Posted in Reviews on January 23rd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Dual-guitar riff excavators Slomatics released their fourth full-length, Estron, last year on Burning World Records, and for those who’d worship at an altar of tone, it makes a suitable icon. The Belfast, Northern Ireland, trio roll out sans bass but want nothing for low end, Chris Couzens and David Majury contributing tectonic force on songs like “Tunnel Dragger” and “Lost Punisher” while drummer/vocalist Marty Harvey (also of War Iron) sets the lurch in motion, his voice echoing deep from within the band’s well-honed morass. Songs are spacious but consuming and full, and on the 38-minute offering there’s really only one moment of letup: the two-minute ambient interlude “Red Dawn” that precedes closer “The Carpenter” (also the longest track at 10:26). Beyond that, Slomatics offer few opportunities (some, but few) to let the air back into their listeners’ lungs, and that’s clearly the idea. Estron marked not only their fourth long-player, but also their first decade in the band, Couzens and Majury having started Slomatics in 2004 and Harvey joining in 2011 between their breakout split with Conan (review here) and 2012’s A Hocht full-length, released on Head of Crom. In that decade, and in any case well before they got around to Estron, Couzens and Majury figured out what they wanted from their assault, and Estron bears the fruit of their hammering-out. Though slow-moving, the album is fluid front to back, and it thanks in no small part to Harvey‘s vocals, it has a sense of melody to complement its crushing, nigh-on-claustrophobic tonality.
The nod is persistent, and even on the airier “And Yet it Moves” — something you might say about the band’s sound itself — you wouldn’t be wrong to call it brutal, but there’s a human presence in the material as well, and I have a hard time thinking that as Slomatics wreak all this aural havoc they’re not also having a really good time doing it. That’s not to say there’s some element of irony here, just that Majury, Couzens and Harvey seem to revel in the harsh riffscape they create. And why not? “And Yet it Moves” is a highlight for the interplay of lead and rhythm lines, but even when Couzens and Majury are locked into simultaneous plod-riffing à la “Futurian” or the opening “Troglorite,” the output is righteous in its heaviness — the opener particularly indebted to Floor but darker in atmosphere — and exciting in its delivery. Estron works cleanly in two sides, four tracks on side A, three on side B, and the transitions between songs are direct bleeds, usually via feedback, but the resultant over-arching flow isn’t to be understated, and on the CD version, even “Lost Punisher,” which would close out side A of the vinyl, moves right into “And Yet it Moves,” which would otherwise come after the flip to side B. It’s emblematic of Estron being a well-thought-out release, rather than a happenstance collection of badass riffs, and it serves to inform about Slomatics approach as a whole. Their songwriting is likewise purposeful, whether it’s the hook of “Troglorite” or the sparse, minimal opening of “The Carpenter” that emerges from “Red Dawn” and builds to a gradual head over the track’s first four minutes. In between, Slomatics offer variety of pace, shift between levels of aggression, and keep a strong sense of atmosphere in moments like the midsection break of “Tunnel Dragger,” which drones out a hypnotic ambience before moving back in for the next round of pummeling.
And make no mistake, many of Estron‘s finest stretches arise from those pummeling moments, be it the shorter barrage on “Futurian” and the CD-centerpiece “Lost Punisher” or the album’s immersive second half, with “And Yet it Moves,” “Red Dawn” and “The Carpenter.” Either way Slomatics go, they carefully manage a balance of heft and spaciousness throughout while sounding anything but careful. It’s a deceptive record in that one might put it on for the first time, hear Couzens and Majury‘s tones and say, “Okay, I got it,” but though the impact of the guitars is a big part of Slomatics‘ approach, it’s really just one piece of a larger, more dynamic picture, working in concert with the drums and vocals, the largesse, the periodic, well-placed breaks and so on for a complete and engrossing effect. Estron is remarkably cohesive even from a band who’ve been around for a decade, and while Slomatics have clearly established a wheelhouse for themselves in which to work, what they bring to that context is a sense of progression and a willfulness to create a whole album, not just a roundup of songs or parts. In this, they are resoundingly successful. Worth noting as well that Couzens, Majury and Harvey have already issued a follow-up to Estron in the form of a split single with Floridian tone-and-crashers Holly Hunt, who make a fitting companion. It would seem Slomatics are content to keep moving forward and pushing their sound along with them — and yet it moves… — and that is an ethic worth celebrating, because honestly, if they wanted to, they could probably just sit around, bang out cheapo riff grooves and get by just on the badassery of their tones. That they aspire to and are able to create something deeper and more resonant is ultimately what stands them out from any like-minded peers.
Posted in On Wax on January 22nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Oh, I love this album. I really do. Quite frankly, I consider it a treat to even be writing about it again. From Wendy Rae Fowler singing about how she lost her heart at Wounded Knee on “Ghostship – Deadwater” to Mario Lalli stepping in for a croon on “Meadows,” the instrumental depth brought to “Tomahawk Watercress” and “Wetlands” by Yawning Man‘s Gary Arce and UK atmospheric heavy rockers Sons of Alpha Centauri, and Scott Reeder‘s layered harmonies on “Garden Sessions III” — the echoes of “waves on a distant shore” feature in my mental jukebox regularly — Yawning Sons‘ 2009 debut, Ceremony to the Sunset (review here), is among the most beautiful executions of heavy psychedelia I’ve ever heard. And the only reason I call it a “debut” instead of “only album” — they also have a split out with WaterWays, another Arce-inclusive project — is because no small part of me is still hoping for a follow-up at some point even six years later. It’s not impossible. This is an album that has kept me warm in winter, has soundtracked summer nights and has come with me on every significant bit of travel I’ve undertaken since its release. I think of it as an “airplane” album, because if I’m going to crash out of the sky and fall 35,000 feet to my demise, it’s I want to have the chance to be listening to it as I go down. No bullshit.
Alone Records has seen fit to reissue Ceremony to the Sunset, giving the album its first vinyl release after the original CD version came out via Cobraside in the US and Lexicon Devil in Australia. The pressing is 500 copies in translucent red, orange or yellow (I got yellow and it doesn’t look like it lets light through in the pics above because of the white background, but it does). It comes in a gatefold with a reworked cover no less suited to the spaciousness conjured throughout the record by Arce and Sons of Alpha Centauri – the lineup of guitarist Marlon King, bassist Nick Hannon, texturist Blake and drummer Stevie B. is the same now as it was then — and it’s even more distinguished from the original offering by the inclusion of closer “Shores of Desolation,” an instrumental added to the back of side B that was tracked during the initial sessions in the UK and never released. While Alone pretty much had me at the word “go” on a reissue for Ceremony to the Sunset, I will say that the chance to hear a piece of music yet-unissued from this collaboration added significant appeal to the thought of giving the record a revisit. And no regrets. Blake must feature heavily on a song so textured, and sweet-toned guitar feedback is used to bring out further waves of melody before a final fadeout and back in and back out ends the new version of the album on a contemplative, sans-drums note following the bounce of “Japanese Garden.” Somewhat similar to “Whales in Tar,” but with a more foreboding undertone.
Since I usually put on Ceremony to the Sunset for a front-to-back listen, the vinyl does change the dynamic with two sides, and in that, “Shores of Desolation” serves a secondary function in evening out the halves. I hadn’t thought of “Meadows” as an opener, but it works well to start off side B after the flip, regrounding the proceedings after the three instrumentals “Tomahawk Watercress,” “Wetlands” and “Whales in Tar” appear in succession following album-opener “Ghostship – Deadwater” on side A. That track and “Tomahawk Watercress” continue to provide a tonal bliss that is largely unmatched in desert rock, Arce and King weaving guitar lines around each other while Hannon‘s bass and Stevie‘s drums give them a foundation on which to play out the memorable progression, descending and wistful. “Wetlands” brings the drums more forward, as does “Japanese Garden,” Yawning Sons‘ original closer, and like “Ghostship – Deadwater” and “Meadows” mirror each other as eight-minute side-starters, so too do “Whales in Tar” and “Shores of Desolation” work in conversation to end each half. I’ll make no attempt to hide my appreciation for Reeder‘s vocals on “Garden Sessions III,” but the guitar movement he tops is accordingly lush and open-spaced, relieving the almost-tense buildup that follows Lalli‘s guest spot on “Meadows.” Even with the rush of underlying percussion, it is a song to drift away by, and Reeder‘s voice is the tidal pull that carries you off. A one-man Beach Boys. Brilliant.
Granted I’m hardly impartial, but I can’t imagine that if you haven’t heard Ceremony to the Sunset before that the vinyl edition of it won’t grab you with its atmospherics and hooks both vocal an instrumental. In the history of desert rock, it’s probably a footnote, but for me it’s a landmark and an album that I’ve spent six years with at this point and found only a richer experience as time has passed. If Alone‘s reissue gets more people to hear it, or if those who appreciated it before have another excuse to take it on again and hear it in a different way, then all the better. Maybe one of these days Arce and Sons of Alpha Centauri can get together again and make a follow-up. Here’s hoping.
Posted in Reviews on January 15th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Portland, Oregon’s Lord Dying deliver an efficient sludge-thrash beatdown on their second album for Relapse, Poisoned Altars. The follow-up to their 2013 debut, the Sanford Parker-recorded Summon the Faithless, the eight-track/34-minute Poisoned Altars was recorded by Joel Grind of Toxic Holocaust and arrives as the answer to anyone’s question as to just what Lord Dying were spending so much time on the road for, shifting away from some of the High on Fire-worship of their debut — side B’s “Offering Pain (and an Open Minded Center)” and “Suckling at the Teat of a She-Beast” will still fill any quota thereof — while beginning to feel out a more individualized sonic space. Sludge metal prevails, with dual emphasis. In their sound and their cover art, Lord Dying have espoused a penchant for the extreme, and Poisoned Altars, from its opening title-track down through the just-under-seven-minute finale “Darkness Remains,” holds firm to that, but there’s also an emerging rock groove in a track like “A Wound outside of Time” to contend with, and “An Open Sore”‘s second-half bridge brings in Aaron Beam from tourmates and apparent buds Red Fang for a guest appearance noteworthy both for Red Fang‘s profile at this point and for the upbeat catchiness of that part itself. Ultimately, even this fits into Lord Dying‘s stripped-down pummel, from which shades of Matt Pike and Kirk Windstein are never far, but as an example of the band’s growth since their debut, it’s hard to ignore. Ditto that for Poisoned Altars itself, which at the proper volume moves between nods and headbangs in commanding fashion, Lord Dying seeming, in defiance of their moniker, to thrive all the while.
That the album breaks so neatly into two sides with four tracks each is only further indication of its prevailing lack of pretentiousness. Lord Dying know why they’re there, and you know why they’re there — or otherwise they’re going to make it quickly apparent. “Poisoned Altars” itself makes a solid opener in setting up the tempo shifts and tradeoffs between riff styles that guitarist/vocalist Erik Olson, guitarist Chris Evans, bassist Don Capuano and drummer Rob Shaffer (formerly of Dark Castle and seemingly since out of the band, replaced by Nickolis Parks) toy with throughout subsequent tracks. Olson is clearly trying to expand his vocal reach from the Pike/Windstein snarl, and should be commended for both the effort and the result. Their sound being largely straightforward — that is, there’s little flourish or trickery involved in what they do — one can’t help but wonder if Lord Dying see a trap ahead of them in getting too boxed into “what they do,” and if parts of Poisoned Altars aren’t working, consciously or not, to expand those bounds. The opener and “The Clearing at the End of the Path” bludgeon neatly, but with the more open-grooving “A Wound outside of Time” and “An Open Sore” behind them, side A isn’t even done before Lord Dying are working toward a broader reach. This could just be a result of their extensive touring playing out in the progression of their style, or it could be something done on purpose to avoid stagnation. Either way, it’s noteworthy growth from an already vicious style that seems unwilling to relent its extremity. Those who dug Summon the Faithless‘ heaviest moments will no doubt find comfort in those of Poisoned Altars. Lord Dying are growing, but not at the expense of what worked so well on their debut.
Arranged shortest to longest, side B continues the push with a midsection solo giving way to raw-throated screams and a classic thrash riff that slows and speeds up to lead into the all-out drive of “Suckling at the Teat of a She-Beast,” an album highlight. It trades back and forth between Slayerized tension and a familiar gallop, but particularly in the context of what surrounds and with a change in vocals (not sure if that’s Olson switching approaches or a second guest appearance), it works with metallic righteousness. “(All Hopes of a New Day) …Extinguished” follows, the second parenthetical title on side B and the penultimate of the record, with a slowdown that, next to “Suckling at the Teat of a She-Beast,” emphasizes the two sides of Lord Dying‘s sound and the extremity that ties them together on Poisoned Altars‘ sprint-to-the-finish back half. Past a minute in, “Darkness Remains” hits the most Crowbarian moment here present in a particularly strained bark from Olson, but by then, the point has been so nailed down that one would hardly blink at it. They shift into an instrumental concluding movement — lead and rhythm guitars intertwining fluidly; the solo is a standout — and end by deconstructing the tight riffing by fading it into a swell of rumbling amp noise that concludes the album without further word. They’re gone as brutally as they arrived, but Lord Dying nonetheless leave the impression of a turn to come. Particularly with their habit of hard touring, Poisoned Altars seems to have set them up for a pivotal moment to come as they bring the progression here to further fruition their next time out. It will be their third record that determines ultimately their course as a band, but their second serves as much more than a placeholder in affirming the payoff of the effort they’ve put in on the road thus far. It is evolution won the hard way.
Posted in Reviews on January 14th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Russian heavy rockers The Grand Astoria have only gotten more progressive and more prolific. La Belle Epoque, which was released last month by Setalight Records, is their first long-player since 2013’s Punkadelica Supreme (review here) and their fifth overall, but in the time between the two albums, the Saint Petersburg-based outfit have unleashed a barrage of outings, including singles, EPs, splits and live releases, plus side-projects from guitarist/vocalist Kamille Sharapodinov (The Legendary Flower Punk) and lead guitarist Igor Suvarov (Lucifer in the Sky with Diamonds). Their increasing tendency toward exploration has led them to a more metallic approach on La Belle Epoque, and what seemed on their earlier works like a defining core of stoner rock and punk has become only pieces of a puzzle to which, apparently, more is being added. Their first three records, 2009’s I (review here), 2010’s II (review here) and 2011’s Omnipresence (review here), showed an increasing tendency to look outside the band itself — a rotating lineup around Sharapodinov and Suvarov has been part of that; near as I can tell, keyboardist/floutist/vocalist/metallophonist Danila Danilov is the only other returning player from Punkadelica Supreme — and La Belle Epoque further extends that impulse stylistically. It is their proggiest work to date, though at seven-tracks/43 minutes it’s not like they’ve gotten so indulgent as to surpass an easy vinyl fit, but the range of their material and their ability to fluidly bring listeners along for the ride throughout is indicative of their growth. As much as it is exploring, La Belle Epoque is also a mature, not-at-all-confused offering.
Opener “Henry’s Got a Gun” makes a surprising first impression in calling to mind Faith No More sonically, and I find the more I listen to La Belle Epoque, the more that band fits as a comparison point. Not always in sound — The Grand Astoria aren’t limited to aping one group or genre at this point, if they ever were — but in method. The likeness comes more from the ability to translate experimental tendencies into traditional or semi-traditional forms of songwriting; that is, to take the experiment and develop it into a fully-realized song. Be it the slight country touch of guest banjo in “The Answer,” the Metallica groove early in “Gravity Bong,” the Devin Townsend-style harmonies and prog-metal range of the 14:05 “Serpent and the Garden of Eden” or the sweet melodicism of the clarinet-inclusive title-track and the brief, positive moment provided in closer “Charming,” each song offers something different, but La Belle Epoque does not overbake its ideas or push too far in one direction or another, instead keeping a balance sound-wise and through Sharapodinov and Danilov‘s vocals that guides the listener across the various movements on hand. Overarching flow winds up one of the great strengths of the CD — the vinyl presumably splits just before “Serpent and the Garden of Eden” — though that’s not really a surprise given it’s The Grand Astoria‘s fifth full-length. The tonal quality is a bit more of a surprise, the guitars having more bite and bassist Eugene Korolkov and drummer Vladimir Zinoviev following them on runs like those of “Lisbon Firstborn”‘s instrumental first half, which shifts after four minutes to an acoustic homage to Lisbon that in turn builds to organ-topped classic rock groove and soloing to finish out.
In many other contexts, such shifts might come across as manic or disjointed, but by the time they get around to “Lisbon Fuzzborn,” The Grand Astoria have bent the rules far enough that they can more or less squeeze through whatever they want. Of course, at 14 minutes, “Serpent and the Garden of Eden” is a focal point, and from its grandiose opening build through the metallic tension that arises early, the tight groove, psychedelic vibe in Suvorov‘s first-half solo, and progressive changes and turns made from there on out, winding up in a second-half payoff for song and album alike, it’s a singular achievement in the band’s discography in its arrangement and execution. As an example of how far they’ve come since their debut six years ago, I don’t think there’s much more one could ask of it, though one could just as easily say the same of “La Belle Epoque” itself, which clocks in at a much shorter 3:19. So it’s not just about how they’ve written a long track, or found a metal-sounding production. It’s about how La Belle Epoque demonstrates a progression hard won through constant evolution of songwriting and work on the road. Most satisfying of all is how increasingly these elements belong solely to The Grand Astoria, and how they’ve carved an identity for themselves in their willful searching for their sound. They’re only going to keep moving forward, and while La Belle Epoque features their familiar cow-skull mascot on its cover by Sophia Miroedova, the tracks on the album itself are anything but repetitive. If anything, this is one in a series of ambitious adventures that character has had, and I’d be very surprised if it’s all that long before the next one arrives.
Posted in Reviews on January 8th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
The story gets kind of complicated, so stick with me. In 2010, then-Iowa-based psych/prog five-piece Mondo Drag released their Alive Naturalsound debut, New Rituals (review here), which was full of ’70s-style lysergic serenity, open spaced guitars and heady vibes. It was, in short, a winner. The next year, Mondo Drag‘s labelmates Radio Moscow — who also have their roots in Iowa — imploded. It was the stuff of viral video. Radio Moscow bassist Zack Anderson and drummer Cory Berry moved home shortly thereafter, to Iowa, and got together with Mondo Drag vocalist/keyboardist John Gamino, guitarist Nolan Girard (also synth), and guitarist Jake Sheley. At the same time they were recording as the new rhythm section of Mondo Drag, Anderson and Berry were also putting together Blues Pills with Swedish vocalist Elin Larsson. That band took off, and the bass player and drummer moved to Sweden as a result, but not before Mondo Drag had recorded — mostly live — the seven tracks of their self-titled sophomore outing, which also found Gamino taking the vocalist role, using a host of vintage gear and analog tape to further play into a classic feel. After the departure of the rhythm section, the remaining three members of Mondo Drag picked up and headed for the West Coast, where swing-drummers and warm-toned bassists looking for psych rock acts to join rule the land, and in Oakland, California, they met up with bassist Ventura Garcia and drummer Andrew O’Neil, who along with Gamino, Girard and Sheley, comprise the current lineup of the band.
Got all that?
When you whittle down all the complexities of comings, goings and relocatings, what you’re left with is the fact that Mondo Drag‘s Mondo Drag (released on wax by Bilocation Records) captures a very special moment in the life of the group. It’s a credit to Mondo Drag that it exists at all, and not just because Anderson and Berry would go on to attain a higher profile in Blues Pills (Berry has since left that band as well), but also for the cohesion they managed to make out of all that flux. With ultra-organic atmosphere across the board — guitar, bass, keys, drums, vocals — the seven-song/35-minute run of Mondo Drag is gripping on side A, hypnotic on side B and wonderfully progressive throughout. Later moments like the penultimate instrumental “Pillars of the Sky” call to mind a wash of keys Astra might be able to conjure, but the analog spirit of the recording is relentless, and the album winds up with its own character, warm and welcoming. No need for pretense here, whether it’s the key-led fade-in and shuffle of “Zephyr” or the organ-soaked build of side A closer “Plumajilla,” which comes brilliantly to an instrumental head after swinging verses and choruses that foreshadow the sleazier side B finale “Snakeskin,” the guitars providing a highlight solo to transition into the quiet start of the build. Second cut “Crystal Visions Open Eyes” brings Gamino‘s vocals forward to create an immediately memorable impression, moving quickly through verses of subtle intricacy toward a descending instrumental finish in an early showing of how well the guitar and synth work together throughout, and of course how well that work rests atop the rhythmic foundation of the bass and drums.
Some jabbing starts and stops pervade the three-minute “The Dawn,” but nothing about its garage psych roll is abrasive or interrupting the overarching flow, a boogie solo and run emerging in the midsection to help ease the way into “Plumajilla”‘s two-movement run, which in linear form — i.e. digital — makes a fitting centerpiece solid transition into the second half of the record, which slips into more exploratory material with the tense undercurrent of synth and bass on “Shifting Sands” and the interwoven lines of keys and synth on “Pillars of the Sky,” which follows, taking the best of pre-noodling progressive heavy psych and topping it with a bluesy-but-not-overdone plotted guitar lead. A peaceful mood emerges, the song in conversation with the back half of “Plumajilla,” and the richness of Mondo Drag‘s layering becomes a hook unto itself, despite no actual chorus present. Closer “Snakeskin” arrives quietly but unfolds a Doors-style throb given bluesy fervor not unlike the echoing output of Maryland’s The Flying Eyes, but perhaps more atmospherically dense. A final reaffirmation of swagger at the heart of Mondo Drag‘s Mondo Drag only makes the album more impressive, both in the actual listening experience and in context when one considers how quickly such fluid chemistry emerged between the five players involved, two of whom would soon enough be gone. As Mondo Drag was recorded in 2011/2012, and since the band has moved to the fertile psych ground of the West Coast, one can’t help but wonder what conjurations they may have come up with since these songs were written, and when those might appear and follow-up the lush but humble resonance of this self-titled. More important right now, however, is the achievement Mondo Drag managed in capturing this fleeting incarnation of the band, which will be plainly evident to any among the converted whose ears it reaches.
Like Lightsabres‘ late-2013 debut, Demons (review here), the second full-length, Spitting Blood, is a deceptively complex outing. Released as a limited tape in an edition of 50 copies by HeviSike Records – 25 translucent red cassettes, 25 opaque red, with a foldout j-card and included patch — and already through its second vinyl pressing since releasing in Sept. 2014, it pulls together ranging impulses from garage rock, goth drama, heavy riffing, raw punk and more across its 13-track span, all songs clocking in at around or under two minutes long. A quick listen, multi-instrumentalist/vocalist John Strömshed (who also recorded and doubles in Tunga Moln) takes listeners through an otherworldly passage not quite as dark or extreme as the cover of the tape might indicate, but certainly fitting enough with the notion of cutting to the bone. The buzzsaw guitar tone that pervades “I Can’t Feel It,” which sounds like a hypothetical garage-recordedQueens of the Stone Age demo circa 1991, and the later post-punk boogie of “Like Shit” slices and dices through the raw mix with little concern, for skin or otherwise.
That is, ultimately, what Strömshed uses to cloakthe sonic diversity of Lightsabres. In another dimension, he’d be exploring ever deeper arrangements in limitless budgets of instrumentation and production style, but on Spitting Blood, it’s the mood and stylistic range that’s being explored, pushed outside of the comfort zone of genre. His take on the Misfits‘ “Hybrid Moments” (a personal favorite) is authentic to the original, and somehow, it fits smoothly between the would-be-nihilistic-if-it-wasn’t-such-a-hook of “Fuck Tomorrow” and the head-down low-end punk of “Sonic Death” near the end of side 1. To further the delightfully confounding nature of the tape, each half ends with a sweet, ambient moment of guitar melody, “Dark Matter” wistful and folkish, and album-closer “I Dream of Space” an experimental-feeling brush with psychedelic minimalism at least in part presented backwards. Coming off a song like “No Cash,” which is the longest inclusion on Spitting Blood at 2:36 and toys with drumless pop drama in a near-abrasive blown-out wash of fuzz, it is particularly effective in highlighting just how deep Strömshed goes in his pursuit of… whatever the hell it might be that he’s after.
But it’s the rawness that makes it all consistent. Like earliest Six Organs of Admittance – and at the same time, not at all like it — Lightsabres‘ consuming rough edge gives even an angrier punker like “Pigs” an underlying intimacy, almost a personalized feel, that works greatly toward lending further individuality to what would in many other contexts be a loosely familiar or at very least more straightforward offering. Coupled with a core of songwriting that will be apparent even on the most superficial of listens as the catchiness of these songs reaches up from the dense tonal swamp in which they reside to bash the listener over the head, that still-developing individualism makes Spitting Blood both a worthy successor to Demons and an enjoyable reveling in proto-grunge that, in a world of cult themes that it eschews, proves legitimately cult worthy. A project of which people will no doubt continue to take notice, and rightfully so.
Posted in Reviews on January 6th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
In 2012, when Munich trio Colour Haze — guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald — released their 10th album, the two-disc She Said (review here), it felt like an event. That record was four years in the making, which was the longest split the band had known between two albums, and plagued by technical trouble setting up their own Colour Haze Studio, at which it was, finally, recorded. The challenges they faced made the output even more of a triumph — not to mention the grandiose feel of horn and string-inclusive songs like “Transformation” and “Grace,” respectively, giving the whole affair a boldly progressive feel worthy of following up 2008’s ultra-warm All. It was the best album of 2012. With a last-minute 2014 CD release and 2015 vinyl issue through Koglek‘s Elektrohasch Schallplatten imprint, the 11th Colour Haze full-length, To the Highest Gods We Know, would seem to have no small task in following it up. As a fan of the band — and very much writing this review from that perspective, should there be any doubt — I’m glad to see the three-piece return to their every-two-years-or-so rhythm of releases. The 40-minute/five-track To the Highest Gods We Know arrives without drama, recorded at Colour Haze Studio in Munich on two-inch tape with production by Koglek and Charly Bohaimid, mixed analog on quarter-inch tape, with an accordingly classic sound that for those who’ve followed the band or felt their influence in others both within European heavy psych and beyond it should be reasonably familiar, but as ever, one gets a sense of progression from Colour Haze, their lack of creative stagnation being one of the most key elements in what they do. This album is no exception, despite a somewhat deceptive stripped-down vibe in comparison to its predecessor.
Rather, it is precisely through a back-to-basics feel on the first four cuts (we’ll get to that closer) that To the Highest Gods We Know avoids the trap of being the “follow-up” to She Said. It dodges the bullet completely, and where She Said made its grandest statements in flourishes of arrangement, songs like opener “Circles” and the instrumental centerpiece “Überall” do precisely the opposite. They represent Colour Haze rediscovering their processes in this new space of their own studio. The warmth of tone from Koglek and Rasthofer, the steady roll and ever-classy style of Merwald arrive with an exploratory freshness throughout To the Highest Gods We Know because, essentially, with this record, Colour Haze are re-learning how to be Colour Haze. It’s not like they took four-plus years to build their own studio and they’re going to go record somewhere else. They’ve made themselves a home — like they did before with their own label — and these songs sound like the process by which they’re getting acclimated to it. I wouldn’t say that makes them tentative, because any band 11 albums deep into their career has enough of a sense of what they want to not really worry about it, but it definitely makes them relaxed, which of course suits their laid back heavy sound just fine. Launching the album, “Circles” (8:27) begins with a sweet hum of ambient feedback, Koglek‘s guitar swelling in before starting the first line, simple and soon joined by Rasthofer and Merwald. Relatively speaking, there is no grand intro. The first verse is underway by the two-minute mark, and it proves to be the inviting nature of the song itself that carries the listener into the flow that continues over subsequent tracks. A linear build plays out subtly past the first verse and into the second, the guitar and bass working around each other while Merwald holds together a fluid nod, and just as they pass the halfway point, “Circles” kicks into a fuller riff marked out by the inclusion of either horns or flutes — both appear on the album and there is a rush of volume surrounding — before opening to its payoff riff, a lumbering air-pusher that still keeps to the atmosphere preceding, and giving way to a proggy turn that brings back the wind instruments.
Guitar and bass work through lead lines and quiet down before, exploding once more to full breadth, the flute coming forward and following the guitar line for a few measures to close out, a quick sustained note fading and bringing in the chunky riff of the shorter, more verse/chorus-based “Paradise.” One is immediately reminded of “This” from the last album, and “Paradise” serves a similar function in backing the opener, but is a more memorable standout, and puts to welcome use one of Colour Haze‘s signature riff progressions that has been molded and repurposed as a cross-album theme since their 2004 self-titled and the title-track to 2006’s Tempel. Here, layers of harmonized vocals ride the song’s apex, which crashes to another quick finish and gives way to the soft noodling at the start of “Überall,” an 8:45 exploratory jam that provides one of To the Highest Gods We Know‘s most central moments of atmosphere. Christian Hawellek guests on Doepfer modular synth, which adds texture to the patterned but still natural movement of “Überall,” shifting from its softer opening noodling to a more rhythmically active build of tension that as they approach four minutes in, Colour Haze open to a bigger-sounding lead that establishes a tradeoff they’ll soon make again, the synth lending an extra current of melody in swelling and receding in the mix with the guitar, bass and drums. Just past seven minutes in, another riff takes hold that, if it was on anyone else’s record I’d call it “very Colour Haze,” and serves as the foundation for the closing movement of the track, which delightfully plods out its ending before a final crash gives way to humming feedback and what one assumes is the end of side A on the vinyl. To the Highest Gods We Know‘s most progressive inclusions await in “Call” and the closing title-track, but a song like “Überall” emphasizes just how much Colour Haze‘s sound is their own as they approach the 20-year mark since the release of their first album, 1995’s Chopping Machine (discussed here), and how even working in familiar terrain, the raw chemistry between Rasthofer, Merwald and Koglek is more than enough to carry them.
That might not be a revelation at this point. Colour Haze‘s discography is full of such examples, but perhaps what distinguishes “Überall” is its efficiency, the smoothness of its execution and how essential it makes all of its eight minutes while still keeping a laid back, unhurried mood. With “Call,” the band shifts into a somewhat different vibe, Rasthofer moving to Hammond M3 to set a foundation for Koglek‘s resonant, fuzzed-out opening guitar lines. I’ve said on many occasions that Koglek‘s guitar has the finest, richest tone since Jimi Hendrix, and I dare you to listen to the first few minutes of “Call” and tell me otherwise. With just organ and guitar as a bed, the verse begins. Drums and bass show up later, but “Call” reads like a contemplative aside, and it’s a peaceful, spiritual moment that pushes deep into psychedelic moods without actually sounding all that tripped out in terms of effects or synth, etc. Vocals are calm to the point of serenity in the three verses, which smoothly transition out of the last verse and into the riff that will, after a brief pause, introduce Merwald‘s drums and Rasthofer‘s bass along with a heavier thrust and provide the instrumental apex of “Call” and the LP as a whole, the Hammond humming out behind all the while as Koglek‘s guitar leads the build forward in measure after measure until dropping out quickly to the start of “To the Highest Gods We Know,” which is Colour Haze‘s most experimental track to date. It is the only song on the record that carries its name to pass 10 minutes in length, and in its arrangement, it brazenly moves out of the band’s stylistic wheelhouse while holding firm to their trademark rhythmic sensibilities. With strings arranged and conducted by Mathis Nitschke, an intro of Spanish-style acoustic guitar gradually comes forward to open backed by sustained string notes, setting immediately the texture that defines the progression of the song itself.
It feels almost out of its time. Completely instrumental, “To the Highest Gods We Know,” as it unfolds its central balance of acoustic guitar and strings, sounds almost like the sonic experiment that would’ve lead the band to later produce “Grace” from She Said by further incorporating those elements into their established pattern of songwriting. Of course, the timing is reversed, but the arrangement of “To the Highest Gods We Know” is that much bolder then, because essentially what Colour Haze have done with it is abandoned that established pattern. Guitar and strings swell between the third and fourth minute, quiet down and introduce a percussion line that’s almost a march, to which guitar plucking notes in vague time. The strings soon return to play off, and where so much of the band’s approach is about melody — and there’s a melody here, make no mistake — the primary impression of To the Highest Gods We Know‘s title-track is its rhythm. It becomes a wash of rhythm as the strings kick back in and build toward open, distinctly Colour Haze-esque crashes, a winding line of guitar following. They recede and then swell again in a similar fashion, hitting a crescendo more about intensity than volume or tonal thickness, before dropping out once more to intricate acoustic guitar, nature sounds captured by former drummer Tim Höfer and the somewhat tense, delightfully odd fadeout that closes the album, reinforcing the strange note on which Colour Haze have decided to cap To the Highest Gods We Know, their finale as much an offering as it is a statement that as much as they have established a modus for themselves, that doesn’t mean they’re not going to push beyond it every now and again.
The reminder leaves a particularly resonant impression since this is their 11th album, and with four songs before it that one could look at in comparison to She Said and consider them scaled back. But then, To the Highest Gods We Know has its stretches of flute, of strings and of organ. It has its flourishes of arrangement. It has a progressive feel and, again, as bold an experiment as I’ve ever heard from Colour Haze, so maybe it’s not “scaled back” so much as it’s tighter and a more pointed execution derived from some of the ideas that showed themselves the last time out. As Colour Haze settle into their new home — their studio — their first album since its completion feels appropriately like a beginning point, almost as though, having finally escaped from under the woes in creating the last record, they’re ready to go back and rediscover what it propelling them forward. Eleven albums in and it sounds like a debut? Not quite. The fluidity and chemistry developed over the years between Koglek, Rasthofer and Merwald, and the appeal of To the Highest Gods We Know‘s familiar parts aren’t to be understated, but if it proves anything, their latest outing proves that they haven’t yet said everything they have to say, and depending on where they go from here, we might look back on To the Highest Gods We Know as the beginning point for a new era of the band, similar to how their self-titled worked off 2003’s Los Sounds de Krauts 2LP at the dawning of Elektrohasch. However that works out and whatever else it might represent, To the Highest Gods We Know is distinctly Colour Haze. It confirms that definition even as it expands and refines the meaning.
Posted in Reviews on January 2nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Yesterday was pretty rough. Some excellent stuff in that batch of 10 discs, but man, by the end of it I don’t mind telling you I was dragging more than a bit of ass. I guess that’s to be expected. Still, I think that, as a project, this was worthwhile. There was a lot of stuff — too much — sitting around that was going to go undiscussed coming out of 2014, and now here we are, it’s the New Year, and I feel like at least a small percentage of what came my way got its due. Small victories.
So this is it. Reviews 41-50. After this, there isn’t much from 2014 that I’ll be looking back on; it’s mostly stuff to come, which is a different matter entirely. I’m sure we won’t be out of Jan. before I’m behind again in a major way, but what the hell, at least I’m trying, and at least there’s 50 discs that showed up on my desk that can be put on the shelf instead. Yes, it’s a very complex filing system. Ask me sometime and I’ll tell you all about it. Until then, let’s finish it like the final battle from Highlander. There can be only… 10… more…?
Okay maybe not.
Thanks for reading.
The Re-Stoned, Totems
Helmed since 2008 by the multifaceted Ilya Lipkin, Moscow mostly-instrumentalists The Re-Stoned release their fourth album in the form of Totems on R.A.I.G., a 58-minute wide-breadth journey into heavy rock groove with touches of psychedelia, plotted jazz-jamming and a raw tonal sensibility. Wo Fat guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump contributes a noteworthy solo to “Old Times,” and along with bassist Alexander Romanov, Lipkin (who himself handles the artwork design, guitar, bass, shaman drum, jew’s harp, mandala and some voice work) employs a guest drummer, percussionist and didgeridoo player, so there’s a measure of variety to the proceedings, be it the jerky pauses in “Shaman” or the earlier effects-laden exploration of “Chakras.” “Old Times” has a bit of funk to it even before Stump’s arrival, and the acoustics of “Melting Stones,” which follows, border on cowboy Americana. They’ve never had the most vibrant production, but The Re-Stoned manage to convey a natural feel and confidence as they progress, the creative growth of Lipkin always at the center of what they do.
For his second album under the moniker Anthroprophh, guitarist/vocalist Paul Allen (also of The Heads) brings in a rhythm section to aid him in his time-to-get-really-weird purposes. Thus, bassist Gareth Turner and drummer Jesse Webb, who together form the duo Big Naturals, add to the strangeness of songs like “2013 and She Told Me I was Die” on Anthroprophh’s Outside the Circle, a 45-minute excursion into warped sensibilities and things meant to go awry. Songs are made to be broken, and that happens with drones, sudden shifts in atmosphere, some smooth transitions, some jagged, all designed to transport and ignite stagnation. It does not get any less bizarre as Outside the Circle moves toward its nine-minute title-track, but one doesn’t imagine Allen would have it any other way, and one wouldn’t have it any other way from him. I call a fair amount of music adventurous for deviating from the norm. Anthroprophh makes most of that sound silly in comparison with its buzzsaw guitar and raw experimental display.
Saskatoon four-piece Lavagoat continue to challenge themselves even as they bludgeon eardrums. Their single-track CD EP, Weird Menace, pulls together six individual songs recorded mostly live in their rehearsal space with a purposeful drive toward rawness and a horror thematic. Sure enough, where their 2012 LP, Monoliths of Mars (review here) and 2010 self-titled debut (review here) offered increasing stylistic complexity, Weird Menace steps forward atmospherically by pulling back on the production value. Murky screams permeate “Ectoplasm” only to be immediately offset by the low growls and deathly groove of “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” presented as nasty as possible. There are still some touches of flourish in the guitar – one can’t completely cast off a creative development, even when trying really, really hard – but to call Weird Menace’s regressive experimentalism anything but a success would be undervaluing the turn they’ve made and how smoothly they’ve made it. Note: a follow-up LP, Ageless Nonsense (actually recorded earlier than this EP), has already been released.
Limited to 50 CD copies and presented in an oversize sleeve, soon-to-be-picked-up-by-somebody Colorado five-piece Ketch’s self-titled debut demo/EP is death-doom brutal and doom-death grooving. Vocalist Zach Salmans and guitarist Clay Cushman (who also recorded) trade off growls and screams over plus-sized, malevolent riffs and guitarist Jeremy Winters, bassist Dave Borrusch and drummer David Csicsely (also of The Flight of Sleipnir) only add to the pummel, which hits a particularly vicious moment in the grueling second half of “Counting Sunsets,” a dirge of low growls giving way to churning, nodding despair. Beginning with 9:18 longest cut “Shimmering Lights” (immediate points), Ketch deliver a precision extremity that even on this initial offering makes its villainous intent plain with volume and overarching drear. The midsection stomp of “Chemical Despondency” and the gurgle in closer “13 Coils” affirm that Ketch have found their stylistic niche and are ready to begin developing their sound from it. One looks forward to the growth of this already maddening approach. Bonus points for no obvious Lovecraft references.
Somewhere between death, black and doom metals, one finds Rhode Island three-piece Eternal Khan exploring cosmic, existential, literary and mythological themes on their self-released debut full-length, A Poisoned Psalm, the jewel case edition of which includes both lyrics and liner note explanations of each of its seven tracks. It’s an ambitious take from a trio who seem destined at some point to write a concept album – maybe based on Faust, maybe not – but the actual songs live up to the lofty presentation, be it the suitable gallop of “Raging Host,” despondent push of centerpiece “The Tower” or double-kick bleakness of “Void of Light and Reconciliation.” Guitarist/vocalist N. Wood, guitarist T. Phrathep and drummer D. Murphy mash their various styles well, but there’s room to grow here too, and I’d wonder how “The Black Stork” might work with an element of drone brought into the mix to add to the atmosphere and provide contrast to the various sides of Eternal Khan’s extremity. Even without, A Poisoned Psalm serves vigorous notice.
Rife with ‘70s swagger and easy-rolling blues grooves, Get Pure is the third record from Columbus, Ohio trio Mount Carmel, and it goes down as smooth as one could ask, the guitar work of Matthew Reed, bass of his brother, Patrick Reed (since out of the band and replaced by Nick Tolford) and drums of James McCain meshing with a natural, classic power trio dynamic only furthered by the vocals, as laid back as Leaf Hound but with an underlying bluesiness on cuts like “One More Morning” and “No Pot to Piss.” At 11 tracks and a vinyl-minded 35 minutes, neither the album as a whole nor its component tracks overstay their welcome, and late pushers like “Hangin’ On” and “Fear Me Now” leave the listener wanting more while closer “Yeah You Mama” bookends with opener “Gold” in hey-baby-ism and irrefutable rhythmic swing. Comfortable in its mid-pace boogie, Get Pure offers a party vibe without being needlessly raucous, and its laid back mood becomes one of its greatest assets.
One could hardly accuse Stockholm classic proggers Pocket Size of living up to their name on Exposed Undercurrents, their second album. Even putting aside the expansive fullness of their sound itself, there are nine people in the lineup. It would have to be some pocket. The group is led by guitarist Peder Pedersen, whose own contributions are met by arrangements of saxophone, Hammond B-3, flute, theremin and so on as the 11 tracks of Exposed Undercurrents play off intricately-conceived purposes to engaging ends. One is reminded some of Hypnos 69’s takes on elder King Crimson, but Pocket Size have less of a heavy rock stylistic base and are more purely prog. A clean production – this is clearly a band that wants you to hear everything happening at any given moment – serves the 54-minute offering well, and though it’s by no means free of indulgence, Exposed Undercurrents is imaginative in both the paths it follows and those it creates, the joy of craftsmanship clearly at the core of its process.
Though it’s actually only about 41 minutes, I doubt if Zoltan’s Sixty Minute Zoom would benefit from the extra time in terms of getting its point across. The instrumental London trio of keyboardist Andy Thompson, bassist/keyboardist Matt Thompson and drummer/keyboardist Andrew Prestidge revel in ‘70s synth soundtrack stylizations. For good measure I’ll name-check Goblin as a central influence on “Uzumaki,” the second of Sixty Minute Zoom’s five inclusions, but John Carpenter’s clearly had a hand as well in brazenly cinematic texturing of synth and the late-‘70s/early-‘80s vibe. The various washes culminate in the side B-consuming 21-minute stretch of “The Integral,” which is broken into separate movements but flows smoothly between them, pulsations and drones interweaving for a classic atmosphere of tension and balance of the chemistry between the Thompsons and Prestidge and the progressive, immersive sound they create. Fans of earlier Zombi will find much to chew on, but Zoltan dive even further into soundtrack-style ambience. All that’s missing is Lori Cardille running down a dimly lit hallway.
Offered as a nine-track full-length plus a four-song bonus EP, the self-titled debut from Madison, Wisconsin’s The Garza meters out noise rock punishment with sludgy ferocity. A trio of notable pedigree – drummer/vocalist Magma (Bongzilla, Aquilonian), guitarist Shawn Blackler (Brainerd, Striking Irwin), and bassist Nate Bush (ex-Droids Attack, ex-Bongzilla) – they fluidly pull together post-hardcore elements and Crowbar-esque turns while retaining a core of punk rock. “Rage” is a solid example of this, but it’s true of just about all of the album proper, which largely holds to its approach, adding some melody to the seven-minute pre-bonus-tracks closer “Kingdoms End” and varying tempo here and there around its destructive central ideology. The four bonus tracks are of a similar mind as well, Magma switching up his vocals every now and then to add variety to proceedings that otherwise prove vehemently assured of their position. I’m not sure if the extra cuts help reinforce the album’s rawness or detract from the closer, but The Garza aren’t exactly light on impact either way.
Dot Legacy’s self-titled Setalight Records debut, particularly for a green-backed CD with vinyl-style grooves on front, is not nearly as stoned as one might think. The Parisian foursome of Damien Quintard (vocals/bass/recording), Arnaud Merckling (guitar/keys/vocals), John Defontaine (guitar/vocals) and Romain Mottier (drums/vocals) employ a broad range on the 46-minute album’s nine tracks, from the shoegaze post-rock of “The Passage” to the driving heavy psych of “Gorilla Train Station,” all the while holding firm to a creative reasoning geared toward individuality. If they wound up adopting “The Midnight Weirdos” as a nom de guerre, I wouldn’t be surprised, but in fact there’s little sense that at any point Dot Legacy aren’t in full command of where their material is headed. All the better for the surprising opening duo of “Kennedy” and “Think of a Name,” which shift between reverb-soaked meditation and vibrant, hook-laden heavy rock. A fascinating and original-ish debut that could be the start of something special. They should hit the festival circuit hard and not look back.
Posted in Reviews on January 1st, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
I thought last night about changing the name of this feature to “First Licks 2015,” but on further reflection, that’s just too much licking. It’s bad enough as it is. All the same, Happy New Year to you and yours, wherever you and they may be. I hope in 2015, your reviews pile never gets so backed up that you think about doing something so absolutely insane as tackling them all at once to wipe the slate clean. Then again, being completely inundated with music has its upsides. The music, for one.
We press on today with the fourth installment in the “Last Licks 2014″ series. These are reviews 31-40. I passed the halfway point yesterday with barely so much as an inward breath to appreciate the moment, and I can only hope the pile of discs before me goes so smoothly. I’ll let you know when I get there. Until then, no need to dally, let’s get underway with the first reviews of 2015.
Thanks for reading:
Seven that Spells, The Death and Resurrection of Krautrock: Io
Reportedly second in a series of three albums from Croatian heavy psych rockers Seven that Spells, The Death and Resurrection of Krautrock: Io follows a first installment subtitled Aum released in 2011 and brings forth heady, mostly instrumental progressions of extended runtimes and a satisfying blend of weighted tones and stylistic clarity. The three-piece who released their first album in 2003 alternate between three shorter pieces and two longer ones across the 47-minute Sulatron Records outing’s five tracks, and while I’m not entirely sure what is the narrative that’s taking place across them, there’s definitely a plotted course and concept at work behind the material – it does not come across as haphazard in any way. When they arrive, vocals do so as chants coinciding with sweeping passages, as on “Burning Blood,” the culmination of which is worthy of being the apex of a trilogy in progress. Io takes the off-the-cuff authenticity in heavy psych and gives it direction and purpose beyond simply being. No small feat, no small results.
Some metal isn’t doom, some doom isn’t metal, but Texas trio Elliott’s Keep play doom metal, and make no mistake. Their third long-player, Nascentes Morimur, comes after 2008’s In Medias Res (review here) and 2010’s Sine Qua Non (review here), and like them, it was produced and mixed by J.T. Longoria, so that their darkened, metallic chugging is presented with a crisp bite. The three-piece of Kenneth Greene (bass/vocals), Jonathan Bates (guitar) and Joel Bates (drums) toy with the balance between death and doom effectively across Nascentes Morimur’s nine tracks, making highlights of early moments like the double-kick-laden “Now Taken” and the chorus of the proceeding “Days of Hell.” Later cuts like “Tale of Grief” and “Omen” follow suit, with Jonathan riffing out classic metal vibes while Greene switches between clean singing and a rasping, almost black metal in places, scream. Their command never wavers, though, and while there have never been many frills about their approach, Elliott’s Keep have come to offer a fist-pumpingly heavy, sharp-edged push.
Bluesy Minneapolis double-guitar four-piece The Lone Crows show an affinity for classic rock stylization on their World in Sound second full-length, Dark Clouds. Produced modern, with lead guitar front and center, there’s more rock to Dark Clouds than heavy rock, but the vocal style of guitarist Tim Barbeau – joined in the band by guitarist Julian Manzara, bassist Andy Battcher and drummer Joe Goff – has some ‘90s inflection to it, and every now and then they get into a bit of bounce, as on the title-track and “The Dragon.” The penultimate “Midnight Show” would seem like the peak of the album, and sure enough it has one of its best hooks, but the recording doesn’t allow for the same push one imagines the material would carry live, and the quiet ending of “On that Day” feels flat compared to some of The Lone Crows’ bluesy peers. I chalk it up to the difference between blues rock and heavy rock and my own expectations, rather than some fault in the band.
I’m not sure if it would be appropriate to call Krautzone an offshoot of Zone Six, of which all four members – guitarist Rainer Neeff, synth-providers Modulfix and Sula Bassana, and percussionist Komet Lulu (the latter two also of Electric Moon) – take part, plus bassist Onkel Kaktus, but either way, the sound is nebulous, brilliantly textured for a meditative, slow-motion churn, and utterly engrossing. Their Sulatron debut, Kosmiche Rituale, is comprised of three lengthy explorations, tones washing in and out of each, smoothly offset by Neeff’s flight-taken guitar, minimal but earthy percussion and an improvised sensibility. “Liebe” (12:46) and “Kosmiche Rituale” (9:09) comprise side A and “Only Fools Rush In” (20:41) consumes side B entirely, a wash of synth and cymbals announcing its arrival as it sets about unfolding its long course, every bit living up to the album’s title in the process. Krautzone also released a split with Lamp of the Universe in 2014 (review here), but on their own, they shine with the chance to really stretch out.
Italian instrumentalists L’Ira del Baccano make their full-length debut with the lushly conceived Terra 42, a six-track, 57-minute outing that works in three overarching “phases.” The first of them includes tracks one through three and is dubbed “The Infinite Improbability Drive,” and it makes up more than half the album’s runtime, the first, 13-minute part standing alone while the two subsequent nine-minute stretches feed one directly into the next in a psychedelic wash of open guitar building to a raucous heavy rock finish. Phase II, “Sussurri… Nel Bosco di Diana” is the next two cuts, and moves smoothly from a Yawning Man-style jam to more riff-based thickness. The longest individual part, Phase III, is the 14-minute “Volcano X13,” track six, on which the band move fluidly through their heavy psych and rock impulses, synth and guitar intertwining well as L’Ira del Baccano affirm their more-than-burgeoning stylistic breadth. It’s an interesting, somewhat familiar blend, but they put it to good use on Terra 42 and engage with the spaciousness created.
Reactivated Montreal noisemakers Lae enlisted the help of their producer, Today is the Day’s Steve Austin, in handling lead vocals for their debut, Break the Clasp, which is a move fitting for their anti-genre approach to noise, drone, doom, post-everything, and so on. A Battleground Records/The Compound release, Break the Clasp reworks unheard material from Lae’s original run in the mid-‘90s – an album that never came out, essentially – but the vitality in the 13 tracks (yes, even the crushingly slow ones) is fresh to the point of its newness, and even the parts meant to be abrasive, opener “Sexy Sadie” or pieces of “17 Queen,” for example, hold onto a wonderful depth the mix and a feeling of texture that feeds Break the Clasp’s otherworldly spirit and brings you along its path of consuming strangeness. Austin is a presence, but by no means the star, and the whole band Lae shines across Break the Clasp’s fascinating span. A debut no one knew they were awaiting, but they were.
Psychedelia implying such a colorful sound, and black metal implying essentially the absence of that color, the two have rarely been paired well, but Finnish four-piece Atomikylä display a resounding space on their five-song debut full-length, Erkale (released by Future Lunch), and they’re not through the 13-minute opener, “Aluaineet,” before I think they might have mastered the balance between effects wash, unmitigated thrust and far-back screaming that most others have left too far to one side or the other. The four-piece with a lineup half from Oranssi Pazuzu and half from Dark Buddha Rising don’t stay in one place stylistically – the title-track has an almost krautrock feel, while the subsequent “Ihmiskallo” is more resolved to doom – but they keep a consistency of blinding bleakness to Erkale that results in a decidedly individualized feel throughout the 48 minutes. Droning and jazzy guitar experimentalism prevails in “Who Goes There,” and 10-minute closer “Musta Kulta” both broadens the atmosphere and underscores Atomikylä’s vicious stylistic triumph, capping Erkale with a mash of squibblies and screams, effects and distortion that’s so filthy it can’t help but be beautiful.
Freiburg, Germany, trio Deaf Proof – guitarist/vocalist J. Fredo, bassist JP and drummer Pedro – released their first demo in 2013, but the three-song/34-minute EP (it’s more like an album, but I won’t argue) Death Sounds Angry is a decidedly more assured, professional affair. The vibe is loose and, in the reaches of 18-minute middle cut “Origin of Pain,” jammy, but the three-piece still seem to have some idea of where they want their material to go, even as they feel their way toward those ends. A Colour Haze influence? Maybe, but less than one might think given the current climate of European heavy psych. JP’s bass has a tendency toward darker undertones, and when they hit the payoffs for “Death Sounds Angry and Hungry for More,” “Origin of Pain” and “The Sense,” they reveal themselves to be in search of something heavier and less peaceful. J. Fredo’s vocals are a little forward in the mix, but Death Sounds Angry still offers plenty to chew on for the converted.
Progressive, mostly instrumental and hypnotic, Zagreb, Croatia, trio Jastreb released their self-titled debut as a single 36-minute song in 2012, and the follow-up, Mother Europe (on HauRucK), is no less ambitious. Vocals appear here and there, both from the core three-piece and a guest spot, but the heart of what Jastreb do is rooted in their ability to craft movements that pull listeners in without falling into lulls of unconsciousness – to wit, the repetitions of “The Black Mountain” seem still but are constantly building and moving forward – as well as in arrangement flourishes like synth, Hammond, sitar and violin among the shades of post-metal in “Haemmer” or the bleary, drone-backed opener “North,” which comes companioned by the subtle churn of “South” to end the album. Not necessarily psychedelic in a loose or jammy sense, but immersive, and purposeful in its variety; the sitar and guest vocals on “The Silver Spire” arrive just at the moment when one thinks they might have heard it all. Could say the same of the record itself, I suppose.
Passage of Gaia is the sixth album from progressive melo-doomers Arctic Sleep. A four-piece from Milwaukee including bassist/drummer/cellist/vocalist Keith D, guitarist Mike Gussis and vocalist Emily Jancetic (John Gleisner plays drums live), one is reminded both of the Floydian consciousness of mid-period Anathema (my go-to comparison point for this kind of stuff, admittedly) and the drama in Katatonia and some of Novembers Doom’s clean sections, but ultimately, Arctic Sleep emerge from the eight-track/54-minute DIY long-player with their own personality, measured out in the careful vocal collaboration between Keith D and Jancetic, songs like “Terra Vindicta,” “Green Dragon” and “Passage of Gaia,” and the varied structures between the more rocking “Terra Vindicta” and the build of “Solar Lament.” Through it all, nothing’s out of balance, and Arctic Sleep execute Passage of Gaia with the poise demanded by the style and the fact that it’s their sixth album, accomplishment suiting them as well as the melancholy of closer “Destroy the Urn,” which almost loses its restraint at the end. Almost.
Posted in Reviews on December 31st, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Yesterday was kind of crazy, but I don’t mind telling you I think today might be the most all-over-the-place of the week each of the five piles on my desk — now three, soon two — offers something different from the others, but it’s a wide spectrum being covered here, and there’s a couple abrupt turns from one to the next that I didn’t really do on purpose but I think will make for an interesting challenge anyway. In case you’ve been wondering, that’s what kind of nerd I am. Also the Star Trek kind.
I’m feeling really good about this series so far. Really good. I reserve the right to, by Friday, be so completely done with it that I never want to even think of the idea again, but I can only begin to tell you how satisfying it is to me to be able to write about some of these records after staring at them for so long sitting on my desk. Today’s batch is reviews 21-30 of the total 50, so we’ll pass the halfway point in this pile. If you’ve been keeping count since Monday or checking in, thanks, and if not, thanks anyway. Ha.
It’s about that time:
Brain Pyramid, Chasma Hideout
Although it was streamed here in full in September, the persistent stoner charm of French trio Brain Pyramid’s debut album, Chasma Hideout (released by Acid Cosmonaut Records), seemed to warrant further highlight. Whether it’s small touches like the organ underscoring centerpiece “Lucifer” or the wah-ready bass of Ronan Grall – joined in the band by guitarist/vocalist Gaston Lainé and drummer Baptiste Gautier-Lorenzo – or the memorable if genre-familiar turns of “Into the Lightspeed,” the band’s first LP impresses with unpretentious heavy rock front to back. It’s not perfect. Lainé’s vocals come across high in the mix on opener “Living in the Outer Space” and there are points where the “familiar” runs stronger than others, but especially as their initial full-length offering, Chasma Hideout is one that one seems to continue to grow on the listener as time goes on, and one hopes that the heavy psych chicanery from which they launch the 11-minute closing title-track becomes the foundation from which they build going forward. Potential worth reiterating.
With the backing of venerable Swedish imprint I Hate Records, Canadian two-piece Zaum release their first LP in the four-song Oracles, a 48-minute work taking its central musical and atmospheric themes from Middle Eastern cues. Melodically and atmospherically, it relies on chants, slow, deep low end and minor key riffs to convey a dense ambience, reminding some of Om’s Mideast fixation on “Peasant of Parthia” – third and shortest here at 8:13 – but otherwise on a much heavier, darker trip entirely. Opener “Zealot” (12:55) and closer “Omen” (14:08) both offer plodding pace and a methodology not unlike Nile played at quarter-speed, but it would be a mistake to call the hand with which Kyle Alexander McDonald (vocals, bass, synth, sitar) and Christopher Lewis (drums) approach their aesthetic anything but commanding, and when McDonald switches to a semi-blackened rasp in the second half of “Omen,” Zaum demonstrate a desire to push even further into extremity’s reaches. I can’t help but wonder how far they’ll go.
Some of the organ sounds on “Eye Opener,” the aptly-titled leadoff from Virginia four-piece Fire Faithful’s second LP, Organized Occult Love, remind of what Beelzefuzz conjured atmospherically, but an even more primary impression is the uptick in production value from Fire Faithful’s 2012 outing, Please Accept this Invocation (review here). Recorded by Windhand’s Garrett Morris, songs like “Last Fool on Earth” and “Organized Occult Love” brim with tonal resonance and a perfect balance the mix. Guitarist Shane Rippey handled the latter with Morris, and throughout, his tones and that of bassist Jon Bone shine, but whether it’s a more straightforward, Earthride-style groover like the title-track, or a more ranging doomer like “Combat,” vocalist Brandon Malone is well balanced to cut through the morass and drummer Joss Sallade’s crash resides comfortably behind the thick chugging. Melissa Malone and Gabrielle Bishop contribute backing vocals to “Last Fool on Earth” and only affirm how much Organized Occult Love brings Fire Faithful’s Southern doom to another level of presentation. An important forward step.
Five years after debuting with 2009’s Cantos a Ma Vida, Amsterdam-based Pendejo return on Chancho Records with Atacames, a 10-track/44-minute wallop of classic heavy rock riffing and Latin American influence via the Spanish lyrics of vocalist El Pastuso and his readily-wielded-but-not-overused trumpet, which makes a surprising complement to Jaap “Monchito” Melman’s fuzz-heavy guitar, Stef “El Rojo” Gubbels’ bass and Jos “Pepellín” Roosen’s drums, but in context works well to bring personality and an individualized sensibility to a sound otherwise heavily indebted to the likes of Kyuss and Fu Manchu. Quality songwriting and variety in songs like the slower “Amiyano” and the building “Hermelinda” ensures Atacames offers more than novelty to those who’d gape at its other-ness, and when that trumpet does hit, it never falls flat. Closing out with a pair of big-riffers in “El Jardinero” and “La Chica del Super No Se Puede Callar,” Pendejo’s sophomore effort produces results as substantial as they are fun, and serve to remind that’s why we’re here in the first place.
Cali trio Heavy Glow – guitarist/vocalist Jared Mullins, bassist Joe Brooks and drummer St. Judas – have spent a decent portion of the year on tour in support of their full-length, Pearls and Swine and Everything Fine. Understandable, and all the better to pick up your girlfriend in-person. Smooth, well-baked grooves permeate cuts like “Mine all Mine,” which also appeared on their prior 7” (review here), and the later “Nerve Endings,” a Queens of the Stone Age-style production giving about as much of a commercial vibe as a record can have and still be heavy rock, but the songwriting is paramount and definitely an element working in Heavy Glow’s favor, whether it’s the takeoff chorus of “Domino” or near-lounge vibe of “Fat Cat.” There’s an aspirational sensibility at the album’s core that’s going to make for an odd fit for some riff-heads who might be puzzled how something so nearly desert rock can still sound not at all like Brant Bjork, but hooks is hooks, and Heavy Glow use them well.
Bibilic Blood released three albums between 2009 and 2011, but the Eastlake, Ohio, duo haven’t been heard from since – their nightmarish, depraved psychedelic sludge vanishing in a smoky, somehow hateful wisp. Snakeweed marks their fourth album, and with it bassist/vocalist Suzy Psycho and drummer/guitarist Scott “Wizard” Stearns unfurl another demented collection of chaos snippets from an alternate, terrifying universe, the 11 songs totaling just 27 minutes with enough lumber and obscure freakout on two-minute mainliners like “Severed” and “Bloodnomicon” in the middle of the record to be a genre on itself — like a grainy horror flick made scarier by its rawness. Closer and longest cut at 4:10 “Bloody Rabbit” starts with Boris, Flood-style noodling from Stearns on guitar, but samples transition into Snakeweed’s most gruesome chapter, Suzy Psycho’s voice echoing, twisted, from out of an abyss that might as well be your own subconscious, referencing Jefferson Airplane along the way. Their particular brand of malevolence has been missed, and hopefully Snakeweed starts a new bout of activity.
Thera Roya & Hercyn, All this Suffering is Not Enough
Gloom prevails and takes multiple shapes on All this Suffering is Not Enough, the new jewel-case split between Brooklyn post-metallers Thera Roya and progressive New Jersey black metallers Hercyn. Each band includes one song, and for the trio Thera Roya, that’s “Gluttony,” which builds its churn from the ground up and intersperses spacious guitar and almost punkish clean singing en route to a wash of scream-topped distortion, trading off volume and ambience and ultimately delivering a lot of both in a densely-packed eight minutes. Hercyn, a four-piece, counter with the 14-minute “Dusk and Dawn,” which follows their also-longform Magda EP (review here) in grand and squibbly form, a gallop taking hold early topped with throaty screams and shifting between melodic and dissonant impulses, a midsection solo offering a standout moment before the bludgeoning resumes. Each act offers a quotient of noise not to be understated, and despite working in different styles, that’s enough to let them complement each other well on the searing 23-minute Ouro Preto Productions release.
Synapse, the third full-length from German trio The Spacelords, arrives like a gift from the bliss-jam gods. Four extended mostly-instrumental cuts arranged two per side on a Sulatron Records LP, crafting memorable impressions with washes of synth and guitar, intelligent jams that feel partially plotted and intelligent but still exploratory and natural in how they flesh out. Guitarist Matthias Wettstein is out front in the mix, but bassist Akee Kazmaier and drummer Marcus Schnitzler (also of Electric Moon) aren’t far behind, as much as a title like “Starguitar” might make you think otherwise. The chemistry between the three-piece remains tight across the album’s 41 minutes, and from the rich bass and chugging guitar of the opening title-track to the more laid-back groove of “No. 5” and voicebox strangeness of “Pyroclastic Master,” which has the record’s only vocals in robotically spoken lines, Synapse seems to make all of its connections along the way. Heavy psych heads previously unfamiliar will want to take note. The vinyl, of course, is limited.
A progressive heavy rock trio from the Netherlands, The Good Hand present Atman, their second album, on Minstrel Music, with an adventurous semi-desert sensibility given crisp production and a somewhat wistful feel in songs like “Greenwich Mean Time” and “Unity.” For a record that starts out with lead guitarist/vocalist Arjan Hoekstra (also tuba, trombone, bugle, keys, percussion) declaring “I am god,” Atman is surprisingly not-arrogant, owing probably as much to Radiohead as Kyuss and keeping an experimental feel to the stops and arrangement of “The Opposite,” bassist/vocalist Dennis Edelenbosch and drummer/vocalist Ingmar Regeling (both also Monotron) swinging out classic style but holding firm to a modern edge. Out of nowhere is the 19-minute closing title-track (nothing else hits six), on which The Good Hand unfold varied movements that push beyond the charm of “The Death of the Real”’s ‘60s affiliations and into spaces jazz-funky, or droning, or doomy, or all of them. No easy accomplishment, but The Good Hand manage to hold it all together fluidly.
Byzanthian Neckbeard, From the Clutches of Oblivion
Okay, seriously. What the hell do you think a band who live on an island in the English Channel and call themselves Byzanthian Neckbeard sound like? Burly as hell? Well you’re right. The Guernsey foursome of guitarist/vocalist Phil Skyrme, guitarist Jon Langlois, bassist Dano Robilliard and drummer Paul Etasse get down on some dudely, dudely grooves on their 2014 debut, From the Clutches of Oblivion. “Doppelganger” nestles somewhere between death rock, stoner and sludge, and there’s a heaping crash of doom on “Plant of Doom” (duh) and “To Seek the Cyberdwarf” to go with the more swaggering take of “Hive Mind Overlord” as well. But primarily, you don’t put the word “Neckbeard” in your band’s name unless you’re on a pretty masculine trip, and Byzanthian Neckbeard do not fuck around in that regard or in the aggro boogie of “The Ganch.” CD is limited to 200 copies in a four-panel digipak to house the growl-laden, riff-led plunder that ensues across its brief but bloody 32-minute span.
Posted in Reviews on December 30th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Happy to report that I survived the first day of this project. Spirits are good and I look at the stack of discs (plus one book; we’ll get there) in front of me and feel relatively confident that by the time I’m through it, my cerebral cortex will still manage to function in the limited way it usually does. If yesterday’s installment is anything to go by, however, I’ll be well out of adjectives by then. What’s another word for “heavy?”
There’s only one way to find out. These will be reviews 11-20 of the total 50. I don’t know if they say the first 10 are the hardest or the last, but I’ll be in the thick of it when this is posted and while I’m sure I probably could turn back and catch minimal if any flack for it — one “Hey wha happen?” on Thee Facebooks seems likely penance — better to just keep going. Another stack awaits tomorrow, after all.
Thanks in advance to anyone reading:
Nate Hall, Electric Vacuum Roar
Electric Vacuum Roar is one of two Nate Hall physical releases from this fall. The U.S. Christmas frontman and solo performer also has a few digital odds and ends and Fear of Falling, on which he partners with a rhythm section. Released by Heart and Crossbone Records and Domestic Genocide, Electric Vacuum Roar is closer to a solo affair. Hall is joined by Caustic Resin’s Brett Netson on guitar/bass on two extended tracks: “Dance of the Prophet” (16:46) and “Long Howling Decline/People Fall Down” (11:57). The second part of the latter is a reinterpretation of a Caustic Resin song, though here it is droned out and put through a portal of drumless and inward-looking psychedelia, turned into the finale of a communicative and intimate affair. Amp noise and effects swirl around “Dance of the Prophet,” and it’s easy to get lost in it, but Hall maintains a steady presence of obscure vocals and the result is what tribal might be if tribes were comprised of one person.
I’ve never tried to break up a one-man band, but I can’t imagine Scott Conner – who helped pave the way for US black metal under the moniker Malefic in Xasthur – has had an easy time of it since he put that band to bed in 2010. Nocturnal Poisoning, whose Doomgass arrives via The End Records, is an entirely different beast. Centered around layers folkish acoustic guitar, cleanly produced backed by occasional bass and tambourine, Doomgrass is still depressive at its core – Robert N. contributes guest vocals, almost gothic in style, to songs like “Starstruck by Garbage” and “Illusion of Worth” – but if the name is a portmanteau of doom and bluegrass, it fits the style. If anything ties Nocturnal Poisoning to Xasthur aside from Conner’s involvement, it’s a focus on atmosphere, but the two ultimately have little in common otherwise, and Nocturnal Poisoning’s exploratory feel is refreshingly individualized and leaves one wondering if Conner will be able to resist the full-band-sound impulse going forward.
Though they’re decidedly post-metal in their influences – Neurosis, YOB, obviously Ufomammut for whose record they are named – Sweden’s Snailking keep to heavy rock tones on their Consouling Sounds debut full-length, Storm, and that greatly bolsters the album’s personality. Even as they lumber, the riffs of 11-minute opener “To Wander” are fuzzed-out, and that remains true throughout the five mostly-extended cuts the trio of drummer Olle Svahn, bassist Frans Levin and guitarist/vocalist Pontus Ottosson present on their first record, which follows the 2012 demo, Samsara (review here). Centerpiece “Slithering” is the shortest and most churning of the bunch at 6:32, but the particularly YOBian “Requiem” underscores another value greatly working in Storm’s favor – the patience with which Snailking present the ambience of their pieces. That will serve them well as they continue to distinguish themselves from their forebears, but for now, Storm makes a welcome opening salvo from the three-piece highlighting both their potential and how far they’ve come already since the release of their demo.
The self-titled debut from thoroughly-bearded Brooklynite four-piece Godmaker arrives via Aqualamb as an art-book and download, a full 96 pages of designs, lyrics to the four included tracks of the vinyl-ready 32-minute long-player, live shots from a variety of sources, bizarre geometry and odd etchings feeding the atmosphere of the songs themselves, somewhere between sludge, thrash and aggressive noise with scream-topped moments of doom like “Shallow Points.” Comprised of guitarist/vocalists Pete Ross and Chris Strait, bassist Andrew Archey and drummer Jon Lane, Godmaker fluidly shifts between the various styles at work in their sound, whether it’s the explosion at the end of “Shallow Points” or that beginning the rush of opener “Megalith,” and while their self-titled is a dense listen, with the surprising post-hardcore take of “Desk Murder” and the check-out-this-badass-riff-now-we’re-going-to-smash-your-face-with-it 11-minute metallic closer “Faded Glory,” it efficiently satisfies. More so after a couple listens front to back. If Godmaker were breaking your bones, it would be a clean break, and yes, that’s a compliment to their attack.
Supersound is the first full-length from Italian heavy psych rockers Void Generator since 2010’s Phantom Hell and Soar Angelic (review here), and where that album held three extended pieces, the latest and third overall breaks into smaller pieces. Some of those are extended – opener “Behind My Door” is 8:09 and “Master of the Skies” tops nine minutes – but the bulk of Supersound’s seven tracks is shorter works somewhere between desert rock and classic psych, guitarist Gianmarco Iantaffi leading the four-piece with a more subdued vocal approach than last time out, compressed even in the rowdier verses of “What are You Doin’” (written by Sandro Chiesa), on which the keys of Enrico Cosimi feature heavily and add to the sound too crisp to be totally retro but still vehemently organic. Bassist Sonia Caporossi (also acoustic guitar on penultimate interlude “Universal Winter”) and drummer Marco Cenci hold together the fluid grooves as Void Generator follows these varied impulses, and Supersound proves cohesive and no less broadly scoped than its predecessor.
There’s a version of The Mound Builders’ 17-minute Wabash War Machine EP from Failure Records and Tapes that includes a comic book, but even the regular sleeve CD edition gives a glimpse at the Lafayette, Indiana, five-piece’s heavy Southern metal push. The middle two of the four inclusions, “Sport of Crows” and “Bar Room Queen,” surfaced earlier this year on a split tape with Bo Jackson 5 (review here), but opener “Wabash War Machine” and the sludged-up closer “The Mound” on which the guitars of Brian Boszor and “Ninja” Nate Malher phase between channels and vocalist Jim Voelz delivers his harshest performance to date, are brand new, albeit recorded at the same sessions in July 2013. “Wabash War Machine” highlights the band’s blend of southern metal and heavy groove, guitar intricacy and a gang-shout chorus meeting thick rollout from bassist Robert Ryan Strawsma and drummer Jason “Dinger” Brookhart, but it’s the finale that’s the EP’s most lasting impression, as pummeling as The Mound Builders have gotten to date.
In Olof’s buzzsaw guitar tone, the thud of Karl’s drums and Gidon’s abiding vocal menace, “Strike of the Emperor” gives notice of some Celtic Frost influence, but that’s hardly the whole tale when it comes Stockholm trio Mother Kasabian’s self-titled, self-released debut EP, as “The Black Satanic Witch of Saturn” immediately calls to mind The Doors in its minimal, spacious verse and offsets this with a soulful classic heavy rock chorus en route to the seven-minute “Close of Kaddish,” which works in a similar pattern – hitting notes of Trouble-style doom in its crescendos – and offers Mother Kasabian’s widest ranging moment ahead of the swaggering closer “The Return of the Mighty King and His Cosmic Elephants.” Swinging drums and variety in Gidon’s The Crazy World of Arthur Brown-style approach give the EP a distinguished feel despite raw production and it being Mother Kasabian’s first outing, and with the psych touches in the finale and a generally unhinged vibe throughout, the trio showcase considerable potential at work.
Active since 2011 and with two prior full-lengths – 2012’s I (review here) and 2013’s II (review here) – under their belt, Oulu, Finland, heavy psych trio Deep Space Destructors offer their definitive stylistic statement in the wash of III, a five-song/45-minute cosmic excursion with progressive krautrock edge (see “Spaceship Earth”) driven into heavier territory through dense fuzz in guitarist Petri Lassila’s tone and the chemistry between he, vocalist/bassist Jani Pitkänen and drummer Markus Pitkänen. Their extended but plotted jammy course finds culmination in the 15-minute penultimate cut “An Ode to Indifferent Universe,” – King Crimson and Floyd laced together by synth sounds – but the space-rock thrust of closer “Ikuinen Alku” highlights the multifaceted approach Deep Space Destructors have developed since their inception, consistently psychedelic but expansive. The sides gel effectively on “Cosmic Burial,” lending modern crash and tonal heft to classic ideals to craft something new from them in admirable form. As far out as they’ve gone, Deep Space Destructors still seem to be exploring new ground.
Released as a cooperative production between Garage Records and Go Down Records, Italian trio Underdogs’ second, self-titled LP pushes further along the straight-lined course of heavy rock their 2007 debut, Ready to Burn, and 2011’s Revolution Love (review here) charted. Songs like “Nothing but the Best” strip away the Queens of the Stone Age-style fuzz of past outings in favor of a cleaner tone and overall feel, and while that spirit shows up later on side B’s “Called Play” and the rumbling grunge of “My Favourite Game” (a cover of The Cardigans), the prevailing vibe speaks to European commercial viability with clear hooks and straightforward structures. Acoustic finale “The Closing Song” offers a last-minute shift in style, calling to mind Underdogs’ Dogs without Plugs digital release, but even in more barebones form, the songwriting remains the focus on this mature third offering from a three-piece who’ve clearly figured out the direction in which they want to head and have set about developing an audience-friendly sound.
Since they issued their self-titled debut (review here) in 2012, Virginia’s Human Services have brought aboard Steve Kerchner of Lord, and he brings as much a sense of chaos to Animal Fires as one might expect in teaming with Jeff Liscombe, Sean Sanford, Don Piffalo and Billy Kurilko, though the 59-minute full-length isn’t without its structure. Longer songs pair with concise noise experiments throughout the first 10 of the total 13 tracks, and each is different, so that even as the gap between songs is bridged, the stylistic basis for Animal Fires is branched out. The result is that by the time “Onyedinci Yil Sürüsü” closes out the album proper before the 17-minute live inclusion “No Structures in the Eye of the Jungle” hits, Human Services have reimagined the modus of Godflesh as an extremity of organic noisemaking, Southern heavy and eerie progressivism. Shades of Neurosis show up in centerpiece “Rats of a Feather,” but they too are twisted to suit the band’s creative purposes, threatening and engagingly bleak.
Posted in Reviews on December 29th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
This is it. New Year’s is this week and by Friday we’ll be into 2015. A new year always brings new hopes, concerns, records and so on, but to be completely honest, I’m just not quite done with 2014 yet. So here we are. I’ve had stacks of CDs on my desk and folders on my computer from the last couple months of stuff I have been trying to fit in, and it doesn’t seem right to me to let the year go without cramming in as much music as I possibly can.
Gotta call it something, so I went with “Last Licks,” since that’s basically what it will be. The plan is that between today and Friday, each day I’ll have another batch of 10 reviews. I’m not going to promise they’ll be the most comprehensive ever, but the idea is to do as much as I can and this seems to me the best way to turn my brains into goo. When that ball drops in Times Square, there’s a good chance I’ll be typing.
No sense in delaying. You get the idea, so let’s jump in:
Sigiriya, Darkness Died Today
Recorded live as their debut on Candlelight Records and the follow-up to 2011’s debut, Return to Earth (review here), the sophomore outing from Welsh heavy rockers Sigiriya, Darkness Died Today, is distinguished by a vocalist swap bringing in Matt Williams of Suns of Thunder. Williams has a tough job in replacing Dorian Walters, who like guitarist Stuart O’Hara, bassist Paul Bidmead and drummer Darren Ivey, is a former member of Acrimony. There are times when it works and times when it doesn’t. Along with a more barebones tonality in the guitar than appeared on the debut, Williams brings a more straightforward style in his voice, and it changes the personality of the band on songs like “Freedom Engines” and the first-album-title-track “Return to Earth.” “Tribe of the Old Oak” is a catchy highlight and I’ll almost never argue with a song called “Obelisk,” but it seems like they’re still searching for the footing here that seemed so firmly planted their last time out.
Upstate New York blues rockers Handsome Jack waste little time living up to the title Do What Comes Naturally. The name of their third album, released by Alive Naturalsound, is both mission-statement aand suggestion, and on songs like the soul-inflected “Creepin’” and the rolling “You and Me,” they make it sound like a good idea. Blues and classic soul meet garage rock across cuts like the relatively brief “Leave it all Behind,” but the tones are warm throughout the record, and guest spots on harmonica and Hammond help keep a sense of variety in the material, well-constructed but still loose in its vibe. The twang might recall The Brought Low for heavy rock heads, but one doubts Handsome Jack groove on much that came out after Psychedelic Mud. Even the CD splits into sides, and as easy as it would be for something like this to sound like a put-on, Handsome Jack prevail with closer “Wasted Time” in making an outing that’s anything but.
London doomers Serpent Venom sound like experts in the form on Of Things Seen and Unseen, their second album for The Church Within following 2011’s Carnal Altar and their initial 2010 demo (review here), a righteous 48-minute lumbering slab of heavy riffs, downerism and nod. It’s not every band who could put “Death Throes at Dawn” and “Lord of Life” next to each other, but the four-piece of vocalist Garry Ricketts, guitarist Roland Scriver, bassist Nick Davies and drummer Paul Sutherland keep their focus so utterly doomed that even the quiet, minimalist acoustic interlude “I Awake” – ostensibly a breather — comes across as trodden as the earlier “Sorrow’s Bastard,” or the Reverend Bizarre-worthy “Let Them Starve,” which follows. For those who long for trad doom that has an identity outside its Vitus and Sabbath influences, Serpent Venom prove more than ready to enter that conversation on the wah-soaked soloing in the second half of “Pilgrims of the Sun.” Right fucking on.
The artwork tells the story. Owl Glitters’ Alchemical Tones (on Heart and Crossbone Records) is a wash of color. Taking tribal rhythms and repetitions and pairing them with organic low-end, chanted vocals and periodic excursions of psych rock guitar, Arkia Jahani (who seems to be the lone creative force behind the project, though Mell Dettmer mastered) brings a ritualistic sensibility to the eight included pieces, and the flow is molten from the start of “Dervishes.” Less purposefully weird than Master Musicians of Bukkake, but farther into the cosmos than Om, there’s a folkish identity at the heart of Alchemical Tones that keeps the proceedings human even on the near-throat-singing of “Hakim Sanai” or “Poets of Shiras” and “Khalifa’s Visions” an immersive pair preceding the droning closer “By the Candlelight Our Eyes Welcome Glimmers of Eternity.” Beautifully experimental – and in the case of “Mindful of Gems,” fuzzed to the gills – Owl Glitters’ second outing engages sonic spiritualism with dogmatic command and stares back at you from the space within yourself.
Sandveiss released Scream Queen, their first full-length, late in 2013, reveling in a modern sound crisply produced and more than ably executed to feature the vocals of guitarist Luc Bourgeois, who provides frontman presence even on disc alongside guitarist Shawn Rice, bassist Daniel Girard and drummer Dzemal Trtak. Cohesiveness isn’t in question as opener and longest cut (immediate points) “Blindsided” rounds out its 6:26, leading the way into “Do You Really Know” and setting the tone for big-riffed Euro-style heavy from the Quebecois foursome, who slow down on “Bottomless Lies,” on which Trtak backs Bourgeois in you-guys-should-do-this-more fashion, and ultimately hold firm to the focus on songwriting that establishes itself early. They fuzz out on closer “Green or Gold,” but by then it’s another element of variety among the organ, guest vocals on “Scar” and tempo shifts on Sandveiss’ ambitious debut, distinguished even unto the six-panel gatefold digi-sleeve in which it arrives, the art and design by Alexandre Goulet one more standout factor on an album demanding attention.
Probably the most clearly Beatlesian moment on Octopus Syng’s Reverberating Garden Number 7 is a slight “Hey Bulldog”-style cadence on side A’s “Very Strange Trip,” and that in itself is an accomplishment (one I’m apparently not the first to observe). The Helsinki four-piece in their 15th year are led by guitarist/vocalist Jaire Pätäri and emit an oozing, serene psychedelia, peaceful and lysergic in late ‘60s exploratory fashion. Reverberating Garden Number 7 (on Mega Dodo Records) echoes out vibe to spare and is deceptively lush while keeping a humble vibe thanks in no small part to Pätäri’s restrained vocal approach and curios like “Cuckoo Clock Mystery,” which boasts an actual cuckoo clock to add bounce to its arrangement. Nine-minute closer “Listen to the Moths” is the single biggest surprise, and an album unto itself, but its unfolding is only the capstone on a collection of psychedelic wonder sincere in its stylistic intent and execution. It fills the ears like warm air in the lungs.
Destructive Australian trio Sun Shepherd put the bulk of Procession of Trampling Hoof to tape in 2011. Closing bonus track “Exploding Sun” is a demo from 2006, but it fits with their extended tracks and big riffs piled onto each other in densely-weighted fashion, if rougher in presentation. More Ramesses than High on Fire, who prove otherwise to be a key influence tonally for guitarist/vocalist Anson Antriasian, must-hear bassist Leigh Fischer and drummer Michael Barson, though their approach is decidedly less thrash-based. The first five of the six songs find Sun Shepherd’s first full-length a pummel-minded blend of sludge and doom. Antriasian’s vocals are semi-spoken, but fitting theatrically on “Goat-Head Awakening” with the grueling riff-led nod, the tension released as they pass the halfway point of the 10-minute run, a raw atmosphere bolstering the chaos of their slower-motion marauding. With the welcome flourish of stonerly soloing on “Engulfed by Ocean of Time,” one can’t help but wonder what the Melbourne natives are up to three years later.
Fuzz-toned elements of Sleep and Sabbath pervade the stoner-doomy self-titled The Church Within debut from Oslo three-piece Purple Hill Witch, who carry the bounce well in immediately familiar riffs and groove. Swinging drums from Øyvind and the inventive basslines of Andreas underscore Kristian’s purely Iommic riffage and blown-out vocals, somewhere between Witchcraft’s earliest going and Witch’s self-titled. If that gives Purple Hill Witch an even witchier feel, “Final Procession” sounds just fine with that, as do shorter tracks like the later “Aldebaranian Voyage (Into the Sun)” and centerpiece “Karmanjaka” on which the stoner side comes out in force. They finish by using all 11 minutes of the eponymous “Purple Hill Witch”’s runtime, breaking in the midsection for a murky exploration that’s creepily atmospheric without veering into cult rock cliché. They bounce resumes and slows to a crawl to close out, but the jam serves Purple Hill Witch well in expanding the band’s sonic reach and the album’s weedian sensibility. Not that they were keeping it a secret.
A burly dual-guitar five-piece with roots in Germany and Switzerland, Giant Sleep start out their self-titled, self-released first LP with a brief intro titled “Argos” before getting to the question, “Why am I angry all the time?” as the central, recurring line of “Angry Man.” That song, like “Henu” and “Reproduce,” gets its point across quick in heavy rock fashion and develops its argument from there, a progressive metal vibe pervading especially the latter, which is penultimate in the 10-song/52-minute effort, and underscores the high-grade craftsmanship accomplished throughout. “Dreamless Sleep” is probably my pick of the bunch for its airier tone and resonant minor-key hook in the guitars of Markus Ruf and Patrick Hagmann, vocalist Thomas Rosenmerkel belting out the chorus before making way for plotted solos atop Radek Stecki’s bass and Manuel Spänhauer’s drums, but it’s not so far removed from its surroundings. As a whole, the album could be more efficient, but it wants nothing for songwriting, and especially as a debut, Giant Sleep hits its marks readily.
Opener “Las Noches del Desierto” is the only one of Star Collider’s five tracks under 10 minutes. Flux seems to be the norm for Finnish post-stoners Acid Elephant, who recently brought in vocalist Martin Ahlö but here revolve around the core of bassist/guitarist/vocalist Miksa Väliverho, guitarist/vocalist Ilpo Kauppinen and drummer Roope Vähä-Aho, employing a host of others on obscure vocals, percussion and djembe throughout the 64-minute sophomore outing, recorded in 2012 and released late in 2013. Whoever they are now, Acid Elephant on Star Collider call out heavy psych, drone/jam and riff-based impulses in their extended cuts, gradually getting longer from “Red Carpet Lane” (10:46) until closer “Bog” hits 18:29. To their credit, their songs leave impressions to match their length, and even as it’s finishing its instrumental run, “Godmason” (15:58) is highlighting its resonant central riff, having emerged from a wash of feedback and amp noise at its beginning, preceded by the droning centerpiece “7th Stone.” Satisfying and unpredictable, Star Collider balances experimentation and engagement smoothly without losing its focus on individualism.
Posted in On Wax on December 19th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Austin-based Mark Deutrom and North Carolinians The Asound team up for a split 7″ released through Tsuguri Records, the imprint helmed by Asound bassist Jon Cox. One track from each outfit is included, Deutrom – who has a new band going called Bellringer (more on them to come) and has collaborated with no shortage of others but is probably best known for playing bass in the Melvins during their Stoner Witch era — tossing in a quick, punkish burst of an A-side in “Mini-Skirt,” while The Asound let their riffs breathe a little more on side B with “The Chief of Thieves,” a steady roll captured raw and suited to the 7″ form. Sound-wise, it’s not so different from their recent live split with Lenoir Swingers Club (review here), but the output is clear enough to indicate a studio recording, even if it’s one still punk enough to warrant the black and while cover art on the 7″ sleeve — a traditionalism well suited to both inclusions.
Deutrom reportedly recorded “Mini-Skirt” at the same time he tracked the jazzy solo offering Brief Sensuality and Western Violence (review here), and with Aaron Lack on drums, what might’ve been left off the record on account of not fitting sonically earns a distinctive place here via thickened shuffle and unceasing forward motion. Easy enough to be reminded of Butthole Surfers and the Melvins both, but “Mini-Skirt” makes its point in the unflinching, almost garage-sounding nature and in its quick-turning solo culmination. Where the record from whence it doesn’t come was a headier affair, “Mini-Skirt” is simple and decidedly anti-progressive, a sprint put to tape. It contrasts effectively with The Asound‘s “The Chief of Thieves,” which keeps to a slower pace, but the two find common ground in their rougher-edged production an in the density of their tones, the fervency of their crash and the efficiency with which they deal out their riffing.
Guitarist/vocalist Chad Wyrick leads the proceedings for The Asound, with Cox and drummer Michael Crump following the lurching groove set by the guitars more or less for the duration. It’s a riff worth basing a song around, and even the solo section in the second half seems to base its rhythm around that same movement, the vocals by then having dropped out to let the band get to the heart of the matter. No question the B-side is longer than the A, but in the context of what they’re doing, Wyrick‘s singing over the wailing distortion recalling some of Floor‘s appeal in combining doom and more accessible sonic forms, I don’t think I’d call “The Chief of Thieves” less productive than its companion, only going for — and, I’d argue, hitting the mark — on a different side of the same style. The Asound end after all that rolling on a quick-fading feedback that calls to mind the constraints of the format. That is, there’s nothing sonically to make me think that riff couldn’t have gone on another seven minutes or so.
But then it would be an entirely different kind of release — and Deutrom would probably need more than one song — so I’ll instead take the tight-packed grooves on the platter itself to stand as a visual metaphor for what “The Chief of Thieves” has to offer during playback. The 7″ is limited to 200 copies in green or black vinyl, and while it might be a stopgap for both parties concerned, it also asks next to no indulgence on the part of its audience and easily proves worth the time it takes to listen.
It doesn’t take too long into “Lucifero,” the opening track of Danish doomers The Hyle‘s four-song Demo, to figure out where they’re coming from. Pressed in a limited edition of 150 tapes by Caligari Records — pro-printed thick-stock four-panel j-card, black and clear case, purple cassette with the print directly on it (rather than a label) — the release finds the somewhat mysterious three-piece nestled into the post-Electric Wizard frame of doom, starting out with quiet, spacious, foreboding guitar and opening quickly into a rolling groove topped with a winding smoke-trail of a lead. Echoing clean vocals provide further basis for the comparison throughout “Lucifero” and its side one companion, “Serpent King,” as well as side two’s “Spiritual Sacrifice” and “Children of the Divine,” but if it’s a sonic likeness noted, let that also stand as testament to The Hyle‘s ability to craft a hook, since “Lucifero” likewise serves significant notice in that regard.
They keep lineup information minimal, but Demo was recorded, mixed and mastered by Jens Dandanell and Caligari has seen fit to keep true to its overarching atmosphere with the tape, the inside liner of which is dedicated to a murky, almost black metal-style photo by Rasmus Leo that complements the All is Visual cover of the release itself. The music is similarly cohesive. It may or may not be The Hyle‘s first release, but Demo sounds like the work of a band who knows what they want out of their sound, “Serpent King” branching out further vocally than “Lucifero” and helping distinguish the band from their central point of influence even as they continue to weave a torrent of low end punctuated by classically swinging drums with an otherworldly psychedelic vibe. “Serpent King” fades out long on a guitar solo to close out side one of the tape, a moment’s respite consumed by droning before “Spiritual Sacrifice” and “Children of the Divine” take hold.
A more fervent stomp provides the resounding impression of “Spiritual Sacrifice,” at least initially until the slow unfolding hypnosis takes hold, pushing farther out into darkened psychedelics and an obscure morass of deep tonality. By then, The Hyle‘s nod is locked in, and they do nothing to interrupt it as side two plays out, though they clearly save their nastiest riffing for last. “Children of the Divine” is meaner in tone than its predecessors, if consistent in its overall approach, its abyssal drear and spaciousness marked by a particularly memorable riff and groove-riding vocals, laid back in their delivery, but showing a burgeoning personality that could easily develop over time, layers arriving in a languid call-and-response chorus that coincide with some later guitar harmonics to speak to a stronger sense of arrangement and performance to come as The Hyle move past Demo. As a first release, though, these four songs are confident in their presentation of aesthetic and likewise assured in their craftsmanship. For many listeners, elements will ring familiar, but it’s in the flashes of individuality throughout Demo that The Hyle‘s real potential is unveiled.
Posted in Reviews on December 17th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
The copper minerals from which Gold & Silver‘s two-song debut EP takes its name, Azurite and Malachite, are blue and green, respectively. But for the shimmering tones present on the tracks themselves, I’d almost be tempted to say it’s a long way around to expressing the ideas of color while avoiding the Baroness trap of actually naming records after colors, but both “Azurite” and “Malachite” seem to take a feel as crystalline in their structure as the Andrea Santos cover hints toward, fleshing out progressively over two extended runtimes and creating a sometimes heavy but almost universally spacious and apparently more concerned with that feel that persists for the 26-minute duration. Even the name of the project, Gold & Silver, relates both to colors and to minerals. The Boston duo of guitarist/drummer/keyboardist Nick DiSalvo, also of Elder, and guitarist Mike Risberg have released Azurite and Malachite on limited vinyl (250 copies, tri-color platter, etc.) through Totem Cat Records, and apart from a prior rehearsal demo, it’s the first output from the band, and the feel throughout is suitably exploratory. But that’s the point. Gold & Silver began as Risberg and DiSalvo writing for acoustic guitar, and if “Azurite” (15:42) and “Malachite” (10:08) were constructed the same way, then they maintain that jam-based sensibility, despite being at least directionally plotted and recorded in layers (unless DiSalvo has concocted a way to play guitar and a full drum kit at the same time; live, Gold & Silver brings in Elder‘s Jack Donovan on bass and John DiSalvo on drums), while fostering clean tonality and a linear feel. They are two distinct pieces, each with its own movements, but consistent in mood and atmosphere and entirely instrumental, the breathy guitar notes and at-the-ready leads saying whatever it is that might ultimately need to be said.
Elder comparisons are inevitable — particularly so for Gold & Silver being DiSalvo‘s first public step outside that band since they got going — so I’ll resign myself to them. Around halfway though “Azurite,” there’s a stop, quick turn, and launch into a heavier push, and in the structure of that, Azurite and Malachite has some commonality with DiSalvo‘s main outfit. As heavy psych influences and some more weighted tones show up later into “Azurite” and “Malachite” gets started on a quieter feel before building into a memorable triumph of a movement, there’s some of that spirit as well, but Gold & Silver retain a personality of their own because of the contributions of Risberg‘s guitar — there’s bass as well, though I’m not sure which of them actually plays it — as well as the overarching progressive vibe throughout. “Azurite” mounts a tense second half on quick-turning rhythms, made jazzy by an overarching lead and some feedback cascading over, and even when it opens up, it does so to a jabbing kind of payoff, guitar and bass bouncing off the sides of the wall of whatever corridor the drums are leading them down toward their crashing finish. It’s not barraging one part after another in the vein of soulless modern prog technicality, but neither is “Azurite” — nor “Malachite,” for that matter — entirely a heavy psychedelic jam. Gold & Silver find a resonant space somewhere between the two sides, and while one gets the sense that should the project continue to move forward Azurite and Malachite could seem formative in comparison to subsequent outings, there’s also clearly a consciousness at work behind both the construction of the material and the style in which it’s presented. As a preliminary exploration, the EP satisfies, and for those familiar with what’s become a signature rhythmic patterning for DiSalvo‘s playing through Elder, it provides a different context in which to experience that as he continues to branch out and progress in his writing.
But there’s also a burgeoning individuality at work within Gold & Silver. The contemplative opening of “Malachite” demonstrates it well, with the wistful lead lines that emerge over an already intricate intro, playing into the subtle build already underway in the guitar, bass and drums. About three minutes in, the drums shift and the central guitar figure arrives that will mark out the song from its predecessor, a sweet sort of noodling that furthers Azurite and Malachite‘s bridge between psych and prog. They build around this riff until shortly before eight minutes in, when the track starts to blow out — think the ending of Neurosis‘ “Stones from the Sky” — and cuts to silence, a drone gradually fading in and swelling to audibility just before wisping out to end the release. That final section, in the two minutes between where the distorted apex of “Malachite” checks out and where the drone takes hold, belongs entirely to Gold & Silver, and if it’s a last minute show of experimentalism on the part of the duo, it’s one that bodes well for their growth as a band. While Azurite and Malachite represents just a first stage in that process, it also makes for an engaging listen both in its concept and execution, and winds up a heartening debut that speaks — without any words, mind you — of good things to come. And while much of DiSalvo‘s 2015 seems set to be consumed by the impending release of his main outfit’s third album and their ascending profile, the word he does here with Risberg isn’t to be ignored.