10/9/18

The Devil, not like other heavy metal bands - supporting the Therion Australian tour


Six years ago I came across an obscure heavy metal band on a Terrorizer magazine compilation.
It was Terrorizer magazine #229 from November 2012. Dani Filth was on the cover promoting Cradle of Filth’s then-new album The Manticore And Other Horrors. Ghaal was back in black and on the scene again with God Seed. A collaboration called Mrityu between Ihsahn and Matt Heafy from Trivium, of all people, was announced (incidentally, it appears that nothing has come from it to date). And an obscure group calling themselves The Devil had a track featured on the accompanying Fear Candy #113 sampler CD.
Despite the criticism that is traditionally heaped onto free samplers, I was a fan of the Fear Candy series. While I acknowledge that the inevitable rule of thumb with the free CD is to discard nine tenths of what you get, those Fear Candy compilations nonetheless got me into some fantastic music. December 2012’s Fear Candy 114, for example, was directly responsible for introducing me to Tengger Cavalry.
The track that got me into The Devil was an intriguing one. Titled Universe, it stood apart from the rest of the compilation due its lack of vocals. And yet, it wasn’t a traditional instrumental track though. Instead, it was made up a multitude of samples detailing UFO sightings and alien conspiracies, overlaid to some reasonably well-produced gothic metal.
The samples were put together in such a way as to construct what a friend termed “a narrative” (an accurate way of putting it, but alas, I’m not a fan of the term) — a story constructed from samples in lieu of vocals.


I was very interested. I was able to find out that The Devil had a self-titled album on Candlelight Records — no small achievement for any heavy metal outfit — but not very little else was known about them. For one thing, all band members summoned the spirit of Ghost by remaining masked and anonymous.
Here’s what I said about The Devil back in 2013:
“This artist is another Terrorizer magazine discovery, and a group about which public knowledge seems to be strangely lacking. What I know comes from a small and somewhat silly magazine interview in which they kind of explained why they remain anonymous and wear masks. Nonetheless, they’re one of those bands that are so mysterious and elusive that their music hasn’t even leaked (yet) into the usual channels.
What is legitimately available for public viewing, however, is a collection of two videos that showcase not only their style but also their awesome multi-media skills.
The first of these videos, Universe, deals with alien conspiracies. The other, Extinction Level Event, is cut up speeches about nuclear war post-WWII. Both make superb use of actual footage and tell a story (because I refuse to use the term “narrative”) put together from various samples. A written description couldn’t do justice to these tracks.
I love them both, so please, watch these videos.”



The Devil: not like other heavy metal bands

I really did dig those tracks. While the audio alone was something I really enjoyed, the multimedia delivery in the form of those videos was something else.
Ever since the heavy metal music video became a medium (fun fact: the first heavy metal music video aired on MTV was by Iron Maiden) it has usually been an accompaniment to a track. Not so with The Devil — here the video was an art form unto itself. It didn’t just accompany the music — the video was the story driving it.
Unsurprisingly, what little information I did find about The Devil included liberal use of the term ‘cinematic’. Nonetheless, this was every bit an obscure outfit. I played those two videos to a few people, to mixed results, and I acknowledged that The Devil would be a group that no one would ever hear of.
I certainly never expected to meet anyone who had heard of them, much less so much as even entertain the thought that I would see them live — and in Australia of all places.
Yet somehow that is precisely what happened.
And here they were.
Pic: Vereance Lucitria

The Devil support the Therion Australian tour

There should be a word for the phenomenon that is a double take resulting from the good-natured disbelief of discovering concrete evidence that a band you love and never expected to see live is visiting your country.
Whatever that term is, it describes how I felt when I saw the promotional flyer announcing the Therion Australian tour.
There it was: Therion. Supported by The Devil.
The only reason that The Devil didn't receive profile shots was because they wear masks.

Oddly enough, the word “devil” is exceedingly popular when it comes to heavy metal band names. At last count, Metal Archives listed 126 results for just [devil] and 22 containing [the devil]. For this reason I was understandably incredulous that it was one and the same The Devil from years back.
“What? Not the The Devil?” was a fairly accurate paraphrasing of my thoughts at the time. “As in, that unbelievably obscure sample-based instrumental heavy metal outfit that released those amazing videos five or so years ago? Surely not?”
Sure, that’s not an entirely accurate paraphrasing of how my brain works (the daily through process is more like, “potato tomato banana oh I’ll just check the weather on my phone and oh I like the look of that band that’s come up on Facebook I’ll have to remember to listen to it later tonight agh where did I put my keys oh wait what was I doing again and what was I going to do on my phone again”).
But it was to be — and on September 12, 2018 I found myself in the crowd at Max Watt’s in Melbourne watching a band that until recently I’d never contemplated would be one I would see live.
And I was mesmerised.

The Devil’s music is divisive

"It's too dark to see their faces."

I loved what I heard and saw. But The Devil’s music is divisive.
Heavy metal music, or rather the people who love heavy metal music, are a morally anarchic bunch. One of the great virtues of heavy metal is the outspokenness of its adherents. If they love something, they’ll figuratively shout it from the rooftops (think Slayer fans whose main word in their vocabulary is SLAYER!). But that goes both ways.
With a group like The Devil, there were detractors who made their displeasure known.
I have spoken extensively in the past about how fortunate we are to live in a city where we are spoilt for choice when it comes to gigs playing hard, dark, nasty and heavy music; how the real enemy of what is popular music played on commercial radio and not that local band who are starting out by playing generic metal because they’re still finding their feet; and how you don’t appreciate the value of any gig playing any music that sounds even remotely like what you love until you live in a town that doesn’t have weekly punk, grind, metal, rock, stoner, noise and industrial shows.
Nevertheless, I’m not other people, so I understand that someone who would not know what to expect could feel underwhelmed from the performance. A major element of what makes The Devil unique is the previously mentioned audio-visual component. In the live environment of Max Watt’s (although in my heart it will always be the Hi-Fi Bar, just like Southern Cross Station will forever be Spencer Street Station) the projector on which much of the performance depended could best be described as ‘decent’. It went down to waist height and was not so much obscured, as interrupted, by moving black-clad masked figures intercepting the perspective of the crowd, looking, as they were, up to the stage at an angle.
I also suspect that the gravitas of various samples may have been lost on some of the crowd due to no other reason but for the original sound quality of those record. For many of the tracks, the narrative, sorry, I mean theme, is based on post-WWII or Cold War-era speeches. While those punters with history nerd credentials would have really gotten into it, the clarity of scratchy recordings from 60 or more years ago may have been lost in the live environment. At least for normal – people who delight in trainspotting Eisenhower’s military industrial complex speech or Truman’s announcement of the use of atomic weapons on Hiroshima during Extinction Level Event would have loved it.
Again, if you weren’t sure what to expect, I can see how someone going to the Therion gig, perhaps expecting bombastic from the support act, could feel that their expectations weren’t being met.
But if you knew what you were in for, or if you love samples (like I do!) you hopefully ‘got it’.
The performance of the track World Of Sorrow was especially poignant. Played over heart-wrenching footage of fires and collapsing buildings from September 11, it plays an on-the-scene TV reporter describing eyewitness accounts of what 9/11 truthers would later cite as the controlled demolition of 7 World Trade Center.
To be clear: September 11 conspiracy theorists, of which Building 7 is one of the most popular, have been repeatedly debunked. I do not subscribe to the views expressed in lyrics (or in this case, samples) of that track, in the same way that I don’t subscribe to lyrical themes found in Slayer lyrics, like Satanic sacrifices or dropping nuclear weapons or getting even through violence and murder. Nonetheless, the combination of samples, masked performance and video was for me, an almost gut-wrenching “wow” moment.
It due to moments like these that I was mesmerised. I loved the performance and I can say with sincerity and appreciation (rather than pretention) that I ‘got’ what The Devil were doing.
Knowing their original music helped, as does the fact that I love industrial music and samples. So too does being a massive history nerd. The live performance by The Devil was, for me personally, a stunning coming together of so many of the things I love about dark and heavy music.
Oh, and that slightly less obscure act going by the name of Therion were up next.
As for the identities of those behind the masks who are The Devil?
Well, I’ve got a conspiracy theory about who it might be… but who would believe me…?

8/25/18

“I forgot how good they were” | When you re-discover music you’d forgotten or dismissed



One of the wonderful things about being into awesome music is how it’s possible to ‘rediscover’ a band that you’d either forgotten about, or otherwise thought you knew well enough to have dismissed.
While I can only speak for myself, I suspect many others may have experienced this same phenomenon. It usually occurs years after you became familiar with an artist — and inevitably, the rediscovery manifests in a random or unexpected way.
Do any of these sound familiar?

Maybe you re-assessed a band after you saw them at a gig or festival?

I had this precise experience after seeing Rammstein at their final Big Day Out appearance in Australia, all the way back in 2011. I love much of the Rammstein discography but at the time I’d dismissed 2009’s Liebe Ist Für Alle as mediocre — that was, until I saw much of it played live.
That show changed my perspective about this album. I can, with full confidence, say that I got back into Liebe Ist Für Alle with a whole new level of appreciation post-concert, precisely because I saw half of it played live in all its fiery glory (tragically, almost 10 years have elapsed since the last full-length Rammstein studio album, so until then we at least have the wholesomely glorious cheese of Lindemann).
Similarly, a good friend saw Gary Numan and subsequently had an even more electric experience. It began when she went to one of his gigs even though she was not familiar with his discography. Having elected to see Gary Numan with no preconceived expectations, she emerged as a true believer. Now she's the proud owner of vinyl test pressings and hand-written lyric sheets.
I never gave Sabaton much thought until I saw them live on the 70000 Tons Of Metal cruise. What they lack in technical wizardry they make up for with the right attitude. And songs exclusively about military history.


Maybe a friend or acquaintance got you into a new group?

Those who are into fantastic music tend to gravitate towards others who are also into fantastic music. To ask someone “are you into so-and-so artist” or “have you heard the latest this-and-that?” is not so much a conversation starter as a way of life. On the other hand, when you've figuratively heard it all, and when you’re so deeply and heavily into your music that you rarely get surprised by new sounds, it’s inevitable that new and old things occasionally get tuned out.
One way to filter out the noise is to have a trusted source, such as a respected friend, invoke your full attention and articulate a new perspective.
Indeed, I would struggle to list the vast number of artists and tracks that I’ve gotten into as a direct consequence of one-on-one conversations and recommendations from good friends.
In fact, one of my all-time favourite activities with one of my best mates involved him bringing over a bag of CDs (yes, physical media), whereupon we would have a few beers while chilling out to and talking about tunes. While on almost every occasion the evening’s proceedings would close with’90s Eurotrance YouTube videos, I rate it as one of the very best ways imaginable to discover new music.

Maybe you forgot how good an artist was until you heard track played in your randomised shuffle playlist?

My shuffled playlist, more than any other factor, brings me back to music I’d tuned out, dismissed, mentally put aside, or otherwise forgotten about for months or years. I have facts to back this up: my playlist logs the Last played date next to each track, so when I see albums and artists that I know and love, I’m often surprised by how many years have passed since I last played them.
By that I mean track six from an album I’d long forgotten about suddenly grabs my attention in ways it never had previously, and for no other reason but that it came on unannounced in that shuffled playlist.
Left to run its natural course, this phenomenon often concludes with words that might best be paraphrased as “I forgot how good they were” and “I never really paid much attention to them until...”
This once more got me listening to Hocico. Pic: Discogs.


My Hocico ‘re-discovery’

This very thought occurred to me after I’d ‘re-discovered’ Mexican EBM electro-industrial champions Hocico the other day.
I was going through some photos on my hard drive of old music purchases (I’m just that kind of person) and I came across this single from EBM industrial outfit Hocico, purchased a few years back. The single is Dog Eat Dog, released in 2010.
Many months had passed since I’d last listened to big blocks of Hocico, and two things happened after I re-listened — or ‘re-discovered’ — this single.
Firstly, it immediately reminded me of how fantastic the Hocico discography is. Indeed, I’ll concede that, in this instance, it wasn’t a case of appreciation for a band that I’d dismissed but rather a case of “I forgot how good they were”.
To the point: I’d never dismissed Hocico. They are superb. It’s just that, for whatever reason, Hocico are a group I regularly revisit, but probably not regularly enough because there remains an unimaginably vast volume of awesome music still waiting to be discovered or revisited. Indeed, my hardrive playlist, consisting almost exclusively of music copied from my physical music collection, lists 55 continuous days’ worth of music.
As I said, it’s a bit too easy to filter out things when you’re so heavily into it. Other times, things just gather dust in the archive.
55.1 days of continuous music. If I played my entire collection 24 hours a day, I would get to listen to each track just 6.6 times per year.

The other thing to occur with the ‘re-discovery’ was that I was reminded of how privileged I was to have seen Hocico live in Australia. In 2012 I caught them at the Melbourne leg, a show that I thought was fantastic even though there were some technical difficulties throughout the gig. Despite sustaining a minor back injury — not from moshing-induced action, but merely from wearing a sombrero covered in gaffer tape — I had a fantastic time and you can see more about it in the above links.

Album art and association

In conclusion, a very small stimulus can be a powerful evoker, be it a track that stands out from the shuffle playlist, or actually picking up the *gasp* album art in your hands.
Not to denigrate digital and streaming (I am a heavy Spotify and Bandcamp user as I find both are excellent ways to discover artists that I then spend money on), but I feel the very nature of the physical presence of physical media is one edge it has over digital.
To get really metaphysical for a moment: the physical release is art that you’re holding, whereas the digital release is a representation of that art. Both are entirely valid and have advantages in that they’re equally capable of fulfilling whatever it is you’re hoping to get out of them.

Of course, for those of us who still love physical media, or who listen to their digital versions of legitimate purchases in the full format that they were created in, there’s still the dilemma of how to enjoy the historically maligned single.
Here’s how I get the most out of a release that consists of four remixes and a b-side: how to appreciate the much-maligned CD single.

How to re-appreciate the maligned CD single with four remixes and a b-side

I had a nice ‘re-discovery’ moment recently when I was unexpectedly reminded of how excellent electro-industrial and EBM music can be. As is so often the case with such things, it occurred by chance after I came across this 2010 Hocico single, Dog Eat Dog, that I’d purchased some years previously.
I love physical media but I still copy all my legitimate music purchases onto my hard drive in lossless format. So, when a track from this release got played at random from my playlist, I ensured that it in turn it in turn led to the rest of the release getting played, which in turn led to more of the Hocico discography getting played.
It was one of those moments where I could genuinely say that “I’d forgotten how good they were”. Yet for all the quality and brilliantly sinister depths in Hocico’s dark and nasty EBM electro-industrial, I was confronted with an ancient dilemma faced by people who still accumulate physical media: how does one enjoy and derive the most out of a single?
All these tracks are, individually, quite good.
Played back-to-back in this original format, though, they get a bit samey. Pic: Discogs.

The CD single in the digital streaming age

The single is an anachronism in the streaming age. It’s been that way for years, ever since the advent of digital music. Indeed, I recall how the biggest physical media music chain in my home country of Australia announced almost 10 years ago that it would cease stocking CD singles.
Yet for those of us who still love physical media, or are artist or label completists, the single represents a nice break from innumerable full-length albums.
This particular single is the CD version of Hocico’s Dog Eat Dog release from 2010. A ‘lead track’ (or rather, a fairly decent track) from the Tiempos De Furia album, it was released in two versions: the six-track version here in a digipak; and a two-track seven-inch, limited to 666 copies (of course). Incidentally, both are in formats that the label and distributor can conveniently refer to as limited edition.
As I said, the single in its traditional form is an anachronism.

Dog Eat Dog

Dog Eat Dog has six tracks: the lead track, four remixes, and what would in old-parlance be referred to as the b-side.
All the tracks on Dog Eat Dog are reasonable on their own merits. Since Hocico remain a high-profile electro-industrial harsh EBM act, it’s not surprising that comparable high-profile names contributed remixes: Solitary Experiments, Aesthetic Perfection and Arsch Dolls (the latter I know nothing about other than that they seem to be a Tamtrum-related project).
Of the remixes, the most interesting is by mysterious Japanese act Diabolic Art. While the remix itself is okay-ish, its most intriguing element is the way it is indicative of Diabolic Arts’ wider style. What original material I’ve heard of this artist — and there is extraordinarily little original material out there — is an incredibly dark and Satanic-sounding mix of dancey industrial and psy-trance. Maybe you’re best to check it out yourself…
As stated, all the tracks on this release are on their own merits quite decent. Yet one lead track, four remixes and a b-side easily makes one’s attention waver.
Singles are a throwback to radio airplay days, when proper exposure for an artist meant attempting to capture as many ears as possible to lock onto one track via a medium controlled by third-parties.
Selling more singles was one way to achieve that aim. Consequently, not only did a CD single contain a track that was already available on the more expensive full-length, but it was often the only ‘good’ item on the release, with the ‘filler’ on singles notorious for consisting of forgettable remixes, acapellas, instrumentals, live versions and dubious b-sides.
Naturally that wasn’t always the case and this release is a good example of where that hadn’t occurred. However, the fact that it was such a routine occurrence goes a long way to explaining why the CD single was so maligned.

Getting the most out of the old CD single

So how do you get the most ‘satisfaction’ out of five variants of the same track and one probably-not-their-best-work b-side?
What works for me is this: get a single that isn’t inherently crap. I suggest that the best way to go about this is to embrace a simple solution. Namely, listen to good music.
No seriously, by not listening to rubbish music you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how rarely you encounter this problem.
So, assuming you are in possession of a decent release, how do you then beat the repetition while still retaining the enjoyment?
If you’re still into music the old way and have a multi-disc CD player, or if you’re actually a normal person and just streamed it or ripped it onto your device, take the single, then select an album from the same artist. Ideally, it’s not the same album from which the single originated.
For best results, pick an album with which you’re not super-familiar, or that you feel has been relegated to the not-their-best-work bin.
Then play them on shuffle.
You can now kick back and get more out of both the album and the single. The sum of their parts will be greater than their whole.

It works for me and it could work for you

There are some people who cannot abide by shuffling full albums. That’s perfectly fine. All I would say is: the combination of both, shuffled and mixed at random, spreads out the repetition of the single, while potentially providing a new perspective on a full-length album you might have otherwise dismissed.
I’ve mentioned how one of the greatest things about being into awesome music is how it’s possible to ‘rediscover’ a band that you otherwise thought you knew well enough to have dismissed.
The method of listening to singles described here does exactly that. We all have or know (or thought we know) albums that aren’t necessarily among our greatest and most beloved, but which we still know. It might be a lesser-known item from a long discography or it could be a newer album that didn’t meet expectations the first time round. Inevitably, said album does not get listened to for months or years because it presumably got dismissed long ago as not warranting further investigation.
Then a track from the second half of the album one day pops up in your playlist. In my experience, when this happens, I’ll often hear new elements and subtle things that I might have tuned out previously. At its most rewarding, when a track comes on unseen at random (because it’s hidden behind another window) my response will be “wow, that sounds amazing, what is it?” — followed by the realisation that it was an artist I’d dismissed long ago.
I could go on endlessly about why randomness and unexpectedness is such an effective way to re-appreciate music (at its most molecular, I believe it has a lot to do with deciding what our expectations will be). In practical terms, not having the half-hour block from the first half of the album to ‘desensitise’ or distract us from the second half can very much lead to a new-found appreciation for a track that I thought I knew.
That can in turn (hopefully!) lead to new-found appreciation for the previously-dismissed album as a whole and, if you’re really up for it, even further appreciation for the artist and their discography.
Personally, my ideal mix (where applicable) is a full album, a live album, and a single, all played at random and mixed in at unpredictable intervals.

Incidentally, this is one reason while I love EPs. Whereas singles are inherently short, EPs can be repeated far more often. Enough has elapsed — not just in terms of measurable, chronological time (the best kind of time), but also variety — for the first and final track on the attention-meter to reset.
An EP can be re-listened to multiple times throughout the day and it doesn’t feel like your brain is leaking out of your head from repetition.
Plus there’s a subtle kind of satisfaction to be had from completing an EP. Sort of.
Isn’t there?

As for that other much-maligned release, the full-length remix album. Well, the potential for both glory and failure is so much more pronounced there. That may require a different approach.

8/17/18

That time the speakers at the Hocico gig had blown up but it was still a great show


I was going through photos of music purchases the other day (I’m just that kind of person) and I came across this single from Mexican EBM industrial outfit Hocico that I’d purchased a few years back from Heartland Records — Dog Eat Dog, the first single off the 2010 Hocico album Tiempos De Furia.
The nice cover art — note the surprising lack of biohazard symbols, campy socialist realism and industrial wasteland landscapes — in turn gave my brain sufficient stimulus to motivate me to play a few tracks from it. That, in turn, reminded of when Hocico toured Australia in 2012. But before I get onto that, allow me to digress.
Hocico - Dog Eat Dog. A rare instance of the cover art on an industrial release not featuring biohazard symbols - or even an industrial wasteland. Also, Heartland Records is an amazing shop that's still going.

It's all about expectations

I recently posted how what we get out of a gig can very much depend on what we decide ahead of time we will make of it, and a lot less on what actually occurs while we’re there.
The genesis of that thought was my wholly unexpected and recent impromptu attendance at a gig by New Zealand thrashers Alien Weaponry. It was a performance on a weeknight in the middle of winter at a small venue for a band I knew almost nothing about, so I’d attended not so much with low expectations but rather with no expectations.
It turned out to be a marvelous evening, despite the fact that I wasn’t a massive fan of Alien Weaponry’s mid-tempo thrash-lite. The reasons why are amply described in the above link.
If you want the short explanation, though: essentially, those aspects that ultimately determine how we rate a gig — these being the things that are best articulated as quality and fulfilment and fun — are in many ways dependent on whether those aspects meet the expectations that we set ourselves in our mind, rather than what actually occurred.
I feel strongly about it because I am indeed privileged to live in a town that has a legitimately world-class live music scene. Seeing that photo, which in turn made me play some Hocico, which in turn made me think of the 2012 Hocico Melbourne gig, brought up some long-buried thoughts about that show.
For one thing, it was a divisive show.
It doesn't show that well in this shot but those were some sick visuals.

Hocico in Melbourne

Hocico is a big deal in EBM and industrial music. For years they've headlined or otherwise notched top-level billing across Europe. So when the first ever Hocico Australian tour was announced it was preceded by significant (and by all accounts, justifiable) hype. In particular, much was made of the energy and vigor of the live performance. Those who weren’t overly into Hocico were urged to check them out on that strength.
I will skip ahead and emphasise that I thought it was a brilliant performance. Except for a back injury which, I discovered the next morning, I’d acquired on the dancefloor as a result of my decision to wear a sombrero covered in industrial safety tape (seeing a Mexican industrial band naturally means wearing an industrial sombrero, right?), it was one of those memorable shows.
Here’s what I said about it in 2012:

When you see live bands that you don’t avidly follow, it’s so often a case of getting into those songs you recognise and maybe even liking a few you don’t recognise. “They’re not bad,” is as absolutely stock-standard behaviour at a gig as is having a vaguely appreciative and not-very-responsive crowd for much of the time. But not so with these guys. I own a few Hocico releases and yet I can honestly say I recognised all of two songs that were played. Yet at every moment there was this powerful you-had-to-be-there energy, this awesome, dark, killer world complete with sensory-depriving lights and visuals. At the risk of running off an old cliché, it was much of a case of you could “feel” it rather than just see and hear it.

When looking back at things I said or wrote more than half a decade ago, I sometimes get a slight cringey feeling, perhaps due to some long-passed naivety? But not this time. It really was a great show.
This was despite the fact that it was a show marred by a couple of mishaps and technical problems.
Throughout the evening, before I got there, at least one speaker had proverbially blown up. Consequently, bands started late. The Hocico show was eventually shortened — and throughout, the sound cut out more than once. On top of that, only one ‘official’ member of Hocico supposedly formed part of the show.
Years later, I was talking about that gig with a friend. A seasoned gig, festival and club goer, he said, much to my surprise, that he had not liked it and how he felt genuinely embarrassed by what transpired onstage (and presumably behind the sound console).
And yet I rate it as one of the best electronic shows I’d ever seen.
In my view, all the elements came together to form an atmosphere that was dark, heavy, foreboding and intense. This was the nightmare underworld of Hocico’s music in an audio-visual manifestation. It absolutely was, in every sense, a performance where it didn’t matter whether you knew any of their music. As I said, I have for years cultivated the view that I am exceedingly fortunate to live in a town where dark, heavy and nasty music is a regular occurrence.
Looking back at that show from years ago, it reminded me once again that what you make of a gig has a lot to do with what you tell yourself it will be, before
  • As a gig-goer you cannot control what goes on with the sound. 
  • You cannot prevent a speaker from blowing up. 
  • You cannot make a gig start on time. On the other hand, you’re seeing (as was the case here) an international act.
  • Nor can you make a missing band member materialize on stage. 
Did any of these things matter? Not to me they did. Not one little bit.
You can't control the sound or whether the band starts on time.
You can control how you feel about it.

A good gig is inherently about what you make of it, whether it’s an international electro-industrial act like or a group of teenage thrashers.

And incidentally, I’m reliably told that the correct pronunciation is hɔ-si-kho.

7/29/18

How to easily enjoy a heavy metal gig (when you're not into the bands)

I mentioned in another post how I got to see New Zealand thrash metallers Alien Weaponry on three hours’ notice. It was on a weeknight, during the middle of winter, at a small venue — and to be entirely honest, I’d barely heard of them.
The three or four top tracks of relatively simplistic, mid-tempo groove thrash that I hurriedly streamed for all of 40 seconds said to me that this was a group that under usual circumstances I would not go out of my way to see.
And yet, I had a brilliant night out.

Make your own perspective

There was once a time when I would leave disappointed if the music at a gig failed to grip me. I can’t quite articulate it, so the closest I can come up with might be something akin to a feeling that I’d invested time and energy and money into something that had not impressed me.
But not this time.
I attribute it to something very simple — I merely made a conscious point of setting out to get the most out of the evening.
I have come to believe that what you get out of a heavy metal gig (i.e. how much you enjoy it) has a lot less to do with what you expect, and a lot more to do with how you decide in advance what you will make it out to be.
In short: how you feel about a gig after it’s finished can, if you want, be determined by what you wished it to be before you got there.
Or, it can depend on perspective. And expectations.
So what does that mean?

Great (thrash) expectations

 They were on their way to a European tour and will even plan Wacken Open Air. But some at Metal Archives still don't feel they're metal enough to warrant listing.
Pic: Abby Phillips

The unexpected invite for Alien Weaponry was at Melbourne’s Last Chance Rock & Roll Bar, with tech-metallers Primitive in support.
The Last Chance Rock & Roll Bar is a wonderful, albeit small venue in inner-city Melbourne. It’s the sort of locale that comes to mind when one uses term “cosy”.
As mentioned, I’d never heard anything from the Alien Weaponry discography when I accepted the invite from a friend. Nonetheless, I accepted and pledged to myself that I would have a great time, for the simple reason that I had no expectations. Importantly, no expectations is distinct from low expectations.
Expectation is a funny thing. Of all the complex thoughts and emotions that we understand as human feelings, the thoughts that amount to what we define as expectation arguably have the most power to influence how we felt AFTER doing a Thing — because we created pre-conceived perceptions BEFORE we actually did the Thing.
The nature of expectation is why established artists are guaranteed to always disappoint a minimum proportion of fans, yet if a new artist were to release identical material they would garner praise (yes, that’s a bit metaphysical, but bear with me). Similarly, a show may not “live up to expectations” because of what fans have “come to expect” from a high standard that occurred in the past. Or a talented musician may form a new group but the artist’s “long-awaited” debut is either insufficiently original or too far removed and unrecognisable from what we expected… in other words, what we imagined and hoped it would be.
We then feel disappointed or even angry because we’ve invested emotionally (and probably monetarily) in something and we find the return is not what we desired.
To get a little bit more metaphysical, our evaluation of art and performance risks becoming less about the merits of an individual work of art (for example, a new release) and more about how it compares to our pre-conceived ideals and expectations. Indeed, those expectations are in themselves based entirely on previous works of art, such as an artist’s discography.
Expectation can influences how we feel about almost anything — be it a gig, meeting a new person, a movie or even sporting event — before we’ve even left our home. It is for this very reason that I often explain how unexpected gigs and performances can often be the most memorable.
As mentioned, it was a fantastic show. But not because I was a frothing fan of their music. Alien Weaponry is a band that I would not have considered seeing on the merits of their sound alone, yet I made a point of removing expectations in my mind that would traditionally have told me that a variety of heavy metal that I’m not much into would fail to be enjoyable.
Instead, I consciously saw the very best in the fact that this was a heavy metal gig, at an accessible venue, where just about everyone was thoroughly enjoying themselves, and that there would be many more gigs like it to come.

·         Having said that, if you actually want to know how the gig went, see my Alien Weaponry gig review.

Support came from Melbourne's Primitive.
Pic: Abby Phillips.

As I say behind the above link...

“It made me once more supremely thankful that I live in a city where I am spoilt for choice when it comes to weekly gigs that play music that is hard, fast, nasty and heavy.”


And no, metal Metal Archives currently still won’t list them.

7/28/18

Alien Weaponry + Primitive gig in Melbourne at the Last Chance Rock & Roll Bar


Picture the following. It’s Thursday evening and I’ve got work the next day. It’s dark and cold because it’s the middle of winter. I’m making dinner when a text arrives with an entirely unexpected invitation to see Alien Weaponry, a band I know nothing about. The venue is a small bar which I’ve been to just once, coincidentally also on what turned out to be a quiet week night.
Should I go? Would I have a good time despite not knowing their music? And would heading out on a week night (with sooo many adult responsibilities and all that) be worth the risk?
Alien Weaponry at the Last Chance Rock & Roll Bar.
Pic: Abby Phillips.

How to get the most out of a gig

You’ve read countless gig reviews before, each a blow-by-blow description of what the artists did on stage, what tracks were played or were neglected, whether the sound was on point, how the crowd responded, what those on stage were wearing, and on it goes.
This is not one of those gig reviews.
The Alien Weaponry Melbourne gig was great, but not necessarily for the traditional reasons that you might associate with a gig. To explain, I’ll have digress for a moment.
Quite simply: believe and accept that a brilliant night out has a lot less to do with what you imagine and expect it to be, and a lot more to do with how and what you choose to make of it.
Say what, I hear you utter?
I encourage you to delve further into this idea. I’ll concede that it comes across as an over-thought philosophical approach to something as unassuming as going out and drinking alcohol and enjoying heavy metal music. And yet I feel seeing things a particular way has real merit. That’s because how to make the most out of a heavy metal gig (or any other recreational occasion, I would say) can come down to something as simple as consciously deciding beforehand in your mind how you will actually go about it.
The other reason it was a brilliant night came down to the quality of my friends. Let me tell you a little about them.
Friend 1 was the source of the unexpected invite. She’s a battle-hardened gig veteran (and who incidentally is eight months’ pregnant) who does not hesitate to go to metal shows to see the bands and music that she loves. Friend 1’s partner was ill, hence the spare ticket.
Friend 2 is another gig veteran who can well be described without hyperbole as the life of the party. Friend 2 rarely misses a gig or event — if she does, there’s usually a damn good reason — and when it’s over and finally time to head home you’re left feeling, in large part thanks to Friend 2, that it was definitely worth doing.
Friend 3 is Friend 2’s partner. I’ve known Friend 3 for less than a year but he’s irrevocably now one of squadron, whether he likes or knows it or not. Friend 3 is also a highly talented guitarist and song writer.
Between Friends 1, 2 and 3 are at least 30 years of accumulated friendship. We’ve been through some amazing times together and, as happens with those who are closest to you, we’ve also overcome some darker times. These were the people that would be with me at this unknown show. The venue could have been uninhabited and I’m confident that we still would have had a rocking great time. Fun is what you make of it.

Alien Weaponry sold out the gig


Primitive may be up your cup of tea if you like complex but not unnecessarily flavours.
Pic: Abby Phillips.

Initial concerns about it being a quiet evening were quashed because the Alien Weaponry was in fact sold out. Looking around the venue it was a spectacular array of black band t-shirts. There were rockers, metal heads, old, young. Can you believe it… it was so diverse that some people even had non-black shirts?! On a mid-winter school night no less. That was a great start.
Support Primitive began proceedings with a tight and technical performance. I compensate for the fact that I don’t play an instrument by pointing out that I’m an expert at listening to other people’s music. To my ear, I would describe them as having an almost groove-like vibe while not venturing anywhere near djent or needlessly complex lands. I had no objections, even though it’s not quite my pint of cider, and there were some fantastic ensemble riff moments that got the compact room’s attention.
If you like it a bit technical without the snooty prog-tentiousness, then Primitive may be a Melbourne heavy metal band for you.


Alien Weaponry came on soon after. Mercifully, at a respectably early time for a school night.
“This is our first time in Australia,” announced vocalist Lewis de Jong. “Actually, this is our first time outside of New Zealand,” he added.
Like almost anyone who has something to say about Alien Weaponry in any kind of official capacity, I’m yet another person to hyper-focus on what has already been said numerous times before. Namely, that this is a teenage heavy metal act from New Zealand and that only one of them was able to drive when they got their first tour bus.
Taken out of context, three teenage metal heads playing their first gig outside of their home territory on a Thursday night during winter would seem mildly endearing.
Tonight it was three guys doing just, but on the back of a recent signing to Napalm Records while on their way to a European tour that includes a little-known heavy metal festival called Wacken Open Air.
How many local bands get to do this?
Also, metal kudos for touring with Nervosa, who are as thrash metal as you could want.


What is it that brought out so many people to see Alien Weaponry on a winter weeknight? I would say it was many things, mostly of which have something to do with what makes heavy metal inherently great.
Alien Weaponry play a mid-tempo kind of groovy thrash. It’s not Destruction or Exodus-grade neck-snappingly heavy, nor is it Annihilator or early Megadeth-level complex. It’s fun and, most importantly, has a distinct and brilliant element: the use of Māori haka (look it up if you’ve never heard of a haka).
For the uninformed, think ritualised tribal shouting in another language. Not only was it fantastically original but the result was a vocal style that was neither shouted, growled, screeched or even distorted — yet it was, in every sense of the term, So Metal.
The fact that it was live also made it so much more authentic than if it had been a mere pre-recorded sample. That, and it’s not just occasional featured chanting. Various songs are in native Te Reo language.
As I said, this one element is so incredibly metal.

Everyone loves a Kiwi

Another possible explanation of the good turn-out may have something to do with the nature of New Zealanders. Like Canadians, there is something about Kiwis that somehow seems to make them statistically just that little bit more likeable than just your average person.
Alien Weaponry are from the tiny town of Waipu, in New Zealand’s Far North. They come across as being honest, down-to-earth guys with the right attitude and who are mad for heavy metal (and a bunch of other music too).
To prove the point, and also because you should definitely do yourself a favour, watch this six-minute documentary about them. From what it’s like to be a heavy metal band in a town where everyone knows you, to the benefits of being able to legally drive the tour van, it’s not your ordinary metal doco. Honestly, just watch the damn thing to understand why they are winning hearts and minds.
So they played the Last Chance’s cosy and tightly packed band room. Moshing soon began, its movement being immediately felt and seemingly transferred through bodies in the tight room. Then one mosher went down, crawled to the hallway, and proceeded not to go anywhere. He was clearly in strife and when he managed to remove his boot it looked like he’d seriously damaged his ankle.
The moshing seemed to get more sedate after that. Turns out the poor bloke had broken his ankle in five spots. Even so, after the gig, Alien Weaponry gave him a shout out for insisting he stay and not miss the show.

"Big shoutout to this dude who fucked his ankle up in the mosh last night and insisted on staying to the very end propped against the wall ... that’s some Melbourne dedication right there".

Incidentally, he started a GoFundMe to cover his expected financial difficulties.

All that is great about heavy metal

When it was over, and then, with one encore, it really was all over, I left delighted. In fact, I can say everyone left delighted.
Here, on a school night, at the heart of winter, at a small venue, did a rag tag bunch of misfit punters venture out and have a brilliant time, showing legitimate appreciation and respect to two heavy metal groups, one of which contains members who aren’t event 18. At the time of publication, Alien Weaponry are playing gigs across Europe, including the appearance at Wacken.
To borrow a line from Venom’s 2011 song, Punks’ Not Dead:
“It don’t matter about your age. It’s how you feel. It’s not a phase.”

Their first show in Melbourne... and the first show outside of  New Zealand. Then onto greater things.
Pic: Abby Phillips.

It made me once more supremely thankful that I live in a city where I am spoilt for choice when it comes to weekly gigs that play music that is hard, fast, nasty and heavy.
All these things came together in the form of another reminder of why heavy metal is great — even if Metal Archives currently still refuses to list them.
And it was entirely unexpected.

3/22/18

I played Cards Against Humanity in my first ever VIP meet and greet


An acquaintance recently paid 2531$ — that’s $3278AUD — for the privilege of meeting Metallica and scoring a front-row seat. I can’t say I’d pay that much to meet my idol, but to each their own I guess.
The concept of the pre-show VIP meet and greet is, when you think about it, an odd one. A disparate group of fans who have never met each other pay a premium to spend a short time with an artist who in all likelihood is hideously sleep-deprived and who almost certainly doesn’t know the first thing about any of the people who paid money for the intimate time together.
What usually occurs in these situations is this: most of the fans are either overwhelmingly polite, shy, or in some way in awe of the person they’ve come to see. While in a few rare cases you do get a boisterous douche mouth fan, it’s a fact that in most scenarios all eyes are on the artist. As a fan you don’t want to inadvertently be a dick by drawing the wrong kind of attention onto yourself by uttering something embarrassing or inappropriate. So you bite your tongue. The result is an almost enforced air of silence inside the room.
The onus, therefore, is on the artist to entice their fans out of their comfort zone.
Given the appalling state of music industry revenue for artists, VIP meet and greets are practically an integral part of touring. Indeed, a good touring artist knows how to talk to giddy or nervous (and quite often, very drunk) fans while maintaining a down-to-earth and fun persona. The artist is essentially a ‘host’ to a group of strangers doing something very far out of their comfort zone.
I imagine it’s hard work. Certainly, it’s something I would struggle to do, if somehow I became an even moderately successful touring act.

VIP meeting Joe Letz from Combichrist

VIP encounter with Combichrist drummer Joe Letz in a meet and greet.

Thus it was that a mate and I paid for a pre-show VIP package to meet and greet Combichrist drummer Joe Letz prior to his Incursion DJ gig in Melbourne.
As it turned out, initially all the observations above about the intricacies and awkwardness of a meet and greet turned out to be true. While I had the security blanket of attending with a familiar buddy, I had never seen Joe perform, so I was curious as to how this close and intimate experience would pan out.
Turns out, part of the ‘experience’ was a stroke of genius. In fact, it’s something I would recommend to anyone considering a meet and greet — a game of Cards Against Humanity.
I’m a huge fan of board games at social occasions for the simple reason that they work wonders in bringing people together. Now apply that to a group of strangers meeting someone ‘famous’ and you’ve given them a genuinely non-awkward reason to interact. And with Cards Against Humanity you get the added bonus that the interaction is replete with unspeakable revelations about people’s true character.
Basically, it’s the ideal ice breaker.
The look of concentration could kill a small rodent.
Pic: Kierra Thorn.

Our game went for an hour, and when our time came to an end and concluded with the mandatory poster signing and photo op, I came away with enough tour stories to write my own EBM industrial draft equivalent to This Is Spinal Tap.
There were glimpses of the tour shenanigans with Rammstein. There was fascinating insight into the causes and consequences of falling asleep in the tour bus toilet cubicle — or at an international airport. And best of all, we learnt about the vital importance of always having your own toilet paper on tour.
Towards the end of the night I realised I’d been telling people about how I’d gotten to VIP meet and greet Joe. Allegedly, he was operating on less than two hours of sleep after he’d flown in the night before from Brisbane (1300km away), he didn’t drink, and he was quite lovely to be around as he hosted a bunch of nervous strangers to a game of Cards Against Humanity.
I waited a decade to finally hear the Scooter remix of Rammstein’s Pussy in a club. Life mission accomplished.
Pic: Kierra Thorn.

And his set was great too. I’ve waited almost a decade to hear the Scooter remix of Rammstein’s Pussy in a club. So that life mission accomplished. The epic cheese glory of that track defies description. You need it in your life.
But yeah.
We also found out that it's vital to keep an eye out on your toilet paper when you're on tour.
“Someone stole my toilet paper!” exclaimed Joe.
I wasn't there. But I know happened...
True story.
True story.
Pic: Kierra Thorn.

9/30/17

Siculicidium - Land Beyond The Forest | Romanian black metal

I have a deep affection for hand-drown, black and white, low-fi black metal album illustrations.
I suspect it stems from growing up with very early Dungeons & Dragons manuals (as in, the very first editions, before it became Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition) and their wonderfully cheap-looking and somewhat out of proportion monster and warrior illustrations.
Incidentally, if that doesn’t sound very metal to you, keep in mind the unsung influence of D&D on metal and black metal in particular (not that I condone Varg Vikernes’ atrocious behaviour, but the cover of Det Som Engang Var is a knock off of The Temple Of Elemental Evil).
But that aside, for this reason I like the artwork on last year’s Land Beyond The Forest EP by Romania’s Siculicidium.

Land Beyond The Forest

Siculicidium - Land Beyond The Forest 

Notwithstanding the fact that the cover illustration is courtesy of Witchfinder from none other than Reverend Bizarre, Land Beyond The Forest is a mixed bag. Siculicidium’s previous full-length, Hosszú Út Az Örökkévalóságba (yeah, I had trouble saying it too) was in 2013, and this follow-up consists of an intro and three new tracks, plus three covers, including a Swans track.
It’s fairly crude black metal, not massively fast or blast-beaty or violent. I feel it’s kind of unimaginative and is dominated by the same growly and inhuman albeit monotonous vocals.
In fact, main-man Béla Lugosi told Zero Tolerance magazine after its release: “Sadly, we couldn’t catch the perfect atmosphere when we recorded. I’m not so happy with the final result, only the drums by Khrul are great!”
Those drums, incidentally, are pretty basic. There is little in the way of fills, texture, or much of anything else, and they could easily be replicated by a machine.
But whatever. People obviously dig Siculicidium. That’s why they’ve got two full-lengths and four EPs. Plus, the world needs more Eastern European black metal bands.
The subjective question of whether the Land Beyond The Forest EP is ‘good’ is secondary to the fact that their music just happens to work for those who appreciate black metal that is minimalist but not overly atmospheric (in itself a black metal paradox — and a discussion for a different time). That, I feel, is something that comes through in the album artwork.
Entire volumes could be written — which makes it yet another discussion for another time — on the paradox of associating and separating any visual aesthetic with black metal music itself.
As far as I’m concerned, if you go to the effort of selecting suitable album artwork, let alone commission something specific, then the element of your art that happens to be visual is a direct reflection of the remainder of that same work of art, which happens to be sonic.
Which means that, like the sound of the Land Beyond The Forest EP, so too is the picture on the cover — created and commissioned  with the intent of bringing to life the recording — a reflection and an expression of that minimalist aesthetic.
With this album cover, I love the hand-drawn qualities to the trees, the winding path, the wacky over-sized mushrooms, and the portal to another world. It embodies the weirdness, the absolute niche nature of this music, and brilliantly captures the folky, dark fantasy lore nature of what this band is about, even if it’s something that doesn't necessarily come out merely by listening to it, but has to be learned by way of explanation.
The only thing that’s not so cool? The hard-to-miss and juvenile erotic stylisation of female genitals into that gate.
For all its dark grimness, Siculicidium - Land Beyond The Forest clearly has an element of tongue in cheek going for 





9/27/17

Awesome club moment #3 | I discover magical summoning powers at the Aesthetic Perfection gig

I’m going to call this post “I discover magical summoning powers at the Aesthetic Perfection gig”. Alternatively, “a funny thing happened to me on the way to the Aesthetic Perfection concert” will do. Or even “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not at the Aesthetic Perfection gig anymore.”
In 2010, which is a date that feels like it was far more recent than it actually was, I got to see EBM-industrial-pop outfit Aesthetic Perfection on their Australian tour. The show was organised by Rivetting Promotions (sic) and Fiend, and since it was the Melbourne leg, it was attended by a bunch of people, including Gerry (aka Lobotomy) from Fiend. Try to remember that bit because it relates to the rest of the story.
Aesthetic Perfection front-man Daniel Graves demonstrates the correct procedure for initiating the summoning ritual. Pic: Ruth.

To be clear: this post isn’t strictly about the gig. Just take my word that it was a fantastic show and Daniel Graves is a top front-man. This was despite a couple things not being quite in favour of the band. For one, the stage was very small, so much so that I vaguely recall that the drum kit may even have been positioned somewhat less frontal for everything to fit. Also, the sound wasn’t the best, though through no fault of Aesthetic Perfection or the promoters — the room in which they played simply wasn’t intended for thumping industrial music.
The gig wasn’t sold out but when Aesthetic Perfection did their thing it felt massive. This was an industrial music outfit beaming with energy and I genuinely believe that for a not inconsiderable amount of time the whole room was up and at it.
And, of course, Aesthetic Perfection make great music. Plus, Daniel Graves seemed like a lovely chap who was nice enough to hang out with the fans afterwards. I even have a selfie with the lads buried somewhere in my archives.
But as I said, this isn't about the band, as good as they were.

What really makes a great gig?

Great gigs are often memorable because of something unusual or unexpected. Ozzy Osbourne and Dream Theater have played thousands of concerts but the individual shows that are still talked about are when Ozzy bit the head off a bat (and incidentally got tons of publicity from the rabies shots) or when Dream Theater unexpectedly played the entirety of Master Of Puppets or The Number Of The Beast before actually doing a full-length‘proper’ set.
So too was it with this occasion. That’s because the Aesthetic Perfection show will for me always be the time I discovered I had magical summoning powers.
And just in case you were wondering, yes, a higher than average volume of alcohol was involved.
2010? Was it really so long ago?

This peculiar discovery occurred during the last break between bands — Sirus had finished and Aesthetic Perfection were up next. I’d gone outside to grab some fresh air, which of course meant hanging out with the smokers who stampeded to the exit the moment Sirus had finished.
I’d struck up a conversation with an old mate. You may know the type — a gig acquaintance who you don’t see outside of shows but you always get along with fine at shows. We were talking about music (of course) and people and ‘the scene’ (because I was significantly younger then) when one of us just happened to refer to someone by name.
At that precise moment, the person we had just mentioned by name casually emerged from the venue entrance.
“Well,” old mate and I conveyed to each other, as we metaphorically slapped each other on the back.
As I said, we’d had a few drinks.
We continued our banter, dropping more names and bands and more bands, when the same thing occurred. Again, someone we’d referred to by name mysteriously exited the venue and was standing in the door way.
“Good Lord!” we both thought, which is quite probably a polite interpretation of the words we actually uttered.
Again, we’d had a little more than usual to drink. So, naturally, we drew attention to this occurrence by making a noisy and obnoxiously big deal of it.
Obviously, we then thought it’d be pretty funny if we channelled our collective consciousness and attempted to make somebody else materialise in the doorway.
It went something like this.
Old Mate: “Gerry!” (referring to Gerry the promoter)
Me: “Great idea, let’s summon Gerry!”
Old Mate: “Ok. Bring me Gerry. Gerry, Gerry, Gerry. Gerry Gerry. Bring me Gerry!”
Now, most likely it was coincidence. Or maybe there was some other influence.
Either way, sure enough, standing right there in the doorway, was Gerry.
By now you can probably imagine how we responded. And when Old Mate and I finally calmed down we explained what had just occurred.
And Gerry, with brilliant wit and perfect timing, responded.
“Yeah, I was just standing in the venue when I had this sudden urge to step outside,” he said.
"Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu Gerry Gerry Gerry R’lyeh wgah’ngl fhtagn!" Pic: Ruth

Did I mention it was a great gig? Aesthetic Perfection put on a killer performance despite being challenged for space on stage. No one left disappointed that night.
Plus, you never know when you'll discover that you have magical summoning powers.



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