Seems odd to say it, but Crowsisn’t the first 18-minute single that Netherlands-based post-metal four-piece Ortega have released in their time together. The last one was late-2012′s The Serpent Stirs(review here), and as the follow-up to that and reportedly the precursor to a new full-length album, Crowswinds up making a lot of sense with its limited tape release through Tartarus Records, a black-ink-on-grey-box unfolding with a handmade feel to match the Groningen group’s intricate heavy/ambient tradeoffs throughout the song’s 18 minutes. The program repeats on both sides of the tape, which has crows and branches printed on it, and for what’s purported to be a demo track, the sound is awfully full and the band is awfully tight, leaving me to wonder what they might look to change going into the album — that is, how much more there is to build on from what they have here. It’s almost unfair to use the word “cassingle” for a song that’s en EP unto itself, but technically I suppose that’s what Crows is.
And taken on the level of a single, it’s a strikingly cohesive one, with guitarists Alex Loots and Richard Postma trading between thick waves of riffing and sparse atmospherics, ambient squigglies floating into the sonic space of a mix that, again, is done little justice by being designated as a demo. Bassist Frank de Boer distinguishes himself in the song’s midsection with a surprisingly warm tone, while drummer Sven Jurgens manages to keep the proceedings fluid for the most part without falling into the trap of the Isis drumbeat (you know the one!), which is one of the core challenges at this point of post-metal percussion styles — how to make it not sound like Panopticon. Postma handles vocals as well when they arise, his assured growl topping the later payoff of a fervent instrumental build playing out in a rising tide of start-stop chugging; a measured, restrained groove finally letting loose just in time for the growls to reemerge. For those familiar with the style, Ortega‘s take won’t be wholly strange, but Crows remains asolid execution of the progressive aspects of post-metal and even over its extended course doesn’t dull the attention more than it intends to do with hypnotic repetition of parts.
It’s easy to imagine “Crows” paired with another piece of similar length as opposing vinyl sides as Ortega‘s next long-player, but I guess we have some time yet before we get there. Fair enough. Maybe by then I’ll have it figured out what exactly makes Crowsa demo.
Many of the influences Copenhagen five-piece Demon Head are working with will seem familiar. Of course there’s Sabbath, Pentagram, etc., and one can identify points of Witchcraft in the production of their Demo 2014, now available as a limited-to-100 purple cassette through Caligari Records, and some of Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats‘ garage-style shuffle, but what the four-track release really showcases from the Danish newcomers is swing. Fast or slow, their riffs wind their way around the listener’s consciousness, and with the bass of Fuglsang and drums of Wittus – middle and last names or initials only, depending on where you look – Demon Head never stray too far from the soul-corrupted boogie that serves them well here as they follow-up 2013′s Chaos Island Rehearsal 2013with more developed but still raw and doomed rock.
The blown-out croon of Ferreira Larsen recalls ’80s metal conjurations on opener “Undertaker,” but is malleable ultimately to what’s called for by a given song, and his style helps distinguish Demon Head from the Uncle Acid jangle that’s clearly influenced “Undertaker” and shows up on the eponymous closer as well in its oozing, dirt-packed groove. A rough recording plays well on tape — the four-song program repeats on both sides — and Demo 2014is most definitely a demo, but the songwriting is there and Larsen, Wittus, Fuglsang and the guitarists, both named Nielsen (presumably they’re related), don’t come off as so loose as to be self-indulgent or unaware of where they’re headed. “Ride the Wilderness” seems to be a band mantra, and as the second cut after “Undertaker,” it’s a faster push to set up the Witchcrafty turn to doom of the shorter “333″ (alternately listed as “III” and “Three”), which leaves a mark lyrically and in the crashing lurch that gives way to a satisfying but not grandiose build before a deft slowdown returns to the chorus.
On the European edition, issued by Smokedd Productions with a different cover, “333″ and “Ride the Wilderness” appear to be switched, but the Caligari version serves the overall flow well, the four songs moving smoothly between each other, getting progressively more doomed until “Demon Head” finishes with nod enough to tie everything else together, a bluesy lead in the first half perhaps foreshadowing developing guitar antics that will show up in increased volume next time out. They’ve got more than an ample amount of groove to justify the physical release — the j-card liner folds out to eight panels with art and recording info on one side and lyrics on the other — and as Demo 2014 fades out from its noisy ending, the tape bodes well both for what Demon Head might do and how they might do it. In terms of their overall approach, there’s room to grow into a more individualized take, but as noted, they’ve got the swing down, and that’s already more than an awful lot of bands.
When drummer Matt Couto handed me what I was told was the last remaining copy of Keefshovel‘s demo tape from Nomadic Behavior Records the other night, Ichabod frontman John Fadden, who was standing nearby, succinctly (and jokingly) asked, ” A demo tape? What the fuck is this? 1983?” That’s pretty much the root critique of the “tape revival” as a whole. Unlike vinyl, which enjoyed some level of reverence even as CDs came up in the ’80s and ’90s and digital media took hold in the late ’90s and 2000s, tapes were left to the stuff of homegrown noisemakers. Their central usefulness — that is, the ability to be recorded on and recorded over — was undone by CD-Rs and file trading. Romanticism for analog warmth and nostalgia aside, there’s little a tape can offer beyond physical presence that I can’t get from a zip file. It seems a reasonable argument to make that tapes went further away than vinyl did because other formats offered the same appeal in a better form. Vinyl broke songs into sides and sounded better. CDs were later made recordable, and digital files were more convenient. You might as well put out an 8-track. It’s an understandable position.
Yet, in revisiting Keefshovel‘s three-song Demo ’13 (first reviewed here), the cassette does sound different, rougher, meaner than the digital version. Part of that is undoubtedly due to the stereo to which my tape deck is hooked up — call it a mid-fi — but whatever it is, the New Bedford sludgers’ rawness makes yet another case for the validity of tapes as a format. They’re cheap and they sound harsh. What part of that doesn’t work? The label on Keefshovel‘s tape is clearly a sticker, and mine has bends in it. The “demo tape” is a classic medium, and in a time when so much of the focus of aesthetic is on celebrating the past while updating its influence into a modern sphere — so many of the criticisms of tapes could also be made about vinyl as well, and that’s before you even get to bands recording analog, vintage sound and style, private presses, etc. – I guess I just don’t see how tapes are any different. They don’t offer vinyl’s clarity. Big deal. Listening to Keefshovel‘s mp3s again, I prefer the nastiness of “Christmas in Brockton” with the tape’s compression. It’s royal viciousness either way, and only gets more so when the vocals kick in on “A Seed in the Rough,” but as far as I’m concerned, the more format the merrier. At least they got to put it out.
I’ve gone through the tracks before — link above — so I’ll spare you that, but with the black and white art, one-sided J-card and already-gone availability, Keefshovel‘s Demo ’13taps into a valid and elsewhere-honored tradition that shows itself as vital simply through the reaction its existence can provoke on both ends. Put into two sides, “Christmas in Brockton” and “A Seed in the Rough” face off well with the 10-minute “Germ,” and while I don’t know what the future holds for the band, they were able to situate these three songs in an established modus that, while the continued subject of discussion in itself, has obviously stood the test of time. I’m happy to have gotten a copy.
Some part of me feels like I just need to finally have it out with these songs. Late last fall, when Tucson, Arizona’s Young Hunter issuedthe three tracks “Welcome to Nothing,” “Trail of Tears” and “Dreamer” online as the Embers at the Foot of Dark MountainEP, there was no doubt in my mind that it was one of 2013′s best short releases. The 18-minute collection has become a staple in the months since its release, perfect for killing late night silences, and in Ohioan‘s Tetralogía Lavaplatos, it has a match. The two recordings share personnel, a spirit born of the land from whence they come and some lyrical themes — albeit manifested differently in texture — so it’s only fitting they’d wind up together, Ohioan‘s four songs, “Madrugada Sonora,” “Fat Children (with Privilege),” “Herida de Llorona” and “Dogshit in Plastic Bags” showcasing American drone-folk of varied intent and poetic critique to complement Young Hunter‘s emotionally-resonant spiritual weight.
The tape arrives in a hand-made package, the cover on front, a quote from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road on back that reads, “People were always getting ready for tomorrow. I didn’t believe in that. Tomorrow wasn’t getting ready for them. It didn’t even know they were there.” A piece of black tape seals the cardboard, which unfolds to various stamped symbols and the tape itself, black with gold paint, accompanied by a download card and folded sheet with lyrics for Young Hunter‘s songs and the two of Ohioan‘s that have them. The sides on the outside have “YH & OH” stamped on them, and it’s a fitting answer to Young Hunter‘s 2012 CD outing, Stone Tools, which showed similar depth in presentation. For a format as maligned as tapes often are, this split (limited to 200 copies) is one more argument for the validity of them as an outlet for creativity. Still, once one puts the thing on and presses play, there’s very little else that matters.
Droning at the start, “Welcome to Nothing” bursts Embers at the Foot of Dark Mountain to life with terrifying lucidity. Young Hunter frontman Benjamin Blake intones at the start, “Abandon those around you/Do not be afraid…” beginning a verse that plays out a subtle build over the song’s first minute-plus before the drums and full-breadth guitars kick in. Even on tape, the sound is huge, the pulse vital, the mood darkened by the continued drone that becomes the out-front riff of the verse. A chaos swirl is given push by pounding drums — both Adan Martinez-Kee and Matthew Baquet are credited on the three tracks, I don’t know who plays where — and “Welcome to Nothing” is at a running pace the tension and drama of which is contrasted by the subdued delivery of the vocals. Crashing drums and a lead line from the guitar provide a sort of instrumental chorus while the hook resides in the refrain of the verse, the line “Welcome back to the void,” serving as an anchor up to the cacophony that rounds the track out and cuts echoing into the beginning of “Trail of Tears,” a single, spacious guitar introducing the line that will be the song’s central figure as a series of drum hits slam home punctuation.
I do not mind saying that there are several “holy shit” chill-up-the-spine moments on the Young Hunter side of the tape, and the unfolding of “Trail of Tears” is one of them. The band reels back and then lets loose a staggering nighttime landscape, guitars doing coyote howls to set up the first verse, Julia DeConcini joining Blake atop the complex wash from guitarist Mike Barnett, guitarist/keyboardist Samuel Christopher (who, like DeConcini, also appears with Ohioan) and bassist Michael Huerta, all of them and the drums coming together to create this rumbling, presence that both consumes and grooves, “hey-heys” and “ooh-oohs” showing up for an understated chorus before the keys and guitars duke it out in multilayered solos. The stomp from the beginning of the track reemerges in the second half as the foundation for a build the culmination of which is the tape’s most singularly devastating moment of tonal largesse and impact – Neurosis worthy — the drums pulling back to half-time at just the right moment and immediately afterwards starting in on the beat that is the foundation for “Dreamer,” the shortest of Young Hunter‘s three inclusions on the split.
By this time, Young Hunter have crafted a dense atmosphere, dark but not cultish or silly and earning its heaviness through control and presence. “Dreamer” essentially breaks into three parts. Guitars match the drum beat step for step and develop from there in a tense push that opens wide for an airy verse before trading back. The major change comes with the line “See the bones left where the spirit wakes up,” which marks the beginning of a build that will lead to the split’s most driving payoff, Blake coming to the fore over the maddening drive to ask, “When you gonna wake up?/Are you gonna wake up when you die?” ending the apex in screams not black metal-influenced like some of those on StoneTools, but rawer, more primal. And just to show that even as they’ve gone so far out, Young Hunter aren’t so out of control as to snap back with a hit of the snare, return to the original guitar rhythm/drum beat and cap “Dreamer” with a bookend to underscore the accomplishment of its songwriting. The several minutes of silence that follow offer well-appreciated opportunity for recovery.
Ohioan‘s take comes from another angle. Both “Madrugada Sonora” and “Herida de Llorona” are instrumental, the first launching the dark-folk/Americana outfit’s side with a bed of drone. More even than Young Hunter, whose songs prove distinct almost in spite of themselves, Ohioan‘s material gives the impression of being meant to be experienced as a whole. Extended waves of guitar notes make for a minimalist beginning, layers weaving in throughout “Madrugada Sonora” in a subtle and cautious build that comprises the first five minutes of Tetralogía Lavaplatos — something I’ll readily admit I only know because of the digital version of the EP. On the tape, it blends together seamlessly, and even when more distinct feedback arrives, it’s hard to know exactly where “Fat Children (with Privilege)” starts, though there’s little obscurity once the vocals begin. O Ryne Warner (who also appears with Young Hunter and has contributed bass to Ghost to Falco, from Portland, Oregon) is credited with co-engineering and mixing, as well as “other shit” in the studio, and listed first among a host of others as “faculty” — all info online; no personnel info with the tape liner — so I’m relatively comfortable presuming its his voice recounting the tale in the lyrics of “Fat Children (with Privilege),” but don’t quote me.
He’s joined throughout Ohioan‘s four songs by the aforementioned Christopher and DeConcini, as well as Connor Gallaher, Andrew Collberg, Jeff Lownsbury, Jeff Grubic, Sasha, Geoff Saba, Ryen Egglestein, Jim Colby, Isadora Moreno-Frisby, Alexandra Cer and Benjamin Ford-Sala (who also did the art for foldout), though who’s doing what is a mystery and to delve into speculation seems like overkill. The lyrics of “Fat Children (with Privilege)” are less about the titular youths themselves than the cultural excesses of wealth and hubris they’re meant to represent. It’s Howl meets service-industry blues:
“I cleansed every dish That the rich tooth missed I fed their fat children With privilege On skin On organs And flesh With the skin Of my friends,”
And isn’t long in going on to talk about a “life, ever spent, paying rent” — something Young Hunter touched on as well in “Dreamer” with “Another life spent chasing paychecks” — the disillusion with adult consumerist life indicative both of creative restlessness and the core of resentment that bleeds through the remainder of the track. Where Young Hunter crashed and slammed, Ohioan seethe, though in Angels of Light-esque form, there’s a swell of volume and lurching heft as well near the end of the track, topped by strings (real or inorganic) and multiple vocals as it is. The song breaks back down to its root frustration and silence precedes the instrumental “Herida de Llorona,” a twanging, guitar of country’ed sweetness offering some contrast to the gnashing teeth in the prior cut’s finish.
That atmosphere of sentiment for the impossible — something other countries rightly shake their heads at but is nonetheless a core element of American culture — continues into “Dogshit in Plastic Bags,” though neither the title of the song nor its lyrics would draw one to that notion. If it was Ohioan‘s intent to toy with contrast, they did a more than able job of it, the words barely spoken in sweet, patient melody as the lines, “Our legacy will be dicks drawn on bathroom walls, empty windows and dogshit in plastic bags outside the mall” provide the capstone for what would otherwise superficially appear as a dreamy, wistful country exploration, complete with pedal steel and slow, soft drumming. They do not linger after those lines are delivered with cadence that seems to playfully distract from the message itself, and the split concludes in a fashion rather unassuming considering the scope of what’s played out over the course of the prior 40-or-so minutes.
Last I heard, Blake had moved to Portland, Oregon, so if there’s a future for Young Hunter or what that might look like, I don’t know. Embers at the Foot of Dark Mountain remains a substantial contribution either way. Ohioan, nebulous as they are, have several other releases to dig into available via their Bandcamp — 2011′s Balls Deep in Babylon catches the eye — in some alliance with Infinite Front, which seems to be an artist collective as much as a record label. Fair enough. What remains true for both acts is the essential nature of the work they’ve given here. I’m not sure if a tape does it justice. I’m not sure what format would — some form of audio tattoo? But a tape makes sense coming from two groups who’ve obviously stood under a huge desert sky and realized how little it matters one way or another, so a tape it is. Recommended.
One rarely expects in putting on a song called “An Eighth of Meth Scabs” that it’s going to be the most accessible fare on the release, but with the Fistula and Radiation Sickness split tape on Die Song, that’s how it works out. The two Midwestern outfits — Fistula with their roots in Cleveland, Ohio, Radiation Sickness in Indianapolis — each unleash an overwhelming barrage of sonic filth on their appointed side, and while Radiation Sickness are more in the vein of Repulsion-style grind and thrash, they find common ground with Fistula‘s we-broke-into-your-house-and-ate-all-your-pills-yes-even-the-multivitamins sludge in punk-bred malevolent fuckall, both acts meter out punishment with apparent glee. If such a thing is possible, they do sound like they’re having fun making all this noise.
Though they formed in the late ’80s, Radiation Sickness had broken up and gotten back together circa 2010 before releasing their first full-length in 2012, and while Fistula have seen a number of lineup changes through their tenure — like, a lot — serving as a kind of hub around which Ohio’s sludge has addled its collective brain, and released splits over the last couple years with Monkeypriest and Necrocannibalistic Vomitorium, their material here stands itself out. Recorded in 2012 with the personnel Scott “Wizard” Stearns on guitar/drums, Corey Bing on drums/guitar/bass/vocals, Aaron Brittain on vocals/samples, Dan Harrington on vocals and Mike Burns on bass, Fistula‘s three songs — the aforementioned “An Eighth of Meth Scabs,” plus “The Time We Bought Dope from the Cops” and “Dark Side of the Rusty Spoon” — only further indicate how much the band’s extremity seems to be waiting for the rest of the world to catch up. When and if it ever does, Fistula have a mountain of a discography waiting of limited EPs and splits, and their continually unhinged, violent approach has only proven more lethal with time.
In addition to the tape, of which 100 were pressed, the split is also coming soon on 12″ vinyl in an edition of 300 copies from Ivory Antler. It’s my first exposure to Radiation Sickness, who squeeze nine shorter tracks where their compatriots found room for three, though on the tape, it all melds together as something of a wash of abrasion and fast drums. But for “Reflections of a Psychotic Past,” which was helmed by Bob Fouts (formerly of Apostle of Solitude), their material was recorded by Carl Byers and comes through fittingly raw, songs like “The Death We Choose” and “Tripping in the Seas of Sadness” pummeling with little by way of compassion or regard for decency. Instrumentally there are some leanings toward crossover hardcore punk, but the vocals of Doug Palmer tend more toward the brutal and push Radiation Sickness in an extreme direction, which no one on board seems to want to argue with. I wouldn’t, anyway.
If you’re looking for something progressive or melodic, or something from which you might glean a reason to keep trying to make your way through the day, search elsewhere. Neither Fistula nor Radiation Sickness are in the business of doling out hope, and the common ground they find across this tape turns out most to be in the vicious misanthropy at play in both their sounds.
Technically speaking, the limited-to-50-tapes Demo isn’t Green Dragon‘s first outing, though it is the North Jersey trio’s first on their own, their debut having been on a 2013 split tape with Purple Knights (review here). The three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Zack Kurland, bassist Jennifer Klein and drummer Nathan Wilson released a video for an earlier recording of “Downflame,” which opens this cassette, late in 2012, but in the time since, they seem to have dropped the “The” from the front of their name and come further into their sound. Demo is exactly that: a rudimentary showing of what Green Dragon have to offer sonically, and its four songs — the aforementioned “Downflame,” as well as “Psychonaut,” “Earth Children” and “Book of Shadows” — strike with the urgency and exploratory feel of a band’s earliest going. So if it isn’t precisely their first release, it’s not far off.
Kurland, who was also in Purple Knights and Sweet Diesel , leads the trio’s charge in gritty riffs and blown out vocals. The tape repeats all four tracks on both sides, and altogether each side is just over 14 minutes long, so any way you go, it’s a quick look at Green Dragon‘s approach, which nestles itself somewhere between garage shuffle and doomly grooving. Klein and Wilson add a fervent swing to “Psychonaut,” pushing the song’s Motörhead-style riff into more swaggering territory as Kurland drawls out intonations that would be nearly indecipherable were it not for the included lyric sheets in both the cassette and CD versions of the release. They never get into the same kind of malevolent psycho-delic melodicism as Uncle Acid, but some of the sway in “Earth Children” and the guitar in “Book of Shadows” hint in that direction if presenting a ’90s alt-rock crunch, while “Downflame” shows more of a classic metal root, hitting its stride in Iron Maiden-style hits and gallop in its second half.
A steady underpinning of Sabbath influence serves as a uniting factor and whole the key is remembering that it’s a demo release, Green Dragon show off some sonic fluidity between the tracks as the feedback that ends “Psychonaut” fades out an into that which starts the rolling bass groove of “Earth Children.” It might be me reading into it, but the second two cuts feel more complex than “Downflame” and “Psychonaut,” with “Earth Children” pushing more into psych ground and hitting a fuller stride in the bridge after its second chorus, leading to Kurland ‘s repeating the line, “Earth children are free,” and “Book of Shadows” sounding altogether more patient and assured in its pacing. If those are earlier or later in terms of the songwriting, I don’t know, but listening to the demo front to back — and then flipping over to side two and doing so again — it’s easy to read a narrative of progression into the material. At that point, whether or not it’s there is a secondary consideration (though still relevant of course). You can hear it.
What that might mean for Green Dragon‘s progression remains to be seen, but the balance of elements they devise on Demointrigues as a solid demo should, and the gnarl in Kurland‘s guitar and Klein ‘s bass feels particularly suited to the compression of a tape, though I’ll say as well that both the CD and digital versions work with a little more frequency room to space out. Think of it as a choose-your-own-adventure release. “You’ve just encountered a Green Dragon…”
Exploratory heavy rockers Space Mushroom Fuzz may have decided to call their second tape boxed set Back from the Past, but it’s actually comprised of some of their most recent material. The prolific Boston space/jam/heavy rockers led by Adam Abrams (also Blue Aside) self-released four full-lengths last year between April and December, and all four — Man in the Shadow (April), A Possible Paradox (August), Stealing Some Time (November) and Burning the Almanac (December) — are gathered here, pressed DIY in an edition of only 20 copies (I got number 4, as I hope everyone does who winds up with one) and sold on the cheap for $8 through Space Mushroom Fuzz‘s Bandcamp. At two bucks an album, it seems fair to call Back from the Pasta bargain even before one actually cracks it open and listens to the music, which upon play shows development over the course of the year and the band from the jammy sensibilities of their older material to a kind of garage space rock, Abrams a steady presence on guitar and vocals, as well as periodically working on drums and bass despite being joined in those roles by Clay Neely (Black Pyramid) and John Belcastro on drums, Scott Levine on bass for Burning the Almanac, and for a couple songs, Steve Melanson on saxophone.
More than anything, the mission of Space Mushroom Fuzz seems to be to weird out and have a good time. I can dig that. A studio project, that they’d have a slew of releases isn’t necessarily much of a surprise, and that there’s a glut of material doesn’t seem to take away from any kind of completeness in the songs — that is, sometimes when I band is geared toward putting out a lot of stuff, things can get rushed so they can move onto the next project. Abrams as the driving force of Space Mushroom Fuzz allows songs to develop to a natural point across these four albums, so that the layers of effects in “Gallopie” and “Wreckage” from Stealing Some Timeare as much a part of the atmosphere as the root riffs and verses (at least verses in the case of the latter, since “Gallopie” is instrumental). In addition, I don’t know if it’s just because there’s so much of it all right next to each other, but it’s easy enough to read a sonic clarity coming into focus from one side of the tape to the next. The albums are positioned such that side one of tape one is the oldest album, Man in the Shadow — still less than a year old — and it runs through so that side two of tape two is the newest, Burning the Almanac. Finding a narrative arc there isn’t hard, and by the time Burning the Almanac comes around andLevine has joined his bass with Abrams‘ guitar and Belcastro‘s drums, Space Mushroom Fuzz sound that much more like the full band they’ve become.
That seems to be something the band acknowledge themselves on Burning the Almanacopener “The Cosmic Evolution,” though if I’m to be completely honest, I’ll say it’s an evaluation I made after hearing the digital version of that record, because when I flipped the tape over to listen to side two for the first time, my player promptly made a feast of it. Technical difficulties on my part notwithstanding, Space Mushroom Fuzz continue to be somewhat elusive as an act, working around a center of space rock that’s off-center and feeling its way through an ongoing progression even as it results in more and more recorded output, but in cases like Back from the Past, it’s interesting to have them step aside from time to time and take a look at what they’ve done. Their prior tape set, Seeing Double (review here), worked similarly if not as expansively, and the compilation format suits the project. As a lead player and the figure devising these songs and directing their progression, Abrams presents a gleefully strange take on psychedelia, weaving into and through convention en route to something decidedly and purposefully different. One might expect Space Mushroom Fuzz to lead with their newest work and move backwards from there, but listening to it front-to-back, their being counterintuitive seems to be part of the fun.
Space Mushroom Fuzz, Back from the Past (Dec. 2013)
Newcomer Houston trio Funeral Horse only pressed 100 copies of their debut tape, Savage Audio Demon — its title seeking to describe a deceptively wide stylistic range in classic demo fashion — but from what I understand, at the time of this post a few still remain for sale. The three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Paul Bearer, bassist Jayson Adams, and drummer Kevan Harrison (apparently since replaced by Chris Larmour) formed in 2013, and sure enough, Savage Audio Demon has a feeling-it-out kind of vibe across its six songs presented three-each on two sides, but both within the tracks and in the presentation of the cassette, which is professionally dubbed clear red plastic and packed with a six-panel (the inside is blank) glossy J-card containing the art, tracklisting, thanks list and links (not that you can click a piece of paper, but it’s good to know anyway), they make it clear that they have some idea of what they want to do as a band, whether it’s the Om-style drone-infused meditation of opener “The Fedayeen” or the stripped-down punk ragers “Crushed under Shame and Misery” and “Invisible Hand of Revenge.”
The Melvins come up as an influence at several points throughout Savage Audio Demon, most notably on side two’s “Wings Ripped Apart,” but though the recording is raw and the vocals on the punkier songs coming across somewhat dry — obviously not on the megaphoned verses of “Funeral Horse” — what stands out most about Funeral Horse‘s debut is that they seem not only aware of the influences under which they’re working, aural and perhaps chemical, but actively striving to craft something of their own from them. At the start of side two, “Scatter My Ashes along the Mississippi” provides a steady Southern heavy bounce that serves as the bed for the highlight of the tape, gradually fading in over the course of a vaguely cultish first verse before speeding up to a more aggressive second half. A chop in the guitar line toward the end of that song feeds the warts-and-all feel of the recording, but they tie it up nicely with a return to the initial riff, leaving the leadoff cut as the real mystery of the release. Probably it could’ve closed just as easily as it opens (immediate points for starting off with the longest song; always a bold move), but it’s the background drone, the Cisneros-style vocals and the meditative spirit — though actually the breaks in the central progression remind most of Orange Goblin‘s “Cities of Frost” — that ultimately distinguish it from everything else on the tape.
Particularly because it arrives first, it throws the listener off guard when they shoot into the faster, more garage-sounding “Crushed under Shame and Misery,” but it’s easy to figure that was the idea in the first place. And while “The Fedayeen” is somewhat incongruous with the rest of what follows, it serves its purpose as as the opener in establishing an expectation that Funeral Horse can immediately and effectively work against. Call it trickery if you want, it’s hard to argue with the results, and in the end, it’s “The Fedayeen” that makes me the most curious about where Funeral Horse might go stylistically after Savage Audio Demon and in what direction their sound might continue to develop, or if the sides of their personality will cohere into something else entirely. It’s a common-enough experience in listening to bands getting their feet wet, but nonetheless true about what the trio accomplish on their first tape that it’s an enticing prospect to see how the progression might play out across their blend of punk, heavy rock and doomed riffing.
Limited to 100 hand-numbered copies from Caligari Records, the Fuoco Fatuotape compiles two 2012 EPs by the Italian extreme sludge trio of the same name, and the development is palpable from one to the next. The cassette comes professionally printed, with the screen directly on the tape (i.e. no sticker) and a six-panel j-card that only adds to the blackened atmosphere on hand within the music. Fuoco Fatuo — the lineup of guitarist/vocalist Milo Angeloni, bassist Giovanni “Ken” Piazza and drummer Fabrizio Moalli – released their self-titled, four-song EP in April 2012 and followed just months later with 33 Colpi di Schizofrenia Astrale Nell’Abisso Nero, in August. That latter EP is the rawer of the two, and its three songs come, fittingly enough, sandwiched between an intro, “Alpha,” and outro, “Omega.”
They’re also situated first on the Caligari tape, which basks in its filth without exactly making a show of it. The audio is compressed and dirty sounding even digitally, so on the cassette it self is all the more vicious. If I’d been forced to guess, I would have thought that the later songs on the tape were the newer material from the band, since Angeloni has a few cleaner-sung parts and there’s generally a more diverse approach musically, but it seems that Fuoco Fatuo‘s progression is more of a deconstruction at this initial stage and they’re endeavoring to get even more extreme stylistically. It works for them. A blackened take still comes through with sludge viscosity and the screams sound all the more tortured for the morass out of which they rise on “L’Abisso,” which adds a creepier vibe thanks to guest keys, credited to Adamennon.
But though they crossed the threshold that held the warning, “Abandon melody all who enter here,” there’s still character to their charred assault, and Fuoco Fatuo‘s two EPs show a distinct process solidifying any way you want to look at them. The viciousness and rawness of 33 Colpiand the sludgier push of Fuoco Fatuoplay well off each other, and in the end it’s almost like the three-piece were putting out a split tape with themselves. That it was mere months between the two releases I can only chalk up to a genuine decision on the part of the band to become even more fucked sounding. The tape isn’t going to be for everyone — it’s not subtle and it already hates you — but if you’ve got a taste for absolutes and like your lo-fi offset by a bit of tonal weight, Fuoco Fatuo offer pummel and slice in like measure across these two releases compiled as one.
Not to be confused with British pop-hardcore act We are the Ocean, the Massachusetts-based instrumental four-piece We are Oceans make their debut with the lush post-rock of their self-titled cassette. Released by Staring at the Ceiling and comprised of two tracks on each side — “Roots Grow Down” and “Step” on side one, “Mmmyellow” and “Leaves Like Stained Glass” on side two — the tape more or less represents the beginnings of the band. A demo, in other words, but a well-put-together one, if that. The recording is natural and exploratory feeling, particularly on some of the quicker, jazzier stretches of “Step,” and the presentation of the artwork on the j-card, the tape itself and the extra artwork card included — a contrasting color scheme, the back reads, “Breath Like Woodsmoke” — and for a first studio adventure from a younger group, the material sounds well balanced, immersive front to back and rife with movement throughout.
We are Oceans – the foursome of guitarists Justin Richner and Derek Gilbert, bassist Nick Pagan and drummer Bryan Counter — had released We are Oceanswithin a week of putting it to tape at The Piano Mill with Jared Mann over the course of July 18 and 19, 2012, and some of the parts that come together to make up the four extended cuts show similar anxiousness. “Roots Grow Down” might be their most psychedelic and patient soundscape here, and though “Mmmyellow” is clearly going for a different vibe and particularly in Pagan‘s tone provides a listen no less satisfying, the feeling persists that as they continue to grow as a band, what sounds jagged now in the side two opener will smooth out. That’s not to say quiet down. With a 10-minute sprawl and break to silence halfway through to start the build from scratch, We are Oceans would have plenty of time for raucousness either way. The impression that “Mmmyellow” leaves is that over time, how they get from point A to point B sonically may well become more fluid.
That feeling stays consistent in “Leaves Like Stained Glass,” which hypnotizes on a steady melodic flow initially only to jump back and forth between louder and quieter parts over its 12 minutes. The closer bodes exceptionally well for future growth for its use of repetition and if We are Oceans‘ strength is to be in longer-form songwriting, then so be it. Ebbs and flows satisfy as the song marches its way toward its and the tape’s end, and they cap with slow-fading feedback that recalls some of the dreamy lushness of “Roots Grow Down,” giving a bit of symmetry before the flip back to side one. However they might evolve in terms of their creative processes, We are Oceanshas enough substance as it is to evoke a range of moods, and as their first outing, establishes a worthy pursuit.
They’re a new band with some classic influences, and on their debut demo tape, Thirst for Misery, Lansing, Michigan, five-piece The Swill blend heavy ’70s rock, garage thrash and early metal into a stew that’s sonically their own and almost surprisingly vital. The five-songs on Thirst for Misery– a play on Black Flag/Saint Vitus‘ “Thirsty and Miserable” — were recorded and mixed by Kevin Kitchell and Matt Preston, and the band boasts within its ranks vocalist Matt “War” Watrous (Wastelander), bassist Rob Hultz (ex-Solace and currently in Trouble), guitarist “Postman Dan” McCormick (ex-The Fallopian Dudes and one of the best people you could ever hope to meet), Preston (Borrowed Time) also on guitar/keys, and drummer Rael Andrews (Bert). With everyone having been involved in an assortment of other bands over the years and being kind of a mash of different elements, The Swill is probably as self-effacing a moniker as one could ask.
Hultz is based in Chicago, so Derek Kasperlik (Mountain Goat) plays live. Thirst for Misery is pro-pressed and hand-numbered to 50 copies (I got number five) with a four-panel J-card and Brad Moore artwork. For their first release, The Swill probably could’ve just thrown together a dubbed demo in a line-drawn cover, but take it as a sign of the players’ experience they didn’t. Likewise, the songs themselves give off a similar mature feel. It’s a raw recording, but opener “You are Alone,” which shared side 1 with “Demons and Rust,” has a classic heavy rock stomp to its verse before taking off on a NWOBHM gallop in the second verse, Watrous‘ vocals at the fore until the guitars take hold for a quick, metallic solo. They nestle into a swaying groove with Preston adding some keys, though it could be Andrews as he’s credited with them as well, but they draw back to the central and more upbeat progression for a last run through the chorus before a sample from the 1982 documentary Another State of Mind.
Listening digitally, you know that’s at the end of “You are Alone” and not the beginning of “Demons and Rust,” but on the tape it’s harder to tell where one ends and the other begins. Once “Demons and Rust” gets going though, it’s slower, groovier, a fatter riff at its core with plenty of leads around it, almost a waltz if it isn’t one, and Watrous is more restrained vocally. The whole first part of the track is a build, and the second half pays it off, so side 1 gets a suitable finale, but when you turn the tape over, “Deeper Dungeons” is off in a rush of sleazy metal, a winding guitar line given further intensity by blastbeats and over-the-top metal vocalizing that rounds out with a fervent Tom G. Warrior grunt just before the guitar solo kicks in. “Deeper Dungeons” goes more or less apeshit and the delay-soaked interlude “Analysis Paralysis” offers a momentary breather before closer “The Void and the Vision” takes hold to finish out Thirst for Miseryon The Swill‘s most realized note yet. The band moves fluidly through tempo shifts and hit into the tape’s catchiest chorus, the winding lead guitar line being no less of a hook. They go big, get loud and end off in a suitable burst of energy, dropping to silence immediately after the last hit.
With that kind of precision and a more swaggering heavy rock influence working in tandem, I’ll be interested to hear how The Swill grow into their sound, but for now, the demo’s worth a listen either way and on tape, it sounds like something you’d be happy you traded for when it showed up in the mail. If pay-what-you-will downloads are more your thing, they’ve got that going too at their Bandcamp.
I’m not going to lie. Shortly after receiving Qosmic Qey‘s Doorwaytape, I set about trying to synch up its two-song (one per side), hour-long drone sprawl with various episodes of Carl Sagan‘s Cosmos. It didn’t really work, but was kind of a fun endeavor all the same, and that I’d even try should probably give you some idea of where the one-man project from Ice Dragon vocalist Ron Rochondo fits sonically. There are a couple samples — I think more in “Part II” than “Part I,” both songs clocking in at precisely 31:31 — but the crux is synth experimentation, textures and drones weaving in and out of prominence, some pleasant, some abrasive, all expansive in one way or another. I know the noise scene — that’s actual noise, not noise rock — has been into tapes for some time even before the current and alleged revival of the medium — but that’s not really what Qosmic Qey sounds like. The two pieces are more like isolated tracks off a space rock record, and when they pierce, they do so in the context of other parts that are soothing and hypnotic.
The tape itself is purple, the inset is a hand-painted watercolor, the case is neon yellow, and the audio is no less colorful. Things get particularly calm a little before halfway through “Part I,” but a headphone listen reveals patterns shifting and sounds jumping from one channel to the other, notes arriving in a deceptively fast swirl and moving fluidly around and through each other. When it comes to drones and long-form ambience, something I always enjoy is the impression that every wave of sound is audible, that you can actually hear those waves. Rationally, it seems more likely that’s imagination, but with the twists in the audio that arise as “Part I” makes its way from layered drones into a hiss-heavy minimalist key line and, eventually, to a programmed beat that’s gone almost as soon as it appears — could this be walking through different doors and finding what’s there? — the feeling of undulating sound remains. “Part II” carries the theme of opening with a space-themed sample and moving into drones, but as soon as it kicks in is darker-toned and more foreboding.
Since side one and side two are both over half an hour long, chances are that if you’re listening to Doorway, you’re going to get lost in it at some point. “Part II” doesn’t have that same kind of snap-you-back-to-reality to it that the aforementioned beat offered in “Part I,” but distinguishes itself with more of a sense of build, going from low hum to abrasive, distorted noise over the course of 20 minutes and keeping some of the cave echo that will be familiar to those who’ve been aware of Rochondo‘s work in Ice Dragon. If it’s space, “Part II” is deeper, darker space than “Part I,” and by about 22 minutes in, it’s arrived at someplace threatening. It’s more of a surprise, then, that around 23 minutes in, “Part II” comes to a complete, dead stop and begins all over with a quiet, almost mumbling, sample explaining planetary rotation topping wind-style analog synth. There are effects low in the mix on the sample, giving a suitable otherworldly feel (another benefit of headphones), and another stop afterwards marks a break into ringing electronic tones that build, resonate, distort and finally, echo away over the last several minutes, the last minute rising from silence to a machine hum that in turn fades out.
Probably goes without saying that Qosmic Qey isn’t going to be for everyone, but I’ll say it anyway. It’s either going to be a zone-out or a conscious challenge, but either way, Doorway provokes a response, and particularly with such an experimental feel, that’s something of an accomplishment. I can think of way worse ways to lose your head. If you’re an Ice Dragon fan looking for a curio or a drone-head seeking a fix, you don’t really lose out.
If you’ve got the time, The Golden Grass have the vibe. Their 456th Div. tape is available now on In for the Kill Records in a limited edition of 50. I don’t know what of that number are left — the Brooklyn trio were taking Paypal orders on their Thee Facebooks — but considering there weren’t that many to start with, it’s likely there aren’t that many remaining, but even though the audio is fairly rough, 456th Div. offers listeners something different even from the band’s more official debut, the One More Time b/w Tornado7″ single. That release has clean studio versions of two songs, and the A-side appears here as well, but it arrives coupled with two April 2013 demos — one for “Please Man” and one for “One More Time” — and the live track “Stuck on a Mountain” that, to date, I haven’t come across anywhere else. Between that and the Boy Scout-esque patch with which the cassette arrives, it proves a fitting curio both for collectors or someone interested in the development of the band in their early going.
“One More Time” is almost maddeningly catchy. With lead vocals from drummer Adam Kriney (La Otracina) and backing tracks from guitarist Michael Rafalowich (Strange Haze), it’s a smooth summertime roll that comes on friendly and stays crisp front to back. In its finished, studio form, it’s a classic rocker all the way, comfortably paced and worthy of the sing-alongs for which the chorus seems to be asking. The demo version that closes here, as expected, is more bare-bones, without the vocal interplay. Fortunately, throughout all the material but most especially the live track “Stuck on a Mountain,” which was recorded at Brooklyn’s St. Vitus bar on Sept. 6, bassist Joe Noval comes through at the fore, where all too often with tape compression the low end suffers most. Of course a lot depends on your system and equalizer, but he’s there. This being my first exposure to “Stuck on a Mountain” and “Please Man” — both of which may or may not show up on The Golden Grass‘ full-length debut, reportedly tracked last week with Jeff Berner (Naam) — the songs didn’t have the immediate familiarity of “One More Time” (there’s nothing to make you feel like you know a song like listening to it a bunch of times), but were immediately engaging nonetheless and fitting with the positive spirit and classic rock warmth that seems to typify all of The Golden Grass‘ material that I’ve encountered thus far.
I already alluded to it, but the actual sound of 456th Div.is raw. If it’s going to be your first exposure to the band, the 7″ is probably the way to go, but as a further precursor to the LP and a complement to the single, it makes sense. The four-song program repeats on sides one and two of the plain white tape, and at louder volumes, there’s a considerable hiss. This would seem to be less in the interest of the songs themselves, though particularly for the demo cuts and the live track it makes sense in that, “Dude, my buddy just dubbed this for me” kind of way, and if the options are no physical pressing of this material or 456th Div., I’d certainly rather have the than not, hiss or no. As The Golden Grass move quickly into the making of their debut, one might think of 456th Div.in combination with the 7″ as a document of their beginnings, and on that level as well as getting a whatever-the-aural-version-of-a-sneak-peak-is at two yet-unheard songs, I’m glad to have gotten a copy.
The Golden Grass, One More Time b/w Tornado (2013)
What I like most about Mountain God‘s debut demo tape, Experimentation on the Unwilling (released on Archaic Revival Records), is that it gets more and more fucked the further into it you go. Based in Brooklyn, the four-piece band incorporate a dreary kind of psychedelia, and come across partially indebted to Electric Wizard on the nodding “Fields of Life” or side two closer “Maarrat al-Nu’man,” but seem less fixated on the darker aspects of pop, and so are less generally anchored and all the more chaotic for it. The five tracks included on the tape would sound blown-out no matter what media they appeared on, but Mountain God – which features Alkahest members Nikhil Kamineni and Jonathan Powell on bass/vocals/engineering and keys/vocals, respectively, as well as guitarist/vocalist Jared Fishman and drummer Ian Murray — make their atmospheric intentions clear on their first outing, and the format on which they’ve chosen to present it plays a role in that as well.
So do the keys, actually. And the multiple vocalists. And the overbearing buzz of the guitar distortion. Really the whole thing is feeding into an overarching sense of mood — foggy, vaguely demented, generally but not necessarily outwardly threatening — but it’s Powell‘s keys that make the most striking impression, and they do so most of all on “Prophet,” which rounds out side one. With just a few single notes that reach up from the chaotic, swirling morass, Powell pushes the song into a different league of individuality and memorability — somebody had The Downward Spiralwhen they were in high school – and elsewhere on Experimentation on the Unwilling, as on the preceding “Fields of Life,” the keys lend a horrific ambience to what would otherwise be almost expected churn. The sheer nastiness that comes across on the opening title cut and spacious chug of “Fallout” would likely be enough to distinguish Mountain God anyway, but the listening experience is that much richer for the creeping melodies that ensue from the keyboard.
Particularly from a demo, I wouldn’t ask much more than that kind of rudimentary show of personality, but Mountain God‘s songs have more to offer than nascent aesthetic and generalized potential. For the consuming tones of “Fallout” alone or the lyrical narrative of the lysergically-riffed “Prophet,” Experimentation on the Unwillinggives more to dig into than it might initially seem, and taken as two whole sides on the tape, it’s immersive and hypnotic in keeping with its atmosphere. I hope these guys have a fog machine. They might need two or three by the time they get around to writing their next batch of material. In the meantime, their debut is available currently in a physical edition of 100 cassettes that seem to just be waiting for vinyl companionship.
Mountain God, Experimentation on the Unwilling (2013)
You can turn on the “noise reduction” if you want when you’re listening to Richmond trio Druglord‘s new Enter Venus tape, but be warned that if you do, there might not be anything left. The cave-echo sludge three-piece will play Stoner Hands of Doom XIII at Strange Matter in their hometown on Thursday, Nov. 7, with fellow Richmonders Gritter, as well as Compel, Clamfight and others, and they bring a presence to the festival like few others. Released in limited edition by STB Records, Enter Venusfollows behind 2011′s Motherfucker Rising(review here) and their 2010 self-titled debut demo (review here), and if I call it their most solidified outing yet, please take that in the appropriate context of viciously misanthropic and lurchingly cavernous sludge. The three-piece band of guitarist/vocalist Tommy Hamilton, bassist Greta Brinkman and drummer Hufknell may be cohesive across the four songs recorded by Windhand‘s Garrett Morris at The Darkroom in Richmond, but their pummel continues molten and unhinged.
Starting with a snare fill from Hufknell, the title-track — third of the four cuts included on Enter Venus and the first on side 2 — is Southern sludge as filtered through a nightmare, but a guitar solo emerges on an almost hopeful note from the morass of distortion and plod. Like everything else in the song’s path, it’s ultimately consumed, but it’s flashes like this that mark out the development in Druglord‘s approach, and the complementing nod is the most hypnotic they’ve concocted to date. Hamilton‘s vocals echo from the depths of the mix, consistent in their approach but not entirely amelodic, and he seems to be setting himself up for more sonic adventurousness their next time out. In his and Brinkman‘s tone, there’s bound to be some similarity to Windhand‘s Soma, the two releases having both been helmed by Morris, but Druglord maintain a more misanthropic resonance from their earlier works, though the lyrics of the songs and the image of Aleister Crowley screenprinted onto the hand-numbered bag in which the cassette arrives do give some impression of vague cultish leanings.
Even so, the crash and drown of opener “Grievous Heaving” — a more than fairly apt description of the song itself — mark out this material as Druglord‘s most encompassing. A sample launches the opener, but the first verse of “Grievous Heaving” is quick to arrive and fittingly malevolent, slow, punishing, and “Feast on the Eye,” which follows as the second half of side 1, is perhaps more atmospheric, but ultimately similarly minded in its dreary course. If one encounters it or any of this material through a player with substantive low end, then a warning is in order. One hardly thinks of tapes as busting woofers or sounding big, but whether it’s Brinkman‘s low end or Hufknell‘s kick, Enter Venusmakes a considerable sonic presence for itself and is all the more threatening at loud volumes, the organ that shows up layered into “Feast on the Eye” giving creepy classicism to what’s already a cinematic-feeling horror show.
As I understand it, the Enter Venustapes are almost gone if they’re not gone already, but even of Druglord don’t have any on hand for SHoD, there will be a vinyl version of Enter Venuscoming early in 2014. Think of the cassette as an early warning alert system ahead of that, and hopefully a harbinger of where Druglord‘s continued progression might be leading them for their next outing.
Druglord, “Feast on the Eye” from Enter Venus (2013)