Friday Full-Length: Ichabod, Merrimack

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 14th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

I’ve lived in Massachusetts for six years. It’s long enough to not completely feel like a Yankees fan interloping on foreign territory in New England, but I’d never call myself a native, and on the periodic occasion when someone has asked where I’m from, I almost always said New Jersey. There’s something about the atmosphere of New England that I feel like I never quite earned, and Ichabod‘s Merrimack (review here), which is coming up on five years since its initial release in Oct. 2014, captures that spirit better than any other heavy record I can think of. It’s there in the Northern work song “The Strong Place” — taken from the translation from Algonquin of the name of the Merrimack River, for which the album is titled — and in vocalist John Fadden‘s crooning, “Give our souls to the river,” in the subsequent “Two Brothers Rock.” It’s there in the underlying aggression behind the drift of Dave Iverson‘s effects-laced solos and Jason Adam‘s riffing, in the flowing grooves from bassist Greg Dellaria and drummer Phil MacKay, whose brother, Ken (now of Oxblood Forge), helped Iverson start the band some 20 years ago in 1999.

Ichabod revamped in 2011, bringing aboard Fadden as frontman, as well as Adam, while MacKay had served behind the kit since 2000 and Dellaria (also now of Oxblood Forge) on bass since 2002. Merrimack was the band’s sixth full-length was unquestionably their broadest ranging work. For Iverson and Fadden, it held the personal significance of being an homage to their mothers as well as to the land and river itself, and even unto that internalization of place, its songs bleed a passion that is genuine and striking. From the summer-sun celebration “Watershed” and the progressive tension (also highlight bass) in “Life at the Loom” — featuring the line, “I wish I could sit around and talk about the weather forever,” which itself might be the most New England thing I’ve ever heard — to the blatantly Doors-style fearcrafting in “Child of the Bear,” slaughter in the three-minute “The Ballad of Hannah Dustin” and subsequent paranoid-in-the-woods noisy chaos of closer “The Return,” Merrimack distilled into psychedelic metal and sludge the varying sides of Massachusetts itself: the history, alternatingly troubled and beautiful — they sure burned witches and killed a bunch of native people, but golly those leaves are nice in Fall — the inherent Northeastern intensity, the contradictions between such a prevalent working class culture and the fact that Boston hosts some of the most elitist learning institutions in the country, and the ability to find space within that sphere where one can almost pretend to be at peace for a while. For me, it was looking at the high pines and thinking about the years those trees had seen. For Ichabod, clearly it was the river.

The peak achievement of Merrimack hit early, in its longest track, the 9:39 “Squall.” Well placed to build outward from “Two Brothers Rock,” it conveyed the storm to which its title alluded and ichabod merrimacksummarized much of the approach of the record as a whole, really only leaving out of its accounting the warmer and inviting vibe of “Watershed” and “Life at the Loom,” which follow in succession. “Squall” found little peace amid its tale of fishing boats bashed by nature’s power, Fadden moving between layered screams, emphatic spoken word and cleaner belting-out — a style that in itself has been the region’s ply and trade at least as much as seafood for the last 20 years in metal, since the kids of New England’s hardcore started to remember they all grew up as Metallica fans and began to blend the two sides at the turn of the century. Even the song’s quieter stretch in the middle held that undercurrent of threat in its e-bow guitar and the fluid rhythm, and the payoff that emerged therefrom left no choice but to end with a torrent of feedback afterward, giving way directly to the contrasting transition/introduction to “Watershed.” Grayscale in its cover art with a picture of the river itself — “Subjugated long ago when industry did reign/The mill towns, they are burning down/The river, it remains,” went the lyrics of “The Strong Place” — Merrimack was more colorful than one might initially think, but it was an album made very much to depict a specific idea and a specific, real place, and in its character and breadth, it was an utter success. Again, I’ve only ever been a dabbler in Massachusetts, but to my ears, Ichabod‘s portrait of the Bay State experience via this one river would seem to lack nothing in its realism. Maybe a Patriots bumper sticker on its back cover. Local sports is a big part of the culture up there.

By the end of this summer, I’ll be moved away from New England, back to New Jersey, where I grew up, to live in what was my grandmother’s house in the shadow of a different pine tree, planted almost 60 years ago by my grandfather, Joe Peterson, who died five years before I was born. As I embrace this personal history in a new way, I can’t help but think of what Ichabod did in speaking to theirs with Merrimack and the nature of the concept behind this record, how much it managed to bring to life of the place that, after more than half a decade there, could still make me feel like a tourist, and where I still had to use my phone to navigate the twisting back roads. It was there home. As I return to mine, it’s with some new measure of clarity of what it means to be from somewhere, and how even when one might leave a place, one never really loses the effect that place has had. Or the accent. I’ve definitely still got that as well, as regards New Jersey.

Ichabod were in the studio in 2015 and 2016 for a record that was set to be called Somewhere Between Zero and Infinity, and even went so far as to post a snippet of a rough version of the title-track to Soundcloud and another song as well. I wouldn’t put it past them to have another album out at some point, but neither am I holding my breath. If Merrimack indeed turned out to be their swansong, at very least one would have to say they put everything they had into making it. Some bands never get there.

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

Next week is Maryland Doom Fest, if you can believe that. I think I leave on Wednesday to head south? Maybe Thursday? I’m not really sure. Either way, I’ll be there all weekend as I cash in all of the domestic capital I earned (and probably then some) running point on childcare in Ireland for two weeks in trade for four days of being pummeled into the ground by riffs. Thanks in advance to The Patient Mrs.

We’ve had people in the house all week to talk about doing windows, doing a kitchen, doing whatever else. A guy came and fixed a leak in the flashing above the fireplace. We got blown off by an electrician. All our furniture is still in MA, and frankly I have no idea where any of it is going to go, but I guess that’s a worry for when that place actually sells. I think it’s been on the market for three weeks? I don’t know. The sooner an offer comes in, the better. I don’t think anyone really wants to drag this out anymore than we need to.

Also, if anyone wants to help me pack vinyl, that’d be great. Thanks. I’ll be back up there sometime in July, I think. Gotta get the mail, if nothing else.

Speaking of, I know the contact form on here is broken again. Just hit me up on Facebook in the meantime.

No new The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio this week. I’ll have one next week though, so hang in. There’s still a repeat Sunday night at 7PM Eastern if you get the chance. Hit up http://gimmeradio.com for the schedule.

We’ve been down in Jersey pretty much since we got back (last weekend?) from Ireland. I think we stayed in Connecticut for a night. I don’t really know. I know I missed taking out the garbage yesterday morning and there’s copious baby poop in the garage as a result. Whatever raccoon decides to get in our trash is in for a surprise.

But this weekend is… stuff? I don’t know. I have writing to do, and a bunch of whatnot I want to get done before Doom Fest, but I’ll the skip the notes. Look for a Pinto Graham track premiere Monday and an Across Tundras review Tuesday. That’s the plan as of now. Might do Burning Gloom on Wednesday.

It’s 5:48AM and The Pecan just woke up. The sun just came through the trees. I can see on the baby monitor he’s standing, so it’s likely the real deal. Takes him a few minutes to get going sometimes. But I’ll go grab him and then start the day here, which involves the usual amount of running around and probably me stressing about emails and whatever else. Who can keep up.

Anyway, I wish you a great and safe weekend. I think we’re grilling tomorrow if you want to come by. We’ll be back here after the duck races in the afternoon. Because when we do wholesome, we go all the fuck out.

Thanks for reading.

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Ichabod, Merrimack: A River and its People

Posted in Reviews on May 8th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

ichabod merrimack

The Merrimack River, in addition to connecting inland Northeast Massachusetts and New Hampshire with a direct line to the Atlantic Ocean — when there was a thing called “industry,” that was useful; in the before times, the long-long ago — has had homage paid to it in the past by figures as disparate as Henry David Thoreau and Mandy Moore, so rather than being first to tackle the subject, Lowell, MA, five-piece Ichabod are instead part of a longstanding regional tradition. That’s important to keep in mind when listening to Merrimack itself. Their sixth album is a take-it-as-a-whole eight-song/49-minute full-length with songs purposefully bleeding one into the next expansive in both its sonic breadth and emotional core, dedicated to the memory of the mothers of founding guitarist Dave Iverson and vocalist John Fadden, who made his debut with Ichabod on 2012’s Dreamscapes from Dead Space. That album was a beast of aggressive metal, heavy rock vibing and psychedelic density, but with the concept or at very least central thematic that Merrimack holds, and for the worn-on-sleeve personal attachment made so plain throughout the sixth outing’s span, it would be a mistake to call Merrimack anything other than Ichabod‘s finest and most complex work to date. Persistently underrated throughout their 15-plus years and across records like 2003’s Let the Bad Times Roll, 2005’s Reaching Empyrean and 2009’s 2012 (review here), they’ve always had the ability to bring a sense of mood to their output, but Merrimack brings this to a new level, and whether it’s the raging “Squall” on which one can almost hear intense rain pounding windows or the Blind Melon-style serenity found in the midsection guitar of the subsequent “Watershed,” the band — IversonFadden, bassist Greg Dellaria, guitarist Jason Adam and drummer Phil MacKay — prove utterly fearless throughout Merrimack‘s winding, flowing course.

Performances across the tracks bear that out, and Merrimack likewise benefits from the clarity of its production, helmed by Glenn Smith at Amps vs. Ohms in Cambridge, MA. The sound neither lacks punch nor is too muddled, which seems to bringing out the dynamics all the more of turns in songs like “Life at the Loom” and “The Ballad of Hannah Dustin,” whose kidnapping by Native Americans in the 1690s and her ensuing killing 10 of them with a hatchet became a rallying narrative more than a century later as destiny was manifest in settlement expansion and genocide — Thoreau also wrote about her. Ichabod open with more modern fare in “The Strong Place,” a 1:50 acoustic-led workingman’s folk shanty that boasts group backing vocals behind Fadden‘s northern twang, a stomp behind him in verses that opens with electric guitar in the chorus to give a somewhat auspicious, resoundingly dudely first impression, more outright fun than a lot of what follows on “Two Brothers Rock” and “Squall,” the former taking hold with a gradually unfolding post-grunge psychedelia, wah prevalent in Iverson‘s open-spaced progression. They’re building subtly throughout the first half of the track, and sure enough, “Two Brothers Rock” kicks into a heavier push shortly before the four-minute mark, Fadden switching to harsher shouts for the first of many such fluid transitions. His ability to match his approach to the instrumental turns behind him — he is a powerful singer, clean or otherwise — is key to Merrimack‘s ultimate success, and he carries the intensity of “Two Brothers Rock” into a noise-laden solo and building wash of noise, the track eventually brought down amid a chugging rumble that leads to “Squall,” both the longest and most accomplished cut on the album.

ichabod

More immediate in its impact than “Two Brothers Rock” — that’s not to insinuate that Ichabod should be doing the same thing all the time, just noting a difference in structure — “Squall” emerges from a seamless transition and casts a vision of metal that moves outside its own genre bounds. The push of its early going gives way to a psychedelic, gorgeously melodic, ebow-inclusive turn in the second half, Fadden again making the shift naturally, that itself is a build back toward the initial intensity of the chorus, which serves as a landmark for Merrimack as a whole, even as early into the record as it arrives. For an album the stated intent for which is a front-to-back listen to have such a defining moment in its third (really second) track is a risk of sequencing, but Ichabod work around it by continuing to expand the scope of the tracks, first with the aforementioned “Watershed” and its peaceful roll, which even when it gets heavier, retains its sun-drenched feel, memorable repeated lines “All I wanna do is just be a part of it” and “Saving all my sunshine” typifying the bright, hopeful mood that seems so far removed from the dense impact of “Squall” — a triumph though that was — and then with “Life at the Loom,” which follows a somewhat similar course in its atmosphere but is more upbeat and has an underlying tension that finds payoff in a more intense second half. To contrast, the repeated line there — another landmark hook — is “I wish I could sit around and talk about the weather forever,” and it’s screamed, the speaker in the lyrics seeming to be working at a textile factory, wondering earlier in the song what’s happening at home over more wistful ebow, a highlight bassline from Dellaria and MacKay‘s keep-it-moving drums. One might expect that kind of thrust to continue to bleed over into the next track, as Merrimack has managed to do up to this point, but “Life at the Loom” shifts in its last moments to something of a comedown, and the shorter “Child of the Bear” picks up from that with spacious guitar noodling immediately reminiscent of The Doors and, by then unsurprisingly, vocals and poetic lyrics to match, the river once again the central theme.

Put together, “Child of the Bear” and “The Ballad of Hannah Dustin,” which follows, are shorter than “Two Brothers Rock,” “Squall,” “Watershed” or “Life at the Loom,” but both make a considerable impact in mood, the former with its wandering sensibility and psychedelic brooding and the latter with a descent into screaming, chugging madness that serves to efficiently summarize just how quickly the band can shift between vibes. A dominant-culture folk hero as its focus, “The Ballad of Hannah Dustin” is the shortest track at 3:13, but it leaves a considerable impact nonetheless and leads the way into 6:32 closer “The Return,” which has the difficult task of somehow tying the album together. Spoken word and tense drumming move into burly echo-shouts, ambient screams, churning riffs and an atmospheric intensity to complement that of “Squall” without being directly linked to it. A descent into tearing-itself-apart noise and feedback plays out before a long fade carries Merrimack to its finish, Ichabod choosing to end on a note of marked foreboding. Taking into account some of the more easy-tempered stretches of “Watershed” and “Life at the Loom,” and the toss-a-few-back good times of “The Strong Place” — that title, of course, being a translation of the name Merrimack itself — it underscores the journey the band has crafted here, and perhaps that’s the point in the first place. Merrimack bleeds out its regionalist love with zero irony and unabashed affection for the places, the people and the history of New England, but I think even taken out of that context and for those who listen elsewhere, it’s an easy record to appreciate for simply giving tribute to the band’s home and for conveying the spirit that birthed it in the first place.

Ichabod, Merrimack (2014)

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audiObelisk Transmission 047

Posted in Podcasts on April 22nd, 2015 by JJ Koczan

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Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

If you listen to these podcasts on the regular, you might notice this one is a little different than other recent editions have been. I was all set to start it off at a raging clip as per usual and then that Bison Machine track stood out to me with that warm bassline and I just decided that was the way to go, start off languid with that and My Sleeping Karma and ease into the rawer and meaner stuff from there. There are a couple jarring moments here and there, but that’s kind of the idea too, and I think overall across the board it flows well across the two hours, the second of which builds across All Them Witches’ jams and Ichabod’s sludge rock right into the atmospheric doom extremity of Bell Witch. Three songs in about 55 minutes. Awesome.

You might also notice the tracklist below has time stamps. Listed is the start time for each song, so if you get lost along the way, that should hopefully provide some point of reference. In case there was any doubt I pay attention to the stuff people say in comments to these podcast posts.

As always, hope you enjoy:

First Hour:
0:00:00 Bison Machine, “Gamekeeper’s Thumb” from Hoarfrost
0:07:12 My Sleeping Karma, “Prithvi” from Moksha
0:13:39 Weedeater, “Claw of the South” from Goliathan
0:19:00 Sinister Haze, “Betrayed by Time” from Betrayed by Time EP
0:24:15 Sun and Sail Club, “Dresden Fireball Freakout Flight” from The Great White Dope
0:26:11 Lasers from Atlantis, “Protectress” from Lasers from Atlantis
0:33:29 Arenna, “Drums for Sitting Bull” from Given to Emptiness
0:39:40 Mirror Queen, “Scaffolds of the Sky” from Scaffolds of the Sky
0:45:47 Les Discrets, “La Nuit Muette” from Live at Roadburn
0:51:02 Cigale, “Harvest Begun” from Cigale
0:54:49 Black Mare, “A Low Crimes” from Black Mare/Lycia Split

Second Hour:
1:00:03 All Them Witches, “It Moved We Moved/Almost There/A Spider’s Gift” from A Sweet Release
1:24:09 Ichabod, “Squall” from Merrimack
1:33:39 Bell Witch, “Suffocation, a Burial I – Awoken (Breathing Teeth)” from Four Phantoms

Total running time: 1:55:50

 

Thank you for listening.

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