Friday, January 28, 2011

Woe--Quietly, Undramatically

Black metal has often mystified me with how terrible it is and how devoted its collective fan base is.  My earliest excursions into black metal were in high school, when my good buddy Ed and I would hang out in his garage and listen to Burzum and Mayhem albums for some reason.  I remember very clearly that I hated both of these bands; the buzzsaw guitars and lo-fi recording styles were unsettling and only held the most superficial and oblique resemblance to music (at least to my then-unrefined ear).  I recently got the gumption to go back and revisit these tomes with my newer, fancier, 6-million-dollar ear and higher tolerance for abrasiveness, and lo and behold, Burzum and Mayhem still suck.  Like, hard.  I guess I'll never grow out of my youthful distaste for shitty music.  I wanted to appear like this (to avoid ridicule for something that people seemed to like):

 You pigs don't know the feeling of true hate or liberation through Satan

But I actually felt like this:
My resemblance to a gorilla has always been striking

American black metal, however, tends to be something that I can stomach much better.  Nachtmystium have a couple of albums that I really enjoyed, and their live show is a lot of fun (though I don't think I've ever seen them live without being at least 4 beers deep).  I've gotten to meet Blake Judd a handful of times and he seems pleasant enough for someone with a self-professed drug problem.  The point is that American black metal takes more chances and generally seems to forsake the tr00ness of its Scandinavian counterpart in favor of writing good songs with good riffs.  Such a disparity between music of the same genre seems to be nonexistent across other forms of metal; black metal has become a malleable form of entertainment that has no real defining characteristics other than hissing vocals and (usually) a couple of parts with washing-machine blast beats.  Look at Kvelertak and Alcest.  They aren't even metal!  But they get black metal cred just because they use the flaming pterodactyl vocal attack that is inextricably tied to the grimmest music that white people could devise.

Which brings me, finally, to Woe.

Woe is a Pennsylvania-based American (duh) black metal band that I actually love.  Their album Quietly, Undramatically knocked my socks off the first time I heard it, during a brief overnight excursion to Slam Antonio to hang with my grimmest Cake-bro Van Damned.  After a night of drinking and watching a set by a Dad-Rock band (all blues, all poorly played, all the time), we settled in to his apartment to drink Four Loko and listen to the hottest new tracks.  Van was ranting and raving about this new band he had found, and how they had written the most awesome song ever.  He put it on, and the title track from Quietly, Undramatically started pumping through the speakers.  As soon as I could, I picked up the album.

Woe shrug off the shackles of black metal and, instead of being slave to grimness, write songs.  Songs that rule.  Worry not; they are still pretty grim.  But the music is not a lo-fi series of tracks that sound like somebody being attacked at a beekeeper's ranch, but a series of dynamic and arresting songs.  And, much to my delight, they languish in D-beat.  And you know how I feel about D-beat.  I'm staunchly in favor of it!  It's a welcome change of pace for my D-boner to be corpsepainted and frowning rather than just regular old angry. 

I alluded to the title track being awesome above, remember?  It totally is.  And the album is full of really great music with good riffs and even *gasp* well-executed and appropriate CLEAN SINGING.  I feel odd talking about well-executed and appropriate clean singing; it's like having a sexual attraction to the Bigfoot in those blurry old photos.  Such feelings toward the mythical North American Ape Man shouldn't exist, and neither should good clean singing, particularly within the confines of black metal.  But lo and behold, Woe joins the ranks of Anaal Nathrakh by including acceptable forays into clean singing, and I find myself more and more willing to ignore the earthy stink of a hairy man-beast so that I may learn more of his primitive tenderness and simple, taking-a-dump-in-the-forest lifestyle.
Teach me to love again, and also how to find the tastiest variety of tree root
It's beautiful.

Quietly, Undramatically is a dynamic and textured foray into The Grim.  The frowning visages of the practitioners of black metal may put you off, but I feel like smiling when I listen to Woe, because somebody is finally doing it right.  Find it to steal for yourself; I have a date with a bipedal man-beast.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cut Your Teeth--Cut Your Teeth

I've come to realize that hardcore is quickly becoming my favorite thing.  I always credit death metal to being my favorite thing, but death metal has a way of being all brutality and little substance.  Don't mistake me, now; I think substance is largely overrated.  But it's hard to find death metal bands that don't sound exactly like other bands, and even harder after that to find a death metal band whose songs get stuck in your head.  I like when a good song gets stuck in my head.  Hardcore is more stripped down, and therefore can't rely on tickling my Wank-Bone with excruciatingly technical riffing and angular solos.  They have to actually write a song, and that's a dying art form.

I first encountered Cut Your Teeth on Invisible Oranges; Cosmo Lee had just done a writeup about, which is a Myspace-killer site that forgoes the invasive "tidal wave of shitty bands friend requesting you" style in favor of "having a music player that actually plays music."  Cosmo invited us all to give shameless plugs of our stupid bands in the comments, and since I had just "finished" (read: gave up on) recording songs for my shitty, now defunct band, I posted a link.  I then became curious to see what other people who were nameless, faceless Interbung dweebs like me were up to on the music front.  Right above me was a post for Cut Your Teeth, a band from New York.  I went and checked them out and I loved everything I heard.

I congratulated the poster on his awesome band and downloaded what they had for free, which at this point was only one song.  Recently, Cosmo posted about Cut Your Teeth's music video, and I read that they had wised up and were giving away their self-titled EP for free.  Awesome.   I've been rocking it pretty steadily for the last week or so, and I can't get enough.

Cut Your Teeth are heavy.  Real heavy.  Their punk rock leanings become ridiculously apparent when you see a song called "Drink Beers" (fuck yeah), but they are more metal than punk.  Do they give my massive, veiny one-eyed D-yogurt slinger a good rubdown?  You'd better believe it!  But they don't limit themselves to just thundering through tracks with that most hallowed drumbeat; at turns, they grind, they get epic, they shred, and they challenge you to get wasted.  My kind of stuff, for sure.  The solos are massively shreddy and well-placed, and the breakdowns are tasteful without resorting to the "chugga chugga" style of metalcore halfwits like...pretty much all metalcore bands.  "Freight Train" gets epic with the midtempo swagger of bands that have dragons and shit on the covers of their albums, and "Problems" is greasy and slippery, like my fat, disgusting body emerging from a dip in my apartment complex swimming pool.  But in a good way.

The vocals utilize the "punk shout" screaming style from hardcore bands of yore, and is realistically the only "punk" element of the music.  Their overall sound is reminiscent of neo-crossover bands like Municipal Waste and Mantic Ritual (and a million other bands, really), but their sound is more heavy and thick.  "Drink Beers" is simultaneously lumbering and fast, like a giant elephant with rollerblades thundering across the African desert to go get elephant-wasted at some magical oasis.  I imagine there are also monkeys there, and they have a Jabberjaw-type band that sings about friendship.  And they all solve mysteries together.  After seeing all that on my computer screen, I realize that everything I learned about nature came from watching 70's era cartoons late at night on Cartoon Network, so none of that probably has ever happened.
I hate you, Jabberjaw.

But one can dream.

I'm glad to see that Cosmo is giving Cut Your Teeth as much attention as he is, and I hope that they will make some new music for me to get all boner-y over soon.  As for you, you should be going to their Bandcamp page to download for free some totally awesome hardcore.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mantic Ritual--Executioner

The other night, I was hanging with my good buddy the WZA'd at his ridiculous bachelor pad on West Campus.  In between spells of standing idly in the rain watching college students amble past and marveling at how loud small groups of college students can be on the streets of Austin on a Saturday night, we spent our time nerding out to music.  This is a standard hang-out session for us, but this one was different.  After enduring some of the dumbest sludge that the WZA'd was able to conjure from the Interbung, we got on an olde schoole thrash kick.  We rocked select tasty tracks from Slayer (Undisputed Attitude, FTW), Motorhead (not thrash, but still) and Metallica's first three albums (oh my God, they used to be so good).  We then spoke philosophically of why WZA'd doesn't like Municipal Waste (they "just kind of sound...false") and why his love for the band Nails dried up so quickly ("the singer is a COP.  FUCK THAT GUY").  Like I said, total nerd status.

This foray into the olde schoole reminded me of a stellar release by a band called Mantic Ritual.  I stumbled upon them at a show last year at Red 7, and I have no idea anymore who they played with, but I do remember being blown away by their thrash attack.  It had all the best aspects of thrash, including kind-of-clean vocals being spouted by the single skinniest person who never just emerged from a German death camp in the 1940's and solos that were cartoonishly shreddy, as if Bugs Bunny picked up a guitar, got a Prince Albert, and started a band whose singular purpose was to bang the hottest leather-clad, teased-hair groupies of 1984.  I was in love.  Three days after the show, I was enduring a trip to the mall with my wife.  She did whatever women do at the mall while I perused the 10-foot metal section at FYE, and I happened upon Mantic Ritual's album, Executioner.  I was forced to purchase it immediately, because my brain is broken and doesn't always remember that I can instantly steal music from the Interbung with literally no repercussions.  But that's neither here nor there.

Executioner is awesome.  I started listening to it the next day in my work van, reliving the night I saw them like a wonderful dream full of long-haired crusties and obscure T-shirts.  My waking coma continued through the exceptionally long foray I was taking into the Texas small-town underbelly, which is ripe with really nice people who have been rendered unreasonable and crazy by the throes of imminent death.  Again, neither here nor there.

My first impression of the album is that it was adequately fast and the soloing just as shreddy as I remembered.  My second impression of the album was "they have a song called 'Thrashatonement,'" which is extremely lame even by my generous standards.  My third impression was "holy crap, how long is this damn album?!?"  Pushing an hour, the album begins as a refreshing sojourn into the hallowed 80's, when punk rock was still good and metal didn't have to lean so hard on detuned guitars, blast beats and Satan to be frightening to adults.  However, the album begins to feel slightly labored after about the half-hour mark, and it pushes on for almost 25 minutes (!!?!??!) past that.  The songs are still pretty good, but there aren't any songs that are adequately epic on the album to justify being 8 minutes long, and the album itself is not nearly so powerful that it truly justifies being almost a full hour long.  I mean, not even Gojira's The Way of All Flesh (which I love) feels like it really pulls off it's 70+ minute running time, and they aren't worshiping bands whose days of being good are a solid 20 years in the past.

However, Executioner does plenty correctly to make up for the laboriously long running time.  It strokes the D-boner in just the right way (on the underside, where it's most sensitive) and plays to my "more is more" attitude about soloing without being extensively wanky (as if there is such a thing as that).  Think about what Metallica might have done if they stayed a thrash band moving into the 90's, but started running out of songs strong enough to be on another Master of Puppets.  Don't get me wrong; I really like this album.  But there is a pretty strong aping of legacy bands that could hamper the enjoyment of certain groups.  However, this album falls under the umbrella of music that my wife lovingly refers to as "not as horrible as the other stuff you listen to," so you can take that for the shining endorsement of high quality that it is.

You can easily steal this off the Interbung if you want; I won't provide a link this time because I have to go to work.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Adventures of the Married Metal Man--A Guide for People Who Threw Their Lives Away

I haven't been posting lately, which totally sucks for me, but I have a good reason.  I know that many of you are up in arms about my lack of posts, and for that I apologize; I've been doing audio editing on a feature-length independent film, and it has sucked up all of my "sitting around idly" time.  But with the project nearing completion, I'm trying to get my pointless life back on its dead-end track, and that means it's back to posting boner jokes for my friends.

Don't let the title of this post mislead you; I love being married.  It sounds strange, but it's nice to have found someone--and a WOMAN, no less--to put up with the ridiculous things that I say and do, and who can handle my earthy Sasquatch stench.  But being married ain't no cake-walk in the tea-park, either, especially for the hopeless metalhead who spends all of his time seeking out and rocking the most amazing and abrasive music the Interbung has to offer.  So this is my inaugural installment into what might be an ongoing feature (provided I can find different avenues through which I can milk the subject).  This column will be a guide to those of you who are both married and insanely devoted to the best music in the world.

Married people are a bizarre group.  When you get married, things change in the most ridiculous ways.  Your personality changes to include a second person who won't leave you alone for any reason, and practicality becomes important.  Example: you know what I got for my birthday this year?  A COUCH.  We need a new couch because our Ikea futon has effectively died.  The wooden slats are broken like my dreams and are sagging to an increasingly alarming degree, like my balls.  It used to be that I would ask for video games or musical equipment for special occasions, but through the wonders of being married, I decided that silencing my wife's complaints about our crappy futon, cobbled together with old sketchbooks and a bed comforter, would be much more rewarding than getting new ultraviolent entertainment discs.  Also, there's nothing good out until tomorrow, when Dead Space 2 finally drops, and my wife will get to play that before me anyway.  What a world.

Married people who are into metal fall into one of three categories, and it's always painfully obvious which category any given couple falls in to.  The first category is the one that I and my wife inhabit: the hopeless metal d00d with the wife who hates the music but puts up with it.  My wife is amazing at putting up with my obsession; I am allowed to listen to my music in the car, while I cook, and pretty much any time.  She, for whatever reason, puts up with me constantly talking about how cool Ulcerate and Converge are, and smiles wanly as I describe the differences between "Olde Schoole" death metal and tech-death.  The fact that she doesn't care is clear and palpable, like my distaste for cauliflower and radio-ready hip hop, but she for some reason endures, and has even grown to (sort of) like some of the more eclectic and less aggro bands that I listen to, like Baroness, Burst, The Ocean, and Protest the Hero.  But thankfully for me, she doesn't care enough to ever offer to check out a metal show with me, which is a fate worse than death.  This, to me, is the ideal arrangement.  Living this way is like wearing a condom that is too small for your wang; it's pretty uncomfortable, but it also kind of makes you proud (thanks, Ed).

The next category is the metal d00d whose wife hates metal with everything they have and will not put up with it for any reason.  The woman who inhabits this type of relationship views metal as a phase, something that will be grown out of once children enter the fold.  A good friend of mine, codenamed "The Financier," falls into this category.  His wife hates metal.  She hates guitars.  She hates that he likes bands called Cynic and Megadeth and Anthrax and Slayer (The Financier is olde schoole), and will not put up with any metal-related hijinx.  He is forced into the marital underground, skulking about stealthily listening to metal when his wife is out of earshot, but immediately being forced to turn off the CD when his Married Senses tingle, alerting him to the fairer sex's proximity to The Heavy.  This arrangement would not work for me or most other br00tal bros, but The Financier makes the arrangement work, all the while asking me to refer him to other bands that evoke the glory days of Prong or Metallica.  Though this would be an unacceptable lifestyle, it pales in comparison to the third option, which is a married couple who are both into metal.

Don't get me wrong, now; girls who are into metal are fine human beings, but are fundamentally broken.  I would never be able to deal with something like this.  My wife and I have enough stupid, pointless fights about bullcrap without having to add arguments about which Necrophagist album is better or debates about the relative merits of post-metal into the mix.  That would be the most annoying thing in the world.  "I told you, honey.  Meshuggah's the next great legacy band.  THEY INVENTED DJENT!  DON'T YOU FUCKING WALK AWAY FROM ME!"  Gross.  This form of the married couple are always together, going to shows and talking about what is more kvlt and br00tal.  Seeing them at shows is disgusting and unacceptable.  I go to shows to have a good time, not to tote around a woman and make sure she's "having a good time."  "Oh, you're tired?  I guess we'll have to leave before the headlining band that I came to see comes on.  Lame for me."  "No honey, I don't think I'm spending too much for this Skeletonwitch shirt.  No, dear, I don't have this one, I have the shirt with the antlered human skull on the front.  It's the cover of Beyond the Permafrost."  I would rather be dead.

So the question for you is, which category do you fall into?  I'm going to try to explore this issue from many different angles, including how to get out to shows when you're a married metalhead and how to hide the amount of merch you buy from your better half until it's too late.

Tune in tomorrow, when I espouse the virtues of Mantic Ritual to you, my loyal readership.  And remember: don't let the immasculating experience of marriage turn you into this guy.

Me and the dog both miss our balls, like, SUPER HARD

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Since You Didn't Ask Me--Analog Vs. Digital

Or does it?

The great Interbung kvltroversy that has been going around lately regarding analog versus digital formats has been bothering me for a long time.  There has been plenty of long-winded snobbery about which is better; proponents of the "warm" sound of vinyl maintain that it cannot be topped for any reason ever, while other people prefer digital recordings due to the ease of use and portability.  And there seem to be even more people (like me) who have no idea what the big issue is.  My wife bought me a turntable for Christmas this year.  I was always spouting off about how the new movement toward analog recording was totally cock-blocking me from hearing some totally cool new releases from bands that I like, so she took the initiative and got me a turntable so that I would no longer be out of the loop.

I had always wondered what all the hubbub was about.  Though I do certainly remember experiencing vinyl recordings in my youth (I'm not so young that my parents had no records), the sound quality was never in question the way that it is today.  So, with some help from my friend the WZA'd, I was able to obtain some records that I am intimately familiar with in order to really make an accurate assessment of the relative sound quality.  The records I used: Converge's Axe to Fall, Baroness' Red Album and Blue Record, and Torche's Meanderthal, as well as the Disfear and Doomriders split, House with A Curse by Coliseum, Vengeance by Tragedy, and one of my oldest favorites (and an album that I have literally owned on every medium, including audio cassette), Bad Religion's Stranger than Fiction.  And you're allowed to make fun of me for that last one if you want, but I make no apologies for my unconditional love for 90's era Bad Religion.

This is a pretty good stable of albums to compare, I set out to find once and for all which audio medium was most effective at stroking my D-boner and need to listen to people who can grow awesome beards.  And after listening to all of them and comparing the audio quality with my magically discerning ear, I am going to settle the debate for you definitively, right now.


I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking "Blasphemy! He has no idea what is good and is probably a basement dwelling boner-liker with no friends!"  Blasphemy?  I doubt it.  As to the second part, I don't have a basement, I have a den area in my one-bedroom apartment where I go to hide from the sun.

I experienced these albums on vinyl and digital formats through the same set of (relatively) high-end studio reference monitors, and I discovered something shocking: that there really isn't that much of a difference between the mediums.  In fact, some of the records came across as relatively weak compared to the compact-disc and MP3 counterparts.  Perhaps this is a mixing issue, or has something to do with the fact that I didn't break the bank on a HiFi system that would deliver the highest quality vinyl sound using the finest technology that 1971 has to offer.  I prefer to think that the records get mixed once and then are pressed into all formats, which seems (to me) to be a perfectly reasonable assumption.  It's just that the difference is not so palpable as some people might lead you to believe.

Now why would anyone make such a big deal about this?  I was concerned about this, until I realized that VINYL IS JUST A GIANT, NOSTALGIA-BASED CASH GRAB BRILLIANTLY CONCOCTED AND EXECUTED TO PERFECTION BY STRUGGLING LABELS.  Let's all be real here; none of us really buy any music anymore.  I have only bought a handful of things that I really like in a vain effort to support bands that I am comfortable giving my money to.  But in comparison to sheer amount of music that I listen to, I purchase virtually nothing, and I imagine that if you're reading this, you're the same.  It's just so much easier to steal music, because if you spend money on it, you'll have to make choices about what to buy.  Money is finite.  But if you can just pluck it from the ether, you can experience anything that you want at literally no cost.  I love the Interhole!

Vinyl plucks the heartstrings of aging metal d00dz; it takes them back to a simpler time when they would buy a record and sit around listening to it without doing other things like driving, writing, doing dishes, etc.  Nostalgia is in full effect, and the labels know this.  When they do vinyl only releases, they know that those albums are much harder to steal because digital rips of analog albums generally sound horrible and are only available on special USB turntables like the one I got for Christmas.  Then you have to edit the audio for maximized performance, and working on something so that someone else can steal it is totally gay.  Vinyl forces the consumer to *gasp* start buying things again.

I know that when I call something a "cash grab" it sounds like I'm against it, which in this case, I am not.  I think that people should buy music more often.  It hurts me that the bands that I love, who should be millionaires with private jets and have bitches on either arm at all times, have to tour around in dirty, banged-up vans for no money. Meanwhile, the Justin Beibers and Jonas Brothers and Lady Gagas of the world get paid to have stupid haircuts and wear dumb dresses and sing to children about love and do all the other gay shit that American celebrities get to do (I'm personally looking forward to Justin Beiber's first DUI arrest and it's accompanying mugshot photo).  It's unacceptable.  But the kvltroversy here is presented as being about audio quality, and I just settled the debate once and for all above, so that argument is now null and void. 
Fuck you

Record labels want your money, and you should be giving it to them.  But everybody who likes things that sound old and outdated would have you believe that there is something better in analog sound, and there actually isn't.  In the end, it's up to you to decide where your money goes, and I think we can both agree that we aren't going to stop stealing music because stealing is cool.

But I will say that the album artwork and stuff is super fun to look at on a vinyl album.  I'll give them that.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ahab--The Call of the Wretched Sea

It's been an increasingly rough week and I haven't gotten to post the way that I like to, which is to say I haven't been drinking and rambling on and on about stuff that nobody cares about.  It's been cold and gray outside, and the standard bum-out that accompanies this weather pattern is in full effect.  Seriously, I like Texas much better when it's too hot to wear sleeves and socks.  The commercials that play around the radio morning shows around here have been predicting the destruction of all because--and I'm not making this up--the streets of Austin are running slick and pearly-white with the semen of syphilitic men.  It's an epidemic!  It might not "hurt that bad," but you still keep shooting your skeet skeet skeet into any available drunken hole on 6th Street.  Then they give it to someone else, because oozing genital sores are easy to overlook and forget about.  DON'T IGNORE THOSE WEEPING CANKERS, GUYS!

With the reaper's clammy grasp upon us due to our reckless sexual congress on Congress (Whoa!) and the weather just being generally miserable, it's clear that the time is ripe for some DOOOOOOOM.

Ahab is one of my doomy pleasure bands.  I'm not a big doom metal guy, but Ahab have what it takes to make me feel like misery clings to us all and the sea will be our ultimate resting place, which is to say "they make me feel aaaalllll right!"  Being nautically themed and named after some boner from a book that nobody has read in the last 60 years give Ahab an interesting gimmick to play up, since most metal bands prefer themes like genital mutilation (Vulvectomy, Prostitute Disfigurement, et al) or the increasingly popular Demons in Space motif enjoyed by The Faceless, Origin, and Brain Drill.  Ahab forsake the normal metal trappings of speed and disturbing-paintings-as-album-art in favor of an oceanic crawl.  In short, they sound like what a gigantic sea-lizard would sound like if it wasn't swallowing cruise ships or fighting giant squids for territorial supremacy.

The Call of the Wretched Sea is a masterpiece of an album.  It's atmospheric and slow, bone-crushingly heavy and marvelously morose.  I used to put Ahab on while I was driving out to scenic Halletsville, TX in my pervert van.  I would rocket down Highway 77 and watch my side mirrors shake in unison under the weight of a thousand waves.  I also imagine there's some seaweed and stuff in the mix.  The guttural vocal stylings complement the music perfectly, even though they could arguably be classified (along with Wormed) as "cartoonish," or "vocals that anyone who's not into metal will instantly start making fun of."  The mix is thick and powerful, an unstoppable force that glides effortlessly along, shattering the bows of any naval cruiser that is foolhardy enough to stand in it's way.

It's like a giant, horned whale with an even more giant whale-dick.

If you haven't checked this tsunami-inducing album out, you should follow your nose and check it out, or go dig their Myspace page if you're one of the few who is opposed to stealing good music from bands that need and deserve your money (poser).  And remember that when life gets you down, Ahab invite you to

"Find your ultimate doom under the seeeeaaaaaa!"

Give in and enter the warm, forgiving ocean, everybody.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Metal Pits are Bullshit

This subject is something that's been on my mind for a while.  In my formative punk rocker days, the mosh pit was a venerated place to be; in fact, if you weren't participating in the moshing fun at a punk show, your mere motives for being there were in question.  Don't you want to properly enjoy the band who's playing for you right now?  However, as I grew up and my tastes evolved from punk to hardcore to metal to REAL metal, the shows I attended began to take on a different flavor, specifically from the pit area.  You see, heavy metal dudes don't know how to participate in a mosh pit.

The social perception of the mosh pit is could best be summed up thusly: being in a mosh pit is like going to Chris Brown's house.  You WILL GET BRUTALIZED.  Young meatheads are well aware of this societal norm, and it colors their mindset toward their own participation in the pit, invariably to the detriment of EVERYBODY ELSE'S showgoing experience.

I still wallow in my fond memories of The Pit.  It was a place where we all got together, put our arms around each others' necks, and waved our arms around to show appreciation and enthusiasm for the musicians' performance.  We were a swirling eddy of Good Time Bro Jammin Comraderie, invulnerable to the outside world that was filled with (perceived) political injustices, (supposed) invasions of our inalienable rights, and (worst of all) homework.  And bedtimes.  This was high school, so that shit still applied to me.  We would emerge sweaty and breathless, slappin' five to our new friends and screaming at the band for more.  The last pit I participated in was at Funfunfun Fest 2009, during the mighty D.R.I.'s set, and it was fantastic.  If you were there (probably you weren't) you would have seen me, soaked in mud and rainwater, flailing my arms like a dumbass to some old-school crossover badassery.

This is, of course, the description of the punk pit, which is a relative rarity for me to lay eyes on these days.  My attendance of punk shows has dwindled to virtually nothing in the last 10 years or so, as I've been spending my time on the pursuit of The Heavy.  Metal pits are kind of the polar opposite of the punk pit.  It's full of meaty dumbasses who think that they are there to hurt people.  Look at that picture above and you'll see a pretty standard representation of what a metal pit looks like (though this is clearly not a metal pit.  I think they were moshing to Matchbox 20 or something similarly gay, but the mindset is exactly the same).  Going to a metal show and seeing the pit ranges from mildly annoying to completely infuriating. 

On a good day, it's full of yoked out morons in high school football T-shirts who crash headlong into anyone and everyone at terminal velocity.  Go to a metal show and watch the pit, and you'll see several dudes walking around, scanning the area for someone to get a running start at, then pummel with the full forces of their running bodies.  They generally scan for somebody that they feel confident won't fight them, or that they at least feel that they can take in a fistfight.  When their gaze settles upon you, it's like being one of the characters in a cartoon stuck on a desert island.  He's clearly hungry, and you've just turned into a fucking roast chicken, and he's COMING FOR YOU.  Your only hope is to be tall and beefy yourself and keep a disapproving look on your face (which is my chosen strategy), or to be nimble enough to leap out of the way just before impact so that the asshole mongoloid fuckface crashes into somebody's girlfriend or something.  Then you get to watch him sheepishly apologize before going RIGHT BACK TO WHAT HE WAS DOING.

Now, I hate that shit I just described to no end.  Luckily for me, Austin isn't much of a mosh town and only really goes for it after being compelled to do so by the singer of a band during what has to be a really good show.  Then it usually peters out pretty quickly and people just headbang in place or text message each other or something.  However, the greatest scourge of heavy metal today is found in the pit but is far, far worse than just highschool non-graduates running frantically back and forth.  I'm talking about hardcore dancing.


I know dudes that hardcore dance, and though they may be great dudes, and though I don't really want to alienate them, the above statement still absolutely applies to them, too.  I'm sorry.

Hardcore dancing is the worst of the worst.  I hope that I'm preaching to the choir here, but if you like to hardcore dance and fight invisible ninjas and get into real fights at shows, fuck you.  Like, super hard.  I've been to way too many shows that have been regular old ruined or even canceled because of buttlicking, faggy hardcore dancing.  That's right, shows have been SHUT DOWN because the dick-sucking hardcore dancers think it's cool to go punch people in the face for no reason and start fights that turn into brawls once they're losing and their crew jumps in.  I hope that stupid shit trend is over with soon, because I'm about tired of cartwheeling lunatics in ironic T-shirts prancing around ruining Vader and Immolation shows.

I felt like that needed to be said.  Moshers, if you're at a metal show, I can assure you:


And if you want to dance, go to the club and groove to some hip-hop bullshit.  Stay out of my shows.  Again, for good measure:


Friday, January 7, 2011

Early Graves--Goner

This past August, I was spending some time in California for the occasion of my grandma's 80th birthday.  Having spent an entire day in my father's garishly decorated backyard drinking Sam Adams and listening to my uncle wax philosophical about barbeques and how to properly cook chicken so that it achieves maximum flavor potential, we were still unwinding and demonstrating for the more obscure visiting members of our family into how truly odd our interactions with one another could be.  Cobra family values!

The day before I was going to leave California to come back to Austin, my dad waved the Rancho Cucamonga Cucamongist (the local newspaper out there) at me and told me that there was a story I might be interested in.  "These bands have names like the bands you like," is the phrase that he used.  I picked up the paper and nestled between an article titled "California Still on Fire, Why Won't God Save Us?" and a different article titled "Oh, the Humanity!" (that one was just a picture of a bunch of smiling Mexicans), I saw something that I was interested in indeed.  It was an article about The Funeral Pyre and Early Graves, who were involved in a van accident (it must have been semi-local, or a remarkably slow news day).  Makh Daniels, the singer for Early Graves, did not survive.  The irony of a twenty-something dude in a band called Early Graves was repeatedly pointed out and there was much clucking of tongues; thankfully, someone made a wiener joke and the subject was allowed to drop (again, Cobra Family Values).

Upon my arrival home, I took a trip to my local Barnes and Nobel to go CD shopping.  Before you pass judgment on my choice of venue for music buying, you should know that my local Barnes and Nobel's music department employs Ryan from Lions of Tsavo and has, by far, the most legit metal selection of any major retailer anywhere for any reason.  It's breathtaking, really.  I picked up the new Cephalic Carnage album and perused the surprisingly evil depths of the music department and came across Early Graves' debut album, Goner.  After much press and waxing philosophical about Makh Daniels' tragic death and their stellar album they were supporting, I decided to pick it up; after all, my wife is getting surprisingly accustomed to the silky strains of hydro-infused death metal but is marvelously vulnerable to all things crusty and hateful, and I like to annoy her.

My first impression:  Sooooo crusty.....ohhhh....cruuuuuustyyyyyy.....

I'll elaborate.  Early Graves are (were?) practitioners of my current musical obsession, the hallowed art of crust.  Furious D-beatings and punk-infused riffing are combined with the most frantically hateful vocal stylings; it's a whirlwind of D-boner-inducing odes to vitriol, and my D-pant-tent was a rigid, shameful testament to Early Graves' feedback soaked attack.  Songs like "Faith is Shit" and "Trauma" evoke the hallowed grind/hardcore assault of Converge and Trap Them, while "Wraiths" provides a doomy, thundering respite from the raging thundercrust tornado.  "Give Up" is a driving and powerful mid-tempo jam that steals the album with it's anthemic chorus and inspired riffing.  Goner is filled with surprisingly well-written songs, which is realistically the only way hardcore/crust can stand on its own merit.  This isn't like the whirling squall of tech-death, a genre which earns its fanfare by simply making the (often forgettable) riffs incredibly difficult to play on guitar.  No, there are songs in here, and even hooks that grab the ear and refuse to let go.  It's no wonder why this album was hailed by Cosmo Lee and friends as one of the best albums of 2010.

Yet, with all the virtues and triumphs of such an album as Goner, one can't help but wonder if perhaps the untimely demise of Makh Daniels colors the perceptions of its many champions (myself included).  Consider the art of Vincent Van Gogh, which nobody cared about until after his death, but was later equated with genius of the highest order.  It seems that the posthumous fanfare received by Van Gogh and Early Graves alike serves to hyperinflate the public perception of the art each created.  Indeed, it's sad that the relative success of Early Graves seems to have come at the price of Makh Daniels' life, and it seems criminal that such fantastic art was not properly discovered until the artists could not enjoy the fruits of their labor.  However, my good buddy Van Damned (from Crustcake) and I were opining one night about how the music might have been given added value because of the tragedy that surrounds it, which Van suggested was exactly the case.  After my experience, I'm inclined to agree, though I would have enjoyed the album either way due to my crusty leanings.

All that said, I suppose I'm falling into another trap of equating Makh Daniels with the whole of Early Graves, since he was the sole casualty of the van accident.  The surviving members of the band will likely soldier on, though possibly not under the Early Graves moniker, and I hope that they will continue putting out the hot jamz that get the D-boner all veiny and sensitive.

If you haven't already heard it, go find Goner and pay your respects; it's well worth the time you'll spend finding a Barnes and Nobel with a good metal selection, or at least Googling it so that you can have it immediately and for free, which seems like the easiest choice now that I put it that way.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Things That Are Metal (But Aren't)--Darksiders

Today I wanted to do something different.  I've been listening to so much new stuff lately that I don't feel like writing a review for anything, so I wanted to try out writing about other stuff that exudes the attitude, imagery, and sensibilities of METAL.  So welcome to my new segment, where I'll attempt to expose you to Things That Are Metal (But Aren't).

For those of you who know me-and if you're reading this it's highly likely that you do-you probably know that my life revolves around two major hobbies: Metal and Video Games.  I have seemingly always dabbled in metal, but took a detour through being a devout punk rocker for half of junior high and high school in it's entirety; this was in the late 90's and early 00's, when metal was in a universally agreed-upon Dark Age, swarming with DJ's, white people trying to rap and bad Metallica albums.  I should have known that it took some digging to get to the really good stuff, and I have a couple of friends to thank for reminding me how cool guitar solos actually are (Ed and Nick), but that's a whole different story.

When I was a lad, however, I discovered the joys of video games.  My family got a Nintendo when I was just a small child, and that damn thing took over my life.  I ate and slept for Mario and Link; I breathed for the feeling of bonking walking mushrooms with frowny-faces on the head and focused most of my early life on perfecting speed runs through The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.  There's nothing quite like killing a giant evil pig-man using arrows made of silver and a sword that shoots shit out of the front when your health is full.  The sad part of all of this is that my obsession with these things continues to this day, and I fear that I will die a humiliating Elvis-style death, except I will likely be found with a half-consumed bottle of whiskey next to my naked body, Xbox controller in hand, having suffered a coronary in the midst of my 20th playthrough of Bioshock.

So what does any of this have to do with anything?  Well, I'll tell you what.  Game developers have been pushing the envelope of environmental design and exciting animations depicting people/monsters/babies being decapitated and torn in half and shit.  It totally rules, and sometimes makes for some games that can be classified as "metal as fuck," which is why I'm writing about the 2010 dungeon-crawler from Vigil Games.  

The premise is this:

The world has been brought into a premature apocalypse by a renegade group of angels and demons.  You are War, one of the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse, and they've decided that, through a surprisingly involved web of intrigue, you are the one who will take the fall for calling Armageddon down on the earth before the divinely-appointed time.  Your reaction?  TO KILL ALL THE ANGELS AND DEMONS THAT MADE YOU THE FALL GUY AND DISGRACED YOUR BADASS NAME (holy shit!).

The game plays a lot like most of the Zelda games mixed with a 3-D action/platforming brawler.  You basically have to go through a bunch of dungeons for some reason and obtain sharp stuff that explodes to help you dismember and mutilate angels and demons alike.  Do you want to chop off the wings of angels with a GIANT FUCKING SWORD?  How about killing the flying demon Tiamat by throwing exploding shit at it until it falls down and you CHOP THAT ASSHOLE UP?  How about riding your FLAMING STEED THROUGH THE DESTROYED WASTELANDS OF EARTH?  Or maybe you just want to go KILL ANGELS IN PARADISE!  It's all there, and it's so very metal.

As for the gameplay, it's pretty good, but the combat system felt lacking in depth and some of the animations against normal enemies got pretty old.  The dungeons were at turns great, scenic, and horribly frustrating.  Puzzles have a way of being difficult to figure out because of unclear objectives, with some solutions being spread out by a room or more.  Backtracking was also a little bit of a problem, but it's not so bad as a game like Grand Theft Auto or most selections from the Metroid series, where revisiting areas ad nauseum is an expected and celebrated part of the experience.

Darksiders is ridiculously, ludicrously metal, and I would encourage any metal d00d to give it a try.  The animations are impeccable and the set pieces are breathtaking, and I would dare say it's one of the most metal things I've ever experienced.  Obviously, it's a fantasy game, so the dialogue will sometimes meander into the territory of "gay," but it doesn't stay there for very long, and if you've ever listened to fantastical metal, you're likely impervious to the inherent gayness associated with fancy-speech about demons and stuff.  If the game were music, it would sound like the epic, grinding death metal of Bolt Thrower or Lair of the Minotaur.  And get ready for the ending, because the last scene of the game will get you super pumped for more angel killing.

Stay tuned for tomorrow, when I'll discover the magic behind Early Graves' Goner, and I'll probably take another foray into op-ed writing about stuff that I think sucks (or doesn't).

Monday, January 3, 2011


With the new year upon us and all of us nursing our collective residual hangovers and getting back to work (which I'll be doing tomorrow), I feel that the time is ripe for new music that mirrors the despair and cold remorse of another holiday season spent adding credit card debt to the pile and drinking way too much.  This holiday season for me was spent in semi-seclusion, save for the family time we had where we all got some Morning Drinking done and toasted the birth of a deity with chocolate flavored red wine, which, disgusting as it sounds, is not as bad as you'd think.  However, the thought of a hangover from chocolate wine (it still sounds retarded and gross) is sickening on its own, so I stuck to good old-fashioned Budweiser and celebrated my time off by filling my apartment with the thick, acrid aroma of beer farts.  It's as depressing as it sounds, too, which means that it's time to talk about Withered.

I discovered Withered shortly after the release of their sophomore effort Folie Circulaire.  I was back in Bakersfield perusing the annals of our best record store (which is, sadly, FYE [??!!?]) when I found the record, which I had just read a review for in Decibel.  In those days, my rent was obscenely low and I had lots and lots of disposable income and time devoted to driving around listening to whatever took my fancy, so I obviously felt like numbing the bone-chilling horrors experienced daily by those of us who keep the nation drunk (beer distribution is rough business) with some truly bleak metal.  I tried and tried to find the band's debut, Memento Mori, but finding that record is like finding an Austinite who isn't crawling with syphilis (if the strange new string of syphilis PSA's playing on the radio are to be believed, at least).  It apparently may as well not exist.

For those of you who aren't in the know, Withered are an American "blackened doom" band who produce music that sounds like Judgment Day in Hell, which if you're a metal d00d, you know Judgment Day in Hell is an awesome thing to sound like.  Their music actually sounds how the color (or lack of color, if you want to be a fancy pants) black might sound.  It's a nonstop churning maelstrom of desolation and hopelessness, the perfect soundtrack to the depressing emptiness that follows our poorest, most drunken behavior that we inexplicably chose to share with our friends and loved ones.  Withered howl and punish, picking the best parts of black metal (washing machine drums, riffs that sound like pure, wintry vitriol, and hissing pterodactyl vocals) and mixing them with the best parts of doom (painfully slow tempo shifts, thick, crushing heaviness, and effects-drenched ambient interludes) to create something that is singular and easily identified. 

Bands with this much character and such a unique sound are quickly becoming a thing of the past, and though I can sit around and listen to emotionless tech-death till the cows come home, it's bands like Withered that remind me that metal isn't just meaningless brutality but is capable of carrying a terrible emotional weight with it.  This feeling is exhilarating, like an icy plunge into a frozen pond (minus the shrinkage, of course).  Dualitas turned out to be everything I was hoping for in a new album and more, and it drives me to the brink of insanity that such bands have to work day jobs while not on tour while Lady Gaga gets endless coverage and money for wearing meat dresses and stupid sunglasses to award shows that are surprisingly easily hijacked by popular rappers with ridiculous opinions.

I got to see Withered live for the second time this past December, and you can read my roundup of the show here, though I think I spent the better part of that review slapping my Trap Them boner around.  As such, I'll talk a little about the Withered experience.  The show was amazing, but since I had very limited exposure to Withered at that point, having not purchased or even heard Dualitas or Memento Mori yet, I was treated to lots of new music in a live format, which is usually the easiest way to sell me on new music.  Withered aren't so lively onstage, but their performance was (from what I was familiar with, at least) spot on, and if you get a chance to go check them out, you should absolutely do it.  Their trademark fog machine wasn't there, but they did burn some incense, which helped the vibe and distracted from the smell of crusties and the joints that always make the rounds.  I took a moment after the show to go buy a shirt and congratulate Mike Thompson on their inclusion on the Decibel Top 40 Albums of the Year list, where they placed #25 (but should have been placed higher).  He was nice about being approached and congratulated by some weirdo, and I kept the conversation adequately short, because my first impulse with those kinds of interactions is to talk to the subject until they realize that we'd be best friends.  Unsurprisingly, I've never convinced any of the artists I admire that we would be best friends.

Check out Withered on tour with Danzig and Toxic Holocaust and go buy their albums.  Cosmo Lee over at Invisible Oranges said it best when he suggested "[m]aybe 2011 can be the Year of Actually Supporting the Bands Whose Music You Download."

What a thought.