Going on 20 years as the colossus of Japan’s extreme metal underground, Tokyo’s Coffinshas shown no signs of slowing down. Boasting 4 weighty full lengths and no dearth of EPs and splits, this latest offering from Tartarus, entitled Craving To Eternal Slumber (Hammerheart America), is what we kindly refer to in the biz as “more of the same”. This is no fault however, as their œuvre has suffered from no shortage of death/doom cannonading that borrows from the crush of DM veterans Incantation, sludge impresarios Buzzov*en, and the rolling punk inflected gallop of Ilsa. I could go on, but to over-complicate Coffins’ mephitic, yet basic stew is to ovsrstuff the cauldron.
Being a short and sweet handful of songs, and the second major release featuring the new line-up, opening track ‘Hatred Storm’ charging in like a loose, and rather ticked off pachyderm. Alternating between Swedeath romps and grooving headbang sections, complete with a sweet solo by axe-cutioner and former frontman Bungo, the dynamics are set in place for the rest of the effort. The production, in following with previous LP The Fleshland, is considerably less thick and wet than it was in times past, but their sound is no less suffocating, as evidenced by the title track’s menacing, swampy lurch.
While the EP does hold up to multiple listens (I may be on my 10th now), its strengths lie primarily in the tracks that sound a bit more, for lack of better word, ” written “. The title track, despite its initial plod, picks up your attention with a sample of a man being tortured, adding a whole new dimension to this exploration of misery. Opener ‘Hatred Storm’, with its initial kick to the teeth, and the grand neckbreaker that is closer ‘Decapitated Crawl’ also hold the primary meat of interest, not to say the other tracks are at all gristle. A delectably rotten teaser, as Coffins is nothing if not infinitely industrious with their (a)musical output, and will continue sculpting new visions of horror for what I hope is another 20 years. At least.
Ostensibly genreless Chicopee demolishers in The Acacia Strain has been on the warpath since 2001, consistently releasing music that front man Vincent Bennet insists isn’t deathcore, a label which has, as recent internet history dictates, become one to avoid. Indeed, in a world of 7 billion people, originality is hard to come by. This being TAS’ (un)lucky seventh studio release, they’ve shown that there’s more than one way to skin a human alive, persevering after the loss of faithful six-string executioner DL Laskiewicz. With a title and cover art that could very well belong on a sludge/doom metal album, though following with the recent theme of morbid birds, it was hard to predict how the band could follow up the impossibly heavy Death is the Only Mortal, a veritable feast of down-tuned, low tempo aggression at its meanest. With Coma Witch, we’re still in dangerously heavy territory, and, as proven by a track record of inventive metal/hardcore bruising, there’s some actual music churning ‘neath the chugs.
When one thinks of The Acacia Strain, it’s hard not to immediately recall their famous, though thankfully terminated, beef with Emmure over who came up with drop-B misogyny first. If anything, this has taken away from a truly objective look at the band’s music, which is miles beyond what Emmure and their cuckold fascination can be worth. It doesn’t matter who made it up; TAS is doing it consistently better. They’re essentially regarded as hardcore’s answer to polyrhythm polymaths in Sweden’s Meshuggah, and Coma Witch does little to quiet this discussion. ‘Send Help’, much like ‘Woah! Shut it Down’ from The Dead Walk, opens with a killer off-kilter groove, accented by eerie leads, a technique that the band seems to be experimenting with more than ever. Continent and Wormwood were a successful welding of beatdown brutality and enough melody to taste, so it was a good move on their part to pursue this direction. ‘Holy Walls of the Vatican’, one of the overall fastest psalms, even shows Vincent Bennett channeling the bark of Travis of Cattle Decapitation alongside his usual roar.
While the mainly exploring TAS’ versatility, it’s easy to hear the callbacks to previous works; the aforementioned ‘Send Help’, and ‘VVorld Demise’ (feat. Brendan of Incendiary) bringing in a leitmotif of sorts by altering the tempo and pitch of the chorus from Continent’s ‘Skynet’, to pleasing results. The lyrics, if you’ve listened to any other release by TAS (seriously, pick one) haven’t changed much; Vincent still hates everyone and wants them to all to suffer. Any of their lines could go on the back of a shirt as a quote, really. The use of bone-chilling, nihilistic and murderous samples is still effective as it always has been in framing the violence the band embodies. None of the songs are too long or too short, and not hurting for variety either. Disc 2, featuring the 28 minute epic ‘Observe’, is like ‘Tactical Nuke’ from Wormwood had a bastard child with Pig Destroyer’s ‘Natasha’. Massive breakdowns, though now swimming in light leads,with world-ending clips of dialogue, ambient passages, and a sorrowful string quartet to conclude the proceedings. One-dimensional meathead hardcore, this band is not.
X Japan are, without a doubt, Japan’s most enduring and influential rock band. And yes, even though they are, by the by, a Metal band, their sound, their aura, and their tendency to do it big and loud, is very much based in the kind of spectacle rock at its finest is supposed to create. Taking on Madison Square Garden was the band’s dream concert since they began to see their dedication turn into liquid success shortly before the untimely death of guitarist Hide, who is, in spirit, still considered by fans and the band to be part of the action.
Untold amounts of anticipation could be sensed around the venue, sitting atop the historic Penn Station in the center of New York. Fans milled around, periodically erupting into the signature call-and-response warcry of “We Are! X!”, and judging by how much X Japan merch and hide/80s Toshi cosplay was to be seen, nobody cared about being ‘that guy’. To date, Iron Maiden or Kiss can get away with that, is how huge X Japan is as a force of rock history. With every minute that wasn’t 8:00 pm Eastern time, I swear my heart crept closer to my throat as the symphonic rendition of ‘Amethyst’ played over the speaker. Upon the fateful hour’s arrival, the grandfathers of J-Rock themselves stepped onstage, glorious as they ever have been, kicking off with a one-two hit of ‘Jade’ and ‘Rusty Nail’, pyrotechnics included, mercilessly hooking the already engaged audience with the mighty power metal number ‘Silent Jealousy’, which certainly got heads banging vigorously as Madison Square Garden has probably never seen.
Following a new song entitled ‘Beneath The Skin’ from an upcoming album -which I’m sure will be off the charts- entertaining guitar/bass duel where Pata and Heath demonstrated the chemistry that enables them to time and time again wow the general populace of the world with both spur-of-the-moment innovation and precision mastery. Loosing the more standard hard rock number ‘Drain’ before an epic violin solo by Sugizo, the time was ripe for ‘Kurenai’, a piece as invigoratingly metal as it is tastefully composed. Another new song, ‘Hero’, had Toshi inviting the audience -and Yoshiki too, but he said “No fuckin’ way”- to sing along with the chorus, complete with words on the screen. The guys in X Japan are nothing if not interactive. After the appropriately titled ‘Born to be Free’, the band takes a well-earned intermission while Yoshiki, composer extraordinaire, took the stage hitoride to grace us with a piano solo featuring Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’, and even ‘Star Spangled Banner’ made an appearance at one point too. So meaningful was this concert to the band, and just being able to finally give American fans the show they were waiting for, it was impossible to see this as hackneyed in the slightest, and I’m unpatriotic almost to the point of treason sometimes.
Yoshiki’s mindblowing drum solo, complete with symphonic backing, was a whole show in and of itself. Reaching and maintaining heights of climactic power I could have never imagined while his drumset hovered about on a glittering platform, and select wristbands throughout the audience did the same, it was a testament to the amount of time the band has spent in perfecting their art. Speaking of art, I cried at last when, after a moment to let Yoshiki cool down after his time as a comet, the band played ‘Forever Love’, displaying images of old concerts, them just hanging out, and enjoying all that rock allowed them to as the massively creative individuals they are. The real tearjerker was arguably Yoshiki’s telling the story of the band’s trials and struggles over the years, of his and Toshi’s nearly half-century of friendship, and their gratitude for having fans and professionals that cared enough to bring to life the event of which I type. Restarting the rock with their comeback song, ‘I.V.’, followed by the endlessly anthemic rager ‘X’, and plenty of throat-rending shouts of “We Are!” by Yoshiki, always to a louder and more impassioned response of “X!” from the crowd, they took leave of the stage once again, but no one was fooled. They still hadn’t played ‘Endless Rain’ or ‘Art of Life’ yet.
I’m sure you can fill in the blanks from here.
Ending with an acoustic version of ‘Forever Love’ over the speakers as the band pelted the audience with roses -to say nothing of the confetti, streamers, and fireworks- and Yoshiki’s body itself -they weren’t ready for that stagedive-, I was left in emotional rapture. I’d laughed, I’d cried, I’d screamed like a barbarian, I’d cried more, and I sure as hell cried a little more. Literally a once in a lifetime concert, among the best live music events I’ve witnessed, and, come to think of it, the only concert I feel funny about calling a ‘show’; it would seem blasphemous to ever think of X Japan as a gig I decided to see. It was more of a spiritual obligation. After all:
Virginia’s grind masters in Pig Destroyer are a talented group, to say the very least. Being a band that has pushed the boundaries of Grindcore, sonically and creatively for the past 15 years, one starts to wonder what other tricks they could have up their short sleeves. It’d be one thing if they only released punishing 200+ BPM torture sessions (which, honestly, I’d be fine with), but like any artist deserving their reputation, they occasionally do, if you’ll excuse the lame pun, grind to a halt. Such you can experience in the eerie-beyond-measure 38 minute doom/ambient track ‘Natasha’, following the canon of their masterpiece Terrifyer. In addition, they’ve introduced electronic experimentation, coming as no surprise to fans, as Scott Hull is the evil wizard behind cybergrind-on-PCP degenerates Agoraphobic Nosebleed and harsh noise project Japanese Torture Comedy Hour. In case you were wondering —and you probably weren’t—, JTCH and PD have occasionally conflated, as evidenced by Explosions In Ward 6 being a song on Voltage Monster, and the track ‘Hyperviolet’ off of Prowler In The Yard samples ‘Black Mathematics’.
But enough of that history lesson, this is the here and now. Sort of. Mass & Volume was reportedly birthed while the band had some spare time following the recording of Phantom Limb, (though it had never seen the light until 2013, released as a tribute to the late Pat Egan of Relapse Records. Like ‘Natasha’, this is a decidedly low-tempo release; the band eschews speeds above that of a funereal march in favour of washing feedback, ceremonial ambiance, and of course, riffs as big as a mountain.
The 19 minute title track, bookended by Blake Harrison’s atmospheric vibes that make you feel like you’re on shrooms in the woods, plods along at glacial pace. Much of the track consists of moments of doom, with interstitial feedback providing the bulk of the noise, alongside the synthesizers. Musically, this is a highly appropriate backdrop for the album cover, which features hooded monks worshiping a hideous deity. This beast has vocals, though admittedly I feel the track could have simply dispensed with them altogether. J.R. Hayes screaming for a few minutes in what is otherwise a quite mellow track —as mellow as Electric Wizard maybe— takes away more than it adds, unfortunately. Perhaps Sunn O))) had the right idea.
‘Red Tar’ is the more aggressive side, clocking it at 6 and a half minutes, channeling less YOB or The Melvins and more of Buzzov*en or Thou’s unmitigated hatred. Here, the vocals fit better, though J.R.’s use of effects here is questionable, since his natural throat is already frightening enough. Just take a look at any live video where his microphone breaks, and you’ll see what he’s capable of. The reverb/echo chamber quality is interesting, I can’t help but feel that something’s off about that processed snarl. The lack of dynamics in rhythm makes me wish they had shaved off a few minutes from an otherwise decent romp through the swamp, but still a good headbang track.
All things considered, this EP holds some weight, though it’s easy to see why it almost didn’t get to see the rays of our warming sun. It’s ‘Natasha’-different, which is good, as we see they’ve retained their ability to branch out —they even recently got a bassist, to say nothing of the sample guy/backup vocalist— but it’s obvious that this work was meant to be more of an optional soup or salad than a main course of, let’s say, roasted cop garnished with $100 bills stolen from the Federal Reserve. People’s reactions will certainly vary, but almost everyone agrees that their strength lies mainly in the gladiatorial aspect of their artistry.
Spearheading the events were practiced local (body) openers, Scalpel, who are honestly one of the few forever-local-band-syndrome Death Metal bands that I can enjoy seeing repeatedly. They’ve done the honours of opening ceremonies for Aborted, Morbid Angel, and Gorguts, just to name the recent ones that stick out. It’s nasty, brutal, primitive, and hairy, technically proficient when appropriate, and inciting brainless pit violence the next. By “brainless pit violence”, I kinda mean a few guys tossed each other around and bumped shoulders like so many rams, but clearly the music is working the way it should. For fans of Brutal Death Metal, as you may have guessed.
California’s Exmortus (not to be confused with Tampa old school death metal) embraces antiquity without shunning modernity. With influences equal parts scorching NWOBHM licks, Black Thrash barbarity, and classical sensibility to taste. A welcome contrast to Scalpel, awash in gore, Exmortus’ rousing, anthemic approach is the meeting ground between Holy Grail -represented by the bassist’s choice of shirt- and that bygone Baroque swagger of early Children of Bodom, sans keyboards, plus signature ESP models. Melodic, but not too much so, there were hints of power metal scattered throughout, but never in danger of erupting into an inflatable swordfight.
As much as I wish I could sing praise to Allegaeon for their brand of admittedly decent Melodic Tech-Death, I found this Colorado crew to be ultimately uninspired. Though vocalist Ezra does have an animated stage presence and the band is certainly competent, I’ve heard so many similar acts that I can scarcely feel as impressed as others seem to be. I think of Sylosis, who play a very similar style; Scar Symmetry, who have, in my mind, captured a distinctive take on the Melo-Death sound; and Dark Tranquillity, whom we may ‘blame’ for this strain of Gothenburg mysticism. Their breakdowns seem obligatory rather than energetic, and the solos, while thankfully, not long-winded, don’t seem constructed to the best of their ability. If this is their best, then it’s just not my cup of tea. Or maybe it’s a cup of tea I’ve had too many times.
Technical Death Metal poets laureate in Virginia’s Arsis have once again given us a sermon in the obscure day to day sorrows of humanity. Their title pays homage to a poetry term running counter to thesis; it is the unaccented beat in a work of verse, and/or the unaccented part of a measure. Indeed, Arsis’ particular style meshes the ‘Elegant and Perverse’, a mournful take on death metal that incorporates both the twisted brutality and the flowing melody it is capable of, with equal portent.
Conducting the proceedings with a symphonic grandeur was of utmost importance, this year marking the 10th anniversary of the band’s landmark album, A Celebration of Guilt (Willowtip), an album whose corrupting influence has blackened many a heart with its majestic hooks, its malicious, sharp-edged sheen respected by both Technical and Melodic camps; opening, as expected, with out favourite love song, ‘The Face of My Innocence’, to exposing the folly of falsity in ‘The Sadistic Motives Behind Bereavement Letters’, and the chronicles of bestial nightmare itself through the venomously sweet ‘Wholly Night’. It was like a walk-through of essential Arsis, with ‘We Are The Nightmare’ and the abbreviated, but no less brilliant, version of ‘A Diamond For Disease’ making much appreciated appearances. Breaking the pattern of ‘Maddening Disdain’ (I tried), we were treated to an amusing cover of ‘Animal (Fuck Like A Beast)’ by W.A.S.P., which James Malone says they learned mainly to get laid. I suppose the fact that they play it now means either it works, or it has yet to. I’ll stick to their originals, myself, and would have preferred to hear ‘The Cold Resistance’ in its place, but a rare talent like Arsis deserves to succumb to their baser instincts between composing some of the more brilliant Death Metal this side of Keats. The video for ‘Forced To Rock’ will be all the evidence I need, I’m sure.
Heavy Metal Movies (Bazillion Points), written by Mike “Beardo” McPadden is a project the likes of which any metal geek-movie geek fusion would be proud to have accomplished in their lives; proof that they have indeed seen more movies than you, and can tell you how headbangingly awesome each is in their own way. Indeed, this titanic titanium tome does indeed show, rather than tell the sheer amount of neck-snapping cinematography observed by one man needed to even dare a book of this lethal thickness. From A to Z, it’s an outpouring of movie mayhem and magick from teenage stoner boners to Nordic loners; rockumentaries and mockumentaries; canon appearances by the metal gods on screen and on record; from swords to spaceships, and from monsters to Manson (Editor’s note: both Charles and Marilyn), this book packs it all in, dating from the silent era Nosferatu (1922) to the modern Hollywood bombast of The Hobbit (2012) and a whole hell of a lot of stuff in between that inspired distortion, patched denim, leather, and poor hygiene worldwide.
No small undertaking, indeed, and it is by no means exhaustive —there’s only so much movie madness a man can take, what with repeated viewings— but after the decades of retinal abuse, surround sound pounding, and mental torment the equivalent of ten thousand screaming Metal shows, with enough theatre expertise to fill a million beer-drown’d dive bars, is it worth viewing?
The first thing to take into account is that not every movie will get equal attention. It’s clear which movies Mike is not entirely familiar with, as some get a full, comprehensive summary, and others read like a short IMDb synopsis. The subjective nature of movies also may lead you to find yourself disagreeing with him from time to time. For instance, he totally trashes the 1995 Judge Dredd, but gives praise to How To Train Your Dragon (2010); no bueno for me there, bud. Nevertheless, you’ll find great joy in flipping through at random, finding movies you’ve either seen and loved/hated or only heard of; from underground foreign titles that only exist on VHS to the readily available titles in a store near you, you’ll not be stuck for heavy viewing material.
All eras of metal mania on the big screen are represented, and no genre is left untouched, except perhaps romance, because romance isn’t metal. Half the fun of looking through this book is seeing the posters of movies both familiar and obscure, drinking in all of the imagery and titles that inspired rock, metal, punk and hardcore’s unique sense of aesthetic. While the weight of the book and the inclusion of so many titles show that a lot of thought and work went into its making, it does fall short with the apparent lack of peer editing.
For instance, the Eraserhead review reads awkwardly, mentioning Jack Nance’s iconic hairdo twice, in amnesiac fashion. As entertaining as the ‘reasons’ for why a movie is metal are —marked none-too-discretely by pentagrams—, an index would be oh-so helpful; what if I want to specifically flip to more post-apocalyptic movies, movies specifically with metal soundtracks, or ones that deal with censorship, or have fun with possessed nuns? He misses the chance to reference grind band Maruta’s name in relation to Men Behind The Sun (1988); how many other small oversights have there been that steal from the overall potential richness? The book is, frankly, quite messy due to the lack of features that make it easy to selectively navigate, but as I mentioned, it’s best for flipping about aimlessly. Be prepared to hellhound-ear this thing to hell.
Where the book fails, however, its strengths are there to remind you that it’s all in good fun. Sure, it’s not a definitive encyclopaedia with every single cool moment delineated scientifically for your judgmental camera of a brain. It’s a book by a geek, geeking out in print, for other geeks to enjoy. Want to know about every Metallica documentary, every Alice Cooper cameo, and just how many Z-grade alien movies you can watch without cooking your brain? If you’re willing to have a chaotically heavy and at times, brutally eggheaded read under 666 pages, by all means, go for it.
One of the most exciting underground bands in America today is Ramlord. Led by the positively nihilistic Jan Slezak (Leather Chalice), their mesh of crust-laden blackened d-beat has kids beating the piss out of each other up and down the east coast and scowling a lot in general. Sort of an anti-hero band for people in these times of anti-everything; these guys play fast, sick music without apology or regard for typical conventions. Their recent album, Crippled Minds, Sundered Wisdom (Hypaethral Records) was a keeper too.Ghost Cult scribe Sean Pierre-Antoine has risked his own life and limb in the mosh pits of raided-by-police DIY venues and Elk’s Lodges to witness the fury Jan and his mates put down. It was only fitting that a fellow eccentric, like Sean, pen this Q & A for the band to try to uncover some ugly truths about them.
Aside from the obvious, what inspired the name Ramlord?
The name Ramlord was created by founding member and ex-bassist Brian, who played on Stench of Fallacy and the couple splits that followed it. I can only imagine his sick obsession with melding common livestock with honored religious figures. We praise the horned one eternal at the dawn of each painful, regrettable day.
On the topic of influence; what are some non-metal/punk artists that the band draws from?
I honestly don’t listen to anything outside of trve territory besides some harsh noise/power electronics and dark ambient, although those genres don’t have much influence on Ramlord. We draw from all extreme corners within punk and metal though.
You’ve got splits out with Cara Neir, Condensed Flesh, Welkin Dusk, and most recently, Nuclear Devastation; do you have a favorite?
Each release is special to me and slowly helps fill the many voids I experience on a daily basis. The romantic sounds of ‘Ceaseless Grief’ (from Welkin Dusk split) serve a different purpose than the introspective ‘Affliction of Clairvoyence’ (from Cara Neir split) so it is difficult to decide.
How would you describe the creative process behind the “normal” Ramlord song?
Although I write a majority of the music and bring it to practice beforehand, the songs shape and evolve when other members contribute their ideas to the sound. We often jam on one riff for a very long time until we can churn out the filthiest noise from it and then commit the best part of the jam into a short section of the track. It is an ever-evolving mass of sewage although it is always very clear when the trail of slime runs dry.
At the risk of raising discontent; is there anything you are dissatisfied with under the Ramlord name?
Ramlord is the ultimate project I can image being in, as I feel 666% free to pursue the musical direction in my filthy heart. All those strange pieces somehow come together to create one vision, or perhaps not, but our discography is so fragmented through short releases that no one notices.
How do you view the growing popularity of your stench?
It is very rewarding to see people making bootleg crewnecks and getting numerous pressings of releases and seeing my words and music resonate with many other suicidal failures. I have a very specific vision for songwriting and I am getting closer and closer to it with each release, this is the only optimistic aspect of my life.
What are your thoughts on the term “USBM”, and do you feel as though Ramlord fits in this category?
I would guess our closest genre is “blackened crust” although I feel quite detached from the metal, hardcore and punk scenes in my area. People have told us we aren’t “black metal enough” so this could be a big reason why.
What band(s) would you kill to tour with; active, non-touring or dead?
For all eternity :: Discharge. Other legends like Blasphemy, Incantation, Venom, Coffins, Abigail, Autopsy, Saint Vitus, Bathory hologram, etc..
How many songs about death, despair and loneliness do you have left in your collective soul?
I always thought I was constantly evolving lyrically with each release but I recently read through all the lyrics in one session and realized they are all about self-loathing and the fetishism of death’s release. No matter what I set out to write about, it comes full circle to the one true master : death.
Should we expect musical experimentation on future releases?
The newer recordings we have are heavier and use more ODSM influence, however, there are no plans to leave the banner of punk and metal any time soon. We have often talked about doing a 40-minute song of pure doom but with the constant barrage of splits, it might be a while before that happens.
Is there ever too much Discharge?
Absolutely not. I have never heard of a Discharge-clone I didn’t like, especially live. All bands should play Discharge covers, regardless of genre, if they want to be taken seriously (by me).
Hailz to Broken Limbs for putting out this split release! Krieg hail not from the frozen vasts of Finland or Norway, as their sound may suggest, but Somers Point, New Jersey, though they’re just about as evil as allowable. Since 1995, Krieg has just not given a damn, only being concerned with bringing forth musical gloom, dispensing with the usual occultist/Satanic rhetoric. ‘Eternal Victim’ does just what a band called Krieg should, and creates atmospheres both slow and doomy and warlike. The alternations of tempos, and the use of blistering rawness coupled with a sense of melody, hearkens to Finland’s notorious Satanic Warmaster, and that’s certainly no bad thing. Those looking for a good headbang section will get plenty, as Darkthrone’s early days definitely left their impression on this crew.
2008 brought us Minneapolis’ Wolvhammer, and being more modern, are unsurprisingly in league with the blackened sludge/crust end of the cauldron, bringing to mind acts like nearby Chicagoans Welkin Dusk, with the dirgey sludge influence of Japan’s Coffins. “Slaves To The Grime” struts with a swaggering rock-tempo verse like a wolf slathered in petrol, and also boasts whirlwind tremolo picking sections like an avalanche sending ice daggers. The vocals are a pure stormy howl, of which any fan of the genre will find at least palatable. Think Lightning Swords Of Death but with less cosmic echo. Again, the production is raw-ish, but it is used to benefit the aura rather than create static for kvlt sake. If anything, you could say this is quite ‘well-produced’, but that’s because you can even hear the rumbling of what appear to be some low-end frequencies. Shocking?
While this may seem a glowing review, bear in mind that both Krieg and Wolvhammer are certainly not re-inventing the formulæ they play; rather, they have done well in their arts, but it’s been done, is being done, and will continue to be done as long as people like it. But that being said, a worthwhile release, with slight favour going to the Krieg side, as I feel it’s just more… well… krieg. USBM in all its glorious despair has a light of hope.
For 25 years, Meshuggah has been terrorizing the ears and cortices of the music world, and so it was only natural that they’d bring along their apprentice masters of the mindfuck in Between the Buried and Me along for the ride. And what a ride, indeed. They could open a carnival of progressive wonders, where musical rules are meticulously followed and simultaneously twisted to Eldritch proportions. But enough of this posh music academy drivel, this is metal.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve caught Between The Buried and Me since their tour in 2009 with In Flames, but we’ll just settle for ‘a lot’. And having seen them a lot, one gets used to the Colors closing masterpiece, ‘White Walls’ being used as a closer rather than an opening. And one also gets used to the suspense in waiting for perhaps one, maybe even two gems pre-Alaska (Victory). What with the success of Colors (Victory) and having released three space-exploration reports since, they’ve obviously got a lot of material to choose from, and their priority seems to be the latter half of their career. Essentially, we can look forward to hearing mainly post-Alaska tunes as they played this night. Though keep your fingers crossed for their upcoming 15th anniversary.
This was one of those odd sets where BtBaM played mainly their longer songs, thus making Paul Waggoner’s statement to interviewers all-too-real. Perhaps we can stop waiting for them to bust out ‘Mordecai’ or ‘Naked By The Computer’ when they’re wrist-deep into ‘Lay Your Ghosts To Rest’, immediately followed by ‘Fossil Genera’ to cap off another amazing set. They’re changing, and we’re being taken with them as listeners and watchers. Keep writing/keep dreaming.
Meshuggah and BtBaM contrasted in a way that honestly took me off guard even though anyone with a working ear can see it immediately in their music. I refer to the aura created not only by 7-string guitars that make the sound of super-astronauts punching asteroids into other ones, but also their stage presence and light show. BtBaM was rather conservative this time, with no fancy screens, just stage lighting that undulated chromatically with the music, and kept their beards in sight. Meshuggah on the other hand was strobe hell, with lights that must be programmed by acid wizards for all of the meticulous timing. And no, you couldn’t see any of Jens Kidman’s faces from the floor unless you wanted to risk blinding yourself. Polyrhythms and infectious grooves were the name of the game. They even used the disco ball during ‘Gods of Rapture’. I don’t even remember the last artist who I’ve seen use that, if ever. Maybe The Roots?
This being their 25th anniversary, they played the “hits”, if you will, opening up with the caustic ‘Future Breed Machine’, an industrial hellride banger that never fails to incite mechanised violence. Plenty of material from their debut album, Contradictions Collapse (Nuclear Blast), including the robotic thrash of ‘Greed’ and the earlier mentioned ‘Gods of Rapture’. Choice tracks from Chaosphere, one being the mighty ‘New Millennium Cyanide Christ’, and quite heavy on the Koloss. ‘Straws Pulled At Random’ was my favourite of the night, though I wish they had found room for ‘Spasm’ as well, while they were doing Nothing.
Encoring with Riddler-esque green lights and a back-to-back delivery of ‘In Death – Is Life’ and ‘In Life – Is Death’ from Catch ThirtyThree, I can say they’ve officially won me over. Nevermore will I be ambivalent about Meshuggah, as they put on a killer show, even if their crowd doesn’t know the physics of how a circle-pit should work. During the fast parts, people.
The soreness had began to set in by this time, yet my body had no say in preventing further torture. There was yet more on the plate for this exercise session from hell. Luckily for my muscles, a one-two-three heavy handed slap of stoner/doom in the form of Windhand, Bongripper and Graves At Sea was how the Sabbath day was to begin. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if the former two bands practiced and recorded stoned and played sober?
My next gym coaches in Misery Index, however, demanded a few proverbial pushups, despite the lack of shade. How cruel of them to play ‘Traitors’ when they know that it’s impossible for me to stand still during such a thing.
The new track(s) from the newest opus The Killing Gods (Season of Mist) were business as usual; brutalising politically conscious death/grind the way Misery Index has delivered it to their hometown of Baltimore and the world for 13 lucky years. I’m assuming they all walked home after Deathfest, since they probably live up the street.
Pseudogod, they existed, and Wrathprayer from Chile played Blackened Death Metal that was surprisingly not too generic, though little stuck out in particular from their performance. The wizardly dissonance of Colombia’s (now based in Seattle, WA) Inquisition was much needed following these two noble, if not uninspiring acts.
Dagon’s trademark croaks take some getting used to if you’re not already into that thing, which I found out some years ago when I first heard ‘Those Of The Night’. I thought, “How the fuck are these Black Metal vocals? Weak shit, kid”, and fell in with the camp that didn’t enjoy the Popeye With Throat Cancer treatment. However, with time, I came to see them as an integral part of their sound, as important as the spiraling, dark melodies and atmospheres that blanket their deceptively simple aural landscapes. The tastefully militant blasting and appropriately placed groove sections provided by drummer Incubus are done well enough to the point that variety is not of great concern. Dagon even had the foresight to have two mics set up so he wouldn’t simply stand in one place the entire time, and that somehow made it a lot less likely to be bored while watching their ministrations. Clandestinely keeping you titillated since 1989.
A smorgasbord of Louisiana’s most metal featuring members of Goatwhore, Crowbar, and Eyehategod; SoilentGreen are an unexpectedly well-done mixture of blues-tinged sludge metal and blasting deathgrind. I’d go so far as to say they’re one of my ‘favourites’ among bands I had gone in not expecting to be good, much less pretty darn good. Makes for good BBQ eating soundtracks. Because, y’know, the South. Following them were the band voted least likely to have anything to do with gore or guts, Gorguts, who are equal parts surrealist staircase-to-nowhere artists and death metal.
Reanimating ‘Orphans Of Sickness’ from The Erosion Of Sanity (complete with slamdown) and ‘Inverted’ from From Wisdom To Hate, Gorguts shows that they’ve not gone entirely soft on us. That is, if you consider the fact that they’ve run with the avant-garde angle from Obscura onward going ‘soft’. Opening with two songs from Coloured Sands (Season of Mist) as if to say “now that we’ve got that out the way”, they proceeded to blow some minds the way they have been for a quarter century. Damn, they’re old. Luc Lemay’s stage banter will tell you that much. Why isn’t he my uncle?
Yet another fuzzy treat for my unaware ears were Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, who got my vote this year for the category of “Why Is This Band Playing Deathfest?” in the same way Anvil did two years ago. Good old fashioned psychedelic doom rock worship aside, they should seriously consider changing their name to Sharp Dressed Man: The Band. Sure beats the hell out of Ghost and Bigelf as far as semi-metal 70s hard rock goes. Just out of curiosity: why do none of these bands ever wear ‘normal’ clothes?
And now came the apex of sadness: Having to abandon the truest Sabbath worshippers in Sweden’s Candlemass after their opening song, ‘Mirror, Mirror’ to go catch Japan’s legally insane grind outfit Unholy Grave at the Soundstage. Mats Levén of Therion fame handling vocals and the fact that I missed ‘At Gallows’ End’ just makes me want to cry forever. Ancient dreams of an alternate reality where this was an easier choice. Almost makes me wonder; was it worth it? I don’t like to ask myself these questions, because regret is an unproductive state of being.
The misery continued with the U.K.’s masters of the maudlin, My Dying Bride, with front man Aaron Stainethorpe sporting a newly shaved dome after my only having ever known him with perpetually soggy lachrymose locks. Sadly (word choice?), ‘Deeper Down’ and ‘My Body, A Funeral’ didn’t make it onto their set list, and I’m woefully (word choice?) unacquainted with much of their discography, though ‘The Dreadful Hours’ and ‘Turn Loose The Swans’ rang somewhat familiar. Hymns to never ending grief, complete with the mourning, sobering sound of a violin, though unfortunately (word choice?) no rain to complete the ambiance. If it can rain during Neurosis, Electric Wizard, and even Pelican, why no appropriate weather this year? You sicken me, skies. To compound my consternation, I noticed the beginning sign of an oncoming suckfest; that sensation of having a patch of permanently dry skin at the back of your throat, the messenger of death, the common cold. It only got worse from there.
All sordid business with the Edison Lot now done, I had a hot date with the Soundstage and Ratos de Porão, who play fucking fast.
Brazil’s Ratos don’t play no bossa nova, fool. It’s balls-to-the-wall with no breaks at all crossover thrash meets the rawer (or rawwwwwwrrrrrr) sounds of 80s hardcore. Think Suicidal Tendencies in their Join The Army days if they took more cues from ChargedG.B.H.’sCity Baby Attacked By Rats, and you’ve got an approximation of how this beast sounds. Pure energy and speed, but always on the right track, like a studded train full of crusties hitting you with a fist made of metalheads. Someone eventually decided that a trash can would have more fun near the pit, and the result was a lot of beer cans and empty food containers on the floor that was once just covered in beer and sweat.
Perfect way to cap off the Soundstage skullduggery.
Meanwhile at Ram’s Head the progressive death metal Kiwis in Ulcerate serenaded all present with uplifting tunes such as ‘Confronting Entropy’ and ‘Clutching Revulsion’ from their newest opus Vermis (Relapse). Packed full of enough angular riffs to make your head spin, and heavy enough to make it flatten itself, they and Immolation provided an ideal closing combo for this year’s Maryland Deathfest. Emphasis being on the death, Yonkers’ Immolation packs a firestorm of riffs that haven’t died down in over 28 years as a band. From their debut Dawn Of Possession to their most recent Kingdom Of Conspiracy, all eras were covered as they burnt the fest to ashes.
Yours truly got kicked out of a hotel (rather, kicked himself out) because someone decided smoking a cigarette in the hallway was a good idea. To be fair, I tried to help them by putting it out, but what’s common sense? Some people just can’t hang, and those people are hotel security. Oops.
Then on the walk ‘home’ I found some people being obnoxious and singing random metal songs at the top of their lungs on the front porch of a hotel. Naturally I go over and join them. I found some beers and a girl that’s sexually attracted to snakes or someshit, and she stole the inflatable dinosaur that the guy dressed as a doctor during Impaled’s set gave me. Presumably to fuck it.
Then I drank with said doctor and he showed me the horror show that was his hotel bathtub. Thing was a mess of fake blood and empty beer cans. We drank some whiskey for our faces and peaced out. He had a D.R.I. cigarette case, which was rad.
Thrashers, meet your king, passed out on the steps of said hotel at 6 in the morning. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s still hungover to this very day, because that kid was literally drunk the entire weekend. And I saw him a lot (he was in just about every pit at Edison), so you know I’m not bullshitting.
Then, just in time for me to get onto a cold 4 hour bus to New York and a subsequently cold 4 hour bus to Boston, my cold reaches fruition, and I die in my seat. Somehow I came back to life to write this review, and all I can say after this glorious headbanging, circlepitting, beer drinking, weed smoking, not-drug-doing, skirt-wearing, awkward-socialising weekend is: Fuck the common cold. Maybe I’ll do this again next year.