I was a bit iffy on Beartooth’s debut album Disgusting (2014). On the one hand the metalcore meets pop-punk approach worked, but the production was too polished and syrupy. When vocalist Caleb Shomo (formerly of Attack Attack!) would deliver one of his big, layered, soaring choruses I often winced at how overdone it seemed. But it was crazy popular. The videos from that that album each have over three million views, with the track “In Between” (the sugar-iest one of all) topping out near four million.

That’s why I was really surprised when I heard the title track/first single from their just-released second album Aggressive. The blend of styles come together more like a nineties punk band, and Shomo’s clean vocals are mid-range with a more natural sound. Sonically the rest of album follows suit. The punk and hardcore elements are pushed to the front, with riff styles that give nods to classic rock and Swedish death metal. Shomo’s formerly-saccharine choruses now have a warm in-the-room resonance. The song styles are also surprisingly diverse. With a writing assist from ex-Goldfinger frontman and mega producer John Feldmann, they range from hardcore (“Burnout”), to alt rock (“Hated”), to pop-punk (“However You Want It Said”). 

Beartooth are a strange entity in loud music. They tour with metalcore bands like Of Mice and Men, but also with bands like Slipknot and Suicidal Tendencies. While they may piss off the average headbanger, they have an appeal to an audience who dip their toes in different pools. Perhaps Behemoth is too heavy for them, but maybe Green Day is too soft. Regardless of those who may bemoan their presence, Aggressive is a well-written and sharply-produced album, and a definite step forward for Beartooth.

The band have upcoming tour dates in Europe, Australia, and Japan, as well as a number of festival dates including an appearance at Heavy Montreal on August 7th. Aggressive is available now and you can watch the video for the title track here.


Written for A Journal of Musical Things 

Photo by Danielle Griscti  

The Opera House, Toronto – Dec 9/14

The last time I saw Dave Brockie he was smiling. It was a good smile too. Not a big toothy one, but the kind of wide smirk that can only be achieved within the bounds of a drunken stupor. Just a couple of hours before, Dave had stepped offstage at Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Theatre as Oderus Urungus the lead singer / warlord of Gwar. After the show a small group headed to a bar up the street.

The two of us were the last to leave, and Dave had specifically put me in charge of making sure he got back to the bus, as he had no idea where we were going. Even though it was a straight shot back to the venue, as we were leaving the bar Dave immediately made a right turn so I had to spring into action. As we walked we talked about the things that guys talk about. It was then that the smile emerged. It had contentment written all over it. At age 50 he had achieved the impossible. Gwar, the silly costumed metal band he’d nurtured for three decades had become sustainable. In our interview earlier that day he talked about how he wanted Gwar to carry on after his retirement.

Three months later he was gone. Just over a year later, Gwar returned to Toronto to play The Opera House. Although there has been much written about how the band now had two new lead singers, make no mistake, Gwar is now an ensemble act. Everyone is lead singer. Original Gwar bassist Michael Bishop, the first to portray character Beefcake The Mighty, has now returned as the antler-adorned Blothar. Also for the first time in 15 years Gwar has a female vocalist with the debut of Vulvatron (portrayed by fashion designer Kim Dylla).

How is the show without Oderus? Surprisingly, heartwrenchingly sad. Yes Gwar fight monsters and those monsters explode and cover the audience in fake blood and bile. Yes there are amazingly terrible one-liners, and yes Vulvatron’s breasts shoot blood too. That all seems in line with what you would expect from a Gwar show. But without Oderus, everyone else on stage gives a little bit extra to fill the gap. Vocal duties are shared, and Blothar naturally filled in on the bass when Vulvatron and the current Beefcake stepped up for a duet. Guitarist Pustulus Maximus (Brent Purgason), who became integral to the band after the 2011 passing of guitarist Cory Smoot, also had his fair share of time at the mic.

The show began with a projection of Oderus fronting the band before being carried away into a time portal. The band then spends the rest of the show using their time machine to search for him, while in the process finding their new members and coming to terms with the fact that Oderus is actually dead. It’s the only way Gwar could get over the loss of their creative chief.

By the end of the show the band is jamming on their mash-up of the Pet Shop Boys’ “West End Girls” and Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died”. It’s in the latter that they start chanting: “Oderus died, died! Oderus died, died!” Suddenly I see Dave and that smile, and I feel tears behind my eyes. The purpose of the tour seems to be to show definitively that Brockie’s life’s work had meaning to many. In that regard it’s a blood-drenched success.

Photos by Charnelle Stöhrer

March 27, 2014 - The Phoenix Concert Theatre - Toronto

In the late 70s Gary Numan became a cult icon, effectively eschewing paranoia-driven robo-rock featuring tales of automatons that illuminated the limitations of our mortality. The mainstream music world came to know him for the hit singles “Cars” and “Are Friends Electric?” both of which would influence and be sampled by the electronic and hip-hop world for years to come. As the 80s progressed Numan’s music became more jazz and funk influenced. Sales began to decline, and by 1992 he had reached an admitted low-point in his career.

In 2000, bolstered by the recognition of folks like Trent Reznor, Marilyn Manson, and Dave Grohl, Numan made a strong return with the album “Pure”, a modern reinvention of his trademark sound filtered through the musicians he inspired. At the time however the live set was a bit odd. “Pure” still stands as Numan’s loudest and most abrasive album, and next to his early material it seemed like night and day. Like two different bands sharing the same body. Numan perhaps would agree, as he is much more disposed to playing newer material, but recognizes the mark he has made and continues to play his staples.

Now four albums deep into what can only be described as a miraculous comeback, Numan now has enough newer material to balance out the demand for his 80s hits. His latest album “Splinter: Songs From A Broken Mind”, is perhaps the best of his newer recordings. Although it is steeped in the modern, it is the closest he’s ever come sonically to his early work. Specifically the album ebbs and flows like 1980’s “Telekon”, at times intense and full of self-loathing, then light-hearted and contemplative, but now with a distorted industrial tone.

The setlist is largely dominated by the new album, peppered by equal doses of recent singles and treasured classics. New tracks like the sullen “The Calling” serve as effective bridges to the nostalgic, as it did in this case with “Down In The Park”. But in some ways the set is limited. While tracks like “I Die:You Die”, “Metal”, and “Films” still shine brightly, the afore-mentioned “Cars” and “Are Friends Electric?”, seem to be brought out mostly for recognition (although the current live alternate version of “Friends” is pretty good).

One wonders what the effect would be on some of the more severely inebriated members of the audience if the lights came up and those two tracks hadn’t been played (and yes, drunkenness that leads to confrontation is for some reason a normal occurrence at a Toronto Numan gig). With such a rich back-catalogue perhaps it’s time to retire those tracks from the North American setlist for a while in favour of some album cuts.

The set did not lack visually as the blistering lights that backlit the band echoed Numan-disciple Trent Reznor, and worked best during more modern material like “Pure” and show-closer “My Last Day”, which saw the band jam out in a flurry of noise. Despite tweeting that he had fallen face-first onto a patch of ice the night before, Numan seemed energetic and passionate, not to mention a bit more muscled and rosy-cheeked than his youth spent in pancake makeup. Although he hasn’t received the recognition or sales of his android “rival” David Bowie, Gary Numan has tapped into modern musical sensibilities in a way that his contemporaries have not managed to achieve, and it’s reflected when he arrives on stage.

A Journal of Musical Things