The shows cropped up fast as Memorial day approached, cascading on top of each other like the hairs of a vigorously headbanged coif. Instead of trying to keep pace, I bode my time. Now, feast on these reviews, covering the last couple weeks of heavy, condensed and combined into an omnibus post, richly suffused with the connective tissue of metaphor and theme.

Black Cobra at Thee Parkside, 5/14

Photo by Shannon Corr courtesy of At a Loss Recordings

Photo by Shannon Corr courtesy of At a Loss Recordings

The beginning of a landmine marathon, the first battle in a war that my eardrums were certain to lose. Local duo Black Cobra appeared at a birthday party for Pirate Cat DJ “Naked Dan.” There were no naked people at the show, but one assumes he was there. Had I found him, I would have been sure to ask him the secret of getting Thee Parkside to throw you a birthday bash, featuring one of the Bay’s most gruesome metal twosomes. Black Cobra were in fine form, with similar outfits and matching black locks reanimating my notion that they’re rock and roll siblings (they’re not, more on this later), and they cranked out an incendiary set. There’s something so right about the sparse symmetry of drums-and-guitar duos, especially when the guitarist has enough wattage in tow to rival the drumset for consumption of cubic feet.

This symmetry is completed by the music, which thrives on the furious collaboration between the band’s two members, sludgy riffs and thundering fills trading punches before locking arms in a death spiral of carefully orchestrated tandem assaults. Guitarist Jason Landrian has an endless supply of clever, stuttering riffs, and drummer Rafael Martinez navigates them expertly, mirroring ten-ton syncopations exactly without losing an ounce of power. Check out “Sugar Water” below.

Gojira at Slim’s 5/21

Photo by Gabrielle Duplantier courtesy of Prosthetic Records

I’ve been trying to limit myself to California-based bands when contributing to this site, but that all went out the window once Gojira finished their set one fateful Thursday. Hailing from Bayonne, France, hardly a hotbed for metal, the four-piece band hit San Francisco well into their first North American headlining tour. Their status as heavy music’s best-kept secret is about to become a dim memory. Simply put, Gojira delivered the best hour and a half of music I’ve seen in 2009. At the core of the band are brothers Joe and Mario Duplantier, technical wizards on guitar and drums, respectively. Their creativity and fraternal interplay make Black Cobra’s half-sibling exceptionalism seem as disorganized as a Golden Gate Park drum circle, and they’re only really rivaled by totemic brothers-in-metal Vinnie Paul and “Dimebag” Darrell Abbot, of Pantera renown.

Gojira’s music is air-tight, heavy as hell, and intensely complicated, without ever sacrificing musicality or bowing to chops exhibitionism. The band employs an unabashedly proggy sensibility, but only in the service of songwriting and mind-bending groove, and their roots in what could be termed a heavy metal “backwater” leave them refreshingly unfettered by orthodoxy, or the convention of a “scene.” Joe never tremolo-picked a lick that his brother couldn’t match on the double kick, and Mario never crafted an infectiously impossible drum pattern that couldn’t underscore some bizarre finger-tapping regimen. The songs are soaring anthems of post-industrial decay, finding power in bizarre harmonies, rhythms and chord voicings while somehow staying completely intuitive. To describe them as Mastodon meets Meshuggah is to haphazardly grasp.

With their environmentally-conscious lyrics, five-dollar Duplantier-brother art pieces at the merch booth, and a distinctively accented shout of “WeareGojirafromFraaaance,” Gojira are a refreshing dose of quirk in an increasingly commodified, compartmentalized genre. Impossible to taxonomize, but easy to enjoy, one hopes their creativity, crushing grooves, and idiosyncratic style continue to garner the success that the band richly deserves.

Mammatus – Hemlock Tavern 5/22

Photo courtesy of Mammatus

It’s hard not to be intrigued by an impending set of stoner metal when you’re greeted with the haunting tones of an unidentified, Andean-flute-type instrument. The Hemlock was full to the brim on a Friday night, and having been wooed by the workmanlike but somewhat tedious pummeling of Prize Hog and the too-clever-by-half boogie of vintage-keyboard-collecting Chicago hippiesters Cave, the backroom audience was ready to take the express elevator to a different plane. The flute was a good sign. The set that followed, however, was more than a little uneven.

Mammatus specializes in the kind of long-form stoner jams perfected by Sleep on Dopesmoker/Jerusalem, and such epic excess relies on deathgrip control of the listener’s attention span. At times, the band capitalized, locking into a rumbling doom groove abetted by singer/guitarist Nicholas Emmert’s otherworldly vocals. At other times, bassist Chris Freels and drummer Aaron Emmert seemed to serve as the backing band for an hour-long guitar solo that was only tenuously interesting. The Emmert brothers (see? again!) clearly benefit from some kind of sibling understanding, which is key when you’re trying to marshal a ten-minute song, but they need to work on providing a little excitement for the few fans who forgot to get totally stoned out of their gourds before the show.

Embrace the End – Elbo Room 5/25

Photo courtesy of Embrace the End

“Metalcore” is a dirty word in metal circles these days, as thousands of former fanboys have abandoned their sobbing Gothenburg exes for the new, hot girl down the block–the one with the faraway, shoegazing post-metal look in her eyes, or the one with teased-out 80’s-thrash-imitator hair and spotless vintage Reeboks. Embrace the End hit the mid-aughts scene before the full bloat set in, drifting in a sea of wretched twin-leads-‘n’-breakdowns dreck without drowning in it, and they reminded the people who checked out their debut why the genre became so popular in the first place.  Lineup changes delayed the release of their follow-up album, and Ley Lines (Century Media, 2008) is all the better for it, emerging with fewer direct competitors.

EtE is one of those lucky bands that seem to be able to come up with too many riffs. It’s like Mammatus in reverse. Channeling the best tendencies of bands like ADD mathcore heroes Dillinger Escape Plan and metalcore innovators Burnt by the Sun, the band combines the creativity and stop-on-a-dime shifts of grindcore, the technicality and synchronization of  death metal, and the agression and energy of hardcore, all in one fresh-faced, Sacramento-based package.

More than anything, the band deserves credit for keeping the sound intact, with only singer Jesse Alford and drummer Bart Mulis sticking around since 2005’s Counting Hallways to the Left (Abacus Recordings). Given this continuity, market value of Mulis inventive, high-in-the-mix drumming is up, that of the twin-vocal-attack provided by departed singer Pat Picolo is definitely down. Lead single for our times “Denim on Denim Hate Crime” is YouTubin’ your way below:

Parting Salvos – Because this post desperately needs to be longer:

Paganfest ( DNA Lounge, 5/16) was a blast and a half. Swashbuckle sported pirate costumes and inflatable palm trees. Moonsorrow brought their brand of incredibly listenable Finnish folk-metal weirdness (seriously, everything that comes out of that country is so gloriously strange), and Korpiklaani provided a polka-ing hoedown. Improbably scene-y crowd, though. Everyone seemed to want to prove their paganhood to each other. Lots of dudes in battle-kilts and girls in not much at all. Welcome to San Francisco, I guess. The less said about Blackguard and Primordial, the better.

Big Business/Tweak Bird (Bottom of the Hill 5/27) Can’t leave without mentioning this. Bottom of the Hill was packed to the rafters.  Tweak Bird are an odd duck to be sure, sporting a gong, a theremin-type device, and wall of amplifiers, but they brought the rock, serving as an appropriate bizarro-stoner-metal intro to the men of the hour, though their high-pitched singing seems a little goofy and affected live. No matter. Big Business, now a three-piece, rocked everyone’s socks with a relentless set of mind-bending, head-banging hymns. The inimitable on-mic delivery of bassist/vocalist Coady Willis (ex-Murder City Devils) and the tireless, flabbergasting drumming of Jared Warren (pound for pound the hardest hitter in the biz) left everyone amazed. They even-pulled off most of the three-part harmonies featured on their latest disc, Mind the Drift (Hydrahead Records, 2009), with the help of the new member, multi-instrumentalist Toshi Kasai. Next time they’re in town, expect them to play a bigger venue than BotH, and expect there to be moping people turned away, like there were on the 27th. What’s that shiny?!


To those who made it to the end (and aren’t my friends or relatives), thanks! Stay tuned for more metal coverage from me here on the site, from here on in portions 100% more fun size.