Monthly Archives: August 2012

Alhazred reignites Baltimore’s death metal scene

Alhazred

If you are a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, you may recognize the name Alhazred, as in Abdul Alhazred, the “Mad Arab” from the Cthulhu stories. Alhazred is also the name of a fairly new Baltimore area technical death metal group.

The first time I encountered Alhazred was at the December 7, 2011 Obscura show at Sonar. I don’t exactly remember how we connected, but somehow prior to that show, I became friends with Alhazred’s drummer James Spaeth on Facebook. I intended to see Alhazred open, but instead, I ended up having dinner with Obscura and I missed their set entirely. (This will be the subject of another blog post.)

But I picked up a rough demo from James that night and those three songs went into regular rotation on my iTunes playlist. Every time Alhazred would come up in the mix, I would stop what I was doing and check to see what band it was. The songwriting, the musicianship and the production were so great on their little demo that I always, ALWAYS thought it was a song from a more well established death metal group but I just could not place it.

Over the next eight months, I attempted to get to one of Alhazred’s live shows, but the stars never aligned. Eventually, I met all the band members around town at various shows, and they were a wonderfully nice. I sure hoped their live performance did not suck, because that would just be awkward, now wouldn’t it?

It was not until August 19, 2012 when Misery Index and Vital Remains headlined the Ottobar that I finally got to see Alhazred live. They brutalized their set from start to finish, and I mean that in a good way. James, who always seems to be smiling, looked equally happy to be laying down some pretty complex rhythms. His beats produced the perfect punchy counterpoint to bassist Josh Stein heavy bottom lines. Galloping atop this solid and relentless rhythmic foundation were the dueling vocals and balanced guitar shredding of David Morgan and Christopher Fink. Lyrically, the songs are intelligent and thought provoking, focusing on apocalyptic and social themes. The overall effect is a death metal force to be reckoned with. Their sound is incredibly tight and remarkably distinctive for a band that’s been together less than 12 months.

It is important to note, as James did recently on his Facebook, that  “(i)n less than a year Alhazred has managed to open for Abysmal Dawn, Obscura, Dying Fetus, Revocation, Landmine Marathon,Vital Remains, & Misery Index!!! And to think, next month we are playing with HAVOK & Skeletonwitch!!!”

 (photo by Rachael Foote) 

This is no small feat, and if you like bands like Obscura and Revocation, Alhazred will fit right in and still stand out.  It’s fitting then that since I have actually witnessed a performance, to write something about this emerging band. I sent David Morgan some questions. Here’s what he had to say.

Where did Alhazred get their start? 

David Morgan: Chris and I had been writing music together for a few years, and we had a difficult time finding like-minded musicians in the area to actually form a band. Last summer we finally decided to put up some fliers in local music stores in search of a drummer and a bassist and James saw one we posted at Guitar Center in Glen Burnie and gave us a call. We jammed with him and he ended up being a perfect fit for the type of music that we play. I had known Josh through a mutual friend for a few years, and I gave him a call and he worked out just as well and filled the bass position for us.

What were you doing before Alhazred? What other bands have you played in?

David Morgan: Shortly before he joined Alhazred, James played in a local power metal band called Cyberstrike and a few years ago Chris actually played drums in a post-hardcore band called More Watership Down. Chris plays many different types of music on many different instruments but he loves death metal just as much as we do. Josh and myself have played in other bands before but none that have actually made it out of the basement.

What are your musical influences?

David Morgan: We have many different influences in this band. We love all different sub-genres of extreme metal, and I think many of these influences show whether it be death metal, black metal, melodic death metal, thrash, or progressive/technical death metal. We do the best we can to blend these influences tastefully and seamlessly while trying to create a sound of our own. As far as bands that influence us, I’d say that Death, Behemoth, Carcass, and Misery Index are probably those that are the most prominent in our sound.

Who writes the music?

David Morgan: As of now Chris and I are writing most of the music and lyrics but Josh and James definitely give us their input as far as composition and share lyrical ideas with as well. We just recently moved into a rehearsal space so we have more flexibility as to when we can all get together so Josh and James will probably be taking a larger role in the writing process from now on.

Tell me about your first show, the one I was supposed to see.

David Morgan: Our first (Baltimore) show was actually a pretty big deal for us. We somehow managed to get on a bill with Obscura, Abysmal Dawn, and Enfold Darkness at Sonar last December. It was actually a pretty big deal for us and it was also the first time Josh and I ever performed on stage. Although we were all a bit nervous and stiff on stage, we played the handful of songs we had at the time very well and all in all it was a good show.

What is coming up next for you?

David Morgan: For the rest of the year we’ll be finishing writing our first full length and begin recording and playing shows in between. We’re expecting an early 2013 release, but we’ll see what happens. As for next year we’ll be trying to get the album out there and hopefully start playing out of state a little bit and start building an audience outside of Maryland. Aside from that we’re really just always trying to play shows, make friends, and have good times.

What has been the craziest thing that has happened to Alhazred so far?

David Morgan: We haven’t really had too many crazy things happen to us just yet because we’ve only all been playing together for almost a year now. Give us some time though and wait until we’re able to spend some time on the road and I’m sure we’ll have many crazy stories to share.

Who would you love to play a show with?

David Morgan: We’ve already had the opportunity to warm up the stage for many bands that we look up to such as Obscura, Abysmal Dawn, Dying Fetus, Misery Index, and we’ll be playing with Skeletonwitch at the end of September (September 29 at The Ottobar). It would definitely be amazing to play with someone like Behemoth or Carcass on one of the few shows that they play or to just play at Maryland Deathfest would be an honor. I’d say that we dream more of who we’d be able to play for than who we’d be able to play with. We would love to be able to do our fair share of touring and make friends all over the place in the US and overseas and visit places we’ve never been before. Playing some of those huge Euro-fests such as Wacken or Hellfest would be surreal.

Where can people find your music?

David Morgan: People interested in hearing us can download our four song demo for free at alhazred.bandcamp.com and if you like what you hear, keep an eye out for our debut full length which will be available in the not too distant future and come check us out live. We always keep our Facebook page updated with upcoming shows so follow us on there if you’re interested. Thanks!

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A dozen years of doom: SHoD fest celebrates pearl anniversary

Twelfth anniversaries are supposed to be celebrated with pearls, a priceless item that takes years of hard work and grit to make. Likewise, it has taken years of determination and musical grit to keep Stoner Hands of Doom (otherwise known as SHoD) festival on track for so long.
SHoD 12 takes over the El ‘n’ Gee Club in New London, CT from Aug. 30 through Sept. 2. Bigger and doomier than ever, this year’s festival features heavy metal hitters such as EarthrideThe Skull and Iron Man, along with  37 others. I was able to chat with festival creators Cheryl Williams Levey and Rob Levey about their annul destination event for fans of doom and stoner metal that they created out of pure love for the genre. Rob and Cheryl, former husband and wife, remain bonded by a mutual love of doom. This interview was conducted via email on two separate occasions.  Responses have been edited for length.
How and why did the festival begin?

CWL: The first SHoD was in August 1999. Rob and I had been talking about it for a number of years and it was one of those “why don’t we just do it?” sorts of things. He had been thinking about doing something big to promote the doom scene ever since the Hellhound heyday when he fronted Iron Man and that band along with other DC doom bands were on the German Hellhound record label (Wretched, Revelation, Internal Void, Unorthodox). At that time, I was doing a DC-Balt area hard rock newsletter called Word of Mouth, and that is how Rob and I met. Anyway, in 1999, Hellhound was no more, he wasn’t in Iron Man any more, and I hadn’t done Word of Mouth in years, but we both still wanted to promote the music in some way, and SHoD was born.
RL: The festival was something I had talked about and actually worked on with others for maybe 15 years before SHoD happened. For me I wanted to highlight the scene in DC with so many great bands for so many years. It evolved into the whole scene from all parts of the the US and even parts of the world. 
How do you go about selecting the bands that will play?
CWL: We do it in two ways, primarily. The first is that we both make a list of our first choices, and then we invite those bands to play. These are bands we wanted on previous SHoDs but couldn’t for whatever reason, bands we’ve discovered since the last SHoD, bands who’ve played before that blew us (and everyone else) away, etc. As we fill the bill with the bands we invite, the gaps are closed with other bands who contact us who have the right sound. We do try to stick to a doom or stoner sound, though we have had some interesting offshoots in sound. Sometimes really good bands contact us that sound great but just aren’t the right sound for the blend of bands we have. If you look back through our history, you’ll see that SHoDs done in the east tend to have a much more Doom sounds, while SHoDs done further west were more influenced by the stoner-fuzz sounds.
RL: Partly it is bands I know I contact to see if they are interested in doing it. From there we receive tons of requests especially after we announce where and when it will happen in that particular year. I usually will add bands that I dig, ones that are different and unique. Sometimes there are regional reasons. They need to have some melody and if I hear or see them live, they have to give it all they got, whether playing in front of five or 500.
Why do you hold the festival in different locations each year? 
CWL: So that we can attract different bands to play. Different areas of the country have different scenes and different sounds. If you look at the history, doom is concentrated here around DC, like grunge was concentrated in Seattle, psychedelic concentrated in San Francisco, glam in Los Angeles, the southeast has a heavy southern rock flavor, southwest has the fuzz, etc etc. And every one of those genres has a sub-genre/sub-culture that injects the heavy sound. We want to keep it heavy, but promote these different sounds around the country.
RL: In the beginning it was out of necessity. When we were doing the second one we needed somewhere to have it and Nyabinghi (former club in Youngstown, Ohio) was the bar closest to where we lived that would do it with reasonable terms. From there though we wanted to start having it in different locations to see and hear more variety and energy from different locations. Now we are trying to do it in places we haven’t before. Hopefully it is appreciated.
What is is that you like specifically about doom metal?
CWL: Wow, this is a very hard question. This is a better question for Rob, really. As for me, the first doom band I ever heard was Internal Void. And the thing is, it just grabs you. There is something about the sound, the way it vibrates up your legs from the floor, the way everyone who is part of this scene is just so cool. People talk about mosh pits and stuff like that, but at a doom show, mostly what you see is the entire audience headbanging in unison. No violence, no pits. Every now and then someone gets too drunk, but for the most part it’s very cool when you think about it. 
RL: I have listened to doom since late elementary school and just always have loved the almost gut feeling of the sound the tempo and the atmosphere. I loved  early Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. Then I was was lucky enough to hear bands like The Obsessed and Pentagram (previously known as Death Row), Legend, Angel Witch, Witchfynde and Witchfinder General, then lucky enough to be part of Hellhound Records with Internal Void, Unorthodox, and Blood Farmers. Anyone who has seen me at shows knows that it is in my blood and soul. I love it.
What is your most cherished memory about a past festival? 

CWL: Again, a very hard question, because they all held special memories! Let’s see… The first SHoD was held at an outdoor venue in August after an entire summer of drought, not a drop of rain. At the moment Bobby Liebling (singer of Pentagram) arrived, the storm clouds appeared out of nowhere so suddenly that no one could even prepare, and we got what felt like a hurricane. One of the memories of that one was Wino on stage desperately trying to hold tarps down over the amps and everyone crowded under the tent we had and then the incredible coolness of everyone as we moved the whole thing to a club in Wheaton (Phantasmagoria). SHoD Two in Ohio,  Bottom did a mind-blowing set! SHoD Seven in Arizona,  Golden Godz. Shirtless fur-wearing frontman and straight up San Fran fuzz/rock, wow. SHoD Eight in Arizona – this one had way too many, this one was incredible. Electric Magma, Against Nature, Supergiant, Sasquatch, Ol Scratch, oh yes. And then there was SHoD 10 in Maryland. Internal Void, ’nuff said there. The surprise set of the weekend for me was Elder. These young boys show up at my door to stay for the weekend and they were so sweet and respectful and then they got on stage and it was like Jekyll and Hyde and absolutely KILLER! They are a band to watch, definitely. SHoD 11 – the best memory of that one was just the feel-good feeling that prevailed the entire weekend. Before 11 was over, we were discussing doing SHoD 12 in New England. We had noticed a surge of doom sounds and bands coming out of that area, and wanted to focus the show there to give those bands some exposure. So that’s where we are now! At each show, one band would just rock my world. I want to emphasize that at our SHoD shows, I think ALL of the bands are good – Rob and I do handpick them, and so many of them I love SO much, and the specialness of seeing some of them is not diminished by being able to see them more often than other bands because they are local. So please do not take that I mentioned specific bands above as meaning I think they are better than others – at the time of their set, they were just really ON and I had just the right mind frame, and all the stars aligned to make that particular set magic. For more info on the history, you can check out http://www.cherylsweb.com/shod/history/index.html.
RL: That’s not fair. I have so many met so many great people so many great performances. Saw awesome cooperation from people. It’s really an accumulation of moments that I have. Plus I think the best feeling or worst are on Sundays around dusk when I realize its only got a couple hours to go. I will leave it at that and look forward to making many great memories for years to go.
What are some important things that you want people to know about this year’s festival? 
CWL: Well, one of the biggest things is that this is the first SHoD that is ALL AGES. We really want to get the word out about that because we have always had to turn people away because of the age restraint. 
RL: Just expect one awesome weekend with a ton of great performances.
Anything else you want people to know?
CWL: We love this music and we love the scene!
RL: As long as this is fun and the music fresh and exciting we will be here to be our tiny part of this awesome scene. We really appreciate every one’s support and hope they will support their local scene go see some great music and just have a blast.

For more information about SHoD and to buy tickets for one or all days, visit the SHoD fest website. At just $60 for all four days, it is among the least expensive festivals you can attend. Below is a list of all bands play each day. The first band listed will likely play last (or headline) each day.

Thursday Aug 30thRoadSaw
Black Thai
Ichabod
Raw Radar War
Birch Hill Dam
Rozamov

Friday Aug 31stPilgrim
Earthride
Revelation
Junior Bruce
Wizard Eye
When the Deadbolt Breaks
Stone Titan

Saturday Sept 1stThe Skull
Pale Divine
Devil to Pay
Earthen Grave
Admiral Browning
Orodruin
One Inch Giant
BeezleFuzz
Black Cowgirl
Kin of Ettins
Curse the Son
Stasis
Eerie
Akris

Sunday Sept 2ndIron Man
Elder
Black Pyramid
Summoner
Negative Reaction
Hovel
Gypsy Chief Goliath
War Injun
Skrogg
Fire Faithful
Borracho
Insano Vision
Witchden

Autopsy comic set to drop in time for Halloween

When you think of the pioneering death metal band Autopsy, what comes to mind? Sheer brutality? Crushing riffs? Chris Reifert’s frightening ability to sing AND blast beats so fast that no metronome could keep up? That their mosh pit will dismember you? Their performance at this year’s Maryland Deathfest was phenomenal. What else do I need to know?

Apparently when reflecting on Oakland, California’s death metal godfathers, you also should be thinking: comic books.

Vince Brusio (left) with Chris Reifert at MDF. 

I recently received an announcement from the president and publisher of E-Comix, Vince Brusio, (based in Sykesville, Md.) that come this Halloween 2012 you will be able to possess your very own copy of “Autopsy: Feast For A Funeral.” The work will be the company’s second self-contained comic book. Imagine finding this in your trick-or-treat bag.

I am not a huge reader or collector of comic books, but the news intrigued me. I had had a KISS comic book back in the day, and I suppose comics and rock do go hand in hand. The announcement went on to say that the company’s first title was “Dying Fetus: Supreme Violence.” How did I miss this? Dying Fetus has a comic book too? I felt completely out of the loop.

According to Brusio’s release, members of Autopsy learned about the comic book project at MDF: “Shown the cover and told the plot for the book at the 10th Anniversary Maryland Deathfest, Autopsy gave the green light for the project, which brings to life their brand of doom in a ferocious full-color nightmare.”

Ok, so what’s the story about?  “The comic book tells the tale of college kids who make a terrible mistake. One for which they must suffer, and pay in blood,”  Brusio’s announcement states.”  When they play with stolen property at an impromptu field party, they open a doorway that allows spirits into our material world. A rescue is planned, but none of this is made known to a rival biker gang that doesn’t appreciate their turf trampled on by strangers. Seeking vengeance, the gang approach an old abandoned house to wreak havoc on their party crashers, and learn too late that once the door to Hell is opened it can’t be closed.”

From the comic “Autopsy: Feast for a Funeral”

Wow, the only thing this plot is missing is an adorable talking Great Dane. But seriously, if the gateway to hell is going to be opened by anyone it is going to be the fault of a bunch of hapless college kids who piss off a biker gang. It’s just a matter of time.

Where does Autopsy come in? Well, they seem to have served as the inspiration. Read on.

“Autopsy have driven the hearse to bring death metal to the mases since the late 1980s,” Vince Brusio remarks. “It was a natural fit to fuse their brand of music with a grisly ghost story. So we took the cover image of Severed Survival, expanded on it, and developed a story that takes place on Halloween night. It’s pretty gory stuff. As it should be.”

Autopsy are reportedly excited to be party to this madness. The announcement quotes Reifert: “It was great to meet and chat with Vince at the Maryland Death Festival. We’re damn excited about this, and know it will be a real killer when it’s done!”

E-Comix is a new company founded just this year with the intent of merging music and comics to, as Brusio states, “create self-contained ‘done-in-one’ books that, in turn, are repurposed for lines of merchandise sold both online and in retail distribution, as well as concert venues.

I hope to lay my hands on a copy of “Autopsy: Feast for a Funeral” at some point and also wish Vince luck in fusing these two still relatively underground media. Let’s see some black metal bands represented!

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