Friday, June 22, 2012

Worcester Death Fest [Worcester Palladium, 6/10/2012]

This might have been more accurately written "Scott Lee Finds A Way To Have 21 Mostly-Local Bands Open For Six Feet Under Tour Fest", or I could have just covered the bands I did see in the title, but the first is too long and the second is way too long, as despite continuing my tradition of not watching Six Feet Under close out festivals, I did see enough of about seventeen bands to take down concrete descriptions.  Acculturated as I am to German experience, this barely met the definition of a festival.  Festivals take place outdoors, over multiple days, and pack in a minimum average of ten bands per day.  This "fest" only met one of the criteria, but that's not been a problem in the past, and in the "goddamn everyone shows up and hangs out" department, it did capture a bit of the festival feel.

After shaking off the cobwebs of the night before -- I was on call, and therefore had to play it fine, but even a pint an hour of Guinness adds up if you keep at it for eight hours -- I organized some food and some cash and headed on out, rolling up to the Palladium, around back streets due to a weird roadblock on Major Taylor, in just enough time to stow my steel in the vehicle and hide my pen under my belt before going up to get my ticket and get processed in.  I nosed around a bit and got a CD off Totality before heading down to the main stage; the upstairs didn't look set up yet, and the nebulous rumors that I'd heard waiting in line were indicative that most of the bands I actually wanted to see would be going on sooner rather than later.

Tony (Scaphism) and Brendan (Blood of the Gods) standing by a cairn of guitar cases.  Load in first, find out when/where you're playing after.

Scaphism [5.5/7]
Despite a sparse crowd in the cavernous downstairs, Scaphism got the fest off to a good start with humor, irony, and a good performance of most of their best material.  This wasn't that long a set, but Scaphism tunes tend to be kind of short, so they got a fair few out around Tony bantering with the crowd as well as with other bands setting up on the balcony.  They handled the new space pretty well, but might have brought more energy to the upstairs with a smaller gulf between the band and the audience.  Regardless, this was a good performance, and one that started the fest off on the right foot.

Scaphism on the big stage.

Hivesmasher [6/7]
I practically never goddamn see this band, so my sample space is a little constricted.  From the last time, they've lost their keys/samples guy, but if anything picked the energy up a notch.  In some places the songs seemd to run down after about a minute and a half, but this is why I tend not to listen to grindcore in the first place.  For what they do, though, Hivesmasher are really, really good, and when they're on, in those 60- to 100-second bursts, they are dead fucking on to an extent that barely any bands in the region can stand in with them.  All around killer set.

Aaron Heinold, the secret-Azn Barney Greenway, in a rare standing-still moment.

Since the upstairs bar still wasn't open, I went downstairs to get a beer, if I recall correctly some merch, and happened to see a bit of...

Eyes of the Dead [4/7]
I had not seen this band before and did not get a positive ID on them until checking in with the running order several hours later.  They did not, in the approximately half-set sample that I got from them, do a whole lot to drive me to make that ID, or to check them out on record.  From what I heard at least, they were putting out decently-executed but ultimately replacement-level death-thrash, along old lyrical tropes that didn't do much to grab the attention either.  On festivals, you will get bands like this; decent enough to fill out the lineup in the middle of the day, but fairly interchangeable with the promoter's other options.

Midway through, I ran into Juan from Untombed, who passed along two important bits of info: 1) Spain drew with Italy in what was probably the most entertaining match of the Euros to that point and 2) Sexcrement was going on next upstairs.  I promptly changed zones; I lost a little in terms of total music seen, but getting in place to see all of Sexcrement was more important than making it to the end of EotD's set.

Sexcrement [6/7]
That decision turned out to be well-justified.  I'd missed Sexcrement's release show, but they filled a lot of that value back in, pulling most of the material in this set off the new one, which turns out, unsurprisingly, to be as sleazily slamalicious as their previous output.  There were fewer (well, at least apparently fewer) trannies around than previous, and Adam didn't get his dick out, but even when you take out the chaos that swirls around them, Sexcrement are a damn good death metal band, and they put out a pretty damn good set on this outing.

I went upstairs to the merch area to pick up the two -- as it turns out, they reissued XXX Bargain Bin -- Sexcrement discs I was short, and by the time I got the purchase done and went back down, Blood of the Gods was setting up.  By this time I was running out of bands that I wanted to see, but hadn't yet, and Untombed and Dysentery were going to be going on later downstairs, so I stuck around rather than going to sample the downstairs.

Blood of the Gods [6/7]
This decision also turned out to be correct, as Blood of the Gods took up the challenge of the space (biggest I've seen them on since Church, iirc) and smashed out a strong, diverse, and yet unified set of their bruising sludge-death.  Their crust roots are still evident, if in nothing else than the fact that they're coming at death metal from a different direction from literally every other band on this bill, but they've moved beyond that point and easy Entombed comparisons to making something new, cool, and almost completely independent.  This was probably the best set I've seen from these guys, and the trend looks to be further up from here.

So that I wouldn't miss Untombed, and also because there was music there and a set change in the upstairs, I swapped zones again, and managed to catch most of Conflagration despite not making a positive ID on tha band, again, until I finally ran across the running order.

Conflagration [4/7]
I hadn't seen this band before, and despite my general distaste for the style, I tried to give them a fair shot, but ended up still with the impression that something was just off.  To a certain degree, I could pick out that this main-sequence metallic-MAHXC band (if you don't know what that is, you apparently haven't ever been to the NEMHF) was fighting the mixing board's legendary badness, but in places, it seemed like they were fighting against their own composition and arrangements as well.  They had some good bits in a few places, but not quite enough to convince me to check out their stuff on record and to see to what degree the downstairs board was fucking them over, and to what degree I just didn't care for the music.  They had a decently appreciative crowd/mosh melee, so apparently people into this style might want to check them out, but for the auld, crabbit, and bepanzert, sets like this are more part of the price to be paid for having festivals.

After Conflagration ended, with Untombed coming up, the floor pretty much 'rotated', with its former occupants clearing out and a new cohort, self included, coming down to fill the space.  There were, obviously, more people filling in now than we'd started the afternoon off with, but there was still a fair bit of space, and I was able to get pretty well forward without great difficulty.

Untombed [5.5/7]
More than the other bands that I'd seen moving up to the big stage for the first time, Untombed seemed to struggle a little at the start, whether from the gulf down to the audience or from the different aural environment (whether actual working monitors, or the Palladium-standard mix getting mispromoted through them).  Once they got their feet under them, though, they steadily improved through the course of the set and ended in characteristically strong fashion.  They'll be playing more sets in more intimate venues in the future, but they did a good job with their shot at the big stage, and particularly with keeping the crowd involved despite the distance.

Dave whips up the crowd for Untombed.

I'd gotten a look at the running order by this point, and 'running' was definitely the operative word.  The last three non-slotted bands that I had a particular interest in were on one after the other, and I had to move pretty quick about it.

Totality [5.5/7]
The main attribute from Totality on this exposure was their relentless tightness; as noted earlier, this is an important attribute for death metal bands working their way up, but the material that was on offer in that disciplined presentation was pretty much where Totality has been since I started seeing them.  The guitar solos have improved from that sample, earning the band some extra credits, and their merch distribution off the stage comes off as slightly less rockstar, but Totality is still a band yet becoming, and not quite where they want themselves to be yet.  They're getting there, and if they can take that step up in songwriting to match their execution, they'll be that much closer.

Totality keep it tight.

Dysentery [6.5/7]
As the afternoon wore on, bands got longer sets, and more people got into the venue, making the clip-overs from one set into the start of the next longer, and travel time between the upstairs and the downstairs longer still.  I missed more of Dysentery's set than other bands that got clipped because of this, but still managed to get up relatively close and in about the action, for about 75% of a weapons-grade slam hammering.  Dysentery had played this building before, though not as I've seen them downstairs, but they commanded the large downstairs stage and decently-filled downstairs room with as much aplomb and ferocity as they would have on a run-of-the-mill O'Brien's outing.  My knees still keep me out of pits, but even just listening to the music and holding the pit edge was a pure battle; the band could hardly have been heavier if they were throwing solid rubber bricks the size of shipping containers off the stage.

The dance floor is lit up for Dysentery.

Excrecor [5/7]
Head blasted straight in half, I got into the upstairs in good time for Excrecor, who unfortunately seemed to be having an off night.  Some of it may have been down to the drum monitors, which the band called out to the venue staff as just plain not working, and which could easily have been responsible for some of the desyncs, and some of it was probably the mix, which even in the upstairs seldom gets much past 'functional' for non-nationals, but the most succinct and likely explanation is that the band just had a down set, as bands will from time to time.  Excrecor's material remains what it is, and got a decent performance here, but the band's played more enjoyable sets in the past and will do better in the future than they did on this sample.

At this point, the furious running to and fro was over, and I could spend more inter-band time either browsing the merch stacks, or as I did for most of The Summoned, getting some foods down.  Eight of the nine local openers that I was actually interested in seeing had gone on by this point, and thanks to hard going, I managed to see most of the sets for all of the eight bands in question.

The Summoned [NR]
I heard only bits and pieces of this band, around transactions for food, beer, and merch, some of which were interesting melodeath pieces, and some of which were pieces of less interesting retreaded deathcore.  In total, though, there were not enough of those pieces, nor strong enough connections between them, to make any kind of informed assessment about what the band is like, let alone how this set was on any kind of subjective level.  I did pick up a CD from them, and found a mix of styles similar to that noted, executed at about the level you should expect from a good eastern-New-England local band, but not having a complete impression of this set, I can't accurately tell how much it varied from that recorded performance or in what direction.

Nemecide [4/7]
I had heard of this band before, and seen their name around, but I hadn't actually seen them live or happened on a demo yet.  After this set, I have more of an impression of why this was the case.  Nemecide's Bostonian blend of Behemoth and Killswitch Engage was decently executed, but not especially interesting, and so completely removed from the sound and culture of the local shows that I do go to as to seem to have originated on another planet.  In a way it's good to go to festivals to see that there's such a broad range of viable bands out there, and large audiences for everyone when that range can be unified, but the opportunity to avoid bands like this and overdose on the kvlter than kvlt is why I go to Party.San....and increasingly in recent years, not to NEMHF.

As noted above, I had seen the running order by this point, and yet elected to stay put.  Some of this was due to the fact that even an average metal performance is pretty decent, and inertia is a powerful force, but part of it was the conviction that the remaining bands, upstairs and down, were pretty much of a piece, and I gained more by resting up for later than I might theoretically have been losing by running around.  It all works out in the end.

Conforza [4.5/7]
As it was, I ended up seeing the whole of Conforza's set, another first exposure to a band that I'd seen mentioned on a fair number of bills but not actually seen live before.  They got a good response from the crowd for their performance of a technically proficient deathcore set, though the reigning impression from my seat was of a sound thoroughly past its sell-by date, one that might have resonated a few years ago in the company of Ion Dissonance or Despised Icon, but in 2012 was more just echoing back.  That crowd response indicates there's still an audience for it -- it's just that I'm pretty sure I won't need to take active measures to be a part of it going forward.

The two foregoing notes should contradict any notion that I've lost rigor in score distributions, or pull punches talking about local bands.  The real reason that scores have converged as they have, and that I don't savage bands too often, is that lately I just don't see a lot of bands that I don't like.  There is little that separates Nemecide or Conforza from the national acts in their respective styles that you would see at, for example, the NEMHF -- it's just that I don't go to the NEMHF any more, in large part to avoid seeing seven hours of bands that I mostly don't care for and would be pasting 3s and 4s on, with accompanying commentary pretty much exactly in line with the above.  Some fans may take comfort in that assertion; for the rest, oh wow, an old jerk in an armored kutte doesn't like deathcore.  Shock horror.  Send me hate mail, I'll publish it.

Vattnet Viskar [6/7]
I moved up again for this band, if only to catch them as at the time of signing, since it had been a while.  What I got was worth it, an intense and driven set of third-wave black metal that shed a lot of its alleged hipster aspects, following Fell Voices more closely than Wolves In The Throne Room.  (Observant TWBM elitists/completists will notice that this merely ameliorates, rather than straight-up eliminates, the nebulous accusations of hipsterism.)  Though their history is fairly short, and their antecedents deemed by some as "politically unreliable", it's difficult to see on this set how Vattnet have not earned their 'promotion'; they were fully able to carry both the large stage and the overwhelmingly death-metal crowd, with enough poise and violence to be able to take this sound on the road, and avoid the drop for longer than the couple months the band are estimating it at right now.  There are going to still be a few dead-enders who begrudge them the nod, and probably a couple more who'll assert that on material alone, another band from the area (Obsidian Tongue, say) should have been the one to carry the third-wave banner out of the Boston area, but if Vattnet can continue to hit these marks (and kick Liturgy in the goolies at any opportunity), most people will be fine with them getting the exposure.

Vattnet peel the layers back.  (Also: footwear doesn't show up, but uniformly met with the censors' approval.)

Fit For An Autopsy [5/7]
The last of the localish bands up, Fit For An Autopsy dumped out an earthshaking set of competently-tuned deathcore that ultimately came out with a lot more hitting power than originality.  Despite this, it was a decent time, as this music usually is at this high a level of delivery -- and Nate had probably the best-tuned banter of the night, even with Frank Mullen's gems later.  In every opportunity to talk to the crowd, he continually barked up the next three bands: Revo, Fetus, and Suffocation alone, with never a mention, for the whole run of the set, of Six Feet Under.  I regularly ignore Six Feet Under as well, and would end up going home on the night without seeing them, but it was still humorous to get this attitude from someone on the bill, on the stage, where he'd have to deal with the wrath of publicists and tour managers.

Revocation [6/7]
Though there may have been a tour or two that I missed, this was at least the first time I'd seen Revocation on the big stage at the Palladium, and they handled it well -- more accurately, they flat killed it, despite no Anthony (whether a tendonitis flare-up, or other non-band-life issues) and not really enough time.  Most of the set was off Chaos of Forms (entirely appropriate, as it's the latest that they have out), but there was a fair amount of older stuff as well, including opening with "Re-Animaniac", which just goes to show what the hell I know.  They've done better on smaller stages, but this kicked a lot of ass, and when they come back next month, they'll likely be more in command of the larger stage.

Revocation slashing into "Dismantle The Dictator".

It's worth mentioning that while the sound downstairs was really not that bad for most of the bands, it took a definite step up for Revocation and the bands following them, either because they got a real sound check on arriving at the venue in the morning, or because the touring bands brought their own sound guy, who was less of a boots-on-the-head] than the normal Palladium knob-twirlers.  I was watching the bands, not the soundboard, so I can't tell for certain, but the improvement was marginal enough to suggest the former rather than the latter.

Dying Fetus [6/7]
Though I moved off the floor and back up onto the terraces for Dying Fetus, the effect carried all the way back.  This was another and brutal strong set, but a little more weighted towards the band's older material than I've seen from them before, likely synching up with the re-releases of older material that I indulged in at the merch stand.  It was pretty decent runtime-wise, but still felt a little short; maybe due to closing out with "Kill Your Mother, Rape Your Dog", or maybe they went back to that classic grindblast pisstake due to runtime constraints.  Either way, this set was relentlessly impressive, and to a certain degree could have kept going for another hour and still left the audience wanting more.

Suffocation [7/7]
Suffocation were technically another "name local" along the lines of Vattnet or FFAA, but the set that they delivered was fully headliner-worthy (Note: Suffo-Fetus-Revo-FFAA, not a totally terrible tour package, either artistically or as a commercial proposition).  Despite the lineup changes (no Mike, boo to the wasted energy executing his parts), Suffocation delivered a monster set of ceaseless slams with ceaseless professionalism.  We got a couple tunes off the forthcoming album (due to start recording in August to drop next year, iirc) in with a good mix of newer and older stuff -- with a definite concentration on Effigy..., which the band, at least per Frank, appears to have accepted as their definitive record -- and uniformly first-rate banter from Frank, who kept it focused as well as funny, and got to the punchline of his Miami-bath-salts-zombie joke before any of the Celtics fans in the crowd bounced any empty containers off his skull.  Most Suffocation sets, as the sample space of the last eight years indicates, do not turn out quite this good, but when they do, they are fucking killer.

Suffocation only finished up at 10 PM, but at this point I'd been thrashing out for 9 hours, including that frantic four hours back and forth, back and forth, at the start, and was worn down to a bare nub of permanently-dissatisfied kutte-wearing elitist.  I considered things over, and decided to take a pass on Six Feet Under in favor of not dying on the way home or sleeping through my alarm Monday morning.  Both of those turned out to be close calls -- don't listen to Woods of Ypres if you're concerned about falling asleep behind the wheel -- but ultimately I got back, unpacked the four shirts and eight CDs -- two Sexcrement, one Totality, one Dying Fetus, one The Summoned, and three, from Abacinate and Hammer Fight plus a Scion (spit) sampler that I'd gotten Relapse-grab-bagged while picking up a Revocation shirt -- and plowed through the work week largely unaffected.  Of course, the recuperation time and the time needed to actually write this up put in some delays, but you do what you can.

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