Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Amon Amarth – April 25th – Irving Plaza

Jeanne Fury and I strapped on our beer horns this past Sunday for an evening of pillage. Amon Amarth consistently put on one of the best live shows you'll find in metal, and this night was no exception.

After arriving at Irving Plaza, we retired to the trusty upstairs bar for a bird's eye view of the openers. First up was Holy Grail from California. I'd checked out a couple of their tunes beforehand, but I wasn't completely knocked out by their traditional heavy metal delivery. Despite that, I could tell they'd at least be entertaining in person.

Holy Grail were in fact quite exciting to watch. Their sound, stage presence, moves and banter placed them firmly in the lineage of Judas Priest. The tunes ranged from mid-paced chuggers to all out thrash, but the guitar sound was unfortunately muddy. Singer James Paul Luna pulled out all the stops and wailed with abandon. The packed crowd reacted quite a bit to the performance. I couldn't hone in on any discernible hooks to grab my attention, but that might have just been a result of the mix.


Next up was the folk metal horde known as Eluveitie. Honestly, I can't begin to fathom the allure of this music. The renaissance fair vibe and plethora of folk instruments(hurdy gurdy, fiddle, mandolin, whistles, etc.) hitched to a melodic death metal wagon just does not appeal to me. But I was in the clear minority on that subject; the crowd was absolutely insane for Eluveitie.


Despite having eight band members on stage, the sound was absurdly clear. The band must employ a sound-person of extreme skill to mix all the instruments that get dragged out. There's no denying that Eluveitie are an incredible live act. The band managed to whip the adoring crowd into the biggest circle pit I've ever witnessed at Irving Plaza. I was completely stupefied.


We met up with Justina Villanueva and Lev Weinstein of Krallice after Eluveitie finished their set. As Amon Amarth unfurled their massively impressive backdrop, Lev and I waded into the crowd to soak up some of the energy. This would be the fourth time I'd seen Amon Amarth and the third time at Irving Plaza.

As Amon Amarth launched into “Twilight of the Thunder God,” the crowd erupted accommodatingly. I noticed for the first time in all my years of concert-going that the band was sending the output of a smoke machine through the venue's ventilation system. With “Free Will Sacrifice,” the temperature rose precipitously and the mass of seething bodies became sopping wet in a misty field of battle.


Amon Amarth always seem to coax the best out of Irving Plaza's sound system. The B-tuned guitars were crystal clear, and at many points the crowd could be heard singing along with the guitar melodies. As usual, the folks around us were screaming and singing along with Johan Hegg's vocals, at times drowning him out. It's easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm and hard not to bang your head constantly. During “Runes To My Memory,” a couple of fine drunken fellows in front of us dramatically acted out the lyrics to the song.


Each time I see them, Amon Amarth manage to vary their setlist greatly. On this night they pulled out “The Dragons' Flight Across the Waves,” “Valkyries Ride,” and “...and Soon the World Will Cease to Be.” Many great songs from the last two albums were featured. “Tattered Banners and Bloody Flags” and “Varyags of Miklagaard” were particularly awesome. The Crusher and The Avenger were skipped over completely, but it was nice to hear some of the deeper cuts off Twilight of the Thunder God. I don't think anyone was upset.


“Cry of the Black Birds” and “The Pursuit of Vikings” closed out the set, complete with the requisite sing along chant. Johan Hegg implored the crowd to scream louder for Odin, even if we didn't know the words. The crowd reacted with rapturous roars of supplication. “Guide our ships,” indeed. Sunday was another great night of metal, and it was nice to share some battles and brotherhood with Lev, Justina, Jeanne and a few hundred other sweaty folks.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ludicra, Krallice, Castevet and Atakke – April 18th – Europa, Brooklyn

Sunday turned out to be quite an evening. Every band on the bill was a metal revelation, and the consistently excellent sound raised my opinion of Europa considerably.

I made the drive down to Brooklyn accompanied by the sounds of Maiden's Seventh Son. I assumed I was arriving fashionably late by showing up 45 minutes after the listed door time, but things turned out to be quite different from my last visit to Europa. Evidently the venue is a lot more laid back when there isn't a dance club evening set to follow a show. The doors were locked and a few folks stood around outside the venue in the cold, wondering what was going on. We could hear the evidence of a sound-check going on inside.

I was spotted by the ever-present Justina Villanueva, who apprised me of the situation. Things were simply running late. I got to meet Krallice's gracious drummer, Lev Weinstein, and subsequently, I was introduced to Laurie Sue Shanaman and Ross Sewage of Ludicra. They're very cool folks. Finally, the doors opened up, and we were let into the second floor venue. I honed in on the merch table (manned by Aesop Dekker) and was able to score a Ludicra shirt and a numbered print of the gorgeous tour poster.

Brooklyn's Atakke took the stage first and ripped into a fantastic set of thrashing madness. I've never seen these guys before, but the band were incredibly tight. The first thing that popped into my head was Sepultura (pre-Roots); you can't go wrong there. Atakke is the kind of band that can sell you simply on their live show. Vocalist Chloe Puke managed to elicit quite a response from the crowd, which was rapidly filling in. I believe the proper response to such primal metal is uncontrolled windmilling of manes, and that was the result. The tunes were discernibly riff-driven, and the rhythm section drove home the sweet thunder of speed metal with ease. I was extremely impressed. The band have a couple of EPs available. If either were available as a CD (I still haven't taken the vinyl plunge), I would have bought it on the spot, but none were to be found at their merch table. I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for Atakke in the near future.

Castevet, freshly signed to Profound Lore, were up next. I've only heard one track off their upcoming full length, Mounds of Ash, but I was really looking forward to this set. Castevet sell a rhythmically unique brand of black metal that evokes Krallice but is imbued with a fascinatingly dissonant spirit. The three-piece did not disappoint. Guitarist and vocalist Andrew Hock threw his whole being into the performance.

The music was sharp and enthralling; the essence of these tunes came across loud and clear in the live setting. I was particularly blown away by the strange shapes Andrew Hock was creating on the fretboard with his fingers; he seemed capable of absurd stretches that would break the average man's hand. Drummer Ian Jacyszyn and bass player J. Scott steered the machine gun rhythms all over the map with commanding ease. It was a really great set that has inspired me to go pre-order their upcoming album with a quickness.

Jeanne Fury appeared during Castevet's set to round out the usual suspects. Thanks to Justina's boundless metal social-network, I was also able to meet Krallice's Mick Barr and then Sean Gresens of Metal Injection. Again, very cool dudes.

Krallice set up quickly and dove straight into the deep end of their frenetic black metal attack. My first Krallice live experience hadn't lived up to my expectations, mostly due to the sound. On this night, the mix was perfect, and with a spot directly in front of the stage, I found what I was looking for. This was a seriously amazing performance; the band was able to conjure up the atmosphere that keeps their albums in constant rotation for me.

Krallice's music feels like being sucked into a deep ocean whirlpool. Colin Marston and Mick Barr showed off the bizarre synchronicity of their intertwined riffage without ever slowing down or breaking a sweat. Up close, you can also witness the skill with which Nick McMaster insinuates himself into the mix. Lev Weinstein holds it all together admirably and again sounded even better than on the albums. All told, this was a powerful and fucking mesmerizing spectacle. I highly recommend checking these guys out if they make it to your town.

Finally, Ludicra began to set up, and a strange giddiness could be felt in the venue. It seemed like a good many people had waited a very long time for this moment. Of course, these guys and gals don't act like rock stars, but they certainly had that aura on this night. By some miracle, I ended up directly in front of the newly resurrected John Cobbett.

Ludicra launched straight into “Stagnant Pond” off of The Tenant. It was an interesting and laid-back way to start out the set. It was immediately evident that the sound was perfect. Laurie Sue Shanaman is a sight to behold on stage. From the first moment she tore into the vocals, she seemed to be suffering a full bodied exorcism. Heads were bobbing all around, but it wasn't until the acoustic break and blast-beat inflected solo that the crowd reacted with full physical force.

“In Stable” set off a modest pit and produced a good amount of flying hair. I spent most of the song marveling over John Cobbett's efficient fretwork, in between bouts of headbanging. Christy Cather was similarly impressive in her look of ease while thrashing out the riffage. It wasn't until she jumped in on vocals that the demonic force took over her body. Across the stage, Ross Sewage was silhouetted by a strange light for most of the show. As a result, his glowering facial expressions were magnified and became a central part of the atmosphere.

The set was relatively short but sweet. Aesop Dekker was phenomenal behind the kit, despite the fact that the drums seemed to want to move all over the stage. Although I snapped a picture of the setlist (scrawled on a torn paper plate), I'm still not sure what some of the songs were that Ludicra played. In the end, it didn't really matter – their performance was hypnotic. Judging by the ecstatic reaction of folks around me, people were having a really good time. “Veils,” from Fex Urbis Lex Orbis was particularly awesome, and the band was convinced to play an old song for an extremely long encore.

As I stated earlier, it was a fantastic evening of metal. To keep my eyes open for the long drive home, I celebrated the sounds of San Francisco and blasted Slough Feg's Hardworlder. But it wasn't necessary – the adrenaline didn't wear off for a long time.

The rest of my persistently amateur photos can be found here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Flourishing – A Momentary Sense of the Immediate World EP (The Path Less Traveled Records, 2010)

Flourishing whip the vital essences of death metal and grindcore to stiff peaks on A Momentary Sense of the Immediate World. The results are stunning, unique and immensely enjoyable.

Garrett Bussanick channels Immolation with tumbling riffs that induce instant sea-sickness. At the same time, dissonant notes collide at acute angles to evoke Discordance Axis. While Bob Vigna or Rob Marton might take you to the edge of a melodious universe, they always retreat to their atonal dystopia at the last second. Flourishing are more willing to commune with the flying whale denizens of the galaxy, and they cross over frequently into overt guitar melody. These passages certainly bring to mind Gojira and experimental era Napalm Death without ever feeling saccharine. Flourishing go so far as to invoke a bit of the industrial-melodic-drone of Justin Broadrick's Jesu for brief passages.

Brian Corcoran comes from the Dave Witte school of drumming and maintains a precise grindcore rigor throughout the EP. The injection of more complicated footwork into the typical grind regimen reminds me frequently of Obscura era Gorguts. The percussion is phenomenal throughout, and I find myself repeatedly thinking of The Inalienable Dreamless. Eric Rizk's excellent bass is an important piece of the Flourishing puzzle, often leading the charge or giving the songs the dreaded “groove” that Jon Chang so vehemently opposed.

The curious lyrics read like prose, expressing strange and abstract thoughts. The predominant feelings I take away are alienation and anxiety, but tinged with whimsical wonder. In “Fixture,” Garrett Bussanick screams “Caffeine, caffeine, my pal, caffeine. Artificial. Motivator. My chemically inclined friend.” Taking a trip down the rabbit hole with these lyrics certainly enhances the listening experience. It's hard not to smile as Garrett yells “I feel so at ease as wind whisks through my cracked skull.” The vocals are solid, mid-range death dealings. Drummer Brian Corocoran occasionally adds gnarly, hardcore-tinged fulminations to the mix.

The five tracks on this EP are fascinating and completely addictive. These lean songs are each of perfect length; there's no fat to be found. I find myself listening to the album on repeat for long periods of time with no loss of interest. Flourishing have concocted a potent and cohesive musical experience, and I can't wait to hear more from them.

91/100

I bought the EP directly from the record label, but you can also find this on Amazon.

Flourishing Myspace
Flourishing Facebook


Thursday, April 01, 2010

Immortal and Black Anvil – March 30th – Masonic Temple, Brooklyn

The Immortal live experience is about sheer spectacle as much as it is about their excellent music. The Masonic Temple, despite the best efforts of the promoters, is not a venue designed to showcase either.

People came from near and far to see Immortal's only east-coast performance, and despite the shortcomings of the hall, I think a good time was had by all. I traveled to the dark heart of Brooklyn along with Jeanne Fury and her friend Evie Nagy (of Billboard). It was my first trip to the venue, but I'd been forewarned about the Masonic Temple's shortcomings. Lack of ventilation and awful acoustics were the primary complaints. Tragically, the venue reportedly ran out of beer at the Brutal Truth/Pig Destroyer/Repulsion show. Thankfully, the alcohol did not run dry on this evening. A press release from the promoter informed us that they had “spared no expense in enhancing the venue's sound system to IMMORTAL's exact specifications.” The sound system was indeed loud, if not crystal clear. But no sound equipment on earth can compete with the cavernous acoustic vacuum that is the Masonic Temple.

Black Anvil are on a steep upward trajectory. Fresh off a performance at the Scion festival that garnered rave reviews, the band came to this gig with fire in their throats. Having seen these guys a couple of times before, I could tell they were making the most of this opportunity. Personally, I love their music, and if there is an audience out there that can appreciate their sound, this was it.

Paul Delaney screamed blackened gore and hammered his bass as if trying to find a way to snap off the neck. Gary Bennett's killer guitar tone was often hard to distinguish in the din. Fortunately, Black Anvil's sinister riffage is endowed with a thrashing rhythmic diversity that the crowd had no problem understanding. Raeph Glicken's ebullient drumming was as tight as ever, and the band was all energy.

Several new songs were mixed in with excellent highlights of Time Insults the Mind. The crowd seemed engaged by the raging performance. A pit broke out several times, and judging by the nodding heads on the fringes of the audience, I think this was nothing but victory for Black Anvil. The new songs sound really great. Again, my level of anticipation for their upcoming album, Triumvirate, has increased.

When I saw Immortal on their reunion tour in 2007, it was a serious metal experience. I had a great time at the show, and it probably made me even more psyched to see them on this evening. The crowd was clearly excited – there were smiles on lots of faces, and “war paint” on a good many of those. As the band came out on stage and ripped into “All Shall Fall,” it was immediately clear that the sound was going to distract me. Something about the acoustics of the room turned the mid-range crunch of Abbath's guitar into an indistinguishable muddle. Despite the sound, Immortal put on an amazing performance.

Naturally, the band's appearance on stage was accompanied by the belching exhaust of fog machines. It was at this point that I realized the Masonic Temple has no overhead lighting rig. The only lights pointed at the band were ON the stage. The aforementioned lack of ventilation meant that the repeated bursts of fog never really dissipated, and combined with the strange lighting set up, the effect was that you couldn't ever really see the band. It was the same unfortunate effect as when you turn on the high beams in your car in the fog. Sure, it was a freaking grim scene, but if I can't see the faces Abbath makes during the set, some of the spectacle is lost.

“The Rise of Darkness” followed the title track of the new album, and we could see that the new Immortal tunes are built for the live experience. Modest pits broke out throughout the show, but things never approached the mayhem that New York crowds are known to incite. Despite the muddled guitar sound, the vocals were loud and clear. The crowd reacted most to tracks that featured rhythmic peculiarities. In particular, “Sons of Northern Darkness” and “Tyrants” got things moving. Horgh oversaw the proceedings from his throne with a workman-like precision. The drums, at the very least, were mixed well.

A very large portion of the new album, All Shall Fall, was played. In addition, particular attention was paid to material off Battles in the North. Tracks like “Grim And Frostbitten Kingdoms” and “Battles in the North” were fun to witness, but they didn't stand up particularly well under the diminished aural conditions. “Solarfall” was the only representative of my favorite Immortal era. The band focused quite a bit on At the Heart of Winter and Damned in Black on their reunion tour, so a shift in playlist was to be expected.

Despite the feeling that I was watching Immortal in a dim swamp, there was no denying that people were having fun. A party atmosphere was the order of the day. Sure, some folks were visibly grumbling about the sound, but when Abbath and Apollyon are prancing around on the stage you can't help but smile. Everyone I spoke to after the show had a blast. We have to be grateful that the promoters were able to bring this bill to Brooklyn, and at least recognize the effort that was put into the audio setup. But each and every person I spoke to was displeased with the sound. You have to expect that people are going to start purposefully avoiding shows at the Masonic Temple in the future.

You can find the full setlist here, and the rest of my foggy amateur photos here.