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REVIEW: Early Graves’ Red Horse

Usually when I go to a show, I make a half-assed attempt to listen to the bands on the bill that I am unfamiliar with. Such was the case with the San Francisco band Early Graves when I saw them open for Skeletonwitch last month at the Ottobar in Baltimore.

Early Graves @Ottobar 2012. Photo by M. Spiro

At the time of the show, Early Graves only had two albums in their discography, We: The Guillotine and Goner. So I listened to a few tracks from those albums. I liked it alright; they kind of had a blackened thrash-core thing going on.

What I did not know before the show was that they had lost their original vocalist, Makh Daniels, in a tragic van accident while on tour in August of 2010. Daniels’ voice was deep and rough. Their new vocalist, John Strachan, has a slightly higher pitched and “thrashier” sounding voice. The vocals don’t make a completely different band but they are distinct.

What also did not know, though I could have suspected it from the songs I heard, was that Early Graves’ live performances completely destroy a venue. Everything about their performance that night–from the punchy drums to the crushing riffs and searing vocals–was a flaming ball of utter awesome aural devastation.

So it was with palpable excitement that I awaited the release of Early Graves third effort, Red Horse. I bought the digital copy from iTunes and devoured all 32.6 minutes of it twice in a row. Here is my quick and dirty impression of the album.

Hardcore and thrash are subgenres of metal that can be easily married. A bad marriage results in something barely listenable, but Early Graves merges styles with finesse. Songs like the title track “Red Horse,” with its literal galloping drum beat, possess the right amount of catchy melodic riffing framed by an appropriate structure of visceral brutality capable of branding the chords into your frontal lobe.

Other tracks like “Days Grow Cold” churn through each measure like a guitar-powered locomotive, that pauses briefly to let you reflect before rocketing off again. The track ends like an acoustic balad. Very surprising.

Another track, “Death Obsesssed” wormed its way into my psyche. I found myself playing the song repeatedly before moving on to the next track. There’s something sinister and looming in this song–maybe like death itself–and yet endlessly relentless. This song represents everything that I love about hardcore metal–raw vocals, desperate lyrics, riffs that grab you by the throat and drums that make you want to bang your head.

My favorite song on the album, “Quietus,” is also the longest track. The first two and half minutes plow forward ferociously like much of the rest of the album. Then the song spirals into this melancholic, almost doomy section. The music builds to a soaring crescendo and closes out the album on a thoughtful note.

On the whole, I found the eight tracks on Early Graves’ Red Horse to be thoroughly satisfying and packed with heavy hardcore goodness. As much as one can view hardcore as “catchy” Early Graves has figured out the formula while maintaining music that inspires a respectable mosh pit.

This album is masterful and brutally beautiful. Go check it out.

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Botanist: he drums for the trees

Botanist, everything you need for a one-man, eco-terrorist performance.

I am a firm believer in having no rules in most anything, especially music. Black metal may be one of the most rigidly defined subgenres, and its fan base can be rife with elitist assholes (of which I can be one), but black metal is still the soundtrack of outsiders and miscreants. Therefore, the music of Botanist, which consists primarily of minimalistic hammered dulcimer melodies, doom-y drumming and strangled vocals, may be the most sinister black metal there is. That’s right: hammered dulcimer black metal.

I first heard about Botanist, a one man black metal outfit from San Francisco, on the NPR website. Somehow, the melodic tendrils of this brutal, eco-terrorist wrapped themselves around my mind and heart. I vowed that I would track down the musician behind these hypnotic plant worshiping hymns and unearth his secrets.
Botanist has released two recordings. The first, which Botanist sent to me, is the double album I: The Suicide Tree/II: A Rose from the Dead. There are 40 tracks on this effort released in July 2011 on tUMULt.  This recording mostly consists of short, fast black metal haikus. Instead of praising Satan, Botanist praises flora and something referred to as the Verdant Realm. Everyone has a god I guess. Vocals are reminiscent of  the amphibious croaks of Dagon. The drumming is at times militaristic. The dulcimer is frenetic, discordant and evil. You will never hear anything like this anywhere. Guaranteed. 
The newest recording is III: Doom in Bloom/Allies, which came out in May 2012. The first half of the recording includes seven songs performed by Botanist. The second half of this recording are Botanist songs covered by other artists. The overal vibe of this new recording is very different from the first. The songs are slower, doomier, more dirge like. I have read a handful of reviews on this second Botanist album and some are not very complimentary.  But you know what? I like this effort even more than the earlier recording. Something about the slow, plodding beats, the buzzing dulcimer melodies and the whispered vocals make this recording feel more intimate, more organic, and even more devastatingly terrifying than the last year’s work. Plus, the last one was 40 songs, just sayin’–that’s a lot to get through.
I also read recently that the Botanist entry on Metal Archives was booted because the music lacked guitar riffs and therefore was not metal enough. Let me say a few words about the hammered dulcimer as an instrument for black metal. You might think that hammered dulcimer would sound too happy or sweet for this style of music. That might be true if you are thinking of a jig on St. Patrick’s Day or an hymn at a bluegrass festival.
But when I hear a hammered dulcimer I think of a villain tying a poor damsel in distress to the train tracks. I think of creepy old black and white silent films. You don’t get much more black metal than that. Furthermore, the way in which the dulcimer is played here, the sound closely resembles the tremolo guitar picking common in traditional black metal. Guitars are not required. I have heard tenor saxophones, violins, pan pipes, wooden blocks and even banjos used in black metal songs. There should be no rules. 
I was able to contact the man behind Botanist. Here is a short Q&A. 
Could you perform this music live? Or would you bring live performers with you on a tour? 
If Botanist played live, I would almost certainly play drums and do the bulk of the vocals. For the rest of the parts, I would need touring musicians. I’ve broadcast this desire in interviews in the past, and will do so again here. One capable dulcimer player has come forward, but really, to make a tour happen, Botanist will have to grow far more in popularity in order to be released by the kind of label that could organize a tour in which enough revenue could be generated in order to pay the way of touring musicians. Perhaps some day.

Why do you conceal your identity? 
The central theme of Botanist is the glorification of the Plantae Kingdom, and specifically that glorification as seen through the eyes of one person. The identity or specifics of that person are entirely up to the imagination of the listener. Just like anyone else, ever, who makes records, I, Otrebor, am of course a real person living a life that isn’t entirely involved with making music, but any presentation of that life, any images depicting my appearance — basically, anything having to do with mundane reality, is not only immaterial to Botanist, but counterproductive to its aims. Botanist is not about me. It’s about Botanist. Should you meet me in person, or see me — should Botanist ever perform on stage — that relationship between listener and artist would necessarily change, which must be accepted. If you want to dig around and “figure out” who I am, please feel free. It’s not that hard to find. But what will it get you? Will you like Botanist more?

How is black metal particularly suited to the messages of your music? 

Again, Botanist primarily concerns itself thematically with the reverence of a sense of sacredness in regards to Nature. Botanist has endeavored to, in some substantial way, adhere its work to the overarching tenets of black metal. As such, the core thematics of the project were adapted, as a sort of tribute, of homage, to the genre that has made such an impact in my life, and of the particular aspects of its philosophy, world view, mystique, sound, and lore that I personally identify with.

_________

At last word, Botanist has started work on another recording and is earnestly recruiting musicians to take this show on the road. Let’s hope both become reality.

Both Botanist recordings can be heard below.

Countdown to MDF X: (16) Nausea

Grind core band Nausea from Los Angeles will play the main room of Sonar at the 2012 Maryland Deathfest on Sunday evening, May 27.  Although Nausea self-describes as grind core, to me they sound more like a hardcore punk band. Their vibe is definitely an old school, fun, circle-pit inducing kind of thing. Earlier recordings exhibit more of a death metal influenced.

Nausea is comprised of founding members Oscar Garcia on guitars and vocals and Eric Castro on drums, and two new members, Leon del Muerte on guitar (Exhumed/Murder Construct) and Alejandro Corredor on bass (Dia de los Muertos). Nausea were kind enough to reply to a few questions that I sent them. Here’s what they had to say. 
What will be on the set list?
The setlist includes music from pretty much every release, from “World Downfall” to “Images of Abuse” tracks. We have new songs, but we’ll wait to play them until they are ready and released.

What other shows to you have scheduled either before or after MDF?

Right after MDF,  on Wednesday, May 30, we have a show in LA’s Black Castle with the mighty Nasum, Landmine Marathon and Early Graves. On  October 27, we go to Mexico City to do a show with our friends in Anarchus. Hopefully next year we can play some summer shows in Europe and a couple East Coast dates.

Will you have any special items for sale at the deathfest?
We have some new cool shirt designs for MDF.
Do you have a special message for your fans?

Thanks for sticking around all this time, GRIND ON!

__________
Check out these Nausea songs! I particularly like the one from the older demo.

Countdown to MDF X: (39) Bloody Phoenix

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that this band Bloody Phoenix is also looking for a practice space on May 24-25 before their appearance at the Maryland Deathfest. If you can help, contact Jerry Flores at bloodyphoenix@sbcglobal.net and put BLOODY PHOENIX in the subject line.

Remember punk rock? Bloody Phoenix does. This grindcore, punk, ensemble hails from Los Angeles, California. They have been churning out screaming chunks of punk-flavored goodness since the fall of 2001. Their songs are long enough to get the mosh pit going but short enough to make sure no one gets killed.

Bloody Phoenix might be the band The Ramones would have become, had they taken the left hand path. There is no denying the punk rock roots in a song such as “Marching Into A Bottomless Well,” but the eerie vibe and death growl vocals reveal the true motivations here. Some reviewers describe this band as thrash core. That’s an interesting term. They just seem like balls-out punk rock to me. In researching this article, I really liked the 20-track album Death to Everyone from 2010.

Members include Jerry Flores (guitars), Michael Karubin (drums), Vito Tagliente (bass), and Molly Scarpine (vocals). Saira Huff from Question/RØSENKØPF/x-Detestation will be contributing guest vocals.

In an email, Flores said much of their setlist will come from Death to Everyone.

“Songs will vary… Mostly from our Death To Everyone LP as well as our split 7″ with Question and some new songs made for a 4-way split LP that will be coming out later this year. Possibly a couple of older songs sprinkled here and there,” Flores wrote.

As for the merch available from the band during the festival, Flores said to expect the usual. “Shirts, CDs, some vinyl, and possibly some pint glasses,” he said. Wait a minute… PINT GLASSES? WANT!!
So prepare for a raucous start to a long, long list of bands crushing through Saturday at the 2012 Maryland Deathfest. Get there by noon, as Bloody Phoenix takes the stage first. 

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: (53) Autopsy

Autopsy closes out Thursday of the 2012 Maryland Deathfest. This pioneering death metal band came together in 1987 when death metal was in it’s infancy. The group’s current line up includes original members Chris Reifert, formerly a drummer for Death, and guitarists Eric Culter and Danny Coralles, along with Joe Trevisano on bass, who joined in 2010.

This California group played for several years between the late 80s until the mid 90s, disbanded for a while and then reformed for the 2009 MDF. Musically, Autopsy is pretty much the template for death metal, characterized by forceful growling vocals, slightly thrashing drums, and heavily distorted guitars punctuated by “invisible orange” inducing solos. Some of their songs even dip into the doomy and sludgey, but pretty much this is the death metal your big brother warned you about.

Lyrically the topics run the gamut for disembowelment to death to corpse rape. You can take their lyrics however you like, seriously or mockingly or as a commentary on our depraved society. It is death metal after all so what do you expect. Musically, I dig this group a lot. It is definitely head-bang-worthy. You won’t find me singing along. An exception might be the song below, “Always About To Die,” from Autopsy’s most recent full-length recording Macabre Eternal released in 2011. The lyrics are poignant because, shit, they are so true!

“In your sleep or on your knees
Killed in health or by disease
Doom bound train is on your track
Feel your mind about to crack
We are always about to die”

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