagorath [6/7]
Abzagorath took the sound back in a more Norse direction, generally, over the course of a long, quality set.  Some people apparently felt it was too long, and it likely did push the end of the show out further, but I didn't notice much, partly due to gooving on the music and partly due to already, thanks to the heat and the effort spent getting up too early and running around all over the place in the morning, being on the point of falling asleep standing up.  It was a slight down-step after Morgirion, but cool music nonetheless, and I wasn't going to begrudge them the time spent playing it.

Nit-pickers will notice that the four arbitrary numbers pasted next to the band names above have all been identical.  This does not and should not suggest identical performances, just the truth that what all of these bands provided was within the same generally-wicked-good range.  Those who were there will have enough information to impose a total order on what they saw, and those who didn't, well, what the hell was your problem, this didn't finish selling out till like two weeks before.  (Those not in the Boston area are exempt from this requirement, but their interest in a total ordering of subjective reactions to this or any other performance is in itself suspect.  Read the words, check the bands out on Youtube, and decide for yourself if said words are a load of baloney.)

Inquisition [6.5/7]
This set didn't quite get up to the full mark, but it is likely as close as a relatively conventional band like Inquisition is ever going to get as a two-piece.  Despite the hypnotic necro-folk nature of a lot of Inquisition's stuff and previous exhausion issues, I didn't fall asleep here either, and got the full measure of an excellent performance.  Inquisition can carry off their stuff live as a duo, while Darkthrone apparently can't, and the music only benefits, in the live setting, from less-froggy vocals and the opportunity for mass crowd participation.  Maybe it's not kvlt to pound your fist to black metal, but if you're concerned about that, you don't write with such lyric folk rhythms, and you definitely don't make the chorus to "Empire of Lucferian Race" something that some idiot who's never listened to your band before can sing along to after looking at a poster literally once.  Fun times, and despite the no-mosh regs and the Cambridge PD showing up to enforce them, nobody got arrested, despite some declarations of intent.  Not quite Sigh for capping off a show here, but definitely comparable to Watain.

Rather than hanging around in the vain hope of an encore, I decided to split, aided in this decision by the fact that I was on the point of passing out from exhausion.  Somehow, I got out and drove back without falling asleep behind the wheel or bouncing the car off anything for any other reasons, and slept the sleep of the dead well into the second half of the last OF ever (hopefully).  More lessons for the summer; this was a long and strenuous day, but it was done in long pants and a longsleeve under my full-weight jacket, and two out of those three parameters are going to be otherwise in Schlotheim....and in Dinkelsbuehl festival composition means I'll probably not have to stay up for the last headliners.  Coming next: Metal Thursday, in which Graveheart releases an album OMGWTFBBQ -- and ahead of schedule.