Saturday, August 28, 2010

Vanilla Fudge - "You Keep Me Hanging On" From the Album Vanilla Fudge

It has occurred to me recently, as through the vagaries of Shuffle- and Autofill-induced chance, I have now heard this bejewelled relic of the psychedelic age three times over the last 72 hours, that Vanilla Fudge must be the '60's closest analog to doom metal.

Maybe not drop-tuned, but plodding and monolithic nonetheless, just like the glacial tempos enjoyed these days by the doomsters and that crowd.

I'm old but I'm not that old, so I can't say for certain. But as well as the first Vanilla Fudge album did, I get the feeling that "You Keep Me Hanging On" and the rest of it was for the hardcore freaks of the time. George Harrison is famously said to have latched onto the album during the summer of 1967 and to have blasted it nearly continuously from the windows of his palatial bungalow or whatever, and both the album and its single here charted--but still.

Regardless, this music rather screams underground, Weather and otherwise, flagburners and yippies and the burn baby burn types. Let's just say that we haven't heard muzak versions of these songs, in the same way yas I am sure we won't for (more or less) current fringe faves like "Doom-antia" or "Dopesmoker."

And check out the brontosaurus bass. If guitarist Vinnie Martell spends half his time trying to get his axe to sound like a sitar, Tim Bogert's playing, way out front, distorted and thunderous, is definitely of the flavor that Geezer Butler and his children and grandchildren would purvey.

What I am trying to say, ladies and gentlemen, freaks and freakettes, is that this is heavy music. Proto-metal like contemporaries Blue Cheer, for sure, but also proto-doom. There, I said it. Proto . . . doom.

I was reading on Wikipedia where someone wrote that the Bolton Iron Maiden might have prefigured doom . . . poppycock. But I believe The Vanilla Fudge bear such a leaden genealogical mantle a bit more easily.

File under: There I said it

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Florida Heavy Metal Freakout:
Four Songs and More Links

I've been spending most of my time over the last couple weeks converting my baseball card website from one that's powered by manually written HTML to one that will be powered by PHP and a MySQL database. I haven't actually written all that much PHP; all my time thus far has been spent writing and then employing these little Excel and javascript widgets that help me distill the HTML I have into a comma-delimited text file that the SQL server can understand.

I enjoy the coding, one 'cause you're sort of on the hunt after something that will actually fucking work, and two because at no point during the programming do I ever think, "Ack! What am I going to WRITE?"

Which brings us back to this recently-fallow blog. Not saying I won't write next weekend, but, y'know, if you don't see anything here, you'll know what I'm doing.

I did kind of feel obligated to write today before the rest of the weekend slips away, in a perhaps futile effort to keep the tumbleweeds and the Oriental spammers away.

And it turns out I DO have something to write about: the one thing other than working and sleeping and coding widgets that I've done over the last fortnight, which is seeing Floridian heavy metal bands.

On the 7th, I once again dragged myself into the inner city oasis and fortification that is Churchill's and saw 4/5 of a five-band bill made up exclusively of Sunshine State metal acts. And then, on this most recent Friday the 13th, I missed most of the out-of-state opening acts, but managed to catch technical death/prog metal legends Cynic (who of course are from Miami) at the more nearby Culture Room.

The show at Churchill's was headlined by Miami-based Green Sky. I first heard about the gig looking through my recommendations at Last FM, saw that the trio were labeled "sludge rock" and were "heavily influenced by Isis" and thought that might be interesting.

But it wasn't 'til I got a shout from the lead singer of Orlando-based supporting band Bad Actor that I decided to actually attend.

Turns out Green Sky weren't that sludgy, and they didn't sound much like Isis, either. "Remote World" has this nice heroin/trance vibe that I liked, probably transmitted by the dull mantra-like chanting of its vocals. But there wasn't much chance of that kind of thing being conveyed live, and maybe "Remote World" is a bit of an outlier for them anyway. Still, I liked the approach and I liked guitarist # 1's polycarbonate axe. I'd see them again, but it looks like their next gig is in Russia, how about that?

It doesn't appear that Green Sky has a website, but I know you can get more music at their Last FM page, 'cause that's what I did.

Bad Actor were the most straight ahead death metal band on the bill at Chuchill's, and the most energetic. Most of that energy came from the lead death growl dude, who jumped up and down, got on his knees (you know, so he could give his all into his growls), waved his hands in the air, and at one point mimed the smoking of a marijuana cigarette. The bassplayer (who I thought was particularly good) and the guitarist kind of just stood in place and watched amusedly as their singer (whose name is Jarad Weston) did his thing. But more power to him. Metal should be energetic, and if he works a half-empty room like Churchill's was that way, I bet seeing him before a real crowd would be a treat.

If the arrangements weren't quite worthy of the tech death label, Bad Actor were a quality heavy band with solid progressive elements. I'd see them again, too, for sure, if they wanted to come back to Miami. If you want to check out more of their music beyond what I've got here, go over to, you can throw them a buck or some bucks, and get their most recent EP in full like I did.

In my mind the best band at the Churchill's gig was Shroud Eater, another Miami-based trio. Two heavily-tattoed gals on bass and guitar and a stocky Latin dude as drummer. When I told Pieman's buddy at the Cynic show about them, he asked, "were they hot?" referring to the chicks, and I was like, I don't know, skinny heavily tatooed chicks don't do it for me anyway.

Shroud Eater, pictured at Churchill's, no less

But why's it always gotta be about that anyway? This is metal goddamnit. You think about sex after the show. What I thought was cool and funny was how the bassplayer (whose name was Janette Valentine) used a Fender Jazz bass, and it was practically bigger than she was. But Ms. Valentine was a very good player indeed, and though the guitarist was frontwoman and sang and growled, it seemed like the band's arrangements revolved around the intricate bass work.

Those arrangements were of songs that might be best described as a stoner/death hybrid. Their Last FM page talks Kylesa and Helmet, but Kylesa aren't downtuned this way, and Shroud Eater, as good as they are, don't do the angular Venusian Page Hamilton thing. What I DO get from Shroud Eater is Kyuss and the Stoner Desert sound, and that of course is a very good thing indeed.

If any of this sounds interesting, you can go to their site at for more info and free downloads of the two songs that aren't here.

Green Sky finished at about 1:15 in the morning, and since I'm nearly 45 years old and have my lovely Melanie at home, I figured it was time to split. The band I missed may or may not have been named Consular. Maybe next time, huh?

Just like maybe next time for Dysrhythmia. I'd had a couple nights of insomnia, and as I worked through my Friday workday on the 13th, it became apparent to me that I was going to need to catch a nap before I went to any metal concerts. The Culture Room website said doors open at 7:30, but since when has the doortime had anything to do with showtime?

Well this time it did. By the time I'd had my nap and gotten over to the Culture Room, opening act Dysrhythmia from Philadelphia had already been and gone, and middle act Intronaut from Los Angeles were mostly done.

Fuck. Oh well.

As discussed here elsewhere at greater length, my most metal days were in the mid '80's to the early '90's. But I had mostly stuck to the thrash- and speed-metal champions, while poking a sort of fun at death metal and their silly growl vocals.

And then I quit The Herald, got a normal nine to five, and found a girlfriend. My involvement with the metal scene waned just as Cynic were making its entrance.

So it has been only over the last few years that I've become familiar with Focus, the amazingly esoteric debut from Cynic that until recently was the band's only true album.

My buddy and sometime speech tutor Schfrank took this Friday night. You can see Masvidal clearly on the left, and bassplayer Robin Zielhorst in the middle. The two bright circles of light at stage level were always full of interesting images, amoebae and galaxies and gears and cyclical whatnot.

The first thing I noticed as the band took the stage was that both guitarists were using headless guitars; later on I'd find out that Steinberger was in part sponsoring the tour. During some inshow banter, soft-spoken frontman Paul Masvidal would talk about how the whole tour with Intronaut and Dysrhythmia had been a "geekfest"--and got rousing cheers and applause! Not sure I want to correct Mr. Masvidal about the distinction between geeks and metalheads (hint: geeks don't wear black), but if this were a geekfest, the headstockless guitars certainly set the tone.

It's almost impossible to treat with Cynic without mentioning the vocoder-processed vocals, so let's do so. To me, who structures his listening so often around recognizable bands rather than recognizable songs, a band like Cynic presents a natural affinity, simply 'cause nobody sounds like 'em. Nobody else combines the odd-time metallic rhythms with the vocoder. I wondered aloud to Cerveza whether Masvidal's use of the vocoder stems from an insecurity with the sound of his own amplified voice, and like with the bullhorn machinations of early era Michael Stipe, I would reckon this to be the case. But either way, it results in something unheard elsewhere, which is always what you're looking for from a band.

But beyond surface cosmetics, what struck me most about Masvidal was his lead guitar voice. I don't want to suggest he's in Page Hamilton territory, but his leads were always distinctive and unconventional, taking off at 65-degree tangents from the straight ahead thrust of the music. They burst forth and flew off before dissipating under the weight of the rhythm provided by the drummer and the bassist and the other guitarist.

Not that it was a perfect show, or that Cynic is a perfect band. They are I'm sure very proud of the way their music so often changes back and forth in its tempo and its flavor. But sometimes during the guitar-synth washes, you're like, OK, let's get on with the jamming.

At one point there was an acoustic piece that sort of went nowhere, and it was followed by a song that featured a long dead sea of textural wash. At this point, I began noticing my aching knee, and how one of my toes had fallen asleep. Yes, yes, I know, the perils of being an old fart, but also the perils of listening to a somewhat overindulgent band.

Cynic are of course incredible instrumentalists, and it's a criticism I have levied before, but sometimes they just need to keep those instruments moving.

But overall I thought Cynic put on an excellent show that went to different places in different ways, and the recent memory of it has made me think since that I need to become more familiar with the landmark fusion-inflected tech death album--and from my own home city, no less--that was initially released just as I was no longer paying attention.

Cynic - Focus - 06 - Uroboric Forms.mp3

192 kbps mp3, up for six weeks (Right click and save as target)

File under: Heavy Metal Yoga

Green Sky - Remote World.mp3

128 kbps mp3, up for six weeks (Right click and save as target)

File under: Heroin/Trance Metal

Bad Actor - Portrait of Finality - 01 The Kraken Of Normandy.mp3

320 kbps mp3 up for six weeks (Right click and save as target)

File under: Death/Prog Metal Hybrid

Shroud Eater - Vesuvius.mp3

160 kbps mp3, up for siz weeks (Right click and save as target)

File under: Stoner/Death Crossover