Posted in Features on July 21st, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
[HOW TO ENTER: I’m very sorry but a winner has been picked and this giveaway has ended. The post will remain live for archival purposes. Much thanks to all who entered for being a part of it.]
Last week, I was fortunate enough to be added to the list of sponsors for American Icon Records‘ upcoming North West Hesh Fest in Portland, Oregon, next month. One of the cool things you can do when you’re sponsoring something like a fest is say, “Hey, how about a ticket giveaway?” and not get laughed at. So here we are.
So, enter by leaving a comment on this post — as per usual for giveaways around here — and if you win, I’ll drop you an email. Obviously, the fest being three days next month in Portland, OR, it doesn’t make much sense for anyone either not in or unable to be in the area when it’s happening to enter. If you want to travel, that rules, but neither I nor the fest can really cover your expenses for that. The giveaway is for the passes only.
That said, good luck to all who enter. Weedeater has had to drop off the bill, but American Icon has something in the works for a replacement, and I wouldn’t put it past them to bring in somebody badass. Whoever it is, you can’t beat the price when the price is free.
Info and ticket links follow:
AMERICAN ICON RECORDS***NORTH WEST HESH FEST—-PENTAGRAM-DEAD MOON-YOB-SWEAT LODGE-SCHOOL OF ROCK-FIREBALLS OF FREEDOM-P.R.O.B.L.E.M.S.
Dante’s 350 West Burnside, Portland, Oregon 97209
Thursday Aug 27 $25 Pre/ $30 Dos PENTAGRAM
Friday Aug 28 – $25 Pre/$30 Dos DEAD MOON-FIREBALLS OF FREEDOM P.R.O.B.L.E.M.S-THE LAST DANCERS-DRC3
Saturday Aug 29-$20 Pre/ $25 Dos YOB-TBA-SWEAT LODGE -DIESTO SCHOOL OF ROCK-DJ NATHAN CARSON
07.15.15 — 10:10PM Pacific — Wed. night — Hotel California (yes, really)
It occurred to me this evening that I’ve had about two and a half hours of “free time” on this trip and I’ve spent it all record shopping. That’s not a complaint, but I’ve had people offer to meet up and stuff and I haven’t quite had the time I anticipated for such things between work obligations and writing at night. Again, I’m not complaining. I’ve worked for a company for less than two months that’s willing to fly my ass quite literally across a continent and trust me to represent them to the best of my admittedly limited ability at a meeting of potential clients and professional cohorts. I’m remarkably fortunate to be here. I’m also very, very tired.
Still, when it came to it, and I had that little bit of time to spare today, I jumped in the first cab that I saw with its light on and told the dude to make for Aquarius Records. It was payday and I had an itch that only another round of record shopping was going to scratch. I probably could have gone back to Amoeba Music and found more stuff in that giant space, but the smaller, curated vibe of Aquarius was just my speed this evening.
I took my time, thumbed through the CD racks of the San Francisco section, the rock/pop, the metal sections both new and used, eyed up some stuff in the boxes under the used section — two albums by Mammoth Volume there, but I have them already — and reminded myself that between yesterday and today, this has kind of become my celebration of returning to the working world, so yeah, I splurged a bit. I picked up a thing or two that on some other days I might have let go, decided to let it ride and be what it is. The fact that it was also payday might have been a factor. That’s a question for hindsight and I don’t have the proper distance to evaluate.
The haul? Here it is, once more alphabetically:
Aarni, Bathos Across Tundras, Old World Wanderer Bedemon, Child of Darkness Carlton Melton, Out to Sea Children of Doom, Ride over the Green Valley Elder, Spires Burn/Release Elder, Lore Evil Acidhead, In the Name of all that is Unholy Holy Serpent, Holy Serpent Pyramido, Sand Pyramido, Saga Slough Feg, Made in Poland The Warlocks, The Warlocks White Hills, So You Are… so You’ll Be
Once again, all CDs. I know it’s not as cool as vinyl, but fuck it. If any of you vinyl hounds want to sell me your CD collection, let me know. I’ll buy that shit. I’ll be the last dude on earth buying CDs for all I care. Whatever. They’re still making them for the most part, so yeah, I’ll still buy them.
The find of the bunch is probably that self-titled EP by The Warlocks, which came out in 2000 on Bomp! Records and was their debut. It was used and cheap, so that was cool. Two of the bunch I already own, but the Across Tundras was also about $5 and the Bedemon is the newer Relapse Records version, so I figured what the hell. True, I was here last year and stopped by the shop when I was out on tour with the Kings Destroy guys — SF resident Jim Pitts included, while I’m thinking of good people I haven’t had the chance to see — but it’s not something I do every day. I pick up things here and there, mostly online at this point, so to actually be in a store and have the chance to browse and enjoy the process, I wanted to do precisely that.
I know Carlton Melton are local to NorCal, so I grabbed that seeing it on the counter by the register, and Evil Acidhead was one of the staff recommendations — if you ever go to Aquarius Records, pay attention; these people know what they’re talking about — and since I knew it’s a reissue of old recordings by John McBain (Monster Magnet, Wellwater Conspiracy) it seemed like one to grab. Both of those Elder discs I have on vinyl, but I wanted the CDs, and while it would make the most sense to go to Armageddon Shop one of the apparently multiple times of a week I drive past Providence on I-95 and pick them up there, I haven’t actually managed to make that happen. Seeing an opportunity, I took it.
Slough Feg‘s 2011 live record, Made in Poland, was used, so that was a no-brainer, and I ran into both Pyramido albums — their first, Sand, used and a buck, their third, 2013’s Saga, new — on opposite sides of the store and picked them up almost independently of each other, hesitating but ultimately nabbing the recently-reviewed self-titled from Holy Serpent because, fuck it, it’s a RidingEasy release and I don’t see that every day in a store. The White Hills was used and I grabbed it thinking of their set at Roadburn this year and how underappreciated they are generally — not that my buying a disc makes up for that, but you know what I mean.
Two purchases I went into completely blind: the Aarni and Children of Doom. Aarni is a one-man Finnish outfit for whom Bathos served as a debut full-length in 2004, and knowing nothing about it, I saw the cover was all mushrooms and that it was on the Firedoom Music label — actually it’s the first release on the label; catalog number FDOOM001 — so I assumed I would be getting something Finnish, strange and doomed, and sure enough that’s how it’s played out so far. French trio Children of Doom‘s self-released 2009 debut EP, Ride over the Green Valley, won me over both for its cover art and for the written-out description of the album, which rightly compared its tones to namesake act Saint Vitus. I hear a bit of Ice Dragon‘s swaggering fuckall in there as well. No complaints. The band’s debut LP, Doom, Be Doomed, ör Fuck Off, came out in 2011, but if Aquarius had it, it wasn’t in my line of sight.
Back to the hotel after to start writing and get my head around the day. I ate the same thing I had for dinner last night — flautas from the taqueria across the street — while checking email to try and keep up on that. As one might expect, it didn’t really work. Still, at least if I have to be behind on absolutely everything, at least I managed to pick up some good records in the process.
I fly out tomorrow night late on a redeye to Boston that gets in Friday morning. The only way to travel. Maybe it’ll also be five hours delayed and turn into a morning flight. Haven’t slept at an airport in a while anyway.
When in Rome, you do as the Romans. When in Cali, you get your ass to Amoeba Music. An Amoeba haul is a special thing. It had been five years — half a decade! — since the last time I set foot in Amoeba‘s San Francisco store, right on Haight Street, more or less the birthplace of American counterculture, or at very least where it moved to from the Midwest because it was okay to be weird there. It is a shop we must remember we are fortunate to still have in existence. Places like Sound Garden in Baltimore, Vintage Vinyl in my beloved Garden State, and the three Amoebas in San Fran, Berkeley and L.A. are treasures. Landmarks. Their preservation may not be government-sanctioned, but they’re no less essential as living monuments of our age.
I’d gotten in after two in the morning. My flight from Boston to SFO was delayed… by five and a half hours. Something about a flat tire on the plane that then wound up requiring an entirely different aircraft altogether. Oh, we sat, and sat. Supposed to be a 5PM flight, took off just after 10:30. What a shitter, but at least it took off at all. I slept about 20 minutes on the plane — remember, with the time zone shift, a 2AM West Coast arrival is still 5AM to my very red East Coast eyes — and then crashed at the hotel, woke up this morning and spent the bulk of they day shaking hands at the convention that brought me out here, trading business cards and the like. All the while, lurking at the back of my mind was Amoeba Music, its call resonating like a dogwhistle nobody else around me could hear. I could’ve cried when I got out of the cab and it was there, just like I remembered.
Seems likely there was more vinyl around than five years ago, though I wouldn’t commit to that 100 percent, not really remembering one way or the other, but in any case, I still found plenty in the CD racks; the notion of traveling with LPs, the general expenditure and desire to actually listen to the music keeping me to the more compressed format, and no regrets. Here’s what I grabbed, alphabetically:
Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere Black Rainbows, Carmina Diablo Electric Wizard, Time to Die Horsehunter, Caged in Flesh Monolord, Vaenir Parliament, Motor Booty Affair Stoneburner, Caged in Flesh SubRosa, More Constant than the Gods Swans, To be Kind Tekhton, Alluvial Wino & Conny Ochs, Latitudes Wovenhand, Refractory Obdurate
Of those, it turns out the Black Rainbows was a double. I suspected as much, but I spotted it at the front of the clearance section and it was a dollar, so I figured even if I had it, another wouldn’t hurt. Getting stuff like the Acid King and Monolord was nigh on mandatory, the former because it’s San Francisco and that album is incredible and the latter because it’s a RidingEasy Records release and while I’m pretty sure that label is headquartered south of here, you don’t find that stuff every day on the Eastern Seaboard.
Conversely, I was looking for a bunch of stuff from Tee Pee — Mirror Queen, The Atomic Bitchwax, Death Alley — that was seemingly nowhere to be found, and I wondered if geographic distance between myself and the NY-based label didn’t have something to do with it. The rule is you take what you can get, and I was happy to do that. The Horsehunter was also absurdly cheap, I’m not really sure why. Between that and the Black Rainbows, it was much easier to justify paying upwards of $14 for new discs and $20 for the Labour of LoveLatitudes session from Wino & Conny Ochs. I was on the phone griping to The Patient Mrs. as I walked around the store that somehow even though compact discs are “out of fashion” prices haven’t come down on them and she reminded me to think of it as a premium for being in a place so awesome. She was, of course, 100 percent right. Issue resolved.
Parliament‘s Motor Booty Affair to feed my continued funk addiction, and Stoneburner mostly because it was there, it’s Neurot and I don’t already have it. The Swans is the three-disc special edition of last year’s To be Kind (review here) that also comes with a live DVD as a bonus. Can’t imagine I’ll ever watch the thing, but it’s nice to have. Speaking of stuff I won’t actually put on, I know for a fact I haven’t listened to the Electric Wizard since I reviewed it (the promo was digital), but I heard something about them having a spat with Spinefarm over money or some such and that the album was subsequently out of print, so I figured better now than five years from now on eBay or Amazon. It will likely stay wrapped, but at least it’ll be in the library.
It’s been six years and I still recall enjoying Tekhton‘s first album, Summon the Core (review here), so to find a copy of the 2009 follow-up to that 2007 debut was cool enough to drive me toward the purchase, and Wovenhand are Wovenhand, which is all the justification that one needs. Speaking of bands who played Roadburn this year, as Wovenhand did, I nabbed 2013’s More Constant than the Gods by SubRosa mostly because I missed them at that festival and they’ve continued to haunt me ever since. I’m not sure if playing the record or having paid for it — like a church bribe — will exorcise that demon, but it seemed worth a shot. I’m sure I’ll let you know how it goes.
Tomorrow is more work stuff, starting bright and early and ending less-bright and late. I may or may not make it to Aquarius Records, as had been my hope, but if this turns out to be all the shopping I get to do on this trip, I can’t really complain. And of course, if you’re in SF, get your ass to Amoeba Music.
Posted in Features on July 13th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
07.13.15 – 3:36PM – Monday afternoon – Boston Logan, Terminal B
I guess I’m way more used to flying out the ass-end of this airport. Terminal B is pretty swanky in comparison to Terminal E, and looks kind of like one of those 1950s in-the-future-everything-will-be-a-lounge-and-all-the-women-will-have-beehive-hairdos-and-we’ll-all-be-as-cool-as-the-jazz-cats-but-not-in-a-threatening-and-still-very-white-kind-of-way propaganda films. Compare that to where the international flights depart from – which cuts out the middle-man by actually just being old and shitty – and the difference is striking. I guess Boston makes its money on domestics. Sounds about right.
This is a work trip. A conference on semiconductors in San Francisco that actually started earlier today and will keep on through Thursday. The magazine I work for and will be lucky enough to represent is a trade journal for the industrial gases industry (you have no idea how much the double “industry” irks me, but that’s what it’s called; “commercial gases” is something else), which is really only tertiary in its involvement with semiconductors and photovoltaics – solar power stuff, to be discussed at a parallel conference I’ll also be hitting, notably for a free breakfast tomorrow – but that’s apparently enough to get my ass on a plane.
For seven hours. Plus. Woof. When I was checking in, they showed me how full the plane was as if to say, “Hey, guess what? In like three hours when you actually get on the plane, we’re gonna kick you in the nards and there’s nothing you can do about it. Wanna pay $100 for a seat upgrade aka a softer-soled shoe?” Money spent. I don’t think I’ll be able to expense that one to the company, but whatever.
My hope is that whatever time I have left following business obligations I’ll be able to spend record shopping. San Francisco, in addition to housing the billionaire slime of the tech industry, has a couple pretty sweet shops – Amoeba Music and Aquarius Records come to mind first. I’ve been fortunate enough to hit both on past trips to the city – this is my third or fourth time there – and will be shooting toward a similar goal over the next couple nights. I looked and Acid King don’t seem to be playing, but if I can find another gig to hit and there’s time and whatnot, I’ll make it happen.
I’ve traveled for work before, but never quite to anything like a corporate conference, unless one counts SXSW, which as far as I was ever concerned was a bunch of shows and marked-up beer spaced out over a few days. I anticipate this will be a different experience. For example, I didn’t pay for the flight or the hotel, or the iced tea and blueberry muffin I bought a little bit ago from the coffee shop in this, the nice part of Boston Logan. These are strange times.
Really that’s true of the last two years for me – minimum – but waiting at Gate 23 for my row to be called, it seems like a really thick line between where I was and where I am. My feelings about that are complex, but I’m hardly in a position to complain.
Posted in Features on July 6th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
If 2015 ended tomorrow, I think you’d still have to say it was a pretty good year for heavy rock. Doom veered into a swath extremes — its own subgenres emerging almost one by one in a growing splinter that nonetheless continues to draw water from its roots — while the neo-stoner ignition of the West Coast continued its boom of new acts proffering classic groove. The East reveled in a progressive vision just waiting to be picked up by others, and in Europe, the ’70s traditionalist movement spread ever wider, essentially defining a modern sound in organic sounding, sometimes-vintage elements. Whether you’re going for crushing, oppressive barbarism or cosmos-bound blissouts, it is, in short, a good time to be alive.
Of course, 2015 doesn’t end tomorrow, and there’s still a whole lot of year to come. About half, as it happens. So, as has been the tradition around here for the last half-decade — and seems to be the tradition in a growing number of outlets; not taking credit or claiming to have invented anything, just noting a proliferation — it’s time to count down the best records of the year so far. There have been more than a handful of gems, and since in December I’m planning on doing a top 30, we’ll mark half the year with a top 15. Seems only fair.
Please note that this isn’t purely a critical evaluation, but a personal list, and that what I’ve put on most is as crucial a factor in my ranking as how important I think a given record is. You know the drill by now. Let’s go:
Kiev three-piece Stoned Jesus have a varied stylistic history, and their third outing, The Harvest was ultimately a success in large part because of its complete refusal to be defined. Atop a foundation of quality songcraft, the trio proffered a sound that was not necessarily experimental in terms of anti-structure noise or effects onslaughts, but bold in each of its forays outward from its heavy rock underpinnings.
It has consistently taken me a while to get a hold on what Freedom Hawk are up to. The steady elements in their sound are held to so firmly that on the first couple listens, it seems to just be more of the same. But the more one digs in, the more there is to be found, and with Into Your Mind, the Virginia Beach trio overcome losing a member to create their most progressive outing to date, flourishes of psychedelia melding easily with their signature style of sunshiny riffing.
Five albums deep, Germany’s My Sleeping Karma are an act unto themselves. Their progress has been natural, fueled by a clear, varied sense of exploratory will, and the results on this year’s Moksha were nothing short of stunning. Branching out their arrangements might not be new to them, but the inclusion of horns, drones, percussion, etc., amid the central guitar, bass, keys and drums lent an almost orchestral feel to the flow between the tracks, and one can only hope they continue on their current path, because it is unquestionably the right one.
So much potential, so much vitality at the heart of this debut from Death Alley. The Amsterdam-based four-piece (interview here) stormed out of the gate with a ripper of a debut, and just when you seemed to have it all figured out, they hit the ignition on a 12-minute full-impulse space rock thrust, a guest vocal appearance from Farida Lemouchi (a former bandmate of Death Alley guitarist Oeds Beydals in The Devil’s Blood) adding both mystique and emotional resonance to what was already a stunning track. With all the riotousness preceding, Black Magick Boogieland readily lived up to its righteous title.
Midwestern-turned-West-Coast heavy psych rockers Mondo Drag may have taken their time in releasing their self-titled sophomore outing, which followed their 2010 debut, New Rituals (review here), and was recorded in 2012, but it’s easy to imagine that’s because they wanted the circumstances to be as special as the album itself, recorded with a fleeting five-piece lineup that included the one-time rhythm section of Radio Moscow who wound up leaving to further their then-nascent project, Blues Pills. Even without that lineup shift as a factor, the late ’60s vibe Mondo Drag brought out across the release proved eminently listenable and has held up on repeat visits.
A gorgeous, shimmering and melodically resonant debut from the Dutch four-piece Cigale, their self-titled gracefully maintained tonal presence and warmth while also enacting a psychedelic sprawl and grooving serenity that acted like the landscape in which the songs took place. It was a rich, bright vibe, and an utter joy to behold, tracks like “Harvest Begun,” “Feel the Heat” and “Eyes Wide Shut” proving as memorable as they were inviting. Having two former members of the much-missed fuzz rock outfit Sungrazer may have initially turned some heads in their direction, but Cigale‘s first album proved they’re an outfit with their own personality, their own development to undertake, and already much to offer.
The awaited return of The Machine brought the band’s fifth album and a further-refined sense of maturity in their processes, as well as intrigue as to where they might be headed, two dual modes of open-ended jamming and more structured songwriting playing off each other in the extended “Chrysalis (J.A.M.)” and “Come to Light” and the more verse/chorus stylizations of “Dry End” and “Off Course.” To be perfectly honest, I doubt The Machine will ultimately pick one side over another, since if Offblast! proved anything it’s that they can easily handle either or both, but as they continue to grow, it’s encouraging to have their style establish itself as so multi-faceted.
First time I pressed play on Gravitron was a real “oh shit!” moment. The last release from NJ stalwarts The Atomic Bitchwax was 2011’s The Local Fuzz (review here), a single-song full-length instrumental riff onslaught that had its charm but was inherently divorced from the appeal of the band’s songwriting. Not only does Gravitron re-factor that in with songs like “Roseland,” “It’s Alright,” “Coming in Hot” and “Ice Age Hey Baby,” among others, but it hits with kick-in-the-ass production force and an all-out heaviness that 2008’s TAB4 showed the three-piece steering directly away from. Just a killer record. Utterly void of pretense. No bullshit. No need to rely on anything more than chemistry, and with the Bitchwax, that’s plenty.
7. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth
Right now, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth are my band to beat for Debut of the Year, and I’m quite frankly not sure how anyone is going to be able to do it, so if list time comes in Dec. and you see Tad Doyle‘s trio marked out as such, know that it’s been that way in my head for some time. The three-piece of Doyle, bassist Peggy “Pegadeth” Tully and drummer Dave French arrived with a roar, and even when their self-titled let up sonically, the atmosphere remained viscerally heavy. Six years having passed since the release of their first demo (review here), I wasn’t sure there was ever going to be an album, but then to have Brothers of the Sonic Cloth show up and enact such thorough demolition only made it more impressive.
It can’t possibly be a surprise to have Luminiferous show up somewhere on this list. The seventh long-player by High on Fire had all the rage and bombast in “Slave the Hive” and “The Black Plot” that have become the band’s hallmarks over their 17 years together, but branched out progressively as well in songs like “The Cave” and “The Falconist,” the latter of which was brazenly catchy and about as emotionally direct as the band has ever gotten, their general modus being — and in that song too, just to a lesser extent — a metaphor-laced lyrical approach. That song was a triumph and so was the album as a whole; the second collaboration with producer Kurt Ballou building on the rampaging victories of 2012’s De Vermis Mysteriis (review here) while also showing growth on the part of one of modern metal’s most pivotal bands.
Hitting more or less concurrent with a vinyl release of their prior album, 2013’s A Time of Hunting (review here), Kings Destroy‘s Kings Destroy is not at all coincidentally titled. Over the course of now three full-lengths, the New York five-piece — about whom I feign no impartiality, let it be noted — have distinguished themselves with a sound neither noise, nor doom, nor heavy rock, but drawing on elements of all three when it suits their purposes with chemistry built from years of being in bands together of various stripes and in various genres. What stands the self-titled out from their past work, in part, is that it is the closest they’ve yet come to capturing their live sound in the studio, and accordingly, it’s a volatile kind of heavy that bends aesthetic to its will rather than capitulating to expectations of any sort. I don’t think they’re done growing by any stretch, but Kings Destroy feels like an arrival front-to-back.
This one was almost a sneak-attack. German heavy psych forerunners Colour Haze released To the Highest Gods We Know, their 11th full-length, in Dec. 2014 on CD (the vinyl was in 2015, which is what we’re counting in this instance), with very, very little fanfare of any sort. There was a track premiere here that came shortly after the album was announced, but I think it was officially out less than a month after its existence was made public, which for a band of Colour Haze‘s stature and influence was surprising. Less devoted to grandeur than 2012’s 2CD She Said (review here), it nonetheless pushed the band’s sound forward and found them experimenting in their studio, particularly on the string-quartet-inclusive finale title-track, which offset jams like “Überall” and the laid back highlight “Call” with a rhythmic oddness that was somehow still Colour Haze‘s own. I couldn’t help but wonder where it was leading, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t masterful in its own right.
Goatsnake didn’t have it easy going into their third album. It had been 15 years since their sophomore outing, Flower of Disease, 11 since their last EP, and five since they first started playing shows again. Expectations? Through the roof. Among heavy rock heads, a new Goatsnake was like seeing the mountaintop. I mean, a big fucking deal and then some. Then the record hits, and there’s just about no way it can live up to the anticipation, but god damn if Goatsnake not only finally put out a third album, but one that was better than I think anyone could’ve hoped for. Hearing Pete Stahl with however many backup singers he had on “Another River to Cross” et. al. was like finding an animal in its native habitat, and between his soul, Greg Anderson‘s riffs, bassist Scott Renner‘s low end rumble and drummer Greg Rogers‘ roll, Black Age Blues won almost immediately and then spent the rest of its 47 minutes throwing itself a victory party. “Elevated Man,” “House of the Moon,” “Jimi’s Gone,” “Grandpa Jones,” almost on a per-track basis, Goatsnake added to the reasons they’ve been so heralded despite a decade-plus’ absence from the studio.
On the level of achievement alone, Elder‘s Lore will be the album of the year for many, and there are times (such as right now) when I listen to it and question whether or not it isn’t also my pick for that honor, but wherever it falls on whatever list, far more important is what the Massachusetts/Rhode Island/New York trio manage to accomplish across their third LP’s formidable five-track/59-minute span, songs like “Compendium” and “Deadweight” bridging a rarely approached gap between heavy and progressive rocks while maintaining a flow consistent with the psychedelic vibing of 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here) but grown outward in another aesthetic direction and no sooner setting foot on the ground than seeming to master it in a flurry of blinding turns, sprawling soundscapes and clarity of mind that found perhaps its greatest expression in the centerpiece title-track, the 15-minute “Lore” itself, which I’ve no doubt will stand among if not atop the best songs of 2015 when the year is over and encapsulates the ambition and the corresponding breadth of Elder‘s songwriting, the trio of guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan, and drummer Matt Couto rising as one of the East Coast’s most pivotal acts, with a sound completely their own.
1. Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere
I use the word “molten” pretty regularly to describe an album or song that seems to just ooze its way out of the speakers or shift seamlessly between its songs, but Acid King set an entirely new standard for the term with Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere. Their first outing for Svart and their first release in a decade, its 55 minutes were a riff-rolling nirvana of lurching fuzz and tonal excellence, the guitar of Lori S. at the fore accompanied by Mark Lamb‘s bass and Joey Osbourne‘s drums, the swing of which propelled a highlight track like “Coming down from Outer Space” right back into it, while elsewhere on the record, “Silent Pictures,” “Red River” and “Infinite Skies” torched stoner conventions into a new space-biker rock, culminating in the heavy psych of “Center of Everywhere,” which seemed to emanate from the place it was describing, at once empty and full. More than just a welcome return after a long dearth of releases, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere found Acid King progressed even beyond where they were with 2005’s III, though more than anything else, what makes it my top pick for the year so far is the fact that I can’t seem to walk away from it for too long before going back, and ultimately, that’s what it all comes down to with his kind of thing. I’ve yet to find a standard to which these songs don’t live up.
A few others worth noting. The Sun Blood Stories album (streamed here) continues to resonate. Also Monolord, Valkyrie, Lamp of the Universe, Garden of Worm, Wo Fat‘s live record, The Midnight Ghost Train‘s Cold was the Ground and Ufomammut‘s Ecate. The Black Rainbows was a joy, as was Spidergawd‘s second LP, and while I still feel like I haven’t given it its due, the Sumac won many over and should get a mention. Steve Von Till‘s solo outing and the latest from Enslaved are worth seeking out as well for anyone who hasn’t heard them yet.
More to Come:
The year’s only half over, which is kind of a scary thought but true nonetheless. Watch out in the coming months for new stuff from Bloodcow, All Them Witches, Clutch, Graveyard, Zun, Sacri Monti (if that one’s not already out), Snail, Uncle Acid, and Kind. The new Kadavar is a sure-fire top tenner, and between that, the potential for a new Neurosis album and stuff like Magnetic Eye Records‘ Electric Ladyland [Redux], there’s no way the book is written on the best of 2015.
So stay tuned.
And if I’ve still got your attention, thanks for reading.
There is not much one might do in doom or metal in general that Lee Dorrian hasn’t done. From getting his start at the beginnings of grindcore with Napalm Death to forming the massively influential Cathedral to fostering and continuing to develop an underground rock aesthetic few can predict or match with Rise Above Records — giving bands like Orange Goblin, Witchcraft, Naevus, Revelation and Electric Wizard a home in their early stages — his work over the better part of the last 30 years has not only resulted in badass records like Cathedral‘s 1991 debut, Forest of Equilibrium, or the 2002 Rampton album from the one-off project Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine with members of SunnO))) and Iron Monkey, but has actively played a role in reshaping what we think of as heavy. An inimitable stage presence, Dorrian put Cathedral to rest in 2013 after the release of The Last Spire (review here), but he continues his forward-thinking work with Rise Above, releasing landmark works from the likes of Ghost and Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats as well as potential doom-shapers like Lucifer.
This week, Cathedral reissues their first demo, 1990’s In Memoriam, complete with bonus live material, and I’m thrilled to be able to have Dorrian provide his answers to The Obelisk Questionnaire to mark the occasion:
The Obelisk Questionnaire: Lee Dorrian
How did you come to do what you do?
Just from being a fan of music since I was a little kid. From a very early age I was fascinated by not only the music, but also the lifestyle and culture surrounding it. In my early teens I started doing a fanzine, this led me to booking shows in local pubs and venues when I was sixteen. This in turn led me to joining my first ever band, which was Napalm Death and it went from there.
Describe your first musical memory.
I have memories of listening to records with my dad when I was about four years old. In particular, I remember him playing Beach Boys over and over but I also remember rocking out in the living room with him to Slade around the same time. Also, one very vivid memory from around this time was continually playing the Small Faces single on Immediate Records called “Itchycoo Park.” For some reason it had a blue ink stain on the black and white labels and I used to watch it going round and round, whilst the sound effects on the track would make me dizzy, haha. It was my favourite single when I was a little kid but the first single I actually bought with my own pocket money was “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas. After that I got into the Bay City Rollers, then became serious about rock ‘n’ roll and was a Teddy Boy at eight years old! I used to hang around with the older Teds and they showed me the ropes, what to wear, how to dance, etc.
Describe your best musical memory to date.
I guess it was hearing a track off the B-side of Scum on the John Peel radio show. He had been my idol (if that’s the right word), since I was 10/11 years old, so hearing him play a record that I was on was just completely surreal. Then I got to know him a bit, which was just amazing. Nothing I did after that really topped it to be honest.
When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?
When Cathedral signed to Columbia Records in the US. As anarchist teenager, I said I would never be in a band that signed to a major label. The opportunity came to us, we didn’t chase it, or even desire it. All I can say is, we had some great times as a result but it also fucked everything up.
Where do you feel artistic progression leads?
Genuine artist progression leads to absolute greatness, though it depends on how you interpret it. I’m sure many artists I’ve admired early on, but not liked them so much as they’ve “progressed,” would view their progression differently than I would. I’m sure the same could be said for many people that have listened to some things I may have been involved with over the years: I might think it’s good, they might think it’s crap.
How do you define success?
Doing something you believe in and getting it right artistically. To me that would be more important than selling millions of records.
What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?
Swans a few weeks ago in London. Having said that, the first time I saw them in ‘86 was one of the best shows I have seen in my life.
Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.
A planet where only cool people lived.
Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?
Posted in Features on June 16th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
So this is part one of the Clamfight recording update — the heavy thrashing Philly four-piece in the studio at Gradwell House with Steve Poponi at the helm as they track their third full-length, yet untitled — but it might be a while before we see part two. As drummer/vocalist/smith of words Andy Martin explains, the process of making this outing is different from either their self-titled 2010 debut (review here) or the subsequent I vs. the Glacier (track-by-track here), which was released on this site’s then-not-at-all-defunct in-house label, The Maple Forum, in that it will have a two-month break in between its start and its completion.
A strange process? Yes. But as Martin — joined in the band by lead guitarist Sean McKee, guitarist Joel Harris and bassist Louis Koble — informs, the album itself is also pretty different from what they’ve done before, so maybe in a way it’s fitting. Perhaps best to let him tell the tale:
DIG IF YOU WILL, A PICTURE:
It’s 2:30 or 2:40 last Sunday, and after setting up since noon, we are finally about to start recording our third full-length record. We’re a little nervous, but we’re excited; we’ve practiced as much our suddenly-super-adult schedules allowed, and the general vibe is, “we are ready.”
I might have the geography of this slightly backwards, but I’m fairly certain Steve Poponi (who did our last two records, and as far as we’re concerned knocked them both of the park) was in the big room doing some last-minute dicking with cables* and we were in the control room discussing what song we were going to start with, when a sweaty, middle-aged guy with the standard issue South Jersey manual labor pompadour appeared in the control room and uttered one of nobody’s favorite phrases in the English language, “Which one of you drives the…”
And just like that, Joel’s car needed a new door, and that “we are so ready for this session” vibe when right out the fucking window.
Sunday ended up being a really long day, and though I managed to finish all my drum tracks, and since that was technically our only concrete goal for this session, you could argue that we ended up ahead of the game, but our shaky-as-a-baby-deer’s-first-steps beginning kind of put a pale over the session. It’s actually why this writeup took me a little longer to get together; I had to ask myself whether I was going to be honest and say, “this was a tough one,” or lie and say, “great times guys! Pay no attention to Joel having to sweep up broken glass and file police reports when he’d rather be recording.”
So in the end, and as you can guess because you’re reading this, I opted for honesty. But here’s me also being honest: the new stuff smokes and it’s made the rough way this session began okay in our books. Though it felt really slow in coming, the change really started Sunday. “Whale Road” which will lead off the next record, was a bear to record, but then “Selkie” went a lot smoother, and “Echoes” and “The History of the Earls of Orkney” were both real close to being first-takers. Our crazy non-Clamfight-related schedules, the accident, all of that stuff was something we got over, but realistically it did make the start of this session a little clumsier than any of us wanted.
Speaking of another unanticipated monkey wrench: the length of these songs. Clamfight III, or whatever we end up calling it (A Vulgar Display of a Tree Service Guy Not Using His Mirrors?), is made up of big, long songs, and though there’s been a seven-minute song or two on each of our prior records, we’d never recorded anything in the 10-or-beyond-minute range, and hence, didn’t quite realize the time commitment that is. If one take of the song lasts 10, or nearly 13 minutes as in the case of “History…,” then the playback takes at least that long. More, if you count the number of times, myself included, that one of us dopes has a fascinating dick joke that can’t wait until the listening is done. If there’s one downside to being in a band with three of your best friends, and making records with a good friend like Poponi, it’s that there is a lot of gum flapping… and when your songs are all 10 minutes, that adds up to a lot of time gone when you’re not recording.
With the drums done and 5AM wake ups for Joel and I looming, we called it a day (the other guys have inside jobs, I’m not sure when they wake up… 10? 11? I picture their morning routines like Eddie Murphy’s in the beginning of Coming to America). We reconvened Monday night and Sean got to work on his rhythm tracks, and in predictable Sean fashion he banged it out at warp speed. The funny thing about Sean’s recording chops versus my own is that since we both do the majority of writing for Clamfight, you might assume that we’d both be similarly hassle free about recording. You would however, be wrong. In fact, if you watched the two of us record, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Sean wrote and practiced these songs for months by his lonesome, and the first time I heard them was the morning of the session.
But I digress. The takeaway is that Sean crushed it on this, and Steve’s ability to get a great tone out of his rig remains intact. We quit around midnight, I believe, and tired from a seemingly endless day we hit home. To be brutally honest, I still didn’t know what we had yet. I was hearing glimmers of the record now, and was liking what I could hear, but I was still too rattled from what I expected to be an easy session turning into a battle to really have an opinion on it. I was edgy but starting to get a sense that maybe this stuff was turning out alright.
Day three, and our final day for this session, began around six the next night, and Louis stomped through his tracks fairly quickly. Not to get a bunch of angry (but probably deserved) comments from my many bass-playing buddies, but I’m not sure I ever appreciated the bass as much as I did listening to Louis lay down his tracks. I gained a newfound appreciation of how much fuller the bass makes things, and how crucial its role as “the sound between sounds” really is. We were pressed for time at this point, so Joel only managed to get tracking done on two of the songs (which after being up since five and still answering phone calls about his car I think gives him MVP status), but we had enough for our other stated goal of the session; rough mixes for which Sean could write solos for and I could write lyrics.
Because here’s the rub, and why this session is a bit different than our prior records: we went into the making of this record knowing there was going to be a two month break in the proceedings. It’s good because as much as we wanted and tried to schedule this record in a big block of time in the manner we did I Versus the Glacier it was impossible. Somewhere in the five years since we recorded our last full-length we got mired into a whole host of outside-of-Clamfight, adult responsibilities, and adding to that mix Steve and the Gradwell House’s ever more packed schedule (he just did Fight Amp’s stellar new record, Constantly Off), it meant that blocking out a week to make this record happen wasn’t going to work. If there’s an upside to us being older and busier, it’s that we’ve all maybe grown a bit more patient, so fighting overall schedules, we managed to figure out a way to make it go, even if that way for us is a little different than what we’re used to.
So here we are, with a record 50 percent of the way done, and a few months off to tighten up solos and lyrics, and then come back in the fall and finish this pig in a weekend. As for how we feel about the material now? We’re happy. Real happy. There was a flood of back and forth, “oh man, did you hear that?” messages in the days following finishing this session. Even in its current state, missing half of Joel’s parts, and all of the solos and vocals, it sounds big. Booming. Dynamic. We’re this-is-the-best-thing-we’ve-ever-done stoked on it. We’re proud of it enough that’s actually put us in a good place about this weirdly tough session, and we’re all dying to come back and finish this thing so we can start letting people hear it.
On June 12, Finnish outfit The Exploding Eyes Orchestra will make their Svart Records debut with I, their aptly-titled first offering. Written as part of a two-album set by guitarist Thomas Corpse and featuring four other members besides himself from Jess and the Ancient Ones, the record and band are an offshoot in the truest sense of the word, but one justified both by the differences in lineup and in sonic personality that are showcased throughout I‘s seven songs and vinyl-ready 41 minutes. Whereas Jess and the Ancient Ones operates with cultish aural intent, having explored psychedelic ritualizing for the last half-decade, The Exploding Eyes Orchestra was birthed as an outlet for the side of Corpse‘s songwriting that specifically didn’t fit that band.
As it turned out, there was plenty of that around. Enough so that along with I, more songs were tracked that will make up II, which is to see release on Svart in 2016. That means that, in a way, we’re only seeing half of a picture with these tracks that will be completed when the second album is issued, but with memorable cuts like “Two-Zero 13,” “The Smoke” and the oddly poppy “My Father the Wolf,” The Exploding Eyes Orchestra have crafted a full-length that stands on its own just as well. It shares some commonalities with Corpse‘s writing for Jess and the Ancient Ones, and having Jess on vocals is bound to draw a few parallels, but even through that, these songs establish an open and varied spirit not at all hindered by the boundaries of aesthetic, embracing sultry blues on “Drawing down the West,” pushing into horror-flick goth-style piano swing on “Black Hound” and unabashedly proffering a love of classic progressive rock on “Crazy Heart,” all while keeping a core of craftsmanship and structure that ties it all together.
Where The Exploding Eyes Orchestra might go on their second outing, I couldn’t say, but the soul and breadth infused into these recordings makes one eager to find out. Jess and the Ancient Ones are getting ready to hit the studio as well, but Corpse took some time out to answer questions about the making of I — and, by extension, II — and you can find the Q&A under a full stream of the album, which it’s my pleasure to bring to you on the player below.
Interview with Thomas Corpse: Easing Burdens
How much material had amassed before you realized The Exploding Eyes Orchestra was a project separate from Jess and the Ancient Ones? What is it about the songs that you thought didn’t fit that concept?
I noticed it while writing them. We were having a creative break with the Ancient Ones, and I had nothing else to do than just play acoustic guitar on my couch. Oh, I also drank like a million liters of coffee, and smoked a thousand smokes. It was really refreshing to jam endlessly, so I just kept writing and writing. In the end, I did not wish to add so many layers on them, so a smaller group was formed to perform them.
What is the timeline on songs coming together? How long has this stuff been around?
They came along pretty fast. Maybe six months from zero to 100, when it comes to writing and arranging the music. We recorded 14 songs in the same sessions… whuh, it was fun! Recordings took place in 2013-2014, so the material has been laying around for a while. The wheels of Sawonia move forth slowly I guess, hahah!
How was it being in the studio for The Exploding Eyes Orchestra as opposed to Jess and the Ancient Ones?
Well there’s a few less musicians playing, so there’s much more space to move around within the songs. Also, in a way these sessions were more “free-spirited.” I think we learned some valuable things, and of course the Ancient Ones will also benefit from this fact. That being said, the Ancient Ones are just about to hit the studio!
What was the time in the studio like? How were the songs put together and how much input did the whole band have in the process?
Long hours, and many late nights. We worked really hard, as we had so little time to record all of those songs. At some point, the mood was really gloomy, as the lack of sleep gets to you… but we pulled through with smiles on our faces.
The band has a major influence what comes to song arrangements, as I always leave room for interpretation. In this way, you get all the levels.
Tell me about splitting up the tracks into two albums. At what point did you know you had enough that you wanted to use that you had to approach it that way?
It was supposed to be a double album, but when listening to it as a whole, it felt too heavy to take in at once. Thus we split the material in two, to ease the listener’s burden, hahah!
Is there something different expressed between I and II, or are they meant as complements for each other, coming from the same sessions?
The II album has more subtle stuff in it, and there is even one song that is sung in Finnish. At the end of the day, the albums feel like Ying and Yang, so I guess you could say that they complement each other. My personal favourites are on the second album, as the songs in question are really personal to me.
Will you continue to write for The Exploding Eyes Orchestra on the side from Jess and the Ancient Ones? Are there other pieces that have yet to be recorded?
I sure will, and there are already seven new songs readied back here at home. Maybe the next studio session will take place during the winter of 2015? But first things first, as the Radio Aquarius will soon start the transmission from the planes of the Ancient Ones. Feed your minds!