Posted in Reviews on October 24th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
It was a weird kind of night, but I like weird. Uzala were coming from the other side of the country — Boise, Idaho, and Portland, Oregon — and had brought YOB‘s Mike Scheidt along for the tour, also picking up still-nascent Chicago outfit Mount Salem on the way. The three acts weren’t exactly lacking variety between them, with Scheidt playing acoustic, Mount Salem indulging Korg-inclusive cult rock and Uzala crushing with plodding noise, but the show, which took place at Dusk in Providence, Rhode Island, was rounded out by local black metal shredders Bog of the Infidel. So yeah, kind of all over the place with a sphere of underground heavy, but still definitely a good time.
Providence is about an hour away from me. It still took me less time to get to Dusk than it ever took me to get across Manhattan and into Brooklyn from New Jersey, though, and I suspect that once I get used to the drive, I won’t find it at all unpleasant. I had Druglord‘s new tape (review forthcoming) along for the ride to set the mood and was excited to see Uzala particularly. The flyer for the show listed Scheidt at the bottom, so thinking there was a chance he’d be going on first, I took it as an instruction to get there fairly early. He did indeed wind up playing before any of the others, but even so, his set didn’t start until a little before 10PM. It was going to be a late night.
Sure enough, that’s how it played out. To get things moving and make up for lost time from the late kickoff, Scheidt played a shorter set, starting with a Townes van Zandt cover — pretty sure it was “Rake,” but don’t quote me on it — and part of a new song before going into two from last year’s solo debut, Stay Awake(review here), including the churning set-closer “Stay Awake,” which has only proved more of a landmark in Scheidt‘s songwriting in the year since the album was released and with a couple tours like this one under his belt. In that time, he’s clearly gotten more comfortable with the form of playing by himself. His set was loose, casual and relaxed, but still conveying emotion and the sense of purpose behind the songs. It looked like something he was doing because he enjoyed it, rather than an experiment in something new, and when he fucked up the new song, he laughed it off like it didn’t matter at all, and so it didn’t.
Mount Salem formed in 2012 in Chicago, and I was going to say something about how in another couple years they’d be ready to hook up with Metal Blade‘s current cult rock fetish, but it appears they already have, so kudos. Money’s tight, but I will at least admit to picking up a CD of their self-released debut EP, Endless, and since I’d seen their name around over the last few months, I was eager to see what they had on offer. Vocalist Emily Kopplin started the set alone on stage setting a mood with keys and vocals before being joined by bassist Mark Hewett, guitarist Kyle Morrison and drummer Cody Davidson for a round of songs mostly culled from that EP. Everything sounds likeSaint Vitus to me lately, but the stomp at the beginning of “Hysteria” seemed specifically indebted to “Born too Late,” though Morrison was sure to toss in lead notes and add personality to the familiar rhythm, and I found that though I had a pretty clear understanding of where Mount Salem were coming from in terms of their influences — taking that Vitus pace and offsetting it with strong cult/stoner blues chug while Kopplin topped with her powerful, versatile voice — they delivered everything I could have reasonably asked for such a new band on the road.
They had the tone, the vibe, and the approach pretty much down — not to mention the songs — and considering a lot of bands never get to that point, it’s all the more impressive that Mount Salem would essentially start out that way. The overall feel of “Good Times” was familiar within the genre, but the song nonetheless lived up to its name, and it seemed in watching them that all Mount Salem really needed to do was continue to put in work touring to refine their take. I’ll look forward to getting to know their EP, which came out earlier this year, and to finding out where their next batch of songs brings their sound. When they were done, they quickly loaded their gear off stage so that double-guitar five-piece Bog of the Infidel could get started.
My opinions on black metal vary widely depending on mood. Sometimes it’s all pretenders to the throne of two or three bands (what genre isn’t?) or dudes trying their best to sound Norwegian without thinking about why, and other times it’s ripping good fun, the brutality and extremity of something like Dark Funeral or Averse Sefira or any number of others providing its own excuse for being within a style that at this point has had three decades of development. Bog of the Infidel were tight and fast with some underpinnings of brutal groove amid a few showings of technicality — also armbands — and though I wondered why they, as the locals on an already late night, wouldn’t take the closing slot of the show and let Uzala play to what would almost certainly be the bigger crowd while also making more sense sonically coming after Mount Salem, they were solid at what they were doing and we should all enjoy anything in life as much as drummer Wraitheon seemed to delight in each blastbeat. Midnight came quickly as they ran through their set, as one imagines it would have no matter what time they’d gotten going.
After they were finished, Scheidt helped Bog of the Infidel load their gear out and Uzala set up on the quick, their logos cut into steel frontplates for their backlined cabinets. They’ve been too easy a band for me to let slide, frankly. Their 2012 split 7″ with Mala Suerte was streamed here, as was a bonus track from the cassette version of their 2011 self-titled debut full-length, but seeing them, I still didn’t feel like I’d ever really dug into what they were doing. Now a trio after parting ways with bassist Nick Phit (Graves at Sea), they split the guitar signals of Darcy Nutt and Chad Remains (whose name sounds even more like “charred remains” when said with a proper New England accent) through bass amps so the set lacked nothing for low end. Their new album, Tales of Blood and Fire, was released last week on King of the Monsters Records and they had both the tape and CD on hand and kept the setlist focused heavily on that material, only delving back to the self-titled to open with “Death Masque” and otherwise playing exclusively new cuts.
I hadn’t heard Tales of Blood and Fireyet, but it didn’t make a difference. Uzala‘s grooves were immersive on the immediate, and the periodic onslaughts of noise that came with Remains‘ solos only added to the overarching gnarl of their doom. They were, as so few bands are, an example of the difference a great drummer can make, as Chuck Watkins (also of Graves at Sea) alternately propelled and lumbered songs like “Burned” and “Dark Days,” the band hitting their own Vitus moment in the noisier wash of the former. Highlight moments came later into their set though, as the extended “Countess” proffered choice tempo shifts and a particularly right on performance from Nutt on vocals to go with the slowly unfolding riffs, and the subdued later stretches of “Tenement of the Lost” closed their set and Dusk alike. The house lights came up as Nutt, Remains and Watkins continued the quiet trance of what would be their last song (the image of the three of them continuing to pursue the demons in that song I expect will be what stays with me longest about this show), and as soon as they were done, one of the bartenders stood in the big, open window from outside and told the crowd in no uncertain terms to fuck off right out the door if they weren’t buying merch or in one of the bands. It was past one in the morning and I’ve always had a knack for following simple instructions.
Posted in Whathaveyou on August 6th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Nanotear Booking has put together a considerable and genre-crossing lineup for the 2013 incarnation of its Fall into Darkness fest, to be held from Oct. 10-13 in Portland, Oregon. From snagging the whole bill of the Orange Goblin tour on its way through town and adding local destroyers Lord Dying to the mix to bringing in Nik Turner’s Space Ritual and Trouble-offshoot The Skull to give a classic sensibility, it’s forward-thinking on a couple levels. Taking place at Mississippi Studios and the Star Theater, the final rundown on the schedule looks a bit like this.
Okay, more than a bit:
FALL INTO DARKNESS 2013
Started in 2008, the three-day March Into Darkness music festival showcased a variety of both touring and local bands, each adding their particular stamp of sonic heaviness and emotional depth that has since become Into Darkness trademark. Followed up in October 2008, Halloween weekend 2009, and each October since, the Fall Into Darkness fests have featured bands like YOB, SunnO))), Agalloch, Acid King, Earthless, Saint Vitus, Atriarch, Russian Circles, Red Fang, Wolves in the Throne Room, SubArachnoid Space, Witch Mountain, Black Cobra, and Krallice, all among an ever-growing roster.
Fall Into Darkness 2013 is now upon us. Check out the schedule.
FALL INTO DARKNESS 2013 October 10 – October 13, 2013 Mississippi Studios & Star Theater Portland
Thursday, October 10th Mississippi Studios
Nik Turner’s Space Ritual White Manna Billions & Billions Hedersleben
Posted in audiObelisk on August 3rd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
There’s a few in this latest batch of Roadburn 2012 audio streams that I’ve really been looking forward to hearing. I stood and watched their whole set, but Mars Red Sky played a new song at the festival and I’d like to get another glimpse of what might be in store on their next album, and acts I didn’t get to see like Sir Admiral Cloudesley Shovell and Black Tusk should be fun to check out. Thanks as always to Walter, Jurgen, Marcel van de Vondervoort and the entire Roadburn crew. Hope you have as much fun as I do with these:
Posted in Reviews on July 24th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’ve never encountered a city I’ve wanted to live in as much as I want to live in Philadelphia. This time, as The Patient Mrs. and I sat at the bar Abbaye and I ate a cheesesteak marinated in Chimay beer with roasted garlic aioli and drank a Yards IPA from a cask, the thought seemed even less realistic — like if we tried to get a place there, Philly itself would catch on and bar my entry. A pipe dream. Among many.
We headed down early to catch YOB frontman Mike Scheidt and U.S. Christmas frontman Nate Hall at Kung Fu Necktie. The Patient Mrs. coming out for a show is a rarity, on a Sunday especially, but it being a mostly acoustic night and it being Philadelphia — for which I think it’s safe to say she at least in part shares my affection — I was able to persuade. Hall and Scheidt had been in Brooklyn the night prior, but as I was at the Brighton for Halfway to Gone, I’d been unable to attend, though I knew from reading SabbathJeff‘s review on the forum that it was an early evening. That took some of the edge off the two-hour drive to get there.
It was just the two of them on the bill, so when I got to Kung Fu Necktie a bit before 8PM, I was early. Hall would go on first, at 9, and Scheidt would follow at about 9:35. They’d be done by 10:30, because at 11PM, a DJ was coming in for a late set. I guess that kind of thing happens. The Patient Mrs. and I sat at the bar and had a couple expertly-poured Boddingtons and enjoyed the dulcet freneticism of King Crimson over the Kung Fu Necktie P.A. The course of the evening would not be nearly as restless.
I’ve made no secret through the years of not being a fan of U.S. Christmas. Some bands just don’t click for some people, and it seems like no matter how much acclaim they get or however much on paper I should be so into them they could charge me rent, I remain stern in my position. I didn’t review last year’s The Valley Path and though it’s a friend putting it out, I’ll likely skip this year’s reissue of Bad Heart Bullas well. I’m sorry, but it’s not my job to like every band, and I’d sooner paint Williamsburg with my brains out the side of my skull than go back on something I’ve written without a genuine change of heart.
That said, earlier this year when I heard Nate Hall‘s solo debut, A Great River(on Neurot; track streaming here), I appreciated its sparseness and cohesiveness of atmosphere, and found Hall‘s ability to translate U.S. Christmas‘ ambient regionalism to a singer-songwriter context both impressive conceptually and an enjoyable listen. I liked it, to be clearer. And having liked it, I was looking forward to hearing how Hall would be able to bring those songs to life on stage. He did well.
Decked out in journeyman braids and a hat that, if you told me he’d stolen it from a museum I’d both believe you and be like, “awesome,” Hall ran through several of the tracks on A Great River. At times the reverb felt too heavy on his vocals — though that’s loyal to the sound of the album as well — but the a capella “When the Stars Begin to Fall” was nothing if not a bold inclusion, and he more than pulled it off, and “A Great River” was all the more powerful for the stripped-down, acoustic-only presentation it got, Hall‘s subdued, almost mumbled vocals sounding well within their rights to be tired beyond their years. He covered Townes van Zandt and brought Scheidt on for a song before closing out, and wrapped his short time on stage as unpretentiously as he’d started it, putting his guitar back in the case with his name spraypainted on it and walking to the back of the venue to sell some merch.
Two chairs had been situated on the Kung Fu Necktie stage, and the mics were already in position — and hell, by the time Hall was done, Scheidt had already been on stage playing as well — so there was no real changeover or anything like that between sets. Nonetheless, a short break felt natural. Apparently Hammers of Misfortune and The Gates of Slumber were playing nearby with locals Wizard Eye opening, and that may have cut into the attendance some, but there were heads here and there and The Patient Mrs. went so far as to laughingly point out shortly before Scheidt went on that she wasn’t the only lady present. It was true, though I didn’t know whether to congratulate her or what.
I’m a lucky man.
Scheidt‘s solo debut, Stay Awake, was pretty close in my mind after reviewing it just last week, but he, on the other hand, seems to have already moved well beyond it. Where the prior two times I’ve seen him do sets apart from YOB (in Brooklyn and at Roadburn), he’s barely started before he’s announced his inexperience in the form, this time he sat down and said, “I’m gonna do a few different things here,” thanked the crowd and immediately opened with two finger-picked instrumentals, unrepentantly folksy, and in the case of the second — which he shouted out to the teacher who taught him the technique back in Oregon — joyful. The surprises didn’t stop there.
From the album, which came out last month, he played only two songs — “Until the End of Everything” and “Stay Awake” – and both of them he delivered with a clarity and confidence (would be hard to call it “swagger” in the context of psychedelic folk) that even two months prior simply wasn’t there. Straight-backed, he projected his vocals when he wanted to project them, or otherwise slouched, leaning on his guitar at a few points like it might be the only thing holding him up. The spoken part introducing “Until the End of Everything,” which I singled out in my review of the record, he positively nailed, and in a bit of tour camaraderie, he returned the favor paid him and brought Hall back on stage for a song as well.
That gave the show a bit of symmetry, sure, but their cover of the Rolling Stones‘ “Dead Flowers” — they nodded to Townes van Zandt‘s version, which some might recognize from the final moments of The Big Lebowski– made for a fitting and charming apex for the evening, with Scheidt‘s take on “Stay Awake” serving as the closer for his set and final affirmation of how well and how quickly he’s adapted to solo artistry. Not only did he perform the song well, or deliver the lines effectively, but he had a palpable sense of enjoyment while he did it. Heads nodded to the acoustic groove — his riffs are his riffs, after all; that’s a hard impulse to fight and everyone there seemed to decide not to fight it in unison — and he successfully conveyed the emotional dynamics at the heart of the song: Frustration, persistence, fatigue, persistence, in cycle and simultaneous.
I wished him safe travels and bought a copy of U.S. Christmas‘ Salt the Wound2012 reissue (I already had a physical copy of A Great River) and the Stay Awake CD from Hall before splitting. Sure enough, it was about 10:30. The Patient Mrs. and I were home by 12:15AM — which felt like the miracle work of a cosmos that wanted me to not be even more of a miserable bastard this entire week — and asleep no latter than I probably would’ve been anyway. Philly wins again. Philly always wins as far as I’m concerned. The show was even better than the cheesesteak, and for the evening, the company and the performance, a purer win than I’ve had in a while.
Posted in Reviews on July 19th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Much of the derisive end of the response I’ve seen to YOB frontman Mike Scheidt’s first solo outing — given the title Stay Awake and released last month via Thrill Jockey – seems to center around the simple point that, “This isn’t YOB.” This is true. One imagines that had the Eugene, Oregon, native wanted to follow-up YOB’s 2011 Atma full-length, no one would’ve argued. The quick turnaround would’ve been hailed near universally and it would’ve been a great way to continue the momentum from their run of shows opening for Tool and a way to mark their ascendancy as a touring act (new West Coast dates were just announced). Thinking about that, maybe part of the appeal of doing an album like Stay Awake for Scheidt is the purposeful defiance of that expectation, checking that forward push and not losing sight of a personal creative drive. I don’t know that to be the case, but it makes for easy conjecture. Most pivotally, what the album does is balance neo-folk intimacy with Scheidt’s own particular psychedelic lushness, and amid a slew of heavy/doom solo outings – this year alone has brought acoustic works from Nate Hall of U.S. Christmas and Scott Kelly, as well as Kelly’s three-way split with Wino and Neurosis bandmate Steve Von Till tribute to Townes Van Zandt – it’s the flourishes that work to distinguish what is by now a familiar form at its root. Couple that with Scheidt’s relative inexperience in the style – he has said on stage that he’s very new to it – and Stay Awake can’t help but be individualized, whatever aspects of others’ work it might draw on. Some Kelly influence is there, and the interplay of electric backing chords and acoustic picking that forms the musical basis of “Until the End of Everything” is something I tend always to attribute in my head to Ben Chasny’s Six Organs of Admittance or perhaps even Angels of Light, but Scheidt maintains his wavering melodic vocal delivery and puts it to use in a variety of constants on the six-track/43-minute Stay Awake, which was recorded by the venerable Tad Doyle at his Studio Witch Ape.
That it’s a genuine studio production would on paper seem to run counter to the album’s bedroom folk intimacy, but in terms of the actual sound of the record, it doesn’t. Whatever room space is added to the third cut, “In Your Light,” the solitary mood pervades, and that’s true from the gradual fade-in of opener “When Time Forgets Time,” which keeps Scheidt’s unique (though increasingly imitated) riff patterning despite the shift in context. Of all the songs on Stay Awake, the first is probably the closest he comes to YOB’s style, but he’s neither near it nor a stranger to straightforward opening tracks – see any of the last four YOB records – so don’t think I’m making a direct comparison. “When Time Forgets Time” does much to establish the overarching aesthetic, but little to set up the dynamics that play out over the course of the ensuing Stay Awake, fading out as it came as though we’ve just glimpsed a piece of a larger whole. The shift toward more radical experimentation first shows itself on “Until the End of Everything,” which dedicates the first 1:45 of its total 4:49 to a slow spoken word piece formed at least in part from the lyrics on which a breathy Scheidt reminds his listeners that “Reason has no place in this,” and “Until the end of everything/You will be loved.” The turn from the momentum of the first track might be set as an analogy for the album itself, but that spoken part also marks a misstep – not so much in concept or recording, but in execution – and it’s the moment on Stay Awake where Scheidt’s inexperience with singer-songwriter material feels most apparent. By the time his jarringly distorted electric guitar kicks in at 1:46, the words he’s saying feel forced and overperformed. The reason I say this relates to inexperience is because once the song starts and the lyrical cycle begins again, that’s not the case. “Until the End of Everything,” on which he backs himself vocally and touches on harmonies here and there, marks one of Stay Awake’s most effective arrangements and most lasting melodies. Even the feedback shortly before the four-minute mark and that fades back and forth through the last minute of the song feels purposeful and impeccably placed behind Scheidt’s soft picking. Really, it’s the pacing and, at the end, the drama in the spoken delivery that derails the beginning and forces the music to reclaim the momentum that “When Time Forgets Time” set into motion, which, thankfully, it does. (I’ll say here as well that in the two times I’ve seen Scheidt perform “Until the End of Everything” live, he’s delivered the spoken part quicker and more effectively.)
Posted in Reviews on May 24th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
When I admit that I spent much of the day waffling back and forth on whether or not to trek from my office in Jersey into Brooklyn to catch the London and Maryland Deathfest-bound YOB, Virginian cult doomers Cough and Mike Scheidt‘s opening solo set, I hope you’ll take it more as a sign of what the day was like than any wavering of affection for the doom involved. Perhaps too my experience the other night played some role in my ambivalence, but as soon as I parked right around the corner and strolled into The Bell House, I knew I’d made the right decision in showing up. Stuck in traffic on my way, I wound up right on time to watch YOB‘s own Scheidt get the night started with an acoustic set.
It was my first time at The Bell House, which was mostly empty when I got there. The room was wider than it was long — the bar up a few steps and off to the left side of the stage serving, among other things, Brooklyn Lager on draft for $6 — but though at times throughout the night it seemed like the sound had nowhere to go, Scheidt‘s acoustic material was subdued enough that it came through crisply and clearly, tracks from his forthcoming Thrill Jockey debut, Stay Awake, showing their freshness amid another that the guitarist/vocalist said was, “barely a song.”
Having seen Scheidt‘s solo set at Roadburn Day Three, I was relatively familiar with his onstage approach — calm, collected, sincere — and my chief observation remains the same now as it was just over a month ago: that Scheidt is really new to the acoustic form. A video was released this week for one of the album tracks and met with strong opinions on either side, but what some complained about is exactly what I find most exciting about the endeavor, which maintains some of YOB‘s psychedelic elements but obviously redrafts them into a new context. Where YOB has a well-established modus — most importantly so for Scheidt as the principle songwriter; a clear idea in his head of what the band sounds like — this doesn’t. Songs vary widely from one to the next, and it’s the exploratory nature of it that I’m most intrigued by.
Think of it like hearing a band’s first demo. There’s a rawness and an energy there that can never be duplicated again, and as cool and engaging as the tracks themselves might be, it’s almost as much about the potential as it is about their starting point. It’s the same with Scheidt‘s acoustic material. YOB‘s development is ongoing and they legitimately change from album to album, they’re doing so within a framework. Here, that framework isn’t set, and as long as Scheidt keeps an open mind with his songwriting methods — which I’d argue Stay Awake already shows he is — I think there’s a basic foundation there for something unique among the current bumper crop of doomer solo acoustic projects.
Cough followed not long after Scheidt left the stage to a much larger crowd than was present when he started. I’d seen them at SHoD last year, but it was especially interesting to watch them again having recently watched British doomers The Wounded Kings. The two acts shared space on the 2010 An Introduction to the Black Arts split on Forcefield Records, and it was surprising to hear in context just how much they actually have in common tonally. They take those tones in different directions within the overall context of doom — or if you want to be more specific, “post-Electric Wizard cult doom” — but it seemed an odd pairing to me when I reviewed the split, and actually it makes a lot of sense. Made me want to break out that vinyl.
The last Cough album, 2010′s Ritual Abuse (review here), was a broad reinterpretation of Electric Wizard‘s earlier abrasion, but watching Cough in Brooklyn, they seemed to be developing more of their own take. Maybe that’s just me trying to put a narrative to their progression — we’ll find out when they release their next album — but guitarist David Cisco‘s clean vocals behind bassist Parker Chandler‘s low-mixed screams added a budding sense of dynamics to their set that worked heavily in their favor. And if you have to take one word away from that last sentence, let it be “heavily,” because Cough are a fucking lurching beast. The formula is pretty simple — play slow, play loud and play through killer amps — but drummer Joseph Arcaro makes it, swinging his arms way above his head and crashing them down for each hit like he’s trying to puncture his drum heads and crack his cymbals. No doubt he often succeeds in doing just that.
They closed with “The Gates of Madness” from the Wounded Kings split, Cisco noting that they’d never played it live before. It was a 20-minute cut on that recording and probably the nastiest portion of their set, emphasizing sludge alongside the constant darkness of mood and tone, but they reveled suitably in the song’s horror-minded filth and ended with a mash of noise and feedback before cutting out and making way for YOB to unleash what turned out to be nearly two hours’ worth of material, ranging as far back as 2003′s Catharsis and finishing with a slew of tracks from last year’s monolithic Atma.
Should say something, though, that in that time YOB didn’t wear out their welcome in the slightest. Running through Hull‘s amps, it was almost like they played two sets, starting with (someone please correct me if I’m wrong) “Burning the Altar” from 2009′s The Great Cessation and sorting out some technical issues before harkening back to Catharsis for the highlight “Ether.” Part of me was hoping for the title-track of that album as well — I’ll be honest, part of me is always hoping for the title-track of that album — but instead, Scheidt, who was using Kevin Hufnagel of Dysrhythmia‘s guitar, bassist Aaron Reiseberg (also of Norska) and drummer Travis Foster gave the best rendition of “The Mental Tyrant” that I’ve ever seen. The galloping culmination was beyond epic, and of the several times I’ve seen them play the closer of 2005′s The Unreal Never Lived, this was the most raging and adrenaline-fueled. Maybe that sounds strange for a song that is at times painfully, unbelievably slow, but it’s true nonetheless.
“The Mental Tyrant” made for an appropriate break point between what I’ve been thinking of since as two sets. Scheidt announced they wouldn’t be doing an encore but were going to keep playing anyway. “How late do you want to be out?” he asked the crowd, who responded with cheers instead of numbers. Meshuggah and Baroness were also playing in Manhattan, and though I’m sure many would also be making the trek to Deathfest, the effect seemed to fill the room with those who really wanted to be there rather than diminish the draw. It thinned out some as the second portion of YOB‘s set progressed, but there was a genuine moshpit for Atma opener “Prepare the Ground,” and it was a thrill to see that kind of response as the music cut out and Scheidt held out his “Prepare!” just a little longer than on the record.
A thrill, but not really all that shocking. “Prepare the Ground” is probably the catchiest song YOB have ever written — at least up there with other strong album openers like “Quantum Mystic” from The Unreal Never Lived and “Ball of Molten Lead” from 2004′s The Illusion of Motion — and as the band’s profile has increased over the last couple years, that the audience would feel more kinship to the newer material is reasonable. I’d had a chuckle earlier in the set whenScheidt said something about playing old songs before starting “The Mental Tyrant,” realizing it’s been seven years now since that album came out. People were shouting requests all night, mostly for “Quantum Mystic” or “Ball of Molten Lead” from what I could hear, but the band made Atma the theme for their “encore,” running through “Upon the Sight of the Other Shore” and “Adrift in the Ocean,” which made for a fitting conclusion to a show no one was quite sure of when it would end, despite the two-song warning before “Upon the Sight of the Other Shore.”
Whether it’s true or not, it seemed like they extended the “Adrift in the Ocean” intro for some extra noodling, which made the percussive force that much more potent once the drums kicked in with more than cymbal washes. Scott Kelly adds percussion to the album version, but Foster did an excellent job filling out that space, and it was a dramatic finish to the night, the band looking genuinely exhausted by the time they were done. Perfectly understandable that they would be. I was, and all I did was stand there and bang my head.
Even with the extended set, it wasn’t especially late, but by the time I got back to Jersey, it was well after two and by the time I took out the recycling (there was a lot of it), past three, so I crashed out as soon as I could, well aware of the fatigue that would and has bled into today. Worth it. If you’re getting to see YOB as part of either I’ll be Your Mirror in London or the Maryland Deathfest this weekend, kudos. As I have every time I’ve seen them to date, I felt lucky to catch them in Brooklyn.
Posted in Features on April 14th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
04/15/12 — 00.04 — Saturday Night — Hotel Mercure
When my alarm went off this afternoon, it was with both excitement and a touch of apprehension that I considered the prospect of what today would bring Roadburn 2012, Day Three. Saturday, April 14. I looked at my pocket schedule — no fancy printouts or cellphone PDFs for me — and took a deep breath, steeling myself against the truly monolithic.
I’m sure the stories differ almost on a per-attendee basis, but my version of the final day of Roadburn proper went like this: Mike Scheidt, 40 Watt Sun, Dark Buddha Rising, Church of Misery, Pelican, The Wounded Kings, The Obsessed, Mars Red Sky, Sleep. If I was still standing, I wouldn’t know how.
The noon alarm gave me a little more time to get my head around what I was going to see, whereas the last two days it’s been up and go. Time well spent, since I was about to embark on the busiest day of this entire trip, a wave-crest culmination of everything that the last week-plus has been building toward. Fitting it should end with Sleep, since without them I and most of these bands probably wouldn’t be here. What now feels like aeons before the gods ascended their Olympus, however, Saturday afternoon began at 15.00 with Mike Scheidt in the Stage01 room.
Not 24 hours after YOB laid waste to the entire city of Tilburg performing all of The Unreal Never Lived, Scheidt, the guitarist, vocalist and driving force behind that band, emerged on 013‘s smallest stage to play acoustic songs from his upcoming Thrill Jockey solo release, Stay Awake — words which are also tattooed across his two hands, facing up for him to read. He got on stage talking about how excellent Doom had been the night prior and was soon in the thick of a spoken intro to a song called “Until the End of Everything.” I’ve heard the album a few times in preparation for a review, and it takes some of YOB‘s sonic mysticism into account on “Until the End of Everything” and a few other tracks, but Scheidt was careful as well to acknowledge singer-songwriter roots, alternating between finger-picking strings and a rhythmic strum that was familiar to many in the room in its construction.
He’s still clearly working out the approach he wants to take to the form, and said on stage as well that performing acoustic was a recent advent for him and that he was very much enjoying it, but as he dug into the throatier vocals on the closing title-track to Stay Awake, there was little to no perceptible temerity or lack of confidence in what he was doing. The songs sounded better live than they do on the record, but most importantly, there’s room for Scheidt to grow and explore new ideas outside the context of YOB, which at this point have established at least in part the palette from which they continue to refine their sound. That is, they have a “sound” they continue to refine, whereas Scheidt is still finding out what he wants to be as a solo artist, and seeing that unfold on stage was engaging.
Main room openers 40 Watt Sun had been on my list to see since I missed them when they came through New York last year, so when Scheidt was finished, I took the not-at-all-a-secret passageway from Stage01 and prepared myself to get sad. That’s what 40 Watt Sun do. Their doom is as much contingent on emotional weight — if not more — than tonal, and that could be heard as well on last year’s The Inside Room (review here). That puts them in a tight spot in terms of a stage show, however, since they’re basically limited then to how much they can really get into a show experience before undercutting the pervasive emotionality of the music. To work at all, they almost have to be boring to watch on stage. You can’t have some dude doing jumping jacks and playing a song like “Carry Me Home.”
Well, you could, but you’d probably get laughed at. 40 Watt Sun relied on the music to carry their ideas across on stage, and the songs had enough presence to make up for any fireworks that may have been absent otherwise. Vocalist/guitarist Patrick Walker (ex-Warning) was visceral in his presentation of the material, or perhaps “wrenching” would be a better word. In any case, they managed to make an entire concert hall of burly beardos miss their wives and girlfriends at the same time. Maybe that’s just me projecting. Fair enough. Before they were done, and before I actually allowed myself to feel something (yuck), I made my way into the Green Room to catch the start of Finnish blackened doomers Dark Buddha Rising, whose theatrics were of a much different and more, uh, theatrical variety.
Until they came out on stage and I recognized faces, I didn’t know this, but Dark Buddha Rising shares at least two of its members with Hexvessel, who played yesterday. While that adds a level of intrigue into the initial discovery of who they are, it says nothing about how much the two acts have in common, which in turn is just about nothing. Dark Buddha Rising take the ritual Hexvessel preach and bring it to corpsepainted life, their frontman/noise-manipulator doused himself in “blood” from a chalice as he screamed and worked a wah pedal with his hand to add to the rumbling ferocity of noise from the guitar, bass and drums. I could take or leave that side of it — the stage show — but they had the doom to back it up. Lumbering, lurching, crawling malevolence came out to turn the Green Room black, and the music was more powerful than any chalice could contain. Vinyl-only to an apparent point of religiosity, it made me sad to not immediately go buy everything they had on their table in the merch area. Fortunately, I had Church of Misery to help drown my sorrows.
Drown them they did. Or maybe they smothered them. Or stabbed them. Or blasted them with a sawed-off shotgun. Whatever it was, Church of Misery‘s murderous grooves “took care of” any and all residual woes and rolled them up in a rug, never to be seen again. Unfortunately, there were a few technical difficulties for bassist Tatsu Mikami. Fortunately, they happened right during the jam part of “El Padrino,” so guitarist Tom Sutton got to just play out the “na na na” riff for about four extra minutes while the stage crew brought out a new bass head. That wasn’t the last of Mikami‘s troubles, but those things are unavoidable sometimes, and it’s not like Church of Misery have never played Roadburn and probably won’t again next year. If you’ve got to have a house band, you could do a hell of a lot worse.
Once they were up and running again, Church of Misery had the main stage crowd already well on their (meat)hook. The new vocalist, whose name I still don’t know, made an excellent master of ceremonies, and though I left for a bit in the middle to get a quick bite, I was back in time to see them finish out in riotous form, making way for Chicagoan instrumentalists Pelican, whose new EP, Ataraxia/Taraxis, is the first release from the band since 2009′s What We all Come to Need (review here) brought back around some of the escapist atmospherics that peppered their earliest works while also remaining consistently and consciously heavy. I remember seeing them on the “Champions of Sound” tour with Scissorfight at the old Knitting Factory in New York, and though I know I’ve encountered them between then and now, that will always be my frame of reference. At some point, then, Pelican grew up.
As they played, I turned my head to look at the crowd behind me, and all there was was a sea of nodding heads. They still had plenty of energy on stage, but at the same time, Pelican was a fully mature band, who’ve earned their spot between Church of Misery and The Obsessed. The main room was jammed with people, and Pelicanhanded each one a bleeding eardrum. Their grooves were huge, the sound was reverberating off the walls in a massive hum, and they didn’t let up. It wasn’t just impressive. It was landmark, and it renewed my appreciation for what they do. I wasn’t even that excited to see them, thinking there was no way they’d be able to replace that Knitting Factory show in my mind, but they absolutely did. It’s like they realized they didn’t need to choose between being heavy and being ambient or melodic. They crushed, and in a way that I didn’t think they were capable of or interested in crushing. That was the most surprising part of all.
On my list of “must” bands, The Wounded Kings ranked pretty high. I’d missed them last time they were here, and what with their having a totally different lineup now, showing up at the Green Room seemed more than prudent. Guitarist Steve Mills, who is the only founding member of the band, led The Wounded Kings through a round of songs from 2011′s In the Chapel of the Black Hand, which is appropriate since that’s the only record that four of the five in the lineup played on. Vocalist Sharie Neyland had a bit of vibrato to her voice that was well matched by the rumble of Jim Willumsen‘s bass, and Mills — who’s been through his share of trials in getting the band to this point — seemed thoroughly satisfied with the fruits of his labor. They were an interesting comparison point to Dark Buddha Rising, since both bands could probably be classified as occult doom, but each has a drastically different take than the other on what that designation might mean.
As a singer, Neyland puts The Wounded Kings on a new level entirely, and I feel now having seen them live as I felt when I reviewed the record, which is I hope the lineup stays consistent. Drummer Mike Heath and guitarist Alex Kearney only added to the potency of the other players, and it seemed the atmosphere was set from the outset and maintained the whole way through. The Green Room was full too, and then some, and considering Pelican was still going in the main stage and Leaf Hound was at Het Patronaat, it’s safe to say The Wounded Kings have made some real fans along the way on their bumpy road to this point. Mills works quick — for instance, this lineup of the band was put together and an album was released in a year’s time — so hopefully it’s not too long before we get another glimpse inside their house of horrors.
By this time in the day, my back and forth was in full swing. I’d gone from Stage01 to the main room, to the Green Room, to the main room, to dinner, back to the main room, to the Green Room, and now was headed back to the main room again for The Obsessed‘s reunion set. It takes a toll, both physically and in terms of what you see, but the tradeoff is you see more bands. Whereas yesterday I got to get more of a feel forwhat everyone was doing — I saw full sets from Wino & Conny Ochs, Conan and YOB — today and Day One were a different kind of experience. Obviously one still full of enjoyment and thrills, they just come in more rapid-fire procession. I’ll admit too that although I did a lot of running around today — I mean a lot — the weekend was beginning even early this afternoon to extract its toll on my energy level.
I’m not bitching. I hope you won’t take that to mean it that way, but I think fatigue, being worn out, is part of the festival experience and worth talking about. I wouldn’t have chosen to be anywhere else for the duration of today — or this weekend as a whole, for that matter — but that doesn’t mean I didn’t make two trips to the espresso machine in the merch area this afternoon to gear up for the evening’s lineup. The second time, I put in two 50 Euro cents and got a double. It had to be done, because the fact of the matter is it’s not every day that The Obsessed get on stage and do a show. Roadburn seemed to know it, too, since when I came back into the main room for the set, the curtain was drawn.
This led me to wonder what they could possibly be hiding. The lineup, if I’m not mistaken, was announced beforehand as being drummer Greg Rogers and bassist Guy Pinhas alongside vocalist/guitarist Scott “Wino” Weinrich, so I’m not sure what was to be gained by drawing the giant curtain as the gear was loaded in and line checked. I didn’t expect much of a stage show, no explosions or dancing elephants, when The Obsessed got started, and sure enough, it was just the three of them rocking out those old songs. Once they actually began playing, though, I changed my mind about the curtain. It was awesome, and the reunion was special enough to warrant it. Once they hit into “Streetside,” I thought I tore my groove muscle — not to be confused with my “love muscle,” which is pretty much my forearm (heyo!).
Pinhas thanked the audience profusely and sounded utterly sincere, and he and Rogers nailed the material. It’s been since 1995 that The Obsessed played a set, though Weinrich worked Obsessed songs into his Wino trio performances, but if reunions from the likes of Saint Vitus and Sleep have shown anything, it’s that doom ages well. Getting to see The Obsessed play was one more really special occurrences that I’ve gotten to take part in on this trip, and I followed it up immediately by watching Mars Red Sky in the Green Room. It cost me part of The Obsessed‘s set, but after being so jealous of The Patient Mrs.‘ having seen them in Portland, Oregon, I had to follow up by seeing them for myself. The three-piece was positively humble and unassuming as they came out and started off their set with “Falls” from last year’s self-titled debut.
Guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras and bassist Jimmy Kinast have a new drummer in the lineup, as of reportedly two weeks ago, but the songs were smooth as they ran through them — “Strong Reflection,” the Kinast-vocal “Marble Sky,” “Curse” and a new song they didn’t give a title for but that seemed to show them heading further in the direction of balancing weighted tones with laid back grooves. You won’t hear me complain. It was one time this weekend where I can truly say that no one in the room was there by accident. Right across the hallway, you had The Obsessed rocking out songs that are legendary in doom, and yet the Green Room was full of heads come to worship at the warm fuzz coming from Pras‘ amp. For me, I’ll liken it to seeing Sungrazer at Roadburn last year, both in terms of the warmth of distortion and the equally rich satisfaction I got from doing so. They weren’t the highest profile act of the evening by any stretch, but Mars Red Sky were a highlight of my weekend (and with a weekend of highlights, that’s saying something), and I knew going into it that they would be.
Nonetheless, they were not the cap on the night. A mammoth, feedback-drenched, earth-rattling set from Sleep would follow back once more in the main room. Matt Pike, Al Cisneros and Jason Roeder. I’m honestly not sure if anything else needs to be said than that. Yeah, they’re not the full original trio of the band (though I’ve never heard anyone who’s actually seenRoederdrum on these songs complain; some conceptual kvetching), and yeah, nobody’s as young as they used to be, myself included, but goddamn, you put these guys on a stage and you better be sure your walls are reinforced. Doing one of their several extended sections of nothing but feedback and vibrating washes of noise, I found myself looking up at the 013 ceiling to see if anything was going to shake loose and fall on the crowd. I’m not kidding. I had my escape route all planned out — onto the stage, through the side door, out the loading dock. Off to safety I go.
It didn’t come to that, thankfully, but Sleep were at a pretty high threat level. High enough so that my earplugs did me no good whatsoever and my ears are ringing now. Before they even started — before his amps were even turned on — Pike came out and just started playing to the crowd. There was no sound, and he looked a little smashed, but even on mute, he earned vehement cheers. Before long, that solo turned into a mash of noise that, in turn, turned into the start of “Dopesmoker.” “Drop out of life with bong in hand/Follow the smoke toward the riff filled land” — words that have become the granite into which Sleep‘s legacy is carved, and I don’t mind saying I got chills up my spine as Al Cisneros delivered the lines. He did smoke a joint on stage, oh yes, and got a laugh by saying, “This intermission is brought to you by The Grass Company,” which is just down the street from 013 here in Tilburg. I don’t smoke, but I did suddenly want to order five shots and down them all; the music begging its adherents to be fucked up one way or another, I suppose.
Pike teased the opening riff of “Dragonaut” and a shockwave of electricity went through the crowd, and when they actually did it, it was glorious. Likewise “Holy Mountain” and “From Beyond,” both of which were just a huge, wondrous mess of abrasive noise and painful volume. The vocals weren’t the kind of shouts one hears when listening to Sleep’s Holy Mountain, or even Dopesmoker, but Cisneros was loyal to the songs all the same, vocally and musically, playing way up high on the neck of his five-string Rickenbacker, and where after seeing them in Brooklyn in 2010, I was unsure as to how the conflicting stage presences of Pike (a drunken madman) and Cisneros (a weedian guru) might play out correspondingly in their personal relationship, tonight they seemed absolutely on the same page with each other and with Roeder as the essential third of the band. One shudders at the possibility of a new album.
They went long, as I guess one will do when one is Sleep, and I had a laugh when they finished and the 1972 Charles Bronson movie The Mechanic came on the huge screen that was behind the band. Years ago, I interviewed Matt Pike for one of High on Fire‘s records — I think it was Blessed Black Wings — in person in Philadelphia, and afterwards at a bar, he told a story of being sat down as a child, I believe by his father, and being made to watch that very film since it was, “Everything you need to know about being a man.” Of course as soon as I could I got the DVD and watched it. It’s the story of two hitmen, a mentor and his protegé, and rife with betrayal, murder and a bizarre — and indeed, inherently masculine — code of honor that bonds its protagonists. Jan-Michael Vincent was the younger hitman. Anyway, the nod to The Mechanic gave me a chuckle as I worked my way through the beaten throng of Roadburners and out of the main room.
A Heavy Jam session with members of Witch and Earthless loomed ahead, but not for me. For me, it was back to the hotel to put the cap on this three-day exercise in riff worship. I’m not finished yet. Tomorrow is the Afterburner, and that’s got Electric Orange, Internal Void, and YOB doing all of Catharsis, among others, so I’m not yet in full-on reflection mode (not to mention it’s three in the damn morning), but suffice it to say for the time being that there’s a reason people come from around the world to play and attend this festival, and it’s because there’s only one Roadburn. It’s been exhausting, but it’s been a thrill too, and I’m looking forward to wrapping things up tomorrow with one more round of getting my ass handed to me at the Afterburner. Here’s to it.