Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Difficult 2011, 5 to 1


Ah, 2011. Wasn’t that a time? Remember the clothes? Wow, what were we all thinking? I gotta delete those pictures! Food tasted better then too—fresher, more buttery. Remember how stuff “went viral,” especially that weird patch on my lower lip? Thank god that cleared up. 2011 was the year that a lot of things happened, that’s for sure. Here’s the final look back at my little corner of the world—the last five entries in A Difficult 2011.

5. Graveyard—Hisingen Blues (Nuclear Blast)
I’d seen Graveyard’s first album around, and it looked like the sort of thing I’d enjoy. I was all about the Witchcraft, though, when it came to my Swedish retro-rock needs. I caught the buzz on Hisingen Blues right away and got the album as soon as I saw it. I was glad I did, because I discovered that Graveyard’s supercharged blues rock is very much its own thing. This record cooks from start to finish, fueled by feel, groove, and passion—the latter mainly due to Joakim Nilsson’s tortured “baby done me wrong” delivery. They’ve already released the follow-up, which I’m hesitant to get. It’s hard to imagine they could produce another album packed with as many big moments and wicked songs as Hisingen Blues. I guess I’m going to have to find out eventually, though.

4. The Gates of Slumber—The Wretch (Metal Blade)
The Gates of Slumber appeared to be the kings of epic, Robert E Howard-inspired doom, then they went and released this sparse, despairing, and personal record. The Wretch captured the essence of doom—the personal abyss from which you instinctively seize a few power chords to give voice to your deepest misery. It’s about brave, honest communication, not about death growls and guitars tuned way, way down. Such tactics seem like cheap party tricks in the face of The Wretch. TGoS are one of the coolest bands ever, but this one was a real sock to the gut.

3. Primordial—Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand (Metal Blade)
Ireland’s Primordial are rightly revered by now, and Redemption… was yet another triumph. To make my top 3, an album needs to carry some serious emotional weight, and Redemption... certainly does. It bears the weight of centuries of torment and bloodshed on its shoulders. This album was so good I reviewed it twice.

2. Hammers of Misfortune—17th Street (Metal Blade)
As you can tell from this Top 5, 2011 was all about songs. I don’t care what kind of new extremes of brutality or cutting-edge genre innovation you’ve cooked up, it means nothing if you don’t have songs. Holy Christ on a crutch, Hammers of Misfortune have songs—real heavy metal songs. John Cobbett and his crew of old hands and new recruits put together an album that achieves a new level of craftsmanship and class for Hammers of Misfortune. The Fields/Church of Broken Glass album(s) showed how lush and expansive their material could get. 17th Street took that melodic sophistication and toughened it up to suit these tough times. “The Day the City Died” was the song of the year, a lament for the Bay Area and those who’ve had to move out of a city where property speculation has replaced any real industry and sense of community. Living in Vancouver, I can relate. “This one’s called 'I’m moving to Portland'” goes the chorus. A friend of mind did exactly that in 2011.

1. Red Fang—Murder the Mountains (Relapse)
2011 was looking pretty lacklustre until I took a chance on this thing at Scrape Records. After taking it home and putting it on, it proceeded to drink all the beer in the house, crush the empties on its forehead, and overturn all the furniture. Hello, new best friend. Sometimes you get a vibe from a band; that they have a sensibility that’ll mesh well with your own predilections. Portland’s Red Fang were that band. I already knew they made the best videos. Their new album delivered too, with loud, rowdy songs that nevertheless went down some cunning paths, aided by ingenious production and arrangements. Murder the Mountains turned everything around for me, and helped me stomp through the rest of the year. I still haven’t seen them live, but the opportunity will come, I’m sure.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Gods of the Grave (Rickshaw Theatre), Dysrhythmia/Dog Shredder (Iron Road Studios), Oct. 26


This was one of those nights when I just had to go for it. I’d originally planned to attend just the Dysrhythmia show, but that show’s promoters, realizing that there were some competing gigs on East Hastings, moved the set times towards the wee hours.

I had a few hours to kill, so I decided to hit up the Rickshaw Theatre for Nothing Is Heavy’s Gods of the Grave event first. This was another of their local metal bonanzas featuring umpteen of the finest bands in the city. I arrived in time to see The Nautilus lay down a mind-bending set of spazzy, avant-garde metal. I need to keep an eye on this impressive trio; I’m sure they’ll be playing a lot. M16 were next, and had a more traditional thrash approach. This being my first exposure to them, I couldn’t quite figure out what they were going for. The riffs sounded more European than Bay Area. Did I detect a Coroner influence? Surely not. They were tight—with Mike Hannay from Anciients on drums, they couldn’t help but be—and talented players, so it’ll be interesting to hear how their sound develops. Every band was having problems with monitors and stage sound, but Auroch suffered the most of the bands I saw. They were ready to kill with their intricate and atmospheric death metal, but got a little out of sync during their first number, “From Forgotten Worlds.” They managed to cope, however, and the rest of their set decimated as intended. After a bunch of songs from their outstanding new album, they brought out a Mitochondrion dude on vocals for their final song, a wicked cover of Akercocke’s “Enraptured by Evil.” I had time for one more band, and that band was the mighty Galgamex. Hell, I’d make time for Galgamex if I had to. I defy you to find a more manic, punishing band than this East Van Death Metal (that’s what I’m guessing the EV/DM on their banner stands for) quartet. I’ve seen them three or four times now, and I honestly couldn’t tell you how any of their songs go; they’re just too much to take in. Total destruction.


By now it was closing in on 11:00, so I reluctantly turned my back on Archspire and headliners Tyrants Blood and caught a bus down Hastings to Iron Road Studios. There wasn’t much of a crowd there yet, but I’d say 30 or 40 people showed up at the evening’s peak. Hidden Towers were a nice discovery—tight, punchy prog rock played by a crack trio. They reminded me a little of A Ghost to Kill Again, who’ve unfortunately disappeared since I reviewed their debut album. Dog Shredder were just nuts. Since I last saw them at the Rickshaw, this Bellingham trio have become an improvising monster. They took a familiar song like “Battle Toads” and blew it up out of (nearly) all recognition. They also brought their own lighting “rig,” which consisted of two towers of super-bright work lights that illuminated the band from behind. I say this a lot, but I was happy that I was almost completely sober. Another beer and I would have toppled in the face of such sensory overload. After some long changeovers between bands, Dysrhythmia didn’t start playing until 1:35, but god, they were amazing. Compared to their set opening for Cynic a couple years ago, this experience was much more punk rock and personal. Watching them do what they do—i.e. shred their asses off—right up close in this little room was truly flabbergasting. The setlist stuck to the Test of Submission album as far as I could tell—they might even have played the whole thing in order. As the last band I’d see on this evening of ultra-intense music, they pushed beyond all the boundaries for 45 sweat-soaked minutes. It was an exhausting, exhilarating night.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Gathering the Storms to Troop: Marillion's "Market Square Heroes"


Last week I learned, via a tweet from Sean Palmerston, that Marillion’s debut single came out 30 years ago—October 25, to be precise. Wow. 1982 doesn’t feel like a long time ago. I think of the early '80s as either prog or metal years, as I alternated between discovering new bands in each genre. 1981 was the year I really got into Yes and ELP. 1982 was definitely a metal year, what with Number of the Beast coming out. 1983 was another prog year, as I puzzled over Marillion’s Script for a Jester’s Tear. The next year I took a chance on a nasty piece of work entitled Kill 'Em All and, once I’d finished laughing at the lyrics, became a convert to the new metal scene.

I realize now that Marillion were the key band during these years of discovery. Tracking down information on the group led me to KERRANG! magazine, which in turn got me into Mercyful Fate, Metallica, Pallas, Celtic Frost, IQ, Slayer, Voivod, and so on… The magazine might have gone downhill later on, but in the early '80s, it was life-altering stuff, without question. Marillion, and reading about Marillion (by KERRANG! staffers like Chris Welch and Mick Wall) turned me into the music-fan-with-blog you see before you now.

Marillion’s first single was the prologue to four of my all-time favourite albums, so I thought I’d commemorate and appreciate “Market Square Heroes” on its 30th anniversary. Marillion in 1982 were firmly entrenched in Britain’s metal press, gracing the covers of the NWOBHM-obsessed SOUNDS and KERRANG! Marillion may have brazenly evoked Genesis, Camel and Floyd, but their hard-earned grassroots following drew from the same denim-clad hordes who’d helped launch labelmates Iron Maiden towards global domination.

Still, Marillion were odd ducks when they signed with EMI and set to work on “Market Square Heroes.” Having a Tolkien-derived band name and a frontman with a fondness for greasepaint probably didn’t endear them to the music scene at large. Critics with fresh memories of prog’s late-'70s crash and burn (Love Beach, anyone?) rolled their eyes at the notion of a progressive revival. However, “Market Square Heroes” itself was a concise, punchy statement that revealed a band with a firm grip on reality and singer/lyricist Fish as the people’s poet, “Keeping the beat of the street pulse” rather than constructing castles in the clouds.

Mark Wilkinson’s image of the sinister jester peeking from behind a mask was the first of many covers featuring this character. Like Iron Maiden’s Eddie, he was depicted in various scenarios across the band’s releases and merchandise, and was a strong presence until 1985 Misplaced Childhood album, where you can see him on the back cover jumping out of a window.

With a crowd-pleasing Jethro Tull-ish spring in its step, "Market Square Heroes" made an effective stand-alone single. It would not have fit well with the more epic material on Script for a Jester’s Tear, released the next year. The verses have a jaunty feel propelled by Mark Kelly’s rollicking keyboard lick, which suits the bitter humour in Fish’s lyrics. Lines like “I got a golden handshake that nearly broke my arm” frame this working-man’s lament for Thatcher’s post-industrial Britain. Later, the mood turns menacing as it emerges that the song’s hero may have a messiah complex: “I am your antichrist, show me allegiance.” Idle hands will soon be making the devil’s work, it seems. Then with a rabble-rousing “We march!” the song returns to its opening theme and a chorus that would spawn encore singalongs for years to come.

The B-side (or second A-side on the 12-inch EP) “Three Boats Down from the Candy” is a song I’ve always regarded as a quintessential early Marillion track, a creepy charmer about sordid seaside trysts and cruel rejection. The “wipe the tears from your eyes/wipe the sweat from your thighs” couplet is both classic and cringeworthy. The song has a linear flow with no real chorus, opening with a tumbling, macabre fanfare before falling into a hush that really does conjure the opening lyrical image of “vacant deckchairs on a floodlit beach.” Fish finds his classic vocal style here, spooling out his words against a delicate Steve Rothery backdrop—an early example of the type of narrative, “in character” singing he would later use on songs like “Incubus” and “White Russian.”

“Grendel,” available on the Market Square Heroes 12-inch B-side, was one of Marillion’s early signature songs, their own “Supper’s Ready”-style epic. Compared to the Genesis masterpiece, it’s rather rudimentary, but it has a impoverished charm of its own. People like to point at the climactic “Let the blood flow” section, which echoes “Apocalypse in 9/8” (except Marillion do it in 4/4!) as evidence that Marillion were a bit too blatant about their influences. That’s a fair comment about one part of the song. The rest of the song, aside from Fish’s strident vocals, sounds more like Camel to me—loose and jammy, with Steve Rothery saving the day with his emotive soloing, especially during the song’s denouement. Rothery is clearly the band’s musical leader at this point, although with Mark Kelly (keyboards) and Pete Trewavas (bass)—both still fairly new to the band—he’d have a formidable team to work with on the upcoming albums. It’s a good thing that Marillion took the opportunity to get this song out of their system and record it for posterity. It’s a nice bit of history. After opening their Reading 1983 set with a killer version of “Grendel” with John Martyr on drums, they dropped the green monster from their set.

“Market Square Heroes” started Marillion’s career somewhere between a bang and a whimper. The song charted at a respectable 60. However, the band were reportedly unhappy with their first major-label recording experience. Recruiting producer Dave Hitchcock, who'd worked on such classics as Foxtrot and The Snow Goose, kind of backfired. He reportedly was obsessed with recording “Grendel,” and hastily mustered a rather drab sound for “Market Square Heroes” itself. A 1983 rerecording released on the “Punch and Judy” single is a lot better. Founding member Mick Pointer, at the time a decidedly average drummer, would be fired within a year, and the band would go from strength to strength until Fish’s departure in 1988. Marillion have boxed clever with the music business ever since (anticipating Kickstarter by nearly a decade, for example) and maintain a rabid fanbase worldwide.

The last bit of trivia I’d like to highlight is this: When the band finally reunited with Fish for a surprise outdoor performance in their old hometown of Aylesbury in 2007, the song they inevitably chose for the occasion was “Market Square Heroes.”

Friday, September 28, 2012

Nylithia with Scythia and Terrifier at the Rickshaw Theatre, September 26


You really can’t go wrong with an all-local metal bill in Vancouver, such is the strength of the scene these days, and this show just reinforced that view. With folk metallers Scythia heading out on tour (including a stop at Calgary's NOCTIS Metal Fest tomorrow) and a new EP release to celebrate, they decided to hold court at the Rickshaw along with a couple of other killer local acts.

First up was Terrifier (formerly Skull Hammer), a new—to me—quartet who blew me away almost immediately with some tight thrash/death. Although the band most assuredly has no weak links, what stood out for me was that both guitarists could shred like crazy. They weren’t shy about it, either, as they freely traded solos during songs like “Scum Ridden Filth” and “Welcome to Camp Blood.” Polished yet absolutely devastating.

Scythia opted for the middle slot on the bill and played most of the material off their new For the Bear EP. Scythia are all about the gung-ho spirit—all galloping rhythms and reeling melodies. They’ve rejigged the band a bit lately, dropping the keyboards and toughening up their sound by adding Brian Langley (Tyrant’s Blood/Infernal Majesty) on second guitar. They apparently haven’t convinced him to put on a kilt yet, but he was well into the spirit of things. A Scythia show is typically a maelstrom of fun, and this gig was no exception. As if the costumes and oboe-festooned folk-metal tunes weren’t enough, they had Vancouver’s premier metal belly dancer, the beautiful (and brave) Mahafsoun Faroogh, join them on stage for “Voice of the Blade.” Fancy! All in all it was a memorable sendoff for a  tour that’ll see them travelling to Montreal and back, after which those stage getups are gonna need some serious Febrezin’.

Nylithia closed the show by giving us all a right good thrashing. They’ve developed into one of Vancouver’s deadliest acts. Again, there are no weak links in this quartet, and the energy and mayhem they produce is incredible. Guitarist Royce Costa is especially phenomenal. The guy is like five guitarists in one. As he fires off frantic, single-note riffs, alien Voivod funk grooves or crazy solos, he’s intensity personified. The fact that he’s got three bandmates who can keep up with him and keep it tight is just as impressive. Worthy headliners for sure, on this or any other night.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Jeff Younger’s Devil Loops—volume two (jeffyounger.net)


We last heard from our Jeff when he released the debut from his jazz colossus The Unsupervised. Since then he’s focused on solo work and a summer tour across the country doing workshops and gigs with his Devil Loops project. In May this year, he took off to the Okanagan to record volume two over a couple days (I reviewed volume one here). The six tracks represent six performances of six spontaneous compositions—no overdubs or editing, as he points out in the album notes. As such, the sounds are abstract and elongated, with Younger allowing himself to harness any sound that the guitar might possibly make. Interestingly, he doesn’t use any overtly "spacey" effects such as chorus or flanging; he's cooked up his own special sauce of loop/delay, pitch shifting and volume pedals, and some distortion and reverb. Cavernous drones, cosmic reverberations, industrial scrapings, video game bleepblorps, and tiny insect noises fade in, mingle, then fade away. There’s even some passages that feature recognizable “guitar playing” where you think, “Oh, I bet this guy plays jazz,” especially on “Roomies,” where gentle guitar lines tumble over each other, always threatening to align without ever doing so, with beautiful results. Overall, it’s a surreal and often soothing listen that reminds me of early Cluster or Tangerine Dream—not that I’d pin any of those influences on a self-directed, schooled musician like Jeff Younger, but you know, if you're into the German ambient spacenoise, you might get into this. In less-considerate hands, such freedom and minimalism could devolve into some sadistic feedback assault, but Younger’s approach is much more inviting. This edition of Devil Loops paints an intimate soundworld that ducks away from big gestures and grand climaxes. For such an uncompromising, gutsy endeavour, it has a generous soul.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Pagan Altar—The Time Lord (Shadow Kingdom Records)


It’s always exciting to hear a new release from Pagan Altar, even when the material isn’t all that fresh. The Time Lord EP is a spruced-up CD version of a vinyl-only release that I Hate Records put out in 2004. The EP comprises five demo recordings dating as far back as 1978—way, way before heavy metal became the self-sufficient mini industry that it is now.

Pagan Altar were perfectly positioned to make a splash during the NWOBHM, yet it took the rise of the Internet to bring them out in the open. It’s a mystery to me why they didn’t get signed to a specialist label like Neat or Ebony at the time. Maybe their downtrodden and macabre Olde English style wasn’t what labels were looking for. They didn’t fit in with more fresh-faced and energetic bands like Saxon, Maiden or Leppard who were cracking it commercially, or extreme bands like Venom, who had an immediate appeal to the growing legions of freaks out there. Maybe if there’d been a doom scene beyond Witchfinder General and Trouble, Pagan Altar would have risen from obscurity more quickly. They've found their niche now, though, alongside the likes of Pentagram as once-obscure, now-revered forefathers of doom.

Elderly the songs may be, but there’s no expiry date on these babies. Blow off the dust, wash off the soot, and they’re still pretty tasty. “Highway Cavalier” is a hard-charging slice of biker rock about livin’ free and easy (and that’s how it’s gonna be) that rules even if the drum set sounds like something salvaged from a tip. The title track is the EP’s high point, partly because it's a heavy metal song about space. It has a Hawkwinded charge to it before opening up in its final act for some wonderfully drawn-out southern-rock soloing. The next three songs all ended up on Pagan Altar’s debut, Volume 1, and feature more of the band’s Sabbathy side, especially on "Judgement of the Dead." The recording quality is brittle but damn if there isn’t some impressive bass playing rising above the hiss. It’s almost as if they recruited Geezer himself for the session. On the nine-minute “Reincarnation” vocalist Terry Jones gets to showcase his unique, raspy style. Even in the band’s youth, he sounds like a wise old sage. It's probably down to the trebley recording, but that razor-wire guitar tone during the song's scorching climax sure works for me.

While it’s not the perfect place to first approach the Pagan Altar, there's no denying that this EP features some excellent material. These recordings aren’t exactly up to Martin Birch’s standards, but they’re well up to the job of capturing Pagan Altar’s mystique; the band's raw despondence and devotion to the macabre corners of heavy metal. Nobody writes and plays ’em like this anymore. Kudos to Shadow Kingdom Records for making this release available again.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Janel & Anthony—Where Is Home (Cuneiform)


Janel & Anthony’s music is both personal and personable. I like that they’ve chosen to feature themselves on the cover of Where Is Home, posed amongst quaint objects, musical and otherwise. They could have used a photo of a derelict barn or a misty birch grove for the cover, but they didn’t. There they are: “We’re the two people who made this music.” Even before the record gets played, we have names and faces; a human connection to the art that lies inside the jewel case.

Janel Leppin and Anthony Pirog are both active in the Washington DC experimental music scene. They make music separately and together. This is their second album as a duo. Janel plays cello and guitar; Anthony plays guitar. Those instruments create the foundation of their sound, but they also use looping to build layers and establish backdrops for solos. A few other instruments—various keyboards and percussion odds and ends—are in the mix as well. There are some jazz and folk flavours in their music, but they’re blended into the duo’s own elusive style. It’s detailed and exploratory, spacious and often wistful, and very well mannered. No single instrument dominates the space. Janel and Anthony clearly have a high-functioning, harmonious musical partnership.

Their songs are for the most part tight and disciplined with ear-grabbing, repeating themes and space reserved for non-indulgent soloing. The rapid-fire “Big Sur” is some kind of a gypsy bluegrass hoedown, driven by Leppin’s ostinado, Pirog’s twangy picking, and some exciting unison runs. Many of the other tracks are more sombre, like the wistful “Leaving the Woods” and its gliding guitar lines, volume swells, and of course, the cello moaning away, not shying away from its status as the world’s saddest instrument. “Mustang Song” has them both on guitar, picking out a haunting tune that’s like a tidier, more elaborate take on what Earth are doing these days. Linking most of the longer tracks are short, spontaneous-sounding pieces that vibrate in sympathy with their neighbours and keep the album flowing. Of these, “’Cross the Williamsburg Bridge” and “Auburn Road” stand out as lovely little tunes.

For all their inventiveness in making such elaborate music as a duo, Janel & Anthony’s music brims with emotion and personality. Where Is Home is a gem, and seriously cool from start to finish.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Metallica 3D Movie Shoot at Rogers Arena, August 27, 2012


Having lived in Hollywood North my whole life, it’s almost inevitable that I’ve worked a couple times as an extra on film and TV shoots around town. It’s almost like everyone's civic duty. As you’d imagine, these were long days mostly spent waiting around for a few two-minute bursts of action when the cameras rolled. The job was basically boring, but it made for an interesting day off from my regular job. The pay was OK, and I got fed, plus I might see myself on the teevee sometime.

Monday night’s Metallica event felt almost exactly like being on the set again, except on a much larger scale. Also, there was no catering truck, and we sure as hell wouldn’t be collecting a paycheque. The dynamic was exactly the same, however: brief outpourings of energy followed by long waits where we watched men wearing headsets run around and fuss with cameras.

The show was billed as a “3D Movie Shoot” and all tickets were 5 bucks. Proceeds went to the Vancouver Food Bank, which was a classy move on the band’s part. Metallica had already played two “real” shows on the weekend that were also filmed (read Kyle Harcott’s account here). This extra show presumably gave them a chance to shoot additional coverage and footage that wasn’t possible to get during the other shows. I was fully prepared for it to be a little unusual, and went in expecting to be at the mercy of the film crew. You know, maybe there’d be a camera occasionally blocking the view, or they might need to stop the show a few times to try a new setup or something.

We were there for four and a half hours. And I thought 1991’s “Evening with Metallica” Black Album show was a marathon. Pah, that went by in a blink of a gnat’s eyelash compared to this. Things got underway with the Assistant Director coming out, thanking us for coming and explaining there would be a lot of breaks in the action. He also asked us to keep our energy levels high—which sounded like a reasonable request at that point—and avoid looking at the cameras, which would be swooping around on booms and traversing the arena on wires.

The lights went down and the band came on and played “Creeping Death” and, wow, it felt just like a Metallica concert! My buddy on my left was snapping pictures like a madman, as he does. The beer-guzzling Australian guy on my right was yelling all the lyrics. Dennis from Sinned was whipping his hair around a couple rows down. It was a totally authentic concert experience for six minutes and thirty-six seconds. Who needs 3D movies; I'd gotten in to see Metallica for five bucks! The song ended and they started pounding out the intro to “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and then… intermission time! The band walked off to their respective offstage areas while the techs paced around dealing with their issues. A few minutes later, the band picked up with the second half of “Creeping Death” then played “For Whom…” all the way through.


And so it went—lights out, a song, then lights up and another long break. Sometimes it was only half a song. They played the first half of “Sad But True” and the last bit of “Nothing Else Matters.” They played “Fuel” and “One” twice. During the audience participation parts, the PA was turned way down so they could get a good recording of the crowd to add to the final sound mix, I assume. As a once-estranged member of the Metallica family, I tried to be a good extra. When I gave up on Metallica after Load, I never imagined that I’d one day find myself warbling along with the Marianne Faithfull part from “The Memory Remains.” But there I was, trying to keep up with my Aussie pal with my out-of-tune “La-da-da-das.”

When they were playing, they were the Metallica we know and (sometimes) love, racing through a pretty decent setlist. Three songs from Ride the Lightning made the cut, along with a couple each from Master and Justice. Between songs the band teased us with bits of “The Call of Ktulu,” “Symptom of the Universe,” and “Oh Well”, but they didn’t give us any full bonus tracks. Everyone in the band is playing well these days. Hetfield’s right hand is lethal as ever. Lars Ulrich looks like he’s playing fast and loose, throwing in new fills and often generally being on the verge of getting crossed up, but he always kept it together.


The songs were good, the band was good. The biggest obstacle to enjoying the event was that it didn’t flow like a concert; there was no build up to anything—so much so that when the band did “Enter Sandman” and the show’s climactic set piece went off, our reaction was more "Wha—?" than "Whoa!" Was the staging really supposed to fall apart like that? Are people actually hurt? After the few hours that had passed and all the distracting technical issues we’d already observed—mics malfunctioning, cameras being dismantled, etc.—the fact that we’d reached the end of the “concert” took a while to register.

By the time they’d wrapped up their Garage Days encore of “Seek & Destroy,” featuring an absurd “Metal Up Your Ass” toilet prop, a good third to half the crowd had left. Some members of the Metallica family obviously had an early bedtime. Those of us who stuck around saw additional takes of the show’s two biggest production numbers. “Fuel” was punctuated by huge fireballs erupting from the stage floor, and “One” started with an elaborate battle sequence made up of explosions, simulated tracer bullets, and more fireballs. With those songs filmed in their 3D glory once again, the AD and each member of the band thanked us for being there, and we were set loose. That was a wrap.


I steered clear of the Stadium SkyTrain station and walked over to Main Street where I could catch a bus home. I felt dead on my feet, famished and weary, thinking I’d never need to listen to Metallica for another 20 years. Right then, a car pulled up blasting “Sad But True.” Fuckin’ A, dudes. You win. I’ll see you at the theatre when the Metallica movie comes out.

(Photos by Ian McClelland. Thanks, JR!)

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Black Wizard, with Tobeatic, Weirding, The Rock Band Called Time, and WTCHDR at the Rickshaw Theater, June 30, 2012


As if playing in a ruling band wasn’t enough, Chris Dyck of Ancients (along with Sab Kay Design) has created Nothing Is Heavy to book and promote gigs around town. The first Nothing Is Heavy event went down last Saturday night, and the amazing lineup of local talent made for a storming show. Everything was heavy!

WTCHDR are turning into a tight, powerful unit. Forget about easing us into an evening dominated by somewhat more laid-back bands—WTCHDR gave us the full shock treatment. Their style incorporates a variety of tempos, from crawling sludge to pummelling grind. Most songs were brief explosions of chaos and anguish (their vocalist sounds like he has a lot on his mind), underpinned by two guitars downtuned to the key of Hell and some really impressive drumming. We had achieved liftoff.

The Rock Band Called Time not only have the coolest name ever, but they’re the sort of band that’s not afraid to rhyme “lose control” with “rock and roll”. They were just pure power-trio sweetness. Needless to say, I was on board from the first chord they struck. Playing such a classic style might look simple, but it’s not easy to pull off, especially in a trio format. Every note and every beat needs to stand on its own, or the whole enterprise falls apart. As the lead vocalist/lead guitarist, Braden is the most assured and accomplished performer, and clearly the musical force behind the band, but the rhythm section holds it together. Their drummer was playing on Weirding’s kit, which appeared to take him a song or two to get used to, but the whole band was quickly up and grooving. Their material was bang-on as well, nailing that no-nonsense ’70s style. You like Lizzy? Quo? Rory Gallagher? Maybe some newer retro-rock, like Firebird or Graveyard? Then you need to check these guys out.

Time for a power trio of a different stripe, shifting gears from speedin’ along the Freedom Rock highway to sinking into the tarpit of terror. Stoner/doom lords WEIRDING are all about power chords, amplifier worship, and relentless distortion curdling the air. While WEIRDING are a fantastic live band with a raft of memorable songs, their whole approach is also a testament to the simple joys of turning it up really fucking loud, slamming the pick hand down and going BRRRUUUUUUNNNGGG! I bet if you stood stock still in the theatre you’d vibrate clear across the floor. From the triumphant thud of opener “Bastard” (already a classic track in my mind) to the lurching horror of “As a Crown,” to the final feedback flourish, this was a brilliant set mostly drawn from their debut full-length, Each Birth Is a New Disaster, newly pressed on vinyl and available at the show. WEIRDING really have it together, lineup-wise. Each dude’s talents is well matched to the others, they all throw themselves into it, and I can’t imagine it being the same band should one of them leave. Guitar, bass, drums—they all crush.

During the changeover I could see that we were in for another change of pace with Tobeatic. There were now six musicians on stage, including up to three guitarists and a keyboardist with a bunch of effects boxes at hand. This could get interesting. But I wasn’t prepared for the total onslaught of the band in full flight. Tobeatic were like a gruesome collision between Uriah Heep and Motörhead, creating a glorious, riff-crazed racket that pushed beyond psych-rock territory into a truly dangerous realm. The now-packed room picked up on the vibe as well—people were starting to go off. The band's momentum was enough to shake off a kick-pedal disaster late in the set, get rolling again and power through to the end. Afther their deranged headrush of a set, I can't wait to catch them again. I'm still trying to process what I saw.

Failure notice: Sorry, but I bailed early and missed Black Wizard. My travelling companion, not used to such stacked bills, reached his saturation point after Tobeatic, and I kinda felt the same. But now I feel like kicking myself in the head for having missed them, based on the visual evidence in this Aaron Davidson photo gallery. Anyway, I paid the cover, bought merch—just trying to do my bit.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Live Action, Spring 2012


The gig-going year got off to slow start, but things picked up after the Ancients extravaganza in March. Some interesting and impressive tours have come through town lately…and also Van Halen. Here’s a quick rundown of some shows I attended this spring. I didn’t take any notes at these gigs; I’m working from memory, so details and insight are pretty sketchy. I just wanted to get these down for the record.

April 1: Helms Alee, Thrones, Anion, Dead Terror at Iron Road Studios
Finding Iron Road Studios was a challenge. I followed my usual strategy of discreetly tailing a likely looking pair of rockers off the Hastings bus and down some desolate East Van alleyways till I reached the venue, which doubles as a rehearsal studio. Once I was inside I still had a hard time finding the exact room where the gig was happening. I could hear bands playing behind every door! After doing a complete lap of the place, I found the makeshift bar and merch tables, along with the main room itself. I missed Dead Terror but arrived as Anion were setting up. I’ve seen this band so often lately that I’ve run out of things to say about them. They were loud and intense as usual. Thrones consisted of Joe Preston, his bass, drum machine, and a cluster of very large amps and cabs. Although he played a bass, he doesn’t play bass, if you know what I mean. His music was droney, sludgy, at times ethereal with his pitch-shifted vocals floating overtop. For me, the highlight of his set was a cool interpretation of Amon Duul II’s “Deutsch Népal.” Seattle trio Helms Alee played a sweaty, powerful set of art-skewed heaviness. Tremendous.

April 27: Mares of Thrace, Anion, Weirding, WCHDTR at Funky Winkerbeans
WTCHDR (that’s “Witchdoctor” to you and me) are a newish outfit featuring a couple Burning Ghats. They had the heavy, grindy mayhem down pat; it was just hard to discern what their particular angle on it was. Maybe I’ll figure it out next time I see them. I last saw Weirding at their disastrous DIEcember Fest appearance, where amp problems kiboshed their set halfway through their first number. It looked like the curse had followed them to Funky’s fortress-like stage when their guitarist broke a string before playing a single note in anger. They recovered nicely though and played a great set. Apparently there is Weirding vinyl on the way, so you need to get your mitts on that when it arrives. Anion were up next, rocking up a cake-fueled frenzy on frontman Johnny Matter’s birthday. Mares of Thrace had a troublesome sound-check—half of Thérèse Lanz’s amp setup wasn’t working properly—followed by a couple awkward/comedic minutes waiting for the “all-clear” from the sound guy to start their set. The amp problems continued, but the duo didn’t let any technical issues slow them down. MoT’s chemistry on stage is a joy to observe. You don’t often see bands of their ilk smiling amidst the din they create, but there are moments when the veil of ferocity lifts and they exchange a quick grin for some reason—whether at a little mistake (I didn’t hear any), some in-joke related to the song they're performing, or simply from the fun of playing the music in the moment. The crowd at Funky’s adored them, and demanded (and received) an encore.

April 28: Antediluvian, Mitochondrion, Auroch, Radioactive Vomit at The Rickshaw
Radioactive Vomit kicked off this night of 100-proof, Ten Fucking Skulls Death Metal encased in leather and spikes, hoods and masks. Auroch were a touch classier but no less brutal, delivering some impressive black/death metal as a bass-less trio. I’ve been looking forward to seeing Mitochondrion for a long time, and I wasn’t disappointed. Their presentation was imposing, stoic, and unique, with the drummer’s interesting half-acoustic/half-electronic setup. A trio of twisted minds working as one, they summoned a whirlwind of gruesome sound. Antediluvian had their own unified look, clad in tunics draped with bones, but appeared to struggle to get their sound across. The Rickshaw PA wasn’t helping much either. Although I admit not being very familiar with the band’s material, what I was hearing didn’t give me much to take away, save for a few quieter, atmospheric passages. Despite the sonic deficiencies, the crowd was thrilled to be witnessing the spectacle.

May 1: Opeth, Mastodon, Ghost at The Orpheum

The Heritage Hunter Tour proved to be a tidy, efficient package, custom tailored to give the people what they wanted. Pity the unfortunate Mrs. Mule, who missed Ghost while SkyTraining to the venue after work. Stupid early shows with 7:00 start times. There are no surprises anymore in this YouTube era, so Ghost delivered what I expected. The quintet of nameless ghouls was polished and professional during this recital of Opus Eponymous, save for a track or two (they left out “Stand by Him,” my personal favourite). Judging by the number of people sporting Ghost merch before their set, the Swedes had made a lot of fans already, and gained a lot more afterwards. Mastodon are a great live band, no question, but they’re all business, blowing through their set—most of The Hunter, with at least one song each from Crack the Skye, Blood Mountain, and Leviathan—like a well-tuned machine. From my vantage point, Troy Sanders looked like the only member working to engage the crowd. There was no banter, just some impeccable music. After the last song (I think “Blood and Thunder” ended the set) Brann Dailor thanked the crowd and they were outta there. It was a weird vibe at The Commodore the last time Opeth played here, with the tough-guy grumbling getting louder as the band played through their exclusively mellow set list. The Orpheum crowd was more relaxed, taking the Heritage material in stride and rejoicing in heavier tracks like “Demon of the Fall” and “The Grand Conjuration” tossed at us later in the set. While death metal vocals aren’t Mikael Åkerfeldt’s forte anymore, banter still is. He namechecked Rush and April Wine, teased the crowd about Sweden’s hockey superiority, and mentioned that they had shot the video for “Burden” just down the street at the Vogue Theatre. Putting the band in a plush, all-ages venue more suited to their current musical direction was a good move. It was a satisfying, if not exactly revelatory, evening out.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Mares of Thrace—The Pilgrimage (Sonic Unyon Metal)


Calgary duo Mares of Thrace’s second album perfects their raging brand of creepy-crawly noise rock. Their debut, The Moulting, certainly did a great job capturing what they were all about, but the recording’s ragged urgency revealed a few rough seams. They were still a fairly new band at that point. After seeing them live a couple times in 2010 it was clear that their fierce playing and dedication to touring would pay off on their follow-up album, and it has. The Pilgrimage outdoes its predecessor in every way. Sanford Parker handled the recording and mix, and extracted the maximum precision and intensity from the group. The sound is huge, built on the twin forces of G. Thérèse Lanz's bulldozing baritone guitar and Stefani MacKichan’s thunderous drum kit. Adding another musician would be redundant, I think; the band’s existing approach doesn’t suit. It wouldn’t be Mares of Thrace anymore. While the red-lined vocals aren’t totally my thing, they are at least consistent and don’t succumb to the hackneyed old growly/clean tradeoff approach. No, Lanz’s voice preaches discomfort and horror amidst her spiralling riffs. How else are you supposed to make yourself heard over such an onslaught?

Music this astringent demands attentive listening. Confronting its stark beauty head on is the best strategy, one made easier by the album’s approachable length and varying flow. The riffs are electrified barbed wire dragged across the art-damaged realm of post-punk/post-metal heaviness. The first four tracks dish out some stern punishment, with “The Gallwasp” standing out as the best crafted and memorable. The rest of the album branches out from there, with the mostly instrumental “Act II: Bathsheba’s Reply to David” and entirely wordless piece for solo guitar “The Three-Legged Courtesan…” providing some welcome, and sinister, mood shifts. When I stick this disc into my computer at work, it comes up as Unknown album by Unknown artist. Stupid bloody computer. Let's get it straight—it’s The Pilgrimage by Mares of Thrace, and it’s going to end up as one of the best albums of 2012.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Difficult 2011, 10 to 6

Can I just have done with this? My sick joke of a year-end list drags on.

10. YOB—Atma (Profound Lore)
YOB become more important with each release. By now I think they’ve transcended the “doom” tag and moved alongside Neurosis in the realm of consciousness-raising heavy music. On Atma, YOB don’t really add anything new to their sound, and it' s not like they needed to. Like the last couple Electric Wizard albums, the recording sounds odd, almost off-putting at first, but you’re inevitably pulled into possibly the best collection of YOB songs yet.

9. Anathema—We’re Here Because We’re Here (The End)
This is an absolutely terrifying record, bordering on emotional abuse. It batters me with feelings of hope and loss and mortality couched in 10 almost unendurably beautiful songs. I’m a person who likes to think he’s in control of any given situation in life and work, although the futility of this outlook becomes clearer every year. Still, old habits die hard, and confronting an album like this that screams “YOU’RE WRONG, YOU’RE WRONG, YOU’RE WRONG!” is a profound experience. We’re Here Because We’re Here tears me apart.

It’s significant that the front and back cover depict the horizon—a destination that you can see but can never reach. The songs themselves are about the limits you perceive and the limits that don’t exist. “It ain't about yourself/Get out of yourself” as the chorus demands in “Get Off Get Out.” They lay it on thick—big ballads, strings, female vocals, spoken word passages—but Steven Wilson’s mix places every element just so, streamlining these songs so that they plunge directly into the core of my being. Originally released in 2010 and issued domestically in 2011, I think this is the best Anathema album since Alternative 4. I’m in awe of its power.

8. Ghost—Opus Eponymous (Metal Blade)
Ghost strikes me as a lark that quickly got out of hand. Fenriz puts in a good word and suddenly they’re touring the world and their Nameless Ghoul vocalist is wondering if he’ll be wearing that Satanic Pope hat for the rest of his life. What hath they wrought? Honestly, putting aside the “hype” (what constitutes hype now anyways? A pull-quote off a blog? An ad?), this album caught on because Ghost has amazing material. I think the metal audience is smart enough not to get sucked in by image. No one’s impressed by anyone’s OTT black metal photo shoot. Morbid Angel can plant their feet just over a shoulder’s width apart and frown at us real hard, but we’re still not gonna buy Illud Divinum whatever. So yeah, Ghost had the best tunes and that’s why they’re in the top 10.

Another thing in Ghosts’s favour was that they themselves owned up to it all: "Naysayers will accuse us of being pretentious, which we are, or gimmicky, which we are." That conspiratorial wink I can hear in their music is intentional, apparently, but in the end, who cares? This short, punchy album will be over by the time you're done pondering matters of authenticity, "coolness," etc. Maybe they did actually melt down a bunch of Roky Erickson, Mercyful Fate, and BÖC LPs, have the resulting blob blessed by Satan, then used it to press their own work. Whether by diabolical accident or infernal design, you can hear all these things coming together on Opus Eponymous. The simple arrangements, wonderfully unspectacular recording, and unabashed yet diabolical tunefulness produce a time-warp effect, to the point where I half expect/half hope to be able to search up vintage footage of "Stand By Him" on Top of the Pops, complete with girls swaying awkwardly in their crocheted ponchos and yellow flares.

7. Steven Wilson—Grace for Drowning (K-Scope)
Mr. Wilson had a hand in two other albums in this post, but this one’s his own baby. After finding Porcupine Tree’s Fear of a Blank Planet rather stale and passing on The Incident (I did enjoy Wilson's previous solo album Insurgentes, though), I took a hint from the advance PR for this album and snapped it up at HMV ($10.99 for a double album!) the minute I saw it. What I heard was astounding, starting from the moment “Sectarian” kicked into high gear. It may be the best thing Wilson has ever put out. On this release he lets go of everything and gathers up fresh strands in the form of new musicians, sounds, and song forms. I don’t know what kind of therapy/meditation/substances he embraced before starting this project, but I think I want some. Grace For Drowning’s feeling of creative renewal puts it in the same realm as Opeth’s Heritage for me, although I don’t think Wilson caught as much flak from his fanbase for his good work.

Grace For Drowning is a trip through the darker side of prog that recalls King Crimson prior to their 1974 hiatus. Blasts of Mellotron choir signal imminent doom while saxophones rage in protest. Storms roil, clouds part. The epic songs are really epic, while some of the shorter numbers (“Index” and “Postcard”) are tackled with a simplicity that might elude a Porcupine Tree production. In fact there’s a stripped-down, elemental feel to the whole thing. “Remainder the Black Dog” and “Raider II” are big statements drawn in clear, broad strokes. It’s a sign of the material’s quality that you or I could walk up to a piano and most likely pick out the notes. There’s some jazz, too, adding to the album’s unpredictability and air of mystery. The influence is not as pronounced as others may claim; the jazz enters in some free passages where the sax or flute gets to have a blow, as well as in (brilliant) drummer Theo Travis’s in-the-pocket style. By picking away at the crust of post-everything modernity and revisiting old values in earnest, Steve Wilson’s recorded his most radical work.

6. Opeth—Heritage (Roadrunner)
I'm the guy who still really, really likes Opeth. I’ve never reviewed one of their albums here, mainly because most of the critical dialogue regarding Opeth fills me with rage. Why even contribute? Opeth tends to bring out the worst in both metalheads and prog fans. To the willfully obscurist metal messageboard warrior, Homopet's weak sauce is the perfect cure for insomnia. Girlfriend metal, pretty much. For the archetypal prog fan, he of a certain age and delicate demeanour, Opeth might be listenable if it weren’t for those Cookie Monster vocals. And here's me, caught in the crossfire, thinking, "Yeah, but—" before deciding that nothing's worth wading into either discussion.

But here’s how I feel. As a lifelong metal and progressive rock fan, Opeth have been a gift. I can’t imagine a better band to have followed from their debut album. It was a great day when I first found Orchid in the miscellaneous “O” bin at Sam the Record Man. Their streak of quality releases and their graceful progression from progressive death metal to progressive rock has been amazing. I thought they’d take a left turn much earlier than they actually did. When Still Life, their fourth album, came out, I remember being surprised that they were staying the course, polishing and refining the death/prog mix instead of pursuing one style in earnest. Their last album, Watershed, had some blatantly eccentric moments that signaled an album like Heritage was on the horizon.

It’s an odd record for sure, with a stream of consciousness flow that shucks off most of Opeth’s previous formula, if that’s what you want to call it. There are more songs in more styles, with some new sounds brought in. Listening to the album at Scrape Records on release day, I thought that it sounded like the Änglagård album of Michael Akerfeldt’s dreams, and I still hear a vein of classic Swedish prog deep within. The rocking moments are more isolated, perhaps a little more self-conscious, as with “Slither,” their tribute to Dio-era Rainbow. At the other end of the scale is a song like “Häxprocess,” a drifting, shifting seven-minute fever-dream.

That elusive quality is one of Heritage's best features. It’s not a bunch of long songs with heavy parts alternating with pretty parts. It’s a much more sophisticated mixture, one that unfortunately tasted of shit sandwich to many of their fans, judging by the bitter comments I've read on Facebook and the many, many long faces on display after their show at the Commodore last year. Oh well. Seeing as my one of my favourite heavy metal bands has finally become one of my favourite progressive rock bands, I will not be joining in the backlash.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

OSI—Fire Make Thunder (Metal Blade)


Listening to music has become a private affair. Music is shared anonymously and usually consumed alone, spat out of tiny devices directly into our ears. We left the megawatt stereo behind in our parents’ rec-room when we moved out. Now, roommates are trying to sleep; the neighbours and landlord are just on the other side of those walls. Best to keep it down. OSI are a band for this era. Their music is crisp, detailed, and intimate, and it sounds great through my 20-dollar earbuds.

Conceived around the time when a new generation of prog supergroups emerged—guitarist Jim Matheos was originally tipped for Transatlantic before Roine Stolt got involved—OSI have developed their own inimitable style of progressive/ electronic rock over four albums. OSI’s core team is long-distance collaborators Matheos and keyboardist Kevin Moore (ex-Dream Theater, Chroma Key), along with a changing cast of drummers and guests over the years (Porcupine Tree’s Gavin Harrison lays down the beats on Fire Make Thunder).

Like previous OSI records, especially Free, this one slowly gets under the skin. Their approach is cool, yet it lures you in as you acclimatize to it. OSI are a studio creation; they have never played live. The musicians recorded their parts separately, and the end results don’t try to conceal this fact. The production draws attention to itself by design. Rhythmic synth pulses, blips, and st-st-st-stuttering beats mix with hefty, off-kilter riffs from Matheos. While the aesthetic may offend those who cling to the sacred ideal of live performance and the rehearsal-room chemistry of a gigging band, the gentlemen of OSI execute this style with undeniable control and taste. It never tips over into techno tackiness.

The first thing that draws you in is Moore’s voice. His exacting performance lobs melodies into the air that, after many listens, can begin to haunt your day. The other key ingredient is the songs. The OSI sound is flexible enough to encompass some surprising treatments and textures, such as the acoustic guitar-based lament “Indian Curse” and the unabashed prog metal instrumental “Enemy Prayer,” which reveals that three musicians working remotely can bridge the distance and rock out a little. “Big Chief” has a groovy, almost Clutch-like flow. “For Nothing” is as simple and pretty as U2's best work, while possessing a melancholy that only OSI can inhabit. It’s difficult to piece together every detail of the album’s concept, but the theme seems to have to have something to do with the plight of Native Americans. On the album’s best track, “Wind Won’t Howl,” Moore ruefully croons “We were already down before/we were already down on the floor”* as the song soars towards its climax.

Fire Make Thunder’s odd-yet-assured fusion of processed sonics and fragile humanity confirms that not only does OSI own this particular corner of the progressive metal galaxy, but—to borrow a phrase—that all this machinery making modern music can still be open hearted.


*Probably. Ain't got a lyric sheet.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saturday Chart

1. The Wounded Kings—In the Chapel of the Black Hand (I Hate Records)
2. SubRosa—No Help For the Mighty Ones (Profound Lore)
3. Melvins—The Bull & the Bees (Scion A/V)
4. Wobbler—Rites at Dawn (Termo Records)
5. Billeh Nickerson—Impact: The Titanic Poems (Arsenal Pulp Press) (One of the saddest books you will ever read.)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Ancients w/Burning Ghats, Nylithia, Cathar, and Graves, March 23 at the Rickshaw Theatre

Having recently recorded what's rumoured to be an amazing full-length album at The Hive, Ancients decided to kick off the next big phase of their existence with this show at The Rickshaw. It's a large venue for a local showcase gig, but they drew an impressive crowd—bigger than for many of the touring acts I've seen there.

Graves started the night with some tight, hardcore-infused metal. The quartet looked awfully young up there. I wouldn't say they were breaking any new ground, but they kept it straight-up and unpretentious at least. Courtney Karg led the way with her scathing vocals. A solid opening set!

I last caught East Van sludge grinders Cathar at DIEcember Fest last year at the Biltmore. They were even better this time out. They've got something sick and twisted going on. Movie dialogue samples link their short, blunt songs, and their frontman kind of mumbles to himself during moments when nothing else is happening. Scabrous and hateful, sure, but pretty entertaining as well.

Nylithia shredded the place. I saw them a few years ago at one of my friend Colin's Food 4 Music shows, but I wasn't prepared for the thrashing they laid down this time. As if their insane musicianship wasn't enough of a spectacle, they brought out a giant cardboard "Trainsaw" prop, which proved no match for the crowd, who tore it apart as soon as it was offered to them. One resourceful dude used the detached sawblade to terrorize the pit for a little while.

Burning Ghats were yet another band I was seeing for a second time, and again, their set was pure chaos and ferocity—a storm of flailing guitars, twisting bodies, and feedback. If Southern Lord got on board with Baptists, then they should definitely take a look at Burning Ghats as well. They took the gig to the heights of madness, providing the perfect setting for Ancients to mellow us out (relatively speaking) with some hard-riffing heavy rock.

Ancients are all amazing players and a killer live act. If you're into old-school-meets-new-school metal in the manner of Mastodon and Baroness, you really need to check out Ancients. It's a big stage at the Rickshaw, and they looked awesome up there. It helps that guitar teammates Kenny and Chris play left and right-handed respectively, creating that golden "V" of axe-necks. They sounded great too—the Rickshaw PA had been consistent (and loud) all night. I didn't time their set, but they must have played the better part of an hour...and it whizzed by, with song after quality song where the only criteria seemed to be "Does this part rule? If it does, it's in." I have no doubt this album of theirs is going to rule as well. For the grande finale, they brought out Kyle (Nylithia's vocalist) and Sacrifice bassist Scott Watts for a mighty dash through what might as well be Canada's official HM anthem: Sacrifice's "Reanimation." Respect was given and tribute was paid in spades. Jesse dove off the stage to his apparent death (yet again) and there was no encore demanded or necessary. Nothing could have topped that. Well played, Ancients.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Weekend Chart

1. OSI—Fire Make Thunder
2. Anathema—We're Here Because We're Here (The End)
3. David Gilmour—On an Island (Columbia)
4. Sigh—Hangman's Hymn (The End)
5. Gary Numan—Reinvention

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Saturday Chart

This week's chart is a bit late because Saturday was a full day of rock and I couldn't really post a definitive chart before the day was done.

1. Weirding—Each Birth Is a New Disaster
One of my favourite local bands put out this crusher of an album last summer. Download it for the low, low price of $3, or check out "Bastard" at the very least.


2. Christian Mistress—Agony & Opium (20 Buck Spin)
3. Brand Upon the Brain! (Criterion DVD)
4. The Evaporators—"I Hate Being Late When I'm Early" from Busy Doing Nothing
I went to the album release show at Neptoon Records yesterday. It was a madhouse!

5. The React—"The Sounds That I've Heard"
My ex-neighbour Mike's new band is a little more wooly and psychedelic than usual, but seeing as Mike's involved, they're happily stuck in the sixties. We saw their first show last night and they rocked the joint.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

A Difficult 2011, 15 to 11

15. Mastodon—The Hunter (Reprise)

Yes, The Hunter saw Mastodon abandon the concept album and present a plain-old collection of songs this time out. It’s the same difference, really. There’s the same ratio of great to good to forgettable songs as on any Mastodon album. Some heard this as selling out, as if that’s really a viable option these days. I listened to some mainstream radio this year, and I didn’t hear anything resembling Mastodon. I will admit that I can only hack CFOX or whatever for 10 minutes before a song based around a Neil Young sample makes me punch the OFF button, but I still think I did enough research to exempt Mastodon from “sell out” status. I love the drum sound and the Scott Kelly cameo. I especially love “The Creature Lives.” The cover would have worked better as one of those 3D postcard-style pictures.

14. White Willow—Terminal Twilight (Laser’s Edge)

A new White Willow album is always a treat—a chance to lose oneself in the swirl of lush analog tones, crazy Moog solos, and Mellotrons. Sometimes there’s too much of a good thing, moments where the production distracts from the song. The moments when the band latches onto a riff are the best, though, as on the closing minute of “Hawks Circle the Mountain.” Jacob Holm-Lupo’s JG Ballard-inspired themes are to the fore, which is logical when you consider Ballard’s work gets less science fictional and closer to reality every year. Yet when these doomy scenarios are given voice by Sylvia Erichsen, the prospect of meteorological disaster or dystopian anarchy sounds downright enticing. “Floor 67” is a favourite track, where lovers contemplate the view from their derelict high-rise: wolves prowl the swimming pool, and “raggedy children” play in abandoned cars. The chipper melody and Erichsen’s voice sound downright cosy, while the band’s stormy passages between verses embody the threats that lurk outside.

13. Obscura—Omnivium (Relapse)

Omnivium is the most polished, professional tech death imaginable, yet it also has real metal spirit coursing through its circuitry. You can hear its roots in Watchtower, Cynic, and Atheist. There are moments of pure comedy: the guitar solo on “Velocity” where the shredding gets so fast that the notes apparently combust into pure electronic bleeping, as if revealing the supercomputer that is actually playing the music; or the funk section in “Vortex Ominivium” where the drummer works up a cool funk beat until he can stand it no longer and just starts blasting. I imagine him in rehearsal: “I couldn’t help it, man!” They’re Metallica-style traditionalists, though, with an acoustic album intro recalling “Battery” or “Fight Fire with Fire” and an instrumental showpiece near the end of the album (the absolutely ripping “A Transcendental Serenade”) and the oddball, change-of-pace track—here, the slow-grinding “Ocean Gateways” is a possible nod to Morbid Angel. Their previous album, Cosmogenesis, was really good, but this one takes it over the top with more melody, more technicality, more everything. And now I probably never need to hear another note of their music so long as I live.

12. Wolves in the Throne Room—Celestial Lineage (Southern Lord)

One of the things that intrigued me upon rediscovering black metal in ’95 was that it had become this beautiful music made by mysterious, evil people. Albums like In the Nightside Eclipse, The Shadowthrone, and Bergtatt incorporated strains of classical and folk music, a fusion that made for some scathingly majestic sounds. But black metal has become a more conservative enterprise over the years. Hardly anyone talks about Emperor anymore. Everything’s set to maximum grimness. I hear Wolves in the Throne Room as part of the '93 to '96 wave of BM in that their music aims for grandeur in its evocation of nature. Celestial Lineage is their most complete album, I think. The long tracks and short interludes include female vocals, chanting, nature sounds, and synthesizers amongst the relentless drum blasts and trebly, tremolo-picked guitars. The emphasis is always on atmosphere and melody, and if that gets them writeups in the mainstream press and dismissed by the troo-est, then so be it. I just think it’s excellent music.

11. PJ Harvey—Let England Shake (Island)

There’s no use saying “this album marks a real departure for PJ Harvey,” because every PJ Harvey album is a departure. That’s precisely why she’s so brilliant. Let England Shake is a modern album with an old soul. A lot of her work has revolved around sex and assorted relationship torment, especially her early albums. Let England Shake also focuses below the belt, but even further down, to the land of a country that still resounds from feet that marched off to war. It may be her most heartwrenching album. Images like “Unburied ghosts hanging in the wire” hit hard. On many songs, she uses the auto-harp, a humble, egalitarian instrument—we had them in elementary school music class—that imposes its own musical rationing scheme and provides a haunting backdrop to her reverb-heavy vocal treatments. What’s consistent between the last few PJ Harvey albums is that there’s not a wasted moment on them—not a filler track, not a vague lyric, no musical repetition. However this music was made—and I have no doubt there was much trial and error, experimentation, and happy accident involved—it comes across as pure intention. It’s high art that cuts to the quick.