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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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Interview: Dragged Into Sunlight tells all (no, just kidding)

The UK’s best merchants of noise and negativity, Dragged Into Sunlight, will be performing Saturday, May 26 at the 2012 Maryland Deathfest. You can read my band profile of DIS here, which is part of an on-going MDF X series. After deathfest, DIS plans to spend the following two weeks touring the US, performing a limited number of gigs. This little holiday, steeped in American culture PLUS a trip to Texas, ought to provide the band with enough rage for several more soul-crushing recordings. 
I wanted to find out a little more about this enigmatic collection of mysterious misanthropes. So like a good little reporter, I asked if I could interview them. And they must not have complete “hatred for mankind” because they said yes. Today was a pretty crappy day for me overall, so to find their replies in my email inbox certainly turned my frown upsidedown, you know, in a “Dragged Into Sunlight” kind of way. Here is what they had to say. (And by “they,” I mean the all-consuming, force-of-nature that is Dragged Into Sunlight.) 
How did DIS evolve? 

Dragged Into Sunlight evolved from our shared vision and bitter outlook. One expression of this is putting aside our individuality in a bid to further a holistic approach to our sound. There are no personal agendas, we stare from the inside out with one face, vision and ethic. Dragged Into Sunlight continues to evolve and is very much a beast of its own creation now.

What would you say are the lyrical themes of the songs?
In summary, our themes encompass those emotives you’d otherwise repress. Each track carries a new barrage of awkward and unsettling negativity.

There are no political or religious themes to Dragged Into Sunlight. We stand alone, and that is a position very much reflected throughout the words, blending obscurity with disgust and isolation. Twisting, turning, meandering, a downward spiral into self-destruction.

How did you develop your performance style? (That is, why do you perform with your backs to the audience, conceal your identities, and what are you trying to convey with that?)
Our performance ‘style’ continues to develop, however, our initial venture was almost pre-determined. We’re anti-social individuals and our approach is of an anti-social nature.

Beyond concealing identities, we present a blank canvas for our listeners, it really doesn’t matter who we are. Dragged Into Sunlight is a growing collective of like minded individuals sharing a similar outlook towards everything. We aspire towards new levels of extreme, our personal identities are completely separate to the identity which Dragged Into Sunlight holds as a collective manifesto.

What has been your most memorable live performance so far and why? 
Every performance is an honour for us and we view each as a separate highlight. We’ve experienced some killer shows.

For some of us, Dragged Into Sunlight is a final endeavour, so every moment is appreciated. For the most part, however, we hope that we make our next performance and that the sheer weight of our tone tears flesh from bone.

What type of music do you like to listen to, and which groups/musicians would you name as inspiration for your sound?
Our tastes are diverse and vast. Incantation, Bossk, Lazarus Blackstar, Rwake, Deathspell Omega and Austere recently. Dragged Into Sunlight draws on elements of the latter as a sold foundation. Our inspiration is very much a natural creation, spurred from months, if not years, of frustrated murderous intent. Imagine each micro-social interaction stuffed into one massive wrecking ball. Every time someone pissed you off and you wanted to tear their jaw off, concealed, building and ready to burst at any moment.

What sort of items will you have for sale at the Maryland Deathfest?
We’ll have shirts and rolling trays. Maybe some records.

Anything else you think people ought to know about DIS?
Widowmaker.

Countdown to MDF X: (40) Godflesh

Recently re-formed post-metal industrial, noise band Godflesh provides an unusual ending to the Friday night festivities of the 2012 Maryland Deathfest. I, for one, will be excited to see them live. Founded in Birmingham, UK in 1986 under the name of the Killing Joke song, Fall of Because, Godflesh gained ground throughout the 1990s among fans of more hard-edged industrial/electronic metal. The frequent use of drum machines and programmed soundscapes defines Godflesh as children of the technology explosion going on around them at the time.

Godflesh has certainly derived inspiration from Killing Joke, which at least for a while was one of the darker bands of the 80s. Unfortunately, as they slipped further into disco-y beats and plaintive vocals, Killing Joke lost the grit of their first self-titled album. Godflesh’s songs recorded more than 20 years ago, however, somehow remain fresh and almost progressive today. Godflesh’s penchant for slowing down the tempo and for sound experimentation has probably helped them maintain their edge. They also credit bands such as Black Sabbath, Swans and Throbbing Gristle for their inspiration.

There has not been a new Godflesh recording since 2001, and in 2002, the band parted ways. The two original members, Justin Broadrick (vocals, guitars) and G.C. Green (bass), along with Ted Parsons (the occasional human drummer since 1996) reunited in late 2009 to begin playing some festivals and short tours. There have been rumors of new material. but nothing yet. They do have several free mp3s available for download from their lovingly maintained since 1995 website, aptly named Crumbling Flesh. Everything you ever wanted to know about Godflesh, and then some, can be found there. 

Countdown to MDF X: (45) Unsane

As a child of the 80s, punk has and always will hold an honored position in my musical heart. Therefore I am happy to report that defining noise rock band Unsane will perform Friday, May 25 at the Maryland Deathfest. Formed in New York in 1988 when the members were still in college, only original member Chris Spencer  (vocals, guitar) remains in the trio. Other current members include Dave Curran (bass/vocals) and Vinnie Signorelli (drums).

Presently on tour with The Melvins, Unsane is credited as being one of the pioneers of noise rock, infusing elements of punk, hardcore and even rock-a-billy and blues into their songs.  The unrelenting backbeat, in your face vocals, and often times twangy and distorted guitar riffs will set them apart from most acts at MDF X. No corpse paint and spiked gauntlets here.

Unsane swaggers through each song with impressive violence and grace. Their sound has barely changed over time. They have maintained their brutal punkish roots for nearly 25 years, unbowed to the trends in music around them. This is a good thing. They are like a rough roll in the hay* with a familiar lover, you know exactly what to expect, but you won’t be bored and you’ll leave thoroughly satisfied.

*that is, fuck 🙂

Here’s something brand new from Unsane….

And something from their first self-title recording….

Countdown to MDF X: (50) Today is the Day

I have never been so excited to see a band live I have never listened to until today. But then again today is the day that you will like Today is the Day, also.

Originally from Nashville, members of Today is the Day include founding member Steve Austin, lead vocals, guitars (since 1992); Ryan Jones, bass (since 2010) and Curran Reynolds, drums, percussion (since 2010). Note: As of March 19, Ryan Jones is now also the bassist for Mutilation Rites, so I don’t know what that means for MDF. The band has also featured Brann Dailor and Bill Kelliher, now members of Mastodon, and Derek Roddy, who has played with such notable  bands as Nile, Malevolent Creation and Hate Eternal. Their appearance at the Maryland Deathfest on Friday afternoon represents 20 years since the band came into existence.

I quickly discovered that there is no easy way to categorize this band’s sound. One song can be thrashy and punkish, the next can be experimental and noisy, the next  melodic and melancholy. There is no doubt they will put on an intense, mosh pit inducing set, I just could not speculate as to what tunes they might play. A friend pointed out that Today is the Day reminded him of a grindcore version of The Melvins and he’s sort of right. Both groups have shared the same record label, Amphetamine Reptile. But I would not say Today is the Day is simply grindcore. It there was a metal subgenre called experimental-awesome-core then maybe that is what they are.

Today is the Day seems to play by the rule that there are no rules. They play what they want, or what Steve Austin dreams up, and that works out just fine. If you have never heard them before, go in with an open mind and don’t think death metal, or progressive, or grind or whatever. Just think that today is the day you hear a band you will never forget.

I’ve included three songs here, just so you can appreciate the range and diversity that is Today is the Day.

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