Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Cynic with Dysrhythmia and Intronaut at The Venue, July 26

“Where's all the huge ’dozers?” asked Mrs. Mule soon after we’d gotten our bearings inside The Venue on this balmy Monday night. She was right—by the standards of most metal crowds, our fellow concert-goers were clean cut and slight of build (and not a little farty, unfortunately). None of this surprised me, seeing as we were attending the progressive metal bill of the summer. During Cynic's set, Paul Masvidal himself called it a geekfest. That made it official. The audience eyed fretboards as carefully as the musicians did; too amazed to mosh, I imagine.

I’ve wanted to see New York’s Dysrhythmia for ages, and they made it worth the wait. They rocked with full force, raging through their sadistically complex material. I don’t know how music like this gets made—how do you get these riffs across to someone else, how do you arrive at these song structures? The band obviously have a superb working chemistry. Their personalities and approaches mesh well in performance. Colin Marston reminds me of Voivod’s Blacky, whipping around his half-head of long hair and sawing away at his bass. Drummer Jeff Eber grits his teeth with the concentration it takes to make it through the set. Kevin Hufnagel stays relatively relaxed, save the occasional deep headbang, directing all his energy into his hands. Despite carefully tuning up between every song, their set kept up the momentum, from the conventionally rocking “My Relationship” early in the set to the blacker, more dissonant recent material towards the end.

I missed Intronaut the last time they came through town, opening for Mastodon. The Californian four-piece have fashioned a progressive sludge sound that is more appealing to me in concept than execution. They’re killer musos, all right, and the band is tight, but the balance seems off. I’m always happy to hear bass featured so prominently, and the drummer was cracking me up with the most ridiculous fills—basically soloing through the entire set. I didn't hear them meshing well as a rhythm section, though. With the bass taking the lead, I wanted to hear the guitars rise to the challenge and add distinctive voices of their own, but they stuck to their own corner. I could see and hear the complexity of what they were doing; I just didn’t feel it. Sometimes everyone did lock in, and the band sounded rich and deep. Groove was in their grasp. Too bad it happened only occasionally.

Last time I saw Cynic in Vancouver they were opening for Meshuggah (no shortage of ’dozers at that show) and then I saw them last autumn headlining Noctis III in Calgary. Both shows were in support of Traced in Air and were quite similar as a result. The Calgary show was naturally an expanded version of the Vancouver gig. This tour had the Decibel-sponsored angle, where they would play the dB Hall of Fame album Focus in its entirety. The first half of the set did indeed comprise “Veil of Maya” straight through to “How Could I”, with no announcements or fanfare, just some trippy lighting and projection effects as the band did their thing. The crowd knew what to expect and cheered on numbers like “Veil of Maya” (in which the vocal mix suffered from early-set teething problems), the mind-bending “Uroboric Forms,” and personal favourite “Textures”—which always struck me as their most King Crimson-ish song, an influence that Masvidal attests to in the actual Decibel Hall of Fame piece. The second half of the set was much more eclectic, devoted to Traced in Air and a couple sundry items. “Integral Birth” was performed twice, first by Paul Masvidal solo as a beautiful acoustic number, then in a full electric version to end the concert. The space between was filled in by Traced in Air numbers like “Evolutionary Sleeper” and “Adam’s Murmur” as well as new track “Wheels Within Wheels” and a number from their post-Focus Portal demo. Cynic performed everything with impeccable style and delicacy, which might not be what you want from a good metal show, but on the occasion of this geekfest, they were the perfect headliners.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hellbound on my Trail

Here's some of my recent work for, where Sean Palmerston's been very generous in letting me blather on at irregular junctures. The site's developed a cool little community of writers and readers, and I'm pleased to be part of it.

Our biggest recent undertaking was the Canada Day feature on Rush, which also coincided with the release of Beyond the Lighted Stage on DVD. A mass nerd-out ensued, and you can bet I was there to say my piece.
Favourite Rush album
Favourite Rush song
Review of Beyond the Lighted Stage

Jex Thoth, the enigmatic psych-rock entity, released an EP that's had some mixed reviews. I dug it myself.
Jex Thoth EP review

Tom Warrior's book on the Hellhammer years is a fascinating hybrid of coffee table/art book and autobiography, and Bazillion Points have done an unbelievable job putting it together. I feel good just knowing this book exists.
Hellhammer: Only Death is Real book review

As with this site, I'm mainly reviewing stuff that I've bought, although Sean's sent a few promos my way. Profound Lore's Worm Ouroboros was one of them. It's an ephemeral but rewarding record. It took a number of listens before I could capture it in a bottle and be able to see it clearly.
Worm Ouroboros album review

Another promo was the latest from Steve Morse. I was really into this kind of thing about 10 years ago; now not so much. I can't fault the playing, production or even the writing. It's just so damn competent and breezy. I reserve ratings of "7" for such records.
Steve Morse album review

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Egg—s/t (Decca/Esoteric)

The music on this L.P. is not dancing music, but basically music for listening to. It is harmonically and rhythmically complex, designed to be as original as possible within the confines of the instrumental line-up; so its [sic] pretty demanding on the listener’s attention. –notes from the original LP

They come across as polite and eager to please in the liner notes, but in truth, Egg were like ELP’s bratty siblings, building lopsided-yet-intricate sand castles in the shadow of ELP’s Stonehenge. They had a whale of a time with what I consider the “rock” organ trio format (bass/drums/organ, as opposed to the jazz organ trio of guitar/drums/organ), jamming in strange time signatures and rocking up the classical canon. In common with the Canterbury rockers they eventually fell in with, Egg were whimsical and jazzy, and wrote songs with long titles (with a parenthetical bit at the end). Their first album was released to little fanfare on Decca’s Nova imprint in 1970. It captures this endearing outfit larking about with various ideas from free-form noise (“Blane”) to classical interpretations ("Fugue in D Minor" and the various movements of “Symphony No. 2”) to furious jazz/rock workouts (“The Song of McGillicudie the Pusillanimous [or Don’t Worry James, Your Socks Are Hanging in the Coal Cellar with Thomas]”). Ahem.

Keyboardist Dave Stewart went on to play with loads of people, including Hatfield and the North and Bill Bruford. His sound is in tandem with Hugh Banton’s churchy style, often lending a dreamlike air. Drummer Clive Brooks is a nimble player—he’s gotta be to keep up. And Mont Campbell (who seems a great character based on his contributions to Prog Rock Britannia) manhandles that bass like Jack Bruce and sings with a kind of lounge-y lilt. It’s hard to say whether he’s having a laugh with his singing (it was a few years before Bill Murray’s bit on SNL), but it fits the absurdist bent of most of the material.

This Eclectic Discs reissue* is fully annotated and expanded with a “lost” track (a segment from “Symphony No. 2” that was withdrawn to avoid objections from Stravinsky’s people), and a remarkable early single. The A-side, “Seven is a Jolly Good Time,” actually extols the joys of writing songs in odd time signatures, moving through bars of 4, 5, 7, and 11 as it progresses. As an educational tool, it’s awesome; as a single, it was a dismal failure. But no matter. Egg were kids hepped up on the endless possibilities of the new decade, with no precedents, no safety nets, and not much of an audience, unfortunately. But with critics and their record label on their side, Egg would get another crack at it with The Polite Force in 1971.

*Eclectic Discs is now Esoteric Recordings and is still your source for mind-blowing stuff.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Woods of Ypres, with Mother Died Today, Archspire, First Reign, June 26 at the Biltmore

With these bills stocked with mainly local acts, there’s often one band that isn’t quite up to snuff. Whether they lack experience, chemistry (“What’s up with the guy in the Shadows Fall shirt?”), or are just the wrong band for the gig, you’re left feeling “Oh. Oh, man. I wish I wasn't seeing this.” I'm happy and proud to say that the local metal scene is so strong now that such onstage mishaps are extremely rare.

Saturday night brought another strong lineup to the Biltmore. Each band had a distinct, fully formed approach and delivered it with the conviction, sweat and discipline required to perform metal properly.

It was an early show, with an 11 PM curfew to make way for the dance party crowd. Kudos to promoters The Invisible Orange and the bands for ensuring the night went off like clockwork—quick changeovers and no BS. I barely had time to grab a beer between sets.

Victoria’s Mother Died Today came on at quarter to 8. Their name may be a turnoff (Camus references are cool though) but the fourpiece were actually a blend of European death and folk-metal influences with killer singing and drumming. Their drummer had an interesting ¾ scale double-kick kit, and he just dominated the thing. This was their last gig due to their drummer leaving—a real shame, because they’d obviously put in a lot of work to reach this point.

Archspire took the gig to a new level of extremity. They were a sweep-picking, hyper-blasting juggernaut, with members drawn from Gremory, Every Black Minute, Muspellheim, and Artep. Watching out one of their guitarists at work sent sympathy pain shooting through my hands. They destroyed with speed and precision, and I expect to see them climbing higher and higher on future bills.

First Reign have style both in the musical sense—progressive death metal is their thing—and visually. One guitarist sits cross-legged on a drum stool. The bassist wields a rad Rickenbacker and, by contrast, rocks out the whole time. Their singer is an excellent, imposing front man, whose head nearly scraped the stage ceiling. Musically, it was an onslaught of elaborate, heavy material; almost too much to take in for a first-timer like myself, so I hope to catch them again soon.

After roaring out with “The Shams of Optimism,” David Gold admitted that Woods of Ypres were actually the least heavy band of the night. Be that as it may, he and his crew did have the best songs, and it’s clear that those songs are connecting with people. Woods’ second Vancouver show saw plenty of fans headbanging, especially towards the end of the set to “The Sun Was In My Eyes” and “A Meeting Place and Time.” During their last, ill-fated, Vancouver stop, Woods IV: The Green Album hadn’t yet been released, so it now featured more prominently in the set, highlighted by the burly double-shot of “Suicide Cargoload/Halves and Quarters.” “They sort of sound like Mastodon!” exclaimed a newcomer behind me. After “A Meeting Place in Time” from Against the Seasons ended the set, they encored with a new song (instrumental at this stage). The new Woods touring lineup isn’t quite as road-seasoned as it was last year, but I’m sure they’ll be in crushing form soon. They got a great response and could have played another song if it hadn’t been the 11 PM witching hour; time to pack up the gear and head out to their next stop. Our spirits were so buoyed that we stuck around for some of the dance party (heard some Joy Division). By the time we left the club, the Woods van was gone, headed south for a string of new adventures.

You can follow the Woods of Ypres tour blog at the Deciblog (first instalment here).