Where to Start: Cathedral

Posted in Where to Start on September 28th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

This is one of the hardest questions in all the doomly realm to answer: “Where do I start with Cathedral?” The reason it’s so hard is because the UK outfit, led by vocalist Lee Dorrian and guitarist Gary “Gaz” Jennings, vary so much from album to album. Even up to this year’s The Guessing Game, Cathedral have constantly kept their sound in flux, from their death/doom beginnings all the way to the ’70s prog experimentation of the latest offering. There’s a good chance it’ll rock, but beyond that, you never know what you’re going to get from a Cathedral record.

Which brings us around to the question at hand. Where to start with Cathedral depends almost entirely on what you’re looking for from the band. They veered into stonerisms arguably most on Supernatural Birth Machine, and were at their invariably most doomed on their first album, 1991’s Forest of Equilibrium. The 2001/2002 duo of albums, Endtyme and VIIth Coming, were heavy but not as memorable, and 2005’s The Garden of Unearthly Delights was solid and had a couple standout tracks, but not necessarily groundbreaking in its blend of influences.

For that reason, I think 1995’s The Carnival Bizarre is the place to start. It’s the first full-length on which Dorrian and Jennings were joined by bassist Leo Smee and drummer Brian Dixon, and it saw them begin to work away from the deathly presence of Forest of Equilibrium and 1993’s The Ethereal Mirror, and with tracks like “Hopkins (The Witchfinder General)” and the Tony Iommi-infused “Utopian Blaster,” it’s bound to leave an impression on you when you hear it. In terms of meshing production and style, plus the performances of the band at their best and most innovative, it’s the way to go.

Agreements? Arguments? Any The Ethereal Mirror fans want to give me the business? Well, that’s why there are comments. Have at it.

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Here’s Brant Bjork’s First Bio

Posted in Buried Treasure, Where to Start on September 27th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

A while back I purchased a promo of the Man’s Ruin release of High on Fire‘s first album, The Art of Self-Defense, and posted the bio included with that. It didn’t get much of a response, but when I received the promo of Brant Bjork‘s Jalamanta (which I’m certain is exactly the same as the final Man’s Ruin release sonically, though the wah-guitar on “Automatic Fantastic” sounded higher in the mix when I listened this morning), I was interested to read how the album was pitched to the press at the time.

Of course, we think of desert rock now as a given, but in 1999, the idea was still pretty new, at least to those outside the geographic locale. So in coming up with a description for Bjork‘s unique blend of soul, funk, punk and classic rock, the record gets called “12 tracks of ghetto vibe wonder,” which is just awesome. Plus, it’s got different cover art than either the final Man’s Ruin release or the subsequent Duna Records reissue. That’s gotta be worth $15 in itself.

So here’s the bio for your perusal. Click the image to view full-size:

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Where to Start: Colour Haze

Posted in Where to Start on August 26th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

I think when the smoke clears over the next decade or so, we’re going to see a lot of bands come down the line who cite Colour Haze as an influence. The German heavy psych trio have left an indelible mark on underground rock over the course of their 15-plus years together, and though they’ve all but disavowed their earliest works — albums like 1995’s Chopping Machine, 1998’s Seven and the 2000’s CO2 are all out of print and quite rare (though 1999’s Periscope was reissued on guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek‘s Elektrohasch Schallplatten imprint in 2003) — their latter-day material has made for incredible depth of listening and the strength of their playing continues to reach new heights.

So where to start? First, let it be said that the entire available discography is exceptional. 2008’s All was my favorite album of that year, and 2003’s Los Sounds de Krauts is nothing short of miraculous. You might think it strange then that I’m going with 2006’s Tempel as my pick for newcomers.

It’s a question of exclusion. On 2001’s Ewige Blumekraft, Koglek, bassist Philip Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald were still getting a feel for their sound. Los Sounds de Krauts, as I’ve said, is great, but it’s a double-CD, and might be too much to handle in terms of giving new listeners a full appreciation of what the band can do. Tempel‘s predecessor, the 2004 self-titled, is close, but the tracks aren’t as memorable.

And as for All, the only reason I didn’t pick that is because the album is better experienced if you’re already familiar with what the band has done before. It might be the best Colour Haze record to date (and I do include last year’s Burg Herzberg Live release in that), but you won’t know that unless you hear the others first — and especially hearing Tempel first, then going to All, I think that’s the best way to grasp how special Colour Haze really is. You get to hear the chemistry between Rasthofer, Merwald and Koglek and come to understand it’s really not all about the riffs, but about each instrument and how they play off each other. Perhaps even more important then where you get started is that you get started. Here’s Tempel opener “Aquamaria” to speed your way. Enjoy.

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Where to Start: The Sounds of Italy

Posted in Where to Start on August 19th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

I’ve been to Italy once in my life, for my honeymoon early in 2005, arguably the height of anti-American sentiment in Europe. Nonetheless, The Patient Mrs. and I basked in the glory of the Trevi Fountain above and many other of Rome‘s famous artifacts and tourism highlights. It was a beautiful country that I could have easily spent a lifetime getting to know.

This Where to Start comes by request, and I’ll confess to being no expert on the Italian scene, such as it is. Unlike Sweden, which has been a hotbed for heavy rock decades running, Italy doesn’t have the reputation of producing a killer desert or psych scene in particular, but what it does have as a diverse array of individual acts whose contributions to their respective subgenres has been considerable.

Through labels like Black Widow and Beard of Stars (both of which sign international as well as domestic Italian bands), Italy has had a slew of killer bands over the years. Here’s but a sampling to which I hope you’ll add in the comments section. Artists and albums to start with:

Paul Chain, Park of Reason: I started with Whited Sepulchres and it was a mistake. Paul Chain‘s catalog is intimidatingly huge, as it runs from his time in Death SS in the early-’80s to now in Translate, but if you stick with his solo stuff and Paul Chain Violet Theatre, you should be alright.

Ufomammut, Eve: These guys might be the best drone metal act on the planet right now. To put it simply: their doom is bigger than your doom. Most people will tell you start with 2004’s Snailking, and if you buy vinyl, they’re right, but it can be pricey on CD, so I went with the latest, Eve, instead. Either way you win.

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Where to Start: Swedish Stoner Rock

Posted in Where to Start on August 3rd, 2010 by JJ Koczan

I’ve made no secret of my Sverige fetish since starting this site (and yes, at some point there will be a Swede-only podcast), but when it comes to nailing down a scene as important to the underground heavy as the Swedish one has been, it’s hard to even know where to start this Where to Start.

Let’s be clear: I’m talking about stoner rock only. The nation of Sweden has had a tremendous impact on metal, from Kebnekajse to At the Gates to Witchcraft and Graveyard, but that’s not what I’m interested in. I’m talking about riffs, crashes, fuzz and good vibes. Swedish stoner rock.

Even so, it’s a challenge to narrow down so many killer bands to just a few essentials. If you’re looking to embark on a listening adventure through Sweden‘s contributions to the genre, you should know it’s a serious undertaking that will probably consume years of your life. I’m not kidding. Here are a few bands and albums to get you started (listed alphabetically):

Abramis Brama, Smakar Söndag: Yes, it’s in Swedish. You’ll live.

Asteroid, Asteroid: I’ve talked about this band a lot in the last year-plus. Both of their albums are amazing. Life is but a joke to Dr. Smoke.

Demon Cleaner, Demon Cleaner: One of the original post-Kyuss Swede-stoner acts. They were a little punkier, but still heavy on the riffs.

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Where to Start: The Desert Scene

Posted in Where to Start on July 23rd, 2010 by JJ Koczan

What a question. Understand, I’m not talking about a grouping based on sound. I mean bands from the desert in California. It’s a limited bunch of musicians, centered around a few interconnected acts that have had a tremendous impact on stoner rock the world over. Although I think they’ve made some of the most important contributions to the genre, I’m including no outside bands here. It’s all about location.

Five bands  you need to know, and which album to get. Here goes:

1. Yawning Man: Most often credited as originators of the desert scene, an instrumental trio with Gary Arce, Mario Lalli (also Fatso Jetson) and Alfredo Hernandez (also Kyuss). Their new album, Nomadic Pursuits (review here), is fantastic and a great display of the influence they’ve had on those who’ve followed them, but recommendations for 2005’s Rock Formations are valid.

2. Kyuss: They’re the hallmark act of stoner rock, with import not just limited to the bands former members have launched (Queens of the Stone Age, Unida, Slo Burn, Brant Bjork, Mondo Generator, etc.). Welcome to Sky Valley is an all-time classic. As necessary as oxygen.

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Where to Start: The Heavy ’70s

Posted in Where to Start on July 14th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

This, admittedly is a hard one. Let’s say we take the über-gods out. Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, Hawkwind, bands like that. Even if you’re just getting started on ’70s rock, you already know they were massively influential and you don’t need me to rehash, fun as it is to do on occasion.

The purpose of this list is to give you some more obscure artists to check out and see where the foundation of modern heavy rock (be it stoner, doom, etc.) comes from. I’ll admit to having zero personal expertise on the ’70s. I was born in 1981, so it’s not like I was there. Nonetheless, bear with me and maybe you’ll find something you haven’t yet heard.

Or maybe you know everything about ’70s rock and want to school me in the comments. Hey, I’ll take it. Here’s my list of starting points, no real order:

Captain Beyond, Captain Beyond (1972)

Atomic Rooster, Death Walks Behind You (1970)

Leaf Hound, Growers of Mushroom (1971)

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Where to Start: Orange Goblin

Posted in Where to Start on July 6th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

If you count their beginnings as Our Haunted Kingdom, Orange Goblin have been together for over 15 years, and they’re an interesting case for beginners, because you could almost find yourself listening to three different bands, all with essentially the same personnel. More even than most cases where bands really develop over the course of their albums, one must be careful and know what they want when taking on Orange Goblin for the first time.

By way of advice: DO NOT start with 2002’s Coup de Grace, because you’ll just be confused. You’ll put on the disc and say to yourself, “What the hell? All I ever heard about this band was how heavy and doomed they are and this is like biker punk.” That is a direct quote, from you, in an alternate reality. You said it. I have the tapes.

When it comes to Orange Goblin, I usually think of Coup de Grace as a transition point. The three albums before it — Frequencies from Planet Ten (1997), Time Travelling Blues (1998) and The Big Black (2000) — were all released in the States on The Music Cartel, and all follow a course of heavy psychedelic doom rock. The two albums since — Thieving from the House of God (2005) and Healing Through Fire (2007) — have a more barroom feel, but it’s basically the baddest-ass bar you’ve ever seen. The one pub that locks the doors after “closing time” and feeds you drinks (every third one being on the house) until the sun’s up and they can legally open again.

So, when you’re deciding how to take on Orange Goblin for the first time (and we all know it should be special the first time), you have to decide what you want. I’d argue in favor of the later, single-guitar era material, because then you can go back and appreciate the changes the band has undergone over time. Healing Through Fire was fucking excellent, and if you start there you’ll find it a stronger, more memorable release than Thieving from the House of God, though that’s also quite good.

The three early records are trickier, but to make it easy, Time Travelling Blues is a masterpiece of stoner rock. Songs like “The Man Who Invented Time” and “Shine” will quickly become part of the fabric of your frontal cortex, and you’ll wonder how you ever survived without them. I previously recommended The Big Black, and I stand by that in the sense of if you’re only going to get one album, that encompasses a little more of both sides of the band, but Time Travelling Blues is the epitome of the band’s psych/stoner period.

Only question then is which do you want? Healing Through Fire or Time Travelling Blues? The real answer is to just get both, because after you hear one, you’re going to want the other. Start with these two, then pick up The Big Black, Frequencies from Planet Ten, Thieving from the House of God and Coup de Grace, in that order. You’ll be good to go, rocking out to “Aquatic Fanatic” like a pro in no time at all.

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