Review & Full Album Premiere: Turn Me on Dead Man, Heavymetal Mothership

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[Click play above to stream Turn Me on Dead Man’s Heavymetal Mothership in its entirety. Album is out Oct. 13 via Heavy Psych Sounds.]

Long associates of Jello Biafra‘s Alternative Tentacles imprint, space rocking outfit Turn Me on Dead Man make their debut on Heavy Psych Sounds with Heavymetal Mothership, their fifth overall full-length. Their moniker of course is a reference to the backmasked Beatles message said to be in “Revolution No. 9” as a hidden clue to the alleged death of Paul McCartney, and sure enough there’s plenty of classically psychedelic elements to their sound, but for anyone who’s never encountered them before — one recalls their colorful debut, God Bless the Electric Freak, and is surprised to see it came out 12 years ago in 2005 — the title of the album actually does much more work in conveying the identity of its own sound, because while the San Francisco-based troupe have plenty of slippery trippery happening from launchpoint “Vimana” down through the 11-track/37-minute cosmic offering, there’s an underlying crunch to their fuzz and to their rhythms as well, and they never truly seem to let go of the notion of structure.

That’s hardly a drawback. Rather, “Vimana” sets a catchy tone on which cuts like the subsequent “Asteroid 9,” “Maharishi,” “Master Planet + Mother Star + Secret Moon” and the languid-drawling-into-thrash-galloping “White Slave/Black Master” only build, and elsewhere, it’s pieces like “Diamond Endless,” the effects-coated thrust of “Mind of Oz,” the watery and synth-laden centerpiece “Monolith 1971” and the purely space-driven closer “Room 237” that provide the corresponding freakout sensibility; a willingness to get weird, get weirder, and finally, get weirdest, that pits Turn Me on Dead Man in line for stellar alignment that finds their Heavymetal Mothership running at full warp speed, bearing four mark 20.

And while we’re keeping to vaguely Star Trek-derived starship references (frankly, one is amazed no one has captained a U.S.S. Lennon, registration #NCC-1967, but that’s besides the point), it’s worth noting that Turn Me on Dead Man are fully crewed and then some. Around the core tableau of guitarist, vocalist, bassist, synthesist and noisemaker Mykill Ziggy Minucci, guitarist Nick Doom, drummer/percussionist/vocalist Christopher Melville Lyman and bassist Attis Ngo — the latter also credited with keys on ninth cut “Hologram Universe”; and who seems to be out of the band since Heavymetal Mothership was recorded in 2015, perhaps replaced by Jeff Vengeance — a range of guests are employed on vocals, percussion, keys, bouzouki, and so on. Perhaps it’s best just to cut and paste the full list, as it is extensive:

Chris “Dr.” Fantasy: synthesizers on “Room 237” and “White Slave Black Master”
Scott Reategui Richards: bass on “Master Planet”
Kati Williams: violin on “Forest Damask”
Aaron John Gregory: bouzouki on “Cosmo Nymph”
Steve “Robot Speak” Taormina: chaos and noise on “Room 237”
Jonsey Daysleeper: keys on “Floating In Zen,” “Diamond Endless,” and “Maharishi”
Lith Amenti: vocals on “Floating in Zen”
Mike Thompson: percussion on “Hologram Universe”
Kiyoko Stella: vocals on “Cosmo Nymph” and “Maharishi”

So in terms of personnel, it’s more than twice as many guest spots as actual full-time band members appearing throughout the album. Can only hope the Mothership has a nice lounge area with a vending machine. Perhaps even more crucially, what results from all this flux across the still-manageable span of the record’s two sides is a rife-with-spaciousness feeling of variety that makes almost each track have its own underlying persona. Songs like “Asteroid 9,” “White Slave Black Master” and “Forest Damask” tie into the central notion of sonic dualism hinted at in the title — more often than not, heavy metal and space rock or funk (with which a mothership might also be associated) are thought of as separate aesthetic entities — but even within these, there’s a diversity of approach that becomes utterly crucial to the overarching impression of the material. And whether it’s the taut, lead-topped thrust of bliss in the middle of “Maharishi” or the toms beneath the outward, semi-post-rocking reach of “Diamond Endless,” Turn Me on Dead Man successfully execute this sonic breadth while balancing experimentalism and accessibility such that they never seem to be lost in the wash they’re creating. At times — looking at you, “Hologram Universe” — this is a genuine accomplishment.

Something that Turn Me on Dead Man seem to turn to their advantage in this, however, is the fact that individual songs are short. “Hologram Universe?” Yeah, it’s got keys, effects-soaked guitar strum, slow-freakout vibes and all that. It’s also about 75 seconds long. “Mind of Oz” cuts itself open and bleeds catchy acid, but it’s done in 2:22, and though “Forest Damask” has a somewhat farther-gone spirit to it, and is a little darker in its atmosphere as the longest inclusion, its listener immersion is enacted and gone in 4:42. The early work of Nebula comes to mind as a touchstone when thinking of a group so skillfully balancing songwriting and lysergics, and Turn Me on Dead Man are willful in their intention to push deeper into uncharted sectors. Needless to say, stellar cartographers will be thrilled, but moreover — and this is the real point at which Heavymetal Mothership finds its ultimate triumph — there’s a flow between the songs such that, as they bounce from one idea and fade it into the next, bring in different players to build out the songs and find themselves in these unknown positions in the galaxy, they come across as no more disjointed than they mean to be.

Diversity of approach, rather, is one of Heavymetal Mothership‘s great strengths, and the songs the album contains become like psychedelic snippets showing the places one can travel at the speed of thought. Like their underrated labelmates in Farflung, or like some of what White Hills and younger-days Monster Magnet were able to conjure in their own halls of space-worship, Turn Me on Dead Man provide sure guidance the whole way through Heavymetal Mothership, and if one thinks of recently-floated post-Roddenberryan notions of astrophysics and biology as one, travel by spores, etc., then it’s all the more fitting that Heavymetal Mothership sounds shroomy as fuck. If you can get on board, you’re in for a hell of a ride.

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2 Responses to “Review & Full Album Premiere: Turn Me on Dead Man, Heavymetal Mothership

  1. […] As I reported back in July, I’ve been handling bass for SF heavy psych metal band Turn Me On Dead Man, who recently signed to Heavy Psych Sounds out of Italy. Since then the album has been pressed up and is ready to ship! There are black and transparent splatter available. Purchase links are HERE and check out this stellar review via The Obelisk. […]

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