Deafheaven, This Will Destroy You and Emma Ruth Rundle, The Mohawk, Austin, 3/2/2017

Deafheaven is a band that I find fascinating in that they present a bit of a conundrum for your average metalhead.  These guys are a band that deals in a vein of black metal in which they have imbued with their own individual flavor.  There are two things that are kind of working against them in relation to the metal community at large.  First, image.  Let’s face it,  metalheads are fairly conservative in their tastes.  By and large, you show up in some combo of black tour shirt, jeans, sneakers/boots, battle vest, leather jacket, etc.  In the black metal universe, the general rule is that you are going to hit the stage in corpse paint and some sort of leather warlike and/or gothic outfit with spikes and various armaments.  Deafheaven eschews all tradition by cultivating a hipster ethic in appearance.  These guys look exactly like any number of dudes you would see hanging out at your local specialty coffee shop.  Actually, they kind of look like every band nerd that you knew in high school.  One of the guitarists actually hit the stage in a Depeche Mode tour shirt last night.  There is nothing wrong with this at all, but for some reason, the way that the guys in Deafheaven look has created a bit of a ripple of controversy in the metal world.  It’s like metalheads are just insulted that Deafheaven refuse to embrace the “metal” look.  Which leads me to point #2 which is that Deafheaven not only is a black metal band, but that are black metal band that is in touch with its feelings.  Oh the HORROR!!  Really, if hispter emo black metal was a thing, then Deafheaven is its creator.  Black Metal is supposed to be the bleakest of the bleak.  Frozen wastelands, zero hope, complete desolation and, of course, God is an asshole.  This is what your black metal denizen expects and requires.  When the five hipsters from San Francisco roll out songs with titles such as “Baby Blue”, “Dream House” and “Sunbather”, the grimmest of black metal fans is going to start feeling conflicted and uncomfortable.

So, the weird thing about all this is what I experienced at last night’s concert.  I honestly think I may have been the only “true” metalhead in attendance.  Usually, metal shows are a smorgasbord of metal concert shirts.  It’s always part of the fun for me to see all the different shirts that people break out for shows.  I seriously didn’t see one metal shirt at all in the crowd.  This crowd was made up of hipsters as far as the eye could see.  I saw dudes in stylish hats. I saw dudes in floral pastel shirts.  I saw dudes wrapped in scarves.  I saw a dude in a kimono.  I saw all sorts of waxed facial hair.  This was a really weird crowd and it was composed of people that I really wouldn’t have guessed would be into black metal.  But they went absolutely nuts during the show.  They absolutely ate up what Deafheaven was throwing down.

So the conundrum is this:  Why are hipsters drawn to Deafheaven and not other black metal bands?  And, as a corollary, why do “true” metalheads tend to discount Deafheaven and view them as not quite “real” metal?  Late last year, I went to see the traditional black metal band, Belphegor, late last year.  It was a traditional metal crowd.  I didn’t see any of the type of people in attendance that I saw at last night’s show.

This whole thing is really irritating to me.  Deafheaven is a super band.  They are taking a traditional genre of metal and they are putting their own creative spin on it.  This should be celebrated.  They are really good musicians and the songs are just epic with numerous breaks in intensity and melodies.  I just think that if your typical metalhead could put aside the surface level issues that they would see that Deafheaven is METAL; regardless of how they look or the subjects of their songs.  On the same coin, I would love to see some of these hipsters branch out and come see some traditional metal bands.  Are you just into Deafheaven because they look like you?  If you dig the genre in which Deafheaven exists, then branch out and expose yourself to bands like Darkthrone, Immortal and Bathory.

Ultimately, I just want to bring people together.

So, beyond all that, how was the show?  Fantastic.  These guys just deliver live.

Also on the bill was San Marcos’ This Will Destroy you who really provided some seriously atmospheric rock landscapes.  It was just mesmerizing.

Surprise of the night was opener, Emma Ruth Rundle.  She was really fantastic in performing these atmospheric rock songs that would start out quiet and just crescendo into these blazing walls of sound.  Her voice was just amazing.

Here are a couple of clips of Deafheaven doing their thing.

Brought to the Water

Dream House

Ex Deo-The Immortal Wars

So, Ex Deo is basically Kataklysm giving voice to singer Maurizio Iacono’s fascination with the ancient Roman Empire.  This is album number three for the side project and the focus this time around is on the Empire’s conflict with its most notorious adversary, Hannibal.  Ex Deo is still in the death metal realm, but it is given a little more bombast than the Kataklysm sound by adding symphonic elements to the mix.

I honestly expected a little more out of this thing when I heard that they were working on a new album that was going to be centered on Hannibal.  This is such a rich story that it really could have been the basis for a truly epic album.  However, the album at hand really feels more like an EP than a full album.  At eight songs (with one being a symphonic interlude), this is just a breezy release that feels over as soon as it starts.  I can’t imagine this one having much staying power in the years to come.  Nothing on the album is bad, but it just doesn’t rise to the level of being anything remarkable.  It really feels that Maurizio and the guys were focusing more on the presentation of this band with the replica Roman Centurion uniforms and the gorgeous artwork that accompanies the album than coming up with better songs.

2 flip flops out of 5

Killer Dwarfs at The Rock Box, San Antonio, 2/25/2017

This was a fun show.

For the uninitiated, I need to provide a bit of background to the metal scene in San Antonio.  For many years from the late 70s until the early 90s, there was a really awesome metal/hard rock radio station in San Antonio called 99.5 KISS.  Their program director and main DJ personality was a guy named Joe Anthony, who was affectionately known as The Godfather.  The Godfather and his other DJ cohorts were given a great amount of freedom to push bands and songs in which they really believed.  Anthony was a great champion of small metal bands and his promotion of these band led many of them to become institutions in the city of San Antonio.  Talk to old school metalheads from San Antonio and you’ll hear stories about bands such as Moxy, Legs Diamond, Budgie, Riot, Saxon and tonight’s headliner, Killer Dwarfs.  Friends of mine used to joke that a copy of Moxy and Legs Diamond’s debut albums and Riot’s Fire Down Under were placed into the crib of every newborn child in San Antonio. These bands probably have a greater percentage of their fan bases located in San Antonio than anywhere else in the world solely because of the constant support Joe Anthony provided.  To this day, even though Joe Anthony passed away in 1992 and 99.5 KISS is no longer the metal station it was, when these bands play San Antonio it is a cause for celebration amongst the metalheads that remember the old days.  The idea of the classic 99.5 KISS just makes me nostalgic about having a radio station that allows its DJs to have the creative freedom to play songs that aren’t a part of some master, corporate-approved playlist.  In my opinion, this is a big reason music in general is just so homogenized and sanitized.  My winning-the-lottery dream is to buy a radio station and set up my friends that have an extensive passion and knowledge about a particular genre of music to craft and host their own radio show with no restrictions on what they play.

Anyhoo, on to the show.  As I said, this was just fun.  Killer Dwarfs’ heyday was the mid 80s to early 90s.  They were a little band out of Toronto that came out of the hair metal tradition and played a NWOBHM influenced metal.  In the early days of MTV, they actually got some fairly decent airplay with goofy videos for Keep the Spirit Alive, Stand Tall and We Stand Alone.  Even though the band hasn’t put out in new material in a good long while, they sounded absolutely great and broke out all of their well-known songs.  You could tell that they really love the city of San Antonio and got a charge from the energy coming from the crowd.  Sadly, singer Russ Dwarf didn’t break out his trademark tricycle for a spin around the stage.  It appears as though the tricycle is now on display at the Hard Rock in Toronto.

Here are some clips to give you a taste of the show.

Comin’ Through

Union of Pride

Stand Tall

Keep the Spirit Alive

Dirty Weapons

Overkill-The Grinding Wheel

Goddamn Trouble?  More like Goddamn Institution.  Here they come with album #18.  18!!!!

In many respects, the Second 4 (Testament, Overkill, Death Angel and Exodus) of iconic thrash bands have a more impressive track record than that of the Big 4 (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax).  The Second 4 bands have kept their collective heads down and just keep releasing solid album after solid album.  Metallica could definitely take some tips from Overkill on how to not fuck around with the creative process.  Overkill is one of the most consistent bands going in metal today.  Every year and a half to two years, you just know you’re going to see that green, bat-winged skull “Chaly” Overkill logo and hidden within that package, Blitz, D.D. and the remainder of the crew are going to bludgeon your head open with no-nonsense East Coast Thrash.

So, how does this new slab of metal stand up in the Overkill catalog?  This is not meant to be dismissive at all, but this is just about your middle of the pack Overkill album.  No surprises at this point.  You kind of know what to expect from an Overkill album.  Maniacal Blitz on the mike with his trademark snarl and impish attitude.  Blitz is honestly the closest thing we have to a modern-day Bon Scott.  His stage presence just cannot be beat and he just plays the part of a fun-loving scamp who has no tolerance for everyday stupid shit.  The band is in top form and old age has not softened the edges of the metal being pummeled by the boys.  Album opener, Mean Green Killing Machine, just sets the table and the neck-wrecking pace just never lets up through this whole platter of awesome thrash.

Go see ’em live when they come to your town.  These guys can’t be fully appreciated without seeing them in a live environment.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Mors Principium Est-Embers of a Dying World

The Washington Post could surely add this title to its dismal taglines going forward.

This is the sixth (sixth?!) album these Fins have released.  How is that possible?  I remember stumbling upon them when listening to some compilation demo CD way back in the early aughts.  They have been cranking out seriously technical melodic death metal for years now and it is really surprising to me that they haven’t become more well known over the years.  Maybe it’s the way the band name just really doesn’t roll off the tongue all that easily (It’s Latin translated loosely to “Death is not the end” in case you were curious).  Also, I don’t believe that they have managed to tour the States as of yet.  Hopefully this changes in the near future.

For a band that does not have a keyboardist among its permanent members, Mors’ sound it driven heavily by symphonic keys.  The keys take as much as, if not more, of a forefront on the sound of this new album as the guitars do.  Overall, this album has some solid songs sprinkled throughout, but I have to say that it is a bit of a disappointment coming off the very solid predecessor, Dawn of the 5th Era, from 2014.  I can’t really pinpoint what it is about this album that just falls a bit flat.  There is nothing really wrong with this record, but it just doesn’t grab the listener as some of their previous releases did.  I just have a feeling that this is an album that is going to fall back amongst the rabble of other generic death metal releases this year.  It’s a crowded field and it takes a little something special to stand out.  These guys have the talent to do that as they have proved in the past.  I have a feeling that this album may be just a speed bump in the road going forward.  At least I hope so.

2 flip flops out of 5

 

 

Metal Church at Grizzly Hall, Austin, 2/21/2017

“Turn it up that chainsaw sound!”

Yeah!!!  That is a heavy metal lyric if there ever was one.

“Please sign this affidavit so my insurance won’t go up!”

Um, yeah??  Whatever.  The song in which that lyric pops up in is so badass that I don’t even care that it involves insurance premiums.

Both lines come from Metal Church, an almost forgotten thrash gem from the lovely state of Washington.  Long before the advent of grunge, there was Metal Fucking Church.  Dammit.  I really have to say that I had kind of forgotten how badass these guys are and what a large chunk of my high school soundtrack they composed.  There isn’t a clunker in any of their first five albums.  The last time I saw them perform was the summer before my senior year in high school in 1989.  Metal Church opened up for Accept and W.A.S.P. at the old Austin Opry House.  This was the first of many shows where I was way more excited to see the opener than I was about the headliner (even though W.A.S.P. did put on a pretty damn good show this night as I remember…The Headless Children Tour…best album they ever put out).  As a dorky and giddy 17 year old, I remember rushing up front as soon as the doors opened and claimed my spot on the barricade just left of center stage.  It absolutely made my summer when lead singer Mike Howe rushed on stage to start their set and proceeded to give me a serious high five.  I just felt cool.  I probably haven’t felt that cool since.

Metal Church kind of entered the wastelands after releasing 1993 album Hanging in the Balance.  Lead singer Mike Howe called it quits after poor sales.  Metal Church continued on. They released four albums with a new singer, but these albums never captured the magic of their early years.  Last year, Mike Howe re-joined the band and they released the very solid XI album.  Last night’s show was a celebration of the classic era Church with a sprinkling of songs off the new album

It really felt as if these guys never left.  The songs sounded fresh and the band sounded completely on top of their game.  Howe hasn’t lost a damn thing off of his trademark soaring vocals.  Kurt Vanderhoof just solidified himself in my mind as one of the great composers of 80’s era classic thrash riffs.  Plus, he’s aged into a damn near doppelgänger of David Simon, creator of The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Street.  I’d like to think that they are the same person.  It would make sense that the creator of the riffs in Start the Fire, Beyond the Black and The Badlands is the same guy to create characters like Jimmy McNulty, Stringer Bell and Omar.  Sorry, I digress.  All this shit was going on in my head during the show last night.

Anyhoo.  Here are some sample clips.  I hope you enjoy.

Fake Healer

Start the Fire

Beyond the Black

Badlands

 

Riviere-Heal

Here’s the first surprise album for me this year.  Riviere released their debut album, entitled Heal, on January 20 of this year.  I had never heard of these guys until stumbling upon a sample song and was slightly intrigued by what I heard.  I decided to give the album a chance and was extremely happy that I did.

This French quartet has crafted a solid and inspiring slab of progressive post-metal that is in the mold of a mellower Intronaut.  Every song on this album is a standout and this is easily my favorite release of the new year so far.  The songs are crafted with multiple layers of instrumentation and vocal stylings.  This album is just a dense wall of sound all the way through.  It has just made a mark on me and I haven’t been able to stop playing these songs over and over in my head.  I hope to hear more things out of these guys in the future.

4.5 flip flops out of 5

Pain of Salvation at Scout Bar, Houston, 2/14/2017

When my fiance and I first started dating, we came up with this question game in an attempt to get to know each other.  One of the questions that came up was, “What band that you haven’t had the chance to see perform live would you like to see?”  My answer was Pain of Salvation.

I have been a been fan of these guys since I first heard the album The Perfect Element, Part I, way back in the year 2000.  They were a perfect progressive metal machine.  Each album they release is something unique all to itself.  They never repeat themselves musically and lyrically, they have put out some of the most emotionally bare and philosophically deep songs produced in the metal realm.  They are just one of the top notch bands going.

Sadly, they just don’t tour the States very much.  They have played the Prog Power fest in Atlanta a couple of times and have had a couple of limited runs in connection with those appearances, but I was never in a position to make an extended road trip to see them play.  Finally, with the release of their new album In the Passing Light of Day earlier this year, they announced another small tour of the States and actually set some dates in Texas.  I managed to get time off from work to make the drive to Houston to finally see them do their thing live.

The only negative thing I can say about this show is that three members of the core of the band, guitarist Johan Hallgren, drummer Johan Langell and keyboardist Fredrik Hermansson, all left the band within the past few years.  All three of these guys were instrumental to the classic Pain of Salvation sound.  The only founding member remaining is vocalist, guitarist and main songwriter, Daniel Gildenlow.  It was just a little bittersweet not being able to see the “classic” version of the band.  The members that he has brought on to fill out the current Pain of Salvation lineup were all capable musicians, but it did feel as though I was seeing a bit of an imitation of the actual band.

As far as the show itself, it was pretty cool.  The setlist focused primarily on the latest album with a sprinkling of classics culled primarily from the Remedy Lane and The Perfect Element albums.  The club maybe had around 100 people at most, so it was an intimate show.  The sound was great and the songs came across very well in the live setting.

So, I can take these guys off of the list.  I think next up on the list of bands I’ve never seen live has to be Amorphis.  And those dudes are coming to San Antonio in April.

Here are some snippets of songs from the show.

A Trace of Blood

Linoleum

Beyond the Pale

Meaningless

Alcest at Grizzly Hall, Austin, 2/12/2017

Like most people, I think I’m like a lot of folks in that I get easily distracted.  What with having the entire internet at our fingertips at all times, it sometimes becomes a serious obstacle to block out everything and just be in the here and now completely.  Concerts are a way in which I try to get back into that “Be here now!” mentality.  I have always loved concerts because they are a fleeting thing.  It’s a moment in time between the band and the audience and when it’s over, it’s gone forever.

Sometimes it is hard to get completely lost in the music at a show.  Whether it’s trying to avoid the drunken asshole moshing out of control in the pit, trying to block out assholes loudly conversing about random shit during the show or trying to force oneself to not heed the call to document this fleeting event by photos or video (totally guilty of this), it is a struggle to maintain that connection that can develop at a good show.

This connection happened in really awesome way at the Alcest show this past weekend.  Alcest is a little band from France who deals in a very melodic and ambient sort of black metal/post metal hybrid.  Kind of like if Russian Circles had vocals.  For whatever reason, the music just sucked me in from the moment they came out on stage and it just put me in this very zen-like trance.  I just let go of everything that was going on in my head and just let the music take me on a journey.  It was just a magical evening.

I broke my trance on a couple of occasions to get a little bit of video to share with you.  Both of these tracks are from their latest album, Kodama.

Eclosion

Oiseaux de Proie

Soen-Lykaia

Soen is the band started by ex-Opeth drummer, Martin Lopez.  Lopez was an instrumental force on Opeth’s strongest period (from My Arms, Your Hearse to Ghost Reveries).  I was a big fan of his drumming style and was really interested when word spread that he was starting his own band.

Lykaia is Soen’s third album to date.  Up to this point, Soen has mainly been seen as a Tool knockoff.  Soen’s vocalist, Joel Ekelof, conjures to mind a mixture of Maynard from Tool and Mariusz Duda from Riverside.  Very soft and melodic in his delivery.  Musically, it is straight up Tool style rhythms.  If anything else, Soen can be used as an effective salve for any DT’s you may have developed while waiting for a new Tool album to drop.

Lykaia sees the band attempting to move away from the Tool comparisons a bit, but overall it is an uneven delivery and an uneventful album.  Album openers Sectarian and Orison both come galloping out of the gate, but the remainder of the album is not able to capitalize on the strong start and just sort of meanders without much direction.  It remains even more disappointing in light of the talent of the musicians involved.  I would hope that these guys would be able to harness a little more originality going forward.

2.5 flip flops out of 5