The Black Dahlia Murder 08/20/17—The Crown Uptown, Wichita, KS

I’ve been a Wichita resident for eleven years, and a metal fan for considerably longer. Until recently, those two things—being a metal fan and residing in Wichita—rarely intermingled, as live bands playing anything but country or classic rock were few and far between (Steve Miller Band, anyone?). There  was the occasional metal show here and there, but not much in the way of a scene that people could support.

That may be starting to change.

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Brandon Ellis, The Black Dahlia Murder—sadly, the only zippered leather vest spotted all night.

In 2017, Wichita has seen shows by Mushroomhead, Cattle Decapitation, Superjoint, Amon Amarth, Hellyeah, Born of Osiris, and now, The Black Dahlia Murder. Combine that with the steady stream of shows full of local bands at smaller venues, and you’ve got yourself the makings of an actual scene.

The Crown Uptown is a gorgeous place. Although originally a movie theater when it was built in the 20’s (and dinner theater for years after), it seems almost custom made for concerts. As for TBDM show, turnout seemed a bit thin (blame the bad luck of having to book the show on a Sunday), although the fans who did show up were enthusiastic and appeared grateful to have another metal show in their town.

Kicking off the night was hometown act Parallax, playing a short but energetic set. Vocalist Trevor Rickett gave his all to try and pump up the crowd, with help from some vocal Parallax fans in attendance. The band was also shooting a video for a brand new song, so keep an eye out on social media for that one to drop.

Side note: Parallax is playing at The Elbow Room next month opening for Hed PE 09/22, so do yourself a favor and go see these guys while they’re still playing local shows—it may be only a matter of time before they’re touring nonstop and hardly ever home.

Betraying the Martyrs was up next, from Paris, France as a last minute replacement for Russian act Slaughter to Prevail. Their ultra heavy beats and growling vocals warmed everyone up, but the crowd was perhaps not ready for the occasional clean vocals and prominent keyboard parts that permeated the set.

At one point vocalist Aaron Matts urged the crowd to get moving and jump with the music, which the crowd did eagerly until the heavy riff they were jumping to gave way to keyboards and clean vocals, and the crowd lost their momentum. They’re a good band and they gave a tight performance, though by the end it I was thinking of them as “The THX band” due to the number of times their songs had beats drop like the THX surround sound intro that plays before a movie.

New Jersey’s Lorna Shore was up next, playing a short, tight set that was the first of the night to succeed in sustaining a circle pit for more than twenty seconds and consisting of more than two people. Closing with the title track off their newest LP Flesh Coffin, the band succeeded in loosening the crowd up for the remaining chaos yet to come.

Side note: Lorna Shore is returning to Wichita next month, opening for Miss May I at Rock Island Live 09/21. Don’t miss another chance to see this excellent band.

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Adam De Micco, Lorna Shore—guy liked to shred with his leg propped on his monitor.

The final opening slot (in the disappointing absence of Dying Fetus from this stop of the Summer Slaughter tour) belonged to the crushing Oceano. Led by one of metal’s most guttural vocalists in Adam Warren, Oceano brought an intensity the previous bands lacked. In fact, Warren even issued a warning to a member of the crowd to properly channel his enthusiasm, after he sprayed Warren with water during the opening number. After a reminder from Warren that people at the front of the stage were vulnerable to face-level kicks from Warren if he were splashed any more, the crowd put an end to the shenanigans and put their energy into proper displays of enthusiasm like a frenetic circle pit and the evening’s first instances of crowd surfing. Oceano was the band I was most excited to see and they did not disappoint. They were brutally heavy, buzzing with electric energy, and had the crowd worked into a frenzy for the night’s headliners.

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Adam Warren, Oceano—breaking it down while a fan headbangs.
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Chris Wagner, Oceano—you can tell he’s pounding that bass, look at his top string.

The Black Dahlia Murder capitalized on the crowd’s energy level and never let it drop throughout their hour-plus set. Running like a precision machine, TBDM cranked through song after song without sounding like they were rushing to get through their time on stage. Vocalist Trevor Strnad had a good rapport with fans, simultaneously joking around and keeping them buzzing between songs by encouraging them to keep the crowd surfing and stage diving going throughout the set, particularly among the females in attendance, who were up to the challenge.

TBDM closed with a brand new song, the title track from their upcoming LP Nightbringers, which was reminiscent of some of their most popular material. If that song is any indication, fans won’t be disappointed when the album drops in October.

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Trevor Strnad, The Black Dahlia Murder—pointing to a superfan.

Side note: Brian Eschbach had an absolutely insane guitar tone that made this guitarist and former member of metal and hardcore bands incredibly jealous.

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Brian Eschbach, The Black Dahlia Murder—he knows his tone is sick, look at him.
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The Black Dahlia Murder—orchestrating chaos.
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Brian Eschbach, The Black Dahlia Murder—sponsored by PBR.
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Max Lavelle, The Black Dahlia Murder—mid-headbang
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Alan Cassidy, The Black Dahlia Murder—they had him tucked away and not even on a drum riser, like he was some second-class citizen. Drummers are people, too! (Barely)

It was a satisfying night of deathcore and extreme metal, with every band delivering in a big way. One can only hope that attendance was good enough to keep bringing metal acts to town and for a scene to develop. Time (and perhaps turnout at the upcoming D.R.I., Miss May I, and DevilDriver shows) will tell, but when crowds are as enthusiastic as this it’s only a matter of time before word spreads among fans and before you know it you have a thriving scene. May Wichita be so fortunate.

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Soles of shoes in a crowd shot = good concert.
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Ecstatic crowd surfer.
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So It Goes; Russian Circles

So, August turned out to be a pretty shit month for me and a lot of people I know. I try not to be one to complain, but…just wow.

Talking about it here, in a (relatively) public forum, may seem to some people like I’m oversharing or not keeping something private that others may not want made public more than it already has been. Not talking about it could imply a rather nonchalant reaction to a terrible situation, which is absolutely not the case.

Ultimately, I’ve decided not to go into it, at least not yet. Maybe someday, I don’t know. Either you know what I’m talking about or you don’t—if we’re friends (virtually, real-life, or otherwise) and you have no idea what I’m talking about, I apologize for being so vague, but feel free to message me on Facebook Messenger or send me an email through the website and I can fill you in. Otherwise, you’ll just have to wait.

In the meantime, I’m going to attempt a return to normalcy the only way I know how. The following post was nearly completed a few weeks ago, before everything went to hell on me. I added a little to it and voila. Enjoy.

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I had a post about 80% done that dealt with my disdain for nostalgia. In fact, it was titled “Death to Sentimentality,” and I railed against all the band reunions that have been happening, and all the reboots/remakes/re-imaginings dominating the airwaves—and that was before I saw the abhorrent mess that is Greatest Hits on ABC.

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When I think of Arsenio’s Dog Pound now, “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan plays in my head.
But I couldn’t finish it.

For one thing, it was a little hypocritical. While I’m not a huge fan of nostalgia, I have to admit that a lot of the music I listen to (in the car especially) is music from my youth—and no, I’m not so old as to predate recorded music, you assholes. Plus, the most anticipated show for me personally to get around to watching is Stranger Things, which capitalizes precisely on that nostalgia to capture some of its magic (seriously, I’ve heard not a single bad thing about it and cannot wait to see it).

Second, the whole notion of complaining about something like that just seemed so…grouchy. So old. So Clint Eastwood from Grand Torino. 

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Or just Clint Eastwood in general.

I don’t want this to be a place where I just bitch and moan—this should be a happy place. My  happy place, and if I’m any good at this, a happy place for you, too. Unless you only come here to read my posts and talk shit about them. Then again, doing that would still make you happy, albeit in a really sick, messed up way…I guess either way, if you read it, we both win.

My point is, rather than piss and moan about what I don’t like, I’m going to talk about new things I find that excite me. Not necessarily brand new per se, but at least new to me, like a 2004 Honda Civic with low mileage, previously owned by a little old lady who only drove it to church on Sundays.

First up: instrumental rock band Russian Circles.

I’ve never been too keen on instrumental rock music, and I’ve come to realize it was because I held a pretty big misconception about it. By that I mean that for the most part I was largely ignorant to what kind of instrumental bands were out there.

The phrase “instrumental rock” brought to mind 60’s acts like Booker T. & The MGs, surf rock like Dick Dale and The Ventures, and the modern-day heirs to the instrumental surf rock throne, Los Straighjackets and The Ghastly Ones. I’m only vaguely familiar with Texas’ Explosions in the Sky, and at the height of my Kids in the Hall fever I even bought a CD by the Canadian instrumentalists Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet. But in the last six weeks or so my eyes have been opened, and I have seen the light.

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Before this, I would’ve guessed Russian Circles was some kind of sex act on UrbanDictionary.com
Russian Circles are a trio from Chicago, currently promoting their just-released sixth album, Guidance. Their brand of music is what is often described as ‘post-rock’ or ‘post-metal’. All that really means to me is that it’s got clear rock and metal influences but isn’t afraid to dip into other genres, or play with dynamics in ways traditional rock bands might not.

Some bands have one or two of what I would consider to be the magical elements: Stellar musicianship, excellent songwriting, killer production. Sometimes just having one of those ingredients is enough to create something really special. Russian Circles has all three. They are clearly near virtuoso-level masters of their respective instruments, they write songs (sans lyrics, no less) that keep from getting pretentious or boring, and their sound is absolutely incredible. The mix is just about perfect—nothing is muddled; each instrument can be heard clearly and easily, and when you’re listening to musicians this talented, you want to be able to hear every note.

A somewhat related tangent (bear with me here): I am really into food and cooking shows (mental note: why have I never blogged about food?). I don’t watch them as much as I used to, but I love Top Chef, MasterChef, Chopped, etc. Watching those shows as much as I have has ingrained in me the following: If you’re going to do something simple, the execution has to be flawless. Doing something simple perfectly takes as much skill as doing something complex, if not more. Russian Circles gets this (see, I told you it was related).

Case in point: the song Vorel, technically the second song off the new album, although the first song is really just an extended intro. Vorel is a lesson in the building and release of tension, and all that tension builds up to a classic metal riff so simple it’s almost hard to believe. But the execution is absolutely perfect, so it actually sounds fresh and new, even though it’s a variation of a fairly standard riff almost as old as metal itself.

Despite being a trio, Russian Circles’ sound is massive, due in part to a few things: the excellent production value, the fact that the guitarist multi-tracks on some songs (which he impressively pulls off live by sampling his guitar parts), and the occasional use of the distorted THUNDER SLUDGE bass tone (the term THUNDER SLUDGE © 2016, used with permission from BooksOfJobe Enterprises, LLC). The bass sounds terrific throughout, but once the distortion is added it takes the entire sound of the band to another level.

I’ve been listening to Guidance practically daily since discovering these guys on KEXP out of Seattle (which, if you’re in the mood for something different, give them a listen—any station that can fit Dead Kennedys and De La Soul in the same set of music gets my respect), but I’ve yet to give much of their first five albums a listen. I have a feeling I won’t be disappointed.

Well, there you have it. I eschewed negativity in favor of raving about something new I’ve found (and I almost forgot the equally impressive and heavy instrumental band Pelican), and I’ve provided you with ten—count ’em, ten!—different links to songs by every band I mentioned, plus the link to the KEXP website, where you can stream the station. So do yourself a favor and click a link or two. Check out something you haven’t heard before, or listen to a band you already know. Just listen to some music. It’s good for the soul, and dammit, you’re worth it.

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The Grammy Awards: Your Uncool Uncle

“The Grammys is the one award that doesn’t matter to anyone until they win one.”

For 15-20 years, I dismissed the Grammys as utter crap. It all started back in 1989, when they decided to branch out and recognize heavy metal and hard rock with its own category/award. And in a year when Metallica’s …And Justice For All ruled the rock/metal world (and, in my opinion, were still good and relevant), who was awarded the Grammy? Jethro Tull.

I repeat: Jethro Freaking Tull. A band with a flautist. How metal.

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It was an insult, a joke, and the moment I quit caring about the Grammys. And why should I? The music that mattered to me wasn’t even getting radio airplay most of the time, let alone being recognized by the industry. If a band I liked would’ve won a Grammy back then, I would’ve expected them to either not show up to receive it or give a vulgar and disparaging acceptance speech, detailing the ways the award was a joke and meant nothing to them. Breaking it on the stage would have been a plus.

In the early 2000’s I started watching the Grammys again, mostly out of morbid curiosity. There were some interesting wins here and there, some I agreed with and a lot I didn’t. There were interesting performances, some memorable and some miserable. But what became more and more clear is that for every tragic misfire there would usually also be a step in the right direction.

A prime example: in 2007 and 2008, Slayer won back-to-back Grammys. Slayer, one of the least commercial bands in the history of rock music, and one of my favorite bands. And all I could think to myself was, “It’s about damn time.” Suddenly the Grammys mattered, because a band I liked won one. And they humbly and graciously accepted the award, despite my wishes a decade earlier that any band I liked that won demolish the award immediately.

Now, I don’t always agree so wholeheartedly with who wins the Grammys (although I really don’t lose any sleep over any of it), but over the last few years I’ve come to view the Grammys as an uncool uncle you only see once a year—he isn’t as cool as he tries to be; he can sometimes be downright embarrassing; but, above all else he’s trying, and that counts for something.

Looking at this year’s rock nominees is a pretty good example: a handful of newer, and in my opinion more relevant artists mixed in with the likes of Black Sabbath, Neil Young, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. Led Zeppelin, for God’s sake. It seems to me more young acts should be nominated to keep interest in the awards, or else each new generation is going to write the Grammys off  as a bunch of geezers giving each other awards—although hopefully we never see another Jethro Tull-style goof up.

I had thought about doing a write up of the Grammys fully expecting it to be a snarky, sarcastic, excessively negative piece about the worthlessness of the awards. And while I still don’t think any band should care that much about winning one, it would be naive to say they don’t matter at all. The truth is, the Grammy is the biggest music award on the planet, and who wouldn’t like to be told their work is good enough to get one? The fact that they also give them to some of the worst songs/performers every year in the pop categories is another matter, and I’ll leave that issue to someone else.

I also have to admit that I’ve quite enjoyed the actual Grammy telecast the last few years; they really appear to be pulling out all the stops to make the show itself memorable, even if you don’t care about the actual awards. And with that, I’ll be the first to admit I’ll be watching Sunday night anxious to see who/what people are going to be talking about on Monday. Will you be watching?

How Do You Find New Music?

I would generally consider the ’90s to be my musical peak. Not only in terms of writing/performing (although it certainly was that), but also in terms of just listening to music. I still love music, and I still listen to music as much as I can, but it doesn’t compare to the way I went through music back then. I consumed music. Devoured it.

During that time, I remember a handful of old guys (and by old I mean they were older than the twenty year old me, so I’m probably the age now they were then) who made me kind of sad. They seemed to be stuck in decades past, musically speaking. They refused to acknowledge that any good music had been made in twenty years. They thought good music ceased with the last Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin albums. In a way, I felt bad for them. Pitied them, even. Because I knew how much awesome music there was out there to be had, and they just wouldn’t allow themselves to enjoy it. I’m never going to be like that, I told myself. I took comfort in knowing I was cool enough to recognize good music never stops being made, you just might have to do a little work to find it.

So now, jump twenty years to the present. I go to put some music on, and look through my iTunes library for something that will move me. Tens of thousands of songs to choose from, and what do I do? The vast majority of the time, I put on the music I was listening to in the ’90s. Not necessarily music that was made in the ’90s so much as the music I listened to during the decade. I’m afraid I’m turning into one of those old curmudgeons who ends up walking around muttering about how everything was better back in the old days.

I don’t know if it’s just my advancing age or if it has anything to do with how the music industry and the act of discovering new music has changed over the last twenty years. For instance, does anyone still listen to terrestrial radio anymore? The radio stations in my town are a pathetic joke – the only difference between the “Rock” station and the “Classic Rock” station is that the former will play maybe one song an hour from the turn of the millennium; otherwise, they’re pretty much interchangeable. I know in bigger cities that’s probably not as much of a problem, as I do remember being turned on to new bands on the radio when I lived close enough to L.A. to have an actual selection of stations to choose from.

But even when I put on Pandora, I set it to help me discover new music only to skip the new stuff because I don’t like it or I ignore it until something I already know comes on. So the question remains, how do I find new music (that I actually like)?

I’ve found myself going through the guide on my TV for the week, seeing who’s scheduled to perform on the week’s late night talk shows. I’ve found a couple of new favorites that way. One of the biggest finds in the past couple years for me and my tastes actually came courtesy of Last Call with Carson Daly. Yes, that Carson Daly. He takes a lot of guff, but I like the guy. I never gave a crap about TRL and I don’t watch The Voice, but throughout his career he’s always tried to introduce new music via his late-late night show, and I respect that. Thanks to him I discovered the band OFF!, fronted by the legendary Keith Morris (Circle Jerks, Black Flag), which ironically sounds a bit like a ’90s punk band.

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The other “new” artist I found (and can’t resist mentioning) is Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings. I saw her on a late night show too, but it was a different TV appearance that hooked me. She had a set on Austin City Limits that I’m pretty sure left smoke wafting from my TV by the time it was over. If you have even an ounce of a liking for funk, soul, R & B, or even if you don’t – check them out. She has the voice of a funky angel, and The Dap-Kings are as tight as they come.

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There have been the occasional recommendations from Facebook friends, which are always much appreciated. Thanks to good lookin’ out from my friends I’ve been turned on to the spacey, trippy, indie rock of Alt-J (∆), the massive downtuned riffage of  The Sword, and what I’m listening to as I write this, the  rock beast that is Red Fang. I appreciate it all, and when I find something I like I eat it up, but the thing is…it’s not enough. I know there’s so much more out there, but somehow I’m missing it; this is just the tip of the iceberg.

So what recommendations do you all have? How do you find new artists? From TV shows? Movie trailers? Car commercials? College radio (is that still a thing?)? YouTube? Satellite radio? Has Pandora turned you on to new artists? Somebody clue me in.

As a tooting-my-own-horn kind of a side note, I logged on today to the news that I had reached 1,000 followers here on the blog. I know a lot of people have reached that number a lot faster, but I’m still floored that I’ve reached it at all. Now, I’ll be the first to tell you “followers” of the blog does not necessarily equal “readers” of the blog, as my stats can attest, but the fact remains that I am in awe that so many people have taken the time to click that ‘follow’ button, and for that I thank you.

Now, back to the topic at hand. Give me your advice for finding new music, stat! Who are some of the new bands/artists you’ve discovered, and how did you find them?