Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Valdur Interview II

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. One of the best kept secrets of the USBM scene is the existence of Valdur. Haunting, icy cold black metal with speed, melody, and riffs, this is a band that should be within every metalhead’s sphere of consciousness. I keep a close eye on the band’s goings on, and Valdur have recently released a 7” single, Demon Wisdom.

In addition, with a new full-length imminent, the time was ripe to get an update from drummer Lord Sxuperion…

1) What label is releasing the new 7” single, and in what format, or formats?

Greetings, sir! Good to hear from you. The new 7" is available only on vinyl and was made possible by Mr. Satan's Might through Cult of the Horns. Pressed to 300 copies…released in March, 2010.

2) How can listeners obtain the new single?

A few ways, it is possible, yes…. directly from I believe that Relapse has some copies, as well? We will also have some available on tour this July…

3) Describe the upcoming full-length album. Does the album have a title?

The album is titled Raven God Amongst Us after the song off of our previous split CD with Lightning Swords of Death… although we did not re-record that song for this album. We just felt that naming the album after that song was the correct way for us to allow all of the pieces of the puzzle to fall into place as we move forward. I am not really sure as to how I can describe it though. It is how and what it should be…. we are pleased, and that is what matters…yes?

4) When can we expect a release?

The release date is July 9th…. but we leave for the east coast on the 13th of July. So for a couple of weeks, they will only be available at our live shows.

5) What label will be releasing the album?

The next full length will be released on my label BloodyMountainRecords. Although there are some other labels interested in this release, we need to get this out now and have it be available immediately for our shows out east… for now, it is on BloodyMountain.

6) Have you selected cover art and a design layout for the album?

Yes. The cover art was done by Hal at Rotting Graphics. He plays in Slaughterbox as well as Killgasm. Hal's work is killer so it was an obvious choice. The layout was done by me with help from the other band members…. as well as an image given to us by our friend Neil that is the inner gatefold image.

7) How difficult is putting an album together given your rather remote location in the eastern Sierras?

Well, it is a process. We rehearse very often in the Bloody Mountain Bunker, and many of our songs have been recorded and produced here. But for this upcoming full length, we decided to travel down south into the city to record with J. Haddad at Trench Studio. It has been very costly and time consuming for us, as everything was done on our own and out of our own pockets, but we feel that it was worth it.

8) Are there any plans to tour to support the new album?

We leave for the northeast of the U.S. on the 13th of July. ...and we are going out on our own…..hey!

Thank you for your time!

…Dave! Thank you……

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Skull at The Empty Bottle for Eyehategod!

Bands: Eyehategod, Nachtmystium, Plague Bringer, Strong Intention, and Weekend Nachos

Venue: The Empty Bottle, Chicago, Illinois

Date: June 19th, 2010

By: Skull

“Being quite used to shaking off my buzz and burning the midnight oil while trying to immediately purge memories from a night of live metal, I am somewhat not used to rehashing a couple of days removed. Considering my altered state last Saturday night at the Eyehategod show at The Empty Bottle, I ask for your patience, and maybe even a willingness to turn a blind eye to whatever mistakes or foggy recollections are haphazardly documented in this entry.

Arriving 15 minutes before the scheduled start of the first set, which is horrendously late for me, my lady Kelly and I popped into the adjacent “The Bite Café” for yet another go at their incredible green curry chicken dish. Yes, every single time I hit The Empty Bottle for a show, you will again hear me praise this culinary wonder.

Making our entrance to the club shortly thereafter, we snagged a drink (the first of many) and took a spot towards the back for the first set from up and coming hardcore enthusiasts Weekend Nachos. I was surprised that The Empty Bottle was already more than half full, and the crowd was collecting up close to the stage. WN kicked into a short set of high energy, sludge spattered hardcore with reckless abandon. It took a couple of numbers for me to warm up to them, but the crowd was already well versed and familiar with the guys, giving them a great response. I’m not sure if my eyes were playing tricks on me, but I could swear I saw Snyder, their amusing vocalist, check on his cell phone towards the end of the set. I’ve never seen that done before on stage. Awesome.

After a curiously long changeover, and another barley pop later, Strong Intention, a trio from Maryland (?), began their slot. The crowd gave them a wide berth, giving the appearance that they shared my unfamiliarity with the band. I could swear that I heard SI play the first song three times over before they opened up and showed a little more diversity. Playing, at times, a seriously fast mix of hardcore, crossover, and grind, I found myself enjoying the second half of their performance a bit more than the first. The growing crowd, not as enthused as they were with WN, also became more responsive and did give them a more than polite round of applause as SI started breaking down their set.

Smoke. Drink.

Now, Anal Cunt had originally been in the evening’s lineup, and were removed a week or so before the show. I do not know the reason why, but it must have been an act of god (editor: ?), because what we witnessed for the next 40 minutes or so truly blew my mind. Another local act, Plague Bringer, took the stage and captivated the mob with a short set of heavy, riff laden industrial grind. Absorbing the two man act with Greg on guitar and Josh sticking to incredible shrieking vocals backed up by programmed drumming and droning effects, I stood aghast as my jaw hit the floor. Extremely focused on their art, PB gained our full attention and never lost it.

For their last number (“One into Parts,” a yet to be released track), Plague Bringer brought up Mark Solotroff, a prominent figure from the Chicago Industrial/Electronica music scene to assist with vocals. He carried with him a hand held synthesizer that couldn’t have been larger than an iPhone. At first, I thought that it was a camera and he was capturing his viewpoint on video, but I learned later that he was actually contributing something to their overwhelming sound with it. His initial moaning and clean vocal style was in stark contrast, but also very complimentary, to Josh’s delivery. The collaboration was nothing less than amazing. Plague Bringer could have played that one cut alone and I would still have felt the satisfaction of a complete set. As they began breaking down to a generous ovation, I must have looked like I had just seen a ghost. Speaking briefly with Greg later in the evening, I found out that they are in between labels with new material to release.

After stepping outside for yet another carcinogenic fix, we noticed that the club had posted a “Sold Out” sign at the door. The place was now jam-packed for Nachtmystium. Still getting a decent spot, we were then treated to an exceptional set by Blake Judd and company. Playing with ferocity and drive, they killed their home fans with an onslaught of selections from their repertoire. Losing the bass due to a broken string during “A Seed for Suffering”, they still pulled it off professionalism and poise. The new material went over well, although they omitted the curious “No Funeral” from their set list. I was very interested as to what the crowd reaction would have been if they had pulled that one out. Closing up with “One of These Nights/ Assassins,” Nachtmystium left the stage to a huge amount of appreciative applause. My only complaint was that they didn’t have more time.

Returning back inside after another butt, we soon realized our outdoor expedition was ill-advised this time around for there was almost literally nowhere for us to stand to see one of the main pioneers of sludge. Our backs were practically pressed up to the soundboard wall as Eyehategod took to the stage and ripped into “Depress,” kicking off their journey back in time covering “In the Name of Suffering” in its entirety. What can one say about witnessing such a grand event? I sit at the keyboard with almost still hands. Especially since I turned on to EHG later in life, and also due to alcohol poisoning and sheer ignorance, I cannot even account an accurate summation of what they played.

EHG completely saturated the multitudes with filth. Patton’s and Bower’s skull crushing riffs flattened the crowd while Williams’ unique vocal style, and humor, entertained and pumped us up. The floor in front of the stage was a sea of movement with people banging their heads, while also sustaining a pit despite the sheer density of concertgoers that should have prevented it. Head surfing and some stage diving developed, as well, as EHG moved on from their debut full length into a montage of selections from other releases.

There are no highlights, in a manner of speaking, due to the fact that EHG simply did not loosen their grip on Chicago for the entire length of the set. Due to my state of semi-inebriation at the time, I can’t even give you an estimate of the length of EHG’s set, except that it was a good long while. EHG left us tattered and shaken, but craving more. Before leaving the stage, Williams plugged the following night’s return of EHG to The Empty Bottle. Sadly, I would not be able to attend due to holiday obligations, although my mind would spend the entire day trying to unsuccessfully scheme my way around it…”

Skull's pics and video (EHG)...

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Friday, June 25, 2010

The reference...

The Pillars of Creation have graced a couple of album covers over the last few years, most notably Worlds Beyond the Veil by Mithras (actually, the Mithras cover is a composite) and Pillars of Creation by Razor of Occam.

The Pillars of Creation are most well known from a world famous Hubble Space Telescope (HST) image from 1995. The image shows the inner heart of the cavernous Eagle Nebula in the constellation Serpens Cauda. An example of a dark/ emission nebula complex, the Eagle Nebula is a famous star forming region in our galaxy. The Pillars are sculpted towers of dust and gas being evaporated from the stars forming within, as well as from the wind generated by newly born stars in the open cluster nearby (to the upper right side of the Pillars in the ground-based image below).

The Eagle Nebula is part of a larger complex called M16, which includes the small open cluster of newborn stars from an earlier epoch in the region’s history. The open cluster is also classified as NGC 6611, and the nebula as IC 4703. “M” stands for Charles Messier, an 18th century French astronomer who compiled a catalogue of bright nebulae and star clusters while hunting for comets. Ironically, Messier was not at all interested in these fuzzy objects; he just didn’t want to confuse them with comets.

“NGC” stands for New General Catalogue, a much larger catalogue of nebulae, galaxies (we now know today), and star clusters compiled in the late 19th century. “IC” stands for Index Catalogue, which serves as a supplement to the New General Catalogue. Although these catalogues predate much of what is now known about these objects, the designations are still used today by amateur and professional astronomers alike.

The HST image, as famous as it is, is actually a false color image used to enhance contrast amongst the nebula’s different regions. The ground-based image is closer to the actual color of the region in visible wavelengths. For more on the color details, see here.

Finding M16 is rather easy to do from a dark sky site. Here’s how to do so. First, the sky dome below shows the evening sky after dusk during late June/ early July for 40° North Latitude from the Northern Hemisphere (the chart can be easily used for all of the mid-latitudes, however). To use this dome, print it out and hold it overhead while facing South. The bottom of the page will be pointing South, as well. The “Teapot” from Sagittarius at the bottom (South) is pretty easily found, as each star in the Teapot is bright enough to see, even from a city.

Second, use the chart below to locate M16, which is North (above) of the Teapot’s spout. From a dark sky site, you’ll see a few fuzzy splotches (the brightest of which is M8, the Lagoon Nebula) in this direction. The Eagle Nebula is one of the northernmost splotches in this vicinity.

The open cluster can be seen with binoculars, but the nebula is quite dim. A telescope is necessary to see the nebulosity, which will appear grey/ green to your eye. A huge jump in telescope aperture is needed to begin to see the Pillars themselves.

Observers near the Equator will see the Teapot nearly overhead, and Southern Hemisphere observers will see the Teapot upside down and to the North. A useful resource to consult for easy to use Sky Dome charts is Skymaps.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Skull Reviews Beyond the Lighted Stage

Rush Beyond the Lighted Stage

By: Skull

I have been eagerly awaiting the release of Beyond the Lighted Stage, Sam Dunn’s Rush documentary for quite some time since I heard of its existence. It’s about damn time someone got around to chronicling the history of such an influential band on film. It’s been long overdue.

I had no solid plans to see the film on the big screen, but decided on a whim during dinner with friends to see if we could get into the 10:00pm showing. We arrived 15 minutes ahead of time to find a packed theater. We had to split the group up, and a friend and I ended up in the far corner of the last row up in the rafters. How appropriate.

I was entranced by Beyond the Lighted Stage, which started out with a chronicling of the early lives of Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson as the children of poor, immigrant parents. Geddy’s parents were Holocaust survivors, and he suffered bullying and ridicule for being a part of the Jewish minority in town. Both Geddy and Alex had an early love for music, and finagled guitars out of their parents for good grades and good behavior.

Already good friends at the time, they joined forces with a drummer for a small gig earning them ten bucks total and the legend began. Clips ensue of other small performances in the pitiful local circuit, one at a secondary school (not even a high school) showing the 5-8th graders trying to clap along with confused looks on their faces. Other clips of small gigs were captured, and there was even footage of a meeting with Alex, his parents, and school authorities discussing his wish to drop out of high school. Where the Hell did Dunn dig this stuff up?

After covering the struggles over getting their first, self-titled album recorded and the difficulties involved in promoting the album, the film moves on to the expulsion (resignation?) of original drummer John Rutsey. Soon after, the recruitment of percussion wizard Neil Peart (who would soon take over lyric writing duties, as well) is covered with only two weeks to go before touring.

With all of the pieces now in place, the film continues with tales of rigorous touring in support of bands such as Uriah Heap and Kiss, as well as the releases of “Fly by Night” and “Caress of Steel.” The latter album was a huge sales disappointment for the record company, which almost spelled the end of Rush. “Caress of Steel” set Rush back, as they watched the crowds for shows slowly diminish. Deciding to go out with a bang, they spewed out “2112” with their last breath, throwing their hearts and souls into it. Frankly, the trio didn’t care who liked it, or whether or not it would achieve any success. Anyone who knows anything about Rush doesn’t need an explanation of what happened next.

Beyond the Lighted Stage enlists the help of musicians and entertainers such as Gene Simmons, Billy Corgan, Jack Black, Trent Reznor, Kirk Hammett, and others for praise and stories of how their careers and styles were influenced by Rush. All the while, the film continues with an album by album timeline with insights and memories from the trio along the way. Concert and music video footage abounds, as well, but, unfortunately, no songs are played in entirety. Changes in direction by the band, such as the shift between “Hemispheres” and “Permanent Waves,” are thoroughly explained.

The telling of their shifting of styles, music, and aesthetics throughout the ‘80s just glided effortlessly and enjoyably past my eyes. Depictions of inner struggles occur as keyboards and synthesizers began to overpower (“Moving Pictures” through “Hold Your Fire”) their sound. Alex, in particular, was angered by these events, causing him to redefine his place of importance within the trio as a guitarist. Limping through two lackluster, but more back to basics releases “Presto” and “Roll the Bones," Rush redefined themselves with “Counterparts,” turning back to the heavier, power trio mentality and style. One listen of the first track, “Animate,” leaves no room for doubt.

Neil Peart’s debilitating personal tragedies suffered after “Test for Echo” are also covered, as is his reaction of hitting the road on his motorcycle to escape and attempt to run from his pain. Geddy and Alex, considerately, put everything on hold, and even considered calling it quits, as they patiently waited for his return. After a 5-year hiatus, the band reunited and released “Vapor Trails” (a personal favorite of mine), and moved on to record and distribute “Snakes & Arrows."

All in all, this is a fantastic documentary and a true gift for anyone who “gets” Rush. The only disappointments were:

1) In all band interview segments, Alex and Geddy are together but Neil is separate; that is, until the very end when all three are together drinking wine. They are obviously shitfaced but teasing, laughing, and enjoying themselves. This really should have been no surprise, though, because Lee and Lifeson will always consider Peart to be the “New Guy.” There are clips of the three of them loosening up, joking around, and getting psyched up before shows in the dressing rooms, though.

2) The use of fat, drunk, and talentless hack Sebastian Bach for some of the artist commentary. It’s akin to watching Ashton Kutcher give insight on the work of Marlon Brando.

Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed watching and the time passed way too quickly. Rush are without a doubt one of the most influential rock bands in history and, whether one wishes to admit it or not, had a huge impact on the development of and evolution of Heavy Metal.

One of their biggest road blocks as a growing band was a lack of mainstream popularity. This was caused because nobody knew how to define, or classify Rush as a band. This is, and will always be, impossible because Rush successfully and unknowingly created their own, one-band genre. No other band is, or can be like them. They are simply Rush and nothing else.

Dunn does an incredible job with this picture in encapsulating the fact that, although Neil, Alex, and Geddy are masters at their craft and true professionals, they are also just three regular guys doing the best they can. And although they are a very serious band, they never make the mistake of actually taking themselves too seriously. Laughs flourish throughout the film, stemming from stills of the band in various get ups, self admitted train wrecks of style experimentation, jokes amongst themselves, and good natured ribbing from their musical comrades regarding their nerdiness and inability to score with chicks on the road even when they were practically falling in their laps.

I highly recommend Beyond the Lighted Stage to anyone from the casual listener to the devoted Rush fan such as myself. It’s a “can’t miss,” is well worth the two hours of time invested, and will make you think, reflect, and admire long after it’s finished.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Exodus and Heathen Bring the House Down...

Bands: Exodus, Heathen, and Bonded By Blood

Venue: The Key Club, West Hollywood, California

Date: June 11th, 2010

Exodus just recently completed three record release parties/ shows in support of their new full-length entitled Exhibit B: The Human Condition on Nuclear Blast Records. One of the shows was last Friday night at the Key Club, and I was able to attend. For a full report of the show, see here.

Here are the pics...

Bonded By Blood



The t-shirt haul...

The video...

Bonded By Blood



Not too sure what's next, perhaps...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Odds and ends...

The semester is drawing to a close, and crunch time is upon me at work; hence, the dearth of posts lately. Besides completing the mad scramble of my end of the year paperwork, I’m leading 150 unruly seniors through the glorious details of the Michelson- Morley experiment, time dilation/ length contraction, and relativistic energy.

I’m also trying to wade through a sea of mediocre to decent releases for review purposes. I’ve run across a few good albums, but, nothing of late has really connected in an overly emotional way. Hopefully, that will change as the buzz surrounding some imminent albums has been building.

To combat the stress, and the boredom that I’ve experienced with albums lately, I escaped to the Paso Robles/ Central Coast viticulture scene last weekend. On California Highway 46 west of U.S. 101 sits the tasting room of Four Vines, one of the few wineries that I am still a member of since the economy tanked.

Besides great wine, mostly Zinfandel, Grenache, and a few related blends, Four Vines is a winery with a noted lack of pretension, and a vibe that metalheads can enjoy. Tasting room music (usually classical, which is fine at most wineries, if anything at all) at Four Vines consists of Metallica, AC/ DC, and that sort of thing. The décor is also slightly risqué, as demonstrated by the tasting room and barrel room pictures below...

I reconnected with the universe at Mt. Pinos last night (after hitting the Exodus/ Heathen show the previous evening; review will be posted soon), something that I haven’t discussed here, with my Meade telescope. Mt. Pinos is a well-known amateur astronomy observing site north of Los Angeles, and it had been awhile since I had last been there.

Here’s my setup (I've since sold the white refractor) and an observing list from last night for those of you into astronomy. My plan is to finally upgrade my Meade with a CCD camera in the near future…

M27 (Dumbbell Nebula)
M57 (Ring Nebula)
M51 (Whirlpool Galaxy)
M104 (Sombrero Galaxy)
M64 (Black Eye Galaxy, album cover)
M87 (giant elliptical galaxy with jet)
M86 and the Markarian's Chain region
M97 (Owl Nebula)
M16 (Eagle Nebula with the Pillars of Creation)
M17 (Omega/ Swan Nebula)
NGC 4631 (Whale Galaxy)
NGC 6960 (Veil Nebula)
NGC 6543 (Cat's Eye Nebula, album cover)
Albireo (beautiful blue/ gold binary star)
Gamma Virginis (beautiful binary that is difficult to split)
Epsilon Lyrae (brilliant white binary, actually four stars; also known as the Double- Double)
M44 (Beehive Cluster)
NGC 7000 (North American Nebula)

The soundtrack...

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