Friday Full-Length: High on Fire, Death is this Communion

Posted in Bootleg Theater on April 18th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

High on Fire, Death is this Communion (2007)

This is my favorite High on Fire record. I know plenty other people who’ll choose other albums over 2007′s Death is this Communion, be it the band’s more stonerly 2000 debut, The Art of Self-Defense, or something more recent like 2010′s Snakes for the Divine, but for me, it’s gotta be Death is this Communion.

I remember very clearly the first time I really sat with a High on Fire album. It was 2002′s sophomore outing, Surrounded by Thieves. I was playing the album, which was new at that point, and a friend of mine came in the room and said, “What the fuck is this? It sounds so dirty.” We laughed, and yeah, it did. That record continues to hold a special place in my heart, but I think if you look at the progression of High on Fire‘s sound especially as it is right now, you see that Death is this Communion marks the turning point between their earlier work and the two albums they’ve done since.

Their 2005 third album, Blessed Black Wings, was notable for bringing in bassist Joe Preston (Thrones, ex-the Melvins) alongside the founding duo of guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike and drummer Des Kensel, but by the time they got around to the follow-up, it was Zeke‘s Jeff Matz in that role, and he’s stayed there since. So in a very real way, Death is this Communion is the marker for when High on Fire solidified itself. Also, if you take a look at where they were two records before (the marauding stoner thrash of Surrounded by Thieves) and where they went two records hence (the latest offering, 2012′s ultra-metal De Vermis Mysteriis), it becomes easy to read Death is this Communion as not just a step-stone in their catalog, but the essential position from which the two sides met and diverged. Whatever glories they’ve gone onto or had done before, they were never quite the same again.

And that’s not even to mention the songs on Death is this Communion — the title-track’s masterful sprawl, the initial pummel of “Fury Whip,” the unmitigated attack of “Rumors of War” that crashes right into the riff-groove of “DII.” It’s not a short album at a little less than 57 minutes, but even into its farthest reaches with “Ethereal” — still one of Pike‘s boldest vocal experiments — and churning closer “Return to NOD,” it never fails to both grasp and brutalize its attendees. They’d come from more filth-caked sonic places and they’d progress to even cleaner ones, but Death is this Communion inadvertently came to stand for the moment in time when High on Fire left behind the heavy forms of their beginnings and started a different quest altogether.

I had a job interview this afternoon. Corporate gig. People seemed nice. It was casual Friday, so I may have been one of few in the building not wearing jeans — the irony of which wasn’t lost on me. Before I left to go to their office, the little dog Dio came upstairs bleeding from the side of her head. An old scab she had opened up because she’s a dog and doesn’t know better. So I had to clean that before I left, put on some Neosporin, and that may have had an effect on my overall mental state, but I left there feeling positive. They asked about this site and I made it clear it was an “on my own time” thing. Guess I’d be putting in some early mornings or late nights. Either way. Gotta get the job first, then I’ll figure out the rest.

We’ve also put in a purchase and sale agreement to buy a condo, The Patient Mrs. and I (I suppose the dog too, though her name isn’t on the account). I’ve learned never to believe these things are going to happen until they already have, but I guess the point is adventure abounds. I’ve done my best these last few days to hold onto the good vibes I brought back with me from Roadburn. In a couple minutes I’ll go downstairs and load up a pizza from Whole Foods with pesto and roasted garlic, then watch baseball. A quiet night. Should be right on.

Next week — Monday brings a stream of two songs from the new The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic EP, and I’ll also have audio from Vestal Claret and Jeremy Irons and the Ratgang Malibus later in the week. I’m gonna try to squeeze a review of the new Floor in there as well, and another roundup of discs if I can. We’ll see how it goes, but I have a few staring me down from the pile that need to get written up. Fingers crossed I get there.

Hope you’re enjoying the High on Fire and hope you have a great and safe weekend. Please check out the forum and radio stream.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

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Red Fang, Crowbar, High on Fire, All Them Witches and More Confirmed for Scion Rock Fest

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 26th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

If you’re wondering why every other post this week is about a fest I’d like to go to, please rest assured it’s not a coincidence. The latest addition to that growing list is the Scion Rock Fest, set for May 17 in Pomona, California, with High on Fire, Red Fang, All Them Witches, Aqua Nebula Oscillator, recent EasyRider Records signees The Well and many, many others in the lineup. I’ve never been a huge Machine Head guy, but I think there’d be plenty besides with which to keep occupied.

RSVP for the free fest is open as of today, so if you’re thinking you’re gonna hit it up, you’ll probably want to do so on the quick:

SCION ROCK FEST RETURNS TO SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA ON MAY 17 FOR SIXTH ANNUAL HARD ROCK/METAL BLOW OUT

MACHINE HEAD AND HIGH ON FIRE HEADLINE

Scion Audio Visual’s annual hard rock/metal festival, Scion Rock Fest, returns to Pomona, Calif. on May 17 with an all-star line-up of the biggest names in hard rock as well as metal’s most buzz-worthy newcomers.

Headlining Scion Rock Fest, which has quickly become established as one of heavy music’s biggest live outings, are Machine Head and High On Fire. Other prominent artists appearing on the sixth installment of Scion Rock Fest are Red Fang, King Buzzo, Hot Lunch, Pins of Light and Windhand (full list below).

Concertgoers should visit www.scionav.com to RSVP beginning March 26 at 10 a.m. pacific.

Since the 2009 debut of Scion Rock Fest, the annual outing has featured Mastodon, Down, Neurosis, Baroness, Morbid Angel and the Melvins. A rotating location has found the Fest in
Atlanta, Columbus, Tampa, Memphis as well as the 2011 event, which was also in Pomona.

Scion Rock Fest is one of the many music and cultural events curated by Scion Audio Visual, the entertainment division founded by Scion in 2003. Over the past decade, Scion AV has hosted numerous concerts and tours including the monthly Scion Rock Show in Los Angeles and High on Fire’s recent North American trek, sponsored Phil Anselmo’s Housecore Horror Festival and Revelation Records’ 25th Anniversary celebrations, brought together the brightest minds in the music industry for the annual Scion Music(less) Music Conference and offered numerous free singles and EPs from a wide variety of musicians including Meshuggah, Corrosion of Conformity and Municipal Waste.

The full Scion Rock Fest 2014 line-up:
Machine Head
High On Fire
Red Fang
Orchid
Crowbar
BL’AST!
Speedwolf
Power Trip
Jex Thoth
Coffins
King Buzzo
Big Business
Hot Lunch
Aqua Nebula Oscillator
All Them Witches
Pins of Light
Carousel
The Well
Midnight
Exhumed
In Cold Blood
Nekrogoblikon
Windhand
Lord Dying
Moab
Black Sheep Wall

http://www.scionav.com/2014/03/25/scion-rock-fest-2014-rsvp/
http://scionav.com

Hot Lunch, “She Wants More” Live at Scion Rock Fest 2013

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High on Fire Release New Video for “Slave the Hive”

Posted in Bootleg Theater on December 3rd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

High on Fire first released the track “Slave the Hive” as a limited, Scion A/V-sponsored 7″ and download to coincide with their fall tour. Today the band gives the song some visual accompaniment. It’s a classic metal video for sure, and the track is a ripper, so don’t miss out. High on Fire‘s tour with Kvelertak and Windhand is currently winding down on the West Coast, and I don’t know about you, but I’m anxiously awaiting any possible news of a follow-up to 2012′s raging De Vermis Mysteriis being in the works. Cross your fingers, and keep them that way for a year. Yeah, I know they’ll start to cramp up. It’s for a good cause.

Needless to say, it’s going to be a while before humanity recovers from this one:

High on Fire, “Slave the Hive” official video

HIGH ON FIRE Unleashes New Music Video “Slave the Hive”

California Metal Champions in the Midst of Massive North American Headlining Tour

Heavy metal powerhouse HIGH ON FIRE releases a music video for its brand new single “Slave the Hive” today. The song, available as limited edition 7-inch at every stop of the group’s current Scion A/V-sponsored headlining tour, marks the first new music from the California metal champions since the spring 2012 release of De Vermis Mysteriis.

HIGH ON FIRE’s North American headlining tour will run through December 12. Norwegian thrash-metal sextet Kvelertak opens all dates.

Scion AV presents: HIGH ON FIRE:
Kvelertak support on all dates; Windhand – Nov. 29 to Dec. 12.
December 4 Edmonton, AB Starlite Room
December 5 Calgary, AB Republik
December 7 Vancouver, BC Venue Vancouver
December 8 Seattle, WA El Corazon
December 9 Portland, OR Hawthorne Theater
December 11 San Francisco, CA Regency Center Grand Ballroom
December 12 Los Angeles, CA El Rey Theatre

https://www.facebook.com/highonfire
http://www.highonfire.net/

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High on Fire Add More Dates to Fall Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 9th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Good news continues to roll out from the High on Fire camp in the form of additional tour dates with Kvelertak, Doomriders, Windhand and Pack of Wolves. Each of the latter three are opening in rotation as per the details below, while Kvelertak will play all the shows, but as you can see, shows were added with all of them. Funny how things work out.

Fresh off the PR wire:

The previously announced Scion A/V presented High On Fire tour, which sees the California power trio joined by Norwegian hard rock crew Kvelertak, has added an additional twelve dates to the incendiary extravaganza with newly announced stops in Boston, Toronto, Chicago and San Francisco amongst others.

As part of the Scion A/V-sponsored tour, High on Fire will release a new single titled “Slave The Hive” on Oct. 16, marking the first new music from the Oakland-based metal champions since the Spring 2012 release of De Vermis Mysteriis. A limited edition 7-inch will be available at all tour dates with a video for the song to be released simultaneously.

Norwegian thrash-metal sextet Kvelertak, who have had one of 2013’s buzziest hard rock releases with the Kurt Ballou (Converge) produced album Meir, will open all dates. Doomriders (Nov. 10 to 23), Pack of Wolves (Nov. 25 – 27) and Windhand (Nov. 29 to Dec. 12) will be featured as the evening opener on different legs of the tour.

A Twitter (Twitter.com/ScionAV) sweepstakes will be ongoing throughout the tour, with two pairs being given away per show.

Scion A/V Presents High On Fire
New dates are italicized

November 10 Atlanta, GA The Masquerade
November 11 Asheville, NC Orange Peel
November 12 Washington, DC Rock & Roll Hotel
November 13 Philadelphia, PA Underground Arts
November 15 New York, NY Webster Hall
November 16 Boston, MA The Middle East
November 17 Montreal, QC Corona Theatre
November 18 Toronto, ON Opera House
November 19 Detroit, MI Crofoot Ballroom
November 20 Columbus, OH A&R Music Bar
November 22 Chicago, IL Metro
November 23 Sauget, IL Pop’s
November 25 Houston, TX House of Blues
November 26 Dallas, TX Tree’s
November 27 Austin, TX Mohawk Outside
November 29 Lawrence, KS Granada Theatre
November 30 Minneapolis, MN First Avenue
December 2 Winnipeg, MB West End Cultural Centre
December 4 Edmonton, MB Starlite Room
December 5 Calgary, AB Republik
December 7 Vancouver, BC Venue Vancouver
December 8 Seattle, WA El Corazon
December 9 Portland, OR Hawthorne Theatre
December 11 San Francisco, CA Regency Center Grand Ballroom
December 12 Los Angeles, CA El Rey Theatre

Kvelertak support on all dates; Evening openers rotate: Doomriders – Nov. 10 to 23, Pack of Wolves – Nov. 27 and Windhand – Nov. 29 to Dec. 12.

Tickets for the newly announced dates are on-sale on Sept. 13 with Chicago on-sale on Sept. 14.  Tickets for the previously released dates are currently on-sale.

High On Fire recently released the first official live recordings of their career with the two volume set Spitting Fire Live, which has been hailed as “high-volume intensity” by the Austin Chronicle, “hot as the infernos” by Pitchfork and a “documentation of the band’s undiminished ferocity onstage” by the SF Weekly.  Recorded over a two evening NYC headlining stint at both NYC’s Bowery Ballroom and Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg last winter, Spitting Fire Liveshowcases High On Fire at its incendiary best, containing songs from each of the band’s critically acclaimed studio albums including last year’s celebrated De Vermis Mysteriis.

High on Fire, De Vermis Mysteriis (2012)

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High on Fire Announces Fall Tour Dates with Kvelertak, Doomriders, Windhand and Pack of Wolves

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 3rd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Some news about High on Fire recording a new single had gone around a little while back, so I guess that’s what the new “Slave the Hive” 7″ comes from. It’ll be interesting to hear how that came out, and it looks like there are some dates yet to be filled in on the Scion A/V-sponsored tour, but as a preliminary, it’s good to see High on Fire getting out again this fall, and bringing some quality acts along with them, whether it’s Kvelertak, who are doing the whole tour, or Doomriders, Windhand and Pack of Wolves, who’ll alternate the opening slot according to the info below.

Fresh off the PR wire:

Scion A/V Presents North American Fall Tour with HIGH ON FIRE, Kvelertak

HIGH ON FIRE to Release New Single “Slave the Hive” on October 16
Doomriders, Windhand and Pack of Wolves to Support

Scion A/V presents HIGH ON FIRE’s North American tour, which kicks off November 10 in Atlanta at The Masquerade and runs through mid-December, wrapping up in Los Angeles on December 12.

As part of the Scion A/V-sponsored tour, HIGH ON FIRE will release a new single titled “Slave The Hive” on October 16, marking the first new music from the California metal champions since the spring 2012 release of De Vermis Mysteriis. A limited edition 7-inch will be available at all tour dates with a video for the song to be released simultaneously.

Norwegian thrash-metal sextet Kvelertak, who have had one of 2013′s buzziest hard rock releases with the Kurt Ballou (Converge) produced album Meir, will open all dates. Doomriders (Nov. 10 to 23), Pack of Wolves (Nov. 27) and Windhand (Nov. 29 to Dec. 12) will be featured as the evening opener on different legs of the tour.

A Twitter (Twitter.com/ScionAV) sweepstakes will be ongoing throughout the tour, with two pairs being given away per show.

Scion AV presents: HIGH ON FIRE:
Kvelertak support on all dates; Evening openers rotate: Doomriders – Nov. 10 to 23, Pack of Wolves – Nov. 27 and Windhand – Nov. 29 to Dec. 12.

November 10 Atlanta, GA Masquerade
November 11 Asheville, NC Orange Peel
November 15 New York, NY Webster Hall
November 17 Montreal, QC Corona Theatre
November 23 Sauget, IL Pop’s
November 27 Austin, TX Mohawk (outside)
November 29 Lawrence, KS Granada Theatre
December 2 Winnipeg, MB West End Cultural Center
December 4 Edmonton, AB Starlite Room
December 5 Calgary, AB Republik
December 7 Vancouver, BC Venue Vancouver
December 8 Seattle, WA El Corazon
December 9 Portland, OR Hawthorne Theater
December 11 San Francisco, CA Regency Center Grand Ballroom
December 12 Los Angeles, CA El Rey Theatre

High on Fire, “Fury Whip” Live in Sweden, Feb. 20, 2013

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Revisiting the Top 20 of 2012

Posted in Features on June 27th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

They always say you there’s no going back. I don’t know who they are, but they’re right. As I searched back through posts to find the Top 20 of 2012, I realized it had been way too long since I heard some of these records. It’s so easy to get caught up with what’s current and what’s coming next that sometimes I forget to actually listen to albums I already enjoyed. That happened a couple times along the way.

When a year ends and the lists start coming out, it’s like records as numbered, stocked and then forgotten. I guess I’m guilty of it too. With that in mind, here’s a quick revisit to what I had as my favorites of 2012:

The Top 20 of 2012 Revisited

20. Mos Generator, Nomads
I can’t even look at this album cover without hearing the chorus to “Lonely One Kenobi” play in my head. Still a sentimental favorite.

19. Golden Void, Golden Void
Haven’t put it on in a while, but probably should.

18. Wight, Through the Woods into Deep Water
Ditto. This record was great and if I made the list today, it would probably be higher than it is here.

17. Lord Fowl, Moon Queen
Didn’t I start this week off with Moon Queen? Well, I guess it’s pretty fresh on my mind.

16. Pallbearer, Sorrow and Extinction
I’ve seen them three times so far this year and they’ve delivered each time, but haven’t put on the album itself in a while. Still looking forward to new stuff though.

15. Kadavar, Kadavar
I think I’ve had more fascinating conversations about Kadavar than any other band in the last year. So many opinions, so widely varied. I dig the self-titled, will probably have the follow-up on my list at the end of 2013. Nuclear Blast needs to bring them over to tour, maybe opening for Witchcraft?

14. Stubb, Stubb
Yay fuzz! Catchy songs, easy formula, well structured and impeccably performed.My favorite straight-up heavy rock record of 2012.

13. Orange Goblin, A Eulogy for the Damned
Hard to fuck with these dudes. The production here was a presence, but the songs still hold up.

12. Ararat, II
No shit, I live in terror of having Ararat release their third album and missing it. Like all of a sudden the album will have been out for three months and I’d have no idea.

11. Ufomammut, Oro
Haven’t listened to Opus Primum or Opus Alter since. Can’t help but think if Oro was released as one record, I’d put it on from time to time.

10. Conan, Monnos
I put this in the top 10 for a reason. Because it’s fucking ridiculously heavy. I stand by my reasoning. Looking forward to their new one.

9. My Sleeping Karma, Soma
An album I couldn’t manage to put down even when I wanted to, and one I still pick up from time to time. Glad I finally gave in an bought a copy to get away from the shitty digital promo version.

8. Graveyard, Lights Out
Maybe I burnt myself out on this? I went on a binge after their show in January for a bit and then put Lights Out away and that was that.

7. Saint Vitus, Lillie: F-65
Every time I’m in a record store, flip through the Vitus selection and see my quote on the sticker on the front of the jewel case of Lillie: F-65, I feel like an entire decade of shitty career decisions is justified. No bullshit.

6. Ancestors, In Dreams and Time
Brilliant. Mostly brilliant for closer “First Light,” but that song was brilliant enough to get this spot on the list anyway.

5. High on Fire, De Vermis Mysteriis
Hard to argue with its intensity. Not much staying power as I would’ve thought, but god damn that’s a heavy record.

4. Neurosis, Honor Found in Decay
An overwhelming listen. I have to prepare my head for putting it on, but I continue to find it worth the effort.

3. Greenleaf, Nest of Vipers
It was the highlight of my year last year to see this material live. Greenleaf have a new lineup now and another album in the works, but if Nest of Vipersis how the last one was going out, they killed it.

2. Om, Advaitic Songs
Sometimes I fantasize about living in a temple where I wake up and Advaitic Songs is playing every day. That is 100 percent true.

1. Colour Haze, She Said
I’d probably listen to it even more if it was on one CD, but god damn, this record is amazing. Another one that’s kind of overwhelming, but it gets regular play as I expect it will continue to do into perpetuity.

All in all, pretty great year. Some stuff that’s fallen by the wayside, but a few landmarks as well that have carried over, and more importantly, some that seem like they’ll continue to carry over and grow in appeal as more time passes. Wight should’ve been higher on the list, but other than that, I’ll take it.

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High on Fire Spitting Fire Live Albums Coming June 18

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 29th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

I know some questions were going around regarding what happened to the live High on Fire recordings from New York last year. Well, the PR wire has the answer:

HIGH ON FIRE TO RELEASE TWO LIVE ALBUMS

Pre-Orders Available Now!

Bay area titans HIGH ON FIRE will release Spitting Fire” Volumes 1 & 2 on June 18th, 2013. The track list spans the course of the band’s history with hits like “Fertile Green,” “Frost Hammer” and “10,000 Years.”

“Spitting Fire” was recorded live in two marquee New York City venues; The Music Hall Of Williamsburg and The Bowery Ballroom. It was later mixed by Greg Wilkinson at Earhammer Studios in Oakland, CA with additional engineering by Kurt Ballou.

Multiple pre-order options are now available including limited edition vinyl bundles and iTunes .

High On Fire cannot be defined by their sound on tape alone. “Spitting Fire” is a vivid snapshot of the band’s massive sounding live show, which for fans who have yet to witness, are clearly missing out.

Volume 1.
1. Serums Of Liao
2. Frost Hammer
3. 10,000 Years
4. Devolution
5. Last
6. Fertile Green
7. Speedwolf

Volume 2.
1. Rumors Of War
2. DII
3. Fury Whip
4. Madness Of An Architect
5. Face Of Oblivion
6. Hung Drawn and Quartered
7. Blood From Zion
8. Snakes For The Divine

PRE ORDER ON ITUNES HERE:
SPITTING FIRE VOL. 1
SPITTING FIRE VOL. 2
PRE ORDER VINYL BUNDLES HERE

High on Fire, “Fertile Green” official video

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ROADBURN 2013 Day Three: Dead Roots Stirring

Posted in Features on April 20th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

04.21.13 — 00.25 — Sunday morning — Hotel Mercure, Tilburg

Before Black Magician went on at Het Patronaat to start off day three of Roadburn 2013 and the final day of the fest proper (the ceremonial Afterburner is tomorrow with two stages instead of four-plus), there was a showing of Costin Chioreanu‘s animated short film, Outside the Great Circle, which made its premiere earlier this weekend. The Romanian guitarist has played with a ton of bands and did the soundtrack for the film as well with help from Attila Csihar, whose vocals were immediately recognizable, and a host of others. Pretty heavy on the visual metaphors and there were a couple points where the digital animation style seemed awkward, but apparently it was Chioreanu‘s first time out as an animator, so I’m not about to rip on the effort.

If nothing else, it made the wait for Black Magician significantly less grueling than the one for Dread Sovereign was yesterday, though sleeping later also eased some of that burden. In any case, I was there in plenty of time to catch Black Magician‘s set, which followed in post-Cathedral suit with some of what Witchsorrow got up to last evening and had me once again thinking about what it is that makes British doom British and American doom American. One of these days I’m going to sit down with a piece of posterboard and a list of bands — Trouble and Death Row here, Cathedral and Pagan Altar there — and get it figured out. In any case, the Liverpudlian fivesome belted out weighted riffs and trudging nod, earning the support of both the UK contingent in the crowd, which was sizable, and the rest.

Their 2012 debut, Nature is the Devil’s Church, which I was hoping to buy but will have to pick up next week in London, was well represented, and frontman Liam Yates underscored the classic influences while prevalent organ — Matt Ford played on the album, presumably it was also him live — complemented Kyle Nesbitt‘s guitar and offered a distinguishing factor for the band. Yates is a charismatic presence up front. As they took the stage, he announced in no uncertain terms, “We are Black Magician and we play doom metal,” in the we-are-we-play Motörhead tradition, and before a new song which he dedicated to, “all you Catholics out there,” he announced that Black Magician‘s next release would be on Svart Records, so I guess congratulations are also in order, both to the band and to Shaman Recordings in getting their name out.

No shocker, they lived up to the “We play doom metal” promise, and though Nesbitt seemed less comfortable in the extended solo that started their final song, the extended “Chattox” that also closes the record, than he did while riffing out, they still came out of that long intro and crashed into the slowly unfolding verse unscathed. Over at the Main Stage of the 013, French post-black metal trailblazers Alcest were getting ready to go on. Fronted by 2013 artist-in-residence Neige, they also played in 2011 (review here), and put up a much, much better performance than I recall the last one being. Part of it has to be the fact that their 2012 third full-length, Les Voyages de l’Âme (review here), was superb — I mean that — and gave Neige a little more space to change things up, adding screams on “Là Où Naissent les Couleurs Nouvelles” while also generally sounding like a stronger singer as well.

Backing him was the same second guitarist/vocalist who had been with Les Discrets alongside Fursy Teyssier while Neige played bass, and here as with the other act, he also added a lot to the lush melodies. Drummer Winterhalter set up on the side of the stage and had a laptop open for the synth parts and other ambient whathaveyous — it was, I believe, the first laptop I’ve seen all weekend — and it was put to good use on “Beings of Light” from Les Voyages and its memorable bookends, opener “Autre Temps” and closer “Summer’s Glory.” Perhaps most impressive of all, Alcest managed both to capture the serene melodic wash of their studio output and still give an engaging live show, striking a difficult balance and providing a sound follow-up/answer-back to Les Discrets‘ set at Het Patronaat. They were an unexpected highlight of the day.

While they played, Camera were getting ready to go on over in the Green Room. I only watched a couple minutes through the door, and though they had a laptop, they put it to much different use, setting a space-jammy tone and fleshing it out via personal computing. I’d get my fix of cosmic improv later with The Cosmic Dead and Endless Boogie, so I jive-turkeyed my way into Stage01 for the first time of the whole fest, managing to get in just after Raketkanon finished in order to see Texas fuzzers Wo Fat. Of everything that Roadburn 2013 has had to offer over the last three days, the balls-out stoner rock contingent has been relatively quiet (though I hear good things about Candybar Planet) in favor of doom, heavy psych, black metal and that specific kind of “other” that has become Roadburn‘s bread and butter these last few years, so I knew there was going to be a good crowd for Wo Fat, who rose to the challenge and dug right into the dirt with the title-track of last year’s excellent fourth album, The Black Code (review here), well representing their home state, American heavy rock, and well-spirited riffage. I can’t speak for everyone, but for my tired ass, they were an existential tonic. A pick-me-up like the espresso I’d soon grab from the machine in the merch area.

The three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer/backing vocalist Michael Walter didn’t exactly shy away from jamming on The Black Code, and their set followed a similar ethic, Stump taking extended solos while Wilson absolutely nailed the grooves underlying and Walter held all the pieces together. They were glad to be there, everyone seemed to be glad they were there — it was awesome. I immediately had “The Black Code” stuck in my head and figured that if I had to spend the rest of the night with that groove on mental jukebox perma-repeat, I had no problem with that. “Descent into the Maelstrom” from 2011′s Noche del Chupacabra was preceded by “Hurt at Gone,” which featured a few highlight leads, and they rounded out with the last two tracks from the latest LP, “The Shard of Leng” and “Sleep of the Black Lotus,” which meant they played the whole record, just not in order, plus “Descent into the Maelstrom” and “Enter the Riffian,” from 2009′s Psychedelonaut. This being their first European tour, and first real tour in general unless they went to Japan without telling anybody, I wouldn’t be surprised if they come out of it a much tighter, different band than they came into it. Clearly they were relishing every second of the Roadburn experience.

And while I watched them, so was I. I felt refreshed on my way to see Victor Griffin’s In~Graved in the Green Room, making sure to get there in plenty of time to get up front. Griffin, of course, is American doom nobility as much as anyone can be, with a pedigree that traces back through Place of Skulls to Pentagram to Death Row, but as he’s joined in In~Graved by bassist Guy Pinhas (Goatsnake, The Obsessed, etc.), keyboardist Jeff “Oly” Olson (former Trouble drummer) and drummer “Minnesota” Pete Campbell (Sixty Watt Shaman and Place of Skulls, among others), it’s something of a supergroup. Their recently-released self-titled debut (review here) for sure is Griffin doing what he does best, singing and playing guitar with his unmistakable tone and professing his faith in song. He was in his element at Roadburn 2013, and said it was good to be back. I saw him here in 2010 with Death Row reunion and again in 2011 with Pentagram, and he’s got his thing and it works well for him. He led In~Graved in such a manner as to be fitting of having his name in front.

“Digital Critic,” which also started the record, opened. My issues with the subject matter notwithstanding (because if anyone needs a good shitting on, it’s bloggers; actually, if the song was about poor syntax and needless hyperbole, I’d be down with it), they were tight, and “What If” followed, immediately establishing the dynamic of the band, with Olson‘s keys playing a major role in enriching the melodies and underscoring the grooves of Griffin‘s riffs. It seemed to me that’s where the real potential for In~Graved lies. Here Victor Griffin has this awesome band that’s out on tour. Pinhas on bass is a rhythm section unto himself, and he and Campbell were locked in from the first note, so what I’m left wondering about In~Graved is what happens next? Where do they go from here? Is it a real band or a Griffin project with a revolving door membership? Seems to me that this lineup could yield some fantastic material if they wrote together. I don’t know how feasible that is — last I heard, Pinhas lived in California, and everyone involved seems to have plenty going on besides, so scheduling could be a nightmare — but they had potential to be a real band and not just a touring lineup. We live in a universe of infinite possibility. Maybe it’ll happen, maybe they’ll do this European tour and never speak again. Who knows.

High on Fire delivered their second set of the weekend on the Main Stage. Thursday night’s headlining slot was Art of Self Defense-only, so this one replied with selections from the rest of the trio’s catalog, launching with the rush of De Vermis Mysteriis opener “Serums of Laio” and weaving a vicious blood trail through material from Surrounded by Thieves on, cuts like “Devilution,” “Frost Hammer” (Jeff Matz joining Matt Pike on vocals), “Rumors of War,” “Madness of an Architect” and “Eyes and Teeth” melding together in a career-spanning sampler that may have been missing the first album’s highlights, but in the context of the other spot still made sense. It hadn’t been that long since I had seen them do most of this material, late last year in Philly, but they never disappoint live and this was no exception. Who could complain about two High on Fire sets in one weekend? Not me, not this weekend, though I knew with Elder still to come there was much more of the day to be had, and so I took a quick break for dinner — fish, rice, salad — and to pick up some Cosmic Dead tapes from the merch area. More espresso was the right choice as well.

I sat outside Het Patronaat for a few minutes to get caught up on my notes and drink said coffee in the fresh air — actually it kind of smelled like old potatoes, but that’s still fresher than inside — but wound up going in to see a bit of UK black metal progressives A Forest of Stars, who wound up being probably the most elaborate act of the whole fest, between the double-guitars, violin, flute, keys, extra percussion, ebow, multiple vocalists, shirts and ties, and so on. It was a far cry from High on Fire, to be sure, as screamer Dan Eyre stood almost perfectly still to seethe when he had a break as the band around him continued their well-received onslaught. The people there knew who they were — Roadburn‘s a pretty hip crowd anyway — but I didn’t, so for just being something different, it was exciting even though what they were doing, black metal tinged with psych and folk influences, isn’t really where my head is at. Very atmospheric, very complex, very intense, mixing clean vocals and screams and everything else. I can’t imagine getting seven people to agree on anything, let alone be in a band, so kudos are in order.

The reason I was there, though, was for Elder, who played next. What a fucking blast. Seriously. That’s what it says in my notes: “What a fucking blast.” It’s a direct quote. Probably the best thing I can compare it to is when Black Pyramid played the Afterburner in 2011 and were given such a warm reception, but this was bigger, both in room size and in that reception itself. Similar to Goat last night, people were lined up out the door and down the alley to see Elder‘s Roadburn debut, and the crowd was cheering before they even started the first song. They waved and people cheered. It was a lot of fun to see, and as it was the 10th show on their 15-date European run with Pet the Preacher (who played earlier at another club down the way as a kind of annex to the festival), they also handed the place its collective ass. Both cuts from the Spires Burn/Release EP were included, as well as “Dead Roots Stirring” and a host of others, and for the umpteenth time in the last couple days, I felt lucky to be there. I know for a lot of people, this was the first time they’re getting to see them live, but even for the several times I have, this one was something special. I’ve got my train booked to London in time to see them in Camden Town on Monday. Fingers crossed it actually works out.

My thought was to catch Mr. Peter Hayden at Stage01, but didn’t get there in time and so missed it. Drowned my sorrows instead in a few Electric Moon CDs — there are so many! — and ran back to drop them off at the hotel before heading back to the Main Stage for Godflesh. While I’m feeling lucky, I felt lucky to see Godflesh do Streetcleaner front-to-back two years ago, so I guess I’m twice-over lucky as regards the seminal Justin Broadrick-led outfit for having now seen them do 1992′s sophomore full-length, Pure, as well. If it comes to it, I wouldn’t object if Broadrick and bassist B.C. Green wanted to go year-by-year through the whole catalog and wind up at 2001′s Hymns, but I doubt it will come to that. I had been wondering whatever became of the new record he alluded to when interviewed here for the last Jesu full-length, but nobody seemed to mind a roll through Pure — at least I didn’t hear any groans, “Oh, this again,” and so on — and from the sheer damage that material can inflict, it’s no real wonder why. Apparently one of the byproducts of being so ahead of your time is that later on your output is still vital. Go figure.

Now, I’m not going to claim to be the biggest Godflesh fan in the world. To me, they’re a band I’ve appreciated more in hindsight — hearing their records years after the fact and recognizing the parts that others have ripped off; there’s no shortage — but I don’t honestly think they would’ve worked as anything but the headliner for this final night of Roadburn. The energy and the volume they bring, Broadrick, Green and the drum machine, didn’t really leave room to be built upon. Robert Hampson, who played on Pure and the preceding 1991 Cold World EP following the dissolution of his band Loop that year and who also did a solo set on Thursday, joined them on second guitar, so that the three were spread out across the stage, Broadrick on the right, Green on the left and Hampson in the middle.

It only got louder and more pulsating from there. I made my way over to Stage01 to watch some of Mr. Peter Hayden through the open door — I had really wanted to see them — and even then, the sounds I was getting was a mixture of their heavy-as-hell psych freakout and Godflesh‘s dissatisfied industrial frustrations. Figuring that I was going to want to work my way up anyway for The Cosmic Dead‘s 23.15 start, I started through the crowd as Mr. Peter Hayden did a sort of space rocking baptism rite on the front row that involved a tinfoil-covered hand. Seemed like a great set, and it certainly ended riotous enough, but having missed them, there was no way I was letting The Cosmic Dead go unseen. I got to the front of the stage just in time to see Mr. Peter Hayden sell a DVD to the dude standing next to me for 10 Euro that I’m pretty sure was the visuals that were playing behind them and not, as I’m relatively sure this guy thought it was, a live video of what they’d just played. The day had been long for everyone.

But The Cosmic Dead were something of an arrival for me. You see, I knew this day was going to end jammy and spaced out, and so when I got up front at Stage01, it was the proverbial home stretch. My feet were sore, my back was sore, I smelled like other people’s smoke and the fish I ate for dinner, but dammit, I wanted to see the Scottish band bring their heavy space to life. I didn’t have much time, because New York’s Endless Boogie were going on the Main Stage at 23.50, but I’d get in what I could. This was fine until The Cosmic Dead made it apparent they were running on SRT (“stoner rock time”). They started closer to 23.30, which meant I had all of five minutes before I had to head out and see the last band. In my head, the voice of Lana from Archer made a “womp womp” noise, though what I saw of The Cosmic Dead was right on. The bassist set up facing away from the audience, and they were so densely fogged up from the smoke machine that one almost had to take the sound’s word for it that they were there in the first place, but they made it known that they’re in it for the jams. What little I got to see was a boon.

Earlier in the day, I was asked why I wouldn’t just go see Endless Boogie in New York. They’re from New York and I live in New Jersey, about an hour away. It makes sense. Well, the thing is some of the shows they play in New York are terrible, and I get bummed out at terrible shows. If you’re ever going to see a band live, no matter who they are or what they do, in my experience, there’s no better place to see them than at Roadburn. I’ve seen some awesome shit in my day, and when it came to me and Endless Boogie, I knew that if I was gonna run into their low-end moody improv, this was how I wanted it to happen. Asphyx were playing at Het Patronaat, but I didn’t care. I watched guitarist/vocalist Paul “Top Dollar” Major preach impromptu about whatever the hell he felt like while Endless Boogie smoothed their way into an all-flavor/no-filler groove that I think was loosely based on one of the cuts from this year’s Long Island (review here) but ultimately headed somewhere else.

The same could be said for me. I’d stayed later than the last two nights to at least get a glimpse of The Cosmic Dead and Endless Boogie, but with this ahead of me, I knew my time was limited and that I needed to get back to the hotel and start with the clacky-clacky. Tomorrow is the Afterburner — like Roadburn‘s (relatively) laid back way of transitioning its audience back into real life. There’s always a cool vibe throughout the day and from Sigh and Nihil to Golden Void and Electric Moon, I’m sure tomorrow will be no exception. First though, sleep. I lost track this morning of what day it actually was and started doing work that needed to be in by Monday — and post time after sorting through the 80 pics with this post is 06.30; I have not slept — so maybe I’m a little frayed, but nothing I’ve thus far encountered has made me regret any of this.

Thanks all for reading. More pics after the jump.

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ROADBURN 2013 Day One: Shore to Cursed Shore

Posted in Features on April 18th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

04.19.13 — 00.17 — Friday morning — Hotel Mercure, Tilburg

I was early to the Green Room, which is the middle-sized space at the 013. The first band on for Roadburn 2013 would be Black Bombaim, and if you’ve been here before, you know the crowds are serious and that if you’re not careful, you can wind up watching an act through an open doorway — which also happened to me more than once throughout the course of the evening. Plenty on time to see Black Bombaim, though, and no regrets for taking the head-first dive into jamming European heavy psychedelia, instrumental meandering to the cosmos. Man, all of a sudden it was a hell of an afternoon.

They were, as was somewhat expected, blissed right out, all-natural, all-jam, immediate swirl. The day had other starts on other stages, but for me, this was what it was about. I was stocked to watch them after digging last year’s Titans and 2010′s Saturdays and Space Travels (review here), and Tojo‘s bass tone served as an immediate reminder of why I can’t get enough of this kind of thing. Warm, grooving and perfectly suited to the band’s extended wandering progressions, I couldn’t have asked for more than I got as a way to kick off this year’s Roadburn. Watching guitarist Ricardo signal changes to drummer Senra, the whole thing had a very organic, very spontaneous vibe, and that’s just what you want. The first song was a little rough, but after that, they settled into a solid groove and stayed there.

Today was a fair amount of running around — less than some, more than others. Pallbearer were on the Main Stage shortly, and after the heavy dose of salivating they got in the US last time I saw them in New York with Enslaved (whose own Grutle Kjellson was kicking around here at some point today, seemingly just to hang out and why not?), I was curious to see how the Euro crowd would respond. Answer: Much the same. I knew what to expect in terms of performance, as it wasn’t that long since I last saw the band, but they still didn’t disappoint, and thinking about it in hindsight after seeing them on this stage, which is sizable to say the least, they were cramped at Bowery Ballroom. Tonally and in terms of presence, they more than held their own as a main stage act, which for only having one record out is all the more exciting.

Most of what they played I recognized from that record, early 2012′s Sorrow and Extinction (review here), and seeing them again, it was easier to get a sense of the four-piece’s live dynamic, Brett Campbell holding down the drama on guitar and vocals while bassist Joseph D. Rowland and guitarist Devin Holt bang their heads like they’re trying to get them to come off on the other side of the stage, and behind, drummer Mark Lierly steadily holding songs together and adapting fluidly to what would otherwise be stark tempo changes. The contrast of Rowland and Holt to Campbell is striking, but it makes Pallbearer a richer experience to watch. They’ve certainly had no shortage of hype around them since cropping up, but whatever else you might say about them and however loudly or emphatically you might say it, they’re well on their way to becoming a really great live act. Hopefully they continue to tour and carve out their sound and chemistry on the road.

Now, at every Roadburn, you’re going to see some things that you’ve never seen before and you’ll probably never see again. And even the stuff you have seen before — like tonight’s headliners, Primordial, for example, who came though NYC years back on the first Paganfest — is special here. Bands play better, play different material, and for an American coming over, it’s a chance to see European acts who probably aren’t going to be touring the States anytime soon. I say this so you understand why I left Pallbearer to go back and watch more of Black Bombaim. Since there’s so much going on at every fest, sometimes you have to make hard choices, and I almost always try to lean toward that which I’m less likely to run into later on or that which I’ve never seen before.

However, the Green Room was full to capacity and then some, so I wound up standing in the hallway in a cluster of people to watch for a couple minutes and then hit up the merch area across the way. I’d figured on picking up some discs and was pleased to find a host of Nasoni stuff again at the Exile on Mainstream table, including Johnson Noise and Vibravoid, as well as Burning World Records discs from The Angelic Process and Slomatics. Later on, I’d roll back through and grab more CDs from Svart and finally get a copy of The Midnight Ghost Train‘s Buffalo (review here) on CD. It wasn’t long though before I had to be back at the Main Stage for the start of Penance. Vocalist Lee Smith prefaced their set by saying it was the first time they’d played together since 1993, which math tells me was 20 years ago.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Butch Balich-era Penance a lot. I thought Spiritualnatural was a killer record and Proving Ground still kicks my ass on occasion, but 1994′s Parallel Corners, with the lineup of Smith on vocals, guitarist Terry Weston, bassist Rich Freund and drummer Mike Smail has to be their high-point. The Pittsburgh natives resided at exactly the juncture where doom becomes metal, and with a riffy looseness and ultra-straightforward Sabbath-loving ethic, cuts like “Crosses” and “Words Not Deeds” brought out more than a fair share of righteous grooves. Both of those were standouts of their set — “Crosses” I took as a personal favor though I’m sure it wasn’t one — though long breaks between songs and surprisingly quiet banter from Smith seemed to undercut the momentum their riffs were building when they were actually playing, so it was hard for them to get on a roll.

No-frills trad doom, Penance nonetheless got their point across in beefy riffs utterly lacking in pretense. I checked in on Blues Pills in the Green Room from the hallway, and they seemed to be holding it down with no trouble, so I wandered back into the Main Stage area in time to catch “Words Not Deeds” round out the Penance set. From there, it was back to the Green Room to catch Pilgrim, who started early following a guitar and bass classic rocking-type jam during the setup that I’d be interested to hear them take elements from for their next album, which reportedly is in the works. They played new material and cuts from 2012′s Misery Wizard debut like the immediately recognizable lumber of opener “Astaroth,” and not at all surprisingly, had the Green Room packed out the door. I don’t know if the Rhode Island trio are friends with the dudes in Pallbearer or what, but that’s a tour that should probably happen at some point. I’ve seen Pilgrim four times now since they put out that album, and they’ve only gotten stronger as a live act.

Though, to be fair, they did seem a little amped up at the start of their set, but the muscle memory kicked in before they were through the first song — you could actually see it — and they were locked in thereafter. I took pictures and then started to make my way through the crowd to watch from the back, and before I knew it, had kind of a, “Well shit, now what?” moment when the only place to be was outside the room. The answer to that question was “dinner.” I started to head out and get something to eat on the quick when I saw Gravetemple were just getting ready to hit the Main Stage for their start. With a lineup of a pedigree like that of Stephen O’Malley, Oren Ambarchi and Attila Csihar, popping my head in seemed like the least I could do on my way by. Csihar stood in front of a table of who knows what kind of manipulation devices, while O’Malley and Ambarchi came in soon enough on drone guitar. It was super-artsy in that particularly O’Malley kind of way, a different take on some of SunnO)))‘s atmospheres with Csihar‘s vocals providing a distinguishing element along the way. I dug it, but time was a factor, so I moved on to get a bite to eat.

Wound up with some salad, fish and plain pasta which I mixed in with the greens and the dill dressing. It was the first thing I’ve really eaten since I got on the plane that wasn’t a protein bar, and — here’s something that’s not at all shocking — I felt much better afterwards. My brain was like, “Dude, you’re the worst at life. You probably should’ve had a meal yesterday, jerk,” and I tried to argue back but there’s really no talking to that guy, so whatever. The salad was glorious in context for being just an ordinary salad, and though I got a piece of clam stuck in my tooth, the mixed fish was most welcome too. Nothing like actual protein drawing a direct comparison to the would be substitutes for it. By the time I was done, I felt like someone had just given me a piece of particleboard with macaroni glued onto it in the shape of the cover to Volume 4, and by that I mean ready to take on the world. This was fortunate, because High on Fire were getting ready to go on the Main Stage and play The Art of Self Defense front to back.

Or maybe they weren’t getting ready. They kind of took their time coming out from the back, but with a backdrop behind them modified from the album’s original cover from its 2000 release on Man’s Ruin, High on Fire stormed — what else would they do, really? — through the riffy sludge of their first record in a manner befitting its grooving bombast. “10,000 Years” and “Blood from Zion” still feature in their set on the regular (they were aired when I saw the band in Philly late last year), but to get a song like “Fireface” out and have bassist Jeff Matz start off its viscous slog, it was a treat the three-piece seemed to enjoy as well, guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike cutting smiles every now and again between solos and the galloping riffs that started it all for the band. Tucked away in the back, drummer Des Kensel punctuated the stomp of “Last” and “Master of Fists” made for a suitably riotous finish, deconstructing at the end to leads and noise.

But they weren’t done. The bonus tracks from the 2001 Tee Pee Records reissue were also included, including the punkish rush of “Steel Shoe” and the Celtic Frost cover “The Usurper,” which Pike called the encore before they started. The room was the most packed out I’d see it the whole day, and it was the first complete set I watched. Elsewhere, other bands were playing, other special gigs taking place, but how could I not watch High on Fire do The Art of Self Defense? In reception, the crowd was unanimous in fervent approval — heads banged, fists pumped, madmen shouted along to Pike‘s long-heralded battle cries — and particularly as the last High on Fire studio outing, De Vermis Mysteriis (review here) was so crisp and tight, it was striking to hear them take on the earlier material. Almost like they were letting their hair down a bit, though as anyone who heard that record can tell you, they’ve hardly lost their edge in the decade-plus since the first record came out.

Rounding out with “The Usurper,” High on Fire still finished early, a good 15 minutes before their scheduled end. I guess there’s only so much album to play. Fair enough. I took notes in my fancypants license place notebook and went back to the merch to pick up some more of the aforementioned odds and ends, and then headed back to the big room in plenty of time for the start of Primordial, who if nothing else were the most thoroughly fronted act I’ve seen so far. The Irish double-guitar five-piece were helmed by vocalist Alan “Nemtheanga” Averill, who came out with a bottle of Jameson and a bottle of wine and was through the better part of both by the time their 90 minutes were done, and from his stage makeup — that’s not to say corpsepaint, because it wasn’t really corpsepaint — and costuming to his intense on-stage persona, Averill positively owned the 013. I saw Primordial years back when they came through New York on the PaganFest tour (it was a lot of glockenspiels to get to a Primordial set, but worth it), so I knew just how much of a factor the performance element was, but like many before him, the singer stepped up his game to match the occasion, and in a space so large, it was an impressive feat of showmanship.

He also noted more than once from the stage that it was the band’s first time playing Roadburn, and made it clear he felt they were overdue in this — provocateur, I suppose, could be part of the role, but either way — and I wondered if perhaps he was putting in a bid for curator next year. That would assure Pilgrim a return slot (Averill released Pilgrim‘s Misery Wizard via his Poison Tongue imprint through Metal Blade Records), and I wouldn’t mind seeing them take on 2007′s To the Nameless Dead in its entirety, were it in the offing. His other band, the nascent and doomier Dread Sovereign, also play tomorrow, so there’s room to work with, I guess. In the meantime, this set touched on To the Nameless Dead and several others in Primordial‘s seven-album discography, beginning with “No Grave Deep Enough” from 2011′s Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand (review here) and spanning genres as much as full-lengths, running from post-black metal to Celtic-inspired progressions and keeping at times a doomly edge, particularly on newer material like “The Mouth of Judas” or “Cities Carved in Stone,” which closed 2005′s The Gathering Wilderness.

That LP’s title-track and “The Coffin Ships” also featured, the latter penultimate to To the Nameless Dead opener “Empire Falls,” with which they closed. In introducing “The Coffin Ships,” Averill mentioned it was about the Irish famine in the 1800s, and said they were bringing a bit of their history and culture to the here and now. By all accounts I’ve seen, he does seem to think of Primordial‘s music as a sort of ambassadorship — they were very much representing the Republic of Ireland on stage — and though I wondered if maybe there was anyone in the audience who hadn’t already heard of the famine, the song left little to want. Averill had slowed some by then, less foot on the monitor, less back and forth from one end of the stage to the other, tossing around the mic stand, calling everyone present including the band lazy cunts, and so on, but revived with “Empire Falls,” letting adrenaline carry him through the end of the set as he got on his knees and shouted the chorus at the somewhat-dwindled but still strong crowd, who were only too glad to return the favor.

So the headliners were done, but the night still had its closing acts to go. Averill had plugged fellow Irishmen Mourning Beloveth‘s set at Het Patronaat a couple times, and former Hawkwind/Meads of Asphodel bassist Alan Davey was doing Space Ritual in full on the Main Stage, but what I really wanted to see was The Midnight Ghost Train, who were playing at Stage01, formerly known as the Bat Cave, the smallest of the three rooms at the 013. It was full by the time I walked over, and I probably could’ve stood there and gotten bumped into again, and again, and again, but after 16 or 17 times, I started to get claustrophobic and had to get out. Much to my surprise, the band followed not long behind me.

Guitarist/vocalist Steve Moss, drummer Brandon Burghart and yet another new bassist walked through the crowd and out of the room. From my spot in the back, I got to say hi to both, and Burghart explained they were doing a stagger-on, one member at a time. Moss had left his guitar feeding back, so there was a steady hum, and I suppose walking back through the audience (no backstage to come out from) there was something of a delay, so that went long, but once their crazed, blues-infused rock got going, the full room of people there to see them had no trouble getting on board for the wild shuffling riffs and Moss‘ throaty vocals. From Kansas to Roadburn. They’re always a lot of fun to watch, and in Tilburg was no exception.

I stayed and got bumped into a few more times and then decided to check out a couple minutes of The Psychedelic Warlords, who were just getting ready for launch at the time. Space rock, man. It sure is spacious. They pulled a good crowd as well of loyal lysergeons and Davey, along with a full lineup of keys, guitar, vocals, drums and sax, were in the process of giving Space Ritual its due. By that point, the “get back to the hotel and start writing” urge was coming on pretty strong, and I didn’t resist. Outside, people sat at the picnic tables (new this year) or ate grub from the outside food stand (also new this year and just closing as I walked by) and smoked whatever they may have felt like smoking. Needless to say, Weirdo Canyon was also abuzz.

Jus Oborn and Liz Buckingham of Electric Wizard were also hanging around the 013 lobby. The band curated tomorrow’s lineup under the heading of “The Electric Acid Orgy,” which one can only imagine will leave but a modicum of survivors. Looking forward.

Extra pics after the jump and more to come tomorrow. Thanks for reading.

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High on Fire Join Lineup for Metal Alliance Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 2nd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Sometimes it feels like every other post around here is about Matt Pike, but what can I say? The dude makes news as much as he makes noise. Fresh off coming in second in The Obelisk’s Readers Poll for 2012, High on Fire have been announced as taking part in this year’s Metal Alliance (aka Metalliance) tour, set to run from March 23 to April 20.

And it’s not so much the fact that they’re on the tour that makes it news, so much as the company they’re keeping. I know High on Fire and Municipal Waste have done shows together in the past, but it puts the Oakland trio in a way thrashier context to have them alongside Anthrax doing all of Among the Living and Exodus on Metalliance. They’ve already long since won over lovers of the riff, so it should be interesting to see how they do with a more straightforwardly metal crowd.

Here’s the info and dates, hot off the PR wire:

High On Fire Join The Metal Alliance Tour

The Metal Alliance Tour is back and now has added the mighty HIGH ON FIRE to its already impressive Festival line up. The band has just completed their own very successful headlining tour with GOATWHORE and LO-PAN. Their latest release De Vermis Mysteriis by eOne Entertainment was garnered as one of the Best Metal Records of 2012 and winning the Revolver Magazine Best Video of 2012.

You can check out the mini-masterpiece of psychedelic Sci-Fi “Fertile Green” video at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fq1gb50iobU

The Metal Alliance Tour is scheduled to roll out in March and continue through April. It features the greatest bands within the genre including ANTHRAX performing their fan favorite 1987 classic Among The Living in its entirety along with San Francisco thrash legends EXODUS, HIGH ON FIRE, MUNICIPAL WASTE and HOLY GRAIL. This is a tour will go down as one of the greatest shows to hit the stage.

General Admission Tickets will be available on January 11th but fans can now order their VIP Tickets. There are only 50 VIP Tickets per market and will quickly sell out. Each VIP Ticket will include the following items:

General Admission Ticket
Meet & Greet 30 Minutes Before Doors
Limited Edition VIP Laminate
Limited Edition 11 x 17 Tour Poster
Metal Alliance Beer Koozie
Bottle of High River Sauce’s Hellacious Hot Sauce (The Official Hot Sauce of The Metal Alliance Tour)
Issue of Revolver Magazine

You can now purchase the VIP Tickets from our friends at Sound Rink: http://www.soundrink.com/collections/metal-alliance

Sharing the stage each night and crushing heads on the Metal Alliance Tour will be San Francisco thrash legends EXODUS, MUNICIPAL WASTE, HOLY GRAIL and a couple of additional bands will be announce at a later date.

3/23 House of Blues Las Vegas, NV
3/24 Marquee Theatre Tempe, AZ
3/25 House of Blues San Diego, CA
3/27 House of Blues West Hollywood, CA
3/28 Regency Ballroom San Francisco, CA
3/29 The Crystal Ballroom Portland, OR
3/30 Commodore Ballroom Vancouver, BC
3/31 Showbox SoDo Seattle, WA
4/2 Summit Music Hall Denver, CO
4/4 First Avenue Minneapolis, MN
4/5 House of Blues Chicago, IL
4/6 The Fillmore Detroit Detroit, MI
4/7 Bogarts Cincinnati, OH
4/9 House of Blues Dallas, TX
4/10 House of Blues Houston, TX
4/12 House of Blues Lake Buena Vista, FL
4/13 Tremont Music Hall Charlotte, NC
4/14 The Fillmore Silver Spring, MD
4/16 House of Blues Cleveland, OH
4/18 Theatre of the Living Arts Philadelphia, PA
4/20 Irving Plaza New York, NY

You miss this you miss it all.

For more information please visit the Metal Alliance Tour website: http://metalalliancetour.com

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Readers Poll Results: The Top 20 of 2012

Posted in Features on January 1st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Happy New Year to everyone around the world. It’s January 1, 2013, and to celebrate the New Year the best way I know how, I got right to work on tabulating the results of the 2012 Readers Poll. I’ve been tracking the results as they’ve come in over the course of December, and as you can see in the list below, it was a tight race for the top spot right up to the end.

Before we run down the finished list, I want to extend gratitude to each and every one of the 296 people who contributed their top 12 so this list could be put together. It’s an amazing response and I was super stoked that so many of you were able to take part. Thank you for that. Right from the first day the form went up, I knew this was going to be awesome, and it wound up exceeding my every expectation. It was a great sendoff to the year. Much appreciated.

Here are the results of the Top 20 of 2012 Readers Poll:

1. Om, Advaitic Songs – 108 votes

2. High on Fire, De Vermis Mysteriis – 106

3. Graveyard, Lights Out – 86

4. Neurosis, Honor Found in Decay – 65

5. Ufomammut, Oro – 63

5. Witchcraft, Legend – 63

6. Colour Haze, She Said – 56

6. Saint Vitus, Lillie: F-65 – 56

7. Kadavar, Kadavar – 49

7. Pallbearer, Sorrow and Extinction – 49

8. Orange Goblin, A Eulogy for the Damned – 46

9. Baroness, Yellow and Green – 39

10. Conan, Monnos – 38

11. Swans, The Seer – 35

12. Astra, The Black Chord – 31

13. Greenleaf, Nest of Vipers – 31

13. The Sword, Apocryphon – 31

14. Royal Thunder, CVI – 26

14. Wo Fat, The Black Code – 26

15. Ancestors, In Dreams and Time – 25

16. Torche, Harmonicraft – 23

17. Corrosion of Conformity, Corrosion of Conformity – 22

18. Enslaved, Riitiir – 19

19. Goat, World Music – 18

19. Melvins Lite, Freak Puke – 18

19. Soundgarden, King Animal – 18

20. Amenra, Mass V – 17

20. Samothrace, Reverence to Stone – 17

16 Votes

Witch Mountain, Cauldron of the Wild
Rush, Clockwork Angels
Stoned Jesus, Seven Thunders Roar
Troubled Horse, Step Inside

15 Votes

Converge, All We Love We Leave Behind – 15
Mighty High, Legalize Tre Bags – 15
My Sleeping Karma, Soma – 15

Pretty wild to have Om and High on Fire so close, and they were tied for a long, long time, but Om retained an early lead and managed to pull it out in the end. As you can see, there were a number of releases that tied with others for their position. Seemed only fair to me to include all of them, and I also threw in those with 16 and 15 votes as well, just because it was close. In total, there were an astounding 1,200+ albums entered into consideration.

Once again, thanks to everyone for making this Readers Poll happen and for taking the time to be a part of it. Already looking forward to some fantastic things to come in 2013, so please stay tuned and keep your lists handy.

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The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 of 2012

Posted in Features on December 20th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Please note: This list is my personal picks, not the Readers Poll, which is ongoing — if you haven’t added your list yet, please do.

As ever, I’ve kept a Post-It note on my wall all year long, and as the weeks and months have ticked away, I’ve added names of bands to it in preparation for putting together my Top 20 of 2012. There was a glut of excellent material this year, and I know for a fact I didn’t hear everything, but from bold forays into new sonic territory to triumphant returns to startling debuts, 2012 simply astounded. Even as I type this, I’m getting emails about new, exciting releases. It’s enough to make you lose your breath.

Before we get down to it and start in with the numbers, the hyperbole, etc., I want to underscore the point that this list is mine. I made it. It’s not the Readers Poll results, which will be out early in January. It’s based on how I hear things, how much I listened to each of these records, the impressions they left on me — critical opinion enters into it, because whether or not I want to I can’t help but consider things on that level when I listen to a new album these days — but it’s just as much about what I put on when I wanted to hear a band kick ass as it is about which records carried the most critical significance or import within their respective genres.

With that caveat in mind, let’s do this thing:

20. Mos Generator, Nomads

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Sept. 7

Over the last couple years, I’ve come to think of the #20 spot as where I put my sentimental favorite. That was the case with Suplecs last year, and in 2012, the return of Mos Generator earns the spot. The band being led by guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed, Nomads marked a rehifting of Reed‘s priorities from Stone Axe, with whom he’d proffered ’70s worship for several years prior, and wound up as a collection of some of my favorite heavy rock songs of 2012 — tracks like “Cosmic Ark,” “Torches” and “Lonely One Kenobi” were as strong in their hooks as they were thorough in their lack of pretense. But the bottom line is I’m a nerd for Reed‘s songwriting, playing and production (more on that to come), and at this point it’s not really something I can even pretend to judge impartially. Still, the record’s friggin’ awesome and you should hear it as soon as you can.

19. Golden Void, Golden Void

Released by Thrill Jockey. Reviewed Nov. 20.

Seems like it would make sense to say Golden Void would be higher on the list if I’d spent more time with it — written up just a month ago, it’s the most recent review here — but the fact is I’ve sat with Golden Void‘s self-titled debut a lot over the course of the last month-plus, and I’ve been digging the hell out of it. Really, the only reason it’s not further up is because I don’t feel like I have distance enough from it to judge how it holds up over a longer haul, but either way, the Isaiah Mitchell-led outfit’s blend of heavy psych, driving classic rock and retro style gave some hope for beefing up the US’ take on ’70s swagger — usually left to indie bands who, well, suck at it — and also showed Mitchell as a more than capable vocalist where those who knew him from his work in Earthless may only have experienced his instrumental side. A stellar debut, a wonderful surprise, and a band I can’t wait to hear more from in the years to come.

18. Wight, Through the Woods into Deep Water

Released by Fat & Holy/Bilocation. Reviewed Aug. 3.

This was basically the soundtrack to my summer. From the catch-you-off-guard aggression in opener “I Spit on Your Grave” to the extended stoneralia of “Master of Nuggets” and the jammy “Southern Comfort and Northern Lights,” the follow-up to Wight‘s self-produced debut Wight Weedy Wight (review here) showed an astonishing amount of growth, and though it had the laid back, loose feel that distinguishes the best of current European heavy psych, Through the Woods into Deep Water was also coherent, cohesive and impeccably structured. I thought it was one of the year’s strongest albums when it was released, and its appeal has only endured — as much as I listened to it when it was warm over the summer, now in December I put it on wishing the temperature would change to match. The songs showed remarkable potential from the German three-piece and cast them in an entirely different light than did their first out. Really looking forward to where they might go from here, but in the meantime, I’m nowhere near done with Through the Woods into Deep Water yet.

17. Lord Fowl, Moon Queen

Released by Small Stone. Reviewed Aug. 29.

“Oh, Moon Queen! Flyin’ down the world on a moonbeam!” Somehow the first lines of the opening title-track to Lord Fowl‘s Moon Queen always seem to wind up stuck in my head. The Connecticut foursome made their debut on Small Stone with the loosely thematic full-length, and touched on a sense of unabashedly grandiose ’70s heavy rock in the process. That said, Moon Queen wasn’t shooting for retro in the slightest — rather, guitarist/vocalists Vechel Jaynes and Mike Pellegrino fronted the band’s classic sensibilities with a wholly modern edge, like something out of an alternate dimension where rock never started to suck. The classic metal guitar in “Streets of Evermore” and the swaying groove from bassist Jon Conine and drummer Don Freeman under the wandering leads of “Hollow Horn” made Moon Queen more stylistically diverse than it might otherwise have been, but at its core, it was a collection of stellar heavy rock songs, unashamed of its hooks and unafraid to put its passions front and center. They packed a lot into a 47-minute runtime, but I’ve yet to dig into Moon Queen and regret having pressed play. Another band to watch out for.

16. Pallbearer, Sorrow and Extinction

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Feb. 14.

It was impossible not to be swept up in the hype surrounding Pallbearer‘s Profound Lore debut, but one listen to Sorrow and Extinction and it was clear that its resounding praise was well earned. By blending thickened psychedelic tonality and emotionally resonant melodies, the Little Rock, Arkansas, four-piece concocted the single most important American doom release of the year. Their efforts did not go unnoticed, and as they supported the album on tour, the swell of the crowds spoke to the right-idea-right-time moment they were able to capture in songs like the stunning “An Offering of Grief” and “The Legend.” There’s room for growth — I wouldn’t be surprised to find guitarist Brett Campbell‘s vocal range greatly developed next time out — but Pallbearer have already left a mark on doom, and if they can keep the momentum going into wherever they go from here, it won’t be long before they’re being cited as having a significant impact on the genre and influencing others in their wake.

15. Kadavar, Kadavar

Released by Tee Pee. Track streamed July 9.

I already singled out Kadavar‘s Kadavar as the 2012 Debut of the Year, so if you need any sense of the reverence I think the German trio earned, take whatever you will from that. There really isn’t much to add — though I could nerd out about Kadavar‘s ultra-effective retroisms all day if you’re up for it — but something I haven’t really touched on yet about the record: When I was out in Philly last weekend, the DJ cleverly mixed Kadavar into a set of early ’70s jams, and it was all but indistinguishable in sound from the actual classics. That in itself is an achievement, but Kadavar‘s level of craft also stands them out among their modern peers, and it was drummer Tiger‘s snare sound that I first recognized in “All Our Thoughts,” so right down to the most intricate details, Kadavar‘s Kadavar was a gripping and enticing affair that proved there’s still ground to cover in proto-heavy worship.

14. Stubb, Stubb

Released by Superhot Records. Reviewed Feb. 2.

The fuzz was great — don’t get me wrong, I loved the fuzz — but with Stubb‘s Stubb, it was even more about the songs themselves. Whether it was the interplay between guitarist Jack Dickinson and bassist Peter Holland (also of Trippy Wicked) on vocals for the chorus of “Scale the Mountain” or the thickened shuffle in “Soul Mover” punctuated by drummer Chris West‘s (also Trippy Wicked and Groan) ever-ready fills, there wasn’t a clunker in the bunch, and though it’s an album I’ve basically been hearing since the beginning of the year, its appeal has endured throughout and I still find myself going back to it where many others have already been forgotten. With the acoustic “Crosses You Bear” and more laid-bare emotionality of “Crying River,” Stubb showed there was more them than excellence of tone and with the seven-minute finale “Galloping Horses,” they showed they were ready to jam with the best. Truly memorable songs — and also one of the live highlights of my year.

13. Orange Goblin, A Eulogy for the Damned

Released by Candlelight Records. Reviewed Dec. 15, 2011.

Orange Goblin‘s purpose seemed reborn on their seventh album and Candlelight Records debut, A Eulogy for the Damned. Culling the best elements from their last couple albums, 2007′s Healing Through Fire and 2004′s Thieving from the House of God, the long-running London troublemakers upped the production value and seemed bent from the start on taking hold of the day’s sympathy toward their brand of heavy. With tales of alcoholic regret, classic horrors and a bit of cosmic exploration for good measure, they marked their ascent to the top of the British scene and took well to the role of statesmen, headlining Desertfest and proceeding to smash audiences to pieces around the continent at fests and on tours. Look for them to do the same when they bring the show Stateside in 2013 with Clutch. Their plunder is well earned, and I still rarely go 48 hours without hearing the bridge of “The Fog” in my head. Can’t wait to see them again.

12. Ararat, II

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed March 28.

While I still miss Los Natas, my grief for their passing has been much eased over the last two years by frontman Sergio Chotsourian‘s doomier explorations in Ararat. The first album, 2009′s Musica de la Resistencia (review here), ran concurrent to Los Natas‘ swansong, Nuevo Orden de la Libertad, but with II, the new three-piece came into their own, setting space rock synth against low-end sprawl, thick drumming and Chotsourian‘s penchant for experimenting with structure. Extended tracks “Caballos” and “La Ira del Dragon (Uno)” were positively encompassing, and showed Ararat not only as a distinct entity from Los Natas, but a turn stylistically for Chotsourian into elephantine plod, wide-open atmospherics and a likewise expansive creative sensibility. The acoustic “El Inmigrante” and piano-led “Atenas” offered sonic diversity while enriching the mood, and closer “Tres de Mayo” hinted at some of the melding of the various sides that might be in store in Ararat‘s future. If the jump from the first record to the second is any indicator, expect something expansive and huge to come.

11. Ufomammut, Oro

Released by Neurot. Reviewed April 3 & Aug. 16.

Italian cosmic doom meganauts Ufomammut outdid themselves yet again with Oro, breaking up a single full-length into two separate releases, Oro: Opus Primum and Oro: Opus Alter. But the album — which I’ve decided to list as the single entity Oro rather than its two component parts basically to save myself some brain space — was more than just big in terms of its runtime. More importantly, Ufomammut were able to hold firm to their commitment to stylistic growth, drawing on their greatest triumph yet, 2010′s Eve (review here), the trio pushed themselves even further on their Neurot Recordings debut, resulting in an album worthy of the legacy of those releasing it. I don’t know if Oro will come to define Ufomammut as Eve already seems to have — dividing it as they did may have made it harder for listeners to grasp it as a single piece — but it shows that there’s simply no scaring the band out of themselves. Brilliantly tied together around a central progression that showed up in “Empireum” from Opus Primum and “Sublime” on Opus Alter, I have the feeling Ufomammut will probably have another album out before Oro‘s breadth has fully set in.

 10. Conan, Monnos

Released by Burning World/Gravedancer. Reviewed March 1.

Behold the standard bearers of heavy. It wasn’t long after hearing UK trio Conan for the first time that I began using them as a touchstone to see how other bands stacked up, and to be honest, almost no one has. Led by the inimitable lumber provided by the tone of guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis (interview here), Conan stripped down their approach for Monnos, returning to Foel Studio in Wales to work with producer Chris Fielding — who’d also helmed their 2010 Horseback Battle Hammer EP — and the resulting effort was both trim and humongous. Early tracks like “Hawk as Weapon,” “Battle in the Swamp” (an old demo given new life) and “Grim Tormentor” actually managed to be catchy as well as sonically looming, and the more extended closing duo of “Headless Hunter” and “Invincible Throne” showed that Conan could both use their tone to build forward momentum and plod their way into ultra-slow, ultra-grim despairing nothingness. Monnos affirmed Conan as one of the most pivotal acts in doom, and with new material and a home studio reportedly in the works, as well as further European touring on the docket for early 2013, their onslaught shows no signs of letting up. Right fucking on.

9. My Sleeping Karma, Soma

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 6.

In some ways, it seems like the easiest thing in the world, but with My Sleeping Karma‘s fourth full-length, Soma, it really was just a question of a band taking their sound to a completely new level. The German heavy psych instrumentalists brought forth the sweetness of tone their guitars have harnessed over the course of their three prior offerings, but the progressive keyboard flourishes, the warmth in the bass, the tight pop of the drums — it all clicked on Soma in a way that the other records hinted was possible and made the album the payoff to the four-piece’s long-established potential. Wrapped around the titular theme of a drink of the gods and with its tracks spaced out by varying ambient interludes, no moment on the album felt like it wasn’t serving the greater purpose of the whole, and the whole proved to be a worthy purpose indeed. Hands down my favorite instrumental release of the year and an effort that pushed My Sleeping Karma to the front of the pack in the crowded European heavy psych scene.

8. Graveyard, Lights Out

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 11.

The damnedest thing happens every time I turn on Graveyard‘s third album, Lights Out, in that before I’m halfway through opener “An Industry of Murder,” I have to turn it up. The reigning kings of Swedish retro heavy wasted no time following up 2011′s stunning sophomore outing, Hisingen Blues (review here), and with the four-year gap between their self-titled debut and the second record, it was a surprise from the moment it was announced, but more than that, Lights Out showed remarkable development in Graveyard‘s sound, offering elements of classic soul on songs like “Slow Motion Coundown” and “Hard Times Lovin’” to stand alongside the brash rock and roll of “Seven Seven” or the irresistible hook provided by “The Suits, the Law and the Uniforms” or the single “Goliath.” A landmark vocal performance from guitarist Joakim Nilsson and newly surfaced political bent to the lyrics hinted that Graveyard were nowhere near done growing, but seriously, if they put out four or five more records in the vein of Lights Out, I doubt there’d be too many complaints. Already one can hear the influence they’ve had on European heavy rock, and Lights Out isn’t likely to slow that process in the slightest.

7. Saint Vitus, Lillie: F-65

Released by Season of Mist. Reviewed March 26.

Three drum hits and then the lurching “Let Them Fall” — the leadoff track on the first Saint Vitus studio album since 1995 — is underway, and it’s exactly that lack of pomp, that lack of pretense, that makes Lillie: F-65 so righteous. Admittedly, it’s a reunion album. They toured for a couple years playing old material, then finally decided to settle in and let guitarist Dave Chandler (interview here) start coming up with a batch of songs, but you can’t argue with the results. They nailed it. With Tony Reed‘s perfect production (discussed here), Vitus captured the classic tonality in Chandler‘s guitar and Mark Adams‘ bass and kept to their sans-bullshit ethic: A short, 33-minute album that leaves their audience wondering where the hell that assault of noise just came from. Scott “Wino” Weinrich‘s presence up front was unmistakable with Chandler‘s punkish, no-frills lyrics (as well as his own on “Blessed Night,” the first song they wrote for the album), and drummer Henry Vasquez not only filled the shoes of the late Armando Acosta but established his own persona behind the kit. I hope it’s not their last record, but if it is, Saint Vitus came into and left Lillie: F-65 as doom legends, and their work remains timeless.

6. Ancestors, In Dreams and Time

Released by Tee Pee. Reviewed March 23.

Talk about a band who shirked expectation. Guitarist/vocalist Justin Maranga and I discussed that aspect of Ancestors a bit in an interview over the summer, but it’s worth underscoring. There was next to nothing in either of Ancestors‘ first two albums to hint at where they’d go with the third. Both Neptune with Fire and Of Sound Mind (review here) were rousing, riff-led efforts that headed toward a particular heavy sensibility, but it was with last year’s Invisible White EP (review here) that the L.A. outfit began to show the progressive direction they were heading. And In Dreams and Time is even a departure from that! It’s kind of a departure from reality as well, with the Moog/organ/synth mesh from Matt Barks and Jason Watkins (also vocals), dreamy basslines from Nick Long and hold-it-all-together drumming of Jamie Miller — since out of the band. Closer “First Light” was my pick for song of the year, and had the album been comprised of that track along, it’d probably still be on this list somewhere, but with the complement given to it by the piano sprawl of “On the Wind” and driving riffs and vocal interplay of “Correyvreckan” (if you haven’t heard Long‘s bass on the latter as well, you should), there was little left to question that this was the strongest Ancestors release of their career to date and hopefully the beginning of a new era in their sound. They’ve never been what people wanted them to be, but I for one like not knowing what to expect before it shows up, at least where these guys are concerned.

5. High on Fire, De Vermis Mysteriis

Released by E1 Music. Reviewed March 12.

After what I saw as a lackluster production for 2010′s Snakes for the Divine, Oakland, CA, trio High on Fire aligned themselves with producer Kurt Ballou (Converge) for De Vermis Mysteriis and completely renewed the vitality in their attack. Built on the insistence of “Bloody Knuckles,” furious fuckall of “Fertile Green,” unmitigated piracy of “Serums of Laio” and eerie crawl in “King of Days,” De Vermis Mysteriis was both aggressive in High on Fire‘s raid-your-brain-for-THC tradition and extreme in ways they’ve never been before. Groovers like the instrumental “Samsara” and earlier “Madness of an Architect” offered bombast where the thrash may have relented, while “Spiritual Rites” proved that guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike (also Sleep; interview here), bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensell had arrived at a new threshold of speed and intensity. Whatever personal issues may have been in play at the time, High on Fire delivered a blistering full-length that stands up to and in many ways surpasses any prior viciousness in their catalog, and their level of performance on their current tour makes it plain to see that the band is ready for ascendency to the heights of metal. They are conquerors to the last, and if De Vermis Mysteriis is what I get for wavering, then I’ll consider my lesson hammered home in every second of feedback, tom thud and grueling second of distortion topped with Pike‘s signature growl.

4. Neurosis, Honor Found in Decay

Released by Neurot. Reviewed Sept. 21.

When I interviewed interviewed Steve Von Till about Honor Found in Decay, the Neurosis guitarist/vocalist called the band “a chaos process” in reference to their songwriting. I have no trouble believing that, because while Neurosis stand among the most influential heavy metal bands of their generation — having had as much of an effect on what’s come after them as, say, Meshuggah or Sleep, while also having little sonically in common with either of them — it’s also nearly impossible to pinpoint one aspect of their sound that defines them. The churning rhythms in the riffing of Von Till and his fellow frontman, guitarist/vocalist Scott Kelly (interview here), Dave Edwardson‘s intensity on bass and periodic vocal, the assured percussive creativity of Jason Roeder and the experimental edge brought to bear in Noah Landis‘ synth and sampling all prove to be essential elements of the whole. On Honor Found in Decay — and this isn’t to take away anything from any other particular member’s songwriting contributions — it would be Landis standing out with his greatest contributions yet, becoming as much a defining element in songs like “At the Well,” “Bleeding the Pigs” and “Casting of the Ages” as either Kelly or Von Till‘s guitars. Had I never seen the band before, I’d have a hard time believing Honor Found in Decay could possibly be representative of their live sound, but they are every bit as crushing, as oppressive and as emotionally visceral on stage — if not more so — as they are on the album, and while their legacy has long since been set among the most important heavy acts ever, period, as they climb closer to the 30-year mark (they’ll get there in 2015), Neurosis continue to refuse to bow to what’s expected of them or write material that doesn’t further their decades-long progression. They are worthy of every homage paid them, and more.

3. Greenleaf, Nest of Vipers

Released by Small Stone. Reviewed Feb. 28.

It’s hard for me to properly convey just how happy listening to Greenleaf‘s Nest of Vipers makes me, and I’ve got several false starts already deleted to prove it. The Swedish supergroup of vocalist Oskar Cedermalm (Truckfighters), guitarists Tommi Holappa and Johan Rockner (both Dozer), bassist Bengt Bäcke (engineer for Dozer, Demon Cleaner, etc.) and drummer Olle Mårthans (Dozer) last released an album in 2007. That was Agents of Ahriman, which was one of my favorite albums of the last decade. No shit. Not year, decade. With a slightly revamped lineup and Dozer‘s maybe-final album, 2008′s Beyond Colossal, and the never-got-off-the-ground side-project Dahli between, Nest of Vipers landed this past winter and with the shared membership, Karl Daniel Lidén production and consistency of songwriting from Holappa (interview here), I immediately saw it as a sequel to the last Dozer, but really it goes well beyond that. Tracks like “Dreamcatcher,” “Case of Fidelity,” “The Timeline’s History” and soaring opener “Jack Staff” show that although they’d never really toured to that point and been through various lineups over the years, Greenleaf was nonetheless an entity unto its own. Cedermalm‘s vocals were a triumph, Mårthans‘ drumming unhinged and yet grounded, and guest appearances from organist Per Wiberg and vocalists Peder Bergstrand (Lowrider/I are Droid) and Fredrik Nordin (Dozer) only enriched the album for repeat listens, which I’m thrilled to say it gets to this very day. If I called it a worthy successor both to Dozer and to Agents of Ahriman, those words alone would probably fall short of conveying quite how much that means on a personal level, so let its placement stand as testimony instead. This is one I’ll be enjoying for years to come, and when I’m done writing this feature, this is the one I’m gonna put back on to listen through again. It has been, and no doubt will continue to be, a constant.

2. Om, Advaitic Songs

Released by Drag City. Reviewed Aug. 13.

Go figure that the Om record two albums after the one called Pilgrimage would feel so much like a journey. Further including multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Robert A. A. Lowe (also of experimental one-man outfit Lichens) alongside the established core duo of drummer Emil Amos (also of Grails) and bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (also of Sleep), as well as incorporating a range of guest appearances from the likes of Grayceon‘s Jackie Perez Gratz on cello and Worm Ouroboros‘ Lorraine Rath (who appeared on 2010′s God is Good as well) on flute, Om fleshed out what was once a signature minimalism to the point of being a lush, constantly moving and markedly fluid entity. Cisneros, as the remaining founder and lead vocalist, served as a unifying presence in the material — his bass still was still very much as the center of  “Gethsemane” or the more straightforward and distorted “State of Non-Return” — but those songs and “Addis,” “Sinai” and gloriously melodic closer “Haqq al-Yaqin” amounted to more than any single performance, and where prior Om outings had dug themselves deep into a kind of solitary contemplation, Advaitic Songs looked outward with a palpable sense of musical joy and a richness of experience that could only be called spiritual, however physically or emotionally arresting it might also prove. I’ve found it works best in the morning, as a way to transition from that state of early half-there into the waking world — which no doubt has more harshness in mind than the sweet acoustics and tabla at the end of “Haqq al-Yaqin” — so that some of that sweetness can remain and help me face whatever might come throughout the day. A morning ceremony and a bit of meditation to reorder the consciousness.

1. Colour Haze, She Said


Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed Sept. 18.

Didn’t it have to be Colour Haze? Didn’t it? Two discs of the finest heavy psychedelic rock the world has to offer — yes I mean that — plus all they went through to get it out, the drama of building and rebuilding a studio, recording and re-recording, pressing and repressing, what else could it have been but She Said? After two-plus years of waiting, I was just so glad when it actually existed. Late in 2008, the Munich trio released All, and that was my album of the year that year as well (kudos to anyone who has that issue of Metal Maniacs), but I feel like even if you strip all that away and take away all the drama and the band’s influence, their standing in the European scene, guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek (interview here) fostering next-gen talent on Elektrohasch and whatever else you want or need to remove, She Said still holds up. Just the songs themselves. The extra percussion layered in with Manfred Merwald‘s drums on “She Said,” the horns and Duna Jam-ambience on “Transformation,” the unpretentious boogie of “This” on disc one, or the rush of “Slowdown” on disc two and the culmination the whole album gets when the strings kick in on “Grace.” Those strings. God damn. Suddenly a 2CD release makes sense, when each is given its own progression, its own destination at which to arrive, and tired as I am I still tear up like clockwork when I put on “Grace” just to hear it while I type about it. Beautifully arranged, wonderfully executed, She Said couldn’t be anywhere but at the top spot on this list. The warmth in Koglek‘s guitar and Philipp Rasthofer‘s bass on “Breath” and the way their jams always seem to have someplace to go, I feel like I’m listening to a moment exquisitely captured. There isn’t a doubt in my mind Colour Haze are the most potent heavy rock power trio in the world, and that their chemistry has already and will continue to inspire others around them, but most importantly, She Said met the true album-of-the-year criteria in not seeming at all limited to the confines of 2012 — as though it had some kind of expiration date. Not so. Even though I’ve already been through them more times than I know or would care to share had I counted, I look forward to getting to know the songs on She Said over the years to come, and as I have with Colour Haze‘s works in the past, seeing their appeal change over time the way the best of friends do. It couldn’t have been anything but Colour Haze. Whatever hype other albums or bands have, for me, it’s this, and that’s it.

Honorable Mentions

If this list went to 25, the next five would be:

21. Snail, Terminus
22. Revelation, Inner Harbor
23. Wo Fat, The Black Code
24. Groan, The Divine Right of Kings
25. Caltrop, Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes

Honorable mention goes to: Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight (another one about whom I have a hard time being impartial), Mighty High, At Devil Dirt, Bell Witch, Samothrace, Enslaved, Viaje a 800, and Larman Clamor.

Also worth noting some conspicuous absences: Witchcraft, Swans, Baroness, Royal Thunder, The Sword, Torche. These albums garnered a strong response and have done well in the Readers Poll looking at the results so far, but please keep in mind, this is my list, I took a night to sleep on it, I stand by it and I’ve got my reasons for selecting what I did. You’ll find about 5,000 words of them above.

Thank you as always for reading. If you disagree with any picks, want to add your own take on any of the above, or anything else — really, whatever’s cool — please leave a comment below.

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2012 Comeback of the Year: High on Fire, De Vermis Mysteriis

Posted in Features on December 18th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

I guess the first question here is, “Did High on Fire actually ever need to make a comeback?” Here’s how I see it: After signing with E1 in 2009 following a long tenure on Relapse Records, the Oakland, CA, trio released Snakes for the Divine (review here) in 2010. Song-wise, you could hardly call the album a dip in quality from what Matt Pike (guitar/vocals), Des Kensell (drums) and Jeff Matz (bass) brought to bear on 2007′s thunderous Death is this Communion, but the difference was in the production and presentation of the album. The songs were as thrashing as ever, but all of a sudden, they were also irrevocably, undeniably clean. And if there’s one thing High on Fire had never sounded before, it’s clean.

During the album cycle for Snakes for the Divine, I recall catching a High on Fire show in NYC and thinking that the band were done with the underground entirely, and that in time, strong>Snakes would be the turning point when they went from a visceral experience, influential even as they were still driving towards some yet-unknown creative apex, to a watered down and more accessible version of what they once were. Doubtless they could pull off such a transition and grow a wider audience for themselves, but for the fans who’d been with them since their earlier days when Pike, began to feel out this brash new musical direction after ending his time in Sabbathian legends Sleep, it wouldn’t ever be the same again.

That’s just not the way it turned out. At all.

With this year’s De Vermis Mysteriis (review here), High on Fire didn’t so much return to form as they did break the mold, smashing it on a sharply executed bed of thickened thrash extremity. The songs managed to capture every potential appeal of Snakes for the Divine – whether it was the opening catchiness of “Serums of Laio,” the rhythmic intensity of “Madness of an Architect,” searing turns of “Spiritual Rites” or the epic storytelling of powerful closing duo “Romulus and Remus” and “Warhorn” — and coupled with the production of Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou at his Godcity Studios in Salem, Massachusetts, they brimmed with tonal largesse and a sense of danger that hinted at a method behind High on Fire’s madness that had never been there before. To put a point on it, De Vermis Mysteriis didn’t just happen by mistake.

Somewhere along the line, the band decided that their sixth album was indeed going to be a turn, not to a more commercial direction but instead away from it, and while the rough edges and post-stonerisms of early records The Art of Self-Defense (2000) and Surrounded by Thieves (2002) were gone, the progression came across naturally, not contrived. High on Fire were tighter, meaner than ever, and the songs the wrote, the presentation and the vague-but-characteristic narrative showed that. In the best case scenario of any long-running outfit’s latest album, everything they’d done before felt like it was leading up to the newest triumph.

All wasn’t well in the band, and dropping off the touring Mayhem festival this summer, Pike entered rehab. It was a move that significantly derailed their momentum, given the breadth of new audience they would’ve reached on the road alongside the likes of Slipknot and Slayer, but when High on Fire returned to the road for a headlining tour this fall alongside extreme metal stalwarts Goatwhore as well as Primate and Lo-Pan (review here) just wrapping up this week, the difference in the band was readily apparent. This too was a kind of comeback, even if the span of time was relatively short. They were focused, driven and delivering a performance that matched the severity of the album while also showcasing a conscious mastery of their environment — i.e. the stage — that even at their most crazed, they’d never had before.

Where High on Fire go from here is anyone’s best guess. European headlining dates set for February 2013 will lead into festival spots at Roadburn and doubtless others, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them get another shot at Mayhem next summer — but what matters is that whatever heights High on Fire reach in the next several years, they will have done so on their own terms and by continuing to push themselves forward creatively. They will arrive not bowing to pressure to be something they’ve never been, but as the conquering marauders, axes in hand and blood dripping from their mouths. Nothing could be truer to their spirit.

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High on Fire Interview with Matt Pike: Knuckles Thrash Their Way

Posted in Features on December 5th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

This wasn’t the first time I’ve spoken to High on Fire guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike for an interview by a longshot, but it was the first time we’ve talked since he got sober earlier this year, and the difference was immediately apparent in his voice. He was about a week into the band’s current tour at the time — with GoatwhorePrimate and Lo-Pan for a five-week round of shows one of which I was fortunate enough to catch — and things were beginning to settle in. This is the first major touring that High on Fire has done since Pike entered rehab over the summer after dropping off the summer’s Mayhem festival, and though he admitted to some apprehension, Pike sounded clear-headed and glad to be back on the road.

Earlier this year, High on Fire revitalized their approach with the scathing De Vermis Mysteriis (review here). Not only in the fact that the album was based around a narrative concept — about a time-traveling Jesus twin — but just in the sheer sound of the thing. Pike, bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensell brought High on Fire’s tightness and chemistry to new levels, and captured by producer Kurt Ballou, songs like the arch-grooving “Madness of an Architect” or the ripping “Spiritual Rites,” the band sounded more vicious than ever before. The rawness of their bombast, something they moved away from with 2010′s Snakes for the Divine (review here), met with a maturity of process and crispness of sound that made the record easily among 2012′s best.

And while that position is nothing new for High on Fire — who’ve gone six full-lengths at this point without a real dud — the context surrounding De Vermis Mysteriis makes it standout as a landmark in the progression of the band, both musically and for the personal issues involved. Seeing them live last week, they’ve lost nothing of their on-stage potency, even if Pike is a little more reserved in his between-song banter — I was reminded a bit of his Sleep bandmate, Al Cisneros — speaking to the crowd rather than barking the war-cries of old. The tradeoff was in the performance, which was stellar, new material or old, and the band seemed poised to pick up their momentum right where they left off prior to the interruption this summer brought.

As honest and sincere as ever in the interview that follows, Pike talks about being on the road sober for the first time, about constructing De Vermis Mysteriis in the studio with Ballou and about the growth of the band as a trio with Matz — who came aboard as a full-time member prior to 2007′s Death is this Communion – taking on an increased role in the songwriting. You may also note I asked him about the Sonic Titan distortion pedal, which was something Jon Davis of Conan had mentioned earlier this year when I asked him about playing with Sleep in Norway. That interview is here if you’d like some context.

Complete Q&A is after the jump. Please enjoy.

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Live Review: High on Fire, Goatwhore, Primate and Lo-Pan in Philly, 11.29.12

Posted in Reviews on December 3rd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Here’s a quick metaphor for how I feel about the city of Philadelphia. I was on my way down to Philly from my office, wanting to get to Union Transfer early to see High on Fire, Goatwhore, Primate and Lo-Pan. And I’m doing my usual not-there-yet stress thing. I’d never been to Union Transfer before, so what if there’s no parking anywhere, what if I can’t find it, what if I drive off the edge of a cliff — all that ultra-reasonable anxiety that sometimes is enough to keep me at home but generally accompanies me one way or another everywhere I go.

Parking space right outside the venue. Maybe 50 feet from the door. Street parking, free because it was after 6:30PM. Once more, Philly, your hospitality astonishes.

It was chilly waiting for the door to open, but I’d listened to enough NPR en route and the cold did me some good. My understanding is Union Transfer is a relatively recent advent, show-wise, and if it was actually a train station at one point, it makes a decent club. The room was sizable and the stage can be moved either forward or back to allow for more space on the floor. It was pretty far up. Apparently advance sales for the Thursday night show weren’t great, so the balcony was also closed, which was a bummer because that’s probably where I’d have been otherwise.

I grabbed a beer early (it would be my only one of the night) and waited about an hour for Lo-Pan to go on, sitting at one of the side tables killing time to the best of my ability. Gradually I made my way toward the floor and then up front. Though the room wasn’t nearly as full as it would be later, there were already a bunch of people there and I figured better safe than taking pictures of the back of some dude’s head.

Of the four bands on the bill, I really only had more than nominal interest in two: Lo-Pan and High on Fire, the bookends on the bill. That said, I hardly suffered through either Primate or Goatwhore‘s sets. It went down like so:

Lo-Pan

I was especially looking forward to seeing Lo-Pan on this tour, it being the hardworking Columbus, Ohio, natives’ biggest yet. They lined up toward the front of the stage, all in a row, from bassist Scott Thompson on down through drummer Jesse Bartz, vocalist Jeff Martin and guitarist Brian Fristoe. Martin, who’s usually in the back while Bartz is out front — at least that’s how it’s been at every Lo-Pan show I’ve seen and I don’t mind saying I’ve seen a few at this point — was up there with everyone else and held his position well, projecting his powerful, soulful voice upward into the mic in front of him. Pipes for days. They played “Colossus” and “Eastern Seas,” the two new songs they had included in their set at the Small Stone Records showcase in Boston at the start of the month (review here), and though the one right after the other threw me for a bit, the driving “Chichen Itza” from Salvador was a highlight and “Dragline” from 2009′s Sasquanaut was something of a surprise. They intended to close with it but were granted some extra time and made the most of it with one more song. It wasn’t the most comfortable I’ve ever seen them, but as the openers, I imagine they’ve made a positive first impression on a lot of heads throughout this tour. They were more than worth showing up early for, and I hope they continue to tour at this level, because they’ve proven that they’re more than ready to carry the flag for heavy rock to a wider audience that won’t know what hit it.

Primate

Seems like the appeal of Atlanta-based grinders Primate was rooted in the fact that the band features Brutal Truth vocalist Kevin Sharp and Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher in the lineup. For a more Philly-specific angle, second guitarist Mike Brennan once slung for Philly dirt thrashers Javelina. Whatever the status of that band, his contributions to Primate were in line with the band’s general modus: Play fast, be angry. The barefoot Sharp has nothing to prove as a frontman, and his vocals remained consistently intense throughout the tightly-delivered set. Likewise, Kelliher‘s resume doesn’t exactly need padding at this point either. He made playing fast look like playing slow, hardly breaking a sweat as they went on. A straight-up hardcore punk persisted, and Primate only confirmed their intent with a cover of Black Flag‘s “Rise Above,” which the young dude standing next to me went — pun most definitely intended — apeshit for. He was not alone by any means. Theirs was a different kind of heavy from what I’m used to seeing, but hell man, I’ve done my time with extremity of sound and I can get down with that if need be. Their stuff was pummeling and precise in kind, and when that’s the case, even if it’s not what I’m interested in hearing on a given night, I have a hard time not appreciating it on its own level.

Goatwhore


I’d have to go back and check the archives to be sure, but I think Goatwhore might be the fastest band I’ve ever taken pictures of. Maybe that’s not saying much, considering the context, but still, it was a new experience for me. It’s been more than half a decade since I even really vaguely paid attention to what they had going on, but it didn’t seem at Union Transfer that I’d missed all that much. Frontman Ben Falgoust still had his strangely effective hand gestures and every time I looked at guitarist Sammy Duet, I still just thought to myself, “Wow, he’s the dude from Acid Bath.” So it went. They were pro, though, and made the fine line between metal and capital-h Heavy seem much thicker than it has at other times. Duet spit on the stage at one point and I caught some ricochet, but other than that, it wasn’t unpleasant in the slightest. Despite all the time that’s passed since I heard one of their records, I recognized the breakdown in “Alchemy of the Black Sun Cult,” and that was as much landmark as I really needed. The crowd I guess wasn’t as into it as Falgoust was hoping for, since at one point he reminded from the stage that, “It’s cool to like metal again.” I didn’t know it was ever cool to like metal. Someone better tell Shakira to get on that shit, lest she lose her pop relevance. Either way, when they were done, they broke down their own gear, and for a band who’ve been around as long as they have and toured as much as they have, I found that admirable.

High on Fire

Near as I can tell from the small sample I’ve seen, here’s the difference between watching Matt Pike sober now and Matt Pike not at all sober before: Earlier in his career, he came out on stage like he was swinging a double-sided battle axe and conquered the stage, claiming the heads of any and all who opposed him as though anyone would be foolish enough to attempt such a thing. He was a shirtless madman. That’s enjoyable but hardly sustainable for a career. Now when Matt Pike comes out on stage, it’s not even a question whose stage it is. The battle axe need not apply. He just owns it. That’s not to say High on Fire were in any way lacking their trademark sonic fury, just that it had direction, knew where it was headed and the band — Pike, bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensell — were smarter with the tools of their trade. They fucking killed. Most of the set came from this year’s De Vermiis Mysteriis (review here), set opener “Serums of Laio” even more riotous on stage than it is starting off the record. “Last” and especially “10,000 Years” from the recently-reissued The Art of Self-Defense were highlights, and the moments of slower groove on “DII” or “Madness of an Architect” came as welcome changes of pace from the ripping likes of “Spiritual Rites,” “Fury Whip” or “Devilution.” High on Fire have a catalog of five strong albums to draw from — “Speedwolf” represented 2002′s Surrounded by Thieves — but it was the title-track to 2010′s Snakes for the Divine that did the closing duties, and with its grandiose lead work, it seemed suited to the task. By then I’d long since moved to the back of Union Transfer to extricate myself from the violence up front, but wherever you were, there was no getting away from the fact that High on Fire have pushed themselves forward and that watching them now, there’s no doubt who the headliners are. Pike was more subdued in his stage persona, as one would have to expect, but he still played to the crowd, as did Matz, and Kensell was so buried in his kit you could only really see the top of his head, so if High on Fire have a rock star aura about them, it’s certainly one cast in their own image. However derailed they may have seemed or whatever hit their momentum may have taken earlier this year by their ducking out on the commercial exposure Mayhem fest would’ve brought, they’re back rolling hard and they seem clear-headed and ready for whatever could be coming their way. The stage looked small around them.

I’d taken Friday off from work, but a drive to Boston awaited in the morning and I had a two-hour trip home to my humble river valley, so I was out of there pretty quick once the house lights came on. Of course, it was Philly, so I had no trouble getting to where I was going, hit no traffic and made it home in record time. God damn I love that city.

Extra pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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