8/23/2018: Thursday at Asbury Lanes, New Jersey
I backed into Thursday through War All the Time and haven’t budged much from there. While I’ve given each of their records a fair listen (other than Waiting, which even the band seems to have swept under the rug), they’ve also been cursory listens, meant to satiate my inner completist and no more. War All the Time has more than sufficed, and I regard it as an underrepresented essential of early ’00 heavy music.
Even so, I felt obligated to sign up for the 20th anniversary show dates for both Full Collapse and War All the Time, if only to observe the transition between the two records close up. And, of course, I felt obligated to share my observations with (all two of) the Metal Lifestyle readership. Driving down to New Jersey, my intention was to give Full Collapse and War All the Time a few listens, but other than a few plays of “Understanding in A Car Crash” tooling around the endless sunny streets of the Jersey shore with the friend I’m staying with, I stepped into Asbury Lanes tonight all but virginal. This was probably for the better.
Absent from much of the promotion surrounding the show is the fact that Brooklyn’s Ageist would be opening. They seemed like an unusual choice for that slot considering they don’t slot into the same category of emotionally-charged post-hardcore as Thursday, preferring fuzzy midtempo riffs and monotone “dad punk” vocals, but they kept their set casual, prefacing songs with brief thematic summaries. The phrase “This is a cautionary tale about” came up quite a bit, a fact they spoofed among themselves to the audience. They let the lightshow make up for a workmanlike dedication to their instruments over exhibiting more than average levels of stage presence. All to say: Ageist were perfectly okay, but they were not a highlight of the show.
They were the sole opening act. An intermission of about forty-five minutes passed while Thursday’s stage tech milled around, checking this level and that to sporadic claps and chants of “Thurs-DAY.” The stage fogged up, the lights were tested, and a recording of “A0001” announced the band’s entrance stage right, waving and smiling as they picked up their instruments, visibly excited to be playing the cornerstone of their discography in their homestate and to a sold-out venue. Can’t blame them. The reaction to “Understanding In A Car Crash” was what you’d expect: full crowd participation, arms and voices raised, and a healthy pit.
Thursday are a phenomenal live act. This is the first time I’ve seen them, and it was clear early that they’re consummate professionals, evoking that all-important feedback loop where the band and the crowd seem to excite one another in continually escalating cycles; they’re note-perfect, too, sounding neither sterile or rehearsed to death, but just as vital as they must have sounded eighteen years ago. Even in this context, Geoff Rickley stands out. He is truly a cut above, often bettering his recorded performances. Maybe the best example of this quality comes in his screaming, which is vicious and emotive in a way not captured on record.
He’s also a personable, unexpectedly funny guy. Just after the third or fourth song (depending on whether “A0001” counts), there was an issue with Rickley’s microphone that stalled the show for a good twenty minutes, but the moment it was resolved, he shouted, “I’ve got a microphone! Oh, you’re in trouble now!” and got right into “Autobiography of A Nation.” As mentioned, I’m not very attached to Full Collapse, but this didn’t preclude me from enjoying the hell out of the set, if only because the band enjoyed playing it, a fact they reiterated more than once throughout the night. Prior to “A Hole in the World,” Rickley mentioned it was a song they had unofficially retired for a few years but were grateful to be playing again. They took a moment to dedicate “Paris In Flames” to the radio station that took a chance on a young Thursday back in the day; and also to (here I’ll paraphrase a bit), “whoever felt they didn’t belong somewhere, who didn’t feel like they were tough enough for a metal show, or even a punk show. We hope you found something in this song.” This, as you can imagine, earned a pretty deafening reception.
Other notable moments included “Standing On the Edge of Summer,” which Rickley introduced as a song about the days leading up to summer (duh, but also strangely impactful by this point in the night, given the mood of charged nostalgia); “Wind Up,” a song they re-recorded straight from the band’s first demo, and therefore one of the oldest Thursday songs still getting play; and the extended outro of “How Long Is the Night?” and “I1100,” when Rickley took a backseat to the audience and hoisted up the microphone stand to capture the roar of the audience. It ended, however, just as it does on record, with Rickley repeating “The tide is high on Fourteenth Street,” a moment as aching and poignant as anything I’ve ever witnessed live.
Full Collapse, as frontman Geoff Rickley noted on this first night I’m writing, is a record about collective experience. There’s not an “I” to be found, but plenty of “we,” and its accessible style invites personal association, binding it to rock-solid pop structures and preserving it forever in pre-9/11 angst. On the other hand, tonight’s record, War All the Time, is an album about personal strife and anxiety saturated in the disorder of a new post-9/11 America. It’s a morose twin to Full Collapse and a moodier, more technical, and more confrontational effort. I’m curious how the mood around it will shape up tonight.
Prisms: Cheem, Bay Faction, Zanders, Standby, Short Month @ The Old American Legion, New Britain, CT
Full disclosure: I went to this show, hosted by Couch Yeti Booking, a little booking agency started by Tom Shreve of Carlos Danger, for Bay Faction and Bay Faction alone, and came away surprised and encouraged by the consistency of talent in assembly. The last time I attended a show even passingly similar to this one was probably My Heart to Joy’s second “final” show (a Sandy Hook benefit concert featuring With Honor, who I hadn’t heard of then, and a lot of middle-aged people alarmingly stage-diving from amps), if not the second-to-last Hostage Calm show before they announced their breakup and died on Toad's Place's stage. The last time I really participated in the Connecticut indie rock circuit, both of those bands as well as Snowing, Algernon Cadwalladr, Wolves At Bay, and Call It Arson were active or just broken-up and warmly missed. I’ve been out of that loop for a while and into another, attending shows consisting mostly of beatdown hardcore; and while I’ve never had a bad time in that sphere, it was refreshing to dip back into the indie stuff for a night.
Short Month opened the show with exactly the sort of pensive indie rock that used to draw me out to these shows. I can’t say I didn’t get a little caught up in nostalgia. Most members of the band, if not every one of then, appear to be teenagers, but that’s never precluded a band from making great music: alternatively vulnerable and nervously extroverted, Short Month have a great command of their sound and are very comfortable with their range. On top of that, they seem like genuinely cool people. In the interval between the second and third songs on their set, their vocalist/guitarist had to quickly retune his guitar. Their second guitarist leaned into his microphone and teased him for saying clip-tuners “sucked” in the past; he, of course, had a clip-tuner on his guitar, and didn’t need to retune at any point that night.
Standby were a prog-rock band and the most left-field inclusion on the setlist, relatively speaking; but I’m all for mixed bills, and they wound up an even bigger surprise than Short Month. My experience with prog is fairly (kind of laughably) limited, but I can say that I was reminded of bands like Coheed and Cambria, Oceansize, Thumpermonkey, and even Son of Aurelius (nope, can’t go four bands without lapsing into metal for musical reference), which I think is pretty illustrative of their sound nonetheless. I was a little further back in the crowd for their set, which had filled in since Short Month, and so I missed at what moment the vocalist snuck in a trumpet and was blindsided when he took a couple of steps back and blasted it directly into the mic. It was jarring at first, but the texture it provided to their energetic, ever-shifting prog won me over, and I found myself really enjoying what I heard.
Early into their set, Alex (the one I went with) made a comparison between Zanders and Slingshot Dakota, another band I had caught a couple of times in the past, that I haven’t been able to shake and that may forever color my opinion of them. It’s not a bad comparison. I thought they were fun and distinct from the rest of the bill, and was reminded at times of The Dresden Dolls in their mix of vigorous keyboard and characterful vocals. It was very much Alex’s (their vocalist/keyboardist) show; I may be wrong or missing the full context of an exchange that took place between members of the band partway through, but at several points, they seemed to be improvising key- and time-changes as dictated by her playing. Shows should not, or at least don’t have to be, note-perfect renditions of past recordings; I admire bands unafraid to experiment and to tweak or improve their music in front of a live audience, and so,although I have to admit that their music was not entirely my thing, I was engaged throughout their set and was glad to have discovered yet another promising Connecticut band.
Funny, again, that I was really there for the one out-of-state band on the bill. They did not disappoint. Bay Faction formed somewhere in the South Shore area of Massachusetts, if I’m not mistaken, but recently transplanted themselves to New York, where I think their novel blend of blues rock, indie, and R&B will flourish into something even more unique and mysterious - judging by their recent-ish singles “Pendulum,” “Nineteen,” and “Are You in the Mood,” it may even have already happened. The difference between these songs and their demo and self-titled (which, as I gushed to the band after their set, has become an all-time favorite) is the way the moody reservedness of “Sasquatch .22” and “Beach Book” has become their de facto mode. The band jokingly refer to their genre as “post coital” on Facebook, but I think they’ve actually grown to fit that evocation quite nicely.
They dimmed the overhead lights and let the sparse illumination of the Christmas lights separating the stage-floor from the regular floor set the mood; they took advantage of their instrument tune-ups to lay down a pretty, languorous introduction of sparse hi-hats and rolling bass riffs, which gradually transfigured into an equally pretty and languorous interpretation of “Cutter.” It may have been hard to sing along with some of the altered vocal patterns, but I was more interested in the richness of this slower, more sensual version of a song I’d thought was perfectly compact.
Back to back, “Are You in the Mood?” and “Sasquatch .22” illustrated the tonal evolution between Bay Faction and whatever the new record will be: the new single is, for lack of a better term, really sexy, full of deep bass grooves and apathetic yearning; it’s the sound of desire trying not to sound like desire, a tension that’s both the inverse and equal of “Sasquatch .22,” whose quiet despair is communicated with the sort of blunt provocation that “Are You in the Mood?” only side-eyes. “I started catching feelings / for the girl / that I’m currently having sex with, / so it’s safe to say that we don’t talk anymore,” is, apart from being some of the best opening lyrics to any song I’ve ever heard, essentially what the chorus of the other song avoids saying: “Are you in the mood? / If so, how long, and for who? / ’Cause I’ve been looking straight at you / I’ve been talking straight for you.” They closed with “Bloody Nose” and “Beach Book,” both as untouched as “Sasquatch .22” and clear favorites of the crowd - there was a group of girls next to Alex and I who were all but screaming the lyrics - and then it was over. Although I would have liked to have heard “Casting Couch,” “Jasper Wildlife Assoc.,” and “Pendulum,” I was content with what I’d heard and in a great mood as Cheem took the floor.
Somewhere between Short Month and Standby, I learned that Cheem is one of the most popular bands in Connecticut, and that, according to Caleb (still in Metal Lifestyle, guys) they are like “Dance Gavin Dance without the rapcore,” which was all the reason I needed to stick around. “Take a step to the right,” said one guitarist/co-vocalist, addressing the crowd as the band set up. “Now take a step to the left. Just a little step. Wiggle your arms. All right, that’s called dancing. Let’s see some dancing.” I don’t know what rock I’d been living under that I’d never heard of Cheem, but they made a fan of me in just a couple of songs. Caleb’s description captures their energy, fluidity, and knack for melody. Vocal duties alternate between two vocalists whose voices are similar enough to keep them tonally consistent and different enough to keep their palette broad and varied, a difficult balance to pull off, but with which Cheem are almost unfairly gifted. They’re intrinsically infectious. It wasn’t quite the dance-a-thon in the crowd that their music probably deserves, but the crowd was responsive, and the riffs were lively, unpredictable, and most definitely danceable - in all, a good time cut short by time restrictions set by the venue, but a good time all the same.
Bay Faction was the draw and the very best part of the night for me (their first Connecticut show should not be their last!), but as I mentioned, I came away encouraged by the state of the indie scene around here, insofar as this single show represents the whole. There is a lot of talent and some really excellent songwriting I’ve evidently overlooked in my own state, and now that I have a better understanding of what’s happening and a few more names to recognize, it’s not unlikely I’ll be dipping my feet back in this circuit. Keep an eye on future Couch Yeti Booking shows and watch for Short Month, Standby, Zander, and Cheem: they’re all relatively young bands with only a couple of releases apiece, if that, and with promising futures. If you’ve neglected this scene, or fallen out of it, I can assure you that these are some of the bands keeping it relevant.
The Dillinger Escape Plan
God Mother (12/27/17)
Code Orange (12/28-29/17) Daughters (12/28-29/17)
December 26th: The Day Before
As I write this, I am about 26 hours away from the beginning of the end. After six years being a major fan, I am going to be witnessing The Dillinger Escape Plan, one of my absolute favorite bands, begin the first of their final three concerts. The band promised each night would be full of celebration. On the first day, we’ll see Dillinger-approved mathcore act God Mother open the stage up for the mathcore legends to perform my all-time favorite EP, Irony is a Dead Scene, in full, with none other than Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle). Underrated legends Daughters and the newly-Grammy nominated Code Orange open the last two days.
On top of that, Dillinger promised different setlists each night. I assume that fan-favorites like “Farewell, Mona Lisa,” “Milk Lizard,” and “43% Burnt” will be on every day, but what about deeper cuts? Will we hear “Widower” one more time? Maybe some more off of Calculating Infinity, like “Variations on a Cocktail Dress,” or even some of their weirder instrumental tracks? They have so much to choose from. Whatever happens, I cannot begin to explain how excited I am about these shows, and at the same time, how sad I am to acknowledge the end of The Dillinger Escape Plan.
I first heard of them in 2010, around the release of Option Paralysis, but other than “Farewell, Mona Lisa” and “Milk Lizard,” I didn’t really listen to them until I saw them open for Deftones on the 2011 Diamond Eyes tour. I had never seen a band members play that passionately in a live setting before that night, and soon enough, I found myself listening to them to an obsessive level. I fell in love, and had the chance to see them four times in New York City and once in Connecticut before these final shows were announced. The Dillinger Escape Plan never released something I outright hated. Even their demo, which I am not quite a fan of, shows traces of the potential they unlocked with Under the Running Board a year later, and then their revolutionary debut, Calculating Infinity. The group has only put out amazing material since then. Their last record, Dissociation, is a perfect last bow in the studio. Now, here we are. In a little more than a day, the end.
December 27th: The First Day
The last of the shows to be announced, but arguably the most important, was this one: other than being their first and only date with God Mother, it was also the night Mike Patton would be in the building to perform Irony is a Dead Scene. This show was bound to be a party. Cesar, Brian, and I got to the venue a little before doors, but it took a while to actually get into the building (damn you, Terminal 5). At 8:00 p.m., God Mother took the stage with no introduction: they went straight into the action, pumping out half an hour of aggressive grindcore. Their vocalist, Sebastian, was literally all over the venue. One moment, he’d be on stage screaming his heart out; the next, he was somewhere across the venue, still screaming. Then he was in a corner. Then he was standing on a chair. Sebastian, it’s safe to say, gets around. There’s a reason Dillinger puts so much spotlight on these guys. I am going to be seeing them again on Saturday at Saint Vitus Bar with Gatherers and Great Grief, and I am stoked to see their act in a small area like that after killing it in a venue as huge as Terminal 5.
About a half hour after they finished, Mike Patton took the stage to wild applause. The mere twenty minutes they played was nothing short of batshit. Instead of focusing on physical ability like Dillinger does on a normal day, the set was all about technical ability. I was very curious to see Mike Patton pull off his Irony vocals, because they sound frankly impossible; but sure enough, Patton nailed it. The “here kitty kitty” part in “When Good Dogs Do Bad Things” left me in complete shock: it was a flawless performance, and his range went above and beyond any expectations I had. At the end, we heard a surprie cover of Faith No More’s “Malpractice” to close off that portion of the set. For just twenty minutes, it was bliss.
Ten minutes of silence, and then the Dillinger Escape Plan proper stepped out. Greg, wearing a Santa hat, announced “Panasonic Youth” and jumped straight into the crowd. They went right into “Destro’s Secret,” a song I never expected to hear, and then into another: “Setting Fire to Sleeping Giants,” which I was sure I had heard for the last time at the 2015 Irving Plaza show, their “retirement” for several Miss Machine songs. Next was Dissociation’s “Surrogate,” which is always great to hear live for it’s proggy, dissonant richness, followed by “Sugar-Coated Sour,” which really got Terminal 5’s floor moving. After that, a dream came true: I had been hoping to hear at least one of the instrumental tracks off of Calculating Infinity, and we fucking got it as they band launched into “Weekend Sex Change”! It bled beautifully into One of Us is the Killer’s “Hero of the Soviet Union,” and then one of the night’s biggest surprises: Ire Works’ “Dead as History.”
I don’t even know where to begin. I never expected it. The audience was clearly even more stoked about this as I was, because even sweaty and exhausted, they were able to singing the closing lines of the song in perfect, spine-tingling harmony. Being there for that moment is an experience I will never take for granted.
“Fix Your Face” followed, and then, now ten songs in, we finally got Option Paralysis’ iconic “Farewell, Mona Lisa.” Dyami Bryant (Locked in a Vacancy) ripped it up halfway through the song. They played “When I Lost My Bet,” which I thought was a very odd way to make way for the encore, but it was great regardless.
The band left the stage for a few minutes, during which time Dimitri Minakakis, Dillinger’s original vocalist, came out to shouts and applause. He made it clear he wasn’t performing that night and talked a bit about the band he helped start; then he made a quick, friendly jab at Ben Weinman, and let the band retake the stage for an unhinged performance of “Limerent Death,” and then close the night off with the iconic “Sunshine the Werewolf.” Greg, of course, monkeyed up the balcony of Terminal 5 and did his signature crowd jump for “Sunshine,” but I must make note of the guy who thought it’d be a good idea to jump off a balcony earlier in the song, into a crowd that was not ready or willing to catch him, and ended up serious injuring someone. Please, for future reference, leave that to the professionals.
That said, it was an incredible first night. It was jarring to attend a Dillinger show and not hear “Milk Lizard” or “43% Burnt,” but the way the band gave their all the entire night made up for it. I am very happy that this was only the beginning.
December 28th: The Second Day
I showed up a little earlier the second night to get a better place on the balcony. I froze my ass off, but getting the spot was worth it in the end to finally see Daughters. I was also hoping to get a kick out of Code Orange. Daughters took the stage at 8:00 p.m. and their performance was everything I could have hoped for from them. Alexis Marshalls stage performance and vocal style are best described as “drunk wedding singer”: he just has such a good time on stage dancing, dry-humping the floor, and sucking on his hand that it’s easy to miss how the rest of the band manages to stay focused and play. The set was pulled mainly from Hell Songs and their incredible self-titled album, which was great. The only issue I had with their set was the fact that the venue soundperson treated them as guinea pigs: the drums were a bit too loud and the guitars were all over the place in terms of sound quality. Otherwise, it was great to catch them live at last.
Code Orange are a few moments away from becoming modern hardcore legends. They’re on top of the game right now, but do not like their music under “Code Orange” at all. I feel they went from being a very solid band to an incredibly corny one in a matter of an LP and a name change. Once I saw vocalist/drummer Jami Morgan and Dominic landolina come out in ski-masks, I knew we were in for something unique, which is to say that I couldn't take their 35-minute set seriously in the slightest. It was every corny thing that could happen at a hardcore show all at once. Despite the cringeworthy Pantera shirt, Reba Meyers was the only one that sounded good, and her stage presence was not nearly as overblown as her bandmates’. I love an energetic show, but Code Orange go out of their way to come off like the coolest, most macho motherfuckers in the world despite looking like a bunch of emo-kids who stumbled into fame. The ridiculous amount of crowdkilling during their set didn’t help. All in all, despite their current popularity, the band is a joke.
Now, the reason we were all there.
The Dillinger Escape Plan’s second to last set ever opened with One of Us is the Killer’s “Prancer.” Greg introducing it as “the last time” the group would ever play the song. This was a blow, and it made me realize just how close we were to the end. They would be breaking up the very next day. The set began just as fiery as the night before and “Milk Lizard” turned the heat up a little more. The room erupted, singing the lyrics back in perfect unison. Next up was “Jim Fear,” yet another track I never thought I would hear live, and it was just as intense as you could imagine. They played “Setting Fire to Sleeping Giants” again, which I was very happy to hear a second time since it’s “retirement.” In the middle of the performance, a girl managed to get onstage and duet with Greg for just a moment.
They then played Option Paralysis’ “Room Full of Eyes,” which is pure aggression live, and then a string of Calculating Infinity tracks: “Sugar Coated Sour,” a welcome repeat of “Weekend Sex Change,” and“The Running Board,” yet another I-would-never-in-a-million-years-expect-this-one surprise. The set leaped forward in time to Dissociation’s “Symptoms of Terminal Illness,” which gave us a bit of breathing room before the unbridled fun of Ire Works’ “Black Bubblegum,” “One of Us is the Killer,” and then fucking “Crossburner.” I hadn’t heard that song since 2013’s Summer Slaughter, and hearing my favorite track on One of Us in the Killer live one last time was truly rejuvenating. This went right into Option Paralysis’ “Good Neighbor,” a fan favorite, followed by “Calculating Infinity.”
At this point, against all odds, Dimitri Minakakis came out and performed the entirety of Under the Running Board with his old band. Holy. Fucking. Shit. If there was one thing that could have pushed things from 100 to 1,000, this was it. That’s all I can say about that. From that day forward, I and everyone at Terminal 5 can say we’ve seen the Dillinger Escape Plan perform with every vocalist. We saw “Abe the Cop” live. Come the fuck on now.
The encore, like the night before, began with “Limerent Death,” but this time Greg walked through the crowd, screaming in people’s faces. They closed with “43% Burnt” with both Greg and Dimitri doing vocals. I don’t know what I did to deserve to witness something like that. don’t know what to expect tomorrow.
December 29th: The Final Day
This is it.
Daughters and Code Orange were more or less the same to me. I won’t repeat myself.
The set opened with the first song on their 1997 self-titled demo, the instrumental “Proceed with Caution.” Just when I thought they were out of surprises, they pull that relic out and lead straight into “Limerent Death.” This became “Panasonic Youth,” a song even Dillinger didn’t know they were going to play the final night, and then we got all groovy to “Milk Lizard” for the last time. There was a short pause, and then, out of nowhere, Miss Machine’s “Baby’s First Coffin,” my absolute favorite Dillinger song. I heard it live once in 2015, but being able to witness it one more time was glorious. “Dead as History” followed once more, and then, out of the blue, “Happiness is a Smile.” I am not as big a fan of this one as some, but it was special that night, at the end of it all, and a deep cut for the fans. It morphed into “One of Us is the Killer,” and in turn into Dissociation’s “Nothing to Forget,” which was when it really hit me that the end was almost here.
“Low Feels Blvd,” from the same album, was next, and then a poignant rendition of Ire Works’ “Mouth of Ghosts,” which I had heard twice on the Dissociation tour, but never like that night. I could say the same for every song, really, whether or not the band played it more than one night. The finality of it all, the fact that every song was essentially a goodbye, made them new again for the last time. This went into Miss Machine’s “Unretrofied.” Do I need to repeat myself? I never thought I’d hear this again. Ever. I went wild for those first notes. Dimitri joined the band for “Sandbox Magician” one more time. We hard “When I Lost My Bet” one more time, and then “Sunshine the Werewolf,” during which my dear friend Finnbogi Örn Einarsson (vocalist of Great Grief) was able to get the mic. It was easily my favorite of all the guest performances. I can now say I am friends with someone who performed with Dillinger, even for just a moment.
The first encore began with “Farewell, Mona Lisa,” one last time, during which I made a mistake: I tried to crowd surf. This was a TERRIBLE decision. I ended up getting stuck in the front, where people were just trying to avoid getting trampled and everyone apparently had the same idea to crowd surf at the same time it occurred to me. As I made my escape up the balcony, Dillinger kicked into “43% Burnt.”
And then, “Dissociation.”
Seven)Suns, a small string orchestra, joined the band on stage amid the lights and fog. In an emotional turn of events, ex-bassist Adam Doll could be seen on stage as well to handle the electronics on the track. That entire room seem to come to a standstill as the song filled the room, and I’m not sure anyone moved for the next six minutes. It was that time at last. I let it all out as soon as I heard those opening notes, and as my favorite band broke up before my eyes.
It was over.
The Dillinger Escape Plan is over.
December 30th: The Hours After
The Dillinger Escape Plan is no longer active. I’m very sad about the entire thing, but I’ve come to grips and found that I am content. In three days, I watched them perform 43 different songs (I don’t think that’s unintentional) spanning their discography, reaching as far back as their demo to perform the first song they ever recorded, and the last. I’m going to miss them like hell, but we couldn’t have asked for more. We got twenty years of some of the best music and live performances ever. I would not be where I am without them, and I’m sure most of you feel the same way. I’m lucky to be able to say that I lived at the same time as this band.
The Dillinger Escape Plan: 1997-Forever
- Alex Brown
Introduction/Eulogy Part 1
Back in August, modern grindcore allstars Trap Them announced that they were going to play three shows. The original poster for this “tour” showed nothing but tour dates and the words “Trap Them,” “2002-2017,” and “Final Shows.” They never made a post explaining why they were breaking up, and I was beyond bummed when I heard the news. Trap Them is one of my absolute favorite bands. Darker Handcraft is easily in my top twenty LPs of the decade so far, and I am a huge fan of their other material as well, including this year's Crown Feral. On top of that, these guys put on one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen. I saw them back in 2015 in the now-defunct Archer with Full of Hell, and it was easily one of my favorite shows in that genre. How insane was that night? I went to congratulate vocalist Ryan McKenney on their performance, and he literally responded, “Thanks, I broke my arm during the show.” The man is as intense as vocalists in extreme music get, as shown in articles like this one. But, all things considered, it’s not hard to see why Trap Them are disbanding. They can’t keep releasing this sort of music forever and performing like they do, so I am happy they are going out in style. Needless to say, when I saw it was hitting Saint Vitus Bar in November, I was excited. I turned twenty-one in September, which means I will no longer have to miss the shows that stop at this legendary space. A few weeks after the announcement, they added a second date at Vitus the night before, at 11:30 p.m., and also announced that Colorado-based sludge/hardcore act Call of the Void was opening. At the last minute, I decided to go to that show as well.
November 10th, 2017: 12:30-01:45AM
Since I was heading to this show from another one in Manhattan, and especially because New York’s mass transit system is really bad at night, I got to this one very late and missed all but the last minute of Call of the Void’s set. Nevertheless, I was pretty stoked that I made it in time for Trap Them. Despite the show being past midnight, it was easily the most crowded I'd ever seen the venue. About fifteen minutes after my arrival, Trap Them began their set with the slow, sludgy “Scars Align,” the last song on Darker Handcraft. This was a nice way to open up their set, as it really set the mood for the night: dark and hellish. The band played intensely, but were not super active on stage. They followed up with the intro track to Crown Feral, “Kindred Dirt,” which picked the pace up and got the crowd ready for “Hellionaries,” which is when the set really kicked off. The crowd was moving to this one, and the band loosened up. The energy didn’t stop: they played the first two tracks on their debut record, which only got the audience more pumped, and although someone kept punching my back during the set, I completely accepted it because I knew what he was feeling.
Trap Them’s set was a mix of pure, fast aggression and dark, gross, sludgy goodness. The drums were absolutely killer. The guitar and bass were super heavy and distorted, giving substance to the band’s dark atmosphere. The vocals were absolutely grotesque and harsh; and of course, nothing could come close to Ryan's stage performance. He didn’t go out of his way to break any bones, but he was all over the place, giving the sort of performance most frontmen wish they could (although he did fall over a few times during the set, so I can tell he was hurting something). They ended the set with the two iconic songs: “Fucking Viva” and “The Facts,” during which the audience got really involved.
All in all, Trap Them’s set is easily one of the best I have witnessed this year despite a massive headache from hopping all over New York City. So I made my way back home as quickly as I could to rest up and prepare for Trap Them’s final show.
November 10th, 2017: 08:00-11:15PM
I was starting to worry about my train arriving on time. There had been a signal problem at one of the stops that actually prevented me from attending a show beforehand, and forced me to take a much longer route to St. Vitus. Luckily, the show didn’t start until 9:00 p.m. I got to catch Call of the Void’s full set, which was a half hour of nice, heavy, and sludgy grindcore. They were absolutely pummeling, from their ear-crushing vocals to the punishing instrumental work. I was pleasantly surprised with their set, although I wish there had been a bit more crowd activity, because nobody seemed to be having as good of a time as they should have been. The night before, I briefly talked to their bassist Alex Pace, and he said they were just stoked to be playing these shows at all. If you’re into what I've described so far, check them out here. You won’t regret it.
But everyone who was there, was there for one reason: Trap Them. From the moment they began setting up, I knew this night was going to blow the last one out of the water. They had a banner up this time, and their own lighting. I was ready to take out all my frustrations with the New York public transit system. They started around 10:00PM, and went until 11:15PM. Their set was more or less the same from the night before, except they switched out “Slumcult and Gather” with “All By the Constant Vulse.” The band and crowd were much more active this night, which was to be expected from a sold out crowd, but man, did it get sweaty. The band sped through their set with twice the intensity and anger if the night before. Ryan was absolutely manic, and during the set, I noticed a gash on top of his eyelid, which just goes to show how fucking hard he was going. I vividly remember getting smacked in the nose with the microphone and not giving a shit.
The pit was insane. During this night's performance of “Hellionaries,” yours truly said “fuck it” and went for a stage dive, and I've gotta say, it was easily the best one yet. I was in the air for a solid 20-25 seconds, and moved from one side of the venue to the next before returning to my spot right after. I partied through the rest of the night, especially through the last two songs. Like the night before, it was “Fucking Viva” and “The Facts,” but the energy of this sold-out show went through the roof. Those songs had more crowd activity then both sets before it combined. People jumping over each other, screaming the words, crowd-surfing, stage-diving, moshing: you name it, it happened. There was truly no better way for Trap Them to end their performances in New York City.
Conclusion/Eulogy Part 2
By the time this is posted, Trap Them will have played their final show ever. Unlike most bands, I don’t anticipate them coming back anytime soon. I’m just really glad that we’ve been fortunate enough to have them at all. In their fifteen years of existence, they pumped out five of the most unforgiving, relentless grindcore LPs you could ever imagine, as well as a handful of incredible EPs. On top of that, each and every show, this band has given it their all, and these last two New York City shows are no exception. There aren't enough nice things I can say about these guys, but I also acknowledge that they are due for retirement. With all that said, I thank you, Trap Them. You’ve been one of the best bands I’ve ever discovered, and have inspired me in many ways. I wish nothing but the best for you four in the future.
- Alex Brown
I found out about Ostraca literally three days before this concert, and only because I saw the event page for this show and got curious. The event page read “An evening of skramz at The Silent Barn!”, and I hadn’t been to a show in a few weeks, so I decided to check out the bands. Within those three days, Ostraca became one of my favorite current bands. Their latest LP, Last, came out back in May, and if you’re a fan of screamo and emotional hardcore like pg.99, Jeromes Dream, and Orchid, then there is no reason you shouldn’t listen to this LP. It is roughly 30 minutes of the most intense emotion you could possibly imagine, and has quickly become one of my favorite LPs of this year. You can listen to it for yourself here to understand what I mean. I was going to write a review for it, but being that it has been out for a while now and also for the fact that I was going to this show, I decided that it was time for another concert review. After all, this was a pretty stacked lineup. On tour with Ostraca is Texas’ own Flesh Born. The two released a split back in February which can be listened to and purchased here. Flesh Born takes a much more chaotic hardcore approach, packing tons of raw emotion into the mix like Converge and Botch, and just as kickass.
People’s Temple Project started the night off. I wish I had more to say about them, but I really don’t. They pretty much played color-by-numbers screamo music. The passion and energy expected of screamo and emotional hardcore wasn't quite there with this group. Their music doesn't sound as intense as it should’ve, and band kind of just stood there. It didn’t help that later that night, one of the members (I can’t recall if it was specified who) defended an outed abuser whose actions have severely affected the tri-state DIY community. Stuff like this really needs to be brought to light at these shows so they can be as safe for everyone as possible, and I am very happy that someone did come up to the microphone and say something when they felt there was a danger to this safety. As Gus from Ostraca said later that night, “Safety is more important than emo.”
Up next was Massa Nera, who came from New Jersey to play this show right after one of their members got tattooed. Their music was relatively solid screamo, but what really made their performance was the passion and energy they demonstrated, especially after the previous band. They didn’t do anything insane, but it was obvious that these guys love what they are doing, and it really made their performance incredibly enjoyable. Being that I had already been up for something like 14 hours and came to the show after a long day at work, this was when I started waking up. I could feel that the night was about to get pretty wild.
Soul Glo was up next. I’ve seen their name pop up a few times, especially at bills that were either at New York’s own ABC No Rio or affiliated with the people behind ABC No Rio. This Philadelphia band is very much loved in the community, and after seeing them, there’s no difficulty in understanding why. They were sort of the odd ones out being more of a hardcore band with some experimental elements than a screamo band, but they were still incredibly fun live. They instantly put me in a good mood, and I found I couldn't stop smiling. My only complaint was the brevity of their set. Maybe I was just having too good time to notice how quickly it flew by, but I felt like they could’ve easily played for an extra ten minutes and I would’ve been more than fine with it.
Up next was Flesh Born, whose energy on their studio recordings translates perfectly live. These guys are a relentlessly heavy, angry wave, and surely the heaviest band of the night, which the audience responded to in kind. While only two people were “moshing” during their set, the room was headbanging to each and every breakdown. It was similar to the mood of The Body and Full of Hell’s collaborative set in September of last year. I have a newfound interest in Flesh Born, and I am really stoked to see these guys come back to melt faces in the future.
At roughly 10:30, Ostraca came out to finish the night. The band showcases intense, raw passion on their studio recordings, but seeing them live… holy shit. Everything about these guys is just astonishing in its passion. There wasn’t a moment while they were performing music that wasn’t absolutely intense. Everyone in the room was reacting just as they were supposed to: moshing around the room and going absolutely crazy. Every time I thought that they couldn’t top their own intensity, they went ahead and did it. Their closing song had the band screaming at the top of their lungs , pulling some serious Jeromes Dream shit. I already thought of Ostraca as one of the best in modern music, but their performance at this show just solidified that fact. These guys are arguably the best thing modern screamo has to offer.
Overall, with the exception of one band, this was one of the best local lineups I have seen in a long time. Great music performed by great bands in a room that knew how to party while also respecting others’ boundaries. This is what DIY hardcore is about, and this is why I love the community as much as I do.
The Crunch House - 5/12/17
Roughly a month ago, my colleagues went to a show at the Crunch House, which you can read about here. It was a show that consisted of a handful of great acts in the Connecticut extreme music scene. Well, fast forward a bit, and we have yet another incredibly solid lineup at the Crunch House, this time a show that we at Metal Lifestyle have sponsored! The show included five Connecticut local acts from pretty different musical backgrounds, from hardcore punk to progressive metal to black metal. Nevertheless, as the night had shown, it was truly a fun one for all. Let’s get right into business.
Perennial opened up the show with their very experimental punk music. Their sound could be compared to earlier post-hardcore acts, such as Refused and Blood Brothers, with a riot grrl edge you can find in acts like Sleater-Kinney. Their incorporation of the synth is absolutely infectious and the group was obviously having a ton of fun in the spotlight, making their performance all the more enjoyable. The only downside to their set was that more people weren’t moving around, when this is surely a group that people should be dancing and having a good time to. I hope they get a more appropriate reaction at future shows, because they put a lot into their performance. Check them out on Bandcamp here, and be on the lookout for more music from these guys.
Prologues came up next. If you read Metal Lifestyle regularly, you have seen this name pop up before, be it in a review for Absence of Distance or in the above review for the last Crunch House show. There’s no questioning why Metal Lifestyle has spotlighted this group. Prologues has shown a level of passion in two years that most bands never get to show over an entire career, and this night was no different. The room moshed throughout their entire 20 minute set, and yours truly even did a bit of guest vocals during their song “Dialogue, By Any Other Name,” Of the three times I caught these guys live, this was surely the time they seemed the most focused and energetic. If you are a fan of groups such as Poison the Well, Zao, and Eighteen Visions and you don’t know these guys by now, you would be doing yourself a significant favor in keeping up with what they are going to be doing in the future. Until then, check out the one song they have up on Bandcamp right now.
Next up was The Crooked Sound. They've been gaining a lot of attention in the Connecticut music scene, playing quite a few shows to hype their upcoming debut release, Lotus-eaters. Despite having only two tracks out currently, the entire room was going insane for the duration of their set. There was everything from moshing to crowd-surfing. Yes, there was crowd-surfing in a room that holds at most, 70 people. Tyler from Prologues, myself, and others were all crowd-surfing, and it was fun as all fuck. The Crooked Sound just brought so much energy out of the crowd, and we poured that energy back, making sure their performance was one to remember. If you dig bands such as Every Time I Die, letlive., and Bungler, keep on the lookout for Lotus-eaters and check out their singles here.
Next was Destination Dimension, who was truly the oddest entry on the bill. They brought a very jazzy, proggy style for about a half-hour, mixing some really nicely-sung cleans and harsh vocals. I, as well as many others, were super tired after The Crooked Sound, so it was really nice to catch a breath and meditate over what Destination Dimension offer. If you dig bands such as The Contortionist, TesseracT, and Good Tiger, you should definitely give these guys a listen here.
Finally came up Inflictor, whose 30 minute set brought me back to the days when I was a complete metalhead, and I was absolutely loving it. Their set wasn’t as active as Prologues or The Crooked Sound, but there was moshing during their set, and the band seemed to be really into it was well, with bassist Ray King getting in people’s faces and jumping off his amp. When their music slowed down it was atmospheric and meditative, but when it got faster, it was definitely mosh-worthy. I windmilled a few times during their set, which really did a number on my neck afterwards, but I had such a damn good time during their performance that I couldn’t give a shit. They don’t have any music out yet, but if you’re into bands such as Emperor, Enslaved, and Darkthrone, and want to unlock that inner metalhead you’ve suppressed in fear of being judged as an elitist loser, like their Facebook page here and keep up to date with them.
This night was five incredibly solid local acts giving as much energy and love as they received. I’ve been to many local shows in my home state of New York, and honestly, none of them could come even close to how good this one was. Even with the wild reaction to Prologues and The Crooked Sound, there was never a sense of toxicity or danger, which is something I have unfortunately felt too often at various New York shows that are infested with the sort of manipulative, misogynistic NY/NJ/PA tri-state scumbags I wrote about in my first post for Metal Lifestyle. If I feel safe moshing and crowd-surfing at a show, let alone a local show with no big names on the bill, then I don’t see how anyone could complain. I never thought I’d say it, but I am a jealous New Yorker.
- Alex Brown.
4/20: NEMHF Pre-Party at The Webster Underground
Face Your Maker
Brick by Brick
The Last Ten Seconds of Life
I definitely think it’s safe to say that every year, New England Metal/Hardcore Fest is a staple of New England's heavy music scene. This year, The Webster Theater in Hartford announced a “pre-party” for the festival the day before, making it the first time the festival has seen Hartford at all, as it usually takes place in Worcester. Announced back in December, the line-up went over well with fans as it was non-stop heavy jams in The Webster Underground, not the main theater. It was announced the local support would be from the boys in Boundaries to kick off the night the right way, brutal and violent. Jokes about mouth guards and boxing gloves went around in reference to how much pitting and crowd killing was expected following the awesome lineup. Before we knew it, 4/20 was upon us and the NEMHF Pre-Party was here.
Shows, particularly metal shows, never do well on a weeknight which was a frightening thing to think about since the pre-party fell on a Thursday evening. However, upon my arrival a mere half hour early, I was surprised to see what was already the usual attendance for a weeknight show waiting outside the venue to be let in. I grabbed my ticket from Boundaries drummer Kevin Stevens and waited for the show to kick off. I cannot fathom how quickly the venue filled up. By Varials I was almost certain that the show had sold out. I sat and waited for the two other nerds that you guys know to show up, Alex and Brian, and watched Boundaries set up, kicking it off with their new track “Reign of Pain.” You could almost immediately see the crowd was ready to get warmed up for the rest of the night by the amount of people already moving around the pit. I think it’s safe to say that after all the bullshit Boundaries were put through on their most recent tour with their van, they still poured their heart and souls into that set and it was fucking astonishing seeing them set up for the touring acts.
I’m going to be frank and just state that I personally am not a fan of Cryptodira’s music. They have a cool sound for the most part but they definitely did not belong on this bill, and that’s being polite. They sounded like they did a decent job from where I stood outside by the Boundaries merch table for the set, and I had seen them open for Beartooth last May and The Dillinger Escape Plan in November and honestly just didn’t have a great impression. Not really my style.
Face Your Maker was up next. I had listened to their song “Abolished” from an old EP when the show was announced but that was about it. The band had brought along Austin Archey (drummer of Lorna Shore) to take photos for them for part of this tour, which was pretty cool as well. This was the first deathcore band of the night and that was made very clear by the constant slamming vocals and riffs. They had the crowd intrigued, including Brian. They absolutely destroyed, the pits were crazy, the songs were tight and their stage presence was off the hook, especially when they brought Mike Jacques (PRY vocalist) and Archey out to do the breakdown vocals of “Abolished,” an earthquake of sheer violence. I’ll be fair and say I had absolutely no clue who Brick by Brick were and didn’t even remember seeing them on the bill until the day before, but they came to party and that was obvious. Even though there was some really drunk dude in the crowd ruining the show for everyone, they made the best of their time and had a really sweet sound.
After they ended, I knew things were about to get ultra-violent in that room and the pit was going to be fucking massive. Varials was up next, and they bring the heavies. There’s just something about straight beatdown hardcore that incites complete and utter destruction, and Varials was going to make sure that happened by playing fan favorites like “No Idols” and “Common Enemies” while the entire room was a complete war zone. Varials probably takes my place as my favorite set of the night. Don’t sleep on them if you have been. They’re absolutely fantastic. Left Behind came on afterwards and I had never heard anything besides the song “Snakes” from their record Seeing Hell because it had Bryan Garris (Knocked Loose) on the track, but I was well aware that people love them and that they go hard. They proved all the rumors true: the dudes take absolutely no shit and tear venues apart, and even got the Varials vocalist to move around with the rest of the crowd for their set, which was pretty cool to witness. If there was one thing I learned from Left Behind’s set, it’s that I should no longer sleep on them and that was advice I’m now taking.
We were hitting the end of the night now, and we had one of Brian, Alex and I’s favorite bands up next, Connecticut’s very own Currents. Surprisingly, they were one of the tamest sets of the night. Cryptodira took the cake as the band with the least crowd participation, but they aren’t really mosh music. They performed as well as ever, which is no surprise as I’ve never seen a bad set from them, and it’s super cool that they’re adding “Victimized” from the first EP to their setlists now. Brian Wille absolutely crushes that track. Catch them at every opportunity possible, especially with Miss May I and Kublai Khan this spring/summer. They’re going to make waves in the worldwide metal scene soon with their new record coming out this year.
We were hitting the headliners next/ I was starting to feel the fatigue, so unfortunately, I took a seat and watched the absolute destruction of Kublai Khan’s set from a distance. Those guys take names every single time they perform, crushing the opposition with the perfect mix of heavy and groovy which makes them gods in the hardcore scene, at least in my opinion. It was super cool hearing them play “Life for a Life,” although I’d kill to see them perform that with the Bury Your Dead vocalist live at some point. For some reason, half the crowd disappeared before The Last Ten Seconds of Life performed, which was lame, but ultimately made the experience more intimate. They played two or three tracks off The Violent Sound, but absolutely killed it with “The Box!”, “North of Corpus,” and “Ballad of the Butcher” off of Soulless Hymns. That album is a masterpiece of downtempo deathcore, and I’ll fight anyone who thinks otherwise. It's crazy to see how much new vocalist John Roberts slays those tracks and does his own thing on the new songs as well. All in all, the NEMHF Pre-Party was a success, and I hope we get to see shows of this caliber more regularly from now on.
- Dakota G.
Prisms: 4/21 at the Crunch House
The Crooked Sound
The Crunch House is the sort of place you can’t find unless you know where it is - it doesn’t register as a location on your phone GPS, and it’s difficult to find an exact address without being told it. Even once inside, you would never imagine it’s regularly the site of some of the greatest shows Connecticut has ever seen: it’s about the size of a living room, its walls are graffitied, every nook is crammed with some weird artifact (my favorite is the battered doll stashed in a recess close to the ceiling), and its door is plastered with band stickers. There are as many recognizable names as there are obscure: breakout death metal act Gatecreeper and local noise-rock band Perennial aren’t too far apart, to give you an idea of the breadth of the musical history that’s passed through the Crunch House’s peeling walls. It’s DIY as hell.
Friday is only the second time I’ve attended a show at the Crunch House, but it was, without exaggeration, one of the best shows I have ever been to. That would have been obvious if I had checked out more than a couple of the bands on the bill beforehand, but I hadn’t. Alex and I went in totally unaware of the incredible - and, I think, soon-to-be legendary - night about to unfold. We showed up early to catch Prologues, good friends of ours and no strangers to Metal Lifestyle. Once upon a time, they were a throwback metalcore band channeling the sounds of the ’00s for better or worse, but as their set of all but two brand-new songs proved, they’ve done some remodeling. The most obvious change comes in vocalist Tyler Maldonado, whose delivery is throatier and less screechy, but it’s also in the more chaotic structure of the new songs. Zack Santiago and Brandon Antoniak, guitarist and drummer respectively, are just a joy to watch perform. We once compared Prologues to Fear Before the March of Flames, but they’re really more in line with The Chariot at this stage.
Despite having no official recordings under their belt (at the time - they’ve since released a killer demo you need to listen to now), there’s been a lot of buzz of late for local powerviolence band Kidnapped thanks to a raging, no-bullshit live show we were lucky to experience firsthand. I’m not sure how many songs we actually heard, as they filled every spare second with noise and feedback to blur the lines between one burst of noise and the next, but their set absolutely brimmed with nasty riffs and primal beatdowns. I was variously reminded of Pig Destroyer, Full of Hell (bassist Liam Fossaluzza was wearing a shirt of theirs, in fact), and Knocked Loose, mostly thanks to vocalist Danny’s ragged hardcore scream, but it’s Kidnapped’s innate feel for rhythm that made their set so memorable. Even in the midst of all that dissonance and feedback, they never lost sight of the main groove. They’ll go far on that alone, and I will be thoroughly surprised if they don’t rise to same level of scene-prestige as Boston’s Vein. Yeah, they’re that good.
From hearsay alone, I would have expected Pretty Lush (once known as Better Half, a band I am told I saw on a bill with Prologues but cannot remember having actually watched for the life of me), to be the odd ones out on a bill that trended a bit closer to hardcore since they rock a more alternative/post-hardcore sound - and while they sort of did end up that band, the sheer emotional weight of their performance kept them well afloat. Looking back, I would argue that they were essential to the night, the “calm” band, swathed in pink and blue lights, that’s really anything but. Vocalist Eric Gustafson’s voice, thick with angst, complements his and Nick Firine’s fidgety guitarwork, which lays on the driving riffs and pretty leads with equal skill. While they’re stylistically miles apart, Pretty Lush’s knack for digging their heels into emotive moments - faulty notes, ringing chords, particularly resonant lyrics - reminds me of the uncommon vulnerability of early Evans Blue, when they were fronted by Kevin Matisyn. Underneath all the yearning is the hunger of a small band performing music they enjoy listening to as much as they enjoy playing, and it comes through on record, too. Let me tell you, it’s been hard to put down Sink Into My Skin since the show.
The Crooked Sound might have been the biggest surprise of the night, even accounting for Kidnapped’s tower of amps. I simply wasn’t ready for this band. Vocalist Kenny James did a quick guest verse in the middle of Pretty Lush’s set, but I was so preoccupied with the drama of that band’s performance that it didn’t really register until The Crooked Sound picked up their instruments. They live up to their name and then some: somewhere between Glassjaw and Every Time I Die, they occupy a niche that’s bound to propel them to instant stardom, blending the sneering attitude of the former with the vicious hardcore of the latter while doubling down on the caustic sarcasm of both. Their single “Mock” is a great summary of what they offer, strutting out tasty riffs and groovy drumming with the finesse of professionals, but the sneering bellow that dominates that track shared more space with James’s singing live, which borrows a lot from Daryl Palumbo’s trademark melisma. In a word, The Crooked Sound is special, and you would be an idiot to miss out on what they’re doing. Keep an eye on them. They’ll be huge before you know it.
The last time I saw Lucretia was on the floor of a banquet hall, under a chandelier, gentle lighting, and flanked by tablecloths. No joke. It made for some brilliant, surreal contrast, but to see them in a venue as gritty as their sound actually is brought things to the next level - it’s caged-animal vicious reverberating against those cracked walls, and when the cushions of the venue’s couch are being tossed back and forth across the moshpit. No joke, either. Despite the scarcity of Lucretia shows (“We only play one show per Overwatch event,” to quote guitarist Michael Terry), both sets have been deadly honed. Vocalist Tony Goncalves’s blackened screech tears right through Terry’s thick riffing, and no one seemed to miss a beat as they churned through slab after slab of deliciously sludgy hardcore. The undisputed highlight of the night was their performance of “Untitled,” or “Rat Song” as it’s sometimes known, after the art for the song’s release a year ago. It’s actually pretty rare for me to jump into a pit once it really gets going, but I was right in there with everyone else, and even had a chance to buddy up with Terry and a friend to shout the song’s anthemic climax, despite my utter lack of rhythm: “I would rather be dead than in love for a third time / I was told it’s nothing more than an action / I would rather be dead than in love for a third time / either way, it only lasts for a moment.”
My recollection of the rest of the night is a bunch of hallucinatory snapshots: there’s Tyler of Prologues crowdsurfing across the venue and back while drummer Brandon Antoniak couch-dived from, you know, the couch, into the crowd. There’s Kenny James and Eric Gustafson mowing back and forth across the moshpit. I remember snatching a pillow out of the air to shield myself as I caught my breath. Through it all, there was the growing certainty, later articulated by Prologues guitarist Zack, that we were all participating in something legendary, a show they’d be referencing years down the line when every band on the bill had moved onto bigger and better things. Every act that night is more than deserving of success, and given the Crunch House’s storied history, the future couldn’t be brighter.
A doom/drone metal band. Brooklyn/Queens border. St. Patrick’s Day. Sounds about right to me.
For those unfamiliar, the band Sunn O))) are difficult to explain and must simply be experienced. Though words can only go so far, here goes nothing. Being categorized as "drone metal," their music moves at the speed of a glacier coupled with the volume of a jet engine (approximately 125 decibels). Visually, the band pumps fog machines for approximately 30 minutes prior to taking the stage, leaving the viewers in a literal fog.
Upon taking the stage, vocalist Atilla Csihar invokes inhuman mumbles, chants, and incantations, almost resembling the art of Tuvan throat singing (multiple notes/harmonies sung simultaneously). After five minutes, the guitars begin to rumble and cascade upon the observer a wall of notes that, depending upon proximity to the stage, can vibrate the lips and rattle the chest cavity. One fairly surprising angle is the lack of a drummer. Though somewhat unheard of and making it seemingly impossible to maintain a discernible rhythm, the sounds Sunn O))) produce ultimately need no further assistance. One exception though are the occasional lost and solemn notes of a trumpet meandering through the drone.
Just as slowly as the "music" progresses, the lights fade into each other, beginning with a dark blue, than a mellow orange, ending on red. As they darken and brighten, one wonders if the color changes are a subliminal insinuation, a metaphor for starting out in a dark place that gets better, and ultimately makes you stronger. But the immediate reaction to these physical and audio assaults is, appropriately, "what IS this?!? WHY would I want to experience this?" After a certain amount of time, the audio becomes numbing and induces an almost meditative state of mind. When guitarists Stephen O' Malley and Greg Anderson play a new note, the rumblings awaken you briefly, and then perpetuate the paralysis. Once the fog starts to fade and the brief outlines of O'Malley and Anderson, adorned in Druid ritualistic robes, become noticeable, an arm making a fist is stretched into the air. Observers who aren't frozen then slowly raise their fists in a sign of solidarity and appreciation.
For the last third of the show, Csihar returns to the stage looking like the Statue of Liberty from another dimension. Adorned in a spiked crown, cloak dressed in broken pieces of mirror, and a glove with red lasers as fingers, low rumbles and brief high pitched screams underscore the guitars as laser lines bounce into the crowd. Right when the viewer may have gotten comfortable in this realm of sound, the arresting image merely adds another layer of discomfort. Just as suddenly as it started, two hours later, Sunn switches off their amps and remove their hoods and cloaks.
Though this review may seem, for lack of a better term, "mental masturbation," in order to justify a two-hour session of playing a handful of notes and feedback at absurd levels, I present to you two ideas of thought, one pretentious and one practical:
First, metal music, like other genres, has spiraled out into various sub-genres. Heavy metal, progressive metal, nu-metal, math metal, black metal, doom metal; the list goes on, especially if the "core" genres were to be considered. Each sub-genre approaches their music with a unique background, records it in a unique mentality, and want to display in a unique image….
...And secondly, they thought of it and acted on it before you did and made it successful enough for you to have to hear of it and form a negative opinion on it.
The best way to start this review is by mentioning that, had it been the day it was originally scheduled for, I would’ve most likely died trying to get the venue. For the show I saw today, I realized how truly worth it that would have been.
Deafheaven is currently wrapping up the last few legs of touring for their third full length LP New Bermuda before they go back into the studio. Being a band who chooses their own show lineups, one could expect nothing but the best from these guys. While the last US headliner they did is impossible to top, featuring screamo legends envy and up-and-coming death n’ rollers Tribulation, they are keeping jt interesting by inviting post-rock icons This Will Destroy You and folk/dream pop artist Emma Ruth Rundle along. As soon as this tour was announced, I made sure I got my tickets right away. Due to the snowstorm that hit on the original date, however, the show was moved to the next day, March 15th. There’s a lot to cover, so I’ll cut to the chase.
The first time I saw Emma Ruth Rundle was with Alcest back in late 2015. To be honest, I really didn’t care for her set at all, but I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. She now had a full band, and I hadn’t checked anything out by her since that show, so I figured there was a chance it would be more interesting. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Her set was just a 30-minute snoozefest, and it really didn’t feel like anyone was enjoying it too much. I appreciate the fact that Deafheaven go out of their way to pick non-metal artists to open for them, and Emma certainly fits with the style that Deafheaven goes for, but I’m just not a fan of her music at all, and her live show really brings nothing to the table. That said, it only got me that much more excited for This Will Destroy You.
Instrumental artists’ live performances seem to either be completely unforgettable or the opposite. I’ve seen some incredible live shows from artists such as And So I Watch You From Afar, and some that left me bored and disappointed, like Animals As Leaders. This Will Destroy You, thankfully, is the former. Post-rock groups really use the build-up of a song to it’s fullest advantage, and when the climax comes, they let loose. This was certainly the case for This Will Destroy You. Hell, one of their guitarists was sitting down the entire set, and he was more energetic than many other groups. The other guitarist got really jumpy and excited during their more climactic moments as well, and even did a bit of vocals on the last song to add flavor. On top of all that, however, the music was intense as fuck. My girlfriend was crying throughout their set, and I really couldn’t blame her. I was feeling pretty emotional as well. However, nothing could prepare anyone for what was going to come next.
I’ve seen Deafheaven three times prior to last night. The last time I saw them at Webster Hall was one of my all-time favorite performances. The amount of energy and passion that went into their set that day was something out of this world, and I got very intimate with vocalist George Clarke during Luna. It was truly a performance that few artists could match. So the big question was, could they top that set?
They opened up with the first track off of New Bermuda, “Brought to the Water.” Within these eight minutes, Deafheaven blew every performance I have seen this year thus far out of the water (no pun intended), a list that includes August Burns Red, Every Time I Die, and The Saddest Landscape. Deafheaven pack the passion of another band’s entire set into one song, and this was only a portion of what would come. They went on to play two other songs from New Bermuda, “Baby Blue” and “Come Back,” pummeling through these tracks while Clarke stood on the barricade, high-fiving and holding audience members’ hands, including my own, and even doing a bit of a dance during the softer moments. Clarke is truly a one-of-a-kind frontman, which is not to discredit the rest of the group at all. They do a fantastic job performing their respective pieces, but it's job of the frontman to get the crowd excited. He really goes above and beyond.
After the tracks off New Bermuda, Deafheaven treated us to tracks off their debut LP, Roads to Judah, which I haven’t heard since 2014. I honestly never thought I was ever going to hear “Language Games” live, so needless to say, I got pretty damn emotional during the last section of the track. This went into “Unrequited,” which was the only song I had heard live off the LP beforehand, but I was glad to see it back in their set. The group also looked stoked to be playing these songs again, which is always a good sign. These tracks went into their cover of “Cody” by post-rock legends Mogwai, which is yet another song I never expected to see live. The group really went out of their way to deliver some true gems on this tour.
The night would come to a close with three tracks off of the group’s iconic Sunbather: “Dream House”, the title-track, and “The Pecan Tree.” I’ve seen all of these tracks before, with the former two being on every set I have seen thus far. These performances were…well, completely divine, for lack of a better word. “Dream House” was as intense as it could ever have been performed. Throughout its nine-minute span, both the group and the crowd gave it their all, with many people getting on stage (despite the barricade) and Clarke jumping into the audience on more than one occasion. It is really hard to put the performance of the song into words, because it was just so perfectly executed, and started the final act of Deafheaven’s set on a very positive note. We would be led into the title-track off Sunbather, which was just as perfectly executed. The conclusion of the set was the conclusion to Sunbather, “The Pecan Tree,” and even though I had to walk out a bit early, I still felt all the incredible vibes throughout its runtime.
While their Webster Hall show will always hold a special place in my heart, it’s hard to deny that Deafheaven really outdid themselves that night. It was truly one of the most passionate shows I’ve seen from the group thus far, and as unbelievable as it is that they are even at this level, I can only anticipate that this passion that drives their performance will continue to grow. George Clarke said the next time they come to New York City, he believes they will have a new LP. I am both ready for a new Deafheaven LP and to see them live for a fifth time.
- Alex Brown
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