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

Pearl Handled Revolver on Thee Facebooks

Pearl Handled Revolver’s website

King Mojo Records

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On the Radar: Tumbleweed Dealer

Posted in On the Radar on June 6th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

You know how it goes by now. Very few people are born into stoner rock or doom. Most come to it via some other kind of underground music, be it punk or metal. In the case of Tumbleweed Dealer founding guitarist/bassist Sébastien Painchaud, it’s the latter. Painchaud was a member of metalcore technicians Ion Dissonance and has played with The Last Felony among a host of others. Last year — so the story goes — he got high and then Tumbleweed Dealer happened. Tale as old as time: Beardy and the Riff.

Tumbleweed Dealer partners Painchaud with fellow former The Last Felony member Felix Roberge, who handles bass live, and drummer Carl Borman of respectable Quebecois stoner-doomers Dopethrone, and the resulting debut full-length plays out with some underlying semblance of technicality, but sacrifices nothing in overlying groove to get there. Painchaud adds smooth bass fills to hypnotically repetitive guitar lines, and though some turns feel jagged on the gleefully bud-reverent “How to Light a Joint with a Blowtorch,” Tumbleweed Dealer‘s entry to the sphere of capital-‘h’ Heavy is a formidable one in more than just the length of some of its track titles.

The band made their debut with last year’s Death Rides Southwards — distributed through Moshpit Tragedy Records — but as a first album, Tumbleweed Dealer finds their sound well cohesive, active but laid back, and not too insistent in its changes, but not redundant either. Shades of newer-school Southern metal twang show up in some of the post-Baroness guitar work, but Painchaud gives “March of the Dead Cowboys” a slower, moodier sensibility at the record’s center, and the context gets richer for it. Later, as “The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross” and “Dark Times a’Comin'” trade off Earth drones and post-rock crescendos, respectively, I can’t help but wonder if Tumbleweed Dealer are just beginning to show their hand stylistically with these seven tracks and what sonic shifts future outings might offer.

I guess we have a while to go before we get there, since Tumbleweed Dealer‘s Tumbleweed Dealer was just released at the end of April, but for an album so brimming with potential, it’s hard not to speculate on what the future might hold.

Tumbleweed Dealer, Tumbleweed Dealer

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On the Radar: Fever Dog

Posted in On the Radar on May 28th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Honing classic tonality and a sense of fluid experimentalism, desert rock upstarts Fever Dog make a strong statement of intent on their new single Lady Snowblood, proffering organic burl and power-trio chemistry offset by synth drama and stonerly boogie. The are only two tracks on the thing, but both “Lady Snowblood/Child of the Netherworlds” and “Hats off to Andrew Bowen (Live Version)” go a long way in hinting that Fever Dog have more going on than fuzz riffs and Kyuss-derivative idolatry.

“Hats off to Andrew Bowen” particularly owes much more to Hendrix than anything commonly belonging to the desert genre, but even “Lady Snowblood/Child of the Netherworlds” show the young outfit as capable of enacting a strikingly natural, jammy groove that brings the listener along to the extent that, when it breaks into the bizarro Floydian synth, one is hardly jarred at all by the change. Indeed, the second of the two extended cuts has its freakout on both ends, going from the instrumental push to theremin-inclusive guitar vibing that results in headphone-worthy psychedelic atmospherics. The three piece of guitarist/vocalist Danny Graham (also theremin), bassist Nathan Wood (also noise) and drummer Josh Adams (also synth) made their full-length debut with the aptly-titled CD Volume One on Interstellar Overlord Records, which was no less ably riffed or stylistically intriguing, a cut like “Since I Met You” blending Melvins-style vocal snarl with the bell-bottomed garage fuckall that inspired that band in the first place — a break of fuzzy noise thrown in just to throw off, it would seem — but the single shows them working in longer form than the vast majority of the full-length, and they’re suited to it, both in the moodier blues stretches and the unexpected turns that answer them.

Both the single and the full-length have the vocals pretty forward in the mix — obviously it’s less of an issue on “Hats off to Andrew Bowen,” which is instrumental — resulting on “Lady Snowblood” in a kind of younger Alice Cooper sneer, but when it comes to the guitar, bass and drums and the extras Fever Dog have working in favor of their material, there’s little about the Lady Snowblood single I can find to take issue with, and it would seem that as much as the notion of “desert rock” conjures a specific notion in the mind of the listener, there are still some around intent on expanding that definition even as they continue to refine it. Very cool sound, lots of places they could go sonically. One to watch for sure.

Fever Dog, Lady Snowblood Single (2013)

Fever Dog on Thee Facebooks

Fever Dog on Bandcamp

Fever Dog at Ozium Records

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On the Radar: Wizard Fight

Posted in On the Radar on May 20th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

With a CD pressing limited, I presume, to however many the band felt like spraypainting, Wizard Fight make their debut on the new The Beast Lives Demo. The Hastings, UK-based trio recorded the three tracks live on March 11 and initially put them on a cassette, but the CD followed not far behind as they’ve begun to play more shows, discs spraypainted green with stenciled pink logos as above in a sleeve with photocopied artwork — a bit of a classic touch to go with the band’s heavy-footed sludge stomp.

The three tracks themselves keep the formula pretty simple. Riffs, screams and growls, a few tempo changes and a consistent level of aggression keep The Beast Lives Demo well within the realm of the straightforward, and the trio — guitarist/vocalist Luke Bolton (Rise of the Simians), bassist Dave Sage and drummer Daniel Kinsey (ex-Steak) — seem just fine with that. Across “The Devil Rides,” “Wizard of Black” and “Thine Enemies,” the three-piece settle into a solid groove that ebbs and flows while also keeping a strong sense of momentum moving within and between the songs.

Frills are slim to none — a sample at the beginning of “The Devil Rides” — but especially for a first demo recorded live, that winds up being part of the appeal, and though it’s abundantly clear throughout all three of the tracks at Wizard Fight are getting their bearings in terms of writing songs as a unit, their sense of structure works well on “Wizard of Black” as they move fluidly from the chorus to the instrumental ending, wherein they lock in the demo’s best groove as a precursor to the burly riffing that takes hold on “Thine Enemies,” closing out with a semi-metallic chorus that Bolton tops in post-Superjoint Ritual fashion.

They’ve got some work ahead of them, but considering The Beast Lives is as rudimentary as a release can get — a live demo — Wizard Fight sound tight and like they have a good idea of where they want to be in terms of sound. I wouldn’t ask anything more of a release like The Beast Lives than that, and hopefully it sets the band up for something to grow on the next time out. Until then, in true demo spirit, they’ve made the songs available as a free download:

Wizard Fight, The Beast Lives Demo (2013)

Wizard Fight on Thee Facebooks

Wizard Fight on Bandcamp

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On the Radar: Montenegro

Posted in On the Radar on May 13th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Already on their first LP, Buenos Aires-based four-piece Montenegro have hit on an interesting sonic blend. Taking elements from desert rock, surf, spaghetti west and South American folk, the heavy rockers start out with a leg up on Confusos Recuerdos Después del Coma (Sick-o-Delic Records), comprised of four relatively extended tracks totaling about 35 minutes. The shortest of them, the mostly-instrumental “Soluciones,” might be the most interesting of the bunch, with guitarist Gonzalo Rubio García inserting driving leads between alternately funky and driving riffs, choppy-waters surf and finally rolling grooves topped by vocalist Agustin Girolami, but even on the opening “Ideario,” Montenegro distinguish themselves within the range of post-Los Natas Argentinian heavy.

Feedback buzz starts the song, but soon the low rumble of bassist Luciano Marchisio comes on and is an immediate tonal argument in the band’s favor. Marchisio sets up the central figure that soon enough drummer Santiago Lago and García join, the latter adding space echoes to the wavy progression, giving a nod to slow space that also shows up later in the noisy midsection of closer “Santa Cruz.” A jammy feeling is built and maintained through the course of “Ideario,” and when Girolami adds words to the vibing, his voice sounds high and dry in the mix above the instruments, but in an airier section that follows as they near six minutes into the track the balance is better, and by the time they get to the whoops and shouts on “Soluciones,” it’s hardly an issue at all.

Indeed, on the 10-minute third cut, “Tiempo Fractal,” I’d argue the vocals go a long way in making the song, finally providing an answer to what Yawning Man might’ve sounded like had they ever hired a singer, guitars tripping out over strong rhythms and snare march from Lago to setup Girolami‘s entry point, which is met with Delmar-style smoothness following speech either spoken or sampled, Marchisio having thickened out the groove for a call and response that leads to a heavier rush as Montenegro head toward seven minutes in the development of what’s basically been one part. García gives his delay pedal a workout, but winds up with a memorable instrumental hook anyway, and though the vocals are high in the mix toward the end once again, the positive impression has already been made.

Closer “Santa Cruz” uses spoken vocals as well, amid dueling bass and guitar wah swirl and nestles into an solid lead-led groove lent personality by Lago‘s sleepy crash work before breaking down nearly to silence to set the foundation for Confusos Recuerdos Después del Coma‘s final build. Here too the guitar is at the fore, but at 5:41, Marchisio introduces a more foreboding line, and the guitar soon returns to top it with dense fuzz and open-spaces leads atop steady drum thud. Girolami‘s work is done, but the instruments do a more than solid job of carrying Montenegro‘s debut to its finish, surprisingly peaceful despite some moments of chaos within.

It will be interesting to see how Montenegro endeavor to work in some of the variety of influence they show on “Soluciones” in with the desert rock and heavy psych aspects of their sound going forward — if indeed they decide that’s to be their project — but already on Confusos Recuerdos Después del Coma they have a strong sense of aesthetic that’s met with warm tones and engaging grooves. The album is available for free download at the Montenegro Bandcamp, from whence the following player was also hoisted:

Montenegro, Confusos Recuerdos Después del Coma (2013)

Montenegro on Bandcamp

Montenegro on Thee Facebooks

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On the Radar: Gigatron2000

Posted in On the Radar on May 1st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Space. Sometimes it’s full of riffs. At least that’s the vision of the cosmos laid out by Dutch instrumental heavy rock trio Gigatron2000, who make their debut in the form of the half-hour full-length, The Cosmic Desert Cruise. Grooving out in the unpretentious spirit of Karma to Burn, the guitar/bass/drums three-piece keep to a straightforward approach throughout the album’s 12 tracks, so that each one winds up a crisp riff-led excursion, usually between two and three minutes long, that gets in and gets out and doesn’t waste too much time on extras, either stylistic or in terms of arrangement. Samples crop up here and there, and closer “Starcommand” has a bit of swirl preceding its chugging apex, but Gigatron2000 make themselves at home in the trenches of riffery and wind up with some pretty appealing if familiar nod as a result.

The longest of the bunch is the title-track, “Cosmic Desert Cruise,” which comes on at the halfway point and reaches to 3:48, but the ensuing “Ion Cannon” shaves two minutes off that for a faster rush, and the penultimate “Background Radiation Shielding” is hardly as long as its title, checking in at 1:44. But though they’re short, Gigatron2000‘s songs aren’t lacking for substance or discernible structure. They move quickly from one to the next — marked in places as opener “Ancient Hyperdrive” is by use of samples — and because The Cosmic Desert Cruise as a whole is short, it gives a sense of the band being in a hurry, but nothing here is underdeveloped either. You can hear it in the tempo change on “Ancient Hyperdrive” and in the slowdown that hits later into “First Contact” before drummer Sarban Grimminck picks up the rhythm again to cap with a lead-in push for “Positronic Accelerator.”

Bassist Kevin Kentie and guitarist Gerben van der Aa work mostly in tandem throughout The Cosmic Desert Cruise, and that helps give some of the material a more punkish vibe, but on the whole, Gigatron2000 are playing heavy rock for heads who know what they’re getting when they sign up for a solid half-hour of riffs. The band released a limited tape edition of the album through Tartarus Records that’s sold out, and have CDs for sale the first 100 of which were packaged each with a little robot toy or spaceship (as seen above), but apparently the final robot has gone as well, so kudos to the band both on the sales and the incentive. I mean, who doesn’t want a little toy robot?

In light of that, and the crunch that pops up in Gigatron2000’s riffs, and the fact that though they seem obsessed with space in that let’s-turn-ourselves-into-comic-book-characters (awesome) kind of way, they don’t actually give in to playing psychedelic space rock, The Cosmic Desert Cruisemay be one for those already well converted to the ways of the riff, but it’s still a satisfying and intriguing listen for all that, and Gigatron2000‘s no-frills ethic is bound to continue to serve them well as they press onward into the solar system. I’d be interested to see them work a narrative course into the music — there’s some of that on the Bandcamp page set up for the tape, but none on the CD itself — but for a start, these tracks hold up just fine on their own.

Gigatron2000, The Cosmic Desert Cruise (2013)

Gigatron2000 on Thee Facebooks

Tartarus Records on Bandcamp

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On the Radar: Weed Priest

Posted in On the Radar on April 15th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Irish bashers Weed Priest do it big on their self-titled debut. Exclusively. The six-track collection of thoroughly stoned riffs and burly echoes arrives in a green-tinted matte-finish digipak that gives little hint of the heft actually contained within the trio’s dark, vaguely cultish material, and it’s already received a due amount of “OMG”eification from critics drawn in by the album’s downtrodden melange of cycle after cycle of lumbering largesse, riff building on riff through telegraphed changes at minimal but still grooving paces, only ever getting up to speed to slouch back into its apparently terminal atmospheric defeat. Well fine. The record sounds big. And it’s heavy. There. I said it too.

More than that — because fucking everything is heavy — Weed Priest‘s Weed Priest is impeccably produced to maximize that heaviness, and though one might think I’m just gearing up to toss out an Electric Wizard comparison, I’m actually not going to do it. The Galway-based trio of Adrian Elatha (drums), Ragas Walpurgis (bass) and Adam de Monlung (guitar/vocals) have way, way more in common with Sleep than they do with thee Wizard — who are otherwise responsible for so much of the weedian fare coming out of the Isles — but I guess if you want to take it all to its most primordial level, it’s all Sabbath at heart, and Weed Priest show little interest in shying away from that, a Zoroaster-type semi-psychedelia emerging out of the Ufomammut-style stomp of their extended opener “Final Spell.” It’s a cool sound, and they put it to solid use across the self-titled, the cavernous vocal sound giving even the shorter “Erichtho” — a paltry seven minutes long — a consistency in its sense of space with the opener or the later “Weed Priest” and “Day of Reckoning” to come.

The band formed in 2008, this is their first official release following a 2011 demo, and if what you’re looking for is a bash-you-over-the-head-with-tone onslaught of pot and horror worship (a clip from the 1972 movie The Devil starts off), then there’s little about Weed Priest‘s Weed Priest that isn’t going to be your favorite new Bandcamp link. A marching chug on “Walpurgia” pretty much sums up the crux of the full-length: It’s not about reinventing stoner metal or doom so much as taking the familiar and making it their own. I don’t know if caking it in reverb is enough to get that done over a long term, but they did hit on a distinct sound for their first long-player that at least gives them a base to work from next time out, and as “Thy Kingdom Gone” adds to the psychedelic push in its midsection en route to the massive one-two punch of “Weed Priest” and “Day of Reckoning,” there’s nothing to say Weed Priest don’t have something to offer beneath their resin-coated exterior for those who’d pay their debut repeat visits.

I’d be interested to hear how they cut their runtime down perhaps to accommodate a future vinyl offering, hitting around 40 minutes instead of Weed Priest‘s just under 61, but the longer stretch does work well to emphasize the repetition and the put-you-in-a-trance riffs, which seem to find their own morass between “Weed Priest” (11:14) and “Day of Reckoning” (13:52), neither song so much wandering into a jam as hammering down upon its central idea. For a bit of symmetry, “Day of Reckoning” echoes the sluggish thud of “Final Spell,” but really, it’s a symmetry that’s been present throughout the largely unipolar release, and though there are hints of melody in the guitar here and there, they’re so buried under the tonnage of the ultra-pivotal riffs around which the song is based, that it’s hard to keep focus on anything but that. Which is the idea. Which is why it works.

Weed Priest, Weed Priest (2013)

Weed Priest on Thee Facebooks

Weed Priest on Bandcamp

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On the Radar: Alabama Church Fire

Posted in On the Radar on April 3rd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

They call it an EP, but the self-titled debut release from Rossville, Georgia, duo Alabama Church Fire tops 39 minutes, so it’s pretty much an album from where I sit. Let’s compromise on “demo.” That categorization may be up for debate, but what comes through much clearer is an rich affection for the tenets of Southern sludge. The seven-track affair makes an immediate show of its overarching tonal weight with “Smokevision,” a plodding riffer that sets guitarist/bassist/vocalist Chris Lamb and drummer/vocalist Jerry Wooldridge to work showing Stars ‘n’ Bars — turns out it’s both: history and racism! — and pot leaves in kind in an underproduced wash of stoner distortion.

What sets Alabama Church Fire‘s Alabama Church Fire apart, then? The creepy atmosphere that pervades. Recorded differently, I don’t know that there’d be much throughout the demo to distinguish the twosome from a lot of the post-Down II Southern riffers — certainly a cut like “Definifiniliate” draws on that influence — but as it stands, the muddiness in Lamb and Wooldridge‘s presentation gives the whole release a sense of malevolence even apart from its heaviness, so that the standalone guitar on “Trainsong” that Woodridge meets with far-back plod issues an indirect threat before it fades out about two-thirds of the way through the track, giving way to mournful and metallic guitar and bass contemplations upon return.

Covers of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and Creedence Clearwater Revival close out, the former becoming a minimalist acoustic ballad and the latter slowing down and beefing up an already dark arrangement and  stretching past nine and a half minutes as the longest track Alabama Church Fire have on offer. The multiple vocal layers — not sure if it’s Lamb and Wooldridge or just one of them recorded twice — bode well for future experiments the outfit might try, as does the meld of acoustic and hairy, distorted guitars, and if they can keep the buried-alive ambience they elicit here while continuing to develop these ideas, it’s easy to see them growing into something vicious down the line.

For now, the demo has its ups and downs, but gives some notion of where Alabama Church Fire might be headed. Check out the clip below for “Smokevision” to get a feel:

Alabama Church Fire, “Smokevision” Video

Alabama Church Fire on Thee Facebooks

Alabama Church Fire at ReverbNation

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On the Radar: Crag Dweller

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

Contrary to the plodding dreary doom their name might imply, Portland, Oregon’s Crag Dweller get down — and I do mean get down – with classic proto-heavy shuffle and spontaneous blues shred on their late-2012 debut full-length, Magic Dust, resulting in a collection that might draw one to conclusions about which magic dust they were talking about were it not all so soaked in booze. The trio of guitarist/vocalist Richard Vivarelli, bassist/vocalist Clifton Martin and drummer Travis Clow boogie hard enough on the first couple tracks that it seems like the wheels are about to come off, but their stomp has only just begun its full reveal.

Their songs are familiar as much as they’re endearing, but they’re more the latter, and Crag Dweller – one might recognize the cover art style of Adam Burke from his work with Ice Dragon and his own band, fellow Portlanders Fellwoods – do right to allow their audience little time to stop and think. The opening “Chrononaut” on Magic Dust and “So Far, So Good, So What…” both get underway in hurry-we-gotta-go-this-way-right-now fashion, barely stopping to show off how catchy they actually are before rushing through to the next part, the next groove, the next swaggering lead. Martin‘s bass tone, well, it’s just right. He opens “Chrononaut” at a creep and “The Gate” with immediate swing, and there as well as running alongside the piano on “Gotta Have It” and the organ (if not, that’s a nifty guitar effect) that shows up in the unspeakable groove toward the end of “Chrononaut,” his presence oppositeVivarelli’s guitar bolsters the songs more than just saying so implies.

Ditto that for Clow as well, since if all three members weren’t on board, the energy in “Gotta Have It” or the brashness of “True Believer” would fall flat, which they most certainly don’t. The good news? Crag Dweller recorded Magic Dust live. The bad news? Nothing I can think of except for the fact that they’re on the other side of the country. There’s no letup in the pocket groove of “Madness” or the start-stop funk at the heart of closer “Motel Burnout,” and as much as I love a CD issue, Magic Dust seems like it’s just itching for someone to pick it up as a vinyl release. After digging this and the 2012 demo that preceded it with some of the same tracks, I’m inclined to hope for the band’s sake that it happens soon.

If you’re in California this coming weekend, Crag Dweller have shows in Chico, Eureka and San Francisco, and they’re back in Portland for a gig April 5. More details are that their Bandcamp page, from whence I also swiped this player:

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On the Radar: Salem’s Pot

Posted in On the Radar on March 22nd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

And they say there’s nothing to be gained from spending your days dicking around on the internet. Wait, do they even still say that? Okay, I don’t know what anyone says about anything, but I know toadlicking tripped out doom when I hear it, and Swedish trio Salem’s Pot certain-fucking-ly provide that on their new tape, Watch Me Kill You. The name and the lack of lineup info, and even some of the stonerly swing later into the song itself might bring on an Uncle Acid comparison, but Salem’s Pot seem to be on a thicker vibe tonally, less classic horror atmosphere and more traditional doom lumber cut through by echoing space-minded vocals. Right on.

Seems I missed out on buying the tape, which couples “Watch Me Kill You” with the Wicked Lady cover “Run the Night” and was released last month by Ljudkassett in suitably limited fashion, but even with a decidedly-less-cult digital listen, it’s hard to fuck with the riffy psychosis of the 16:25 title-track, which plods its way through a tortured riff and morose vocals on a seemingly never-ending spiral into the purple-hued abyss. Smooth low-end rumble and crashes hold the movement together when the face starts to melt on the guitar, and after slogging through about 10 solid minutes of downer alchemy, Salem’s Pot kick into a faster stoner groove that’s as much Goatsnake as what came prior was Reverend Bizarre at their most ethereal. Listening back, you can hear the amps farting out the distortion. Once again, right on.

It’s almost impossible to come out of Salem’s Pot with a clean conscience. Their take on Wicked Lady‘s “Run the Night” follows the effects wash deconstruction that caps “Watch Me Kill You” and shows the same kind of affinity for slow-it-down-and-blast-it-out that Wicked Lady themselves once showed for flapper hotties. Of course the song works at the slower pace — its stomp is well suited to Salem’s Pot‘s thick, lower-budget Electric Wizardry, miserable and psych in like measure. Salem’s Pot don’t really sound like them either, but it’s a convenient stopping point for a comparison since the higher-than-thou ethic seems pervasive here as well. Sweden’s answer to Ice Dragon, maybe? Maybe.

Either way, one thing is sure, and that’s that next time around, I don’t plan on missing the tape. Watch Me Kill You is done just this side of 24 minutes, but it’s an easy 24 minutes to get stoked on if you’re down with modern doom that has its eye on candlelit miseries. Could easily see these guys under the banner of someone like Rise Above in the future.

Salem’s Pot on Thee Facebooks

Salem’s Pot on Bandcamp

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On the Radar: Grel

Posted in On the Radar on March 20th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Their sound is an tonic of classic rocking stomp, presented with the inimitable arrogance of punker youth, so when it came to my first listen of Grel‘s self-released debut EP, Red Sun God, my only real question was, “What’s the reptilian conspiracy?”

I ask because when Grel, who went by the moniker Deadweight at the time, sent along their first outing in the mail, it came with a note scribbled in permanent marker about said conspiracy, written on — what else? — a page torn out of a porno mag. Well, the most cursory of interwebular investigations has turned up the “information” about how many major world leaders are reptiles bent on enslaving humanity. This explains a lot. Not necessarily about the EP, but you know, in general. Wars and such. Low corporate taxes. The list goes on.

More importantly, the songs. Ah, the songs. Grel hail from Lawton, Oklahoma, and bask in Stooges brashness filtered through heavy looseness. One hears neo-psych commonality with Baltimore’s The Flying Eyes on “Silver Buckle,” but with the razor riffing of “Astro Cannibalism” — presumably that’s a different conspiracy — the sound is fuller, more barroom metal that’s already several beverages ahead of the evening. I dig the dichotomy, even if it means the recording (a self-done job) sounds inconsistent, a far cry by the end of “Astro Cannibalism” from the organ-inclusive ’70s vibing of opener “Lady,” on which the five-piece sound a completely different kind of unhinged.

Closer “Gannymead” follows suit sonically with “Astro Cannibalism,” with a return of the organ as well perhaps to tie the final moments together with the earlier material. Still obviously getting their style hammered out (emphasis on “hammered”), Grel carry the Hendrix fuzz of “Cosmic Lunch” across with fitting whatever-itude, and since I don’t think they’re ever as completely out of control of what they’re doing as they sound — for evidence, I’d cite the underlying build of the moody “Silver Buckle,” which reminds a bit of Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor before its payoff hits — their approach is all the more impressive.

But it’s the dirt that makes it that way. Clean up “Stone Frog” or pull out the feedback and I don’t think it would land with the same insistence in its march, so when it comes to Grel‘s debut full-length, which is reportedly in process, my only hope is that the reptiles don’t steal the cone-shaking soul out of these tones. If nothing else, the fivesome were right to change the name. Deadweight sounds like a nu-metal act on a pay-to-play opening slot. Grel is crazy enough that I don’t know what to expect, and going by Red Sun God, that’s just where they want their listeners to be.

Grel on Thee Facebooks

Grel on Bandcamp

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On the Radar: Camel of Doom

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

It’s not a great name. I think even Kris Clayton – the multi-instrumentalist and driving force behind the UK-based solo-project Camel of Doom – would have to admit that, as band monikers go, it’s far from tops. Hey, he started the band when he was 13. Put to that scale, I don’t think I could’ve been asked to do better, then or probably now, so if you’re spending time wondering what it is about the camel exactly that makes it so doomed, or if the camel is bringing doom or it’s just doom’s camel, you’re only going to be wondering until Clayton‘s latest full-length, 2012’s Psychodramas: Breaking the Knots of Twisted Synapse, knocks you on your ass with the progressive, psychedelic — and yes, doomed — soundscape it creates.

Clayton, a former live guitarist for experimental dirgers Esoteric, performed all the instruments on Psychodramas and handled much of the recording himself (vocals were captured by Esoteric‘s Greg Chandler), but the self-released, hour-long full-length wants nothing for texture, and is rich in its wash of heavy guitars and crushingly dense rhythms. Owing influence to the likes of Godflesh and the trailblazing cosmic doom of Ufomammut and YOB, extended tracks like “The Anger of Anguish” (13:21), “From the Sixth Tower” (11:47) and the massive apex of the penultimate “Machine of Annihilation” (21:09) hone in on a massive feel like space gone slow, Clayton‘s shouts echoing in from deep reaches while shorter set-pieces like the intro “To Purify the Air,” “In This Arid Wilderness” and the outro “So it is Done” add to the ambience.

Apart from “Machine of Annihilation,” the scope of which matches its runtime, the biggest surprise probably comes in “Self Hypnosis I: The Manual,” which ups the speed and the churn to elicit a more natural-sounding Godfleshy kind of inhumanity, steeped in some of the commonalities that band had with ’90s metal before slamming on the brakes as “Self Hypnosis II: The 18th Key” takes hold with a monstrously lumbering sensibility that moves from slow, to slower, to deconstructed noise, a sample paving the way into the aforementioned “Machine of Annihilation,” which opens sweet and contemplative in the tradition of some of YOB‘s epics — looking at you, “Catharsis” — before bridging the gap between Neurosis‘ riffy churn and an unending echo of psychedelic swirling.

The first time I listened to it, I was pretty startled, but don’t let the name fool you, Clayton has something to offer with Camel of Doom, and though the band’s bio is murky — there used to be other members and Clayton has revisited older demos in newer singles, and there was a prior full-length in 2004 called The Desert at Night — if you’re going to start an exploration, Psychodramas is the place to do it. Certainly the album has enough heft and enough space to keep you busy for probably longer than it will take Clayton to come up with another one, though hopefully that’s not nine years from now.

Check out Camel of Doom on Thee Facebooks or on their Bandcamp, from which I snagged the player below:

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On the Radar: Stonehenge

Posted in On the Radar on March 1st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

A young, organ-heavy four-piece out of Potsdam, Germany, Stonehenge make their debut with Bunch of Bisons, a mostly instrumental collection showing influence culled from classic rock jams and modern heavy psych. The four-piece, comprised of guitarist/vocalist Enrico Semler, bassist Michael Paukner, drummer Ole Fischer and organist Johannes Walenta, lock into some righteous if mostly familiar grooves, but what really stands them out is Walenta‘s organ work, the natural production of the album’s seven component tracks and the band’s occasional touches of flourish, such as the handclaps and vocals on opener “Arctic Brother.”

The requisite Deep Purple influence mostly shows up in the straightforward guitar-and-organ riffing of “Sun on the Asphalt,” on which Semler (also of the Potsdam sax-infused foursome Minerva), far back in the mix, seems tempted to start in with a verse but thinks twice and just tosses out a couple Cactus-style lines here and there for bluesy affect. Can’t say I blame him, since the instrumental portion of “Sun on the Asphalt” delivers enough of a hook and the songs themselves — not a one of them comes in under seven minutes — are jammy enough that when there isn’t singing, it doesn’t seem to be lacking. A series of “Hey!” gang shouts on “Concrete Krieger” is enough to get the point of a chorus across.

Tonally, they hint at heavy psychedelia, as on the opening of closer “Delay,” but even when Semler‘s guitar seems at rest and Paukner‘s bass is at its richest, Stonehenge – contrary to their moniker, which has earned its reputation by essentially sitting still over a great stretch of time — never come to a halt, switching from one groove to the next to the next, switching up who’s playing what and, in Semler‘s case, belting out soulful vocals way off-mic so as to barely be heard in the riff-rocking rush. That makes Bunch of Bisons a more energetic listen than one might think for something with extended tracks, and as “Delay” moves in its second half to a slower, building progression, one can only wonder how Stonehenge might approach a follow-up to Bunch of Bisons and if their next outing won’t find them a more patient band.

Not that they need to be — they hardly sound winded at the finish of their debut — just that their instrumental dynamic seems to be in its beginnings and could lead to any number of interesting evolutionary paths, particularly as Semler develops his vocals and Stonehenge continue to toy with the balance between the guitar and Walenta‘s organ, which adds melodic depth to these arrangements and is a clear focal point of their sound at this stage. Could be some fascinating things to come.

Stonehenge have made Bunch of Bisons available for streaming, and you can listen on the player below courtesy of their Bandcamp:

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On the Radar: Zun

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

If my details are foggy, you’ll have to forgive me as I’ve only known this band existed for a couple hours. Zun is a new trio from the Californian desert that features Sera Timms (Black Math Horseman/Ides of Gemini/Black Mare) on vocals, Gary Arce (Yawning Man, etc.) on guitar and bass, and Bill Stinson (Yawning Man) on drums. Not to be confused with the Zune, which was Microsoft’s mismarketed attempt at competing with the iPod, Zun have just released the first audio from the collaboration, the sweetly toned and dreamy “Come through the Water.”

The track was recorded by Harper Hug at Thunder Underground, and if the statement put out through Yawning Man‘s Thee Facebooks page — which also updates on some new stuff from that band, including a split with fellow desert types Fatso Jetson — is anything to go by, it’s the first of several installments to come:

Behold, we have GREAT news! Songs from an upcoming 7″ split with FATSO JETSON and ZUN are hot off the mixing board, and will be available soon! ZUN is Gary Arce’s latest endeavor, and it features the revered Sera Beth Timms (Black Math Horseman), whose intense and haunting vocals meld alongside Gary’s signature guitar and lapsteel tones- and bass lines. The one and only thunderous Bill Stinson is on Drums.

Thanks to Harper Hug who engineered this project, which was recorded at Thunder Underground (http://thunder-underground.com/). Artwork by Christina Bishop.

AND if that isn’t exciting enough, get ready for ANOTHER killer release to come…another split EP with songs from your favorite Desert Rock Godfathers Fatso Jetson AND Yawning Man! More news about that to come. For now, stay tuned to hear sounds from ZUN. We will be sharing that within the next few days. Cheers, and thanks for your continued support!

Being a dork for Arce‘s inimitable guitar tone, it means something when I say that in Timms, Arce has a suitable complement. To wit, on “Come through the Water,” how both vocals and guitar are enhanced as they rise together just before the two-minute mark. The track, as does much of Arce‘s work, has a predilection toward wandering, echoing, and sliding into a wash of heavy psychedelic melody, but Timms also grounds the song with verse lines as Stinson provides the direction on the drums. I was not yet through the full five and a half minutes of the song before I decided I liked it a lot.

I’d love to hear and hope to hear how Zun might develop these ideas and change things up over the course of a full-length, but that’s probably a long ways off. Until then, the desert expanse portrayed in “Come through the Water” offers plenty to dig into, as you can hear on the stream below, hoisted from Soundcloud:

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On the Radar: Mind!

Posted in On the Radar on February 13th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Take note: Spanish outfit Mind! have just released their first album, Stunde Null, on LP/CDR through their own Not on Label Records in cooperation with several others (Odio Sonoro among them). Pressed in an edition of 500 copies, the record finds Viaje a 800 guitarist Alberto “Poti” Mota heading the Algeciras-based four-piece on guitar/vocals/keys/theremin, joined by Matt (guitar/vocals/keys), Pow (bass/vocals) and Serg (drums), and while his distinct voice and tone are bound to result in comparisons between Mind! and Viaje a 800, who released their long-awaited third album, Coñac Oxigenado (review here), in 2012, the new outfit has a definite personality of its own, given to blending elements of space and psychedelia without the same kind of moodiness Mota presented last year. True to its artwork, Stunde Null is a much brighter affair.

And to put a point on it, gorgeous. It’s not lush in the kitchen-sink sense, but a song like “Cosmic Tide” still has plenty of patience and cautious flowing to it, while elsewhere, Stunde Null plays driving Hawkwindian rhythms off Pink Floyd stoicism and electro-acoustic blend. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a good portion of the release is instrumental, but whether it’s the minimalist “Magallanes” interlude that follows the grand swirling payoff of “Cucumbers from Mars” or the early krautrocking Eastern scales of “Time to Fly,” which later settles into the most distinctly Floyd-esque progression of the album, Mind! satisfy the urge both for immersion in a psychedelic listening experience and for dynamic arrangements and songwriting. At its core, Stunde Null marks a richly impressive debut for the outfit, strikingly mature and exploratory. Listening back to the unfolding groove of opener “Sundrun Hreyfingarlaus,” my only hope is that Mind! puts out records more often than does Viaje a 800.

Indeed, that may well be part of Mota‘s impetus for getting the new project off the ground (and into the stratosphere), but time will tell. The aesthetic is different enough between the two bands to make me think that’s not the whole story, but certainly fans of Viaje a 800 will be pleased here, as should followers of jam-ready Euro space rock. Mind!‘s Stunde Null is a welcome surprise.

The band are on Thee Facebooks here. Check out Stunde Null on the player below, courtesy of the Mind! Bandcamp:

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