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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On the Radar: Black Blizzard

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

Okay, stay with me on this one. Way back at SHoD XI in 2011, I caught a band called Nagato from West Virginia who kicked my ass a more than fair amount and whose demo I grooved on thereafter. Dark, ambient, bluesy, really heavy and moody but without making a show of it. Good stuff that warranted a follow-up and hasn’t gotten one yet. Nagato were playing shows as late as June 2012, so what their status is, I’m not really sure.

In the meantime, though, guitarist/vocalist Paul Cogle – whose tone and delivery was a major source of my appreciation for what Nagato were doing — has put together a new project called Black Blizzard. Joining him (he’s the one right on the camera in the pic above) is Brooklyn-based drummer Ben Proudman. The two were formerly bandmates in the punk outfit Vox Populi and got going as Black Blizzard in the middle of last year, playing a show the same night they decided they were a band. Nothing like a quick start.

The duo have just put out their first release, a three-song EP called Broken Hands, Broken Hearts that sets a surprisingly diverse course in a short span of time. All told, “Light up the Night,” “Loss” and “Black Blizzard” top out around 16 minutes, but in that time, Cogle and Proudman move fluidly from rocking riffage and a catchy chorus offset by distorted crunch to sullen instrumental guitar minimalism with some obscured layers of noise low in the mix, rounding out with Conan-style low end on their eponymous closer, a tide of guitar leading the course for a build that might have been what Helmet turned into had they decided early on that they liked kicking ass and wanted to keep doing it. Vocals on the closer are wetter with reverb than on the opener and stand up to the thump and crash in the guitars and drums, leaving an impression though the track is still mostly-instrumental.

Broken Hands, Broken Hearts culminates with a vicious dug-in groove that gets louder before cutting out and though I don’t know how often they’re going to be able to get together for writing purposes — West Virginia to Brooklyn or vice versa is a long way to go for band practice — the material on the EP, like Nagato‘s demo, deserves subsequent explorations. Let’s hope it gets them. Until then, here are the three tracks in full courtesy of the Black Blizzard Bandcamp page, also available for a free download:

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On the Radar: Drifter

Posted in On the Radar on January 14th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Caking a ’90s alternative influence in fuzz, heavy riffs and a gnarly feedback bent, Aussie heavy rockers Drifter unveil their gritty debut EP, Head, with few frills and a pervasive garage-type rawness. The five-song release is over in 13 minutes, so you know the Melbourne-area trio aren’t wasting much time getting down to business, and sure enough they don’t. Cuts like “I’ve Been Bad” and the punkier “Priest” run from point A to B, and even the crunchier, grunge-derived “Halo” keeps to a more or less basic structure and lack of pretense, leading into closer “So Long,” which reminds of something Nick Oliveri might have brought to the table in Queens of the Stone Age, filling out sound-wise in the chorus behind the half-screamed vocals of guitarist Dan King, bassist Scott Fraser and drummer Dave Payne.

Each of the five tracks ends in feedback, and it’s King‘s guitar leading the way for almost the entirety of the proceedings, but Drifter do find room to work some complexity into their approach and their style. It’s a jump in aesthetic from “Halo” to “Priest” that’s striking even with “All Over Town” between them, the latter working off an almost pop-punk progression to showcase its “take that, maturity”-type chorus while the former churns and builds a considerable tension in just a three-minute span while also proffering one of those in-spite-of-itself hooks that made grunge so powerful a pop force in the first place. In terms of the sheer fuzz, “All Over Town” might be my favorite track. King‘s riff is simple and the vocal cadence touches on Fu Manchu without ever going overboard. Like the EP as a whole, it’s also over before you know it.

That works though, since if Drifter started spacing out it would take away from the immediacy of their hooks and the punkish base they show on Head. The CD arrived in a creatively-folded sleeve with the recording info, tracklisting and a cartoon cover of caveman beardos in shorty-shorts, so it’s good to know that whatever else Drifter have going on, they’ve got a good sense of weirdness to match. Can only help them going forward, and in the meantime, they work a bit of that into the music as well. You can hear the tracks on Head by hitting up the Drifter Bandcamp or looking them up on Thee Facebooks. Here’s the EP in its entirety for your perusal:

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On the Radar: Methadone Skies

Posted in On the Radar on January 8th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

A four-piece hailing from Romania, Methadone Skies waste no time busying themselves balancing ethereal post-rock noodling off heavier-ended psychedelic grooves. Periodically driving but never quite losing its focus despite an obvious jam-based ethic, their second album, Enter the Void, arrived in 2012 as a self-released sleeve CD preceding an allegiance with Sweden-based Ozium Records. The six-track offering sandwiches lengthy explorations with even lengthier explorations, the opening title-track topping out at 13:36 as the longest of the bunch (immediate points) while its closing companion piece, “Exit the Void” answers back at 11:54. Between, “Hyperspace,” “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” “Versus Evil,” and “Mudstar” tap into modern heavy psych ethics like they’re trying to bridge the gap between Russian Circles and Colour Haze. Frankly, it’s not a bad gap to bridge.

Both guitarists — Wehry and the more effects-laden Casi, who also handles keys — satisfy on a tonal level, with rich and warm fuzz that melds well with the echoing lead notes peppered throughout, as one can hear in the second half of “Hyperspace” on Enter the Void. The bass and drums provided by Mihai and Retea, respectively, are mostly relegated to a follower’s role, but  as “Hyperspace” slows to its finish and “Long Day’s Journey into Night” ensues, their presence is more than duly felt in the added heft to the capably executed instrumental builds, which seem to be as much about going from spaced-out to grounded as from calm to chaotic. It works, perhaps most of all on “Versus Evil” — the lead lines of which I’ll mark as the most memorable on the album — which finds its culmination after six minutes into its total 9:33 as the two guitars match step with the complex rhythm for a thickened, oddly-timed apex.

The level of noodling might be too much for some. They’re not exactly subtle about it. But for Methadone Skies‘ second outing behind 2010′s Explosions of the Sun, Enter the Void can offer an engrossing listen if approached with an open mind and willingness to go along with its hypnotic aspects. “Mudstar” is a bit crunchier, but “Exit the Void” re-ups the space elements and gives a solid tripout to close with, the leads taking a more active role early on with a cascading line only to give way later to thicker entanglements before ending with even more  echoing riffery and a surprisingly quick fade. One might have expected a long sustained echo or something like that, but I guess at 53 minutes in, Methadone Skies figured they’d said all there was to say. True enough, if you haven’t gotten the point by then, well, yeah.

Methadone Skies can be found upon Thee Facebooks, and Enter the Void is available for stream and purchase via Bandcamp, from whence this player comes:

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On the Radar: Amaxa

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

Like many in the current crop of Swedish heavy bands, Stockholm-based Amaxa owe much of what they do directly to post-Sabbath early ’70s riffing, bands less given to outwardly stonerized lyrics or a focus on what would become doom. Organ shows up on their self-titled, self-released debut LP, but even when it picks up, “Shooting Star” is more psychedelic and thicker toned than you’d call what Deep Purple were doing at the time. They cite Mountain specifically and Swede-prog progenitors Kebnekajse, and I’m no one to argue, but it’s impossible to ignore the trailblazing bands like Graveyard, Witchcrat and Burning Saviours have done over the course of the last decade as well. Either way you look at it, Amaxa are playing off ideas that will be readily familiar to experienced listeners within the genre.

The band is comprised of guitarist Peter Pedersen, bassist Anders Broström, vocalist/organist Erik Broström and drummer Jimmy Halvarsson, and much of what might distinguish them among their peers in Sweden’s crowded retro set lies in the organ and how it’s used to play up prevailing psychedelics that come through alongside blues rock riffing and palpable tonal warmth while the production balances modern techniques and the already-stated retro aesthetic. Longest cut “Welcome in Sanity” meters out darker stomp, but even so keeps the pace moving centered around an undulating bassline from Anders and Jimmy‘s tense ride cymbal, both of which open wide in the chorus to the 6:19 track, which in turn has room in its second half for a sort of mini-freakout shuffle. At very least, Amaxa are schooled in the tenets of the sound they’re presenting on their first album.

Killer low-end is a regular feature throughout Amaxa‘s Amaxa, but “The Heartache of Philip Marlowe” belongs to Peter‘s guitar and to Jimmy‘s cowbell. Tonally, it’s some of the best fuzz Amaxa have on offer, and put to a start-stop groove in the verse that Erik matches in his vocals. The album ends with fitting swirl and some heretofore unheard melodic complexity, hinting of things to come maybe on future releases, and if nothing else, the fact that they self-released it and pressed to vinyl bodes well for a sense of professionalism to grow. Because apparently I have a Soundcloud account now and because Amaxa (also on Thee Facebooks here) posted the tracks there, here’s the full record:

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On the Radar: Carrion Mother

Posted in On the Radar on December 26th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Formed in 2011, the German five-piece Carrion Mother made their debut this fall with the self-released rumble of Koronis, a full-length demo recorded in their rehearsal space — obviously they’ve got one of those pro-type setups, since the three extended tracks sound better than a lot of records I get around here — in Regensburg. “Earth,” “Giver of Warmth,” and “Venus, Goddess” are embroiled in post-metal tonal crush and doomly lumber, driven by the dual guitars of Raffael D. and Julius K. and the varied screams and clean vocals of Aris S., who affects melodies and rhythmic shouts with apparent ease and knows when to step back and let the ambience hold sway.

And as one might expect for three tracks and a total 48:47, there’s no shortage of ambience. Carrion Mother aren’t as directly indebted to the Neurosis school of riffing, but one can hear a bit of Cult of Luna or maybe even some of Burst‘s thinking-man’s post-hardcore in the latter stretches of “Earth.” It’s largely the guitars responsible for setting the mood, while Fabian B.‘s bass and Joe W.‘s drums lock into complex but still flowing grooves behind. This frees up Raffael and Julius to meander as they will, and Aris to come and go in the manner of Rosetta‘s Mike Armine, able to both convey emotion and scream his lungs out when the song calls for it.

Each of the three tracks starts out soft before unveiling its full brunt, and as the longest, the opener would seem to show the most patience, but once it gets going — just before three minutes in — the intensity of riffing in “Venus, Goddess” more than makes up for any wanting ease in the transition. They build a tower out of that riff, Aris‘ vocals resting further back to let the unified chug come to the fore, and even when they break into the chorus, they hold onto the momentum propelling them forward. “Venus, Goddess” turns what seems like a bridge into a seven minute groove, adding on leads, slowdowns and rhythmic insistence to the core figure only to cap their debut outing with final comedown noodling, symmetrical to the start of each song, but hardly as adrenaline-inducing as the rush they hone at their most active.

Still, especially for a first release and a band who’s been around for a year, Carrion Mother‘s Koronis shows a more than firm grip on aesthetic and sets them up with any number of avenues for growth their next time out. At very least, it’s certainly worth a listen to the Bandcamp stream and all the instant gratification that might provide:

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On the Radar: Iguana

Posted in On the Radar on December 19th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

With a potent and natural-sounding mixture of desert groove and classic rock jangle, the mostly-German four-piece Iguana debuted earlier this year with Get the City Love You, a 10-track LP steeped in love of ’90s melodicism and post-Queens of the Stone Age lumber. That influence shows up particularly on cuts like “Vague as a Mirage” and “Get the City Love You,” which have some of the style of low-end push that made British outfit Crystal Head‘s first album so engaging earlier this year, but it’s only a sliver of the whole breadth of Iguana‘s work. Even the title-track isn’t so limited, winding up in a start-stop that reminds of Primus‘ “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” as well as the aforementioned desert thud.

Helping any grunge comparison you might want to make, vocalist Alexander Lörinczy (also guitar) boasts elements of classic Chris Cornell in his style, and though it’s an easy comparison to make, that winds up adding to the individuality of Iguana, since the music surrounding moves from the dreamy laid-back psych of “Morning Eve” to the Easternisms of “Madinat al Yasmin,” the early central figure of which I’d swear I’ve come across before either from Master Musicians of Bukkake or in one of Siena Root‘s endearing raags. “Madinat al Yasmin” moves into vaguely-doomed stomp, with Alexander May‘s bass featuring heavily in the mix alongside psychedelic leads and insistent riffing from Lörinczy and guitarist Thomas May. Even with two guitars, though, Get the City Love You doesn’t feel thicker than it should, keeping some space in the recording from the start of opener “New Moon Flyby,” which barely hints at the stylistic complexity to come, despite being a solid execution of Alice in Chains-style harmonizing.

There’s a lot to soak in on the 48-minute album, and after the eight-minute “Fukushima 50″ — which boasts a circuitous rhythm that would make Fatso Jetson proud — the ensuing “Über-Idolizer” has a difficult task in distinguishing itself through a slower tempo. Nonetheless, Lörinczy‘s easy moves into and out of falsetto and drummer Robert Meier‘s bluesy kick drum make the track more than an afterthought, and a layered chorus in the penultimate “Down on You” ensure that the momentum carries into understated closer “Freshly Tranquilized,” which caps the promising debut with a warm instrumental build, no more or less sweetly-toned than anything Iguana has had on offer prior.

Get the City Love You was released in June on Sweet Home Records. Were it not for the fact that the two bands have already toured together, and so he’d obviously be aware of them, I might have sent their stuff on to Christian Peters from Samsara Blues Experiment for consideration of Iguana as a fit on his Electric Magic imprint. In any case, Iguana – who also had an EP out in 2008 — give themselves a solid foundation creatively here from which to cohere and build their next time out, and show a noteworthy range in their songwriting in the meantime.

They’re all over the internets — be it Thee Facebooks, Spotify, SoundCloud, their own site, iTunes, etc. — but I thought the video for “Morning Eve” from the album would be a good first impression for anyone not yet introduced. And wouldn’t you know it you can put videos on the internet now? What’s next, electronic mail?

Hope you dig it:

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On the Radar: Pleasure

Posted in On the Radar on December 12th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Lest you judge them by their overly-braided press shot, Ojai, California-based four-or-five-piece Pleasure make an immediate positive impression with unretrofied heavy ’70s muscle, freewheeling Soundgardenisms, desert-heavy jams and a sense that any of the four tracks on their debut For Your Listening… EP can go anywhere at any time. Easy grooves and chunky riffing meet with rhythmic nuance, echoing vocal soul and a richness of approach that goes beyond the individual influences from which they draw all seem to come around to the same point: Pleasure are on the right track and they got there awfully fast.

Comprised of four tracks, all topping six minutes and each named for its number in the running order, For Your Listening… starts chatting up your special lady almost immediately with “1,” getting underway with a classic groove one might expect from Sweden before Southern California, and soon enough the vocals show likewise Graveyard-style vigilance, though the guitars post-chorus are hookier and the vocals more assured and swaggering. Changes throughout the tracks, from loud to soft, builds to peaks, are pulled off with ease and the whole thing winds up with a distinctly Californian flow despite culling inspiration from a range of classic outfits, Sabbath being pivotal but by no means principle by the time “3″ hits its lead-driven payoff.

Both Wes Wilson and Tony Melino did a stint on guitar in Annihilation Time — Pleasure is them plus Zach Doiron, Taylor Hellewell and Chris Everett — and the band continues to have an affiliation with Annihilation Time offshoot Lecherous Gaze to the point of playing a show together this Friday, Dec. 14 at Carpenteria & Linden Pub in Carpenteria, CA (more on that here), but sonically there’s little in common, as Pleasure hit on natural classic rock with engaging and accessible songwriting and an exciting but mostly unpunked energy. They formed in 2012 and For Your Listening… is their first release (though there are some other jams posted that are worth checking out), but hopefully it’s not too long before Pleasure check in with another installment, because the impression they make with these tracks goes beyond being a pleasant surprise and right into “I want to hear more of this right now.”

Pleasure are on Thee Facebooks here. Check out For Your Listening… on the player below, courtesy of their Bandcamp:

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