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Collapse, Swells, Barnacle, Reproacher and Clinging to the Trees at Blast-O-Mat, 4/30/11

With Barnacle, Reproacher and Clinging to the Trees of a Forest Fire
04.30.11 | Blast-O-Mat

The pedigree of Barnacle is fairly impressive (former members of Elucidarius and Ascaris and Nick from Cephalic Carnage), but the music stands on its own. If guys with genuine technical chops to burn decided to form a band that indulged every angle of excess in metal before shearing off the worst of it, they'd have a band like Barnacle. What we saw at this show toward the end was a kind of melodic doom-prog, like something Mogwai would play if it went completely metal and learned a thing or two from Converge.

Apparently not just high winds and fireworks come from Cheyenne, Wyoming. Actually, there's been a good, if not-as-well-known-as-it-should-be metal scene there for years. Cheyenne's Reproacher unleashed upon us a rumbling blasts of low end and eruptive vocals.

For much of the set, the lead singer was a one-man circle pit, and eventually a person or few from the audience joined in on the action. During "The Plan," the bass line transformed from a textured throbbing into an edgy, angular sound that cut through the other sounds being hurled toward us.

Finishing with "Thorn," a song, according to the singer, "about the incredible people in our lives which may include yourself." What followed in the wake of that pronouncement was doomy grindcore that threatened to spiral completely out of control like a dangerous machine. Sometime during the show, these guys told us they have a record coming out soon and that the band would be back at Blast-O-Mat on July 17. Unexpectedly good from the beginning, Reproacher kept getting better until the end.

The three-piece Clinging to the Trees of a Forest Fire somehow managed to be as hard hitting as ever. Its knack for taking atonal, dark, rumbley drones into something incredibly heavy, yet musical, is just one thing that has always set this band apart. Ethan McCarthy's feral wails articulate a heartfelt pain that, when combined with the music, seems to purge the anguish of having to get by in a world and society seemingly built to crush the human spirit -- and this trio is struggling against that essential despair by both embodying that feeling in sound and rendering it comprehensible.

During "Velveteen Walls," the bass line executed powerful swells with a creative use of sliding up the neck. What also became obvious is that JP Damron doesn't just lay down blast beats, which is difficult enough to do properly, he constantly brings in different percussive textures and truly creatively mixes up the rhythms in a way that is easy to miss if you're too focused on guitar and vocals.

At one point, during one of the newer songs, all three musicians together created a sound that conjured images of being in a big city just as a particularly potent tsunami hits and all you hear is the most colossal flood of water you'll ever hear in your life and you feel it in the ground in the air as you witness buildings in the distance collapse in the onrush of the wave. Maybe Clinging is simply a metal band but it is one that doesn't seem to play to impress with technical prowess, on which it is not short, but one that creates a powerful visceral experience for anyone in the room.

This was the second ever show from Collapse -- its first being at the Black Sheep in Colorado Springs a couple of months or so ago. So there was a bit more anticipation of getting to see the group. With good reason. From the beginning, Collapse, which features Zac Joe, formerly of Cephalic Carnage, pulled together strands of grindcore, death metal and hardcore and shot it through with musical ideas completely outside the realm of all of that music.

Ben Pitts, also the guitarist and frontman for To Be Eaten, fronted the band like one might imagine a Viking shaman would: animalistic growls, pronouncements of imminent danger and dark visions of a future, filled with struggle if action isn't taken today. "Destroy Industry," somehow made really strange, almost playful, twisted sounds seem disorienting and heavy at the same time. The entire set, down to Ben's wild gestures of entreaty and his grabbing people from the audience to sing in their faces, was melodrama in the best sense.

It would have been difficult for anyone to follow Collapse, but Swells had the stones for it. Just when it seemed like hardcore was long dead and completely irrelevant, Swells pretty much revived and partly reinvented it at this show, by not falling into any of its already explored tropes.

The hard, fast music was there, with the singer vocalizing beyond the point of outrage and scarcely discernible. That's modern hardcore. Clearly these guys know that and decided to do something three steps or more beyond. The guitar work seemed to coil around anti-melodies while the often heavily effected bass didn't just provide some low end, it also carried the melody in unpredictable directions. At one point, the singer played the xylophone as an introduction to a song as the rest of the band eventually came into the mix.

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The dynamics never stayed with formula either, and the guitar work, along with the bass, waxed, intentionally or by virtue of interest completely independent of this influence, into art punk territory with the moody blended with the heavy. The singer, for his part, kept to a kind of self-distorted scream he modulated, so as not just come across as yet another vocal cord shredder all while charging about the room.

Ending on a song identified as "Buena Vista Acid Club," Swells proved itself worthy of anyone on the rest of the bill by, like those others, being not just refreshingly compelling but also knocking down the boundaries to what this sort of music can do.

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I'm a bit of a fan of what a number of people in these bands have done and what they are involved in now. Random Detail: To the guy who took that fantastic No High Fives to Bullshit picture that appeared with an old Critic's Choice entry -- sorry your name wasn't credited. By the Way: Ash From Sweat puts out some great music from here, and you can order a copy of the Collapse and Swells 7-inch by emailing Dan Phelps at afsdanno@gmail.com.

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