Sunday, September 30, 2012

Live shows 12, 13, and 14: Mouth of the Architect/Xozo Tour

As you might be aware, my band Xozo [not so-] recently did a mini-tour with Dayton, Ohio's Mouth of the Architect. Here's how it went down:

The first date was in Philadelphia. Somehow, I'd never played in this city prior to this evening. Immediately upon our arrival at the venue JR's Bar, we were accosted by this overly-ambitious homeless guy. We gave him some change, but he wouldn't relent, saying he needed two cheeseburgers. Nobody needs two cheeseburgers!

Anyway, the first band was Ominous Black. They had some great tones and prominent basslines. They played doomy post-metal, but there was more focus on their killer riffs and tone than atmosphere. Next there was a brief ambient noise set by Gloom Beam before Bubonic Bear. I was extremely impressed by the latter, with their twisted, bludgeoning, two-piece noise-sludge. It's like if the Melvins and Black Cobra somehow combined into a two piece band but maintained the quality of both.

Our set was next, and it was mired by technical difficulties. The most prominent of which was our bassist Billy's bass amp dying a few songs in. Because there was no space in the venue for the other bands' equipment, we couldn't borrow one in time to keep the show on time. So we played an awkward 3-song set and hoped to do better next show.

Mouth of the Architect were on a whole different level than the other bands; one can tell they've been around the block and know how to get shit done. They're a very tight, cohesive live band. Seeing them perform each night was instructive.

After the show we hung out at Dustin of Bubonic Bear's place, and the next day it was off to New York. We made a pit stop in Camden to replace some broken gear and indulge in some Chuck-e-Cheese fun, and then headed to the legendary ABC No Rio to catch our friends in Scum Again. They played with Akkolyte, who were seriously one of the best grind bands I've ever seen. After getting a free veggie burger, it was time to get to our show at Brooklyn's St. Vitus bar. Outside the venue were some locals blasting Latin music over a heated game of Scrabble. Pretty sweet.

Ashes Forever opened this show with a solid set of (real) screamo-metal stuff (though we missed most of it due to loading), then Sleep Maps played a bloated set of newer-Mastodon-esque metal. They put on a good show; the style's just not my cup of tea.

St. Vitus is a relatively big venue, so we got some sound reinforcement. Miked drums are always nice! Our set went well. Mouth of the Architect played a long, mesmerizing set, befitting a band with similarly long, mesmerizing songs. The soundman graciously let us stay at his place and fueled the all-night debauchery typical of Brooklyn.

Next we headed back to the Greatest City in America (according to its benches), Baltimore. We relaxed at Billy's pad after no sleep; watching the Dark Crystal and eating chicken wings. The show at the Golden West went well. Our friends in Voyage in Coma opened, then Xozo played a relatively problem-free set. After a third lesson from Mouth of the Architect, we said our goodbyes and I went home to rest my weary self after a sleepless weekend tour.




Monday, June 25, 2012

Live show #11: Valkyrie at RAS Hall

This show was the first time I'd been to DC in a while, and my first experience with the RAS hall. The venue is an Ethiopian restaurant, kinda like Asefu's, but with a more sensible layout. The thing is, shows have to be over pretty early, so this one started around 3 pm.

Ilsa opened. They played some new material from their new full-length on A389, coming this Halloween. The new stuff was a marked improvement on their sound, capitalizing on each members' strengths more than in the past. I've watched this band from the beginning, and it's good to see they're still improving. Their live sound in particular these days is much more discernable. They never fail to disappoint.

Richmond greats Inter Arma were next, playing a long set of long songs. They're still playing mostly songs from Sundown, but they have a new EP out and a forthcoming full-length. Here's another band with whom I have a long history. It's always a treat to see these guys, and they always deliver. TJ's drumming usually steals the show for me; over-the-top but always on-point. Their new material delves deeper into the black metal they hinted at with Sundown.

Lastly, Harrisonburg's Valkyrie rocked us for nearly an hour. This band has Alan from the awesome Earthling as well as Pete Adams from a little band called Baroness. Valkyrie play doomy, guitar-harmony-driven rock. It's feel-good music for me, and while perhaps they're not reinventing the wheel, the delivery was nearly flawless. Each member has enough style to make the music special. Though it was weird having the show over at 7, it ran smoothly and hopefully they continue to have shows at RAS hall.

-Ben

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Live show #10: Fight Amp at Charm City Art Space

I did not originally intend to attend this show, but my show with Xozo got shut down, so I headed over to Charm City Art Space. These circumstances unfortunately caused me to miss most of the bands, including the amazing Multicult, whose live performances always seem to evade me.

I arrived during the beginning of Pfisters' set.* They played competent, punky noise rock. Their set was a little lengthy but they included a cover of Agent Orange's "Bloodstains" (you might recognize it from Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4) which was fun.           

Fight Amp were the headliners, one of my favorites. Practically every time I've seen them they've had a new lineup. Tonight was no exception, with a new drummer in the fold (who made his shitty frankenstein kit sound great). Even though Fight Amp have a new album coming out and a better, more recent one, they heavily favored their first album, Hungry for Nothing. I like that album a lot, but I've heard them play those songs many times; it would have been nice to hear some stuff from the underrated Manners and Praise. Still, it's a shame more people didn't show up; Fight Amp's sound and delivery were exceptional. Be sure to catch 'em next time!

-Ben

*I greatly regret posting a myspace link, but this seems to be their only web presence.

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Live show #9: Maryland Deathfest X; Sunday

Sunday; the day of DOOOOM! I first caught my pals in Cough's set. Hands down, they had the best sound of the festival, which was mostly because they brought their own gear. In fact, they even had better tone than their masters in Electric Wizard would have later.

Next I saw some of Rwake's set and most of Morgoth's. The latter would have been a lot better on the inside; seeing their eerie death metal outside in the bright sun kind of diminished any atmosphere they might have. Still though, it was fun to see the old Death-imitators.

I really wanted to see all of Japan's Church of Misery, but watching them meant having the blistering afternoon sun in my face, so eventually pasty me decided to head inside for New Zealand's Ulcerate. I'm not too into that technical death metal stuff, but I enjoyed their approach. While the drums and vocals are clearly in the tech death vein, the guitars use Neurosis-like riffs and atmosphere to conjure something more.

Next inside were the mighty YOB. They were crushing as expected. It was my first time seeing them with their original drummer, who made a difference by playing more slowly and forcefully. Forty-five minutes isn't much time for a YOB set though; they only played three songs. They closed with the 20+ minute "Mental Tyrant" from The Unreal Never Lived, which was a rare treat to see. If not for the sheer spectacle of seeing Electric Wizard live, YOB's set would rate as my favorite of the day.

Wino and Saint Vitus were the next band I caught outside. While their set favored their classic Born Too Late, something about this band doesn't lend itself to an outdoor festival environment. I saw them in a more intimate small club and they were much more convincing. Perhaps it was also that everyone (myself included) was most stoked for the immediately proceeding Electric Wizard. Unfortunately, my recorder shut off after one song of Electric Wizard, so that's all you get. I'm sure there are other recordings floating around, though.

I don't care that I didn't record them though; it was insane to actually see this band. Electric Wizard never stray far from their home of England. I have to point out their live guitar tone was not quite up to their recorded standards, but that was clearly due to them using rented, tinny Marshalls. As mentioned before, Richmond's Cough had better Electric Wizard tone than Electric Wizard. But I digress; EW's set was phenomenal. They played mostly Black Masses and Witchcult Today material, but threw in a song from Come My Fanatics and of course they ended with the legendary "Funeralopolis."

The last band I saw was German "dark metal" act Bethlehem. I'm honestly not too familiar with this band even though I have their first two albums. However, they put on a good performance, with an emphasis on atmosphere. Their vocals were actually pretty close to being scary. I recognized their talent, but at this point I was pretty numb from experiencing all the weekend's amazing bands. I hate festivals, but Maryland Deathfest is about as good as it gets in the U.S. for that kind of thing. Another year, another Deathfest.

-Ben

Listen/download the show:

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Live show #8: Maryland Deathfest X; Saturday

Round two! Fight! My second day of this year's Deathfest started out with a rare performance by Wisconsin thrashers Morbid Saint. They played a solid set, showcasing the classic Spectrum of Death album. It's weird, though; seeing lots of these classic/ostensibly mindblowing bands all in one festival kind of diminishes the greatness of each individual bands' performances. That's just a downside of the festival environment, though.

Speaking of being underwhelmed, there wasn't much to tickle my fancy before Brujeria, so I checked out Anvil. Honestly, I was only familiar with them through their documentary, which is basically them whining about not attaining success over their 30-year run. There's a reason for that: the music just isn't that good. Sloppy playing, tired metal clichés, and cheesy old-metal-guy stage banter do not help.

Most unfortunately, death metal asesinos Brujeria and sludge legends Noothgrush played at the same time. I decided to watch a bit of Brujeria then head inside for Noothgrush. Both bands killed it, but I'm a bit more of a Noothgrush fan honestly, even with Jeff Walker and Shane Embury playing in Brujeria. Morbid Angel were supposed to play immediately following Noothgrush, but there were some technical difficulties (sound man yelling at guitar techs) happening on Morbid Angel's stage which delayed them for a bit. All was good when they launched into their classic "Immortal Rites," though. Their set consisted mostly of songs from Altars of Madness and Covenant, a good move by the band. However, they did play two songs from their dreaded new album, Illud... whatever. This was contrary to the rumor going around that they were contractually forbidden to play any song from that release. When they changed guitars for the last two songs, lead guitarist Trey Azagthoth inexplicitly walked off the stage, without the other members even acknowledging it (my recorder also stopped recording at this point). Weird, but maybe he needed to get back to Quake III or something...

The last band I caught was Winter, after witnessing some police bullshit involving fireworks. Another legendary band, another great set. I feel like a bit of a broken record by praising most of the bands I see/record, but this blog is more about documentation than critique. Winter's bleak Celtic-Frost-at-33rpm set was a fitting closer for the evening; everyone worn out from the long day of metal. One more day!

-Ben

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Live show #7: Maryland Deathfest X; Friday

It's that time of year again. Maryland Deathfest: "America's biggest metal party." It's slogan is true, but it's also a four-day test of one's endurance for metal, Baltimore heat/humidity, and drunken heshers.

Tickets for Thursday sold out quickly, so Friday was the first day I attended. I planned on seeing the first band of the day Castevet, but I missed them due to some ticket confusion. Bummer. After catching up with some old friends, the first band I saw was Creepsylvania's Ghoul. Replete with giant Robo-battles and fake blood flowing, their set was fun as always. Ghoul is absolutely all about the live show; they have some solid thrash metal records but live is where the magic happens.

After Ghoul I saw Today is the Day. Their sound was botched by an extreme over-abundance of sub-bass frequencies, but their set was fantastic nonetheless. Frontman Steve Austin always puts 100% into each performance, even with the sound issues and breaking guitar strings. After that was British grind OGs Napalm Death. Most of my enjoyment of their set was rendered null by their atrocious sound. The thing about metal/hardcore/whatever is one needs to hear the guitar riffs to recognize and enjoy the songs. Napalm Death's sound was mostly bass drum, vocals, and sub-bass; the guitar was an indiscernable, high-frequency mess. I know playing outside isn't ideal, but I've never seen such a good band sound so bad. I decided to stop recording them 20 minutes in to save space for Godflesh and Unsane.

Godflesh immediately followed Napalm Death. I was looking forward to seeing them more than any band at the festival, so I was pretty concerned about the sound issue. Luckily, there is much less to mess up with them seeing as they are a two piece with a drum machine. They really delivered, opening with "Like Rats" and crushing everyone in attendance with those massive riffs. Justin Broadrick was intense as he ever was in the early days of the band. They kind of blew their load early with a bunch of songs from Streetcleaner, but I was beyond stoked to be seeing them at all.

Right after Godflesh inside was NYC noise rock legends Unsane. They actually had good sound, and played a nice, varied set. The material from their new album, Wreck, sounded great. They ended their set with a cover of Flipper's "Ha Ha Ha." Not being a big fan of the last band Nasum, I left after Unsane to get some sleep for day two.

-Ben

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Live show #6: Sky Burial at Piss Palace

The Piss Palace is not actually a palace made of some sort of crystalline urine, but a tiny basement in Baltimore. I'm not sure if they're still calling it Piss Palace, as the promotion for this show merely said the address of the house. Regardless, this was not my first time here; At the Graves played here with openers Dead Peasants not too long ago.

Dead Peasants started things off well with their bassless drone/black metal set. These guys are seriously one of the best new bands in Baltimore; be sure to check them out. I was particularly transfixed by their drummer's performance. I've never seen blasts so fast, so forceful, and unaided by triggers (or even microphones in this case), and he only uses a miniscule 3-piece set. Mind blown once again.

Next was The Lottery. I was pretty stoked to finally see them after recording them a while ago. Instead of bass, this band uses a cello. It's an effective replacement, and it certainly gives them some originality. While each member was plagued with technical difficulties throughout the set, it was still very enjoyable from an audience perspective. Their set consisted of one 30-minute sludge epic, with a smidge of post-rock dynamics thrown in occasionally.

Sky Burial were the headliners, on tour from Nashville, TN. I wasn't familiar with them prior to this evening, but any band that uses the holy grail of tone that is the Mesa Mark III is worth checking out to me. They didn't disappoint, giving a very solid performance of their spacey post-metal sound. They happened to be the only band that had a bassist this show. His basslines reminded me of the bass playing in Isis; very present but clearly serving the song. Despite being the headliners, Sky Burial played only a criminally short 20-minute set. I guess it was at somebody's house, though: such a show needs to be over at a reasonable time.

-Ben

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