ALBUM REVIEW: FISTULA – THE PROCESS OF OPTING OUT

It would seem that Fistula is one of the most prolific bands to ever come out of Northeast Ohio. They’ve put out so much stuff over the years, across so many different line-ups, that it’s hard to keep it all straight. Heck, DeathCrawl played with them a couple of times over a number of years with one show being a two piece drum and bass performance whilst the other was a 4 piece with guys from A.C. filling-in in the rhythm section. Since then, they seemed to have settled on a pretty stable 4-5 piece incarnation that’s toured Europe and the states. Surprisingly, it’s been four years since their last release and unsurprisingly, their return is as violent and pissed sounding as you’d expect. One of the things I like best about Fistula is that they offset their slow, punishingly heavy sludge with uptempo punk rock/metal romps, creating a dynamic sound that keeps the records from getting stale.

I’ve read that Billy Anderson produced this, which is nuts. Billy is probably better known for engineering and/or producing bands like Melvins, Neurosis, Sleep, Buzzov*en and many, many more. It’s cool to see such a big name attached to something originating out of Ohio! I don’t know who mixed it, but the record sounds heavy! The bass fills out the bottom with total authority, providing a massive low-end that gives the tracks a ton of girth, but it doesn’t cut through or shine in any way. Clearly that job is left for the guitars, which sound thick and tight, chugging through palm muted riffs and punk rock blasts alike, when not letting loose cascading sheets of feedback. The drums have great attack and enough body to propel the heavy riffs without getting lost in the soup. The vocals sound nasty, with a tortured, grainy delivery that matches the vibe of the songs. This is a massive sounding record.

All in all, this is a nicely focused and mean-sounding batch of songs from Fistula. The title, an apparent homage to Black Flag’s The Process Of Weeding Out, is a nice touch, though the material on here is definitely more coherent than what Black Flag released. Check it out! – Jason

Costa Doing Business – The album opens with shrieks of amplifier feedback before slamming in on a beefy sludge riff. Stinkfaced and fist in the air, I’m nodding along with intent and then WHAM!, the band hits the gas and starts ripping through a blackened metal/punk bit. The half-timed chugging that comes in abruptly at the minute-forty-five mark instantly wrecks necks. Heavy! Thumbs way up!

Ratpiss – The tempo stays up through this punk-fueled crusher. It’s catchy and I’m banging my head in agreement. Again, the band keeps you on your toes by going half-time about half the way through. Heavy! Good stuff!

Cerebral Conflikt – A slower intro gives way to another raging rocker! The riffs are plenty catchy, and this is pretty much straight-up crust punk that barely lets up. Dig it.

Finkbinder – This one has an awkward herky-jerkiness to it that’s cool, blending crust punk with black metal riffing, and then a great half-time groove that brings out the stankiest of stink faces. It’s cool.

Evilspeak – Ooof! The opening riff here reminds me of Abominable Iron Sloth for it’s sheer heaviness. Tough! I like how the band shifts between fast and slow tempos within measures on this one. It’s a disorienting approach that works well. So heavy! This one’s a doozy. Full-bodied head banging is in order so… Thumbs way up!

Morbid Incel – After the extended shrieking feedback outro of the prior song, this one hits hard. Tuff! Slow/fast – this song does it and rips all along the way. I love how the drums drive the transition from the sluggish intro to the more brutal.. “verse.” Heavy! I’m into it.

Gods Of Rock – This one is up-tempo and has some sweet chug-chug accents, but for some reason it’s not grabbing me as well as the earlier tracks. The half-time bit starting at about the minute-and-a-half mark is cool and the rest of the song onward is pretty tough, so all in all, it’s alright!

Whore Cancer – The majority of songs on this album run about two-minutes long, but this beast is pushing five minutes. This one is beefy and metallic with an insistent pulse demanding head bobbing, foot stomping, and contortions of the face. The mid-tempo slog is awesome in contrast the albums generally more uptempo vibe. The double-bass accents hit hard and the slow-down through the bridge is sweet, especially when the band rips into the uptempo ending. Thumbs way up!

Suicide Priest – We’re back to full speed ahead as the band charges through another two-minute+ rocker. It’s catchy and makes me want to move. The bass gets some brief time to shine between heavy chugs of guitar. The half-time second half of the tune crushes. This one reminds me of Found Dead Hanging’s Solar Powered Sun Destroyer, a sweet song in its own right. Rad.

Malignatorium – The second longest cut on the album is mostly instrumental with the vocals coming in the form of a sample of argument dialog playing out beneath the nasty groove of the main riff. It’s ok, but maybe a little long winded for my tastes. The guitar leads on this track are a little out of character in the context of the rest of the album, but they give the song an added element so that’s cool.

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ALBUM REVIEW: ENHAILER/BLACK PYRAMID – SPLIT LP

Today I listened to the latest from Akron buds, Enhailer. It just so happens to be a split with Massachusett’s own Black Pyramid. Each band delivers a gaggle of riffs and vibes across 15-16 minutes of material each. If you’re into heavy, sludgy stoner metal or trippy, dense rock and roll, you should check this out! – Jason

ENHAILER
Full disclosure, we’ve played a ton of shows with Enhailer over the years and I’m internet pals with all the guys in the current lineup. This blog has featured everything that they’ve put out going back to the initial demo. This is the first record with Coler Riffle (Bonk, 200 Black Bear On The Horizon, etc.) on guitar and vocals, despite Coler being in the band for a number of years now. The songs sound great, but a little different from past Enhailer material. Perhaps it’s a “cleaner” sound? I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I guess I’d liken it to how Alex Newport made Kylesa sound so clean on To Walk A Middle Course? It’s a huge, heavy sound but not as grimy as earlier releases. The bass is thick in the mix; more fat than gritty. The guitars are in your face and heavy but plenty articulate to let the riffs breathe. The drums sound big and punchy with every kick thumping along with ease. The vocals shift from spoken word to screaming to even some clean bits. All in all, it’s a great addition to Enhailer’s discography. The band continues with their penchant for building out their side of the split to be seamless, with each track morphing into the next.

Pearlesque – Opening with a sample from the film Network (I think) playing out over a bed of amplifier feedback, the song eventually gets moving nearly a minute in with a depressing sounding guitar bit. It’s another 30 seconds or so before the drums and bass really get going, along with a buried vocal that sounds like a spoken word piece – maybe it’s a sample too? It’s hard to tell. It’s a simple groove that gets me bobbing along. It’s alright.

Death On Speed Dial – Erupting from the fading wash of the opener with furious metallic riffing, the band gets down to business. I recall hearing this one live and it’s a ripper in that realm. Mike’s bass gets a brief little spotlight on it and that nasty top end finally squeaks through! Tasty! The tempo is up and Coler’s vocals sound pissed! I’ve got a bit of a stink face going on. The half-time bit starting at the two-thirds point is a neck wrecker in contrast to the busier uptempo blitz leading into it. Tough! Thumbs up!

Drudgery – Kicking off with Gene Wilder telling Charlie he lost, the heaviness continues and I’m scowling in disgust. This one also shreds live. The vocals sound multi-tracked and are fierce. There’s a clean vocal in this that reminds me of Steven Brodsky’s work in Cave In. Nice touch. Thumbs way up – it’s a rocker!

Enjoy The Flaying – After opening with a slightly clumsy sounding intro, this one goes balls to the wall with sweet riffs and even eases up with a psyche-rock sort of bridge section before the brutality resumes. There’s an awesome winding riff at one point that totally killer. Thumbs up.

BLACK PYRAMID
This is the first I’ve ever heard from Black Pyramid. They deliver as single, lengthy song, but they do a pretty good job of mixing up tones and phrasing to keep it fresh and moving along nicely. Their half of the split also sounds great. Again, the drums sound big, giving each side of the split a solid foundation. Black Pyramid’s guitars are fuzzier and maybe a little muddier as a result, but they serve the song well. The bass is leaner and dirtier, pairing well with the drums without further muddying the guitar sound. The sporadic, clean vocals are seated a bit down in the mix, which works to their advantage. There’s nothing wrong with the vocals or the performance, but it’s clear that the riffs are the primary focus here. Overall, it’s a heavy and groovy number that builds to a nice climax.

Quantum Phoenix – The delay effect on the bass at the opening of this cut is cool and gives the song an immediate psychedelic vibe. The fuzzy guitars keep up the vibe even as the bass shifts into more typical territory (ditches the delay). The band does a great job of plodding through mid-tempo riffs, easily getting my head a-bobbing and my toes a-tapping. There are plenty of guitar melodies floated over the repetitive drum and bass groove that fills the majority of the middle of the tune, but parts of it might drag a bit anyhow. I’m honestly a little over fifteen-minute-long songs at this point, but this is a solid jam. The last five minutes in particular are pretty rockin’, with the tempo coming up and the riffs getting nastier and more in your face. Bang your head!

Enhailer-Black-Pyramid-Split-LP

ALBUM REVIEW: GAYTHEIST/INTERCOURSE – SPLIT 7″

This split sees Portland Oregon’s Gaytheist teaming up with Connecticut noise-mongers (and supercorrupter favs), Intercourse. You get two tracks from each band, and it’s a really quick listen. Check it out! – Jason

GAYTHEIST
Gaytheist just put out a new LP recently (How Long Have I Been On Fire on HEX Records) and I’m new to them despite their discography stretching back to at least 2011. The two tracks on this split are quick and to the point. Sound-wise, this is awesome. The bass sounds gnarly as heck with a nicely overdriven tone ripping in tandem with the hard hitting drums. The guitars are bright and crisp, riffing with clarity throughout the brief run time (under 3 minutes total). This reminds me a lot of Songs For Singles era Torche, and that’s a-okay with me!

Cracks – Heck yeah, this track has a great pulse and really gets the blood pumping! It’s catchy and rocks hard. The bass intro rules and I love the little staccato accents that pepper the track. It’s a hard-driving tune that ends before you’re ready. Thumbs up!

Summon Me – The band mines a bit more of a 70s power-pop vibe on this one, and it’s a solid rocker! The Day The Earth Stood Still/Army of Darkness lyrical reference is fun and once again, I’m left wanting more when the tune abruptly ends. Good stuff!

INTERCOURSE
Full disclosure, this band has been kicking my butt since I started the review portion of this blog back in 2016. I’m Facespace pals with the band’s frontman, and I’m always excited for whatever they release. Apparently, these songs were tracked a few years ago and are finally seeing the light of day. In keeping with the “slower,” less spastic vibe of last year’s Bum Wine EP, these songs have a more pronounced noise rock foundation to them and less overall insanity. It sounds great, but a little less high fidelity sounding than that Gaytheist tracks (less top end shimmer perhaps?). The guitars sound nasty as ever, the bass buried in grit, the drums large and in charge. Ahmed’s vocals sound great to. It rocks.

Last Cigarette Wrong End – This track immediately erupts with a busy, snapping snare and the band at full tilt. There’s no easing into it, just immediate nausea! Rips. When they land on the lurching riff that drives the last half of the track, I’m thrown into body convulsions. Nasty! Love it.

My War – Ok, I’m not the biggest Black Flag fan, but I respect them for what they did and how they did it. With all of that said, this cover rules (I’d say it’s on par or better than the original). It’s got a dissonance in the left-right guitars that definitely speaks to the sloppiness of Black Flag, and I love Ahmed’s vocal take, especially the only hear it in an Intercourse track lyrical ad-lib in the bridge (“I’ll probably stay home and cum to some milfs not barely legal teens ’cause that’s creepy”) [corrected misquote]. This hits hard and the treatment of the song is rock solid. Thumbs up.

Gaytheist-Intercouse-Split-7

INTERVIEW: JON REIDER (COINMONSTER, THE TRIGGERS, ETC.)

I met Jon many years ago at a Coinmonster show, probably in Akron. Keith had recorded one of their shows (I think it was live at Ron’s Crossroads with Dolly Trauma?) to Sony Minidisc and we gave him a CD-R copy of it the next time we saw them. After later connecting on Facespace, I made a random posting one day saying that we needed someone to sing on what would become The Gingerdead Men’s final EP – Paper Leviathan. I mentioned we were looking for something like a cross between Burton Cummings (Guess Who) and some other artists I’ve forgotten to the sands of time. Jon almost immediately responded that he was on board. I sent him demo recordings and sheets of lyrics and he twice made the pilgrimage to Cleveland from New Castle, PA to knock it out of the park. We were floored that someone as accomplished as Jon would work with nobodies like us, and even the title is an homage to his hugely influential band (get it… Paper (Coin) Leviathan (Monster)?). Today, Jon was gracious enough to sit for a lunch-time interview. He’s a busy guy, and I thank him for taking the time! Of course, I remembered a ton of questions I had for Jon after our time was up, but that’s show biz!

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Jason – I was first introduced to you and your guitar playing via the band Coinmonster. I understand that in recent years, you’ve also played shows with a band called The Triggers. Have there been any other bands of note that you’ve played in?

Jon – I’ve done a few tribute shows in Pittsburgh over the last few years with various members of a band called Ritual Space Travel Agency. Coinmonster used to play with them tons back in the day and they’re super dudes and musicians. We did a System of a Down show and a Steely Dan set a few years back. I was asked to sit in with them for a reunion show that was unfortunately cancelled with all this virus nonsense floating around.

Jason – Boo! …but I remember seeing RSTA back in the day, maybe at the Nyabinghi?  It’s great to hear they are still at it in some regard. Was Coinmonster your first “real band?”

Jon – “Real” in the sense of writing our own stuff, absolutely. I toiled around in cover bands with all the dudes from CM well before we put it all together. Once we started CM, we had a goal in mind to write our own stuff, music that was inspired by the wide array of influences we all had

Jason – The first time I saw CM play, I was dumbfounded by your playing technique. Did you learn to play guitar that way, or was that an evolution to get the sounds you were after?

Jon – Well first off, thanks! I learned a more standard approach initially, but the no-pick , tapping stuff just sort of came from trying to emulate stuff on guitar that I was hearing in my head from other instruments like horns and keys, etc. I dropped my pick frequently, so I just said to hell with it. I got some flack for it from some players because it definitely limits you, but I like how it sounds, it sounds like me. 🙂

My style has changed drastically over the last 10 years, more finger-pickish.

Jason – You have an incredible sound! When you say “finger picking,” do you mean in a country/bluegrass context, or more of a deep dive into weird progressive rock?

Jon – More proggy, kind of fusion-ey. I’m a huge fan of players like Allan Holdsworth and Jimmy Herring and I’m mingling those two in my own sloppy way. 🙂

Jason – I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that CM was your first “real” band. The compositions are so detailed and dynamic. what was the writing process like for that band? Did it come easy, or was in a huge ordeal to craft each song?

Jon – Writing came very easy! I was always surrounded by great players, first with John Troutman, and now with Rick Stoner on bass, then David Galazia who can play anything I come up with; it’s like being a kid in a candy store. Early on, I came up with many of the base riffs and then everyone piled on until it morphed into something we dug. Towards the later years, we definitely refined that process. We write really quickly, it’s the “having time” piece that is hard right now

Jason – You aren’t kidding about having the time! I remember seeing David reaching over and playing notes on the bass guitar with his drum stick, or catching a cymbal with his foot.. meanwhile Rick was playing bass with one hand and synth with the other… all while you were marching in place, destroying the guitar AND singing on the other side of the stage. You guys were easily one of the most engaging bands I ever had the privilege to see play!

I was just revisiting Tilton Johnson last week and was floored at how fresh and vibrant it still sounds today. Then I went back further to The Schematic and Universal Solvent and found the same to be true. The music itself is brilliant, but the lyrics are also pretty awesome. Who wrote the lyrics and what helped define the stories that were told?

Jon – Thanks again, I appreciate it! I write the majority of the lyrics, but the inspiration for some of the phrases and terminology comes from David. He might not know it, but it does. 🙂 The stories are usually based on real events and emotions, but some are just complete science-fiction.

Jason – I love it! What was the the inspiration behind a song like Bully, or Damn The Sunset, for example?

Jon – Bully is more fictional, serial killer type stuff. I always had a fascination with that sort of thing. “Investigation Discovery” is on my TV 24 hours a day much to my wife’s dismay…

Damn the Sunset was more or less a song about being able to clear your head just by taking a deep breath and chilling out. People will be surprised to hear that because I seldom chill out. 🙂

Jason – We watch ID non-stop too! Ahahaha! Were lyrics as easy to write as the material?

Jon – No – the lyrics are always way harder for me. I honestly haven’t written lyrics in well over a decade. It was easier when I was younger. Coming up with topics is more of a challenge now, I don’t know why. Riffs, I got a million of ’em!

Jason – On that topic, are you still writing new material?

Jon – I’m always writing stuff, but I don’t have a specific musical destination for it. When coinmonster does get a few moments to play, we write stuff in a few hours that could be ready to go quickly. It happened last time we got together – we came up with a neat idea. I filmed it and put it on Facebook and we got a ton of great response from it, then never rehearsed again. 🙂 We’re the “just like riding a bike band” though, we click within minutes , even if it’s been years.

Jason – That’s awesome and once again goes to show the talent and passion of everyone involved!

Jon – Secretly I’ve been trying to plan a solo instrumental record, different drummers for different songs, different players, etc. That is still in my head , but I do have a bunch of people in mind. 😉

Jason – Woah – that sounds like it would be killer! On that note, you seem really open to collaboration (you worked with us, for crying out loud!). What would be a dream collab for you?

Jon – Oh, I’m very open for collaboration! I play stuff all day long and think “man, something needs to happen with this riff or this melody” or whatever. I’d love the idea of being a studio musician, just playing on friends stuff, not like sitting down and reading super complex charts hahaha. I want to still be able to play like me! 🙂

As far as dream collaborations go, there’s a bunch of drummers I’d like to do something with… Jon Vinson (Axioma, Persistent Aggressor, SixKillsNine, etc.), Will Scharf (Keelhaul, Craw, etc.) , and Troy from RSTA. I’ve been spoiled to have players like David and Rick though, so my dream collabs are sometimes just a phone call and a few beers away. 😉

Jason – Ha! I’d love to hear anything you come up with involving any of those guys! Those are some beast players! Your sense of melody and rock/heaviness is so unique and the world definitely needs more!

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to get into playing music?

Jon – Yes! Play drums! The world needs drummers!!

Kidding – basically get in it to have fun first. If you’re good, or you get in with a good group of people, the rest will come. There’s not a lot of money to be made, so you HAVE to love it.

Jason – Great advice on both fronts!

Anyone out there playing that you feel more folks need to be aware of?

Jon – Nope – it would just take attention away from ME. Kidding – I mention this guy’s name a bunch on my FB page, but Jimmy Herring is one of the most “complete” guitar players out there right now IMO. Check him out if you don’t know him.

Jason – I will! Final question – where can people go to listen to Coinmonster? I’ve found some stuff on YouTube, but that’s it. It’s really too good to be unknown to younger kids that missed it the first time around.

Jon – I get asked all the time about our stuff being on iTunes and Amazon Prime, I really don’t know how it got there, and I surely don’t get paid for it, but outside of YouTube, those are the only options ( for now ).

Jason – Throw it all on Bandcamp! 😀 Thank you so much for your time today, Jon!

Jon – That’s not a bad idea, I will definitely look into it! …And thank you!!

ALBUM REVIEW: PHASM – DOUBLE HELL

Full disclosure, I’m Facespace friends with Adam (bass) and Jack (guitars/vocals) of this band. They also spend time together melting faces and digestive tracts in the magnificent Horseburner. Phasm is their blackened speed/punk/metal venture and this is their debut release.

The bass and guitars sound huge throughout – whether chugging along with metallic fury or breezing through more rock and roll rooted parts. The bass is grimy but articulate, and the same goes for the guitars. The drums hit with plenty of attack and body to make the songs thump nicely. My only gripe is that the vocals are a bit buried, providing more of a texture than any sort of lyrical narrative. What I can discern sounds awesome, it’s just sitting below the din of the band. This gives it a “live in a basement” kind of vibe with a meager house PA struggling to keep up with the military grade amplifiers these guys are probably carting around to shows.

I like that the guys brought a lot of influences to the table on these songs. It’s not just a caterwaul of nihilistic black metal wailing. They also smartly pop some hooks in to the songs in the form of neck wrecking accent riffs, punk break downs, and even a melodic heavy metal tour de force. As a result, it’s a fun, dynamic listen. Check it out! – Jason

– The album opens with an instrumental introductory soundscape that sets a somewhat ominous tone with the brief, morose guitar melody that sets up the rest of the album.

Heavy Explosives – Ripping out of the intro with a heavy, head banger of a groove, the vocals are just barely discernible wailing in the basement as the band jams it out. The riff at 50 seconds is a neck wrecker! So tough! This is a catchy tune that gets me moving. Thumbs up!

Supreme Burial – The band plows through a mid-tempo churn on this one for the first thirty seconds before slamming the throttle to the floor and kicking butt. The groove at the end of the song rocks hard and I’m digging it. Good stuff.

Parasites Uprising – Bang your head and your pump your fist in the air! The black-metal influence is much more pronounced on this one as the band rips through a nasty, furiously strummed chord progression… but then out of nowhere it’s suddenly a grooving little rock and roll number before full immersion in a bleak swamp of buzzsaw fury. Thumbs up.

Erased From Existence – The intensity remains up as the guys rip through a punk flavored metallic onslaught. This rips. Heavy and pissed! Thumbs way up.

Burned, Crushed, And Poisoned – The hardcore intro to this is a great touch and the nasty romp that follows keeps my neck moving and my foot stomping. The chugging pattern that comes in about half-way through is a great hook. Nice!

– The second instrumental interlude comes out swinging like a dirty remnant from the Horseburner camp; a melodic ode to heavy metal that totally rips.

High Speeds Through Blood – Aw yeah! I’ve got a nasty case of stink face out of the gate with this one. Rocker! Dang, this one is heavy, intense, and super catchy. Bad ass! Thumbs way up!

Dokugiri – The first 45 seconds or so of this track are just sort of faceless to me, but the when the bass takes the song and introduces the punk rock chord progression, it suddenly speaks to me. Cool.

The Trampling – The mid-tempo pulse of this track gets my foot stomping and my head bobbing with ease. Of course, they double-time it right away and get those limbs flailing around until slamming it back into first gear later. Tuff!

– The third and final instrumental interlude is more of a soundscape built around guitar feedback and droning chords. It’s ok.

Apocalyptic Hammering – Oof! Pedal to the metal on this one and I’m stomping along in delight. At almost 4 minutes long, this is the album’s epic track, passing through an intense maelstrom of sound before transitioning into a half-time head-bobber of a riff. Rad.

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THE GINGERDEAD MEN PLAY OTHER PEOPLE’S SONGS, POORLY

Hey! It’s been a long time since I posted anything, and I apologize. This quarantine has me up against a wall for being able to really listen to and evaluate albums! Don’t you worry, though, I’m sure I’ll eventually get back to it. In the meantime, keep an eye out for more interviews to come (maybe as soon as tomorrow!).

You may or may not know that we used to run around town known as The Gingerdead Men. We recorded a couple of EPs and one LP and gigged around Northeast Ohio from 2008 – 2013 or so, but we were jamming in my parents basement as far back as 1998. Anyhow, back in 2011 or so, we recorded a number of covers in my basement. We did these live, except for vocals which were tracked later, and with only a single take, yet they turned out pretty decent, if we dare say so ourselves. For reasons unknown, we never did anything with these recordings…. Until now!

That’s right, after an eternity in HDD purgatory, I’ve finally mixed and uploaded these covers to Bandcamp! I also included our studio recorded version of Fu Manchu’s Weird Beard, which was originally an exclusive hidden track on CD copies of The Forest And The Trees LP. Go ahead and check it out and download it for FREE before Bandcamp legal gets wind of it and shuts it down.

  1. Clutch – The House That Peterbilt
    • JLuchka – bass/vocals, KLuchka – guitar, KChilders – guitar, JCraig – drums
  2. Black Sabbath – Lord Of This World
    • SYanovich – vocals, JLuchka – bass, KLuchka – guitars, JCraig – drums
  3. Jim Carroll Band – People Who Died
    • SYanovich – vocals, JLuchka – bass/guitar/vocals, KLuchka – guitar/vocals, JCraig – drums
  4. Misfits – Night Of The Living Dead
    • JLuchka – bass/vocals, KLuchka – guitars, JCraig – drums
  5. Fu Manchu – Weird Beard
    • SYanovich – vocals, JLuchka – bass/vocals, KLuchka – guitar, KChilders – guitar, JCraig – drums

INTERVIEW: JOE FORTUNATO (SPARROWMILK, VENOMIN JAMES, ETC.)

I first met Joe many years ago when DeathCrawl played a Blackout Cookout at the Outpost alongside Venomin James on the side stage. He’s been a busy guy, riffing his way across stages all over the place since, currently melting faces as part of the atmospheric-metal power trio that is Sparrowmilk. He was kind enough to sit for an interview today. Be sure to check out all the bands we discuss if you’re up-for-it. Thanks to Joe for his time!

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Jason – In recent years you’ve been primarily playing in Sparrowmilk, although I know you also spent years slinging riffs in Venomin James. What are some of the other bands you’ve played in over the years?

Joe – Hmm. There have been a few that actually lasted long enough to record and play out – when I lived in Kansas City (from 1990 to 2000) I was in “Snapper”, “Redshift”, and finally “Avondale”. In 2000, I moved to NYC and joined an industrial metal band called “handful of dust.”, which coincidentally had drummer Joe Letz – who went on to Genitorturers, Amen, Combichrist, and now Aesthetic Perfection. Dude was 18 – and possibly one of the greatest drummers I had ever played with until I moved back to Cleveland in 2002. Then in Clevo, I started playing with Tom & Erin in band with Matt Shack from Pale Creation and Integrity. I left that band when Tom played demos for what would become Venomin James. He had written, performed, and recorded some songs… and I kinda knew that was the direction I wanted to go.

Another aside, Paul from “Shiner” engineered Avondale’s record along with Joel Hamilton… the same time they were recording “Starless”. I have a CD-R of rough mixes they gave me from that time.

Jason – Sweet! Are you originally from Cleveland?

Joe – Yeah, I grew up in Mentor. I decided to go to art school in Kansas City – trying to get a Disney internship.

Jason – I’ve never been anywhere near Kansas City. Is it a “music town” where local/regional bands can thrive?

Joe – I think so! When I was there, it was booming with killer bands. Shiner, Season to Risk, Tenderloin, Stick, The Get Up Kids, Coalesce, Origin, Molly McGuire, The Anniversary – to name a few. It reminds me a lot of Cleveland, except more of a Red Decibel/Am Rep/Sub Pop feel vs. a metal town. At least in my experience.

It’s super close to Lawrence, KS…which was the home of the Outhouse…considered a pretty legendary place akin to the old Euclid Tavern. One of those “I saw THAT BAND there back in the day…”

Jason – Nice! Sounds like my kind of place! Have you always been a guitar player?

Joe – Pretty much…I started when I was 13. My Dad and uncles fed me a steady stream of heavy & classic rock since I was a little kid, and the guitar always seemed like something a cool guy would play.

My aunt had “Alive II”, and I was hooked on trying to do that on a stage someday. I was 6 when that came out.

Jason – Did anyone else in your family play in bands, or was it something you took to on your own?

Joe – In my family? No…they were more listeners and appreciators of music than players. That said, I was encouraged by them to keep at it. My Dad was always asking me to play some licks & riffs: “Play that line from “Layla” or “the middle part of Stairway” – Haha! One time I was in my room playing to the first Samhain LP and Danzig 1 – and he popped his head and asked if it was me playing or just the record. He seemed kinda proud that I had played all the way through “Twist of Cain” without jacking it all up.

The real moment, though, was nailing “Aqualung” by Jethro Tull. He always played that record.

Jason – I often wish I had spent the time learning to play other people’s stuff. When I first started, we immediately started creating. Over the years, we’ve naturally done some random covers at shows, but I never bothered to learn much of anything. That was a mistake, in retrospect!

Joe – I started getting bored of spending the energy on other people’s music – I wanted to make records that teenage me would love.

Jason – Yeah, I think that’s why we went straight to writing stupid punk songs in the summer of ’98 with little regard for trying to learn from others.

Sparrowmilk evolved out of Venomin James, right?

Joe – Yeah, Sparrowmilk evolved out of Venomin. We had a lot of downtime because our drummer was in so many other bands, and he had a hard time making rehearsal sometimes. I had gotten a baritone SG, and was messing around with drop tuning on it… I brought it to practice one time, and Tom jumped behind the drums and we started just jamming on these sludgy riffs that I had. Erin was jamming along on bass. Venomin had played some shows instrumentally when our first singer, Jim, was deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, so there was certain level of comfort in doing it that way for Sparrowmilk.

I was always pushing for Venomin to be even heavier, and this baritone was giving me the sound I heard in my head.

Jason – Well, you’ve certainly got the heavy down from what I’ve heard.

Over the years, I’ve admired your guitar rigs. Have you always been a gear hound?

Joe – I would say so. I’ve always been fascinated with how my heroes got their sound. I started humbly, like most people with just straight garbage gear. How can I get better tone? What is the dude from Slayer using? What amp & guitar is on “Master of Puppets”? Always searching for the guitar that felt and sounded “right,” like coming home. Always wanting that amp to sound like they do on my favorite albums. It has evolved into me just going after a bunch of different textures, I guess – so now I just research the bejeezus out of gear, listen to the bands we play with, try stuff at the store – and buy or trade for everything I can get my hands on. If I hear something live that sounds amazing, I immediately start plotting a way to get one. It’s not good or healthy, but at least it’s not just getting wasted all the time – throwing money away on nonsense. My savings and 401k are actually pieces of gear – Ha!

Like, I got “Dimension Hatross” and “Leprosy” in the same weekly record store trip…and I was like, “WHAAAAAT?!?!?” Heavy music was evolving so fast at that time, and I had no clue how these dudes were getting their sounds.

Jason – What about go-to pieces of gear at the moment?

Joe – At the moment, it’s my 5150 II through the twin Tyrant Tone 112/115s. Straight in, no pedals. Either the Gibson SG baritone, or the Dunable R2 with the EGC neck.

On bass…I’m loving the Fuzzrocious Bongripper, the Boss ODB-3, and the EQD Life Pedal.

Gotta say, too, that Skot from Lo-Pan turned me onto the MXR M80 Bass D.I.+ – holy smokes!

Jason – The ODB3 is a great pedal that doesn’t get enough love just because it’s a Boss pedal. I’ve never tried that M80.

Joe – ODB-3 is a dark horse!

Jason – I couldn’t help but notice the Sparrowmilk aesthetic often borrows from the Alien Universe (Weyland-Yutani). Is Sci-Fi a huge influence on the music, or is it just a personal thing?

Joe – It’s both – I’m a huge sci-fi fan and I feel like the “used future” aesthetic of Alien, Escape From New York, Blade Runner, and Star Wars fits how we view where the sound comes from. Blending in synths feels that way to me. What would a sludgier band put together by someone in the Weyland-Yutani universe sound like? That’s where we are trying to get. I’m hoping to get more out there with things, looping and weird sci-fi soundscapes. I’m a designer/video guy for a living, and the well realized iconography of the Alien series, and the Syd Mead futurist design really appeals to that side. I try to imagine scenes from an imaginary chapter while the songs are going, and visualize starships and space freighters breaking the event horizon and the heliopause. Seems to lend itself to exploration, and I want to do the same for this weird hybrid we’re attempting to develop. In short – trying to make something as iconic as those films/universes is as lofty a goal as trying to sell a million records to us.

Jason – That’s an awesome way to approach your sonic vision! Sometimes, I think bands are afraid to embrace aesthetics for fear of being labelled gimmicky, when really gimmicks and “style” really don’t have to be the same.

Joe – Just growing up with those movies and comics, etc… I think it’s hard to extract the shared experience of so many classic and formative albums coming out at the same time as all of that. It feels combined to me.

The way I feel about how truly great some records are, is the same way I feel about iconic sci-fi.

Jason – Agreed! I’m a total sci-fi nut!

What’s your current go-to for a sound that hits ya’ where it counts?

Joe – I’ve got a trifecta at the moment. Maybe a little bit cliché at this point, but right now it’s SUNN “Life Metal”, Goatsnake “1 + Dog Days” OR “Trampled Under Hoof”, and Black Breath “Heavy Breathing”

There’s always Sabbath and stuff like that, but it doesn’t thrill me like it used to.

You could probably throw Disfear “Live The Storm” in for that Black Breath album…it’s basically swedish chainsaw recorded to perfection by Kurt Ballou at Godcity.

I’ll also throw in that I think Trent Reznor is a great riff guy and love his sound. I listen to the soundtrack stuff, like Watchmen and The Vietnam War OR the Ghosts stuff more than I listen to anything else lately.

Jason – I’d love to hear Kurt Ballou’s take on many bands. That dude is one of the wizards of heavy music record making. Regarding Reznor, I’ve never really explored his soundtrack work, I guess I should.

Are there any smaller bands out there that you feel more people should get to know?

Joe – You and I both play with some amazing bands – so many that impress me. Horseburner. Weed Demon. Maharaja. I think Hiram-Maxim is great. It’s hard to think in terms of bigger or smaller, because I think we are around a lot of people sort of “In the know”, so I’ll list out some of varying notoriety or awareness: Pillärs, Lord Fowl, Daughters, Fistula, The Midnight Ghost Train (RIP), Murderedman, Terminal Lovers, anything Dallison does. Sumac, YOB, Enhailer, Sunnata, Red Giant/The Great Iron Snake – pretty much anything Damien does…I could probably go all day.

I thought that Cavern was great when we played with them. Kind of a different take on Russian Circles/RLYR type of stuff.

I dig what Frayle is doing a lot. Not only the music, but they’re sweethearts and are savvy as fuck.

Jason – That’s a legit list, for sure! I just met John (Panza) last year at Earthquaker Day, and I really need to see him drumming in Hiram-Maxim – would be even better to play a show with them! I wish I had seen Murderedman more than once.

Joe – I’m a fan of Mr. Kretsch.

Jason – What’s next in store for Sparrowmilk?

Joe – We’ve worked up a new song – which makes 5 for a new LP. We’re hoping to get back to rehearsing them and get them recorded soon. We had a bunch of dates lined up, which got canned like everyone else’s. The main thing is to keep momentum as best as we can, writing and experimenting and trying to make stuff that people can appreciate and get into. I’d love to get out and do some small runs when things open up again. We have a lot of invites and goodwill out there, and we’re fortunate to know some really nice people who want to help.

Jason – Have you guys been able to keep practicing through this, or are you, like us, completely shut down?

Joe – Completely shut down, so far. I think we’ll be able to reconvene this weekend, unless they start arresting people for driving or something. We’ve all just been basically practicing the songs at home, or playing along to recordings

Jason – Any advice for anyone out there still thinking of being in a band?

Joe – Hard to not flippant or cynical here and say “Don’t!” – haha! My real advice, and it’s not meant to sound nasty or like I’m some dickhead, but:

1. Already have a job that pays decent, because you will need to buy stuff and bands cost money.
2. Make sure you’re playing music because you love it, and not to become famous.
3. Get the right equipment, because it helps the inspiration.
4. Don’t follow trends – play from the heart.
5. PRACTICE A LOT, REHEARSE A LOT – these are different; practice is alone at home, rehearsing means you’re ready when you show up.
6. Pay attention to what other bands around you are doing, and learn from them. Not steal – learn.

Jason – All great tips! The notion of being a broke layabout and somehow being in a great band seems impossible these days – it probably never existed, but perhaps stolen equipment was more prevalent than anyone wants to acknowledge?

Anything else you’d like to share or plug today?

Joe – Hmm. I’ll close by saying that I’m thankful I get to live at a time and in a a place where we can do this. No joke…I feel very fortunate to be here in Cleveland at this time. We are one or even zero degrees separated from some of the greatest, most talented people around. I’m glad to know some of them on a deep level, and I’m thankful that I get to go on a stage and lay down riffs for people that seem to enjoy it (most of the time – ha!)

Other than this, I hope PressureFest goes on in August – ’cause we’re on it! Haha!

Jason – Thanks so much for your time today, Joe! Good luck with everything and hopefully we’ll all be back to shaking stages soon.