Thursday, May 31, 2012

Old Man Gloom, Rosetta, Jim Plotkin and Argonauts at The First Unitarian Church, Philadelphia, PA, May 4, 2012

     My night began at El Fuego, Philly's fine burrito establishment that I've mentioned in previous posts.   On my way in I noticed a crude sign made of cardboard taped with duct tape to the front door that said, 'cash only.'  That seemed a little odd for a sort of upscale and hip eatery.  The place was more or less deserted when I walked in as opposed to the usual line of people waiting to order.  I tried ordering a beer and they said that they no longer carry alcohol as they need to 'work something out with the licensce.'  At least I can safely report that the burrito quality was still high.  They still make the biggest, fattest west coast style burritos around with very fresh ingredients.

     After El Fuego, I stopped at the liquor store across the street for some supplies.  Surprisingly enough, shows at the church are still BYOB, so I always bring a few beers.  I decided on a six pack of Sly Fox Phoenix Pale Ale in cans.  Since I was still a bit early for the show, I took a walk around the surrounding area for a while.  It's been a good six months since I've been to this part of Philly and there seems to be more empty store fronts than I remember.  Things just seem grittier.  A homeless person pulling two shopping carts loaded with junk passed me by.  The wind picked up and wafted the foul stench of the person and their belongings toward me.  At that point I was happy to make my way down the stairs to the basement of the church.  There was a big sign stating 'no bottles', so I was in luck. 

     While paying to get in I noticed that the guy behind me was totally 'metalled out' to maximum effect: leather jacket, full beard, long hair, black jeans, black Motorhead t-shirt and black boots.  The guy selling the tickets offered him free admission if he kept the leather jacket on for the entire show.  This offer was clearly not made to me as I looked more like a dork/jock with my white t-shirt (I came from work), blue jeans and sneakers.  I brought my Godflesh hoodie (I was pleasantly surprised to see that I wasn't the only one there with that hoodie) with me but it was intollerably hot down there and impossible for me to wear.

     Argonauts were up first.  The band isn't just a Burnt by the Sun clone; they're BbtS with a new singer and bassist.  They 'covered' a BbtS song, which basically confirmed my suspicions.  Chris Alfano is a far cry from Mike Olender though, whom is probably one of the best hardcore band front men ever.  John Adubato's seemingly infinite well of riffs is sort of running dry as the songs are starting to really settle in for me (this was the fourth time I've seen them).  It's like BbtS light; Witte does a fine job as always, and Brett is at equal levels of musicianship to Teddy, but these guys just don't have the punch of BbtS.  My initial hopes for them were high, but have ultimately been dimmed over time. The crowd is very sparse at this point; full of 'sausage' to use a term from Brooklyn Vegan's metal commenters.

     My pale ale was not sitting well.  Where are the hops and why is it more like a wheat beer than a pale ale?  Plotkin and friends definitely changed my mood.  James Plotkin is a true genius of the metal underground, albeit a far underappreciated one.  With bands ranging higher profile stuff like Khanate and Phantomsmasher to more obscure ventures such as OLD and Khylst, his interests and range are dynamic and far reaching.  The set featured Jim on guitars and electronics, Aaron Turner on guitar, vocals and electronics and Tim Wyskeda on drums.  This is the lineup for Jodis, which I have not had the pleasure of hearing but I assumed the set would be similar to that project.  It was as expected: minimalist, harsh at times, avant-garde, noisy, post-doom pieces, etc. Turner did some interesting stuff with his voice, mixed through a sea of effects pedals while Plotkin layed down the ambient drone guitars and Wyskeda provided what appeared to be a whimsical beat.  As you can imagine, this was far over the heads of most of the audience as the looks on 90% of their faces was a mix of confusion and boredom (mine was an expression of awe).   

     During Rosetta's set I was more or less bored out of my mind.  Mike Armine is a fine front man though.  He seemed like a hardcore punk version of Eminem: finger pointing like mad, earing, tats, short blonde hair, white t-shirt.  He also did the sound effects and loops which was probably the most interesting aspect of the band. Prior to and after the set he got on his soap box and lamented the proposed closing of many public schools in Philly (he's employed as a teacher in the city).  It was a passionate and well thought out speech and I was impressed with what he had to say (as was the crowd). As for the music, Rosetta just reek of (no, not putrefaction) that 2003-2004 wave of post Isis and Cult of Luna bands. You would think that they would grow and adapt out of that, but they followed that formula for the entire set.  When the progenitors of that micro genre do it so well, why even bother aping them?  To do that sound right, you need the riffs, which, unfortunately, were absent.  The crowd went wild for it though, as this is the next best thing to Neurosis that the locals can get on a consistent basis in Philly. 

     The crowd began to swell during Rosetta's set.  The sausage ratio began to fall as well, but the temperature in the basement began to rise.  At this point I had to step outside for some fresh air.  There was a torrential downpour outside and I quickly ran under the awning of a nearby store.  Many other folks went with me.  Packed under the awning looking at my Blackberry and hiding from the rain, a massive cockroach appeared on the side walk and made it's way up the window of the storefront right near me.  Flee into the rain, or stick it out cramped in with the sweaty metal heads and the vile insect?  I stuck it out and soon the rain ceased but I kept my eye on that little bastard then made my way back to see the headliners.

     Old Man Gloom largely kicked my ass.  This is the touring cycle for new album 'NO'.  The crowd ate it up, as did I.  Seeing them live, it was a true mix of Isis, Converge and Cave In.  Aaron, Caleb and Nate all traded vocals equally.  Nate was on guitar though as he plays bass in Converge and Santos of Zozobra provided the thunderous beat.  The songs were brutal and crushing in that late 90's - early 2000's noisy hardcore kind of way.  They played material from their entire back catalog and new stuff.  All of the noise and ambient tracks were played in between songs so the set flowed very well.  Their performance was tighter and on point way more than I expected, as the band is basically a side project (or is it?).  They had the noise and avante garde leanings of Jim Plotkin's set but it was more accesible; they had the crushing post hardcore vibe of Rosetta but way more powerful, memorable, face-tearing and relevant.  Believe they hype: the 'old' men of hardcore are back

     I had the distinct pleasure of talking to Jim Plotkin after the show.  I complemented him on his body of work and told him that I though that The Musical Dimensions of Sleastak was a work of genius.  He laughed pretty hard about that one.  It would be great for all those old OLD albums to be available for digital purchase online, but Earache probably has no plan to repress them or even sell them digitally most likely due to lack of interest.  This is very sad as any open minded fan of extreme metal should hear OLD at some point, especially Sleastak and Lo Flux Tube. 

   Philly is looking dark, gritty and used up: roaches, homeless people, fine eateries on the downfall, potential closing of multiple public schools.  I truly hope that Mike Armine's predicition of Philly becoming the next Detroit or Camden are not true, but we'll have to wait and see.  It was clearly a night of gloom...

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Translation Loss Records Showcase, Philadelphia, PA, 4/20/2012

This went down last night in Philly, at the North Star Bar.  Many a fine band played to a rather pitiful audience.  The headliners, Giant Squid, flew in from San Fransisco to play this show and another Translation Loss Records showcase on Saturday night in Brooklyn.  If there were 50 people watching the Squid (including members of the other bands that played) it was a lot.  Hopefully the Brooklyn show had a better turn out because it's sad to see such fine musicianship (from all bands involved) go so underappreciated. 

I missed East of the Wall unfortunately.  When I got to the bar, I decided to order the 'north star burger' at the front bar before EotW went on.  The show was going on in another room.  My meal took way to long to come out and when it did finally arrive it was a poor excuse for a burger.  I asked for medium and it came out well done, the bun was dry and falling apart and the gorgonzola and carmelized onions were nonexistent.  A foodie I am not but I guess my tastes have been refined due to frequenting fine establishments like Bare Burger in Brooklyn.  What could I really expect from a dive bar in terms of food anyway?  At least they had a respectable number of quality beers on tap.  A pint of arrogant bastard helped wash down the sad burger.  On to the show.

Highlights included hearing EotW through the walls while eating and watching the locals get overly dramatic about the Flyers v. Penguins game.   Fight Amp was the first band I actually saw, and they definitely delivered the noise rock meets Helmet goods.  I'm happy to see these Jersey boys doing well, and their recent three way split with Kowloon Walled City and Ladder Devils is bordering on essential.  Stinking Lizaveta was a big surprise due to their inclusion of an upright bass (well played, gentlemen) and the frantic, capricious playing of the guitarist.  Their unpretentious and experimental sludge rock is not to be missed in the live setting.  The headliners were a head above the rest though, as the Squid was in fine form.  Quirky, avant-garde doom folk with an electric cello?  Hells yes!  The guitarist's vocals were a little grating and annoying though; possibly an acquired taste.  However, the cellists' vocals were much better, especially when she unleashed the evil witch howl.  The cello served as like a second bass or a piano and was well executed.  They rocked my ass off for the most part, and deserve your full support. 

Up next: Old Man Gloom at the church in Philly, probably Ulcerate/Tombs in Brooklyn and then....wait for it....MDF!!!!!!!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

All About Friends Forever Compilation

     All About Friends Forever represents everything that an underground metal/hardcore community should be about: DIY ethic, unity, spirit of independence, bands from all over the country coming together to contribute to a compilation album that provides a sampling of the scene today, and as it turns out, yesterday as well.  The original AAFF comp was released in 1996, and featured tracks by many legendary bands such as Coalesce, Threadbare, Botch and Trial.  Fast forward to 2012 and we will be treated to an updated version that will include two volumes: 1) the original LP remastered with two new bonus tracks; 2) an entirely new LP with tracks from current bands such as Great Falls, Tiger Flowers, Helms Alee, Ladder Devils and Torchbearer to name a few.  There is record release show in the works as well that's brought to you by the fine folks at 1000 Knives:

     There is also a facebook page devoted to this project if you want additional information and updates.  The Kickstarter page should provide more than enough info though.  There are many donation levels to choose from, ranging from the digital download for a mere $12 for 24 tracks, to $500 which includes the double LP, digital download, a t-shirt, original artwork by Rich Hall of 1000 Knives and more.  If you're a fan of forward thinking hardcore and/or nostalgic for that 1990's sound, do yourself a favor and support this comp.  I highly doubt that you'll be disappointed.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Great Falls - Fontanelle

     Let's start out with a little math: GF = PE - AG.  Is Great Falls really just Playing Enemy minus the considerable talents of Andrew Gormley, or are they something more?  On their first full length album, Fontanelle (Paradigms Recordings, 2011), Great Falls do their noisy best to shake off the Playing Enemy influence, but when it really comes down to it, the band is very similar to PE.  I'm not sure who the drummer is, but their sound is more abrasive than Gormley but with less flavor, technical proficiency and intensity.  I mean, come on, it's hard to top the drummer from Rorschach and Kiss it Goodbye.  Bassist/vocalist Shane Mehling's distorted sound is sort of like a metal garbage can dropped off the edge of a cliff (in a good way). He also screams his lungs out in blood curdling fashion to what seems to be the point of exhaustion.  Guitarist Demian Johnson ups the noise factor from previous PE releases to unlistenable thresholds.  It's hard to complain about this album though because this is my kind of band playing my kind of music.  They are not quite punk, metal, noise or hardcore; they are a unique and horrifying blend of these genres. 

     Most tracks are mid paced, and they're noisy, abrasive and punishing.  The whole album is a real downer.  If you're a bar tender and you want the crowd to clear out after last call, put this puppy on to get immediate results.  Who even plays music like this nowadays?  KEN mode, My America, Today is the Day, or maybe Narrows?  They're similar but not quite the same.  The stand out tracks for me came toward the end of the album: All Clean Necks and Neverwild.  I guess good things come to those who wait.  All Clean Necks has a catchy bass line with an awesome middle section with a disturbing slow bass drum beat.  It's sort of triumphant at the end as the pace begins to build and everything prepares to explode.  Neverwild is by far the most unique track on the album.  Featuring the filthy guest vocals of Ryan McKinney (Trap Them), the main riff is quickly paced and flirts with black metal. It's a disjointed and nasty track but connects at the end and comes home for the big win.   Enough praise cannot be bestowed on the artwork of Demian Johnston either. His work seamlessly blends simplicity, nature and realism, and has been a mainstay of all of PE and Great Falls' releases.  From being a musician in this band, an artist AND running a label (Dead Accents), Demian's creative streak is not unlike Aaron Turner of Isis fame.  Overall, this is a jarring release and should appeal to fans of quirky, off center extreme music.  Support this album now!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Juliet's First Hardcore Song: Can You Handle the Cuteness???

     A few friends of mine on Facebook posted this viral video on their pages.  At first I was skeptical but I'm glad I checked it out.  Juliet is an 8 year old Aussie who loves her dog Robert, stuffed animals, trampolines and hardcore/deathcore.  She knows what she likes and is confident enough to create some tunes and a video with I guess her dad?  Don't expect anything groundbreaking from the music as the song itself is very generic, but it's well produced as is the video.  The real draw here is adorable Juliet and Robert.  Are you down with the cuteness?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Pyrrhon, Don't Give a Fuck and Last Letters at Saint Vitus, Brooklyn, 11-28-2011

     Pyrrhon for free and $1 Gennesy cream ale cans all night, how could I say no?  That was a hard offer to pass up, so I headed in to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, for the show.  Shows at Saint Vitus have been happening for a few years now, and they are labeled as an exclusively metal venue.  Their reputation as a gathering place for metal fans in NYC has been growing, as indicated by the recent book signing done there by none other than the dark lord of metal himself, Tony Iommi. As metal is synonymous with high volumes, the venue is very loud and it is always difficult to carry on a conversation in the bar area.  As for the sound quality in the stage area, the situation is the same.  For better sound, I would prefer the intimate settings of Union Pool and The Acheron.  The warm tones at The Bell House are far superior as well.  Beer wise, they have a decent selection though, from cans of PBR up to fresh seasonal items from Six Point on draft.  After arriving too late for Risk, Brian and I settled in to a few pints of Six Point Sweet Action to start off the night. 

     Don't Give A Fuck were up soon after I got my pint.  Unfortunately, I missed them at the Acheron when they opened for Gaza, Defeatist and Tiger Flowers.  They seem to be going for a two man powerviolence style approach.  Comparisons to Iron Lung could be made (as the drummer sings in DGaF as well), but they are not as straightforward as Iron Lung. DGaF have other influences as well, such as hardcore punk and they tend to get a little more emotional than the icy Iron Lung.  It's interesting to see how they skillfully pull it all together.  Their demo is available for free on their Bandcamp page and comes highly recommended.  

     Up next was an screamo band from NJ called Last Letters.  Supposedly they were invited by the guys from DGaF to play the show.  Why, I have absolutely no idea.  Even at their most melodic and emotional, DGaF is infinitely more brutal than Last Letters.  The musical connection is hard to find, so I don't quite get it. The vocalist had the cutest little angular haricut and looked adorable in his sleeveless Cure t-shirt. To tell you the truth, I immediately thought of the Cephalic Carnage video for "Dying Will be the Death of Me" when I saw him on stage.  Please check out the link to the video below. 

     They might be good at what they do, but I'm surely not into it.  After their set, Brian quipped, "the vocalist will probably go home and cry his eyes out into his Morrisey tapes," and I couldn't agree more.  Again, If you're into this sort of thing then so be it, but I just don't understand why they would play a show with the quirky, challenging and technical brutality of Pyrrhon. 

     After Last Letters, Brian and I understandably needed a drink, so we switched things up and went for the $1 can special.  It was Brian's birthday, but I unfortunately couldn't convince him to let me buy him a glass of scotch.  The cream ales were surprisingly tasty and I think i might prefer them to PBR or Miller Lite.  Seeing Pyrrhon take the stage gave me a deep sigh of relief considering what just came off the stage.  These guys are like death metal magicians and it was a pleasure to see them perform again. The last time I saw them was at the Flourishing record release show earlier in the year and I was as enthralled with them then as I am now.   I'm so happy to see such an amazing and fresh death metal act come from this area.  They are in the hungry, vibrant and hyper creative phase of an excellent band's early career.  Their first ep, Fever Kingdoms (The Path Less Traveled, 2010), was an interesting take on Hate Eternal inspired death metal and they displayed much promise.  Listening to the new album however, An Excellent Servant but a Terrible Master (Selfmadegod, 2011), makes it difficult to revisit the ep due to their exponential growth.  Tracks like Idiot Circles combine catchiness with technicality and come across very well when performed live.  Guitarist Dylan has mastered the sticky riffing and tone of Suffocation while drummer Alex subtely connects all the pieces of the puzzle.  Personally, bassist Eric is my favorite to watch as he skillfully and adroitly commands his instrument, laying down the bottom end in a fashion that would make Cliff proud.  Vocalist Doug rounds out this youthful all-star team with a healthy mixture of vocal effects ranging from guttural to a harsh rasp and spoken; one should take note of his deep vocabulary and the intellectual heft of his lyrics.  This band is poised to take their act to the next level and more well established extreme metal bands should be clamoring to have them join their package tours.  Here's to hoping that they become less of a regional and more of a national if not global phenomemon. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Gaza, Defeatist, Tiger Flowers and Don't Give a Fuck at The Acheron, Brooklyn, 11-12-2011

     On my way into Brooklyn, my friend Eric (bassist of Flourishing) asked me if I wanted to meet up for dinner before the show.  Since I hadn't eaten yet, I took him up on the offer.  After parking near the venue on a deserted industrial side street of Bushwick, I walked a few blocks over to meet him and his girlfriend, Alison, at a Roberta's Pizza.  We were shocked to find out that the wait was two and a half hours to be seated.  Really Roberta's, 2.5 hours for pizza?!?  Other hipsters looked dismayed as they were turned away at the door by the ridiculous wait.  Bushwick is rumored to be the next Williamsburg, but it has a long way to go.  It does have its fair share of indie coffee shops, restaurants and bars, so it didn't take us long to find an alternative.  We settled on a nearby Mexican restaurant, Taqueria El Fogon.  This establishment was super authentic, from the food to the decor.  My fish tacos paired nicely with a Negra Modelo, but I regret not having a chorizo taco. 

     After the fine fare, we made our way over to the venue.  While walking through the streets, Alison noted that this area seems really gritty, in a quiet, cold and post-industrial kind of way.  This is in line with my earlier assessment of Bushwick, or at least these couple of blocks.  Dinner ran a little late, and we didn't make it to The Acheron until about 9 PM.  After joking with the door guy about the authenticity of my $100 bill, I went in.  Note to self: why am I always carrying large bills at shows?  Maybe it's subconscious thoughts of hitting the merch table hard later in the night.  Anyway, I heard a few chords from the opener, Don't Give a Fuck, and then made my way to the bathroom.  Word on the street is that the Acheron is a DIY spot, and in true punk spirit the bathroom had no soap.  Uncleansed, I headed back to the stage area only to find that DGaF finished there set. 
     The Acheron's stage area is long, narrow and dark, and off to the left is another small room for merch and a bar.  The walls are adorned with colorful flyers from previous shows.  The special for the night was a can of Busch and a shot of your choice for 5 bucks.  Since I had to drive back to NJ later that night, I went for something a little more tame, a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.  We met up with my friend Curran (Wetnurse, Today is the Day, Precious Metal) at the bar.  Today is the Day recently played the MetalSucks Fest the previous weekend, so we talked about that for a while and the progress of his many other creative projects.  Eager to see local favorites Tiger Flowers, we went back to the stage area.  The last time I saw Tiger Flowers was at the Cake Shop in Manhattan with Flourishing and a generic NeurIsis clone from Norway, the name of which escapes me.  Damn, they have grown into quite a formidable beast in the live setting.  First off is the singer who is high energy and has over the top stage presence. Couple that with their burly, noisy and intelligent hardcore, and you're in for a treat.  Tracks like Weight come across so well live.  The drummer plays with heart and not technicality.  The bass player however is much more precise, switching from pick to fingers when appropriate and even doing some slap work at times.  The day after the show, I was so impressed with them that I picked up their new EP on Amazon.  It didn't set me back much; a mere $3.96 for a 4 track ep, so do yourself a favor and buy it now.  Overall the ep doesn't quite stand up to their live show, but it's still very high quality for a first release.  As they mature more as a band and continue to play out, their material will only improve.  

     At the conclusion of Tiger Flowers set, Eric and I went to the bar for another round of Sierra Pale Ales.  We ran into Doug, the vocalist of local tech-death heroes, Pyrrhon. It was my first time meeting him, though I've seen his band a few times.  I remember complementing him on his menacing stage presence.  Their new album, An Excellent Servant but a Terrible Master is out now, but I can't seem to find it on itunes or amazon for digital purchase.  Hopefully they will have physical copies at their next show.  Things started to get loud and nasty in the other room.  Defeatist were up.

     A few days prior to the show, Defeatist announced that they are breaking up.  If my memory serves me correctly, their statement said something to the effect that 'this turd needs to finally be flushed down the toilet.'  Though I've never been very fond of them, their assessment of themselves is a bit too harsh.  Bassist Josh  and drummer Joel played some Radiation Blackbody to warm up.  That's their noisy math rock side project which I highly recommend.  Defeatist's set was, well Defeatist.  Their grind is short, fast and right to the point.  That's usually the case with grind, but they just don't give you anything to grab onto.  There's no meat on the bone.  They're like a grind light switch: grind on; grind off.  Their skill set is top notch though, especially Joel.  Drummers out there should take note of his ability to control volume and precision at hyper speeds.  

     All the way from Utah, Gaza were up to headline.   Last year I got my hands on their album, He is Never Coming Back (Black Market Activities, 2010).  It didn't do too much for me and was sort of in one ear and out the other.  Albeit bruising, burly and brutal, I didn't quite get their wide spread appeal.  That was of course until I saw them perform.  Some bands are clearly must see live bands, and Gaza fit into this category. Now I see why they have had a strong influence on other bands such as Engineer, Bone Dance and Tiger Flowers.  Their volume was just massive. One of the guitarist's speaker cabinets was this monstrous grey beast (see pic below).  I don't know what brand it is but I've never seen anything like it.  The vocalist, who stood at an imposing 6'5"+, ran into the crowd and picked someone up and carried them into the back of the venue on a few occasions.  At one point it was the crowd doing gang vocals versus me, and me versus the wall.  Guess who won?  The wall.  Yea, it was that kind of show and worth every moment.