It’s interesting how death metal can reinvent itself to sound refreshing all over again. And more so, when experienced band members get around to doing that. So here’s another death metal band signing that’s been a long time coming, but that’s to ensure that the music is presented in the best way possible. The music will be revealed in due time but you can have a look at the artwork that’s created by Juanjo Castellano (Interment, Revel In Flesh, Coffins), with the logo made by none other than Mark Riddick (Fetid Zombie).
Label owner Kunal Choksi states, “I’m thrilled to work with a very promising new band in Goregӓng which have members of Venom Inc., Ribspreader, Soilwork, The Absence, etc. More importantly, their style of music is what most appealed to me – it’s reminiscent of early Wombbath and Baphomet, in that it’s catchy, grimy and filthy with a punk edge to it. It’s great to work with bands that strive to break the mould and do something that retains the essence of the genre at the same time.”
Goregӓng member Taylor Nordberg comments, “We are incredibly excited about working with Kunal and Transcending Obscurity! We are all big fans of what he has built and the quality bands/products he has released. We can’t wait to unleash this album to you all! “We are the most foul. We are Goregäng.””
Band line-up – Jeramie Kling – Lead Vocals, Guitar (Venom Inc. (live), Ribspreader, ex-Wombbath, The Absence) Brandon Clingo – Guitar, Bass, Backing Vocals Taylor Nordberg – Drums, Guitar, Bass, Backing Vocals (Soilwork (live), Ribspreader, ex-Wombbath, The Absence)
‘Neon Graves’ tracklisting – 1. A Cavity In Reality 2. False Flags 3. Cathedral Of Chemicals 4. Silence Is Consent 5. Spray Of Teeth 6. Feeble-Minded Rash 7. Neon Graves 8. Plague Of Hammers 9. Goregӓng 10. Weightless Sentinels 11. Putrid Judgement 12. This Era Of Human
Ayat’s second full length has been a long time coming. The Lebanese group turned heads with ‘Six Years of Dormant Hatred’ back in 2008, a violent and over the top combination of black metal and punk with an industrial backbone. Their follow-up effort ‘Carry On, Carrion!’ was announced by Moribund Records way back in 2010, resurfacing a few times over the past few years. Like many, I wondered if the album would end up seeing the light of day or if this was the last we had heard from the band. On November 24th ‘Carry On, Carrion!’ will finally see release and today we’re premiering the opening track of the album, Raw War (Beirut unveils her pussy once more).
When going to see a band live for the first time, it’s easy to let your expectations get the best of you. A band you’ve listened to, especially one whose reputation precedes them, can carry enough baggage to a point where anything less threatens to diminish the experience. So it nearly was for me when I went to see Ghost Bath at the Soda Bar in San Diego.
Ghost Bath has certainly built a name for themselves over the last few years. And although not as zany as other costumed bands by a long shot, I was already guilty of having some preconceived notions to what they’d be like live. Their social media bio sections claim that “Ghost Bath writes and creates music under the assumption that music is an extension of one’s own soul.” That kind of statement, however earnest it may be, created an air of pretentiousness to them that I couldn’t shake.
Don’t get me wrong — I wanted to be on their side. And since they happened to be coming through town, I didn’t want to miss a chance to add ammo to my belt for anyone who wanted to slam them. I just had to see for myself.
Gettin’ Fizzy Wit’ It at the Soda Bar
On El Cajon Boulevard, a few blocks just off the 805 freeway, lies the Soda Bar. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss it the first time — it blends in with the shabby row of closed-down businesses festering along that street. The inside feels even more homely — simply squeeze through the entrance, and you’re immediately flanked by booths on your left and a modest bar on your right. The room wraps around, the stage nestled into a tight back corner, before leading into a darkened corner of the bar, where the only dim light comes from the hazy glow of old game cabinets for “Street Fighter II” and “NFL Blitz.” Believe me, it took considerable effort not to blow my modest merch funds slipping quarters into the arcade all night.
The Soda Bar’s tiny stature reminded me of my old gigging days at other endearing SoCal holes like The Jumping Turtle (RIP) or the Royal Dive. Amplifiers and cabinets stood onstage in rows or stacked on top of each other — the telltale sign of too much gear in too small a venue. Even the word “venue” is generous — hell, the Astronoid merch booth occupied a literal booth. Without a clear central area (the bar effectively divided the place in half), the crowd stood dispersed, not gathering in any one area until the first band began to show signs of playing. The night was about to begin.
Punk with a Groovy Twist
Kicking the night off was Ash Williams (San Diego), who describe themselves as punk with a pinch of black metal. I describe them as the thing that drew the crowd from their dark crevices toward the front of the stage. All joking aside, that’s a genre-fusion I’m all about these days, and I was eager to hear the locals’ take on it. I was expecting to like them quite a bit — and I did, but not exactly for the reasons I anticipated.
Their playing was damned solid — I could feel the power behind the kick as the drummer propelled his bandmates forward with rapid d-beats while the guitarists whirred away with raucous rhythms. The bassist/vocalist manhandled his instrument with impressive tapping passages, while also tapping into both genre’s various vocal stylings of rabid barks and the occasional blackened screech.
I’d done some research on their March full-length “Pulsar,” which had some quality tunes — however, the songs I wasn’t familiar with were the most memorable. I was expecting them to sound like Ancst or Wolf King — or even Cult Cinema, my latest obsession — but I’d failed to identify much of their touted black metal influence on “Pulsar.” But I enjoyed more than a few frostbitten melodies that night, including one standout track that sounded like a Danzig-fronted Darkthrone song.
Ash Williams ended their set with an unexpected yet impressive display of theatrics that had the bassist hopping off the stage and onto the floor. Overall, I was impressed by their energy, as well as the drummer’s half-measure hammer blast. I ended up nabbing a shirt from them — they ended up gaining a fan.
Far-Out Fun or Crash ‘n’ Burn?
I’d found Astronoid (Boston, MA) by way of a top 10 list of 2016 in which the author audaciously picked their 2016 full-length “Air” over Devin Townsend Project’s “Transcendence.” Although nowhere near as artistic in my opinion (“Transcendence” was my AOTY for 2016), I thought “Air” was a worthy attempt at conjoining two seemingly disparate sounds — the dreamy prog production and riffs reminiscent of Hevy Devy himself with high, boyish vocals ripped right from Dashboard Confessional. Like I said — novel at the very least, and I was curious to see how it all came together live.
The crowd had moved closer to the stage, invited by Astronoid’s gentle insistence, and were now just a few feet from the band’s drummer, bassist, and three guitarists. The band was cloaked in darkness — they’d requested the house stage lights turned off — occasionally silhouetted by two rotating floor lights, which cast colorful circles and whimsical star patterns upon the ceiling of the Soda Bar, circling like searchlights in a cloudy sky. Stale, machine-generated fog billowed up from the floor, filling the venue with hazy atmosphere (and even set off the smoke alarm once or twice), which complemented the active lighting nicely. Again — novel ideas, and ones I’m sure they’ll only evolve with time as they play bigger venues. They’d clearly given their live show a lot of thought — and money, as the stacks of Orange crates and expensive guitars attested.
“Let’s have some fun!” vocalist/guitarist Brett Boland declared, and the melodious, airy tones of Incandescent, the opening track off “Air,” began flowing from the house speakers. Right guitarist headbanged with jubilant glee, while left stood locked in a perma-power stance. Drummer was effortless, his translucent kit a familiar playing field. Boland sang in astonishingly perfect unison with pre-recorded harmonies, his voice never cracking or out of key to my humble ears. But for all his talent, I can’t deny how much I selfishly wanted those vocal harmonies to be organic.
Unfortunately, I had a hard time discerning their intricate guitarwork. I’m no soundsmith — I can only guess as to why that was. Perhaps the Soda Bar’s sound system was simply stretched to its capacity, unable to handle Astronoid’s attempts to shoot for stars with three guitars and such robust backing tracks. Either way, the live sound was lacking in a way that didn’t do the purity of “Air” justice — the high-school heartache of songs like Homesick and Up and Atom didn’t pull quite as hard. All in all, I came away from Astronoid impressed more with their well thought-out performance than their overall sound.
Where Death is Most Alive
I’ll be frank: I’m not the biggest fan of Ghost Bath. I’m far from a hater (of which the band has plenty), even after I learned they were from normie North Dakota rather than exotic China. I’d listened to “Moonlover” plenty of times in 2015, but I hadn’t ever been over the moon with it. And with my reaction to the singles off the just-released “Starmourner” varying from listenable to boring, I concluded that overall their music just doesn’t do enough to hold my attention. Seeing them live would be a way to redeem them — that’s usually the best way to experience a band, right? Besides, I’d seen the goofy costumes — I was sure there’d be plenty to see during a Ghost Bath show.
Set up was a succinct affair — I’ve never seen a band get their gear ready with as little pomp and circumstance. Clad in simple black band shirts and sweaters (I appreciated one guitarist’s Carnifex tee), the band went through the routine of plugging in their instruments and testing levels with easy, even disinterested enthusiasm.
Ghost Bath seamlessly transitioned from set-up into set with the saccharine melody of Seraphic, becoming a bit more animated yet holding their collective focus on performing their music. I had wondered when they’d retreat to put on their trademark cloaks (maybe they were in the wash that night) — instead, they played with succinct indifference, rattling off one song after the other without a single word of banter. And although the crowd had noticeably diminished after Astronoid (a fact that still baffles me), they were into it.
Their set went on, cruising through Ambrosial and Happyhouse. The guitarists’ plaintive leads cut through a rumbling, bassy bulwark, pushed forward by relentless blast beats. Seriously, the drummer was on fire that night — I’d seen him warming up before Ash Williams went on, so it was no surprise he could endure Ghost Bath’s longer, drawn-out passages. The vocalist — inarguably the band’s lightning rod for his repetitive, indiscernible wailing — belted out scream after scream. Say what you will about his vocal style du jour, but his delivery and pained expression seemed authentic. If this was their first attempt at theatrics of the night, Ghost Bath was doing it well.
Over time, I became acutely aware of how hard they leaned into shoegaze territory. I’d always, perhaps foolishly, considered them as more distinctly black metal than other similar acts like the obvious Deafheaven, due in large part to their imagery and the way they’ve mysteriously promoted themselves — but it wasn’t until I saw them live, their eyes pointed toward the floor in all-too-obvious shoegaze fashion, that I understood. They weren’t here to engage with the crowd or give us a spectacle — they were here to play music, dammit.
I thought Ghost Bath pulled off the three-guitar sound a bit better than Astronoid, but not by much. Stage right guitar was a dominating force, while stage left seemed to struggle to cut through. Again, I have to wonder how much of that could be blamed on the Soda Bar or even where I was standing (tellingly close to a speaker) — but until I investigate other Soda Bar shows, I’m forever going to denounce the triple guitar sound.
Golden Number closed out the set, and I found it hard to imagine anyone in the room not being grabbed at that point. Where other Ghost Bath songs drag, Golden Number has always commanded my attention. As the reflective piano outro washed over the audience, the members of Ghost Bath left the stage one by one, exiting the venue out the back door. When the last notes subsided, we were left with nothing but a dubious silence. A couple jocular calls of “one more song!” were blurted out, but I left before finding out whether they’d come back or not. Sometimes you have to create your own sense of mystery, you know?
Giving It Up for the Ghost
People create a lot of assumptions based on what they know about a band. You can go into a live music setting with certain expectations, and that can be a bummer when they aren’t met. None of the three bands I saw were quite what I was expecting, but I ended up coming away much more positively from it because I chose to ignore what was in my mind and instead chose to see what was actually in front of my damned eyes.
Ash Williams didn’t nearly deliver on the expectations I’d had for a band with a bit more blackened side. But it’s silly to judge a band based on what they aren’t, and once I got over that I could freely enjoy the energy they brought to the show.
With their Jupiter-sized sound, I was excited to see Astronoid perform live. When that fell victim to mostly muddy guitars and the vocal disenchantment, I could have felt utterly disappointed. But I chose to enjoy what they did well, which was a DIY approach at creating their own unique atmosphere, and at that they effortlessly succeeded. Plenty of bands play to backing vocal tracks (even Devin Townsend has recorded help with his harmonies), and it was naive of me to think Astronoid would do things differently just because their vocals set them apart from so many other metal bands.
Ghost Bath weren’t pretentious, as I’d expected them to be — they just didn’t seem to care much about anything beyond playing their music. One fan got a fist bump from the guitarist — the hard-won worthiness for knowing all their songs well, so they certainly didn’t come across as phony. Bands can categorize themselves however the hell they want, and we can agree or disagree with their self-assessment. At the end of the day, all we have to go off is the music itself.
It’s so easy to overlook artistic vision when you get balls-deep into music journalism. You get wrapped up in the review process, comparing this sound to that band, calling songs “bad” and parts “ineffective.” And, true, bands can have ulterior motives beyond just gettin’ together and jammin’ (I’m lookin’ at you, BabyMetal). But live, all we have is ourselves, the band onstage, and the vibrations clanging the air molecules together. It didn’t matter that Ghost Bath had once claimed they were from China, or built a reputation for a live show — their lack of costumes showed me they didn’t need to rely on theatrics to play a compelling show. If anything, this show reminded me to accept and respect a band’s musical choices and take them as is.
I still don’t think I’d recommend Ghost Bath to everyone, but if they ever come back to the West Coast, I’ll be sure to tell folks to at least dip their toes in. The water’s just fine.
Grimoire Records continues to be one of the better labels out there for metal that pushes the envelope. The Maryland based label also stands out from other small and mid-size ones for the simple fact that they record all of the material they put out, as co-owner Noel Mueller works the boards for any release bearing the Grimoire name. Following releases from The Vomiting Dinosaurs and Blood Mist, March 24th will see the label put out their third effort of 2017, the debut full length from Sloth Herder. Titled ‘No Pity, No Sunrise’, the full length finds the Maryland by way of Pennsylvania and Virginia band taking all of the elements from their earlier EP’s and splits to the next level.
I recently learned of the existence of Kaala, a web community working to shed light on Japan’s underground talent when it comes to metal, punk, and everything in between. If you’re like me, most of your knowledge of Japan’s metal and punk scenes probably comes from bands that have been signed to well-known underground labels (Coffins, Abigail, Sabbat etc.) or that have come over to the U.S. to play festivals or do short tours. But aside from that, you don’t tend to hear about everything else going on in the country, and as a journalist I haven’t found a lot of bands from Japan pitching me for stories. They definitely seem to have a problem getting the word out internationally, and that’s where Kaala has stepped in with writers based in different parts of the country spreading the word about local gigs, noteworthy releases, and a lot more.
It’s a great resource, and they recently threw the idea around of putting together a guided tour of Japan’s extreme music scene and assisting potential fans from all over the world in getting there. There’s a Google questionnaire running (which you can check out here) to gauge interest and budgets for pulling something off, but it has the potential to bring even more exposure to bands that could use it. Writing about extreme music from parts of the world that don’t get that much press is something I will be focusing on more this year on Transcending Obscurity, and Japan is a definite area of interest.
I’ll be spotlighting Kaala more as the potential logistics of this guided tour prove to be feasible or not, as well as pouring through their wealth of content to find some worthy bands to bring to your attention on TO. But to start, I’m happy to have Kaala’s founder Matt Ketchum contribute a guest post spotlighting his three favorite albums from Japan released in 2016. These are groups you’re not going to want to sleep on! –Chris Dahlberg
Two luminaries from the Indian metal scene that are largely unheralded are Shepherd from Bangalore playing sludge and the newer band Death By Fungi from Mumbai playing hardcore punk. While the former has received many accolades internationally, Death By Fungi are propagating a form of music that’s new to the country. With a common ideology and sonic vision, these bands get together to unleash about four new songs each – their fastest and most exhilarating yet – in the form of a full-fledged split album.
Transcending Obscurity owner Kunal Choksi states, “I’m thrilled to announce a split between two of the most admirable bands from the scene – Shepherd and Death by Fungi. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Shepherd and was keen on working with the band right from the start, and the worlds aligned so to speak and we’re working together now. From what I’ve heard so far, it’s the band’s most radical sound yet which is all the more exciting. Death by Fungi are one of the most deserving bands and they couldn’t have found a better band to do a split with. Their heart is in the right place and I don’t see why their music couldn’t be more appreciated all over. Their latest EP was stunning and if their new material sounds anything like that, they’re going to become one of the most sought after bands in the region. Both bands are working on something absolutely fresh as well as substantial for this split which will be unleashed via Transcending Obscurity India all over.”
Shepherd comment, “We’ve been writing these fast songs intermittently starting from as early as 2013. It started out with ‘Undergod Dog’; which we released as a limited edition bonus track on our debut album ‘Stereolithic Riffalocalypse’. Originally all we wanted to do was blow off some steam in between long and sometimes boring rehearsals but once we had a few of these high energy songs, we made plans for a separate release because they didn’t really sit well with our usual brand of psychedelic sludginess.
Fast forward to 2016, we got to know of this band from Mumbai called Death By Fungi through a mutual friend and got it touch with them about doing a few gigs around town. That didn’t work out so we decided we’ll do this split thing. Although we don’t really have the same musical background, somehow we feel a kinship with them and there’s a lot of mutual admiration between us. There’s a shared sense of being outsiders even within a niche outsider music circle like metal.”
Death By Fungi add, “The more time we spend playing music together, the more we try experimenting with sounds and structures. We begun writing songs that were faster, heavier and noisier. Eventually, we moved away from the skate punk influenced hardcore that we begun with to a more chaotic, eclectic slew of hardcore punk.
When Deepak from Shepherd – a band we all looked up to and liked – approached us about the doing a split, we were totally down. Sludge and hardcore punk are sonically different but share a common heritage (Black Flag, etc). Even more, there was a weird brotherhood between the bands, we were both “outsiders” in India’s modern prog metal scene and this split was an opportunity to go all out – sonically and lyrically.
In our eyes, Transcending Obscurity and Kunal are all that is good about independent music – passion, DIY ethic, drive, etc. There is no other way we’d want to release this split.”
More info on this exciting release will be published soon.
When it comes to thrash, I’ve always found crossover thrash that pulls from a healthy dose of punk and grind to be a bit more appealing than the traditional take on the genre. Maybe it is just because of my tastes that skew towards the filthy, sleazy side of these genres, but a lot of the newer crossover bands have been incredibly appealing. That’s why Detroit’s S.N.A.F.U. (Situation Normal All Fucked Up) caught my attention. Their sophomore full length ‘Present Day Plague’ originally came out digitally about a year ago, and it’s finally getting the vinyl and cassette treatment on September 2nd. Released independently by the band, this is another chance to familiarize yourself with one of the better violent, filthy groups to join the genre. Today we’re streaming the song Her Dark Past, one of the nineteen tracks that S.N.A.F.U throws at you with the force of a speeding truck.
Brazil’s Whipstriker has become one of my favorite metalpunk band over the past few years, and there’s no shortage of material to choose from. Led by bassist/vocalist Victor, Whipstriker has taken influences from classic bands like Venom and Motorhead and injected an extra dosing of punk influences into the mix, and albums like 2013’s ‘Troopers of Mayhem’ have been filled with killer riffs and catchy vocal hooks that make you want to crank up the volume and drink yourself into a coma. Whipstriker releases splits on a regular basis, but it’s finally time for a new full length! ‘Only Filth Will Prevail’ will be out later in the summer on LP, CD, cassette, and digital formats courtesy of a variety of labels (specific formats/labels mentioned below). North American listeners will be able to grab the LP from Unholy Anarchy Records and CD from PRC Music in the near future, and while specific release dates aren’t locked down just yet late summer/early fall seems like the current timeline to get your hands on this one.
So here we go again – the third instalment of this series, focusing on some of the best, (to me), hardcore releases down the years. This time – 2014.
2014 was a very good year for hardcore. There were so many releases I could have included, but for the sake of brevity I have limited it to ten, and split the article into two parts; keeping it to this few was hard enough in itself!
What delights do we have for you this time?
As We Draw – Mirages
We start with this French band, another from the fabulous Throatruiner Records roster, which sees the band take the leap from noisy hardcore to a more interesting post-hardcore/metal one, although they still have plenty of angular heaviness and angry intensity to their sound. ‘Mirages’ is infused with atmosphere and introspection though, balancing against the band’s more aggressive tendencies, producing an impressive collection of tracks that it wouldn’t be completely erroneous to describe as progressive hardcore. Whatever you call it, this is a dark journey into challenging soundscapes and is a snapshot of a band developing themselves and embracing their potential. Take note.
Baptists – Bloodmines
Baptists are a Canadian band that combine violent hardcore, abrasive punk and just a hint of noise rock. Drenched in feedback and with raw vocals, this is a dark album that does slow and fast equally well. Heavy riffs dominate the proceedings, while insidious melodies seem to crawl out of the distortion, catching you unawares. ‘Bloodmines’ is a cruel, harsh mistress; it’s as if it has taken a punchy, energetic, vibrant sound and dragged it to a swamp and drowned it, only to resurrect it once more to do the bidding of its new owner.
Enabler – La Fin Absolue du Monde
The first time I listened to this album I got The Shivers. Oh yes. All over. ‘La Fin Absolue du Monde’ is a shockingly strong blend of aggression, dynamics and raging melodics, all tempered by a burning energy and songs that are so catchy you can get infected by them. Working equally well as stand-alone tracks or holistically as a full album, Enabler walk the walk and talk the talk in true hardcore fashion, ripping up pits and burning down speakers with ease. Phew. Listening to this makes me sweat, in a very good way.
Every Time I Die – From Parts Unknown
What can you really say about Every Time I Die? If you’re even vaguely into hardcore music then you probably know of this notorious band. Always ones to play by their own rules, (and frequently break them), Every Time I Die have been a force to be reckoned with in the hardcore scene ever since their début EP ‘The Burial Plot Bidding War’ was unleashed on an unsuspecting world back in 2000. They arrived with a crash, and ever since their individual take on hardcore has earned them many fans, yours truly very much included. The band manage to effortlessly walk that oh so fine line between chaos and melody with ease, and ‘From Parts Unknown’ is yet another sterling example of Every Time I Die being nothing but themselves, and boy is it good.
Fucking Invincible – It’ll Get Worse Before It Gets Better
Give this record its 15 minutes and it’ll probably give you a broken nose back in return. Fucking Invincible are as savage as it gets, and ‘It’ll Get Worse Before It Gets Better’ rips, tears and blasts its way through its short playing time, stabbing, bludgeoning and maiming as it goes. It seems fitting to end Part 1 of this article on such a furiously nasty note. All I’ll say is this; Fucking Invincible are intense. Play loud.