Monthly Archives: July 2013
Ghost and Skeletonwitch made a stop at Rams Head Live on July 29 during a five city mini tour that grew out of the fact that the bands would cross paths on their ways to other places. Skeletonwitch are wrapping up a headlining tour across North America on their way back home to Ohio. Ghost, who hail from Sweden (by way of Hell), are making a few stops on their way to Chicago to play Lollapalooza. These two sharing a stage seemed like strange bedfellows musically, and I kind of didn’t want to miss it. Unfortunately, I can’t afford to go to every show that catches my eye, but thanks to the kind gentlemen in Skeletonwitch (specifically their official band spokesman Scott Hedrick) and the gracious folks at Prosthetic Records, I was able to go to the show and get a photo pit pass.
Everyone I know who is into metal seems to have an opinion about Ghost, and I am no exception. Ghost erupted onto the scene in late 2010 with their debut EP Opus Eponymous. These musicians didn’t come from nothing and no where, however. Ghost is reportedly composed of members of the two Swedish bands: synthrockers Magna Carta Cartel and death metallers Repugnant. They hide their identities. That’s part of their schtick. I get it. I’m willing to go along with the joke. (Hey, I love Dragged Into Sunlight, and I have no problem with them downplaying their identities.)
Ghost seems to engender a lot of strong reaction from listeners. Some hate them and say they are false, posers, manufactured etc. Some love them to the point of near fanaticism, as was evidenced by the handful of Nameless Ghoul wannabes who attended Monday’s show in costume. Me, I just fail to succumb to the hype and certainly never thought of Ghost as metal, but I gave them a listen anyway.
Admittedly, Ghost’s tunes are catchy, easy to sing along with and danceable. Papa Emeritus’ vocals are sweet and almost soothing. Overall, it’s similar to a lot of popular rock. Muse or The Postal Service come to mind except with heavier guitars and more minor chords and more Satan. I have settled on the humorous faux subgenre of Satanic yachtrock to describe them.
But I kept hearing that Ghost’s live show was really great and that I should not write them off without seeing them in person. My stance in situations like this is simple: I like what I like, and I don’t have to give everything that seems almost universally accepted “a chance” just because people think I am somehow defective for not liking what they like. I reserve the right to reject a band without seeing their live show. But here I was, getting ready to see Ghost live.
Now, let me say something about Skeletonwitch, who have spent the last 10+ years building their fan base, slogging around in stinky vans, playing little clubs for whoever would listen. A strong constituency at Rams Head Monday night was primarily there to see Skeletonwitch, which made me happy.
I have seen Skeletonwitch three times now, and each time I like them more. My favorite show was a headlining performance at The Ottobar, because I think they relate well to a smaller crowds. Their guitarists shred, their rhythm section crushes, and Chance Garnette has one of the most evil sounding voices I’ve ever heard. He provides a black metal style of vocal that slices like a razor though a sweet double layer cake of death metal and thrash.
Skeletonwitch worked the larger room well and got the crowd whipped up enough to have some respectable crowd surfing going on. Since the upper levels of Rams Head were blocked off, the 600 or so attendees were forced into the smaller floor area in front of the stage. lending a more intimate feeling to the setting. They cruised through 11 songs, something from each of their four recordings and one new song from their forthcoming album, Serpents Unleashed, that was called “Burned From Bone.” The new album drops in October.
Skeletonwitch played for only 35 minutes, which was not long enough in my opinion. This show was going to get me home early!
I don’t know what I was expecting when Ghost finally took the stage. Smoke, fire? I don’t know. The last show I shot at Rams Head was Behemoth, Watain, The Devil’s Blood and In Solitude. I am not sure anything could have prepared me for Watain live. There’s nothing to compare it to. Nergal and Behemoth command the stage masterfully. Even TDB is compelling live and, of course, blood soaked.
But the Nameless Ghouls just quietly strolled onto the stage and waited for their leader to arrive. You can’t see their faces so you don’t know if they are happy or sad or indifferent about being there. After some build-up, Papa Emeritus II took the stage with little pomp, though the crowd provided enough enthusiasm to make his entrance significant.
When I look at Ghost, mostly what I see is something kind of Halloween-ish. Something like the band that would play in a live-action Scooby Doo movie and turn out to be the bad guy gardener and his tricky henchmen. To me it is costume-shop theatrics framing well executed. but not very exciting, music. For comparison, KISS uses theatrics and costumes, but I am willing to listen to KISS without having to look at them. That is not the case with Ghost, at least not for me. The show’s the thing.
You see, there is something captivating about watching a grown man in an elaborate Pope/Skeletor outfit leading the audience in a Latin sing-a-long. And, I did find my self head-bobbing along with their now familiar songs. After my three songs for shooting in the photo pit ended, I joined friends at the bar and watched the rest of the Ghost show near the Skeletonwitch merch table. At one point during the song “Year Zero”, I ended up doing a kind of hilariously fun Pulp Fiction-esque dance routine with a high schooler. But then again, I will dance to Carpathian Forest and Arckanum, and I don’t care who is watching (and laughing at me). I wished I could have understood some of Papa E.’s stage banter, but from where I was the sound was not clear and people were talking. A few folks were inspired to crowd surf, but that seemed rather unnecessary. And the shouts of “Hail Satan” from the audience were pretty funny. I am sure the members of Ghost are also chuckling to themselves about that, all the way to the bank.
The bottom line about the evening is that I was highly entertained by both groups for completely different reasons. Skeletonwitch always puts forth 10,000 percent and delivered a satisfying performance for the headbangers with such musical integrity that you could feel it in your gut. And Ghost delivered a satisfyingly lighthearted performance that was fun and surprisingly warm, despite the Luciferian overtones. I can’t deny that I was touched by the fact that Papa E. reached out and took a fan by the hand. I am sure that person felt extremely blessed. In summary, I didn’t hate Ghost, but I spent my merch dollars at the Skeletonwitch table. To each, her own I suppose.
Here are some of my best shots and a couple of videos. Enjoy.
The first day of Ratscape is in the books. I was only able to stay for four bands, but what I did catch was an impressive and diverse array of some of the unique talent Baltimore has to offer. Truth be told I should have just stayed there the whole night and not left for another less satisfying show. But hindsight is 20/20.
Choke Motel offered up a rocking instrumental set featuring Ratscape organizer Mike Franklin on drums. I would like to hear more from them. I think they are named for the Motel 6(66) across the street from The Hour Haus, but there is nothing sinister or creepy about their sound.
Then came Nice Guys from Boston (although apparently originally they started out in Baltimore). Nice Guys use a lot of familiar punk riffs but then put their own spin on them with original songs. Something about this band really activated a part of my punk brain that has been dormant for sometime. Really good.
The next band, Pleasant Livers, had a slightly delayed start but still played four “songs” (I think). How can one describe them? Two asynchronous drummers, guitar, bass, saxophone and vocalist Fred Collins running rampant on stage. He birthed himself from a children’s play tunnel and few times and had improper relations with an EasyBake Oven. Highly entertaining.
The last band I caught was USSA Pleasuredome. Instrumental and lush, this band now has a drummer (and not a drum machine) for live performances. They presented some powerful soundscapes and killer riffs.
I am sure the remainder of the evening went well and look forward to the rest of the weekend. All photos by Mary Spiro.
Ratscape II is coming up this weekend (July 19-21) at Hour Haus Studios, located on the SE corner of North Avenue and Howard St. Unlike some of the other Baltimore festivals, Ratscape is somewhat of a DIY kind of thing, and most of the bands playing are not well known, although there are some distinct exceptions. As the day wears on, you will notice the lineup features more established groups that record for known labels.
There are more than 40 bands playing from all genres of music. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a preview of what every band sounds like? Well I thought I would give it a shot. Some of them were kind of hard (impossible to find). But here’s the best I could do. If I could find a video, it’s posted. Otherwise, enjoy the audio. This is a long post, keep scrolling.
FRIDAY July 19
Friday’s line-up is starts off with rap but then quickly moves into some electronic, contemplative, emo-pop, punk and then psychedelic/doom sounds. It’s a good mix.
Eze Jackson: rap; 2:45 – 3:15pm
Something Complex: electronic, rap and more; 3:30 – 4:00pm
Seaglass: punk, sadcore; 4:15 – 4:45pm
Expert Alterations: minimalist pop, Velvet Underground-y; 5:00 – 5:30pm
The Matrimonials: booze flavored party rock; 5:45 – 6:15
Choke Motel: keyboards instrumental, jazzy/funky; 6:30 – 7pm
Nice Guys: avante punk, no rules; 7:15 – 7:45
The Pleasant Livers: Whartscape veterans, bizarre noisy insanity; 8:00 – 8:30
USSA Pleasuredome: transcendental soundscapes; 8:45 – 9:15
Special People: punk rock; 9:30 – 10:00pm
Shining Mirrors: indie rock; 10:15 – 10:45pm
Raindeer: lush pschedelic pop; 11:00 – 11:30pm
Arbouretum: awesome folk-tinged doom; 11:45 – 12:15am
The Flying Eyes: psychedelic rock; 12:30 – 1:00am
The Sterling Sisters: Gothic, NeoCountry. These folks wear cowboy hats and everything. 1:15 – 1:45am
Saturday, July 20th
Saturday starts off with some folk and country inspired bands and then moves into the punk realms.
Dead Whale Ramblers: conscious folk/grass; lots of strings; 2pm – 2:30pm
Could not find a video but I’ve seen them live. Kind of a early 90s grunge- punk thing going on. Listen. 2:45 – 3:15pm
Voodoo Pharmacology: epic melodies, banjos, strings, masculine vocals, creepy lyrical themes; what’s not to like here? 4:15 – 4:45pm
Gutterhooks: psychedelic punk rock recorded lo-fi like early black metal; kvlt pvnx. Listen. 5:00 – 5:30pm
Foghound: stoner rock; 5:45 – 6:15pm
Lazlo Lee: bluesy garage rock; 6:30 – 7pm
Bobby E. Lee & The Sympathizers: I will just use the description they provide — swampy, stompy good timey music; 7:15 – 7:45pm
Hollywood: catchy Ramones-esque punk rock with more intelligible vocals. 8:45 – 9:15pm
Ravagers: Punk. Period. 9:30 – 10:00pm
Advlts: progressive punk; is that a thing? Anyway, these guys deliver. 10:15 – 10:45pm
Baklavaa: No, you are not tripping, it’s just Baklavaa. Also, you will never be able to unsee this video .11:00 – 11:30
Christopher Nobody & The Nothing: agressive punk noise with some surprises thrown in. Found a video but nothing on Facebook. 11:45 – 12:15
Slow Jerks: fist pumpin’, sing-a-longin’, crowd participatin’ rock and roll. 12:30 – 1:00am
Hard Dads: punky power three piece. Here’s a video from somewhere in the Copy Cat building. 1:15am – 1:45am
Sunday, July 21st
If you like metal, then Sunday is probably the day to attend Ratscape. As the day progress, the music becomes darker and heavier and blacker and grindier.
NeverThought: They call themselves nu metal. You decide. 2:pm – 2:30pm
The Last Valorians: modern metal; 2:45 – 3:15pm
Oath: This is a new band. I am told this is stoner/doom something. Come find out. 3:30 – 4:00pm
Pallid: post-rock, ambient/drone; 4:15 – 4:45pm
Phantom Lanterns: post-rock 5:00 – 5:30pm
Big Mouth: I think the video speaks for itself. 1…2…3…4….! 6:30 – 7:00pm
Nude Mass: this band is new, with members of Slow Jerks/ Lazlo Lee & the MCs. 7:15 – 7:45pm
Urine: also new d-beat noise punk explosion with members of dead peasants/ecco/chaos destroy/endlessbummer. 8:00 – 8:30pm
Barbelith: dark, depressive, atmospheric black metal; 9:30 – 10:00pm
Melungeon: sludgy, experi-mental noise. Could not find a video but you can listen here. This band shares a member with Whoarfrost, if that gives you any indication of how weird and unpredictable this music is. 10:15 – 10:45pm
Rukut: hardcore, grindcore. This video is like samples of a lot of songs but there are not a lot of good videos of this band out there. 11:45 – 12:15pm
Noisem: This death metal band, formerly known as Necropsy this band, is currently signed to A389 Records and recently played the Scion Fest. Also they are all like still in high school or something. 12:30 – 1:00pm
And there you have it, something from every band playing Ratscape. It’s kind of nice to think that Baltimore has this much talent. And also, that this is just a tiny bit of it.
Baltimore recording engineer Mike Franklin thinks that Baltimore is essentially one big family that just hasn’t met yet. He hopes his festival, Ratscape, a celebration of underground local music which he organized with his friend Josh Schleupner, could be one way for all those talented “family” members to get to know one another.
Held July 19-21 at The Hour Haus studios at the corner of North Ave. and Howard St., Ratscape is only on its second year — festival infancy by Baltimore standards. Ratscape occurs the same weekend as the city’s infamous Artscape, which is billed at the America’s largest free arts festival. And while folks at Artscape will be jamming to the sounds of more well known national performers, Ratscape festival goers can listen to music from more than a dozen different and obscure subgenres, representing just a just a tiny slice of the artistic depth of the region. For $5 per day, Ratscape features 47 bands. In keeping with the DIY spirit of the day, the event is also BYOB. So other than the extra cash you’ll want to bring for band merch and one of those exclusive Ratscape t-shirts, Ratscape is a musical bargain.
I spoke with Mike and Josh the other night about their philosophy behind the fest, who is playing, and what to expect. So pop on some headphones and click play on the link below. Set times for the bands for each day are listed below. Watch this space in the coming days for links to music samples from every group performing.
RATSCAPE 2013 running order and set times
2pm – 2:30pm———- Eze Jackson
2:45 – 3:15pm———- Something Complex
3:30 – 4:00pm———- Seaglass
4:15 – 4:45pm———- Expert Alterations
5:00 – 5:30pm———- Matrimonials
5:45 – 6:15———- Choke Motel
6:30 – 7pm ———-Hot God
7:15 – 7:45pm———-Nice Guys
8:00 – 8:30 ———-Pleasant livers
8:45 – 9:15 ———-USSA Pleasuredome
9:30 – 10:00pm———- Special People
10:15 – 10:45pm ———-Shining Mirrors
11:00 – 11:30pm ———-Raindeer
11:45 – 12:15am ———-Arboretum
12:30 – 1:00am ———-Flying Eyes
1:15 – 1:45am ———-Sterling Sisters
Saturday, July 20th
2pm – 2:30pm———- Dead Whale Ramblers
2:45 – 3:15pm———- Blood Horses
3:30 – 4pm ———-Et Al
4:15 – 4:45pm ———-Voodoo Pharmacology
5:00 – 5:30pm ———-Gutterhooks
5:45 – 6:15pm———- Foghound
6:30 – 7pm ———-Lazlo Lee
7:15 – 7:45pm———- Bobby E. Lee & The Sympathizers
8:00 – 8:30pm ———-Wet Brain
8:45 – 9:15pm ———-Hollywood
9:30 – 10:00pm ———-Ravagers
10:15 – 10:45rpm ———-Advlts
11:00 – 11:30 ———-Christopher Nobody & The Nothing
11:45 – 12:15———- Slow Jerks
12:30 – 1:00am ———-Hard Dads
1:15am – 1:45am ———-Baklavaa
Sunday, July 21st
2:pm – 2:30pm ———-Neverthought
2:45 – 3:15pm———- Last of the Vallorians
3:30 – 4:00pm———- Disorder
4:15 – 4:45pm———- Pallid
5:00 – 5:30pm ———-Phantom Lanterns
5:45 – 6:15pm———- Mountainwolf
6:30 – 7:00pm———-Big Mouth
7:15 – 7:45pm ———-Nude Massacre
8:00 – 8:30pm———- Urine
8:45 – 9:15pm ———-Sexgender
9:30 – 10:00pm ———-Barbelith
10:15 – 10:45pm ———-Melungeon
11:00 – 11:30pm ———-Cemetery Piss
11:45 – 12:15pm ———-Rukut
12:30 – 1:00pm———- Noisem