Baroness – November 20th – The Bowery Ballroom, NYC

Blue Record digs deep into the elemental rock and roll that underpins existence. Such an epic album begs to be played live. Anyone who's ever seen Baroness knows they are a sight to behold on stage, so my expectations for this show were sky high.

The version of Blue Record I bought came with a bonus album - Live at Roadburn Festival 2009. The live album is a testament to the amazing chemistry that Pete Adams has brought to the band. I actually prefer these live versions of Red Album tracks to the originals. At the same time, the Roadburn performance shows us a band who like to bring massive spaced out jams and extensive intra-song noodling to their set. Some of the Red Album songs are stretched to absurd lengths. It's no wonder the performance on Friday night was characterized by these same qualities.

Jeanne Fury and I showed up at the Bowery in time for U.S. Christmas, who put on an often bizarre but entertaining show. At one point there were 8 people onstage, including 2 drummers, 3 guitar players, a violinist and the infamous crouching dude holding 2 tiny bells. Having never heard a note of their music before, I was actually impressed.

The Bowery Ballroom, like The Blender Theater, is not kind to openers. Both venues sport extensive downstairs bars that afford the crowd a chance to indulge their disinterest in unfamiliar acts. I completely missed Earthless' set, as I was swallowed by beer and conversation downstairs. The show started quite late, and as Baroness came out, the clock was already heading for midnight.

“Bullhead's Psalm” started things off on the appropriately esoteric foot, and “The Sweetest Curse” was incredible. Pete Adams thrashed as if gripped by a grand mal seizure. John Baizley screamed into the microphone with his mouth open absurdly wide, as if he could swallow it and the entire audience. The gorgeous, filthy, fuzzed out guitar tones of Blue Record were reproduced precisely here. I almost exploded when the first solo on “The Sweetest Curse” kicked in. I added my own air guitar stylings to the dueling lead. The sound was excellent, as it always is at Bowery. The vocals sounded fantastic. John and Pete showed off the same beautiful, ragged harmonization that they display in the Blue Record recording.

When “Jake Leg” kicked in, it really became evident how much these new songs rule in a live setting. The crowd, while quite energetic, seemed almost in shock at this point. It was about this time that I started dreaming the impossible dream – would Baroness play Blue Record in its entirety? Is that just a concert cliché these days? But it was not to be. After an elongated, Hendrix hallucination of an intro, “Isak” intervened. This seemed to wake the crowd out of their awed state. A modest pit broke out and remained in motion for the rest of the show. People were singing along with the guitar harmony in "Isak" as if it were “Fear of the Dark.” Unbelievably awesome.

The audience was pretty diverse. The composition tilted towards normal looking folks, which is fine with me. I don't care if a venue is filled with regulation metalheads or tragic hipsters; as long as they move and have respect for their fellow concert-goers, I'm happy. Unfortunately, a lot of folks seemed to be of the stiff variety – they didn't budge an inch or bat an eyebrow through the whole set. I can't stand that. I like to flail, thrash and bang my head while trying out any number of absurd dance moves. Can't you feel this shit in your soul?

To be honest, some of the noodling that occurred between songs caused my interest to wane. That also could have just been the alcohol. At other points, I was filled with rapturous metal fury. The long set was a true rock and roll journey, with highs and lows. Tracks from the First and Second EPs sounded out of place to me. Although they added an extra helping of heaviness, they didn't seem to fit the spirit of Blue Record.

I was especially psyched to hear “Steel That Sleeps The Eye,” with its clean guitars and harmonized vocals. “Swollen and Halo” destroyed, and “A Horse Called Golgotha” got a wild response from the audience. Allen Blickle and Summer Welch brought the galloping thunder of the song to vivid life. Damn, I love Blue Record. Red Album was further represented by “Wanderlust” and “The Birthing.” “The Gnashing,” one of my favorite songs on the new album came towards the end, and “Grad” closed out the amazing set.

Calling it “the first song Baroness ever wrote,” “Towers Fall” from the First EP was the encore. Decent song, but again, not up to the level of their last two albums in my book. All told, it was an excellent night. A good chunk of Blue Record was represented, and that did the job for me. If this album moves you like it moves me, you've got to get out and see Baroness on this tour.


Skeletonwitch, Black Anvil – November 14th – Union Pool, Brooklyn

As I walked into to the music venue at Union Pool for the first time, I was immediately struck by the smell. I was flooded with ancient memories of raging subterranean metal shows; it smelled like Coney Island High. Whiffs of prehistoric cigarettes, sweat of cro-magnon male and the distinctive odor of Pantene conditioner borne upon the wind by banging heads - that's the smell of metal.

The venue at Union Pool is a free-standing room, separate from the bar. In the outdoor garden that separates the two, members of both bands hung out with congregations of fans. It was a very casual scene. “El Diablo Tacos” provided a hilarious backdrop and excellent food. With “air conditioning provided by Satan,” the taco cart was clearly ready for the metal. The scene has changed drastically since I lived in Brooklyn. Not too long ago, your only Brooklyn venue for metal was L'amour, which was little more than a historically significant hellhole. Union Pool is serviceable and homey. I dig it.

The modestly small room started to fill up before Black Anvil's set, and it became obvious that all the folks outside weren't going to fit in the venue. As I perused the merch table one last time, the girl selling tickets had to start turning people away.

I picked a strategic spot in front of the bar as Black Anvil stepped on stage. They completely fucking raged. The sound was pretty decent, and the home crowd was enthusiastically feeling the blackened thrash. Paul Delaney hammered his bass with absurd fury and showered the crowd with his satisfyingly evil screams. Gary Bennett assumed his head-down-shred pose and only punctuated that with an occasional brutal howl into the microphone. Raeph Glicken, the tattooed wonder, beat the hell out of his kit and looked like he thoroughly enjoyed the workout.

Heads banged quite a bit to the well worn tracks off Time Insults The Mind, but it was the new tracks that really impressed. I would say a certain sense of refinement and complexity could be found in the enjoyable new songs. I'm certainly psyched to hear their upcoming album. At the very least, Black Anvil were the perfect complement to Skeletonwitch. When they finished, I met up with Jeanne Fury and we returned to the sheltered corner in front of the bar.

Skeletonwitch set up with a quickness. The venue was bursting at the seams, and it seemed that quite a few more people had mysteriously been let in. When the band hammered out the first shattering notes, the crowd started convulsing in all directions, with hair and fists flying. My neck was already sore, but extra beer gave me the endurance for a headbanging marathon.

These dudes completely destroyed. Skeletonwitch songs are built for the live experience - short, sweet and filled with glorious thashing riffage. New tracks off Breathing the Fire fucking crushed beyond dust. The sound was surprisingly excellent in the small space. Guitars were distinct and sharp. Chance Garnett was absolutely intense. The man drank enough PBR during the set to fell an ox. We were showered in beer multiple times. I liked the mix – Chance's vocals were audible, and everyone was screaming along. The crowd was fantastic – headbanging and pushing and shoving but perfectly civil. This is the way I love a metal crowd – very physical but devoid of violence. There was a smile on everyone's face and almost every last person was shredding the air guitar. Metal ecstasy.

The band had a tired, battle-worn look, having spent an eternity on the road. They also had the well-honed metal edge of infinite practice. Nate Garnette and Scott Hedric looked like their barely visible fingers could thrash out these riffs in their sleep. From my vantage point, Nate and Evan couldn't hide the smiles on their faces. The crowd was absurd. How a circle pit formed in those confines was an affront to physics. But it happened. Crowd surfers threatened to fly over the bar and completely annihilate it. The look on the bartender's face was priceless.

The setlist balanced equal parts fire and frost, showcasing every kind of shreddery. Seriously, this was the most fun I've had at a show in quite a while. If you haven't seen Skeletonwitch live yet, do it before you die. Deafening screaming from the crowd brought a two-song encore that ripped us limb from limb. Did I mention this was a blast? As we filed out of the venue, completely spent and dripping in sweat, Jeanne Fury pointed out the fire warden's sign: “Maximum occupancy not to exceed 74 persons.” Are you fucking kidding me? Clearly there were more than 74 people jammed in there. Either way, there are a hell of a lot more than 74 Skeletonwitch fans in New York. Headlining U.S. tour please?

You can check out the rest of the photos here:


Katatonia - Night Is The New Day (Peaceville, 2009)

Night Is The New Day is an enthralling album. My instincts tell me I should be appalled at the further evisceration of metal from the Katatonia sound. I want to be upset that this is the least guitar oriented album in the Katatonia catalog. I've battled back and forth with myself on the merits of NITND for a while now. In the end, whatever I find lacking in the instrumentation is outweighed by the overall result. At the very least, this is the vocal performance of Jonas Renske's career. He has achieved something startling here as a songwriter. The album is a coherent, consistent and self contained vision of Katatonia's future.

On NITND, the majority of the songs are driven by keys, atmospheric sythesizers and clean guitar lines. Heavy guitars are used as more of an accent, and the guitars in general are no longer the backbone of the music. The drums are muted in the mix and often digitized. I think the result is quite different from anything Katatonia have thus far achieved.

"Foresaker," widely circulated as a sampler, opens the album with what is essentially false advertising. It’s the heaviest song on NITND, and it's also the only one that offers an aesthetic continuation of The Great Cold Distance. An infectious rhythmic guitar line accompanies fantastic vocals. Jonas’ voice is pitch perfect and perfectly morose. "The Longest Year" formally introduces us to the new Katatonia sound, with digitized drums, sparse clean guitars and strings. The heavy part sports a distorted, bendy riff, but the synths still overshadow it in the mix.

On "Idle Blood" Jonas manages to do a near perfect impression of Mikael Åkerfeldt's clean singing. That should give you some indication of how great his voice sounds on this album. The song has a Porcupine Tree vibe, with an extra helping of mournful sorrow. "A black state of mind" indeed.

"The Promise of Deceit" features an ingenious syncopated guitar riff that Jonas follows in a dispassionate monotone. "Nephilim" starts with an awesome vocal line, harmonized with a wailing guitar riff. "Day And Then The Shade" has some heavy guitars and keys that make me think of middle-era Dark Tranquillity. Every bit of this album is dripping in melancholic depression. Astoundingly, NITND might be the darkest thing Katatonia have ever created.

The album is beautifully crafted, with incredibly clean and concise production. When it comes down to it, I suppose NITND embodies more pop sensibility than you'd expect. I keep thinking of the last Peter Gabriel album, Up; everything here is really a vehicle for Jonas' vocals. And it works. A handful of memorable guitar riffs can be found throughout the songs, but it's the vocals that will linger in your head. I can't help but like this album, no matter what my metal sensibilities tell me. I think that's the point.


Night Is The New Day is out today, 11/10, in North America.

Night Is The New Day site
Katatonia Myspace

Full disclosure: Peaceville provided me with a promo copy.


Pelican - What We All Come To Need (Southern Lord, 2009)

I have to admit that my first reaction to What We All Come To Need was a disappointment. I've been listening to Pelican's instrumental insanity a lot over the last few years and have become particularly attached to City Of Echoes. It took me a while before I could step back and give Pelican's Southern Lord debut some space. It was worth the effort.

The first thing you'll notice about this album is a change in the rhythm section. Larry and Bryan Herweg have been oft criticized by Pelican detractors. They've certainly stepped up their game on WWACTN. They sound positively vicious. At the same time, they're much further forward in the mix – almost to the point of washing out the guitars at times. At the very least, the drums and bass are turned up to 11 here. The overall effect is a less passive sounding album. WWACTN demands your attention.

Trevor de Brauw and Laurent Schroeder-Lebec are masters at marrying sludge metal riffery with clean post-rock guitar melodies. Trudging, downtuned riffs drive each song, while distinct melodic movements develop on top. This pattern still works to fantastic effect on WWACTN. Unfortunately, I think it starts to get a bit formulaic here at times. There are still tons of incredibly inspiring moments on this album. There are also plenty of riffs that will make your head bang uncontrollably. I guess my main issue is that there doesn't seem to be much sense of adventure on WWACTN. I realize that this is a cognitive, not aesthetic issue. With each subsequent listen, though, this thing wins me over a little bit more.

“Glimmer” opens up the album with a guitar riff that evokes Gustavo Santaolalla's dusty Latin vision. The rhythm section thunders in, and you've got your first indication that things have changed. Following their well-worn formula, the leads interweave with the sludge in a pleasing manner. Four and a half minutes into “Glimmer,” we get the first melodic break. Clean arpeggiations follow a nice bass line in a staccato dance. Gorgeous stuff.

“The Creeper” starts with an almost bluesy riff that makes me think of driving across vast American landscapes. From there, it breaks into a prototypical Pelican stomp. This song moves, and you can't help coming along for the ride. Generally less complex than the average Pelican ditty, there's something irresistible about “The Creeper.” “Ephemeral” follows, taken from the EP of the same name. It's a fantastic song that definitely sounds great live. It also contains the thrashiest riff on the album. It demands noddin' of the noggin.

“Specks of Light” is driven hard at first by a feral bass line. In short order it gets a helping of memorable melodic sauce. Close to the three minute mark, we get a ringing mellisonant moment that really grabs you. There's definitely some of the spacey The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw feel here.

The remainder of the album is mostly engaging, and when whenever it lulls, a heavy riff draws you back in. The razor sharp drum and bass production also serves to focus your attention more acutely on the music. WWACTN is an album that thirsts for the open road. Great driving music. The most joyous song ends up being the title track, towards the end of the album. It ends with an effect-laden melody that devolves into thin air.

The guest appearances from Aaron Turner and Greg Anderson go mostly unnoticed in the instrumental din. The most notable outside contribution to the album is Allen Epley's vocal performance on “Last Breath.” To be honest, I think the singing diminishes the song. Epley's voice makes me think of Jerry Cantrell. Although it works well, I don't think it's necessary or innovative.

WWACTN is a worthy addition to the Pelican catalog. It took a while to grow on me, but that's OK. If I were a newcomer to the band's music, I'd certainly start elsewhere. I think in the end, what we all come to need is just more Pelican. I'm psyched to hear some of the new tracks live. I'm planning to check them out in December at The Highline Ballroom in NYC.


Pelican Myspace - it appears the entire album is currently streaming here.



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