Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Roadburn 2018: A Primer

If you're one of the 23 people that reads Black Metal & Brews, you probably know well enough by now that I help Roadburn with a couple things. As the leading contender for the title of "Mr. Rogers of the Metal Underground," I'm here to give you some gentle pointers that might not be as apparent in the thrill of preparation. I mean, I get it. It's really exciting going to a festival where there's a million things happening. However, if you overdo it on day one or try to go in three directions at once, you're going to wear yourself out and have a LOT less fun. This is something of a listicle by its very nature, but I'm going to back these things up with information that will hopefully help.

Sometimes your favorite band won't be the band you should see. Hear me out here, because it's been an issue for me in the past. When I attended Roadburn 2016, Neurosis played two nights in a row on the main stage. Neurosis is easily one of my favorite bands in heavy music and yet I opted to ditch on the first night for a show at one of the smaller stages. Why? I realized that I'd be seeing Neurosis the following night and would likely have a chance to see them again somewhere close to home. My chance to see Lugubrum Trio, however, would likely never come again. So I packed in with a small but devoted crowd to watch a band I love a bit less than Neurosis and I don't regret it one bit. I know a lot of people that go to Roadburn and watch a band they've already seen five times. If that's you and it gives you life, then disregard this point. If you're like me, you're going to want to have a new experience, so try to make room for this in your busy schedule for rarities like the Waste of Space Orchestra or Damo Suzuki's collaborations with psych bands.

As a followup to that point, you can't be two places at once, so be sure you're in the place that matters most. This isn't just about sets, mind you. As another really helpful Roadburn prep article pointed out, sometimes this means finding a place you can be seated. I'd give my own health a strong C+ or B- rating and I still find my knees feeling weak by early Saturday at Roadburn. There's a lot of being on your feet, so sometimes it's worth seeing a band from a place where you can have a seat in the middle of a long day. Also, there's a thing some humans need to do sometimes called eating. If you've got a 30 or 45 minute gap between those essential bands, do yourself a favor and catch up with a pal and sit to nibble on something. I realize most of us don't need to be reminded to eat but the frenzy of the festival can turn this into a blind spot for many attendees. Don't be one of them. Stay hydrated and fed and make peace with the fact that you will miss a band you love once or twice. It's okay. You're still having a great time.

Another point I mentioned in the last paragraph that needs further examination is that you should be sure to spend time with friends. If you haven't made any yet, this is the year to do it! I'm sure somebody you've interacted with on social media is there, but if that's not the case, Roadburn's crowd is considerably more sociable and friendly than most other metal festivals. I've made pals at Roadburn by commenting on back patches, by waiting in line for beer, by ordering lunch at the vegan food truck, and by just being as excited about a band as the stranger next to me. I'm pretty shy in most contexts but something about the delight in the air puts me in an outgoing mood. Hopefully you'll find the same is true for you!

Follow the Roadburn social media accounts. I'm not just saying this because I run them, but that's certainly extra incentive. Last year there was a secret last minute set by Mis├żyrming in Cul de Sac, a venue with a capacity of about 150. An hour before it occurred, we sent out a tweet announcing as much. Suffice to say, those with an eye on our socials packed the venue quickly, leaving others in the dust. Don't be left out. (And no, I don't know of any plans for "secret" goings-on yet, so this isn't a *hinthint* so much as it is a warning on the importance of keeping up).

Attend the Black Metal & Brews talk with Panopticon. Yes I'm plugging my own thing here. What else are you doing on Saturday morning? I'm going to be sitting with members of Panopticon and discussing beer and black metal, since the band's own Austin Lunn is a co-owner of HammerHeart Brewing. Don't fuck up. Join us and come say hi to me.

Don't ignore the side programme. I'm spelling it the European way since I'll be in Europe, after all. My aforementioned talk is part of the side programme, but there's also a bunch of cool art on display at the Full Bleed Exhibition, a ton of album listening parties, and other great talks going on. It gives insight into the culture behind the art we all love and gives you another great chance to get off your feet and give your ears a break, which leads me to my final point.

Invest in a decent set of ear plugs. Sure, it's fun to go in without hearing protection, but four days of twelve-ish hours of loud music will take a toll. Don't be a fool. Be good to your ears so that you can enjoy yourself just as thoroughly at Roadburn 2019.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Unholy Vampyric Slaughter Sect- "GVAU"

Dedicated followers of the American black metal underground have surely caught wind of the working of Unholy Vampyric Slaughter Sect in the past few years. With a slew of releases on cult favorite labels like Perverse Homage, Skjold, and Harvest of Death, the one unifying theme for this enigmatic project's fans is an extreme imbalance in terms of scarcity and supply. On last year's self-released GVAU, which stands for Global Vampyric Assault Unit, Unholy Vampyric Slaughter Sect reached new heights. However, much of the world didn't get a chance to hear or own this gem of bizarrely captivating raw black metal. Today that changes, with a reissue on cassette from Crown and Throne Ltd.

What makes this collection of songs so appealing is the variation. Sure, there's the trademark mangled buzzsaw guitars and unceasingly spastic drum programming, but there's so much more at hand. Blown out piano leads the way into the opening salvo of "Dismal Grin 666," and interludes "Blood Catharsis" and "Psychic Attack" serve as heavily industrialized pieces of pure atmosphere, with crumbling, almost mechanical percussion highlighting a vast emptiness. It enhances the otherwise grotesque and dizzying pace of things by bringing broader contrast to the greater work at hand. Still, even in the midst of things, this is addictive and hypnotic black metal of the highest order, with brilliant and memorable riffs buried in the midst of dense, complex compositions. The raw production may not suit the less depraved listener, but it's almost impossible to envision songs of this nature working in a cleaner context. As with the identity and lyrical direction of the artist's output, sometimes obscurity lends more weight than allowing the whole of the creation to be seen.

An undisclosed amount of tapes are available for purchase from Crown and Throne Ltd. Don't miss out and be a victim of discogs scalping fiends. This is an artist whose profile will only rise from here.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

House of First Light Showcase (live) & Vilkacis- "Beyond the Mortal Gate"

I feel very fortunate to have lived in many cities with thriving underground communities, but being in Brooklyn has its own unique set of advantages. The black metal, noise, and post-punk scenes here are all top-notch and I've been able to catch some of my favorite artists in rather intimate settings. On March 30th, fate set me up for one of the most stacked bills I've attended outside of weekend-long festivals. Curated by House of First Light, the album release show for affiliated acts Vilkacis and Sanguine Eagle was a glorious marathon of extreme sounds at the Lucky 13 Saloon.

Local noise artist Scant opened the night, with vocal accompaniment from Fizzy, vocalist of the Royal Hounds and one of the most visible members of the House of First Light collective. Scant's been on my personal "must see" list for years now, and it was wonderful to finally see the artist in action. Rather than squealing high-frequency noise or numbing wall, the slowly shifting electronic mass of Scant's approach was more meditative than anything else. It set the stage for a night of boundaries being pushed forward and was well worth the wait.

Winds of Gladsheimr were next, an unannounced treat. It was this project's first live endeavor, with Lam on drums and Eziagalis on guitar on vocals providing a sparse and tortured sound. While all the House of First Light acts shared at least one member on this night (Lam, naturally), this was by far the rawest and most depressive feeling set of the night, yet it was far too brief for these ears. A new split release emerged at the show (unbeknownst to the author of this piece, sadly) so it's clear there's plenty of material the band could've brought forth. One can only hope for more, as it would've been quite welcome.

Sandworm came down from Providence to deliver their incredibly harsh form of punky black metal, and as one of two traveling bands, they quickly proved themselves a worthy addition that added to the night's diversity and appeal. I'd heard and enjoyed their music on bandcamp before after finding them through their split with The Body, but the live experience was stronger than the recordings (which are in no way deficient, mind you). The shrill vocals and bizarre overtones that came out of the guitar made the band sound far fuller and stranger than one would expect, creating a palatable sense of tension and unease that balanced out the breakneck pace of much of the material.

Following this performance was One Thousand Birds from Milwaukee. With established members of the area's noise scene, the band's sort of blackened skramz was a real surprise. A good friend in attendance described them as "midwestern emo with At the Heart of Winter riffs," which is about as appropriate a descriptor as this ugly descendant of Orchid's legacy could earn. The dual vocals split between one microphone, diverging bass and guitar lines, and frantic drumming created a sort of urgency I've missed in a lot of the music I catch live. These guys are rather new to performing out but they're quickly making a name for themselves, so do yourself a favor and check them out before they become another band whose demos sell out before you know they exist.

Finally, the co-headliners began their sets to celebrate the release of new material. Sanguine Eagle filled the room with smoke, leaving only a small collection of candles as the visible portion of their performance. I stood front and center to witness the spectacle and was still entirely incapable of seeing the band as they performed the most hypnotic and valiant set I'd witnessed yet. The Individuation demo may have been an early triumph, but Sanguine Eagle has grown far beyond what their initial potential would've hinted at in a very short time. The monstrous swelling of guitars has reached otherworldly proportions and the band seems to channel something deeper than just a collection of sound. The feeling of their set can't be described, it's something one must be immersed in to understand, with an almost hallucinatory, psychedelic quality.

Closing out the night was Vilkacis, whose performance at Eternal Warfare Fest in 2016 was one of the best things I've ever seen live. Despite taking the stage after midnight, the band blazed its way through five of their most aggressive songs with frontman M. Rekevics (of just about every American black metal band worth a damn in the last decade) appearing possessed and furious, gripped in such a way that even in stillness he conveyed pure energy. Songs like "Sixty Three" grew beyond the confines of their recorded forms and saw the lycanthropic black metal taking full form and roaring through the room. Much of the more nuanced, melodic material of the new LP, Beyond the Mortal Gate, was left aside in favor of lean, aggressive cuts. While the monumental title track of this new record is a personal favorite, it also made perfect sense to let the most forceful songs make their mark live while the longer, more expansive material is left to headphones and personal space.

Indeed, much of what makes the new Vilkacis album stand above its predecessor is the sense of triumph through self-destruction. I've had the privilege of interviewing M. Rekevics a few times as well as chatting with him as an acquaintance and his desire to perfect himself sometimes takes on an all-consuming form. The ouroboric act of self-consumption and betterment seems at the heart here, with Rekevics seeming to fight against some sort of internal shackles that bind him. There is no end goal so much as there is a glorious struggle and pain. For a man so intensely lost in his own art and self, the precision and focus here is crystal clear, making for one of the strongest black metal albums of the year so far.