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Taurus: the band, not the astrological sign

Stevie Floyd and Ashley Spungin. Photo by Mary Spiro

My astrological sign happens to be Taurus. It is also the astrological sign of the two members of the band Taurus: guitarist Stevie Floyd and drummer Ashley Spungin. Not that it means anything really, it just is what it is. I don’t really put much stock in astrology; it’s mostly a bunch of bull (pun intended) and should only be viewed as entertainment.

Sun signs aside, last Saturday, my husband (still getting used to saying that) and I made the annoyingly long trek to Empire (formerly Jaxx) in Springfield, Virginia to see Taurus. We were primarily there to see Agalloch, of course (more on that in another blog post), but I was curious about Taurus. I am always curious about two-piece bands. How do they make it sound like enough is going on for it to be anything?

Anyway, there are at least three bands out there called Taurus so it took a while to find the right one.  Taurus has only been together a few months, but you may know guitarist Stevie Floyd from her work in another two-piece outfit called Dark Castle. There are many elements of Dark Castle in Taurus, only now the components are shaken down, concentrated and stuffed into a smoking pipe.

Stevie Floyd of Taurus. Photo by Mary Spiro.

Prior to the show, I had a chance to chat with the Aesop Dekker the drummer for Agalloch. He remarked how much fun they’d been having touring with Taurus and that I should find their set “terrifying.” The use of the word terrifying was not far off.

I knew Taurus would be something that had to be experienced live. I had listened to their recording on Bandcamp and found it somewhat confusing. What was going on here?

Once the band took the stage, I knew that any recording of this group was going to be a weak facsimile of the living, breathing entity that is a live Taurus performance. From the moment they started, I pretty much could not take my eyes off of them, especially Stevie, whose vocals emanated from some place deep inside of her, like a restless spirit trying desperately to strip off the last bloodied membranes of its mortal coil.  Ashley’s relentless and unforgiving beats propelled the riffs unfurling from Stevie’s guitar into deadly streamers of doom that spiral down around you and encase you entirely. As they played, a strange film showing images of bleeding sliced pomegranates and exotic characters performing ritualistic actions flickered on the screen behind them.

Now all the music I had heard on the Bandcamp site made sense. The duo executed the recording note for note, beat for beat, including sampled sound clips between each passage. I made sure I picked up a copy of their hand-made EP before I left the club so that I would have something by which to refresh this sensation.

But I must emphasize: Taurus must be experienced live. Listening to the EP in isolation of the context of a performance might leave you feeling flat. Like listening to the soundtrack to a favorite Broadway musical, you will hear the notes and words but you don’t really get the full effect until you see the costumes, watch the movement of the actors and feel the drums beating against your chest.

Taurus definitely is not for everyone. But if you listen with open ears and an open mind to their experimental, doomy, sludgey riffs, you may be transported, body and soul, to another dimension without (or with, if you prefer) the use of chemical enhancements. I encourage you to watch a live Taurus performance. You may not love it; but you won’t avoid being affected by it.

With the understanding that the recording pales in comparison to the live performance, you can hear the EP Life by Taurus below.

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Countdown to MDF X: (46) Ghoul

Like a horror comic book coming to life, Ghoul is dead seriously the funniest band set to perform on Friday night at the Maryland Deathfest. Their performance is just as much about the songs as it is about the show. Appropriately this group is just coming off of a tour of smaller venues with felllow goremongers Gwar. Ghoul will be just as fun, but probably not quite as messy.

Hailing from the land of Creepsylvania (or Oakland, California), Ghoul doesn’t have members so much as it has characters.  The musicians performing as those characters have also played, without costuming of course, in other notable metal  bands. Currently those characters include vocalist and bassist Cremator (Ross Sewage, who has appeared in bands like Exhumed and Wolves in the Throne Room), vocalist and guitarist Digestor (Sean McGrath from Engorged, Impaled and others), guitarist Dissector (Dan Randall, from Born Dead, Desolation), and drummer Fermentor (Dino Sommese, who has been in Dystopia, Lachyrmose and others).

In addition to the musicians, this group travels with a host of other characters who may show up to torment to audience. Ghoul’s arch-enemy is Kill-bot, a 10-foot tall bloody metal monstrosity with infrared eyes. The homicidal werepig Mutant Mutilator may be roaming the crowd on the hunt for nu-metal and post- metal posers who may be lurking among their fans, which they call numbskulls. The Curio Shoppe Owner will be on hand to provide the coffins, or maybe he’s just the merch guy.

Aside from the special effects and the showmanship, Ghoul offers head-bang-inducing, honest-to-goodness traditional thrash metal with a good bit of fantasy, comic book storyline and tongue-in-cheek humor thrown in. You will have a smile on your face, right before they kill you.

Enjoy this video, made in part by Agalloch drummer Asesop Dekker.

And the story of Kill-bot….

Countdown to MDF X: (54) Agalloch

If the Decemberists were a metal band, they might a little sound like Agalloch. In terms of musical genres, one could argue that Agalloch does not really belong at the Maryland Deathfest. The reason I say they don’t really belong there should become evident when you hear them. It really is not death metal and could only be loosely described as black metal. But what is it?

What it is, is a lush and verdant soundscape flowing from the dripping wet rainforests of the Tillamook or pouring from the mossy banks of the Columbia River. Only John Haughm’s occasional shrill  and sometimes growling vocals– icy as the Cascade Mountains–gives Agalloch away as something like black metal. Pagan rock, neofolk or ambient would also be appropriate descriptors.

This is not to say that you should skip Agalloch’s set Thursday, May 24! On the contrary! This band, founded in 1995 in Portland, Oregon rarely tours the US so you should not miss this chance to see them. Their music is complex and their live performance engaging. Other members include Don Anderson (guitar), Jason William Walton (bass) and Aesop Dekker (drums). The group is capable of bringing the black metal and they will not disappoint.

It’s hard to say what songs Agalloch might play at MDF X. Their most recent release is a compilation called “Whitedivisiongrey.” Some personal favorite songs from their 2002 album The Mantle, such as “Not Unlike Waves” or “In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion,” would be nice to hear live.  The 2010 full-length album Marrow of the Spirit is the some of the closest sounding to traditional black metal that I think Agalloch has ever done.  Here are a couple songs to consider. I think Agalloch will provide a nice break from some of the more brutal offerings on Thursday.

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