Fall Tour Pt. 14: Pentagram, Radio Moscow, Bang and Kings Destroy in Pittsburgh, PA

Posted in Reviews on October 29th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

mr smalls

…Or at least near Pittsburgh, if not actually “in” it. Mr. Smalls Theatre, a righteously converted church with cavernous ceilings, incense smell baked into the walls and, thankfully, a spacious balcony, seems to be across the river from downtown, so I’m not sure what the exact designation is. Millvale, maybe? Anyway, it’s damn close to Pittsburgh, and that’ll have to do.

When I first got inside, I went and talked to the sound guy for a minute, just to say hi, cool room, etc. He asked which band I was with, and I said I was touring with Kings Destroy but I didn’t play, and he goes, “Just a hanger on?” That felt good. Deeply good. I think I said something like, “Yeah, basically,” and asked him for the wifi password. For what it’s worth, the sound all night was excellent. As I said last post, I was feeling kings destroy pbpretty under the weather for this one, so I stayed on that balcony for the duration. The show was the four touring bands — Kings DestroyBangRadio Moscow and Pentagram, in that order — and the place got fairly packed out by the time Radio Moscow went on, but even for Kings Destroy with an early 7:30PM start, there were people there. They were thanked for showing up early.

Granted, I was in a haze anyway — I kept nodding off before the bands went on, sitting in my chair on the balcony — but it was a very different experience watching the show from such a distance. More like a clip on YouTube or something. The energy was still there, but the physical sense of being away from it made it another kind of appeal. Add to that the pressure in my sinuses, which with the earplugs in made the whole thing kind of otherworldly as Kings Destroy started up with “Old Yeller” and got the show rolling in their lurching kind of way. “The Toe” followed, and while people were still coming in, I could see up front they were getting into it. A bird’s eye view of what I’ve been able to sense happening all along. I felt a little bit bang pblike I was doing an anthropological study.

The tour is in go-mode, so it wasn’t a surprise that Kings Destroy or anyone who played after them owned the stage as well as they did. It didn’t really matter how many people were there at any point, they were doing their show and did it well with nearly a week of every-night plowing through behind them. “Smokey Robinson” from the new album was one of three newer songs to be aired, with “Mr. O” given a much appreciated shout to yours truly and “Embers” following. Three really killer songs that represent the new record well in being some of their best work to date. “Blood of Recompense” closed and Bang came out after a long changeover and gave their set a workout. They’ve played the same songs every night, but they’re more locked in now than they were when the tour started in Chicago, Frank FerraraFrankie Gilcken and Jake Leger continuously smoothing out their classic sound, Leger blending seamlessly radio moscow pbwith the two original members in giving a fresh swing to the warm grooves, paced well and easy-rolling.

Radio Moscow absolutely scorched. Opening with “So Alone,” they tore into “Broke Down” and the dangerously catchy “Death of a Queen” from this year’s Magical Dirt LP, the always-welcome “Just Don’t Know” and “Open Your Eyes” — I think — before having their set cut short. That was a bummer and the crowd expressed their discontent in a round of boos that turned to cheers in support for the band. Nothing was broken, nothing out of order — guitarist/vocalist Parker Griggs, bassist Anthony Meier and drummer Paul Marrone had been tearing ass through their frenetic heavy psych jams of which, even from as far away as I was, I could feel the vibrancy. Apparently the show was just running late and they were the ones who took the hit. Still, even the chance to see them play any songs at all was a win for Mr. Smalls, which showed appreciation in a fervent round of applause.

I was fading fast. I’d been nodding off during Bang – that’s not a slight pentagram pbon their performance, just noting that I was having a hard time keeping my head up. I knew I wanted to stick around for at least the start of Pentagram, and I did do that, watching “Death Row” and “All Your Sins” and the The Animals cover, “Don’t Let Me be Misunderstood” that has become a nightly inclusion before I had to tap out. The good news was that Mr. Smalls was loud enough that even laying down in the back of the van, I could still clearly hear the band playing, but yeah, my evening was done a little early.

Load-out happened at its usual leisurely pace and I drove to where we were staying, about 25 minutes out of Pittsburgh in a place called New Stanton. Got in around one and I know I was out before two, though much of the night was spent coughing and trying to keep my head in a position to allow the mucus to drain. Would I be out of line if I said “ugh?” Not my best night, but at least the show was good.

No extra pics this time, but I’ll hope to pick back up in Baltimore as the tour moves on for the next gig.

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Fall Tour Pt. 12: Pentagram, Radio Moscow, Bang and Kings Destroy in Cleveland, OH, 10.27.14

Posted in Reviews on October 28th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

kings destroy (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Scholars maintain that if you’re driving through Ohio for two hours, it’ll feel like at least four. I’ve yet to make my way through the Buckeye State that its flat expanse, constant construction and ever-visible police presence haven’t gotten inside my head. When we got to Cleveland and the band had their gear unloaded — because it was House of Blues and apparently that’s how it goes — I made my way down the block to a coffee shop and had a red eye, coffee with espresso shots, and sat for a bit. Made it back in time for Kings Destroy‘s soundcheck (I’m pretty sure that’s the order it happened in, to be honest there’s a bit of fog on the whole night; sober, sober fog) and got to watch that before doors opened.

It was the smaller room at House of Blues, or one of them anyway, but the sound was big and full and the P.A. blared bands that all sounded one way or another like Soundgarden and later Saint Vitus, and with just the four acts on the bill, the show got off to a reasonable start around 8:30 or so. By then people had shown up, but it wasn’t a sell out so there was room even at the most crowded point, probably halfway through Pentagram or thereabouts. Bands were pretty relaxed after the off-day from the tour, so it was a cool vibe both back and on stage.

Kings Destroy

Kings Destroy (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I think the chance to let loose in Lansing did Kings Destroy some good. They were back to the tour setlist, a shorter time on stage, but they got right into it and had solid energy the whole way through. I’ve been fortunate enough to see them be this locked in before, so it’s not necessarily a surprise, but it’s been enjoyable to watch either way, and with the House of Blues being all ages or at least 18-and-up, whatever it was, there were some actual kids there up front who seemed to get into it. By the time they were through “The Whittler,” which was second after the standard opener “Old Yeller,” the room was on their side, and though it was early, there was a healthy amount of noise after each song. “Smokey Robinson,” from the new album, was again a highlight, and I find that much like “Embers” on the last run, that’s the song I tend to gravitate toward every night. I pulled my earplugs part-way out to let a little more volume in, and no regrets. The House of Blues P.A. seemed to be keyed in for maximum low end the whole night, but that suited Kings Destroy well, their leads cutting through the rumble smoothly in the verses of “Blood of Recompense,” a winning finish even with its quiet ending.

Bang

Bang (Photo by JJ Koczan)

“Our Home,” “Idealist, Realist,” “Questions” — Bang have no shortage of liquified grooves. Of the four acts on the tour, they seem most to be enjoying the time on stage, bassist/vocalist Frank Ferrara joking with the crowd about screwing up recordings and so on. Drummer Jake Leger was in his element behind the kit as Ferrara and guitarist Frank Gilcken came to the middle of the stage as they have at all these shows to revel in the fluidity of the material. Once again, the audience knew them. I stood next to the dude from Outlaw Recordings, who had done a vinyl issue of Bang‘s self-titled debut — also put out Victor Griffin‘s Late for an Early Grave 2004 solo offering — and he wasn’t even close to being the only one singing along, up to the point of some dude behind me filling in the line “Yet she never locked her bedroom door” after the stop in “Last Will and Testament.” If Bang have proven to be anything over the course of these shows, it’s been a good time, and House of Blues was no less fun than they’ve been all along, their smooth style and positive vibes winning favor among both those new to them and the already converted.

Radio Moscow

Radio Moscow (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It cost them another kick-drum pedal, or it re-cost them the same one, but Radio Moscow utterly slayed the House of Blues. I don’t know if the sound was just right to pick up the richness of Anthony Meier‘s bass tone or what, the balance of the band is so much geared toward Parker Griggs‘ guitar work and ever-ready shred, but they were full and heavy and as they sprinted through the hairpin turns of “Mistreated Queen,” it was all I could do to keep from getting dizzy. Drummer Paul Marrone put on his usual clinic, and even when the pedal broke, there was no snapping the momentum they had working in their favor. “250 Miles” from 2009’s Brain Cycles has become a personal favorite, the trio lulling the audience into a false sense of security with the soft bluesy beginning only to bust out the rager jam of “Brain Cycles” itself immediately thereafter. They just kill it, every night. It’s what they do. And even in by-now-familiar go-tos like “Death of a Queen,” “Just Don’t Know” and “Broke Down,” they maintain a sense of volatility, of being just about to fly off the rails, without ever actually losing control. They’re easily one of the best live acts I’ve seen this year, and I’ve seen them more than 10 times now thus year, and have yet to come out of one of their sets not feeling like I just had my ass handed to me.

Pentagram

Pentagram (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Every venue, every show, there’s the same voice yelling “Bobby!” in the exact same way. And I’ve looked around, it’s not someone traveling with the bands. Pentagram‘s Bobby Liebling is simply just that charismatic, that attention-drawing, that everywhere they play, people go off at the mere thought of seeing him on stage.Cleveland was no different, and Liebling was in good spirits, smiling at the crowd and cracking with bassist Greg Turley, doing his usual stage moves with/on Victor Griffin and nailing the vocals in “Frustration,” “Forever My Queen” and all the rest. The Animals cover has become a standard inclusion, and if they played “Lay down and Die,” I missed it, but the set was right on anyway, and even with a smaller crowd than some of these shows have had, LieblingGriffinTurley and drummer Sean Saley were clearly fired up as they made their way to and through the encore of “Be Forewarned” and “When the Screams Come,” the “Bobby!” shouts and “Pen-ta-gram” chants continuing even long after the singer had left the stage. Their resurgence along with that of Saint Vitus over the last half-decade only continues to prove the timelessness of doom  and of their contributions to it. Even after all the lineup changes they’ve been through and the years of turbulence, there’s only one Pentagram.

Was accosted by three homeless people outside the House of Blues. One said he had to catch a bus. One just asked for change. One cut to the chase and straight up asked for beer and/or weed. Despite these downtrodden apparitions, who indeed got all my change, load-out was done by the time I got around to asking if load-out was done, and we headed out to the motel with me at the wheel, as seems to have become the standard procedure. Got turned around owing to some highway construction, but sorted it eventually and got to the Red Roof Inn somewhere around 2AM, already looking forward to waking up this morning and being able to shower before heading to Pittsburgh.

More pics after the jump.

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Fall Tour Pt. 10: Kings Destroy, Beast in the Field, Cruthu and Hordes, Lansing, MI, 10.26.14

Posted in Reviews on October 27th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

the avenue cafe

Michigan’s capital city has always been good to me. I’ve been to Lansing five or six times at this point and I’ve continually found it a cool place utterly void of investment. That is to say, if anyone gave a shit or had money to spend, Lansing would be like Stroudsberg, PA, or Portland, Maine, in the ranks of those post-industrial towns that the creative types have moved to and opened brewpubs. The Avenue Cafe on Michigan Ave., which is being positioned as an alternative to the long-running Mac’s Bar down the road, has a vibe that speaks to the potential of Lansing overall. It has space, people who obviously care deeply about it and a prevailing sense of having gone it alone, no doubt reflecting the reality of the situation.

It was a night off from Kings Destroy‘s tour with Pentagram, Radio Moscow and Bang, and they joined with three Michigan locals in Cruthu, Hordes and Beast in the Field for one of the shows I’ve been most anticipating om this tour and one that, in the interest of full disclosure, I had a hand in putting together at least so far as making the intro between Kings Destroy and Cruthu guitarist and all-around excellent guy “Postman Dan” McCormick, and asking Dan if there was any shot at getting Beast in the Field out for it. I mark it an even bigger win that there was that chance now that I’ve seen them play.

Hordes

Horses! Oh no, wait. Hordes. (Photo by JJ Koczan)

They were completely different than I expected. What I knew of Lansing’s own Hordes came courtesy of their split tape with Bert, and it was drawn out and droney and more noise than song. Seems at some point Hordes got a drummer and that’s had some grounding effect on what they do, which is a blend of industrial and noise rock impulses. There was a lot of Godflesh in there, right down to how guitarist A. Hudson stands and shouts into the microphone, but some rawer crunch, and the live drummer made a huge difference alongside bassist Jon Howard‘s rumble. I was a little thrown off, to the point of wondering until I saw that tape at their merch table if I was thinking of the same band, but indeed, Hordes were Hordes. Once my mind made that jump — and I’m pleased to note it happened much more efficient than the explanation of it — their churning and chugging came together well throughout their set and made me eager to hear what they bring to their next recording.

Cruthu

Cruthu (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I always get nervous writing about friends’ bands — I’ve known Postman Dan for a decade at this point — but with Cruthu, the issue was avoided in the best way possible in that they were actually good. As I understand it, this was their second show, and you could tell they were just getting going on stage, still feeling things out in terms of relating to each other in the material, but it was still easy to get a sense of where they were headed, the vocals of Teri Brown and McCormick‘s clean guitar tone nestled right into the heavy ’70s style, Brown belting out lyrics with a powerful push. She backed off the mic at times, and it just emphasized how little she actually needed it in the first place for how well you could still hear her standing out front. Bassist Scott Lehman added copious wah to his bass and joined in on vocals for the closer, and drummer Matt Fry kept the laid back grooves moving straight through. There were a couple awkward transitions and things to tighten up, but that’s why you play out in the first place. Cruthu had already surpassed their Creation demo (review here), recorded earlier this year, in pulling off the right mix of vibe, groove and tonal presence.

Kings Destroy

Kings Destroy (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Allowed a somewhat longer set as the evening’s headliner and the only touring band of the four playing, Kings Destroy took advantage and stretched out to include some stuff not yet aired. “A Time of Hunting,” the title-track from 2013’s sophomore full-length, was played for the first time ever — and supposedly the last according to both vocalist Steve Murphy and guitarist Chris Skowronski, though I have my doubts — and they opened with “XXY” from the first album and threw in “Dusty Mummy” too, clearly relishing the chance to change it up on the small Avenue Cafe stage. Actually, I’m pretty sure the only reason Murphy was on stage at all was because the mic cable wasn’t long enough to let him leave it. He found plenty to do anyway, wrapping his scarf around his face for “Turul,” which ended the set paired well with “Embers” before it, and making shadow impressions on the wall. “Smokey Robinson” was the highlight, and is a song for which I’ve got only growing affection, but the whole set was a thrill, and it was fun to watch SkowronskiMurphy, guitarist Carl Porcaro, bassist Aaron Bumpus and drummer Rob Sefcik make the most of the gig. There were people there — hell, even Radio Moscow showed up — but I wouldn’t call the place crowded. If it was a set Kings Destroy were playing for their own enjoyment (and at one point Murphy did say something about masturbation), then at least that enjoyment was infectious.

Beast in the Field

Beast in the Field (Photo by JJ Koczan)

One of the biggest problems with internet criticism is that there’s so much hyperbole out there and it comes out so readily that when you actually happen into something special like Beast in the Field – the duo of guitarist Jordan Pries and drummer Jamie Jahr – there almost isn’t a language to convey how righteous what you’re seeing is. One almost wants to be like, “Okay, but really guys, this is where it’s at.” Pries and Jahr played in front of what I hear tell is half their usual amount of amps, but it still made for a formidable wall, and rendered earplugs all but useless against the tonal onslaught. Doing headbanger calisthenics during the deceptively catchy “Wakan Tanka” from last year’s The Sacred above, the Sacred Below (review here), Pries looked like he was trying to shake his skull off, and Jahr made each tom thud count in following along with the wrecking ball of riffs slamming through the cabinets behind him. I had been very, very much looking forward to seeing them play, and Beast in the Field wound up surpassing my expectation. Like staring at a single-color canvas painted with volume. Superlatively heavy. I’ve bought one record this whole tour so far and it’s their new live album/comic book, The Astral Path to Satan’s Throne: Live at WIDR. I’m itching to check it out but need my ears to stop ringing first.

The party, and by then it was one, moved to Postman Dan‘s, less than a mile away, with most of his band, Kings DestroyRadio MoscowTravis from Hydro-Phonic and so on. I stayed upstairs for the most part and wound up sleeping in the van for a bit before I got too cold — Michigan at the end of October, might want to bring a blanket next time, buddy — and had to come back inside. I guess I’ll probably have more on that later on.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Fall Tour Pt. 8: Pentagram, Radio Moscow, Bang and Kings Destroy, Grand Rapids, MI, 10.25.14

Posted in Reviews on October 26th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

pyramid scheme

Oh, Grand Rapids. You got wasted. The Pyramid Scheme is an excellent space, and they know it. An orange and blue squiggle design on the floor, cool ’50s-style retro lights, a sweet bar, great stage, great sound, great lights. And that’s just in back. Out front there’s another full bar with tables, booths and a collection of pinball machines that was enviable to say the least. Apparently they host a Grand Rapids Pinball League, or at least they sell a shirt that advertises such. I immediately gravitated toward the Star Trek: The Next Generation machine and sapped the supply of quarters I’ve built up over the last couple days in change from buying the gas station coffee that has more or less been what’s kept me alive thus far into the trip.

I’ve never been much good at pinball — or fun at all, really — but I dug it anyway and then ran over to the hipster coffee joint across the way and had a real cup of coffee and some kind of weirdo pistachio/hazelnut roll that tasted like neither. Soon enough Kings Destroy had their soundcheck and the show was ready to start. I got up front shortly after doors and was fortunate enough to run into some excellent people I know from out this way, Postman Dan who’ll be playing with Cruthu tonight in Lansing, Steve Rarick from Emetic RecordsTravis Witherell from Hydro-Phonic Records, also met Jeremy who runs the Pyramid Scheme and was super cool, and later on, one of the dudes from Blue Snaggletooth, who are another killer Michigan-based act with a new album on the way.

For the first time on the tour so far, the entire bill was just the touring acts, no locals opening or otherwise. Kings Destroy got things rolling a little after 8PM:

Kings Destroy

Kings Destroy (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Best show of the tour so far, hands down. I suppose that’s the way it’s supposed to go, so maybe that’s not saying much, but it’s true either way. They’ve been pretty purposeful about changing up the set at least just a little each night, and for the Pyramid Scheme, they broke out “Embers” for the first time and it occurred to me how much I’ve missed hearing that song. It fit well between “Mr. O,” and “Smokey Robinson,” the new cuts once again coming out of a pair from the 2010 debut, And the Rest Will Surely Perish, this time “Old Yeller” into “The Whittler,” which was a groove that led easily into the start of “Mr. O,” drummer Rob Sefcik rolling out a quick fill picked up by the rest of the band — guitarists Carl Porcaro and Christopher Skowronski, bassist Aaron Bumpus, vocalist Steve Murphy (I’ll be honest: it doesn’t really seem necessary to introduce these guys at this point, but I’ll do it anyway just in case) — and then launched immediately into the first verse with the line, “I am the straw that stirs the drink,” a Reggie Jackson quote that’s been running around my head since this tour started. Murphy once again came off stage for the end of closer “Blood of Recompense,” this time walking deep into the room and, at one point, almost clotheslining a group of people wrapped in his mic cable. They got out of the way and I’m glad to report no injuries sustained, save perhaps for tinnitus.

Bang

Bang (Photo by JJ Koczan)

What a pleasure it’s been to watch these guys on stage. Even for just the three nights of the tour so far, and even playing the same set for each of them, the Philly trio’s raw enjoyment of their comeback tour has been projected clearly from the stage. Before they started, bassist vocalist Frank Ferrara introduced the band, naming himself as “some guido from Philadelphia” or something close to that, a smile on his face the whole time. He and guitarist Frank Gilcken (whose name I’ve apparently been spelling wrong for the last three days; apologies) and drummer Jake Leger have only gotten tighter over the course of these shows, and in Grand Rapids, they seemed relaxed as they went about their business, enjoying themselves and the crowd, which was readily familiar with their work, enough for a couple sing-alongs. “Our Home,” “Last Will and Testament,” “The Queen,” “Redman” and “Questions” from their 1971 self-titled debut were greeted particularly well, but people were no less into the opening title-track from 2004’s The Maze, the grooves smooth, the tones rich, the drums swinging and the vocals spot on the whole way. They thanked the crowd copiously and the other bands, and ended the set locked in and in full command of their stage presence, sound and presentation. It’s been genuinely enjoyable to watch them click as they have thus far.

Radio Moscow

Radio Moscow (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Rough night for Radio Moscow. When they had everything working, they killed it. Opening with “Death of a Queen,” they changed up the set a little bit, including “Rancho Tehama Airport” from this year’s Magical Dirt LP (review here) and “Don’t Need Nobody” from 2011’s The Great Escape of Leslie Magnafuzz, and I don’t want to say it happened just as they were hitting their stride — because, truth be told, they hit their stride the second they start playing — but a little while into the proceedings, drummer Paul Marrone broke what was apparently a brand new head on his kick drum and had to leave stage to get a replacement. He and bassist Anthony Meier and guitarist/vocalist Parker Griggs set about fixing it, and then relaunched and were off and running when Griggs broke a string on his guitar and had to replace that on the quick. Done. Then Marrone‘s drum broke again and he wound up using Rob Sefcik from Kings Destroy‘s instead — I guess because you can really only travel with so many drum-heads before all of a sudden you’re carrying a music store and how many backups will you really need on a given night? They were fine going into “Rancho Tehama Airport,” which was announced as their last song but wound up being followed by “Gypsy Fast Woman” and “Open Your Eyes,” during which Marrone‘s snare gave way and Griggs busted yet another string. They were close to the finish line anyway, so they just sort of stopped playing, thanked the crowd and cut their losses. I still can’t really say they didn’t deliver, and the audience — by then mightily sloshed — was plenty into it despite whatever interruptions to their boogie-freight-train momentum arose on their way.

Pentagram

Pentagram (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I’ve yet to see any footage from this tour of Pentagram‘s new song, “Lay Down and Die,” but when some shows up, I’ll be interested to give it a deeper listen. Like some of the stuff on 2011’s Last Rites (review here), it seems like vocalist Bobby Liebling is really pushing himself vocally, and as much of the image of the band is wrapped up in his persona, I far prefer the idea of him as an artist who, even as he plays out a catalog of some of doom’s most classic material — “Sign of the Wolf (Pentagram),” “Forever My Queen,” “Review Your Choices,” “Be Forewarned,” “When the Screams Come,” etc. — still has an interest in moving forward creatively and in terms of his technique. Maybe that’s reading more into it than I should, but with Victor Griffin on guitar and sharing the vocal duties, drummer Sean Saley and bassist Greg TurleyPentagram are an absolute force on stage. With Liebling up front, they were going to want nothing for stage presence one way or another, but in terms of tone and volume, they came into this tour ready to give a professional-level show and that’s what they’ve done each night. Bobby had a cache of young ladies toward the front of the room hanging on his every word and/or obscene gesture, and Pentagram rocked their way through their time smoothly, taking a couple minutes to warm up through the Animals cover “Don’t Let Me be Misunderstood” and “Frustration” from 1994’s Be Forewarned, but living up to the title “Relentless” by the time they got there and giving the Grand Rapids crowd something to (vaguely) remember the next morning.

Was pretty beat by the time Pentagram went on, but I still had energy enough to sink the last of my quarters into some more pinball as the night wound down after loadout. I don’t know what my high score was, but it was not impressive. The KD guys and I loaded into the van and split out to crash in a town called Gowen at a sort of Airbnb house on the shore of Lake Michigan, chilly and beautiful in kind. More to come on that.

In the meantime, some more pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Fall Tour Pt. 6: Kings Destroy, Bang and Vulgaari, Minneapolis, MN, 10.24.14

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

Kings Destroy (Photo by JJ Koczan)

As advertised, Mill City Nights was a legit room. The exposed brick walls were lined with soundproofing, but you could still hear the bands from outside. Doors were at 7PM or somewhere thereabouts, people soon started milling in slowly. It turned out to be a five-band night, with locals Vulgaari joining the bill, effectively splitting the touring lineup in half, with Kings Destroy opening, then Bang, then VulgaariRadio Moscow and Pentagram. They were obviously anticipated to pull a good crowd and they did just that. Apparently one or more of the dudes in the band is involved in the Surly Brewing Co., who are putting on a big fest this weekend to release a Russian Imperial Stout collaboration with kings destroy 2 (Photo by JJ Koczan)Three Floyds. The Midwest likes its craft beer.

Kings Destroy went on at 8:15, just about on the dot. It was early on a five-band Friday night, but the place wasn’t empty, and it was big enough that you’d have noticed if it was. The balcony was closed off, but there were people up there for most of the night, myself included for part of Bang‘s set, and Mill City Nights was professional all the way. Pro sound, pro lights, pro atmosphere. It’s the kind of joint that would exist everywhere if the US government subsidized artists, or maybe I’m just saying that because the tiered balcony reminded me of the 013 in Tilburg. Either way, cool space to see a show in a very different way than was Reggie’s in Chicago, where the grit was half the appeal. I’ll take it either way, I guess

The set was switched up from the first night of the tour, with “The Toe” brought in instead of “The Mountie.” “Old Yeller” was kept as the opener and it’s hard to argue, that song sort of mirroring the lurching to life of any given set Kings Destroy play. It was the same story in Minneapolis it always is: Band plays, people stare, then get it, then get into it, then it ends. I wonder how it would be if they opened with a faster song like “Mr. O” or even “Smokey Robinson,” which has its quicker parts mixed in there, if that would affect the immediacy of it, but it seems like people would just be scratching their heads by the time the kings destroy 3 (Photo by JJ Koczan)band got around to a closer like “Blood of Recompense,” and I like that at the end of the set, which is where it was at Mill City Nights, with “Smokey Robinson” before it, and “W2″ from the new record before that.

It was a pullback on the overall thrust to go from “Mr. O” into “W2,” as the latter song has its groove but is less energetic, but it’s that way on the album too, so I’ve gotten used to it. Hard to believe it was just the second night of this run. Last time around, it took three or four shows before things really felt like they were rolling along. This time everything has locked in quicker, and I’d extend that to the other bands as well. Radio Moscow and Pentagram have been out recently, but even Bang, who, again, haven’t toured in 40 years, seem to have smoothed out rough edges if they had any. They came on after Kings Destroy in an immediate stylistic shift that I think I’m only going to enjoy more as this tour goes on, and gave the same set as Chicago a once-over, including the ballad “Last Will and Testament” — when bassist/vocalist Frank Ferrara hit the line about a “private whore” in the song, someone shouted back, “whore!” I think just to be happy to use a semi-dirty word — and bang 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)“Questions,” which rounded out in suitable fashion, emphasis on the smooth ’70s-style groove and of course the lead work of guitarist Frank Gilcken.

Drummer Jake Leger is largely hidden behind his kit, but even so, it was easy to get a sense of how crucial he is to what Bang are doing at this point. He’s not an original member, obviously, but he fits in exceedingly well with Ferrara and Gilcken, and his drums sounded fantastic at Mill City Nights. I feel like most of the time a snare sound isn’t something that really makes you stop and appreciate it, but Leger‘s snare had this rich, almost resonant clap that was just perfect, even if the ghost notes didn’t really get picked up by the mic. When he came down on it, you knew it. I guess the same could be said of his whole kit, but the snare stood out, particularly in watching from the balcony, the bird’s eye view allowing for a different perspective as the band continued to look like they were bang 2 (Photo by JJ Koczan)genuinely having a good time being back out on the road. It can’t be easy after so long away to just hit it for 10 dates or whatever it is, but they’re carrying it with class and the crowd ate it up, which of course is what matters.

Another real stylistic turn when Vulgaari took the stage. A triple-guitar five-piece, they lumbered out a deathly take on doom and sludge, vocals coming on in growls over riffs that in another context probably wouldn’t be so far off from Pallbearer, a current of instrumental melody running through what you’d still definitely call brutal metal. They were well received by the hometown crowd — even the guy up front who yelled “fuck you!” to the guitarist was clearly joking — and I intended to buy a CD but didn’t get the chance, but like Iron Reagan in Chicago, they were the odd men out in having the most metallic influence at play. Didn’t really matter one they got going. No dissension among the audience that I saw, and I think particularly a lot of the younger attendees — the show was all ages, so there were a few kids around — had no trouble getting into it.

I vulgaari 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)didn’t either, for whatever it’s worth, but with a drive to Grand Rapids ahead, it was decided that Kings Destroy would split early. I’d seen Pentagram soundcheck earlier in the evening, and yesterday, and I will again today, and Radio Moscow too, so I got it. Grand Rapids is a nine-hour ride from Minneapolis around Lake Michigan, and that’s with no stops. Even with putting in two-plus hours last night, it’s a bit of a crunch. Not really worried, though. Plenty of open spaces to stare at in the interim.

More pics from last night after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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

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

reggies rock club

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

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

Iron Reagan

Iron Reagan (Photo by JJ Koczan)

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

Kings Destroy

kings destroy 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

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

Bang

Bang (Photo by JJ Koczan)

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

Radio Moscow

Radio Moscow (Photo by JJ Koczan)

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

Pentagram

Pentagram (Photo by JJ Koczan)

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

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

More pics after the jump.

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John Wilkes Booth, Useless Lucy: Soaking the Perimeter

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

john wilkes booth useless lucy

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

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

john wilkes booth

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

John Wilkes Booth, Useless Lucy (2014)

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John Wilkes Booth on Bandcamp

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

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

clamfight 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

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

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

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

Conclave

conclave 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

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

Bedroom Rehab Corporation

bedroom rehab corporation 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

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

Wizard Eye

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

Clamfight

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

Faces of Bayon

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

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

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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

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

craang to the estimated size of the universe

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

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

craang

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

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

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Craang on Bandcamp

Pink Tank Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dead Wax Records

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

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

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

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

The Burl, the Earth, the Aether (2010)

ice dragon the burl the earth the aether

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

The Sorrowful Sun (2011)

ice dragon the sorrowful sun

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

Tome of the Future Ancients (2012)

ice dragon tome of the future ancients

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

Tentacle, Ingot Eye (2013)

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

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

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Ice Dragon on Bandcamp

Tentacle on Bandcamp

PRC Music

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Alunah, Awakening the Forest: Spirits Invoked

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

Alunah-Awakening-The-Forest

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

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

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

Alunah, “Heavy Bough” official video

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Alunah at Napalm Records

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On Wax: Spidergawd, Spidergawd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spidergawd, “Into Tomorrow”

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Crispin Glover Records

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Electric Wizard, Time to Die: Saturn Descending

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

electric wizard time to die

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

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

electric wizard

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

Electric Wizard, Time to Die (2014)

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Spinefarm Records

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Lo-Pan, Colossus: A Sharpened Edge

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

lo-pan colossus

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

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

lo-pan (Photo by Meghan Ralston)

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

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

Lo-Pan, Colossus (2014)

Lo-Pan on Thee Facebooks

Small Stone Records

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