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Negative Plane Will Not ‘Friend’ You

I’m sitting in a dark tavern, getting directions to Harry Houdini’s grave. “At the entrance, you see Machpelah Cemetery. You walk in, there’s a building you pass, it’s on the left side. Right there, you can see Harry Houdini buried with a couple of his relatives. But that’s not his real name. If you’re a magician doing the incredible, why have a boring name? Erik Weisz, his name was. But Harry Houdini sounds like a magician.” The guy explaining all this—the primary composer, guitarist, and vocalist for Brooklyn metal band Negative Plane—knows something about avoiding boring names. He goes by the alias Nameless Void.

The local proximity of Houdini’s gravesite is of interest, but so is the illusionist’s relation to H.P. Lovecraft, a writer whose palpable sense of dread Negative Plane capably invoke. Lovecraft was the ghostwriter behind Houdini’s short story “Under the Pyramids”—an inspiring location for Nameless Void, it turns out. Portions of the band’s upcoming new album, Stained Glass Revelations (AJNA), are intentionally inclined toward subterranean menace: The lyrics to “Lamentations and Ashes” are “directly inspired by me being in the subways of New York City and seeing the rats running around,” Nameless Void explains, an experience that probably struck him harder given that he just recently moved here from Florida, where the band was originally conceived. “I don’t know, palm trees—I just didn’t have a lot of inspiration,” is how the relocation is explained. “My original idea wasn’t to do metal. I listened to metal, but didn’t think I could come up with anything at that time. So I tried to do organs and bells. I ran into a brick wall with that really quick.”

Instead, the trio’s sound—rounded out by bassist D.G. and drummer Bestial Devotion, capably avoiding boredom themselves—evokes fundamental influences like Mercyful Fate’s At the Sound of the Demon Bell (“Where it’s not such a linear structure,” Void explains). Moss-covered riffs are dug up, stitched, reanimated, and, for this latest release, enhanced with his aforementioned affinity for creeping organs and bells: “The bells in Lower Manhattan are the eeriest I’ve ever heard. I don’t think people pay attention,” he says. Dark strangeness reminiscent of early Italian prog/doom-metal bands Jacula and Black Hole permeates; certain chords resemble the gloomy dissonance of Bauhaus filtered up from some sort of demon well. “We take it from the black-metal viewpoint, but expand it with our own particular set of influences,” Void says. “It’s like putting together a song that’s already written, and we’re just rearranging the pieces.”

Negative Plane rarely perform live. They don’t do “social networking.” These guys have deeper realms to visit. “Everything happens in cycles, and everything is born, gets destroyed, and so on,” Void explains. “The latter part of that, I think, is more interesting to write about. The music is the priority. It goes beyond us. If the music is restricted to our personalities, then I’ve completely failed.”

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Live: Saint Vitus Make Their First New York Appearance in Forever at Europa

Saint Vitus
Europa
Friday, October 16

The venue of choice for Saint Vitus’ first New York appearance in many years was slightly galling. Europa is a strange club. Giant smoky mirrors make it feel like an elderly woman’s living room, if that living room had a disco ball. The stage is is a small triangular thing shoved in a corner of the venue, and toward the middle of the room the sound tends to wash out. The only way to really hear what’s going on is to be within ten feet of the musicians. Which at least, as it turned out, I was: stage right, on a raised platform, crammed between the merch tables and some weekenders. Despite these challenges, Saint Vitus took the stage with no fanfare and proceeded to blow everyone’s head off with the openers “Living Backwards” and “I Bleed Black,” from their aptly titled fifth album V.

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Despite what many claim, Vitus are not “stoner rock”–mostly because the band has existed since long before the term was coined. That said, this is great music to listen to while stoned. Especially live. I know this because early in their set on Friday I turned around to find Saviors vocalist/guitarist Austin Barber handing me a joint. About thirty minutes prior to this development, Saviors had delivered a show where, despite my own former misgivings, they proved themselves to be a solid five piece capable of spewing forth rolling, well executed, hard rock. Good people, if for no other reason than they gave me drugs.

As for the headliners, they moved through a set spanning all of their first five classic recordings. Highlights are too many to list, but would certainly include the mournful refrain of “Dying Inside,” the seething extended witch-woman jam of “Mystic Lady” and the hammering speed freak paranoia of “White Stallions,” complete with legendary front-man Wino’s introductory nod to his past affinity for riding the (drug) stallion: “This is my favorite song. See if you can guess why.” About halfway through Dave Chandler dedicated “Clear Windowpane” to recently departed Blue Cheer bassist/vocalist Dickie Peterson, who was a friend of the band. A fitting tribute, given that the song is a lyrical ode to LSD, the drug, of course, from which Blue Cheer took their name.

By the time the encore of “Born Too Late” boomed forth from the cabinets, the sound coming off the stage was dense with the miasma of a biker acid cult indoctrination and the release of compressed amplifier tube air. This is a band in possession of the sort of knowledge and experience found in those old before their time. It is doubtful that many bands around today will ever feel the sense of displacement Vitus had when spearheading a genre of music that was once derided for being–as stated in the “Born Too Late” lyric–“much too slow”. But these songs have shown themselves to be timeless. As Wino once told me, regarding their sound and its origins: “I mean it’s the old stuff, like the Blue Cheer.”

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No, Pollution Are Not on Twitter

Greenpoint is home to various unnatural disturbances: the Death Star sewage plant, the unpleasantly visible air, the underground oil spill. Most residents, too occupied with frantic Twittering, etc., are indifferent. But local rockers Pollution are four men aligned against the mass delusion of thousands, in revolt against the digital toys that keep the public entranced. They’re also adherents to the belief that humans are past the point of return—that, in addition to a poisonous dispersion of refuse, technological advances are only distractions from the neurotic toxins breeding inside each of us. They are purveyors of a reality that destroys—as stated on their recent release, the oddly titled n.s.DRUGS—the “glamorous poisoning process.” Through the sound of a world drowning in industrial poison, they set fire to hippie communes and embrace Brooklyn’s filth viscerally—not just with instruments but, if need be, with strong drink and drugs.

Though they’re now flourishing amid our beloved industrial decay, Pollution’s roots actually stretch deep into Raleigh, North Carolina, and Richmond, Virginia. The former is the hometown of mastermind/lead guitarist Light (a/k/a Sean Livingston); in the ’80s, Raleigh gave birth to both the pummeling distortion of Corrosion of Conformity and the more technically mutated rhythms of Confessor, bands that would come to play a role in both Pollution’s drum sound and guitar work. Meanwhile, Richmond established itself as a vital incubator for hardcore. “I saw Confessor a lot and was always blown away by their song structures,” says Light. “But it was Pen Rollings [guitarist for Richmond bands Honor Role, Butterglove, and Breadwinner] who was a big influence. That guy was the guitar giant from ’86 to ’93.”

Rollings’s innovative work is often cited as a touchstone of what would come to be called math-rock, a throwaway rock-critic term that, when used more accurately, is actually a clever way of describing a dissonant, off-kilter, ominously infected sound that Rollings dispenses in its purest form. Regardless, it’s a sticky label that Livingston quickly puts aside: “I don’t think the math-rock was an influence, but rather unconventional songwriting,” he says, adding that such unconventional fare was, of course, not specific to the East Coast. “Later-era Black Flag are so fucking gross-sounding. I’m still trying to make something that sounds that gross and actually ties into Butterglove, who are the grossest-sounding band ever.”

With Pollution, that unhinged fuse is lit by what Livingston describes as “a colossal amount of reference points coupled with very different approaches to playing.” Raspy howls from vocalist/bassist Radioactive are grounded by drummer Invasive Species, who approaches his kit the way a hurricane approaches a coastal village. The rhythmic work of Atmospheric Dispersion strikes like a hammer drill in an abandoned building, whereas, on the floor above, Light focuses on feedback strains, often fitting them between notes, where they slowly emerge as electrical apparitions. “I love using feedback for a guitar ‘lead’ or even a main riff,” he explains. “But I try to not overdo it. There is an entire slew of bands lately that are so saturated with feedback that it loses its impact completely.”

Each member of Pollution contributes, in addition to pills and booze, his particular strain to the band’s sonic poison. “Those guys kill it!” Light raves of his cohorts. “They’ve been writing a lot of the new riffs. But our greatest commonality is calling bullshit on the same exact crap out there.”

Pollution play the Music Hall of Williamsburg July 26 with Torche and Harvey Milk

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Krallice Bring a Touch of Evil to Brooklyn

In Switzerland, scientists from around the globe, working with the European Organization for Nuclear Research, have completed construction on the Large Hadron Collider. It sends protons colliding into each other in the hopes of finding what the universe is made of, or something. Fire away with enough power and speed at anything and it will crack: the sound barrier, time, space, eardrums. And as science gets closer to breaking the subatomic code, music has followed suit—the utter decisiveness and destruction of Gorgoroth’s Antichrist comes to mind. Yes, 15 years ago, certain naughty Norwegians burned churches and stabbed each other, but there’s actually much more to be frightened of.

“Wretched Wisdom”, the opening track on Krallice’s debut album, approaches like a malevolent monolith from another galaxy, with guitarists Colin Marston and Mick Barr at the helm. The standard high-speed repetitive drumming then arrives, followed by a high level of technical guitar work that should come as no surprise to those aware of the fretboard acrobatics that exemplify Marston and Barr’s other Brooklyn projects: Behold . . . the Arctopus and Orthrelm, respectively. As the dissonant, demented, Doctor Who–like refrain echoes through “Molec Codices,” two things become clear: This is the theme music for black-metal science fiction, and falling through wormholes is maybe not so much fun.

It’s Saturday night, and Krallice are performing at Death by Audio in Williamsburg. It’s loud and unprocessed, with the more detailed passages barely discernible. There is no stage. The small room is packed to the walls with curious yet cautious hipsters, many of whom seem awkward and uncertain as to how to handle things. Most look at each other as if deciding that, just for tonight, they will hesitantly embrace the darkness.

After the show, standing around the corner from the venue, Krallice field the inevitable question about New York’s lukewarm metal scene. “I will say that it seems to me, from being on tour, that the metal scene in New York is not nearly as full as you think it would be,” Marston says.

Black metal here has become an art-gallery curiosity, overwhelmed by controversy and sensationalism, then sterilized and sold to the highest bidder by Banks Violette. Few remember the worldwide musical innovations by groups of outsiders that initially formed the black-metal sound: Before skinny Norwegians took off their shirts to get photographed standing in the snow with swords, Brazilians like Sarcofago had already created a form of proto–black metal. Thankfully, such historical innovation doesn’t seem lost on the Canadian-based label Profound Lore, which has embraced a wide range of metal interpretations by signing, in addition to Krallice, such diverse acts as France’s ALCEST, Canada’s Wold, and Texas’s Cobalt. As with many of their labelmates, the question of whether Krallice are a traditional black-metal band seems irrelevant.

“It’s influenced by the musical aspects of black metal,” explains Barr, though he adds: “It’s not about Satanism.”

So what is it about? “What are some other black-metal concepts?” he asks Marston.

“Racism?” comes the joking reply.

“It’s not racism,” Barr counters. “It’s stream-of-consciousness. Gnosticism. Sci-fi.” Not the plotted geekiness of a lost Star Trek episode, but the cold, sublime horror of the cosmos; an immeasurable nothingness hinted at in titles like “Timehusk” and “Energy Chasms.”

Depending on when you’re reading this, the Hadron Collider has either destroyed Earth by opening a planet-sucking black hole (as some feared it would), or science is not so evil after all. For now, black metal can only approximate what such planetary destruction might feel like. But remember, it wasn’t men with guitars who unlocked the doors to human annihilation: That sinister gift came from scientists.

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Earth’s The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull

The Tigris-Euphrates river valley, rumored site of the Garden of Eden, today smolders among the ruins of war. It’s also the region that spawned the Biblical riddle “Out of the eater came something to eat, out of the strong came something sweet,” i.e., a lion’s skull housing a beehive. And if a crater carved from crippling addiction and blinding guitar distortion (equal parts La Monte Young and Tony Iommi) isn’t an exactly comparable analogy to Iraq, it’s at least a hint as to the direction Earth frontman Dylan Carlson’s career has taken since 2005, when his cabinet-melting lava feedback hardened into desert rock and emerged in cleaner, calmer form, with a Duane Eddy twang engraving and a well-honed instinct for the repetitive cycles of drone metal. The result was Hex: or Printing in the Infernal Method, a sparse landscape evoking the violent West of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.

Earth records often carry the echo of previous releases, and The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull is no exception. “Engine of Ruin” could’ve been on Hex if not for the soft undercurrent of piano; now, amid the ruins, Earth have indeed found sweetness. The improvisational tendencies of the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service are the band’s newest weapons, but rather than allowing the result to devolve into chaotic psychedelic garnishment, Carlson distills the electric essences of country and gospel through his Stratocaster, while retaining the minimalist tendencies of drone. An album best experienced in near darkness, Skull‘s slow sense of foreboding eventually allows for cloud breaks of light, like a lotus unfolding among skeleton hordes. There is an unlikely undercurrent of hope—hope for order from chaos, and life from the hollow, burned-out faces of those who’ve seen paradise turned to dust.

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Wolves in the Throne Room’s Two Hunters

The second full-length from Olympia, Washington’s black-metal crew Wolves in the Throne Room mixes (relatively) melodic guitars, field recordings, and drums that crash like violent raindrops. Recorded in analog and wisely leaning on Jessica Kinney’s vocals instead of synthesizers, this is an original and raw-sounding album that somehow still remains devoted to its chosen genre. It’s surprising, of course, for an American band to thrive in what was once considered an exclusively European thing, but when you consider the similarity between the cold, dark winters of Scandinavia and the Pacific Northwest’s eight-month rainy season, this success doesn’t seem quite so far-fetched. Furthermore, like their predecessors, the Wolves take the style’s ideals to heart: They allegedly live in the woods, grow their own food, and endorse such radical environmental entities as the ELF (Earth Liberation Front). Black metal has, at its best, sought to capture the wildness and disregard for sentimentality that typifies the planet on which we live and die, but as of late it’s been bogged down in a sea of corpse-painted whiners with drum machines. Draped in fierce beauty, Two Hunters recaptures the untamed spirit that black metal is still capable of delivering, a 46-minute ode to nature as the ultimate usurper of man’s throne.

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The Weight

The word epic comes up often when discussing Oakland metalheads High on Fire, referencing both the guitar riffs pounding you into submission and—like their foremost influence, Celtic Frost—an esoteric literary influence that avoids venturing into Mastodon territory. And though, by the time you’ve plowed through enough of Death Is This Communion to reach singer-guitarist Matt Pike’s mantle-shifting solo on “Waste of Tiamat,” you probably won’t be considering the finer points of Sumerian mythology, it’s worth noting that the trio’s novelistic qualities stretch beyond lyrical considerations. One listen to DITC‘s melancholic majesty will compel you to both exalt in Pike’s guitar-playing and read Robert E. Howard while smoking weed.

Only men with a certain brand of tenacity can mix brawn and brain like this without sounding derivative or cheesy; what’s more, High on Fire have gotten progressively better with each release— no easy feat, considering they could’ve stagnated, content merely to ape Pike’s old band, the sludge-metal titans Sleep, sped up to 45. But progress aside, DITC will still melt your speakers. Jack Endino’s clean yet full-tilt production fills out the sound, but it’s drummer Des Kensel’s ability to push forward and hold back—not simply pound monochromatically from start to finish—that truly creates the thriving, volatile atmosphere here: a black, acrid environment wherein Pike’s guitar creeps out from Frazetta swamp logs, climbs dead trees, and summons lightning bolts from black thunderclouds, beneath which sordid rituals of Lovecraftian proportions take shape.

But that, too, avoids outright cliché: While there are indeed “beings that come from darkness” lurking within the seven-minute “Ethereal,” Pike has never been one to overplay the Satan card, instead evoking kingdoms in the clutches of despotic rulers, alien Annunaki serpents guarding sunken Atlantean keys, and other images providing ample weight for the wrecking ball. Let’s face it: Pure fucking evil can be just as boring as any stodgy moralist preaching the “good of mankind,” but while High on Fire deploy strategic nuance, there’s not too much. If you play this record backwards, you’ll still hear voices telling you to break shit, get arrested, and drink Jägermeister. They just might suggest you read a history book, too.


High on Fire play Webster Hall October 8, websterhall.com

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Fast, Brutal, and Out of Control

Sunday’s Thrashfest supposedly started at 4 p.m., but things didn’t get underway until well after six. Of the nine bands billed, two didn’t show, and the sequencing of those that did left something to be desired. No one seemed to mind, though, as the bar opened at five, giving the 100-strong crowd plenty of time to become sufficiently intoxicated. Furthermore, we had two good reasons to be there: first, the reunion of Virginia’s gun-toting speed-metal forefathers, At War; second, the first New York appearance by Canyon Country, California’s Merciless Death, who unleashed a complete onslaught, fast, brutal, and precise—in short, everything thrash metal should be. Following in a long line of California bands (including Exodus, Dark Angel, and, yes, Slayer), they make you wonder what the hell they’re drinking over there, and whether or not it’s legal.

After a pill-hazed and somewhat awkward set by Bludwulf, At War took the stage with all the subtlety of Ted Nugent singing the national anthem. Their speaker cabinets draped in red, white, and blue—plus a machine gun perched on Dave Stone’s drum kit—the band broke a 15-year-silence here, ripping into a romantic ballad called “Rapechase.” One of the originators of what has become an entire genre you could call “war metal,” the band shares little with the more technical leanings of the sound’s modern purveyors—At War remains locked in 1983, primitive and fast, equal parts Hellhammer and Motörhead. And while his band makes no secret of their allegiance to Lemmy, singer Paul Arnold had to gently remind the crowd that they were “not a cover band,” although two covers, “The Hammer” and “Ace of Spades,” were (weirdly) the highlights of the set.

And then came the headliner, Brooklyn’s Early Man, another band playing uninspired Sabbath rip-offs—an approach that’d be far less annoying if they actually possessed an ounce of Sab heaviness. Sadly, this Iommi-lite stuff is still a trend; these guys should’ve played first or, better yet, not at all.

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Slough Feg’s Hardworlder

If you want to get a good idea where Slough Feg singer-guitarist Mike Scalzi is coming from, check out the graphic novel
Slaine: The Berserker, whose main villain, based on a demon lord from Irish oral mythology, is named the Lord Weird Slough Feg. According to legend, he lives in a cave and scrawls stories and visions on the walls, oblivious to the outside world; that’s pretty much what Slough Feg the band has been doing since the early ’90s, oblivious to trends and waiting for the world to catch up with them. Now that metal is considered cool again, it’s as though they’ve emerged from an underground cave—or, more accurately, a practice space under a Walgreen’s on Haight Street in San Francisco—to become time-traveling metal warriors.

No matter how geeky concept albums based on comic books, Celtic mythology, and outer-space role-playing games might sound on paper, these guys will make you believe that they live it. Hardwolder songs like “Tiger! Tiger!” and the instrumental “Galactic Nomad” invoke the epic sci-fi novels of Alfred Bester; the fierce, shredding twin-guitar attack, backed by galloping drums and combined with sometimes frightening, sometimes epic, often intentionally silly lyrics, makes comparisons to Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy unavoidable. Picture the amphetamine-addled spirit of Phil Lynott entering the body of Slaine the Celtic barbarian and driving a tank down a crowded street on Friday night while holding a flaming guitar over his head. Then listen to the song “Streetjammer,” wherein Scalzi yells, “My stereo is cranked to the max!” You will have no choice but to take him completely seriously.

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Lip Stink

They all allegedly lip-synch. It’s like finding out there’s no Santa Claus. Madonna, Britney, Beyoncé, and now Ashlee Simpson. I lie awake at night thinking about these moments.


Ashlee Simpson loses it on SNL

October 23, 2004

By now, clever explanations of the event are pointless. Simply put, this is hilarious stuff. Thank you, Ash. Can I call you Ash? You have reinvigorated a once funny television show and, along with Janet Jackson’s nipple, delivered the goods in a dwindling medium, live television. There are numerous links to this video.


Elton John slams Madonna

October 8, 2004

“Madonna, best fucking live act? Fuck off! Since when has lip-synching been live?” This is what Elton John tells Q Magazine after Madonna is nominated for best live act in the U.K. Elton doesn’t lip-synch at his concerts. Or choreograph dances inspired by kabbalah, for that matter.


Beyoncé defies nature

August 28, 2003

The audience sits transfixed as Beyoncé Knowles descends onto the stage upside-down and almost naked. As she begins her performance the vocal track sounds suspiciously pre-recorded. How can she run around the stage like that and still sing so perfectly? She’s not even out of breath. This is a travesty. This is tragic, this . . . wow, her breasts look amazing in that dress.


Paula Abdul flunky demands credit

August 12, 1993

In 1985, Yvette “Corvette” Marine replaces Ann “Cheri” Bailey in Rick James’s all-girl group project, the Mary Jane Girls. Each woman represents a character type. Yvette is the cute valley girl. The band breaks up in 1987 and Marine goes on to become back-up singer for Paula Abdul. In 1993 she sues Virgin Records for $3 million, claiming that she wasn’t credited for singing on several tracks from Abdul’s album, Forever Your Girl. The claim is rejected and Marine lends her talents to a group called Loud Sunday.


Milli Vanilli

February 27, 1990

“Musically, we are more talented than Paul McCartney. Mick Jagger, his lines are not clear. He don’t know how he should produce a sound. I’m the new modern rock and roll. I’m the new Elvis.” These are the words of Robert Pilatus, one-half of Milli Vanilli, in USA Today. Five years later, stripped of a Grammy for lip-synching over someone else’s vocals, Pilatus is in and out of rehab, attacking people with lampposts and breaking into cars. Then, on April 2, 1998, he kills himself.


Dick Clark’s asshole

March 5, 1980

“What can I expect from this asshole?” That is the question Dick Clark asks Larry White, then tour manager for PiL, before the band’s scheduled appearance on American Bandstand. When they do go onstage, John Lydon refuses to mouth the pre-recorded vocals, ending the long standing Bandstand lip-synch tradition. He then invites audience members onstage, and infuriates Clark by charging the host’s podium.