Five Albums Released Today that are Worth Your Time

Posted in Features on October 1st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

I’m sure there are others. Seems to be the rule of this kind of thing that, if there’s a list, sure enough there’s something left off it. So to whoever I didn’t remember to include, please know it wasn’t premeditated. Basically I woke up this morning and thought of a bunch of kickass records that came out today and, after a cup of coffee, decided to put this together. Not exactly like I’ve been stewing on the idea for weeks or anything.

But, with a stylistically varied slew from trad doom to classic metal to weirdo drone ambience, Oct. 1, 2013, does indeed feel like a special kind of day for those who might hunt down a new release. Who doesn’t like that ritual? Pre-orders are great and all, but picking up an album on the day it comes out holds a place in my heart reserved for few rites. If I could’ve gone to a midnight sale last night and picked up all of these, I’d have been there in a second.

Barring that, I hope you at least find something here you might want to check out. Like the headline says, as far as I’m concerned, these are all worth your time. Let’s go alphabetically:

1. Argus, Beyond the Martyrs

Released by Cruz Del Sur. Argus‘ third album, Beyond the Martyrs (review here), finds the Western Pennsylvania troupe delving further into their classic metal roots. Singled out by the powerful vocals of Brian “Butch” Balich (formerly of Penance), songs like “No Peace beyond the Line” and “Cast out Your Raging Spirits” also feature ripping, landmark solo work and driving, fist-pumping rhythms. It’s a straightforward collection, but don’t be fooled — Argus take these classic elements and make them their own to such an extent that Beyond the Martyrs is their strongest work of songwriting yet. Get it here.

Argus, “By Endurance We Conquer” & “No Peace beyond the Line”

2. Black Rainbows, Holy Moon

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Persistently underrated Italian trio Black Rainbows return with a new 38-minute release dubbed Holy Moon. They’re calling it an EP, but for my money it’s a full-length album, and it’s their most varied work to date. Rounding out with a cover of MC5‘s “Back to Comm” that stretches past 12-minutes in a huge heavy psych jam, Holy Moon also finds the three-piece delving into Colour Haze-worthy lush exploration on “Chakra Temple” and riffing out with classic stoner fuzz on “The Hunter.” EP or LP, it’s a winner, and as Black Rainbows have toured Europe persistently these last couple years, it’s hopefully a matter of time before more people catch on. Get it here.

Black Rainbows, Holy Moon

3. In Solitude, Sister


Released by Metal Blade Records. Swedish metallers In Solitude return to reap the benefits of touring with Down and others in support of their 2011 sophomore outing, The World. The Flesh. The Devil. The Uppsala five-piece give traditional metal a genuine facelift with their third album, Sister, basking in some of the simplicity of approach and hook-filled songwriting of modern cult rock and casting off the grandiosity and pretense of Mercyful Fate but keeping all of the lurking sinister vibe. Look for In Solitude to make even more of an impact than they did their last time out. They’ll be touring in October with Watain. Get it here.

In Solitude, Sister

4. Iron Man, South of the Earth


Released by Metal Blade/Rise Above. 2013 has produced little news as welcome as the announcement that long-running Maryland doomers Iron Man were signing to Rise Above for the release of South of the Earth, thus ensuring they’d not only reap the benefit of that label’s considerable doomly credibility but also secure a North American issue through Metal Blade. Their first full-length with frontman Dee Calhoun, it’s also their strongest production yet, and one can only hope South of the Earth is the moment that marks Iron Man beginning to get the recognition they’ve long since deserved as not only pioneers of Maryland doom, but one of its most engaging acts. Get it here.

Iron Man, “Hail to the Haze”

5. Mühr, Messiah


Released by Canardian Records. Early in 2011, I caught wind of the debut release from Dutch outfit Mühr, and that two-song offering (discussed here) left enough of an impression that when I heard they had a follow-up coming in the form of the single-track/47-minute Messiah, I was immediately excited. A couple years later finds Mühr a much different outfit, more dynamic and patient in their builds, but still able to break into some unbridled tonal crush when they so choose. On its own,  “Messiah” is more diverse than some bands ever get in their careers, and Mühr emerge as masters of a complex aesthetic, at times gorgeous and at times terrifying. Not to be missed. Get it here.

Mühr, “Messiah”

Well, there you have it. There’s a ton of great stuff coming out this month, from bands like Horisont, Russian Circles, Pelican, Red Fang, Monster Magnet, on and on, but it’s important to start the month off right. And broke. Enjoy.

Got something I missed or something you’re especially looking forward to in the coming weeks? The comments are right there.

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Argus, Beyond the Martyrs: The Raging Spirits

Posted in Reviews on August 27th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

It’s hard to discern just what Pennsylvania traditional doom metallers Argus intend with the title of their third album, Beyond the Martyrs. On a superficial level, one doesn’t think of a martyr as a place or a level of development to move past, but more than that, what’s supposed to be beyond them? What comes after that? Death? Devastation? Peace? Paradise? Which martyrs are the five-piece talking about? Is it a Christ figure? The al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades? The closing title-track — which arrives eighth on the 42-minute Cruz del Sur LP with cover art by Brad Moore — is instrumental, so that’s not much help in terms of answering the questions of theme. Tracks prior like “No Peace Beyond the Line” and “Trinity,” “Cast out all Raging Spirits” and opener “By Endurance We Conquer” could be read to have elements of religious conflict to them — certainly conflict, anyway — but if there’s a narrative to Beyond the Martyrs, it’s not one as stated by the band so much as one that relies on the listener to plot its course. Maybe that’s on purpose. As a band, Argus seem much more interested in making solid and conscious use of the dual guitars of Jason Mucio and Erik Johnson and one of traditional metal’s most powerful belt-it-out voices in former Penance vocalist Brian “Butch” Balich, who delivers a standout performance here no less righteous than that on 2011′s Boldly Stride the Doomed (discussed here) and 2009′s self-titled debut (review here). Balich is a big part of carrying across the dramas of Beyond the Martyrs – as a standalone frontman should be — and the songs he’s working on top of set a memorable foundation from which to soar as he and a bevvy of guitar solos please, bassist Andy Ramage and drummer Kevin Latchaw hammering out straightforward structures to make “No Peace Beyond the Line,” “Trinity” and “Cast out all Raging Spirits” among the album’s several highlights. That is to say, Argus isn’t just about its singer, despite his considerable presence within these tracks, and Beyond the Martyrs finds a progressive balance between metal and doom that moves fluidly to cast its own personality somewhere between the two.

That process begins immediately with the deceptively catchy chorus of “By Endurance We Conquer.” Latchaw double-times it on his hi-hat to build up tension during the verse before the hook opens up. I don’t know whether it’s because of the arching militaristic bombast of the song or if it’s just the way the epic feel is crafted, but on first impression, “By Endurance We Conquer” stands out more for its voracious chestbeating and listing of virtues than for the delivery of the title line, but after a couple times through, the opener more than justifies its presence at the fore of Beyond the Martyrs, acting as something of a vanguard for the rest of the album to come. Already much of the record’s ethic is established: Balich carries a verse into a memorable refrain and the guitars answer back with accomplished solos and driving riffs underscored by strong, powerful heavy metal rhythms. As far as songwriting methodologies go, you could do a lot worse. “No Peace Beyond the Line” takes more time to unfold, but winds up in a fist-pump chug for its verse as the vocals tease the song’s greater hook still to come in a sort of bridge part that early on substitutes for an actual chorus. They cycle through twice before the guitar solo takes hold, and though it’s not until the last minute that they arrive, it’s the repetitions of “There is no/There is no/There is no peace beyond the line” that ultimately give the song one of Beyond the Martyrs‘ most lasting impressions, the vocals doing a layered call and response to deliver the title and finish with a nailed-it adrenaline-push yell. I don’t know where the line is, but there’s no peace beyond it. The issue is settled. After such a strong opening duo, some comedown is inevitable, but “The Hands of Time are Bleeding” fights redundancy by upping the doom in its slower early going and picking up to an effective linear build in both pace and overall rush. A stop at 3:09 is a startling transition, but I’d guess that was probably the idea, and the solo that continues after stands out all the more for it. Vocals return toward the end, and though the results aren’t quite as instantly engaging as with “No Peace Beyond the Line,” the change in mood is effective leading to “Trinity” which is arguably the darkest moment on the album.

Read more »

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Argus Set Oct. 1 Release Date for Beyond the Martyrs

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 15th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

I’m not sure what exactly lies “beyond the martyrs,” but I look forward to finding out when the third album from Pennsylvania doom merchants Argus drops. Cruz del Sur will release Beyond the Martyrs on Oct. 1 in North America, and as their last outing, 2011′s Boldly Stride the Doomed (discussed here) was such a classic-tinged thriller, it’s a date you might want to write down. Get a pencil. I’ll wait.

Hope to have more on this one soon. Till then, in case you missed it, artist Brad Moore talks about creating the Beyond the Martyrs cover here.

This from the PR wire:

ARGUS: Beyond the Martyrs Coming This October on Cruz Del Sur Music

Cruz Del Sur Music will release Beyond the Martyrs, from US doom metal outfit ARGUS, on October 1st in North America and October 7th release in the UK.

Beyond the Martyrs starts where their 2011′s release Boldly Stride the Doomed had left us…at the Ruins of Ouroboros. In between these two releases ARGUS has tested its strength and valor in several live shows both in their homeland and in Europe, receiving high praises from fans and from the record industry. Although a sense of impending fate marks again their compositions, the characteristic doom metal elements which were a distinguished trademark of ARGUS’ past releases have now given way to what is primarily to a genuine heavy metal approach, its nature rooted in the most classic environment of Heavy Metal tradition.

1. By Endurance We Conquer
2. No Peace Beyond The Line
3. The Hands of Time Are Bleeding
4. Trinity
5. Four Candles Burning
6. The Coward’s Path
7. Cast Out All Raging Spirits
8. Beyond The Martyrs

ARGUS’ third album is sure to force metal heads everywhere to raise horn-crested fists to the sky. Beyond the Martyrs contains the hallmarks of their previous works – twin guitars, soaring vocals, and a driving rhythm section; it is heavy, melodic, epic, and brooding all at once. After their successful shows at festivals such as Hammer of Doom in 2011 and Dublin Doom Days in 2012, the band will hit again the European soil with a proper tour in October 2013 in order to promote Beyond the Martyrs.

ARGUS is:
Butch Balich – vocals
Jason Mucio – guitar
Erik Johnson – guitar
Andy Ramage – bass
Kevin Latchaw – drums

www.argusmetal.com
www.facebook.com/argusmetal
www.youtube.com/user/arguspa

Argus, “At the Gallows End” (Candlemass cover) Live at Days of the Doomed II, 2012

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Visual Evidence: Brad Moore Talks about Creating the Cover for Argus’ Beyond the Martyrs

Posted in Visual Evidence on July 31st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Having done work for the likes of Penance, Place of Skulls, Sixty Watt Shaman, Züül and a host of others over the last 20-plus years, artist Brad Moore is known for a signature, definitively-metal style that nonetheless largely defies the black and white and mostly black convention of metal in favor of rich colors and textures. His work on Pennsylvania classic doomers Argus‘ two albums to date — 2009′s Argus and 2011′s Boldly Stride the Doomed — has proven particularly distinct.

As such, when Argus unveiled the art yesterday for the forthcoming third full-length, Beyond the Martyrs, I hit up Moore on the quick to see if he could give some insight on what went into painting it and what inspired the tone and complexity of the piece, which you can see below.

Click the image to enlarge, and special thanks to Moore for his input:

Argus, Beyond the Martyrs front cover

When Argus approached me about painting the artwork for their debut LP, we all agreed we wanted to sidestep the “warriors with swords” thing, and that gory art wouldn’t adequately complement the style of music and subject matter the band were striving to create. We all felt a “Lovecraftian” approach was best, to framework doomy metal that has a mystery to its feel. I created the creature that adorns the Argus covers (at least, the ones I had a hand in) to be the mascot, and though you’ll see it does not utilize any of Lovecraft‘s personal motifs (tentacles, amorphous blob-like gods, etc.), the whole effect is like those Lovecraft paperbacks. I deliberately use unusual color schemes for Argus, as I feel that way too many doom/death metal bands use a grey/black monotone approach that gives the scene, as a whole, a generic feel. I did paint their second LP, Boldly Stride the Doomed, in a very monochromatic style, to completely separate the two recordings, as Boldly is a much darker album than the self titled debut.

Getting to the newest Argus effort, Beyond the Martyrs, the cover painting is titled “Alien Gateway to the Gallery of the Martyrs” precisely because the band wanted to have an “otherworldly” atmosphere to the proceedings, and to have the artwork reflect a dark-but-with-colors feel. In essence; not the near over-the-top colors of the first one, but having toned-down colors to maintain the doom, but suggest a correlation of the two albums that signifies the forward growth of the band. This Argus outing will be their most aggressive! I, for one, am happiest with this new artwork the most, both in mood, and technical achievement.

Argus will release Beyond the Martyrs on Oct. 1 in the US and Oct. 4 in Europe on Cruz Del Sur. More on the album to come.

Argus on Thee Facebooks

Brad Moore website

Cruz Del Sur

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Days of the Doomed III: Argus Drop off Bill, Leather Nun America Added

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 7th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

While any opportunity to see Pennsylvania doom classicists Argus is always welcome, the band unfortunately have announced they won’t be taking part in Days of the Doomed III next year in Wisconsin. Taking their place is Leather Nun America from California, who released their fourth album, Kult Occult, on PsycheDOOMelic last year. I’ll look forward to picking up a copy at the show in June.

Fest organizer Mercyful Mike Smith sent along word:

Well, unfortunately due to unforeseen family commitments, ARGUS has been forced to pull out of Days Of The Doomed Fest III. Bummer, but family always comes first.

That being said, I am extremely excited to announce that we have added west coast doom mongers LEATHER NUN America to DOTD Fest III! Prepare for the bludgeoning! Tickets are on sale now at www.daysofthedoomed.com! Don’t miss out!

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Buried Treasure: Argus Stride Boldly, Never Retreat

Posted in Buried Treasure on July 3rd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

At the end of last year, when I made my Top Five Records I Didn’t Hear in 2011 list, I said that hopefully I’d run into Pittsburgh trad doom merchants Argus at a show and be able to buy their second full-length, Boldly Stride the Doomed, from them directly. That very thing happened at Days of the Doomed II in Wisconsin, and I suddenly felt like a weight was lifted from my shoulders. Until I actually put the record on. Then the weight — the formidable tonnage of Argus‘ hyper-refined doomly classicism — was right back where it started and then some.

Every time I hit the short bass solo from Andy Ramage in “Wolves of Dusk,” I get a chill up my spine, and Boldly Stride the Doomed is filled with those little moments, flourishes here and there that stand out from the already strong performances. John Mucio and Erik Johnson‘s guitars are full of them, and Butch Balich proves on “The Ladder” alone why he’s one of the most underrated vocalists in doom, American or otherwise. The former Penance singer is a focal point throughout the 10 tracks, and rightly so, but the band behind him (and as regards the mix, the vocals are very much at the fore) more than stands up, whether its the guitar solos (who’s playing what is in the liner notes) or drummer Kevin Latchaw‘s footwork driving the rhythm of “Fading Silver Light.”

Piano adds grandeur to “42-7-29″ and the recent podcast inclusion “Pieces of Your Smile,” at well over 11 minutes, is epic metal without the pomposity. Trouble and Candlemass influences persist, but Argus is very quickly becoming their own band sonically, and it’s not just Balich, who proved his mettle long ago. It’s the whole band, working as a band, that makes Boldly Stride the Doomed land with such heavy feet. As madly catchy as cuts like “Devils, Devils” were from the first record, I wouldn’t trade “A Curse on the World” or “Durendal” for anything.

So yeah, lesson learned. Don’t let another Argus album slip when it comes down the line for review. Hopefully I get the chance to put that wisdom to good use before too long. Until then, if you haven’t heard the album yet, here’s “Durendal,” just because it happens to be the song I have on at the moment:

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Live Review: Days of the Doomed II (Day Two), Cudahy, WI, 06.16.12

Posted in Reviews on June 19th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Day Two at Days of the Doomed II began with what, if I were the proprietor of a diner or family restaurant, I would call the “Aristotle Omelet”: Feta cheese and gyro meat with tzatziki sauce on the side. I almost asked for pita instead of toast, and if I had it to do over again, I’d get tomatoes in there as well, but it nonetheless was the foundational meal for a hearty afternoon and night of doom to come. Did better for me in any case than the bar pie that later served as dinner at The Blue Pig, the delicious smell of which offered no hint of the agita betrayal to come.

Postman Dan and I, in good spirits despite the periodically downpouring rain, tried to hit a record and horror/movie/music memorabilia store called Graveyard (not, presumably, to be confused with the band of the same name), but finding it closed for the weekend, headed over to the venue to catch the start of the day. A lineup 11 bands strong — Blizaro, Beelzefuzz, Apostle of Solitude, Argus, Blood Farmers, Blackfinger, Earthen Grave, The Skull, Earthride and Solace – began with Die Monster Die, and if you told me the reason Graveyard Records was closed was because the owner was busy opening down at The Blue Pig, I’d believe it.

The three-piece Die Monster Die, who’ve reportedly been a band since 1984, played the kind of rudimentary, horror-loving post-Misfits punk ‘n’ roll you’d expect. Every town has an equivalent act (in New Jersey, that act happens to still be The Misfits), but for being immediately familiar, choruses about snakepits and college girls — watching them, I could picture the words followed by exclamation points on a movie poster — weren’t offensively redundant. Two false starts preceded their first song, and though they looked like a monster ran into a couple bikers and asked if they wanted to be his rhythm section, somehow it worked.

Ever one for making the wrong decision, I waited to start drinking until later in the afternoon. Already my head was swimming with the thought of the drive first back to Lansing to drop off Il Postino (which I’ve never called him, but will one of these days) and then subsequently to New Jersey, so until I actually began downing beers and decided I didn’t give a fuck anymore, the earlier part of the day felt a little like a pre-gallows last meal. Nonetheless, I was stoked to find Blizaro taking the stage after Die Monster Die with Orodruin‘s John Gallo on guitar and Mike Waske on drums. Joined by bassist Mark Rapone — who would’ve won had Days of the Doomed II had a beard competition — Gallo took the fore vocally and unleashed a palpable horror obsession that was all the more fitting after the lead-in it got from Die Monster Die.

A mad scientist cackling behind his Moog, Gallo made no bones about his allegiances. Blizaro came across like Goblin raised on Pentagram, and theirs was honestly the only Paul Chain cover I’ve ever heard that actually fit with a band’s own originals. They did “Voyage to Hell” from Paul Chain Violet Theatre‘s 1984 outing, Detaching from Satan (it also appeared on Chain‘s Alkahest in 1995), and though they were silly and they knew it, and though Gallo‘s vocals were rougher than Orodruin bassist Michael Puleo‘s had been the night before in that band, the atmosphere was distinct enough that comparisons between one act and the other felt superfluous. Two out of three of the same dudes, but a different band with a different kind of charm.

Their set went long. Rapone broke a bass string. It happens. They never really regained the momentum they had going into that technical difficulty afterwards, but they still got to finish out their full setlist because Beelzefuzz — apparently in a game of oneupsmanship as regards misfortune — blew a tire en route to The Blue Pig and didn’t have a spare. Indianapolis’ Apostle of Solitude stepped in to fill the slot, and though at this point they’re too good a band to play so low on the bill, the circumstances were what they were. By the time Blizaro finished, Apostle of Solitude only went on 20 minutes early, anyway. I don’t know if people figured Beelzefuzz weren’t coming or what.

Either way, Apostle of Solitude had a new demo for sale (the band has since granted me permission to host it for streaming; it’ll go up tomorrow) with three songs, and they played two of them — demo opener “Blackest of Times” and “Die Vicar Die” — quickly showing off melodic progress in their approach. The insistence in the drumming of Corey Webb and the bass of “Iron” Bob Fouts made the groove of “Blackest of Times” even more satisfying, and the addition of guitarist Steve Janiak (also of Devil to Pay) following 2010′s second album, Last Sunrise, has clearly given frontman Chuck Brown more range vocally. Arrangements on the newer material were more complex, and Janiak and Brown sounded even better during the chorus of “Die Vicar Die” live than they do on the recording.

For what it’s worth, that song was stuck in my head before it was finished — the chorus I was hearing was “All the good die,” instead of the title line, which I didn’t know yet — and it has remained there pretty much ever since. Brown waffles the melody as he and Janiak hold out the second “die,” and it reminds of ’90s heavy without directly emulating grunge or being anything other than Apostle of Solitude‘s increasingly individual take on doom, separating stylistically even from fellow Hoosiers The Gates of Slumber, whose bassist Jason McCash was working the merch table while Apostle played and who had reportedly had a rough show a few nights earlier in their hometown. Some light teasing ensued.

And though Brown preceded set-closer “The Messenger” from their 2008 Sincerest Misery debut with an “Alright ladies” — because it’s not metal unless someone questions your masculinity first — that wasn’t enough to take away from the early headliner feel of their performance. Pennsylvania natives Argus capitalized on that vibe and took the stage gracefully bearing more reverence than even vocalist Butch Balich‘s pedigree in Penance could give them. It seems their two albums — 2009′s Argus debut and the follow-up, Boldly Stride the Doomed (which was on my Top 5 I Didn’t Hear in 2011 but which I bought from their merch table) — have made quite an impression.

No argument. Argus, who were already pretty solid when last I encountered them live (SHoD in 2009; no review), have grown into an accomplished and formidable traditional doom outfit. Balich is the focal point, his vocals are stellar and powerful, but the dual guitars of Jason Mucio and Erik Johnson behind him made a strong case for classic riffage, and the rhythm section of drummer Kevin Latchaw and bassist Andy Ramage complemented the metallic drive well. The mix seemed off in that the vocals were loud, but listening to “Durendal” from the second album, I didn’t even mind. Chewing gum the entire time, Balich hit notes that would’ve cut lesser singers in half, making it sound easy. If I had that kind of talent, I’d chew gum too.

The room was filling up by the time they were halfway through — no time like the present to start drinking — and The Blue Pig seemed pretty quick to roast, but the band handled it well, and boldly strode through the extended “Pieces of Your Smile” and a cover of Candlemass‘ “At the Gallows End” (from Nightfall, 1987) that was as well performed as it was bravely chosen. Balich is probably one of two or three doom vocalists in the US who could hope to stand up to Messiah Marcolin, and though he didn’t display the kind of dramatic acrobatics (or, if you’d prefer: dramacrobatics) that distinguished Marcolin in his day, neither did he fall short of the task before him. Having given the mic to the crowd twice in the chorus, he kept it to himself for the last round, as if to make plain his ability to do so. Point taken.

Like Apostle of Solitude before them, Argus also finished off with the first song from their first record (unless I have that order wrong and it was the Candlemass cover last; someone please correct me if need be). “Devils, Devils” was well met with a sing-along chorus, and by the time it was done, Beelzefuzz had finished loading in their gear. They looked haggard and stressed from their road troubles, and with the extra time that had been taken from Blizaro‘s bass string and longer set, there wasn’t much room for them on the bill. They got on stage quickly after Argus and as a “thanks for making the trip”-type consolation prize, played two songs.

Car troubles suck, and because I’d enjoyed what I’d heard of them previously, I made sure to buy the Marylanders’ demo. They seemed to be way more classic rock-influenced that I’d previously given them credit for being, but still, they were barely there. Two songs wasn’t really enough time for them to build any momentum or hook the crowd, and they were pretty much a stopgap on the way from Argus to Blood Farmers, however cool those two songs might have sounded. Fest organizer Mercyful Mike Smith took the stage after they were done and said something about probably being the most hated guy in the room for cutting them short, but I think everyone knew the deal. They’ll just be one more thing to look forward to about SHoD in August.

It was somewhere right around this time, maybe a little later, that I realized The Blue Pig had Newcastle in bottles. Probably the timing there is fortunate, or I’d have long since been on my ass by the time Blood Farmers got going. As it was, I was conscious enough to watch guitarist Dave Szulkin (also of the recently-reviewed The Disease Concept), bassist/vocalist Eli Brown and drummer Tad Leger receive a proper and encouraging amount of respect from the crowd. Blood Farmers are a fest band for me, it seems. I caught them last year twice, both times at festivals, and while I’d like to see how they’d do on a bill of their own, their no-frills doom does really well standing them out subtly from a crowded surrounding lineup like that at Days of the Doomed II.

This was the second time I’d heard new song “Headless Eyes” live — it’ll also reportedly be the title-track of their next album — and it confirmed its awesomeness. On the whole, the performance was more or less on par with last year’s SHoD showing, but Brown‘s vocals are more confident, and after hearing Szulkin‘s guitar in The Disease Concept, I almost couldn’t help but pay closer attention to his solos, which impressed more than I’d previously given them credit for. It’ll be really interesting to hear what a new Blood Farmers album sounds like. It’s been 17 years since their self-titled came out, but their footing is sure, creatively, and they’ve only gotten tighter the more I see them. I’m anxious to hear how the full-length comes out.

Between the bands, I was taking notes at the bar (you can see them at the top of this post) and the bartender asked me, “Are you keeping score?” I said I was, that they were winning, and asked for another Newcastle, which she graciously gave me. With the start of Blackfinger‘s set, the evening was about to get awfully Troubled, and it seemed only right to be ready. I was looking forward to Blackfinger specifically, apart from just getting to hear Eric Wagner sing, after interviewing him last year and spending a not-at-all-insignificant amount of time with their single, “All the Leaves are Brown” to prepare. They played that song and a host of others from their yet-to-be-released debut album.

Should say something about Trouble‘s impact on the Midwestern doom mindset that more than a quarter of the day’s lineup would be devoted to members of the band and their projects, and not to take away from the rest of Blackfinger or what the band was doing as led by Wagner‘s songwriting — where was the standup bass? — but really, he couldn’t help but stand out. The sunglasses, the curls, the calm stage demeanor seemed to make of him a center around which the rest of the band revolved. All well and good — I don’t think anyone would argue the Chicago native doesn’t deserve to have a project in which he has sole control — some kind of solo… project…? — but speaking as a doom fanboy and someone with a keyboard in front of him, it’s time for all these dudes to get over their crap and get Trouble back together.

I’m sorry, but it needs to be said. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy Blackfinger or former Trouble bassist Ron Holzner‘s Earthen Grave, who followed. In fact, I’d hope that both Wagner and Holzner would continue their involvement in these other bands as well and just go back to Trouble in addition to working with them. I know things were shitty when the band was trying to put out Simple Mind Condition in the States in 2007 and the label, Escapi, folded and whatever else happened and egos clashed and blah blah blah, but seriously, let’s get this thing moving. It’s time. Time for one of those killer heavy metal comebacks and time for Trouble to regroup, get some good PR behind them, tour with Saint Vitus and get their fucking due from the booming American doom scene. Season of Mist? Napalm Records? Fuck it, somebody‘ll sign the band. Get some new shit going — maybe don’t call the album The Dark Riff, as previously intended — and do it before you decide you’re sick of the whole thing and walk away entirely.

Watching both Holzner and Wagner do a set of Trouble songs as The Skull only underscored the point of how much a full Trouble reunion — Wagner, Holzner, Bruce Franklin, Rick Wartell and Jeff “Oly” Olson — needs to happen. But let me back up. Before that, Holzner veered farther from the Trouble blueprint with Earthen Grave, who are somewhat more progressive and who had the honor of playing host to the weekend’s only female performer in violinist Rachel Barton Pine. That’s right. One lady, and even she had to wear a leather bustier before they’d let her on stage — okay, maybe not, but you get my point. They were also the weekend’s only six-piece (unless you count Solace, who have Beer as their unofficial sixth member). They did songs from their self-titled full-length, which I bought, and though I was underwhelmed at their 2009 demo, I feel like I got some better sense of what they were going for watching them live, the guitars coming through with more energy and vocalist Mark Weiner proudly showing off his Earthride shirt and stage presence at once. Being sandwiched by two Eric Wagner-fronted sets is no easy task, and I salute the Earthen Grave singer for standing up to it.

By midway through their set, though, I was drunk enough for a shot of Crown Royal — What? No Jameson’s? — to seem like a mildly good idea, and things only got more tragic as The Skull took shape on stage. The catalog they were drawing from — i.e. Trouble‘s — was vast, and it was like they went into it saying, “Oh, so it’s doom you want is it?” And you know what the thing is about Trouble‘s doom? It’s fucking doomed. That’s some depressing shit right there, and I guess I was feeling the weight of the trip, the day, the beer, and all of it when they hit. I hadn’t realized Olson wasn’t going to be a part of The Skull as well, but as he reportedly dropped out to wait for a full reunion, I give him even more respect for not doing it half-hearted.

I was starting to feel like I was doing it half-hearted myself, but then The Skull kicked into “At the End of My Daze” to close out their set and I got all pathetic doom geek about it. Didn’t do much to improve my mood, but I fortunately had enough wits about me to stop imbibing, and when Earthride got started, their thickened Maryland doom grooved away the rest. I know frontman Dave “Sherm” Sherman has a gravelly speaking voice, and I know he talks about Wino a lot, and I know he’s a character on stage and his stage moves are a lot of fun and it’s awesome when he puts his arms up on the handlebars for the song “Earthride” and whatever else, but more than anything, what I took away from Earthride‘s performance at Days of the Doomed II? The dude can fucking sing.

Really. He’s always been about presence, right? There’s never been any doubt who you’re watching when you’re watching him front Earthride — that’s Sherm, no doubt about it. And he’s become a godfather of Maryland doom, and rightly so. But on 2010′s Something Wicked and in the several times I’ve seen him since, he’s shown that he’s more than going through the motions or capitulating to doomly expectation. He’s putting his heart and soul into singing those songs, and his melodic range isn’t his hallmark — it’s like not he’s James Fucking LaBrie up there — but it says something that rather than rest on his laurels as he easily fucking could at this point with three killer Earthride records under his belt (not to mention the EP, the digipak re-release of which they had for sale at their merch table and which I bought) and a tenure playing bass in Spirit Caravan before that, Sherman is pushing himself to be a better singer and actually becoming one. I have 10 mountains of admiration for him, sincerely. The dude sweats doom in the face of neither glory nor remuneration.

Add to that the fact that Earthride — as a full unit — are possibly the tightest now that they’ve ever been and become more of a blues band every time I see them, and you can’t lose. Bassist Josh Hart‘s Rickenbacker combined with guitarist Kyle Van Steinburg‘s tone results in a molasses so lurching there were moments during their set at Days of the Doomed II where I wasn’t sure they were actually moving the way you look at a glacier and have to wonder. Drummer Eric Little, charged with giving that glacier its push, punctuated the hooks of “Something Wicked” and “Fighting the Devils Inside of You” just right, and new song “Blackbeard’s Scorn” was the heavy’s heavy. Earthride‘s been together going on 15 years in one form or another and it feels like they’re just hitting their stride.

And if I can directly quote from my notes just once in this already considerable second in a series of two reviews, let me just say this about Solace, “Do I really have to drive out to fuckin’ WI to see a band from Jersey? Worth it.” Here’s the way “the Solace magic” works: You don’t play a show in more than a year. You get back together with your former drummer with whom you haven’t played in even longer than that — Kenny Lund told me at one point it’d been four years since he’d played out with Solace — then you show up at the fest you’re closing out, get loaded, and absolutely fucking destroy. Ta-da!

If Solace had their shit together, it wouldn’t work. If they arrived on time, or didn’t leave you wondering if their set was even going to happen, it wouldn’t have the same force when it actually did. It has to be as volatile as it was at Days of the Doomed to be Solace. Their frustration is what makes it go.

However many times I’ve seen Solace at this point, I don’t even know. This was not their cleanest set, not the tighest, or crispest, or soberest. What it was, though, was honest. I stood in front of the stage at The Blue Pig and I watched five guys rip through a set of songs they believe in the way people believe in god; the kind of deep, instinctive belief that you couldn’t separate them from if you even wanted to, and watching them, wanting to was about the farthest thing from my mind, seconded only by the drive home I’d be starting in about eight hours. They were the only band all weekend to make the stage they were playing on look small. I said that afterwards to vocalist Jason and he asked me if it meant they were getting fat. No, it meant that he, guitarists Tommy Southard and Justin Daniels, bassist Rob Hultz and Lund brought something to close out Days of the Doomed II that no one who played before them had been able to capture. On stage, Southard called it “drunk Jersey scum rock.” Maybe that’s what it is — that’s as good a name as anything I could come up with — but whatever you want to call it, it’s theirs and theirs only.

They finished with an extended jam on Pentagram‘s “Forever My Queen” — the second of the weekend’s two Pentagram covers — and by halfway through the song, Lund was leaning on the back wall. I know from speaking to them that they were down on the performance, but god damn, if you’re going to end a festival, do it with something you can’t possibly imagine anyone following, and that’s what Solace brought to Wisconsin. And then it was over.

Before I go, a note on the travel: There was a lot of it. I left out of the hotel at about 7:40AM Wisconsin time, dropped Postman Dan off in Lansing at 2PM and made it back to my humble river valley with miraculous expediency at 11:40PM, taking the life of only one possum in the process. It was a fucking lot of driving. More than I’d prefer to do in one day. But for the quality of memories I brought back with me to the Garden State, worth even the cost of gas on the Ohio Turnpike.

Special thanks to Mercyful Mike Smith for hosting me (and everyone else, I suppose) at Days of the Doomed II, to The Patient Mrs. for booking my hotel (Eli from Blood Farmers‘ line was, “Ooh, the Wyndham. Somebody has a job,” and thanks to him too), to Postman Dan for the most excellent company and Michigan microbrew recommendations, Tommy and Jenn Southard, Lisa Hass, the staff at The Blue Pig and, most of all, to you for reading.

Extra pics, as always, after the jump.

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One More List: The Top 5 Albums I Didn’t Hear in 2011

Posted in Features on December 30th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

I should say up front that there were way more than just five albums I didn’t hear in 2011. Five is just a convenient number. It’s half of 10, prime, odd, easily multiplied, etc. I could probably do a top 20 if I felt like it, but frankly, I don’t. Much as I (apparently) enjoy making a show of my ignorance, even that thrill has its limits.

Reactions varied to this year’s top 20 list when it went up, which was to be expected, and I appreciated it that people felt strongly enough to point out things I missed or things they felt deserved inclusion. That’s awesome. It gives me more records to hunt down, and well, what the hell is the point of all of this if not that?

Reserving the right to either purchase or not purchase these albums in the future depending on my cash flow, momentary impulse and fluctuations in taste, here’s the list. You should probably note that, since I didn’t hear any of them, the numbers are basically meaningless.

1. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Blood Lust

When this didn’t make the top 20, the response was so immediate and horrified that I actually went and bought the damn thing off eBay. Import price, no less. Seriously, people were pissed. Windows were broken by flying bricks of disgust. Cars were flipped over and set on fire. “Oh my god it’s retro British occult doom how could you not have it on your list?” The hype being as massive as it is, I only hope my contrary nature (read: prickishness) doesn’t get the best of me and actually prevent me from enjoying it when it comes. Either way,  I’ll write on it. Not a full review, but something.

2. Orchid, Capricorn
One of several releases on The Church Within Records that I would’ve preferred to have been able to review (looking at you too, Serpent Venom and Lord Vicar), but I’m only one man, I only have so much money, and I feel bad chasing stuff down when there’s a list of records waiting to be written up. Plus, after a nasty one-liner about their performance at Planet Caravan in 2009 and a meh writeup on their Through the Devil’s Doorway EP, I don’t think I’m even on their radar for people whose opinions they care to hear about a full-length. Fair enough. I’ll probably pick up Capricorn eventually regardless.

3. Tombs, Path of Totality
Years ago, I interviewed Mike Hill for the Aquarian when the former Anodyne guitarist/vocalist was releasing that band’s The First Four Years compilation on his own Black Box Recordings. He was a nice guy, and he talked about starting a new band in Brooklyn that was in a heavier direction. That turned out to be Tombs. And then they signed to Relapse, and then they were really popular. I wasn’t too huge on their first record, and this one just kind of fell through the cracks, but by all accounts it’s fairly amazing. I don’t doubt it.

4. Hammers of Misfortune, 17th Street
While I’m reliving irrelevant memories (see #3 above), at SXSW in 2007, I was at a merch table for a show Weedeater were playing. Maybe it was Om. Or both. Slough Feg were also on the bill, though I’d missed them, and I wound up drunkenly buying everything Hammers of Misfortune had for sale from Sanford Parker, who assured me they kicked ass. I don’t recall ever finding out one way or the other, and neither did I manage to keep up with the band’s 2008 double release, Fields/Church of Broken Glass, but each time they put out a record, I feel like I should get aboard, and this one’s no different.

5. Argus, Boldly Stride the Doomed
I was given a free download of the album, I got the .zip file, and then it sat there. And in the end, I didn’t not review it because I didn’t want to listen — I didn’t review it because I didn’t want to listen, dig the hell out of it and then have to go buy it. That’s the truth. It’s nothing against Pittsburgh trad doomers Argus, whom I’ve seen live and whose sound I dig a lot — I just didn’t want to have to shell out the cash for another record. Would be a different scenario if they were playing a show, and hopefully I’ll run into them over the course of the next year and be able to make fiscal amends for my neglect.

Honorable mention goes to Seven that Spells, The Heavy Eyes and probably six or seven others I can’t think of. You know, I was kind of hoping that doing this feature would make me feel better about missing out on some of this stuff, but nope. I just feel lame and out of touch. Maybe in 2012 I’ll be cool enough to keep up, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

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Argus: Album Art and Release Date Revealed

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 29th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

Their sound might be more appropriate for a frosty Pennsylvanian winter, but Key State merchants Argus will nonetheless be releasing their sophomore album, Boldly Stride the Doomed, in May via Cruz Del Sur. Below, the always-trusty PR wire comes through with the release date, album art, tracklisting, and a bit of biographical info on the band. Oh, PR wire. Always so courteous.

Dig it:

Italian heavy metal label Cruz Del Sur Music confirms May 3, 2011, as the official release date for the sophomore album from Pennsylvania-based Argus! Titled Boldly Stride the Doomed, this is the first release from Argus via Cruz Del Sur.

Boldly Stride The Doomed track listing:
1. Abandoning the Gates of Byzantium
2. A Curse on the World
3. Wolves of Dusk
4. The Ladder
5. Durendal
6. 42-7-29
7. Boldly Stride the Doomed
8. Fading Silver Light
9. Pieces of Your Smile
10. The Ruins of Ouroboros

Argus stormed onto the underground metal scene with their twin guitar-driven, doom-tinged, working class metal sound with a self-recorded demo in early 2007, on John Brenner’s (Revelation/Against the Nature) DIY label, Bland Hand Records. The band was roundly welcomed by the metal community at home as well as abroad and established its foundation amongst friends/fans within the scene. With this initial momentum, the band created a buzz that was only solidified by their punishing live performances. Their self-titled debut album was released on Shadow Kingdom Records in 2009 receiving praise from media outlets worldwide. The band continued to gain notoriety attracting like-minded fans who celebrate the genre and its core values of hard work, discipline and integrity.

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What to Look Forward to in 2011, Pt. 2: Rampant Speculation

Posted in Features on January 18th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

Please don’t think I’m breaking any news here one way or the other about any of these releases. This post is basically just me talking about albums I’d like to see this year. Some have been formally announced, some just alluded to, but if these and the records listed yesterday were all that 2011 had in store, we’d probably still come out of it on the winning side.

Once again, the headline says “Rampant Speculation” and that’s what this is. Maybe in reading it, you’ll agree with something, maybe you’ll disagree. Either way, any comments are appreciated as always.

Let’s have some fun:

YOB: Sad as it is that Oregon doom forerunners YOB had to cancel their appearance at Roadburn and European tour, one can only hope their follow-up to 2009′s blistering The Great Cessation comes out that much sooner as a result. It will be interested to hear where the band goes stylistically. Guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt had plenty to be pissed about going into the YOB reunion, following all that Middian/Midian legal nonsense, but now that that’s through with, will he bring the same kind of vitriol to bare in the songwriting? Hopefully it’s not too long before we find out.

Colour Haze: They’re one of the classiest bands on the planet, and their last album, All, was hands-down my favorite record of 2008. They’ve released the Burg Herzberg two-disc live recording since then, but it’s time for new album, and according to the last Elektrohasch Schallplatten, it’s not far off. All had a more live, more organic feel than anything Colour Haze ever did before — the snare drum’s reacting to the bass and guitar rumble like a nod to everyone listening that it was done with everyone in the same room — and I’m looking forward to hearing how they try to top it.

Clutch: 2010 saw numerous reissues and the usual insane amount of touring, but in 2011, it’s time to see where the next stage in Clutch‘s ongoing development is leading. Maybe they’ll continue the blues-laden path they’ve taken on their last couple records, or maybe they’ll decide it’s time to confuse the hell out of everyone and do something completely different. Aside from being an astounding live act, Clutch are a fantastic group of songwriters, and it’ll be exciting to get to know a new batch of tunes both live and on disc.

Elder: Their self-titled was some seriously riffy business, and I haven’t heard the follow-up yet, but all accounts from those who have say it’s a more ethereal, more open and stonery sound these young Massachusetts rockers have taken on, and that’s just fine by me. MeteorCity is supposed to have the release out later this year, and I have the feeling that when ti finally hits, it’s going to catch a lot of people off guard, in a good way. Hard not to expect big things for a band like Elder, who have so much potential.

Dixie Witch: When it’ll be out, I have no idea, but Dixie Witch‘s fourth full-length will be the band’s first without guitarist Clayton Mills. His tone and natural bluesy shred was a huge part of what made Dixie Witch‘s prior offerings so killer, and by the time the album gets out, it’s likely to have been five full years since they released the excellent Smoke and Mirrors. This one’s long overdue.

Argus: True, I said I’d only list five bands, and these Pennsylvanian metallers make it six, but I’m genuinely curious to hear what they come up with for their Cruz Del Sur label debut. I dug heavily on the trad doom of their Shadow Kingdom Records self-titled debut, and vocalist Butch Ballch (formerly of Penance) never fails to deliver, so it’s definitely worth keeping an eye out.

There’s other stuff too: Olde Growth, Hour of 13, Wo Fat, Graveyard and a slew of albums that may or may not happen in time for December to roll around. Again, this is just the stuff I want to hear, so if you’ve got anything on your mind or something I should look out for, leave a comment. There’s nothing better than being exposed to new music.

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Argus: The Doom March Undertaken

Posted in Reviews on September 22nd, 2009 by H.P. Taskmaster

It's almost Cathedral-esque, no?Franklin, Pennsylvania, merchants Argus make a positive first impression on their self-titled debut full-length, released via Shadow Kingdom Records. ?Devils, Devils,? the album?s catchy opener, rocks an old school doom that borders on Solitude Aeturnus? style of rougher epics without directly taking from it. The track turns out to be the record?s highlight alongside the later and longer ?The Damnation of John Faustus,? but Argus have plenty to offer between the two when it comes to twin-guitar riffs, able soloing and chunky doom grooves, played American style.

Penance fans will recall Argus frontman Brian ?Butch? Balich?s vocal contributions to that band?s later material, and as much as his voice is perfectly suited to the music here, it?s the guitars of Jason Mucio and Erik Johnson that lead the way for most of the tracks. ?Bending Time? and the chugging ?None Shall Know the Hour? show off their impressive chops and provide a forum for Balich to display his masterful mid-range. Argus tends to drag in parts, largely since there?s so much in this kind of old school doom that can?t possibly be original — it?s been done so well, for so long, by so many — but the five-piece unit makes the best of it, the rhythm section of bassist Andy Ramage and former Abdullah drummer Kevin Latchaw adding a welcome metallic crunch to the sound.

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