Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mausoleum with Engorge, Blessed Offal, and Untombed [Ralph's, Worcester, 7/26/2012]

As I continue to do ridiculous things to get physically ready to stop being a largely-abstemious desk jockey and spend two weeks as a full-time, hard-drinking, outdoor-living metalhead, a phrase continues to repeat: this also is training.  This show, not as much as the frequent long-distance hikes around Boston carrying heavy gear loads poorly balanced, also fell into that category: with the weather promising apocalypse, me being on short rest from Agalloch the night before, and a bill consisting of locals I see all the time and touring bands that I've not been inspired by (I remember giving Cadaveric Displays of Ghoulish Ghastliness a dismissive 4/7 back when I was still writing album capsules, but apparently that one never got publicly posted), any other time of year, this would have been a coinflip.  As it was, though, I headed out without any hesitation, and managed to both get in before the lightning blowing up the sky ahead of me to the south and west outbound on the Pike turned into much actual rain, and get all the way through the show.

Untombed [5.5/7]
As they've done frequently of late, Untombed started a little slow, but built through the duration of the set, kicking out a solid, quality outing of chunky, brutal death metal.  Persistent problems with Dave's mic, mostly relating to the cables' tendency to either not work or get themselves snagged on stuff and unplug themselves, prevented this from being as smooth as it could have gone, but this turned out to be a good Untombed set regardless.  I'm not sure that the last time they played out here, they had the two-vocal lineup, and Ralph's doesn't see a lot of bands with two mic-gripping vocalists (at least not on Metal Thursdays) regardless, but in the future the sound guy will at least know what to expect when routing wires.

Untombed radiating extra heat to render super red.  No, not really.  This is just my phone camera being bad at it, as usual, but it was extremely hot in the upstairs, hotter than the week before despite lower external temperatures.

I spent most of this break doing more "also training", which to go into in greater detail is really TMI.  The normal SOP in the US is to avoid crapping at shows, ever, because the toilets are 99+% of the time a disaster area, but it's unavoidable at festivals, and beer placement and not dropping stuff down the john is also a levelable skill.  No more on this one.

Blessed Offal [5.5/7]
Others have commented that Blessed Offal stole the show on this night, and while I'm not sure I agree 100% with that (see arbitrary numbers pasted next to bandnames), their development continues, despite replacing Scott with Paul from Nachzehrer.  This was his first live appearance, so it's understandable that the overall effect was a little off peak, but this will be remedied with time, and it's not like this wasn't a damn cool set regardless.  Blessed Offal continues to thrive on lows and thick, punishing brutal death metal, but this sample showed a few more blackened touches than they've had recently, for a thoroughly cool overall effect.  They've been steadily cutting themselves a place as one of Boston's better death metal bands for a while now, and it's going to be really cool to see where they take this sound going forward.

Blessed Offal on the verge of melting down.  Camera resolution is inadequate to show Ross dissolving all over his guitar.  Did I mention it was super hot in here?

I picked up Mausoleum's new record and a Scaremaker disc in this break, and got comped a Kommandant promo and a bunch of stickers, which may or may not get into the merchpack.  I didn't drop a ten and clean Blessed Offal out of their promo CDs, partly because I'm queasy about buying stuff in order to give it away (implies endorsement or something, beyond the implicit endorsement of carrying it in the first place), but I did buy a shirt, which is getting worn across the pond for advertising purposes, especially if weather conditions more resemble '09 than '10.  I continue to have too many shirts, but when bands put stuff out in different base colors, I can rationalize it away by defining the current state as "too many black shirts".

BASS NERD ALERT BASS NERD ALERT.  All this time, and Steinbergers still get the same reaction.

Engorge [5.5/7]
By the usual means of "not finding out about touring bands until they go on, because I am a lazy overnighter who works too much", I didn't make the connection that this Engorge (and worse, there is only a couple of them, unlike other bands that match 'grep *gorge*', compounding the fail) is the one with Kyle Necrogod in it; this runs good and bad, bad in that had I known, I'd've been more motivated to go to the show, and good in that had I known, I might have had expectations that might have gone unmet.  As it was, with no expectations, I got a good but not superlative of blended first- and second-wave black metal with some death touches, though one that came off as a little short, maybe because or in spite of occasional blackouts from some combination of heat and exhaustion.  This was a decent set, and I'd like to see them again in some setting that doesn't involve the risk of falling asleep standing up, but I'm sure that I did miss a little just on not being able to keep my eyes open.

Engorge roaring away.

I'd had this happen before with Inquisition, and this time I had a much longer drive on the back end.  I had to do something, and fortunately I had countermeasures available.  As I do in the field, I filled up my hat with water from the bathroom sink, then poured most of it out and slapped it back on.  This improvised towel/cooling system needed refreshing before I headed home, but it did keep me awake all the way through Mausoleum and out onto the road, so it did work.  One to note.

Mausoleum [6/7]
As should have been expected, Mausoleum is still in the same place compositionally, on stage in 2012, as they were in 2004 on disc.  However, it works in this setting, and their live delivery was certainly impressive, even if the music under it remained fairly basic brutal death metal, and as consistently about zombies lyrically as Running Wild is about pirates.  Zombies may be getting played out, and there were a couple legit desync issues on a couple songs, but Mausoleum regardless were able to keep the basics of their sound, straight-ahead death metal in the vein of Autopsy and early Death with a lot of traded leads, still sounding vital and interesting.  This band is still not one that I'm going to be following obsessively, but on the evidence of this set, I'm definitely going to go back to the first record and jam "Tombs of the Blind Dead" a bunch.  Very cool.

Mausoleum, back from the funeral.

After Mausoleum closed up, it turned out that I wasn't going to pick up any Deathgod Messiah material (which is a shame, because they are a cool band who deserve more exposure) for export, so I put new water in my hat and hit the road.  Work and another show over the weekend wedged things tight, but here this writeup is finished, and the backlog substantially cut down.

Agalloch with Taurus [Middle East, Cambridge, 7/25/2012]

The previously-announced Voivod/Revocation gig/tour having collapsed, the calendar really cleared up for this show.  Hammers of Misfortune were playing right next door, but as noted previously, when you can see Agalloch, you generally should see Agalloch -- and on this tour, especially so, for reasons detailed a few grafs down.  The drive over was a little more intense than necessary, with the obligatory traffic jam getting off 93 made worse by a goddamn motorcade barrelling down the fully loaded ramp, making us poor schmucks without a platoon of motorcycle cops escorting us get out of the way.  The holdups meant that I didn't get over to the venue until well after notional "doors", but with the Middle East being the Middle East, still, this wasn't much of an obstacle.  I skipped out on the plan C ("drink at the Phoenix and watch the end of the Liverpool game") and got in line, and soon enough I was in, paid, frisked, beered, and trying to figure out with Agalloch merch was least likely to be full of dirt and twigs.  I settled on Faustian Echoes and a shirt, and missed out on the Self Spiller stuff on this pass, because the lights and noise down the front indicated that Taurus was going to be starting up.

Taurus and some filmic backdrops.  In the year 2012, this also is a metal show.

Taurus [5.5/7]
The net effect of Taurus, as indicated above, was something far outside the normal bounds of what gets considered as metal, but the components of the sound are easily understood and sourced.  The music, despite the restriction to drums and guitar, was low-and-slow grinding doom filled out with a lot of samples and electronic playback, overlaid with harsh, heavily processed vocals that instantly reminded me of Finland's Eyescale, though people who actually listen to this music regularly will probably have a less obscure source for that sound.  They lost the audience pretty convincingly -- in 2012, Agalloch is pretty damn accessible, and Taurus if not quite kvlt is at least Brechtian-hard -- but continued to lay the material down, and if the music didn't always hold the attention, Ashley's drumming did.  In addition to being kinda SCHWÄÄÄÄRM (as German hipsters might rate it), she also is about the second most violent drummer I've ever seen after Mike Mechannibal.  Using a lot of reverse-grip and marching-bass beaters, she thrashed the unholy fuck out of her kit, even when nominally staying "in the pocket", her strokes starting back at the shoulder and then bouncing back that far off the equipment again.  I don't pretend to be a student of drum technique, but the violence was appealing, and even more than that, was completely real in a set that was maybe 30% prerecorded.  They likely played all or nearly all of Life, and if it was good enough to me to merit a couple more minutes (I like Eyescale and Brechtian alienation, not to mention hipster chick drummers who seem just about to destroy their gear), most of the people there were probably quite ready for Agalloch to go on.

The band is not linked not because they are popular and well-known, but because there is fuck-all information directly trackable about them on the internet.  The members' antecedents may be of interest; Dark Castle is at least a doom metal band and still in operation, but Purple Rhinestone Eagle is both defunct and packs an influence list that looks like Regretsy's tag cloud.

Agalloch [7/7]
Time to fist-pumping by mulleted girl with forearm sleeves: third song, ~1:50 into "Black Lake Nithstang".  (Ok, not fair, Cambridge is Cambridge after all.)  There were also a few sound issues here and there, but even with those problems, and a slightly more prominent incidence of hipsterism, this was a unilaterally better Agalloch set than the last time around.  How so?  Well, two solid hours of Agalloch is how so, especially when the normal non-encore part of the set closes with the full version of "In The Shadow of Our Pale Companion" into "Kneel To The Cross".  That alone would have filled up my expectations bucket, but we also got a decent amount of other Mantle stuff and about half of Pale Folklore (yes, including "Dead Winter Day", which still sounds as vital and awesome at nearly fifteen years' distance), as well as what will likely be a rare take of nearly all of "Faustian Echoes", basically just minus the sampled dialogue.  On this set, Agalloch mostly still presented themselves as the enduring leading light of third-wave black metal, but also took a significant chunk of their runtime to demonstrate the transformational sound that got us to this point, where the definition of black metal has been expanded to the point of being exploded, and dudes from Sonic Youth are joining Twilight.  There is a backlash building if not already here, just as the first wave was a backlash against the superficiality of the more radio-friendly end of the NWOBHM, the second wave was a backlash against the sweatpants-and-lipservice-to-Satan of death metal, and the third wave has been a backlash against pro forma black leather and pointy guitars, but no matter in what form black metal re-emerges or where it happens, Agalloch remain good and talented enough to keep forging forward with this stuff, even when the tide of the current wave will eventually set.

Agalloch in the waters of the Black Lake.

Eventually, though, this set did have to come to a close, and after putting down the rag ends of my wallet for Taurus and Self Spiller material, I headed out, in enough time to be ready for work and Mausoleum the next day, but not enough to write this in any kind of timely fashion.  It goes on.  Only a few more shows before the summer tour.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Dark Passenger with Faces of Bayon, Obsidian Tongue, and Barren Oak [Ralph's, Worcester, 7/19/2012]

The conditions prevailing the last time out had subsided back to normal, but despite the lane closings getting down to the Pike and the work on 290, I managed to get in just about doors, and had the chance to rest up a little before the bands went on.  The heat was starting to go down a little, but Ralph's' upstairs is kind of steamy even under the best of conditions, so people, even this early, were staying more downstairs and in the parking lot when they came in.  As the bands started up, though, the room did fill in.

Barren Oak [5/7]
This was a slightly larger sample of Barren Oak than I got the last time, but continued to be nothing but thought-provoking.  Some of the stuff that Alex (and now Steve (ex-Cythraul)) was doing here, in particular a lot of the clean vocals and some of the more-jazz driven lines, didn't work that well, but more of their material did, including a lot of a unique take on Amon Amarth's "Victorious March" into Dissection's "Thorns of Crimson Death" that, via the diminished instrumentation, really recalled the MIDI/MOD reprogrammings of metal songs briefly popular at the end of the last century, before bandwidth caught up to processor speeds.  It may be that nothing comes out of this project, but with each show that becomes less and less likely: if nothing else, Barren Oak makes you think about what's possible at the very margins of black metal -- what this music can be, and maybe about what it should and shouldn't be.  Barren Oak still works as a band as well as an intellectual experiment, but the deliberate intent to push the line between experiment and trolling, to test boundaries and affirm or discard them, is likely going to continue to be the driving force behind this project in the future.

Alex in hakama and leather trenchcoat, looking like the black metal Hiko Seijuro.

Obsidian Tongue [6.5/7]
Midway through the set, Brendan asked the crowd "so are you sick of us yet?  We've been here like ten times"; I obviously can't answer for everyone, but as long as OT keeps rolling out performances like this one, it's going to be a long time before anyone has enough.  This set wasn't quite as good as the one at their release show, but it nearly got to that level despite having a pretty minimal overlap in terms of material selection.  Obsidian Tongue continue to develop, but even where they are, they've got a lot of really good material that, as they are now, is consistently performed despite the variety in terms of riffs and composition at a consistently high level.  They're starting to get a little more visibility on the heels of Volume 1..., and every bit of it is deserved.

Faces of Bayon [6/7]
In a way paralleling Napalm Death's flirtation with the absurd as they tested the boundaries in the other direction two decades ago, Faces of Bayon appears to be on a mission to write the longest practical doom song -- and while they've got a ways to go to catch, say, Green Carnation, they're definitely closing in on the limitations of DIY set times.  The new tune that they opened with was deep, extensive, varied, epic, intense, captivating -- and so long that at its conclusion, Matt had to ask the sound guy if they had time for another.  As good as the Heart of the Fire material is, the new stuff is a step forward from there, justifying the anticipation that's sure to build as we get it in drips and drabs thanks to being unable to play more than a handfull of tunes on any one set.  Two songs, on paper, may not look like much of a set, but two Faces songs (or at least the two we got here) represent on the order of half an hour of classic, high-grade, no-limits doom-death in the best old English style.  Great stuff.

Between sets I did merch of some sorts and others; one of the Darkwor guys told me to hang around for more discs to take over, and I picked up both Dark Passenger's record and a shirt from Faces in the process of asking Matt for some stickers for export.  I was kind of torn on Obsidian Tongue - I'm not sure if I already have one of their shirts or not (I think so), but if not, there's another gig next week that I should be able to nab something at.

Unrelated fun fact: Dan from Dark Passenger's other band, Shroud of Bereavement, has at times had a lineup on stage fully as large as all of the first three bands on this gig combined.

Dark Passenger [5.5/7]
I hadn't actually heard this band going in, mostly drawn out by good recs, the solid undercard, and the history of Shroud as proof that Dan doesn't get himself involved in no-account bands.  Dark Passenger's fairly new, and the material that they have so far is a little raw and undifferentiated, but the band's performance was strong, and there are seeds of something really cool in the music that they have right now that will surely get brought out further as they write and gig more.  Their sound, at least as far as I can track it, comes from a midpoint between the classic doom of early My Dying Bride and the first Cathedral record and the inward-focused black metal of turn-of-the-century Enslaved; they're still in the process of sorting a distinct Dark Passenger sound out of those influences, but any way you cut it, this is a good and intriguing jumping-off point.  They might have gone on a little longer, just on the available time to curfew, but they ran out of material -- not so great for the audience at the present moment, but a positive sign going forward, as it makes clear that as good, solid, and professional as Dark Passenger is right now, they're still really just starting their journey as a band, and will definitely produce even better stuff and better sets down the line.

Dark Passenger set out across the brine.

After waiting around a bit to pick up those Darkwor materials, and again explaining the legend of Anton Maiden (rapidly becoming the Metal Thursday preferred clear-out music), I hit the road, and despite the fucking DOT closing the onramp to the Pike AGAIN for another 15-minute detour, I got back in good order before work kicked my ass forwards and backwards on Friday, making timely publication impossible.  Next week is the last sprint to the finish line: Agalloch and Mausoleum and Obsidian Tongue again with barely a breather, and after that, it's off across the open seas.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Real Chinese Food: No Skill, Money, or Time Required

This is a short entry about how to make mapo tofu. For a long time I was intimidated about tackling this dish, due to bad information, but after a couple tries it is dead easy, and importantly wicked cheap. The current ground state in the US is people spending too much money for garbage food, because they don't feel they have the time or ability to make something that they'll want to eat. This is a delusion encouraged by the microwave oven and the foodie movement: assholes who get up their own butt about locally-sourced organic everything and slow-food and the like intimidate people from trying to cook for themselves, and the seductive magic (like most magic in this world, based on nuclear physics) of the microwave gives them an escape hatch. As will be shown, this is a corruptive delusion.

 The part about no skill and no time will come in the cooking instructions. The part about no money is not technically true, but it is close as you are likely to get for real food from scratch.

1 block soft tofu @ $3
1/2 1 bunch scallions @ $3 = $1.50

some garlic - 1/12 of 1 bulb @ $0.50 = $0.04
some rice - ~1/20 of 5lb bag @ $4 = $0.20
some oil - 1/200 of 1.75l bottle @ $2.50 = $0.01
4 tbsp soy sauce (~1/30 of .5l bottle @ $3 = $0.10
5 tbsp water @ $0.005/gallon = ~$0.00
1 tsp black bean sauce - 1/20 of small jar @ $3 = $0.15
3 tsp chili paste - 3/20 of small jar @ $3 = $0.45
good vegetable knife - 1/100 of $15 = $0.15
wok - 1/200 of $30 = $0.15
rice cooker - 1/100 of $40 = $0.40
cutting board - 1/75 of $12 = $0.16
bamboo rice paddle and stirrer - 1/100 of $10 = $0.10
whisk - 1/500 of $5 = $0.01
1 tsp flour - 1/300 of 5lb bag at $5 = $0.02

total specific recipe materials: $4.50
total prorated equipment cost: $1.93

Yes, it costs money to fit out a kitchen, but when you prorate that over the equipment's actual useful lifetime, you end up with something like this, which serves 1 1/2 people (double the rice for two people, or don't and have leftovers which you get another meal out of for the rice and 15 mins in the cooker/reheating the mapo tofu) for a total cost of less than seven bucks. You can't get ONE serving of mapo tofu for that from a restaurant, let alone with rice to give it some caloric content to go with the protein. This is how it goes.


 1. Ingredients assemble! This is the tofu and the stuff to make the sauce.

First off, start the rice in the rice cooker. In contrast to other recipes, you will absolutely be done cooking before the rice is finished.


 2. A look into the chili paste jar. Make sure the stuff you get is about this consistency.  Not the same as sriracha.


3. Live greens. Chop up three scallions/green onions and about this much garlic by volume. Plate this out, then cube your block of tofu.


 4. Plated and cubed.

 When your ingredients are cut, add 4 tbsp soy sauce, 5 tbsp water, then 3 tsp chili paste and 1 tsp black bean sauce to a bowl and mix it up. The chili paste and black bean sauce may require going to an Asian specialty market to get, but are worth the trip. Mix together thoroughly.


 5. Three and one, the magical formula.

 Get up heat in your wok, put some oil in the bottom, then stir-fry the vegetables. This should be wicked quick. Once the veggies are done, get them out of the wok and add the flour to your sauce bowl. Whisk thoroughly to get it mixed. Pour the sauce mix into the wok.


 6. The sauce sets up practically instantly.

 Almost immediately, the sauce will be thick enough that you can add the veggies, then moments later, the tofu. Stir occasionally so things don't burn to the bottom of the wok.



 Less than a minute later, you will probably need to take this off the heat to avoid burning the tofu onto the bottom of the wok. If you're only cooking for one, grab a container and scoop about half of the completed mapo tofu out, so you can stick it in the fridge for later. Either way, twiddle your thumbs and wait for the rice to be done so you can eat rather than just pick out random tofu chunks to snack on.


 8. Rice is done, time to eat!


It takes effort. You will have to clean up. But the fact remains that this is a protein-packed meal that dresses up about 1/3 of your daily calories with some classic spice, and remains much less loser and less processed-stuff intensive than the usual talentless-cooking-with-rice-cooker ouevre of "make rice, mix in nacho cheese" or "make rice, stir in barbecue sauce" -- and it's also home cooking that is done, start to finish, in less than 20 minutes.

This is a vegetarian recipe that can probably be fed to vegans if they're not going to be assholes about checking the ingredient list on your Chinese sauces. You can also add ground meat (marinate in a little soy sauce first, stir-fry between veggies and sauce) if you like and have the spare dough. The version I did originally had meat in it, but it's barely needed. The sauce is tasty enough as it is, and the tofu has enough protein content.

This recipe is also a good starting point for how to use tofu, i.e., as tofu rather than as pretend meat. Tofu is not meat, and if you try to make it like meat, it will be terrible. Guess how hippies introduced white America to tofu. Fucking hippies. The point of tofu is a cool, clean taste that allows it to carry the flavor of the sauce it's being cooked with. Get used to that, and you are way ahead of the game on the "more protein for less money" racket.


There is no metal content in this one, but the writeup of the Dark Passenger show should be out soon, pending some verifications...and then I need to get things out quick over the next week to avoid taking a backlog overseas.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Fresh Kill with Deathamphetamine and Jack Burton vs David Lo Pan [O'Brien's, Allston, 7/12/2012]

It took a little longer to get moving from work than I anticipated, but via clean roads and some hard hiking over the bridges, I managed to get in right about on my target time, and with enough latency to get a beer and unwind my back before the bands started.  I'd as rather not show up this close, and covered in sweat, but the ability to push it, with the trip coming up, is definitely something to be cultivated.

Jack Burton vs David Lo Pan [5.5/7]
JBvDLP remains basically in the same place stylistically as they were on the last sample; fortunately, "again" and "more" is all any reasonable person needs to expect from them.  I don't listen to enough grind or doom to have more accurate reference points for people who are dead dug into those scenes, but if the closest I can find is "Earth, if they were big Rotten Sound fans", that in itself should be sufficient recommendation.  On this performance, they balanced the vitriol and the vibes to great effect, and if they're indeed going on a temporary break, as rumored, those who have missed them to this point just have that much longer to keep kicking themselves.

Erik gets cranked up.

Deathamphetamine [5.5/7]
The current version of Deathamphetamine continues to solidify; here, they mostly stayed within the techthrash-versus-hardcore sound they've been working lately, but they also reached back to the early, five-piece days of the band for a look back to the more melodic elements they had going at that time.  It's going to be interesting to see how this works out going forward; that it's coming back indicates that the band still wants to have those elements in the mix as well, and mostly dropped them because they were having difficulty covering all the parts as a three-piece, but now feel that they've got the chops and arrangement skills to have that layer on top of the more straightforward attack they've been working lately.

Scott and a badly-backlit Marcus start things up.

Perhaps more impressive was that Scott and Marcus managed to blast through this set despite some serious GI issues.  I bought the tape version of The Lost Album -- which does come with a download code, for those ambiguous about buying something they can't use just to support -- off Scott in the set break, and he was utterly and completely slate-wiped, but you'd never have known from the energy brought out on stage.

Fresh Kill [6/7]
I hadn't heard Fresh Kill before, but within seconds the buzz that they've been getting in the punk and grind echelons of the scene was eminently justified.  With powerviolence bits bolted on like applique armor over a chassis of dense, hyperbaric grind chaos, Fresh Kill inherits not only from Anal Cunt (via members) but also just about everything in Boston punk going back to The Freeze.  Their nuclear bulldozer attack smashed fuck out of everything in hitting distance -- if there wasn't a lot of motion on the stagefront, the pure violence being poured off of it more than compensated.  I don't tend to go to a lot of punk or grind gigs, but Fresh Kill may yet go a distance towards getting that changed.  Immensely killer.

Fresh Kill banter around at/cuss out each other and the audience before getting in gear.

After the band (and/or the city council via curfews) decided we'd had enough, I hung about for a bit, picked up JBvDLP's record, and eventually decided that I'd made a mistake not getting Fresh Kill's patch earlier -- no recordings yet, but high-quality embroidered patches (probably due to Bobby, whose kutte is entering at least its sixth consecutive year of being better than mine) are always due support -- but would likely get a chance to fix that in the near future.  I headed out, and despite work constraints managed to get this turned around in a reasonable fashion.  Missing Autolatry and Fires of Old for this hurt a little, but I'll be back in Worcester for Dark Passenger -- and still roving to pick stuff up for export in the interim.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The P.SOA Running Order Is Out And I Have Beef

The running order, as alluded, for Party.San has now been published.  And, as always, there's stuff to nerdrage about.  I like how hard it is to miss Dead Congregation, and that on Saturday I can probably go to bed after Tankard.  But I have no goddamn idea how Ghost Brigade gets to play so late, or why they think it's ok for Rompeprop to play at noon.  There is something really wrong here.  Obviously, someone has to open, but "long-term grindcore legends" seems a bit of a reach to stick in that slot.

On the other hand, I'm bitching about when I get to see Rompeprop, not that they're not playing, so this is ultimately more first-world problems.  Just inside four weeks till boots down in Schlotheim.

Seax with Borrowed Time, Ancient Power, Invoker, and Demon Bitch [Ralph's, Worcester, 7/5/2012]

The Fourth of July week meant a couple of important modifiers for this going in.  First, customers on vacation or shutdown meant that there wasn't a lot to be done hanging around at work, while people still on vacation locally meant that the roads were going to be empty.  Second, the masses of people moving around earlier and later in the week meant that the frequent roadworks were mostly inactive, at least on the way out.  This should have meant a lot more time-killing than I ended up doing, but for the third factor: I didn't know if the Summer Nationals were this weekend or the weekend before, which greatly affects how long it takes to get through Worcester.  As it turned out, I got in early but not that early, and saw a few hot rods parked on Lincoln, and more than a few people setting up chairs to watch the cruisers, but no significant traffic tieups.  On actually getting in to Ralph's, I found out that this was exceptionally fortunate, because another band had been added at the last minute, and Demon Bitch were going to be going on right at 9:00.

Demon Bitch [4.5/7]
Since I hadn't been paying obsessive attention to the lineup dynamics going in (or, really, any at all), I was surprised to see these guys on the program and more surprised, after a couple songs, to find out they were touring, as the levels of material and execution weren't quite at the level you typically associate with touring bands at this level of promotion.  They came off as a somewhat cut-down Ravage, a sound that probably plays better elsewhere in the country than around here, where we generally get to see the real thing a couple times a year.  (J.P. of Borrowed Time later referred to their sound as a mix of Mercyful Fate and Dissection, but I, probably due to being an unambiguous Dissection superfan, didn't really hear that at all.)  They built slowly as the set went on, and got the crowd rocking with a solid cover of Priest's "Tyrant", but this is a band whose best days are still ahead of them -- and in that dimension, they definitely have the youth and quite likely the chops to get there.

Demon Bitch set the edge to start things off.

In this break, I picked up Demon Bitch's demo, along with Borrowed Time's current omnibus record (same distro table for both bands) and, almost as much to reduce the change-making burden as because I'd been looking for it forever, Primordial's Dark Romanticism as reissued by notorious bootlegging jerks Karmageddon.  I did not, though, go full bootleg and pay the $5 for a CD-R of the Wakefield "Metal For Muthas" show where Steve sang on a couple songs because Paul did too much cokewas feeling sick, partly because any bootleg distributed in digital these days is available for free on the internet somewhere, and partly because I was low on cash and might need that $5 later.  Foreshadowing again....

Invoker [5.5/7]
I hadn't seen this band before, but early indications are that those in the Boston area will be seeing a good deal more of them going forward.  The sound that they put forward, a blend of early Metallica with Iron Maiden elements, didn't stick out a lot, but their guitar leads did -- and more importantly, so did their composition.  It's not every day you come across a band with this level of compositional ability, especially one that seems to be relatively new, and if they can keep it up while writing more distinctive material and continuing to leverage superior lead guitar, they're definitely going to be one to watch for the future.

Invoker thrashing out.  Ashish is highlighted so that randoms on the internet get the same sense of WOW MUST PAY ATTENTION that people seeing them live did.

The room was really filling up in here, and I was barely able to get back from the bar to somewhere reasonably stage-adjacent.  Some of this was Ancient Power coming from Worcester up next, but a lot of it was a very strong turnout for a bunch of fairly niche and retro bands.  While the New England scene is pretty broad, most people's interests are less so: modulo a few diehards who tend to go to every show, the audience here was largely disjunct from both the crowd that shows up for death metal at Metal Thursday and the people whose only live contact with this kind of music is paying $75 to see Manowar.  There really are just that many of us.

Ancient Power [5/7]
As noted, this was the high-water mark for the crowd, based largely on the band's local adherents, but they made their case to the rest of the crowd as well, smashing out a strong, solid set that put a grimy punk spin on the classic structures of old-school metal -- and also saw the most ballsy (literally as well as figuratively) clothing choices of the night.  Piston's wrestling leotard commanded nearly as much attention as the music, but ultimately the music is what it comes down to, and this was a pretty strong set on that front as well.

Ancient Power before the jacket came off and shit got real.

It was probably in here that I picked up Seax's record, which is pretty much their live set stored on plastic for those who haven't seen them yet, and got comped a free button that I will have difficulty wearing overseas.  Sunwheels: not neutral symbols in Europe.  Obviously, the band isn't using it that way, but it's still a little weird.  Maybe right next to my die siffer pin....

Borrowed Time [6/7]
Carmine had been talking these guys up since well before this show was actually scheduled, and they definitely delivered, impressing not only with their material but the execution of it.  The margins are not huge, but this was quite likely the best set of the night, working a sound that inherited substantially from Manilla Road, but also touched on Italian never-weres Danger Zone for additional credibility.  Their recorded stuff is a little closer to Manilla Road than this was, which is encouraging for the future; we already have a Mark the Shark, even if he doesn't play out a whole lot, and Borrowed Time is good enough that I may need to actually order the next evolution of their stuff from High Roller rather than waiting to vulture it up from Armageddon Shop.

Borrowed Time sailing the seas of fate.

It was in here that, having nothing to do because I had to stop drinking, I browsed casually through Borrowed Time's vinyl distro box, fully expecting to find nothing of note.  I found Last Scream of the Missing Neighbors, and promptly had a hyperventilating nerdgasm.  Somehow I managed to purchase it without stabbing anyone, for what turned out to be just about my last $5, which I turned out to be glad not to have spent a few bands back.  As cool as that Maiden bootleg doubtless is, this record is just fucking epochal, and I got it for about 10% of what I was willing to pay, even used.  Seriously listen to this.

Seax [6/7]
The development from Seax's last headlining slot to this one is significant, and not just in adding Mick to the lineup.  This one was more consistent than there, if less high energy and spandex-related novelty (yes, Carmine had on his headliner pants again, but people are used to it now, and anyway Ancient Power definitely stole their thunder on the "hilariously revealing clothing" thing), and the crowd definitely got metal thrashin' mad, which they didn't for Invoker actually playing thrash, or for Ancient Power with more punk fans in the building.  They had a few less than smooth parts, including starting off on a song without realizing that Mick hadn't learned it yet, but in the main kept it rolling at a high level.  It's difficult to say exactly where the ceiling is, in terms of exposure and longevity, is for a band that is so explicitly and committedly revivalist, but Seax is going to keep keeping on, and keep getting their fans "High on Metal", until they happen to hit that wall.  As noted way back, maybe Wacken won't come calling, but they've already managed to get a toe in the door at Warriors of Metal, and modulo label horsetrading the likes of Headbangers and Keep It True are not a giant step up from that.

Bonded by blood: Seax call up J.P. (Borrowed Time) and Angus (Hessian, not appearing on this bill) to guest on the Holocaust classic "Heavy Metal Mania", which most people in the audience (or at least your humble correspondent) probably recognized better from Gamma Ray covering it on Alive '95 and some extras from the Land of the Free sessions.  Doesn't matter, still killed it.

In the end, though, it was time to split, dead broke, and then I went on call for the week following and was actually handling tickets all weekend.  Hence this is late, but the restriction is lifted as of now -- and the four-show sprint to the end, before I hit the road, begins tonight with Fresh Kill.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Iron Maiden with Alice Cooper [That Corporate Shed That Used To Be Called Great Woods, Mansfield, 6/26/2012]

In a happy coincidence, Iron Maiden came around at the end of June, in the same year that I a) wasn't leveraging carryover to go anywhere and b) had to burn off excess vacation.  Because driving down from Burlington on 95 at rush hour is a pain and a half, and because the last time that I went to this dumb venue for a show I overextended myself and nearly fell asleep behind the wheel coming home, I took off the day of and the day after, finishing off my 2011 vacation allotment, and was able to get started in time to get down shortly after the free lot opened.

This was probably not actually an optimal outcome, given the circumstances; I'd been wall-to-wall with work and had no time to prep anything to eat/drink/do in what ended up being two and a half hours till the gate opened.  Furthermore, of the two brothers I generally lug along when Maiden comes around, one couldn't get out of work, and the other one was in Spain, so after napping in the car until the heat became unbearable, it was out to bum around Billy-NoMates-stylee while waiting for doors, not even carrying a flask or anything to help mooch off other people's grills.  Some of this time was spent grabbing a new shirt, based off a less-known Somewhere In Time artpiece, and filled out with excellent color and a lot of production value, but costing 40 goddamn dollars.  This is not only more expensive in absolute terms than $35 shirts from four and six years ago, but more expensive in real terms as well: the CPI has been virtually flat due to this debt-deflation recession/recovery, and thanks to austerity knuckleheads in London and Berlin (ok, Brussels, but we all know Euro policy is actually set in the Kanzleramt), the dollar has been steadily gaining on the currencies that Iron Maiden counts their income in at home.  But this is the market: as long as marks like me are willing to pay these stupid prices, they will get marked further and further up.

Shirt acquired, then lugged back to the vehicle and dropped off, I hung about the entryway, spent $13 on what is normally about $6 of dinner, and then got in line as it was starting to form up.  As silly as some of the younger generation in line behind me can be at times in their assessment of what's good, musically, or smart to do, it's good to still hear that people are looking towards Wacken as the king of the festivals.  To a certain degree, its reputation is still justified, and if you haven't been, you still need to go -- and before the rot gets any worse.  Guide is over there.  Also, in a real stroke of luck, I got a flyer for Seax's release show off Carmine, and thus didn't have to feign interest in the Mayhem tour (energy-drink derpfest, not the band, obviously) once the gates opened in order to have something to write setlists down on.

Once inside, after a brief delay as the ticket-taker tried for a couple minutes to figure out how the hell he was supposed to scan my card for the paperless ticket, I picked up a ten-dollar beer/improvised missile and found my seat.  Of course, given the nonexistent security -- I was not frisked on the way in, despite wearing a large hardwalled jacket that could easily have had a medium-sized handgun stowed in it -- it's pretty clear that the folks running the venue think that the extortionate ticket prices will easily keep anyone with the inclination to heave a full aluminum bottle at the stage from ever being in a position where they might be able to hit anyone by doing so.

The seat in question, before most of the crowd filled in.  It's better to have the pit than not have the pit, but I'm not really a fanclub-joiner, and enjoy the opportunity, limited as it actually was, to sit down occasionally.

Bud Lite bottle deweaponized, I took a brief hike to find a vendor of non-terrible beer (there had been a few four years ago), and if possible at less-ripoff prices.  First condition satisfied, not second.  I picked up a Harpoon for $12 and made do; there was allegedly a stand doing cheap Rolling Rocks way in the back, but I didn't find it, and was willing to put up with the expense for the relative convenience of shoving through a little less of the crowd on my way back.

As it was, I got back in a fair amount of time, as the seats around me filled in, and presently Alice Cooper started the evening off.

Alice Cooper [6/7]
Black Widow
Brutal Planet
I'm Eighteen
No More Mr. Nice Guy
Hey Stoopid
Billion Dollar Babies
Feed My Frankenstein
Wicked Young Man
I Love The Dead
School's Out

This was about a 45-minute set, and as a result it was a little constrained in, essentially, everything but music....which does happen to be a lot of the reason that you go see Alice Cooper in 2012.  This was a good performance with just about all the hits that you could want or expect (no "Dead Babies", but which of these are you going to take out for it?), and if not all of Alice's gags from back in the day, at least the big ones: a guy who'd been running around the stage with a mini camera and a photo pass "impaled" with a mic stand, and the essential guillotine trick leading into "I Love The Dead", which got nearly as big a response as any of the music.  For a performance delivered in 2012, with a backing band full of journeymen and a lead singer past retirement age, this was probably as good an Alice Cooper performance as you're likely to get: Alice still has nearly all of his vocal range and commands the stage masterfully, and in truth the musical material underlying the outre live act has not been all that challenging since he decided, "ok, Pretties For You is completely not the direction we want to take the band in".  (Digression: bought that tape in like '98 due to misapprehension and, debatably, mislabeling as it sounds nothing like you expect "Alice Cooper" to in the present.  Hit it with a sledgehammer or something.)  The polished glam rock here supported the antics well and didn't overstay its welcome, but a little more might not have gone amiss.

Alice setting things off.  This is probably more important as a shot of crowd composition, because you certainly can't see the band at all.

The guillotine, set up for its final judgment.  Things get blurry here and will be worse for Maiden, but since this was a single show on US soil, I didn't bring a camera, sticking with the phone like at DIY shows.  I paid $95 to see Iron Maiden and Alice Cooper live, not to watch them indirectly through a glowing rectangle.

The set break showed how thoroughly insane things are either in the US, or at large corporate venues, depending on how pessimistic you're feeling.  The first thing I did was go for a piss, which involved getting into a wedge-shaped pileup heading into one of a very few indoor restroom facilities.  These things are probably ok for most shows at this place, but metalheads drink a lot of beer.  I mean, like, a lot.  Also, nobody leaves during the set to hit the head -- it's just not the done thing.  So the result is that everyone has to go, all at once, and for whatever reason the venue ops did not go with the usual Euro solution to large numbers of metalheads at an outside event, that being temporary troughs.  We are not, by and large, fastidious people.  Those who are can use the inside facilities, while the rest of us get our business done and go get another beer.

This was probably actually more mental.  The Harpoon line was like 30 people deep, so I cast about for a bit, and saw that there was Stella on tap, in large cups, in the smokers' tent.  So I went in there and got filled up in time to make it back to my seat.  I'm mildly allergic to cigarette smoke.  Harpoon and Stella are much of a muchness, and in this case, at the same damn price point.  I don't get it at all: neither the idea of a smoker's tent at a venue where the entire non-seating area is, um, outside, nor the pathological dread of smoke exposure that condemns you to a longer beer line.

Existential weirdness aside, I got back to my seat well in time for the lights to go down, and the curtain rise on....

Iron Maiden [7/7]
Can I Play With Madness?
The Prisoner
Two Minutes to Midnight
Afraid To Shoot Strangers
The Trooper
The Number of the Beast
Phantom of the Opera
Run To The Hills
Wasted Years
Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
The Clairvoyant
Fear of the Dark
Iron Maiden
Aces High
The Evil That Men Do
Running Free

Even an Iron Maiden set that has tech issues, as this one did, and that only runs two hours, as this one also did, is still one of the best experiences on offer in heavy metal.  However, the time that this is still the case may be running out; on this set as was not the case in '06 or '08, and definitely wasn't even in the frame in 2000, you get the feeling that the time that Iron Maiden has as an active band is running down.  Mostly because Iron Maiden is so damn active as a band; as good as they keep themselves in shape (this is a band that includes two former elite-level athletes and used to include "play footy wit us and don't fail at it" in the audition process), the members are now pushing 60, and likely sensitive to the contradiction of standing still while playing high-energy music.  More importantly, the air-raid-siren's pitch is starting to fall: "Aces High" is an extremely demanding song vocally, and in the parts that are taken down, greatly and all over the place, shows clearly that Bruce has lost about an octave off his 1984 peak.  That the band continues to play it is a testament to their gargantuan balls, but this tour may well end up being the last time.

All this, as well as the mic drop or misvocalization that lost, like, the entire second verse of "Fear Of The Dark", or the occasional guitar flubs, was ultimately immaterial.  Iron Maiden were never going to entirely recreate the "Maiden England" live set 25 years on, but they did a great job delivering the music from that era, that performance, as Iron Maiden of 2012 was going to execute it.  The chance to hear stuff like the deep cuts from Seventh Son... is a rare one, and the performance here, especially of the title track, eminently justified the idiotic ticket price and the corporate-venue bullshit.  I was less on board with Eddie-as-7th-Cav-trooper for "Run To The Hills", but the costume was well-executed, and the other stage-dressing and animatronic bits were superbly executed.  The seats around me may have cleared out for the encore, as the part-timers and overnighters and casuals headed out to beat the traffic, but most of the 14,000 crowd stayed in to the end, unsatisfied with the bare two hours of top-class material from an ancient band digging up long-sought-after deep cuts, to bang on the seat backs in front of them and yell for everything from "Hallowed..." to "Alexander the Great".  Eventually, though, instead of the band coming back out, we got the lights coming up and "Always Look On The Bright Side" over the speakers; time to go the fuck home.

Iron Maiden step out.

Moloch at the back stage right for "Number of the Beast".

Maiden still have the FIRE! in addition to the force, and power to make their evil take its course.

Spark fountains; no wasted pyro, but likely for "Wasted Years".

Eddie as philosopher for "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son".

Last trick; Eddie comes up with a throbbing brain in his hand.

Despite staying to the end of the show like someone who values their ticket spendings, I got out to the parking lot in decent order (it was still only like 11), and got moving into the queue quicklike, blasting Demolition Hammer's Epidemic of Violence with the windows down because this is kind of what I do (and there was enough wind that the AC was unnecessary doing so).  Despite local congestion, misleading signs, and backups on the highways, I managed to get home within two hours of starting the engine -- or in absolute terms, sooner than a normal Metal Thursday.  Despite this, I took the day after off as planned, then didn't work on this at all over the weekend due to an office move and the Euro final.  Next is Seax's release gig tonight -- and after that, the trip draws closer and ever closer.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Summoning Hate with Weregild, Forced Asphyxiation, Splatter Effect, and Soul Annihilation [O'Brien's, Allston, 6/22/2012]

I checked the weather before heading out in the morning, based on info from the gas station the night before, and despite the incoming rain, I loaded up only my lightweight rig.  This, again, was training; I'll have the full-weight rig in Germany, but unless absolutely necessary, I'm probably not going to wear it on the hike across the old inner-German border, and that goes off rain or shine.  It's too easy, in training for these things, to just decide to skip a session because it's raining, or too hot, or whatever, but actually in the field, I need to be able to make that hike in whatever conditions.

The conditions this time around, though, turned out to be pretty optimal.  It was only a light rain by the time I hit the ground, and it was a quick hike over to O'B's in still-melty heat.  This ended up dropping me on the stoop before even the door guy showed up, so I hung about outside for a while in the vain attempt to catch a breeze, and then went in to get my temporary license disrespected and pick up a beer.  This then showed that the prior heel-"cooling" was a mistake: O'Brien's, for the first time ever that I can recall, had functional air conditioning.  We've come a long way from the old days.

Soul Annihilation [5/7]
Though it had been barely two weeks since the last show, Soul Annihilation's shown some definite improvement on this outing, staying generally tighter and in some respects working the delivery of their black-death violence a little better.  The set started to run down about midway through, but this is largely due to the material: a lot of what Soul Annihilation has right now is pretty basic, and this will improve as they continue writing as a full band.  There is a good base of chops and talent here, and enough really good stuff at the start  to easily see their development to continue to improve.

Sean catches the light as Kunjan thrashes out.

Splatter Effect [5/7]
It had been a while longer since I last saw this band, who have also changed it up a little in the intervening, taking a more straightforward line on their mix of NWOSDM and hardcore, bringing it more into line with what the inventors of the alleged NWOAHM in this part of the world were doing in the mid-'90s -- and largely stopped after In Flames broke out stateside.  This was a good performance on the music as well as the history factor, and it's definitely cool that this sound, in whatever permutation, continues to be relevant.

Splatter Effect, focused delivery.

Forced Asphyxiation [5.5/7]
If there was one thing that this performance really emphasized, it is that this band is really getting to the level where they need an actual PA to present their sound: it's not enough to just play out of the cabs and hope everything's balanced.  There was a little bit of chaos at the start as everything got dialed in properly, but the band picked it up after that point, and smashed out a good, solid set that built steadily through to the finish -- and, for what may be the first time, was not mostly about weed.  Those moaning about the end of an era, though, can shut up and clock the band's kickass new "Robocrop" shirt, which I picked up here after running out of belt slots (and also cash) in Worcester.

Ryan lays it down, after recovering.  He fell into, but not over or through, the drumkit, during the second song or so, but recovered his balance and kept playing.  Elite.

Weregild [6/7]
I'm not sure if the band claimed this as their Boston debut, but it was definitely the first time I'd seen them in the city -- and more importantly, another solid push forward in the development of their rock-solid, heavily-Amon-Amarth-influenced evolution of viking death metal.  They've tweaked the lineup a little since last time, but continued in the same general vein without a break, and the result is steadily more impressive, both in the honing of the old material and the steps up in quality and (to a lesser degree) independence of the new stuff.  "Journey Through Musphelheim" remains the best song in Weregild's repetoire, but "Winterlands I Braved" is nearly as good, and if the stuff that the band is working on but not playing out yet continues in this fashion, their eventual demo is going to be must-get -- and it's not out of the question that it might not be complete Amon Amarth worship.  Absolutely immense.

If "We must kill / To Honor Our Dead", then Weregild definitely kills it enough to satisfy the condition.

In here, I went outside for a bit, mostly to unwind my back, as despite the strong turnout the AC was still keeping the temperature kind of in check.  It had cooled off a little outside, but not enough that I didn't get back in, and lined up for Summoning Hate's set, well before time.

Summoning Hate [6/7]
Weregild had set a really high mark, but Summoning Hate, as should really be expected by now, managed to pull out a relentlessly killer set, packed with craft and nuance as well as straight-ahead brutality, and definitely get up to that mark.  Show after show, year after year, Summoning Hate continues to both produce at a high level and continuously tweak and refine their take on largely-traditional brutal death metal, and at this point it is pretty unambiguous that they're just about the best Boston death metal band with no recordings available -- and unfortunately, there's no immediate sign of the second part of that changing.  In the meantime, though, as long as we continue to get killer sets like this, as frequently as the band does play out, we miss less from them not having a CD out.  The rest of the world, not so lucky.

Alex catches the sidelight as the band starts up.

After Summoning Hate closed up, I hung around a bit but still ended up not picking up anything else for export, then beat feet across the bridges.  Between the Euro knockout rounds and then Iron Maiden, not a lot got done in the intervening week, but here this pile of misapprehensions is, backlog cleared, one month away from the last wayfaring.