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A true Norwegian showman: Michael Krumins of Green Carnation.

photo:Joe Putrock

Doom and Beauty
By Ann Morrow

Green Carnation

Valentine’s, Feb. 25

If, just for kicks, Odin were to visit this mortal realm in the guise of a rock vocalist, he might look, and sing, and beam upon the audience like Kjetil Nordhus does. Big, bearded, and bald, Nordhus is the frontman for the innovatively doomy Norwegian band Green Carnation, and for the band’s area debut, he radiated a benevolent power that went beyond his atmospheric voice and deep immersion in their emotive songwriting. Part of Nordhus’ aura was formed from his obvious delight at being onstage in the states: GC’s appearance at Valentine’s was the second stop in their first American tour, and the band appeared to be thoroughly pleased with the medium-sized crowd.

GC’s resident deity is their founder, songwriter and guitarist Tchort, who once played with that savage godhead of black-metal, Emperor. But Green Carnation have evolved away from their homeland genre, and aside from their symphonic chord progressions, the six-piece are now forging a different path, and to snowballing critical acclaim. Most of Saturday’s set was drawn from last year’s The Quiet Offspring, an almost conceptual release inspired by the death of Tchort’s young daughter. The gorgeously dark and stormy “Just When You Think It’s Safe” set an early benchmark that was matched again and again, first by the drivingly disconsolate title track: As they would do several times (most strikingly for the thrillingly nihilistic “Pile of Doubt”), Nordhus and bassist Stein Sordal accentuated and prolonged the vocal harmonies of the chorus to spine-shivering effect.

While Tchort stood stoically still to the left, versatile lead guitarist Michael Krumins amply supplied the evening’s showmanship. Handsome, leggy, longhaired and boundlessly energetic, Krumins cavorted in nonstop rock-god posturing, an indulgence that might’ve been considered hammy (especially his over-the-top hair whips) if it wasn’t so expertly performed (earning the amused approval of Nordhus). Nor did Krumins’ showboating interfere in the least with his crystalline strafing. Sonically, it was the keyboardist who fueled the evening’s gloomy urgency, alternating between moody sampling and icily pretty piano passages that put GC in the uppermost tier of melodic metal acts. For “9-29-045,” from the just-released The Acoustic Verses, guitars and keyboards soared together for a prog-rock astral vamp that Emerson, Lake and Palmer might’ve written if they’d been dosed with the satanic majesty of 1990s Oslo metal.

The lush “Purple Door, Pitch Black” came across as Marillion meets British synthpop, but the operatic and walloping “Dead but Dreaming” was pure Carnation, catchy as a whale hook, and with a keening phrasing of the final lyric, “Went on to shine” (Nordhus is one of the few Norwegians who can actually sing). In contrast were an intricately subdued “Rain” and the melancholy ballad “Lullaby in Winter” (introduced by the vocalist as “one of our dearest songs”), both from 2003’s breakthrough, Blessing in Disguise. While the band were winding up the lengthy set with “Writing on the Wall,” a fan called out for Light of Day, Day of Darkness, GC’s one-hour song cycle. It was a fitting tribute to their beautifully wintry appearance that he meant the request in all seriousness.

Regrettably, I missed the previous set by crowd pleasers Beyond the Embrace, and even more regrettably, the opening salvo by Israfel, a hardcore band from Glens Falls. Judging by the relentless rhythmic drive and Riechian flourishes of their demo CD, Israfel are worth watching for.

Do You Feel It?

Eibol’s Karma Kingdom Release Party

Lark Tavern, Feb. 17

Pitch Control Music is a can-do venture, and word is spreading. I stopped inside the Lark Tavern to talk combat sports with the perennial man at the door, his tattooed hands making change like performing card tricks while a bottomless toolbox of ruddy and beatific patrons came sniffling fresh off the pages of Maxim into the warmth of the taproom. Tonight is a celebratory affair: Eibol’s Karma Kingdom CD on Fingerprint Records is out, and I feel like PCM could have just hired Dee Jay Gyro to spin all night and they would have come anyway. In fact, I’m not totally convinced many really knew what they’re seeing. For the cognoscenti, the raison d’être is art itself—mutual respect, opportunities to share influences and styles. For the rest, it’s just another party, like anything else on earth. How often is magnificence in plain view and we dolly on by, queasy infidels with toilet paper stuck to the foot? So Friday we lurked together. Some furtive, some aggressive, but the beat began with or without.

Colorado native Erosadis led with his chin, the mic waving from his mouth like a fat cigar, hoisting his firearm to the ceiling, the swirl of Christmas lights giving him a look of Cain. “You have no idea whether he is for real or not,” PCM host Dezmatic said in my ear, and even after a bizarre cover of “Sweet Child of Mine,” I still had no idea. And then the impossible Doom Fist spewed forth, ostentatious in Mexican wrestling masks and rube anatomy, captive beads in questionable places, their tag-team effort bolstered by Geneva’s Atypical and a flame on soon-departing local rapper Nobs. I couldn’t get behind Despot, once quoted as saying he spent his youth hurting people with bare hands in Queens. I don’t buy his story, so by extension, the product. But who knows? This living hand, once warm and capable, had no idea. And then finally there was Eibol himself, smooth and confident, trying to hit the ether, tag the punchline, stretch the metaphor.

All night the constant press of flesh and a wash of hot licks and unapologetic grooves found me like influenza. Incredible mixes of jazz, funk, soul, afropop, old school, even some power metal for good measure, endlessly becoming, connecting the author and listener on one axis, while mating text to text on another. Shared codes under the jurisdiction of other discourses, imposing a universe of new structure. The crowd was hammered by then, they didn’t see it but they felt it, nudged toward the stage on a salty wave of bodies coming down, couldn’t avoid it in their parkas any more than one can avoid heartbreak in the spring.

To them, it was just another night, another 10-rounder, another payday, but Pitch Control’s team are students of the craft; they step off the dark train, blinking. With nerve to appropriate the will outside the shriveled foreskin of the coin roll, and there’s more. All too familiar, the tattoos, the effervescence, that virtuous sweet- minted smile, that hooded jawan. . . . How do I know these people? Why do I look at them and they look at me like we once shared a dance card in Batavia? Wait. My God. MySpace. I know them from MySpace. The voyeur’s circle completed. Well, I never.

—Bill Ketzer

Down-Home-Fried Goodness

Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder

Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Feb. 26

When Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass, lay dying in the hospital in 1996, it was famed country musician and fellow Kentuckian Ricky Skaggs who kept vigil at his bedside, handing him his beloved mandolin when Monroe wanted to play it. Finally, Monroe was too weak to pick, and the torch, as it were, passed on to the younger man. That year Skaggs left, as he describes it, “the desert of country music,” and with the record Bluegrass Rules, returned to the Promised Land of the music that he had played as a teenager with the Stanley Brothers. With his lightning-fingered musicians in tow last Sunday, the five-time Grammy Award winner delivered a bluegrass concert at a well-attended Troy Music Hall that was about as good as it gets.

Vocally, tenors own bluegrass, and Skaggs’ soaring voice ranks with those of Monroe, Red Allen, and Ralph Stanley. His agile mandolin playing, too, is on par with anyone’s in the genre. Moreover, sidemen Paul Brewster on rhythm guitar and tenor vocal, Cody Kilby on lead guitar, Andy Leftwich on fiddle, Jim Mills on five-string banjo, Darrin Vincent on archtop guitar and baritone vocals, and Mark Fain on string bass were all flawless. Not a note was sung off key or missed on an instrument. And considering that much of this music is improvised eight-to-the-bar soloing at breakneck tempos, that’s a marvel.

The show, a single 20-song set with two encores, mirrored Skaggs’ own career by starting out with classics from the early days of bluegrass, including “Mother’s Only Sleeping” and “Loving Another Man,” fast-forwarding to material by contemporary songwriters Harley Allen, himself, and others, and returning to old chestnuts like “Uncle Pen” and “Black-Eyed Susie.” All this was interspersed with his down-home soliloquies: His formidable Baptist mother raised him right because she beat him with an old-fashioned wooden switch for his youthful misbehavior. He knew the high-cholesterol joys of fried chicken cooked in lard with the skin left on. And, being a born-again Christian, he preached a bit, leaving this listener feeling less like a concertgoer than a vagrant in a Salvation Army soup kitchen waiting for the sermon to end so he could eat.

Picking the high points of the music isn’t easy; it was really just one long pinnacle. Still, in the opening song, “How Mountain Girls Can Love,” Cody Kilby fired off a stupefyingly fast, precise flatpicking guitar solo in which he used the open strings to rapidly jump up and down the neck, a technique he would use to great effect all night. “Bluegrass Breakdown” was a rollicking instrumental in which the fiddle, banjo, guitar, and mandolin all took stunning solos, and Skaggs’ tenor vocals effortlessly conquered the high notes on “Little Maggie.” On the first encore, the group followed the longstanding country-music tradition of closing a concert with a sacred song, here a gospel quartet rendition of “Remember the Cross” backed only by guitar and mandolin before tacking on an uptempo “Shady Grove.”

Pickin,’ chicken, and mama’s switchin’—this was a night of red-state soul that had it all.

—Glenn Weiser

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