A day at the Ed Castle: Churches of Steel II – a few highlights

As a part of an ongoing campaign to weather away at my hobo status, I head out to Churches of Steel II on the 3rd at the Ed Castle Hotel. For those not in the know, Churches of Steel is a metal festival here in Adelaide featuring mostly Australian metal acts. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I went to a music festival (have I ever?) and they do tend to remind me of conventions which I’ve never been big on. But what the fuck, you’ve got to get your ass out and about some of the time, right?

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Fortunately I wasn’t fashionably late enough to miss the sludgy doom of slovSloven who were up first. Sloven, while blasting out growls you’d expect to hear echoing down from a Scandinavian mountain, got me thinking about a few things. First of all, was how friends with a few years under the belt have been recounting how non-narcotic things they associate with past drug use have been giving them a buzz in the here and now. Sloven just happened to give me a buzz that reminded me of this, which no, is not a confession. (Although call me paranoid, I did later opt to avoid Adelaide Train Station and the potential of sniffer dogs on account of a nutty smell in the beer garden).

The other thing is… well, Jesus fuck, doesn’t Sloven just know how to work distortion? (The answer would be “yes, they do”). Adam Neely has had some interesting things to say about psychoacoustics on his YouTube channel (here for example) that I’ve been watching lately, so subsequently, I was wondering just how much Sloven take advantage of this kind of thing to fuck with people’s heads. That and how and why a number of metal bands seem to sound so much better live than over the radio. Thank you Sloven, you’ve helped me be more neurotic.

execAfterward out on the beer garden stage came the fun of Executus’ brand of blackened thrash. I thought I picked up on geek vibes from these guys, but not in a bad way. The icosahedron on the cover of their Escape Reality EP is a bit of a give away, but fortunately there wasn’t so much as a whiff of Mountain Dew or Hot Pockets in attendance. When I say Executus are fun, it’s because they don’t take themselves too seriously all while still managing not to undermine themselves with facetiousness. This isn’t always an easy balance to manage, and it allows an audience to goof off without being reduced to clownhood.

Years of trying to like Nuclear Assault has taught me that you don’t want to spend your time being relentlessly serious when it comes to thrash.

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Anyway, it was really fucking nice under the tree out in the beer garden, so much so that I ended up sitting-out Dirty Pagans who were on-stage inside after Executus. All due credit to the organizers, and to the Ed Castle, by the way – landing such a decent venue on short notice after the Producers closed down was an awesome win.

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Hailing from Sydney, Lethal Vendetta followed out in the beer garden. Hearinglethal them cranking out Liar’s Dice was grounding – Brent Logan’s vocals are so fucking old school, and wouldn’t have sounded at all out of place next to the likes of Bezerker, blasting out over community radio back in 1990.

I missed Bezerker live as a kid, moving to Adelaide just after they’d moved to the UK to try their luck there, and just as local thrash started to wind down during the ascension of grunge. Seeing and hearing Lethal Vendetta live in their own time – now – kind of makes up for some of that in a weird way, which I’m grateful for. Thanks guys.

jimSpeaking of old school, and missing out, I feel like a bit of a dope for not being around the scene when The Loving Tongue began its evolution. Largely to dodge a couple of scary women with knife fetishes, but also to wallow in the darkest, bleakest black metal I could find – which admittedly wasn’t very dark – I started to avoid mid-1990s venues like Cartoons on Hindley Street, which really, I shouldn’t have.

Fortunately Jim got the band back together for a live appearance to the benefit of those of us not smart or fortunate enough to be there the first time around. I’ve only seen Jim on stage twice, and both times he’s been at the helm cranking out an awesome cover – this time we were delivered some Dio, which rocked. If Rino was around, maybe we’d have gotten KISS. It’s near-on impossible to get your hands on a Loving Tongue album these days, so if you ever see any you don’t already have sitting on a merch table somewhere, do yourself a favour before it’s too late.

It should also be mentioned that Big Tom has got a blues infused project of his own (which I really need to get around to seeing). He’s got a gig going on down a bit southward this Sunday, which I’ll be kicking myself for missing.

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Things got a little confusing in the early evening. Unfortunately Matterhorn didn’t perform owing to illness. I was looking forward to seeing them live having thus far only heard their covers played on DDD Radio, and recently finding out they’d started performing their own material. These things can’t be avoided, so I’ll wait for another time.

asylumThe first real big shock of the night though, was Brisbane’s Asylum. I mean, Jesus fucking Christ. Let me put it this way – imagine seeing a band for the first time that manages to play old school thrash without being derivative, who make you feel almost the same way you did when you were a kid the first time listening to Kreator’s Extreme Aggression. And clearly, most everyone else felt something similar: the crowd went off.

(Apologies if you weren’t a kid when Extreme Aggression came out, but you probably still get the gist).

Maybe it’s because I’m not familiar with their body of work, but I couldn’t spot a fuck-up either. Either way their performance was tight, and for the first time in the night I was wondering how the fuck anyone else would follow, and we were only half way through the card. I’m not sure anyone did top Asylum’s performance, and everyone who came afterward earn points just for guts.

“Okay, you can all go home now. Metal is finished.” – My brain after Asylum for the first time.

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If you can’t out-thrash them, out-Viking them? Brisbane’s Valhaloreval were not what I was expecting. Often Viking metal comes in two general forms; super-serious-folk, sub-Wagnerian, crypto-Nietzschean, Viking metal, and clown-arse Viking metal. Valhalore were neither.

Valhalore did manage to straddle that difficult divide between over-seriousness and the absurd that Executus deftly managed earlier in the night, resulting in something festive and more mead-than-blood-soaked. How many folk/Viking metal bands can you think of that could break into a jig onstage without making a fool out of themselves?

Still, I’m a grumpy, overly-serious kind of old fart who’s been marinated in Bathory for too long, so when I’m told to grab the nearest person to me and dance, I still kind of want to reach for an axe instead. It’s a learning curve I guess.

hiddenNow, if there’s anyone who held a candle to Asylum on the night, in my opinion it was Hidden Intent. They were pretty much as tight as Asylum, and the crowd went wild for them. Of course, people were wound up by that point, and Hidden Intent had the home ground advantage. The sheer shock of hearing Asylum for the first time was a confounding factor too. It’s hard to call and I’m not sure I’m competent to call it, so I’m not going to. Being unable to tell who gave the most awesome performance on a given night is precisely the kind of problem you want to have at these things, so I’ll not complain.

Now I just need to get my shit together and get my hands on a CD of Fear, Prey, Demise at some point in the near future.

Another grounding moment came with Vanishing Point – the amount of times Ivanishing reckon I’ve heard When Truth Lies on DDD Radio is probably less that I actually have, but it’s been stuck in my head and it was welcome familiar territory, coming after a day of hearing songs that for the most part I’d never heard before. When there’s this much chaos, you need these kinds of familiar sign posts to remind some of the older audience members of just what planet they’re on.

Vanishing Point were, as expected, precise in their execution of pretty much everything they did. But by this point I was really starting to wonder about the heat in the joint. I wasn’t feeling it, but I’ve been told the Ed Castle gets hot, and when a vocalist takes a towel to a guitarist’s head mid-solo, you’re reminded of this. You have to wonder how Melbournians feel this stuff when they head up here, not that it made Vanishing Point miss a beat.

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lichAnd then there was Lich King from the US, bane of my eardrums (which copped a bashing from the speaker a couple of feet to the left of my head). Asylum got an acknowledgement for blowing Lich King away, but if that gave Lich King nerves they weren’t showing it. It’s a bit hard trying to decipher how much competition is going on here between the bands – friendly, obviously – and how much is straight up camaraderie. You know they like playing the same gigs, but are there hidden stakes; beer tabs, dares and running bets?

I’m still trying to make my mind up about a thing or two about Lich King. They made with more of the swaggering braggadocio than other bands on the night, and by the end of their set when people started chanting “Black Metal Sucks”,  something was niggling at the back of my head (which had nothing to do with me wearing a Bathory t-shirt, honest).

I suspect a meaningful difference between Lich King and their Australian counterparts on the night probably comes down to the difference between the piss-take and the roast. The American tradition of the comedy roast doesn’t really have a counterpart in the rest of the Anglophonic world – the piss-take is as close as it gets. While the roast is dry and direct by design, the piss-take is considerably more amiable with much more nudging and and winking. Canadians, New Zealanders and the British all veer towards the piss-take as well – consider Canadian Steve Terreberry’s “How To Be Black Metal!” as an example; it’s not a roast, it’s a piss-take, but touches on pretty much all the same points as the considerably more overt lyrics to Lich King’s Black Metal Sucks.

While Lich King are clearly perfectly capable of laughing at themselves, I reckon there’s a real difference there, and that it’s probably cultural – although it will take more gigs and more listening to be sure. All the more reason for these kinds of festivals, and from what I’ve been led to believe, Adelaide’s probably going to get a Churches of Steel III and IV.

I’ll be looking forward to it.

~ Bruce

First gig of 2018: A night at the Ed Castle

EdLast Friday, the 5th, I spent a warm January night dropping in on a gig at the Ed Castle. Voros were headlining, supported by Biome, I, Protagonist and Meth Leppard. A friend in I, Protagonist had asked me along, I had a book I’d wanted to give him, and I needed to get a bit more familiar with how my new camera handled the dark. Ultimately though, I’d only be able hang around for the support acts.

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Biome were first cab off the rank, starting off by mixing in what was either Tuvan or Tibetan throat singing with reggae, jazzy bits and death metal. It worked pretty much seamlessly.

I’ve never had a problem with women growling on lead vocals, but I’ve occasionally wondered if market forces don’t tend to commodify and tropify female death metal leads – moreso than males – in the direction of musical cliche and the predictable throwing of shapes.  Fortunately Biome’s vocalist, Jo, showed no signs of any of that. Her vocals were unaffected and her stage presence was that of a person seemingly happy wearing their own skin.

I wasn’t able to get up closer for a snap, and the lighting had possibly drenched the stage a bit too red for my camera’s liking. But maybe it was safer I’d hung back anyway: The stage looked like a scene from Stephen King’s Carrie – if Carrie had been possessed by Pazuzu.

(Also, judging by the bassist’s moustache, there may have been pirates).

People have told me this was Biome’s first outing, although I’m not sure of the truth of the matter. If this is just the beginning for them, I hope the industry affords them the ability to keep on doing their own thing – especially if one day they get signed by a label. You can check out their stuff for yourself here.

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I ProtagonistNext up were I, Protagonist, who cranked out a few memorable numbers with a dual vocal attack, between fits of making ears bleed. “Sober Dionysian” is a track I’ll probably reference as a starting off point for a future discussion of the Apollonian and Dionysian. A new track, “The map and the territory” was chunky in all the right places, but apparently the drummer made a mistake during the performance. I can’t say I noticed.

I was able get a bit closer this time, and from that vantage point it looked like the crowd were keeping their distance. Maybe they were worried Scott would tread on them, what with all the stomping back and forwards. Or maybe they didn’t like his The Smiths t-shirt (“eww, Morrissey”).  How he didn’t put a foot through a foldback speaker I have no idea.

You can get a hold of some I, Protagonist online here.

A Scripted Oblivion

A Scripted Oblivion CD: $5 from the merch table at reputable watering holes.

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Meth LeppardAfter a short change, Meth Leppard followed.

My camera managed to get a single clear(ish) shot towards the end of the sound check. The rest of the time getting a clear shot of the drummer would have been like trying to take a picture of a hummingbird’s wing – he was all over that kit.

I’m not overly familiar with Meth Leppard, and maybe my ears were just fucked by this point, but I was hoping to hear some Krokodil Dundee in there and I’m pretty sure it didn’t happen. All the same, you’ve gotta love a band with a name like Meth Leppard who then follow through with a title like “Krokodil Dundee”; worth a check-in on that basis alone.

Grindcore, like other “core”s, isn’t really my thing, but I’m finding I feel it live a lot more than when I listen to it at home. Meth Leppard are no exception, so maybe I’ll have to keep my eyes open for more of them in future.

Meth Leppard can be found dealing their seedy wares on Bandcamp here.

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Being soft and all, I had to head home before Voros hit the stage. It’s okay if you think I suck for that. I’ll probably have to start doing a little more homework on them in the near future (i.e. listening to them more intently).

Their latest album is available on Bandcamp here.

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So that was it for the Ed Castle. Or so I thought. I’d only just bought my ticket to February’s Churches of Steel II, when it was announced that the event would be relocating to The Ed Castle after The Producers had closed.

churches

This’ll be an interesting addition to the ticket collection.

The older tickets to The Producers will be honored at the new venue, and the two stages will be maintained; one of them in the beer garden. Sweet.

I’ve also paid up for Overkill and Destruction’s gigs at Fowlers in the first half of 2018. Not having gotten out to nearly enough gigs over the years, I’m contemplating seeing if I can get along to see Venom Inc. at The Enigma Bar too. There’s also Heavy S.A. to consider in April, and it looks like Biome are on the lineup.

Either way, when the time comes I’ll be writing up some proper gig reviews around here.

~ Bruce

A Night At The Gov feat. Soilwork

Soilwork @ The Gov - 12th Feb, 2016 Soilwork @ The Gov – 12th February, 2016

Whenever I could tune-in from my rural location to the then MMM FM back in the late nineteen-eighties, I used to listen to The Metal Show hosted by Mal. As a kid of around thirteen, I’d listen to Mal announce gigs, remember the venues, and being too young and too far away, harbour fantasies about going to “one of those gigs Mal promoted”. Hell, I even worked the Adelaide scene of my imagination into some fiction writing that my year nine English teacher took considerable exception to. Years later, by the time I got to Adelaide, and was old enough, Mal had moved on and MMM had become DDD Radio.

Wind forward to the now, and in more recent years Mal has returned to the station for a show every now and then, last year announcing on-air that Soilwork would be playing The Gov while touring to promote their The Ride Majestic. I didn’t mind Soilwork; I had a mate interested enough to still have a thirteen-odd year-old Figure Number Five t-shirt; a plan basically wrote itself.

After said mate travelled down from Mildura, and after a few drinks at different bars, we found ourselves in The Gov’s beer garden listening to Se Bon Ki Ra. Coming as a bit of a surprise, not being mentioned at the point of ticket sale, they were lined-up before Aversions Crown who’d themselves been announced earlier as Soilwork’s supporting act. I’ve only ever heard Se Bon Ki Ra’s work as studio material played on DDD Radio, and while I’ve liked what I’ve heard, I haven’t payed that much interest until now. Se Bon Ki Ra are awesome live. I can’t remember half of what my mate and I dissected out in the beer garden, possibly on account of the Coopers sparkling ales were were pouring down ourselves, but timing on the drums and the vocal range on show both featured in our commentary. I’m going to have to pay better attention to these guys in future.

My friend would have said more himself later on, when asked whether he liked the show by Ben, Se Bon Ki Ra’s bassist, only my friend was a bit taken aback by the urinary setting of the conversation. Bass players are a funny sort.

It was around the end of Se Bon Ki Ra’s set, and the beginning of Aversions Crown’s, that I finally met Mal of Metal Show fame. He was wearing a Mercenary t-shirt for the third of three “M”s. We got a little talking in, in-between the music and him snapping his camera closer to the action, although most of what I remember for my part is mostly laughter and inebriation.

Aversions Crown had the bar set high for them in following Se Bon Ki Ra. My friend and I found ourselves commenting on the volume of the drums (a fun thing in and of itself when the blast beats hit) which came off in parts as drowning out the rest of the band members. Nothing though, could fully quench the ultra-guttural growls of Melbourne’s Mark Poida, who stepped in to replace Colin Jeffs on vocals last year. I’m not much of a deathcore person myself, or even much of a “core” person in general, but I may end up making an exception for these Brisbane-based monsters. I’ve grabbed Tyrant off the shelves which I’m still giving a belt every now and then, and their cover art being what it usually is – i.e. scary-awesome – I’ll probably have to wait for their Erebus to get a physical release before grabbing that too.

Following eventually, after what was possibly a slightly longish sound check, was Soilwork.

Get on to Google Play, or whatever else and have a listen to their work. Whether they’re your thing or not, what you won’t be able to tell me is that these guys aren’t as technical-as-all-fuck; high precision that couldn’t get much higher if it found Dave Mustaine’s long-lost stash and snorted it through the woodwind section of the Philadelphia Orchestra. I’m arguing this based just on Soilwork’s studio material. But Soilwork on stage?

I’ve got to ask; do these guys ever make mistakes playing live? I’m not sure I’ve ever been to such a fine-tuned performance. I may have been a tad drunk, and yes, I’m not a muso, but I’m not entirely unable to spot a botch, and I didn’t notice a single one. This, despite material that is obviously not easy to play.

But don’t let me give you the impression that Soilwork are merely just technical virtuosos, or cold-hearted perfectionists, either. Björn Strid’s interaction with the crowd was at turns gracious, good humoured, and energetic, the band following through in the same spirit. There was every sign these masters of the stage were perfectly in-touch with the crowd’s mood, culture and blood alcohol level, working these elements and others into a keenly measured metal alchemy. There was more than just tight instrumentation and vocals going on, and you could feel the rest of the crowd knew it too.

Soilwork peppered their set of new material with divergences to points throughout a large back catalogue, which judging by the responses of die-hard fans who know that back catalogue better than me, was executed with deft timing and chemistry. Eventually, after the first stage exit of the night, a chant of “one more song” cued the band to come back to play several – a premeditated response, no doubt. The band knew perfectly well what it was doing, bringing the audience to new heights before the night’s true end.

After watching the band working its way back stage – seeing them choose not to ignore audience members as they went – and opting not to try skiing on the beer-inundated floor, the gig was over. Stumbling back to the CBD to contend with lock-out laws, late-night food, beer selections and taxis, the time taken by multiple encores having locked us out of public transport back to my part of town, I was forced to realise that previously, I’d really been depriving myself, gig-wise. After years of complaining about auto-tune and lip-synching, you can forget that some artists are even better live than in the studio – stage and the social environment being things you just can’t replicate at home, subject to crafting through a whole raft of other skills.

I may not have the health or the time to see gigs as much as I’d like anymore, decrepit and aging thing that I am, but I’ll be keeping an eye open for more, and making a commitment not to take live music quite so much for granted in future. I’ve got Soilwork and their co-conspirators to thank for the lesson, and of course, Mal too.

~ Bruce

Music Review: Raven Black Night’s “Barbarian Winter”

Here’s one I fired off to the almighty editor a couple of months ago…

“Owing to technical reasons (and kleptomania), it’s been a while since I’ve broken out the vinyl. But finally, with a new album release by Adelaide’s Raven Black Night this year, on Metal Blade Records no less, I’ve been motivated to get off my rear end, grab a replacement turntable, and put needle-to-track once again.”

You can read the whole article in Rabelais #8 (2013) over here

~ Bruce