Whatever else you might say about the “tape revival” such as it is — that it’s ’90s nostalgia, that it’s a sham, that tapes sound like shit — cassettes remain a cheap way for bands and labels to get releases out there. You can’t put a download on the merch table. New UK imprint Dry Cough enters the tape trade with a duo of extreme sludge outings in the form of Plague Survivors‘ Discography and On Pain of Death‘s Year Naught Doom.
Each has a personality of its own, so it’s not really fair to lump them together, but there’s definitely a shared spirit of misanthropy running from one to the next, and though they ultimately approach sludge from different angles — Massachusetts-based Plague Survivors taking a punkish route that if it hasn’t yet is soon enough to have them sick of Eyehategod comparisons while On Pain of Death revel in a metallic lurch that nonetheless maintains some inhuman jaggedness over three extended tracks — both bands supply more than ample pummel. If screams are a turnoff or accessibility is sought, neither is going to be a particularly easy listen. Both are also already sold out.
For Plague Survivors, who are label catalog number “DC01″ as the first Dry Cough release, the four-piece seem to take joy in their own abrasion. True to its title, the limited-to-50 Discographycompiles the bulk of their work to date, and is made up of singles released digitally and individually over the course of 2012 and early 2013. Four cuts on each side, tracks arrive in the order in which they were recorded, giving a sense of progression overall as a trio of four-plus-minute crushers moves into the more atmospheric, drone-minded, 11-minute “Funeral Pyre,” which moves into Burning Witch-style filth and noise before the screams finally come. Side 2 seems to be pushing toward half-speed Pig Destroyer violence with “Witch Crusher” and “Ditch Digger,” but the closer and most recent cut of all is a wah-ready cover of Sabbath‘s “Electric Funeral,” complete with cleaner vocals in the verse, so where Plague Survivors might be headed with the next installment of their discography, I wouldn’t dare guess.
Initially released as a free download in association with Handshake Inc. last year, Year Naught Doom (“DC02″) is the first On Pain of Death full-length, and is more or less unrelenting in its lumbering assault. The tape, limited to 100 copies, comes with a lyric sheet and is more doom where Plague Survivors stick to sludge, but you wind up with oppressive tones and brutal nod either way. Vocals are growled and screamed (sometimes simultaneously) across “Year Naught Doom,” the Deadwood referential “Tell Your God to Ready for Blood” (video here) and the 17:42 “It Came from the Bog,” which seems to lower and raise its pulse at will, finding a middle course of throat-ripping screams offset by sections of malevolent atmospherics. The interplay of screams and growls goes a long way to making the nastiness at work punch-you-in-the-face apparent, but even if you had three-part harmonies over those vicious tones, you’d still come out with a sound extreme enough to turn brains to an easily-snorted cortex powder. There is very, very little fucking around to be heard.
I guess that’s true of both releases, which is probably at least part of why they’re already gone. Ditto that for the two subsequent Dry Cough tapes from Open Tomb and Esoteric Youth, so it would seems that the upstart label has no trouble getting rid of product. Fortunately, both cassettes are still available digitally, and you can check them out below:
Posted in audiObelisk on June 12th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Some records just make you feel dirty, and Italian sludge trio Grime are nothing if not aptly named. The Trieste three-piece are preparing to release their debut LP, Deteriorate, on Forcefield Records and Mordgrimm Records, and it’s an album of unrelenting viciousness, plodding out 40 minutes of searing nastiness that makes stylistic kin of Iron Monkey and Grief without losing sight entirely of the EyeHateGod swagger in its slower movements. Come to think of it, even the fast parts here are pretty slow.
If you want to get some clue as to Grime‘s perspective, take a look at the first two song titles: “Burning Down the Cross,” “Pouring out the Hatred.” The two actions could more or less stand as an analogy for the sonic approach on Deteriorate, the lung-filling mud of which gives no letup across the album’s course. Set to be issued on LP via Forcefield and CD through Mordgrimm, the record makes a show of its disdain, seething contempt running in the suitably hopeless “Giving Up” and the blistering “Pills.” The steadily declining riffs of Marco lead the way for his throat-ripping screams to follow, and drummer Chris and bassist Paulo lock in grooving drudgery befitting the sludgy, hate-fueled atmosphere.
This is demonstrated best, perhaps, on the closer “Idiot God,” which makes its bones on an ultra-simple riff and stomp, Chris adding a few extra snare hits here and there but otherwise no flourish whatsoever, so that even as the song picks up at the end, there’s no discernible shift from the onslaught, and Grime remain as heavy and extreme as ever as the album marches out on more screams and feedback-soaked riffing. True to the graphic nature of the Deteriorate cover art, Grime are an aural evisceration, and though it should go without saying at this point, not at all for the faint of heart.
Heads will roll, mellows will be harshed. Behold Deterioratein full:
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!
Grime‘s Deteriorate is coming soon on Mordgrimm Records and Forcefield Records. In addition to the CD release, the 180 gram vinyl will include a limited run of red and purple. More info and pre-orders below:
Bangalore-based sludge five-piece Bevar Sea will take part in a new tribute to Motörhead featuring Indian bands. No easy feat to pick a Motörhead track for a cover. Do you go with something obvious? “Stay Clean” or the so-landmark-it-practically-has-a-fence-around-it “Ace of Spades?” Bevar Sea decided on another route, snatching up the 1983 B-side to the single “I Got Mine,” “Turn You Round Again,” betting that although the song’s been on numerous comps in the 30 years since its first appearance, it’s probably still unknown to most of the people who’ll catch the tribute. Smart move, most likely.
Bevar Sea released their Billy Anderson-mixed self-titled debut last October (track premiere here) and still have copies available on their Bandcamp page. More info about the tribute can be found on its Thee Facebooks, and to go with the lyric video Bevar Sea took a hypnotic fight scene from 2010′s Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster. So what you get here is a sludgy Motörhead cover and kickass kung fu choreography. That’s a win even before the band get down to creative subtitling.
Sure, they look friendly enough, but UK sludgers Gurt cake on some of the filthiest downtuned mud coming out of the Isles these days. Their 2012 EP, You Ain’t from around these Parts? (video here) was a lurching slab of viciousness, and I was psyched to discover recently that Superhot Records (see also Trippy Wicked, see also Stubb) released a compilation of some of their earlier works. Dubbed Collectionand limited to 50 copies hand-numbered — I got #26 — the orange tape culls together Gurt‘s 2011 full-length, Redwin, on side one, and the prior 2010 EP, Volume 1, on side two.
This is exact type of purpose I like for the tape format. Not just commodified nostalgia (is there any other kind?) for the early ’90s, but something a collector would want, a really low-key release, small, cheap, but still something cool for the people to have who want it. As I hadn’t heard either Volume 1or Redwinwhen they came out, Collectionwas a perfect opportunity to get myself acquainted with the beginnings of the band. Starting at the start, as it were.
They don’t, though. Redwin is the second, the newer, of the two releases on Collection, and it was pretty clearly a conscious decision to put it first. Relatively speaking, it’s more realized, cleaner-sounding and more professional. Though the span between Volume 1 and Redwin had only been a year, Gurt have a more definite idea of the kind of drunken cacophony they’re shooting for on a song like “Swoffle,” which slurs out lines like “I’ll sink your battleship/She floats my boat” as a setup for the Led Zeppelin cover “Rock and Roll.”
Both sides of the tape wind up featuring covers, first Zeppelin and they tackle AD/DC‘s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)” on side two, but Gurt definitely make the classics their own, dirtying them up and treating them to vocalist Gareth Kelly‘s rasping screams. For showing the band at a more formative stage, Volume 1is even rawer than Redwin, fatter in the low end and launching with “Fucknose,” which had shown up on side one as well, all mean and primitive. The toying with country-isms Gurt showed on You Ain’t from around these Parts? was beginning to crop up in the banjo intro to Redwin, but on the three tracks of Volume 1, they weren’t quite there yet and it was straightforward pummel and addled fuckall.
To finish, Collection delves even further into Gurt‘s primordial ooze, rounding out with a “rough mix” of the song “Soapfeast” that actually sounds more like a rehearsal room demo. Wherever this version comes from, it lives up to the “rough” part of its listing, and I mean that as a compliment. The track showed up last year alongside “Dudes with Beards and Cats” on Gurt‘s split with the since-defunct Dopefight, and it makes a fitting conclusion to Collection‘s quick, devolutionary trip. Any rawer and they probably wouldn’t be there to start with.
It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of spiked tea, but Collectionis a welcome curio and a cool way for anyone who’d dare to to get indoctrinated by Gurt‘s plodding sludgeisms. The orange cassette, the limited number, that’s all really fun stuff, but in the end, the songs win out as its biggest appeal, and that’s all you can really ask of it.
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 15th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
For as pissed off as they sound on the album, UK sludgers Wizard’s Beard sure seem to be kind when it comes to giving their records away on the cheap. The band sent over word a bit ago that their 2012 full-length, Four Tired Undertakers (review here), was up for a half-price download through this weekend only. Like mom always said: “The only thing better than sludge is discount sludge.”
We are temporarily offering a 50% discount on digital downloads of our latest offering Four Tired Undertakers. The code can only be used 100 times and will only be valid until the end the week. So the first 100 people to purchase it through bandcamp and enter the code ftu_fb1 at the checkout will get 50% off.
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 15th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
I used to play in a band called Maegashira here in Jersey. Well, not really play, I was the singer, and a standalone singer at that in a four-piece, which since I couldn’t really sing and never learned to play anything made me a lyricist and the next best thing to useless. The other three dudes played guitar, bass and drums. I just kind of stumbled this way and that on stage, got drunk and obnoxious, yelled and embarrassed myself. Most nights we were good, on a couple more than that. I was never a deciding factor toward the positive.
It’ll be two years next month that ended. We played our last show Dec. 10, 2010, which is a date I remember specifically because I reviewed the show – at the Cake Shop in Manhattan; The Brought Low, Kings Destroy and Alkahest also played – otherwise the exact day probably would’ve been relegated to the humid swamp of my memory. I’d be lucky to know the year. Part of writing for me has always been the simple act of documentation.
Anyway, in our time, the four of us put out one full-length, which was called The Stark Arctic, named for a phrase I heard my mother-in-law say. Looking back on it now, the album was too long by at least 10 minutes, but it’s hard to know that kind of thing when you’re hooked into making it. I blew my throat out to record those songs, more than once. Drove to Little Silver from work in the city to get the tracks down with Lou Gorra from Halfway to Gone, who was a patient engineer. You’re damn right they’re all going in. There were a couple other splits and demos as well, but the album was a highlight. One of the songs had the line “It will never be like this again,” because part of me knew that was true.
We fizzled the way a lot of bands fizzled. The novelty faded and when emptiness persisted at our shows, the record got little reaction and the second batch of tracks for the next album – which everyone but me recorded live in Lansing, MI (I was sick and did vocals later) – weren’t as good, it was easier to hang it up than keep going. I’d have probably kept on it for the sake of the songs alone, which I loved, but the shows were less and less fun, we knew by then that there was no way we would be able to tour, and one week I saw on Facebook that one of the guys wanted to end it and then we did. Once you get to a certain point, being in a band is like death – there’s nothing you can say about it that isn’t a cliché.
At the end of that Cake Shop show, I was intoxicated enough on four-dollar Newcastles to hug our bassist and apologize for being a dick in general, specifically for being a miserable drunk on the several occasions I was. I went home and puked my guts out. There’s probably a metaphor for purging in there somewhere, but really I’d just succumbed to Newcastular temptations for not the first or last time. The next day was as turbulent gastro-intestinally as the next few months would be emotionally.
You get used to processes. I was used to group creation, and scared to lose that as a part of my weekly routine if not my daily thought pattern. Scared to not hear the “new riff” in my head anymore. I had another band I’d been practicing with for a while, but ultimately it would turn out I’d be with them 18 months and never do a show – the one opportunity we had, the last show before a member was moving to Virginia, a basement gig, was the day of a freak October snowstorm in Jersey last year – and another project never took off. Finally I joined Moth Eater on vocals.
They were more metal than I was used to, but as I’d always been a better screamer than a singer – though I chided myself for giving into the easy option vocally, like I wasn’t living up to an artistic drive to be constantly facing some imagined challenge – it made sense and worked. They were out on Long Island, though, which was a hike and made practices infrequent. There were other issues on my end as well. When my second job went from a no-show-do-something-periodically type of deal to the everyday concern it continues to be, suddenly the hour and a half each way on a Saturday afternoon was spoken for, if not for work itself than for the other real-life concerns that work pushed to the side. It was a milquetoast email, but I more or less told Moth Eater if they wanted to get someone else in, that was alright.
I’d never done a show with them either, though we took pictures. The last time I was on a stage was at SHoD in Maryland in 2011, singing for Mynoch, a short-lived band with Ken-E Bones of Negative Reaction, Andrew Riotto of Agnosis and Joe Wood of Borgo Pass, who’d also been the drummer in Maegashira for the last several years of our run. It was more or less a disaster. We’d only practiced twice because of the distance factor – those guys were even farther out on Long Island than Moth Eater – and it showed. One of the songs we fucked up so bad that we played it twice. I knew pretty much immediately that it wasn’t something that was going to happen again.
But that was last year and Moth Eater continued well into 2012. I don’t know if those guys are going to get another singer – I hope they do, as they were killer and I liked the songs they were writing – but what it rounds out to is the last couple months have been the first time in over a decade that I haven’t been in a band.
A few months ago, I was talking about that with stellar human beings Chris Jones and Lew Hambley, over a barbecue dinner on a deck. The two of them, who are collectively known as the garage thrash duo Rukut and with whom I’ve done numerous gigs over the years and whose work I continue to admire, seemed more than fairly astonished when I told them I didn’t miss it. “What do I want to be in a band with three other smelly dudes who can’t agree on anything?” I asked. “Like having three girlfriends, all a pain in the ass. Fuck it.”
I should clarify that. I’m not without my positive memories of every band in which I’ve ever played a role. In Maegashira, I made friendships that I’m happy to sustain to this very day, Rukut among them. Clamfight, whose CD I’m putting out in a couple months, are another. There are people who know me as JJ Maegashira, and I’m fine with that. We had more than a few good times, and I won’t deny that even as things got less pleasant toward the end. But I don’t miss it.
And I think that’s actually what’s surprised me most of all. In life, you go through these identities. You’re a kid, then you’re a student, then you’re working, you’re this person here, that person there, always the core of you, but here and there different pieces emerge. I was from The Aquarian, then I was from Metal Maniacs, then I was from Rutgers graduate program – less a critic and more a writer – now I’m from The Obelisk and The Aquarian again – all but entirely the opposite – from this band, that band, you’d know me from here, not from there, so that’s how I’ll introduce myself. But as I’ve given up that identity, sacrificed those good times for lack of frustrations, I can’t honestly say it’s a decision I regret. Maybe it was just time.
There’s bound to be a piece of me that misses it, but I don’t long for it anymore, and I did when Maegashira first ended. I was in a panic. I’m not scared now not to have it. Part of that is due to this site, which occupies a good portion of my waking hours, and part of it is work, which takes up most of the rest, but for someone of such ample physical proportion, I’ve managed to spread myself figuratively thin enough that I wouldn’t really have space for being in a band if I wanted to. Watching Clamfight last week, I thought about it, thought about getting on a stage and doing that again, and I felt the same way watching Ichabod – with whom I did a weekender tour once – at this year’s SHoD. But there’s a difference between relating to the process and involving oneself in it. I’m not there and I don’t know that I ever will be again.
A few reasons for that, but foremost among them is I wasn’t that good. I already said I couldn’t really sing, and how long am I supposed to not feel like a fool standing up there screaming and growling words that I’d rather express some other way? I’ve always been just smart enough to know how dumb I am, and that self-consciousness that makes me go back and read my sentences over again (sometimes) is the same one that always seemed to stand between me and letting my voice really go where I wanted it to. I was always a better writer anyway.
So that’s what I do. People treat you differently when you’re in a band and you’re not. Someone I knew from that end of things will ask me if I’ve got anything going musically and when I say I don’t and I’m writing instead, doing this, they’ll give me a kind of pitying “aw.” An automatic response, without even thinking about it. Truth is, I wrote before I took part in any kind of music. I wrote before I wrote about music. If the law of averages says anything, I’ll probably die in front of a keyboard. But it’s not the same, and I’d be a fool not to admit that. The difference between someone who does and someone who describes is always there — even if I’m contented in what I do, which I have to admit I am as much as I’ve ever been.
But the question isn’t being judged one way or another. If I cared so much about that, I’d shave, cut my hair and jog compulsively (all of which part of me wants to do all the time; these things are never as clear-cut as we present them in type), but I don’t do any of that, and I’m not desperately trolling Craigslist looking for “lazy hack doom singer wanted, tour immediately,” so I must not want that that badly either. I’ve lived through enough contradictions to know better than to say definitively I’ll never be in another band, but right now, at 31 years old, I feel like my time is better spent the way I’m spending it, rather than spinning my wheels to get ready for the next shitty show, the next faraway practice, the next argument, passive aggressive barb, and so on.
Yeah, there’s something sad about that realization. That’s what life is. You miss things when they’re gone, people when they’re gone. If I don’t make the most of what I have to work with and what I feel I’m best suited to work with, then how am I not just cheating myself, distracting myself from whatever sense of purpose I might be able to glean from anything, ever, be it writing, performing or any other sort of toil or expression in which I might be involved? I’ve got my good memories and my bad memories, but more importantly, I’ve got the lessons I’ve learned and hopefully what I’ll be able to continue to do is use those lessons to help define who I am as a person, my responses to the world around me and the point of view from which I see it, the ears with which I hear it. In that way, whatever identity I might inhabit in this moment, I haven’t lost anything at all.
Posted in Whathaveyou on October 15th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
We begin this week with the disturbing noise-based avant sludge of Toronto’s Godstopper. What Matters, their new album, was released Sept. 25, and it follows last year’s Empty Crawlspacetape (streaming here) and a couple of disturbing videos (see here and here) that mirrored the underlying core of violence that seems never to be distant in the double-guitar four-piece’s approach. That threatening sensibility comes paired with a more melodic vocal style on What Matters, giving songs like “Right up to Heaven” or the later culmination of “Clean House” another level on which to strike, while surprises like the post-punk of the penultimate “Lyman” or nigh-unbearable tonal weight of “Blame Them” show the diversity in Godstopper‘s still burgeoning approach.
It’s a lot to take in from song to song, and by no means easy listening, but worth the effort ultimately. As always, I hope you enjoy it, and for more Godstopper, check out their Bandcamp or Tumblr.
Kind of a wild weekend, otherwise I probably would’ve posted this on Friday as per usual. Got sufficiently loaded on Friday and Saturday and then spent the better part of yesterday in the hospital waiting room while The Patient Mrs.‘ brother had surgery on his leg following — what else? — a chainsaw mishap. He’s alright, recovering, still has all his limbs, etc., but it put an unanticipated stress on the day as that kind of thing will and set me back a ways in terms of the work I wanted to do in advance of this week.
Nonetheless, I plan on having interviews posted this week with Steve Von Till of Neurosis and with Brooklyn-based noise rockers Family. I’ll be reviewing albums from Velvet Elvis (that’ll be today, hopefully) and Altar of Oblivion, and I’ll have a report on the new Clutch record and a live review from the Heavy Planet CMJ showcase with Eggnogg and Borracho, among others. Looking forward to that one a lot.
Maybe a random thought, but is it just me or is Bandcamp taking over the universe for music? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a decent quality stream in an easy interface — I dig it as much as I’ve ever dug listening to music that way (not saying much, I guess) — but it just seems like all of a sudden, everything new is on there and that the post-MySpace “well what now?” question that Facebook never quite stepped up to answer seems to have settled. I don’t know how much they take in sales, but I guess underground bands could do worse. It’ll do till the next thing gets here, anyhow.
Hope you had a great and chainsaw-accident-free weekend. I’m gonna check back in momentarily with some news about new releases from Black Shape of Nexus and Don Juan Matus, so stay tuned for that, and there’s a lot to come this week as per usual and some, like Godstopper, pretty unusual. It’ll be good fun either way.
Posted in On the Radar on October 10th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
From the first creepy fuzz line that launches “God Lie,” the opening cut from Phoenix, Arizona, doomers Goya‘s debut demo, the atmosphere of the disc is mired in cultish lurch. Electric Wizard is a pervasive and near-defining influence, but the trio Goya — who formed in April and released the self-titled five-track demo last month — are nowhere near settled on simply that. Elements of blackthrash show up in the guitar line of “God Lie,” and there’s an underlying impatience in these songs — like they were played fast — that hints of intensity to come. Though frankly, it’s early even to tell that.
Tracks like “Blackfire” and “Opoponax” delve even further into the post-Witchcult Todaystream of cult doom, Jeff Owens‘ guitar layering in with keys in a familiar but still thoroughly fucked wash of fuzz and distortion.In making a bed for themselves in Electric Wizard‘s influence, Goya have given themselves a solid starting foundation, and centerpiece “Mourning Sun” wants nothing for low-end rumble thanks to Owens‘ crushing tone and the bass of Jirix-Mie Paz, both of which seem to lumber forth at the march of Shane Taylor‘s persistent kick drum, no less indomitable in the mix than Owens‘ guitar is impenetrable.
Middle cut “Mourning Sun” is the highlight of the 37-minute demo’s five cuts, if only for the more individualized approach it seems to be showing, but 11:30 closer “Night Creeps” carves out a righteous plod of its own as Owens intones “forever dead/forever stoned” in a Jus Oborn cadence before embarking on the assault of wah noise that will cap the demo. No complaints. It’s recognizable for the most part, but Goya are just getting started and for the centerpiece alone, the demo’s worth a look.
In that regard, Owens, Taylor and Paz have made the tracks available as a pay-what-you-will download or a $5 CD (limited to 100; 13 left as of this post), both available through their Bandcamp, from whence this stream also comes:
Posted in Reviews on September 26th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Even before it started, Sept. 25 was more than one occasion. Principally, my eighth wedding anniversary. It was also the day Saint Fucking Vitus hit the bar that bears their name in Brooklyn, with Weedeater and Sourvein supporting. Saint Vitus at the Saint Vitus. And in the intertwining of these two events, I’ll say it will serve for years as an example of the long list of reasons I’m glad I’m married to The Patient Mrs. that the one did not preclude experiencing the other. Three bands — any one of whom on a given night I’d be happy to see as a headliner — in probably the smallest space at least Weedeater and Vitus will play this year. It was something special.
This week is also the U.N. General Assembly in Manhattan, and as I was anxiously waiting to depart and head to Brooklyn for the show, it was this foremost in my mind. All it takes is one diplomat deciding to go for a stroll down 34th St. and the Queens-Midtown Tunnel is pretty much inaccessible by car, so I made sure I had plenty of time to get to the Saint Vitus bar. Turned out I was early arriving, and at that point, things started to seem a little too easy. I’d made it there, made it there early, and I was about to watch Sourvein, Weedeater and Saint Vitus do a gig together about as far away from me as the keyboard on which I’m currently typing. I couldn’t help but look up to see if any pianos were about to fall on my head.
None did. And The Patient Mrs. was like, “you should go to this show,” and traffic was like, “you should go to this show,” and my brain was like, “dude I can’t fucking believe you’re going to this show,” and then I was at the show and then the show was happening and all threat of pianos was gone and everything that sucked was somewhere else and all the was was volume, riffs and fists in the air. Sourvein made a raucous opener, and the fact that since the last time I saw them vocalist T-Roy Medlin has surrounded himself with a new band — including former The Gates of Slumber drummer J. Clyde Paradis – only added to the sense of adventure.
Guitarist Joshua “JC” Fari – the band’s original bassist — donned a t-shirt with the logo for famed Manhattan venue the Limelight (the “rock ‘n’ roll church” as it once was) I guess to mark the evening, and bassist Todd Kiessling (Phobia/Dystopia) was of course locked in with Paradis on the band’s signature grooves. Hard to believe Sourvein will have existed in one form or another for 20 years in 2013, but if Medlin is the lone constant for all that time, he gave a good showing of why in Brooklyn. They weren’t through the opener for their set — the title-track to 2008′s Imperial BastardEP — before Medlin had jumped off the stage. Granted it was crowded up there, with Paradis’ drums set up in front of the kit Henry Vasquez would later use for Saint Vitus‘ set, but still, for having been the driving force in Sourvein for nigh on two full decades, Medlin‘s energy was commendable.
More to the point, their sludge was fucking vicious. It was fascinating to see Sourvein and Weedeater back to back because of how closely the bands are related. Not just by blood either — Medlin and Weedeater‘s “Dixie” Dave Collins are cousins — but in general ethic and punk rock fuckall, there’s a definite link. I can’t imagine either band is particularly fond of playing New York, but Sourvein hit hard with a closing duo of “Fangs” from last year’sBlack Fangs(review here) and “Dirty South” — their anthem — and split out in noisy fashion to a resounding reception from the growing crowd. It was early yet, just getting on 10PM, but the room was beginning to fill up.
I spent the vast majority of the night up front. Right up front, where someone of my size and stature really has no right to be. I didn’t want to miss taking pictures, yeah, but I didn’t want to miss the show, either, and I had memories of standing in the back bar as Pallbearer – the last too-big-for-the-room gig I saw at the Saint Vitus — doomed the living crap out of those in more immediate vicinity. So I stayed put in front of the stage, and as Weedeater got going by kicking into tracks from 2011′s Jason… the Dragon(review here) like “Hammerhandle,” “Mancoon” and “Turkey Warlock,” I was easily convinced I’d made the right choice.
Collins had a bottle of Evan Williams, drummer Keith “Keko” Kirkum and guitarist Dave Shepherd had PBR tallboys, so it was a party from the start. “Make noise,” was the bassist/vocalist’s urging to his bandmates before they started, and apparently they were listening. They kept the set mostly skewed to Jason… the Dragonand 2007′s God Luck and Good Speed, the volume giving no quarter behind him as Collins let loose his nastier-than-all rasp. Kicking his leg behind him, contorting to a wide array of faces, leaning on the wall and sitting on his amp case before getting up for another round, kneeling to play, drinking both from his bourbon and a bottle of what I could only assume was cough medicine taped to the side of his speaker cabinet — before they went on, he tried out two straws and clearly favored the longer — Collins was, as ever, a more entertaining frontman than the unfriendliness of Weedeater‘s music might initially have you believe. “I hope you fucking hate this song so much you cry from it,” he said at one point. To the best of my knowledge, nobody cried.
They wrapped with a full-lung toke off of “Weed Monkey” from God Luck and Good Speed, which was preceded by the Lynyrd Skynyrd cover, “Gimme back My Bullets” that appeared on the same album. Someone clever soul in the crowd shouted “Play some Skynyrd!” when they finished, to which Collins — fully absorbed in a stage process I don’t think anyone but him really understands — replied with a quick “we already did,” as though the words were bullets bouncing off him. There are very few bands who could follow Weedeater and hope to stand a chance of not having been blown off the stage. For this too, it was lucky that Saint Vitus were up next.
If one can say such a thing about a doom legend, Vitus guitarist and principle songwriter Dave Chandler seemed positively tickled to be playing a venue with the same name as his band. Both he and vocalist Scott “Wino” Weinrich thanked the bar several times, Wino noting that it was a dream come true for the owners and the band both. After setting up their gear — subdued bassist Mark Adams drinking a Budweiser while his rig was assembled — they very quickly hit some feedback and launched into “Blessed Night” from this year’s Lillie: F-65(review here), the first song they wrote since embarking on this reunion in 2009.
Since then, I’ve seen Vitus four times that I can think of off the top of my head — Roadburn ’09, Brooklyn, Metalliance and last night; I might be missing one — and I may just have run out of appropriate hyperbole to convey the experience. I’ll argue tooth and nail that Saint Vitus are the single most important doom act America has ever produced, but more than that, they’re stripped down in a way no one else can quite manage to be. Seeing them live, it’s way less of a mystery to see why Black Flag‘s Greg Ginn recruited them for SST Records all those years ago in their initial run: they were basically doing the same thing Black Flag were doing, only they ran their brand of punk through a heady filter of Sabbath.
The government unfortunately doesn’t have a medal to give Chandler‘s guitar tone — though it should — but the guitarist roughed it out anyway, and I held my position up front for the first half of the Saint Vitus @ Saint Vitus set, Vasquez crashing out blood and thunder under the classic heft of the riffs while Wino seethed out the proto-drone of “I Bleed Black” and belted the more raging “War is Our Destiny.” They played all of Lillie: F-65save for the acoustic interlude “Vertigo” and the feedbacker finale track “Withdrawal” — not that the set was at all lacking feedback — stacking them into the earlier portion of the show to finish up with the likes of “The Troll,” “Mystic Lady,” “Clear Windowpane,” “Saint Vitus,” and the inevitable closer, “Born too Late,” which Chandler – representing the old school even down to his EC F’N W t-shirt — shouted out to the crowd after Wino jokingly asked when the audience was born. “What? ’86?” he laughed, no doubt remembering that was the year the album Born too Latewas released.
By then, I had moved to the back, and I feel like it’s worth mentioning why I did so. There had been some moshing during Weedeater, and I stuck that out well enough — took a couple shots to the back that have me sore today, etc., but ultimately survived and found it well worth the effort to do so — but when Saint Vitus got started, and as they really dug into the meat of their set, it was almost overwhelming. Not the crowd, or the push toward the stage, but just the whole thing. I mean, they were. Right. There. Even in the photo pit at Irving Plaza, I hadn’t been that close. After being up there all night, I probably could’ve stuck it out — and when they played “Saint Vitus,” I kicked myself for not — but I guess the bottom line of it was I felt like I wasn’t worthy of what I was witnessing, and after snapping off a quick 850 photos (yes, that’s a lot), I took a couple steps back, eventually winding up over by the soundboard in the back on the lefthand side of the room. I’ve seen a lot of shows in that spot at this point, and as Vitus said their last thanks and jammed out a noisy end — Chandler taking a page out of Medlin‘s book and jumping off the stage to solo in the crowd for a while — I felt lucky to be there at all, lucky to be alive, and where I was standing became at best a tertiary concern.
In the review he posted last night on the forum, SabbathJeff began with the line “Whoa, what just happened?” I was pretty sure of my surroundings when the show was over, but I’ll be damned if everything — up to and including the traffic on the other side of the Lincoln Tunnel — didn’t look just a little extra awesome for what I’d just seen. I got back to the humble Rockaway River valley a little bit before 2AM, inhaled some late-night pasta, said goodnight to my wife and crashed in anticipation of a rough alarm this morning. And today hasn’t exactly been the most productive day I’ve ever had, but if you think I’m about to start bitching the day after seeing Saint Vitus so close up I thought Wino was going to punch me in the face, there’s a good chance you’ve missed the point.
An amazing night the likes of which are rare. Thanks to The Patient Mrs. for eight years of wedded understanding and acceptance, and to you for reading.
Formed in 2009 by guitarist/vocalists Hel Sterne and Taz Corona-Brown, darkened sludge four-piece Undersmile make their most thoroughly doomed impression yet with their first full-length, Narwhal. The record — released through Future Noise — follows a preparatory split last year with fellow British act Caretaker and 2010′s debut EP, A Sea of Dead Snakes, and continues Undersmile‘s fascination with the sea and with lumbering, droning riffs, Sterne and Corona-Brown both contributing weighted melodies atop the anchoring rhythms of bassist Olly Corona-Brown and drummer Tom McKibbin.
What most stands the band out, though — apart perhaps from its ’90s-style dual female leads — is the album’s density of atmosphere. With lyrics quite literally derived from nightmares, Undersmile concoct an oppressive feel throughout the extended pieces that make up the extended whole of Narwhal(review here), which more or less maxes out the CD format at over 79 minutes. And in all that time, they don’t let up. Even shorter interludes like “Cortege” and the closer “Qaanaaq” moan with the undulating malevolence of the sea, Hel and Taz splitting the writing duties between them but nonetheless creating a work of near-frightening cohesion.
As The Obelisk’s UK special week continues, it’s my pleasure to present the following interview, for which both Hel and Taz provided insights as to the band’s origins, writing processes, the recording of Narwhal– which was helmed by Jimmy “Evil” Hetherington and mastered by none other than Billy Anderson – the striking and bleak cover art by Tony Roberts and much more. In a thriving British scene, Undersmile deliver massive tones, suffocating ambience and dreary moods. They even hint at an acoustic side-project toward the end, so something to watch out for too as Undersmile begins to look forward from Narwhalto the open waters before them.
Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:
1. Take me through the origins of the band. How was it that you guys all came together and decided to work together? Did the four of you know at first that you’d have both Taz and Hel sing, or did it just work out that way when you started jamming?
Hel:Taz and I started jamming together on acoustic guitars back in 2006 before we knew Tom or Olly. Neither of us consider ourselves singers and initially didn’t want to sing, after a while we jammed with a few other girls (bass and vox) but it just didn’t gel. At the same time, neither of us wanted the responsibility of being the singer, so eventually we gave in and both did it. Olly (Taz‘s partner, now husband) joined us on bass soon after and following that we got a friend in to play drums for us; at that time our sound was much more grungey. After a year he left due to musical differences and was replaced by his friend, Tom (now my fiancé). Olly and Tom both really helped to bring the gnarly low end and slow pace we had been searching for and this is when we really began to sound like we had always intended.
Taz:Hel moved into the building where I was living in 2006 and we discovered we both played guitar and wrote songs. We had a mutual love for bands like Babes in Toyland and L7 as well as everything from classical music to atonal drone. We started out playing a blend of melancholy acoustic guitar and grungy electric dirges. We never intended to sing at all, it just sort of happened and we found our voices worked best when combined (we genuinely can’t bear the sound of one of our voices without the other!). In 2009, my husband, Olly joined us on bass with Hel‘s fiance, Tom joining not too long after. Once we started performing live, we quickly realised that we derived most enjoyment from playing our slowest, heaviest songs and since then it’s been an evolution into the discordant, droning cacophony you hear now…
2. How did the songwriting process work for Narwhal? The album balances its heaviness and ambience so well. Were the songs just built around the riffs? Were you conscious of keeping the mood consistent throughout? At what point did you realize just how much material you were working with?
Taz: With the exception of two of the shorter pieces – “Qaanaaq” which was written by Olly and “Funayurei” which Tom wrote – the songs on Narwhal are written by either Hel or myself. We wrote four songs each for the album. Songwriting for us isn’t so much a conscious thing but we have a similar ear for discordance and disharmony and all viewed Narwhal as an entire piece rather than individual tracks. Tempering the claustrophobia of the longer songs with the shorter interludes though was a deliberate decision to create contrast and add to the sense of disorientation. The writing process for us tends to be that me or Hel will write a song individually then come together to add guitar and vocal harmonies to one another’s track. We then take the songs to band practise where Olly and Tom add their bass and drums and that is the point when the songs really evolve. We’re definitely all at our happiest when working on new material together in the studio. It’s a pure pleasure!
Hel:Taz and I wrote all the tracks on Narwhal, with the exception of “Funayurei” (Tom) and “Qaanaaq” (Olly). The way we work is that whoever is credited for the lyrics gets credited for writing the actual song itself. But there’s no set formula as to “how” songs are written; I might wake up with a riff in my head, a vocal melody, or most often from a nightmare and have some lyrics that came from it — we’re both very similar in that respect. We both suffer terribly with nightmares and sometimes sleep paralysis, but it’s nice to be able to use something so horrible as a creative fuel.
Usually Taz or I will write the full song and then show it to each other, then we work on the harmonies together. When the song is how we want it we bring it to practise and show the boys, they add drums and bass, making it sound massive and I’ll normally add some lead. We always have too much material but we didn’t realise immediately that we would end up having to cut some out (simply because it wouldn’t fit on the CD). At the mastering stage there was a bit of a hoo-har as we kept sending the files back and forward to Billy Anderson, each time cutting a bit more off (sometimes milliseconds at a time) as it wouldn’t fit on an 80-minute disc (a time limit we’d never considered, until near the end I didn’t even know there was a limit, durr!).
3. How did you come to adopt the nautical theme? Even the split with Caretaker had a track called “Anchor,” and of course both the album and A Sea of Dead Snakes touch on water as well. What is it about the ocean that appeals to the band, and how do you see it playing into Undersmile’s sound? Is it something you see yourselves keeping to over future releases, at least in part?
Hel: Funnily enough, I wrote “Anchor” on the same day Taz wrote “Teutonic Dyselxia” from A Sea of Dead Snakes, which it was initially intended to be for, but we ran out of time in the end. We then later swapped a few tracks around that we had lined up for Narwhal and used them for the split. “Anchor” and “Big Wow” were then replaced (on Narwhal) by “Myra” and “The Unthinkable” because they had more of the feel we were going for. We did this because we were asked to do the split with Caretaker via Blindsight Records, midway through arranging the album. As a band, we’re all intrigued by the sea and everything it symbolises; it’s such a huge unknowable element, beautiful, terrifying and all-consuming. We like to try to tap into the feeling of our nightmares (which are often of the sea, or water) and that’s where a lot of our inspiration comes from. In saying that, it hasn’t really been an intentionally thing at all, maybe we have a subconscious fixation, now you come to mention it! ;)
Taz: The sea is a huge source of inspiration for us and I’m certain it will continue to be so in the future. There is a hypnotic monotony to the ocean which I think is apparent in our music and lyrics. There’s a theory that, as a species, we’re fascinated by the sea because it is symbolic of our own mortality; the breaking of the wave representing the moment of death. I’m intrigued, also, by the contrasting characteristics of the ocean itself, being transient yet constant.
4. Tell me about the recording process for Narwhal? How long were you in the studio with Jimmy Hetherington, and what was the studio situation like? Where was the album actually recorded?
Hel: We recorded the drums and bass at Studio 101 with MartinNewton and Jimmy and from there we did the rest at Jimmy‘s. We had loads of fun working with Jimmy, it was a friendly and relaxed environment and he knew what we were going for. Jimmy added elements of his own in the post production that we all thought suited the album perfectly and were really pleased with his contributions to the overall sound.
Taz: We were recording and mixing with Jimmy for almost a year altogether. After a couple of short bursts in the studio to get the bass and drums down, we would go to Jimmy‘s place once a week to add guitar, vocals and varying degrees of filthy noise! The drums and bass were recorded at our friend Martin Newton‘s recording studio, Studio 101 and the rest was done from Jimmy‘s studio at his home in Oxford. I was actually pregnant at the time so there was a tangible sense of urgency in the studio situation as we were working to a pretty inflexible and inevitable deadline!
5. Tony Roberts’ art seems to fit the music and the atmosphere of the album perfectly. How did you end up working with him, and how did that process go? Was there discussion back and forth of ideas, or did he get the music and just work from that? How involved were you in nailing down the finished design?
Taz: We all greatly admire Tony‘s artwork and I think I’m right in saying that we just messaged him to see if he’d be up for doing the album and he agreed. We were all confident that Tony would be able to capture Narwhal‘s atmosphere perfectly and he certainly did. There was a little messaging back and forth but it really wasn’t necessary as Tony sensed the mood of the album immediately. My favourite element is the sea serpent which can be seen emerging from the depths on the inner sleeve, we’ve used it for our latest t-shirt design and it works incredibly well as an individual piece, also.
Hel: We were very involved in the design itself as we all had a clear idea of what we wanted for Narwhal. Tom came across his artwork initially after seeing the cover he’d done for Conan‘s first album, Horseback Battle Hammer. We then looked into it and all agreed we loved his style, at which point we contacted him and asked if he would be up for it. We always liked the idea of a ship sinking and a big sky, and Tony added some elements such as the beautifully drawn waves and the sea serpent on the inside cover (which were our favourite parts). He was a pleasure to work with.
6. Any upcoming shows or releases you want to plug, or other closing words you want to mention?
Hel: We have two shows coming up this year in particular, which are both in the land of Birmingham. 13th October at Scruffy Murphy’s with DieselKing, Ishmaeland Burden of the Noose, then on 17th November at The Asylum, an all-dayer with Cultura Tres (our friends from Venezuela), Grimpen Mire, Slabdragger, Bastard of the Skies and more.
Taz: We are currently working on a secret (shhhhh) project which should be announced very soon. I can say we’re thoroughly enjoying working on it and that I think it’s going to surprise some people… Our next show is on October the 13th in Birmingham where we shall be reunited with our beloved friends and fellow noise-mongers, Ishmael. If you haven’t checked them out you really ought to stop reading this and do it right. Now.
Hel: We’d also like to mention that we have an acoustic side-project (much like the one Taz and I started back in the old days). We played at the Black Heart in London and supported DylanCarlson on his solo tour and we’re currently working on a few things at the moment in that vein, but we’re not allowed to say too much just yet so watch this space for some announcements coming soon!
Posted in Reviews on September 20th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Ohioan anti-supergroup Morbid Wizard return with an EP to back up the vicious onslaught they brought with their first album. Even the name of the release, Necrosis of the Eyeball, should be some hint as to the sonic extremity on tap, and though the four-piece (down a guitarist in the missing Bahb Branca) have solidified their approach somewhat over the course of the last year since they issued their 2011 Lord of the Rats debut (review here), there’s still a very real, very palpable threat of violence in what they do. At any moment, they might put their instruments down and cut you. No shit. You might not think so, but that works to the favor of the five-track, half-hour-long Necrosis of the Eyeball, the guitar of Scott Stearns keeping consistent nastiness throughout varied pace while drummer Corey Bing and bassist Mike Duncan underscore already low-end psychopathy with vomitous churn. Recorded separately, vocalist Jesse Kling’s screams are no less caustic than they were last time around or on his work with The Disease Concept on their own Liquor Bottles and Broken Steel EP (review here), lyrics vaguely discernible in the barrage of abrasive tonality. Bing also took part in The Disease Concept, and that’s only the most basic of connections that draws these players together. Over time in acts like Fistula, Rue, Sollubi, Ultralord, King Travolta and Son of Jor-El, they’ve helped typify their own brand of Ohio sludge, but Morbid Wizard might be the most cohesive showing they’ve had of that style, and likewise, Necrosis of the Eyeball brings these elements together with a fluidity and creativity that doesn’t necessarily work against the loose, dangerous atmosphere – only more vivid for the roughness of production – but instead giving an all-too-real sense of conscious choice. The difference between being hit with a hammer in broad daylight and being stalked and subsequently stabbed in the dark, let’s say. The results may be roughly the same bloody mess, but how you got there is the whole story.
Like its predecessor, Necrosis of the Eyeball arrives in a DVD-style case with artwork from Stearns, and though that and the short span between releases – not to mention members’ participation in other projects – might lead one to think there hasn’t been much development between the two, that’s just not the case. The recordings may sound roughly similar and the ethic may be along the same lines, but the execution has grown some, and so as the EP gets started with its slowest, perhaps meanest track, “Grave Chyld,” and Stearns tears through shredding leads and painfully slow riffing, there persists a sense of songwriting at work. A few of these tracks are – seems almost impossible to say it, and yet – catchy. Not so much the 9:29 “Grave Chyld” (the longest track on the release; points for the opener), which begins with a sample invoking Lucifer and is working more on bludgeon and killer soloing than on the memorability of its hook, the three songs that ensue – “Necrosis of the Eyeball,” “Chemical Fog” and the Cinderella cover “Night Songs” – each have a strong chorus, however caked in filth and fucked up that chorus might be. After the plodding, doomed mournfulness in the ending of “Grave Chyld,” the faster push of the title-track is both a surprise and seemingly a respite, though ultimately Morbid Wizard offer no quarter. Kling, who handles the samples, uses another at the beginning of “Necrosis of the Eyeball,” and when the riff is introduced, its metallic progression (punctuated by tom thuds from Bing), if played somewhat faster, wouldn’t be out of place on any number of death metal records, and that might very well be the intent, though when they break and Duncan’s low end rumble leads them to a chugging, lurching repetitive section, it’s all sludge. Extreme sludge, but sludge all the same. More excellent guitar solos persist through the slowdown, and though I was left wondering if they’d bring the pace back up to finish, they just sort of let the song fall apart instead. I guess even working with structures has its limits.
Posted in Whathaveyou on September 11th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
After suffering some technical setbacks in the process, recently On the Radar’ed UK duo Wolfshead have just today released a new single called “Sword of Fire,” and if you heard their prior self-titled outing when it was posted from their Bandcamp page, then you already know they set themselves up to cover a pretty wide swath of creative ground across those four tracks. “Sword of Fire” was recorded during the same session as the prior EP, so it’s not inappropriate to think of it as an extension of some of the same ideas.
And since the EP offered various sides of what will hopefully emerge over time as Wolfshead‘s own sonic personality, “Sword of Fire” follows suit, taking their self-proclaimed “garage doom” — they may or may not actually play or record in a garage; there’s very little of the lo-fi sensibility implied by using “garage” as a genre tag in their sound — to someplace altogether catchier. I don’t know what the situation was that led guitarist/vocalist Mart Anthony and bassist/drummer/vocalist Leigh McSharry to hold it back for single release, but it actually works really well on that level.
Particularly so because of its chorus, which is a hook punctuated by McSharry‘s steady snare. There isn’t much fancy about it – basically it’s just a delivery of the title line — but it makes the track all the more memorable, and the fact that the Hampshire outfit kept it back from the initial EP speaks to a patience and awareness of their songwriting that has already served them well.
And in terms of building goodwill, there’s nothing quite like a free download to get the job done. Here’s “Sword of Fire,” courtesy of the band:
If you want to drop a line to Wolfshead to say thanks for giving their stuff away, feel free to hit them up on Thee Facebooks.
Posted in Reviews on September 11th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Following the success of their 2010 debut EP, A Sea of Dead Snakes, and a split with fellow British sludgers Caretaker, the ultra-creepy, ultra-agonized foursome Undersmile emerge with Narwhal, their first full-length, available in a gorgeous digipak with Tony Roberts art via Future Noise. The album pushes the limits of the CD format by clocking in at just a hair under 80 full minutes, and for the seafaring double-guitar/double-vocal four-piece, it’s a lot to take on for what’s essentially their first album, but they craft an overwhelming morass of undulating distortion and top it with sorrowful moans and periodic bursts of contradictory shouts, guitarists Hel Sterne and Taz Corona-Brown effectively calling and responding and giving the listener the impression of being lost at sea with no land in sight. This is obviously on purpose. Later moments of a song like “The Unthinkable” would seem to be culling some influence from the first The Book of Knots album, but the overall sound of Narwhal is more akin to a slowed-down, sludged-out Drain STH, Sterne and Corona-Brown drawling their vocals out over the extended tracks in doomly fashion while reminding that just because they’re wearing frilly lace dresses and makeup doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t also wreck your ass. Joined in the band (and from what I understand, in interpersonal relationships) by hard-hitting drummer Tom McKibbin and bassist Olly Corona-Brown, Hel and Taz offer more than just crushing riffs and deceptively melodic moaning. More than anything else, it’s the atmosphere of Narwhal – and especially the consistency with which it plays out over the course of the album’s 79-plus minutes – that seems to fill the lungs.
More often than not, the songs are lurchingly slow. Very, very slow. The kind of slow that leaves you wondering how much they’re actually moving at all. Four of the total 10 tracks top the 11-minute mark – those being opener “Lockjaw” (11:38), “Berk” (12:48), “Myra” (16:05) and “The Unthinkable” (11:51) – and in between, shorter pieces like “Funayurei” (1:59), “Cortege” (1:40) and the closing palindrome “Qaanaaq” (2:16) maintain the bleak oceanic atmosphere, but even that doesn’t account for the full sprawl of Narwhal. There are also three songs that would seem to split the difference: “Milk” (6:17), “Mandrill” (8:03) and “Verdigris” (7:17), and while one could probably write an entirely separate review on what went into placing the individual pieces as they are scattered throughout the album, what’s far more pivotal in the actual listening process is how remarkably well they flow together, one into the next. If Undersmile constructed Narwhal – or rather, deconstructed it into individual tracks – from a single, larger whole, I don’t know, but even the shift from the fading distortion of “Berk” into the acoustics, whispers and groans of “Cortege” is smooth, a ghostly sort of echo arising in the layers of the vocally-centered interlude, which precedes “Myra” as the longest and most encompassing of Narwhal’s repetitive, overpowering washes. If their intent was to capture the immensity of the ocean that seems to have solidified as their common theme after factoring into their prior work, they’ve done it. After multiple listens through multiple players, I find no means of listening through which Undersmile’s Narwhal isn’t completely overwhelming on nearly every level.
Posted in Features on September 2nd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
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 SHoDXI 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/Release12″ 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.
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.
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 13th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster
And how did Weedeater frontman “Dixie” Dave Collins blow off his big toe? Oh, he was cleaning his favorite shotgun. For any of you non-American Obelisk attendees out there, let me explain something to you: this shit happens in this country. All the time. We are all fucking insane, and in case you haven’t watched the news, um, ever, incredibly dangerous people, even to ourselves. Hell, especially to ourselves. Especially ourselves and brown people. Actually, to pretty much everyone.
While I don’t necessarily have a favorite shotgun (or a gun at all, let alone many, which would necessitate an entire rack), my heart goes out to ol’ Nine Toe Collins, who obviously didn’t intend on shooting his toe off, and finds his plans to record with Steve Albini similarly obliterated. It’s a bummer all around. Here’s what the band, via the PR wire, had to say about it:
Hi folks, As most of you know, here in the Weedeater camp we pride ourselves on a long tradition of shooting our band in the proverbial foot right before we’re supposed to do something important. Whether it’s a big tour, a recording session, or whatever else we’re supposed to do, invariably we will find some way to try and thwart our grandiose plans. Well, it’s no different for this recording session, except that this time we really did shoot ourselves in the foot. In fact we regret to inform all of you that this weekend, Dixie Dave shot his big toe off whilst cleaning his favorite shotgun. Yup, that’s right. When reached for comment, Mr. Collins gave a quote that speaks for itself: ‘It wasn’t my intention to shoot off my big toe. This really fucking sucks and the pain is unbearable.’
Mr. Collins’ doctors have advised that he is to be bed-ridden for the next few weeks during his recovery. This will obviously affect the recording session (and the few surrounding shows in Jan./Feb.), which will now have to be postponed until after the March/April “nine-toe” tour. Said tour is still 100 percent on, however, so check back soon for updates on venues and exact dates. It looks like the support bands will be awesome and the band is really stoked to play this new material after touring for so many years on the same basic set. Yeah… we knew that too, sorry but we’re about to make good on it. And of course after all, we gotta keep workin’, like workin’ men do. Shooting your big toe off isn’t free, for fuck’s sake!
So to re-cap…Keko sacrificed his pinkie for Down/Melvins, Shep broke his hand for Today is the Day, and now Dixie has generously offered up his big toe for Steve Albini to nibble on. Unless overtly fond of Limburger cheese and rotten flesh, Master Steve is advised to decline. Good day. — Weedeater