First thing’s first: As one of the two presenting parties for the show — the other being BrooklynVegan, whose promotional assistance was massively appreciated for this weekender tour — I probably shouldn’t even be reviewing it at all. On the other hand, however, Black Pyramid, Kings Destroy and Clamfight rule, and after plugging the living crap out of it beforehand (see here, here and here), it seems like I’d be leaving the story unfinished without some kind of wrap-up. I felt a little bit like I was going to my own birthday party.
It was the first night of a three-gig weekender, at Union Pool in Brooklyn. The other two shows, Saturday and Sunday, were in Rochester and Allston, Mass., but this one had the added bonus of being free, so all the better. Yeah, C.O.C. and Royal Thunder were playing down at the St. Vitus bar the same night, but though that provided a bit of pre-show anxiety, the crowd was by no means lacking for any of the bands. Even as Clamfight got going, the room had plenty of people in it, for which I was thankful.
I’d shown up to the venue early to deliver the NJ/Philly-based outfit their I vs. the Glacier CDs, due out for release on The Maple Forum on Jan 22. It wasn’t long before they were out on the merch table, so hopefully a few people got early copies, which is always awesome. They got going circa 9:30PM and delivered a set of their epic riffy thrash. Their set was almost entirely new songs — that would prove to be a theme throughout the night — with “The Eagle” as a highlight alongside the slower, more languid guitars of “River of Ice,” which guitarists Sean McKee and Joel Harris made all the groovier while drummer/vocalist Andy Martin slammed his drums so hard he collapsed his floor tom and broke every stick he brought with him for the three shows, leaving Louis Koble‘s steady bass to the task of holding the songs together.
Martin, who has been occasionally known to throw up the night’s alcohol on stage but was doubtless pacing himself for the weekend ahead on Friday, has emerged as a solid frontman presence in the band, despite being behind the drums. He plays with charisma and the shouts and screams he lets loose feel like cruelties directed at the microphone. The band would do well to push his kit more to the front of the stage — not necessarily with anyone behind, but playing more on a lateral, à la Weedeater – and give their set even more of an unhinged atmosphere. As it was, they more than gave a favorable impression to the crowd, and capped off with “Stealing the Ghost Horse,” which also closes I vs. the Glacier and is arguably the most expansive Clamfight song yet, with a sense of drama to offset some of the brashness found elsewhere and a one-man clean/harsh call and response from Martin that’s as memorable live as it is on the album.
This was the first time I’d seen them since being delivered the master for I vs. the Glacier and knowing the songs better just made their set more fun to watch. McKee is relatively understated on stage — well-headbanged hair often obscuring his face entirely — but standing alone to Martin‘s left, he tears into a slew of killer solos, while Harris and Koble keep the riffs flowing on the other wise. Their live dynamic is beginning to come into its own. There are kinks to be worked out — more shows will help — but the potential remains strong and they did right by their new songs, as did Brooklyn’s own Kings Destroy, who turned the lights low and played cuts off their new record, the title of which I’m pretty sure I’m not at liberty to reveal.
I’m not aware of any album title, nor would I be at liberty to disclose any such title were I aware of its existence. Turn your head and cough. Ha.
As if the lighting at Union Pool needed to be any more challenging to my novice-ass picture-taking, Kings Destroy basically played in the dark but for a projection of what looked like shards of light that cut through. Their new songs — the likes of “The Toe,” “Decrepit” the more upbeat “Casse-Tête” and “Storm Break” — are a distant cry from where their first album, And the Rest Will Surely Perish (also a Maple Forum release, fancy that), once came. Part of that has to be due to the departure of bassist Ed Bocchino as a songwriting factor, but if it’s guitarists Carl Porcaro and Chris Skowronski coming up with the guitar parts around which this current batch of material is based, the results are intricate, complex and more and more atmospheric. I’m not about to decry the first album — I wouldn’t if I could — they’ve just flipped the formula on its head and as a result are less tied to genre stylistically.
They’ve also become a force on stage. Union Pool isn’t a huge room, but neither is it small, and that’s how the five-piece made it look, bassist Aaron Bumpus, drummer Rob Sefcik and vocalist Steve Murphy delivering a pro-grade run through a well-constructed set of their latest, the chaos all the more palpable for the fact that it was basically happening in the dark. The band all around has grown from their time on stage in Europe and the US, Skowronski and Porcaro keeping individual identities in a wash of tone and feedback, Murphy cutting through the morass, Bumpus touching on creative fills that just hint at the mountain of talent on which he seems to stand, while Sefcik‘s propulsive thunder proved no less weighted fast or slow. Their new stuff runs a risk of throwing some people off who perhaps expect a direct port of the straightforward side of the debut, but they’re on the way to mastering their aesthetic, and the direction they’re headed in is rich and progressive in a way that they’ve barely hinted at being to this point.
So yeah, by the time they finished with the creepy awesomeness of “Turul,” the first two bands of the night had me in a full-on nerdout. I can admit it. I wasn’t exactly going for impartiality here to start with, just trying to let you know how it went down. And if I wasn’t a fan of the bands, I probably wouldn’t have signed on to release their stuff on The Maple Forum, so if you have to take the review with a grain of salt, well, fine.
A note about the hazards of no cover charge: As Kings Destroy were wrapping up, Guy Who Clearly Just Wandered In saw me standing by the side of the stage in front of Black Pyramid drummer Clay Neely‘s kit and asked if I was in a band. It’s not an unreasonable suspicion — black t-shirt, jeans, long hair, beard; I’ve got the uniform. Now, I don’t want to go around making unreasonable assumptions about the behavior of others, but with the stickers on his $500 leather jacket, the crazed look in his eyes, dual-blonde accompaniment and “I’m everybody’s best buddy and the life of the party” demeanor, I had no choice but to presume he was on cocaine.
This is not an unreasonable assumption to make about anyone on a Friday night in either the Manhattan or Brooklyn boroughs of New York City, but I think that given the evidence — circumstantial though it is — I wasn’t necessarily in the wrong for being on my toes. I told him that, no, I wasn’t in the band, and that Neely, standing next to me, was their drummer. Sweat running down from the well-tended crop of spiky hair on his head, he persisted, as though I was simply obscuring the fact that I was in a band, indeed the band that was playing next, and we were just involved in some kind of playful joshing. No sir, I insisted, I’m not in a band, not in that band. Finally, and in a sterner tone that was not quite a yell but nonetheless definitely the “daddy voice” I’ve put on while scolding my dog for chasing a squirrel toward the road, I told him, “Dude, I’m not in that band. I’m just weird looking. I promise you,” and walked away to watch the end of Kings Destroy‘s set. So to the hazards of no cover: You ne’er know who’s gonna walk in.
It turned out — much to his surprise — that I wasn’t in Black Pyramid. Neely, bassist Dave Gein and guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard (who killed it just six days prior performing as Blackwolfgoat at the Small Stone Boston showcase) were in Black Pyramid, and no sooner were they set up and ready to go than were they laying waste to everything in their path, including the room, which by this point was fairly well packed out. Up front were a few headbangers — a rarity for New York anything — and the band’s energy fed off their own as they led off with “Stormbringer” and then went into “Aphelion” from their 2012 split with Odyssey, the first studio cut with Shepard‘s vocals and guitar, its axe-wielding groove making it an immediate highlight.
There were a few new cuts in the set from Black Pyramid‘s next album, which was finished being recorded only hours before the band pulled up to play Day Four of this year’s SHoD, and it’s worth noting how much more at home Shepard seemed on the material he helped compose. He stepped into kind of an awkward situation when he joined the band late last year before the release of their second full-length, II, and though he’s done well to make the prior material his own — as “Stormbringer,” “Visions of Gehenna” and the finale “No Life King” showed — there’s a difference between his performance of the songs he adopted versus the songs he wrote. It’s not an easy thing to make someone else’s work yours — that’s why most covers suck — but what he brings to Black Pyramid is about 20 years of writing killer riffs, plus an ability to toss off embarrass-your-lead-guitarist solos like he was taking off a pair of shoes. He makes some of the older leads look easy to the point of silliness.
His vocals on both new material and old fit the songs excellently, though, and he, Gein and Neely were as tight as I’ve ever seen Black Pyramid, including at Roadburn 2011, which if it wasn’t their prior apex had to be close to it. I’m hardly objective in their case either, even if I haven’t released anything of theirs, but the crispness of their presentation made me look forward all the more to when I might get the chance to hear the studio versions of the new tracks and give them an overly-worded track-by-track review, which no doubt will also carry with it a disclaimer disavowing any and all critical credibility. But it’ll be fun, and that’s what matters.
Ditto that for this gig. It was a great time. All three of these bands are made up of killer dudes, and when I rolled out of Union Pool and headed back to Jersey, I was more than a little wistful at the thought of following the tour up north to Rochester, but it wasn’t to be. Instead, I rolled into my humble river valley at around 1:30AM, found that the internet had finally come back on after Hurricane Sandy, and spent the remainder of the evening — all 25 minutes of it — beginning to chip away at the weeks of neglected emails that I hadn’t had the chance to answer. Some you win, some you lose. I felt lucky to see these three acts on the night I did, and hopefully they get together and do it again.
More pics after the jump.