A recent roundup of Central New York's Underground bands

April 26, 2014 by Seriah Azkath

My name is Seriah, and I am the host of a radio show on Saturday nights on 93.5FM WVBR called "The Last Exit for the Lost." It is an underground music show, which focuses mostly, but not exclusively, on Metal and similar styles. I also book occasional shows at The Haunt to feature various local and underground artists and have a couple of DVD series highlighting the same styles, as well as hosting a talk show on the paranormal and ancient mysteries (called "Where Did the Road Go?") just before the aforementioned Last Exit. I’ve been involved in the local music scene in one way or another for over twenty years. So now I am going to try and expand that into a regular column here. I will be focusing on Underground bands, both local and otherwise, focusing on the type of stuff we play on "The Last Exit for the Lost."

So, we shall start off with Sanjuro Fields. Hailing from Cortland, they create an eclectic mix of sound, with elements of punk, metal, rock, rock-a-billy, ska, and more, all thrown in from song to song. They have created a sound that is uniquely theirs. Sometimes fast and chaotic, other times slow and somber. They have been around for a few years now, and have released two full length CDs. The first, simply entitled "Sanjuro Fields," is a frenzy of groove and memorable hooks from beginning to end. Songs like “The Beagle and the Bulldog” and “The River’s Edge” really stick with you.

Their second CD, "Whiskey for the Dead," is a bit more somber and brooding at times, but still with plenty of upbeat, memorable tracks, including a fantastic cover of The Clash’s "Rudie (Can’t Fail)." David VanHamlin’s vocals are more unique than not. An excellent vocalist, he is energetic and expressive on stage, as is everyone in the band,. Bassist Keith Neil sometimes looks like he’s about to go into convulsions, guitarist Jonathan Swane has the old school punk rock vibe down, Bob Southworth, who has replaced original guitarist Jason Madison (off on sabbatical), brings a more punk-ska vibe to their new material, and Brenden Rew’s drumming drives everything forward, and, live, the energy just pours off the stage.

You can tell that Sanjuro Fields loves what they are doing. Check them out on CD, find them on Facebook, or better yet, check them out live. They are well worth it! You can see some of their performance plus a short interview from a show we shot on October 25th of last year on YouTube.

Up next is Battle Beast. This six-piece from the southern end of Finland is the epitome of melodic power metal. They have also released two CDs, “Steel” in 2012, and “Battle Beast” in 2013. The former was OK, a decent debut, but their second CD is far more powerful, with vastly superior production. They also feature a new female vocalist, Noora Louhimo, replacing their original female vocalist, Nitte Valo, bringing just an amazing voice and quite the range. Every song on the new CD is excellent. They remind me a little of Dio with more keyboards, and a touch of Pretty Maids and Chastain as well. They are currently on Nuclear Blast Records. 

Speaking of Chastain, they have released a new CD with original vocalist Leather Leone. For those that don’t know, the band was formed back in 1984, and released five full length CDs between then and 1990. Leather herself released a solo record in 1989. All the releases in that time were excellent. David Chastain’s guitar work is phenomenal, and the songs were catchy and memorable, straight out guitar driven Metal.

The band disappeared for five years after their 1990 release, “For Those Who Dare,” and resurfaced in 1995 with new vocalist Kate French. They released three albums with Kate on vocals, very different in sound from the original Chastain material, leaning in a more commercial direction. In 2004, the band went on hiatus again.

At the end of 2013, “Surrender to No One” was released, with Leather returning on vocals. It is a true return to form for the band, sounding like it could have come out right after their 1990 release. From start to finish it’s a powerful album, with Leather’s trademark vocals really hitting the mark. This time they are joined by not only David on guitar, but Stian Kristoffersen from Pagan’s Mind on drums, and original bassist Mike Skimmerhorn. If you are fan of old Chastain, you will love this. If you have never heard Chastain, starting here is a great introduction. All their releases are on Leviathan Records. 

Also worth noting, prior to this in 2012, Leather released another project called "Sledge Leather," with Sandy Sledge, which, although different from Chastain, still retains some of the Chastain feel because of Leather’s voice. That is also powerful album, seeming a bit more personal, and not as guitar driven. Also well worth picking up if you like Leather’s voice.

Here is an interview I did with Leather on December 29, 2013, with some new Chastain and Sledge Leather included.

And finally for this time around, Behemoth have released their latest masterpiece, “The Satanist.” The Polish band started back in 1992 as a straight-out Black Metal band. Their debut, “Sventevith (Storming Near the Baltic),” was released in 1995 and over the course of their ten full-length albums, they have progressed from that thinly produced style to a more modern form of Death Metal, with their latest bludgeoning platter coming out this February. For those unfamiliar with the band, they, I think obviously, have a very dark, satanic outlook with their lyrics. Musically, they are complex and heavy, often fast, sometime slower, with the latest release reminding me of Bathory at times. Every album is a progression. Frontman Nergal also successfully survived Leukemia just a few years back. Their music has been controversial, to say the least, and their music videos not for the faint of heart. “The Satanist” has been released on Metal Blade Records. 

So, that is all for this time around. If you want to hear any of the bands discussed, we play them all and so much more on "The Last Exit for the Lost" every Saturday starting around midnight on WVBR 93.5FM in Ithaca. And you can listen to old shows anytime at www.thelastexit.org.


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