August 2014 archive

LIVE REVIEW: Deafheaven

Deafheaven, Gorilla, Manchester, UK, August 16th 2014
San Francisco metal giants Deafheaven are so talented it’s actually terrifying. Their epic 2013  record Sunbather is a genre-defying, hour-long mixture of black metal, shoe gaze and spoken word moments, all wrapped up in George Clarke’s retched vocals. It’s an album that has entered various ‘album of the year’ charts in high positions, and not just within the metal community. It’s a more than worthy follow-up to 2011’s Roads To Judah and if you’ve not heard it yet, you’re missing a trick.
Supported for this tour by the incredible Chelsea Wolfe (who I shall review separately), Deafheaven has made it their mission to get up close and personal with their fans on the tour, meaning no barriers, meaning fans can interact with the band members and fully immerse themselves in this album as a live experience.
George Clarke approaches the stage and takes up a position front and centre, gripping the microphone and assuming something approximating a war stance, glaring at the audience as if daring them to come forward. And come forward they do. Opener Dream House, the first track off Sunbather, begins in a blaze of distortion and yelling fans, all of them scrambling to be right at the front. Clarke screeches the opening lyrics and the insanity begins on the floor, kids shoving and pressing together to try and be a part of the song. There’s a quiet moment about halfway through the track, in which George Clarke stage dives for a bit and then stands staring at the floor before motioning for the crowd to approach the stage once more as the song reaches it’s climax and every single kid at the show tries to grab Clarke and scream the final set of lyrics back at him.
The crowd is covered in sweat already, and so are all grateful for the band to play Irresistible next, a three-minute beautiful piece of instrumentation which calms everyone down slightly as they gaze at George Clarke and the rest of the band, Clarke not even looking at the crowd, just leaning on the microphone stand and preparing himself for the next song. And so Sunbather begins. This track is eleven minutes of black metal beauty, the guitar work hypnotic and forceful, the lyrics screeched on top, poured over the instruments like liquid gold. Clarke stands in front of his captive audience like a messiah, reaching his hands out for people to grasp, stage diving as he screams and finally just falling into the audience, grabbing one man by the neck and offering him the microphone, touching their heads together, their sweat and breath mingling as they scream.
The next track is the new one they have been hinting at since June, an excellent meld of haunting guitar-playing and tortured vocals that lasts a mere eight minutes by my count. They then dive into the final trackThe Pecan Tree, which showcases their drummer’s excellent command of blast-beat styles while also showing off a beautiful middle section of clean guitars and piano melodies before Clarke comes crashing back in with the final lyrics: ‘I am my father’s son. I am no one. I cannot love. It’s in my blood.’ On the record this final lyrical part lasts for just over three minutes, but as part of the live show, Clarke keeps it going for at least twice that, surrendering the microphone and motioning everyone still closer to the stage.
The band leaves and the lights go down, but no one’s moving. The atmosphere is electric. They then come back onstage and do one final track, and George Clarke dedicates the set to Chelsea Wolfe and all the people who have supported Deafheaven throughout the last year while they’ve been on the road for this record. The show is over, and it’s been like a religious experience. I cannot urge you enough: go out and see this band live and listen to their music. You will thank me.
Dream House
Irresistible
Sunbather
New song
The Pecan Tree
Unrequited

What's In A Name?

Music fans are brilliant.
Less brilliant, however, are ridiculous ignorant fanboys who like and support a band only as long as that band is adhering to a preconceived set of rules and styles which is appealing to that particular person’s sense of ‘what this band is like’. (Please note: the difference between ‘fan’ and ‘fanboy’ needs to be made very clear. Fans are great. They care, and they want the band to succeed no matter what. Fanboys, on the other hand, don’t really care. They’re the kind of people who say things like ‘I liked their early stuff’ and ‘I was into them before they got big, they’ve sold out now’ – and worse, they mean it. Or rather, they think they mean it. Really they’re just into whatever sounds like it’s most cutting-edge at any given moment and they’ll move on as soon as a band plays a show anywhere bigger than a pub’s basement.)
And so, to business. Recently, a few bands in the punk/hardcore genre have changed their names, resulting in a veritable tropical storm of online verbal abuse from out-and-out fanboys. Whether or not these changes were for the better, or are going to stick, is irrelevant. I’m going to discuss three bands in particular: these are Code Orange (formerly Code Orange Kids), Warm Thoughts (formerly Dad Punchers) and Self Defense Family (formerly End Of A Year, End Of A Year Self Defense Family, Self Defense Music and Self Defense, which they still sometimes use for live shows).
When Code Orange changed their name back in June, it was to a barrage of nasty, unnecessary comments on Twitter and other social media platforms, largely based around awful fanboys not being able to cope with dropping one word out of a band name. To those people I say this: it doesn’t matter. Code Orange dropped the ‘Kids’ part from their name because, simply, they’re not kids anymore. All four members are now over 21 (so, you know, ADULTS) and therefore legitimately are no longer classed as kids. However, this does not necessitate a stream of verbal abuse. It’s up to them what their band name is. Fans might prefer the old name, or the new one, but if they’re real fans, they’ll care about the music over and above everything else. If you’re calling yourself a fan, but you can’t get past a very, very slight name change, you’ve got to question how much of a fan you really were in the first place. Are the band members still talented? Yes. Do they still make cutting-edge, forward-thinking hardcore which pushes boundaries? Yes. So, why does it matter if their name changes slightly? What possible difference could this make to your life? (‘Oh, but it’s gonna fuck up my iTunes list, I’ll have to re-name everything…’) Shut up. SHUT UP. No one cares about your iTunes list and your incessant need to categorise everything to within an inch of it’s life. If you’re freaking out over one word of a band’s name you seriously need to discuss with yourself whether you should be allowed to even listen to their music.
Last week, Elliott Babin of what was California bummer-punk rock band Dad Punchers announced that after careful consideration, the band was changing its name to Warm Thoughts. Cue instant, horrific uproar. Logging on to Twitter, I honestly thought someone had fucking died, such was the outpouring of emotional blackmail and ridiculous abuse levelled at the poor man for a simple name change. Whether the name change signals a slight change in direction for the band, or whether they just got sick of over-protective parents looking at a record with DAD PUNCHERS written on the sleeve and hastily covering little Johnny’s eyes while hustling him away from the punk section and muttering ill-informed opinions about the youth of today remains to be seen, but again, there’s no need for this awful abuse. I will just as happily sport a tee with Warm Thoughts written on it as I currently happily sport my Dad Punchers one. I see no need for this outrage. Most brilliant in the ‘shut up, your opinion is not important’ stakes was this gem on Twitter.
Seriously. A fucking petition? Grow up. I’m sure Babin is going to lose so much sleep over the fact that you don’t like his new band name. Who knows – maybe they’ll write a song about it.
Lastly, we come to Self Defense Family. I’m kind of loath to include them in this article, because although they have changed their name several times, and continue to use different variations on said names at live shows, frontman Patrick Kindlon so profoundly and openly does not give a fuck about anyone’s opinion that I’m pretty sure people have just stopped trying to bait him. Let him do what he wants. He’s still cooler than you.
To conclude: guys, please stop. Just stop. Bands come and go, and names and directions change, and none of this will directly ruin your life. The only reason fanboys get so pissed off about this stuff is that it might mean they don’t have the most up to date band merchandise, and therefore might not be seen as ‘cool’ by their (probably equally pretentious and generally offensive) friends. If you’re worried about looking cool at a punk show, you’re listening to the wrong thing. No one looks cool at a punk show. The reason bands don’t consult the public before they do stuff like this is because, as much as their fans matter, they know their real fans will still love them whatever they’re called. And if they’re not real fans, they probably didn’t matter in the first place.
A final note: yes, I know some of the above links still refer to the bands under their old names. Sue me. Again, this doesn’t matter.

LIVE REVIEW: Converge

Converge and Martyrdöd and Okkultokrati, Club Academy, Manchester, UK, August 4, 2014
Okkultokrati are a Norwegian metal band who offer aggressive, low-tuned punk attitude with a level of startling complexity worthy of Psyyke. Their performance was marred slightly at the beginning thanks to a stunning feat of sound engineering (I mean, what kind of band actually requires their microphones to be switched on? Jeez…) but this was soon forgotten amid the aggression and heartfelt way in which the band threw themselves into the show. Check them out here.
Martyrdöd, from Sweden, showcase the finest in a fusion of hardcore, some black metal overtones and punk. Their melodies are rough, grabbing the listener and making them pay attention, and their live performance is a hot mess of growls and hair and distortion, all mixed together with Mikael Kjellman’s harsh, rasped vocal style. An excellent support choice that really gets the crowd going, you can check them out here.
The members of Converge are quite possibly the hardest-working people in the business right now. Whether it’s Jacob Bannon’s Wear Your Wounds project (not to mention his side-project Irons and the fact that he’s CEO of the biggest label in hardcore, Deathwish Inc.), Nate Newton fronting Doomriders, Ben Koller’s new band Mutoid Man or Kurt Ballou’s constant production credits on albums as diverse as Seance Prime by Trap Them, Mosquito Control by Isis and Unsilent Death by Nails, as well as producing and mastering every single Converge album since 2004’s excellent say-no-to-drugs record You Fail Me, these four men always seem to have so much going on that it seems crazy that they even have time to go on tour as Converge. Just over a week ago, Bannon put on the first official Deathwish festival in Cambridge, MA, which Converge co-headlined with Trap Them. The festival also showcased up-and-coming bands on the Deathwish label, such as Harm Wülf (a side project from George Hirsch of Blacklisted) and Cult Leader (ex-members of Gaza), as well as bigger names like Modern Life Is War and Oathbreaker.
So you could say they’ve been busy.
The tension in the air, the excitement and expectation for this gig is palpable. Ben Koller leads the march onto the stage, twirling drum sticks between his fingers. Nate half-smiles and gives a little wave, while Kurt and Jake just walk on, Jake picking up the microphone and beginning his standard jumping up and down on stage to get warmed up. They tune up very briefly before Ben breaks out into the opening drum riff of Eagles Become Vultures. Jake starts screaming the lyrics, crouched before the crowd, who scrabble over each other, desperate to join him and sing along. Jake happily surrenders the microphone every so often and jumps around while fans scream the words.
With barely a pause, the band dives into Aimless Arrow, the lead single from 2012’s All We Love We Leave Behind, Bannon earnestly half-singing, half-shouting lyrics about loss and hope and broken hearts, and the crowd, stage-diving and literally walking up on the stage to hug him as he sings, are in his thrall.
The energy in the room is thick and vivid, and the band members soak it up. One man gets caught in what Nate Newton describes as ‘stage dive limbo’ at the end of Trespasses, finally making it to the stage just as the song ends. It’s testament to this band’s incredible work-hard, play-hard ethos that their lyrics and subject matter are invariably dark and challenging, yet they can have so much fun both between themselves and with the crowd. Jacob Bannon’s witty responses to garbled heckles from the bowels of the crowd are often genius, often very dry. One fan shouts for them to play Wolverine Blues, a cover song in their cannon so old that they probably haven’t played it live since the mid-90’s, to which Jake grins and replies, ‘If you get up here and sing it, we’ll play it. I’m not singing it.’
Needless to say, they don’t play it. The biggest surprise of the night is a song from 2006’s No Heroes. At ten minutes long on the record, Grim Heart / Black Rose is a complex, brooding song which is originally sung by Jonah Jenkins of Only Living Witness and brought beautifully to life by Nate Newton’s soaring vocals as part of this live show.
They finish the main set with Heartless from You Fail Me, before leaving the stage drenched in the sweat of the deluge of fans on the floor. Their encore consists of two pairs of songs, Concubine and Fault And Fracture from 2001’s seminal album Jane Doe, followed by First Light and Last Light from You Fail Me. Jacob Bannon thrusts the microphone towards fans throughout this last song during the verses, and then finally, as the song reaches its climax, he stands up straight on the stage, microphone in the air as the crowd screams the final lyric in one voice: ‘This is for the hearts still beating.’
After the show, it’s great to see Bannon interacting with fans as they one by one approach the stage. Some merely shake his hand and say thank you, but for others, this band has meant everything for a very long time. ‘You got me through so much shit. Thank you,’ one fan says as he holds Jake’s hand. Another stands in front of Bannon and just says ‘Jane Doe saved my life’. Converge is not just a band for some people. Their ethos, their constant outpouring of quality hardcore and deeply felt, impassioned lyrics, as well as the hardworking nature of the band members, really resonates with their fans. It’s this that makes Converge so respected in the hardcore scene. And hopefully, what with Nate having just recorded a video of Ben and Kurt working on some new material during a soundcheck, a new album may not be far away. Here’s hoping.
Eagles Become Vultures 
Aimless Arrow
Dark Horse
Empty On The Inside
Axe To Fall
Trespasses
Precipice / All We Love We Leave Behind
Runaway
Grim Heart / Black Rose
Reap What You Sow
Cutter
A Glacial Pace
Heaven In Her Arms
Heartless
 
Concubine
Fault And Fracture
First Light
Last Light