Negative Reaction Begin Recording New Album

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 12th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Holy macaroni, it’s been six years since Negative Reaction released their last record. Wow. Not that it doesn’t feel like it’s been a while, but once you put a number to it the whole context changes. Six years! That album from the early sludge innovators and mainstays was Frequencies from Montauk (review here), a collection that was arguably their most adventurous to-date, bringing in elements of psychedelia and drone and languid heavy rock alongside the trademark Eastern Seaboard hardcore punk-influenced intensity that they’ve always brandished so passionately.

In the years since sending FrequenciesNegative Reaction‘s inimitable frontman, Kenny Bones (who seems to have dropped the “Ken-E” spelling previously used for what seemed like forever), has relocated himself and thus the band from Long Island, New York, to Normantown, West Virginia — a significant geographic shift that’s also brought an entirely new lineup with it. Hardly the first time Bones has revamped Negative Reaction, but it’s still a major part of the change. He’s also embarked on a solo career playing outlaw country under his own name and opened Steer Run Studio to track his own work as well as that of other area groups.

To that end, Negative Reaction have apparently begun recording their next studio offering. I’ve got no details on what it might be called, when it might be done or what it might sound like — been a while since I had a proper chat with Kenny — but after so long and so much realignment on his part and the band’s, it would be pointless to speculate anyway. It could go pretty much anywhere, which only means it’ll be more fun to find out where it ends up.

Here’s a quick update Bones posted on the social medias:

negative reaction

Wow what a busy few days here at Steer Run Studio….

The Kenny Bones Solo album is finally finished….(Details on the release soon)

Negative Reaction has just started recording a new album here….

And Browbeater has been recording here and I have just started the mix down and mastering for the new Browbeater EP!!!!!! It’s gunna be some Heavy shit!!!!!!

https://www.facebook.com/Negative-Reaction-166679340107961/
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Steer-Run-Studio/152766388654183

Negative Reaction, “Docking Bay 94” Live at Stoner Hands of Doom XII, 2012

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Live Review: Negative Reaction in Allston, 05.23.14

Posted in Reviews on May 27th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

You would probably need a filing cabinet to keep track of the various players who’ve been in and out of Negative Reaction over the band’s 20-plus years. The lone mainstay is guitarist/vocalist Ken-E Bones, who to my experience is a singular figure in or out of music. He’s someone I’m glad to consider a personal friend, a former collaborator, and a player whose passion and dedication make many considered giants seem small by comparison. It had been a while since I last caught the band — SHoD XII in Connecticut, to be precise — so though I had family obligations to account for, I nonetheless popped into Allston to catch them at O’Brien’s sharing a bill with locals The Lorde Humongous, Xatatax, Slow Mover and Automatic Death Pill. A very heavy evening, to be sure.

I happen to know Bones — who’s also embarked on a solo career over the last couple years playing outlaw country — is a Boston fan. A fan of the city, its hockey team, its people, and so on, so I expected he’d be in rare form and was pleased to find that was in fact the case. At one point in their set, he borrowed a Bruins hat from someone in front of the stage and wore it for a song, and the mood despite Negative Reaction‘s persistent downer sludge was light and positive. A good time, in other words. Since I last saw them, drummer Joe Wood (also Borgo Pass) departed and Dave Ash filled the role with what served as rarefied swing for someone whose roots seemed to be so firmly in metal. You wouldn’t know it because Negative Reaction‘s material is slower overall, but I’d be surprised if Ash wasn’t a Dave Lombardo fan, if not now then at some point in the past, but he carried the material over with personality that played well alongside Bones and bassist Jamie Jervis.

Jervis has been around for a while — at least since 2012 — and came in to replace Damon Limpy, who played on Negative Reaction‘s last full-length, 2011’s Frequencies from Montauk (review here). “Dopamine” from that record was a highlight, and demonstrated how well this trio played together, the chemistry set between Bones and Jervis and developing between the rhythm section of Jervis and Ash. The trio made short work of Negative Reaction mainstays like “Go Die” from 2008’s Tales from the Insomniac and “Sludge” from 2003’s Everything You Need for Galactic Battle Adventures, and while I’d been thinking maybe they’d have some new material to show off, Frequencies from Montauk opener “Day after Yesterday” and “Shattered Reflection” were welcome ways to spend their time and both “Sludge” and the lumbering riff of “Worthless Human,” which Bones announced as “another uplifting, feel-good song” or some such, got the crowd’s heads banging and fists pumping. Literally. I wouldn’t call O’Brien’s packed out or anything, but those who were there were up front and way into it. I’m pretty sure Bones could’ve kept that Bruins hat if he’d wanted.

Closing out was “Loathing” from 2006’s Under the Ancient Penalty, which the way I see it was the beginning point for a lot of Negative Reaction‘s direction on their two subsequent albums, introducing an interplay of cleaner vocals with Bones‘ trademark raspy scream and refining their focus from punked-up sludge abrasion to rolling-groove songwriting that’s not about to shy away from an unabashed hook. “Loathing” has one of the band’s best to-date, and after “Dopamine” — a spiritual successor and a song that makes sense as a subsequent development of similar ideas — and “Shattered Reflection,” it makes sense as a way to round out what had been a riotous and fun set. I’ve seen Bones jump through more than one drumkit in my time, but he was kinder to Ash‘s gear than that, though the noisy finish of “Loathing” did come with a bit of rolling around, guitar-meets-cranium bashing and feedback enough to fill the entirety of Boston’s quota for the evening, let alone that of the other bands on the bill.

Negative Reaction have been an underrated band for a long time. Part of that has to be their constant lineup shifts, but this latest incarnation of the three-piece reminded me of what’s always been most on their side, and that’s the unabashed passion of Bones and the absolute catharsis at the heart of their deep-toned sludgy grooves. I expect they’ll continue to be a well-kept secret — sludge for sludgers — but for a band that has existed for the better part of 24 years to come across as having potential says something about the continued vitality at work. Fingers crossed for new stuff soon.

A few more pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Buried Treasure and the Sludge and Punk at the End of the World

Posted in Buried Treasure on November 21st, 2013 by JJ Koczan

There’s little question that Armageddon Shop makes its bones in the vinyl trade, and that’s cool. I’ve come to accept it at stores that what was for a time the format of record has in turn been replaced in prominence by the LPs that it originally took that position from. Turnabout. All good. Everything comes back around in time, or doesn’t, and I don’t mind craning my head to look at the spines on the wall of CDs in the basement store in Cambridge, my knees cracking as I crouch to see the shelves lower to the floor. It’s a reminder of the calisthenics I should be doing instead of buying albums in the first place.

My buying power is low at this point and I know it, but if you’ve been either to the Boston or Providence store, you know it’s not easy to walk out of there empty-handed. They’re gonna get you with one thing or another. This time around, it started for me with a used copy of Amorphis‘ lackluster 2011 outing, The Beginning of Times. Not an album I really cared to pick up, but for six bucks, I figured I could give it a home on the shelf and maybe find something in listening to it I missed initially. Next thing I know, here’s a copy of Zeke‘s second album, 1996’s Flat Tracker for $4.99, and the 1999 He’s No Good to Me Dead five-way split between Bongzilla, Grief, Negative Reaction, Sourvein and Subsanity for $11. That’s just over two dollars per band. How could I refuse?

The answer, of course, is I couldn’t. I was pleased to find later that I didn’t already own the split, which was released on Game Two Records, but even if I had, it would’ve been worth the asking price to revisit some early Sourvein — three of their five tracks here would show up the next year on their self-titled debut — and live Bongzilla cuts, along with Negative Reaction and Grief in immediate succession. That one-two punch would probably fill any sludge quota a given day might present — 15 decabongs — but with Subsanity in the center role, and Bongzilla and Sourvein following, you’re basically getting a 74-minute overdose. Easy listening it is not. The only one of these acts who wouldn’t go on to craft a significant legacy in the genre is Subsanity, whose third and final LP, Future is War, was also issued in ’99, but even they prove vicious in keeping with their company, all of whom are raw the way you think of oozing, scraped skin as being raw.

And Zeke? Well, Zeke were the super-fast punk band it was cool to like if you were into slow music. They always had a bit of strut to them, as “Daytona” from Flat Tracker will attest, and when they signed to Relapse to release 2004’s ‘Til the Living End, that just sealed their appeal. I remember seeing them at CMJ in NYC at some point around then and they had the fastest count-ins I’d ever heard, and then they actually played that fast. Flat Tracker is in and out in under 18 minutes and its 15 tracks are liable to leave you sucking wind as you try to keep up, but it’s also a lot of fun. Along with their 1994 debut, Super Sound Racing, Flat Tracker was reissued by Relapse, but the Scooch Pooch Records version has the original art, which is all the more killer for the fact that the lineup comes with each member of the band’s Mexican takeout order. Guitarist/vocalist Blind Marky Felchtone will have, “two chicken soft tacos, one bean burrito and a medium Coke.”

All discs considered, I still got out of Armageddon Shop on the cheap. There was more — and yes, I did flip through the vinyl section and drool at the assorted heavy ’70s and more modern wonders — but ultimately I resisted such devilish temptations and skipped out. I had my eye on a few other odds and ends on that wall though, so I have the feeling it won’t be too long before I’m back. Hope not, anyway.

Zeke, “T-500” from Flat Tracker (1996)

Armageddon Shop’s website

Armageddon Shop Boston on Thee Facebooks

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Total Coverage: Stoner Hands of Doom XII (Day Four)

Posted in Features on September 2nd, 2012 by JJ Koczan


How surprised was I to win the Stoner Hands of Doom XII raffle last night? Well, I’m not exactly the guy who never wins anything, but I am the guy who says he never wins anything when he wins something once every eight to 10 years, so yeah, I was pretty blown away. I didn’t even really get the chance to go through the box of goodies last night — Pale Divine had just played and The Skull was about to take the stage — but the loot is plentiful.

My ticket won me a bounty of doomly goods, from Iron Man vinyl to CDs from Kin of Ettins, Beelzefuzz, Faces of Bayon, Black Cowgirl, Ichabod, One Inch Giant, and so on, plus posters for the last several SHoD fests, including one for SHoD VII in Arizona, when Acid King played. There are ones in there for SHoD X and SHoD XI as well, both of which I played in different bands, so it’s kind of special to have them, and an assortment of doomly patches and stickers — not to mention an entire wardrobe of t-shirts — but the highlight of the whole package has to be the official Stoner Hands of Doom XII pedal, which has the Skillit-designed skull artwork of this year’s fest painted right on. I can’t wait to get it home and hook it up to my ukulele. I’m dead serious.

Thanks obviously go out to Rob and the whole SHoD crew. One of the great things about being here the last several days has been seeing all the familiar faces. Today is the final day of the fest. When I came out of the El ‘n’ Gee last night, the entire town of New London appeared to be smashed, so it’s not such a surprise that it’s kind of sleepy and quiet now as I write this in a shady corner in the parking lot across from the venue, but soon enough, Minneapolis sludgers Witchden will start another full day of excellent heaviness that I’ll once more be documenting as we go along.

If you’ve been reading these posts, thank you for that. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. It’s kind of a trip to be reviewing a band’s set and then have them come over and say hi, as happened a few times yesterday, but it’s been a lot of fun. More to come in a bit for day four of SHoD XII.

Witchden

UPDATE 2:02PM: They had a hell of a trip to get here and a first-band-on crowd to play to, but Minneapolis sludgers Witchden were tight enough to show they had a little road time along their way. The two-guitar five-piece boasts Jeff “Kong” Moen, now apparently formerly of Sourvein on drums, and he provided both energy and crash behind vocalist Jason Micah, whose vicious screams came across with an almost hip-hop style presence. Maybe it was the upturned hat, but everyone else was pretty much headbanging, and his stage moves just gave off that kind of vibe. On the other hand, the riffs of guitarists were straight out of the sludge playbook, heavy enough to transcend the stoner and really get into some muddy nastiness. I bought the CD, and they were also selling handmade dugouts, which are apparently a thing that exist. They were $20 a pop, and as much as I like to support independent woodworking, I stuck with the album and think it was probably the right idea. A heavy start, and the first fog machine of the whole fest (surprised the hell out of me, like, “Oh yeah! Fog!” — it’s been a long weekend), but we’re underway for sure now.

 Insano Vision

UPDATE 2:46PM: They were a lot of fun, because they were literally kids — their parents were here — but Insano Vision also seriously brought it to SHoD XII, and by “it” I mean the inimitable vitality of rock and roll youth. They were fast and heavy and jumping around the stage, and it gives what I’ve been calling “energetic” all weekend an entirely different touchstone. A double-guitar four-piece from North Haven, I’d be amazed if a single one of them could gain entry to the bar area at the El ‘n’ Gee, but heavy is heavy. Lead guitarist Doug Glaser (above) tapped through a couple killer solos, jumping around the stage during set highlight “Unknown,” and while they still have their kinks to work out, they have plenty of time to do it. Very cool, very metal, and great to see some youngins kicking ass. As they’re local, I don’t know that I’d put them on after Witchden, but I think they surprised everyone here with both their chops and their presence. They tore through their set quickly, leaving a strong impression in their wake. Will be interesting to see how they develop, but it was more than pleasant to be caught off-guard as I was and I think a lot of others were as well.

Infernal Overdrive


UPDATE 3:39PM: I think I pulled my rock muscle. It was a pretty bold choice on New Jersey four-piece Infernal Overdrive‘s part to throw in the 12-minute jam (which was shortened, but still) “Motor” so early into the set, but they pulled it off, ranging far into psychedelic moodiness and then bringing it back into their own brand of classic-type riff rock. Brothers Keith (bass) and Marc Schleicher (guitar/vocals) held down cuts like “Viking” — which I’m dying to hear the final version of — the former with his customized Captain America bass, now featuring blue knobs. They’re always a show, huge on personality, but the songwriting backs it up. “I-95,” from their Small Stone debut, Last Rays of the Dying Sun (review here) is maddeningly catchy, and though Marc didn’t jump off the stage in his James Brown boogie routine, he and guitarist Rich Miele both sounded excellent and drummer Mike Bennett pushed a big rock finish over the top, the band’s logo proudly blazing off the front of his kick bass. For a band that doesn’t tour six or seven months each year, Infernal Overdrive always throw down, and every time I see them, I manage to enjoy it more than the last. Word is Hovel‘s brakes went out, and while they’re reportedly okay, they’re also reportedly not coming. Bummer, as it would’ve been cool to catch their set, but at least nobody got hurt.

Fire Faithful


UPDATE 5:OOPM: Some more familiar faces in Richmond, Virginia, SHoD veterans Fire Faithful. Their most recent full-length, Please Accept this Invocation (review here), was fit to please, if somewhat under-recorded, but like last year, the four-piece delivered in a live setting. As expected they called for backup (vocals) well into the proceedings, but the earlier “Wonton Lavey,” and “Dollar Bottomed Out” also stood out. The Ladies Faithful joined in for “Harvest Moon,” “A Devil in London” and the finale “King Macabre,” helping Fire Faithful do Virginia proud. Their Southern-style metal/doom is definitely traceable to its geography, with guitarist Shane Rippey‘s Pepper Keenan-style riffs and the post-Dave Sherman/Phil Anselmo vocal approach of Brandon Malone, but the band is clearly also working to come into their own more in terms of sound, and just going by this set, it seems to be worth their effort. There’s growth yet to be had, but they’re closer even than they were at SHoD XI. We’ll see when their next release drops how their development translates to the studio, but they’re getting there.

Skrogg

UPDATE 6:01PM: Near as I can tell, New Hampshire trio Skrogg only played four songs — “The Cajun Lady” and “Anita Ride” from their 2011 self-titled debut EP (review here) and two new ones — but man, that set was full. Low end permeated guitar and bass alike, and drummer Felix Starr had a floor tom mounted as his rack for extra thunder to stand up to Reverend Maxfield and Jasper Gloom. Maxfield handled vocals in addition to the guitar, delivering classic-rock-style lyrics with a dudely burl that seemed less like a put-on than some I’ve heard. Helps the authenticity cause that he spoke the same way. They cracked jokes between songs, with Starr referencing Wayne’s World (“I like to play”) and Dumb and Dumber (“the beer flows like wine”), among others, in the process. The two newer songs were both longer and more expansive instrumentally than the EP material, the first a wide-berth blues number and the second blending familiarly thickened fuzz into a twisted biker metal groove. They brought their own crowd to go with that already present at the El ‘n’ Gee, and I’d gladly wager that when Skrogg plays locally in New Hampshire, it’s a fucking rager of a party. I wouldn’t mind seeing it, but the export version was pretty killer as well. This is one of those bands who are just too dead on to not get picked up by some label sooner or later. I’ll look forward to hearing the new stuff put to tape.

Borracho

UPDATE 7:02PM: Kind of a hard-luck set for Doom Capitol quality heavy rockers Borracho, who played SHoD XII as a trio sans guitarist/vocalist Noah. They made the best of it. Most of the set was instrumental — the midsection of  “Grab the Reins” recognizable anyway — but guitarist Steve Fisher took the front position on “Concentric Circles.” Add to Noah‘s absence Fisher’s own technical problems with his Model T, and it’s probably not how they’d want to be remembered, but they still grooved the shit out of the El ‘n’ Gee, bassist Tim Martin also having his say vocally and filling the gaps in tone left by the lack of second guitar, the warmth of Martin‘s tone all the more audibly locked in with Mario Trubiano’s drumming. It was kind of an oddly-constructed set, with most of the instrumental material up front and then a last couple songs with vocals, but they made it work with what they had as a trio, though I think if they’d opened with “Concentric Circles” and then gone into the extended instrumental stuff, it might have flowed more easily. I don’t know for sure and so don’t want to conjecture, but I don’t think Noah is actually out of the band, just not here, so it doesn’t seem like something that was really planned for. Hopefully everything’s cool and Borracho can get back to four-piece form soon, and if for whatever reason that doesn’t happen, they still showed promise as a trio keeping the riffs at the fore.

Negative Reaction

UPDATE 8:04PM: This is a band about whom I can’t even really hope to feign impartiality. I’ve known frontman Ken-E Bones of Long Island sludge mainstays Negative Reaction for about a decade at this point if not longer, and drummer Joe Wood is my touchstone for awesome when it comes to human beings. Like you meet someone and go, “Wow, this seems like a really cool person.” My next step is to wonder if they’re as good a person as Joe Wood, and in every instance so far, the answer as been no. It was a thrill just to see these dudes, let alone watch them play a set. Of note, however, is that Bones and Wood have a new bass player in Jaime (pronounced hi-may), who replaces Damon Lippy. Not sure what’s the situation there, but as ever, Negative Reaction made for a strong trio, hitting up “Docking Bay 94” and “Dopamine” from their 2011 outing, Frequencies from Montauk (review here) amid classics like “Go Die” and rousing opener “Loathing.” They got a good response from the crowd and seemed to be genuinely enjoying each other’s company and that of the audience, so right on. Add to that Bones flopping around on stage during the finale of “A Bit of Numb,” and you’ve got good times all the way through.

Summoner

UPDATE 8:56PM: I’m starting to drag, and not a little, but Boston double-guitar foursome Summoner (né Riff Cannon, which if nothing else was a more descriptive name) were definitely not. Once upon a time — last year — I was in talks with the band to release their full-length, Phoenix, on The Maple Forum. That didn’t work out, but the band remains killer, vocalist/bassist Chris Johnson jumping up on drummer Scott Smith‘s kit early in the set and only getting more into it from there as guitarists Joe Richner and AJ Peters alternated between post-metal noodling and sludged-out crunch. I’d never actually seen them before, either as Summoner or their prior incarnation, but it was like they were trying to drive their music directly into the skull, no need for soundwaves or anything. They played in the dark, as some bands will do, but were a treat to watch, and if I was just a little bit more the vinyl-buying type, I’d be walking out of here tonight with a copy of Phoenix. Nonetheless, I’ll be revisiting my download of the record this week for sure. Their builds and crashes warrant yet another in an ongoing series of listens. Good band, and they seem like they’re only going to get better as they keep pushing themselves.

Black Pyramid

UPDATE 9:45PM: So here’s a bit of breaking news for you on a Sunday night: Massachusetts trio Black Pyramid just finished recording a new album — today. Apparently right before the three of them — guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard, bassist Gein and drummer Clay Neely — got in the car to come to New London. How badass is that? “Yeah, so we just finished our album, whaddya wanna do now?” “Let’s go play SHoD.” “Okay.” They rolled into the El ‘n’ Gee like the riff marauders they are and from there it was all battle axes and scimitars and bloodspurts. Most of what they played was off that new album, including a ripping instrumental that only served to emphasize how quickly they’ve come together as a unit and how tight they are performance-wise. Shepard brings a lot of personality to the band, and I don’t know the names of the songs, because they’re new and I’ve only just heard them here, right now, but there was one start-stop part where I feared for the lives of his strings he was hitting it so hard. I didn’t even know they were recording as of yet, so it’s awesome to hear that’s on the way, and gives me something to look forward to in 2013 as well as hopes of catching Black Pyramid again soon.

Elder

UPDATE 10:52PM: Holy shit. I finally got to fucking see Elder. You know those bands that every single time you would otherwise be in the same place on the same night — them on a stage, you probably drunk and awkward at a bar — it never works out? That’s me and Elder. It’s been years at this point. They’re in New York, I’m in Boston. They’re in Boston, I’m in Jersey. I’m in Boston, they’re in Germany. But here’s the thing. There’s not a chance I’d trade seeing Elder tonight for seeing them ever before, because right now, they’re at their absolute best yet. I don’t know if you heard the Spires Burn/Release 12″ that was streamed here not too long ago, but it’s been nearly half a decade and Elder — guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, mulletted bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto — just keep getting better. They slammed into “Release” from that 12″ and it was glorious, no shit, and capped an already fantastic set with the title-track from Dead Roots Stirring. My only mistake was opening the laptop too early, so I had to stay back by the bar longer than I would’ve wanted to and not go up front, but other than that, it was perfect. I’m trying really hard lately to guard myself against hyperbole, because while it’s great for having bands use your quotes in their promotional materials, it’s shitty criticism and every act has things that work and things that don’t. That said, Elder fucking made my night. I mean it. Of all the really, really cool shit I’ve already seen today — from old friends to bands I’ve never even heard of — to finally see Elder was incredible. Might be some of the best American heavy psych I’ve ever seen.

Iron Man

UPDATE 12:25AM: This was the first time I’d seen Iron Man since they acquired vocalist Dee Calhoun. In that time, they’ve put out two EPs — last year’s Dominance (review here) and the new Att hålla dig över, which I picked up tonight at the merch table. Calhoun‘s singing is pure Halford, right down to the face-ripping screams and the double-hand clutch on the mic, but god damn can he pull it off. If you want to compare to former Iron Man vocalists, he’s a better Halford than Joe Donnelly was an Ozzy, and Joe Donnelly did a pretty mean Ozzy. Decked out in bandanna, beard and doomly black duster, Calhoun gave Iron Man a presence of up front like I’ve never seen them have before, raw talent blended with performance edge, and it seemed more than ever like guitarist “Iron” Alfred Morris III has finally met his match in a singer. Morris is the walking embodiment of all that is Maryland doom (at very least, he makes up half and Earthride‘s Dave Sherman comprises the rest), so it goes without saying that he killed it, and watching them run through “Ruler” and other songs off the EPs and Iron Man‘s last full-length, 2009’s I Have Returned, like opener “I Have Returned” and “Run from the Light” gave me a new appreciation for the dynamic between Morris and bassist Louis Strachan, whose fills added both raw groove and vitality in playing off Morris‘ riffing. If there’s a more perfect way to cap off a Stoner Hands of Doom fest, I can’t think of it. For the finishing touch, they brought up SHoD organizer Rob Levey (above, with Calhoun) to sing the title-track from 1993’s Black Night, noting as they did that he fronted the band at that time. Before Iron Man started, Levey was on stage after they picked the raffle winner (I didn’t go two for two), and he said this was the best lineup of the band he’d seen in the last 15 years. I don’t have the same kind of experience with them, obviously, but they’re definitely in a new class, and well deserved. They brought the house down, and when they finished, I said a crazy amount of goodbyes and adjourned to the same parking lot where I posted from this morning. Seemed only fitting to round out the day in the same spot. As anyone who saw me move into the same corner and plug in my laptop during almost every band’s last song over the course of the last three days might be able to tell you, I’m a creature of habit. I’m going to get in the car in just another minute or so and drive back to where I’m staying, but unless some of the adrenaline in me from the end of SHoD XII dies down, I’ll add a conclusion to this when I land, so stay tuned. Not quite done yet.

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Negative Reaction Interview with Ken-E Bones: Frequencies From Among the Trobbits

Posted in Features on December 8th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Down in the valley where I live, we have a saying. Okay, it’s only me that has the saying, but still. It goes like this: “You’ve got seven billion people in this world, but there’s only one Ken-E Bones.” And it’s true. More than almost anyone I’ve ever met, the man is unique unto himself. His persona, his unremitting will and his oddball sense of humor are neither for this world nor of it — and as a friend and someone who (at least I think) has some grip on what he thinks of “this world,” I mean that in the best way possible.

He’ll argue the point (and he does in the interview that follows), but Bones is Negative Reaction. You simply can’t have one without the other. The guitarist/vocalist founded the band at the tender age of 18, and more than 20 years later, he’s a legend of East Coast sludge. As much as names like Grief and Buzzov*en have become synonymous with the growth of the genre, so too has Negative Reaction been pivotal in its spread, and unlike those and many others, they’ve never seen a lick of cred for it either.

Negative Reaction‘s latest full-length is Frequencies From Montauk, and the album does a lot of work in bringing Bones‘ personality to the recordings. Most notable to anyone familiar perhaps with their 1996 Endofyourerror debut or 2003’s Everything You Need for Galactic Battle Adventures, the new record plays up the more stoner rock side of Bones‘ influence. He sings clean for the most part, and the focus on the riff is plain to hear in “Angels and Demons” and “Shattered Reflection.”

That shift in approach isn’t entirely unexpected. Over the band’s last two outings, Under the Ancient Penalty (2006) and Tales From the Insomniac (2008), a tide of less screaming has slowly crept into the vocal methodology, and though Bones is quick to make it known that nothing is scripted as regards Negative Reaction compositions, a clear, natural progression is evident amidst the base of New York hardcore that shows up in the centerpiece “Thicker than Blood.”

Taken in combination with the reintroduction of sci-fi and particularly Star Wars-based elements in the lyrics, that was more than enough for me to want to ring up Bones for a phoner. In the interview below, he talks about the changes the band has undergone in the last few years, both stylistically and in terms of personnel — longtime drummer John “Ol’ Mac” MacDonald left, only to be replaced by Joe Wood of Long Island mainstays Borgo Pass and Bones‘ own Mynok side-project, and former bassist Damon Limpy returned to the fold for  Frequencies From Montauk — the development of the band as a whole, his variety of influence, and much more.

Among the many things Bones is — and like all of us, he is many things — he is uncompromisingly honest, and I hope that comes through more than anything else in the Q&A, which you’ll find after the jump below. Please enjoy.

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Negative Reaction, Frequencies From Montauk: Time and Space Bend on Long Island

Posted in Reviews on November 9th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

There is a physical difference that coincides with the sonic one between singing and screaming. They come from different places in the throat and the diaphragm, use different muscles, hurt differently, and when a vocalist switches from one technique to the other, no matter how natural it sounds, there’s a conscious decision (or at least a physical act, the way moving your left arm is still a conscious decision without the thought being put into it, “Move left arm now”) being undertaken. I bring it up because although the last couple Negative Reaction records – 2006’s Under the Ancient Penalty and 2008’s Tales From the Insomniac – have seen guitarist/vocalist Ken-E Bones experiment increasingly with cleaner singing, there nonetheless must have been a point at which he made the choice to make the technique the crux of what’s used on their latest PsycheDOOMelic outing, Frequencies From Montauk. Bones’ vocals have always been a distinguishing – and often divisive – factor in Negative Reaction’s music. The only remaining founding member of the band, the Long Island, New York, native is joined on Frequencies From Montauk by longtime drummer John “Old” MacDonald and former/once-again bassist Damon Limpy, and though both players in the rhythm section make their presences felt, Negative Reaction is Ken-E Bones’ show and the material follows his direction.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve known Bones personally and have considered him a friend for a decade at this point, if not longer. We have a formative collaboration together and speak regularly about a range of topics both personal and/or related to music. Before I knew him as closely as I now do, however, I was a fan of the band, so when it comes to reviewing, I feel comfortable being honest in my appraisal of Negative Reaction’s work, and if at the end of writing this review I’m not ready to stand behind it as having the appropriate critical distance, I won’t post it. Simple as that.

That said, anyone who hasn’t kept up with Negative Reaction in their post-Game Two Records era (2003 and on) will be immediately surprised by the tone of Frequencies From Montauk, which is more heavy riff rock than based on the abrasive sludge of their past. Bones’ guitar comes through with Orange-hued distortion, and Limpy’s bass, while clean toned and not as prevalent as it might otherwise be in the mix, is a major signifier nonetheless that although they’ve maintained some of their New York hardcore edge, they’re simply a different band than that which put out the debut endofyourerror in 1996. The shift in sound on these 11 tracks (plus a bonus) isn’t outlandish as compares especially to Tales From the Insomniac, but the difference is that record felt transitional and Frequencies From Montauk comes off more assured of its place. Cuts like opener “Day After Yesterday,” the upbeat “Shattered Reflection” and the penultimate “Angels & Demons” are more straightforward stoner rock than either sludge or doom, Bones’ riffing prevalent and the songs less musically depressive than some of the other material in the band’s recent history. A start-stop toward the end of “Shattered Reflection” (an album highlight) in which each player sounds off on his instrument, is downright playful.

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Notes From SHoD XI Pt. 2: Saturday

Posted in Features on August 14th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Woke up this morning with not the worst headache ever, but certainly enough of one to get the job done. If you made me guess, I’d say I’d probably done some drinking. It was early, and I posted the notes from last night and crashed out some more before finally getting up around 10AM and deciding that a cure was needed. Fortunately, there’s a Waffle House attached to the Days Inn where I’m staying, and that shit is so greasy it’s like carpetbombing your hangover. Mission accomplished there, I made for CVS to buy earplugs, then to a coffee house to get that fix, and finally, to Krug’s Place for day two of Stoner Hands of Doom XI.

It’s already after 2AM again (funny how the timing of these things works out), so I’m going to stick with the note form from yesterday, and in all likelihood, I’ll again nod off before I finish and post it tomorrow. Not the end of the world. Part of me hopes so anyway. This afternoon and tonight, I saw 14 bands. Everyone who took the stage at Krug’s, I caught at least part of their set. In the immortal words of Nebula, “It’s been a long, long day.” Here’s how it went down:

The PB Army: They switched places with Ambition Burning, who were running late and played second. I didn’t know that at the time, and despite the fact that I’ve seen them before, they have a singing drummer in Keith Bergman, and the guitarist was wearing a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey, I still thought I was looking at Ambition Burning until Bergman announced who they were. I must have sat there for 15 minutes and it never even occurred to me. I actually slapped my forehead. When they got going, The PB Army ruled. Uptempo heavy rock to start the day. I also give them credit because, like me, they were there for the entire show. Not always in the room where the bands played — in fact, mostly at the bar from what I saw, drinking the PBR from which they take their name — but there nonetheless. Where most left, they stuck around. That should say something.

Ambition Burning: This was the first time today when I was really jealous of the scene down here. These guys are former members of two bands I’ve previously played with and dug: Durga Temple and VOG, and they were easily the most thrashing act of the day. They hit it fast and loud and came off like Gwar-meets-Lair of the Minotaur. Some riffy parts, but more head-down punk fury. It worked well, and their last song showed a weird progressive bent that’s never going to hurt them. Heavy stuff for heavy heads.

Sinister Realm: This Allentown, Pennsylvania, five-piece were also quite metal, but in a completely different way. I had to remind myself who they were by reading my review of their last album from 2009, and what I took away from that was that they were very metal, and so they were. Full-on oldschool metal, complete with Dio Sabbath riff complexity, Trouble‘s Marshall tones and Judas Priest fist-pumping rhythms. They have a new record out called The Crystal Eye, which I bought, and they played a couple songs from it, but what really caught my attention aside from the coordinated rocking among the string section was that bassist/backing vocalist John Gaffney (who also played in Pale Divine later) had written at least four print fanzines dedicated solely to Candlemass. Fucking awesome. Maybe the best seven dollars I spent today buying one of the issues.

Muffler Crunch: They were the surprise of the day. A male/female Canadian duo, guitarist/vocalist Luke Lavigne and drummer/lead vocalist Angie Neatby absolutely destroyed. Lavigne, armed with an acoustic guitar run through a Dual Rectifier, was a noisy, feedback-laden, ultra-distorted mess (and I mean that in the best way possible) and Neatby, through a headset microphone — which I’m usually not a fan of for singing drummers, because you hear every breath they take when they’re not singing — laid down blues righteousness like it was coming back in style. Things got really fascinating when they slammed on the breaks and went uber-doom, with Lavinge adding death growls. Trippy stuff. Definitely different, definitely dug it. Definitely a hard act to follow.

Iron Front: Straightforward heavy rock. Not really stoner, but probably digs on a Kyuss record every now and again. They covered Soundgarden, but did “Outshined,” which was kind of a bummer, since it’s not one of their best and it’s the kind of track you’re never going to be able to do as well as the original. Their original stuff was better, but like they didn’t really add anything to the cover, they also rested comfortably on a stylistic middle-ground that, particularly after Muffler Crunch, seemed like ground that had already been covered. Not bad — I wouldn’t be ready to count them out completely — but seemed to be just on the other side of what piques my interest. They pulled a good crowd though, so there’s that.

Electric Magma: Probably the band I saw the least of, owing to dinner. It was 6:30 by the time the Toronto trio went on, and while I most definitely enjoyed their fuzzy instrumentals from the next room, I’ll admit that it was the hot roast beef sandwich with fries as the foremost occupant of my attentions. I felt guilty and bought one of their records later on — the one I didn’t think I already owned, as it happens. Figured that’d probably be the way to go.

Lo-Pan: What the hell else is there to say about these dudes? At this point, I feel like even saying they were the tightest rock band playing tonight undersells it, because they go beyond that. Go see Lo-Pan. There. I put it in bold. In talking before (and after) their set, they were telling me about the Dude Locker III fest they’re putting on Sept. 10 in their native Columbus, Ohio. Apparently Chapstik is playing, along with 20 or so other bands on two stages. To hear them tell it, they’ll also be destroying a car. I might have to make the roadtrip for that. More details here. In the meantime, Lo-Pan slayed like Lo-Pan slays. They’re dominant live and they know it.

Admiral Browning: Another instance where I was jealous of the Maryland/surrounding-states scene. Admiral Browning‘s uniquely thick and riffy progressive instrumentals went over huge, and I’m always amazed that there’s a climate down here for this kind of thing. Back home in New Jersey, there’s nothing. Nothing. Fucking pop punk bands out the ass, and here’s Admiral Browning, brazenly exploring untested musical ground in a supportive community just 250 miles away. A boy could cry at the sight of it, much like a boy could cry at the sight of Admiral Browning‘s technical prowess, which they, as ever, presented at SHoD in a manner entirely void of pretense. It was the band’s 200th show, and beardly bassist Ron “Fez” McGinnis was doubling as the stage manager for the fest. He had the unenviable duty of corralling stoner rockers all night, which was a task he handled like a pro.

Pale Divine: I remembered seeing this Pennsylvanian trio with The Hidden Hand in Philly years back around when their second album, Eternity Revealed, came out in 2004. As I mentioned before, Candlemass-loving Sinister Realm bassist John Gaffney played here as well, and they were precisely the kind of heavy traditional doom one expects to find at SHoD. It’s a style that doesn’t go over everywhere, but goes over really well here. They were more than decently heavy if not necessarily the most exciting act of the night, but I had to make an escape for a bit. I came back to the hotel, changed out of my stinking shirt, threw on some deodorant (it had already been a sweaty day), and went back to Krug’s feeling like a new man.

War Injun: It was fortunate that I was feeling like a new man, because the energy War Injun brought to the stage was formidable. I’d also stopped drinking before Pale Divine went on, and was well on my way to sobered up — a status I’d keep for the rest of the night — and was glad for the lucidity that let me better appreciate drummer JB Matson‘s chest-rattling kick. Vocalist JD Williams (formerly of Internal Void) gave Earthride‘s Dave Sherman a run for his money as the most charismatic frontman of the evening, and it was clear that the double-guitar fivesome knew their way around Maryland doom. The audience they pulled in might have been the best of the night, which was only unfortunate because the room thinned out some when they were finished.

Blood Farmers: On sheer sound alone, they were the best doom band that played today. There was nothing showy about what they did, but the sound was perfect for them, Eli Brown‘s vocals were almost as heavy as his bass sound, and they ran through an excellent set of songs, dwarfing in my mind even their Roadburn 2011 Main Stage appearance. They were so tight, so troubled-sounding, it really seemed like a love of obscure/classic ’70s horrordelic film was in their songs. New song “Headless Eyes” was especially a highlight, but really, their pacing, their patient riffs and the precision with which they were executed made Blood Farmers high on the list of the day’s best sets. The only shame was that there wasn’t more people there to see it.

Earthride: They’re the kings of this scene. They went on after midnight, and so I don’t think all the native-types who were there for War Injun came back after the non-Old Line State Blood Farmers, but there were still plenty on hand for what certainly felt like the headlining set of the night. Dave Sherman was telling stories about being in Spirit Caravan and playing the first SHoD in 1999 before the set even started, and in a classy move, he and the band (which includes guitarist Kyle Van Steinberg, drummer Eric Little and new bassist Josh Hart) brought up Rob Levey to play air guitar and help sing the chorus of “Supernatural Illusion.” Scott “Wino” Weinrich does the guest spot on Earthride‘s latest album, Something Wicked, but the man behind SHoD gave a more than laudable showing of himself, and was treated to a fitting round of applause afterwards.

Negative Reaction: Kind of got screwed. Earthride had finished their set and then decided to do the “one more song” that was on their setlist the whole time in the form of “Vampire Circus.” Not a problem except for Dave Krug (of Krug’s Place fame) getting on stage between the bands and saying everyone needed to be out by 1:55AM. I looked at my watch and it was 1:15 and Negative Reaction — who were supposed to headline Friday night and didn’t because bassist Damon had a seizure and had to go to the hospital — were definitely going to have their set cut short. And so they did, although they also pushed it time-wise to the very last second, guitarist/vocalist Ken-E Bones bashing himself in the head with his guitar, throwing himself on the floor, playing with his teeth and crafting the weekend’s nastiest noise barrage. It was short, but they were furious, and it was among the strongest sets I’ve ever seen them play. Still a bummer to see them get stuck after not being able to do their set the night before, but they clearly made the most of what they had.

I can’t say enough how glad I am to have stopped drinking when I did (roughly six hours from when this post started). There’s still one day of Stoner Hands of Doom XI to go, and though I don’t think I’m going to be able to stay and see all of Sunday’s bill, there are more bands I’ve never seen in that lineup than even today, including Earthling, whom Jake Adams from Valkyrie personally recommended I check out. Though it had been years since I’d seen him, I’ll definitely take that recommendation and look forward to the set. All the same, the thought of going to work Monday morning is starting to press, but I was talking to a couple people today who had come from Rochester, New York, and from Kentucky, so I’m not the only one with a long drive. Stuff like this is worth traveling for.

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Buried Treasure Stands Alone (Records)

Posted in Buried Treasure on February 18th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Back in December, I placed an order at the Alone Records online distro. They were (and still are) offering a list of CDs, from which you, the loyal customer, could pick 10 for 59.90 Euro. Seemed like a pretty good deal to me, so I hit it up and made my list — who doesn’t love making lists of records they want to buy? — and filled the shopping cart. 10 albums from the list, no problem. Even with the exchange rate and shipping, I made out about right.

End of January, I started to get nervous that perhaps my local post office had either lost or decided “fuck it” and tossed the package, because it still hadn’t come. Of course, I’ve had dealings with Alone before for the site (and before that as well), so the thought that the label was pulling a fast one never entered my mind. Sure enough, it turned out just to be delays. Weather delays, laziness delays, who the hell knows. The box showed up at my house, postmarked from way back when. Knowing that I’d gotten the last copies of a few of the items contained therein, I was glad to see it.

Here’s what I got, presented alphabetically in the spirit of last week’s Buried Treasure:

Abramis Brama, När Tystnaden Lagt Sig…
Duster 69, Ride the Silver Horses
Lucifer Was, Blues from Hellah
Mangrove, Endless Skies
Mississippi Sludge, Biscuits and Slavery
Negative Reaction, Everything You Need for Galactic Battle Adventures
Ridge, A Countrydelic and Fuzzed Experience in a Colombian Supremo
The Soulbreaker Company, The Pink Alchemist
Sunnshine, No More Forever
Warchetype, Goat Goddess Supremacy

Only the Warchetype and the Soulbreaker Company discs are actually on Alone Records proper, and I bought them because I reviewed (here and here) and enjoyed albums from both bands in the past couple months. There were a couple names I remember from a while ago — Mississippi Sludge, Ridge, Duster 69 — that I figured I’d get just for the hell of it. The Ridge was cool in a Fu Manchu vein, the Mississippi Sludge didn’t match the awesomeness of its cover at all, and Duster 69 was heaviest perhaps in its accent, so I guess that batch kind of had its ups and downs.

The Negative Reaction I’ve owned for years. I’m pretty sure the version I have I bought from the band the first time I saw them at the New Jersey Metalfest in 2003, but it’s in a slimline, and I hadn’t heard it in a while, so I thought a full copy would be a good way to revisit. And man, I had forgotten, but that album is killer. The riffs, Ken-E Bones‘ screaming, the samples, the timing of it, everything just works. Definitely under-mentioned when it comes to the high points of abrasive sludge. They still play a lot of these songs live, and for good reason.

Mangrove‘s album was more generic than I remembered from reviewing it back in 2009. I think I had it mixed up in my mind with either Tekhton or The Deep Blue on The Church Within, but either way, Endless Skies wasn’t helped at all by the fact that I listened to it right after the Abramis Brama, which was essentially a better version of the same kind of post-Soundgarden classic rock ideas. But then, Abramis Brama are one of the best bands in Sweden at that kind of thing, so I probably shouldn’t hold it against their countrymen in Mangrove for not measuring up. Just about nobody does.

So there’s a couple I’ll probably put away and a few I’ll revisit again — Lucifer Was‘ prog strangeness, the Negative Reaction, Warchetype, Abramis Brama, etc. — but on the whole it’s a bunch of music that I hadn’t heard before that I’ve heard now, so no matter what, I came out of it on the plus side. And seriously, if you haven’t dug into Warchetype, you should look them up in the immediate. Goat Goddess Supremacy more than lives up to its name.

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