“Old News” out of Albany
by Jay Frost
Hi, I’m Jay (as I’m sure you’ve all deduced) and this is my first contribution to Upstate Metal.
Let me preface this by saying that about six months ago, I never imagined that I’d be writing this article, let alone be making any serious forays into the music journalism field; that is, until I approached Mr. Mike Valente of Upstate Black ‘N’ Blue Productions regarding an internship that I needed to fulfill in order to receive my Bachelor’s Degree. As an English major in a writing-intensive program (the lion’s share of it being literature analysis), I was required to apply the skills I’ve been honing in the classroom in a practical, real world setting. With language and verbal communication being essential to our existence – the written word being the most important medium – I, as a writer had a number of options open to me. However, any writer will tell you that it’s much simpler and more satisfying to analyze a topic that interests you – but to write about one of your passions is truly fulfilling.
My original plan when I approached Mr. Valente was to maintain an online – and possibly print – “zine” that featured concert/album reviews as well as interviews with the local, regional and national acts that played the Albany venue Bogies in the winter and spring of this year. Once I began to realize all that this would entail, Mike and I narrowed our vision to a weekly column on the Upstate Black ‘N’ Blue homepage. You can check out my previous work at www.upstateblacknblue.blogspot.com.
What you’re about to read is just a taste of what I saw this year. With Upstate BnB, I wrote several articles for the blog. Some were published, some weren’t. This is a review of a show that occurred on St Patrick’s Day Eve at Bogies. The headliners, Lich King (Western MA), organized this show as a private room rental. Rather than focusing on them, I took very special note of the diverse local acts that opened the show: avant-garde thrashers Open Hostility, old-style Albany death metalers Breathless By Dawn, melodic-hardcore act Go for the Kill and over-the-top speed/thrash/power metal stylings of Armor Column. This line-up provided a fair cross-section of the burgeoning new local scene, with every single band having something unique to bring to the stage. The irony in that statement is that it was the same way with the Albany Scene I grew up in: mixed lineups of unique bands that all pounded hard and everyone stuck around for.
Saturday, March 16th: Lich King, Armor Column, Go For the Kill, Breathless By Dawn, and Open Hostility at Bogies.
This St. Patrick’s Day Eve, Bogies was host to a diverse line-up of local metal acts supporting Western Massachusetts thrashers Lich King. Earlier, the entire city had come alive for the parade, but the streets were now relatively subdued by comparison. One could only assume that this wasn’t the case with the local pubs. While there wasn’t a big “bar crowd” at Bogies tonight, the club was still relatively busy. Irish Car Bombs and Guinness Drafts were seasonably popular and the house music system delighted revelers with live selections by the Dropkick Murphys.
In my humble opinion, the locals won it tonight on this varied bill. Kicking off the show was Schenectady’s Open Hostility. Though very audibly influenced by DRI and …And Justice For All-era Metallica, Open Hostility is not your run of the mill one-dimensional thrash. Nothing about their song structures are formulaic: though they make use of similar rhythms and tempos, the arrangement of each song is wholly unique and unpredictable. O.H. “mixes it up”, for lack of a better phrase. However, it is their vocalist that separates them from other local metal acts – not his style, but his technique. Shouting and snarling like a mad man, O.H.’s vocalist delivers a kind of “stream of consciousness” rant that has more in common with spoken word and poetry than heavy metal. Singing on the off-beat to boot, he adds a sense of chaos and lunacy to the polished musicianship and tight composition of their material. Fans of Coalesce, One King Down and early Starkweather would definitely enjoy Open Hostility. Be on the look-out for them at Bogies or another local stage in the near future.
Following Open Hostility was, to quote Monty Python, “something completely different” in the form of Clifton Park’s Breathless by Dawn. Playing a form of death metal popularized by early Albany area bands like Skinless, Burning Human and Traumaside, Breathless by Dawn incorporated complex, but not technical guitar and bass riffing, double-bass heavy drum beats and guttural, growled vocals ascending from the deepest recesses of hell. Though most associate the death metal genre with over-the-top technicality and musical showmanship, a quality that often renders it “music for musicians”, Breathless didn’t need to squeeze twenty time changes and thirty guitar riffs into a four minute song. Instead, they took cues from the above-mentioned locals (as well as nationals like Dying Fetus and Suffocation, judging from my observation) by peppering their compositions with brutal dance beats and break downs. It was their performance that set the standard for the pit that night. In short, Breathless by Dawn threw me into a time warp and left me “Breathless by the end of their set”. Do yourself a favor and check these guys out live; do them a favor and pick up a copy of their self-titled four-song EP. You won’t regret it!
If Breathless by Dawn set the pit off that night, it was Albany’s Go for the Kill that stoked it to a fever-pitch. A beatdown-core band that dabbles in the melodic, Go for the Kill features the immensely-talented Shawn Skarrup as one half of the guitar tandem and local drum-god Bob Beaulac of Skinless and Disciples of Berkowitz. Their performance brought to mind 518 bands like .357 Justice, Brick by Brick and Driven Further as well as NYCs Merauder. As they tuned low and had the ultimate blast beat machine behind the kit, there was an obvious death metal influence on their material as well. Occasionally, melodic guitar sweeps were utilized, but more for the sake of dissonance than aesthetics. If one were to label them “metalcore”, a catch-all phrase often used (wrongly) to describe any form of extreme metal that crosses genres, Go for the Kill represents the uglier side of metalcore. They make angry, ugly, evil music with no frills like clean vocals or Swedish-style fretboard gymnastics added for the sake of sounding pretty. Instead, rabid-pit-bull vocals lock on and hold you down for a musical mauling you may not survive. Of all the acts to take the stage, Go for the Kill stole the show.
Shifting gears back to thrash were local favorites Armor Column. Also featuring a former Skinless member (Noah Carpenter on guitar) as well as Jeff Andrews of Held Under singing lead, Armor Column is metal for traditionalists: thrash, speed metal, power metal; call them what you will. They are not “crossover thrash”, nor do they combine elements of any other genres with theirs. Imagine if Overkill hired Geoff Tate of Queensryche to sing and you have something close to Armor Column. Unlike most of the bands in today’s metal scene, their drummer played on a kit featuring two bass drums. As my personal experience as a drummer is limited, I can’t give an informed opinion as to whether or not this affected his speed and accuracy. What I can tell you is that they thundered and roared through the whole set – never over-used, but by no means minimalist – providing the band with enough force and momentum to live up to their moniker. Clearly, Armor Column is a band rooted in percussion.
Armor Column’s Jeff Andrews has an amazing range, capable of leaping from a gritty snarl to silver-tongued heights reminiscent of a young Geoff Tate or Bruce Dickinson. Attired in leathers, long-haired and gauntlet-clad, he embodies the old-school thrash/power metal sound and look that emerged out of the 1980s metal scene. By comparison with his earlier work, which leaned more toward death metal or the dreaded “metalcore” tag, Andrews retains some of the Held Under agro-growl and throaty Phil Rind-style clean vox while effortlessly incorporating power metal falsettos and shrieks. He does not stray from his comfort zone, but rather expands it to suit Armor Column. Rarely do you see a metal vocalist enjoying every moment of being on stage, but Andrews had a triumphant smile pasted to his face for the entirety of their set. In keeping with the theme of war and domination, Andrews hoisted the Armor Column flag during his final moments on stage, signaling victory. Where Ringworm is comparable to nuclear war, Armor Column rolls across the battle field like a mobile infantry unit.
Keep an eye out for my review of the Justin King Benefit Show!