On Wax: Mark Deutrom & The Asound, Mini-Skirt/The Chief of Thieves Split 7″

Posted in On Wax on December 19th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

mark-deutrom-the-asound-split-a-cover-vinyl

Austin-based Mark Deutrom and North Carolinians The Asound team up for a split 7″ released through Tsuguri Records, the imprint helmed by Asound bassist Jon Cox. One track from each outfit is included, Deutrom – who has a new band going called Bellringer (more on them to come) and has collaborated with no shortage of others but is probably best known for playing bass in the Melvins during their Stoner Witch era — tossing in a quick, punkish burst of an A-side in “Mini-Skirt,” while The Asound let their riffs breathe a little more on side B with “The Chief of Thieves,” a steady roll captured raw and suited to the 7″ form. Sound-wise, it’s not so different from their recent live split with Lenoir Swingers Club (review here), but the output is clear enough to indicate a studio recording, even if it’s one still punk enough to warrant the black and while cover art on the 7″ sleeve — a traditionalism well suited to both inclusions.

mark-deutrom-the-asound-split-b-cover-vinylDeutrom reportedly recorded “Mini-Skirt” at the same time he tracked the jazzy solo offering Brief Sensuality and Western Violence (review here), and with Aaron Lack on drums, what might’ve been left off the record on account of not fitting sonically earns a distinctive place here via thickened shuffle and unceasing forward motion. Easy enough to be reminded of Butthole Surfers and the Melvins both, but “Mini-Skirt” makes its point in the unflinching, almost garage-sounding nature and in its quick-turning solo culmination. Where the record from whence it doesn’t come was a headier affair, “Mini-Skirt” is simple and decidedly anti-progressive, a sprint put to tape. It contrasts effectively with The Asound‘s “The Chief of Thieves,” which keeps to a slower pace, but the two find common ground in their rougher-edged production an in the density of their tones, the fervency of their crash and the efficiency with which they deal out their riffing.

Guitarist/vocalist Chad Wyrick leads the proceedings for The Asound, with Cox and drummer Michael Crump following the lurching groove set by the guitars more or less for the duration. It’s a riff worth basing a song around, and even the solo section in the second half seems to base its rhythm around that same movement, the vocals by then having dropped out to let the band get to the heart of the matter. No question the B-side is longer than the A, but in the context of what they’re doing, Wyrick‘s singing over the wailing distortion recalling some of Floor‘s appeal in combining doom and more accessible sonic forms, I don’t think I’d call “The Chief of Thieves” less productive than its companion, only going for — mark deutrom the asound split coversand, I’d argue, hitting the mark — on a different side of the same style. The Asound end after all that rolling on a quick-fading feedback that calls to mind the constraints of the format. That is, there’s nothing sonically to make me think that riff couldn’t have gone on another seven minutes or so.

But then it would be an entirely different kind of release — and Deutrom would probably need more than one song — so I’ll instead take the tight-packed grooves on the platter itself to stand as a visual metaphor for what “The Chief of Thieves” has to offer during playback. The 7″ is limited to 200 copies in green or black vinyl, and while it might be a stopgap for both parties concerned, it also asks next to no indulgence on the part of its audience and easily proves worth the time it takes to listen.

Mark Deutrom & The Asound, Split 7″ (2014)

Mark Deutrom website

Mark Deutrom on Bandcamp

The Asound on Thee Facebooks

The Asound on Bandcamp

Tsuguri Records website

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Duuude, Tapes! The Hyle, Demo

Posted in Duuude, Tapes! on December 18th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

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It doesn’t take too long into “Lucifero,” the opening track of Danish doomers The Hyle‘s four-song Demo, to figure out where they’re coming from. Pressed in a limited edition of 150 tapes by Caligari Records — pro-printed thick-stock four-panel j-card, black and clear case, purple cassette with the print directly on it (rather than a label) — the release finds the somewhat mysterious three-piece nestled into the post-Electric Wizard frame of doom, starting out with quiet, spacious, foreboding guitar and opening quickly into a rolling groove topped with a winding smoke-trail of a lead. Echoing clean vocals provide further basis for the comparison throughout “Lucifero” and its side one companion, “Serpent King,” as well as side two’s “Spiritual Sacrifice” and “Children of the Divine,” but if it’sthe hyle (Photo by Rasmus Leo) a sonic likeness noted, let that also stand as testament to The Hyle‘s ability to craft a hook, since “Lucifero” likewise serves significant notice in that regard.

They keep lineup information minimal, but Demo was recorded, mixed and mastered by Jens Dandanell and Caligari has seen fit to keep true to its overarching atmosphere with the tape, the inside liner of which is dedicated to a murky, almost black metal-style photo by Rasmus Leo that complements the All is Visual cover of the release itself. The music is similarly cohesive. It may or may not be The Hyle‘s first release, but Demo sounds like the work of a band who knows what they want out of their sound, “Serpent King” branching out further vocally than “Lucifero” and helping distinguish the band from their central point of influence even as they continue to weave a torrent of low end punctuated by classically swinging drums with an otherworldly psychedelic vibe. “Serpent King” fades out long on a guitar solo to close out side one of the tape, a moment’s respite consumed by droning before “Spiritual Sacrifice” and “Children of the Divine” take hold.

A more fervent stomp provides the resounding impression of “Spiritual Sacrifice,” at least initially until the slow unfolding hypnosis takes hold, pushing farther out into darkened psychedelics and an obscure morass the hyle demo coverof deep tonality. By then, The Hyle‘s nod is locked in, and they do nothing to interrupt it as side two plays out, though they clearly save their nastiest riffing for last. “Children of the Divine” is meaner in tone than its predecessors, if consistent in its overall approach, its abyssal drear and spaciousness marked by a particularly memorable riff and groove-riding vocals, laid back in their delivery, but showing a burgeoning personality that could easily develop over time, layers arriving in a languid call-and-response chorus that coincide with some later guitar harmonics to speak to a stronger sense of arrangement and performance to come as The Hyle move past Demo. As a first release, though, these four songs are confident in their presentation of aesthetic and likewise assured in their craftsmanship. For many listeners, elements will ring familiar, but it’s in the flashes of individuality throughout Demo that The Hyle‘s real potential is unveiled.

The Hyle, Demo (2014)

The Hyle on Thee Facebooks

The Hyle on Bandcamp

Demo at Caligari Records

Caligari Records on Bandcamp

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Gold & Silver, Azurite and Malachite: Elemental

Posted in Reviews on December 17th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

gold and silver azurite and malachite

The copper minerals from which Gold & Silver‘s two-song debut EP takes its name, Azurite and Malachite, are blue and green, respectively. But for the shimmering tones present on the tracks themselves, I’d almost be tempted to say it’s a long way around to expressing the ideas of color while avoiding the Baroness trap of actually naming records after colors, but both “Azurite” and “Malachite” seem to take a feel as crystalline in their structure as the Andrea Santos cover hints toward, fleshing out progressively over two extended runtimes and creating a sometimes heavy but almost universally spacious and apparently more concerned with that feel that persists for the 26-minute duration. Even the name of the project, Gold & Silver, relates both to colors and to minerals. The Boston duo of guitarist/drummer/keyboardist Nick DiSalvo, also of Elder, and guitarist Mike Risberg have released Azurite and Malachite on limited vinyl (250 copies, tri-color platter, etc.) through Totem Cat Records, and apart from a prior rehearsal demo, it’s the first output from the band, and the feel throughout is suitably exploratory. But that’s the point. Gold & Silver began as Risberg and DiSalvo writing for acoustic guitar, and if “Azurite” (15:42) and “Malachite” (10:08) were constructed the same way, then they maintain that jam-based sensibility, despite being at least directionally plotted and recorded in layers (unless DiSalvo has concocted a way to play guitar and a full drum kit at the same time; live, Gold & Silver brings in Elder‘s Jack Donovan on bass and John DiSalvo on drums), while fostering clean tonality and a linear feel. They are two distinct pieces, each with its own movements, but consistent in mood and atmosphere and entirely instrumental, the breathy guitar notes and at-the-ready leads saying whatever it is that might ultimately need to be said.

Elder comparisons are inevitable — particularly so for Gold & Silver being DiSalvo‘s first public step outside that band since they got going — so I’ll resign myself to them. Around halfway though “Azurite,” there’s a stop, quick turn, and launch into a heavier push, and in the structure of that, Azurite and Malachite has some commonality with DiSalvo‘s main outfit. As heavy psych influences and some more weighted tones show up later into “Azurite” and “Malachite” gets started on a quieter feel before building into a memorable triumph of a movement, there’s some of that spirit as well, but Gold & Silver retain a personality of their own because of the contributions of Risberg‘s guitar — there’s bass as well, though I’m not sure which of them actually plays it — as well as the overarching progressive vibe throughout. “Azurite” mounts a tense second half on quick-turning rhythms, made jazzy by an overarching lead and some feedback cascading over, and even when it opens up, it does so to a jabbing kind of payoff, guitar and bass bouncing off the sides of the wall of whatever corridor the drums are leading them down toward their crashing finish. It’s not barraging one part after another in the vein of soulless modern prog technicality, but neither is “Azurite” — nor “Malachite,” for that matter — entirely a heavy psychedelic jam. Gold & Silver find a resonant space somewhere between the two sides, and while one gets the sense that should the project continue to move forward Azurite and Malachite could seem formative in comparison to subsequent outings, there’s also clearly a consciousness at work behind both the construction of the material and the style in which it’s presented. As a preliminary exploration, the EP satisfies, and for those familiar with what’s become a signature rhythmic patterning for DiSalvo‘s playing through Elder, it provides a different context in which to experience that as he continues to branch out and progress in his writing.

gold and silver azurite and malachite record

But there’s also a burgeoning individuality at work within Gold & Silver. The contemplative opening of “Malachite” demonstrates it well, with the wistful lead lines that emerge over an already intricate intro, playing into the subtle build already underway in the guitar, bass and drums. About three minutes in, the drums shift and the central guitar figure arrives that will mark out the song from its predecessor, a sweet sort of noodling that furthers Azurite and Malachite‘s bridge between psych and prog. They build around this riff until shortly before eight minutes in, when the track starts to blow out — think the ending of Neurosis‘ “Stones from the Sky” — and cuts to silence, a drone gradually fading in and swelling to audibility just before wisping out to end the release. That final section, in the two minutes between where the distorted apex of “Malachite” checks out and where the drone takes hold, belongs entirely to Gold & Silver, and if it’s a last minute show of experimentalism on the part of the duo, it’s one that bodes well for their growth as a band. While Azurite and Malachite represents just a first stage in that process, it also makes for an engaging listen both in its concept and execution, and winds up a heartening debut that speaks — without any words, mind you — of good things to come. And while much of DiSalvo‘s 2015 seems set to be consumed by the impending release of his main outfit’s third album and their ascending profile, the word he does here with Risberg isn’t to be ignored.

Gold & Silver, Azurite and Malachite (2014)

Gold & Silver on Thee Facebooks

Gold & Silver on Bandcamp

Azurite and Malachite at Totem Cat Records

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Live Review: YOB, Occultation and Ecsatic Vision in Brooklyn, 12.13.14

Posted in Reviews on December 16th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

YOB (Photo by JJ Koczan)

The Saint Vitus Bar stage is as tall as my leg just a little bit above the knee. This is a thing I know because when I returned to the by-now-infamous Brooklyn venue for the second of YOB‘s two nights this past Saturday and was once again pressed up against the stage by the packed-in crowd, I could feel the bruises from when the same thing happened the evening prior. Apart from a standard-operating-procedure stiff neck and maybe lingering road fatigue, I was unailing. I’d taken better care during the day to drink water, brought ibuprofen, ate some food of substance. Friday night’s amateur-hour shit was out the window. Like I’ve Ecstatic Vision (Photo by JJ Koczan)never done this before. Embarrassing.

Support acts were switched, Kings Destroy and Tombs tagging out and Occultation and Ecstatic Vision tagging in, the latter making their way up from Philadelphia to open with added intrigue because of their recent signing to Relapse Records, through which they’ll issue their debut full-length next year. I’d hit protest traffic on my way across Manhattan, a sign-carrying sea of humanity flanked and backed by police escort, but couldn’t even hold it against them. I’ve protested before and have found it ultimately a hollow reminder of how little voice a public can actually have, but I get the impulse to get in public and shout your cause into that unlistening, unconcerned abyss. When I got to the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, I saw a police staging area with cops decked out in riot gear, the shields, the plastic masks, the batons out and at the ready. It was not hard to identify one side’s position on the other.

Got to the venue early anyway. Ecstatic Vision went on a little before nine amid murmurings of the Vitus Bar‘s midnight karaoke start ecstatic vision 2 (Photo by JJ Koczan)time and kicked smoothly into a heavy psych groove that, while formative, only became more engaging as their set went on. The trio recently-down-from-a-four-piece have been announced as openers for YOB‘s upcoming March 2015 major-market tour with Enslaved, so the two acts will feature on the same bill again soon enough, but their space-rock push propelled by rope-lit drummer Jordan Crouse meshed well with their flashing lightshow, colors bouncing off the black walls and curtains of the Vitus Bar stage, guitarist/vocalist Doug Sabolik (who, like Crouse, is a veteran of metal outliers A Life Once Lost) periodically running the headstock of his guitar through the chimes hanging off his mic stand, eventually hard enough to knock one or two off them off.

Sabolik‘s effects and pile of amps were impressive enough, but as with most heavy psych, it’s the low end holding it all together, and bassist Michael Connor did so fluidly, his lines providing the foundation of Ecstatic Vision‘s Hawkwindian-style jams while still finding room for righteous fills. It was my first time seeing the band. It won’t be my last. They played a somewhat abbreviated opening set, but it was a prime sampling of an emergent sound and stage presence that seems likely to continue to grow in all the right directions as their instrumental dynamic takes shape. No doubt by the time they get off that March tour, they’ll be even more on their way. Occultation, who followed, Occultation (Photo by JJ Koczan)would boast a significantly less colorful aesthetic.

Native to Brooklyn, Occultation released their second album, Silence in the Ancestral House, this year on Profound Lore. A cult-rocking studio trio, live they play as a four-piece with Viveca Butler (ex-Aquila) on vocals and keys, Annu Lilja on bass, Edward “Nameless Void” Miller on guitar, and M.D.V. on drums, and much of what they hit into seemed to come from the new record. Fair enough. They’re a name that has been tossed about more and more as the year has started to wind down, and they brought a significant sense of atmosphere to their live presentation, their sound somewhere between Ghost‘s clean riffing and more extreme metallic forms. It was a leap in aesthetic from where Ecstatic Vision had started things off, but clearly that was the intent, and no stretch to hear why they’ve gotten the critical response they have.

They played longer than had the openers, and the Vitus Bar crowd knew them and welcomed them, Occultation (Photo by JJ Koczan)and what they had in common with Ecstatic Vision was a current of potential. I was on the fence for most of the set, but eventually their hoods-up cultistry and hooks won me over, as well as the variety they brought to their songs. Whatever it was they closed with, they picked the right tune. Their style is in a tough spot and it can be hard for a group with similar influences to really distinguish itself from the pack, I saw nothing to make me think Occultation couldn’t get to that point. The room was packed by the time they finished, and they gave a solid local lead-in to YOB, who took the stage greeted as returning heroes.

I don’t know how many people in the crowd had also been there on Friday night, but I imagine it was a decent portion. Last time YOB were in Brooklyn, early in 2013, they did a similar two-show stint (review here), and I know from that they got a lot of return business. Provided one doesn’t have any pressing real-life obligation, who wouldn’t want to see YOB two nights in a row? Or 15? They changed the setlist some from the evening prior, pulling back from playing this year’s Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here) in full by switching out “Unmask the Spectre” for churning The Great Cessation opener “Burning the Altar,” which, following “Marrow,” felt like the beginning of a second set more than the continuation of one already in progress. “Prepare the Ground,” which opened 2011’s Atma, led the way into the newer cuts — “In Our Blood,” “Nothing to Win” and the YOB (Photo by JJ Koczan)aforementioned “Marrow” — and “Burning the Altar” was itself backed by Atma‘s “Adrift in the Ocean” and set-closer “Quantum Mystic,” from 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived.

If nothing else, the set emphasized YOB‘s propensity for badass opening tracks. Between “Prepare the Ground,” “In Our Blood” (which is more stylistically ranging than some of their bigger-riff-focused hooks of the past, but still fits the bill), “Burning the Altar” and “Quantum Mystic,” four out of the seven songs guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt, bassist Aaron Rieseberg and drummer Travis Foster played were album leadoffs. That material has always been some of the band’s most immediate and, in their way, accessible, so it’s exceedingly satisfying live. I’d argue “Nothing to Win” works in a similar vein, albeit more angrily and with Foster‘s drums and Scheidt‘s misconception-shattering screams as its primary modes of impact.

Positioned with the contrast of “Marrow” and “Adrift in the Ocean” — two longer pieces marked out by sections of quiet, finger-plucked guitar exploration and a sense of linear build — it was as dynamic a YOB set as I’ve seen, YOB (Photo by JJ Koczan)showcasing both their sonic individuality and their presence on stage as one of the foremost American heavy acts of their generation, relentlessly forward moving with aural heft and passion to match, whether it’s Scheidt throwing two fists in the air to share in the audience’s excitement, Rieseberg sharing a between-song chuckle with the front row before his face once again disappeared into his hair or Foster raising his arms high over his head for the next crash. Whatever else they may be — and on the heels of Clearing the Path to Ascend, they’ve been met with a swell of critical and fan acclaim, with more to come I’m sure — YOB are a special band. You could hear it in how quiet the Saint Vitus Bar crowd got after cheering each song, waiting to hear the first note of what was coming next.

This time, I managed to stay up front the whole set, and I’m glad I did. They made the trip down to Brooklyn and back to Massachusetts easily worthwhile, and since there’s a good chance the Saturday show was the last gig I’ll see in 2014, I couldn’t think of a better way for the year to go out, so thoroughly consumed by YOB as it has been.

More pics after the jump. Thank you (again) for reading.

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Live Review: YOB, Tombs and Kings Destroy in Brooklyn, 12.12.14

Posted in Reviews on December 15th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

yob friday 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

At around 11AM, I started to get antsy. By the time I left Massachusetts, it was 12:30PM, and it would be five and a half hours later that I rolled down Manhattan Ave. in Brooklyn to the Saint Vitus Bar for the first of YOB‘s two-night residency with support from Tombs and Kings Destroy. It would be the first time I’d see the Eugene, Oregon, trio since the release of their much-lauded 2014 Neurot Recordings debut, Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here), and I wasn’t going to miss it. yob soundcheck (Photo by JJ Koczan)I did not stop for food or drink on my way south.

YOB were soundchecking when I got in, and there’d be some time yet before the show actually started. I watched them bust through a couple fuses on the Sunn bass head on loan from Kings Destroy and get their sound dialed in through the Vitus Bar P.A., noticing that the shape of the venue’s stage had changed since last I was there. It’s been added to in the front, what used to be a jut-out in the middle is not even all the way across. Since the show was sold out, there were no seats on the side either. It looked like a pro shop, which of course it is whether the booths are there or not, and there were few people milling around, getting drinks and whatnot. It was a boon to me at that point not to be in the car anymore.

By my count this was the 20th time I watched Kings Destroy play a set in 2014. That is not an kings destroy 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)exaggeration. Possibly the only thing I can say about them at this point — and I mean it as a high compliment — is that if they were playing tonight somewhere near me, I’d go. They also had a soundcheck and got started shortly after 9PM, soon thereafter announcing from the stage that their third, self-titled album will be out on War Crime Recordings in April as they ran through a couple of its highlights, “Smokey Robinson,” “Mr. O.,” “Embers” and “Green Diamonds,” opening with “The Whittler” and rounding out with “Blood of Recompense” and “Turul,” a one-two punch culled from last year’s A Time of Hunting.

The latter was particularly charged and since it’s not one they play all the time, I was glad to see them break it out as a finale. Of all their material, it’s probably the oddest song they have, but the weirdness suits them and underscores the impressive amount of sonic ground they cover and the efficiency with which they cover it. They played mostly in the dark, with a projector screen behind, but after seeing them on the West Coast, the East Coast and in between, the home turf was a fun way to round out the year. I should be so lucky to go another 20 in 2015.

Somehow — and I’m not 100 percent sure this is true now that I’m saying it — I’ve never seen Tombs. At least not that I can remember. Thetombs 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan) Brooklynite outfit, led by guitarist/vocalist Mike Hill, released their third album, Savage Gold, this year on Relapse, and were duly in command of their genre-blending style, a potent, metallic-vibed stew of blackened squibblies, doomly atmospherics and thrashing intensity. His foot on the monitor or his guitar held out in front of him, Hill was every bit the frontman, but the whole band was air-tight, bassist Ben Brand and drummer Andrew Hernandez II, and recently-added guitarist Evan Void (also of Sadgiqacea) crisp in the delivery of cuts like “Edge of Darkness” and “Seance” from the new album en route to the closeout, “Path of Totality,” the title-track from Tombs‘ 2011 sophomore breakout full-length. They were a band I always figured I’d run into sooner or later. I wish it had been sooner.

I came into the show thinking of it as the first of two nights, so it was hard to consider Friday a standalone, but even if you take into account Saturday’s lineup, with Occultation and Ecstatic Vision opening, there was a varied but still tombs 2 (Photo by JJ Koczan)cohesive spirit to both bills. It gave Friday a carefully curated vibe, and that carried over to Saturday too. These weren’t just bands who would draw, they were bands someone wanted you to see. It made a difference in the mood of the show, and by the time Tombs were wrapping up after Kings Destroy and before YOB, the Vitus Bar was so packed in that clearly the plan had worked.

Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to watch YOB play three-fourths of Clearing the Path to Ascend at Roadburn in The Netherlands, and doubly fortunate to have heard the record beforehand. But I didn’t know the songs at that point, hadn’t spent any significant amount of time listening to them, and absent from that set was the album-closer “Marrow,” which, if you’ve heard it, you know is a big difference. It’s my pick for song of the year, for whatever that’s worth, but there was no guarantee it would make an appearance either night. Still, was worth a shot. As it turned out, after opening with the unearthly rolling groove of “Ball of Molten Lead,” which continues to sound as weighted as its title, guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt, bassist Aaron Rieseberg and drummer Travis Foster played Clearing the Path to Ascend front to back, in its entirety, closing out with the yob friday 2 (Photo by JJ Koczan)scorchingly noisy “The Lie that is Sin” from 2009’s return, The Great Cessation, and the title cut from 2011’s Atma.

Whatever they played, I’m sure I’d have been into it, but having watched them play full-album sets previously for The Great Cessation, 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived and 2003’s Catharsis, I’m glad to be able to put Clearing the Path to Ascend in that category as well. The four songs, “In Our Blood,” the drum-led tempest “Nothing to Win” — which Foster made look easy, in defiance of both logic and physics — “Unmask the Spectre” and “Marrow” itself, were a worthy focal point, and the flow of the material was no less palpable live than it is listening to the album. Being faster and more aggressive, “Nothing to Win” got a particularly fervent response (myself included), but I don’t think I was the only one appreciating what it meant to be watching “Marrow” and seeing YOB‘s most progressive moment to date come to life right there on the stage. To call it powerful would be understatement.

I was, by then, a wreck. That whole not-eating-or-drinking-anything-all-day thing? Yeah, it caught up with me right around the time they hit into “Unmask the Spectre.” I couldn’t keep my head up without getting dizzy yob friday 3 (Photo by JJ Koczan)and pressed up against the stage up front, I was fiercely nauseous and feeling like I was going to pass out. I leaned over on the stage during “Marrow” and headed to the back of the venue thereafter, getting two rounds of two waters from the bar and putting my head down on my arm to recover. I heard a good-spirited “Man down!” from someone. I wasn’t even drunk, just dehydrated. It made me glad I was sticking around the area for the second show, since watching “The Lie that is Sin” and “Atma” from way in the back wasn’t how I was hoping it would go down, but even so, I can’t and won’t complain. I was lucky to be there at all.

And I’d be lucky to go back for more the next night. More on that tomorrow. For now, more pics after the jump and thanks for reading.

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On Wax: Molior Superum, The Inconclusive Portrait 7″

Posted in On Wax on December 11th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

molior-superum-the-inconclusive-portrait-cover-and-record

The Inconclusive Portrait is Swedish four-piece Molior Superum‘s first offering since their 2012 full-length debut, Into the Sun (review here), and it shows the Gothenburg-based unit in a somewhat different light. Released on 7″ vinyl by H42 Records – 340 copies; 140 on black vinyl, 100 green, 50 gold exclusive to the label, and 50 die-hards on clear-purple vinyl with different art — it’s just two songs, or even two parts of one title-track, but it’s both fuller in its tone and more modern than the long-player, and the shift in style is audible. The lineup of guitarist/vocalist Carl Isaksson,guitarist Oskar Öberg, bassist/vocalist Lars Sandström and drummer/vocalist Jens Fuglede hasn’t changed, and they still bear some sonic resemblance to the UK’s Stubb, but where that band’s second album found them searching for a more natural, psychedelic meditation, Molior Superum have turned expectation on its head and opted for a more straightforward feel, less boogie (which is different from none at all), more direct dynamic between the two guitars molior superum the inconclusive portraitand a thrust of groove that gives their hooks an urgency that serves the short release well.

Both sides of The Inconclusive Portrait – simply “Part 1″ and “Part 2″ on back of the 7″ sleeve — begin at a rush. Vocalist Joakim Segerfelt Steby of Brutus guests on “Part 1,” which is the shorter of the two, announcing its stylistic turn immediately in a modern-sounding crash and fuzz push that moves quick into the first verse. Understand, Molior Superum are still indebted to the heavy ’70s for a lot of their methods and influence, but it’s a more current feel that permeates the single than did the album. If you want to relate it to other Swedish bands, it’s more Greenleaf than Graveyard, and it works for Molior Superum, whose energy bleeds through the recording as plain to hear as the riffs themselves. Steby‘s contributions mesh smoothly, and a current of backing organ (or something thereabouts) fleshes out the chorus of “Part 1″ almost in a call and response to the vocals amid the fury of chugging. At just over five minutes, “Part 2″ would seem to have room for the band to flesh out some, but instead, they keep the high-impact spirit of “Part 1″ pulsing through for the duration with no real letup either in vibe or volume. “Part 2″ isn’t a direct continuation of “Part 1″ from what I can tell, but if Molior Superum were to play one into the next live, I’m sure it would soundmolior superum close enough to make sense, as it does when one listens to the single digitally, without having to flip the record.

There’s something brash about “Part 2″ that makes it stand out. Its central riff is hook enough, and they put it to work, but there’s an intensity to it that feels even more prevalent than on “Part 1,” a guitar solo kicking in late before a return to the chorus, and the whole band taking what in another context, perhaps slower, would almost certainly be vintage swing and setting it to kick-in-the-teeth pace. As it is, it distinguishes Molior Superum from a still-growing league of ’70s worshipers and is a credit to the recording job by Micke Nilsson (ex-Bonafide) at Music a Matic for helping to foster this level of performance. A lot can happen to a band in two years, and I wouldn’t necessarily have expected Molior Superum to make the turn they do here, or to pull it off so well, but I think it makes them stronger, and perhaps most importantly, it builds intrigue for what they might do next. It’s a quick, eight-minute release, but says a lot about the band’s hopefully ongoing development.

Molior Superum, The Inconclusive Portrait 7″ (2014)

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Goya & Wounded Giant, Split: No Place in the Sky

Posted in Reviews on December 10th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

goya wounded giant split

Phoenix duo Goya and Seattle’s Wounded Giant make fitting partners. Their new split 12″ on STB Records finds them distinct enough to be immediately distinguished one from the other, but still with enough in common in their proliferation of plus-sized riffery not to be mismatched. In the case of Goya, the split follows their late-2013 full-length debut, 777, and the preceding 2012 demo (review here), and the (now) duo of guitarist/bassist/vocalist Jeff Owens and drummer Nick Lose have already seen fit to issue a follow-up EP, released Dec. 9, called Satan’s Fire. Their inclusion is the 14-minute plodder “No Place in the Sky,” where Wounded Giant deliver two tracks, “The Room of the Torch” and “Dystheist,” totaling a minute less. The Seattle three-piece of bassist Dylan A. Rogers, guitarist/vocalist Bobby James and drummer Alex Bytnar put out their debut full-length, Lightning Medicine, last year and supported it with an appearance at this year’s Hoverfest in Portland, Oregon. All told, the split is a 27-minute showcase for two up-and-coming acts who by all accounts have their sounds together and who’ve been met with no shortage of “whoa no shit heavy riffs bro!”-type hyperbole. Fair enough.

STB‘s endorsement is noteworthy in itself. The label has rightfully earned a reputation over the last two years for both its ear and the quality of its vinyl product. I don’t think they’ve put anything out that hasn’t been gone shortly thereafter, and releases from Ancient WarlocksGeezerCurse the Son and Druglord have put them on the map as a considerable presence in American underground heavy proffering a new wave of stoner rock in which it seems only right to count Goya and Wounded Giant as participants. The former are granted side A of the split, and they use their time wisely, “No Place in the Sky” building from a fade-in of feedback fuzz to a languid march that takes hold in full tone at 1:40. Their album and new EP are less so, but Goya‘s demo was almost singly indebted sonically to Electric Wizard, bringing a rawer feel to the Witchcult Today style, and “No Place in the Sky” works in a similar vein, its rhythmic swing and Owens‘ buried-under-a-wall-of-distortion echoing vocals both seem to be culled from Jus Oborn‘s book of spells. They’re hardly the only band out there at this point working under that influence, and they bring more to the presentation than many on “No Place in the Sky,” which lumbers through verse and chorus hooks en route to a bridge of Iommic layered soloing that very subtly hints at the level of construction at work in their sound. Their songwriting, likewise, finds a sense of accomplishment in returning after that jam to the verse and chorus — the lines “It doesn’t really matter/Nothing fucking matters” standing out — before jamming its way into oblivion and a finish of over a minute solid of sustained amp hum and feedback. Take that, ears.

goya wounded giant (Photo by Zack Bishop)

Classic metal is the first vibe Wounded Giant give off on “The Room of the Torch” (7:07), James‘ guitar riffing out a declaration reminiscent of Iron Maiden, but that’s really only part of the story. Half-time drums give the beginnings of Wounded Giant‘s first inclusion a nod of its own with a punchy bassline and an emergent, airy lead that adds to the languid feel. A slowdown before two minutes in marks the transition into a doomier verse — not quite as Wizardly as Goya, but that’s still a factor — with shouts echoing over downer riffs that pick up to a more upbeat thrust of a chorus. The back and forth plays out until shortly before five minutes in, Bytnar‘s kick, double-kick only seconds before, provides the shift to the faster progression serving as the apex of the track. Like Goya, they rein it back in to finish out, albeit more subtly with just a slowdown instrumental reference to the verse riff that gives way to fading feedback and start of “Dystheist” (6:08), which sounds like a crowd shout but is gone soon enough into neo-burly chugging and more restrained vocals, compressed and following the riff. A more open chorus arrives underscored by more double-kick and a metallic feel met head-on with heavy rock tonality, the flourish of the preceding cut stripped away in favor of a more forward attack, which Wounded Giant handle well. A rawer shout, almost a scream, finishes the chorus and that will be the endpoint of “Dystheist” as well on the second cycle through — the structure no less frill-less than the sound, capping the split in strong, commanding form.

As the goal of the release, already noted, is to highlight what Goya and Wounded Giant have going sonically and to keep their momentum in motion, I see no way in which the split doesn’t meet that target. Both Goya‘s track and Wounded Giant‘s tracks deliver heavy-hitting, solid genre-minded executions and, paired up, they offer each band’s quickly-massing audience to encounter the other, which, you know, is the whole idea. The temptation with splits is always to pit one act against the other, to determine a “winner” like they’re in competition. Fine. That’s a lot of fun, but truth be told, nobody here loses, and it doesn’t seem like Goya or Wounded Giant have any interest in duking it out so much as allying themselves to further their individual causes. Score one for riff diplomacy.

Goya & Wounded Giant, Split (2015)

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Duuude, Tapes! Witchstone, Tales of the Riff Riders

Posted in Duuude, Tapes! on December 9th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

witchstone-tales-of-the-riff-riders-tape-and-case

Calgary stoner four-piece Witchstone make no attempt to steer listeners away from their riffy mindset. Their self-released debut full-length, Tales of the Riff Riders, is a four-song cassette that offers front-to-back groove and fuzz, diving headfirst into the Sabbath-and-Sleep school of stoner rock for extended cuts like “Riff Riders Part 1,” “Riff Riders Part 2,” which together make up the 22 minutes of the album’s first half. It’s charming stuff, if familiar. The compressed distortion suits the tape format as well as the translucent purple of the cassette itself suits the band’s aesthetic, and though their approach is straightforward in its way, Witchstone – guitarist/vocalist Sean Edwards, bassist/vocalist Andrew Sanderson, guitarist Ian Lemke and drummer Marcello Castronuovo – have plenty of room in their jams for establishing a sense of personality. That comes through as well on side two’s “Boson Raiders,” an instrumental that’s also the only song here under 10 minutes long, and the concluding “DeepSpace PathFinder,” which uses all of its 16:31 to unfold Witchstone‘s grandest included jam.

witchstone-tales-of-the-riff-riders-caseToss in some caveman howls and cleaner vocal tradeoffs between Edwards and Sanderson, some tempo shifts, quiet-to-loud changes and you probably get a decent idea of where Witchstone are coming from, but nothing about Tales of the Riff Riders comes across as shooting for innovation. They’re preaching to the converted, in a sense, and going for a quality nod — which they get almost immediately — rather than something that’s going to reinvent the genre around them. I have no problem with that whatsoever. “Riff Riders Part 1″ (11:06) moves at a languid but steady roll and sets a forward momentum of lurching groove that lives up to the track’s title. Let there be no doubt they’re riding that riff. Castronuovo gives hints of technical prowess in tight snare fills as “Riff Riders Part 1″ marches toward its midsection break, which leads to an instrumental jam that previews more Wurlitzer inclusion on the finale and leads not quite directly into the no-less-weedian intro of “Riff Riders Part 2″ (10:21). That they’d go to silence between one and the other is curious, since it’s a two-parter, but on tape it feeds directly anyway, and if Witchstone haven’t made their point by the time “Riff Riders Part 1″ is done, then it’s not going to matter.

Tales of the Riff Riders follows Witchstone‘s 2012 self-titled debut EP, and as it’s their first long-player, I’d probably be inclined to give them leeway anyhow, but their kind of repetitive jam-out really doesn’t require it. They’re doing what they’re doing. It’s a stoner band jamming out stoner grooves for stoner heads — none of which actually requires drug use, if you were wondering — and as “Riff Riders Part 2″ unfolds, cleaner vocals into a faster instrumental movement, the first half setting up the run in the second, a slowdown and some echoing shouts leading to the big finish, it’s so much more satisfying to just go with it than to try and analyze the band’s moves that I feel like I’m cheapening the experience even talking about it. I doubt that, if it’s the first stoner rock record you’ve ever heard, you’re going to put on Tales of the Riff Riders and go, “Oh wow, now I get it!” but if you’re in the genre and know where Witchstone are coming from, then these songs are like a comfortable t-shirt you can put witchstoneon and immediately feel at home. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

By the time they get around to the noisy beginnings of “Boson Raiders” after a quick side flip, some vocal effects and added percussion add further character to the proceedings without deviating in mood from the spirit of the two-parter back on side A, and the rolling instrumental groove that emerges is well in league with what’s still to come on “DeepSpace PathFinder” as well, the closer crashing in on a bassline from Sanderson that, along with Castronuovo‘s drums, is the foundation for Tales of the Riff Riders‘ best linear build. The Wurlitzer returns to add atmosphere along with Lemke and Edwards‘ guitars, and vocals arrive shortly before three and a half minutes in, rawer and jarringly forward in the mix, either dual shouts or just dually layered, breaking eventually into a heavy psych-style lead (actually, that might be a cordless drill run through effects pedals), another verse and the solo-topped apex. To Witchstone‘s credit, they probably could’ve ended “DeepSpace PathFinder” on the feedback that takes hold 11 minutes in and had another groove in their pocket like “Riff Riders” one and two, but instead they push forward with a smooth, almost sleazy Sabbath-bred jam, giving one last immersive moment before a sustained rumble and hum leads the way out.

There’s a lot about Tales of the Riff Riders that’s familiar, but between the swing in Castronuovo‘s drums, the righteousness from the guitars and tonal warmth in Sanderson‘s bass, there’s also a lot to dig into. They’re not asking a lot from their audience, and in return, they’re delivering a solid showing of genre with a weird-enough sensibility to pieces here and there to give some hint as to how Witchstone could stand out from the pack down the line. No complaints.

Witchstone, Tales of the Riff Riders (2014)

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Duuude, Tapes! Stone Machine Electric, Garage Tape

Posted in Duuude, Tapes! on December 4th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

stone-machine-electric-garage-tape-cassette-and-case

Well, Texas duo Stone Machine Electric didn’t call it Garage Tape because they broke the bank and spent half a million dollars recording it, but don’t be put off. While the title speaks to the DIY nature of its origins, Garage Tape actually sounds clear and warm enough to get its message across. Guitarist William “Dub” Irvin and drummer Mark Kitchens tracked the release — which is comprised of two extended improvisations — in the actual garage of the latter with Erik Carson of Tin Can Records, who also mixed and mastered the tape, on July 26, 2014. Their mission, as they put it, was to give listeners a raw look at their creative process, and as time goes on, they seem to be driving further toward making jamming central to that. The chemistry between Irvin and Kitchens is undeniable (their connection has resulted in a number of come-and-gone-again bassists) across each of Garage Tape‘s component halves, duly named on the translucent blue cassette as “Side A” (20:52) and “Side B” (21;39), and the languid, thick-toned rollout that ensues is only given stone-machine-electric-garage-tape-liner-horimore of a demo feel with the analog hiss of a tape beneath.

At one point relatively late into side A, Irvin seems to loop a rhythm track and proceeds to solo over it. That’s a progression that fades out as the first of the tape ends (there’s a bit of silence since “Side B’ is longer) and in again as the second half begins, so yeah, I have no trouble believing that Stone Machine Electric played out the material for Garage Tape live in one whole jam. In that way, breaking it up into two sides actually kind of interrupts the flow for a minute, but honestly, if after the 20 minutes of “Side A” are done, you’re not completely immersed in Irvin and Kitchens‘ hypnotic repetitions, it probably wasn’t going to happen at all. As they push closer to the core of their own creativity, their material becomes more fluid, extended and accomplished, but if you can’t get down with improv heavy jamming, Garage Tape isn’t the place to start, even with Irvin‘s effects experiments throughout, “Side B” seeming to bubble with Echoplex-style pulsations behind its airy soloing and rhythm track to which, to Kitchens‘ credit, the drums hold firm, shifting as the six-minute mark of “Side B” approaches to drive the jam into its next stage. This stone-machine-electric-garage-tape-liner-insideconversation between drummer and guitarist takes place in the several movements of “Side A” as well, and it’s clearly a language that’s developed between the two players over their time together.

On the other hand, if you’re someone who can hang with a 40-minute getdown, Stone Machine Electric‘s Garage Tape cycles through this-could-be-a-song-oh-wait-let’s-try-this riffy movements with an utter lack of pretense and a molten fluidity that a still-limited number of bands in the US seem keen on portraying at all, let alone developing or using as the basis for their approach. That makes Garage Tape a bolder release, though honestly it’s not like Stone Machine Electric have been stifling impulses to-date, whether it’s their 2013 self-titled full-length (review here) or subsequent live outing, 2013.02.07. One could easily see that live set as a manifestation of the same impulse driving Garage Tape – to put as little space as possible between the band’s processes and the listener’s experience — but Garage Tape gets more to the heart of where they’re coming from and what they have to offer those who’d take them on. It’s an admirable goal and an admirable jam, and with their experimental will reinforced via a download called “Side C” that collaborates with Arlington-based noisemaker the owl and the octopus to remix and retool a 20-minute version of the initial Kitchens and Irvin jam, Garage Tape still shows there’s more weirdness to come from the duo, who’ve always excelled in that regard.

Stone Machine Electric, Garage Tape (2014)

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Montibus Communitas, The Pilgrim to the Absolute: Warmth in Light

Posted in Reviews on December 4th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

montibus communitas the pilgrim to the absolute

Depending on what you count as a live record and what you count as a studio album, The Pilgrim to the Absolute is either the fourth or fifth full-length from Peruvian psychedelic collective Montibus Communitas. Either way, it is a gorgeous, lush work guided by masterful hands crafting spacious drone explorations, and a true sense of wandering and being carried by music that both suits the narrative given to the six included tracks and hones in on a feel that, if it weren’t sincere, would fall utterly flat. Released on CD and clear, black and glow-in-the-dark vinyl by Brooklyn-based imprint Beyond Beyond is Beyond, The Pilgrim to the Absolute is full-sounding even at its most minimal, using nature sounds — birdsong, crickets — to flesh out material somewhere between psych-folk and jam-based meandering. Instrumental and varied to the point of amorphousness, it’s these organic elements that serve to tie the 44-minute instrumental progression together, their changes mirroring shifts in the narrative that the band — a lineup of up to nine people that seems to be no less nebulous than the sounds they make — has constructed for the album’s progression, as can be read in the names of the tracks, which just so we can keep it all straight, I’ll put here:

1. The Pilgrim under Stars (8:22)
2. The Pilgrim to the Woods (3:50)
3. The Pilgrim at the Shrine (10:14)
4. The Pilgrim to the Source (4:04)
5. The Pilgrim and the Light Masters (3:16)
6. The Pilgrim to the Absolute (13:46)

Certain aspects of the arc are immediately clear from the titles. We know we’re following a character called “The Pilgrim.” In looking at the prepositions and remainders of the titles, we learn more about the journey. The album portrays a pilgrimage. The pilgrim begins under the stars of a night sky, treks through woods to arrive at a shrine, moves to the source, meets the Light Masters and, finally, discovers the Absolute, which is either a physical place, or — what seems more likely in the context of the music itself on the 13-minute closing title-track — a state of enlightenment attained. Set in longer and shorter progressions, The Pilgrim to the Absolute is a work of transience and destinations, but whatever duration each piece has and wherever it leads, there’s substance to be found, whether it’s the immersive tribal-style percussion of “The Pilgrim at the Shrine” set to strings and insect noise, or the improvised-feeling drone and bird calls of “The Pilgrim and the Light Masters,” which fades out on running water to lead into the title-track. Water is a recurring theme throughout and appears at the beginning of “The Pilgrim under Stars” as well, serving as the foundation on which an initial swell of birdsong and warm-toned guitar and drone is built. Some speech either sampled or off mic echoes in the mix and otherworldly flute acts as a guide as the first of the album’s six stages patiently draws the listener further into its course — encompassing, psychedelic and beautiful.

Montibus Communitas

Quite clearly, The Pilgrim to the Absolute is meant to be taken as a whole, and the shifts between songs — birds and running water on side A, running water and birds on side B — bears that out, even with the fade to silence after the chanting and insistent percussion provides a dissonant apex to “The Pilgrim at the Shrine” to close the first half of the album, but some of Montibus Communitas‘ most satisfying moments come in those shorter tracks, “The Pilgrim at the Woods” bordering on Earth-style drone and “The Pilgrim and the Light Masters” providing an emphasis on experimentalism and spaciousness as well as setting up the engrossing scope of the closer. Likewise, “The Pilgrim at the Source” begins side B on what seems to be the morning after the nighttime ritual culminating “The Pilgrim at the Shrine,” some tension and dread worked into the residual rhythmic push. Are we running? I don’t know, but the music — guitars, hand drums, flute, birds — remains evocative throughout, the ultra-organic soundscape contrasting some of the effects-laden droning that arrives with the subsequent “The Pilgrim and the Light Masters,” though many of the other basic factors in the construction remain the same. The penultimate cut is a prelude of sorts, transitional in the sense of leading us from the “source” to the “absolute,” but it derives further function in expanding the context of the album as a whole as well, its drone, as alluded, being echoed in the final wash of “The Pilgrim to the Absolute,” which is unmistakably the payoff for the voyage undertaken by “The Pilgrim” and the listener alike.

Within its first two minutes, “The Pilgrim to the Absolute” has established much of what constitutes its course. The nature-sound themes persist and a drone works its way into the recesses of the mix, only to come forward as the song plays out. It’s not a build, necessarily, as though Montibus Communitas were about to conjure enlightenment out of a wall of distortion and try to make it believable. Rather, a sweet-toned, bright-sounding guitar figure makes its way in with the other sounds calls to mind a feeling of inner peace at the conclusion of the story. It is the fullest that the collective sounds on The Pilgrim to the Absolute, and little mystery why they’d choose the final chapter as the title for the album, since “The Pilgrim to the Absolute,” the track itself, manages to speak to everything that came before it while also adding this new texture, and true to form, the satisfying exhalation that seems to be taking place instrumentally comes across in the listener’s mindset as well. As the last guitar strums and the drone-wash gently fade, with the running water behind, it’s hard not to feel like you, and the band, and everyone, are the pilgrim in question, and that what’s just taken place is life itself. Whether that’s what Montibus Communitas intended to convey or not, I don’t know, but it’s worth considering in terms of just how resonant the material on The Pilgrim to the Absolute is and just how wondrous the journey can be if you’re willing to go with it. Recommended.

Montibus Communitas, The Pilgrim to the Absolute (2014)

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On Wax: SET, Valley of the Stone

Posted in On Wax on December 3rd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

set-valley-of-the-stone-cover-and-lp

Massachusetts-based metallers SET reside somewhere between the seemingly disparate sides vibes of thrash, stoner and doom, but from the bombastic groove of opener “Dicing with Death,” which launches their Valley of the Stone 2013 debut LP, self-released digitally and on vinyl, they’re immediately difficult to place in one or the other. Granted, the Worcester four-piece can’t play in two speeds at the same time, so it winds up being tradeoffs between fast and slow, extreme and nodding, but still, what’s most successful about the two-sided eight-track release is how much it seems to pull its elements together as a cohesive whole, cuts like the aforementioned “Dicing with Death,” or side A’s closer “The Eagle” pushing forward with breakneck weight and speed while “Magnum Opus” plods a smokier course and set-valley-of-the-stone-front-cover“Wolves behind the Sheep” works to bring the various sides to bear in one of Valley of the Stone‘s most engrossing rolls.

As a standout with a particularly killer hook, “Wolves behind the Sheep” serves to represent the stylistic breadth of the band well, blasting one second and swinging hard the next. I’ve had the advantage at this point of seeing SET play live three times now (reviews here, here and here), and seeing the fluidity drummer Tim brings to his tempo changes on stage only affirms what comes across on Valley of the Stone in that he does well in holding these songs together. That’s true throughout the album, as bassist/vocalist Andy, guitarist/backing vocalist Jeff and guitarist/vocalist Dan run off in one direction or another, telling stories of souls lost and various horrors inflicted on the unsuspecting, as much Slayer and S.O.D. as Sleep and Trouble. Their identity as they present it here is what gets carved out of the influences, something as threatening atmospherically as it is outwardly aggressive, “The Eagle” rounding out side A with its brashest vibe yet, dense low end underscoring a barrage of riffs and crash that drives through a metallic apex and into a finale of dizzying turns.

It’s fucking heavy, and I don’t think SET would have it any other way. The plot thickens on side B, though, with the creepy lead guitar on the title-track giving way to a full-on grindout followed by noise rock rumble-and-shout, the band’s command unwavering as they nod at Crowbar‘s sludge en route to the next round of swinging pummel and the Dopefight-style stoner punk of “Apophis,” catchy but less nuanced than “Valley of the Stone” or “Children of the Doomed,” which serves as the apex of the album, Jeff and Dan coming together to add a rush of lead lines to the hook. Since, like “Wolves behind the Sheep,” it’s the penultimate cut on its side, there’s an element of symmetry at work in Valley of the Stone‘s structure as well, but the more satisfying thing is the actual song, which hits the blend of extremity and groove just set-valley-of-the-stone-side-aright and shows what SET are able to do at their best. The closer, “Sacred Moon Cult” is rightly saved for last and is probably the only track that wouldn’t be a comedown after “Children of the Doomed,” but its chorus feels like it’s taking a shortcut to righteousness, as opposed to the frenetic rawness of “Children of the Doomed,” which punches through a wall rather than going around it.

Maybe at that point it’s splitting hairs, but either way, by then SET have shown their ability to cull something individual out of familiar elements, and there’s nothing more one could reasonably ask of their debut than that, though in that regard it’s worth pointing out that the vinyl version of Valley of the Stone, with its two-sided liner and dead-on black-and-white artwork makes for no less accomplishment of presentation. Some bands figure it out late, some bands figure it out early. SET would seem to be in the latter category if the debut is anything to go by, and with a sound so varied, they still have plenty to work from in terms of creative progress without much fear of stagnating anytime soon.

SET, Valley of the Stone (2013)

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Deadpeach, Aurum: Taste of Gold

Posted in Reviews on December 1st, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

deadpeach aurum

For their third full-length, Italian heavy psych rockers Deadpeach offer five varied explorations, each with its distinct personality. Aurum, which takes its name from the elemental name of gold, is out on vinyl through Nasoni Records and splits well into two sides, but still works as a front-to-back listen with engaging turns and a blend of jammed and structures approaches to which the four-piece of guitarist/vocalist Giovanni, guitarist Daniele Bartoli, bassist Mr. Steveman and drummer Federio Tebaldi are amiably suited. On a superficial level, there isn’t anything in the span of Aurum‘s 38 minutes that couldn’t fall under the heading of heavy psychedelia, and I don’t think there’s anything present that’s intended otherwise, but Deadpeach prove bold within those parameters and find themselves ranging beyond genre confines more than it might at first seem. Side A, in particular, is an ambitious beginning, with just two songs — “Calcutta” (10:01) and “Gold” (9:14) — that comprise the first half of the record. As someone who gives immediate credit to records that open with their longest tracks, to find the longest two by a considerable margin pushed to the front of Aurum is a rare-enough treat to be remarkable, but even within themselves, they begin to show some of the range that unfolds as the album plays out, recalling the earlier fuzzy riff rock of their 2006 Psycle debut and the development that showed itself on the 2011 follow-up, 2, while continuing to push into newer, jammier ground for the band. Whether one approaches Aurum as two sides or in linear form, the first two tracks and subsequent “The Line,” “Stomper” and “Traffic” reveal an act capturing a vital spirit of creative spontaneity while also following a decided course.

Aurum has an easy appeal for the already converted among heavy rock heads. Giovanni and Bartoli offer up enough fuzz and riffs in “The Line,” “Gold” and the early going of “Stomper” that, if there’s a quota, it’s met. What really pushes that basic appeal to another degree is the shifts that take place between the songs and how well Aurum moves with them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the 10-minute “Calcutta” unfolds gradually to reach its full breadth, but immediately the guitars and bass set an atmospheric foundation that becomes the basis from which the rest of the album is built. Light chanting and, later, lyrics emerge in a style not too far from Lamp of the Universe, but lead guitar is the focal point and the movement playing out behind it. Hypnotic, the jam comes to a head about halfway in and quickly recedes, only to be constructed again, a little faster the second time, and given an ambient leadout that smoothes the way into “Gold,” which takes Mr. Steveman‘s bassline as its driving element and, rather than split its build, follows a single line over the course of its nine minutes, hitting a stride of fuzz and crash after a midpoint break, shifting into more straightforward-seeming stonerly swing and verses, a Hawkwindy space factor not at all lost among the proceedings. Thinking of Aurum as one song flowing into the next, “Gold” bridges a gap between “Calcutta” and “The Line,” with a jammy first half leading to a more traditionally structured second, but the track itself has more substance to it than a mere transitional moment, be it in classically layered leads or the tonal weight of the push running alongside them. To discount either part as simply feeding out of or into something else doesn’t do the song justice, or acknowledge the fact that in putting the two sides next to each other and making it work as smoothly as Deadpeach do, they’re summarizing a good portion of the album’s appeal on what’s also as close as they come to a title-track. Even way out in space, there’s consciousness at work.

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“The Line,” which leads off the second half of Aurum, is the shortest track included at 4:55, and true to the latter end of “Gold,” it’s a more straightforward fuzz rocker, updating classic heavy methods with a modern vibe. Giovanni‘s vocals still echo out from under the fuzz, and Mr. Steveman runs circles around the central riff, but whether it’s as a centerpiece of the five tracks or as the start of side B, no question “The Line” is a major shift from “Calcutta” and “Gold” before it, despite consistency of mood and swirl. Deadpeach find room in their only-song-under-five-minute rush to jam a bit behind a solo section, but with deft songwriting in their favor, they return to the chorus before finishing out, ending noisy and satisfying en route to the similarly rocking launch of “Stomper,” though it’s Tebaldi who takes that track over, turning an instrumental rocker into essentially a drum jam peppered with airy guitar. To his credit, he holds it together, and to the band’s, they bookend with a resurgent progression similar to that which led into the percussive stretch, a symmetry that keeps the vibe of Aurum steady even as Deadpeach move toward their finale and yet more ground to cover. Presumably because by now their listener might expect a fuzz-toned jam of one kind or another, the band dial back the distortion and close out with a jazzy instrumental movement that — while, yes, it kicks later into a fuzzy conclusion — provides one last turn from a foursome who’ve already shown plenty of variety. What the initial stages of “Traffic” demonstrate, however, is that there’s more to Deadpeach‘s fluidity than a pedal board. The vibe is maintained in the chemistry between players, but to jump back from “Traffic” to “Calcutta,” it would be easy to imagine you were hearing two different bands. Again, what makes Aurum work so well through this is the band’s ability to carry the listener along with them for the trip. As wide a range as Aurum works with, it never lets go of that connection.

Deadpeach, “Calcutta” official video

Deadpeach’s website

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Nasoni Records

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Murcielago, Murcielago: Like Bricks

Posted in Reviews on November 25th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

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Listening to Murcielago‘s self-titled, self-released debut, it’s not a huge surprise that some of it comes across sounding akin to Boston heavy rock headliners Roadsaw. There are commonalities superficial and otherwise. First of all, their lineup boasts guitarist Ian Ross, who also plays in Roadsaw. The album was recorded by Benny Grotto, who has also helmed outings for Roadsaw, at Mad Oak Studios in Allston, Massachusetts, which is owned by Roadsaw vocalist Craig RiggsRiggs also makes a guest appearance on the boogie-fied penultimate cut, “Zora,” backing up bassist Neil Collins, who works in a somewhat likeminded style vocally at points throughout as well. And aside from the consistency of Ross‘ guitar tone and being demographically similar — at least the three-quarters of the band that’s not Ross; that part is demographically the same — the two acts share a core approach based around giving modern heavy interpretation to classic methods. As I understand it, Ross joined Murcielago after they had already been together for some time with Collins, guitarist/backing vocalist Matthew Robbins, who also sings lead on “Fairlane Swain” and took the photo on the cover, and drummer Brian Chaloux, so I don’t know where they were in terms of writing this material when he came aboard, but his tone, even in combination with Robbins‘, is recognizable. Murcielago distinguish themselves through what they do with their riff-led heavy grooves, and in the subtly brooding personality that emerges on cuts like opener “Bulldozers,” which leads off the 10-song/43-minute offering nestling quickly into a steady rolling groove that proves to be a specialty of Murcielago as the album progresses. Ultimately, if they prove anything across Murcielago‘s span, it’s that they know what they want sound-wise and they know how to make it a reality, which is more than a lot of “first albums” can offer.

If you’re a fan of unpretentious American heavy, Small Stone-style rock, there’s going to be little here with which to find argument. “Bulldozers” and “Money,” both right around six minutes, show off the fullness of sound Murcielago can harness when they so choose and the swing that they can bring to a rhythm, Collins giving away some punk roots in the chorus of the latter, which hits hard after a start-stop verse. Unsurprisingly for a two-guitar four-piece, there’s a good bit of soloing to be had, and Ross and Robbins trade off readily — the former in the right channel, the latter in the left — adding salt to “Money,” which but for “Fairlane Swain” is the longest track here at 6:01. “Cheebahawk,” which follows, is shorter and faster both, but not so far removed in spirit, its straightforward push, crisp cymbal sound and Collins‘ vocal command guiding from a riff-heavy beginning into a quick, semi-twanging midsection that presages some of what’s to come on “Smoke Season” before returning to the thick-toned riffs and a one-into-the-next solo from Robbins and Ross, leading to the last verse and chorus. When it arrives, “Smoke Season” is the first of three shorter pieces. It and the later “Like Bricks,” which provides a split between highlights “Way too Far” and “Fairlane Swain,” are interludes, and the backwards-cymbal-forwards-guitar “The Last Line” is the album’s outro after “Zora.” They get progressively longer until the last one, but the difference is “Smoke Season” is acoustic — Collins and Robbins working together on guitar — and it’s probably the most classic rock stretch of Murcielago, which is fitting since it kicks off a strong middle-third and comes before the fuzzed out “Don’t Do Nothin’,” Collins channeling his inner Riggs with just the right riff to do so over. One of the record’s most resonant hooks, “Don’t Do Nothing” gives way to the no-frills stomp-and-run of “Way too Far,” and the two make for an excellent pair, showing off some of Murcielago at their best.

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That said, Murcielago is also a record that becomes a richer listen as it goes on. If one looks at the tracklist as divisible into three sections, “Bulldozers,” “Money” and “Cheebahawk” make for a solid lead-in, “Smoke Season,” “Don’t Do Nothin’,” and the mega-catchy “Way too Far” push further into quality songwriting and begin to expand the instrumental scope, and with “Like Bricks” as an intro, “Fairlane Swain,” “Zora” and “The Last Line” show that they’re not afraid to shake up their own approach, whether it’s with Chaloux‘s backwards cymbals on the outro, bringing in Riggs on “Zora” — which seems to be about a two-year sailing trip undertaken by Collins from 2004 to 2006 — or Robbins taking lead vocal charge on “Fairlane Swain.” At 7:44, the latter strikes a balance between instrumental progression and a foundational hook revolving around the lines, “Heavy metal parking lot/Just a dimebag of shit pot…” describing scenes taken from what seems to be personal reference — a photo of a 1966 Ford Fairlane provided by and presumably featuring one Steve Swain flipping off the camera is included in one of the inside panels of the six-panel digipak — atop a riff that’s just about universal before delivering the title line with underclassman’s reverence to a classic image of cool. Or is it contempt? Either way, the album’s instrumental payoff follows, built from the ground up and boasting highlight guitar work from both Robbins and Ross, and “Zora” gives a Dozer-worthy last kick in the ass before the quiet psych-bluesy “The Last Line” caps off a record that doesn’t seem to want to end. Fair enough, but by the time it gets there, Murcielago‘s Murcielago can’t be accused of leaving something unsaid. Rather, the foursome’s debut delivers a complete-album feel and a vibe that develops as it unfolds and helps greatly to individualize the band. Whatever, and whoever, they may share, Murcielago leave their first long-player behind them having given the listener a sense of who they are musically and what they want to accomplish here and going forward stylistically. They’re not green as musicians and they don’t sound like it, but the self-titled neither lacks pulse nor wants anything for songwriting.

Murcielago, “Way too Far”

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Murcielago at Bull Moose Records

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On Wax: The Linus Pauling Quartet, C is for Cthulhu 7″

Posted in On Wax on November 24th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

the linus pauling quartet c is for cthulhu package

Perpetually and gleefully weird, Texan outfit The Linus Pauling Quartet — in which, make no mistake, there are five members — toy with Lovecraftian themes on their new single, “C is for Cthulhu,” conjuring the Great Old One himself with a hook worth of its Sesame Street-style title. The band’s heavy riffing style comes out in full force across the five-minute cut, pressed with the B-side “My Desire,” a cover of back-in-the-day Houston noisemakers The Pain Teens, in a red 7″ platter edition of 300 copies, the guitars fuzzed out and appropriately lumbering for their subject matter. Production-wise, it’s less raw than some of what Linus Pauling Quartet have done in the past — recording was helmed by bassist Stephen Finley — but particularly for only being a release with two tracks, goes a long way toward showcasing the band’s the linus pauling quartet c is for cthulhu b-sidesans-pretense quirk and open creative sensibility. That is to say, whatever they feel like doing, there’s a good chance they’re going to do it.

“C is for Cthulhu” itself has a metallic feel, thanks in no small part to its burly riff and some death growls backing the chorus. They’re deep in the mix — the lines being, “Don’t eat/Don’t sleep/Hear me calling from the deep,” one imagines that (presumably it’s) guest vocalist Stevie Sims is taking the role of Cthulhu himself in backing guitarist/vocalist Clinton Heider — but set a weighted atmosphere for the track surrounding, and The Linus Pauling Quartet revel in it. With HeiderFinley, guitarist/backing vocalist Ramon “LP4″ Medina, organist/synth-specialist Charlie Horshack, Sims, drummer Larry Liska and Erich Zann (another Lovecraft reference) credited with violin, there’s plenty going on throughout “C is for Cthulhu,” but the structure remains straightforward, and it’s the aforementioned chorus that’s the center around which the rest churns. Some vague chanting crops up as they move past the halfway mark and into a fervent solo section with Heider forward in the mix, but they pull back to the verse and give the chorus another runthrough, extending the end on the way to a last-minute kick the linus pauling quartet c is for cthulhu back coverin pace that rounds out. Flip the record over, and you might think it’s a completely different band.

Having another vocalist plays a big role in that regard. The core five-piece of the band is the same — Sims and Zann, if Zann is a real person, are out — but Heider steps back on vocals and Carol Sandin Cooley takes the mic. A veteran of Houston experimentalists Sad PygmyCooley establishes a punkish command over the rawer-sounding guitar buzz of “My Desire,” The Linus Pauling Quartet taking The Pain Teens‘ noise-caked proto-industrial thud and approaching it with clear reverence. In another context, the main riff could just as easily be grunge as Godflesh, but the heavy treatment it gets — meaner than “C is for Cthulhu” — is one that suits it. “My Desire” is far less playful than its companion A-side, but culminating in a cut-off swell of noise that ends cold for the needle return, it goes show that the band who a couple years ago put out a 3CD set called Assault on the Vault of the Ancient Bonglords neither take themselves too seriously the linus pauling quartet c is for cthulhu linernor are purely interested in screwing around. Or if they are, at least they make it work.

My copy of the 7″ came with a 9 of clubs that had one of the clubs scratched off and what looks like a custom design on back, a sticker, and a download code featuring alternate masters of the two tracks, plus the art itself, which comes on a quality stock that unfolds to the liner notes and lyrics for “C is for Cthulhu.” C is for Cthulhu follows 2013’s Find What You Love and Let it Kill You 7″ EP, and one can only imagine what horrors The Linus Pauling Quartet have yet to come.

The Linus Pauling Quartet, C is for Cthulhu (2014)

The Linus Pauling Quartet website

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The Linus Pauling Quartet on Bandcamp

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Stubb, Cry of the Ocean: Sky and Water

Posted in Reviews on November 24th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

stubb-cry-of-the-ocean

If you heard Stubb‘s 2012 self-titled Superhot Records debut (review here), then there are two things to know about the newly-released Ripple Music follow-up Cry of the Ocean: It’s more complex in style and emotion, and it has more of a full-album feel. I will not take anything away from the first Stubb record. Songs like “Scale the Mountain” and “Road” and “Soul Mover” and so on continue to resonate, as does the subsequent 7″ single, Under a Spell (review here), it’s just that guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson, bassist/backing vocalist Peter Holland (also Trippy Wicked and Elephant Tree) and new drummer Tom Fyfe have branched out stylistically from where they started. This is a positive for the band since progress hasn’t come at the expense of songwriting. At just under 39 minutes, the Skyhammer Studios-recorded Cry of the Ocean is a little longer than its predecessor, but none of that time feels wasted, whether it’s the late guitar-led jams in the closing duo of “Snake Eyes” and “You’ll Never Know,” or the Colour Haze-esque interplay of waves and standalone guitar that begin the two-part opening title-track. Rather, while Stubb have clearly become a more patient act — a credit to the time they’ve spent on stage the last couple years — their sound has only gotten richer for it. Dickinson‘s guitar tone, which is as much a draw to Cry of the Ocean as its entrancing shoreline cover art, drives this fluidity across the eight included tracks, and a flow pervades throughout the album’s two halves that stands as further evidence of their growth. The self-titled did a lot of work in establishing Stubb as a band to be taken seriously, and Cry of the Ocean succeeds in building off of those accomplishments as its sets out in its own direction.

Stubb are indebted to classic heavy rock without being retro and they nod at heavy psych on Cry of the Ocean without wading too deep in those waters. Rather than seeming noncommittal, though, the effect is that Stubb retain the penchant for hooks that made their first outing such a joy. “Cry of the Ocean Pt. 1″ makes waves of its verses — “And in my mind I break loose/And in my mind I break free…” — and opens to one of the record’s first standout choruses with the lines, “Hear the cry of the ocean, baby/As washes over me.” It is a more brooding sentiment than one might’ve expected, but Dickinson sells the emotion confidently and Stubb prove early they’re more than able to pull off the turn, “Cry of the Ocean Pt. 1″ giving way to “Cry of the Ocean Pt. 2,” a two-minute soulful, handclap-laden singalong that asks, “Are you free? Are you free to believe?/Free to be who you wanted to be?” The transition between the two parts is seamless, and the songs remain individually distinct, it sets up the across-album flow that will continue for most of Cry of the Ocean, with Holland and Fyfe setting up a swinging groove behind a guitar solo that adds distinction to what’s intended as a one-riff progression. “Heavy Blue Sky,” which follows, is likewise open-toned and likewise moody, but Dickinson brings lead-work forward early and with a confident, well-balanced vocal, carries the song, less based around its hook than the title cut but still memorable both for its riff and languid, swaying groove, which is held onto for the duration in a way that demonstrates the band’s patience and serves the album for the better. There’s plenty of time to blow doors off with the more fuzzed “Sail Forever,” the nod of which is immediate and which works its way smoothly toward one of Cry of the Ocean‘s best choruses, raw and classically-styled, but heavy and efficient as well, Fyfe‘s snare cutting through Dickinson‘s solo near the halfway mark.

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I’m not sure where the side A/B change is. Track-wise, it’s possible to be even on both sides, but in terms of time, one’s bound to be longer than the other. For what it’s worth, the acoustic “Heartbreaker” fits well coming out of “Sail Forever,” giving Cry of the Ocean its most contemplative moment and fitting with the bluesy interpersonal thematic at play in several of the songs. A sweet, folkish guitar line at the center furthers the overarching complexity, minimal-but-still-there drums retaining movement and adding class as Dickinson and Holland come together effectively on vocals in the chorus. Some harder snare hits in the second half tell of the pickup to come, but like “Heavy Blue Sky” never lost sight of its intent, “Heartbreaker” retains its acoustic basis even in its payoff, which is more satisfying considering how easy it would’ve been for the band to layer in a wall of fuzz. That also leaves “Devil’s Brew” tasked as the wake-up call, to which its unabashed catchiness is well suited, vocals following the winding bounce of the riff in “woo-oooh” fashion and a faster, more insistent rhythm emerging. It’s quick hook, but perfectly placed on the record between the acoustic “Heartbreaker” and subsequent “Snake Eyes,” a return to a simpler heavy rock feel between excursions elsewhere and a landmark for Cry of the Ocean‘s second half. Both “Snake Eyes” (7:01) and “You’ll Never Know” (the longest track at 7:14) are more complex, but still fit with the proceedings. Holland comes to the fore vocally in the chorus of “Snake Eyes” and there’s a Hammond organ guest spot from Mos Generator‘s Tony Reed, who also mixed and mastered the album, and Dickinson saves his most impressive soloing for the closer, but the two essentially work from the same structure, moving from early verse/chorus tradeoffs into consuming power trio jams.

It’s a fitting way to end Cry of the Ocean, the layers of high-end interweaving on “You’ll Never Know” with a considerable foundation in Fyfe‘s drums and Holland‘s bass, a final effects swirl underscoring the point of how far Stubb have come in just two years’ time. Clearly they’re a unit with a firm sense of what works for them, and the boldness with which they expand those parameters on Cry of the Ocean only makes it easier to be a fan. If you heard the first record, the progress here will impress. But even if Cry of the Ocean is your first exposure to Stubb, their level of songwriting, natural tones and heavy roll seem ready to find favor at a moment’s notice.

Stubb, Cry of the Ocean (2014)

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Cry of the Ocean at Ripple Music

Ripple Music

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