It becomes clear pretty quickly that Spain’s VidaGuerrilla have no interest in compromising on their self-released debut tape, Música, No Moda. The cover of said cassette, is a copy of a hand-drawn cartoon, presumably by and of Gaspar Hache Eme, who may or may not be the only person in the band, whose mouth is open to say “Estoy muy cansado de tu opinion,” which translates to: “I am very tired of your review.” Fair enough. I’d take it personally but for the fact that the drawing doesn’t seem to be original — the label on the tape is, handwritten in permanent marker — and the Bandcamp stream has the same art. I don’t know how many copies of Música, No Modaare being pressed, or for how long they’ll be available, but a DIY ethic runs strong in the release, which takes blown out garage punk and thickens the tonality to a point of fuzz overload.
What I like best about Música, No Moda is that there are points — the closer, “El Punk Original,” comes to mind first — at which what VidaGuerrilla does is almost entirely indistinguishable sonically from lo-fi black metal. That track and the tumultuous “Porno” and “Apoya Mi Escena” seem bent on reminding listeners that Venom was a punk band before they were anything else, and the lesson comes well complemented by the classic heavy rock swing of “Draggin’” and the unhinged guitar wankery of leadoff cut “Kaoskosmos.” Distortion is all the more distorted thanks to a rough-edged production value, and Eme‘s snarled vocals only add furor to the already cantankerous aesthetic. It is fairly fashionable, in a particularly anti-fashion kind of way, but fuckall is fuckall, and that of VidaGuerrilla is recognizably genuine.
Most of the songs are short, two minutes or under — “So Gross” is just a belch — and VidaGuerrilla‘s sound is suited to the quicker bursts and fits. Exceptions to the rule arrive with “Zombis del Más Acá” and the penultimate “Caras Bronceadas/Dragged,” both of which top four minutes, and while the former manages to support its weight, the latter meanders somewhat and seems to get caught up in distraction. Fortunately it has “El Punk Original” afterward to provide one last jolt to Música, No Moda, leaving the listeners burnt by what they’ve heard but not burnt out on it. The tape plays out on one side only. All nine tracks fit easily on side A of the home-dubbed copy I got — it had been a while since I last saw a blank tape with the “UR” markings — and there was apparently no need to repeat it on side B. I suppose that plays into the general malaise one gleans from the release overall, but if it’s apathy VidaGuerrilla are looking to portray, he/they show a resonant passion for it as various genre lines are blurred.
Posted in Reviews on August 20th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Certainly the announcement that vocalist Uta Plotkin will leave Witch Mountain following their Fall US tour with Nik Turner’s Hawkwind places Mobile of Angels, the band’s fourth album overall and third with Plotkin fronting, into a different context. If nothing else, it lets lyrics longing for escape in “Psycho Animundi” and “Can’t Settle” — lines like “Living in filth and dirt in rooms less colorful and cheerful than the cages in which we put animals in a zoo” from the former and the richly, beautifully crooned “Oh, it’s time to go” in the back half chorus of the latter — be read in ways opposed to how they otherwise might. Witch Mountain‘s music has never been particularly upbeat, but the blues in Plotkin‘s voice seem to have a focal point here and if it’s a change that needed to happen, then the only really unfortunate part about it is that it comes as the four-piece of Plotkin, guitarist Rob Wrong, drummer Nate Carson and bassist Charles Thomas (also of Blackwitch Pudding and the latest in a succession of bass players) reach their highest creative watermark to date. Released by Profound Lore in North America and Svart in Europe, Mobile of Angelsfollows two strong outings in 2012′s Cauldron of the Wild (review here) and 2011′s South of Salem (review here) — their debut, Come the Mountain(discussed here) having been released in 2001 on Rage of Achilles before an extended hiatus — but it is leaner than Cauldronand more developed than Salem, the band’s considerable road-time paying dividends in the tightness of performance and the ground they’re able and willing to cover stylistically. Production by Billy Anderson never hurts either, but what’s most striking about Mobile of Angelsisn’t how the five songs sound so much as where they go.
The lurching chug in Wrong‘s riffs is a signature element in Witch Mountain‘s approach, and as the opener, “Psycho Animundi” dives immediately into an affirmation of it. Cauldron of the Wild‘s “The Ballad of Lanky Rae” was similarly direct, but the bluesier atmosphere of that track is contrasted by “Psycho Animundi”‘s purely doomed stomp, underscored by the slow march in Carson‘s drumming. At nearly nine minutes, it’s second only to centerpiece “Your Corrupt Ways (Sour the Hymn),” and fittingly immersive, but there’s still a right-down-to-business feel, and the vocals start less than a minute into the track, beginning a tradeoff of verses and guitar solos that carries the central chug through a duration that feels less extended than it is. Plotkin‘s voice is given to soaring, and it does so liberally here, finding contrast in secret-weapon growls in the metallic midsection of “Can’t Settle,” the second half of which stands as an early apex of the record, perhaps rivaled by the guitar nods to YOB‘s “Catharsis” in closer “The Shape Truth Takes,” but a moment unto itself for the vocal harmonies at play in any case. That one would even be tempted to hyperbolize and call it Plotkin‘s best performance in Witch Mountain should be enough to emphasize the point. The 10-minute “Your Corrupt Ways (Sour the Hymn)” follows, executing a few quiet/loud tradeoffs en route to Mobile of Angels‘ most patient build, the full band in complete command of their movement as soulful backing vocals guide the way through the early stretches and the guitar, bass and drums begin their push toward a peak that arrives after seven minutes in, Wrong taking the fore for one of the album’s best solos — he also works in layers — and giving way to a morose final verse before a more open, ethereal ending shifts into the otherworldly title-track, relatively quick at 3:30, but hypnotic thanks to organ scratch and an interweaving of spoken and sung incantations.
A subdued finale, maybe, but “The Shape Truth Takes” is glorious in its melancholy. Plotkin seems to be playing off Debbie Harry‘s unrealistic range, and the quieter instrumentation behind her gives a perfect showcase in the song’s initial moments, the lead-in from “Mobile of Angels” opening fluidly to the peaceful noodling of the guitar, Witch Mountain proving just as capable of conveying weight in emotionality as in their tones, Plotkin‘s swirling layers recalling “Can’t Settle” as Thomas, Carson and Wrong weave their way through a forward but deceptive progression, finding an explosive point after the three-minute mark, at which point “The Shape Truth Takes” opens to a fuller but still not overblown breadth. Regret? Sadness? It’s hard to know what’s in there without reading too much in, but it’s not bitter in the way “Psycho Animundi” is. Maybe it’s just a moment of resignation that gets swept up in Wrong‘s solo before five minutes in, the album’s final crescendo coming in the solo/vocal trade much like that of “Your Corrupt Ways (Sour the Hymn),” but leading to a relatively quick outro and final chug of the guitar, as though it’s looking to hold onto the song even as it’s already passed. Witch Mountain, which was founded by Wrong and Carson in the late ’90s, has said the band will continue without Plotkin, but there can be little doubt they’ll have their work cut out for them in assembling a new dynamic after the utter mastery they show on Mobile of Angels. That’s not to say it can’t be done, only that it will take time. When one considers the efforts put in by the band on tour and over the two records leading to this one, Mobile of Angelslooks all the more like a high point reached, the culmination of the years since Witch Mountain came back together and the arrival at what they’ve been pursuing all along. If subsequent outings show that’s not the case — i.e., if that pursuit continues off in a different direction — then all the better, but no question Mobile of Angelsmarks the end of something special for Witch Mountain and is bittersweet for American doom. All is fleeting.
Posted in On Wax on August 19th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
The swing and analog garage fuzz of Ragged Barracudas‘ debut 7″ are immediate. Putting on “Living the Dream,” the A-side, is like unearthing a relic. Something you stumbled on from the stage just before punk became punk, when rock was heavy without realizing it, and the drugs were friendly but the vibe still a touch dangerous. They’re a modern trio from Germany, and you’d be right if you called them retro, but Ragged Barracudas sidestep most of the tropes and Sabbath/Graveyard-isms of the modern European throwback movement in favor of an acid rock sound more obscure, and ultimately, more original. Vocals and drums are blown out and the bass and guitar — layered in the first quick solo part — are warmly toned and more or less daring your stereo system to be older, but drummer/vocalist Christian Dräger, guitarist Janik Ruß and bassist Tom Weiten show off something of a jammy sensibility as well, both in the later stretches of “Living the Dream” and deeper into side B’s “Cheap Allure/Motor Jam.”
Pressed in an edition of 600 black-vinyl copies and released through an assortment of labels that includes Unholy Anarchy, Cardinal Fuzz, At War with False Noise, and Who Can You Trust? Records, the 7″ really gets down and dirty on the B-side. Listening to the record — that is, the physical version — I couldn’t even tell where “Cheap Allure” ended and “Motor Jam” started, but it became clear with the stream on Who Can You Trust?‘s Bandcamp. “Cheap Allure” slows down some of the jet-engine stutter in the main riff of “Living the Dream,” but is catchy in a subtler way and, with a stop preceding an instrumental finale, puts its boogie tradeoffs into a different perspective — just because you see the shuffle coming doesn’t mean you don’t still want to get down. Ruß trips out a psychedelic soul-o and Dräger holds back on vocals to dedicate himself more fully to the forward drive, which stomps to a finish before “Motor Jam” announces its arrival proper with dueling layers of ultra-buzzsaw riff fuzz with some sweet low end buried underneath. That part of the B-side is less than two minutes long, but I’d have been fine if Ragged Barracudas had filled the whole side with it. That’s not to take away from “Cheap Allure,” which most definitely lives up to its title, just to say that “Motor Jam” — named for the Netherlands’ Motorwolf Studios in Den Haag, where the single was recorded — gets locked in during its short runtime and sounds like the band could’ve easily carried that vibe further.
They don’t, however, and ultimately, “Living the Dream and “Cheap Allure/Motor Jam” conk out after 11 minutes or so of raw righteousness. Probably best for Ragged Barracudas to keep it short, since the classic spirit they’re going for — and, I’d argue, attain — did likewise, but I’d be interested to hear how they manage over the course of a longer release, even if it’s just a 10″ EP, and if their analog-worship holds up as their methods expand. For now, and for this single, the simpler they go, the better off they are, and in capturing a raw, heavy, proto-punk sound, Dräger, Ruß and Weiten show that there’s room for nuance both in primitivism and in traditional structures. Bonus points for the killer Adam Burke cover art.
Ragged Barracudas, “Living the Dream” b/w “Cheap Allure/Motor Jam” (2014)
Posted in Reviews on August 18th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Intricate though it is, the jpeg cover art for Fatso Jetson and Herba Mate‘s Early Shapessplit on Go Down Records does little justice to the physical reality of the finished product. Pressed to limited white vinyl with screenprinted covers or available in a gorgeous fold-out digi-box with fractal designs and liner notes printed on a kind of psychedelic gatefold, Early Shapesis impressive both to hold and to hear, comprising three tracks from the Californian desert legends and four from the Italian upstart trio. For Fatso Jetson – the lineup of guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli (also of Yawning Man), guitarist Dino Von Lalli, bassist Larry Lalli and drummer Tony Tornay (now also playing with Brant Bjork) – it’s their second partnership with Italy’s Go Down Records, the first having been the limited run Live at Maximum Festival(review here) earlier this year, and their second recent split behind a 2013 collaboration with Yawning Man. In Herba Mate‘s case, Early Shapesis the first I’ve heard from them since their engagingly atmospheric 2009 debut, The Jellyfish is Dead and the Hurricane is Coming(review here), the Bolognese three-piece of bassist/vocalist Alessandro Trere, guitarist Andrea Barlotti and drummer Ermes Piancastelli having spent the last couple years playing shows and generally refining what was an already well-directed take on desert rock. Vinyl-ready at 38 minutes, Early Shapesis hypnotically jammed and sweetly melodic, the two acts not so much competing in the richness of what they do as celebrating the vibes they’re both so able to conjure musically. All the better for the front-to-back listen of the CD, which is consistent in its mood while still showcasing the distinct personalities of the two groups. Frankly, it’s a pairing that I thought would work well when I first heard about it and which works better than I anticipated.
They’re further tied together by the fact that both bands end their portion of Early Shapeswith an eight-plus-minute (mostly) instrumental jam, and though Herba Mate‘s “Desert Inn II” feels more plotted than Fatso Jetson‘s “Nyquilt” — particularly because it complements and builds off “Desert Inn I,” which begins the trio’s side of the split — both resonate with an open creativity. Fatso Jetson‘s other inclusions, “Living all over You” and “Long Deep Breath” build on the notion of them not only as mainstays of the CA desert, but as an essential piece of that puzzle along with Yawning Man, Kyuss, and so on, both in sound and personnel. Mathias Schneeberger, who also recorded the opening duo, contributes Rhodes piano, and Adam Harding (Dumb Numbers) offers guitar and vocals to “Nyquilt,” while singer-songwriter Abby Travis guests vocally on “Long Deep Breath.” Gary Arce of Yawning Man is purported to also have contributed guitar to Fatso Jetson‘s tracks, and I’d going by the tone of “Long Deep Breath,” I’d believe it, but there’s no mention of him in the liner. Still, “Living all over You” begins the split with its most memorable push, a weighted groove unfolding topped by a serene, echoing vocal from Mario, far off from most of the jazzy spasms of Fatso Jetson‘s last full-length, 2010′s underrated Archaic Volumes(review here), but consistent stylistically with their past all the same and building to a satisfying apex before “Long Deep Breath” gets moving on the foundation of Tornay‘s drums, more open in atmosphere, but still cohesive, a chorus and bridge made even more gorgeous by Travis‘ voice joining Mario‘s before a buzzsaw solo takes hold. A mood only bolstered by “Nyquilt,” if this kind of inclusive, ambient spirit is where Fatso Jetson might be headed directionally for their next album, then it can’t get here fast enough. Perhaps most impressive about the tracks is that no matter where Fatso Jetson seem to head sound-wise, they still sound so distinctly like themselves, and they seem to be in full command of their aesthetic, not so much conforming to the desert rock style they helped create as taking those elements with them on a creative journey outside genre bounds.
It would be folly for Herba Mate to try to beat Fatso Jetson at their own game, but fortunately the three-piece are off on another trip. Trere is somewhat more aggressive vocally, but not by much, and the heavy roll that Herba Mate enact on “Desert Inn I” is pretty telling of what they have on offer in general, though following the original “Dance Dance Dance,” they surprise with a cover of Core‘s “Way Down,” adding tonal depth to the punkish ’90s heaviness of the New Jersey band’s original version. That and “Dance Dance Dance” are shorter, which accounts for Herba Mate‘s four tracks as opposed to Fatso Jetson‘s three, but the spirit of the material — which was captured live at Go Down‘s studio with some additional recording/mixing later — is fluid and engrossing, a sudden stop late in “Dance Dance Dance” being the only really jarring moment, and one clearly designed as such. Even the transition between the rush of “Way Down” and the languid heavy psych of “Desert Inn II” is natural, the latter feeling like the return to and expansion on the first installment that it is. Herba Mate‘s is a welcome return, and the jam-minded sensibilities, as well as the laid back approach they take to the release overall — including the Core cover seems to speak to an anything-goes mentality that suits them almost as much as the warm, organic production with which these songs are presented — speak to a confidence in what they’re doing that’s bound to serve them well as they move forward as much as it already serves them well here. I don’t know what either their plans or those of Fatso Jetson might be, but the quality of output from both bands makes Early Shapesfeel like more than a simple stopgap en route to larger standalone releases, and whether one takes it as two distinct vinyl sides or listens straight through front-to-back to the CD, there’s really no interruption of flow, Herba Mate and Fatso Jetson pairing remarkably well for the sincerity of their approaches and the the immersion of what they create. It’s not often a release with two different bands recorded under multiple circumstances comes across as smoothly as Early Shapes, but there’s a likemindedness at root here that makes it barely a “split” at all.
Posted in Reviews on August 15th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’m not sure if I’m going to make “Should’ve Been Sooner” reviews a series or not, but I’m backed up enough on records that I probably could. Either way, after Demon Eye yesterday, it seemed only fitting to follow-up with another long-standing pile dweller, so here goes:
Arizona heavy rock four-piece Powered Wig Machine have the fuzz, they have the riffs, they have the groove, and yet there’s something about them that still seems to be working against expectation. At least the expected expectation. I’ll explain. The Sierra Vista natives make a self-recorded, self-released debut with Supa-Collider, and while its methods are familiar enough — a Clutch-style sway in closing nod-maker “Brain of Hank Pym” and a classic stoner rock toss-off lyric in “Wizard of Orgy” — for actually being near desert if not in it (Sierra Vista seems to be dry, but a mountain town), their sound is much more derived from barroom blues than laid-back Yawning Man-style jams. Supa-Collideris a quick listen at a thoroughly unpretentious seven tracks/33 minutes, the band — guitarist/vocalist Wayne Rudell, guitarist/organist/engineer Brian Gold, guitarist Dusty Hinkle, bassist/backing vocalist Joseph Rudell and drummer Daniel Graves – starting off with a showing of classic heavy rock influence in “At the Helm of Hades,” which reminds of some of the grooves Deep Purple was apt to nestle into at their peak, with Gold‘s organ moving alongside his and Wayne‘s guitars and the bluesy vocals overtop. While it’s among the most resonant of them, “At the Helm of Hades” is hardly all Supa-Colliderhas to offer in terms of hooks, and both the shorter, bouncing “Led Masquerade” and subsequent “Here Come the Freaks” find their moments of distinction, the latter with a shuffle in its midsection that opens up to bigger grooving toward the finish as Graves gives his crash cymbals what for before stepping back into the start-stop progression of the verse.
I’d call the straightforward, un-Kyuss-ness of Supa-Colliderjarring if Powered Wig Machine weren’t so solid in their performance and if the grooves weren’t so inviting. These aren’t dudes looking to change the world, or even to fix what isn’t broken about their genre, but neither should the quality of their output be written off nor should they be considered entirely unoriginal. Wayne comes across as an able frontman and vocalist, and the interplay throughout of guitar and organ — the latter appearing here and there in a flourish, then gone to make way for a solo or some other part — gives a sense of character and arrangement to these songs beyond what would seem to be the standard, “Led Masquerade” jamming itself to a finish as a lead-in for the starts and stops of “Here Come the Freaks,” the fuzz of which is all the beefier for the complement of keys. “Wizard of Orgy” follows, its “time-traveling pervert” chorus serving notice to anyone who might’ve through Powered Wig Machine were in danger of taking themselves too seriously, and “Mother Rocker” and the title-track deliver a one-two punch of heaviness — the latter is probably the band’s most singularly Clutch-derived groove — before the 6:18 “Brain of Hank Pym” rides in like a bluesy cavalry, putting the guitars even more in the lead as the vocals follow along, and encouraging the listener to fall in and do likewise. It’s the brain of Hank Pym — aka Ant-Man — as opposed to the body of John Wilkes Booth, at least going by the construction of the chorus, but as they’ve done throughout, Powered Wig Machine bring a spin of their own to established stylistic parameters. Keeping in mind that Supa-Collideris their debut even though they’ve been around since 2005/2006, it’s hard to ask more of the album than it delivers.
And Supa-Collideris all the more encouraging since not only is it a capable execution, but it’s self-made. Tony Reed mastered, but Gold recorded and mixed, the latter with Joey Rudell, who also designed cover and did the layout for the four-panel digipak pressing. Being self-contained on multiple levels has its ups and downs — see also: booking shows — but according to the liner, Gold built the studio in which Supa-Colliderwas tracked, so to think of them becoming more comfortable in a recording space as they continue to progress in terms of their writing and aesthetic only adds to the potential they show here. What matters most, however, are the songs themselves, and Powered Wig Machine already have the songs working in their favor on their debut.
Posted in Reviews on August 14th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
“Better late than never,” or so the adage goes. If you’ve ever read more than two sentences on this site, chances are you’ve witnessed me complaining about being perpetually short on time, unable to fit in everything that I want to, etc. That’s been the case for at least the last four years. I’m always working at a deficit, and it’s usually just a question of whether or not I’m able to live with the level of behind that I am. In the case of Demon Eye‘s Leave the Light, I simply can’t take it anymore.
Released back in January on Soulseller Records, the debut long-player from the Raleigh, North Carolina, witch-rocking four-piece has haunted me — daily — as it has sat on the stack waiting to be reviewed, its righteously devilized jewel case cover burned into my consciousness no less than the cowbell-stomped chorus of “Adversary,” just one of the album’s 11 memorable exaltations of the left hand path. Comprised of guitarist/vocalist Erik Sugg, lead guitarist Larry Burlison, bassist/vocalist Paul Walz and drummer/vocalist Bill Eagen, Demon Eye owe much to early Pentagram‘s vaguely Luciferian swing and Sugg‘s touches of Eric Wagner influence go far in “Edge of the Knife” and the brooding “Fires of Abalam,” but they’re distinguished by proto-thrash riffing and ultimately wind up with an energetic, somewhat mystical concoction not entirely dissimilar in concept from Texas’ Venomous Maximus, though the
execution of Leave the Light works with its own blend.
To wit, opener “Hecate”‘s resonant hook and tradeoff of chugging and winding riffs and slower Motörhead spellcasting sets the stage for varied invocations of classic metal, but nowhere on Leave the Lightdo Demon Eye lose their heavy rock tonality or vibe. “Shades of Black” owes more to Thin Lizzy than Slayer, and the subsequent “Secret Sect” has a natural enough sound to namecheck Kadavar or Graveyard in terms of its ’70s loyalism. Side B branches out but remains catchy, with the shorter “Witch’s Blood” (2:47) setting up a moodier run with “Fires of Abalam” referencing Pentagram‘s “When the Screams Come” and delivering the band’s eponymous line while pulling back on the thrust to make “Devil Knows the Truth” sound even more motion-based, dueling leads just past the halfway point making it all the more a standout en route to “The Banishing,” which turns around the lyrical perspective to give Lucifer himself a chance to speak (anyone remember when Type O Negative did that for Black Sabbath‘s “Black Sabbath?”) and, before its 4:35 are done, earns a bit of sympathy for the devil to go with the classic heavy rock swagger, like Scorpions when they knew what was up.
The single-mindedness of a 46-minute full-length where just about every song is in one way or another about hellishness and ghouls and Satan and whatnot becomes a factor by the time Demon Eye get down to the closing duo of “From Beyond” and “Silent One” — both choice riffs, the latter locking into a groove every bit worthy to end the record — but what ultimately saves Leave the Lightfrom monotony are the sonic shifts between the songs and the flow that the CD enacts as it plays out. It’s worth noting that, as their first outing, Leave the Lightis remarkably consistent in the quality of its songcraft, and as six of these cuts — “Hecate,” “Witch’s Blood,” “Shades of Black,” “Fires of Abalam,” “Devil Knows the Truth” and “Silent One,” in that order — also appeared as Demon Eye‘s 2013 self-released debut EP, Shades of Black(a tape also came out through Sarlacc Productions), the band obviously knows a good thing when they hear it. Reusing one or two tracks from a first EP to first LP isn’t uncommon, but to incorporate all of them — and more importantly, to be right in doing so — shows a confidence in their approach that serves the band well as the other songs work their way between.
It really has been months that Leave the Lighthas worn on my mind, and though I feel a bit like writing this review is an exorcism, the songwriting here and the cohesiveness of Demon Eye in what’s still their early going (they got together in 2012) stand as testament to the fact that this won’t be the last time we hear from them. Next time around, I’ll be ready.
Posted in On Wax on August 14th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Nearly two years on from its initial self-issued CD version, Curse the Son‘s Psychache has gotten the release it deserves. In the capable hands of STB Records, the Connecticut trio’s Psychache (review here) has been pressed in three separate editions — a standard of 125 copies in gatefold with tri-color vinyl, an OBI strip edition limited to 100 with clear/black vinyl and a blood red splatter, a die hard edition limited to 75 with both the bone-grey and clear/black vinyl and the splatter, and a test press version — and as ever for the NJ-based imprint, the focus seems to be on reverence. Reverence for the music, for the form and, in this case, for an album that feels a long time in arriving.
From the opening riffs of “Goodbye Henry Anslinger,” Curse the Son‘s weedian roll finds a stylistic match in many other acts in all but quality. Guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore leads the charge with molasses tone — my stereo system never seems to have enough low end; Psychacheis cavernous and warrants all it can get — and bassist Richard “Cheech” Weeden and drummer Mike Petrucci (now also of Lord Fowl) enact a stonerly nod that remains one of the best the last couple years have seen. As a reissue, I’m glad to have the chance to experience the album again, but as the first vinyl pressing, I also feel like I’m finally hearing Psychachethe way the band intended, with the side split coming after the title-track and before the interlude “Valium For?,” creating a side A comprised of massive, catchy hooks in “Goodbye Henry Anslinger,” “Spider Stole the Weed” and “Psychache” and a side B that immediately delves further into the lysergic with “Valium For?” before slipping into the slower “Somatizator” and closing out with “The Negative Ion,” which opens ambient and then explodes into a thunderously plodding finish, Vanacore‘s voice a Sabbathian echo over the doomly churning.
At Stoner Hands of Doom XII in Sept. 2012 (review here), Vanacore handed me a CD in a plastic clamshell case of the mastered version of Psychache. I remember putting it on that night on my way back to where I was staying in Connecticut, and I’ve done the same many late nights since. Also afternoons, and pretty much whenever. This is an album I’ve lived with for two years, and aside from being gratified to see it get its due, I’m glad to have a new form in which to experience it. It’s one thing to know a record has two halves and another to actually have to get up and flip it over. That changes the personality of the listening experience, and after putting Psychacheon so many times either with that CD or the digital version — they’ve intermittently made it available as a free download on Bandcamp — it’s somewhat jarring to have the raucous end of the title-track not give way immediately to “Valium For?,” but it works. The languid shuffle of “Spider Stole the Weed” finds a counterpoint in the more severe declension of “Somatizator,” and “Goodbye Henry Anslinger” and “The Negative Ion” feel even more complementary as the bookends between which the course of the release takes place, the righteous stomp of the closer coming across that much sweeter with the needle returning afterwards, as if there’s nothing more to say.
For some who picked up or who will pick it up, the vinyl version is their first experience of Psychache, and that seems like an advantage, since clearly this is how Curse the Son have wanted it to be heard all along. From my perspective, I’ll say that there aren’t a lot of records that, two years later, I’m still going to have such appreciation for seeing them show up again — opening the gatefold and seeing the live shot of the band, it looks like a classic — but Psychachewas something special that first night I put it on and it remains something special now. My only hope is that, with this out, Vanacore, Weeden and Petrucci can get to work on their third album and be able to capitalize on what can only be considered the unmitigated success of Psychache. They remain an underrated band, but obviously the word is spreading, and if you’re fortunate enough to get a copy of the STB vinyl before it’s completely sold out, you’re likely to find it an endeavor worth revisiting.
Curse the Son, “Spider Stole the Weed” official video
Posted in Reviews on August 13th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Recorded in early 2013 as a blizzard pummeled the East Coast, The Proselyte‘s Our Vessel’s in Need EP hardly conveys any of the snowed-in claustrophobia or manic feel one might expect. Its five songs move, and have tones thick enough to fortify the walls of New Alliance Audio against the storm, but there’s little in the sound that seems to be trying to get away from itself. Maybe they finished tracking early on, or maybe that’s just a testament to the Cambridge, MA, outfit’s songwriting, which is all the more a highlight component of the new EP — released by Gypsyblood Records, an imprint helmed by Stavros Giannopoulos of Chicago’s The Atlas Moth – even than it was on The Proselyte‘s prior 2011 sophomore full-length, Sunshine(discussed here). In the interim, aside from completing several tours, The Proselyte have cut their lineup by one, leaving drummer/vocalist Alec Rodriguez (who also produced), guitarist/vocalist Nicholas Wolf (also of Phantom Glue) and bassist Brad Macomber (also “circuitry”) as a tight-knit power trio with a sound that confidently stands on either side of the border between heavy rock and metal and still focuses on blending melodic and growling vocal arrangements and keeping a sense of atmosphere. About a decade ago, Boston’s Cave In were picked up by RCA using similar elements, but while that band may or may not have had an influence on the rushing churn of Our Vessel’s in Needopener “End Regions,” The Proselyte are by and large a more bruising, heavier group, and even when they dip into upbeat, driving sounds, as on “End Regions” or the irresistibly catchy “Irish Goodbye,” and seem like they might be channeling some of Red Fang‘s crowdpleasing heaviness, they do so with the born-in intensity of the Seaboard they call home.
Our Vessel’s in Needis in and out in a brief 23 minutes, the time feeling that much shorter for the push in the songs themselves, and as with the prior full-length, Rodriguez‘s recording job is clean and professional. The sound overall, however, is bigger on these five tracks than the prior outing, and The Proselyte fill it with likewise sizable riffs and rhythmic movement. Each has a factor distinguishing it from the others, whether it’s “End Regions” with its stomping drumline and harmonized bridge, “Log Computer” with the catchiest chorus of the release — the lines, “Caveman committee/Prehistoric and sitting pretty/Unpolished stone/Built this city,” becoming a landmark hook — “Existential Risk” which seems to deconstruct as it hypnotically follows the guitar into oblivion, “Irish Goodbye,” which touches on classic Queens of the Stone Age-style thrust, or the slower, more open finale of “A Stubborn Hem,” but all manage to flow together smoothly as well, and while Our Vessel’s in Needis definitely an EP in the sense of not trying to come across as a single work but a collection of individual pieces, there’s no ignoring the tact with which The Proselyte execute their material. That’s particularly evident in the vocals, and the timing of the harsh/clean tradeoffs in “End Regions” and “Log Computer” and the times when both come together — “Log Computer” is about as close as they come to falling in the modern metal trap of the growled-verse/sung-chorus, but they avoid it successfully precisely because the arrangement is more complex — but no less true ultimately of the guitar, bass or drums. On the most general level, they sound more focused, but how that specifically manifests in the EP is with the impact each cut seems to have on its landing, even “Existential Risk,” which is the longer than all but the closer here at 4:44 and the moment at which they most depart from their structural base and build a near-abrasive wash of noise.
Though, to be fair, that wash comes more or less after the song itself is done, and thinking in terms of the flow between one song and the next, feels as much about launching “Irish Goodbye” as closing “Existential Risk.” All the more, then, it’s a point at which The Proselyte branch out sonically but maintain their focus on the task at hand. “Irish Goodbye” has a compressed runthrough of the riff before Rodriguez kicks in on the drums and is soon joined by Wolf and Macomber for the progression that most rivals the memorability of “Log Computer,” a Songs for the Deaf vibe and dual-clean vocal interplay/layering taking hold in stark contrast to “Existential Risk” prior, which in terms of the vocals is as rough as Our Vessel’s in Needgets. Fitting that the two tracks should be next to each other and placed such that the latter slams into the feedback beginning of “A Stubborn Hem,” which rounds out the EP with its most doomed moment but shows off some of the progressive tendencies that had appeared on Sunshinein its second half, albeit only en route to the dual-vocal, slow-marching apex of the release which also serves as its leadout. At 6:36, it’s easily the longest track present — “End Regions,” “Log Computer” and “Irish Goodbye” hover at just under four minutes apiece — but its time is efficiently spent, and ultimately, the stylistic branching out it does in relation to the surrounding tracks makes Our Vessel’s in Needa much richer release. I wouldn’t speculate about how the band may have grown or come more into their own as a three-piece in the year and a half since the EP was recorded, but their progression since Sunshineis evident in every second of these songs and the force with which they’re delivered, and if Our Vessel’s in Needis a step en route to someplace even more definitive of where The Proselyte are as a band, it will be well worth seeing this potential further realized. Bring on the next blizzard.
Posted in Reviews on August 11th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
I kept a steady pace rolling up the Maine Turnpike (aka I-95 but they charge you for it; I’d bitch, but NJ does the same thing), not looking to get pulled over both because it would involve talking to cops and because my car’s not registered, but with the sunset on my left, the rising supermoon on my right and big, old growth pines on both sides of the road, it would’ve been hard to complain had anyone been around to listen. Last time I was in Portland, it was also for a show at Geno’s Rock Club — Ogre‘s CD release, back in March (review here) — and though I had a hard time picking out familiar landmarks without a foot of snow on the ground, I eventually found my way to the same spot for the third of We’re all Gonna Die‘s three Summer 2014 reunion shows, with locals Murcielago rounding out the bill and support from MA’s Tigerman Woah and Maple Forum alum Blackwolfgoat.
The latter opened, going on around 9:30, with Darryl Shepard (Milligram, The Scimitar, etc.) starting out his Blackwolfgoat set with some new material from the forthcoming Small Stone release, Drone Maintenance. It’s his third LP under the Blackwolfgoat moniker — The Obelisk’s in-house label released the first CD pressing of the second one, Dronolith — and the most accomplished, Shepard beginning to veer toward a songwriting impulse to match the project’s progressive drone soundscaping. I was pleased to hear Dronolithopener “Building Buildings” in the mix, distinct for its layers of rhythm and melody, and it made an interesting lead-in for “Cyclopean Utopia,” the only Blackwolfgoat song to-date with vocals, for which Shepard got on mic and let loose a succession of ambient screams.
His time cut somewhat short when the strap on his guitar broke, but I guess part of the fun of having an outfit like Blackwolfgoat is that when something like that happens, you can roll with it. Still screaming over his loops and feedback, Shepard strummed the guitar a few times with his shoe before kneeling down to twiddle knobs on his pedal board. That wash of feedback continued even as he began to pack up his gear, but eventually the amp got shut off. “Cyclopean Utopia” was about half-done, but that strap was all-the-way done, and that seemed to win out. It was about as disparate a lead-in for Tigerman Woah as one could ask, the Lynn, Massachusetts, four-piece offering standup bass, banjo ukulele and rockabilly-ish revelry of a much more riotous and beery sort.
I live on the South Shore of Massachusetts, under Boston. On the other side of the city is the North Shore. I haven’t been up there much in the year that I’ve lived in the state, so I can’t necessarily speak to the geography of the place, but what I’ve seen has been way more Upper-Middle-Class-mall and way less a setting befitting the Appalachian mountain punk that Tigerman Woah proffered, but I’ll give it to those dudes for both selling it well and every now and again going on a tear of gang vocals and guitar solos that were likewise duly infectious. Plus who knows what lurks in those old foothills. They weren’t really my thing — and they were definitely the odd band out on the bill — but Tigerman Woah kept me glued to my spot on the floor at Geno’s with their twanging party vibe, gravely vocals and enviable beards.
After two prior shows, in Boston and Manchester, New Hampshire, it wasn’t such a surprise to find We’re all Gonna Die pushing through their set with workmanlike fluidity, but what stuck out to me most from watching them for the first time in I don’t know how many years was how dead-on they came across. Sometimes when a group plays for the first time in a while — I think in the Boston trio’s case, it’s been five years — they’re both rusty and overexcited. Material gets rushed. For guitarist/vocalist Jim Healey, bassist Jesse Sherman and drummer Scott Healey, it was more like seeing a band who’d been doing shows all year. They were plainly glad to be there, but they played like pros. The slow parts stayed slow, the fast parts were crisp in their pummel, and Healey‘s voice — a powerful instrument, forcefully wielded — was on point throughout and one could only stand in awe as solo after solo was thoroughly nailed. Something in me doubts this will be their last show.
Rounding out the night, Murcielago would keep that theme going, as the highlight of their set was a sudden turn that had guitarists Matt Robbins and Ian Ross (see also: Roadsaw) duking it out “Dueling Banjos”-style as they went back and forth, solo for solo. It was my first time seeing the band and they’ve only released a couple recorded tracks as downloads, so the bulk of their material was new to me, but came across steady in riff-heavy form, bassist/vocalist Neil Collins handling most of the singing with Robbins backing while drummer Brian Chaloux held it down smooth behind. Even during the aforementioned solo tradeoffs — which got a laugh as well at one point when Robbins flipped Ross off following a particularly impressive showing – Collins and Chaloux kept a central groove going as a bed, and Murcielago not only returned to that song’s chorus, but finished their set with another cut after.
That was about one in the morning, and I had two and a half hours of road time ahead, so I made my way out of Geno’s on the quick and back down the still unfamiliar Congress St. to my car, the Maine Turnpike lit blue by the near-full moon and save for a few swerving cars, empty with the well-worn evening.
A couple more pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.
Posted in Reviews on August 5th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
UK trio Grifter walk a fine line on The Return of the Bearded Brethren. Their second album for Ripple Music, it’s a 10-track collection produced by Rich Robinson, mastered by Tony Reed, that breaks evenly into two 21-minute sides and strongly answers the songwriting prowess the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Ollie Stygall, bassist Phil and drummer Foz showcased on their 2011 self-titled debut (review here) as well as their 2009 mission-statement EP, The Simplicity of the Riff is Key (review here) and its formative 2008 predecessor, High Unholy Mighty Rollin’. It also dares to be dudely. Very dudely. As dudely as the bearded dude on its front cover. As dudely as an unrepentantly straightforward heavy rock album with songs about Guinness and Princess Leia and digging out a bunker for the end of the world can be. And yet, what saves The Return of the Bearded Brethrenfrom being simple masculine caricature, and thus unlistenable, is the willingness to poke fun at themselves, the awareness of how silly dudeliness is in the first place. Not only that, but their ability to be tongue-in-cheek lyrically but still sincere, without giving themselves over to condescending irony, helps Grifter attain a rare balance of personality and intellect in their material. Fortunately, this comes coupled with a penchant for hooks second to very few in Britain or out of it, and songs like “Black Gold,” the evolution paean “Bow down to the Monkey” — with its steady references to Charles Darwin as “Mr. D.” — “Fire Water,” and “Princess Leia” make for memorable standouts on a record void of pretense and thick in quality. The Return of the Bearded Brethrenis plenty dudely, but by the end of it, you’d almost believe dudes were actual people.
Front to back, Grifter‘s second brims with motoring tones and rhythmic swing. Foz‘s cymbal work never veers into self-indulgence but provides a subtly complex foundation on which the riffs run, and they do, whether it’s shorter cuts like “She Mountain,” which follows opener “Black Gold,” or side B’s launch point, “Braggard’s Boast,” a 2:22 sprint that gives a look at the trio at their most raucous. That song works, and works well, but ultimately, Grifter are most comfortable dug into a mid-paced groove, quick enough not to be slow, but not fast enough to be aggressive. “Black Gold,” heralding the various attributes of Guinness — see lines like “Nothing else is true,” and “Top o’ the morning!” — works at a decent clip to start a momentum that carries right through to the end of side A. This stretch of five songs and the flow and movement between them is The Return of the Bearded Brethren‘s most lasting impression, “Black Gold” giving way to “She Mountain,” “Paranoiac Blues,” “Princess Leia” and “Bow down to the Monkey” in a fluid succession that’s as natural as one could ever hope of a live set. The scope is largely unflinching on initial listens, but the character of the songs comes out more with repeat listens, the Southern-style slide and stomp on “Paranoiac Blues” providing an engaging first-half centerpiece and an early shift in approach that pays dividends throughout the rest of the full-length. This in combination with the soul-searching and humor of the lyrics to “Princess Leia,” which tackles issues of aging in the context of an enduring crush on the Star Wars character, and the good times rush preceding on “She Mountain” ensure that the transitions on the first half of the album are seamless and that the momentum leading into the back end.
And since they are ultimately a classic-minded band — not at all retro-sounding, but working off classic influences all the same — side B of Return of the Bearded Brethrendoes expand the breadth of the album somewhat. The party-vibe of “Black Gold” finds hungover complement in side B’s midpoint, “Fire Water,” and after the boogie thrust of “Braggard’s Boast,” a chugging shuffle in “It’s Not Me it’s You” offers a kissoff somewhat more personal than that of the general religion-is-silly commentary of “Bow down to the Monkey.” If that’s Grifter honing their focus to a finer point, the songwriting remains consistent, and on the other end of “Fire Water”‘s less riotous verses and howling solo, the title-track breaks down the fourth wall with a sort of declaration of Grifter‘s purpose and position. Curious they’d bury it so near the conclusion of side B, but maybe they thought after pushing other highlights to the front, they’d hold something back to finish out. It makes sense, though the song itself is somewhat overshadowed by the Black Sabbath cover of “Faeries Wear Boots” that serves as closer. Inevitable maybe, and a somewhat obvious pick on the band’s part — though it’s been a while since anyone in my recent memory saw fit to take on the track, and in being unabashedly honest, it’s consistent with what Grifter do across the board, like an indirect challenge to the barrage of ’70s-worship retro bands trying to out-obscure each other or at least a reminder of what it’s all about — but they do the track justice and deliver a performance as clean and heartfelt as the nine original inclusions preceding, which is really all one might ask of them for it. Stygall, Phil and Foz presented no shortage of confidence on the self-titled, but there’s been clear growth in their command of their sound, and Return of the Bearded Brethrenstands as proof that straightforward classic heavy rock doesn’t need to enmesh itself with needless stylistic extras when the craftsmanship holds up. Grifter are a rare beast, and their second album satisfies both superficially and on closer inspection of its impeccably constructed, thoroughly dudely wares.
I’ll admit, it’s been a while since I last saw a cassingle sleeve. That which brings the self-titled EP from Minneapolis duo Brownangus is simple enough. It says “brown” on one face and “angus” on the other, and on the sides, the band’s name and the website for Major Destroyer Records, who release the tape in an edition of 100 copies. The cassette itself is raw-meat pink with brown letting and offers about 16 minutes of varied punishment, from blistering noise rock to caustic droning to assorted moments of sludgy grooving, the two-piece of bassist Craig Lee and drummer Blake Jette (both of whom take credit for vocals, though I don’t hear any on the tape) coming across with no shortage of blown-out fuckall. At times, Lee‘s tone and the wash of cymbals with which it arrives reminds of fellow Midwesterners Beast in the Field, and if the Twin Cities-dwellers were to take influence from the Detroit twosome, I don’t think anyone could blame them, but ultimately, Brownangus – whose name appears as two words on the tape itself and one just about everywhere else — are more rooted in punk, however much an affinity for chaos the two acts may share.
A beehive bass buzz starts side one of Brownangus‘ Brownangus. The tape presents two nameless tracks, the first longer than the second, each of which accounts for its side. Side one is immediate but finds room in its circa-10-minute screed for a droning break after an initial buildup and groove. Noise and bigger riffing emerges in a sudden kick on the other end, but Lee and Jette have never completely let go of the tension, so it’s not as if they’re coming completely out of nowhere. They retain an experimental feel as Jette keeps slower time and Lee delves into various effects for a deconstructing march that ends side one with a sample of an emergency broadcast. Side two begins with some abrasive feedback that leads into a rolling low-end groove, but soon enough downshifts into more downtempo terrain, gradually fading out altogether until a rumble signals a return to full-blast bludgeoning. Jette taps his sticks on the rims of his drums during an upbeat break, but Lee soon joins back in and the forward drive continues in punkish form with intermittent starts and stops for the remainder of the side, Brownangus never quite settling into one method or another, but showcasing an unabashed glee for playing with noise on their way. Another fadeout marks the end of the quick release, and Brownangus make their way out of their self-titled with relatively little fanfare considering the havoc wrought over these two sides.
While they keep it nasty for just about the entire duration and the tape’s all-at-once-per-side presentation lends itself more to listening altogether than parsing out each individual piece that comprises it, Brownangusdoes make a few deft turns, between its fury and drone and roll, and what comes across clearest of all is that Lee and Jette have an open creative process and are ready and willing to manipulate their own sound in order to make the noise they want, rather than sculpting their material to fit some genre ideal. Near as I can tell, the Major Destroyer cassette is their first physical release, and as such it showcases a duo of blistering potential. They don’t seem to here, but should they decide they want to, it’s easy to imagine them adding vocals to their approach down the line from whichever of them can scream the most viscerally, or better yet, both.
Posted in Reviews on August 4th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
It’s a cavernous and mystical sound that Heavy Temple have conjured for their self-titled debut EP. After impressing with a single for “Unholy Communion” last year — that song is also presented third of the extended three cuts on Heavy Temple and is out as a cassingle via Sarlacc Productions — the Philadelphia outfit were picked up by Germany’s Ván Records for the vinyl and digipak CD issue of this more complete first outing, and it’s an endorsement of no small consequence, Ván having long since proved the mettle of its tastes via picking up cult-minded acts like Year of the Goat and The Devil’s Blood. Heavy Temple – here a trio but now a duo with bassist/vocalist Elyse “High Priestess Nighthawk” Mitchell as the sole remaining founder — present a more laid back style of grooving than either of those two, but remain plenty heavy nonetheless across “Dirty Ghost” (8:17), “Legendary Conversations with Ants” (7:31) and the aforementioned “Unholy Communion” (13:15) and offer atmosphere to match the intermittent full-thrust tonal heft. They are, in fact, notably cohesive in their approach, and particularly for their first time out, Heavy Temple seem to arrive with a firm notion of their intent, what they want to sound like and how they want to achieve it. Mitchell‘s voice is dynamic and her approach shifts smoothly between “Dirty Ghost” and “Legendary Conversations with Ants” before delivering its most powerful performance on the closer, and in guitarist Shawn “Rattlesnake” Rambles and drummer Andy “Bearadactyl” Martin (also of Maple Forum alums Clamfight), she had a formidable complement with which to establish the range heard in these songs.
About those songs: They are spacious, psychedelic, heavy and they manage to avoid much of the cult rock cliché while proving both immersive and memorable over the course of Heavy Temple‘s 29-minute span. Working together as a debut EP, they more than succeed in giving the band’s audience a sense of what Heavy Temple want to do moving forward, and whether it’s the quiet doom blues in “Legendary Conversations with Ants” that gives way to a slow-motion effects-drenched freakout led by Rambles‘ guitar or the jammy bliss that emerges at the end of “Unholy Communion,” they retain their hold of the proceedings and excellently showcase the potential for what the band might or might have become going forward. “Dirty Ghost” commences with an otherworldly volume swell — minimal, quiet — before gradually unfolding itself with Martin‘s drums and Mitchell‘s bass and vocals, and it’s not until well past the halfway point of its eight-minute run that it finally explodes into full-on psych-grunge heft, like if someone wanted to turn peak-era Soundgarden production into a religion. That patience becomes a central element as Heavy Templeplays out, and the trio are just as likely to ride out a loud part as a quiet one, not shying either from crafting a void or filling it with distortion. The malleability of Mitchell‘s voice between the sultry croon in the first minutes of “Dirty Ghost” and the rawer shouting at the apex of “Unholy Communion” — the EP flowing smoothly between the two; something else that bodes well for a full-length — is another major asset working in their favor, and the stoner-mass of “Legendary Conversations with Ants,” while apparently more worldly in its lyric than the title might have you believe, executes a subtle linear build that ends with some classic doom riffing that bleeds right into the start of “Unholy Communion,” the whole release tying together seamlessly.
The first couple minutes of “Unholy Communion” are dedicated to building up tension, but at about 2:50, the song opens up and begins a payoff that will carry it through its midpoint, where it breaks to minimal ambience to set the stage for the EP’s final build and ultimate heavy psych payoff, Rambles‘ soloing meshing with layers of effects swirl that still keep enough room in the mix to sound human-made, though by then all three sound completely engrossed in the stirring concoction, even as they emerge from it for the big-riff finish and last-second string epilogue. Whatever Heavy Temple do from here is bound to be vastly different. I don’t know whether Mitchell intends to form a new trio or keep the band as a two-piece — she’s currently joined by drummer Saint Columbidae – but in any case, the change from the guitar, bass/vocals and drums lineup here is sure to manifest itself in subsequent output, even if her songwriting remains at the core. With that in mind, Heavy Templemay or may not be telling of the band’s future, and one would wonder about releasing it at all but for the fact that when a label like Ván comes calling, you answer. If this EP is to be Heavy Temple‘s beginning point, it starts them with a tumult marked by material of striking quality. It’s a familiar enough story for bands working under a principle songwriter, and if that’s to be the tale of Heavy Temple, the hope is they can find consistency in the chaos. Taken on its own merits, however, Heavy Templeis among the best short releases I’ve heard so far this year, and if it can serve as even the most rudimentary standard of quality from which the band can expand their sound, then they’re going to be just fine. Point is, even just in Mitchell‘s performance there’s potential here and a lot of it. How she handles that and what she does with it the next time out will be a big tell in terms of Heavy Temple‘s longer-term prospects, and either way, it seems likely that their sophomore studio outing will be as much a debut as this one. A live release in the interim would go a long way in giving a look at where Heavy Temple are headed.
Posted in Reviews on August 1st, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Recorded audio and video late in December 2013 in their native Salzburg, Austria, Been Obscene‘s Unplugged only tells half the story with its title. Yes, it was an acoustic show that the band decided to document in its entirety — a full 90-minute set — but Unplugged also serves as the four-piece heavy psych rockers’ swansong. Their first acoustic show was also their last show altogether, and so after making their debut on Elektrohasch in 2010 with The Magic Table Dance(review here) and following up strong in 2011 with Night o’ Mine(review here), they return three years later with a live record to take the place of what would’ve been their third full-length, their set taking material from all three albums — the two released, the one unmade — and call it a day. Fair enough. I was sorry to hear Been Obscene were breaking up, having been fortunate enough to catch them live on their only US tour, and while Unpluggedseems an odd way to do their run justice — ending with something they’d never done before isn’t exactly a summary of their accomplishments — maybe getting to that point is as good a finish line as any a band could ask. Guitarists Thomas Nachtigal (also vocals) and Stefan Wagner, bassist/vocalist Philipp Zezula and drummer Robert Schoosleitner give a rich performance, emphasizing the class that’s always been at the heart of their approach and the songwriting that’s underscored the jammy feel of their albums, and as Unpluggedwinds its way through the second LP/CD, Been Obscene prove one last time to be masters of their sonic domain. They were a good band and they’ll be missed.
Their approach was different, but as progenitors of next-gen heavy psych delivered via Elektrohasch, it’s hard not to compare Been Obscene‘s departure to that of Sungrazer. Both bands showcased massive potential across two records, hinted at a third to come with new material, and then stopped before they got to that point. On Unplugged, Been Obscene offer some hint of what might’ve been had that full-length come to fruition, though of course it’s a best guess how cuts like “Hey You,” “Take it Slow” and “Sound of Time” could have sounded in a full-thrust studio incarnation. The latter is a highlight of Unplugged‘s first disc, but really just one of several strong showings they made at that show at the Danspaleis circus tent at Winterfest in Salzburg on Dec. 30 of yet-unreleased songs. While not as established as cuts like “The Run” from Night o’ Mineor “Uniform,” the second cut from The Magic Table Dancewhich closes here, the aforementioned tracks and “Pilot the Pirates,” “You Wanna Know” and “Hail to Belief” — which backs up “Impressions” from the first album right at the start of the set — reinforce the quality of songwriting that was coming to fruition in Been Obscene‘s sound. Taken in context of what they did in their time and what they may have been about to do, Unpluggedis a wistful release, something the wistfulness of the instrumental “Memories in Salvation” and the melancholy “How it Feels” only underscore as their time on stage begins to wind down. They may have been happy to end it, it may have been sad — I don’t know what the circumstances were — but it’s easy to imagine a heartfelt sentimentality coming forward there as Nachtigal croons the repeated lines, “I woke up and I realized that I/Don’t know how it feels,” hypnotic in the studio version but here brimming with emotional resonance.
It feels somewhat crass to pick out highlights from an act’s final show, and Unpluggedis best taken as a whole, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the 14-minute stretch of “Demons,” presented here as one of their finest moments as a band. The breadth they capture with the natural instrumentation is remarkable, and finds echo soon enough in “Snake Charmer” and “Endless Scheme” on the second disc, but “Demons” is a singular melody and feel within Been Obscene‘s abbreviated catalog, and they more than do justice to its sprawl. “Uniform” caps with an insistent bounce, a long instrumental opening leading to some last words from Nachtigal, and the show ends with a big rock finish and much applause. On the video version, to see Wagner put his head down and tear into the leads, or to see the concentration in Nachtigal and Zezula‘s faces, Schoosleitner‘s smile as they round out the set before taking a final bow and leaving the stage, it’s all the more powerful considering it’s the last time they’ll do so. One never knows in rock and roll, and bands who for years discount the possibility of a reunion suddenly flip a switch and come back stronger than ever. Whether that’s the fate of Been Obscene, I’ve no clue and wouldn’t want to predict. As it stands now, they were a band who cut short the realization of their full potential, and both in playing their latest and last round of new material and ending their career by doing something they’d never done before, they make that all the more apparent. If their future holds that at some point they get back together and make that third LP a reality or if they don’t, they said goodbye with an adventurous spirit, a vibrant performance and a fitting document of their personality as a band. That’s more than a lot of groups manage, and it’s a result worth appreciating.
Been Obscene, “Impressions” live at Danspaleis, Dec. 30, 2013
Posted in Reviews on July 29th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
What’s really surprising about Arch Stanton, the new full-length from Karma to Burn, isn’t how the trio goes about its business. Led by West Virginian guitarist Will Mecum, the method is essentially the same as it’s been since 1999′s sophomore outing, Wild Wonderful Purgatory, in that the band cut a straight line, sans frills, to riff-led heavy rock and roll. Tracks are numerically titled, there are no vocals save for a bit of sampling on closer “Fifty Nine” (also as high as the numbers go this time around), and they stick so firmly to their approach that six of the album’s eight tracks are between four and five minutes long, and neither of the other two top six. For anyone who’s listened to them before, the ideas and the barebones feel with which they’re presented will be familiar. What’s really surprising about Arch Stantonis how much Karma to Burn can say without saying anything at all. Not counting a 2012 reworking of their famously vocalized 1997 self-titled debut (their label at the time, Roadrunner, forced them to take a on a singer; it didn’t last), dubbed Slight Reprise, the FABA and Deepdive Records-released Arch Stantonis Karma to Burn‘s sixth album, the follow-up to 2011′s V(review here) and their 2010 return, Appalachian Incantation(review here), as well as a slew of splits, EPs and singles. It is consistent with those two and with the output from Karma to Burn‘s first run on the aforementioned Wild Wonderful Purgatoryand 2002′s Almost Heathen, but it’s also their first long-player to feature bassist Rob Halkett and drummer Evan Devine alongside Mecum.
Although it doesn’t manifest sonically in any massive stylistic shift – Mecum seems to be calling the shots either way — his guitar is certainly the defining presence in the band at this point if it wasn’t before, and it probably was — it’s still a big change. Former bassist Rich Mullins and ex-drummer Rob Oswald, aside from being there during the first run prior to their split after Almost Heathen, were a considerable presence in the band’s creative growth. Mullins having taken part in the band Year Long Disaster particularly led to the two groups essentially combining forces for a time, but that’s gone on Arch Stantonas well. Those days, it would seem, are over, and Karma to Burn have returned to the core of what they’re all about, which is Mecum‘s riffs and a straightforward instrumental heavy rock drive. They dip as far back as “Twenty Three” — which by the numbers comes from the Wild Wonderful Purgatory-era — but the rest of Arch Stantonis between “Fifty Three” and “Fifty Nine,” arranged over the album’s 37 minutes to maximize overarching flow over what I imagine breaks cleanly in half to form two vinyl sides, and “Fifty Seven” leads off with Devine‘s drums and winding feedback leading to a classic motoring boogie, thick, groovy and in heavy motion. As ever, Karma to Burn waste no time in reminding their listeners who they are and what they do, even if they’re introducing some new faces in the process. “Fifty Six” has a metallic feel in the initial guitar line, and “Fifty Three” slows the proceedings down for a time, but they cap the first half with a return to the swagger in “Fifty Four” that shows off some airy layering at first before the central riff emerges to mark the nod-ready progression, building efficiently before a somewhat understated payoff rounds out.
The grooves get larger on “Fifty Five” and “Fifty Eight” on side B, but the mood and overall vibe keep steady, though the fact that the chugging “Twenty Three” seems to have a simpler spirit than what surrounds could be taken as indicative of the creative growth of the band or at very least Mecum‘s songwriting. Karma to Burn have long been haunted by the specter of vocals, partially because of their debut, partially because, in collaborations with John Garcia and Dan Davies, they’ve flirted with the idea, and partially because the songs are so straightforward it seems there’s room for a singer. I don’t know if that feels less true on Arch Stantonbecause something has changed in Karma to Burn musically or if it’s interpretation based on how otherwise uncompromising the album feels, but it remains the case either way. True to the album’s title which also references the film, some snipped dialog from the closing moments of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – famous Morricone score included — is worked into “Fifty Nine,” and that seems particularly fitting, though somewhat ironic since that was a European film set in the American west and Karma to Burn are an American band who at this point have found greater success touring in Europe. Nonetheless, they end with a big push, and bring Arch Stantonto a finish sounding refreshed in their purpose and clearheaded about what it is Karma to Burn should be some 20 years on from the band’s founding. Whether or not Mecum‘s bringing in Halkett and Devine will signal a new period of productivity — two live albums, an EP and a split with Sons of Alpha Centauri all being released since the start of 2013 would hint that perhaps it will — it’s hard to say for sure, but if Arch Stantonproves anything, it’s that like their goat mascot on the Alexander von Wieding cover art, they ride tall and destructive through whatever battle may be raging around them.
Posted in Reviews on July 28th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Beginning with the foreboding organ intro of “Overture,” there’s a lot more to Merlin‘s Christ Killer than it immediately seems. The self-releasing Kansas City, Missouri, double-guitar five-piece preceded their sophomore full-length by making a single out of second cut “Execution” (review here), but even that on its own doesn’t provide a context for what the album as a whole seems to be trying to accomplish, blending various genre elements together in a psychedelic brew that’s admirably individualized. A cinematic ramble of Western-style acoustics threads its way across the severely-titled CD’s five-track/39-minute run, guitarists Carter Lewis (also piano) and Benjamin Cornett leading a vinyl-ready march through the sundry peaks and valleys within the songs, building up in length shortest to longest until the final duo of “Lucifer’s Revenge” and the instrumental closer “The Christkiller” top 10 and 11 minutes, respectively. Comprised of Lewis, Cornett, bassist Evan Warren, drummer Caleb Wyels and standalone vocalist Jordan Knorr, Merlin reportedly based Christ Killeraround an unmade screenplay by Nick Cave for a sequel to the film Gladiator, and Knorr shows something of a Cave influence singing as well, a low-register sneer à la The Birthday Party working its way into the eight-minute centerpiece “Deal with the Devil,” topping a cresting wash of noise, building, consuming, and finally, receding.
As the single for “Execution” hinted, Merlin are a much different band on Christ Killerthan they were when they issued their self-titled debut digitally last year or any of the sundry other live outings, or demos that have popped up since their start in 2012. It could be that they’ve found their style with this album and will continue to work to refine it, or that from here, they’ll explore a completely new direction their next time out. Frankly, based on the audio here, I wouldn’t put myself on the hook for betting either way. Though the material — even on “Deal with the Devil” and “The Christkiller” — always has direction if not a distinct verse/chorus structure, Merlin conjure an abidingly open feel in the songs, and while the production is crisp and their performances nodding at the Melvins and Clutch and other heavyweights of that ilk, there’s a darkness at the sonic heart of what they do that matches the album’s theme. Cave‘s screenplay follows the tale of Russell Crowe‘s character, dead in the first movie, as he’s sent by the gods to kill Jesus and his followers on their behalf in order to live again with his wife, but is ultimately tricked into killing his own son and then becomes war through all time. Not a movie that would ever get made — certainly a far cry from Crowe playing Noah in a Biblical epic earlier this year — but decent fodder for the likes of Merlin to go exploring, the opening guitar/bass-drum sally of “Execution” reminding again of Clutch‘s “The Regulator” but unfolding with Knorr channeling his inner King Buzzo over the album’s most resonant hook. Liberal use of slide and wah ensues, but Merlin never lose control of the song, and that remains true of “Deal with the Devil” as well, as far out as that piece goes and as unwilling as it seems to step back from its atmospheric distances.
No doubt “Execution” is Christ Killer‘s catchiest moment and “Deal with the Devil” the most experimental, but “Lucifer’s Revenge” seems to be where they find the balance between the two impulses and even blend in some of their earlier (speaking relatively, we’re still talking about a band that’s been around for about two years) heavy psychedelic impulses in both guitar and keys. A classic doom feel emerges, presented with the same rich production but a garage-style simplicity, and as one part meshes into the next, Merlin make their way toward a post-jam apex that harkens directly back to “Execution”‘s chorus vocal patterning and simultaneously channels elder Pentagram in its deranged bluesy sway. It is Merlin‘s ability to make these things fluid and their sheer command of their own direction that makes Christ Killerso hard to pull your ears away from. I’m not sure they’re doing anything that’s never been done, even as “The Christkiller” begins its mournful roll with percussion and twanging acoustic and howling wind, gradually building over its 11 minutes to what might’ve been the end credit chaos — the film was said to cap with an extended montage of wars over the centuries — but their clearheaded execution is undeniable, and that Merlin would prove not only so ambitious, but so able to meet their ambition head on, makes Christ Killerimpressive beyond its titular silliness and forceful in ways more subtle even than the smoothness of its instrumental flow. Merlin are still growing, but they’ve constructed a work of relentless creativity here, and while it may prove a stepping stone along one or another path as they continue to progress, it’s worthy of attention in its own right as well.