notes from the coast: Scion Profound Lore Fest 03.31.12

When we wrote the profile on Profound Lore Records earlier this year, one of questions I posed to Chris Bruni was ‘ever thought of doing anything like the Power of the Riff shows that happened on the West Coast this year?’  His answer, in summary, was he would like to do it if he found the right location and the right people to do it with.  Well, it turns out the location was Pomona, California and the people were the good marketing folks at Scion.  Unfortunately, I was unable to make it to SoCal for this event, but luckily for us, Genji was.  Read below for his detailed report.

– K Martini

The Scion Label Showcase made its way to Pomona, California once again to the delight of metalheads all around.  And though the festival was on a much smaller scale than 2011’s extravaganza, it was no less full of quality bands from rising star label Profound Lore.  Being relegated to one venue gave the festival more of a “big summer tour” feel as opposed to a festival, but in a way it was much more enjoyable simply for the fact that I was able to focus solely on every band I wanted to see and unlike last year, I didn’t have to pick and choose which bands I’d have to pass on.  If the theme of last year’s metal fest was metal mayhem, then this year’s theme was certainly DOOM!

The first band of the day was the one I wanted to see the most, young Arkansas upstarts, Pallbearer.  They launched their first beast of an album earlier this year, Sorrow and Extinction, and have been rightfully receiving heaps of praise ever since.  Despite the fact the show was set to start at the ungodly hour of 1pm, I made sure I arrived on time to catch their set.  Normally with early starts the crowds don’t start filtering in until much later, but for Pallbearer, a lot of people had the same thoughts I did…this was THE band to see on the bill, and they did not disappoint!

For me, the one thing that sets Pallbearer apart from the multitude of great doom bands I enjoy are the soaring vocals of Brett Campbell.  He doesn’t have quite the death growl of many others, he actually sings with more of a lower to mid-register tone which sounds similar to Mike Scheidt of Yob.  Their songs lurch between crawling and mid-pace and while they throw down some monstrous, powerful riffs, it’s the dynamics of their songs that really resonate with me.  They keep things moving and the songs never seem to stagnate.  Since the show was scheduled to end at 6pm, all the sets were limited on time and unfortunately we were only treated to 3 songs from Pallbearer.  Personal favorite, “Devoid of Redemption”, got the festivities started in crushing fashion with Brett’s vocals sounding even more imposing in a live setting.  “The Legend” started off with the slow, somber bass rumblings from Joe Rowland and proceeded to build into the mournful epic mountain of doom that it is, knocking the audience out like a wild haymaker, leaving everyone hungry for more.  The thunderous rhythm section of Joe Rowland and Zach Stine was LOUD and tight while rhythm guitarist Devin Holt showered the crowd with punishing, epic riffs.  Pallbearer executed to perfection and I can’t wait for these guys to come back and do a full set.  For me, this was hands down the best set of the day.  If you haven’t yet heard Sorrow and Extinction, run out and get it now, better yet, if you get a chance to check them out live, do so before these guys really blow up!

Next up were the Minnesota blackened sludge crew, Wolvhammer.  This band has progressed nicely from their initial primal offerings of Dawn of the 4th and Black Marketeers of WW III to last year’s surprisingly mature The Obsidian Plains.  I have to admit I wasn’t much of a fan of theirs until their latest.  Adding ex-Nachtmystium guitarist Jeff Wilson to the fold led to a huge improvement of their songwriting.  It really launched Obsidian to a much higher level, so I was pretty excited to get a chance to see them perform.  Starting off with album opener “The Gleaming” was promising, with Adam Clemans’ raspy screams coming across powerful and full of rage while the blackened riffs coated the crowd with their sickly sludge.  I don’t know if they had much in the way of technical support, but it seemed like drummer Heath Rave had a hell of a time getting his drums placed just right.  He was constantly fidgeting with them, never seeming comfortable.  Unfortunately you could tell he was just a little off.  In fact, at one point during “A Defiled Aesthetic”, the kick drum mic fell over for about a minute before anyone bothered to come and fix it.  After ending the set with the “The Sentinels”, he stormed off the set, confirming his frustrations.  Their performance was good, a welcome change of pace after the monolithic doom of Pallbearer, but it didn’t seem like anyone were paying any attention to the needs of the band and unfortunately, through no fault of their own, their performance came off a bit sloppy.  I didn’t let that take away from my enjoyment however, and I still look at Wolvhammer as a promising new band that continue to develop. I really like their blend of sludgy, blackened punk metal and look forward to see what they come up with next.

The third band up were probably the most anticipated of the day, epic doomsters, Loss.  There certainly was a buzz among the people in the crowd who all seemed to be talking about them and their merch table was swamped.  Last year’s Despond was highly praised pretty much across the metal spectrum, most people loved it to death.  But there’s always a minority of those who are not in agreement and yes, I am one of them.  Now before you go and get all riled up, I will say that I feel they have some of the most beautiful and haunting melodies in their music, and they certainly set a very downtrodden, morose mood that makes one wallow in despair and sadness, which is certainly the sign of a great doom band.  However, it’s not their music that I find bad, it’s their delivery.  I just feel the pace is exactly the same across each song with no dynamics or variations in theme, and it just doesn’t quite capture my attention easily.  I feel like clean vocals would do wonders for their songs, ala 40 Watt Sun, or even Pallbearer.  They take this approach with the song “Silent and Completely Overcome” and it shows they have room to grow, but otherwise I just didn’t enjoy the album as much as most others did…

But on to the show.  Unfortunately for Loss, their set up was as slow as their songs.  They had technical difficulties that delayed the start of their set at least a half hour.  When they finally got everything settled, they rumbled into opener “Open Veins to a Curtain Closed”.  The plodding crusher got the audience swaying and nodding, hypnotized by their heavy thunder and beautifully, dreary melodies.  You could tell lead singer/guitarist Mike Meacham was slightly frazzled by the long delay, though his passion never swayed.  “Cut Up, Depressed and Alone” took the hypnotized crowd deeper into the pits of despair as this heavyweight monster rolled over the audience like a steamroller.  Small bouts of feedback broke up the trance here and there but the audience didn’t seem to care, they were so entranced by Loss’ punishing riffs.  By the time “To Pass Away” came on, it was already time to wrap up their set.  Despite my criticisms, I could certainly see why people are so enamored with Loss.  They’ve got a heavy, hypnotic beauty to them that envelops the listener, it’s just too bad the technical issues really overrode their all too brief set…a shame because I was enjoying their performance.  Hearing the songs live seemed to resonate with me much more than listening to the album at home.  I will certainly go back and give Despond some more serious spins.

Next up were a band I’d had the misfortune of missing multiple times now, The Atlas Moth.  I really loved their first album A Glorified Piece of Blue Sky, and since this was to be my first time seeing them, I was pretty excited. Although their latest album, An Ache For the Distance, was critically acclaimed as well, it took me quite a while to warm up to it as it was a pretty big departure from their original sound, but the more I’ve listened to it, the more brilliant I think they are.

In a live setting, The Atlas Moth’s psychedelic 60’s influences were displayed with imagery as well as music, with thousands of laser dots illuminated the stage.  As the band have morphed from black metal band with some psychedelic atmosphere in the background to one with the black metal aura now the background, so has their delivery morphed.  Now the shrill black metal screams of Stavros alternate back and forth with David Kush’s lower register, cleaner vocals, which I have to say is a killer complement to their vocal style.  It adds a lot more layers to their songs.  Songs like “Holes in the Desert”, “An Ache for the Distance” and my personal favorite, the mesmerizing “Perpetual Generations”, displayed a real passion and fluidity, each song flowing with an ease and grace that showed me they really love what they’ve created.  And make no mistake, they can still bring the heavy when they want, it’s just done in calculated moments that really blow doors when they decide they want to drop the hammer.  But as with all the other sets, this one was much too short, leaving everyone wanting more.  One of these days I’ll get to see this band perform a full set in all their glory.  I can’t wait to hear some older material as well.  The Atlas Moth have really created something unique and are diving headlong into uncharted territory.  If you like your metal experimental and on the cutting edge, then look no further than these heavyweights.

Finally, it was time for the mighty Oregonian doom merchants to take the stage. Yob is a band I’ve had a long up and down relationship with.  There’s no doubting their talent.  They’ve written some serious doom classics.  But I’ve often found them a little inconsistent.  While some of their material just obliterates everything in its path, some of their other stuff is just incredibly long-winded.  Sometimes I really like Mike Scheidt’s shrill vocal style, other times it just grates on me like someone dragging their nails down a chalkboard.  One thing is for sure though, no one has ever denied their talent or their powerful live performances, so I was curious what to expect from them.  Would they capture my metal heart?  Or would they continue to fuel my apathy towards them?

Well right off the bat Yob came out and dropped a ton of bricks over my head with vicious opener “Prepare the Ground”, from latest album “Atma”, burying any doubts I had whether I would enjoy them or not.  Watching Mike Scheidt rock back and forth, as though in some psychotic trance, really spoke volumes to me about their hypnotic approach to their music.  He really immerses himself into each riff of each section of each song, so I can see why some songs might meander a bit.  It’s really like losing yourself in the moment.  Now I finally understood their music much better.  Travis Foster was a beast behind the drum kit, pounding away like a furious primate.  He and bassist Aaron Reiseberg laid down a thunderous, rock solid foundation over which Mike could riff away into oblivion.  Next song up was a punisher called “Upon the Sight of the Other Shore” that continued to beat the audience down (willingly) into metal submission.  Even a malfunctioning amp head couldn’t stop the mountainous riff assault, as one had to be replaced mid-song.  This didn’t stop the band one bit, Mike kept playing and singing as if everything was ok, even at reduced volume, and when it was fixed the crowd were even more fired up when the guitar came roaring back.  Continuing on with slow build up of “Adrift in the Ocean” the crowd were subdued until once again we were all toppled over by yet another set of giant metal waves crashing over us.  It was glorious being thrown about by the power of Yob.  It was at that moment I was truly convinced this band deserved all the praise they’ve gotten.  Even the finale, a very old song called “The Mental Tyrant”, which for me did drag on quite a bit, couldn’t change my mind.  Even though I may not worship every thing this band does, I now realize that when they are on, they are one of the true heavyweights of the doom landscape.  I was really impressed with their short live performance.  It was actually quite brilliant in my opinion.  On this night Yob definitely converted me into a believer.

And then just like that it was 6pm…the end of the line for the Profound Lore showcase.  Scion continues to baffle me with their seemingly undying support for underground metal.  And not only that, they seem to know who the real up and coming players in the scene are.  Profound Lore really hit it big with this showcase, showing just how strong their stable of metal mares really are.  It was a great lineup, much smaller this time around but no less lethal in it’s delivery.  I’ll certainly be looking forward to the next big Scion metal event and even more so to what else Profound Lore have in store for the unsuspecting masses. Now where are those old Yob LPs?