Thursday, November 26, 2015

Pulsar Colony - Cosmic Manifestations

This is an odd album. Despite having an engaging composition, the choices in tones and overall mix make it a fairly unrewarding experience. This isn’t an issue of everything being too raw or the kind of album that reveals itself over time, it’s just incredibly bland. Pulsar Colony’s Cosmic Manifestations is the audial equivalent of stuffing your mouth full of sandy cotton balls. The guitar tone teeters between practice amp and VST plugin, and the programmed drums take a massive toll on the album’s atmosphere. The percussion is an especially weird point because the 2013 release Equilibrium Zone has Matt Friend on drums, and is much more effective than the dry clicking we get here. Cosmic Manifestations has a sprawling and intricate architecture but all we get are the blueprints.

On paper, it all sounds great. Compelling melodies meld into one another with smooth transitions. Rhythmic strumming occasionally breaks up the pacing from the wall of sound tremolo picking to create a kind of experimental sound. Synth, lead guitars, and rhythm stack together and the vocals pop in at the right times to provide some extra focus. But, it all still sounds rather shoddy. With all of the attention that went into the narrative composition, the poor execution makes little sense. Despite the creative layering, the different instruments don’t even actively change dynamics to fit the composition. It really aggravates the sensation that the mix is too flat and dry. “Flat and dry” is problem for any band, but for a spacey/atmospheric band it’s a major issue. And, on a seventy-four minute album (bonus track included) with sprawling songs structures, it's rather devastating.

Nothing here is atrocious but some particularly questionable moments include the distracting flange effect and sleepy vocals on “The Dimensional Wolf of the Ginnungagap Singularity.” The bass tone too often booms over the mix instead of supporting the sickly guitars. Still, while Cosmic Manifestations is difficult to enjoy, it still has the strong composition and spacey atmosphere niche going for it. The thing is though, the divide between execution and composition is somewhat of a fiction. You can only get limited enjoyment out of how something could have sounded. It means that this ends up as an underwhelming release whose flaws major enough to hide the underlying quality. Normally in this situation you’d think about how this means huge improvements are on the way, but this is Pulsar Colony’s fourth full-length! It’s well past time to sort things out and invest in the project. The music deserves it.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Martyrdoom IV - Congregation of the Extreme: Festival Journal

It's been a week. We've all been able to allow the ringing in our ears to cease and come to accept our future tinnitus diagnoses. I've spent the past week re-listening to practically every set from the festival and dwelling on my experiences and thoughts. While Maryland Death Fest continues to shift more and more into a European style mainstream metal festival and the metal community continues yearly to proclaim their disgust at festivals excommunicating artists and bands based on perceived extracurricular activities, Signature Riff's flagship Martyrdoom festival stands stalwart ready to host those not bothered by political correctness propaganda, not interested in seeing washed up 80's heavy metal acts, and not willing to shell out money to stand in a giant open space where the power of riffs become distant drones and thuds yonder. For the fourth year in a row New York City via Brooklyn welcomes underground metal monoliths with class, dignity, and respect allowing the listeners and fans the ultimate opinion.

Originally intended to be a regular one-off show for Father Befouled and Encoffination, the original installment quickly ballooned into having several international acts make the voyage to play in year one. Year two saw an attempt to increase the festival's scale again, going to a three-day event. Perhaps trying to grow too much too fast, Martyrdoom III recoiled, with a return to Signature Riff's safehouse of St. Vitus Bar and a more successful festival overall with appearances by Mournful Congregation, One Tail One Head, Sargeist, and more. This year, six nights - five at St. Vitus, a preshow at Acheron, and an aftershow at Lucky 13 Saloon - of perpetual pummeling by some of the best in the world sets up future renditions to be as strong and draw just as many, if not more, maniacs to the black-doored metal-mecca of NYC. By the end of this year's Martyrdoom I'm convinced that my festival tradition is changing. Martyrdoom is officially my yearly festival.

Thursday started out unpredictably. I had work early and was informed that I would be getting shifted to manage a new department. So, Martyrdoom's genesis for me was a major change at work. Thursday night's lineup at The Acheron was just what is normally prescribed for these sorts of moments: utter and complete oldschool death metal of significant quality. The expectations were high with Vastum headlining the night. For the first time in my life I found a parking spot directly across from the Acheron and walked into the well decorated bar. With deep sea diving man staring down at me flanked by old portraits of unknown souls I murdered some time by gulping down a beer and, as I do every time I visit Acheron, devouring the heavenly creation they call their "bacon wrapped hot dog." I was severely miffed when the bartender cut short "Centurian War Games" when it came on shuffle. "It's not intense enough for tonight," was his response. "Rules change when Manilla Road is on shuffle," was my retort. I hold that to be true in every situation. Doors opened at eight.

To this day, I believe I will never use a bathroom as dreaded as the stage left Acheron chamber. Whoever thought it would be a good idea to leave a soaking wet mop and bucket in the space behind the toilet evidently uses a totally different bathroom. The smell in that cell exists in a different plane of olfactory misery. It smelled like year-old urine, cheap air freshener, and sewage. It was still not as awful as walking into a stall at Maryland Deathfest eight years ago and noticing that someone defecated on top of the toilet tank, but there was some semblance of humor in that for me. There was nothing visually hysterical about the smell present in that bathroom.

Coagula opened the set. These Bostonians were absolutely impressive for an opening band on a festival. There is no doubt in my mind that Martyrdoom lineups are entirely worth catching front to back. Coagula through Bömbers, every band was worth watching. It's rare that this is the case on a multi-day festival.

Coagula's sound is best described as a strong mix of Asphyx and Bolt Thrower. Swedish elements were frequent as well. These forces were strong the whole evening. Playing material off what I was told by their bassist and vocalist Sam to be a very quickly made rehearsal demo, they were a real surprise. Standout songs from their set were "Earthbound," with masterful hammer-on / pull off flairs and especially "Age Of Eden," which mashed an atypical-for-their-style melodic theme with the more traditional death metal without failure. Even some samples of marching music made it into their set. I was psyched I got to see them. Their demo tape, 2015 Rehearsal Demo, is sick also; powerful riffs, deep throaty vocals, intense memorability. Worth the five dollar investment for sure for a tape through the band and definitely the free download off their Bandcamp. It will get many spins over time for me.

Infernal Stronghold is a Philly band that seemingly appears all over the place. I've seen them several times before including a show recently opening for Peru's Witchtrap. They've got a notable hardcore punk influence in their sound and often engage the audience with dissonant surprises. Their short abrasive songs were the exception this night. I've never been a huge fan of the general style, but Infernal Stronghold do it very well and are a blast to watch live with a usually active audience. This was the tightest and most engaging of the two or three times I've seen them. They had a lot of energy. At one point guitarist / vocalist Eddie got his hair caught in the headstock of his own guitar and simply ripped it out and continued playing midsong. I love watching that kind of stuff. I'm not sure if I would drop them into the black metal genre they self describe as but it doesn't really matter when you do whatever you do well, like Infernal Stronghold...

Trenchgrinder sounded exactly as you would imagine them to sound. Once again Bolt Thrower is a huge influence - possibly the only influence - and they do it very well. As their set started the fog machine turned on and smoke billowed towards the ceiling. Drop tiles appeared to almost be on fire as smoke crawled across the ceiling. It was a nice touch for a band whose songs are generally about lighting shit on fire, bombing shit, flamethrowering shit, shoot shit, and general war-shit. The smog proceeded to build through the first track. Vocalist Owen Rundquist had some technical difficulties until the second track allowed a microphone switch. By then a definitive haze had permanently settled into the room and I'm surprised the sound engineer - I don't know her name but she did a phenomenal job with the sound for the pre-show - was even able to see the microphones and cables on stage. Their set proceeded without incident afterwards. It was easy to find headbanging moments in their tight and precision set. Trenchgrinder show themselves to be seasoned performers. My only criticism is that the last two tracks in their thirty minute set dragged a bit due to a lack of differentiation in the material. I would definitely see the band again but would likely hold off until after a new release to see a slightly adjustment in set list.

Vastum, in my opinion, are the spiritual reawakening of death metal. It's not just their hour long set of absolutely pummeling violent death metal that impressed me, though. It was all the intangible aspects of their live performance. The fog lingered from Trenchgrinder's set, yes... but apparently enough smoke to barely see your own hands was not an obscured enough atmosphere. Mist poured out of the smoke machine like water from a firehose until everyone was severely doused in a cloak of thick and heavy gloom. Red backlighting provided the only illumination and the wattage only allowed silhouettes of Vastum to be visible. Guitarists Leila Abdul-Rauf (also of Hammers of Misfortune fame (also see Sabbath Assembly)), Shelby Lermo, bassist Luca Indirio and vocalist Daniel Butler were shifting forms throughout their set. I couldn't see drummer Adam Perry at all.

This set the stage for a set made extra dangerous due to Daniel Butler's reckless stage performance. Not content to simply stand on stage and growl and scream into a microphone, Butler spent about half the set throwing people around in the pit, jumping off stage into people, knocking everyone into the loose equipment laying about the floor, and generally attacking the audience. He singlehandedly produced the festival's most violent pit action. I left with a welt on my forehead. Butler's command of the audience was similar to a Baptist preacher/healer. Butler often would grab the hair and heads of those at the front of the stage, scream and growl into their face, shake their heads around a bit and then push them back into the audience as if he were curing them of a great evil. He was. Daniel was curing them of whatever bad death metal had entered their lives in the past year.

Their set consisted of the entirety of Patricidal Lust plus one other track I'm not sure of. It's tough to truly describe their style. D-beat death metal with unpredictable transitions and accent blasts against a Swedish death metal foundation might be accurate but there is a large amount of doom death influence such as Deathevokation and Asphyx and apparently crust influence. It wasn't overly crusty to my ears. It reminds me of Undergang when I caught them also at the Acheron a while back. Their set was basically one long highlight, as Patricidal Lust is a definitive death metal record. If I had to choose a single song, "Enigma of Disgust" would have to be it. A simple listen is a good example why. Vastum could have headlined one of the nights of Martyrdoom. Perhaps the fifth installment will award them an appearance on the Vitus stage.

Here in the New Jersey / New York area we have these things called really bad drivers and really horrendous traffic. This is especially true driving into Brooklyn from New Jersey or Staten Island. Road work on practically every highway, at all times of the night, which seemingly never produces anything other than miles of traffic cone forests prevents any real predictable drive times. Thus, Friday night I got to Vitus right as Vorde was finishing their set. I've seen Vorde before, though.

The first band I saw in full Friday then was Discordia, who were the sophomores on the night's lineup before the seasoned bands stepped up to the plate. I enjoyed their set, even when vocalist Mixtli had thrown his voice out after his passionate performance. The band does second wave black metal well, with a lot of tremolo riffs, well arranged and memorable riffs heavily in the style of Immortal, and - once again - a high energy vocalist with a disregard for his own vocal chords. Though the other members didn't exactly produce a lot of stage energy or interest from me, Mixtli's veloceraptor screams and screeches elicited smiles from the crowd. He regained his vocal snarl during the final two tracks.

It was at this point that I released that Vitus was offering Warsteiner tall-boys for the same price as PBR tall-boys. Vitus also offers a bunch of draft options like Brooklyn Lager, IPA, their Vitus Lager... but open-topped cups are not a great idea with the unpredictable nature of the audience at a packed metal show. I saw at least four or five people get drenched in the five days as mosh pits coalesced from the audience around singular men and women trying to abdicate the area with their beer intact. Cans are definitely the way to go in this setting. Another astute observation is that it appears that metalheads generally speaking are as much into the quality of their beer as they are the quality of their metal. Over the course of the weekend, there was a definite shift in beer drinking from the usual PBRs to the more tasty and full-bodied Warsteiner.

Signature Riff has been a champion of Kommandant from the start, most recently putting out the band's split 7" with Aosoth. My third time witnessing them was not as impressive as earlier appearances. Their stage set was not fully set up. Yes, Marcus Matthew Kolar still had his podium. Yes, the band was still flanked by stoic gas masked additional drummers. Yes their set was still very much a sight to see. They didn't have their additional banners and accouterments, though, so the overall symbolism and aesthetic was diminished a bit. Playing a festival with several other bands which do the theatrical elements of their set well such as Gonkulator and Mortuary Drape helped Kommandant. By the end of the festival, theatrical elements of all the bands felt less like a gimmick and more like a necessary component to their sound and music. Kommandant - even without their full set - still raised the bar.

Their abrasive style and thick suffocating guitar attack reminds me of Marduk's World Funeral or Emperor. Kommandant is at their best when they gently experiment with moaned vocals and other vocal dynamics to separate them from a crowded pack of black metal artists. Their set was tight and theatrically attractive even if I spent a good portion of it trying to peek out from behind a seven foot- three hundred pound giant. Included were their portion of the previously mentioned split 7", "Drums of War," and "Der Maschinenraum," which has always been a favorite of theirs for me with it's ominous intro guitar riff. I think catching the band when they headline or co-headline would be best, as they would likely have their regalia and banners set up to give the full stage performance.

Photo by: Mathieu Bredeau
Mgla played both Friday night and Sunday night. Both nights absolutely packed Vitus bar. I don't think I've ever seen so many people crammed into the venue. Friday night was more congested. I watched them from the right back side of the room and could barely see anything. My buddy left after two or three tracks due to being too crowded. They played a lot of material off their most recent album Exercises in Futility. I thought the sound for their set was better on Sunday, thought that could be because I wasn't squashed between people. Both nights they played what sounded like the same set. I thought the guitars were mixed a bit too low both nights but what stood out were the definitive Eastern European black metal melodies. The band has a lot of influence from that region's scene. I was only familiar with a couple tracks and I recognized the second part of Exercises in Futility so that wound up being my favorite moment of their set. I've heard their earlier records are their best so I'll be checking out Groza for sure to see what all the hub bub is about. Sunday I watched several tracks then wound up taking with a friend back in the bar for a while. Their set was still audible and actually just as enjoyable as background music.

Photo by: Mathieu Bredeau
Headlining on Friday night was Sweden's mighty Necrophobic. Initially, I was amazed at how many people left after Mgla. A good third of the crowd had vanished leaving Necrophobic to play to a much more comfortably sized audience. Vocalist Anders Strokirk, recently reunited with Necrophobic, expertly commanded the stage and crowd. They were exciting to watch, even having been awake since five-thirty in the morning for work. I started to nod off near the end of their set until they launched into "Before the Dawn," and then ultimately, "The Nocturnal Silence."

Necrophobic's musicianship was impeccable. Guitarist Frederik Folkare - of Unleashed fame - and bassist Alex Friberg were on point all night. My only gripe is that a second guitarist may have helped fill out the sound a little bit more. Even with original vocalist Anders back in the fold, they played a very evenly distributed mix of material. I was expecting a couple more tracks off of The Nocturnal Silence than what was played, as I'm mostly familiar with that album and Darkside. Still, the new material off 2013's Womb of Lilithu fit well with older tracks like "Darkside" and "The Nocturnal Silence." No "Where Sinners Burn," in the set was disappointing for me, as I always felt the culminating track off their debut album was an iconic track, but I was overall pleased with being able to at least see Necrophobic, and I think that the response they received was strong enough to warrant a return in the future. Watch their entire set below courtesy of (((unartig))) - along with a bunch of other sets from Martyrdoom.

Saturday traffic getting to Vitus was EVEN WORSE. Additionally, with Paroxsihzem and Nightbringer having dropped off the bill, there was some question as to what the lineup would actually end up being. Ultimately Spectral Voice and Blood Incantation opened the night who I missed. This was unfortunate as their split 7" is awesome and Spectral Voice's demo tape - which I grabbed at the festival - is also disgusting. Gonkulator came on third with Sabbath Assembly taking over Paroxsihzem's original set time. Pink Mass came on at some point. There was some discussion of Kill or Omnizide playing the TBA set but that never materialized. I unknowingly asked Carl Warslaughter while waiting to piss if he knew who was going to play the TBA set and he mentioned they were asked bu they were all too drunk to play! Classic. The whole thing was a mash up that ended up resulting in a perfectly acceptable night either way.

I jammed into the venue just in time to catch Gonkulator, a team I've never heard of before, with a stage set up to look like some sort of satanic mad scientist's lair with an altar straight out of 1965's The Human Duplicators. Their shock-splatter presentation began with a longish ritualistic drinking of 'the virgin's blood' with the audience, twisting knobs on the altar-machine, and howling chants. Once drummer Charlie Infection found his drum-throne, Gonkulator splashed through short-quippy tracks in as sloppy and disgusting a method as possible. With the previous nights being occupied by serious bands, and the rest of the nights being inked with serious bands, Gonkulator's comedic approach was a great mid-fest refresh. Metalheads do have a sense of humor.

After the introductory segment, "Hail The Baron," opened their set, with a gracious crowd involvement. They proceeded through several grinding tracks with a swampy murky soundtrack behind them to add to the atmosphere of their performance. Included was a severely slowed down cover of "A Hell On Earth," by Discharge. They played a few tracks off their recent album, Reborn Through Evil. "Joseph - Son of David" was a highlight for me due to sheer awfulness and for the very audible lyric "he never ate her pussy," which predictably elicited a chuckle from my immature mind. Overall, their entire set was just under twenty minutes, making it the shortest set of any band of the festival.

I was extremely surprised by Sabbath Assembly. They were very much the odd-(wo)man out on this festival. With all the other bands being of the extreme category, Sabbath Assembly confidently presented a heavily traditional doom influenced set. I was initially trying to figure out exactly who they reminded me of and started running through names like Slauter Xstroyes, Cirith Ungol, Candlemass... and then I realized they sounded exactly like Hammers of Misfortune (see Vastum*). I double checked and sure enough vocalist Jamie Myers had done her time on vocals and bass for the California cult favorites. I spoke with Jamie briefly after the bands set while picking up their recently released self titled album. I agreed with her that the differentiation from the rest of the bands was a blessing in disguise for them, as it concentrated the interest of a specific segment of the audience to their material.

Guitarist Kevin Hufnagel (Gorguts, Dysrhythmia) is impressive as a stand alone musician but paired with bassist Johnny Deblase and drummer David Christian the trio creates an occultist atmosphere and vibe with heavy psychedelic influences. I was not expecting how consistent their material sounded with all the various styles they weave into their sound. They opened their set with the percussive "Risen From Below," which much like Kommandant, featured additional drum syncopation. "Ave Satanas" was my favorite track initially while listening to their set, starting with a thrashy guitar intro and moving through anthemic chorus sections. The similarly titled "I, Satan" was also intense. Overall, the performance of these inconnus turned out to be one of the my top five of the whole festival.

I parked literally in the middle of nowhere.
I left before Revenge on Saturday, knowing I would be seeing them Monday with less people jammed up against my appendages. I also missed Pink Mass, wherever they were positioned in the set. Pictures of their live show looked pretty wild with wild beast-hair donning moshers. They apparently played twice actually, also materializing after The True Werwolf. Ultimately, leaving early Saturday for the after party at Lucky 13 Saloon was a wise move. Even getting there an hour before the first after-show band went on, I had to park a good ten minute walk away down a forgotten dead end street. I arrived at the bar, peeled back the big old church doors and stepped inside into what, I imagine, Heavy Metal heaven to be. Mercyful Fate blared out from the long-bar's speakers, horror movie posters and show flyers plastered the walls in an immovable reflection of the patch emblazoned leather and denim jackets and vests of the clientele, scantily clad tattooed dancers slithered across the bar top with ease to collect their dollars while gyrating to King Diamond's high pitched banshee cries. My second thought was how Lucky 13 Saloon is essentially a parody of the heavy metal subculture in many ways. I imagine that Lucky 13 Saloon is what little grandmas imagine in their minds when someone mentions "Heavy Metal Concert". In hindsight, I don't believe it's entirely inaccurate nor to be taken negatively.

I managed to get my twenty-dollar after show ticket with no problems or wait. Within twenty minutes, the line for tickets suffocated the bar making drink-gathering and refilling an impossible task. I accrued a single beer and found some space in the empty concert room segment in the back of the bar. I walked over to the single merch table set up and - because I had no idea who the bands playing the afterparty were - was super excited to see One Master merch. We've covered the band on Contaminated Tones before (Steve with a live review and myself with a review of their Live in the Castle of Quiet demo). I bought a shirt while introducing myself to Valder in person which Ryan (Doctor Messiah) complimented me on the following day at vitus. "Nice shirt!," which I heard, but didn't get to respond to. Nice shirt indeed! The True Werwolf had a limited edition t-shirt print which will surely go for shitloads of money in several years. I killed time speaking with Nick, one of the guys who books Millcreek Tavern in Philly. One of his friends also joined the conversation momentarily, while sipping absinthe. If I had known, I would have gotten some absinthe instead of the beer with my precious moments at the bar. One Master went on first.

To say One Master was amazing would be an understatement. Valder really knows how to look imposing. Musically, One Master is just as imposing. They initiated their set list with "At The Hour Of Saturn," the first track off their lauded 2015 full length, Reclusive Blasphemy, and filled the rest of their set with material from the album as well. Initial high-pitched tremolo picking from the opening melody portended the endless highlights that adorn their art and, thus, their set. Reverb soaked, Valder's vocals were in full force, stinging long after their amplification. Continuing with material off Reclusive... "A Cursed and Dismal Mind" followed with its big doomy introduction and immediately recognizable tormented guitar harmonies. Having been one of my favorite tracks off their live tape before hearing the awesome full length rendition. The relentless "Intolerance" followed with "Infernal Silence" closing their stern set. The familiarity was nice, compared to other bands which I enjoyed, but had no idea of what their songs were. Another of the festivals highlights.

Photo by: Mathieu Bredeau
The True Werwolf was a band I was not familiar with. Even with Werwolf's (Lauri Penttilä) involvement with Satanic Warmaster, Armour, Horna, and a band called Orlok - which has no connection to Countess yet nevertheless intrigues me), I had never come across the project. I wish to no longer be not familiar with them after the awesome hour long black metal miasma. I was concerned that my attention would drag through another black metal set at the ripe one-thirty in the morning start time. My fears were alleviated with their first track. Their classic black metal approach in many ways emphasized a rock and roll subcurrent found in bands like Venom and Motörhead. Other songs reminded me of Darkthrone's Transilvanian Hunger and subsequent releases. Unfortunately, not knowing a lot of their material was a little bit of a damper but being able to track down "His Kingdom," which was one of the highlights for me was awesome. The end of their set consisted of a bunch of covers that went over really well. Killer riffs. Live the track comes across as way tighter than the album version. Finding The True Werwolf's material seems to be a bit rough so hopefully after a couple years of seeking it all out, they'll play again and I can really go nuts.

Totally irrelevant, yet adding a lot to the vibe was a super drunk passed out dude who spent the last twenty minutes of The True Werwolf's set on the floor snoozing. I caught the exchange with the woman behind me on my audio recorder. Saturday night was overall my favorite night of the festival, especially for the after party. I left after The True Werwolf. The hour drive home was spent recycling some of the awesome moments throughout the show while listening to Coast to Coast AM as I do often after shows on the way home. I got home as George Noory was beginning the last hour of the show.

Photo by: Mathieu Bredeau
Sunday was my only sleep-in day. After waking up at three oclock, I ran a couple small errands and slept an extra hour before leaving to pick up a carpooler in Carteret. Traffic was not as heavy and we caught the last few moments of opening act Sangus' set. Basically, I got the impression that Sangus is big dudes playing big 'stupid' death black metal. They had a really good sound, tight, with a lot of stage presence. Vocalist Vovk maintained a bloody face throughout the set, rubbing blood from the stage floor on his face. Good start to Sunday's lineup. I'd see them again.

Dark Descent Records sent Phobocosm over to represent what is quickly becoming one of the most successful labels in the underground. The quality of bands such as Phobocosm are hard to argue with. Their performance was not without issues though, as guitarist S. Dufour had some early equipment issues. Once solved, though, Phobocosm pummeled with a generous mix of Immolation and Incantation bred death metal. A mix of slower parts and faster parts kept me interested. Not familiar with any individual songs by the band but I'll likely pick up Deprived with my next Dark Descent order.

I did not watch Black Anvil - I'm not into them at all. They seemed to get a good response from the crowd though. Demonomancy, however, grabbed my attention from the start. They mix the blistering black metal war-metal stomps and marches of Bestial Warlust with severely sedated death doom sections not unlike Disembowlment. Songs included elegantly titled tracks such as "Baptism Of Serpents Conceived In Martyrdom" and "Impious Revelation (Bestiality Prevails," among other verbosely titled portions from their Throne of Demonic Proselytism full length. I was somewhat surprised that they didn't get as much crowd enthusiasm as I felt they deserved. I know I found myself headbanging steadily through their set, and I'm normally quite tame with my expressions (unless you're Liege Lord). Observations throughout the festival showed zero interest in moshing. A lot of people were keen to watch, headbang, drink their beers, and clench their fists in adoration. Without intending to sound pretentious, it would be fair to assess the Martyrdoom crowd was composed mostly by high-minded individuals focused on absorbing the music, (except those two girls that got into the hair pulling match...), picking up some merch, and enjoying the company of friends. For some bands, this possibly worked out in their favor, though maybe not so much with Demonomancy, who would have benefited from some crowd-violence. The gurgling bass tone provided by Sin Desecration was a highlight for me, as a bassist. I commended them on an excellent set and bought the last copy of their album they had. 

Mgla followed, who I already spoke about earlier, and then the mighty Mortuary Drape who played both Sunday night and Monday night. Mortuary Drape played the same set both nights however their set on Sunday had a slightly better sound as Monday guitarist Daniele Cagnotto sounded less audible on his leads and vocalist Wildness Perversion encountered some brief moments of notable feedback. Drummer Marco Binda had some issues with his foot pedal or something also which took a couple minutes to fix. All this aside, Mortuary Drape provided a memorable set for me.

Their stage set up was the same as when they played Sonar at Maryland Deathfest X, with the purple amplifier coverings and podium cover. The stage set helped hide Wildness Perversion's - and the same could be said of Kommandant's vocalist as well - penchant for not doing a whole lot other than singing and making hand gestures. Most of the energy was provided by bassist S.C., who appeared to really being having a blast playing, and performing, as he interacted with the headbangers up front naturally. Sunday, I stayed off to the side mostly but Monday I headed stage right to get closer to where more of the stage action was going on. I spent a little time stage left to get some pictures, where there was more standing room.

Mortuary Drape remind me a lot of Mystifier with more traditional metal elements. Their songs are often weirdly composed, as evidenced by "Obsessed by Necromancy," and it's stubborn chugging movements and accented verse riff or "Mortuary Drape," which includes similar stunted riffing patterns. Iron Maiden is invoked with the bass intro to "Crepuscolar Whisper." Other tracks which stood out: "Necromancy" and the set closer, "Abbot," which saw some heightened thrashing in the pit. I would have loved to see a different set on Monday, as it would have demanded attention for both nights of the set.

Monday was a rough day overall. I got home Sunday night at two in the morning and had work at five-thirty in the morning. I crashed afterwards and slept until about six in the afternoon. After picking up my buddy, we got to St. Vitus as Kill had just started their set. Kill experienced some major guitar amp issues with guitarist Jim Voltage's amp head having to be replaced mid set. Afterwards, though, their set was good, especially last track which I believe was "Inverted Funeral." I had expected a bit more from the band to be honest. Their black thrash style was a nice difference from the other bands of the weekend up to that point. Unfortunately, they couldn't capitalize with the technical issues. I'd like to give them a second chance if they make it back to the northeast sometime soon.

Omnizide followed who were a bit generic. They opened their set with Chopin's March Funebre played gently over the public address system. Their black death approach wasn't bad. They were well rehearsed, ran into no technical issues, and had a good sound. I just couldn't get into them and didn't really latch onto their material. Vocalist Mikael Nox (Craft) was on point, with powerful vocals and a good stage presence. Their material was mostly faster, with some slower moody parts occasionally. They were basically the middle of the road as far as the festival was concerned. In my mind I was watching the no man's land of the festival; a band for everyone, and for no one. They weren't pure black metal mayhem, they weren't ultra fast blasting war metal, their slow parts were not as slow as some of the other bands... the fact that they were followed by Revenge didn't help their cause.

Photo by: Mathieu Bredeau
Revenge prefaced Mortuary Drape on Monday night. I had seen Revenge once before but I can't remember where. They were vicious. The dual vocalist approach of one low-gutteral vocalist and one higher register vocalist works really well with their war-metal material. With Chris Ross aka Vermin handling the higher vocals, and live bassist Tim Grieco aka Haasiophis handling the lower vocals, they rummaged through the audience's mental faculties with tracks such as "Pride Ruination" and "Mass Death Mass." The drumming ability of James Read through all this transfixed me. I could watch that guy play drums all day. I would say he was the most impressive drummer of the entire festival but I have to give that award to Malthusian's Johnny King by a hair. The endurance necessary to play Revenge's material is insane. Revenge was easily the best band on Monday and the smaller weeknight attendance made me glad that I decided to watch them on Monday instead of on Saturday when the crowd was thicker. Listening to their endless assault of riffs and attack of percussive technique would be less rewarding as a sardine. Mortuary Drape closed out Monday night.

Tuesday amounted to one big Norwegian party. But first, Bell Witch tickled my experimental interest brain-spot as I walked into Vitus early Tuesday. A single drummer, a single bassist, and a wall of sound to rival Manowar. I was upfront, my legs and stomach vibrating like a poorly balanced tire. Bassist Dylan Desmond quested through myriad bass techniques and pedal effects, mailing his tone through an Ampeg head and finally through two Orange amplifiers. From angelic fingers, his bass notes were rendered into gravity bombs as they swooped through empty air. Once again, as a bassist, I loved every second of what I saw. Both Desmond and drummer Jesse Shreibman contributed vocals. I wish I saw some merch from the band but either I missed it or they didn't have any.

The first Norwegians of the night were Studfaust. I guess I have to mention Faust on drums. There. Did that. Studfaust were fun! I thought that their rock and roll style was a good complement to the rest of the weekend. They would barely fall into the black-n-roll category being much more a heavy metal band maybe similar to 90's Helicon with raspier vocals. Compared to Blood Tsunami, Faust looked to be having a ton of fun playing the Studfaust stuff which was mostly laid back compared to what he's capable of. Some of my favorite tracks of their set, which was mostly taken from their recent Where The Underdogs Bark EP were "Hell Is Full", the comical "Erection of the Egoist", and the party anthem "1980's Ladies," which vocalist Tore Bratseth (Old Funeral) had a lovely woman from the audience come up and sing with him on. It was a lighthearted set, made more fun with Tore's song introductions and facial contortions which often married Axl Rose and Sebastian Bach. They closed out their set with a cover of Twisted Sister's "Shoot Em Down."
Andy Cunningham clenches his lower jaw
as he does his best German power metal
guitarist impression.

Initially Blood Tsunami were going to play immediately after Studfaust, but instead Ireland's Malthusian were moved to the fourth slot of the night. Their deep powerful death metal was a welcome reminder of the extreme metal foundation which Martyrdoom has been founded on. Malthusian were similar to some of the other death metal on the bill, such as Demonomancy with less black metal influence or Vastum with less grind influence. The other major separating factor was the gargantuan drumming of Johnny King. Incorporating a lot of toms and, dare-say I tribal, drumming elements into his technique gave Malthusian a decidedly unique movement to their material.

Evident in the whirling miasma of guitars, held together by the structured drumming in opening track, "The Gasless Billows," which also opens their recent Below The Hengiform EP, was just how brutal death metal can be without resorting to being unlistenable. This was followed with the creeping "The Mother's Blade" from their 2013 demo. "Mother's Blade" was my favorite track of their set, as it highlighted nuance, melody, and composition while simultaneously ripping the audience apart. They closed with "Forms Become Vapor," once again from their recent EP. I think it was ultimately appropriate to move them before Blood Tsunami, even though I enjoyed their set more. Malthusian, while excellent musically, could have been a bit more engaging to watch. Aside from the requisite headbanging, we could have been watching classical musicians with distortion pedals.

So Blood Tsunami followed, once again with Faust on drums. Also making another appearance was Peter Michael Kolstad Vegem (Pete Evil) who admirably performed bass duties in Studfaust. His responsibilities in Blood Tsunami: Guitars and Vocals. The band performed without bassist Carl, who apparently wasn't able to gain entry to the US due to what likely was some form of myriad bureaucratic bullshit. Dor Amazon rounded out their lineup as the second guitarist. Blood Tsunami were fun to watch, mostly because of Pete Evil being quite mobile and energetic. Their thrashy material was enjoyable live and I could see myself going to see them again live, as their material was entertaining on-the-spot. My favorite track was the one that Peter forgot the title to called "Killing Spree," which opened with a "Raining Blood" influenced riff. Overall, however there weren't many individual standouts from their forty-five minute setlist.

Closing out the whole Martyrdoom festival was the highly touted set by Abbath and his Motörhead cover band, Bömbers. Tore Bratseth from Studfaust provided the guitars expertly. I think what made this set extra special, besides the fact that it was Abbath doing Motörhead covers, was that with all Lemmy's recent medical scares, to hear Motörhead songs in person, performed perfectly, and sounding just like Motörhead is an affair which a lot of people know we won't have the opportunity to experience forever, as dreadful as that sounds. Knowing that there is someone out there who will carry the torch, even if it is as a cover band, is settling both to fans and maybe even to Lemmy himself in some strange way. No one expected that within a day from the festival ending that the news of Phil 'Philthy' Taylor's death would pervade newsfeeds, facebook walls, and heavy metal blogs the world round.

Abbath was perfect as a Lemmy doppelganger. From the crunchy bass tone produced from his Rickenbacker to the adjusted iconic opening lines of "We are Bömbers, and we play Rock and Roll too!" were soul-warming. Throughout, his smirks and puckers imitated God's own tendencies. Perhaps Abbath was missing the hat this time but no one noticed. Opening was "Bomber," with a rousing crowd participation. Followed were classic after classic: "No Class", "Killed By Death", "Orgasmatron", "Iron Fist", "Stone Dead Forever", "Metropolis", "Overkill", "Stay Clean", "(We Are) The Road Crew", "Motörhead"... Other tracks tossed in included "I'm So Bad", "Shoot You In The Back", and "Over The Top." Everyone knew all the songs. Everyone knew all the words. Bömbers' performance was a testament to the Motörhead legacy. The  subtle details such as Abbath attempting to recreate the classic howl of 'the loudest voice in any road crew!!!' from the No Sleep Til Hammersmith rendition of "(We Are) The Road Crew," are what really made Bömbers so enjoyable for me. Screaming 'stand up straight!' during "Metropolis" was a rush, as it seemed like only Abbath and myself were aware of one of my favorite Motörhead moments. "Ace of Spades" predictably and necessarily closed the whole set. 

Abbath simply saying "...anyway," to a concertgoer yelling "Blizzard Beasts," made me chuckle deeply and I think emphasizes just what kind of an intimate setting Martyrdoom IV offered. Ultimately, Martyrdoom was six straight days of underground metal pilgrimage in a way that other festivals just don't quite match up to. The overall vibe of a smaller packed venue had every band appearing to be important to watch - which they were. For myself, every day I found myself adding at least one or two bands to the list of material to delve into. I came home every night with some records, tapes, or merch which I bought off the bands directly, instead of spending a few hundred at distros and having little to give to the bands. The whole feeling was that of a much more intimate group of fans and die-hards. The reasonable food and beer prices were neither exploitative or exploited. Parking was easy to find every night in the local streets and not a stress at all. 

From a local's perspective, there's no reason why anyone wouldn't want to attend one or two nights of Martyrdoom if underground metal and extreme metal are your passion. Making Martyrdoom a week-long trip or vacation is totally doable and with mid-late afternoon start times plenty of exploration time is available to check out landmarks and sightseeing in New York City. Because of the area, prices for hotels and food might be a smidge more expensive than would be found elsewhere but the rewarding surroundings are worth taking advantage of. I also really like the decision to move Martyrdoom from late June to November. Martyrdoom Festival is really the essence of underground metal. The choice of bands, choice of locale, and after and pre-show parties make it a must-attend. I know I am looking forward to next years Martyrdoom already.

If anyone has some better pictures of Malthusian or
Bömbers and would be willing to let me use them, that would be much appreciated! Of course, I will link to websites or give credit.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Olzirtox - Antihuman Biowarfare

Anti-religious themes are par for the course in black metal. It’s something that’s so commonplace that it’s usually not worth mentioning. Olzirtox’s EP, Antihuman Biowarfare, though - it’s an entirely different level of vehement hatred. A quick look at the cover art shows that along with the typical inverted crosses and sigils of Baphomet we’re also treated with a crossed out Star of David, cross, and star and crescent. Also, one more thing - the bloody and gruesome decapitated head. This aesthetic matters, because the music on Antihuman Biowarefare isn’t any less blunt or violent than its artwork.

After opening up with some demonic spoken word vocals, Olzirtox’s absolutely pummels the listener with vicious black metal. The overall low-fi sound is reminiscent of the old school Norse approach. Unlike the countless awful raw black metal bands out there, this comes across as a period appropriate tribute to the classics. Olzirtox’s tone is thin without sucking the power out of the energetic and heavy riffs. There is a huge amount of hissing treble but it enhances the atmosphere rather than masking the composition. The music’s abrasive edge comes across as something deliberate rather than incompetence, even the demonic spoken word vocals seem like a throwback.

Antihuman Biowarfare isn’t without its flaws. There’s only around twenty minutes of music, and far too much of this is made of up samples and the demonic vocals. A lot of this could have been cut down without sacrificing the mood. “666: A Forceful Display of Satanic Propaganda” even has some samples of bleating sheep people screaming. The symbolism is about as painfully obvious as it gets, almost like how Glen Benton of Deicide is so over the top that he basically writes lyrics about filling a punching bag with bibles.

If you like aggressive black metal, this is worth a listen. Olzirtox has more creativity than their blunt nature may suggest. The use of guttural vocals mixed into the black metal rasp and clever dynamic range on “Total Destruction of the Jewish Christ” are more obvious example of this. Yes, it’s very much an EP that retreads black metal’s past, but it’s strong enough for that to not be a problem.