Posted in Features on June 17th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
In the interview that follows, The Obsessed bassist Dave Sherman talks about his bandmate, guitarist/vocalist Scott ‘Wino’ Weinrich, as one of the principal figures in doom. And no doubt he is. But what Sherman leaves out of that equation for the most part are his own contributions to the style. In his attitude and in decades of music in Wretched, Spirit Caravan, Earthride, Weed is Weed, King Valley and a slew of others, Sherman has come to embody the relentless pursuit at the heart of Maryland doom. Approachable, good natured and a lifer in his commitment to the heavy, he is no less a figurehead for that scene than Wino, Bobby Liebling of Pentagram, or anyone else. Maryland doom simply wouldn’t be what it is today without him.
Next week, The Obsessed — Sherman, Wino and drummer Brian Constantino — headline the second annual Maryland Doom Fest alongside Bang and Mos Generator. They just wrapped a full US tour with Karma to Burn and The Atomic Bitchwax (who cut their portion short due to injury and were replaced by Sierra), and announced along the way that they’ve signed to Relapse Records for the release of the first full-length by The Obsessed in more than two decades, tentatively-titled Sacred. It’s been a long, crooked road getting Wino and Sherman together as The Obsessed, even counting just from The Obsessed starting their reunion at Roadburn 2012 (review here), then dropping that to get back together and tour as Spirit Caravan before swapping one moniker for the other earlier this year, but to hear Sherman tell it, the journey seems to have been no less satisfying than it was complicated.
When we spoke a couple weeks ago, The Obsessed were getting ready to head into the final portion of the aforementioned tour, and were camped out in San Francisco waiting to go soundcheck at Slim’s. It was a relatively brief conversation, but in it Sherman talks about working with Frank “The Punisher” Marchand and Rob Queen on the new recordings — Queen also helmed the recently-unveiled “Be the Night” demo (posted here) — the signing to Relapse, the band’s place in doom history and more.
One would hardly call the ascent of Swedish heavy rockers Greenleaf sudden, considering their self-titled debut EP was released in 2000, but there was a clear point at which the band decided they would become a full-time act. It was sometime after 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here). That album was the band’s third for Small Stone after 2007’s landmark Agents of Ahriman (review here) and 2003’s Secret Alphabets, and while for years Greenleaf had existed as a side-project for Dozer guitarist Tommi Holappa and a number of other compatriots — among them early Dozer producer Bengt Bäcke and Truckfighters vocalist Oskar Cedermalm — the band very clearly decided it was time to hit the road, and to hit it hard.
This required some shakeups. Cedermalm out as singer, Greenleaf brought in vocalist Arvid Jonsson and drummer Sebastian Olsson for 2014’s Trails and Passes (review here), which offered an approach far more stripped down than its predecessor but was a crucial reset for the band in light of 2016’s Rise Above the Meadow (review here). Their first for Napalm Records and recorded by one-time drummer Karl Daniel Lidén with Dozer‘s Johan Rockner on bass — Hans Fröhlich now has the role — their sixth album overall reinvents the band’s context, building on what Greenleaf was before to shape what they’ll become going forward. What’s without a doubt one of the finest heavy rock outings of the year, it’s marked by a standout performance from Jonsson as frontman and by the consistency of Holappa‘s songwriting, which has always served as the uniting factor in Greenleaf‘s work.
When I spoke to Holappa about the band, they were just off the “Up in Smoke” tour with My Sleeping Karma and Australia’s Mammoth Mammoth (both labelmates), and the guitarist talked about the lineup shifts in the group, the prospect of their making a long-awaited US debut live early next year, his view of the relationship between Dozer and Greenleaf at this point, establishing Greenleaf‘s dynamic and beginning the process of moving forward from Rise Above the Meadow.
It’s all the more fitting that the band should focus on their live presentation in their new video for “Tyrant’s Tongue,” for which I’m happy today to host the premiere, as they’ve become so much a live act and that’s a decent portion of where my conversation with Holappa was geared. About the clip, the band said, “This is a display of what we usually do on tours. Just in case you where all wondering. Hope you can dig it!”
Please find the video below, followed by the complete, 2,600-word Q&A of the interview, and enjoy:
Greenleaf, “Tyrant’s Tongue” official video
Greenleaf Interview with Tommi Holappa:
How was the “Up in Smoke” tour?
The “Up in Smoke” tour was really, really good. Especially, yeah. Two cool bands, My Sleeping Karma and Mammoth Mammoth, us. It was three different kinds of bands, but it all fit really well together. I think we had seven out of 11 shows sold out.
After Greenleaf wasn’t ever a full-time touring band for so long, it’s great that now you’re getting out and doing that. Have you gotten any gauge as to the response to the material?
I think the response has been good overall. I don’t know how many reviews we’ve got so far but it’s been a whole bunch, most have been really good.
How has the process been for you, of taking the band out on the road? You had to rework the lineup, can you talk about putting Greenleaf together to the point where you can go on tour?
You know how it is, we’ve been changing members (laughs) I don’t know. Especially after Bengt left and when Johan joined the band, it was like, “okay, this is the lineup.” I told him that we would tour a lot, we would have a lot to do next year when the album comes out, he said “no problem, I will work it out.” He’s studying, has two kids and he has a job also. But he said he would work it out, so I said, “okay you’re in.” He was in the band for like six months and then it was more like, “can Bengt do this show? That show? I can’t really do this show,” and so on, so we had to sit down and talk with him and say this really didn’t work for us because we need to/want to play a lot. So that’s when we, yeah, we contacted Hans from Grandloom because we’ve known him for a few years. He’s a great guy and an amazing bass player. When we asked he said yes right away. At the moment, I think this is, I will not say this is the lineup that will last for a few years but I hope so (laughs). It feels really good at the moment and Hans is totally into it. He really wants to tour as much as possible, write albums and songs. He’s totally dedicated to Greenleaf now. That’s what we need, we need four guys that are dedicated to do this, this Greenleaf thing.
After Nest of Vipers, when you brought Arvid in, was that something you did building towards getting the band to be more full-time?
Yeah, me and Bengt have talked about that. We did one tour with Oskar. It was sometime after we release Nest of Vipers. We did one tour with him and we felt like, yeah, this is fun we should do more touring with Bengt! Sebastian had just joined as well for that tour. So we said yeah, let’s tour more. We knew that OsKar is yeah – Truckfighters all the time pretty much. So just before Arvid joined the band we asked if he’s ready to tour, and he said yeah, sure. As long as — he was still in his other band at the time. The Humphrey Bogarts, the more pop-rock band he had. But he said he can be in two bands. I don’t know if they really toured but they did a bunch of shows in Sweden. He said we can organize that we tour and then they do their shows when we don’t tour, you know what I mean. Then we said that yeah, you can join the band if you want, and if you can tour, we will do it.
The thing that struck me most when listening to Rise Above the Meadow was how much it really built off of Trails and Passes.
I think that kind of happened naturally for us, because Trails and Passes was the first album with Arvid and Sebastian on drums. That was when we started to get to know each other pretty much. We wrote a bunch of songs and now this feels good, we were really satisfied with Trails and Passes and then we started writing songs for Rise Above the Meadow — we’ve been together for a year at least, almost. So we knew each other and Arvid brought in more of his influences. I guess it’s just natural growth for the band.
Do you feel playing more shows has been a part of that too? Solidifying that chemistry with basically a new lineup?
Yeah. I think that’s — playing a lot of shows, of course we get to know each other or musically getting tighter, working out better. Playing shows and songwriting, yeah, I don’t know (laughs).
How was the time in the studio for Rise Above the Meadow compared to Trails and Passes? Bengt wasn’t on the album or he was?
Was it weird to be in the studio without him?
Not really because I’ve been in the studio with Johan so many times. (laughs) But in a bit, it was because when Johan joined the band, we had already written pretty much half of the songs with Bengt in the band, he joined the band — in the studio — yeah, we didn’t have as much time to rehearse as we wanted to, so some songs he knew and some songs he had to improvise a little bit on in the studio, so it took a little bit longer time that we were used to. Bengt usually knew exactly what to play when he got into the studio. Bengt is a machine. He knows that — I don’t know if I can say this but he knows that you’re supposed to rehearse and be prepared when you go to the studio (laughs). But I know [Johan] was busy with studying and kids and all that. It all worked out fine in the end. Maybe took a few hours more than we were — because we were on a tight schedule. We had four days in the studio and I’m the last one — we recorded everything live, drums, bass and guitar and then when that was done, we go back and fix the bass if there are any mistakes, we’ll redo the bass if there’s any mistakes. Then after the bass, it’s the guitarist. So the longer the fixing the bass takes, the less time I get (laughs). So usually I have the last hours and last half a day in the studio to stress out the solos and everything.
So a little pressure.
A little bit, hopefully next time we can afford to have one more day in the studio (laughs).
You can’t argue with the results.
I’m really satisfied. The experience for this record, it was all a good vibe in the studio. We all had fun and you can hear it on the record, I think.
I like Trails and Passes, and I’m a fan of your songwriting. I feel like Rise Above the Meadow has more energy to it, which I was attributing to the band being more of a live presence. It’s interesting to hear you say that you recorded mostly the basic tracks live, it really comes across.
We did that with Trails and Passes also, recording it live, but it might be like you said — if we played more live, there you have it. Maybe that’s the way the real live song comes from this time. I haven’t really thought about it, but it could be.
The title, Rise Above the Meadow I know is from “A Million Fireflies,” was there something more particular that made you guys take it as the title?
Arvid wrote the lyrics for “A Million Fireflies,” he sent them to me and I saw the line “rise above the meadow” and thought that’s a good album title. I wrote him and asked what he thought and he liked it too. That’s why we chose it. It felt right at the moment as the album title.
Was there any significance to it? Something that made it stand out?
We were talking about still continuing in the same, like the trails and passes — it’s about forests and there’s a mountain on the cover. We still wanted to have the same theme, so when we decided the album would be called Rise Above the Meadow we thought about, yeah, we should definitely have a bear on the cover. It didn’t start with a bear but some animal on the cover because, yeah, we’ve walked into the woods and now we want an animal and then we decided on a bear. After we decided that Sebastian Jerke was doing the cover art, we told him our idea and gave him the album title and song titles, lyrics and of course we don’t have any imaginations and we said yeah, meadow and a bear and he was like. That’s a good idea, give me a couple of days, is it okay if I put a little more of my own ideas in there and be a little more psychedelic? Yeah sure. Do whatever you want. Then he gave us a rough sketch of the cover and I was blown away by it. For me, the album cover is really — I don’t know, have you seen the vinyl?
It’s amazing. There’s a 16-page booklet in it and everything, all the artwork he has done for it, every song has a different picture, it’s amazing. You should tell Mona from Napalm to send you one.
Will you be touring this summer?
Last summer we did so many shows. I think I had one weekend off in like, two or three months last summer. So this summer we will have four weeks off in the middle of the summer, just to keep our girlfriends happy (laughs).
What will you do with that time?
Vacation! I love fishing and I will actually try and fish something. Last year I only fished twice I think. Back to your question, we have some festivals in June and then in August also but in July, maybe one or two shows at the end of July.
I don’t know if you’ll be able to sit still that long.
We’ll see! But it’ll give me some time to write new Greenleaf songs.
Ah! There it is.
I can’t stop playing. We don’t have full songs but we have riffs for four to five new songs already. Keep working (laughs).
What’s the relationship in your mind between Dozer and Greenleaf? It’s almost like they’ve switched where Greenleaf is the centerpiece project.
That’s how it is now because with Dozer, I told the guys whenever you want to do something I am there. If you want to do a tour, we can do that, but Fredrik [Nordin, Dozer guitar/vocals] is not really into doing a tour. So it’s pretty much up to Fredrik what we would do with Dozer if he wants. When he’s up for doing a few shows he just tells us or if we get them like we did Up in Smoke, or if we get a good offer I ask Fredrik if he wants to do it, he says yes or no and that’s it. I know we did Desertfest in Belgium last year and Johan and Olle [Mårthans, Dozer drums], they were like we should write some new songs, we should really do something. I was like sure, we can do that. They talk to Fredrik after a few beers also, (laughs). Frederick was like yeah, we can try. Then we decided — Johan, me and Fredrik we live in Borlange all of us and Olle lives in Örebro so we told Olle just — and his parents still live here. So he’s here every once in awhile, contact us when you’re here and let’s rehearse and see what happens. But, nothing happened. (Laughs) He didn’t contact us, but we will see. We have been talking about maybe writing, we will not do a full album but maybe a few songs and just release it digitally or maybe do a 7″ or something. I think we need to do that, if we want to do more shows we can’t just keep on playing the same songs over and over again. We’ve done that now for three or four years, three or four shows a year. Time to give the fans something new. I think it will happen, but it will take some time. Maybe not this year, or next year.
But having built Greenleaf as the focus, do you feel like there are lessons you’ve learned on how to manage a band internally that from Dozer that you take to Greenleaf?
Of course I’ve learned a lot with Dozer. How to do things and how to work with other people (laughs). In the early days there weren’t discussions between band members — you do too much stuff! You decide all the time which riffs are good and which are bad. But with Dozer, those years were — it was the same feeling we have in Greenleaf. We do everything together. That’s how you keep everyone in the band happy, just writing songs together. I come up with the riffs, then we play it, jam it at the rehearsal room and if it feels good, it feels good. If one person is not happy with the song, than we will not finish the song. When everybody feels it’s good, that’s a new Greenleaf or a new Dozer song. Try to keep everybody happy and everybody involved, and then everybody will be.
Any chance of a US tour?
With Greenleaf, yes. In [early 2017].
I heard a rumor of Greenleaf and Clutch.
That’s probably rumors but I know that Clutch have invited us to come, if they are on tour when we go there, yeah they invited us to play with them but I don’t know if they’re touring because we got the dates. If Clutch isn’t on tour at the time, maybe we can do some shows with them. I know we’ll do both coasts and everything in between. More than that, I don’t know.
Glad you’re coming over.
Finally. People have been asking us for two years, maybe next year. But finally we have decided, let’s do it now. It’s about time.
Will you do more in Europe before that other than the festivals?
Yeah, we’ll do a headline tour in September / October — a four-week tour, a lot of shows. I think we have the four-week tour, then three weeks at home and then we do the US tour after that. I don’t expect to make a lot of money to do the US tour so we have to play Europe to be able to pay for the US tour.
Bring a lot of t-shirts to sell.
Yep. We need to bring a lot of merch to pay for the flights.
What is the timeline on writing?
Yeah, hopefully. Then, I know after the US tour, it’s not confirmed yet but we might go to Australia in February next year. But after that, we will take two months off and finish our new songs. I’m pretty sure there will be a new Greenleaf album next year, after the summer sometime. That’s just my guess, but after the summer next year.
Posted in Features on May 19th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Next Thursday, May 26, Radio Moscow, The Freeks, Albatross Overdrive and Grand Old Evils hit The Federal Bar in Long Beach for a show put on by Knitting Factory Presents. Leave a comment on this post to be entered into a giveaway to win a pair of tickets to the show.
Now, if you know this site you know I’m broke as shit, so don’t even think travel is included. But if you’re in SoCal or you’re going to be, the lineup pretty much sells itself. Please make sure that if you enter you’ll be able to attend, and please make sure to put your email address in the comment form so I can contact you if you win. Your email will not be stored, or remembered, or sold, or any of that other shady shit that people do with email addresses these days. The only time you’ll hear from me is if you’re a winner.
So, as you’ve got nothing to lose and a night of kickass rock and roll to gain, I say have at it. Show poster, info, ticket links and so on follow here, and you can leave a comment at the bottom of the post.
Thanks to all who enter:
KNITTING FACTORY PRESENTS
Thursday May 26:
Radio Moscow, The Freeks, Albatross Overdrive, The Grand Old Evils
The Federal 102 Pine Ave Long Beach, California 90802
The power trio led by the Stratocaster genius Parker Griggs have found THE formula: Crunching, heavy Sabbath-style chords topped with fiery solos that earn the right to be called Hendrixian. RN plants their flag firmly in the territory where psychedelic rock and cranked-up blues meet. The sound is unabashedly retro (think Cream, Blue Cheer, Led Zep or Jimi Hendrix Experience)’ so it’s easy to see how it caught the ear of the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who produced Radio Moscow’s 2007 self-titled debut.
With Brain Cycles, their second album, Radio Moscow proved they’re not a cheap time machine but a direct descendant from the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll. In 2011, Griggs continued his psychedelic trip with The Great Escape of Leslie Magnafuzz released by Alive Records. In June 2014, and still with Alive Records, the band released their most recent album Magical Dirt.
Led by Ruben Romano (founding member of FuManchu and Nebula) and supported by Bob Lee on drums (Claw Hammer, Backbiter, Mike Watt), Tom Davies on bass (Nebula), Esteban Chavez on keys, and Jonathan Hall on guitar (Angry Samoans, Backbiter), the Freeks deliver raw, unrefined, screaming fuzzed psychedelic rock’n’roll music that is dream bent with tension and laced with Full On passion.
Albatross Overdrive is a heavy rock band incorporating influences from Sabbath to James Brown. A definite bluesy undertone is present in the earthquake like songs with just a hint of funk. The diversity of melodies will keep the audience focused while the live show will demand respect.
Grand Old Evils:
The Grand Old Evils is Southern California’s newest oldest band, born to drink beer and melt your face with ear blasting dirty rock and massive sound!
Posted in Features on May 3rd, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Philadelphia’s Crypt Sermon made one of last year’s most impressive debuts with Out of the Garden (review here), a full-length of driving and metallic substance that recalled a heyday before doom and metal could really be thought of as separate entities. To call it a “powerhouse” effort would not be overstating it, since the five-piece’s command ran so strongly through the material as to betray the album’s being a debut at all. The response it earned after its release on Dark Descent Records was suitably fervent for a group brazenly lending a sense of freshness to a traditional style that so often prides itself on being stale.
Comprised of vocalist Brooks Wilson, guitarists Steve Jansson and James Lipczynski, bassist Will Mellor and drummer Enrique Sagarnaga, the story of Crypt Sermon is really just at its beginning point. Prior to Out of the Garden, the band issued 2013’s Demo MMXIII (review here) to serve notice of their arrival and intent, but while their denim-and-leather, fist-pump-ready doom seems to have arrived fully matured, Out of the Garden tracks like “Into the Holy of Holies” and the classically chugging “Heavy Riders” signaled as well that Crypt Sermon have begun a creative progression that, one hopes, will continue to play out as they move forward.
They’re keeping busy in the interim, of course. Local shows in Philadelphia with luminaries of various repute — they recently opened for the Philly date of the Decibel tour with Abbath and High on Fire, among others — plus strategic slots at major fests as they spread the word about who they are and what they do. Maryland Deathfest is booked for later this month, and they’ll be at Psycho Las Vegas in August. This spring, they also participated in Metal Blade Records‘ Metal Massacre 14, hand-picked to do so by curator Alan Averill, frontman of Primordial.
The upshot is Crypt Sermon, in addition to having songwriting and performance on their side, are putting in work-smarter-type work to spread their darkened, sometimes extreme gospel. I had the chance recently to chat with Jansson about the band’s latest doings, and you’ll find that complete Q&A after the jump.
Posted in Features on May 2nd, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
To run down the list of accolades that the Boston-area music scene has (rightly) foisted upon producer/engineer Benny Grotto of Mad Oak Studios over the last however many years would take a really, really long time, but suffice it to say that when an opportunity to watch him work is afforded, it’s not one you want to neglect. It’s a pleasure I first had six years ago, as Grotto — who also until recently was drumming in Slapshot — was mixing what would become Solace‘s long-awaited A.D. full-length, but of course his production credits go much further than that, including an entire pantheon of releases through Small Stone Records by Dwellers, Roadsaw — whose Craig Riggs is an owner of Mad Oak, along with Grotto and PK Pandey — Sasquatch, Gozu and The Brought Low, as well as local luminaries like The Scimitar, Black Thai and Second Grave, among many others.
But most of that, apart from the Second Grave, which is forthcoming, was done in the old Mad Oak. In January, the studio opened a new facility at 390 Cambridge St. in Allston, MA, and immediately set about filling the calendar with clients, among them reunited New Hampshire burl rockers Scissorfight, who were there tracking five songs for a new EP to be released sometime later this year. It will mark their first offering in a decade and their first with a new lineup including Doug Aubin on vocals and Rick Orcutt on drums alongside bassist Paul Jarvis and guitarist Jay Fortin that recently made their live debut to a sold-out Shaskeen in Portsmouth, NH, the first of many more live shows to come. The appeal of hearing new Scissorfight in-progress under Grotto‘s care was too good to ignore, so I headed into Allston last Wednesday to check out the tail end of the session.
Greeted outside by Jarvis‘ dog, Anna, who spent most of her time lounging on a bed made of an old flannel shirt, and Jarvis and Aubin, I made my way into the place to find Grotto, as ever, in front of a monitor filled with waveforms. A large tv on the wall behind him allowed anyone sitting on the plush couch nearby to see what he was doing, and from the spacious, clean layout of the room, it was clear that the studio had only been living in the redone space for a couple months. The floor, the ceiling, the giant monitors embedded in and in front of the wall to blast from a small stage in the control room — none of it had yet been kicked to hell by time, and the same went for the high-ceiling live room, which, if the sound of Orcutt‘s drums was anything to go by, is going to make a lot of percussionists very happy.
“From my end, I wanted to basically steal all the cool things I liked about the other studios I’d been working at, as well as minimize or eliminate the negative things that those places had,” Grotto explained. “For me, the general vibe and level of comfort were the primary issue. I wanted to set the place up in a way that really facilitates creativity and a relaxed atmosphere. We have unbelievable sight-lines throughout the whole studio, lots of comfortable places to relax, and a wealth of instruments and gear that are all easily accessible, which helps artists to get ideas down quickly before the inspiration dries up.
“One of the big advantages to the new space is that we got to design it to our exact needs, from the ground up. So we were able take all the lessons that Riggs learned building the first place, combine them with my experience over the last couple years working in a variety of studios as a freelancer, and combine all that with PK‘s extensive experience as a studio building consultant, and really dial the whole thing into what is more or less our dream studio.”
The layout of the space reminds of a complex piece of software designed to look and operate simply. The live room is flanked on either side by isolation booths, there are big doors for load-in, the control room, a break space/kitchen, bathroom, etc., but from the cork in the ceiling to Grotto controlling colored LED lights from his phone and the acoustics as tracks were played back, what Mad Oak has become is clearly the result of meticulous work.
“Craig really wanted to focus on the construction itself. He’s been on-site every day, basically working as the contractor, making sure everything is getting done to his very high standards, but he’s busting ass as a carpenter, a plumber, an electrician, everything. Very hands on. The work he and his guys have been doing in here is out of this world; the craftsmanship and attention to detail is really unlike anything I’ve seen in a recording studio.
“PK has a massive amount of experience as a studio building consultant, and we were able to make use of that experience in a major way. Specifically by tapping the Walter Storyk Design Group — which is the studio architectural firm responsible for an incredible list of studios all around the world, including Hendrix‘s Electric Lady — to design the control room. That really elevates us to a whole new level in terms of prestige — not to mention, the acoustics in here sound incredible.”
I wouldn’t argue. Fortin was about to lay down some acoustic guitar flourish on a maddeningly catchy track with the working title “Beaver Fever” — the twist: it’s actually about Giardia — but already the material sounded huge, with the trademark crunch in his and Jarvis‘ weighted tones that became a staple of Scissorfight‘s sound in their initial run. Over top, Aubin brought his own edge to sardonic lyrics, snarls and growls about drinking beaver piss. The band called it a public service. I’ll assume the same applies to “Tits Up” and “’70s Boobs,” another working title.
Those three were mostly done. Jarvis put some banjo on “Beaver Fever” that may or may not make the final cut — was cool but might’ve been a bit much with the acoustic already there; would need to hear it mixed — and Aubin will have to go back in for “Ol’ Taint Rot” and “Stove,” but the basic tracks were finished to the point that Grotto, grumbling about the response time of his wireless mouse, was already compiling tracks for rough mixes to send the band. The mental organization involved in that process is not to be understated. At the same time he was cross-fading two tracks joining together, he was also running hard drive backups and drawing on markers so he knew where preamp dials were, for the next time the band are in, or maybe just to keep a record of it. Either way, there’s nothing haphazard about the process.
Grotto told me in a not at all complaining fashion that he’s had one day off since January. Watching him work again, I believe it. The drive and the passion he puts into what he does is inspiring, and as Scissorfight step up to claim the utter dominance of New England that has basically been theirs for the taking for the last decade, there are no better hands they could be in. With smartass jokes a-flying, Fortin, Jarvis and Aubin (Orcutt wasn’t there) were completely at ease at Mad Oak, and it was clear just from being there for the few hours I was how much that was also part of the intricate design.
“The new space sounds amazing,” said Grotto. “It’s made my life so much easier. Every drummer who’s done a session in here so far has told me it’s the best drum room they’ve ever played in. The room just sings. And we laid out the gear and infrastructure in a way that speeds up the workflow, so we’re just flying through setup, and the bands play great. It’s been fantastic.”
Scissorfight‘s new EP is called Chaos County and will be out later this year. Thanks to Jay Fortin for letting me use his photos of the session.
Posted in Features on April 20th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
One would be hard pressed to name a single city that has contributed more to the sphere of American heavy rock in the last half-decade than Portland, Oregon. I’m not even sure there’s any competition, even from places like San Francisco or San Diego. The challenge this presents new bands at this point is how they go about distinguishing themselves from their peers, and that is something that hard-driving four-piece Holy Grove would seem to have solved early.
Their self-titled debut (review here) is out now on Italian imprint Heavy Psych Sounds, owned by Gabriele Fiori of Black Rainbows/Killer Boogie, and basks in wide-cast grooves and a crisp but natural tonal warmth captured by stuff-of-legend producer Billy Anderson that puts the powerful vocals of Andrea Vidal front and center atop the riffs of guitarist Trent Jacobs, the rumble of bassist Gregg Emley and the roll of original drummer Craig Bradford (replaced by Adam Jelsing). That’s a big risk for a relatively new band, Holy Grove started in 2012, but it’s still their first album, but Holy Grove takes classic cues and updates them with a modern thickness of sound that would seem to hold an appeal for fans of then and now in heavy.
Holy Grove play Psycho Las Vegas in August (info here), joining in international and interstellar array of groups, and have a European tour in the works for the fall to further support the album, as well as work already underway on the follow-up, which is probably a ways off, but still in progress already. In the interview that follows, Vidal talks with good humor about her experience joining the band, how they got together, needing to buy a microphone after the first practice, starting work on the album after releasing the Live at Jooniors (review here) two-songer, recording with Anderson and much more, including finding her voice as a lead singer and the importance of commanding a stage and bringing a show to life.
The complete Q&A tops 3,200 words and can be found after the jump.
Posted in Features on April 18th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
04.18.16 – 13:05 – In air, en route to Reykjavik
Same thing as last year, minor tweak in the execution. I rolled over at 08:50 for an 08:00 alarm, immediate mental brutality. It was six when I went to sleep – same as the night before, and while the alarm was set, it just didn’t happen. I was showered, packed and out the door by 09:10 and that felt pretty good, considering. Like I said, same as last year.
At this point, it feels almost like a part of the Roadburn tradition that I have some snag getting to the airport. After hightailing it to the train station as fast as my sore feet could carry me, I bought my ticket and waited 20 minutes – the Zwolle had just left, the Utrech Centraal would take me to den Bosch, where I’d change to the airport – for it to show up. It did, and though I was stressing the whole time about missing the flight and sent The Patient Mrs. her annual “I’m not gonna make it this time” text message, I got to the airport, through check-in and security with about three minutes to spare before they closed the gate. Made it. A splash of water on the face and neck, a relatively smooth flight, and I’ll connect in Reykjavik before going on to Boston. Back to work tomorrow.
Which seems cruel in hindsight.
A few things to wrap up the Roadburn 2016 coverage. First, the names of these posts come from various song titles worth recognizing. Some were obvious picks, some less so. If you’re unfamiliar, they are:
1. “Hover,” by Spotlights
2. “Dawn” by Elephant Tree
3. No song title
4. “Eternal Waltz” by Beelzefuzz
5. “Cosmic Truth” by Hexvessel
6. “Living with the Dead” by With the Dead
7. “Times of Grace” by Neurosis
8. “Black Magick Boogieland” by Death Alley
9. “Homegoings and Transitions” by Floor
I was falling asleep all night last night at the laptop screen and though it’s the early afternoon, I find right now is no different. Still, before I land and have to find my gate and all that flying-deathtrap nonsense that is, to the shame of our entire species, still allegedly the best way of traveling around the planet, I have a few thank yous to get out. Including but not at all limited to:
Walter Roadburn, whose ceaseless passion and efforts are an inspiration both this weekend and all around the year. The work he’s done and the community he’s built felt more than ever like coming home, even with the changes to the venue, and it was through Walter’s grace and the grace of the 013 staff that it was able to happen.
Thank you to my family for their unending support. If you follow me on Thee Facebooks at all, you probably saw my mother commenting on photos from Instagram. I love that.
Lee Edwards for sleeping (shaman-esque, you might say) through my nighttime typing and for the most excellent work he put into the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch, writing and layout. As well as for the friendship and good chats in the 013 office on those tired mornings for the folding ritual. Seeing Lee was one of the aspects of Roadburn 2016 to which I was most looking forward.
Thanks as well to the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch staff this year – Alex Mysteerie, Andreas Kohl, Ben Handelman, Becky Laverty, Dom Lawson, Guido Segers, Jamie Ludwig, José Carlos Santos, Kim Kelly, Paul Robertson, Sander van den Driesche, photographer Paul Verhagen, the guys from Drawn too Late, Wendy Wright, Gijs Garenfeld, and Cavum, without whose art, the thing simply would not have been the same. All of the above did tremendous work, whether it was writing or other, and the ‘zine wouldn’t have happened were it not for them.
I met Tad Doyle this weekend. That was awesome. Some people I wasn’t brave enough to introduce myself to: photographer Ester Segarra, anyone from Neurosis, Sanford Parker.
Thanks as well to Tim Bugbee, Jon Freeman, Jurgen van den Brand, Rolf from Stickman and Torgeir from Crispin Glover, Ole from Tombstones, Frank Huang, Esther de Rooij, Sanne Reiniers, Miranda, Falk-Hagen Bernshausen, Stefan Raduta, and many more I will add to the list over the next couple days.
To read all of The Obelisk’s Roadburn 2016 coverage, click here.
More than any other Roadburn in recent memory, this one has gone quickly. It never quite drags, but Roadburn 2016 has been a sleepless blur of tonal impact, furious creativity and walks down 013 corridors that on Thursday were strange and new and by today were as though nothing about the venue had changed at all. Like the marathon and the sprint decided to join forces. Today was the last day, the Afterburner, which drops from five stages to three — the Main Stage and the Green Room at the 013 and the space over at Cul de Sac — and generally features a more chilled-out vibe, though particularly over the last couple years, its stylistic reach has become no less broad than Roadburn proper.
To wit, today’s lineup. In keeping with this year’s Icelandic theme — most of that is black metal, but still — The Vintage Caravan played a special 2PM set at Cul de Sac, last minute. They were here hanging out and so got a slot on the bill. I didn’t get to see it because we were finishing up the final issue of the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch (you can read it here), but to see that kind of spontaneity in action — hey, you’re here, so play — exemplifies part of what makes Roadburn so genuinely exceptional. My understanding is the band’s new drummer wasn’t with them yet when they played here last year, so wanted to be able to say he’d played Roadburn as well. Sure, why not?
My day began a short time later with Mirrors for Psychic Warfare starting in the Green Room. The two-piece is comprised of Scott Kelly of Neurosis and Sanford Parker, who also played today with Buried at Sea, and I guess it’s fair to call it a Corrections House spinoff, since they both operate in the same roles as in that band, with Parker on electronics and synth and Kelly providing guitar and vocals, but without Eyehategod‘s Mike Williams as frontman or Bruce Lamont‘s sax, the effect is vastly different. Progressions were slow and lurching as they emanated from Kelly‘s guitar, and waves of loud-as-hell drones oozed forth massive from the stage. At one point, Parker played a line of bass through his laptop or sampler, whichever it was, and the low end was such a physical presence I could feel it vibrating my nose hair. It’s not like I have a lot of it, either. It was a sensation I’d never felt before. Earplugs vibrating, sure. Nose hairs? Kind of tickled, actually.
Vocals were sporadic but well suited to the grueling mood, and the set as a whole seemed to be working on a gradual build in intensity until, as they were finishing, Kelly was throwing his shoulders as he might headbanging during one of Neurosis more riotous parts. Needless to say, they closed loud. Green Carnation were on the Main Stage playing Light of Day, Day of Darkness, which is a cool record to be sure, but I didn’t want to miss the start of Blind Idiot God, the New York trio playing the fourth show of their maiden voyage to Europe. Their latest album, Before Ever After (review here), has just had its worldwide release, and in addition to the notable reggae nod in “Night Driver,” the instrumental three piece played “Antiquity” and a host of others from what was their first LP in 23 years, their focus on blurring lines between NY aggro noise crunch, proggy brilliance and heavy atmospheres.
Add to that drummer Tim Wyskida‘s winning for most elaborate drum kit of the weekend — at least of the ones I saw — and Blind Idiot God offered intrigue and dissonance in kind. Their stage presence was progressive, led in that regard by guitarist Andy Hawkins, but still had a bit of pre-Giuliani Manhattan noise rock grit about them beneath that came out here and there in their sound, which was wide open stylistically, but delivered by Hawkins, Wyskida and bassist Will Dahl with precision and due emphasis on the complexity in the material. There were people in the crowd who’d waited 25 years to see the band. You could say the response was solid. Respected scribe and all-around hyper-passionate supporter of music Stefan Raduta gave me the hard sell on catching Jakob, though really all he had to say was “they’re from New Zealand.” Anyone who’s traveled that far to play Roadburn must have a good reason.
Complemented with visuals by Jérôme Siegelaer, the three-piece’s set found its reason in a lush post-rock, full in tone and l-o-u-d loud, but still evocative enough to keep the crowd in its grasp to the point where, after applauding, the room quickly fell into silence as those in attendance waited to hear the first notes of whatever it was Jakob were going to play next. Their fourth album, Sines, came out in 2014, but this was my first exposure to them, and it was a recommendation I was glad I took when they were finished, the vibe setting itself up for a departure into the darker post-metallurgy of Belgium’s Amenra. But first, Ecstatic Vision in the Green Room. I’ve seen them before and they’re from Philadelphia, which is much, much closer to where I live than New Zealand, so I stayed through the end of Jakob, but managed to poke my head in the door of the packed out smaller stage and find the trio’s blend of heavy psych and space rock intact from when I last left it. Their debut, Sonic Praise (review here), was right on for Roadburn from the outset, so there was little surprise when they were added, but they’ve put in some considerable road time already, so good to see them doing well, even if I’m seeing it through the doorway instead of in the room itself.
The sense of presentation back in the Main Stage began even before Amenra actually started playing. A large white curtain was brought out and raised in front of the stage so that the band’s video background could cover even more territory, and after everything was ready to go, vocalist Colin H. van Eeckhout — who also has a solo record out called Rasa (review here) — came out first, knelt down in front of the drum riser, facing away from the crowd as he did for yesterday’s acoustic Amenra set and as is apparently his wont, and started beating two sticks together, slowly and ritualistically. He was joined soon by drummer Bjorn Lebon, who had his own sticks, and followed soon by the rest of the band, guitarists Mathieu van de Kerckhove (also Syndrome, which played Cul de Sac earlier in the day) and Lennart Bossu and bassist Levy Seynaeve, and there began a set of some of the most intense post-metal I’ve ever seen outside of Neurosis themselves.
On par with Isis at their angriest, but crisper in their songwriting and use of ambience, Amenra were further distinguished by their direct affinity for “Times of Grace” but more so by the flashing strobes, high-energy delivery and their obvious mastery of the form. What I learned at the Roadburn 2016 Afterburner was that people go apeshit for that stuff. I can’t argue it wasn’t cohesive, but the power of Amenra‘s aesthetic and the force with which they drove it at the assembled masses earned them the night’s second biggest response, and the Main Stage was crowded enough that I had to go all the way up top just to find a place to stand, and even that didn’t come easy. It was an impressive showing, and while I’m not sure I’d count myself in the getting-it camp — or in a parish of the Church of Ra, as it were — much of their set was undeniable. One would not win a debate arguing against it.
There was a considerable break before Neurosis came out for the second set of their two-night 30th anniversary celebratory stint headlining on the Main Stage. My first Roadburn was 2009, the year they curated, and I can still remember standing in the balcony of what’s now the old-013 big room and being awed. It wasn’t my first time seeing them, but it was something special, and the same goes for last night and tonight together as well. Yes, partially because they broke out older, not-really-played-anymore songs like “Blisters,” “Grey” and “Double-Edged Sword” from The Word as Law, “The Web” and “To Crawl Under One’s Skin” from Souls at Zero and Pain of Mind‘s “Life on Your Knees” and “Pollution” from 1989’s Aberration EP. They went as far forward as 2012’s Honor Found in Decay (review here) and touched on all the ground in between, guitarist/vocalist Scott Kelly having some technical issues — the first time I’ve ever seen Neurosis have tech problems — with his guitar after opening with “To Crawl Under One’s Skin,” but sorting it out with guitarist/vocalist Steve Von Till and the crew as Noah Landis covered for them with a huge, kind of abrasive drone, and drummer Jason Roeder and god-damn-it’s-a-joy-to-watch bassist/backing vocalist Dave Edwardson sat tight.
When they got going again, it was “Locust Star,” and, you know, the universe collapsed on itself and folded into the deeper reaches of subspace, so whether or not the guitar was working didn’t really matter anymore because all existence was wiped out. At least that’s how I remember it. Pretty standard for Neurosis. In all seriousness, I don’t know if there’s a heavy band of their generation that’s inspired so much wax poetry — I’m guilty in this regard as well, in case you didn’t click that review link above — but it seems to me that speaks to the level on which Neurosis resonate with their audience. It’s often credited as this cerebral, arthouse phenomenon, but it’s not that. It’s rawer, from the gut, and it captures an experience that isn’t necessarily universal, but which this crowd — the Roadburn crowd, here and worldwide — relates to like it doesn’t relate to anything else. As they wrapped with “The Tide” and drew the tension out to cruel extremes before Kelly started the opening riff of set-finale “The Doorway,” it occurred to me again how special this band is, how much it derives from the players that comprise it, and that however much others try to capture the same sonic spirit, they only wind up with a fraction of it at best. It was a two-hour set. If they’d decided to do a third, I’d have stuck around for it.
A lot of people stuck around anyway, as it happens, to see PH — formerly MPH, formerly Mr. Peter Hayden — in the Green Room. The Finnish band is a cosmic wrecking ball and I managed to catch some of their set last time they played Roadburn, but Buried at Sea were also coming on the Main Stage, and if you know Migration, you know why it was the back and forth between the two that it was. The Chicago four-piece released that LP, their only one, in 2003 and though guitarist/vocalist Sanford Parker (also Corrections House and Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, as well as War Crime Recordings) has gone on to become a household name in the underground for his production work for the likes of Blood Ceremony, YOB, Pelican, etc., it was the band as a whole that really made an impact. They were among the first to consciously proffer tone worship in US doom, and that’s not something that’s easily forgotten for those who were there to hear it the first time around or who’ve caught on since.
Even following two hours of Neurosis, which has to be one of the least enviable festival slots in the history of recorded sound, Buried at Sea kept the crowd there and delivered the vicious heft with which they’ve become synonymous, largely in their absence — their last EP, Ghost, came out on Neurot in 2007 — and while I don’t know if they have any plans to do more or maybe put a sophomore album together, but with the lineup of Parker, bassist/vocalist Chris Sowell, guitarist Jason Depew and drummer Brandon Pierce, they sounded vital. Gave me hope where previously I’d sort of figured they’d do a couple shows and then go back their separate ways.
It was getting late. My feet were telling me. With pain. Always bittersweet to say goodbye to Roadburn, and 2016 having gone so quickly, all the more so. Death Alley were rounding out the fest at Cul de Sac, so after hanging for a while at PH, I made my way over there. It was too packed to get up front for pictures or anything like that, plus everyone around me was smashed and I didn’t want to feel like a dickhead American invader, so I hung in the back and listened as a bass-heavy take on “Over Under” started off their set. The place was immediate into it, even where I was, and rightly so. How far that band has come in just a couple years, they’re legitimately one of the Netherlands’ most exciting acts going, and they just have one record, 2015’s Black Magick Boogieland (review here). It’ll need a follow-up sooner or later, but still, that’s a considerable accomplishment starting out.
They played the title-track “Black Magick Boogieland,” and standing back by the door of the Cul de Sac with my earplugs in, drunken revelry on all sides of me — I got told tonight my face radiates love; mostly I think I just look tired — my camera bag on the floor to give my shoulder a rest, I thought back to the interview I did with the band for the album last year prior to the release and their talking about the concept of what the title meant and about the power of music to draw people in, to change minds, to shape lives, excite and inspire. How lucky I am to have been here this week and the seven years prior. For me, Roadburn has become that sacred space that I keep trying to live up to, to be worthy of, and I couldn’t imagine a better way to cap it than with “Black Magick Boogieland,” because that’s what it’s all about. That was how I wanted my night and my Roadburn 2016 to finish, on that feeling of warmth and belonging.
And so that’s how it ended.
I’ll have another post to wrap up the coverage series, but I need to be up in three hours to go to the airport and fly home and there are still pictures to sort, so I’ll just say thanks for reading for now.