Friday, August 20, 2010

Humanity Falls – Ordaining The Apocalypse (Self Released - 2010)

The word “experimental” makes me flinch when used to describe music. I'm not usually partial to any deliberate re-engineering of the metal genome. Humanity Falls, however, have cooked up a compelling transgenic beast of an album.

So what is the experiment here precisely? Take the unhinged rhythmic essence of Discordance Axis, splice in some slap happy Gorguts DNA, some chop suey Suffocation brutality and add a bit of otherworldly Immolation anti-melody. Lastly, inject some absurd Larry LaLonde guitar madness and see where it takes us. If this doesn't sound appealing to you on paper, you should stop reading right now.

Before I skip off on an ecstatic exegesis of Ordaining The Apocalypse, you've got to know that this is a self-produced affair. The mix on the album is raw but ultimately comfortable and punchy. I wouldn't mind if the guitar was a bit further in the forefront, but the organic recording draws out a genuine vitality that might otherwise be squashed.

Any exploration of the Discordance Axis aesthetic would be DOA without some righteous drumming. Edward Bednarek definitely has what it takes. He's got a lock on that unrestrained, whip-crack Dave Witte vibe, overflowing with lightning fast fills. Although Ordaining The Apocalypse has a loose, click-track be damned soul, the drumming here sounds nothing short of amazing to my unprofessional ears.

Most of the experimental spirit on Ordaining The Apocalypse is expressed through the guitar work of Ammo Diaz. “No Room For Ingenuity” kicks off the album with slip n' slide Gorguts riffs spliced onto a grind corpse. Absolutely incredible, tight grinding death metal riffage frequently unfurls into free-form noise before coiling back around the taut drumming. Strange melodies seesaw over raging blast beats to create a pleasantly unsettling atmosphere.

Eston Browne's guttural roar bears an uncanny resemblance to Frank Mullen in his prime. His voice lends a more brutal air to the proceedings, emanating menace and madness. Floating on top of jack hammer drumming and inhuman riffage, Eston's insane screams churn up a perfect storm of rage. The subtle lyrics deal with persecution, madness, occasional savage violence and unsurprisingly, the apocalypse. An anti-religious sentiment is also enjoyably prevalent. As you can surmise, the subject matter runs more towards the band's death metal heritage, which is fine with me.

Crushing riffage and insane drumming are at the core of this chromosomal curiosity, but some of the best moments on Ordaining The Apocalypse are also the strangest. There are times when the curious riffs make me think distinctly of Primus (minus the bass, of course). “Denounced Manifestation” features a wide open back end where Edward Bednarek lets loose some absurd, freewheeling drum patterns while Ammo sautés some frizzle fry magic. It's superlative. “At The Temple of Everlasting Condemnation” is a tremendous clean guitar instrumental that could have come from the hands of either Gustavo Santaolalla or Trey Azagthoth. The echoing cathedral consonance is a perfect break in the album's brutality.

Ordaining The Apocalypse is an engaging experiment in unrestrained discordance, but constituted of a surprising cohesion. There's a solid sensibility couched in the adventurous nature of these songs that I appreciate. I've been enjoying this album a hell of a lot; many imaginary citrus fruits have met their demise during my listening sessions. I can't help but wonder how Humanity Falls would sound with a full studio treatment. Would a “clean” and vigorous production suck the life out of these tunes? I'm not sure, but I'd love to hear it. This band has tremendous potential, and they kill live.

86/100

Humanity Falls have just recently signed to The Path Less Traveled Records, and the label will release Ordaining The Apocalypse this fall. In the meantime, you can stream it in its entirety on the bands Myspace.

Full Disclosure: The band kindly gave me a copy of the album.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Fuck the Facts, Magrudergrind, Defeatist, Attake - August 7th - Cake Shop, NYC

I've only heard complaints about Cake Shop as a venue, but my first visit turned out to be a raging good time. In the pantheon of basement venues around New York City, the joint is fairly well decked out. It has an actual stage (albeit only several inches tall), a soundboard and a decent PA system. Sure, the floor slopes strangely down towards the stage. And yes, it's nearly impossible to see the band unless you're in the front. And of course it was a blazing inferno, but what do you expect? I think Cake Shop is what you make of it. I made cake.

My wife made a rare metal-show appearance on this night, if only to surveil the wares in the upstairs café (she's a baker by profession). I descended into the music space as Attake went on, and I quickly realized I'd have to get sneaky if I wanted to see the band (or take any pictures). Attake were quite entertaining, benefiting from a better sound mix than they had at Europa, where I saw them last. The band's meat and potatoes metal assault is great for limbering up the neck. If you were still feeling squeamish at this point, a good spray of sweat from Chloe Puke's hair should have got you in the metal mood.

I snuck underneath the PA system as Attake finished, trying to grab a decent spot for Defeatist. I've been wanting to see these guys for a good while. I couldn't repress giddy fanboy glee as Joel Stallings set up his drums. Even thought I missed the boat on Anodyne, I did feel a certain privilege in being able to witness their rhythm section in action. This was the second week in a row I'd seen Josh Scott play, and his bass rig was still set on 11.


Defeatist ripped through tracks off their new album, Sixth Extinction, as well as an assortment from the various splits and EPs that made up Sharp Blades Sink Deep Into Dull Minds. Aaron Nichols belched out vocals with a genuinely pained expression while slamming out rapid fire riffs from his drop-tuned guitar. Joel Stallings stole the show. The drum sound was incredible, approaching the pulverizing perfection that came though on the bands' early recordings. The Sixth Extinction tracks benefited from the bright snare attack they lacked in the studio. I would have loved to have shot some video, but my position was precarious as the crowd seesawed across the room in sweaty waves. People kept screaming requests for the the band to play faster, but that seemed an absurd proposition.


After a series of unfortunate events, this would be my first time seeing Magrudergrind live. I scooted over to the other side of the stage in between sets, grabbing a spot in front of a pole guarded by familiar faces. This pole proved to be a live-saver in the madness that would ensue.


I totally dig Magrudergrind's self titled LP from last year, and we got a good helping of those tunes. People pretty much went ape-shit bonkers for the band. Tracks like “Bridge Burners,” “Excommunicated” and “Heretics” got a rabid response. Folks somehow managed to crowd surf over the top of the audience without getting killed. Cake Shop's basement was now filled with the parboiled stench of punk sweat. My neck got an excellent workout, but I was saved from the worst of the pit by the aforementioned pole.


The mix for Magrudergrind wasn't quite as articulate as it was for Defeatist, and the guitar sound was a lot more blunt than on the recorded tracks. That Sunlight Studio vibe was mostly absent, but it didn't stop these songs from crushing. Avi Kulawy regaled us with frightening tales of over the top crowd participation at their last Cake Shop show (which I sadly missed). Only once during this set did I see a crowd member tear the microphone from Avi's hand to scream along. Good times.


I only got into Fuck the Facts quite recently. I've checked out their music before, but was never pulled in. The band released a short, free compilation album for Saint-Jean-Baptiste day this year, and that is what eventually hooked me. I started working back from there and finally discovered the glory of Disgorge Mexico. With all of that fresh in my mind, I was particularly excited for this performance.

The band took quite a while to get it together. As far as grind bands go, Topon Das has an almost unreasonably complicated guitar set-up. But then again, Fuck the Facts aren't your average grind band. As they started their set, I was surprised at the excellent sound. The band is absurdly proficient at punctuating raging blastbeats with melodic interludes, and that dichotomy was perfectly articulate in person.


The packed crowd was every bit as wild as it was for Magrudergrind, if only a tad more sparse. Mel Mongeon let loose her maniacal vocals on us while managing to stay deftly disentangled from the crowd. By this point I had no choice but to surrender to the stifling heat and the metal, letting my head bang with abandon. Technical difficulties only slightly marred the end of the set, but otherwise this was a tightly wound and potent performance. This night was a perfect end to a long streak of excellent shows for me.

Now bring on the Wormrot.


There are some excellent pictures of the show (including some appearances of myself) over here and here.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Altar of Plagues, Velnias, Castevet, Man's Gin – August 1st - The Studio At Webster Hall, NYC

Man's Gin were just starting their set when I got to Webster Hall. I really dig Cobalt, and I've previously expounded upon the virtues of Erik Wunder's clean vocals. The Man's Gin tracks I checked out before the show were quite promising, so I was interested to hear the results in person. I was surprised to see a full band on the stage, replete with stand-up bass and a rickety looking piano. Lacking a proper vernacular to describe this music, I'd have to say the tunes were beautifully depressing. These are songwriter's songs. The frequently simplistic acoustic chord progressions are elevated by Erik Wunder's fantastic vocals and the musical accents provided by the rest of the band. Harmonizing vocals were frequently tossed in by the other band members to create an engrossing soundscape.

Despite the down-home Americana in progress, this was still a metal show. It was nice to see that the venue was nearly full for Man's Gin, and that people seemed to appreciate the music. Chillness was the predominant vibe, but that was about to change. As Castevet set up, I chatted with the guys from Krallice (minus Colin, who's on tour with Dysrhythmia). They were originally on the bill for this show, but the obvious scheduling conflict turned them into spectators. I noticed that the same sound guy from last week was manning the board on this night. I prepared for aural annihilation. Castevet delivered.


Andrew Hock led his band through a roaring set of tracks from Mounds of Ash. I kid you not when I say this was the loudest performance I've ever heard. Ian Jacyszyn's drums slapped us in the face while Josh Scott's bass kicked us in the chest and vibrated the air in our lungs. This was louder than Pantera in an arena. Absolute ear-crushing madness. It actually sounded great with earplugs in, but I wept for any unprotected eardrums in the crowd.


I'm a huge fan of Mounds of Ash. The rhythmic intensity of the album was on full display via the pulverizing volume. It was totally over the top and totally metal. You could feel these songs with your entire body, and my neck got into the act. Castevet is for banging heads. Andrew Hock embodies the intensity of his music, vibrating with energy as he barks out his vocals. This was a whole lot of fun to witness.

That set required a breather, and thankfully re-entry is allowed at The Studio. Velnias set up their gear and wreathed the stage with candles. The band were the dark horse for me on the tour. I'd checked out some tunes on their Myspace page and was intrigued. The tunes made me wonder what Opeth would have sounded like if they'd pushed into the forests of black metal circa Morningrise. The band set up in a curious configuration, with a guitarist and bass player facing inward on the stage, effectively presenting their backs to the crowd. Sure, it was eccentric, but I don't mind that kind of stuff.


Velnias started their set with a new 22 minute long track. It comes from the the self-released single the band are selling on the tour (I couldn't resist picking it up). The packaging gives no indication of the song's name, but it's all win. Once the band churned through the sparse, clean intro, they sprinted off into forests of rage. The sound was slightly less bold for Velnias, but the dark room, cool air and throbbing bass created a fantastic atmosphere. I was blown away by this set. Velnias are black metal filtered through post-rock harmonies and crushing rhythms with passages of sustained speed thrown in. The crowd was engrossed, with hair flying. The set of windmilling manes in front of me added an extra breeze to the chilled air. The band played a few more tunes, including one from their 2008 full-length album, Sovereign Nocturnal. I had a blast.

When Altar of Plagues' White Tomb came out last year, I was over-saturated with ambient black metal. I knew there was something great there, but it was something I'd have to come back to at a later date. Their Tides EP, however, had an immediate impact for me; it knocked my socks right off. I've been spinning these songs constantly with growing anticipation for this show. The passion James Kelly puts into the composition of this music is obvious, but in a live setting that emotion manifests as a quivering, uncontrolled rage; Altar of Plagues are better in person than they are on disc.


Having adjusted my audio expectations for The Studio, I thought the sound was perfect for Altar of Plagues. The band played on a darkened stage, bereft of even candles, again producing a vivid impression of a subterranean ritual. Everyone around seemed to be banging their heads in time to the rolling, mellifluous tunes. Several tracks from White Tomb accompanied the marathon excellence of “Atlantic Light” from the Tides EP. While bass player D. Condon provided throat shredding gurgles through most of the tracks, James Kelly contributed the absolutely anguished semi-clean screaming that elevates this track to greatness.


I thought it was a transformative performance; this was the kind of show where you walk away breathless in the knowledge that you've witnessed something truly great. There are only a few dates left on this tour, but I highly recommend getting out to see Velnias and Altar of Plagues. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, August 02, 2010

A Metal Interlude: Summer Slaughter – August 1st – Irving Plaza, NYC

My target for this evening was the Altar of Plagues show at Webster Hall. I had an early dinner date in the city with my wife that left me with time to kill. What better way to kill it than at Summer Slaughter? Out of the whole line-up there were only three bands I really wanted to see, and I figured I could catch two of them if the planets aligned properly. Displaying uncharacteristic spontaneity, I strolled up to Irving Plaza and asked them about the set times; it appeared my idea could work.

Irving Plaza was packed to the gills, but evidently not sold out. As I walked upstairs to the venue, Animals as Leaders were starting their sound-check. They were my first objective. Along the way I stopped at Decrepit Birth's merch table, and found Bill Robinson manning it himself; naturally, he's really nice guy. I took the opportunity to pick up a copy of the band's excellent new album, Polarity. I really love buying an album directly from the band.

Animals as Leaders put on a fantastic set of instrumental, spaced out, progified tech-metal madness. The sound was gorgeous, and the packed crowd was surprisingly receptive to the band. Tosin Abasi rocked an 8-string guitar and perfectly conjured up the atmosphere of the band's superlative eponymous debut. Animals as Leaders have something great going on, and the organic flow of their tunes brings to mind the insane perfection of a band like Gordian Knot. I couldn't see if there was any pit action from my vantage point, but the crowd really seemed to appreciate the band's unbrutal inclusion in the bill. Folks around me were bobbing their smiling heads and more than a few were weediling the air-guitars.

The set was unfortunately short, but certainly satisfying. Summer Slaughter is clearly a well oiled machine for time slots, with gear for each subsequent band lined up like a conveyor belt on one side of the venue. I ran into Axl and Vince from MetalSucks between sets, and honestly, can you think of anyone more fun to hang out with during a Carnifex set?

I don't really have anything (positive) to say about Carnifex other than that much of the young crowd enjoyed their performance. I did not. I bid adieu to Axl and Vince to hit the floor again for Decrepit Birth. The band threw down an awesome mix of new and old tracks while Bill Robinson whipped the crowd into a frenzy with his gnarly dreads. The man's paradoxical but intelligent philosophy came through loud and clear in his stage banter, exhorting a peaceful brutality from the crowd.


I wasn't super pleased with the sound for Decrepit Birth's set, but Matt Sotelo's celestial solos rang out loud and clear. Only a tiny bit of the melodic power of the new Polarity material was lost to the mix. Bill Robinson tempted madness by offering free copies of the new album to the first three crowd-surfers who could defeat security and make it up on the stage. The result was a tsunami of bodies on top of the crowd. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the wave did not wash up onto the stage; security won out. As a consolation prize, Bill Robinson tossed a copy of Polarity out into the crowd. It was a nice gesture.


I definitely want to see Decrepit Birth again, and I'll get a chance soon enough. The band announced they'd be hitting the road with Suffocation in the fall. You won't want to miss that one. It would have been nice to see the resuscitated incarnation of Decapitated, but I had to hit the road. My metal interlude was a win. I departed Irving Plaza and started the short walk to Webster Hall.

To be continued...