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High on Fire with Goatwhore, Watch Them Die and Retribution

Thursday · Top Cats

I still recall with fondness the day that my bespectacled College Rock buddy, who had previously eschewed all things hard and heavy, was transformed into a hapless headbanger by a single Ministry performance. "It's just so aggressive and hypnotic," he mumbled, transfixed.

High on Fire's unadulterated sonic devastation has the same revelatory effect on both the hardcore faithful and the uninitiated, which explains how the Bay Area trio has become the Metal band that music snobs of all stripes can love. Or maybe it was just the Steve Albini connection? Nah. Despite the über-producer's reverberous contribution to 2005's Blessed Black Wings, HOF have been nailing this style to the wall and collecting accolades since their birth in 1999.

Guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike was formerly a member of NorCal sludge-mongers Sleep, who reportedly disbanded following a battle with their label over their refusal to divide their last album, an hour-long marijuana devotional, into individual tracks. Pike immediately began work on a new project, recruiting drummer Des Kensel and his super-sized four-piece kit to deliver variable-speed pummeling. Forging a sound somewhere between Stoner-minus-the-Blues and Industrial-without-the-buzzsaw-treble, they created a natural soundtrack to apocalyptic imagery; whether it be swelling tsunamis, meteor impacts or mushroom clouds, their discs are swirling "End Times" soundtracks.

The band signed to Relapse Records in 2001 and continues to hone their riff-laden assaults, never allowing ingredients like technical competence, lyrical venom or studio obfuscation to distract from their paramount goal, which is distilling the essence of old-school Metal, from Black Sabbath to Celtic Frost.

For this tour, Jeff Matz is filling in on bass, a spot occupied by ex-Melvin Joe Preston in recent years. HOF's original low-ender, George Rice, will also be coming along, playing for Watch Them Die. (Ezra Waller)

Minmae with Drakkar Sauna and The Moon Fails

Saturday · The Comet

"Genius" is likely a bit strong of an accolade to drape around Sean Brooks' shoulders, but if by this time next year he comes up with another Minmae album as strong as last year's I'd Be Scared, Were You Still Burning and its impressive follow-up, this year's Le Grande Essor de la Maison du Monstre, he will have made a compelling case.

The former Thee Psychic Hearts frontman spent a rather astonishing seven albums with bass/drums cohorts Josh Kempa and Chris Calvert experimenting with directions until I'd Be Scared, when the Portland, Ore., trio nailed their Pavement-builds-a-studio-shrine-to-the-Velvets sound. With their eighth album, Minmae (anime geeks will recognize the Robotech reference) solidified their Lou Reed/Velvets essence while simultaneously spicing their sound with a number of other unique elements, suggesting everyone from Stephen Malkmus to Clem Snide's Eef Barzelay to an Indie Rock Willie Nelson to a rootsier Iggy Pop. As scattered as all that appears, Brooks' strong creative identity has always been Minmae's unifying presence and singular sonic filter, and with I'd Be Scared, Brooks finally fine-tuned his focus to produce one of Minmae's most cohesive albums.

With the just-released Le Grande Essor de la Maison du Monstre (which translates to "The Great Flight of the Monster House"), Brooks and company expand and focus on that sonic vision, opening with the epic, fuzz-drenched grandeur of the nine-minute "Cold Room, So. Pacific" which gives way to the folky Lou-Reed-tributes-Leonard-Cohen vibe of "Cold Steel Minders" and the Paul Kantner Space Rock dirge of "Once Cocked Gun."

The truly amazing quality of Le Grande Essor is the minimalism that Minmae has employed to create their dichotomously rich and expansive magnificence, an orchestrated simplicity that utilizes so little in the pursuit of creating so much. (Brian Baker)


Tuesday · Southgate House

Pinback is no Johnny-Pop-lately in the duo department, as Armistead Burwell Smith IV (keeping it real and short as Zach) and Rob Crow have been collaborating as such for the past eight years. The San Diegans dubbed themselves Pinback (a reference to the whiny janitor in the science fiction film Dark Star) and launched the band as an ostensible side project in 1998 when Zach found himself on a lengthy hiatus from his primary gig in Three Mile Pilot, and Crow took a break from his work with Heavy Vegetable and Thingy.

The pair (skirting their duo status with the addition of Three Mile Pilot drummer Tom Zinser) signed with Ace Fu after extricating themselves from their initial contract with Tim/Kerr and recorded their eponymous debut in 1999, followed by the Some Voices EP on Tree Records the next year. Benefiting from opportune publicity from disparate sources like National Public Radio, Urban Outfitters and Napster, Zach and Crow assembled a real band in an effort to take Pinback on the road and offer a more fully realized live sound, and then returned to their home studio for 2001's Blue Screen Life, again on Ace Fu.

After a series of EPs available only at Pinback shows, Zach and Crow released their second official EP, Offcell, on Absolutely Kosher in 2003, and then signed with respected Chicago indie Touch & Go for 2004's mature and astonishing Summer in Abaddon. Despite the fact that Pinback's material has been recorded in a home setting on Zach's personal computer, the Pop/Punk duo has been praised for their atmospheric density, beautifully lush melodic arrangements and unpretentious complexity. This tour will likely see Pinback trot out hints of new material that will comprise their next full length, tentatively slated for 2007. (BB)

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