Posted in Features on July 18th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Prepare to be underwhelmed…
About two weeks ago, I took part with a slew of other alt-weekly journo types in a conference call with Ozzy Osbourne about the new Black Sabbath album, 13(review here). It was an hour long and there were I think 20 or so writers involved. Everyone, I was told, would get to ask at least one question.
I had never done a conference call before, and the idea seemed lame, but it was my only chance to get even a smattering of phone time with Ozzy and not-at-all-blown-away-by-13 though I was, I wasn’t going to miss probably the only chance I’d ever have to ask him anything, let alone something about the process of making this album after talking about it for so long.
Before calling in to the weird phone chat thing — like a partyline of people who’ve made terrible life choices — I made a list of questions to pick from should I be lucky enough to actually get a word in. All my questions were among the first asked, and not by me. By the time it was finally my turn to ask something, I had nothing left and had to come up with one on the fly.
So, after being a Sabbath fan for more than half my life and finally getting an opportunity to speak to Ozzy Osbourne himself (a man who has clearly had no shortage of media training), here’s how it went down — my question and a follow-up:
I just wanted to ask you a little bit about the sort of reception to the new material live. Obviously, there’s Sabbath’s catalog of classics, but in terms of mixing new songs in and the shows you’ve already done…
Ozzy Osbourne:So we recently went to New Zealand, Australia, and Japan, and we did a couple of the new songs. We said they’re all new. God, you’d think it had been released as a single or a first track off album, and so that – I remember when we played two shows in Auckland, New Zealand.
The first night they didn’t really respond much to it. The second night they’re all singing the lyrics with me. I’m going, I can’t even remember them that good. I mean, it’s good for us as well to do new stuff, because you know, we’re all tuned into “Iron Man,” “War Pigs,” “Paranoid,” and all of the old classics, but instead, it gives us as a band something refreshing to put into the show, and so I’m just glad that people have bought into the new songs.
You mentioned before the songs being in sort of a middle range you could bring live. How much of a consideration when you guys were writing the album was doing the songs live?
Ozzy Osbourne:Well, after keeping the people waiting for as long as we did, I certainly — I can still get the range, but I can’t do it onstage. Maybe one gig I can do it onstage, but then it’d be every other night, I mean, my voice gets tired you know? And so I personally specifically went in the studio and kept it a little comfortable range that I could do onstage, you know.
On the other end of the line from one of heavy metal’s true gods and I’m left asking about… playing the new songs live. As if he doesn’t shout, “Here’s one off the new album!” and everyone goes to get a beer in time to be back for “Into the Void.” I’d call it a bummer if it wasn’t so much better than nothing.
I didn’t attempt to dial in for another round, but didn’t hang up either, and just listened to the rest of the hour as other writers from around the country took turns flattering and lobbing softballs. The first question had been about Bill Ward and that got shut down pretty quickly to more or less set the tone. By the end of it, charismatic though Osbourne is and though — as with the record — I’d expected no more than I got, I had gone back to checking my email.
Posted in Features on July 16th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
In the influential and seemingly ever-expanding canon of formative ’70s proto-heavy, the name Dust has echoed for much longer than its four letters might lead you to believe. Aside from launching the careers of future Ramones drummer Marc Bell (aka Marky Ramone) and KISS producer Richie Wise (guitar/vocalist) and bassist Kenny Aaronson, who went on to play with Bob Dylan, Blue Öyster Cult and many, many others, Dust‘s two albums, 1971′s Dust and 1972′s Hard Attack stand as documents of the formation of what would soon become American heavy metal, full of the riff-led, blues-driven sensibility that collectors have hounded after for years both from Dust and similarly-minded acts from the era.
The 40th anniversary of Hard Attackpassed in 2012, but Sony/Legacy stepped in to reissue both Dust albums earlier in 2013 on a limited single-CD and double-LP collection in time for Record Store Day. Both albums are remastered for a full, louder sound, and with liner notes documenting the young trio’s getting together, writing, recording, touring and disbanding, it’s as complete a recounting of what Dust was able to accomplish during their time and their enduring influence over heavy rock as one could ask. What’s more, the songs sound fantastic, whether it’s the driving-but-melodies thrust of “Chasin’ Ladies” from the first album, or the Beatles-meets-Who exploration of “Walk in the Soft Rain” from the second. Whatever they’ve gone on to accomplish in the years since, there was still obviously a sense of reverence on the part of the band in putting Hard Attack/Dusttogether.
All the better to talk to Marky Ramone about putting the complete package together. In the interview that follows, the former Dust drummer recounts some of what it was like to be in the band circa 1971 and how they got started, still in high school, what brought about the end of Dust and how the reissues came about now, how it felt to revisit the material and so on. His current outfit, Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg, is currently on tour in Europe and will hit the road in the States as well this fall, while Wise has continued his work with KISS, Gladys Knight and others, and Aaronson can be found in the modern incarnation of influential glam rockers New York Dolls.
Hard Attack/Dustis available now on Sony/Legacy. Please find the Marky Ramone Q&A after the jump and please enjoy.
Posted in Features on July 9th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Lo-Pan‘s touring adventures continue. In our last installment, the Ohio heavy rock four-piece stomped their way through Dayton, Ohio, and Chicago, and having covered that ground, this time around they’ve moved on to Madison, Wisconsin, and Indianapolis on their tour with Indy-based Devil to Pay.
Please enjoy, and note that the lead photo here was taken by Devil to Pay‘s own Steve Jankiak:
July 6th and 7th — “Eat a Sandwich”
Did you know Otis Redding was from Madison, Wisconsin? Well, he was. So was Chris Farley. This auspicious town was the locale for our next tour adventure.
We woke up early in Chicago in order to get to Madison by the early afternoon. About a year ago a friend of ours took us to this amazing deli in Madison and hooked us up on some great sandwiches so we always like to revisit that spot when we are in town. Hospitality on tour is like a full tank of gas, or a clean load of laundry — it kind of sets everything back to zero and allows you to start fresh. In my experience, when you go on tour you start out with a plan. I’ve got so many so-and-so’s for so many days and this do-hickey goes in this pocket and that’s where it will be forever. Well, after about eight days, things start to become a little less concrete. Pockets of things change. Things break or get lost. You get hot and tired and you just plain stop caring about those things. After around 15 days you start to degrade into an animal state of instinct and muscle memory. 30 days in, you don’t even remember what home feels like. 40 days and wherever you are is your home. Then, when you go home, it takes a while to adjust. All of this is to illustrate that when you find hospitality — a welcome smile, a great plate of food, a person who lets you enter their home and use it as your own for a little while — all of these things serve to reset the dials, and get you centered to carry on. Madison is such a place for us because it is home to some very hospitable and kind people. It’s one of those places that when you are a few days away you start to hear the mantra, “If we can just make it to Madison, everything will be ok.” So we made it to Madison, our Midwest oasis.
The show was at a bar called Mr. Roberts. We had never played there before so we didn’t know what to expect. We were set to play with a band called The Garza. They are a three piece featuring our friend Nate Bush on bass. We made Nate’s acquaintance a couple of years ago when he was playing bass for Madison band Droids Attack. In addition, the drummer for The Garza [Mike "Magma" Henry] is also in Bongzilla. Hopefully for your sake, Bongzilla need no introduction. The last time we played in Madison was on tour with High on Fire. The show that time was at High Noon Saloon. This was certainly a different situation, but we did see quite a few people at this show that remembered us from the last show. It’s good to see that our travels and work are paying off.
Devil to Pay started off the evening with a killer set. DTP are one of those bands that seem to nail their recorded sound in a live setting, and do it with ease. We played second out of three bands and we decided to change up our set tonight. We were playing Sasquanaut start to finish but on the drive to Madison we decided we would rather play our newer material and that people would just have to deal with it. Whatever! We do what we want! The Garza closed out the night and after some drinks and laughs we packed up and headed to our accommodations for the evening.
Brian is a friend of ours and he owns a tattoo shop in Madison. He let us stay in his posh tattoo studio for the evening. I had an honest-to-goodness couch to sleep on. Jesse slept on his air mattress and Fristoe took up residence on an amazingly adjustable tattoo chair. Skot, however decided to sleep on the floor despite the availability of other tattoo chairs. Skot Thompson is a floor-sleeping sumbitch. He loves it. Got a hardwood, concrete, or tile floor? Skot will sleep on it. Got a dining room table? Skot will sleep under it. And he will sleep well.
We woke up around 9:30AM and tattoo Brian came to take us to breakfast. Nice guy, that Brian. We said our goodbyes and headed off towards Indianapolis.
Indianapolis, Indiana. Indy’s Jukebox Live. Devil to Pay is from Indianapolis. Do you know what else is from Indianapolis? I’m asking because I don’t know. Or maybe I just don’t care. If you have ever driven through Indiana, then you know what a wholly depressing place it can be. Unless you are into extremely flat, corn covered vistas, there is not much outside of DTP to lure you to the Hoosier State. Actually, President William Henry Harrison was from there. I stand corrected.
On the bill for this show were Death Trap and Stealing Volume. Death Trap seemed to be having some technical difficulties during their set. They got off to a rocky start but finally got it dialed in towards the end. It sucks when you are just trying to play some music but you end up wrestling your gear into submission the whole time instead. Stealing Volume was a surprise to me. They had a punchy punk sound and they were very tight. Really good stage presence and delivery. I liked Stealing Volume very much. We played what felt like a good set to a sparse but engrossed audience and Devil to Pay headlined for the home town. After the show we packed up rather quickly and headed for home. Real life loomed large on the horizon, at least for a few days until we pick back up with the DTP boys in Detroit.
Posted in Features on July 6th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Ohio fuzz foursome Lo-Pan are currently on the road alongside Devil to Pay supporting the vinyl release of their 2009 album, Sasquanaut. Frontman Jeff Martin has agreed to give us the inside track with a tour diary as the shows play out, and in this first installment, the band is starting out in Dayton, Ohio, and Chicago, Illinois.
Lo-Pan is Martin on vocals, guitarist Brian Fristoe, bassist Scott Thompson and drummer Jesse Bartz. Enjoy:
July 4th &5th – “Doing Crunches”
I am back on the road yet again with Lo-Pan. We started off in Dayton, Ohio, at Blind Bob’s with our old friends Devil to Pay (minus guitar man number two, Rob Hough). For some strange reason, Rob decided not to join the band for this show. We have toured many times with DTP and Rob’s absence is noticeable and strange. He will pick back up with us tomorrow in Chicago but it was Indy’s finest as a three-piece, with Dayton bands Close the Hatch and the always-entertaining Neon Warship set to play.
This show fell on Independence Day. The 4th has to be the A#1 holiday for Lo-Pan. We celebrate and revere our freedom every day and this is the culmination of that mindset. All of our ‘Merica, flag-waving bravado is sure to be on full display. Marvel at and fear us! We weren’t sure what to expect on July 4 in Dayton. Would it be a barren wasteland or would Dayton show up and represent for rock music? Well I am proud to announce that Dayton – and more importantly, Ohio – showed up in full force.
This is not to suggest that we didn’t encounter our fair share of oddballs in Dayton. We always seem to attract the strangest and most out-there people in any town. I am trying to determine which weirdo takes the cake on this particular occasion; perhaps the drunken co-ed who bought a Lo-Pan t-shirt and then appointed herself merch girl extraordinaire and proceeded to bully passers-by into purchasing copious amounts of merchandise? Maybe it was the equally drunk townie and his French companion who decided to share with me his outlandish and less than racially conscious opinions on the President of the United States? Certainly one of the most bizarre unsolicited encounters in recent memory. I think drunken townie takes the taco in this contest for the sheer fact that I can’t stop thinking about the incident.
All in all the show went very well. It feels good to be back on the road and it feels even better to be playing some songs we haven’t played in a very long time. Small Stone Records has rereleased our album Sasquanaut on vinyl and to celebrate that, we are playing the whole album start to finish each night. Some of these songs we haven’t played in more than three years. So it’s nice to revisit some old material and to feel the differences between older songs and new. All the bands in Dayton were great. Devil to Pay sounded great, even as a three-piece. Neon Warship is a powerhouse and Close the Hatch was heavy and deft. I really couldn’t ask for a better way to start off the tour.
At the end of the night we were offered a place to crash by one of the guys in Close the Hatch. We stayed in a recording studio around the corner from the venue. We slept amongst drums and guitars and for some reason there were also many bikes all over the place. I slept on a couch in the control room of the studio and the other guys were scattered around different corners of the recording space. I put my little fan up on a practice amp and passed the hell out. It was surprisingly comfortable. Anytime I am blessed with a couch to sleep on, I consider myself lucky. Many people think that tour is replete with hotels and luxury. I am here to tell you that this is NOT the case. I have laid my head in some of the foulest locales out of sheer necessity. It’s a small price to pay for the ability to do what you love on your own terms.
We woke up around nine the next morning and set off for Chicago. The drive to Chicago featured an unusual event for us. We actually listened to music during the trip. Normally we do not listen to music in the van because we all have such varied tastes, we can never agree on anything to listen to. For some that have joined us on the road, this silence has been jarring. For us it seems to work, though. Today we listened to Bob Seger followed by Clutch. I think tomorrow we are likely to return to silence, however. In addition on the drive we ate snacks… or as we call it, “doing crunches.”
Chicago has always been one of our favorite cities to play. We have met a boatload of great people that are either from there or who currently reside there. We had quite a few people in attendance this evening from other bands we know and even some people from home (Columbus) that happened to be visiting. That sort of dynamic always makes the shows very fun.
This show featured Marmora, a young band with some very talented dudes. We met them a couple of years ago and it’s always enjoyable to see how they become seasoned professionals – a little more each time. Tonight Rob from Devil to Pay was back with the guys and DTP sounded phenomenal. Steve Janiak is a great singer and the house sound guy had him dialed in.
We played third and our set felt ok. Personally, I messed up some of the lyrics to “Wade Garrett.” It’s just been so long since I have had that song committed to memory. Sometimes it takes a couple of tries to knock the dust off of these older tunes. Other than that we played pretty well to my way of thinking. After us a last-minute addition to the show, All Hail The Yeti from Los Angeles, played. They were a little out of line stylistically for the rest of the bill, but they were good at what they do. They had some animal skulls on stage with them. That was pretty odd. Outside of Norwegian black metal, you don’t really see that too much.
The Cobra Lounge, the venue for the Chicago show, has an apartment upstairs for performers to sleep in, as well as a locked parking area for our van – “Van Halen.” This is really a welcome situation. It’s a little worse for the wear for the sheer number of acts that roll through each month, but when all is said and done, a free place to stay is a free place to stay.
That’s all the news that’s fit to print for the first couple of days of tour. Stay tuned…
Posted in Features on June 27th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
They always say you there’s no going back. I don’t know who they are, but they’re right. As I searched back through posts to find the Top 20 of 2012, I realized it had been way too long since I heard some of these records. It’s so easy to get caught up with what’s current and what’s coming next that sometimes I forget to actually listen to albums I already enjoyed. That happened a couple times along the way.
When a year ends and the lists start coming out, it’s like records as numbered, stocked and then forgotten. I guess I’m guilty of it too. With that in mind, here’s a quick revisit to what I had as my favorites of 2012:
The Top 20 of 2012 Revisited
20. Mos Generator, Nomads
I can’t even look at this album cover without hearing the chorus to “Lonely One Kenobi” play in my head. Still a sentimental favorite.
19. Golden Void, Golden Void
Haven’t put it on in a while, but probably should.
18. Wight, Through the Woods into Deep Water
Ditto. This record was great and if I made the list today, it would probably be higher than it is here.
16. Pallbearer, Sorrow and Extinction
I’ve seen them three times so far this year and they’ve delivered each time, but haven’t put on the album itself in a while. Still looking forward to new stuff though.
15. Kadavar, Kadavar
I think I’ve had more fascinating conversations about Kadavar than any other band in the last year. So many opinions, so widely varied. I dig the self-titled, will probably have the follow-up on my list at the end of 2013. Nuclear Blast needs to bring them over to tour, maybe opening for Witchcraft?
14. Stubb, Stubb
Yay fuzz! Catchy songs, easy formula, well structured and impeccably performed.My favorite straight-up heavy rock record of 2012.
13. Orange Goblin, A Eulogy for the Damned
Hard to fuck with these dudes. The production here was a presence, but the songs still hold up.
12. Ararat, II
No shit, I live in terror of having Ararat release their third album and missing it. Like all of a sudden the album will have been out for three months and I’d have no idea.
11. Ufomammut, Oro
Haven’t listened to Opus Primumor Opus Altersince. Can’t help but think if Oro was released as one record, I’d put it on from time to time.
10. Conan, Monnos
I put this in the top 10 for a reason. Because it’s fucking ridiculously heavy. I stand by my reasoning. Looking forward to their new one.
9. My Sleeping Karma, Soma
An album I couldn’t manage to put down even when I wanted to, and one I still pick up from time to time. Glad I finally gave in an bought a copy to get away from the shitty digital promo version.
8.Graveyard, Lights Out
Maybe I burnt myself out on this? I went on a binge after their show in January for a bit and then put Lights Outaway and that was that.
7. Saint Vitus, Lillie: F-65
Every time I’m in a record store, flip through the Vitus selectionand see my quote on the sticker on the front of the jewel case of Lillie: F-65, I feel like an entire decade of shitty career decisions is justified. No bullshit.
6. Ancestors, In Dreams and Time
Brilliant. Mostly brilliant for closer “First Light,” but that song was brilliant enough to get this spot on the list anyway.
5. High on Fire, De Vermis Mysteriis
Hard to argue with its intensity. Not much staying power as I would’ve thought, but god damn that’s a heavy record.
4. Neurosis, Honor Found in Decay
An overwhelming listen. I have to prepare my head for putting it on, but I continue to find it worth the effort.
3. Greenleaf, Nest of Vipers
It was the highlight of my year last year to see this material live. Greenleaf have a new lineup now and another album in the works, but if Nest of Vipersis how the last one was going out, they killed it.
2. Om, Advaitic Songs
Sometimes I fantasize about living in a temple where I wake up and Advaitic Songsis playing every day. That is 100 percent true.
1. Colour Haze, She Said
I’d probably listen to it even more if it was on one CD, but god damn, this record is amazing. Another one that’s kind of overwhelming, but it gets regular play as I expect it will continue to do into perpetuity.
All in all, pretty great year. Some stuff that’s fallen by the wayside, but a few landmarks as well that have carried over, and more importantly, some that seem like they’ll continue to carry over and grow in appeal as more time passes. Wight should’ve been higher on the list, but other than that, I’ll take it.
Posted in Features on June 22nd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
06.22.13 — The Blue Pig — Cudahy, WI
11:41AM: Quiet start this morning at The Blue Pig for day two of Days of the Doomed III, but no doubt things will pick up shortly. Today is 12 bands in more than 13 hours, so it’s going to be a long one, a busy one and I expect by the end of it, a tired one, but that’s a long ways off, and after a hotel breakfast and a couple minutes respite before heading down to the venue, I’m feeling good and doing my best to ignore the prospect of the drive tomorrow morning. Much to do before I get there.
In about 20 minutes, Whaler from Michigan kick off the day, followed by Gorgantherron, Beelzefuzz, Spillage, King Giant, Leather Nun America, Earthen Grave, Pale Divine, Dream Death, In~Graved and The Gates of Slumber. It’s a powerful lineup, but they must have powerwashed the venue after last night, brought in a firehose or something, because it smells much better this morning than it did by the end of yesterday’s bands.
Last night was pretty riotous by the end of Penance and Iron Man, so I figure there’s a lot of attendees getting off to a slow start this morning, but if the kickoff is as righteous as yesterday’s — and I hear excellent things about Whaler — I’ll be glad I got here early.
Before I start, and since I don’t know if I’ll have the energy to point it out later, I just want to say a quick thanks to Mercyful Mike Smith for putting on Days of the Doomed III, and for the tremendous work he’s done assembling this lineup and getting the right crew in hand to make it run so smoothly.
Alright, here goes:
12:37PM: Apparently, Michigan trio Whaler had something of a late night. They were not alone, but they nonetheless delivered a respectable set of roughed-up/burled-up Kyuss-style heavy rock and showcased a dynamic of their own within the semi-familiar riffing. Guitarist/vocalist Adam Lupo and bassist Eric Lomba had rich tones and drummer Adam Weiler, despite chasing his cowbell across his kit as it moved away from him, was adaptable either to the desert grooves of the material they played earlier or the thicker, Sleep-y vibes of their closing instrumental. Their debut LP, Deep Six, was self-released last December and I’ll see if they have any available. It probably wasn’t an ideal time to see them — noon after a hell of a Friday night — but they opened day two with smooth, rolling grooves and an engagingly bullshit-free atmosphere.
1:28PM: Imported from Indiana, the trio Gorgantherron clearly got more comfortable as their set went on and seemed more at home in their faster parts, rather than some of the more languid sections. All three members — Chris Flint (drums), Clint Logan (guitar), and Toby Richardson (bass) — contributed vocals, and that gave cuts like “Mothra” and the particularly memorable “Assimilate” a touch of flavor, which went down well with the crowd, still rolling in and wiping the crust from its collective eyes. Keeping holy the Sabbath, Gorgantherron hit on a few satisfying shuffles in their solo parts, Logan taking the fore with a smile to rip out blues leads while Richardson and Flint held down the solid grooves beneath. They weren’t trying for anything fancy, but there was some potential there, and they sat naturally between doom and heavy rock as only a band who doesn’t think there should be a line between them can.
2:40PM: I don’t know what Beelzefuzz are ready for, but whatever it is, they’re ready for it. The Maryland bizarro doom trio had Days of the Doomed III more or less eating out of their hands 10 minutes before they went on, and it was readily apparent that they were the show-up point for a lot of people this afternoon. The band’s way of rewarding such loyalty? Well, they brought up Eric Wagner to cover “Ride the Sky” by Lucifer’s Friend, and that was pretty awesome, Wagner and guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt trading off parts and laughing all the while. Beelzefuzz have a new record coming Aug. 9 on The Church Within, and I’ve yet to see them and not be impressed. I realized watching them that it had only been a couple months since I caught them in Delaware at The Eye of the Stoned Goat 2, but nothing here felt redundant or stale. Bassist Pug Kirby and drummer DarinMcCloskey were dead on with slow, creeping grooves that gave Ortt plenty of space to weird out with vocal effects, organ-sounding guitar and all the rest. If their record captures even a fraction of what these guys have turned into in a live setting, it might just be the summer’s don’t miss for doom.
3:45PM: When I streamed a couple tracks from Chowder‘s Passion Riftfull-length last summer, I wondered how they’d be able to bring so many textures to a live setting. Now I know: They do it with their feet, and they do it very carefully. Maryland doom nobility Josh Hart (guitar; also bassist for Earthride) and John Brenner (bass; also guitarist/vocalist for Revelation) both had an array of foot-pedals at their disposal and they made liberal use of them to add to the instrumental progressive runs of their material. Early on, Hart blew out the Sunn head he was playing through — always a bummer, especially for someone who’s come a long way — but Al Morris from Iron Man‘s amp was brought in as a replacement, Chowder recovered and the three-piece rounded out by drummer Ronnie Kalimon (Unorthodox) had the room packed out by the time they were done. I don’t know if maybe they were playing doomier songs for the fest or if the tones were just different live, but they seemed thicker tonally than I recalled from the album and I didn’t hear any whining about it. Cool set, and where they seemed on paper like an odd fit, they made sense for the bill after all.
4:42PM: Going by their name and how they worked on stage, Chicago-based Spillage would seem to be the brainchild of guitarist Tony Spillman, who’s pulling double-duty later in a set with Earthen Grave. Days of the Doomed III was their first show, and while it was the “featuring Bruce Franklin of Trouble” portion of the lineup that first drew my attention, the whole band was stellar. Really. And not just for a first show, either. They were tight, the songs were spot on, they covered “Devil Woman” by Cliff Richard, and had a great energy throughout their whole time on stage. They looked genuinely thrilled to be here, thanked the crowd, thanked Mercyful Mike Smith several times, and even though Spillman had a little technical difficulty, there was never any real loss of momentum as they settled into a killer set that ranks up there with Moon Curse yesterday as one of the weekend’s most pleasant surprises. With two guitars, keys, bass, drums and standalone vocals, they were crowded on the Blue Pig stage, but that only added to how together they were sonically. I haven’t the faintest idea what their plans as a band might be, when they’ll put material to tape, etc. — they have shirts for sale but no music — but as righteous and enjoyable as their set was, I’ll be keeping an eye out and hoping they can bring the same vitality to a studio recording. An awesome debut.
5:58PM: There hasn’t been much Southern metal thus far into the fest, but if there was a quota, King Giant just met it. I was pretty familiar with their stuff after streaming their Dismal HollowLP last year, and they were basically what I expected, just tighter and louder. In the case of vocalist Dave Hammerly, much louder. Of the two mics he had on stage, one cut through the Virginian five-piece’s thick riffing enough to border on abrasive, but they grooved out darkly nonetheless, here touching on Down, there nodding out a Clutch riff. It was burly stuff, and I think a lot of people unfamiliar with what they do decided it was a good time to grab a bite to eat — they love their own here, as everywhere — ahead of some of the evening’s headliners, but King Giant were professional and energetic, many-hatted (four out of five) and they made the most out of the time they had, playing to a tight group of their fans who seemed appreciative enough to make up for everyone else.
Leather Nun America
6:50PM: I’ll give it to Cali trio Leather Nun America (also stylized with a lowercase ‘a’ to start the last word), they know what they like. Tonally, guitarist/vocalist John Sarnie was straight-up Wino, and the band covered “To Protect and Serve” from The Obsessed‘s The Church Withinto drive the point home. Bassist/backing vocalist Francis Roberts, his eyes rolled back, was a more unhinged presence than Sarnie, but it made the dynamic on stage more complex and, frankly, more satisfying. I was starting to drag ass a bit and so ordered a pizza (hasn’t arrived yet, but I’ll get to eat at some point) and had another bottle of water, but some of the people who were in and out during King Giant settled in for Leather Nun America and the band, despite being the only West Coast act on the bill, seemed right at home amongst the doomed.
8:22PM: I’ve seen Earthen Grave a few times now — here last year, at SHoD — and to my ears they’ve never sounded so good. Of course, nailing a cover of Rainbow‘s “Stargazer” with not one but two violins (Rachel Barton Pine and her younger sister dueling it out) helps, and bringing Victor Griffin up to take on Pentagram‘s “Relentless” (who better?) for a set closer helps as well, but even so, from the opener “Death is another Word” — the bonus track on the Ripple Music reissue of their self-titled debut — to the plodding aggression of “Dismal,” the Chicago outfit seemed to hit it just right this time around. Maybe they’ve coalesced more as a unit, or maybe I’m on some post-pizza energy boost — pizza gives you energy, right? – but they killed it, and placed where they were in the lineup, they more or less started off the evening’s headliners, with Pale Divine, Dream Death, In~Graved and The Gates of Slumber still to come. Things are about to get heavy and miserable, but I’m up for it, and judging by the howls of the crowd who just moved from in front of the stage being changed over to the tvs in the back which have the Blackhawks game on, the crowd is up for it, so what the hell? Let’s make an evening of it.
9:39PM: With three new songs in tow, Pennsylvania/Maryland trio Pale Divine — drummer Darin McCloskey doubling up on the day after performing earlier with Beelzefuzz — sounded positively refreshed. Guitarist/vocalist Greg Diener and bassist/backing vocalist Ron McGinnis (aka Fez, also of Admiral Browning) have gelled tonally to the point where you’d swear the latter had always been in the band, and likewise, McGinnis brings a different personality with him that adds to the chemistry. I took it as a sign that they’ve already started to write a follow-up to last year’s Painted Windows Black — which, not to take away from it, was accomplished but hardly what I’d call refreshed — and for as gloomy and plodding as the material is, spirits seemed high straight through when they handed a mic into the crowd where it was picked up by Sanctus Bellum‘s Benjamin Yaker and shared with Butch Balich and Mercyful Mike Smith for a finale take on “Amplified” from Pale Divine‘s 2001 debut full-length, Thunder Perfect Mind. The Blue Pig is packed out (still watching hockey), and the mood is good, so with three bands left to go, the night is on a roll.
10:54PM: I’ve had my earplugs in for too long, can feel my right ear beginning an infection. Probably better that than dare to take on Dream Death unarmored. I knew when I missed them in April at Roadburn that I’d have seeing them at Days of the Doomed III to look forward to, and honestly, I’ve looked forward to it ever since. The Pittsburgh four-piece — all of whom played at one point or another during Penance‘s set last night — are something of a legendary act, and here, it felt like it. Fists pumped to “Divine Agony” and a slew of cuts from the band’s 2013 new album, Somnium Excessum, including “Feast” and “You’re Gonna Die up There.” The biggest response was saved, fittingly, for closer “Back from the Dead,” and if ever you wanted to see who in the crowd knew a song and who didn’t, you need look no further than who followed the on-a-dime time changes in “Back from the Dead,” raging Celtic Frost fast and dark, viciously primitive but still holding a potent tension after all these years. They were welcomed as liberators, and it’s hard to imagine it wasn’t gratifying for the band. When they were done, Mike Smith took the stage (he’s been introducing each act) and called the raffle. I didn’t win, despite my sure-bet tickets. Always next year. The good news is Dream Death were excellent and I got to pick up a copy of Somnium Excessum, which I’m looking forward to adding to my already considerable ride-home playlist for tomorrow. Right on.
12:24AM: Well, Victor Griffin wins tone again. He can take home his trophy from Days of the Doomed III and put it next to the similarly-shaped awards for tone he’s picked up at probably every show he’s played in the last 25 years. Much of the In-Graved set was familiar from Roadburn, but “Digital Critic” still made an effective opener and “Late for an Early Grave” seemed especially rousing. The lights went out for a minute, but were quickly restored, not that it stopped the band in the slightest. Bassist Dan Lively stepped in to fill the role Guy Pinhas had held for the European tour, and he, drummer “Minnesota” Pete Campbell and keyboardist Jeff “Oly” Olson meshed well, and the band had clearly gotten more cohesive over the course of their time in Europe, which ended a month ago now if I’ve got the dates right. Still. Ron Holzner came out for a song and Campbell broke all his drumsticks, so it was a loose vibe but a tight band, which is just as it should be. In~Graved rounded out with the Animals cover “Don’t Let Me be Misunderstood” into Place of Skulls‘ “Last Hit,” which if nothing else was a stirring reminder to me of just how good 2003′s With Visionwas. I could go on a whole rant about it, but wow, it’s been a hell of a day. This is the proverbial home stretch though — or whatever the hockey equivalent is, in honor of the Blackhawks, who apparently won — and with The Gates of Slumber still to come, I know this is still the place to be. Feet sore, head sore, brain tired, but not done yet.
The Gates of Slumber
2:12AM: Just for kicks — also in the name of Science Bloody Science! — during The Gates of Slumber‘s set, I walked outside the venue and down the street to see how many houses I’d pass before I couldn’t hear the band anymore. I got six properties away from The Blue Pig, and I could still hear them, but it seemed reasonable to assume that the people inside the house couldn’t feel the vibrations of Jason McCash‘s bass, and that would have to do. I’d have kept going, maybe, but I wanted to see the band. It’s been a minute and I was hoping for some new material. They played “Death March” from their Scion-sponsored StormcrowEP, which I also picked up off the merch table, and that sounded pretty vicious. The place was winding down on the quick, people giving drunkhugs and saying their “see you next year”s, but I wasn’t gonna split until they were done. Not that I didn’t think about cutting out and going back to the Best Western, but putting it to the scale of having been there for over 13 hours, another couple minutes to watch “The Scovrge ov Drvnkenness” or “Day of Farewell” — which is one of those songs I’m reminded of how much I dig every time I hear it — or the closer “Coven of Cain” didn’t seem unreasonable. It had been a long day, but The Gates of Slumber – McCash, guitarist/vocalist Karl Simon and drummer “Iron” Bob Fouts — were the downtrodden nail in Days of the Doomed III‘s coffin, and the fest would’ve been hard pressed to find someone more appropriate to close out after In-Graved and the many others preceding. By the time the house lights came up, it was clear the night was over.
2:32AM: Back at the hotel now, listening to someone stomp the living shit out of the floor one level up, also known as the ceiling of this room. All the same, this chair seems absurdly comfortable. One more time, I just want to thank Mercyful Mike Smith for the effort and execution behind this fest. The whole crew at The Blue Pig ran this thing smoothly from front to back, kept the mood positive and kept the drinks flowing. Also special thanks to Postman Dan for generally being awesome and for specifically dealing with me running back and forth and taking out the laptop like a dork. It’s much appreciated.
There are a lot of others. A lot. I’d start to list them, but it’s getting on 3AM and I have the alarm set for just about four hours to get up and start the at-least-15-hour drive back to New Jersey. Gotta be to work on Monday. So I’m gonna get to bed and then get coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.
Posted in Features on June 21st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
06.21.13 — The Blue Pig — Cudahy, WI
4:24PM: Welcome to Cudahy, Wisconsin. Were I one of the homeowners living on the residential street off the corner where The Blue Pig is located, I’d probably already be pissed. I’m not, though. I’m here for the show. Hence, doom on.
The venue — kind souls — gave me the wifi password, so over the course of tonight and tomorrow I’ll be updating live with words and pics from the Days of the Doomed III fest. Tonight, the lineup features Gravedirt, Moon Curse, Kings Destroy (go hometown heroes), Lucertola, Venomous Maximus, Iron Man and Penance. The show kicks off in about half an hour and there’s the usual pre-fest milling about, plus a DJ spinning the usual suspects — Pantera, AC/DC, etc. — drinks at the bar and already a cool vibe in the air. I’m looking forward to seeing how the night plays out.
I’m sitting in the back by the merch area, but judging by the people rolling in, it looks like I’m going to have to find a different spot to set up shop, so that might be an adventure, but I’ll do my best to make it work. Long night and day tomorrow ahead, but I’ve got a doomburger — yes, it’s a special at the Best Western — in my gut and spirits are high. Let’s do this thing.
5:39PM: Nothing to dive headfirst into a night of riffs like some low-end-centric, extreme sludge. Native Milwaukee trio Gravedirt do it muddy. The snare was cutting through high in the mix, but beyond that, they slung ooze like they meant it, bassist Chris Cottreau adding low, death metallic growls over top (or at very least, buried within) that reminded me almost immediately of earliest, pre-psychedelic Zoroaster. Within that, their stuff was straightforward and they seemed to be getting their bearings in on stage, but they had a lot going for them and by the time they were finished, I had forgotten it would still be light out when I turned around and looked out the window, so I guess that’s saying something. A heavy start to what seems like it’s going to be a heavy evening.
6:37PM: Another local trio, Moon Curse had a sound that almost couldn’t help but be their own. Guitarist/vocalist Matt played through a custom rig on a custom guitar, drummer Keith brought his own kit and let loose his swing-heavy grooves in front of the riser, and bassist Rochelle anchored the lumbering riffs with thoroughly weighted runs. They hovered mostly around traditional doom riffing, but every now and again, they locked into a marching plod that showed some awareness of Red Fang or even High on Fire‘s second-gear moments. Matt kept his vocals mostly clean, and I suspect that much of what they played came off their recently-released self-titled vinyl, which they’re selling here in a number of editions. I may or may not get the chance to pick one up, but they impressed all the same and out of the two bands who’ve played so far, I’ve found two whose work I’ll look forward to following from here on out.
7:55PM: Some high order horror vibes permeating Lucertola‘s set, driven forward at a doomly crawl by the dual guitars of Tad Leger (also Blood Farmers) and Zack Breiman, the latter of whom tossed off fuck-you-up leads at a whim and broke his strap during the first or second song. Otherwise, the young six-stringer made hard shred look easy while Leger held down rhythm lines alongside bassist Chris Konys. I had meant to see them a while back in Philly, so they were something of a must to catch at Days of the Doomed III, and while they were still pretty clearly sorting out their material, they ended strong and had some potent chugging lines along the way, not lacking in classic atmosphere or doomly vibing, tossing in some variety (just enough) and keeping people hooked with a cover of Witchfinder General‘s “Burning a Sinner” that was greeted with universal welcome.
9:08PM: Not sure if I’ve ever seen Kings Destroy so much live up to their name. It’s terrifying how good these guys have gotten, from the flow they build during a set to their tones, to how they all slam together at the end of “Turul” and the time changes it brings. Fucking terror, I tell you. I wasn’t sure if they were going to break out “Turul.” Early on, it seemed like they were sticking to some of the earlier, first album stuff, rather than the A Time of Huntingmaterial, which is more diverse-sounding — they were sticking to the doom as befitting the occasion, in other words. But not only did they play it, they closed with it, using it to follow up “Blood of Recompense” in a one-two punch of gloriously heavy oddness. I’m hardly an impartial source, but god damn, I fucking dig this band. “Planet XXY” and “Medusa” were pleasant surprises, but really, the whole time, they were tighter than one generally thinks of doom as tight and showed that you can play heavy, downer music and still not lose all life from the performance.
10:14PM: It’s hard to argue with a professional presentation. And now having seen them live, any question I might’ve had about how Napalm Records came to pick up Houston four-piece Venomous Maximus has been answered. It’s easy: They saw them live. From “Path of Doom” to “Give up the Witch” to the grandiose ending of the finale “Hell’s Heroes,” Venomous Maximus were a pro job all the way. Stage costumes, their own lighting — they even brought their own photographer! The songs were no less dead on for the band being so aesthetically focused, though, and having experience with their Beg upon the Light full-length and the prior The Mission EP, the songs came right back, delivered with power and finesse and a raucousness all their own. I’d have signed them too. It would be foolish not to. If these dudes can get out and tour, their ascent could be quick. They brought the audience with them for a run through powerful riffs and over-the-top metal that was self-aware but not at all ironic. Again, it’s hard to argue.
11:36PM: Filling in for vocalist Lee Smail, who couldn’t make it to Days of the Doomed III, Brian “Butch” Balich (who’s wrapping a new album with Argus) took the frontman role for Penance‘s set. They opened instrumentally, bassist Richard Freund, drummer Mike Smail and guitarist Terry Weston, and were joined shortly thereafter by Butch, whose presence was announced by launching into “Words Not Deeds.” Hell of an introduction. Butch wouldn’t be the only guest, either. Several songs in — “Monster I’ve Become” and “Reaching” among them — guitarist/vocalist Brian Lawrence came out for a few from 1992′s The Road Less Traveled. “A Wayfarer’s Tale” was perhaps the highlight of the whole set, but I won’t discount either when Butch came back out and they closed out as a five-piece with “Misgivings” off the same album. I knew when I saw the band with Smail at Roadburn that this would be their crowd, and it was. Penance received a hometown-esque welcome at The Blue Pig, and proceeded to earn it with crunching tones as doomed as the emotionality both Balich and Lawrence brought to the vocals. I considered myself lucky to have seen them once, so to do it twice in a matter of months with three different singers, all the more so.
1:12AM: Somehow it always seems to be Iron Man rounding out all the doomliest evenings. Only fitting, I guess. Tonight the Maryland — vocalist Dee Calhoun, in a Ravens jersey, said they were from Baltimore tonight, D.C. other nights — stalwarts gave Wisconsin a taste of classic riffing the likes of which it probably hasn’t had since, well, since Days of the Doomed II last year. Tonight they were showing off new material from the forthcoming South of the Earthfull-length. Cuts featured included “The Worst and Longest Day,” the extended “A Whore in Confession” and the title-track, which the band put next to the title-track from I Have Returned, maybe for a bit of symmetry, maybe not. Calhoun and guitarist “Iron” AlMorris III command a lot of attention, but the rhythm section of bassist Louis Strachan and drummer Jason Waldmann sounded especially on tonight (Strachan added some wah on “A Whore in Confession” that was a nice touch), and the band seemed most gelled of all on the new material, which was encouraging for the results on that album whenever it surfaces. As ever, Iron Man closed out with “Black Night” from the classic 1993 album of the same name, but the crowd wouldn’t let them go when they were done, so they followed it with “Run from the Light” from I Have Returnedand capped day one of Days of the Doomed III with a fitting summary of what I take away as the whole idea behind the fest: Good people, good riffs, good times. You won’t hear (or read) a complaint out of me. Tomorrow we go again.
Posted in Features on June 20th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
In a bit of her standard brilliance, The Patient Mrs. asked me the other day why I was planning on making the drive out from New Jersey to Days of the Doomed III all at once. My mind a blank (also standard), I told her it was because I didn’t want to spend the money on a motel. Thus it was that I drove yesterday from home to Toledo, where I am now and stayed last night. Before the room was booked, I had set my GPS to go to Ramalama Records (no coincidence I decided Toledo would be the dividing point of the trip), and even though I plugged in the address of this Best Western in after I had the reservation, it still took me there, so I got to do a 20-minute detour after an eight-hour drive to actually get to the hotel last night, but it could’ve been far worse.
Once here, I quickly discovered just how much the internet connection blows — lots! — and got up two posts before needing to conk out. I’d have done more, but loading images took so long I might as well have drawn them myself and taped them to my laptop screen. First world problems. In any case, I’ll be splitting out of here shortly with nothing more than a cup of water spilled on the floor. Not bad for having been here a whole night.
The plan for the day is this:
Step 1: Coffee. And if possible, blueberry muffin.
Step 2: A victorious return to Ramalama Records (on purpose this time), wherein I shall unearth assorted treasures and make begrudging purchases of albums recently reviewed.
Step 3: Onward to Lansing, MI.
Upon arrival in Lansing, I will find one Postman Dan, a supremely good dude who joined me for the trip out to Wisconsin last year and will again for Days of the Doomed III. Kings Destroy are in Chicago tonight, and the fest pre-show at The Blue Pig has Romero on the bill, whom I’d like to see, but after yesterday and with the drive to Cudahy, WI, to come tomorrow, I think the plate is full enough. Perhaps I’ll feel somewhat less overwhelmed once I complete Step 1.
I put it out on Thee Facebooks the other day, but it’s worth reiterating that barring disaster, I will be live-blogging from Days of the Doomed III on Friday night and all day Saturday. I may or may not get the chance to post again beforehand, but I’m very much looking forward to seeing all the bands, and if you’re going, I’ll be the guy with his face buried inexplicably in his laptop.
Posted in Features on June 18th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
This is always fun, and because the year’s only (just about) half over, you always know there’s more to come. The last six months have brought a host of really stellar releases, and the whole time, it’s felt like just when you’ve dug your heels into something and really feel content to rest with it for a while, there’s something else to grab your ears. So it’s been for the last six months, bouncing from one record to the next.
Even now, I’ve got a list of albums, singles, EPs, tapes, demos, whatever, waiting for attention — some of which I’m viciously behind on — but it’s time to stop and take a look back at some of what the best of the first half of 2013 has been. Please note, I’m only counting full-lengths here. While I’ve heard a few killer EPs this year — looking at you, Mars Red Sky — it doesn’t seem fair to rate everything all together like that. Maybe a separate list.
If you’ve got a list of your own or some quibbling on the numbers, please leave a comment and be heard. From where I sit, that’s always the best part of this kind of thing.
The third Endless Boogie album on No Quarter was basically the soundtrack to the end of my winter, with smooth grooving cuts like “The Artemus Ward” and the classic rock shake of “On Cryology” providing a soundtrack as cool as the air in my lungs. It was my first experience with the longform-jamming improv-heavy foursome, and a CD I’m still stoked to put on and get lost in, having found that it works just as well in summer’s humidity as winter’s freeze, the off-the-cuff narrations of Paul Major (interview here) carrying a vibe unmistakably belonging to the rock history of the band’s native New York City. Was a sleeper, but not one to miss for its organic and exploratory feel.
Proffering righteous traditional doom and misery-drenched atmospherics, the debut full-length from Massachusetts-based Magic Circle hit hard and showed there’s life yet to the old ways. It never quite veered into the cultish posturing that comprises so much of the trad doom aesthetic these days, and from the grandiose riffing of guitarists Dan Ducas and Chris Corry and the blown-out vocals of frontman Brendan Radigan, it found the band carving a memorable identity for themselves with clear sonic ideas of what they wanted to accomplish. Out of all the bands on this list, I’m most interested to hear what Magic Circle do next to build on their debut.
Berlin trio Kadavar had a tough task ahead of them in releasing a sophomore answer to their self-titled, which I thought was the best first album of 2012, but when Abra Kadavar surfaced as their debut on Nuclear Blast, it was quickly apparent that the retro heavy rockers had put together a worthy follow-up. Cuts like “Come Back Life” and “Doomsday Machine” underscored the straightforward triumphs of the prior outing, while late-album arrivals “Liquid Dream,” “Rhythm for Endless Minds” and “Abra Kadabra” gave a sense that Kadavar were beginning a journey into psychedelia the results of which could be just as rewarding as even the most potent of their choruses. Their potential remains one of their biggest appeals.
It wasn’t without its rough edges, but at the core of Indianapolis heavy rockers Devil to Pay‘s fourth record was an unflinching songwriting quality that quickly established it among my go-to regulars, whether it was the quirky doom hook of “Ten Lizardmen and One Pocketknife,” the darkly progressive riffing of “Black Black Heart” or the suitably propulsive rush of “This Train Won’t Stop.” The double-guitar four-piece didn’t have much time for frills in terms of arrangement or structure, but by building on the developments over the course of their three prior releases, Devil to Pay delivered a slab of deceptively intricate standouts that made hard turns sound easy and demanded the attention it deserved.
6. Beast in the Field, The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below
Unfuckwithable tone set to destructive purpose. Immediately upon hearing the unsung Michigan drum/guitar duo’s fourth album, the impact of The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below — overwhelming though it is at times throughout the album; hello, “Oncoming Avalanche” — refused to be denied. Beast in the Field haven’t gotten anything remotely close to the attention they should for this devastating collection, but it’s one I absolutely can’t put down, cohesive in theme and full of skull-caving riffs as dynamic as they are brutally delivered by the instrumental twosome. If it’s one you missed on CD when Saw Her Ghost put it out in March (as I did), keep your eyes open for a vinyl release coming on Emetic in the next couple months. Really. Do it.
Massachusetts trio Black Pyramid quickly dispatched any doubts of their ability to continue on after the departure of their previous guitarist/vocalist, bassist Dave Gein and drummer Clay Neely joined forces with Darryl Shepard (Hackman, Blackwolfgoat, Roadsaw, etc.) to reinvigorate their battle-ready doom, and whether it was the extended jamming on “Swing the Scimitar” or the surprisingly smooth riffing on “Aphelion,” the results did not disappoint. Regardless of personnel, I’ve yet to hear a Black Pyramid album I didn’t want to hear again, and though I’ll freely admit they’re a sentimental favorite for me at this point, Adversarial is a suitable dawn for their next era. Long may they reign.
True, I will argue tooth and nail that Boston four-piece Gozu should get rid of their goofball, sitcom-referential song titles, but that’s only because I believe the band’s lack of pretense speaks for itself through the music and their tracks are too good to give listeners a chance not to take them seriously. When it comes to The Fury of a Patient Man — their second full-length behind the impressive 2010 debut, Locust Season (review here) — I knew the first time I heard it toward the end of last year that it was going to be one of 2013′s best, and while I’ve heard quibbles in favor of the debut, nothing has dissuaded me from thinking the sophomore installment outclasses it on almost every level. Expect a return appearance when the year-end list hits in December.
There’s a big part of me that feels like a sucker for digging …Like Clockwork, the first Queens of the Stone Age full-length since 2007′s relatively lackluster Era Vulgaris, but when it comes right down to it, I hit the point in listening to the album that I came around to its sheen, its up-and-down moodiness and its unabashed self-importance. I hit the point where I was able to separate …Like Clockwork from its “viral marketing” and just enjoy Josh Homme‘s all-growed-up songwriting for what it is. Would I have loved a second self-titled album? Probably, but it wasn’t realistic to think that’s what …Like Clockwork would be, and as much as I’ve tried out other spots for it, I’d be lying if I put this record anywhere else on this list but here. So there you go. I understand the arguments against it, but reason doesn’t always apply when it comes to what gets repeat spins.
I was late to the party on the second Uncle Acid offering, 2011′s Blood Lust, as I often am on records where the hype gets to din levels, but by the time the subsequent Mind Control was announced, I knew it was going to be one to watch out for. Aligned to Rise Above/Metal Blade, the UK outfit began to unravel till-then mystery of itself, playing live and developing the brazen psychedelic pop influences hinted at in the horrors of Blood Lust so that the swing of “Mt. Abraxas” and the acid-coated psych of “Valley of the Dolls” could exist within the same cohesive sphere. Between the death-boogie of “Mind Crawler” and mid-period Beatlesian exploration of “Follow the Leader,” Mind Control continues to be an album I hear as much on the mental jukebox rotation as one I actually put on to listen to again. Either way, there’s no getting away from it — the eerie melodies of guitarist/vocalists Kevin “Uncle Acid” Starrs and Yotam Rubinger are hauntingly ever-present.
Obvious? Probably, but that doesn’t make it any less genuine. To set the scene, here’s me on the Masspike a couple weeks ago in the Volvo of Doom™ with the little dog Dio, 90 miles an hour shouting along to “Crucial Velocity” at the top of my never-on-key lungs. I couldn’t and wouldn’t endeavor to tell you how many times I’ve listened to Earth Rocker since I first got a taste, but from the title-track on through the surging groove at the end of “The Wolfman Kindly Requests…,” front to back, the 10th Clutch album still does not fail to roil the blood with not a dud in the bunch. The Maryland road dogs of course shine best on a stage, and Earth Rocker‘s polished, layered production is a studio affair in the truest sense, but all that does is make me hopeful they’ll complement it with a live record soon. Clutch could easily have phoned in a follow-up to 2009′s Strange Cousins from the West and their fanbase probably would’ve still salivated over it, myself included, but by boldly pushing themselves to write faster, more concise material, they’ve reenergized one of heavy rock’s best sounds. Whether you’re a longtime fan or a brand new listener, Earth Rocker is utterly essential.
Two more records I have to mention: Kings Destroy‘s A Time of Hunting and Clamfight‘s I vs. the Glacier. I wasn’t involved in releasing the Kings Destroy, but felt close to it nonetheless, and since the Clamfight came out on The Maple Forum, it wouldn’t be appropriate to include it in the list proper, but hands down, these are my two favorite records of the year so far and made by some of the best people I’ve had the pleasure to know over the course of my years nerding out to heavy music.
Some other honorable mentions go to Toner Low, Cathedral, Church of Misery, Serpent Throne, Naam, The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic and All Them Witches. Like I said, it’s been a hell of a year so far.
You may note some glaring absences in the list above — Black Sabbath, ASG, Orchid, Ghost, Kvelertak and Voivod come to mind immediately. Some of that is a result of my disdain for digital promos, and some of that is just a matter of what I listened to most. Please understand that although release profile is not something discounted, at the heart of what’s included here is one individual’s personal preferences and listening habits.
Thanks for reading. Here’s to your own lists and to the next six months to come!
Posted in Features on May 31st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
The self-titled debut from Brooklyn’s Black Black Black arrived with minimal fanfare. There was no hype machine at work to herald its coming or viral video campaign to tease song snippets. First there wasn’t an album and then there was.
By the account of vocalist Jason Alexander Byers, this follows suit with the general ethic at the heart of the band to be as bullshit-free as possible at all times. His telling of how Black Black Black got together — he moved to Brooklyn from Ohio, knew guitarist Jacob Cox from their shared tenure in Disengage and they started the band with bassist Johnathan Swafford and drummer Jeff Ottenbacher — and his recollections of the three-month songwriting process for the album’s 12 tracks and the two-week recording with Andrew Schneider are the epitome of sans drama. They wanted to make these things happen, and they happened.
For that being the case, however, Black Black Black‘s Black Black Black– you’ll never guess what color the cover is — charts a surprisingly diverse course across its span, from the vaguely ritualized overtones of the “Seance for a Sucker” intro and the noise rock boogie of “Pentagram On,” to which Unsane‘s Dave Curran contributes guest screams, on through the blistering punk intensity of “Redeath” and the dreamy ’90s-style alt melodies of “Lexipro Devil.” Through all this runs a thread of heavy tones captured at their most crisp by Schneider‘s production and a still-lighthearted attitude that comes through in clever titles like “Light Light Light” and “Drum 0))))” even as Byers‘ graphic contributions to the album — a 40-page artbook released with the vinyl through Aqualamb Records, detailed here — leave grim, lasting impressions.
Byers‘ explanation? “You don’t want to do a steady 4/4 all the time. It gets boring.”
Fair enough. Black Black Black will be joining the likes of Lo-Pan, Gozu, Borracho and Supermachine at the Eye of the Stoned Goat 3 fest at The Acheron in Brooklyn on July 27 (more info here) and a follow-up to the self-titled is already in the works. In the interview that follows, Byers gives the background on the band’s origins and some of his theories on how the visual and aural sides tie together.
Complete interview is after the jump. Please enjoy:
Posted in Features on May 14th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
At the end of April, Boston four-piece Gozu released The Fury of a Patient Man. It is their second full-length behind 2010′s Locust Season, which was also issued on Small Stone, and a point of marked stylistic refinement for the band. Whether it was the clarity that holds sway beneath the fuzz of Marc Gaffney and Doug Sherman‘s guitars or the soul that shines through the vocals, the thickness that they seem to turn into shuffle at will, everything that made Locust Season(review here) such an engaging debut has been given a sense of progress on The Fury of a Patient Man, and Gozu, as a unit, have never sounded tighter.
That’s saying something, considering that even as The Fury of a Patient Man(review here) came together, their lineup was going through changes and Gaffney had an extended hospital stay. Bassists Jay Canava and Paul Dellaire both play on the record — put to tape, like the first one, by Benny Grotto at Mad Oak – and the position is now filled by Joe Grotto (yup, related), who joins the rhythm section alongside the scary precision of drummer Barry Spillberg, who makes the High on Fire-style gallop of “Charles Bronson Pinchot” as visceral as he makes the later “Disco Related Injury” swagger and groove.
But Gozu is no more Spillberg‘s show than it is any single member’s, and rather, The Fury of a Patient Manfinds its best moments when everyone comes together around a central idea, as on “Ghost Wipe,” which excellently melds some of their heaviest push with an unabashedly pop-minded chorus, the line “The loudness of a broken heart” serving as a takeaway not just from the song but from the full-length as a whole — a sort of complement to the title, furthering the emotional crux and making a point of its melodicism even as its melodies top some of Gozu‘s most fervent riffing, culmination coming in the hypnotic tidal repetitions of the 23-minute “The Ceaseless Thunder of Surf,” on which the band doesn’t so much let go of the song as they do let it wander where it might, sustained lines meeting their deconstruction in a poignant, patient finale. Even this, Gozu makes asongand not a part showcase.
A triumph through the record is — it’s one of 2013′s best, make no mistake — it’s easy to imagine Gozu‘s finest hours yet lay ahead of them. The band have been recruited for a slot at The Eye of the Stoned Goat 3 in Brooklyn this July (more info here), and they’ll tour with Ohio-based labelmates Lo-Pan to get there. In addition, for the 2LP release of The Fury of a Patient Man, Gozu have recently put together a collaboration with Lo-Pan vocalist Jeff Martin – reportedly a cover of D’Angelo‘s “Brown Sugar” — and while gigging in April with Fu Manchu might seem like a high point for anyone who ever based a song around a riff, on May 20, they’ll be at the Great Scott with Norwegian rippers Kvelertak, so the hits, as it were, keep coming. Well deserved.
Please find the 3,500-word Q&A with Marc Gaffney of Gozu after the jump, and please enjoy.
Posted in Features on April 29th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
04.29.13 – 4:59PM GMT/11:59AM EDT – Monday – En route to Newark
My flight was taking long enough to taxi before takeoff that I broke out some music and I just assume they actually made the announcement that electronics were okay because no one’s come over and punched me in the face yet. Actually, they don’t seem like that type at all. It’s a very friendly aircraft so far. People were laughing. I have a row to myself. A little bumpy, but I guess this is as good as it’s going to get.
I got to bed a little after 5:30 in the morning, which kind of became the standard for this whole trip – fine at this point because it means no adjustment back to Eastern time – and was up at 9:30 when housekeeping knocked on the door. My alarm had been set for 10AM anyway, so I just got up, got clean, packed up the remainder of my stuff and hit it. So yeah, four hours of sleep. Maybe in a while I’ll lie down across these seats and take a nap. I’ve certainly done that before. Or maybe I’ll just continue to sit here and stare at the flight map for the next seven-plus hours until we get to Newark.
A cab to the airport felt like the epitome of luxury. Big Blue has some busted zippers and the thought of lugging it through the Tube again was just draining, so I treated myself in celebration of another killer trip finished. I’ve no doubt that at the end of this year, most of my highlights will have taken place over the course of these last two weeks. That’s usually how it goes. Someone in December will ask what the best part of my year was and I’ll feel like a jerk for talking about it because either I’ve already said so much about it that I’m just a redundant jerk rubbing in the awesomeness of the experience or they wouldn’t get it anyway. Maybe both.
A few quick thanks. Walter Hoeijmakers as always, delivered a one-of-a-kind experience that I continue to regard with awe. His enduring hospitality and friendliness are indicative of the spirit of Roadburn, and I admire his dedication, passion for the music and drive to always out do the prior year. Walter is an icon and his crew is a firm example of how it can and should be done. Roadburn this year was stellar, and I’ve yet to leave Tilburg unwowed. Great people doing great work. Thank you so much for having me back.
These last two years, it’s been a joy to watch the emergence of Desertfest as an entity both fostering and supporting a fertile underground scene while beginning to offer once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to see things like a Lowrider reunion. To Reece Tee of Desertscene, special thanks. From Thursday night onward, whether it was a nod, a handshake, a press pass, or even just a simple, “you alright man?” Reece made me feel welcome the whole time, and in 2013, Desertfest became a tighter operation, a bigger operation and a landmark for others to follow.
So many others. I’ll expand on this list I’m sure over the next couple days, but for starters, I have to single out Chris West of Trippy Wicked, who was kind enough to open his house to me for a couple days between fests and to show me around St Albans. I always feel lucky any time I get to see the dude or his band, as both are stellar. To Pete Holland as well, much appreciated, man. And to Andy from Miami, Diane Kamikaze, Nick DiSalvo, Jack Donovan, Matt Couto, the dudes in Pilgrim, Pete Green, Jack Dickinson, Rich from The Day After the Sabbath, Chris and Maggie, Joe from Wiht, Steve from Aberdeen, Désirée Hanssen, Romain from Bright Curse, Sylvain, Claire from The Heavy Chronicles, Lee from The Sleeping Shaman, Kent and Tim from Wo Fat, Jon Davis and Conan, Tommi Holappa, Peder Bergstrand, Vania Yosifova, Miksa from Finland, all the great writers and photographers I met at both fests – SusanneMaathuis, Christian Ravel, Antony Roberts, John Quinn, on and on – Giorgio Mustica for holding things down at work in my absence, everyone who came up and said hey, that they appreciated the site and the reviews, or that they found good music, or dug the forum, or whatever it was, it was awesome and inspiring to hear, and I thank you. Special hello to HH Word, Dutch Gus, BillsBrother and everyone else who identified with a forum handle. Always fun to answer the question, “Are you H.P.?”
The weekend before I left home to go to Roadburn, my wife and I went north for a housing inspection. We’d been back and forth on buying a place for more than two months, and after putting an offer in (loaded with contingencies as it was), we were finally able to get in with a pro and have a look at it. Within two minutes, it was clear that this house, which we both really liked and had put months of time into thinking about, was uninhabitable. Both I and The Patient Mrs. were really, really bummed out about it, and I think it says something about our respective characters that while I went off gallivanting for two weeks like I’m Johnny Rockandrollnosleep, she actually dealt with it in a real way and continued to search for a place for the two of us to live. I love my wife and am constantly astonished at her strength, her brilliance, her super-fineness, and yes, her patience in being able to put up with having a cave troll for a husband. I’ve looked forward to seeing a lot these last couple weeks. I’m looking forward to seeing her most. She organized my flights and my hotels, dealing with my utterly arbitrary preferences along the way – who takes a train from Amsterdam to London? – and even admitting that she “probably” didn’t care if I spent the money to cab it to the airport today, so thanks to her endlessly.
I am so, so, so lucky. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I work hard and all, but fuck that. Everyone works hard. And I by no means work the hardest, so the only answer I’ve got is that I’m lucky, to get to do these things, to get to write about it, and most of all to have you reading. None of this would be possible if not for your continued support of this site. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Please come back. And please know that as exhausted as I may have gotten along the way this year, there was not one moment where I didn’t fully appreciate how rare these opportunities are and how much it means to me to have you checking in to keep up with what’s happening. I am, as ever, humbled.
Still a ways to go before I get home, but I think I’m going to break out those Arrested Development DVDs and make a six-hour marathon of it, just to see how far I get into the series. Thank you again, everyone. Now back to real life.
The photo above is of my wristband for this year’s Desertfest. You’ll note it’s not attached to my wrist. I got back just a little bit ago from the Electric Ballroom and had meant to ask at the front desk of the hotel for them to cut it off with scissors, since it’s pretty sturdy material — it’s had to be to last these several days — but forgot on my way up and wound up just pulling it off around my hand. I feel like I should have it framed.
Late nights beget later nights, so I’m not gonna waste time here. Day three was no less righteous than one would have to expect after the first two. Here’s how it went down for me:
The other day I received a vehement recommendation to check out Throne, to which I responded, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure they played last year and were cool.” Turns out they did play Desertfest 2012, at The Underworld, but this year the trio moved over to The Black Heart, which was where my day began with their unpretentious Sleep riffing and nodding rhythms. They still didn’t have an album for sale downstairs that I could find, but The Black Heart was, as it has been this whole weekend, packed out. On my way through, I watched a couple seconds through the doorway in the spirit of Roadburn and found myself still persuaded by their languid pacing and largely-unfrilled stonery. I had finished my cup of coffee about two minutes before they started playing, so it was a cool way to wake up.
Meanwhile, at The Underworld, Brighton/Manchester-based Blackstorm were dishing out a pounding the likes of which I’d not yet seen here. They were a band about whom I knew next to nothing, but their double-guitar uptempo crushcore was a longer way away from what Throne were doing at The Black Heart than the street that divided the two acts physically. I arrived part of the way through their set, which the five-piece delivered in lively fashion, with lots of movement, a swinging mic stand and big, chunky riffs set to breakdown beats. “Then You’ll Drown” was a burly basher, and I caught “Run with the Wolves” from their late-2012 EP, The Darkness is Getting Closer, which was distinguished by the dual vocals of guitarist Neil Kingsbury and frontman Karl Middleton. They were tight and had it together on stage, though my head was already preparing itself for the cleaving it would no doubt receive from who followed them.
Suddenly I had to wonder why I bothered bringing earplugs in the first place. British trio Conan weren’t through the second verse of “Hawk as Weapon” from last year’s low-end raging Monnos(review here) before I felt like they’d melted in my ear canal. Guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis, bassist/vocalist Phil Coumbe and drummer Paul O’Neil just released their set from last year’s Roadburn as the new Mount WrathCD and vinyl, and while that’s definitely a satisfying listen, I was glad to see them in-person again, because no matter how loud you turn up a record, I don’t know if there’s any way to do justice to what Conan are live. Beastly heavy. Heavy to whatever degree hyperbole you might want to put to it, and while that heaviness and Davis and Coumbe‘s tones are still the star of the show, the three-piece also have grown as a stage act since I last had the good fortune to see them. Coumbe‘s low growls and Davis‘ shouting worked especially well together, and in addition to “Hawk as Weapon,” “Battle in the Swamp” and “Grim Tormentor” from Monnos, Conan also played two new songs, “Foehammer” and “Gravity Chasm,” which continued the warmongering gallop of the earlier album tracks that set up an excruciatingly slow finale, all the while keeping their fury front and center and proving there’s more to their heaviness than what comes through their amps.The other day, when I got stopped by that customs agent, he accused me of trying to illegally emigrate to the UK. I’m still not planning on it, but Conan make a solid argument in favor of doing so.
Kudos to whoever handled scheduling the bands’ timeslots for putting Conan and Toner Low right next to each other. I’d never seen the Dutch three-piece before — they’re now in their 15th year and have just released their third album — but they actually share a lot in common with Conan in terms of their general ethic. They are unreasonably loud, unremittingly heavy in tone and seem like they’re ready to follow a riff anywhere it might lead them. The difference is aggression. Where Conan are all beheadings and mayhem, Toner Low are purely stoned. Toner Low played in the dark but for a psychedelic lightshow setup they placed in front of their drummer and a sheet with projected falling pot leaves on the guitarist/vocalist, but yeah, they’re about as stoner as stoner gets, working in elements of more primal drone here and there, but keeping a solid foundation of riffs at hand at almost all times. They brought their own rigs, which made sense for the bassist since her gear was different from what seemed to be on hand, but the guitar — which seemed to be actually coated in resin from the look of it — ran through an Orange half-stack and amp they brought, and there’s been so much Orange around Desertfest I can practically taste it. I can’t argue with their having done it, though, since Toner Low sounded unbelievably good. I bought their new record and am looking forward to checking it out.
Naam beckoned. I won’t lie, there was a part of me that was like, “Why the hell would you go to London and see a band you can see in New York?” The other part of me was all, “No way dude, this is gonna be awesome. Naam have a new record coming out,” and that part of me won. Once a trio, now a foursome and tonight playing as a five-piece with the addition of a second guitar — not that they were lacking texture before, but more never hurts – Naam‘s universe seems to be in permanent expansion, both in terms of their lineup and their sound. Tonight was the best I’ve seen them play, and I’ve seen them play a few really killer shows. The integration of John Weingarten‘s keys along with Ryan Lugar‘s guitar/vocals, John Bundy‘s bass/vocals and Eli Pizzuto‘s drums is complete, and to show that, “Starchild” from last year’s The Ballad of the StarchildEP was the highlight of their whole set, though “Beyond” from their forthcoming sophomore full-length, Vow, came pretty close. They’ve nearly perfected a balance between stoner riffing and Hawkwindian space rush, and not surprisingly, their heavy psych went over huge at the Electric Ballroom. Naam are just starting a two-month European and UK tour that will have them in this part of the world for a while — perhaps it’s telling of their relative receptions that they’ll be in Europe when Vow releases — so I imagine they’ll only further solidify, but already they played a headliner’s set, closing as always with “Kingdom” from the EP of the same name (it also appeared on their 2009 debut LP), the layers of which shimmered with psychedelic vibes prior to a full-on freakout at the end of pushed-over drums and guitar destruction. Awesome.
Here’s a direct quote from my notes on Truckfigters‘ set: “Everyone in the world who’s never seen Truckfighters live is a jive sucker and that’s that.” More or less, that covers my feelings on the matter. The Örebro trio — Ozo on vocals/bass, Dango on guitar and now Poncho on drums — are easily the most energetic and engaging fuzz rock acts I’ve ever seen, and before they were through perpetual opener “Desert Cruiser,” both Ozo and Dango had gone past the monitors at the front of the stage to be closer to the crowd, who were singing along loud enough to be heard over the instruments. But Truckfighters – who are fresh off a tour with Norwegian blackened punkers Kvelertak and shortly headed to Australia and New Zealand for a run of shows — aren’t just getting their cardio in, they’re also nailing the material and delivering it with a genuine sense of spontaneity and the impression that anything can happen at any given moment, such as Ozo jumping into the crowd during closer “In Search of The” or the band launching into “Chameleon” after someone in the crowd requested it, jamming on “Desert Cruiser” or unveiling two new songs, the first which fit (“fett?”) well with the bounce of “Monte Gargano,” which came later, and the second which had a fuller, fuzzier shuffle in the beginning and wound up thicker but still moving, with a quick bass and drum break to set up a return to what seemed on first impression to be a solid hook. “Majestic” was welcome, and from their audience interaction to the tightness of their performance — at one point Dango fell on stage after jumping off the drum riser and didn’t even stop playing as he got up — there are few records supposedly coming out before the end of this year that I’m looking forward to as much as the new Truckfighters.
An hour hardly seemed like enough time for a proper Colour Haze set. Back in September 2012, the ultra-influential Munich heavy psych trio rolled through London and did a full three hours, complete with guest appearances, keys, and so on. Still, I’ll take what I can get, and when it came to “Transformation” from She Said (review here) — my album of the year last year — I still heard the horn parts in my head even though no one was playing them live, so I’m not about to bitch that the experience was somehow lacking. It wasn’t. Colour Haze were a complete 180 in terms of presence from Truckfighters, mostly subdued, no jumping, no running around, plenty of grooving, but less about getting the heart rate up than giving the audience something to shut its eyes and get lost in. As guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philip Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald jammed past “Moon” from 2008′s Alland into “Love” from their ’04 self-titled, they were so locked into what they were doing that the real miracle of it seemed to be they didn’t lose the crowd in the slightest. An extended take only gave everyone watching more to dig on, so that by the time “Peace, Brothers and Sisters” and “Tempel” came around, the Electric Ballroom was suitably hypnotized. Seriously, I just wanted to give them money. Like, “Here, Colour Haze, I have 50 Euro left over from last weekend. Please take it.” I’ve seen them before — their set at Emissions from the Monolith in 2006 changed my life (ask me about it sometime), and at one or two Roadburn fests along the way — but even though this felt like a sampling, it was ultra-satisfying to watch these godfathers of the modern European scene do what quite simply nobody does better. As I already knew I wouldn’t be staying for the entire Pentagram set, Colour Haze were sort of my closeout for Desertfest, and I couldn’t have asked for a warmer farewell than that. They were masterful.
I got a press release earlier this week that oft-imitated doom pioneers Pentagram had a new guitarist in the form of Philly-based Matt Goldborough, but that the lineup was otherwise the same as when Victor Griffin was still slinging axe, with Sean Saley on drums and Greg Turley on bass with frontman/defining presence Bobby Liebling on vocals. Of course, lineup changes are nothing new for Liebling‘s band — their legacy is as much about tumult as it is about the riff to “Forever My Queen” — but Griffin‘s presence brought a certain legitimacy to Pentagram‘s recent run and their 2011 Last Rites comeback album (review here), and his departure, whatever the circumstances may have been, changes the context of the band, Griffin – who also played today with his new outfit In~Graved – being one of very few others who’ve done time in Pentagram who can lay reasonable claim to the material. He may well have come out to guest on guitar (I recall seeing the band in 2009 when he wasn’t with them and that happened), but if he did, I wasn’t there to see it. I stayed for about four songs and then had to split to come back to the hotel, write and pack for my flight out tomorrow. For the portion I did catch, however — “Day of Reckoning,” “Forever My Queen,” “Treat Me Right” and “Livin’ in a Ram’s Head” — Pentagram were tight and Liebling was Liebling. There are few things as much fun to watch in a concert setting as Bobby Liebling flipping out to a guitar solo. Like he hasn’t been staring at them for 40 years now. Awesome. Turley and Saley have the material on lockdown, and as the new guy, Goldborough more than held his own on guitar, a younger presence giving some freshness to what might just as easily have come across stale otherwise. I’ve seen worse from Pentagram, and though one can dream of this or that reunion lineup, the simple fact that they exist and persist is to be… respected? Maybe. Probably. Definitely gazed at in astonishment. And so they were.
I have work to do. As in, for my job. And so I know that Desertfest, as blissful as it has been, must be over. My plan is to write up some concluding thoughts for this whole trip tomorrow on the plane, and I’ll include a thanks list with that, but before I switch off to picture-sorting mode, I just want to say it’s been an absolute pleasure and an honor to be back here in Camden this weekend, to see the bands I’ve been lucky enough to be here to see and to meet the people I’ve been lucky enough to meet. This place is awesome (but for the weather), the music is great and I feel like even more than last year, Desertfest is developing a genuine vibe all its own. I was beat today, t-i-r-e-d, but at the same time, I knew I wanted to take as much of the proceedings in as possible, because when I’m back home slogging away in the office, I’m going to miss it.
More to come tomorrow, and more pics after the jump. Thanks as always for reading.
It was difficult — even last night — not to look forward to today. I won’t say I was trying extra hard not to get hit by a bus on my way out of the hotel and down the block for day two of the 2013 London Desertfest, but if I had been, I certainly would’ve had reason. Strictly speaking, it was my most straightforward of the three days here. Virtually no running back and forth, just one venue change and that was it for the duration. Even before I saw any bands, today felt like a luxury, and sure enough I was able to kind of nestle my way into the groove of the evening and just let it carry me along as it went. This would turn out to be precisely the right strategy.
On a sheer cause and effect level — I went here and this happened — the results are mostly inarguable. I’ll note that there were a lot of bands who played today who I didn’t see. Some whose music I don’t know, some whose music I know and very much enjoy. Rather than lay out each option for each time slot and justify my decisions one at a time, please just know that I’ve put no lack of consideration into how I’m spending my days here, and that the choices I’ve made for what to see have not been easy.
Alright, let’s go:
The first thing was to get a heaping dose of native Londoner sludge, and for that I headed down to The Underworld to catch Gurt, stopping only for coffee and a blueberry muffin along the way. It was sort of half-slushing on the way — semi-frozen balls of unpleasantness falling from the sky — so I just assumed whatever pagan seabeast is in charge of the weather around here was making it appropriate for the onslaught that was coming. I have dug several of Gurt‘s releases, most recently the Collection tape (more here), but ultimately, that would do little to prepare me for seeing them live, since they proved all around to be a more diverse band than I’d previously given them credit for being, working in influences of post-Superjoint Ritual thickened punk along with their standard Eyehategod — or if we’d like to keep it local, Iron Monkey — fuckall, frontman Gareth Kelly‘s screams all the more vicious and throat-searing from the stage. The trend in terms of vocals has swung the other way to the cleaner, melodic end, but I still like to see a screamer who can really scream and keep it up for the duration of a set without losing power, and Kelly did that, making a highlight of “Fucknose” in the process. I also hadn’t given them credit for their sense of satire. “Dudes with Beards with Cats” was right on, and “You ain’t from around these Parts?” was presented as having an agenda that I hadn’t perceived originally — perhaps because I couldn’t understand the lyrics, perhaps because I’m clueless. Either way. Gurt brought up Diesel King vocalist Mark O’Regan for the finale, “Soapfeast,” the Church of Misery boogie of which was one more example of Gurt being better than I knew. Lesson learned.
It was hard to me to look at frontman Chris of Brighton four-piece Turbowolf and not think of a young Bobby Liebling of Pentagram. The superficial factors were there — moustache, mane, frilly shirt, tight pants and so on — but I doubt if many on the Trail of Dead tour that Turbowolf just wrapped had the same issue. There was also about as little in common with the bands as there could be and still have both of them play the same fest, Turbowolf opening at the Electric Ballroom – a new venue for Desertfest as of this year — playing a speed rock that bordered on punk but never really gave up its classic ethic. I wondered watching them if theirs is the kind of sound that has grown out of the next generation past the likes of Turbonegro and The Hellacopters, though I barely had time to get a mental process underway before Turbowolf were on to the next upbeat, catchy rager. They weren’t really my thing (who likes fast tempo and engaging music, anyway? Oh wait, everyone.), but they sure had the crowd on their side and it was easy to see why. While the rest of the band locked in their next ultra-tight, professional delivery, Chris tossed unopened cans of beer into the audience, from whence they did not return. If the room wasn’t theirs before, and it was, that was bound to help their cause, and though it was still pretty early, Turbowolf worked the larger space easily around its collective finger, stopping only to make sure everyone was getting in on the party.
House of Broken Promises
Though they’d apparently come right from their flight into town from the Berlin Desertfest, it was clear by the time Indio, California, trio House of Broken Promises dug into the start-stop stomp of “Obey the Snake” from their 2009 Using the Useless debut full-length (review here) that they were really just waiting for the strippers to show up. New bassist/vocalist Joe Mora fit right in with the band’s crotch-thrusting dude rock, though even if he’s not singing, guitarist/beard magnate Arthur Seay is doing most of the frontman work. Master of the guitar-face and the beard-bang, Seay is nonetheless a more than solid player, and for all the antics, he, Mora and drummer/backing vocalist Mike Cancino were as tight musically as they were uproarious and working to get the crowd into it. That didn’t take much, incidentally. House of Broken Promises may play what to my ears sounds like a very American take on heavy rock, but the Desertfest crowd knows how to dig into catchy songs delivered with quality heavy and quality energy alike, which is just what they got at Electric Ballroom, plus some old biker movie video backdrop courtesy of Mindzap Visuals. I think of some of the places I’ve seen these guys play — the Trash Bar in Brooklyn comes to mind, also the Brighton in NJ — but they seemed much more suited to the bigger stage, the bigger room than to either of those haunts. While I don’t think I would go as far as to call them desert rock — that would come later when Cancino and Seay returned as half of Unida – the three-piece definitely left a boot print in the Electric Ballroom, closing out their set with “The Hurt (Paid My Dues),” which had arms raised and lyrics sung along from the very start. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when they get a follow-up to Using the Uselesstogether, what effect Mora‘s joining might have on their songwriting process or overall sound, but for today, they were dead-on. Rarely can I say the same for myself when I’ve just come from the airport.
If you’ve lived for more than 25 seconds, you know that life long. And if you’ve lived for more than 25 seconds, chances are something has happened to you over the course of your life that you didn’t expect would ever happen. Tonight, I saw Lowrider, the Swedish double-guitar four-piece who released in their day only one full-length album — 2000′s Ode to Io, on MeteorCity — and two splits, with Nebula and Sparzanza, played fewer than 50 shows, and disintegrated, to become in the years subsequent one of the single most pivotal blueprints for European riffing. Yeah, Dozer (wait for it…) came up concurrently, releasing their debut also in 2000, but what Ode to Io offered was a fealty to desert rock really just as the thing was beginning to exist outside of the desert itself. These bands showed not only that it could be done, but gave landmark examples of how to do it. I don’t know where people had come from, if they drove here, got on a plane, train, boat, whatever, but I have to believe that it was the chance to see bands like Lowrider, Dozer and Unida that brought them to Desertfest 2013. And though I don’t really know how a group of individuals could come out onto a stage and live up to that kind of impossible narrative, guitarist Niclas Stålfors, bassist/vocalist Peder Bergstrand, lead guitarist/vocalist Ola Hellquist and drummer Andreas Eriksson did precisely that. Most of what they played came from Ode to Io, as one would hope and expect, but they gave some time as well to the Nebula split, picking up “Lameneshma,” “Shivaree” and “Ol’ Mule Pepe” for anyone who might be looking for a deeper cut out after the mega-hooks of “Flat Earth” or “Caravan,” the latter which rang out as an immediate clarion as if to say, “Yes, this is really happening.” They were visibly glad to be on the stage together at the Electric Ballroom, the tone was right on — having nerded out so many times over for “Texas Pt. 1 & 2,” it was great to hear it announced from stage as the first song they ever wrote — and coming out of it, I have to say that if these dudes had any desire whatsoever to go back and write a new album, nothing I heard from them tonight would stand as argument against doing so. The material — minimum 13 years old — sounded vital and fresh, and when they were done, Bergstrand (who is also in I are Droid), took a picture of the crowd and said he didn’t want to wait another 10 years to do it again. Hell dude, me neither. I never thought I’d get to do it this once, so really, anything on top of tonight is gravy.
Dozer are a big part of the reason why I’m here. Not just here in London for Desertfest, but here, in front of this laptop, writing like I do more or less every day. That’s not hyperbole, it’s just fact. When I first started getting into this kind of music in college, it was acts like Dozer who fueled my curiosity to know more about it. The Swedish outfit announced an indefinite hiatus in 2009, and have been little heard from since — though as early as last summer, guitarist Tommi Holappa was dropping hints of a reunion at Desertfest — so to find them back at it with the lineup of Holappa, guitarist/vocalist Fredrik Nordin, bassist Johan Rockner and drummer Olle Mårthans was special, and for me, something that will mark out this Desertfest among all the fests I’ve seen and any and all I might see. This was the one where I finally saw Dozer. I knew some of what to expect from Holappa‘s thrashing madness on stage from seeing him at Desertfest last year with side-project Greenleaf (another personal highlight), but wow. Opening with “The Hills Have Eyes” and “Exoskeleton Pt. 2,” they stormed through their hour-long set, making the most of their time with cuts from across their five albums like “Rising” from 2002′s Call it Conspiracy, “The Flood” from 2008′s Beyond Colossal(their last album to date), and “From Fire Fell,” “Big Sky Theory,” “Drawing Dead,” “Born a Legend” and “Days of Future Past” from 2005′s Through the Eyes of Heathens, the last of which Nordin singled out as his favorite song Dozer had ever written. It’s a strong candidate, with a memorable melody line and dynamic changes within an overarching moodiness that was not in the slightest lost in a live setting, the guitarist tempering his approach to the music and using a few effects here and there as well for echo and warble. His falsetto, shouts and straight-ahead melodic singing were right on, and with Holappa‘s headbanging his way back and forth on the stage, Rockner‘s quiet but steady low end on the other wise and Mårthans‘ positively huge drum sound — the kind of kick you feel in your chest — seeing Dozer was everything I could’ve asked it to be and more. They even jammed! Of course, they could’ve played twice as long and I wouldn’t have complained, but a track like “Headed for the Sun” from 1999′s Coming Down the MountainEP split with Unida (wait for it…) only underscored for me how much they need to do an early works compilation, like, yesterday. They wrapped with “Rings of Saturn” — the bonus track from the vinyl version of 2001′s Madre de Dios– and the opener of their 2000 debut, In the Tail of a Comet, “Supersoul,” which felt like home from the first note. I don’t know if this is the last time I’ll get to see Dozer play or not — I hope not — but for tonight, I’m just thankful that I got to see them this once at Desertfest. Really. When they were done, I felt like I’d accomplished something.
And if a night like this is going to have an epilogue, a 90-minute headlining set from Cali desert rockers Unida is a good one to have. In a lot of ways, Unida sort of sum up what seems to me to be the whole mentality of this fest. They’re a band who, just when they should’ve hit it big with a major label album produced by a major producer, it all came apart on them, and so what you had tonight was people singing along to tracks from a record that never came out. Without the passion for this music at the heart of this festival, there’s no way a band like Unida would resurface for a headliner spot. Vocalist John Garcia has Vista Chino at work on a new album, and guitarist Athur Seay and drummer Mike Cancino had already done a set in House of Broken Promises – the band was rounded out by Arthur‘s nephew, Owen Seay, on bass — so what made it happen? Money? I’m sure they got paid to be here, but money’s what makes you get up and go to work in the morning. What makes you spend months hammering out a set of songs to get up and deliver them in front of a couple thousand people most of whom (myself included) only caught onto your band after the fact? If it wasn’t passion, it would have to be madness. As he has been the several times I’ve seen him — in Kyuss-minded projects like Garcia Plays Kyuss and KyussLives!, from which Vista Chino springs – Garcia was a relatively subdued frontman, collected on stage if prone to the occasional leg-jerk softshoe. Seay as well was calmer for the Unida set compared to House of Broken Promises, and since some of my favorite Unida tracks are the moodier, more sedate, I thought it worked well. Over the course of their time, they certainly worked in their share of rocking material, whether it was the ultra-catchy “Red” from 1998′s The Best of Wayne-GroEP (which also served as their portion of the split with Dozer the next year) or the groovier “Vince Fontaine” from the unreleased For the Working Man. I was hoping they’d have some bootleg copies of that record on sale, but no such luck. The extended “Last Day” found the Seays and Cancino at some of their tightest, musically, and Garcia‘s voice was, as ever, crucial. “Thorn,” “Nervous” and “Human Tornado” were all met with rapturous welcome — they’d almost have to be — and after leaving the stage, Unida came back out and made a blasting two-song encore out of “Dwarf It” and “Black Woman” that answered back some of the quieter stretches of their set with full-fisted gut-punchery. Standing in the very back of the Electric Ballroom and watching the crowd go apeshit for them, I wondered if Unida might finally be getting the payoff they’ve been waiting for a decade to receive.
No time to think about it, really. They shuffled us out of the venue on the quick, and I decided to end the day with a check-in over at The Black Heart to see how things were shaking out there and pick up a copy of the new tape I’d heard Bong brought with them. No such luck on that one, and there didn’t seem to be much of a pathway to the stairs let alone up them to see the band, so I hightailed it back in the direction of the hotel, stopping to pick up some pizza along the way, since nothing says celebration quite like a pizza party for one.
Tomorrow is the last day of Desertfest 2013, with more running around than I had today, but still a decent amount of full sets I’ll get to watch. This trip is winding down, but we’re not done yet.
Housekeeping kicked me out of my hotel room. While I’m staying somewhere, I usually don’t like to have people come through and clean — I’m not making that much of a mess, and what mess I make, I can clean up myself — but sometimes it just has to be done. So they gave me the boot, but I was still early to head down for the official start of London Desertfest 2013. Or late, depending on how you want to look at it. I’ll explain as we go along, though before we get down to it and the rest of my night gets its course, let me just say that some of what I saw today is the kind of stuff that I’ve no doubt will stay with me for as long as I have the capacity to remember it. Really. It was like that. From watching friends kick ass to seeing bands I never thought I’d be lucky enough to see, it was the perfect start to a landmark weekend.
In the spirit of doom, let’s do a slow count-in: 1… 2… 3… 4…
Native British trio Crystal Head were my favorite find of last year’s Desertfest — a band about whom I really knew nothing who just blew me away on stage. Obviously the surprise factor wasn’t there this go around, but the Londoners were perhaps even more satisfying to watch in 2013 since I knew most of the songs, which came from their 2011 self-titled debut (review here). As such, they made a great launch point for day one of this year’s Desertfest and though the setting was different at the Jazz Cafe, guitarist/vocalist Tom Cameron, bassist/backing vocalist Jon Deal and drummer Dean Deal nonetheless made short work of the room. Self-titled opener “Perfect Weirdo,” was a highlight, and Cameron‘s hollow-body Gretsch was as righteous as I remembered. Curiously, since I thought it was a shoo-in, they didn’t play “True to Say,” but I guess the DJ beforehand had gotten wind of the fact that they weren’t going to, and it was aired over the P.A. nonetheless before they took the stage. I had thought that was weird. Along with “Wouldn’t You Know” — which I might very well have stuck in my head for the rest of this weekend — they kicked into a new song called “Bellicose” that was introduced as being, “about how nice the world is.” So be it. Moody as they get, and they get plenty, Crystal Head never stray too far from the next hook, and even “Bellicose” had a solid crash groove from Dean that slammed into half-speed at just the right moment. When they closed with “Truth Hurts,” I wanted to hear a new record as badly as I wanted to hear the self-titled after they finished at The Underworld in 2012.
I went back and looked, and I haven’t called a band a hoot yet on this trip. Well, that’s what Groan were. They were a hoot. Just lots and lots and lots of fun. Fun to watch, fun to hear, fun from the moment of their ultra-pretentious classical intro to every over-the-top grandiose song of their set. I dug the hell of it. Not like I’d seen them before, but the now-fivesome have been through some lineup changes since they released The Divine Right of Kings (review here) in the latter half of 2012, shifting drummer Christopher West (also of Trippy Wicked) over to guitar while bringing on new drummer Zel Kaute and new guitarist Mike Pilat to join forces with bassist Leigh Jones and frontman extraordinaire Andreas “Mazzereth” Maslen. They brought the house down early with their unabashed heavy metal shuffle, dipping into their split with Vinum Sabbatum (review here) for “Cosmic Boogie” before “Magic Man” showed off some of the more metallic riotousness that showed up on the last album. They were a top-notch stage act, Mazz playing host to a chaotic carnival while Jones followed suit and the three relative newcomers kept the material in check while adding to the energy. Pilat contributed some vocals along with Jones in a few choruses, and it was cool to hear older songs from 2010′s The Sleeping Wizard(review here) like “Witchy Woman” and their finale, “Sleeping Wizard,” get treated to the band’s newer tones. Foremost, though, Groan were a really good time as they rushed through their set, and Mazz got in the last word of wisdom before they walked off stage: “Let’s have a party!” It seemed like we just had.
Mars Red Sky
The warmth. I guess in the intervening year since I saw them at Roadburn, I’d somehow tricked my brain into thinking there was no way France’s foremost ministers of fuzz Mars Red Sky could actually sound that thick and still be so languid, dreamy, psychedelic on stage. But no, they were. At The Underworld, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast (left above), vocalist/guitarist Julien Pras (middle above) and drummer Matgaz (right above) had the perfect balance of tonal weight and melodic sweetness, and of all the fuzz I’m bound to hear in the next few days, I’ve no doubt that at the end, theirs will have been some of the most satisfying. Most of the new Be My Guide EP (review here) was played, including “Clean White Hands” and the title-track before the trio moved on to “Curse” and “Marble Sky” from their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), Kinast coming to the fore vocally for the latter. “Strong Reflection” from the full-length was even slower coming from the stage, which I didn’t expect, but that only made the rolling, nod-inducer of a riff even richer, Pras‘ vocals echoing but still conveying a single-layer’s fragility that doubling inherently removes from the studio versions of the material, giving what’s already ultra-natural-sounding a rawer vibe. The EP is still new, but the album cuts got a great response, and as Mars Red Sky capped with “Way to Rome,” I felt like I was being issued a reminder that summer is on the way and will be here before I know it. All the better for having Mars Red Sky‘s temperate fuzz to bake in solar scorch. They also let me take their picture outside the venue later. Right on.
Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight
My original intention had been to watch cumbersomely-named appreciated amigos Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight (oft just Trippy Wicked) start the day with an acoustic set at the Vans store in Camden. The downside to this plan? I had no idea where said retail outlet was. This was a two-fold downer: First, because I like Trippy Wicked‘s acoustic stuff a lot — they break out a ukulele and really make it interesting and moody and varied — and Second, because the friggin’ Vans store in Camden was right in front of my god damn face the whole time. I walked past it on my way to Jazz Cafe for the start of Crystal Head and actually did a facepalm. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone back and forth in front of it since getting into town, but it’s several. Fortunately, my feeling like a jackass (familiar as it is) was tempered by knowing that Trippy Wicked were also booked for a full-on slot at The Black Heart, which is where I caught the St Albans trio, whose drummer Chris West and guitarist/vocalist Peter Holland had been kind enough to host me earlier this week. Time was a factor, but I did get to see them play a new song, and that was awesome, and I got to see them fill up The Black Heart such that people were queued (yeah, I’m in the UK) through the door and into the hallway to get in. Not really surprising, since last year they played The Purple Turtle (not a part of Desertfest 2013, which has already saved a few long walks, I’m sure) and garnered much the same reaction, and if not for the power of their oh-so-heavy rock and roll, certainly the fancy shirts of Holland and bassist Dicky King would’ve packed the house. I don’t know if anything will ever beat seeing them in Eindhoven last year, but whenever I get to watch them play I’m glad to be there. My only regret of the day was I didn’t get my dose of “Hillbilly Moonshine.”
What could’ve possibly drawn me away from such rock-your-socksery? The thing is, to say I have an enduring affection for the Sons of Alpha Centauri/Gary Arce collaboration — he being the “Yawning,” as in his main outfit, Yawning Man, and they being the “Sons” as in the first word of the name of their band — and their 2009 debut album, Ceremony to the Sunset (review here), is to grossly understate the situation. Theirs was the first in a trio of desert-based sets (Sons of Alpha Centauri are from the UK, but Arce counts in atmosphere as well as geography, so we’ll give them credit at least this time), that went from Yawning Sons to Yawning Man to Fatso Jetson as the closers for The Underworld. Frankly, it wasn’t the kind of thing I was going to be able to live with myself if I missed, and it seemed I was lucky when I got there and Yawning Sons hadn’t started yet. Unfortunately, in a couple short seconds within beginning to play, Arce‘s guitar cut out. Gone. The Sons portion of the lineup — guitarist Marlon King, bassist Nick Hannon, soundscaper Andrew Blake and the drummer who held together much of the jams that would ensue — locked in the gorgeousness of “Tomahawk Watercress” on their own while Arce figured out his situation, and just when it seemed to be up and running, off his guitar went again. It went on like that for a while, and was a genuine, visible bummer that cut into their set time. King and company were pros all the way, and the tech crew for Desertfest and even Arce‘s Yawning Man bandmate, Mario Lalli (also of Fatso Jetson), came out to help. Finally they got the guitar working and were able to build a bit of momentum over the remainder of their set. Lalli returned to guest on vocals for “Meadows” from the album, and that helped, and they ended with just King and Arce playing off each other on guitar, which was a cool moment to see, though I don’t think the set turned out the way anyone had anticipated or hoped. Still, I can’t call it a disappointment from where I stood. Getting to see Yawning Sons play any of their material at all was an automatic win.
I don’t know if it gets more of-the-desert than the Yawning Man lineup of Gary Arce, Mario Lalli and drummer Alfredo Hernandez. There’s plenty of acts and artists who’ve emerged from that vast, beautiful wasteland expanse, but aside from being pivotal to the creation of desert rock — period — is there anyone who so singularly embodies the heavy sound associated with that region? Maybe having Yawning Man play Desertfest 2013 was a way to find out, and if so, I’ll take it. I know they’re American and I’m American, but America’s a big country, and I honestly didn’t ever think I’d get to watching Yawning Man live, so this was something really special for me to witness — these three players jamming out still-unheralded classics for an audience that, if they went through and hand-picked a crowd, they couldn’t have found one more appreciative of what they do and what they’ve done for heavy rock and heavy psychedelia as a whole. And their albums, 2005′s Rock Formationsand 2010′s Nomadic Pursuits(review here) — even the latter, for which I still carry a nerd’s torch, don’t do them justice live. The songs are heavier, yeah, but also just plain deeper tonally, Arce‘s guitar expanding to full echo breadth as he signaled changes to Lalli and Hernandez for when to move to the next part. I know Yawning Man have had some lineup shuffles in their time and even recently, but to have these guys come out and start running through “Sand Whip” and “Perpetual Oyster” and get a real flow going from one jam into the next, the massive influence they’ve had on the probably thousands of bands who’ve taken bits and pieces of their sound over the course of a generation — some without even knowing they did it — made a lot of sense. By way of new material, they played “Dark Meet” from their split 12″ with Fatso Jetson, which is only the second piece of vinyl I’ve bought since I left home, and before they started, I got to hold Gary Arce‘s guitar for him while he went and grabbed a replacement part, and I felt honored just for standing where I was even more than I had already.
Boomer’s Blues! Boomer’s Boogie! Moving to guitar and getting a microphone for vocals, Mario Lalli commenced Fatso Jetson‘s set by asking the existential question, “What is desert rock, anyway?” I was going to yell out, “rebranded post-punk!” but thought better of it. In any case, Lalli isn’t quite post his punk. Joined in this iteration of his seminal outfit by drummer Tony Tornay, bassist/cousin LarryLalli, both mainstays,and his son, guitarist/backing vocalist Dino von Lalli — who may or may not be 16 now; Mario said something on stage about pulling him out of high school to do this show — Lalli and the band answered his question to whatever degree Yawning Man could possibly have left it unanswered. They ran through a fortified, boogie-fied groover set that touched on Fatso Jetson albums like Cruel and Delicious (2002), Toasted(2001), Flames for All(1999) and Power of Three(1997), but conspicuously absent was anything from 2010′s Archaic Volumes(review here). I don’t know if maybe the band decided to leave that material be on account of not having Vince Meghrouni on-hand to contribute sax and vocals as he did on the record, “New Age Android,” “I’ve Got the Shame” and “Tutta Dorma” go a long way. There wasn’t any new material to be had, but having seen them at Roadburn in 2010, I knew Fatso Jetson delivered live, and they did precisely that. To my misfortune, I was standing up front next to The Most Fucked Up Couple In London™ (my only challenge was deciding which between the two was, in local parlance, the bigger cunt) and promptly had beer spilled all down my back, so I wasn’t long for being there, and once wrenched off the floor level of The Underworld, soon decided to pick up that Yawning Man/Fatso Jetson split and head back to The Black Heart to close out the night in local style.
It was a little like walking into Mos Eisley with the lights off, going back to The Black Heart. All around me, drunken murmurs and shouts in a variety of mumbled languages couldn’t be placed to their source, and even as I turned the corner to go down the alleyway to get to the bar, I knew I was in for it. I’d already been doused — I mean, covered — in beer, so whatever was coming, I felt like I was ready. I saw Steak here last year and dug them, and dug as well their sci-fi/comic thematic Disastronaught EP (review here), and with a new one coming called Corned Beef Colossus, figured this would be a chance both to get in some last-minute fuzz for the day and sample their latest material. The band features guitarist Reece Tee, who also organized Desertfest (not totally on his own, as no great feat is accomplished single-handedly, but still), vocalist Kippa, who set up his mic on the monitor box at the front of the stage, bassist Cam and new drummer Sammy, replacing Dan Kinsey, now of Wizard Fight, and Sammy would soon make the presence of his doubly-floor-tommed kit felt in more than just a busted hammer on a kick pedal as the London four-piece unrolled tones and grooves sliced even thicker than I remembered. Kippa, not content to be on the box, climbed onto the monitor itself to get to the ceiling, and the assembled masses seemed to treat it more as a start to the inevitable after party than the final set of the night. No doubt that was exactly the intent. This is their scene, their friends, their party, and the moment was well earned, both on Tee‘s part and the band’s.
It’s nearly four in the morning as I type this and I still have pictures to sort. Tomorrow is fewer bands, more full sets, and I’m looking forward to that for sure, but today was fantastic front to back, so I’m not about to complain. You can really get a sense being here of the spirit of appreciation with which this fest is executed, and I hope that comes across both in this and in the posts to come tomorrow night and Sunday. Thanks as always for reading.