Live Review: Gozu, Worshipper, Magic Circle, Wormwood and Sylvia in Cambridge, MA, 06.03.16

Posted in Reviews on June 6th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

gozu release show lineup

It was a celebration. The first in a short series of release shows for Gozu‘s new album, Revival (review here), and for me, a fitting occasion to mark the last day of work at a job that, while providing a much-needed paycheck, for the last year put an unfortunate distance between myself and rock and roll. If I was looking to make up for lost time, a five-band lineup — more festival than show, even with a 9PM start — would probably be a decent way to make that happen, but while the bill was certainly packed, there was no one on it who felt like filler.

Rather, from starting off with Portland, Maine’s (the other Portland) Sylvia and continuing through Massachusetts-based WormwoodMagic CircleWorshipper and of course Gozu headlining, there was a flow to the night that took it from grinding sludge to soulful heavy rock in well-staged transitions, covering a swath of heft from front to back. Worth mentioning the show was presented by The Obelisk, but I had no hand in picking bands — that presumably was Gozu in conjunction with Grayskull Booking, who continues to do good work in Cambridge and Somerville, on the outskirts of Boston proper, which I think has banned music for its impediment to the developing of further luxury condos.

Here’s how it went down:

Sylvia

sylvia 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

My first exposure to the dual-guitar Portland four-piece was their 2013 self-titled debut full-length (review here), produced by Steve Austin of Today is the Day, and so I knew somewhat to expect as they took the stage, though they still managed to work in a few surprises in their riff-led blend of thrash, grind, periodic heavy breakdowns and headfirst dives into crunch that brought to mind earliest, heaviest Mastodon without actually losing itself in pseudo-progressive winding. They owed as much to Napalm Death as to any kind of sludge, but seemed to play out that grinding influence on a bed of thickened, sometimes-lurching tonality that made their material as much about groove as about speed. I’d forgotten their connection through guitarist/vocalist Candy and bassist Reuben Little to defunct slow-crawling doomers Ocean, but afterwards that context continued to make sense in line with what guitarist Sean Libby and drummer Michael brought to the proceedings. After one of their songs, someone in the crowd shouted, “Play that riff again!” which was an impulse I could understand. They didn’t, but the next riff turned out to be killer as well, so it all worked out.

Wormwood

wormwood 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Based in Boston, Wormwood have a series of singles out and had merch on the table, but this was my first time catching them live. They’re something of a supergroup — though they might prefer “band with dudes who are in other bands too” — with guitarist/vocalist Chris Pupecki also playing in Doomriders, drummer Chris Bevilacqua a former member of that same outfit, guitarist Mike Gowell shared with Phantom Glue — who have a new record out — and bassist Greg Weeks hailing from metalcore pioneers The Red Chord, and their stage presentation offered due variety from that, with Gowell off to the side, casually shredding out lead after lead while Weeks thrashed out Pupecki unleashed a torrent of noise and Bevilacqua held it all together from behind. Following up on Sylvia, they had a definite core of extremity in their approach, but leaned more toward doom than grind, which set the progression of the evening in motion and provided nod-worthy stomp and consuming atmospherics that made me feel like I’d missed something by not checking them out earlier. A curious blend of elements warranting further investigation.

Magic Circle

magic circle 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Two albums in, it’s pretty clear that Magic Circle have earned a reputation. Their second LP, Journey Blind (review here), came out late last year through 20 Buck Spin, and as the follow-up to their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), it played down the doomed riffing of the first outing in favor of a more decisively classic metal approach. While they played what frontman Brendan Radigan laughingly called a “classic” from 2011 in “Scream Evil,” their first single, the vibe of the newer material held sway, driven by the NWOBHM gallop in the guitars of Chris Corry — whose “NCC-1701-D” and “make it so” amp decorations were appreciated — and Dan Ducas. As ever for their kind of metal, however, the rhythm section is what makes such shredding possible, and I’ve rarely seen a drummer who looks like he’s enjoying playing as much as Q (also of Doomriders). His presence adds levity — to compare, bassist Justin DeTore is more subdued and assured with the confidence that he’s the center around which this chaos is swirling; and he is — and allows the rest of the band to be who they are in a way that another drummer might not, but it’s the entire group making an impact from the stage, and as they ran through “The Damned Man” and closed with “Journey Blind” itself, their command of their sound was complete. I wouldn’t be surprised if they continued down a more metallic path going forward, and it suits them.

Worshipper

Worshipper (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Played like a band on top of the world, which seemed reasonable. As announced here, Worshipper recently signed to Tee Pee Records for the release of their debut LP, Shadow Hymns, this August, and they’ve also reaped a Boston Music Award and the title at the annual Rock and Roll Rumble local competition, so if they’re feeling good about what they’re doing, the response they’ve gotten to their work thus far offers little counterargument. Neither could or would I, for that matter. Comprised of guitarist/vocalist John Brookhouse, guitarist Alejandro Necochea — who also filled in with Carousel on their last Euro run this Spring — bassist Bob Maloney and drummer Dave Jarvis, they offered noteworthy presence from the stage, playing in lighting that changed from the Middle East‘s bête noire red to near-total darkness save for some projections and reminding fervently of the chief appeal of what they do; the clear core of songwriting. Along with a grooved out cover of Pink Floyd‘s “Julia,” yet-to-be-released cuts listed as “Wolf” and “Arise” provided immediate impressions in their clarity of purpose, and if they weren’t professional-sounding enough, Brookhouse busted a string early in the set, calmly put his guitar down, walked off stage, came back with a flying V, plugged in, tuned and was ready to go in time for his next solo. They’re early into what one hopes will be a fruitful tenure, but they’re locked in already. Hope they tour.

Gozu

gozu

As stacked as the bill was, one could hardly accuse the headliners of taking it easy on themselves for their sold-out release show, but Gozu hit stage a little after midnight and made it abundantly clear to whom the evening belonged. Their set capped the evening’s progression from vicious grind to post-sludge to classic metal to classic heavy rock to heavy rock and while they didn’t play Revival — officially out June 10 on Ripple Music, but available on CD at the show — in its entirety, they did do every track but the spacier closer “Tin Chicken,” so it was well represented either way alongside “Ghost Wipe” and “Bald Bull” from 2013’s The Fury of a Patient Man (review here) and “Mr. Riddle” from 2010’s Locust Season (review here). They opened with the rampaging album launch, “Nature Boy,” which in just over three minutes’ time basked in both its own intensity and the maddening soul of its hook, guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney in top form joined here and there by guitarist Doug Sherman while bassist Joe Grotto and drummer Mike Hubbard nailed the grooves of “Big Casino,” which followed, only upping the party vibe. After “Ghost Wipe,” “Bubble Time” slowed the proceedings somewhat, but by then momentum was well on Gozu‘s side and it would not relent for the duration. Highlight of the set? Well, as they were playing it, I thought “D.D. McCall” into “Lorenzo Mama” — both from the new record — was as good as it was going to get, but they finished with “By Mennen,” which had Gaffney belting out the final lines of the set without instrumental backing, and it worked better than I might’ve hoped or expected, particularly with the older “Mr. Riddle” and “Bald Bull” as setup. There isn’t a band based in this region that I’ve seen more than I’ve seen Gozu since I moved to Massachusetts nearly three years ago now, and I’ve never seen them that they didn’t deliver. They owned the Middle East easily, out-rocked me by a mile at least — I hit a wall pretty hard from standing up front all night and had to move back or pass out — and gave Revival its due, which as that’s one of the best albums of this year, is saying something.

That having-hit-a-wall would define the rest of my night. Waiting outside the venue to meet up with The Patient Mrs., who’d been at another occasion in town, I could barely stand up. I was hydrated, hadn’t eaten much, and with the final work day I guess my body hit its limit. I had to stop and sit for a few minutes on a bench walking the several blocks back to where I’d parked, but the weather was gorgeous and my wife is gorgeous so I’d hardly call it unpleasant. The night on a whole had been a massive win, and I expect it will remain one of personal significance for some time to come, for multiple reasons.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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The Obelisk Presents: Gozu Record Release Show, June 3 in Boston

Posted in The Obelisk Presents on May 13th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

gozu release show poster

On June 3, in conjunction with Grayskull Booking, The Obelisk will present the record release show for Gozu‘s new album, Revival, at the Middle East in Cambridge, MA. Due out June 10 via Ripple Music, Revival is Gozu‘s most ferocious outing yet, their first with a stable lineup and it shows the pointed trajectory their songwriting has taken, still unremittingly heavy, but less adherent to genre than they’ve ever been. I’ll have a review up before it’s out (hopefully), but the short version is it’s one of the year’s best records.

Accordingly, they’re doing it up to celebrate. It just wouldn’t be a Boston-area gig without five bands on the bill, so of course that’s where it’s at. But between bringing Sylvia down from Maine and partnering with Wormwood, Worshipper — recently signed to Tee Pee — and doom/classic metal mysteriosos Magic Circle, it’s a lineup worthy of consideration more as a festival than a regular gig, and considering advance tickets, which you can buy here, are a whopping $10, to say you’re getting your money’s worth feels like underselling it.

“I’m betting this night will have everything you need,” enthuses Gozu guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney. “Rock rolling, cocktails flowing, stomachs growing and many rock t-shirts primed for their first showing.”

“We are super excited to release this album and get it into the ears of peeps,” added guitarist Doug Sherman. “The release show will be a party with a bunch of bands/friends we respect. Come out and celebrate with us we’d love to have ya!! Massachusetts has an amazing scene and we are so blessed to be a part of it.”

Gozu also recently inked a deal with Heavy Psych Sounds and will tour Europe this fall with Holy Grove.

Here’s the release show info:

Grayskull Booking & The Obelisk Present
June 3 / 8PM / 18+
Gozu (Record Release!)
Worshipper
Magic Circle
Wormwood
Sylvia

Middle East Upstairs
472 Massachusetts Ave,
Cambridge, MA 02139

Tickets: $10 advance / $15 door

Advance tickets

Event page

Gozu on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music

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Live Review: Acid King, Gozu and Black Beach in Massachusetts, 10.26.15

Posted in Reviews on October 28th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

Acid King (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I kind of love it that I don’t know what to expect at shows these days. Acid King, sold out, on a Monday night, for example. Don’t get me wrong, Acid King are fucking incredible live, and everyone and their cousin should show up to see them, but it was like a great correction in the universe to see that actually happen at the Cambridge’s Middle East Upstairs where the no-pun-intended riff royalty showed up aided by local support from Gozu and Black Beach, plus a liquid light show on three projectors shot upward from the lights 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)front row of the crowd for all three sets. The packed house was a generational mix, some of those who probably saw Acid King on tour their last time through — some nine years ago — and others turned on and tuned in by this year’s excellent Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere (review here) studio comebacker on Svart, but the gig was enough of a draw that even The Patient Mrs. came out for it, and that’s even rarer than a Monday sellout.

Speaking of not knowing what to expect, this was my first exposure to local trio Black Beach. The Middleboro, MA, trio have been around long enough to belt out a series of EPs and short releases since 2013 and have a debut full-length, Shallow Creatures, reportedly due early next year, and while they were the youngest act on the bill, that only served to add vigor to their swinging blend of heavy punk and indie, leaning at times toward stoner riffing but probably drawing from cooler influences than stuff like Nick Oliveri-fueled Queens of the Stone Age, even if they were taking the longer road around to get there. black beach 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)They had a good early crowd on their side and made the most of it on cuts like “Rats” from last year’s Play Loud, Die Vol. 1 or “Future Failure” from the upcoming LP while geometric shapes and orange and blue oils colored the stage, winding up with enough grunge in their sound to be distinct from heavy rock but not entirely separate, their most intense moments satisfyingly cathartic but still thoroughly grooved.

It’s only been five months since I last saw Gozu play, but they’ve clearly spent the intervening time hammering out new material. The slower groove of “Bubble Time” was complemented well by also-new set-opener “Lorenzo Llamas” and “Mr. Riddle” from 2010’s sophomore outing and Small Stone debut, Locust Season (review here), and after “Meat Charger” from theGozu (Photo by JJ Koczan) same record, they hit into the nodding chug of “Oldie” and the unabashed throttle of “Nature Boy,” both new, and the latter of which might have to become their closer for sets, as once people get a grip on what they’re doing with its quick turns between the verse and chorus and its building fury, it will be a hard one to follow. The four-piece of drummer Mike Hubbard, bassist Joe Grotto, guitarist Doug Sherman and guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney were locked in as one would expect, but encouragingly, there was no hiccup in the switch between new material and old, and like Black Beach, they seemed readily comfortable on their home turf.

After “Nature Boy,” they wrapped with “Bald Bull,” the only inclusion in the set from 2013’s The Fury of a Patient Man (review here). That was somewhat surprising, but I guess time was limited, and the show moved Gozu (Photo by JJ Koczan)along at a pretty solid clip. Between that, the simple fact that Acid King were touring at all, that Gozu were on the bill — Kings Destroy played with them as well over the weekend, but weren’t doing the Boston-area show; nothing against Black Beach, but it would’ve been nice to see them and a three-band night with Kings DestroyGozu and Acid King would be like the god Apollo doing me personal favors — and that in keeping it to three bands, the show seemed to acknowledge the fact that most people there probably had to go to work in the morning, the whole vibe of the night felt like getting away with something. Like the entire room full of people snuck out of their lives to show up, or maybe that was just me.

Nearly all of Acid King‘s set — from “Intro” to “Outro” — came from Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere, and as I continue to be enthralled with that record, that was just fine by me. Through “Red River,” “Laser Headlights” and “Infinite Skies,” tAcid King (Photo by JJ Koczan)he San Francisco three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Lori S., bassist Mark Lamb (also of Fought upon Earth) and drummer Joey Osbourne unfurled tonal bliss and unmatched rhythmic roll, Osbourne‘s swinging snare work in “Laser Headlights” like a master class in how to do groove right. The nod? Infectious. The performance? Dead on. Acid King took the stage and melted the room. Philistines moshed, others nodded, still others disrobed. I’m pretty sure three people called into work and quit their jobs in the midst of “Infinite Skies.” It was fantastic. It may have taken them 10 years to get a record out, but watching them play to the full-to-the-brim Middle East, it was more like Acid King had just been waiting a decade for the rest of the world to catch up, which obviously it has begun to do.

They played two older songs, “Electric Machine” from 1999’s landmark Busse Woods was led into perfectly by “Coming down from Outer Space” off the new record, and “2-Wheel Nation”Acid King (Photo by JJ Koczan) from 2005’s III, which was the encore. “Electric Machine” might have gotten the biggest response of the night, though I was even more stoked for “Coming down from Outer Space,” not that it’s worth quibbling one or the other in a reality that was kind enough to present both. Lori‘s guitar finished out “2-Wheel Nation” alone after Lamb‘s bass and Osbourne‘s drums dropped out, the fuzz imprinting itself in a last remaining mental cast on those there to hear it. I consider myself fortunate to have been in that number.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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In the Studio with Rozamov at New Alliance Audio, Cambridge, MA

Posted in Features on August 18th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

Rozamov (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but I’d never been to New Alliance Audio before. In operation since 1987, it’s one of the Eastern Seaboard’s best-reputed studios — you’ve probably also seen “Mastered at New Alliance East” on a plethora of releases; that’s right next door — nestled into the heart of Cambridge a couple blocks down from The Middle East in a building that also houses the radio station WEMF and numerous other entities of note. The occasion that finally allowed me to sneak a look was Rozamov putting the finishing touches on their first full-length, and I very much appreciated the opportunity to stop by, even more because I got to hear some rozamov 3 (Photo by JJ Koczan)of their new material than because it granted me a look at the place where they tracked it.

Or tracked most of it, anyway. There was still a bit of work to be done, some vocal overdubs prior to mixing and the like. Guitarist/vocalist Matt Iacovelli met me at the door and gave me directions upstairs — he was stepping out into the August heat for a quick break from recording — and up in the studio itself, I found bassist/vocalist Tom Corino and New Alliance head engineer Jon Taft in the control room past a narrow lobby. The control room itself is spacious enough to record in, a high ceiling, intimidatingly large tape machine, professional-as-hell low wall of preamps, expansive console, ProTools setup, stack of monitors and so on, all dark colors and lights that could probably be turned up if you wanted to make someone uncomfortable or see to clean — unlike many studios I’ve been in, it was clean — and through the window was the recording room itself, which had been arranged to suit the vocals, with partitions arranged to capture the sound just right and give a projected feel. I didn’t get a close-up look at the microphone, but from listening to what came through rozamov 2 (Photo by JJ Koczan)it in the control room once Iacovelli came back in and got started, it sounded expensive.

Rozamov, after releasing their first, self-titled EP in 2012 and following it up with a second EP, Of Gods and Flesh, in 2013, joined forces with Midnite Collective earlier this year for a two-track split with Deathkings (review here). I’ve seen them play periodically since 2012, and watched Iacovelli, Corino and drummer Will Hendrix (elsewhere for the afternoon) transition from a four-piece to a trio — former guitarist Liz Walshak now plays in Sea — and step forward as one of next-gen Boston’s fiercest heavy bands. They headed into New Alliance a couple weeks ago to start recording their first full-length, and I’d be hard pressed to imagine a better time. With the experience of their two EPs and that split behind them, as well as veteran status for the 2015 Psycho California fest, an opening spot at a Converse-sponsored show for none less than Slayer and tours both behind and ahead of them. They are nothing if not ready for their next test, which of course is the album itself.

Laughing as they listened to a playback of a song called “Serpent Cult” — not to be confused with the Belgian band of the rozamov 5 (Photo by JJ Koczan)same name — Iacovelli laughed as he pointed out that all their releases so far have had four songs, and the difference this time was that four songs topped 40 minutes. “Serpent Cult” did seem immediately expansive, and the layers of clean vocals he added while I was there — Corino likened them to a harmonized Electric WizardTaft to melody-rich locals The Proselyte — did much to make it all the more so. I wouldn’t cheapen their past output by calling it their most complex work before experiencing a finished product, but the ambition was plain to hear. And coming through the New Alliance monitors, even the unmixed crawl of a cut that had the working title “Super Doom” lived up to its name. Jokes were tossed back and forth through the microphone connecting the control room and the recording space, and Taft and the band (and I as well, obviously, though one tries to keep one’s opinion-expressing to a minimum in those instances) listened through each line to make sure it was where they wanted it to be before moving forward.

And it says something about the work Rozamov have put in up to this point that theyrozamov 4 (Photo by JJ Koczan) have such a grip on what they want to do sonically and that they seemed so comfortable in directing the material. The bulk of the recording was done and would be finished before long. They were still working out lyrics — I think it was “Super Doom” that still needed a line — but there was plenty to do while they worked to nail down the finishing touches, and though the original plan had been to start mixing immediately, already more than half the day was gone and lunch had yet to be consumed, so the conversation quickly turned to pressing matters: sushi, Thai, Indian, etc.

I’d eaten before I got there, so thought it better to excuse myself rather than double-up, but I was grateful for the slice of new Rozamov that I got to hear and I always feel like you never really know a band until you see them work in the studio — laughing through, “That was bad. Do it again,” and so on — so I’ll look forward to the arrival of their debut even more now having been fortunate enough to swing through while it was coming together. As to when that arrival might happen? Between the inevitable pressing delay, label scheduling and whatever else, I wouldn’t think it would show up before 2016, but you never know. Either way, I’ll let you know when I hear more.

Rozamov & Deathkings, Split (2015)

Rozamov on Thee Facebooks

Rozamov on Bandcamp

Midnite Collective

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Live Review: All Them Witches, The Well and These Wild Plains in Cambridge, MA, 02.06.15

Posted in Reviews on February 9th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

all them witches 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I won’t lie and say it was easy to get off my couch Friday night and head into snowy-sidewalked Cambridge, but it was worth it. The city was running thick with unfreezable undergraduate blood and upstairs at the Middle East, All Them Witches were headlining a merciful three-band bill with The Well and These Wild Plains for support. It was the second time the Nashville four-piece made a stop at the venue, having come through last fall on tour with Windhand and sold the place out. Not to be understated is their months-only jump to the top of the bill, and not to be ignored were their compatriots in The Well, the Austin-based trio whose RidingEasy Records full-length, Samsara (review here), was my pick for the best debut of 2014. The three-piece’s sometimes-garage-rock-sometimes-tonal-overload made a suitable companion for the open spaces All Them Witches‘ neo-Southern jam-ready heavy rock, which met with fervent approval over the course of about an hour-long set.

All Them Witches. (Photo by JJ Koczan)The show was 18+, and kids came out on solid force, standing among older rockers. From what I saw, nobody looked like they were there by accident, and when All Them Witches‘ set started, the four players sort of lurching to life with a quick, noodling jam led by guitarist Ben McLeod that shifted smoothly into “Funeral for a Great Drunken Bird” from 2013/2014’s self-released sophomore long-player, Lightning at the Door (review here), drummer Robby Staebler, bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr. and Fender Rhodes wizard Allan Van Cleave soon joining in, easing their way and the crowd’s way into a wash of immersive tones that only ran deeper from there, the raucous “When God Comes Back” and that album’s closer, “Mountain” following. Truth be told, momentum and the room were on their side before they started playing, but even if All Them Witches had had to win the Middle East over, they’d have done so quickly.

All Them Witches arrived in Massachusetts fresh from a seclusion that resulted in the recording of their yet-untitled third album, set to release later this year. Presumably this tour with The Well was a way of shaking off the dust in anticipation of more road time to come. Accordingly, I thought there might be a chance of getting to hear some new material done live, which even if it might not represent the entirety of their next offering would at least give a glimpse at some of the scope and direction of the thing. No such luck. What their plan is for the release — all them witches 3 (Photo by JJ Koczan)i.e., if they’ve signed with a label and if so, which one — I don’t know, but they kept the setlist primarily to Lightning at the Door material, the satisfying deep-toned chug of “Swallowed by the Sea” a little lighter on its feet as it was when I saw them in Pennsylvania last fall and “The Death of Coyote Woman” hypnotic in its repeated vocal lines from Parks and bluesy guitar, McLeod not at all shy with the slide when called upon to break it out.

No setlist written down, songs were called out on the fly. They dipped back once to their debut, 2012’s Our Mother Electricity (review here), for a rendering of “Elk.Blood.Heart” that elicited an off-mic “You gotta be kidding me” from Parks when it started, but wound up as a singularly powerful moment in the set. It was pretty clear that material wasn’t as familiar to the crowd as the stuff from Lightning at the Door, but at least those standing near me showed no signs of trouble getting on board. They closed out with “Charles William,” which is as close to a single as they’ve come, its blend of bounce, tonal richness, Van Cleave‘s Rhodes — an element not to be understated in any appreciation the well 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)of what they do — and Staebler‘s hard-hitting swing in the finishing lines necessitating no further statement from the band. All were sent into the cold night having received due communion.

They were reason enough to show up — All Them Witches are a special group of players and watching them solidify on stage even as their sound becomes more fluid offers a rare breed of satisfaction — but I was anxious to see The Well before them. The trio of guitarist/vocalist Ian Graham, bassist/vocalist Lisa Alley and drummer Jason Sullivan were robbed on their last tour, which was also their first, so warranted immediate respect for getting back out, all the more so filling in for original supporting act Mount Carmel at (or close to) the last minute. My big question was whether or not The Well would be able to conjure the same kind of garage-doom atmosphere and air-push live that they do on record. As the feedback hum of Graham‘s guitar grew in volume until it felt like my head was surrounded by it on all sides, my curiosity had its answer. The thrust punctuated by Sullivan‘s kick in songs like “Trespass” and “Mortal Bones” from Samsara every bit delivered what one might’ve hoped from hearing their studio work and then some, the rawness of the stage giving Graham more of a showcase for soloing.

It the well 2 (Photo by JJ Koczan)was an opportunity he seemed to relish. The memorable psych-spooky “Refuge” made its primary impression in its early bounce, but the languid wah in the song’s second half pushed it to highlight territory, and likewise the midsection jam of the extended set-closer “Eternal Well.” Alley and Sullivan both had their share of fills and no question make for a dynamic rhythm section, but I hadn’t fully realized how much Graham‘s guitar brings to the band on a level deeper than “hey bro, cool riffs.” Tonally and in their presentation, they represented high grade stoner-heavy modernity, and as much as one could hear shades of Sleep and Sabbath in their sound, touches here and there of Uncle Acid and so on, the most exciting thing about The Well was how much they seemed to be moving forward from that starting point. I hope they keep touring and keep growing.

If their heaviness was the aspect they shared with All Them Witches, then for the pedal-steel-infused openers, These Wild Plains, it was no doubt the rural sprawl. The local five-piece — whose debut album is due out Feb. 27 — had been crowded on the stage, but their blend of countrified twang and atmospheric post-rock fit the room, and there were plenty who showed up early to see them. these wild plains 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)Acoustic, lap steel and electric guitar, the latter reminding me distinctly at times of Yawning Man‘s airy tone, and multiple vocalists drove home the Americana vibe, and for a group of Northern boys taking on a distinctly Southern sound, they acquitted themselves well. People were still coming in as they got going, but by the time they finished, there was little doubt the evening had begun.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Live Review: Elder, Rozamov, Summoner and SET in Cambridge, MA, 09.19.14

Posted in Reviews on September 22nd, 2014 by JJ Koczan

elder (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Of the more-than-several local shows I’ve been to since moving to New England now more than a year ago, this one had probably the strongest front-to-back bill. It was Elder‘s return gig to US soil. They and Rozamov and Summoner would head south the next day to appear Brooklyn’s Uninvited festival, and partnered with Worcester four-piece SET, it was night at the Middle East‘s upstairs room that highlighted some of the best Boston’s next-gen has to offer. Phrases like “all killer, no filler”SET (Photo by JJ Koczan) were invented for evenings such as these.

To put a personal spin on it, I’ll say as well that it was a cap for me for my first year of living here. 13 months ago, I attended Elder‘s farewell at the Great Scott prior to their going on hiatus (Rozamov played that as well). I had lived in the area for barely two weeks, it was my first show in town as a resident. I was confused and uncomfortable in more than just that I’m-out-of-the-house kind of way. I’m not sure I’d have found the Middle East without the Maps on my phone, but at least when I got to Cambridge, I knew what to expect and where I might find parking. A work in progress, yes, but little things make a difference.

SET opened, and went on a couple minutes after 8:30, kicking off in raucous form. I wasn’t the only one who knew to show up early — upstairs at the Middle East isn’t a huge room, Summoner (Photo by JJ Koczan)but it’s big enough that if you weren’t going to draw, it would look empty — and SET pulled a decent crowd. It was my third time seeing them behind shows at the Dragon’s Den (review here) and the Stoned Goat fest in Worcester (review here) and I was pleased to be more familiar with songs like “Valley of the Stone” and “Wolves behind the Sheep,” the balance of thrash and heavy rock within which threw down a heavy gauntlet for the other three bands to pick up. If they played it, I didn’t catch “Sacred Moon Cult,” the closer from their spring 2013 Valley of the Stone outing, but seeming to decide to do so off the cuff, they finished out with a convincing take on Pentagram‘s classic “Forever My Queen,” giving double-guitar thrust to the rawness of the original’s riffing.

In addition to being a strong bill, it was also fairly diverse within a heavy scope. That became apparent as Summoner, who played next, made ready to take the stage with both a sound and a character far disparate from that of SET, trading out that’s band’s harsher edge and grittier presence for smoother, more progressive heaviness. What the two bands had in common was a clear thread of tonal heft — Rozamov and Elder followed suit in that regard as well — but Summoner‘s influences, more in the Mastodon/Baroness vein, were spaced out wide enough from the Rozamov (Photo by JJ Koczan)preceding act that they were immediately distinguished. This was also the first I’d seen them since the release of their second album, 2013’s Atlantian, on Magnetic Eye Records, and while I knew from prior experience they delivered live, it was interesting to see them do so as a more mature, established outfit than they were late in 2012 when I caught them in New York.

They pummeled and stomped and dug themselves into their material neatly, clearly enjoying the process as well, guitarists AJ Peters and Joe Richner tilting their heads back across various leads and riffs while vocalist/bassist Chris Johnson kept a consistent, sincere smile across his face no matter how hard he also happened to be slamming the song at the time, and behind, drummer Scott Smith propelled their neo-metallic stomp. Much of what they played came from their 2012 debut, Phoenix, but “Horns of War” represented Atlantian well and “The Interloper” and “Winged Hessians” seemed to rouse no complaints from the increasingly full room there to watch them. When Rozamov went on, the trio would be a turn back toward darker, rawer vibes, but a propensity for big tones remained firm. I stood in front of bassist Tom Corino and could just about have swam through the density oozing out of the speaker cabinet.

Rozamov (Photo by JJ Koczan)It was a bit much, apparently, since part-way through the Rozamov set the bass cut out, leaving drummer Will Hendrix and guitarist/vocalist Matt Iacovelli to fill the time while the problem was discovered, analyzed and ultimately remedied. Blown tube. It didn’t take long, but Rozamov‘s dark, thickened-thrash had built a good head of steam by then and they essentially had to put their momentum back together from scratch. To their credit, they did. By the end of their set, which was a little longer than SET or Summoner‘s had been, it was easy to forget there had been an interruption at all. Much of their material seemed newer than 2013’s Of Gods and Flesh EP, and I’m not sure what they might have in the works, but I think the only Boston band I’ve seen more in the last year is Gozu, and I’ve yet to emerge from a Rozamov set less than impressed.

And Elder. Well, Elder are world-class at this point. They hadn’t played in the States since that farewell show last August, but they did a run of European gigs and their third album is reportedly in the can headed for a 2015 release. One might expect a band in their circumstance to be a little rusty — guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto all Elder (Photo by JJ Koczan)live in different states as well — but there wasn’t anything I could’ve asked from Elder‘s set it didn’t deliver, including a glimpse at their new stuff. The song “Compendium” from the new record was the only new one aired, the rest of what they played drawn from 2012’s stellar Spires Burn/Release EP (review here) and 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here), but it offered a sense of progression nonetheless, a forward motion in its central riff acting as a kind of launch point from which the trio boomeranged, pushing as far as they could before snapping back to the initial movement in the manner that has become as much a part of their style as Donovan‘s head-spinning bass fills or Couto‘s unmitigated swing.

To that, I’ll just note that, including this show, I’ve seen Couto play drums in three different bands/iterations in the last month — with Kind in Worcester, with Darryl Shepard‘s Blackwolfgoat in Allston, and here — and while those were a formative act and a sit-in jam, I think it’s still worth pointing out that with Elder, it was a different level of performance entirely. Locked in Elder (Photo by JJ Koczan)with Donovan and DiSalvo, he seemed decidedly in his element, and that goes for the other two members of Elder as well, the three of them air-tight on the expansive “Release” and Dead Roots Stirring‘s “Knot,” which rounded out the album and this set alike. It seemed we might get an encore, but I think venue curfew was a factor — it was getting on midnight, and it’s not like it was a Tuesday or anything — and the house lights came up in the universal sign of get-the-hell-out. I’d wanted to pick up a copy of Elder‘s Live at Roadburn, since I hear one or two of my photos is included, but it was packed over there and I had writing to do, so I split into the fall air to start the not-inconsiderable hike back to my car and home.

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Live Review: Black Cobra, Lo-Pan, Lunglust, Hepatagua and Sea of Bones in Cambridge, MA, 09.16.14

Posted in Reviews on September 17th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

Black Cobra (Photo by JJ Koczan)

There was a point during Black Cobra‘s set last night at T.T. the Bear’s Place in Cambridge at which I felt like my head had been swallowed by some gargantuan octogod out of a Lovecraft horror. Five bands deep into a five-band Tuesday, it was hard to stand up let alone make any attempt to keep up with Black Cobra‘s intensity, which has been outdoing rockers far more riotous than I for over a decade. They were headlining, playing last, of course, a show that might as well have been billed as a festival, with their tourmates Lo-Pan and local support from LunglustHepatagua and Connecticut’s Sea of Bones. My first time at T.T. the Bear’s was going to give me plenty of opportunity to get to know it.

If you’re looking for it, it’s quite literally next to the Middle East, which I don’t suppose will be much help when they turn that whole complex into condos as they’re allegedly going to do sooner or later, likely working at Boston’s usual we’ll-get-there-in-200-years pace in a continued effort to destroy any sense of culture not directly related either to the higher education of its imported money-spending rich kids or the steadfast working class scoffery of its actual citizens. A whole town dedicated to telling itself to fuck off. It’s a good place to like sports, not a good place to try and open a bar. So it goes.

Despite a few circles around the block for parking, I was early. Sea of Bones were opening, so we’ll start there:

Sea of Bones

Sea of Bones (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I was surprised Sea of Bones would start the show. Not because they’re a huge commercial band or anything, but because the Connecticut-based three-piece are so loud, I know that if I was another opening act on the bill, I wouldn’t want to follow them. Their brutal post-doom emanated from a formidable wall of cabinets as Mammoth in sound as in their brand, the company founded by Sea of Bones guitarist Tom Mucherino given a weighty endorsement by the band’s own tectonic force. The tension in their quiet stretches isn’t to be understated, but when Mucherino, bassist Gary Amedy and drummer Kevin Wigginton all crash in on the material from their 2013 two-disc sophomore outing, The Earth Wants us Dead (review here), all three adding their vocals to the assault, they’re quite frankly one of the heaviest acts I’ve ever seen. I spent the last $10 to my miserable name on the CD of The Earth Wants us Dead, and no regrets. An early laugh for the night was when, after two or three songs, they were informed they had five minutes left and ended the set because none of their material is that short. Right fucking on.

 Hepatagua

Hepatagua (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It was Hepatagua guitarist/vocalist Aaron Gray who reportedly brought the Black Cobra and Lo-Pan tour to town in the first place, and after seeing his duo’s former moniker, Automatic Death Pill, on shows more or less since I moved here, I was glad to finally get to see them play. The band is Gray and drummer Nate Linehan (ex-Anal CuntFistulaFinisher, etc.), and they tapped into various heavy impulses, indulging a thrashy impulse here or there but mostly sticking to a steady groove. Gray‘s vocals leaned aggressive but weren’t necessarily a given as growls, and the chemistry between the two was clear on stage, Automatic Death Pill having gotten their start in 2010, and they seemed most at home in raw sludge. They don’t have anything recorded as yet — rumor is they’ll address that this winter — but it’ll be interesting to find out how or if their material solidifies in the studio or keeps the edge with which they presented it at T.T. the Bear’s. Either way, I sincerely doubt this will be the last time I run into them, and they gave me something to look forward to for the next one.

Lunglust

lunglust (Photo by JJ Koczan)

A five-piece with Nicholas Wolf and Brad Macomber of The Proselyte (also Phantom Glue in the case of the former) on guitar and bass, respectively, Lunglust played that kind of dark hardcore that’s doom in its tone and metal in its fervor but still ready to toss in a breakdown every now and again. Drummer Reid Calkin had “You’re Shitty” emblazoned on the front of his kick, which didn’t seem very nice, but they were as tight as the style would require and five dudes’ worth of loud, guitarist Eric Lee in the dark on the far right of the stage and vocalist Jeff Sykes periodically stepping out onto the speakers in front of the stage to get further get his point across. No worries there. His t-shirt was the second logo sighting of the night for His Hero is Gone (Sea of Bones‘ Mucherino had a patch), and his disaffection bled into each cupped-mic growl. In terms of their basic sound, they weren’t really my thing, but they quickly showed why they were where they were on the bill and pummeled with speed, efficiency and viciousness, seeming to enjoy the violence every step of the way. I was glad no one in the crowd started throwing punches.

Lo-Pan

Going to see Lo-Pan is a no-brainer. Oh, Lo-Pan‘s coming through town? Do you have feet? Well, you better use those feet to march your ass over to wherever they’re gonna be and enjoy. With the release of Colossus, the hard-touring Columbus, Ohio, unit’s fourth album, impending, it seemed all the more reason to be there. “Regulus” from that album was aired, as well as the expansive “Eastern Seas” and “Vox” (track premiere here), and “Marathon Man” was the highlight of my night. They dipped back to 2011’s Salvador (review here) only once, for “Chichen Itza,” and otherwise the whole set was new material. That was the case for the most part as well when they played the Small Stone showcase next door at the Middle East, but I was glad to be more familiar with the songs this time around. On stage, they were much as ever — ridiculously tight and locked in, guitarist Brian Fristoe in a universe comprised of his own sleek grooves while on the opposite side of the stage bassist Scott Thompson bangs his head like he’s trying to shake it off, up front, drummer Jesse Bartz slams his cymbals so hard they bite through your earplugs and in back, vocalist Jeff Martin offers soul-stirring command. I thought he was going to blow out the P.A. during “Vox,” but no equipment was damaged. Still, it was easy to tell how deep into this tour Lo-Pan were. Not quite halfway through the run with Black Cobra, they had their inside jokes going (Martin shouted the whole set out to Guy Fieri, the crowd “didn’t need to know why”) and road eyes on, barely seeing the place, focused and intent on the work they were doing in it, looking right past, all straightforward drive and momentum build.

Black Cobra

black cobra (Photo by JJ Koczan)

That made them an excellent lead-in for Black Cobra. I had wondered how it might be going from Lo-Pan‘s more heavy rocking style to Black Cobra‘s unadulterated thrash bludgeonry, but what the two bands have in common is they’re both killer live acts. In the case of Black Cobra, they’re now a decade removed from the release of their first EP, and the duo of Jason Landrian (guitar/vocals) and Rafa Martinez (drums) have dedicated most of that time to perfecting their craft on the road. The short version is they sound like it. I’ve already told you I was beat to hell by the time they went on. Black Cobra, on the other hand, were a torrent of adrenaline, Martinez and Landrian pounding out selections from their catalog starting with “One Nine” from 2006’s debut full-length, Bestial, and including highlights from their most recent outing, 2011’s Invernal (review here), like “Avalanche,” the righteously chugging “Corrosion Fields” and overwhelmingly extreme “Obliteration.” Like Lo-Pan before them, they sounded like a band who’s been on tour for about two weeks, dead set on what they want to do and how they want to do it. They’re about due for a new record as well, and I was hoping for some new material, but most of what they played came from Invernal, though they included the title-track from 2009’s Chronomega and closed out with “Five Daggers” from 2007’s Feather and StoneLandrian seeming to take an opportunity between each cut to roar out a primal dominance and encourage the audience to join him in it. They did. No encore at the end, but nothing left to say. The house lights came on quick and those of us still in the room collected our well-demolished consciousnesses and shuffled out. For what it’s worth, Black Cobra looked like they could’ve kept playing with no problem.

I got pulled over on my way home, received a $55 ticket on a back road for my car not being inspected. My car has over 205,000 miles on it. The cop was visibly disappointed I wasn’t drunk, and I was visibly disappointed he existed. Another police vehicle pulled around and sat in a nearby parking lot and I thought about asking Officer McDickhead if he needed backup to tell me my license plate light was out, if maybe he didn’t want to break out the military surplus assault vehicles, but didn’t. He told me have a good night and I grunted at him and rolled up my window. Fucker. Worst part about it is cops are younger than me at this point. Got in somewhere around 2AM.

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Live Review: Fu Manchu, Electric Citizen and Gozu in Cambridge, 05.20.14

Posted in Reviews on May 21st, 2014 by JJ Koczan

The problem with reviewing a Fu Manchu show is picking highlights. “Uh, yeah, the best part was when Fu Manchu showed up and played. That kicked ass.” Review over.

With Ohio Sabbath devotees Electric Citizen and supporting and Boston’s own Gozu — who played with Fu Manchu their last time through as well, also at The Sinclair, if I’m not mistaken — as the opener, the evening promised a three-band bill with no filler. My first time at The Sinclair — getting to know venues has been both terrifying and exciting — it turned out to be a cool space. Pro shop. The location is all Harvarded-out. I laughed seeing a kid get on a college shuttle bus carrying a 30-pack of Keystone Light at the notion of “higher” education, but restaurants and bars and whatnot line kind of a side-street near the same square where one finds Armageddon Shop. You go up stairs outside to enter and a couple more to step up to the stage area. There’s a balcony in back that seemed like prime real estate, and the stage, high, well-lit, boasted solid sound even up front. It was a cool place to see a show, and a cool show to see. I felt like I’d won just by virtue of being there.

Of course, that feeling only amplified once Gozu went on. Back less than a month from a European tour that took them from Roadburn, where they destroyed, to Desertfest Berlin, they were still in excellent form, and while it was early, they got a hero’s welcome from the local types present as they ran through a well-oiled set that included the regulars “Irish Dart Fight” and the always-appreciated “Jan-Michael Vincent,” as well as the Locust Season closer “Alone” to round out. That song, slower, longer, distinct from a lot of Gozu‘s other material, seemed to show particularly how much fun bassist Joe Grotto and drummer Mike Hubbard are apparently having in the rhythm section. Their styles are well-suited to each other, Hubbard‘s seemingly inherent swing a vast departure from former drummer Barry Spillberg (Wargasm)’s metallized precision. Grotto rides those grooves well, and as Gozu are probably the band I’ve seen most since moving to the area last year, I’ve dug being able to watch that dynamic develop.

It wasn’t a particularly long set, but it was precise, and guitarists Marc Gaffney and Doug Sherman offered crunch tones and shredded leads to start the night off right. It was Tuesday — as one ultra-clever showgoer near the front would tell Scott Hill later, it was “Fu-Manchuesday” — so I don’t know how many people were in it for a party to start out, but Gozu laid the foundation for one anyway and their tightness gave Electric Citizen a heavy lead-in. The Ohio foursome had a different vibe, and after checking out their debut EP last year and their newer Light Years Beyond 7″ released for this tour ahead of their first long-player, Sateen, which is due in July, I was curious to see how their retro mindset would play out on stage. There aren’t a lot of bands in the States — at least not nearly as many as seem to be floating around Europe these days — who’ve picked up on what the likes of Graveyard have done to revitalize ’70s heavy. The model is less firmly planted here. I wondered how that might affect Electric Citizen‘s delivery.

In short, it didn’t. I guess between acts like Blood Ceremony, Blues Pills, Jex Thoth, etc., there’s enough for a new band like the Cincinnati troupe to match with their own creative whims in terms of aesthetic. If there was any continuity from Gozu, it was in drummer Nate Wagner‘s swagger and swing, though Electric Citizen put it to more boogie-fied use. On stage, they came across as even more Sabbathian than their recorded material, to the point that I was somewhat surprised to see guitarist Ross Dolan playing through Oranges instead of Laneys, but he got his point across anyway. His leads seemed to do that Iommic double-layer effect, though of course he was only playing once, and well-fringed vocalist Laura Dolan carried the rush-grooves with more than capable melodicism. A more subdued presence, bassist Nick Vogelpohl was the anchor around which the rest of the band boiled, and in addition to “Shallow Water” from the new album, they made a highlight out of the single “Light Years Beyond,” ending their set with its memorable bounce and stomp. The vibe was a bit rawer without the organ that accompanies their recorded output, but Electric Citizen made plenty of new friends anyway.

And, well, Fu Manchu, right? I mean, if you know the band, you know what you’re going to get. For two decades, they’ve been among the top ranks of fuzz purveyors, beaming in riffs from the cosmos to vibe out earthlings everywhere. Their new one, Gigantoid (review here), was the occasion, but as with any band that has such a backlog of killer material, it was really just an all-around celebration of what they do. Highlights? Yeah, there were some. I’ll never, ever, complain about hearing “Boogie Van” live, or “Evil Eye” from 1997’s The Action is Go, or anything from 1996’s In Search Of…, from which “The Falcon Has Landed” and “Regal Begal” were aired, but seriously, it was Fu Manchu. Whatever they wanted to play, they’ve got more than enough to fill a set. Dudes up front kept yelling for “Hotdoggin'” from 2000’s King of the Roadguitarist/vocalist Scott Hill finally had to address it: “We’re probably not gonna play ‘Hotdoggin’,’ that’s right, I’m the asshole” — but who was about to argue with “Weird Beard” or “Hell on Wheels?” Nobody, if the crowd-surfing and moshing were anything to go by. Further proof that picking tunes for the set is best left to the professionals.

That said, there were a couple requests honored as the Fu tore through their planned set. “Weird Beard” was one, and “Superbird” from the band’s 1994 debut, No One Rides for Free (recently reissued on vinyl; review here), was another, and they broke it out like it was nothing. “Oh yeah, here’s a 20-year-old song that we had no intention of playing, watch us completely nail it.” So, playing in front of a backdrop of the Keiron Copper cover art and Peder Bergstrand logo for Gigantoid the band did leave a bit of room before closing out with “King of the Road,” leaving stage and coming back for an encore of “Saturn III” from The Action is Go, the song seeming in context like a jammy precursor to the new album’s finale, “The Last Question,” guitarist Bob Balch swirling out effects while Brad Davis and Scott Reeder held down the groove and Hill headbanged like a man with stock in Advil. They didn’t play “The Last Question” — no need to double up on the jam — but “Invaders on My Back,” “Dimension Shifter,” “Triplanetary” and “Anxiety Reducer” represented the new album well. I’d been hoping for “Radio Source Sagittarius,” but again, there’s that issue of there simply being too much Fu Manchu for one show. They should do two nights in every city they play.

Vinyl for Gigantoid, which the band has released on their own At the Dojo Records label, is reportedly forthcoming, though they had No One Rides for Free at the merch table. I bought a CD of the new record and made my way back out into a chilly spring night to walk down the block to where I parked. It wasn’t too long before I cracked open that copy of Gigantoid and put it on, either. Some bands, you just can’t get enough.

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