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.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ehnahre - Alpha/Omega 12" (Fun With Asbestos, 2010)

My avant-jazz pianist dad told me once that jazz was essentially about instability. All those added 9ths and 13ths, re-voiced chords and unexpected drum accents deconstruct the predictability of a tune, opening up harmonic and rhythmic rabbit holes for the musicians to follow.

He may as well have been talking about Ehnahre, a band of Boston wackos formed by various Kayo Dot defectors. Ehnahre's debut record The Man Closing Up (reviewed here and here) hit the extremes of pretty much every musical binary you can imagine -- slow/fast, soft/loud, rigid/spacious, sonorous/dissonant, composed/improvised -- that it felt like deconstructive exercise as much as a metal record. Brutal death metal is known for its atonality, but few metal bands (Behold...the Arctopus is a notable exception) swear such allegiance to discord that they'll use serialism and to ensure their music's freedom from tonality. Ehnahre took that step.

Ehnahre's two-track Alpha/Omega, limited to just 100 vinyl copies (now sold-out), drifts even further into psychosis than its predecessor. Rhythms are in perpetual flux, melodic repetition and groove are fleeting when they exist at all. The one through line is the psychotic laughter at the end of each phrase of "Leda & the Swan;" other disembodied voices chortle in the background in what must be the oddest gang vocals I've ever heard. The lines between doom, death metal, avant-classical and total abstraction continue to dissolve. The jaw-dropping flexibility and power electronics of new drummer Ricardo Donoso enable his bandmates to unhinge their sound even further.

Alpha/Omega sets two William Butler Yeats poems to music. "Leda and the Swan" recounts Zeus's rape of the maiden Leda, a story that has been interpreted as a creation myth. "The Second Coming" prophesies the apocalypse in the wake of WWI. Violence as both beginning and end -- it's a concept that works in parallel to Ehnahre's music, which destroys conventions and erects new ones with the same spectacularly messy, ugly mass of sound.

Ehnahre will release their next full-length Taming the Cannibals on Crucial Blast in October. Prepare ye.

Rape a swan at Ehnahre's website

You can't. Alpha/Omega is sold-out.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Kings Destroy - Kings Destroy EP (self-released, 2010)

Stoner metal should be played by ugly dudes for ugly dudes. I'm not saying that heterosex can never come into it -- gettin' down to Sky Valley is one of life's great pleasures, and I suppose Electric Wizard's smoking hot second guitarist Liz Buckingham must have found something seductive about the genre when she married bandmate Jus Oborn. Point is, the almighty fuzz riff is best pursued and appreciated when sex is a non-issue, and bliss is the main objective.

Brooklyn's Kings Destroy aren't anything much to look at, and the two songs on their debut 7" aren't much prettier, just a bunch plodding rhythms, Obsessed riffs and Steve Murphy's adenoidal singing voice. There's something really satisfying about how these dual guitars lock so tightly, maybe more tightly than is ideal for music this bong-tastic. Come to think of it, other than the chanted note halfway through "Medusa," the music here isn't all too weedy. Murphy sounds like he's toking the same weed as 1967 Ozzy. The others sound like they gave up drugs years ago. Totally pro performances, and a bright mix from Mike Moebius.

"Old Yeller"

Then again, maybe the riffage is so economical and precisely played because a lot of these guys used to play meaty music in hardcore bands. Guitarists Carl Porcaro and Chris Skowronski were in NYHC legends Killing Time, Murphy was in Uppercut, and the rhythm section did time in Electric Frankenstein and Stanley. Listen hard, and you'll hear hardcore energy, shoehorned into stoner metal strictures. It's a little clean to connect, but these are just Kings Destroy's first two songs. Soak the band in bong resin for a millennium and they'll be considered classic. Or, just give the knobs over to Sanford Parker, as Kings Destroy are doing for their upcoming full-length debut. Same difference.


Kings Destroy donate a portion of all proceeds to the Brooklyn-based youth basketball team, the On Point Cyclones.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

R.I.P. National Sunday Law. Much respect.

National Sunday Law scream goodbye

Sad news today from Darin Tambascio, the guitarist/vocalist/everything-but-drums-ist of Los Angeles metal duo National Sunday Law:

After playing over 50 shows with some of our favorite bands (Intronaut, Mouth of the Architect, Irepress, Behold...The Arctopus, Dysrhythmia, Exhausted Prayer, Solar Wimp, Hurt Model, Fight Amp and so many more), we are taking a break from National Sunday Law. Due to a dire financial situation and ongoing employment issues, Darin will be moving back to his home state of Maryland in late June. Therefore, the band will be on an indefinite hiatus after two more shows.

This is a major bummer. National Sunday Law were one of my favorite L.A. bands of any stripe. They filled a pretty vital function out here -- heavy enough for the metal crowd, arty enough for the noiseniks, tricksy enough for the prog-heads, NSL could play on almost any bill. And with just two dudes covering a vast sonic spectrum, their shows were always a minor spectacle. Both Darin and drummer Derek Donley were faithful supporters of the scene on both sides of the band/audience divide.

NSL's disbandment is especially disappointing given that they just released a killer new EP, The Fifth Ape, which you can download here for free. The EP showcases the band's balance of meditative mood and eye-bugging heaviness way better than their debut album, La Storia di Cannibali (reviewed here). "Joshua the Anchor" sets washes of analog keyboards buzzing against a ten-ton waltz; "The Darwinian Heart of Darkness" recalls early Isis in the planetary bigness of its riffs; "Last Flight of the Dodo Bird" seems aimed at new vistas, with melodic vocals and elastic bass (courtesy of Intronaut's Joe Lester) striating Tambascio's spidery guitar and Donley's totally money drumming. These guys were going places.

A glimmer of hope amidst the gloominess:

In other news, we're excited to announce that Graviton (our new side project with Sacha Dunable of Intronaut) has finished recording a full length album. We hope to have it available by the fall, around the same time as the new Intronaut record!

Here are some promising snippets of the Graviton recording sessions:

While we all wait for Darin to win a lucrative government oil contract so that National Sunday Law might tour and record again, download the The Fifth Ape EP, hold your breath for the Graviton release, and if you're in the LA area, come out to one of their last two shows. It's been a good run, boys.

Pay Your Respects at National Sunday Law's Final Two Shows (For Now):

June 3rd @ Relax Bar with Salvador, Of The Horizon, Nameless Lights. NSL is on at 9:55pm.

June 7th @ Vacation Vinyl in-store with free Colt 45. 7pm sharp.

National Sunday Law Merch Procurement:

CHAINMAIL: Huntress - Off With Her Head (self-released, 2010)

The CHAINMAIL section reviews bands that contacted me directly. Here at Cerebral Metalhead, initiative is rewarded.

As soon as I read about this band on Invisible Oranges, I started encountering them everywhere. They e-mailed me about coverage. They showed up together at a Black Math Horseman gig. They were in line at the free Dark Angel/Arsis show. All of a sudden they're on every backwards-looking metal bill and local blog that we've got. The L.A. metal scene is a concentrated one, and it's easy to make your presence known, especially when you've got an obscenely great-looking lead singer named Tuesdae and the other 4/5 of your band is recognizable from another regularly gigging band (the ripping Professor). Still, the short amount of time it's taken these folks to become regulars on the L.A. metal circuit is pretty impressive.

Listening to Huntress's debut EP Off With Her Head, it's not hard to understand why Huntress would want to hurry the fuck up and get out there. This shit is almost too easy to love. Time-tested NWOBHM riffs with the amber melted away by sparking electricity. Witchy themes and hooks-a-plenty. Galloping rhythms and harmonized Maiden leads, and Tuesdae's double-tracked caterwauling -- not nearly as theatrical as her opera training would suggest, and way more solid than the cynical metal fan might expect given her Playboy pedigree. This is just three tracks, of course, but it shows great portent. It's probably a good thing that Professor went on hiatus a couple weeks ago and Tuesdae's all-star covers band, Chelsea Girls, officially disbanded in April. These five need to shoot for the moon or shoot for nothing. All eyes on Huntress.

June 2 @ King King: with Slough Feg (reviewed here), Gates of Slumber and The Czars Dogs
June 19 @ Echo Curio: with Gypsyhawk
July 3 @ Mountain Bar

Download Huntress's Off With Her Head EP right here.
Download Professor's two tour EPs right here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Harvey Milk - A Small Turn of Human Kindness (Hydra Head, 2010)

This past Saturday, May 22nd, was the first annual Harvey Milk Day, instituted in California to honor the openly gay San Francisco politician immortalized in the 2008 film Milk. It would have been Milk's 80th birthday were he not assassinated by a close colleague in 1978. One hopes that public schools throughout California will forevermore use the day to commemorate Milk's life and work.

Metal fans will celebrate in a very different way, with downtrodden sludge guitars and parched soul vocals. In an eerie coincidence, Hydra Head elected to release the A Small Turn of Human Kindness by Athens, Georgia's perversest sludge group, Harvey Milk, just four days before the inaugural Harvey Milk Day. Could someone on the HH staff have a particular affection for the slain gay icon? Cerebral Metalhead has cited evidence of Hydra Head GM Mark Thompson's own homosexuality in the past, but the release date seems more like cosmic serendipity.

Harvey Milk's re-released, eponymous debut, 2010

I used to believe that Harvey Milk, like their frequent comparison partners The Melvins, were in the game of deliberately confounding their audience. Sometimes they were confrontational about it, as with the harsh noise-rock of their shoulda-been debut (aka "Bob Weston Sessions"), finally remastered and give a proper release earlier this year (buy it here). Sometimes they were more guarded about their outré tendencies, as with their two comeback albums, Special Wishes (2006) and Life...The Best Game In Town (2008). And sometimes they would throw in a total curveball, like 1997's boogie-centric The Pleaser. I saw Harvey Milk play at a loft party in 2008, and their tightness was shocking. It was a hastily put together gig, but Harvey Milk played like its members had been staring at each other for 16 years straight. They were that neurotically together.

"I Alone Got Up and Left"

On A Small Turn of Human Kindness, we hear Harvey Milk in sobering, straightforward mode. Doom connotes sorrow and despair. A Small Turn feels like neither. We get only the barest outlines of the story in this song cycle -- pregnancies, tire squeals and gunshots -- but the music is all clear-eyed gravitas, strength in the face of Creston Spiers's hoarse vocals and the band's wide-open guitar moves. Harvey Milk use slow paces and heaviness differently than any other metal band -- not as hypnosis, but to ratchet up tension. Keyboards and harmonized leads in "I Alone Got Up and Left" yield a queasiness that never abates, while a track like "I Know This Is No Place for You" isn't so much sludge metal as really heavy blues music. Harvey Milk let difficult emotions sit with no foil on A Small Turn. They're doing more than just telling us how it feels to be emotionally desiccated. They're making us feel desiccated ourselves. Slap Harvey Milk on the back and then give them a hug.

Amazon (MP3)

Monday, May 17, 2010

CHAINMAIL: Locrian - Territories (At War With False Noise / Basses Frequences / Bloodlust / Small Doses, 2010)

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

Ronnie James Dio is dead. I never really knew him aside from his role as a talking head in VH1 documentaries and his popularization of the metal horns. Yet the more I read, the more samples of his work with Rainbow, Dio and Black Sabbath that I hear, the more real his death becomes. While I wouldn't say that my life feels any different, I do feel more connected to the metal world because of the collective outpouring of mourning. And so I mourn, as well.

The new Locrian album Territories is ideal for this mood. The emotions it inspires are fathoms deep and unnameable. It is everything that Dio's music was not -- fuzzy, oblique, meditative, often static. There will be no holy diving to the synth and bass throb of "Ring Road." Terence Hannum, Mark Solotroff (Bloodyminded), Blake Judd (Nachtmystium) and Bruce Lamont (Yakuza), each of whom contribute emaciated howls to "Procession of Ancestral Brutalism," could learn a few things about enunciation from Dio. This music feels dry and empty, even at its most energetic. Territories is the purgatory that Dio must wait in while his afterlife is determined. Heaven? Hell? Heaven and Hell?

Locrian's last album Drenched Lands soundtracked Chicago's urban dystopia with improvised windscapes and scratchy feedback. Half of Territories thaws out the desolation by setting its improvised electronics against warmly-recorded, Ulver-like black metal storms from Judd, Hannum, Locrian's Andre Foisy and drummer Andrew Scherer (Velnias). "Procession of Ancestral Brutalism," is really inspired black metal, and I hope to hear this expanded band record a whole record like it someday. But the two disparate styles feel frictive, especially when the latter erupts out of nowhere a few minutes in to "The Columnless Arcade." It's too Dio-like, its regal drum patterns and repeated harmonies clenching triumph from the jaws of horror. I am gratified that such bold improvisers as Locrian are taking steps away from their discomfort zone, even more gratified that they're putting Bruce Lamont's saxophone to good use (his layered braying on "Between Barrows" threatens to steal the album). I don't want to be woken from my drone-drenched reverie by blastbeats though. Too much emphasis on rhythm. Give me more organ, more queasiness. Let me mourn for Dio in improvised peace and quiet feedback.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

CHAINMAIL: The March - Dead Ends and Blind Spots EP (self-released, 2009)

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

Ever notice how it's easier to write metal lyrics in English than it is to communicate normally in English? Exhibit A: French post-metal band The March, whose vocalist Olivier Haese peppered his e-mails to me with minor (and adorable) idiomatic mistakes like "Would someone on your website be interested in making a review of it?" and "I haven't received the receipt that says you've got it well." In contrast, the lyric sheet for The March's debut EP Dead Ends and Blind Spots has a telegraphic pithiness to it that feels like its own dialect. "Perfect lines, artificial edges / Plastic birds, fake water around us" howls vocalist Olivier Haese on "Ancient Seed," before eructating one of The March's many awesome seabeast-themed apocalyptic forecasts: "The giant shell is on its way / Let the beast crawl over the great seawalls / And swallow them all / Now celebrate!"

"Ancient Seed"

The March have also mastered the language of post-metal. Normally I dismiss this stuff as formulaic and one-dimensionally triumphalist, but the drama here feels real. The heavy sections come quickly, like each song's lifesblood instead of its payoff. There's a dryness to the recording that keeps the shimmery clean-tone guitars leaden and creaky. They're dripping in liquid mercury, not fondue cheese. Cymbals crash crunchy and live. Haese's vocals spew electricity. Extra points for the silkscreened package, laden with seahorses. Yes Olivier, I am interested in making a review of your album, and yes, I've got it well.

Dead Ends and Blind Spots (self-released, 2009) is available by mail-order only. E-mail for your copy.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Knu from Knut: Wonder

Two months of waiting 'til this is out ain't so bad considering I've already waited for 5 years.

So let's say that one of your favorite bands puts out an amazing record in 2005. Here's a standard timeline of events, using the release date as a reference point:

6 months later: stop listening to last record once a day
1.5 years later: actively await news of new record
2 years later: suffer through pointless EP, B-sides, live or remix record
3 years later: forget band ever existed
4 years later: rediscover last record while searching through record collection
5 years later: find out that band broke up two years ago

I was prepared to give up on Knut (one of only two bands that ever convinced me to wear their hoodie), despite my undying reverence for their last record Terraformer (Hydra Head, 2005) and each of their previous Hydra Head releases. That remix album Alter from 2006 did nothing to assuage my slide into apathy. But now it looks like it's time to recalibrate my timeline.

"Descent" (from Bastardiser)

"Kyoto" (from Terraformer)

Hydra Head just announced the June 29th release of Knut's new album Wonder. It's reportedly both "A commentary on the human capacity for creative thought and numinous experience in the face of a violent and oppressive global-market ethos" and "Testament to our will for survival and defiance in times of adversity and crippling doubt." That's a lot of touting for 40 minutes of music, but I guess Knut have had plenty of time to develop creative thoughts about survival and defiance in the interim. anyone else excited about Wonder?

Click here, here, here and here to check out the progression of that glorious album cover by Aaron Turner.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

CHAINMAIL: Fuck the Facts - Unnamed EP (self-released, 2010)

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

Go listen to your Repulsion and early Napalm Death records. Now listen to the new Fuck the Facts Unnamed EP. Lordy, how grindcore has changed. Frequent changeups and breakdowns and beat-flippings keep the 'core as prevalent as the grind, the headspin as prevalent as the gutpunch. Grind isn't just for speedfreaks anymore. This stuff is as impressive for its pure composition as it is for the fury it channels.

Fuck the Facts: ". ."

There's little room for imperfection on Unnamed EP. It's surgical in its savagery. Performances are ship-in-a-bottle-builder precise, instruments cleanly separated. I could never call the group's pixie of death vocalist Mel Mongeon "caged," but here's she's less frontwoman than vocal accompanist. This will change when you see Fuck the Facts live. A Mongeon performance is not conducive to upstaging or forgetting.

"La Tete hors de L'eau"

Fuck the Facts habitually pick at their own bones and reassess their catalog. Founding guitarist Topon Das et. al cobbled together 2008's Disgorge Mexico from jam tapes and riffs dating back to the band's founding, nearly a decade prior; Unnamed EP finds the band re-recording "La Tete Hors De L'eau" from a 2004 split with Sergent Slaughter and "Doghead" from Mullet Fever. I like the idea of a band that's proud enough of its past to incorporate it into its present. Self-sampling, if you will. There are subtle differences between new and old on Unnamed EP, mostly in the more straightforward tonalities and structures of the two re-records, which compare favorably to The Red Chord (Frankensteiny combos of grind, groove, pinch harmonic and roar). It's remarkable how consistent Fuck the Facts are on record, especially considering how prolific they are. Unnamed EP upholds the band's fact-fucking quality.


Consider Fucking the Facts live:

Apr 23 2010 8:00P The Alex Brantford, Ontario
Apr 24 2010 8:00P Hard Luck Bar Toronto, Ontario
May 14 2010 8:00P CSMA Ithaca, New York
May 15 2010 8:00P Bug Jar Rochester, New York
May 16 2010 8:00P Now That’s Class Cleveland, Ohio
May 17 2010 8:00P Mac’s Bar Lansing, Michigan
May 18 2010 8:00P Reggies Chicago, Illinois
May 19 2010 8:00P Fubar St. Louis, Missouri
May 20 2010 8:00P Conservatory Oklahoma, Oklahoma
May 21 2010 8:00P Renos Dallas, Texas
May 22 2010 8:00P War Legion Amarillo, Texas
May 23 2010 8:00P Red Seven Austin, Texas
May 25 2010 8:00P The Bar New Orleans, Louisiana
May 26 2010 8:00P Firehouse Birmingham, Alabama
May 27 2010 8:00P Hideaway Johnson City, Tennessee
May 28 2010 8:00P Sleep On It Harrisonburg, Virginia
May 29 2010 8:00P MD Deathfest Baltimore, Maryland
Jun 1 2010 8:00P Club Hell Providence, Rhode Island
Jun 18 2010 8:00P Montebello Marina Montebello, Quebec
Jun 19 2010 8:00P Bar Le Magog Sherbrooke, Quebec
Jul 23 2010 8:00P Friendship Cove Montreal, Quebec

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Lair of the Minotaur interview

Nate Olp, Steven Rathbone and Chris Wozniak of Lair of the Minotaur

The new Lair of the Minotaur album is out this week. Those of you who were worried that the Chicago trio were going to drop their Greek mythology shtick will have to go find something else to worry about, because Evil Power sticks it to the Olympian pantheon over and over again with an even more brutish approach than LOTM's last few. Screw that Clash of the Titans abortion. This is the real shit when it comes to Greek god-busting in 2010. I caught up with the band's main man Steven Rathbone for a soon-to-be-published Decibel feature. Here's how the talk went down.


You’re at work right now?

Technically, yeah. I work at home.

What do you do other than rock the mic?

I run a business called and we sell movie poster t-shirts. The label that’s putting out the new record is kind of like a sister company of the Grind-House. It’s called The Grind-House Records.

Why did you decide to go the self-released route with this record?

Our contract was up with Southern Lord. We had them behind us with distribution and whatnot. We just wanted to take it in our own hands. It’s kind of in the original spirit of the band. We got signed with them (Southern Lord) early. When we first signed the demo had only been out for six months. And so it’s something we always wanted to do, and I thought it was the right time, and it was the right record, and so far the response has been really great.

Is there much of a difference in making this record as an independent band distributed by a larger label as opposed to going straight through Southern Lord? Or have you not noticed that much in terms of what you have to do on a day to day basis?

It’s definitely a little more hands-on as far as the label aspect of it, but the approach with this record is exactly the same. I mean if this record would have come out on Southern Lord, it’d be the exact same record, you know? It is a different aspect of trying to act as a salesman a little bit more for your record. I think that’s something that I find a little bit hard to do. It’s one thing to write and record an album and make music. It’s another thing to go like “Aw, you gotta check out this band! They’re fuckin’ awesome!” Like, do what labels do. Which is sell a band.

I imagine you taking off your Conan helmet and instead of saying “I’m going to destroy you!” saying “Will you please buy my record?”

That’s also where some help comes in handy. My good friend Josh Diebel is partnering with us on this label. He used to own Alleysweeper Records back in the mid-90s, and they put out some of the old Tribes of Neurot stuff, and solo Justin Broadrick stuff, and Mick Harris – experimental, ambient/noise stuff. So he has a little more experience with the label when it comes to sales and that kind of thing. It definitely helps to have someone else doing that and not the guy from a band.

Let’s talk about the new record a little bit. Evil Power has a much simpler, more straightforward vibe than the last one. Did you try to strip it down for this record?

Yeah! The storyline is a continuation of the storyline from War Metal Battle Master (reviewed here), which was about Ares. If anyone doesn’t know, our stuff is about Greek mythology. So it was about him becoming a god. And it was also about this period of peace ending, and this period of – it was sort of a violent period, where men became very violent. And so the music – it’s also about celebration, about the celebration after a big victory, a bloody victory. That was the overlying theme behind this record. To create a record that was celebratory, kind of like a party record. When I started thinking about that, I had some older stuff I had worked on, that was working out real well with this. And it’s basically we wanted to make a really kickass record could put on at a party. The kind of stuff you would listen to – Judas Priest, Motorhead, that type of thing and that type of vibe. And it’s also about drunk-driving as well.

Really! Tell me how drunk driving fits in to the equation.

Well, it kind harkens back to when I first started driving, growing up in Detroit. We didn’t really have much to do, and that’s all we did, drink and drive. Listen to music. I definitely look back fondly on those times now. Don’t want anyone to get a DUI, but… ::laughs:: it’s one of those records that’s good to put on if you’ve had a few and you’re driving real fast on the freeway.

Got it. So it’s more of a throwback to those heady days of driving under the influence than a recommendation that your listeners do the same.

::laughs:: That’s right. You’re just begging for a DUI if you buy this record.

That’s a subliminal message you don’t want to record backwards on your album.

And then there’s the overlying story of the Greek mythology, and there’s a lot of movement in the marauding type thing, with these bands of soldiers, so there’s also that. The marauding type element to it, you and your friends get in a car and jammin’ some tunes. Havin’ a good time, going somewhere or whatever.

I was going to ask if, after four albums of Greek mythology, you were starting to see some sort of overarching allegory in your music, or a connection to modern living. And I guess that would be it.

Yeah. That’s pretty much it right there. I dunno if we would ever make it out that all of the songs are about partying and getting pussy, but…::laughs::

A lot of them are! So the War Metal Battle Master DVD (reviewed here) was one of the most over-the-top blood and tits fests I’ve ever seen. Do you have something similar planned for Evil Power?

Actually I’m supposed to see the final edit of the video tonight. The Deciblog is doing the premiere at the end of the month.

What song is it for?

It’s for the song “Evil Power.” And yes, this video makes the last one look like crap. It’s gonna blow people away. The artistic element is way over the top, the blood and the gore and everything else is tenfold. I’m really happy. I promised myself that we wouldn’t do a video for this album. ::laughs::

Was it just for financial reasons?

It was such a headache. That War Metal Battle Master – it took like a year to put that together. It was like, a lot of time. And it was cool, and it did its job, it created a buzz for the record, and a lot of people saw it and a lot of people really enjoyed it, and it was fun to make, but when I started thinking about doing something like that again, I was like “aw man! I don’t wanna like, unless I have some HUGE budget.” But we started talking with Ryan Oliver, who directed it. He had done some of the special effects for the War Metal Battle Master video. And he lives here in town in Chicago. And we just started talking, and one thing lead to another, led to another, led to another. Next thing we know the scope of this thing just grew tenfold. Yeah, I’m real pleased. But yeah, it’s insane.

Are you using the same actresses that played the Keres in the last one?

No. This is a different story. There is a minotaur, and it’s basically what goes down in the lair of the minotaur. It follows the storyline, the myth of virgins would be brought to the lair of the minotaur to be sacrificed, and that’s what you see! ::laughs:: It’s brutal. It’s fuckin’ unbelievable.

It’s just concentrating on that part? It’s not Theseus coming in and saving the day?


It’s just the sacrifice of the virgins.

Theseus doesn’t come in on this version. I mean it’s a two-minute song. So of course we’d love to keep adding all this stuff but it’s a shorter song. I think it fits well with the song, and it fits well with the album. We have definitely one-upped the last one so I’m happy about that. I don’t feel like we’re putting out a lesser video. It’s definitely…MORE.

What makes the Grecian war concept more badass than what Nile’s doing with Egyptian mythology, or what Unleashed is doing with Norse mythology?

I am personally just attracted to it for the D&D aspect. I grew up playing D&D, and Greek mythology was sewn into the game. And so that’s how I got into it, along with old Ray Harryhausen movies like Jason and the Argonauts, Clash of the Titans, Sinbad and all that type of stuff, and then I started reading early on the Aeneid and some of these early writings, and it’s just something I’ve always been into. As far as metal lyrics go, it’s perfect. It’s filled with lore, and monsters, and death and fuckin’ horrible shit. And it expands on themes…some of these stories are as old as man. You can’t really trace how far. Half of these stories weren’t written down until around 1 BC or something. And so that also interests me too, the lore aspect of these stories, sown and told down through the ages. When it comes to metal lyrics, there’re a lot of bands doing stuff about Satan, and so with that ground being so well covered, we figured the Greek mythology angle would be perfect for us. I had the name of the band first before I started writing any of the lyrics, so it was grown out of that. When I first started writing lyrics, I was like “Oh, we’ll just kinda roll with this.”

So that concept was always with you. As soon as you had the name Lair of the Minotaur, did you know that you would forever be writing lyrics about Greek mythology?

Heh…yeah. I remember the look of dismay when I tried to tell the rest of the band.

I can’t imagine this band singing about anything else. But what do you think? If you ever moved on from Greek mythology, are there other themes that you’re interested in exploring?

Probably not with this band. I’ll robably keep (Lair of the Minotaur) along these lines. There’s just such a well of stories. I’ll make up stuff, too. I’ll use some of the characters and just make up stories as well. So that’s fun too.

Why do you think that American metal bands so rarely engage American mythology? Yeah there’s not as much history, but it’s always been interesting to me that usually when you hear about a band working with lore, it’s Scandinavian lore, or pagan lore, or Greek or Egyptian lore.

Right. All we have is Christianity.

Well you know, there’re the myths of the west, there’s Paul Bunyan, there’s Native American lore they can work with.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a band using Native American lore in metal. Probably in types of world music. But yeah, I’m not really sure what bands’ lyrics are about these days. I don’t really have much of a clue.

There’s a lot of consciously retro metal going around these days. Do you consider yourself aligned with that at all?

No. I’m kinda in a bubble and I don’t really listen to a lot of new bands. When you hear Lair of the Minotaur sounding the way it is, it doesn’t sound that way to be cool or retro, it sounds that way because that’s the kind of music I listen to, and that’s the kind of music I want to write. As far as any kind of scene, we’ve always existed outside of any scene. Even as being part of Southern Lord, we were never really sounded like any of the bands on Southern Lord. It seems like there are little cliques of bands that for together, and kinda sound similar, from the same region. We’re friends with plenty of the bands around here but I wouldn’t say that we sound in any way in the same vein.

At the same time you’ve got this other band 7000 Dying Rats (reviewed here), which is totally different and also going for something completely different than most grind bands. Let’s talk about that. It’s basically a satirical grind band. Would you say that humor is an important part of Lair of the Minotaur as well?

I tell you what. I grew up listening to metal, laughing and having a good time with my friends. And most of these bands that try to portray an image of being really serious, when you meet them, they are just as goofy as me and you. And so there’s never been a big façade or anything that we try to pull to try to be super serious. But at the same time, the music is serious to me. The way I’m singing, the song names, the albums, the reason it’s so over the top is to cut the wheat from the chaff. The impetus for doing that was that there are so many bands that would take little elements of metal but you could tell that they still thought of metal as cheesy. There’s that popular kind of misconception about all those shitty glam bands from the 80s, that that is what metal is. Or when they have the “Top 40 Metal Videos of the 1980s” on VH1, and it’s all Poison and all that. And so I think there’s a generation now that think some aspects of it are cheesy, whether it be Dio, or that type of thing, the sword and sorcery type of thing. Spinal Tap made fun of it as well. But to people that grew up listening to metal, that’s what metal was. Metal was fantasy, and sword and sorcery, and monsters and Satan and having a good time. And so that’s a big part of why we do what we do. It’s to draw a line in the sand and just have something that’s so over the top metal that if you don’t like it, you should move on.

You’re saying Lair of the Minotaur forces you to address why you listen to metal to begin with?

Right. In some ways. It depends on the listener, you know. When people grew up.

I started listening to metal way after you did, so to me the Dio stuff seems silly, but it’s something I embrace as part of metal’s history. And an essential part of its development, too! Even without the fantasy theme, getting up there on stage and brutalizing a crowd is a form of escape, you know? So why not match that with lyrics, too?

Right, right. That’s what it’s supposed to be. Slayer, Celtic Frost, so many of these old bands wrote fantasy-type lyrics.

General Diaboloical Slaughter from Usurper guests on a track, yeah?

He’s a good friend. And we actually wanted to get him out o n the last record, and he wasn’t able to. So we made sure this time we got him out, and laid down some shit.

Which track is he on?

He’s on four or five of the tracks. Just backup stuff.

Tell me about the switcheroo between bassists DJ Barraca and Nate Olp. How and when did that come about?

That came about two years ago actually. Our original bassist DJ – his wife had gotten pregnant, and he was not going to be nailed to doing this nonsense. And Nate from Demiricous – we’re good friends with those guys, we’ve played with ‘em several times down in Indianapolis –he was the first person I called, and he’s a super awesome dude, and we’re happy to have him in the band.

So he’s a full-time member now?


So he’ll be touring with you whenever you come out.


A lot of people accused Demiricous of sounding exactly like Slayer. But I don’t care. Slayer’s great! Demiricous write amazing riffs!

Kerry King loves them, too.

That’s enough for me.

Nate has actually hung out with Kerry before. He’s a huge fan of the band.

So tell me about Sanford Parker. Obviously he’s all over the place these days, especially for Chicago bands. You’ve used him for pretty much every record that you’ve put out. What works so well about him and the Lair of the Minotaur aesthetic?

He has a really good ear and he’s really easy to work with. We’ve recorded everything so far with him. And he’s one of the very few people that I will actually take suggestions from concerning a song.

You mean the writing itself?

You know what I mean. Effects on the vocals, that type of thing. He’s got a nice little setup over there (at Volume Recording). He’s moved into a larger spot than where he was originally recording us. And it’s really comfortable. Nice, big place. I consider him a fourth member when we’re in the studio.

Has he ever suggested adding keyboards or anything beyond your normal band setup?

I mean all the keyboard stuff is stuff that I’ve done. It’s not so much changes in the songs, as much as little studio things. Doubling up parts of vocals, that type of thing.

I’ve got one more question. And this one is killing me, because it’s about lunch time out here. You’ve got your own Kuma’s Corner burger with caramelized onions, pancetta, brie and bourbon-soaked pears. I’m assuming you’ve eaten it a few times?

Yeah, it’s pretty good.

Do you ever feel this weird auto-cannibalistic lust when you’re eating your own burger?

::laughs:: Yeah it’s crazy. I guess it’s the best-selling burger there. And still to this day, probably twice a week I’ll get a drunken e-mail from someone going “Dude! I just ate your burger!”

“You taste great!”

It’s funny. When I’m there, I can hear people ordering it behind me, and I cringe.

There’s really nothing that metal about pears. But I guess you’re soaking them in bourbon before you put ‘em on there.

I saw just recently one of the shows from the Food Network. And some guy went there, and they prepared the burger and he ate it, on the show. Some blonde guy that has the show and runs around and sees all these food places. That was weird as well.

It’s a pretty dubious distinction to add to your press pack, you know? That you have the best-selling burger at Kuma’s Corner in Chicago?

Have you ever been?

No, I haven’t been to Chicago in years. But I need to go. It’s a mecca for metal definitely, but I’ve been hearing so much about the burgers over there. It’s like a hangout spot for the Chicago metal crowd, right?

Yeah. It’s become very popular, so sometimes it’s a little unbearable. There’re a lot of people there. But all the food’s really good. They have this killer mac ‘n cheese. It’ll blow your mind.

Steve, you’re making me salivate. Is there anything else you want to say about Evil Power?

No, I think it speaks for itself. Personally it’s my favorite of our albums. I’m stoked for it to come out.


BUY Evil Power:

See Lair of the Minotaur live:
4/16/2010 Melody Inn - Indianapolis, IN w/ Coffinworm
4/17/2010 Peabody's - Cleveland, OH w/ Solopsist
4/18/2010 Sonar - Baltimore, MD w/ Revolta, Wolfnuke
4/19/2010 M Room - Philadelphia, PA w/ Ludicra, Tombs, Krallice
4/21/2010 The Charleston - Brooklyn, NY w/ The Binary Code, Elks
4/22/2010 Velvet Lounge - Washington DC w/ Ol Scratch, Admiral Browning
4/23/2010 Broadway Joe's - Buffalo, NY w/ Cattle Decapitation, Gaza
4/24/2010 The Summit - Columbus, OH w/ Fools Crown