Posted in On Wax on September 19th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Five years after making their debut on MeteorCity with the cave-riffed 2009 first album, Native (review here), San Francisco stoner plod trio Flood reemerge with Oak, their second long-player. Released by Volcom as a 12″ platter with green-swirl vinyl, it’s the second time the label and band have worked together behind a 2010 split with Wildildlife that included the track “The Gate to the Temple of the Ocean King.” That track doesn’t appear on Native or either of Oak‘s two sides, but as the six included tracks show, it’s not exactly like Flood are short on riffs. Some of their methods are consistent on Oak – as with the first album, they earn immediate points by opening here with the longest track, “Perihelion,” though it’s worth noting that at just under 11 minutes, it’s still considerably trimmed down from “Aphelion”‘s 18:29. The two titles relating to orbital positions of planets in relation to the stars around which they’re revolving — perihelion is the closest point, aphelion the farthest — the two seem to be in direct conversation with each other, the newer track answering the lumbering thud of the older one with its own stomp and rumble, vocals echoing over slower riffing that picks up after about halfway through, if momentarily, to remind that somewhere along the line, Flood picked up a Fu Manchu influence.
The two-part “Holy Astro Shaman” follows on side A, and side B continues the heavy roll with “Beryllus” (also the longest song on its side at 8:14), “Baphomet Sermon” and “Lake Nyos,” proffering distortion largesse, echoing shouts and resonating percussive march in a post-Mastodon stoner metal with deep-running Sabbath/Sleep elements. The recording on Oak is rawer than was Native – the newer LP tracked by Bart Thurber at House of Faith Studio in Oakland — but in a way that sounds probably closer to Flood‘s live show and that brings out an extra edge from the material. In any case, the sound remains clear enough for the three-piece of guitarist Fozzy, bassist/vocalist Fink and drummer Eli to get their weighty message through. Periodic tempo shifts, as those in “Perihelion” and “Holy Astro Shaman Pt. II,” go a long way in changing up the feel. Longer than it might at first seem, even, since so much of what Flood does is consistent in its push and focus on tone, riffs, groove, but the two-part “Holy Astro Shaman” enacts a solid build across its span and, paying off that build about halfway into its second part, uses the remainder to explore a drum-led jam that fades out to cap side A.
Side B starts “Beryllus” with feedback and more consume-the-room riffing, a long Dopesmoker-style drum build opening not to riotous explosive heaviness, but to more jamming exploration prior to the first verse. Flood don’t sound like a patient band, but they are, albeit in a subtle way. Throaty vocals shouting from deep in the mix, the guitar and bass work well together across the Side B opener, which gives way to the familiar chugging of “Baphomet Sermon,” which breaks in the middle with some highlight bass work from Fink, but otherwise sticks mostly to its central riff, leaving some atmospheric vocals to do the work of distinguishing it in the first half while arriving at a verse only later on, when the rollout is more established. Closer “Lake Nyos,” which takes its name from a body of water in Cameroon on top of a volcano that, in 1986, emitted a cloud of carbon dioxide responsible for the deaths of 1,700 people, starts with an appropriate sense of foreboding, the bass and drums setting a doomed ambience to be joined soon enough by the guitar, a siren in the background signaling the transition into the next stage of the build that will run a line throughout its seven minute runtime, Fink‘s vocals cave-shouting from under the guitar and bass while Eli‘s fills shift between slow-moving measures, leading to a gradual disintegration. The guitar and bass chug out, the drums thud, and Flood‘s Oak caps its final movement with a couple last hits and a quick shot of feedback.
Working greatly in the band’s favor is their utter lack of pretense. Flood did not take five years to put out their second record because they were trying to conquer the world or write a progressive masterpiece. They got around to it when they got around to it. That wouldn’t work for everyone, but it suits them and what they do, keeping their approach relatively simple while adding flourish in moments of experimentation without losing track of the heaviness they’re looking to convey. Dudes riffing out. I don’t know what it was that took them so long to get the album together, but Oak shows — like a second debut, almost — that Flood‘s worship continues to provide a fix for those who might need one. It’s the kind of heavy that makes squares show their corners.
Posted in On Wax on September 18th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
During their time together, it was said that Netherlands-based progressive heavy rockers 35007 were “a state of mind.” That’s fair. A lot of bands have slogans. Looking back on their catalog now, nearly a decade after the 2005 release of their final album, Phase V (discussed here), their discography seems less a state of mind than a world to be explored. Germany’s Stickman Records, which was the band’s label home for most of their tenure, has continued to foster that exploration since 35007‘s dissolution, both in making their studio outings available to those bold enough to find it and in fostering other European heavy prog acts like Motorpsycho, whose legend and catalog seems to grow each year. In a grand gesture of reverence, Stickman has recently reissued three of 35007‘s albums on vinyl: 1994’s Especially for You debut, 1997’s sophomore long-player 35007, and 2002’s Liquid.
Each release is different, and it’s important to remember that we’re spanning eight years of the band, different lineups, a developing approach, but what unites all three is the bleeding-out passion with which the reissues are executed. Not just time, effort and money put into them, but love. It’s evident in the gatefolds of 35007 and Especially for You, or in the way the color of the vinyl matches the album artwork for all three — black and red on Especially for You, white on 35007 and blue on Liquid. These are 180g treasures for a group who, if they’d come along a decade later than they did, would still probably be considered among the forebears of modern European heavy psychedelia. In presentation and in the sound of each of these, the spirit of honoring the band is obvious and palpable, and while that might intimidate the novice or someone less familiar with 35007‘s work, the music itself is so consuming that one can’t help get immersed, first time listener or not.
A quick breakdown:
Especially for You (1994)
Their earliest work. Especially for You only barely represents the ground 35007 would cover and break in their time together. There are flashes of the progressive fluidity their heavy psychedelia would later accomplish on the late instrumental “Water,” which appears here on side C, leaving the second half of he second record to “Slide,” but much of 35007‘s first outing got its personality from its crunching riffs, and while they’d gain a reputation afterward as an instrumental unit, songs here are often distinguished by vocals, and that begins on opener “Zandbak,” which takes an early stoner rock nod and build off it with keys and samples in an nascent showing of experimentalism. The subsequent “Basiculo ad Cunnum” is more indicative of the atmospherics and blend of Krautrock texturing, tonal heft and patience that would develop in their sound, but it too has a younger intensity to it, 35007 figuring out their where their place is even as they come do define it, keyboards factoring in heavily throughout, even as side B’s “Bad Altitude” starts out all riff and swagger en route to one of the LP’s most satisfying blissouts.
Space funk joins heavy rock impulses on the later “U:mu:m’nu:” and “Cosmic Messenger,” hinting at some of the territory 35007‘s countrymen in Astrosoniq would cover in the years to come, and “Slide” closes Especially for You with prog-metal chugging — it was 1994, so Tool‘s Undertow might’ve been a factor in the rhythm and vocal shouts — and a kitchen-sink finale of noise, swirl and sampling. If anything’s a giveaway of the 20 years that have passed since its initial release, it’s the production, since the adventurousness and will toward progression at its heart is still very much evident in what they accomplish. It’s a hard record to dig into without thinking of what 35007 did afterwards, but that doesn’t makes the space-rocking “The Elephant Song” any less enjoyable as the centerpiece of side B, its wanderings both engaging and righteously trippy, buried-deep semi-spoken vocals calling throaty shots atop a deep swirl of lead guitar echo. There are bands out there today, more than a few, who are trying to sound like this and haven’t yet caught up to what 35007 did their first time out two decades ago. That sounds like hyperbole, but it’s also true.
It would be difficult to mess with the low-end fuzz that underscores the breathing tension of 35007 opener “Herd,” and you won’t hear me try. I’ll again compare it to Astrosoniq‘s propensity for opening to a chorus, but it’s really just the tip of the weird futuristic submarine racing apparatus when it comes to 35007‘s second album, also known as Into the Void We Travelled. Issued three years after their debut as their first outing on Stickman, it’s immediately more cohesive stylistically, a bruiser riff in “Soul Machine” finding accompaniment in the keys and psychedelic undercurrents, the two sides playing off each other rather than competing as they sometimes seem to be on Especially for You. Of course, the ambient vibe isn’t absent either, as “Short Sharp Left,” which rounds out side A takes hold with a swaggering, almost Western, guitar line and drum stomp only after a stretch of ambience that picks up directly from “Soul Machine,” making it impossible to tell on the LP where one ends and the other starts. A lot of what 35007 accomplishes on this album is laid out in the first of its four sides, but the thrill of the journey and hearing where the band takes its now-more-solidified approach — be it the plus-sized riffing of “Big Bore” on side B or the subsequent Zeppelin-in-space acoustics of “Vein” — shouldn’t be discounted either.
“Undo” explodes to start out side B prior to the farther-out method expansion of “Big Bore” and “Vein,” but it’s side C and D that seem in hindsight to show where 35007 were really headed, and among these albums, the divide between the two halves of the self-titled is most stark. Songs like “Herd” and “Soul Machine” and “Big Bore” have an experimental or proggy edge to them, no doubt about it, but with “66” and “Powertruth” on side C and “Locker” and “Zero 21″ bled together on side D, the band shifts first into organ-laced ’70s weirdness before moving into head-down prog chug and keyboard interplay on “Powertruth” — listening right after Especially for You, the song seems in direct conversation with parts of “Slide,” but it’s ultimately more straightforward — building to a rushing head before being carried out by its frenetic keyboard line. Similar impulses drive “Locker” and “Zero 21″ — a flair for capturing the “let’s try this” moment — but the closing duo come across most as the moment where 35007 found their niche in a psychetronic (now almost entirely) instrumental blend of heaviness and atmospherics, starting so quiet and patiently evolving the movement over the two songs to the record’s blood-stirring apex. This was a crucial transitional phase in the band, and in terms of harnessing where they were coming from and where they were headed, it brings together the best of both worlds.
Preceded by a 1999 Stickman reissue of Especially for You and 2001’s Sea of Tranquility EP, the 2002 Liquid full-length is as aptly-named as an album can get. Of the three new vinyl releases it’s the only one that fits on a single LP — it is a full 20 minutes shorter than the self-titled and has a printed record sleeve instead of a gatefold — but the expanses 35007 cover across its four tracks more than answers for any “Hey, where’d the rest go?” type questioning that might arise. Liquid is arguably 35007‘s most essential release. Phase V would expand on these ideas and concepts and delve further into ambience, but Liquid was the lightbulb moment in the narrative of band, certainly as pertains to these three outings and overall as well. The tonal warmth in the bass on “Tsunami” or the smoothness of the production, the patience in its completely instrumental transitions and the flow between one song and the next and within songs as well as parts shift into others, it’s fluid, lush heavy psych that’s neither one more than the other in an impeccable and beautiful balance. It made space rock new again, and unlike Especially for You and 35007, it was also clearly intended to be a vinyl release, its four component tracks breaking evenly into two halves and feeding into each other with an audible break between sides A and B.
Flip the band’s name upside down and it spells “Loose,” but I’m not sure they were ever tighter or more coherent than they are here, building with keys and riffs and effects as “Crystalline” morphs gradually out of “Tsunami” to jam its way forward and back again into its own mix, a strong current of synth remaining with volume swells to set a wave pattern from which the guitars, bass and drums burst in for the final stretch, their cold disappearance after the climax seeming to cut short a track that’s already reached toward eight minutes long. On side B, the shorter “Evaporate” recalls some of the progressive metal riffing of 35007‘s earlier days, but like the band’s approach overall, it is more clearheaded about what it wants to accomplish, toying with back-and-forth tension release in what might’ve been a verse and a chorus five years prior but here serve as a means to a more complex end, giving way somewhere in a wash of keyboards to closer “Voyage Automatique” as bass plays the pivotal role of anchoring the proceedings, not weighing them down necessarily, but making sure there’s solid ground somewhere beneath all the open space. Gradually, “Voyage Automatique” builds to a head in a patient linear execution, and Liquid ends with a fading keyboard line that seems to still be exploring, reaching further out from where the band decided to vacate the jam, leaving it and the listener alike to process the data uncovered by all this exploration.
From their beginning, 35007 was a progressive heavy rock act with an individualized take. The fact that they were then able to realize their potential and push themselves further into their own sound made them truly distinct among what was happening in heavy music at the time, and while they’re not around now to continue that journey — members can be found in Monomyth and Neon Twin — reissues like these show just how special their work was. Due reverence, through and through.
Posted in Reviews on September 17th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
There was a point during Black Cobra‘s set last night at T.T. the Bear’s Place in Cambridge at which I felt like my head had been swallowed by some gargantuan octogod out of a Lovecraft horror. Five bands deep into a five-band Tuesday, it was hard to stand up let alone make any attempt to keep up with Black Cobra‘s intensity, which has been outdoing rockers far more riotous than I for over a decade. They were headlining, playing last, of course, a show that might as well have been billed as a festival, with their tourmates Lo-Pan and local support from Lunglust, Hepatagua and Connecticut’s Sea of Bones. My first time at T.T. the Bear’s was going to give me plenty of opportunity to get to know it.
If you’re looking for it, it’s quite literally next to the Middle East, which I don’t suppose will be much help when they turn that whole complex into condos as they’re allegedly going to do sooner or later, likely working at Boston’s usual we’ll-get-there-in-200-years pace in a continued effort to destroy any sense of culture not directly related either to the higher education of its imported money-spending rich kids or the steadfast working class scoffery of its actual citizens. A whole town dedicated to telling itself to fuck off. It’s a good place to like sports, not a good place to try and open a bar. So it goes.
Despite a few circles around the block for parking, I was early. Sea of Bones were opening, so we’ll start there:
Sea of Bones
I was surprised Sea of Bones would start the show. Not because they’re a huge commercial band or anything, but because the Connecticut-based three-piece are so loud, I know that if I was another opening act on the bill, I wouldn’t want to follow them. Their brutal post-doom emanated from a formidable wall of cabinets as Mammoth in sound as in their brand, the company founded by Sea of Bones guitarist Tom Mucherino given a weighty endorsement by the band’s own tectonic force. The tension in their quiet stretches isn’t to be understated, but when Mucherino, bassist Gary Amedy and drummer Kevin Wigginton all crash in on the material from their 2013 two-disc sophomore outing, The Earth Wants us Dead (review here), all three adding their vocals to the assault, they’re quite frankly one of the heaviest acts I’ve ever seen. I spent the last $10 to my miserable name on the CD of The Earth Wants us Dead, and no regrets. An early laugh for the night was when, after two or three songs, they were informed they had five minutes left and ended the set because none of their material is that short. Right fucking on.
It was Hepatagua guitarist/vocalist Aaron Gray who reportedly brought the Black Cobra and Lo-Pan tour to town in the first place, and after seeing his duo’s former moniker, Automatic Death Pill, on shows more or less since I moved here, I was glad to finally get to see them play. The band is Gray and drummer Nate Linehan (ex-Anal Cunt, Fistula, Finisher, etc.), and they tapped into various heavy impulses, indulging a thrashy impulse here or there but mostly sticking to a steady groove. Gray‘s vocals leaned aggressive but weren’t necessarily a given as growls, and the chemistry between the two was clear on stage, Automatic Death Pill having gotten their start in 2010, and they seemed most at home in raw sludge. They don’t have anything recorded as yet — rumor is they’ll address that this winter — but it’ll be interesting to find out how or if their material solidifies in the studio or keeps the edge with which they presented it at T.T. the Bear’s. Either way, I sincerely doubt this will be the last time I run into them, and they gave me something to look forward to for the next one.
A five-piece with Nicholas Wolf and Brad Macomber of The Proselyte (also Phantom Glue in the case of the former) on guitar and bass, respectively, Lunglust played that kind of dark hardcore that’s doom in its tone and metal in its fervor but still ready to toss in a breakdown every now and again. Drummer Reid Calkin had “You’re Shitty” emblazoned on the front of his kick, which didn’t seem very nice, but they were as tight as the style would require and five dudes’ worth of loud, guitarist Eric Lee in the dark on the far right of the stage and vocalist Jeff Sykes periodically stepping out onto the speakers in front of the stage to get further get his point across. No worries there. His t-shirt was the second logo sighting of the night for His Hero is Gone (Sea of Bones‘ Mucherino had a patch), and his disaffection bled into each cupped-mic growl. In terms of their basic sound, they weren’t really my thing, but they quickly showed why they were where they were on the bill and pummeled with speed, efficiency and viciousness, seeming to enjoy the violence every step of the way. I was glad no one in the crowd started throwing punches.
Going to see Lo-Pan is a no-brainer. Oh, Lo-Pan‘s coming through town? Do you have feet? Well, you better use those feet to march your ass over to wherever they’re gonna be and enjoy. With the release of Colossus, the hard-touring Columbus, Ohio, unit’s fourth album, impending, it seemed all the more reason to be there. “Regulus” from that album was aired, as well as the expansive “Eastern Seas” and “Vox” (track premiere here), and “Marathon Man” was the highlight of my night. They dipped back to 2011’s Salvador (review here) only once, for “Chichen Itza,” and otherwise the whole set was new material. That was the case for the most part as well when they played the Small Stone showcase next door at the Middle East, but I was glad to be more familiar with the songs this time around. On stage, they were much as ever — ridiculously tight and locked in, guitarist Brian Fristoein a universe comprised of his own sleek grooves while on the opposite side of the stage bassist Scott Thompson bangs his head like he’s trying to shake it off, up front, drummer Jesse Bartz slams his cymbals so hard they bite through your earplugs and in back, vocalist Jeff Martin offers soul-stirring command. I thought he was going to blow out the P.A. during “Vox,” but no equipment was damaged. Still, it was easy to tell how deep into this tour Lo-Pan were. Not quite halfway through the run with Black Cobra, they had their inside jokes going (Martin shouted the whole set out to Guy Fieri, the crowd “didn’t need to know why”) and road eyes on, barely seeing the place, focused and intent on the work they were doing in it, looking right past, all straightforward drive and momentum build.
That made them an excellent lead-in for Black Cobra. I had wondered how it might be going from Lo-Pan‘s more heavy rocking style to Black Cobra‘s unadulterated thrash bludgeonry, but what the two bands have in common is they’re both killer live acts. In the case of Black Cobra, they’re now a decade removed from the release of their first EP, and the duo of Jason Landrian (guitar/vocals) and Rafa Martinez (drums) have dedicated most of that time to perfecting their craft on the road. The short version is they sound like it. I’ve already told you I was beat to hell by the time they went on. Black Cobra, on the other hand, were a torrent of adrenaline, Martinez and Landrian pounding out selections from their catalog starting with “One Nine” from 2006’s debut full-length, Bestial, and including highlights from their most recent outing, 2011’s Invernal (review here), like “Avalanche,” the righteously chugging “Corrosion Fields” and overwhelmingly extreme “Obliteration.” Like Lo-Pan before them, they sounded like a band who’s been on tour for about two weeks, dead set on what they want to do and how they want to do it. They’re about due for a new record as well, and I was hoping for some new material, but most of what they played came from Invernal, though they included the title-track from 2009’s Chronomega and closed out with “Five Daggers” from 2007’s Feather and Stone, Landrian seeming to take an opportunity between each cut to roar out a primal dominance and encourage the audience to join him in it. They did. No encore at the end, but nothing left to say. The house lights came on quick and those of us still in the room collected our well-demolished consciousnesses and shuffled out. For what it’s worth, Black Cobra looked like they could’ve kept playing with no problem.
I got pulled over on my way home, received a $55 ticket on a back road for my car not being inspected. My car has over 205,000 miles on it. The cop was visibly disappointed I wasn’t drunk, and I was visibly disappointed he existed. Another police vehicle pulled around and sat in a nearby parking lot and I thought about asking Officer McDickhead if he needed backup to tell me my license plate light was out, if maybe he didn’t want to break out the military surplus assault vehicles, but didn’t. He told me have a good night and I grunted at him and rolled up my window. Fucker. Worst part about it is cops are younger than me at this point. Got in somewhere around 2AM.
Posted in On Wax on September 17th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
There are a couple lessons to be learned from Electric Nomads, the first arrival in Mos Generator‘s “Heavy Home Grown” series of DIY releases. First, swirl wax is pretty. This is something we already knew, but it comes into relief even more with Electric Nomads since, but for a sticker on the front, liner notes sheet inside (click here to see it) and a handwritten tracklist on back with the numbering — I got #14 out of the 100 pressed — autographs from Tony Reed (guitar/vocals), Scooter Haslip (bass) and Shawn Johnson (drums) and a handwritten ‘A’ on the label of the vinyl itself to show which is the first side, there’s no cover to stare at. Second, even Mos Generator‘s demos are impeccably produced. Hell, Reed even double-tracks his vocals on some of these songs. For a demo! I guess it’s handy when your guitar player is also an accomplished engineer, but still, if you’re thinking the long-running Port Orchard, Washington, heavy rock trio were going to just cobble together a bunch of rehearsal tapes recorded on somebody’s iPhone, that’s not what Electric Nomads is all about. Culling together songs from Mos Generator‘s last two albums, this year’s Listenable Records debut, Electric Mountain Majesty (review here) and 2012’s return from hiatus, Nomads (review here) — you can see where the title comes from — Electric Nomads presents followers of the band with a look at their material in progress, but still basically brings finished versions of the songs. “Enter the Fire” from the latest record isn’t as elaborate melodically as the album track, and “Beyond the Whip,” which appears here at the end of side A, is one of several songs that feels faster than its album counterpart. They cap side B with a raucous jam, and there are some flourishes of psychedelia in the soloing that got stripped down by the time Reed recorded them for real, but structurally and in the clarity of their sound, a lot of what you get on Electric Nomads is finished work.
I suspect that has to do with the band’s writing process, and that by the time they’re ready to do pre-production for a studio offering, they’ve already worked out the kinks in a song like “Cosmic Ark.” That track opened Nomads, essentially announcing Mos Generator‘s resurgence from several years away while Reed worked with his Stone Axe and HeavyPink projects (the latter released on The Maple Forum), and it opens Electric Nomads as well — some psychedelic keyboard accompanying the guitar solo — starting a mirror version of the salvo that began Nomads itself: “Cosmic Ark” into “Lonely One Kenobi” into “Torches.” Three immediate, irresistible hooks put next to each other for maximum immersion. It worked well on Nomads and works well here. The break into sides isn’t clean in terms of Nomads on one side Electric Mountain Majesty on the other, but after the first three and “For Your Blood” from the earlier record, “Enter the Fire” and “Beyond the Whip” move into the later album material, which continues on side B with “Breaker,” “Spectres” and “Early Mourning,” which feeds directly into the concluding jam, aptly titled “Jam.” Reed harmonizes on the chorus of “For Your Blood” much like the finished version, and the classic metal boogie was apparently there early on as well, and I could be wrong, but the demo seems a little more uptempo even than the final was. Mos Gen are no strangers thrashing out when they want to, and they show that here, but the point is there are subtle differences on Electric Nomads in these songs, and for fans of the band — a category in which I’m glad to count myself — it’s an interesting piece to get a sense of how these tracks were built. They must have been tempted to keep Haslip‘s bass recording on “Enter the Fire” from this demo, and I wouldn’t argue with them if they had. Kind of funny to think that without this release, these recordings, into which clear effort was put and which sound crisp and clean and professional, would just be sitting around, probably on some hard drive in a closet at Reed‘s Heavy Head studio. Wild.
“Beyond the Whip” digs into speed-boogie and over on side B, “Breaker” picks up the theme and runs with it. Mos Generator‘s propensity for catchy songwriting is certainly on display, but perhaps the most closest look at that comes with “Jam,” which hints at the process of creation from which cuts like “Breaker” and “Torches” emerge, the three players all locked in and moving through different parts, seeing what works, what doesn’t, what to keep, what not. I would not at all doubt Reed has an archive of such excursions, but “Jam” represents its ilk well, his own solo a ripper coming off of “Early Mourning” as Johnson and Haslip hold the rhythm. Particularly after “Breaker” and “Early Mourning” — some of Electric Mountain Majesty‘s moodier lyrics — the rawer glimpse at Mos Generator‘s process is welcome, though “Spectres” might be my pick for highlight of the release. The Electric Mountain Majesty cut slowed down some of the rush on that record, and on Electric Nomads, it sits well between “Breaker” and “Early Mourning,” Reed announcing “solo” where one isn’t written yet and dropping out to let Haslip‘s bass cover that spot for a few measures. Many of these songs start out with an off-mic “we’re rolling,” or some other announcement that the recording has started — “Enter the Fire” has a few electronic beeps — but they’ve also been mixed, additional vocals layered in during their making, and mastered for this vinyl release — “Early Mourning” is an “oof” of a fuzz punch to the gut but it’s especially interesting to have “Jam” take off from it and close out. That’s about as raw as Mos Generator get on Electric Nomads, and it seems to be speaking to more nascent material, whereas by the time they recorded these versions of much of the rest of these songs, they were already solidified. I’d be interested to hear the missing link between the two — what comes in the middle with the trio screwing around on one side and a finished song on the other — but it might just be parts hammered out, and while an interesting academic piece, that rarely makes for fun listening. Electric Nomads, on the other hand, doesn’t need me to sell it to Mos Generator fans. The band’s reputation for delivering quality product is well established by now, and as they continue down the road with the “Heavy Home Grown” series, I’ll look forward to seeing just how deep into the vaults they go.
Posted in On Wax on September 16th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
There’s little I’m inclined to argue with less than a new The Kings of Frog Island record. Their 2013 outing, IV (review here), began a new era for the amorphous UK band, self-releasing LPs after a three-album stint on Elektrohasch, and they follow that LP quickly with the heady two-sides of V, which furthers their blend of classic psych, garage rock and heavy/desert rock impulses. I don’t think it really matters who shows up on a given day for the studio, just so long as they can jam, and V unquestionably benefits from that mentality, and this time around, steady partakers Mark Buteaux (vocals/guitar), Roger “Dodge” Watson (drums) and Gavin Searle are joined by Gavin Wright and Tony Heslop, who came aboard last time out, and Lee Madel-Toner, with Scarlett Searle guesting. Change and fluidity have been running themes for The Kings of Frog Island since their 2005 self-titled debut, and V is no exception.
Like IV, there’s no number anywhere on the 12″ sleeve that would tip you off if you didn’t already know it was the fifth album, but even side-by-side with its predecessor, V shows off a heady growth in sound and confidence from last year’s offering, Buteaux comfortable topping side A’s tripped-out closer “Raised in a Lion’s Den” with a single line of vocals (“I was born in a desert, raised in a lion’s den”) to add mystique to an already molten atmosphere. In particular, the blend of ambience and more grounded songwriting — something The Kings of Frog Island have never lacked — is readily on display throughout the new LP, an early highlight arriving with the psychedelic desertisms of “Sunburn,” the opener that billows out of the introductory “Tangerine.” For the first half, divisions between songs are otherwise pretty clear. “Tangerine” hypnotizes early and gives way directly to “Sunburn,” but that song, “Temporal Riff,” which follows, “Born on the Fourth” and “Raised in a Lion’s Den” have definitive starts and finishes, which by the time side B rounds out won’t be the case. “Temporal Riff” is another early high point, departing from “Sunburn”‘s distortion waves and into ’60s-style acoustic psych pop that subtly builds around a wash of cymbals that continues a theme from last time out of patient, impeccably captured drumming from Watson, fluid in the speakers and in the ears and a key element in the band’s approach. The song itself isn’t limited to that or to a jam — it has one of the album’s best hooks, right up there with “Sunburn” — but it makes the transition easier into the classic garage rock swagger of “Born on the Fourth,” a quicker jaunt distinguished by call and response vocals and the lyric “Put your hand in the palm of mine,” which mirrors the rhythmic insistence well.
“Raised in a Lion’s Den” is likewise well placed at the end of side A, since it foreshadows some of what side B gets up to with its lull-your-consciousness rollout and sense of lysergic space rock meandering. “Novocaine” is earthbound compared to some of what follows, with a lightly Beatles-style verse-into-chorus transition, but still plenty groovy, starting out soft and getting into volume-swell guitar antics and subdued airiness before the more purely desert-tinged “Five O Grind” reminds of the expanses a Kyuss influence can cover when put to best use. The swirl and heavier vibe is immediate, echoing vocals deep under the riff, the title repeated as the lyrical center of the song, the fuzz consuming. It’s the most forceful of the riffers on V, but not out of place either with “Novocaine” before it or “Destroy all Monsters” after, which references Godzilla in its title and is pretty clearly named for its largesse of riff, similarly to how “Temporal Riff” may have been titled for its backward-in-time vibing. “Five O Grind” is the last bit of earthly grooving The Kings of Frog Island do here, if you can call it that, since even when their material is structured it’s blissed out, and the last three cuts, “Destroy all Monsters,” “Make it Last” and “On” bleed together to finish the album in flowing fashion, the clear ending of “Five O Grind” with its lead guitar, buried vocals and steady nod giving way to the stomp of “Destroy all Monsters” — how else would one do that but with giant lizard feet and maybe a bit of laser breath? — which flows nebulously into “Make it Last” and “On.” Where the point of separation is between the last three tracks, I don’t know exactly, but “Destroy all Monsters” seems to separate after several turns of standalone drone riffing into feedback from which a more fuzzed riff emerges (the drums rejoin), and if you told me that was the switch into “Make it Last,” I’d believe you.
From there, one might point out any number of points at which “On” takes hold to round out V, but in doing so I think a crucial intent of the album would be sacrificed. As with IV, it’s pretty clear that a big part of The Kings of Frog Island‘s intent in only releasing an LP edition of V is that the record should be experienced as a whole, in one complete sitting split only between sides A and B. Ultimately, where “Make it Last” becomes “On” doesn’t matter. It’s the fades in and out, the feedback, drum-propelled, the steady bassline and the ground the material covers that’s all the more important than if the quick stop is where one ends and another begins. Either way, V is finished with its fading, synth-topped jam, a foundational guitar, bass, drum rhythm topped by a wash that continues even as ambient vocals make a surprise return as if to remind that there are still humans somewhere behind all this liquefied noise. Tambourine punctuates for a while and what must be “On” devolves into one last hypnotic wash of psychedelic melody, organ sounds being the last element present before the needle returns. I’ve been a nerd for The Kings of Frog Island since their 2008 fuzz-landmark, II, and in the years since, they’ve showed an unrelenting pursuit of expanded-mind exploration. What’s perhaps most encouraging about V is how amiable a companion it is for IV while maintaining a personality of its own. Clearly grown out of the preceding full-length, V seems to establish the band’s progression as one set to continue with no end in sight. Again, you won’t hear me argue.
The Kings of Frog Island, “Sunburn” official video
Posted in Reviews on September 15th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
It was just over a month ago I last saw Blackwolfgoat, in Portland, Maine, opening for We’re all Gonna Die‘s final reunion gig, so I’d say the stuff was pretty fresh in my brain, even aside from listening to the new album, DroneMaintenance, for an I’ll-get-there-I-swear-I-will review, but this was the release show for that record and sometimes you feel like maybe you need to show up. Another chance to scope out Connecticut duo Bedroom Rehab Corporation was added appeal, and it was the live debut from Sea, which boasts bassist/vocalist Stephen LoVerme of Olde Growth and guitarist Liz Walshak, formerly of Rozamov, so put that together with noise-riff duo Shutup!! opening, and yeah, it’s a night. A Friday, in Allston, in September. College kids, hip youngsters, and me, rolling down Harvard Ave. like a forest troll looking for parking. Around and around and around Allston’s designed-for-the-crowded-populace-of-1700 blocks I went, ducking drunk undergrads and Bruins fans. There were other shows around town. I knew where I wanted to be.
O’Brien’s was much as I left it whenever the last time I was there was. Low, red lights, equipment along the wall. They played Floor between bands, which was a nice touch, and people shuffled in and out over the course of the evening in various degrees of stupor. It wasn’t a rock show entirely, but there was a bit of that going on. Here’s how it all went down:
One of the issues with going to see drone live is that the crowd, especially after a couple minutes in, invariably starts to chatter, and you hear it over the performance, still very much in progress. The guitar/bass two-piece Shutup!! avoided this issue neatly by being so fucking loud you could barely hear yourself think, let alone transmit those thoughts verbally to another human being. Clever. Bassist Aarne Victorine is set to debut with another band, UXO (featuring Steve Austin of Today is the Day and Chris Spencer of Unsane), next year, but paired with guitarist Jon Christopher in Shutup!! the modus was forceful low-end rumble all the way. They were on as I was walking into O’Brien’s and clearly audible from outside, tossing in a few lumbering riffs to go with the massive wash of amp noise, feedback and effects that seemed to bite right past one’s earplugs — the cheap foam kind, but still. It was a short set, less than 20 minutes, but I doubt anyone there would argue they didn’t get their point across. Exploratory but vicious, heavy drone not for the faint of heart or the weak of tolerance.
It is a cruelty to judge a new band or anything they do by their first show, so I won’t, but don’t take that to mean newcomer four-piece Sea didn’t come across well or like they knew what they were going for. With a blend of flowing doom and some post-metal churning inflection, as well as a strobing desk lanp on top of guitarist Mike Blasi‘s amplifier timed to be’chopped drummer Andrew Muro‘s kit, Sea seemed to be on their way toward solid construction and an aesthetic in the making. LoVerme varied his vocals between post-Mastodon shouts and more subdued melodies, and Walshak and Blasi added ambient sprawl to quieter sections to contrast and complement the heavier push. Their songs, as I understand, are as yet untitled, but one could hear an oceanic theme at work, and while the project is nascent, there seemed to be potential at work as well. They were the fullest band of the night with twice as many members as anyone else, but received a warm welcome that, especially for a debut gig, didn’t seem like it could’ve left them disappointed. Will be interesting to see where they go as they continue to hammer out their sound (and light show).
Bedroom Rehab Corporation
Speaking of good bands getting better, the night also re-confirmed for me how far ahead of their 2013 debut, Red over Red (review here), are bassist/vocalist Adam Wujtewicz and drummer Meghan Killimade of Bedroom Rehab Corporation. After seeing them for the first time earlier this summer, this was already apparent, but no less so in Allston, the New London, CT, twosome engaging in varying doomly methods, Melvins-style crunch and a bit of noise punk to boot, the gruff shouts of Wujtewicz adding a sense of burl to the set. He announced their intention to record with Justin Pizzoferrato, who also helmed Red over Red as well as past and upcoming efforts from Elder and many others, in the coming months, and though they’ve worked together before, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next Bedroom Rehab Corporation is a much different affair than was the first. They seem to be in the process of discovering their sound and that only makes watching them play, even the older material with its seafaring thematic — New London is on the no-less-ambitiously-named Thames River, and is a town with a port history — more enjoyable.
After stints in recent years in Hackman, Black Pyramid, The Scimitar and most recently Kind, Blackwolfgoat seems all the more like the vehicle through which guitarist Darryl Shepard can express unmitigated joy in his craft. He’s all alone up there — wasn’t at this show, but we’ll get there in a second — looping guitar pieces on top of each other and feeling out the spaces his tones create. The project has proved more progressive over time. His first album on Small Stone, 2010’s Dragonwizardsleeve (review here), was rife with darkened noise, while the subsequent 2012 outing, Dronolith (CD released by The Obelisk’s in-house label, The Maple Forum), branched out to more varied atmospherics. With the new Drone Maintenance, the release this show was celebrating and a record I was fortunate enough to see in the making, Shepard again pushes himself toward traditional songwriting ideology, but maintains a full-headed sense of purpose to each piece, each one accomplishing a goal of its own feeding into the larger whole of the album. At O’Brien’s, new works like “Axxtrokk” and “White Hole” led to Shepard bringing up his Kind bandmate Matthew Couto (also Elder) for an entirely improvised jam that ended the set in a chaotic swirl of effects noise that refused to be grounded, either by Couto‘s drumming or the crowd’s expectation. Having seen Kind recently, I had some sense of what to expect from the collaboration, but the results were still the highlight of the evening and something special that hadn’t been done before. If that jam foretells a direction Blackwolfgoat might take, it’s one of any number possible for the wide open creativity on display.
Turns out Allston hadn’t gotten any less fucked up while I was inside O’Brien’s, but I mowed down zombies with video-game accuracy and grooved out to the Masspike without further incident. A couple close calls here and there, but easily a trip worth the risk.
Posted in On Wax on September 15th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Six tracks of instrumental dronier-than-thou guitar-based exploration pressed in limited numbers (the first 100 in lime green wax), Storm Ross‘ The Green Realm definitely requires an adventurous ear. Though the project takes its name from Michigan-based guitarist Storm Ross, also of Skeleton Birds, The Green Realm nonetheless intermittently invokes a full-band feel, as on side A closer “Through the Canopy,” which backs a post-rock solo with cyclical tom runs and a steady rhythm line of synth. Oh yeah, and trombone. Because duh.
The horn is contributed by Ryan Patrick O’Reilly (he also did the stare-at-it-for-as-long-as-you-can-and-you-still-won’t-see-it-all cover art), and the percussion by Jeremy Edwards, but in terms of the synth and guitar, effects and sundry programmed elements, it’s Ross himself driving the album. There are three tracks on each side of the LP, opener “By Lantern’s Light” and side B’s “Winterskill” mirroring each other with some abrasively high-pitched noise, but a steady drone emerges and provides a uniting theme around which the surprisingly diverse washes swirl, be it the big-guitar spaciousness and clear riffing of “By Lantern’s Light” or the manipulated-feedback-int0-synth of “Frost’s Howl,” the complexity of which is by no means limited to that transition, which is seamless, or the guitar lead that emerges in the second half, which seems to make a bed out of what was already a palpable build.
It’s interesting to note the blend of natural and electronic/computerized elements, both because Ross makes them work together well across The Green Realm and because even as they delve into noise wash and seem to move farther away from organic sounds, titles like “Frost’s Howl,” “Through the Canopy,” “The River” and “Alpenglow” offer direct references to nature. “Winterskill”‘s background drone is gorgeous and brightly toned, indeed evocative of an icy landscape. It seems to strive to portray these ideas even as it shifts later with more prominent synthesizer, less guitar, as though asking the listener to hold onto a picture even as that picture is being contorted, its proportions and perspective changed. It’s a closed-eye album, and the side split helps in processing each half — though ultimately the split itself doesn’t seem to signify any jump from one modus to another; it’s all experimental, so it’s not like Storm Ross is saving the freakout for the second part — but immersive if you’ll let it be, and by the middle of side B, “Winterskill” giving way to “The River” en route to “Alpenglow” closing out, its flow is well established and uninterrupted, even as “The River” squibbles out guitar noise and jars with avant-style cymbals and tom percussion.
“The River” seems to find its direction as it progresses toward its feedback finish, and “Alpenglow” continues along a similar vein, if with a more straightforward drum progression, and though that pairing gives a sense of solidarity to the back end of The Green Realm, the record as a whole still covers a vast amount of atmospheric territory, demanding more attention than an entirely ambient release but still coming across as the result of raw explorations. Again, it won’t be for everyone, nor is it intended to be, but Ross has developed these ideas to a point of skirting the line between “pieces” and “songs” and it’s a barrier he seems content to cross at will. As his first solo outing in five years (third overall), one wonders if it didn’t come together over a longer stretch of time, as opposed to a single writing session, but either way, Ross draws a unifying thread through the two sides with a feeling of reverence for the natural, and successfully challenges the audience to widen their perception of what that might mean.
Posted in Reviews on September 15th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
It hasn’t yet been a full month since Boston’s Ice Dragon issued their Seeds from a Dying Garden (review here) album, more or less dropping it on the heads of listeners in their customary Bandcamp/YouTube fashion, and this weekend the admirably prolific foursome followed it up with Loaf of Head. The new release starts off like the aural equivalent of showing up at a fancy dinner party, pulling down your pants and slapping your balls on the coffee table. It swaggers and swings and drunkenly pushes you out of the way with opener “Yes I Am,” working quick to proffer shouted-across-the-room dudely burl while the subsequent “Walking Tall” stomps its feelings away in a stupor of slide guitar and blown-out proclamations. Maybe after Seeds from a Dying Garden was out Ice Dragon decided they had to let loose a little — though one imagines the two were written concurrently — and Loaf of Head certainly follows suit with that. It is raucous and mean, and even when the guitar gets a little psychedelic at the end of “Walking Tall,” one would hardly call it a peaceful moment.
Yet there’s more to it than the initial boasting and riffbeating as well — not that I have a problem with either, particularly in the context of Ice Dragon‘s multifaceted sound — and Loaf of Head shifts with “The Question Unanswered” into a more style more psychedelic in its garage doom roll. The lead guitar is still over-the-top grandiose, and it’s still plenty heavy, but it’s a more languid unfurling, less immediately aggressive, and more of a nod. The band, comprised of vocalist Ron Rochondo (some drums), guitarist Carter (some bass), bassist Joe (some guitar) and drummer Brad, continue down this path with “A Song by Hildegarde Hawthorne,” a slower garage rocker more peaceful than either in the opening duo, but still with movement underscoring its warm distortion, layers of lead and rhythm guitar, rounding out with “aah” sweetness in a way that almost telegraphs how much it’s setting you up how-about-a-Hawaiian-punch-style for “I’m Sorry to all the Girls,” which returns to the knuckleheaded butt rock thrust of “Yes I Am” and “Walking Tall.” And just so there’s no mistaking, indeed, “knuckleheaded” is a compliment.
They said at some point over the last couple weeks that their next one was gonna be a rocker, and they were right. Continually, Ice Dragon show an awareness of what they’re bringing to each release sonically. Even down to Loaf of Head‘s artwork, which is manic and psychedelic but rawer than the Beach Boys-style sunshine of Seeds from a Dying Garden, the album reaffirms their consciousness of the scope they’re creating. They can come across as nihilistic, particularly on songs like “Yes I Am” or “I’m Sorry to all the Girls,” which delights in its scuzzy blues, but Ice Dragon know what they’re doing here, and every song, every album they make is a result of thought-out decisions, even if the decision involved is, “Okay, we’re gonna get loaded and hit record.” If you’re wondering why they might be sorry to all the girls, it’s because they need “a savory older lady.” That song sort of disintegrates behind Rochondo‘s vocals, and the sleaze continues on “Living in the Goddamn City,” though with a more socially-conscious turn in lines like, “There’s a rich woman yellin’ on her telephone/She’s never had a job she’s got a beautiful home.”
A punk ethic and accordingly a punk riff, though slowed down in a stonerly tradition. After a bridge and tripped-out solo, they repeat the chorus in what feels like surprisingly traditional fashion, and Loaf of Head rounds out with “The Rising Moon, the Setting Sun.” I thought they might try to tie the two sides of the offering together, or maybe begin a turn to the easy psych flow of “The Question Unanswered” and “A Song by Hidegarde Hawthorne” and just cut it short, and they seem to lean more to the former idea. A highlight bassline and swinging drum march meet with airy guitar and a chorus that satisfies in the tradition of big ’70s rockers — when Ice Dragon decides to do “their ELO record,” shit is going to hit the fan — and whatever it may be doing to tie the leave-‘em-loose ends of Loaf of Head together, “The Rising Moon, the Setting Sun” is the album’s best track, crafted fluidly and engagingly around a simple, central chug but opening in that chorus part to a glorious wash that’s as accomplished as anything I’ve yet heard from Ice Dragon on one of their many outings. A signature moment, and a fitting close.
Their progression, walking down several different avenues at the same time, continues unabated. I wouldn’t hazard a guess at what they might break out next — a metallic single? a drone-folk collection of peaceful resonance? — but whatever it might be, the underlying processes by which Ice Dragon are able to concoct all this diverse material move forward. They’re a lot to keep up with, but the catalog they’ve created — now upwards of 10 albums deep, plus other singles, splits, etc., all DIY — is unlike anything else out there. And in the case of Loaf of Head, I mean way out there.
Posted in Reviews on September 11th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
After two ceremonious vinyl reissues for their 2012 Disastronaught (review here) and 2013 Corned Beef Colossus (review here) EPs, London heavy rock four-piece Steak make their proper debut on Napalm Records with Slab City, also their first full-length. In several ways, the album is a 10-track/49-minute homage to the glories of desert rock, and particularly, Slab City is indebted to Kyuss‘ 1994 genre classic Welcome to Sky Valley in both its mindset and execution, taking its name, as that record does (if unofficially) from a location in the Californian desert. Not only that, but Steak – vocalist Kippa, guitarist Reece Tee (also a principal organizer of the DesertFest in London), bassist James “Cam” Cameron and drummer Sammy Forway – traveled from London to Palm Springs in Southern CA in order to record at Thunder Underground with producer Harper Hug, who also recently engineered outings by Vista Chino and John Garcia, and co-producer Arthur Seay, guitarist of Unida and House of Broken Promises. In addition, John Garcia makes a guest vocal appearance on side A’s “Pisser,” underscoring that track’s particular Blues for the Red Sun-shine, and even unto the goof-off bonus track “Old Timer D.W.” — which, admittedly, is both less pull-you-out-of-the-album and more of an actual song than was “Lick Doo” on Sky Valley – Steak wear their influence on their sleeve. I’m not going to complain about that. With the general quality of their riffing and the compression brought to the recording — Vista Chino‘s Peace makes a decent comparison point, production-wise — by Hug and Seay, Steak embark on their first long-player by continuing the progression from their EPs that serves as the steps toward creating their own identity out of that influence. And anyway, it’s not like they’re trying to tell you they wrote “Gardenia” or something.
I’ve been curious to hear how Steak would make the leap from their shorter releases to a full album. They do so reusing only two tracks — “Liquid Gold” from the second EP, and “Machine,” from the first. Each is the second song on its respective half of Slab City, which seems to have been structured with at least thoughts of vinyl. “Liquid Gold” in particular is an early highlight, coming off opener “Coma”‘s noisy and gradually solidifying atmosphere — the first couple minutes of the album, the band seem to be coalescing aurally before the track launches — more expansive sounding than the original and with a different treatment of Kippa‘s vocals, which here are deeper in the mix and piled in effects, whether it’s echo, compression, megaphone, reverb, etc. Sometimes that can signal a lack of confidence on the part of a singer, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case here. While he’s got a gruff delivery and he’s prone to sticking to it, Kippa doesn’t strike as the kind of vocalist trying to hide behind studio trickery, and the impression across Slab City‘s first three tracks — “Coma,” “Liquid Gold” and the shorter push of the titular cut, “Slab City” — is that the band is trying to find different ways of changing things up around Tee‘s wall of fuzz and the laid back heavy grooves of Cameron (who once again serves as Steak‘s hidden weapon) and Forway, whose tight snare pop manages to ground the proceedings even at their most jammed out. And they do jam. Songs are structured, but even “Pisser” moves through its varied parts and into and out of Garcia‘s parts with a sense that any minute now Steak might just decide to ride a riff for the next eight minutes. They don’t go that far — at least not until closer “Rising,” and even that has purpose — but they make it known effectively that they could and reserve the right to at some future date. The noisy wash of “Quaaludes and Interludes” underscores the dynamic flow of Slab City‘s first half, setting up side B to keep the momentum moving forward.
It does so successfully. “Roadhead,” which follows “Quaaludes and Interludes,” begins a trio of faster cuts that continues through “Machine” and “Hanoid” as Steak hit full throttle en route to the eight-minute “Rising” and Slab City‘s grandest statement of where they are as a band. Though I doubt you’ll be hearing about it on the radio anytime soon, “Roadhead” is one of the album’s catchiest songs — a solid opener for the second half — and with the familiar roll of “Machine” backing it up, there’s a bit of back and forth play going on with the energy of the material, despite a pretty consistent tempo. Tee alternates between airy lead lines in the verse and a more heads-down chorus rollout, but the groove is palpable either way, and he saves a scorching lead for “Hanoid,” which builds up quickly over a four-and-a-half-minute course and ends with a cymbal wash and feedback to signal the shift into “Rising,” the longest piece on the record and most expansive, bringing in a feedback start, some vague speech in there either sampled or not, drum thud taking hold to transition into the verse. The song is almost at its halfway point be the time they get to the chorus, Kippa raging out his lines over waves of distortion in the guitar and bass. More feedback serves as a transition back through the next cycle, and though it’s basically a verse and a chorus repeated, Steak approach “Rising” with a feel open enough to bring some chaotic vibing to the mix, which is as fitting an end to Slab City‘s movement as one could ask. That makes “Old Timer D.W.” a little extraneous, perhaps, but the bonus track, which begins with a cockney “Come on now, work for your money! Play another song!” and shifts into reverb-drenched slide guitar shenanigans, is clearly serving a purpose beyond what it might convey about the band’s songwriting. Its half-written feel is somewhat incongruous with Slab City‘s overall purposeful nature — if Steak had just been interested in screwing around, they probably would’ve saved the travel expense and stayed in London or at least the UK to do it — but as far as sending messages goes, “we don’t take ourselves too seriously” isn’t a bad thing for a band to say on their first album.
But don’t mistake them, Steak might be up for tossing off a riff here and there, but even when they do so, they’re playing to a very specific idea, and Slab City — desert hued and desert captured — is a record by a group of players who knew precisely what they wanted to accomplish in making it. It is not haphazard. The two EPs set up a comic-book-style narrative between them, and I don’t know if Slab City continues that or not (hazards of digital promos), but in terms of their overarching progression, it proves just how ready they were to take on the long-player task, and justifies the ambitious method by which they recorded the album through high-grade riffs, memorable songs and a molten flow between its component tracks. Steak leave themselves room to grow, but don’t let that take away from the fact that Slab City is a markedly impressive debut and as true a work of desert rock as one is likely to find no matter the geography.
They kind of had to stretch to make the title work, but they got there in the end. For each respective side of the Battleground Records split tape between Arizona polisci sludgecore bashers Godhunter and Oakland atmospheric blackened doomers Secrets of the Sky, there are two songs. Godhunter present “Pursuit/Predator” and “Gh/0st:s” and Secrets of the Sky have “The Star” and “Gh/0st:s (Part II),” the latter cut for both deriving its title from an acronym of the bands’ names, the second one altered so that if written out it would appear as “Of the Sky: Secrets” and stylized with a zero where the ‘o’ in “of” would otherwise be. Again, it’s a stretch, but they make it work, and tie the two pieces together musically well. The two acts toured together earlier this summer around slots at the Doom in June festival in Las Vegas and they’ll partner again — with many others as well — for the Southwest Terror Fest as part of a booming lineup headed by Neurosis, SunnO))), Goatsnake, et al. On the earlier tour, the tape was sold in an edition of 100 copies with artwork by Nate Burns. Vinyl is due at the end of this month in cooperation between Battleground and The Compound.
What the two bands mostly have in common is that they’re heavy, and yes, I recognize that says next to nothing about them. Godhunterderive a big part of their sound from hardcore, and as the “Pursuit/running you down” call and response gang-style vocals over acoustic guitar round out “Pursuit/Predator” — which begins and ends with the Zodiac Killer, sampled — that’s all the more prevalent. To contrast, Secrets of the Sky take a Euro-style approach to blackened doom, a clearer production than one thinks of to fit the phrase “American black metal” adding a lush sensibility to their doomed progression on “The Star.” I suppose the two bands share an affinity for experimentation as well, however, since both 10-plus-minute installments of “Gh/0st:s” depart widely from the sphere of what one might expect from the band. In Godhunter‘s case, they bring in vocalist Julia DeConciniof Young Hunter and Burning Palms to top a moody, ambient tension with layers of otherworldly melody. There’s a spoken word break somewhere around the middle, and a guitar chug emerges later on, but at no point does “Gh/0st:s” explode with the kind of aggression shown in “Pursuit/Predator,” and that’s obviously the idea.
Immediately, Secrets of the Sky are on a different wavelength. Side two starts out with guitars slowly building up, and when “The Star” kicks in full brunt, the Oakland five-piece include a roaring death metal growl for good measure. A current of synth throughout provides further distinction, but even without, Secrets of the Sky have a more metallic root. Blackened vocals over a rolling doom verse give way to atmospheric guitar and spoken whispers, and it’s not until the final moments a cleaner-sung approach is revealed. By then, Secrets of the Sky have taken “The Star” up and down and around and beaten the hell out of it, a clear, full production ensuring that nothing is lost in the process. A more plotted feel presides over “Gh/0st:s (Part II)” as well, which is instrumental save for the endearingly blasphemous Exorcist sample at the end, as it too builds and recedes with crisply mixed toms, synth, acoustic guitar and plugged-in rumble. The sample is what pushes the track past 10 minutes, and I’d call it superfluous, but Secrets of the Sky and Godhunter pretty clearly had in mind that the pieces would complement each other and be of similar length, and they are.
Despite the sonic differences, there’s an apparent affinity between the two bands for each other’s work, and that comes across as they meet in the middle (it’s a very far out “middle”) on the two “Gh/0st:s” pieces. Still, each side of the tape has something different to offer underscoring the idea that, let’s say, if you’re showing up to a gig where both acts will be taking the stage, there’s really any number of angles from which your ass might be kicked.
Posted in Reviews on September 9th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
The headline for Earth‘s 10th album, Primitive and Deadly, will always be that it was the one where they brought back vocals. It’s inevitable. That was the story of the record even before anyone heard it. And not even just that there were vocals at all — Earth‘s last with them was 1996’s Pentastar: In the Style of Demons – but that they were bringing in guests to perform: Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age and The Mark Lanegan Band fame and Rabi Shabeen Qazi of psych rockers Rose Windows. This turnabout in methodology is made much more than novelty by the execution of the songs themselves, but even if one hasn’t heard them, interest is bound to be piqued. In fact, there’s much more to Primitive and Deadly (released, as ever, by Southern Lord) than the human voice. While sections of it are flat-out beautiful in their lush, tonally rich sprawl, guitarist/founder Dylan Carlson leading the way through the six tracks with his trademark slow rolling drone rock riffs as bassist Bill Herzog rumbles in time to Adrienne Davies‘ drums, it’s also Earth‘s heaviest offering in over 15 years and certainly since they made their return with 2005’s landmark Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method. That record has been the foundation point for their progression throughout the last decade, subsequent outings like 2008’s The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull, 2010’s reinterpretation of their earliest work, A Bureaucratic Desire for Extra-Capsular Extraction (review here), and the 2011/2012 improv two-parter, Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I (review here) and II (review here), and on a certain level it is for Primitive and Deadly as well, but as the title seems to hint, there’s a wiping-the-slate happening across these six extended tracks/49 minutes that leans back to something rudimentary in Earth‘s sound. That’s not to say the album lacks ambience, just that the ambience feels like it’s punching you in the face — relatively speaking.
That’s true immediately on opener “Torn by the Fox of the Crescent Moon,” which crashes into its chugging central riff with a jarring immediacy. Primitive and Deadly is clearly structured for a 2LP, with two shorter songs on sides A and C and one longer song on sides B and D, but anywhere you go and from whatever angle you might want to approach it, the sound is much bigger than one might be used to from Earth. Herzog is a deep-toned bassist and the production — the album was recorded at various points with Mathias Schneeberger, Dave Catching (who assisted) and Randall Dunn (who also mixed and contributed Moog) — brings out a rawness in their sound that their most recent output seems to have pulled away from. If these songs are Earth hitting reset, they’re not by any means forgetting the lessons they’ve learned over the last 10 years, and their sound is as evocative and atmospheric as ever, even if given a more pointed direction with the inclusion of vocals, the first of which arrive from Lanegan on the revivalist themed “There is a Serpent Coming.” His gravelly voice is perfect for Pentecostal forebodings, and there are a couple awkward syllabic turns, but there’s no denying the pairing works. Lanegan is given two songs, side A’s “There is a Serpent Coming” and side C’s “Rooks across the Gate,” which as tracks two and five lead the way into and out of the meat of the album, and Qazi is given one, side B’s 11-minute “From the Zodiacal Light,” but it’s her cut that turns out to be the highlight of both the vocalized half (cleverly spread out through the tracklisting) and of Primitive and Deadly as a whole. Her voice fits the material more smoothly, and she rides the groove of the song — as quintessential Earth as Earth get — in such a way that as the listener, being carried along by it is inevitable. That’s not to mention the resonance of Qazi‘s voice itself, somewhere between breathy and masterful. Hers is the prevailing impression of the album, and she reminds us that the only element missing from Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light – which Carlson positioned as Earth‘s homage to classic psych-folk — was the human otherworldliness.
Late in “From the Zodiacal Light,” Carlson swirls out a psychedelic lead that presages some of what’s to come with side C’s “Even Hell Has its Heroes,” a slightly more gradual start to the second LP’s opener than appeared on the first. Two guest guitarists appear on Primitive and Deadly, Brett Netson and Jodie Cox. I don’t know which of them it might be having a blues jam over the 9:43 “Even Hell Has its Heroes,” and frankly, if you told me it was both I’d probably believe you as there are a number of different tones layered in particularly as the song approaches its midsection, but it’s as close to classic heavy rock as Earth has ever come. The slow progression maintained by Davies, Herzog and Carlson might be a dirge were it not for the extra guitar — a languid march is punctuated by well-mixed bell hits — but as it stands, “Even Hell Has its Heroes” is more glorious than mournful. It is complemented on side C by Lanegan‘s second appearance, “Rooks across the Gates,” a more subdued roller on which he offers a traditional sort of ballad storytelling amid rising tides of guitar and the steady rhythm. He appears for two verses to recount the tale and is gone again, an echo disappearing into a singularly hypnotic moment in the second half with undulating waves of amp noise rumbling out the conclusion on a fade. It seems by the time they get there that there can’t possibly be much for closer “Badgers Bane” to say that Earth haven’t already expressed at one point or another, but in addition to complementing “From the Zodiacal Light” on guitar, the closer also seems to be most tying Primitive and Deadly to Earth‘s modus of this past, productive decade, unfurling its 12:28 runtime patiently as always and continuing to find room to experiment as a long fadeout past the four-minute mark leads to an ambient midsection of vague echoes grounded only by Davies‘ drum march until the song eventually makes a return, shortly after seven minutes in, and carries through past the nine-minute mark, at which point the final chord is sustained into a section of noise and straight droning that closes out. In the final minutes, Earth demonstrate that not only are they willing at this point to most directly engage with their audience — i.e. by adding vocals — but also to continue to push their material well beyond the point of accessibility. It’s ultimately the blend of both that makes “Badgers Bane” such a fitting wrap for Primitive and Deadly, since it underscores the unceasing creative impulse at the heart of what Earth has done. Their influence has spread far and wide from their Seattle roots, but Earth have never stopped progressing or pushing themselves, and even more than who’s singing on what tracks, that’s what stands out about their 10th full-length.
Posted in Reviews on September 3rd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Clearing the Path to Ascendis the point at which YOB abandons the formula they’ve been building over the course of the last five years. In its construction and in the execution of the songs themselves, it is still very much their own, but stands apart immediately from past outings, particularly the two released since the Eugene, Oregon, trio got back together after their 2005 breakup, 2009’s The Great Cessation(review here) and 2011’s Atma(review here). Clearing the Path to Ascend– also the band’s Neurot Recordings label debut — strips away a lot of what united those two records, elements like catchy openers “Burning the Altar” and “Prepare the Ground,” and a near-standard foray in guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt‘s signature triplet gallop, which is something that YOB has used to send chills up doomers’ spines since 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived. Songs like “Breathing from the Shallows,” these massive washes of abrasive, unyielding noise, seem as well to be a thing of the past. That’s not to say YOB can’t or won’t ever incorporate any of these things again, but even if they do, Clearing the Path to Ascendwill have been the record that proved that wasn’t what the band needed to be. In the meantime, what we’re left with on their seventh full-length and pivotal third since reuniting with Scheidt, drummer Travis Foster and bassist Aaron Rieseberg, is a scathingly honest, human creativity unlike anything else in doom, cosmic or otherwise. An hour-plus four-track release with no individual piece under 11 minutes, it is YOB at their most melodically progressive and an album that dares to let its emotional resonance meet and, especially in closer “Marrow,” surpass an at times barbarous tonal heft. YOB haven’t put a studio LP out in a decade that I didn’t pick as my Album of the Year, and given the sincere nature of the material on display here it seems all the more foolish to feign impartiality. I am a fan of the band, and Clearing the Path to Ascendis their most accomplished outing yet.
Opener “In Our Blood” (16:56) begins with a sample that says simply, “It’s time to wake up.” While this would seem to promise an explosion, but instead, Scheidt‘s guitar quietly introduces the undulating rhythm line that will comprise the core of the song, a roll that, when Foster and Rieseberg kick in after the first minute, sets a lumbering course pace-wise that the bulk of the record will stick to. Vocals, which in years past have typically come either in an ethereal wail or destructive growl, are clearer, cleaner and more confident than they’ve ever been — Scheidt‘s debut solo work, Stay Awake(review here), and subsequent touring could easily be read as a factor in that — but when “In Our Blood”‘s first growls arrive shortly before the five-minute mark, they’re no less vicious than they’ve ever been. Already, YOB have changed course from their last several albums, the way Clearing the Path to Ascendlurches gradually to life rather than slamming listeners with an initial immediacy only to expand from there. It comes across as dispensing with a formality — getting right to the heart of the matter in a different way that’s more immersive for the listening experience of the entirety rather than giving an initial standout and then letting the rest of the album make its statement. Another clean, rolling verse ensues and trades back to growls — it’s not a chorus, but a repeated and expanded part, anyway — before “In Our Blood” shifts into its next movement near its halfway point, a bridge leading to an ambient break, Rieseberg and Foster dropping out to leave the guitar as a bed for an expanded version of the sample that began the song, British philosopher Alan Watts asking, “What is reality? Obviously, no one can say because it isn’t words. It isn’t material, that’s just an idea. It isn’t spiritual — that’s also an idea,” before the “Time to wake up” is repeated and the song bursts back to life, Scheidt loosing a roar that’s primal but which serves more of an ambient purpose than an aggressive one. The riff that will serve as the foundation for the remaining time takes hold, a guitar solo is layered in, deep in the mix, and cycles meet a culmination after 15 minutes in as guitars continue to build and growling lines surface from the plod, the last of them sustained to the point of Scheidt‘s voice breaking as the instruments behind end with a barrage of feedback giving way directly to the punch of drums that start “Nothing to Win.”
That punch, which becomes the core of “Nothing to Win” over its 11:22 run, is not to be understated. Foster‘s tom progression is indebted, almost singularly, to Neurosis‘ “Through Silver in Blood,” but the space those fills occupy, the way they’re used in the track and the sheer stamina required to pull them off make them all the more staggering. The second of Clearing the Path to Ascend‘s four pieces is the most intense, playing off building verse tension via those drums and the guitar and bass that follow them and opening to a chorus that arrives at the title line in a manner fitting the conclusion itself — there’s nothing to win. Listening to it, I’m reminded of a conversation about ambition back in 2011 that was part of an interview with Scheidt for Atma, but without a lyric sheet I wouldn’t speculate in concrete terms what’s being won, or not, and either way, the ferocity remains striking, Scheidt moving into a semi-spoken, seething delivery for the verse and layering shouts and growls for the chorus. Foster again takes the lead after halfway through, switching from the chorus progression to an even more intense run of fills that builds for a minute or so until finally the song seems to collapse under its own frustrations, Scheidt growling out a line that turns to a kind of agonized plead before its end, Rieseberg and Foster coming back in over feedback before the guitar rejoins them on the transition into the song’s last movement, a churning riff, deceptively intricate in its timing, taking hold and carrying YOB through the finish, Scheidt reminding along the way that, indeed, there’s nothing to win, channeling the abrasiveness that once fueled “Breathing from the Shallows” or “Kosmos” from The Unreal Never Livedinto a concise declaration that leaves an impression even after the album has finished. Its message gets through, in other words, before a relatively quick fadeout rounds the song out and “Unmask the Spectre” (15:25) begins with a soft guitar line somewhat reminiscent of the opening track and “Marrow” still to come.
Given its heavy/atmospheric tradeoffs — in softer parts, Scheidt‘s guitar seems to have been recorded in some terrifyingly vast expanse, at night — set out along a linear path and the melodic instrumental complexity at which it arrives in its apex guitar solo, it seems fair to think of “Unmask the Spectre” as a lead-in for “Marrow,” but at more than 15 minutes, it’s also a substantial portion of the album, and the fact that it’s paired well with the closer shouldn’t necessarily detract from its individual appeal or the work it does in furthering the atmosphere of Clearing the Path to Ascendoverall, cutting back as it does the furious push of “Nothing to Win” and moving YOB back into a more gradual space, patient, encompassing, and resoundingly slow. A high-viscosity chug takes hold as the main riff cycles through early, having lumbered forth from the quieter start, and “Unmask the Spectre” seems to take a different path toward similar venting to “Nothing to Win,” growls and screams topping steady thud from Foster and starts and stops in the bass and guitar. By this point in the album, it’s easy to be lost in Clearing the Path to Ascend, particularly on the first couple listens, and “Unmask the Spectre” sets an especially turbulent course on which the listener is carried, moving between this thunderous stomp and the airy quieter movement, underscored by various rumbling threats, vague noise, and low-mixed shouts and effects-distorted pleas. A rising shout before five minutes in reintroduces the heavy progression, Scheidt losing his fucking mind in the process, and the momentum is carried into the song’s next stage. If there’s a spectre being unmasked, it starts to happen at about the sixth minute, at which the tense, crushing heft spreads itself out to some kind of resolution, Scheidt taking a cleaner approach vocally over his riff, Rieseberg‘s smoothed out bassline and Foster‘s more forward-directed drums. A wavering guitar solo follows a verse past halfway through, but there’s another dropout. As low and minimal as YOB get on Clearing the Path to Ascend, heaviness is never completely absent, Scheidt whispering over windy backing swirl and his own barely-there guitar before Foster thumps the lurch back into place, a crawling return to YOB at their most feedback-drenched and excruciating. It seems like that’s going to be the end — both preceding cuts have had clearly announced final movements — but there’s a switch to cleaner vocals again and the guitar teases melodic leads. It’s a sudden cut to the backing “wind,” but the subdued guitar accompanies, seeming like it’s searching for a way to lead directly into “Marrow,” and not quite making the switch seamless, but coming as close to tying the two pieces together as one could reasonably ask.
Before the album was recorded, the band posted an update to Facebook referring to “the most beautiful arrangement we’ve ever written.” No question “Marrow” (18:49) was the arrangement being described, and accurately. It is lush, and gorgeous, and where it wants to, it launches into a soothing wash of tone more cathartic than “Catharsis” and arguably YOB‘s most singularly ambitious song. Like “Unmask the Spectre,” it starts quiet, but instead of bursting out, Foster and Rieseberg join the quiet guitar line early, making for a more gradual beginning, less jarring in its shift. At 2:25, a fuller rumble emerges, but the soft guitar line is still repeated over it, a peaceful, almost resigned mood emanating from the heavy rollout. There are no growls or screams on “Marrow,” the vocals entirely clean-sung for the duration, but it is Clearing the Path to Ascend‘s most righteous moment, conveying more of an emotional turbulence than a musical one in its initial verse and the movement to the first chorus, which arrives subtly just after five minutes and surprises with Scheidt layering his voice for a kind of harmonized choir effect, resulting in his most soulful performance to date, in YOB or out of it. A quick second to catch breath — one needs it — and the verse is renewed. I’m not sure I can properly convey the sense of arrival that chorus brings with it, or how gently it comes on, led into by a first stage already departed from the verse but not yet giving away the full breadth to come. The effect is only enhanced the second time through, the chorus expanded as “Marrow” moves toward its 10th minute, building to a thudding head, the word “time” repeated and drawn melodically into a hymnal. At 10:33, with more than eight minutes to go, the bass and drums drop out to let the guitar set the foundation of the album’s finale. As with the intro, the guitar, bass and drums all explore this part so that it’s not so much a minimalist interlude as an essential piece of the whole, a background layer of organ — or guitar effects made to sound like organ — hinting of the epiphany and climax still to come. Scheidt sings low and quiet after 12 minutes in, a verse that leads to the most gripping and resonant guitar solo I’ve heard since Ancestors‘ “First Light,” very classic rock in its style, but speaking more to the central melody of “Marrow” than a YOB lead ever has to its respective song. It swirls louder in the mix and carries into a heavier movement — Rieseberg‘s bassline no less astounding than any of the guitar layers — and the vocals return after a few measures to drive “Marrow” further toward into apex, which arrives in multiple stages as a wash of immersive realization. It ends, without a second wasted, by cutting back to the quiet guitar line that introduced the song and noodling out the last note for a final echo giving way to silence.
I know I said this when I saw them play at Roadburn earlier this year, but it’s worth repeating: YOB are a once-in-a-generation band. It is rare enough to find an act willing to push itself at all creatively seven albums in, but to deliberately cast off any sense of playing to expectation in favor of such raw expression — it’s the kind of thing that one or two groups in a decade might actually manage to pull off. More importantly, in doing so, Clearing the Path to Ascendmakes YOB‘s a more sustainable evolution by breaking down the increasingly rigid boundaries of “what YOB sounds like” and commandingly taking their songwriting to somewhere new both for them and for the genre as a whole. Nearly 15 years on from their first demo, they sound like they’re just getting started. If this album is true to its title, and YOB are clearing their path by tossing away these preconceived notions of what they are and what “doom” is, and if perhaps what comes next is ascension, then so be it. They’re obviously ready.
YOB, “Marrow” from Clearing the Path to Ascend (2014)
Posted in Reviews on September 2nd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
It was the lineup for Kind that drew me off the Fabled Couch of Self-Pity™ and out to Worcester on Friday night. A drummer of unstoppable swing in Elder‘s Matt Couto and a bassist of raw metallic power in Rozamov‘s Tom Corino meeting with a tripping-out Darryl Shepard (Black Pyramid, The Scimitar, so many others) on guitar and vocalist Craig Riggs of Roadsaw topping it off? This gig at Ralph’s Rock Diner was their second show — they’ll go down to New York in October on a weekender alongside The Golden Grass – but still, I knew it was something I wanted to see. Turns out I was right.
I’ve been hearing about Kind since before they had a name, Darryl mentioning to me somewhere along the line that he and Matt had been jamming. Both were excited about the project, and I was particularly interested when the focus seemed to be on effects, psychedelics and really exploring parts and where they might go. I wasn’t sure how Riggs was going to fit in, but figured it was at least worth showing up to see the band in a formative stage. They shared the bill with Connecticut sludgers Stone Titan, Worcester native death thrashers Xatatax and Maine’s Eastern Spell who dealt out doomly punishment to close the night, and though they’re a new act, I was still somewhat surprised when I rolled into Ralph’s – slowly through that dirt parking lot, always — and found they were going on first.
As advertised, the vibe was psychedelic. Shepard‘s guitar was a jam-leading wash right from the start. Song titles were a mystery, but Riggs had jotted down a lyric sheet as a reminder for certain parts, and there was a lot of line repetition and atmospheric vocalizing from him as well, adding to the melody and liberal soloing from Darryl over the more than solid foundation created by Couto and Corino in the rhythm section, the bass adding a few choice runs of its own to the mix. They were louder than the size of their amps would have indicated, coming through the Ralph’s P.A. — that place has good sound and a guy running it whose passion is obvious — but even more important to me than the volume was the tone, which was organic and full and made lush at times through an assortment of reverb, wah and loops.
In Blackwolfgoat, Shepard explores a wide range of effects and drones and experiments, but in actual groups, he’s always been a rock player and a rock songwriter. Even Hackman, which had plenty of far-out moments, was hardly a psychedelic band. For his guitar work specifically, Kind seemed to be the marrying of those two sides — loops, echoes, space leads trailing away endlessly meeting with driving riffs and forward movement. Couto, who at any point you might see him seems like he’s just two sticks away from jamming, set a varied pace throughout their set, tempo changes ultimately playing a role in mood as well as songs came to bigger finishes. For his part, Riggs held back the impulse to sing over everything, which is a trap a less experienced vocalist undoubtedly wouldn’t know to avoid, and gave the music plenty of room to develop and move on its own. Like Shepard, he’s more known for straightforward work — Roadsaw get down to business, live and on record — but he ran his voice through a range of effects and added to the ambience rather than pulled away from it.
Their last jam particularly started out with a softer echoing guitar line that reminded of YOB, but took a different evolutionary course, almost entirely instrumental by the end so that Riggs stood on the side of the stage with a bottle of beer and watched the trio finish it off in grand style. They were clearly still getting established and getting used to each other on stage — Riggs and Shepard used to play together in Roadsaw, but that was a while ago at this point — but what I was able to see from watching them was that they have a pretty clear idea of how open they want their sound to be and that they’re headed in that direction. When they record, it will be interesting to hear how much these jams turn into songs, and more, how much they don’t.
Three summers ago, I saw Stone Titan in Wallingford, Connecticut, opening a varied five-band a lineup dubbed Fuzz Fest (review here), and though they were young, they left an impression with their raw take on sludge groove. At Ralph’s, they showed that the time since last I saw them has been put to use defining a more individual sound. There was still some Eyehategod in there, and they had that whole we-play-sludge-so-we-don’t-give-a-fuck-about-anything attitude down pat, but for the most part, their take was meaner, tighter and more cohesive than it had been. Three more years of playing will do that — at least you’d hope so — but I know they’ve had some road time as well over that time and it showed. I’m not sure they’re done growing, but I was impressed with the progression all the same.
Between each band, I went outside to my car. The Patient Mrs. was away for most of last week on one of her I’m-brilliant-so-I-do-awesome-things field trips, and I had brought the little dog Dio with me to the show, knowing she’d rather stay in the car for a couple hours with me checking in than be home alone. Worcester’s own Xatatax were on next, with SET guitarist/vocalist Mountain Jeff on drums, and I knew I wanted to see that, having run into a couple of their songs once at O’Brien’s in Allston. When the went on, they were aggressive and probably way more death metal than I was looking for, but as crisp and sharp as one would hope, with lots of Slayer in the guitars and some slow/fast tradeoffs that deepened the groove.
I wound up staying through Xatatax‘s whole set, but cut out during the five-piece Eastern Spell, who were lethal in a metallic sense but still more geared toward doom than Xatatax. They had multiple split 7″ with Maine countrymen Sylvia for sale — or one with multiple covers, maybe — and made a point of bludgeoning with riffs and metal-born aggro style. Mosh doom, I was calling it by the time I started to think about making my way out of Ralph’s. Like Xatatax, they were viciously tight, I just felt like it was time to go. The room still had plenty of heads left in it after I was left.
A bit of an investigative purpose — I wasn’t going so much to rock out as I was to see what Kind actually sounded like — but a solid evening all the same, and I was relieved to find the couch still waiting for us when the little dog and I returned.
Posted in On Wax on August 29th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Add up all the various limited editions — 50 on purple vinyl, 50 green, 100 purple/gold marble, 120 black, 30 gold/black marble — and Swedish psych traditionalists Dean Allen Foyd‘s new single on H42 Records is still pretty limited with just 350 copies pressed. Some versions are exclusive to different mailorders, and the Australian edition (the gold/black marble) has tweaked cover art, but at the heart of Sunshine Song b/w Devil’s Path are the two songs themselves, and from whatever color platter they might emanate, they find the Stockholm four-piece proffering a charming blend of garage-pop-rock boogie and heavy psychedelic flourish. Comprised here of guitarist/vocalist Francis Rencoret, bassist Fredrik Cronsten, drummer/vocalist Wille Alin and organist/vocalist Erik “Errka” Petersson, as well as guest spots on guitar and a string quartet, Dean Allen Foyd seem most geared to the beginning moments of the psychedelic era — the heavy that was pre-heavy; more Beefheart than Leaf Hound — and it’s an aesthetic they convey naturally, having honed their craft across two full-lengths to date, 2012’s The Sounds Can be So Cruel and 2013’s Road to Atlas, both on Crusher Records.
“Sunshine Song” is a fittingly classic A-side, both in its construction and its sound. It moves and grooves over a solid rhythmic foundation bolstered by added percussion and tosses out hooks in its verse and chorus given all the more flair via tambourine and the freakout waiting to surface. Dean Allen Foyd never go full-force into the jam, but neither would I call them restrained on “Sunshine Song.” They keep a 1967/1968-style pop sensibility to the first half of the single, if one meatier in its tonality, but still come across less stylistically retro than, say, Germany’s Vibravoid, for whom color-tinted glasses and striped pants seem to be a religion. Nothing against that, and it’s worth noting that Dean Allen Foyd and H42 released Sunshine Songto coincide with the anniversary of Syd Barrett‘s death, but there’s still something inescapably modern about their approach, and all the more on “Devil’s Path,” which even as it seems to be nodding at The Doobie Brothers‘ “Long Train Running” does so with guitar tone thicker than one finds from most “vintage”-minded acts, classic though the handclap timekeeping and direction of the song itself might be, leads swelling and receding in the background of the chorus before taking the fore about halfway through underscored by a bassline worthy of being higher in the mix than it is.
Both sides of Sunshine Songseem to be working in a building structure, but the apex of “Devil’s Path” comes across clearer than “Sunshine Song” itself, though a fadeout and the constraint of the format invariably cut short what was a continuing progression. I’d be interested to hear the longer version of the track if there is one, but even as it is here, “Devil’s Path” satisfies both as a complement to “Sunshine Song” and on its own merits. Totaling about nine minutes, Sunshine Songis an unpretentious jaunt into the roots of psychedelic rock that keeps just an edge of modern heaviness to remind listeners to what age it actually belongs. With its foldout artwork sleeve and quick runthrough, if it’s to be your first experience with the band, it should prove an engaging one that speaks to spacious places without getting lost in them.
Posted in Reviews on August 27th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
I parked behind what used to be Boston’s legendary punk venue The Rat and made my way over a bridge across the Masspike, which cuts right through the city, and down a street behind Fenway Park to the House of Blues. It was Sunday night. The evening prior, I’d been in Pennsylvania watching All Them Witches, King Buffalo and King Dead (review here) win hearts and minds at The Living Room in Stroudsburg. I was beat from the drive, but this was Sleep, and some things you just don’t miss when you’re lucky enough to get the chance to see them.
House of Blues. Big. Corporate, but clearly run by professionals. Mezzanine tickets cost more, I think. The privilege of standing further away at a premium. Uh huh. I walked in and over to the crowded merch area — even Sleep‘s t-shirts seemed to cause a mosh pit to break out — and found Arik Roper selling vinyl, pillowcases, posters, etc. He seemed to be busy all night, and for good reason. Sleep‘s new single, “The Clarity” (review here), had just gotten a 12″ release, and legitimately it was sweet looking. Then, poof, it was gone.
Run down though I was — and, if I’m honest, still am — I’d have had a hard time pretending not to be excited for this show. Anytime Sleep comes around, it’s a special occasion, something to be celebrated, and the support slot being filled by a one-off Earthless Meets Heavy Blanket jam only added to the appeal, the influential San Diego trio — it seems fair to think of them at this point as a nexus for the current crop of heavy psych bands coming out of that area — teaming up with J. Mascis (Heavy Blanket, Witch, Dinosaur Jr.) for what if I’m not mistaken was the first time since their performance at Roadburn 2012 (Sleep also played that year), a staggering landmark of jammed heavy recently issued as the Earthless Meets Heavy Blanket, In a Dutch Hazevinyl and CD (review here). As far as nights go, I knew this was going to be a good one.
There was no grand introduction as Earthless – guitarist Isaiah Mitchell (also Golden Void), bassist Mike Egington and drummer Mario Rubalcaba – took the stage, no “Guess who this is!” posturing. They rolled in, turned on their amps, Rubalcaba took his seat behind the drums, in front of the riser that Sleep‘s Jason Roeder would soon occupy, and slammed into 45 minutes of straight jamming. The interplay between Mitchell and Mascis, who shared a side of the stage, was unbelievable, and as Egington and Rubalcaba locked a foundation down early, the guitarists set about tripping out solos and effects washes and riffs that would carry through for the entirety of the cosmic exploration. Whatever you might’ve called the piece — “In a Fenway Haze?” — it moved up and down and sideways, was molten in its changes and overwhelming in its sprawl.
The thing to do was to lose yourself in it. That’s harder in a live space — at least sober — than when listening to a record, but if anyone was ever going to take you on a ride, it was these cats. And they did. Even the big rock finish of the set was about five minutes long, everything huge, swirling and terrifying in both cohesion and scale. I dug it, I dug it, I dug it, and I’m willing to bet six new bands formed in the crowd while Earthless Meets Heavy Blanket played. All the better. Sleep would be on a different rip when they came out, but were no less glorious, the kings of stoner riffing riding high both on the new single and on the promise of an inaugural Australian tour to come, and a couple more shows on this run as well. Bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (also Om), guitarist Matt Pike (also High on Fire) and Roeder (also Neurosis) came out after a short break, and it was plain from the start of opener “Sonic Titan” that everyone was having a really good time on stage.
I think back to the first time I saw Sleep, four years ago in Brooklyn. They killed. God damn were they loud. But watching them play, you could see the differences in how they handled themselves on stage. Cisneros came across like he might’ve with Om, a very contemplative, subdued presence. Pike, in contrast, was battle-axe brazen, everything one might expect from watching a High on Fire gig. As the two founding members of the band with Roeder between them, the split in personality was evident, right there to be seen. At House of Blues, it was just the opposite. Not only in how Cisneros and Pike interacted, but in their individual presences and in how solid the three-piece was with Roeder, Sleep weren’t so much a reunion act whose members went on to find success in other bands. That disparity was nonexistent. They were a vital trio, reveling in their classic material — Sleep’s Holy Mountainfeatured heavily with “From Beyond” and “Holy Mountain” early and “Aquarian” and “Dragonaut” after delving into “Dopesmoker” — but more than ever that I’ve seen them, very obviously ready to move forward as well.
Perhaps that was most evident in Cisneros‘ performance. He toyed with the rhythm of his vocal delivery for “Dopesmoker” and elsewhere — the clarion lines “Drop out of life with bong in hand/Follow the smoke toward the riff-filled land” marked by a sustained, almost growling “drop” — and when the stoner caravan of “From Beyond” arrived, it did so with delighted emphasis on “stoner.” Predictably, at some point late in the set, someone tossed a joint on stage, and Pike, who had an electric cigarette on standby, gave it over to Cisneros, who lit up and earned a round of applause for it. He was far from the only one in the room.
“Dragonaut” got the biggest response of the night, which one would expect, but for me, seeing them play “The Clarity” complete with the sampled, compressed intro of its central riff, was a particular highlight, and the appeal of watching Sleep perform their first new recorded material in over a decade’s time wasn’t lost on the crowd either. They closed out with a wash of noise and riffs in “Antarcticans Thawed” and “Cultivator,” as if to further emphasize the vitality and relevance of their project and its ongoing nature. By then, House of Blues was a place of worship, and anywhere Sleep wanted to go, the place was ready to follow. Their utter command of their sound, the joy and chemistry they conveyed in delivering it, and the sheer volume with which they did were remarkable. Even before they were done I found myself asking what could’ve been better, any sense of impartiality I might posture having been reduced to a pummeled mush of fanboy glee.
Feedback carried over after they were done, but those who hadn’t left still showed appreciation after the amps were turned off — pretty sure that was Stoneburner‘s Damon Kelly I saw tech’ing, and if so, I wonder if he was in charge of the endearingly fake setlist at the front of the stage with some choice Montrose song titles like “Rock the Nation” and “Clown Woman” — and there was a short cry for one more song before the house lights came up. Soon enough, it was time to mill out and back across that highway-spanning bridge to the car, the bounce of “Dragonaut” still holding sway on my consciousness, though, admittedly, that seems to be a permanent condition.