Thursday, May 28, 2009

Madking Ludwig—Seven Stairways (self-released)

Madking Ludwig augment their thick-as-a-brick guitar tones with a touch of flute playing, but let’s not make a case for “obvious Tull influences.” The band sounds nothing like Anderson, Barre, and co. The hard-driving Quebec band’s sound revolves around a desert rock throb, adding male/female vocal tradeoffs and that flute to sweeten the sand-blasted raunch of Stéphane Vigeant's guitar. This is a wise move, because the guitar work is quite Spartan, utilizing one consistent distortion setting and free of solos and harmonies. What could have been just a patience-testing grey smear of a record actually becomes full of charm and originality when all these elements are combined. I enjoyed their first album, and this new one continues in a similar, slightly murkier, vein. It’s not a great leap forward, but you can hear that the band have found a comfortable sound in which to work. The next step might involve a handful of possibly unattainable elements: a larger budget, a producer to lend some impartial ears, and perhaps a co-guitarist who might provide some tonal variety while remaining sympathetic to the plain-riffing approach. For now, with their appealing quirkiness and confidence, and terrific songs like the dynamic opening epic "Kursk" and the convoluted "Cease Not Desist," Madking Ludwig are a rough gem in the stoner rock underground.

The new album is available as a download here—please donate if you like what you hear.

Beyond the Valley of Madking Ludwig...

Friday, May 22, 2009

May Gigs: Paganfest and Gojira

Paganfest II, May 13 at the Commodore Ballroom
With a few days left before Paganfest II hit town, I realized that I’d be a fool to miss a chance to see Primordial. So I plunked down $35 at Scrape Records and got my ticket. I went solo, Billy No-Mates style. I should have dragged a friend or two along, because attendance turned out to be dismal. The Commodore was only about a quarter full. The troo pagans in the crowd—some sporting horned Viking helmets and one bloke in chainmail—must have felt right at home on the open tundra of that famous dance floor. I missed Swashbuckle and Blackguard, arriving just in time for Moonsorrow. Based on the half hour tracks on V: Hävitetty, the only Moonsorrow album I have, I expected them to play maybe two songs. They edited themselves, though, and raged through a handful of numbers, all perfectly enjoyable aside from a few distractions: their vocalist’s pasty man-boobs (complete with nip ring), the silly buggers in the crowd getting up some serious slamming momentum in the vast expanse of the pit, and some overly twee musical interludes that brought to mind a Spirit of the West show, only with fewer lesbians in the audience.

Primordial simply slayed. Alan “Nemtheanga” Averill is a fearsome frontman, the kind of go-for-the-throat performer who commands/demands the attention of every punter in the place. I don’t throw the horns at gigs anymore (the gesture having been tainted by Avril Lavigne and a million other clueless douchebags), but when Nemtheanga asked us to throw ’em, I sure as hell did. The seven-song set, drawn mainly from the last two albums, was pure power and emotion, from opener “Empire Falls” to “Heathen Tribes,” and marred only by a guitar malfunction during an otherwise staggering “The Coffin Ships.” It was like seeing Marillion on the Misplaced Childhood tour; a slightly surreal experience that I think about now: “Did that really happen?”

After having witnessed the gig of the year (so far), I didn’t have much hope that Korpiklaani could make any impact on me. Nothing short of the classic Skyclad lineup performing all of Prince of the Poverty Line could have rivalled what Primordial threw down. It didn’t take long to confirm that Korpiklaani were basically a partyin’ polka band, albeit a very heavy and professional one, with a full-time fiddle player and accordionist putting a little too much “folk” into the folk metal. If your only care in the world is finding your way back to the bar for the next beer, they’d be the perfect entertainers. As it was, I headed to the coat check.

Gojira, May 17 at Richard’s on Richards
I arrived too late to catch more than a couple minutes of Car Bomb, and The Chariot were no great shakes in the middle of the bill—lots of energy, but no riffs or songs to speak of, and Botch did it all better 10 years ago—so it was up to Gojira to save the night. They did so easily, with an impeccable set of cyber metal performed with 100 per cent commitment to a packed house. Call them Meshuggah-lite if you want, but it turns out that Gojira are the band I wished Meshuggah had been both times I’ve seen the Swedes. They have distinguishable songs, they have energy and charisma, and they play proper 6-string guitars. Opening with the pulsating hammer-on riffs of “Oroborus,” Gojira were a precision team throughout, separating only to let ace drummer Mario Duplantier take a solo. Placed late in the set, it looked like an exercise in sadomasochism, seeing as the poor guy was already drenched in sweat and grimacing his way through the rhythmic demands of the material. My bones shudder at the thought of having to do that night after night. Guitarist/singer Joe Duplantier (evidently a Beatles fan, judging by his t-shirt) took his own lumps, weathering the occasional crowd-surfer coming feet first at him on the stage. Seeing how the band celebrated the end of the gig by diving in and doing some crowd surfing themselves, they couldn’t have been too offended by the disruptions. Damn impressive stuff from a band on their way to bigger things.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


My Dad died two weeks ago today, which is why I've been away most of this month. Losing someone so close takes a lot out of you, I've learned. Grief leaves you fatigued, and in the midst of everything there is a lot of work to be done. I've spent the time working with my sisters and mother on Dad's memorial—arranging the venue, planning the service, writing a eulogy, laying out and printing the program.

We had the memorial last Friday, and it went beautifully. So many of our good friends, some of whom I hadn't seen in decades, came out. Dad would have been very pleased and proud.

As awesome a guy as my Dad was, I have to be honest: he had nothing to do with anything that you read here (besides raising the nerd who types out this stilted twaddle). He wasn't a great music lover, and he wasn't much for pursuing his own hobbies or passions. From my first KISS album to whatever hapless thing I mail ordered last week, my obsession with all this noise and nonsense has been self-directed.

None of that is important, though. I'm uncomfortable with the idea that it defines who I am. No, the important things, the core stuff, are what I hope I got from my Dad. He was a hard-working, funny guy who loved his family, treasured his friends, helped a lot of people achieve their best, and left everyone with hundreds of fond memories of him.

Music is fun and all, but my fantastic dad's fantastic life is what's impressing me the most at the moment.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Sacred Blade—Of the Sun + Moon

In 2007 Darkthrone released a tribute to “Canadian Metal” that referenced Piledriver, Razor, Sacrifice, Obliveon and Slaughter—all of them Eastern Canadian bands. While the East nurtured a number of pioneering, internationally renowned bands, pickings were slim here on the West Coast. Vancouver had a scene of sorts, but, ill-served by a disdainful local media and scarce venues, it could only grow so much off the sweat of a few diehard fans. I don’t think any metal bands from the region broke onto the worldwide stage until Blasphemy and Strapping Young Lad in the ‘90s. Vancouver did have a couple notable metal bands in the ‘80s who gained some international press even if they failed to tour beyond the local clubs. One of the first and best was Sacred Blade.

Guitarist/vocalist Jeff Ulmer started Sacred Blade in 1978, and fuelled by a mixture of NWOBHM, ‘70s rock and science fiction, the band slowly attracted notice, recording two demos, scoring the lead-off track on Metal Massacre 4 (“The Alien,” sharing vinyl space with Trouble, Lizzy Borden, and Abattoir), and starting work on their debut album, Of the Sun + Moon. When the album came out in October 1986, however, the tastes of the metal underground had moved on to thrash/crossover and the early stirrings of death metal. Being signed to tiny French label Black Dragon probably didn’t help either; I only ever saw the album in import shops here. Black Dragon’s obscure roster did feature a few cult bands-in-the-making—Manilla Road, Liege Lord and others—but Sacred Blade and their sole album have remained obscure in the decades that followed. They’re so obscure, I discovered while rifling through my library, that even Martin Popoff has so far overlooked them in his many Collector’s Guides.

It’s a real shame that the album languished, because it’s a fascinating listen. My copy is the Othyr World Recordingz CD reissue. After a cosmic, exotic-sounding intro, the title track surges forth with power and elegance, embellished with a smooth vocal line that owes more to Cream and Pink Floyd than, say, Judas Priest. “Fieldz the Sunshrine” has a Megadethly gallop (perhaps it shows a common Angelwitch influence, as I’d bet it was written around the same time as ‘Deth’s “Devil’s Island”). “Salem” manifests a more menacing attitude, slashing and pounding like Raven or Priest. This is also the track where Ulmer, up to this point a laid-back space rocker, shifts to a more “metal” register and really lets loose with some screams of vengeance. The tempos reach thrash velocity only during the latter half of “Master of the Sun.” Interspersed are a few short instrumentals, as well as a relaxing feast of guitar playing entitled “Moon,” which almost qualifies as an instrumental because of its spoken lyrics buried in the mix. Like Voivod, Sacred Blade had an overarching vision, complete with idiosyncratic spellings, band-crafted artwork, pseudonyms, and album concept. The material was most likely ahead of its time when it was written, and now in this era where it seems even the revivals are being revived, it sounds utterly classic, far more original and advanced than most lunkheaded American metal of the time. Of their contemporaries, Fates Warning went further with a more technical approach, and Manilla Road plodded tenaciously onward, releasing albums for a loyal cult following. Even no-hopers like Omen and Attacker regroup and are bestowed star billing at old-school group-gropes like the Keep It True fest. Alas, no such spoils have awaited Sacred Blade, although Ulmer is still kicking around, having changed the band's name to Othyrworld and released a "reimagined" version of Of the Sun... in 2005. The Astral Alloy still shinez.

Below is a review from issue #3 of SpeedCorps, a local 'zine published by Tom Zarzecki (RIP) and "Metal Ron" Singer.

Friday, May 01, 2009