Monday, November 3, 2014

Day of the Shred: The Observatory, Santa Ana CA 2014

This last weekend I had the honor and privelege to attend Thief and Midnite Collective Presents: Day of the Shred at the Observatory in Santa Ana. The line-up featured many of the heaviest bands to grace this grey earth in a two-stage festival format that was perhaps the best setup for an indoor fest I have ever attended. No ins-and-outs? No worries! Plenty of outdoor space and food available right on the grounds. If you were of the lucky few that received VIP access, there was free beer, food and a booth setup by Earthquaker Devices where you could check out their entire lineup of amazingly useful and unique pedals. The fest was a great time overall, but due to the haziness of the day I will be covering a couple of the most memorable bands to my experience.

After drinking some of the free beer and smoking a joint with a couple of the dudes in Bongripper while discussing tone and checking out the pedals on display, I made my way in for the first act I would witness of the day: Trapped Within Burning Machinery.

This incredible 5-piece from Southern CA was the only band of the day to feature 3 guitarists. While some might scoff and ask what a band might need 3 guitarists for, watch the video above to see for yourself. Employing 3 of the most distinct amps for each guitarist(Laney, Orange and Marshall), with one of the 3 guitars being a semi-hollow really created a huge, well-rounded layered sound for the band. At most points you could observe one guitarist playing low on the neck, one in the middle and one up high...this approach coupled with the amps and guitars of choice created a wall of sound with individually moving parts crossing paths over the coherent whole. Massive riffs made way to crest-fallen passages of utter despair with shrieks of defiance soaring above it all.

A few rock bands and many joints later, it was finally time for the moment I have been waiting an immeasurable amount of time for, the moment that Bongripper would play their first show in California which would also not ironically be my first time seeing them live. No amount of prior context could have prepared anyone in the room for what was about to happen. After a cursory check of the back-line equipment they were allotted for this performance, the guys took their places and started building to their initial apex of destruction. We lit up a 5 gram joint and passed it around, the rest of the room was also erupting in plumes of herbal fog in every direction. Just about when everyone was high enough, they ripped the rug out from underneath our feet and blasted the entire room in a bath of grimy sub-frequencies. I was a little bummed to have to see Bongripper without their self-curated back-line of destruction, but the moment they hit the first note I knew it didn't even matter, this is the type of band that knows exactly what the fuck they need to do, and how they are going to do it regardless of what they have to use. Their tendency for slow tempos played in F standard created a time-warp in which the hour that they played felt both like a mere 10 minutes but also like 10,000 years of riff-mastery jam packed into one illusory moment, the entire audience bowing their head in reverence to the rhythm of the madness around them. The lack of vocals or any high-end other than the snare and cymbals in the mix whatsoever made it impossible not to wholly immerse ones self into the experience. This was one of those performances that embeds itself deep into the fibers of ones existence, an experience that will be looked back upon fondly by the majority(if not all) of those lucky enough to bear witness. A meta-detail of the set that shows just how rad Bongripper are on every level is that the succession of songs was: "Endless", "Satan", "Worship". Enough said.

After Bongripper thoroughly re-programmed everyone's definition of Heavy, I caught a few songs of Ancestors'. While the set was coherent and executed flawlessly by all members, there was definitely a disconnect between how they sounded live and how they sound on a record. I'm not sure if it was the gear they had to use, the mix-engineer, or just a fact about Ancestors, but something just didn't sound the same and the bass seemed to be overpowering the guitars and the keyboards were pretty much non-existent in the mix. In light of all this, i'd be interested to check them out again on a smaller bill to get a better measure of them in a live setting.

Up next was Elder from Boston. Having seen Graves at Sea earlier this year I opted to catch this band whom i've been listening to for a few years after the memorable nature of their riffs started swimming around in my mind regularly. Out of all the bands that played for the day, Elder seemed to get the most out of the back-line equipment for their intended uses as their mix was absolutely perfect even with the guitarist switching between lead and rhythm regularly. As far as lead guitar tones go, the best of the day goes to Elder since they displayed the best of both bright bridge lead tones and warm neck lead tones to their fullest extent while retaining a cutting clarity with each note. Elder's songs are so memorable that I haven't even sat down and listened to them in a good while and was still able to pick out songs I knew in the set.

Windhand followed Elder, and while being my second time seeing them this year, I was glad to get another chance after some very unfortunate issues with the Scion backline earlier in the year. This is another fine example of a band that will make any quality backline work for them. Flawlessly executed set, a journey into the riff-filled land facilitated by roaring mids, crushing bass and wails of an entity beyond. There were times I have seen Windhand where a couple of the songs were too similar to eachother but this seems like something they have since smoothed out(perhaps it was the length of the set?) as the set felt like one coherent introspective journey shifting it's character every so often just enough to shift the scenery slightly. Great mix this time around, undoubtedly the best live mix I have heard of the band in the 4+ times I have seen them at this point...prior to this the week points in the mix would have had to be the vocals and drums but whoever was manning the board this time did perfectly and gave much justice to their sound.

The final band I watched for the evening was Weedeater. While setting up, they seemed to be having issues setting up a bass rig for Dixie, after some time figuring that out they were all set to go and Dixie addressed the audience: "Hey Motherfuckers! Were about to do this, forget this shit! Welcome to band practice assholes! We're Weedeater..we came here from North Carolina and we fuckin' suck! Get your goddamn money back right now!" then they got down to business by jumping straight into "Hammerhandle". Despite the issues beforehand, they proceeded to play an incredible set including the songs "God Luck and Goodspeed", "Monkey Junction" and their Lynyrd Skynrd cover "Gimme Back My Bullets"...all of which are songs of theirs I happen to hold in the highest regard and were just as rad as ever even having heard them live and listened to an innumerable amount in the past. Once the set was over, Dixie walked straight back to the Ampeg SVT that was causing problems at the beginning(and at this point i'm imagining was bothering him during) picked it up off the cab and hucked it across the stage as far as one can huck a 100 lb amplifier. I have seen problems like this with amplifiers at fests with back-lines too many times to count at this point and I suspect it is due to running an amp for a straight 8 hours with no breaks between. Thus, if you run shows where bands are going to be sharing tube amps for the duration I have a suggestion: Just pop for the extra cash and rent a duplicate of each amp rotating them in if a consecutive band wants to use the same amp...I have a feeling this will save a lot of time and headache for everyone.

Overall this is THE BEST festival experience I have ever been in attendance for. Every band ruled in their own way, the grounds were spacious and setup perfect to accommodate everyone, security was chill and the sound of both stages ruled. Thank you to all the bands and invisible hands that played a part in providing us with such a memorable experience, here's hoping it continues on into next year!

All video contained in this post taken by and courtesy of: Arturo Gallegos aka sexthrash69


Friday, May 30, 2014

Abstracter - Tomb of Feathers(2012)

Hailing from Oakland, CA, Abstracter is a 4-piece Sludge band killing it in every facet of their approach. While Tomb of Feathers was released in September of 2012, it finally made its way to Vinyl(the format it belongs on) in April of 2014.

The album starts with the ominous sounds of plumes of expanding thunder and rain drops striking the earth. Once I am thoroughly immersed in the soundscape, alone and drenched in the desert rain, the first riff comes in and immediately presents an approach and tonality that feel like a dark, heavy, less polished approach at Tool and Smashing Pumpkins. It is apparent these guys have an equal respect and adoration of early 90s rock as they do for the realms of sludge and doom.

Alagna's clean vocals come across confused and forlorn, as if some inexplicable misfortune has just befallen him and the question why ever looms, whereas the screams come across with conviction and power, a refusal to succumb to the massive weight put on his shoulders while no longer giving a fuck why. Over the next two tracks, Alagna expands upon his clean vocal approach in the first interchanging different facets of emotion which really displays his dynamic range and talent as a vocalist.

Abstracter continually remind me of what Isis might have sounded like if they had continued the style they started breaking ground on in Oceanic with the raw production style of the albums prior. Being Analog purists, Abstracter recorded this entire album live, reel-to-reel with tube amps which really makes this album feel alive. That's right, you did know you can track albums live right? Not just one instrument at a time and YES, listeners CAN tell when the tempo of a song is calculated to a T, it just sounds unnatural. Abstracter sound as natural as it gets. Im not going to go into the differences of analog and digital based sound here...but Tomb of Feathers is the perfect example for why this style of music is meant for analog. I will also add that this is some of the best guitar tone I have heard in this style, the barking mid-range vintage voiced amplifiers captured on tape just sound absolutely right.

This album is heavy, straight-forward and well executed on every level of the production process. Even with 3 songs clocking in at 50 minutes, this album seems to have come and gone in the blink of an eye as the flow of it is constructed so well it made that hour feel more like 10 minutes. A compositional effect that is almost impossible to pre-determine.

You can order the newly released Vinyl or a Cassette at the bandcamp linked above, these guys slay so hard on Vinyl you should probably catch them live at one of these forthcoming dates:

- June 8 2914 @ The Stork Club, Oakland, CA  

- August 5 2014 @ The First Church of the Buzzard, Oakland CA

- August 12 2014 @ The Witch Haus, Santa Cruz CA 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Sioux - The One and the Many(2014)

The One and the Many is one of the most well-rounded, fully realized Self-Releases I have listened to in a long while. Sioux command a sound completely their own, they also manage to mesh it with stylings and composition reminiscent of some of the most successful Heavy Rock bands of our time like Mastodon, Tool, Queens of the Stoneage and Yob. Even as a band with a more accessible palette of tone and arrangement they still manage to keep that raw, honest core so often found in the darkest recesses of the underground.

The tonality of the instrumentation is very aptly ambiguous between Vintage Rock tone and Modern Hard Rock/Metal ambiguous that it tends to take the character of whichever I am imagining it to be in that moment. This is pure recording magic. Out of the lesser known modern bands of this day and age making an attempt at sprawling progressive rock, Sioux march along confidently putting the focus where it truly matters, the music, which is why I believe this album has turned out to be one of the finest examples of such endeavors to fuse different perceptions of rock music into a single cohesive experience.

This album is such a great experience, its hard for me to ruin it with words...I definitely wasn't expecting something so well put together and so atmospherically introspective from a self-release by a fairly new band, yet every time I listen I am swept on a journey that brings me from track 1 to track 6 within the blink of an eye and I am left wondering where I have been and what the fuck had happened the past half of an hour.

It seems the guys put a lot of hard work into the DIY release of this album, 100 hand numbered copies with each set of 25 containing a color variation of the wonderous album art. These are available for sale on their BandCamp and is sure to be an often returned to item in your collection.

Overall this album is a great triumph for the world of heavy rock music. Not only doesn't it satisfy the need for crushing heaviness, but remains listenable to the listener who may not normally be into such heavy things. A lot of times when something like this is attempted it seems very forced and fake, but the music speaks for itself and tells no lies, Sioux are doing what they love and know best, and damn are they doing it well.


Friday, January 10, 2014

Big Business - Battlefields Forever (2013)

 Battlefields Forever cover art

The business has once again been brought, and, as usual, it's big.
Several months ago I had the bone-shaking pleasure of seeing this trio (now more of a sludge quartet) play at a tiny bar in Portland. I woke up the morning after relieved that my ears, and entire body for that matter, had started to recover from such a night of abuse.  I also remember standing before the stage, in awe as to how three people could create such astoundingly powerful music.  Sure, it's possible to find bands who do it heavier, but Big Business does it with such conviction.  That night left me with one standout assurance: Jared Warren has the most enjoyably heavy voice I have ever heard.  I was hooked.

Battlefields Forever cuts to the chase and delivers a handful of metal hay-makers in typical Big Business fashion.  Their last full-length, Mind The Drift, with its deep, introspective aura, completely sold me on the band, and this album delivers more of what I have come to expect from the now quartet: music that is heavy regardless of what it emanates from.  It seems difficult to suggest what Battlefields offers that previous albums lacked, but suffice to say that it is equal to, if not greater than, anything  they've heretofore released.  It seems as though Big Business does what many bands hope to do, which is continue to create music that is both true to the sound they've come to be known for, and unique to each standalone album.  As a fan, I appreciate this unspoken commitment.   

The heaviness of the music matches perfectly with the vocals, which, again, are both burly and beguiling.  Here, on Battlefields, I hear less of Jared singing as hard and brutally as he can, and more of him harmonizing with the flow of each song.  Exceptions exist, however, such as on "Doomsday, Today!" where his vocal prowess is released to its fullest extent; Jared's voice, especially when he lets it loose, is truly a force to behold.  Musically, the vocals are matched by Coady Willis' relentless drum battery, who, when seen live, looks like some angry octopus whose eight arms have been distilled into two.  "Our Mutant", in addition to further highlighting Jared's unbelievable pipes, makes this clear.

As a fan of music who is not also a musician, this album comes at me as a wall of unwieldy strength that doesn't let up save for "Aurum", which serves as a brief, albeit engaging, intermission prior to the seemingly heavier, more aggressive second half of the release.  At first listen I found myself atop my mountain bike pummeling some hills and taking no prisoners as the sheer force of the music compelled me forward.  This is what Big Business does for me and, I imagine, for many people.  Their music inspires one, regardless of how mundane the situation, to continue on in the often slogging march of life.  Big Business, if played loudly, can be one's ally in the fight against monotony and apathy.       

The band in general delivers a unique sound that, like most good music, is hard to pigeonhole into a single genre.  Their music is definitely sludgy, catchy, heavy, and doomy, but it is also fun to listen to, especially when played loud, which is impossible for me, and most likely everyone, not to do.  Battlefields Forever sates my Big Business appetite for the time being, and the prospect of seeing them play with The Sword (yes, really) is, to say the least, something we should all be excited about.      
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