The 2013 incarnation of Cincinnati’s Ironfest, a Rock and Roll honorarium for Cincinnati ‘s “Iron” Mike Davidson, took off at the Southgate House Revival on the weekend of November 1 & 2. The fourth annual event, sponsored by friends and supporters from the local music community, was held in celebration of his memory as well as to raise funds for his family. Over 30 bands performed on the venue’s three stages during this year’s blowout.
Keith Jones and the Makeshifts
Because it was held the weekend after Halloween, there was a smattering of attendees in full costume. A spangled white suited “Elvis” was in the building, as well as two “Miley Cyrus” clones, complete with huge teddybear backpacks and twin-topknotted hair. There were assorted other “punks,” “sock-hoppers” and “zombies” rounding out the colorful crowd.
Friday night began with Red Beast, featuring a long blond-haired lead singer called Adolf Christ, so it was no mystery at all what this bunch was about. Aggressive and heavier than Hell itself, spitting out menacing lyrics, they were perfectly suited for the “iron” mood of the evening.
Mala In Se
Doom metal band Grey Host held forth in the large Sanctuary room downstairs, surprising with a Rush cover as well as three tortuously slogging, original epics. Featuring de-tuned guitars, hair-raisingly ominous vocals, and sledgehammer drumming interspersed with occasional, almost dreamlike instrumental interludes, they offered up fitting tribute to whatever unsettled spirits may have remained in the old converted church building.
Switching gears into a lighter mood, Keith Jones and the Makeshifts provided a playful throwback rockabilly sound that had their audience hopping on the dance floor during their set. Things were going great until the stand-up bass player decided to balance atop his instrument while playing, toppled over, and popped the bridge off of it in the process. Undaunted, he continued to thump away for the remainder of the act with hardly a hitch, much to everyone’s delight.
Valley of the Sun
Saturday night’s lineup attracted more people, and an early entry was Mala In Se, a genre-bending mashup of angst-ridden yelps and wails and discordant, sometimes woozy guitar riffs running blindly over a seemingly chaotic rhythm section – yet the whole of it somehow remarkably always ending on a dime when the songs were finished. The cacophony this three-piece created was mesmerizing in its crash-and-burn precision.
Detroit’s Joe Hertler and his accompanying band the Rainbow Seekers performed later in the smaller Lounge. Their soft folk pop, enhanced by Joe’s sweet, melodic tenor, was a brief break from the more sonic lineups of the night.
Valley of the Sun, a powerful, heavy, guitar-driven rock trio, took over the Sanctuary stage and attracted a large crowd during their show. The new song that they premiered at Ironfest was a scorcher; these guys showcased some great presence and energy.
Whether Ironfest will survive to rise again next year seemed to be in the cards, judging from this year’s enthusiastic response.
Sandrider is back with their second full-length album and Godhead demonstrates a relentless commitment to their craft. On this latest endeavor, the Seattle-based trio is once again drawing on their signature grimy punk style and are infusing it with abundant and confident energy. While its not a total departure from their first album, the level of expertise and compositional mastery is undeniable.
No time is wasted as the album opens with powerful and driving tracks. The combination of heavy riffs, heavy bass and determined percussion play homage to the Seattle music scene. Included in the mix is a six-minute power ballad (“Godhead”) composed of pulsating guitar riffs, frantic percussion and a well-crafted tempo. These same qualities can be found throughout the album thumping alongside gritty vocals, shifting beats and layers of sludgy weight on “Champions” and “White Limo.”
Where the band takes their sound next remains to be seen, but the strong and varied songwriting, coupled with the intricate compositions are markers of more good things to come. Encompassing the world of grunge with a sharp and distinctive edge, Godhead is a strong sophomore production and clear indicator of the band’s longevity.
Sandrider Godhead Seattle, WA (Good to Die Records) Recorded by Matt Bayles (May 2013) – Seattle, WA
Mastered by Ed Brooks at RFI – Seattle, WA sandrider.bandcamp.com
November 30. A dark, hot arena in Lowell, Massachusetts. A paraplegic man strapped into his wheelchair floats over the audience, dozens of hands holding him safely aloft while his own hands form fists and punch rhythmically at the sky.
Gojira frontman Joe Duplantier watches with a smile on his face, furiously picking away at his guitar. When the song ends, he praises the enthusiastic masses, commenting on a lackluster NYC audience a few nights prior. It’s hard to imagine how any crowd could resist the powerful stomp of this French monster.
But make no mistake; Joe claims Gojira is not a “French” band.
“In France,” he explains during an interview in Vermont a few days before, “the vibe of the country is very far apart from metal, so we cannot really go, ‘Yeah, we’re French!’” He laughs, mimicking an angry-faced musician playing a guitar slung low.
Though all business on stage, the amiable frontman exudes an infectious sense of calm while discussing his band, their connections to France and to the world.
“Mario—my brother—and myself, we have an American mother. She was born in Madison, Wisconsin, and she grew up in the States. She traveled to France, met my dad, and stayed in France. Never came back to the [States]. So we had, also, this American education. I mean, even though I was born and raised in France I had more of something else, this education, so since I’m a kid, I’m like, ‘I’m not French, I’m a human being.’ So Gojira is more like a ‘human being’ band. An intellectual band.”
The concept of French intellectualism becomes apparent with just a glance at the band’s lyrics. Standard heavy metal tropes and clichés are nowhere to be found. Gojira takes a more philosophical stance than their peers, choosing instead to cover such topics as the power of nature, personal spirituality, and respect for all life.
Even though Duplantier’s approach to writing lyrics may be culturally reflective, he says, “I never tried to sing in French. It was completely natural to sing in English. I guess I wanted to sound like Metallica and Sepultura. But more than that…when you want to deliver a message, you want to be understood by the world. The idea of communicating something to the world, it cannot be in French, really.”
Growing up in the small town of Bayonne in the southwest of the country, Joe (and his brother Mario, who has served as Gojira’s drummer since the group’s inception in 1996) discovered an early interest in art and music. “I learned piano a little bit when I was a kid,” Joe says. “I would never work on piano, really, but I would still take lessons and then not work during the week because I thought it was a little boring. But I grew up with the sound. The very first guitar I had was my mother’s guitar and it was just a piece of crap. It was an old classical guitar, all broken and beat up, with two strings on it. But I would spend hours on it, trying to make a sound. I thought guitar was really difficult until I grabbed a real guitar and I was like, ‘Whoaaa!’”
But in those days, there was no heavy metal scene to speak of in France, and kids felt enormous pressure from society to pick a “respectable” career path early in life and stick with it until retirement or death. “In school and society,” Joe explains, “the outside world would be like, ‘No, this is not a job,’ but we were lucky to have very open-minded parents. When your parents back you up, it helps a lot. I mean, you see your kids playing and completely passionate about music…do your thing. And if one day you’re a bum in the street,” he adds, laughing, “that’s your problem!”
The Duplantier’s parents, as well as those of guitarist Christian Andreu and bassist Jean-Michel Labadie, may have been on to something. Gojira’s latest album—2012’s L’Enfant Sauvage—is their first for the renowned Roadrunner Records label and their fifth overall. The album has seen them headlining multiple tours across Europe and the United States, and most recently, wrapping up a tour as special guests for Slayer, which ended its run at the Tsongas Center in Lowell. They are scheduled to play Australia’s Soundwave Festival in February, and are currently ironing out details for a possible tour of Japan in early 2014.
The routine has been grueling, non-stop since the album’s release. This is the reality of a working band in the Internet era, when almost no one buys albums anymore.
“Life on the road is not easy,” Joe adds. “We get mentally and physically very, very tired. Right now, we are exhausted.”
And for a band like Gojira, there is little breath to be had from show to show. Between supporting slots with Slayer, they headline one-off gigs whenever possible, and to keep things exciting for themselves as well as the crowds, the band tries to change things up whenever they can.
“Mario is the one deciding the setlist, usually. You know, ‘This song after this song will boost the energy, then we need something to chill, and go back to something stronger.’ He’s really good at it.” But Duplantier is aware of the toll so many months on the road can take. “We have a lot of songs, of course, but there’s just a handful of songs we’re able to play in that state of fatigue. Don’t get me wrong; we put 100%, all our energy goes into each show, and it’s very important to us. It’s like a mission. But because we’re so tired, we can’t be like, ‘Oh, let’s play that old song that we haven’t played in years.’ The way we put the songs together, and how we interpret—how we play them—that’s what makes the concert unique.”
Judging by their performance in Lowell priming the audience for Slayer, or by their brutal headlining gig in Burlington, Vermont, one would never know this was a band past the edge of exhaustion.
“It’s kind of strange to go on the road for so long,” Joe continues. “We’re hungry for new songs. I wish I could be in two places at the same time, in the studio constantly, creating stuff, because that’s what I like the most.”
In the gap between the end of the Slayer tour and next year’s round of appearances, Gojira hopes to burn through some new material in the recording studio. In fact, they have begun writing already, on the tour bus, a phenomenon that Joe admits is rather new for them.
“I actually hate it. I mean, I love it when there’s an idea and it works and it sounds like there are things happening, but it’s really weird to sit in the middle of all these shoes—because everybody throws their shoes in the back lounge, and dirty socks—and a computer, and [Mario’s drum] pad…we’re not a rock band anymore, you know? It’s like being in a cage, a stinky cage with a computer. It’s not the same. I need to be in a room with my friends and jam, so I cannot wait to get to that stage.”
The conditions are far from ideal, working with GarageBand software and the limited amount of technology they can haul with them on the bus.
“It’s mostly riffs and ideas that we record,” he says. “We have a list of riffs, but we don’t have, really, a song. Well, we have two songs that [we think], Okay, there’s a structure here and there are enough ideas to make something. Some of the stuff is really exciting, but the conditions are really difficult, and when the bus is driving…”
Joe shakes his head, chuckling again. The exhaustion he spoke of earlier is still far from apparent. He appears comfortable and confident as he considers the next steps of the band. When confronted with the fact that Gojira is fast approaching its 20th anniversary, he remains as philosophical as ever.
“I don’t care,” he says, smiling. “I just try to be a better person, and my personal life is very important for me—my family—and trying to have a life that I actually enjoy. Of course [with] the band, yeah, it’s like, ‘Holy shit, it’s more than half of my life.’ My adult life is Gojira. Almost all of it. What we do, though, is we work hard making our group healthy, communicating, having good moments and being on the same page, all of us. With different personalities, sometimes it is not easy, but I feel we’re doing a pretty good job.”
Norway’s Kvelertak Put Cambridge In A Stranglehold
Boston’s own Doomriders stomped through an opening set that sounded something like the Foo Fighters’ heavier moments beefed up with a 100cc injection of equal parts Thin Lizzy and Clutch. Norwegian black-punk sextet Kvelertak (meaning “stranglehold” or “chokehold”) followed, with vocalist Erlend Hjelvik looking quintessentially Viking, shirtless and bearded, offering himself up to the crowd while wearing a bright-eyed owl for a headpiece.
Kvelertak’s catchy, anthemic and upbeat songs—all sung in the band’s native language—brought smiles to a sea of scowls, a breath of fresh air in the sometimes too-serious world of metal, though certainly didn’t lack in screams, heavy riffs and furious headbanging. Triple guitar attacks can be tricky to pull off in a live situation, but guitarists Vidar, Bjarte and Maciek deftly traded leads and harmonies without a single note being lost in the mix. A testament to their sound man, for sure, and their crew in general; when Bjarte (who plays uber-aggressively with only his fingers, no pick) broke a string, his tech had the string replaced and stretched, the guitar ready for more punishment before the next song ended.
Oakland’s High On Fire wrapped up the evening with a crushing twelve-song set. Guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike was in fine form, smiling—sober—as he wailed on his Les Paul, alternating between precise and chaotic, even after losing a shoe or while aimlessly noodling away as drummer Des Kensel swapped out a busted snare. But it was Kvelertak that stole the evening, owl or no owl.
Trivium’s sixth studio album, Vengeance Falls, follows in the footsteps of In Waves thematically and aggressively, marking a milestone for the band that manages to leave its members exposed to criticism when the sound leans toward melody.
Vengeance Falls’ producer, David Draiman (Disturbed, Device), recently contributed to Megadeth’s Super Collider, an album that fans judged harshly. Perhaps the inclusion of melody and Draiman’s own reputation contributed to the reactions, but when a band hits its fifth and sixth releases it must balance between stagnation and losing the fans who fell in love early on with one aspect of the art.
Musicians must adapt not only to life on the road—and Trivium is a band that has worked its collective tail off over the last decade—but also to the changing dynamics of music itself.
“Brave This Storm” opens the album with panned guitars that riff in one ear before pounding in both. Trivium breaks further from the Metallica comparisons of their early records and truly delves its own style and sound here.
Thematic elements, like the dark and frustrated lyrics, leave fans familiar with facts of Matt Heafy’s generally positive-appearing life wondering about the story behind creating these songs. Often, a band’s sophomore or even the third release finds the songwriter expressing fears of failing or questioning the meaning of working so hard to create something artistic.
Though the album is named for its vengeance-seeking and sails through ideations of battling strife and losing the battle to find healing, Vengeance Falls masters dynamics and includes both the thrash aggression and the melody of emotion in its songs.
Trivium Vengeance Falls
Produced by David Draiman
Why The Abrasive PDX 3-Piece Turned Its Drummer Into Their Frontman
Gaytheist. Say it out loud. OK, did you get that out of your system? Spin labeled them as “unfortunately named,” which we think it absolute hogwash. One of the most abrasive, unique and dynamic vocalists to hail from the Pacific Northwest in recent memory, Jason Rivera has known his fellow band mate Tim Hoff [bass] for over 20 years, and Nick Parks [drums] for more than a dozen, but the group only formally got together in 2011. Now, just two years later, they’ve just released their latest LP, Hold Me…But Not So Tight on Good To Die Records, a killer follow up to their previous effort, Stealth Beats.
We caught up with Rivera recently to chat about the band’s recording process, songwriting collaboration, and why they’ve chosen to put their drummer front and center at live shows.
Who leads the creative process for the band – is that mostly you?
It’s me in so far as I write music at home, and I’ll show up at practice with my ideas. Tim and Nick will flesh it all out so we have an actual rock song.
Can you take us inside your songwriting process?
Sure. For the most part I just sit with my guitar – I’m a hands-on writer, I can’t read or write music, so I start with a riff and slowly form the concept of a song, and then I’ll come up with a vocal melody. Usually, before I’m done showing [Tim and Nick] a song, Tim will immediately plug in some lines, and Nick starts thinking about some drum stuff; they’ll start writing their parts and eventually we’ll have a fully worked out song.
So you bring them the framework, and everyone adds their layers to it.
Yeah – with Gaytheist I try to write for our drummer. I’ve been in other bands where I try to write all over the place, and I wasn’t thinking about everyone’s strengths in the band. This time around, I knew Nick was just this amazing drummer who goes insane and plays so fast, and so great. Everything I write is so loud and heavy that it just complements his style perfectly.
Interesting – I would think most bands in your genre write with more of a guitar-based focus…
We’ll have things where I’ll be, ‘You know, this is kinda the same tempo as another song…’ and before I know it, Nick will write a new drum part for it to make it sound unique. He saves me a lot from having songs that sound the same.
It can be very easy to sound the same, and what’s cool about you is that you don’t. Now how do you take such an abrasive sound to the stage with just three members?
I’ve been in a couple two-pieces before, so the idea of getting everything tight and unison is something I learned a while back. So I think it works well – our live sound features very loud amplification so we can be heard over the drums. I suspect Nick could kick us out and still pack places [laughs.] He’s our real frontman – when we set up live he’s up front on the stage. Tim’s an excellent musician; he plays bass in the band but he’s actually a lead guitarist. So his bass lines are very melodic and very full; he fills the space amazingly well.
So I find we can do these short little numbers and so much can happen in a minute, then we’re done. We keep ourselves entertained, and hopefully the audience, too.
Do you ever feel limited by having just three members?
I have in the past, but where I’m at now I’m very satisfied. And if I’m not satisfied, I have the ability to go put together something else and keep this going. But I’m so happy with the way this has been going, and we’ve been getting so much done that I’m really content right now.
For those of us on the East Coast who might not know the area so well, is the Pacific Northwest a scene in itself, or are Portland and Seattle and the stops in between separate scenes?
They’re separate scenes, but they need each other because the Northwest is so spread out…so you’ve got a three hour drive between Portland and Seattle, with not much else beyond that. We rely heavily on each other – it’s not like the New York area where you could play 20 different cities and still sleep in the same bed at night. But here, you get to know people in Seattle and Seattle people get to know Portland people and we help each other out…
Now, we have to address the band name. From a career standpoint, has it ever presented a problem getting booked, getting press or anything like that?
The only thing I know for sure, when Stealth Beats came out, there was a little problem. Public radio flat out told the label they were hesitant to use our name. And someone brought up [the band] Fucked Up as an example. Fucked Up was getting press, and radio play – it was a very long, uphill battle for them, but they were doing it. I started this band under the pretense I’ve started ever other band, which is to have fun and not go crazy; although, this is the first project I’ve done where I’ve had other people coming to me with interest. And once [our label] Good to Die got onboard, we knew we’d have to start to get serious and think about things like whether our name would hurt us.
We may have lost opportunities we didn’t even know about [with our name]. But in a way, the name…I constantly see people online say it’s one of the best names they’ve ever heard. So in some ways it might be the thing that gets our foot in the door with [listeners]. It just might be the thing people need to take those 30 seconds to go on YouTube to listen to a song. You know, ‘What on earth could Gaytheist sound like?’
What are you guys excited about on the new LP?
It’s actually pretty similar to our last album, since we recorded at the same studio. Stealth Beats was the best sounding recording we ever had, so we went back happily for the new one. We put the album together by just practicing the hell out of the songs. Money is always an issue, so we wanted to be ready for the studio and not waste time. This time around, it’s more involved than last [record], as far as the dynamics and changes, but I write a lot of music and we just like to jam on them. We got to where we had enough material to present a new album, and we hope you like it.
Seattle’s Sandrider is a gnarly, loud and ferocious trio of veteran musicians, hell-bent on destroying eardrums and bass drums in equal numbers. The band is about to re-release their self-titled LP on 180 gram wax, courtesy of Good To Die Records, and we had a chance to catch up with frontman Jon Weisnewski about the group’s back story, their favorite gear, and their creative process both in and out of the studio.
Can you give us a brief rundown of how the band formed and where you’re at today?
I’d been playing in the band Akimbo with Nat, our drummer, for about 15 years. I originally learned to play music on the guitar, but switched to bass in Akimbo. And I had a real desire to play guitar again, and to play with other musicians. So I asked Nat if he wanted to start playing some songs, and we wrote some music and had some other bass players come in and fool around. Never really got a serious bass player for a while, until I was getting tattooed by Jesse, Sandrider’s bass player, and we started shooting the shit. He played in a band I liked a lot, and they were in the middle of a hiatus at the time. So I told him he should come down and play bass with us.
That first practice was just out of this world. It was great; we had an amazing chemistry together.
“Maiden and Priest fans, it’s time to bust out your old denim…”
Do you love old Def Leppard records and denim jackets with the sleeves cut off? Do you frequently place umlauts over vowels that don’t require them? Do you wish Steel Dragon was a real band?Of course you do, dummy. And if you’re tired of butt rock and nü-metal garbage being rammed down your throat, it’s time to man up and cop the new release by RULE. Lead singer Mike Soltoff hails from Boston’s own Bang Camaro, which should tell you right there that this is gonna be a lean, mean, ass-kicking 6-song EP.
Fueled by cigarettes, boozy Les Paul-meets-Marshall-stack riffs and thunderously aggressive drumming, RULE’s EP comes out of the gate strong, as Soltoff’s vocals soar above the mix like Myles Kennedy’s recent work with Slash. Harkening back to a time when metal was metal, and the Sunset Strip was the only place to be if you wanted to make it on MTV, RULE…well, rules. Bringing with him some of the larger-than-life choruses that Bang Camaro was known for, Soltoff and crew (or should I say crüe) hit their stride with the chugging “Clinging to Life” before dialing back the tempo and dimming the lights for the gin-soaked “Bloodletter.”
The only thing that could make this EP better would be to release it on cassette, so we could listen to it in our ’83 Trans Am. Oh well…
Mixed by Benny Grotto at Mad Oak Studios
Additional Mixing by Mike Quinn at Moontower Studios
There are guitarists that want things vintage, as they were back in the day. The Oktober Annihilator isn’t for those players.
Its shape echoes more of a medieval battle weapon than musical instrument. Designed by Misfits guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein, if fits their horror show theme very well, with its satin (or Satan) flat black paintjob. The overall fit and finish is excellent; bat inlays adorn the 25.5” scale rosewood fingerboard, and are very well done for an axe in this price range. With 27 frets, it has a definite “shredder” feel to it, with a slim and fast neck-thru design, and of course a Floyd Rose tremolo. Electronics are very simple – just a single “Suckerpunch” humbucker and volume control. Continue reading →
VINYL OF THE MONTH DOG SHREDDER Brass Tactics
(Good to Die Records)
“Brutal EP from Washington’s shred-prog-masters”
Singer/guitarist Josh Holland wasn’t kidding when he told Performer [May 2012 issue] that his band’s new EP would be “pretty much all brutality.” Dog Shredder’s latest 12-inch consists of a trio of battle-themed mini epics – “Battle Toads,” “Battle Snake,” and “Battle 07” – each of which lives up to its title.
Kicking things off in a haze of shreddy, progtastic fury, “Battle Toads” explodes from the speakers with the ferocity of a metal album, spiked with a dose of Fragile-era Yes for good measure. The key to any record like this is the rhythm section, and it would be a crime not to mention the bombastic, yet tight, skin pounding of Noah Burns behind the kit.
The following two battle hymns continue the spirit of the opening track, but it’s not until the closing number that we get a reprieve from the bombast, just long enough to find ourselves awash in Holland’s own gloriously droning, hypnotic vocals.
Brass Tactics is a little too short, if one were forced to find a complaint, but given the generous helping of moods, textures, dynamics and tempo changes found in these 15 minutes of vinyl, it’s easy enough to pick up the needle and drop it back in the lead-in groove all night long.
Recorded and Mixed by Adam Pike at The Toadhouse, Portland, OR
Additional Recording by Paul Turpin at Champion Street Sound Studios, Bellingham, WA
Mastered by Levi Seitz at Black Belt Mastering, Seattle, WA