Fall Tour Pt. 4: Pentagram, Radio Moscow, Bang, Kings Destroy and Iron Reagan, Chicago, IL, 10.23.14

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

reggies rock club

Stickers on the wall, a dim, red-hued bar next door, record store upstairs and rooftop deck that I didn’t venture out to see, Reggie’s wasn’t short on vibe. It’s one of those places I’ve seen listed on tour dates for years, but to be there and see the place, turn it from an abstraction on a list of mostly unfamiliar rooms to someplace with actual sights, sounds and beat-up couches on the balcony was an opportunity I genuinely appreciated. And the place lived up to expectations, as much as I had them, with a bare concrete floor, high ceiling, graffiti art all on the walls and a t-shirt shop out toward the front door. Very cool space, and good for them making it work.

Doors were at 7PM, and Richmond, Virginia’s Iron Reagan were opening. Here’s how it went from there:

Iron Reagan

Iron Reagan (Photo by JJ Koczan)

They showed up not too long before the slated start of their set, which was 7:30 – a perfectly reasonable time to start a five-band bill on a weeknight; the venue had a 1:15 curfew in place – and set up their gear and thrashed in likewise manic fashion, tossing off period Slayer riffs amid an ‘80s-worship onslaught that was further conceptually than sonically from vocalist Tony Foresta and guitarist Phil “Landphil” Hall’s other band, Municipal Waste. They played under a huge banner featuring the visage of the former president from whom they derive their name – because the ‘80s – and were more than solid in their delivery if something of the odd men out on the bill. Didn’t stop a circle pit from forming as they quickly ran through a recent EP they put together for Decibel, five songs in about three minutes, which was a solid way to keep momentum going into the highlight “Miserable Failure,” a Cannibal Corpse cover and the finale, “Eat Shit and Live,” which had fists pumping up front. Not really my thing, but I couldn’t argue with the presentation.

Kings Destroy

kings destroy 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

First night of the tour. I’ve seen Kings Destroy enough times by now to know when it’s a rough night, but that wasn’t the feeling I got at Reggie’s. They opened with two older songs, “Old Yeller” and “The Mountie,” which seemed a fitting way of easing into a short half-hour set, and then broke out “Smokey Robinson” and “Mr. O” from the new album, one right into the next. That worked well, and by the time they got to “Smokey Robinson,” they were visibly into it. As much as I dig the speedier “Mr. O,” and I’m glad to hear “The Mountie” whenever able, “Smokey Robinson” was the high point of the set, though I won’t discount the sheer bizarro-doom thrust of rounding out with “Blood of Recompense” into “Turul,” both songs slow, lurching and vicious from the second album, last year’s A Time of Hunting, bringing the record’s closing pair right into people’s faces, loud and stomping and mean. As ever, people at the start didn’t know what was happening and by the end were into it enough that they stopped trying to figure it out and just went with it.

Bang

Bang (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Guitarist Frank Glicken announced this as Bang’s first tour in 40 years, which got a laugh out of drummer Jake Leger, who most certainly wasn’t there when Glicken and bassist/vocalist Frank Ferrara last hit the road. Disparity of years notwithstanding, Bang were a tight classic-styled power trio breaking out cuts from their ‘70s era, injecting something a little newer with “The Maze,” and even finding room for a ballad in “Last Will and Testament.” Vintage amps pushed out warm tones, Leger added a swinging sensibility that fit really well, and Ferrara’s vocals had that smooth ‘70s vibe. It was funny to think of both Iron Reagan two bands before, whose idolatry was directed at a different decade entirely, and Radio Moscow still to come, who find the core of their influence in heavy ‘70s blues-inspired acts like Bang. Add to that Pentagram’s ‘70s lineage, and Bang made a lot of sense for the bill, since whether their material was newer or older, they played through with a classic feel and sense of poise, the two Franks coming together on stage regularly to share laughs and grooves alike.

Radio Moscow

Radio Moscow (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I’ve never seen Radio Moscow that they didn’t show up to play, and I’ve never seen Radio Moscow not show up. I don’t think the San Diego classic heavy rockers have come off the road since their Spring run with Kings Destroy and Pentagram, or at least not for any great stretch of time, having done Europe and South America since, in addition to releasing the album Magical Dirt (review here), from which the bounce-happy “Death of a Queen” was aired. There were some issues before they started with guitarist/vocalist Parker Griggs’ gear, but they were solved quickly enough, and he, bassist Anthony Meier and drummer Paul Marrone sprinted through regular suspects like “Just Don’t Know,” “Broke Down,” “Before it Burns,” “250 Miles” and “Gypsy Fast Woman,” the latter closing out after Marrone ran off stage quickly to replace a busted kick pedal. The boogie was as fervent as ever, and Radio Moscow delivered the kind of air-tight rager of a set that I’ve come to expect from them since the last tour, Marrone and Meier reminding that while it’s Griggs who gets the most solos – at some point on this tour, I’m going to count who’s got more, him or Frank Glicken from Bang – it’s just as much the rhythm section that makes the songs move.

Pentagram

Pentagram (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Pentagram played a much bolder set than I expected. I guess after watching them do basically the same batch of songs last time around, my head was just positioned to think this would be more of that, but it wasn’t. “Sign of the Wolf (Pentagram)” was early in the set, after “Death Row,” “All Your Sins” and a cover of The Animals’ “Don’t Let Me be Misunderstood,” which Pentagram guitarist Victor Griffin also did with In~Graved when I saw them last year at Days of the Doomed III in Wisconsin. Even more notably, a new song called “Lay Down and Die” was aired, and frontman Bobby Liebling announced from the stage that the plan was to hit the studio this winter to record a follow-up to 2011’s Last Rites. Hopefully they’ll record with the same lineup they have now – Liebling, Griffin, bassist Greg Turley and drummer Sean Saley – since they’ve developed some genuine chemistry on stage, which one could see and hear both in that song, which had some double-time hi-hat from Saley and a fast verse delivery, and in the encore as they jammed out an extended take on “When the Screams Come,” which followed “Be Forewarned” in a raucous finale of sleazed-out doom well met by the Reggie’s crowd, fired and liquored up in kind.

We poured out of the venue circa 1AM and I drove to some town in Wisconsin – after getting much advice on how to get the van out of its spot, most of it bunk. The next show is in Minneapolis, which is another town I’ve never been to and am greatly looking forward to seeing, the land starting show some more hills on the way where it’s been pretty flat since Pennsylvania up to this point. No complaints either way.

More pics after the jump.

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John Wilkes Booth, Useless Lucy: Soaking the Perimeter

Posted in Reviews on October 21st, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

john wilkes booth useless lucy

Long Island heavy rockers John Wilkes Booth will mark their first decade together next year. 10 years. The band — who, if you’re wondering, took on what I think even they’d tell you (perhaps while smirking) is a lousy name in order to capture something universally hated — made their full-length debut in 2008 with Sic Semper Tyrannis (review here) following a split with 12 Eyes and my former band, Maegashira, and a 2006 self-titled EP, and five years later, they answer their long-player with the eight-track/34-minute sophomore outing, Useless Lucy, which both beefs up the production overall and delves into darker noise rock terrain on cuts like “From the North” and “Masturbation Song” while tapping various veins of ’90s alt rock in “Six One” and the later “Ladder and Vacuum,” at least before the latter switches to its crunching hook, Tool-style bleaker prog riffing from guitarist Jason Beickert winding out a resonant chorus that consumes much of the three-minute song’s second half, vocalist Kerry Merkle recounting an everyman tale of woe overtop, somewhat ironically (and again, perhaps smirkingly) following the parental love-letter “Soaking the Perimeter.” The Booth have always had something of a progressive drive, musically and vocally, and Merkle does well in changing his approach here from gutting out the start-stop chorus in “Masturbation Song” and the verses in “13 Years” to more cleanly riding the funk-rock push of “Ladder and Vacuum,” bassist Harry Vrooman and drummer Christian Horstmann stepping up the bounce there where in the midsection of closer “Family Crest” they smoothly hold together a post-bridge jam as Beickert embellishes an exploratory-sounding lead.

To make a prior allusion explicit, I’ve known the John Wilkes Booth guys for years, played shows with them, collaborated on releases, and so on, so I’m not about to claim a measure of impartiality when it comes to appreciating what they do. They are one of those bands. Nestled into their geography out on Long Island, separate from the entirety of the country with the morass of New York traffic between, they rarely get out, have never toured for any length of time, but have continued to hone their craft at familiar local spots, have kept a consistent lineup because they must genuinely enjoy each other’s company, and have put together a solid album of new material written not with the rush of an impending touring cycle, but with time taken to fully embrace the process of hammering out parts and making the songs sound the way they want them too. Would they be a bigger, more solidified unit if they’d hit the road six years ago and never looked back? Probably. Or they might’ve broken up. Who the hell knows? The point is that when it comes to Useless Lucy and the Booth in general, what you see is what you get. They might cop an experimental vibe here and there — with its slower progression and foreboding vibe, opener “From the North” is probably the farthest they veer from their more straightforward norm — but by and large they traffic in unpretentious heavy rock and roll, vibed out with various echoes in the guitar and vocals and made stronger by the chemistry of the rhythm section. They’re not looking to be a huge band or to “get a buzz going” in any other than the beery sense of the phrase. As I’ve always seen them, their motives are pure. They create because they feel joy in the expression. That’s kept them going for a decade so far.

john wilkes booth

And somewhat more astoundingly, they do so without really ever pushing into self-indulgence. Even the penultimate “Intro 2 (Lick My Spacesuit),” which is essentially 90 seconds of an effects buildup leading the way into “Family Crest,” serves a purpose in adding to the atmosphere of the album overall and giving the listener a breather after “Ladder and Vacuum” and before the finale. Earlier, “Six One” showcases an airier sensibility than either of the opening duo in front of it, but neither that nor the rolling fuzz of “13 Years” which follows, fail to convey a well-developed songwriting process, and everywhere John Wilkes Booth go on Useless Lucy, that’s what remains most consistent. They’ll never be a big band — even the phrase “I like John Wilkes Booth” pushes the boundaries of taste; they prefer “F the Booth” as a slogan — and they’ll probably never quit their jobs and go on perma-tour, get big press and whatever else, but frankly, the fact that they’re going to do what they do regardless makes them all the more admirable in my eyes. There’s nothing insincere about Useless Lucy, or that feels cynical or like it’s just there because it’s what’s popular. It’s not what’s popular. If it was they’d sound like Graveyard or Uncle Acid. Instead, they sound like the Booth. It won’t turn heads, and the album’s not perfect by any stretch — Merkle‘s voice comes across high in the mix in places, and the recording is clean more à la modern rock than heavy rock — but it’s honest, and going into a band’s new record with the expectation of honesty is a rare and not-to-be-understated delight.

John Wilkes Booth, Useless Lucy (2014)

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Live Review: Faces of Bayon, Clamfight, Wizard Eye, Bedroom Rehab Corporation and Conclave in Massachusetts, 10.18.14

Posted in Reviews on October 20th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

clamfight 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It was madness, I tell you. Utter madness. Madness from which there was no escape, unless you went outside, which if you were me you didn’t want to do. A five-band Saturday night bill at Ralph’s Rock Diner in Worcester with Faces of Bayon — who as I understand it don’t literally run the place, but show up there often enough that one might get that impression — Clamfight and Wizard Eye up from Philly and Conclave, who as they put it were a “new band with the same old guys” opening, it was an evening to settle in and just let the steamroller run you down because, quite frankly, it was going to whether you wanted or not. GwarLife of Agony and a bunch of other bands were playing at The Palladium down the way, and that probably had some impact on the overall draw, but people came upstairs and milled about the venue throughout the night, a birthday party downstairs and balloons with “Over The Hill” on them getting a chuckle out of me on my way by.

Ralph’s at this point I consider to be a pretty well kept secret. I’ve yet to see a band there and not have the sound hold up. The room is open, the ceiling high enough to let amps breathe, the stage is the right height for it. There are stools at the bar if you want to take a load off for a minute, and the lighting — though it can change from band to band — is better than every room I’ve been to in Boston save perhaps for the Middle East Downstairs, which is also a venue that holds at least three times as many people. Were Worcester a more major urban center, Ralph’s is probably the kind of place people from elsewhere would’ve heard of, a spot that could be in league with Brooklyn’s The Acheron if not the Vitus bar, or someplace like Johnny Brenda‘s in Philly, minus the balcony. I dig it, in other words, and enjoy seeing bands there. For being maybe 75 minutes from me where Boston is about an hour and Providence about 45 minutes, I’ve so far found it’s worth the trip.

The flyer said five bucks for five bands. I paid seven as the door and it should’ve cost more than twice that. Here’s how this one went down:

Conclave

conclave 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

As I understand it, it was Conclave‘s second show, but true to their “same old guys” declaration, the members of the band have been around. Bassist/vocalist Jerry Orne counts the due-for-a-reunion Warhorse in his pedigree, and guitarist Jeremy Kibort is his bandmate in once-and-again death metallers Desolate. Completed by drummer Dan BlomquistConclave played doom like death metallers often do. Even before you get to harsh vocals or anything like that, you can hear it in the precision of the changes, in some of the angularity of their approach. Blomquist‘s kit and Kibort‘s guitar were a dead giveaway, but for being a new band, they clearly knew their way around a doom riff, and it was easy to get a sense of the balance of harshness and groove they were shooting for, the lack of pretense at the heart of their presentation, and their penchant for periodically working in faster tempo shifts, as on “Walk the Earth (No Longer)” or the set closer “Black Lines,” which seems likely to also feature on their forthcoming debut EP, Breaking Ground. And so they were.

Bedroom Rehab Corporation

bedroom rehab corporation 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I wondered if it had been a month since the last time I saw Connecticut’s Bedroom Rehab Corporation while bassist/vocalist Adam Wujtewicz and drummer Meghan Killimade set up their gear. Yes, it had — just over a month, in fact. Still close enough that they were fresh on the brain, though. Their set had a couple new songs to go with “Basilosaurus” from their Red over Red debut long-player (review here). They’ll record in January, and I’ll look forward to what comes out of that for 2015, but the primary impression in watching them at Ralph’s, which is also where I first saw them over the summer, was much the same, in how completely their live show outclasses their studio material. They’ve got their work cut out for them in translating the energy they bring to the stage — the consuming, noisy sensibility in both of their approaches, the variety of tone and gruff vocals of Wujtewicz — but Justin Pizzoferrato, who also helmed the debut, should be able to capture it with the right balance of rawness and clarity. At Ralph’s, they were playing the second night of an NY/MA weekender with Clamfight and Wizard Eye, and it was clear the company they were keeping was pushing them to give it their all on stage.

Wizard Eye

wizard eye 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)
Sometimes there’s a band — and I’m talking about Wizard Eye here — and they’re the right band for their time and place. They fit right in there. That was Wizard Eye as the centerpiece act in the lineup of five in Worcester. Their grooves smoother than Bedroom Rehab Corporation, more stoned out than even the newer Clamfight material — give me a minute, I’ll get there — the Philly trio rolled out fuzz and heavy with the assured vibe of seasoned veterans. They’re not a new band, formed in 2007, but with one record out it would be easy to walk into a Wizard Eye set and be surprised at how much they have their shit together on stage. I knew what was coming, but new songs “Flying/Falling,” “Phase Return” and “Drowning Day” set in well with the promise of a follow-up to 2010’s Orbital Rites, from which “C.O.C.,” “Psychonaut” and “Gravebreath” were aired, guitarist/vocalist Erik Caplan trading out guitar solos for theremin, which added noisy edge to the Iommic groove and stoner-because-stoner vibe the three-piece got across. That second album may yet be a little ways off, but from what I’ve heard it’ll be worth the wait.

Clamfight

clamfight 2 (Photo by JJ Koczan)
There are few things I’ll argue with less than watching Clamfight play. Up from Philly and sharing what I’m sure was a mightily dudely van with the Wizard Eye cats, Clamfight were primed to destroy as always, but opening and closing with new songs, they pulled away from the riffy thrash with which I tend to associate them, driving toward a more classic-rocking — and, pivotally, more dynamic — take. I knew they were growing, but they brought into relief just how far their progression was pushing them, or vice versa, and as satisfying as it was to see them tear into the title-track from their second record, I vs. the Glacier, with drummer Andy Martin roaring while lead guitarist Sean McKee tried to shake his cranium loose by headbanging it off while alternately facing and not facing the crowd, guitarist Joel Harris locked into a swaggering kind of waltz and bassist Louis Koble nestled into foundational grooves behind, it was even better to watch them come out from behind all that assault and volume and still have both the performance and songwriting hold up as they branched out. I anxiously await the chance to hear their new stuff properly recorded.

Faces of Bayon

faces of bayon 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)
It did not seem to me that Faces of Bayon had a particularly easy task in following Clamfight, but ultimately the Fitchburg trio were on such a different wavelength that by the time they were about 30 seconds into their set, it was apples and oranges. It’s been over two years since the last (and first) time I saw guitarist/vocalist Matt Smith, bassist Ron Miles and drummer Mike Lenihan. Smith threatened a second album that night to follow-up 2011’s debut, Heart of the Fire (review here), but one has yet to surface. It wasn’t mentioned at Ralph’s that I heard, but Faces of Bayon‘s blend of stoner and death-doom impulses was a stirring reminder of why I’d been looking forward to such a thing. Riffs came slow and patient, Miles subdued on the right side of the stage while Lenihan throttled his skull-covered drums and Smith – also a former member of Warhorse – gurgled out tales of woe. Some clean singing added Euro-style drama to the proceedings, and they finished with a deathly cover of Pentagram‘s “All Your Sins,” which was shouted out to photographer Hillarie Jason, who had rolled in presumably after the Gwar show ended. By then, it was well past 1AM, but some riffs get better the later they come.

The highways were basically clear on the way home, a couple cops pulling over a couple out-of-state-plate types as I streamed past with “Oh yeah I’ve been there” empathy. Got in a little before 3AM and called it a night on the quick, once again reveling in how overjustified the trip had been.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Craang, To the Estimated Size of the Universe: Looking Outward

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

craang to the estimated size of the universe

Greek heavy psych trio Craang seem to tip their hat to improvisation early into their four-track debut full-length, To the Estimated Size of the Universe (to be released on vinyl early next year by Pink Tank Records), when six minutes into opener “Slo Forward Jam,” the song seems to come to an end with a wash of cymbals. There are still two more minutes to go, and the deceptively thick guitar tone soon kicks back in and continues to carry a progression out, but there still seems to be something off the cuff, even if some moments are clearly planned or if the Thessaloniki three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Manos, bassist Theano and drummer Nick are working from a basic schematic or a loosely-plotted course. Perhaps it’s part of the nature of the material itself and the fact that it was recorded live that it would seem so. The opener is, but not all four of the extended tracks — “Slo Forward Jam” (8:08), “Butterfly” (9:19), “Magnolia” (9:53) and “The Meteorian” (15:48) — are instrumental, but the focus is quickly put on the jam, and even as keys enter on “Butterfly,” the prevailing impression is still of looser-knit heavy psychedelia, a laid back groove pervading and holding firm throughout, even as heavy as the guitars and bass can get. And they do get fairly heavy, crunchier in their tone than one might expect, and even if where they go stylistically holds to some manner of restraint — that is, even as “The Meteorian” reaches its apex, Craang never thrash out — To the Estimated Size of the Universe showcases a burgeoning dynamic and progressive feel rife with subtle builds, effects-laden spaciousness and groove in steady supply.

Aside from that balance between improvisational and composed movements, the opener being the most leaned toward the former — working considerably in the album’s favor is Craang‘s patient sensibility. By the end of its nine minutes, “Butterfly” has pulled off a remarkable build, but the band’s roll is patient enough that it’s easy to get lost in and be carried along with it. On first listen, the arrival of Manos‘ vocals is surprising, since after “Slo Forward Jam,” it seems just as likely the entire album will go without, but more striking is the subtle way late in the track the guitar and keys push “Butterfly” toward and through its payoff, the final minute slowing to an absolute crawl in a rumbling and, finally, droning finish, luring an audience further from consciousness only to smack it in the head with the thick and immediate intro of “Magnolia,” which were it not for the more dynamic approach of the closer, would be the highlight of the record. It’s prime, fuzzed-out Euro-style heavy psych, feeding in its languid chug on a Colour Haze-via-Elder sensibility of how the genre is accomplished, and more than “Butterfly,” it does push and pull, the initial thrust giving way momentarily to an airier section of lead guitar and open vibe. The tradeoff is effective and shows Craang have more in their structural arsenal than a straight-upward build, the song seeming to come to a head after six minutes in only to space out on sustained guitar feedback, and an air-moving bassline that subtly sets the bed for a finishing jam. In both its ain’t-over-yet methodology and instrumental approach, “Magnolia” recalls “Slo Forward Jam,” but what they do with that changes, and the layered guitar work at the end of “Magnolia” makes a strong argument for the band’s potential future stylistic evolution.

craang

Still, it’s hard to overlook a 15-minute heavy psych excursion like “The Meteorian,” which finds a steady foundation in Theano‘s bass as it begins to unfold in languid fashion, the guitar slowly coming to life alongside the low end and a quiet but tense drum progression from Nick. Here too Craang‘s patience shows itself, but the pace increases just before three minutes in and what becomes the bed for the verse starts to take shape. Vocals are far back, almost consumed by the tones surrounding, and a space-rock push emerges in the bass and drums as the guitars once again give way to keys — if they even are keys and not guitar effects; nobody is credited with keyboards (the digipak, the liner for which is printed backwards, is cagey in giving any lineup information) and Craang‘s live setup doesn’t seem to have any, but it’s a distinct sound separate from the guitar fuzz, so if it was overdubbed later or whatever, I don’t know — and more airy guitar. This would seem to be the final build, but it peaks about halfway through the song with a riff that reminds directly of Elder‘s “Dead Roots Stirring” and shifts into a lull before picking up again with the push that gradually devolves into the finish of the album, some ambient vocals — or guitar, or keys — holding out over a final round of hits as “The Meteorian” crashes to its end. For its broader range, the closer makes for the highlight, but really it’s across the full span of To the Estimated Size of the Universe that Craang show their ambition and their allegiance to the tenets of heavy psychedelia, their desire to find a place within the genre. That progress is underway on this debut, peppered and given breadth by hints of sonic expansion to come.

Craang, To the Estimated Size of the Universe (2014/2015)

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Craang on Bandcamp

Pink Tank Records

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On Wax: Lenoir Swingers Club & The Asound, Live at Dead Wax Records Split 12″

Posted in On Wax on October 16th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

the-lenoir-swingers-club-the-asound-split-cover-and-vinyl

Capturing a Jan. 25, 2014, show that billed Lenoir, North Carolina, as “the fifth most miserable city in the US,” the new Live at Dead Wax Records split 12″ from Lenoir Swingers Club and The Asound delivers on its promise. Two sides of raw drive — the A side more punk-fueled, the B side thicker toned — but the uniting factor is the unbridled nature of the delivery. Dead Wax Records has the split out as the second in a series of two thus far, and with a clear recording from Brian Caudle and a mastering job from Chad Davis (of The Sabbathian, Tasha-Yar, Hour of 13, and so on), the record manages to capture the energy behind both bands’ sets and present some sense of dynamic between them. The only thing missing is a 15-minute breakdown between the two. Well, maybe not “missing,” but you know what I mean.

Live at Dead Wax Records is pressed in limited numbers — a manufacturing problem seems to have made those numbers even more limited than originally intended — and included with the platter itself, a black paper sleeve, the-lenoir-swingers-club-the-asound-split-vinyl-the-lenoir-swingers-club-coverand the two covers is a two-sided liner, one sheet per band. For Lenoir Swingers Club, the manic collage of show flyers and photocopied look mirrors the classic punk of the band itself. A trio unsurprisingly native to Lenoir, they present five songs in a short-seeming burst — “Personal Space Invaders,” “People Under the Stairs” and “Student Driver” pushing out all the attitude and brashness one could ask of a three-piece so apparently keen on irreverence. I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first person to compare them to Dead Kennedys, but “Summer of Bugs” slows down the proceedings somewhat to give a different edge, and the finale “Thing Sloth,” which was going out to Tom, in case you were wondering, wraps with an assault of feedback and noise its capstone thud. They’ve reportedly got a full-length in the works and I wouldn’t be surprised if they pulled it off with an undercurrent of diversity, since that seems to come through even in their bare-bones live sound.

Late last year, The Asound released a self-titled debut full-length on bassist Jon Cox‘s own Tsuguri Records imprint, and on Live at Dead Wax Records, they present four songs from it, beginning with the rush of album-closer “Slave to the Saints” and moving toward the furious percussive rush and mega-stoner riffing of “Joan,” with “Tater Hole Blues” and “The Baron” between. Both “Joan” and “The Baron” havethe-lenoir-swingers-club-the-asound-split-vinyl-the-asound-cover been around for a bit — the latter having been featured on a 2011 split with Magma Rise (streamed here) and the former on an earlier 2010 self-titled EP (review here) and a 2010 split with punkers Flat Tires (review here) — but were certainly at their most realized on the full-length, and they sit well here alongside the Melvins-style thrust of the instrumental “Tater Hole Blues”and the high-gear “Slave to the Saints,” guitarist/vocalist Chad Wyrick tearing into a solo while Cox and drummer Michael Crump hold together the furious groove behind, the whole crude than on the studio offering, which winds its way into an Olde Growth-sort of punkish stoner melodicism, but satisfying in its own right, their set, like Lenoir Swingers Club, finishing with a suitably noisy payoff.

Two underground acts with a penchant for mean groove and underlying — or in the case of Lenoir Swingers Club, overlaid — fuckall, they might not seem on first listen to make for the best pairing, The Asound geared much more toward heavy riffing than their compatriots, but with their foundation likewise in punk, it works. I’m not sure who might be next in Dead Wax Records‘ series, but at least for one probably-cold-ass night in January, Lenoir’s misery got a riotous soundtrack. A 12″ in the tradition of punk 7″s, no surprise there’s more on offer here than it at first seems.

Lenoir Swingers Club & The Asound, Live at Dead Wax Records teaser

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The Asound on Thee Facebooks

Dead Wax Records

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Ice Dragon, The Burl, the Earth, the Aether, The Sorrowful Sun and Tome of the Future Ancients: Devil in the Sandbox

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

ice dragon

Especially listening to them one into the next, it’s hard not to try to string a narrative between Ice Dragon‘s albums The Burl, the Earth, the Aether (2010), The Sorrowful Sun (2011) and Tome of the Future Ancients (2012). All three — plus side-project Tentacle‘s 2013 sophomore offering, Ingot Eye – have been given a sturdy jewel case CD treatment from Canada’s PRC Music, each with a four-panel liner with the original covers plus lyrics, recording info and/or other art, and right away the intent feels archival, the label having stepped in to release these albums to give them some form outside the crowded nebula of their digital incarnations. To my knowledge, the only one of these three Ice Dragon records to have been pressed at all was The Sorrowful Sun, which Acid Punx released on tape alongside the Boston band’s 2007 self-titled debut (review here), but either way, these feel official and the ability to hold them and explore their art and liner notes gives each one that much more of its own personality. Ice Dragon have taken to putting out new music at such a prolific rate, sometimes it can be hard to keep up.

All the more reason to explore the releases individually, then, since they each have something different to offer, as has proven a big part of the appeal of Ice Dragon‘s work these last few years. We’ll start at, or at least near, the beginning:

The Burl, the Earth, the Aether (2010)

ice dragon the burl the earth the aether

Their second. Working as the trio of bassist Joe, guitarist Carter and drummer/vocalist RonIce Dragon began a run with The Burl, the Earth, the Aether that’s still going on. To date, they’ve released nine albums in the four years since, not to mention singles and splits and side-projects, but more than just the quantity of their output, the standout is the quality of it, and The Burl, the Earth, the Aether stands as a beginning point there as well. Comprised of eight tracks totaling in a 53-minute runtime, the album boasts the classic doom of “Squares inside Squares” and “The Watcher,” recorded with the raw and blown-out sensibilities of US black metal, but still riff-led in a stonerly tradition, and while Ron gets into some rougher shouts on “The Watcher” and “Alucard” — the Castlevania reference there fits with the record’s dark intent — far more prevalent are the echoing howls that resonate from the album’s overarching murk. In “Spellpouch,” “Meddoe” and “Winged Prophet,” Ice Dragon show their propensity for working with acoustics, and in the context of what they’ve done since, moving into psychedelic, psych-pop and folk influences, the ultra-quiet finish of “Winged Prophet” seems like a forebear of future adventurousness, while the ultra-distorted grandiosity of 11-minute closer “Aquageddon” and its blend of malevolent swirl and lumbering riffage with a slow descent into abrasive noise come across like a direct line to what Tome of the Future Ancients would have in store two years later.

The Sorrowful Sun (2011)

ice dragon the sorrowful sun

Both The Sorrowful Sun itself, which divides its concise 38 minutes into two roughly equal halves, and its Adam Burke artwork seem to be begging for a vinyl release, but no less on CD, what Ice Dragon achieves on their third album is a standout in their catalog. Aesthetically, there’s a cohesion and a confidence in the presentation of what just a year prior seemed to be experimentation, the swing of songs like “Interspecies Communication” and “Flowers” having solidified into the beer-soaked garage doom on which much of their current take remains based. Likewise, they begin to explore folkish material on “Light Years” — underscored by some righteous bass fuzz — and add several interludes in “Dusk,” and the intro “Sunrise” to give a more complete album-concept feel. The obscure psychedelia of “Poseidon’s Grasp,” with its mix-consuming leads, the drearier churn of “White Tusks” and the subdued exploration of “Near Sun, on Earth” make for as satisfying a three-track run as any Ice Dragon have yet conjured as they round out The Sorrowful Sun, the three-piece not only engaging a multitude of styles but successfully commanding all of them so that the songs flow well one into the next even as the sprawl grows wider. Particularly with a few years of hindsight, one can hear a lot being figured out on The Sorrowful Sun that seems like a foundation for where Ice Dragon would go creatively, but like its predecessor and even more than its predecessor, it stands on its own accomplishments as well and continues to resonate even three years later. If you needed a starting point for the band, The Sorrowful Sun might be it.

Tome of the Future Ancients (2012)

ice dragon tome of the future ancients

Including Tome of the Future AncientsIce Dragon released four full-length albums in 2012, and to date it was their most productive year, also resulting in Dream Dragon (tape review here), greyblackfalconhawk (discussed here) and the moody Dead Friends and Angry Lovers, initially released as a side-project called Slow Heart but later brought into the Ice Dragon fold. Of the bunch, Tome of the Future Ancients is by far the most expansive, and the intent of the 12-track/75-minute offering feels clearly bent toward the overwhelming. On CD, it is a beast. Half the songs top seven minutes, and whether it’s “The Black Book of Hours” or the opening “Manuscript 408,” Ice Dragon seem to be taking the drone lessons of Earth and applying them to their own brand of doom, thudding and struggling with various impulses along the way, be it the where-did-this-come-from boogie-to-noise onslaught of “Illuminations Foretold” or the excruciating plod of “Night” or the sitar-laced 10-minute blowout of “The Bearded Mage.” What unites the material is the fact that it’s all over the place, but “tome” is right as Ice Dragon prove that fuckall still rules the day on their fourth album. Relatively peaceful psychedelics on “Adoration of Ra” and non-abrasive experimental guitar sweetness on “Infinite Requiem” round out, but the campaign to get there is wearying, the trio merciless in crafting a path that seems to cut further and further into a clouded abyss of distortion and foreboding, where even the drone-noise of “Astronomical Union” pushes downward into a pervasive void of silence. It is lung-filling doom.

Tentacle, Ingot Eye (2013)

tentacle ingot eye

Like the manifestation of all of Ice Dragon‘s darkest tendencies, Tentacle ooze forth four tracks of abrasive, cavernous regression on their second outing, Ingot Eye. Originally released early in 2013, it’s another two-sider folded into a linear mass on the PRC CD — the back cover divides the songs, each “side” starting with a 10-plus-minute monster — and what it shares in common with Ice Dragon aside from the lineup and raw vibe is its immersiveness. As much as Ice Dragon push and pull in various directions, Tentacle swallows you whole, and Ingot Eye‘s four pieces — “The Blackness of My Soul will be so Great as to Make the Night Weep” (11:26), “Dull Ache (I Hate Myself Today)” (4:59), “(Revenge) Dust for Blood” (12:46) and “Our Serpent Mother’s Kiss” (9:53) — comprise a lumbering mass. The second cut, “Dull Ache (I Hate Myself Today),” is the only real point of letup, taking on a more shuffling groove and cleaner vocal, but “Our Serpent Mother’s Kiss” arrives at a downer moment of accessibility as well, the its vocals buried deep in gleefully farty low-end and preceded by devolved noise that’s emblematic of how unfriendly these guys can get when they feel like it. What distinguishes Ingot Eye most from Ice Dragon‘s output is how much Tentacle turns the band’s ambitions on their head. And then stomps that head into a muddy goo from which no light can escape.

Ice Dragon continue a multifaceted progression. This year, in addition to a split with Space Mushroom Fuzz (info here) and other singles, they’ve issued two full-lengths, Seeds from a Dying Garden (review here) and Loaf of Head (review here). PRC has a preorder available for a CD edition of Dream Dragon, so it seems safe to say that if the label and the band wish to continue their affiliation, there will be fodder for releases for years to come.

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Ice Dragon on Bandcamp

Tentacle on Bandcamp

PRC Music

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Alunah, Awakening the Forest: Spirits Invoked

Posted in Reviews on October 14th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

Alunah-Awakening-The-Forest

Birmingham doomers Alunah make their debut on Napalm Records with Awakening the Forest, their third album. It’s been a long two years since their sophomore outing, White Hoarhound (review here), left such a resounding impression — four since their debut, Call of Avernus (review here), was released — and in that time, some things have changed and others haven’t. The four-piece have traded out bassists, bringing Dan Burchmore aboard, and clocked considerable road time in support of their material, touring in the UK and Europe that’s resulted in a considerable forward movement in their songwriting. Their overarching approach, however, is consistent, as is their presentation. Awakening the Forest, like its predecessor, was recorded by Esoteric‘s Greg Chandler and mastered by Mos Generator‘s Tony Reed, and there’s sonic cohesiveness as a result between the two records. Likewise, Alunah‘s latest maintains the band’s penchant for themes of nature worship, guitarist/vocalist Soph Day here using metaphor and, one imagines, some escapism in coping with the loss of her father, songs like opener “Bricket Wood Coven,” “Heavy Bough” and “The Summerland” evoking an organic feel in lyric and tone alike, a fuller-sounding production from Chandler not taking away from the underlying warmth in Day‘s tone or that of her fellow guitarist David Day, the foursome rounded out by Jake Mason on drums. All told, Awakening the Forest‘s six tracks cover 45 minutes of expansive, rolling doom given an otherworldly feel by Soph‘s echoing vocals and fluid movement between and within the individual pieces.

It breaks about evenly into two vinyl sides and works that way as well, but I prefer a linear, CD-style listen because it underscores two elements working very much in Awakening the Forest‘s favor: The languidness of groove and the immersiveness of the record as a whole. You could put a platter-flip between “Awakening the Forest” and “The Mask of Herne” — which is the shortest cut included at 5:53 — but I’ll take it front-to-back and really dig into the chance to get lost in Alunah‘s rollout, slower here than on the last album overall but with choruses no less memorable or engaging, an overarching sleepy-woods feel pervading each cut in succession, beginning with “Bricket Wood Coven,” which oozes out choice, open-feeling riffing for its eight-minute entirety, Soph telling tales of a high priestess calling the moon, and by the time it’s over, the spell has been duly cast. The subsequent “Heavy Bough,” while shorter and somewhat more uptempo, is ultimately no less ethereal, and with “Awakening the Forest” and “The Mask of Herne” following — the latter referring to the antlers donned by Herne the Hunter, a ghost said in English folklore to haunt Windsor Forest, referenced in the album’s cover art — Alunah‘s hypnosis is long since complete, the title-track offering a high point in its hook, early soloing and spacious post-midpoint jam, and the latter launching Awakening the Forest‘s second half with particularly graceful vocal layering and a steady affirmation that the consuming fuzz on the songs prior was no fluke. Not that there was any doubt, but the reassurance is welcome all the same ahead of the closing duo, “Scourge and the Kiss” and “The Summerland.”

alunah

At 8:39 and 9:05, respectively, “Scourge and the Kiss” and “The Summerland” are the two longest songs on the album, and paired next to each other they make the trance-inducing aspects of earlier cuts all the more apparent. In its structure and focus on the chorus, “Scourge and the Kiss” stands in line with “Awakening the Forest” and “Bricket Wood Coven” as another strong execution of Alunah‘s songwriting, trading off brooding quietness with bigger-toned riffs and layered leads between the two intertwining guitars over the rhythmic foundation from Burchmore and Mason. In its vocals and in those leads, it gives heavy psychedelic flourish to what the band has already accomplished, and in the context of the album, it keeps the momentum moving forward, but the larger impression is made my the closer, which delves as close as Alunah have come to minimalism. A linear build begins soft and sentimental with the guitars, and immediately the focus is on atmosphere more than anywhere else on Awakening the ForestSoph delivers her first vocals shortly before three minutes in, and though weightier distortion kicks in around the halfway point, a patient sensibility holding firm as “The Summerland” works its way toward its payoff. It never loses its contemplative, melancholy spirit, and that’s how Awakening the Forest ends. They don’t force an adrenaline surge where one doesn’t want to be, and above all, the final moments of Awakening the Forest seem honest in their intent and emotional portrayal. Whatever pagan elements might be at work throughout, Alunah‘s third album doesn’t veer from its human core, and for that, and for its marking the continued growth of the band and their coming into own in what they do, moving beyond their influences to an increasingly individualized approach, Awakening the Forest is their strongest outing yet.

Alunah, “Heavy Bough” official video

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Alunah at Napalm Records

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On Wax: Spidergawd, Spidergawd

Posted in On Wax on October 9th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

spidergawd-spidergawd-lp-and-cover-and-cd

A spirit of reverence is immediate, even before you put on the self-titled debut full-length from Norway’s Spidergawd. The vinyl — now in its third pressing, as I understand it — comes courtesy of Crispin Glover Records, and is presented in bright red, 180g form, housed in a blue transparent plastic sleeve. Already we see the interplay of color that the album itself will proffer. Its striking, thick-glossy-stock pagan-futuristic cover art follows suit, the tracklisting and recording info hidden inside, waiting to be found, and the whole package, which also includes a CD, is housed in a clear plastic sleeve that boasts the band’s logo for a layered-over effect when the put together. Spidergawd‘s music is as intricate a take as I’ve heard on ’70s-style boogie, with at-times manic progressive rhythmic turns matched to upbeat, classic heavy forward motion, and clearly the 12″ was meant to be a multi-sensory experience. Even unto how the texture of the sleeve feels in your hands, it offers more than just the audio.

The name Motorpsycho won’t be as immediately familiar to Americans as to Europeans, but the rhythm section of the long-running prog pioneers features here, bassist Bent Sæther and drummer Kenneth Kapstad joining guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Per Borten and saxophonist Rolf Martin Snustad in the spidergawd-spidergawd-lp-sleeve-and-recordTrondheim-based Spidergawd, the self-titled also boasting pedal steel from Roar Øien and trumpet from Kim Alexander Eriksen. The horns are used well beginning from side A opener “Into Tomorrow,” accenting the chorus of the album’s shortest cut without being overdone, adding to the excitement of the song itself, Borten‘s vocal command — readily on display throughout — and the instrumental chemistry between the guitar, bass and drums. “Into Tomorrow” is a forward, driving heavy rock song with an ear toward ’70s rock, but nothing on Spidergawd‘s Spidergawd is particularly retro-sounding, the production clear and full and not necessarily geared toward playing up a vintage style, though “Blauer Jubel” or “Southeastern Voodoo Lab” definitely lean more into that influence stylistically.

Even aside from Kapstad‘s gonna-put-on-a-clinic-and-still-sound-like-I’m-having-fun drumming, there’s a lot about the LP that’s easy to get into. Borten‘s guitar jangles and swaggers over Sæther‘s twisting fuzz jam, and though Spidergawd obviously have the chops to pull off the blinding shuffle of “Blauer Jubel,” technical prowess isn’t shown off at the expense of songwriting. “Master of Disguise” sees fit to out Graveyard Graveyard, a tense verse opening to a raucous, full-speed-ahead chorus of classic pursuit, and even if they hadn’t built such momentum over the course of “Into Tomorrow” and “Blauer Jubel,” the play of guitar and bass in the solo section — that low end tone — is a firm signifier these cats mean business. Still keeping a modern production, they update the best aspects of classic heavy rock and deliver a style both familiar and their own wrapped in virtuosic performance and variability, the horns returning on “Southeastern Voodoo Lab” to help round out side A in swinging fashion, pushing toward a guitar-led blues-solo apex with Kapstad pulling back to a half-time crash before once more joining the air-tight rush for a return to the verse.

A flip to side B brings more surprises in the form of the 14-minute “Empty Rooms,” an extended heavy psychedelic jam that begins with a solid minute-plus of Snustad‘s echoing sax before the guitar and bass begin to swell into the mix. Fuck, it’s righteous. They bring the volume up and hold a ringout as Kapstad‘s snare drumrolls a quick build, and Borten starts the vocals of the first verse aboutspidergawd-spidergawd-back-cover-and-cd four minutes after the song began, backed by Sæther‘s bass. They take off from there, once again at barnburner speed, and a solo at around eight minutes in brings a tempo change to a more languid groove, the bass and guitar fuzzed out in a descending progression toward what would seem to be a finish before start-stop chugging revives the movement, bass once more serving as the foundation for the guitar and Soundgarden-gone-psych compressed vocals that carry past the 10-minute mark. A jazzy, airy, unhurried solo caps over the last couple minutes, the sax gone, pedal steel buried deep in the mix but there enough to be in conversation with Borten, and the jam gradually fades out past its 14th minute, a jarring last minute swell signaling the shift into closer “Million Dollar Somersault,” its title and its initial bassline reminiscent of Queens of the Stone Age but ultimately working on a different plane, like the embodiment of everything hyper-stylized indie rockers fall short of conveying, ultra-swinging and poised even as its noisy apex approaches, fittingly grounding after “Empty Rooms” but still way, way out there, coming to a sudden finish as the needle returns, daring you to go another round.

Spidergawd have a couple singles under their belt on Crispin Glover, but this is their first full-length. One doesn’t want to get into they’re-gonna-be-huge kinds of hyperbole, both because it’s useless and because it ultimately detracts from conveying the actual value of the album, but there’s nothing Spidergawd sets out to do that its six tracks don’t accomplish, and front to back, the record breathes life into ’70s influenced heavy, showing there’s more to be done than simply trying to ape the sound as best as possible. I’ll say flat out it’s a hell of a record. If you don’t take my recommendation to heart, I hope it finds you some other way.

Spidergawd, “Into Tomorrow”

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Crispin Glover Records

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Electric Wizard, Time to Die: Saturn Descending

Posted in Reviews on October 8th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

electric wizard time to die

Eight album’s deep into one of doom’s highest-profile careers, Electric Wizard don’t leave much room for middle ground. Indeed, the massively-influential Dorset forebears seem to delight in dividing listeners, and since their return in 2007 with Witchcult Today, they’ve continued to refine a cultish, horror-obsessed approach to malevolent stoner noise that can be taken one of two ways: It’s either brilliant or it’s terrible. To be fair to the band, who are joined on their latest outing, Time to Die (released on Spinefarm Records after a well-publicized schism with longtime label Rise Above), by original drummer Mark Greening, they’ve gamed the system pretty well. For the last seven years, Electric Wizard have pushed toward a style of doom that drives to be the noisiest, the most threatening, the filthiest, rawest-sounding mess possible. So if records like Time to Die or the preceding 2010 full-length, Black Masses (review here), come across as a wash of wah swirl marked out by samples and the abyssal moans of founding guitarist/vocalist Jus Oborn, well, you have to give it to them — that’s exactly what they were going for. Sure enough, Time to Die is fuckall incarnate. At nine tracks/66 minutes, it’s the longest album Electric Wizard has ever done — 2000’s landmark Dopethrone was their only other outing to pass an hour — and however you might feel about the band, that they’re genius or that they’re hacks, it’s likely only to affirm your position. Recorded by Liam Watson with additional tracking by Chris Fielding, it’s the next stage in Electric Wizard‘s destructive progression, and it carries all the ultra-fuzz, sexualized violence and devil worship that those who follow or abhor the band have come to expect.

I’ll say that in the argument between genius or bullshit, the former perspective makes Time to Die a lot more fun. As Oborn and fellow guitarist Liz Buckingham seem to reference “The Phantom of the Opera” in the central riff of 10:45 opener “Incense for the Damned,” the vibe is immediately familiar for its darkness and for the hateful wash that fades in from the Sabbathian sampled rainfall. Of course, half the appeal of Electric Wizard particularly since Witchcult Today has been their ability to balance these chaotic atmospheres with a catchy bounce, and “Incense for the Damned” follows suit in that — bass on the album seems to have been handled by Clayton Burgess of Satan’s Satyrs and someone going by Count Orlof — as does the subsequent title-track and the penultimate “Lucifer’s Slaves,” but if there’s progress to be heard anywhere on Time to Die it’s in how much Electric Wizard have managed to blend their rhythmic hooks with freakouts of bleak, grainy psychedelia, songs like “I am Nothing” and the zombie-incantation “We Love the Dead” leaning to one side or another as the well-constructed overarching flow of the album plays out. “Funeral of Your Mind,” which opens the second platter of the 2LP release and the CD follows the well-placed samples topping the otherwise instrumental “Destroy Those Who Love God,” is the most effective at bringing together these various elements, and though it’s not as memorable as “Time to Die,” it’s a demonstrative high point (low point?) of Electric Wizard‘s ever-purposeful stylistic plunge. The guitars, forward in the mix as ever, ring out depravity in every swirl and Greening‘s drums stomp a far-back snare to ground Oborn‘s vague, effects-laden croon, which leads a gradual descent into the goateed mirror universe evil twin of what might otherwise be called a jam.

electric wizard

Ultimately, how much further Electric Wizard can push their current pursuit before it winds up sounding watered down or loses its visceral edge is a debate for another time. As the band’s third installment of the Oborn/Buckingham era, Time to Die is invariably a sequel to the two most recent albums before it, but though it continues some themes from Black Masses and Witchcult Today – closer “Saturn Dethroned” echoes “Destroy Those Who Love God”‘s gloomy instrumental approach, ending with a return to the rainfall that began “Incense for the Damned,” but the prior two LPs also had titles referring to Saturn — there is a personality on display in its darker, more vicious take, and where Black Masses was more of Electric Wizard‘s psychedelic party record, Time to Die is more twisted and relentless in its mood. Even the shorter, more relatively straightforward “SadioWitch” resides in a pervasive tonal murk, and its feel characterizes much of where the band is at throughout. There may be a formula at work here, but it’s not stagnant, and whether or not Electric Wizard have actually reached bottom is something that only subsequent offerings can tell. For now, their downward-minded progression is ongoing even as their notoriety continues to spread, and though they’ve contributed two generational landmarks over the course of their career in Dopethrone and Witchcult Today, very little on Time to Die seems to indicate they’re ready to live up to the title. For their legions of converted, the album will be another gospel of bleary-eyed triumph, and the rest will likely remain unpersuaded. Doesn’t look to have hurt the band any. It might be time on their next full-length for them to cut a new path or at least branch further off the one they’ve been on for the last seven years, but wherever Electric Wizard go, many follow.

Electric Wizard, Time to Die (2014)

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Spinefarm Records

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Lo-Pan, Colossus: A Sharpened Edge

Posted in Reviews on October 7th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

lo-pan colossus

I’ll make no attempt to hide my appreciation for Ohio’s Lo-Pan, who over the last six years or so have emerged to take a place among the hardest-working American heavy rock bands out there, slogging back and forth across the country to deliver their fuzz one town, one venue at a time, but the fact of the matter is that if they didn’t have the songwriting to match their work ethic, they wouldn’t have come as far as they have. Plenty of bands tour, and even more bands kick ass. Lo-Pan distinguish themselves not only by what they do, but how they’ve done it and what they’ve gained from it. Since their 2007 sophomore outing, Sasquanaut, which was reissued as their first release on Small Stone in 2010 (review here), the four-piece of guitarist Brian Fristoe, vocalist Jeff Martin, bassist Scott Thompson and drummer Jesse Bartz have essentially been grinding themselves down to their essential parts. If one examines the progression from their 2006 self-titled debut through Sasquanaut, the subsequent 2011 full-length Salvador (review here) and their latest, the newly arrived Colossus, the path cut across these records is pretty clear, Lo-Pan moving from a relatively upbeat stoner rock sound to something much more focused, leaner, meaner sounding. Colossus, which at 10 tracks/43 minutes shaves a song and three minutes off Salvador‘s runtime, is their most pointed work yet. Their road time has made them tighter than they’ve ever sounded, and an Andrew Schneider production helps play up a more aggressive feel overall. They are not laying back on Fristoe‘s riffs so much as propelling them forward at the listener, and while pace varies throughout, the overarching whole of Colossus – named in honor of the Colossus of Rhodes, marking a triumph, perhaps simply of the band having come out of the last several years intact — has a breakneck feel and urgency that comes through even more than it did on Salvador, which when this decade is over I’ve no doubt will go down among its best heavy rock albums.

There’s continuity of structure between the two, and Lo-Pan‘s penchant for hooks remains strong, but opener “Regulus” signals the immediacy of Colossus quickly, shifting from the first verse into the chorus all within the first 30 seconds. Like Salvador‘s “El Dorado,” “Regulus” begins an opening salvo of four songs that boasts some of the album’s strongest material, its five minutes gone in breeze and rushing into the tighter, faster “Land of the Blind,” which is marked by a standout performance from Martin in its hook. Lo-Pan‘s singer has never skimped on soul or attitude either on record or from behind the drum kit on stage, but Colossus easily stands as his best recorded output in the band, and the graceful but forceful layering in “Land of the Blind” is among his most effective called-shots here; I’d also add the later call-and-response of “Relo,” “Marathon Man” and the commanding sway of “Eastern Seas” to that list, but it’s true elsewhere as well. Likewise, Bartz, Thompson and Fristoe have stepped up their game, drums picking up the start of “Black Top Revelation” from the end of “Land of the Blind,” a winding riff taking hold as Colossus‘ momentum continues to build. To call the album front-loaded would presume a dip in quality, but no question Lo-Pan bring Colossus up to full speed before throttling back as they did on Salvador‘s “Bird of Prey” with the six-and-a-half-minute “Marathon Man,” which fittingly enough begins with a vehicle — presumably their tour van, but I don’t know that — revving its worn-sounding engine before Fristoe‘s shuffling riff takes hold and the band remind that though the focus has been on push up to now, they still know how to boogie. After four minutes in and satisfying verse/chorus tradeoffs, there’s a turn to a bridge instrumentally that Martin ties to the original chorus well, his layering once again providing a highlight moment with this revamped hook and a play off the initial verse part. Before you can catch up to what just happened with “Marathon Man,” though, Bartz launches “N.P.D.” with another forward surge that slams Colossus‘ first half to a raucous but still controlled finish.

lo-pan (Photo by Meghan Ralston)

If there were any doubts about Lo-Pan‘s confidence or the cohesiveness of their approach, let the knock-you-on-your-ass crispness within the delivery of “N.P.D.” be testimony in their favor. But for the fact that it closes side A, it feels like an afterthought movement following “Marathon Man,” and on most albums it would be an apex. The title-track begins the second half and is a song that Lo-Pan have played live for the last couple years — “Eastern Seas” still to come is another — sounding more reminiscent of the last time out than most of Colossus, though both Thompson‘s place in the mix and the fluidity of Martin‘s integration with the music behind him mark its progress. That’s not to mention Schneider‘s treatment of Bartz‘s snare; as a producer/engineer, the Brooklyn-based Schneider has consistently delivered excellence in drum sounds and Colossus is no exception. Side B feels thicker between “Colossus,” “Vox” and “Eastern Seas,” less of a thrust, but the hooks are still there, and “Vox” delivers in that regard both vocally and in its riff and crash, Martin‘s voice echoing in an open space and Black Black Black‘s Jason Alexander Byers (who also contributed the cover art) coming in for a guest spot later in the track. There’s a ringing sound I can’t quite make out that coincides with the drum roll at the start of “Eastern Seas,” but the song’s prevailing impression is in its more languid rhythm — its first part is the slowest in tempo but still mid-paced by most standards — and bigger groove, Martin still in whatever cave he recorded “Vox.” “Eastern Seas” splits almost evenly in half, everyone else dropping out as Fristoe‘s guitar establishes the riff and then kicking back in soon with a faster pace, vocals layered, Thompson getting a turn to stand alone as they push into a secondary hook and through to repetition of the line “Straight on till morning.” It feels like the end of the album, but isn’t. As “N.P.D.” jumped into action after “Marathon Man,” so does “Relo” punch into gear after “Eastern Seas,” though “Relo” is the more memorable of the two — “N.P.D.” and “Relo” share a 2:28 runtime, if you’d like another reason for the comparison — marked out by Fristoe‘s lead-as-rhythm in the verse and the aforementioned call and response near the end, the uptick in pace effective after “Eastern Seas”‘ slowdown in reinforcing the dynamic within Lo-Pan‘s sound at this point in their tenure.

Another likewise vague sample is inserted at the beginning of closer “The Duke,” which caps Colossus like a victory lap, underscoring much of what has made the album work — the meaner push, Martin‘s accomplished layering, the across-the-board energetic delivery, their attacking the beat — but is distinguished from the rest of the collection by the solo Fristoe takes beginning at 2:37, which comes to the head of the mix almost to the point of abrasiveness and wails over a steady rhythm from Bartz and Thompson, who return about a minute later with Martin to round out with a last hook and crashing end. That solo in particular seems to have been residing in Lo-Pan‘s pocket the whole time; in the context of Colossus as a whole, they seem to have saved it for last. And fair enough — it’s as raging a finish as Colossus in its entirety calls for. Perhaps because so much of the album moves, and moves fast, and shoves the listener along its course, and perhaps because four records deep, Lo-Pan show few signs of stagnating creatively, Colossus feels less like a destination than another point along the way. It’s their tightest, tensest outing, but in scrutinizing it on those terms, one can hear the potential for them to move further on the line of their progression, to continue to dig toward the heart of what it is they’re trying to convey. Still, it’s an album that changes who they are as a band and stands as their most refined, precise collection to date. It captures them at a different moment than did Salvador — one can see that even in the sharpened edges of the logo that appears on the album cover — but showcases a forward step in a pursuit that seems thus far unrelenting. I’ve said before that I consider them one of the finest currently active heavy rock acts in the US, and Colossus only strengthens that opinion.

Lo-Pan, Colossus (2014)

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Small Stone Records

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Live Review: The Golden Grass and Kind in Massachusetts, 10.03.14

Posted in Reviews on October 6th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

The Golden Grass (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Last time I was in New Bedford — also, incidentally, the first time I was there — was to see William Shatner‘s one-man show over the winter. This would be a different trip. No Problemo is a bar/taqueria that puts on two-band gigs on the regular. They clear out tables on the restaurant side and bands set up in the corner in dim restaurant light, playing through a P.A. set up for the occasion that at least on this night was mostly loud enough to match wits with the bands’ amps. Elder has played there a handful of times as I understand it, and on a chilly, autumnal Friday night, it was Boston’s Kind and Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass kicking off a two-show weekender that would continue/conclude the next night at Brooklyn’s The Acheron. A late start for a cool bill, but good times all around as IKind. (Photo by JJ Koczan) think both bands surprised the assembled crowd.

Down the block, this or that pub punched out digital wub-wub as Kind loaded in gear to set up and get the show started. Notable immediately for the pedigree of their lineup — vocalist Craig Riggs of Roadsaw, the ubiquitous Darryl Shepard of The ScimitarBlackwolfgoatMilligram, etc., etc. on guitar, bassist Tom Corino of Rozamov and drummer Matt Couto of Elder – Kind as their own entity were somewhat different than when I last encountered them at Ralph’s in Worcester (review here). Part of that, no doubt, is owed to the difference of the two rooms themselves, but even from one show to the next, it was easy enough to hear their material solidifying, song processes emerging. They’re still just getting going, but Corino and Couto locked in dense grooves as Shepard, looping his riffs in a sort of bridge between Blackwolfgoat‘s experimental prog/drone and more straightforward songcraft, signaled changes in their weighted jams.

I was reminded of the Kyuss flavor I’d gotten from them last time, though what came across more was the chemistry takingKind (Photo by JJ Koczan) shape among the four players. Riggs and Shepard have been playing in bands a lot longer than Corino and Couto, were bandmates during Roadsaw‘s original run in the ’90s, so to find them working well together is no great surprise, but like any group who decides they’re going to make music together, there’s a certain amount of getting to know each other creatively and on stage that has to happen before they can really be cohesive, and Kind are making their way smoothly through that process. A skull-consuming wash of effects and floor-rumbling low-end doesn’t seem to hurt their cause, or didn’t at No Problemo, anyway. There were times where Riggs‘ voice seemed swallowed up by the distortion around it — echoing reverb laced in only added to that feel — but that only added to the atmosphere of the set overall.

Once they started playing after a quick sound-check, it didn’t take long for The Golden Grass to reinforce why their self-titled debut (review here) had been the soundtrack to my summer. Outside, New England brimmed with cold it-rained-all-day wind and the looming threat of winter’s lockdown ahead, but with smiles on their faces as they ran through “Please Man” and “Stuck on a Mountain” from the album, it was like May all over again. I hadn’t seen the good-time-boogie bringersThe Golden Grass. (Photo by JJ Koczan) since before the record came out, and it was cold and rainy then too, but the months since only seemed to bring them tighter together. The material from the record — the two aforementioned, plus “One More Time,” the jammy “Wheels” and “Tornado” from their initial 7″ — they had down pat, guitarist Michael Rafalowich and drummer Adam Kriney splitting vocal duties and making difficult harmonies sound easy, laughing at their own shuffle while bassist Joe Noval, who won the “shirt of the night” prize uncontested, seemed to pepper in extra fills that built even on what appeared on the album. Accessible to the point of friendliness, they clearly worked hard to project the positive mood in their stage presence as much as in the songs themselves.

Two new cuts were aired, first “The Pilgrim” and then “A Curious Case,” which closed the set. Both are taken from a new 7″ to be released by Svart to coincide with their first European tour next month. “The Pilgrim” started out with a drum jam for which both Rafalowich and Noval took up tambourines and started off slower only to pick up for a motor-groove solo section that went well coming out of and going back into the hook, and I’d be surprised if “A Curious Case” didn’tThe Golden Grass. (Photo by JJ Koczan) wind up on their second album, with its sunshiny ’70s rock vibe and steady mid-paced roll. I’m interested to hear if they mess around with tempo a little more in their next batch of songs, if they can add some speed to that boogie and still keep it smiling, but both “A Curious Case” and “The Pilgrim” augured well for where The Golden Grass might be headed. Having never heard either song before, I left the show with the former stuck in my head, which is never a bad sign.

I know they played with Ancient Sky in Brooklyn, but even just with the two bands, I was glad I showed up for this one. Not much light for extra photos, there are a couple of The Golden Grass after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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On Wax: Geezer, Gage

Posted in On Wax on October 2nd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

geezer-gage-lp-and-cover

Way less of a surprise when you put it on paper than when you hear it, but it’s amazing what an impact an additional 14 minutes of music can have on a release. Primo New York blues rockers Geezer issued their Gage EP last year digitally, but aligning with STB Records, they’ve made it available as a full 36-minute 12″ in limited pressings — the only one left at this point is the OBI strip version, and its availability is due to a manufacturing holdup; STB‘s witchcult grows — with notably gorgeous orange and red splatter work and a strikinggeezer-gage-side-a front cover from Alexander von Wieding. It’s a beautiful package, which isn’t a surprise to anyone who’s followed the development of the label, but just as noteworthy is the sound of Gage itself, which has gone from a loose collection of jams — the last of them, “Dude, it’s Molecular,” was recorded live — to a genuine LP.

Gage distinguished itself immediately from Geezer‘s Handmade Heavy Blues full-length by showcasing a more languid, heavy psych approach from guitarist/vocalist Pat Harrington, bassist Freddy Villano and drummer Chris Turco. They were still plenty bluesy — the die-hard edition of STB‘s release of Gage was pressed to black 190g vinyl to evoke a vintage 78rpm feel, and the music justifies that — but “Ancient Song” and “Ghost Rider Solar Plexus” unfolded a jammy spirit, easy-moving and grooved out, that the first album didn’t yet have, playing off the long-established chemistry between Harrington and Villano ingeezer-gage-front-cover Gaggle of Cocks but moving in a distinct direction. “Ancient Song” and “Ghost Rider Solar Plexus” opens and close side A, respectively, with the shorter slide-guitar blues number “Thorny” in between, a fuzzy distortion vague and buried in the background behind Harrington‘s surprisingly smooth vocal, a departure from his generally gruff, whiskey-soaked delivery.

“Thorny” has a bit of psychedelia to its echo, but the context of the track is completely different when one considers “Ancient Song” before it and “Ghost Rider Solar Plexus” after, the two longer jams fleshing out heavy vibes and, in the case of the latter, unfurling a heavy rock hook of a cadencegeezer-gage-back-cover that reminds of Halfway to Gone‘s “Great American Scumbag” while reveling in its own wall of fuzz on the way to its jammed-out payoff. Over on side B, “Tales of Murder and Unkindness” (14:27) doesn’t so much distinguish itself for how psychedelic it is, but how far-ranging. It’s almost three songs in one, with a spaced-out beginning, more straightforward play of verses and chorus, a chugging jam, riff-out and final hook marked out by the lines, “And when we come for you/There will be blood.” “Tales of Murder and Unkindness” manages to successfully flow from one movement to the next, ending with an Echoplex swirl that gives way on the LP to the live guitar noise that begins the jam “Dude, it’s Molecular,” a rolling groove emerging that the trio carries to a natural conclusion.

For anyone who might have heard Gage in its original incarnation, “Tales of Murder and geezer-gage-side-bUnkindness” gives the STB version a much different personality, fortunately without pulling away from the laid back vibe of the self-release, however foreboding the extended track might at times be. If anything, it signifies how much Geezer are still in the process of discovering their sound, and refining their approach to be more than just a blues side or a psychedelic side. I’d be interested to know when it was written in relation to, say, “Ancient Song,” but that’s only so I might be able to cheat and make a more educated guess as to where they might be headed next. I was intrigued to find out before, but with the vinyl of Gage, the plot’s just gotten that much thicker.

Geezer, Gage (2013/2014)

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Geezer on Bandcamp

Gage at STB’s webstore

STB Records on Thee Facebooks

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Chrome, Feel it Like a Scientist: Offworlders

Posted in Reviews on October 2nd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

chrome feel it like a scientist

Work too hard to make sense of Chrome‘s weirdo transwarp spacepunk and you’re liable to bust a lobe. Quiet for a decade at least in terms of studio output, the San Francisco avant rockers returned last year with a crowdfunded compilation of unreleased material called Half-Machine from the Sun: The Lost Tracks from ’79-’80 (review here) covering songs from late founder Damon Edge and guitarist/vocalist Helios Creed, who leads the current incarnation of Chrome on their first album since 2002, Feel it Like a Scientist. Making up for lost time seems to be the order of the day. Feel it Like a Scientist is 16 tracks and 62 minutes long, spread over two LPs or a linear CD of consistently off-the-wall experiments like “Lipstick” and “Brady the Chicken Boy” — with its bok-bok noises and in-studio laughs and forward bassline sounding like an after-the-fact blueprint for early Primus – and synth-drenched New Wave proto-punk freakouts, fuzz guitars intermittently taking the front position to make a track like “Captain Boson” sound even stranger. Recorded over the course of 2012 to 2014, Chrome‘s return channels industrial malevolence in “Big Brats” as easily as keyboard madcap and heavy rock rollout in “Prophecy,” and is every bit as strange and exciting as one could ask.

The historical context of Chrome, begun by Damon Edge, hitting a stride with Edge and Creed working together and then continued on by Creed, stopping and restarting to get to this point — the lineup of Creed, drummer/sampler Aleph OmegaTommy Grenas on keys/noise, bassist Steve Fishman (Lux Vibratus also features on more than half the tracks), backing vocalist Anne Dromeda and guitarist Lou Minatti – is about as disjointed and difficult to trace as the music on Feel it Like a Scientist itself, but liner notes to the CD provide some direction for how the album came together. What works best about it, though, is that however deep you want to dig, Chrome will meet you on that level. That is, if you feel like putting in research to relating Feel it Like a Scientist to Creed‘s prolific solo output or what one might call Chrome‘s heyday — though that designation would seem to automatically discount the quality of the material here. which isn’t the intent — you can do that and “Something in the Cloud”‘s spaced-out vibes will still resonate, or you can ignore all of it as Anne Dromeda takes the lead vocal on noisy rocker “Unbreakable Flouride Lithium Plastic” and go with the many punches provided. Whatever you want to take into account as you listen, it’s up to you.

chrome

That said, by the time one gets down to the wash of vibe that is “Himalayanelimination” and the droning finale that arrives with “Nymph Droid,” Feel it Like a Scientist benefits from knowing something of what Chrome have done in the past, the influence they’ve had one more than a generation of bizarro rockers, and so on. And it can be hard to separate the actual listening experience from the fact that it’s been so long since the last Chrome full-length, but if there’s anything to take away from these 16 tracks, it’s that the outfit has more than academic value, and that the beamed-in progressiveness they display seems to have its (giant, face-consuming) eye turned forward rather than back. This does not sound like a one-off, and it does not sound like a final album. The material is vibrant and comes with a clear sense of the joy of its creation. It’s a spirit as inimitable as the craft on display throughout and no less individualized, and it speaks to the possibilities that lay within the current incarnation of Chrome for where they might next wind-up on this new mission, their minds in a gas cloud and their amps on overdrive. Going by the vast swath of styles they bend to their command on these tracks, that trip is just beginning, and if there’s a destination, it could just as easily belong to another universe as to our own.

Chrome, “Prophecy”

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Helios Creed on Thee Facebooks

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My Brother the Wind, Once There was a Time When Time and Space were One: Gardens Growing

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

my-brother-the-wind-once-there-was-a-time-when-time-and-space-were-one

Lush and instrumental for its duration, My Brother the Wind‘s third full-length, Once There was a Time When Time and Space were One (released by Free Electric Sound/Laser’s Edge), rolls out of the speakers much easier than its title rolls off the tongue, though both title and the work itself satisfy rhythmically. The Swedish four-piece — they now seem to be a bass-less trio with Nicklas Barker (Anekdoten) and Mathias Danielsson (Makajodama) on electric/acoustic 12-strong guitar and Daniel Fridlund Brandt on drums, but Ronny Eriksson plays bass on the album — reportedly recorded live to two-inch tape on a vintage machine, and the passion they put in bleeds readily into the nine-song/45-minute outing, fleshed with liberal splashes of Mellotron courtesy of Barker to play up a ’70s prog feel in a piece like the 12-minute “Garden of Delights.” That’s hardly the only point at which those sensibilities emerge, but even more than that, the primary vibe here is one of gorgeous heavy psych exploration, the band adventuring and feeling their way through the material as they go.

On peaceful moments like the title-track, which arrives as the penultimate movement before “Epilogue” leads the way back to reality — accordingly, “Prologue” brings us in at the start — that exploration is positively serene, the 12-string complemented by spacious electric tones spreading out across vast reaches, but Once There was a Time When Time and Space were One offers more than drone and psychedelic experiments. Subtly pushed forward by Brandt‘s drums, pieces like “Into the Cosmic Halo” and even “Epilogue” enact classic space rock thrust, and even “Song of Innocence Part 1,” the first part of the journey after the backward atmospherics of “Prologue” introduce, has some cosmic feel amid its echoing solos. Its subsequent complement, “Song of Innocence Part 2,” swells to life on an even more active roll, waves of amp noise up front while drums and bass groove out behind, waiting for the guitars to catch up, which they do in a suitably glorious payoff, relatively brief but masterfully engaging, setting a momentum that continues well into “Garden of Delights,” a focal point for more than its length.

my-brother-the-wind-(Photo-by-Eleni-Liverakou-Eriksson)

Because the songs flow so well one to the next, some directly bleeding, others giving a brief pause, and because later cuts like “Thomas Mera Gartz” — named in honor of the drummer for ’70s Swedish proggers Träd, Gräs och Stenar — and the title-track have a quieter take, it’s tempting to read some narrative into the shifts of Once There was a Time When Time and Space were One, but with the material not being premeditated, I’m not sure that’s the intention so much as a signal it’s well arranged. In any case, the album offers an immersive, resonant listen, with tonal richness to spare and the presence of mind to keep a sense of motion even in its stillest parts and a balance of organic elements — Danielsson‘s recorder and Brandt‘s percussion on “Misty Mountainside,” the 12-string, etc. — amid a wash of effects and swirling psychedelia. This attention to sonic detail makes Once There was a Time When Time and Space were One more than just a collection of jams, and adds further purpose to the already worthy cause of My Brother the Wind‘s thoughtful musings, wandering and not at all lost.

My Brother the Wind, Once There was a Time When Time and Space were One album trailer

My Brother the Wind on Thee Facebooks

My Brother the Wind at Laser’s Edge Group webstore

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Duuude, Tapes! Entierro, Entierro EP

Posted in Duuude, Tapes! on September 30th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

entierro-tape-and-case

A five-track release of pro-produced, deeply aggressive beer metal, Entierro‘s Entierro EP has been pressed to tape in a limited edition of 50 copies. The tape itself is white, the J-card professionally printed as a one-side foldout, and the five songs included repeat on both sides. Download included. Both the material and its presentation are straightforward — the Connecticut outfit would much rather steamroll than impress with nuance — and as their first release under the moniker after forming as Treebeard in 2010, I’d expect no less from the Waterbury/New Haven double-guitar four-piece. Bassist/vocalist Christopher Taylor Baudette doubles in Nightbitch, but Entierro are a far more down-to-earth project, proffering dudely, metallic chugging and beer-raising groove with more than an edge of East Coast intensity.entierro-j-card-unfolded Baudette, guitarist/vocalist Javier Canales, guitarist Christopher Begnal and drummer John Rowold all feed into a burl that stays consistent throughout and only gets more prevalent as they push toward the thrashy closer “Fire in the Sky.”

Opening with the longest inclusion in the 5:11 “Cross to Bear” (immediate points), Entierro‘s Entierro starts out slow with a rolling, crisply produced riff around which the vocals work in a clean, metallic melody, the pace quickening in the second half to a chugging shuffle. As it should, “Cross to Bear” sets the tone. Guitars trade and combine leads, the tempo builds from slow to raucously fast, and Entierro cap with a big round of riffing, drawing back to the chorus and reinforcing a structure that — while not in doubt — shows they’re coming out of the gate with a good handle on their songwriting. The subsequent “Time Rider” provides the most memorable hook of the tape, and centerpiece “The Mist” opens up the groove and stomps out its rhythm with a sense of foreboding befitting its lyric. Again, Canales and Begnal impress on guitar, as they did in the early going of “Time Rider” as well, and though it seems like “Entierro/More Dead than Alive” is going to be somewhat calmer — the eponymous part of the song seems to be a bass solo from Baudette — it winds up a rager to set up the further aggro-ism entierro-tapeof “Fire in the Sky,” which rounds out as if to remind the listener Entierro were a metal band the whole time.

There was no doubt, whatever other heavy elements they worked in, but “Fire in the Sky” is sufficient payoff for the tension of the tracks preceding either way, its lyrics not bothering to look to tales of monsters or horror but focusing on the everyday terrors that exist on the current world stage. What they have to say about it is basically that the situation is grim and we’re all screwed, and it’s hard to fault them the perspective. Four years on from getting together, Entierro have a handle on their sound well enough, but I’d be interested to hear how it sounds live in comparison to the tape, since the clarity of production is such a big part of what makes it sound so particularly metal. I don’t take metal as a negative necessarily, I’m just curious if the band’s next outing will continue down that path or expand soundwise into more of a rock feel in kind with some of the earlier riffing on “Time Rider” or “The Mist.” I wouldn’t speculate, and more importantly for the time being, Entierro‘s Entierro intrigues enough that seems worth waiting to find out.

Entierro, Entierro (2014)

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Entierro on Bandcamp

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