Top 10 CDs of 2010

10. Todd Burge and The Odd Urges -- Distraction Packed

Todd Burge, “the dean” of West Virginia songwriters, as Mountain Stage host Larry Groce called him, debuted his new band The Odd Urges with “Distraction Packed,” following up on his last solo effort, 2008’s “My Lost and Found.” With his friend Billy Matheny (plus Joseph Hale and Rodney Crihfield) coming along for the ride, Burge takes listeners on a pretty wild (sometimes sad) ride through middle age over the course of ten songs worth of Americana, alt-country, and rockin’ folk flavored ditties. More than anything, Burge’s intelligent lyrics and witty word play keep the songs in your head months after hearing them.

Standout tracks: “Live it Up,” “I’m a Shark,” “Intervene,” “Whiskey Heaven”

--- Read the review here

9. Librarians -- Present Passed

The 10-song sophomore release from this Morgantown-based “baroque pop” four-piece sounds like no other CD we’ve got at WVRockscene this year, or years past. Sometimes approaching new wave (“Cranberry Palace,” “Hard To Unwind”) with some trippy acoustic-based material (“Candy Season”) thrown in but mostly always sung in hushed tones ala Leonard Cohen, these guys (Trey Curtis, Ryan Hizer, Billy Parsons, Kyle Vass) have a sound that isn’t exactly something you’d hear on the radio, and that’s what makes it great.

Standout tracks: “Candy Season,” “Cranberry Palace,” “Hard To Unwind,” “Kid Stuff”

--- Read the review here

8. Pat Pat -- Wizard of This

This new Morgantown-based trio, led by It’s Birds’ Brian Spragg, lay down nine songs of high energy post-punk indie rock (and sometimes grungy) type songs on one of the better debuts of 2010. Like he did on It’s Birds 2010 release “My Bloodless Wife,” Spragg incorporates a lot of challenging chord progressions and changes into the songs. But on the whole, the songs on “Wizard of This” are just a little more catchy. Not sure what Pat Pat (named after bassist Patrick Spragg?) are wizards of, exactly, but the tunes are rockin’.

Standout tracks: “Windham,” “WOEFAS,” “Dup,” “The Wavemaker Falters”

--- Read the review here

7. The Demon Beat -- 1956

Lyrically an ode to Carl Perkins, but with their own version of distorted, bluesy garage rock, this Shepherdstown-based trio sneaks into the top 10 with “1956,” not so surprisingly considering their previous material. Recorded over a few days during November and fittingly enough, mastered in Nashville, The Demon beat continue to expand their musical boundaries and explore new ground, conceptually. Not even 40 minutes long, “1956” is laid out in five movements, meant to be listened to as a record; talk about rolling back the clock. Singer-guitarist Adam Meisterhans still has his alternately soulful, guttural singing, as he tells Perkins’ story in his own words throughout. Everybody who loves rock and roll has pretty much fell in love with these guys, and this release will further extend the love affair.

--- Read the review here

6. Attack Flamingo -- Exit Anthem

The follow-up to 2008’s “No Star Could Be As Large” finds these Huntington-based electronic rockers expanding their sonic landscape (more acoustic) and expounding on their message of persecution, strength through faith, and ultimately, flight. Evoking something like Muse with Billy Corgan singing, it’s a superb sophomore effort that follows on the heels of their debut concept CD. Lyrically, “Exit Anthem,” is a concept album that places AF in a Stalinesque, New World Order-type prison planet, and the only thing that can save them is their music and faith. One of the more highly anticipated releases of the year at WVRockscene did not disappoint.

Standout tracks: “Counterfeit,” “Nothing,” “Y/our Kingdom/Cosmos,” “Remind These Wings of Infinite Skies”

--- Read the review here

5. Jeff Ellis -- The Forgetting Place

Huntington’s Jeff Ellis isn’t sneaking up on anyone anymore. Together with his friend Bud Carroll and the Southern Souls, Ellis, over 13 songs worth of rockin’ Americana, bluegrass and alt-country, put out another great record in 2010. Just throw it on the pile; with 2008’s “Covering The Distance” and 2007’s “A Front Seat For The End of the World,” added to his previous efforts, Ellis further cements himself as the pre-eminent rocker in West Virginia. Depending on your taste in music, you could put this record at number one on your list and you’d get no argument from anyone at WVRockscene -- because they’ve all been laid off.

Standout tracks: “If He’s So Good To You,” “Russell and Honeybee,” “Still Ain’t Over You Yet,” “Fooled”

--- Read the review here

4. John Lancaster -- Phantom Moon

The solo debut for the longtime Chum frontman and Huntington resident is great not just because of the songs; 14 songs of melodic, atmospheric hard rock, but because “Phantom Moon” is more than the sum of its parts. Pulling together an all-star list of guest musicians including Bud Carroll (among others) and guest singers including Dug Pinnick and Dave Angstrom, and collaborating over the web, the Huntington native proves he’s not done on “Phantom Moon,” an even better effort looking back on it after a few months. Conceptually nebulous, sonically coherent, with overtones of apocalypse and 24-hour alarmism permeating the lyrics, and a 90-second instrumental track thrown in, it is indeed one of the best releases of 2010.

Standout tracks: “A Burning Farewell To Us All,” “Liars,” “When Shadows Grow Teeth,” “This Fire Has Just Begun”

--- Read the review here

3. J Marinelli -- Pre-Emptive Skankery Sessions

Proving that punk rock is what you make of it and that you can make your own scene, the Morgantown native and Lexington, Kentucky resident returned in 2010 with 14 songs worth of his angry one-man band’s version of “maximum stomp and swing” on this vinyl release. Keeping things weird but always rockin’ with his caveman guitar, makeshift drum kit, harmonica, kazoo, and plug-in-and-go attitude, Marinelli revamps songs longtime fans know and love in echo-soaked, overdriven fashion, save for the stellar, stripped down version of “Pomade Years.”

Seeing someone sit down behind a skeleton drum kit with a guitar in hand, some might think Marinelli is some sort of novelty act; something silly or fake. Nothing is further from the truth. In an age of punk rock as fashion and a commoditized music culture, J Marinelli is a rock and roll rebel.

Standout tracks: “Rebel Without Applause,” “Hey Pinkerton,” “She’s My Cheerwine,” “Pomade Years”

--- Read the review here

2. Spirit Night -- What We Will Be

Shepherdstown native and Morgantown resident Dylan Balliett transforms his years at WVU into 11 catchy songs of intensely personal, acoustic-based atmospheric bedroom indie rock. With help from his friend, FOX Japan drummer Pete Wilmoth, who adds so much to the sound in the percussion department, and a few other friends contributing, “What We Will Be” sounds like a soundtrack to Balliett’s college years. This is a duo that played together in Morgantown’s Russian Tombstones, but absolutely came out of the blue this year with a great CD that you can download for free at the Spirit Night bandcamp site.

That these dudes can make a debut CD recording in various bedrooms, have something that competes with these acts sandwiched around it and put it up for free is a testament not only to Balliett’s songwriting, but what bands can do these days if they just have good songs and an internet connection.

Standout tracks: “Bear Costume,” “Brains,” “Don’t Miss Me,” “Gone Down,” “125”

--- Read the review here

1. The Fox Hunt -- Long Way To Go

Sometimes putting together a “best of” local CD releases can be tough. Sometimes, though, when it comes to picking the top release, it’s pretty darn easy. On their third full-length (and fifth overall) release since forming in 2006, this Martinsburg-based band makes it a no-brainer for 2010.

Released way back in February, over twelve great songs worth of drunken, lovelorn, and road weary Americana, bluegrass and country, with their traditional “fiddle-centric” (no drums) and acoustic (mandolin/banjo upright bass) sound, The Fox Hunt tells the story of living a rock band lifestyle, and all it entails.

The amazing thing is that pretty much all of the songs are “standout” tracks. Between the shared singing and songwriting duties of John R. Miller and Matt Kline, there are, simply put, no weak links on the record. The songs feature introspective lyrics (sometimes painful, sometimes uplifting) with great vocal harmonies. Great musicianship, superb production, awesome songs; this CD is the total package.

2010 found these guys not only playing South by Southwest and Mountain Stage, but touring Scotland, Ireland, and Japan, among other highlights. Maybe fittingly enough, keeping with the hard scrabble, travelin’ band narrative in the songs, Matt Kline left the band in October. But The Fox Hunt will no doubt keep making great music, and they’ll always have this great CD to show for their efforts.

--- Read the review here


Payola scandal rocks WVRockscene's Top 10 CDs for 2010

We got probably 30 CDs from bands from all over West Virginia and beyond this year. We were even lucky enough to get a whole slew of releases from out of state bands who may or may not have been passing through, and were kind enough to hook us up. Getting two Whiskey Daredevils CDs in any given year is always great.

As WVRockscene prepares to enter its fourth and likely final year of existence, it’s always both a pleasure and a challenge to look back and put a rank on what we feel like are the best local releases in a given year. There’s no real scientific ranking system like the BCS, which settles everything with no debate, but pretty much, the formula is as follows:
*Number of total songs on a CD

+ and/or divided by

*How much we personally like the music
There were a few variables that seemed to factor into how inclusive we were with bands; whether we count them as an out of state act or an in-state one. For example, Hurricane native Mark Bates’ spring release Down The Narrow could’ve likely found a spot in the top 10; he’s now not only living in Nashville, but the musicians on the record are not from around these here parts. It’s a great CD though.

Morgantown native J Marinelli may have recently moved to Lexington, Kentucky, but he’s a one-man band, one of our all-time favorite acts, and, hey, he recorded Pre-Emptive Skankery Sessions in the Mountain State, so, he’s supporting local business.

Hucklebuck is a pretty cool Americana/alt-country act with members from the Eastern Panhandle and Maryland, consequently, we didn’t really know how to count their solid debut Bender, so we counted ‘em as foreigners, but would have given ‘em a high slot in the out of state top releases, if there was one this year. Their song “Good Stuff” would’ve likely been our favorite song of 2010, if we put one of those together, which we did not. We got lazy.

There were a few releases that we didn’t snag, and we realize that. Anyone and everyone is free to put their own two cents in here re: why they think our picks suck, but doing so in a constructive manner would be much appreciated. Did you listen to more than one of the CDs? Or are you just dating the band’s drummer and hate all the other bands?

We don’t really know or hang out with anybody in any of these bands, so it’s not like we play favorites; these are just our favorite CDs from this year. So in a sense, you can indeed say we play our favorites. You, the reader, may have your own favorites and if you’d want to tell us why or just how much you like the CD please feel free.

Since the Huntington Herald-Dispatch is running our Top 10 in print over Thursday and Friday, we will here also tier the countdown similarly, so you can get the scoop here online or in print if you choose. They’re paying us the same for an article, so thank them for that and we of course will let them get first whack at it. Maybe they’ll get any hate mail instead of us.

We started WVRockscene to spotlight bands we like and think are rockin’, and for 2010, it’s mission accomplished.

Look for the countdown to start in a few hours...


CD Review: "There Ain't No Sanity Clause"

CD: There Ain’t No Sanity Clause
ARTIST: J Marinelli

The cover really does tell it all for this Christmas time release. We have been spending a lot of time in recent days on the J Marinelli bandcamp page, checking out the music he has been putting online. And lo and behold, a Christmas miracle late December 23.

Something about this review needs the mental imagery of the Morgantown native sitting around in a delightfully over the top bright red Christmas sweater. Marinelli keeps Christmas as real as ever on this just released Christmas time classic that’s everything but crass.

You might think that J Marinelli’s four-song Christmas Eve (eve) release is just another attempt to spread holiday cheer, or, conversely, another attempt by someone to shit on the holiday, or just release some stuff for free that didn’t make it onto his most recent efforts, this Fall’s Pre-Emptive Skankery Sessions or his cover series, Stone Age Kicks.

But it’s precisely that sonically, Marinelli is able to bridge PSS to the mainly softer, more acoustic-based material on Stone Age Kicks, simultaneously moving his sound into previously uncharted areas, all the while keeping Christmas punk rock and totally class conscious (as you know he would) that make this seemingly snuck-in-by-Santa present to his fans one of his coolest efforts.

Fewer songs might other times mean a shorter review, but not here.

Like on Kicks, Marinelli again revisits a Woody Guthrie song to kick off Sanity Clause, with a rockin’ acoustic version of “They Laid Jesus Christ In His Grave.” Marinelli, channeling Guthrie, reclaims the reason for the season.

Even Marinelli’s cover of old school L.A. punk band Fear’s “Fuck Christmas,” just 58 seconds long, has meaning for us all and especially those in need this holiday season.

Schizo panning of overdriven reverb-soaked screams and distorted guitar over satanic drums -- maybe the most unique and hardcore Marinelli tune ever? With the weird tape rewind or LFO type effects ending the song, this is a song that could’ve fit in with a few songs on PSS. It’s great to see him take this more experimental approach to his sound.

Marinelli shouts:
“All the children on the street hope they get something good to eat/But for me it’s not so great/Fuck Christmas!”
It has quite literally been awesome seeing how Marinelli has evolved his sound from Pity The Party through, really his best release, Keep It Fake, into the softer, more acoustic-type sound mainly found on Kicks, which finds Marinelli trading the jangly kazoo sound in for banjo and harmonica, into the more overdriven, echo soaked styles found on PSS. The only real exception on PSS being Marinelli’s touching, stripped down version of “Pomade Years.”

Before Calvin Johnson was a wide receiver for the Detroit Lions, there was Beat Happening’s Calvin Johnson. You may have either heard his band or read about him and his impact on the nascent Seattle scene of the 80’s and 90’s (Kurt Cobain famously had a K Records tattoo) but Marinelli’s simultaneously debaucherous and depressing version of Beat Happening’s “Christmas” really brings things down with down in the dumps lyrics.

Marinelli’s acoustic version of the Ramones classic “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)” closes out Sanity Clause in total somber, minimalist acoustic Marinelli fashion, maybe not the version you’d expect, but just as touching as the version of “Pomade Years” on PSS.

Just like he did on PSS and just like the Ramones did, Marinelli takes other people’s songs and gives them an all new unique sound and importance to his own philosophy and ideas about how things ought to be. We here at WVRockscene hope Marinelli is having a merry Christmas, because man, he sounds depressed or something on one of all of our favorite Ramones songs ever, one we can actually remember seeing on MTV as a kid. Like the song really means a lot to him, like it has to a lot of people and fans of the band.

And that’s what makes Marinelli great. He can play acoustic or banjo soft or loud, play an electric guitar completely fuzzed up and overdriven or jangly, sing through layers of distortion and reverb or clearly. But it’s the passion on display -- for not only the sound -- but for his beliefs and insight and his ability to show YOU his beliefs through not only covers but also his own originals, and for his love for punk rock in general but rock and roll in particular is all about: rebellion.

The Guthrie cover, like “Pretty Boy Floyd” does on Kicks, places an outlaw Jesus in a light of really what we’d all like for him to embody --

Love and charity:
“He went to the preacher, he went to the sheriff/He told them all the same,
‘Sell all of your jewelry and give it to the poor’
And they laid Jesus Christ in his grave”
Class warrior and spiritual rebel:
“When Jesus come to town, all the working folks around/Believed what he did say
But the bankers and the preachers, they nailed him on the cross
And they laid Jesus Christ in his grave”
Whether it’s our lord and savior, or a bank robbing outlaw from Oklahoma, robbing from the rich to give to the poor, on Christmas day, no less, Marinelli not only reclaims historical outlaw types, he reclaims punk.

So pick up a copy of the latest from Appalachia’s resident populist punk rock poet and defender of all things real. Oh, as he’s been putting more of his stuff on his Bandcamp page, you can from there buy a copy of Keep It Fake. This, if you love Marinelli’s music, you should do for that hard to buy for Marinelli fan for Christmas. Maybe stick it in a stocking with a burned copy of the Stone Age Kicks series and an instant Christmas time Marinelli classic.


CD Review: "1956"

CD: 1956
ARTIST: The Demon Beat

That The Demon Beat would, lyrically at least, dedicate what is in effect a concept record to Carl Perkins isn’t really a surprise if you’ve ever heard singer-guitarist Adam Meisterhans talk about his old school rock and roll influences. And it’s definitely cool for anyone who’s gotten into old rockabilly and/or read up on Sun Records.

On 1956 the three dudes from Shepherdstown (Meisterhans; Tucker Riggleman: bass; Jordan Hudkins: drums) release what is pretty much an EP as far as length goes -- it’s under forty minutes total -- but more ambitious than just a few songs on a CD.

Oh, there are no real “songs” on 1956 -- five “movements” that sound on the whole like one big extended jam session set to some lyrics that Meisterhans can relate to. Four (on average) eight minute-long parts sandwiched around the third heavily distorted, shorter instrumental movement, 1956 reminds this listener of NOFX’s 18-minute long punk rock masterpiece The Decline, not for the sound or style, just as a coherent jam with lyrics to kind of tie it all together.

While 1956 lyrically hearkens back to the golden age of rock and roll, it isn’t even barely a month old; the band recorded it over a few days at the end of November and 1956 was then mastered, fittingly enough, in Nashville. It could’ve been mastered somewhere else, but since Perkins was, as Meisterhans says, “a simple Tennessee man,” maybe it’s no coincidence.

And of course it does not seem like a coincidence the band will release 1956 on new year’s eve at The V Club, as that’s the date Perkins released “Blue Suede Shoes,” new year’s day 1956, to be exact.

While the overarching vibe of 1956 ebbs and flows between cymbal crashing, distorted blues and hear-a-pen-drop quiet verse parts, The Demon Beat nails the loud/soft dynamic and fits the sound on 1956 into some of their previous hard rockin’ bluesy material. It’s nothing like “This Is No Fun,” or “Make My Move,” off last year’s Shit, We’re 23, more like the sound of “You Only Love Me When You’re Stoned,” off the Caustic Eye/Bud Carroll split they put out. A great sound, just a divergence from any pop or punk feel they’ve had.

It’s cool to hear Meisterhans alternate between the distorted guitar sound and the clear tones you may have heard fifty years ago. You don’t have to stretch to see why Meisterhans chose Perkins as a muse of sorts; Perkins was sidelined with injury after a car wreck in March of 1956, shortly thereafter Elvis Presley would perform Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes” on The Milton Berle Show, helping to launch not only his own career but the new medium as well. A tough break for Perkins indeed.

Maybe Meisterhans sees in Perkins’ story something similar to trying to break through to the big time with The Demon Beat. There’s not a lot separating his band and others that “make it” except maybe the right A&R guy getting his hands on a Demon Beat CD or seeing them live in, say, New York City. But this is an attempt to kind of psychoanalyze Meisterhans; leave that to another post.

One of the best parts on the record is the stomping kick and snare beginning to the second movement, as Meisterhans soulfully and barely audibly sings about screaming girls and bright lights.

At 5:50 into the fourth movement, Meisterhans absolutely goes off on the solo riffage, just jamming it out for a few minutes heading into the fifth and final movement. The fourth movement has one of the prettier chord changes on ‘56, as Meisterhans sings “If my ship comes in, and I’m standing by/and if it sinks, and I’m left high and dry/got to lie” it is maybe the highlight and hook of the entire effort.

Having followed the band since getting 2006’s Heavy Nasty in the mail from Riggleman, it’s been great following the direction they take with their sound through the self-titled EP and 23. Maybe they’re maturing, maybe it’s something simpler, but whatever they seem to put out rocks.

Everybody who’s followed The Demon Beat to this point can tell they have a kind of throwback sound and style. But until now it’s been mainly a 60’s and 70’s feel. Pulling the 50’s into their sphere of influences only makes The Demon Beat that much more appealing to rock fans. While not much longer than a half an hour and recorded in just a few days, 1956, like a lot of The Demon Beat’s songs, seems years in the making.

mp3: Movement 4 from 1956
Movement 4 by The Demon Beat

Related: Huntington Herald-Dispatch article on The Demon Beat from April


Larry Keel brings Natural Bridge to V Club Friday

Reposted from The Huntington Herald-Dispatch

The holidays are a time for being thankful, being with family and friends and maybe doing some charity. It’s all these things too for flatpicking guitar master Larry Keel.

Talking over the phone the day before Thanksgiving from the mountains of Southwest Virginia, Keel, like many others this time of year, talked about being home for the holidays; thankfulness, charity and family came up right away.

Talk about progressive-yet-traditional bluegrass, touring with his wife and bassist Jenny Keel, and an insurance policy on his near-iconic beard, also came up.

Keel, with his band, Natural Bridge (Jenny Keel: bass/vocals; Mark Schimick: mandolin/vocals) and the help of his brother, and his old friend Will Lee, are playing more than a few charity events over the holiday season.

Keel and company bring their high energy, genre-skipping version of rockin’ bluegrass and Americana to Huntington and Morgantown this weekend. They play The V Club Friday, Dec. 10.

Supporting causes ranging from a domestic violence shelter, to Toys For Tots, to a no-kill animal shelter benefit at the end of the month with his longtime friend and collaborator, the Fredericksburg, Va.-based “one-man jam band” Keller Williams, for Keel, already established as a kind of bluegrass deity for his fiery pickin', it's great to lend his music to great causes.

“It’s wonderful,” Keel said of playing the various benefit shows. “I really want to do as many of those as I can each and every year. It’s just special. I’m just extremely blessed and fortunate to be able take what I do and translate that across to people who are in need this time of year.”

This year has found Keel, like he has for more than a decade plus, playing out at various bluegrass or jam band-type festivals and bringing young and old together with his and Natural Bridge’s music. And like years past, 2010 found Keel collaborating with friends and bluegrass legends old and new and touring all over.

In May, “Thief,” the second installment of the Keel’s work with Keller Williams, was, like “Grass” in 2005, released to much love and critical acclaim, debuting at number one on the Billboard bluegrass chart.

“It was gangbusters right out the chute,” Keel said of Keller and The Keels second release.

Playing with Williams, whether it’s covering other people’s songs on “Grass” and “Thief,” or having Williams produce Keel’s 2009 record “Backwoods,” or playing some dude’s couch like they did for a contest this year, is always great, Keel said.

Learning and playing a few of the 13 cover songs on “Thief” was a fun challenge for Keel.

“He picked out all the tunes and showed us versions of ‘em and we got his arrangements down and went out and performed ‘em,” he said. “A lot of the songs I’d never heard the original versions of, like (Marcy Playground’s) “Sex and Candy.” We’d go out and play ‘em and people would be singing along and I’d be like ‘I guess I’m the odd man out.’ I didn’t even know any of the words,” Keel said laughing. “We just had a great time being spontaneous.”

The most immediate shows were set to be ones with his older brother Gary, and Larry talked about the early influence on him.

“He bought me a guitar when I was 8 years old, and taught me how to play melodies and rhythm guitar and all that,” he said. “After all these years, getting to get back together to play shows with him over the holidays, it’s one of the most special times of the year for me. It’s super special.”

Talking about his exposure to progressive bluegrass and his incorporation of that into his love of traditional bluegrass, Keel explained how it all came together.

“Well, you know, I’ve always loved bluegrass, that’s definitely always been the heart and soul of my music,” he said. “But from an early age I’ve liked all kinds of music. From jazz to reggae to blues and rock and roll, of course. I guess listening to it so much and loving all those different styles, it just kind of crept into my music. Kind of infected it, in a good way, you know?

“I just love every kind of music. Well, most of it. This new country or new rock developed for record sales, it just doesn’t have a heart or a soul.”

Keel and Natural Bridge are joined by Keel’s old friend Will Lee from Keel’s first band, Magraw Gap, formed in the early 90’s.

“Will has come back out on the road with Natural Bridge and will be at the V Club show and at 123 as well,” he said. “We’ve been really excited about that. Will and I have been playing music together for 25 years or more, and there’s a great chemistry there; we read each other really well.”

New music is on tap for Keel and Natural Bridge in 2011, Keel said. The band will be releasing digital downloads of new songs off Keel’s website. And as Keel brings his bluegrass into the digital age, and as the fans change the way the industry works, Keel changes with them.

“It seems like a lot of the bands and the music industry itself has changed so much, just in the last five years,” he said. “People aren’t buying CDs like they used to; people all have iPods or a computer and can pick their favorite four songs off a record for 99 cents apiece. So we’re getting on that train. On my website we’ll have a whole page dedicated to 99 cent downloads where I’ll be releasing a new song every 30 days or so. So we can take our time with, produce correctly and release the real version we want to release, so we can have something fresh out there.”

And as Keel keeps putting his own contemporary spin on traditional bluegrass, looking back, he realizes making music is what he was bound to do.

“I heard a quote one time, some musician once said they can’t see themselves doing anything else,” he said. “It’s what I’ve always known I wanted to do.”

photo: Bright Life Photography


Following a sudden lineup change, The Sword now riding new momentum

The Austin, Tx.-based metal band The Sword performs Nov. 30 at The Orange Peel in Asheville, N.C. The band plays The V Club Thursday night with Karma To Burn and Mount Carmel

Reposted from The Huntington Herald-Dispatch

It’s not every day you find a metal band releasing a record that debuts at number 47 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, then, preparing for a European tour a few weeks later, has its drummer abruptly quit.

But that’s where the Austin, Texas-based metal band The Sword found itself in October.

In 2010 the band (J.D. Cronise: guitar/vocals; Kyle Shutt: guitar; Bryan Richie: bass; Kevin Fender: drums) was opening for and touring with metal legends like Metallica and Ozzy Osbourne, and releasing its third record, the interstellar concept album “Warp Riders” in August on the New York-based independent label Kemado Records.

Talking over the phone from Asheville, N.C., The Sword’s co-guitarist Kyle Shutt talked about the highs and the low point of 2010.

“It was incredibly disappointing,” Shutt said of drummer Trivett Wingo’s decision to leave the band. “I wish it would’ve happened differently. But you have to accept reality and move forward. Now we’re back out here trying to make it up to our fans.”

Now, with Kevin Fender sitting in on drums, The Sword kicked off a U.S. tour Nov. 27, in Baton Rouge, La., and is joined by Morgantown’s Karma To Burn and Columbus, Ohio’s Mount Carmel.

They come to The V Club in Huntington on Thursday, Dec. 9.

“It’s been a blast so far, I can tell you that much,” Shutt said of the first few days of the tour. “It’s been good having some fresh energy.”

“Fresh energy” is a good way to describe what The Sword, together since 2003 and evoking Black Sabbath and Slayer, has brought to metal with its retro-type sound.

“I don’t know for sure,” Shutt said when asked what makes the band’s sound and new record so appealing to metal purists. “We just grew up a little bit, you know? We just wanted to make something that had more of a positive vibe to it; a little less aggressive, a little more tasty. We just try to write the best songs we can and go up there and be ourselves. We’re just happy that a few hundred people show up to our shows.”

Shutt recalled The Sword’s beginning around 2003, forming after playing a Halloween show as a Misfits cover band.

“J.D. and I were in different bands, playing around town, kind of in the same musical circles,” he said. “I played guitar, J.D. sang, our friend Ben played bass, and our other friend Ben played drums.

“After that show, J.D. handed me a CD that said “The Sword” on it, and it was a bunch of songs with a drum machine, just a demo, you know? He was like, ‘Hey, check this out, it’s my new thing I’m trying to do, and if you want to play guitar, let’s do it.’ I listened to it, and I was way into it.

“It was like five songs that made it onto “Age of Winters,” and a few others. Then, Trivett moved to town and he became our drummer. And we did one show with Ben, the original bassist, and that didn’t work out. Then, we were just a three-piece; J.D. sang and played bass, I played guitar and Trivett played drums. And at that show J.D. asked if anybody in the crowd wanted to play bass, come talk to us, and Bryan was there and he asked to join the band,” Shutt said, laughing again recalling that night.

Shutt described the sci-fi theme of “Warp Riders,” based on a story written by Cronise called “The Night The Sky Cried Tears of Fire,” also the name of the final song on the record.

“It’s more like a soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t exist. A lot of concept records actually have a discernable story that you can follow through the lyrics. This album is more like the theme songs for the story, you know? It really doesn’t have much of a narrative if you just read the lyrics. We were thinking about putting out like some sort of a comic book or like a graphic novel to piece together the whole story, but that was going to be way too expensive,” he said laughing once more.

To help expand the narrative of what the record is about (an archer, Ereth, whose planet, Acheron, has suffered an apocalyptic tidal lock and must restore balance with the help of a mysterious orb and a being called The Chronomancer), The Sword is releasing a trilogy of videos. The band just put one out for “Lawless Lands,” and will release one for “Night City” later.

“The “Lawless Lands” video just came out,” Shutt said. “I think Spin.com had it as their video of the week or whatever, so that’s cool. I love making videos, to tell you the truth. I wish that there was still an MTV to show them.”

Shutt said while 2010 has been a great year for The Sword, he’s looking forward to even bigger things in 2011, one highlight being getting to play with metal gods Slayer.

“I hope it’s only the beginning, seriously,” he said. “We’re in this for the long haul. I’ll go anywhere, play anywhere, fly anywhere. This is what we were born to do.”

If you go:
Who: The Sword, Karma To Burn, Mount Carmel
Where: The V Club, 741 6th Ave., Huntington, 304-781-0680
When: 9 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 9
Cost: $13 advance, $15 at the door
Online: www.swordofdoom.com/, www.k2burn.com/, myspace.com/mountcarmel1

photo: Joseph F. Carney III/EarthMusic Photography