On the Radar: Hijo de la Tormenta, Hijo de la Tormenta

Posted in On the Radar on September 23rd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

hijo de la tormenta

With their self-released, self-titled full-length debut, Argentinian three-piece Hijo de la Tormenta embark on what they like to call “forest psychedelia,” or “psicodelia del monte” (“mountain psychedelia”). I think the latter might be a more apt desciptor for the Córdoba unit’s sound itself, which balances gracefully wandering passages with dense tonal largesse — big riffs and open spaces brought to bear with a patient sensibility that impresses all the more considering Hijo del la Tormenta‘s Hijo de la Tormenta arrives preceded only by a 2012 EP, Simple 5/12. There isn’t as much a feeling either of foreboding or nature worship that “forest” brings to mind in a musical context, but frankly, wherever Hijo de la Tormenta are spending their time outside, in the forest, the mountains, both or neither, it’s clearly working for them. Their first full-length is engaging and immersive, creating a rich flow early on and running a wide scope in their largely-instrumental material that one gets the sense is only going to get wider as time goes on. Nor do they forget to kick a bit of ass, as songs like “Alienación” and second cut “Dilusiva” showcase.

The latter is about as straightforward and immediate as the trio of guitarist/vocalist Juan Cruz Ledesma, bassist Guido di Carlo and drummer Santi Ludueña get, but even their jammiest and most meandering stretches — a song like nine-minute opener “Viaje de Ida/Viaje de Vuelta” (reportedly based on a poem by Roberto Bolaño) or the two-parter hijo de la tormenta self-titled“Desde la Espesura,” which sandwiches “Dilusiva” on the other side — retain a feeling of motion. A big part of that stems from the fervency of their grooving in a song like “Alienación,” the opening sample of which jars a bit but not enough to really be a misstep, each successive track on Hijo de la Tormenta drawing the listener further into the linear course of the album as a whole. “Desde la Espesura (Lado A)” and “Desde la Espesura (Lado B)” both do an excellent job of that, departing from some of “Viaje de Ida/Viaje de Vuelta”‘s bigger sound to a more hypnotic vibe, and though it has a build, “Sierras del Paiman” continues in this fashion en route to the return to longer-form songwriting on “Alienación,” lead guitar dominating the mix in the second half for an extended, bluesy solo that pushes the song into highlight territory, a rumbling fuzz remaining after the rest of the elements seem to recede.

“Alienación” is paired with “Desalienación,” which opens with Hijo de la Tormenta‘s most forceful riffing since “Dilusiva” and shifts fluidly into a slower, more subdued bass-led groove. That, in turn, progresses smoothly into jazzy snare work, airy guitar strums — offset, of course, by dense fuzz — and late-arriving vocals providing the album’s most singularly Los Natasian moment. That band’s Gonzalo Villagra mastered, and the bulk of Hijo de la Tormenta‘s sound is less Natas-derived than many I’ve encountered in Argentina’s well-populated heavy scene, but it’s also worth noting that the band’s moniker was used as the opening line of the title-track lyrics to Los Natas‘ 2006 album, El Hombre Montaña. Still, the simple fact that Hijo de la Tormenta would position themselves in a heavy rock landscape other than the desert speaks to a burgeoning drive toward individualism, and as they finish out with the psychedelic “Postales del Fin del Mundo” with a heady jam topped by ethereal layers of guest vocals from Laura Dalmasso it seems less like they’ve shown their complete range on what’s nonetheless a cohesive and engaging first long-player. As they continue to refine their sound, expect the geography likewise to come more into focus.

Hijo de la Tormenta, Hijo de la Tormenta (2014)

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On the Radar: The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues

Posted in On the Radar on September 11th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

the sun the moon and the witch's blues

There are probably a couple distinct jams within the 18-minute span of the eponymous track on Swedish duo The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues‘ self-titled debut EP, in terms of the songwriting. By that I mean  although the Örebro duo of Robin Hirse (ex-Asteroid) and Jonas Ljungkvist get pretty deep in an immersive flow, it still sounds like more happened in the track than they hit record and went to town on an improv heavy psych exploration. Individual movements they may be, still better to get lost in the whole. The beginning unfolds with echoing Morricone guitar, and unfolds a slow heavy rock groove, and they proceed through numerous shifts and movements that piece together well but have some breaks between them as well. What individual titles might be, I don’t know, but with the results Hirse and Ljungkvist get across the sprawl in “The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues,” which fleshes out with organ before the vocals kick in right around the five-minute mark, I’m not about to argue.

Hirse‘s voice will sound familiar to those who heard him with Asteroid, who released their second and apparently final full-length in 2010’s II (review here), and to a degree, one might consider the new, cumbersomely-monikered two-piece an outgrowth from that album’s jam-minded heavy rock sensibility, but the feel on The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues represents a discernible stylistic shift as well, and not just in the the sun the moon and the witch's blues self titledoccasional Westernism. The vibe here is bluesier, the build looser. Hirse and Ljungqvist credit Tobias Eriksson, Joakim Kohlscheen and Jimmi Kohlscheen as “helping” with the EP and don’t get more specific than that, but they’re definitely working toward a full-band aesthetic one way or another, rather than the minimalism that duos can sometimes purposefully convey. Even as “The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues” pushes through its heavier apex and into foot-stomp-and-hand-clap revival, vocals layered for a near-gospel effect, this is true in the space the song creates, and as the song is led into its final phase groove by the guitar, one gets a sense of a unit clicking pedals on to make the machine go.

I was a nerd for Hirse‘s prior outfit even unto their swansong 7″ (review here), and The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues present enough of a turn sonically to clearly be on their own path, but neither is the development of Hirse‘s craft scrapped entirely or burned to the ground in favor of starting completely over. What the EP sounds like, when you get right to it, is a vinyl side, and after listening through more than a couple times in the days since its Sept. 6 release, I’d like to find out what’s on side B. The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues are reportedly heading back into the studio in short order, so it might not be all that long before we get there. Right on.

The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues, Self-titled EP (2014)

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On the Radar: Lewis and the Strange Magics, Demo

Posted in On the Radar on August 13th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

Spanish cult rockers Lewis and the Strange Magics have worked fast. In late June, the Barcelona garage doomers released their debut demo, aptly-titled Demo, with an initial three songs available digitally for those who might have the inclination to check them out. Less than two months later, the band — whose lineup remains a mystery and of whom no photos have surfaced — signed a deal with Soulseller Records to release their first album, on which they’ve already begun work. The Demo itself moves with similar efficiency. Barely 90 seconds have passed into opener “How to be You” before Satan is invoked in a catchy chorus reminiscent of Ghost for its harmonies and The Devil’s Blood for its psychedelic swirl, but rougher in its production than either. Both of those bands owed a considerable debt to ’70s cultistry, and Lewis and the Strange Magics do likewise — see CovenSalem MassBlack Widow, etc. — but a sense of theatricality comes through the subsequent “Cloudy Grey Cube” (also featured in July’s podcast), and it’s more in line with classic Alice Cooper Band than anything so specifically devilish.

There also seems to be a different vocalist on the second of Demo‘s three cuts from that on “How to be You” — the opener also being the longest inclusion; immediate points — but I could be way off on that, and I suppose the nebulous unknown is part of what makes Lewis and the Strange Magics an engaging listen. So far as I know, they’ve done no shows, and while the elephant in the room stylistically here is unquestionably Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, who rode similar garage mystique all the way to an opening slot for Black Sabbath and an impending major market US tour, Lewis and the Strange Magics aren’t so singular in their influence as the construction of their moniker might have you believe. Tonally, Lewis and company delve into vintage-isms, and there are at least two guitars on “Cloudy Grey Cube,” though that could just as easily be tape layering in the solo section before a return to the classic stoner swing of the verse riff that finishes out.

“Golden Threads” rounds out in spooky proto-metal form, a late ’60s Halloween psychedelia persisting in echoing soul vocals and a jangly but threatening intro/chorus riff, a dead giveaway of some underlying metallic influence. The closer opens up to a doomly groove, but never loses its swing, and deftly returns to its verse and instrumental chorus to close the quick 15-minute romp with a hint at darker explorations to come. Whoever they are, Lewis and the Strange Magics have arrived with a strong sense of what they’re looking to accomplish aesthetically, and while I wouldn’t be surprised to find their Soulseller debut a more complex, individualized effort than Demo, the three tracks included here make it easy to understand what all the hubbub is about, trading as they do in a fresh sound and giving another spin on what’s quickly becoming an established subgenre in its own right with garage-influenced doom rock. One way or another, expect to hear more about Lewis and the Strange Magics as they approach their debut proper, since buzz of this sort rarely disappears overnight.

Lewis and the Strange Magics, Demo (2014)

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On the Radar: Spiritual Shepherd, The Monkey’s Paw

Posted in On the Radar on August 6th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

Riffs abound on The Monkey’s Paw, the debut from Las Vegas instrumental trio Spiritual Shepherd. Lots of riffs. The young self-releasing trio seem to be working their way into their sound even as the songs play out, and the album — a full-length at 44 minutes — has an exploratory, demo feel while still keeping an overarching flow from track to track. It’s worth noting that Spiritual Shepherd, nascent though they may be for having been around just over two years, are twice-over veterans of Vegas’ Doom in June fest, have shared the stage with Pentagram (review here) and Eyehategod, and will take part in this year’s Southwest Terror Fest in October. So while they may be and sound formative, no one can say they didn’t dive in head-first. The Monkey’s Paw works similarly, with a moment of psychedelic post-rock flourish in the centerpiece “The Mountain Told Me So” and a surrounding barrage of riff-grooving progressions that put the three-piece square in the realm of modern stoner rock.

Self-produced and pressed, the album varies some in tempo and approach within tracks, moving from big-stomp riffing to more upbeat fare in songs like “The Monkey’s Paw” and “Milky Way,” but the bulk of the material balances influence from Sleep and the Melvins while searching out its own identity. The recording is raw, but clear enough to show the band’s potential for establishing themselves at the beginning point of their progression, a cut like opener “64” getting its footing in fuzzy Monkey riffs!stoner sway before guitarist Sean van Haitsma takes forward position in the mix for a howling, distortion-caked solo. Thickened by the hefty tone of bassist Omar Alvarado and propelled by drummer Ian Henneforth – whose active hi-hat would seem to indicate he hasn’t quite let go of his metal roots, despite a prevalent swing to coincide with an emphasis on precision — van Haitsma‘s riffs have a fitting complement, and if the fluid transitions in boogie-minded closer “Interstellar Superhighway” prove anything, it’s that they’re well on their way to figuring out how to make the most of a trio dynamic, Henneforth‘s tom runs and Alvarado‘s punchy basslines filling out the last couple minutes of the song while van Haitsma quietly spaces out on guitar.

An unnamed bonus track follows the end of “Interstellar Superhighway” and further proves the theorem, Alvarado going full-funk on the bass while Henneforth keeps the beat and van Haitsma stomps his wah like it was any number of desert-dwelling insectoids. For personality, the bonus cut might be the three-piece’s best showing, since it demonstrates their willingness to toy with genre conventions and shape heaviness to suit their own ends, even when those ends are basically just screwing around and having a good time. Great records are made that way. Spiritual Shepherd have a ways to go before they get there, but they’ve already got plenty to offer for riff hounds and they’ve given themselves a foundation on which to build their next time out. With the experience they’ve already set about gathering and the blueprint they’re working from here, I wouldn’t be surprised if they solidified into a powerful and progressive unit.

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On the Radar: Stonefromthesky, Orbital EP

Posted in On the Radar on July 22nd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

If nothing else, Kiev one-man outfit Stonefromthesky has the most honest moniker I’ve ever encountered having anything to do with post-metal, the Ukrainian project taking its name from “Stones from the Sky,” the closer of Neurosis‘ 2001 A Sun that Never Sets album, which — to simplify it — is a founding moment for the genre as a whole. Fortunately, it’s also just a beginning point for what Alex Zinchenko, the self-recording, self-releasing human at the root of Stonefromthesky, has to offer on his debut EP, Orbital.

A five-track collection that’s in and out in a sneaky 22 minutes, Orbital blends post-metallic ideology — undulating, massive riffs, harsh vocals, a generally sludgy feel — with electronic music, dance beats underscoring huge guitars for a blend that’s immediately marching on largely uncharted territory. There are acts out there tapping into industrial retroism, but that’s not quite where Stonefromthesky is coming from on a song like the EP centerpiece “Weightless,” which steps into open air ambience and obscure sampling while permeating a synthesized drum beat behind. That’s a breather compared to opener “Interstellar” and viciously heavy highlight “Irreversible” before it, both of which plunder claustrophobic riffs, clever stutters, and somehow defiantly human growling to concoct a feel both familiar and foreign. It’s not until “Altered” that any of it resembles Godflesh in the slightest, and that in itself is an achievement.

Even then, Stonefromthesky holds to an identity of its own, a swinging beat and low rumble meeting with Zinchenko‘s rhythmic growling and a post-rock guitar as a dysfunctional feel results from mixing beats, the rhythm at the fore while the melody acts as the bed behind — a direct reversal of what one generally expects from heavy music. A guitar solo is a grounding force compared to what’s going on alongside it, and a quick breath teases a larger payoff that never comes as an experimental vibe persists through the end of “Altered,” leaving the three-minute closer, “Forlorn” the heady task of rounding out, which is does with progressive synth melody and a building wash of rhythmic noise, slow moving but ready to be played at unspeakable volumes, keeping the tension as much as releasing it, frenetic, kinetic, but obviously controlled as well.

Zinchenko, who handles guitar, programming, and vocals himself, has quickly established a mastermind sensibility, and it seems coming into his first outing as Stonefromthesky that he knows exactly where he wants the band to go. All the better for a self-contained project like this, since if Orbital is anything to go by, he’s more than capable of acting as the driving force of his own exploration. Here’s one for the “heard it all” crowd to prove them wrong once again.

Stonefromthesky, Orbital EP (2014)

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Stonefromthesky on Bandcamp

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On the Radar: Pushy

Posted in On the Radar on April 29th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

It’s only a practice recording, and a first one at that, but with “El Hongo,” Portland, Oregon’s Pushy made an opening statement that stands them out from both the bulk of West Coast heavy rock that seems to drive toward a skater-ized ideal of gnarly and much of international ’70s ritualizing, which is bent either on analog-worship or cult-minded vagaries. There’s no telling in listening to “El Hongo” where Pushy will necessarily end up — they might decide sometime between now and their first record that they really, really like Satan — but at least from the rough take we get from their rehearsal space, the four-piece seem to have more in common with a nascent movement of upbeat, positive-vibing classic heavy rock than with downtrodden grit or whiskey-soaked dudely caricature.

The band is an amalgam of Portland scene-dwellers — your scene hasn’t arrived until things start getting incestuous — including Crag Dweller‘s Travis Clow, Adam Burke of Fellwoods, Hosmanek‘s Ron Wesley and Bison Bison‘s Dylan Reilly, and what the conglomeration get down to on “El Hongo” (“the fungus”) marks itself out as classic ’70s boogie right from the first strike of the cowbell. Fitting to the band’s name, there’s not much subtle about it, and while the recording is raw the groove is smooth, the swagger so deep you can almost smell it and there’s enough there to give an impression of a good time not so disparate from that which Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass have on offer with their 2014 self-titled outing, serving a lighthearted reminder that the reason a bunch of friends might get together to write songs in the first place is because they think it’s fun.

Obviously it wouldn’t be fair to judge the band’s ultimate mission by what they do with their first public recording, but even the fact that they basically tossed off a rehearsal-space jam and put it out there for name-your-price download speaks to a laid back approach, and for these kinds of grooves, that’s just the way you want to take it. Nice and easy.

Pushy, “El Hongo” demo (2014)

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Pushy on Bandcamp

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On the Radar: King Buffalo

Posted in On the Radar on December 5th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Fuck. Yes. I nerded out pretty hard when Rochester, NY, heavy rockers Velvet Elvis knocked me on my ass with their debut long-player, In Deep Time (review here), last year. Well, Velvet Elvis seem to have been shortlived, which is unfortunate, but guitarist/vocalist Randall Coon and drummer Scott Donaldson have teamed up with guitarist/vocalist Sean Mcvay and bassist/vocalist Dan Reynolds – both of Rochester-based outfit Abandoned Buildings Club – to form King Buffalo, and if the languid, naturalistic grooves that pervade their aptly-titled debut demo, Demo, are anything to go by, that pairing is working out pretty well. The demo has three songs that you could easily split into two 10″ vinyl sides, and for having been recorded over the course of two days at the band’s practice space comes through clear and naturally, the airy guitars leading the charge of an organic vibe that recalls some of the heavy psych of recent King Buffalo tourmates All Them Witches, a light rural touch and Neil Young influence in the vocals on the open verses of “Pocket Full of Knife” leading to a jammy march that’s immediately and viciously engaging, becoming only more so when the quiet break swaggers into a stop and subsequent full-tone fuzz riffing.

In my head I’ve started to write a list of crucial American neo-heavy psych bands pulling from the blues and Americana where and when they want to and blending it with a classic stonerly influence, and I might just have to add King Buffalo to it. Drop it into another context, maybe speed it up a bit, and “In Dim Light” could be a Fu Manchu riff, but King Buffalo put it to work in a spacious field rather than a surf-ready beach, nascent harmonies topping thick riffs such that the potential for what the band might do on a debut full-length is exciting even on multiple listens, Donaldson‘s Sleep-esque snare march making the groove all the more righteous en route to the choppy modulated guitar solo and a Doors-echoing break leading to resurgence of the main riff to finish. Put them together and “Pocket Full of Knife” and “In Dim Light” add up to just about match the 11:15 of third track “Providence Eye,” but the closer’s more or less in a world of its own, starting out with wandering notes over rhythm strum and diving into a bowl of proggadelic noodles that unfold to riffy triumph around the two-minute mark.

Maybe that’s quick for an 11-minute song, but King Buffalo play it smart in loud quiet tradeoffs, each more satisfying than the last, jamming heavy psych-style after the second before bringing the chorus around to bear again. Then it’s time to boogie. A shuffling riff takes hold and gets a touch of quirk via space-rocking synth, and several stages of an instrumental conclusion play out in driving rhythms slowing, speeding up, changing to classic heavy ’70s groove and meeting with echoing leads before Donaldson and Reynolds are finally tasked to wrap the whole thing up with the drum and bass that have all along been the anchor of the psychedelic fray. Man, that’s groovy. The demo came out in mid-November, and King Buffalo reportedly already have plans to record an LP that will hopefully surface sometime in 2014. Until then, whether you heard Velvet Elvis or not, the demo warrants getting down:

King Buffalo, Demo (2013)

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King Buffalo on Bandcamp

King Buffalo’s website

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On the Radar: Legion of Andromeda

Posted in On the Radar on November 25th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Whatever else Legion of Andromeda are, they’re fucked. Chances are, even just from reading that, you have an impression in your head of what it means. Chances also are that that impression isn’t nearly fucked enough. We’re talking megafucked. The Tokyo duo of  vocalist -R- and guitarist/programmer -M- have clearly crawled out of some desolate hellscape and they arrive at the surface armed with psychotic churn, pig grunts, a Christophe Szpajdel logo (remind me to sit down one day and tell you about my dream of asking him to design an art deco logo for this site) and brutality rarely endeavored in doom. The four tracks of their self-released, self-titled debut will simply be too much for some, maybe most, listeners, but for a select few, the oppressive tones and front-and-center bludgeoning will fit just right.

The included songs, “Cosmo Hammer,” “Overlord of Thunder,” “Sociopathic Infestation” and “Fist of the Galaxy,” are placed in order from shortest to longest, and the most discernible vocals throughout are the quick grunts between lines of “Cosmo Hammer” and the 10-minute closer. Beyond that, it’s either super-low growls or higher, still mid-range screams, and what words there are are reduced to their basic syllables much the same way percussion is reduced to bell hits, programmed kick thud and cruel repetitions. Make no mistake: Legion of Andromeda‘s self-titled only runs about 31 minutes long, but you feel every second of it. There’s no zone-out option — the two-piece want you awake to feel every inhumane moment. There’s no letup, no ambient moment to let listeners catch their breath. Nothing of the sort. From the moment it starts until it’s over, Legion of Andromeda is an exercise in aural sadism. By the time “Fist of the Galaxy” rounds out, you’ve been duly punched by it.

As to what might drive a person to this kind of madness, I won’t dare speculate, but suffice it to say that the backpatch-worthy tortures that Legion of Andromeda conjure have an underlying psychic violence that might even be more unsettling than the music itself. They vary the pace some, though “Cosmo Hammer” and “Sociopathic Infestation” seem to be using the same tempo — the sound is full, but the elements involved are minimal, so it stands out — and “Overlord of Thunder” might be more death than doom as a result of being the fastest of the bunch, while “Fist of the Galaxy” is the slowest right up until the end, but really, these are minute distinctions. What’s on tap with Legion of Andromeda is a front-to-back ride through the darkest recesses of violent thought. It’s not about what they’re doing in a given moment so much as the extreme and overwhelming terrors they concoct with the whole.

And those are fittingly nightmarish. I don’t know how Legion of Andromeda might expand on this form and still manage to keep the minimalist sensibility that pervades the self-titled, but for the oppressive atmosphere created across these four cuts — gouges, really — they warrant the attention to find out. Again, it’ll be too much for most, but those who are up to it will appreciate having their consciousness chiseled away that much more.

Legion of Andromeda, Legion of Andromeda (2013)

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10 Days of SHoD XIII, Pt. 6: Doctor Smoke Go to Tape

Posted in Features, On the Radar on October 31st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Part of the appeal of attending any festival worthy of the name is getting introduced to bands you might not have heard or encountered before, and when it comes to the lineup for this year’s Stoner Hands of Doom, which is set to run from Nov. 7-10 at Strange Matter in Richmond, Virginia, the riffy four-piece Doctor Smoke immediately caught my eye. I can’t help it. Not one week goes by that I don’t still wind up with the chorus to the closing track of Swedish trio Asteroid‘s first album stuck in my head: “Doctor Smoke… Doctor Smoke/Life is but a joke to Doctor Smoke.” Seriously, that album came out in 2007. I’m kind of surprised it took so long for a band to take the name.

Doctor Smoke play Friday night, Nov. 8, at SHoD XIII, sharing the evening’s bill with It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Gozu, Weed is Weed, Order of the Owl, Freedom Hawk and others. It’s a considerable evening to play, and Doctor Smoke have an admirable slot on the strength of their debut four-track demo, aptly-titled Demo 2013, which was released at the end of August. Sure enough, Demo 2013 makes an impression, and the four-piece of guitarist/vocalist Matt Tluchowski, lead guitarist Steve Lehocky, bassist Cody Cooke and drummer Dave Trikones offer a surprisingly cohesive, nigh-on-slick take on modern stoner metal, nodding at cult rock but never really taking it past “we watch horror movies” level, which is likely for the best.

Certainly it serves the material well. The swaggering opener “The Willow” darkens up heavy ’70s riffage, and the drive is modern, with Tluchowski‘s wizard doom vocals adding a modern edge somewhere between Kyle Thomas on the first Witch record and, on “Blood and Whiskey,” Billy Corgan‘s mid-’90s snarl. The dynamic between his and Lehocky‘s guitars accounts for a lot of the immediacy in Doctor Smoke‘s material — tradeoffs between leads and riffs are traditional, but well done — though Cooke and Trikones make their presence felt both on the slower “The Seeker” and the Pentagram cover, “Sign of the Wolf,” which closes Demo 2013 in appropriate and chugging fashion.

As they also prepare for Stoner Hands of Doom XIII, Doctor Smoke are looking past the demo as well and have plans to start recording their debut full-length completely analog at The Bombshelter Studio in Nashville (not to be confused with TruckfightersStudio Bombshelter). In order to help with the cost of going to tape, the foursome have started an Indiegogo campaign and are past the halfway mark on their goal of $3,000. It’s a pretty bold move for a band without a record out to hit up fans like that, but considering they’ve already got four takers on the $200 “We’ll write a special song just for you” contribution, obviously they inspire a good deal of loyalty in their listeners. At this rate, they might have enough material for a sophomore outing before they’ve even finished their debut.

Doctor Smoke, Demo 2013

Stoner Hands of Doom XIII

Doctor Smoke Indiegogo campaign

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Doctor Smoke on Bandcamp

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On the Radar: Zom

Posted in On the Radar on October 7th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

If you’re looking to grab attention, having bright blue, red, orange and yellow lightning bolt artwork of a Shiva-esque alien destructive force made out of electricity might not be a bad way to go. Such is the fare in which DIY Pittsburgh duo Zom traffic, and while one might expect based on the striking visual that their music is a sort of hyper-caffeinated tech-prog full of fretboard sprints and light on groove, nothing could be further from the case. Zom‘s debut — a self-titled, self-recorded, self-released, six-song EP — rests easy on a bed of thick riffs and post-Pepper-era-C.O.C. burl American style, not quite veering into “hey whoa mama yeah” chestbeating, but hardly lacking dudeliness either.

Stoner metal in the sense of having more crunch than fuzz tonally but still using it to riff out, Zom (also stylized in all-caps) is comprised of vocalist/guitarist Gero von Dehn and bassist/drummer Andrew D’Cagna, who also recorded Zom at Sacred Sound (both are listed as producers).  Solos on three of the six songs come courtesy of guest-guitarist Justin Wood (Black Plastic Caskets), and Creighton Hill supplied the aforementioned cover art, but otherwise, Zom is a two-person outfit. Rather than bask in the inherent minimalism a guitar/drum duo brings about, Zom sound like at least a trio, if not a four-piece, in terms of their layering and the fullness. D’Cagna‘s bass obviously makes a huge difference in this regard, and while yeah, there’s two of them, from the start of “Nebulos/Alien,” Zom come across as a complete band.

I don’t know if von Dehn and D’Cagna are looking for anyone else to join or if they’ll make a go as a twosome — they’d have a hard time sounding this full live, at least without sampling or running the guitar through multiple rigs — but the songs on the EP are catchy and straightforward. More or less unipolar — set phasers to “rock” — one hears shades of a less fuzz-soaked Wo Fat and von Dehn‘s belted-out vocals follow his riffing more than ably on “Burning” and veer into echoing Southernisms on the 6:56 “Solitary,” so it’s not as if Zom only have grabbed attention only to bore, though at this point they’re clearly more confident in the weighted thrust that emerges even in “Solitary,” even if later. Still, both D’Cagna and von Dehn have done time in a host of Pittsburgh metal acts, and that experience shows through in an overarching sense of professionalism that runs counter to what one might expect from a “new” band.

The “Holy in the Sky” revision of “The Greedy Few” owes almost as much to stoner-era Cathedral as to Sabbath, but even there — I’d argue it’s the EP’s most obviously derivative moment and that it’s designed to be — Zom seem to be shooting to make something familiar their own, and ending cut “There’s Only Me” hints at a burgeoning melodic adventurousness in von Dehn‘s vocals in what would’ve been a strong hook even without, so they show some promise for continuing to develop a more individual personality. There’s part of me that thinks adding more members would aid in this, but there are an awful lot of three- and four-piece acts out there. A lot of duos too, but fewer shooting for a full-band aesthetic. However they choose to proceed, Zom‘s debut fulfills its electrified threat. If they wanted attention, well, okay. Now what?

Zom, Zom (2013)

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Zom on Bandcamp

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On the Radar: Keefshovel

Posted in On the Radar on September 11th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

I had the luxury of experiencing Keefshovel‘s classic dual-guitar sludge live before hearing it in studio form. That night a couple weeks back at P.A.’s Lounge in scenic Somerville (review here) found them raw but with a sense of knowing what they wanted to do, the specific kind of abrasion they wanted to interlace with their riffs, where and when to feedback, where and when to crush. They were not at all in a position yet to innovate, but they seemed to have long since gotten underway with the project of establishing their sound. It was equally impressive in volume and intensity.

The digital release of their first demo, simple titled Demo ’13, arrives in much the same spirit. Comprised of three tracks clocking in at just over 23 minutes, it’s full of vicious plod and rumbling heft, beginning with the instrumental opener “Christmas in Brockton.” I’ll confess I was a little disappointed when I listened for the first time and found it wasn’t a reworking of “Christmas in Heaven” from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, but my concerns were soon vaporized by the actual thrust of the track, which hammers slow-chug riffing without sounding hackneyed or redundant. Drumming from Matt Couto (also of Elder) goes a long way in propelling the apex of the opener — even on the recording, he sounds like he’s hitting hard — but it’s the band as a whole that provides the appeal, and that carries through to “A Seed in the Rough” and the extended “Germ” as well.

Both of the latter two feature vocals, which first arrive following an intro build in “A Seed in the Rough” as layers of caustic screams. But for the pace, which is a crawl, my mind immediately went to Swarm of the Lotus in terms of sonic likeness, a layer of cleaner shouts worked in with the screams as stop-start bombast seems to bring down walls all around. “A Seed in the Rough” comes close to seven minutes long and finds at its midpoint a quick guitar lead that seems to signify some interest in future solo chicanery, but the pummel soon continues unabated, a slowdown and massive chugging giving way to further crash and nod as the cacophony reaches its boiling point.

When Keefshovel have driven “A Seed in the Rough” as deep into the skull of their audience as it will go, they make a switch to the 10:34 “Germ,” which works in a similar style but is even more fucked up. A more angular riff than that of “A Seed in the Rough” gives “Germ” another level of corrosiveness, though some emergent melodic interplay in the guitars hints, again, at potential stylistic complexity. “Germ” plays out as the nastiest of the three on Demo ’13, slowing further at four minutes in and dedicating the remainder of its time to playing fast and slower instrumental progressions off each other, lead notes tossed in to draw further interest.

I’d expect that as they continue to develop, Keefshovel will grow into their sludge more and provide an individualized take on the ideas they’re beginning to present here, but even so, these three tracks lack nothing for impact or viscosity. I’ll look forward to the next time I get to see them blast forth from a stage.

Keefshovel, Demo ’13 (2013)

Keefshovel on Bandcamp

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On the Radar: Cold Blue Mountain

Posted in On the Radar on August 26th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Though it could’ve come just easily from the side of a can of cheapshit beer, the moniker Cold Blue Mountain nonetheless evokes a sense of something big, covered in snow and unconquerable. It’s as though the members of the NorCal fivesome were boozing it up while trying to think of a name for the band and had an epiphany moment. Whether or not that’s how it went down ultimately matters little when it comes to taking on their 2012 self-titled debut, released on Gogmagogical Records, because the impression you go into it carrying is the same either way. Expect largesse and bludgeonry and you’ve got at least a beginning understanding of where the Chico-based group are coming from, although that’s by no means the limits of what the lineup of screamer Brandon Squyres, guitarists Will McGahan and Sesar Sanchez, bassist Adrian Hammons and drummer Daniel Taylor have to offer.

Hammons and Squyres were formerly to be found in Seventh Rule Recordings hardcore-infused crushers The Makai, but Cold Blue Mountain are coming from somewhere much sludgier in terms of the overall base of influence. The self-titled, which comes on blue and white vinyl, on tape or in disembodied mp3s, begins with “Branch Davidian Compound,” and the oppressive tonality of the guitars is immediate. A dense recording by Scott Barwick at Origami Lounge in Chico gives a kind of claustrophobic feeling as Squyres switches between lower growls and higher-pitched screaming, gradually layering the two over a slowdown for extremity’s sake, but the low end is where the heaviness resides, and Taylor‘s drumming does a well in complementing. At 4:01, “Branch Davidian Compound” is the longest song on the album (immediate points), but it’s hardly a summary of everything Cold Blue Mountain get up to stylistically, as “Time Flies Like an Arrow” quickly shows with a brooding but tense guitar intro, hinting at not only post-metal ambience, but also some of the terra-worship that has become an essential part of the genre these last few years. They’re not country twanging by any stretch, and sure enough, the song takes off brutally around the halfway mark — the toms fill a break with a sound no less thick than any of the other tones presented — but it’s there underlying and it shows up again later in the piano of the finale, “MK Outro.”

Perhaps the most post-metallic of all in terms of its basic riff and structure is “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” which measures out a jagged rhythm in starts and stops for its verse progression and builds on them with post-rock noodling in a more open-feeling chorus, Squyres topping both with searing screams. There aren’t verses and chorus as such, but the parts fit together well one to the next, and lighter flourish in the guitar during a brief break stands as precursor to some of what’s to come on later cuts like “Lone Pine” and “Comatose,” though the subsequent “White North” does an even better job at that, making me wonder if perhaps multiple songwriters are at work in Cold Blue Mountain — the band’s interplay of the sonically dark and light being contrasting enough between tracks, despite the band having positioned songs well throughout. “White North” is short at 2:36, but though they don’t waste time in the material there or really anywhere else throughout the record, Cold Blue Mountain‘s tracks are in no way lacking presence, “MK Ultra” taking hold from “White North” with an ambient pulse that you could almost call psychedelic were it not so vehemently grounded. A build brings on more post-rock guitar and growling over a slow, nodding groove and a sudden switch to quiet noodling interplay between McGahan and Sanchez, soon to be accompanied as well by Squyres. The return to full-brunt is well announced, but still satisfies, and though “Dark Secret” tosses in some more upbeat metallized riffing in its midsection, the momentum of the songs is set by then.

That riffing in particular should stand out as something Cold Blue Mountain haven’t done before on the album when it arrives, and it’s a sequence that — though contrasted in the same song by a stretch of ambient echoing guitar and bass-driven groove — continues to be developed over the remainder of the album. “Dark Secret” also boasts one of Cold Blue Mountain‘s most satisfying payoffs; an undulating riff played out patiently and at a tempo so fitting its largesse as to border on the masterful. There are those who immediately shun screamed vocals. Off you go. I think they add to a track like “Dark Secret” a level of expression that clean singing couldn’t, and that, like everything else, a good scream has its place. Whether or not that place is over an upbeat, major-key bopper like “Lone Pine,” I don’t know, but it’s genuinely a take on Torche‘s style that I’ve yet to hear and for that alone I’m inclined to go with it. A slowdown offsets the initial bounce and once more Cold Blue Mountain‘s wall of riff nestles into a patient chug as Squyres meets it head on with noduled vocal cords. The subsequent “Comatose” — which is really the proper closer since the reprise “MK Outro” is just that — continues the lighter feel (though there’s still plenty of weight in the low end) the lead lines in the guitars reminding of the time Slow Horse took on Chris Isaak‘s “Wicked Game,” though at 2:31, the entire thing is shortlived, however satisfying its stomp may have been. Piano makes an already noted appearance on “MK Outro” with lines echoing out into suitably chilled atmospheres and Cold Blue Mountain finish by giving a sense of just how little of their overall breadth they may have shown their first time out.

Or hell, maybe that’s everything they’ve got, who knows? Somehow though, I doubt it. Cold Blue Mountain have plenty of familiar aspects in their sludge, post-metal and ambient take, but there’s a personality underlying that emerges on cuts like “Lone Pine,” “Comatose” and even “White North” that taken in combination with the rest provides a sense of individuality that hopefully the band will continue to refine as they move forward. Until then, their debut effectively blends atmospherics and tonal push so as to not necessarily rely on big riffs to get its point across, but certainly be able to capitalize on them when it so chooses.

Cold Blue Mountain, Cold Blue Mountain (2012)

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Gogmagogical Records

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On the Radar: Crypt Sermon

Posted in On the Radar on July 2nd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Info is relatively sparse on Philadelphia-based traditional doomers Crypt Sermon. Their Demo MMXIII contains three tracks totaling out at around 17 minutes of shred-prone doom, given to the trenchant atmospherics of The Gates of Slumber or a rawer Magic Circle, and beyond that and their professed disdain for “fashions and beards,” they haven’t put much out there at this point. For what it’s worth, the music is a good place to start.

The three cuts on Demo MMXIII follow largely similar, straightforward verse/chorus structures, and between “Temple Doors,” “Belly of the Whale” and the closing “Whore of Babylon,” the strong hooks come immediately. “Temple Doors” arrives at a chorus of “What do my eyes see?/Nothing but darkness,” that leaves a strong and decidedly grim impression with vocals either layered or contributed by more than one member of the band (or both), and is complemented by the first of several head-turning classic metal guitar solos. That Crypt Sermon would boast connections to death metallers Trenchrot makes sense in hearing the guitar solos — there’s a deathly precision to the shred that speaks to a technicality more extreme than one usually finds in doom. In any case, that’s balanced well with the spooky groove, “Temple Doors” moving into the churning riff of “Belly of the Whale,” vocals far back, throaty but clean, echoing and peppered with quick proto-thrash screams.

Shades of Lord Vicar and Pagan Altar tint the material here and there, but Crypt Sermon are never veer too far from that underlying extremity, and the ensuing tension bleeds into the finale on “Whore of Babylon,” though at the same time, the lead interplay of the guitars has a nascent sense of ’80s misery à la Solitude Aeturnus that makes me think should Crypt Sermon decide at some point to get grandiose, they’d have an easier time of it than it might initially appear. Whether or not they’ll do that, and whether or not doing that would take away from the appeal the rawness here presents — not to mention how well that rawness suits the vocals, where something more developed would invariably require likewise development in range — I don’t know, but “Whore of Babylon” culminates with vocals and guitar coming together over doomly stomp before the quick fade gets the better of the wailing.

A tape release is en route via Dark Descent Records (Anguish, Ilsa, Cygnus, etc.), and presumably this won’t be the last we hear from Crypt Sermon, so if you get the chance, Demo MMXIII is available for a free sampling at the band’s Bandcamp page, from which I hoisted the player below:

Crypt Sermon, Demo MMXIII (2013)

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Crypt Sermon on Bandcamp

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On the Radar: Heavy Temple

Posted in On the Radar on June 19th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

With a crowley rock aesthetic already firmly in their grasp, Philadelphia trio Heavy Temple emerge from the ether bearing an early bit of organic, autumnal tonality and a nascent experimental breadth. Their debut demo comes in the form of the single track “Unholy Communion,” which tops 13 minutes and features enough fuzz for at least twice that, bassist/vocalist Elyse “Nighthawk” Mitchell standing at the fore of the mix with an authoritative command both of her voice and presence in the songs alongside guitarist Shawn “Rattlesnake” Rambles and already-former drummer Andy “Bearadactyl” Martin, who anyone who’s happened by this site once or twice will probably recognize from Maple Forum alums Clamfight.

For anyone who heard that band’s latest record, it offers little to no context for even the percussive style employed on Heavy Temple‘s “Unholy Communion,” which is headed to more patient, richly psychedelic and unfolding moods. There are more effects employed than I care to or could count, but one of the most encouraging aspects of “Unholy Communion” is that as far out as Heavy Temple go — and yes indeed, they go — no indulgence feels unwarranted. Martin has established a strong, tom-running beat by the time Mitchell arrives, rising to a swell as Rambles‘ guitar picks up a churning, progressive riff, and she unleashes a chorus of long-held notes over the emergent storm of the music, backing off only to allow Rambles space for a solo to begin an instrumental exploration.

There’s a structure at work, but it’s obscure befitting the band’s somewhat cultish aesthetic. As “Unholy Communion” veers toward the five-minute mark, Mitchell coos out a verse over tense bass and the drums’ steady beat, and the build begins again, one part into the next into the next — that last being the chorus paying off the anxious vibe prior. The riffs are intricate but accessible, turning in the chorus with a fill that in another context might be stoner rock before dropping out altogether for a droning stretch that at first calls to mind King Crimson‘s “Moonchild,” but soon moves into more active territory, Martin punctuating a steady-if-minimal riff that Mitchell can’t seem to help topping with echo-laden vocals.

That riff — you’ll know it when you hear it — is the basis for much of the second half of the song, and rightly so. In capital ‘h’ Heavy tradition, they do just about everything with it they can over the next few minutes, raising it up from its unassuming creep, making it as heavy as it’ll go, giving it vocals, adding effects, theremin, and the shouts that serve as a driving apex within “Unholy Communion” as it marches out its distorted course. Past 10 minutes in, Heavy Temple shift back toward the opening progressivism — Martin returns to that drum beat — but the weirdo theremin noise remains and the atmosphere is changed as Rambles follows his leads wherever they might take him. The drums announce the change coming, but it’s no less satisfying when the three of them turn the song upside down and with just over a minute to go, lock into a return of the chorus, somewhat slowed, to give the track closure and a frightening sense of accomplishment.

Ending with some last-second cello from MitchellHeavy Temple seem to be announcing that anything is fair game within their sound, and I for one look forward to where their sonic push takes them next. I knew they had something cool going on earlier this year when I was fortunate enough to catch them at The Eye of the Stoned Goat 2 in Delaware, but I don’t think that gig could’ve foretold the spirit they’ve been able to capture in what it’s still important to remember is just their first recording as a band. They’ll need to find a new drummer (Martin having split amicably), but I know when they do I’ll be eager to hear what they come up with next.

Heavy Temple, “Unholy Communion” (2013)

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On the Radar: Pearl Handled Revolver

Posted in On the Radar on June 11th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Immediately on This Mountain Waits, the vibe is “old soul.” The second album by UK-based heavy blues rocking five-piece Pearl Handled Revolver, the 11-track collection released on King Mojo Records never, ever veers into vintage production or departs from a modern feel, but there’s a classic sensibility underscoring the songs all the same. It comes across in the throaty, excellently-mixed vocals of Lee Vernon and in the synth, Mellotron and other key work of Simon Rinaldo, who fleshes out the melodic depth of Andy Paris‘ guitar while Oli Carter‘s bass and Chris Thatcher‘s drums hold down smooth grooves, tossing a little funk into “The Red, White and Blues” but keeping a straightforward edge to This Mountain Waits opener “Do it Again.”

The sophomore outing follows a mostly-numerical series of EPs and the 2011 full-length debut, Colossus, and with Vernon‘s vocal approach, live-feeling echo and periodically jazz-minded influence in the keys, some measure of Doors comparison on quieter cuts like the riding-on-the-storm “Josey,” “Rattle Your Bones” or the more raucous earlier stomper “Johnny’s in the Basement” is inevitable, and by all accounts it’s not something Pearl Handled Revolver are unaware of. Still, the pervading feel of the album is original, and familiar aspects are offset by curves like the piano-into-organ-led “Hourglass,” which develops some of the band’s moodier moments into a deceptively rich build. Carter provides a classy performance on bass front to back, and while the keys by their very nature sometimes take the focus away from the guitar, Paris does an excellent job in reinforcing the dynamic on a song like “Hello Mary,” grounding the ’60s psych feel of Rinaldo‘s keys with a distorted strum to go with Thatcher‘s hi-hat verses.

A sort of apex seems to take hold with “Rabbit Hole,” which kicks into insistent bursts of low and high end volume before embarking on a winding transitional line that gives This Mountain Waits not only a thicker tonality — probably their “heaviest” stretch of the album as it moves into a darker headspace — but a prog-leaning sensibility as well. Vernon is a steady presence at the fore, but where his singing could easily fall into the category of unfortunate heavy rock vocalists who are way too far in front of the music and over-the-top in their whoa-momma-yeah bluesiness, he’s better balanced all around with the music behind, so that the drama of “Honeycomb” comes across without distraction. Ultimately, as the title line is delivered as the last of the album, it’s the overall balance that is working most in This Mountain Waits‘ favor, since for the aesthetic the band has taken on — progressive, classic, heavy, blues rock — there’s little margin for flubs, and though the tracks sound wholly natural, they’re also crisply presented and clear-headed in where they want to move.

That accomplished feel lends credibility to Pearl Handled Revolver‘s adopting of the more classic aesthetic and the fact that they manage to get through This Mountain Waits without falling prey to the trap of sonic redundancy makes the album even more on the winning end. As my first experience with the band, I found This Mountain Waits to be engaging and cohesive with an individual take on a broad range of traditions, and easily worth the effort of a listen. How they might continue to develop the intricacies presented here is anyone’s best guess, but in the meantime, their blues are infectious.

Pearl Handled Revolver, “Rattle Your Bones” official video

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Pearl Handled Revolver’s website

King Mojo Records

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