(Combined in this post are two different reflections on the live performances by Sólstafir, Mortals, and Pallbearer in Seattle on December 10, 2014, one by BadWolf and one by me (Islander). And for a third, you should also read Gemma Alexander’s wonderful write-up at her own blog — here. Unless otherwise noted, the photos accompanying this post were taken by me on a iPhone because BadWolf forgot his fancy camera.)
REVIEW BY BADWOLF
A band whose time has come.
Those are the only words that suit Icelandic four-piece Sólstafir in 2014. Most musicians never achieve what I’ve witnessed this year in Sólstafir—a moment (well, series of moments) that seem like the culmination of disparate chains of events, causal and serendipitous. In short, a climax. The money shot, one that seems both cathartic and earned, not for Sólstafir’s listeners, but for the band themselves.
The band of black metal cowboys has made music for two decades in relative obscurity, at least in the United States. I first encountered the group while trawling message boards in college, ravenous for progressive metal and finding most of it lacking. Sólstafir were different. Their early tracks came via shady download sites in low bitrates, with files unable to properly display the accent marks in their song titles, but still I found myself enamored of their unique sound, a mix of atmospheric sludge and progressive black metal that strived for beauty, not abrasiveness. Since then the band became a perennial NCS favorite and inked a deal with Season of Mist records, who released their fourth album, Svartir Sandar to a wider audience. Still, conversationally, Sólstafir was a footnote in greater conversations, even though one of their songs debuted at #1 in Iceland.
On November 19, 2014, Jucifer, Ohlm, and New Bravado put on a show at the Headliner’s Music Hall in Louisville, Kentucky. Photographer Nik Vechery, whose work has accompanied show reviews at NCS on many past occasions, witnessed the destruction and documented what he saw in the photos you’re about to see.
We didn’t have any writers at this event, so the only written description we can provide is the message Nik sent along with the photos: ”It was a killer show. So damn loud I couldn’t hear the drums sometimes, hah.” As someone who has seen Jucifer before, I have a keen sense of what he means: Jucifer play with gut-liquifying levels of volume — and they do it really well. If you’ve never seen the rituals of this nomadic sludge metal death drone amplifier cult, you need to.
(We welcome our guest Jeff from the Life In the Vinyl Lane blog, who sent us this report on the Iceland Airwaves festival plus a few of his photos.)
“We are going to play a few songs about friendship and love… and hate! And the first song is about trucking.”
So began the set of Iceland’s heavy metal grandfathers, HAM. We are HAM!
It’s hard to believe that just yesterday I was in Reykjavik, Iceland, still in the afterglow of Iceland Airwaves 2014, and today I’m back in Seattle. Doing laundry and paying the bills that piled up while we were gone. How quickly things change.
If you’re not familiar with Airwaves, it’s a five-day music festival held in Reykjavik, a festival that covers just about the entire gamut of musical styles and genres, all seemingly, except country and jazz. It started in 1999 with a handful of bands playing in an airplane hanger and has morphed into a sprawling celebration of music spread out throughout downtown Reykjavik, featuring over 200 bands playing in every conceivable location – dedicated music venues, bars, clothing stores, hair salons, and a tent located outside a hot dog stand. You can’t walk a block without hearing live music. And it’s awesome.
(Our Nottingham-based writer Andy Synn ventured down to London to catch the Venereal Dawn Tour MMXIV and files this report, with video of the performances.)
From the moment it was announced, there really was no way I was going to miss this show. Two of my absolute favourite bands, Dark Fortress and Secrets of the Moon, along with one of this year’s best discoveries, the ineffable Schammasch, all on the same bill?
The fact that it was down in London, at The Underworld (a venue I’ve always loved) was both a blessing a curse, as it pretty much guaranteed a great sound and atmosphere for the night, but also necessitated leaving work early and making a three-hour (give or take) drive through the irritating London traffic.
Still, totally worth it.
(Austin Weber witnessed the live performances of Artificial Brain, Pyrrhon, and Gigan in Covington, Kentucky, on September 24, 2014, and provides this report and a big collection of photos.)
With this tour, three of the brightest and best modern American death metal bands have united to present one of the best tour lineups of the year — one with no crappy/boring support bands, and with each bringing a defined and unique identity to the table. All three share a similar convention-denying approach and an out-of-the-box nature.
So I made the hour-and-a-half, each way, trek to Covington, KY, near Cincinnati, to take in this most marvelous show. While I have often had Nik Vechery accompany me and take photos, I was unable to line that up, so I took the pictures as well. A few are scattered throughout the review, and the rest are collected at the end.
Unfortunately, the camera I borrowed from my roommate I had never used before, and due to putting Gigan up for the night on the evening preceding the show, I had no time to mess with various photo settings, exposure settings, and the like. So, while shooting the show I had fun going nuts switching up the ISO settings and varying the exposure speed to trippy effect, although I didn’t get as many pictures of Artificial Brain as I would have liked.
Still, I think I got some wild shots that express the energy and insanity of the bands who played. I missed most of the opening band, whose name I did not catch, so I focused on shooting and covering the bands who were touring. I was pleasantly surprised that the sound for the small venue in question, Backstage Cafe, was excellent and perfectly captured the spirit and vitality of all the bands present.
(Chicago-based NCS supporter and occasional scribe Leperkahn found himself in Paris just in time to catch part of the first Fall of Summer Open Air festival and provided us this report.)
As previously stated, my arse was lucky enough to be in Paris at the time set for the inaugural Fall of Summer Open Air. This new festival took place in Torcy, which is only a few kilometers outside of Paris, and accessible by a short 15-20 minute train ride from one of the downtown stations. Though I can’t speak from experience, this strikes me as a somewhat unique feature among most European festivals, which often require you to go much further away from such a large metropolitan area as Paris (or London or Berlin, for example). This also made my detour to the festival a plausible idea once I learned that schedules matched up – a 2-3 hour train or drive wouldn’t have been feasible given my schedule with school.
Anyway, enough about my boring details. Long story short, getting from my dorm to the campsite and festival was surprisingly easy, and provided one entirely unexpected surprise.
After I arrived at the Torcy train station, I had to take a bus to get a little closer to the site. Also on the same bus over was none other than Attila Csihar, of legendary black metal band Mayhem. In a moment that should probably have revoked my metal cred eternally, I didn’t recognize him at all, and only learned who he was after someone asked how his band was doing (which I learned was Mayhem) and then again when yet another person positively identified him as Attila. Regardless, he was a pretty nice guy (and a fast walker – I probably made the trek to the other side of the lake twice as fast by trying to keep up with him).
(In this post our man in the UK, Andy Synn, reviews a live September 4 performance in Islington by the collaboration between Devin Townsend and Ché Aimee Dorval known as Casualties of Cool.)
Last Thursday I was lucky enough to see Casualties of Cool, the world’s finest proponents of Ambient Canadian Space-Country, perform a gorgeous, mesmerising set at The Union Chapel in Islington. And it’s taken me a while (I have been somewhat busy/ill in the intervening time) but I’ve finally got round to penning some thoughts about the experience.
To start with, for those of you who don’t know, the venue itself is pretty magical, a beautifully apportioned and enclosed chapel with rows of pews on ground level before the stage (and pulpit) and several more on balconies up above. The stained glass windows and hanging wrought-iron chandeliers add a touch of weight and worth to the surroundings, while the candles flickering in alcoves in each overhang only enhance the warmth and beauty of the place.
When it came to the show itself… well, there’s a reason this was sold under the title Casualties of Cool, and not under Devin’s own name. Because for once this really wasn’t a Devin Townsend show.
(In this post Andy Synn reviews a live performance from September 3 in Derby, England.)
I kind of knew already this was going to be a good night, even before setting foot out the door. For one thing I have never, ever, seen a bad Unearth show — the Massachusetts maulers always bring it hard and hit that sweet spot between metal and core every time. Plus The Hairy Dog is a great venue, both sound and layout wise (and the fact that I wasn’t driving, so could enjoy a few beers, definitely helped too!).
But what would really make the evening special, and a tad bittersweet, was the fact that this would be potentially my last chance to see Shadows Fall live, as the band have announced they are going on an extended hiatus from touring. And, you see, Shadows Fall have been one of my favourite bands ever since I caught them supporting Kittie in Manchester back in February 2002, long before the release of The Art of Balance brought them to the attention of the metal-loving public at large, so this show really would mark, in many ways, the end of an era for me.
(Gemma Alexander is a Seattle-based writer and NCS fan who visited Iceland in the fall of 2012 during the Iceland Airwaves festival and was generous enough to send us interviews with such bands as Angist, Beneath, Kontinuum, Sólstafir, Gone Postal, and Skálmöld. In July of this year she returned to Iceland for the Eistnaflug metal and rock festival (“Eistnaflug” being Icelandic for “flying testicles”), and we are once again the beneficiary of her writing. Today we present Part 2 of a three-part report on the festival, illustrated with Gemma’s own photos. Visit her own excellent blog here and check out more of her reporting on the festival at KEXP’s web site. Part 1 of her report for us is here and Part 2 is here.)
For the few of us who bothered with the hours before – or even slightly after – noon on Saturday, the desperate drunkenness of Friday night had given way to a comfortable morning buzz. Fewer than two dozen made it to the first show of the day at 1 p.m., AMFJ.
Which was too bad. Aðalstein Motherfucking Jörundsson is one barefoot guy at a little table in the middle of the floor. There wasn’t much to see, but there was a lot to hear. The set started out doomy and moved into a rave-worthy beat supporting vocals distorted beyond recognition. It was some killer industrial noise.
(Gemma Alexander is a Seattle-based writer and NCS fan who visited Iceland in the fall of 2012 during the Iceland Airwaves festival and was generous enough to send us interviews with such bands as Angist, Beneath, Kontinuum, Sólstafir, Gone Postal, and Skálmöld. In July of this year she returned to Iceland for the Eistnaflug metal and rock festival (“Eistnaflug” being Icelandic for “flying testicles”), and we are once again the beneficiary of her writing. Today we present Part 2 of a three-part report on the festival, illustrated with Gemma’s own photos. Visit her own excellent blog here and check out more of her reporting on the festival at KEXP’s web site. Part 1 of her report for us is here.)
The second day of Eistnaflug began at noon with sets from Pink Street Boys and Oni. I, on the other hand, began less ambitiously, arriving at the venue after 2 p.m. I don’t know anything about the first band, but was sorry to have missed the sludgy, Neskaupstaður-based Oni.
The first band I saw on Friday was In the Company of Men. Billed as mathcore, the effect was individuals doing their own thing in the company of others. But they each went to eleven with it, and maybe my math isn’t very good.
I had heard that Morð (“murder” in Icelandic) was divisive in the local black metal community. In the event, I couldn’t really see what was so unorthodox. Was their corpse paint all wrong, or was it a slight tendency to slip into groove? Whether tr00 or transgressive, Morð put on a good show.