A Well-Spent Hour with Black Pyramid

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 31st, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Shot by Stephen LoVerme of the band Olde Growth and apparently the awesomely-named production company Treebeard Media, there arrives this full 59-minute set from fellow Massachusetts heavy-as-all-hell trio, Black Pyramid. I got to see the Darryl Shepard-fronted incarnation of Black Pyramid back in March at Radio in Boston, but if you haven’t checked them out yet, this is the perfect opportunity to do so in high definition. Hell, even if you put it on and pop in and out on the clip as you listen while doing whatever else you’re doing, you can’t really go wrong. LoVerme did a killer job capturing the video and the sound, and the result is an awesome document of Black Pyramid‘s new beginning.

Check it out:

Special thanks to Damocles74 for posting it on the forum as well. Here’s the full setlist from the YouTube page:
Mercy’s Bane
The Worm Ouroboros
Swing the Scimitar
Bleed Out
No Life King
Visions of Gehenna

And when you’re done, make sure you check out the half-hour set from Phantom Glue that was filmed in Cambridge earlier in May. Right on.

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Six Dumb Questions with Vulture

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on May 31st, 2012 by JJ Koczan

I was legitimately surprised when Pittsburgh sludgers Vulture‘s full-length debut, Oblivious to Ruin, came across my desk. Not that they weren’t due for a follow-up to 2009’s self-titled EP, which was one of the first releases ever reviewed on this site, but because of how much the band had changed in the three years since that EP came out. Vulture had a doomly appeal to start with, but what Oblivious to Ruin (review here) brought to that was a low-down, dirty feel. A big part of that was the inclusion of new vocalist Justin Erb, whose raw-throated screams, shouts and growls added not only brutality but also character to Vulture‘s sound, now more professional and altogether more lethal.

That’s not to say the seven cuts present on Oblivious to Ruin aren’t without precedent — one finds Vulture culling influence from Sourvein, High on Fire and Down (in that order of prevalence) — but their blend is far more their own than it was a few short years ago, and what’s more, they seem to have hit a starting point for further growth and development, and so the record becomes an essential beginning step in that process, as well as a nasty-as-fuck slab of sludge. They’re having their cake and smashing it with buzzsaw guitar tone too, if you will.

As such, it seemed the perfect time to harass Mr. Erb for some info on his background in the abrasive arts and how he came to be a member of Vulture, and just what Oblivious to Ruin might be driving toward in terms of the overall trajectory of the band. Par for the course for this kind of thing, I also asked about some other stuff as well, like any Pittsburgher recommendations he might have and what’s coming next for Vulture, and he was forthcoming on that as well, as you can see below.

Vulture is Erb, guitarists Garrett Twardesky and Gene Fikhman, bassist Justin Bach and drummer Kelly Gabany. Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

1. Tell me about how you came to join Vulture. Did you know the rest of the band beforehand?

I met Vulture while jamming with my other band, Reduce to Ash. Our guitar player, Quinn Lukas, who also plays with Icarus Witch, is good friends with Vulture’s old singer, Buddy Smith. Every summer Quinn has a few huge yard parties, and during one of these parties we made plans with Buddy to do some shows together. Through those shows I ended up becoming good buddies with Garrett, Vulture’s riff master. Anytime Reduce would do shows, Garrett would try to make it out and we would end up outside getting high and rocking out some Sabbath in the parking lot. After a show at Marlene’s Corner Bar in Connellsville, PA, Garrett told me they were having trouble with their singer and were planning on sacking him. He just wasn’t on the same page, musically. I told Garrett that if they fired Buddy, I would be interested in auditioning. Turns out they were planning on approaching me for the gig. The funny thing is that from the first time I saw Vulture play, I imagined myself fronting that band. In Reduce to Ash, I play bass and split vocals with Tim Weir, the other guitarist, so I jumped at the chance to front a band without worrying about playing an instrument. Especially a band like Vulture, who I had a ton of respect for from day one.

2. What was the timeline of the material on Oblivious to Ruin? How much was written when you joined the band, and as the singer, how involved were you in structuring and putting the songs together?

The songs for Oblivious were written over a pretty long period of time. It’s kinda hazy as far as the exact timeline. I was working out of town a lot and the guys made me demos of basic arrangements of the songs. I wrote all the lyrics and rearranged some of the structures to fit my lyric ideas a little better. Most of the arrangements were perfect before I even put my stamp on them. When I joined the band, Garrett gave me a demo with three songs that needed lyrics. The first song ended up being “Prick of Misery,” which we recorded for the Innervenus Music Collective‘s compilation disc, Iron Atrocity Vol. 1. The second song was the title-track, “Oblivious to Ruin.” We jammed on the third song but never ended up using it.

3. How was the band’s time in the studio? The recording seems to capture the songs perfectly, sounding natural and nasty. How long were you at Calfax Alley, and what was the recording process like?

The band’s time in the studio was brief but awesome. All the instruments were recorded live. With a few punch-ins for guitar solos here and there. What you hear on the album is a live take of the band jamming out with my vocals recorded separately. All seven songs, instrumentally, were recorded in one day. The vocals took three sessions. Without incriminating ourselves too much, I will say that we did partake in some illicit substances to capture the right vibe while recording. We are all about the vibe and atmosphere.

4. This being your first outing with the band, and the band’s first full-length after the self-titled EP, how representative is it of the direction you guys want to go in? How do you see Vulture’s sound developing over the next couple records?

I think it is representative of our direction as far as the heaviness that is captured on the album. I don’t think we could lose that if we tried. I can see us keeping with the sludge but also adding more groove and melody. Maybe even some acoustic stuff. We want to record the next album on analog tape. Like some old ‘60s or ‘70s gear. If that’s even possible these days.

5. I know Pittsburgh has a few really killer heavy bands – Argus, Vulture, Sistered, etc. – but is there anyone you guys especially enjoy playing shows with? Any other bands from the area you’d recommend for outsiders to check out?

I love playing with Mockingbird. They are from Ohio, but they do play Pittsburgh from time to time. Fist Fight in the Parking Lot is a badass ‘Burgh band with some deep roots in the city. Molasses Barge are labelmates and good friends of ours. They groove it down and rip it up hard. Gene and Garrett have a band called Grisly Amputation. They may possibly be the fastest and heaviest band I can think of in Pittsburgh. Plus they have hands-down the coolest name.

6. Any other writing/recording in the works, show plans or closing word you want to mention?

We have a ton of shows coming up in and outside of Pittsburgh. Vulture is also planning on recording new songs for a split with Ohio’s DeathCrawl sometime in the near future. Check us out at facebook.com/vulturedoom for all the latest info.

I’m really excited about Gene and Garrett‘s Grisly Amputation full-length, which should be done very soon. My other band, Reduce to Ash, just laid down guitar tracks for our first full-length. It is going to crush.

Vulture on Thee Facebooks

Innervenus Music Collective

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Friends Reviews Week Pt. 3: Cortez, Cortez

Posted in Reviews on May 31st, 2012 by JJ Koczan

A little while back, guitarist Scott O’Dowd of Allston, Massachusetts, rockers Cortez hit me up for a band bio. The record, self-titled, came out on Bilocation just this very week, and of course, I said I was glad to write up a history of the band. I remember when they put out their 2007 Thunder in a Forgotten Town EP on Buzzville, and we’d played shows together periodically over the years, so as Cortez began to really take shape as a band – and especially after vocalist Matt Harrington came aboard in 2009 – it was exciting to think of their first album finally coming out. Songs like “Johnny,” “Until We Die” and the C.O.C.-esque riffing of “Monolith” were mainstays of their live set, and the demo they cut of that material was stellar. We’d talked about maybe doing a release via The Maple Forum on CD before I decided to draw back on that side of the site, and as I listen now to Cortez – a massive gatefold 2LP release with cover art by Alexander von Wieding that includes that 2009 demo as side D – I really do think it’s for the best that it ended up as a record. While my general preference is for shorter releases that, like a short story, can be absorbed in a single sitting, Cortez simply have more ground to cover. Ostensibly, this is their full-length debut, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s a follow-up to the EP, one that’s nearly five years in the making and one that has to do the work of establishing Cortez not only as a fresh act in Boston’s admirable heavy rock scene, but also a band who’ve put that half-decade since their last offering to good use in terms of development and creative personality. That’s a lot to ask of a 40-minute album, or even a 50-minute album. Cortez’s Cortez, including the demo, tops out at 75 minutes, and that proves to be more than enough time to get the job done.

In that span, all four members – O’Dowd, Harrington, bassist Jay Furlo and drummer Jeremy Hemond – distinguish themselves, but most importantly, Cortez shines as a unit, and whether it’s the melodic complexity of a track like “Wormwood” or the doomed atmospheric reveling accomplished by the later “Satan,” their songwriting sensibility is never lost. There’s a clear allegiance to riff rock – that’s not to say “stoner rock,” though I think that’s part of their scope as well – but Harrington soulfully belts out these tracks in a manner that clearly indicates that though he’s a more than capable frontman, it’s not about any single person in the band, but about the group working together toward a shared whole. Solos are taken, to be sure – O’Dowd is a classy player and that shines through no matter how fuzzed out the material gets – but one gets no sense of ego bleeding through Cortez’s straightforward arrangements. With a crisp New Alliance Audio production and mix from Ethan Dussault, the songs prove to be their own greatest strength, and it’s not just the riff, or the bassline (though Furlo kills it in the rhythm section with Hemond, crafting the stomp that makes the back end of second track “All Hail” so effective), or the drums or the vocals. It’s how all of it works together. That might be the most modern aspect of their approach, clearly grown out of a Boston punker/hardcore ideology – “no rock stars” – but it’s well met by their classic rock structures and heavier leanings. Even at his roughest (i.e. even on those demos), Harrington is never separated entirely from a melody, and his professionalism is wonderfully matched in the presentation of the album’s 11 central cuts.

What Cortez don’t do, however, is fuck around. There are very few ethics to which I apply universal favor, and strong songwriting is one of them. Cortez make songwriting sound innate, effortless, like the “Helter Skelter”-referential chorus that immediately plasters “Johnny” on the lining of the cerebral cortex like it’s a gig flyer is just what the band does every day after work. As the opener, “Johnny” emphasizes many of the album’s best aspects. It is impeccably constructed, briskly performed and crisply presented, and that remains a thread that runs all the way through to pre-demo closer “Nice Try.” A lyrical narrative of dudely heartbreak is met by undeniable groove, and Harrington’s melodies are infectious alongside O’Dowd’s riffing. It’s especially interesting to listen to “Johnny” as the first of the three demo tracks, because as they appear in order of “Johnny,” “Until We Die” and “Monolith,” that’s also how they come up on the record – just with other songs in between. So it’s probably something you might recognize your second time through or on some subsequent listen, but those songs sort of wind up being anchors for the rest of the material. “All Hail,” which divides “Johnny” and “Until We Die” on Cortez-proper, marries an epic intro to a driving guitar-led central figure – Hemond (also of Roadsaw and also in Black Thai with O’Dowd) gives an especially rousing performance here to provide early indication of the diverse style in his play that manages never to lose accessibility despite being technically complex, particularly in the fills – and shifts with about two of its total five minutes left to the aforementioned stomp, changing tempo some but mostly relying on Hemond easing off on the drums and opening the groove up some to match the guitars and bass. That sets a high expectation, but “Until We Die” quickly outdoes it.

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audiObelisk: Black Cowgirl Premiere “Weight of Oblivion” From Forthcoming Debut LP

Posted in audiObelisk on May 31st, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Yeah, I know I’ve streamed audio from Black Cowgirl before, but there’s just something about the Pennsylvanian riffers that begs to actually be heard. I can tell you they’re melodic, or that they’re fuzzy, or that their songs are catchy, but that could (and often does) describe 100 other bands, and I really think these four dudes bring their own edge to what’s admittedly a well-trod path of genre. Their debut full-length will see a vinyl issue through Bilocation Records in July.

As a preview for that and the self-released CD version set to coincide, Black Cowgirl once again granted me permission to feature some of their down-home pastoral tone-age. The album, called simply Black Cowgirl, matches last year’s demo on the first side with a batch of new material on the second. To support, Black Cowgirl will once again hit the road — the summer heat is perfectly matched to their sound — and play shows along the Eastern Seaboard in July with Clutch-offshoot The Company Band, and they’ll make a stop Sept. 1 at this year’s Stoner Hands of Doom fest in Connecticut, where they’ll share the day with Pale Divine, The Skull, Devil to Pay and Admiral Browning, among others. Good company to keep all around.

“Weight of Oblivion” from Black Cowgirl shows the band reaching a Pearls and Brass-style (if we’re keeping the comparisons to Pennsylvanian acts) balance of blues, Americana and heavy. Check it out on the player below — followed by the full gatefold artwork; click to enlarge — and enjoy.

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

Black Cowgirl‘s Black Cowgirl LP — cover art by Adrián Brouch — is due in July on Bilocation Records (website here). The band will self-release a CD around that time as well. They’ve also already begun to write the follow-up, so for the latest news and tour updates, be sure to check out their Thee Facebooks or their BigCartel store. In the meantime, here’s the full tracklist for the self-titled:

1. Talk of Wolves
2. Roadmaster
3. The Ride
4. Alkaline
5. Dead House
6. Eclipsor
7. Weight of Oblivion
8. Three Seasons
9. Solarizer
10. Becoming Nothing
11. Unio Mystica

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On the Radar: Pinkzilla

Posted in On the Radar on May 31st, 2012 by JJ Koczan

I’m gonna be honest, I don’t even know why I still call this category “On the Radar.” I should’ve changed the name to “Portland Likes Guitars” a long time ago, since that pretty much seems to be the scope of the thing lately. To wit, the trad metal of upstart trio Pinkzilla, who’ve got not only the most charming cover art I’ve seen from a self-releasing Oregonian band since the Witchasaurus Hex demo, but a sound that takes the rough cassette-ready production of Celtic Frost‘s glory days and melds it to the current groove aesthetic of their home base. That is: No matter how out front the guitar might be and is, bass matters.

And it’s hard not to admire that, especially when you consider that Pinkzilla‘s root of influence is from a time in metal when low end was basically an afterthought. One listen to “Bela Lugosi” from their 2011 self-titled EP, however, and you know they’re not just riffing out. The three-piece might have some of their modus in common with Portland exports Red Fang, and I guess one might argue the vocals on “Planet Caveman” share some echoing commonalities with the first Red Fang, but the guitar tone brings to mind Bathory and Megadeth more than anything so recent, and the bass backing the solo work is right out of your mom’s garage, which is where your hypothetical thrash band practiced in 1985 for the purposes of this analogy. So there.

As it’s been a while at this point since it was released (not that I didn’t love 2011 at the time, but I’m behind enough on 2012 that I don’t need to go even further back), but as the chugging charm of “Dark Eyes” and Pinkzilla‘s Pinkzilla in general piqued my headbanger’s interest, I thought I’d post the tracks from their Bandcamp for streaming and see if maybe they did the same for you. Feel free to leave a comment with any thoughts one way or another, or check in with the band on their Thee Facebooks and see what’s up. Right on:

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Friends Reviews Week Pt. 2: Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight, Going Home

Posted in Reviews on May 30th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

It was loyal Maine-dwelling Obelisk amigo Mike H. who first put me on to UK trio Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight and since their 2009 demo, Lowering the Tone (review here), their every move has pretty much been covered. Their later ‘09 debut full-length, Movin’ On, was reviewed, and drummer Christopher West subsequently interviewed. When West and guitarist/vocalist Peter Holland released their The Bleak acoustic EP, that received a plug some time later, and when they joined vocalist/guitarist Jack Dickinson in Stubb on drums and bass/vocals, respectively, they were also On the Radar’ed and their self-titled debut was reviewed earlier this year and coupled with a video premiere. I was fortunate enough to see West and Holland play in both bands at Desertfest in London and again alongside Stone Axe in Eindhoven this past April, and reviewed both of those shows, and I’ll be damned if Trippy Wicked didn’t also show up in the playlist when I did my all-British podcast back in June 2010. That same year, just a couple months before, when I found myself stranded in the UK following the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, the Icelandic volcano that disrupted European airspace just in time for the start of Roadburn, Holland and West – who are joined in Trippy Wicked by bassist Dicky King – were kind enough to offer me a spot to crash on their couch and a chance to get to see them play acoustic, which to this day I still relish, and not just because I also got to see absurdist singer-songwriter Mark Barnes that night either, though I did buy all three of his albums. We got to have a few beverages as their tour fellows in Stone Axe made a stop at Roadburn 2011, and this year, seeing them at the aforementioned Eindhoven show was one of the high points of that whole trip. They’re killer dudes in a rocking band, so when I grabbed their second album, Going Home (released on their own Superhot Records), off the Desertfest merch table, I was immediately stoked to give it a listen.

Some time would pass before I’d actually be able to do so, but when I finally put on the nine-track/41-minute Going Home – which was recorded by Holland and West and mixed and mastered by the increasingly ubiquitous Tony Reed – I was surprised right away by the density of its tones. Both Holland and King have beefed up their sound since Movin’ On, and though the semi-Southern edge that showed itself on that record (particularly on, ahem, “Southern”) remains here especially in the alcohol-fueled midsection, it does so in a much different context than on the debut. The opening title-track, aside from earning Trippy Wicked immediate points for putting their longest cut first, offers some spaciousness in terms of its sound in the guitar at the end and features the first of several mellotron contributions from Reed, but the beginning movement is all straightforward drive, and the grooves only get more metallic from there. All of a sudden, using Stubb as a comparison point feels less valid, since if Going Home makes anything at all clear, it’s that despite sharing two-thirds of the same personnel, the bands are heading in different directions almost entirely, Stubb geared more toward fuzz rocking groove and Trippy Wicked as they are here showing more of a metallic base to their riff construction and general modus, though Holland seems always to be mindful of melody in his vocals. His howling is much improved over how it came off on Movin’ On, and while often one can credit that kind of growth to acoustic work – there being less for singers to kind behind without distortion – it’s probably just as much a result of Trippy Wicked’s road time. In any case, the combination of the two results in palpable development on the opener and “Up the Stakes,” which follows. He veers into and out of a throatier, gruffer approach throughout, hinted at with a “Hey!” following the first verse of “Up the Stakes,” but is just as able to carry the song melodically in his vocals as with the guitar, King and West nailing down a solid and rocking groove behind.

The balance between rock and metal shifts throughout Going Home, with a song like “Up the Stakes” winding up more toward the latter more because of its tone than what’s actually being played while “Go Outside” is more directly aligned stylistically with ‘90s metallic crunch. It doesn’t hurt the flow because the band don’t seem confused about what they’re doing, but the angle from which they’re approaching the idea of “heavy” has shifted, and it’s a marked change from what someone familiar with their prior work might expect. More pivotally, “Go Outside” is riotously catchy, West crashing a wash of cymbals behind Holland as he nestles into the chorus. King’s bass offers start-stop grooving in the intro and thickens the song considerably while the guitars establish a driving riff that becomes the core. Holland is mixed high (perhaps he’s not “nestling into” that chorus as standing on top of it), but the later inclusion of horns adds further curiosity and an experimental element to what might otherwise just be a straightforward exercise, setting up the transition to Going Home’s middle, on which Trippy Wicked’s boozehound shuffle shows itself in the brief and upbeat “Ain’t Gonna End Well.” It’s a song I mark as the beginning of a narrative that plays out over the ensuing three tracks, “I Want Another Drink,” “Hillbilly Moonshine” and “Pour Me Another One.” You could argue, I suppose that the whole album’s musical flow plays out like a night of drinking, finding precursor in the opener and going from there in mood and atmosphere, but it’s really in the middle and toward the end of the second half that it’s applicable, given the borderline social commentary of “Going Home” and “Up the Stakes.” “I Want Another Drink” is as direct as its title, and somewhat curiously, the only place Trippy Wicked’s acoustic side shows its head, and even then, only in the introduction (which cycles through twice, once in the beginning and once halfway through the song). Horns tie it to “Go Outside,” but Holland’s rougher vocal adjusts the mood to start what — by the time “Hillbilly Moonshine” follows – is a party in full swing.

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Wino Wednesday: Exclusive Track Premiere of “Nothing” from Townes Van Zandt Tribute 3-Way Split with Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till

Posted in audiObelisk on May 30th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Happy Wino Wednesday
Come June 12, the good souls at Neurot Recordings will release a three-way split CD tribute to Townes Van Zandt that features none other than Scott “Wino” Weinrich alongside Neurosis vocalist/guitarists Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till. The Nashville singer-songwriter’s melancholic minimalism has had an impact on all three players’ solo outings, perhaps least of all Wino‘s Adrift, though given that he added a version of “Highway Kind” from Van Zandt‘s 1972 album High, Low and in Between, one imagines that will change when he does his next acoustic album. When Wino toured with Scott Kelly in early 2011 in support of Adrift, the two covered Van Zandt both individually and together (Kelly does a version of “Tecumseh Valley” here, which he played on that tour as well), and I seem to recall Wino crediting Kelly with having introduced him to Van Zandt‘s work in the first place.

So the ties are there both between Wino and the material and Wino and these players. Von Till‘s own excellent solo acoustic work derives heavily from Van Zandt‘s and he covered “Spider” on his 2008 offering, A Grave is a Grim Horse, so couple that with Kelly being a bandmate of Wino‘s in Shrinebuilder, and all three of them having performed Van Zandt material in the past, and a release like Songs of Townes Van Zandt seems almost inevitable, something like the culmination — or at very least the solidifying — on an appreciation that has played out for several years already. The song “Nothing” appeared as “Nothin'” on 1971’s Delta Momma Blues and subsequently on the posthumously-released Absolutely Nothing, and has a haunting melody as delivered by Wino that more than earns the ‘g’ on the end of the word.

I’m honored today to premiere “Nothing” from Songs of Townes Van Zandt as performed by Wino. You’ll find it on the player below, followed by some context from Neurot about the release. Please enjoy and have a happy Wino Wednesday:

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Townes Van Zandt never reached significant fame during his lifetime. Although highly respected by his peers and other songwriters, the mood and atmosphere of his music, coupled with his sometimes dark and sarcastic nature, was not suitable for the commercial country-industry of Nashville.

Van Zandt’s songs did, however, reach popularity in his day through artists such as Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Emmylou Harris. Within his circle of outsider singer-songwriters, he was adored, though ultimately depression and alcoholism overshadowed his life. Van Zandt’s friend, singer Steve Earle, has been quoted as saying, “Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.”

Van Zandt passed away in 1997, and the fact that artists as diverse as Robert Plant, Mudhoney, Norah Jones, Lyle Lovett and Dylan himself have kept his songs alive and vital is a testament to the influence and impact of his music.

So now do Steve Von Till, Scott Kelly and Wino stand and sing his tribute, each focusing on the essence of Van Zandt’s music and lyrics in his own personal way. The result is a great homage, whose intensity lies in fragility and elementary human truths. Van Zandt’s brokenhearted love songs and gloom-ridden tales are most deserving of this tribute and praise.

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Who Wants to Watch CT from Rwake Puke at Maryland Deathfest?

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 29th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

I do!

I didn’t get to Maryland Deathfest this past weekend, but even if you did go, here’s something you might have missed. Along with selling an exclusive 7″ of a new song, Rwake frontman CT brought a little something extra for the Baltimore crowd at what’s become America’s biggest metal fest. His lunch.

And I’ll tell you something else. I’ve seen a few frontmen vomit in my day — from Dixie Dave of Weedeater to Andy from Clamfight — and anyone can puke on stage. It’s pretty easy. What’s not easy, however, is puking on stage and still managing to keep the verse going. Kudos to you, sir.

Here’s the clip, filmed by a dutiful documentarian going by the nom de guerre “TOTALFUCKINGMAYHEM,” whose efforts are much appreciated. For those who’d skip right to it, there’s pukeage at about 2:20, but you might want to consider watching the whole thing, because “It was Beautiful but Now it’s Sour” — taken from last year’s excellent Rest LP — is badass. Either way, enjoy:

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