Posted in Reviews on May 2nd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
A long-awaited debut after several EPs, demos, a single and a split, Vestal Claret’s Bloodbath was released on vinyl through Cyclopean Records late in 2011. The album, a double-LP, found the Connecticut band’s lineup of vocalist Phil Swanson, guitarist/bassist Simon Tuozzoli and drummer Michael Petrucci joined by a range of guest guitarists and vocalists, including members of Forsaken, NightBitch and Black Pyramid (among many others), as they ran through more than an hour’s worth of dark, classic metal, touching on doom here and there but adherent to atmosphere more than to genre. The story of how Vestal Claret even got to that point is a winding one, with the band starting up in 2005 concurrent to Swanson’s fronting Upwards of Endtime before joining Hour of 13 and Tuozzoli recording initial Vestal Claret demos at his UP Recording Studio (where Bloodbath was also put to tape), and the band eventually bringing in Petrucci for drums, who now also plays in Tuozzoli’s heavy rock outfit King of Salem as well as fuzz-deliverers Curse the Son in addition to being a professional, touring percussionist for the Blue Man Group. But even through all of that and more – Swanson in and out of Hour of 13, Seamount, etc. – Vestal Claret managed to get a record out, and a different version now shows up on CD through the upstart label, Nine Records. What’s different? The guest appearances are gone, which leaves Tuozzoli, Swanson and Petrucci on their own as a trio for Bloodbath’s 71-minute duration, and the tracklisting has changed, giving the CD a different flow than the LP edition, with parts recorded following the first Bloodbath release. So basically, Bloodbath is two albums, with mostly the same songs, and this CD is the second of the two. The “band version.” I told you it was complicated.
I didn’t hear the original Bloodbath, so I won’t endeavor to compare the two, but it’s immediately commendable that the 12 tracks are they’re presented on the CD sound neither incomplete nor like there would even be much room to add more to them. Sure, the arrangements are fairly straightforward – guitar, bass, drums, vocals – but Vestal Claret sound like a cohesive unit across the album’s course and whether it’s on the catchy chorus of “Tales to Those Forgotten” or the dark, disturbing narrative of “Missing Girl,” they seem more than capable of getting their point across on their own. Opener “Hex of Harm” and the penultimate “Allowance of Sin” previously appeared on the Virgin Blood single (review here), and like that release and the band’s work elsewhere, they skirt a line between cultish devil worship and indecent, graphic lyrical description, Swanson’s lyrics pushing an envelope of Satanic psychosis particularly on “Missing Girl,” where cuts like “Ritual of Revival” and “Hex of Harm” (who knew black magic was so alliterative?) find him casting spells in his trademark vibrato, hit voice perfectly suited for Tuozzoli’s classic metal guitar work. “Hex of Harm” is the longest track on Bloodbath at 9:27 (immediate points for opening with it), and balances well the driving rhythm, strong hook and darkened atmospheres that follow, each piece leaning toward one or more such aspects of the band’s sound, like the more rocking “Devil’s Daughters” or the fuller build of “The Correlation,” which follow, as the album plays out its bleak course. Tuozzoli and Petrucci work exceedingly well together on faster tracks like “Blood Oath” and the slower vibing of the intro to “Submissive to Evil,” and though the music rarely veers into doomed territory, that feeling is never far off, particularly with the drama Swanson works into his delivery on “Missing Girl,” taking on a touch of a British accent for the verses over the chugging riff that gives way to a bridge that winds up as a secondary instrumental chorus. How many times Satan is evoked throughout these cuts, I don’t even know, but the best line comes from “Missing Girl”: “It’s always said the devil has his due/He’ll be paid in full before the day is through,” and though the song’s thematic is disquieting, its intro verses actually creepy as opposed to just creepy-sounding, it’s actually one of the best, most creatively expansive songs on Bloodbath. But wow, that’s creepy.
It’s a scientific fact that Connecticut-based heavy rocking foursome Lord Fowl have enough cool on hand at any given moment they could rent it out to other bands running low. I think what I like best — aside from the star-wipes — about the double-guitar slinging outfit’s new video for the title-track of 2012′s Moon Queen sophomore full-length (review here), also their debut on Small Stone, is that every time I watch it I could swear I’ve somehow just slipped back in time and I’m watching something I taped off local access circa 1991.
Between the vintage effects, the soundstage look and the stacks of amps behind, it hits all its marks in much the same way Moon Queen did when it dropped last year, so all the better. In case you missed the news a little while back, Lord Fowl are heading out on the road later this week with Irata and their fuzz-loving Virginian labelmates in Freedom Hawk, which makes the timing on the new video coming out even better. You’d almost swear these things were planned out ahead of time.
So as Lord Fowl prepare to hit up SXSW, Fuzzed Out! fest and more, here’s the clip for “Moon Queen,” followed by the tour dates:
Freedom Hawk, Lord Fowl & Irata: SXSW & More 03/08 Chapel Hill, NC @ Nightlight w/ Collossus 03/09 Murrell’s Inlet, SC @ Rockin Hard Saloon 03/10 Columbia, SC @ New Brookland Tavern w/ Carolina Chupacabra 03/11 Athens, GA @ Caledonia Lounge w/ Savagist, Guzik 03/12 Birmingham, AL @ Nick w/ Aethenoth 03/13 Lake Charles, LA @ Luna Live w/ Large Marge 03/14 Austin, TX @ Headhunters – Small Stone SXSW Showcase 03/15 San Antonio, TX @ Nightrocker Live – SXSA Small Stone Showcase w/ Wo Fat & Las Cruces 03/16 Austin, TX @ Scoot Inn – Converse/Thrasher “Deathmatch” @ SXSW – The Power of the Riff – Free Day show 12-4pm. 03/16 Fort Worth, TX @ The Grotto – Fuzzed Out! Fest w/ Wo Fat and Southern Train Gypsy, Ape Machine, Been Obscene, Mothership 03/17 Nashville, TN @ TBA
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 14th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Polish imprint Nine Records sends over word of the long-awaited CD release of Bloodbath, the first full-length outing by Connecticut-based doom trio Vestal Claret. Thee Claret‘s lineup is an impressive assemblage, with frontman Phil Swanson (Hour of 13, Seamount, Upwards of Endtime, etc.) joined by guitarist Simon Tuozzoli (King of Salem) and drummer Michael Petrucci (Curse the Son), and their last release was the Virgin Blood 7″ in 2011 (review here).
Both tracks from that release — opener “Hex of Harm” and the penultimate “Allowance of Sin” — show up on Bloodbath as well, which according to the info below was recorded back in 2006. Long-awaited indeed. The band must be relieved to get it out. Text, links and music follow:
While this release stands in many ways as Vestal Claret’s official debut, Vestal Claret have in fact been releasing EPs, splits and demos as early on as 2006 with its actual formation in 2005 predating just about everything being heard in the current “occult” fashion genre at this time. There is no influence or inspiration from anything of the past two decades that provoked this release or its ideas and concepts. The material on this album was all written in 2006, but with contract in hand Vestal Claret was unable to release these recordings until now.
Most of you have probably already heard this stuff on the vinyl version released in 2011 by Cyclopean Records. Vinyl contains a “Bloodbath’s” guest-version, but here you are dealing with a “Bloodbath’s” band-version. It’s over 70 minutes of classic heavy metal. Meet the Beast himself!
1. Hex of Harm 2. Devil’s Daughters 3. The Correlation 4. Ritual of Revival 5. Missing Girl 6. Blood Oath 7. The Templar’s Idol 8. Tales to Those Forgotten 9. Endurement to the Heirs of Shame 10. Submissive to Evil 11. Allowance of Sin 12. A Call to Satan
Posted in Reviews on January 23rd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Based out of New Haven, Connecticut, fuzzy trio Crooked Hook were a rarity for East Coast heavy rock. During their time together, they put out a self-titled demo EP (2006) and a follow-up full-length, called The Captain Will be Your Guide (2007), garnering some considerable appreciation among the faithful, but not really fitting in with the heavy rock of the day. There were a few others around of their ilk — Pennsylvania’s Pearls and Brass come to mind most readily — but Crooked Hook had more classic rock swagger mixed with their blues, and their tones were straight-up vintage ’70s in a way that hadn’t really caught on yet as a viable approach. In the end, they faded following the release of The Captain Will be Your Guide and haven’t been heard from since.
Safety Meeting Records, which initially issued the 28-minute demo as well as the subsequent album on CD, is revisiting Crooked Hook‘s beginnings with a reissue of the former. Pressed to 150 gram, 45 RPM vinyl (a CD is also included), they are limited to 100 copies and duly faithful to the sweet, organic tonality of the original release. In fact, with a similarity in packaging that goes right down to the thick cardboard stock of the LP sleeve and the stamped design on the front cover — the CD came in the same style package, but obviously smaller — everything about this seven-years-later version of Crooked Hook‘s Crooked Hookharkens back to when these songs first appeared. The only difference is the format and the fact that in 2013, one can listen to the five tracks in a totally different context.
The difference? Well, in the last seven years, what was an oddball approach from Crooked Hook as early adopters of the post-Witchcraft vintage ethic has become a mainstay element of underground heavy. It’s always easy (and often fun) with a reissue to imbue an album with posthumous import, as though simply because it’s removed now from its original sonic ecosystem, it matters more, but there’s little question in my mind that the band were ahead of their time. In fact, that was probably the problem. If Crooked Hook were kicking around the seven-minute “I Just Might Crack” today, they’d be right in line with some of Tee Pee Records‘ best echoey retro heavy psychedelia. Their songs were catchy and straightforward enough to be readily accessible, thick enough in bassist RickOmonte‘s tone and imbued with a grooving nonchalance by guitarist Joey Maddalena‘s vocals that “cool” became as much an instrument as anything else. Even on the closing jangle of “Slow Sun,” on which drummer Jason Bates thumps out a blues stomp beneath more open guitar, they seem to presage the big-sky Americana that’s currently working its naturalist way into US heavy psychedelia.
Posted in Features on November 9th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Hailing from the rarely-fuzzed outskirts of New Haven, Connecticut, boldly tone-centric trio Curse the Son tap into the primal appeal of heavy rock at its best: classic riffs, unpretentious presentation, weighted groove and obscure lyrics. Their second full-length is called Psychache (review here), and it’s a beast of thickened riffing, spaced-out vocals, feedback-drenched stonerisms and easter-egg rhythmic intricacies. Led by guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore – whose fuzz is consuming and whose vocals blend late-Sabbath Ozzy with the far-back ethereal style of YOB‘s Mike Scheidt — Curse the Son have quickly developed into a standout not only in the Connecticut scene — there isn’t one to speak of — but among genre traditionalists as a whole.
More to the point, Psychachedisplays a resounding development in terms of style and execution from its predecessor, early 2011′s Klonopain(review here). No doubt part of that is the inclusion of drummer Mike Petrucci (also King of Salem, Vestal Claret and the Blue Man Group), whose professionalism in the rhythm section alongside bassist Cheech has brought Curse the Son to a new level entirely, but even in terms of Vanacore‘s own performance, the songs of Psychacheoffer a more confident, solidified listen, whether it’s the long-held notes of “Spider Stole the Weed” or the melodies creeping into opener “Goodbye Henry Anslinger.” The growth may (and hopefully will) prove ongoing, but with Psychache, the Hamden three-piece have sent a clear signal that it’s underway.
In the interview that follows, Vanacore discusses writing and recording the album, bringing in Petrucci on drums, the health problems he experienced in his throat during the time of recording — science has proven time and again that granulomas are some nasty shit — his ongoing musical partnership with Cheech, with whom he played in Sufferghost as well, opening for Kyuss Lives at their Connecticut show, and much more. This is the second time I’ve interviewed Vanacore (first here), and it’s not a coincidence that after hearing Psychache, I hit him up with more questions about the band’s processes and goings on.
Can’t imagine it’ll be the last, either. After seeing them live last year at the Fuzzfest they organized and again at this year’s Stoner Hands of Doom, they’ve made a convincing case for their blend of doomed lurch and engrossing stoner heft. Vanacore’s tone in particular shines through as a defining element, but Cheech‘s running basslines and Petrucci‘s crisp timekeeping are no less essential to the overall impression, the three coming together in classic power trio style with a chemistry still formative but threatening in its potential all the same. In short, I think they’re a good band, and I wanted to give Psychachemore attention. So here we are.
You’ll find the complete Q&A with Vanacore after the jump. Please enjoy.
Posted in Reviews on September 14th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
It’s been about a year and a half since Connecticut stoner doom trio Curse the Son released their first album, and clearly in that time, they’ve been through some changes. That full-length, Klonopain (review here) was a charmingly druggy exercise in riff-led doom, more engaging tonally than in terms of the songwriting, but still a solid showing from a band getting their feet. The upcoming self-released sophomore outing, Psychache, outclasses the debut on every level. I’ll reiterate because it’s worth reiterating that I enjoyed Klonopain a lot – I broke it out recently in advance of the band’s performance at Stoner Hands of Doom XII and found it had held up pretty well – but with Psychache, Curse the Son push themselves further creatively, performance-wise, production-wise and in terms of their songwriting. A notable change is the swapping out of drummer Charles Nicholas for Mike Petrucci (also of Vestal Claret, King of Salem and a percussionist for the touring incarnation of the Blue Man Group), who brings a crisp sense of professionalism that rests well in the pocket with bassist Cheech and guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore (both formerly of Sufferghost), while still also showing a subtle bit of technicality in complex fills and varied timekeeping. Petrucci is no stranger to plod, and in the lumbering riff in the post-chorus bridge of early highlight cut “Spider Stole the Weed,” the drums do more than just highlight the groove – there’s an active drive there – all three members of the band not so much following the riff as pushing it forward. Might be a subtle difference, but it goes a long way, and Vanacore’s vocals have also developed in confidence and range, so all around, Curse the Son emerge through these six tracks/31 minutes as a more mature, professional act. They remain very much of their genre – that is, Psychache is without a doubt a stoner doom album – but the band seems not only to acknowledge this, but to embrace it in a way that few of their peers are willing to do. For that, for Vanacore’s tone, and for the memorable choruses that work their way into several of these songs, Psychache is a brief but potent excursion that leaves its own footprints in well trod sonic paths.
About Vanacore’s tone: Partnered up with Connecticut’s Dunwich Amplifiers, the guitarist gets deep, Sunn-esque low end specifically crafted for the kind of music he’s playing. With Matamp-style richness, the riffs are carried across full in their sound. The production is clearly a step up from that of Klonopain, but it’s still comparatively rough. Nonetheless, the guitar dominates and the songs are all the more dynamic for it. Whether it’s the straight-ahead riff and thud of “Spider Stole the Weed” or the creepy beginning of opener “Goodbye Henry Anslinger,” they remain natural while also holding firm to a modern clarity. That stays true as “Goodbye Henry Anslinger” gets underway with an instrumental introduction that comprises the better part of its first two minutes in establishing the riff before Vanacore’s well-layered vocals kick in. A sense of next-levelism is palpable. In “Goodbye Henry Anslinger,” the riff is a hook, the verse is a hook and the chorus is a hook, and though the track is over six minutes long, it remains catchy for the duration and accessible, showing growth in Curse the Son’s songwriting to match their presentation. The lines “Feels like a revolution/It comes from underground” serve as a memorable chorus and are delivered with classically doomed inflection in a vast echo that’s all the more appropriate for the hugeness of the guitar and Cheech’s bass. Structurally, it’s a basic verse/chorus/bridge/verse/chorus once the vocals kick in, but the psychedelia worked into the break following the first chorus gives the album an immediately varied base to work from, offsetting the riffly chug while Petrucci works a little funk out of the following verse on the bell of his ride cymbal. It’s a strong opening, and the momentum continues with “Spider Stole the Weed,” which boasts another commanding plod and some forceful use of wah in the guitar and bass prior to stopping at around 2:30 and restarting with a faster, more active pulse.
Posted in Features on September 2nd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
How surprised was I to win the Stoner Hands of Doom XII raffle last night? Well, I’m not exactly the guy who never wins anything, but I am the guy who says he never wins anything when he wins something once every eight to 10 years, so yeah, I was pretty blown away. I didn’t even really get the chance to go through the box of goodies last night — Pale Divine had just played and The Skull was about to take the stage — but the loot is plentiful.
My ticket won me a bounty of doomly goods, from Iron Man vinyl to CDs from Kin of Ettins, Beelzefuzz, Faces of Bayon, Black Cowgirl, Ichabod, One Inch Giant, and so on, plus posters for the last several SHoD fests, including one for SHoD VII in Arizona, when Acid King played. There are ones in there for SHoD X and SHoDXI as well, both of which I played in different bands, so it’s kind of special to have them, and an assortment of doomly patches and stickers — not to mention an entire wardrobe of t-shirts — but the highlight of the whole package has to be the official Stoner Hands of Doom XII pedal, which has the Skillit-designed skull artwork of this year’s fest painted right on. I can’t wait to get it home and hook it up to my ukulele. I’m dead serious.
Thanks obviously go out to Rob and the whole SHoD crew. One of the great things about being here the last several days has been seeing all the familiar faces. Today is the final day of the fest. When I came out of the El ‘n’ Gee last night, the entire town of New London appeared to be smashed, so it’s not such a surprise that it’s kind of sleepy and quiet now as I write this in a shady corner in the parking lot across from the venue, but soon enough, Minneapolis sludgers Witchden will start another full day of excellent heaviness that I’ll once more be documenting as we go along.
If you’ve been reading these posts, thank you for that. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. It’s kind of a trip to be reviewing a band’s set and then have them come over and say hi, as happened a few times yesterday, but it’s been a lot of fun. More to come in a bit for day four of SHoD XII.
UPDATE 2:02PM: They had a hell of a trip to get here and a first-band-on crowd to play to, but Minneapolis sludgers Witchden were tight enough to show they had a little road time along their way. The two-guitar five-piece boasts Jeff “Kong”Moen, now apparently formerly of Sourvein on drums, and he provided both energy and crash behind vocalist Jason Micah, whose vicious screams came across with an almost hip-hop style presence. Maybe it was the upturned hat, but everyone else was pretty much headbanging, and his stage moves just gave off that kind of vibe. On the other hand, the riffs of guitarists were straight out of the sludge playbook, heavy enough to transcend the stoner and really get into some muddy nastiness. I bought the CD, and they were also selling handmade dugouts, which are apparently a thing that exist. They were $20 a pop, and as much as I like to support independent woodworking, I stuck with the album and think it was probably the right idea. A heavy start, and the first fog machine of the whole fest (surprised the hell out of me, like, “Oh yeah! Fog!” — it’s been a long weekend), but we’re underway for sure now.
UPDATE 2:46PM: They were a lot of fun, because they were literally kids — their parents were here — but Insano Vision also seriously brought it to SHoD XII, and by “it” I mean the inimitable vitality of rock and roll youth. They were fast and heavy and jumping around the stage, and it gives what I’ve been calling “energetic” all weekend an entirely different touchstone. A double-guitar four-piece from North Haven, I’d be amazed if a single one of them could gain entry to the bar area at the El ‘n’ Gee, but heavy is heavy. Lead guitarist Doug Glaser (above) tapped through a couple killer solos, jumping around the stage during set highlight “Unknown,” and while they still have their kinks to work out, they have plenty of time to do it. Very cool, very metal, and great to see some youngins kicking ass. As they’re local, I don’t know that I’d put them on after Witchden, but I think they surprised everyone here with both their chops and their presence. They tore through their set quickly, leaving a strong impression in their wake. Will be interesting to see how they develop, but it was more than pleasant to be caught off-guard as I was and I think a lot of others were as well.
UPDATE 3:39PM: I think I pulled my rock muscle. It was a pretty bold choice on New Jersey four-piece Infernal Overdrive‘s part to throw in the 12-minute jam (which was shortened, but still) “Motor” so early into the set, but they pulled it off, ranging far into psychedelic moodiness and then bringing it back into their own brand of classic-type riff rock. Brothers Keith (bass) and Marc Schleicher (guitar/vocals) held down cuts like “Viking” — which I’m dying to hear the final version of — the former with his customized Captain America bass, now featuring blue knobs. They’re always a show, huge on personality, but the songwriting backs it up. “I-95,” from their Small Stone debut, Last Rays of the Dying Sun (review here) is maddeningly catchy, and though Marc didn’t jump off the stage in his James Brown boogie routine, he and guitarist Rich Miele both sounded excellent and drummer Mike Bennett pushed a big rock finish over the top, the band’s logo proudly blazing off the front of his kick bass. For a band that doesn’t tour six or seven months each year, Infernal Overdrive always throw down, and every time I see them, I manage to enjoy it more than the last. Word is Hovel‘s brakes went out, and while they’re reportedly okay, they’re also reportedly not coming. Bummer, as it would’ve been cool to catch their set, but at least nobody got hurt.
UPDATE 5:OOPM: Some more familiar faces in Richmond, Virginia, SHoD veterans Fire Faithful. Their most recent full-length, Please Accept this Invocation (review here), was fit to please, if somewhat under-recorded, but like last year, the four-piece delivered in a live setting. As expected they called for backup (vocals) well into the proceedings, but the earlier “Wonton Lavey,” and “Dollar Bottomed Out” also stood out. The Ladies Faithful joined in for “Harvest Moon,” “A Devil in London” and the finale “King Macabre,” helping Fire Faithful do Virginia proud. Their Southern-style metal/doom is definitely traceable to its geography, with guitarist Shane Rippey‘s Pepper Keenan-style riffs and the post-Dave Sherman/Phil Anselmo vocal approach of Brandon Malone, but the band is clearly also working to come into their own more in terms of sound, and just going by this set, it seems to be worth their effort. There’s growth yet to be had, but they’re closer even than they were at SHoD XI. We’ll see when their next release drops how their development translates to the studio, but they’re getting there.
UPDATE 6:01PM: Near as I can tell, New Hampshire trio Skrogg only played four songs — “The Cajun Lady” and “Anita Ride” from their 2011 self-titled debut EP (review here) and two new ones — but man, that set was full. Low end permeated guitar and bass alike, and drummer Felix Starr had a floor tom mounted as his rack for extra thunder to stand up to Reverend Maxfield and Jasper Gloom. Maxfield handled vocals in addition to the guitar, delivering classic-rock-style lyrics with a dudely burl that seemed less like a put-on than some I’ve heard. Helps the authenticity cause that he spoke the same way. They cracked jokes between songs, with Starr referencing Wayne’s World (“I like to play”) and Dumb and Dumber(“the beer flows like wine”), among others, in the process. The two newer songs were both longer and more expansive instrumentally than the EP material, the first a wide-berth blues number and the second blending familiarly thickened fuzz into a twisted biker metal groove. They brought their own crowd to go with that already present at the El ‘n’ Gee, and I’d gladly wager that when Skrogg plays locally in New Hampshire, it’s a fucking rager of a party. I wouldn’t mind seeing it, but the export version was pretty killer as well. This is one of those bands who are just too dead on to not get picked up by some label sooner or later. I’ll look forward to hearing the new stuff put to tape.
UPDATE 7:02PM: Kind of a hard-luck set for Doom Capitol quality heavy rockers Borracho, who played SHoD XII as a trio sans guitarist/vocalist Noah. They made the best of it. Most of the set was instrumental — the midsection of “Grab the Reins” recognizable anyway — but guitarist Steve Fisher took the front position on “Concentric Circles.” Add to Noah‘s absence Fisher’s own technical problems with his Model T, and it’s probably not how they’d want to be remembered, but they still grooved the shit out of the El ‘n’ Gee, bassist Tim Martin also having his say vocally and filling the gaps in tone left by the lack of second guitar, the warmth of Martin‘s tone all the more audibly locked in with Mario Trubiano’s drumming. It was kind of an oddly-constructed set, with most of the instrumental material up front and then a last couple songs with vocals, but they made it work with what they had as a trio, though I think if they’d opened with “Concentric Circles” and then gone into the extended instrumental stuff, it might have flowed more easily. I don’t know for sure and so don’t want to conjecture, but I don’t think Noah is actually out of the band, just not here, so it doesn’t seem like something that was really planned for. Hopefully everything’s cool and Borracho can get back to four-piece form soon, and if for whatever reason that doesn’t happen, they still showed promise as a trio keeping the riffs at the fore.
UPDATE 8:04PM: This is a band about whom I can’t even really hope to feign impartiality. I’ve known frontman Ken-E Bones of Long Island sludge mainstays Negative Reaction for about a decade at this point if not longer, and drummer Joe Wood is my touchstone for awesome when it comes to human beings. Like you meet someone and go, “Wow, this seems like a really cool person.” My next step is to wonder if they’re as good a person as Joe Wood, and in every instance so far, the answer as been no. It was a thrill just to see these dudes, let alone watch them play a set. Of note, however, is that Bones and Wood have a new bass player in Jaime (pronounced hi-may), who replaces Damon Lippy. Not sure what’s the situation there, but as ever, Negative Reaction made for a strong trio, hitting up “Docking Bay 94″ and “Dopamine” from their 2011 outing, Frequencies from Montauk(review here) amid classics like “Go Die” and rousing opener “Loathing.” They got a good response from the crowd and seemed to be genuinely enjoying each other’s company and that of the audience, so right on. Add to that Bones flopping around on stage during the finale of “A Bit of Numb,” and you’ve got good times all the way through.
UPDATE 8:56PM: I’m starting to drag, and not a little, but Boston double-guitar foursome Summoner (né Riff Cannon, which if nothing else was a more descriptive name) were definitely not. Once upon a time — last year — I was in talks with the band to release their full-length, Phoenix, on The Maple Forum. That didn’t work out, but the band remains killer, vocalist/bassist Chris Johnson jumping up on drummer Scott Smith‘s kit early in the set and only getting more into it from there as guitarists Joe Richner and AJ Peters alternated between post-metal noodling and sludged-out crunch. I’d never actually seen them before, either as Summoner or their prior incarnation, but it was like they were trying to drive their music directly into the skull, no need for soundwaves or anything. They played in the dark, as some bands will do, but were a treat to watch, and if I was just a little bit more the vinyl-buying type, I’d be walking out of here tonight with a copy of Phoenix. Nonetheless, I’ll be revisiting my download of the record this week for sure. Their builds and crashes warrant yet another in an ongoing series of listens. Good band, and they seem like they’re only going to get better as they keep pushing themselves.
UPDATE 9:45PM: So here’s a bit of breaking news for you on a Sunday night: Massachusetts trio Black Pyramid just finished recording a new album — today. Apparently right before the three of them — guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard, bassist Gein and drummer Clay Neely – got in the car to come to New London. How badass is that? “Yeah, so we just finished our album, whaddya wanna do now?” “Let’s go play SHoD.” “Okay.” They rolled into the El ‘n’ Gee like the riff marauders they are and from there it was all battle axes and scimitars and bloodspurts. Most of what they played was off that new album, including a ripping instrumental that only served to emphasize how quickly they’ve come together as a unit and how tight they are performance-wise. Shepard brings a lot of personality to the band, and I don’t know the names of the songs, because they’re new and I’ve only just heard them here, right now, but there was one start-stop part where I feared for the lives of his strings he was hitting it so hard. I didn’t even know they were recording as of yet, so it’s awesome to hear that’s on the way, and gives me something to look forward to in 2013 as well as hopes of catching Black Pyramid again soon.
UPDATE 10:52PM: Holy shit. I finally got to fucking see Elder. You know those bands that every single time you would otherwise be in the same place on the same night — them on a stage, you probably drunk and awkward at a bar — it never works out? That’s me and Elder. It’s been years at this point. They’re in New York, I’m in Boston. They’re in Boston, I’m in Jersey. I’m in Boston, they’re in Germany. But here’s the thing. There’s not a chance I’d trade seeing Elder tonight for seeing them ever before, because right now, they’re at their absolute best yet. I don’t know if you heard the Spires Burn/Release12″ that was streamed here not too long ago, but it’s been nearly half a decade and Elder – guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, mulletted bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto – just keep getting better. They slammed into “Release” from that 12″ and it was glorious, no shit, and capped an already fantastic set with the title-track from Dead Roots Stirring. My only mistake was opening the laptop too early, so I had to stay back by the bar longer than I would’ve wanted to and not go up front, but other than that, it was perfect. I’m trying really hard lately to guard myself against hyperbole, because while it’s great for having bands use your quotes in their promotional materials, it’s shitty criticism and every act has things that work and things that don’t. That said, Elder fucking made my night. I mean it. Of all the really, really cool shit I’ve already seen today — from old friends to bands I’ve never even heard of — to finally see Elder was incredible. Might be some of the best American heavy psych I’ve ever seen.
UPDATE 12:25AM: This was the first time I’d seen Iron Man since they acquired vocalist Dee Calhoun. In that time, they’ve put out two EPs — last year’s Dominance (review here) and the new Att hålla dig över, which I picked up tonight at the merch table. Calhoun‘s singing is pure Halford, right down to the face-ripping screams and the double-hand clutch on the mic, but god damn can he pull it off. If you want to compare to former Iron Man vocalists, he’s a better Halford than Joe Donnelly was an Ozzy, and Joe Donnelly did a pretty mean Ozzy. Decked out in bandanna, beard and doomly black duster, Calhoun gave Iron Man a presence of up front like I’ve never seen them have before, raw talent blended with performance edge, and it seemed more than ever like guitarist “Iron” Alfred Morris III has finally met his match in a singer. Morris is the walking embodiment of all that is Maryland doom (at very least, he makes up half and Earthride‘s Dave Sherman comprises the rest), so it goes without saying that he killed it, and watching them run through “Ruler” and other songs off the EPs and Iron Man‘s last full-length, 2009′s I Have Returned, like opener “I Have Returned” and “Run from the Light” gave me a new appreciation for the dynamic between Morris and bassist Louis Strachan, whose fills added both raw groove and vitality in playing off Morris‘ riffing. If there’s a more perfect way to cap off a Stoner Hands of Doom fest, I can’t think of it. For the finishing touch, they brought up SHoD organizer Rob Levey (above, with Calhoun) to sing the title-track from 1993′s Black Night, noting as they did that he fronted the band at that time. Before Iron Man started, Levey was on stage after they picked the raffle winner (I didn’t go two for two), and he said this was the best lineup of the band he’d seen in the last 15 years. I don’t have the same kind of experience with them, obviously, but they’re definitely in a new class, and well deserved. They brought the house down, and when they finished, I said a crazy amount of goodbyes and adjourned to the same parking lot where I posted from this morning. Seemed only fitting to round out the day in the same spot. As anyone who saw me move into the same corner and plug in my laptop during almost every band’s last song over the course of the last three days might be able to tell you, I’m a creature of habit. I’m going to get in the car in just another minute or so and drive back to where I’m staying, but unless some of the adrenaline in me from the end of SHoD XII dies down, I’ll add a conclusion to this when I land, so stay tuned. Not quite done yet.
Posted in Features on September 1st, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
It’s a gorgeous Saturday morning in East Lyme, Connecticut. Why wouldn’t there be traffic on I-95? Seven hundred gajillion TARP funbucks later, I sat in a miles long line of cars weaving into and out of two exceedingly busy lanes. Much to the chagrin of the dude from Massachusetts next to me with a boat towed off the back of his pickup, I was barely paying attention to my drifting. Some of the sternest looks I’ve had in at least a week.
I managed to sneak in a quick to-go breakfast with The Patient Mrs., who is in the area, and then basically came right here. It’s about 10 to noon now, and I don’t know what time Akris is going to start — they’re setting up now — but when they do, it’ll be the launch of day three of Stoner Hands of Doom XII and the first of two massive all-day shows here at the El ‘n’ Gee in New London.
No doubt it’s going to be a long day, but hell, I’m here. I’ve got a deli sandwich in a cooler in the trunk of my car for later, and enough earplugs to last a month. My plan is basically to do the same as I did yesterday — but, you know, twice as much of it — with updates as the day goes on. Hopefully you enjoy keeping up as much as I do.
SHoD XII day three begins in just a bit. More to come.
UPDATE 12:46PM: Hope you like bass. Akris, the Virginian duo of bassist/vocalist Helena Goldberg and drummer Sam Lohman, fluidly blend thrash, doom and noise, but are also able to dive quickly into runs of progressive technicality. Goldberg played through three heads — Sunn Concert Master and Slave and an Earth Super Bass Producer — and should go without saying was assaultingly, feel-it-in-your-chest loud, and Lohman had his own kit set up toward the front of the stage and off to the site, turned sideways. If I wasn’t awake yet, Akris were loud enough to get the job done, but as overwhelming as it was in terms of volume, the tone wasn’t muddy. The vocals cut through the low end (duh) and I’m not sure whether Lohman‘s drums were actually coming through the P.A. or not — they were mic’ed up, but he looked to be crashing down hard enough to be heard down the street, so who knows — but there was no trouble hearing him either, and even when Goldberg was at her loudest and most raging, everything came through distinct. Their demo was cool and hopefully it’s not too long before they follow it up with either a full-length or an EP. I’d be interested to hear how the dynamic between them came across over the course of a whole album. In the meantime, they were a shot of energy to start the day. Much needed and much appreciated.
UPDATE 1:44PM: From the wilderness of New Hampshire, double-guitar doomly foursome Eerie were quick to align themselves with the extreme. In look and attitude, I half expected the band to bust out throat-ripping screams and searing blasts. Didn’t happen, but they weren’t lacking for grimness besides. Instead, they doomed out a wall of riffs and varied abrasive and clean vocals, relying on steady undulating riffs, not unfamiliar, but hard to place directly somewhere between Cathedral and the semi-psych tonality of earliest Zoroaster. One of the guitarists broke a string early into the set, but if it really affected the sound, I wouldn’t know it. The two guitars played well off each other, and if the broken string did anything, it was force him into a higher register and into starker contrast with his fellow six-stringer. They have a record that I’ll hope to pick up and check out further, but it’s high time New Hampshire’s untamed forests spawned a unit as dark as Eerie — who might need to take a different name for how well it actually describes them. They seemed to have common cause with Statis, who are on next, but what the alliance might be, I don’t know. Either way, if Akris were the stoner hands, Eerie were the doom. Doom like “we only use our first initials” kind of doom.
UPDATE 2:27PM: Well, mystery solved. Stasis‘ drummer — listed on their Thee Facebooks as the mysterious “TBA” — was the same dude who played guitar and handled vocals in Eerie. See? I know it’s precisely that kind of investigative reporting that keeps you coming back to The Obelisk. Anyway, a trio from Portland, Maine — where Revelation and Ogre will doom this very evening — they were more on the sludge end than Eerie before them, but while guitarist/vocalist Michael Leonard Maiewski wasn’t including the same kinds of Euro-doom derived ambient parts, there was still a decent cut of drama in what they were doing. Bassist Mindy Kern had a Warlock or some such bass — many interestingly shaped instruments this weekend — and I don’t know to say for sure, but I think the sound guy working the board here at the El ‘n’ Gee is about ready to hang it up and go get a real estate license. It’s a universal fallback plan. So far, the three bands that have played have been so loud that by the time Stasis were halfway through, he’d left, perhaps in pursuit of lunch, I don’t know for sure. Would require some more of that investigating. I’ll get with the budget office and see if we can swing it. Stasis threw down a little mud, but the wash of low end was obviously intended. Wouldn’t be sludge if it wasn’t dirty.
Curse the Son
UPDATE 3:20PM: Beardbanging all the while, guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore led Hamden, CT, trio Curse the Son down a long trail of smoke to the riff-filled land. Playing through a righteous custom Dunwich amp — they make ‘em pretty — Vanacore’s riffly plod was second to none I’ve heard so far over the course of this year’s SHoD, and with the rhythm section of bassist Cheech and drummer Mike Petrucci stomping away, the band gave a strong herald for their upcoming Psych-achefull-length. Most of what they played seemed new, but I did recognize a tune or two from the prior Klonopain(review here) long-player, but really, old material or new, it’s all about the riffs, and Curse the Son has that down. I’d like to see Vanacore (who’s fighting a sinus infection but didn’t let on on stage) in a beard-off with Ben McGuire from Black Cowgirl, who play later, but in the meantime, Kin of Ettins is on next, having come all the way from Texas for the show. Curse the Son gave them a good lead-in and the crowd seems to be right on board. There’s been a lot to dig about today so far, though it’s hard to believe we’re only four bands into the day.
Kin of Ettins
UPDATE 4:22PM: In a dark venue such as this, it’s kind of easy to lose track of time. Whenever someone opens a door to outside and the sunlight comes in, I’m surprised. It’s still daylight out. It’s four in the friggin’ afternoon. Obviously no one told doomly Dallas four-piece Kin of Ettins that. They rocked like it was well after 11PM, proffering a doom that wouldn’t have been at all out of place on Hellhound Records in the mid-’90s and delivering it with just a hint of Texan swagger and inflection. Bechapeaued guitarist/vocalist Jotun (above) made mention in thanking Rob Levey for putting this together that he and bassist Donar were at the first SHoD in 2001 in Dallas. Must be quite a trip 11 years later to play it in New England, but they did well, and with one hand, guitarist Teiwaz ripped into impressive leads, overcoming some early technical difficulties and making a song like “Snake Den Time,” the title-track of a reportedly coming full-length, a standout. They saved the best for last, however, with the cut “Echoes in the Deep,” which also ended the set on their Doomed in Dallas live EP (review here). Awesome to have them represent the fertile Texas scene at Stoner Hands of Doom, and I’m glad I got to see it.
UPDATE 5:13PM: It’s only been about a month since I saw Black Cowgirl in Philly with The Company Band, so they were pretty fresh in my consciousness, as much as anything is at this point. In that time, however, their self-titled full-length (comprised of two prior EPs put together) has seen its CD release, so they haven’t exactly been sitting still. They were much as they were at the Underground Arts, maybe drummer Mark Hanna was a little less inclined to stand up behind his kit, but beyond that, the two guitars of Ben McGuire and Nate Rosenzweig still worked well together and bassist Chris Casse held down the grooves ably without being overly showy. Someone put themselves in the spot in the bar area where I had been setting up the laptop, so I moved outside, and it’s apparently a pretty fantastic day out. Not quite enough to make me regret spending the whole thing inside the dark club, but still. The thing that stands out most about Black Cowgirl‘s set is the dynamics within the band’s approach. The performances were spot on, but even more than that, their songwriting is strong and varied and their ability to convey that in a live setting like this makes them that much stronger a band.
UPDATE: 6:12PM: Wonderfully monikered Maryland classic doom trio Beelzefuzz just wrapped their set with a cover of Lucifer’s Friend‘s “Ride in the Sky.” A pretty bold choice, given that Trouble did the same tune and The Skull is playing later tonight, but I’ll be damned if they didn’t pull it off, guitarist/vocalist Dana using his pedal board as much for his vocals as for his guitar. And I do mean “vocals,” plural. At several points in the set, he was doing live double-tracking, clicking on to add another of his voice and then clicking off. He got jumbled up doing it, but it was impressive nonetheless, as was his voice in general. Though I dug their demo, I’d only ever seen Beelzefuzz for two songs at Days of the Doomed II back in June, so a full set was welcome. Following the energy of Black Cowgirl, they were a calmer stage presence, but tight performance-wise, and usually if it’s going to be one or the other, I’ll take that. Dana‘s guitar magically became a Hammond organ at several intervals and that was awesome as well. The Maryland contingent — a big part of SHoD for the last couple years — will have further representation from Admiral Browning in a few hours, but Beelzefuzz were a welcome dash of Krug’s Place in the meantime, making me a little wistful for Frederick. New London’s been alright in the meantime, though.
One Inch Giant
UPDATE 7:14PM: This was the last stop on Swedish rockers One Inch Giant‘s US tour. I saw the first one earlier this week in Brooklyn. Pretty awesome of an underground band, relatively unknown, to get over here and do a week of shows like that. Unlike in Brooklyn, I watched their whole set this time around, though it seems I’d seen more of it than I thought last time. They sent out a building jam to the ladies, hit the blastbeats again — frontman Filip Åstrand warning the crowd beforehand by saying, “I know you like them slow, but this one’s fast” — and gave a solid, energetic showing of their straightforward European-style heavy rock. I couldn’t help but wonder if Åstrand washed his Morbid Angel shirt between the two shows, but as I couldn’t smell him while was taking pictures, I figure probably there was laundry done at some point during the week. Their stuff was straight ahead catchy, and I think maybe some of the ideas got lost in translation between the Euro and US markets, but for both the fact that they’re here and for what they actually did while they were on stage, it was more than respectable.
UPDATE 8:11PM: As good as some of the doom I’ve seen over the last couple days has been, I don’t know if anything tops Rochester, New York’s Orodruin. They haven’t put out an album since 2003′s Epicurean Mass, but here as at Days of the Doomed, they came on and promptly blew the crowd away. John Gallo doesn’t so much play riffs as he conjures them, summoning them from his guitar in some kind of doomly ceremonial rite. The band played as a four-piece tonight, with second guitarist (and if I’m wrong on the name, please correct me) Nick Tydelski joining the melee alongside bassist/vocalist Mike Puleo and drummer Mike Waske. As a four-piece, they were no less potent than as a trio, and they had what I think was the biggest crowd of the fest so far. I didn’t count heads or anything, but all the people I’ve seen milling about the El ‘n’ Gee today finally seemed to all be in the same place at the same time. Good reason, as Orodruin are hands down one of the best traditional doom acts I’ve ever encountered live, breathing new life into what in most hands is a genre based in no small part on retread. Not knocking that, just saying that these guys have something special. Their In Doomdemo/EP is here and on sale. I bought one in Wisconsin, but I’m almost tempted to pick up another, just to have it. Fucking a.
UPDATE: 9:10PM: Anything strike you as a little strange about the picture above of Ron “Fez” McGinnis of Maryland progressive noisemakers Admiral Browning. He’s singing! When their set first started, I said to myself, “Now why the hell would they leave a microphone on stage?” thinking maybe it was just so guitarist Matt LeGrow could say thanks or something, but then Fez had one too, and sure enough, vocals. Not just vocals though, harmonies too. Either these dudes just discovered they could do that stuff or they’ve been holding out. I’d always kind of thought of Admiral Browning‘s tech-minded approach as being too complicated as to allow for structuring into verses, but it worked and it worked well. They still had plenty of instrumental material on offer, but they’ve put themselves into a different echelon entirely by adding singing, all the more so for actually being able to pull it off. And of course, as LeGrow and McGinnis were belting out the songs, drummer Tim Otis was running a marathon across his kit behind them. Legitimately, I’d be surprised if he covered any less than 26.2 miles. They paid homage to Buddy Rich with “Traps” and, after a story of how they ran into Geraldo Rivera in Coney Island earlier today, shouted out “La Araña Lobo” in his mustachioed honor. My plan had been to run out to the car and grab my long-awaited turkey sandwich from the cooler in my trunk, but Admiral Browning kept me right in here. That might not sound like high praise, but there isn’t much that beats “turkey sandwich” in my book. Kudos, gentlemen.
UPDATE 10:10PM: Chicago’s Earthen Grave went sans violin for their set. I seem to recall Rachel Barton Pine, who usually handles that instrument, being either pregnant or recently a mother, and either way, I’d expect that to account for her absence from SHoD. It’s a valid enough excuse. The show went on, as I’m told the show must, and Earthen Grave delivered a crunchier-seeming set of traditional doom and metal. Vocalist Mark Weiner has hit himself in the head on purpose both times I’ve seen the band — here and at Days of the Doomed II — and so I guess he’s just that crazy. He had on a Church of Misery shirt and was happy to show it off along with his formidable pipes, but bassist Ron Holzner has “used to be in Trouble” on his side, and that’s always an attention-getter. The band was pretty crisp, even for lacking their violin, and the assembled heads dug in wholeheartedly as they kicked into a new song, the title of which I didn’t get. Good to know they have new stuff in the works though. I did run out and grab that turkey sandwich, eating half as I sat on the lip of the open trunk of my car — a doomer tailgate party of one — but when I came back, Earthen Grave made me think perhaps I should revisit their self-titled full-length, and covered Pentagram‘s “Relentless,” which is a bit of a coincidence, since that band is about to go on stage in Brooklyn playing that album in its entirety. Go figure.
Devil to Pay
UPDATE 11:12PM: No coincidence that Devil to Pay guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak was representing the Ripple Music logo, as it was recently announced the Indianapolis four-piece had signed to that label for the release of their new album. Janiak said on stage that the record is due out in January — it’ll be their first since 2009′s Heavily Ever After– and they played a few songs from it, including the gloomy highlight “Yes, Master.” Devil to Pay are always pretty humble on stage, but they’re pretty clearly riding a high. They seemed confident and assured in their sound, guitarist Rob Hough breaking out the weekend’s first and only (to date) windmill headbang, and Janiak‘s tenure in the doomier Apostle of Solitude has brought a new dynamic to his vocals, which had a kind of post-Alice in Chains grunge feel. I had been looking forward to the new album already, but it’s good to have some affirmation for the anticipation. The night is starting to wind down, and with Pale Divine and The Skull still to go, things are about to get awfully doomed around here, but Devil to Pay‘s heavy rock was a great balance between the stoner and the doom, and Janiak is beginning to emerge as a genuine frontman presence. Cool to watch.
UPDATE 12:14AM: The funny thing about watching Pale Divine‘s set tonight was that for most of the contingent up front to see the band, they were local, like well-known, like married-to-them local. For me, seeing Pale Divine, who hail from Pennsylvania, is something exotic, something that doesn’t happen every day. It had me thinking about the bands that I feel that way about — Jersey acts like The Atomic Bitchwax or even a Long Island band like Negative Reaction — who I take for granted. My moment’s pondering didn’t last much longer than that, however, because I was astonished to see Fezzy from Admiral Browning was playing bass alongside guitarist/vocalist and band founder Greg Diener and drummer Darin McCloskey, who also played with Beelzefuzz tonight. Fez was a little punchy on the bass, but that dude’s the kind of player that could pretty much fit in anywhere so long as it’s heavy, and it was cool to see him in a more traditionally riffy context, playing off Diener‘s Wino-inspired riffs. A highlight was “Amplified,” the opening track of their first album, Thunder Perfect Mind, and when the whole thing was done, I won the Stoner Hands of Doom raffle! More on that later, as The Skull is about to go on.
UPDATE 1:40AM: You know what the difference is between The Skull and your Trouble cover band? First of all, you don’t have a Trouble cover band, but even if you did, chances are it wouldn’t have Ron Holzner playing bass in it or Eric Wagner singing, and as someone who saw Trouble proper on their tour with Kory Clarke fronting them, I can say first hand that that makes a big fucking difference. Seems frivolous to say “Psalm 9″ and “Bastards Will Pay” were high points — the whole set was a high point. Together with guitarists and a drummer culled from Chicago metallers Sacred Dawn, Wagner and Holzner ran through a set of classics that seemed utterly antithetical to the late hour. They killed, and the people that stuck around ate it up. Nobody even spoke in between songs. Everyone just stood there and waited to see what was coming next? How about “Revelation (Life and Death)?” Well, yeah, okay, right on. I guess the big difference between tonight and when I saw The Skull at Days of the Doomed is I’m not miserable piss drunk tonight, so I’ve got that working for me. When their set was finished, Wagner said he’d keep going if someone bought him a beer, so beer was acquired and they wound up closing with “At the End of My Daze,” which was incredible of course. The bar called a “get the fuck out” last call after they were actually done, so I’m writing this in the car in the parking lot outside, about to drive back to where I’ll crash out and get up tomorrow for the final day of Stoner Hands of Doom. Tonight was unreal.
Posted in Features on August 31st, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
The ride to New London wasn’t bad. No real traffic or anything, but my stomach was tense with GPS jitters, riding up what seemed to me like the nether regions of I-95 in the state, deciduous trees hanging like a claustrophobic ceiling over the roadway. It was the first time I’d made the trip. I didn’t want to get lost, I didn’t want to delay. I expect by the time this weekend is out, I’ll be much more familiar with the route.
My soundtrack on the way there was the self-titled release from Ice Dragon side-project Tentacle, which was fitting, because like that band, everyone who played the opening night of SHoD XII tonight was from Massachusetts. Six bands. I’d have to check my official rulebook on the matter, but I think that might constitute a “takeover.” Fortunately, our Sox-worshiping overlords were benevolent and generous of riff.
On that subject, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a show in Connecticut that someone didn’t ask from the stage whether the audience were Yankees fans or Red Sox fans. As I stood and watched Rozamov‘s guitarist do so tonight, it dawned on me just how badly this state needs its own team. It wouldn’t be a problem anymore, though it was interesting to hear a few shouts of “Pirates!” from the back of the El ‘n’ Gee club, over in the bar area.
Well, that’s as good a segue as I’ve got, so let’s get to it. Here’s how it all went down:
In the end, I had no choice but to buy Boston rockers Rozamov‘s CD, because I couldn’t get it straight whether they were Rozamov (rhymes with “hose ‘em off”) or Romazov (as in, “Rome is off, we’re not going”). Principally, they were young. Their first song had no shortage of post-High on Fire gallop, and the two-guitar four-piece only got more complex from there, adding some post-metal and sludge to the mix before rounding out with a song that, well, if it wasn’t “Blood From Zion,” it was darn close. The drummer looked bored, and yeah, they did inquire as to the crowd’s baseball allegiance, but they were young and figuring out what they want to do as a band, so I’m not about to rip into them for not being Sleep. They’re figuring it out. And their CDs were five bucks, so they were doing something right for sure.
Birch Hill Dam
Fact of the matter is I can’t even see this band’s name without thinking of the old Birch Hill nightclub in Jersey, which is bittersweet for all the shitty metal I watched there over the years. Speaking of metal, Birch Hill Dam‘s bassist (above) was most certainly that, with a Bonded by Bloodshirt and five-string bass with those red strings that I keep hearing the kids talk about. To contrast, their guitarist wore a classic Unida shirt. I used to have the same one about 100 years and 100 pounds ago. His attire was more in line with the band’s sound for sure than the Exodus duds — nothing against the Bay Area thrashers. Birch Hill Dam released their slickly-produced Colossusalbum last year (video here), but live they sounded so much like Kyuss that I literally stood there and said, “Damn this sounds like Kyuss.” I’ll give them points for honesty in covering “Green Machine,” paying homage to the deserts of Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Whatever dude, I’ll take it, and singer Mike Nygard had his John Garcia working in full force. They had one false start, but were a pro job otherwise, complete with their album cover airbrushed onto screens in front of their amps. You know a band means business when they start in with that stuff.
Raw Radar War
I got to meet vocalist Jonah Jenkins before his band played and told him I vaguely remembered seeing Milligram at Solace guitarist Tommy Southard‘s wedding. He was as gracious about that as Raw Radar War was intense in their set, bringing out the kind of unfriendly, this-isn’t-a-joke-to-us pissed off fuckall that is a mark of their generation of hardcore and all but forgotten among the proverbial “kids these days.” Owning the stage in the process, Jenkins (who’s a bit of a New England legend) moved fluidly between cleaner shouts and Obituary-esque screams and the band behind him turned on a dime from D-beat sub-grind to chugging doom, but honestly, even the slow parts sounded fast, as intensely as they were played. Three bands and three Cottrell beers (a local ale the high alcohol content of which I was duly warned) in, I was feeling good about the prospects for the weekend. I didn’t drink any more than the three, but with three more bands still to go on the night, SHoD felt like it was really getting going, and Raw Radar War were a wake-up call of the kind of anger that dares you to match it, which of course, you can’t. I make no secret of the fact that I’m not a big hardcore guy, but I hadn’t heard Raw Radar War since their split with Deer Creek, and I was glad to encounter them again. Some shit just sounds mean.
The only other time I’d ever been to the El ‘n’ Gee was a show on a weekender tour with these Bostonian doomers. That was three years ago now, almost to the day. Ichabod were heralding the release of their still underrated 2012full-length (review here), and the actual 2012 finds them a different band entirely, with second guitarist Jason Adam joining alongside founding six-stringer Dave Iverson and new vocalist John Fadden starting off the set with a quiet tension that soon paid off in a barrage of face-melting screams. Fadden, who had a persona to match his throat, cracked jokes from the stage, but Ichabod was deadly serious as they ran through material from their upcoming album, Dreamscapes from Dead Space. “Huckleberry,” if I’ve got the title correct, was a highlight. They’ve always straddled various genre lines — stoner, doom, post-hardcore, post-metal — but as tight as they were, categories hardly figured into it as much as the crunch of tone and righteousness of riff. Bassist Greg Dellaria boasted the night’s only flying-V bass, and early into their set, one of the guitarists from Raw Radar War made his way to the front of the stage with five tallboy beers, because whatever else you can say about the city, Boston takes care of its own. That said, hopefully Ichabod get to do a few shows out of town once the new record drops. They deserve to be seen by as many people as possible.
Black Thai need to put an album out. The four-piece of guitarist/vocalist Jim Healey (We’re all Gonna Die), guitarist Scott O’Dowd (Cortez), intense bassist Cory Cocomazzi and drummer Jeremy Hemond (Roadsaw, Cortez) are too tight and too solid a band not to do it. So, uh, get on it, I guess. Hemond was the only drummer of the night to play on his own kit, setting up his Vistalites and high cymbals before they went on. Might as well, I guess, if you’re closing out the night in the last two bands and it’s not like anyone’s going on after you. I had a hard time believing it had been more than a year and a half since I saw Black Thai at Hank’s Saloon in Brooklyn, but the numbers don’t lie. On a stage roughly five times the size of that at Hank’s, the riff metal foursome tore through three of the songs from their Blood from on HighEP (review here) and left room for a couple new songs as well, culminating in a progressively building churn of distorted crunch that made for a perfect ending to their set. Healey‘s vocals were a little rough — reportedly he was under the weather — but Black Thai is in Philly tonight and Boston tomorrow with Borracho, One Inch Giant and Fire Faithful. If you can see them at any point, it’s worth taking advantage of the opportunity. They’re even more in command of their sound now than they were when last our paths crossed, and with just Roadsaw to go, it seemed like the first night of SHoD was a success.
So this is the part where the roof caves in and the crowd, sparse though it was by the end of the night, is crushed to death, myself included? Nah. Things ended no less smoothly than they’d ran all night. Thinking of prior shows, the last time I ran into the dudes from Roadsaw was at Desertfest in London. The El ‘n’ Gee wasn’t nearly so crowded as the Underworld had been, but the four-piece made the best of it anyway, Hemond making Popeye faces as he rounded out his double-duty on drums, Tim Catz holding together even the most ranging of jams which were surprise inclusions later into the set, guitarist Ian Ross leading those jams with both class and improvisational prowess, and vocalist Craig Riggs whirling his duct-taped microphone around him and running from one side of the stage to the other in his usual madman’s form. “Long in the Tooth,” “Thinking of Me” and “Weight in Gold” from the self-titled were highlights, but it was the later jams that really made it, as it’s not something you’d necessarily expect from Roadsaw at this point, who are so bolstered by the strength of their choruses and of their songwriting in general. Maybe they were just fucking around, but it was still cool. Ross killed it, and they showed by they’re the band to call if you’re looking for someone to close out a night of Massachusetts heavy. Riggs had forgotten the merch, so they didn’t have anything to sell (they laughed about it on stage), but whatever. It was good times anyway and Roadsaw did right by the fest closing out night one. It was apparently also the first time they’d ever played Connecticut in their 19 years as a band. Another notch in their belt.
It was nigh on one in the morning by the time I got back to where I’m staying, and I had a headlight out, so I was making the trip half-blind, which only made me gladder I’d limited my beer intake. Let’s see: Holiday weekend, out of state plates, one headlight. Uh, sir, I’m gonna have to ask you to step out of the car. No thanks. Today I’ll get that headlight replaced and I’ve got some work and other running around to do before I head back to the El ‘n’ Gee, but Stoner Hands of Doom XII is off to a cool start, and with When the Deadbolt Breaks, Wizard Eye, John Wilkes Booth, Faces of Bayon, Lord Fowl, Revelation and Pilgrim to come tonight, things are only going to get louder from here. I’ll take it.
Posted in Reviews on August 29th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
You know what they say about the ladies in orbit. They really get around.
In the opening title-track of New Haven, Connecticut, foursome Lord Fowl’s Small Stone debut, Moon Queen, there appears the line, “I’m in love with a satellite lady.” Read that again: “I’m in love with a satellite lady.” If you’re wondering perhaps what the hell that could possibly mean, then you’ve taken the wrong approach to Moon Queen, and like a choose-your-adventure book, you need to turn around and start over. The dually-fronted outfit is comprised of guitarist/vocalists Vechel Jaynes and Mike Pellegrino, bassist/engineer Jon Conine and drummer Don Freeman, and like the line “I’m in love with a satellite lady,” there’s a lot about the record (their second overall behind the impressive 2008 release, Endless Dynamite) that doesn’t seem to make sense at first but ultimately requires being approached on its own level. You have to be willing to go along with it, and when you do, you’ll find the trip more than justified in that Moon Queen works in several thematic. Movement is one of them. Space is another. Issues of love, sex, masculinity all crop up throughout the 12 tracks/47 minutes of the album, and very often, one song bleeds directly into the next, as “Moon Queen” does into “Touch Your Groove,” the lyrics to which contain a clear reference to the titular character described in the opener. Because this progression continues throughout the lyrics to most of the songs – including the Iron and Wine cover “Woman King,” which starts the second half – the temptation is to think of Lord Fowl working in some kind of narrative arc, but if that’s so with the lyrics, the songs themselves and the music those lyrics rest over don’t immediately seem to have the same kind of feel. That is, when things make the turn from “Quicksand”’s relationship-as-paingiver lyric to the defiance against that in “SOS,” the music remains consistent behind it without the kind of changes in mood that would connote Moon Queen having been composed entirely as a concept record in the traditional narrative sense. Still, Jaynes and Pellegrino mention flying, breaking free, driving, running, moving and going – so motion in general, transience, is a prevalent, persistent theme. In that, the music does follow suit, because if Moon Queen does anything at all, it moves.
Shades of KISS and Mötley Crüe make themselves known in songs like “Moon Queen” and “Split,” but at its heart, Moon Queen is an American-style heavy rock record. Put to tape by Conine and mixed in the Small Stone tradition by Benny Grotto at Mad Oak Studios in Allston, MA, it’s right in line with the label’s growing next-gen roster, sharing some classic soul influence with Gozu and a laid back grooving thickness with Wo Fat without losing hold either of its own identity or the personality of Lord Fowl themselves, which doesn’t shy away either from ‘70s rock suggestiveness (“Touch Your Groove,” “Hollow Horn”) or a bygone element of craft in the songwriting. Their methods are retro and their presentation is modern, in other words. Moon Queen touches on psychedelia – it would almost have to – in closer “Pluto,” which revives the space theme of the opener and thus rounds out the album nicely, but that’s a far cry from the ‘80s speed anthem “Streets of Evermore,” which might be as close as Lord Fowl get to metal in its intro but holds both to the band’s penchant for melody and has a hook too strong to be anything but accessible. Songs are well within radio range if radio was in the range of them, and despite the emphasis on tying their individual pieces together lyrically, there’s nothing pretentious in the band’s approach whatsoever, “Moon Queen” starting off introducing upbeat, fuzzed-out heavy rock with engaging riffs and a start-stop chorus highlighting both vocalists. Conine’s bass is an asset, and in both “Moon Queen” and “Touch Your Groove,” Freeman’s drums fill muted space nicely – never showy, always in service to the song, adding a little stomp to the bridge and verse of “Touch Your Groove” than only enhances its already formidable swagger. Because you can’t write a song about sex without low end, Conine’s basslines toward the halfway point also provide ample potency, while the lines, “Don’t you come too soon/She’s the queen of the moon,” leave little to the imagination as to the topic of discussion.
And if I’m focusing heavily on lyrics throughout this review, let that be a testament to the impression left from Pellegrino and Jaynes’ vocals, which are confident both on their own and all the more effective when used in combination, as on “Touch Your Groove.” The handclap-ready snare beats of “Split” lead to a faster rush in the riffing of the chorus, but again, both singers prove essential in conveying the song’s atmosphere, which is both intricate, Conine joining Freeman in the verse and bridge where the guitars cut in and out, and righteous on the surface – much like the album itself. One fuzz guitar, then two begin “Mutate” before the vocals kick in, and it’s an immediate cut in tempo from the song preceding, but already with Moon Queen, Lord Fowl have shown they can pull off such changes, and so the more open feel in the guitars and echoing vocals are far from out of place. But for the opener, “Mutate” is the shortest track on the album, but there’s still room for a reverbed Southern rock solo under which Freeman tosses in some choice fills, and for the lyrics to turn the “gotta fly” from “Split” into the “float away” as they are here before flight is once again taken on “Streets of Evermore.” It’s hard to pick a single of the record’s many hooks to reign as the defining one, but “Streets of Evermore” makes an excellent case, an infectious chorus topping lead guitar and releasing the tension built during the verse near perfectly as the song keeps hold of the “riding,” “driving” ideas that play both into the sex of “Touch Your Groove” and the overarching ideas of movement all across the record. Whether it’s superlative will depend on the listener, but the song has an energy all its own and is a definite standout, meandering a bit in its ending section before finally coming apart altogether, crashing into amp noise to lead into the police dispatch transmission sampled at the beginning of “Dirty Driving.” The song, which has the lines “If you’d like to call a spade a spade/Then you better understand that a pig is a pig,” closes out side A with Moon Queen’s only overt treatment of race – it’s hard to hear through the hits at the beginning, but I’m pretty sure that cop is dropping slurs while talking about shotguns in Watts – but even that is put into the context of driving, of moving, perhaps an answer to “Ridin’ Dirty” as filtered through soulful classic rock. The falsetto backing vocals in the chorus make it, and the dual guitar lead in the song’s second half ties it together with “Streets of Evermore” and the more Thin Lizzy-style bop of “The Queen is Not Impressed” still to come.
Posted in Whathaveyou on May 22nd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Not to get all New England about it or anything, but the lineup for this year’s Stoner Hands of Doom is wicked pissah. Having moved from its home in Frederick, Maryland, to the unfamiliar climes of the El ‘n’ Gee in New London, Connecticut, SHoD XII has grown into a massive four-day event featuring some of the best in doom, sludge and stoner that the Eastern Seaboard and beyond has to offer.
I was looking through the lineup yesterday, basically killing time while fantasizing about being somewhere other than at work, and looky looky what I saw on the SHoD site as well — an Obelisk logo! Turns out I’m kinda, sorta, a little bit helping maybe almost present the fest in some small way — apparently enough to get my logo on the page — and I’ll be having much more about it as we get closer, of course leading up to notes and pics from the fest when it takes place over Labor Day weekend.
Check out the day-by-day breakdown on the poster below:
This is a monster fucking fest. From SHoD veterans like Negative Reaction, Akris, Iron Man and Earthride, but though I know I’ve said it before, what really excites me about SHoD XII is how it branches out from it’s Maryland and Doom Capitol roots to bring in outsiders like Roadsaw, Elder, Black Pyramid. Both Connecticut acts, Curse the Son and Stone Titan were a thrill at the CT Fuzz Fest last summer, and When the Deadbolt Breaks have a new bassist and I hear they’re at their most crushing yet, so it’ll be great to catch them alongside bands like Borracho, Fire Faithful, and way-out-of-towners like Kin of Ettins, The Skull, Pilgrim and Gypsy Chief Goliath.
Way stoked all around, and I’ll have much more as we get closer to Labor Day. Can’t wait.
What I like best about the lineup for this year’s installment of the Stoner Hands of Doom fest (or SHoD, as it’s affectionately known), is that it blends the festival’s Maryland doom lineage with its newfound New England surroundings, so you get Earthride, Iron Man, Admiral Browning and Lord playing alongside Roadsaw, Elder, When the Deadbolt Breaks and Ichabod. And Skrogg! This is gonna rule. It’s a stellar lineup of bands, and I can’t wait to head up to the El ‘n’ Gee in New London over Labor Day weekend for the fest. Check out the poster below and click to enlarge:
Posted in Whathaveyou on March 1st, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’ve long been a fan of Connecticut’s When the Deadbolt Breaks, and as I’ve been lucky enough to hear their forthcoming album, Drifting Towards the End of the Earth, I can safely say it’s a monster. The new songs continue their malevolent, grim ultra-doom and still work in enough melody to make you hear bleeding-out echoes. There’s something about them that sounds like shattered glass to me.
The band’s management sent word of their new bassist down the PR wire, so here goes:
Psychedelic doom cult, When the Deadbolt Breaks is pleased to announce the addition of new bassist, Mike Parkyn. Being a long time friend of When the Deadbolt Breaks main man, Aaron Lewis, helped make for a quick and natural transition bringing Mike into the fold. “I’ve known Mike for well over 20 years and have always considered him one of the best musicians I’ve known. When I heard that he was interested in working with When the Deadbolt Breaks, I jumped at the chance to get him down here to jam. It’s obvious that he’s going to add a lot to the over all vibe of what we do. We both share a lust for vintage gear and heavy as hell music, I consider this to be When the Deadbolt Breaks‘ natural progression, and we welcome Mike and his talents on board.”
The band has been hulled up in Room SevenZeroEight Studios working on their highly anticipated upcoming release, Drifting Towards the End of the Earth, months have been spent experimenting and developing what promises to be their heaviest and most dynamic release to date. With recording sessions wrapped up in early 2012, the band commissioned Andrew Devlin to handle the album art.
In related news, When the Deadbolt Breaks, has also recently resigned with 313 Inc.Artist Management, also home to Sixty Watt Shaman, Hour of 13, KingGiant, Order of the Owl and Borracho.
When I worked at KB Toys store #1051 in Morris Plains, New Jersey, they used to call it “Green Friday,” and as I started there when I was just turned 16, that was how I came to know Black Friday, which is what most people in the US call the day after Thanksgiving — the busiest shopping day of the year and the “official” kickoff of the holiday retail season.
Black Friday takes its name not from the shadow that consumerism at large casts on American culture, but from the simple fact that it’s the day that moves most stores from the red into the black for the year. It’s when they start turning a profit. Seeing an opportunity to continue their mission of promoting independent music culture, the fine folks behind Record Store Day got involved this year, bolstering the event with special releases and other initiatives. I’d expect more of that kind of thing next year.
Late last month, when I was at Redscroll Records in Wallingford, Connecticut, on my apparently annual autumn pilgrimage, I was given a flyer for their Black Friday specials, and knowing that I was going to be in the state for the Thanksgiving holiday, kindly suggested to The Patient Mrs. that I might like to wake up early and hit up the sale, which was 25 percent off everything in stock except for turntables.
So it was. My alarm went off yesterday at 5:35AM, and when I walked into Redscroll at 6:02 or thereabouts, the place was already full. Outside, the sun was just starting to think about rising. As I suspected I might, I had the CD racks mostly to myself (at least as compares to vinyl — LPs are by far the priority for the shop), but it was easily the most crowded I’d ever seen it. People were friendly, though, making way for each other and handing off releases to other potential buyers. I used the 25 percent discount as an excuse to pick up a few odds and ends, most of which I’d already heard, but hadn’t gotten full copies of, and other discs I’d wanted to grab this year that I hadn’t gotten the chance.
For example, I long since own Sovereign by Neurosis, but a quarter off the price was enough for me to grab the 2011 reissue, and stuff like Candlemass‘ Ashes to Ashes live record and Place of Skulls‘ As a Dog Returns had just kind of slipped through the cracks in terms of getting a physical copy. I bought The Body & Braveyoung‘s Nothing Passes to include in the next podcast (no big surprise: it sounds totally fucked), and was hoping to nab The Atlas Moth‘s An Ache for the End for the same reason, but they were out of it, and I drowned my sorrows in some cheap George Carlin, Goblin and Free instead.
Now that I’ve heard the low-end centric mega-grooves of Saturnalia Temple‘s Aion of Drakon, I’m officially stoked to check them out at Roadburn next year. And because I haven’t been able to leave there without doing so the last couple times I’ve been, I picked up a Cable CD, this time the 2008 reissue of their first album, Variable Speed Drive, the original version of which I’ve been hunting on eBay for a bit with no real success.
It was just over $100 for 10 discs, which wasn’t bad and was enough to earn me a free Redscroll t-shirt that I’ll wear proudly. I went back to the motel and crashed out for a couple more hours before getting up and heading south back to Jersey to go to work, and after that, on the way further south to Maryland, I requested yet another stop from The Patient Mrs., this one to Vintage Vinyl, to pick up that Atlas Moth record and settle the matter once and for all. I also got a full copy of Invisible White by Ancestors. Both at full price, and neither with any regret.
Vintage Vinyl in the evening was empty compared to Redscroll in the morning, which was troubling, since that’s pretty much the only shop in New Jersey where I can do something like stop in and pick up an Atlas Moth or an Ancestors CD and be confident that they’ll actually have such a thing. I know they had stocked some of the Record Store Day Black Friday special releases, but hopefully they come around to the sale stuff too, because god damn, I’d hate to lose that place as a resource.
In the meantime, a package showed up in the mail yesterday from All That is Heavy with a copy of Master Sleeps by Hills, which is jammier than I thought it would be, and the Rise Above reissue of Necromandus‘ Orexis of Death, which Tony “I Have Excellent Fucking Taste and Stone Axe is My Band to Prove It” Reed recommended a while back I make mine. Altogether, this probably represents the bulk of the music I’ll buy through the end of 2011, so it was good to send the year out with a bang. I should have plenty to keep me busy until January comes.
Posted in Reviews on November 25th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
They veer stylistically to either side of the designation, but there’s little question that Connecticut four-piece VRSA are metal at their roots. Progressive metal, more precisely, and their Galaxia full-length released through their own Last Bastion Records proves adventurous in that regard without tipping the balance of heaviness versus indulgence. As the band’s name (interpreted, one assumes, from “Ursa,” as in Ursa Major and Minor), album title and artwork would lead you to believe, space is a central theme for VRSA, and that holds true for extended opener “Meteorite” as well, which sets up much of the musical breadth of Galaxia, though more than a few surprises still remain throughout “My Fingers Feel Like Razorblades,” “Saturnalia” and “Mona Lisa’s Eye.” VRSA’s prior self-release, Old Man Gray may have touched upon similar stylistic nuances, but even if it did, it took more songs to do it (11 as opposed to four), and as VRSA’s sound is based so much on progressive musical thought, it’s easy to imagine some of that has played out on the scale of the band itself as well. In either case, the rhythm section of bassist Jesse van Note and drummer John that do such distinguished work tying these songs together has already been replaced with Cheech on bass (also of Curse the Son) and Kevin on drums. How that shift will affect VRSA’s scope is impossible to speculate, but it’s worth noting that on Galaxia, the four-piece of van Note, John, rhythm guitarist/ engineer/vocalist Josh and lead guitarist Andrius make a cohesive sound out of a wide range of elements, and even though they veer into somewhat technically-minded areas, they do so without losing sense of the song at hand.
The keyword, then, is “balance” the whole way through, and that idea comes through Josh’s performance as well as the most prominent figure in the band and the one who started VRSA through experimentations at his Last Bastion Studio. His vocals range from well-mixed background metal screaming to melodic croons, and are layered but natural in their arrangements so that the other players in the band could easily take on the response roles in a live setting. “Meteorite” is the longest cut on Galaxia at 11:13 (immediate points for it being the opener) and stands itself out thanks to a chugging central riff and more strummed chorus that offset angular turns with smooth rhythmic execution. Van Note and John are fluid in following and expanding on the main riff, and three minutes into the song, Andrius embarks on one of Galaxia’s many impressive solos. Rather than putting on a clinic, though, in typical prog fashion, VRSA work well to bring the performances together as one complex whole, and that comes through in the mix of “Meteorite,” which highlights the individuals while celebrating what they do as a contribution to a larger idea. Josh and Andrius work well together on guitar, and that’s no less true in the long break section underscored by low-mixed sampled speech (Carl Sagan is credited in the liner notes with “spoken words,” obviously sampled, but I believe that’s referring to “Mona Lisa’s Eye”) than in the heavier crunch of the chorus riff to which VRSA eventually return, using a tinny digital compression that sounds a bit like a low-bitrate mp3 as one of several effects on the guitars and bass, on which van Note shines to end the track and lead directly into “My Fingers Feel Like Razorblades.” A volume and cymbal swell serves for easy transition, and though the song is among Galaxia’s most progressive stretches, Josh keeps his vocals mostly on the harsher side, breaking from screams and growls only for a throaty chorus.