Posted in Whathaveyou on April 2nd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
The lineup is admirably varied and unflinchingly heavy, and Doom in June III is set to take place June 1, 2013, at the Cheyenne Saloon in Las Vegas, Nevada. Tickets for the day-long get-down are now available via the link embedded below in the info sent down the PR wire:
DOOM IN JUNE III MUSIC FESTIVAL
Saturday, June 1st, 2013
The Cheyenne Saloon in Las Vegas
April 2, 2013 – Las Vegas, NV — The celebrated DOOM IN JUNE MUSIC FESTIVAL returns for the third time on Saturday, June 1st, 2013 with some of the coolest names in Doom, Stoner Rock and Metal. The event provides a full day of immersion into some of the greatest music of the genres, drawing people from around the world to Las Vegas to get down and get rockin’. Prepare for another wicked dose of the heaviest of the heavy.
Remaining true to the original format, Doom In June III kicks off the summer on the first weekend in June. Thirteen bands are confirmed – including many established acts — as well as providing an opportunity for guests to catch some of the brightest young talents. The venue offers a carefree, good time environment which is why bands and guests alike look forward to returning to The Cheyenne Saloon (3103 N. Rancho Blvd.).
Performances include THE SKULL featuring former TROUBLE vocalist Eric Wagner and bass player Ron Holzner offering the best of Trouble; legendary ‘80s cult favorites MANILLA ROAD; instrumental power trio KARMA TO BURN, ANCESTORS, New Mexico’s LAS CRUCES, CASTLE, SNAIL; Monster Magnet guitarist’s Ed Mundell’s new band ULTRA ELECTRIC MEGA GALACTIC; Las Vegas’ female-fronted doom four-piece DEMON LUNG — who will celebrate the event as a record release show for their highly anticipated debut album on Candlelight Records; a couple San Diego area bands DALI’S LLAMA and ALBATROSS OVERDRIVE and two promising locals opening the day – MEGATON and SPIRITUAL SHEPHERD.
Doors are at 1:00 pm and event features thirteen bands performing for twelve hours on one stage. Tickets now on sale atwww.brownpapertickets.comfor only $16 advance. Rooms are available at The Fiesta Rancho Hotel/Casino which is located very close to the Cheyenne Saloon and offers affordable accommodations.
For more information email email@example.com or visit Doom In June III on Facebook atwww.facebook.com/doominjune. Event sponsors include Fly PR, Heavy Planet, Planet Fuzz, Doom Metal Alliance, All That Is Heavy Shop and Hellride Music.
Posted in Features on December 20th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: This list is my personal picks, not the Readers Poll, which is ongoing — if you haven’t added your list yet, please do.
As ever, I’ve kept a Post-It note on my wall all year long, and as the weeks and months have ticked away, I’ve added names of bands to it in preparation for putting together my Top 20 of 2012. There was a glut of excellent material this year, and I know for a fact I didn’t hear everything, but from bold forays into new sonic territory to triumphant returns to startling debuts, 2012 simply astounded. Even as I type this, I’m getting emails about new, exciting releases. It’s enough to make you lose your breath.
Before we get down to it and start in with the numbers, the hyperbole, etc., I want to underscore the point that this list is mine. I made it. It’s not the Readers Poll results, which will be out early in January. It’s based on how I hear things, how much I listened to each of these records, the impressions they left on me — critical opinion enters into it, because whether or not I want to I can’t help but consider things on that level when I listen to a new album these days — but it’s just as much about what I put on when I wanted to hear a band kick ass as it is about which records carried the most critical significance or import within their respective genres.
Over the last couple years, I’ve come to think of the #20 spot as where I put my sentimental favorite. That was the case with Suplecs last year, and in 2012, the return of Mos Generator earns the spot. The band being led by guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed, Nomadsmarked a rehifting of Reed‘s priorities from Stone Axe, with whom he’d proffered ’70s worship for several years prior, and wound up as a collection of some of my favorite heavy rock songs of 2012 — tracks like “Cosmic Ark,” “Torches” and “Lonely One Kenobi” were as strong in their hooks as they were thorough in their lack of pretense. But the bottom line is I’m a nerd for Reed‘s songwriting, playing and production (more on that to come), and at this point it’s not really something I can even pretend to judge impartially. Still, the record’s friggin’ awesome and you should hear it as soon as you can.
Seems like it would make sense to say Golden Void would be higher on the list if I’d spent more time with it — written up just a month ago, it’s the most recent review here — but the fact is I’ve sat with Golden Void‘s self-titled debut a lot over the course of the last month-plus, and I’ve been digging the hell out of it. Really, the only reason it’s not further up is because I don’t feel like I have distance enough from it to judge how it holds up over a longer haul, but either way, the Isiah Mitchell-led outfit’s blend of heavy psych, driving classic rock and retro style gave some hope for beefing up the US’ take on ’70s swagger — usually left to indie bands who, well, suck at it — and also showed Mitchell as a more than capable vocalist where those who knew him from his work in Earthless may only have experienced his instrumental side. A stellar debut, a wonderful surprise, and a band I can’t wait to hear more from in the years to come.
This was basically the soundtrack to my summer. From the catch-you-off-guard aggression in opener “I Spit on Your Grave” to the extended stoneralia of “Master of Nuggets” and the jammy “Southern Comfort and Northern Lights,” the follow-up to Wight‘s self-produced debut Wight Weedy Wight(review here) showed an astonishing amount of growth, and though it had the laid back, loose feel that distinguishes the best of current European heavy psych, Through the Woods into Deep Waterwas also coherent, cohesive and impeccably structured. I thought it was one of the year’s strongest albums when it was released, and its appeal has only endured — as much as I listened to it when it was warm over the summer, now in December I put it on wishing the temperature would change to match. The songs showed remarkable potential from the German three-piece and cast them in an entirely different light than did their first out. Really looking forward to where they might go from here, but in the meantime, I’m nowhere near done with Through the Woods into Deep Wateryet.
“Oh, Moon Queen! Flyin’ down the world on a moonbeam!” Somehow the first lines of the opening title-track to Lord Fowl‘s Moon Queen always seem to wind up stuck in my head. The Connecticut foursome made their debut on Small Stone with the loosely thematic full-length, and touched on a sense of unabashedly grandiose ’70s heavy rock in the process. That said, Moon Queenwasn’t shooting for retro in the slightest — rather, guitarist/vocalists Vechel Jaynes and Mike Pellegrino fronted the band’s classic sensibilities with a wholly modern edge, like something out of an alternate dimension where rock never started to suck. The classic metal guitar in “Streets of Evermore” and the swaying groove from bassist Jon Conine and drummer Don Freeman under the wandering leads of “Hollow Horn” made Moon Queenmore stylistically diverse than it might otherwise have been, but at its core, it was a collection of stellar heavy rock songs, unashamed of its hooks and unafraid to put its passions front and center. They packed a lot into a 47-minute runtime, but I’ve yet to dig into Moon Queen and regret having pressed play. Another band to watch out for.
It was impossible not to be swept up in the hype surrounding Pallbearer‘s Profound Lore debut, but one listen to Sorrow and Extinctionand it was clear that its resounding praise was well earned. By blending thickened psychedelic tonality and emotionally resonant melodies, the Little Rock, Arkansas, four-piece concocted the single most important American doom release of the year. Their efforts did not go unnoticed, and as they supported the album on tour, the swell of the crowds spoke to the right-idea-right-time moment they were able to capture in songs like the stunning “An Offering of Grief” and “The Legend.” There’s room for growth — I wouldn’t be surprised to find guitarist Brett Campbell‘s vocal range greatly developed next time out — but Pallbearer have already left a mark on doom, and if they can keep the momentum going into wherever they go from here, it won’t be long before they’re being cited as having a significant impact on the genre and influencing others in their wake.
I already singled out Kadavar‘s Kadavaras the 2012 Debut of the Year, so if you need any sense of the reverence I think the German trio earned, take whatever you will from that. There really isn’t much to add — though I could nerd out about Kadavar‘s ultra-effective retroisms all day if you’re up for it — but something I haven’t really touched on yet about the record: When I was out in Philly last weekend, the DJ cleverly mixed Kadavar into a set of early ’70s jams, and it was all but indistinguishable in sound from the actual classics. That in itself is an achievement, but Kadavar‘s level of craft also stands them out among their modern peers, and it was drummer Tiger‘s snare sound that I first recognized in “All Our Thoughts,” so right down to the most intricate details, Kadavar‘s Kadavarwas a gripping and enticing affair that proved there’s still ground to cover in proto-heavy worship.
The fuzz was great — don’t get me wrong, I loved the fuzz — but with Stubb‘s Stubb, it was even more about the songs themselves. Whether it was the interplay between guitarist Jack Dickinson and bassist Peter Holland (also of Trippy Wicked) on vocals for the chorus of “Scale the Mountain” or the thickened shuffle in “Soul Mover” punctuated by drummer Chris West‘s (also Trippy Wicked and Groan) ever-ready fills, there wasn’t a clunker in the bunch, and though it’s an album I’ve basically been hearing since the beginning of the year, its appeal has endured throughout and I still find myself going back to it where many others have already been forgotten. With the acoustic “Crosses You Bear” and more laid-bare emotionality of “Crying River,” Stubb showed there was more them than excellence of tone and with the seven-minute finale “Galloping Horses,” they showed they were ready to jam with the best. Truly memorable songs — and also one of the live highlights of my year.
Orange Goblin‘s purpose seemed reborn on their seventh album and Candlelight Records debut, A Eulogy for the Damned. Culling the best elements from their last couple albums, 2007′s Healing Through Fire and 2004′s Thieving from the House of God, the long-running London troublemakers upped the production value and seemed bent from the start on taking hold of the day’s sympathy toward their brand of heavy. With tales of alcoholic regret, classic horrors and a bit of cosmic exploration for good measure, they marked their ascent to the top of the British scene and took well to the role of statesmen, headlining Desertfest and proceeding to smash audiences to pieces around the continent at fests and on tours. Look for them to do the same when they bring the show Stateside in 2013 with Clutch. Their plunder is well earned, and I still rarely go 48 hours without hearing the bridge of “The Fog” in my head. Can’t wait to see them again.
While I still miss Los Natas, my grief for their passing has been much eased over the last two years by frontman Sergio Chotsourian‘s doomier explorations in Ararat. The first album, 2009′sMusica de la Resistencia(review here), ran concurrent to Los Natas‘ swansong, Nuevo Orden de la Libertad, but with II, the new three-piece came into their own, setting space rock synth against low-end sprawl, thick drumming and Chotsourian‘s penchant for experimenting with structure. Extended tracks “Caballos” and “La Ira del Dragon (Uno)” were positively encompassing, and showed Ararat not only as a distinct entity from Los Natas, but a turn stylistically for Chotsourian into elephantine plod, wide-open atmospherics and a likewise expansive creative sensibility. The acoustic “El Inmigrante” and piano-led “Atenas” offered sonic diversity while enriching the mood, and closer “Tres de Mayo” hinted at some of the melding of the various sides that might be in store in Ararat‘s future. If the jump from the first record to the second is any indicator, expect something expansive and huge to come.
Italian cosmic doom meganauts Ufomammut outdid themselves yet again with Oro, breaking up a single full-length into two separate releases, Oro: Opus Primum and Oro: Opus Alter. But the album — which I’ve decided to list as the single entity Oro rather than its two component parts basically to save myself some brain space — was more than just big in terms of its runtime. More importantly, Ufomammut were able to hold firm to their commitment to stylistic growth, drawing on their greatest triumph yet, 2010′s Eve (review here), the trio pushed themselves even further on their Neurot Recordings debut, resulting in an album worthy of the legacy of those releasing it. I don’t know if Oro will come to define Ufomammut as Eve already seems to have — dividing it as they did may have made it harder for listeners to grasp it as a single piece — but it shows that there’s simply no scaring the band out of themselves. Brilliantly tied together around a central progression that showed up in “Empireum” from Opus Primumand “Sublime” on Opus Alter, I have the feeling Ufomammut will probably have another album out before Oro‘s breadth has fully set in.
Behold the standard bearers of heavy. It wasn’t long after hearing UK trio Conan for the first time that I began using them as a touchstone to see how other bands stacked up, and to be honest, almost no one has. Led by the inimitable lumber provided by the tone of guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis (interview here), Conan stripped down their approach for Monnos, returning to Foel Studio in Wales to work with producer Chris Fielding — who’d also helmed their 2010 Horseback Battle HammerEP — and the resulting effort was both trim and humongous. Early tracks like “Hawk as Weapon,” “Battle in the Swamp” (an old demo given new life) and “Grim Tormentor” actually managed to be catchy as well as sonically looming, and the more extended closing duo of “Headless Hunter” and “Invincible Throne” showed that Conan could both use their tone to build forward momentum and plod their way into ultra-slow, ultra-grim despairing nothingness. Monnos affirmed Conan as one of the most pivotal acts in doom, and with new material and a home studio reportedly in the works, as well as further European touring on the docket for early 2013, their onslaught shows no signs of letting up. Right fucking on.
In some ways, it seems like the easiest thing in the world, but with My Sleeping Karma‘s fourth full-length, Soma, it really was just a question of a band taking their sound to a completely new level. The German heavy psych instrumentalists brought forth the sweetness of tone their guitars have harnessed over the course of their three prior offerings, but the progressive keyboard flourishes, the warmth in the bass, the tight pop of the drums — it all clicked on Somain a way that the other records hinted was possible and made the album the payoff to the four-piece’s long-established potential. Wrapped around the titular theme of a drink of the gods and with its tracks spaced out by varying ambient interludes, no moment on the album felt like it wasn’t serving the greater purpose of the whole, and the whole proved to be a worthy purpose indeed. Hands down my favorite instrumental release of the year and an effort that pushed My Sleeping Karma to the front of the pack in the crowded European heavy psych scene.
The damnedest thing happens every time I turn on Graveyard‘s third album, Lights Out, in that before I’m halfway through opener “An Industry of Murder,” I have to turn it up. The reigning kings of Swedish retro heavy wasted no time following up 2011′s stunning sophomore outing, Hisingen Blues(review here), and with the four-year gap between their self-titled debut and the second record, it was a surprise from the moment it was announced, but more than that, Lights Outshowed remarkable development in Graveyard‘s sound, offering elements of classic soul on songs like “Slow Motion Coundown” and “Hard Times Lovin’” to stand alongside the brash rock and roll of “Seven Seven” or the irresistible hook provided by “The Suits, the Law and the Uniforms” or the single “Goliath.” A landmark vocal performance from guitarist Joakim Nilsson and newly surfaced political bent to the lyrics hinted that Graveyard were nowhere near done growing, but seriously, if they put out four or five more records in the vein of Lights Out, I doubt there’d be too many complaints. Already one can hear the influence they’ve had on European heavy rock, and Lights Outisn’t likely to slow that process in the slightest.
Three drum hits and then the lurching “Let Them Fall” — the leadoff track on the first Saint Vitus studio album since 1995 — is underway, and it’s exactly that lack of pomp, that lack of pretense, that makes Lillie: F-65so righteous. Admittedly, it’s a reunion album. They toured for a couple years playing old material, then finally decided to settle in and let guitarist Dave Chandler (interview here) start coming up with a batch of songs, but you can’t argue with the results. They nailed it. With Tony Reed‘s perfect production (discussed here), Vitus captured the classic tonality in Chandler‘s guitar and Mark Adams‘ bass and kept to their sans-bullshit ethic: A short, 33-minute album that leaves their audience wondering where the hell that assault of noise just came from. Scott “Wino” Weinrich‘s presence up front was unmistakable with Chandler‘s punkish, no-frills lyrics (as well as his own on “Blessed Night,” the first song they wrote for the album), and drummer Henry Vasquez not only filled the shoes of the late Armando Acosta but established his own persona behind the kit. I hope it’s not their last record, but if it is, Saint Vitus came into and left Lillie: F-65as doom legends, and their work remains timeless.
Talk about a band who shirked expectation. Guitarist/vocalist Justin Maranga and I discussed that aspect of Ancestors a bit in an interview over the summer, but it’s worth underscoring. There was next to nothing in either of Ancestors‘ first two albums to hint at where they’d go with the third. Both Neptune with Fire and Of Sound Mind(review here) were rousing, riff-led efforts that headed toward a particular heavy sensibility, but it was with last year’s Invisible WhiteEP (review here) that the L.A. outfit began to show the progressive direction they were heading. And In Dreams and Timeis even a departure from that! It’s kind of a departure from reality as well, with the Moog/organ/synth mesh from Matt Barks and Jason Watkins (also vocals), dreamy basslines from Nick Long and hold-it-all-together drumming of Jamie Miller — since out of the band. Closer “First Light” was my pick for song of the year, and had the album been comprised of that track along, it’d probably still be on this list somewhere, but with the complement given to it by the piano sprawl of “On the Wind” and driving riffs and vocal interplay of “Correyvreckan” (if you haven’t heard Long‘s bass on the latter as well, you should), there was little left to question that this was the strongest Ancestors release of their career to date and hopefully the beginning of a new era in their sound. They’ve never been what people wanted them to be, but I for one like not knowing what to expect before it shows up, at least where these guys are concerned.
After what I saw as a lackluster production for 2010′s Snakes for the Divine, Oakland, CA, trio High on Fire aligned themselves with producer Kurt Ballou (Converge) for De Vermis Mysteriis and completely renewed the vitality in their attack. Built on the insistence of “Bloody Knuckles,” furious fuckall of “Fertile Green,” unmitigated piracy of “Serums of Laio” and eerie crawl in “King of Days,” De Vermis Mysteriis was both aggressive in High on Fire‘s raid-your-brain-for-THC tradition and extreme in ways they’ve never been before. Groovers like the instrumental “Samsara” and earlier “Madness of an Architect” offered bombast where the thrash may have relented, while “Spiritual Rites” proved that guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike (also Sleep; interview here), bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensell had arrived at a new threshold of speed and intensity. Whatever personal issues may have been in play at the time, High on Fire delivered a blistering full-length that stands up to and in many ways surpasses any prior viciousness in their catalog, and their level of performance on their current tour makes it plain to see that the band is ready for ascendency to the heights of metal. They are conquerors to the last, and if De Vermis Mysteriisis what I get for wavering, then I’ll consider my lesson hammered home in every second of feedback, tom thud and grueling second of distortion topped with Pike‘s signature growl.
When I interviewed interviewed Steve Von Till about Honor Found in Decay, the Neurosis guitarist/vocalist called the band “a chaos process” in reference to their songwriting. I have no trouble believing that, because while Neurosis stand among the most influential heavy metal bands of their generation — having had as much of an effect on what’s come after them as, say, Meshuggah or Sleep, while also having little sonically in common with either of them — it’s also nearly impossible to pinpoint one aspect of their sound that defines them. The churning rhythms in the riffing of Von Till and his fellow frontman, guitarist/vocalist Scott Kelly (interview here), Dave Edwardson‘s intensity on bass and periodic vocal, the assured percussive creativity of Jason Roeder and theexperimental edge brought to bear in Noah Landis‘ synth and sampling all prove to be essential elements of the whole. On Honor Found in Decay — and this isn’t to take away anything from any other particular member’s songwriting contributions — it would be Landis standing out with his greatest contributions yet, becoming as much a defining element in songs like “At the Well,” “Bleeding the Pigs” and “Casting of the Ages” as either Kelly or Von Till‘s guitars. Had I never seen the band before, I’d have a hard time believing Honor Found in Decay could possibly be representative of their live sound, but they are every bit as crushing, as oppressive and as emotionally visceral on stage — if not more so — as they are on the album, and while their legacy has long since been set among the most important heavy acts ever, period, as they climb closer to the 30-year mark (they’ll get there in 2015), Neurosis continue to refuse to bow to what’s expected of them or write material that doesn’t further their decades-long progression. They are worthy of every homage paid them, and more.
It’s hard for me to properly convey just how happy listening to Greenleaf‘s Nest of Vipersmakes me, and I’ve got several false starts already deleted to prove it. The Swedish supergroup of vocalist Oskar Cedermalm (Truckfighters), guitarists Tommi Holappa and Johan Rockner (both Dozer), bassist Bengt Bäcke (engineer for Dozer, Demon Cleaner, etc.) and drummer Olle Mårthans (Dozer) last released an album in 2007. That was Agents of Ahriman, which was one of my favorite albums of the last decade. No shit. Not year, decade. With a slightly revamped lineup and Dozer‘s maybe-final album, 2008′s Beyond Colossal, and the never-got-off-the-ground side-project Dahli between, Nest of Viperslanded this past winter and with the shared membership, Karl Daniel Lidén production and consistency of songwriting from Holappa (interview here), I immediately saw it as a sequel to the last Dozer, but really it goes well beyond that. Tracks like “Dreamcatcher,” “Case of Fidelity,” “The Timeline’s History” and soaring opener “Jack Staff” show that although they’d never really toured to that point and been through various lineups over the years, Greenleaf was nonetheless an entity unto its own. Cedermalm‘s vocals were a triumph, Mårthans‘ drumming unhinged and yet grounded, and guest appearances from organist Per Wiberg and vocalists Peder Bergstrand (Lowrider/I are Droid) and Fredrik Nordin (Dozer) only enriched the album for repeat listens, which I’m thrilled to say it gets to this very day. If I called it a worthy successor both to Dozer and to Agents of Ahriman, those words alone would probably fall short of conveying quite how much that means on a personal level, so let its placement stand as testimony instead. This is one I’ll be enjoying for years to come, and when I’m done writing this feature, this is the one I’m gonna put back on to listen through again. It has been, and no doubt will continue to be, a constant.
Go figure that the Om record two albums after the one called Pilgrimagewould feel so much like a journey. Further including multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Robert A. A. Lowe (also of experimental one-man outfit Lichens) alongside the established core duo of drummer Emil Amos (also of Grails) and bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (also of Sleep), as well as incorporating a range of guest appearances from the likes of Grayceon‘s Jackie Perez Gratz on cello and Worm Ouroboros‘ Lorraine Rath (who appeared on 2010′s God is Goodas well) on flute, Om fleshed out what was once a signature minimalism to the point of being a lush, constantly moving and markedly fluid entity. Cisneros, as the remaining founder and lead vocalist, served as a unifying presence in the material — his bass still was still very much as the center of “Gethsemane” or the more straightforward and distorted “State of Non-Return” — but those songs and “Addis,” “Sinai” and gloriously melodic closer “Haqq al-Yaqin” amounted to more than any single performance, and where prior Om outings had dug themselves deep into a kind of solitary contemplation, Advaitic Songslooked outward with a palpable sense of musical joy and a richness of experience that could only be called spiritual, however physically or emotionally arresting it might also prove. I’ve found it works best in the morning, as a way to transition from that state of early half-there into the waking world — which no doubt has more harshness in mind than the sweet acoustics and tabla at the end of “Haqq al-Yaqin” — so that some of that sweetness can remain and help me face whatever might come throughout the day. A morning ceremony and a bit of meditation to reorder the consciousness.
Didn’t it have to be Colour Haze? Didn’t it? Two discs of the finest heavy psychedelic rock the world has to offer — yes I mean that — plus all they went through to get it out, the drama of building and rebuilding a studio, recording and re-recording, pressing and repressing, what else could it have been but She Said? After two-plus years of waiting, I was just so glad when it actually existed. Late in 2008, the Munich trio released All, and that was my album of the year that year as well (kudos to anyone who has that issue of Metal Maniacs), but I feel like even if you strip all that away and take away all the drama and the band’s influence, their standing in the European scene, guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek (interview here) fostering next-gen talent on Elektrohasch and whatever else you want or need to remove, She Said still holds up. Just the songs themselves. The extra percussion layered in with Manfred Merwald‘s drums on “She Said,” the horns and Duna Jam-ambience on “Transformation,” the unpretentious boogie of “This” on disc one, or the rush of “Slowdown” on disc two and the culmination the whole album gets when the strings kick in on “Grace.” Those strings. God damn. Suddenly a 2CD release makes sense, when each is given its own progression, its own destination at which to arrive, and tired as I am I still tear up like clockwork when I put on “Grace” just to hear it while I type about it. Beautifully arranged, wonderfully executed, She Saidcouldn’t be anywhere but at the top spot on this list. The warmth in Koglek‘s guitar and Philipp Rasthofer‘s bass on “Breath” and the way their jams always seem to have someplace to go, I feel like I’m listening to a moment exquisitely captured. There isn’t a doubt in my mind Colour Haze are the most potent heavy rock power trio in the world, and that their chemistry has already and will continue to inspire others around them, but most importantly, She Saidmet the true album-of-the-year criteria in not seeming at all limited to the confines of 2012 — as though it had some kind of expiration date. Not so. Even though I’ve already been through them more times than I know or would care to share had I counted, I look forward to getting to know the songs on She Saidover the years to come, and as I have with Colour Haze‘s works in the past, seeing their appeal change over time the way the best of friends do. It couldn’t have been anything but Colour Haze. Whatever hype other albums or bands have, for me, it’s this, and that’s it.
If this list went to 25, the next five would be:
21. Snail, Terminus
22. Revelation, Inner Harbor
23. Wo Fat, The Black Code
24. Groan, The Divine Right of Kings
25. Caltrop, Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes
Honorable mention goes to: Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight (another one about whom I have a hard time being impartial), Mighty High, At Devil Dirt, Bell Witch, Samothrace, Enslaved, Viaje a 800, and Larman Clamor.
Also worth noting some conspicuous absences: Witchcraft, Swans, Baroness, Royal Thunder, The Sword, Torche. These albums garnered a strong response and have done well in the Readers Poll looking at the results so far, but please keep in mind, this is my list, I took a night to sleep on it, I stand by it and I’ve got my reasons for selecting what I did. You’ll find about 5,000 words of them above.
Thank you as always for reading. If you disagree with any picks, want to add your own take on any of the above, or anything else — really, whatever’s cool — please leave a comment below.
Posted in Features on December 10th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Think of it as proof that sometimes self-indulgence pays dividends. Clocking in at a grandiose 19:20, the closing track of L.A. progressive heavy rockers Ancestors‘ third full-length, In Dreams and Time, accomplished a complete album flow unto itself, marrying efficient songwriting to wide-open atmospheres, structured verses to droning ambience, and instrumental build to impeccably arranged vocals. But “First Light” was more than just conceptually brilliant — more than the sum of its parts or the scope with which they were laid out. It was a landmark for the album (review here) and for the band’s ongoing stylistic development.
Guitarist/vocalist Justin Maranga gave insight into how it came together in an interview earlier this year:
We often start at the end – not intentionally, it just happens to work out that way – but I think it started with that guitar riff, which I had been fucking around with for an hour before everybody got to practice one day. I just kind of stumbled into it… It took on a color of its own when everybody else started playing, and then I think it started there and Jason [Watkins, organ/vocals] brought in the end of the song, that chord progression. He brought that in on organ, and I thought it was beautiful, and once I understood it – it’s kind of long – before it repeats, it’s long – and once Nick [Long, bass] and I understood it, I think we jammed on that organ part for two or three hours before we found where we liked to sit in it…
He came in with his beautiful bassline, which accents what Jason’s playing in just the right way, that I can’t help but just want to solo over it. Sometimes I feel super-self-indulgent with the solos like that, but I don’t want to write a part over it, I just want to play. Jason wrote [the string] arrangement; it’s incredible, and it’s only a cello and a violin, but they recorded like six parts each and it ended up sounding like an orchestra and it blew my mind… When we strung it all together, it worked as a song, and you don’t fight that. Jason wrote I think by far the best lyrics he’s ever written… where the solo dies out and the vocals come back in, those are my favorite lyrics that we’ve ever had – “A city stands in dreams and time/In which reside a thousand lies/You can see the lights from waking life/And hear the cries in sacred night…”
The track was not only a high point of the album, but I’ll gladly argue it’s the best single piece Ancestors have ever constructed. To properly examine it, you almost have to look at the individual movements — that opening riff that Maranga talked about and how you’re swept up by it before you even realize it’s begun, the immediacy of the early verses and the smoothness of the transition into the extended sprawling midsection in which Matt Barks‘ synth drones serve as the bed for the slow psychedelic soundscaping — Long‘s bass providing movement with Jamie Miller‘s drumming while Watkins‘ organ overwhelms with lush melody — the arrival of the album’s titular line (noted above) and the gradual creeping in of Maranga‘s guitar, which slowly, patiently, comes to consume “First Light” with what has to be the most emotive guitar solo I’ve heard in the last four years.
Seriously. I’m not a guitar guy. I don’t play, and when it comes to solos, I can appreciate the technicality involved, but ultimately I’m left cold by most. Maranga‘s work on “First Light,” on the other hand, pulls you in so many different directions — and the rest of the band follows it so wonderfully — that it’s impossible not to be taken. By then you’re more than 10 minutes in and there’s still so much to travel through, but how could that not be the apex of the song and of the album? What else could it possibly be?
After 15 minutes in, they quiet down only to revive with what seems like an epilogue progression until the vocals’ triumphant harmonies provide clue that the real peak is still to come. Strings arrive and cap the swirl of “First Light”‘s build and as quickly as it came, as quickly as it brought you into its world and carried you along with it through highs and lows even more vast than the runtime of the song itself, it ends. The last remnant following a final pulsing build is string echo and it passes like life itself, a final reminder that at the heart of everything is mortality, even for that which seems to move outside of time.
The only real competition Ancestors‘ “First Light” had this year as a singular work came from Colour Haze‘s “Grace” or Om‘s “Gethsemane,” and it’s not lost on me that all three feature string accompaniment. I’m not sure what that says about the scope of the genre or the general willingness of acts to step into “outside” elements, but I do think “First Light” stands up as a defining moment in their career and a bold push into sonic territory that few would be able to claim as their own. The word is often overused, and I’m guilty of it as well, but to call it anything less than epic is to do it a disservice.
Posted in Features on June 28th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’m a fan of Los Angeles progressive heavy rockers Ancestors, and that’s something for which I make absolutely no apologies. By their own admission, the band is not without their self-indulgences — latest album In Dreams and Time (review here) has plenty — but wherever they go musically, I seem to be willing to follow them. And so far, that’s been an exciting trip. From their 2008 debut, Neptune with Fire, to the beginning shifts heard on the next year’s Of Sound Mind, to the more drastic changes of last year’s Invisible White EP, Ancestors have never failed to, as guitarist/vocalist Justin Maranga succinctly puts it no fewer than 10 times in the interview that follows, “move forward.”
If there’s one thing that I took away from my conversation with Maranga, which was nearly an hour long and among the most cordial interviews I’ve done in some time, it’s that he’s also incredibly passionate about what the band does. Whether he’s speaking about the basslines of Nick Long, the prospect of writing to Daniel Pouliot‘s drums, Jason Watkins‘ vocal melodies, organ and piano, or the loss of Matt Barks‘ Moog/synth to their live incarnation, Maranga discusses Ancestors as one might convey one’s own central passion, because when he speaks about the band, about their progression over the course of the last half-decade and where they might be going, that’s exactly what he’s going.
It was an honest discussion, and not all of it is included here, but the vast, vast majority remained on-record. Maranga opines on their constant battle against the perceptions of others regarding what the band is. He comes right out and says it: People expect Ancestors to be a stoner rock band, and that’s something they’ve never really been since before Neptune with Fire was released, and certainly not something they’ve ever worked toward being. Perhaps more than ever with In Dreams and Time, Ancestors are without if not in open defiance of genre — wearing their influences on their sleeve, perhaps, but nonetheless making that sleeve no more than a part of their total stylistic ensemble. Frankly, I think they’re one of the best bands in America right now, and on a personal level, if you can’t get down, I think it’s your loss.
Maranga talks about dealing with that expectation put on the band, and how Neptune with Fire pigeonholed them into the stoner rock scene almost in spite of what the band had actually moved on to creating by the time it was released, and the melodic focus that led them to create epic In Dreams and Time closer “First Light,” which seems to reconcile every side and sound they’ve presented to the public to date while also pushing ahead into bold, rich, beautiful territory they’ve not yet covered. But always present in the discussion — I hope this is something that comes through in the basic Q&A transcript — is that passion, driving Maranga and informing his approach to everything Ancestors does and has become. The dude means it. No question.
They were among the highlights of my Roadburn experience in 2012 and the album remains one of my favorites of the year so far. I’m sure I’ll have more on it as the next few months and beyond play out, but for now, please find the complete interview with Maranga after the jump, and please enjoy.
Posted in Features on June 25th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
The last couple years, I’ve done a top five of the first half, and that’s cool, but as I sat down the other day to make the list that follows, I realized the numbers didn’t work. If I’m going to finish 2012 off with a top 20 — which unless a piano falls on my head between now and then I am — then half of that is 10. Half a year, half a top 20. I was never much for math, folks.
But the important thing is I got there in the end, and with a full top 10, I have a little more room to nerd out on what I think are some (not all) of the best releases of the last six months. And just so I can say I said it twice, these are my personal picks, based on what I’ve listened to most as much as whatever estimation of aesthetic value I might make. Let’s get to it:
10. Witch Mountain, Cauldron of the Wild
If you’re asking yourself, “Hey, wasn’t Witch Mountain‘s Cauldron of the Wild just reviewed the other day?” you’re right, it was. That’s why it’s number 10 — because I know it’s a really good record, but I’m not sure yet what the replay value will be as the year progresses. Let it say something that I didn’t want to make this list without including the third album from the Portland doom bluesers, but without the benefit of a little distance from the songs (I still have “Shelter” stuck in my head from reviewing it, though that may prove a permanent scenario), I thought it better to play it cautious than be overly excited. Sometimes it’s hard to restrain the geek within, and I know I’m not the only one Cauldron of the Wild has had that effect on.
9. Caltrop, Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes
Deceptively progressive and study on repeat visits, the newest full-length from North Carolina’s Caltrop, Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes, is an album that doesn’t bow to accessibility but gets there naturally on its own anyway. The music the four-piece makes is technically complex, but the use they put that complexity to is warm and inviting, where so much prog feels cold and showy. Maybe that’s the Southern heat working its way into the tracks, but either way, with the varied work of multiple songwriters and a consistency of atmosphere running throughout, Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes helped me make the transition out of winter and into the warmer weather. I continue to think of Caltrop as a woefully underrated band.
8. Stubb, Stubb
The self-titled Superhot Records debut from London-based trio Stubb (review here) was a simple case of fuzz done right. The rhythm section here also had a strong outing on Superhot in the form of Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight‘s Going Home (review here), but partnered up with guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson, the bass/vocals of Pete Holland and drums of Chris West formed a power trio inspired by classic rock but not imitating it, which is increasingly rare. Their stoner groove was straightforward and heartfelt and the songwriting on tracks like “Mountain” and “Hard Hearted Woman” left absolutely nothing to be desired. I consider myself lucky for having seen them live, and doing so only increased my appreciation for the album.
7. Ararat, II
Sergio Chotsourian‘s second album in post-Los Natas project Ararat (review here) was both more cohesive than its 2009 predecessor, Musica de la Resistencia (review here), and thicker. Indeed, it was his bass tone that made the rumble in extended tracks like “Caballos” and “La Ira del Dragon (Uno)” so indispensable. Ararat has a different dynamic than did Los Natas, but hearing the beginning of what will hopefully be a long process of development has been part of the fun of listening to the band so far. Still, it’s the songs themselves more than their context that stand out, and every time I listen to “Lobos de Guerra y Cazadores de Elefantes,” I swear it seems like my brain is going to turn into liquid and start seeping out of my ears. It’s hard not to dig a record that makes you feel that way.
6. Ufomammut, Oro: Opus Primum
I’ll admit, this one’s a bit of a running gag I have with myself. Ever since I put Ufomammut‘s Eve as the number six on my top 10 of 2010, I’ve regretted it, and the thing about Oro: Opus Primum is (review here) that it’s only half the album, with Oro: Opus Alter still to come as the second part of their Neurot Recordings debut. So when I was wondering where to stick this thing on the list, the number that immediately came to my head was six and there it stands. Amazing to think that we’ll get another Ufomammut record before the year’s out. I look forward to hearing that, and in the meantime, there have been several occasions for which nothing has seemed quite doomed enough that Oro: Opus Primum has fit just right. Ufomammut have been and continue to be something really special.
5. Orange Goblin, A Eulogy for the Damned
What’s not to like about the prospect of a new Orange Goblin record? Nothing, that’s what. With killer songs like “Acid Trial,” “The Fog,” “The Filthy and the Few” and blistering leadoff single “Red Tide Rising,” A Eulogy for the Damned (review here) was the first highlight of 2012 and a fitting summation of much of what’s always been awesome about the band, who’ve become godfathers of the British heavy underground. The production on the album is cleaner than the band comes off live, but the energy in the tracks is undeniable, and it’s with that that Orange Goblin justify the five-year wait since 2007′s Healing through Fire last tore the heavy rock scene a new arsehole. They might be real rock ‘n’ roll’s best kept secret at this point, and their seventh album sends the damned out with a fitting tribute from some of their own kind.
4. Conan, Monnos
Try though I may — and I should probably say here that I haven’t tried — I still can’t get the riff to “Grim Tormentor” from Conan‘s Monnos (review here) out of my head. The album, which was the follow-up to 2011′s split with Slomatics and 2010′s mighty Horseback Battle Hammer debut, found the British trio bringing their songwriting up to a level to match Jon Davis‘ monstrous guitar tone, furthering their dual vocal approach between Davis and bassist Phil Coumbe while upping the pace somewhat on the album’s first half lend fleetness to the stomp in Paul O’Neil‘s drums. Monnos‘ second half was more ethereal, slower, swampier, with the morose “Golden Axe” paving the way for “Headless Hunter” and “Invincible Throne” to level everything in their path with atmosphere as dense as their musical weight. Easily the heaviest album I’ve heard so far this year.
3. Greenleaf, Nest of Vipers
Whenever I do these lists, I hit a point where on a given day they’re all number one. Sometimes it’s just between two albums. In 2010, it was six. This list, so far into 2012, it’s three, and Swedish heavy rock supergroup Greenleaf‘s Nest of Vipers (review here) is the first of them. I’ve been stoked on this record since before I heard it, and while that probably doesn’t do much to argue for my impartiality on the matter, I also don’t give a crap, because Greenleaf fucking rules. I’ll have an interview in the weeks to come with guitarist Tommi Holappa (also ex-Dozer) about the band, and once again, this is definitely one that is going to reappear on the top 20 come December. Not a doubt in my mind. I wasn’t sure the band would be able to live up to 2007′s landmark Agents of Ahriman, but the more I listen to Nest of Vipers, the clearer it becomes that they did precisely that.
2. Ancestors, In Dreams and Time Brilliantly melodic, rife with complexity of emotion and execution, Los Angeles-based Ancestors‘ third album, In Dreams and Time, was the full-length answer to last year’s blissfully melancholic Invisible White EP. Finding the band mature, progressive and worshiping the song rather than the form, they transcended genre as easily as they embarked on it, crafting a wash of melody in Moog, synth, organ, guitar and vocals alike in their richest arrangements yet, culminating in what’s probably the single best extended guitar solo I’ve heard in the last five years on 19-minute closer “First Light,” a song that’s got so many ups and downs contained within its runtime that it’s practically an album unto itself. A gorgeous record and one that has enriched my excitement for Ancestors as they continue to throw creativity in the face of expectation and not look back either on what they’ve done before or what others think they should be doing.
1. Saint Vitus, Lillie: F-65
I’m more than happy to confess that part of my enduring affection for Lillie: F-65 comes from the fact that it’s Saint Vitus‘ first album in 17 years. If you want to tell me which part of that isn’t a totally valid reason to make it number one on this list, I’ll listen. It might not change my mind about the album, which arrives following three successfully reunited years touring and doing shows together. Led as ever by the stripped-down songwriting of guitarist Dave Chandler (interview here), Saint Vitus perfectly reinvigorated their most classic methods on Lillie: F-65 (review here) without sounding like they were wearing a suit that didn’t fit. The Tony Reed-produced album was the first to be fronted by Scott “Wino” Weinrich since 1990′s V, and proved that the chemistry between he and Chandler is a huge part of what has made the band legendary in American doom these last several decades. Together with bassist Mark Adams and drummer Henry Vasquez, Chandler and Wino issued the greatest of 2012′s doom triumphs so far, and in a mere fucked-up, feedback-soaked 33 minutes silenced every reunion naysayer with ears to hear their distant scream. Saint Fucking Vitus.
Wouldn’t be a list without a fair bit of honorable mentions. First to Snail, whose Terminus will probably end up on the year-end list when the time for that arrives, and also to C.O.C., High on Fire, Les Discrets, Wino & Conny Ochs and Electric Moon. Been a pretty good year so far. Here’s to the next six months of it.
Posted in audiObelisk on June 6th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Today it is my extreme pleasure to host the first of what I hope will be many batches of audio streams from Roadburn 2012. This year, instead of links, I’m honored to host the audio streams themselves, which you’ll find on the players below. Extra special thanks to Walter and the Roadburn crew, and to Marcel van de Vondervoort and his team for recording these sets.
Alkerdeel – Roadburn 2012
Ancestors – Roadburn 2012
BlackCobra – Roadburn 2012
Bong – Roadburn 2012
Horisont – Roadburn 2012
Sigiriya – Roadburn 2012
YOB – The Unreal Never Lived live at Roadburn 2012
Posted in Features on April 12th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
04/12/12 — 23.24 — Thursday — Hotel Mercure
It was utter madness, but I suppose that’s to be expected. At this point, that’s part of what makes Roadburn the festival it is and has become. And on the day that 2012 kicked off and it was announced that Electric Wizard will curate 2013 and that Godflesh will play Pure in its entirety, I’ll say this already feels like the most crowded edition I’ve ever been to, though they’ve all been sold out. The lesson of 2012 is “get there early,” folks, because if you wait, you’re screwed. If there’s a band on stage, the room is full. Hell, even half the time bands aren’t on stage, it’s still full of people either waiting for who’s on next or still glowing after what they’ve just seen. Both the 013 and Het Patronaat were packed from the time I walked to the time I walked out. As I said: Madness.
True, The Icarus Line technically were the first band to go on, but it was d.USK doing their set of d.ISEMBOW LMENT material on the main stage that really got Roadburn started, and in telling fashion. The semi-reunited Australian outfit straddled the line between death/doom and black metal and seemed to relish in playing the one side off the other. They were oppressively dark, which is no small feat for the middle of the afternoon, and in that they were doing something special (the d.ISEMBOWELMENT set), were from a long way away, and made it hard to classify their sound, they were the perfect selection for a fest opener, because that’s exactly what this is: Bands from all over the world in a one of a kind gathering that’s not in the slightest bit limited by genre. I watched Ulver do a set of obscure ’60s psychedelic covers tonight. These things simply don’t happen anywhere else.
However, because there’s so much of it happening — at any given moment, all three stages of the 013 and the stage at Het Patronaat could and probably do have someone on them — Roadburn also requires hard choices be made. I left d.USK/d.ISEMBOWELMENT to go next door into the Green Room and catch the start of Horisont‘s set, and it was the first of several hard choices on the day. The Green Room being the midsized spot (with Stage01 the smallest; I tried twice to get in today, for Year of the Goat and La Otracina, and no luck), it filled up quick with people eager for Horisont‘s take on the current Swedish retro sound. Someone standing next to me at the front of the stage was telling his buddy, “Yeah man, if you like Graveyard, you’ll like these guys.”
And it’s true. That’s pretty much what Horisont have going on, sound-wise, but I’m not about to start complaining about that. I’ve been through their new album, Second Assault, a couple times in advance of a review, and after seeing them live, I get it a little more. Yeah, they’re in the vein of Graveyard, but they’re not quite as boogie rock as Graveyard can be sometimes. If you’re looking for a retro Swedish comparison point, Burning Saviours might work, but at that point, you’re really nitpicking. As the room filled up (and filled up, and filled up, and so on), it also got warmed with each body, so I fought my way out of the crowd — not easy — and made my first attempt to get to Stage01, to check out Year of the Goat, but it was too packed to even get close to the door, let alone through it.
I’m no stranger to watching sets through the door at Roadburn. I saw some of Quest for Fire that way last year and wound up staying put to see a bit of La Otracina‘s free jazz freakout psych-prog this evening, but it’s not a long-term solution. Watching a band through the door, I don’t think I could honestly feel like I’d seen them. You want to at least be in the room. I can catch La Otracina in Brooklyn easily enough, since that’s where they’re from, but when it came to watching Sigiriya tonight at 00.00, I knew there was no way it would work out, and that was a bummer, since what I saw of them at Desertfest was fantastic. Nevertheless, one keeps moving. I made my way over to Het Patronaat for the first time after not getting to see Year of the Goat (still bought their record, since I liked what I heard through the doorway), and caught a couple minutes of Virus, whose dramatic experimental metal seemed to relish its own inaccessibility.
One thing Het Patronaat has over the Midi Theatre, which was Roadburn‘s initial “fourth stage” — i.e., the other large venue to complement the main stage — is that it’s gorgeous. Midi Theatre wasn’t ugly by any stretch, but it was a pretty normal theater-type venue. Het Patronaat is a converted church. It has stained glass windows (behind a protective plane, of course), and a high angular vault in its ceiling with big wood rafters that really provided atmosphere for the bands who played there. I think it’s smaller than the Midi Theatre was, but there’s also a room downstairs where bands set up their merch, and beer and food were sold. A little getaway spot, I guess, if you need to just chill for a while and drink a beer. Not a bad idea, but I didn’t really have time. Agalloch were set to hit the main stage at 17.15, and I knew that if I wanted to be there, I wanted to be there well before they went on.
I’ve been looking for an excuse to like Agalloch for a while now. The vehemence and consistency with which they’re recommended to me is nigh on overwhelming. It’s not just, “Oh, you should check this out, it’s pretty cool.” It’s, “Oh my god, you have to hear this band right now.” I’ve given their records a shot, and I even bought their The White EP, to hear if maybe them doing something different would sit any better. As turtlenecked guitarist/vocalist John Haughm set mini-cauldrons of incense on blocks made of tree trunks at the front of the stage, which also just happened to be eye level for the photo pit, I did not find my excuse to become a fan of the band. I can still smell that shit. So much for daytwoing it in my Saint Vitus shirt tomorrow. I’m starting to run out of clothes.
Once they got going, they were as I’ve always found them to be: an American band doing a decent job at playing indulgent European-style artsy black metal. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it. I smelled it for a while and then I went back to the Green Room for Swedish cult doomers Saturnalia Temple, who are a bit more my speed, literally and figuratively. Michael Gira from Swans was doing a solo set at Het Patronaat, which would’ve been awesome to see, but like I say, tough decisions have to be made every year, and since I dug the hell out of Saturnalia Temple‘s Aion of Drakon after buying it last Black Friday in Connecticut, I took the chance to see them as something special I’d probably only get to do at Roadburn. So off I went.
Saturnalia Temple were low end in extremis — a brutal wash of tone that vibrated the front of the stage as I stood there. Big, big riffs. I couldn’t really hear the vocals from where I was standing, but they were relatively sparse anyway for the first couple songs. Basically, Saturnalia Temple were throwing down a gauntlet of heft, daring the rest of the Roadburn lineup to match what they had to offer. Even if you take away the Lovecraftian thematics and the crushing grooves of the riffs themselves, the sheer force with which they were delivered was an act of physical violence. I knew Om was getting ready to go on the main stage, so I once more pushed my way out of the Green Room — much to the delight of my fellow 013 patrons — and made sure I was there for the start of the trio’s set.
That’s right, the trio. I don’t know what the official status of Robert A. Lowe (aka Lichens and not to be confused with Robert Lowe of Solitude Aeturnus/Candlemass fame) is, but the dude at this point is a big part of their sound, and they showed that right from the start with the new material they played off the upcoming Advaitic Songs, but even on “Meditation is the Practice of Death” from 2009′s God is Good (semi-review here), Lowe made his presence known, and throughout the set, whether it was beating himself with a tambourine in time to drummer Emil Amos‘ rhythm, adding synth, or playing guitar alongside Al Cisneros‘ bass, he’s more a member of the band now than he was when they started touring together and it was kind of a novelty thing. The novelty has worn off, and Om make for a pretty formidable trio, though part of me misses the sweet minimalism of their earlier work. Price of progress, I suppose.
When I left Om, I went and tried to watch La Otracina through the doorway of Stage01 and then went over to Het Patronaat, with the intent of getting there early enough to get a spot up front for Ancestors. That was my goal. Ancestors, whom I’ve missed more times than I really care to count (I think it’s twice, but that’s too many, anyhow), including just last weekend, were my one absolute must of the day. I figured I’d get there super early and work my way up as people were coming and going. Thing was, I was early enough that Red Fang was still on, and they killed the place. They’re tighter now even than they were at Metalliance last year, and songs from both their self-titled and last year’s Murder the Mountains (review here) incited whatever the burly beardo equivalent is to squeals of pleasure from the crowd. Up front, there was even good old fashioned heavy metal slam-dancing, which earned some hard stares from those who did not want to be involved.
You could hardly blame them, though — the dancers, that is — because Red Fang legitimately showed that they’ve stepped up their live show to match the profile of the touring they’ve done in the past. Whether it was bassist Aaron Beam‘s nailing the vocal shifts in “Human Herd” (not to mention his snazzy new haircut) or guitarist/vocalist Maurice Bryan Giles throwing a bit of pinache into the opening lead of “Throw Up,” or the whole band locking into the punky groove of “Hank is Dead,” they were excellent across the board and absolutely owned the stage. If they can bring that same kind of energy to their next record, then all that “the next Mastodon” buzz that’s been swirling around them these last few years won’t just be hyperbole. They sound like a band right on the cusp of something really special. And by “special,” I don’t mean “slow.”
Though if they wanted to play slow, that’d be alright too. I could live with that.
Sure enough, when they were finished, I proceeded to insert myself at the very front of the stage, just to the right side of the center, where I would stay for the duration of Ancestors‘ set. Normally I’d stay there for a few songs, then push back and let other people in — because I’m a big guy, it seems like the right thing to do — but once Ancestors got started, I knew there was no way. Anyone who’s bemoaned their progression since they released Neptune with Fire in 2008 as somehow forsaking heaviness has clearly never seen the band live. They were so. Fucking. Heavy. And so fucking loud, too. Bassist Nick Long had to keep chasing down his “Depth Charge” pedal because the stage was shaking so much from his playing that it was wandering off. At one point, I noticed guitarist/vocalist Jason Maranga‘s glass of tea was vibrating close to the end of the side of the stage and pointed it out to the dude working the board so it didn’t tip over and spill on the sound equipment. Drummer Daniel Pouliot — a relative newcomer to the band who nonetheless destroyed everything in his path — started out with one brick in front of his drums to hold them in place but wound up with three before they were finished. And as for organist/vocalist Jason Watkins, I’m surprised the keyboard didn’t come apart in his hands. Yes, they were that loud.
Not only that, but crazy melodic too. The highlight of the whole set was when they closed with the 19-minute finale of their new album, In Dreams and Time (review here). Maranga had said the entire band was sick — see, that’s why you pack a pharmacy — and his vocals toward the end were a bit rough, but everything else in “First Light” was spot on, and both musically and vocally, the melody was as powerful as the rumble in Long‘s bass. I recognized that opening riff immediately and had a Pavlovian-drooling-dog response at the treat I knew was coming. Sure enough, they made their way methodically through every part of the song, Maranga taking a long solo at Pouliot accented perfectly, building tension with each measure until finally the massive payoff arrived. It was unreal, and if I was going to see Ancestors at any point in their career, I’m glad it was now just for that. Just when you think he’s got nowhere else to go on the guitar, out comes the slide and the solo becomes a noise-fest working up past the neck; raw squibblies that would’ve made Agalloch jealous. Best part about it was there was feeling in every note, and you knew it just from watching. One hundred percent the highlight of my night, those dudes were. No doubt about it.
They ended with Maranga kicking aside his pedal board, putting his foot up on the monitor and headbanging at the front of the stage, until “First Light” crashed to its sudden finish. No shit, I’ve listened to the song three times through since coming back to the hotel to start this writeup. And it’s 19 minutes long! No regrets. I wasn’t exactly lacking in appreciation for what Ancestors do (click the review link if you don’t believe me), but this was something totally different. Unreal, how good they were. I was so glad to have finally seen them.
And really, that was the cap on my night. It came early, at least as regards the fact that there was still plenty of the lineup to go, but I knew Sigiriya wasn’t going to work out, Voivod played tonight after Ulver, but they’re also doing a set tomorrow at their curated Au-delà du Réel event in which they’re doing all of Dimension Hatröss, so I figured I wouldn’t want to miss that, and though I like Justin Broadrick‘s noisemaking as much as the next guy, I clearly had a bit of writing ahead of me. I went back to the 013 after Ancestors, carrying my melted brains in my photo bag, and planted myself in the photo pit in front of where it looked like would have a good view of Krystoffer Rygg‘s braided beard. As usual, my guess was meh.
I didn’t hear Ulver‘s 2011 album, Wars of the Roses — though I loved 2007′s Shadows of the Sun — but it didn’t matter anyway, because like I said way up at the top of this post, they were doing obscure psychedelic covers from the ’60s. An odd choice, maybe, but it sounded pretty good. One thing Ulver was more than anyone else today, though, was elaborate. Two guitars, bass, drums, a Rhodes, a mellotron, a Hammond, bongos, congas, timpani, shakers, a gong, and then an electronic setup on a table in front of Rygg that no one even wanted to turn on to soundcheck. It looked — in a word — expensive, and they went on 10 minutes late because it took so long to make sure everything was hooked in properly to the 013 P.A., but again, it’s hard to find any fault in Ulver‘s execution. They made it work, though they also took the songs and put them in a more Ulverian context, so that it was more of an interpretation of Jefferson Airplane than an outright cover.
But it was one more cool, weird happening that’s only going down at Roadburn, and those who got to see it — packed in as they were — were lucky, and I count myself lucky as well. I hit the Het Patronaat merch area one more time, saw Pouliot and told him the set was killer, and then resigned myself to coming back to the Mercure and getting to work.
Tomorrow Wino & Conny Ochs open Het Patronaat at 15.00, and I’m going to try again to get into Stage01 to see Conan before YOB do The Unreal Never Lived front to back and further insanity plays out. There are fewer bands I’m outright dying to check out tomorrow, so maybe I’ll get to stick around for some more full sets, but I wouldn’t put it past myself to be back and forth like I was today either. No rest for the restless.
Posted in Reviews on March 23rd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
As massive as the riffs were on Ancestors’ 2008 Tee Pee Records debut, Neptune with Fire (originally also the band’s demo), their largesse pales in comparison to the distance of stylistic ground the band has covered since. The progression away from that album’s two-song Sleep-derived sprawl was almost immediate on 2009’s Of Sound Mind (review here) – titled as if to indicate the L.A.-based act’s own consciousness of what they were doing – and last year’s Invisible White EP (review here) was even more of a departure from what seemed like a stated course of gleefully mining and putting stoner rock riffing to epic, extended use. You could almost hear the one-song album on its way. Ancestors might still get there, but if they do, it’ll be in a much different form. The full-length follow-up to the pattern of influence Invisible White established is In Dreams and Time (also Tee Pee), which confirms over its far-ranging 66 minutes emotional weight as the center of the band’s songwriting construction even as much as it utilizes thickened tones to blend in elements from earlier offerings. The really amazing thing about Ancestors is that we’re talking about a four-year span of time that all these shifts have taken place. Of course the first record was put to tape well before it came out, but even so, if not for the breadth it covers, In Dreams and Time would feel like a debut in itself for how much of a beginning it seems to be for the band.
The inclusions of Moog and modular synth by Matt Barks, and the piano and organ of Jason Watkins (who also contributes vocals), are pivotal to the sound of In Dreams and Time almost immediately, rivaling if not surpassing Justin Maranga’s guitars at times. Opener “Whispers” begins with heavy crashes, but ultimately its nine minutes are more defined by the interplay of melody and the “extras” than the meat of the riffs themselves. King Crimson-esque oohs and aahs run through the middle, and it’s not until its final movement that heaviness in the traditional sense enters into it, the drums of Jamie Miller (also of Night Horse and since replaced by Daniel Pouliot) signaling a faster finish to which Nick Long adds the first in a series of engaging bass runs while Maranga’s lead vocals take on a Steve Von Till-esque gruffness. The Neurosis influence isn’t a central focus – that is, Ancestors aren’t making post-metal – but it’s there all the same. The song slows at its end and leads into In Dreams and Time’s shortest cut, “The Last Return,” which still surpasses six minutes and shows more of the melancholic side of Ancestors’ approach that really came to the fore on Invisible White. This is progression without pretense, and I’d say “The Last Return” is indulgent for the wash of guitar that seems to consume its dramatic male/female vocal interplay, but it also works really well. Miller comes in after two verse/chorus tradeoffs and a landmark piano solo from Watkins that’s well-suited to the mood of the track, adding a bit of pulse to the last two minutes alongside distorted guitars and the still-prevalent piano.
With a cut like “The Last Return,” already I’m thinking In Dreams and Time must have been a nightmare to mix. Not only is there a wide variety of elements at play, but they’re balanced just so to allow for the album to be engrossing and almost overwhelming, but still accessible and appreciable. Amplifier hum fades out even as synth winds begin to blow and underscore the guitar-driven beginning of side –A ender “Corryvreckan” and one of In Dreams and Time’s two tracks over 10 minutes. At 12:08, it’s not as grand, or as long, as the album closer “First Light” — which clocks a fully-used 19:19 – but it’s nonetheless a landmark for Ancestors thus far. Long offers a standout performance on bass and seems to loom above and separate from Miller’s tom fills during the verse, and a chorus of well-arranged semi-melodic and harsher shouts adds doomed sensibility to what is still markedly atmospheric. Organ features heavily throughout the “Corryvreckan”’s build – the song named either for a whirlpool in Scotland or for the whiskey that takes its moniker from same – but the guitar leads in the second half classily offer additional melody to what the keys contribute. A subdued break nine minutes in reminds of a fuller-sounding Crippled Black Phoenix, but the tension pays off with about a minute and a half to go, the riff changing up to a more adrenaline-inducing progression and the rest of Ancestors getting in line behind, except perhaps Long, the separation of whose bass seems to sit it in a class entirely its own. The tone there is punchier than anything else, so it stands out even more, but if he’s left the task of carrying the song to its conclusion, he seems up to it.
Side B, such as it is (if they were to put the album out on vinyl, they’d have to either cut tracks or make it a double, as I’m fairly certain a 12” LP won’t hold a 66 minute album – nonetheless, that’s how the songs are structured), is longer. “On the Wind” and “Running in Circles” both top nine and a half minutes, and “First Light” nearly reaches 20, whereas on the first three tracks, “The Last Return” was shorter and that set up even more of a contrast with the lush patience of “Corryvreckan.” Ancestors offset the extra length by honing in on sonic diversity and continuing to expand the sonic palette they’ve already established. “On the Wind” gets underway with Watkins’ piano while guitar swells and fades behind, and the ambience becomes the point of build that acts as the center of the song as Miller thuds his way in on the toms and guitars fade in to introduce the verse after about two and a half minutes. Like with “Corryvreckan,” “On the Wind” lets its vocals become a point of focus – something I don’t think Ancestors had the confidence to do before Invisible White – but on the later track, they’re more melodic and more memorable, still giving way to the sub-Neurosis shouts, but nailed in the mix so that neither the guitar nor piano lines feel sacrificed. In terms of sheer craft, “On the Wind” might be the most developed song on In Dreams and Time, with a guitar solo near the halfway point setting up bold competition to come from Hammond organ even as Long’s bass once more holds down the initial groove that started it all. It’s warm, it’s professional and it’s progressive, and they bring back the chorus at the end of an extended jam – just instrumentally – and it serves as a firm reminder of just how far they’ve come and how far they’re brought listeners along with them.
It’s still Friday, right? Well, if it is or isn’t, I’m still stoked to be the first to bring you the above foreboding trailer for the new Ancestors album, titled In Dreams and Time and due out on Tee Pee April 10. Just dig that growing menace. To support the record, the L.A. troupe are headed across the Atlantic like a fired-up Neptune to perform at this year’s Desertfests in London and Berlin and Roadburn in Tilburg, the Netherlands, as well as Fuzzfest and numerous other shows.
Now, I could probably give you some big spiel about how helping independent bands is the right thing to do and how Ancestors are killer and blah blah blah. Forget all that. Fact is, for your “donation,” Ancestors are actually giving away some pretty cool stuff. Depending on how much you choose to put in, they’ll even buy you dinner. Literally. I gave $10, and for that I get to download In Dreams and Time two weeks before it’s released. Pretty good deal considering it also comes with that self-satisfaction of patronizing the riffly arts.
Not to sound like an NPR pledge drive or anything, but you could spend 10 bucks on much worse.
Stick around next week (please), because it’s gonna be nuts. Monday I’m thrilled to say I’ll be hosting an exclusive stream of the recently gushed-over Greenleaf record. Yes, the whole thing. I’ll also be posting either a new interview with Truckfighters (set to happen Monday evening; fingers crossed) or my conversation with Fursy Teyssier of Les Discrets, and I’ve no doubt either will be worth the read.
We’ll debut Ben Hogg‘s aforementioned “Fire on the Mountain” column as well, and still find room for reviews of Black Rainbows, Caltrop, Melvins Lite and others. It’ll be good times, I assure you.
Also, I don’t know if you checked out the news forum today, but I’ve posted no fewer than 12 news stories in there in the last 24 hours, so you might want to hit it up for news about stuff like Weedeater and Church of Misery tour dates and much more. Just saying it’s worth a look if you’ve got a minute or seven.
In the meantime, that should do it for me. I’ll be in Somerville, Massachusetts, tomorrow night to catch Gozu, Black Pyramid and Infernal Overdrive, so if you’re headed that way, I hope to get to say hi. I’ll be the fat beardo with the brown messenger-type photo bag, probably drinking in a corner looking awkward. That’s usually how it goes. Ha.
Have a great and safe weekend, whatever part of the world you’re in. See you on the forum and back here Monday for that Greenleaf stream and other assorted silliness.
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 3rd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
What a coincidence that Ancestors‘ new album, In Dreams and Time will be out just around when the band heads to Europe for appearances at Desertfest and Roadburn. Man, if I didn’t know better, I’d swear these things were planned out ahead of time. In any case, I’m very much looking forward to hearing how Ancestors follow-up last year’s excellent Invisible White EP (review here), the stylistic divergence of which was both unexpected and gloriously accomplished, particularly on the title-track.
The following PR wire info doesn’t exactly give the answer to that question, but it does add further intrigue in a quote from guitarist Justin Maranga. Check it out:
Los Angeles psychedelic prog-rock band Ancestors will release its new album In Dreams and Time on April 10 via Tee Pee Records. Recorded in east L.A.’s Infrasonic Sound (Queens of the Stone Age, BestCoast, Xasthur), the record showcases the band’s most accomplished music to date and a creative sound that morphs from thunderous cacophony to soul-searching peaks and valleys as towering riffs collide with bleak beauty and deep wells of light and dark.
“In Dreams and Time feels like the culmination of everything we’ve done so far,” says Ancestors guitarist Justin Maranga. “The record incorporates elements of everything that we’ve come to feel that Ancestors is, as well as new things that we’ve never tried. We’re hoping that it will tie together fans of our previous albums Neptune with Fire, Of Sound Mind and Invisible White who may or may not have connected one release or the other, while hopefully helping us reach a new audience. We’re excited about it.”
The track listing for Ancestors’In Dreams and Time is as follows: 1. Whispers 2. The Last Return 3. Corryvreckan 4. On the Wind 5. Running in Circles 6. First Light
Ancestors have also announced the addition of new drummer Daniel Pouliot (Horse the Band, ex-Bleeding Kansas) to its ranks and have been confirmed for both the 2012 Desertfest and the 2012 Roadburn Festival, where the band will share the stage with Killing Joke, Michael Gira, ChelseaWolfe and more.
Posted in Whathaveyou on December 14th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
I almost don’t want to say it out loud because I’m afraid an Icelandic volcano will erupt and I’ll miss their set, but as someone who lives on the other end of the country from the band, I’m stoked as hell at the prospect of finally being able to catch Ancestors live at London Desertfest next April. They’re among several in the latest batch of confirmations, which also includes German heavy psych upstarts Samsara Blues Experiment, British trio Stubb, Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight, Horisont and more.
Full info on the fest, and the Berlin Desertfest, which is also shaping up, is available at the Desertscene website. In the meantime, here’s a few updates and the poster with the latest lineup:
Atmosphericness will be washing over us in waves with Ancestors, who are now confirmed for Desertfest. The L.A. based 4 piece will be laying down there unique mixture of progressive invention and with influences of doom, stoner and psych all running through their epic tuneage, these guys are sure to blow your mind away. After receiving critical acclaim for their 2009 album Of Sound Mind and having shared a 7? split with the mighty Graveyard, last summer saw them release an EP called Invisible White. Ancestry is a hobby, Ancestors are an experience.
Desertfest are very pleased to announce German heavy psych stoners, Samsara Blues Experiment. These guys have many influences ranging from spiritual to Eastern sounds which adds to the whole Experience. Based in Berlin, the Experiment were founded in ‘07 and could have been seen on the recent “Up in Smoke Vol. III” European Tour. Samsara means “to flow together” and we are looking forward to merging with the band next year at Desertfest. Peace.
Desertfest are pleased to announce UK psych Rockers Stubb. A mutual love of Jamming gave birth to a three-piece of fuzzy psyched rock that come to be known as Stubb. They have toured Europe with the mighty StoneAxe and shared stages with bands such as GentlemansPistols, Firebird and more. Hopefully by the time they hit Desertfest they will be riding high on their debut album which is due for release early next year.
Posted in Features on December 9th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: This list is made up of my personal picks, not the results of the Readers Poll, which is ongoing — if you haven’t added your top 11 to that yet, please do.
It was an impossible task to keep up with everything that came out this year. I’ll say flat out that I didn’t. There are records that I just didn’t get to hear, and I should note at the outset that this list is mine. It’s based on my personal opinions, what I listened to the most this year and what I think 2011′s most crucial releases have been.
I’ve spent the better part of this week (and last, if brain-time counts) constructing this list, and I finally got it to a point where I feel comfortable sharing. Since last December, I’ve kept a Post-It of names, and all year, I’ve logged bands I’d want to consider for the final top 20. In the end, there were 78 bands and more that I didn’t get to write down for whatever reason. 2011 was nothing if it wasn’t overwhelming.
But here we are, anyway, and it’s done. Let’s get to it:
This is nothing if not a sentimental pick. Last year, I put Electric Wizard in the #20 spot because the record wasn’t out yet, and this year, I’m putting Suplecs (interview with bassist Danny Nick here) in just because I couldn’t imagine this list without them. Until literally a few minutes before I clicked “Publish” on this post, there was someone else in this spot, but ultimately, it had to be them. The New Orleans trio’s first record in half a decade wasn’t what I listened to most in 2011, it wasn’t the best album, or the most important, or career-defining, but when it came right down to it, god damn, I was just happy to have Suplecs back. It had been too long.
After a while, I was kind of shocked to find myself continuing to listen to Favourite State of Mind, the second album by Polish rockers Elvis Deluxe. The record’s dynamics didn’t immediately open up to me, but once I dug into the songs, I was wowed by their balance of catchy hooks and substantial-sounding riffs. The album was genre-relevant without being genre-minded, with vocal changes, organ, atmospheric shifts and a whole host of moods and turns. After hearing their 2007 debut, Lazy, I wasn’t expecting much out of the norm from Favourite State of Mind, and I’m still thrilled by just how wrong I was, and “Take it Slow” is among my favorite single songs of the year.
The gloomy opening statement from former Warning guitarist/vocalist Patrick Walker turned heads around the world with its unabashed emotional conviction, which was so much the central focus of the record as to be made a novelty by those who don’t usually consider doom an emotionally relevant genre (the widespread arguments against that notion I’ll leave for another time). What most stood out to me about The Inside Room was how the sentimentality translated into a gorgeous melodic sensibility and resulted in a lonely mood that was engrossing. On that level, it was easily among 2011′s most effective releases. It made you feel what it seemed to be feeling.
It was an album that lived up to its name. Return to Earth marked the remaking of one of heavy rocks most stoned outfits: Acrimony. But, as Sigiriya (interview with drummer Darren Ivey here), the four-piece (down from five) would show that the years since the demise of their former band had found them progressing as musicians, resulting in a sound less directly stoner, more modern, more earthy. The songs, however, were what made it. It’s still a rare day that goes by that I don’t hum at least part of the chorus of “Mountain Goat” to myself, and if Return to Earth was a new beginning for these players, I can’t wait to see where they go next.
In addition to being Totimoshi‘s first album for At a Loss following the end of their deal with Volcom, Avenger was the first Totimoshi record since 2003′s ¿Mysterioso? not to be produced by Page Hamilton, and where 2006′s Ladrón and 2008′s Milagrosa moved away from some of the noisy crunch in the guitar of Tony Aguilar (interview here), Avenger managed to be both a return to form and a progression of the band’s melodicism. It seems, as ever, to have flown under most radars, but Totimoshi continue to refine their songwriting and have become one of the heavy underground’s most formidable and least classifiable bands.
With their 2010 EP release, upstart British trio Grifter informed us that The Simplicity of the Riff is Key, and on their self-titled Ripple Music debut, they put that ethic to excellent use, resulting in straightforward, catchy songs that were as high-octane as they were low-bullshit. The ultra-catchy “Good Day for Bad News” showed Grifter at the top of their form, and with a dose of humor thrown in, Grifter was the drunken stoner rock party you always wanted to be invited to and, of course, finally were. Now if only I could get Skype to work and get that interview with Ollie Stygall moving, I’d be happy to tell him personally he put out one of 2011′s most kickass rock records.
I don’t know what’s most impressive about The Book of Knots‘ Garden of Fainting Stars — the songs themselves or that they were able to make any songs at all. With upwards of 20 guest spots around the core four-piece, the third in a purported trilogy of records from the avant rock originalists was an epic in every listen. Songs like “Microgravity” and the Mike Watt spoken word “Yeager’s Approach” pushed the limits of both genre and expectation, and miraculously, Garden of Fainting Stars was cohesive and enthralling in its narrative aspect. If it really was their last album, it was triumphant in a manner befitting its expanding-universe thematics.
Had it been a full-length, Invisible White would be higher on this list. Many out there who were enamored of Ancestors‘ 2008 Neptune with Fire debut have gone on to bemoan the Californian collective’s shift away from extended sections of heavy riffing and tales of sea monsters and other things that go “doom” in the night. I’m not one of them. The Invisible White EP was a brave step along a fascinating progression, and as Crippled Black Phoenix didn’t release a new album in 2011, I was glad to have Ancestors there to fill that morose, contemplative void, and I look forward to seeing how they expand on the ideas presented on Invisible White (if they decide to stick to this direction) for their next full-length.
Speaking of shifting approaches, still-young Massachusetts trio Elder also moved away from the Sleep-centric methods of their 2008 self-titled debut on the follow-up, Dead Roots Stirring. Still based very much around the guitar work of Nick DiSalvo (interview here), Elder songs like “Gemini” and the über-soloed “The End” pushed an influence of European heavy psych into the band’s aesthetic, and the result was both grippingly heavy and blown of mind. As an album long delayed by mixing and business concerns, when Dead Roots Stirring finally arrived, it was a relief to hear that Elder, though they’d varied the path, were still headed in the right direction.
Hands down the year’s best traditional doom release. The Wretch so gleefully and so earnestly employed the conventions of ’80s-style doom — most especially those of Saint Vitus and Trouble — that even though the lyrical and musical content was miserable, I couldn’t help but smile as I listened. Songs like “Bastards Born” and “The Scovrge ov Drvnkenness” pushed The Gates of Slumber away from the barbarism the Indianapolis outfit had been touting on their last couple albums, including 2008′s Conqueror breakthrough, in favor of a more purely Chandlerian plod. “To the Rack with Them” remains a standout favorite and a line often referenced in my workplace dealings.
I don’t know what you say to someone at this point who doesn’t like Weedeater. It just seems like a terrible way to go through life, without the madman ranting of “Dixie” Dave Collins (interview here) echoing perpetually in your ears, or never having witnessed their ultra-viscous fuzz in person. Jason… the Dragon was one of the earliest landmark releases of 2011, and practically the whole year later, it retains its hold, whether it’s the stomping fury of “Mancoon,” the lumbering groove of “Long Gone” or the surprisingly melodic “Homecoming.” The hard-touring, hard-hitting band did right in recording with Steve Albini to capture their live sound, and Jason… the Dragon was their strongest outing yet in terms of both songwriting and that unmistakable quality that makes Weedeater records Weedeater records.
I was surprised to see Rwake crack the top 10. Not because their first album in four years, the Sanford Parker-produced Rest, wasn’t superb, but because of how much the songs on the album stayed with me after listening. The Arkansas band’s last outing, Voices of Omens, was heavy and dark and had a lot going for it, but Rest upped the songwriting on every level and together with frontman CT (interview here) adopting a more decipherable shout over most of the record’s four main extended tracks, Rwake felt like a band reborn, and theirs was a highlight among several 2011 albums that showed there’s still room for individual growth and stylistic nuance within the sphere of post-metal.
It was back and forth, nine and eight, between Rwake and Hull for a while, but when all was said and done, the fantastic scope of Beyond the Lightless Sky gave the Brooklyn triple-guitar masters the edge. With a narrative structure behind it and a breadth of ambience and crushing, post-doomly riffing, Beyond the Lightless Sky was the defining moment that those who’ve followed Hull since their Viking Funeral demo have been waiting for. In concept, in performance, in sound and structure and heft, it absolutely floored me, and of all the heavy records I’ve heard with the tag applied to them in 2011, Hull‘s second full-length seems most to earn the tag “progressive.” A stunning and groundbreaking achievement.
One of 2011′s most fascinating developments has been the boom in European heavy psychedelia, and the self-titled debut from French band Mars Red Sky was among the best releases to blend a jam-based sensibility with thick, warm fuzz and memorable riffs. Together with the sweet-hued vocals of Julien Pras (interview here), those riffs made for some of the most infectious hooks I heard all year on songs like “Strong Reflection” and “Way to Rome,” and where other bands jammed their way into psychedelic oblivion, Mars Red Sky were able to balance their focus on crafting quality songs, so that although they sounded spontaneous, the material was never self-indulgent or lacking accessibility. One just hopes they don’t lose sight of that musical humility their next time out.
There was a point earlier this year at which I had forgotten about All We Destroy. After reviewing it in March, I simply moved on to the next thing on my list, and the thing after, and the thing after. But before I knew it, in my head was the voice of Jackie Perez Gratz, singing the line “As I live and breathe” over her own cello, the guitar of Max Doyle and Max Doyle‘s drums. It got so persistent that, eventually, I went out and bought the record, because the mp3s I’d been given to review simply weren’t enough. That was probably July, and I don’t think I’ve gone a week since without listening to Grayceon. So although I classify it in the same league as Rwake and Hull in terms of what it accomplishes in and for its genre, All We Destroy gets the extra nod for the fact that I simply haven’t been able to let it go. And though I’ve come to further appreciate “Shellmounds,” “Once a Shadow” and “A Road Less Traveled,” the 17-minute “We Can” — from which the above-noted lyric is taken — remains the best single song I heard in 2011.
On paper, this one should’ve flopped: Band with minor buzz and a cool video hooks up with indie rock dude to record an album of dopey riffs and beardo bombast. Instead, Red Fang‘s second album and Relapse debut became the 2011 vanguard release for the Portland heavy underground, which is arguably the most fertile scene in the US right now. They toured the record widely, and made another killer video for the mega-single “Wires,” but the reason Murder the Mountains is top five material is because it’s lasted. It was February that I reviewed this record, and March that I interviewed guitarist/vocalist Bryan Giles, and I still can’t get “Into the Eye” and “Hank is Dead” and “Number Thirteen” (especially the latter) out of my head. When it came down to it, the songs on Murder the Mountains lived up to any hype the album received, and I’m a sucker for quality songwriting. I mean, seriously. That key change late into “Number Thirteen?” It’s the stuff of the gods.
I wasn’t particularly a fan of Swedish rockers Graveyard‘s 2008 self-titled debut. Even watching them at Roadburn in 2010, I was underwhelmed. But when I heard Hisingen Blues and was able to get a feel for what the retro-minded foursome were getting at stylistically — and most of all, that they were acknowledging that they were doing it without being glib or ironic about it — I found the material irresistible. We’re getting into seriously indispensable records now; ones that I’ve been unwilling to leave home without since they came, in, and Graveyard‘s Hisingen Blues has been a constant feature in heavy rotation. Everything from the devilish testimony of the title-track to the wiry guitars of the chorus to “Ungrateful are the Dead,” to the Skynyrd-ified solo capping “Uncomfortably Numb”: It’s been a year of revelry in all of it, and since they overcame my prejudice to impress on such a level, Graveyard (interview with drummer Axel Sjöberg here) are all the more deserving of their spot on this list.
What I hear in the second album from Dutch trio Sungrazer is the heralding of a new generation of fuzz rock. Taking influence from their forebears in Colour Haze and Kyuss, the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Rutger Smeets (interview here), bassist/vocalist Sander Haagmans and drummer Hans Mulders followed and surpassed their stellar 2010 debut on every level, playing heavy riffs on expansive psychedelic jams and still finding room for some of 2011′s most memorable choruses in songs like “Sea” and “Goldstrike.” In so doing, Sungrazer affirmed the character of next-gen European fuzz and placed themselves at the fore of their scene, with touring and festival appearances to support. For their warmth of tone and for the fact that I spent the better part of the summer streaming the record through the Dutch website 3voor12, there was no way they were going to be left out of the top 20. It wasn’t until I sat down and actually put the numbers together, though, that I realized how vital Mirador actually was.
I was lucky enough to be sent some rough listening mixes of Ohio outfit Lo-Pan‘s Small Stone Records debut (following a reworked reissue of their Sasquanaut sophomore full-length), and in my email back to label head Scott Hamilton, I told him I thought he had a genuine classic on his hands. A year, I don’t even know how many Lo-Pan gigs and listens through Salvador later, I still feel that way 100 percent. If you were from another planet, and we got to talking at a bar, and you asked me what rock and roll should sound like in the place where I’m from, I’d hand you Salvador. I still think they should’ve started the album with “Generations,” but if that’s my biggest gripe, they’re clearly doing alright. “Bird of Prey” was the best live song I saw all year, and I saw it plenty, and cuts like “Bleeding Out” and “Struck Match” set the standard by which I’ll judge American heavy rock for a long time to come. Like the best of any class, Salvador is bigger than just the year in which it was released, and at this point, I don’t know what else to say about it.
This is as good as it gets, and by “it,” I mean life. YOB‘s last album, 2009′s The Great Cessation, was my album of the year that year as well, and I knew from the second I heard the self-produced Atma that nothing to come this year would top it. Like Ufomammut‘s Eve in 2010, Atma brings the entire genre of doom along with it on the new ground it breaks, refining what’s fast becoming YOB‘s signature approach even as it pushes ever forward. I still have to stop whatever I’m doing (not exactly good for productivity) whenever “Prepare the Ground” comes on, and songs like “Adrift in the Ocean” and “Before We Dreamed of Two” were humbling. Seriously. Humbling. Listening to them was like looking at those photographs from the Hubble that cover trillions of miles that we’ll never know and reveal gorgeous colors where our naked eyes only see black. If that sounds hyperbolic, thanks for getting it. YOB guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt (interview here) is, almost in spite of himself, one of American doom’s most crucial contributors, and with Atma, he and the rhythm section of bassist Aaron Reiseberg and drummer Travis Foster released what is without a doubt the best album of 2011.
A few quick housekeeping items and we’ll call it quits. First, honorable mentions. If this list went to 25, also included would be The Wounded Kings, Earth, Larman Clamor, Olde Growth and The Atlas Moth. Roadsaw were also in heavy consideration, so they’re worth noting, as are many others.
Obviously, I couldn’t include them, but two of my favorite releases in 2011 also came from Blackwolfgoat and HeavyPink, and I’m thrilled and honored to have helped put them out in the small way I did.
And as I said above, there are records I didn’t hear. I haven’t heard the new Black Pyramid yet. Or Orchid. Or a bunch more that I could go on listing. I’m only one man and this is only my list, for better or worse. Again, I really do hope you’ll contribute yours to the group poll, the results of which will be out Jan. 1.
I’ll probably have some more to wrap up 2011 as the month winds down, but until then, thank you so much for reading this and the rest of the wordy nonsense I’ve put up the whole year long. Your support and encouragement means more than I’m able to tell. Here’s to 2012 to come.
Posted in Whathaveyou on October 27th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
I wish I could go back in time to some terrible point in my life and say to myself, “It’s okay, Past Me. Someday you’re gonna go to a Dutch festival and you’re going to see Sleep, The Obsessed and Church of Misery all in the same day.” The latest news from Roadburn proves no less staggering than the realization of that. Sometimes it’s like existence is doing you a personal favor.
Here’s the update from Roadburn off the PR wire:
We’re excited to announce that seminal instru-metal pioneers Pelican have been added to the lineup of Roadburn 2012. Pelican last played Roadburn in the GreenRoom back in 2007, and will now appear on our main stage as part of their first European tour in several years. Pelican will play on Saturday, April 14, 2012 at the 013 venue in Tilburg, Holland.
Brooklyn’s Tombs bears the mark of total devastation. On the latest album, Path of Totality, Tombs not only evoke the classic sound and feel of black metal in its finest hour they also explore their disparate UK post-punk influences. And keep things incredibly listenable. The band has marched ahead boldly with the sound of impending doom since their inception and Path is endowed with all of the primordial intensity that is a hallmark of the aforementioned genres. However, Tombs reach far beyond the ritual sounds of the past with an abundance of tonal variation. The gut-wrenching vocals and furious blastbeasts are interwoven with a dark and brooding atmospheric moodiness, making Tombs one of the finest heavy bands in the world. Tombs will appear on Saturday, April 14, 2012 at the 013 venue in Tilburg, Holland.
Making their fourth appearance in five years at the festival, it looks like Japan’s serial-killer-obsessed seekers of the almighty riff Church of Misery are poised to become the official Roadburn house band. All joking aside, Church of Misery were among THE highlights of the previous Roadburn festivals (even the main stage almost proved way to small for them), and Roadburn 2012 will mark their triumphant return, on the main stage again (of course!), together with Sleep and TheObsessed on Saturday, April 14 at the 013 venue in Tilburg, Holland.
LosAngeles based psychedelic rock quintet Ancestorswill be making a highly anticipated return to Roadburn for the 2012 Festival. On their latest EP, Invisible White, Ancestors tamped down their surging stoner rock leanings in favour of a more cinematic approach with long moog/ modular synth workouts very much reminiscent of PinkFloyd circa Meddle and Live at Pompeii. Charting a new course for the band’s progressive, colourful sounds, Ancestors will get the chance to reprise their stunning 2010 Roadburn performance, this time supporting the release of a new, much anticipated album. Ancestors will play on Thursday, April 12 at the MidiTheatre in Tilburg, Holland.
Dragged Into Sunlight, Christian Mistress, Horisont, La Otracina, Bob Wayne and theOutlaw Carnies and AUN have also been confirmed for Roadburn 2012, set to be held from April 12 to 15 at the 013 venue in Tilburg, Holland.
Posted in Reviews on July 5th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
There is nothing in the climate of their native Los Angeles that should have Ancestors so sad, but something definitely did the job. On their latest offering, the EP, Invisible White (Tee Pee Records), the five-piece run through three tracks in just over 29 minutes and present atmospheres as gray and melancholic as their artwork would indicate. As on their prior full-length, Of Sound Mind, the interplay of Justin Maranga’s guitar and Jason Watkins’ organ is essential to the sound, but where Ancestors has made a turn since their 2009 outing – and certainly since 2008’s more straightforwardly riffian debut, Neptune with Fire – is in where the progressions lead. Invisible White has more in common with Crippled Black Phoenix or Blood and Time than Sleep, and where the EP most succeeds is in the band’s making “Invisible White,” “Dust” and “Epilogue” grounded and memorable, based on structures that allow the rhythm section of bassist Nick Long and drummer Brandon Pierce to give solidity to Maranga’s, Watkins’ and Moog-er Matt Barks’ explorations.
This is especially true on “Epilogue,” which closes and – somehow fittingly – is nearly as long as “Invisible White” and “Dust” combined. Everyone in Ancestors contributes vocals but Pierce, and on Invisible White, the singing is at its most accomplished yet. Maranga is in the lead spot, but backed and harmonized with skillfully by Long, Watkins and Barks, and though his tonality and phrasing has an underlying element of the heavy stonerisms on which Ancestors cut their teeth, they sound like a completely different band than they did three years ago. It’s hard to get a sense through listening whether Invisible White is a declaration of future intent or a kind of touristic dabbling in influences outside the towering distortion that Of Sound Mind was beginning to pull away from.
Even in the context of the last album, it’s a jump from the heavy parts of “Bounty of Age” to the acoustic-led “Invisible White” or “Dust,” which is even more subdued, but Ancestors do it well, and after defying expectation with their second release – they probably could have put out six more albums that sounded just like Neptune with Fire and kept a solid fanbase – they once again surprise in how cohesive they sound in their progression. The word “visionary” sounds hyperbolic in a way I don’t mean it to be, but it’s clear Maranga and company came into Invisible White with some idea of the mood they wanted to set and how they wanted to do it.
Posted in Whathaveyou on April 8th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
Ancestors kick ass, and I have yet to hear anything in their catalog to change my mind. The announcement just came in that the L.A. band will be issuing a new EP in June called Invisible White that will mark the recorded debut of Moog/synth specialist Matt Barks. The release is something of a surprise, but I can’t wait to hear what they’ve come up with this time around. Good band.
While I go break out my copy of Of Sound Mind, here’s this from the PR wire:
Los Angeles-based psychedelic rock quintet Ancestors will release an EP of all new music titled Invisible White on June 21 via Tee Pee Records. The follow up to the group’s sophomore album Of Sound Mind, Invisible White marks the debut of new member Matt Barks on Moog / modular synthesizers and charts a new course for the band’s progressive, colorful sound.
“This record showcases another side of the band,” comments Ancestors guitarist Justin Maranga. “It’s a project that we’ve been talking about doing for a long time and with the addition of Matt to the lineup, we knew it would be a while before we were able to get the next full-length out, so we decided that now was a good time to do this. We went into the studio with rough acoustic skeletons of the songs written and essentially let the songs chart their own course. It was a really different approach for us, as we normally go into the studio knowing exactly what is going to happen.”
Invisible White was recorded at Los Angeles‘ Bright Street Recorders (Lykee Li, Sia, GrantLee Phillips) on a 20-channel mixing desk formerly owned by James Brown. The songs on the EP feature a hybrid of orchestral and electronic instruments and assume an almost cinematic, film score feel augmented by guest musicians playing violin and vibraphone. Simultaneously playing to the strengths of psychedelia, prog and even rhythm and blues, the music retains Ancestors’ exploratory approach and adds a hauntingly emotional impact, pushing the band’s sound into interstellar overdrive.
Ancestors, Invisible White track listing:
1. Invisible White (7:22)
2. Dust (7:40)
3. Epilogue (14:07)