NIGHT DEMON/VISIGOTH/DOOM AND DISCO/BANGARANG

(May 9, 2016; FUBAR, Saint Louis MO)

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I’m gonna let you guys in on what may be one of the worst kept secrets in the universe: I love heavy metal… all kinds of heavy metal. However, if I were staked to the ground in close proximity to a colony of fire ants and the only possible salvation was telling my captors what type of metal was my favorite, I would have to say the classic, hard rocking stuff… you know, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, Demon. So, even though I thoroughly enjoyed recent shows by Nile and Coal Chamber (and am looking forward to the return of Dez’s other band, DevilDriver), I gotta say that this night was Nirvana (the mystical happy place, not the band) to this old-school rocker. By the way, this was my first foray to the Lounge, a smaller room with impressive, clear sound, located to the left of the venue’s entry. What a great decision it was to put this show here and the other, more punk oriented bill in the main room.

Bangarang (John Loness; Cory Crowell; Ruben Guerrios) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Bangarang (John Loness; Cory Crowell; Ruben Guerrios) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Local three-piece Bangarang is the modern approximation of early-to-mid ’70s Mountain-ous (you know, Leslie West… Felix Pappalardi… Corky Laing) hard rock, filtered through ’80s SoCal punk. The group’s eight song set featured the five tracks from their recently released EP, SNACK TIME, including a raging jungle beast called “Jumanji,” which featured a cool breakdown, with Cory Crowell pounding out a brutal tribal beat. Other highlights were the thudding behemoth that is “Monsoon Tune” and the atmospheric “Egan’s Rats,” which put me in mind of those psychedelic freaks, NIL8. Guitarist John Loness holds an odd place within the musical structure of the band, as he – more often than not – adds chittering effects and weird little strands of rhythm rather than any kind of boisterous, balls-out lead or solo (even though he proved himself more than capable of those types of guitar heroics); when he does step out, it is always tasty and very much holding to the vibe of the song and the suitably heavy groove laid down by his bandmates, drummer Crowell and the lucidor-masked bassist Rubin Guerrios, who manages to be crushingly heavy and uncompromisingly funky at the same time. Loness, who is also the trio’s lead singer (the others provide some well-placed backing), has the perfect voice for the style of rock played by Bangarang and, though the final three songs were works-in-progress, presented as instrumentals waiting for lyrics, he still shied away from filling the lyrical void with over-the-top guitar parts… it just wouldn’t have made sense within the arrangements and would have been a distraction to what the band is attempting with their music; in fact, the first of the three instrumentals, called “Bangarang,” was more of an extended drum solo with minimal accompaniment from Guerrios and Loness. The three numbers, voiceless though they were, seemed to fit in well with what has come before and definitely bodes well for the next phase of Bangarang’s evolution; I, for one, can’t wait.

Doom and Disco (Fu Thorax; Henry Savage; Fu Thorax) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Doom and Disco (Fu Thorax; Henry Savage; Fu Thorax) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Doom and Disco, the second Saint Louis band of the evening, rather like their name, is somewhat of a paradoxical venture. The group performed as a duo, with a third member wandering the floor, unprepared to play. The band play classic riff-heavy metal at ear-bleeding volume; you know… the good stuff. Despite a count-in on virtually every song, everything sounded like it started in the middle and was over at least fifteen seconds before it ended. (Before continuing, I should point out here that the names listed are somewhat in dispute, as my best investigative efforts could only uncover one name associated with Doom and Disco, a guitarist/vocalist named Shalom Friss, the same person who gave me the band info for this review… plus, his Facebook profile looks suspiciously like the dude onstage.) Guitarist Henry Savage featured a beefy, bassy sound, while his vocals somehow reminded me of the legendary Lemmy Kilmister; skin-pounder Fu Thorax was merciless in his approach, reminding me of that wild-eyed family member who always looks like he just farted in the dip bowl while holding an internal running commentary on the social relevance of DUMB AND DUMBER TO. Doom and Disco’s musical selections included such blistering fare as “666 Death,” “Spaghetti Western,” “Savage Journey” and set closer, “Vengeance and Oblivion.” As a duo, the sound was heavy, oppressive and surprisingly full; I can only imagine what we would have heard if that third player HAD been on stage (I’m assuming that he would have played bass, which would have given their sound an even heavier vibe). Bottom line: Doom and Disco… whoever you are and however many of you there are, I hope to have the chance to see you again soon.

Visigoth (Leeland Campana; Jake Rogers; Jamison Palmer) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Visigoth (Leeland Campana; Jake Rogers; Jamison Palmer) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

So… what does Salt Lake City’s Visigoth have in common with long standing bands like Iron Maiden, Raven, Diamond Head, Tygers of Pan Tang, Witchfynde and Samson? Well, they may not hail from the United Kingdom, but they do hold the torch of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal high. The group has an epic sound, with lyrics retelling tales of legendary lore of castles and dragons and knights; vocally, Jake Rogers can wail like an earlier Briton, Rob Halford, while guitarists Leeland Campana and Jamison Palmer deliver majestic dual leads, ala classic Maiden or Judas Priest. In short, Visigoth is the best kind of throwback band… with a studious knowledge of (and respect for) those who have gone before, paving the way for a new generation of head-banging musicians, yet talented enough to add their own metallic twists to the mix. Much of their set draws upon the group’s latest release, THE REVENANT KING, including the epic, Arthurian title track; “Dungeon Master,” the new Gamer Nerds National Anthem; “Mammoth Rider,” a mystical retelling of Hannibal’s legendary march into Italy astride elephants; and “Necropolis,” a killer Manila Road cover. The rhythm section of Mikey T on drums and Matt Brotherton on bass were rock solid throughout, laying down a massive foundation, allowing the guitars and vocals to weave their magical spells and minstrel tales of adventure. For me, one of the ultimate highlights of the brilliantly well-paced set was another cover, as the band reached back into their NWOBHM ancestry to offer “The Spell,” from Demon’s 1982 album, THE UNEXPECTED GUEST… a song, a band and a record virtually unknown in these here United States. With a new release on the horizon, Visigoth can only continue their upward trajectory. If you have the chance, do not sleep on the opportunity to see these guys live. Oh, yeah… I gotta give bonus points to Jamison Palmer for his Tank tee. Plus, additional bonus points to me for not using the words “sacked” or “sacking” anywhere in this review.

Night Demon (Dusty Squires; Armand John Anthony; Jarvis Leatherby) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Night Demon (Dusty Squires; Armand John Anthony; Jarvis Leatherby) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

As much as I liked the under card, I was absolutely stoked for the main event. The Ventura, California trio, Night Demon, plays that classic Deep Purple brand of heavy rock, with more than just a dose of sinister Misfits style punk. They opened their set with a blistering “Screams In the Night,” the lead track of the band’s debut full-length, CURSE OF THE DAMNED, with solid vocals from their sole original member, bassist Jarvis Leatherby; in fact, Leatherby’s vocals were on-point and – thankfully – upfront throughout the night. Along with his battery mate, drummer Dusty Squires, Jarvis also laid down a monstrously heavy bottom end… on a Flying V, no less. New(ish) guy Armand John Anthony more than held his own on guitar, with amazingly tight leads and smoking solos. The set was enhanced by oddly effective lighting, more so because they were supplied by the band’s merch guy from the front of the stage.

Night Demon (Jarvis Leatherby; Armand John Anthony; Dusty Squires) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Night Demon (Jarvis Leatherby; Armand John Anthony; Dusty Squires) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

The guys tore through a solid song list that included tales of fast cars, ages-old evils, modern day madmen and religious rites, both sacred and profane: “Road Racin’,” “Ancient Evil,” “Killer” and the centerpiece of the band’s live performances and their raison d’etre, “Chalice.” With an intensity rivaling the original Blue Cheer or the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Night Demon took their place among the great power trios of hard rock and heavy metal, updating the model to represent, not only current musical trends, but also the grimmer, grimier aspects of our modern world. If I had to compare Armand’s six-string assault to a predecessor, I hear definite influences from Gillan-era Bernie Torme, the late, lamented Paul Samson and the guys from Maiden, particularly Adrian Smith… classic metal riffs laced with a speed and fluidity that few possess, all amply displayed on “Full Speed Ahead,” among others; it’s hard to pinpoint any one style in Leatherby’s vocals… his is a strong, forceful rock and roll voice that seems to be manufactured for exactly this style of heavy music; Squires is a rock-solid Ian Paice type of drummer, a brilliant timekeeper with the occasional flash of reckless abandonment. As the show built to its climax, from “Killer” into “Road Racin’” and into the moody, sombre “Chalice,” the trio was joined onstage by Rocky, the looming, leering personification of Poe’s THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, who bade all to “Drink from the chalice.” This theatrical cameo brought wild cheers from the (unfortunately) modest crowd, much like the Iron’s lumbering Eddie or the Misfits’ Fiend/Crimson Ghost used to back in the day. Rocky’s departure from the stage conjured the ultimate evil, as the band charged into the final number, “Satan.” Jarvis asked for the stage lights to be lowered and, upon learning that they were actually controlled by a wall switch by the stage, Visigoth’s Leeland jumped to the rescue, turning the lights off and on, creating a type of rhythmic lightning effect… a rather silly but somehow appropriate ending to a fun evening of live music.

Night Demon (Armand John Anthony and Jarvis Leatherby with Rocky; Rocky offers the Chalice; Dusty Squires) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Night Demon (Armand John Anthony and Jarvis Leatherby with Rocky; Rocky offers the Chalice; Dusty Squires) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

I was impressed by the professionalism of all of the bands (and their meager crews), as each went out of their way to ensure that I (and the entire room, really) had a great time. I had a brief interlude with Jarvis after the show and mentioned, rather offhandedly, that I wished the record companies would send out vinyl copies of their releases for review; he asked if I had a copy of CURSE OF THE DAMNED and, receiving my negative reply, walked over to the merch table and handed me a vinyl copy, saying, “Now you do, my friend.” I certainly wasn’t expecting that but, the gesture put me in mind of the way artists generally handled their business when I first got into this game more than twenty years ago. If I hadn’t been a fan before, I definitely was when I walked out of the venue with my brand new slab of orange vinyl!


GREY SKIES FALLEN: THE MANY SIDES OF TRUTH

(Xanthros Music; 2014)

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THE MANY SIDES OF TRUTH is the sixth release by New York’s Grey Skies Fallen (the previous five are offered as free downloads at the band’s website, www.greyskiesfallen.com). The album, clocking in at less than 40 minutes, is as varied as the region from which the band hails. The overall feel is epic metal, but there are also brilliant swatches of doom, progressive and folk – elements that push to the fore in totally unexpected ways and at unexpected times throughout the course of the seven tunes. Whether this adventurous envelope-pushing is due to the maturity that comes from nearly 20 years as a band or from the two new members (Joe Sanci and Tom Anderer, guitar/vocals and bass, respectively) is a subject that I’ll leave to be debated by others; the salient point here is this: Is the record any good? Well…

The opening track, “Ritual of the Exiter,” is close to ten minutes of virtually perfect progressive folk metal. It starts in a slow, hypnotic fashion, with kinda creepy, mantric-like vocals buried low in the mix. Nearly half way through, the song proper is introduced, featuring two voices: One clean, the other harsh with a weird, robotic quality. Stun-gun guitars – the type popularized by Zak Wylde and other like-minded players – are on open display before breaking off into a quiet interlude. The respite, sweet though it is, is short, as a powerful Maidenesque instrumental section – complete with keyboards and full-throated chants – charges to its terminus. The drums and guitars are top-notch throughout, making for a fine opening salvo.

Grey Skies Fallen (publicity photo)

Grey Skies Fallen (publicity photo)

The next track encompasses the next three tunes. Acting as a prelude, “Unroot Transparent Being” reminds me of the opening guitar passages of Metallica’s ”One.” The instrumental features some very nice keyboard work, as well, but nothing more – no bass, no drums. Staying in a Classic Rock frame of mind, the guitar and the groove of “The Flame” brings to mind “Right Now” from Van Halen’s FOR UNLAWFUL CARNAL KNOWLEDGE album, while the vocals are more reminscent of Conrad Lant (Cronos of the English metal horde, Venom). In an odd (but very much appreciated) move for a band like Grey Skies Fallen, this portion of the triumvirate of mayhem is very keyboard heavy. Naturally, that leads into an atmospheric piano intro – rather like the score of an old Gothic movie – to “Of the Ancients,” a majestically evil sounding power metal piece with a well placed clean vocal performance.

A gentle, pastoral guitar piece, “Isolation Point” is full of echo and sustain and awash in feedback that somehow shimmers as it morphs into the main body of track three, a song called “End of My Rope.” This part of the suite careens forward in a bestial manner, with great, gutteral vocals before retreating slightly with a more epic sounding second half featuring clean vocals. “Winter Hand” is a more frenzied and disjointed refrain of the intro piece. This record works on so many levels that checking the “metalhead” box on your resume is not a prerequisite to total enjoyment. The technical efficiency of the players alone is worth the investment; the incredible music is simply a bonus.


SCYTHIA: …OF CONQUEST

(SELF-RELEASED; 2014)

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Canadian metal-merchants Scythia’s third full-length album (and fifth release overall, including a Christmas single called – what else? – …OF SANTA) is an impressive display of power, melding progressive metal with ancient folk balladry and a medieval Dio-like mysticism in an hour-long conceptual piece, recalling the nomadic Scythians, a people who, through the second century, inhabited what is now Central Asia. The breadth and scope of this epic piece (the twelve tracks flow seamlessly together) lays out like a latter-day heavy metal primer, touching on everyone from fellow Canuckians Rush to Iron Maiden to Kamelot to Lamb of God and everything from power metal to pagan folk metal to orchestral metal. In other words, if you’re a metal-head, this is the album for you!

Scythia (Dave Khan,Celine Derval, Jeff Black, Terry Savage) (photo credit: CRYSTAL LEE/VANDALA CONCEPTS)

Scythia (Dave Khan,Celine Derval, Jeff Black, Terry Savage) (photo credit: CRYSTAL LEE/VANDALA CONCEPTS)

Fanfare 1516” opens, offering an epic Maiden sound. Dave Khan’s vocals, in particular, brings to mind the powerful voice of Bruce Dickinson. As the first song melds into “Merchant of Sin,” the comparison momentarily shifts to late ’80s/early ’90s Alice Cooper (TRASH and HEY STOOPID) before the progressive power metal evokes the mighty Maiden. Lyrically, a nod to the legendary Ronnie James Dio, as “Bear Claw Tavern” blends a Saga-like pomp rock sound with a cool Irish reel vibe. Bassist Terry Savage adds his harsh vocal delivery to the track, sounding very much like Conrad Lant (better known as the leather-throated Cronos) of famed black thrash metal icons, Venom. There’s a wickedly funny video of the song available at the band’s web-site (www.scythia.ca), proving that, while the music is seriously good, the band doesn’t take themselves too seriously. Later, “Reflections,” again ramps up the pomposity – in a kinda Rush overload – and introduces a female voice to the mix (drummer Celine Derval perhaps, or a guest vocalist?). “The Kraken,” amazingly enough, is heavier than anything yet heard on …OF CONQUEST, with an abundance of power chords and drums that relentlessly pummel your brainpan ’til you’re fairly certain that you can feel gray matter oozing out of your ears. “Into the Storm” follows suit before the folky, Maidenesque “Land of Scythia” brings you back to the ancient, legendary feel of the album. There’s plenty of guitar shredding, harmony work (everything overdubbed by Khan, the only guitarist in Scythia), nice acoustic playing and rhythm work on this record, but for me, the solo on “Land of Scythia” stands out as one of the best. “Wrath of the Ancients” is yet another progressive piece, with definite Kamelot overtones and an acoustic part that reminds me of Ritchie Blackmore’s work with his band, Blackmore’s Night. “Path Through the Labyrinth” is a 13 minute tour-de-force, incorporating every style and genre previously mentioned in this review (and a few others, to boot!), with layers of textured guitars and keyboards (by musical wunderkind, Jeff Black). It may not be the centerpiece of the album (as most longer tunes are), but for pure pomposity, it does have everything that you could possibly want in a metal record. …OF CONQUEST is the kind of record that you can listen to over and over again and evoke a different emotion each time. And, that, good friends, is a good thing!