Thursday, March 16, 2017

"Pure physical euphoric energy": Obituary's eternal gifts

Now live at Rolling Stone, a new feature on the mighty Obituary.

The seeds of this piece were planted back in 2011, when I wrote about the band for DFSBP. As I explained then, I'd been listening to them on and off for close to two decades by that point, but it was only after seeing them live that I fully comprehended how special they actually were. (A similar thing happened more recently with Crowbar, a band I wrote about for RS last year.)

I've since reached a new peak of Obituary obsession, and thus it was an absolute pleasure and honor to put together this piece. Obituary are the shining exemplars of an M.O. I've written about a lot over the years, fairly common in the metal underground, wherein a band establishes a signature sound early in their career and simply sticks with it, album after album, show after show, year after year, decade after decade.

It's not exactly true to say that Obituary haven't changed. Pore through their discography and you'll start to discern clear early-, mid- and late-period sounds: unrelentingly harsh yet at times surprisingly compositionally involved (Slowly We Rot, Cause of Death, The End Complete); tougher, leaner and bullishly groove-centric (World Demise, Back From the Dead, Frozen in Time); and, most recently, looser, rawer and more all-around rawk-and-roll–ish (Xecutioner's Return, Darkest Day, Inked in Blood and the new Obituary). Not every one of these albums is flawless, but every one is worth hearing, as is the robust, spectacular-sounding 1998 live release Dead.

This band's head-down consistency brings me inordinate pleasure. I'll turn the mic over to Andrew W.K. — friend and former employer of Obituary drummer Donald Tardy and, incidentally, a former co-owner of Santos Party House, where I saw Obituary back in 2011 — who had this to say in 2015 of his love of vintage death metal, specifically Obituary and their peers Napalm Death:

"To be able to listen to something so many times and only like it more, and I liked it a lot the first time, but now to be able to rely on that as an energy source, to be able to turn to that no matter what state I'm in and have it instantly take me to this place of pure physical euphoric energy, it's one of the things I'm most thankful for in life, it's like water or food to me, it feeds my soul in a very fundamental way, and I can't believe how lucky I am that it exists."

I relate to this sentiment completely. I absolutely rely on Obituary as an energy source, as food for my soul. For all its minimalism, I find their catalog to be inexhaustible, because it's just that goddamn powerful and true and decisive and real-feeling. The agreed-upon shorthand for what they do is "death metal" — a term that already falls so woefully short as a catch-all because all these great first-generation bands, from Death to Deicide to Morbid Angel to Cannibal Corpse, sound completely different from one another — but their output is so clearly born out of passion and love and life. The product of finding that one thing, that precise vision that you want, need, to realize and seeing it through, time and time again, over the course of the decades. Some music pushes outward; Obituary's gift is for burrowing inward, for becoming more and more themselves as time goes by. Stand by and behold and marvel and — if you're anything like me — rejoice.

Here are eight great Obituary songs. (I wanted to pick one from each studio LP, but sadly, Xecutioner's Return and Darkest Day, both very good, overlooked albums, aren't currently streaming.)

Friday, March 03, 2017

Join us: Skryptor's first shows

This coming weekend marks the live debut of a new band I'm in called Skryptor. The lineup consists of Tim Garrigan on guitar, David McClelland on bass and myself on drums, playing music we've written as a group, plus (so far) one cover.

This is a significant project for me, and not just because I'm excited about how the songs are shaping up. If my 15-year-old self could somehow read the first paragraph of this post, his mind would be blown. Tim (formerly of Dazzling Killmen, You Fantastic! and other projects) and Dave (also of craw) are musicians I've looked up to for more than two decades. It's no exaggeration to say that the music each of these men helped to create in the early '90s significantly influenced the direction of my life from that point on — as a musician, I consider myself to be a product of an unofficial movement they were each an integral part of: progressive Midwestern post-hardcore, if you want to put a name on it (see also: Season to Risk, Colossamite, Cheer-Accident and many others). I've collaborated with both of them before — with Dave in the band Bat Eats Plastic (originally known as Today) and with Tim backing him in his solo singer-songwriter work — but never at the same time, and never as what I'd consider to be a mature (or at least maturing) musician who has significant experiences and ideas of his own to bring to the table.

For a little preview of the music — concise yet complex instrumental rock that falls somewhere between prog and punk, and sounds (to me, at least) not all that much like anything any of the three of us have done before — check out the clips posted on our Facebook page.

Here's all the info on our first two shows, taking place in Kingston, NY, on Saturday and in Queens on Sunday. Joining us for both will be the awesome Xaddax, featuring Tim's old Dazzling Killmen bandmate Nick Sakes. Ultraam — a psych-meets-jazz improv band featuring members of Mercury Rev, Luna and Trans Am — will top the Kingston bill and maniacal local avant-death-metalists Pyrrhon (featuring onetime DFSBP contributor Doug Moore) will headline in Queens. More info below and at the FB event pages I've linked to.

Saturday, March 4
@ BSP Lounge, Kingston


9pm, $8 


Sunday, March 5
@ Trans-Pecos, Queens


8pm, $10

Goodbye, Misha Mengelberg

I once saw a Misha Mengelberg–Han Bennink duo concert at Lincoln Center during which, as I recall, Bennink stood on his drum throne and began to flap his arms like a bird, making squawking noises as Mengelberg played on, seemingly oblivious. Then Bennink tore up pieces of newspaper, set them on fire and threw them at the pianist one by one. (Ben Ratliff's review is probably a more reliable eyewitness account of the May 2000 gig.)

I'm not an expert in Mengelberg's work, but I'm sad to hear of his passing. His rapport with Bennink was something unique and precious, an absurdist manifestation of jazz that also embodied great poetry and tenderness and nostalgia and virtuosity and love for the art form.

I treasure the records these two made with Steve Lacy, especially the 1983 Monk / Herbie Nichols tribute Regeneration. Four in One, a 2001 Mengelberg quartet disc with Bennink, Dave Douglas and Brad Jones, is also great. The vast recorded legacy of the ICP Orchestra and its various predecessors and offshoots is on my to-do list.

Farewell to this unassuming legend, and co-godfather to a vital European scene, who came at jazz from his own oblique angle. Who honored his idols by establishing his own brand of cool: sly, deadpan and timeless.


*Read Ethan Iverson's informed, insightful take.