Friday Full-Length: Greenleaf, Secret Alphabets

As we approach 15 years since its 2003 release, there’s something ironic about listening to Greenleaf‘s second full-length and Small Stone Records debut, Secret Alphabets, and it very much has to do with their relationship to Dozer. After the band, founded by Dozer guitarist Tommi Holappa, Demon Cleaner drummer Daniel Lidén and producer Bengt Bäcke who had worked with both outfits on their early material and came aboard to play bass, released their oh-someday-it-will-be-mine self-titled EP in 2000 with Lowrider‘s Peder Bergstrand on vocals, the first of many lineup changes found them bringing in Dozer‘s Fredrik Nordin to front the band for their first LP, 2001’s Revolution Rock (discussed here), which of course he did handily. The second album, like any decent record, marked both the beginning and the end of an era. It was the start of Greenleaf‘s collaboration with Small Stone, which would see the band release not only Secret Alphabets, but the subsequent 2007 outing, Agents of Ahriman (vinyl reissue review here), 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here) and 2014’s Trails and Passes (review here) under the imprint’s banner before signing to Napalm for 2016’s Rise Above the Meadow (review here), and it was also the last time Nordin would be in the lead-singer role full-time, though he’d show up for guest appearances as Bergstrand does for the moody “One More Year” here.

More than that, and even more than bringing in Demon Cleaner guitarist Daniel Jansson to play alongside HolappaSecret Alphabets represents an important step in Greenleaf‘s progression in defining its personality apart from DozerHolappa‘s songwriting has borne certain markers throughout his now-lengthy career in both bands (though it’s been more than a decade since the last time Dozer put out a record), among them a penchant for riffs and a tendency to make memorable tracks by updating classic-influenced methods with a modern production and energy. Secret Alphabets does this through and through, whether it’s “Black Black Magic” and “Never Right” bringing to mind KISS via the performance of guest singer Singe, the outright thrust of post-intro opener “10,000 Years of Revolution,” or the let’s-go-a-wanderin’ Monster Magnetic psychedelia of side A finale “The Combination.” The material has character and a welcome sense of push behind its delivery, a crisper production than one found on Revolution Rock (though Bäcke helmed both recordings) and a pervasive sense of craft that gives little idea just how much of a transition point it actually was for the band.

In 2003, Dozer put out Call it Conspiracy (discussed here), and in so doing, brazenly moved beyond the post-Kyuss desert rock impulses of their first two long-players and early singles. That this happened roughly concurrent to Greenleaf issuing Secret Alphabets represents something of a crossing point between the two bands, who would both head ultimately in different directions. Dozer became more aggressive with 2005’s Through the Eyes of Heathens and 2008’s to-date swansong (one can always hope) Beyond Colossal (discussed here), and ultimately fell by the wayside as Greenleaf was joined by Truckfighters‘ Oskar Cedermalm for Agents of Ahriman and Nest of Vipers, becoming more or less a full-time touring band after the latter, as current frontman Arvid Johnsson grabbed hold of the singer role and worked quickly to make it his own despite the considerable shoes to be filled. One might then think of Secret Alphabets and Call it Conspiracy as the intersection point between the two bands on their respective paths. One doubts that Holappa, who’s the key figure in all of this riffy intertwining, thought of it on that level at the time, but a decade and a half later, it’s perhaps a bit easier to have that perspective on what was going on creatively with Holappa as a songwriter and the direction of both his groups. In fact, if anyone out there can honestly say as regards where Dozer and Greenleaf each wound up, “Yeah I called that shit in 2003,” including any of the band members, I’ll gladly tip my hat in their direction.

So there’s no question that Secret Alphabets was a pivotal moment for Greenleaf as a band, but that leaves out one essential detail of the record itself: it frickin’ rocks. From the funk in “Witchcraft Tonight,” to the raw Fu Manchu fuzz of the instrumental “The Spectre,” to the sleek groove in “Masterplan” and the two-parter finale in “No Time Like Right Now!,” it’s a brook-no-argument roller that does “classic” right. I know for a fact that many Greenleaf fans argue in its favor as the band’s best album to-date, and while I’m not sure anything can take the special place Agents of Ahriman holds in my heart, the stomp of “Never Right,” the spaciousness in “One More Year” and the underline-the-point vibing of “Masterplan” make a more than solid case.

Wherever you land in that debate, as always, I hope you enjoy.

I was in New Jersey all week. We were supposed to go down last Sunday but we left a day early because the power had gone out owing to I don’t know wind of more than 20mph and lack of infrastructure spending? Blah blah blah, more government subsidy, less corporate dominance. Lot of family time. I had been anxious about it but it worked out really well and I was glad we went. They had cleared out the house formerly occupied by my grandmother and done it up nice to give us a place to stay, bought a pack-and-play for the baby and a bed for the dog — really went all out. It was appreciated and a nice reminder of what life can be like when you have any kind of support system whatsoever. You know, feeling supported and all that.

So of course about two feet of snow fell on Wednesday and the power — because infrastructure! — went out down there as well. We stayed Wednesday night because trees were coming down almost as hard as the snow itself, and took off back to Massachusetts yesterday morning. In August it will be five years that we’ve lived up here. All this trip south really did for me was emphasize how at home I continue not to feel here. Don’t get me wrong, I know good people here and I’ve had some good times in the last half-decade, but it ain’t home. Everything’s an hour away from where I live except The Patient Mrs.’ job, and when I think about what’s keeping us here, that’s pretty much it. She likes her job. I’m glad. And I’m glad I don’t have a job and can take care of the house and the baby and write and all that, but when I think about vacuuming this kitchen floor vs. the several righteous shag rugs down in Parsippany, well, it ain’t even really a contest. There’s a reason I keep calling it “my beloved Garden State,” and it’s not just because they put in a Wegman’s close by.

Though that’s nice too.

That it was The Patient Mrs.’ spring break made the trip south feasible — The Pecan did pretty well in the car, if you were wondering — and we had to be back for this morning because I have yet another appointment with yet another doctor. This one is in Brookline which is — you guessed it — a fucking hour’s trip each way from where I live. It’s cool though, I’m sure it won’t just be a they-take-blood-and-totally-waste-my-time kind of deal or anything. This is the doctor I’m going to because my nutritionist thinks my PCP doesn’t take my eating disorder seriously enough. He doesn’t, but who cares? So it’s “drive two hours to go to this doctor who’s going to take your blood then make you come back again to hear all the same shit I’ve been telling you for the last two months.” Won’t that be fun? Like I said, no way it’s a total waste of my fucking time or anything. Pas de chance.

Oh and though they gave me pills to mitigate, I’m still bloated as fuckall, though I’ll say that after upping my antidepressant dose on my own this week because I decided I was too lazy to cut pills — seriously? cutting pills? what is this, fucking 1930? — my general mood has improved, though this too could just as easily be a reaction to seeing my four-month-old son held in the arms of his laughing, Zelda-obsessed, about-to-be-awkward-as-hell cousin, which is, frankly, among the rawer examples of joy that I’ve experienced.

So yes, I’d like to move back to New Jersey. I also need a haircut. And to lose 50 pounds that kind of showed up out of nowhere. Ha.

Plan for next week, subject to change:

Mon.: Sammal album stream; Dollar Llama video.
Tue.: Et Moriemur track stream.
Wed. Merlin review; Black Salvation video premiere.
Thu.: Choral Hearse video premiere, maybe an Earthless review. That’d be fun.
Fri.: Desertfest Split 12″ stream and review.

Might head to Connecticut with The Patient Mrs. and The Pecan tomorrow, might take advantage of a day on my own to write like a bastard and get a jump on next week. We’ll see. In any case, whatever you’re up to, I hope it’s a good time. Stay safe, be well, and please check out the forum and the radio stream.

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2 Responses to “Friday Full-Length: Greenleaf, Secret Alphabets

  1. Ryno says:

    Can’t go wrong with any Greenleaf, so RIGHT ON for that.

    Also noticed the post this week is more positive than that last few. The difference in Khanate vs. Greeleaf is quite substantial. Keep it rolling!

  2. Jose Humberto says:

    Excellent blend of Kiss , Monster Magnet and Zep I have that album since 2004 and still enjoy it a lot :)

    HM

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