Saturday, December 31, 2011

Chris' take on 2011

Best Albums of 2011

By: Chris Davison

2011 has been a tricky year for me as a reviewer, with some great amounts of intrusion from the world of academia and obtaining my post-grad; and upheavals in the work environment, with two new posts in the last twelve months. This issues aside, it's been a year during which although I have had to slow the pace of my reviews, I have never the less had the great privilege to hear some fairly astonishingly good new bands. I present the top ten below: with the proviso that I write for another website on the internet, and I will doubtless present a similar but different top ten for them, as every time I sit down to write them, they tend to come out slightly different!

10. Vallenfyre A Fragile King – A band featuring members of Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride but playing intensely personal songs about death and loss of a father in the vein of early Swedish heavy metal and Autopsy ? Like a romp through my favourite genres.

9. Cathedral Anniversary The (long awaited) live album that serves as the penultimate release of one of my favourite bands of all time. A magnificent recording, a brilliant set list and a fitting tribute to the twilight of my idols.

8. Landmine Marathon Gallows – Continuing in their utter adoration for the classic era of Earache Records death metal roster, Landmine Marathon continued to provide memorable slabs of extremity for the discerning listener.

7. Ghost Brigade Until Fear No Longer Defines Us – Though I LOATHE the term “post-metal,” this is a fantastic, moody and melancholic album that continues the brilliant work of Ghost Brigade in marrying introspective, atmospheric dark rock with extreme metal.

6. Primordial Redemption At The Puritan's Hand – While not quite as excellent as the preceeding two releases, Primordial still showed that they are still leagues ahead of their peers with this towering album of darkened folk metal.

5. Portrait Crimsen Laesae Majestatis Divinae – You like Mercyful Fate. I like Mercyful Fate. That is, until Mercyful Fate reunited and became awful. Now we have Portrait, and that issue is defunct.

4. Macabre Grim Scary Tales – The original murder metal band are back, and how, with more jam-packed dark tales of mayhem and black-humoured tales to crimes most horrid.

3. The Meads Of Asphodel The Murder Of Jesus The Jew – Psychadelic, strange, out-there and quintessentially odd. This was The Meads at their most bombastic, controversial and eclectic.

2. Stuka Squadron Tales Of The Ost – Mix in the brilliant themes of long-(un)dead comic strip “Fiends of the Eastern Front” from 2000ad, equal parts classic Iron Maiden, Dio and Lizzy-esque guitar duelling, and you have this – easily the most fun heavy metal album of the year.

1. The Rotted Ad Nauseum – Filthy, drunk on cheap cider, punked-up death metal extremity done the egregiously English way. More than the some of their parts, this placed Discharge, Motorhead, Napalm Death and (of course) Gorerotted into a blender with cheap cleaning alcohol, and came up with a vintage brew.

Stinker of the year:

A harder one to find just one release for, actually, given that there has been a large number of disappointments. I could wax lyrical about how soul-crushingly mediocre the new Crowbar album was. I could go on for hour after hour about how The Haunted seem to have given up any hope of ever releasing another quality thrash metal album. (PROTIP: You need to get Marco Aro back in the fold, Björlers). My Dying Bride's Evinta was an exercise in utterly unlistenable vanity that was only eclipsed by the WTF-car-crash-on-steroids of “Lutallica.”

The absolute prize for terrible album of the year, however? The execrable sonic torture that has been unleashed unto the intertubes by Morbid Angel – an album so dreadfully awful that it sounded like the worst off-cuts from the Domination album interspersed with the worst aspects of the Earache Records brief dalliance with “gabba” and “powerviolence” back in the mid to late nineties. “I'm Morbid / Morbid / Won't be thwarted.” Oh, dear.

Oh well, 2012 here we come...I'm hoping to up the work rate again on reviews, for you, our most adored readership.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Cathedral Anniversary

Cathedral Anniversary

(Rise Above)

By: Chris Davison

Such a bittersweet pain, is writing this review! Cathedral were one of the first doom bands that I really got into during my university days, and they have never failed to entertain me, nor indeed to plough their own furrow. The band have been massively influential on any number of bands, and have refused to be pigeonholed by the narrow genre constrictions sometimes imposed by the more po-faced of the doom-metal “elite;” a curious sub-race of armchair critics and keyboard warriors dictating their own spurious rules on what is, or is not, quality doom metal. Having announced that they would record one final album in 2012, this live album – a funeral celebration of their past work – was recorded at the Islington Academy.

Essentially paying homage to all of their fans, the set list comprises of their first (and almost universally lauded) album Forest Of Equilibrium, and then a number of songs from the remainder of their albums, during which time they were either derided as doom heretics for the increasing amounts of film samples and schlocky content of their lyrics, or applauded for their willingness to take doom metal away from po-faced conceptions of gazing miserably at old stone monuments and endlessly re-hashing Black Sabbath riffs. I think it is fairly clear that while I acknowledge the amazing amount of influence the Forest... album had, I generally prefer their mid-to-late period.

The Forest... material is played with complete straight faced reverence, with a warts-and-all production sound that showcases just how much heavier Cathedral always are in the live environment than on record with the particularly crushing bass work of Leo Smee and effortless axe smithery of Gaz Jennings gelling perfectly with the classic rock drum work of Brian Dixon, and the ape-like yowls of Mr Lee Dorrian on vocals. The bottom end heavy production accentuates the innate heaviness of tracks like “Serpent Eve,” which takes on a gargantuan, titanic stomp to its sound on this album.

After the reverential run through of their initial album, the fun can really begin, however. I defy any sane metal fan not to enjoy the faux-funk-as-channelled-through-Witchfinder-General romp of “Midnight Mountain,” which is so bass heavy and groove-laden here, it should be renamed “Midnight Mounting.” “Carnival Bizarre” continues to impress, with a perfect melding of mid-paced classic metal stomping riff, progressive leanings and a crystal clear production that manages to show the tightness of a band that has been together for so many years. “Corpsecyle,” a seemingly upbeat track that talks about the zombiefication of the 9 to 5 grind shows how astonishingly complex Cathedral were at their best – managing to combine extremity, hook-laden song writing and clever lyrical content.

As a “best of”, of course, this album doesn't quite make it, as 2004's The Serpent's Gold manages to capture most of their classic material, along with a host of hard-to-find demo versions and off cuts, but as a perfect capture of the Cathedral Live experience? I honestly don't think there could have been a more apt tribute to the dying days of the true giants of doom metal.

In summary: get it.

Cathedral MySpace

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Esoteric Paragon Of Dissonance

Esoteric Paragon Of Dissonance

(Season Of Mist Records)

By: Chris Davison

Shamefully, as the resident doom-head around these here parts – and even more to the point, a Brit, to boot, I haven't heard any Esoteric before. As it goes, Esoteric are a long serving outfit from jolly ol' Albion, (well, in this case, not so jolly), who have been plying their unique brand of miserablism since 1992. As this is my first foray into their catalogue, I won't be able to talk with any confidence about how it stacks up to their other releases, of course, but perhaps I will be better placed to give an objective opinion about the album.

Paragon Of Dissonance is a full on, double CD voyage into the very heart of doom. Represented here for your listening displeasure are wrought, emotional journeys into descending to the absolute nadirs of misery and despair. The slow, languid voyages through landscapes constructed from slowly strangled riffs, echoing, deep vocals and the occasional false hope of the cymbals accompanying the funereal drum beat will transport your psyche to places that it does not entirely wish to be. Compared to this opus, My Dying Bride sound like they play upbeat Europop, such is the relentless atmosphere of utter and complete hopelessness and despair. Each song literally crawls along, with the components of the track accompanied by some tasteful and not overpowering electronic keyboards. Each injured anthem staggers onwards like it has had its back broken, and is being forced towards some extremely distant finishing line.

If all of this sounds like the painful opposite of fun, then I have done my job accurately in reflecting what Paragon Of Dissonance is; a gut-wrenching journey into the opposites of positivity and hope. The massive production does provide punch and clarity to the sound, which for the record, sounds absolutely terrifying on headphones.

As 2012 approaches and as I am supposed to be thinking ahead and planning for all of the false life-affirming lies that I will inevitably tell myself, Esoteric have produced the brilliant sound of the bleak depression that lies behind a raging hangover. Bold and horribly cathartic.

Esoteric MySpace

Friday, December 23, 2011

Best of the Year, 2011

This year saw me create not one, but two “best of the year” lists at Chad asked me to select the ten best albums that I covered for the Dave’s Underground Laboratory column in addition to a normal “best of the year” list for the site. I limited the first list to releases covered within my weekly column, and the other list basically consists of everything else. Of the two lists, if I had to choose a top album for the year, that album would definitely be Ominous Doctrines Of The Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm by Inquisition (I’ll ignore the whole “release date” controversy). Close seconds would be the albums from Atriarch, Disma, and Obsequiae. After that, the order starts to get a bit fuzzy, and I did not really try to place the albums in a definite semblance of order. Near misses would be albums from Antediluvian and Krisiun. The best EP, which I neglected to mention on the “formal” list, would be Providence by Immolation.

So, it is what it is. Here’s the list from Dave’s Underground Laboratory (officially published here).

Valedictorian: Atriarch Forever The End

Salutatorian: Obsequiae Suspended In The Brume Of Eos

Phi Beta Kappa: Acephalix Interminable Night, Vastum Carnal Law, Craft Void, Jungle Rot Kill On Command, Nightbringer Hierophany Of The Open Grave, Aosoth III, Ravencult Morbid Blood, Taake Noregs Vaapen

Here’s the “formal” list (officially published here).

Top Five Albums of the Year

1) Inquisition Ominous Doctrines Of The Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm
2) Disma Towards The Megalith
3) Glorior Belli The Great Southern Darkness
4) Blut Aus Nord 777- The Desanctification
5) Avichi The Devil’s Fractal

Label of The Year (tie): Hell’s Headbangers Records/ I, Voidhanger Records
Best Heavy Metal Book: Metalion: The Slayer Mag Diaries by Jon Kristiansen
Best DVD: Cannibal Corpse Global Evisceration
Best Concert: (three way tie) Acephalix/ Undergang at The Blvd., Dodsferd et al at The Black Castle, and Impetuous Ritual/ Ritual Necromancy/ Grave Upheaval at Five Stars Bar
Best Newcomer: Acephalix
Best Comeback: Autopsy
Most Overrated Album: Liturgy Aesthethica
Most Underrated Album: Ravencult Morbid Blood
Album from late last year that deserved to be on last year’s list: Necrite Sic Gloria Transit Mundi
Albums that I absolutely refuse to listen to: Metallica/ Lou Reed Lulu and Morbid Angel Illud Divinum Insanus
Man of the Year: Joey Belladonna
In Memoriam: Michael “Würzel” Burston

Special thanks to Stephannie for putting up with my obsession, Cosmo Lee, Skull, Chris Davison, Strawb, Steve Green, Dave and Liz Brenner, Chad Bowar, Josh Haun, Atanamar Sunyata, James Genenz, Tanner Anderson, Julian Hollowell, Ray Van Horn Jr., Nathan T. Birk, Kim Kelly, Chase at HHR, Chris at Profound Lore, Scott Alisoglu, Ryan Ogle, Ryan Feldman, Paula at Candlelight, Lauren at Season of Mist, Heidi Ellen- Fitzgerald Robinson, Mark at Prosthetic, Vince at Metal Blade, Charles Elliot, Calvin at Pulverised, Christina at Victory, Laura Christine, Betsey Cichoraki at Relapse, the guy at Heavy Artillery, Nikki at Century Media, Mark McKinney, Brian Rocha, Greg Robinson, Etan Rosenbloom, Dan Butler, Thor Ryen, Matthew Schott, William Ganley, Mike Abominator, Scott at Seventh Rule, Farron Loathing, Jeremy from LSOD, Chris Hatewar and his scraggly haired friend from Nokturne that always salutes me with a beer, the long bearded guy that I see at shows all the time, the girl with the camera that I see at shows all the time, the Eternal Roadie, my students for putting up with their weird physics teacher, anyone who plays in a metal band and has devoted their life to perpetuating this art form, anyone else that I forgot, and, last but certainly not least, you for stopping by! Cheers to you all!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

An ill advised pairing...

The pairing of metal and chistmas makes no sense whatsoever, never mind the religious fiasco involved. If there ever was a form of music that has nothing to do with traditional holidays (with the possible exception of pre-christian celebrations) metal is it.

Any attempt to inject metal into christmas (or vice versa) is an exercise in banality at best, or, at worst, a cash grab aimed at the most gullible of the metal listening audience. Surprisingly, metal’s most visible forays into christmas have occurred amongst the early black metal genre’s most revered artists, Venom and King Diamond.

After the release of At War With Satan early in 1984, the veneer of seriousness surrounding Venom began to slip away. During a time of endless assaults, Venom flirted with unintentional self parody with photo spreads in publications such as Kerrang! that were, shall we say, more than a little ridiculous. Leather shorts, examples of Abaddon sans glasses decked out in garland, ornaments and with a pensive look on his face (anyone have that shot? It’s from an old issue of Kerrang!), and you have all of the ingredients for a disaster.

Sure enough, disaster did, indeed occur with…

I suppose that none of this was all that shocking to British late night TV audiences, but to impressionable 16 to 17 year old youths living in the wilds of the Chicago suburbs (not to mention Bergen) that thought that Black Metal was the “be all, end all” of pure evil, this sort of self parody ruined whatever degree of credibility Venom still maintained. Confirmation of post- Possessed Venom’s descent into mediocrity occurred with…

Not to be outdone, rival King Diamond (always one to toe the line with silliness in his self titled, post- Mercyful Fate days) released his famous (or infamous) single No Presents For Christmas, a semi-serious song given some credit and weight, and, dutifully rolled out (guilty as charged) this time of year…

OK, the purpose of all of this exposition in a roundabout way is the recent appearance of not one, but two, christmas themed promos in my inbox. The first is essentially a parody within a parody within a parody, a new, three-song EP from Austrian Death Machine hilariously titled Jingle All The Way. Sporting perhaps the funniest album cover ever, you can’t help but laugh along at song titles such as “I Am Not A Pervert;” songs that hit the cultural bullseye with all of the subtlety of Arnold’s evocative performance in Commando. Not one, but two movies appear in a collision on the cover of this gem, T2 font and all, each used to maximum effectiveness.

No one should take any of the music belched out by Austrian Death Machine, a side project of As I Lay Dying, with any degree of seriousness, but Strawb takes one for the team and gives it his best shot. Me personally, I think that Austrian Death Machine should not consist of anything but big, stupid breakdowns, jock-fist pumping, samples, and Arnold impersonations. Anything else, such as real vocals (and this EP has plenty of that), and actual, full-length albums of original songs is a total waste of time.

Strawb says…

Austrian Death Machine Jingle All The Way

(Metal Blade Records)

Reviewed By: Strawb

“A certain ex-governor of California used to make movies. Some of them were absolute classics, and to this day, T2 is up there for consideration if I ever have to choose my “Desert Island Flicks.” Conan The Barbarian (editor: not Conan The Destroyer!) would be a rival though. But, for each of the classics we have the other extreme, say Raw Deal (editor: it’s not all that bad) and Red Sonja. Arnold even descended into a lower pit of Hell for his increasingly viewed upon with scorn and contempt audience with his rather futile attempts at comedy (editor: as a teacher, Kindergarten Cop resonates in a certain way, I must admit). But, towards the end of his film career, it did seem to be a case of ‘take the cash, sod the product.’

So, to summarize, the later the film, the less the action, and, with any move towards comedy, the worse the film. Therefore, it would only be logical to state that Jingle All The Way (the movie; that is) would be Arnie’s equivalent of wire brushed haemorrhoids covered in Jalapeno sauce. And so it proved.

I discovered Austrian Death Machine when reviewing a previous release by their nemesis in the field of Arnold-set-to-music, Arnocorps. Personal preference may pick one band over the other, but my conclusion was that an album by either was way too much to sit through, the poor vocal impersonations and Arnold themed songs becoming boring way before the end.

This release has addressed that point, as it is a three-track EP. Would this be brief enough to prevent musical narcolepsy? The opener, “I’m Not A Pervert” thrashes along full of sound and fury but signifying nothing but bombast. “It’s Turbo Time” is a much improved and more accomplished output; faster, much more intense and the best track here with the only aberration being the poor impression asking for the guitar solo.

Track three opens with the line, in full Arnold regalia, natch, “If you’re going to sound like Cookie Monster, then we may as well write a song about cookies!” As I recall, on the American side of the pond, Cookie Monster is a character on a children’s show (editor: yep). So, some sort of culture clash here, then? Arnie-thrash for infants would be a good recruitment idea for the army of metal, I suppose. Or, as copyright infringing crap for thirtysomethings who never grew up, not such a good idea. My rating of the track puts it firmly in the second category. Bah, Humbug, you might say.

If you fancy seasonal thrash/ metalcore based upon Schwarzenegger’s worst ever film, then this can be the only EP for you. I would be obliged if the rest of the world give it the wide berth it deserves and spend their money more wisely…”

Austrian Death Machine MySpace

I must say that I agree, as Jingle All The Way rapidly loses its luster after you finish laughing at the cover art.

Speaking of King Diamond, traditional metallers Holy Grail, a well regarded act from SoCal, have taken it upon themselves to cover “No Presents For Christmas” on their recently released Season's Bleedings (groan). Another holiday themed release, this time from Prosthetic Records, Season's Bleedings is a two-song EP. Done competently enough, Holy Grail cement their traditional chops with their rendition of Rainbow’s “Kill The King.” Not nearly as silly as Austrian Death Machine, Holy Grail wisely resist the temptation to indulge in self parody by maintaining a certain serious approach; albeit, with rather silly cover art.

Strawb also takes a look at this one in more detail…

Holy Grail Season's Bleedings

(Prosthetic Records)

Reviewed By: Strawb

"I am unaware of the beliefs of the other reviewers on this site, but I, for one, do not do christmas. I am not religious and once my daughter had grown up the commercial demand aspect seemed like something I could live without and so it proved. It may therefore seem strange that I have chosen to review a seasonal platter, but this came about when I internetted Holy Grail and listened to some of their output on line. “My Last Attack” particularly hit me; I played it three times. So, once I’d found a copy of Crisis In Utopia to buy, I thought I’d give this EP a try.

I purchased Rainbow Rising [on vinyl] when it was first released. Yes, I’m that old. I have played it ever since. I saw Rainbow live back in the day, and saw Dio for the last time with Heaven And Hell. Not my ultimate album, but always in my top ten.

Any long term reader of my reviews will know that I am not a fan of plagiaristic ‘cover’ albums.

It would seem then that Holy Grail are heading full speed towards a blind bend on a cliff road by opening this EP with “Kill The King.” But no, a handbrake turn combined with a Scandinavian flick ensures miraculous control to allow continuance of the journey. Holy Grail achieve this by paying necessary homage to a classic, but also by impregnating it with their own seed to damn near improve upon the original. From their own unique intro, to return to that which is familiar, but with speed variations and a new mix, this hits like a taser to the forehead. I look upon Dio, Blackmore, and Powell as the Metal Gods that they were, so I would submit that the Holy Grail players are somewhat inferior, but the combination of youth, drive, and modern technology gives them the edge in a number of areas. A masterpiece reborn.

“No Presents For Christmas” is a generous slab of traditional metal served with a seasonal sauce. Another cheeky opening, this time a basic track of “Pictures At An Exhibition” giving me a WTF moment, but also setting me up for an explosion of sound and yet another WTF moment. Guitars, drums, speed, repeat, and then let loose the hounds of Vocals. Even the slow cheesy part has merit. Again, the original King Diamond version is a classic for fans of that band, but the 25 year difference in production values gives Holy Grail the edge when this neutral is judging the contest.

And here I am, quite proud of the fact that I managed a review of a band called Holy Grail without a single Monty Python reference (except this one). Merde."

Holy Grail MySpace

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Sun Through A Telescope Summer Darkyard

The Sun Through A Telescope Summer Darkyard

(Handshake Inc./ Grindcore Karaoke)

Reviewed By: Strawb

“Not a good idea, looking at the Sun through a telescope (editor: I’ll elaborate at a later date as a few Sun related astronomical events are coming up in 2012). Well, if you value your sight, it isn’t. So, will listening to a band of the same name be any better of an idea?

Well, on grounds of cost, Summer Darkyard scores very highly. By clicking here you will find the option of a free download of the entire album. So, the question now is one of worth; dependent upon your tastes, of course. If you have a thing for one man drone / doom projects, especially those from Ottawa, Canada, then, it is time for you to fill your boots to the top. If, however, a seemingly random output of sounds over a progressive doom track is not your thing, then maybe you need to be looking elsewhere for your musical delights. A vocal contribution is there, Jon Anderson-esque in style if not in pitch, and the echo chamber is given a hammering.

Whilst I have some progressive based albums in my regularly played pile, the number of such themed albums which have passed me by is far, far greater. I do wonder if my substances of choice leave me missing the point of most of this genre, or if it is just the way my brain is wired up. At any rate, whatever the reason, whilst this offering is a well presented one, it fails my weird test and is not something I will return to anytime soon.”

The Sun Through A Telescope

My own personal take on Summer Darkyard is mixed, as well, as I find the quieter moments to be rather soothing, if ill formed. But, there are also moments where The Sun Through A Telescope segues into noise territory not unlike acts such as Gnaw Their Tongues; such moments leave me high and dry.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Strawb Returns!

Our good friend from across the pond Strawb returns with some reviews. First, he takes a gander at the new self titled, debut EP from California's Abnormal Thought Patterns (not exactly difficult to see where such a name comes from, now, is it?)

Take it away, Strawb!

Abnormal Thought Patterns Abnormal Thought Patterns

CynNormal Lab Recordings

Review By: Strawb

“Abnormal Thought Patterns are a long way from the mainstream, and at the time of writing, are unsigned. They describe their music as experimental metal/ progressive. This intriguing combination of a description was what first drew me to review this title – my daughter had introduced me to Agalloch recently, and they are similarly ambiguous in their self –description. I liked Agalloch, and I had hopes that Abnormal Thought Patterns would make the same impression.

If your liking is for long convoluted lyrics, or, any other form of verbosity at all, then this three-piece from Pleasanton, California, are not for you as this self titled EP is totally instrumental. And, in the way of prog, there is some musical skill on offer here. There is also a lot of noodling, a good amount of key changing, variations of pace, and thoughtful structure and composition.

Abnormal Thought Patterns opens with a burst of sound which would be suitable for one of the more obscure Sci-Fi shows out there before hitting the mark of classic prog. No element overpowers any of the others at any time and the blending is very good. “Velocity And Acceleration 1” immediately brought early Yes to mind; not in a plagiaristic way, but, in a heavily influenced one, instead, with heavier and more vicious drumming, and a faster and more maintained pace.

The transition into “Velocity And Acceleration 2” is noticeable, and the pace and thrust of the delivery rise at this point. A tad fluttery for my tastes in the last 20% or so of the song, and then blasts back as the song transitions to “Velocity And Acceleration 3.” The change to “Velocity And Acceleration 4” is not so smooth a transition, however, and, by now, I am looking slightly towards my watch for a change of title. Luckily, “...4” is relatively short and “Ulnar Nerve Damage” brings welcome variation for its full 51 seconds. “Electric Sun,” the closing track, does manage to stretch out to a massive five minutes 20 seconds, barely a key change in prog terms as it is.

Abnormal Thought Patterns will not be readily played by me on too many occasions, but, as a way for a band to put themselves on the map, the album has merit. If instrumental experimental prog is your game, then Abnormal Thought Patterns is definitely worth your time.”

Abnormal Thought Patterns Official MySpace

Thanks, Strawb! I must admit that I, somehwat surprisingly, liked this album quite a bit, and found the lack of vocals refreshing. The instrumental approach requires the utmost thought in songwriting, a trait that I find to be lacking in a lot of progressive technical death metal. I also found this album to be a nice complement to the new instrumental EP from Blotted Science, The Anatomy Of Entomology.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Eclipsed Moon

On December 11th, 2010, I enthusiastically wrote a post about the upcoming lunar eclipse of December 20th. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't cooperative as the Southern California coast was walloped by a huge storm that lasted for days, completely wiping out my view of the eclipse. My crop of learners in my "other life" were greatly disappointed, as was I.

Fast forward about one year later to December 10th, 2011, and the celestial alignment was just right for another lunar eclipse visible from the western portion of North America, as well as the Pacific region, Australia, and across eastern Asia.

Los Angeles was positioned to be able to catch the first half of the eclipse, as the Moon would set at sunrise while fully eclipsed. The Moon would begin to enter the Earth's umbra at 4:45am, PST, and be fully eclipsed at 6:05am. Sunrise would occur about 45 minutes later.

Last week, the weather in Southern California was fantastic with very clear skies and crisp, cool temperatures. Conditions were so good that, for three days in a row last week, I was able to easily see the Green Flash as the Sun set over the Pacific Ocean as seen from my town of Hermosa Beach.

Here's a shot from my Samsung Focus, taken last week, at just about the right moment (no magnification)...

At any rate, the early weather forecasts for Saturday, December 10th, were good; but, by late last week, forecasts were calling for some light clouds to move in Friday afternoon and into Saturday morning as a storm from the Gulf of Alaska is currently headed in our direction (moving in late tonight and into tomorrow as I write this post). I watched the Saturday forecasts with a little bit of uneasiness, but the forecasts did say that early morning would still be good. There were some high cirrus clouds in abundance as I set up my telescope on my deck after sunset on Friday, but the forecasts indicated clearing by about 4am or so on Saturday.

After the Moon rose on Friday evening, there was an easily seen Moon halo (due to ice crystals high in the Earth's atmosphere). The presence of a halo indicated that conditions would not be as transparent, or as clear as earlier in the week.

I awakened at 4:00am on Saturday. There were still a few scattered cirrus clouds about, but the sky was generally clear. A few cirrus clouds were present near the Moon until about 5:00am or so, but were never a big factor. I started observing the Moon through my 6" Dobsonian telescope at about 4:30am or so, as the Moon was deep into the earth's penumbra at this point. I started shooting pictures at about 4:40am or so, merely by using my Canon Power Shot through the eyepiece (the Moon is the only astronomical object where you can actually get away with this and produce good pictures).

A full Moon is not much to look at through a telescope, by the way, because the lighting is so flat. However, deep into the penumbra, the Earth is covering the Sun sufficiently such that the sunlight striking the Moon is coming from an asymmetrical light source; hence, you begin to see the Moon take on a three dimensional apperance. This picture shows the Moon just before it enters the umbra, which will appear from the lower right.

The Moon subsequently progressed into the umbra.

After the Moon was about halfway into the umbra, I started to adjust my camera's shutter speed, trying to capture the red light on the eclipsed portion of the Moon (caused by sunlight refracting through the Earth's atmosphere and subsequently striking the Moon).

Higher magnification

My video clips...


As the Moon was setting, dawn was progressing on the opposite side of the sky. The Moon became progressively harder to see and the sky was simply not transparent enough for me to be able to see the much heralded "selenehelion" event, a rarity. I lost track of the eclipsed Moon when it was about three or four degrees above the horizon (the low hills of Malibu from my location in Hermosa Beach).

Lunar Eclipse; December 10th, 2011

Location: Hermosa Beach, California, USA

Time: Approximately 4:40am to 6:15am, PST

Simple equipment: Canon Power Shot through a 6" Dobsonian Telescope

The entire set can be viewed at the Flickr link below.

IMG_8282Moon HaloIMG_8359IMG_8357IMG_8354IMG_8353

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Impetuous Ritual, Ritual Necromancy, and Grave Upheaval at Five Stars Bar

The shows being put on by L.A. locals Hatewar Productions keep getting better and better with a seemingly increasing frequency of high quality, serious black metal acts that don't normally tour being featured. Case in point is last night's tremendous triple bill of Australia's Impetuous Ritual and Grave Upheaval along with Portland, Oregon's Ritual Necromancy; a bill put on by Hatewar at Five Points Bar, a hole in the wall adorning a puke and detritus filled street in L.A. just on the eastern edge of the "historic" downtown district (the neighborhood does feature the Blade Runner Building, as it's known, though, regardless of the vomit).

With the recent closure of The Blvd. in Boyle Heights and still no word on metal from the supposedly relocated, revamped Knitting Factory, with the exception of The Black Castle (another Hatewar favorite), L.A. now lacks a venue for serious underground black and dark, death metal (the various joints lining the glitz and glamour of the Sunset Strip don't count). Five Stars Bar is the obvious choice to replace The Blvd. with a similar stage setup and hall capacity, and also with a particularly dark, brooding atmosphere.

Naturally, the usual extreme underground metal gang of Los Angeles proper was out in full force for last night's show, an assembly of metalheads that includes a veritable who's who from bands such as Nokturne, Gravehill, and Harassor. The Eternal Roadie even put in a appearance last night, overgrown mutton chops and all, along with about 75 other diehards as we go through a definite doldrums when it comes to good shows in L.A. of late.

My fellow lab rat and I settled near the front of the bar's small stage for Australia's Grave Upheaval, a trio featuring a guitarist who also serves time in Impetuous Rital (as well as Portal, if I'm not mistaken). Setting the tone for the remainder of the evening, Grave Upheaval are an absolutely barbaric wall of darkened, blackened doom/ death metal, treading the same territory as both Ritual Necromancy and Impetuous Ritual, but with an intensely raw sound. Also featuring a huge amount of blackened doom and drone in their assault, it's easy to draw comparisons between Grave Upheaval and Sunn O))) with their similar approach to atmosphere with muted lights and fog effects galore (all the more effective, and cough inducing, in such a small space).

Ritual Necromancy were next and absolutely crushed the small space of the Five Stars Bar with a very loud, very heavy detonation of dark death metal. Featuring a more bottom heavy and dynamic sound than Grave Upheaval, Ritual Necromancy were incredibly downtuned and immediately curried favor with the crowd, a number of whom already seemed to be familiar with Ritual Necromancy's just released debut full length album on Dark Descent Records (review here).

Adorned in their own blood and spikes, the barefooted quartet of Impetuous Ritual wordlessly took the stage amidst a cauldron of muted, hideous red lighting and smoke. Roaring through a 50-plus minute set of blackened death metal, Impetuous Ritual absolutely dripped with atmosphere and a palpable, evil intensity. The enraptured crowd silently took it all in with banging heads and horns and twisted Invisible Oranges held high. Never acknowledging the presence of the crowd, Impetuous Ritual conquered Los Angeles this evening and promptly exited.

Grave Upheaval

Ritual Necromancy

Impetuous Ritual