Riverside and Contrive at Gas Monkey Bar N’ Grill, Dallas, TX 5/22/2019

So, a number of years ago, when the punk rock wife and I first started dating, we would engage in a version of 20 questions in an attempt to get to know each other a little better.  One of the questions she asked me on one of our early dates was:  what band have you not seen perform live that you really want to see?  My answer was twofold:  Pain of Salvation and Riverside.  Neither band has ever done a ton of touring in the U.S. and neither of them had made their way through Texas as of 2011.  Well, lo and behold, I have now knocked both of these bands off of my “to do” list after seeing Pain of Salvation in Houston early in 2018 and now getting to see Riverside play at the really nice intimate outdoor stage of Gas Monkey Bar N’ Grill in Dallas.

Sometimes when you wait a really long time to experience something in person the expectations are so large that the actual event can’t help but not live up to those lofty expectations.  This was not the case on Wednesday night.  Riverside simply obliterated my expectations by giving one of the more memorable live shows I have witnessed in some time.  There live performance really solidified Riverside in my mind as one of the true powerhouses of prog metal of the 2000s.  They have found that sweet spot in prog where the blending of technical prowess and songwriting go hand in hand to create something sweeping.  Take the best aspects of Porcupine Tree, Rush and Pink Floyd and it will give you a sense of what Riverside is up to.  This was just a fantastic show and this is definitely a bandwagon that you should jump on if you haven’t already.

In addition to Riverside, a duo of twin brothers named Contrive opened up the show with an impressive display.  I had no ideas of who these guys were before I showed up and I’m always kind of skeptical about non-traditional lineups such as this one (one brother on drums, one brother on guitar/vocals), but these guys pounded out some really solid songs and didn’t see to miss the omission of a bass player in their ranks.  There is always a new band and always new music to be found.

Oh, and the new bands taking it’s place at the top of the list of bands I still haven’t seen:  Cult of Luna and Meshuggah.

Reality Dream I

Second Life Syndrome

Struggle For Survival

Panic Room

Contrive

Michael Schenker Fest at Empire Garage and Control Room, Austin, TX, 5/18/2019

So, when you get to the point where you create a fest around yourself, you’ve either had one hell of a long and prosperous career or you’re just an egomaniacal jackass.  Or both.

Michael Schenker is one of those guys who I’ve found is usually a bellwether for ferreting out whether someone is a true metalhead or not.  If you know who he is, or better yet, you know some of his albums, you’re one of us and you can stay.  He’s one of those guitar gods who should be more well known than he is, but for some reason has never reached the mainstream consciousness of, say, a Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Tony Iommi or Slash.   Schenker always seemed to hover just under the surface of mainstream fanfare even though he was a leading force of two very influential metal powers:  UFO and the Michael Schenker Group.

Saturday night was a celebration of the man’s career.  The focus was mainly on songs from his MSG days with a smattering of UFO classics and a few songs he contributed to his brother’s band, Scorpions.  Along for the ride were four singers who fronted different eras of MSG:  Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet, Robin McAuley and Doogie White.  All told, these aging rockers pulled off an impressive set that lasted over two and a half hours.  A lovely evening of nostalgia was had by all of the fossils in the crowd and on the stage.

The Desert Song

Rock Bottom

Amon Amarth-Berserker

My love for you is like a truck! BERSERKER!!

Would you like to making fuck?! BERSERKER!!

Yeah, that’s the first thing that popped into my head when I saw Amon Amarth’s new album was entitled Berserker.  Johan.  Bubby.  You realize that you’re going to lose some points in my review if you come out with an album called Berserker and you don’t even try to come up with a cover song of the Berserker song from Clerks.  I mean, seriously.  Would you like to suck my cock?! BERSERKER!!  How is this not included on this album?  Missed opportunity.  If Vikings possess the ability to feel shame, I certainly hope the lot of you feel it in spades.

At any rate, Amon Amarth has a new album.  And there are Vikings.  And there is Thor and his hammer.  And there is standing side by side with your brothers in the face of insurmountable odds.  And there is pillaging.  And there is glory.  And there is glorious death.  And there is also some mutant blood-thirsty uber-Viking called a Berserker.

So, you know, an Amon Amarth album.

This one doesn’t stray too far from Amon Amarth’s typical formula.  They are kind of becoming the AC/DC of the death metal world.  No real surprises, but what they do, they do really, really well.  This one isn’t at the top of the Amon Amarth catalog, but isn’t at the bottom either.  It’s just a typical album from these gnarly and hairy Swedes.  I will say, in addition to being upset with no Clerk’s Berserker rendition, I’m also a little bit disappointed in what really seems like a bit of plagiarizing of the main riff of Scorpions Sail of Charon during the chorus of Shield Wall.   I mean, nobody caught that in the studio before sending this off to get mastered.  Not good, man.  I’m going to have to dock you points for that as well.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

 

Lord Dying-Mysterium Tremendum

I’ll just come right out and admit it.  I discounted Lord Dying in the past.  Hell, I think I was even downright dismissive of their earlier work.  Sometimes that happens.  When you listen to a shitload of new music, you try to sift through the sheer mass of releases and try to find the few gems.  In the process, you may listen to a snippet of songs here and there and make a snap judgment on a band before giving them a fair shake.  After listening to Lord Dying’s latest, I think I may have missed the boat on these guys.

This is one of the richest and most lush albums to come out this year.  There are layers of originality and creativity at play here.  You’ve got touches of grunge, touches of stoner, touches of sludge and it’s all just woven together expertly into this amazing amalgam of awesomeness that is truly inspiring and infectious.  I especially love the combination of harsh vocals with some downright clean Beatle-esque clean harmonies.  These latter vocals were really unexpected and result in a really classy touch to their sound.  In addition, this album is just ordered perfectly with one song seamlessly blending into the next.  The entire album just feels like a cohesive whole rather than a collection of separate ideas.  It’s an “album” album rather than just a collection of songs, if you will.

Seriously.  Huge props to the hairy men of Lord Dying.  This is one in which you should be proud.  I, for one, am now about to revisit your earlier material.

4.5 flip flops out of 5

Fractal Universe-Rhizomes of Insanity

I think the neatest thing I just learned about this band is that they hail from Nancy, France.  Say it out loud.  It’s fun.  Nancy, France.

So you’ve got a tight little death metal outfit from France on album number two for their career.  I guess the normal inclination would be to compare these guys to fellow countrymen, Gojira.  Well, that was just be downright lazy.  These guys don’t sound anything like Gojira.  These guys are more in line with the massive amount of other slickly-produced technical death metal bands going today.  The sound is so polished on this thing that it is damn near sanitized.  And I think that’s honestly my biggest complaint here.  It’s too clean.  There’s just no rough edges at all and the whole thing just feels like it has been manufactured in a lab.  The talent in the band can’t really be denied.  It’s professional and delivered in a supremely talented fashion.  But, like a lot of bands that trade in this sub-genre, I just wasn’t left with anything to really hang onto after a couple of listens.  Memorability.  That’s really the one thing that this one lacks.  An hour after listening to it I honestly couldn’t really remember anything concrete from what I heard.  No tracks infectiously wormed their way into my brain.

Nancy, France.

3 flip flops out of 5