After wrapping a stint opening for Clutch, Mondo Generator and Saviours on the former’s annual holiday run, Wino and the other support acts headed out to ring in 2013 on their own, crossing the country on a nine-day trek from New York to L.A. The full Wino set from the Pittsburgh gig Jan. 4 at the 31st St. Pub was taped by the company Digitalive Productions and featured here back in January, but it turns out that Wino also sat in with Saviours for a Motörhead cover of the song “Limb from Limb” that Digitalive also caught on tape — or, more likely, SD card — in a multi-camera shoot.
Really, that’s about all I need to hear before I’m ready to climb on board. You’ve got Wino doing a guest spot with the California-based heavy thrashers on a cover tune? Yeah sure, I’ll check that out. What makes this clip even better — aside from the production value — is how tight the cover actually is. Considering they’d only been on tour three days at this point (maybe they’d done it while on the road with Clutch, but they didn’t do it in Allentown when I saw that tour), they’ve more or less got it down with the double-guitar treatment, and of course Wino‘s vocals bring that seething edge to the song that he’s been heralded for all these many years.
“Limb from Limb” originally appeared as the closer of Motörhead‘s 1979 sophomore outing, Overkill, and if nothing else, this version shows the universal nature of the Motörhead influence, since if you sat down to search out every rock song since that used that riff, by the time you finished there’d probably be 30 or 40 new ones to find. Usually how it goes with Motörhead, especially old Motörhead.
I don’t know what Pittsburgh’s Low Man are going to do next, but whatever it is, chances are the four-piece will sound markedly different than on their 2012 self-titled EP. That release (review here) captured a nascent but discernible love of a variety of heavy styles, from thickened up punk to classic proto-doom, and perhaps most impressively, Low Man made the sounds bend to their will rather than the other way around. There remained work to be done in their songwriting and production, but the potential was there and it was palpable.
They’ve had a little road time since, tightening their approach, and as Low Man‘s Low Man was recorded as the trio of guitarist/vocalist Luke Rifugiato, bassist/vocalist Jeremy Zerbe and drummer/vocalist Derek Krystek before guitarist Alex Byers joined, there are bound to be some changes in approach to account for new influences in the writing and construction of the songs. As such, as they continue to grow and develop over the course of gigs and jamming out in the rehearsal space, this seemed like a prime moment to discuss the beginnings of the band and how they’ve arrived at this stage in their development.
The Low ManEP — a follow-up to their debut single, Snake Farmer/Jackhammerhead– was recorded in Pittsburgh at +/- Studio by Jason Jouver and Justin Novak and features a host of guest players on vocals and guitar. Zerbe took time out to talk about getting the band together, putting the EP to tape and bringing in Byers on guitar with Rifugiato. Along the way, insight is given as to Low Man‘s songwriting process, influences and penchant for gang vocals. Hope you dig it.
Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions.
1. Give me the background on how Low Man got together. When did the band form and how does the songwriting process usually work? When were the songs for the self-titled EP written? Are there multiple songwriters, or was it a span of time as the material came together?
Low Man started when I moved back to Pittsburgh and began playing music with Luke Rifugiato, the band’s other vocalist and guitarist, in the fall of 2010. He introduced me to AlexByers and EvanFlaherty, the lead guitarist and drummer he had been jamming with and we sort of just fell into playing together. Besides both being into punk music, Luke was really into Queens of the Stone Age and Fu Manchu and I was a huge fan of Black Mountain and The Black Angels, so the music sort of just started from there.
We both had had other bands before and brought some songs we’d been working on for those bands with us, which is why our EP sounds a little all-over-the-place. That EP and the single we released before it are just a collection of our earliest songs, before we really had a set idea of what we were trying to achieve. We knew we wanted it to be loud and fuzzy, but we didn’t really sit down and say, “We should be a stoner rock band.” We still really haven’t, though the music comes together a lot more organically these days. We write pretty much everything as a group now and our sound has really benefited from that, I think.
2. Tell me about recording the EP. How long were you in the studio and how did you wind up bringing in gang vocals and extra guitar, etc.?
We recorded the EP in February of 2012 and were at a transitional period in the band. Alex had gone on hiatus a few months before to finish his degree, and we’d also found a new drummer in DerekKrystek. We were in the process of finding a replacement for Alex, playing shows with our friends JustinGross and MikeMyzak when we decided to just go into the studio and take care of the recording as a trio. We laid down the basic tracks in one day, then went back a second day to overdub solos and vocals. Mixing took a hell of a lot longer, and honestly we still didn’t spend enough time with it, but we were poor and the studio time was by the hour.
I laid down a couple of rhythm parts, and Luke took the reins on all of the solos except half of the dueling one in “American Literature from 1860.” When Alex was in the band, the two of them traded it off, but without him, we asked the producer, Jason Jouver, and his engineer, Justin Novak, to lay down a couple of quick licks between Luke’s. Gang vocals were something I’d wanted in a couple of songs since I first wrote them, so at the end of our second day, we had some of our friends come to the studio with a case of beer. The two main harmony voices you hear (especially on “Roll the River Down”) are members of Derek’s other band, Sleepy V.
3. How much does the EP represent the live version of the band? What was the timing on bringing Alex in on guitar? Has that changed the dynamic on stage, and if so, in what ways?
Now that Alex is back in the band, the live version of LowMan is infinitely more interesting than the recording. He’s by far the most talented guitarist of us, and he plays these harmony lines throughout songs like “Migraine” that make them a million times better. I have promised him that if we get a chance to remix the album, I’d like him to lay down his parts and throw them in where they rightfully belong. I also think it’s always hard to really translate a loud, intense band on tape. As good as the EP turned out, I wish it were more raw and energetic. But that’s just sort of how it goes I guess. Unless you’re working with Steve Albini (call me!) that is.
4. In what direction(s) do you see Low Man growing from here? The EP and the Snake Farmer/Jackhammerhead single sound completely different from each other. Have you started writing for a follow-up yet, and if so, is there something different you’re specifically trying to bring out sound-wise? There’s a pretty wide berth of influences already.
The songs from the single and the EP were all written at about the same time, early in the life of the band. We’ve been around for just over two years now and have gone through a fair number of changes, so whenever we get the time and money to hit a studio, we’re always trying to play catch up and record the oldest stuff first to get it out of the way for new things. It’s not the best system in the world, I’ll be the first to admit. Right now we’re trying to get back into the studio again for a follow-up, but we’ve got enough songs to record two in a row, so it is this race to get it all to tape.
As we’re moving forward though, what you’ll hear is a more focused, more aggressive sound, like that of “Machine,” “American Literature From 1860” or even “Snake Farmer” I think. The newer songs we’ve been writing do a lot of playing around with time signature — one of them alternates between 5/8 and 6/8 in the verse and then moves into 13 for the chorus before this weird layered, math-intensive bridge happens. And I mean that about the math: I actually had to sit down and work it out to make sure we’d all end on the same note.
But even with that kind of stuff, we’re finally able to say, “This is a Low Man song, this isn’t,” unlike early in our existence. You’ll never hear another song quite as poppy as “Pay the Bills” is, and we’ve scuttled some of our older songs for that exact reason. On stage we’re a relatively aggro, somewhat serious band, and we don’t have room for our ‘60s Wayne Cochran-esque pop ballad anymore. Inspiration still isn’t coming from just one place, so we’ll never exactly be a traditional “stoner rock” band, but we’re too much of suckers for poppy hooks for that anyway.
5. Are you conscious in writing of playing to one side of the band’s personality or another, or is it just whatever comes out of jamming or somebody’s song idea?
There is definitely still a bit of personality that finds its way into Luke’s songs or mine, though the lines have been blurred as we’ve played together more. I used to show up with nearly complete songs written and try to teach everyone everything, whereas Luke preferred to just come up with riffs and piece them together as a band. My need for exactness and completion is partially due to suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, but also was just born out of necessity in my old bands: I was the only songwriter, the band manager, the driver and the tuning fork. Usually, I was the only guy sober enough to play the songs too.
Over the past two years though, I’ve changed a lot and become a lot more like Luke in writing. I realized what an absolute treasure Alex is, because I’d be struggling at home trying to figure out chords to a melody when he could just listen to me hum and it say, “Oh, that’s Am C G7 and then F# with an A as the root,” or whatever. Now I’ll bring my melody lines and lyrics and let the band jam out transitions and riffs in between. We just wrote two brand-new songs this past weekend exactly like that. It’s way better to work that way, getting everyone involved. It really makes them Low Man songs instead of Luke songs or Jeremy songs.
6. Any shows, other plans or closing words you want to mention?
We went on a weekend tour in early December and we hope to be doing that again soon, but after we got home from the couple days out, Derek texted me to call it quits for some personal reasons. It sucked because, not only was he like a brother to us, but we’d been writing a lot of our newer music (like the wacky time signature one I mentioned earlier) around his style of proggy, jazzy drumming. Now we’re in the process of auditioning drummers and getting the engine started again. As soon as we’ve got someone up to speed, we’ll be back out on the road, and then heading into the studio for our second EP — hopefully by spring. If all goes according to plan, I’d love to have the first EP remixed and then press both records to vinyl by winter. It’s a long way away and we hope to get ahead of schedule, but the one thing we’ve learned over the last two years is that the only thing you can count on is not being able to count on anything at all.
Posted in Reviews on January 17th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Their sound is rooted deep in classic stoner punk, but Pittsburgh three-or-four-piece Low Man don’t necessarily limit themselves stylistically on their self-titled, self-released seven-track EP. Recorded as a trio with a slew of guest vocalists, the production on Low Man’s Low Man is rough, but still crisp enough to give a debut’s look at a band getting their bearings, and as drummer Derek Krystek, bassist Jeremy Zerbe and guitarist Luke Rifugiato all contribute vocals throughout in addition to the guests, the half-hour release has a surprising amount of variety from song to song. That doesn’t put Low Man in a position to establish much more than a cursory flow between the tracks, but with an EP, there’s less of that expectation at play, and all the more since unnamed closer that follows “Roll the River Down” is six and a half minutes solid of feedback and noise. Such a consideration puts the runtime song-wise at just under 24 minutes, but Low Man otherwise make decent use of their time, the initial push of opener “Migraine” reminding a bit of formative The Brought Low vocally while engaging in straightforward rhythmic thrust and upbeat classic rocking. Rifugiato proves early and often to be an engaging lead guitarist – if in fact that’s him; Zerbe and Jason Jouver, who mixed, and Justin Novak, who engineered, are also listed as adding guitar and it’s not clear who’s where – dropping layered solos atop the final stretch of “Migraine” and leading the charge on the subsequent “Golden Dawn,” which moves more into a classic-Pentagram-via-earliest-Witchcraft groove with a bluesy vocal to complement and easily the strongest instrumental hook of the EP. The guest vocals seem to come into play during the chorus, which rounds out with aggressive shouts in a bridge part leading back to one last chorus and a brief descending transitional progression that appeared earlier in the song, showing a nascent but nonetheless prevalent knack for structure that they carry into the faster chugging of “American Literature from 1860.”
Its central hook isn’t as strong as that of “Golden Dawn,” but “American Literature from 1860” is also coming from someplace else stylistically, proffering sans-frills garage punk with bite in the tempo and what feels like less focus directly on the arrangement. If Low Man are looking to set one side of their sound against the other, they paired up the two tracks to do it with for sure. I’d be interested to hear how the differences in sound – which presumably are the result of multiple songwriters, though all songs are credited to Low Man as a whole – might be carried across with a fuller production or more attention to the vocal recording and placement in the mix, but on “American Literature from 1860,” the idea is obviously to hone in on rawer musical ideas from the start. The shortest track at 2:53, it begins with a quick sample and then is off without giving the listener a chance to process what they’re hearing, a biker-style verse opening to a chorus that still seems unwilling to fully relinquish its tension. The post-chorus bridge locks in a groove quickly shirked off to go back to the verse and the cycle repeats – a basic structure echoing the straightforward musicality to set up solos traded back and forth between the right and left channel. The jump from the solo back into the ending chorus is a little abrupt, but Low Man don’t really leave you time to get caught on speedbumps, and their momentum continues into the gang-vocalized “Pay the Bills,” made memorable with “heya-hey”s and an early ‘90s bassline. Here too the verse hook proves stronger than the chorus, but the gang vocals go a long way in keeping attention snapped to, and an echoing lead behind the vocals before the ending sample offers a bit of change from what the band has already managed to establish as their norm.
Posted in On the Radar on November 29th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Melting together dreamy spacedelic explorations with heavy riffing and bouts of all-out extremity, Pittsburgh’s own Supervoid make their self-released debut via the two-tracker EP, Endless Planets. There are those who decry the use of harsh vocals in stonerly contexts. I’ve never been one of them. Vocalist Brian flows naturally between clean singing and newer-school metallic sludge growls, and where he uses either the choice works to the songs’ favor.
“Arcane Groves,” at just under 10 minutes, has more room to space out, and “Wake of the Smoke Jumper” is more straightforward in its post-Mastodon chug, but both tracks give a solid first showing from the band, whose heaviness arrives in distorted bursts through the two guitars of Joe and Dave, John‘s bass and the precise timekeeping of Greg‘s drums. There are touches of post-metal jangle in their tones, but Endless Planets feels altogether meaner and straightforward than most of what that genre designation implies, and the classic rock leads in the second half of “Wake of the Smoke Jumper” are coming from someplace else entirely.
The songs were recorded and mixed by Dave Hidek at Treelady Studios and the production is thick and professional, giving a basic idea of the sound Supervoid are hitting on and showing some potential for what they might do with it going forward. Endless Planets is apparently available on CD and the band has made it a name-your-price download at the Supervoid Bandcamp as well. Here’s the stream, courtesy of that page:
Posted in Reviews on August 24th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Foremost, it’s a hell of a package. The whole release is billed, somewhat appropriately, as Monster Book. Released through Madlantis Records, the core of the thing is a limited-to-300 green-splatter 12” vinyl split between Lansing, Michigan, weirdo rockers BerT and abrasive Pittsburgh noisemakers Triangle and Rhino. That’s part of it. Monster Book, however, is not the first time these two bands have come together. Triangle and Rhino titled their side of the vinyl In the Company of Creeps and BerT gave theirs the name Wall of Bees, but all of the material on either vinyl side can also be found on an included CDR, as well as songs culled from prior BerT/Triangle and Rhino splits (there’ve been two that I can find, perhaps more are out there), and Monster Book also includes a killer foldout poster (image above; click the picture for the full thing) and an actual ‘zine. It’s small and hard to read and pretty clearly a homemade job, but it’s got interviews with Elk Nebula, Lord Vapid, Hordes, Switchblade Cheetah and others, as well as full questionnaires from both BerT and Triangle and Rhino and a section right in the middle where everyone who appears elsewhere in the 40-page ‘zine answers the age-old question of who would win if Godzilla fought King Kong – wait for it – in space. The ‘zine itself is no less harshly laid out than the jagged noise Triangle and Rhino get down with or the thickened garage riffing of BerT, and so it makes an excellent companion for its total fuckedness, and the two-sided cover the LP is textured and foreboding of the massive amount of information Monster Book contains. The occasion of the release was a just-ended tour that brought both bands eastward (much to my regret, I failed to see them both in Philly and Boston, though in the interest of full disclosure, BerT did crash at my house on their way north after the former; the LP/CD/’zine had long since arrived), and it seems a fitting occasion for a project of such a frankly intimidating scope.
Because my format preferences lend me to do so anyway and because I feel compelled to at least provide some focus to this review other than to say, “Gosh, look at all this BerT and Triangle and Rhino stuff,” I’m going to stick to the CD in terms of referencing the actual tracks. The reason I mention it is because while the LP has three cuts from Triangle and Rhino on In the Company of Creeps and six from BerT on Wall of Bees, the CD nearly doubles that, with a total of six from Triangle and Rhino and 10 from BerT, resulting in a total runtime of nearly 77 minutes. Tracks are taken from the current and past splits between the two bands and what BerT calls “some other extra jazz as well.” On its own, the CD is a lot to take in, especially with the leadoff Triangle and Rhino give it for the first six cuts, beginning with the three from the LP, “Limb Lopper,” “In the Company of Creeps” and “Three Thousand Consecutive Breaths.” Their sound is a punishing sort of noise, with guitarist J. Lexso and drummer M. Rappa both contributing various sorts of synth, oscillations and programming, resulting in periods of near-unlistenable high-pitched audio knives. The moody rumble and electronic-sounding drums of “Limb Lopper” are dark enough, but it’s not long before Triangle and Rhino unveil just how challenging they want to be, in that song, the more frenetically rhythmic “In the Company of Creeps” and “Three Thousand Consecutive Breaths,” the first half of which is hard to get through before the early Genghis Tron-style dance pop synth line kicks in and guest vocalist J. White gives new wave accompaniment. “Glowing Sphere” is basically a blown-out drum rhythm with noise behind, and that’s all well and good, but both “Planet Collider” and “Five Words in Broken English” are more abrasive, the latter playing at free jazz without committing to that more than it commits to anything else and the former stabbing with high-pitched chirps. It’s obviously Triangle and Rhino’s intent, but that doesn’t lessen the relief any when it’s over and I realize I’ve been clenching my jaw the whole time.
At the end of last year, when I made my Top Five Records I Didn’t Hear in 2011 list, I said that hopefully I’d run into Pittsburgh trad doom merchants Argus at a show and be able to buy their second full-length, Boldly Stride the Doomed, from them directly. That very thing happened at Days of the Doomed II in Wisconsin, and I suddenly felt like a weight was lifted from my shoulders. Until I actually put the record on. Then the weight — the formidable tonnage of Argus‘ hyper-refined doomly classicism — was right back where it started and then some.
Every time I hit the short bass solo from Andy Ramage in “Wolves of Dusk,” I get a chill up my spine, and Boldly Stride the Doomed is filled with those little moments, flourishes here and there that stand out from the already strong performances. John Mucio and Erik Johnson‘s guitars are full of them, and Butch Balich proves on “The Ladder” alone why he’s one of the most underrated vocalists in doom, American or otherwise. The former Penance singer is a focal point throughout the 10 tracks, and rightly so, but the band behind him (and as regards the mix, the vocals are very much at the fore) more than stands up, whether its the guitar solos (who’s playing what is in the liner notes) or drummer Kevin Latchaw‘s footwork driving the rhythm of “Fading Silver Light.”
Piano adds grandeur to “42-7-29″ and the recent podcast inclusion “Pieces of Your Smile,” at well over 11 minutes, is epic metal without the pomposity. Trouble and Candlemass influences persist, but Argus is very quickly becoming their own band sonically, and it’s not just Balich, who proved his mettle long ago. It’s the whole band, working as a band, that makes Boldly Stride the Doomed land with such heavy feet. As madly catchy as cuts like “Devils, Devils” were from the first record, I wouldn’t trade “A Curse on the World” or “Durendal” for anything.
So yeah, lesson learned. Don’t let another Argus album slip when it comes down the line for review. Hopefully I get the chance to put that wisdom to good use before too long. Until then, if you haven’t heard the album yet, here’s “Durendal,” just because it happens to be the song I have on at the moment:
I was legitimately surprised when Pittsburgh sludgers Vulture‘s full-length debut, Oblivious to Ruin, came across my desk. Not that they weren’t due for a follow-up to 2009′s self-titled EP, which was one of the first releases ever reviewed on this site, but because of how much the band had changed in the three years since that EP came out. Vulture had a doomly appeal to start with, but what Oblivious to Ruin (review here) brought to that was a low-down, dirty feel. A big part of that was the inclusion of new vocalist Justin Erb, whose raw-throated screams, shouts and growls added not only brutality but also character to Vulture‘s sound, now more professional and altogether more lethal.
That’s not to say the seven cuts present on Oblivious to Ruin aren’t without precedent — one finds Vulture culling influence from Sourvein, High on Fire and Down (in that order of prevalence) — but their blend is far more their own than it was a few short years ago, and what’s more, they seem to have hit a starting point for further growth and development, and so the record becomes an essential beginning step in that process, as well as a nasty-as-fuck slab of sludge. They’re having their cake and smashing it with buzzsaw guitar tone too, if you will.
As such, it seemed the perfect time to harass Mr. Erb for some info on his background in the abrasive arts and how he came to be a member of Vulture, and just what Oblivious to Ruin might be driving toward in terms of the overall trajectory of the band. Par for the course for this kind of thing, I also asked about some other stuff as well, like any Pittsburgher recommendations he might have and what’s coming next for Vulture, and he was forthcoming on that as well, as you can see below.
Vulture is Erb, guitarists Garrett Twardesky and Gene Fikhman, bassist Justin Bach and drummer Kelly Gabany. Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:
1. Tell me about how you came to join Vulture. Did you know the rest of the band beforehand?
I met Vulture while jamming with my other band, Reduce to Ash. Our guitar player, Quinn Lukas, who also plays with Icarus Witch, is good friends with Vulture’s old singer, Buddy Smith. Every summer Quinn has a few huge yard parties, and during one of these parties we made plans with Buddy to do some shows together. Through those shows I ended up becoming good buddies with Garrett, Vulture’s riff master. Anytime Reduce would do shows, Garrett would try to make it out and we would end up outside getting high and rocking out some Sabbath in the parking lot. After a show at Marlene’s Corner Bar in Connellsville, PA, Garrett told me they were having trouble with their singer and were planning on sacking him. He just wasn’t on the same page, musically. I told Garrett that if they fired Buddy, I would be interested in auditioning. Turns out they were planning on approaching me for the gig. The funny thing is that from the first time I saw Vulture play, I imagined myself fronting that band. In Reduce to Ash, I play bass and split vocals with Tim Weir, the other guitarist, so I jumped at the chance to front a band without worrying about playing an instrument. Especially a band like Vulture, who I had a ton of respect for from day one.
2. What was the timeline of the material on Oblivious to Ruin? How much was written when you joined the band, and as the singer, how involved were you in structuring and putting the songs together?
The songs for Oblivious were written over a pretty long period of time. It’s kinda hazy as far as the exact timeline. I was working out of town a lot and the guys made me demos of basic arrangements of the songs. I wrote all the lyrics and rearranged some of the structures to fit my lyric ideas a little better. Most of the arrangements were perfect before I even put my stamp on them. When I joined the band, Garrett gave me a demo with three songs that needed lyrics. The first song ended up being “Prick of Misery,” which we recorded for the Innervenus Music Collective‘s compilation disc, Iron Atrocity Vol. 1. The second song was the title-track, “Oblivious to Ruin.” We jammed on the third song but never ended up using it.
3. How was the band’s time in the studio? The recording seems to capture the songs perfectly, sounding natural and nasty. How long were you at Calfax Alley, and what was the recording process like?
The band’s time in the studio was brief but awesome. All the instruments were recorded live. With a few punch-ins for guitar solos here and there. What you hear on the album is a live take of the band jamming out with my vocals recorded separately. All seven songs, instrumentally, were recorded in one day. The vocals took three sessions. Without incriminating ourselves too much, I will say that we did partake in some illicit substances to capture the right vibe while recording. We are all about the vibe and atmosphere.
4. This being your first outing with the band, and the band’s first full-length after the self-titled EP, how representative is it of the direction you guys want to go in? How do you see Vulture’s sound developing over the next couple records?
I think it is representative of our direction as far as the heaviness that is captured on the album. I don’t think we could lose that if we tried. I can see us keeping with the sludge but also adding more groove and melody. Maybe even some acoustic stuff. We want to record the next album on analog tape. Like some old ‘60s or ‘70s gear. If that’s even possible these days.
5. I know Pittsburgh has a few really killer heavy bands – Argus, Vulture, Sistered, etc. – but is there anyone you guys especially enjoy playing shows with? Any other bands from the area you’d recommend for outsiders to check out?
I love playing with Mockingbird. They are from Ohio, but they do play Pittsburgh from time to time. Fist Fight in the Parking Lot is a badass ‘Burgh band with some deep roots in the city. Molasses Barge are labelmates and good friends of ours. They groove it down and rip it up hard. Gene and Garrett have a band called Grisly Amputation. They may possibly be the fastest and heaviest band I can think of in Pittsburgh. Plus they have hands-down the coolest name.
6. Any other writing/recording in the works, show plans or closing word you want to mention?
We have a ton of shows coming up in and outside of Pittsburgh. Vulture is also planning on recording new songs for a split with Ohio’s DeathCrawl sometime in the near future. Check us out at facebook.com/vulturedoom for all the latest info.
I’m really excited about Gene and Garrett‘s Grisly Amputation full-length, which should be done very soon. My other band, Reduce to Ash, just laid down guitar tracks for our first full-length. It is going to crush.
Posted in Reviews on May 3rd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
What a difference a couple years can make. Well, a couple years and a new singer, to be more precise about it. In the case of Pittsburgh double-guitar five-piece Vulture, they make the most of both. Three years ago, their 2009 self-titled debut EP (review here) charmed with its stoner-doom blend, hinting of better things to come. Listening now to Vulture’s first full-length, Oblivious to Ruin (Innervenus Music Collective), those original songs offer little in terms of preparation for the nastiness present in the new collection. Seven tracks put to tape and mixed by James Curl at Calfax Alley in Ohio over the course of four days in 2011, Oblivious to Ruin is sludge so nasty I had to check and make sure I wasn’t listening to Sourvein by mistake the first time I put it on. Part of that is new vocalist Justin Erb, who bears some sonic resemblance to Sourvein’s T-Roy Medlin, but even in terms of the grit in the guitar behind him, the viciousness of charge in Gene Fikhman and Garrett Twardesky’s playing, Vulture are in an entirely different league here. More assured of their aesthetic and willing to work their way into and out of various levels of abrasion comfortably, they even go so far as to let a song like “Dead Sea” offers a moment of solace before renewing one of the album’s most searing grooves. Erb is a screamer, and a mean one at that, but he doesn’t fail to bring personality to what he does. Along with Medlin, he seems on the title-track to be nodding at the drunken abandon Matt Pike has worked into some of High on Fire’s slower material over the course of their last couple records, and as the faster riff toward the end of “Coming Storm” basks in an early-Crowbar pummel, he follows suit, taking on a Kirk Windstein cadence with what sounds like natural ease.
Of course, what makes Oblivious to Ruin work is that fact that while these influences play out over the course of its 40 minutes, Vulture are putting them to use in service of a sound that’s their own. Indeed, I’d argue that the album’s greatest achievement is how much Vulture come of age on it – which, even three years after their first and now-nebulous-feeling EP, is an impressive feat on a debut full-length – but don’t let that somehow discount the quality of these songs or the fact that the band achieves what they set out here to do. No doubt Vulture had some of the malevolence found on sample-led opener and longest track “This Beautiful Infection” in mind when they got their start as a band, but the difference between then and now is they have the experience and the component viciousness to make it happen. Bassist Justin Bach and drummer Kelly Gabany underscore each filthy, stinking groove Oblivious to Ruin has to offer, and like a lot of sludge, it’s easy to lose sight of complexity because of superficial abrasiveness. Both the titular cut and “Dead Sea” play out marked changes in approach, and not just those already noted from Erb. Gabany’s toms cut through the morass of distortion excellently on the song “Oblivious to Ruin” and each hi-hat hit is excruciating, but the song gradually shifts to a faster groove and a more open-sounding riff that allows for more interplay between Twardesky and Fikhman before fading out and letting the sudden start of “Dead Sea” take hold, in effect reversing the course of tempo from fast to slow. These don’t sound like big changes, I know – slow to fast, fast to slow – but Vulture do it subtly and confidently, so that it almost happens before you’re aware. “Dead Sea” also has a quiet, guitar-led break after the halfway point that speaks to the band’s growing ability to convey an atmosphere… and then smash it to bits shortly thereafter.
Pittsburgh double-guitar four-piece Sistered hit a powerful stride on their self-released debut full-length, New Sky. They don’t have much of their hometown’s blue collar disaffection to their sound, but there’s something restless and immediate in their material all the same, and their willingness to blend genres so early on into their career speaks of good things to come. If you missed the news yesterday, they’ll be sharing the stage with Sweden‘s Truckfighters on that band’s July US run of dates, and as they’ve already played with the likes of 3 Inches of Blood and Skeletonwitch, I’m obviously not the only one out there impressed.
Which is reasonable, when you consider that the memorable punkish blast of “God Save the Child Brides” comes a mere 24 minutes before the blistering black metal crossover assault of “Midnight Renegade.” Sistered seem to have an ingrained ability to transcend genre confines, and for a band really just getting their start playing together, it’s an accomplishment that the record is cohesive at all, let alone carrying the breadth of its post-rock instrumental title track or the thrashly riffage of “Story of the Witch.”
I reviewed New Sky not too long ago, but I wanted to get more background on Sistered and get some idea of where they were coming from as a band, the conditions under which the professional-sounding album was recorded, and some of the themes they’re working with in terms of musical and lyrical content. Throw in one about Pittsburgh venues and one about what they’ve got coming up next (aside from that Truckfighters show), and it’s an easy Six Dumb Questions.
Sistered is vocalist/guitarist Jesse Meredith, guitarist/vocalist John Dzziuban, bassist Cary Belback and drummer Josh Egan. Dzziuban was kind enough to field the following. Please enjoy.
1. How did Sistered get together? Was there a mission when Sistered got going sound-wise?
We went through a few lineup changes before things solidified. Jesse (vocals/guitar) and Cary (bass) were playing together and Josh (drums) and I had made music for years in various bands. I joined with Jesse and Cary when they wanted to add a lead guitar and we eventually brought Josh into the mix and it was very apparent early on that we had something unique and interesting with a good live swagger.
From the beginning we knew that we wanted to have diversity and the ability to bend and blend genres all while maintaining something that was our own. Every song and every part has pushed our boundaries and made us better musicians individually and better as a unit.
2. How long were you working on New Sky, in terms of the recording? What was the studio time like? The album is very cohesive and natural sounding, but still clear. Did you want anything particular out of the studio experience?
New Sky took around three months to record. I’d begun recording bands around Pittsburgh about a year before we started the record and had gained some pretty good experience in engineering and mixing, and Cary had experience building and working in a local studio, so when it came time to record, it made a lot of sense for us to do it ourselves. The studio was the basement of Josh and his brother’s house, which is conveniently broken up into a couple of different rooms. We built sort of a makeshift studio with a tracking room and a control room and we left it all up until things were pretty much done. We tried to keep things as live and natural as we could and just make a record that sounds how we do when we play shows. I think we achieved that.
3. How does the songwriting process work? Are there multiple songwriters in the band? The songs are very diverse and sound like they could have come from different contributors, but do they?
All of the ideas begin with Jesse. He and I will usually get together on guitars and develop whatever ideas he has and then we’ll take them to practice and we’ll all develop them further and structure them and make changes. It’s very much a group effort, with each of us having input and each of us having a hand in the writing process, but again, they all begin with Jesse. He really is an incredibly talented, diverse writer.
4. Where did “Midnight Renegade” come from, and what are the lyrics about? I can’t make out most of it, but I keep catching “sexuality” repeated.
”Midnight Renegade” is about rejecting the morals and beliefs instilled in us by a religious upbringing and freeing ourselves of that dead weight; casting off the belief that our desires and wants are all wrong and sinful. It begins by saying “I am the Midnight Renegade,” but later says “You are the Midnight Renegade,” a juxtaposition that asks, who is the sinner, the people breaking the rules, or the people making them?
5. Let’s say I’m in a touring band coming to Pittsburgh from out of town. Not much of a draw. Do I want to play 31st St. Pub or The Smiling Moose, and why?
Honestly, they’re both totally sweet! 31st St. is owned by a guy that looks scary as hell, but is actually an awesome dude to work with. It’s a dark, loud bar with a lot of punk and metal history in it.
The Smiling Moose has a nice, big stage in a small room, with a powerful sound system. The sound guy, Sean, is a really good dude that knows what he’s doing. He also has a college radio show that we’ve played a couple of times.
I’d say a touring band should play at one, then come back and play at the other. Seriously, that’s what I see a bunch of touring bands doing.
6. What’s next for Sistered? Any shows coming up or more recordings this year?
Next, we’re gonna tour regionally, playing this record and a bunch of new stuff; we’ve been writing at a pretty furious pace and have more than enough material for another record. So we’ll probably begin recording that later in the year, it’s gonna smash the shit out of the first one.
We’ve already had the privilege of playing with some great bands like Lo-Pan, Skeletonwitch, 3 Inches of Blood, The Ocean and a bunch of others and we have some more coming up with some bands that I love like True Widow and FightAmp.
We’re gonna continue building on the momentum we have right now and see where it takes us.
Posted in Reviews on May 3rd, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
Some records genuinely get better with volume, and that seems to be the case with New Sky, the self-released debut full-length from new-school Pittsburgh bashers Sistered. The four-piece make some predictable moves throughout, and guitarists Jesse Meredith and John Dzziuban (lead and backing vocals, respectively) add a few wispy post-rock melodic flourishes to the barrage of assaulting riffs, but I’ve found that when you turn it way up and just let the eight tracks overtake you, it hardly matters whether or not you see it coming, or what stylistic turn is next. When approached in the right mindset, New Sky is heavy with an admirable intricacy behind it, punkishly raw and yet metallically weighted in a vague progressivism. There are a few standout moments and a few missteps, but the overall clarity of Sistered’s presentation and their unabashed sense of preaching to the choir have a charm to them that serves the band well throughout the 41-minute runtime.
There’s a bit of a genre-blend happening along the line of New Sky, the thrash riffs of the instrumental guitar-led opus “Talkin’ Shit From Outer Space” (no word on whether the title was intended to make fun of Joe Satriani, but given some of the noodling within, there’s a good chance it was) soon giving way to the darker doom rock of “Story of the Witch” to launch the album’s back half. The shorter, punkish “Shut Your Eyes” launches New Sky, and almost immediately there’s a groove to latch onto in the drumming of Josh Egan and the bass of Cary Belback, who display almost universally the trappings of a soon-to-be-underrated rhythm section. The late-arriving vocals from Meredith and Dzziuban are semi-melodic shouts that’ll be familiar to anyone experienced with the first Torche EP, but that turns out to be just one of several tactics Sistered have at their disposal. As upbeat album-highlight “God Save the Child Brides” plays out with backing gang shouts and gruff older-school hardcore punk drunken fronting yelling, I’m more inclined to want to be a part of the cavalcade than pass it up. The chorus is infectious and the song still has enough of a rock edge that I don’t feel like I’m being taken somewhere I’d otherwise resist going.
New Sky’s biggest turn comes with the transition from “God Save the Child Brides” into the title track, which finds Sistered embarking on the kind of sentimental-single-notes-over-chords chicanery that I’m told the mop-topped pop kids eat for every meal of the day. That intro soon gives way to chunky Mastodon-meets-NWOBHM riffing and farther-back shouting from Meredith (presumably) and maybe overly active hi-hat work from Egan as complement for an already angular guitar line. At 8:18, “New Sky” is second only to closer “Blood Red Fog” in both track length and scope, but it’s the first show of Sistered’s ability to transcend genre and be something more than “modern riffy punk metal.” An extended break recalling the intro leads into the song’s second half, gradually building to a satisfying instrumental culmination that touches on both the prior-heard melody and chugging heft. It’s the kind of song you’d like to take a second to process, and Sistered do tack on a couple seconds of silence to the end, but as they should, they soon launch into “Layer of the Empire,” which might be the heaviest of the more riff-based tracks on New Sky, taking a kind of pre-Spiral Shadow-era Kylesa approach to post-doom with an engaging stutter in the guitar, subtle vocal melodicism, thick bass and well-used crash in the drums. The opener is forgettable in comparison, but with the ensuing three songs – i.e., “God Save the Child Brides,” “New Sky” and “Layer of the Empire” – Sistered make a good case not only for the diversity of their approach, but also their identity within that variation. “Cool tunes, bro,” one might say if encountering the band for the first time at Pittsburgh’s Smiling Moose or some other similarly-minded venue.
The new CD from one-time Penance drummer Mike Smail‘s band, Under the Sun, showed up in today’s mail, to be retrieved when I arrived (early!) back in the valley from the office, so I figured something off Penance‘s 1994 masterpiece Parallel Corners would be a good way to end the week. I’ll have that Under the Sun review up as promptly as possible, which I know isn’t saying much these days.
On that note, I’ve noticed lately that The Obelisk has gotten a lot of requests from people looking for reviews and such. That’s great, but here’s the thing: As much as I love helping people get the word out about their bands — and I do, really — I’m just about through pretending to dig stuff I don’t. So the On the Radar posts for bands who just email me and say “hey, cool site, write about my band,” are done. I like this site the best when I’m talking about stuff I legitimately dig and bands I want to help out. If I wanted more obligation in my life, I’d procreate.
And on that note, there’s a new podcast coming this weekend. The plan is to put it together tomorrow and have it posted by Sunday. Keep your eyes open.
Keep your eyes on the beer thread on the forum too to find out where the night’s drinking adventures lead. It’s been quite an evening already, if you couldn’t tell by the bold proclamations above.
Aside from being the resumption of the semester following this week’s “spring break,” next week I’ll have my long-overdue interview with Danny Nick of Suplecs posted, as well as reviews of Subrosa, The Osedax, and probably about three others if past is prologue.
I’ll also have a live writeup (hopefully with photos and maybe even video) of Clamfight‘s show tomorrow night at the Brighton Bar in Long Branch, NJ. If you missed the news, Clamfight will be forum040, the fourth release on The Maple Forum.
As to what the third is, it’s reportedly getting mastered this week, and I’ll have the announcement sometime soon about that as well. Stay tuned, and as ever, have a great and safe weekend.
Posted in Reviews on February 16th, 2009 by H.P. Taskmaster
Pittsburgh troublemaking five-piece Vulture let loose their self-titled, self-released debut EP toward the end of last year, profering an avalanche of burly, angry doom building riff after riff of aggressive, balls-out metal. The five tracks run a gamut through modern doom, soaking up ’90s influences and spitting them out like a rain of Pipe Organ Pale Alefalling on the head of anyone who hears them. A given listen uncovers shades of Goatsnake, Melvins, Danzig, and even some Paradise Lost lurking in the growled vocals of Buddy Smith.
Guitarists Garrett Twardesky and Gene Fikhman practically beat you over the head as they lead the way through the songs with a tone both covered in fuzz and molasses thick. A well-presented crash cymbal from drummer Kelly Gabany keeps pace for eight-minute closer “Ill-Fitting Crown” as bassist Justin Bach demolishes the low end and Smith gurgles that he has become the night. Smith switches his approach readily with the music, perhaps manically at times, but whatever he’s doing, it’s never out of place in the song. The beauty of this kind of chaotic drunkard metal is that as a vocalist, he can either be the slurring, repentive crooner or the bottle-throwing, vomitous madman — it all works.