The last two weeks have been a bit of a mid-winter festival for me. When I haven't been at work, I've been going to shows, working on music, staying out until the wee hours with my bros, sleeping until the afternoon, and chilling the fuck out. But "festivals end as festivals must," and now I'm ready to post your fucking asses off. Two shows in particular left me with more tinnitus than usual, a sore neck, and some angry muscles. I thought I'd start by giving you a brief report on the first one. (Edit: It's not as brief as I'd intended. Whoops.)
On the coldest night of the year thus far I trudged across the concrete tundra to The Acheron, a murky warehouse venue where cyclopean amps hang from the ceiling on giant chains. Yeah, pretty fucking kvlt. The Acheron is special because it's a DIY venue dedicated to extreme music in all its forms, and in under two years of existence it's become a cornerstone of the NYC metal and hardcore scenes. In fact, it's a place where these communities cross-pollinate to the point of indistinction, and it's not uncommon to see bills defined less by genre than by the overall feel of the music and/or friendships between band members. Last Sunday's show was definitely one of these, mixing hardcore with crust, sludge, and black/death metal.
I missed the first act, some band called Nailed Shut, but arrived in time for Gang Signs. This power trio took the stage in Giants jerseys to celebrate a victory in some pro football game, and proceeded to bang out jacked, bulging riffs with an energy that completely justified their jock attire. While the music's intent was clear--it's about headbanging--it was hard to place stylistically. That, of course, is a good thing! After some thought, I've concluded that Gang Signs are basically a sludge band, but one that draws more on death metal than trad-doom and hardcore for its sonic building blocks. This is a pretty cool combination, but there's one problem--in my book, sludge pretty much fucking sucks. While Gang Signs' crisp, intricate riffs were far more interesting (and far heavier) than standard sludge fare, I still felt let down when cliche swinging "southern" rhythms undermined what could have been genuinely crushing grooves.
Nevertheless, in the course of their set Gang Signs brought me from "unconvinced" to "impressed and curious." They unleashed a fucking killer final song, working surprisingly pretty harmonic textures into an otherwise dense onslaught of chug and swagger. In this way, they brought the grim heaviness of masters like High On Fire while slyly hinting at the "fun" genre sludge has become. In the final analysis, I think a lot of TBO readers will really dig Gang Signs' blend of creative songwriting and blunt trauma. My hatred of sludge is--to some degree--a subjective thing, so it says a lot that I found these guys convincing, and that I've had this much to say about them! They'll probably show up here again. Check them out.
If Gang Signs were an example of how to do something interesting with a kind of shitty genre, Consumption were an example of how to do something sorta lame with a sound that's inherently awesome. This band plays extremely straightforward crustcore, crustcore so typical I would play it for you if you asked me what the fuck "crustcore" meant. (For those who don't know, it's basically the more metallic side of d-beat hardcore, which means that the guitar tone is heavier, the vocals are closer to metal screams, and you might hear some palm mutes and slow parts.) If you're a huge fan of the genre and live in the New York area, then you might want to see them, but otherwise this band is basically a placeholder.
To their credit, Consumption were much tighter than the norm for this kind of music. Their hands blurred with the speed of their picking, and they made it sound natural to play d-beats at thrash speeds. They certainly brought a few cool riffs and a nice breakdown or two. But the fact that these moments stood out to me was a glaring sign that the songwriting lacked character. Consumption are certainly not a bad band, but unless they start refining their riffage and diversifying their song structures they'll remain another symptom of the current d-beat glut.
In between sets I huddled around the space-heater next to a couple guys from the evening's headlining band, Draize, who had come up from Boston. I had never heard them before, but my friend had predicted I'd be into it. He was right. I'm not kidding when I say that Draize are one of the most extreme hardcore bands going today. They moved quickly from frantic d-beat and insane gravity blasting (I'm pretty sure those were gravity blasts???) into cthonic pit riffage, sprawling passages of ringing open chords that rarely led straight back into the fast stuff. It wouldn't make sense to call these breakdowns, because they weren't just moments of release--they were actually the center of music. Draize's songs revolved around hostile lacunae waiting to open wide, to exert command over every body in the room even as they effaced all traces of humanity. This crushing abstraction distanced Draize from traditional hardcore bands, and--to my ears--gave them a kinship with the strangest and most intense reaches of extreme metal. I was reminded of the colossal beatdown sounds of the legendary Straight Savage Style, as well as the breakdown-happy metalcore of fellow Bostonians New Lows.
While Draize's sound was impressive enough, this was also a case where the frontman truly mattered. Tommy Draize wasn't just a sick vocalist, he physically embodied his band, linking each riff to an elegant, clearly-defined gesture of wrenching violence. He whipped his limbs around with such force that he seemed to carve out a space for himself, literalizing the notion of "stage presence." Between his brutal hardcore dancing and his militant skin-punk attire, the guy came off like someone Not To Be Fucked With, but turned out to be an upbeat and super friendly dude (I still wouldn't fuck with him, though). Draize are an amazing band, and TBO readers will definitely dig this shit. It just doesn't get heavier or nastier. They've got a record out, and some dope merch. Check 'em out.
After Draize, a hardbitten contingent remained to see local heroes Ruin Lust, one of the only actual black metal bands to come out of the new crop of USBM bands. Strictly speaking, Ruin Lust play war metal or black/death, and they unloaded on The Acheron with a withering wave of tremolo fuzz and thick blastbeats. I'd really enjoyed listening to their rough demo tracks, but that night the show was more impressive than properly enjoyable. In this live setting the guitars disintegrated into pure white noise, obscuring the finely crafted riffs that help set Ruin Lust apart from the legions of "bestial black metal" bands. It must be really hard to strike the right balance, so I'm not complaining, I just hope they're able to place more emphasis on melody the next time I see them. The sound problems did, however, allow me to focus more on the drummer, who was going to town on his kit with the abandon of an Iron Age warrior, looking up from his blastbeats to release powerful screamed vox in support of the guitarist/growler. Overall, the set was deafeningly loud and passionately delivered, and I came away thoroughly convinced that these guys are the real deal. I was also lucky enough to receive a free demo tape with a much better mix from their guitarist, Joe, and I'll be reviewing that on here shortly. In the meantime, download the rough demo or actually buy the actual demo.
I would write a more elegant conclusion to this post, but I am falling asleep and have to go to work tomorrow. Blargh!