Monday, April 19, 2010
Like a prayer: What "metal" can and should learn from Ludicra
Just returned from seeing Ludicra at Club Europa, a show I previewed for TONY. Late on a Sunday, feeling fried, but I'm so glad I went. I think I can say definitively that Ludicra's set was the most organically heavy performance I've ever witnessed by a metal band.
Too often, metal as it exists in my mind is not how it exists in the world. If you keep up with the genre, you know that over the past two decades, a sonic revolution has taken place, namely an abhorrent artificiality that sucks all the life out of the genre. Drum triggers, Pro Tools, noise gates -- it all adds up to fake, inanimate music. It might be a hackneyed argument, but it bears repeating over and over and over. Metal should be heavy. More and more, all this airless-sounding nonsense sends me screaming to my Zeppelin and Sabbath records, craving that fix of warm realness.
Ludicra's set was like a time machine to an era before all this nonsense. I encouraged my bandmate Joe to check out the band's magnificent new album, The Tenant (album cover above), and today he told me that it made him think of Kill 'Em All. I definitely agree that it takes you back via its holy rough fullness, its primal, thudding grace. The revelation that drums ought to sound like drums, the courage to have everything come at you in a real way.
I had a feeling they'd open their set with "Stagnant Pond," the lead track from The Tenant, and they did, and thus began 50 minutes or so of shock and rapture. I guess being a drummer myself I'm always going to fixate on the drummer, but I will tell you that Ludicra's percussionist, Aesop Dekker, is a master, worthy of any accolade. He drove the band with an unholy snare thwack which cut through the guitars like a gun shot, crystal-clear bell-of-the-ride accents placed with poetic accuracy, and a true patience and love of groove, whether that meant a speed-freak blast beat or a half-time trudge.
Bassist Ross Sewage alternately zoning out on the music's epic architecture and regarding the crowd with an unsettling scowl. Guitarist Christy Cather, a true metal hero with her curly blonde mane, Flying V axe and leather vest. The other six-stringer, John Cobbett, running his dancing fingers through their paces. And vocalist Laurie Sue Shanaman... I don't even know how to describe it. You won't do better than Laal did, pegging her movements as theatrical and goblinlike. Her vocals convey genuine horror and despair. Not that generic black-metal, screaming-for-the-sake-of-screaming crap. There's no word for what comes out of her throat other than DIRE. She stomps around, contorts her body and face. It's almost but not quite cartoonish, a pantomime of evil, a stylized sort of possession.
The band charges as a team, headbanging in furious unison. Cather and Sewage shared one of those classic leaning-back-to-back guitar-tandem moments. The quintet had such a chemistry, such an effortless group choreography. I'm not sure exactly how long this lineup has been together, but you really got the vibe of a crew, of an "on-and-off-the-court" camaraderie.
And all in the service of maximum epic grimness, the epitome of what all metal really aspires to. This set was like a master class in the history of the genre, cherry-picking the awesomest aspects of all the various substyles. The neck-snapping groove of '80s thrash, as heard on The Tenant's "In Stable," which embodies the midtempo assault of Megadeth at their best. Holy, hymnlike interludes touching on the gothy beauty of bands like My Dying Bride. Hailstorm blast sections that could stand up against any of the Norwegian luminaries. Crawling-through-a-snowstorm-and-finally-glimpsing-the-sun, dark-yet-luminous doom metal. It sounds like a prayer.
I only know the new album so there were a few songs I didn't recognize, including a long, glorious encore. The crowd was so there, so present. I saw so much dancing, so much convulsing, so much screaming at the sky in response to the expertly orchestrated evil-ness of it all, and I was right there. Couldn't have sat down if I'd tried. Eyes closed, grimacing privately.
It was all poetry, all a reminder of why I'd had this music in my blood since my teens. You won't get this reassured feeling from very many bands. The genre is in vogue and it's overrun with... with itself really. With bands that hew closely to convention as if to a buoy in the sea. I say let it all go, unless it's something like this, that sums up the swelling emotion, the vastness, the power, the sorrow -- and served raw, please, without the spit-and-polish nonsense that passes for production, not to mention live sound, these days. Black Sabbath deserves a better legacy. Any band calling itself metal needs to provide maximum mood and maximum chops all filtered through a huge, gut-punching, organic sound. It should feel like getting flattened by a baroquely adorned tank and Ludicra did. Shock and awe indeed.