Deafheaven @ The Fine Line

A Deafheaven/Tribulation tour? At The Fine Line Music Café? I’ve been to The Fine Line all of 2 times. The first was years ago for a band called Boogie Wonderland (70s & 80s covers). Normally, these are details that would have left my mind long ago, but I ended that particular evening with a hickey on each side of my neck. It’s not as cool as it sounds, and at the same time, probably even more absurd than it sounds. It was our friend’s 21st birthday. She looked a lot like Wynona Ryder, except better, and she was studying to become a nurse (think scrubs). At one point we were secretly into each other, but the stars just never aligned (she always had a boyfriend; I was always a loser). Regardless, that evening, in her voyage through 21st birthday drunkenness, she decided, while we all stood in a group talking, to shop-vac my neck and give me a massive hickey. As if that wasn’t awkward enough, my friend’s to-be wife, truly one of the best humans I’ve ever met, who may have been just as drunk, followed suit and put an equally large hickey on the opposing side of my neck. The real icing on the cake was that I headed to Duluth the next morning to do the whole visit-family-while-at-college thing. With my mom and her family being devout Roman Catholics of Polish decent, my 21-year-0ld self was expected to join in the Sunday church ritual, but this time, against my will (think Mommy Dearest),  I strolled into church with a striking pair of Band-Aids on each side of my neck, and not the flesh colored band-aids of today, these things could be seen from 100 yards. If this sounds like the most ridiculous thing ever, you’re right. Sadly, I can probably top it…for another day though.

My last time at The Fine Line though, with some false hope of turning the tone of this post around, was to see Mastodon. It was their Crack the Skye tour. They played the album in it’s entirety, at which point, I was beyond amazed as well as thinking it was time to call it a night. They came back out for what I thought would be your typical 2-4 song encore, but instead they played 14 more songs. Brutally crushing and ridiculously amazing. My body physically hurt in so many ways… and it was beautiful. I didn’t even mind the guy with the abnormally large head swaying back and for the entire evening… at least I had a clear view for half the time.

Back to my initial statement, the self-described complexity of this event was something I couldn’t wrap my mind around. Why would Deafeaven be touring with Tribulation? I’m certain I had a pained look on my face every time I asked myself. And because Tribulation had to cancel, I actually struggled with the concept until the day after the show…but why? The reality is, I thought Tribulation was actually Inquisition. Have you ever done that? Does anyone really care? Upon pulling my head out of my ass, Tribulation seemed like a much better partner of a road companion.

So, Deafheaven. From what I hear and read, most people either love or hate this band. I see the term “hipster band” used a lot, which may or may not be true, but hopefully most people don’t put too much weight in disliking bands because of other’s tastes, especially in this scene. I’ve been a Deafheaven fan since Roads to Judah appeared on Brandon Stosuy’s year end list for 2011. I’ve always been a sucker for USBM and the various takes and re-interpretations of it as well as a sucker for solid melody. I had missed a few opportunities to see Deafheaven in previous months and years, at a more fitting venues, but I was actually pretty stoked to finally be seeing them live tonight.

I was flying solo tonight for the first time in a long while. Once I got in, I grabbed a beer and claimed a spot on the floor. It was great to look around and see about 9 of myself: short hair, dark glasses, black t-shirt, jeans, bearded and constantly staring at an iPhone. Individuality…yeah. Not yet knowing that Tribulation had fully cancelled when I arrived (initially it was reported that the bands were switching spots because of Tribulation’s van issues), I spent the next 90 minutes enjoying a few beers and taking in the crowd. Cool haircuts, cool glasses, big watches, ugly sweaters, and poor posture…basically an H&M fall catalog photoshoot. What I was really doing in that 90 minute span was trying not to bum a cigarette. I accidentally parked myself next to the smoker’s door. I was 7 days into not smoking for the 500th time and the doppelganger to my right had a cigarette behind his left ear just screaming my name. I pretty much become the Jason Bourne equivalent of the nicotine underground when my mind has nothing to focus on except repeated waves of tobacco indulgence.

Deafheaven sounded exactly how I anticipated…intensely amazing. The fact that someone in the crowd had the most refreshing scent made it nearly impossible for me to do anything but completely enjoy the show. Seeing a security staff who looked more like members of a wedding party only added to the magic. They were so professional about breaking up the slightest shred of any mosh-like activity. Deafheaven predictably started their set by with the opening track off of New Bermuda, “Brought to the Water” followed by the second track, “Luna.” Continuing  mostly with tracks off the new album, it was near the middle-end when they played “From the Kettle Onto the Coil,” an unfamiliar song to me, but clearly a worthy member of their catalog. They spent the latter portion of the set on Sunbather tracks, with their 2-song encore consisting of “Sunbather” and “Dream House.” While New Bermuda is a pleasantly welcomed, edgier Deafheaven, their overall sound still navigates between avant-gardish USBM and blackened shoegaze. My only criticism of their actual sound is that they almost sound “too good” at times, if that makes any sense. There are moments where I hear shimmers of The Smashing Pumpkins piercing through. I love the Pumpkins, but not necessarily looking for that here. During their set, they would have brief, ambient interludes between each song, which I assumed were meant to lead into the next song, but I started to noticed they would abruptly stop before each song stated, just enough to make it sound awkward. Regardless, it was finally worth the wait to finally see Deafheaven live, even if a sequel of matching hickeys wasn’t in the cards.

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False – Untitled (2015)

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Thinking back, he was like the Nordic equivalent of The Most Interesting Man…at least that’s how he resides in my mind. A mythical, long-haired, bearded man, a savage warrior who possibly drives a Cadillac, guzzles champagne (from a chalice) and belongs to a local men’s club. Clearly, I’ve created this in my mind. The reality is, I ran into him at the Tripe Rock one night and he had a girl on each arm. Nothing all that crazy, but the myth only grew from that moment. Regardless, it was our initial meeting where the story begins. My cousin and I were at Station 4, the line-up of the night slips my mind, but we somehow struck up a conversation with this particular gentleman. I only remember 2 things he said:  he was from Duluth, and that I should listen to False.

Like anything truly good these days, I had to do a little digging to find me some False…I like them already. Eventually, I landed on the Gilead Media website and ordered myself their 2011 Untitled EP on vinyl. It’s crazy to think that the concept of a vinyl-only releases was so foreign to me at the time, but I had a record player that needed some new blood so I took the plunge. When it showed up, I immediately threw it on the turn table and dropped the needle. I had no idea what hit me. The only question it left me was to whether I got some ice packs before I listened to it again. Untitled, rather False, was a bridge connecting the utter angst of crust-punk and the sinister, chaotic ferocity of black metal.

Flash forward 4 years. The again-titled Untitled full-length release sees False continue where they left off. The 5 song tracklist comes in at just a hair under 60 minutes. The basic math of that feels good. The album starts with a quick hum of bass, a burst of feedback and then instantaneously plunges into the depths of False’s sinister, chaotic nightmare. I say nightmare because this album could truly be the soundtrack to the most preeminent horror film ever made (speaking as though it hasn’t been made yet). Just over 3 minutes into the opening track, “Saturnalia,” the atmosphere declines to a brooding interlude of doom essence, as though giving you time to catch your breath, just as you realize you’ve been completely engulfed by this haunting narrative. And there’s still 4 chapters to go.

By definition, False are a black metal band, and the characteristics of this genre that they display are meticulously unnerving (as they should be). Blast beats, scorching vocals, tremlo picking, not sounding over produced…all present. These 5 tracks (chapters) though, are an anthology of unpredictable entropy fused with distressing yet melodic harmony. I find myself drawn…more than I am to your typical black metal. It posses that wall-of-distorted-noise quality, while being fed underneath by melodies that are even more sinister sounding than the blood-curdling vocals. Near the end of “Deluge,” the scattered double-bass and growling vocals stop and the song slowly leads into a choir-like vocal arrangement that left me feeling like some type of resolution was coming…maybe the end of the first act…but instead the song fluidly moves back and forth between the slow melodic and the sinister build before hurling into self back into the chaos. The outro of “Entropy” transforms itself into church-style organ-like keyboards as it leads slowly into the final track. I can’t say enough about the overall sound and production either. This album, at times, literally sounds like a faster-paced occult record from the 70s, or like I stated previously, the soundtrack to a horror film of the same time period, but clearly better, somehow better produced, while sounding less produced at the same time.

At some point, I need to pay it forward. I need to tell a stranger that they should listen to False. Maybe I just did. I don’t always listen to black metal, but when I do, I listen to False.

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Inter Arma, Yautja & Blue Ox @ 7th St. Entry 5.13.15

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My daughter’s been singing two songs as of late, which is to say I’ve had two songs stuck in my head as of late. Have you ever seen a whale with a polka-dot tail? That’s one of them. You know you know that song, and you’re welcome. Needless to say, I craved some good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll to cleanse my palate.

I was probably 18 when I experienced First Avenue initially, and I was certain I would die that night. I remember being in the men’s room and noticing the stainless steel toilets, realizing the only other place I saw them was in movies that take place in prisons. The other thing I remember was the utter darkness. I couldn’t even see my hand in front of me. It was a venue I grew to love over the years. First Avenue has changed a lot since then. It’s not that dark, ominous place I remember. Then there’s The Entry. 7th Street Entry, essentially the basement of First Avenue, is indeed the same place I remember, and I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s as big as my living room and as dark as a black hole. You literally share sweat and stage with anyone performing. Perfect for metal.

Blue Ox opened the night, and how embarrassed am I that I knew nothing of this Minneapolis-based (local) thrash/sludge/doom band up until now? I went back and listened to their 2011 release Stray Dogs on Pity Party Island, an album that seemingly encompassed a range of sounds touching sludge, doom, thrash, hardcore, etc. Their live set though, felt more doom/sludge-esque, and they hit it good…real good. They literally knocked my cousin’s beer off the ledge with the massive depth of their chords. It was an all around solid sound and solid set. Now that my head’s out of my ass, I look forward to seeing them around town, accompanied by more beer spillage.

When a drummer sings, I listen. When drummer sings and looks like a young Magnum P.I., we as a species further evolve along the evolutionary chart. Granted, drummer Tyler Coburn only sang a few lines in Yautja’s opening song, but it was the splash of introduction that set the tone for a brutal sludge/grind soiree. Leading up to the show, I pondered just how one pronounces Yautja. If you can gather something from reading anything on this blog, it would be that I’m clueless. I knew, because the year is 2015, that I could have easily Googled the word, but I wanted to let them band themselves end the suspense for me. This did not happen. When they mentioned they were “Yaujta from Tennessee” I completely missed the pronunciation. Therefore, I Googled. Yautja, or e•wat•ya, are the alien species in the Predator movies. No shit. I realized there was no better explanation for this band. Their sound was indeed wickedly agile and well structured, yet punishing and brutal. I needed an ice pack before they were done, but who’s got time to bleed?

Inter Arma is commonly referred to as blackened sludge metal, with a bit of southern flavor via their Richmond roots. I don’t necessarily dispute that definition, but it really only scratches the surface of a band whose sonic brutality has charted the furthest edges and pushed the boundaries of what we know as sludge. Their set started with a sonic jam-like build and finished 45 minutes later with drummer T.J. Childers symbolically ending the set chiming a cymbal with a giant Gandalf-esque staff (but maybe bigger). I wondered if they might play The Cavern, which they didn’t, but it took me a minute to realize this because their set had no pause, a continuous opus if you will. Their set actually was made up of mostly Sky Burial tracks. It played out with the complexity of prog but was as dirty and brutal as your typical sludge. They had the atmosphere and blast of USBM contrasted with hints of doom, and splashes of blues. What fixated me the most was the gentleman playing with band to the right of the stage. He reminded me of a young Pai Mei via Kill Bill (I couldn’t mean that as more of a compliment) and I had no idea what the hell he was playing. Fortunately, my cousin, who literally knows everything, informed me that the instrument in question was a theremin. “Playing” isn’t really an accurate term as Wikipedia defines it as such: “The instrument’s controlling section usually consists of two metal antennas that sense the relative position of the thereminist’s hands and control oscillators for frequency with one hand, and amplitude (volume) with the other. The electric signals from the theremin are amplified and sent to a loudspeaker.” This guy was a thereminist playing a theremin and if you’ve never seen one, it will somewhat blow your mind. The dude pretty much manipulates sound, and does so with the skill and grace of the martial artist he resembles. The way he greeted the band members while setting up led me to believe he hadn’t been a part of the entire tour, and may not have continued on with them after this show. Maybe this guy is just someone from the MPLS, and if so, I will seek him out for spiritual guidance. Either way, I was elated at the fact that I could witness what transpired, blowing my mind in the process.

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Napalm Death – Apex Predator – Easy Meat

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The first Napalm Death song I ever heard was “Greed Killings.” (I found it on this random sampler called Metallurgy, at Best Buy of all places. (Growing up in Duluth, pre-internet, quality metal was sparse) I was intrigued and confused at the same time. Intrigued at how brutal their music was; confused as how it came to exist. I was 16 and completely submerged in a world of equal parts nu metal and post hardcore. It was as though nothing else existed. The Deftones, Tool, Korn, Coal Chamber blended with Quicksand, Fugazi & Glassjaw. Napalm Death was nothing like this. They sounded like a punk band, but then that band stared in the sequel to Point Break, as the bank robbers themselves, surround by intensity. I mean, Barney literally sounded like he was screaming with a bag over his head. Thus, my introduction to Grindcore.

With their 16th, full-length studio release, Apex Predator – Easy Meat, Napalm Death remind us, like so few things, they only improve with age. With no original members in the fold, instead, consisting of a line-up that has weathered the last 25+ years, Napalm Death are the band that perfected the style of metal that captures the abrasive, purely raw angst of a teenage punk band and fuse it with the well educated, polished voice of a political movement. These songs have the simplicity of a punk rock anthem, but reveal to us their true weight and depth as they unfold, and just when you reach that moment of enlightenment, the song is over… but the next begins.

Simply put, Napalm Death take chaos and create an opus. Unfolding like a narrative, the album begins with an industrial-esque, spoken word intro…something fit for Metropolis maybe. Solid. My only criticism…it was about a minute too long and at one point the spoken word sounded like someone reciting Darth Vader’s fatherly reveal into a fan. “Smash A Single Digit” follows, opening and setting the tone of the album. It begins with what I consider their textbook chaos sound: orchestrated noise that slowly, subconsciously builds. Breaking half-way through, the Napalm Death grind riff emerges. “How the Years Condemn” and “Dear Slum Lord…” are two tracks that stood out in my mind. The first…just because that main riff is so damn beautiful. It feels almost calculated…methodical. It just pulls the song along as we keep coming back to it after brief interludes. The later, one of the slower tracks on the album, still manages to crush. Barney leads the song as though he were leading a group of locals at the pub as they prepare to destroy the city, but then it tears into a brutal chorus that emulates a jack hammer destroying a sidewalk. The brutality ensues until the last note of this album. Chaos. Opus. Napalm. Death. Listen. And seriously, if I ever meet Shane Embury, we are hugging it out.

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Cannibal Corpse, Behemoth, Aeon & Tribulation @ Mills City Nights 2.17.15

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It was a typical February night in Minnesota. Below zero. The day’s high of 3° was long gone, as were my genitals, creating the perfect conditions for an evening of death metal, and a fitting welcome to the co-headlining gents from Florida.

The evening started off with Tribulation. Over the course of the last year, I was able to completely forget what Tribulation sounded like, so, unfamiliar with Aeon, I assumed that’s who we were watching. Shame on me. I find Tribulation interesting. Visually, they remind me of Led Zepplin with a touch more glam and they sound like In Solitude, or trad metal as I’ve been reading, had they listened to a bit more Venom in their youth. A solid set, and a talented band, but for me, I’ll probably stick to their albums over their live show.

Aeon, as I desperately try to not connect them with IKEA, also hails from Sweden. After watching their set, I’m nothing but embarrassed as to how much I didn’t know about them. And I have no excuse. Aeon is solid death metal. A fury of blast beats and double bass melded with sometimes tech death inspired riffs and solos, all lead by vocalist Tommy Dahlström, whose growls are very much up to par. The simulated microphone masturbation was just icing on the cake. Definitely worth checking out, even digitally. Tommy also gives me some strong Saigon Kick vibes.

I had never seen Behemoth live before, but my mother is 100% Polish, creating an unspoken connection between myself and the band, a one-way connection of course. I was familiar with the look of their stage set-up through photos, but there was something comforting about seeing it assembled in the flesh. It was straight out of Repo! The Genetic Opera or even a Mad Max Broadway production. (I have to tangent. One thing I’ve always loved about Behemoth is their stage names. Nergal. Solid. Orion. Absolutely. Inferno. Perfect. Seth. Seth? Did I miss something? Is there a mythical and/or occult-type meaning behind the name Seth that I’m not aware of? Or maybe he’s just that comfortable in his own skin, using his given birth name. Metal.) Behemoth was exactly what I thought they would be live. Beyond amazing. Even taking into account the amount of Triple H-style water spraying. Nergal literally owns the stage for every second of their set, sauntering back and forth like a hooded menace, and at one point swinging a thurible (I had to look it up) oozing a cloud of incense. Their set opened with “Blow Your Trumpet Gabriel” and was seamless from beginning to end, including highlights from their 20+ year career (forgive me for the lack of specifics, I’m horrible with song names and which album(s) they’re from most of the time). As they moved back and forth between mics, their trifecta of synchronized death screams were like the sounds of tortured cherubs banished from Utopia. At one point, there were 2 drummers. One that looked like Inferno and one that looked like my tax guy. And why not? Behemoth is the only non-headlining band I’ve ever seen do an encore, complete with prosthetic devil horns. I don’t even like encores, but tonight, one was not enough.

I’ll never forget the day my wife looked at me and said, “Addicted to Vaginal Skin?” referring to a song on my laptop which she had been using to make a mix CD. She said it as though I had helped them write the song. In fact, the band had wanted to call the song, “Helping the Homeless While Feeding Starving Children,” but I had convinced them to go with “Addicted to Vaginal Skin.” Thus, my wife’s introduction to Cannibal Corpse. (I know some people who might take offense to certain Cannibal Corpse song titles, and I have 3 words for them. Cards Against Humanity. “Chunks of a Dead Hitchhiker?” Please. Cannibal Corpse should be seen every time they’re in town. No matter what. Weddings, births, school programs, family events. Skip ’em all. Cannibal Corpse is the face of brutal death metal in this country, and George is the Don. His voice stands apart from the traditional. It’s as though there’s a piece of broken glass lodged in his throat. And let’s not forget about his neck. It has to be thicker than one of my thighs. The headbanging and the windmills…what human is capable of that? At what point do the discs in his neck get fused, if they haven’t fused themselves already? Alex Webster. The man who explained to the world the relevance of the diminished third. Watching him play bass with every finger on his hands is harsh. Their set was amazing. “Ice Pick Lobotomy,” “The Wretched Spawn,” “Dormant Bodies Bursting,” “Make Them Suffer,” “Skull Full of Maggots.” One after another. It doesn’t get better. Honestly, they could have played Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water, in it’s entirety, and I would have still been a rabid kid in a candy store.

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