Archive for July, 2010

Postcards From Natalie Zed: Part Four

Posted in CD reviews with tags , on July 19, 2010 by Natalie Zed

I write a series of postcard-length album reviews for  Hellbound.ca. This is the fourth installment. You can read the original here.

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Sign Of The Southern Cross – …Of Mountains and Moonshine (Season of Mist 2009)

Sweat-stained and bourbon-soaked, this album sure knows what it’s on about. The sound is fat, humid and dirty is all the right places. SIGN OF THE SOUTHERN CROSS never lets the listener suffer too long from heat exhaustion either. Songs like “Weeping Willow” are as soothing as night air through a screen door on the hottest day of the year. I seriously dig this album, mosquitoes and all.

Korpiklaani – Karkelo (Nuclear Blast 2009)

I saw KORPIKLAANI with TYR, WHITE WIZZARD and SWASHBUCKLE at the Opera House on January 10th, and holy hell was it a good show. Every time I listen to Karkelo, I vividly recall being showered with beer, having my ribs crushed, and being hit in the face with a headbanger’s dreadlocks. I might love this album a little more than I should. I’m okay with that.

Dying Fetus – Descend Into Depravity (Relapse Records 2009)

I really, really wish I had something pithy and succinct and witty to say about this album. I wish I was inspired to talk about the beefiness of the sound, the quality of the production, or the tension that builds in my neck muscles as I listen. Instead, the 17-year-old boy who seems to have taken over my brain cannot resist pointing out that the cover art looks exactly like it should grace the box of a GTA-esque video game. Doesn’t it seem perfect for a murderous sandbox shooter? Also, John Gallagher sounds exactly like Nathan Explosion.

Persona Non Grata – Shade In The Light (Sensory 2009)

I like the progressive sound and the dominant keys that characterize Shade In The Light, but the vocals leave me quite cold. I wanted to sink into this album, relax into it fully, but kept coming up against a wall when it came to the voice.

Nirvana 2002 – Recordings 89-91 (Relapse Records 2009)

This is all there is, all that exists, of the “other” Nirvana.

I have a box in my room that is full of chapbooks, broadsheets, pamphlets. These small printed artifacts, stories and poems, line drawings and comics, were all produced by Canadian micropresses. Most of the owners and operators of these presses are my friends. They made things because they loved to, often just with their home printers and photocopiers and long-necked staplers, and once they had sold or given away the print run (100 or 50 or 25 or 10 copies), they usually couldn’t afford to make any more. I hold this box of ephemera among my most precious possessions. It is possible that some of the things I have are the only copies that still exist in the world.

This album is the musical equivalent to that silly, invaluable pile of paper I keep moving with me each place I go. This is ephemera in the truest sense of the word – an album made from recordings of rehearsals, live performances, demos. The sound is as fuzzy and degraded as any third-hand photocopy. This collection of all there is left to hear by NIRVANA 2002 is a monument to impermanence, a reminder that, every now and again, something that might have disappeared completely can be saved.

Death Angel –Sonic German Beatdown Live in Germany (Nuclear Blast 2009)

As someone who is inevitably drawn to lyrics, vocals are always terribly important to me. If the voice doesn’t do it for me, the album is probably going to leave me cold, regardless of the quality of the rest of the music. Live albums can be tricky for me as a result, since the vocals tend to suffer outside a studio environment. Happily, this could not be further from the truth on Sonic German Beatdown Live. Mark Osegueda’s voice kicks ass recorded on an outdoor stage.

Weapon – Drakonian Paradigm (AJNA 2009)

Sometimes what strikes me most about an album is the way my body reacts to it, especially when I am not paying attention. Sometimes I find myself outside, walking around my neighbourhood at a quick-march; sometimes I pace the hallway fretfully; sometimes I really want to punch something. Sometimes my legs unconsciously shake; sometimes my head bobs; sometimes my hands convulsively clench and relax. And sometimes I just find myself just giving up and sitting in the bathtub. This album, however, left me at a loss – my body did not know what to do, how to react. There is a buzz, and itch in my muscles, that isn’t easily placed or assuaged. I felt caught between the need to be perfectly still and tear a building down.

Mayhem – Ordo Ad Chao (Season of Mist 2007)

Lily the Pirate: “What is this?”
Me: “Mayhem.”
Lily the Pirate: “Huh.” *reads the copy on the sleeve* “Apparently this album ‘spits on you, rapes you.’”
Me: “And ‘leaves you rotting.’”
Lily the Pirate: “Mayhem: they’ll totally shit in your eyes.”

Culted – Below The Thunders Of The Upper Deep (Relapse Records 2009)

How ugly. How perfectly, perfectly ugly.

Urgehal – Urgehal (Season of Mist 2009)

There’s a separateness to each aspect of this album. I was aware of each instrument, including Nefas’ voice, as a distinct entity as I listened. This gives the album’s sound an unexpected sense of friction, a granular texture—and a strange sense of loneliness.

Pestilence/ Wetwork/ Necrodios @ The Mod Club, June 15 2010

Posted in Concert Reviews with tags , on July 19, 2010 by Natalie Zed

Here is my review of the Pestilence/ Wetwork/ Necrodios show that took place at The Mod Club on June 15th 2o1o. You can check out the original here, along with some slightly-less-terrible-than-usual pictures.

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Metal shows are often surprisingly ineffable, almost liquid things when it comes to details like exactly who is going to perform and when. Last-minute (sometimes drastic) schedule changes are par for the course. The initial lineup for this show included Enfold Darkness, Wetwork, Vital Remains, and Pestilence. A few weeks before the show, however, it was announced Enfold Darkness would not make it over the border, and that local band Necrodios would perform in their place. By the time I arrived at the Mod Club, it was clear that Vital Remains were unable to make it to Canada either, resulting in a short, tight, three-band line-up composed of Wetwork, Necrodios, and Pestilence.

Despite the necessary lineup juggling, the vibe in the room was positive and friendly. While the rest of College street were glued televisions in bars all tuned to the World Cup, everyone in the Mod Club was pumped up for Pestilence‘s return to TO after nearly two decades. This palpable excitement was not surprising in the least. What did catch me slightly off guard, to my absolute delight, was the quality of the drumming I was privileged to enjoy. As it turned out, the gents behind the kit impressed me the most at this performance.

The night kicked off with Necrodios, the latest addition to the lineup. This Mississauga-based band made it clear throughout their performance that they were positively thrilled to be sharing a stage with Pestilence and Wetwork. They clearly gave all they had, imperfections and all. Their performance was fine, simple entertaining. Vocalist Jericho Asinas maintained harsh vocals while bantering with the crowd and introducing the band, which I always find quite funny. They did seem a bit out of place on the bill—or, rather, it seemed to me that they felt that they were, and so embodied that nervousness in their performance. Nerves aside, they were gracious performers who fulfilled their role as opening act adequately and admirably.

Next up were Wetwork, whose name comes from a translation of the Russian phrase “mokroye delo,” referring to an assassination or another job that has become bloody (or “wet”). Their name proved to be an accurate metaphor for their sound and style of performance—Wetwork are out for blood. Kristen “Doc” Parker is a curious frontwoman. Tall and imposing, even more so on stage wearing epic platform boots, her long dark hair takes on a life of its own, and she possesses one hell of a growl. She’s not incredibly energetic, striding slowly and carefully across the stage, languorously writhing, and making heavy eye contact with the crowd, but she is quite an arresting performer. However, it is Chris “Mezz” Mezzabotta who really steals this show. His playing is positively superhuman, though not in a mechanical, robotic way. Some excellent drummers, seemingly tireless, can seem as they they have absorbed the inhuman qualities of their kits, and seem made of metal and plastic. Mezz is profoundly physical; instead of taking on the qualities of his instruments, he transforms the drum kit into an extension of his body. He makes the kit seem made of flesh. It is completely riveting to watch.

I enjoyed the hell out of Pestilence’s set. Everyone in this band is a finely-tuned musical machine, and all played flawlessly. Super tight, their sound was thick and intense yet supple, almost elegant in its sophistication. I particularly enjoyed the songs they played from their first album, Malleus Maleficarum. It was very easy for me to surrender to their music being played so proficiently live; I had a bangover for several days afterwards. I also had a great time as part of this crowd. Everyone in front of the stage was thrilled to be a part of the show. At one point, the floor got a little bit crazy, and I found myself bodily lifted to safety by a couple of friendly neighbourhood metalheads. Who says chivalry is dead?

In terms of the performance, all three members who were part of the Pestilence line-up until 1994 (Patrick Mameli on lead guitar and vocals, Patrick Uterwijk on lead guitar, and Jeroen Paul Thesseling on bass) were quite static and reserved. They engaged in very little banter, simply announcing song titles, and also moved very little on stage, throwing off almost no energy. While the music was certainly enough for me to lose myself in, the music had to stand alone. The only exception to this was in the performance of young drummer Yuma Van Eekelen. While his stage presence is certainly helped by the fact that he looks like the goddamn Vampire Lestat, all cheekbones and shoulders, it is his drumming that is most extraordinary to watch and listen to. He loves it. He absolutely loves the physical act, the sensation of hammering away at his instruments. It’s a remarkable thing to see, someone in the throes of something they love. I couldn’t take my eyes off him, and am certainly looking forward to hearing the work that he lays down on the forthcoming Pestilence album.

Walking out into a night that was still warm, hearing people scream in every bar and from every open window (apparently the World Cup held most people’s attention that evening), my heart seemed to be thrumming to the beat of a double bass the whole long walk home.

Obituary/ Entombed/ Rumplestiltskin Grinder @ The Opera House, June 1 2010

Posted in Concert Reviews with tags , on July 7, 2010 by Natalie Zed

Here is my review of the Obituary/ Entombed/ Rumplestiltskin Grinder show (originally for Hellbound.ca) that took place at The Opera House on June 1, 2010. You can read the original here, and gaze in adoration upon some excellent photos by Adam Wills.

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I have yet to attend a metal show that I am not excited about. It’s an excitement that transcends ticket price, record label, venue, or profile. Whether I am going to see a deep-underground band playing in a tiny bar, or a legend taking on the ACC, I experience the same moment of unrestrained pleasure when I step out my door wearing heavy boots and carrying earplugs in my pocket.

There was something different about this show, however. When I told The Internet was I would be doing on the night of June 1st, the response was immediate and intense. Just about every metalhead I know responded with some variant of “HOLY SHIT ENTOMBED.” I chatted with folks who had seen their last performance in Canada, well over a decade ago, and still treasured the memory.

It was a moment that drove home the fact that I have not been doing this for very long. Whenever I go to a show, I am most likely seeing the bands for the very first time. Every day, I listen to music I have never heard before. There’s an immense auditory history I am sifting my way through, which is usually not so overwhelming as it is exhilarating. For this particular show, however, listening to everyone abuzz with excitement over seeing a band with whom they all had long and affectionate histories, I felt very, very new indeed. Any trepidation I felt twas dwarfed by the excitement of the event; whether I personally felt prepared for it or not, it was going to be an experience.

I arrived at the Opera House with the Hellbound Posse just in time to miss Ending Tyranny entirely. At that point, Entombed has still not arrived; there was a distinctly empty space at the merch tables where their stuff should have been. We were all quickly assured that while they had been held at up at the border, they had successfully crossed and that their arrival was imminent. Despite the reassurances, their absence created a strange, spiky tension in the room that would not be dissipated until Entombed finally showed up in the nick of time.

In the mean time, Rumplestiltskin Grinder was there to help the audience burn off some of their nervous energy. They gave the crowd what they needed and wanted in the moment, and their performance was much stronger for it. They play a thrashy, bloody kind of “crime metal” that operates within a loose mythology that the band is the musical wing of a quasi-mysical crime syndicate. On stage, they’re fun and loud and don’t take themselves too seriously. It wasn’t long before I left my place at the bar and repositioned myself right up front to better hear Shawn Riley’s banter and slam shoulder-first into my fellow metalheads. Rumplestiltskin Grinder got the room moving, and gave gracious homage to both Entombed and Obituary. I grinned through their set; really couldn’t ask for more.

Wandering back to the bar to rehydrate myself, I discovered to my delight that Entombed had not only made it to the venue but would be playing on time. The crowd more than doubled in size over the next few minutes, and everyone is the room was positively radiating in anticipation.

Their set was, of course, terrific; they played primarily older material (as they have a considerable back catalogue to draw upon) and every song title they announced was greeted with a roar of approval. Lars Göran Petrov is a mightily entertaining frontman, at once disarming is his apparent vulnerability as he shambles across the stage, and shocking in the still-fearsome power of his voice. Performing seems to be his natural state of being, where he is most at home. Lily the Pirate noted that from the moment he walked on stage he looked as though he’d already been performing for hours. He also welcomed crowdsurfers to dally on stage a moment or two and headbang with the band (particularly the girls), shooing security away. Alex Hellid on guitars is also a pleasure to watch. His face remains serene as he plays, which contrasts delightfully with unwaveringly intense sound he produces. Entombed closed their set with “Left Hand Path,” a choice that couldn’t have been more aesthetically perfect, or more welcomed by the audience. When they finally took their leave, the stage at the Opera House seemed somehow emptier than ever before.

It seemed actually strange at that point in the night that there was still more to come, and another headliner at that. I fully admit that I don’t think I was able to give Obituary a fair listen here, having already been so thoroughly satisfied. The death metal pioneers came on stage fresh and hungry, by all reports having just decimated MDF. I was able to intellectually appreciate Obituary for their genre-building work; I particularly enjoyed “Final Thoughts” from the World Demise album. But I didn’t experience the same weightlessness, the loss of control that can border on the transcendent. I fully acknowledge that I may be drawing an unfair comparison, having just been blown out of the water by Entombed; I want to reserve judgement on these Florida-based death-dealers for the time being. I want to see them again.

I am, after all, new at this. And there is all the time in the world.

Hypocrisy/ Scar Symmetry/ Blackguard @ The Wreckroom, May 29 2010

Posted in Concert Reviews with tags , on July 7, 2010 by Natalie Zed

Here is my review of the Hypocrisy/ Scar Symmetry/ Blackguard show (originally for Hellbound.ca) that took place at The Annex Wreckroom on May 29, 2010. You can read the original here, and check out some wicked pictures by Adam Wills.

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There was a lot about this show that was strange; many circumstances that conspired to make things difficult. First of all Swashbuckle did not perform; their vehicle ran afoul of a dear sometime in the middle of the night, and so they had to abandon the Toronto show in order to deal with the damage. Looking around the room, I noticed a lot of people in pirate hats who were clearly disappointed. And more disappointment soon came: Hate‘s merch table was conspicuously empty, and very quickly it became apparent that they would not be performing either. They had been held up at the border, and in the end were unable to enter the country. Hearing this news the moment I walked in the door did not make for an auspicious beginning to the evening.

Or, should I say, afternoon. The doors opened at 5pm, and Blackguard began to play well before 5:30. Since the Wreckroom is a popular nightclub/dance spot, the show had to be over and done with by 10pm. Despite heavy drapes, it was still a strange experience to see full, bright sunlight shining in around the edges of all the windows during this show. While not a deal-breaker, it was certainly an odd, intellectually-dischordant feeling to watch a show in the middle of the day.

I also think it’s important to talk about the venue, in this case. The Wreckroom is composed of a single large, rectangular room, with the stage set at one end. This is a pretty standard set up, except for the fact that the room is dominated by a huge, oblong bar smack-dab in the centre of the space. This works really well when the room is being used as a dance club, allowing patrons to approach the bar from all sides, and provides lots of space to hang out. For live music, however, it creates a bottleneck in front of the stage. This issue was further compounded by the fact that this was an all ages show. In the Wreckroom, this meant that one entire side of the bar was barricaded off, and was the only place that you could purchase/consume alcohol, further contributing to the weird, broken-up, blocky feel of the venue.

Finally, this was the weekend of the Maryland Death Fest. A large contingent of the Toronto metal community was down in Baltimore, happily developing new fissures in their eardrums. All of these various factors could have come together to drag this show down. The turnout could have been dismal. Negativity might have overtaken the day.

All this being said, I think the audience of this show deserves it’s own part of the review. While there were so many excuses to be grumpy or ill-behaved, everyone was fantastic. Aside from brief murmurs of dismay when the cancellations were announced, no one allowed unkind fortune or circumstances to ruin their good time. The crowd was boisterous and energetic, while still being incredibly friendly and respectful. Just before Hypocrisy began, no fewer than three metalheads offered to let me stand in front of them so I wouldn’t get crushed if things got too rowdy, including a lovely gentleman who let me stand right at the the stage. It was a joy to be in a room filled with happy people, all ready to rock out, afternoon/cancellations/venue issues be damned.

Blackguard started the show off on the right foot. Paul Ablaze is a hell of a showman: manic, gregarious, and fantastically gracious and positive to his audience. Tasked with breaking the news of the distinct lack of both Hate and Swashbuckle, he managed to keep the audience happy despite that disappointment. All the members of Blackguard are very physical performers, using every inch of whatever stage they are on and filling every corner of the venue with both the sound and feeling of their raucous, bawdy black metal. They positively shine as a live act. Every band member is a unique and memorable personality, and they take their job of entertaining their audience very seriously—and also give every impression of enjoying the hell out of what they do. Every member of Blackguard really has fun on stage. As an audience member, it is hard not to get caught up in the moment when Paul Ablaze screams right into your face and then rubs his armpit on your head.

After a significant break and sound check (with two bands down, the remaining performers had all the time they wanted to set up), Scar Symmetry swept onto the stage. The Swedish melodic death metallers are an entirely different kind of intense. With two band members devoted entirely to vocals (Roberth Karlsson focusing on growls and Lars Palmqvist primarily providing clean vocals), I assumed that this would be the focal point of their set. Their vocal performance was certainly deep, rich and varied, especially with additional backing vocals and harmonies being provided by both the guitarists as well as the bassist. However, I found my eye and my ear were consistently drawn to Per Nilsson on lead guitar. His stage presence and musicianship impressed me deeply; while I enjoyed Scar Symmetry‘s performance as a whole, I could not stop watching him.

It was shortly after 8:00 pm when Hypocrisy made their significant entrance; the excitement in the room was palpable when they strode onto the stage, lit vaguely by dim blue light and partially obscured by theatrical smoke. I can only describe their set as an all-out assault. While the sun might have still been impudently shining outside of the Wreckroom, inside the audience was completely consumed by Hypocrisy‘s blistering intensity. Peter Tägtgren isn’t a chatty frontman, but he is captivating. Every gesture and vocalization is meaningful, calculated for maximum impact, which makes his uniquely minimalist style of interaction completely engrossing. The greatest thrill of this show for me, however, was definitely being able to watch Horgh up close. The man positively punishes his drum kit; and yet somehow the violence he unleashes is thoughtful, almost neat in its execution. By the end of Hypocrisy’s set, I felt battered and overwhelmed—and perfectly happy to be in that state.

Lacuna Coil/ Warmachine/ Doll @ The Opera House, May 25 2010

Posted in Concert Reviews with tags , on July 7, 2010 by Natalie Zed

Here is my “review” (originally for Metallus Maximus) of the Lacuna Coil/ Warmachine/ Doll show that took place at The Opera House on May 25, 2010. You can read the original here, and take a peek at some awful pictures I took with my phone.

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NZ “Huh. Hail the Villain aren’t playing.”

LTP: “Eh?”

NZ “Sign on the door says they had car trouble. That sucks.”

LTP “Dude. Their name is Hail The Villain. Forget car trouble – Batman probably stopped their shit at the border.”

NZ “Wow! So many girls in here.”

LTP “This may be the first time I have ever seen high heels inside The Opera House.”

NZ “What would you put the percentage at? Half?”

LTP “No way. Let’s be reasonable.”

NZ “A solid third, then. 33% of this room has two X chromosomes.”

LTP “That’s fair. Let’s hear it for the uterus.”

NZ “This means…there might be a shirt at someone’s merch table that actually FITS ME.”

Doll

NZ “They sound…they sound like a movie-producer’s idea of a female-fronted metal band. They’re so much cleaner than they could be. Like Cherry Bomb, that girl-punk/grunge band in Howard the Duck.”

LTP “You are one of four people on earth who remember the name of the goddamn band in Howard the Duck.”

Warmachine

LTP “Now it’s time for the boy-interlude. The frontman looks like the dude from Snakes ‘n’ Barrels.”

NZ “The drummer just broke his double bass.”

LTP “Nah. Look at him, he’s like Henry VIII. ‘I grow bored of this drum. Switch it for another one!'”

NZ “Ah, they’re switching the white Flying V for a black Flying V.”

LTP “It’s time to get fucking serious. None of his light crap.”

NZ “In your opinion, what’s the most humpable guitar shape?”

LTP “Eh?”

NZ “You know — the hottest.”

LTP “Oh, good, that’s what you mean. Because a Flying V would hurt. That shit’s pointy.”

Lacuna Coil

NZ “This is easy.”

LTP “Eh?”

NZ “Lacuna Coil. This music. This is very easy. Easy to listen to, easy to like.”

LTP “Mm. Yeah. Very hooky too.”

NZ “Straightforward.”

LTP “You sound dubious.”

NZ “Not exactly. It’s probably because I saw Portal and Bloody Panda last night, which rearranged my entire intellectual equilibrium.”

LTP “A bit of a contrast.”

NZ “Exactly. This is also very pretty – and not just because Cristina Scabbia is beautiful.”

LTP “I would kill for her jacket.”

NZ “How much do I want a waistcoat that says ‘Liar’? But it’s more that visual aesthetic. The entire sound is attractive. Easy to love.”

LTP “I see what you’re saying. And you do prefer ugly things.”

NZ “There’s that. I think it also limits them in what they’re trying to accomplish here. There is only so empowering they can be without also being challenging. It’s easy to say “Not Afraid” when nothing here is frightening.”

LTP “You prefer being frightened?”

NZ “I prefer being broken.”