Nile played one of the best metal shows I heard in the past year at Sonar two Fridays ago. Read the rest…
Nile played one of the best metal shows I heard in the past year at Sonar two Fridays ago. Read the rest…
Teaser image to the right, proper flyer art coming from Nolen Strals of Post Typography/Double Dagger fame.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Aural States announces line-up, details for Aural States Fest II
December 11 2009 – Baltimore, MD – Baltimore-based music website Aural States (auralstates.com) is proud to announce Aural States Fest II, our second anniversary blow-out at Sonar Club Stage & the Talking Head on Saturday January 30th in Baltimore, MD. This will likely be the final year for Aural States to be based in Baltimore, and hence, the final Aural States Fest.
The line-up for this year includes a wide variety of acts from Baltimore and DC, crossing generational and genre boundaries:
Leprechaun Catering (www.myspace.com/leprechauncatering)
Vincent Black Shadow (www.myspace.com/vbskicksoutthejams)
Sick Weapons (www.myspace.com/sickweapons)
Office of Future Plans (J Robbins of Jawbox | www.myspace.com/officeoffutureplans)
Caleb Stine (www.myspace.com/calebstine)
Benjy Ferree (www.myspace.com/benjyferree)
Sick Sick Birds (www.myspace.com/sicksickbirds)
Noble Lake (www.myspace.com/noblelake)
Dustin Wong (www.myspace.com/dustinclarence)
Height With Friends (www.myspace.com/height)
True Womanhood (www.myspace.com/truewomanhood)
Lands & Peoples (www.myspace.com/landsandpeoples)
Ami Dang (www.myspace.com/amritakd)
Liveshitbingepurge (Newagehillbilly, Decapitated Hed, and Pawly Walnutz | mt6records.com)
Stay tuned for additional line-up announcements in the coming weeks.
Like last year, early arrivals with ticket stubs will be rewarded with a limited-supply of generous grab-bags filled with CDs and merchandise from (mostly) local artists and businesses, including Atomic Books, Video Americain, Baltimore Jazz Alliance, Thrill Jockey, Natty Paint, and many more.
This year we are proud to team up with our younger regional cousin Bmore Musically Informed (bmoremusic.net) to present our festival as Night 2 of the “Blogtimore PWNS” weekend. Night 1 takes place Friday January 29th, when a combination of Aural States Fest alums (Arbouretum, Wye Oak, Sri Aurobindo) and fresh local talent (Weekends, the Violet Hour) will play the last show ever at the G-Spot.
Tickets for Night 1 are $10ADV/$12DOS and available through missiontix.com. Tickets for Night 2 are $15 and available through sonarbaltimore.com. A limited supply of 50 double-header tickets are available for a discounted rate of $20 through (sonarbaltimore.com and missiontix), and will guarantee access to both nights.
Last Monday was cold and rainy and depressing; perfect black metal weather. A decent sized crowd turned out for Marduk and Nachtmystium at Sonar, where they made a big circle, moshed, fought, gave each other dirty looks, made the sign of the devil and were violated in the ear-hole. I wear earplugs at metal shows: One of them fell out as I was head-banging. I did not replace it, and I paid for that decision.
MP3: Nachtmystium – Cold Tormentor (I’ve Become) from Nachtmystium (2003)
To me, “black metal” means a style of music pioneered by Norwegian bands like Darkthrone and Mayhem in the early 1990s. The (again, for me) defining elements of the genre are densely layered trebly guitars, often low-fidelity production, high screechy vocals, lyrics about darkness, despair, and evil (as opposed to dismemberment, gore and violence), and riffs that are more melodic than one finds in other extreme forms of metal like death metal. In recent years, American bands have produced some of the best music in this subgenre. Chicago’s Nachtmystium (opening for Marduk on Monday on the Club Stage at Sonar), are among my favorites of this new crop.
Marduk represents the more fast and brutal end of the black metal spectrum: no synthesizers, intense drumming, and overall a sound that is more aggressive and less ambient. They wear scary makeup and sing about evil. I have never seen them live, but they have a sound similar to 1349 who I saw play with Carcass last year; they stole the show from the other opening acts. Marduk is real black metal, a must-see especially if you missed Satyricon in September.
However, the main draw for me is Nachtmystium. Using the basic elements of black metal as a point of departure, bands like Krallice, Wolves in the Throne Room, Leviathan, and Nachtmystium, have each contributed something unique. The result is not so much one new trend or direction but a set of cool possibilities, ranging from classic-rock-tinged black metal (Nachtmystium) to experimental noise black metal (Canada’s Wold), to ambient, new age-y black metal (Wolves in the Throne Room). All of these bands maintain the darkness and depth of the Norwegian sound, drawing on the bleakest musical style in the world and producing something new and vital.
Nachtmystium’s Assassins: Black Meddle, Pt. 1 uses more sounds from seventies rock and roll than their previous albums, but the basic skeleton is still black metal. My favorite (and one of my favorite black metal records ever) is still 2006’s Instinct: Decay. Listen to “Eternal Ground” from this album to get psyched up for Nachtmystium. Instinct and parts of Assassins both have an urgency and an energy that I think is very rare in the black metal that I have heard, and downright remarkable in any music that is this dark. I am not personally energized and sustained by darkness and despair (confronted and challenged maybe) in music, and those moods are somewhat intrinsic to this style. Nachtmystium’s mixture of the energizing elements with their dark and brutal side is a rare accomplishment.
An odd night to say the least. Two solo openers that relied heavily on iPod-beats to move bodies versus two bands using traditional instruments with ear-shattering consequences. These evolutions of the spastic electronified rock that characterized many Wham City acts has morphed into a more “adult” realm of music with booty-shaking club influence weighing heavy on the proceedings. The contrast is marked: the wide-eyed innocence and playfulness of Dan Deacon’s tunes meets the bump-and-grind, down and dirty.
Shams peddles his tonic well, selling his heavily distorted vocals through twin mics and iPod-backing tracks with a somewhat ritualistic spectacle of a live show, complete with amulet, and various charms. Overtones of amateur voodoo shaman-ism, more for fear factor than any sort of true belief, echo in his vacant, ironic and subtle-as-a-freight-train lyrics: “I want to cut your face / while I’m fucking you.” Yet something was strangely compelling about the sensationalized violence and misogyny that made it all work. Maybe it is just the charm of depravity with a wink and a smile.
I found Pictureplane’s music was a harder sell (but clearly I was in the minority amidst the sweaty and dancing crowd). Much heavier club and dub sounds filled this set, heavy beats that were easy to move to. The fact that the house lights were cut, leaving on flashes and LED strips to light the way, didn’t hurt with the immersion either. I think living in Baltimore has us spoiled though, as I kept thinking I was listening to a sub-par Bmore Club DJ you would find on any given weeknight. While he no doubt dropped some smoking-hot cuts, these moments of dance-floor bliss were too few amidst a sea of shallow replicas.
HEALTH provided no small racket, their primal rhythms and screeching vocals hitting hard and fast. But they seemed a pale shadow of themselves from their Ottobar performance a little over a year ago, and their luster was dulled. I think they would be well served by some time off the road, to recharge their electricity. The exaggerated swings of their guitars and flailing spasms seemed little more than half-hearted artifice. Still, underneath such a din HEALTH didn’t seem so out of place with the previous two openers, most of their songs possessing strong tribal dance circle rhythms that can sway bodies.
Double Dagger however, was the odd man out. Funnily enough, they possessed far and away the best bass lines of the night, yet they are the furthest removed from dance fare. But with Nolen as front-man, I don’t think there will ever be a lackluster DD show. Bruce’s frenzied bass and Denny’s frantic drumming only add fuel to the fire. As Bruce’s bass cut out mid-song, Nolen finished the verse before apologizing and positing the hypothetical: “maybe we should’ve played with iPods like everyone else.” Considering what came before, I think it was clear that the answer to this is a resounding “no.” I walked away from the night a little disoriented by the shifting styles, and not quite sure what to make of the line-up. I was only sure that I had had my fill of iPod-backed acts, but could listen and watch Double Dagger another ten times before drifting to sleep.
All photos: Greg Szeto
MP3: Sunn O))) – Big Church from Monoliths and Dimensions (2009)
I’m just going to lay it out there. Sunn O))) blew my mind and disappointed me at the same time.
Sunn O))) are a spectacle and an experience. Their particularly glacial blend of drone, doom metal and many other things dark and heavy demands, and depends, on such deep immersion for its effect. This is why, no matter how enormous the sound or foggy the room, their set at Sonar couldn’t even touch the experience of reading about their set at First Unitarian in Philadelphia. From all reports, had I been there it would have instantly ranked in my all time concerts list. The crowd’s refusal to take part in the immersive experience early on rendered the introductory hypnotic monk chants largely ineffectual, and even a bit farcical as grumbles about the New Age-y trance track mounted. Despite this initial falter, they still put on a mammoth show.
After a lot of fogging, Sunn mobilized in monk robes to take the stage and drown us all in over an hour of the deepest, darkest, sludgiest doom drones outside of whatever hell dimension true metal comes from. Apropos their latest album title, Monoliths and Dimensions, their deliberately paced, deafening assault was truly monolithic. Their sound was, in fact, even more massive than I had expected. At times, I felt my ear drums were going to implode from the pressure of the sound waves, and my heart most certainly skipped beats to match the rumble of the low octave chords that made up their endlessly mutating drone. Never throughout the set did they let up on the intensity or artifice of their roles. They produced probably the closest thing to a demonic ceremony that I will ever witness, through ritualistic and crushing worship of music (even playing their instruments with no small amount of melodramatic flare ie- bass impalement, guitar offerings to the sky). One kid in the front row even took to periodic bowing and praising Sunn, only reinforcing the strength of their musical liturgy.
What proved most fascinating about their music though, was the absolute insanity of their vocalist, aptly named Attila. Stunning vocal acrobatics, dipping into octaves that may very well reside in the underworld, were the linchpin of his performance, as well as stratospheric screeches. His demented variation on the entrancing tropes of New Age chants was simultaneously impressive, disturbing, and enthralling. His costume was easily the most outlandish, as midset he activated his laser fingers (fingertip-less gloves with laser on each finger) and started a possessed game of Cat’s cradle and even donned the king of all crowns, a giant hat with huge metal spikes protruding on all sides. The summation of all these elements was a complete and total immersion in something challenging, offensive, mesmerizing, and haunting.
As you walked out of Sonar, the fog spilled out of the front door not unlike smoke from a burning building. Your chest struggled to recuperate from the pummeling it had just received as your ears strained vainly to regain some semblance of auditory function. You maybe even felt a bit of burning in your lungs. And maybe that was from sulfur in the air…which confirms your sneaking suspicions that you’ve just witnessed something truly otherworldly.
All photos: Josh Sisk
Full set here
I have always had a giant personal dilemma in regards to hip-hop. The genre is filled with landmines that derail my systematic approach to digesting and enjoying most other genres of music. In my mind, the most compelling genius of music happens in live performance. The convergence of visual, aural and atmospheric factors should make for a unique, vital and one-of-a-kind experience.
I tend to abhor live hip-hop shows (battles are a different story), as you tend to lose a large portion of the visual with the focus on one singular performer, often without any backup other than a backing track. This has led to the egoism of the hype-up approach in order to catalyze a feedback loop of energy from the crowd to performer, and it often ends up distasteful at its worst, laughable at its best and nearly always obnoxious. Things devolve into pep rallies reminiscent of adolescence more than should be allowed.
Jay Electronica fell into this trap horrifically. His ‘tween song banter ranged from bad to insufferable, yet somehow the crowd seemed trained to eat it up. Maybe that’s because when he put aside the ego and the role of hypeman, picking up the mic as a rapper, he delivered some of the best rhymes of the night. His style is wordy, dense and filled with vivid metaphors, yet his flow is smooth and steady, like raging waters smoothing over a rocky riverbed. Counting among his repertoire a number of cuts with J Dilla beats, his set excised from the B$ could have potentially outshined both headliners. As it stands, the set was marred by awkward silences and particularly momentum-killing moments where he was having mic feedback and when he had his backing DJ searching for a line to play back from some unknown track.
Talib Kweli, by contrast, flowed forth not only with his words but with the show itself. Rarely, if ever letting silence rule the space between songs, Kweli packed every second with agile turns of phrase or phenomenal scratching by his DJ. A master of crowd control, the charismatic Kweli had the perfect balance of crowd interaction and sensing when to stow it and drop knowledge on everyone in a set largely culled from his collaborative efforts with DJ Hi-Tek. His steady and rapid-fire rhythmic skills while rapping a capella were top-notch, and his energy and intensity were off-the-charts on cuts like “Get Em High” and “Get By.” He even gave a birthday shout-out during a Marley sing-along that proved he’s can be as gentle as he goes hard.
Mos Def most clearly recognizes the need to fill the energy gap as he has taken to becoming a more versatile, multi-instrumental performer. The visual energy from watching him play the drums while rapping is remarkable, and its contribution to the performance immeasurable. Unsurprisingly, Mos Def performed the majority of The Ecstatic in gripping fashion. The end of the night heralded the reunion of Kweli and Mos Def as Black Star, the union which originally thrust them into the spotlight. The power of that performance almost dwarfed the individuals, and makes you wonder whether either of them has truly stepped out from the shadow of their earliest, arguably finest works?
02. MP3: Medeski, Martin & Wood – Flat Tires from Radiolarians II (2009)
This Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, Sonar will be hosting a brand new late summer festival called Traffic Jam. That’s right, Herby Nuggz, it’s like I’m speaking directly to you through my computer.
For a brand new festival held at a single venue in the heart of a major metropolitan area, the lineup is stellar. Moreover, the setting should seem positively intimate compared to other ultra-mega summer festivals. There will be an outdoor stage — the weather report looks clear so bring sunblock rather than umbrellas — as well as two indoor stages.
I did some show hopping last Saturday, first catching DC’s premiere instrumental rockers Caverns in their opening set for MD legends Clutch. Spreading their wings on the Main Stage, Caverns seemed a bit lost on the big stage. They definitely work best in smaller venues, but thankfully their massive sound fills out any gaps left untrampled by guitarist (and sole kineticist) Kevin Hilliard’s frantic scrambling and freak-outs all over the stage. Their second time opening for Clutch, they’re no stranger to the tunnel vision that often dominates the minds of many in Clutch’s fanbase. But ever resilient to chants and heckles beckoning for Clutch, they chip away more and more fans as their sound grows ever more massive in their set. Quite possibly the loudest I’ve seen them since Aural States Fest.
They are sure to be even louder tonight at the Hexagon with bastard cousin Solar Powered Sun Destroyer, locals Lexanne and headliners Night Horse.
From there, an abrupt mood and style shift as I headed over to mope territory at the Ottobar with Cursive and Tim Kasher’s emotive yowls headlining, and the ever-effusive Love Language opening. To be brutally honest, I was underwhelmed by Cursive. Progressively more adventurous in their latest efforts, to me they still fall short of capturing lightning in a bottle that was The Ugly Organ, that mixture of catchy, sappy, and adventurous that feels just right. Sad but true. Kasher’s bubbling stew was plenty big, but lacked much punch.
By contrast, openers The Love Language proved even more effusive than my last time seeing them. They are 2 for 2 wowing me with phenomenal live performances and presence.
MP3: VAMPS – Love Addict
This one is for the J-Rockers out there. Look no farther than Baltimore’s own Japanese extravaganza Otakon this coming weekend for evidence of their power and numbers. The name L’Arc-en-Ciel should ring some of their Pavlovian bells. They are one of those rare entities that manage to attain massive commercial success (in a highly competitive market) with shifting musical style.
Vocalist Hyde from that iconic Japanese rock band has teamed with notable guitarist K.A.Z. to form a new, pretty sardonic side-project called VAMPS. They manage to traipse all over the musical landscape of modern rock, laying down everything from melodramatic ballads to bits of swaggering garage to various tropes of metal. While their approach may be (for better or worse) remarkably similar to much of what you might find on Warped Tour, the merit lies in the execution. Hyde’s voice is great and versatile, the compositions are catchy and solid straight-ahead rock, the music technically tight and inventive. And I’m sure with all the experience behind them, the live show is sure to be a spectacle not to be missed.
So don’t. They are stopping by Sonar this Thursday July 16th and I’m happy to say we have a pair of tickets to giveaway to one lucky, music-loving otaku. Sign up for our mailing list by leaving your name and email along with a good reason to name you the winner in the comments (or send an email if your prefer). I’ll pick a winner before the show.