Thursday, May 21, 2009

True Norwegian Death Metal

There are a few countries have become well known, if not fetishized, for specific types of extreme metal. England has doom metal and grindcore, the U.S. and Sweden have distinct kinds of death metal and, of course, Norway has black metal. But as the world focuses on the black and white—or in this case just the black—it’s easy to overlook some of Norway’s pretty cool death-metal accomplishments. Although the country blazed into prominence (literally) in the early ’90s, when bands like Mayhem, Darkthrone, and Burzum reignited music fans’ interest in black metal—and although their neighbor to the east, Sweden, has gotten far more credit for death metal—the country of corpse paint and fjords already had a sturdy foundation in great death metal. With that, I hope to draw some attention to some grievously overlooked, and unfortunately many out-of-print, “True Norwegian Death Metal” albums (ranked in order of quality). Enjoy these however you can.

Molested 1) Molested, Blod Draum (Effigy, 1995)
Between the violin, didgeridoo-type sounds, and mouth harp(!), Blod Drom is as intriguing as it is terrifying. Even when they stayed traditional, Bergen’s Molested created some of the best, most forward-thinking death metal of any country during the ’90s, bolstered by the relentless riffs and bilious growls of Borknagar frontman Øystein G. Brun and some breakneck, off-time blast beats by sometime Gorgoroth drummer Erlend “Sersjant” Erichsen. Utterly essential. (Ars Magna Recordings is planning a re-release of all of Molested’s albums this year, click here for more info.)

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Melvins’ 25th Anniversary, 5/15/09

Sludge rockers Melvins celebrated their 25th anniversary at Webster Hall last night. As a special treat, before playing their classic 1993 album Houdini in its entirety, big-haired main man Buzz Osborne—dressed in his trademark druidesque robes—introduced us to the “original 1983 lineup”: Mike Dillard (“who just got out of prison”) on drums and Matt Lukin (“who also just got out of prison and needs a place to stay”) on bass. Thing is, it wasn’t the sometime-Mudhoney bassist Lukin, for whom they have ill feelings—it was 1984-to-present drummer Dale Crover, who kept the joke going, by saying “I have weed,” in his facetious angling for a place to stay. Talk about grudges.

Buzz Osborne

The trio’s “1983” set consisted mostly of the sort of hardcore on Black Flag’s album from that year, My War, and consisted of songs available on the band’s Mangled Demos From 1983 CD. The music was far cry from the noise-rock and pseudo-soundtrack music the group is playing today, but was still pretty exciting. Reflecting on his career at one point, Osborne said, “Why the hell did I do this? I could have done anything. I could have been a fucking lawyer, like, three times over already.” Dillard played well, especially for having been off the grid for a while and for having to open for Crover, one of the greatest drummers ever. (Aside: With the exception of bassist-drummer Greg Hokanson and, uh, Kurt Cobain, all three of these musicians played in Cobain’s pre-Nirvana project Fecal Matter.)

At one point Dillard left the drum stool to play a snare that was set off to the side of the stage for Houdini’s all-drum closer “Spread Eagle Beagle,” which the band would play later, and Crover assumed the drum throne. Dillard then left the stage, and Buzz and Dale played sans drummer for a while, including an awesome cover of Alice Cooper’s “Ballad of Dwight Fry,” from Melvins’ Lysol album. (Incidentally, the band Big Business, two of whose members have comprised Melvins’ other half—literally—for the past three years, is touring as at the same time of this tour—so no two-drummer setup tonight; also, despite speculation, sometime Melvins bassist Joe Preston, who is in town, didn’t show up either, which is wise, because in interviews the band members still say worse things about him than they do Lukin.) There aren’t many bands who can open for themselves, since this was “An Evening With the Melvins,” and play enough styles of music that you felt like you’d seen three bands. During the middle, no-bass set, I got to thinking, For all of the duo’s bass-player changes through the years, when I was watching this I was wondering why they ever bothered with bass players at all, it sounded so raw and dirty.

Then, with no pause at all, sometime Mr. Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn, clad in his own camouflage druid robes, came out for the beginning of the Houdini set and put my supposition to rest. Dude flung his bass in the air and faceplanted the headstock right into the stage to make the loudest, lowest feedback I can remember (it didn’t hurt I was in the front row right in front of his amp). From there, it all made sense.

From “Hooch” to the over-10-minute drum extravaganza “Beagle,” the band made the record sound nastier than the studio versions. “Lizzy,” “Set Me Straight” and “Honey Bucket” stand out as three highlights, mostly because of Buzz’s petulant snarl. Feeding off that, at one point Crover was hitting the gong behind him so hard that it fell right over. During “Beagle,” both Dunn and Dillard banged on snares on either side of Crover (mostly not in unison) for an insufferable amount of time. Osborne just walked offstage and sat down during this song. Dunn and Crover closed the show with a drum-and-bass blues jam, during which Buzz came back and thanked everyone for coming out. “I want to thank your wives for letting you come out tonight,” he also said, as well as, “I want to thank your parents for not making you go to school tomorrow.” (“Tomorrow” is a Saturday.) With that, the band was done; it was 10 pm and time for Webster Hall to turn into a dance club. I left feeling like I’d seen something special—not just another Melvins gig. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do the next time they come through.

Dale Crover as “Matt Lukin”:Dale Crover as "Matt Lukin" on bassDale Crover as "Matt Lukin" on bassBuzzDale on bassBuzz

Mike Dillard on drums:Mike Dillard on drums

Buzz and Dale, sans bass:Buzz and Dale, sans bassBuzzBuzzBuzz

Trevor Dunn:Trevor DunnBuzzTrevor DunnBuzzBuzz

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Thermals, 5/9/2009

I got caught in a mosh… at the Thermals. The last time I saw the punky Portland indie-rock trio was at the basement of Fontana’s during a music fest, and while the audience pogo’d as if it was back in fashion, it was nothing compared to what I experienced Saturday night at the Bowery Ballroom. I was flummoxed to see the boys’ club take over the front, and it seems to have gotten to the band a bit, too. A friend told me that the night before, bassist Kathy Foster said, “Don’t make us go Fugazi on you,” since that band famously stops whenever things get rowdy (“Music is not a contact sport,” after all), and at the show I saw frontman Hutch Harris openly made fun of crowdsurfers and, bearing a snarl, even almost elbowed one when he got too close. While it came nothing close to a metal show, it got annoying quickly.

The band made up for it, though, and their wider audience is well-deserved (even the girl who wore a skull mask, below). Although they’ve gotten some criticism for their new album’s lack of politics, they make up for it with sweaty enthusiasm live, playing songs like “A Pillar of Salt” and “A Stare Like Yours” as if they were on the new album. (“When I Was Afraid” stands out as the best live-version song from Now We Can See, or at least the most memorable the next day.) Thank God the Thermals can surpass the audience’s adrenaline overload with their own hyperactive optimism.