Friday, September 19, 2008


This blog's dead. Check out my living wine blog or my myspace page, which features my photos of metal shows and tattoo conventions. Take it easy---

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


Album: Two (Poverty)
Label: Metal Blade
Released: October, 16th, 2007

If you’re wearing a trucker-hat and shootin’ at cats, you’ll love this album. Heshers unite! Demiricous, outta Indianapolis, brings a hopeless night of boozin’ to your one horse town. Two (Poverty), the appropriately named follow-up to One (Hellbound), is full of quickly changing riffs that keeps their straight-up approach to rock‘n’roll interesting. With lyrics like “There is no value/I have no trust/I represent nothing/So fuck yourself,” vocalist Nate Olp spreads visions of a world of depression, poverty, and self-loathing shared by bands like FaceDownInShit, Eyehategod, and Buzzoven. Unlike these bands, Demiricous does not cross into the sludge genre. Instead, they keep it dirty with guitars mixed in the forefront with a ton of crunch and fuzz, similar to the likes of Corrosion of Conformity. Chris Cruz plays all around his kit and creates a similarly huge thunder. The recording allows his double-bass and tom-work to make any stereo’s speakers tremble with pleasure. While the chunka-chunka-chunka of the guitars can get old at points, none of the songs are obvious throw-aways. Two (Poverty) serves a nice shot of metal, straight up.


Album: obZen
Label: Nuclear Blast
Release: March 11th, 2008

A big wet arterial spray by the name of obZen has saturated records stores worldwide. Though the first 8 seconds may fool you into believing you accidentally picked up a Tool album, the crazy people will soon begin raving, and they won’t stop for another 52 minutes. The Swedish war machine’s signature creation - complex rhythm cycles tightly held within 4/4 timing - has become even more intricate, concocted with the precision of a nihilistic scientist (or is it scientific nihilist… I can never get these things straight). Track 3, Bleed, shows the band rearing its decapitated head with inventive perfection: they create an all encompassing swarm of tone that sounds like the tightening and loosening of a guitar string in perfect pitch.

Masterfully recorded at their own Fear and Loathing Studio in Stockholm, Sweden, the production is impeccable. Dick Lövgren’s bass guitar on the beginning of Lethargica is perhaps one of the loudest and most authentic bass sounds ever recorded. The only limit to which Meshuggah seems capable of succumbing is in their guitar solos, which sometimes seem to stumble forward whereas everything else does a mine-field dance. Compared with past albums, obZen is the obvious next step for Meshuggah; a bit more melodic (Fredrik Thordendal and Mårten Hagström’s 8 string guitars are doing them justice), incredibly aggressive, and staggeringly complex. With Tomas Haake’s jarring but somehow coherent downbeats, obZen is another feat of musicianship that retains its listenability. Meshuggah have again made progress through their surgical experiments on music’s anatomy, and may I add, without remorse.


Album: Animal
Label: Metal Blade
Release: October, 2 2007

When metal sounds like it’s on the verge of losing control, it usually affects the listener in strange ways. The listener may begin to thrash around, break things, or react with other acts of violence, forcing innocent onlookers to question his/her mental health. Please expect these reactions while listening to Animosity’s recent progress: it wears a mask of absolute fucking chaos. Leo Miller’s singing is the main contributing factor to this madness. His vocals overstep their expected timing regularly, doing a dance around the music.
Animal is the group’s follow-up to premiere album Shut It Down (2003). The crew, straight outta The Bay Area, are just over 20 years of age, and as with several of their contemporaries, musically advanced far beyond their years. Guitarists Frank Costa and Chase Fraser and bassist Evan Brewer bring a practically endless number of different cadences to each riff. Mastodon-like guitar runs might ring out for a second or two, a good example comes 54 seconds into the title, but they never fully indulge in that sound, always keeping it metal. So aggressive are the guitars when combined with Navene Koperwies’s drumming that the album’s multitude of stops may not register until the second listening.
This proof of technical ability itself may also come as a shock since the initial experience is, as aforementioned, that of total fucking chaos. Evangelicult, clocking in at 4 seconds, is a fucking ballad. The rising, tormented scream beginning the awesome: You Can’t Wait, stands out as a reminder that the fury of this album does not lessen. Animal has the complexity and precision of a machine, but the primal rage of an animal working on reptilian reflexes.


Album: Hot Sumerian Nights
Label: Underdogma Records
Released: between 2 months and 2,000,000,000 years ago

Crom is the sexy beast you’ve never dared let out. A beast that craves the overdose and the whore, and doesn’t really care what you think. Hot Sumerian Nights is its soundtrack, a grinding smorgasbord of sample-filled decadence. By the time I heard the singer do an arrogant imitation of scat between songs, I was hooked. Unlike many bands, they do not use samples superfluously, but to create an atmosphere of chaos with the scatological humor of Blood Duster. For example, on track 22 an eerie horror sample begins playing on a cassette tape and then someone hits stop: the slap of the outdated tape coming to a halt stings like a slap from Jani Lane (vocalist of Warrant).

Crom supposedly originated in LA in 1992, but I don’t believe anything they say. They released The Cocaine Wars in 2001, on Theologian, as a nameless trio, then in 2005, added two more nameless members and began recording Hot Sumerian Nights. At least that’s what the press release says. As with all good grindcore, the album has a short attention span. Few of their heavy but lighthearted riffs actually materialize into songs. However, songs like Battle Axe Butchery/Banned In B.C. and Zamora are pure grindcore. The band’s ability to completely change its mind at any point is actually appealing: it’s close to impossible to be bored by this album.

I’m pretty sure that when Crom say “two-year recording process” at “Snow Cave Studios” it’s just code for a serious LA coke-binge (the guys obviously couldn’t keep up an interest in anything else [see: Hot Sumerian Nights]). Regardless of what they do in their spare time, this album does rock. At the end of the title track, a sample asks: Isn’t this overkill? And yes, yes it certainly is. Let that beast out baby.


Album: Hot Sumerian Nights
Label: Underdogma Records
Released: between 2 months and 2,000,000,000 years ago

Crom is the sexy beast you’ve never dared let out. A beast that craves the overdose and the whore, and doesn’t really care what you think. Hot Sumerian Nights is its soundtrack, a grinding smorgasbord of sample-filled decadence. By the time I heard the singer do an arrogant imitation of scat between songs, I was hooked. Unlike many bands, they do not use samples superfluously, but to create an atmosphere of chaos with the scatological humor of Blood Duster. For example, on track 22 an eerie horror sample begins playing on a cassette tape and then someone hits stop: the slap of the outdated tape coming to a halt stings like a slap from Jani Lane (vocalist of Warrant).

Crom supposedly originated in LA in 1992, but I don’t believe anything they say. They released The Cocaine Wars in 2001, on Theologian, as a nameless trio, then in 2005, added two more nameless members and began recording Hot Sumerian Nights. At least that’s what the press release says. As with all good grindcore, the album has a short attention span. Few of their heavy but lighthearted riffs actually materialize into songs. However, songs like Battle Axe Butchery/Banned In B.C. and Zamora are pure grindcore. The band’s ability to completely change its mind at any point is actually appealing: it’s close to impossible to be bored by this album.

I’m pretty sure that when Crom say “two-year recording process” at “Snow Cave Studios” it’s just code for a serious LA coke-binge (the guys obviously couldn’t keep up an interest in anything else [see: Hot Sumerian Nights]). Regardless of what they do in their spare time, this album does rock. At the end of the title track, a sample asks: Isn’t this overkill? And yes, yes it certainly is. Let that beast out baby.

Genghis Tron - Board Up The House

Label: Relapse
Release Date: February, 19th 2008

Genghis Tron has created a dreamy, trance-infused landscape that lulls the listener into a cheap 3-D animated oasis before bursting it apart with pure sonic rage. Relying less on The Locust-esque chaos that infused their debut album, Board Up The House is orchestrated at times like an epic 80's movie soundtrack (think: The Road Warrior). Both vocally and instrumentally, songs like "I Won't Come Back Alive" show a complexity of melody heretofore unreached by the band. But thankfully, they also give melody the finger: Board Up The House keeps it angry, strategically placing some of its heaviest hitters toward the end with massive hooks that last only seconds and do not repeat, ensuring that this album will only get better over time. While the overall brutality has lessened, this crew straight outta Vassar College is keeping the hipsters at bay with tracks like "Colony Collapse" and "The Feast." They've done it again, walked the tight-rope between grindcore and electronica without sounding dumb.

Sworn Enemy - Maniacal

Century Media Records
Release: February 12th 2008

Few bands have the ability to change genre without sounding like a bad joke. Entering the arena in 2001, Sworn Enemy was a hardcore band with metal tendencies. They produced some killer breakdowns and dueling guitar intros, but they never chose to push it to a full metal sound - until now. Maniacal combines hardcore’s clean riffs, gang vocals, and staggered drum rhythms with metal’s speed, blast beats, and dissonance, without becoming another metalcore stereotype. Sal LaCoco’s screams are surprisingly comprehensible at breakneck speeds. Granted, the guitar solos can’t hold a candle to Slayer, but Jared Buckwalter’s drum-work keeps it interesting.

The Ocean - Precambrian

Metal Blade Records
Release: Nov. 27th, 2007

The Ocean is immense. It’s a story from Germany of striving for an ideal. In 1999, guitarist/songwriter Robin Straps stopped at nothing to overtake his vision, recruiting a band in Berlin, then absconding a WWII aluminum factory where they built bedrooms, rehearsal spaces, and studios. That was just the start of it…

Precambrian, their 3rd release, proceeds to spread their complex sound and philosophy. Featuring vocalists from Cave In/Old Man Gloom, Converge, Integrity, and Breach singing beside vocalist Mike Pilat. The Ocean uses violins, piano, glockenspiel, etc. supplied by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, alongside their thundering guitars, bass, and drums, to create a somewhat Isis-like ambiance. However, they use sobering restraint: absolute heaviness is not the end-all be-all. Perhaps this creates a new type of heaviness; one that goes beyond pure aggression.

The violins on the album are often used with little accompaniment and offer a sense of tragedy that few metal bands ever have. The transitions into beautifully arranged riffs are clean and disgustingly heavy, like watching Saturday morning cartoons in your underwear then getting kicked in the balls (or tits). The harmonies and tone of the violins and piano might be trying for some listeners, but after listening a few time, the shock may turn to appreciation. Precambrian is an immense work that will take years to understand.

Brain Drill - Apocalyptic Feasting

Metal Blade
February 5th 2008

When the whine of the drill commences, memories of scenes in the movie Hostel arise - a man strapped to a chair with a drill burrowing into his flesh - and then the music begins. Overtly technical, destructive, and unceasing, Brain Drill have created a monster of a first album that gives a new meaning to the word “extreme.” Do not, I repeat, do not expect the destruction to lessen at any time. At about 1:54 minutes into the title track “Apocalyptic Feasting,” the vocals have the effect of pissed of Gods arguing inside St. Peter’s Basilica. Dylan Ruskin’s (Burn at the Stake) guitar offers a fury of seemingly effortless neck-hopping from low bludgeoning riffs to some of the craziest finger-tapping I’ve ever encountered, and Marco Pitruzzella’s (Vital Remains, Vile) endless blast beats seem to break the laws of physics. I mean, like shouldn’t these guys implode or something?

Heaven Shall Burn - Iconoclast (Part 1: The Final Resistance)

Century Media Records
Feb.5th 2008

Heaven Shall Burn’s songwriting has created an album that pulls each note into the next. The domino effect likewise drives each song: the space between them seeming nothing more than a rhythmic absence. In the vein of melodic metal, similar to The Black Dahlia Murder, Iconoclast’s guitar-work smoothes over their rough edges without losing heaviness. This, their fifth album, thankfully enjoys a complete absence of melodic singing. In places where it might fit, for instance “A Dying Ember,” singer Marcus Bischoff screams on key instead; a daunting task in deed, but one that he’s up for. The lyrics are loosely conceptual, based on the idea that God is dead and must be avenged. Lyric “For Years, we hide in blackness” says it all: the band has emerged again, into the light.

Ascension of The Watchers - Numinosum

13th Planet Records
Feb. 19th 2008

Skillfully crafted by Burton C. Bell (Fear Factory, G//Z/R) and John Bechdel (Killing Joke, Ministry), Numinosum is designed to be a spiritual journey. At times the album can put you in a trance, particularly on Evading, with repeating melodies that move forward with a lulling cleanliness. The lyrics themselves are heavy, written from a personal place: the loss of self through tragedy. Canon For My Beloved is about losing the love of one’s life. The band reverently asks: My God, Hear My Prayer/ Can you hear me?, but by the end of the song the mantra becomes a frustrated scream. At times the album verges on pure ambience, like abstract Massive Attack, but the lyrics are very straight-forward. By the end of Numinosum, there is a peace and new relationship with reality. Depending on the current state of the listener, this album could be revelatory or else just a soundtrack to a long winter night.

Clutch's Neil Fallon: One For The Road

When I first heard I was interviewing Clutch’s Neil Fallon, my blood went cold. This is a man who draws on the suprasegmentals of ancient Greek poetics while describing the nights of dereliction that most people would take to their graves. With nine full-length albums and a slew of EP’s, live recordings, and side projects, Clutch has brought rock‘n’roll into the 21st century, the weight of their innovation placed squarely on their instruments. Punk, blues, metal, gospel, and whatever else - Clutch has used it all. Their first album, Pitchfork, verged on hardcore, while their most recent album, From Beale Street To Oblivion, has strong overtones of classic rock. I was prepared to meet broody intellectuals conversing about conspiracy theories, music history, and Louisiana barbecue.

I arrived at Slim’s as they were doing soundcheck. Clutch seemed unconcerned with soundman specifics, more intent on jamming one of their older songs. I waited for them backstage, a subterranean network of graffitied rooms. Fallon arrived, with his big beard and denim jacket, trailed by a video camera collecting footage for a long-overdue documentary DVD. His composure immediately put me at ease. He is the type of guy who looks you right in the eye when you speak to him.

Clutch formed in 1990: a bunch of high school kids in Germantown, Maryland, intent on raising havoc through rock‘n’roll. “Like most people, I wanted to get out of my hometown immediately,” Fallon says. He joined the band a year later. “We started doing hardcore shows ‘cause they were the easiest to get.” And the band were taking anything they could get, sometimes getting paid in pizza. “At times, it was like licking a 9V battery. But it was great fun. It was throwing stuff over the fence and seeing where it lands - we never had a meeting and were like, we want to do this, or we have this goal, we just wanted to play shows. To be honest, a lot hasn’t really changed on that fundamental level. It’s just some guys who want to jam and learn while doing it.”

Tim Sult (guitar) and Jean-Paul Gaster (drums) were the technically trained musicians in the band. When they took the stage later that night, the combination of Sult being totally cranked and Clutch’s streamlined sound made for an absolutely massive guitar tone. The slightest contact between pick and string would resound through the room. Accordingly, Sult’s rhythms and solos had to be dead on. When the band formed, Fallon played guitar - in his words - “very very poorly. Then I started singing. I was actually a fill-in for their other singer who couldn’t make a show; then I kept filling in.” Hard to imagine anyone besides Fallon singing for the band: they’ve kept the same line-up since recording their first album. Dan Maines on bass was trained similarly. “Dan had an electric guitar, and we asked him if he could play bass. He said yes, though he’d never seen a bass or touched a bass. At least that’s how he puts it.”

The band was entertaining the idea of college when they started getting bigger and better shows. For Fallon, the idea of being a professional musician seemed too good to be true. “I spent many years thinking that this wasn’t going to last. It really wasn’t until 2000 that it really dawned on me that this wasn’t going to end.” Touring with bands like Pantera, Slayer, Corrosion of Conformity, Therapy?, System of a Down, and Iron Maiden must have gotten the point across.

Hearing the content of Fallon’s lyrics one might suspect that he was raised by a family of truckers, spent time in outer space, and dated Marilyn Monroe. “When I hear either a great story or something outlandish it makes me listen to what a person is saying.” A good example are the opening lines to 10001110101: Ribonucleic acid freak out/the power of prayer/Long halls of science/and all the lunatics committed there/Robot Lords of Tokyo/SMILE TASTE KITTENS. Fallon can go from badass, to thought-provoking, to absurd in seconds.

“To be honest, half the time when I’m looking at a finished song I’ll ask: What the hell’s this about? But I know if it sounds good. Maybe in a couple years I come to understand it, in retrospect. I just look at writing lyrics as having a complete carte blanche. You can say whatever you want. No one believes horror writers or science fiction writers have been to the places they write about. Sometimes people are taken a back by the absurdity in rock and music, but I’ve always loved that. There’s never really any message, ‘cause I’m always changing my own opinions about stuff. If anything, it has to have a balance between giving people enough tangible things to listen to, while also giving them enough elbow room to create their own input. That keeps it alive. If everything were written in obvious terms, it’d be dead in the water.” Clutch’s website designer, Doug Fisher, came up with the cool idea of linking Fallon’s references within the lyrics portion of the site. For example, click on “little bunny fu fu” and you go to

Gospel also plays into Fallon’s style, imbuing him with the air of a preacher. It is not uncommon to hear “Can I get an Amen” during a Clutch song. He was not, however, raised on such music. “I went to Catholic Church, man. They had a lot more bells and smoke.” He fell in love with it through television and the radio. “Just the groove of it: it has a huge swing and melodies that went into the blues and rock‘n’roll. They really aren’t that far flung from each other when you look at the family tree of rock and music.”

During the last-minute set up at Slim’s, the crowd swelled in anticipation of Clutch. It’s hard to be an opening band anywhere, but in San Francisco the audience won’t even arrive until the headliner begins to set up, preferring to smoke cigarettes in the fog than watch untried bands. I asked the dude in charge of Clutch’s merch table if a lot of people mosh at Clutch shows. He said no. He was wrong. Clutch played all their favorite songs to a room full of maniacs: Immortal, Tight Like That, I Have The Body of John Wilkes Booth, 10001110101, Cypress Grove, The Mob Goes Wild, and choice selections from Beale Street, to name a few. Gaster did several drum solos, and similar improvisation ran through the whole band, often resulting in fifteen-minute compositions of two or more songs. Unfortunately, organist Mick Schauer, who has been featured on Clutch’s last two recordings, was not present. Sarah Billiet, cellist and organist of opening band Murder By Death, instead provided accompaniment on a couple of Beale Street’s songs.

The sleek, classic sound of From Beale Street To Oblivion fit nicely beside Clutch’s more metal songs, and sounded more aggressive live than on the recording. Back in 1995, Dan said, "We may not sound like Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath or AC/DC or bands like that, but we owe more to that kind of band in a way than any other." On Beale Street these influences are felt more than any other album. Fallon doesn’t want to look at it as a return to their roots, however. “The more we play the more we understand rock’n’roll music and we’ve come to appreciate the confluence between American blues men and English rockers, that period of time when classic blues and rock just mated, between 1975 and 65’. That’s when my favorite music was made. I don’t think we ever want to consciously go back to our roots. It’s sort of giving up and surrendering and we always want to move forward.”

If there is one thing that defines Clutch, it’s constantly moving forward. Fallon hates the idea of having a crutch, whether it be LSD or four-four timing. “Reality, as it is, seems to be pretty entertaining. I don’t need to make it any more exciting because it’s pretty overwhelming as it is.” Their work ethic has them jamming 3-4 times a week and “time off” is more of a mindset than an actuality. “We’ll get back from tour and in a week be back at JP’s place. Sometimes you have to bang your head against the wall for weeks, but then you’ll have this moment when, all of a sudden, there’s half a dozen songs. Having played together for so long we can anticipate each other’s intents. At this point, playing with other musicians is like learning another language. But it’s important to risk failure, it helps you reference where you are and where you shouldn’t go.”

Beale Street was recorded in an entirely different style than previous Clutch recordings. Upon settling the basic track list, the band began a two-week tour across the country that ended in an L.A. studio, with producer “Evil” Joe Barresi (Tool, Queens Of The Stone Age). Having toured with the songs, they were fresh in their minds and in their fingertips while recording. The process gave Beale Street a live feel, a richness or soul. “I like songs where you can hear someone inhaling or the squeaking of a high-hat hardware. It makes it sound like you’re in the room. It’s got more presence. Whereas recordings that are sterile, just a list of songs, are maybe sonically impressive, seem kind of dead to me.” Mick Schauer’s B3 organ (or “sonic trampoline,” as Gaster calls it) added its warm tone to a second Clutch album, again allowing Sult the freedom to do more solos as on Robot Hive/Exodus.

With “2 dozen ideas” for songs already in the works since recording Beale Street, it sounds like Clutch will continue releasing an album almost yearly since ‘97. Fallon has also recently released a side project called The Company Band, and Gaster, Sult, Maines, and Schauer have completed work in their side project, The Bakerton Group. When I asked Fallon to predict the future ten years from now, he answered realistically, and optimistically: “Let’s see, that will be 2018.” He screwed up his eyes. “Hopefully, we’ll still be making music. Touring gets harder the older you get, not because your back hurts but because your roots get deeper at home and your responsibilities get deeper. Hopefully, we’ll still be able to go around the world and play rock‘n’roll and entertain people while doing it. ‘Entertainment’ sounds like a cheap idea, but that’s really what it is. People work all week and by the time Friday or Saturday rolls around, they want to adjust their head a little bit. To be able to do that here, there and anywhere, that’s all I can really ask for.”


Scarecrow is an integral part of the Bay Area’s metal, its members having made up such bands as Exhumed, Dekapitator, Repulsion, Old Grandad, Vicious Rumors, and Cutthroats 9. With this band history, you wouldn’t expect anything less than what Scarecrow brings, but you might not be ready for it. Matt Harvey’s and Bud Burke’s dualing solos are seemless, Will Carroll exploding like a suicide bomber behind them, and Damien Sisson’s bass drives them onward. To put it simply, Scarecrow’s concept of a break down is a drop from 300bpm to 250bmp. But they don’t skimp on catchy riffs: the hooks are there, as the audience at Annie’s Social Club attested, their fists raised to the chorus of Twilight’s Last Gleaming. I actually cracked a few ribs that night, while trying to photograph them, and that, in the morning, if not anything else, made me think of Scarecrow.

Mattie: How would you describe Scarecrow‘s sound?

Matt: Ugh, metal? Old school metal.
Damien: I always say “classic metal?”
Will: I always say all the “M” metal bands: Metallica, Motörhead, Megadeth, Metal Church, Mercyful Fate… all those bands. We’re just a big M.

Mattie: What are you looking forward to about the tour?

Will: Playin’ to people other than ex-girlfriends and drunks I’ve known for 15 years. (laughs) It’s the first tour any of us have done in a while, so it’s a bonus.
Damien: I’m interested to see how the band works together, and see if by the end we have a new perspective on our playing.

Mattie: And you’ve got a new album to promote?

Matt: It’s a split with Landmine Marathon, a kind of death-core band, similar to Bolt Thrower. It won’t be one of those splits where you can’t tell the difference between the first and the second band. (laughs)

Mattie: How’d recording go?

Matt: We’d only been playin for a couple months when we started to record. The guitar tracks turned out to be unusable so we went to a whole separate studio, and then those weren’t usable and that was totally my fault. So we did it again. It seemed like this endless process, and definitely the last time we record like that.
Damien: I remember what you said, Yeah, it should be done and out by January, 2007.
Matt: I meant ‘08. (laughs) I think when we started, we didn’t even have Bud yet.
Will: I didn’t even know this guy yet! Neither me or Damien. Actually, we didn’t know Bud until a couple days before our first gig.
Damien: Like first practice, it was like, lets take some photos.

Matt: Bud, yr solos are crazy, how do you play guitar so fast?

Bud: No life. Stayin’ at home and just jammin’. It’s not a very exciting story. I’m just totally addicted and love it.
Matt: The lady of the lake came out of the swamp and taught him…
Will: Yeah, he goes home and squeezes madballs all the time.

Mattie: I thought a madball was an eight ball in a sock?

Will: No, the little monster head balls.

Mattie: Did you approach it technically or just from loving it?

Bud: For a long time I didn’t know what I was doing, just jamming’ and havin’ fun. Eventually, I learned some music theory because I got more curious about how it worked. From there I began to practice scales. I’m the scale guy and Matt’s the riff guy.
Will: Before our first gig I walked into the studio and Bud was doing the Pac-Man theme song, and I was like: This guy is in.

Mattie: Will, you’re playing in four bands right now?

Will: No. Scarecrow is the only real active band. Old Grandad plays here and there and Ulysses’s Siren and Warning are both on hiatus.

Mattie: How do you hold all those songs in yr head?

Matt: This guy has a photographic memory. He not only knows all of those songs, but he knows every metal cover song, straight through.
Will: Yeah, I really don’t know how, cause I don’t take care of my brain, that’s for sure.

Mattie: Where do most of the lyrics come from?

Matt: I wrote the first few songs when I was working at Alternative Tentacles (Jello Biafra’s record label) and I got exposed to a lot of political shit. So the earlier ones were political and the most recent ones are about kickin’ ass.
Will: It’s about putting the scalple down and pickin’ up a baseball bat.
Matt: Just shit that fits the engery of the music. The music is heavy and aggressive and powerful so… even the political lyrics aren’t about telling people what to do. The whole thing for me is keeping them open ended enough for people to take what they want from it, if they want to. Or else they could say, I like music that’s loud and angry and I don’t care what the guys sayin’. Nothin’ too fancy. Not savin’ the world.

Mattie: Speaking of saving the work, if Scarecrow were president for one day, what would be the first thing you’d do?

Bud: I’ve definitely got my agenda planned. If we were president, #1: legalize pot.
Matt: I’d use it to make lots and lots of money.
Will: While they’d be doing that, I’d be sleeping.

Scarecrow recently released a split with Landmine Marathon on Level Plane Records. They’re available at and at all their shows. With the new album done, they’re looking to work with a record label.

Fueled By Fire

by Buttface Bamman

Fueled By Fire isn’t what you might expect of a thrash-metal band. Don’t get me wrong: the riffs are there, the mind-blowing shred-skills, the skank beats, nihilistic lyrics, and whammy bar shrieks… but they aren’t even old enough to drink! In fact, Chris Monroy, one of the two lead guitarists, is just 16, and I predict he’ll have set several fret boards on fire by voting age. Ugh… heh heh. Though their songs may make you want to parachute into a nuclear holocaust, they’re totally chill guys. They’ve got the unique excitement of a band being recognized all over the world for the first time. But they definitely aren’t boasting; they’re just happy that people like their music.
It’s easy to imagine that Fueled By Fire are at the beginning of a prolific music career. They’ve been signed by Metal Blade Records with a three CD deal: the first, Spread The Fire, was released in September ‘07; and this April they’ll leave for their first European tour. For a band that plays mostly underage shows, they’ve got a lot of growing room (in fact, this, the night of their first Northwest American Tour, was their first 21+ only show ever). For more on upcoming tours, check out Ugh… heh heh, you said moron.

Buttface Bamman: So heh heh… do you guys like, do it?

Band: What?

BF: You know, score with chicks and stuff?

Rick: Yeah, we do it all the time.

BB: Whoa.

Carlos: It's all about the music: fast and loud.
Rick: It drives us, it drives everyone in the crowd. Bang your head!

BB: Spread The Fire is cool. Have people…aghh…like have
people…ugh…are people like, whoa… this is the most awesome thing I've ever heard?

Carlos: Yeah. Surprisingly. I mean around the world and shit. Particularly Germany. I mean, there's nothing but metal over there and for them to say that we're true metal…
Rick: It's a fuckin' honor.

BB: Do you ever like, write a song, like, dnnn dnnn dnnn dnn,
dnnndnnndnnddnn when your like in line at Walgreens, and then wanna punch people and like, smear Vagisil all over their face?

Rick: Yeah, sometimes I want to punch people in the face. You hear it all in yr head. We've been playin' in the same garage for 5 years now. We try not to sit down and just say, we need to write a song now, and it has to be this long, and whatnot. We just jam.

BB: Some dude, earlier, said you were like, Fueled By Fashion… do you wanna like, call up his mom and like, spank her?

Rick: I'd rather beat the shit outta that guy. He doesn't know us.
Carlos: Yeah he doesn't know we've always dressed this way. The way we dress is a way of life for us. All of this shit is a way of life. These guys can talk their shit.
Anthony: At least they know who we are. We don't know who they are.
Rick: No one's ever said anything to our face either.

BB: Ugh… you guys ever smashed your instruments?

Rick: I want to… but it's too expensive.
Chris: If it wasn't mine maybe. I love my guitar.

BB: On that song Dreams of Terror, at about 2 ½ minutes in, it sounds like some guy got up in the background and went:

Anthony: What part was that?
Carlos: Oh, the back up part. That was actually two separately
recorded tracks, one high and one low, and we put them together and made it sound just like Freddy Krueger. We were pretty surprised, so we kept it.

BB: Ugh, you're going to like, destroy this western us tour, what are you most excited for?

Carlos: Meeting the people who like our music. We've got a few 21 and older shows so that's cool. Then the second half of the tour will be all ages shows, and that will rule.

BB: You're set to do the Reign of Tyrants/Keep It True X festival in Germany this April. Will it be your first time playing in Europe?

Anthony: Yeah, I'm a first time flyer. I'm fuckin' scared.
Carlos: Right now, this tour will be our first time out of the state, except once in Mexico.

BB: If you could say one thing to your high school principle, what would it be?

Carlos: You are a fuckin' burnout.
Anthony: Look at me now bitch! There were a group of them dude.
Rick: Yeah, they were all dicks. There was some punk band that wrote a song that said, Fuck Mr. Z.
Carlos: Oh yeah, Mr. Z. They fucked with him. They were like: Fuck Mr. Z!
Rick: Anyway, he probably wouldn't even recognize us.
Carlos: I wouldn't recognize him.

BB: All joking aside, it's been damn impressive talking with you guys, I don't know what I expected, ugh…heh heh, but it's been great. Anything you'd like to tell our readers?

Anthony: Hopefully we'll be playing before you soon.
Carlos: Thanks for all the support.
Rick: Just want to say thank you.

The Dry Spells

The Hemlock was packed in anticipation of the unique blend of folk and rock that can only be described as: The Dry Spells. Tahlia Harbour and April Hayley’s vocals saturated the venue with layers of harmony while, amazingly enough, still sounding bashful; reminiscent of daughters asking permission to go to the movies with plans of running away from home. Adria Otte’s guitar achieved an eerie, old-world ambience within the melange of instruments, including two new additions to the band: ex-drummer Raphi Gottessman and bassist Diego Gonzales. It was the band's first night playing a show with Raphi in four years, but the connection was there; the wide variety of instruments forming a wave of eclectic sound. Having gone to college with the band, it was nice to catch up in a dimly lit alley, before the show.

Mattie: You always seem to have a new instrument when I see you, how do you come across them?

April: We do have some incidental instruments, like the shruti box and the melodica.. they’re kinda like toys. They just kinda make their way into our lives and we play with them. We also have a rain stick tonight. (laughs)

Mattie: How would you describe your music?

Tahlia: It’s rock music. I want to use that broad term to keep it open to all the influences that we have.
April: Some people have described it as tapestry rock, because we weave so many layers together. It’s not conceptual in any way. It’s an aesthetic vacuum.

Mattie: The first song you wrote was based on a girl who was accidentally killed by a deer hunter, why did that compel you to write?

April: I guess I’ve always been intrigued by tragic tales. It seemed like a very poetic thing to happen, even though it was real, it seemed like it could be a folk song. So I made it into one.

Mattie: How did you ever begin to work together on those incredible vocal harmonies?

Tahlia: It happened very naturally. Completely. And I’ve never sung with anyone where it happened that way.
April: Me either. (awe’s)

Mattie: You do a version of Black Is The Color, a traditional and well-covered folk song: How’d you do it differently?

Adria: We actually wrote the music first without the song in mind.
Tahlia: We’d been playing around with some old folk songs, and the melody just fit.

Mattie: What are some of your favorite venues to play in?

Adria: I really like Café du Nord.
Tahlia: I like the Hemlock too.
Adria: I really like playing in people’s living rooms, but we hardly ever do that.
April: Yeah, playing at parties rocks. There are some really cool houses to play in.

Mattie: Like warehouse parties?

April: No, this big beautiful punk, like Victorian house, between Capp and 17th.
Adria: I think it’s called the Capp Street Asylum or something. I don’t think they actually do shows there any more.
Tahlia: We want to start playing haunted houses.
April: Yeah, just haunted houses. A haunted house tour.
Tahlia: We’d also like to play weddings.
April: We used to have this band called The Special Occasions…
Tahlia: We’d play anything, your cat’s funeral… or if you were just fired…

Mattie: Where did you find the art for your CD cover?

April: That’s my boyfriend, Devin Cecil-Wishing, and he has a website. He collected the items in the picture because they reminded him of us, then painted them. I found the dead hummingbird.

Mattie: So how have The Dry Spells changed since our time together at Bard College?

Tahlia: I think we started playing music together because we were all friends, and now it’s moved beyond just friendship. We’re trying to play things more beautifully and more accurately now. We also added a bass player.
April: When we were in NY, I feel like we didn’t even know what we were doing?
Adria: Yeah, all the academic distractions. (laughs) I feel like the Bay Area and the Hudson Valley are both beautiful settings that we reflect in our sound and lyrics.
April: Raphi, do you have anything to add, since you were in the band six years ago, then quit on us?
Raphi: Well, I just moved here from the east coast and joining the band had a big influence on that. Caitlin, the old drummer, and I were going opposite directions; we waved on the road.

Mattie: What’s gonna change now that your back?

Raphi: We’re all like a family and I think I know where the music is coming from. A band can do serious music and still be spontaneous. I think we’ll feed off each other that way… we’ll see what happens tonight.

Mattie: What drew the band to the Bay in the first place?

April: I just followed the rest of them, I didn’t want to come here at all.
Adria: I’d been thinking about moving here while at Bard. For my interests too. I didn’t want to go to NYC… I used to come here every summer to visit family.
Tahlia: We recorded some music here our freshman year in college. To play music it helps to have a community, and the Bay area is pretty laid back. We’ve met a lot great musicians here.

Mattie: Do you think SF is a scam?

April: Oh shit, that girl just fell! Um, I don’t think I could live here for the rest of my life because you’d have to live with 5 people forever. I’m never going to be rich, I’m just a librarian.
Tahlia: It’s a struggle and I definitely have my moments of frustration. But then I do get energized by all the other people who are doing creative things and how I can’t leave that. I don’t know if I‘ll ever leave, but I do get frustrated. It’s really expensive to live here.
Adria: But we might not be here for the rest of our lives guys, cause global warming will melt all the ice and then our house will be under water.

The Dry Spells hit the studio again in May to work on a full CD for fall release. To hear their music, check up on their next shows, or buy their CD’s visit:

High On Fire

Like Hopper and Fonda in Easy Rider, High On Fire’s riffs have picked up speed. When I heard “10,000” off their 1st album in 2000, I declared the opening riff the best since Sabbath. Now, with the release of their fourth album, Death Is This Communion, Rolling Stone has also noticed Matt Pike’s ability and given him the titled of one of the Top 20 “New Guitar Gods.” Of the creative process, Pike straightforwardly says, “There are certain things you know, and certain things you dick around with.”

To see them in the Bay Area, their home, on the last night of their “first” North American tour, was ideal. The show was packed for the second night when Pike and co. launched into “Fury Whip,” the first track of Death Is This Communion. They played a few classics, notably “Eyes and Teeth,” but stuck mostly to new material. Oddly, the group played few songs from their last release, Blessed Black Wings. In the middle of the show, a masked man ran on stage in his undies and jumped around like a pixie before stage diving into the pit. From the looks on the band’s faces I don’t think they had any idea what the fuck was going on. Des Kensel’s drums sounded like Hannibal’s army of elephants grinding the skulls of the dead into dust. New bassist Jeff Matz, formerly of ZEKE, added a huge bass tone. Pike communicated with the audience crammed beneath him and got some lovin’ from the ladies in the front after the encore. But before all of this, I met up with the band to talk about the tour and home-town pride.

Mattie: I woke up really hungover. Got any good cures?

Des: There’s the spicy bloody mary…
Matt: There’s the “hair of the dog” approach, or the drug you did the night before or some drug you didn’t do that helps balance and calm you. Or of course, you could always O.D. on vitamins.

Mattie: Since touring worldwide, what do you look forward to when you return to the Bay Area?

Des: Home.
Matt and Jeff: Yeah.
Matt: Having a home. Having a girlfriend. Having some sort of life.
Des: I like coming back to a nice Bay Area burrito. Then I hit up Zack’s for a slice. Those are two of the first things.

Mattie: Matt, what was it like moving to the Bay Area from a military school in Colorado?

Matt: Ahhh, I got to be a spoiled punk rocker (laughs). I moved here in ‘89. Got to go to 942 Gilman Street. I was livin’ in San Jose but I’d drive up to Berkeley and Oakland every weekend for the metal shows. In San Jose there’s still a scene there. Growin’ up I got to see Neurosis and the Melvins and all these people that were just coming up that are, like now, they’re legends. It’s weird to see that happen in front of you.

Mattie: And Des, how’d you get out here?

Des: I grew up on the East Coast, in Connecticut, and I came out in ’96. Threw my drums in the car, and drove…

Mattie: It was random?

Des: Well, no. I wanted to stop in a couple cities and jam with people. Kinda a little drum vacation. I ran out of money in SF and had to get a job, and then I ran out of places to park my car and sleep, so I found an apartment. Then I found a girl(laughs). Then I started jammin’ with Matt and I was like, Well, I got an apartment, a girl, and a band--I’m good to go. I mean, it was during the dot com thing and finding an apartment was almost impossible. But in the Mission there was just a killer punk and metal scene and I was lovin’ it. Just goin’ to warehouse shows, specifically 17th and Capp. I just became a “local” pretty quick.

Matt: And we were spoiled. People came to our first shows immediately. Not packed…

Des: Not packed, but like a 100 or 150 people on the first night we played at the Covered Wagon Saloon…

Matt: Yeah, for a band that they’d never even heard play. We were kinda lucky like that.

Mattie: Did some fans carry over from Sleep?

Matt: Yeah, a little bit but mostly just us knowing a hella lot of people. It boosted us up, gave us the self-esteem to keep going.

Mattie: Of the members of Sleep, Al and Chris went on to form “Om” and Justin became a monk, but you just got more metal. Why?

Matt: I got sick of playin’ slow. And Des comes from a hardcore/East Coast background, so we instantly wanted to try to speed it up but not play punk rock.

Mattie: Death Is This Communion slays, how’s the tour been going?

Des: It’s been killer, very positive.
Matt: I didn’t expected this response. The changes have been like--we just have more time to sound check and make sure everything’s dialed up. We’re all getting more anal about how we like things on stage and it’s the first time we’ve got a crew, a driver… Before we’d be vanning it. We’d be that band that stays on your floor and it was cool, but it’s nice to have these amenities.

Mattie: I saw you did multiple drum tracks on some songs.

Des: I think on “Headhunter” I have 4 or 5 tracks. And three on “Khanrad’s Wall.” It’s something I wanted to do for a while.

Mattie: Some people are suggesting that the guitar was held back on this album to allow the drums come through. Have you taken a “less is more” philosophy?

Matt: I don’t know about that. I think the guitar on this album is really in your face. It’s not as dry, and it’s not as up close a sound. I think that Jack went for a little different tone. But the riffs on this album are right there. I’d have to disagree.

Mattie: And you guys met Jeff through Hank Williams the 3rd, right?

Matt: No, we‘d admired his bass tone when we toured with Zeke. What happened was, I called up Hank and asked if he’d like to be a guest bassist on our next album, cause I couldn’t figure out who to get. And he said, have you tried Jeff Matz.
Jeff: It was good timing, cause Zeke was coming to a grinding halt. Our singer/guitar player is married with a kid and isn’t really interested in touring anymore. I jammed with these guys a couple times and it sounded cool and it’s been great ever since.

Mattie: Would you say Zeke is done playing?

Jeff: Zeke still plays local shows in the Seattle area, but that’s gonna be about it.

Mattie: Matt, people are beginning to catch some of your songs’ literary influences. What are some of your favorite books?

Matt: I generally love anything by Lovecraft, the LOTR trilogy, Philip K Dick, I mean Valis is bizaar, and then there’s Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories. The lyrics have a lot of agnostic, a lot science-ficiton, religion, political things, a lot of them are masked in a duality of my personal struggles or our struggles as a band.

Mattie: You guys like to add anything?

Matt: Just, uh, High On Fire’s here to slay and here to stay! I thought that one up earlier, today… (laughs)

Cannibal Corpse's George "Corpsegrinder" Fischer

It’s been 25 years since Brian Slegal founded Metal Blade Records and there’s never been a better time to be a metalhead. For this most brutal of anniversaries, the label sent Cannibal Corpse, The Black Dahlia Murder, The Red Chord, The Absence, and Goatwhore to shred the American country-side with a violence unseen since the days of Manifest Destiny. In San Francisco, a line formed outside Slim’s hours before the box office opened on the second night of performances. Cannibal Corpse bassist, Alex Webster, chatted with waiting fans over a boxed dinner. And before the sun had even gone down, Goatwhore ripped into their set. The Red Chord, riding on their new album Prey For Eyes, allowed their Boston roots to shine, mocking the crowd, then launching into their signature blend of complex time changes, noise, and grindcore. Next up were The Black Dahlia Murder, who’s guitarist, John Kempainen owes his playing ability to “just the pure chronic intake of it all” as much as practice. It was the night before the official release of their new album, Nocturnal, and I was lucky enough to speak with singer, Trevor Strnad. And later, I got to speak with pummeling vocalist, George “Corpsegrinder” Fischer, of Cannibal Corpse.

Just before Cannibal Corpse came on stage, a bouncer stated, “there’s gotta be like 700 people in here.” For a venue with max capacity at 420, that’s pretty brutal. Cannibal opened with The Time To Kill Is Now. Their ninety minute sets always seem to stretch the concept of what is physically possible. The band looked like a bomber flying straight into the crowd, Corpsegrinder as the propeller. Before the show, we talked in between drummer Paul (Mazurkiewicz) icing beers and everyone cracking the vilest of jokes.

Mattie: You’ve been on the road since September 6th. How’s the Metal Blade 25th Anniversary tour going?

George: We’re having a really good time. All the other bands are great. We’ve toured with everyone besides The Absence before.

Mattie: Any special things taking place for the anniversary?

George: In L.A. Brian came on stage. Trevor from Black Dahlia Murder was singing Stripped, Raped and Strangled with me, and near the end Brian came out and put us in a headlock. I didn’t know who it was and I was ready to kill, but then it was Brian and I was like, ok. Brian sang some of the lines, too. Twenty-five years is a long time, and I think when we look back we’ll be like, wow we were a part of that. A lot of us are here because we listened to and bought records that were Metal Blade records.

Mattie: Has Cannibal Corpse always been with Metal Blade?

George: Since the beginning. Brian’s like a friend, it’s never a business meeting, like: Hi Brian, how are the records selling? (laughs) No, it’s like, hey Brian, how’s it going. We go to football games.

Mattie: I’ve noticed during performances that you take a particular stance when screaming the high vocals. Is that to keep the air flowing?

George: I used to lean back because I thought it’d give me more air. I used to think that. Then I stopped. (laughs) It’s one of those things, I don’t think about how I’m singing when I’m singing. Kids ask, How do you do that? Well, I don’t smoke anything. Period. I don’t drink before the shows. Sometimes, if I can’t get the “catch” from the deep stuff, you know (growls), I drink some soda. Someone told me that once, when I couldn’t get my growl to go over the hump. Cause the syrup coats your throat. I was always against it, but it worked.

Mattie: Since the music is so technical, how do band practices usually work for you guys?

George: If we’re doing a tour we pretty much do the set list. If there’s one song that particularly, we’re having trouble with, we practice it. If we’re doing a record, obviously, it’s different. It’s more a question for the other guys cause they write the music. But, when it comes to a new song, if Alex wrote it he has to teach the riffs to Rob and Pat (O’Brian). He probably has a general drum beat in mind. He’ll say, Paul, why don’t you do a skank beat or a blast beat here and then Paul will tweek and tinker with that. In the studio everything is under the microscope, that’s where I tweek things.

Mattie: About The Wretched Spawn DVD included with the album, it’s incredibly informative…

George: Yeah, I think that the reason it was so popular was because of that part with Frantic Disembowlment. It made people, who maybe doubted the band’s ability to play, open their eyes. We aren’t the most technical band compared to some bands. We have some songs that are slower and just heavier than shit and aren’t the hardest thing to play. They have more groove to them. And some songs are outright hard to play. Make Them Suffer, is a great song, but really difficult. Even if people have no love for the music, they may at least respect it, after seeing the DVD, which for me is the biggest thing. No one knows how hard it is to sing these songs except someone who plays in a band. And me.

Mattie: Kill is the fastest, most brutal, no bullshit CC album to date, in my opinion. Was there anything in particular that motivated you?

George: I just think everyone writes what they write. Gallery of Suicide is where we got people saying we were experimental, if you will. But we don’t sit around like a meeting board and go, OK, this is how we’re gonna write this record. This is the first album without Jack (Owen), and we thought, Let’s clean-slate it. The title is short and sweet. It sums everything up. I like the brutal covers but it’s cool having a cover with just the band name and album title. No one’s looking at how brutal the album cover is, they listen to the music.

Mattie: What’s it like being part of the Metalocalypse cartoon?

George: I actually just did some more stuff in L.A. three days ago. It’s great. (Creators) Tommy (Blacha) and Brendon (Small) are awesome, super cool guys, and totally into metal. The fact that they get guys in bands to do voiceovers is awesome. It’s good for us cause people who aren’t metalheads are watching it. All the help we can get, every person wearing our shirt, is a big bonus. We play an underground form of music. And I think there’s a misconception that they are making fun of metal. There are some things in metal over the years that, you know, you can laugh at. I could look at old pics of myself when I was a metal teenage and go--(makes pained face). If you can’t poke fun at yourself, you can’t laugh at anyone.

Mattie: It’s funny to hear you say that CC is underground, it’s been around eighteen years. You’ve just been THAT band.

George: Yeah, and there are a lot of other bands that have been around for that time. There’s Morbid Angel, Immolation… and its because of the music and the fans. We all help each other. We bust our ass at the shows. We’re more visible now cause the band was in Ace Ventura, I’m doing these cartoon things, we did Sounds of the Underground, we played a birthday party for Cher’s son Elijah. All the bands are a community, so a victory for us is a victory for death metal in general. And it’s better than ever right now.

Mattie: It’s been an honor, anything you’d like to add?

George: Stay METAL.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Oregon - Willamette Valley - Chehalem Winery

Chehalem Winery
Willamette Valley

Oregon is Pinot country, which means that it’s one of the most weather sensitive wine regions in the world. Pinot noir benefits from warm days and cool nights. 2002 was hailed as one of the best wine years in Oregon history (about 30 years total), and many wine makers believe that 2006 will rival that. Chehalem Winery in Willamette Valley produces a few popular and well distributed wines that can be found in most wine stores. However, far superior wines can be found when visiting their winery. With tastings by appointment only, I highly recommend the intimate and delicious experience their tasting offers (plus, they’re free).

Chehalem considers France’s Alsace region their standard for quality, and accordingly allow the weather to determine the taste of their wines. Some producers would rather force their grapes into a particular taste during the production, but, as Jason explained during our tasting, Chehalem prefers to allow their wines to reflect each year’s unique weather. For example, 2007 brought early rains, two weeks early in fact, so that year’s wines will have a higher acidity. Allowing such characteristics to come through allows drinkers to taste the past and perhaps develop a closer relationship with the wine region itself.

I liked Chehalem’s whites, particularly their 2006, Pinot grigio Reserve, which has an impeccability delicate toastiness similar to restrained Californian chardonnay while retaining the light fruit of the Pinot grigio grape. I was even more blown away by their selection of Pinot noir. Chehalem has three vineyards dedicated to the grape, hence the name of their most commonly found Pinot noir, 3 Vineyards, which combines them. Their three high-end Pinot noirs showcase one of each vineyard, and the particular growing conditions can be clearly tasted. My favorite was the 2002 Stoller Vineyard Pinot Noir, grown in volcanic soil. This tasting is not one to miss.

The Best Hot Chocolate in the Bay

Bittersweet, The Chocolate Café
Two Locations: San Francisco - 2123 Fillmore Street
Oakland - 5427 College Avenue

What more can be said? If you prefer your steaming cup of cocoa more chocolate bar than chocolate syrup, the Bittersweet café will be a relief, if not a revelation. The menu offers a choice of five decadent hot chocolates, each meticulously researched for the better part of a year by the café’s founders (self-proclaimed chocoholics). As a staff member explained the mélange of milk chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, non-dairy chocolate, and cocoa percentages, the science of it all made my head swim. Luckily, you don’t have to know the theory to taste it.

Just try The Spicy: with a blend of four chocolates plus cayenne and white pepper, it’s not for the faint of heart. Its delicate heat seems to come from all sides at once. If spicy isn’t your thing, the Mocha is the café’s signature chocolate latte, a combination of chocolate, espresso, and milk. The always friendly staff melt what look like pieces of chocolate bars, add espresso, then pour the almost bubbling concoction into the mug, where cool milk is added to achieve the perfect temperature, sometimes with a bit of “latte art” on top.

Besides the hot stuff, Bittersweet offers pastries, cakes, and seasonal gelees, all made in-house. But I’d put my money on anything chocolate. The croissants aren’t so flaky and have a pitiful amount of chocolate inside. The gelees are light and not overly sweet, suggesting the perfect piece of fruit, but why eat fruit when the chocolate cinnamon cake or ganache is a perfect accompaniment to your chocolate overdose? Further, a dazzling selection of hand-picked chocolate bars from all over the world lines the walls. To bring such delicacies to the Bay Area was what originally prompted the creation of the café.

Along with the warm cocoa and staff, the café’s décor is a blend of antique wood and pastels. Though the line can sometimes be daunting, it’s only because each cup is made to order. With an upstairs for extra seating, it’s a shame the café does not offer a wireless connection. On second thought, that might be a good thing: with internet access and hot chocolate this good, I’d have no reason to leave.

Brains In The 80’s: Review of Return of the Living Dead

With punk sarcasm, cheesy acting, and not-so-cheesy gore, Return of the Living Dead turns the Godfather of horror into a sleaze show. But that’s a good thing. Released in ‘85, the film picks up where George Romer’s The Night of The Living Dead left off, asking the logical question: What happened to all the zombies? It turns out the military vacuum sealed them in barrels, then lost them. Those canisters somehow got into the basement of a medical supply store, where they’ve been gathering dust… until now. Frank, hilariously played by James Karen, is a senior employee with an over-developed sense of humor. He’s teaching the new-kid the ropes when they accidently break one the canisters open, releasing a noxious gas that turns the dead, into the un-dead. Too bad for them the store is located beside a cemetery where a bunch of punks are listening to bad 80’s music on a huge boom box.

This movie succeeds in all the places it shouldn’t. With the exception of Karen, the acting is ridiculous; a bunch of teens with names such as Scuz, Spider, Suicide, and Trash, complain about life while desecrating a cemetary, yet refreshingly, and unexpectedly, by the end of the movie it’s clear that everything is the grownups’ fault. When the owner of the medical store shows up, he’d rather try to fix the mess himself than get bad press, which leads to some sick scenes in a mortuary, and furthers the spread of the infection. Then there’s the military, and they sure aren’t going to fix anything. By the time infected rain begins to fall on Trash, dancing naked between gravestones, the world seems long gone. But not before the movie cranks out a mass of solid gore to a soundtrack featuring such bands as The Cramps, Flesh Eaters, and The Damned.

Beyond the zombies’ obvious craving for brains, many of the film’s ideas are just plain demented. I mean, did anyone expect to see a split dog used for medical education barking on its side on the floor? Or two men who are still alive when rigormortis sets in and blood pools inside their flesh? Then there’s the torso of a woman, her exposed spine flipping around like a fish out of water, who shrieks, “Brains make the pain go away!” All right, maybe you would expect that. But there’s another twist: the zombies are smarter than those in Romero’s film and move a lot faster. This concept has been recently exploited, but seeing it done well in the 80’s is a treat.

Filled with epic moments, like a zombie reaching for a police CB and requesting, “Send more cops,” this movie is hilarious and surprising. But for all the camp, when the original zombie from the canister makes his appearance, the special effects are enough to gross out even the most seasoned horror fans.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

This Is The End...

The purpose of this blog was to get myself to write. Secondly, it was to create an example of my writing for the editors of magazines, zines, journals, and other literary media, so that I could get paid. I began this blog almost 2 years ago, and now I have reached one of my goals: being published in magazines that have a wide readership. From my experience, beginning a blog, writing on it regularly, demanding that the writing is REAL writing, not just some bored annoying shit, going out and trying new things, experimenting with styles and genres of writing you are unfamiliar with, and consistently producing, will lead to bigger and better things. As long as you are producing, your product will find its way into other people's lives. So, in the words of SATAN: there is no hope, you will die alone beside yr ink. Wait--no, no... what I mean is this: even when you think no one is listening, somewhere, somehow, somebody is waiting to read yr piece.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Tattooing In The Land Of Antiquity

It always makes me feel good to see tattooing unfold its inky wings across new parts of the globe, or in this case, return to parts where it's long been missed. In May, on the 30th anniversary of the first Athenian tattoo shop to legally open its doors to the public in 2000 years, the 1st International Athens Tattoo Convention commenced for three long, hot days of great artists, buzzing needles, and friendly competition at the Technopolis of the City of Athens; an industrial warehouse-type building whose giant brick smoke stacks blinked their red lights in the night. A metal and grunge show took place next door and only a chain link fence stood between the world recognized tattoo artists and loud head banging musicians. With an unprecedented heat wave hitting Greece (foreshadowing the recent fires that have swept two-thirds of the country), the 1st International Athens Tattoo Convention looked intelligently designed to be a sweaty, bloody ride.

In 2002, the Athens Summer Olympics caused a city-wide restoration, boosting the city’s pride and inculcating the belief that a new dawn is coming. Since two-thirds of Greece’s entire population reside in Athens, this zeitgeist is paramount. The emerging respect for personal freedom and acceptance of tattooing is certainly a big step forward. For me, the extraordinary age of the city compared with the seemingly “new” emergence of tattoo art seemed stunning. I was excited see my Athenian friend, an apprentice at local tattoo shop AMAZ-ink, and discuss the situation. But first I had to find her.

When first entering the packed convention, I was greeted by Greek shops Tommy Tattoo, Takis-Tsan, and Spartan Tattoos, offering a taste of home town pride. The organizer of the convention was Mike aka The Athens, appropriately. His stand was swamped from beginning to end of the convention. I found him side by side with Neil Ahern and Jondix, both of Spain and all good friends. These three might be said to be sharing a path. Inspired by the relationship of tattoos and spirituality, their work is a tradition of evolution, using Native American symbols, Hindu and Zen figures, and beautifully subtle color. They turn up the volume so that their tattoos scream what the Dalai Lama only whispered: Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.

Mike’s affinity for tradition was shared by most of the artists at the convention. Two shops over I met Pili Mo’o, a master of the Pelonesian art of tattooing and self-described “last of the kind in Europe”. He uses a round stick about a foot long with a needles on the end to create his tattoos. On the second day of the convention, the spectacle of his art drew a crowd so large I could barely get a glimpse. When asked where he is from, he answered, “the world”, and his demeanor agreed with him. He treated everyone as family. The philosophy behind Pelonesian tattooing is that the tattoo must represent social standing within a community. It is determined and designed by the tattoo artist, not the tattooed, and more is added as the recipient’s social status grows, whether by gaining prestige, wealth, a good job, or a family and kids.

I met a little known Greek artist, Payloy Mela, who, tattooing “on a mountain outside of Sparta”, likewise prefers traditional tattooing methods. He uses just a single needle. “My tattoos look like they just came off an unearthed vase,” he remarked. They are also prototypes of the uniquely Greek designs found all over the world, such as the Greek key and the Spartan Warrior. It was very interesting to listen to his ancient philosophies while hardcore-techno blasted from a Red Bull sponsored all-terrain vehicle just a few feet away.

Finally, I found my friend Jenny Skalkos toward the back of the convention with AMAZ-ink shop head, Marios. She’d arrived that morning at nine o’clock, three hours before opening to the public, and before anyone else. With the convention running until midnight each day, it was a long weekend to be an apprentice. “But the inspiration is priceless,” she said, “so many great artists in one place, there is no better way to learn.” When I asked her about Greek tattooing in the past she lay out a complicated picture for me that I could only partially grasp. What I understood was that originally, tattooing had been practice by nomadic Scythian warriors who once inhabited Greece prior to even Socrates and Aristotle. As proof that the long arm of the law cannot reach everywhere, living examples of that tradition can still be found in the northern Píndhos Mountains in Greece. Fittingly, tattoos were later used to brand criminals, and then fell into religious disdain as the Romans, and Christianity, spread across the globe. But the story is much more complicated than that, and no one book has fully pieced it together.

As each day came and passed several different contests took place to display the best ink at the convention, whether completely healed or still bleeding. On Saturday, the tattoo work of Paolo Acuna, owner of Divinity Tattoo & Body Piercing, out of Scottsdale, Arizona, won the Best Color Tattoo Contest for a stunning sleeve of pink and orange roses. The winning piece was on his wife. “I’ve only been touched by him”, Annette said. Things were going well for the couple, Paolo was tattooing Ganesha, the Hindu elephant-god, on the hand of a man who’d waited three years for him to come to Athens. “We visited Skiathos before arriving here,” Annette said, “it was amazingly beautiful.” Most everyone from abroad arrived a couple days early or left a few days late, the draw of the lush and hedonistic Greek islands too strong to resist. Since then, Skiathos has been completely evacuated due to the fires.

On Sunday, the last day of the convention, I spoke with Eiland Hogan, of Forever Tattoo in Sacramento, and organizer of All American Tattoo Festival that took place in June. I asked him about his stay in Athens. “We’ve had a wild time. The place next to our hotel was on fire and a shooting took place just around the corner.” I guess he stayed in a section of Athens still awaiting gentrification. “But the people are great here, and food is awesome.” Pili Mo’o came over and they talked like old friends. Soon everyone, the artists and the attendees, were chillin’ and enjoying the last moments of the convention. The talk then shifted to meeting in Spain, meeting in Milan - and eventually came around to more pressing matters, where to hold that night’s party.

Friday, September 14, 2007

A Swift Kick In The Bells

How often will San Francisco bear witness to a line up like this year’s Rock The Bells? Think: EPMD, Public Enemy, all eight remaining members of Wu-Tang, and seven-year-retired Rage Against the Machine. Bands that we thought we’d never see perform again. On top of that, add veterans Cypress Hill, Mos Def, The Roots, MF Doom, and Pharoah Monch--the 40,000 tickets were sold out long in advance.

Arriving at noon, the ticket line extended along the shore almost to the Bay Bridge. The water-side venue (without a view of the water) was the parking lot for AT&T Park. Newly emerging and viscously political lyricist Immortal Technique was scheduled for 12:50pm, but there was no way most ticket holders were going to get a chance to see him. The day was unusually hot and there was no shade, just pavement. The fans who’d made it inside looked confused by the lack of seating and ate deep fried hot dogs to ground themselves. From the distance, the Main Stage hurled its thunderous beats. Near the entrance the Paid Dues Stage, the smaller of the two stages, greeted the audience. Billed as an “independent rap” festival, the Paid Dues tour originated in 2006 and already boasted some of the best lyricists out to date, before teaming up with Rock The Bells this year. Now artists like Murs 3:16, Sage Francis, The Coup, and reclusive MF Doom were greeting eight times larger audiences. At 1:30, Immortal Technique left the stage, his lyrics trailing behind him like smoke behind a Scud.

At the Main Stage the crowd was thick, and left-wing politics were flying. A man stepped up after Mos Def and Talib Kweli’s set and yelled the names of men awaiting state execution, after which the crowd yelled “free them!”. Then the mic cut out and was not turned on again until Razhel’s awesome solo beat-boxing came through, followed by The Roots, who kicked into swing with an impressively complicated rhythm scheme. Captain Kirk on guitar and the dancin’ man with the sousaphone gave a great performance. Next up were Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Flava Flave, who burst on stage with an energy that unfortunately soon subsided. Even the brilliant red beard of Anthrax’s Scott Ian couldn’t maintain, since his road-beaten guitar was inaudible. However, it was Public Enemy.

As the sun began to sink, Cypress Hill lit up the night. Their set was incredible. A couple songs in, Sen Dog asked B-Real if it might be time for a chronic break. Getting the appropriate response from the crowd, B-Real lit a huge joint, all the more massive for being displayed on the giant video screens on both sides of the stage, while DJ Muggs fashioned some beats to inhale by. Behind the group bobbed an inflatable gold Buddha with a green pot leaf on its belly. Cypress Hill covered all the old hits and ended with an aggressive version of Rock (Superstar) that got everyone on their feet, properly setting up the next group: Wu-Tang.

Wu-Tang came onto the stage like an army. The eight members stood in front with special guest Redman while their crew filled in the back. Method Man was soon crowd surfing over 36 Chambers while Ghostface Killah, the RZA, the GZA, Raekwon, U-God, Inspectah Deck, and Masta Killa held it down. At times the excessive amount of talent on the stage left one or two of the Wu dynasty standing idly, waiting their turn, but the sound was flawless and amped. A hardcore performance of Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta Fuck With began completely a cappella. They took a break in honor of Ghostface’s birthday and took the opportunity to announce a new album coming out this spring. The only other break in the music was a moment of silence for Wu-Tang member Ol’ Dirty Bastard, who passed away in 2004.

Finally, it was time for Rage Against the Machine. The minutes passed like hours in anticipation as the whole audience pushed to the front. Then Zach de la Rocha, Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk appeared through the red synthetic smoke and launched into Testify. Immediately, three massive mosh pits erupted in the middle of the crowd. The performance was so high-energy that Zach accidentally fell over the monitors at one point. Morello's guitar sounded better live than the studio recordings and Commerford’s bass filled up every spot in the parking lot. Rage ended the show with Killing In The Name and Zach made a slight but poignant change in the lyrics: "some of those that hold office, are the same that burn crosses." Then the immense assembly exited on foot, taking over 3rd Street and backing up traffic for 45 minutes, until the riot police got out of their vans and the sirens began.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

And Now For Something Completely Different: The Pink Palace, Part 2 of 2

After sleeping all day we hit the six-hour-long happy-hour, then went to dinner. The dining complex is a huge, windowless, pink, disco-ball hangin', sixty-foot bar totin', dance-floor cafeteria. Upon taking a seat, one of the guys at our table said, "Are you Canadian, too?" We shocked everyone by informing them that no, in fact, we were not. Despite our outsider status, the people we sat with were friendly, and the food was great, beginning with a re-hydrating, salty soup, a Greek salad, and a deliciously spiced meat sauce over pasta. With beers costing 1.50 euro, it's a great deal. Next, we headed for the bar and chatted with some of the Canadians from our bus, one of whom, when he wasn't unsuccessfully hitting on short-skirted women, kept telling us that it's better to be single at the Pink Palace, and another of whom, upon learning where we'd traveled from, said, "San Francisco…yeah…aren't there a lot of fags there?" Which kind of killed the mood. We finally escaped to our room and found a party raging next door. Drinking heavily was the blonde who'd informed us that alcohol wasn't allowed inside the rooms. I swung across the balconies a few times looking down three stories, then two hundred sloping feet onto the moonlit shoreline.

The next day we rented kayaks and, rather than join the kayak-safari trip, opted to do our own thing. We'd heard from others that the quad-safari was too slow. The kayaks, described as sea-kayaks, had open cockpits and were very bulky, but they did the trick. We explored up the coast and out to a huge pinnacle of rock sticking out of the waves a hundred feet off shore. Looking up it towered straight to the sun with sea-birds nesting and cackling above. The sheer immensity of it was awesome. We almost unloaded, then noticed the thousands of sea-urchins with two inch needles sticking out. The waves of the Mediterranean grew a bit big around the next peninsula so we stopped on a beach that could only be reached by water. Later we found a sea-cave and paddled inside and found streaks of light coming from two-hundred feet above us. We were underneath a massive cliff, alone, with nothing but the sound of waves rolling in and gently breaking farther inside the cave's recesses.

That night, the party in the room next to ours was raging again. We met a chill couple and enjoyed too many sugar-filled drinks (decidedly, the bartenders were trying to kill us via glucose). There was an orgy taking place a few doors down that included a very unsure stray dog; when it managed to escape we gave it refuge on our balcony, wary of any strange fluids. The day before, The Pink Palace's cleaning ladies had brutally beaten the dog with brooms – cruelty to animals is not uncommon in Greece – until a couple of lodgers saved it.

It crossed my mind, that in many ways the dog's life mirrored the experience of the travelers passing through The Palace: caught in something unpredictable, uncertain of where the next hour will take you, never mind the next day; hedonism takes you in, pulls you along until your hangover, like a broom-wielding cleaning lady, pounds you over the head.

We stayed one final day, working hard to avoid machismo and left on the morning of the weekly toga-party. I don't think we missed anything we hadn't seen before.

Some suggestions:

* Check out the town! It's like five minutes away and has tons of food and drink at cheap-ass prices.
* Note that yr fifth night is free and plan ahead.
* Be wary of the end of happy-hour, yr care-free buzz-bill might surprise you.
* Concerning guided vs. unguided trips around the island, we had a great time on our own but later heard that the kayak safari went cliff jumping and hiked up to an abandoned Buddhist monestary, which sounded kinda fun. It's yr call.
* Do not rely on The Pink Palace staff for information concerning ferries and make sure they check to see whether anyone else is leaving when you are, thereby avoiding a 25 euro cab ride with a very unfriendly local.