Show review: Hexmachine, Medic, Black Tusk, Landmines.
Landmines played first. They're a new band, featuring Joe from Brainworms on drums, and though I was expecting something pretty heavy based on the name, they actually aren't too far from Brainworms in sound either. However, where Brainworms have more of a mid-80s DC emocore sound, Landmines fall in a different place on the spectrum of melodic hardcore than Brainworms do. It's easy for people to hear "melodic hardcore" and assume you mean pop-punk, by the way, and let me assure you that Landmines are not pop-punk. The basslines are note-heavy and melodic, similar to those of Karl Alvarez from The Descendents, and the guitars use melodic octave chords in a similar manner to that of Leatherface or Hot Water Music; comparisons, incidentally, that also fit well with the gruff vocals. The hardcore part of their sound distinguishes them from these influences, though, as Landmines' faster tempos and more aggressive moments are nothing any band like the ones mentioned above would do. In those moments, they remind me more of bands that are hardcore first and foremost, but incorporate melodic leads and fills into their riffs. The best example of a band like this would be Swiz, or maybe Bread and Circuits. In the end, Landmines straddle the line between heavy and melodic quite well, and gain important elements of their sound from both sides of the equation. I can't wait to see them once they've been around a while longer.
Next was Black Tusk, from Savannah, Georgia. They were a three-piece with huge amps and drums, who looked fully prepared to blow the back wall out of the basement. However, once they got going, it wasn't quite as loud as I expected. Who knows, though, maybe that's just because I'm going deaf from too many shows. Anyway, Black Tusk had some interesting elements to their sound. Their guitarist got tones from his amp that reminded me of southern rock/boogie bands from the 70s, and they also mixed parts that took obvious influence from that style into their songs. In addition, they had moments that reminded me of Metallica's more ambitious instrumental moments circa "Master of Puppets", and sections that sounded like late 80s crossover hardcore; think Corrosion of Conformity, circa "Animosity". However, my enjoyment of all of these parts was hampered by the fact that they often returned to two or three chord crust riffs for the main verses of their songs. Now, I personally am not much of a fan of crust, or D-beat, or whatever you want to call it. Therefore, I was a bit put off by the fact that every time Black Tusk went into a vocal part, it had that sort of sound. There were plenty of other styles on display in their music, and in the later songs in their set, they sometimes didn't play crust parts at all. However, generally when songs didn't have crust parts, they were almost completely instrumental. This made me feel like Black Tusk saw crust parts as the only type of riff that could be considered a verse, and that everything else they incorporated into their sound was an intro or a break. If they could free themselves from this mentality, use the archetypal crust riff more sparingly, and start writing songs where they sang over all sorts of different parts, I would probably like them a lot better. As it is, they are by far the most creative crust band I've ever seen, and I can imagine that someone who actually likes that style of music would be blown away by Black Tusk. Problem is, that someone is not me.
Medic came next, and were far more up my alley. Medic play complicated hardcore songs that can touch on everything from grinding blast beats to brutal mosh parts to surprisingly melodic breakdowns. Often, a song that another band would play for 90 seconds will expand over twice that length in Medic's hands due to their ability to come up with parts that the average hardcore band would never think to use. Not only that, but as strange as these parts often seem on first listen, they work perfectly. In addition to having all of this going for them, Medic are an outstanding live act. Therefore, I was really excited to see them. When they set up, we learned that original guitarist Dave Villegas had quit to become a DJ. Their new guitarist was a guy named Paul, who played in the band Bison with Matt, Medic's drummer. Paul was a more than capable replacement for Dave, and I'm glad Medic were able to keep going without him, but I'll mis seeing Dave's huge mop of crazy hair flying everywhere when they play. Then again, Tem, their other guitarist, still throws his long dreads around plenty, and Faraz (vocals) and Sonny (bass) tend to throw themselves around, careening into each other and the front rows of the crowd frequently throughout their sets. This night was no exception, which was fine with the kids watching the show. There aren't usually pits of any sort at 9 North Boulevard shows, but one broke out in the middle of Medic's set, and Faraz and Sonny were both right in the middle of it. The pit was craziest when they played "Breathing Ashes Spitting Scabs", which drew out the signature 9 North Boulevard chant of "Holy shit". Medic played one more song after that, then finished, by which time I was ready to sit down and catch my breath.
Hexmachine played last. They're a three-piece band that is made up of local (and not-so-local) scene veterans: Trevor, who played bass in HRM and Human Thurma, plays guitar and sings; Paul, who played bass in Gnob and Hortus, plays bass; and Dave Witte, who has played in such bands as Discordance Axis, Human Remains, and Burnt By the Sun, and currently plays in Municipal Waste, is their drummer. I've been known to refer to Dave as The Best Drummer In The World, and he's certainly the most important element of Hexmachine's sound. The first couple of times I saw these guys, I wasn't too impressed, but every time I see them they grow on me a little bit, enough so that I want to see them again. They'd improved noticeably since the last time I saw them, and Dave's drum parts seemed more complex and more well-rehearsed. He and Paul complement each other well as a rhythm section; Paul has a very good sense of the rhythm of the song, and places bass notes in complex patterns that bring out nuances of the songs that would otherwise be unnoticed. Meanwhile, Dave, who has typically received most of his critical acclaim due to his speed, demonstrates through his playing in Hexmachine that it's not just speed that makes him so good at what he does. When playing slower songs, such as those of Hexmachine, Dave has the ability to play inside the beat, breaking a three or four beat measure down into dozens, maybe even hundreds, of evenly divided spaces between the beats, and then playing all of these sub-beats without ever losing the main beat that he's actually driving the song with. This is fascinating to watch, and at times is the only thing keeping Hexmachine from being boring. Their overall style is one that I find difficult to pull off well; they play slow, dirgy, heavy rock, which at times reminds me of The Birthday Party and at other times of The Jesus Lizard. With Dave's fascinating drum parts behind the songs, they can sometimes sound like Don Caballero, but this does not disguise the fact that not that much happens in some of the songs. Trevor tends to stick to playing two or three basic chords per riff, and in some of the songs, he just switches between two different riffs of equal tempo and simplicity. With a typical rock drummer, this sort of thing would never work, but with Dave playing with them, it seems like they get a bit lazy at points. Don't get me wrong, Hexmachine have some really good songs, in particular the last two they played at this show. The final song, which Trevor introduced as "Black Skeleton", was the fastest thing they did all night, and had a definite forward propulsion to it. The song immediately preceding it was much longer, and was based around a slow, pounding two-chord riff that the band would steadily build up into a faster verse and chorus that eventually cycled back to the slow riff, before starting to pick up again. These two songs in particular prove that Hexmachine are capable of a good bit more than what they're currently doing. They haven't been around that long, so I think there's a good possibility that they just wrote their first set of songs a bit too fast, and that as they continue to play the weaker ones will be weeded out, replaced by better new songs. I look forward to hearing them once this happens.