Monday, May 09, 2011

GO: Midnight/Saviours/Lightning Swords of Death, 5/14/11 @ The Roxy in L.A.

How about we pretend that it hasn't been five months since I've posted. Agreed? Agreed. Day jobs and paid writing work and girlfriends take precedence. And I've been listening mostly to jazz in my free time, which means that metal has taken a backseat. Gotta admit -- after a few weeks straight of Coltrane, Miles, Monk, Mingus, Bill Evans, Joe Henderson and Brad Mehldau, the new Izegrim and Hyperborean records sound pretty aces. Call it Joni Mitchell syndrome. Ya don't know what you got 'til it's gone. I'm happy metal is back in my life.

More than any record though, I've missed going to metal shows over the last couple months. That's why I'm looking forward to Scion's next free metal matinee, coming up this Saturday at the Roxy in L.A. And also why I'm going to insist that you join me.

Midnight, Saviours and Lightning Swords of Death are all on their "7 Days of Plague" west coast tour. The whole shebang is presented by the good gents at OvrCast and City of Devils but Scion's footing the bill for this particular show (tourmates Archons will sadly not be joining them on stage for this particular stop). It's a perfectly curated lineup, presenting three very different styles that oughta balance out like the ideal imperial IPA, brutally bitter but loaded with the sweet stuff too. Saviours (reviewed here) will provide the riffy hesher fodder. LSOD (reviewed here) will provide the soot-choked atmosphere. If there is a pit (Scion's metal matinees aren't known for 'em) then Midnight will be its genesis. Featuring Jamie Walters of Toxic Holocaust/Nunslaughter fame, Midnight's all off-the-rails blackened punk. All of these guys are road dogs so the sets oughta be tight, or at least loose in that tight way that only a great punk-metal band can do..

As with all Scion shows, this one's free. But you must RSVP here. See you in the pit.

Lightning Swords of Death:

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Nile - Live @ Key Club, 11/16/10

Nile - "Kafir," live at the Key Club, 11/16/10

Here's my new year's resolution: grow some balls. The cramped quarters of the Key Club's merch area, squeezed in between the men's and ladies' bathroom, almost requires interaction with band members. And despite the many times I had to pee during the L.A. stop of the Nile/Ex Deo/Psycroptic/Keep of Kalessin tour, I didn't work up the nerve to talk to a single musician. I made eye contact with KoK's vocalist Thebon but opted not to tell him how much I loved Armada andKolossus. Nile's Ra-like frontman Karl Sanders (whose last solo album I reviewed here) stood at the Nile table, and while I debated telling him how much I respected his pedagogical commitment to Egyptian mythology vis-a-vis death metal, the best I could manage was purchasing a sweet keychain bottle opener from the merch girl. Karl, just know that I will henceforth dedicate each brew that I open with my Nile opener to Tenenet.

But I come to praise Nile, not to drink with them. The band's riffing has long been some of death metal's most spectacular, weaving in Arabian modes, heave-ho string bends and exotic instrumentation amidst the fingerblur. All the surface uniqueness of Nile's music came across just fine in Nile's second L.A. stop of 2010. Even more impressive, lickety-split songs like "Permitting the Noble Dead to Descend to the Underworld" sounded surprisingly huge -- rounded, air-sucking, supremely heavy. Maybe it was the band's gear. Maybe it was a natural result of the increased emphasis on ass-shaking on their last release, Those Whom the Gods Detest. Whatever the cause, Nile sounded every bit as regal and dominant as the arriving gods that so many of their songs portend.

Nile - "Hittite Dung Incantation," live at the Key Club, 11/16/10

Once a band for guitar worshippers, Nile have emerged as fantastic vocal hookists. "There is no god but god / There is no god!" from "Kafir" is easily 2009's most memorable metal lyric, and barely a song was played at the Key Club that didn't have a shout-along refrain. The entire club sang along with the darkened melody of "Those Whom the Gods Detest"'s chorus, no doubt sympathizing with the song's unrepentant message: "Impenitent / I blaspheme the sacred scrolls / Unwilling to submit / I embrace what Ra hath called profane." Add that alongside "No life 'til leather" to the list of heavy metal's unofficial slogans.

There was a time when I found Nile's deep-throated death growls too hard to stomach. At the Key Club, they were my favorite part of the show. Karl Sanders, Dallas Toler-Wade and live bassist Chris Lollis traded off lows and mids on Gods Detest standout "Hittite Dung Incantation." Death metal tends to focus on the talents of the individual, but there Nile was, snarling three-part gang vocals about warding off demons via dog feces. It was a jarringly powerful experience to hear three men step confidently up to their microphones and simultaneously utter their own take on the same horrid incantation, like a death metal Rashomon with all versions overlapping.

There's nothing surprising about Nile playing everything perfectly. We should expect musical perfection (this is different from technical perfection) from top-tier bands. What separated this show from most death metal shows is the band's freewheeling, confident energy. Full-band fist-pumps were plentiful at the Key Club, as were smiles from the always-affable Sanders. I was most drawn to bassist Lollis (front and center in the above videos), who moved with an impish energy I rarely see onstage. He lunged up and in to his microphone as he growled, holding his bass nearly upright when not crouching low in communion with the heaviness. Lollis and his bandmates are obviously moved by this music, and it helps immeasurably to move me.


Nile spend January/February 2011 on tour in Europe. Check the dates here.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Vaulting - "We Are the Cavalry" Video

So. It's Thanksgiving. The best of us will try to extrapolate some meaning from the holiday, acknowledging the sad truths about its origins (check out this link for some background -- courtesy of Mama Rosenbloom) while setting aside some time to remember how lucky we are to congregate with people we love. The rest of us will walk like tryptophan zombie sheep through an annual cycle, visiting our families out of a combined sense of affection and obligation (the exact proportions depend on the family). We will stuff ourselves, get drunk, talk about nothing in particular, and wake up early the next day to participate in the disgusting communal ritual of "Black Friday." Another year, another Thanksgiving come and gone. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Germany has its own version of Thanksgiving, a religious celebration called Erntedankfest (literally "harvest festival of gratitude" - read more here). As far as I know, the gents in German death/grind act Vaulting didn't intend the song "We Are the Cavalry" to relate to Thanksgiving. But its lyrics -- like many grindcore lyrics -- handily address how easy it is to turn a meaningful process (in this case, being in a band) into something mechanical:

Birdie, sleep well
Far glimpse from hell
Boredom an insecure partner to keep you from death
Rest in your shell
Distant music sounds
Radio, party starts, let's exercise our art
They begin, let us in
Let us go, do our show
We will rock, time to shock
Celebrate, lacerate
Is this honourful?
Staring down, stripped down
Defiled pride
And without a whisper
We are the cavalry

Their video for the song, directed and edited by Vaulting's guitarist Matthias Gathof, captures that same idea: the suffocating, ritualized normalcy of white-collar life is leading us to spiritual suicide. Again, that's an idea that grindcore bands have hammered home since Napalm Death's debut, Scum. What's more interesting about this video is how plain the shots of Vaulting are. Grindcore's full-frontal assault is broken into its constituent parts, set against stark white backdrops. Precisely-picked guitar strings. Quivering snare and kickdrum heads. A mouth, opening wide to scream. These are the mundane details that still remain powerful. These are the rituals for which I remain eternally thankful.

Download or stream Vaulting's excellent Modis Humanis EP at the band's Bandcamp site.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Exhausted Prayer / Dreaming Dead - Fall Into Ruin Tour Begins Tonight

I'm coming out of semi-hibernation to help spread the word about a West Coast tour that I would see every night had I the time, financial means and ability not to come off as creepy for treating underground metal bands like the Grateful Dead. Exhausted Prayer share provenance (Los Angeles) and a drummer (Mike Caffell) with Dreaming Dead, whose debut Within One (reviewed here) was my favorite record of 2009. They're also two of the more unassumingly thrilling live bands around. No synchronized headbanging or live goat sacrifices, just a sense that you're watching/hearing something special unfold before your eyes/ears.

In Exhausted Prayer's case, it's how they pretzelize familiar black metal tropes into unfamiliar shapes -- sometimes twisty and muscular, sometimes hazy and dissolute. These dudes have finally finished their first album in five years, Worst of All Possible Worlds (previewed here), so chances are they'll be debuting plenty of new stuff.

You also need to see Dreaming Dead's Elizabeth Schall. She's a terrific guitarist with an elegant approach to riffcraft and fluidly melodic soloing style (I often hear her described as Chuck Schuldiner incarnate). And while her femaleness doesn't really have anything to do with her talent, it's tough to ignore that such rarefied death metal chops are coming from a kind of person that isn't normally in a death metal band. The rest of the band plays regally. Dreaming Dead are nearly done with their second album Midnightmares. They just released the video to the new track "Overlord," which they'll undoubtedly be unleashing live.

Go see these bands on tour, and tell them I sent you. They'll probably scratch their heads quizzically and ask if you want to buy a t-shirt.


10/21 - The Red Hat - Concord, CA
10/22 - Monstros Pizza - Chico, CA
10/23 - Plan B - Portland, OR
10/24 - Cretin Hop - Spokane, WA
10/25 - Galway Arms - Seattle, WA
10/26 - Le Voyeur - Olympia, WA
10/27 - The Gup - Eugene, OR
10/28 - Burnt Ramen - Richmond, CA
10/29 - On the Y - Sacramento, CA
10/30 - Three Clubs - Los Angeles, CA

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

D.I.S. - Critical Failure (Deep Six Records, 2010)

It took me a long time to understand why D.I.S. (Destroyed In Seconds) guitarist Leon del Muerte would ever willingly quit Intronaut. After seeing him play in Phobia and Murder Construct (just signed to Relapse!), I started to understand. And D.I.S.'s debut Critical Failure clinches it: Del Muerte prefers the direct to the oblique, the visceral to the heady. And that means unfiltered death metal, punk, thrash and grind.


Of course, del Muerte is just one-fifth of D.I.S., a band full of old-school punk/metal lifers and lovers. Vocalist Mike Fisher spent the late 80s in the speedcore act No Warning; guitarist Bruce Reeves played in SoCal grind stalwarts Phobia for 15 years; bassist Kent Elmore did time with Reeves in sludge act Mange; drummer Sean Vahle's played with Eat the Living for a decade. D.I.S. play Swedey d-beat and sloppy crossover thrash with the dirty telepathy of a band that's been in the trenches for years and knows what to give a fuck about and what deserves the middle finger.


In the former category: power, simplicity, aggression, momentum. In the latter: anything that takes away from the elements of the former. D.I.S.'s version of "stirring the pot" is limited to a brief guitar solo where one of their influences might've left it out, or the occasional blastbeat where, say, Discharge never would. That's just fine when the performances are this ferocious, the songs so varied while still staying firmly within the realm of the old-school. As much as it'll please aging punkers, Critical Failure can't quite be considered a throwback record. It would've been way advanced for the mid-80s. It's destructive now. Or rather...a few seconds from now.

Power It Up (Germany)

Friday, August 13, 2010

CHAINMAIL: Drowned Sorrow - Fittings at the Coffin Shop EP (self-released, 2010)

The CHAINMAIL section reviews bands that were proactive enough to contact me directly. Here at Cerebral Metalhead, initiative is rewarded.

I like The Red Chord. A whole lot. So do Long Island's Drowned Sorrow. On their first official EP Fittings at the Coffin Shop, Drowned Sorrow synthesize many of the same metal-, grind- and deathcore elements as THC, but the similarities run deeper than genre signifiers. Both bands respect their listeners enough to keep them pummeled, embodied and slightly off-kilter at all times. Groove is rarely absent from Fittings, and unexpected guitar leads, tempo changes and textures abound. Some songs could use more transitional finesse, but a song like "Deception Waves Hello" invalidates its songwriting seams through sheer burliness. This EP was written for the high-minded pit-o-phile, not the stay-at-home grindcore fan.

"Receiving Presents at a Funeral"

Drowned Sorrow's wildcard is Dan Roberts, a vocalist who never met a trebly tic he wasn't willing to indulge. Roberts has a hardcore bark that would make his NYHC scenesmates proud, an abrasive tenor scream, a weak death metal growl and the occasional mid-song spoken phrase (my favorite of his hardcore Barry White-isms: "Being damned is not an honor / Yet you bring the confetti"). He deploys all of them, always. The constant switching is impressive enough from a technical standpoint and sounds smoothly integrated. It's also more distracting than commanding. For a band whose sound already has so much going on, I don't need any distractions.

Facebook (MP3)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ovrcast 5th Anniversary - Friday the 13th in L.A.!

As the price of a concert heads towards nil, my interest in attending it often heads the same direction. Why would a worthwhile band choose to play a slapped-together free show when they stand to make more money from a door charge at a proper club? And if there's a major sponsor footing the bill, who am I really supporting by attending?

Years before Scion and Converse began investing beaucoup marketing bucks in metal, Martin de Pedro and his Ovrcast Productions were putting together free metal gigs in Los Angeles. And although they could certainly use the money to help fund their nicely-curated label, Martin and Ovrcast have never wavered from their vision of uniting underground bands with underground band-fans, without a mandatory transaction fee between the two.

Thanking Martin in person is one of two reasons to attend Ovrcast's 5th Anniversary show, happening tomorrow at The Blvd. The other is the typically great lineup. Black Cobra (reviewed here) are on tour like 580 days a year, so you know they're well-oiled. Huntress (reviewed here) started out awesome, and they just keep getting better and better with each show. Valdur (reviewed here) and Harassor offer black metal in polar opposite styles, while It's Casual and The Fucking Wrath (reviewed here) poison the evening with punk. Howl are riding off waves of great press for their new album on Relapse, and Lions of Tsavo's unsung last record Firelung slaughters too much ass to mention (or sing about, apparently). Upsilon Acrux (reviewed here) are not metal in any way (or any genre, really), but they make much better use of their two-drum lineup than Kylesa or The Melvins.

So go to The Blvd. tomorrow, pat Martin on the back, rock out and tell me all about it. Because I'm out of town this weekend. And I hate myself for it.