Thursday, August 29, 2013

Concert Review - Dread Crew of Oddwood - 8/28/13 at Piratz Tavern, Silver Spring, MD

With a tagline like "A pirate themed band that blends Heavy Metal, Celtic Folk and progressive rock" and this salty-looking poster, how could I resist the Dread Crew of Oddwood? Although I was in class until 9:30, I hurried down to Piratz Tavern afterward, and got there not long after the scurvy rascals started up.

I was a bit flummoxed at first, though - turns out in my excitement, I forgot to read the end of the tagline, or look closely at the poster, and so when I got to Piratz and squeezed into the back bar area where the rain had forced the event to retreat, I wondered where exactly the "heavy" and "metal" elements were. I could hear the pirate and folk influences quite clearly, but there was not an electric guitar or amp in sight - I could see a guy playing a "grandpa's guitar" and the top half of a double bass, could hear some snappy drums, and eventually caught sight of an accordion, a mandolin and what seemed to be a tiny piano in a wooden box, strapped on the musician like a concession seller's tray of snacks.

At first I thought it was something like Sabaton's acoustic promotional performances - or just that they couldn't use their amps at Piratz or something. Come to realize I missed some crucial information: "a unique acoustic instrumentation...Heavy Mahogany!" Which sounds impossible, you must be thinking - I mean, they're called grandpa's guitars for a reason. Most acoustic versions of metal songs suck. But these guys actually managed to capture the spirit of metal in spite of not actually being heavy at all.

It sounded weird at first, with the aggressive drums very prominent in the sound, the weak and soft grandpa's guitar struggling to compete. But the more of the wooden instruments got in the fray, the more it came together, and the more it started to make sense why a couple familiar metalheads were headbanging at the front and why something slightly resembling a folk pit erupted toward the end. These guys aren't trying to make soft, artistic, expressive versions of metal songs that ruin their inherent visceral power. They're bringing that same visceral power to a new medium, riffing and shredding on the acoustic guitar, harnessing the old-fashioned booming reverberation of the double bass, keeping it lively with jaunty melodies on the accordion and the piano (a toy piano, according to the band's website). While the vocals scream "pirate" (or "sea chanty" or "drunken rabble") rather than any particular metal genre, they're also in no way weak or soft.

So was the room full of the overpowering thunder of modern electronic instrumentation? No, not really. Was it thick with energy intense enough to headbang, jig, and push people around? Hell yes.

The band played two sets of about half an hour each, with a highly varied repertoire - fiendishly fast and aggressive folkish songs that could have been Alestorm without amps, more moderately paced tales of glory or musings on mortality, a humorous account of bawdy deeds around the world. Their best received song was a Flogging Molly cover that had half the room singing along to the chanty-like choruses. (They also played a rendition of Metallica's "Master of Puppets" and a snip of tin whistle from Eluveitie's "Inis Mona.")

While not what I expected, the piratical assault of grandpa's strings turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable. Without any of the sonic qualities usually associated with heaviness - shaking the walls with bass thunder and pummeling your soul with distorted riffs - the Dread Crew of Oddwood managed to bring the energy of heavy metal to a small pirate bar without any sort of sound system to begin with. I really should have been at the front headbanging and jigging, but I was feeling unsociable. Too bad, cause this was probably a once in a lifetime chance to experience such heavy folk music made on such lightweight instruments.

Next concert: Kamelot on Tuesday - can't believe how soon it is!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Concert Review - Midnight Eye, Exar Kun, Thrain - 8/8/13 at The Pinch, Washington, DC

Although I'd already been to two concerts in the past seven days (and I was only supposed to go to two per month), I wanted to get out to support Midnight Eye, so I waited till my kid was in bed and headed out. By that time, I thought I'd be lucky to get to The Pinch before Midnight Eye started - certainly not in time to have some of the restaurant's insane duck bacon BBQ cheese loaded waffle fries. Well, the intent was to go for the music anyway, right?

After the quest for parking (we passed several good spots, but got greedy and went on thinking we could get closer to the venue, but no such luck, we had to turn around and go back up 14th Street almost to where we were before) we got to the venue right around 10pm. It turned out that only the first band, experimental/black metal band Thrain, had played so far. I was thrilled, cause that meant we could get the awesome fries; I didn't really think about the implications for timing. I do want to see Thrain sometime - their demo is quite heavy and technically proficient for a local band, and combines some plodding doomy segments, cleaner vocals and melancholy melodic moments with the base black metal sound.

A few minutes after we got to the venue Exar Kun started up in the basement, so we headed down. They are, as a friend put it, two bassists and a computer. They provided some heavy background music, but did not really catch my interest. The two high points were when they did start to play something almost riffy; and when they sampled Lordi's "Would You Love a Monsterman."

After they finished, I went to look at Midnight Eye's merch and acquired a turquoise shirt (first ever turquoise metal shirt?), and then our amazing fries arrived.
 Yes, we ate all that between the two of us. Someone was hungry.

It was after 11pm when Midnight Eye finally came on, and they were immediately plagued by sound problems, for at least the first two songs of their set. They played (not necessarily in this order) the three songs from their new EP, Nightmonger (which you can still stream here); a cover of something I didn't recognize, but which they said was by a DC band; "Virtuous" and maybe one other song from their first album, Sign; and a new song with the working title "Weed Helmet." Their guitars were excellent as I expected. The thrashy and black metal parts sounded best on the spartan sound system, but the heavy metal riffs and solos sounded good, too. The vocals were very rough, though; scratchy and little off compared to the albums. I tried to start a pit for the frenzied thrash part near the end of the first song, "Alarm," but no one seemed interested in moshing except for Grimy Grant. The black metal segments of "Outsider" were amazing, so thick and heavy, although the melody was a little lost in the low noise. The new song also sounded very promising, starting off with energetic heavy metal riffs, just thrashy enough to mosh to - I pushed Grant and this time three or four other people joined in, yes! - with another thick, atmospheric black metal segment in the middle of the song, followed by some very heavy noodling that slowed down into a droning segment at the end. It was cool, but would have been more impressive on a better sound system where the low distorted notes would have made the building and everyone in it tremble. Needless to say, hoping to see these guys again soon and looking forward to more releases from them.

Next show: Not sure. There a couple local metal shows in Baltimore on Saturday, but I don't think I will be able to go so far from home. So the next thing might be Face Melting Friday at the end of August. In the meantime, there will be some book reviews!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Wintersun, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Arsis, Starkill, Fallen Martyr, March to Victory - 8/6/2013 at Soundstage, Baltimore, MD

This was probably my most anticipated show of the summer. As a fan of all sorts of melodic metal, Wintersun is of course one of my top bands - Jari Mäenpää is the king of epic, sweeping guitar riffs. Their tour in support of Eluveitie last winter - their first North American tour - skipped the DC area. We did go see them in Pittsburgh, but it was still exciting to see them come back and headline. And what a line-up they brought! Fleshgod Apocalypse, with their classical piano woven into fast and brutal death metal, is one of my favorite melodic/symphonic acts, and Arsis, another speedy and melodic band, are also highly enjoyable. And I was super stoked to see Starkill on the bill. When I first heard them, I could not believe something so epic and melodic was made in the USA (although, I guess we do have Dethklok). I figured they would tour sooner or later. My hopes were raised and then dashed when they toured with Krisiun - but not in my area. And then I heard that they were going to tour with no less than Wintersun. It was like a dream come true.

We got to Soundstage early - on time, rather - to catch the first opener, but it turned out the show was running about 15 minutes late - unfortunate for such a long line-up, but not the worst delay we've experienced. So we had time to check out the merch. There were plenty of Wintersun shirts and other items such as shorts, underwear, cap, koozie, patch, button...Fleshgod Apocalypse had shirts and their new album Labyrinth which doesn't come out till August 20 in the US (!!), Starkill was selling shirts and CD's, and Arsis had...donuts. Their merch was delayed, again.

Lancaster, PA death metal band March to Victory started the night with a solid set. Most of their songs were full of nice headbangable grooves, also the second song, "Soulless," had some pounding jackhammer moments, and the unusually named song "Funeral of the Lizard Beast" (did I hear that right?) was rather complex. Like last time we saw them, they covered Death's "Crystal Mountain," quite well - Danielle does high-pitched Chuck Schuldiner well. She mostly sings in a high rasp, but can produce some nice low growls, too. They were going to play a cover of "The Philosopher" as well, but got cut off. Danielle did not talk to crowd much besides to tell us what each song was - she's new to the band, so perhaps she's still finding her feet onstage. I wish she had called for a mosh pit, though, cause I would have loved to push people around to the thundering fast parts, but was too shy to start a pit in such a large venue.
Setlist: Deadly Venom. Soulless. Funeral of the Lizard Beast. Crystal Mountain (Death cover). Consumption. The Philosopher (Death cover, cut off before they played it).

The next local opener was Fallen Martyr, a sort of melodic fusion of different things. We've seen them a couple times before, but this was the first time I saw them with a good sound system. (Cafe 611 does have a decent system, but it's usually tuned to rumble, which means some of the higher tones get drowned out.) So this was the first time I really got to appreciate their guitar work in a live setting. The guitars are really good - some groovy death metal moments, some blasting black metal moments, some nice solos. The vocals..well, during the first song, I thought I might finally be getting used to them. There were moments when the singer's vocals meshed nicely with the music, and altogether they painted an image of desperate yearning - I imagined a drowning person struggling for air. But as the set went on, the whininess started to get to me again. They're not overly whiny - they're kind of like Muse's vocals, just whiny enough to be a little irritating. And his screams took it right out of the ballpark for me. Some people may like screamo, but it's not for me. Frankly, the singer ranting, "You will all bow" at the end of the set was kind of ridiculous. I've seen him do that before, and it always sounds and looks like a petulant teenager. So, I've given them several tries and still can't get into the vocals. But hey, I did really enjoy listening to their guitars.

An then it was time for Starkill. They take melodic death metal to a new level epic power metal solos and film score-based symphonics, besides throwing in some black metal or other influences at times. I was really looking forward to these guys, so I was disappointed that they started out weak. At first, they were too quiet - then the vocals were too loud and lead guitar so low that I could hardly hear it - not all whenever Parker was singing. It was frustrating to the point that I thought of shouting, "Turn up the lead guitar!" but I didn't, for fear it might throw the band off. Fortunately, the sound was corrected during the solo of their second song, "Immortal Hunt." After that, they sounded much better, although still a bit quiet compared retrospectively to the acts that followed. Their sound has a strong resemblance to Dethklok at times, especially the song "Below the Darkest Depths." There was a decent pit for most songs - if there wasn't, I might have felt compelled to help out, but as it was I decided to just headbang to their epic grooves. They played a good selection of songs from their new album, Fires of Life, although I didn't think "Wash Away the Blood with Rain" was a good choice to end on, not being one of their stronger songs. I would have preferred to hear "Sword, Spear, Blood, Fire" or "This is Our Battle, This is Our Day." But oh well - that leaves something to look forward to when they come around again.
Setlist: New Infernal Rebirth. Immortal Hunt. Fires of Life. Below the Darkest Depths. Wash Away the Blood with Rain.

Starkill used be known as Massakren and released a self-titled EP under that name, so after the show I screwed my courage to the sticking plate and asked one of the band members about their name change. He said they changed the name, as well as cleaned off their corpse paint, in order to better represent their sound. Apparently Massakren kept getting labeled as a black metal band, even though there is so much to their sound than that, so they wanted to get away from that - to have a fresh start, I suppose.

Their image is a bit mixed, though. Their clean-cut looks fits with the epic, melodic metal vibe, but the skinny jeans they wear make me think of the throwback thrash scene - and thrash is one thing that doesn't appear in their sound at all. (I dunno, maybe that's just the way people dress these days, though.) Their album cover with its warrior on a mountaintop and lightning or lasers flying everywhere, makes me think of Manowar, while their T-shirt designs are rather dark and ghoulish, in the vein of death metal or deathcore bands. But hey, it's their band. They can do pretty much anything, as long as they keep making that sweet epic melodic metal goodness.

After Starkill were Virginia natives Arsis. While not one of my top bands, I can get behind their very fast and melodic style of technical death metal. Their songs all sound rather similar to me; I can't really tell them apart (aside from a few singles like "Forced to Rock" or "We Are The Nightmare"), but there's enough variation within the songs that I don't get bored. We were very near the front for their set, perhaps in the fifth row, but off to the left of the stage. Yet the sound level was bearable without earplugs, so perhaps they weren't very loud either. They sounded great even way off to the side, a barrage of furious riffs punctuated by the James Malone's raspy vocals. I was trying to headbang with a drink in my hand and wondering whether or not I'd be too drunk to go in the pit for Fleshgod Apocalypse. They played a short set, but a fun one.
Setlist: Handbook for the Recently Deceased. A Diamond For Disease (first few minutes). Seven Whispers Fell Silent. Unwelcome. Carve My Cross. Face of My Innocence. (Thanks to XcKyle93 on M-A for filling in my gaps :) )

Fleshgod Apocalypse had the second slot, of which I was glad, since after Wintersun and Starkill, I most wanted to see more of them and go crazy to their fast, brutal sound with its tidbits of classical piano. Actually, it seems the piano plays a larger role than I thought, because they had an actual piano on stage during this show, with a guy playing constantly - I don't remember if they had that last time. I still couldn't hear it much of the time, though, and I feel like their symphonic backing track was pretty low, too. Their sound was much bigger this time; I don't know whether that has to do with the difference between Soundstage and Empire's sound equipment, or their own gear/sound guy. They played a couple songs from their new album: "Minotaur (The Wrath of Poseidon)" and "The Elegy," both of which had a good death metal groove going on and utilized more operatic backing vocals, compared to the sporadic line or two of agonized cries on most songs on the previous album, Agony. They had a female singer in a feathered mask standing at the back right, doing the operatic vocals. Besides the new songs, they only played songs from Agony. That was all right with me since that's the album of theirs I know best, and I got to hear some of my favorite songs. I wanted to go in the pit for "The Violation," the pit was too fast and brutal; I thought I'd better stay out. They were good - solid, headbangable guitars and crushing vocals - but when am I going to get to hear the symphonics and piano live, hm?
Setlist: The Temptation (intro). The Hypocrisy. Minotaur (The Wrath of Poseidon). The Deceit. The Violation. The Egoism. Elegy. The Forsaking. (Thanks to Dave_o_rama on M-A for id'ing the first song.)

And then, it didn't seem long at all before the ethereal strains of "Time Fades Away" wafted over the audience, and we grabbed a spot and waited for Wintersun to come out. They emerged at the climax of the intro, Jari second after the drummer, and launched right into "Sons of Winter and Stars." There is nothing quite like belting out that chorus along with a hundred odd other metalheads while the epic strains of Jari and co surround you. It was an awesome experience all the way through. The sound seemed fuller than when we saw them supporting Eluveitie, but that's probably because this was a bigger venue than the "metal church" where we saw them before. Fantastically epic riffs contrasted with heartwrenching sorrowful moments - I actually teared up at end of "Land of Snow and Sorrow" and "Time" (although maybe just because I associate them with the sad moments of a certain novel). I was stoked to hear "Beautiful Death," a charging fast song that made up for the lack of a certain other fast song. There was an enormous pit for "Beyond the Dark Sun" - I've only seen pits that large at thrash shows. Their "new" song, "The Way of the Fire," was another fast one, though with slower choruses. At some point there was a solo from Teemu, showing that he's a great guitarist in his own right (I mean, he was in Imperanon after all). They finished the set with the epic "Starchild."

There was all sorts of talk beforehand about what they were and weren't going to play - well, they played all of Time I (though in separate chunks), the new song, and all but three songs from Wintersun. I know several people were upset that they dropped "Battle Against Time," but I was pretty happy with their set. They played a solid set - an hour and a half - and didn't take up much time talking (come to think of it, none of the bands did).
Setlist: When Time Fades Away. Sons of Winter and Stars. Land of Snow and Sorrow. Beautiful Death. Darkness and Frost (Time intro). Time. Death and the Healing. Winter Madness. Beyond the Dark Sun. The Way of the Fire. Starchild.

All in all, it was an epic night, well worth being up till nearly 2 in the morning.

Next show: Midnight Eye's release party - tonight! Check out my review of their new EP, and stream all 3 songs from it, here. :)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Concert Review - Black Sabbath - 8/2/13 at Jiffy Lube Live, Bristow, VA

I was a little hesitant about going to see Black Sabbath, since the clips I'd seen of Ozzy's performances in recent years were kind of sad. Up till the week of the show, I was undecided whether to go, and when I finally did decide to go, it was more because I wanted to spend a relaxing evening with S rather than because of Sabbath.

We were a little late to the show because we took a detour to pick up some chicken on the way. We parked around 8:30, just as Sabbath was starting. We missed Andrew W.K.'s DJ set entirely. It might have been nice to be there a little earlier to find a seat and start eating our dinner before the show started, but I didn't mind too much. We still got a decent spot on the lawn, about halfway down. I sat for most of the show, and except for a couple songs where people were standing right in front of us, I could see the giant onstage screen just fine, and could make out the real people on the stage as well.

Sabbath and Ozzy actually sounded pretty good, to my surprise. The musicianship was top notch, and the overall sound was much louder and heavier than I had expected from what I considered a low-key, slow-tempo 70's band. Ozzy sounded fairly strong for most songs, although he did falter a bit on the last song before the drum solo/break for everyone besides the drummer. He was more lively and mobile than in the videos I'd seen, but his movements were still kind of flacid, and he looked rather silly limply waving his arms about. Tony Iommi seemed to be in good form, with sharp movements and a strong, clear voice when he said a few words to the crowd. The cameras didn't focus too much on Geezer Butler, but in the few shots they showed, he looked like he was in good shape, too. Tommy Clufetos (of Ozzy's solo band) on drums was very into it, banging on the drums with big dramatic motions - befitting the grand scope of this show, I suppose.

It was pretty amazing to see Black Sabbath perform "Black Sabbath." The thunder and tolling bell in the intro were chilling, and the whole song was very heavy and spooky. Ozzy screamed, "No, no, please no" in a stronger voice than I'd ever have thought him capable of in his current condition. After that, I most enjoyed "Fairies Wear Boots," which is my favorite Sabbath-with-Ozzy song anyway. The visuals for this song were pretty modern, with an industrial/horror feel - an industrial-looking fairy in leather and clunky boots (I didn't know the song was about that kind of boots), women in tiny cages, people hanging from meathooks. (The screen on the stage mostly showed shots of the band, but a couple songs, like "Fairies" and "Dirty Women," had a video to go with them. Also, there were a few neat shots where the cameras would line up a performer with their image on the screen, creating an infinite series of receding images.) The songs from the new album ("Methademic" and "The End of the Beginning" are the titles I can remember) sounded pretty good. Most had that slow, doomy feel of Sabbath songs, but Methademic was a little faster and groovier, so I think I liked that one best of the new songs.

We left as the encore ("Paranoid," which I would have liked to hear) started, because since we arrived so late, we were parked at the ass end of the parking lot. In spite of taking the wrong stairs and walking a little extra way, we got to the car and out of the lot before the mass exodus started. In total, Sabbath probably played for about an hour and a half, although it didn't seem that long. I was glad I got to see them. Obviously I could not have seen the original line-up in their prime, and while this was probably a longshot from what the seeing the band was like in the 1970's, it was a pretty good retrospective.

Next show: Wintersun, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Arsis and Starkill on Tuesday! Gonna be a long night cause we're getting there early to see local death metal band March to Victory start the show \m/