Quarterly Review: Saviours, Dave Heumann, The Dead Nobodies, Old Man Lizard, Kalamata, Unimother 27, Electric Magma, Mane of the Cur, Major Kong, Hellhookah
This, I suppose, is where things get interesting. As I normally would’ve been putting these reviews together, my laptop decided it had apparently had too much of riffs and decided to unceremoniously shit the bed. Naturally, this is a bummer of considerable proportion. As to what it means to the rest of this Quarterly Review, I guess we’ll find out over the next two days. For now I’m using an old machine of The Patient Mrs.‘ which, among other charms, has no battery in it and can only run when plugged in. Hope that cable doesn’t come loose. A goodly portion of the music I was going to review in this and tomorrow’s batch, of course, is on my busted, hopefully-soon-to-be-repaired laptop, but with Bandcamps and the fact that it’s not my first time hearing any of these records, I should be able to get by. Still, an element of adventure. Unexpected and shitty. Whether it’s repair or replace, I do not anticipate it will be a cheap fix, so I’ll relieve stress the best way I know how, which is by reviewing 10 albums in a row.
Quarterly Review #31-40:
Saviours, Palace of Vision
Strange to think of the decade that has passed since Oakland dual-guitar four-piece Saviours offered up their first EP, Warship, and yet it’s difficult to imagine the sphere of underground heavy rock without them. Particularly on the West Coast, their skate-thrash-meets-thick-grooves has had a marked influence, and their fifth full-length, 2015’s Palace of Vision (also their debut on Listenable Records), affirms their hard-driving take on classic metal even as “Flesh of Fire” and “Cursed Night” show an acute melodic awareness, the latter in doom-caked guitars and a rolling groove that, for many bands, would be enough to base their entire sound. For Saviours, it answers the gallop of the prior “The Beast Remains” and precedes 6:38 closer “The Seeker,” a vast departure from how raw they once were, but another example of the righteousness that has held steady throughout their growth. They’re an easy band to take for granted, mostly because they’re so damn reliable.
Dave Heumann, Here in the Deep
The solo debut from underrated vocalist/guitarist Dave Heumann from likewise underrated Baltimore fuzz-folkers Arbouretum, Here in the Deep (on Thrill Jockey) basks in a glow of ’70s singer-songwriter intent, but tends to surprise with just how much is going on at any given moment. A solo album in name, it’s by no means minimal, even though it sometimes veers into guy-and-guitar methods, as on the sweet instrumental “Leaves Underfoot.” Elsewhere, arrangements of strings, drums, acoustic and electric guitars create a rich variety of mood and depth of mix, wistful on “Ides of Summer” and “Here in the Deep,” joyous on “Greenwood Side” and the pointedly psych-folk “Holly King on a Hill.” The seven-minute penultimate “Ends of the Earth” is as close as Heumann – who’s joined by a swath of players throughout, including the rest of Arbouretum on this track – comes to his main outfit stylistically, but by then the context is so much Here in the Deep‘s own and between that and the sonic clarity permeated all the while, it just becomes one more turn on an album that makes difficult ones seem effortless. Heumann remains a more accomplished songwriter than people know.
The Dead Nobodies, The Wake
Between their underlying currents of grunge in the guitar, metal in the drums and an air of Foo Fighters in the vocals (“Blues in You”), Massachusetts trio The Dead Nobodies are up front about their ’90s influence. The 10-track, Tad Doyle-mixed/mastered The Wake is their third album behind 2014’s Return of the Tide and 2012’s Ride in with Death, and some of the material has been released by the band before on demos and other short offerings. Still, there’s an air of cohesion to the melodies that surface in “Somatic Complaints,” “Pancakes” and the later “Joel Returns.” Self-released on CD, the album eschews the trappings of genre – or at least of subgenre – for the most part and takes a more overarching approach to not-quite-metal, but what they’re doing seems to work for them, so I’m not inclined to argue. More hard rock than heavy rock for those inclined to split hairs, but accessible enough anyway.
Old Man Lizard, Old Man Lizard
Making their debut on Heavy Psych Sounds, UK-based Old Man Lizard revisit a 2012 EP with what’s become their self-titled sophomore full-length. All the tracks from that five-song outing are included here, the order adjusted, and two more are added on in the closing duo “Craniopagus Parasiticus” and “A Gruesome Mess,” and what I don’t know is if the entire album was re-recorded, or it’s the old recording with two new songs tacked on, or all of it was recorded prior to the release of Old Man Lizard‘s 2014 debut LP, Lone Wolf vs. Brown Bear. It matters mostly because Old Man Lizard is good, and it’s a question of which came first to see how their progression is playing out, whether the techishred of “El Doctor” is the latest step or a first. Either way, the band skillfully brings together twanging riffs, neo-prog post-Mastodon crush and a swing that brings to mind the scope of Elder circa Dead Roots Stirring, sounding even more patient on the aforementioned “Craniopagus Parasiticus” than anything before it. If I continue to have questions about the release, the quality isn’t one of them.
An instrumental three-piece based in Hildesheim, Germany, Kalamata make their message pretty plain in the seven tracks of their debut album, You (originally released in 2014, with vinyl new from Pink Tank Records), which line up to form the sentence, “You have to die soon mother fucker.” The music is somewhat less aggressive, Peter Jaun leading the trio with open-spaced riffs as Maik Blümke fills those spaces — see “Have” — with an engaging rumble and drummer Olly Opitz holds tension until the gradual payoff hits. Never an easy thing for a band whose sound is by necessity based on dynamic to make a debut, but Kalamata pull off You without a second thought, making the centerpiece, “Die,” a highlight of classic semi-desert heavy rock that unfolds a patient linear build that leaves closer “Fucker” the task of rolling out the record’s largest nod. No doubt this material would make more of an impact live, but particularly on repeat listens, the depth of tone comes across well and the trio match their aggression to a crisp delivery.
Unimother 27, Frozen Information
Italy’s futuristically named Unimother 27 – which sounds like the futurebot that raised some dystopian antihero protagonist of a novel/film franchise; I’m sure it’s a reference I’m too ignorant to know – is populated only by multi-instrumentalist and sometimes-vocalist Piero Ranalli. Ranalli, who also plays bass in Insider with his brother, Marco, progs out hard on the solo-project’s fourth full-length and first in eight years, Frozen Information (on Pineal Gland Lab). One expects a certain amount of indulgence on an album of keyboard-laden krautrock explorations, and “Clear Light Healing” certainly delivers on that, but from the opening “Moksha (to Huxley)” through the closing pair of “Hymn to the Hidden God” and “Brief Moments of Eternity,” which features an extended if vague spoken word from Ranalli, Frozen Information remains immersive and, with its quiet, maybe-programmed drums, hypnotic across its span. It is enduringly and endearingly weird, and experimental in a genuine way that most could only hope to be.
Electric Magma, Silverball
The wah that shows up in the second half of “Tad” on Toronto instrumental trio Electric Magma‘s seventh full-length, Silverball, has a distinct mark of Clutchitude to it, but the band owe more to the Fu Manchu pastiche of trad heavy fuzz. Karma to Burn are a name that comes to mind out of necessity more than direct comparison, but the three-piece of guitarist Tim Reesor, drummer Neil Lukewich-Pheaton and bassist Tryg Smith aren’t quite so straightforward, “The Oscillator” tossing a Sleep-style riff into its middle and the later “Sidebar” finding itself on funkier ground altogether. The eight-track/32-minute release seems to set pinball as its central theme, starting with the intro “Silverball” and ending with the harmonica’d “Multiball,” but more than that, they’re preaching a riff-led gospel that the converted should have no trouble getting on board with, the band putting up no pretenses as to doing anything more than having a good time.
Mane of the Cur, Three of Cups
Portland, Oregon’s Mane of the Cur would seem to be making a reboot with the three-song Three of Cups EP, some shuffling of lineup establishing them as vocalist Melynda Amann, guitarist Shawn Mentzer, bassist Cory DeCaire, keyboardist “Nasty” Nate Baisch and drummer Blaine Burnham (ex-Lamprey). The five-piece outfit are quick to establish themselves somewhere between classic doom and cult rock, but while Three of Cups doesn’t have the most elaborate production I’ve heard this week, it seems to avoid a lot of the ’70s traditionalism that much of the style embraces so wholeheartedly. That’s not to say the gradually-deconstructed “Kiss of Neptune,” the lightly progressive “Prehistoric Bitch” and the noddingly ethereal “Foolish are Magic” don’t sound natural, just that they don’t sound like it’s 1972. This is to their credit, ultimately, since it only helps Three of Cups give a more individual impression overall, which can’t hurt leading to whatever the band decides to do next.
Major Kong, Galactic Cannibalism
Polish instrumentalists Major Kong oversaw a vinyl release of their 2012 debut, Doom for the Black Sun (review here), in 2014 on Transubstans, but they’re once again working under their own banner for the four-song Galactic Cannibalism, a 24-minute (or thereabouts) riffpusher that’s set its controls for the heart of oblivion and is happy to tone-crush anything in its path. Guitarist Misiek, bassist Domel and drummer Bolek also released a split with Dopelord in 2015 on which the EP’s closer, “Magnetar,” also appeared, but Galactic Cannibalism has them all on their own, and unsurprisingly they nail it. They’re not doing anything outlandish stylistically, but they effectively conjure and capture big riffs and big nod, varying pace between “Supercluster,” “Diabolic Mind Control” and the mega-chugging “Morlock” to give a sense of flow, but keeping in mind the next plus-sized groove, which seems always to be right around the corner. With two full-lengths out, I’m a little surprised they went for a shorter release rather than a third album, but they make it hard to argue.
Hellhookah, Endless Serpents
Lithuanian two-piece Hellhookah make their debut with the full-length Endless Serpents, a seven-track/35-minute collection of tracks that’s shy neither about showcasing its influences — it caps with a cover of Saint Vitus’ “Born too Late,” for example — nor about rolling molasses-thick grooves one into the next. Recording as guitarist/bassist/vocalist Arnas and drummer Gintare, they meter out dense tonality and traditional formulations in the mission-setting title-track, which follows the somewhat quicker opener “A Storm in the Hidden World.” Rhythmically, they add some shuffle to “No Brakes,” “The Overman’s Eye” and even the midsection of “The Way,” which is the longest cut here at 6:34 and presumably the end of what would be a vinyl side A, but the core sensibility and atmosphere of doom is maintained throughout, and as the instrumental “Free Fall” leads into that aforementioned take on “Born too Late,” there’s no doubt as to where Hellhookah’s heart lies. Formative and raw it may be, but Endless Serpents hits its marks as the beginning of the band’s progression.
—Tags: Baltimore, California, Canada, Dave Heumann, Dave Heumann Here in the Deep, Electric Magma, Electric Magma Silverball, Endless Serpents, Frozen Information, Galactic Cannibalism, Germany, Heavy Psych Sounds, Hellhookah, Hellhookah Endless Serpents, Here in the Deep, Hildesheim, Italy, Kalamata, Kalamata You, Listenable Records, Lithuania, Lublin, Major Kong, Major Kong Galactic Cannibalism, Mane of the Cur, Mane of the Cur Three of Cups, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oakland, Old Man Lizard, Old Man Lizard Self-titled, Ontario, Oregon, Palace of Vision, Pineal Gland Lab, Pink Tank Records, Poland, Portland, Saviours, Saviours Palace of Vision, self-titled, Silverball, Suffolk, The Dead Nobodies, The Dead Nobodies The Wake, The Wake, Three of Cups, Thrill Jockey Records, Toronto, UK, Unimother 27, Unimother 27 Frozen Information, Unsigned bands, Vilnius, Wareham, You