Posted in Features on October 27th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
10.27.14 — 2:27PM — Monday afternoon — En route to Cleveland
“She’s not real pretty, but she’s rich.” — Postman Dan, on Senator Dianne Feinstein
I snapped the above picture last night before the show of the sunset in Michigan. If it looks peaceful or serene in any way, then please just imagine the exact opposite for how the rest of the night played out after the show ended. As ever, the party was at Postman Dan’s place — the Postmansion — which is an old converted church that he’s essentially corrupted in the name of riff worship and nuanced horticulture. Radio Moscow, who’d been hanging out at the show, came back as well, and Travis from Hydro-Phonic and two of the other members from Dan’s band Cruthu, and of course Mama Jo, Connie, Jim Pitts and I. Made for a crowded kitchen, but there were drinks flowing and Elonkorjuu playing through Dan’s kitchen setup — Swedish heavy prog as party music: awesome — and it escalated quickly. Charm-laden debauchery. Loud voices. Blatant social interaction. Enjoyment of good people and good times. Terrifying.
Dan had set me up with a bedroom, but once I’d charged the camera battery and dumped the pics from the show, I abdicated to Steve to let him sleep in a bed and said I’d go crash in the van. Great idea. Believe it or not, it wouldn’t be the first time I slept in a van in Postman Dan’s driveway. I think the third. It was about 3:30 in the morning by then and I was ready to crash out, so I went into the driveway. It wasn’t quite at the freezing point, but it was certainly cold enough that Carl remarked this morning that the beer left out here overnight was still chilled. I set up on the back bench with my hoodie on and my bookbag for a pillow and Mystery Science Theater 3000 playing and managed to crash for about an hour, but by 4:45, I was awake and too cold to really go back to sleep, so I decided to see if I could find someplace in the house that wasn’t yet occupied.
My mistake was thinking the festivities would’ve ended by then. Dan, Scott from Cruthu and Paul from Radio Moscow were up playing pool. I couldn’t see them at first through the window and the front door was locked and my phone was dead, so I had a moment of panic that I was going to be stuck outside for the night, but they were there and Dan let me in, wondering why I wasn’t upstairs asleep. Music still playing, though they’d moved on from Elonkorjuu to something else heavy ’70s. Fair enough. Dan took me up to his room and told me to take his bed, he’d sort something out and it was 5AM and I was too cold and tired to argue. I could still hear the music coming up from downstairs, but I nodded off for about an hour and a half and then set to work sorting pictures around 6:30, which I’d find out later was when the last stragglers fell out. I started writing the show review but was nodding off again soon enough and slept for maybe another hour between seven and eight. I’ve been up since.
No shower on the way out, but breakfast at the Fleetwood Diner in Lansing hit the spot — try the Hippie Hash — and we got on the highway shortly thereafter to head for Cleveland. The tour resumes tonight with Kings Destroy, Pentagram, Radio Moscow and Bang and the show is at House of Blues, so should be more like Minneapolis than Grand Rapids, though I’ll take it either way. I expect by the end of the night I’ll smell even worse than I already do, and there are some vicious sleepytime farts floating around the mostly-napping rear portion of this van. Might need to air that out at some point as we roll toward the cruel inevitability of the Ohio Turnpike.
Posted in Reviews on October 27th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Michigan’s capital city has always been good to me. I’ve been to Lansing five or six times at this point and I’ve continually found it a cool place utterly void of investment. That is to say, if anyone gave a shit or had money to spend, Lansing would be like Stroudsberg, PA, or Portland, Maine, in the ranks of those post-industrial towns that the creative types have moved to and opened brewpubs. The Avenue Cafe on Michigan Ave., which is being positioned as an alternative to the long-running Mac’s Bar down the road, has a vibe that speaks to the potential of Lansing overall. It has space, people who obviously care deeply about it and a prevailing sense of having gone it alone, no doubt reflecting the reality of the situation.
It was a night off from Kings Destroy‘s tour with Pentagram, Radio Moscow and Bang, and they joined with three Michigan locals in Cruthu, Hordes and Beast in the Field for one of the shows I’ve been most anticipating om this tour and one that, in the interest of full disclosure, I had a hand in putting together at least so far as making the intro between Kings Destroy and Cruthu guitarist and all-around excellent guy “Postman Dan” McCormick, and asking Dan if there was any shot at getting Beast in the Field out for it. I mark it an even bigger win that there was that chance now that I’ve seen them play.
They were completely different than I expected. What I knew of Lansing’s own Hordes came courtesy of their split tape with Bert, and it was drawn out and droney and more noise than song. Seems at some point Hordes got a drummer and that’s had some grounding effect on what they do, which is a blend of industrial and noise rock impulses. There was a lot of Godflesh in there, right down to how guitarist A. Hudson stands and shouts into the microphone, but some rawer crunch, and the live drummer made a huge difference alongside bassist Jon Howard‘s rumble. I was a little thrown off, to the point of wondering until I saw that tape at their merch table if I was thinking of the same band, but indeed, Hordes were Hordes. Once my mind made that jump — and I’m pleased to note it happened much more efficient than the explanation of it — their churning and chugging came together well throughout their set and made me eager to hear what they bring to their next recording.
I always get nervous writing about friends’ bands — I’ve known Postman Dan for a decade at this point — but with Cruthu, the issue was avoided in the best way possible in that they were actually good. As I understand it, this was their second show, and you could tell they were just getting going on stage, still feeling things out in terms of relating to each other in the material, but it was still easy to get a sense of where they were headed, the vocals of Teri Brown and McCormick‘s clean guitar tone nestled right into the heavy ’70s style, Brown belting out lyrics with a powerful push. She backed off the mic at times, and it just emphasized how little she actually needed it in the first place for how well you could still hear her standing out front. Bassist Scott Lehman added copious wah to his bass and joined in on vocals for the closer, and drummer Matt Fry kept the laid back grooves moving straight through. There were a couple awkward transitions and things to tighten up, but that’s why you play out in the first place. Cruthu had already surpassed their Creation demo (review here), recorded earlier this year, in pulling off the right mix of vibe, groove and tonal presence.
Allowed a somewhat longer set as the evening’s headliner and the only touring band of the four playing, Kings Destroy took advantage and stretched out to include some stuff not yet aired. “A Time of Hunting,” the title-track from 2013’s sophomore full-length, was played for the first time ever — and supposedly the last according to both vocalist Steve Murphy and guitarist Chris Skowronski, though I have my doubts — and they opened with “XXY” from the first album and threw in “Dusty Mummy” too, clearly relishing the chance to change it up on the small Avenue Cafe stage. Actually, I’m pretty sure the only reason Murphy was on stage at all was because the mic cable wasn’t long enough to let him leave it. He found plenty to do anyway, wrapping his scarf around his face for “Turul,” which ended the set paired well with “Embers” before it, and making shadow impressions on the wall. “Smokey Robinson” was the highlight, and is a song for which I’ve got only growing affection, but the whole set was a thrill, and it was fun to watch Skowronski, Murphy, guitarist Carl Porcaro, bassist Aaron Bumpus and drummer Rob Sefcik make the most of the gig. There were people there — hell, even Radio Moscow showed up — but I wouldn’t call the place crowded. If it was a set Kings Destroy were playing for their own enjoyment (and at one point Murphy did say something about masturbation), then at least that enjoyment was infectious.
Beast in the Field
One of the biggest problems with internet criticism is that there’s so much hyperbole out there and it comes out so readily that when you actually happen into something special like Beast in the Field — the duo of guitarist Jordan Pries and drummer Jamie Jahr — there almost isn’t a language to convey how righteous what you’re seeing is. One almost wants to be like, “Okay, but really guys, this is where it’s at.” Pries and Jahr played in front of what I hear tell is half their usual amount of amps, but it still made for a formidable wall, and rendered earplugs all but useless against the tonal onslaught. Doing headbanger calisthenics during the deceptively catchy “Wakan Tanka” from last year’s The Sacred above, the Sacred Below (review here), Pries looked like he was trying to shake his skull off, and Jahr made each tom thud count in following along with the wrecking ball of riffs slamming through the cabinets behind him. I had been very, very much looking forward to seeing them play, and Beast in the Field wound up surpassing my expectation. Like staring at a single-color canvas painted with volume. Superlatively heavy. I’ve bought one record this whole tour so far and it’s their new live album/comic book, The Astral Path to Satan’s Throne: Live at WIDR. I’m itching to check it out but need my ears to stop ringing first.
The party, and by then it was one, moved to Postman Dan‘s, less than a mile away, with most of his band, Kings Destroy, Radio Moscow, Travis from Hydro-Phonic and so on. I stayed upstairs for the most part and wound up sleeping in the van for a bit before I got too cold — Michigan at the end of October, might want to bring a blanket next time, buddy — and had to come back inside. I guess I’ll probably have more on that later on.
Posted in Radio on July 31st, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
I guess this is the part where I complain about lack of time, blah blah blah. Last week was a mess, it’s true, as were the last couple days, but what it comes down to is I do what I can when I can. That’s been my policy all along. A couple of these discs — Cruthu, Deamon’s Child — are my own rips as well from discs that were sent in, and as ever, there’s more that went up than just what is listed here. So one way or another, activity abounds. I need to find out how close I am to filling the three terabytes of the hard drive used for the server, but until then, the additions will continue unabated. It’s good to keep busy.
The Obelisk Radio adds for July 31, 2014:
Sleep, “The Clarity”
To call the first new Sleep track since Dopesmokeran “event” would be underselling it. “The Clarity” arrives via the Adult Swim Singles Series not only as the Iommian legends’ first outing since that landmark release, but also their debut recording with drummer Jason Roeder and their first studio work since guitarist Matt Pike and bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros went on to destroy/expand minds in High on Fire and Om, respectively, for the last decade-plus. A near-10-minute stonerly sprawl finds Sleep‘s central methodology intact. Grown up some from what it was 20 years ago, expectedly, but loyal to what they were without trying to recapture a magic that’s gone with that time. Cisneros has taken some flack for not roughing up his vocals à la Sleep’s Holy Mountain, but from where I sit, his cadence and cleaner style only makes “The Clarity” more honest, and if lyrics like “Iommic life complete” and “The dealer is my refuge” are easier to understand, you won’t find me complaining. They jam out most of the song’s second half, and ultimately “The Clarity” collapses in a sudden cut, leaving you to wonder if it ever happened at all — until of course you go back to the start for another glorious hit. If this portends more to come, I’m even more excited about the prospect of new Sleep than I was before the single arrived. Sleep on Thee Facebooks, Adult Swim Singles.
Deamon’s Child, Deamon’s Child
Even before you get to the dolphin sample in “Delfine,” and the garage thrashiness of the subsequent “Alles Bio, Immer Bio,” German trio Deamon’s Child give some hints that there’s more to what they do than the standard heavy noise rock. Comprised of guitarist Sven “Missu” Missulis (aka John Reebo of Reebosound, also ex-Psychedelic Avengers), bassist/vocalist Ana Maija Muhi (who also contributed to Reebosound‘s 2010 outing, This is Reebosound) and drummer Tim Mohr (also WhiteBuzz), Deamon’s Child debuted last year with an engaging demo and follow it with a self-titled debut of increased complexity and a sound that’s varied without the pretense, culling together punk, grunge, heavy rock and noise to create songs that feel like they could turn in any direction at once. The production plays up the frayed edges, and Muhi‘s layered vocals on a chugger like “Lutscher!” sound all the more Melvins-esque. Deamon’s Childis loaded with surprises, but doesn’t feel any more haphazard than it’s meant to, and while it may take a couple listens to catch up to it, the songs are consistent in their invitation for repeat visits. Deamon’s Child on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.
Red Fang, TeamRock.com Presents an Absolute Music Bunker Session with Red Fang
A free Red Fang acoustic EP — who’s going to argue with that? Not me, though the cumbersome and corporate-style title leaves something to be desired. Nonetheless, once you get through all the namebrandery, what you come out with are acoustic renditions from Red Fang of “Failure” from late 2013’s Whales and Leechesand “Malverde” and “Human Herd” from the preceding 2011 outing, Murder the Mountains(review here). Hearing guitarist Bryan Giles soften up his usually-rough vocal approach on “Malverde” is interesting, given how much of the album version of that track is about the impact of the thing, but “Failure” becomes a brooding plea rather than the threat it is at full thrust, and “Human Herd” a kind of meditation that makes for the highlight of the whole release. One tries not to read too much into what was clearly a one-off thing, but it would be cool to hear what an acoustic album track from Red Fang might sound like. Their songwriting clearly translates, and between Giles and bassist/vocalist Aaron Beam — let’s not forget guitarist David Sullivan or drummer John Sherman — they prove here they can pull it off sounding confident and comfortable. Kind of an unexpected turn from the chicanery-fueled rock we’re used to from Red Fang, but they’re as easy to dig as ever on (deep breath) TeamRock.com Presents an Absolute Music Bunker Session with Red Fang. Red Fang on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.
The Jackpine Snag, The Fire Tower EP
Tonally, Michigan’s The Jackpine Snag seem rooted in punk, but a strong undercurrent of the weirdo runs throughout the songs on their new EP, The Fire Tower, and whether it’s the shouting on “With Wings” or “The Missaukee Strut” or the motoring noise of closer “Gonna Wreck My Life,” the trio present an individualized approach to bruiser expression. The Fire Toweris their longest outing yet at seven songs following a four-track 2013 debut 7″, but they have no trouble changing up their take enough to hold interest, while also keeping the tracks themselves relatively lean and concise. Maybe what the EP does best is balance that efficiency with a loose, tossoff-punker vibe, but The Jackpine Snag — guitarist/vocalist Joe Hart, bassist Jason Roedel and drummer Todd Karinen — show a keen awareness of how far out they want to go and how oddball they want to get in their ragged, grungy craftsmanship. No doubt that will serve them well should they decide next to tackle a debut full-length. The Jackpine Snag on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.
Cruthu, Creation Demo
The debut release from Lansing, Michigan’s Cruthu, the Creation Democulls together an initial three tracks that sound somewhat raw but hold significant stylistic promise, blending a heavy ’70s psych-blues mentality with drearier rock tendencies and analog worship. Frontwoman Teri Brown provides a soulful lift to “S.O.S.,” as guitarist Dan McCormick leads bassist Scott Lehman and drummer Matt Fry through a subtly doomed murk, but pushes into rawer, strained-throat vocalizing on “Walk with Me” that immediately stands the Creation Demoapart from much of what claims to have been recorded live in terms of sheer honesty. And to Cruthu‘s further credit, I don’t think the tracks were recorded live. Particularly in “Separated from the Herd” and “Walk with Me,” which closes, Cruthu find some room for instrumental exploration along with Brown‘s vocals, and the path they’re on suits them well as the demo plays out. I’d be interested to hear them branch out further instrumentally, get weird with some percussion or strings or psychedelics, but there’s time for such things, and they’re off to an evocative start. Cruthu on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.
They’re a new band with some classic influences, and on their debut demo tape, Thirst for Misery, Lansing, Michigan, five-piece The Swill blend heavy ’70s rock, garage thrash and early metal into a stew that’s sonically their own and almost surprisingly vital. The five-songs on Thirst for Misery— a play on Black Flag/Saint Vitus‘ “Thirsty and Miserable” — were recorded and mixed by Kevin Kitchell and Matt Preston, and the band boasts within its ranks vocalist Matt “War” Watrous (Wastelander), bassist Rob Hultz (ex-Solace and currently in Trouble), guitarist “Postman Dan” McCormick (ex-The Fallopian Dudes and one of the best people you could ever hope to meet), Preston (Borrowed Time) also on guitar/keys, and drummer Rael Andrews (Bert). With everyone having been involved in an assortment of other bands over the years and being kind of a mash of different elements, The Swill is probably as self-effacing a moniker as one could ask.
Hultz is based in Chicago, so Derek Kasperlik (Mountain Goat) plays live. Thirst for Misery is pro-pressed and hand-numbered to 50 copies (I got number five) with a four-panel J-card and Brad Moore artwork. For their first release, The Swill probably could’ve just thrown together a dubbed demo in a line-drawn cover, but take it as a sign of the players’ experience they didn’t. Likewise, the songs themselves give off a similar mature feel. It’s a raw recording, but opener “You are Alone,” which shared side 1 with “Demons and Rust,” has a classic heavy rock stomp to its verse before taking off on a NWOBHM gallop in the second verse, Watrous‘ vocals at the fore until the guitars take hold for a quick, metallic solo. They nestle into a swaying groove with Preston adding some keys, though it could be Andrews as he’s credited with them as well, but they draw back to the central and more upbeat progression for a last run through the chorus before a sample from the 1982 documentary Another State of Mind.
Listening digitally, you know that’s at the end of “You are Alone” and not the beginning of “Demons and Rust,” but on the tape it’s harder to tell where one ends and the other begins. Once “Demons and Rust” gets going though, it’s slower, groovier, a fatter riff at its core with plenty of leads around it, almost a waltz if it isn’t one, and Watrous is more restrained vocally. The whole first part of the track is a build, and the second half pays it off, so side 1 gets a suitable finale, but when you turn the tape over, “Deeper Dungeons” is off in a rush of sleazy metal, a winding guitar line given further intensity by blastbeats and over-the-top metal vocalizing that rounds out with a fervent Tom G. Warrior grunt just before the guitar solo kicks in. “Deeper Dungeons” goes more or less apeshit and the delay-soaked interlude “Analysis Paralysis” offers a momentary breather before closer “The Void and the Vision” takes hold to finish out Thirst for Miseryon The Swill‘s most realized note yet. The band moves fluidly through tempo shifts and hit into the tape’s catchiest chorus, the winding lead guitar line being no less of a hook. They go big, get loud and end off in a suitable burst of energy, dropping to silence immediately after the last hit.
With that kind of precision and a more swaggering heavy rock influence working in tandem, I’ll be interested to hear how The Swill grow into their sound, but for now, the demo’s worth a listen either way and on tape, it sounds like something you’d be happy you traded for when it showed up in the mail. If pay-what-you-will downloads are more your thing, they’ve got that going too at their Bandcamp.
By the time I was on Route 80 headed back east, I had assembled one of my finest record-shopping hauls to date. I said at the time it was no coincidence I was making a stopover in Toledo on my way out to Days of the Doomed III. Hitting Ramalama Records I regarded as an imperative. Flat, Black and Circular in Lansing, Michigan, was another, and adding Kalamazoo’s Green Light Records to the return voyage after the fest was like a bonus round of flipping through stacks that made the long ride to follow that much closer to tolerable.
All told, it was four separate hauls that made it back in the one full stack above. I haven’t had the chance yet to listen to everything — it last year’s acquisitions are anything to go by, it’s going to take a while — but I’ve had the full pile on my desk for the better part of two weeks now and it’s been a blast to make my way through, one album to the next to the next and so on.
Since I had so much fun buying this stuff, I thought I’d take an opportunity to nerd out and give a rundown of what I ended up with, where and how. Some of this has been reviewed, some not so much, but from Acid Witch to Whaler, it all seemed relevant one way or another. Screw it, I just like talking about buying albums.
As always, click any picture to enlarge. Let’s do this thing:
Ramalama Records — Toledo, OH
My basic plan for Ramalama was to pick up new albums and recent releases. More new stuff than used. Their used section is actually pretty good, for rock and metal both, but I had some CDs I wanted to buy of stuff that had been given to me digitally for review — have I mentioned yet today how much I think that’s horseshit? — and I knew doing it while supporting a place like Ramalama would take some of the sting out. Grabbing the Uncle Acid (review here) and Church of Misery (review here) was kind of a given, and along with the new Kylesa — I’ve been wanting to give a revisit since it was reviewed — and Anciients‘ Heart of Oak, which I meant to review so hard but was never able to make it happen, I picked up both of the Spitting Firelive albums by High on Fire — which could’ve been one CD so easily it’s almost funny and makes me wonder if there’s some contractual reasoning behind splitting them up — Circleby Amorphis (for whom I’m forever a nerd), and Voivod‘s Target Earth, which seems to be proving a point in how forward the guitars are though I’m not sure what that point might be. Out of the used section, I also managed to find two bootlegs: Demos 84 & 85from Celtic Frost, which I’m pretty sure is just a crappy rip of Morbid Taleswith some early live tracks added, and Clutch, Live 2002 Tour, which seemed like it was all one show until “A Shogun Named Marcus” came on, was twice as loud, and at least six years before 2002. Still cool to get live versions of “Cattle Car” and “Walpole Man” (here listed as “Warpole”), which were reworked into different songs by the time Blast Tyrantcame out, as well as a live version of the Jethro Tull cover “Cross Eyed Mary.” No complaints.
Flat, Black and Circular — Lansing, MI
The Heads’ 1995 debut, Relaxing With…might have been the find of the whole trip. It was released in a limited run 18 years ago (since reissued), but most importantly, the record itself fucking smokes. Killer heavy psych/space rock that even sounds ahead of its time for how it sounds dated. You can’t really see it in the pic above, but at the bottom of the mini-stack is a tin-box version of Dragging Down the Enforcerby Eyehategod offshoot Outlaw Order. I never bought it when it came out and figured if I was ever going to get a copy, this would be the one to get. The Stone Age ComplicationsEP by Queens of the Stone Age and Also Risingby SubArachnoid Space felt like good finds, and I grabbed another Amorphis just in case I wanted to listen on the way home, Iron Monkey and Slough Feg just because I didn’t have them yet and for a heavy ’70s fix, the self-titled Granicus and the second Warhorse album, Red Sea. Hoping for a funk fix, I snagged Fireby Ohio Players, and it’s decent but skirts a line with disco that takes away some of the weight in the rhythm section. Needless to say, I have a copy of Rootsby Curtis Mayfield currently on order and am anxiously attending its arrival. Flat, Black and Circular has yet to disappoint in the three or four times I’ve been fortunate enough to peruse its wares, and it was another one I was looking forward to hitting up. There’s always some treasure waiting.
Days of the Doomed III — Cudahy, WI
It might not look like so much, but the thing about it was that a lot of the bands playing the Days of the Doomed fest, I already had their stuff. I had hoped Beelzefuzz would have copies on hand of their forthcoming debut long-player, but no such luck. Still, I managed to do pretty well with what was available. Getting a copy of 2013’s Somnium Excessum directly from Dream Death was an experience that only underscored how lucky I felt to see the band live — they’d only had the vinyl at Roadburn when I asked bassist Rich Freund — and the reissue of The Gates of Slumber‘s 2004 debut, The Awakening, fell easily under the must-buy category. I also happened into a Thirst for Misery demo from Michigan classic metal/heavy rockers The Swill that stood out even before I put it on for its cover photo of a hoodie-wearing stormtrooper hoisting a can of PBR, and was glad to be given a copy of Sleestak‘s new Book of Hours EP, which I’ll be reviewing at some point in the coming weeks. Put those together with the gorgeous layout of Whaler‘s Deep Six and The Gates of Slumber‘s Scion-sponsored Stormcrow EP (which was free), and it was two days’ worth in quantity and quality. That Whaler record is a killer.
Green Light Music and Video — Kalamazoo, MI
The trip out of Wisconsin began sometime around 8:30AM. It was Sunday, and I had 700-plus miles to drive, but how many times a year do I get to pass through Kalamazoo? Right, once. So a stop seemed warranted, and when I walked into Green Light Music and Video and they were playing Queens of the Stone Age‘s Rated R, I knew I was in the right place. They had some choice vinyl and a few snazzy looking turntables, the kind of promo posters I didn’t know record labels still made, and a slew of old stickers — Roadsaw, Core, etc. — that let me know their affiliation to heavy rock was nothing new. An Acid Witch reissue, some Uriah Heep and Nick Cave were decent enough to happen upon — the Uriah Heep especially — and since it was on Man’s Ruin, I got Laced Candyby The Gaza Strippers, though it turned out to be a double. My favorite of the bunch, however, was Live at Colonia Dignidad by Finland’s Opium Warlords. I bought it because the description on the back cover promised a host of contradictions, including, “A celebration of psychosexual isolation” and “Quality time for a suicidal inner-space astrodoomonaut.” Turns out Opium Warlords is a solo-project for Sami “Albert Witchfinder” Hynninen (ex-Reverend Bizarre), and in what I can only assume is deliberate contrast to the whites and pinks of the album art, the music itself is experimental drone-doom, at times vicious and near-unlistenable, at other times minimal and atmospheric. It didn’t make for great driving music, but I dug it anyway, and Green Light made a fitting epilogue to a weekend of CD-buying excess I don’t anticipate being able to match for some time.
Ye olde Googlymaps lists the drive from Wisconsin to my humble river valley at a little over 15 hours with the stop-off in Michigan. I won’t say these records were much comfort to me when I lost over an hour sitting at a dead stop for bridge construction before getting 100 miles eastbound into Pennsylvania, but if anything was going to aid so helpless a situation, they probably would’ve done it.
My favorite thing about BerT (aka The Legend of BerT) continues to be that I have no idea what to expect from them. That and they’re super goddamn heavy. The year may be more than half over, but before the end of it, the Lansing, Michigan-based heavy rock quirk purveyors will reportedly have two records out, the first of which is dubbed Trample the Dead. The trio (interview here) aren’t strangers to self-releasing unique packages, but this time around, they’ve teamed with fellow Michigan outfit Hydro-Phonic Records to release the album on vinyl, while continuing to handle the CD and tape through their own Madlantis imprint.
Expect more on this one to come as we get closer to the release, which as I heard it is “soon,” but in the meantime, BerT give a solid teaser for Trample the Dead in the new video below for the title-track, exploring a meld of crushing, droning tonality and melodic shouting, hypnotic repetitions emerging to find satisfying payoff in their plodding course. I’d speculate as to whether or not it represents the rest of the album, but when it comes to these guys — Ryan Andrews (guitar/vocals), Phillip Clark (bass) and Rael Jordan (drums) — one has to immediately shelve one’s own assumptions.
Michigan-based trio BerT don’t fuck around. Well, okay, that’s not exactly true. They fuck around quite a bit. But when they do, it rocks, and that’s what’s important.
Flash back to summer 2012. A simpler time. En route to Cudahy, Wisconsin, for the Days of the Doomed II fest, I swing north early off Route 80 in Toledo to hit up Lansing, Michigan, and visit my good friend Postman Dan. A couple beers after my arrival, I wind up over at BerT‘s practice space — a garage in the back of somebody‘s house. The three dudes in the band — brothers Rael Jordan (drums) and Ryan Andrews (guitar/vocals), as well as bassist Phil Clark — are done jamming and are sitting in the open garage with a few beverages and other indulgences, but sure enough, when we roll up, they plug in and do another song, just for the hell of it. And you know what? It’s fucking awesome. Thick-toned, powerful, volume at unholy levels, and the space where they play is the kind of narrow that gives the noise nowhere to go but into your skull. Before they finish, I can feel my hair vibrating.
Last week I put up a Nice Package post honoring their Monster Book split CD/LP/’zine/whathaveyou with Triangle and Rhino, and for a band who takes themselves as seriously as BerT doesn’t, it’s an awful lot of effort for them to put into something like that and then self-release it through their own Madlantis Records, taking it out on tour and playing along the East Coast before circling back to the Midwest. But BerT did just that, and barely stopped to mark the occasion with a trip to Niagara Falls before moving on to the next recording, the next album, the next Madlantis release, a taco party, a show, and so on. Adventures abound.
Formed after solidifying their lineup 2006, BerT ply their trade in the kind of self-driven creativity that’s exhausting just to watch. A slew of albums already under their belt, they’re just beginning a year-long series of live cassettes (they’ve got two that I know of already, with more to follow), and are working on a new full-length, to be titled Shit Hawk(because what else?), which will mark their first non-self-recorded studio outing, while still helming Madlantis and defying genre in a range of projects and allegiances.
I guess what it comes down to is I find BerT as admirable in concept as in practice, so if a quickie interview gets a couple more people to check them out, I figure it’s worth it. The band seemed to answer as a collective (“The royal we. You know, the editorial?”), which works for me, since they’re nothing if not solidified as a unit, which I learned in that garage in Michigan. Amazing how many life lessons one can take in around the smell of motor oil.
Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions.
1. Give me the background on the band. How did you three get together, and is there a specific Bert the band is named after? Did you know when you started out that you wanted the band to have such a varied sound?
We are all from a small town in Michigan called Bath which is just outside of the capital city Lansing. Brothers Ryan and Rael have been friends with Phil since we were knee high to a grasshopper. In about 2001, the three of us had a ridiculous noisy punk band called Spanish Ghost. The band was short-lived but opened up recording to us. After the demise of Spanish Ghost, Ryan and Phil started a recording project called Bugdum Toe. We did a lot of recording in Ryan‘s bedroom and his parents’ living room, a lot of the time with Rael playing drums or contributing in some way. These recordings were ambient noise drones, crazy experimental metal and kraut rock-esque punk, mostly, just a lot of god awful ear-piercing racket. We are rather proud that this is the one band that Ry and Rael‘s mom would not let rehearse/record while she was in the house. These recordings of said horrid noise is what would later become BerT.
In the winter of 2006, Phil moved into a trailer park, back in Bath and started jamming with Ryan at an unheated storage unit we lovingly referred to as “The Meat Locker.” We wrote one, maybe two songs with Ry on guitar, Phil on bass and random people filling in on drums as we fleshed out the songs. We did this for a few months until one day some cop came and fucked that all up, giving us a ticket and effectively ending all the -12.3 degree jam sessions at The Meat Locker.
For a while we went back to just recording due to lack of a drummer until finally, we said fuck it and decided to MAKE a drummer. We found some samples of various Dale Crover drum hits and used those to program drums and started playing shows. This worked until around 2009, when we started jamming with Ryan on drums and Phil on guitar. The song “Trample the Dead” that’s the last track on our EP Stoner Boner is the only recording of this formation of BerT. Shortly after that we asked Rael to come play bass and recorded the album Shit Hawk. Yet again in 2010 we rotated to the left and into our current lineup putting Rael on drums, Ryan on guitar and Phil on bass.
The variance in sound was half planned out because we just like to create and experiment, but we have also been reaching for a certain idea the whole time. We like to keep it heavy, thick, and slow, but also we don’t want to box ourselves into a corner. We believe that we are antennas transmitting the songs that the universe has written. We ride with the wave, we don’t fight against it.
We aren’t named after a specific Bert, but feel we are more the embodiment of every Bert that has ever been and ever will be.
2. How much does having your own studio factor into making a band like BerT possible? It seems like when you guys put something out, you have a clear idea of the kind of sound you want that specific release to have. I’m thinking of the differences between the Grown Long split with Hordes and the Monster Book project with Triangle and Rhino. Do you know going into an album, split, etc., that you want it to have a specific sound, and is putting that together a matter of assembling recordings you’ve done?
Having a studio/jam/overall hangout area makes everything we do in BerT possible. We have all experienced shitty situations in the past with bad neighbors or just no room to play. Having the ability to be loud and do shit when we want makes everything possible.
We spend a lot of time thinking about our releases. They always evolve and change as circumstances happen but we usually start with a specific idea. Each project gets a fresh slate, its own identity with its own group of songs. The Monster Book for instance was an attempt at our full-length that we decided to make into an EP about monsters… a concept that carried through into the split it ended up becoming. As where Grown Long is a project we have worked on since the Bugdum Toe days. When we started working with HORDES, we thought it was a fitting piece of music to complement their style. We view every release as one piece of music, not individual songs crammed into a compilation. Each release has its own concept or underlying themes however strict or loose those ideas may be.
3. How did the Monster Book project come about, and what went into making that ‘zine? Have you ever put anything like that together before? Who drew the poster and where did that design come from?
Monster Book is the third and final collaboration with our friends Triangle and Rhino. T&R guitarist Jake is moving out of the country and wanted to do a record with us before he left. We had just finished recording Wall of Bees, so it was perfect timing. For the ‘zine, Ry sent out a bunch of questions and we asked our friends to contribute art and writings. We actually ended up with way too much material and couldn’t fit it all in. We did the page layout ourselves and had the pages printed, then we cut, folded and stapled about 40 billion pieces of paper… It was a marathon of suck. The cutting, folding and stapling kind of suck.
The idea for the poster came from a t-shirt Phil got off eBay that featured a wizard on a mountain with a hot chick and lighting and all that jazz. We thought up a stoned reinterpretation adding the luck dragon and some unicorns farting out our bands names and gave all that to Craig. We half-expected him to take a few of the ideas and run with it, but he drew what we said exactly from top to bottom… it was legendary.
4. Tell me about the tour that brought you out east? How were the shows and how was the response? Apart from the accommodations in Jersey, how did it go and will you be back on the road anytime soon?
The tour was great, our first time on the road for an extended period of time like that. Jersey was the best night of sleep we had on the whole tour. The response we got was great, we sold quite a few records and had a rad time seeing a ton of cool places and meeting a lot of cool new friends. Most of the shows were well attended, and even the ones that weren’t, we felt well received. Everyone was very accommodating and helped us out a lot. We’ll be out again as soon as we can.
Also… Boston: Great dope and killer fried clams.
5. What other new releases are in the works? Maybe Stoner Boner Vol. 2 or anything else coming up?
Our one-sided LP called Shit Hawk is supposed to be out this fall on Hydro-Phonic Records.
We’ll be continuing our live cassette series throughout next year as well as contributing to a 7″ that the guys in the group Foot and Mouth Disease from Rochester, NY, are putting together with bands all doing 15-second tracks. We’re also putting out a song this October for the 3 Way Singles Club on It Takes A Village To Make Records and we’re in the midst of finishing our new full-length, Return to the Electric Church. This is our first time in a “real” studio – as in, one where we pay somebody else to know exactly what they’re doing. Our goal is a spring release for the album.
6. Any other plans or closing words you want to mention? What’s next on Madlantis Records?
Next on Madlantis Records we’re going to release a full-length CD from HORDES (ambient drone doom with Ryan from BerT on drums) and the new Ghoulie (grimy funk/soul) EP called Mango Juice, both due out any day now.
We would like to say thanks to the fans and musicians that support the underground music scene. Nowadays the playing field is leveled and you have to do it yourself. We appreciate those that do. We’re all one community no matter the genre of music. Go to shows, buy underground music, have fun, and think freely!
Apart from the reality of the thing itself, I think what I find most admirable about the total package for the Monster Booksplit between Michigan’s BerT and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s Triangle and Rhino is the fact that it’s basically self-released. Sure, it’s two bands contributing, but it’s put out through BerT‘s Madlantis Records imprint, self-financed and self-realized. Pretty fucking impressive.
Monster Book(review here) was released in August. Limited to 300 copies in a green swirl 12″ vinyl (seen above), it also includes a CD compilation of this and past BerT/Triangle and Rhino jointreleases, a full-size poster, and the titular book itself, a 40-page mini-‘zine with interviews, bizarre art, tiny, tiny text and much more.
Let’s take a closer look (click any image to enlarge):
The Vinyl Covers
From the start, it’s obviously a homemade job. The cover for BerT’s side (top) has the name of their side’s EP — Wall of Bees — and the Monster Book title itself, and the back has Triangle and Rhino‘s cover for In the Company of Creeps the hand-numbering for the vinyl. Mine’s either #154 or #159. Hard to tell. Both covers are dark, but textured as well, so right away, the physical presence of the release is important as well as the music.
Monster Book marks BerT‘s debut on vinyl. The picture there doesn’t really capture it, but the record itself is gorgeous with a deep green splatter running through it. They say your first time should be special, so there you go.
Poster artist Craig Horky managed to capture all the charm of stoner rock in one poster. I mean think about it: farting unicorns, crappy movie references, skull mountains, band names, a wizard (who in himself kind of looks like John Cleese in Monty Python and theHolyGrail; bonus points) and a nudie lady with junk in the trunk. If you could actually draw the riff to “Sweet Leaf,” this is what you’d come out with.
From what I can gather from my copy and the image at the top of this post, the images airbrushed onto the CD sleeves vary, but mine is a bird in relief and I dig it a lot. It stands out from the rest of the release, but since I seem to be the last person on the planet who gives a hairy fuck about the CD format, it’s cool to see them extend the effort and attention to detail.
None of these pictures are to scale with each other, but I still wanted to give some sense of the size of the ‘zine included with Monster Book, so taking my best middle school science class reasoning, I put a quarter next to it. Above is the front cover. Here’s a look inside:
BerT, who hail from Bath, in Michigan, interviewed a bunch of bands from the local scene in around Lansing — Cavalcade, Hordes, Liquified Guts, Elk Nebula, Icicles and many more — and included their Q&As in the 40 pages of this ‘zine, interspersing hijacked images with original art:
The whole affect is bizarre and more than a little deranged, but also thoroughly awesome. While listening to the array of fucked sonics on the split itself, thumbing through the ‘zine (thumb carefully, papercuts are a looming threat no less sinister than Triangle and Rhino‘s noise), it makes the experience even more complete. Who doesn’t like to read with a record on?
Here’s the back cover:
One last bit of charm before they leave off. I guess the back cover sums up a good portion of what Monster Bookis all about — despite the massive amount of effort that went into making it, nobody here is taking themselves too seriously — but really, it’s the whole thing that’s worth celebrating, not just one aspect or another.
If you want to check out more on the Monster Booksplit between BerT and Triangle and Rhino, hit up the Madlantis Records website.
And in case you need more visual evidence, here’s BerT‘s video for “Heart Shaped McBubba”: