Murcielago, Murcielago: Like Bricks

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

murcielago murcielago

Listening to Murcielago‘s self-titled, self-released debut, it’s not a huge surprise that some of it comes across sounding akin to Boston heavy rock headliners Roadsaw. There are commonalities superficial and otherwise. First of all, their lineup boasts guitarist Ian Ross, who also plays in Roadsaw. The album was recorded by Benny Grotto, who has also helmed outings for Roadsaw, at Mad Oak Studios in Allston, Massachusetts, which is owned by Roadsaw vocalist Craig RiggsRiggs also makes a guest appearance on the boogie-fied penultimate cut, “Zora,” backing up bassist Neil Collins, who works in a somewhat likeminded style vocally at points throughout as well. And aside from the consistency of Ross‘ guitar tone and being demographically similar — at least the three-quarters of the band that’s not Ross; that part is demographically the same — the two acts share a core approach based around giving modern heavy interpretation to classic methods. As I understand it, Ross joined Murcielago after they had already been together for some time with Collins, guitarist/backing vocalist Matthew Robbins, who also sings lead on “Fairlane Swain” and took the photo on the cover, and drummer Brian Chaloux, so I don’t know where they were in terms of writing this material when he came aboard, but his tone, even in combination with Robbins‘, is recognizable. Murcielago distinguish themselves through what they do with their riff-led heavy grooves, and in the subtly brooding personality that emerges on cuts like opener “Bulldozers,” which leads off the 10-song/43-minute offering nestling quickly into a steady rolling groove that proves to be a specialty of Murcielago as the album progresses. Ultimately, if they prove anything across Murcielago‘s span, it’s that they know what they want sound-wise and they know how to make it a reality, which is more than a lot of “first albums” can offer.

If you’re a fan of unpretentious American heavy, Small Stone-style rock, there’s going to be little here with which to find argument. “Bulldozers” and “Money,” both right around six minutes, show off the fullness of sound Murcielago can harness when they so choose and the swing that they can bring to a rhythm, Collins giving away some punk roots in the chorus of the latter, which hits hard after a start-stop verse. Unsurprisingly for a two-guitar four-piece, there’s a good bit of soloing to be had, and Ross and Robbins trade off readily — the former in the right channel, the latter in the left — adding salt to “Money,” which but for “Fairlane Swain” is the longest track here at 6:01. “Cheebahawk,” which follows, is shorter and faster both, but not so far removed in spirit, its straightforward push, crisp cymbal sound and Collins‘ vocal command guiding from a riff-heavy beginning into a quick, semi-twanging midsection that presages some of what’s to come on “Smoke Season” before returning to the thick-toned riffs and a one-into-the-next solo from Robbins and Ross, leading to the last verse and chorus. When it arrives, “Smoke Season” is the first of three shorter pieces. It and the later “Like Bricks,” which provides a split between highlights “Way too Far” and “Fairlane Swain,” are interludes, and the backwards-cymbal-forwards-guitar “The Last Line” is the album’s outro after “Zora.” They get progressively longer until the last one, but the difference is “Smoke Season” is acoustic — Collins and Robbins working together on guitar — and it’s probably the most classic rock stretch of Murcielago, which is fitting since it kicks off a strong middle-third and comes before the fuzzed out “Don’t Do Nothin’,” Collins channeling his inner Riggs with just the right riff to do so over. One of the record’s most resonant hooks, “Don’t Do Nothing” gives way to the no-frills stomp-and-run of “Way too Far,” and the two make for an excellent pair, showing off some of Murcielago at their best.

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That said, Murcielago is also a record that becomes a richer listen as it goes on. If one looks at the tracklist as divisible into three sections, “Bulldozers,” “Money” and “Cheebahawk” make for a solid lead-in, “Smoke Season,” “Don’t Do Nothin’,” and the mega-catchy “Way too Far” push further into quality songwriting and begin to expand the instrumental scope, and with “Like Bricks” as an intro, “Fairlane Swain,” “Zora” and “The Last Line” show that they’re not afraid to shake up their own approach, whether it’s with Chaloux‘s backwards cymbals on the outro, bringing in Riggs on “Zora” — which seems to be about a two-year sailing trip undertaken by Collins from 2004 to 2006 — or Robbins taking lead vocal charge on “Fairlane Swain.” At 7:44, the latter strikes a balance between instrumental progression and a foundational hook revolving around the lines, “Heavy metal parking lot/Just a dimebag of shit pot…” describing scenes taken from what seems to be personal reference — a photo of a 1966 Ford Fairlane provided by and presumably featuring one Steve Swain flipping off the camera is included in one of the inside panels of the six-panel digipak — atop a riff that’s just about universal before delivering the title line with underclassman’s reverence to a classic image of cool. Or is it contempt? Either way, the album’s instrumental payoff follows, built from the ground up and boasting highlight guitar work from both Robbins and Ross, and “Zora” gives a Dozer-worthy last kick in the ass before the quiet psych-bluesy “The Last Line” caps off a record that doesn’t seem to want to end. Fair enough, but by the time it gets there, Murcielago‘s Murcielago can’t be accused of leaving something unsaid. Rather, the foursome’s debut delivers a complete-album feel and a vibe that develops as it unfolds and helps greatly to individualize the band. Whatever, and whoever, they may share, Murcielago leave their first long-player behind them having given the listener a sense of who they are musically and what they want to accomplish here and going forward stylistically. They’re not green as musicians and they don’t sound like it, but the self-titled neither lacks pulse nor wants anything for songwriting.

Murcielago, “Way too Far”

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On Wax: The Linus Pauling Quartet, C is for Cthulhu 7″

Posted in On Wax on November 24th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

the linus pauling quartet c is for cthulhu package

Perpetually and gleefully weird, Texan outfit The Linus Pauling Quartet — in which, make no mistake, there are five members — toy with Lovecraftian themes on their new single, “C is for Cthulhu,” conjuring the Great Old One himself with a hook worth of its Sesame Street-style title. The band’s heavy riffing style comes out in full force across the five-minute cut, pressed with the B-side “My Desire,” a cover of back-in-the-day Houston noisemakers The Pain Teens, in a red 7″ platter edition of 300 copies, the guitars fuzzed out and appropriately lumbering for their subject matter. Production-wise, it’s less raw than some of what Linus Pauling Quartet have done in the past — recording was helmed by bassist Stephen Finley — but particularly for only being a release with two tracks, goes a long way toward showcasing the band’s the linus pauling quartet c is for cthulhu b-sidesans-pretense quirk and open creative sensibility. That is to say, whatever they feel like doing, there’s a good chance they’re going to do it.

“C is for Cthulhu” itself has a metallic feel, thanks in no small part to its burly riff and some death growls backing the chorus. They’re deep in the mix — the lines being, “Don’t eat/Don’t sleep/Hear me calling from the deep,” one imagines that (presumably it’s) guest vocalist Stevie Sims is taking the role of Cthulhu himself in backing guitarist/vocalist Clinton Heider — but set a weighted atmosphere for the track surrounding, and The Linus Pauling Quartet revel in it. With HeiderFinley, guitarist/backing vocalist Ramon “LP4″ Medina, organist/synth-specialist Charlie Horshack, Sims, drummer Larry Liska and Erich Zann (another Lovecraft reference) credited with violin, there’s plenty going on throughout “C is for Cthulhu,” but the structure remains straightforward, and it’s the aforementioned chorus that’s the center around which the rest churns. Some vague chanting crops up as they move past the halfway mark and into a fervent solo section with Heider forward in the mix, but they pull back to the verse and give the chorus another runthrough, extending the end on the way to a last-minute kick the linus pauling quartet c is for cthulhu back coverin pace that rounds out. Flip the record over, and you might think it’s a completely different band.

Having another vocalist plays a big role in that regard. The core five-piece of the band is the same — Sims and Zann, if Zann is a real person, are out — but Heider steps back on vocals and Carol Sandin Cooley takes the mic. A veteran of Houston experimentalists Sad PygmyCooley establishes a punkish command over the rawer-sounding guitar buzz of “My Desire,” The Linus Pauling Quartet taking The Pain Teens‘ noise-caked proto-industrial thud and approaching it with clear reverence. In another context, the main riff could just as easily be grunge as Godflesh, but the heavy treatment it gets — meaner than “C is for Cthulhu” — is one that suits it. “My Desire” is far less playful than its companion A-side, but culminating in a cut-off swell of noise that ends cold for the needle return, it goes show that the band who a couple years ago put out a 3CD set called Assault on the Vault of the Ancient Bonglords neither take themselves too seriously the linus pauling quartet c is for cthulhu linernor are purely interested in screwing around. Or if they are, at least they make it work.

My copy of the 7″ came with a 9 of clubs that had one of the clubs scratched off and what looks like a custom design on back, a sticker, and a download code featuring alternate masters of the two tracks, plus the art itself, which comes on a quality stock that unfolds to the liner notes and lyrics for “C is for Cthulhu.” C is for Cthulhu follows 2013’s Find What You Love and Let it Kill You 7″ EP, and one can only imagine what horrors The Linus Pauling Quartet have yet to come.

The Linus Pauling Quartet, C is for Cthulhu (2014)

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Stubb, Cry of the Ocean: Sky and Water

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

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If you heard Stubb‘s 2012 self-titled Superhot Records debut (review here), then there are two things to know about the newly-released Ripple Music follow-up Cry of the Ocean: It’s more complex in style and emotion, and it has more of a full-album feel. I will not take anything away from the first Stubb record. Songs like “Scale the Mountain” and “Road” and “Soul Mover” and so on continue to resonate, as does the subsequent 7″ single, Under a Spell (review here), it’s just that guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson, bassist/backing vocalist Peter Holland (also Trippy Wicked and Elephant Tree) and new drummer Tom Fyfe have branched out stylistically from where they started. This is a positive for the band since progress hasn’t come at the expense of songwriting. At just under 39 minutes, the Skyhammer Studios-recorded Cry of the Ocean is a little longer than its predecessor, but none of that time feels wasted, whether it’s the late guitar-led jams in the closing duo of “Snake Eyes” and “You’ll Never Know,” or the Colour Haze-esque interplay of waves and standalone guitar that begin the two-part opening title-track. Rather, while Stubb have clearly become a more patient act — a credit to the time they’ve spent on stage the last couple years — their sound has only gotten richer for it. Dickinson‘s guitar tone, which is as much a draw to Cry of the Ocean as its entrancing shoreline cover art, drives this fluidity across the eight included tracks, and a flow pervades throughout the album’s two halves that stands as further evidence of their growth. The self-titled did a lot of work in establishing Stubb as a band to be taken seriously, and Cry of the Ocean succeeds in building off of those accomplishments as its sets out in its own direction.

Stubb are indebted to classic heavy rock without being retro and they nod at heavy psych on Cry of the Ocean without wading too deep in those waters. Rather than seeming noncommittal, though, the effect is that Stubb retain the penchant for hooks that made their first outing such a joy. “Cry of the Ocean Pt. 1″ makes waves of its verses — “And in my mind I break loose/And in my mind I break free…” — and opens to one of the record’s first standout choruses with the lines, “Hear the cry of the ocean, baby/As washes over me.” It is a more brooding sentiment than one might’ve expected, but Dickinson sells the emotion confidently and Stubb prove early they’re more than able to pull off the turn, “Cry of the Ocean Pt. 1″ giving way to “Cry of the Ocean Pt. 2,” a two-minute soulful, handclap-laden singalong that asks, “Are you free? Are you free to believe?/Free to be who you wanted to be?” The transition between the two parts is seamless, and the songs remain individually distinct, it sets up the across-album flow that will continue for most of Cry of the Ocean, with Holland and Fyfe setting up a swinging groove behind a guitar solo that adds distinction to what’s intended as a one-riff progression. “Heavy Blue Sky,” which follows, is likewise open-toned and likewise moody, but Dickinson brings lead-work forward early and with a confident, well-balanced vocal, carries the song, less based around its hook than the title cut but still memorable both for its riff and languid, swaying groove, which is held onto for the duration in a way that demonstrates the band’s patience and serves the album for the better. There’s plenty of time to blow doors off with the more fuzzed “Sail Forever,” the nod of which is immediate and which works its way smoothly toward one of Cry of the Ocean‘s best choruses, raw and classically-styled, but heavy and efficient as well, Fyfe‘s snare cutting through Dickinson‘s solo near the halfway mark.

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I’m not sure where the side A/B change is. Track-wise, it’s possible to be even on both sides, but in terms of time, one’s bound to be longer than the other. For what it’s worth, the acoustic “Heartbreaker” fits well coming out of “Sail Forever,” giving Cry of the Ocean its most contemplative moment and fitting with the bluesy interpersonal thematic at play in several of the songs. A sweet, folkish guitar line at the center furthers the overarching complexity, minimal-but-still-there drums retaining movement and adding class as Dickinson and Holland come together effectively on vocals in the chorus. Some harder snare hits in the second half tell of the pickup to come, but like “Heavy Blue Sky” never lost sight of its intent, “Heartbreaker” retains its acoustic basis even in its payoff, which is more satisfying considering how easy it would’ve been for the band to layer in a wall of fuzz. That also leaves “Devil’s Brew” tasked as the wake-up call, to which its unabashed catchiness is well suited, vocals following the winding bounce of the riff in “woo-oooh” fashion and a faster, more insistent rhythm emerging. It’s quick hook, but perfectly placed on the record between the acoustic “Heartbreaker” and subsequent “Snake Eyes,” a return to a simpler heavy rock feel between excursions elsewhere and a landmark for Cry of the Ocean‘s second half. Both “Snake Eyes” (7:01) and “You’ll Never Know” (the longest track at 7:14) are more complex, but still fit with the proceedings. Holland comes to the fore vocally in the chorus of “Snake Eyes” and there’s a Hammond organ guest spot from Mos Generator‘s Tony Reed, who also mixed and mastered the album, and Dickinson saves his most impressive soloing for the closer, but the two essentially work from the same structure, moving from early verse/chorus tradeoffs into consuming power trio jams.

It’s a fitting way to end Cry of the Ocean, the layers of high-end interweaving on “You’ll Never Know” with a considerable foundation in Fyfe‘s drums and Holland‘s bass, a final effects swirl underscoring the point of how far Stubb have come in just two years’ time. Clearly they’re a unit with a firm sense of what works for them, and the boldness with which they expand those parameters on Cry of the Ocean only makes it easier to be a fan. If you heard the first record, the progress here will impress. But even if Cry of the Ocean is your first exposure to Stubb, their level of songwriting, natural tones and heavy roll seem ready to find favor at a moment’s notice.

Stubb, Cry of the Ocean (2014)

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Cry of the Ocean at Ripple Music

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Vincebus Eruptum No. 18: On a Drunken Cloud

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

vincebus eruptum no. 18

I’ve expressed my nerdy idolatry for Italian ‘zine Vincebus Eruptum on numerous occasions — each new issue seems to bring out a feeling of admiration for their project and their accomplishment of it — but as I flip through the latest edition, No. 18, of the vaunted publication, even more of a standout is just how together the Vincebus Eruptum product is. Editor Davide Pansolin has been slowly, steadily expanding the brand over the last year plus, taking Vincebus Eruptum from a reactivated fanzine to a state-licensed associazione culturale, beginning to work directly with bands as a label and promotion vehicle and continuing to give Italian heavy rock and psychedelia its best public representation as the scene grows in no small part because of its own efforts. An example? When I removed Vincebus Eruptum from its plastic sleeve, inside I found a CD copy of Essay on a Drunken Cloud (review here) by Anuseye. It’s not the first time Vincebus Eruptum has tied in Vincebus Eruptum Recordings releases with the publication itself, but even the sheer amount of coordination involved was impressive, since not only was the album placed anuseye essay on a drunken cloudright between the two pages containing an interview with guitarist/vocalist Claudio C. (also ex-That’s all Folks!), but those two pages were also the dead-center of the issue itself.

Attention to detail like that, coupled with the psychedelic design and unabashed readiness to support the European heavy psych scene make Vincebus Eruptum indispensable. The Anuseye CD, which is only available with the issue (vinyl is for sale separately), is also reviewed — I won’t begrudge Pansolin laying it on a bit thick in the self-promotion department as the ‘zine celebrates its 15th anniversary — and as usual, the company it keeps is an impressive swath of recent heavy rock and psych releases from groups like Octopus SyngFatso Jetson/Herba MateHot LunchL’Ira del BaccanoVibravoidElectric Moon and so on. Of course, Italy is thoroughly represented, both in independent bands and through labels like Go Down RecordsHeavy Psych Sounds and Vincebus Eruptum Recordings. As ever, the pieces are concise and to the point — there’s a lot to fit — but informative and give a sense of what the groups are going for and whether or not they get there, and I find myself with an expanding wishlist of stuff to check out. Business as usual, in that regard, but it’s no less true reading No. 18 than it ever is, Pansolin handling all of the reviews by himself this time out except for Essay on a Drunken Cloud, which he turns over to Roberto Mattei.

Being a sucker for that kind of thing, I tend to go to the reviews first, but interviews with Electric Wizard, Swedish vincebus eruptum 18 artsleeper-hitters Jeremy Irons and the Ratgang Malibus and retro cyclone Prisma Circus make for fascinating fare, and having seen their name with an increasing frequency, I appreciated a chance to get a better sense of Australia’s Child as well. Da Captain Trips, who also have a record out through Vincebus Eruptum Recordings, are interviewed, though I think most fascinating of all is the chat with Wolf, who heads the German imprint World in Sound, and is responsible for fostering quality acts like Samsara Blues Experiment, the aforementioned Prisma CircusThe Lone Crows, Doctor Cyclops and many others. Topped off by Kabuto cover art recreating the Malleus cover of the first issue 15 years ago, a stirring note in the beginning from Pansolin himself, and the Anuseye album for a soundtrack, and Vincebus Eruptum seems to be passing the 15-year mark going stronger than ever. As someone always happy to nerd out on what Pansolin and his crew have going, I couldn’t be happier for them and hope we get another 15 years of quality, dedicated psychedelia coverage and much more.

Anuseye, Essay on a Drunken Cloud preview

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Renate/Cordate, Growth: New Conjuring

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

renate cordate growth

Finnish four-piece Renate/Cordate (also stylized lowercase as renate/cordate) were last heard from with their early 2013 self-titled debut full-length (review here), which was a solidly constructed and smooth sounding execution of heavy psychedelia. Reminiscent at times of My Sleeping Karma‘s ultra-fluid push, it showed the then-instrumental outfit had room to grow but already a decent idea of what they were going for tonally and in terms of process. A good start, in other words. Twenty-one months later, they return with Growth, which the respected purveyor Breathe Plastic Records will release on tape in December, their sophomore outing comprised of four mostly extended tracks that come from a different enough stylistic base that I had to double-check and make sure I was listening to the same band the first time I put it on. With only one of the four cuts under 10 minutes long, Renate/Cordate have blown out their expansion to a cosmic degree, churning opener “Evolve, Submit” around Ufomammut-style repetition and following a psychedelic doom path of deep-echoing vocals around what seems a chaos swirl of massive tonality, hypnotic and deep. Working with Niko Lehdontie of countrymen psychedelonauts and Svart Records inductees Domovoyd to add extra effects to the wash, Renate/Cordate – the same lineup as last time of guitarists Ville and Samuli (the latter also vocals), bassist Aki and drummer Antti-Pekka — present such a stylistic turn that I’m tempted to think of Growth as a debut and of the self-titled as a demo for how much more solidified and clear-headed in their purpose the band seems to be. At very least, you could say the album is aptly-named.

And if the shift in sound is jarring, it’s bound to be less so for anyone who didn’t hear Renate/Cordate‘s debut and for whom Growth marks their first exposure to their work. It is an expansive 43 minutes, still perhaps vinyl-ready, though they’d more likely get rid of third track “Laudanum” and dedicate the whole of side B to the 17-minute closer “Mother” for ease of time. Side A, then, would be the back-to-back 10-minute post-doom wallops of “Evolve, Submit” and “Humankind (Not My Kind),” which quickly announce the band’s new direction in their sprawl and atmospheric take. The record is a big jump from where they were last year, and clearly a purposeful one, but not all of the elements from Renate/Cordate, the album, are gone. One can still hear the airy ringing of Russian Circles-style post-rock guitar presiding over the mix as the opener rolls past its third minute and into the first of Growth‘s encompassing space-doom nods. Heavy crashing leads to a quiet break of minimalist guitar — one of their most Ufomammut moments — and “Evolve, Submit” explodes again into cascades of echoing riffs that set a lot of the atmospheric course for what follows, rounding out with a long fade of feedback into dreamy synth that pushes forward into the quiet guitar opening of “Humankind (Not My Kind),” which is more about the tradeoffs than was “Evolve, Submit,” but no less ably conceived. An extended subdued intro builds for the first three and a half minutes before pushing into its first heavier section. The lull has the effect of drawing a listener further in, and should Renate/Cordate continue in this direction — after the difference between their first two albums, I wouldn’t speculate as to where they might go on a third — I wouldn’t be surprised to find them toying more with that feeling of stillness and the juxtaposition against pummeling riffs, but even here, they’re able to transition easily from light to heavy and heavy to light, as they do on “Humankind (Not My Kind),” taking the song all the way down to silence before rebuilding their way to the tone-wash apex that ends out.

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The shorter “Laudanum” follows and is more immediate in its riffing though ultimately just as spacious as the rest of what surrounds, even finding room in its six minutes for a jammy midsection break that boasts some especially satisfying guitar work holding the tension until the heavier tones reemerge and thrust into a louder and louder burst of noise. If there are vocals — and there might well be — they are buried deep enough in the mix that they’re indistinguishable from a sample. All you get is a vague human presence, and it works to the song’s advantage, cutting out right before the thrust of the final echoing solo, deconstructed along with everything else to bring about the 16:53 concluding statement, “Mother.” Begun on a foundation of bass and drums backed by swirl and ambient noise, “Mother” unfurls essentially as a combination of everything else Renate/Cordate do on the album structurally, bridging the gap between a loud/quiet interplay and an extended linear build by simply doing both. Before its first four minutes are through, it has built up and peaked and moved to an ethereal, almost jazzy peacefulness, but the crushing reignites several minutes later, only to once again fall back past seven minutes in. This is the key transition, since the band uses this stillness as the starting point for the trip to to Growth‘s last crescendo. The turn happens right around the 12:30 mark, but by then, it’s less about payoff than just going where the band takes you, and that winds up being Renate/Cordate‘s greatest success with their second album. They’ve accomplished this change in style, which is all well and good, but they’ve managed to hold onto the immersive nature of what they did on their self-titled as well, and that only makes the ending of “Mother” more consuming and thus more satisfying. Yes, it’s wildly heavy, and yes, it’s a suitable ending, but what leaves an even more resonant impression is the ability of the band to retain their control over their sound even at its most unbridled. If they do wind up staying on this path, or if they don’t, that can only serve them well as they continue to progress.

[PLEASE NOTE: I’ve been given permission by Renate/Cordate to host a full stream of Growth for your listening pleasure. I hope you’ll give it a shot on the player below and enjoy.]

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Face on Mars, Face on Mars: Getting Loud

Posted in Reviews on November 18th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

face on mars face on mars

Though Mississippi-based five-piece Face on Mars got together in 2006, their recent self-titled full-length is their debut. They had a track feature on a StonerRock.com compilation back when such things existed and released a split in 2011 with punkers Before I Hang, the song from which, “Jump the Gun,” also appears as the centerpiece of the nine-track Face on Mars. They position themselves as a psychedelic fuzz band, and eight-minute closer “The Last Astronaut” has some trippy effects and a jammier feel to bear that out, but the bulk of what the album has to offer is straightforward, Small Stone Records-style American heavy rock, guitarist/vocalist Drew Kern tapping into his inner Dave Wyndorf vocally while the band — Kern, guitarist/vocalist Matthew Curtis, bassist Jonathan Lee Parks, drummer Jarod Lumpkin and keyboardist/guitarist Drew White – drive home riffs somewhere between a less-garage Baby Woodrose and, particularly in the case of opener “We Get Loud,” earlier Queens of the Stone Age‘s still-accessible sprint. A love of classic heavy is professed, and I don’t doubt it, but the production is modern across Face of Mars‘ 43 minutes, which play out in capably heavy, somewhat predictable fashion their riff-led, full-toned thrust.

An earlier cut like “Golden Throne” and the later “Screaming Boy” seem to have some touch of Lord Fowl-style boogie, but not knowing when in the last eight years these tracks were written, I wouldn’t want to cite an influence mistakenly. No doubt the Chris Goosman mastering job had some effect in that regard — Goosman handles a lot of work for Small Stone, including the aforementioned Lord Fowl‘s 2012 outing, Moon Queen – but Face on Mars inject some classic Sabbathism into “Beat ‘em Dead”‘s bluesy roll and find further distinction through White‘s various synth/key/lapsteel contributions. Kern is an able vocalist well suited to the riffs he’s topping, his style gruff but not caricature dudely, and over Lumpkin‘s cowbell and funked out start-stop riffing in second cut “Psychedelic Jesus,” he keeps a solid balance of restraint and blues in what he does, bolstered by echoes so that the style comes across somewhere between KISS and Mountain as filtered through the second Sasquatch record. Face on Mars have a few killer hooks up their collective sleeve, and “Psychedelic Jesus” is one of them, and the fuzzier “Jump the Gun” is another, but there’s room to grow as well in the handling of a lower tempo in “Source of Ignition.” They’re right to want to change things up, and they’re right in where they want to do it, but while the second half of the track takes off in an airy barrage of guitar leads (before returning to the chorus), the earlier verses don’t have the same kind of power. “Screaming Boy,” which follows, is a suitable kick in the ass to get things moving again.

face on mars

The instrumental “Minnows” (shortest here at 2:12) is a lead-in for “The Last Astronaut (longest at 8:37), but has its own progression as well, and particularly with how well the one plays off the other, I wouldn’t call what Face on Mars present on their first album underbaked or overblown — they simply give themselves avenues for further development should they embark on a follow-up to their debut. I’d be interested to hear them continue to toy with psychedelic elements — the keys, the wash of leads — as they refine their verse/chorus tradeoffs and tighten some of the transitions like that coming back to the hook in “Source of Ignition.” “The Last Astronaut” isn’t close to being their most raucous moment, but I’d argue it’s their most commanding, and the exploratory feel that comes forward as it moves past the halfway point (not to mention Parks‘ bassline) satisfies immensely. I guess that’s the kind of thing you do in your last song, but Face on Mars prove throughout this outing that they know what they’re doing enough to be more daring should they want to be. Among the elements that ultimately work greatly in their favor is the production of Face on Mars – helmed by the band with engineering/mixing by Mark Black at Black Magic Studios in Hattiesburg — sometimes in areas not known for a huge heavy rock scene, bands come out with records that sound either too metal and have no low end or too flat and lack warmth. Face on Mars sound crisp and come through clearly on these tracks, and are plenty full between the guitars, bass, and synth, but still have enough natural edge so that they don’t sound completely divorced from what the songs might be when coming from a stage. Whatever they do from here, however they might evolve, they’ll do so from a worthy first outing light on pretense and assured of where it wants to be sonically.

Face on Mars, Face on Mars (2014)

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Øresund Space Collective, Music for Pogonologists: Beard of the Universe

Posted in Reviews on November 18th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

oresund space collective music for pogonologists

Perpetually nebulous Danish outfit Øresund Space Collective are not short on jams. At current count, their Bandcamp page has over 40 releases available for stream and download, and a quick search on Archive.org brings up live recordings that span from a couple months past to nearly a decade ago. Most are live recordings, and that fits with the band’s emphasis on improvisation and space rock tradition, but rarer are studio albums and rarer still are studio albums with physical pressings. Led by the charismatic and well-bearded synthworker Scott “Dr. Space” Heller, the Collective now release a 2CD/2LP collection of jams dubbed Music for Pogonologists, reportedly themed around the works of Upton Uxbridge Underwood (1881-1937), and particularly his masterpiece 0f literary analysis, Poets Ranked by Beard Weight. “Pogonology,” in the name of the album, refers to the study of facial hair, and many of the tracks — “Beardlandia,” “Ziggurat of the Beards,” “Bearded Brothers,” “Remnants of the Barbonaeum,” “Portal of Pogonic Progress,” “Barboconsciousness,” and so on — make references in their titles to beards, taken from Underwood‘s writings. Øresund Space Collective are definitely working on a theme throughout the eight-track release, the CD and download versions of which top a somewhat astounding 145 minutes, and there’s even a spoken introduction by Heller about Underwood and his beard fascination, but ultimately, the band approach beardly studies the same way they approach most anything: By blasting it into space and jamming the hell out of it. If it ain’t broken. Alongside Heller on synth, the Øresund Space Collective this time is guitarists Daniel Lars, Nicklas Sorensen (also of Papir) and Nickolas Hill, bassists Pär Hallgren and Christian Clausen (also also of Papir), drummer Christoffer Brøchhmann (and yes, also of Papir), and synth provider Mogens Pedersen, and as a unit, they know precisely which universe they’re headed for.

Big Hawkwind influence? Duh. Truth is, though, Øresund Space Collective aren’t even so much about capturing a classic space rock vibe at this point — they do, for what it’s worth — as they are about continuing to explore instrumental dynamics. At their center always is improvisation, and there’s brief moment in the second-disc leadoff title-track, about eight minutes into its total 34-minute span, where it seems like it’s all finally going to come apart. But it doesn’t (presumably, if it had, that wouldn’t be on the album, let alone be the title-track). Øresund Space Collective prove able to pivot where they need to and take their molten, across-disc flow in one direction or another, whether it’s a slow buildup like that in the closing “Portal of Pogonic Progress” (12:21) or disc one’s relatively brief “The Tricophantic Spire,” a jazzy excursion with some primo bass that checks in at a mere eight minutes long, but is one of the more experimental cuts on hand. As always for any kind of jam-based heavy psych, immersion is key, and if you’re unwilling to be carried out by Music for Pogonologists early on, the opening one-two salvo of “Beardlandia” and “Ziggurat of the Beards” together pushing past 25 minutes, then Øresund Space Collective probably won’t win you over with the album’s remaining two hours, but if you’re able to draw back the anxiety and let yourself space out for a bit, the stream of delay, synth, dynamic drumming, warm bass, raw exploration and bright guitar are enough to showcase why Øresund Space Collective are consistently among Europe’s foremost practitioners of the art. Their expanded-consciousness vibes and pervasive lysergic groove might just make you think there’s something in the shape of a man’s beard to indicate his relative value as a poet. Or, you know, whatever.

oresund space collective

Comparing the two discs, the first is longer at 75 minutes compared to the second disc’s 70 minutes, but I’d say the second probably has the more overarching liquidity. It’s only three tracks as opposed to disc one’s five, and between the title-track, the ensuing “Barboconsciousness” and the classic guitar on “Portal of Pogonic Progress,” there’s enough to dig into for a more than satisfying otherworldly journey. The more synthesized initial push of “Remnants of the Barbonaeum” or the underlying bass bounce and snare march in the midsection of “Bearded Brothers” before it are hardly disjointed from each other, however. Really, what Øresund Space Collective have done with Music for Pogonologists is jammed out two records’ worth of heavy psych improvisations and put them together. Reasonable since they come from the same session, engineered and mastered by Johan Dahlström with a mix by Dr. Space, and of course recorded live and overdub-free, but the vinyl and CD versions (both limited to 500 copies) feature different tracklistings, so I’d wonder how that might affect the overall listening experience, getting up to change sides, etc. As it is, the more linear, two-disc edition is a comprehensive warp of mind, time and follicular study that’s lighthearted in its approach but substantial in its result, swirling, as ever, into reaches few dare to tread in a continuing quest for the heart of the jam itself. The entire lineup of the band comes together on “Barboconsciousness,” and it’s no less a bliss of lead guitar, wah and psychedelic churn than one might imagine, but it seems that no matter where Øresund Space Collective turn, they wind up in familiar but still uncharted territory. So it is with Music for Pogonologists, and the outfit continue to hone one of the finest approaches to heavy jams to be found in this dimension or in any other alternate reality you might want to search.

Øresund Space Collective, Music for Pogonologists (2014)

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Orange Goblin, Back from the Abyss: This Weight to Bear

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

orange goblin back from the abyss

Twenty years and eight albums on from their beginning as Our Haunted Kingdom, the hills would seem to be few and far between for Orange Goblin, but they keep climbing. The reigning kings of London’s populous heavy rock scene and in many aspects its progenitors, the four-piece seemed to enter a new phase in their career with 2012’s A Eulogy for the Damned (review here), also their Candlelight Records debut. After several years languished following release trouble for 2007’s stellar Healing through Fire, light touring and no output, it was as likely as not they were done. In the years since, they’ve become one of heavy rock’s most eminent stage acts — the 2013 stopgap live album, A Eulogy for the Fans (review here) documented this thoroughly — and their influence continues to resonate well outside of their UK homebase. Back from the Abyss, their latest studio outing, arrives with 12 tracks and 57 minutes of new music and finds guitarist Joe Hoare, bassist Martyn Millard, drummer Chris Turner and frontman extraordinaire Ben Ward pummeling along similar lines as its predecessor. Also released by Candlelight, it boasts a similarly clean production style, and with AC/DC and Motörhead as their primary models, Orange Goblin seem across its span to be shifting into a comfort zone of brash turns, snarled vocals, heavy riffs and catchy songwriting. Stylistically and thematically, songs like “Mythical Knives,” “Übermensch,” “Heavy Lies the Crown” and “The Abyss” aren’t so far from what Orange Goblin have done since 2004’s Thieving from the House of God – they’ve long since been in command of their sound — but the vibe is steadier, more self-aware. They’ve established their formula, and like AC/DC, like Motörhead, like Slayer, the project now isn’t so much searching for what they want the sound to be as working to refine it as they move forward.

Like its predecessor, Back from the Abyss was recorded by Jamie Dodd at The Animal Farm in London, and if the band wanted to capture a similar feel, it’s understandable given the welcome reception and success of A Eulogy for the Damned. That’s not to say Back from the Abyss doesn’t have a personality of its own. One can hear it in the tightness of the crisp, thrashing “The Devil’s Whip” and its second-half companion “Bloodzilla,” or in how clearly Orange Goblin are writing for their audience. Ward is not through opener “Sabbath Hex” before he’s interacting with an imaginary crowd: “If you understand, raise your right hand/Repeat after me, we are stone free.” Perhaps that’s direct acknowledgement of how much of a professional live band Orange Goblin have become, and no doubt when that cut is aired live it receives or will receive the desired effect, but if Orange Goblin are writing songs for the stage, they run into the trouble of not needing 12 of them for a new release, and that becomes a conundrum for Back from the Abyss as it plays out. The semi-title-track “The Abyss” is well constructed but doesn’t accomplish much that “Übermensch” didn’t already nail, and while the penultimate “Blood of Them” is a blend of hook and horror-inspired atmosphere worthy of “The Fog” from the last record, “Into the Arms of Morpheus,” which ends the first half of the album (presumably, the first of two LPs encompassed), is a better longer-form progression, sounds more inspired and is closer to the front for a reason. The three-minute instrumental closer, “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” has a lumbering doom sensibility and deftly layered-in solo lines from Hoare, but where it seems to be waiting for its kickoff-riff the way “Mythical Knives” moves from a progressive-sounding opening into bruiser riff and the band’s particular burl, the last track just fades out, ending an offering so obviously keyed for adrenaline on a downer note. Maybe that’s the trip back from the abyss? I don’t really know.

orange goblin

For longer-term fans, the meat of Back from the Abyss comes toward the end of its first half. “Sabbath Hex” is a vibrant opener, “Übermensch” is a formidable showing of a songwriting formula at work, and “The Devil’s Whip” proves that Orange Goblin can tear it up full-speed with no questions asked, but it’s “Demon Blues,” “Heavy Lies the Crown” and “Into the Arms of Morpheus” that really convey a sense of the band’s maturity, their position among the world’s foremost heavy rock acts, and an album-style flow. Millard and Turner setting the foundation, Hoare drives the riff of “Demon Blues” and Ward masterfully rides that groove, leading to the bluesy intro of “Heavy Lies the Crown,” vocals following the guitar for the album’s catchiest chorus: “Who am I to, to make the rules, to break the rules and slay the fools/How am I, to be the man, who rules the land, with sword in hand/Fire roars, upon the shores that carry heroes off to wars/Heavy lies the crown I wear, but I did swear this weight to bear.” A somewhat inflated view of the band’s status, but a hell of a hook. At 7:27, “Into the Arms of Morpheus” is Back from the Abyss‘ longest track, Millard handling the opening with a choice bassline soon built upon by Hoare and Turner, the song taking a stoner rocker’s time to fully unfold. It works in three movements — the opening jam, the verse/chorus trade, and the closing jam — but it’s structurally and in sheer listenability the most human portion of the album, and they still get their sing-along in there too. The subsequent “Mythical Knives” is a solid opener for the second LP of a kin with “Sabbath Hex” or “Übermensch,” but “Bloodzilla” and “The Abyss” don’t have the same urgency behind them, and “Titan,” the instrumental preceding “Blood of Them,” features a welcome guitar hook, but neither pulls the listener back in nor leads directly into “Blood of Them,” which opens with fading-in bass over spooky-style ambience and shifts into a vehement closer (even though it’s the second to last track, it’s obviously the final push), with Ward‘s growl echoing out one last monstrous chorus.

Even the transition between “Blood of Them” and “The Shadow over Innsmouth” seems choppy. They could’ve easily put some more spooky rumbling after “Blood of Them” cut out to smooth the way into the finale, but it’s cold one into the next, and in truth, much of the album is that way as well apart from the first-half section already noted. As a fan of the band, I won’t discount Orange Goblin‘s songwriting ability, and in presence and performance, Back from the Abyss lacks nothing. For how tight they sound, however, the presentation should match, particularly as it’s the longest record they’ve ever done (1998’s Time Travelling Blues and 2002’s Coup de Grace were close). Still, their momentum will continue to carry them forward, and there’s more than enough material here to fit well in the setlist alongside “Red Tide Rising” from the last record and the host of classics from their storied career — “Quincy the Pigboy,” “Scorpionica,” “Blue Snow” (if you’re lucky), “They Come Back,” “Some You Win, Some You Lose,” and so on — and that’s pretty clearly the point. Back from the Abyss isn’t a perfect album, but for a lot of what they do and however many hills they may yet climb, Orange Goblin are largely undeniable. They remain undeniable.

Orange Goblin, Back from the Abyss (2014)

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Candlelight Records

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Ufomammut, XV: 15 Years in the Cosmos

Posted in Reviews on November 13th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

ufomammut xv case

The concert DVD is about as dead as dead gets. They still make them, and they’ll continue to for some time, but with streaming on demand, YouTube, festivals live-streaming their events and so on, bands might as well put out VHS tapes and at least get some retro novelty points out of the deal. All the same, every now and again there’s a worthy occasion — in the case of Italian cosmic doomers Ufomammut, it was their 15th anniversary — and it seems prudent that some band-sanctioned document of it exist into perpetuity. Thus arrives XV: 15 Years of Ufomammut on the band’s own Supernatural Cat imprint with minimalist artwork courtesy of their visual-arts alter-ego, Malleus; a rare moment of backward reflection from an otherwise relentlessly forward-thinking trio, who have become — and I say this with as much impartiality as I can muster — one of the worldwide heavy underground’s most pivotal acts. Their two-part 2012 full-length, Oro (reviews here and here) on Neurot was really just the latest step in a groundbreaking psychedelic progression that’s been underway since they started in 1999, their releases — 2000’s Godlike Snake, 2004’s Snailking, 2005’s Lucifer Songs, 2007’s Supernaturals Record One collaboration with Lento, 2008’s Idolum, 2010’s Eve (review here) and the aforementioned Oro – serving as landmarks of each stage of their development, their continued will for experimentation and outdoing themselves unwavering across each outing. So after a decade and a half, Ufomammut wanted to take a step back and see how far they’ve come before moving ahead again with their next record? Well, that seems fair.

Ufomammut‘s late-2013/early-2014 “Magickal Mastery Tour” was something special because where the trio of guitarist/keyboardist Poia, bassist/vocalist/keyboardist Urlo and drummer Vita generally keep their focus more recent when it comes to live shows, this time they dipped all the way back to Godlike Snake and the preceding 1999 Satan demo for “Superjunkhead” and covered a little taste of everything between that and “Sulphurdew” from Oro: Opus Alter. A single set spanning a seven-album run isn’t easy to put together, particularly when Ufomammut have grown a tendency to write long-form material, but they did it and for fans, it was something apart from their own version of the “ordinary.” If you’re an ardent disbeliever in the form of concert videos, XV isn’t likely to change your mind, but it’s something the band have clearly put thought and effort into, where so many are slapped together from three-camera shoots and just sort of plopped out there like an unbaited fishhook to see which fans will bite. The feel over the course of Ufomammut‘s 80-minute set is more like a music video. They run the performance footage, captured live at SOMS “Il Progresso” in Sarezzano, Italy, by longtime engineer Lorenzo Stecconi, through a range of psychedelic effects and intersperse strange still images, all the while bouncing between more cameras than I can count, GoPros, hand-helds, and stationary. It’s a feature-length, live music video more than a concert recording. If there was an audience that night in Sarezzano, they’re never showed. Possible the band rented out the space so they, as Malleus, and Barbra Baader Meinhof could have freer access with cameras, but I don’t know that.

ufomammut

They bounce gloriously around their catalog and unsurprisingly are planetary in their heaviness throughout, but again, if you’re absolutely unable to get on board with a concert DVD, their switches between color, black and white, blurs and visual swirls are probably going to leave you cold. Wisely, and I’ll admit more intriguing to me as well, is the documentary portion of XV. in which the band (with subtitles) tell their own story and check in with those who knew or helped them at some stage or another in their career. Their story isn’t one filled with drama — Poia and Urlo played together in a band called Judy Corda that broke up, they started Ufomammut, found a killer drummer in Vita, were well received and set about growing their sound — but there is a lot of humor and charm throughout. Of particular note is when The Flyeater, who apparently handled Korg for them for two shows, makes an appearance in the same luchador mask he wore on stage, and we get to see Stecconi, who has become a big part of Ufomammut‘s sound since making his debut behind the board for them with Idolum, which the band describes as their darkest album. If this is to be their moment of reflection, they make the most of it, and it’s fascinating to hear them putting their work in context with itself, moving from one record to the next while conscious of the creativity at play. They wind up discussing Oro and then move into some of the theory behind where they are as a band, playing live — there’s some Roadburn footage in there — and developing the visual side of their approach. At the very end, we even get to hear from Lu, who contributes to Malleus but not Ufomammut proper. She speaks over psychedelic visuals and backed by airy guitars, and they finish out by thanking everyone who’s helped them along the way and showing fan footage during the credits, people from around the world extolling the virtues of the band.

Honestly, I could probably do the same, if you wanted or if I haven’t already in this review. It’s hard not to think XV as closing a chapter in Ufomammut‘s career, but the truth of the matter is each record they do does the same thing: They make an album and then move on. With a new full-length due out next year as a follow-up to this and Oro, that evolution seems to be continuing unabated, and hearing the band talk about their processes and what goes into making them who they are, I look forward even more to finding out what the next stage might hold. And as for the concert DVD being dead? Well, sometimes these dead formats have a tendency to come back to life, and just in case, having a copy of XV on hand might not be the worst idea.

Ufomammut, XV trailer

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Elephant Tree, Theia: Branching Out

Posted in Reviews on November 13th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

elephant tree theia

The first time through, it is jarring when the screams come. Elephant Tree‘s Magnetic Eye Records debut, Theia, plays the setup perfectly. The newcomer London four-piece open with an 18-second sitar intro “The Call” — they later answer it with the 42-second “The Response,” totaling one minute — and shift seamlessly into the drum-led intro of the eight-minute, languid-rolling, heavily riffed “Attack of the Altaica,” with its open, multi-vocal verses, catchy but not overdone hook, resonant backing sitar drone and sparse guitar, and second half dedicated mostly to an instrumental jam. There’s one scream as they make that transition, buried in the mix at around 4:40, but there’s an effect on it, and the following jam is so immersive with its light guitar swirls, sitar noodling, and steady percussive base, that even after the fuzz guitar kicks back in to give the song its heavy end, “In Suffering” is still a surprise. Theia, which takes its name from the ancient planetoid that smashed into earth creating the moon, is the first outing from guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley, bassist/vocalist Peter Holland (also of Stubb and Trippy Wicked), sitarist/vocalist Riley MacIntyre and drummer Sam Hart, and with the liquefied heavy psychedelia they otherwise elicit, one might be tempted to call the screams a misstep on “In Suffering,” but I disagree. They change the whole context of the release. One rarely finds sitar and screams in the same place, and that seems exactly to be the point. After “In Suffering,” you don’t know what else any of Theia‘s seven tracks might bring, if they’ll sludge out again or dive further into the jammy psych bliss of the extended semi-opener. It turns out a little bit of both, and more too.

Elephant Tree call Theia an EP, but I read it as more of a full-length. It has a two-sided flow, even on CD — though the CD has 10 minutes of silence at the end of closer “The Sead” and rounds out with a two-minute riff reprise — and the songs play well one into the next with added ease from each side’s intro, “The Call” and “The Answer,” and the smoothness of the transitions overall, whether it’s “Attack of the Altaica” into “In Suffering,” or “Vlaakith” into “Lament” into “The Sead,” the release continuing to expand its breadth the whole time in the way new bands often are more open about trying different things as they begin to establish songwriting patterns. The variety in the music speaks for itself. Even “In Suffering,” which is as harsh as Elephant Tree get, breaks down in its midsection for a swing-drum heavy psych jam, and gradually builds first to a clean-sung verse and then near the end to resurgent throatripping, somewhere in style between sludge and black metal, but effectively used. On the four-panel digipak version of Theia, “In Suffering” finishes heavy and nodding and gives way to MacIntyre‘s sitar on “The Answer,” which provides a brief but welcome respite and smooths the way into “Vlaakith,” a steady roll of subdued verse and weightier hook no less in conversation with “Attack of the Altaica” than “The Answer” is with “The Call.” Again we see that however far out Elephant Tree go in their jamming, they manage to pull back to some payoff to the structure of the song itself. This does them well across Theia as a whole and particularly with “Vlaakith,” on which Townley seems to touch on lead guitar ideas but ultimately backs off an actual solo to let the multi-source vocals drive the track’s apex and conclusion.

elephant tree (Photo by Phil Smithies)

At just over two minutes, “Lament” is more than another interlude mostly because of the vocals, Holland‘s voice recognizable and bluesy over a subtly building stoner riff that continues to make its way northward for the (relatively short) duration. Like “In Suffering,” it’s something else to change the context of the material around it, and shows that Elephant Tree aren’t necessarily bound by one songwriting modus or another. That they pull it off is all the more impressive considering Theia is a first release, and “The Sead” finishes out with an interplay of atmospheric screams and clean singing over a steady riff. The sitar seems to take a back seat to fuzzed out guitars and warm-toned bass, but the band are obviously able to play it either way. A last hook is peppered with emerging lead guitar — I wouldn’t be surprised to find Townley bolder in this regard on future outings — and a quick scream marks the launch into the faster-riffed ending that, particularly with 10 silent minutes behind it, feels quick and cold in comparison to “Attack of the Altaica” or “Vlaakith.” The reprise arrives long enough later to be truly buried, but fades in as it builds for one final swell of volume to close out Theia in showcase of some but not all of the pieces working in Elephant Tree‘s favor, namely the easy, classic-styled-but-modern-sounding grooves, natural tones, fluid approach. Couple them with the potential they establish in the sitar, the use of multiple singers (and multiple singing styles), the diversity in songwriting and the will to craft an overarching flow, and Theia makes for a particularly strong, forward-thinking and nuanced debut. It might be surprising at first, but as it unfolds, Elephant Tree prove expansive enough readily handle such stylistic range.

Elephant Tree, Theia (2014)

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Magnetic Eye Records

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Duuude, Tapes! The Heavy Co., Uno Dose

Posted in Duuude, Tapes! on November 12th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

the-heavy-co-uno-dose-tape-and-case

Some of the tracks included on Indiana rockers The Heavy Company‘s new pun-titled tape, Uno Dose (or The Uno Dose, I’ve seen and referred to it as both at this point), have been floating around for most of this year. “What’s Eating Harry Lee?” showed up in a video back in January, and “State Flag Blues,” on which Geezer‘s Pat Harrington guests on slide guitar, appeared as a single as well, while “The Humboldt County Waltz” and “One Big Drag” — performed, as they put it, “more or less live” here alongside “What’s Eating Harry Lee?” on side one — come from 2013’s Midwest Electric full-length (review here). That can give Uno Dose something of a hodge-podge feel the-heavy-co-uno-dose-tape-and-linerfrom one half to the next, but honestly, the band’s jams are so laid back and with the context of a release — being a tape EP — it barely matters. Far more important is what the three songs on side two seem to signify in terms of The Heavy Co.‘s overall direction.

Since their 2011 debut EP, Please Tune In… (review here), the trio — now comprised of guitarist/vocalist Ian Gerber, drummer Jeff Kaleth and bassist Michael Naish — have specialized in unpretentious, natural sounding heavy rock. What made Midwest Electric work so well was how the direction shifted more toward open-sounding jam-based material while maintaining the songwriting at the core of the debut. Uno Dose pushes further in both directions, the newer cuts on side two, “El Perdedor,” “State Flag Blues” and “New Song to Sing” grooving out laid back tonal warmth at a comfort level that only enhances the overall listening experience. In the case of “State Flag Blues,” Harrington‘s guitar adds a psych-blues flourish alongside Gerber‘s rhythm track and some surprisingly aggressive, socially-conscious lyrics working in themes of Indiana politics; a classic protest song given a tonal beef-up.

The instrumental “El Perdedor” before it sets up a smooth-paced, jammy vibe, and “New Song to Sing,” which closes out Uno Dose, unfurls a languid funk of starts and stops and grooves with just the-heavy-co-uno-dose-tape-and-tracklistthe slightest undercurrent of wah foreboding. A recording job by Kaleth captures some subtle layering, and a key change in the vocals finds Gerber tapping his inner Mark Lanegan for the bridge to a brief multi-layered solo, The Heavy Co. getting more complex even as they expand the breadth and cohesion of their jams, seemingly stripping their approach down to its most fluid elements. Their particular blend continues to impress even on the first half of the tape’s live renditions, and as they move forward from Midwest Electric I think we’ve just seen the beginning of where their explorations might carry them. In giving a glimpse of the work in progress, Uno Dose earns a hearty “right on.”

The Heavy Co., Uno Dose (2014)

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On Wax: The Cosmic Trigger, The Cosmic EP

Posted in On Wax on November 11th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

the-cosmic-trigger-voltaire-cover-and-record

There is a stark contrast between the A and B sides of The Cosmic Trigger‘s new, self-released 7″, The Cosmic EP. The Fort Worth four-piece’s release, pressed to thick vinyl and arriving in a quality-stock matte-finish gatefold sleeve with righteous vertical cover art by Michael Sturrock, is two songs, “Voltaire” and “Catharsis,” totaling just over 11 minutes, and they vary their sounds widely from one to the next. “Voltaire” owes some of its rocking bounce to Thin Lizzy, the guitars of Spenser Freeman and Tyrel Choat meshing along a running, winding course, while Choat‘s vocals growl out a kind of drawn-back Metallica gruffness in the verse, only to open to a cleaner shout in the chorus, given steady punctuation by drummer Josh Farmer‘s sharp snare and a low-end foundation for the guitars by bassist Dustin Choat. It’s catchy, and the recording — by Wo Fat‘s Kent Stump at Crystal Clear Sound in Dallas — the cosmic trigger the cosmic ep coveris clear and crisp. It seems initially that perhaps too much so, and like The Cosmic Trigger would benefit from being roughed up a bit, but particularly for those who didn’t hear their 2012 debut full-length, The New Order of the Cosmos, “Catharsis” goes a long way toward explaining where the band is coming from.

Not to be confused with the YOB song of the same name, “Catharsis” works its way around a prog-metal bassline from Dustin and, though Tyrel works in largely the same vocal style, the lyrics (printed on the inside of the vinyl gatefold) give a different take, a severe narrative of betrayal and a murderous chorus of, “You ain’t going home tonight/You’ve seen my face/I’ll see the light drain from your eyes/But you ain’t going home tonight,” blindsiding with its violent intent. By contrast, “Voltaire”‘s lyrics call out the philosopher and question the prospect of modern mortality, but if they’re concerned with death, it’s certainly not death by the speaker’s own hands directed at what seems like an ex-girlfriend. Maybe I’m reading too much into metaphor, but it comes on pretty strong in the song itself, the tapped guitar and basslines building to a head before launching into a riffier closing section after the lyrics, “You’ve made your choice and/Now you’re dead to me.” Fair enough. It may be that The Cosmic Trigger enjoy toying with these ideas as much as they clearly enjoy pitting subgenres against each other, but if you were to take on The Cosmic EP unawares, it could easily be jarring. I guess, if you’re going to take a listen, the cosmic triggerjust be warned. Someone might get hurt.

The full-length, though it featured a different guitarist alongside Tyrel, worked in a similar stylistic vein on the border between heavy rock groove, metallic aggression and progressive intricacy. Listening to The Cosmic EP, it seems the band are still figuring out where on that spectrum exactly they want to position themselves, or at least which stylistic basis from which they want to explore outward. Performance-wise, they’re tight and cohesive enough that there’s nothing to make me think they wouldn’t be able to arrive at that point, and both of these songs are well constructed, it’s just a very ambitious aesthetic they’re trying to capture and they have work to do before they get there.

The Cosmic Trigger, The Cosmic EP (2014)

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Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower: Get up Now

Posted in Reviews on November 10th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

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To call Black Power Flower Brant Bjork solo release would be a misnomer. Undoubtedly he’s the principal songwriter, as each of the album’s 10 tracks bear his penchant for smooth, laid back desert groove, funky turns and ’70s slang — to wit, “That’s a Fact, Jack,” “Hustler’s Blues,” “Buddha Time (Everything Fine)” — but the presence of the other players in the Low Desert Punk Band, of guitarist Bubba DuPree (ex-Void), bassist Dave Dinsmore (formerly of Bjork‘s Ché project) and knocks-it-right-out-of-the-park drummer Tony Tornay (Fatso Jetson), and the energy infused into the recording itself gives the record a full band feel worthy of consideration as more than the work of one artist. Add to that the jammy sensibility in a cut like closer “Where You from Man” and it becomes clear there’s more than one player at the heart of the group, however much it may be Bjork calling the shots. The former Kyuss and Fu Manchu drummer’s last solo outing was 2010’s Gods and Goddesses (review here), and though he initially signed to Napalm Records late in that same year, it’s not until now that this follow-up outing is surfacing, Bjork having spent the last several years taking part in the semi-reunion of Kyuss in Kyuss Lives! and Vista Chino, whose 2013 debut, Peace (review here), was also released through the label. As vocalist John Garcia put that project on hiatus to focus on his own solo work, so too did Bjork pick back up with his own new band, though between recording at Thunder Underground and the winding guitar lines of “Soldier of Love,” there definitely feels like there’s continuity between Vista Chino‘s Peace and Black Power Flower as well.

Whatever end of the desert they might come from, the band’s punk roots come through solidly across the album, beginning with the upbeat shuffle of opener “Controllers Destroyed” and the following “We Don’t Serve Their Kind,” which commence a catchy side A on Black Power Flower that keeps momentum driving forward despite fluctuations in pace. The actual opening riff is slow enough to give a surprisingly doomed feel, but driven by Tornay‘s toms and Dinsmore‘s bass, the Low Desert Punk Band soon kick into gear and Bjork arrives for an initial couple lines of vocals sounding very much in command of the proceedings. His singing style, immediately recognizable, has been a major factor in all of his releases, solo or with past backing groups like The Operators or The Bros., and it is on Black Power Flower as well, a semi-spoken delivery finding melody in layers and sitting so well on top of fuzzed-out grooves in later cuts like “Ain’t No Runnin'” or the quiet first half of the penultimate “Hustler’s Blues,” which boasts one of the collection’s most memorable lyrics in the line, “How do you say no to the woman that makes you tea?” Before they get there, Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band continue the initial push on “Stokely up Now,” the catchiest hook with a call and response chorus and a title likely namedropping ’60s Black Power activist Stokely Carmichael, though I haven’t seen a lyric sheet to be sure. It would fit with the name of the album itself, and though words are sparse, “Where You from Man” seems to be addressing issues of race as well in its way, echoing cop-impression voices asking, “Hey man, where you from?” etc. “Buddha Time (Everything Fine)” and “Soldier of Love” fit together well after the surge of “Stokely up Now,” both having some of that Vista Chino spirit at their core — Bjork was, of course, a major songwriting contributor to that band and may be again if they decide to do another LP — and the latter seems to set up a conversation about gender taken up on side B with “Hustler’s Blues” with the lyrics “See, these chicks have a way of running this beautiful universe,” followed by something about if you don’t believe it, hold the purse. Not exactly hard-hitting analysis, but it’s catchy.

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Bass starts “Boogie Woogie on Your Brain” to open Black Power Flower‘s second half, a somewhat moodier presence in the low-end fuzz and rougher shout from Bjork himself, but the tension built opens up just past the halfway point and the vocals smooth out to match, a satisfying nod emerging momentarily before shifting back into the verse, which closes out and gives way to the wah-soaked funk of “That’s a Fact, Jack,” one of the clearest two-guitar grooves on offer. A rolling riff is established after dual noodling, and the vocals skate easily over the wah, coming in layers for the initial chorus part, which does right to hold back on the title line until the second round through, making the song a standout less driving than “We Don’t Serve Their Kind” or “Controllers Destroyed” but still righteously fuzzed. “Hustler’s Blues” and the jammier “Where You from Man,” the latter also the longest inclusion at 8:13, make a departure of a closing duo, but aren’t out of place with the atmosphere of Black Power Flower overall, “Hustler’s Blues” taking off right around 2:45 for an instrumental second half topped by exploratory leads, heavy and immersive and “Where You from Man” feeling its way through its progression, the vocals seemingly added after the fact or maybe just tossed in off-the-cuff, a subtle nod around four minutes in to the central riff of Kyuss‘ “Green Machine” not lost in the mix but well placed to blend with its surroundings. They end with a noisy wash of a finish on perhaps their most full-band note, showing the chemistry at work in Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band as a unit of players who’ve known each other for years despite this being their first album together under this moniker. With all the flux surrounding Vista Chino and BjorkGarcia and Nick Oliveri having released solo/semi-solo records in 2014, I wouldn’t dare to predict what might follow Black Power Flower or in what incarnation we might next year from Brant Bjork, but 10 records on from his solo debut in 1999’s Jalamanta, there’s little question he remains the godfather of desert groove and that no one else does it quite like him. He’s in good company here.

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Apostle of Solitude, Of Woe and Wounds: Lamentations

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

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Four years after releasing their second album, Last Sunrise (review here), on Profound Lore, Indianapolis doomers arrive at Of Woe and Wounds a much different band than they were their last time out. Their debut for Cruz del SurOf Woe and Wounds is their first full-length to feature Devil to Pay guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak sharing those duties with Chuck Brown, and the first to feature bassist Dan Davidson, who joined last year, rounding out the rhythm section with drummer Corey Webb. New label, new dual-vocal approach, new low-end, Apostle of Solitude aren’t quiet coming out of the gate cold on their third offering, the preceding Demo 2012 (stream/review here) having previewed “Blackest of Times,” which leads off Of Woe and Wounds and “Die Vicar Die,” one of its catchiest hooks, and a demo leaked as well for “Whore’s Wings” (stream here) that showcased some of the album’s promise. Still, none of these quite prepared the listener for the heft Apostle of Solitude would sling this time around, as they mark a decade since their founding in 2004 and six years since they made their debut with 2008’s Sincerest Misery on Eyes Like Snow. With a crisper production — one can hear it in the crunch of the guitars and in Webb‘s hi-hat on “Die Vicar Die” — and the steady interplay of Brown and Janiak‘s vocals, the four-piece come across on these 10 tracks as being in command of their sound and able to work within a variety of downer, thoroughly doomed levels of despondency. Apostle of Solitude have always had an emotional element at work in their material — they were ahead of the game on that — and whether it’s “Push Mortal Coil,” the eight-minute culmination “Luna” or the brooding “Lamentations of a Broken Man,” on which Janiak takes the fore vocally, that remains true, but never has their presentation been more direct.

There are few frills in Apostle of Solitude‘s sound, and that’s always been the case. They are doom. No pretense, no bullshit. Born of the same lineage as The Gates of Slumber, they have never had much use for anything more than drums, guitar, bass and vocals in expressing their particular brand of sorrow, and Of Woe and Wounds drives that impulse even further. A later cut like “This Mania” feels like it’s changing things up for a faster pace than “Push Mortal Coil” before it or the morose “Siren” after, but essentially the methods are the same. BrownJaniakDavidson and Webb don’t really need anything else. The sway of “Siren” and the chugging initial buildup of “Blackest of Times” as it moves out of intro “Distance and the Cold Heart” readily accomplish the weighted task before them, and at nearly 60 minutes long, if Of Woe and Wounds was going to lose track of itself along the way, it would. Opening catchy with “Blackest of Times” and the quicker “Whore’s Wings,” the album instead draws the listener into its dark, spacious sound before reveling in the miseries of “Lamentations of a Broken Man” and “Die Vicar Die,” which pushes subtly toward the eight-minute mark with a long instrumental/solo break in its second half that gracefully pulls back to the chorus to finish out and shift into “Push Mortal Coil,” shorter, faster and more metal-sounding. I guess “more metal” applies to the album as a whole and is a function in part of the production. Produced by Mike Bridavsky, who also worked on Last SunriseOf Woe and Wounds is a long way from the bleed of Sincerest Misery, and though Apostle of Solitude have always had a clear, big sound, they’ve never come across quite as on top of the beat as they do here, and it gives the bulk of the record a more aggressive feel. It’s a long way around to avoiding sonic monotony — which a lot of traditional-style doom doesn’t — but Apostle of Solitude are skillful enough songwriters at this stage to make it work.

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That’s true on “Blackest of Times,” “Die Vicar Die,” and “Whore’s Wings,” which again, have been around for a while, but also “Push Mortal Coil,” the thrust of “This Mania” with which it’s paired, and the aching “Siren,” which follows and leads the way into “Luna,” the album’s longest cut and greatest single achievement in tying together the various sides of Apostle of Solitude‘s sound. In its lurching riffs, smoothly executed vocal harmonies and desolate feel, “Luna” nonetheless manages to convey one of Of Woe and Wounds‘ central hooks, incorporate some of its best guitar interplay and remain one of the most memorable impressions on offer. It’s also, for all intents and purposes, the closer, though “Distance and the Cold Heart (Reprise)” returns to the intro to bookend in suitably mournful fashion, a plodding three-minute instrumental afterthought that’s hypnotic in its long fade, what sounds like backwards guitar set to a slow beat from Webb. You could call it a departure from the straightforward vibe so much of the album elicits, but it’s also how Of Woe and Wounds started, so to say it’s inconsistent would just be factually wrong. One decade and three albums deep, Apostle of Solitude don’t feel like they’ve settled. As much confidence as they display in their doomly approach, particularly in the vocal harmonies and weaving of lead and rhythm guitar tracks, they also set a course for areas of continued growth. I won’t claim to have any idea where they might head sonically, if the metallic vibe on Of Woe and Wounds portends a direction they might pursue from here on out, but as they move into their second decade of existence, the fact that Apostle of Solitude so blatantly refuse stagnation bodes well for their ongoing progression.

Apostle of Solitude, Of Woe and Wounds (2014)

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The Skull, For Those Which are Asleep: Out from the Shadow

Posted in Reviews on November 5th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

the skull for those which are asleep

What began as former members of Trouble getting together to play Trouble songs on stage every now and again, mostly at fests like Days of the Doomed and Stoner Hands of Doom, takes on new life with the release of a debut album. The Skull, named for Trouble’s 1985 sophomore outing and invariably linked to that band’s legacy in both sound and personnel — vocalist Eric Wagner, bassist Ron Holzner and drummer Jeff “Oly” Olson are former members — set a difficult task in distinguishing themselves from three-fifths of the lineup’s former act with For Those Which are Asleep, on Tee Pee Records, but ultimately, the album seems to be less about “not being Trouble and more about giving an honest take on a classic sound. By that I mean The Skull, lineup completed by guitarists Lothar Keller (Sacred Dawn) and Matt Goldsborough (ex-Pentagram), are neither trying to sound like Trouble nor not sound like Trouble. They’re working in a traditional doom style that Trouble helped to establish on the 10-track/50-minute offering, but songs like “The Touch of Reality,” “Send Judas Down” and “Till the Sun Turns Black” don’t feel like they’re beating a dead stylistic horse. If anything, The Skull sounds vibrant — or as vibrant as doom will allow, anyway — across the new, original songs, and with the key element of Wagner‘s voice working in their favor, they push a lot of what worked best about the moody stretches on the last Wagner-fronted Trouble album, 2007’s Simple Mind Condition, to heavier and more foreboding places, fueled by burly riffing and metallic groove equally comfortable in faster or slower paces.

For those who’ve mourned the loss of Trouble as they were — of course, they’ve continued on and released their The Distortion Field full-length (review here) last year — The Skull are about as close as it seems likely to get. Opener “Trapped inside My Mind” sets expectations high with stellar guitar interplay from Keller and Goldsborough, a speedy chug and Wagner pushing his voice into his trademark higher register delivery. At this point, he’s clearly more comfortable with the mid-range sorrowfulness of “Sick of it All” or the downer-suited drawl of “Send Judas Down,” one of For Those Which are Asleep‘s most effective hooks, but his voice continues to have the power and resonance in the higher-pitch parts to carry them ably. “The Touch of Reality” (streamed here) follows the opener with a lurching nod and representative lead work and gives way in turn to the depressive “Sick of it All,” the airy verse of which seems like the first moment of the album that steps back for a more dynamic breath. Wagner excels at conveying this kind of downtrodden emotionality — to put “defeat” as a specialty seems cruel, but the fact is he’s good at it — and “Sick of it All” is a particularly crushing lyric, the organ-laced “The Door” picking up with layers of piano, acoustic and electric guitar to preview some of what the title-track will hold on side B, Olson‘s kick a steady foundation beneath. More morose than dramatic, there’s still a sense of richness to the arrangement that serves the song well, and the more raucous, riffier “Send Judas Down” follows suit to snap the listener back to reality and close out the album’s first half in rocking fashion, the starts and stops of the verse thrusting into a crash-filled chorus of Sabbathian doom that moves into an airy midsection jam before eventually returning to a stripped-down verse redux and solo-topped chorus finale.

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“A New Generation” and “Till the Sun Turns Black,” which open the second half of For Those Which are Asleep, are the two shortest cuts on the album, each at 4:11 (“Trapped inside My Mind” and “The Touch of Reality” were pretty close), and Wagner once again touches on the higher register for the first of them as he makes his way smoothly into the chorus of the straightforward chugger. Some off-mic shouting and a count-in start “Till the Sun Turns Black,” giving an in-studio feel that’s somewhat jarring for how full the production is but that works with the track’s livelier, more upbeat vibe. Both it and “A New Generation” before are catchy, no frills cuts that emphasize the timeless approach The Skull have taken on their debut, but things open up further stylistically with “For Those Which are Asleep,” the longest song at 7:14, which like “The Door” before it blends acoustics and electrics and a grander sense of arrangement to match its emergent consuming, plus-sized riff. Verses marked out by Olson‘s fervent hi-hat transition sharply into said riff, KellerGoldsborough and Holzner obviously pushing for maximum impact as Wagner remains relatively calm over top. A midsection solo bridges back to the verse and a final chorus that move into a stopping finish that sounds closer-worthy and could’ve easily been the end of the album. It’s not. After the long fadeout of its title-track, For Those Which are Asleep rounds out with “Sometime Yesterday Mourning” and the Trouble cover, “The Last Judgment,” which were released earlier this year as The Skull‘s debut studio recordings on a CD single through Tee Pee (streamed here). I’m pretty sure the versions included here are the same Billy Anderson-recorded ones that appeared before, so it’s kind of curious that they’d be tacked on and not even referred to as bonus tracks or something like that, but there you go. “Sometime Yesterday Mourning” is no less welcome now than it was in Spring, and the Trouble song is likewise an excellent take on the track which originally appeared in 1983 on the Metal Massacre IV compilation.

That the Trouble song and first single also found their way onto the full-length makes for a startling end, but I won’t discount their value or that of the material before them. The Skull‘s debut benefits greatly from the pedigree and experience of the band’s members, and there’s no getting around the band’s link to Trouble – nor do I think they’re asking their audience to; they do close with that cover after all — but For Those Which are Asleep also marks the beginning of a branching out from that foundation, and hopefully it’s just the start of a progression that continues to take on a life of its own as it moves forward. For now, within classic doom, I can’t think of anything I could ask from these players that it doesn’t deliver.

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