Ancestors / Conifer / Lightning Swords Of Death / Earthless @ Mountain Bar; Los Angeles, CA
It was a weird, post-apocalyptic mess in Los Angeles this weekend. From Santa Barbara to Anaheim, thirty-five thousand acres of land have been scorched by wildfires. The closest flames to LA are still burning in the San Fernando Valley, and may continue to burn for days. The last three days were unlike anything I have ever experienced. The drive home from work Saturday evening was marked by an ominous orange/black sunset. The air outside burned my eyes and parched my throat, even if there was no sign of any smoke wafting through the city. Some folks at higher elevations claimed to see black plumes spreading across the sky. One friend commented that from her place of work she was able to reach out her hands and catch falling ash like snowflakes. Throughout Sunday, there was a very noticeable smokey haze engulfing the city. I awoke and walked outside only to comment that it looked as if a barbecue up the block had grown wildly out of control. After driving around for a while I realized it looked like this on every single street in the city. There was ash on my windshield. More burning eyes and scorched throats, more black snot and more surreal colors at sunset. This morning is clear and beautiful…but this past weekend was a bizarre experience I will not soon forget.
On top of all that, there was an amazing line-up scheduled to perform Saturday night in Chinatown at Mountain Bar. Ancestors, Conifer, Lightning Swords of Death and Earthless. For the first time perhaps since the Bottling Smoke Festival, there were four bands on the same bill in Los Angeles that I actually wanted to see. Ancestors deafened me once before at The Smell, but on that night I was more excited to see Suishou No Fune, so I wanted to see them again and give the music a chance to capture me. I’ve been listening to Conifer since their self-titled album appeared on an Aquarius Records mailing list, and was overjoyed to see them performing in LA for the first time (at least, the first time I’m aware of). Lightning Swords Of Death opened for Wolves In The Throne Room last year and impressed me with their epic black metal tunes and their penchant for choking everyone in the room with a fog machine on full blast for the duration of their set. Earthless, of course, gets much respect on this site for their amazing psychedelic, kraut-y, monstrous space-rock jams.
The upstairs room at Mountain Bar has no ventilation, just a series of fans blowing in various directions. All the lights, save for one measly bulb off-center on the left-hand side of the room, were turned off for the entire evening. This made photography difficult, but definitely aided the mood. The setting was perfect for a series of low-end heavy, grim and grungy, ultra-psychedelic rock bands (and one black metal band).
Ancestors took the stage fifteen minutes before ten o’clock, and played for thirty or forty minutes. I think they were the loudest band of the evening, but somebody else who stayed for all four acts might beg to differ. They employed two keyboardists, which I don’t remember at all from last time I saw them. Their monumentally heavy jams fall somewhere between psychedelic heavy metal and space rock on the music-journalist-genre-o-meter. The first tune they played was slow and featured sporadic shouted vocals. The only other tune that I remember was the latter portion of “Orcus’ Avarice” from their recent Neptune With Fire LP, which sounds like a stoner rock rendition of a Godspeed You! Black Emperor dirge. It was lumbering and repetitive and triumphant. I yearned for the grand riff to reach a stunning crescendo, and I was not let down. Out of the four acts on this night, Ancestors played the best set. Everything was perfect. The pant-leg-shaking volume, the long, drawn out jams, and the beautiful arc of “Orcus’ Avarice” completely changed my opinion of the band, and overshadowed the other three bands’ performances. Do yourself a favor and get your hands on Neptune With Fire. [Listen to “Orcus’ Avarice” (edited)]
As previously stated, I was anxious to watch Conifer live for the first time in my life. The self-titled album was a study in the potential heaviness of post-rock, and the newly released Crown Fire sounds like a metal band covering a math rock outfit. Unfortunately for Conifer, their live set did not capture the glory of those two records. As much as I strived to decipher what songs they were playing, it was impossible. They simply sounded like four dudes (two guitarists and two bassists) jamming together on two notes, much more like early Explosions In The Sky on downers (the really good ones, the ones that make it hard to play music) than Slint or Neurosis or Polvo on steroids. I’m going to have to go back and revisit their records to see if I was missing something, or see if I can pinpoint what exactly they played. I was expecting greatness and it never materialized, but that won’t stop me from seeing the band again the next time they come to town; I didn’t like Ancestors the first time I heard them either, and I enjoyed the hell out of them on Saturday night. [Listen to “Cruciform Empennage”]
Watching a Lightning Swords Of Death set is something that is pretty indescribable. They have these totally cheeseball, totally amazing flags set up all over the stage depicting a gnarly, huge sword surrounded by asps and lightning bolts. Their singer is one of the nicest guys in the world (I met him on a particularly drunken evening a few months ago at 3 Of Clubs, and he could not have been more of a gentlemen, even through my soused claims that his was the best band in LA, and the greatest-named band of all time), but he looks like he will fucking kill you when he is on stage. He is decked out in leather and hugely spiked accessories, his long hair is filthy, even his tattoos look quite more menacing when he’s on stage. One minute he’s chatting and joking about whatever the fuck black metal musicians talk about when they’re not on stage, and the next he’s got that horribly creepy death-growl absolutely perfected, and he’s calling for evil spirits to wreck havoc on the world, or maybe it’s all a metaphor for killing an entire race of people. I don’t really know the first thing about the inspiration for black metal lyrics, nor can I decipher what the hell people are saying when they’re singing in that voice, but that doesn’t stop it from being completely awesome. Lightning Swords Of Death are awesome. Anyway, their set was great. The crowd was probably more frightening than the band. They sure do attract some creeps, those black metal bands! [Listen to “Let This Knife Lead You To Us”]
Last but certainly not least was Earthless. For a while it seemed as if they weren’t ready to play, even as it raced towards one ‘clock in the morning. Guitarist Isaiah Mitchell was nowhere to be found. Amazingly, he walked into the room and onto the stage, uttering something to the extent of, “I thought we were going on last” to the promoter, who responded with what sounded like, “You are, everybody else played.” Without even so much as a line check, he grabbed his guitar, plugged in his two or three effects pedals, threw his tuner aside, and the band launched into their first jam. It was a typical Earthless jam: very long, slowly gaining speed and intensity, reaching an apex, attempting to maintain that ferocity for an added moment or two, then finally dying back down. The two things I could not keep my eyes off during their set were Isaiah’s hands (he really is a phenomenal guitarist), and drummer Mario Rubalcaba, whose power and technical skills were eye-opening. The first tune didn’t utilize the Echoplex enough to instill that added sense of psychedelia and ambiance, but it was still great. Earthless harness all the best attributes of motorik Krautrock bands, Hawkwind, and Japanese psych bands into one behemoth. Many other modern space rock bands could learn a thing or two from watching them perform. They are a remarkable, talented band. [Listen to Earthless Live]
Finally, it was time to spill back into the streets, to leave downtown for the ominous smoke-filled corner of LA that I call home. The streets were quiet (My ears were not ringing because I finally used that pair of earplugs I’ve been talking about using for years). The sky was black. There was a sense that, were the fires to somehow blow through the valley and over the hills, or up from Anaheim into Hollywood and the East-side neighborhoods, these four bands would make a perfect soundtrack for the fiery destruction of Los Angeles.
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