Thursday, January 28, 2010

Fire and Ice - Gods and Devils

Hell yes! Richmond hardcore stayin on top again. From the first time I heard their demo tracks on Myspace, I knew this was going to be something worth checking out. Released on Triple B Records, Gods and Devils is five songs long, clocking in at the 12 and a half minute mark. So many bands have been coming out of the Richmond scene to gain nationwide attention, and Fire and Ice settle nicely into this category. Not as heavy as Bracewar, and slower than Down to Nothing, these guys are carving out a nice niche for their brand of hardcore.

The record kicks off with a quick 40 second intro, reminding me of a mid 90s grungy sound, unlike half the other "chug-a-chug" intros on hardcore albums these days. Fire and Ice's vibe is a bit different, almost sounding old school yet off at times, but still intriguing to listen to.
At points, there's a great smacking of NYHC influence. Some of the riffs remind me of a cross between War Hungry and RZL DZL, mixing hardcore and rock-n-roll in a fun, entertaining method. Of course, its not all like this though; check out the sick break towards the end of the 3rd song "Vices." It's that "YES" moment that I'm always searching for on a hardcore record.

Joining the ranks of bands such as Backtrack, Naysayer, Forfeit, Bad Seed, and Foundation; Fire and Ice seem like they will blow up quickly because of this EP. The sound is infectious, yet versatile, allowing them to appeal to more than just one type of audience. They also avoid repeating the same song structure and riffs over and over, so I wasn't bored halfway through the record. Hearing this only makes me more excited for their new 7" coming up on Triple B.

One of the only things I couldn't get into was some of the backing vocals that appear almost out of nowhere on the final two songs. It almost sounds like the singer of Death Threat, but more grating on the ears. Either way, this is an EP definitely worth picking up, and the band will be playing United Blood Festival this coming March. Triple B still has two of the three vinyl colors available to buy on their website and the band has their own webstore with some shirt designs leftover from their winter tour.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Hope Conspiracy/The Carrier/Rise and Fall Re-releases

Deathwish Inc. is at it again, churning out re-releases of some great LPs that have long since gone out of print or were previously only available in CD format (for what reason, who knows?) Collectors will be excited to see these records released without a preorder, enabling fans to purchase and receive them without having to wait a number of weeks. All of the reissues came with free digital downloads as well, just in case you had been living under a rock for the past few years, or if your younger brother stole your copy of the CD.

The breakdown for these went as follows:
The Hope Conspiracy - Death Knows Your Name (1 vinyl colorway, lyric insert)
Rise and Fall - Into Oblivion (2 vinyl colorways, trifold insert)
The Carrier - One Year Later (3 vinyl colorways, gatefold cover)

The Hope Conspiracy's last LP, released in fall of 2006 on Malfunction Records, sold out quickly and is fairly difficult to find now, unless you're into scouring Ebay for hours on end. The original press was limited to 1000; 300 on gold and 700 on clear with gold. Eventually a second press was done of 500 on black and gold mix. This wasn't quite as classic as Endnote or Cold Blue, but still essential to fans of the band and hardcore enthusiasts. The repress isn't gatefold anymore, but still holds the same raw power and energy that the band has put forth to this day.

I absolutely love the layout for the Rise and Fall LP; stunning black and white graphics wrap around the entire package, from the cover to the insert to the wax itself. Originally released in 2005 by Reflections Records in Europe, this album has been out of print on vinyl for years, as the original run of 1000 copies sold out long ago. I still feel this band is underrated, possibly due to their European descent and inability to tour the U.S. as frequently as they might like. The record sounds fantastic on vinyl, as the stripped down, heavy sound is only enhanced by a turntable. Here's a better look at the layout:

The Carrier's One Year Later was released in 2007 on Rock Vegas records on CD format only. This 11 song behemoth completely blew me away the first few listens, and still can give me a chill every now and then. Filled with emotion and power, this always reminded me of Love is Red, with the exception of all the repetitive, cheesy mosh parts. The package for this one was nice as well, with expanded artwork, gatefold cover, and three different vinyl colors. This only heightens the anticipation for the new LP, which I hope can be at least half as fantastic as One Year Later. Check it:

Any followers of these artists, or people simply looking to check them out should take advantage of the re-releases, as Deathwish did another great job putting these together. Most of the vinyl colors are still available, and every copy contains a free download code so you can upload to your iPod or anything else. All three of these albums are worth a listen, go for it!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Last Floorpunch show - 1/16/09 @ Stelton Church in Edison, NJ

The final U.S. show for New Jersey straightedge hardcore veterans, Floorpunch, was rescheduled for 1/16 after a freak blizzard walloped the northeast, forcing the original show to be postponed. Unfortunately for me, I had already left to drive from Philadelphia to the shore so I could get up to Edison in some of the worst weather I've experienced in my life. The ice and snow got so bad, most of the roads were being closed down, and eventually I was forced to pull over on I-295 and chip the ice off my windshield to see anything at all. About halfway through this awful experience, I got a phone call saying the show was postponed. It took about 2 1/2 hours to finally reach home, and the rest of the weekend was wasted sitting in the house or digging cars out of the snow which was over two feet high in some places. Obviously, when the show finally arrived, I was boiling over with excitement.

The Stelton Church in Edison, NJ is a decent size venue for shows. Even with a sold out crowd like this, there is still enough room to breathe with ample space for mosh and stagedives. While the room became hot and stuffy after a few bands played, it was nothing compared to some of the basement and house venues I've been to for hardcore or punk shows. The stage is also about three feet high, so its definitely enough for some gnarly dives onto the heads of people packed in up front. My only complaint is that every show I've attended at this venue tends to run a bit slow. Doors opened at 5pm but music didn't start until about 6:30, and some of the layovers between bands seemed a little long as well. Or maybe I'm a little spoiled by how most of the shows in Philly are organized.

First up were Jersey shore locals, Staring Problem, who played a pretty good set, although I got the feeling most of the people there didn't know who they were. At local shows they usually receive a response but the crowd remained still as they went through their songs. Next was Mind Eraser; grindy, faster than hell hardcore hailing from Boston, MA. While their particular style didn't fit in with most of the other bands, they raged through their songs with ease. Many bands that play as fast as Mind Eraser aren't able to translate it live, but they can pull off an intricate, heavy style at a blistering pace. Watching the drummer and guitarist play, their hands practically turn into a blur while ripping through the songs faster than imaginable. They also finished off with a nice surprise, playing the 10 minute long track "Unconscious" which received a decent reaction from those interested.

Shortly after, the surprise act that had received hype for months on message boards appeared, revealing itself as Invasion. The venue that had been standing still for a couple of hours immediately exploded, as every person rushed forward to the stage. I certainly didn't expect this, and to my surprise they played a bunch of songs, including favorites such as "Invasion," "Bust It" and "Righteous Jams." Joey C even took the mic for one of the songs, and it felt like the building was going to explode with excitement.

Get Real, yes! I used to see this band all the time years ago when they were playing shows around NJ frequently so I was pretty excited for this. They opened up with a bunch of Cro-Mags songs which people went pretty crazy for, inspiring an intense sing-a-long. Next, they ripped through a block of their more known songs like "Dead in the Water," "Disillusioned," and "Get Real." They sounded decent during these songs, especially since they don't play shows regularly anymore. I was also stoked on the Shore Style longsleeve they had for sale, and scored the last medium available.

At this point I was almost getting a bit tired after standing in the venue for so long, starving because I didn't want to miss anything with still so much left to go. Bracewar played their usual set filled with heavy riffs, breakdowns and some fairly ridiculous mosh. The highlight of this for me was the brutal guest vocals during "Watch it Burn" by the singer of Mind Eraser.

Down to Nothing had a difficult time getting started due to a number of technical issues and an amp blowing at the end of the first song. I'm not going to get into the craziness that took place on stage during the layover, but if you were there you know what happened. I have never seen anything like that before in my life. Usually I have a great time during their sets, but the different interruptions and lack of older songs made it tough for the band to find a consistent flow. All in all, not bad, but not excellent.

At around 10:30ish, Floorpunch finally took the stage, clearly without a setlist or plan in mind, but still ripped the place up. All of the classics were played including "Changes," "Washed up at 18," "Intro," "Jersey Shore," and "Let it Ride." Stagedives were in full effect for this whole set, including a few front flips off the PA speakers that were pretty impressive. It's somewhat depressing that I won't be able to see these guys again, but I left tired, hot and hungry. As we were slowly filing out of the building, you could see the heat and sweat vapor pouring out of the door into the cool night air. It's too bad more nights can't be as fun as this one.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hardside - Welcome to Hell

Straightforward hardcore hailing from San Antonio, Texas, Hardside is releasing their debut EP Welcome to Hell on Lionheart Records out of Germany. The record packs a nice punch, with three angry, heavy songs in the vein of old school New York hardcore.

For a first EP, the recording quality on this was done pretty well, as the instruments come through clear, however the mixing seems somewhat off. The vocals are almost too loud at points, as well as the bass drum. But then again, this is hardcore isn't it? Nothing's going to be perfect, especially the first time around.

The overall tempo of the record is on the slower side, especially during the breakdowns, making the tracks a bit catchier than faster styled hardcore. The opening of the record, "Welcome to the Hardside, motherfucker!" gets things started nicely, sure to fire up crowds at local shows. This also reminds me of bands like More to Pride or Overdose, who each had similar opening tracks on their records.

Lyrically, this isn't a posi-core effort by any means, although that should be fairly obvious by the title, Welcome to Hell. The songs mainly deal with society's decay, self-worth, and past failures or problems in life. "The life I've lived brought me down a dead end road/Try my best to escape from the demons/What's the use anyway?" from the title track sums up much of what is said on the EP.

Hardside's debut effort, while it isn't terribly original, is definitely worth a listen. Of all the newer bands coming out with heavy New York influences, this EP is better than most. Also, the guest vocals from Bitter End's Daniel Rosen are a nice touch on the title track. Check out Lionheart Records for the EP, or visit the band's Myspace to stream the tracks.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Iron Rain - Silent Sins

Chicago Hardcore in full effect! Silent Sins is the brand new EP from Iron Rain, due out January 19th as a split release between Panic Records and How Soon is Now Records. I took the time recently to stream the new songs from the record label's website and was pleasantly surprised with the debut effort from this four piece act.

The Chicago and Midwest hardcore scene is exploding right now, with loads of great bands coming out of the woodwork. It's becoming almost impossible to keep up with all of the new acts and preorders, not to mention all of the tours coming through the area. Iron Rain is currently on a tour of the West coast and Midwest, unfortunately not coming through the East coast, otherwise I would be compelled to check out their energetic, powerful sound live.

The first thing that comes to mind when this EP begins is the immediate explosion of sound. The guitars have an especially low, raw sound, reminding me of The Hope Conspiracy a la Cold Blue. Production value is also done well on this record, as they managed to keep the band sounding unpolished and gritty, but not like the recording was done in someone's basement with a pair of overhead mics. The end result is a fast, rough 3-track EP that should sound fantastic on vinyl (which we will have to wait until they ship after preorders end unfortunately.)

Iron Rain has a heavy sound, but still manages to stay away from monotony, as each song has its own feel. One of my favorite moments is during the title track, as the song builds up into the chorus, with singer Lawrence Scott screaming "Silent Sins!" which is immediately followed by group vocals echoing him. This quickly gives me the mental image of fingers and fists going into the air, as kids fly off the stage onto the front row of people.

Of all the new records coming out, this is one of my favorites that should not be missed. The three songs go by incredibly fast, and I had to listen to this about six times in a row to finally be satisfied. I only hope they tour through my area soon so I can experience their live performance as well. Preorders are happening now on both record labels, with different packages featuring shirts and colored vinyl for collectors. Don't sleep.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Trapped Under Ice/Mother of Mercy/Cruel Hand/Naysayer/Forfeit @ The Barbary in Philly

It's not every day that a tour of this caliber is put together, featuring four different bands that are all capable of headlining their own shows. As an added bonus, Wilkes-Barre's Mother of Mercy were added last minute due to Maximum Penalty having to drop off the bill. From the moment I saw this line-up, I knew I had to make the drive out on a cold Tuesday night.

I was surprised to see the turnout for a weeknight show in January, and even when I walked in at around 7 P.M. there was a decent crowd. As the evening went on, the venue became packed, especially by the time headliners Trapped Under Ice from Baltimore hit the stage. The Barbary still had the remnants from a New Year's Eve party held there, with signs and decorations still hanging, along with mini disco balls dotting the ceiling. The bar was completely wrapped up for a hardcore show, with the beer taps covered in a garbage bag stating "No alcohol, don't even ask," so appropriate for an event like this.

The overall size of this venue is fairly small, but perfectly fine for hardcore shows, even with popular bands such as these. One of my favorite features is the venue being split in two different rooms, allowing the bands ample room to store their gear and set up merch tables. The main room is tight enough to force everyone to be close to the action, but still space for mosh. PA systems and sound quality can usually suffer in many hardcore shows, but The Barbary has some of the better audio for smaller clubs in the area.

Anyone who attends hardcore shows regularly can easily tell when bands put in 100% effort for a performance. The best part of this line up was the amount of energy and anger put into each set. While the floor remained mainly dormant for the first two bands, Forfeit and Naysayer, it had no effect on the members on stage. You could feel the tension and anticipation building up to the evening's headliner, Trapped Under Ice.

Forfeit from Syracuse, NY and Naysayer from Richmond, VA are both on the forefront of tough, gritty hardcore, and their live performances echo the heaviness of their album releases. Heavily influenced by older New York hardcore, Naysayer's vocalist, Gary Gunwald, growled through their set as the band played nearly every song in their catalog. Personally, I can't wait for both of these bands to receive further recognition and support, and anyone who hasn't seen them live yet should be sure to catch the next tour.

Next up were Cruel Hand of Portland, ME and locals Mother of Mercy. Each band hit the stage hard and forced the crowd to start moving. As Cruel Hand tore through favorites such as "Under the Ice" and "Begin Descension" the ground began to rumble as people flew side to side, opening the pit and pushing people into action. Singer Bob Wilson of Mother of Mercy roared through their songs, screaming with fury during "Back to the Agony" and "Pulled Under." One drawback during their set was the malfunctioning mic, which started to cut out during the last few songs. Also, the band was missing one guitarist for almost the first half of the set, which was noticeable to people familiar with the band.

Trapped Under Ice rounded out the bill, coming on quickly and keeping the energy high throughout their 25 minute set. You could literally feel their presence radiating from the stage, inspiring the crowd to react; singing, moshing and stage diving. The mix of songs for this tour was also done well as the band played songs from their demo and Stay Cold, along with a number of selections from the new LP, Secrets of the World. The evening finished with "Believe," as the crowd sang along loudly and bodies sailed off the stage until the final chord.

I was impressed with the turnout and high energy of the evening, and The Barbary continues to prove an entertaining and quality venue to see shows. I left tired, hungry, and satisfied with my experience. What more can you demand for $10?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Converge - Axe to Fall

It's no secret the amount of effort and creativity that goes into any Deathwish Inc. release, especially a new record from Boston's Converge. The latest LP, Axe to Fall featured a plethora of preorder options, including limited t-shirts, silkscreen posters and colored vinyl. The records pictured above were all of the colors available for preorder, although there are three other colors available now.

Once the needle on the turntable hits the wax, your ears better be prepared for a sonic assault. The record jump-starts itself immediately, tearing through the first song and leaving the listener practically dazed after just one song. The flow between the four opening tracks is near breakneck speed, filled with highly complex drum beats and guitar riffs. In the second track, double bass pounds your eardrums as the song comes to a close. The title track of the LP continues the mayhem, pushing the limits even further until a completely devastating breakdown hits you in the face like a hammer to a piece of steel.

Its not until the fifth song, "Worms Will Feed" does the band begin to slow down, moving into a brooding, dark guitar riff. This song almost releases the pressure created by the first four, allowing the listener to recover while changing the feel of the music. The band's sometimes dark nature comes out in Jacob Bannon's unmistakable scream: "You will fall where you lay your head/Rats will feast/The worms will find a way/The rats will find a way."

From this point on, the record seems to trade speeds and feelings back and forth between songs. Another slower song might be followed by a frantic hardcore ripper, such as the 1 minute 40 second track, "Cutter." The lyrics also grow bleaker in this song: "Too much to ask when it's so hard to breathe/No way out/Tearing my soul to finally see/The real wreckage between (you and me)." This is immediately followed by the stop-and-start rhythms of "Slave Driver" which highlight some of the incredible drumming talents of Ben Koller.

The constant changing of tempos keeps the listener on their toes, and prevents the album from falling into the trap of sounding like a complete blur. The final two songs are a bit quieter, and seem to lull the record to its closing. Each of these also features a number of guest musicians. Steve von Till of Neurosis sings lead vocals on "Cruel Bloom" while "Wretched World" has the members of Ghengis Tron contributing lead vocals, guitars and keyboards.

This record is an obvious must have for fans of the band or aggressive music in general. After 20 years of pioneering the genre, Converge still proves they are able to churn out intricate, complex and imaginative albums. So crank up the stereo, start up the turntable, and strap in for a ride. While this isn't the next Jane Doe, you will not be disappointed.