Front to Back: Eye of the Stoned Goat 4 in Worcester, MA, 05.03.14

Posted in Reviews on May 5th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

It was a 20-band bill spread out evenly across two days, so right away, The Eye of the Stoned Goat 4 was going to be a considerable undertaking. Fortunately for me, it was close. Worcester is precisely 75 minutes from where I live. I’ve driven further to see three bands, let alone 20, so a trip down the Masspike and there I was, back in Worcester. It had been a decade-plus since the last time I was in that town — famed in metal circles most probably for the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival held at the Palladium — and it was way less of a dump than it was back then, though with much to see in Ralph’s Rock Diner, I obviously wasn’t taking a tour of the local infrastructure. Ralph’s had plenty to catch the eye anyway, even apart from the Saturday lineup with Birch Hill Dam, SET, John Wilkes Booth, Second Grave, Beelzefuzz, Lord Fowl, Ogre, Kings Destroy, Cortez and Sixty Watt Shaman.

There is, sure enough, a classic-style dining car when you walk in, and building that’s sort of sprouted up out of it, the way one tree grows out of another. Turn a corner, you’re in a bar, tv on, pool table, etc., but find your way up a flight of stairs and you’re in the venue itself. Decent-size stage, bar in back along the side wall with plenty of room for merch, a little side-stage area for equipment, and the best lighting I’ve seen since I moved to this state last year — this being my first time at Ralph’s, I was immediately relieved at the quality of the place. Very, very cool room, and sound to match. It made a fitting home for Eye of the Stoned Goat, which last nestled itself into Brooklyn’s The Acheron in July 2013 (review here) and this year was expanded to two days for the first time, organizer Brendan Burns of Snakecharmer Booking and the band Wasted Theory pulling out the stops in mixing locals and out-of-towners, which I’ve found is a balance one should be careful to maintain around these parts. Fortunately there’s no shortage of quality acts.

A 5PM start got underway on time with Birch Hill Dam leading off, and there was no turning back from there:

Birch Hill Dam

As I made my way through the downstairs part of the venue and bought my weekend pass, I was handed a copy of Birch Hill Dam‘s 2011 CD, Colossus, which the MA natives had donated as a door giveaway. A nice touch. I had known I wanted to see them anyway — been more or less waiting to run into Birch Hill Dam again since I moved here — but even if I hadn’t, that would certainly make me more inclined to check them out. My last experience with the band was in 2012 at Stoner Hands of Doom XII in Connecticut, and my prevailing impression was a Kyuss influence. That was far less the case this time around. With some Down/C.O.C. chug in their thick-toned riffs and some double-guitar antics featured later on in the set, Birch Hill Dam were way further into their own sound than when last we met. Frontman Mike Nygard was one of the weekend’s few standalone vocalists (six out of the 20 bands, most of them on Saturday), and he held down his position well with unforced throatiness and just a hint of metal underneath all that rock. They played a decent amount of new material along with “2600″ and finale “Boozehound,” both culled from Colossus, and as slick as that album was, I’ll be fascinated to hear the direction their new stuff takes in the studio.

SET

There were two bands on the Saturday bill I’d never seen before — Worcester’s SET (which they seem to prefer written all-caps) and headliners Sixty Watt Shaman — and SET were the surprise of the weekend. Part of that owes to the fact that in my head, I had imagined they were a completely different band, but to find their newer-class doom tempered with thrash and even some crusty black metal, I was blown away by the quality and cohesion in what they were doing, and how natural they made it sound. A two-guitar, two-vocal four-piece, they seemed to have clearly worked on their tone and presentation, and if it had been the West Coast instead of the East, I’d call the results “gnarly.” They were tight, worked fluidly in moving between fast and slower tempos, and looked to be working from a fairly wide swath of influences. They had tapes for sale in the back at $3 each, but I missed my shot at one. Still, I’ll look forward to seeing them again and knowing a little bit more of what I’m getting when they kick into the badass roll of “Wolves behind the Sheep,” taken from their Valley of the Stone debut long-player, apparently set to release on vinyl this summer. I don’t know if they tour, but they should.

John Wilkes Booth


Among the few things I’ll never argue against is a chance to catch John Wilkes Booth live. The house band of Mr. Beery’s out on Long Island and I go way back at this point, but they were another one I hadn’t seen since SHoD in Connecticut, so I felt somewhat overdue. They were doing their thing, which is fine by me since they’re good at it. They had a fair amount of what seemed to me to be newer material, and as he stood in front of the weekend’s most elaborate pedal board, vocalist Kerry Merkle plugged a new EP in the works that would BE done “as soon as [they] get [their] shit together.” I had thought that was going to be a full-length, but it’s been long enough at this point that I’d take whatever came. I’ve seen them burn rooms to the ground with brash riffing, thick groove and megaphoned-incantations, but this was a somewhat moodier set, more exploratory feeling, and that suited them just as well, as they managed to maintain their underlying crunch. I’ve said it of the Booth before that they’re a ’90s NYC noise rock band and they just don’t know it, and I got that vibe again at Ralph’s, but they showed a brooding side to complement, and that made the heavier parts land that much harder in comparison. Made me wonder where their EP might be headed.

Second Grave


Eye of the Stoned Goat 4 marked two last shows, both of them for Massachusetts’ own David Gein. The now-former Black Pyramid four-stringer was playing his final (never say never in rock and roll, but at least for the time being) gigs with Second Grave on Saturday and with The Scimitar on Sunday ahead of a move to the West Coast, so it was twice the occasion. I don’t know if you could really call anything Second Grave do “celebratory,” however, unless you’re celebrating slow, plodding and every now and again viciously extreme metal — which, now that I think about it, is fun to do — but the four-piece did justice to their bass player in delivering a crisp, tight-wound set, the clean vocals and apex-topping screams of guitarist Krista Van Guilder cutting through a morass of tonal bite courtesy of her own and Chris Drzal‘s guitars and Gein‘s bass while drummer Chuck Ferreira shoved the lumbering progressions forward. During their last song — was it “Mountains of Madness?” — the lights went blood red and the visual change helped put their final payoff over the top. I’m not sure how, being in a band that can be so utterly ruthless, they resist the temptation to be that way all the time, but Second Grave‘s restraint, however momentary it may or may not be in a given track, is part of why the band works so well.

Beelzefuzz

Maryland trio Beelzefuzz released one of 2013′s best in the form of their self-titled debut (review here), and having spent so much time with that material since the record came out last August, I felt like I was seeing them in a different context than before. I wasn’t the only one in the crowd who knew the songs, whether it was “Hard Luck Melody,” or “Hypnotized” and “All the Feeling Returns” from the album, they got a welcoming response from the ESG4 crowd. Between Dana Ortt‘s guitar tone, bassist Pug Kirby‘s trancelike-state stage presence and the classy, carefully-understated drumming of Darin McCloskey (also of Pale Divine), Beelzefuzz took the stage at Ralph’s well in command of their sound and bizarre, progressive take on traditional doom. Ortt thanked the audience for being so “cool,” and mentioned he’d taken some pills before going on — Claritin, for hay fever — but if he was under the weather, there was little sign of it as they tackled “Ride the Sky” by Lucifer’s Friend to close out. I couldn’t help but think of their taking on the same song last year at Days of the Doomed III in Wisconsin with Trouble‘s Eric Wagner joining in on vocals, but they handled it well on their own as well, though I’m not sure if that was as much a highlight as “Reborn” from the self-titled, which would remain stuck in my head for the rest of the evening.

Lord Fowl

Granted, after Beelzefuzz just about anything is a left turn, but I was curious to see how Connecticut’s Lord Fowl — who, if you’ve never seen them, are a boot to the ass; an absolutely kinetic live band — would follow their more languid predecessors. I’m not sure what I was hung up on, but about two seconds into Lord Fowl‘s set, they had the crowd on their side, and they had no trouble keeping them there for the duration of their all-too-short half-hour set. It hasn’t quite been a year since the last Stoned Goat fest, which the two-guitar foursome also played, but I would’ve hoped to see them again before this weekend, fantastic as they are on stage. I was glad to see them get a response when they kicked into the title-track from 2012′s excellent Small Stone debut, Moon Queen (review here), with guitarists Vechel Jaynes and Mike Pellegrino trading vocals back and forth in the chorus while bassist John Conine and drummer Don Freeman thrashed suitably on the Ralph’s stage. For an act who puts so much effort into their shows, it’s worth noting that Lord Fowl don’t come across as forced, or like they’re trying to cloy their way into fan-appreciation. It’s just a good time, and that goes even more for the boogie-fied new jam they locked into. Still instrumental and formative though it was, it was also plain to see why they’d want to break it out.

Ogre

The Portland, Maine, trio were pretty fresh on my mind, having seen them in March at the release show for their fourth album, The Last Neanderthal (review here), but a quick check-in was cool by me, particularly with “Nine Princes in Amber” as the opening song — that hook was among the day’s most irresistible. They dipped back to their 2003 Dawn of the Proto-Men debut for “The Jaded Beast,” and “Dogmen (of Planet Earth)” from 2006′s Seven Hells was time well spent, but as had been the case last time, it was the new stuff that had them excited, the raw Sabbathery of “Bad Trip” and the classic metal of “Warpath” coming through with what felt like an especially fervent delivery. For Ogre to emerge as the most singularly indebted to Sabbath on a fest like this is saying something — and they did, at least for Day One if not for both — but the closing cover of The Bags‘ “Naked Lady” which they once again squeezed in the few remaining minutes of their time found them in a higher gear distinct from some of the doomy wanderings of “Bad Trip” and “The Jaded Beast,” formidable as the impressions those tracks left were, particularly “The Jaded Beast” with bassist Ed Cunningham moving into and out of screams in the chorus while guitarist Ross Markonish belted out a steady series of solos and drummer Will Broadbent stomped away behind.

Kings Destroy

I had missed hearing “Embers.” After being so lucky to accompany Kings Destroy on their West Coast run earlier this Spring, I guess I had been spoiled hearing their new material each night, but I took out my earplugs for song on the first day of Eye of the Stoned Goat 4, and that was for “Embers,” from the New York five-piece’s reportedly-recorded but as-yet-untitled third album. Aside from being good to see them, as people, I was delighted to catch them on stage for the eighth time this year. All the more for the new songs “W2″ and “Smokey Robinson,” which I hadn’t heard yet, as well as opener “Old Yeller,” and the closing whallop of “Blood of Recompense” — another one I’d missed — and “Turul,” which is so wonderfully strange that I almost enjoy watching people hear it as much as hearing it myself. Probably goes without saying that the follow-up to 2013′s A Time of Hunting is among my most anticipated releases for the rest of 2014, but I’ll say it anyway and add to that how fortunate I feel to have seen this band come into their own over the last few years. They’ve hit the point where their sound is utterly separate from what one might classify it genre-wise, and the weirder they go into their blend of slow, mournful heavy, brash confrontationalism and dead-on rock — watch out for “Mr. O.” when the album hits — the more righteous they become. There’s not a lot about New York that I miss, but I miss Kings Destroy.

Cortez

When the weekend was over, it would be Cortez who pulled the best crowd. Massachusetts’ reputation for loving its own is well earned, but even more than that, the four-turned-fivesome legitimately rocked the pants off of Ralph’s, guitarists Scott O’Dowd and Alasdair Swan trading leads as the set progressed with a completely fluid charge, bassist Jay Furlo joining vocalist Matt Harrington on vocals in a chorus here and there all the while sticks tossing into the air behind from drummer Jeremy Hemond. Putting Cortez in the context of outfits like Roadsaw and Lamont, they’re just about everything right in Boston’s brand of heavy rock. They opened with “Johnny” from their 2012 self-titled debut (review here), which Darryl Shepard and I agreed should be the closer, and offered new material in “Vanishing Point” from their split 7″ with Borracho (discussed here) and “Keeping Up,” which carried no shortage of swagger. It was “Monolith” that finished out their time in grand fashion, and propelled by Hemond‘s cymbal wash, theirs was as big a big-rock-finish as the two days of Eye of the Stoned Goat 4 would boast. They played the veterans they are despite only having one LP out, and that’s my polite way of saying they should do more. Frankly, they’re a better band than most people know. Fortunately, the crowd at Ralph’s seemed reasonably well informed.

Sixty Watt Shaman

Before they went on, Sixty Watt Shaman drummer Chuck Dukehart III — who’d pull double-duty on Sunday in Foghound — had the room cracking up with some classic Paul Stanley stage rants: “Do you people like the taste of AL-CO-HOL?” “Alright listen,” and so on. Fucking great. The reunited Maryland (etc.) bruisers were in a rough spot following Cortez and starting after midnight as the headliners, and while they started out to a packed house, by the time they were done much of the evening was as well. Still, for a band who haven’t played more than a handful of shows in the last decade, it was hard to argue with what Sixty Watt Shaman — bassist Rev. Jim Forrester (interview here), Dukehart, guitarist Todd Ingram (also of King Giant) and vocalist Daniel Soren — were getting up to with a barrage of dudely grooves that only underscored the influence they’ve had on Maryland and Southern heavy rock in general over the last 10-plus years. Though still newly-reactivated, they were tight and fresh from the London and Berlin Desertfest‘s as well as Dukehart‘s own Moving the Earth festival in Baltimore (go O’s!) prior. The title-track from 2000′s Seed of Decades was a highlight for me, though neither “Cactus Mexicali,” “Southern Gentleman” nor “Pull the Strings” from 1998′s Ultra Electric prompted argument. As they’d have to, they closed out with “Red Colony” from Seed of Decades and capped a day full of heavy with some of its burliest groove. Some bands you don’t expect to ever get the chance to see, and given the limited nature of their doings as of now — two shows in Europe, two in the US, this being one — I felt lucky to see them and they were fitting closer for a raucous night.

I pulled out of the Ralph’s Rock Diner parking lot at 1:30AM, having left shortly after Sixty Watt Shaman finished. The ride home was uneventful, which is probably for the best, and I managed to knock two or three minutes off the trip. That doesn’t seem like much now, but as I crashed out in anticipation of waking up and making my way back to Worcester for Day Two of Eye of the Stoned Goat 4, I knew every little bit was going to count.

Day Two coverage tomorrow, and more pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Live Review: The Eye of the Stoned Goat 3 in Brooklyn, 07.27.13

Posted in Reviews on July 29th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Though most of the acts were out-of-town imports, there was a strong familial vibe at The Acheron even before The Eye of the Stoned Goat 3 got started. Not knowing what traffic wonders awaited on a Saturday evening — could be nothing, could be armageddon — I headed into Brooklyn early so as to catch the start of the nine-band bill and got there well in advance of commencement. Plenty of time to sit outside and chat with fest organizer Brendan Burns, who’d later take the stage with his band Wasted Theory, Pat Harrington of Geezer and the Electric Beard of Doom podcast — who were among the presenters of the show along with The Obelisk, Small Stone Records, Wendigo and Burns‘ own Snakecharmer Booking — the cats from Lo-Pan and plenty of others coming through.

It was still sunny out with a few hours of daylight to come, but people were beginning to assemble. Word of the show had spread pretty well, so although people came and went throughout the evening and seemed to split their time between The Acheron‘s venue room and The Anchord Inn, which occupies the other half of the space, there wasn’t any point where I’d say it cleared out, and right up to when Lo-Pan took the stage as headliners, there was a steady build of heads filling the room. The bar next to the stage was certainly busy all night.

Soon enough, though, it was time to go inside as the night started to get underway with Philly merchants of stone, Wizard Eye. From there, it was a one-after-the-next succession of heavy. Here’s how it all went down:

Wizard Eye

They’re veterans of Eye of the Stoned Goat by now, but where the second installment earlier this year in Delaware had them teamed with fellow Philadelphia natives Heavy Temple, Thee Nosebleeds and Clamfight, in Brooklyn, they were on their own in representing the City of Brotherly Love. Not only that, but it was their third show with new drummer Mike in the trio with the dreaded guitarist/vocalist Erik Caplan and bassist/backing vocalist Dave. If there was any anxiety on their part, they didn’t show it. Wizard Eye seemed as comfortable as ever as they nestled into their thick, air-pushing Sleep-style stoner grooves, Caplan moving from his guitar to the theremin at just the moment when it seemed the former wouldn’t deliver anymore wail than that which had already been extracted from it. My overarching impression of the band remains the same as when I saw them in February — they need to get an album out. It’s time and even being 33 percent new, their presentation was tight enough to make me think they’re more than ready to go. Hopefully soon.

Geezer

If Wizard Eye were the stonerly start, then NYC’s Geezer were the answer for anyone looking for a taste of blues, guitarist/vocalist Pat Harrington working in a liberal use of slide while bassist Freddy Villano and drummer Turco filled out a heavy rocking stomp behind the classically fuzzed distortion and gravelly vocals. The band is still fresh off the release of their impressive 2013 Gage EP (discussed here), and they brought that jammier sensibility to their set, seeming right at home in slower progressions that they made move when they needed them to and offering unpretentious drinkin’ man’s music well met by the getting-started crowd. Harrington‘s was among the most believable “whiskey-soaked” style singing that I’ve heard in years, and he and Villano (who also play in Gaggle of Cocks together) obviously had years’ worth of chemistry working in their favor, despite Geezer being a relatively recent advent. Closer “Ghost Rider Solar Plexus” was a highlight, and as they’re reportedly working on a vinyl release for Gage, they seem to be building some momentum going into whatever they have in the works for after that. A solid blues-based heavy rock jam is something I’ll never argue with, and Geezer had that in spades.

Wasted Theory


Up from their home in Bear, Delaware, double-guitar unit Wasted Theory handled themselves well on The Acheron‘s stage, as Eye of the Stoned Goat 3 organizer Brendan Burns sat back for drums behind guitarist/vocalist Jackson, lead guitarist M. Kramer and bassist J., the four-piece striking hard on a balance of post-Down Southern metal and more driving stoner fare. They seemed in good spirits after having performed about a month ago at the Moving the Earth festival in Baltimore, and as they hit into songs off this year’s GodSpeed EP and Jackson swung his guitar around his back, they seemed to have come far even since I got my first glimpse of them earlier this year, locking in some fervent Pepper Keenan-style chugging on guitar while J. gave the riffs a thick foundation to rest on. They were energetic and engaged the whole way through, and though they didn’t pull in the biggest crowd of the night, they capped off with a motor-boogieing new song, Jackson half on guitar, that positioned them well coming out of GodSpeed. By the time they were done with their short set, the fest seemed like it was moving along quickly.

Borracho


I’d reviewed it the day before, so I don’t think Borracho‘s second album, Oculus, would’ve been any fresher on my mind if I’d listened to it on the way to the show. The D.C.-based trio had been out the weekend before for a set of four gigs with Lo-Pan, so I expected they’d be pretty tight and they did not disappoint. Owing to time constraints, they only played three or four songs, starting out with “Empty” and “Stockpile,” the opener and centerpiece from Oculus. Guitarist Steve Fisher has taken to the vocalist role well, and he seemed right at home on both of the Oculus cuts, the set as well giving me a whole new appreciation for the richness of bassist Tim Martin‘s tone. Dense and packed with low end push, it created the waves on which Borracho‘s slower grooves rode, punctuated and given further physicality during the jammier stretches of “Stockpile” by drummer Mario Trubiano. Dipping back to their 2011 debut, Splitting Sky, the trio capped off with the quick burst of “Concentric Circles,” Fisher showing no hesitation to deliver the lines shouting up into a dangling microphone, Motörhead-style. The earlier sets were all pretty short — 25 minutes for the first couple bands, then 30 for the next several — but Borracho had enough time to pack in maximum riffage and give anyone there who’d never seen them before a good idea of where they were coming from as a three-piece.

Lord Fowl

Here’s where I’m at with New Haven, Connecticut, four-piece Lord Fowl. They’re so tight and so professional that on stage they look like they could be playing one of those all-day amphitheater commercial radio shows with a goofy name. You know the ones: “WFUK presents the Summer Fling this Saturday at the Giant Corporate Bank Park,” and so on. Only snag is Lord Fowl don’t suck and all those bands do. It’s been over two years since I first saw them, and while they may not have the same kind of surprise factor going as they did that night, my enjoyment for what they do has only increased as they’ve gotten signed to Small Stone and last year released, Moon Queen (review here). Opening with the same wow-that-cop-is-saying-some-racist-shit sample that starts the song on the album, they kicked into the funk-riffed “Dirty Driving” as guitarists Vechel Jaynes and Mike Pellegrino traded off vocal parts, setting the tone for the rest of their all-too-short set. “Split” and “Hollow Horn” were welcome inclusions, bassist John Conine and drummer Don Freeman locking in with the starts and stops of the latter, balancing classic rock and modern heavy off each other with born-to-do-it ease. I asked Jaynes afterwards and he said a new record’s in the works, which was some of the best news I heard all night.

Supermachine

To my knowledge, no such award was handed out, but if Eye of the Stoned Goat wanted to start handing out prizes for the prettiest guitars, one would almost certainly have gone to Supermachine‘s Jay Fortin. I don’t even play guitar and the sight of his gold-trimmed, hollow-body Gretsch had me in awe, both in look and sound. As Fortin, bassist Dave Jarvis, drummer Mike McNeil and vocalist David Nebbia stepped into the New Hampshire biker rock groove of “Buffalo,” I could hear a touch of the tonality Fortin and Jarvis brought to their prior outfit together, Scissorfight, and while I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to listen to Supermachine and not consider that context — which isn’t really fair to the band, who are going for a different style altogether; it’s also why I’ve not to date reviewed their self-titled debut — there’s no doubt they’re a crisp, clear-headed and heavy four-piece who can put together a dead-on, ballsy set. “Crutch” was absurdly catchy and correspondingly full sounding, new song “Broiled Alive” was, well, also those things, and I came away from their set glad I had seen them before and had some sense of what to expect, since it allowed me more of a chance to relax and take Supermachine in on their own level. That being the case, I wondered if maybe repeat exposure would continue the trend, and if so, I could think of far worse things.

Black Black Black

The first two words in the page of notes I took during the Black Black Black set were “holy” and “shit.” The only New York band on the bill besides Geezer — also the only other act playing Eye of the Stoned Goat 3 besides Geezer that I hadn’t seen live before — Black Black Black took the stage in unassuming-enough fashion and proceeded to demolish the space around them. It was like they decided to bring their self-titled debut (see here, here and here) to life and then punch everyone in the face with it. “Light Light Light” crushed in a manner that threw down a gauntlet that dared Gozu and Lo-Pan to match its weight, and “Pentagram On,” “Wisdom, Knowledge and Fucked,” the raging “ReDeath” and “Son of Bad” brought a zero-genre-allegiance sonic versatility that was lethal in kind to the band’s presentation of the material. As their time wore on — it went quickly, make no mistake — and guitarist Jacob Cox manipulated feedback to add atmosphere to the pummel, I tried to think back to the last time I got a recommendation as good as when Jesse Bartz from Lo-Pan put me onto them. I couldn’t come up with anything. With no loss of energy or assault in their delivery, Black Black Black – Cox, vocalist Jason Alexander Byers, bassist Jonathan Swafford and drummer Jeff Ottenbacher – included two new songs near the end, the latter of which offset a shuffling riff with vocals that bordered on airy before they shifted into their final round of intense bludgeoning. It was, in short, a fucking delight.

Gozu

It made a strange kind of sense to me as I watched Boston’s Gozu load onto the stage that, last weekend, I should be in Boston watching The Brought Low at a show which members of Gozu were attending just to hang out, while this weekend, I’m in New York watching Gozu, who are from Boston, and here’s Ben Smith from The Brought Low, come to check out the gig. I feel like there’s some element of symmetry there and I just don’t have a brain able to process mathematics complex enough to enjoy it. Nonetheless, at The Acheron, Gozu played the heaviest set I’ve ever seen them play. Whether it was “Bald Bull,” the thrashing “Charles Bronson Pinchot” or the boogie-ready “Snake Plissken” from this year’s The Fury of a Patient Man (review here), or “Regal Beagle” from their 2010 Locust Season debut, everything they played seemed to pack some extra bite, and particularly in the case of drummer Barry Spillberg, the band hand-delivered a rager that set back some of their soul influence in favor of showing off hardcore roots, closing out with “Mr. Riddle” from Locust Season, which had thrust enough to its groove alone to justify Gozu’s place on the bill. I don’t generally think of Gozu as putting such an emphasis on heaviness — yeah, they’re a heavy rock band and guitarists Marc Gaffney and Doug Sherman and bassist Jay Grotto obviously have heft to their tones — but this was a different league entirely. They were almost metal, but if metal pulled its head out of its ass and remembered how good it felt to groove every now and again. Whatever symmetry I may have enjoyed in seeing them in New York this weekend, that was trumped easily by their actual performance, which was downright threatening.

Lo-Pan

It had been a long day. Lo-Pan were slated to hit the stage at midnight, and by the time they did — give or take a few minutes, but basically on time — I was long since beat, but already eight bands deep, there was no way I was missing anything the Ohio fuzz rockers had to offer. And I was even gladder I didn’t cut out early once they actually started playing; the setlist was packed with new material. “Eastern Seas” and “Colossus” were aired — familiar titles from recent shows — but “Hunters,” which if I’m not mistaken Jeff Martin said was being played for the first time (don’t quote me), brought out guttural, soulful shouts from the singer powerful enough to cut through the volume of the three players — bassist Scott Thompson, drummer Jesse Bartz and guitarist Brian “It’s His Tone, We’re Just Living in It” Fristoe — positioned in front of him. Light moshing occurred, which I guess is what happens when people 25 and under show up to gigs. New songs were joined by the familiar rush of “Deciduous” and “Generations” from 2011′s there’s-no-hyperbole-left-for-me-to-use-so-I’ll-just-say-it’s-fucking-awesome Small Stone debut, Salvador (review here), but Lo-Pan returned to new material to close out, ending off their set with “The Duke,” on which Martin‘s voice was presented sort of answering itself in delay. The final locked-in groove of that song justified its position as the finale, but when Lo-Pan were done, the shouts of “one more!” were immediate. Bartz had already gotten off the stage, but he came back up and Martin said they’d only do one more if someone bought Scott a shot of whiskey. It arrived during the first verse of “Kurtz” and was fed into his mouth as he played. More moshing ensued — heathens! — and Lo-Pan capped a killer night with a spectacle well worth sticking around to see. Until next time.

The efforts of Brendan Burns in making Eye of the Stoned Goat 3 happen are worth reiterating and commending. The Acheron also made an excellent host for the show — the sound straight through left nothing wanting in either volume, devastation or clarity — and each of the bands stepped up to deliver a fitting answer to the one in front of them, starting with Wizard Eye and ending with Lo-Pan. I got out of Brooklyn on the quick since it was already pushing 1AM, got back to my humble river valley a little after two and crashed out, satisfied that there was no more I could’ve asked of the night.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Small Stone Records Announce Date for Fall Detroit Showcase

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 16th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

This is just the preliminary of the preliminary announcements, but a Small Stone label showcase is always a good time — seriously, I’m the most miserable bastard you could ever hope to (not) meet and I have a blast whenever I’m fortunate enough to attend one of the things — so I figured better to get the word out early so anyone interested in making the trip could mark the calendar now. The lineup for this year’s Detroit gig is still coming together, but already you’ve got Gozu, Lord Fowl, Lo-Pan and Luder on the bill, so for a whopping $10, it officially qualifies as what I believe the kids might call a “sick show.”

Oct. 12 is the date, The Magic Stick is the place. Here it is from the source:

Date: 10/12/2013
Venue: The Magic Stick
Location: Detroit, MI
Line Up: Gozu, Lord Fowl, Lo-Pan, Luder, TBA (most likely Freedom Hawk or Sasquatch).
Doors: 7:30 – All Ages
Price: $10.00

Small Stone Records

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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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Mundee Lord Fowl

Posted in audiObelisk on June 24th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Lord Fowl, Moon Queen (2012)

At some point this weekend, I heard the opening title-track of Lord Fowl‘s Moon Queen and that was it — it’s been stuck in my head ever since. Doesn’t take much to do it from that record (review here), since the whole thing more or less is hooks, and as I’m planning sometime in the next couple days to take another look at my Best of 2012 list as I’m wont to do each year six months after the fact, it seemed only appropriate to give Moon Queen a revisit to start of what was an exhausting week even before it started.

For what it’s worth, I only flipped off one other motorist on the drive back from Cudahy, Wisconsin, where Days of the Doomed III was held. Not bad for 15 hours in the car. I made it all the way to the Delaware Water Gap, but when I came up behind a guy doing 60 in the left lane (it’s a 65mph zone), waited for him to move to let me pass and then whipped around him when he didn’t and had him flash his brights from behind me, that was pretty much it. Sorry, but it was Sunday night at one in the morning. Move the fuck over or get passed. I wouldn’t have been on the road at all if I didn’t have somewhere to be.

I made it back to my humble river valley otherwise without incident and crashed out hard sometime after 3AM to get up in time for work this morning and refresh that overwhelmed feeling I know so well and can’t fucking stand. Over 750 emails later, I’m not quite caught up and, as usual, questioning my life decisions and whether or not I should quit every job I have, cut my hair, take up jogging and go find something where the compensation is remotely commensurate with the effort put in — or, wow — become an actual writer. I won’t. But I should. Also, fuck everything.

Reviews this week of Steak – would like to do it today, but it’s already almost 2 and I probably won’t have time, so tomorrow — and Goatess, plus a Buried Treasure on Sleaze and maybe another on the haul from the Midwest this year, which is staggering. There doesn’t seem to be any way in hell I’ll get to it, but I’ll plug that forthcoming Dust interview just in case, and tomorrow I’ve got tracks going up for streaming from The Flying Eyes‘ new split with Golden Animals. Thursday night, The Atomic Bitchwax are playing a Rocks Off Concert Cruise around Manhattan with Mirror Queen (more info to follow shortly) and you can bet your ass I’m going to that. Will have a review up on Friday.

This weekend was my grandmother’s 98th birthday. It was also the largest full moon in something like 800 years. I wanted to mention both of those things in my Days of the Doomed III conclusion but was too tired to remember at the time. We always think of the best stuff after the fact.

So while I sit here and debate the finer points of tweeting “YOU FUCKING PEOPLE ARE DISGUSTING. EAT SHIT AND DIE.” to the Heritage Foundation 100 times in a row (take ‘em down a peg!) and also try to actually accomplish, well, anything, today, I’ll just take a second to say I hope you have a fantastic, truly wonderful week and that just because I’m out of my head doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate you checking in on the site. Thanks again to everyone who took a gander at the updates from the fest this weekend. This site was what got me out of bed this morning.

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The Eye of the Stoned Goat 3 to Hit Brooklyn’s The Acheron July 27

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 6th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

I’m very, very proud to be involved in helping promote The Eye of the Stoned Goat 3 in the way that I am. After checking out the second in the festival series back in February, it’s an honor to have signed on to help spread the word about the third, which boasts a strong lineup of bands at a choice venue on what I’ve no doubt will be a sweltering weekend night of heavy rock and roll. The fest sent over a victory lap of a press release, which you’ll find below:

The Eye of the Stoned Goat 3 set for Brooklyn, NY

Snake Charmer Booking announces its 3rd installment of its stoner rock and doom metal themed concert event “The Eye of the Stoned Goat”. The event will take place at The Acheron in Brooklyn New York on Saturday, July 27th 2013 at 6pm.

The Acheron, known to the locals as “the second coming of CBGB’s” is the perfect spot to host such a powerhouse line up, including Small Stone Records bands: Lo-Pan, Gozu, SuperMachine, and Lord Fowl. Washington, D.C.’s own Borracho, Delaware band Wasted Theory, and Philadelphia’s Wizard Eye will be making the trip up, while local support will be provided by Brooklyn’s Black Black Black, and Kingston, New York’s own Geezer.

In February 2013, Snake Charmer Booking hosted the second Eye of the Stoned Goat show in Delaware, home of event organizer Brendan Burns. Only a month later, Burns teamed up with Pat Harrington at the ‘Electric Beard of Doom’ podcast to announce that they would be bringing the event to New York.

Some of the bands who have previously played the ‘Stoned Goat events include- Pale Divine, Iron Man, Clamfight, Beelzefuzz, Blackhand, Skeleton Hands, Thee Nosebleeds and Black Cowgirl to name a few. “I’ve been fortunate being able to work with so many great bands, and this time around is no different” according to Burns. “This roster of artists are bands that I enjoy listening to regularly, and I am just absolutely thrilled to be working with them, it’s a promoter’s dream to work with bands that you listen to in your daily life”. Burns has also begun working on his roster for the Eye of the Stoned Goat 4 for 2014.

This summer’s event will also features such sponsors as Small Stone Records, The Obelisk, Wendigo Promotions and Electric Beard of Doom Podcast.

Tickets go on sale May 1st 2013 for $12.00 (online price), and will also be available at the door for $15.00 to first come first served.  For more information, visit www.TheEyeoftheStonedGoat.com.

Ticket Link:
www.ticketfly.com/event/265667-eye-stoned-goat-2013-lo-brooklyn/

Facebook Event Page:
https://www.facebook.com/events/353125964803490/

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VISUAL EVIDENCE: Backwoods Payback, Supermachine, Lord Fowl and Sun Gods in Exile Tour Booked for April

Posted in Visual Evidence on April 8th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

My only hope is that as Backwoods Payback, Supermachine, Lord Fowl and Sun Gods in Exile head out for these four shows, they bring the poster with them. Seems the Small Stone Records bannerfolk have united under the flag of their label and are hitting the Northeast for a bill they’re dubbing “4 Bands, 4 States, 4 Shows, 1 Label.” Call it a tour by the numbers.

Since Supermachine, Lord Fowl and Sun Gods in Exile all live in New England, so with Backwoods Payback tagged on from Pennsylvania, you can pretty well imagine this one’s going to be a debauched-type good time. A long weekend that no one involved will recall by the time it’s over. Nonetheless, if you’ve gotta have something to remember it by, the following Alexander von Wieding poster is a gorgeous reminder.

Octopus reigns supreme among green-lady headwear:

4 bands. 4 states. 4 shows. 1 label.

SMALL STONE RECORDS NORTH EAST US TOUR

featuring:
BACKWOODS PAYBACK
SUPER MACHINE
LORD FOWL
SUN GODS IN EXILE

04.25.13 – The Dover Brickhouse, Dover NH
04.26.13 – KCs Tap, Pawtucket RI
04.27.13 – The Winchester, Woodbridge CT
04.28.13 – Leftfield NYC, Manhattan NY

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The Eye of the Stoned Goat 3 Coming to Brooklyn in July

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 14th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Presented by Snakecharmer Booking, Small Stone Records, the Electric Beard of Doom podcast and yours truly once I manage to track down my hi res Obelisk logos, the Eye of the Stoned Goat 3 is set to take place July 27 at The Acheron in Brooklyn. It will have only been months since Eye of the Stoned Goat 2 suckerpunched Delaware upside its still-bragging-about-being-the-first-state head (review here), but with a lineup that includes Lo-Pan, Gozu, Supermachine, Black Black Black, Borracho, Wizard Eye, Lord Fowl, Geezer and Wasted Theory, I’m not about to complain.

As I’ll be helping present the damn thing, expect much more to come, including interviews with the artists, reviews and updates on their whathaveyou and maybe even a giveaway if I can square it with the powers that be. Till then, stare at the preliminary flyer below marvel at the wonders summer will bring:

More info at the Thee Facebooks event page, and the Eye of the Stoned Goat website.

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Lord Fowl Get VHS Ready in New Video for “Moon Queen”

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 5th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Star-wipe alert!

It’s a scientific fact that Connecticut-based heavy rocking foursome Lord Fowl have enough cool on hand at any given moment they could rent it out to other bands running low. I think what I like best — aside from the star-wipes — about the double-guitar slinging outfit’s new video for the title-track of 2012′s Moon Queen sophomore full-length (review here), also their debut on Small Stone, is that every time I watch it I could swear I’ve somehow just slipped back in time and I’m watching something I taped off local access circa 1991.

Between the vintage effects, the soundstage look and the stacks of amps behind, it hits all its marks in much the same way Moon Queen did when it dropped last year, so all the better. In case you missed the news a little while back, Lord Fowl are heading out on the road later this week with Irata and their fuzz-loving Virginian labelmates in Freedom Hawk, which makes the timing on the new video coming out even better. You’d almost swear these things were planned out ahead of time.

So as Lord Fowl prepare to hit up SXSW, Fuzzed Out! fest and more, here’s the clip for “Moon Queen,” followed by the tour dates:

Freedom Hawk, Lord Fowl & Irata: SXSW & More
03/08 Chapel Hill, NC @ Nightlight w/ Collossus
03/09 Murrell’s Inlet, SC @ Rockin Hard Saloon
03/10 Columbia, SC @ New Brookland Tavern w/ Carolina Chupacabra
03/11 Athens, GA @ Caledonia Lounge w/ Savagist, Guzik
03/12 Birmingham, AL @ Nick w/ Aethenoth
03/13 Lake Charles, LA @ Luna Live w/ Large Marge
03/14 Austin, TX @ Headhunters – Small Stone SXSW Showcase
03/15 San Antonio, TX @ Nightrocker Live – SXSA Small Stone Showcase w/ Wo Fat & Las Cruces
03/16 Austin, TX @ Scoot Inn – Converse/Thrasher “Deathmatch” @ SXSW – The Power of the Riff – Free Day show 12-4pm.
03/16 Fort Worth, TX @ The Grotto – Fuzzed Out! Fest w/ Wo Fat and Southern Train Gypsy, Ape Machine, Been Obscene, Mothership
03/17 Nashville, TN @ TBA

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Freedom Hawk and Lord Fowl Touring to SXSW, Fuzzed Out Fest and More

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 12th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Always cool to see good bands hitting the road together, and Lord Fowl and Freedom Hawk will be joining forces with some killer acts along the way, including Ape Machine, who just signed to Ripple Music, and their Small Stone labelmates and stewards of Texas heavy, Wo Fat.

Joining them on the trek will be North Carolina’s Irata. Dig the sass in the press release below:

Freedom Hawk, Lord Fowl & Irata to Tour Your Pants Off

During Small Stone Records time the Ides of March circa 2013, Freedom Hawk hath been summoned by the Lord Fowl to bring their fuzzy, groovy, soulful heavy rock vibes with the reincarnated Irata coming along to help carry the torch. This spring they commence a sensory experiment, a flashback of sorts to an age when there was no CD players, smartypants phones or 24-hour news cycles.

Cruzin’ shall commence in cities Down, Left and Middle with a range of cohorts from Aethenoth to labelmates Wo Fat and like-minded Austrian groovehounds Been Obscene. Fests and showcases will be played, brains will be blown and hearts will be broken. Dig it if you dare:

Freedom Hawk, Lord Fowl & Irata: SXSW & More
03/08 Chapel Hill, NC @ Nightlight w/ Collossus
03/09 Murrell’s Inlet, SC @ Rockin Hard Saloon
03/10 Columbia, SC @ New Brookland Tavern w/ Carolina Chupacabra
03/11 Athens, GA @ Caledonia Lounge w/ Savagist, Guzik
03/12 Birmingham, AL @ Nick w/ Aethenoth
03/13 Lake Charles, LA @ Luna Live w/ Large Marge
03/14 Austin, TX @ Headhunters – Small Stone SXSW Showcase
03/15 San Antonio, TX @ Nightrocker Live – SXSA Small Stone Showcase w/ Wo Fat & Las Cruces
03/16 Austin, TX @ Scoot Inn – Converse/Thrasher “Deathmatch” @ SXSW – The Power of the Riff – Free Day show 12-4pm.
03/16 Fort Worth, TX @ The Grotto – Fuzzed Out! Fest w/ Wo Fat and Southern Train Gypsy, Ape Machine, Been Obscene, Mothership
03/17 Nashville, TN @ TBA

Come Rawk out with your Hawk out, Bow to the Fowl, and rock Irata more!

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Small Stone Finalizes SXSW Showcase Lineup; Poster Revealed

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 21st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Truth be told, they’ve been putting on shows during SXSW since 1997, but 2013 makes it a full decade that Small Stone has been doing an official SXSW showcase, and the venerable Detroit imprint are celebrating in style. I always get a little wistful thinking about my days in Austin at these parties — I went four years from 2003-’07 — and from seeing Suplecs touring on the strength of a post-Man’s Ruin demo to watching Sasquatch and The Brought Low lay waste to the room. Good friends, cheap beer, occasionally Mexican food. Some of the best times I’ve had at shows were at those things, and not just for the refried beans.

I won’t be making the trip this year, but consider it highly recommended nonetheless if you can get down that way. Brian Mercer has once again provided the poster for the shindig, which is below, followed by the lineup and set times:

Also available in purple.

Marking 10 years of official SXSW showcases, Detroit’s Small Stone Records returns to Headhunters (720 Red River) on March 14 with some of the finest in heavy rock. This year’s Small Stone showcase is headlined by New Orleans veterans Suplecs and Connecticut upstarts Lord Fowl, and features Virginia’s Freedom Hawk and Texan natives Wo Fat along with Luder, Supermachine and Mellow Bravo. For lovers of classic guitar and motor-ready grooves, it gets no better than Small Stone, and with a decade under their belts, they still throw a party like none other. Expect the epic.

Date: Thursday March, 14th, 2013
Venue: Headhunters – 720 Red River – Austin, TX – 78701
1 am: Suplecs (New Orleans, LA)
12 mid: Lord Fowl (New Haven, CT)
11pm: Freedom Hawk (Virginia Beach, VA)
10pm: Wo Fat (Dallas, TX)
9pm: Luder (Ferndale, MI)
8pm: Supermachine (Dover, NH)
7pm: Mellow Bravo (Boston, MA)

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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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One Afternoon out on Long Island

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 21st, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

There is a sticker on my desk that reads as follows:

“F the Booth” is a simple enough slogan to remember, though I’ve yet to hear anything from Long Island noise rockers John Wilkes Booth (other than their name) that would actually inspire me to say it. The four-piece are reportedly at work on their next album after delays for things like hurricanes, jobs, playing SHoD, etc., and ever ones for an afternoon’s distraction, they’ve booked a Sunday matinee for Dec. 2 with a pretty right on lineup of bands.

The show will take place at Mr. Beery’s in Bethpage, and anytime Lord Fowl and Lo-Pan show up in the same place, you can be pretty well assured it’s a good time. All exclamations and times that follow were hijacked from the Thee Facebooks event page:

Afternoon Rock Show to end all Rock Shows!!!!!!!

Join us for 6 killer bands including Small Stone Artist Lord Fowl & Lo-Pan!!!!!!  This is a one off for Lo-Pan from their tour with High On Fire & Goatwhore!!

If you miss this it is pretty obvious that you are an idiot.

3 Jones Crusher
4 Warsaw Sage (Cliff & Andy from Wormsmeat)
5 Lord Fowl {Conneticut} (Small Stone Recs.)
6 John Wilkes Booth
7 Lo-Pan {OHIO} (Small Stone Recs.)
8 Half Ton Session

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Notes and Pics: Small Stone Records Showcase in Somerville, MA, 11.03.12

Posted in Reviews on November 5th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

It was the night of a thousand riffs. At very least 100-150 very well purposed. A Small Stone Records showcase is always an occasion and this year’s Boston to-do was no exception. The scene was the Radio bar in Somerville, and though The Brought Low dropped off at the last minute owing to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the lineup boasted nine bands — Boston natives Mellow Bravo stepped in to fill the hole, playing earlier than the NYC trio would have — and it was front to back quality between them, Blackwolfgoat, who opened and also played in between sets, Supermachine, Infernal Overdrive, Lord Fowl, Freedom Hawk, Roadsaw, Lo-Pan and Gozu.

What do you do with a night like that? Well, you drink. And I did. Hard. I have a tradition — someone choosing their words less carefully might call it a “habit” — going back nearly a decade at this point of showing up to Small Stone events and promptly getting obliterated. At last year’s Philly showcase (review here and here), I played it cool for the most part. Less so this weekend. Maybe it was just that it was Saturday and I knew I had Sunday to recover, maybe it was the fact that I still didn’t know if the power was on back home yet. Whatever it was, I opened a tab and didn’t look back. My storm-refugee ass needed a night of reckless abandon.

After being dropped off in front of Radio by The Patient Mrs. as though I was on my way to my first day of kindergarten — schooled indeed — I walked in to find Darryl Shepard of Blackwolfgoat early into his set. Downstairs in the basement, a matinee of three sets of Beatles covers would soon give way to a sweaty, smelly night of punk rock. Seems as good a jump-off point as any, so here goes:

Blackwolfgoat


With a cocktail straw in his mouth and a bounce in his step (minus the bounce), Blackwolfgoat‘s lone resident, Darryl Shepard — also of currently of Black Pyramid and Milligram and formerly of Hackman, Roadsaw and no shortage of others — showed off some of the latest wares from his one-man act. Shepard would soon adjourn to Radio’s semi-balcony off to the left of the stage, where he’d sit at the ready and wait to drone out a tune or two between other acts, but before he got there, he played some material from last year’s Dronolith and some newer stuff. The newer songs find him using more dynamic loops, setting a droning bed for himself and then launching into — in at least one instance — a grandiose classic rock solo over it. It was awesome to see, and the melody in that solo and around it proved just one more way the project is expanding sonically. He’ll reportedly be recording soon, and of course that’s something to look forward to. Pretty much any day you get to see this dude play guitar is a good day. If you get to see him do a full set to start a show and a bunch of mini-sets between seven or eight other acts, well then, all the better.

Mellow Bravo

There was an interesting mix of stage presences when it came to Boston’s own Mellow Bravo. The first full band on the bill was also the newest to Small Stone‘s roster save for Supermachine, who followed, and they released their self-titled debut album (review here) on the label via a Mad Oak Recordings imprint earlier this year. In the case of charismatic vocalist Keith Pierce and guitarist Andrew Doherty, they seemed birthed of Boston’s formidable hardcore/metalcore scene, whatever soul records they may have dug into since those days, keyboardist/vocalist Jess Collins came off more on the heavy metal end, while guitarist Jeff Fultz (ex-Seemless) had the lead licks and enviable hair of a modern classic rocker. Mix all that with the rhythm section of sunglasses-clad bassist Seager Tennis and drummer Dave Jarvis, and it’s a strange six-piece stew resulting from Mellow Bravo‘s recipe. Nonetheless, they were resoundingly cohesive, putting on a professional show — staged in parts, like when Collins came out from behind the keyboard to front “Ridin’” — and looking like a band who should and expected to be paid for their work. “Love Hammer” was a highlight, but really just one of the memorable songs on their debut that the band did well bringing to life.

Supermachine

There are few phrases that will earn respect in my book as quickly as “ex-Scissorfight.” In the case of label newcomers Supermachine, bassist Paul Jarvis and guitarist Jay Fortin were founding members of that most excellent New Hampshire outfit — both also played in Mess with the Bull – and so interest in what they might be doing musically was automatic, especially as this was my first time seeing them or hearing any of their songs. Joined in the four-piece by drummer Mike McNeill and vocalist David Nebbia, there was a moment where I stood in front of the stage at Radio and was reminded of hazy afternoons and evenings at Room 710 on Red River in Austin, Texas, at many a Small Stone showcase years back there, when I was still relatively just getting my feet wet in terms of appreciating and being exposed to this kind of music. If that’s a long way around to saying Supermachine sounded fresh, so be it. Their performance was organic and unpretentious — though there was no question which of them was the lead singer, even before they got on stage — and while they seemed to still be feeling out their identity as a band, they gave a good first impression.

Infernal Overdrive

True enough, I’d had some beers by the time Infernal Overdrive started playing, maybe visited the basement Beatles show downstairs to weird everyone in the room out by singing along to “Can’t Buy Me Love” way louder than was called for. I nonetheless recall being entirely of sound mind when I scribbled my first note about Infernal Overdrive‘s performance. It was as follows: “New shit is right on.” I stand by that 100 percent. They might need to hit the road for a while to really step into what and where they want to be as a band, but short of that, they’ve got their aesthetic down. No less so at Radio than at Stoner Hands of Doom XII in September. Part of me wants them to just go ahead and get the next record out so they can start closing with “Viking” already, but as the room was beginning to fill up, the Jersey/Massachusetts-native double-guitar foursome treated an eager and thirsty crowd to “Motor” and “The Edge” from their Last Rays of the Dying Sun 2011 debut full-length (review here) and those songs rested well alongside newer cuts like “Quints Revenge” and “Ride to the Sun.” As ever, they tore through their set, capping with the cowbell/fuzz swiftness of “I-95,” which set the stage well for Connecticut’s Lord Fowl, who followed.

Lord Fowl


Continue to impress. Despite an apparently ongoing throat problem for guitarist/vocalist Vechel Jaynes — I actually take it as a sign of someone giving a shit both about what they do and what I think about what they do when artists tell me about their various injuries, illnesses, aches and pains; that kind of thing can be good to know sometimes, though Jaynes‘ trouble did little to hold back Lord Fowl at Radio — the New Haven, Connecticut, four-piece dove headfirst into material from their Moon Queen label debut (review here), rising to the occasion of directly following Infernal Overdrive and making me remember why I like this kind of shit so much in the first place. They also gave a fitting sequel to when I saw them at SHoD XII, guitarist/vocalist Mike Pellegrino comfortable as he always seems to be fronting the band alongside Jaynes while bassist Jon Conine and drummer Don Freeman locked in grooves thick and slick in equal measure. “Streets of Nevermore” was a highlight, and the one-two punch of “Quicksand” and the insistent swirl of “SOS” was no less engaging on stage than it was late into Moon Queen. I wondered a bit what their next album might bring, if they’d keep to a thematic, semi-psych heavy rock approach or branch out elsewhere as they move forward, and then The Patient Mrs. showed up looking all fine and I got distracted. Ha.

Freedom Hawk

Quietly, more than a year had passed since I last caught Virginia’s fuzz buzzards live, but Freedom Hawk were the most in their element at Radio that I’ve ever seen them. The songs from their Holding On 2011 label debut (review here) have cooled and tightened into a fine, viscous ooze, and the set had more than a few killers to it, including the recent video track “Indian Summer.” They’re a good band, and fresh on my mind as I’d just that very afternoon acquired their first demo in a haul of old promo material (more on that tomorrow), so I was glad to have our  paths cross again at last. A less raucous delivery than either Lord Fowl or Infernal Overdrive – both of whom put on a hell of a show — Freedom Hawk were nonetheless in the right place at the right time. The crowd was boozed and well warmed up, and Freedom Hawk‘s “all fuzz, no bullshit” was right at home, guitarists TR Morton (also vocals) and Matt Cave leading with ’90s-style stoner rock riffing while bassist Mark Cave and drummer Lenny Hines provided weight and pulse to the rolling groove. I don’t know if someone thought they were being clever by playing Ozzy before they went on (Morton‘s vocals being geared in that direction), but Freedom Hawk showed they’re moving more toward becoming their own outfit and incorporating whatever influence it might be — Ozzy, Fu Manchu, Kyuss, etc. — into a sound more fully theirs. Worth noting that at this point there hadn’t yet been a band whose next album I wasn’t stoked at the thought of hearing.

Roadsaw


In true showcase fashion, Roadsaw delivered a set that not only showed why they’re the godfathers of Boston’s heavy rock scene, but ran a gamut through their own catalog — opening with “Look Pretty Lonely” from 2008′s See You in Hell!, and also including “Keep on Sailing” and “Thanks for Nothing” from 1997′s Nationwide — on which Shepard joined on lead guitar from his spot on the balcony — “Buried Alive” and “Disconnected” from 2007′s Rawk ‘n’ Roll, “Monkey Skull” from 2012′s Roadsaw EP, and “Weight in Gold” and “Long in the Tooth” from their 2010 self-titled full-length. I said earlier this year at London Desertfest that I wanted to see them on their home turf, and I was glad to have the opportunity at last. If it’s any indicator of how it all went down, they delayed the start of their set to get another round of drinks. Yes, it was that kind of party. The stage at Radio wasn’t as small as that at the Small Stone showcase in Philly last year — it was somewhere between that and the more spacious at the El ‘n’ Gee in Connecticut, where SHoD was held, and which Roadsaw also played — so I didn’t think vocalist Craig Riggs was about to bean bassist Tim Catz or guitarist Ian Ross with his spinning microphone (ever-shirtless drummer Jeremy Hemond being well out of range), but they made short work of it nonetheless, and even went so far as to bring up Infernal Overdrive guitarist/vocalist Marc Schleicher for an encore of “The Gentle Butcher,” from Nothing that a Bullet Couldn’t Cure by the band Antler, of which he, Ross, Catz and Riggs were a part. As ever, they were in classic form.

Lo-Pan

A scant two weeks before leaving for a tour with High on Fire and Goatwhore that will have them playing in the biggest venues of their career to date, Columbus, Ohio’s Lo-Pan looked ready. I think they’ve already discovered that the reward for the hard work they’ve been putting in over the last couple years is actually just a bunch of even harder work, but they seemed hungry nonetheless. It had been more than a year since I’d seen them as well, and along with a new shorter haircut for guitarist Brian Fristoe, they had two new songs in the set alongside cuts from 2011′s brilliant-and-yes-I-fucking-mean-brilliant Salvador (review here). Both “Eastern Seas” and “Colossus” had Fristoe‘s steady progressive-edged fuzz, made thicker by Skot Thompson‘s basslines, but seemed to push vocalist Jeff Martin farther into his range as well as Jessie Bartz — front and center as always — tied it all together on drums. As I told Bartz when they were done, I’d like to hear them 85 or 87 more times before I make final judgment, but they sounded pretty dead on, and fit well with “Kurtz” from 2009′s Sasquanaut (which Small Stone reissued) and “Chichen Itza,” “Deciduous,” “Bird of Prey” and set closer “El Dorado” from Salvador, all of which remain as powerful in a live setting as they were the first time I saw them. Lo-Pan was my only real headbang of the show. When they were done, I stumbled my drunk self around the side of the building and threw up barely a fraction of the beer I’d drank, taking care to keep it out of my hair and beard, then went back inside, washed up downstairs while trying to ignore the stench of punker sweat, lest I retch again, and headed back into civilization in time for the start of Gozu, who rounded out the night. I’d been a wreck despite having my last beer sometime during Roadsaw, but with just one band still to go, there was no turning back now.

Gozu


Much to his credit, it was Gozu guitarist Doug Sherman – he of the perilously short guitar strap — who put the whole gig together. From the second I was walking into the venue, way back before anyone played other than Blackwolfgoat, before all the beer, the barbecue, the more beer, the rock and roll and the more beer, Sherman was outside greeting people, there the whole time, and he and his band very quickly showed by they were just right to close out. Guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney (above, left) has a subdued presence on stage, quiet and reserved — a good balance for Sherman‘s energy — and his performance has been spot on every time I’ve seen him, making vocal up and down vocal dexterity look easy while also joining Sherman on guitar and driving the songs forward with driving riffage. Bassist Joe Grotto was a new addition to the band since I saw them in March — also at Radio, as it happens — but he fit right in the rhythm section with drummer Barry Spillberg, and being revived following my ritualistic purge, I was in decent enough shape to appreciate their even-thicker take on “Meat Charger” and “Meth Cowboy” from their 2010 Locust Season debut (review here), on which they were joined by Ian Ross of Roadsaw (above, on right guitar). Their sound is too thick to really be a boogie, but that forward motion is there, and Gaffney brings a sense of drama to their choruses that stood them out from everyone else on the bill at Radio. They had a couple new songs as well, and whatever they do next, it’ll be a welcome arrival.

I know I post a lot of shit about Small Stone bands. I go see them play when I can, I review the records, I do interviews, post tour news, posters, and so forth, but the fact of the matter is this: That’s not coincidence. It’s a short list of American labels contributing anything of merit to the genre of heavy rock — by my estimation there are maybe five, with a few others who’ve glommed onto this or that trend within the sphere of Riff — and Small Stone are right there at the top. From the label’s days providing a haven to bands like Acid King and Sons of Otis in the wake of Man’s Ruin‘s demise, to fostering its own upstart acts like Sasquatch (not that they’re upstarts now, but they were when their debut was released), Infernal Overdrive, Gozu, Lo-Pan, Sun Gods in Exile, and Lord Fowl, while still keeping a commitment to what he does best, label head Scott Hamilton has patronized some of the best American heavy rock out there today, to the point where “the Small Stone sound” is an influence unto itself for bands around the world to pick up on. To be perfectly honest about it, it’s a cause I feel is worth supporting.

Small Stone’s next showcase is in Detroit at the Magic Stick on Dec. 1. More info here.

When the show was done, I was so tired I thought I’d fall asleep walking to catch a cab back to the hotel. There were goodbyes to be said, tales of hurricane survival to regale with and be regaled by, and a bar tab to close out, but I was quick about it, and before too long, The Patient Mrs. generously corralled me into a taxi. I was more lucid than I had been at several points in the evening by then, but still, sleep came as quick and as heavy as the riffs still stuck in my head. We had to drive back to Jersey on Sunday and figure out if the lights were back on yet after the storm (they were as of that afternoon), but if that was to be the finale of “refugee living,” I didn’t make out so bad.

Many more pics after the jump.

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Small Stone’s Boston Showcase is on Saturday; Warm-up Show Tomorrow with Infernal Overdrive & Elder

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 1st, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

I’ve never been to a Small Stone showcase in Boston before. Sure, I was at both nights of the Philly one last year (review here and here) and I caught Gozu and Infernal Overdrive together at Radio this past March (review here), and looking at the list, the only band on it I’ve never seen is Supermachine — and I saw Scissorfight, from whence they come — but still, Boston’s a different beast. To tell you the truth, every time I hit the town, I feel a little bit like I’m going to get my ass kicked.

Perhaps then, it would be wise for me to hit the warm-up show slated to happen one day before the showcase proper. Elder (who so far as I know are not on Small Stone) and Infernal Overdrive will play at the taqueria No Problemo in New Bedford at 10PM. If you’re north of there, Gozu and Freedom Hawk will be on a bill at Asylum in Portland, ME. Drummer Mike Bennett of Infernal Overdrive posted the following notice and flyer:

Tomorrow night there will be a few warm up gigs starring some of your favorite Small Stone bands….

Asylum -Portland, ME w/ GOZU, Freedom Hawk, Murcilago and Whitcomb
No Problemo – New Bedford, MA w/ Infernal Overdrive and Elder….. All leading up to the big event Sat. !!!

And then of course there’s the showcase itself on Saturday at Radio in Somerville. As awesome an assemblage of Small Stone acts as I’ve had the privilege to see. Here are the details, courtesy of the Thee Facebooks event page:

Nov. 3rd-Radio, Boston Small Stone Showcase 10 dollars!!! Dudes- BEER-PETTING ZOO!!
Purchase Tickets HERE:

http://www.ticketfly.com/event/161333

Gozu – 12 mid
Lo-Pan – 11pm
The Brought Low – 10pm
Roadsaw – 9pm
Freedom Hawk – 8pm
Lord Fowl – 7pm
Infernal Overdrive – 6pm
Supermachine – 5pm
Blackwolfgoat 4pm and all night

Set times are a rough estimate!

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