Alkahest, Milk and Morphine: A Place for all That Anger

Posted in Reviews on August 31st, 2011 by JJ Koczan

They’ve been kicking around the miserable, destitute slum known as the Manhattan heavy underground for a couple years now, throwing their post-metallic indulgences in the face of unsuspecting rockers, headbangers and those who just happen to be wherever they are for whatever reason. I’ve seen Brooklyn‘s Alkahest test the endurance of audiences at Ace of Clubs, the Cake Shop and Lit Lounge over the course of their tenure together, and with their self-released debut full-length, Milk and Morphine, the five-piece bring that balance of ethereality and the aurally caustic to bear. An Isis influence in the guitar work of Nikhil Kamineni and Jonathan Powell is impossible to ignore, as the kind of lumbering angularity of many of Milk and Morphine’s riffs can be traced to mid-period albums from that (ultimately) Californian act like Panopticon or its landmark 2002 predecessor, Oceanic. As that album approaches a decade since its release and critics online and in print distance themselves from the hyperbole with which they once lauded post-metal’s crushing ethic (myself included – shit just got tired), it’s worth noting that although Alkahest are well in line with the classification, their aesthetic isn’t wholly dependent on it.

As someone who has watched the band mature over the course of the past couple years (and who, in the interest of full disclosure, considers drummer Rajah Marcelo a personal friend), I’m glad to see that the elements outside the post-metal norm that Alkahest has proffered on stage made it onto disc as well. There is a Euro-doom sense of drama to the later moments of a track like “Gaius” and a blatantly emotional woefulness to the earlier title cut that post-metal largely eschewed in its peak, favoring instead a pseudo-intellectual or psychological commentary. If that’s the avenue that vocalist Chris Dialogue has taken here, he’s done a good job of burying that fact. There are no printed lyrics to Milk and Morphine, and as he trades off between low growling and high-pitched, close-to-the-mic blackened screams, it’s damn near impossible to know what he’s saying. Where Dialogue really separates himself is in the presentation of his vocals. The music behind him is clean, and at times his voice seems like he’s about to be swallowed in it, but he nonetheless is able to do what few screamers in metal can, and that’s convey an emotional range through his vocalizations, however searing they might be. On the five extended songs of the album, he doesn’t once veer into clean singing, and yet anyone not outright prejudiced against screams will be able to sense the passion conveyed on the opener “Sixtus.”

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Wino Wednesday: Saint Vitus Live at Metalliance, 2011

Posted in Bootleg Theater on August 31st, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Thus begins the new series of Wino Wednesday posts celebrating the work of Scott “Wino” Weinrich on The Obelisk. I asked last week when I posted the new Premonition 13 clip if it should be a regular thing, and the response both on this site and Thee Facebooks was overwhelmingly yes, so here we are. I aim to please.

I probably could’ve gone back and found something older than the reunited Saint Vitus performing live earlier this year in Denver, Colorado, on the last night of the Metalliance Tour, but hell, the present is as good a place to start as anywhere, and “Born too Late” is one of doom’s greatest anthems. I figured no one would complain.

The song originally appeared on the 1986 album of the same name and was Wino‘s first album as Vitus‘ frontman, coming on following time in The Obsessed to replace Scott Reagers, who would later return to sing on 1995’s Die Healing. Note the Stone Axe shirt drummer Henry Vasquez is wearing in the video, because it rules.

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Six Dumb Questions with Lamprey

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on August 31st, 2011 by JJ Koczan

For many bands, the immediate-interest factor is brought on by pedigree. “Former members of,” and so forth. Not so in the case of Portland, Oregon¸ trio Lamprey. What most excited me about their Ancient Secrets release wasn’t what they’d done before, but what they’re doing now, and more specifically, how they’re doing it.

The pursuit of clean, thick low end has been a mainstay of heavy sounds since Sabbath, and though Lamprey aren’t the first act out there to feature bass instead of guitar (they count Om as a principal inspiration), their use of two bass players to do it stands them out right away. Bassists Justin Brown and Blaine Burnham, who also handles vocals, work off a riff-based and grooving ethic – underscored by Spencer Norman‘s heavy-landing drums – but in terms of methodology and how they get there, Lamprey are more unique than they give themselves credit for.

Their recently-reviewed Ancient Secrets release is rough around the edges, but there’s no denying that Brown, Burnham, and Norman have their influences in order, taking Sleep’s stonerly fixations to new aural valleys without the songs coming out of it sounding like a mash of muddy bass fuzz. The idea behind hitting up Brown for this interview was to get some introduction to how the band came to be and came to cast off the notion of being guitar-led in their riffs, how Brown and Burnham developed two distinct tones (you can hear a difference on Ancient Secrets) and how they can separate themselves from the pack in a crowded Portland scene.

Brown was honest, humble and entertaining in his answers. Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions.

1. Tell me about how the band got together. Where did the idea for two bassists come from? It seems like you cut out the middleman of having ultra-low-tuned guitars, but were you worried at all about capturing more than just bottom end in the recording of the album?

Blaine, Spencer and I all got to know each other working at a glass factory, where we basically shoveled hot lava in a 100-plus degree industrial hell. For a brief period during that time, Blaine and I were in a band called Glaciers, in which he played bass and I was the rhythm guitarist (I never played bass before Lamprey). It was a side-project for both of us, as we were in other bands and neither of us were writing any of the material, so it didn’t last long.

Fast-forward a few years, and a fairly serendipitous chain of events took place. Blaine and Spencer went to a show, I believe it was The Abominable Iron Sloth, and they were so inspired they walked out of there with what they referred to as “metal boners.” They were intent on starting the heaviest band in the land. At that same time, I had my own epiphany about what I wanted to do musically. I was playing baritone guitar in a band called Bruxing, and it just wasn’t doing it for me. I couldn’t seem to make it sound massive enough – when I turn on my amp and pull a string I want it to raze cities, you know? Those low tones just invoke this incredible physiological response in me, like I’m riding a horse at full gallop or something. And so I thought about some of my favorite tones, such as those of Om and Karp or Big Business, and realized I’d been trying to make my guitar sound like a bass.

I cashed out my 401k and bought a Rickenbacker, and as I was leaving the store with it I bumped into Blaine in the street. He told me about his and Spencer‘s quest for heaviness, and it just hit us — what could be more crushing than two basses? We weren’t necessarily convinced it would work, tonally, but we met up about a week later at my practice space and went for it. I remember that at this first practice, Spencer hadn’t played his drums in several years and I was new at bass. Before plugging in, I made a disclaimer that the riffs I had been working on were more stonery than straight up metal. I mentioned the almighty Sleep as an influence, and the boys just got these wild ravenous looks on their faces, grinning in anticipation.

I started in on the riff that would later become “Oiwa” and we just blasted off. The tones worked, we locked into each other. It was the sound we’d all been after. As far as the delivery of that sound, we are first and foremost a live band. We never thought about how Lamprey would sound pouring out of some shitty car stereo. Our intention is to fill the air in a room with so much pressure it feels like you’re standing at the bottom of the ocean. That’s another great thing about low tones at massive volumes; it envelopes you, it pounds on your sternum — but without the piercing treble of a guitar that make your teeth want to explode. I like to think of our sound as brutal yet smooth: a soothing punishment.

2. What is the interplay like between the two basses on stage? It sounds on the record like there’s lead and rhythm bass, but is that the way it actually works out?

I suppose, generally speaking, you could say that Blaine plays rhythm bass and I play lead, but that’s not a strict rule or anything. He handles all the vocals (except for a few spoken passages, which on the recordings are done by Spencer, who writes most of our lyrics as well), so he’ll tend to play a more traditional bass line, root notes and such.

Being a reformed guitar player, I play lots of chords and harmonizing melodies. We’ll often play the exact same part, or just at different octaves, for a kind of doubling effect. And no matter which of us is playing what, we’re ultimately a beefed-up rhythm section; occasional flurries and bursts aside, the basses do their thing in whatever pocket the drums carve out for them.

3. Talk about the amps and equipment used on the album. There are separate distinguished tones between the bass and, well, the bass. Did you and Blaine develop your tones separately or together as part of the same band, and was there work involved in making them mesh together?

When Lamprey began, we had already established the basic foundations for our respective tones. I played my Rickenbacker through an Orange Rockerverb 100 and matching 4×12 cab. The Rick has this fast growly tone with lots of mids, and playing it through a guitar amp really helps fill that sonic niche that we might otherwise lack by not having a guitar. Blaine is a bassist’s bassist. Wielding a Gibson Thunderbird for ultimate thump, he started out with a Sunn Sorado through an old 2×15 cab.

The earliest days of the band are what we refer to as a kind of amplifier cold war — Blaine added a vintage Ampeg to the mix, as the Sorado was no match for the Orange in terms of volume. Then I would add another head, and Blaine would have to catch up to me again, in terms of wattage. We began collecting cabs, pondering the tonal possibilities an array of assorted speaker sizes might hold in store for us. It became a sickness; we couldn’t even fit it all in the practice room!

We finally called a truce when he found this weird, one of a kind monster amp made by a guy here in town. It’s called the Big Black, and all I know about it is that I have to really push my hot-rodded Orange to keep up. As far as cabs go, we’re always tweaking and experimenting. I’m currently running my Orange through two Orange/Matamp 4×12 cabs, along with a Sunn Concert Bass through a 2×15, but only because there’s not room in the van for anything more than that. The 12’s give me a crisper, snarlier sound that sits right on top of Blaine‘s smooth boominess, which is our overall plan.

He’s running the Big Black through some old Fender cabs, dual 12s and 15s, that project with surprising depth. Our eventual goal is a backline consisting entirely of Monolith Loudspeaker cabinets, which are based on old Sunn and Acoustic designs and made in Portland. Beyond all that, we sculpt the finishing touches with a few select fuzz pedals, some vintage Electro-Harmonix effects, some wah and our finger attack.

4. What’s the story with Ancient Secrets? Do you consider it a full-length or an EP? Was there a self-released version before the Captain Couch one, and if so, was it different somehow?

Actually, we consider it more or less a demo. We went into Ghost Town Studios, run by our friend David Pulliam, as a very young band with a very small budget. I think we’d been together about three months and had four songs. We just wanted something better than a practice space recording to give out at shows. We did it live in a day, with one more day for vocals and mixing.

Shortly thereafter, Blaine founded Captain Couch Records, and now I help him run it. The idea behind the label was to record and put out into the world music from all these amazing bands in Portland that no one knows about. The house Blaine lives in hosts these epic shows about once a month, and it seemed like a natural progression to begin recording and distributing music from our favorite bands to help launch them up to the next tier.

Obviously, Lamprey is a priority for us, so we went back to Ghost Town to record a song for a 7” release, the label’s first official offering. We then also recorded “Cylenos Crassidens,” a newer song, and redid “Thulsa” (as the original take was embarrassingly sloppy), and added them to the EP. We felt better about the revamped version, and put that out through Captain Couch (which, by the way, rhymes with “pooch” — it’s a Portland thing).

5. The Portland scene is so multifaceted and it seems like every week there’s another band putting out an album. How do you distinguish yourselves among such a glut of bands, and do you have any favorite acts to share the stage with you care to recommend to those on the outside?

This city is unreal; a veritable cache of undying energy and uniquely talented musicians. The thing is, it’s been that way for a long time, only no one has been paying any attention until recently. Obviously, bands like Red Fang, Witch Mountain and Grails have put us all on the map and inspired hordes of Portlanders (ourselves included) to craft their own oblation to heavy music – often yielding truly epic results.

Honestly, I’m not at all sure that we do stand out yet – I still think of us as a young band, cutting our teeth and working the bugs out. But the three of us have a shared vision, musically speaking, and we believe in the sound we’ve conjured. It moves us, and I think that kind of fervor can be very contagious, especially at full volume in a small room.

I’m sure the very same can be said about a slew of other bands in this town, and we’re lucky enough to be friends with them and play out with them. I would strongly urge anyone interested in Portland‘s stoner/doom/metal scene to explore a few of my favorites: Zmoke, Heavy Voodoo, Diesto, Avi Dei, Rabbits, Lord Dying, Purple Rhinestone Eagle and pretty much anyone that any of these bands might share a stage with.

6. Do you know when you’ll be back in the studio for more recording? Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

As I alluded to earlier, we’ve just released a 7” split release with Zmoke, which can be found at any of our shows or at CDBaby. We’re constantly working on new material, and when we have enough ready to warrant some studio time, we really want to work with Adam Pike at Toadhouse Studios, as he’s recorded quite a bit of our favorite music.

In the interim, we want to do some traveling and test the waters outside of our hometown — hopefully a West Coast tour will happen next spring. We’d like to reach new ears here at home, too, by opening for bigger bands. We’re actually opening for Karma to Burn in October — which we still can’t quite believe is really happening — and hope to get together with Rabbits in the near future. For now, though, we just want to keep playing shows with all the killer bands in this town, and work as hard as we can to feel worthy of the incredibly supportive response we’ve been receiving.

On that note, I would be remiss not to acknowledge that Blaine, Spencer and I would not be fulfilling any of our 16-year-old selves’ rock ‘n’ roll fantasies if not for the infinite support and encouragement of our collective better halves, the Lamprey Ladies. Ellie, Sarah, and Kim help finance our gear habit, design our art, work our merch table, tolerate us practicing in the basement, and don’t seem to mind our beards smelling like beer. We think that rocks.

Lamprey on Thee Facebooks

Captain Couch Records

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Buried Treasure: Hurricane Irene and the Red Lion Haul

Posted in Buried Treasure on August 30th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Every now and then, I do a Craigslist search for the word “stoner,” just to see what comes up. Early this past week was one such occasion, and what I found was a listing from a guy outside of York, Pennsylvania, who was selling off what he touted as a massive CD collection, with lots of varied kinds of metal, stoner/desert rock and ’70s heavy bands. Needless to say, my interest was piqued.

York is more than three hours from where I live in New Jersey, so going during the week was out because of work. And I wouldn’t want to go on Sunday, because six hours in a car is no way to lead into a Monday morning, so I called the guy and said I was interested in taking a look at what he had for sale and asked him if Saturday was cool. He said it was.

Only hitch in that plan was that Hurricane Irene was expected to rail the Northeast on Saturday, making its way up the coast, bringing floods, high winds, downed trees, lightning and other things not conducive to driving at all, let alone 170 miles. You know, now that I put the number to it, the whole proposition seems unreasonable.

Not unreasonable enough, it turns out. Relatively early Saturday morning, The Patient Mrs. and I loaded into the car and made our way south and west to Red Lion, a small-ish town outside of York. I had heard and read and looked at all the maps and the progression of the storm and everything seemed to point to our being able to get to Pennsylvania and back before the worst hit. I’ve already driven in some pretty atrocious weather this year. What was the worst this hurricane could do?

It was raining when I got out there, and hard. The picture above of dark clouds and rolling hillsides I took after dropping The Patient Mrs. at a local Panera so she could continue the work on her laptop she’d been doing the whole drive and headed to the guy’s apartment to spend some time perusing his collection. Not too much time, though, because the wind was picking up.

When he met me outside, Frank, the man in his late-50s/early-60s whose collection I was there to see, asked if I had any weapons on me. I did not, and I judged by the awesomeness of his moustache that he didn’t either, so we made our way inside so I could see his wares. His chihuahua growling at me the entire time, I made my way slowly and, at first, haphazardly through the rows and stacks of alphabetized discs, periodically looking outside to check the conditions, which seemed to ebb and flow as different arms of the storm passed through.

The collection itself was as advertised in both quality and quantity. There had to be 5,000-plus discs spread across the racks. They were stacked two rows deep on bookshelves and piled — organized; nothing was without purpose — in corners. I’d been hoping to find a copy of Keg Full of Dynamite by Pentagram, or some old Sabbath bootlegs, but no such luck. Nonetheless, our man Frank was clearly someone who had just been collecting CDs since the inception of the format, and I was able to find (literally) a stack of releases that saved me months of eBaying.

He charged $10 a piece for each of the three Pagan Altar full-lengths, for Speed, Glue & Shinki‘s 1971 outing, Eve, for the long out of print first edition of Spiritual Beggars‘ debut, for records by Dust, Abramis Brama, Elonkorjuu, Terra Firma, Desert Saints, Privilege, Generous Maria, Toad and Riff Cannon, for the first issue of Josiah‘s self-titled, and, in a departure from the others that even Frank noted, The Arcanum by German folk metallers Suidakra.

A word about that record: I first heard it via downloaded mp3s in 2000, when it was released. The whole folk metal thing was still at least half a decade off, and I was into it because it was a more extreme version of melodeath. But I had little interest in owning physical media at the time (I burned discs and kept them in a binder), and it later turned out that the label screwed over the band, kept the rights, and the album went out of print. It’s something I’ll probably listen to once — haven’t yet — and stick on my shelf to gather dust, because it’s just not where my tastes lie at this point, but it’s something I genuinely never thought I’d find. I never thought I’d find that record. And then, $10 to Frank and it was mine.

The only thing he didn’t charge me $10 for, in fact, was the digipak special edition of Hammer of the North, by Grand Magus. It was $20, but the album has yet to have a CD release in the US, and I figured he had probably paid even more for the import than I was, so it was worth the price nonetheless.

As he totaled up my selections from the sundry shelves and stacks of his library, I began to put myself in his place, and wonder what it would take for me to allow someone into my home to peruse, pick out, scrutinize and ultimately walk away with pieces of my collection. I had more selections than I took home with me. Albums by Fuzzy Duck, Bloodrock (it was Bloodrock 2), Lucifer’s Friend and the recently-burned-for-me Tin House he said I simply couldn’t have, as they were too dear to him to part with. He explained that all the metal stuff, all the more modern rock stuff, that could all go, but the ’70s heavy bands were what he grew up with, and he was sorry.

His failing health turned out to be the reason he was selling. He needed the money more than he needed the discs, so out they were going. I expressed my sympathies, forked over $190 of the total $200 I’d brought with me, and left knowing I could have spent hours more finding treasure among those racks, of which I’ve dreamed not once, but twice in the now-four nights since.

Using my manliest navigational sensibilities, I suggested cutting north early before heading east to get ahead of the storm, and The Patient Mrs., now retrieved from the aforementioned Panera, was in agreement. It rained most of our way back, heavy at times, but we still got in well under the wire for the most damaging winds, floods, etc. Still funny to see how few people were on the road by the time we landed back in Jersey, though. Cracked open a couple beers, admired the stack of recent acquisitions (at least I did), and waited for the world to end — which, despite the local highway collapse, flooding, downed power lines and the rest, it did not do.

I’ll admit it wasn’t the safest idea I’ve ever had to drive for such a long time with the threat of a hurricane looming. All the same, I regret nothing for what I was able to pick up in Red Lion, and I know I’ll always look at those albums in the picture above and remember the day I went and found them with the wind howling outside and the torrents of rain blocking visibility on the ride home. It was stupid, yeah, but it was also precisely my favorite kind of adventure.

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Grifter, Grifter: A Welcome Guest

Posted in Reviews on August 30th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Grifter have a lot working in their favor. After two increasingly strong EPs and arguably the most memorable contributions out of the four bands included on the Heavy Ripples split Ripple Music 7”, the UK trio make their debut in the form of the 11-track Grifter, also released via Ripple. The album keeps to much the same ethic as their 2010 The Simplicity of the Riff is Key EP, at least philosophically, but the band – vocalist/guitarist Ollie Stygall, bassist Phil and drummer Foz – has grown remarkably in terms of their songwriting and Stygall’s vocals, so that where their prior work had potential, Grifter’s Grifter is showing it already beginning to pay off. This is doubly impressive for what’s essentially their first record, but the band has been kicking around England’s southwest since 2003 and Grifter shows it. They are mature in basically every way but the lyrics, which take a charming, smirking delight in the sexually perverse or mundane frustrations of the everyday dude. Misogynist fecalphilia isn’t really my thing – and I don’t think it’s Grifter’s either, though you never know – but I’m not about to deny that “Alabama Hotpocket” is catchy as hell, the title also accounting for roughly half of the rudimentary, blues-styled lyrical content. Keeping it simple, indeed.

Stygall, Foz and Phil are remarkably good at just that. Grifter as an album makes no effort to hide where it comes from as Stygall caps riffingly infectious opener “Good Day for Bad News” with a “yowza” straight out of the Axl Rose playbook or throws a well-timed “Alright now/Won’t you listen?” into “Strip Club,” the expectation being that most who find Grifter lurking amidst the crowded mass of potent heavy rock acts out there will appreciate the nod to Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf.” They’re right, and if nothing else, it gives those who’d encounter Grifter a sense of being among peers. Where many bands will deny outright listening and enjoying the kind of music they play, Grifter sound like fans of heavy rock, so that their ‘70s moves (think a less fuzzed Josiah, if we want to stay with British acts for comparison), such as including a second track somewhat off-kilter in approach from the rest of the album, feel genuine if also self-aware. The riffs and grooves throughout the album are their own, and the songs are stripped down in approach as to be near universal in their application. “Good Day for Bad News” sets a tone of memorable songwriting and proves no fluke in terms of the level of the rest of the material. It’s the kind of track that one listen will have imprinted on your consciousness and three will make the mark near permanent, affirming what “Hey Ron” from Heavy Ripples first asserted concerning Grifter’s ability to right a rock tune, and “Asshole Parade” makes subtle pushes toward stoner distortions in its “And I’m beautiful when I’m pissed off” break without ever going completely over to that side of the genre. It is the longest track on the album at 4:36 and puts that extra time into a closing instrumental break that’s nonetheless justified by its groove and the crisp layers of Stygall’s guitar.

That is one thing about Grifter that will probably surprise those who usually traverse the grounds of heavy rock: It sounds immaculate. Recorded and mixed between December 2010 and January 2011 by Rich Robinson at Big Red Recording, the guitar and bass are clear and separated, and Foz’s cymbals ring through excellently on “Strip Club” and elsewhere, but nothing sounds overdone or digitally lifeless. I’ve little doubt Grifter recorded onto a computer, but as an increasing number of engineers are proving able to do, Robinson gets a vibrant, warm feel from the band, so there’s a bit of the best from both worlds in the finished product of “Young Blood, Old Veins,” which closes Side A, and about which one doesn’t even initially notice the recording job for the hooky chorus riff. In that way, Grifter is like the machine you only see half the gears of; it only looks simple compared to the hard work that’s actually gone into it. As Stygall touts his lack of regrets on “Young Blood, Old Veins” or invokes a handclap revival in the verses of “Bucktooth Woman” (the centerpiece of the CD), all is secondary to the song, which is precisely as it should be for this kind of rock. Grifter’s tones are thick and satisfying on that level, but nothing outrageous in themselves, and Foz proves more than capable as Grifter progresses – adding swing to the final verse of “Bucktooth Woman” – but is never showy or overly complex in what he does. Again, they keep it simple, but the trio in no way revel in the kind of haphazardness of some heavy rockers. The performances are tight and the mix is well balanced.

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Nether Regions Sign to Abnormal Gait Records; Vinyl Reissue Due in November

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 30th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Congratulations to Portland, Oregon, thunderthrashers Nether Regions, whose bassist/vocalist Joseph Wickstrom (interview here) checked in to let me know the band has signed to Abnormal Gait Records, previously responsible for a host of Hour of 13 merch and music, which you can see in their BigCartel store.

The label will be issuing a remaster of Nether Regions‘ first album, Into the Breach, on gatefold vinyl come November, topped with new artwork by the very, very metal Hal Rotter, who has worked with Skeletonwitch and Cattle Decapitation in the past and whose Rotting Graphics enterprise/gallery can be found here.

Kudos to Wickstrom and the rest of Nether Regions. All the best to them in getting the reissue together and the inevitable next project to follow. Here’s a live video for the song “Pale Faced God” from Into the Breach to celebrate with:

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SPECIAL FEATURE: Orange Goblin Studio Diary, Week 3 (Song Titles Revealed!)

Posted in Features on August 30th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Things are starting to take shape in London as Orange Goblin continue working on their new album. This week, Ben Ward sends an update as the process of recording his vocals has begun. Drummer Chris Turner has finished his tracks, as has bassist Martyn Millard, so we join the process with just the vocals and some of Joe Hoare‘s guitar to go.

If you missed them or would like a refresher, the first studio update is here and the second is here. Thanks once again to Ben Ward and to Candlelight Records for making this happen.

Orange Goblin – Album Recording – Week 3

After two very productive weekends recently we wanted to keep the momentum going so Joe and I were at the studio first thing Saturday morning, eager to get started with more guitars and finally some vocals. I had every intention of being good and sticking to hot tea with lemon and honey to look after my throat but after an hour of twiddling my thumbs whilst Joe added guitar tracks I gave in and had to have some cider! I then convinced myself that I should have some red wine in order to warm the vocal chords up! It worked too as I was soon in the vocal booth (hotter than a sauna!) and was belting stuff out, all of which sounded pretty cool. By the end of the day I’d got three songs finished, including the album opener which I’d consider the hardest of all the vocal tracks. Martyn turned up in the afternoon and spent his time yelling at the TV, eating pizza and keeping me updated with the football scores as I was trapped in the sauna! Whilst I took breaks between songs (for more cider and pizza!), Joe carried on with more basic guitar and solos and at the end of the day the whole album was really starting to take shape.

Joe was already at the studio when I arrived on Sunday morning and continued to work whilst I tried (but failed) to finish writing all the lyrics! I still have a week for this so I’m not panicking just yet! Chris and Martyn showed up a bit later on and between sandwiches, microwave meals and more booze we managed to get another two vocal tracks recorded so by the end of Sunday, Joe was about 85 percent done with guitars and I was 50 percent done with the vocals. We also received some new artwork ideas and a new logo design from our friend James Isaac (Jimbob from the band Taint) who is handling the artwork for the album. I have to say we are all delighted with what we have seen so far and we’re really excited about what the final artwork will look like. All the songs finally have titles but we have yet to decide on a final title or running order. I can reveal that the 10 songs on the album are titled as follows: “Red Tide Rising,” “The Fog,” “Acid Trial,” “Stand for Something,” “The Filthy & The Few,” “Death of Aquarius,” “The Bishops Wolf,” “Return to Mars,” “A Eulogy for the Damned” and “Save Me From Myself.”

At the end of Sunday, we burned rough mixes of all 10 songs to CD and had a listen in the car going home and I have to say that it already sounds absolutely huge! I genuinely believe that this is the best Orange Goblin material ever and can’t wait for people to hear the finished product and get the chance to play some of this new material live! Next week we hope to finish all the vocals and guitars which will leave us to add all the bits and bobs like keyboards, etc. We also have a photo shoot and some press to deal with next weekend, so until then…………………………

Ben Ward, 30th August, 2011

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Mars Red Sky, Mars Red Sky: I’ll Meet You in a Dream

Posted in Reviews on August 29th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Making their home in the rich dirt of France’s Bordeaux region, the trio Mars Red Sky specialize in gorgeously-toned and natural-sounding fuzz that comes on huge and overwhelming, but is rife also with engaging melody and psychedelic flourish. Guitarist Julien Pras (also Calc) is like the non-evil distant cousin of Electric Wizard’s Jus Oborn, the massiveness of his sound and his ability to turn a simple melody into something memorable come across immediately on Mars Red Sky’s self-titled full-length debut (Emergence). Preceded only by a 7” called Curse, the album is going to be the band’s first exposure to most listeners, and I’m hard pressed to think of a finer opening statement. In 39 minutes, Mars Red SkyPras, plus bassist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Benoit Busser – affect the kind of perfect laid back atmosphere that Dutch peers Sungrazer have been able to harness, blending Hendrix fuzz, Sabbath riffs, Kyuss’ keen sense of desert sun, Dead Meadow’s subdued melody and a rolling low end groove into a brew both inviting and heavy. Whether it’s Pras‘ sweet, high-pitched croon on “Strong Reflection” or “Way to Rome,” Kinast’s bluesy David Eugene Edwards-style vocal on “Marble Sky” or overdriven tone on “Falls,” the album is a riff worshiper’s dream and easily one of 2011’s best debuts.

They work in a few different modes. The aforementioned “Strong Reflection” opens the album and is one of its strongest tracks, boasting a straightforward structure and setting up the rest of Mars Red Sky’s tonescape. Pras’ vocal works surprisingly well over the guitar and bass, adding a lighter air to the verses, and the chorus, “But when I go upstream/I’ll meet you in a dream/And when I try to land/Please let me hold your hand,” is both sweet and catchy, Busser keeping a steady march underneath and transitioning between parts with capable but not overdone fills. Right away, groove is central to Mars Red Sky. Kinast’s bass plays a large role throughout the album, first filling out the guitar-less verse of “Strong Reflection” and providing heft across the board, but also keeping the flow going during Pras’ solos. The beginning of “Curse” reminds a bit of Colour Haze, but Mars Red Sky eschew airy spontaneous jams in favor of a shuffling groove that’s faster than that of the opener, but loses nothing of the tonal richness. Their adherence to structure throughout the album lends a sense of coherence to the listening experience, a feeling that you don’t mind going where Mars Red Sky take you because you know they’re in control. And they are. That said, the songs strike an excellent balance between the two sides – structured and open – and don’t come off as formulaic or more predictable than they should be.

“Curse” is the shortest track on Mars Red Sky at 4:04, and varies from the other material mostly in its pacing and in substituting the laid back feel of the first track with a more active vibe. The slow unfolding of “Falls” restores the softer touch Mars Red Sky prove so adept at throughout, building ever so slightly to another fuzz-fronted riff exploration, this one the first of the record’s two instrumentals. Kinast hits the wah to cut the bass through underneath Pras’ lead and Busser keeps steady hits on the ride cymbal, and if the purpose of the track – which caps in an undulating, moaning riff and tom hits – is to secure the listener’s full attention and confirm what the first two tracks stated, then it’s a purpose met. The intro to “Way to Rome” echoes Hendrix at his softest, but the song soon takes off on a mid-paced riff-centered groove with another landmark chorus, the stripped-down, “Ride/The dark horse/Through the fire/Through the storm,” reminding of how much can be accomplished when a band has a firm grip on the essentials of songwriting. Pras nails a solo after 2:40 with Kinast again driving home the groove on bass, and before you even realize the song is the album’s centerpiece – and worthy of its placement – you’re hooked by the repeated verse lines, “As we’re sent to die/On our way to Rome,” etc. Hard to pick between “Way to Rome” and “Strong Reflection” for which is the high point of Mars Red Sky, but both make a considerable argument.

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