Well, it seems as though this was the strange little album for which I have unwittingly been longing. It seems like I remember hearing a while back that Les Claypool from Primus and Sean Lennon got together for a project, but I don’t remember ever hearing anything from the first album they put out. After hearing this new slab, I’m fairly ticked off that I didn’t seek it out originally. Because this thing is fan-damn-tastic.
This album really feels like a creation of two kindred spirits. Les Claypool brings his signature bass sound and the weird Primus nafarious sort of deranged fairy tale flavored lyrics. Lennon brings an equally strange psychedelic and hippy-ish multi-instrumental game to the proceedings. Together, the album feels kind of like a more laid back version of Primus with trapping of 60s psychedelic rock and 70s prog/art rock. It’s a lush sounding album and it just sounds really fresh for something that is obviously inspired by music from an older era. Delirium is a perfect moniker. This one is a fucking keeper.
4 flip flops out of 5
It’s just such a fucking shitshow. So many times when I’m attending this thing I just keep asking myself: Why? Why do I even bother braving this mass of humanity in the attempt of seeing a decent up-and-coming band or, at the very least, some sort of memorable random spectacle. For a severely introverted person, it’s a struggle to force one’s self into this pit of debauchery. It’s just such a jumble of shows and parties and weird promotional gigs all crammed into a week over countless number of dirty and grimy clubs. It’s exhausting. It’s draining. It’s kooky. It’s maddening. It’s revelatory. It’s ridiculous. It’s…well…a shitshow.
At least on paper, the 2019 edition of SXSW was looked to be somewhat underwhelming on the metal front. In past years, we’ve been treated to showcases sponsored by the heavy hitters in the metal blogging word (i.e. not the one you are currently reading) such as Metal Injection, Metalsucks and Invisible Oranges. However, none of these entities had any events this year. Austin’s own Terror Fest put on a couple of showcases that featured Goatwhore and Conan among others. But, by and large, this was just a dry year for metal.
Since there wasn’t much on the schedule that I felt was “must see” fare, I was content to sit back and let my Punk Rock Bride plan out our schedule. And, damn, if she didn’t find some really good gems buried amongst the rabble of bands that hit town last week. First up was the annual Japan Day preview show. This is usually one of the more interesting shows that happens every year during SXSW. It’s a broad variety of bands that are showcased at this event with the only common thread running through it is that all of the bands are from Japan. You’ll see techno, indie pop, doo-wop, metal, prog, punk and weird art rock all represented. The highlight of this year’s show was Otoboke Beaver. This was a four-piece all female noise punk band. They are self-described as being a “Japanese girls knock out or pound cake band”. Which is awesome. They hit the stage all wearing brightly colored floral 60s era go-go dancer dresses and proceeded to destroy the stage at Elysium. Full of rage, this was a very cathartic set.
The other main highlight of the fest was another band from Japan called Asterism. They are a three piece instrumental group made up of a 16, 17 and 18 year-olds. The chops on these kids is very impressive. The lead guitarist sounds as if Joe Satriani passed away and was reincarnated as a 16 year-old girl from Japan. Her playing has a good combination of both aggressive metal riffs and intricate leads. Plus, she has already mastered some very infectious stage presence with some fearsome headbanging skills and metal poses. The bassist and drummer are also both similarly skilled and provide a solid foundation for the band. It will be interesting to see which direction these kids ultimately end up pursuing as their careers progress.
I traveled up to one of my least favorite cities in America on Tuesday to check out a tasty double bill of retro-flavored metal bands. This was the second awesome pairing of bands in a span of four days for your intrepid reporter. So, life could be shittier at this point.
First up on tonight’s bill was Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats. These guys were my main reason for traveling three hours both up and back to Dallas since this was my first time getting to see them live. And they did not disappoint. Even though they have a very retro feel to their sound, Uncle Acid is most definitely a prototypical metal band. Their live sound is just filled with explosive metal riffs and leads. Vocalist and lead guitarist Kevin Starrs has one of those interesting voices that sounds like it was created in the Mason-crazed late 60s. I don’t know how he comes up with it, but it is just this weird nasally sort of whine of a vocal style that is just somehow perfect for the music that it fronts. This is a serious force to be reckoned with in the metal world.
The bluesy, barroom rock of Graveyard finished out the evening. These guys are really feel like a band that you would find in some hole-in-the-wall dingy dive bar. Songs of loss, hard-livin’, hard women and the blue-collar struggle of life all delivered with a soulful croon and dirty distorted guitars. These guys bring the soul to metal. Seriously. There is an absolute R&B influence to their songs.
Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats-I See Through You
Graveyard-An Industry of Murder
This was a really cool triple bill. Most of the time it seems like promoters like to group bands on a touring package that are all in the same vein of metal. This show was different in that the three bands brought a diversity of metal styles to the same show. I think these kinds of shows keep the proceedings from getting stale or repetitive.
Baroness and Deafheaven have joined together for a co-headlining trek across the States. At this particular show, we were treated to having Baroness as the headliner. It has been a few years since we’ve seen Baroness on a proper tour and this one presented a couple of changes. First off, we got to see new lead guitarist, Gina Gleason, in action. She fits in perfectly with the band. Not only did she absolutely nail all of former guitarist Peter Adams’ leads and backing vocals, but she also managed to capably cover all of Pete’s enthusiastic headbanging for the band. Additionally, we got to hear one preview song off of the band’s upcoming album, Gold and Silver. The song seemed to be in a similar vein to the band’s last album, Purple. Overall, the set was a fairly good cross-section of the band’s full catalog.
Deafheaven hit the stage in the middle slot of the show and ripped through a fairly tight set. Always in the mood to tweak the traditions of black metal, they came out with a very spacey/rainbow themed backdrop and white carnations adorning their amps. Much like Baroness, Deafheaven is kind of in between albums and they had just recently dropped one new song which they played during their set. Deafheaven is just a weird band and I get why they catch so much crap from the purists. Lead singer George Clark seems to be gathering more and more confidence in his stage performance as the band ages and if he continues with his whip-hair style of headbanging he’s liable to end up with a neck as thick as Corpsegrinders. Lead guitarist Kerry McCoy’s emo-style dance moves just don’t quite gel with some of the downright brutal riffs coming out of his guitar. I don’t know. People slag these guys, but I dig it. It’s different and the music is solid.
Zeal & Ardor were the wild card of the evening. Billed as a combination of traditional slave-era black spiritual music with black metal, this was a band that I was really intrigued to see live. Given the disparity between the two musical styles, you’d think this would be a mess, but it honestly works really well. Mastermind Maneul Gagneaux stated that the project answers the question as to what it would have sounded like if American slaves turned to Satan instead of Jesus. After a little technical difficulty to start their set, the band came out to a fairly blackened stage set. Gagneaux had two back-up singers with him to provide the full context of the songs. These guys have created a very unique sound and I urge you to go see them perform.
Um. First off, this album cover. No thank you. Not appreciated by those of us creeped-out by spiders and shit.
Aenimus is a new band on the technical death metal scene. I have a love/hate relationship with this sub-genre. On the love side of things, I really dig dudes that can absolutely play the shit out of their instruments. It’s impressive to hear someone absolutely own their guitar/bass/drums like it is an appendage. It is honestly hard to believe that some of the things pulled off by musicians in this sub-genre are physically possible to perform. On the hate side of things, there is a tendency to run into the problem of redundancy and formulaic song structures. There are so many bands churning out this kind of metal that sound exactly the same. The songs and the bands just all start to run together after a while and, as a result, nothing really ends up standing out except for the technical proficiency of the players. And, if that’s all you got, your songs are going to suffer.
Aenimus has put together an album that kind of ends up in that grey area of being really impressive technically, but not really reaching any sort of lasting or emotional impact with their songs. I can’t really pinpoint anything specifically bad about this album, but it just never really takes off or makes itself stand apart from the great rabble of technical death metal bands out there today. Uniqueness. I think that’s what is missing here. The proficiency in the performance is there in spades. I think I wish that there was a little more focus on creating a unique Aenimus identity that makes them stand apart. Now, that being said, if would find yourself digging on something that sounds like it is the lovechild of Meshuggah and Scar Symmetry, then this album might be right up your alley.
3 flip flops out of 5
Sometimes perusing the great mass of heavy metal bands churning out new material becomes a bit of a slog. The field of metal music is really full and the bands are just prolific as shit. This makes it hard for a band’s new material to stand out and make a memorable impression. I think that’s why a lot of people just embrace a few bands from their formative years and just hold them close. The sheer mass of material to wade through there is sometimes daunting and, in many respects, disheartening. Disheartening in the fact that a great majority of the stuff coming out is just average songs destined to end up in a wormhole of forgotten riffs and attempts at relevancy.
It is with these despondent thoughts that a band like Herod keeps me digging through the rabble of new material week after week. Never heard of these guys before this album came out. The main reason that I even gave this one an initial listen was the fact that they are on Pelagic Records. Pelagic is the label started by The Ocean’s mastermind, Robin Staps, and they are one of my favorite underground metal labels. They have an absolute stellar track record of finding new and unsung bands and giving them a forum to showcase their talents. Herod is one of these little bands that they found and I am happy to share them with you today. They are a band out of Switzerland and they seem to be in that strange conglomeration of post-metal, progressive and sludge that I find myself drawn to more and more over the years. The textures and levels of sound that these guys create is downright hypnotic at times. You’ll be able to hear the influences of Meshuggah, Isis and The Ocean running through this thing. I really hope this album does well for these guys because it is the best album to come out so far this year.
4.5 flip flops out of 5
Hmmm. Man, I really hate to say it, but I’m really bummed out about this one.
Let me elaborate a bit before getting into the nitty gritty of this review. Dream Theater was an important fucking band in the realm of metal. During the rise of the grunge scene in the early 90s, traditional metal saw a decline in its relevancy and popularity. It seemed as though bands that featured a guitar god who lay down frenetic leads were cast out of the cool kids’ clique. During this time, Dream Theater was one of those bands that just stuck to their guns and just did what they did; consequences be damned. And me and my metalhead friends absolutely fucking loved them for it. They provided us technical flourish with grand epic songwriting. They took the proggy brilliance and scope of Rush and melded it with the aggression and metal hooks of Maiden and Priest. They were a breath of pure metal during a time when traditional metal was hard to come by. Images and Words. Awake. Change of Seasons. Falling Into Infinity. Scenes From a Memory. This four album and one EP streak was an amazing streak of creative prowess.
And flash forward to now. We are now on album number four since founding member and driving personality Mike Portnoy left his drummer post. The output since his departure has been spotty, if not downright dreadful. This culminated in their previous album, the unfortunately named The Astonishing. This album seemed like a band trying to regain their past glory of the leaders of progressive metal with an ambitious sci-fi/fantasy concept double album. To be perfectly blunt, in my opinion, this album was a completely failure on every level. It felt like a band with zero direction, zero passion and zero confidence in its songwriting ability. The music was flat and the lyrical content was just downright sap. I really worried that Dream Theater was becoming a shell of their former selves and were in danger of just becoming a legacy band happy to tour on the songs they wrote when they were still relevant. Harsh, I know, but this is just how bad that album was received by yours truly.
So, 2019. A new album. On the positive side of thing, this feels like a John Petrucci album in that the guitar really drives it. His leads are still an amazing listen. But leads ain’t going to make a memorable album (go ask Yngwie). Distance Over Time is a step back in the right direction for Dream Theater, but it is still a long way from their peak. There’s just something not quite there in the songs. Dream Theater’s best work used to manage to be both creative and ambitious. They produced the kinds of songs that left you with goosebumps both because the creativity and technical brilliance of the music and with the emotional punch of their lyrics. That aspect is missing here. Even though there are some tasty riffs and leads, it just never reached that ultimate plateau that I have come to expect of Dream Theater. For a band with a lesser track record, I may be willing to be a little more lenient in my opinion and expectation. But, these guys are one of the more talented bands in the world. I expect magic. And this, while a capable and solid album, doesn’t bring the magic.
3 flip flops out of 5