It’s been a while since I’ve had a fully functional turntable, and by that I mean one that worked at all. Platters have been coming in for review for The Obelisk and I’ve managed to figure something out, either listening somewhere other than my office or whathaveyou, but really, it’s something that I’ve been missing up to this point. I tried several times to acquire a working one to no avail, until just this past week, Slevin rolled through with one he wasn’t using and set it up. Toss in a new cartridge, dust it off, and as you can see above, whamo, a working player of vinyl records.
Nifty, right? I traded him the busted Technics that formerly resided at the top of my office shelf system and he gave me this working Optimus, and since I don’t know the difference, I’m just happy to have one that actually can play an albums. I’ve had a pile of stuff here waiting to be written up or even just listened to, so at the end of last week, there was a bit of a binge in vinyl listening, one after another after another and so on. Can’t help it. Sometimes I get excited.
In the spirit of sharing, I thought I’d post the first five records I put on once I had the ability to do so. Needless to say, there have been several more since:
1. YOB, Demo
I haven’t asked to confirm, but I think this was actually the one that got Slevin on board for giving my pathetic ass in the first place. A couple weeks ago, I put up a rant, basically pissing and moaning at having bought myself the 2009 vinyl reissue of YOB‘s demo despite not being able to hear it, so when I finally could, it was the first thing I grabbed. Sure enough, the four tracks on the release — the three of the initial 2000 demo and one live track to close out side B recorded in 2005 — were as primitive as one would have to expect, way more Sleep-derived even than YOB‘s first full-length, but still a joy to hear after so long. Even as a curio, this one was worth the wait and since I’m planning on having this turntable for a while, I was glad I got to play this one first.
2. Asteroid, Move a Mountain 7″
Maybe this one was kind of obvious, since a review went up the other day, but wow, I was looking forward to hearing the latest from Asteroid. Aside from thinking they’re one of the best Swedish heavy rock acts going these days — balancing heavy psych jams with memorable songwriting and sounding so incredibly natural doing it as they do — I wanted to hear how they were developing with their new drummer and was glad to find that even on such a short, two-song release, they hadn’t lost that combination of structure and laid back exploration that has made both of their albums to date so much fun, indeed pushing it further on the B-side, “One Foot in the Grave,” which was some of their fastest material yet. I was already looking forward to their third full-length. Now even more so.
3. Mars Red Sky/Year of No Light, Green Rune White Totem
Mars Red Sky — whose new EP, Be My Guide, is due in April, in case you missed the news that just went up — were kind enough to send me a vinyl copy of their Green Rune White Totem collaboration with their countrymen black metal experimentalists Year of No Light, and I think it must have gotten lost in the shuffle around the time the hurricane hit, and then when I finally would’ve had the chance to hear it, there wasn’t a working record player to make it happen. I was bummed out, because although Green Run White Totem is up on the YuberToubes, I was dying to hear the real thing. The textures that Year of No Light bring to Mars Red Sky‘s rich, deep tonality make the 12-minute collaborative piece all the more fascinating, and the black and red vinyl give it a truly special feel. It’s one I’ll be returning to for sure, especially as Mars Red Sky get set for Desertfest next month and that aforementioned EP release.
4. Clutch, Strange Cousins from the West
The heartbreak of slightly ripping the sleeve when taking out the second of the two LPs in the special edition of Clutch‘s 2009 outing aide, Strange Cousins from the West was a listen a long time in the making. The packaging on the Weathermaker vinyl is astounding (and now ripped, god damn it) with foil and a six-panel gatefold, and when the first side of the first LP started, I swore up and down it was the wrong platter because it was “Freakonomics” instead of “Motherless Child.” Nope, just a different tracklisting than the CD. Given that this is an album with which I’ve spent significant time over the four years since its original release, it was probably the first one on this list that I could really get a sense for the difference the vinyl makes, the compression in the cymbals and warm pops, etc. Particularly in light of their new one (review here), it was cool to revisit Strange Cousins and hear the older material in a new light.
5. Black Sabbath, Dehumanizer
If I’m honest, I don’t even really know where this vinyl copy of Dehumanizer came from. Must have been a reissue that came through at some point, but it’s been in my office for a while now and so it was something of a matter of principle that it should get a play on initial run with the new turntable. The 1992 reunion album between Black Sabbath and vocalist Ronnie James Dio isn’t the best work of either party — and wow, that really came out on side B; I can’t even remember the last time I purposefully listened to “Too Late” or “Buried Alive,” and I named my dog after Dio — but for cuts like “I,” “Master of Insanity,” “Computer God” and “Sins of the Father,” Dehumanizer was well worth another visit. Now I just need to get a copy on tape and I’m all set.
Even though I have a working turntable in my possession, I don’t see myself going overboard as a vinyl collector or anything like that, but if someone’s got a 7″ for sale at a show or something is vinyl-only, at least I know I’ll be able to give it some due time without using someone else’s player or scrambling for a download. But mostly it’s just a review thing for stuff that comes in on LP. It’s not like I’m looking to start a vinyl library. Not like I’m already eying up Hypnos 69 splits on eBay or anything. Me? No way. Ha.
I remember when YOB‘s 2000 demo got re-released in 2009, I held off buying it. My thinking was that sooner or later the thing would show up on CD and I didn’t need to shell out for the vinyl, which, well, wasn’t a format I wanted to deal with anyway. Sure, YOB occupy a slot on my ever-rotating list of favoritist favorite bands, but what was the point in buying a copy of their demo on vinyl and feeling stupid later when I finally got it on the CD I wanted in the first place?
Well, the point turned out to be that there was no CD coming. Probably I could’ve asked someone and found that out, or done even the most cursory level of research and found out that Raven’s Eye Records, the label run by the artist Sean Schock (also of Geistus and H.C. Minds), wasn’t doing a CD pressing and that once the vinyl run was gone, that was it. That the label, like the band, was based in Eugene, Oregon, and that even in this day of interwebular immediacy, it might not be so easy to come by. But yeah, I didn’t do that research or ask anyone if a CD was coming. Hey, it was 2009. I was busy not having a job.
YOB‘s demo retreated to that place in my mind that holds the list of music I should pick up at some point. I guess half of me was still holding out hope that a compact disc release would come along sooner or later, and it just took that long for me to finally resign myself to the fact that one wasn’t, but at long last, I snagged a copy of the 12″ version on eBay late last year. It was my Xmas present to myself, a little something to get me through the cold months. Calling it a treat in such a manner didn’t really take away from the fact that I was a stubborn dumbass for not buying it in the first place, but it did give that all-too-familiar feeling of dumbassery a nicer frame than it usually gets.
The package showed up a couple weeks back. Not exactly timely for the holidays, but whatever. I was still happy to see it, except for the fact that at this point, I own two turntables and neither of them works. So yeah, after three-plus years, I decided to buy YOB‘s very first demo — three tracks, “Silence,” “Revolution” and “Dogma,” coupled with a live recording of a song called “White Doom” recorded in 2005 at CD World in Eugene, pressed up with artwork by Brian Mercer – and I don’t have a way to play it.
One of these days, I’m gonna hear this fuckin’ thing. “Revolution” is up on the YouTubes, so that’s easy enough to check out, but hearing how different it is from the version that appeared two years later on YOB‘s 2002 12th Records debut full-length, Elaborations of Carbon, does little more than tantalize and make me want to listen to the other tracks. I’m sure it’s up for download somewhere, but screw that. I’ve waited this long, I can keep on staring at the LP sleeve until one of the two turntables — which are stacked one on top of the other with posters on top, for that extra touch of class — is repaired or a third is acquired. Patience has always been one of my stronger qualities.
Posted in Reviews on February 12th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
There’s no doubt in my mind that when 2013 is over, this will have been one of its best shows. Out from Oregon prior to sequestering themselves to write a new album, YOB joined forces with Hull and Bezoar for the first of a two-night stay at the St. Vitus bar. It was Sunday as well — and I know the mystique of weeknight shows is that everybody acts like they don’t have to get up the next morning because rock and roll means more when it’s painful — but man oh man, whatever assault and battery I may have inflicted on myself, my neck, my hearing and my ongoing semi-conscious waking state, it was worth it. And not just to have my bald spot show up headbanging down front on those unARTigNYC videos, but you know, for the music, dude.
It was one of those front-to-back nights. They don’t come along all that often, where you can show up to a venue and rest assured that everything you see is going to blow your ass out of the room — without literally doing so, lest you miss a minute of the righteousness. The St. Vitus was sold out for the night, and it was through the much-appreciated grace of Bezoar that I was able to get into the show at all. Having seen an impressive couple of their gigs over the last few months (see here and here), you’re damn right I was showing up early so as not to let their frequently bizarre invocations and riffly conjuring pass me by. I dig that band more the more I see them, and I plan on seeing them more.
The more I see them, however, the clearer the picture becomes about what it is that I enjoy so much. It’s the blend. Their ability to play one influence off another and tip the balance at a moment’s notice between echoey ’90s art rock, visceral doom and scathing extreme metal. Aside from drummer Justin Sherrell‘s fluidity in fast or slow tempos, guitarist Tyler Villard‘s periodic bouts of shred-itis and bassist/vocalist Sara Villard‘s enviable rumbling tone and un-postured vocal ethereality, there’s the course of a given song itself, genre-free and off and running — now at an gallop, now a lurching crash — that nabs the attention and renders moot the bookmaking on what might come next. Factor in the sheer attention-deficit nature of what they’re playing, they almost can’t help but be fun to watch.
For Bezoar, it was a good night to make a lasting impression, and they did precisely that, settling into a groove here and there throughout complex compositions as Tyler‘s variable riffing through a steady hand provided the foundation on which Justin and Sara enacted sped-up post-metal churn, blackened squibblies belted into doomed time-change, ignoring the improbability of it all working as Tyler plucked out a purposefully strange sub-blues lead to somehow answer back. The song about Jim Jones doesn’t have a name yet. I asked Sara afterwards if I could call it “The Song about Jim Jones,” and she said it was cool, so yeah, they played that. Closed with it, in fact, as the new lighting at the St. Vitus bar flickered around the early rush of the cut, which will presumably (hopefully) surface on their next full-length, due sometime this year.
They’ve begun to click as a band on stage, which made them a suitable fit alongside fellow Brooklynites Hull in representing the borough’s heavy creative set. I was up front, but by the time Bezoar had finished, the room was all but packed. Hull aren’t exactly lacking in draw on their own, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but what occurred to me watching them open for YOB was the same thing that occurs to me almost every time I’m lucky enough to see them, and it’s just how much I absolutely take them for granted. It shames me to say it, because I try not to — their last album, 2011′s Beyond the Lightless Sky(review here), I loved and still keep on my person at most times in my trusty CD wallet, but when it comes to seeing them live, I’m way too blase about it. “Oh, I’ll catch them whenever,” or wait for a night like this to come along when they’re on a bill with someone I can’t miss like YOB, or maybe EyeHateGod.
To wit, this was my first time seeing Hull since guitarist Drew Mack left and they embarked on a new era as a double-guitar four-piece last fall. The change was notable, but it’s not like they went from two guitars to one or one to none. The real kicker was how overwhelmingly heavy they were, guitarist Nick Palmirotto and bassist Seanbryant Dunn splitting vocal duties as they sprinted masterfully through the tense thrashing of “Earth from Water” from the last record, hitting the point of no return for payoff largess and ignoring the signs on their way to cliffdiving doom slowdown. Lead guitarist Carmine Laietta, far off to the right and largely in the dark, tore into the stops of the open solo section given thrust by Jeff Stieber‘s kick drum. How had I let it go so long since the last time I saw Hull?
Like the openers, they also had yet-unreleased material which they used as a follow-up for the massive apex of “Earth from Water” and the chugging heft of “Architect” from 2009′s Sole Lord, mentioning after the fact that the song was new in an “oh by the way” kind of fashion. The central method — create tension, release tension, rebuild and dismantle — seemed roughly the same as ever, and Hull‘s ability to turn a churning riff on its head is nothing short of world class, though it was the extended “Viking Funeral” that made the closing statement of their set, parts weaving out in movements over the course of 15-plus minutes. Don’t get me wrong, I remember when they put out that EP in 2007. I spent a lot of time dorking out over that track.A lot. And I appreciate it when a band doesn’t forget their earlier accomplishments in favor of indulging more recent efforts.
But here’s the thing: It’s only an indulgence if the more recent efforts are in any way weaker than the earlier accomplishments, and Hull‘s aren’t. So much as I was thrilled to hear the undulating riff of “Viking Funeral,” I’m not entirely sure I would’ve taken it over “Fire Vein” or “False Priest” (oh hell, both) from Beyond the Lightless Sky. Perhaps it’s not something they do every show and save for special occasions which something like supporting YOB most definitely is, but there’s so much depth to what they do now that I think it’s worthy of highlighting, however epic their first outing may have been. It’s not a complaint, exactly — that is, “Viking Funeral” kicks ass and we all know it — I just also think the Beyond the Lightless Skymaterial could just as easily have provided the peak Hull were carrying across in closing out their set.
In any case, they destroyed in a manner befitting what was still to come once YOB took the stage, drummer Travis Foster emerging first from the crowd, then bassist Aaron Rieseberg, then finally guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt. There was a bit of a delay as Scheidt had to run and grab a vocal mic, but they were sharing Hull‘s gear, so it wasn’t that long before YOB got going, with “Kosmos” from 2005′s The Unreal Never Livedserving as an entry point to their consuming, space-quaking tonality. A band I once thought I’d never have the chance to see live, I’ve caught a handful of YOB shows in the years since they resumed their ascent with 2009′s The Great Cessation — Manhattan, Roadburn, Roadburn, Brooklyn — and have had few experiences as life-affirming in a concert setting. I mean that. I knew I’d only get to see them this one of the two nights they were at the Vitus bar (the next night, Sea of Bones and Batillus opened), so I did my best to make the most of it. You never know when next they’ll come back, if at all.
And while I took a second to pause and wonder, if I lived in Oregon, would I take YOB for granted the way I do with Hull, I soon enough had my face torn off and handed to me. When they finished “Kosmos,” someone in the crowd shouted “play anything!” and they answered with the soft opening strains of “Catharsis.” At first, I didn’t believe it, but Scheidt, his eyes closed, slowly rocking back and forth, kept it going and gradually, the song built to its full breadth, Foster and Rieseberg joining in the long journey to the initial verse. At one point, I looked down on the stage and there was my right earplug, but if it’s any indication as to how loud the band actually were, I don’t think I’d have known it was missing if I hadn’t actually seen it there. The slow rise of “Catharsis” to the chorus, “The tyranny/Built upon our philosophies/Not for me in solitude again,” indeed lived up to the title of the song, the middle chugs and Scheidt‘s echoing deathly growls — somehow not at all in conflict with the psychedelic-shamanistic delivery through which they were metered out — leading to the extended, ultra-slow plod, crashing, lumbering, chaotic. I stood and watched myself be dismantled by it, piece by piece, broken apart and put together the right way at last.
The final movement of the song, its faster rush, swirls to an Olympus Mons of a culmination before cutting off, and though it’s impossible to me to think of anything following that — perhaps because “Catharsis” closes the record of the same name, which turns 10 this year, or perhaps because it’s the heaviest thing I’ve ever heard — but YOB weren’t long in breaking into The Illusion of Motion‘s “Grasping Air,” the rolling groove of which launched on a sea of nodding and banging heads. Not moshing exactly, but there was a crowd push. Maybe it was moshing. I don’t know. I ignored it, and frankly, was so mentally and spiritually gone by the time they got there that it didn’t matter. I didn’t care. It’s been a while since the last time I was subsumed enough into a performance that I felt that way. The religious call it communion. I was just glad to be in the room.
Rieseberg‘s bass swell under Scheidt‘s solo for “Grasping Air” was steady enough to hold up the walls of the place, and in the stop before the last slowdown, Scheidt let out a high-pitched shriek off mic but still picked up by it that was both jarring and awesome at the same time. The finger-picked opening of “Adrift in the Ocean,” which closed 2011′s Atma(review here), made for a somber moment complemented by Foster‘s cymbal washes and the rumbling bass, but there was still energy left in the band when they moved into the faster core of the percussive build and takeoff, and that energy only built over the stretch, cleaner vocals wailing out in the verse en route to one of the most infectious chorus hooks YOB has ever written, taking the universe personally in a way few lyricists would dare, speaking in images that show more than they say.
A long instrumental push begun with seething whispers — led to the mounting final build, cut off suddenly but to which Scheidt added a last slow strum on his guitar. That was to be the end of the set proper, but they added “Burning the Altar” from The Great Cessationto finish an “encore” and as one of YOB‘s several strong album-openers, it made a great closer to their first night at the St. Vitus bar. I was dizzy by the time they were done, but gathered my camera bag, which I’d put on the floor in front of me, and made my way out. It must have been almost one in the morning? Something like that. I don’t know. I was home before two, which was earlier than the night before, the whole world having that “congratulations, you’ve just done serious damage to your hearing” tin-can sound for the next 36 or so hours. At least when it’s gone I won’t be able to say I wasted it.
Extra pics after the jump. Thanks for reading as always.
Posted in audiObelisk on January 30th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Every year at Roadburn since 2010, I’ve allowed myself to watch one set from the side of the stage in the main room at the 013. I attended in 2009 too, but too chickenshit to actually get up there and make it happen. In 2010, it was Garcia Plays Kyuss. In 2011, Acid King. Last year, it was YOB playing Catharsis in its entirety at the Afterburner — one of the last sets of the whole weekend. I held out for it, and when they started up with “Aeons,” took to the photo pit with the bevvy of far-more-professional Euro photographers, but knew that by the time they hit into the title-track (the third of three songs on the album), I wanted to be up there watching.
So I went. Catharsisis a landmark for me, an album that expanded my definition of what heavy could be, and from the opening guitar lines to the massive, earth-cracking apex and Mike Scheidt‘s deathly roar and desperate space ethereality, the song “Catharsis” is a doomed masterpiece. I got to the side of the stage by the time the band was through “Ether” and didn’t move from that spot for the rest of the hour. They’d already done 2005′s The Unreal Never Lived– the swan song of their original run — earlier in the fest (streaming here), but this one was something special. It was one of those things I couldn’t miss, had to see, was so glad to be there to see. Everything else revolved around this set. I can’t imagine anyone in the room felt differently about it.
Today Roadburn made YOB‘s Catharsis set available for streaming and you’ll find it embedded on the player below, with my gratitude as always to Walter, Marcel and the whole Roadburn crew. If I’m not mistaken, YOB are doing the album elsewhere this year, and if you can see it, consider yourself urged to do so. Until then, this:
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 22nd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
It was a nice thought to imagine YOB and Elder arriving in the Southern hemisphere to align themselves with the thunderous New Zealand outfit Beastwars and stomp their way across Australia, but seems it’s not to be. At least not now. Elder and Beastwars both put out word that the tour (which was alluded to here back in November) was a no-go. Bummer, but hopefully it’s not the last opportunity for these bands to get together.
Here’s Elder‘s announcement followed by the whole of their Spires Burn/ReleaseEP from their Bandcamp just because it rules and some local East Coast dates they have coming up this week and beyond:
It is with great regret that we have to announce the official cancellation of our Australian/New Zealand appearances coinciding with the cancellation of Doomnations 2013. We received word this morning that the festival would not be taking place this year due to “logistical issues”.
I assure you that we are deeply disappointed to postpone our travels, but would nevertheless like to thank all bands, fans and promotors who supported us in this endeavor. We hope to one day have the privilege of performing for you!
Elder upcoming live dates: Jan 23 O’Brien’s Allston, MA Jan 24 St. Vitus Bar Brooklyn, NY Jan 29 Ralph’s Worcester, MA Mar 14 Great Scott Allston, MA
Posted in audiObelisk on June 6th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Today it is my extreme pleasure to host the first of what I hope will be many batches of audio streams from Roadburn 2012. This year, instead of links, I’m honored to host the audio streams themselves, which you’ll find on the players below. Extra special thanks to Walter and the Roadburn crew, and to Marcel van de Vondervoort and his team for recording these sets.
Alkerdeel – Roadburn 2012
Ancestors – Roadburn 2012
BlackCobra – Roadburn 2012
Bong – Roadburn 2012
Horisont – Roadburn 2012
Sigiriya – Roadburn 2012
YOB – The Unreal Never Lived live at Roadburn 2012
Posted in Reviews on May 24th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
When I admit that I spent much of the day waffling back and forth on whether or not to trek from my office in Jersey into Brooklyn to catch the London and Maryland Deathfest-bound YOB, Virginian cult doomers Cough and Mike Scheidt‘s opening solo set, I hope you’ll take it more as a sign of what the day was like than any wavering of affection for the doom involved. Perhaps too my experience the other night played some role in my ambivalence, but as soon as I parked right around the corner and strolled into The Bell House, I knew I’d made the right decision in showing up. Stuck in traffic on my way, I wound up right on time to watch YOB‘s own Scheidt get the night started with an acoustic set.
It was my first time at The Bell House, which was mostly empty when I got there. The room was wider than it was long — the bar up a few steps and off to the left side of the stage serving, among other things, Brooklyn Lager on draft for $6 — but though at times throughout the night it seemed like the sound had nowhere to go, Scheidt‘s acoustic material was subdued enough that it came through crisply and clearly, tracks from his forthcoming Thrill Jockey debut, Stay Awake, showing their freshness amid another that the guitarist/vocalist said was, “barely a song.”
Having seen Scheidt‘s solo set at Roadburn Day Three, I was relatively familiar with his onstage approach — calm, collected, sincere — and my chief observation remains the same now as it was just over a month ago: that Scheidt is really new to the acoustic form. A video was released this week for one of the album tracks and met with strong opinions on either side, but what some complained about is exactly what I find most exciting about the endeavor, which maintains some of YOB‘s psychedelic elements but obviously redrafts them into a new context. Where YOB has a well-established modus — most importantly so for Scheidt as the principle songwriter; a clear idea in his head of what the band sounds like — this doesn’t. Songs vary widely from one to the next, and it’s the exploratory nature of it that I’m most intrigued by.
Think of it like hearing a band’s first demo. There’s a rawness and an energy there that can never be duplicated again, and as cool and engaging as the tracks themselves might be, it’s almost as much about the potential as it is about their starting point. It’s the same with Scheidt‘s acoustic material. YOB‘s development is ongoing and they legitimately change from album to album, they’re doing so within a framework. Here, that framework isn’t set, and as long as Scheidt keeps an open mind with his songwriting methods — which I’d argue Stay Awake already shows he is — I think there’s a basic foundation there for something unique among the current bumper crop of doomer solo acoustic projects.
Cough followed not long after Scheidt left the stage to a much larger crowd than was present when he started. I’d seen them at SHoD last year, but it was especially interesting to watch them again having recently watched British doomers The Wounded Kings. The two acts shared space on the 2010 An Introduction to the Black Arts split on Forcefield Records, and it was surprising to hear in context just how much they actually have in common tonally. They take those tones in different directions within the overall context of doom — or if you want to be more specific, “post-Electric Wizard cult doom” — but it seemed an odd pairing to me when I reviewed the split, and actually it makes a lot of sense. Made me want to break out that vinyl.
The last Cough album, 2010′s Ritual Abuse (review here), was a broad reinterpretation of Electric Wizard‘s earlier abrasion, but watching Cough in Brooklyn, they seemed to be developing more of their own take. Maybe that’s just me trying to put a narrative to their progression — we’ll find out when they release their next album — but guitarist David Cisco‘s clean vocals behind bassist Parker Chandler‘s low-mixed screams added a budding sense of dynamics to their set that worked heavily in their favor. And if you have to take one word away from that last sentence, let it be “heavily,” because Cough are a fucking lurching beast. The formula is pretty simple — play slow, play loud and play through killer amps — but drummer Joseph Arcaro makes it, swinging his arms way above his head and crashing them down for each hit like he’s trying to puncture his drum heads and crack his cymbals. No doubt he often succeeds in doing just that.
They closed with “The Gates of Madness” from the Wounded Kings split, Cisco noting that they’d never played it live before. It was a 20-minute cut on that recording and probably the nastiest portion of their set, emphasizing sludge alongside the constant darkness of mood and tone, but they reveled suitably in the song’s horror-minded filth and ended with a mash of noise and feedback before cutting out and making way for YOB to unleash what turned out to be nearly two hours’ worth of material, ranging as far back as 2003′s Catharsis and finishing with a slew of tracks from last year’s monolithic Atma.
Should say something, though, that in that time YOB didn’t wear out their welcome in the slightest. Running through Hull‘s amps, it was almost like they played two sets, starting with (someone please correct me if I’m wrong) “Burning the Altar” from 2009′s The Great Cessation and sorting out some technical issues before harkening back to Catharsis for the highlight “Ether.” Part of me was hoping for the title-track of that album as well — I’ll be honest, part of me is always hoping for the title-track of that album — but instead, Scheidt, who was using Kevin Hufnagel of Dysrhythmia‘s guitar, bassist Aaron Reiseberg (also of Norska) and drummer Travis Foster gave the best rendition of “The Mental Tyrant” that I’ve ever seen. The galloping culmination was beyond epic, and of the several times I’ve seen them play the closer of 2005′s The Unreal Never Lived, this was the most raging and adrenaline-fueled. Maybe that sounds strange for a song that is at times painfully, unbelievably slow, but it’s true nonetheless.
“The Mental Tyrant” made for an appropriate break point between what I’ve been thinking of since as two sets. Scheidt announced they wouldn’t be doing an encore but were going to keep playing anyway. “How late do you want to be out?” he asked the crowd, who responded with cheers instead of numbers. Meshuggah and Baroness were also playing in Manhattan, and though I’m sure many would also be making the trek to Deathfest, the effect seemed to fill the room with those who really wanted to be there rather than diminish the draw. It thinned out some as the second portion of YOB‘s set progressed, but there was a genuine moshpit for Atma opener “Prepare the Ground,” and it was a thrill to see that kind of response as the music cut out and Scheidt held out his “Prepare!” just a little longer than on the record.
A thrill, but not really all that shocking. “Prepare the Ground” is probably the catchiest song YOB have ever written — at least up there with other strong album openers like “Quantum Mystic” from The Unreal Never Lived and “Ball of Molten Lead” from 2004′s The Illusion of Motion — and as the band’s profile has increased over the last couple years, that the audience would feel more kinship to the newer material is reasonable. I’d had a chuckle earlier in the set whenScheidt said something about playing old songs before starting “The Mental Tyrant,” realizing it’s been seven years now since that album came out. People were shouting requests all night, mostly for “Quantum Mystic” or “Ball of Molten Lead” from what I could hear, but the band made Atma the theme for their “encore,” running through “Upon the Sight of the Other Shore” and “Adrift in the Ocean,” which made for a fitting conclusion to a show no one was quite sure of when it would end, despite the two-song warning before “Upon the Sight of the Other Shore.”
Whether it’s true or not, it seemed like they extended the “Adrift in the Ocean” intro for some extra noodling, which made the percussive force that much more potent once the drums kicked in with more than cymbal washes. Scott Kelly adds percussion to the album version, but Foster did an excellent job filling out that space, and it was a dramatic finish to the night, the band looking genuinely exhausted by the time they were done. Perfectly understandable that they would be. I was, and all I did was stand there and bang my head.
Even with the extended set, it wasn’t especially late, but by the time I got back to Jersey, it was well after two and by the time I took out the recycling (there was a lot of it), past three, so I crashed out as soon as I could, well aware of the fatigue that would and has bled into today. Worth it. If you’re getting to see YOB as part of either I’ll be Your Mirror in London or the Maryland Deathfest this weekend, kudos. As I have every time I’ve seen them to date, I felt lucky to catch them in Brooklyn.
Posted in Features on April 15th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
04/15/12 — 22.37 — Sunday — Hotel Mercure
Roadburn‘s annual Afterburner is a brilliant idea. Essentially, it’s a scaled-down version of the larger festival. Two stages instead of four, merch moves into the 013 proper, there are fewer tickets sold — and they’re sold separately from those of Roadburn‘s prior three days — and all in all, it’s a more relaxed experience. I’ve come to think of it over the last couple years as a sort of transition point from the intensity of Roadburn back to normal life.
True, as Roadburn as a whole has grown, the Afterburner has followed suit, but its atmosphere is less hurried — or maybe it’s just that by the time the Afterburner comes around, I’m so worn out I can’t help but have it be less hurried — that is, I couldn’t hurry if I wanted to. Fortunately, there’s been no call to do so as of yet on the day. I woke up with the alarm at noon and reset it for 13.00, deciding that the extra hour was an investment in future consciousness. Yesterday was I think the busiest day I’ve ever had at a Roadburn, and even as I stood at the front of the Green Room stage at 013 this afternoon and readied myself or Electric Orange, I felt like I could barely keep my eyes open. No coffee today, unfortunately.
But, as the evening followed a mostly linear course and there was roughly no back and forth, and in keeping with the laid back approach of the Afterburner, I think I’ll run down today in note form rather than narrative all at once. Here goes:
Electric Orange: The German psychedelic rockers are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, and sure enough, theirs was a finely-honed wash of tones and effects; clearly took some time to carve it out. They were more of a thrill sonically than visually, though I guess that’s to be expected, but I really like this kind of post-Krautrock jamming psych, and they did it well. Next door in the main room, the Mt. Fuji Darkjazz Corporation opened the Afterburner with a swell of man-made and electronic drones (one guy in the back sat in front of a laptop and looked by the end of the set like he was checking his email on some of that free wifi the city of Tilburg granted for festival use this year), but Electric Orange were more my speed, and as I’ve been working up the gumption for a while now to give their latest record, Netto, a review, seeing them live, I feel like I have a better context in which to do so. They played for an hour and a half, which was the longest set of the day. Pretty much you could’ve gone, gotten a pizza, come back, watched Internal Void start up, and gone back into the Green Room, and they’d still be playing. A fitting 20th anniversary blowout.
Internal Void: It took every ounce of restraint I had in my body not to shout out, “Fredrick, Maryland!” as these Doom Capitol-ists took the stage. Fredrick’s about three and a half hours from where I live, but still, Internal Void were a slice of East Coast home. They didn’t get much of a light show, but considering the music’s so straightforward, no bullshit, biker riffs and punch you in the face, it worked well enough. They brought with them some recently-pressed vinyl of their 1991 Voyage demo, which I’m sure was well-received in the merch area — shifted from its previous location to Stage01, which hosted no bands — and played a cut or two from it, as well as “Blindside” from 2000′s Unearthed, which vocalist J.D. Williams dedicated to The Obsessed‘s Guy Pinhas, who was sitting at the side of the stage, and “Devil in Drag” from 1993′s Standing on the Sun. My only real context for watching Williams on stage is the War Injun set at last year’s Stoner Hands of Doom, at which he was all over the place and very charismatic, holding the crowd’s attention for the whole time. With Internal Void, he went behind the amps during solos and seemed less sure of himself in general. For what it’s worth, he and the rest of the band sounded great. Perhaps it was the Mt. Fuji Doomjazz Corporation‘s spell left unbroken responsible for holding back the more personable side of Williams‘ presentation.
Bongripper: People were really, really stoked on seeing Bongripper. I guess I was too, but there was an energy through the room I couldn’t match, and even though Urfaust and Atlantis were finishing and starting, respectively, in the Green Room, the main stage area stayed full the whole time for the Chicago instrumental foursome, who despite sharing a hometown and number of members in the band (the same amount of people, not the people themselves) with Pelican, have little else in common with that band, who played the same stage yesterday. Bongripper are ultra-aggressive sludge doom. All that’s missing is some guy screaming his throat out to the songs and they’d probably be in line with however many other sludge bands you want to name, but by keeping their approach instrumental, they’re able to immediately stand themselves out from the sludgly hordes and cut to the heart of what the genre is about, namely the power of the riff and how it doth compel. Their barrage of feedback kind of felt like they’d been taking notes while Sleep played last night, but one could hardly hold that against them or say they would be wrong to have done so. Musically, they weren’t really inventing anything new, but they did what they did well, drew and kept a huge crowd in the main room, and were undeniably heavy as balls. Quite an opening trio on the main stage today, with Mt. Fuji, Internal Void and Bongripper, but nobody seemed thrown off. Those who’d been to Roadburn proper, whether 2012 was their first or not, should’ve been well used to transitions like that by now, and for everyone who just had Afterburner tickets, any way you slice it, it’s all heavy. Bongripper certainly were that.
YOB: To back up their set Friday night doing all of The Unreal Never Lived (plus a stellar rendition of “Adrift in the Ocean” from last year’s Atma), and guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt‘s solo acoustic set yesterday, YOB joined the lineup of the Afterburner to play 2003′s Catharsis front to back. Now, all fanboy hyperbole aside, Catharsis is a record that’s very special to me. It was the first YOB album I heard when it came out, and it was probably the one record that showed me that psychedelia, stoner rock and doom did not have to all be separate entities if you do it right. The song, “Catharsis,” is the 23-minute blueprint by which other YOB album-ending epics have been constructed since, and as the album approaches its 10th birthday next year, I find its power has diminished none. It is a breathtaking work, not only of genre defiance, but of genre definition. Just three tracks — “Aeons,” “Ether” and the title cut — but a lifetime’s worth of depth. You know the desert island scenario? Catharsis is one of those albums for me, so to get to see Scheidt, bassist Aaron Reiseberg and drummer Travis Foster play those three songs in a single set — that was special too. I don’t know how else to put it. It was emotional for me to watch, and I meant to count the chills up my spine, but after five, I didn’t want to pay attention anymore. For me, it was on the same level as watching Sleep last night, that same kind of feeling of culmination. I’ve been away from home now for 11 days on this trip, and as Scheidt strummed the melodic introduction to “Catharsis,” I felt like I’d hit the end of a pilgrimage. It was beautiful. They reportedly hadn’t had much time to rehearse, and there were some awkward changes in “Ether” that I thought I picked up, but just for the fact that it was those songs, unbelievable. I stood on the side of the stage for the first time all weekend — it was something I’d been saving for just that moment, when the distortion, drums and bass kick in on “Catharsis” and you get your first sense of the journey you’re on. Glorious. They closed out with “Upon the Sight of the Other Shore” from Atma and reinforced the dynamics of Catharsis while showing all the growth they’ve undertaken since. No bullshit, I was floored. YOB is love.
Coroner: Frankly, after YOB, just about anyone would’ve seemed like a comedown to me, and that includes post-reunion Swiss tech-thrashers Coroner. They were probably the most metal band on the bill this weekend, in terms of acts who don’t add a qualifier to it — i.e. “doom” or “black” or whathaveyou — but they filled the main room anyway and got underway in good time. “Hello, Tilburg!” shouted bassist/vocalist Ron Royce. Compared to the exaltation that Mike Scheidt or even Al Cisneros from Sleep left at the feet of the festival, it wasn’t much, but the crowd dug it, and it worked with Coroner‘s overall context. They were cool, and, again, very metal, but I went and tried to check out some of Fleshpress in the Green Room, only to find it packed out and watching for a few minutes through the doorway until I went back to the main stage in time to hear Royce announce “Masked Jackal” from their 1988 full-length, Punishment for Decadence, as the first video they ever made. Good fun, but the weekend and the fact that I needed to be up early for a flight to London tomorrow morning began to weigh on me once again and I ultimately split out.
In doing so, I missed Black Cobra, who I saw last week at Desertfest, and also Bong, who I saw last year here at Roadburn, but what’s worse, I officially put the finishing stamp on another Roadburn experience. The last two years especially, as I’ve gone to leave, I’ve hesitated, as though by just standing in the hallway, I could somehow prolong the experience. Needless to say, it didn’t work. It was time for the Afterburner and for the whole of Roadburn to be over — for me, at least — and time once more to come back to the hotel and get ready to leave in the morning to get back to New Jersey.
I’ll be traveling most of the day tomorrow, but I’m too tired to give any kind of full conclusion to this trip and to Roadburn tonight, so if I can, I’ll write that on the plane and post it as soon as I am able. In the meantime, thank you as always.
Posted in Features on April 13th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
04.13.12 — 00.10 — Friday Night — Hotel Mercure
Today was going to be my calm day. Yesterday was a ton of running around, tomorrow indeed will also be a ton of running around. Today the idea was fewer bands, but more full sets. I wanted to let the fest sink in a little. To savor it for a while without having to be off somewhere else immediately.
Day two of the 17th annual Roadburn festival in Tilburg, the Netherlands, was dedicated to Canadian legends Voivod‘s curated event, Au-delà du Réel (the French translation of “the outer limits,” keeping with the band’s oft-affirmed affection for sci-fi). With the likes of Farflung and Barn Owl on the bill, though, it was as Roadburn as ever, but the idea — at least according to the literature — was to blend loud and quiet around the Voivod set doing all of Dimension Hatröss, and in that, they succeeded. It was probably the most mixed Roadburn lineup I’ve ever seen.
I’d been up until about 05.00 in the morning putting together the writeup of day one, so I slept late and got up after noon to get ready for the next round. Wino & Conny Ochs provided a subdued beginning at Het Patronaat, which was welcome. They both mentioned that they’d been on the road together touring Europe for six weeks, and they sounded like it. The harmonies between the two singers were tighter even than on the Heavy Kingdom collaborative album (review here), and they opened with the first cut from that, the ultra-quiet “Somewhere Nowhere.” Cameras around me clicked off pictures, and the music was so quiet that each click of a camera sounded like someone was breaking a window.
They picked up the energy level, though, at least somewhat. “Labor of Love” was a high point, as was “Heavy Kingdom,” and they played a new song they wrote while on tour called “Hellbound Train” that was bluesy enough to earn its title. It’s good to know that their collaboration will continue, or that they’re thinking it will at this point, anyhow. It will be interesting to hear how (and see when) they follow Heavy Kingdom and in what ways they expand their approach. Wino kicked some fuzz into his acoustic guitar for a solo — it might have been during “Old and Alone,” it might not — and later, Ochs brought out a bow and started playing his guitar with that as he also worked a kickdrum with his foot to provide more of a rhythm. Not exactly fireworks, I know, but it was an unplugged set, and seeing how well Wino and the malleable-voicedOchs work together was excitement enough.
Nachtmystium was taking the main stage at the 013 just as Wino&Conny Ochs were finishing, but I stayed put and waited a short while until Hexvessel came out and delivered their take on alternately Satanic and pagan folk. Before they took the stage, the Het Patronaaat DJ — whose name was Kevin, we’d later eat dinner together — played Black Widow and Coven, and that was appropriate enough a lead-in for Hexvessel, whose sound is very purposefully in that vein, but a tad more Finnish. I give it about five more months before avant garde pagan folk is the new doom, everyone wearing forest tunics and selling the good word of Satan’s majesty made flesh in the indulgent wonders of the earth. Not that I’d care if it happens, but if it does, I’d like another band to add to the list of comparison points. One gets tired of repeating, “Black Widow and Coven” all the time.
I did not stay in Hexvessel‘s darkened forest for long. Los Angeles psych unit Farflung — who I believe are actually in the process of being legally adopted by Europe — were in the Green Room, and I stood and watched some through the door, but my main thing was hitting the merch area at that time. I know I didn’t mention it yesterday, but buying merch is a major part of the Roadburn experience, whether it’s the festival t-shirt itself, exclusive vinyls, limited CDs. Whatever itch you’ve got to scratch as regards doomly commerce, all the bands are there at V39, which is right across the alley from the 013, and they’re all ready to sell. Groups playing Het Patronaat also get to sell their stuff at the church’s downstairs room, and it was there I bought six short-run handmade CDRs from GNOD, who I’d wind up not seeing tonight but am still glad to have dealt with. The dude took me through each CD one at a time and explained what the band was doing at that point, which order the discs were in, etc. It was actually pretty fascinating.
Back at the main merch area, though, it was crowding up. Depending on who’s at what table, it can be just as hard to move through there as it is to get into the Green Room or Stage01, but the difference I suppose is the merch area is a constant flux. I got myself a much-needed espresso from the machine (could use one now; my eyelids are getting heavy as I type) in the lower room that looks out onto the little courtyard smoking area, and conducted some business, picking up discs from Farflung, Black Rainbows and Dopethrone. The same people selling The Obsessed‘s new limited live LP were also selling CD/DVD digipaks of the new Saint Vitus record, Lillie: F-65 (review here), so I grabbed that too, and a Voivod shirt specially made for the Dimension Hatröss performance at Roadburn.
The next several moves I made can basically come down to one goal, and that was to see Conan at Stage01. I tried to get into Stage01 twice yesterday and failed both times. Couldn’t even get to a point where I could see in the doorway. It was pitiful, and as a result, I adjusted the course and direction of my afternoon with the single trajectory in mind: To be up front, Stage01, 19.15 as the British megadoom trio hit the stage. Was a bit of a process, beginning with seeing J.G. Thirlwell’s Manorexia in the main room. I think Sólstafir at Het Patronaat was drawing a lot of the crowd away, not to mention what remained of Farflung‘s packed-out set, but I wanted to catch J.G. Thirlwell’s Manorexia specifically because I knew nothing about the project. When I walked into the main hall, there was a string quartet setting up and piano, extra percussion — bit of chamber music to balance out the Au-delà du Réel mission. So be it. Excellently performed and it was great to watch these burly beardo sludge heads in the crowd shut their eyes and did on the cello. I’d have stayed longer, but for the mission of my own.
Dinner was a necessity. I was dragging ass already and it was only 17.50. Still a lot of Day Two left. So I went and ate as fast as I could so that I’d be in time to catch some of Kong in the Green Room — but upstairs, on the balcony. You see, the balcony of the Green Room connects to Stage01 in a way that already puts you in the room. No more waiting by the door. Well, yes, you’re still waiting by the door, but it’s a different door, and you don’t have to be in the hall — ah, forget it. It made sense at the time. Let’s just say that and roll with it. I made my way through and up to the Green Room balcony as Kong were setting up. They were pretty decent, instrumental heavy stuff with a bit of electronics thrown in in a way that was satisfyingly creative without being weird on purpose or desperate for attention. I snapped some shots, most (if not all) of which were terrible, but could not linger, lest I mistime my approach to the smallest of 013‘s three rooms and blow the entire Conan operation.
No way I was going to let that happen. Danava were on stage in there, and I’ve never been a fan. Back home in the States, we call it “hipster metal,” but I guess that matters less here. No wonder the Euro scene is so strong. Some dude leaned over to me and in an accent I’m pretty sure was Italian said, “They’re good like The Atomic Bitchwax!” The Bitchwax with a marketing budget. Had all the right t-shirts — Ted Nugent, Blue Öyster Cult — but weren’t nearly as tight as the last three Bitchwax gigs I’ve seen. Nonetheless, when traveling away from home, one hesitates when it comes to engaging debate on these points. No real cause to do so anyway. I’d just be a prick who doesn’t like popular bands. Better to just save the time and realize that at the outset. Whatever. They were fine and the crowd loved them.
And I probably wouldn’t have been there at all, but Danava — who, of course, more drew Stage01 to be more-than-capacity full — were another means to the my already stated end. They still had more than 20 minutes of their hour-long set left, but during that time, I put my plan into action and slowly made my way into the crowd. I didn’t push. I wasn’t a jerk about it. As people made their way back, I made my way up, and then, when Danava were finally done, I bolted (as much as I ever “bolt” anywhere) toward the front of the room and nabbed a spot right in front of the stage. Victory was mine, and victory was sweet. Not even the carts of road cases and amps that were wheeled up to go on the stage would deter me from my position in front of it. Of course, I made room, but when Conan was done loading their equipment on and those carts were pushed away, I was right back to where I was, which was just where I’d wanted to be. It had taken me the better part of an hour and a half to do it, but I was up front for Conan at Roadburn.
Sure enough, I stayed put for the entirety of their performance. There wasn’t much choice in the matter, but I wanted to be as close as possible to that tone that’s been my litmus test for “heavy” ever since I first heard Horseback Battle Hammer in 2010 (review here). Their new full-length, Monnos (review here), proved no less uncompromising, tone-wise, so I knew it would be worth my time, and it was. They played cuts from Monnos including opener “Hawk as Weapon” and did “Retaliator” and “Older than Earth” (I think) from their split with Slomatics (review here), bassist Phil Coumbe adding metallic growls and screams to guitarist Jon Davis‘ shouts and cleaner yelling. Conan were one of my impetus bands this year — that is, one of the reasons I’m here — and there was no letdown to be had. The lights, the fog, the overwhelming crush of sound — it was all astoundingly heavy whether they were playing fast or slow.
It also gave me a new appreciation for drummer Paul O’Neil‘s work in the band, as he not only manages to keep time through their tidal morass, but does so interestingly and works in subtle flourishes on his cymbal work that maybe get lost in the shuffle because they’re not as obvious as, say, the giant riff that’s bashing your brains out. Either way, Conan were so heavy that my earplugs vibrated in my head, and that hadn’t happened yet this weekend, so it’s worth noting. I was glad too to be trapped up front the whole time, so I didn’t get the itch to go and wait for YOB to come on in the photo pit. I still had plenty of time to get there watching all of Conan, and since it’ll probably be the only time I can get in there this weekend — Mike Scheidt of YOB opens up in there tomorrow doing solo acoustic stuff, but that’s a hard one to work out the logistics on making it to, much as I’ll try — I’m glad it was for a band I couldn’t see anywhere else at this point.
I say, “At this point,” because with a band as massive as Conan, you never know what’s going to happen. Already they were too big for the stage they played on, so hell, maybe they tour the US in some future either near or distant and demolish everything in their path. Who knows? There was a time — a few years, actually — when I was sure I’d never get the chance to watch YOB play a show, and it’s been four times now and by Monday it’ll be five. I caught Midian when they came through New York, but I knew there was no way I’d ever get to see YOB, and it was a bummer. I’m sure I’ve told the story before, so I’ll spare it, but as I made my way back over to the main stage to watch the Eugene, Oregon, trio unleash the 2005 full-length, The Unreal Never Lived, in its entirety, I couldn’t help but feel glad to have the chance to do so.
Fact: In my CD wallet, there is only one disc I’ve never been able to remove, and that disc is The Unreal Never Lived. The swan-song of YOB‘s original run, it was the culmination of everything the band had built to creatively up to that point; a four-song masterwork of psychedelic undulations that capped with the 21-minute monolith that was “The Mental Tyrant.” YOB has played “Quantum Mystic” every time I’ve seen them, and usually at the start of their set, so that was familiar enough, but as they progressed through the rolling groove of “Grasping Air,” another regular, and “Kosmos,” not so much, the tension seemed to be building to get to the final onslaught. When it arrived, it was glorious. They cut nothing out of the long opening and the gradual course of the song held its flow the whole time. There was one point during “Grasping Air” where I thought the whole rhythm was going to come crashing down, but kudos to drummer Travis Foster. He kept it together and pushed YOB forward into reaches of slow so desolate they were more or less stopped.
Decked out in Iron Maiden sneakers, the aforementioned Mike Scheidt only came more alive as the set progressed, and when it finally was time for “The Mental Tyrant” to begin its galloping payoff, I got a chill up my spine. It wasn’t the first claw I’ve hoisted over the last two days, but it was the most automatic, visceral response. Bassist Aaron Reiseberg (also of Norska) stepped back to let Scheidt riff out, true to the album, but every hit, every time he played a note, the floor I was standing on toward the back of the room shook. Not to overstate it, but it’s basically been seven years that I’ve wanted to see “The Mental Tyrant” played live, and the only reason I don’t go further into hyperbole is because I’m saving it for Sunday when YOB is set to do all of 2003′s Catharsis. Worth the flight to hear those two records alone. When they were done, I had to sit down.
There were a lot of bands today I didn’t see. Some, like Dopethrone, or Gnod, or Barn Owl, or End of Level Boss, I would’ve liked to. As Voivod came on stage, though, I was glad to have held firm on the course I’d charted for myself, staying through whole sets and not volleying from room to room, only to catch the first couple songs before having to tear myself away to get to the next thing. I mean, that’s fun too, that rush, but I very much needed a day of standing relatively still, and I was glad the schedule could accommodate. Voivod — vocalist Denis “Snake” Bélanger, bassist Jean-Yves “Blacky” Thériault, drummer Michel “Away” Langevin (also responsible for much of the visual aesthetic of this year’s fest) and guitarist Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain — come preceded by 30 years of individualistic innovation. I won’t pretend to have a grip on their entire catalog, but even if I hadn’t seen them at Roadburn last year, I knew they were a sight I had to see, and more so for their doing Dimension Hatröss.
Of course, one can hardly think of Voivod and not recall the untimely passing of guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’Amour in 2005, but Mongrain (also of Martyr and formerly of Cryptopsy) has become more than a hired gun in his position. D’Amour having been so instrumental in constructing Voivod‘s sound and progression, I don’t know if he’ll ever be as heralded in the guitarist spot, but he was clearly playing the songs with feeling and seemed natural on stage with Langevin, Bélanger and Thériault. As they were last year, Voivod was a pleasure to watch and had a presence on stage that spoke to their decades of influencing forward-thinking heavy music. It should say something that as they continue to push their career to its own seemingly expanding outer limits, as much as one gets excited at something like the prospect of hearing Dimension Hatröss done live, the prospect of finding out what they’ll do on their next record is no less thrilling.
They were the finale of my evening. I thought I’d maybe catch some Dopethrone, but you know how that goes, with the doorway and all that, and anyhow, it was getting on time to come back to the hotel and start typing. It’s three in the morning now as I wrap this and look at the prospect of having to find images for these bands, but hell, at least I can sleep late tomorrow, since the only thing I have to do is wake up and go to Roadburn for the final day of the fest proper, which will feature much back and forth between the main stage and the Green Room for the likes of 40 Watt Sun, Church of Misery, The Wounded Kings, The Obsessed, Mars Red Sky and Sleep, among others. It’s the most packed day yet, so please, stay tuned.
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 5th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
By now, you probably know that YOB were hand-picked to open for apparently-revived progressive metallers Tool — who are also supposedly going to have a new album out this year — on Tool‘s upcoming winter tour. If you hadn’t heard, no worries, the info’s here. Just a bit ago, YOB announced a string of headlining dates around the run of shows, some of which will also include a solo set from frontman Mike Scheidt, whose acoustic debut is also set to be released in 2012. Look forward to that, but in the meantime, here’s the poster with the info. Click to enlarge, as always:
Posted in Whathaveyou on December 22nd, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
This news was kicking around the forum and Thee Facebooks yesterday, but the official release came in on the PR wire last night, so it seemed only appropriate to post it here. Congratulations to Eugene, Oregon, space doomers YOB, who just happened to release my favorite album of 2011, on landing an opening spot for Tool‘s upcoming North American dates. I’m not sure how I actually feel about it, as I hadn’t really planned on seeing Tool (ever) again but don’t think I can let a YOB gig pass unattended, but whether or not I show up, it’s well-deserved on the band’s part. No argument from me there.
Here’s the press release:
Oh, what a year it has been for the mighty doom metallers YOB! First they release one of the most highly respected albums in recent memory with Atma via Profound Lore. Now the band is happy to announce that they will be direct support to TOOL on the progressive titans’ upcoming Jan/Feb North American tour. With two behemoths such as this, fans can expect one of the most impressive tours of the year!
The following dates have been announced with more to be unveiled in the coming days.
01/28 TD Garden Boston, MA 01/29 Susquehanna Bank Center Camden, NJ 01/31 Mohegan Sun Arena Uncasville, CT 02/01 Izod Center East Rutherford, NJ 02/03 TBA 02/04 Bojangles’ Coliseum Charlotte, NC 02/06 Bank Atlantic Center Sunrise, FL 02/07 UCF Arena Orlando, FL 02/08 Gwinnett Center Arena Duluth, GA
Posted in Features on December 9th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: This list is made up of my personal picks, not the results of the Readers Poll, which is ongoing — if you haven’t added your top 11 to that yet, please do.
It was an impossible task to keep up with everything that came out this year. I’ll say flat out that I didn’t. There are records that I just didn’t get to hear, and I should note at the outset that this list is mine. It’s based on my personal opinions, what I listened to the most this year and what I think 2011′s most crucial releases have been.
I’ve spent the better part of this week (and last, if brain-time counts) constructing this list, and I finally got it to a point where I feel comfortable sharing. Since last December, I’ve kept a Post-It of names, and all year, I’ve logged bands I’d want to consider for the final top 20. In the end, there were 78 bands and more that I didn’t get to write down for whatever reason. 2011 was nothing if it wasn’t overwhelming.
But here we are, anyway, and it’s done. Let’s get to it:
This is nothing if not a sentimental pick. Last year, I put Electric Wizard in the #20 spot because the record wasn’t out yet, and this year, I’m putting Suplecs (interview with bassist Danny Nick here) in just because I couldn’t imagine this list without them. Until literally a few minutes before I clicked “Publish” on this post, there was someone else in this spot, but ultimately, it had to be them. The New Orleans trio’s first record in half a decade wasn’t what I listened to most in 2011, it wasn’t the best album, or the most important, or career-defining, but when it came right down to it, god damn, I was just happy to have Suplecs back. It had been too long.
After a while, I was kind of shocked to find myself continuing to listen to Favourite State of Mind, the second album by Polish rockers Elvis Deluxe. The record’s dynamics didn’t immediately open up to me, but once I dug into the songs, I was wowed by their balance of catchy hooks and substantial-sounding riffs. The album was genre-relevant without being genre-minded, with vocal changes, organ, atmospheric shifts and a whole host of moods and turns. After hearing their 2007 debut, Lazy, I wasn’t expecting much out of the norm from Favourite State of Mind, and I’m still thrilled by just how wrong I was, and “Take it Slow” is among my favorite single songs of the year.
The gloomy opening statement from former Warning guitarist/vocalist Patrick Walker turned heads around the world with its unabashed emotional conviction, which was so much the central focus of the record as to be made a novelty by those who don’t usually consider doom an emotionally relevant genre (the widespread arguments against that notion I’ll leave for another time). What most stood out to me about The Inside Room was how the sentimentality translated into a gorgeous melodic sensibility and resulted in a lonely mood that was engrossing. On that level, it was easily among 2011′s most effective releases. It made you feel what it seemed to be feeling.
It was an album that lived up to its name. Return to Earth marked the remaking of one of heavy rocks most stoned outfits: Acrimony. But, as Sigiriya (interview with drummer Darren Ivey here), the four-piece (down from five) would show that the years since the demise of their former band had found them progressing as musicians, resulting in a sound less directly stoner, more modern, more earthy. The songs, however, were what made it. It’s still a rare day that goes by that I don’t hum at least part of the chorus of “Mountain Goat” to myself, and if Return to Earth was a new beginning for these players, I can’t wait to see where they go next.
In addition to being Totimoshi‘s first album for At a Loss following the end of their deal with Volcom, Avenger was the first Totimoshi record since 2003′s ¿Mysterioso? not to be produced by Page Hamilton, and where 2006′s Ladrón and 2008′s Milagrosa moved away from some of the noisy crunch in the guitar of Tony Aguilar (interview here), Avenger managed to be both a return to form and a progression of the band’s melodicism. It seems, as ever, to have flown under most radars, but Totimoshi continue to refine their songwriting and have become one of the heavy underground’s most formidable and least classifiable bands.
With their 2010 EP release, upstart British trio Grifter informed us that The Simplicity of the Riff is Key, and on their self-titled Ripple Music debut, they put that ethic to excellent use, resulting in straightforward, catchy songs that were as high-octane as they were low-bullshit. The ultra-catchy “Good Day for Bad News” showed Grifter at the top of their form, and with a dose of humor thrown in, Grifter was the drunken stoner rock party you always wanted to be invited to and, of course, finally were. Now if only I could get Skype to work and get that interview with Ollie Stygall moving, I’d be happy to tell him personally he put out one of 2011′s most kickass rock records.
I don’t know what’s most impressive about The Book of Knots‘ Garden of Fainting Stars — the songs themselves or that they were able to make any songs at all. With upwards of 20 guest spots around the core four-piece, the third in a purported trilogy of records from the avant rock originalists was an epic in every listen. Songs like “Microgravity” and the Mike Watt spoken word “Yeager’s Approach” pushed the limits of both genre and expectation, and miraculously, Garden of Fainting Stars was cohesive and enthralling in its narrative aspect. If it really was their last album, it was triumphant in a manner befitting its expanding-universe thematics.
Had it been a full-length, Invisible White would be higher on this list. Many out there who were enamored of Ancestors‘ 2008 Neptune with Fire debut have gone on to bemoan the Californian collective’s shift away from extended sections of heavy riffing and tales of sea monsters and other things that go “doom” in the night. I’m not one of them. The Invisible White EP was a brave step along a fascinating progression, and as Crippled Black Phoenix didn’t release a new album in 2011, I was glad to have Ancestors there to fill that morose, contemplative void, and I look forward to seeing how they expand on the ideas presented on Invisible White (if they decide to stick to this direction) for their next full-length.
Speaking of shifting approaches, still-young Massachusetts trio Elder also moved away from the Sleep-centric methods of their 2008 self-titled debut on the follow-up, Dead Roots Stirring. Still based very much around the guitar work of Nick DiSalvo (interview here), Elder songs like “Gemini” and the über-soloed “The End” pushed an influence of European heavy psych into the band’s aesthetic, and the result was both grippingly heavy and blown of mind. As an album long delayed by mixing and business concerns, when Dead Roots Stirring finally arrived, it was a relief to hear that Elder, though they’d varied the path, were still headed in the right direction.
Hands down the year’s best traditional doom release. The Wretch so gleefully and so earnestly employed the conventions of ’80s-style doom — most especially those of Saint Vitus and Trouble — that even though the lyrical and musical content was miserable, I couldn’t help but smile as I listened. Songs like “Bastards Born” and “The Scovrge ov Drvnkenness” pushed The Gates of Slumber away from the barbarism the Indianapolis outfit had been touting on their last couple albums, including 2008′s Conqueror breakthrough, in favor of a more purely Chandlerian plod. “To the Rack with Them” remains a standout favorite and a line often referenced in my workplace dealings.
I don’t know what you say to someone at this point who doesn’t like Weedeater. It just seems like a terrible way to go through life, without the madman ranting of “Dixie” Dave Collins (interview here) echoing perpetually in your ears, or never having witnessed their ultra-viscous fuzz in person. Jason… the Dragon was one of the earliest landmark releases of 2011, and practically the whole year later, it retains its hold, whether it’s the stomping fury of “Mancoon,” the lumbering groove of “Long Gone” or the surprisingly melodic “Homecoming.” The hard-touring, hard-hitting band did right in recording with Steve Albini to capture their live sound, and Jason… the Dragon was their strongest outing yet in terms of both songwriting and that unmistakable quality that makes Weedeater records Weedeater records.
I was surprised to see Rwake crack the top 10. Not because their first album in four years, the Sanford Parker-produced Rest, wasn’t superb, but because of how much the songs on the album stayed with me after listening. The Arkansas band’s last outing, Voices of Omens, was heavy and dark and had a lot going for it, but Rest upped the songwriting on every level and together with frontman CT (interview here) adopting a more decipherable shout over most of the record’s four main extended tracks, Rwake felt like a band reborn, and theirs was a highlight among several 2011 albums that showed there’s still room for individual growth and stylistic nuance within the sphere of post-metal.
It was back and forth, nine and eight, between Rwake and Hull for a while, but when all was said and done, the fantastic scope of Beyond the Lightless Sky gave the Brooklyn triple-guitar masters the edge. With a narrative structure behind it and a breadth of ambience and crushing, post-doomly riffing, Beyond the Lightless Sky was the defining moment that those who’ve followed Hull since their Viking Funeral demo have been waiting for. In concept, in performance, in sound and structure and heft, it absolutely floored me, and of all the heavy records I’ve heard with the tag applied to them in 2011, Hull‘s second full-length seems most to earn the tag “progressive.” A stunning and groundbreaking achievement.
One of 2011′s most fascinating developments has been the boom in European heavy psychedelia, and the self-titled debut from French band Mars Red Sky was among the best releases to blend a jam-based sensibility with thick, warm fuzz and memorable riffs. Together with the sweet-hued vocals of Julien Pras (interview here), those riffs made for some of the most infectious hooks I heard all year on songs like “Strong Reflection” and “Way to Rome,” and where other bands jammed their way into psychedelic oblivion, Mars Red Sky were able to balance their focus on crafting quality songs, so that although they sounded spontaneous, the material was never self-indulgent or lacking accessibility. One just hopes they don’t lose sight of that musical humility their next time out.
There was a point earlier this year at which I had forgotten about All We Destroy. After reviewing it in March, I simply moved on to the next thing on my list, and the thing after, and the thing after. But before I knew it, in my head was the voice of Jackie Perez Gratz, singing the line “As I live and breathe” over her own cello, the guitar of Max Doyle and Max Doyle‘s drums. It got so persistent that, eventually, I went out and bought the record, because the mp3s I’d been given to review simply weren’t enough. That was probably July, and I don’t think I’ve gone a week since without listening to Grayceon. So although I classify it in the same league as Rwake and Hull in terms of what it accomplishes in and for its genre, All We Destroy gets the extra nod for the fact that I simply haven’t been able to let it go. And though I’ve come to further appreciate “Shellmounds,” “Once a Shadow” and “A Road Less Traveled,” the 17-minute “We Can” — from which the above-noted lyric is taken — remains the best single song I heard in 2011.
On paper, this one should’ve flopped: Band with minor buzz and a cool video hooks up with indie rock dude to record an album of dopey riffs and beardo bombast. Instead, Red Fang‘s second album and Relapse debut became the 2011 vanguard release for the Portland heavy underground, which is arguably the most fertile scene in the US right now. They toured the record widely, and made another killer video for the mega-single “Wires,” but the reason Murder the Mountains is top five material is because it’s lasted. It was February that I reviewed this record, and March that I interviewed guitarist/vocalist Bryan Giles, and I still can’t get “Into the Eye” and “Hank is Dead” and “Number Thirteen” (especially the latter) out of my head. When it came down to it, the songs on Murder the Mountains lived up to any hype the album received, and I’m a sucker for quality songwriting. I mean, seriously. That key change late into “Number Thirteen?” It’s the stuff of the gods.
I wasn’t particularly a fan of Swedish rockers Graveyard‘s 2008 self-titled debut. Even watching them at Roadburn in 2010, I was underwhelmed. But when I heard Hisingen Blues and was able to get a feel for what the retro-minded foursome were getting at stylistically — and most of all, that they were acknowledging that they were doing it without being glib or ironic about it — I found the material irresistible. We’re getting into seriously indispensable records now; ones that I’ve been unwilling to leave home without since they came, in, and Graveyard‘s Hisingen Blues has been a constant feature in heavy rotation. Everything from the devilish testimony of the title-track to the wiry guitars of the chorus to “Ungrateful are the Dead,” to the Skynyrd-ified solo capping “Uncomfortably Numb”: It’s been a year of revelry in all of it, and since they overcame my prejudice to impress on such a level, Graveyard (interview with drummer Axel Sjöberg here) are all the more deserving of their spot on this list.
What I hear in the second album from Dutch trio Sungrazer is the heralding of a new generation of fuzz rock. Taking influence from their forebears in Colour Haze and Kyuss, the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Rutger Smeets (interview here), bassist/vocalist Sander Haagmans and drummer Hans Mulders followed and surpassed their stellar 2010 debut on every level, playing heavy riffs on expansive psychedelic jams and still finding room for some of 2011′s most memorable choruses in songs like “Sea” and “Goldstrike.” In so doing, Sungrazer affirmed the character of next-gen European fuzz and placed themselves at the fore of their scene, with touring and festival appearances to support. For their warmth of tone and for the fact that I spent the better part of the summer streaming the record through the Dutch website 3voor12, there was no way they were going to be left out of the top 20. It wasn’t until I sat down and actually put the numbers together, though, that I realized how vital Mirador actually was.
I was lucky enough to be sent some rough listening mixes of Ohio outfit Lo-Pan‘s Small Stone Records debut (following a reworked reissue of their Sasquanaut sophomore full-length), and in my email back to label head Scott Hamilton, I told him I thought he had a genuine classic on his hands. A year, I don’t even know how many Lo-Pan gigs and listens through Salvador later, I still feel that way 100 percent. If you were from another planet, and we got to talking at a bar, and you asked me what rock and roll should sound like in the place where I’m from, I’d hand you Salvador. I still think they should’ve started the album with “Generations,” but if that’s my biggest gripe, they’re clearly doing alright. “Bird of Prey” was the best live song I saw all year, and I saw it plenty, and cuts like “Bleeding Out” and “Struck Match” set the standard by which I’ll judge American heavy rock for a long time to come. Like the best of any class, Salvador is bigger than just the year in which it was released, and at this point, I don’t know what else to say about it.
This is as good as it gets, and by “it,” I mean life. YOB‘s last album, 2009′s The Great Cessation, was my album of the year that year as well, and I knew from the second I heard the self-produced Atma that nothing to come this year would top it. Like Ufomammut‘s Eve in 2010, Atma brings the entire genre of doom along with it on the new ground it breaks, refining what’s fast becoming YOB‘s signature approach even as it pushes ever forward. I still have to stop whatever I’m doing (not exactly good for productivity) whenever “Prepare the Ground” comes on, and songs like “Adrift in the Ocean” and “Before We Dreamed of Two” were humbling. Seriously. Humbling. Listening to them was like looking at those photographs from the Hubble that cover trillions of miles that we’ll never know and reveal gorgeous colors where our naked eyes only see black. If that sounds hyperbolic, thanks for getting it. YOB guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt (interview here) is, almost in spite of himself, one of American doom’s most crucial contributors, and with Atma, he and the rhythm section of bassist Aaron Reiseberg and drummer Travis Foster released what is without a doubt the best album of 2011.
A few quick housekeeping items and we’ll call it quits. First, honorable mentions. If this list went to 25, also included would be The Wounded Kings, Earth, Larman Clamor, Olde Growth and The Atlas Moth. Roadsaw were also in heavy consideration, so they’re worth noting, as are many others.
Obviously, I couldn’t include them, but two of my favorite releases in 2011 also came from Blackwolfgoat and HeavyPink, and I’m thrilled and honored to have helped put them out in the small way I did.
And as I said above, there are records I didn’t hear. I haven’t heard the new Black Pyramid yet. Or Orchid. Or a bunch more that I could go on listing. I’m only one man and this is only my list, for better or worse. Again, I really do hope you’ll contribute yours to the group poll, the results of which will be out Jan. 1.
I’ll probably have some more to wrap up 2011 as the month winds down, but until then, thank you so much for reading this and the rest of the wordy nonsense I’ve put up the whole year long. Your support and encouragement means more than I’m able to tell. Here’s to 2012 to come.
Posted in Whathaveyou on October 31st, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
At this point, I don’t even know what to say. Two YOB sets — one of The Unreal Never Lived, one of Catharsis — Voivod doing Dimension Hatröss, plus Black Cobra, Red Fang and of course Sleep, The Obsessed and everyone else already announced. I don’t know how they do it. Kudos to Walter and Roadburn for putting together what looks like it’ll be the biggest and best festival yet.
Here’s the announcement:
As curator for the 17th edition of the Roadburn festival, Voivod will transport you into Dimension Hatröss as part of their special headline show during the Au-delà du Réel event on Friday, April 13, 2012 at the 013 venue in Tilburg, Holland. As if the promise of the band’s classic fourth album in its entirety performed live for the first time ever wasn’t enough, the set will conclude with a not-to-be-missed surprise.
Psychedelic doom metal giants YOB will return to Roadburn Festival 2012 for two one-off performances, each time performing an album in its entirety. YOB has been personally invited by Voivod for Roadburn 2012. For their first show, they will be playing their seminal album, The Unreal Never Lived, on Friday, April 13th at Au-delà du Réel, and then in order to reach the greatest of heights (and doom depths), they will follow up by performing Catharsis in full at the additional Afterburner event on Sunday, April 15.
We’re also very pleased to announce that BlackBreath and Celeste are the latest confirmed acts for Voivod‘s Au-delà du Réel atRoadburn 2012. They will join Anekdoten, Aun, Dopethrone and YOB on Friday, April 13.
Beer-driven, groove-heavy hard rock are what Portland’s finest, Red Fang, deliver on their latest opus, Murder the Mountains. Catchy, fun, cool, and downright awesome, RedFang bring a welcome return to great rock that still has a sense of humor. Roadburn is really pleased to welcome RedFang to Midi Theatre on Thursday, April 12.
Black Cobra will be playing a one-off show at Roadburn Festival Afterburner in support of their new album, Invernal.
Tickets for Roadburn 2012 will go on sale Saturday, November 26, 10:00 Central European Time. There will be a two ticket limit (per order) for 3-day and 4-day passes and Afterburner tickets – the same goes for the Campsite Tickets.
Posted in Features on July 20th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
This past weekend, I made my way south to Philadelphia to catch the current YOB/Dark Castle tour. I’d already seen the two bands as they stomped Manhattan into the ground earlier in the week, but the prospect of another show within a meager two hours’ drive, on a Saturday, was too much to resist. When I got to the Kung Fu Necktie and saw it was basically a small bar with a stage area in back, I was all the more thrilled at the chance to witness YOB‘s powerful live sound in such a confined space. It was gonna rule, I assured myself.
I assume because Kung Fu Necktie is in a residential neighborhood and they’ve had noise complaints, the show had an 11PM curfew. When irono-post-punkers Psychic Teens finished at 9PM or so and neither Dark Castle nor YOB were to be found in the venue, it was immediately apparent something was up. As it turned out, they’d been stuck for however long in traffic coming from their Canadian show the night before. They were rushing to get to Philly, but for the crowd standing there, we didn’t know if or when they’d arrive.
And if they’d canceled the show, saying that they wouldn’t have enough time to play and get done by the curfew, well, shit happens, that’s life. But they didn’t. YOB and Dark Castle rolled in a bit after 9:45, immediately set up their gear and got to work kicking ass. Even Rob Shaffer — Dark Castle‘s drummer pulling double-duty filling in for Travis Foster in YOB — breaking his bass drum pedal didn’t curb the momentum. Curfew was extended till 11:30PM, YOB got to play four songs in 40 minutes, and peace and doom reigned in the City of Brotherly Love.
What was most striking about it, though — aside from the fact that they did it — was that before their set started, YOB guitarist, vocalist, principle songwriter and, on this tour, sole founding member Mike Scheidt told the crowd, “We’ve got 40 minutes and we’re going to give it everything we have. We are YOB” (or something thereabouts), before launching into the most righteous rendition of “Quantum Mystic” from 2005′s The Unreal Never Lived that I’ve ever heard. By the time they finished playing, the delay didn’t matter, the lost songs didn’t matter. There was nothing that was going to stop that crowd from loving every minute of YOB‘s performance. Damn what could have been, we were there for what was, and Scheidt, Shaffer and bassist Aaron Reiseberg kept true to his word.
YOB‘s second album for Profound Lore, called Atma, will see release Aug. 16. The record, as Scheidt explains in the interview to follow, takes its name from the spiritual concept of the self as being a part of an underlying current of selves, all joined in one essential experience. Where Western tradition has gummed this into theistic dogma, the notion of “atma” is more obscure and thus even more universal: The self as connection to everything around it. As I stood in Kung Fu Necktie and watched the crowd around me get absorbed into Atma opener “Prepare the Ground,” it was hard not to feel some understanding of what Scheidt was talking about. They were transcendentally heavy.
We spoke at the beginning of the tour, via phone, as the two bands ran errands in Iowa, and I’ll say flat out it’s the best interview I’ve done in a long time. The guitarist’s openness, honesty and genuine nature is apparent in his every answer, and his discussion late in the conversation of the nature of ambition and how it relates to YOB presents an awareness of perspective that, much like his musical approach, is entirely his own.
I won’t delay it further. Please find enclosed the 5,700-word Q&A transcription of my interview with Mike Scheidt of YOB, and enjoy.
Posted in Reviews on July 13th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
I can’t remember the last time I felt so glad to be in the city. With Batillus opening for them (who I unfortunately missed) at Le Poisson Rouge on the venerated and expensive Village stretch of Bleecker Street, YOB and Dark Castle each stormed through a monstrously doomed set of riff-based communion. The sharing of drummer Rob Shaffer only added to the sense of camaraderie and community, and though it was some of the heaviest, darkest, thickest tonality I’ve heard in a live setting this year, I couldn’t help but smile, and by no means was I the only one.
Hard to know what to say about this kind of night without getting bogged down in hyperbole, because even the next afternoon, I still feel charged up from it — and while we’re talking about after effects, my ears are also still ringing (or at least the left one; the right doesn’t so much do that anymore) — but it was like everything came together. Dark Castle have already released one of 2011′s most complex albums, and YOB‘s Atma has yet to leave my CD player since going in. Both bands have an obvious and spiritual connection to their music, and last night, it was like they stood on stage and held their arms out and invited everyone else in. Who wouldn’t go?
Le Poisson Rouge is a medium-size room. Not a bar (though there is one), but not a bigger venue. Short ceiling, but I knew from seeing Shrinebuilder there in 2009 that that would only mean the sound had no choice but to pummel your skull. I’d never seen Dark Castle before, which is kind of hard to believe considering how much they tour, but I knew enough from hearing Surrender to all Life Beyond Form that I didn’t want to miss them now. Following a sushi dinner with The Patient Mrs., I made my way to Bleecker and got in a bit before they went on.
One thing about Dark Castle — and I consider it an admirable thing about them — is it’s just the two of them on stage. The recently-interviewed Stevie Floyd on guitar and vocals and double-duty trooper of the night Rob Shaffer on drums. Where on Surrender to all Life Beyond Form, the songs are filled out by the synth/Moog/noise contributions of producer Sanford Parker and several guest vocalists, including YOB‘s own Mike Scheidt, that kind of thing just can’t be replicated in a live setting without excessive sampling or time spent in front of a laptop and not actually playing the songs.
I won’t say one approach is better or worse than the other, because when it came down to the material itself last night, Dark Castle killed it. The sound may not have been as full as on the record, but “Surrender to all Life Beyond Form” was one of the highlights of the show, and the rawer feel was a big part of why. That Floyd and Shaffer would be on the same page in their presence isn’t necessarily surprising — because, again, they tour all the time — but the power in their delivery was readily apparent and picked up most if not all of the slack in the noise department. Even without YOB following, it would have been well worth the trip for their set alone.
But YOB was following, and having seen them before at the Planet Caravan fest in North Carolina, I had some idea of what to expect. I parked myself up front while they were setting up and stayed there for most of their show, which — and I say this with all the nerdy glee I can muster — was amazing. It’s not that you listen to those records and think to yourself, “Wow, I bet this band sucks live,” but until you actually see it, until you actually feel the rumble of Scheidt‘s guitar and of Aaron Reiseberg‘s bass. Scheidt played with a full stack of Emperor cabs behind him and neither Reiseberg nor Shaffer (filling the role of Travis Foster for the tour) were lacking in volume or presence. It being YOB‘s first time in New York in more than half a decade — oh, the story I could tell you about the show they did at the Pyramid way back when — as a fan, I wanted everything to sound perfect, and it did.
They opened with “Quantum Mystic” from The Unreal Never Lived, an album the influence of which is only beginning to be felt six years after its release. Immediately, the crowd was on board, fists were raised, toasts were made, and heads — including my own — banged with abandon for the neck stiffness that might ensue this morning. I pulled my earplugs out. Worth it. “Quantum Mystic” led into “Prepare the Ground,” the opener from Atma, and that in turn to “Burning the Altar” from 2009′s The Great Cessation. One imagines that with a couple more albums under their belt, YOB will be able to do a full set of nothing but the killer tracks they start their records with. Certainly it was a welcome opening trio and a half-hour well spent. The crowd pressed and shifted and stumbled and loved it and I did likewise. I haven’t seen a set with that kind of impact since Neurosis at Roadburn.
Their ethereal space elements showed up in “The Great Cessation,” the titular closer of the album, which followed Atma‘s title cut — a little more complicated than the opener and thus not as immediately grasped by the audience who doesn’t have the record yet — and YOB shifted the tone of the show from planetary aural crush to dark matter drift. That album was my favorite of 2009, but I still feel like I got a new appreciation for “The Great Cessation” hearing it live. Reiseberg and Shaffer ran into some trouble during one of its drawn-out, patient instrumental passages, but were able to recovery swiftly enough. I don’t think anyone was about to complain, anyway.
For a finale, Scheidt called Floyd up to the stage for a scathing rendition of “Grasping Air” from The Unreal Never Lived, and (if I remember correctly; I might have this order wrong and if I do, I hope someone will correct me) rounded out the night with “Ball of Molten Lead” from 2004′s The Illusion of Motion. Considering the mass of pulp that YOB had by then beaten Le Poisson Rouge into, I can’t think of a more fitting conclusion. Like the rest of the show, I was just really, really glad to have been there to see it.
It’s a rare performance that pulls you out of everything else, that commands not only full attention, but a kind of dedication to it. When YOB finished, I felt like I’d been to the end of the universe and back. I don’t want to make it more than it was, because what it was was enough. If you were there, you know, and if not, hopefully next time you’ll find out.
More pics after the jump. As always, click any photo to enlarge.