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Strange tourfellows: Skeletonwitch and Ghost B.C.

Well, it’s finally happened. I finally saw Ghost (B.C.)  And I blame it all on Skeletonwitch.

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.

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INTERVIEW: Bad Seed Rising make your dad’s rock cool again

Most kids balk at their parents’ musical tastes. But the members of the Maryland group Bad Seed Rising have not only embraced their elders’ love for old school heavy metal, rock and glam, they are writing songs of their own. These young musicians, aged 11-15, will take the stage at 6 p.m., May 3 at the hair metal extravaganza, the M3 Rock Festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion.

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Bad Seed Rising have stolen your parent’s record collection.

Bad Seed Rising is Francheska, 15, on vocals and guitar, Mason, 13, on guitar, “Iron” Aiden, 11, on drums and Louey, 14, on bass. They list Guns and Roses, Aerosmith, Motley Crue, Foo Fighters, Lamb of God and others among their influences.

“All our parents listened to rock music,” said Louey. “My dad and Aiden’s dad were in a band together. We got introduced to this music that way.” Added Francheska, they love it “because it is loud and aggressive and cool.”

The members met through the Let There Be Rock music schools and very soon started working on songs together. Scott Marceron, Aiden’s father, has a long history in the music industry, both as a musician and as a talent scout and manager for major record labels. His connections led to the group being able to record their EP at the Foo Fighter’s studio in California and eventually to a contract with Roadrunner Records.

Now Chris Shiflett (guitarist of the Foo Fighters) and John 5 (main guitarist and songwriter for Rob Zombie and formerly of Marilyn Manson and David Lee Roth) fly out to meet with Bad Seed Rising to write songs together. They also have professional management and have shared the stage with the likes of Everclear, Kix, Night Ranger, Motley Crue, Johnny Rzeznik, and Molly Hatchet. Not too shabby for a group of kids mostly still in middle school.

As for school, they still attend regularly. Francheska and Aiden are from Frederick County, Mason in Carroll County and Louey in Howard County. They all their friends are supportive of their musical endeavors.

The band has performed for large crowds before, but they have a special love for the music represented at the M3 Rock Festival. Mason and the rest are excited to return to the Columbia stage this year (yes, they have done this before) “just to be able to be on stage with Kix and W.A.S.P.,” Mason said. “We are glad that they wanted us back.”

Look for Bad Seed Rising at Baltimore Soundstage with Airbourne on May 12;  House of Rock with LA Gunns on May 27; and at Ride Across America on June 1 at Max Blob’s Park in Hanover. This summer they will support Daughtry, 3 Doors Down and Halestorm on an east coast tour in July.

Check out the video below. For fun, close your eyes, and enjoy the musicianship and the catchy tune. Then open your eyes again to remind yourself that the members of Bad Seed Rising have many years ahead of them to develop their clearly evident talent. Plus, Francheska’s braces make the video extra precious!

Murp proves metal is no kid’s game, well maybe a little

MURP is Aaralyn and Izzy
Murp is Izzy on drums and his sister Aaralyn on vocals. There is also their dad, Jason, who never appears on camera who plays lead guitar and the occasional guest appearance from the odd uncle, who also remains out of the camera’s view. Izzy provides a steady driving beat. He’s the strong foundation for their songs. Aaralyn, on the other hand, is some wild, untamed force of nature. Grown-ups in metal bands can sing about their disgust with humanity, or Viking adventures, or the devil or whatevever. Aaralyn is passionate about such things and unknotted hair or the power of lightening, or the death of red ants or the pain and itchiness of her poor brother’s poison ivy. 
I jokingly call Murp kindercore, in that, their sound is basically deathcore, performed by children. Murp might come off like a cute home movie or a joke. But I think there are bigger things afoot here. Like any good death metal song, it evokes some strong emotions. And other ways, Murp sounds like the preschool prototype for The Velvet Underground. No, I am not kidding. The bottomline is that if you want to experience the spectrum that is metal, you must listen to Murp.
Izzy, Aarlyn and Jason replied to some questions via email. I could be wrong, but this may be the first official Murp interview. A Metallomusikum EXCLUSIVE!!!
Why did you decide to form a band? 
Jason: Izzy and I started jamming in 2010 and Aaralyn kept peeking her head in. So I put a microphone in her hand so she could participate. She really liked it. Then one day the kids came to me and said they wanted to go on iCarley. I told them to go write a song and we’ll send it in. They were downstairs in the music room for all of 10 minutes before they came back up and told me they were ready. So I grabbed the video camera, and Izzy told me what kind of guitar sound he wanted. I hit record and out came “Don’t Brush My Hair in Knots”. We made it official when the video went semi-viral and the requests poured in. 

How do you come up with songs? 

Jason: Kinda depends on the mood of the kids, which, oddly enough, seem to coincide with the time of day. The earlier in the day the more energetic the song, the later in the day will be a mellow song…. most times. As far as the theme of the songs we are on a rotation. One week will be Izzy’s idea, then Aaralyn then me. Once a month or so we’ll do a cover, and more recently we have been doing fan dedication songs. 

Who writes the words? 
Jason: Aaralyn does them on the fly. One of us will come up with a ‘theme’ and she does the rest. Like when Izzy had a bad case of poison ivy last year, he wanted a song about how horrible it was, and boy did Aaralyn deliver.

How do you work the band around school and social life? 

Jason: Well the school part is easy, we practice and record as a band on the weekends (it only takes about an hour). Since we don’t spend a ton of time in the music room it really doesn’t interfere with our social life.
Where did the band name come from? 
Jason: Ireland 1995 Feile Festival. At our camp site was this completely inebriated guy from Belfast. He kept screaming “MURP!!!” I asked him what it meant, he told me it means really happy, to be with your mates having a good time, it’s a feeling. He made me promise to bring it back to America…….promise kept.
Do you do live performances? And if so where?
Jason: Not at the moment. If we ever did I kinda envision it as like a one or two song opener for some one. Metalfest! Call me! lol
Are you going to record and album? 

Jason: We’ve been approached, but 99% of what makes Murp endearing is seeing the kids rock out, not so much just listening. It’s performance art I guess.

Who are your guest musicians? 

Jason: Uncle Boru! The guitarist from Dark Passenger will play guitar for us sometimes. Uncle Mike plays the bass for us as well. It’s good to have different styles come in so people don’t get too burnt out on my three chord’s.
When did you first learn to play the drums, and how did you learn?
Izzy: I got my drum set for Christmas when I was six. I had two teachers, my Uncle Boru and Chris (my parents paid him but he moved to California).  Now I am just waiting to get into the third grade so I can start taking lessons again. I still take piano lessons.
Who are your favorite drummers and why? 
Izzy: Ummm, I don’t know their names except Meytal. But I do like the drummer from Nirvana and Amon Amarth (best band to listen to while I play Battlefield 3).

What are your favorite bands?

Izzy: Guns-n-Roses, Opeth, Rob Zombie (he’s from Haverhill close to where I live!!). Ummmm anything with a good beat that sounds good really. Oh and Black Sabbath!!!
 
What instruments do you play and when did you first start singing? 
Aaralyn: I play harmonica and daddy just got me a little bass guitar even though it is a little heavy for me still. I was 3 years old when I started singing.Who are your favorite singers and why?
Aaralyn: Victorious is my favorite singer and Miss Angela (Gossow) and Janice (Joplin).

What are your favorite bands?

Aaralyn: Umm rock-n-roll band’s and dancing bands and bands for banging my hair. I just kinda like all bands.
 
What is the best thing about being in Murp? 
Izzy: Um, everything. Playing drums and playing music with my family.
Aaralyn: I love singing, it’s like the best thing ever I get to do whatever song I want, and it’s great to do songs and scream sometimes.
What is the worst thing about being in Murp?
Izzy: When we don’t get it right we gotta keep doing it.
Aaralyn: Sometimes I forget the chorus, and we have to practice more. I also don’t like when the camera runs out of batteries and when I cough.

What do you want to be when you grow up? 
Izzy: An astrophysicist, and if that doesn’t work out I want to be some one who helps people learn about guns.

Aaralyn: I want to be a scientist because I want to make a lot of potions for making people smarter and to help them with math.

Is there anything else you want everyone to know about Murp?
Jason: Murp is evolution in motion. While the music may be metal or punk in nature, Aaralyn’s imagination continues to grow as she experiments with different styles of singing. Of course I hope that music will always be apart of our lives, but Murp will only be around for as long as it remains fun for the kids. In the mean time, enjoy the ride everyone! 
________
Thank you Murp! I hope you all achieve your dreams, but in the meantime, please keep cranking out the tunes!
 

Graveyard resurrects psychedelic garage rock for the end of days

If you were one of those kids who snuck a listen to your parent’s 70s psychedelic rock records (think Cream, Hot Tuna, Blue Cheer on vinyl) then you’ll be glad to know that a host of musicians are re-interpreting that groove for the 21st century. Three such groups played a sold-out show at Baltimore’s Golden West Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012: Sweden’s Graveyard, Iowa’s Radio Moscow and Daniel Davies of Los Angeles.

While so many bands today are lured into using sampled sounds and synthesizers, it feels good to just bask in the aural presence of that fuzzy, stripped down sound upon which my own musical sensibilities were nourished and weaned. And clearly I am not alone, since Golden West was packed with fans of the genre who were enthusiastic as I was.

Before the show started I had a few minutes to chat with members of Graveyard. Every show so far on their tour has sold out starting with a 600 capacity venue in New York City. Bassist Rikard Edlund showed me his Blue Cheer tattoo (“My first tattoo!” he said), a clear indication of his permanent devotion to the musical style. Neither he nor drummer Axel Sjöberg really understood why this type of music seems to be making a comeback.

“Maybe it’s time,” Edlund said. “It’s been 40 years. People are realizing how great it is and it is time to bring it back.”

“I hope it never stops!” Sjöberg added.

The show got rolling with Daniel Davies, who presented a solid set. I had never heard them before, but Davies was a perfect complement for what was to come. Here’s a sample:

Next up was Radio Moscow. Apparently this group has had a bit of a personnel “shake up” in recent days that left lead singer and guitarist Parker Griggs with a hefty gash on his forehead and 14 nasty looking stitches. The current rhythm section consisting of Billy Ellsworth on bass and Lonnie Blanton on drums have only been playing for a week, but that fact was not apparent. Radio Moscow certainly picked up new fans from Baltimore.

I spoke with Griggs after the show. I recorded it, so rather than me type all that out, why don’t you give a listen and hear what he has to say for himself. Griggs provided me with a copy of his new CD, “The Great Escape of Leslie Magnafuzz.” I will review it in the near future. Do yourself a favor and go see the new and improved Radio Moscow. Great sounds, great guys.
INTERVIEW: Parker Griggs of Radio Moscow 1-15-12 by MetalMaven
Graveyard’s show was everything I expected and more. The sound in Golden West was surprisingly clear, which was a happy discovery since I was a little worried about how it might be, the place being a restaurant and all. Joakim Nilsson’s vocals sounded just as bluesy and soulful as in studio recordings. The stage was small and barely large enough to contain the four of them but they managed. The melody interplay between Nilsson and lead guitarist Jonatan Larocca Grimm was perfect. Sjöberg is a bat-shit crazy good drummer that pulls a large sound out of a fairly minimalistic kit. And bassist Edlund blew everyone away with his aggressive and frenetic technique on songs like “Ain’t Fit to Live Here.”

The entire show was my “favorite” since this band evokes such visceral musical memories from my childhood (I was that 3-year-old who listened to Cream), but highlights included “Satan’s Finest” and “The Siren.” Along with the fantastic music, the entire show was accompanied by a good old-fashioned colored-water and oil, overhead projector light show courtesy of “Lance.” Groovy man.

Graveyard plays Washington DC’s DC9 Club January 16 and then move on to Richmond and North Carolina and points west before heading back over to Europe. If they come within 200 miles, I recommend you make the pilgrimage to see them, as well as Radio Moscow and Daniel Davies. And don’t forget to wear your fringed leather vest.

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