Wednesday, July 27, 2011

live shots: undersmile.

A few shots of Undersmile at Seven Churches festival, to complement the band of the week post.

from Witney, UK.
Taz Corona-Brown: Vocals and lead guitars;
Hel Sterne: Vocals and guitars;
Olly Corona-Brown: Bass;
Tom McKibbin: Drums.

Sometimes, ignorance is not bliss. I had never heard of Undersmile before the dynamic duo of Matt Hopkins and Josh Retallick invited them to play the first edition of their amazing Seven Churches festival, replacing Jucifer who had their tour cancelled. That felt like a bummer at first, as I am a fan of Jucifer, but that was just my ignorance talking. On the morning of the Seven Churches day, Matt decided to show me who these people were, so he took out a lovely digipak with creepy cartoony drawings, called 'A Sea Of Dead Snakes'. Before he even put it on, I was convinced. A band whose first song on their first EP is called 'Instrumenstrual' has just got to kick ass. That first listen was merely a confirmation, one which was reinforced quite strongly a few hours after with the band's performance at the festival.

Undersmile are unusual, you see. The two frontwomen, Hel and Taz appear on stage with babydoll dresses looking like they've just come up from a serial killer basement in the 50s, and then they proceed to drop their morose vocal harmonies on you as if they're not even caring. Or even there at all. They basically stare blankly at the ceiling, a totally emotionless performance that fits the remorseless heaviness of the music perfectly. While you're staring at the girls, Olly and Tom are doing all the dirty grunt-work in the shadows, a monster rhythm section where the strange greyness of the girls' performance rests.

Ever since I first heard them I've been trying to come up with a comfortable way to explain what they sound like and I'm still coming up empty. On the review of the festival for Terrorizer magazine, I described 'Cutters Choice', the coolest song on that EP, as something along the lines of "a lost grunge classic being gang-raped by Electric Wizard and Swans," which, though colourful and somewhat close if you can actually imagine it, doesn't really cut it. It's the best I can do though, so you'll have to go and listen to that EP, and while you're at it pre-order their new split with Caretaker here, not only is Caretaker yet another band you should be aware of, but the two huge (12 minutes each) Undersmile songs there, 'Big Wow' and 'Anchor', hit you harder and lower even than anything on 'Sea Of Dead Snakes', a remarkable progression for the young band. I swear I don't get commission, but do get a t-shirt while you're there too. The design reminds me of 'Through Silver In Blood', which can only be a good omen.

Oh and if you're wondering about the band name...

Friday, July 22, 2011

beach vikings.

I'm sure it's a temperature record for Skálmöld merchandise.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Eistnaflug 2011, or how to feel home 3000km away from home.

So you know why this joint, and some of the other places I babble on (who actually seem to miss me - sorry Jaime, I'll make it up, especially as you called out for me on a post with two of my biggest widely unknown band fetishes, Crowpath and Kill The Client!), have been as busy as the meetings for fans of the last Morbid Angel album? I've been away. And man, I do mean away. Sleeping in my own bed last night was like coming across your best friend you haven't seen in two decades. Ever since Roadburn, essentially, it has been hard being home for over a few days, and it all culminated this past week in Neskaupstaður. You can probably guess where that is by that squiggly letter that everyone pronounces as a "d", but do google that baby so you're aware of how far away from all of you I've been lately. It wasn't like the desert, and I did have fucking broadband where I stayed, but who can think of posting when you look out the window and you see this?

That's right, no one. Also, I'm at my most productive at night, and until I landed in Lisbon a few hours ago, I hadn't seen the nightly sky in a week. That photo could have been taken at 4pm or 4am, those people don't do night at this time of year. So I had plenty of valid excuses. I didn't go there just for the scenery, however. I went there to attend the mighty Eistnaflug festival, and I have to tell you your life isn't complete until you do so yourself. Roadburn aside, I can't think of a three day festival where people, both regular festival-goers and everyone in the organization and bands, are nice, polite, spectacularly dedicated to the bands and just generally a great bunch to be with. Forget all preconceptions you might have about Icelandic people being cold or distant or isolated or any other shit we tend to think about countries we don't know - they're warm, they're friendly, they're hospitable, they come up to you to chat if you're alone, they hug you, they're impressively knowledgeable about music, and they're also a wild bunch when bands are playing. I mean, look:

Most of them also seem fiercely proud of their country and culture. I committed the faux-pas of mentioning, in the presence of an older gentleman, that I had lived in Finland, just to establish the parallel that my incomprehension of the Finnish language while I was there was similar to what I was feeling now, to which he instantly replied, jokingly but still meaning it, that "we're not like them at all, we're vikings and we're better!".

Even drunks are funny. A guy came up to me and a fellow journalist and, after failing to come up with any interesting topics of conversation about our respective origins ("Portugal. Scotland. Okay. I can't say anything about those countries."), he informed us he was aware of how stupid he was sounding, but he couldn't control it, so he'd just accept and embrace it. He concluded this little chat by revealing he and his girlfriend, "the most beautiful woman in the world", would soon produce an army of bass-playing babies.

Neskaupstaður is an awesome place. It has one general store, one liquor store with apparently random opening times - "from 2 to 2.30!", "from 4 to 6!", "a really short amount of time!" were some of the suggestions, I admit I never really understood which of these checked out - one gas station, a lovely cafe, a couple of bars, an abandoned steel factory with art exhibitions where bands played during the festival, and the actual venue. That's it, and that's all you need. It does take a while to get there - I took a plane to Gatwick, an airport with an uncanny knack for delaying every single one of my flights a minimum of three hours, another one to Reykjavik and then another one to Egilsstaðir, where a bus lay waiting for an hour drive through imposing snow-covered (!) mountains and lakes.

All the way through this, and through the whole trip actually, when I didn't have a companion to put up with my stellar conversational talent, I must say I couldn't listen to basically anything else besides the new Ancient VVisdom album, 'A Godlike Inferno'. There was the usual daily fix of Today Is The Day's 'Pain Is A Warning', but besides that it was that magic half hour all over again, those songs are imprinted in my mind forever. I've come home to find the new William Elliott Whitmore waiting for me, so hopefully I'll be able to, like, listen to other records and stuff now.

As for Eistnaflug itself, I'm afraid you'll have to wait for the Terrorizer review of it to get all the details, but suffice to say the overall standard of Icelandic bands was mightily impressive. They all seemed pretty keen to offer me, Krekk and Villl (to employ the pronounciation of one very nice and very Icelandic airport lady), the, ahem, cream of the crap of European metal journalism who were present, all manner of CDs and shirts, for which I am eternally grateful, since I would have gladly bought them anyway. The presence of these three music geeks who happen to write for British magazines seemed to be so appreciated that at one point it was almost embarrassing. Head honcho Stefán seemd physically unable to go by us without a raise of the eyebrow and an inexhaustible offering - "beer?", he'd say not so much as a question but almost as a surprised realization we weren't yet holding one at the time, a crime which he proceeded to fix instantly. Dude, you'll be forever known as "the beer guy", and that's just one of the many reasons why we love you. A lot of people also just came to say hi, usually beginning the conversation with "are you the journalists?". My buddy Olivier who covered the festival last year was mentioned in reverential tones, as an ancient god whose presence was still felt. I was almost afraid to pick my nose sometimes just for fear someone would come up and recognize me. Just to keep our rock star delusions in check, however, there was a meet'n'greet encounter on the second day to which the three of us showed up and, well, kinda had to meet and greet each other as no one else bothered, which amused us greatly. We had a beer instead. Another one.

Sleeping some solid twelve hours last night made me realize how little sleep I had been getting. There's something to be said about getting home from a festival day at 4am while outside it looks like it's 4pm. The above picture, for example, was taken in the middle of the night, believe it or not. You might feel tired, but you won't feel sleepy, so we usually just hung around with our lovely host Gisli Sigmundsson (whose one single fault of character resides in his appreciation of the new Morbid Angel) and geeked out about various subjects until someone decided it might be wise to actually sleep for an hour or so. It's also very nice to just hang around outside in between every band and always looking like it's the middle of the afternoon of some refreshingly cool autumn day. I'd trade that for these hellish 40º days I get in a second.

In the middle of all this, there was still time for Aðalbjörn and Guðmundur, two fine gentlemen who happen to respectively sing and drum for my favourite Icelandic band, Sólstafir, to show me their new album. You will also have to wait a bit and buy magazines to read all about that, but let me tell you this - IT WILL KICK YOUR ASS. Guys, that vocal/guitar melody in "the ballad" is still playing over and over in my head, resisting all those Ancient VVisdom attacks to expel everything else from my musical subconscious.

The timing of flights meant that we were able to go back and be all tourist-y in Reykjavik and engage in the purchase of small viking statuettes, polar bears, chocolates and unwise amounts of beer, as well as cute sightseeing all over the very welcoming capital, as this half-arsed collection of snaps proves. Speaking of flights, however, it was quite an experience riding that local Keflavik-Egilsstaðir flight. For once I flew just like they do in the movies. I went to the counter, I got my ticket, a small piece of paper that looked just like a bus ticket, waited for a bit in the room just beside, and when the small Fokker propeller plane arrived we just went outside and got on it. It landed, we got our bag and left. No bullshit, no getting there three hours earlier, no metal detectors, no grumpy security people who bitch about your nail-clipper, no hand-me-your-phone-so-I-can-see-if-your-hands-have-been-in-contact-with-explosives, nothing. And I haven't heard of hordes of supposed terrorists driving planes into all those huge three-story Reykjavik skyscrapers.

It would be cool to show off my language skills and pretend I've picked up on tons of Icelandic during my stay, but that would just be stupid. Truth is, I even had trouble with people's names. As I've told him after a few too many drinks, I remembered Gisli's name because it reminded me of Gimli from Lord Of The Rings, I hope he wasn't mad at that. In my world, it's a huge compliment. I promise to make an effort to learn how those squiggly letters are pronounced and to pick up a few words so I'll feel less stupid next time (next year? Yes? Please?).

So instead of a cute just-googled "thank you Iceland" in the native tongue or some other fake shit, I'll just share a little game my colleague Greg hooked me on, which provided us with endless bouts of nerdy amusement - listening to the language as if it was English, and trying to pick up phrases. Some of the more unforgettable highlights of misheard foreignspeak include "I've had about eight drugs last night!", "Och! A falafel, is it?" (both Greg's), and my own "Last time I did good here, maybe the parrot went away!" and "He's not from Newcastle!". Considering there's a street called Burgerjoint in Reykjavik, this might not be so off the mark of what they were actually saying.

As if all this and everything else I've forgotten to mention or still will in magazine articles wasn't enough, there was one final treat in store on the last leg of the journey. Guess which airplane transported me from Keflavik into Shithole (aka Gatwick)? Come on, as metalheads, unless there's an aviation freak among you, only one plane is instantly recognizable and desirable to us. That's right. Ed Force One was at the service of Iceland Express and I rode that baby for three hours. Eat your heart out.

The final I'm-here-and-you're-not shit-eating grin, photo courtesy of Greg: