This Little Underground: Russian Circles and the new heavy paradigm

FMF, Inter Arma, KEN Mode, Norse Korea cover shows, Join Hands, Low Dough acoustic night

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KEN MODE - Photo By Ashley Belanger
Photo By Ashley Belanger

Musicians: Final registration to play the 14th annual Florida Music Festival (April 24-26, downtown) is Feb. 28 (

The Beat

Russian CirclesKEN ModeInter Arma (Feb. 12, Will’s Pub). Just look at that lineup. On paper, it’s a dream for serious heads interested in the possibilities of heavy music. Live, it was a mind-expanding crush.

Although the newest of the three bands, Virginia’s Inter Arma has been lighting up respected radars since last year’s release of the epic Sky Burial on Relapse Records. They have all the weight and intensity requisite for any legitimate metal band, but their aspirations are greater. Aiming heaviness toward the heavens, they break tradition and reach for the divine with a storm of extraordinary atmosphere that puts them in the eye of a new heavy paradigm. Live, however, their attack was more traditionally black. But with those chops, that works, too.

The Northern aggression of Canada’s KEN Mode? Not so nuanced. And I hope it never gets to be. With a noise-rock inferno anchored by the rigor of hardcore, their focused animalism is just about perfect.

The terror pulse: Photos from KEN Mode at Will’s Pub

Chicago’s Russian Circles brought the night home with a typically massive set of dense, technical and narrative rock. They’re anything but alone in their dramatic instrumental niche, but they’re no longer little brothers in the talent-rich class. Since they first emerged, they’ve been reliably good. But now, this is the look and sound of masters.

With an all-star, next-level roster for the ages, this was the most stacked, dynamic and forward-thinking bill in a long time. And I sort of love that all this gravitas took place with the lingering razzle-dazzle of the Purple Rain tinsel from two weeks ago behind it. Faboo.

Cover shows are easy pleasures. They’re, by definition, not original. But they can be fun. Take the aforementioned Prince spectacle, for example. Now there are ways to outdo that full-on re-enactment, but they are few. So local promoter Norse Korea took the concept and blew it out with quantity and variety, organizing a night featuring four notable local groups covering four different bands (Feb. 15, Backbooth). If you missed the party, there’s another, completely different showcase this Saturday, previewed in this issue’s calendar Selections of the Week.

First was Jr. Meowzer, whose slapdash version of Guided by Voices featured more exciting guitars but worse vocals and fell short of the recent GBV tribute band at Ralphfest. That latter band included members of the New Lows, who also played this event, but as Dinosaur Jr. Yup, there is a whole lotta coverin’ goin’ on up in here. But the New Lows really did their homework on this one. Next, Teen Agers as the Get Up Kids was a natural choice, though they sometimes needed some vocal help by friends and audience members. Closing was Teen Agers and Festivals as Foo Fighters, but I missed that one.

My personal non-shit-giving feelings about the Foos aside, I had to get over to Mills in time to catch Join Hands celebrate a record release (Will’s Pub). Named here as one of the city’s best new bands in last year’s Undies, this new group is a bright snapshot of ’90s American underground rock, and nails that sweet spot between melody and noise. And they proved onstage why this new EP is worth some consideration (

Acoustic nights are earnest and all, and they’re fine for some people (mostly folks who are into gooey confessionals and complicated cups of coffee). For the experienced, however, they’re seldom anything serious. But the recent one at Low Dough Mondays (Feb. 10) – the discount drink night at Will’s Pub – was different. Featuring solo performances by musicians in notable acts like Moon Jelly, Bob on Blonde, Fat Night, Zap Dragon & the Attack, Plush Monsters and Dead Yetis, this lineup had pedigree. And even more than a marked cut above the amateur playground of typical acoustic nights, it was a nice cross-section of current Orlando talent that’s low-key and free.

Another well-curated edition happens Feb. 24 featuring Kelly Craven, Gerald Perez (Maximino, Thee Wilt Chamberlain), Simon Palombi (Woolly Bushmen), Phil Longo (Hussy, Basements of Florida), Greg Hughes (Among Giants) and Adam Goodrich (Goodrich & the Die Tryins).

About The Author

Bao Le-Huu

Music columnist.
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