Posted in Features on February 1st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
With the announcement that post-Kyuss desert rock outfit Unida would headline this year’s Desertfest in London and Berlin, one of the genre’s most incomplete chapters was reopened. Unida, you see, has been through their fair share of what guitarist Arthur Seay — also of House of Broken Promises — rightly calls “bullshit,” having recorded an album with Rick Rubin only to have it sit shelved and go (officially) unreleased to this day.
Like Sleep, whose contractual immobility also resulted in their dissolution, there was really nowhere for Unida to go. They’d had the Coping with the Urban Coyotefull-length out on Man’s Ruin and a split with Dozer, but what was supposed to begin their ascent was this full-length — varyingly titled For the Working Man or The Great Divide, depending on from whom you download it — and with it sitting in the can,Unida were shot down before they even took flight. The list is long, but it’s up there with stoner rock’s bigger bummers.
It wasn’t long before vocalist John Garcia resurfaced in Hermano with a promising first album in 2002 — his movement from Kyuss to Slo Burn to Unida having led him to that point — and the rest of Unida moved ahead as well. By 2004, Seay and drummer Mike Cancino had aligned with bassist/vocalist Eddie Plascencia in House of Broken Promises (Scott Reeder, who played bass in Unida, went on to produce acts, put out a solo record and join a slew of other bands, among them Goatsnake), though it would be half a decade before their debut LP, Using the Useless, showed up via Small Stone.
With Seay and Cancino in HoBP and Garcia devoting his last several years to revitalizing the Kyuss brand in Garcia Plays Kyuss, Kyuss Lives! and now Vista Chino, it’s been a winding road to get back to the unfinished business of Unida. But though there’s enough backstory to fill a book and then some, mostly it was the future that Seay wanted to talk about in our recent interview. New touring, new albums for both Unida and HoBP, and plans for things to come. Seay also built his own recording studio and works traveling the globe as a guitar tech for commercial metal acts like Slipknot and Limp Bizkit, so there was much to discuss.
Fortunately, Seay‘s a bit of a talker. There was a lot of the interview that was off the record, some talk about the desert scene, etc., but there’s a tremendous amount of information contained in his answers, so even if you’re a relative newcomer to Unida or just heard about them through Desertfest, I hope you’ll agree it’s worth a read.
Please find the complete 3,900-word Q&A with Arthur Seay after the jump, and please enjoy.
Now a trio with bassist Mark Cook on board, Arlington-based heavy fuzz rockers Stone Machine Electric nonetheless recorded their self-titled, self-released debut as the core duo of Mark Kitchens and William “Dub” Irvin. The album (review here) was recorded by Kent Stump of Dallas heavyweights Wo Fat, and shares some of that band’s tonal thickness as a result, but Dub and Kitchens take tracks like “Carve” and “Mushroom Cloud” in a direction more their own, jamming out organic fuzz with psychedelic flourish, sounding raw live and studio lush all at once.
Stone Machine Electric, who are aligned to the fertile Dallas scene that also includes OrthodoxFuzz, Kin of Ettinsand the rip-rocking Mothership as well as the aforementioned Wo Fat, made their debut in 2010 with the live demo Awash in Feedback(review here), on which the audio was rough but still gave some idea of where they were coming from. Emphasis on “some” only because the self-titled feels so much more fleshed out and shows them as having a clear idea of what they want Stone Machine Electric to be as a band and where they want to go with their music. It’s a big jump from one to the other, and as they’ve since undergone the pivotal change of bringing Cook in on bass, there’s potential for another such leap next time around.
Given that, it seemed time to hit up Dub and Kitchens for Six Dumb Questions about the self-titled, recording with Stump, having Darryl Bell from Dub’s prior band play bass on the track “Hypocrite Christ,” their striking album art, and so on. They were much quicker in obliging than I actually was in sending out the questions, and you’ll find the results below. Please enjoy:
1. Tell me about the time between the live demo and recording the full-length. Was there anything specific you learned from the demo that you tried to being to the studio?
Dub: The demo was just a live recording that we were ok with releasing. Something for people to hear until we could get in the studio. We did try to bring that “liveness” of the demo to the studio by playing together as much as possible.
2. How long were you in the studio with Kent from Wo Fat? What was the atmosphere like and how did the recording process go? Did Dub record bass parts first or after the guitar?
Kitchens: We were in the studio with Kent for about two and a half days. The first day and a half was spent recording, and the rest was just getting the mixes done. We’re friends with Kent, so that made it feel like we were just hanging out, but recording at the same time. We recorded the drum and guitar tracks together (other than the additional guitar tracks) to get a more live and rawer sound. “Hypocrite Christ” was the only exception. Daryl played the bass with us on that track.
Dub: Yeah, since Kent is a brother it was real laid back. He already knew what we sounded like, so it was all gravy. Like Kitchens said, all the basic guitar and drum tracks (and bass on “Hypocrite Christ”) were recorded with us in the same room together. After that I laid down the remaining bass tracks. Followed by vocals, then guitar overdubs last.
3. How did you wind up including “Hypocrite Christ” from Dub’s Dead Rustic Dog days, and how was it having Daryl Bell in the studio on bass for that?
Dub: Man, having Daryl in there was great. We don’t get to hang out or jam together much at all anymore, so I’m really glad he was able to do it. Not to mention that no one can play that tune quite like him.
That tune just seems to fit into what we do. It’s almost like it was written for SME before there was SME. Actually, Kitchens was also in the band at the time this song was written, so it seemed almost natural to bring it into SME. We played this tune early on and then dropped it for a while. We’ve been wanting to resurrect it again, and what better way than to put it on the album.
4. How has bringing in Mark Cook on bass changed the band’s sound? Have you started to write new material yet? If so, how much of a role does he play?
Kitchens: Mark is helping fill out our sound. We’ve had people tell us we sound great as a two- piece live, and that we pull it off well. You just can’t beat having that low end though. We are working on new material now, so I’m looking forward to what he’ll bring.
Dub: Cook not only helps fill out our sound but also opens it up. He brings in a whole other dimension. We are just now beginning work on new material, and hearing what Cook has brought to the existing tunes I’m excited to see how the new stuff will turn out.
5. Where did the idea for the collage cover art come from? Is there a message being conveyed there, and if so, what is it?
Kitchens:Terry Horn, who was our bassist for a while, did the artwork. I had given him some ideas that I had, but he came back with the collage. I’d never thought of that, and I loved it. We ended up not have any logo or text on the cover because it didn’t look right, and I like that idea as well. Terry is an exceptional artist.
Dub: Yeah, I dig Terry‘s work.
Terry Horn: It was spontaneous. I just put the CD on and listened to it and started flipping through magazines and sketchbooks. Ultimately, I wanted to do something for the cover that was different than most artwork you see on stoner rock/doom stuff today.
Not to sound too cliché, but sometimes art is just art.
6. Any other plans, gigs or closing words you want to mention?
Kitchens: It would be great if we could do a few weekend tours this year hitting some places around Texas or the adjoining states. I’d love to play one of the festivals that happen here in the states. Hoping in a year or so we are back in the studio with Kent. I’ll end with a big thanks to our friends and fans for digging our stuff!
Dub: I think he just summed it up right there. Don’t just keep your finger on the pulse, become part of the pulse!
Posted in Features on January 15th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Last year was a monster. You might say I’m still catching up on reviews for records that came out in October. Yet here we stand in 2013. It’s a whole new year and that means instead of looking back at some of the best releases, it’s time to look ahead and nerd out at what’s to come. Frankly, either way is a good time, but with some of what’s included on this list, 2013 has the potential to be yet another incredible year for lovers of the heavy.
Across a range of genres and subgenres, there are bands big and small, known and unknown, getting ready to unleash debuts, follow-ups and catalog pieces that by the time December rolls around, will have defined the course of this year. It’s always great to hold an album in your hands, to put it on and listen to it for the first or 19th time, but part of the fun is the excitement beforehand too, and that’s where we’re at now.
Some of these I’ve heard, most I haven’t, and some are only vague announcements, but when I started out putting this list together, my plan was to keep it to 10 and I wound up with twice that many because there was just too much happening to ignore. The list is alphabetical because it doesn’t make any sense to me to rate albums that aren’t out yet, and I hope if you find something you’d like to add, you’ll please feel free to leave a comment below.
Thanks in advance for reading, and enjoy:
Acid King, TBA
We begin with only the basest of speculations. Would you believe me if I told you that 2013 makes it eight years since the heavier-than-your-heavy-pants San Francisco trio Acid King released their last album, III? Of course you wouldn’t believe me. You’d be like, “Dude, no way,” but it’s true. Eight friggin’ years. They’ve hinted all along at new material, toured Europe and played fests in the States like Fall into Darkness, but really, it’s time for something new on record. Even an EP. A single! I’ll take what I can get at this point, so long as it’s Lori S. riffing it.
Chances are, the above isn’t the final art for Argentinian Los Natas-offshoot Ararat‘s forthcoming III, but frontman Sergio Chotsourian has posted a few demos over the last several months and the logo image came from that. Either way, with as far as last year’s II(review here) went in expanding their sound, I can’t wait to hear the final versions of the tracks for the next one. They’re still flying under a lot of people’s radar, it seems, but Ararat are quickly becoming one of South America’s best heavy psych acts. Do yourself a favor and keep an eye out.
Brooklyn trio Bezoar‘s 2012 debut, Wyt Deth, might have been my favorite album that I never reviewed last year, and needless to say, that’s not a mistake I’m going to make twice. The new songs I’ve heard the three-piece play live have ruled and an alliance with engineer Stephen Conover (whose discography includes Rza and Method Man) is intriguing to say the least. I’m sure whatever Bezoar come out with, the performances from bassist/vocalist Sara Villard, guitarist Tyler Villard and drummer Justin Sherrell will be as hard to pin down as the debut was. It’s a record I’m already looking forward to being challenged by.
Blaak Heat Shujaa, The Edge of an Era
Due out April 9, Blaak Heat Shujaa‘s The Edge of an Era will mark the full-length debut for the ambitious trio (now based in L.A.) on Tee Pee Records following on the heels of the impressive The Storm Generation EP (review here). From the Scott Reeder production to the band’s engaging heavy psych/desert rock blend, this one seems bound to win Blaak Heat Shujaa a lot of new friends, and if the advance EP is anything to go by, The Edge of an Eracould prove to be aptly-titled indeed.
Black Pyramid, Adversarial
No release date yet, but so far as I know, Adversarial, which is Massachusetts doom rockers Black Pyramid‘s third album and first to be fronted by guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard, is recorded, mixed and mastered. Song titles include “Swing the Scimitar,” “Onyx and Obsidian,” “Issus,” “Bleed Out” and “Aphelion” (the latter was also released as a limited single in 2012 by Transubstans as a split with Odyssey), and having seen the band live with this lineup, expect no less than a beheading. Also watch for word from the recently announced side-project from Shepard and bassist Dave Gein, The Scimitar.
Black Sabbath, 13
There was a bit of a shitstorm this past weekend when the title of Black Sabbath‘s first Ozzy Osbourne-fronted album since 1978 was revealed in a press release. Nonetheless, 13is set for release in June and will feature Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine on drums in place of Bill Ward, who last year was engaged in a well-publicized contract dispute with the band. Bummer though that is and as crappy and generic a title as 13 makes — especially this year — let’s not forget that Heaven and Hell‘s The Devil You Know also had a crap title and it was awesome. I’m not sure if I’m willing to stake anticipation on the difference between the vocals of Ronnie James Dio circa 2010 and Ozzy Osbourne in 2013, or Rick Rubin‘s production, but hell, is Geezer Butler playing bass on it? Yes? Well, okay then, I’ll listen. The world can do a lot worse than that and another batch of Tony Iommi riffs, whatever else may be in store.
Clutch, Earth Rocker
It’s a ripper. With Earth Rocker, Clutch reunite with Blast Tyrant producer Machine and the results are a record varied enough to keep some of the recent blues elements of the past couple albums (“Gone Cold”) while also showcasing a reinvigorated love of straight-up heavy rock numbers on tracks like “Crucial Velocity,” “Book, Saddle & Go” and “Cyborg Betty.” Longtime Clutch fans can expect a bigger guitar sound from Tim Sult, killer layering and much personality from vocalist Neil Fallon and yet another stellar performance from the best rhythm section in American heavy, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster. No doubt in my mind it’ll prove one of the year’s best when 2013 is done. Once more unto the breach!
Devil to Pay, Fate is Your Muse
Last month, I hosted a Devil to Pay video premiere for the Indianapolis-based rockers’ new track, “This Train Won’t Stop,” from the 7″ single of the same name that precedes the release of their Ripple Music debut full-length (fourth overall), Fate is Your Muse. If the 575-plus Thee Facebook “Likes” are anything to go by, anticipation for the album is pretty high. Reasonably so. When I saw Devil to Pay at last year’s SHoD fest, the new material was killer and the band seemed more confident than ever before. Stoked to hear how that translates to a studio recording and how the band has grown since 2009′s Heavily Ever After.
Egypt, Become the Sun
Technically speaking, Become the Sun is the full-length debut from North Dakota doomers Egypt. The band released their self-titled demo through MeteorCity in 2009 (review here), were broken up at the time, and reassembled with a new guitarist for Become the Sun– which is the only album on this list to have already been reviewed. I don’t know about a physical release date, but it’s available now digitally through iTunes and other outlets, and however you do so, it’s worth tracking down to get the chance to listen to it. Underrated Midwestern riffing, hopefully with a CD/LP issue coming soon.
The Flying Eyes, TBA
Currently holed up in Lord Baltimore Studios with producer Rob Girardi, Baltimore’s The Flying Eyes are reportedly putting the finishing touches on the follow-up to 2011′s immersive Done So Wrong, an album full of young energy and old soul. Along with Blaak Heat Shujaa above, I consider these dudes to be right at the forefront of the next generation of American heavy psych and I’m excited to hear what kind of pastoral blues works its way into their tracks when the album finally gets released. They’re a band you’re probably going to hear a lot about this year, so be forewarned.
Gozu, The Fury of a Patient Man
The melodicism of Boston-based Gozu‘s second Small Stone full-length, The Fury of a Patient Man (I swear I just typed “The Fury of a Patient Mrs.”) is no less striking than its album cover. I’ve had this one for a while, have gotten to know it pretty well and my plan is to review it next week, so keep an eye out for that, but for now, I’ll just say that the sophomore outing is a fitting answer to the potential of Gozu‘s 2010 debut, Locust Season (review here) and marks the beginning of what already looks like another strong year for Small Stone. I never thought I’d be so into a song called “Traci Lords.”
Halfway to Gone, TBA
What I’d really like to see happen is for Halfway to Gone – who are high on my list of New Jersey hometown heroes and who haven’t had a new LP out since their 2004 self-titled — to put out a new record in 2013, for it to lay waste to everyone who hears it, and for the band to finally get the recognition they’ve long since deserved. I’ve been charged up on revisiting their three albums since I saw them at the Brighton Bar this past July and after a long wait, rumors, breakups, makeups, etc., I’ve got my hopes up that this year is when these dudes pull it together and make a new one happen. It’s been too long and this band is too good to just let it go.
Kings Destroy, TBA
Confession time: I have the Kings Destroy record. I’ve had it for a bit now. It rules. I don’t know when you’re gonna hear it, but it’s strange and eerie and kind of off the wall stylistically and it doesn’t really sound like anything else out there. Last I heard they’re looking for a label, and whoever ends up with it is lucky. I use a lot of descriptors for bands and their albums, but rarely will I go so far as to call something unique. This album is. If you’ve had the chance to check out songs like “The Toe” and “Turul” live, you know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, then stick around because with all the sessions I’ve had with the tracks, I still feel outclassed by what these guys are doing. Shine on, you doomed weirdos.
The Kings of Frog Island, Volume IV
I keep going back to the video for “Long Live the King” that Leicester, UK, fuzz rockers The Kings of Frog Island put up back in October. No, really, I keep going back. It’s a good song and I keep listening to it. Just about any other details regarding their fourth album and first without guitarist/vocalist Mat Bethancourt (Josiah, Cherry Choke), Volume IV, are nil, but periodic updates on the band’s Thee Facebooks have it that progress on the recording is being made, and in the meantime, I don’t seem to have any trouble paying return visits to “Long Live the King.” Hopefully Elektrohasch stays on board for a CD release, and hopefully it happens soon.
Several times over the last couple months I’ve had occasion to say it to people and I’ll say it here as well: I think Lo-Pan are the best American stoner rock band going right now. I was interested to see how they handled the bigger stage for their opening slot for High on Fire and Goatwhore (review here), and as ever, they killed. I haven’t the faintest idea what their recording plans might be, if they’ll even sit still long enough to put an album to tape in time to have it out in 2013 — I suspect it depends on what tour offers come up in the meantime — but new songs “Colossus” and “Eastern Seas” bode well for their being able to continue the course of momentum that the excellence of 2011′s Salvador(review here) and all their hard work before and since has put them on.
Queens of the Stone Age, TBA
It probably wouldn’t be fair to call the upcoming Queens of the Stone Age album a reunion between Josh Homme and Dave Grohl since the two also played together in Them Crooked Vultures and Grohl only drummed on Songs for the Deaf, but it’s exciting news anyway and could mean good things are coming from QOTSA, whose last outing was 2007′s comparatively lackluster Era Vulgaris. The big questions here are how the time apart from the band may or may not have affected Homme‘s songwriting and where he’s decided he wants to take the Queens sound. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Sungrazer & The Machine, Split
With the Strikes and Gutters tour already booked to support it (dates above; or here), Dutch upstart heavy psych jammers The Machine and Sungrazer have teamed up for a split release as well that’s bound to feature some of the year’s best fuzz. The two bands have a lot in common, but they’re pretty distinct from each other sonically too, and with The Machine guitarist/vocalist David Eering helming the recording, you can safely bet it’ll capture the live, jammy feel both groups share. Latest word has it that the mastered tracks are in-house, so watch for more to come as we get closer to the Valentine’s Day launch of the tour.
The Swedish fuzz juggernauts’ fourth album overall, this will be Truckfighters‘ first with new drummer McKenzo alongside the core songwriting duo of Dango and Ozo. They’ve been teasing recording updates and threatening song clips, but as soon as I run into something concrete, I’ll share. I’m especially looking forward to the Truckfighters album since it means they’ll likely come back to the US for another tour, and since 2009′s Mania (review here) was so damned brilliant. Not sure on a release date, but it’s high on the list of necessities anyway, however low it may appear alphabetically.
Valley of the Sun, TBA
All I’m going on in including Ohio-based desert rockers Valley of the Sun on this list is a New Year’s message they put out there that read, “Happy New Year, Brothers and Sisters!!! You can count on a Valley of the Sun full-length in 2013.” Hey, I’ve relied on less before, and even if you want to call it wishful thinking, the Cincinnati trio are due a debut full-length behind 2011′s righteous The Sayings of the Seers EP (review here). Even if it doesn’t show up until November or December, I’ll basically take it whenever the band gets around to releasing. Riffs are welcome year-round.
Well, I mean, yeah. Right? Yeah, well, sure. I mean. Well. Yeah. I mean, sure. Right? It’s a supergroup with YOB‘s Mike Scheidt on vocals, John Cobbett of Hammers of Misfortune on guitar, Sigrid Sheie of Hammers of Misfortune on bass and Aesop Dekker of Agalloch and Worm Ouroboros on drums. Album’s done, set for release on Profound Lore. So, I mean, you know, yeah. Definitely. No music has made its way to the public yet — though that can’t be far off — but either way, sign me the fuck up. Anywhere this one goes, I’m interested to find out how it gets there.
Vista Chino, TBA
After that lawsuit, it’s not like they could go ahead and call the band Kyuss Still Lives!, so the recently-announced Vista Chino makes for a decent alternative and is much less likely to provoke litigation. But still, the Kyuss Lives! outgrowth featuring former Kyuss members John Garcia, Nick Oliveri and Brant Bjork along with guitarist Bruno Fevery is of immediate consequence. I’m not sure what the timing on the release is, but they’ve already been through enough to get to this point that one hopes a new album surfaces before the end of 2013. What I want to know next is who’s recording the damn thing.
Yawning Man, Gravity is Good for You
Not much has been said in the time since I interviewed Gary Arce, guitarist and founder of influential desert rock stalwarts Yawning Man, about the 2LP Gravity is Good for Yourelease (the Raymond Pettibon cover for which you can see above), but the band has been confirmed for Desertfest since then and they’re playing in L.A. on Jan. 25, so they’re active for sure and presumably there’s been some progress on the album itself. It remains to be seen what form it will take when it surfaces, and the lineup of the band seems somewhat nebulous as well, but when there’s a desert, there’s Yawning Man, and there’s always a desert. 2010′s Nomadic Pursuits(review here) was a triumph, and deserves a follow-up.
Anyone else notice that the “20 Albums to Watch for” list has 22 albums on it? Maybe I wanted to see if you were paying attention. Maybe I can’t count. Maybe I just felt like including one more. Maybe I had 21 and then added Vista Chino after someone left a comment about it. The possibilities are endless.
So too is the list of bands I could’ve included here. Even as I was about halfway through, a new Darkthrone track surfaced from an album due Feb. 25 called The Underground Resistance, and news/rumors abound of various substance concerning offerings from YOB, Eggnogg, When the Deadbolt Breaks, Mars Red Sky, Asteroid, Apostle of Solitude, Windhand, Phantom Glue, the supergroup Corrections House, Kingsnake, Sasquatch — I’ve already made my feelings known on the prospect of a new Sleep record — news went up yesterday about Inter Arma‘s new one, and you know Wino‘s gonna have an album or two out before the end of the year, and he’s always up to something good, so 20, 22, 35, it could just as easily go on forever. Or at least very least the whole year.
If there’s anything I forgot, anything you want to include or dispute, comments are welcome and encouraged.
Posted in Features on January 10th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Just yesterday I was reading a news story about how scientists are regrowing hair cells (pictured above) in mice to restore hearing damage caused by loud noises. Nifty stuff and certainly something that would come in handy if and when they can actually make it work for people, but it still wouldn’t do me any good, because I’m not just talking about records I didn’t hear because I saw SunnO))) that one time without earplugs — I’m talking about albums that I didn’t hear because, for one reason or another, our paths didn’t cross at all. If you want to talk about the other kind of not hearing, ask The Patient Mrs. how loud I keep the tv at night.
But as regards those reasons: In the past when I’ve done this list, it’s usually been with some measure of shame. Last year, I had to admit I hadn’t heard Argus‘ album because I knew I’d like it and wind up buying a copy (which I finally did), and had to admit that I slept on Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats. This year it’s a little different. Most of the records on this list I could’ve easily heard — if I’d wanted to hear them. In 2012, it wasn’t just that I missed stuff (though I did, I’m quite sure), but also that some stuff I just couldn’t be bothered to download the promo mp3s. You’d be amazed how often that happens.
So with that in mind, I humbly and ignorantly present my Top Five Albums I Didn’t Hear in 2012. I hope if I missed anything essential, you’ll let me know.
1. Soundgarden, King Animal
It’s a pretty rare thing for me to get a request for a review from someone neither in nor representing a band (i.e. PR or a label, etc.), and I got more than one for Soundgarden‘s reunion full-length, King Animal. I heard the record was great, but seriously, whatever. I was never a huge Soundgarden fan, and the whole tone of their getting back together left me cold — people calling them brave for putting out a rock album that everyone knows is gonna sell like mad and talking about playing arena shows in front of thousands of fans like it’s a bold decision. Sorry, but the bold decision would be for Soundgarden to have stayed broken up and for Chris Cornell to work with Timbaland again. King Animal could’ve been the best rock record of 2012 for all I know, but I’m pretty sure all I’d hear would be tuned vocals and sampled drums. Pass.
2. Baroness, Yellow and Green
I give Georgia natives Baroness the utmost respect for the heap of shit they ate as regards their luck last year, but even their tenacity in recovering from a bus accident — along with the vehement recommendations of, well, the universe — wasn’t enough to get me on board for their third album, Yellow andGreen. Here’s a fun fact: Up to this point in the band’s career, I’ve owned just about everything they’ve put out, because I figured that sooner or later, I’d come around. I saw them at Emissions from the Monolith years back and picked up the Firstand SecondEPs because I was like, “Yeah, I’ll probably start digging this band and when I do, I’ll be glad to have these.” I keep waiting for that switch to flip and it just hasn’t yet. Loves me some Valkyrie though, for what that’s worth.
3. The Sword, Apocryphon
While I’m talking about old shows, I caught Austin’s The Sword opening a Relapse Records showcase at SXSW when all they had out was a demo and thought they were bloody brilliant. I even dug Age of Winterswhen it came out, but my interest level diminished on the quick. I didn’t bother with 2010′s Warp Riders either, and as they made their Razor and Tie Records debut with Apocryphonin October, I barely blinked. These guys get consistent support, and I’ll give it to them that they put in their work on the road supporting what they do and always have, but in terms of what I’m going to listen to for a week straight before I review it, there’s gonna be no shortage of other Sword reviews out there and I doubt very much mine’s going to have anything revolutionary to say, so yeah, there are better ways to spend my time.
4. Rival Sons, Head Down
Maybe I could’ve climbed on board for what SoCal-based Rival Sons had to offer, but frankly the whole thing seemed a little too reality show. Like the headline says, I didn’t hear the record, but with their major label hair, purported classic rock sound and press hype, it just seemed like they were a band I was supposed to like, as if you took what makes kickass heavy rock and broke it down to Lego parts, adding a standalone moustache. I’ve heard from some reliable sources that they are indeed the shit, but the contrarian in me just wasn’t having any of Head Down. Maybe I’m wrong and next time they put out an album I’ll take a listen and have to eat my words. Wouldn’t be the first time.
5. Mark Lanegan Band, Blues Funeral
This one I legitimately regret not hearing. Former Screaming Trees vocalist and frequent Queens of the Stone Age collaborateur, Mark Lanegan has one of those voices that he probably won’t have grown into until he’s 65 years old. You know how Johnny Cash was finally old enough for his voice when he started putting out the Americanseries, or how Tom Waits hit that line in 2011 and everyone was like “holy crap Tom Waits is the best thing ever?” I’m pretty well convinced Mark Lanegan will get there sooner or later. I got a promo of Blues Funeral, but it was a download so I didn’t bother. Too late to review it now, but maybe I’ll pick it up somewhere along the line. Maybe not. Doesn’t seem like Mr. Lanegan‘s hurting either way, unless, you know, you count the existential agonies present in his vocal delivery.
Okay, that’s it. Everything else I heard in 2012 so there you go. No, of course that’s not true. As always, there were tons of albums I missed out on — one of these days I’m gonna sit with Heavy Eyes and give them a real chance — because I’m only one man, I only have two ears, and those ears are only so willing to listen to stuff that’s not Neurosis.
Anything essential you think I missed, or anything essential that you missed that you want to add? Leave a comment below.
Posted in Features on January 1st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Happy New Year to everyone around the world. It’s January 1, 2013, and to celebrate the New Year the best way I know how, I got right to work on tabulating the results of the 2012 Readers Poll. I’ve been tracking the results as they’ve come in over the course of December, and as you can see in the list below, it was a tight race for the top spot right up to the end.
Before we run down the finished list, I want to extend gratitude to each and every one of the 296 people who contributed their top 12 so this list could be put together. It’s an amazing response and I was super stoked that so many of you were able to take part. Thank you for that. Right from the first day the form went up, I knew this was going to be awesome, and it wound up exceeding my every expectation. It was a great sendoff to the year. Much appreciated.
Here are the results of the Top 20 of 2012 Readers Poll:
1. Om, Advaitic Songs – 108 votes
2. High on Fire, De Vermis Mysteriis – 106
3. Graveyard, Lights Out – 86
4. Neurosis, Honor Found in Decay – 65
5. Ufomammut, Oro – 63
5. Witchcraft, Legend – 63
6. Colour Haze, She Said – 56
6. Saint Vitus, Lillie: F-65 – 56
7. Kadavar, Kadavar – 49
7. Pallbearer, Sorrow and Extinction – 49
8. Orange Goblin, A Eulogy for the Damned – 46
9. Baroness, Yellow and Green – 39
10. Conan, Monnos – 38
11. Swans, The Seer – 35
12. Astra, The Black Chord – 31
13. Greenleaf, Nest of Vipers – 31
13. The Sword, Apocryphon – 31
14. Royal Thunder, CVI – 26
14. Wo Fat, The Black Code – 26
15. Ancestors, In Dreams and Time – 25
16. Torche, Harmonicraft – 23
17. Corrosion of Conformity, Corrosion of Conformity – 22
18. Enslaved, Riitiir – 19
19. Goat, World Music – 18
19. Melvins Lite, Freak Puke – 18
19. Soundgarden, King Animal – 18
20. Amenra, Mass V – 17
20. Samothrace, Reverence to Stone – 17
Witch Mountain, Cauldron of the Wild Rush, Clockwork Angels Stoned Jesus, Seven Thunders Roar Troubled Horse, Step Inside
Converge, All We Love We Leave Behind – 15 Mighty High, Legalize Tre Bags – 15 My Sleeping Karma, Soma – 15
Pretty wild to have Om and High on Fire so close, and they were tied for a long, long time, but Om retained an early lead and managed to pull it out in the end. As you can see, there were a number of releases that tied with others for their position. Seemed only fair to me to include all of them, and I also threw in those with 16 and 15 votes as well, just because it was close. In total, there were an astounding 1,200+ albums entered into consideration.
Once again, thanks to everyone for making this Readers Poll happen and for taking the time to be a part of it. Already looking forward to some fantastic things to come in 2013, so please stay tuned and keep your lists handy.
Posted in Features on December 20th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: This list is my personal picks, not the Readers Poll, which is ongoing — if you haven’t added your list yet, please do.
As ever, I’ve kept a Post-It note on my wall all year long, and as the weeks and months have ticked away, I’ve added names of bands to it in preparation for putting together my Top 20 of 2012. There was a glut of excellent material this year, and I know for a fact I didn’t hear everything, but from bold forays into new sonic territory to triumphant returns to startling debuts, 2012 simply astounded. Even as I type this, I’m getting emails about new, exciting releases. It’s enough to make you lose your breath.
Before we get down to it and start in with the numbers, the hyperbole, etc., I want to underscore the point that this list is mine. I made it. It’s not the Readers Poll results, which will be out early in January. It’s based on how I hear things, how much I listened to each of these records, the impressions they left on me — critical opinion enters into it, because whether or not I want to I can’t help but consider things on that level when I listen to a new album these days — but it’s just as much about what I put on when I wanted to hear a band kick ass as it is about which records carried the most critical significance or import within their respective genres.
Over the last couple years, I’ve come to think of the #20 spot as where I put my sentimental favorite. That was the case with Suplecs last year, and in 2012, the return of Mos Generator earns the spot. The band being led by guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed, Nomadsmarked a rehifting of Reed‘s priorities from Stone Axe, with whom he’d proffered ’70s worship for several years prior, and wound up as a collection of some of my favorite heavy rock songs of 2012 — tracks like “Cosmic Ark,” “Torches” and “Lonely One Kenobi” were as strong in their hooks as they were thorough in their lack of pretense. But the bottom line is I’m a nerd for Reed‘s songwriting, playing and production (more on that to come), and at this point it’s not really something I can even pretend to judge impartially. Still, the record’s friggin’ awesome and you should hear it as soon as you can.
Seems like it would make sense to say Golden Void would be higher on the list if I’d spent more time with it — written up just a month ago, it’s the most recent review here — but the fact is I’ve sat with Golden Void‘s self-titled debut a lot over the course of the last month-plus, and I’ve been digging the hell out of it. Really, the only reason it’s not further up is because I don’t feel like I have distance enough from it to judge how it holds up over a longer haul, but either way, the Isiah Mitchell-led outfit’s blend of heavy psych, driving classic rock and retro style gave some hope for beefing up the US’ take on ’70s swagger — usually left to indie bands who, well, suck at it — and also showed Mitchell as a more than capable vocalist where those who knew him from his work in Earthless may only have experienced his instrumental side. A stellar debut, a wonderful surprise, and a band I can’t wait to hear more from in the years to come.
This was basically the soundtrack to my summer. From the catch-you-off-guard aggression in opener “I Spit on Your Grave” to the extended stoneralia of “Master of Nuggets” and the jammy “Southern Comfort and Northern Lights,” the follow-up to Wight‘s self-produced debut Wight Weedy Wight(review here) showed an astonishing amount of growth, and though it had the laid back, loose feel that distinguishes the best of current European heavy psych, Through the Woods into Deep Waterwas also coherent, cohesive and impeccably structured. I thought it was one of the year’s strongest albums when it was released, and its appeal has only endured — as much as I listened to it when it was warm over the summer, now in December I put it on wishing the temperature would change to match. The songs showed remarkable potential from the German three-piece and cast them in an entirely different light than did their first out. Really looking forward to where they might go from here, but in the meantime, I’m nowhere near done with Through the Woods into Deep Wateryet.
“Oh, Moon Queen! Flyin’ down the world on a moonbeam!” Somehow the first lines of the opening title-track to Lord Fowl‘s Moon Queen always seem to wind up stuck in my head. The Connecticut foursome made their debut on Small Stone with the loosely thematic full-length, and touched on a sense of unabashedly grandiose ’70s heavy rock in the process. That said, Moon Queenwasn’t shooting for retro in the slightest — rather, guitarist/vocalists Vechel Jaynes and Mike Pellegrino fronted the band’s classic sensibilities with a wholly modern edge, like something out of an alternate dimension where rock never started to suck. The classic metal guitar in “Streets of Evermore” and the swaying groove from bassist Jon Conine and drummer Don Freeman under the wandering leads of “Hollow Horn” made Moon Queenmore stylistically diverse than it might otherwise have been, but at its core, it was a collection of stellar heavy rock songs, unashamed of its hooks and unafraid to put its passions front and center. They packed a lot into a 47-minute runtime, but I’ve yet to dig into Moon Queen and regret having pressed play. Another band to watch out for.
It was impossible not to be swept up in the hype surrounding Pallbearer‘s Profound Lore debut, but one listen to Sorrow and Extinctionand it was clear that its resounding praise was well earned. By blending thickened psychedelic tonality and emotionally resonant melodies, the Little Rock, Arkansas, four-piece concocted the single most important American doom release of the year. Their efforts did not go unnoticed, and as they supported the album on tour, the swell of the crowds spoke to the right-idea-right-time moment they were able to capture in songs like the stunning “An Offering of Grief” and “The Legend.” There’s room for growth — I wouldn’t be surprised to find guitarist Brett Campbell‘s vocal range greatly developed next time out — but Pallbearer have already left a mark on doom, and if they can keep the momentum going into wherever they go from here, it won’t be long before they’re being cited as having a significant impact on the genre and influencing others in their wake.
I already singled out Kadavar‘s Kadavaras the 2012 Debut of the Year, so if you need any sense of the reverence I think the German trio earned, take whatever you will from that. There really isn’t much to add — though I could nerd out about Kadavar‘s ultra-effective retroisms all day if you’re up for it — but something I haven’t really touched on yet about the record: When I was out in Philly last weekend, the DJ cleverly mixed Kadavar into a set of early ’70s jams, and it was all but indistinguishable in sound from the actual classics. That in itself is an achievement, but Kadavar‘s level of craft also stands them out among their modern peers, and it was drummer Tiger‘s snare sound that I first recognized in “All Our Thoughts,” so right down to the most intricate details, Kadavar‘s Kadavarwas a gripping and enticing affair that proved there’s still ground to cover in proto-heavy worship.
The fuzz was great — don’t get me wrong, I loved the fuzz — but with Stubb‘s Stubb, it was even more about the songs themselves. Whether it was the interplay between guitarist Jack Dickinson and bassist Peter Holland (also of Trippy Wicked) on vocals for the chorus of “Scale the Mountain” or the thickened shuffle in “Soul Mover” punctuated by drummer Chris West‘s (also Trippy Wicked and Groan) ever-ready fills, there wasn’t a clunker in the bunch, and though it’s an album I’ve basically been hearing since the beginning of the year, its appeal has endured throughout and I still find myself going back to it where many others have already been forgotten. With the acoustic “Crosses You Bear” and more laid-bare emotionality of “Crying River,” Stubb showed there was more them than excellence of tone and with the seven-minute finale “Galloping Horses,” they showed they were ready to jam with the best. Truly memorable songs — and also one of the live highlights of my year.
Orange Goblin‘s purpose seemed reborn on their seventh album and Candlelight Records debut, A Eulogy for the Damned. Culling the best elements from their last couple albums, 2007′s Healing Through Fire and 2004′s Thieving from the House of God, the long-running London troublemakers upped the production value and seemed bent from the start on taking hold of the day’s sympathy toward their brand of heavy. With tales of alcoholic regret, classic horrors and a bit of cosmic exploration for good measure, they marked their ascent to the top of the British scene and took well to the role of statesmen, headlining Desertfest and proceeding to smash audiences to pieces around the continent at fests and on tours. Look for them to do the same when they bring the show Stateside in 2013 with Clutch. Their plunder is well earned, and I still rarely go 48 hours without hearing the bridge of “The Fog” in my head. Can’t wait to see them again.
While I still miss Los Natas, my grief for their passing has been much eased over the last two years by frontman Sergio Chotsourian‘s doomier explorations in Ararat. The first album, 2009′sMusica de la Resistencia(review here), ran concurrent to Los Natas‘ swansong, Nuevo Orden de la Libertad, but with II, the new three-piece came into their own, setting space rock synth against low-end sprawl, thick drumming and Chotsourian‘s penchant for experimenting with structure. Extended tracks “Caballos” and “La Ira del Dragon (Uno)” were positively encompassing, and showed Ararat not only as a distinct entity from Los Natas, but a turn stylistically for Chotsourian into elephantine plod, wide-open atmospherics and a likewise expansive creative sensibility. The acoustic “El Inmigrante” and piano-led “Atenas” offered sonic diversity while enriching the mood, and closer “Tres de Mayo” hinted at some of the melding of the various sides that might be in store in Ararat‘s future. If the jump from the first record to the second is any indicator, expect something expansive and huge to come.
Italian cosmic doom meganauts Ufomammut outdid themselves yet again with Oro, breaking up a single full-length into two separate releases, Oro: Opus Primum and Oro: Opus Alter. But the album — which I’ve decided to list as the single entity Oro rather than its two component parts basically to save myself some brain space — was more than just big in terms of its runtime. More importantly, Ufomammut were able to hold firm to their commitment to stylistic growth, drawing on their greatest triumph yet, 2010′s Eve (review here), the trio pushed themselves even further on their Neurot Recordings debut, resulting in an album worthy of the legacy of those releasing it. I don’t know if Oro will come to define Ufomammut as Eve already seems to have — dividing it as they did may have made it harder for listeners to grasp it as a single piece — but it shows that there’s simply no scaring the band out of themselves. Brilliantly tied together around a central progression that showed up in “Empireum” from Opus Primumand “Sublime” on Opus Alter, I have the feeling Ufomammut will probably have another album out before Oro‘s breadth has fully set in.
Behold the standard bearers of heavy. It wasn’t long after hearing UK trio Conan for the first time that I began using them as a touchstone to see how other bands stacked up, and to be honest, almost no one has. Led by the inimitable lumber provided by the tone of guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis (interview here), Conan stripped down their approach for Monnos, returning to Foel Studio in Wales to work with producer Chris Fielding — who’d also helmed their 2010 Horseback Battle HammerEP — and the resulting effort was both trim and humongous. Early tracks like “Hawk as Weapon,” “Battle in the Swamp” (an old demo given new life) and “Grim Tormentor” actually managed to be catchy as well as sonically looming, and the more extended closing duo of “Headless Hunter” and “Invincible Throne” showed that Conan could both use their tone to build forward momentum and plod their way into ultra-slow, ultra-grim despairing nothingness. Monnos affirmed Conan as one of the most pivotal acts in doom, and with new material and a home studio reportedly in the works, as well as further European touring on the docket for early 2013, their onslaught shows no signs of letting up. Right fucking on.
In some ways, it seems like the easiest thing in the world, but with My Sleeping Karma‘s fourth full-length, Soma, it really was just a question of a band taking their sound to a completely new level. The German heavy psych instrumentalists brought forth the sweetness of tone their guitars have harnessed over the course of their three prior offerings, but the progressive keyboard flourishes, the warmth in the bass, the tight pop of the drums — it all clicked on Somain a way that the other records hinted was possible and made the album the payoff to the four-piece’s long-established potential. Wrapped around the titular theme of a drink of the gods and with its tracks spaced out by varying ambient interludes, no moment on the album felt like it wasn’t serving the greater purpose of the whole, and the whole proved to be a worthy purpose indeed. Hands down my favorite instrumental release of the year and an effort that pushed My Sleeping Karma to the front of the pack in the crowded European heavy psych scene.
The damnedest thing happens every time I turn on Graveyard‘s third album, Lights Out, in that before I’m halfway through opener “An Industry of Murder,” I have to turn it up. The reigning kings of Swedish retro heavy wasted no time following up 2011′s stunning sophomore outing, Hisingen Blues(review here), and with the four-year gap between their self-titled debut and the second record, it was a surprise from the moment it was announced, but more than that, Lights Outshowed remarkable development in Graveyard‘s sound, offering elements of classic soul on songs like “Slow Motion Coundown” and “Hard Times Lovin’” to stand alongside the brash rock and roll of “Seven Seven” or the irresistible hook provided by “The Suits, the Law and the Uniforms” or the single “Goliath.” A landmark vocal performance from guitarist Joakim Nilsson and newly surfaced political bent to the lyrics hinted that Graveyard were nowhere near done growing, but seriously, if they put out four or five more records in the vein of Lights Out, I doubt there’d be too many complaints. Already one can hear the influence they’ve had on European heavy rock, and Lights Outisn’t likely to slow that process in the slightest.
Three drum hits and then the lurching “Let Them Fall” — the leadoff track on the first Saint Vitus studio album since 1995 — is underway, and it’s exactly that lack of pomp, that lack of pretense, that makes Lillie: F-65so righteous. Admittedly, it’s a reunion album. They toured for a couple years playing old material, then finally decided to settle in and let guitarist Dave Chandler (interview here) start coming up with a batch of songs, but you can’t argue with the results. They nailed it. With Tony Reed‘s perfect production (discussed here), Vitus captured the classic tonality in Chandler‘s guitar and Mark Adams‘ bass and kept to their sans-bullshit ethic: A short, 33-minute album that leaves their audience wondering where the hell that assault of noise just came from. Scott “Wino” Weinrich‘s presence up front was unmistakable with Chandler‘s punkish, no-frills lyrics (as well as his own on “Blessed Night,” the first song they wrote for the album), and drummer Henry Vasquez not only filled the shoes of the late Armando Acosta but established his own persona behind the kit. I hope it’s not their last record, but if it is, Saint Vitus came into and left Lillie: F-65as doom legends, and their work remains timeless.
Talk about a band who shirked expectation. Guitarist/vocalist Justin Maranga and I discussed that aspect of Ancestors a bit in an interview over the summer, but it’s worth underscoring. There was next to nothing in either of Ancestors‘ first two albums to hint at where they’d go with the third. Both Neptune with Fire and Of Sound Mind(review here) were rousing, riff-led efforts that headed toward a particular heavy sensibility, but it was with last year’s Invisible WhiteEP (review here) that the L.A. outfit began to show the progressive direction they were heading. And In Dreams and Timeis even a departure from that! It’s kind of a departure from reality as well, with the Moog/organ/synth mesh from Matt Barks and Jason Watkins (also vocals), dreamy basslines from Nick Long and hold-it-all-together drumming of Jamie Miller — since out of the band. Closer “First Light” was my pick for song of the year, and had the album been comprised of that track along, it’d probably still be on this list somewhere, but with the complement given to it by the piano sprawl of “On the Wind” and driving riffs and vocal interplay of “Correyvreckan” (if you haven’t heard Long‘s bass on the latter as well, you should), there was little left to question that this was the strongest Ancestors release of their career to date and hopefully the beginning of a new era in their sound. They’ve never been what people wanted them to be, but I for one like not knowing what to expect before it shows up, at least where these guys are concerned.
After what I saw as a lackluster production for 2010′s Snakes for the Divine, Oakland, CA, trio High on Fire aligned themselves with producer Kurt Ballou (Converge) for De Vermis Mysteriis and completely renewed the vitality in their attack. Built on the insistence of “Bloody Knuckles,” furious fuckall of “Fertile Green,” unmitigated piracy of “Serums of Laio” and eerie crawl in “King of Days,” De Vermis Mysteriis was both aggressive in High on Fire‘s raid-your-brain-for-THC tradition and extreme in ways they’ve never been before. Groovers like the instrumental “Samsara” and earlier “Madness of an Architect” offered bombast where the thrash may have relented, while “Spiritual Rites” proved that guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike (also Sleep; interview here), bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensell had arrived at a new threshold of speed and intensity. Whatever personal issues may have been in play at the time, High on Fire delivered a blistering full-length that stands up to and in many ways surpasses any prior viciousness in their catalog, and their level of performance on their current tour makes it plain to see that the band is ready for ascendency to the heights of metal. They are conquerors to the last, and if De Vermis Mysteriisis what I get for wavering, then I’ll consider my lesson hammered home in every second of feedback, tom thud and grueling second of distortion topped with Pike‘s signature growl.
When I interviewed interviewed Steve Von Till about Honor Found in Decay, the Neurosis guitarist/vocalist called the band “a chaos process” in reference to their songwriting. I have no trouble believing that, because while Neurosis stand among the most influential heavy metal bands of their generation — having had as much of an effect on what’s come after them as, say, Meshuggah or Sleep, while also having little sonically in common with either of them — it’s also nearly impossible to pinpoint one aspect of their sound that defines them. The churning rhythms in the riffing of Von Till and his fellow frontman, guitarist/vocalist Scott Kelly (interview here), Dave Edwardson‘s intensity on bass and periodic vocal, the assured percussive creativity of Jason Roeder and theexperimental edge brought to bear in Noah Landis‘ synth and sampling all prove to be essential elements of the whole. On Honor Found in Decay — and this isn’t to take away anything from any other particular member’s songwriting contributions — it would be Landis standing out with his greatest contributions yet, becoming as much a defining element in songs like “At the Well,” “Bleeding the Pigs” and “Casting of the Ages” as either Kelly or Von Till‘s guitars. Had I never seen the band before, I’d have a hard time believing Honor Found in Decay could possibly be representative of their live sound, but they are every bit as crushing, as oppressive and as emotionally visceral on stage — if not more so — as they are on the album, and while their legacy has long since been set among the most important heavy acts ever, period, as they climb closer to the 30-year mark (they’ll get there in 2015), Neurosis continue to refuse to bow to what’s expected of them or write material that doesn’t further their decades-long progression. They are worthy of every homage paid them, and more.
It’s hard for me to properly convey just how happy listening to Greenleaf‘s Nest of Vipersmakes me, and I’ve got several false starts already deleted to prove it. The Swedish supergroup of vocalist Oskar Cedermalm (Truckfighters), guitarists Tommi Holappa and Johan Rockner (both Dozer), bassist Bengt Bäcke (engineer for Dozer, Demon Cleaner, etc.) and drummer Olle Mårthans (Dozer) last released an album in 2007. That was Agents of Ahriman, which was one of my favorite albums of the last decade. No shit. Not year, decade. With a slightly revamped lineup and Dozer‘s maybe-final album, 2008′s Beyond Colossal, and the never-got-off-the-ground side-project Dahli between, Nest of Viperslanded this past winter and with the shared membership, Karl Daniel Lidén production and consistency of songwriting from Holappa (interview here), I immediately saw it as a sequel to the last Dozer, but really it goes well beyond that. Tracks like “Dreamcatcher,” “Case of Fidelity,” “The Timeline’s History” and soaring opener “Jack Staff” show that although they’d never really toured to that point and been through various lineups over the years, Greenleaf was nonetheless an entity unto its own. Cedermalm‘s vocals were a triumph, Mårthans‘ drumming unhinged and yet grounded, and guest appearances from organist Per Wiberg and vocalists Peder Bergstrand (Lowrider/I are Droid) and Fredrik Nordin (Dozer) only enriched the album for repeat listens, which I’m thrilled to say it gets to this very day. If I called it a worthy successor both to Dozer and to Agents of Ahriman, those words alone would probably fall short of conveying quite how much that means on a personal level, so let its placement stand as testimony instead. This is one I’ll be enjoying for years to come, and when I’m done writing this feature, this is the one I’m gonna put back on to listen through again. It has been, and no doubt will continue to be, a constant.
Go figure that the Om record two albums after the one called Pilgrimagewould feel so much like a journey. Further including multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Robert A. A. Lowe (also of experimental one-man outfit Lichens) alongside the established core duo of drummer Emil Amos (also of Grails) and bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (also of Sleep), as well as incorporating a range of guest appearances from the likes of Grayceon‘s Jackie Perez Gratz on cello and Worm Ouroboros‘ Lorraine Rath (who appeared on 2010′s God is Goodas well) on flute, Om fleshed out what was once a signature minimalism to the point of being a lush, constantly moving and markedly fluid entity. Cisneros, as the remaining founder and lead vocalist, served as a unifying presence in the material — his bass still was still very much as the center of “Gethsemane” or the more straightforward and distorted “State of Non-Return” — but those songs and “Addis,” “Sinai” and gloriously melodic closer “Haqq al-Yaqin” amounted to more than any single performance, and where prior Om outings had dug themselves deep into a kind of solitary contemplation, Advaitic Songslooked outward with a palpable sense of musical joy and a richness of experience that could only be called spiritual, however physically or emotionally arresting it might also prove. I’ve found it works best in the morning, as a way to transition from that state of early half-there into the waking world — which no doubt has more harshness in mind than the sweet acoustics and tabla at the end of “Haqq al-Yaqin” — so that some of that sweetness can remain and help me face whatever might come throughout the day. A morning ceremony and a bit of meditation to reorder the consciousness.
Didn’t it have to be Colour Haze? Didn’t it? Two discs of the finest heavy psychedelic rock the world has to offer — yes I mean that — plus all they went through to get it out, the drama of building and rebuilding a studio, recording and re-recording, pressing and repressing, what else could it have been but She Said? After two-plus years of waiting, I was just so glad when it actually existed. Late in 2008, the Munich trio released All, and that was my album of the year that year as well (kudos to anyone who has that issue of Metal Maniacs), but I feel like even if you strip all that away and take away all the drama and the band’s influence, their standing in the European scene, guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek (interview here) fostering next-gen talent on Elektrohasch and whatever else you want or need to remove, She Said still holds up. Just the songs themselves. The extra percussion layered in with Manfred Merwald‘s drums on “She Said,” the horns and Duna Jam-ambience on “Transformation,” the unpretentious boogie of “This” on disc one, or the rush of “Slowdown” on disc two and the culmination the whole album gets when the strings kick in on “Grace.” Those strings. God damn. Suddenly a 2CD release makes sense, when each is given its own progression, its own destination at which to arrive, and tired as I am I still tear up like clockwork when I put on “Grace” just to hear it while I type about it. Beautifully arranged, wonderfully executed, She Saidcouldn’t be anywhere but at the top spot on this list. The warmth in Koglek‘s guitar and Philipp Rasthofer‘s bass on “Breath” and the way their jams always seem to have someplace to go, I feel like I’m listening to a moment exquisitely captured. There isn’t a doubt in my mind Colour Haze are the most potent heavy rock power trio in the world, and that their chemistry has already and will continue to inspire others around them, but most importantly, She Saidmet the true album-of-the-year criteria in not seeming at all limited to the confines of 2012 — as though it had some kind of expiration date. Not so. Even though I’ve already been through them more times than I know or would care to share had I counted, I look forward to getting to know the songs on She Saidover the years to come, and as I have with Colour Haze‘s works in the past, seeing their appeal change over time the way the best of friends do. It couldn’t have been anything but Colour Haze. Whatever hype other albums or bands have, for me, it’s this, and that’s it.
If this list went to 25, the next five would be:
21. Snail, Terminus
22. Revelation, Inner Harbor
23. Wo Fat, The Black Code
24. Groan, The Divine Right of Kings
25. Caltrop, Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes
Honorable mention goes to: Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight (another one about whom I have a hard time being impartial), Mighty High, At Devil Dirt, Bell Witch, Samothrace, Enslaved, Viaje a 800, and Larman Clamor.
Also worth noting some conspicuous absences: Witchcraft, Swans, Baroness, Royal Thunder, The Sword, Torche. These albums garnered a strong response and have done well in the Readers Poll looking at the results so far, but please keep in mind, this is my list, I took a night to sleep on it, I stand by it and I’ve got my reasons for selecting what I did. You’ll find about 5,000 words of them above.
Thank you as always for reading. If you disagree with any picks, want to add your own take on any of the above, or anything else — really, whatever’s cool — please leave a comment below.
Posted in Features on December 18th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
I guess the first question here is, “Did High on Fire actually ever need to make a comeback?” Here’s how I see it: After signing with E1 in 2009 following a long tenure on Relapse Records, the Oakland, CA, trio released Snakes for the Divine(review here) in 2010. Song-wise, you could hardly call the album a dip in quality from what Matt Pike (guitar/vocals), Des Kensell (drums) and Jeff Matz (bass) brought to bear on 2007′s thunderous Death is this Communion, but the difference was in the production and presentation of the album. The songs were as thrashing as ever, but all of a sudden, they were also irrevocably, undeniably clean. And if there’s one thing High on Fire had never sounded before, it’s clean.
During the album cycle for Snakes for the Divine, I recall catching a High on Fire show in NYC and thinking that the band were done with the underground entirely, and that in time, strong>Snakes would be the turning point when they went from a visceral experience, influential even as they were still driving towards some yet-unknown creative apex, to a watered down and more accessible version of what they once were. Doubtless they could pull off such a transition and grow a wider audience for themselves, but for the fans who’d been with them since their earlier days when Pike, began to feel out this brash new musical direction after ending his time in Sabbathian legends Sleep, it wouldn’t ever be the same again.
That’s just not the way it turned out. At all.
With this year’s De Vermis Mysteriis (review here), High on Fire didn’t so much return to form as they did break the mold, smashing it on a sharply executed bed of thickened thrash extremity. The songs managed to capture every potential appeal of Snakes for the Divine– whether it was the opening catchiness of “Serums of Laio,” the rhythmic intensity of “Madness of an Architect,” searing turns of “Spiritual Rites” or the epic storytelling of powerful closing duo “Romulus and Remus” and “Warhorn” — and coupled with the production of Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou at his Godcity Studios in Salem, Massachusetts, they brimmed with tonal largesse and a sense of danger that hinted at a method behind High on Fire’s madness that had never been there before. To put a point on it, De Vermis Mysteriisdidn’t just happen by mistake.
Somewhere along the line, the band decided that their sixth album was indeed going to be a turn, not to a more commercial direction but instead away from it, and while the rough edges and post-stonerisms of early records The Art of Self-Defense(2000) and Surrounded by Thieves(2002) were gone, the progression came across naturally, not contrived. High on Fire were tighter, meaner than ever, and the songs the wrote, the presentation and the vague-but-characteristic narrative showed that. In the best case scenario of any long-running outfit’s latest album, everything they’d done before felt like it was leading up to the newest triumph.
All wasn’t well in the band, and dropping off the touring Mayhem festival this summer, Pike entered rehab. It was a move that significantly derailed their momentum, given the breadth of new audience they would’ve reached on the road alongside the likes of Slipknot and Slayer, but when High on Fire returned to the road for a headlining tour this fall alongside extreme metal stalwarts Goatwhore as well as Primate and Lo-Pan (review here) just wrapping up this week, the difference in the band was readily apparent. This too was a kind of comeback, even if the span of time was relatively short. They were focused, driven and delivering a performance that matched the severity of the album while also showcasing a conscious mastery of their environment — i.e. the stage — that even at their most crazed, they’d never had before.
Where High on Fire go from here is anyone’s best guess. European headlining dates set for February 2013 will lead into festival spots at Roadburn and doubtless others, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them get another shot at Mayhem next summer — but what matters is that whatever heights High on Fire reach in the next several years, they will have done so on their own terms and by continuing to push themselves forward creatively. They will arrive not bowing to pressure to be something they’ve never been, but as the conquering marauders, axes in hand and blood dripping from their mouths. Nothing could be truer to their spirit.
Posted in Features on December 14th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Putting themselves quickly at the fore of a burgeoning Stateside death-doom revival, Seattle-based duo Bell Witch made their debut in 2011 with a remarkably well-received demo. The initial four-track release (review here) landed with enough of an impact to bring bassist/vocalist Dylan Desmond (also of Samothrace) and drummer/vocalist Adrian Guerra (formerly of Sod Hauler) to the attention of tastemaking imprint Profound Lore, which picked them up for the release of the subsequent debut, Longing(review here). Desmond and Guerra, who’d released an album called Mnemosynetogether as part of a heavy psychedelic trio called Lethe (review here), departed those stylistic confines with Bell Witch, opting instead for the dreary drama and far-off melodicism they present on Longing‘s six-track/67-minute sprawl.
It’s a fascinating album for several reasons. Primarily because Desmond and Guerra do so well in alternating between a sense of wide-open space, oppressive tonality and nascent harmonized vocals, but also because of the intricacies they bring to the material, working in defiance of the notion that just because something is slow and open-sounding, it has to be simple all the time. That’s never been true, and as Bell Witch switch between growls and clean-sung arrangements and Desmond taps his six-string bass to emulate a guitar solo, it’s clear that there’s more to the band than just holding out riffs until the sound fades away — though when they do that as well, it works greatly to enhance the atmosphere of Longing, the mood of which has no trouble living up to the title it’s been given.
Perhaps the album’s greatest achievement comes on 13-minute second track “Rows (of Endless Waves),” on which Desmond and Guerra, both contributing to the initial barrage of screams and growls, are joined by Erik Moggridge, known for his Portland, Oregon-based solo-project, Aerial Ruin. As the lumbering fury winds down, Moggridge comes on to top periodic rhythm lines and higher-register bass notes with folkish verses that don’t necessarily depart from the darkness of the rest of the full-length, but provide complexity and depth to what that darkness means on a sonic level. At 9:35, bolstered by colossal instrumental swell, Moggridge leads a defiant recitation of vaguely Celtic-derived sway, and from the standpoint of melody and emotional resonance, it’s as rich as Longinggets, begging in its last minute to be sung along to as the waves of destruction mentioned in the lyrics seem to be crashing all around the final moaning vocalizations.
The inclusion and expansion of “Beneath the Mask” and “I Wait” from the demo was a launch point for the conversation, but there was much more than just that I wanted to discuss with Desmond, including the differences between recording with Bell Witch and with Samothrace — whose 2012 outing, Reverence to Stone(review here), was among the year’s most exciting albums, on recording Longingand what other than those two tracks they wanted to bring to their first album, on the use of melody and how it might continue to develop on their next batch of material, which Desmond reveals is already in progress. Choosing his words carefully, the bassist talked openly about all these and more.
Please find the complete 3,200-word Q&A after the jump, and please enjoy:
Posted in Features on December 10th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Think of it as proof that sometimes self-indulgence pays dividends. Clocking in at a grandiose 19:20, the closing track of L.A. progressive heavy rockers Ancestors‘ third full-length, In Dreams and Time, accomplished a complete album flow unto itself, marrying efficient songwriting to wide-open atmospheres, structured verses to droning ambience, and instrumental build to impeccably arranged vocals. But “First Light” was more than just conceptually brilliant — more than the sum of its parts or the scope with which they were laid out. It was a landmark for the album (review here) and for the band’s ongoing stylistic development.
Guitarist/vocalist Justin Maranga gave insight into how it came together in an interview earlier this year:
We often start at the end – not intentionally, it just happens to work out that way – but I think it started with that guitar riff, which I had been fucking around with for an hour before everybody got to practice one day. I just kind of stumbled into it… It took on a color of its own when everybody else started playing, and then I think it started there and Jason [Watkins, organ/vocals] brought in the end of the song, that chord progression. He brought that in on organ, and I thought it was beautiful, and once I understood it – it’s kind of long – before it repeats, it’s long – and once Nick [Long, bass] and I understood it, I think we jammed on that organ part for two or three hours before we found where we liked to sit in it…
He came in with his beautiful bassline, which accents what Jason’s playing in just the right way, that I can’t help but just want to solo over it. Sometimes I feel super-self-indulgent with the solos like that, but I don’t want to write a part over it, I just want to play. Jason wrote [the string] arrangement; it’s incredible, and it’s only a cello and a violin, but they recorded like six parts each and it ended up sounding like an orchestra and it blew my mind… When we strung it all together, it worked as a song, and you don’t fight that. Jason wrote I think by far the best lyrics he’s ever written… where the solo dies out and the vocals come back in, those are my favorite lyrics that we’ve ever had – “A city stands in dreams and time/In which reside a thousand lies/You can see the lights from waking life/And hear the cries in sacred night…”
The track was not only a high point of the album, but I’ll gladly argue it’s the best single piece Ancestors have ever constructed. To properly examine it, you almost have to look at the individual movements — that opening riff that Maranga talked about and how you’re swept up by it before you even realize it’s begun, the immediacy of the early verses and the smoothness of the transition into the extended sprawling midsection in which Matt Barks‘ synth drones serve as the bed for the slow psychedelic soundscaping — Long‘s bass providing movement with Jamie Miller‘s drumming while Watkins‘ organ overwhelms with lush melody — the arrival of the album’s titular line (noted above) and the gradual creeping in of Maranga‘s guitar, which slowly, patiently, comes to consume “First Light” with what has to be the most emotive guitar solo I’ve heard in the last four years.
Seriously. I’m not a guitar guy. I don’t play, and when it comes to solos, I can appreciate the technicality involved, but ultimately I’m left cold by most. Maranga‘s work on “First Light,” on the other hand, pulls you in so many different directions — and the rest of the band follows it so wonderfully — that it’s impossible not to be taken. By then you’re more than 10 minutes in and there’s still so much to travel through, but how could that not be the apex of the song and of the album? What else could it possibly be?
After 15 minutes in, they quiet down only to revive with what seems like an epilogue progression until the vocals’ triumphant harmonies provide clue that the real peak is still to come. Strings arrive and cap the swirl of “First Light”‘s build and as quickly as it came, as quickly as it brought you into its world and carried you along with it through highs and lows even more vast than the runtime of the song itself, it ends. The last remnant following a final pulsing build is string echo and it passes like life itself, a final reminder that at the heart of everything is mortality, even for that which seems to move outside of time.
The only real competition Ancestors‘ “First Light” had this year as a singular work came from Colour Haze‘s “Grace” or Om‘s “Gethsemane,” and it’s not lost on me that all three feature string accompaniment. I’m not sure what that says about the scope of the genre or the general willingness of acts to step into “outside” elements, but I do think “First Light” stands up as a defining moment in their career and a bold push into sonic territory that few would be able to claim as their own. The word is often overused, and I’m guilty of it as well, but to call it anything less than epic is to do it a disservice.
Posted in Features on December 6th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
There was a point over this past summer at which it seemed like every single day brought another exclamation of Kadavar‘s righteousness. A relatively recent trio from Berlin, their self-titled debut full-length epitomized vinyl-revival ethics front to back, brought to public conscious by Tee Pee Records in the US and This Charming Man in Europe. In a straightforward 34 minutes, the six-track outing made almost every moment a highlight — with vehement allegiance to vintage tones (and looks) and well-crafted heavy grooves, Kadavar honed probably the best retro stylization to come since Witchcraft made their opening statement eight years ago.
Engaging, burning-tube guitar tones and semi-blown out vocals that in a different context wouldn’t be so different from what Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats brought to their landmark Blood Lustlast year made a cut like side B opener “Goddess of Dawn” as vital musically as it was accessible for the niche audience to whom it was speaking. Songs throughout Kadavar‘s Kadavarwere catchy and rife with hooks, and the response they got was suitably massive, but from the launch of “All Our Thoughts” (streaming here) to the bizarre psychedelia of eight-minute finale “Purple Sage,” the album earned the hyperbole to which it was treated and made a strong entry for Kadavar into the crowded European retro market.
And for a debut to be so cohesive stylistically and have such a clear sense of purpose only makes it more impressive. Kadavarwould have thrilled as a band’s third album, never mind their first, but for guitarist/vocalist Wolf Lindemann, bassist Mammut and drummer Tiger, the LP and the huge success of their aesthetic and songcraft seemed as natural as the recording itself. Without a doubt, there was huge potential to be heard throughout songs like “Black Sun,” the swaying “Forgotten Past” or the bass-driven penultimate “Creature of the Demon,” but already Kadavar have hit the mark their first time out, and Kadavaris not only 2012′s most essential debut release, but also one of the best albums of the year.
Posted in Features on December 5th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
This wasn’t the first time I’ve spoken to High on Fire guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike for an interview by a longshot, but it was the first time we’ve talked since he got sober earlier this year, and the difference was immediately apparent in his voice. He was about a week into the band’s current tour at the time — with Goatwhore, Primate and Lo-Pan for a five-week round of shows one of which I was fortunate enough to catch — and things were beginning to settle in. This is the first major touring that High on Fire has done since Pike entered rehab over the summer after dropping off the summer’s Mayhem festival, and though he admitted to some apprehension, Pike sounded clear-headed and glad to be back on the road.
Earlier this year, High on Fire revitalized their approach with the scathing De Vermis Mysteriis(review here). Not only in the fact that the album was based around a narrative concept — about a time-traveling Jesus twin — but just in the sheer sound of the thing. Pike, bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensell brought High on Fire’s tightness and chemistry to new levels, and captured by producer Kurt Ballou, songs like the arch-grooving “Madness of an Architect” or the ripping “Spiritual Rites,” the band sounded more vicious than ever before. The rawness of their bombast, something they moved away from with 2010′s Snakes for the Divine(review here), met with a maturity of process and crispness of sound that made the record easily among 2012′s best.
And while that position is nothing new for High on Fire — who’ve gone six full-lengths at this point without a real dud — the context surrounding De Vermis Mysteriismakes it standout as a landmark in the progression of the band, both musically and for the personal issues involved. Seeing them live last week, they’ve lost nothing of their on-stage potency, even if Pike is a little more reserved in his between-song banter — I was reminded a bit of his Sleep bandmate, Al Cisneros — speaking to the crowd rather than barking the war-cries of old. The tradeoff was in the performance, which was stellar, new material or old, and the band seemed poised to pick up their momentum right where they left off prior to the interruption this summer brought.
As honest and sincere as ever in the interview that follows, Pike talks about being on the road sober for the first time, about constructing De Vermis Mysteriis in the studio with Ballou and about the growth of the band as a trio with Matz — who came aboard as a full-time member prior to 2007′s Death is this Communion– taking on an increased role in the songwriting. You may also note I asked him about the Sonic Titan distortion pedal, which was something Jon Davis of Conan had mentioned earlier this year when I asked him about playing with Sleep in Norway. That interview is here if you’d like some context.
Posted in Features on December 3rd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Hard to believe we’re at this point already, but it’s December, so it’s time to find out what were the best albums of the year. Any genre, any band, any album. So long as it came out in 2012, it’s fair game.The last 12 months were full of intensely fascinating releases, and I’ve been really looking forward to seeing what people choose.
The idea is basically the same as last year. Everyone submits their picks over the course of this month, and then once 2013 hits, we’ll unveil the master list of what got the most votes. You can submit up to 12 albums, and from that, a list of 20 will be compiled using a complex mathematical formula known as “counting.” At least I think that’s how it’s spelled.
Fill out your picks in the form below, click submit and we’re off and running:
[THIS POLL IS NOW CLOSED. THANKS TO EVERYONE WHO PARTICIPATED!]
Once again, special thanks to Slevin for setting up the database and making this whole thing work behind the scenes. History will sing songs of his generosity and technical cunning.
With a stylistic blend almost unto itself of classic heavy rock, prog and metal’s dual-guitar theatrics, Corsair‘s Corsairis not a record up for trifling. The band, native to Charlottesville, Virginia, self-released their first full-length earlier this year (review here) in what has become their standard format of a screenprinted folded box called an arigato pak (nice to finally have a name for it) with original art by guitarist/vocalist Marie Landragin, also seen on their prior 2011 Ghosts of Proxima CentauriEP (review here) and 2010′s Alpha Centauridebut (review here).
Could have been any number of the sides of their sound that did the job — from the rife Thin Lizzy-style guitarmonies of Landragin and Paul Sebring to Jordan Brunk‘s smooth basslines and the bounce in Aaron Lipscombe‘s drumming — but the album caught the attention of Shadow Kingdom Records, who have overseen a reissue of Corsair‘s self-titled on CD, with reworked art (still Landragin‘s design) in a full jewel case. If we were betting on motives, however, I might place my coin on it being the underlying human-ness of the album’s eight tracks, such that as proggy as Corsair might get, they never sound cold or staid, so that as Brunk and Sebring and Landragin trade off vocals or come together for effective layering and veer musically into more metallic thrust on a track like “Gryphon Wing,” the feeling is natural and nothing seems out of place.
Shadow Kingdom has gotten behind the band in a big way, and it’s understandable why. Over the four-plus years since they got together and with a minimum of lineup changes, Corsair have emerged as an act with marked potential, not necessarily for commercial interests (though the songs are accessible), but for creating something unique in their resonant progressive rock. With the label’s version of the record en route and having followed their evolution over the last couple years, it seemed the perfect opportunity to hit up the band for an interview. Brunk, writing from France, recently took some time out to reflect on Corsair‘s origins and where they’re headed in his answers to the Six Dumb Questions that follow below.
1. The self-titled is the first Corsair album to reach the public with a label backing it. How do you feel about the album being the first impression many people will have of the band? How did Shadow Kingdom get involved in the release?
Our self-titled album, as a whole, best represents to date the artistic vision of the band, so we are proud to have it be the first impression of a larger audience. Opening with “Agathyrsi,” an instrumental track, makes clear what we are all about; that the music, with guitar riffs as the focal point, comes first. Following suit, the rest of the album is indicative of the shared writing process with its rotating lead vocals, honed guitar harmonies, and trading solos. Listening to the album nearly a year after starting the process, there are details that could be improved, whether sonically in the mix or minor changes we’ve made in a live setting as afterthoughts. I feel most musicians will find minor flaws in their own material, being indicative of the desire to grow and improve.
Tim McGrogan (aka Shadow Kingdom) contacted us and told us that he’d been really digging our music and wanted to know if we were interested in signing to a record label. Initially, he bought five copies of each of our self-releases to sell on his website, but soon thereafter, his interest peaked and he scheduled a conference call with us to establish the grounds for a mechanical distribution contract.
2. For anyone who may have picked up the album previously, how does the Shadow Kingdom version differ? Is it a jewel case release? Was the mix or master changed at all for the new edition? Will you do a vinyl run?
The Shadow Kingdom release will be in a jewel case with an insert including lyrics and pictures of the band. The artwork and layout were reworked by Marie and tweaked by Tim from ShadowKingdom. The mix and master remain the same from the original release. It’s too soon to say for certain whether or not we will do a vinyl run, but if it makes sense later on, we would love to press to vinyl, not only for the sonic quality, but to give the artwork room to shine.
3. How would you chart the band’s growth along the releases so far? How has Corsair’s sound developed between Alpha Centauri, Ghosts of Proxima Centauri and the self-titled? How was your time recording for the self-titled, and were there experiences you drew on from the prior two that went into the making of this album?
Alpha Centauri was initially meant by the band to be a demo of songs we had ready to record in a weekend session with producer Lance Brenner. We were collectively inexperienced in the studio and were hesitant to believe that what we had was worthy of more. We loved playing together, but had no goals other than having something to give to people. Lance took the material to another level and gave us a finished product beyond what we expected, thus encouraging us to release it as an EP rather than a demo.
From the beginning, the guitar work was our ace-in-the-hole and showed promise to grow as our songwriting matured. There are some killer solos in there by Paul and Marie, and the rhythm section was tight and simple. In the studio Paul‘s ability to write guitar harmonies (listen to the riff post-chorus in “Last Night on Earth”) and Marie‘s affinity for delay and guitar effects (listen to the intro of “Space is a Lonely Place”), blossomed and gave the songs greater depth and layers of sound. Leigh Ann Leary played solid beats at Corsair‘s beginning and I (Jordan) either locked in with her, sometimes joined in with the guitars to beef up the riffs, or sometimes played somewhere in between the two.
I was keen to learn all I could on the engineering and production side and so paid attention to things like microphone placement and mixing techniques. We worked together with Lance on the production and ended up with a sound that was part ‘70s, dialing back the overall high frequencies (particularly the cymbals), and part ‘80s, evident on “Beware the Black Fleet” with its crowd vocals. Alpha Centauri plays like a collection of short stories, combining the subjects of space travel and mythology with an affinity for adventure.
We walked away with a nice little EP, which was then sent by mail to reviewers. Marie‘s craftiness may well be what initially gained the band any attention outside of Charlottesville because not only did she put much time, effort and care into the design and artwork, but she had the idea of screen printing onto arigato packs from Stumptown printers, then folding them up into little boxes to house the CDs. The icing on the cake was the colorful collaged kraft paper, wrapping the package like a present, that caught Ray Dorsey‘s eye at Ray’s Realm, and from his review, others in the online metal community (like The Obelisk, Metal Review and Hellride Music) took notice.
As we approached the process of recording Ghosts of Proxima Centauri,Corsair saw a shift with Aaron Lipscombe on drums. He brought greater versatility to our songwriting, adapting to ideas quickly and owning them from that point forward. This made possible more ambitious transitions and dynamic changes as the new material took form. I think the transitions and rhythmic changes in “Centurion” were especially challenging and reflected our eagerness to push the boundaries.
On Ghosts, we began sharing the vocal duties, and I say “duties” because they are always the last thing we write, often in the studio while working on the album. The guitar work comes relatively easy when compared to getting a vocal track that is up to par. Of the six songs, Paul sang lead on two (“Warrior Women” and “Eyes of the Gods”), Marie sang lead on one (“Orca”) and backup on two (“Centurion” and “Eyes…”), and I sang lead on two (“Burnish the Blades” and “Centurion”) and backup on two (“Warrior Woman” and “Eyes of the Gods”). A hodge-podge, yes, but it assembled something that reflects the shared nature of our songwriting.
We also chose to invest in studio gear rather than studio time to gain the luxury of recording at our leisure. When you want to make a record well, you can either take the fast and expensive route by paying an experienced producer, or the slow cheaper route in which the producer is relatively new to the game. However, we knew that getting a good drum sound was important and sought help at the beginning. We teamed up with Lance again, got the drums and rhythm guitars finished in a weekend, and left to record the solos, additional guitars, and vocals at our house.
We had time on this record to do multiple takes of solos and wait for the right one to sink in, and if we didn’t get it the first time, then we tried again without having to go to a studio. We could just meet up at the practice house and record. Some of the orchestrated parts with multiple harmonies may not have happened given our low budget if we were paying by the hour. There is more of ourselves on this album, all the way through the production. We had freedom to work, while performing best under our own pressure and artists control. It felt more like our own record in the end despite whatever shortcomings there might have been sonically. I know what I think is that it could be improved, but it’s an insider’s perspective that is highly critical. Parts of the session were messy because we were learning along the way, but we did our best to tidy up and make it feel cohesive.
A high point in the process was bringing in Gabe Cooper to play violin on “Eyes of the Gods.” We plugged his preamp into a Marshall stack and it gave the effect of music coming from a gramophone, like in an old recording. One of my favorite sounds on the record comes during the quiet build in the middle of “Eyes…” I added a Big Muff and an Akai Head Rush into the signal chain and when he gave the bow a stroke, it sounded like a UFO was landing. So we took the next logical step and doubled it! You can hear it dancing around when the song hangs just before the rollercoaster arpeggios kick in.
Ghosts was an incredible learning experience for the band and we gained much more confidence going forward with a new batch of songs that had people taking notice when we played them live. We learned by being hands-on throughout the process and were ready to do it all over again.
In the beginning of 2012, we decided to record once more but this time, really push ourselves to produce enough material to do an album instead of an EP. Start to finish, it was a whirlwind effort beginning in February and finishing with the product in hand for a release show on April 21. The deadline was self-imposed and we worked hard to be efficient within a strict budget. I am very proud of the quality we achieved in the tightness of our playing, the careful engineering, and the clarity of the mix. This time, we recorded drums with our friend and peer, Nate Bolling, in three separate sessions spread out over a couple of weeks. Again, the guitars, bass, solos, vocals, and overdubs came afterwards in our home recording studio, and with a better working knowledge from the onset, we finished with a fine record. In other words, we didn’t mess around.
This time, we found the beefy guitar tone we were searching for on the last album by correcting a slight phasing issue caused by using two microphones on the cabinet. The songwriting was a bit more concise and hard-hitting. Overall, it felt less complicated, like the mystery of the studio was gone and in its place was a cozy little home. To get deep into the studio knowledge and tweaks that made this effort better would be to open a whole other bag of worms, delving into gear-nerd-land.
As a side note (to escape the aforementioned g-n-l), for Halloween in 2011, we played a show as Thin Lizzy for a 45-minute set, mainly from their Live and Dangerous album. For a month and a half before showtime, we learned their material, which we all love, and it helped us once again to learn and grow. “Chaemera” is definitely a nod to Thin Lizzy as a strong influence. It could be a reason why the major scale started to emerge in our songwriting, so if the metal heads out there find some of our songs to be too happy, I suggest going back and giving Thin Lizzy a listen.
All three of our releases begin with an instrumental track, so I find the best way to chart our progress is to Listen to (in order), “Skykrakken,” “Wolfrider” and “Agathyrsi.” By just looking at the titles, you can infer that Corsair emerged from darkness with its tentacles full of guitars (“Skykrakken”), we seized the reins and tried to control the beast (“Wolfrider”), and after studying its ways, we gained access to ancient knowledge (“Agathyrsi”). (You might have to Google “agathyrsi” to get the last one… It’s a stretch, I know.)
4. How do you see yourselves developing going forward? The span between the three outings so far was pretty short. Have you started writing for another album or EP yet? Any plans for when you might next record?
Currently, Marie and I are living in Marseille, France, and are using the time to write new material until we return to Charlottesville in January. We brought recording equipment and all the while, we’ll send ideas back to the States for Paul and Aaron to contribute. Likewise, Paul will send any new ideas and we’ll be working together through the internet and our friend Nate Bolling‘s home studio. Once we return to Charlottesville, VA, in January, the next step is then to do our best to lay down the tracks and make another record.
5. Do you have any interest in hitting the road as a touring act? How does the Corsair experience live compare to listening on the album?
Corsair live is much sweatier. It took time to rehearse the material and get it tight, but then it took a little while longer until we got comfortable enough with the material to open up and actually perform. When we started, we were guilty of shoegazing because it took great concentration to play the parts well. Except for Paul… He’s always been an animated and skillful guitar player with his flying V and killer stage moves. Now, we’ve all opened up and try to put on a show to amp up the experience of hearing the songs live.
I think a turning point for the band was about two years ago when we did another Halloween show as Spinal Tap. To pull it off, not only did we have to play the songs well, but get into character and put on a performance. Having a good laugh at ourselves was a great lesson to learn and made us a better band on stage; more comfortable. I mean, once you’ve put on a wig and some shiny tights in front of a 300-plus crowd and owned it, you can pretty much pull off your own material in your own clothes anytime.
Now, I don’t mean to say that we ham it up, but we try to bring a high level of energy to get the crowd going, so that when the pockets of space open up in our songs, the effect is strong. Aaron does a great job controlling the dynamics of the band, and we all can feed off each other easily after playing together for a while.
Vocals have always been the most challenging part of our performance and until recently, it was consistently hard to hear ourselves singing atop the guitar stacks. In the last year, we upgraded our PA, which can finally compete with guitars, and have been working on the three part harmonies that are on some of the studio recordings to surprising success. Many musicians spend a lot of their time and money searching for the right guitar and amp, but to pull off a consistently good live performance, you need to invest into a decent PA as well.
As for touring, we never have been much of a touring band, playing about six shows a year in Charlottesville with a handful of jaunts up the Northeast to NYC, Philadelphia, and D.C., Richmond, and Harrisonburg, VA. I think our interest in touring is dependent on the potential for growing interest outside of our hometown. If we have good reason to travel, besides taking a mini-vacation and having fun, then we’re happy to do so. We’ve put in the time in our hometown amongst high-caliber musicians to hone our skills and stand out amongst the rest, so despite not having toured much, we’re ready for whatever is to come.
6. Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?
I think the underlying tide that keeps this band moving is the sense of adventure that we feel in our music. Somewhere along the line, we called our material “adventure rock” and it stuck because whenever we play the songs, despite whatever else is going on in our lives, there’s always a moment when we look up at each other and smile. There’s an escape from reality into our own world, which we shape with all the courage we can muster.
Posted in Features on November 21st, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Their third new studio album since getting back together as Revelation and issuing 2008′s Release on Leaf Hound, Inner Harbor is an album that bleeds authenticity. After a while and the work that the Baltimore trio of John Brenner (guitar/vocals), Bert Hall, Jr. (bass) and Steve Branagan (drums) have also done as the concurrent act Against Nature, one almost comes to expect a level of musical humanity in the sound, but Inner Harbor(review here) takes the unpretentious progressive elements in Revelation‘s approach and pushes them further, evoking the melancholy in which they’ve always trafficked without sounding like a put-on or over-the-top in any sense that might apply.
Yet I wouldn’t call Inner Harborreserved. In the interview that follows, Brenner talks about the process of paring down the six tracks to fit them on the LP version of the album (released by Pariah Child Records, as opposed to the CD on Shadow Kingdom or the free download available through the band’s own Bland Hand imprint), and it seems like a process involving little if any restraint, resulting in an album that went from 60 minutes to 35. Tracks like “Jones Falls” and “Terribilita” aren’t likely to overwhelm with a sonic assault, but both convey effectively the raw emotional aspect that’s at the heart of classic doom.
Because Revelation are a constantly evolving process, however,that emotionality comes with some stylistic shifts that anyone who heard either Releaseor 2009′s follow-up, For the Sake of No One(or the earlier records, for that matter), could be easily surprised by — most notably the extensive incorporation of progressive synth alongside the guitar, bass and drums. Revelation have never been about expansive arrangements or overly indulgent explorations, instead finding effective conveyance through relatively simple, traditional means and tones, but on a song like the closing “An Allegory of Want” or “Rebecca at the Well,” they’re showing more of a classic prog influence — i.e. Rush — and making it work within the context of their long-since-proven ability for songcraft.
The changes might not be so devastating for anyone who’s followed Revelation since they got back or Branagan, Hall and Brenner‘s work in Against Nature, but the Rush influence was something I specifically wanted to explore in the back and forth with Brenner, along with the evolution of their self-recording process and the differences that have emerged between Against Nature and Revelation over the last few years. Brenner, an admitted introvert but no less sincere in his answers than he is in the music he writes, was especially poignant in discussing the meaning behind the title Inner Harbor, and how important the interpretations of individual words is to him both in the band and in general.
And maybe those parts are specifically worth a look, but honestly, the whole thing makes for a good read. You’ll find the complete 5,500-word Q&A after the jump.
As with their 1974self-released full-length debut, Oregonian trio Doomsower are completely straightforward (if parenthetical) in their interview answers. Justin Kaye, guitarist/vocalist of the doom-rocking three-piece, informs as to their origins and the process that led to the assembling of Doomsower‘s current lineup — Kaye alongside bassist/vocalist Levi Campbell and drummer Matt Amott — as well as their songwriting, analog recording and more, with as clear a sense of focus as he brings to the four extended tracks of the record. If you want to put a hyphenated buzzword to it, try “bullshit-free.”
Kaye, in detailing how the band got together, gives an account of his own discovery of doom, particularly with the encounter of Reverend Bizarre‘s first album, In the Rectory of the Bizarre Reverend. Some of that Finnish outfit’s seminal penchant for traditionalism can be found in the work of Doomsower, who adhere to the guitar-heavy tenets of the year for which their debut is named. As an album, 1974(review here) is raw and organic, but with a strong focus on tone, the band give a glimpse of their potential going forward, as well as hint at some of the metallic extremity in which their sound has taken root.
And there’s a love for classic rock inherent in what they do as well — as one would have to figure with a record called 1974 — that comes across in their analog methods and in the vintage riffing of “Stone,” which closes the album. While the blend is formative and the band is by no means finished growing after this full-length, there’s a cohesive vision at work right down to the photos that comprise the cover art, culled from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Documerica project, all the pictures from which were taken in the year — you guessed it — 1974.
Looking forward to more from these guys, but in the meantime, please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:
1. Give me the background on how Doomsower got together. When the band first get started, and how has the sound developed over the course of the last four years? How did you land on “pure heavy metal doom no compromise” as your motto?
Doomsower began in the summer of 2008. I recently befriended a kid by the name of Kalvin and we began jamming constantly that summer – around June or so. He played drums and I played guitar/”sang.” Our direction then was more of the black/death route and the whole idea of “doom” wasn’t in our foresight. One day at the local record shop I stumbled upon Reverend Bizarre’s first album, In the Rectory of the Bizarre Reverend. I had read about it in some magazines, read some good things and decided to buy it. Got home, put it on and was blown away at the heaviness of it. The “newness” of it to me was astounding. We were writing songs during the summer of course, but like I said, they fell more within the black/death realm of metal and not so much doom. But with this discovery of heavier, slower, more powerful music, we knew we had to do something like it. Not to imitate, mind you, but to channel our thoughts, ideas, and feelings, through this new sonic music. Also, that in Portland to us at least, there weren’t many bands doing the slow and low kind of music (obviously things have changed!). So by August of 2008 we had a vision. I shouldn’t have to explain where the name Doomsower comes from, but needless to say we wanted to stand out from other bands. In October of 2008 we self-released a demo titled Ov Doom. It was brash, VERY rough (one mic recording!) and needless to say, amateur. Looking (and hearing) back on it, it’s full of energy, naivety, and fun. They were fun songs to play, simple mind you, but still fun. It was received well enough that we made some connections with bands in Portland and began some relationships (that eventually would fall apart of course…) and started gigging. Our first show was with The Gates of Slumber. Great guys and a great band. We got lucky from the booker for that one for sure.
So yes, off to a great start! We got a bassist around January of 2009 – that didn’t last. All the while still gigging in Portland with non-doom bands (mostly thrash and black/death metal bands). The end of 2010 brought in another new face and we gigged with him for awhile and then recorded another demo, Vintage Era. This, like the first demo, was home recorded, messy, brash, somewhat catchy, and overall “OK.” Of course at the time, we thought it was marvelous (what else are you supposed to think?). The song development was still the same of me having a riff and the others adding to it. Not much collaboration. I started to feel like a Captain on a sinking ship…
2011, though, would lead to the biggest change in Doomsower. Got a new bassist, kicked the drummer out, got Matt on drums, and then released Earth in September. Quite the shift. Musically speaking from 2008 to 2011 Doomsower’s sound was a bit unfocused. Riff-driven yes, but timing and sloppiness were all over (not going to point fingers on that one). As I delved more and more into music — everything from Yes to Bathory to ThinLizzy to UriahHeep to Grand Funk Railroad to more and more “heavy rock bands” like Goatsnake, ReverendBizarre or Truckfighters — those influences started to seep into my writing.
Again, a bass player quit, and in comes Levi. 2012 marked a brand new beginning for the band. A very stable one with an actual goal. Between Levi, Matt, and myself, we are three different individuals with the same passion and drive for our music. We’re all weirdos and don’t take no for an answer when it comes to songwriting (we have keyboards from time to time for Lord’s sake). So again, from 2008 to 2011 it was me coming with an idea and going from there. But now, with three powerful minds, we work as a group. Levi will have a riff (for example “Mistress of Frost”) and I put my spin on it. Or Matt will say, “play du du dah du dah” and we transpose that to songs. We all write lyrics as well (even though I would consider Matt the NeilPeart of the band). So now it is a very much a band and a group effort.
As far as “Pure Heavy Metal Doom No Compromise,” that stems from the fact that we won’t compromise to fit a certain crowd. We do what we want and what feels right to us. We just wrote a 20-minute song that has more to do with Deep Purple and Rush than say Evoken or Goatsnake (not to discredit those bands, love em both!) Also sonically speaking, we made an actual album this year as well!
2. The production on 1974 is raw, but still really full-sounding. How did the band decide tape was the way to go? What was it like working with Rick Duncan recording analog, and how much of the album was done live?
Sami Hynninen of ReverendBizarre once told me that he liked the old Doomsower stuff because it was, “raw and real.” I’ve never let that leave my mind. I hate over-polished music and doing things digitally makes me want to barf. We decided on working with Rick because he decided on working with us. His band, Towers, became great friends with us this year and once we heard he had an analog studio it was a no brainer. We listened to some songs he had recorded for other bands, were impressed, and started to figure on when we could record.
April worked out best so we spent two days in the studio. Yes two. Nothing was rushed though, simply because we had the songs down and as Rick put it, “you guys really practice your shit.” We spent day one recording all the parts and day two we spent mixing. Rick did another day or so away from us mixing then sent us the mix and we all loved it. Through Justin [Brown] of Lamprey, I came to befriend BradBoatright of Audiosiege and he mastered our record. It was very easy saying yes to the guy who just mastered Sleep’s Dopesmoker album…
Working with analog was fun and not too difficult. Rick knows what he is doing – it was no amateur operation by any means. All instruments were recorded live. There are no guitar overdubs anywhere. The solos are all live. There is only one guitar track and one bass track. The drums were recorded Bonham-style too to give it that full feeling. The only overdubs were of vocals and the Hammond you hear in “Mistress of Frost.” Other than that, the studio Rick has was comfy and relaxing (so much so that I fell asleep when the others were working!).
3. Does Doomsower have a set songwriting process? The four tracks on 1974 are pretty varied, but still seem to be led by the riff. Are parts and changes just born out of jamming, or are they pieced together beforehand and then everyone adds their own ideas in the rehearsal space?
Like I was saying earlier, the songwriting process is a group effort. I wrote most of the riffs but Levi brings in his fair share as well to the table. We discuss parts, lengths, where this word should go and so forth. Mostly it is very straightforward, we don’t think like Yes and most songs do come from jamming. It’s a giant mixture of ideas, randomness, errors, and fun. I think some bands forget to have fun in their music.
The thing, to me, is that there are too many bands that fit into a mold. So many bands try to be Neurosis sleeping fests, or death-doom’s bastard offspring. Doomsower is everything that a ‘70s rock band was (or at least we try to be). We can have a fast number, a slow number, a song with keyboards, and song with soft guitars, etc., etc. Think about Sabbath… you have a song like “Supernaut,” then you have a song like “Megalomania.” Hearing it live (my experience from the Past Lives album), and it all gels very well. Or Judas Priest where you have, “Beyond the Realms of Death” and then they bust out “Pain Killer.” I’d rather hear a band that yes, has a style, but also isn’t opposed to branching out. Doomsower is a representation of us.
4. What’s the story behind the lyrics of “El Camino Real,” and what was it about that narrative that fit so well with the music?
I’ll leave this to the man that wrote the words, MattAmott:
In the early days of California, the Spanish set up the Mission system. These churches and villas were about 100 miles apart and ran along the coast from San Diego to San Francisco. The idea was to colonize and “civilize” the natives with Catholicism but instead most native tribes became slaves to the mission priests and almost all of their culture was destroyed. I grew up in Agoura, California, and the major tribe that occupied the coast from Malibu up to San Luis Obispo was the Chumash, expert fishermen who were known as a very peaceful people. In 1824, the Chumash revolted against some of the missions that had already killed thousands of their people. The title comes from “monument bells” that today line the 101 freeway in Southern California. The inscription on the bell reads “El Camino Real” which translates to “The Kings Road (Highway),” that is what the 101 used to be called when it was a horse/wagon road that linked all the missions. I actually wrote the lyrics a few years before I joined Doomsower with the idea that there would be a chorus between the verses. But we had the music pretty close to the final version before I brought the guys the lyrics. We adjusted it a bit, like having just a floor tom during the solo to kind of reflect the Native American storyline and ditching any chorus to have one long verse in the beginning with three stanzas so the narrative continued to flow. Other than that, it just came together.
5. Tell me about the artwork for the CD, how you discovered the Documerica photo project and came to choose that for the cover.
Well I am finishing up my Bachelors Degree in graphic design at Portland State University and came across the Documerica project last year from a peer. I generally take hold of all design within Doomsower and was working on a few different ideas for a cover. The title 1974 comes from Matt (I think…) who stated in the studio, “this shit sounds straight out of 1974!” Our friend NoelleBarce offered to do a logo (she’s awesome, unfortunately she doesn’t have a site up…) so I had that to work with too. A few ideas were done up, tossed out, and then a random spark of thought brought me back to the Documerica project. Not to give the whole, “mystique” away, but all the pictures are from the year, 1974. Turns out the guy whose photos they are ended up being a famous wine photographer in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and now (thanks Charles O’Rear!). The train thing though you’ll have to figure out on your own.
6. Portland and the surrounding area has had such an explosion of heavy bands over the last few years. Is there anyone in particular with whom you especially enjoy playing, or anyone whose name hasn’t gotten out yet that you’d like to recommend?
Yes it has indeed! When we started I didn’t know or couldn’t think of any other “heavy” bands. Now all my of my best friends are in great, “heavy” bands. Lamprey, Towers, and Fellwoods (formerly The Moss) have been mentioned here on The Obelisk, and for good reason, before. To give credit to some maybe more “unknowns” – DEFINITELY Witchasaurus Hex. They’re from Eugene but out rule all of Portland [their 2011 demo was reviewed here – ed.]. Goatsnake and OrangeGoblin blended with sweet ‘70s sounds is what they’re all about, at least to me. They really need to get an album recorded, that’s for sure.