Immolation, Arsis, Disma – July 28th – The Studio at Webster Hall, NYC

These are the kind of performances I live for; the shows where perfect sound, incredible feats of musicianship and intimate settings let us step through the looking glass into the meaning of metal. The entire evening didn't entail such glorious suspension of disbelief, but Immolation were certainly true to their name on this night, incinerating the souls of the fans who came out to celebrate their 25th anniversary.

Thursday was my first visit to this underground appendage of Webster Hall. It appears to be a venue capable of both excellent sound and unfortunate muddiness, completely at the whim of the band's equipment and of the person behind the sound board. I came out to the show alone, but the venue was packed with familiar faces. Ross Dolan and Bob Vigna were hanging out at the Immolation merch table speaking with friends and fans. I chatted with them briefly while picking up a T-shirt. They're incredibly friendly guys.


I'd never heard of Disma until they were added to the bill at a late date. New old school death metal is not an instant win for me; many proponents of this resurgence simply do not interest me. Disma, however, have got the extra sauce that gets me drooling. Before the show, I checked out their 2009 demo, The Vault of Membros and was extremely impressed. I only found out later that the band had signed on to record an album for Profound Lore Records. Somehow that came as no surprise.


Disma is comprised of seasoned veterans who served in bands like Incantation, Funebrarum and Goreaphobia at one time or another. Imagine what Incantation would sound like if they'd ever recorded at Sunlight Studios – it's not hard to conjure up a vision of the grisly death that will follow. In person, these songs really win, with excellent and memorable rhythms to accompany compelling riffage.


The audio mix was not optimal for Disma. The guitars were too quiet, blunting the edge of their sound. Although the venue was decently cooled, it was clearly a wretched steam bath up on the stage. Vocalist Craig Pillard seemed to be melting before our eyes. Perhaps the heat was also affecting the rest of the band; apart from some brief headbanging, Dimsa were largely static on stage. I don't think the crowd really cared; there was quite a buzz about these guys and everyone seemed quite engaged by their set. Keep an eye out for Disma in the near future.

Next up were Arsis, whose appearance on this bill was only a little bit strange. I think we can concede that A Celebration of Guilt is a landmark album which I personally still enjoy quite a bit. My interest in Arsis has diminished with each release, however. The crowd seemed split between folks who were rabid fans of the band and a larger group who were mostly indifferent to their performance. I haven't seen Arsis live since they toured with Enslaved in 2007, so I was fairly interested in seeing them play.


The mix was wretched for Arsis' set; the guitars were buried behind the drums and vocals. And really, who wants to watch an exhibition of guitar wizardry when you can't hear the guitars? Some people seemed to be enjoying themselves, but I had to leave the room. It was a shame.


By this point I was in absolute terror that the awful sound would bleed into Immolation's set. As they took the stage I realized that a new face had appeared behind the soundboard, so there was still hope. “The Purge,” the first proper track off their new album, started off the set. The mix was complete perfection; the guitar amps were perfectly mic'd, with the drums and vocals in perfect harmony. Win.



I'm a huge fan of Majesty and Decay; it's certainly one of my favorite albums of the year. The band played a good number of tracks off it, and the crowd was pleased. I was lost in completely blissful headbanging throughout the set. A few folks tried to get pits going, but for the most part we stood there like an enthralled mob of head-bobbing fools.



It's been said before, but Bob Vigna is ridiculous on stage. He plays his instrument like he's performing a bizarre guitar mating ritual. He mouths the words to each song while Ross Dolan roars. Besides demonstrating an endearing eccentricity, these mannerisms really show how much this core duo have communed to give these songs meaning.


Somewhere along the way I realized the dim lighting was going to defeat my negligible photography skills, so I decided to shoot some video. This worked out great for one track, but turned absurd for “Father, You're Not A Father.” As you can see below, I got caught in a mosh. This song really sent the crowd into fits. The band played two tracks off Dawn of Possession; first the obligatory title song, and then “Burial Grounds.” The latter song also started a decent pit.



Steve Shalaty was incredible behind the kit. I loved his drum work on the new album, and those rhythmic accents were appreciably audible in person. It's absurd how well oiled Immolation feels in a live setting. That perfection really manifested for “Unholy Cult,” filled with demented cadence and intricate corkscrew riffing.

“Passion Kill” closed out the set with thunderous consequence, driving that righteously perfect riff home into our cloven skulls. With much pain in the neck, I left the venue sated. The only omission I'd note is the lack of tracks from Here In After, but I can't really complain. This was one of those life-affirming shows that keeps me alive to grind another day.

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Soilwork, Death Angel, Augury, Mutiny Within and Swashbuckle – July 16th – Gramercy Theater, NYC

What a night. I love Swashbuckle, dig Augury, admire Death Angel and celebrate the entire Soilwork catalog, so I was pretty excited for this one. I rode solo on this evening, queuing up outside the venue on a line that stretched around the corner. I instantly felt like a geezer; clearly the crowd for this show was quite young. At the same time, the heat and humidity were preposterous; precious fluids were dripping onto the pavement outside the Gramercy Theater. My only hope was for decent air conditioning in the venue. Not gonna happen.

Once inside the theater I headed straight downstairs to the merch area, which was mobbed. Barred a view of the precious booty, I went into the bar to start drinking. It probably wasn't the best idea. In the lounge area I heard some mopey hipsters complaining about Swashbuckle's pirate regalia. I'll defend this band to the noose, but I was still too sober to engage in a conversation with these fine individuals.


Back upstairs, Swashbuckle's intro music garnered quite a reaction from the growing crowd. The thrash pirates tore straight into tales of pillage from their latest album. A righteous circle pit rotated throughout the band's set, providing a nice breeze in the sweltering corner I had claimed. All the folks around me were plastered with smiles during the plundering performance. The sound was great, but the band sped through each song as if they had one eye on the clock. Clearly there were too many bands on this bill, and Swashbuckle was the first victim. Believe me, “Cruise Ship Terror” was a ripping good time, but the increased velocity of the songs diminished some of the groove that gives these tracks life. Still, it was a great time, and I can't wait for a new album from the pirates three.


Between sets I acquired more alcohol and met up with Justina Villanueva, present as usual to shoot the madness. Mutiny Within took the stage quickly and proceeded to plow through a set that drove the kids wild. I enjoyed the band's debut album quite a bit, but in a live setting Chris Clancy's clean vocals came off a bit too syrupy for my tastes. Some of the young folks seemed to swoon as if we were witnessing a boy band in action. It was very strange. During the set, I started to notice some animosity amongst the rest of the crowd. One guy was doing sit-ups on the floor as if to exhibit a manliness superior to Mutiny Within. Cat calls and heckling were also going on and were genuinely uncalled for. The band persisted admirably and put on good show.


At first pass, I didn't take to Augury's Fragmentary Evidence last year. The album did grow on me though, and I ended up buying it recently. The LP sports some absolutely brilliant moments of technical/progressive death metal, and I was looking forward to catching it live. Augury sounded fantastic. The material really shined in person, but again it appeared that the band was rushing through the set. Front man Patrick Loisel is an eccentric dude, to say the least. He played his guitar upside down, flashed the finger at the crowd, cursed at us and delivered some seriously demented stage banter. Unfortunately, his vocals were almost completely buried in an otherwise decent audio mix. Also, the crowd was absolutely dead for these guys. I'd definitely like to see Augury again with some more enthusiastic fans.

Somewhere during the evening, in an increasing state of inebriation, I was introduced to the dudes from MetalSucks. We had some excellent conversation, as far as I can recall. Very nice guys, but I think the heat, dehydration and drunkenness must have dimmed my recollection of what was said. I do remember talking about the infamous Ziltoid as well as misidentifying the next band as Dark Angel. No, Gene Hoglan was not playing tonight.


My interest in Death Angel never really progressed beyond The Ultra-Violence and Act III, but I was definitely psyched to finally see them live. As the band came out, it was evident that plenty of old folks had showed up for this concert; they had just come fashionably late. The audience was a berserk mess of moshing, crowd surfing and brief circle pits for Death Angel.


The two albums Death Angel put out since their reunion didn't really grab me. Those songs were pretty compelling live, however. The few older songs they played garnered a rabid response from the audience. There's no way in hell you can't wreck out your neck for classic tracks like “Kill as One” and “Seemingly Endless Time.” The sound was pretty much awful during Death Angel's set; the guitars were so loud that they almost defeated the thrashiness of the music, but not quite. Mark Osegueda's vocals were barely audible, but he seemed to be having a great time. By this point I think I was having dehydration hallucinations; the awful pictures I took of Death Angel can attest to that. Still, it was a rockin' good time.

I was so beat after Death Angel that I almost considered skipping Soilwork. The blazing, fetid air inside the Gramercy Theater was just wretched. I doused myself with water in the bathroom and retired high up into the merciful stadium seating to chill out.


I suppose Soilwork is a guilty pleasure for me. I jumped on board with The Chainheart Machine and have been hanging around ever since. Peter Wichers' departure definitely diminished my enthusiasm for the band, but he thankfully returned. I saw Soilwork last year at The Chance, playing what was essentially a greatest hits playlist. I pre-ordered The Panic Broadcast and I'm still thoroughly enjoying it. I was really here to hear some new songs. Much new tunage was had.


Soilwork hit up the new album immediately, playing “ Late For The Kill, Early For The Slaughter” and then “ Night Comes Clean.” I've said it before, but I really dig Björn "Speed" Strid's voice. He fucking brings it live, perfectly reproducing his perilously saccharine melodic vocals. The audio mix was pushing into the red for Soilwork, but it was much better than Death Angel's sound. After a few tracks, the crowd's raucous energy drew me down from my perch, and I waded back into the pit.


Peter Wichers is a riff-machine and a joy to witness in person. His solos rose satisfying above the din to be perfectly audible. Some folks definitely left after Death Angel, but the floor was packed with enthusiastic maniacs throughout this set. We ended up getting five new songs in addition to venerable tracks like “Chainheart Machine,” “ Follow The Hollow” and “ The Flameout.” You could get upset they played nothing from A Predator's Portrait, but I think we can blame that omission on the overburdened bill. I had a great time, and I survived. Somewhere along the way I scored a Swashbuckle beer-coozie. What more do you need in life?

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Iron Maiden and Dream Theater, July 12th, MSG, NYC

My mind was blank on this night as I traversed the labyrinthine caverns of Madison Square Garden to find my seat. Any sense of anticipation I had for this show had dried up somewhere in between the daily grind, oppressive summer heat and debate about Maiden's setlist. I was joined by my cousin Art, trusty Jeremiah and one of Jeanne Fury's clones (how do you think she can be in so many places at once?) This would be my fifth pilgrimage to the altar of the beast, and it would turn out to be a surprisingly satisfying experience.

Dream Theater bounced onto the stage enthusiastically and were clearly excited to be playing The Garden. They started out with “As I Am,” a track from the album that completely turned me off to the band in the not so distant past. I suppose I'm hot and cold with Dream Theater; I enjoy their earlier material and became a desperate fanboy circa Scenes From A Memory. I had a blast with Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, but I lost the script after that.

I've seen Dream Theater with excellent acoustics on three previous occasions. I thought the booming echo of the arena did a serious disservice to the intricacies of their sound. On top of that, James LaBrie's voice sounded strained at times, at least to my ears. I've tried a couple of times to get into the newer material that comprised most of the set, but I haven't had much success.


The young folks sitting around us appeared to be in rapture. Their reaction at the start of each Dream Theater song was almost double rainbow enthusiastic. I tried to soak in their glee to no avail. Throughout the set I watched the GA pit writhing with bodies and lamented my failure to secure a spot on the floor. I usually avoid arena shows on principle, as distance dims the intimacy I appreciate at metal shows. That distance seemed to be a void for me with Dream Theater on this night. Even the anthemic “Pull Me Under” couldn't pull me out of my stupor.


I love all of Iron Maiden's post-reunion albums, although my enjoyment has decreased slightly with each successive LP. I personally think Brave New World is a classic album; it came out at a singular time in my life and those tracks hold plenty of personal meaning. When the band came out and ripped straight into “Wicker Man” and “Ghost of Navigator,” I was definitely smiling.


An Iron Maiden concert is a communal experience. This band is capable of turning 20,000 people into a single ecstatic, headbanging organism. I don't think you've really lived until you've sung the guitar melodies to “Fear of the Dark” along with an arena full of people. Each member of the band shares a stake in these powers, but it's really Bruce Dickinson that puts Maiden over the top. His boundless energy and enthusiasm are important, but it would all be for shit if he didn't pull off a pitch perfect vocal performance every time.


For what it's worth, our elevated seats gave us a good view of the crowd. Fans old and young were screaming, singing, dancing and throwing copious horns throughout the show. A fellow across the aisle from Jeanne Fury seemed to be having an imaginary dance-off the entire time. The crowd was surprisingly enthusiastic about the newer material. I think the post-millennial tracks served to frame the classics in a nice light.


I was certainly rewarded for having no expectations about this show. The newer songs sounded fresh and exciting to my ears. The band had been rotating a few songs in and out of the setlist early in the tour, but later abandoned the idea. I would have killed to see “Paschendale” live, but it was a casualty to the cutting room floor. I really shouldn't complain, though; this was a fantastic show and a fantastic night.

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Castevet – Mounds of Ash (Profound Lore, 2010)

Castevet have got something tremendously original going on. Mounds of Ash appropriates the melodic landscape of ambient black metal but eschews the droning passivity. Instead, Castevet present us with a rhythmically engaging experience that draws just as much from the world of noisecore as it does from frostbitten grimness. Melancholy ricochets off rage to produce a palpable tension, and that conflict manifests as pure auditory joy.

Andrew Hock's fascinating guitar riffs move between the comforting swarm of black metal, dissonant hardcore and haunting minor-chord arpeggiations. All the while, Ian Jacyszyn and Josh Scott churn up a polyrhythmic maelstrom. The result is frenetically tactile; this is the kind of album that makes you want to pound on the steering wheel, bang on your desk or just plain bang your head.

Andrew Hock's guitar melodies convey a serious melancholy, but the rhythm section never lets us mope or dwell on that sadness. In many ways, this dichotomy brings to mind the glory of Anodyne (bassist Josh Scott was also in that band) and the spirit that Mike Hill morphed into Tombs. “Wreathed in Smoke” is a prime example of this tension; the semi-acoustic arpeggiation might taste of sadness, but Ian Jacyszyn's drumming doesn't let you soak in it. Along the way, brass slowly enters the sonic field, then everything fades away and the horns stand alone to end the track. This somber intonation sounds exactly like the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant siren (only a few miles from my house), and that's more disquieting to me than you can imagine.

Andrew Hock's vocals are fantastic; each line rips from his throat in a cathartic rage. I saw this band live before hearing the album, so I can't but help visualize the brutal tremors that seemed to wrack the man's body as he expelled these vocal demons. This brings me to my only gripe with Mounds of Ash; there are no printed lyrics. I've seen mention of this in a few places, but when so much effort goes into the atmosphere of an album, you damn well bet I want to know what they're singing about.

The production on Mounds of Ash is of exceptional quality. This is by far my favorite of Colin Marston's recordings. The guitars are perfectly balanced against the rhythmic insanity that pervades the album, and Josh Scott's rabid bass lines have the perfect amount of space to smack you around.

Mounds of Ash is a success to my ears on several levels; these tunes are interesting and memorable, while the turgid rhythmic undertow demands your full attention throughout. The album clocks in at just under 40 minutes, and this is a perfectly digestible dose of dissonance for me. I'm definitely looking forward to Castevet's future output, and I'm excited to see them again live.

92/100

Castevet Myspace

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