A389 Recordings VIII Anniversary Bash at Sonar

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Wednesday, February 1, 2012

It doesn’t get talked about nearly as often as it should, but Baltimore has really become a great city for music fans. Not only are there a number of talented bands that have and had called the city their home, but there are plenty of music festivals that are hosted every year. Metal and hardcore in particular have been the highlights, with Maryland Deathfest being the most prominent festival in the immediate area. But over the past few years the A89 Anniversary Bash has been gaining more and more exposure, as A389 Recordings has used the event to highlight their roster of groups. The event originally started as a birthday event for label founder/Pulling Teeth member Dominic Romeo but has turned into a showcase with special guest bands that pull in people from around the country (and sometimes even overseas). This year a lot of talent hit the stage, and while the day was a long one it was worth it.

Since this is going to be a pretty long review, I have bolded the first mention of each band so it is easy to look for my thoughts on each one.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it inside for Eddie Brock, which I was a bit disappointed about but since they’re a Maryland based band it seems likely that I’ll be able to catch them on a show sometime in the near future. I made it into Sonar about halfway through Homewrecker’s set, and noticed that the Ohio based group was already doing their best to blow the venue apart even though it was so early in the day. As I walked into the room Homewrecker’s lead singer was already shirtless and in the middle of the mosh pit, which is always a good sign that a group is giving it their all. Apparently I had just missed when they performed “Internal Morgue”, which features the lead singer of Weekend Nachos as a guest singer but the handful of songs I was able to experience were great. These guys play an even mixture of mid-tempo, chugging hardcore and extremely fast paced riffs and while I missed almost half their set it was clear they were a band I was into. I was also pleasantly surprised that the sound on the Sonar Club Stage (which is the mid-size of the three rooms in the venue) was pretty balanced and the vocalists were really given the chance to explode over the instrumentals. I’ll have to see if I can catch a full set from these guys if they make it down from Ohio again, as they were a great way for me to start the day off.

Hatewaves took over next, and had what was easily the shortest set of the day. Though they’re relatively new, the band features members of Pulling Teeth and Triac and their mixture of powerviolence and hardcore favors fast, short songs. From what I’ve seen of the band before, a lot of their songs are centered around experiences that people not connected to the group probably wouldn’t get (there seems to be a lot of inside jokes), and this made it seem very appropriate that they were introduced by a person off-stage as “You wanted the second best? You got the second best.” Despite the fact that the set was over almost as soon as it began, Hatewaves is an interesting group. Like most bands of this type, their material often has a style that goes by so fast that it’s almost hard to comprehend, but the mix of mid-tempo grooves and some surprisingly catchy riffs works quite well. I’ve seen a lot of people on the Internet come off with the impression that these guys are a joke band, but whether they are or not they’ve got a killer energy level and some interesting ideas.

Triac is one of the Maryland bands that I have heard a lot about but hadn’t been exposed to. As it turns out, they play a mixture of grindcore and powerviolence that puts emphasis on playing some of the noisiest riffs possible. This type of material is exactly the stuff I’ve been into the past few years, so it didn’t take long for me to start getting into the band. What I really liked about Triac was that they weren’t one of those groups that just goes for all out speed and plays the same super-fast riff twenty times, as their slower sections have a noise rock/punk quality that result in some surprisingly memorable moments. If there was one downside to their set, it was that the lower pitched scream of their lead vocalist got washed away by the noisiness of the instrumentals and there were a few songs where it was extremely hard to hear him. But when the sound did allow the vocals to break through, they revealed themselves to be perfectly suited to the material. Triac seems to be jumping on a lot of shows, so if you’re a Maryland native it’s likely you’ll have the chance to see them a lot this year and based on this set it appears the effort will be worth it.

Low Places was the first band of the night that had come from the other side of the country, as the sludge/powerviolence group is from Los Angeles. Their debut full length Spiritual Treatment was one of the albums I had been spinning in the weeks before the festival, so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. These guys offer an interesting mix of sounds that are polar opposites as far as tempos go, as they play slow sludge that has some noise elements as well as fast as hell powerviolence. This was another band that had an extremely short set, but they packed a lot of material into it. Rather than interspersing their set with the slower tracks, it seemed as though they chose to start and end with these sections which worked quite well. Based on the crowd reaction it didn’t seem that the audience was that familiar with Low Places as they were with some of the other groups, but by the time they had finished playing it was clear they had won plenty of people over. This is a band that has energy and some slightly outside the box ideas (as far as mixing sludge with powerviolence), and while they were ultimately overshadowed by some of the groups that played later I could see them becoming much stronger as they move forward.

While I was definitely excited to see all the out of state bands, Maryland’s Full of Hell was a group that I was just excited to see. Their newest record Roots of Earth are Consuming my Home mixed intense hardcore with bursts of noise and power electronics, and I was curious to see how it would transfer over live. Needless to say, Full of Hell didn’t disappoint. They started their set with as much noise as possible, and the singer had a separate speaker in the front that he used to generate it. It was quite interesting, as both the drummer and singer would convulse as they performed the noise sections and you could tell that they were just letting the sound course through their bodies. When the instrumentalists transitioned over to the hardcore songs they kept the same level of energy, and live this material is just as strong as on record. But what I think what amazed me the most was the vocalist, as while I knew he had some powerful screams the shrieks and growls he unleashed upon the crowd were incredible. I wasn’t aware he had the range that he does, and it made Full of Hell one of my favorite bands of the night. Plus, I’ve got to give credit to a drummer that spends the first couple of songs wearing a wrestling mask.

Pick Your Side was one of the other bands on the bill that I was completely unfamiliar with, but it turns out that the vocalist of this group is also in Haymaker. He has one of those screams that is extremely gruff and in your face, and while I realize that this is the nature of hardcore and punk there is just something about his pitch that makes it love or hate. I tended to lean more towards love, although I did start to find it become just a little bit grating by the time the band had finished. Compared to Haymaker, Pick Your Side seems to be a little more straightforward as the riffs are fast and channel a lot of old school punk influences. It was definitely fun to listen to and watch, especially considering that the lead singer spent a lot of time jumping around and amping the crowd up. However, despite the fact that they put on a good show I found myself having trouble distinguishing a lot of the songs as they all seemed to feature the same style of riff at their core. Perhaps with a bit more growth they’ll become a strong act, but for now they’re one that is decent.

Time sure flies when bands are playing 15-20 minute sets! Before I knew it Chicago powerviolence/hardcore group Weekend Nachos had taken the stage to headline the club stage (they introduced themselves on stage as Harm’s Way, which was amusing). Right from the get go, these guys were bursting with energy and the songs sounded absolutely devastating live. This was one of the groups that had the largest amount of stage divers and a big mosh pit, and it was obvious why as the mix of fast paced riffs and mid-tempo sections lends itself well to this type of activity. Weekend Nachos is also the type of band that really seems to love their fans, as the lead singer was constantly giving audience members the chance to scream portions of the songs and there were a couple of times where I think the audience was performing more of the material than the band was. You can tell a group was really good when it seems as though the set ends just as it begins, and this is exactly what happened with Weekend Nachos as it seemed to go by in a flash. I have always enjoyed these guys on record and live they are even better, and this was easily my favorite set of the night.

A389 newcomer Young and in the Way was the first band to perform on the main stage, and they are a perfect example of the level of variety that the label has. Their sound takes elements of hardcore, crust punk and even black metal and puts them together into a fast paced, aggressive mixture. While this description might make the group sound like a lot of the others out there (particularly most of Southern Lord’s current lineup), there was something about these guys that made them stand out in my mind. It could have been the killer guitar tone, which I absolutely eat up when groups get it right, or maybe the slightly more hardcore styled vocals but it worked extremely well and made them distinguishable. What was also noteworthy was the ritual like atmosphere that Young and in the Way seemed to be going for, as they had incense candles burning on opposite ends of the stage throughout their set. It was a definite change of pace from the super quick powerviolence and hardcore sets of the side stage but also a great way to make the transition between stages. I’ll be checking out the material that Young and in the Way just put out on A389, and if it’s anything like their set I know that it’ll be killer.

Florida’s Junior Bruce provided yet another change of pace, as they slowed things down to a mid-tempo groove and provided a rock ‘n roll swagger mixed with hardcore screaming and even some nods to sludge. As the main stage is a much larger space the sound spreads out a lot more, and because of this from where I was standing at I did notice that the vocals sometimes seemed to be going in and out and weren’t always completely audible. But from what I was able to make out it seemed as though the band’s lead singer had a harsh scream mixed with a slightly cleaner style. I did find that like a few of the other groups it was sometimes a little hard to distinguish Junior Bruce’s songs from each other, but I think this was mainly because I wasn’t that familiar with their material. I think that this may have been another case of a band being overshadowed when they are part of such a large concert but Junior Bruce has some catchy riffs and I wouldn’t mind seeing them again.

A389 had a large West Coast presence, and I have to wonder how long it will be before I see many of these bands again. I was definitely pleased to have the opportunity to check out Seven Sisters of Sleep, who went on right after Junior Bruce. These guys put out some of the most heavy hitting hardcore and sludge I had heard in a long time, and they were able to replicate the experience live. Sometimes people complain about how hardcore and powerviolence groups play such short sets, but in the case of Seven Sisters of Sleep I found it to be a good thing. Now, this wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy their set but rather due to the fact that a band this crushing wears you down physically and mentally by the time they’ve finished playing. I noticed in the live footage that was posted after the event that in the video the guitar tone sounds really off, but from where I was standing in the middle of the room it sounded fine so I’m not sure if this was an issue up close or not. Regardless, these guys were as strong as I had hoped and gave a powerful performance.

Unfortunately Starkweather had to drop off the festival, so grindcore band Magrudergrind was asked to fill their time slot. Although their members originally lived in the DC area these guys hadn’t played a show in Baltimore in a long time so it was great to see them return back to the city. As the band has gotten older, they’ve gotten tighter and more aggressive than before. It’s really impressive that just three guys can produce this much noise, as Magrudergrind was easily just as loud as some of the other bands that had four or five members. While their material has the obligatory blasting, there are a number of sections where the guitar and drums slow down to a mid-tempo groove and offer a brief break before continuing their assault. The group also has one of the more energetic vocalists in the genre, as their singer was jumping around the stage and at one point even threw a mic stand directly into the mosh pit. I love it when bands are able to bring this much energy to the table without becoming sloppy, and if this performance was any indication Magrudergrind just continues to get better and better.

In addition to being the annual A389 showcase, this concert was Pulling Teeth’s final performance. The band had decided last year that they had accomplished everything they felt they could and called it a day, and this was where they put on one last gig for all their fans. Final performances are a weird thing, as sometimes bands are already in a different mindset by the time they play and don’t give it their all but this was not the case with Pulling Teeth. From the moment they started until they left the stage the group gave it their all and put on one of the most energetic performances of the evening, and the crowd responded in kind. Obviously with their sizeable discography it wasn’t going to be possible for the group to play every song people wanted to hear, but I feel that they did a great job with their setlist and were able to really represent each major period in the band’s history pretty equally. The sound was spot on, and while I know some people were complaining about how the lead singer was talking in between every single song I can understand how emotional he must have been. It was a great way for the metalcore/hardcore band to go out, and while I’m sad that Pulling Teeth has come to an end all of the members still have other musical endeavors so we’ll be seeing them around.

Gehenna was the next group to play, and they were one of the acts that I was most excited to see. While I have to admit that I’m not as familiar with their material as I should be, I knew going in that they were highly regarded for playing hardcore that had a bit of black metal tonality to it and this is exactly what I got. As the set started the lead singer demanded that the venue turn the lights down and as a result the group performed in the dark. This created a vibe that suited the band’s overall sound, as the instrumentals were constantly moving between fast paced assaults and mid-tempo sections. Compared to other groups in their genre, there’s something about Gehenna’s guitar tone that I really like as their sound is filthy and in your face. The vocals are also extremely harsh and reminded me of black metal and hardcore at the same time, which gave them a bit of a unique sound that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. Their stage presence may not be what it used to be (I’ve heard they used to have a reputation for violent live shows), but Gehenna still sounds amazing and they were easily one of my favorite performances, coming in just behind Weekend Nachos.

By this point in the night I was getting pretty tired, but with two bands to go I didn’t want to miss out.Integrity was up next, and they are a group that most hardcore fans are familiar with. A389 Fest has become one of the only way concertgoers in the Baltimore/Washington DC area are able to see the band perform, and they’re a yearly entry that never disappoints. Integrity has always been a great band in my mind because in addition to offering up traditional fast paced hardcore they have always integrated some riffs that have a rock ‘n roll feel. It’s hard to believe that these guys have been around since 1989, especially when you consider that they still perform at the top of their game and sound incredible. Since they were the second to last band Integrity was given a long time to perform, as their overall set lasted for almost 45 minutes but they made every second count and played material that was pulled from various points in their career. The group’s singer has one of those gruff screams that has been copied a lot over the years but I’ve always found him to have some small differences that are identifiable, and live he was towering over the instrumentals. I thought I had seen some crazy moshpits that evening, but as Integrity performed their final song the pit exploded and engulfed three quarters of the room. It was incredible, and if this is what the band is capable of doing every year I’ll be looking forward to when they return to Baltimore next time around.

I was exhausted but stuck around to see Eyehategod perform, as this is the third time I’ve seen them and they never disappoint. The New Orleans based sludge band has always been a bit of a love or hate type band due to Mike Williams’ abrasive vocals, but they’ve been one of my favorites over the years because the riffs are just so damn good. Watching the group on stage is a riot as Williams and guitarist Jimmy Bower often like to mess with each other while they are performing, plus Williams also likes to mess with the crowd. Some people certainly didn’t know what to expect, especially when he introduced the song “White Nigger,” as there was a hushed silence for a few seconds. This time around Eyehategod was even better than before, as the riffs really washed over you and the harsh screams were extremely aggressive. This is a band that you can just sit back and groove to, and they’re the type of group that I would go see live any time they came into the area so I appreciate that Dom invited them to headline. It was a great way to end the night, and although the crowd had died down a bit you could tell that everyone that was left was really into the set.

This was the first A389 Anniversary Bash I had been to, and I came away extremely impressed. Dom has everything super organized, as there was very little downtime between sets and he was even able to arrange for food to be served at the event which was appreciated considering how long of a day it was. All of the bands gave their all, and even the ones that weren’t highlights for me were still fun to watch. I also really felt that this was a community event, as many of the bands that had performed stuck around to watch others play. Here’s hoping that this continues to be a regular event and that A389 continues to thrive (and Dom, please get Anne over to the East Coast!)

Links:

A389 Recordings- http://www.a389records.com/site/
Eddie Brock- http://eddiebrockmd.bandcamp.com/
Homewrecker- http://www.facebook.com/HomewreckerOH
Hatewaves- http://www.facebook.com/pages/Hatewaves/220292214690331
Triac- http://www.facebook.com/triacgrind
Low Places- http://lowplaces.bandcamp.com/
Full of Hell- http://www.facebook.com/fullofhell
Pick Your Side- http://www.facebook.com/pickyourside
Weekend Nachos- http://www.weekendxnachos.blogspot.com/
Young and in the Way- http://www.youngandintheway.com/
Junior Bruce- http://www.facebook.com/pages/Junior-Bruce/164172962816
Seven Sisters of Sleep- http://www.facebook.com/sevensistersofsleep
Magrudergrind- http://www.facebook.com/MagrudergrindOfficial
Pulling Teeth- http://www.pullingteethmd.com/
Gehenna- http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Infamous-GEHENNA/98952171508
Integrity- http://www.facebook.com/INTEGRITYHC
Eyehategod- http://www.facebook.com/pages/EYEHATEGOD/6047264689

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