THE VOID is a column that aims to explore, expose, and champion the finest in heavy metal. Following the template of the old Norwegian webzines that devotees would host on Geocities decades ago, this monthly feature will include interviews, opinions, reviews, and occasional live coverage in the hopes of providing a snapshot of metal culture and extreme music in general.
One of my fondest concert memories is the time I was in the front row for Goatwhore. Ever the wimpy kid afraid of getting crushed by the massive leathered-out dudes who preside over the pit, I had never been in the front row for a metal show before (there was this one time I pseudo moshed at a Rage Against the Machine cover band concert, but that doesn’t count). Also, I had just turned 21 and had never drank at a metal show before. That night would be different. That night I would raise the horns with my fellow pit dwellers. That night would change my whole perception of live music.
So, I drank some beer and watched the opening band from afar. Decent but kinda slow. Not Goatwhore. I knew those NOLA evildoers would bring the thrash. Even then I was on the fence. I looked up front and saw a dude with a Bathory jacket that looked like he’d worn it every day since ’84; next to him was a guy wearing actual spikes and a bullet belt. Was I metal enough to be in their presence? Was I worthy? The opening blasts of “Apocalyptic Havoc” answered that question for me as I became compelled through a Stag-induced fervor to shove my way up front. And there I remained, headbanging alongside trve metal warriors with Ben Falgoust’s sweat raining down on us as he spun his hair round and round. Afterward the Bathory guy raised the horns in approval and turned to me: “That was fucking badass.” I nodded. Fucking badass, indeed.
As an audience member, you can only get out of the metal show what you put into it. Think of it as an escape. Live music engages the listener on an introspective, emotional level, and while metal does that, too, it also brings a visceral physicality and sense of danger that’s vacant from most modern rock ‘n’ roll. So let loose and enjoy yourself. Of course, shitty shows happen and not every metal band has the showmanship of Goatwhore. But with this list of metal show survival tips, you’ll be primed for maximum entertainment. Some of this applies to live music in general.
Get a DD, get drunk
Everybody else is doing it. No, seriously, they are. That’s what happens at metal shows. People drink and smoke stuff in the parking lot. You don’t have to smoke stuff in the parking lot (unless you’re seeing High on Fire), but there’s something about beer that goes well with blazing solos and chugging riffs and images of death, blood, and decay. Metal is not for the faint of heart or liver.
Beat the bathroom conundrum
To go off that last one, nothing ruins the concert experience faster than a bloated bladder. Take a leak whenever you get the chance. A few factors come into play here: Bathroom lines can be stupid long — especially between sets — or totally inaccessible if you’re in the middle of a massive audience at a stadium show or festival. It sucks to think about, but it’s wise to be weary of how much liquid is in your system and how that affects your pee reflex. Guys get off easier here; you can find a secluded alcove outside the venue and release there instead of standing in a line that may or may not be filled with people waiting to ingest drugs on the shitter. If you’re holding in a No. 2, godspeed my friend.
I am often amazed at the volume levels metal bands achieve, but even more amazing are the people standing there without earplugs. We’re talking volumes that are physically painful to the exposed human ear canal. “Turn it up to 11” is a sardonic jab at this ear-bleeding practice, but it’s mostly an accurate stereotype. Even in tiny clubs, a lot of metal bands still opt for stadium volumes, and if you’re not prepared (I recommend the non-muffling sonics of the Etymotic ER20s), your ears will be ringing for days, weeks, or even months. In my interview with Pallbearer bassist Joseph D. Rowland on the next page, he champions the loud-but-not-too-loud approach and explains how lowering the volume can actually improve the sonic clarity for audience and band. Based on my concert experiences, however, Pallbearer are in the minority regarding loudness. Still, the wall of Marshall stacks does look pretty cool.
Fuck stage diving
Unless it’s 1986 and Cro-Mags is playing CBGB, get your ass off the stage. Nobody wants to catch you — nor do they know how to catch you, apparently. A guy died in Switzerland and another at a Miss May I show only months apart this year from stage dives gone awry. That said, if you’re in the front row and somebody is attempting a stage dive, give ’em a boost so they don’t land on their neck and get hurt. Even if you hate people jumping on you, it’s better than somebody dying.
This is a tough subject, because the mosh is a total display of boneheaded masculine aggression and inane on a practical level. But a good mosh is so much fun when it’s not taken overboard. “Slam-dance” is a more civilized term, defining the feisty-yet-controlled moshes — people bumping and shimming into one another — that burn off the calories and only leave you with a bruise or two. When people start beating the shit out of each other, that’s when things get stupid. One of my friends tells a horror story of Ozzfest 2007 (the year it was free) and how these two brutes were swinging their arms around and sending people out of the pit on stretchers. And the event staff, if there even was one, just let them do that all night, bloodying all these people. Unless you’re feeling brave, these are the moshes one should avoid.
Bring cash for merch
This comes down to your personal budget, but metal merch tables are the best merch tables, and you’ll probably see something you’ll regret not buying later. I always bring $20 cash just in case there’s a cool-looking exclusive tour shirt for sale, because I know if I don’t buy one then, I’ll likely never see that specific shirt again. Some bands take cards and/or have the little PayPal swiper thing, but most are cash only.
Show up early, support local metal
This is important, especially if you live in a small town with infrequent metal shows. In those instances, local metal bands might not get too many bookings, and your attendance and financial support (they’ll get a cut of the door cover) goes a long way in keeping the local metal contingent, however tight-knit, afloat. By nature, playing metal is an expensive hobby, and it all comes out of pocket for unsigned, non-touring local acts.
Tell your friends, carpool to out-of-town gigs
Another big one for the small-town metalheads who don’t get enough action close to home. Trips to big city shows are more feasible when you aren’t dropping $50-$100 on gas on top of ticket prices and food. Grab some friends and make a day of it. You get to go to way more shows and make friends with like-minded people.
If you want to talk to a band about their equipment, don’t
In no other genre is gear nerdery more pervasive. We can all swoon over Boss HM-2s or whether or not those frets are scalloped, but the last thing a musician wants to think about at a show is this shit. This Portlandia sketch with St. Vincent sums it up.
Lastly, don’t be an asshole
I remember this guy in front of me at an Enslaved concert that kept mocking the band during their set, making like sarcastic “Ugggghhh” noises between songs and yelling stuff like “You suck, go back to Norway.” I’ve noticed this a few times at metal shows — audience members who violently react to something they don’t like — more so than at the average rock show. Not sure why. If you don’t like a band’s music, go drink at the bar or leave.
Click ahead for my interview with Pallbearer’s Joseph D. Rowland, in which we discuss the band’s forthcoming sophomore album. Also, I review Boris’s new record, Noise, and offer up my top metal releases of 2014 so far.
Photos: Goatwhore (Jennifer Russo); Deathhammer drinking (Jon Hadusek); Quorthon selling merch (via Black Death Nostalgia).
Interview: Joseph D. Rowland of Pallbearer
Little Rock’s Pallbearer are set to release their highly anticipated sophomore album, Foundations of Burden, on August 19th via Profound Lore. Produced by Billy Anderson (Agalloch, Neurosis), the record is the band’s first with drummer Mark Lierly, and while it’s not a total departure from the heavy drones of 2012’s Sorrow & Extinction, the quartet widen their palette on Foundations both sonically and emotionally. I chatted with bassist/songwriter Joseph D. Rowland about the (sober) recording process, working with Anderson, and Pallbearer’s growth as performers.
How long did it take to write Foundations of Burden, and how long have y’all been working on it?
It’s been a while a since we recorded it, and now that I’ve had the opportunity to sit on it, I’m really happy with the way it turned out. The record has essentially been in the making for the last three years, bits and pieces in the process of being put together. Some of them are relatively new — we didn’t really flesh it out until we were in the studio. One song, “Ashes”, we decided to let develop more organically.
How did that creative process differ from Sorrow & Extinction?
This time I wrote half the record and Brett (Campbell) wrote the other half, and one song (“Watcher in the Dark”) we started working on during Sorrow & Extinction and decided to leave it off that record because it didn’t fit the vibe. It’s a good bridge between the lumbering feel of the first album and the newer faster stuff. Having (drummer) Mark (Lierly) in the band allows us to be more technical. He’s a much more musically accomplished drummer than Zach (Stine) was. Not that I don’t love what Zach did, but he wasn’t really a drummer; we just made him be in the band because he was our friend and he could sorta play and we were like, “Dude, you’re gonna be in this band.” He had a meditative style, indebted to The Velvet Underground, and he was never trying to do anything flashy. It worked really well for Sorrow & Extinction but wouldn’t have worked for this new material.
What did you learn while making the first record that helped with the new one?
We spent so much time doing Sorrow & Extinction … we’d get too fucked up in the studio and be like, “Yeah man, that sounds really sweet,” and then we’d listen back to it the next day and stuff would be out of tune or wrong. But we had an endless amount of time to do that record. There wasn’t a deadline. There was no label putting it out. We were just doing a record because it was what we wanted to do. It’s the summation of all this work we’d done, and we were going to spend as much time as we needed to. Took us close to a year.
This time, we had a month of working every day for like 14 hours a day, and there was definitely like a deadline on us. We knew better than to get trashed and record stuff, within reason. When we did Sorrow, it was our first time being in a legitimate studio, even if was still based out of a house. This time, we’re actually in a for-real recording studio with the live rooms. It was different, and we approached it more professionally.
What was it like working with an esteemed producer like Billy Anderson?
It was really awesome. Billy approached us right after Sorrow came out, and he was like, “Man, I really want do your second record.” He was doing sound for Agalloch, and we were opening a couple shows for them. I ended up meeting him and running into him a lot at festivals and in Portland when we’d play there. We had the opportunity to talk everything through, and it was a really good feeling, like it was coming full circle. He’s truly a wizard at what he does. He has a talent for making dynamics pop out — not necessarily changing the song but maybe layering things differently. For example, he’d tell you play a chord a little differently, maybe take two similar guitar parts and layer them into one instead of trying to do it all at once. It’d sound muddled if it was one track; instead, he’d make the bottom note one guitar and the top note another guitar. His suggestions made the record a lot better than it would’ve been otherwise.
How have you guys grown and developed as a live band over the course of working on Foundations of Burden?
Growing up as musicians in the Little Rock community, there’s a lot of awesome, creative heavy metal. But all the bands coming through the South — a lot of the sludgier bands — have a lot of stage volume. Everybody in the band is playing full stacks; the bass player has this massive rig. That’s the dynamic that we came up in and was what we did for a while. But we learned that having that much stage volume was detrimental to us because Brett couldn’t hear himself at all vocally. It’s been a learning process trying to figure out how to tone it down so he’s able to hear himself enough to be able to sing like he wants to.
Brett is really talented; he’s got an immense vocal range. And if he can’t hear himself, of course it won’t sound as good as it should. We had to stop using full stacks, turn the volume down because the engineer can still make it sound awesome out front. Learning from other bands, you can still sound huge without playing through a wall of amps. Enslaved was a big one for us. They would sound perfect every night, even if it was a shitty venue. I mean, we started out playing house shows, so it’s definitely been a learning process for us. We just want to put on the best show every time out.
Album Review: Boris – Noise
Boris is a mysterious band. The virtuosic Japanese trio never stop releasing music, constantly moving between studio and stage, and they make no promises about what fans will receive. They don’t belong to a scene or convention. They’re their own enterprise.
That’s not to say they don’t get carried away with limitless creative independence. Not every Boris incarnate is created equal. Their best efforts (Flood, Feedbacker) hone in on a singular sound and embrace it fully, exploring its nooks and crevasses. The resulting compositions are sweeping in scale, multi-movement epics that may or may not have any vocals. One such piece, the 18-minute “Angel”, appears on their latest record, Noise, and it’s a fine example of what the band does best. Typical of Boris’s recent works, however, the rest of the record is a jukebox of genre experiments and metal-tinged pop too unfocused to make any lasting impact.
The record opens with its two weakest tracks: “Melody” falls victim to a repetitious, uncompromising refrain, and “Vanilla” is a messy, up-tempo groove with no riffs or discernible chorus. The vocals are also mixed too high. It seems Boris went with a more conventional approach on Noise, opting for shorter, more immediate tracks and glossy production. The three-minute J-pop tune “Taiyo No Baka” shows promise, but it comes off as the band veering off course simply because they can, shenanigans compared to “Angel” and slowcore balladry like “Heavy Rain” and “Ghost of Romance”. The guitars speak when they’re slow. A mood is set, alluring the listener before disheveling them with D-beats and crust screams on “Quicksilver” (an awkward detour even for Boris).
Noise showcases Boris’s many abilities, but it never feels like a unified album — more like a smattering of songs the band has been working on over the past year. Forgettable moments bookend its finer ones, and there’s only a sense of flow during the slower midsection of the tracklist, when Wata takes over vocal duties and every absorbent note sinks in. It’s unfair to expect the band to play exclusively moody songs, but the other stuff is slight by comparison.
Essential Tracks: “Ghost of Romance”, “Angel”
One last thing…
No capsule reviews this month. Instead, here’s a list of my favorite metal/heavy albums from 2014 thus far, with an accompanying Spotify playlist.
— Agalloch – The Serpent & the Sphere (Profound Lore) – A sprawling epic from the Portland black metal band, my early favorite for metal album of the year. Now if we could just have a vinyl pressing.
— Behemoth – The Satanist (Nuclear Blast) – Their best album; still comically satanic.
— Black Magic – Wizard’s Spell (High Roller) – Throwback Norwegian speed metal from the Deathhammer off-shoot. Think Mercyful Fate.
— Black Monolith – Passenger (All Black Recording Co.) – Gary Bettencourt made this all by himself and it’s better than most full-band efforts. Crusty and black but not romantically void.
— Body Count – Manslaughter (Sumerian) – Ice-T and Ernie C return with their best record since ’91.
— Dust Moth – Dragon Mouth (The Mylene Sheath) – Romantic metal taking cues from Deftones and Isis. Irene Barber’s lithe vocals carry the short EP.
— EYEHATEGOD – EYEHATEGOD (Housecore) – A consistent and workmanlike comeback from NOLA’s filthiest.
— Mastodon – Once More ‘Round the Sun (Reprise) – Catchy and powerful; so much better The Hunter.
— Nothing – Guilty of Everything (Relapse) – Hum-inspired heaviness that’s part metal, part shoegaze.
— Sabbat – Earlyearslaught Box Set [Archival] (Nuclear War Now) – Years-in-the-making box set compiling the Japanese cult legends’ earliest — and best — material. Required.
— Sunn O))) + Ulver – Terrestrials (Southern Lord) – Black ambience in the face of fans’ expectations; gradually wins you over.
— Triptykon – Melana Chasmata (Century Media) – Slowcore and doom metal collide as Tom G. Warrior airs his darkest grievances.
— YAITW – When Life Comes to Death (Death Wish) – Misanthropic punk-metal that’s as groovy as it is angry.
Be sure to check back next month for coverage of the first annual American Icon Records Expo, featuring Pentagram and The Sword, live at the Mohawk in Austin over Fourth of July weekend. For all comments and suggestions, hit me up @jhadusek.