Posted in Features on June 16th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
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.”
I 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 of 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 was 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 way 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.
Posted in Reviews on May 6th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
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:
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
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.
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.
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 Records, Lore (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.
Posted in Reviews on October 20th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
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. Gwar, Life 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:
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 Blomquist, Conclave 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
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.
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.
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
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.
I haven’t walked away from seeing Clamfight play in the last four years without thinking to myself how devastating a live act they’ve become, so their new live tape, Thank You Delaware, is a welcome arrival as documentation of that phenomenon. Released by Contaminated Tones Productions with the first 20 copies in a limited blue liner, the six-song set seems to have been recorded late in 2013 in a North Jersey club called Dingbatz. At very least, that’s where the pics in the j-card insert come from, and at the start of side two — actually the sides are divided into “Side Clam” and “Side Strips” — drummer/vocalist Andy Martin makes some mention of being in Jersey playing with Tarpit Boogie, so it seems like a safe assumption. The title is a gag as it winds up, since at the end of the set, Martin says, “It’s been real, Delaware,” when they’re most definitely in NJ. They can thank whatever state they want, I’m still going to be on board.
That bias level for the Maple Forum alums and my personal affection for these dudes — Martin, lead guitarist Sean McKee, guitarist Joel Harris, bassist Louis Koble — no doubt colors my opinion of Thank YouDelaware, but I’ve found since the “tape revival” began that some of the stuff I enjoy most of all are releases just like this one; live, raw recordings that you can’t get anywhere else. It’s not a bootleg, because it’s on a legit label — Contaminated Tones specialize in varying forms of extremity — and endorsed by the band, but it’s of that ilk. The label on the tape is pasted on, there aren’t a lot of them around, and while it’s not a DAT-in-the-pocket audience recording from 1974, neither is it overly clean in such a way as to detract from the impact of the live feel. A solid balance, in other words. You get the brutality from “The Eagle” and you get a taste of McKee‘s soaring lead work in the jam around the title-track from 2013’s sophomore full-length, I vs. the Glacier, from which the bulk of the material on the tape comes.
“The Eagle” and “Sand Riders” as a one-two are more or less staples of Clamfight gigs, and they sit well together in that role. I’m glad to have a live recording of “Block Ship,” and “Ghosts I Have Known” was a favorite from their 2010 debut, Vol. 1, that doesn’t always get played, so cool to hear that put to tape as well. If you’ve ever gone to see a band and then heard one of their live albums, you know that sometimes they can come off completely different recorded. Vocals are off, there’s too much separation. You lose the feeling of watching them. With Thank You Delaware, the four-piece’s wall of noise and vicious stage domination is preserved. It’s a big, heavy-slamming sound, and it rounds out at its most raucous with “Stealing the Ghost Horse,” though the intro jam has since developed even further than how it sounds here to boast some of McKee‘s best lead work. The tape finishes with excerpts from an interview conducted by Contaminated Tones in 2010 that recounts, among other things, some vomit-related band shenanigans. Very Clamfight, to say the least.
If you’re not into tapes, fair enough. I’m not likely to change your mind about that. For those not immediately biased along format lines, Thank You Delawaresuccessfully captures the thrashing heft that Clamfight bring to their live performance. Maybe it’s a fan-piece and I’m a fanboy, but that’s not about to diminish my enjoyment at all, and if you’ve dug into I vs. the Glacier, this makes a more than satisfying companion.
Clamfight, “Ghosts I Have Known” from Thank You Delaware (2014)
Posted in Reviews on May 6th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
You learn the same lessons over and over at a festival. Being ibuprofen. Hydrate. If you’re going to be somewhere all day, know the spots to stand, to lean, to sit if you’re lucky, and if you want to sit early, do it for an investment in standing later. No one wants to bum out while the headliner’s on and the days are long. You do these things because it’s what you love to do. You’re not young anymore, you get tired. Your head aches. Your back aches. You smell. You’re in people’s way when you stand up front. Minimize that if you can. Be mobile. Enjoy yourself. This is where life gets good, after all.
There are cavernous potholes in the unpaved parking lot of Ralph’s Rock Diner. I kicked up dust even at crawling speed to park for Day Two of the Eye of the Stoned Goat 4, making sure I was plenty early to catch Skrogg lead off a day that also included Geezer, Foghound, Clamfight, Rozamov, Ichabod, Volume IV, Curse the Son, The Scimitar and Order of the Owl. Had enough time to sit at the counter in the dining car, watch a little bit of the original Star Trek on the tv there and have a cup of coffee, which I was warned against ordering from one of the guys who wasn’t working that day for fear of being yelled at. I’d have to laugh at someone getting pissed at a patron ordering coffee in what claims to be a diner, but I’m glad to have avoided the issue altogether. Two bucks and about 15 minutes later and I was back upstairs and dug in for the start of the show.
A Sunday vibe is different from a Saturday vibe. You know this. Plague of hangovers, plus Monday’s looming threat of the return to real life — these things bleed in, even if subconsciously. Eye of the Stoned Goat came prepared for such an eventuality:
New Hampshire heavy-toned rockers Skrogg were a hair-of-the-dog start to Day Two and they knew it. The ink is barely dry on their later-2013 outing, Blooze (review here), but they’ve got a follow-up in the works called Done a Bad, Bad Thingand they aired the single “Wheels, Women and Whiskey” from that, as well as a slower, wah-loaded jam that would provide the prevailing impression of their set in laid back, weeded-out evil-woman boozer blues grit. If I hadn’t actually heard guitarist/vocalist Jeff Maxfield speak in the same voice with which he sings, I’d likely swear up and down his “whiskey-soaked” vocals were an affectation, but no, that’s how he sounds, and with the chemistry between him, bassist Jason Lawrence and drummer Felix Starr — who traded out the house kit in favor of his own, much larger set — what struck me most about Skrogg was how well they jammed. Last time I saw them, at Stoner Hands of Doom XII in 2012, they didn’t come across nearly as comfortable on stage. They were supporting their Raw Heatdemo/EP (review here) then, so obviously the intervening two years haven’t been misspent on their part. I wondered what they’d do with more time to maybe elongate their songs and really stretch out and improvise. In hindsight, Bloozehad some of that going in “Born to Blooze.” Hopefully they keep developing that side with their new one.
If Skrogg were the first shot of the day, Geezer were a fitting chaser. The New York trio were jamming before they even started. Their soundcheck was a jam, and a good one. They opened with “Ghost Rider Solar Plexus,” and between that and “Ancient Song,” also from the 2013 Gage EP (review here) which has a vinyl issue impending on STB Records, they offered a support lesson in the importance of chemistry for a three-piece to work. Guitarist/vocalist Pat Harrington gets a lot of the attention in the band, between his Electric Beard of Doom podcast, gravelly voice and accompanying facial hair, but bassist Freddy Villano and drummer Chris Turco carried the psych-blues jams on which Harrington spaced out, and it was a classic dynamic made that much stronger by how well particularly Harrington and Villano know each other on stage, having played together for some time in Gaggle of Cocks in addition to developing Geezer‘s bluesier take over the last couple years. One of just two acts alongside Lord Fowl to carry over from 2013’s Eye of the Stoned Goat 3 in Brooklyn, Geezer rounded out with “Pony” from 2013’s Electrically Recorded Handmade Heavy Bluesdebut full-length and drew the early crowd in like moths to a lightbulb with the song’s quirky stoner bounce and nod-ready groove. Easy to dig these guys, and they’ve only gotten better the couple times I’ve seen them. If ESG needed a house band, they’d be a good bet.
The second appearance in two days for Sixty Watt Shaman drummer Chuck Dukehart III, Foghound were a much different band. I don’t know if they planned their set to highlight the fact that all four members — Dukehart, guitarists Dee Settar and Bob Sipes, bassist Geoffrey Freeman IV — also contribute vocals, but it worked out that way and it was a major distinguishing factor not only between Foghound and Sixty Watt — who of course had a completely different presence anyway with one guitar and a standalone frontman who only sometimes added guitar — but between Foghound and the vast majority of the Eye of the Stoned Goat 4 bill. And not only did everyone sing, but they all could. Foghound‘s late-2013 Quick, Dirty and Highdebut CD (review here) boasted the same elements, but of course it’s different seeing it play out on stage. Underlying that was a swing that was among the weekend’s finest as Foghound pulled more toward the heavy rock end from Day Two’s bluesy beginning, the standout “Resurrect the Throwaways” from the album reminding of Foghound‘s potential to land a hook when they need to and the new song “Truth Revealed” finding Dukehart taking the lead vocal on drums for yet another driving groove. They seem to be getting their approach together quickly, and as impressive as they already were, I wouldn’t be surprised to find Foghound even more solidified when next I’m fortunate enough to see them play.
Like the marauding bastards they are, Clamfight rolled into Ralph’s, set up, destroyed the place, and were gone. I’m obviously biased as regards the double-guitar foursome split between Jersey and Philly, but if the day had a quota of thrash, Clamfight met it head on and then some, kicking out “Sand Riders,” “Age of Reptiles” and staple closer “Stealing the Ghost Horse” from 2013’s Maple Forum release, I vs. the Glacier in addition to “Block Ship” and a new song called “Selkie” (or was that “Selfie?”) that will reportedly be on their next album. Perhaps the highlight of their whole set was watching lead guitarist Sean McKee shred his was through solos in the intro to “Stealing the Ghost Horse,” but there’s some stiff competition in that regard. I’ve been watching Clamfight play for the better part of eight years now and they have never been so good. I mean it. They’ve become an absolutely devastating live act, and their brutal groove has become a signature that’s their own much more than derived from any influence. Between McKee and Joel Harris‘ guitars, Louis Koble‘s bass and Andy Martin thud ‘n’ roar on drums and vocals, Clamfight barely stopped to let Eye of the Stoned Goat 4 catch its breath before their next round of pummeling began. Unreasonably heavy — and immediate. Barely half an hour off I-95, they locked into “Sand Riders” and didn’t look back. I can’t wait to hear their new stuff recorded.
Five bands in, it was pretty easy to see fest-organizer Brendan Burns‘ logic in how Day Two of Eye of the Stoned Goat 4 was going to flow, from the blues-styled start to more rock-minded push and into heavier, more thrashing terrain. In that regard, Boston’s Rozamov would take the evening to its most bludgeoning, darkest place. The trio of guitarist/vocalist Matt Iacovelli, bassist/vocalist Tom Corino and drummer Will Hendrix — who also earned my vote for best shirt of the weekend with his Maggot Brain tee — have some riff-minded aspects to what they do, but on the whole, their sound is much more rooted in the extreme. They were a step further into the abyss after Clamfight, impressively tight as a trio after scaling down from a four-piece since I saw them last fall (review here). Likewise, they seemed to have a fair amount of new material in tow, but “Famine” from last year’s Of Gods and FleshEP was insistent and violent in kind, and no matter where the songs took them, Rozamov remained in control of their course, alternately blasting and bleeding out thickened and ferocious thrashing grooves, Iacovelli and Corino coming together periodically for dual screams that only added to the extremity at hand. I don’t know what their plans are for putting their new stuff together and getting it out, but they carried the songs across with such urgency that I had to stop and remind myself of how far the day had come since its start still just a short time before.
Mean, volatile and given to fits of utter sonic cruelty, Ichabod were nonetheless a pullback toward heavy rock from Rozamov‘s assault. Also native to Boston, the double-guitar five-piece were the band on the Stoned Goat bill I’d seen most recently, back in in late-March in Allston, but of course the setting and compulsion toward a half-hour set between Rozamov and Volume IV — not to mention the sound and lighting at Ralph’s, which, again, are among the finest I’ve found since moving to Massachusetts— gave this go a different context. Vocalist John Fadden, guitarists Dave Iverson and Jason Adam, bassist Greg Dellaria and drummer Phil MacKay have reportedly finished work on the follow-up to 2012’s Dreamscapes from Dead Space, titled Merrimack, and as last time, some new material was showed off prior to Dreamscapes cuts like “Baba Yaga” — introduced as a “stoner rock song” — and “Hollow God,” which seems to take a similar angst-fueled approach to Boston’s Irish Catholicism that a lot of Southeast heavy takes to the Southern Baptist Church, Fadden‘s screams proving particularly visceral on the lines “Your god is irrelevant,” driving home a passionate if somewhat familiar argument, reminding of just how devastated the cultural landscape of this region has been by corruption in its religious institutions. That’s the kind of thing one might think of seeing the band twice in little more than a month, but the bulk of the room seemed more consumed with the general nastiness in Ichabod‘s sound. Justifiably so.
Building on the more rock side of Ichabod‘s sound, Atlanta natives Volume IV steered the fest back toward crisp, pro-grade heavy. A somewhat odd pairing in all but geography, they arrived at the Eye of the Stoned Goat 4 on tour with Order of the Owl having played in New York the night before, supporting their Ripple Music debut, Long in the Tooth (review/stream here). A solid, cohesive trio, and particularly interesting to watch after Sixty Watt Shaman in giving a modern look at how similar influences have developed in the time since the Day One headliners’ first run. Their being from Atlanta, it was tempting to try and read some measure of Mastodon influence into Volume IV‘s approach, but apart from some eye-squinting on the part of guitarist Joe Carpenter while he delivered his vocals, there was next to nothing in common. Both bands use guitars, if you want to reach that far. Songs were straightforward in their structure and well executed, and whether it was the chug of “Awake the Dreamer” or the ZZ Top-style motoring of “Locust Have No King,” they made a more effective presentation than I had expected. Set closer “Iron Fist” would be the first of two Motörhead covers for the evening, and Volume IV — Carpenter, bassist/vocalist Blake Parris and drummer Troy King — took one of classic metal’s most recognizable hooks and made it their own much the same way they added an individual sense to Southern heavy in the material from Long in the Tooth. I was into the record well enough, but they were better live without question.
Curse the Son
In a word: Tone. Playing in front of two full-stacks topped with custom heads from Dunwich Amplifiers that glowed from inside through a clear front with the word “weed” etched on it, guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore of Hamden, Connecticut, trio Curse the Son had thickest guitar sound of the entire two-day festival. Order of the Owl would outdo them for volume, but in terms of the sheer viscosity of their sound — which, as Vanacore joked in reference to his amps, was “brought to you by the power of weed” — Curse the Son was an overdose of righteously engrossing fuzz. Bassist Richard “Cheech” Weeden made the sound even fatter, and with Mike Petrucci (also of Vestal Claret) bringing subtle touches of complexity to the drums, cuts like “Goodbye Henry Anslinger” and the particularly catchy “Spider Stole the Weed” were rolling-groove high points of the day, the “whoa”s in the chorus of the latter seeming to come in layers even though Vanacore was the only one with a mic. Their 2012 full-length, Psychache(review here) is set to come out on STB Records vinyl any day now, and while it was “Pulsotar Bringer” from 2011’s Klonopain(review here) that closed out the set, the nod was constant throughout the room in Ralph’s as Curse the Son built successive walls of distortion. They’re a pretty well-kept secret at this point, though with that LP version of Psychachecoming, I can’t help but wonder how much longer that will be the case. Tetrahydrocannabinolic riff worship of the highest order, and since the last time I saw the band play on all their own gear was 2011, it seems I’m about due for a trip to New Haven.
No doubt Boston will miss Gein‘s gallop. The bassist’s technique has been a key element in Black Pyramid‘s warmongering, in Second Grave‘s explorations of the melancholic and in The Scimitar‘s still-nascent branching off from Black Pyramid‘s roots, but Eye of the Stoned Goat 4 Day Two brought the second and final of his last shows. Guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard, who has said he’ll continue to make music in this vein under his own name after the release of The Scimitar‘s debut and likely only full-length, Doomsayer, noted it as The Scimitar‘s last gig with Gein “for a while,” and it’s true you never know what’ll happen, but Los Angeles is a long way from Ralph’s Rock Diner, so yeah, a while indeed. I noted that drummer Brian Banfield cut his hair since the last time I saw The Scimitar, which at least meant we didn’t look so much alike, but more of a focal point was how well The Scimitar carried across the songs from Doomsayer, “World Unreal,” “Babylon” and even the night’s second Motörhead cover, “Metropolis,” leading to the longer album-closer “Crucifer,” which seemed like it was going to be their last song until they added “Forever and Ever and Ever.” The show was running early, and they started early as well, so there was plenty of time to spare, and that hook was worth including one way or another, Gein as ever reliably riding a foundational groove in the low end. He’ll make a good SoCal surfer. There wasn’t any grand farewell or anything like that when The Scimitar were done — he has always had a calm, collected stage presence — but it was still no doubt an emotional set for the bassist, who again, will be missed around these parts.
Order of the Owl
Imagine volume as a weapon. You knew some serious noise was about to be doled out when Atlanta’s Order of the Owl loaded no fewer than six Orange cabinets onto the stage, but I don’t think even the actual sight of such things prepared the room at Ralph’s for what was coming. To see that many dollars’ worth of amps in a single band, you know the parties involved have made a life choice. There had been a few instances throughout the day when I could feel my earplugs vibrate in my head — during Clamfight, during Curse the Son — but Order of the Owl went further and just rendered them useless from the start. Feedback proved no less essential to the sound than the trio’s riffs and lumbering grooves, but basically, Order of the Owl came through as a wash of noise. Bassist/vocalist Brent Anderson, formerly of Zoroaster, brought some of his ethic (not to mention his posture as he bent way over to the low microphone) from that band to this one, but with guitarist Casey Yarbrough and drummer Joe Sweat, Order of the Owl had a personality of their own carved from the massive tones emanating from that impressive backline. To Sweat‘s credit, the drums cut through, which Anderson‘s vocals didn’t — even a place with decent sound like Ralph’s can only put so much power into the P.A. before the lights shut off — and even in the back of the room was consumed by the overload. I couldn’t tell you what they played, but clearly the intent wasn’t so much to dazzle with individual songs or ideas so much as create a whole of such overwhelming push, and Anderson, Yarbrough and Sweat clearly had that working in their favor. Again, they seemed like a strange fit to hit the road with Volume IV, but they made a suitable closer for Eye of the Stoned Goat 4, giving the festival one final dose of ultra-heavy that nobody in their right mind would want to follow anyway. Their new album is probably finished being recorded at this point. One shutters to think of the devastation that awaits.
My ears were ringing fairly hard by the time I left Ralph’s. Sunday was an earlier night than Saturday had been anyway, and the last few bands had run short anyway, so it wasn’t yet midnight, but after running the full front-to-back of 20 bands over the two days, I’d hardly say I was up for more action than I got. The Masspike and news stories of Cinco de Mayo lime shortages carried me home and I’m not sure I’ve woken up since.
Thanks to Brendan Burns for his diligent efforts putting together The Eye of the Stoned Goat 4. Thanks as well to Derek and Jenn Bradshaw, Bill Kole, Ray Dickman, Jaki Cunha, Mark, everybody else who stuck it out for the weekend, and of course you for reading.
God. Damn. Quite a lineup, quite a poster. I’ll give credit to Hollow Leg‘s Brent Lynch who first brought my attention to the poster for his band’s March 26 gig at St. Vitus Bar in Brooklyn. The evening, on which Kings Destroy (fresh off their West Coast tour) headlines with Hollow Leg, Holly Hunt, Clamfight and The Scimitar supporting, is a benefit for Aaron Edge, the Seattle-based graphic designer and former Roareth (etc.) guitarist, whose struggle with multiple sclerosis led to the creation last year of Lumbar‘s The First and Last Days of Unwelcome(review here) and whose medical bills continue to accumulate.
True to oblivious form, I actually wasn’t aware The Obelisk was sponsoring the show or I’d have been plugging it much sooner. There were some discussions earlier on and I had thought it just kind of petered out as these things sometimes do, but I’m honored to have the name of this site associated with such a lineup, with War Crime Recordings who released Kings Destroy‘s A Time of Hunting last year, and of course with St. Vitus Bar, whose reputation at this point spreads well beyond the bounds of Brooklyn. I won’t be sorry to catch Hollow Leg and Holly Hunt when they come through Boston with Ichabod and Balam, but no doubt this is something special, and the poster, by Searing Limb‘s Connor Anderson, certainly lives up to the occasion.
Click the image to enlarge for a more detailed look (click it again to remove). For more on the Anderson‘s work, this show, the Holly Hunt/Hollow Leg tour dates and how you can contribute to Edge‘s continuing fight, check the links below.
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If you’re in the States and celebrating Thanksgiving this week, I thought maybe a new podcast would be good to have along for the travel. Maybe you take it with you on the road, or maybe put some headphones on in one of those need-to-get-away moments that invariably crop up over the holidays. I always get very stressed out at this time of year. I’d be lying if putting this together wasn’t a bit of therapy for my own anxiousness, but I also thought that if someone else was in the same boat, they might also appreciate it. Or maybe not and you just want to rock without using it as an escape for deep-rooted psychological issues. That’s cool too.
This one has a lot of good stuff that I’ve come across lately, from the opening Foghound track on through the Clamfight single that was featured here a couple weeks back, and on to the B-side of the single that Ice Dragon released just this weekend, finally rounding out with the closing track from Uzala‘s new album, Tales of Blood and Fire, “Tenement of the Lost,” which was so captivating when I saw them in Providence last month. It’s a wide variety, but it flows well from song to song and I think it’s a good time.
Hopefully you agree. I’m especially happy with how well the last three songs, which make up the bulk of the second hour, came together. My hope is you’ll be too hypnotized by one song to realize when it’s gone into the next. Whether or not that happens, please enjoy.
Foghound, “Dragon Tooth” from Quick, Dirty and High (2013)
Lizzard Wizzard, “Total Handjob Future” from Lizzard Wizzard (2013)
Summoner, “Into the Abyss” from Atlantian (2013)
Groan, “Slice of that Vibe” from Ride the Snake EP (2013)
The Vintage Caravan, “Let Me Be” from Voyage (2013)
Run After To, “Melancholy from Run After To/Gjinn and Djinn (2013 Reissue)
Clamfight, “Bathosphere” from single release (2013)
No Gods No Masters, “Lie to Me” from No Gods No Masters EP (2013)
Horseskull, “Arahari” from 2013 Promo
Gudars Skymning, “Gåtor I Mörkret” from Höj Era Glas (2013)
Ice Dragon, “Queen of the Black Harvest” from Steel Veins b/w Queen of the Black Harvest (2013)
T.G. Olson, “Return from the Brink” from The Bad Lands to Cross (2013)
EYE, “Lost are the Years” from Second Sight (2013)
Øresund Space Collective, “Black Sabbath Forever in Space” from Live at Loppen 2013.11.19
Selim Lemouchi and His Enemies, “The Ghost of Valentine” from Earth Air Spirit Water Fire (2013)
Uzala, “Tenement of the Lost” from Tales of Blood and Fire (2013)
Posted in audiObelisk on October 28th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
From their demo and early days of “Fuck Bulldozers” and “Viking Funeral” on down to “Stealing the Ghost Horse,” I’ve heard just about everything that Philly brain-bruisers Clamfight have come up with to date. So when I tell you that the new song “Bathosphere” from a forthcoming limited compilation CDR that the four-piece will have exclusively on hand at this year’s Stoner Hands of Doom fest — taking place at Strange Matter in Richmond, Virginia, Nov. 7-10 — is the heaviest thing I’ve ever heard them play, please understand there’s the slightest chance I know what I’m talking about. Heavier than “Rabbit” from the first record? Yes, heavier than “Rabbit.”
As the band begins to move past their earlier-2013 sophomore full-length, I vs. the Glacier— released on The Maple Forum, this site’s in-house semi-label — they do so with the utmost brutality. At 3:49, “Bathosphere” is brief compared to some of Clamfight‘s more spacious material, the guitars of Sean McKee and Joel Harris having somewhat less room to spread out over the pummeling groove of bassist Louis Koble and drummer/vocalist Andy Martin, but what it lacks in runtime, it accounts for in intensity, biting down hard with an initial tension build of feedback and tom runs before unleashing its thrashing course following an introductory growl from Martin. It’s a heads-down push, but Clamfight handle it well, letting off the gas just slightly for a chorus before resuming what’s among their most vicious riffs en route to a squibbly churn and unbridled slam of a finish.
“Bathosphere” is set to be included as one of two new tracks on the SHoD-only release (presumably they’ll have a couple for the other shows on their tour south, but who knows?). The other is “Blockship,” and unlike that song, “Bathosphere” won’t appear on Clamfight‘s next album. It’s for this CDR only.
Martin gives some details on the release and tour dates, under the player below on which you can check out “Bathosphere.” Bring a helmet:
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We’ll be making one hundred CD-R copies of “Bathosphere” and they will available on the cheap at SHOD 13 on November 7th at Strange Matter in Richmond, VA and after that until they run out. Once they’re gone, they’re gone and we have no plans of making it available in any other format. Also included on the CD will be “Blockship” a track which will be appearing on our third record, as well as many of our old demos as we can lay our hands on.
The CD will also include art by Chris Jones of the mighty Rukut.
From Richmond we’ll be heading to Uncle Lou’s in Orlando Florida to team up with our good friends in Hollow Leg, Shroud Eater and Ad Nauseum on November 8th. November 9th sees us at The Jinx in Savannah Georgia with Hollow Leg, Shroud Eater, and Crazy Bag Lady, and November 12th sees us at JR’s in Philly with Heavy Temple, the Cloth, and Devil to Pay.
“Bathosphere” and “Block Ship” were recorded by Steve Poponi at the Gradwell House in Haddon Heights New Jersey over a day and half last May. “Bathosphere” is probably my favorite thing we’ve done with Steve. We recorded the instruments in the early afternoon and I wrote the lyrics in my car as the guys did over dubs. With the exception of the death growls, the vocals were recorded in one go, so all told, from start to finish “Bathosphere” was recorded in less than four hours. I can’t speak for everyone but for me something about the speed and aggression of this song makes it feel the closer to what we do live than of any of our recordings, and that sort of “fuck it, let’s just destroy” attitude we had about the session itself made the whole day a blast.
Oh and I got disco fries after I tracked my vocals.