23 May 2008

Live Review: Genghis Tron, 11th May 2008


Leeds Joseph's Well. Support: Nachtmystium, Middleheim

I attend loads of gigs nowadays, relatively speaking, but I was looking forward to none as much as this one. And – though Nachtmystium and Zoroaster come well-recommended – the excitement building in me was for one band: Genghis Tron. I had attempted to see them in 2006 but, after attempts to secure tickets in advance failed, I was turned away from the door of what turned out to be an all-dayer. Damn you, scenes just large enough to fill the upstairs of a pub but sufficiently below-the-radar as to prevent my finding out details!

Fortunately, advance tickets were available for this one, though it did turn out to be another card stacked with bands one would otherwise resent parting with any money to see. Fortunately, I turned up fashionably late enough to miss all but the last three bands. Unfortunately for me, Atlanta’s Zoroaster had pulled out of the tour, so those of us who dared step into the Well’s descended pit of a venue suffered the indignity that was Middleheim.

Not sure what to make of this one. Were they a joke band that were investing a weird amount of effort for so little punchline (as a wise man once said, the line is a dot), or a really deluded bunch of honest suburb black-metal kids? I’m hoping it’s the latter, as the one thing worse than a shit band is a shit band that thinks it’s funny. Playing to a backing tape of drums and the occasional synth-phonic flourish, our frontline was a chubby gathering of eager World of Warcrafters, the vocalist decorated with mullet-beyond-irony and some form of battle vest.

Vocals were standard BM shrieks and though it was nothing Cradle Of Filth hadn’t done dozens of times better by 1996, there were moments when a particular riff would hit the spot. Not enough moments, though, and it’d have been far more satisfying had the vocalist’s betwixt-song pronouncements been in BM shriek, rather than monotonous Northern mumble. In conclusion then: pretty awful, but they get a bonus point if they actually meant it.

Shortly after this, the divide between Local Band and Proper Band was evinced in fine style. To compare Chicago black-thrash titans Nachtmystium with Middleheim would be like comparing Hyerion to a sat- well, you get the idea. There’s a bit of a gulf in music and presentation. Not that Nachtmystium (sorry, I just love that name sop shall type is as often as possible. Nachtmystium) were at all ostentatious in their black metal. They eschewed Immortal/Dimmu Borgir-style corpsepaint or Middle Earth S&M costume in favour of rocking the kind of lost-in-time long hair-and-sleeveless-tee look that can only be pulled off by the sort of person who could (and probably would) bite ones nose off and replace it somewhere very uncomfortable.

They were more musically straight forward than I had imagined, too. I had listened to their music, but long ago during the depth of winter in 2006, and had come to the conclusion that they were atmosphere-based (like a Southern Lord band), when that was not actually the case. In hindsight I probably confused them with Khlyst, or perhaps Xasthur, other USBM entities whose names are endlessly entertaining to intone. While this band is certainly evil in its sound, it’s more of a heads-down kind of evil, a marauding horde of Norsemen steaming toward the village you suddenly realise is woefully under-defended, rather than spooky-ooky atmospherics that make you think a djinn is knocking about in a dark corner of your attic.

No, this is more of a Wino-inspired, High On Fire-peered rock ‘n’ thrash take on black metal, rather reminiscent of mid-nineties Entombed, but more straight faced (and perhaps a touch less shit-faced). The songs would be catchy if I were more familiar with them, and they certainly hurtled along with sufficient energy and stoned enthusiasm to make me wonder if I can secure one of their albums on twelve-inch for what would presumably be an insanely inflated price. If you want your black metal to be more metal shred than eerie blackness, the thunderous grooves of Nachtmystium are for you.

Rarely does a metal band split opinion like New York’s Genghis Tron. You have bands that people either like or haven’t heard of, like Converge, or bands that people either really dislike or pretend to like (come on, is Pelican anybody’s favourite band in the world?). Of course you obviously have, given metal’s broad church, sub-genres that are not to the liking of some: there is also the rather moot point of metal non-fans not liking metal, but that’s neither here nor there for the purpose of this report.

Genghis Tron is a band that manages to rub fans of fast, frenetic metal the wrong way – even though that is their primary modus operandi – and absolutely enrapture certain other fans of the aforementioned metallic freneticism. It is not even particularly obvious why this would be the case, though the simplest reason for this might well be the bands reliance on electronic (as opposed to merely electric) sound production. It is a sad thing to say in this day and age (twelve years after Pitch Shifter released the seminal Infotainment?, sixteen post Godflesh’s Pure opus, about 65 million since the Young Gods were knocking about), but people seem quite uncomfortable with an extreme metal band involving Aphex-circa-’96 bleepcore melodies.

Maybe it’s because these sans-metal sequences represent a lull in the mosh-pit frenzy. That usually requires a level of pit action to actually be happening which, for whatever reason, is becoming less and less likely. Let us not mention that the only way a pit could break out at an Isis or Nadja gig is unintentionally; only the other week the furious rock of Boris was met with the kind of freeze frame statue action that had me thinking the Terracotta Army had been smuggled into Manchester for one night only. I can happily report, though, that this particular gig was blessed with the sight of people dancing.

Perhaps, in this enlightened era post-slamdancing, the beats and breaks of the Tron are precisely what is required to get the beardy, bespectacled metal fan dancing. One thing’s for sure: they certainly know how to make with the funnies. Between songs early in the set, main man Mookie had them/us rolling in the, err, Well with his judicious (over)use of a particularly energetic ‘YEAH’ sample. But rewind for a minute, because the start of the set was arguably the most interesting bit.

As with any band pleased with its most recent album, GT started the set with the song that starts their latest record. In this case, it was ‘Board Up the House’, from the album of the same name, a song whose synth mantra spirals up into a psychedelic sky, Boards Of Canada’s deoxyribonucleic acid unravelling and devolving into little fluffy mushroom clouds. While the ears were engaged with the ever-building arpeggio, the rods and cones were occupied with the super-neon lights erected behind the band that danced and flashed like exploding electric eels.

This is what a good gig is all about. Can’t be more than a couple of hundred people in the Well on this Sunday evening, but the band puts on a show. It would later transpire that they weren’t really feeling it (hence no encore. While I usually oppose such fellatious practice, I wouldn’t have minded this time, more on which later), but if you don’t see them often you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise. I can barely imagine the delights of this trio in full flow. So the house was built up before boards went up, and the structure was scintillating. Though this new material was nowhere near as familiar as the tunes off Dead Mountain Mouth, it didn’t have to be. The performance nourished the fondness, until it was hard to resist expressing unabashed physical joy at what was being heard.

This frustratingly brief set was dominated by the current album, almost to its detriment. It was great to hear songs like ‘Things Don’t Look Good’, and especially the titanic slow-burner that is ‘Relief’ (still their statement song after the dust of recency has settled a tad) in all its glory, but perhaps more of a nod to the bands brief history would have improved things.

They played DMM’s ‘Chapels’, a taste of the debut full length that only roused my appetite without bedding her back down. Less of the melody on this one, as Tron brought the zeroes and ones in full force, alternating like Dr. J and Mr. H between electro overload and grind bastard madness. There is a riff near the end of it that is one of the more visceral in recent years, up there with Old Man Gloom’s ‘Valhalla’ or ‘Stoked’ by RTX; it is a change of pace from the thrash, that sounds positively elephantine in comparison. Its own take on Hadrian’s herd marches along the Alps that are our synapses before a gargantuan pick-slide engulfs them in an avalanche of white noise.

Also aired was ‘Asleep on the Forest Floor’ which, far from the foliaged idyll suggested by the nomenclature, starts with an anxiety attack of palpitating keyboard notes before the meat of the song reminds the audience of Misery Loves Co’s destructive ‘My Mind Still Speaks’. Immensely enjoyable as this brace was, modern classic ‘White Walls’ was a glaring omission. Samples/synthsman Michael Sochynsky later let slip the fact that they actually played it as an encore the night before, which was vexing to say the least.

Still, it was promised for next time the band tours this isle (November, according to their guitarist), and I shall not let them forget that. Nevertheless, heartening was the fact that the band holds so much stock in the current album. Rightfully so, as its high quality becomes more evident with each passing listen. Genghis Tron came. They saw. They even got people dancing, and hopefully made a couple of new fans (though I wonder how many turning up to the Well on a school night would be floating voters in the first place) in the process. Larger venues, and longer sets, surely beckon in the near future so this taster of metal to come, while frustrating, was appetite whetting in the extreme. Are there better live metal bands out there? Summer gigs from the likes of Melt-Banana and Converge should prove interesting indeed.

07 May 2008

Be Your Own PET! – Get Awkward


Those crazy kids from Tennessee are back! With their second album! Why all the exclamation marks?! Why, because that’s the kind of effect this lot has on you! But what’s this – they’ve expanded their sonic palette? Oh. But we’ll get to that later; all you need to know right now is that their debut was pretty much the most furious record of 2006 (outside Genghis Tron and Converge, like). Not just that, but it managed to balance the angst with a sense of melody and exuberance not seen since I Get Wet.

What was most exciting about this record was the news that, like their beloved Bad Brains, some of the songs off this record have been Banned in D.C. (and the rest of America). ‘Threats of violence and murder’ abound, apparently, and I wonder what’s been so wholesome about Slayer these last two decades of major labeldom. It has to be said, there is a new air of menace to Jemina’s vocals, those super-pop melodies snarled and spat out while she meditates on knifing classmates. It’s all about as serious as prime Misfits, and just as anthemic at times (‘Zombie Graveyard Party’ suggests this isn’t an accident).

The music varies between really fast and slightly less fast, with nothing as close to a ballad as ‘October, First Account’ off the debut. But within that super-tight remit of fuzz and fury is a micro-managed sense of dynamics. While the band doesn’t paint with the broad brush of the tired quiet-loud scene, this loud-loud aesthetic carries enough variety to prevent the record from flagging over its fittingly brief life. Over these fifteen songs, two are over the three minute mark, but the musical shapes range from Donnas-on-PCP pop rock to demonic thrash, with that Ramones/Misfits sense of the fifties and early sixties looming large throughout.

06 May 2008

Shackleton – Death is Not Final / T++ remix



I swear the wait was forever between SKULLS 07 and 08, those being the Villalobos ‘Blood on My Hands’ mix and the Appleblim & Peverelist single. And before I know it, the next one is out, this time the latest in an apparently constant flow of quality from one Sam Shackleton. Visually this stands out from what went before, the dense, intricate inking snaking over the whole cover.

Speaking of dense ink, the sonics share that same attribute. This is very much the next step in a very steady process of evolution for the label, a chemical marriage of the dank air of releases past and the more recent flair for the Middle Eastern that worked so well on the crisp ‘Hamas Rule’. Shackleton has harnessed the power of sluggish smudge-core for the forces of good, which sits surprisingly well with the clever percussion in the mix.

The beat itself is very interesting: numerous strands and strains forming like Voltron – or are they all just being sucked into the singularity, fragmenting away from the whole before the structure’s atoms are rent into a million pieces? Arguably more entertaining is the remix on the flip, which peaks when the bass-line falls away and you’re left with the sound of decaying ambience: it’s like the air is being sucked out of everyone in the room. Inevitably it returns, but the effect is fantastically simple.

T++ injects energy to the slightly lethargic original; now the Soundboy seems to have finally been disposed of, the denizens of the Skull Disco have dropped the skunk joints for a minute to shake a leg. And it’s actually not that anachronistic, possibly due to Villalobos schooling the slow-step massive for eighteen blood-soaked minutes last year. Whatever the motivation, this is another fine slab of tuneage from Skull Disco: their ever-expanding troupe of sonic adventurers consistently bring the slightly deranged goods.

01 May 2008

Boris – Smile

Another six months, another Boris album, or so it seems. Since late 2005, we’ve had collaborations with sunnO))), Merzbow and Michio Kurihara, as well as the Japanese version of Pink, the western version of that album, two separate releases of Vein (one fast and hardcore, the other slow and droney), Dronevil Final, split releases with Stupid Babies Go Mad and Doomriders, solo albums and now this. And two singles from the album, one with an entirely different take on the main song. And an alternate mix of the album is due out from Southern Lord before too long.

For now, though, we deal with the Japanese release of Smile; specifically the super-posh double vinyl set put out by Disk Union in scandalously low numbers. The packaging itself is cardboard of a decent heft; the records reassuringly non-freakishly designed. Well-pressed black vinyl is becoming a rarity in the metal scene.

This one starts slowly. Very slowly. Almost too slowly, in fact, as a calm glow at the hypnotic intro subsides in favour of mild irritation. Is it going to kick in at some point? When it finally does, the melody suggests a recent Head Of David binge (a relief in the face of Jesu overload), and the lack of a shrill, forward ‘rock’ sound is a massive relief.

The album initially echoes the CD release of Pink, slightly strung out opener being followed by a super-distorted freakout in the shape of ‘BUZZ-IN’. it ends so abruptly you suspect editing issues, but that’s largely moot as ‘放て!’ is noisier and even more disjointed. Pleasant surprise #1: When the songs electronic heartbeat subsides into acoustic melancholy.

This is followed by the kind of retro rock one expects Boris to be serving up, though it’s hard to pinpoint when exactly they have done a song sounding this much like Ghost. Given that this, ‘Flower, Sun, Rain’, is actually a cover of a song by 70s rockers Pyg, we’ll let them off. Things really start to heat up on track five, ‘となりのサターン’ (‘Next Saturn’ apparently, though it’s ‘My Neighbor Satan’ on the US release). The drums are buried under some rubble somewhere after a giant xylophone ravaged Tokyo; Takeshi sings a pained tribute to his lost drummer, before Atsuo uses the power of a Super Drum Fill to blast out from under and the band is reunited in the most frenetic bout of rocking yet. Not sure how my narrative explains the next Fill sending them back underground, but Boris moves in mysterious ways. The Fill returns to signal another, more psychedelic, portion. It’s like a Dragonball Z saga expressed musically in five minutes.

As with both Pink and Akuma no Uta, the body of the album is garage rock fed on BALCO sports nutrition rather than speed and whiskey. In truth it can get a bit much-of-a-muchness, especially when you know what the band can do when they really get the creative juices flowing. The other highlight of the album, as with the recent Genghis Tron album, is the extra, side-long mind-melter. Like Tron, this anomaly exemplifies both what the band can do with all cylinders firing, and what is so frustrating about nearly every one of their albums: it’s so very nearly amazing. Each release gets greeted as their best by someone, but their real classic – which we know is in them – is yet to reveal itself. Still, 君は傘をさしていた’ (’You Put Up Your Umbrella’ – how’s that for some awesomely Xinlisupreme nomenclature) is a fantastic piece of work too.

In the hierarchy, then: better than Akuma no Uta and Heavy Rocks, on a similar level to Pink and Amplifier Worship. Not better than Flood and nowhere near the greatness of Altar. But that’s cheating.

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