Project Armageddon, Cosmic Oblivion: Vortex of Crush

Posted in Reviews on September 4th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

project armageddon cosmic oblivion

Houston’s Project Armageddon are quick to let their listeners know what it’s all about. On their third album, Cosmic Oblivion, they open with the eight-minute instrumental “Cosmic Crush,” and the ensuing progression moves from riff to riff to riff and back again. Frills be damned. Each member of the Texan trio, who release Cosmic Oblivion through Shattered Man Records as the follow-up to 2012’s Tides of Doom after having made their debut with 2010’s Departure, played at one point or another in Brainticket Records trad-doomers Well of Souls, but with Project Armageddon, they present a foundation of oldschool metal that one can hear in the guitar tone of Brandon Johnson and the vocals of bassist “Doomstress” Alexis Hollada, as well as the forward-moving rhythms of drummer Raymond Matthews.

The album’s 47 minutes (43 for the digital version) are put to varied use, however, with several cuts positioned almost as bonus material at the end, including the CD-exclusive Judas Priest cover “Deceiver,” the acoustic song “Time’s Fortune” — which, though it’s somewhat buried at the end, is a highlight — and a live version of the title-track to Tides of Doom (recorded somewhere along the line in the band’s hometown) to finish out. As such, though substantial in both runtime and content, Cosmic Oblivion at times feels more like an EP in giving the audience a sample of what Project Armageddon have to offer than a front-to-back full-length, but there’s a flow established all the same, the metallic drive of Matthews‘ drums and Hollada‘s bass setting a patient, grand opening pace under Johnson‘s riffs on “Cosmic Crush,” but deftly shifting between tempo and fostering fist-pumping righteousness along the way through the opener’s chug-happy course.

Like many in Texas’ heavy underground, they’ve taken some measure of influence from Pepper Keenan‘s work in Down and C.O.C., and Project Armageddon aren’t halfway through “Cosmic Crush” before one can hear shades of Deliverance in the guitar, but they grow more individual as they move forward from there and toward “Frigid Bitch,” the centerpiece of the CD and a bluesier, almost Witch Mountain-esque high point boasting Hollada‘s most accomplished vocal performance and a careening interplay of guitar and bass in its back half that’s a showing of diversity in approach after the two tracks prior, “Vortex to Oblivion” and “Lost to Forever,” round out a (theoretical, since so far as I know there’s yet to be a vinyl pressing) side A comprised of satisfying and unmistakably metal-infused riffs that seem to be pushing toward a deeper purpose.

project armageddon

Taken with the vinyl split in mind, Cosmic Oblivion is a completely different record than when played front to back, and some of the second half’s experiments — that acoustic track, the cover, the live cut — make more sense, but the tradeoff for stopping halfway through is felt in the momentum that emerges between “Cosmic Crush,” “Vortex to Oblivion” and “Lost to Forever,” all three of which top seven minutes and give a complete-seeming glimpse at Project Armageddon‘s songwriting and in particular Hollada‘s marked frontwoman presence in the tracks, which are peppered with stage-style exclamations and an energy that does right in teasing a live feel later affirmed as “Tides of Doom” rounds out. Compression on the vocals takes a bit of getting used to, but I’m not about to pan a self-releasing band for audio fidelity. The quality of the tracks holds up across Cosmic Oblivion‘s first half, and while the album’s structure can be a head-scratcher at first, it doesn’t take much to put the pieces together, and a hook like that of the chorus to “Lost to Forever” is its own best sell.

A tempo downshift and more relaxed — opening “woo!” aside — but still heavy vibe, along with Hollada‘s soulful approach, help make “Frigid Bitch” the highlight that it is, and if there’s one truly frustrating aspect of the CD version, it’s that the cover of “Deceiver,” which originally appeared on Judas Priest‘s classic 1976 second album, Sad Wings of Destiny, is placed before “Time’s Fortune.” What’s the difference? Arriving after the cover, the acoustic cut feels more like a bonus track than the album closer it truly is, and more like an extra than the essential component it deserves to be. It broadens the context of Cosmic Oblivion as a whole, and particularly directly following “Frigid Bitch” as it does on the digital version, its added percussion, harmonica and subdued vocal, it provides a resonant counterpoint to side A’s more traditional aspects. “Deceiver,” at just over four minutes, rocks plenty hard, but interrupts that process. Maybe it’s moot, since invariably more people will hear the digital album anyway, but the shift between “Frigid Bitch” and “Time’s Fortune” is an especially engaging finish and the CD doesn’t get the same treatment.

Structured for vinyl, released on CD and better suited to mp3, Cosmic Oblivion can seem somewhat uneven at times, but it will not be the last we hear from Project Armageddon, and I’d be very surprised if someone didn’t pick it up for a restructured vinyl release. That said, without “Deceiver” or the live “Tides of Doom” to close out, Cosmic Oblivion would check in at just 35 minutes, so in addition to an extra enticement toward the physical product — a philosophy against which I won’t argue — they also add to the album’s runtime, and the latter, which opens with a sample releasing the Kraken, affirms the band’s focus on their onstage energy while also not at all subtly confirming that anything Project Armageddon bring to the studio they can also bring to a live setting: no trickery involved. Not that much would be suspected, since as noted at the top, it’s about the riffs and the groove, but the one element “Cosmic Crush” leaves out is Hollada‘s vocals, the dynamics of which are crucial to the album’s overall success.

Project Armageddon, “Lost to Forever” Live in TX, 2014

Project Armageddon on Thee Facebooks

Project Armageddon’s website

Cosmic Oblivion at CDBaby

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Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, The Night Creeper: Waiting for Blood

Posted in Reviews on September 3rd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

uncle acid and the deadbeats the night creeper

Looking at the ascendancy of the UK’s Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats (often stylized with a lowercase ‘d’ on the last word) over the last half-decade is like staring into the abyss of our own worst impulses, and it seems unlikely the band would have it any other way. Portrayals of murder, exploitation, the celebration of cult mindsets, all provide the VHS-grained fuel for the four-piece’s fire. Their aesthetic accomplishments have been beyond considerable. Since debuting in 2010 with the only-20-made-and-never-reissued Vol. 1, Uncle Acid made their breakthrough in 2011 with Blood Lust (discussed here), which was subsequently reissued as their first offering through Rise Above Records, then in partnership with Metal Blade.

Their third album, Mind Control (review here), followed in 2013, and by then their influence had already begun to spread to a league of up-and-coming groups interested in capturing a similar style of lo-fi garage doom and psychedelia. That influence has only increased its span as Uncle Acid began to establish a presence as a live, and subsequently touring, act, and their fourth full-length, The Night Creeper, arrives through Rise Above with the band — guitarist/vocalist Kevin R. Starrs, guitarist/vocalist Yotam Rubinger, bassist/backing vocalist Vaughn Stokes and drummer Itamar Rubinger — positioned as forerunners of a style they helped create, having fostered a sound that has retained its immediate identifiability despite a growing number of players in the US, UK and Europe taking cues from it. Plenty out there are trying, but no one sounds as much like Uncle Acid as Uncle Acid. Their sonic individualism has been a great source of their success up to this point.

Couple that individual style with songwriting so memorable as to make tracks about stabbing people seem like generational landmarks, a classic mystique and a balance between wider-market conceptual horror appeal and preaching-to-the-converted Sabbathism, and Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats‘ reach is as multifaceted as the band’s hooks are infectious. The Night Creeper, the bulk of which was tracked live by Liam Watson of Toe Rag Studios in London, does nothing to interrupt Uncle Acid‘s momentum. Rather, it performs the crucial function of demonstrating growth within their sound. Not only growth as players — the simple fact that any of it was recorded live is progression; Uncle Acid weren’t a live band when they made Mind Control — but stylistic expansion as well.

Pulling back on the post-Manson cultish conceptual themes of its predecessor, The Night Creeper‘s 10 tracks/54 minutes (the longest offering yet) foster a general air of darkness derived from classic horror, noir and Giallo films. Still tales of murder and unnamed threats, but opening salvo “Waiting for Blood,” “Murder Nights” and “Downtown” are less direct in their root thematic, and so feel freer to explore dark corners Uncle Acid in which have yet to lurk. “Waiting for Blood” and “Murder Nights” in particular are maddeningly catchy, but they also set the tone of the record in establishing its rough-edged, almost biting sound. It would have been very easy for Uncle Acid, particularly after Mind Control, which feels positively produced in comparison, to have smoothed out their style, upped the recording fidelity, and made a general push toward mass-market accessibility. The Night Creeper, instead, sounds like it was buried alive and had to crawl through six feet of packed dirt distortion to see release. It is glorious in its filthy revelry.

Ester Segarra

There are other signs of progression throughout. Instrumental interlude “Yellow Moon” delves directly into the kinds of ambience much of Uncle Acid‘s material has touched on, that analog, Mellotron creepiness, while on either side of it, “Pusher Man” and “Melody Lane” provide The Night Creeper with highlights in terms of songwriting and choruses that just as easily could have opened the album, both hovering on either side of six minutes long but with not a second to spare in their bizarre hypnosis and unbridled push. Familiar elements, perhaps, but given fresh execution. After the solo-topped peak of “Melody Lane,” the title-track arrives with an immediately slower tempo, more swing than thrust, subtle turns in vocal layering playing out without undercutting the prevailing rawness and patience of what would be the album’s longest inclusion if not for “Slow Death,” which closes.

Separating the two is “Inside,” the shortest piece at 3:25 (yes, shorter than “Yellow Moon”), which would be easy to pass off as an afterthought if not for its insistent chug, fuzzy leads and lingering psychedelic keys. Structurally, it departs from some of the band’s established verse/chorus tendencies, but all the better to set up “Slow Death,” which at 9:36 is essentially built on a languid, subdued jam. Vocals are deep in the mix behind jazzy guitar, a cutting-through snare and the distinct hiss of analog tape. There is a build at work, but even at its most swollen, the song is never really meant to “take off” from its prescribed dirge march. Volume grows and fades and there’s a long bout of silence before the mournful hidden track “Black Motorcade” caps, its acoustic form recalling “Down to the Fire” from the reissue of Blood Lust, but in a mood shifted, twisted and altogether less active, in part sounding like a lost Kinfauns demo, but still well within The Night Creeper‘s by-then-expanded purview.

Ultimately, whatever else it does for the band’s processes or profile, what The Night Creeper most declares is Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats‘ sustainability. Not even that they can come out with a new record every couple of years and keep themselves on the road — “the road,” which you’ll recall wasn’t even a consideration in 2012 — but that they can continue to expand on what they’ve done in the past without being locked into one formula or another, and that as their profile grows, that doesn’t necessarily translate into capitulation to a broader audience. These should be encouraging signs for fans, but more than that for the band itself, since while these songs are identifiable as their own, there’s nothing about their work four albums later that would seem to indicate stagnation on any level, and they can continue to move forward and grow in sound and aesthetic from here. No question that for many listeners, The Night Creeper will be in the conversation of the year’s best albums, and rightly so.

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, “Melody Lane” official video

Uncle Acid on Thee Facebooks

Uncle Acid’s website

Rise Above Records

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Thera Roya, Unraveling: That Feeling of Falling Inward

Posted in Reviews on September 1st, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

thera roya unraveling

Unraveling is the second EP from Brooklyn post-sludgers Thera Roya, following a 2013 self-titled, a split with respected NJ black metallers Hercyn (review here) and a smattering of singles going back to when they were called The Badeda Ladies and played as a duo, circa 2012/2013. Tour veterans with Maryland’s Foehammer and others and regular denizens of The Meatlocker in scenic Montclair, New Jersey, and the formidable group of bands that haunt that space — DutchgutsSet and SettingThe Sun the Moon the Stars and so on — the three-piece also recorded the three-song Unvraveling there and push the line between an EP and an LP at 28 minutes but in the end benefit from the concise intensity that a shorter offering brings.

Working under the basic concept of portraying a panic attack, drummer Ryan Smith (also Mountain God) varies between lyrics and indecipherable syllabic screams, and he, guitarist Christopher Eustaquio (also Sunrot) and bassist Jonathan Cohn bring about a suitable tumult to fit that ideal, though as stormy as it is at its most raging, Unraveling is never far from its sense of atmosphere, and as the vinyl-ready structure moves between the first two seven-minute tracks “Anomie” and “Body Breaker” and into the 13-minute closing title-cut, the scope likewise broadens. Looking at it on the level of its concept, I’m not sure I’d say Thera Roya have made sense of the panic attack, but they’ve at very least begun to process what has just given way within the body. It feels significant enough to mention that after all the explosiveness and abrasion contained in these tracks, Unraveling ends quietly.

The EP arrives as a customized presentation of the cover art — almost like a greeting card from the recesses of your psyche. Inside one finds a note in challenging handwriting, various symbols and words jumbled together and a download code, the band tapping into DIY ethics without necessarily having to pay to press a CD or tape. As noted, the structure of Unraveling is suited to vinyl and I wouldn’t be surprised if it wound up that way sooner or later, but a digital release works for setting up a linear, front-to-back flow in a way that vinyl wouldn’t allow, however enjoyable it might be to see Miriam Carothers‘ cover art at such a scale. That flow winds up a major argument in favor of considering Unraveling as a full-length, but the stated intent is otherwise, and at under a half-hour, it’s still easy to read the release as offering a sample of where Thera Roya are at in their progression.

THERA ROYA - Unraveling - tour thera 2015

For an answer, they present the punch-you-in-the-face feedback that launches “Anomie,” a thick, grueling riff emerging in slow grind soon topped by screams, deceptively intricate building, and a pervasive rollout offset by post-hardcore-style turns — Isis at their angriest — but by the time it gets down to its final minute, the mood is more desperate than infuriated. “Body Breaker” picks up from there with a tense underlying fuzz that Smith soon joins on drums, its opening more dedicated to instilling unease than smashing away, though of course they get there as well. Around the halfway point, “Body Breaker” shifts into bigger post-metallic riffing, setting up a transition into a quiet, isolated-sounding ambient stretch that carries through the last two-minutes-plus of the song, Cohn‘s bass and Eustaquio‘s guitar taking a forward position as a softer nod takes hold, but it’s not until “Unraveling” itself that they really revive the push.

Their finishing move, “Unraveling” is a monster. It starts out full-boar, finds a middle-ground and even introduces some cleaner singing — a first on the release — before turning to slower plod. All within its first two minutes. Aside from demonstrating Thera Roya‘s ability to work in longer forms, something which I’d be very surprised if they didn’t try again at some point, it’s the richest of the three inclusions and the most atmospherically complex, setting rhythms against each other and moving into an ambient stretch that sets up a linear build to serve as the apex of the EP but not its actual ending, which after. A series of crashes at 6:30 are topped with shouts from Smith as the band move into a highlight, densely-weighted low-end groove, the bass and guitar distinguishable only in the level of force they elicit.

It’s from this foundation that the peak of “Unraveling” is launched in somewhat abbreviated flourish of melody in the guitar, Eustaquio finding room in all that onslaught for subdued, post-rock noodling. The vocals don’t dare — yet — but for this outing, the threat is enough, and before “Unraveling” falls apart at the close, Thera Roya underscore the potential for growth in their sound. Already, they’ve ranged farther than they probably knew they would when they started writing this material, but it still sounds like just the beginning of what they could accomplish stylistically, figuring out how to play off the loud/quiet trades, the dynamics between bass and guitar, where and how and what vocals can add to the atmosphere as another instrument in conveying intent. Unraveling does not suffer from a lack of ambition, but neither is that all it has to offer, and it proves an immersive listen that shows its real strength in putting the listener in the mindset where the band wants them to be. It is disturbing and engaging in kind.

Thera Roya, Unraveling (2015)

Thera Roya on Thee Facebooks

Thera Roya on Bandcamp

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Pentagram, Curious Volume: Next Days Here

Posted in Reviews on August 27th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

pentagram curious volume

The odds have been overcome, the story has been told, and really all that’s left for Pentagram at this point is to keep the momentum going. Their return to Peaceville Records comes with Curious Volume, their second full-length after 2011’s Last Rites (review here) reunited one of the most pivotal pairings in American doom: vocalist Bobby Liebling and guitarist Victor Griffin, and one could easily argue that it finds PentagramLiebling, Griffin, bassist Greg Turley and drummer “Minnesota” Pete Campbell as the latest addition in place of Sean Saley, now in The Skull — with the highest public profile they’ve ever had. 40 tumultuous (to put it mildly) years later, Bobby Liebling is legitimately a rock star, headlining at festivals like Psycho California and touring to packed houses on both coasts and in between.

It’s worth noting that part of that notoriety is owed to the 2012 documentary, Last Days Here (review here), but the band having a back catalog of largely-underrated doom classics has helped them influence an entirely new generation of listeners and artists. It boasts few surprises, but the 43-minute/11-track Curious Volume works well within Pentagram‘s strengths and proves a solid outing that will keep them on the road as they continue to expand their fanbase. One wouldn’t go into it expecting or even wanting much by way of experimentalism, and accordingly, Pentagram deliver on the promise of blending classic doom and Liebling‘s charismatic persona — see “Misunderstood” — and do justice to the band’s decades-spanning underground legacy. Recorded by Mattias Nilsson with additional vocal tracking by Travis Wyrick, it draws together with professional clarity and poise the best of Pentagram as they are today.

In doing so, it bears a significant stamp of Victor Griffin‘s songwriting. Guessing when Pentagram material was written is a trap — they had more than a decade of material before their first album came out — but songs like, “Lay Down and Die,” “The Tempter Push,” “Dead Bury Dead,” “Curious Volume,” “Close the Casket,” “The Devil’s Playground” and the closing “Because I Made It” carry a distinct feel that one can trace back through Griffin‘s work in In~Graved and Place of Skulls to Death Row, so whether the parts are new or old, they’re his. Near as I can tell, the only cut on Curious Volume that previously appeared on a Pentagram release is “Earth Flight,” which showed up on 2003’s A Keg Full of Dynamite live outing (good luck finding it), recorded in 1978, but that’s hardly the only inclusion on Curious Volume with a classic feel.

pentagram (Photo by Stacy Lynne)

Following the opening rush of “Lay Down and Die” — which seems to directly acknowledge the notion of a live audience in its lyrics — second cut “The Tempter Push” nods directly at Deep Purple‘s “Strange Kind of Woman.” Its tense intro marked by Campbell‘s steady kick, “Earth Flight” has a classic-style shuffle, and the doomly “Sufferin'” and speedy good-timer “Misunderstood” follow suit. They could be brand new and “Dead Bury Dead” could’ve been written by Liebling or original drummer Geof O’Keefe for Stone Bunny circa 1970, but in terms of feel there’s a fair amount of variety between tracks in their approach — on “Walk Alone,” more rocking, on the title-cut, more morose, and so on — but Griffin‘s best-in-class tone and Liebling‘s vocals both tie the songs together, so that the entirety of Curious Volume remains cohesive across its span, speaking the crowd on “Lay Down and Die,” “Curious Volume” and “Because I Made It” — the opener, centerpiece and closer — but keeping listeners engaged throughout with its quality of craftsmanship and performance.

More perhaps than any other song on Curious Volume, the closer sums up the band’s position. “Because I Made It” finds Liebling and Griffin both on the other side of addiction struggles, each party very much in need of the other, and while I won’t downplay the role Turley‘s low-end plays in setting the heavy vibe of “The Devi’s Playground” or “Dead Bury Dead,” or the job Campbell does in stepping into the drummer role right before entering the studio, no question the focuses for most listening are the vocals and guitar. As much as anyone can in doom, they have made it. With Last Rites, the question going into it was whether or not Pentagram would be able to carry a full-length record across after seven years and a yet-again revamped lineup.

On that level, Curious Volume is an even more difficult record to make, because unlike its predecessor, the simple fact that it’s coming out doesn’t automatically stand it up as a triumph. It’s fortunate, then, that Pentagram have been able to sustain the momentum from their live shows and bring that energy and presence to the recording. The reflecting point of view of “Because I Made It” — in some ways, it and a couple of the other songs here seem to be retelling “Amazing Grace” — feels justified, especially given the context of Last Days Here, and the band make their victory through the classic doom that Pentagram helped to shape. No question that spectacle is a factor post-documentary, but there’s nothing one could reasonably expect of a Pentagram record 30 years after Relentless first surfaced that Curious Volume doesn’t deliver.

Pentagram, “Walk Alone”

Pentagram on Thee Facebooks

Pentagram’s website

Curious Volume at Peaceville Records

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Carousel, 2113: Strange Revelations

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on August 26th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

carousel-2113

[NOTE: Press play above to hear the full stream of Carousel’s 2113. Thanks to the band, label and PR for letting me host the premiere.]

Don’t let its minimalist cover fool you, Carousel‘s 2113 is brimming with life. The Pittsburgh four-piece’s second offering through Tee Pee Records after a raucous debut two years ago with Jeweler’s Daughter (reviewed and streamed here), the nine-song/46-minute collection also marks the arrival of guitarist Matt Goldsborough, who doubles in labelmates The Skull. His addition to the lineup with returning guitarist/vocalist Dave Wheeler, bassist Jim Wilson and drummer Jake Leger, is even more noteworthy because, while Goldsborough is is perhaps best known for his stint replacing Victor Griffin a couple years back in PentagramLeger also doubles as the drummer for reunited heavy rockers Bang, so more than most who work in the style, Carousel can claim direct lineage to the classic form from which they take inspiration.

Accordingly, 2113 makes for some of the most seamless ’70s modernization I’ve heard since Stone Axe, songs like “Man Like Me” and the talkbox-infused “Photograph” digging deep into a ’70s-sytle aesthetic and rhythm without necessarily needing the vintage production trappings that others sometimes take on. As was the case with Jeweler’s DaughterCarousel work smoothly as a two-guitar foursome, this time around Wheeler and Goldsborough finding harmonies right from the start with opener “Trouble” that reinforce the timelessness that Thin Lizzy once so readily tapped. It’s a party vibe early, but the bulk of 2113 isn’t so easily caged into one mindset or another, much to the benefit of the album as a whole.

Wheeler‘s frontman presence is a major force throughout, but ultimately it’s his and Goldsborough‘s guitars both that lead the charge, while Wilson and Leger lock in alternately swinging and driving grooves to push songs like “Photograph” forward at an efficient but not at all rushed-sounding clip through its several included solos. The shift in approach between that cut and the subsequent “Buried Alive in Your Arms” — which almost beats the listener over the head with its hook and thus proves among the more immediately memorable inclusions — signals a sense of structural variety that continues throughout the record, but wherever they wind up, Carousel keep 2113 sounding consistent and largely effortless, swagger perhaps the album’s most unifying theme.

carousel

Fitting enough, Wilson gives a highlight bass performance on “Jim’s Song,” and the shortest track (at 2:54) winds up smartly placed to hold onto the momentum the band have thus-far built leading into the centerpiece of the tracklisting, “Highway Strut,” which is about as close as Carousel come to a mission statement on the record. Elsewhere, on “Buried Alive in Your Arms” or the later “Man Like Me,” or on the bonus track Joe Walsh cover “Turn to Stone,” one finds tales of loves lost and found, but “Highway Strut” feels like it’s in the middle for a reason. Also likely the opener of the vinyl side B, it’s a classic road song in the Grand Funk tradition of the sort that Dixie Witch once did so well, and while by the time it comes around, Leger has already broken out the cowbell once on “Photograph,” it couldn’t be more appropriate than it is highlighting the titular strut of the centerpiece.

“Strange Revelation” is about as close as Carousel get to psychedelia, with some added spaciousness in the guitar, but the prevailing vibe remains more boozy than druggy. Starting quiet, it trades back and forth for the first couple minutes until locking itself in around the halfway point through its seven-minute run, building to a satisfying apex that prefaces the title-track soon enough to follow “Man Like Me,” which like “Jim’s Song” on side A, is smartly located where it is. In this case, its straightforward thrust, dual leads and catchy chorus not only stand on their own, but act as a buffer between “Strange Revelation” and “2113.” If you want to go one farther, one can hear a touch of Joe Walsh in the guitar progression as well, tying the original song to the finale cover, but most importantly, “Man Like Me” is strong enough to sound like more than just an interlude between 2113‘s two longest tracks, the latter of which checks in at 7:42 well spent between AC/DC chug and some more of that highway strut they noted earlier.

As ever, Wheeler and Goldsborough affirm the forward position of the guitars, a layer of acoustics adding a sentimental touch to the second half of the track, which is entirely instrumental and topped with interwoven solos prior to a long fadeout. I don’t know whether “Turn to Stone” is included on the vinyl edition of the album — I’d assume not, but one wouldn’t want to feign certainty — but they fit the cut by the former Eagles/James Gang frontman smoothly into the overarching flow either way, even if after the fade of “2113,” there’s not much left that really needs to be said. It’s a quick listen, with or without “Turn to Stone” at the end of it, and Carousel‘s second makes a more than suitable answer to their debut, finding them as players working in more nuanced ideas without losing the natural spirit so essential to what they do.

Carousel on Thee Facebooks

2113 at Tee Pee Records

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Various Artists, Electric Ladyland [Redux] & The Best of James Marshall Hendrix: Scope Worthy of the Source

Posted in Reviews on August 24th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

12inchJacket_offset

Even before you press play on Electric Ladyland [Redux] or its companion piece, The Best of James Marshall Hendrix, it’s hard not to admire the coordinating prowess of Magnetic Eye Records in making it all happen. Most people couldn’t corral three bands to put together a single show bill, and the label’s Mike Vitali has wrangled 20 acts from the US and European heavy rock underground to pay homage to Jimi Hendrix in time for what would’ve been the supra-legendary guitarist’s 75th birthday, topped it of with artwork by David Paul Seymour, whose piece for Electric Ladyland [Redux] easily stands among the best covers of 2015, and Caitlin Hackett, whose three-eyed-bird portraiture perfectly suits Hendrix‘s groundbreaking psychedelic blues. Packaged separately on 2CD and 2LP but clearly intended as complements, both tribute collections showcase staggering ambition on the part of the label putting them together, and the fact that Electric Ladyland [Redux] and The Best of James Marshall Hendrix materialized at all is an automatic, unqualified triumph. Here are the full tracklistings:

VA, Electric Ladyland [Redux]
1. Elephant Tree, “…And the Gods Made Love” 01:44
2. Open Hand, “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)” 03:01
3. Superchief, “Crosstown Traffic” 03:32
4. All Them Witches, “Voodoo Chile” 14:59
5. Origami Horses, “Little Miss Strange” 03:52
6. The Heavy Eyes, “Long Hot Summer Night” 04:17
7. Earthless, “Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)” 05:03
8. Wo Fat, “Gypsy Eyes” 04:34
9. Mos Generator, “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” 03:34
10. Gozu, “Rainy Day, Dream Away” 08:07
11. Summoner, “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” 12:56
12. Claymation, “Moon, Turn the Tides… Gently Gently Away” 01:24
13. Mothership, “Still Raining, Still Dreaming” 06:20
14. King Buffalo, “House Burning Down” 04:44
15. Tunga Moln, “All Along the Watchtower” 03:28
16. Elder, “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” 07:08

VA, The Best of James Marshall Hendrix
1. Child, “In from the Storm” 04:57
2. Elephant Tree, “Manic Depression” 04:10
3. Wo Fat, “Machine Gun” 12:49
4. Stubb, “Little Wing” 04:18
5. Rosy Finch, “Foxy Lady” 05:17
6. Geezer, “Little Miss Lover” 04:50
7. Wo Fat, “Gypsy Eyes (Extended)” 07:13

As I said, staggering. Even more so in the case of Electric Ladyland [Redux], since not only do the usual comp and tribute album concerns apply of getting everything together and turning it into a cohesive listening experience, but also because in paying homage to a full-length album specifically, it’s also pivotal that Electric Ladyland [Redux] flows front to back while being comprised of 16 separate recordings taking place in 16 separate studios with 16 separate performances and treading on some of rock and roll’s most sacred, pivotal ground. Covering Hendrix? Unless you’re Stevie Ray Vaughan — and hell, even if you are — it’s a tricky proposition for one song, let alone a full record. It’s like someone asked Magnetic Eye if they wanted to go mountain biking and the label built a rocket, went to Mars, terraformed the planet and then decided to tackle Olympus Mons, on a Huffy.

va the best of james marshall hendrix

Okay, an exaggeration, but you take my meaning. And Electric Ladyand [Redux] mostly succeeds in its decidedly Herculean mission. There are one or two changes that come across choppy — an early one in the jump from the groovy vibes of Elephant Tree and Open Hand into the burlier Superchief, who give an able showing of what they do but ultimately feel out of place — but on the whole, it’s hard to argue with the results as they’re presented throughout, whether it’s King Buffalo‘s dreamy “House Burning Down” or groups making the material their own, like Wo Fat‘s “Gypsy Eyes,” Summoner‘s re-envisioned “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” and Gozu‘s adventurous “Rainy Day, Dream Away,” which leads off the second CD of the collection after Mos Generator‘s “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” finds the Washington-based act showing the roots of their own approach to landmark hooks, as do Mothership with their “Still Raining, Still Dreaming.”

Hearing Earthless with vocals is something of a surprise, and their take on “Come on (Let the Good Times Roll)” (an Earl King cover) not only is true to their Hendrix influence, but is a decided showcase of just how influential they’ve been on the West Coast underground — there are a good number of bands out there striving to sound like Earthless covering Jimi Hendrix — and having Swedish rockers Tunga Moln perform “All Along the Watchtower” in their native language puts an unexpected spin on arguably Electric Ladyland‘s most recognizable piece. All Them Witches are right in their element jamming on “Voodoo Chile,” and Elder do justice to the album’s closer in their “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” capping the tribute with one last highlight to round out the many before it.

There are several acts who reappear on The Best of James Marshall Hendrix, including Wo Fat and Elephant Tree, but as the latter only had the intro “…And the Gods Made Love” to lead off Electric Ladyland [Redux], it seems fair enough. In the case of Texas fuzz forerunners Wo Fat, I’m not at all going to fight with their extended jam on “Gypsy Eyes” as it closes out The Best of James Marshall Hendrix, and their 12:49 run through “Machine Gun” suits just as well. Leading off the companion tribute are Australian blues rockers Child, who give “In from the Storm” due soul and sway, and after Elephant Tree‘s “Manic Depression” and Wo Fat‘s “Machine Gun,” hearing Stubb take on the sweet melodies of “Little Wing” couldn’t be more perfect, especially leading into Rosy Finch‘s stomping “Foxy Lady,” which in turn gives way to Geezer‘s “Little Miss Lover,” coated in wah and right in the New York band’s wheelhouse, even as it gives way to a deconstructing long-form fadeout.

Wo Fat‘s extended “Gypsy Eyes” picks up from that silence with a bonus track-style vibe, but really, both releases feel like a bonus the whole time through. There are some variances in sound and style and some bands are more suited to the source material than others, but the effort that has been put into Electric Ladyland [Redux] and The Best of James Marshall Hendrix and the passion that bleeds from every second of each of these tracks are simply inarguable. It may be preaching to the choir to have heavy rock and psych bands covering Hendrix tracks, but the vibe throughout both of these tribute comps is much more of a genre paying homage to one of its founders who, sadly, didn’t live long enough to see the generation-spanning impact of his work realized. Equally admirable in mission and execution.

VA, Electric Ladyland [Redux] (2015)

VA, The Best of James Marshall Hendrix (2015)

Magnetic Eye Records on Bandcamp

Magnetic Eye on Thee Facebooks

Magnetic Eye website

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Shiggajon, Sela: To Build a River

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on August 20th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

shiggajon sela

[NOTE: Press play above to hear the stream of Shiggajon’s Sela. Thanks to El Paraiso for letting me host the premiere.]

Danish collective Shiggajon issue a disclaimer as regards their sound, and it goes like this: “Shiggajon is not freejazz.” Fair enough. The truth of what they “are,” at least on their newest offering, Sela — also their first to be issued through Causa Sui‘s label, El Paraiso Records — is both more complicated and less off-putting. Jazz is part of it, freedom is part of it, but there’s also psychedelic exploration, jamming, experimental rock, ambient texturing and a deep-rooted improvisational sensibility that, in large part, defines the two included tracks, “Mæander” and “Sela,” each of which boasts sprawl enough to consume a vinyl side. Another part of what Shiggajon “are,” however, is amorphous.

Based around the duo of saxophonist Nikolai Brix Vartenberg and Mikkel Reher-Langberg, who on Sela handles drums, percussion and clarinet, the band has a revolving-door contributorship as well as a massively prolific level of output, including studio and live records, one-off CD-Rs and so on. Being hard to define is part of the trip. For “Mæander” (18:14) and “Sela” (18:29), they’re joined by violinist and double-bassist Emil Rothenborg, drummer Martin Aagaard Jensen, drummer, percussionist ang guitarist Mikkel Elzer and vocalist and silver flutist Sarah Lorraine Hepburn, who also donates electronics and tingshaws, the latter of which sets a major tone of pastoralism in the developmental stages of “Mæander,” along with Rothenborg‘s violin and various jingling bells.

Far back percussion — congas, maybe — gives a somewhat ritualized feel, and Hepburn‘s sans-lyrics vocal textures come presaged by an uptick in those bells, so there’s a plan at work on “Mæander,” though far more satisfying is the process of letting Shiggajon, whoever, wherever, whenever, whatever they are, construct the flow of the track and be carried along its multifaceted currents. Natural vibing is pervasive and proceeds gloriously, without interruption, to spread out over side A’s 18-minute course, cymbals keeping rhythm not in straightforward rock progressions but in timed ceremonial march.

shiggajon

 

As the strings and the percussion continue to build intensity to and through the 12-minute mark, one is reminded of some of Swans‘ mounting-chaos experimentalism, but Shiggajon are ultimately on a much more peaceful trip, and rather than come to a head and explode with aggression, “Mæander” finds a distinctly meditative feel in its repetitions, elements moving in and out around a central angularity that has an underlying melody but isn’t shy about defying it either. When Hepburn returns in the second half of the track, it’s clear just how ceremonial “Mæander” has become and how much of a march has emerged. Seemingly perpetual, it ends on a long fade, the bells cutting through on the way out, only to have the title-track fade in quietly around turns of violin, more bells and a subtly grounding drum beat. More experimental-sounding on its face — that is, with a less prominent initial foundation — “Sela” itself is also a more linear build, flowing smoothly toward an apex and then making its way out again peacefully.

More than its predecessor, “Sela” comes together as a wash of tone and cymbals. There’s a drone-style feel to some of its early going, but it’s more active than it at first seems, and like “Mæander,” it’s best experienced as a sort of passive participant, which is to say, if you’re going to go with it, go with it. By the time they’re 10 minutes in and the guitars begin to hint at post-rock echoes amid a peaceful din that’s just as real as it is oxymoronic, you’re either going to be lost or completely on board for wherever Shiggajon go next. That destination? A somewhat more rhythmically insistent apex — the flute comes into play — that’s gorgeously layered into a consuming, almost overwhelming push.

I couldn’t point to an exact second where they hit it, but the crescendo is over shortly past the 15-minute mark — the cymbals drop out — and from there, Shiggajon set about deconstructing “Sela”‘s various elements, the flute staying so long, then withering into the background drone, then rising again. It’s an ending that fits with the odd but always flowing spiritualism preceding, but one gets the feeling coming out the other side that Shiggajon probably didn’t stop to look back at the ending, by which I mean a band like this — as much as they are a band — is almost always looking forward at what’s next rather than what they’ve done before, constantly striving toward the next step in their ongoing progression. While Sela unquestionably captures a moment in their existence worth seeking out, for Shiggajon, it’s likely to be one more chapter in a longer story rather than any kind of stopping point. As one can hear on both sides of the platter, there’s no shortage of movement within.

Shiggajon’s website

Sela at El Paraiso Records

El Paraiso on Thee Facebooks

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Live Review: Godhunter and Destroyer of Light in Massachusetts, 08.14.15

Posted in Reviews on August 17th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

Godhunter (Photo by JJ Koczan)

My first time in Salem, or “Witch City,” as the sign said, which seems to have done reasonably well on the niche-tourism market based on its people-got-burned-at-the-stake-here heritage. Well enough to have a joint like Koto, anyway. The venue where this show happened is a sushi bar. A sushi bar. Because although the passion for heavy music in the area of Eastern Massachusetts is strong enough to host gigs at, say, a sushi bar, that’s also how deep the corresponding lack of decent venues in the region runs. Godhunter and Destroyer of Light, from Arizona and Austin, Texas, respectively, came an awfully long way. It’s kind of hard not to be embarrassed for the state in which I live. Often.

Led to the Grave. (Photo by JJ Koczan)But the good news was Godhunter and Destroyer of Light, and if it’s a sushi bar, well, that’s better than nowhere at all. A section of the otherwise carpeted floor was hardwood, and tables were cleared out to make a “stage,” which is to say an empty space. The kitchen stayed open — sadly, I did not have any sushi, though I’d been craving it for weeks — and locals Led to the Grave opened the show billed to start at 9PM well after 10 with their death-thrashing blend of sonic extremity very much in a New England-y vein. Dual-guitar squibblies called to mind the first time I heard Cannae‘s Troubleshooting Death and thought about the colors of autumn leaves. They were heavy, growls, screams, shouts, Slayer parts, etc. Not offensive to watch, and at times pretty right on, but not really where my head was at.

I was there to see Destroyer of Light and Godhunter, whose split 12″, Endsville, is out now on Battleground Records. Both are dual-guitar/dual-vocal four-pieces, and both have plenty of aggressive edge, so how they wound up touring and working together isn’t really much of a mystery, but they made a fitting complement at what I’d seen billed as “Salem’s first stoner rock show,” which was interesting since I didn’t think it was a stonerDestroyer of Light (Photo by JJ Koczan) rock show at all. Led to the Grave, even when they grooved beyond their melodeath and thrash influence, did so with a death metal charge, and both Godhunter and Destroyer of Light are meaner than what I usually think of as stoner rock. It’s not like it was “An Evening with Sons of Otis” (though I’d probably go to that as well). Maybe it’s splitting hairs, but Godhunter are sludge metal all the way and Destroyer of Light have some pretty clear Sleep influence, but are up to something entirely rawer.

If you don’t know the band, I’m not trying to slight them when I say they’re not as metal as their name and they’re not as punk as their cover artwork, but they have elements of both metal and punk to go along with their big, big, big riffing. On stage — such as it was — guitarist/vocalist Steve Colca, bassist Jeff Klein and guitarist/backing vocalist Keegan Kjeldsen headbanged in unison to their own grooving largesse while drummerDestroyer of Light (Photo by JJ Koczan) Penny Turner slammed away on his ride cymbal behind, setting the nod. It was righteous from the start, and they offered little breathing room from one pummel to the next, guitar leads cutting through the density of the direct-from-the-cabs wash of sound — P.A. for vocals only, house-show style — as Turner was bathed in green light and the rest of the band more or less played in the dark.

Another unfortunate staple of the Bay State show-going experience, that, but not unexpected, particularly at a place like Koto, which though it’s badass enough to put on a show like this one — their t-shirts were also killer-looking, but I did not dare ask about sizes lest I should incur the judgmental glare of the employees, several of whom I supplied with earplugs — isn’t really equipped to host it on a professional level. Again, nothing against it, but it’s a sushi bar, not Radio City Music HallGodhunter (Photo by JJ Koczan)It seemed likely to me that either Destroyer of Light or Godhunter, who closed out the night, would bust through that P.A., but neither did. On tour together and sharing amps, it wasn’t a long changeover between the two traveling acts, and I was very excited for Godhunter‘s set, which even Steve from Destroyer of Light had teased by touting the assault of volume that was to come.

They didn’t disappoint on that level or any other unless you perhaps count the shortness of their set. Four songs, maybe five? They incited a sort of mini-mosh, dudes who were clearly more metal than doom meeting their cathartic riffing head-on by blowing off steam, yelling, being plastered, and so on. I moved to the side of the stage and just sort of watched it happen, Godhunter‘s guitarists, David Rodgers and Jake Brazelton, trading vocal duties as bassist Dick Williamson and drummer Andy Kratzenberg held the groove together thick and rolling at centerstage. On record, they are vicious, and while the live set had more of an overwhelming density than a harsh bite, the Godhunter (Photo by JJ Koczan)beastliness they conjured was familiar anyway, and I was very glad to have been there to see it.

Standing where I was, I kind of felt like I was observing from outside the action, but being there, it would’ve been impossible not to be affected by it, and so their catharsis offered me a bit of my own, which on a Friday night after a long week, was much appreciated. They finished and I shouted for one more song, which they didn’t have. It was after midnight and I had a 90-minute ride home, so it didn’t seem like an issue to push, but if Godhunter had done an encore, no question I would have stayed.

A couple more pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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