Review & Full Album Premiere: Clamfight, III

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on January 17th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

clamfight iii

[Click play above to stream Clamfight’s III in its entirety. Album is out Jan. 19 on Argonauta Records.]

I’d like to say a few words about Clamfight. As bands go, the South Jersey/Philadelphia four-piece are probably the group of musicians I’ve been closest to personally and known the longest in my life. They are, to a man, beyond quality individuals and I think of myself lucky to call them friends. When I was in a band, we played shows together. Their last album, early 2013’s I vs. the Glacier (discussed here), was released via what was then this site’s in-house label, The Maple Forum, and their prior outing, 2010’s Volume I (review here), remains a sentimental joy for me to hear to a degree that’s probably ridiculous considering I had nothing to do with the actual writing of the songs. In terms of album reviews, impartiality is a myth generally, but perhaps never less so than when I’m talking about Clamfight. I don’t think I could not love them if I tried, and to be quite honest, I have no interest in trying.

Between live sets, demos, studio updates from Gradwell House where they recorded with producer/engineer Steve Poponi, rough mixes, unmastered tracks and so on, I’ve likely heard Clamfight III in every stage of its making. That’s not me bragging like I’m Mr. Super-Insider or anything. I’m just trying to give context to the fact that when I put on the finished product of Clamfight‘s Argonauta Records debut and listen to its five-track/44-minute entirety — the thing: done — I remain blown away each time by its level of accomplishment. It’s not that I thought drummer/vocalist Andy Martin, guitarists Sean McKee and Joel Harris and bassist Louis Koble didn’t have it in them to do what they do in these tracks; it’s that it would have been unfair to expect a work so progressive to come from a band whose primary drive has always been their intensity.

Although, and of this one can rest duly assured, that intensity remains well intact — as one can certainly hear in the post-Leviathan crashes and shouts of “Selkie” and sundry moments of heads-down chugging and/or righteous bellows such as the beginning of centerpiece “Echoes in Stone” throughout — it’s simply being used as part of an approach that’s grown in new, exciting and dynamic ways. Anchored by its extended opener “Whale Road” (11:14) and closer “History of the Earls of Orkney,” Clamfight III finds its conceptual or at very least lyrically-thematic framing in ongoing archaeological work in Scotland by a team that includes Martin and benefits greatly from this purposefulness of its expression, as it brings solid footing beneath the expansive and progressive structures in the songwriting, which is very much driven by McKee‘s lead guitar.

That element is given more space to flesh out than it’s ever had in Clamfight before, and McKee‘s performance lives up to its spotlight, but groove very much remains central to the band, and while the thudding tom runs under speak immediately to something bound in the earth, it’s the airy intro guitar lines of “Whale Road” that signal Clamfight III‘s defining ambitiousness, not to mention the patience with which they build toward the first verse over the opener’s initial two-plus minutes. Roaring and bombast ensue, to be sure, but as Harris and Koble lock in the core rhythm, it leaves Martin free to explore a range of vocal styles only previously hinted at in their recorded output and McKee to follow suit in showcasing greater reach in the style and substance of his craft. It is telling that of the five tracks, only “History of the Earls of Orkney” and the penultimate “Eynhallow” don’t end with a guitar solo — and “Eynhallow” is a five-minute, mostly-guitar instrumental lead-in for the finale. More often than not, McKee gets the last word.

clamfight photo useless rebel

Nonetheless, it would be inappropriate to think of Clamfight III simply as a showcase for McKee or any other single member. Rather, it is a whole album, and a whole group work. This is underscored as “History of the Earls of Orkney” answers the intro of “Whale Road” with its own leadoff airy meandering as much as in the stomp that emerges in “Selkie” earlier. And not only are Clamfight reaching within to find and manifest aspects of their sound in ways they never have before, they’re also reaching outside themselves, as shown by the guest appearances from Kings Destroy guitarist Chris Skowronski on “Whale Road,” ex-Wizard Eye/current-Thunderbird Divine guitarist/vocalist Erik Caplan, who lends theremin to that opener and “Echoes in Stone,” and vocals from Shroud Eater bassist Janette Valentine and guitarist Jean Saiz on the same song. The latter performances are of course standouts, bringing both melody and further shouting harshness in tow, and after a due throttling from the finish of “Selkie” beforehand and the rolling, growling start of the “Echoes in Stone” itself, their arrival serves to add variety and an unexpected twist to what becomes a crucial moment on the record.

In a way, it’s a shame she couldn’t return even for a few lines on “History of the Earls of Orkney,” as it would allow the closer to truly summarize the breadth of the album’s entirety, but after the subdued contemplation in “Eynhallow,” it’s clear the gears have shifted, and even without that flourish of added symmetry, Clamfight III‘s finishing move serves as a singular moment of triumph for the band. In its sprawl, they not only reaffirm the progressive achievements of the songs before, but continue to build on them. The push forward at the midpoint seems to speak to the ethic of the track as a whole, and the tumult that ensues is underpinned by a control that only makes it more enthralling — the four members of Clamfight all charging in the same direction, straight ahead through two solo sections toward an adrenaline-drenched ending that’s snap-tight and a brutally-earned, cut-cold payoff, as sharp as it is bludgeoning.

Look. I love this band, and I don’t mind telling you that. If that means you need to take this review with the proverbial grain of salt, cool. I don’t really care. The fact remains that when I listen to Clamfight III, I’m proud as hell and deeply appreciative that I even know these guys at all, and whether you ever heard I vs. the Glacier or Volume I or not, it doesn’t matter, because what they’ve done here has thoroughly put them on a new level of execution. It is a special moment of arrival for them as a unit, when a maturity of craft has so clearly taken hold — one that means at very least they’ve outgrown their moniker if they hadn’t before — amid the pummel that’s always been their fuel, and when a resulting effort can strike as much with its scope as its brute force. Even putting aside as much as I possibly can the high esteem in which I hold them as people, I consider myself lucky every time I put this album on, and I plan to put it on for a long time to come. If you don’t, it’s your loss.

Clamfight on Thee Facebooks

Clamfight on Twitter

Clamfight on Instagram

Clamfight on Bandcamp

Argonauta Records website

Argonauta Records on Thee Facebooks

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Lineup Announced for Rev. Jim Forrester Benefit Dec. 29

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 21st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

As the details have surfaced over the last 24 hours regarding the tragic death of Rev. Jim Forrester outside the Fells Point, Baltimore, tattoo/piercing shop where he worked, the portrait they’ve drawn has only seemed more senseless. The former bassist for Sixty Watt Shaman, currently of Foghound and Serpents of Secrecy, on the mend from ongoing health issues, finding sobriety, married, getting through, and then shot in the chest outside his place of employment? You’d have a long, long way to go before you ever managed to convince me that makes any fucking sense whatsoever.

One thing Maryland heavy has always done, however, is rally together when the situation calls for it, and yeah, I’d say this situation calls for it. Two stages in Frederick, Maryland, will run benefits next Friday, Dec. 29, with proceeds going to Jim‘s funeral costs and honestly whatever else who the hell cares what they do with the money take all the money just take it please take it and take lasagna too. I’ve heard rumblings about more benefit shows to come and something brewing for Maryland Doom Fest 2018 as well next June, so stay tuned for more and I’ll update as much as I can because Jesus tapdancing Christ, some asshole shot Jim Forrester.

Fucking devastating.

Lineups for the shows at Cafe 611 and Guido’s Speakeasy follow here. If you can’t make it, there’s also a GoFundMe set up linked below that you should donate to. Hell, even if you can go you should donate, because again, just take all the money please take all the money.

Here:

rev jim benefit show

Rev Jim Benefit Concert – Dec. 29

Cafe 611 & Guido’s Speakeasy
N Market St, Frederick, Maryland

This event will feature 13 killer bands on 2 separate stages. Both Cafe 611 & Guido’s next door will be hosting this remembrance of Rev Jim’s life and fundraiser. Bands will be revealed soon. All proceeds go to his family. We will celebrate your existence forever Jim.

This wonderful, gental, kind man was tragically taken from us by a senseless act. All proceeds are to help alleviate the financial strain on his family: https://www.gofundme.com/funds-for-forrester

Show time is 6pm-12:30 pm Friday Dec 29th.

Lineup:

Cafe 611:
King Giant
Earthride
The Age of Truth
Thousand Vision Mist
Thonian Horde
Faith in Jane
Dee Calhoun & Louis Strachan

Guido’s Speakeasy:
Bailjack
The Druids
Et Mors
Seasick Gladiator
Clamfight
Thee Iron Hand
Lifetime Shitlist

https://www.facebook.com/events/180510659201090/
https://www.gofundme.com/funds-for-forrester

Foghound, The World Unseen (2016)

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The Obelisk Presents: Benthic Realm, Clamfight & More, Dec. 2 in Worcester, MA

Posted in The Obelisk Presents on October 23rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

I’ve been fortunate enough to be asked to present some killer shows of late — seriously, check it out — but when it’s friends playing a gig, that’s all the more special to me. This one? Yeah, it’s a no-brainer. Good show. You should go. But the truth is that in addition to appreciating what Benthic Realm and Clamfight do as artists, I know these people. They’re good people. Isn’t life that much better when you can be sure the people you’re supporting aren’t assholes?

The gig has been dubbed the “Mid Atlantic Invasion” — because regionalism — and pits two Massachusetts acts of significant pedigree in Benthic Realm (members of Second Grave and Conclave) and Z/28 (members of Mourne and Grief against Clamfight from Philly and Pennsylvania’s Brain Candle. With Clamfight signed to Argonauta as of this Summer and the release of their new album, III, impending for early 2018, and Benthic Realm having brought in Conclave drummer Dan Blomquist since putting out their self-titled demo (review here) this Spring, it should be a significant battle indeed, and by that I mean way less a battle than bands from different areas getting together and putting on a really good show for those fortunate enough to witness it.

To that end, let me add that Ralph’s Rock Diner in Worcester is, in the now-four-years that I’ve lived in Massachusetts, hands down the best place I’ve found to see a show, and that along with MT Booking, I’m happy to have this site associated with goings on in that space once again. Great sound, cool vibe, good lighting, comfortable space, and burgers downstairs. They’ll even make you coffee if you ask nicely, though they won’t necessarily be happy about it.

Below, Clamfight drummer Andy Martin offers a bit of comment on the gig, and the preliminaries follow. It’s eight bucks. What the hell more could you possibly ask?

benthic-realm-clamfight-show

Andy Martin on the “Mid Atlantic Invasion”:

Allow me to peel back the curtain on how I book most Clamfight shows: Can we make it to work on Monday and is there someone there I want to hug? Whether we think it’ll be a good show is like a distant fourth.

Luckily, Woostah fulfills all of those criterion.

It’s close, and we’ve (finally) got a record to flog, so that takes care of criteria one, and two, it’s home base for a lot of our favorite people.

From our brothers in Conclave, to Faces of Bayon, and our Boston homies who often make the trip out, Massachusetts and particularly Worcester have been really good to us so we are stoked to return, laden with riffs and hugs. Personally, I’m really looking forward to jamming with Benthic Realm for the first time too, and all the more now that they’ve snagged one of my favorite people on Earth, Dan Blomquist as their drummer.

As an added bonus we’ve got Philly shredders Braincandle with us in Worcester and the night before in Brooklyn, so it’s going to be a solid weekend of riffs and shenanigans, and well worth the pain we’ll all be in come Monday.

The Obelisk and MT Booking Present::
A night of Mid Atlantic meets Massachusetts Metal!

Ralph’s Rock Diner
148 Grove St., Worcester, MA
Saturday December 2, 2017
Doors @ 9PM
$8 At the door
21+ With valid I.D.

Benthic Realm (ex-Second Grave/Conclave)
https://benthicrealm.bandcamp.com/

Clamfight (Traveling from NJ/PA)
https://clamfight.bandcamp.com/

Brain Candle (Traveling from PA)
https://braincandlemusic.bandcamp.com/

Z/28 (ex-Grief/Mourne)
https://nobodyridesforfree.bandcamp.com/

Thee Facebooks event page

Benthic Realm on Thee Facebooks

Clamfight on Thee Facebooks

Brain Candle on Thee Facebooks

Z/28 on Thee Facebooks

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Clamfight Set Jan. 19 Release Date for III; Preorders Available

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 20th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

clamfight

Impartiality be damned, I frickin’ love these dudes. I’ve known Clamfight for well over a decade now, and unlike seafood, they only get better with age. Yeah, I’ve heard III. I heard it while they were still recording. It rules. And if you miss it, it’s your own damn fault. I’ve been posting about how much ass Clamfight kick pretty much since this site started, and if you haven’t caught on by now, I don’t think I can really be held responsible at this point. Shit, I helped put out their last album, so what the hell do you want from me? A written invitation? Should I send you a telegram reminding you Clamfight are badass? Well, consider this post that personal notice. Yeah, I’m talking to you. Directly. It’s the internet, I can do that. I got your info from Equifax.

I’m hearing murmurings of a Clamfight release show in NY in January that I’m very much thinking I might need to travel to be at, but I’ll keep you posted on that once I get any details. In the meantime, Argonauta Records, which signed the four-piece this past summer, has preorders for III available now and has posted the album’s art and tracklisting, as well as a teaser video that shows off some of the harsh and melodic aspects alike of what they’re doing at this point. It’s a minute long and the band only needs about half that time to completely kick your ass.

In all seriousness, these guys are truly special to me and I consider myself fortunate to have watched as closely as I have as they’ve become a truly special band as well. Get yourself informed:

clamfight iii

U.S. Sludgers Clamfight reveal cover artwork and track-list of their highly anticipated new album “III”.

Influenced in equal parts by their dads’ vinyl, that sketchy older kid from woodshop class’ thrash and hardcore tapes as well as touchstone heavy bands like Sleep, Clutch, Neurosis, eyehategod and Mastodon, the band has plied its unique brand of suburban working slob metal up and down the East Coast of the United States since 2005.

CLAMFIGHT “III” will be released in CD/DD by Argonauta Records and available from January 19th, 2018. Preorders run here: http://hyperurl.co/ClamfightIII

A first teaser from the album is available here: https://youtu.be/ZCPkaIZ9T2Y.

TRACK-LISTING:
1. Whale Road
2. Selkie
3. Echoes in Stone
4. Eynhallow
5. History of the Earls of Orkney

www.facebook.com/Clamfight
https://twitter.com/clamfight
https://www.instagram.com/clamfight/
https://clamfight.bandcamp.com/
www.argonautarecords.com
https://www.facebook.com/argonautarecords
http://hyperurl.co/ClamfightIII

Clamfight, III album teaser

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Clamfight Sign to Argonauta Records; Announce New Album III

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 11th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Before the end of 2017, Clamfight will release their aptly-titled third album, III, via Argonauta Records. I’ve made no secret over the years of my love for this band. They’re personal friends and as such I couldn’t be more thrilled to see the news that they’ve inked the deal with Argonauta. I’ve heard the new record and it’s a huge step forward for them in terms of overall maturity and the complexity of their songwriting, which has grown in leaps since their 2010 debut, Volume I (review here).

It’s been over four years since the four-piece offered their second long-player, I vs. the Glacier (discussed here), through what was then this site’s in-house label, The Maple Forum, which they followed later that year with the two-song CDR single Block Ship/Bathosphere. They’ve been recording III intermittently since 2015 at Gradwell House in my beloved Garden State, and while I acknowledge my own bias, the results are worth the wait. If you missed it, their last outing was the Contaminated Tones limited live tape Thank You Delaware (review here).

This is reportedly one in a series of announcements from Argonauta coming soon — the next one never seems too far off — so stay tuned for further word from both the band and the label, but in the meantime, all the best to Clamfight and to the imprint on their partnership going forward into and through the release of III. More to come.

Until then, the PR wire makes it official:

clamfight

US Sludgers CLAMFIGHT signed to ARGONAUTA Records; new album out soon

Italian label ARGONAUTA Records is thrilled to announce to have inked a deal with U.S. sludgers CLAMFIGHT.

The members of Clamfight are four childhood friends turned grown-ass men who are almost as committed to big riffs as they are to each other.

Influenced in equal parts by their dads’ vinyl, that sketchy older kid from woodshop class’ thrash and hardcore tapes as well as touchstone heavy bands like Sleep, Clutch, Neurosis, eyehategod and Mastodon, the band has plied its unique brand of suburban working slob metal up and down the East Coast of the United States since 2005.

The band says: “We’re thrilled to be working with Argonauta for the upcoming release of III. We had a few options available to us however we kept going back to Argonauta because Gero seemed so genuine and honest to work with. We’re also pretty tight with the lads in Hollow Leg and they had nothing but great things to report regarding their experience with Argonauta. We’re excited about the potential that exists with this budding relationship and look forward to broadening our reach across the Atlantic and helping promote the other great bands on the Argonauta roster!”

Drummer/vocalist Andy Martin comments on the new album: “For us III is the logical progression of where ‘I Versus the Glacier’ left off. We took the formula of ‘Stealing the Ghost Horse’ and ran with it, with longer more dynamic songs. With ‘Glacier’ our purpose was Neanderthal pummeling but with ‘III’ we wanted to let the songs breathe and experiment with melody…before resuming the Neandrathal pummeling.

Having issued a debut album, Vol. I, in 2010, and a second album, I vs. the Glacier, in 2013 through The Maple Forum, the quartet is now poised to release its third full length, III, due later this year.

www.facebook.com/Clamfight
https://twitter.com/clamfight
https://www.instagram.com/clamfight/
https://clamfight.bandcamp.com/
www.argonautarecords.com
https://www.facebook.com/argonautarecords

Clamfight, Block Ship / Bathosphere (2013)

Clamfight, Live at Saint Vitus Bar, Feb. 7, 2015

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Clamfight Recording Update, Pt. 1

Posted in Features on June 16th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

clamfight 1

So this is part one of the Clamfight recording update — the heavy thrashing Philly four-piece in the studio at Gradwell House with Steve Poponi at the helm as they track their third full-length, yet untitled — but it might be a while before we see part two. As drummer/vocalist/smith of words Andy Martin explains, the process of making this outing is different from either their self-titled 2010 debut (review here) or the subsequent I vs. the Glacier (track-by-track here), which was released on this site’s then-not-at-all-defunct in-house label, The Maple Forum, in that it will have a two-month break in between its start and its completion.

A strange process? Yes. But as Martin — joined in the band by lead guitarist Sean McKee, guitarist Joel Harris and bassist Louis Koble — informs, the album itself is also pretty different from what they’ve done before, so maybe in a way it’s fitting. Perhaps best to let him tell the tale:

DIG IF YOU WILL, A PICTURE:

It’s 2:30 or 2:40 last Sunday, and after setting up since noon, we are finally about to start recording our third full-length record. We’re a little nervous, but we’re excited; we’ve practiced as much our suddenly-super-adult schedules allowed, and the general vibe is, “we are ready.”

clamfight 2I might have the geography of this slightly backwards, but I’m fairly certain Steve Poponi (who did our last two records, and as far as we’re concerned knocked them both of the park) was in the big room doing some last-minute dicking with cables* and we were in the control room discussing what song we were going to start with, when a sweaty, middle-aged guy with the standard issue South Jersey manual labor pompadour appeared in the control room and uttered one of nobody’s favorite phrases in the English language, “Which one of you drives the…”

And just like that, Joel’s car needed a new door, and that “we are so ready for this session” vibe when right out the fucking window.

Sunday ended up being a really long day, and though I managed to finish all my drum tracks, and since that was technically our only concrete goal for this session, you could argue that we ended up ahead of the game, but our shaky-as-a-baby-deer’s-first-steps beginning kind of put a pale over the session. It’s actually why this writeup took me a little longer to get together; I had to ask myself whether I was going to be honest and say, “this was a tough one,” or lie and say, “great times guys! Pay no attention to Joel having to sweep up broken glass and file police reports when he’d rather be recording.”

So in the end, and as you can guess because you’re reading this, I opted for honesty. But here’s me also being honest: the new stuff smokes and it’s made the rough way this session began okay in our books. Though it felt really slow in coming, the change really started Sunday. “Whale Road” which will lead off the next record, was a bear to record, but then “Selkie” went a lot smoother, and “Echoes” and “The History of the Earls of Orkney” were both real close to being first-takers. Our crazy non-Clamfight-related schedules, the accident, all of that stuff was something we got over, but realistically it did make the start of this session a little clumsier than any of us wanted.

Speaking of another unanticipated monkey wrench: the length of these songs. Clamfight III, or whatever we end up calling it (A Vulgar Display of a Tree Service Guy Not Using His Mirrors?), is made up clamfight 3of big, long songs, and though there’s been a seven-minute song or two on each of our prior records, we’d never recorded anything in the 10-or-beyond-minute range, and hence, didn’t quite realize the time commitment that is. If one take of the song lasts 10, or nearly 13 minutes as in the case of “History…,” then the playback takes at least that long. More, if you count the number of times, myself included, that one of us dopes has a fascinating dick joke that can’t wait until the listening is done. If there’s one downside to being in a band with three of your best friends, and making records with a good friend like Poponi, it’s that there is a lot of gum flapping… and when your songs are all 10 minutes, that adds up to a lot of time gone when you’re not recording.

With the drums done and 5AM wake ups for Joel and I looming, we called it a day (the other guys have inside jobs, I’m not sure when they wake up… 10? 11? I picture their morning routines like Eddie Murphy’s in the beginning of Coming to America). We reconvened Monday night and Sean got to work on his rhythm tracks, and in predictable Sean fashion he banged it out at warp speed. The funny thing about Sean’s recording chops versus my own is that since we both do the majority of writing for Clamfight, you might assume that we’d both be similarly hassle free about recording. You would however, be wrong. In fact, if you watched the two of us record, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Sean wrote and practiced these songs for months by his lonesome, and the first time I heard them was the morning of the session.

But I digress. The takeaway is that Sean crushed it on this, and Steve’s ability to get a great tone out of his rig remains intact. We quit around midnight, I believe, and tired from a seemingly endless day we hit home. To be brutally honest, I still didn’t know what we had yet. I was hearing glimmers of the record now, and was liking what I could hear, but I was still too rattled from what I expected to be an easy session turning into a battle to really have an opinion on it. I clamfight 4was edgy but starting to get a sense that maybe this stuff was turning out alright.

Day three, and our final day for this session, began around six the next night, and Louis stomped through his tracks fairly quickly. Not to get a bunch of angry (but probably deserved) comments from my many bass-playing buddies, but I’m not sure I ever appreciated the bass as much as I did listening to Louis lay down his tracks. I gained a newfound appreciation of how much fuller the bass makes things, and how crucial its role as “the sound between sounds” really is. We were pressed for time at this point, so Joel only managed to get tracking done on two of the songs (which after being up since five and still answering phone calls about his car I think gives him MVP status), but we had enough for our other stated goal of the session; rough mixes for which Sean could write solos for and I could write lyrics.

Because here’s the rub, and why this session is a bit different than our prior records: we went into the making of this record knowing there was going to be a two month break in the proceedings. It’s good because as much as we wanted and tried to schedule this record in a big block of time in the manner we did I Versus the Glacier it was impossible. Somewhere in the five years since we recorded our last full-length we got mired into a whole host of outside-of-Clamfight, adult responsibilities, and adding to that mix Steve and the Gradwell House’s ever more packed schedule (he just did Fight Amp’s stellar new record, Constantly Off), it meant that blocking out a week to make this record happen wasn’t going to work. If there’s an upside to us being older and busier, it’s that we’ve all maybe grown a bit more patient, so fighting overall schedules, we managed to figure out a way to make it go, even if that clamfight 5way for us is a little different than what we’re used to.

So here we are, with a record 50 percent of the way done, and a few months off to tighten up solos and lyrics, and then come back in the fall and finish this pig in a weekend. As for how we feel about the material now? We’re happy. Real happy. There was a flood of back and forth, “oh man, did you hear that?” messages in the days following finishing this session. Even in its current state, missing half of Joel’s parts, and all of the solos and vocals, it sounds big. Booming. Dynamic. We’re this-is-the-best-thing-we’ve-ever-done stoked on it. We’re proud of it enough that’s actually put us in a good place about this weirdly tough session, and we’re all dying to come back and finish this thing so we can start letting people hear it.

— Andy Martin, June 16, 2015

*I really, really don’t understand electronics.

Clamfight, I vs. the Glacier (2013)

Clamfight on Thee Facebooks

Clamfight on Bandcamp

Gradwell House Recording

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Live Review: Kings Destroy Record Release with Elder, Apostle of Solitude and Clamfight, Brooklyn, NY, 05.05.15

Posted in Reviews on May 6th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

Elder (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It was a little more touch and go than I’d prefer as to whether or not I’d make this one. Car trouble, money trouble — the mundane bullshit that too regularly keeps us from the things we actually want in life — but ultimately, I found myself driving into Brooklyn from Connecticut to catch the Kings Destroy record release show for their third and what I think is their best album yet. Joined on the bill by Clamfight, Apostle of Solitude and Elder, even before I walked in, I had little doubt it would be one of the best nights of my year, and after ti was over my suspicions were only confirmed. I left the Saint Vitus Bar with more energy than I had when I walked in, having spent a night among great friends and great bands and enough volume to fill a month’s quota. There simply was no way to stop from smiling, and I had little interest in trying.

What started out as a good crowd only got more packed in as the night went on. I turned out to be just a couple minutes late to catch the start of Clamfight, but if my evening was to start in medias res, somehow it seemed even more fitting that I should walk in and immediately feel like I was coming home. To that end, I’ll say that I’m probably the exact wrong person to be reviewing this show — there wasn’t one band of the four playing of which I’m not at least a fan, let alone decade-long friendships, working together on prior record releases and things of that sort — but what the hell. Impartiality is a myth. Let’s have some fun.

Went a little bit like this:

Clamfight

Clamfight (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Three songs from the Philly heavy thrashers — who just a couple months ago were said to have slaughtered the same venue supporting Eyehategod — two of them newer than their second album, the Maple Forum-released I vs. the Glacier. The four-piece were in the midst of “Stealing the Ghost Horse,” the closer from that riffy rampage of an outing, when I walked in, and after finding out it was their first song, I immediately wondered where they’d go from there. I mean, that song finishes the record for a reason and it’s closed live sets for a while now, but Clamfight — guitarists Sean McKee and Joel Harris, bassist Louis Koble and drummer/vocalist Andy Martin — are in a transitional period and have been for about the last two years, pushing back against stylistic convention and growing musically in line with a corresponding uptick both in stage presence and volume. Growing up? Maybe, as much as one might realistically ask of a band called Clamfight, but it’s produced some fascinating sonic turns. To wit, “Taco Bees,” which followed “Ghost Horse,” is a more straight-ahead rocker and they finished out with a sprawler — Martin introduced it as a “doozy,” which was accurate — called “The History of the Earls of Orkney,” which could probably just as easily open their next record as close it. McKee‘s guitar leading the way through initial verses en route to a multi-movement, multi-build instrumental push, it boasted groove, blastbeats, and ambition in kind, and was exciting to watch both because of how well the band pulled it off and because it was as though they’d said, “Well, now we have this sound and what the hell do we do with it?” and as the answer to that question, it bodes exceptionally well. They’re recording more this summer, and I hope to have updates on their progress soon.

Apostle of Solitude

Apostle of Solitude (Photo by JJ Koczan)

The Apostle of Soli-dudes released one-third of an unfuckwithable triumvirate of US doom albums last year in the form of their third outing and Cruz del Sur debut, Of Woe and Wounds (review here) — the other two were from Blood Farmers and The Skull, if you’re wondering — and it had been way, way too long since I last got to see the Indianapolis outfit to start with, so I was excited for their set to say the least. It had been since Days of the Doomed II (review here), nearly three full years, and that would prove to be too much. To undersell it, they did not disappoint. With guitarists Chuck Brown and Steve Janiak sharing vocals, bassist Dan Davidson in center stage with drummer Corey Lee behind, they ran through some of the new record’s most intense tracks, beginning with the opening salvo of their intro, “Distance and the Cold Heart” and moving into the first three from Of Woe and Wounds in order, “Blackest of Times” a particularly righteous launch backed by “Whore’s Wings” and “Lamentations of a Broken Man,” with Janiak in the darker corner of the Saint Vitus Bar stage taking the lead vocally for the verses only to be joined by Brown for a chorus both hair-raising in its effect and of headbang-worthy sonic heft. “The Messenger” from 2008’s debut, Sincerest Misery, was on the setlist but got cut for time, which meant everything they played came from Of Woe and Wounds. Fine by me. Their set was a quick lesson that they’ve only gotten better over the last few years, Janiak and Brown nailing harmonies onstage as fluidly as on the record throughout “Lamentations of a Broken Man” and the galloping “Push Mortal Coil,” which led into a driving take on “This Mania” for a finisher, and I’ll say honestly it gave me a whole new appreciation for that track. I revisited Of Woe and Wounds today just because the songs were still stuck in my head and it was enough to make me want to drive to Philly tonight to see them again with Clamfight, but I sated myself with the knowledge that I’ll hopefully be able to catch them among the headliners at the impending Maryland Doom Fest next month. In any case, it won’t be another three years before Apostle of Solitude and I cross paths.

Kings Destroy

Kings Destroy (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It was Kings Destroy‘s party, we just all happened to be invited. No joke, for a band I quite literally saw more than 20 times last year to get on stage and still offer something exciting, I felt it only underscored how special a group these guys actually are. From the solid low-end foundation of bassist Aaron Bumpus to Rob Sefcik‘s rolling grooves in plunderers like “W2” and the verses of “Smokey Robinson” from the album they were there to celebrate, their self-titled (review here) on War Crime Recordings, guitarist Carl Porcaro‘s malevolent smile as he tears into the leads of “Blood of Recompense” from 2013’s A Time of Hunting, vocalist Steve Murphy‘s stepping down from the stage for the ending of the same song, or guitarist Chris Skowronski seeming to address the whole of Yankee Stadium in singing along to “Mr. O,” which finished out the set, watching them play was the great time that I knew would justify the drive and they still exceeded my expectations. At this point, I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum on Kings Destroy shows, but they were positively on fire and it was a thrill to behold. They’d prove to be the loudest band of the night amid stiff competition, and to hear them dig into a more upbeat song like “Green Diamonds” coming out of “Embers” from the new album was a killer turn, the two songs appearing in opposite order on record to what they were live, completely reversed in their function but no less effective. No “Mytho” or “Time for War,” but otherwise they played all of Kings Destroy on the day of its release, and added the oddity of “Turul” from A Time of Hunting, which is always a strange kind of delight on the Saint Vitus Bar stage, so brazenly weird and undefinable as to be the primary characteristic of the album from whence it comes. “Mr. O” followed, again, the closer, and was downright riotous, the five-piece pushing through at full speed and still shoving each other around on stage and piledriving the song as much as performing it, the primary takeaway remaining how much truer to their live experience the self-titled is than anything they’ve done before, and how much stronger it is across the board for that fact. They played a gig worthy of the record that served as its impetus.

Elder

Elder (Photo by JJ Koczan)

One could very easily make a case for Elder being among the most pivotal American heavy rock acts going. Their third and latest offering through Armageddon Shop and Stickman RecordsLore (review here), stands objectively with the best that 2015 has yet brought, and after recently spending a month on the road touring that material, they were tighter at the Saint Vitus Bar than one could have reasonably asked, the Boston/Providence/Brooklyn trio standing on the edge of a West Coast tour that will be followed next month by a return trip to Europe as their ascent continues. How essential is Lore? They opened their set with “Spires Burn” from the 2012 Spires Burn/Release EP (streamed here) and it seemed like a warmup before guitarist Nick DiSalvo launched into the initial leads that start “Compendium,” the opening track from the new album. Released just in February, the record’s progressive take, flowing movements and clear-headed tonality came through smoothly throughout the remainder of Elder‘s set, and they seemed to still be in tour-mode, less concerned with the evening’s event itself than the raw delivery of their own material, drummer Matt Couto seeming to stare down the drums borrowed from Kings Destroy as he used it to enact New England’s finest swing and bassist Jack Donovan stomping his foot to the march of “Compendium,” completely immersed in the track and the barrage of complex, engaging heavy that followed. To say they owned the room is understating their on-stage command at this point, but they did anyway, and it was the Lore material that most got the room going, something of a mosh breaking out later on. For a group who were playing this show ahead of getting on a plane the next morning to fly out west and go on tour with the likes of Electric Citizen and Stoned Jesus, it would’ve been understandable if Elder weren’t even there mentally, but while they had a bit of that touring-act thousand-yard-stare working, their delivery was every bit as passion-fueled as it had been at the Lore record release back in March, and one could only stand hypnotized as Elder reshaped the confines of genre to suit their creative progression. The most terrifying thing about them is they feel like they’re still only getting started, and maybe they are.

I had to stop for cash on my way out of Brooklyn since I think EZPass canceled my account owing to some unpaid tickets. “Your tag comes up as invalid,” the cop had told me at the toll on my way into the city. Whoops. If I wanted to get through the Midtown Tunnel, I’d have to do it the hard way, so I swung around to a gas station with my one functioning headlight, hit an ATM and sped down the familiar Routes 46 and 80 headed west to crash for the night in my former river valley, landing at around 1:30 and still taking some time to come down from the show, which I feel like I still haven’t really managed to do, my head a whirlwind of riffs, hugs from good friends and the most killer of times.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Live Review: Faces of Bayon, Clamfight, Wizard Eye, Bedroom Rehab Corporation and Conclave in Massachusetts, 10.18.14

Posted in Reviews on October 20th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

clamfight 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It was madness, I tell you. Utter madness. Madness from which there was no escape, unless you went outside, which if you were me you didn’t want to do. A five-band Saturday night bill at Ralph’s Rock Diner in Worcester with Faces of Bayon — who as I understand it don’t literally run the place, but show up there often enough that one might get that impression — Clamfight and Wizard Eye up from Philly and Conclave, who as they put it were a “new band with the same old guys” opening, it was an evening to settle in and just let the steamroller run you down because, quite frankly, it was going to whether you wanted or not. GwarLife of Agony and a bunch of other bands were playing at The Palladium down the way, and that probably had some impact on the overall draw, but people came upstairs and milled about the venue throughout the night, a birthday party downstairs and balloons with “Over The Hill” on them getting a chuckle out of me on my way by.

Ralph’s at this point I consider to be a pretty well kept secret. I’ve yet to see a band there and not have the sound hold up. The room is open, the ceiling high enough to let amps breathe, the stage is the right height for it. There are stools at the bar if you want to take a load off for a minute, and the lighting — though it can change from band to band — is better than every room I’ve been to in Boston save perhaps for the Middle East Downstairs, which is also a venue that holds at least three times as many people. Were Worcester a more major urban center, Ralph’s is probably the kind of place people from elsewhere would’ve heard of, a spot that could be in league with Brooklyn’s The Acheron if not the Vitus bar, or someplace like Johnny Brenda‘s in Philly, minus the balcony. I dig it, in other words, and enjoy seeing bands there. For being maybe 75 minutes from me where Boston is about an hour and Providence about 45 minutes, I’ve so far found it’s worth the trip.

The flyer said five bucks for five bands. I paid seven as the door and it should’ve cost more than twice that. Here’s how this one went down:

Conclave

conclave 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

As I understand it, it was Conclave‘s second show, but true to their “same old guys” declaration, the members of the band have been around. Bassist/vocalist Jerry Orne counts the due-for-a-reunion Warhorse in his pedigree, and guitarist Jeremy Kibort is his bandmate in once-and-again death metallers Desolate. Completed by drummer Dan BlomquistConclave played doom like death metallers often do. Even before you get to harsh vocals or anything like that, you can hear it in the precision of the changes, in some of the angularity of their approach. Blomquist‘s kit and Kibort‘s guitar were a dead giveaway, but for being a new band, they clearly knew their way around a doom riff, and it was easy to get a sense of the balance of harshness and groove they were shooting for, the lack of pretense at the heart of their presentation, and their penchant for periodically working in faster tempo shifts, as on “Walk the Earth (No Longer)” or the set closer “Black Lines,” which seems likely to also feature on their forthcoming debut EP, Breaking Ground. And so they were.

Bedroom Rehab Corporation

bedroom rehab corporation 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I wondered if it had been a month since the last time I saw Connecticut’s Bedroom Rehab Corporation while bassist/vocalist Adam Wujtewicz and drummer Meghan Killimade set up their gear. Yes, it had — just over a month, in fact. Still close enough that they were fresh on the brain, though. Their set had a couple new songs to go with “Basilosaurus” from their Red over Red debut long-player (review here). They’ll record in January, and I’ll look forward to what comes out of that for 2015, but the primary impression in watching them at Ralph’s, which is also where I first saw them over the summer, was much the same, in how completely their live show outclasses their studio material. They’ve got their work cut out for them in translating the energy they bring to the stage — the consuming, noisy sensibility in both of their approaches, the variety of tone and gruff vocals of Wujtewicz — but Justin Pizzoferrato, who also helmed the debut, should be able to capture it with the right balance of rawness and clarity. At Ralph’s, they were playing the second night of an NY/MA weekender with Clamfight and Wizard Eye, and it was clear the company they were keeping was pushing them to give it their all on stage.

Wizard Eye

wizard eye 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)
Sometimes there’s a band — and I’m talking about Wizard Eye here — and they’re the right band for their time and place. They fit right in there. That was Wizard Eye as the centerpiece act in the lineup of five in Worcester. Their grooves smoother than Bedroom Rehab Corporation, more stoned out than even the newer Clamfight material — give me a minute, I’ll get there — the Philly trio rolled out fuzz and heavy with the assured vibe of seasoned veterans. They’re not a new band, formed in 2007, but with one record out it would be easy to walk into a Wizard Eye set and be surprised at how much they have their shit together on stage. I knew what was coming, but new songs “Flying/Falling,” “Phase Return” and “Drowning Day” set in well with the promise of a follow-up to 2010’s Orbital Rites, from which “C.O.C.,” “Psychonaut” and “Gravebreath” were aired, guitarist/vocalist Erik Caplan trading out guitar solos for theremin, which added noisy edge to the Iommic groove and stoner-because-stoner vibe the three-piece got across. That second album may yet be a little ways off, but from what I’ve heard it’ll be worth the wait.

Clamfight

clamfight 2 (Photo by JJ Koczan)
There are few things I’ll argue with less than watching Clamfight play. Up from Philly and sharing what I’m sure was a mightily dudely van with the Wizard Eye cats, Clamfight were primed to destroy as always, but opening and closing with new songs, they pulled away from the riffy thrash with which I tend to associate them, driving toward a more classic-rocking — and, pivotally, more dynamic — take. I knew they were growing, but they brought into relief just how far their progression was pushing them, or vice versa, and as satisfying as it was to see them tear into the title-track from their second record, I vs. the Glacier, with drummer Andy Martin roaring while lead guitarist Sean McKee tried to shake his cranium loose by headbanging it off while alternately facing and not facing the crowd, guitarist Joel Harris locked into a swaggering kind of waltz and bassist Louis Koble nestled into foundational grooves behind, it was even better to watch them come out from behind all that assault and volume and still have both the performance and songwriting hold up as they branched out. I anxiously await the chance to hear their new stuff properly recorded.

Faces of Bayon

faces of bayon 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)
It did not seem to me that Faces of Bayon had a particularly easy task in following Clamfight, but ultimately the Fitchburg trio were on such a different wavelength that by the time they were about 30 seconds into their set, it was apples and oranges. It’s been over two years since the last (and first) time I saw guitarist/vocalist Matt Smith, bassist Ron Miles and drummer Mike Lenihan. Smith threatened a second album that night to follow-up 2011’s debut, Heart of the Fire (review here), but one has yet to surface. It wasn’t mentioned at Ralph’s that I heard, but Faces of Bayon‘s blend of stoner and death-doom impulses was a stirring reminder of why I’d been looking forward to such a thing. Riffs came slow and patient, Miles subdued on the right side of the stage while Lenihan throttled his skull-covered drums and Smith — also a former member of Warhorse — gurgled out tales of woe. Some clean singing added Euro-style drama to the proceedings, and they finished with a deathly cover of Pentagram‘s “All Your Sins,” which was shouted out to photographer Hillarie Jason, who had rolled in presumably after the Gwar show ended. By then, it was well past 1AM, but some riffs get better the later they come.

The highways were basically clear on the way home, a couple cops pulling over a couple out-of-state-plate types as I streamed past with “Oh yeah I’ve been there” empathy. Got in a little before 3AM and called it a night on the quick, once again reveling in how overjustified the trip had been.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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