Yeah, things have been quiet around these parts. But it’s about to get LOUD.
This Friday, the What’s Up Lounge hosts a show that I’ve been anticipating since Let It Breathe started kicking up smoke, an event that we should hope is the first brick in a bridge between the Mankato and Minneapolis stoner / doom scenes:
Before we dissect the lineup and give it the hard sell, let’s make a brief digression.
One of the things I’ve noticed since breaking free from the comforts of Internet music fandom is that, in the real world, loudrock still has a trash-ass reputation. In the last month, the River Valley endured Five Finger Death Punch and Papa Roach–pastiched, corporate rock whores that generate cash by covering classic rock songs that are still embedded in Clear Channel playlists–holding a much-ballyhooed bro-down in our hockey arena; meanwhile, the What’s Up opened their doors to a bunch of grown-ass men that are combining Tool tropes with chugcore nearly 15 years too late.
Nu-metal still lives in the Midwest. The JNCO nuclear apocalypse happened, but there are still Corey Taylor-worshiping cockroaches scurrying everywhere.
Proof? I was having a beer on Monday night in an empty bar, minding my own business, while two thirtysomething white males (in matching camo caps) assaulted the TouchTunes with Metallica‘s asstastic cover of “Overkill,” a whole lot of Korn, and something from Machine Head‘s ultra-maligned rapcore cashgrab Supercharger.
Whether it’s fair or not–and it’s not–these are the ambassadors of heaviness to the greater public. Despite the great lengths my friends and former colleagues have gone to promote forward-thinking, intelligent heavy metal via NPR, Pitchfork, PopMatters, and other outlets that have broader, crossover appeal, aggressive music is still standardized by dimwits that stopped challenging themselves in high school.
Don’t let that perception deter you from REVELING IN YOUR DOOM this Friday.
For the uninitiated, the best way to describe doom metal is this: Imagine that the lineage of heavy metal is a straight line from Black Sabbath, and the branches that sprouted from Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Slayer, Bathory, and Death never took root. All doom and stoner metal bands basically use Master of Reality as a touchstone, retracing the lines and filling in their own colors along the way.
Friday’s Mankato doomcrew consists of WarRooster and Let it Breathe, both of whom have been covered here ad nauseam. (Hey, gimme a break; I like riffs.) The two bands highlight the disparities within the subgenre; WarRooster’s take is peppy and uptempo, loaded with time changes and rollicking riffery, whereas Let It Breathe stretches things out, slow-boiling their strings in smoke while hammering away underneath.
The Twin Cities are exporting a pair of bands on the upswing. St. Paul’s Highgraves are practically infants, with only a single demo on Bandcamp (not ReverbNation; take note, strugglers). But they’ve already played with MN elite like Vulgaari and Wolf Blood, and landed an October gig opening for savage duo Black Cobra and critical doomlings Yob. Their demo is rough around the edges (it’s a freaking demo, people), but the heft is there, and intentionally or not, it’s scuzzy as hell.
But the real treat is Minneapolis’ Kult of the Wizard, who, after churning out a pair of instrumental recordings, made a splash on the national scene last year with The White Wizard. Receiving favorable (if lazy) comparisons to acts like Witch Mountain and The Devil’s Blood from the likes of Cvlt Nation and Decibel–as well as being featured in my former outlet, Last Rites–the band has been getting hyped from ‘heads in the know.
Mankato’s been blessed with the opportunity to watch them grow.
Be there or be doomed. (Actually, you’re doomed either way, BUT WHATEVER.)
As recently as this winter, the sky was falling.
Amid a swell of controversy, Mankato’s longest-running dedicated(ish) music venue, The What’s Up Lounge, closed its doors in January. The Free Press, suddenly concerned with local culture, wrote an obituary of sorts–complete with the token Kato antecdote about how great things were back in the ’90s–and essentially went on to speculate on the death of the city’s music scene. (Nevermind the fact that , after the closing, original acts continued to play regularly at the Wine Cafe, Midtown Tavern, Busters, NaKato, and other establishments, while the paper’s “Currents” page preferred to publish features on Christian rock acts gigging in church basements.)
Meanwhile, scene veterans mourned the spot where they saw some of their favorite shows and / or muscled their own band into something stage-worthy. And this blog right here–written by some jackass with the audacity to spend previous portions of his life in slightly-larger cities with more robust music scenes–bid adieu to a venue that had obviously devolved into a pocket-change generator stapled atop the dive bar entrenched downstairs.
Six months later, the sky has been restored…well, the Mankato music venue positioned closest to the stratosphere has, anyway.
Yes, the Oleander Saloon and What’s Up Lounge are under new ownership, and the What’s Up has its grand reopening event scheduled for this Saturday. In preparation, this new team has put forth some positive changes, such as concluding shows by midnight (which makes sense on about every conceivable level) and employing an extra security staffer during shows, rather than leaving the doorperson and bartender to fend themselves.
[Self-Editor’s Note: I don’t want to make it seem like the What’s Up needed additional security due to safety issues. Yes, there were well-publicized incidents, but nothing that couldn’t have–or hasn’t–happened in the revenue-generating ENTERTAINMENT DISTRICT that the city so treasures. The difference between those downtown establishments and the previous incarnation of this Old Town stalwart is that the former are adequately staffed. The What’s Up didn’t need security that eclipsed the norm, it just needed an ownership group that cared enough to step up to the industry standard.]
These are positive changes that will hopefully make the venue feel less like a glorified basement and more like something approaching a professional establishment. They’re certainly presenting themselves as such…
…because I’ll be damned if that ain’t a sharp flyer. And snagging a sponsorship from the local Five Finger Death Punch station isn’t a bad coup, either.
More importantly, though: That is a killer lineup right there, featuring three of the most engaging, riff-worshipping acts in Minnesota. I’ve waxed rhetorical about ’em on these pages previously, so we’ll keep this preview brief and packed with Bandcamp embeds.
WarRooster‘s full-blast, un-stoned stoner rock is part Goatsnake, part Clutch, and part Scandinavian-style desert rock (which is actually a thing, I swear). They’re hungry, wily, and tight as hell.
Let It Breathe will be coming off a Friday show with Lungs and freaking ZEBULON PIKE at the Triple Rock, revealing their status as the hardest-hitting Sabbath worshippers in the state to a new audience. Their River Wizard EP from late 2014 made some serious waves in slow n’ low / doom n’ gloom circles, and their first full-length should surface on STB Records…soon-ish.
And Crash Cuddle‘s off-kilter post-rock unpredictability will keep everyone on their toes. Rather than fall into the lull / crescendo heartstring trap that bands like Pelican, Mono, and Explosions in the Sky made so popular a decade ago, Crash Cuddle keeps you on your toes, sucking you into a false sense of security before hitting you with Beehoover-esque bombs.
If you’re keeping score, this basically means that the What’s Up is once again the place to be this Saturday. Yeah, Blues on Belgrade is going down, Hank and Rita are playing the first of two “final”, nearly sold-out shows at Studio Six, and the Purple and Gold will be perched upon the hill, waiting to charge you $42 for parking and the opportunity to buy overpriced merchandise. But if you want to get dirty and feel some soul, get your ass to Old Town this weekend.
If you claim membership to any type of entertainment monoculture, EOY list season is something of a nightmare.
Starting in November, the print magazines unleash their Top 200 (or whatever) Widgets of 20–, because that the imprints that purchase their ad space need a jumpstart in promoting their products before the biggest shopping season of the year. This throws everything into chaos, as web-based publications then have to find a balance between going off half-cocked and being late to the party. (And by late, we’re talking about the actual end of the year.)
As a result, you end up with a 45-day blitz of numbered lists. By the time all your favorite sources are aggregated, you just end up with a chart of damn near everything that was released in a given year. The spectacle is exhausting, masturbatory, and not terribly effective at accomplishing its stated goal.
The best best-of lists are hyperspecific. Personally, my favorite ways to dig for things that I may have missed are by region and/or subgenre. Keep it concise. Brevity = effectiveness.
With that in mind, redjacket presents six of the best metal recordings Minnesota had to offer in 2014, presented in alphabetical order.
(Trust that instrumental prog legends Zebulon Pike would’ve had a seat reserved at the bottom of the page…had they actually told anyone that they released an album a few months ago and made it available via an outlet that’s not CDBaby. I swear, this band is almost designed to be ignored, content to become a cult curiosity twenty years after they’ve gone extinct.)
Wreck your neck(s), humans.
Antiverse – Cosmic Horror
That sphere-in-the-sky, pseudo-Seagrave album cover might lead you to believe this is a overproduced, newjack technical deathcore workout for flat-brimmed fingerflexers. It’s not.
Instead, Cosmic Horror is the kind of Black Dahlia Murder-indebted melodic DM record that could only be made by a group of crafty, grizzled veterans. There’s a real, honest-to-Dio ’80s thrash ethos pulsing through this thing, betraying its modernity and lending it a well-weathered combo of grit and goofiness.
Wish your melodeath was peppered with indiscriminate falsettos? YOU’RE IN LUCK.
Let it Breathe – River Wizard
Mankato’s Let It Breathe are essentially in their infancy, and that’s scary. I’ve stated before that prognostication is a loser’s game in this arena, but this stoner/doom trio is poised to unleash potent homebrews for the foreseeable future.
Their potential lies in the duality of their approach. The four-track River Wizard EP is swollen with smoked-out, fuzzed-up hum, while their live show trades the haze for driving doom devastation. Let It Breathe is a multi-tool act in a field packed with single tricksters.
Mahtowa Death March – Mansorrow
Nothing screams SOLO PROJECT like drumbeats that (charmingly) sound like wet paper slapping sheets of tinfoil, but that’s easy to overlook if you aren’t the type that critiques Vader albums based on snare production. If you are that kind of person, you might not be keen on this rickety, ravenous slice of blackened crust, but dammit, you should be.
The best part of this six-track eruption? That the raw-as-hell, simplistic riffery gives way to near-cockrock soloing with radical fluidity. It’s a weird mix, but it works, especially if you hold Scandinavian Jawbreaker and 5150 in equal regard.
Noble Beast – Noble Beast
If the album cover somehow left you guessing, let me spell it out for you: This is a power metal record. And a good one, at that. Not just by Minneapolis standards, but by Planet Earth standards.
Part of the reason this debut record gets that distinction is because power metal–that nerdiest of nerd music in all of nerddom–has been teetering on extinction since its improbable resurgence in the late ’90s. But the genre’s appeal lies less in its predilection towards Dio n’ Tolkien subject matter and more in its focus on writing actual songs with actual singing, something (like power metal itself, not-so-coincidentally) that’s dying as metal becomes more fractured and compartmentalized.
Yeah, the vocals are a bit grating when isolated, and the cheese is seven layers thick. But that comes with the territory, and holy hell are these hooks humongous. This is just a massive debut; a bit much to take in a single sitting, but chock-full of speed metal goodness that’ll make even the most hardened anti-power purist shitgrin with glee.
Nuklear Frost – Subjugation
Armed with a megaton mastering job and a multi-pronged vocal attack, Rochester’s Nuklear Frost is wired for detonation. Untainted by recent trends in USBM, their razorwire riffage and relentless double-bass attack is a marriage of still-vital blackness from a decade-plus past, when D666 and 1349 and even Naglfar we’re kicking our collective teeth in.
Don’t let the Szpajdel-style logo throw you off; the thrash-forward nastiness found here is more accessible than you’d think. Frigid yet robust, rollicking yet militaristic, Subjugation is a deceptively nuanced ripper.
Wolf Blood – Wolf Blood
Sludgy doom acts are still a dime a dozen, even when adjusting the cliche for inflation. But Duluth’s Wolf Blood take influence from all the right places while keeping things eclectic, never falling prey to stale-ass genre trappings or tonehound drone-ons. While the Vol. 4 / Sabotage vibe of “Dancing On Your Grave” is a highlight, the Matt Pike speedmode throwdowns on “Ochro Ologo” and “Black Moon” are solid goddamned gold.
THE Minnesota riffcrew to watch in 2015.
For many, it’s been a wild week: Black(out) Wednesday, Engorgement Thursday, Black Friday. If this mini-marathon of relentless excess was an integral part of your version of “giving thanks,” you might be a little fried right now.
Plug in and recharge, citizens. You might be running low on vitality, but your city’s still humming this Saturday.
Mankato Brewery opens its doors to the Barefoot Winos at 5 p.m., while Pub 500’s Mustache Bash kicks of at 7:00–featuring a mustache contest, soft jams from The Porch Lights, and a special MB tapping of Black Beard Ale.
Yet folks that rock facial hair throughout the remaining eleven months of the year will be throwing down at…
Let It Breathe / Wicked Inquisition / WarRooster [The What’s Up Lounge, 9 p.m.]
Each of these acts, on their own, build a little bridge from the realm of rock into the depths of doom, but as a combined force, it’s basically a seminar on reclaiming the riff.
WarRooster, playing their first show with a new bassist, ply a driving, post-Kyuss brand of stoner rock known to take thrashback detours and tip the collective cap to Iron Maiden.
Minneapolis’ upstart Wicked Inquisition (not to be confused with plain ol’ Inquisition) have stepped their game up considerably over the past year. Their very existence encapsulates the timelessness of doom metal: In folding Sabbathian weight n’ swagger into Trouble‘s traditionalism and tying it off with a proto-metal cord, these dudes–barely of legal age–are taking classic sounds and injecting it with a rarified vitality. Expect them to make waves in 2015; they wrapped recording of their first LP earlier this month.
And Let It Breathe just dropped a new bomb in the form of the River Wizard EP. This 3-track Bandcamp release was meant to be covert, as the cuts are unmastered and yet to take their final forms, but the Internet had other ideas. Thirst for impossibly-thick stoner / doom metallics is arguably at an all-time high, and fanatics pounced on it posthaste.
And it’s easy to see why. Few bands can combine smoked-out, Electric Wiz-ness with the warlord hammering of early High On Fire, but LIB manages to find that elusive balance between comapulse lullabies and, well, punching you in the face with a truck.
Let’s get doomed, Mankato. See you there.