As they continue to support their new album, Acolyte (review here), Tucson duo Methra have unveiled a new video for the track “Dead Ram.” The clip is apparently a prequel to their last video, which was for the song “Hartley’s Cult,” the title derived from their purported obsession with Peavey amps — something you can see manifest in the wall of them that appears to be in the band’s practice space. It’s a tale of heartbreak, murder, wandering and death-sludge, and front to back it looks like it was an absolute blast to make. Which is as it should be.
That is the prevailing impression I get from Methra at this point, and it was true of the record as well: They sound like they’re having fun. The music lacks nothing for grit — it’s raw, nasty all over the place, even when they touch on a cleaner vocal here or a melodic part there, as indeed they do in “Dead Ram” — but it’s a very specific kind of fun that guitarist Nick Genitals and drummer Andy Kratzenberg are having throughout, like every time the cameras are shut off or the recording equipment is paused, everyone starts laughing. In a realm of music that sometimes seems so averse to enjoying itself on any level, it’s refreshing to see a band doing so with such brazen abandon.
You can check out the video below, followed by some comment from the band. Acolyte is out now on Battleground Records.
Methra, “Dead Ram” official video
METRHA informs viewers, “Upon completion of our ‘Hartley’s Cult’ music video, we realized the story was not complete. We asked ourselves, ‘WWGLD’ (what would George Lucas do)? The answer was simple; a prequel, with even better(worse) effects. Who was the Acolyte? What drives Him?”
METHRA’s new lo-fi visual production is the unsettling tale of one man’s descent into madness, and rebirth into The Acolyte. In the “Dead Ram” video, a crazed drifter can somehow hear METHRA practice on the other side of town….and he hates it. He’ll take an absurd trek through Tucson’s lesser known architectural wonders on a deadly mission to silence the grating sounds of disgusting music inside his head. This prequel to the “Hartley’s Cult” will horrify you. All stunts were performed with actual landmarks and operational firearms. You have been warned.
[Methra release Acolyte July 4 via Battleground Records. Click play above to stream the album in full.]
For all the fuckall Methra proffer in the 10 songs on their Acolyte debut full-length, it’s not like they haven’t put in any thought to their presentation. The Tucson-based duo of guitarist Nick Genitals and drummer Andy Kratzenberg (the latter also of Godhunter) reportedly recorded an overwhelming, and in my limited understanding of modern recording methods completely unnecessary, 69 guitar tracks, likely just so they could say they did it, and from their Peavey-style logo and art and the self-aware, tongue-in-cheek nature of many of the songs, from the falsetto chanting at the end of “Hartley’s Cult” — another Peavey reference — to the way opening duo “Silverbar” and “If Everything is Terrible, then Nothing Is” take on Electric Wizard, “Creeper” Pentagram and “Pike Warship” High on Fire, the Battleground Records release ends up as much about personality and quirk as its sonic impact, though that’s not to be understated either.
What they do best of all, however, is change up their approach. The longest of the tracks, the aforementioned “Hartley’s Cult,” is just over five minutes long and most others are two-to-three, so the record’s done in a half-hour, but during that time, the two-piece run through a gamut of different sounds and feel no reservation about blending elements of doom, stoner metal or grind riffing and vocals, as on the penultimate “Heshlaw” or “Pike Warship” or “S.P.S.,” which may or may not be a sequel to the similarly-named “S.B.S.” from Methra‘s 2014 EP, IV – Ronkonkoma (review here). Their doing so seemingly by whim’s dictate gives Acolyte a punkish spirit, but its tones are thick and while it moves periodically, the focus throughout is more about exploring these different styles and expressing appreciation for varied forms.
Or, more likely, the focus is having a good time. That’s the prevailing impression Acolyte leaves as the drum-led shuffle of closer “Organ Trail” — based on visual assessment of Nick and Andy‘s ages, I’m going to guess that’s a reference to the PC game Oregon Trail — boogies quietly into its fadeout. That doesn’t say much about the music, but the work as a whole is a demented, at times extreme kind of fun, and for all its jumps in sound, swapping out clean vocals for harsh ones and so on, there is a flow to it that starts with the roll of “Silverbar,” the band doing their best Jus Osborn and pulling it off en route to following up with a Vincent Price nod in “If Everything is Terrible, then Nothing Is,” which riffs through two verses and a chugging instrumental chorus and then rides that groove through a long fade into the more manic “Hartley’s Cult.”
Hard to say any one track on Acolyte sums up what Methra are doing across the whole album, because that changes almost song by song, but the slow start of “Hartley’s Cult,” the way it incorporates out-of-nowhere blown-out screams and growls before its cleaner chorus, the pickup in pace toward the end and the already-noted chanting at the finish go a pretty long way in conveying both the attitude and the versatility Methra are working with across the album’s span. So of course the next track, the 1:45 “Creeper,” is a complete left turn, delving into parody Pentagram-style doom rock that’s sincere in its reverence as much as satire of the current cult rock movement that band has in large part inspired. It’s also catchy, with a satisfying rhythmic bounce and horror-minded feel.
One might expect “Dead Ram” to follow suit à la the stylistic complement between “Silverbar” and “If Everything is Terrible, then Nothing Is,” but no dice. Rather, “Dead Ram” starts off a four-track run of growling sludge rock, finding out what happens when the likes of Repulsion or Napalm Death is thrown into the pot with some of the previously noted doom. A clean chorus emerges late in “Dead Ram,” but the bulk of the song is grunted forth, and “Pike Warship” follows suit after its opening scream, “Bow to Pike!” Of course, the riff is in the style of Matt Pike‘s work in High on Fire, but with the low growl vocals, the vibe is more grinding than High on Fire ever have been and pushes through to “S.P.S.,” which splits itself into two parts with a first half that mostly holds the form of “Pike Warship” and “Dead Ram” and a second more spacious, sort of raw, moldy basement psychedelia, like if you had a swirl but all the colors were shades of brown. The riff is what holds the two pieces together, and I guess you could probably say the same for much of Acolyte.
A sample about buying machetes ends “S.P.S.” and then it’s time for Methra to lay down the “Heshlaw,” a song for which the lyrics — I’m sure unfortunately — are just about indecipherable as they’re growled out over a steady roll that serves in some ways as a closer before “Organ Trail,” rounding out the album’s most extreme portion with a solidified approach. I don’t know if it’s keys or guitar on “Organ Trail,” but the volume and impact of tone is way pulled back and the drums march Acolyte to its finish with one more context-expanding stretch that seems to come from nowhere but somehow still work. What Methra basically accomplish on their first LP is to set themselves up to go anywhere they want stylistically. The previous EP had some of these elements at play, but the will that Andy and Nick show in swapping one approach out for another and the humor with which they execute those turns only highlights the consciousness of what they’re doing. I’d expect, and hope, they only get weirder from here.
Posted in Reviews on June 21st, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Day Two of The Obelisk’s Summer 2016 Quarterly Review — that’s an awful lot of capital letters. I’m not sure if it’s quite such a formal occasion, but perhaps that’s just an effect of staring at some of the names in this particular batch, who from classic heavy rock to post-black metal to stoner riffs, drone, doom and beyond offer a pretty vast range and more than a small measure of profile throughout. It’s a substantial swath, is what I’m saying. If you can’t find something here to dig on, well, I’d say look again, but of course there’ll also be another 10 reviews tomorrow, Thursday and Friday, and there were 10 yesterday as well, so I’m sure something will turn up if it hasn’t yet. Here we go.
Quarterly Review #11-20:
Spiritual Beggars, Sunrise to Sundown
More than 20 years on from their self-titled debut, Sweden’s Spiritual Beggars release their ninth LP, Sunrise to Sundown (on Inside Out Music). They seem to have set themselves to the sole task of making the records that one wishes Deep Purple were making, full of righteous organ-laced classic heavy thrust, driven by top tier songwriting and performance on every level. Founding guitarist Michael Amott (also Carcass) has assembled a lineup of masters, and since 2010’s Return to Zero (review here), frontman Apollo Papathanasio (also Firewind) has provided the soaring voice to add to the keyboard majesty of Per Wiberg (ex-Opeth, Candlemass) on songs like “I Turn to Stone.” The album’s 11 cuts are catchy, universally structured, and varied in their feel enough to carry the listener through fluidly, bassist Sharlee D’Angelo (Mercyful Fate) and drummer Ludwig Witt (ex-Firebird) locking in weighted grooves and underscoring the flow of what comes across like an increasingly collaborative songwriting process. Sunrise to Sundown is the sound of a band knowing what they want to do and how they want to do it and then doing precisely that.
How many records does Ode to a Black Hole make it for Danish improve spacelords Øresund Space Collective? I honestly don’t know. Their Bandcamp lists 52 releases. Granted, not all of them are full-length studio LPs, but they jam whether they’re live or in the studio, so after a point it’s kind of moot. However many in the ultimate tally, Ode to a Black Hole is somewhat unique among them, exploring the darker side of the cosmic reaches in a bleaker, droning psychedelia spread across two instrumental tracks put to tape at the same time as 2015’s triple-LP Different Creatures (review here). Of course, it’s Øresund Space Collective, so there is still plenty of synth and effects swirl to be had, but it’s a slower galaxial movement as “Ode to a Black Hole Part 1” feeds directly into “Ode to a Black Hole Part 2.” Whatever their method of getting there, Øresund Space Collective prove once again how apparently boundless their scope has become with nuance of guitar and key flourish beneath the surface of the mix to let the listener know there’s life out in the expanse.
Phoenix, Arizona’s Goya continue their forward march with The Enemy EP (on STB Records). Still fair to say Electric Wizard are a primary influence, but as shown on their last full-length, 2015’s charmingly-titled Obelisk (review here), the trio are increasingly able to put more of themselves into their sound. In “The Enemy,” “Last” and “Light Years,” that shows in tighter songwriting, some vocal harmonies on “Light Years,” and a harder overall tonal impact than the tenets of post-Witchcult Today doomery might lead one to expect, reminding in parts of the raw in-room feel that Egypt have come to proffer, burly but more about groove than attitude. The EP closes with a nine-minute take on “The Enemy” itself, adding more harmonies, some screams at the end, and a lengthy midsection jam to flesh out its extra four minutes. Goya have been and still are a bright spot (existentially, if not in mood) in up-and-coming US doom, and The Enemy might be a stopgap coming off of Obelisk, but it reminds listeners of their growth very much still in progress.
In a universe full of pretenders to the throne of Eyehategod, German six-piece Black Shape of Nexus prove there’s room for genuine creativity in sludge. Their fourth offering, Carrier (on Exile on Mainstream), finds them past the 10-year mark and lumbering their way through five varied originals, from the cavernous opener “I Can’t Play It” through the droning “Lift Yourself” and the utter spacecrush that ensues in “Facepunch Transport Layer” before the villainous laughter at the end of “Sachsenheim” leads to a 12-minute take on Hellhammer’s “Triumph of Death,” which closes. It feels like no coincidence that of the Black Shape of Nexus-penned inclusions “Sand Mountain” is the centerpiece; the tortured screaming, claustrophobic riff and blend of rawness and lush depth speak to the originality at the core of their approach. There’s a firm sense of fuckall here, and my understanding is making Carrier was something of a trial, but the results are perhaps only more vicious for that, and thus stronger.
Six years and the ascent of an entire movement of similarly-minded acts later, Cough ooze back to activity with Still They Pray (on Relapse), their dirt-caked third full-length. That movement, by the way, includes fellow Richmonders Windhand, with whom Cough now share bassist Parker Chandler and whose Garrett Morris recorded here along with Jus Oborn of Electric Wizard, who remain a major influence in Cough’s grueling, nodding filth, brought to bear over eight tracks and a purposefully unmanageable 67-minute runtime. Stylistically it’s not so far from where Cough were on 2010’s Ritual Abuse (review here), the bleak anarchistic lurch and tonal immersion still very much at the fore of “Possession,” “Dead Among the Roses” and the organ-inclusive “The Wounding Hours,” but though they can play slow enough to make “Masters of Torture” seem positively thrashy by comparison, they never lose their sense of atmosphere, as the acoustic-led closing title-track makes plain in fashion no less heavy than the punishment meted out before it.
It feels factually inaccurate to call something so wilfully charred “vibrant,” but Oranssi Pazuzu’s fourth long-player, Värähtelijä (on Svart and 20 Buck Spin), not only finds light in its overarching darkness, but makes it a pivotal aspect of the album’s 69-minute course. Open structures, an enviable depth of mix between far-off guitar, keys, organ, various layers of screams, etc., songs like 12-minute opener “Saturaatio” and the later 17-minute chaoswirl of “Vasemann Käden Hierarkia” offer stylistic breadth as much prog as they are psychedelia or black metal, perhaps the next phase of the latter’s cosmic wing come to fruition. Relatively speaking, the more straightforward “Havuluu” offers listeners a moment to catch their breadth, but the organ-led experimentalism of 10-minute closer “Valveavaruus” gurgles in an exploration of ambient downward plunge. One of the most adventurous black metal releases of 2016, if you can still even tag a genre to it, which I’m not sure you can. A band doing pivotal and forward-thinking work.
Though they just got off a lengthy US run, the fact that Karma to Burn’s webstore offers their new Mountain Czar EP in euro instead of dollars could easily be taken as a sign of where the band’s general priorities lie. I don’t know if founding guitarist Will Mecum is actually living abroad or remains in West Virginia, but their label, Rodeostar Records, is European, they maintain a close relationship with German artist Alexander Von Wieding, and their tour schedule keeps a definite continental focus. So be it. Mountain Czar brings five new cuts, three by-the-numbers Karma to Burn instrumentals, the highlight of which is patient, jangly-guitar closer “63,” and “Uccidendo un Sogno,” an Italian-language cover of Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ down a Dream” sung by guest vocalist Stefanie Savy and featuring Manuel Bissig of Switzerland’s Sons of Morpheus on guitar. Karma to Burn very much remain Karma to Burn throughout, Mecum joined by drummer Evan Devine and bassist Eric Clutter, but they’re changing what that means in interesting ways.
Comprised solely of guitarist/vocalist Sleaze and drummer Izz, German Southern metallers Black Mood begin their seven-song sophomore outing, Squalid Garden (on Daredevil Records) with a sample of Cornelius from Planet of the Apes quoting the Lawgiver to “shun the beast man,” and so on. By the time they get around to the chugging and warbling “Ohh, save my soul” in second cut “IWNAR,” the Down/Crowbar vibe has been laid on so thick that it’s unmistakable. It’s been seven years since Black Mood made their self-titled debut in 2009 – they had an EP, Toxic Hippies, out in 2012 – but their chestbeating, dudely vibes are easily sourced, even in faster, more Pantera-style moments in “Reflected,” “100 Squalid Garden” or closer “Side,” making the album ultimately a matter of taste for anyone who’d take it on. For me, some aspects ring derivative, others show flashes of individualism, but it’s a very specific vision of Southern metal at work here, and it’s not going to be for everyone.
Newcomers Nebula Drag join the ranks of a crowded heavy psych scene in their native San Diego via their self-titled, self-released debut, but the trio distinguish themselves immediately with a solidified underpinning of punkish intent, so that the airy vocals of “Sano” float over an insistent, noisy crunch. That blend is toyed with in one direction or another throughout the release, the five-minute “So Low” finding some middle-ground in grunge push, but as the subsequent “Up and Down”’s Melvins-style roll and the hardcore-style drive of “Lost Time” play out, Nebula Drag seem far less tied to any single approach. It’s a dynamic that serves them well throughout the album’s 10-track/37-minute run, and they maintain a sense of rawness in the almost thrashy breakdown of “I Can Not Explain” that speaks to a lack of pretense to go along with their potential for development. Will be curious to hear if one side or the other wins out in their sound over the long-term, but in a town where so many bands are geared on being the most laid back, it’s refreshing to hear a group with a more forceful tack.
After a series of numbered full-lengths, Glasgow consciousness-stompers Ommadon offer their self-titled sixth album through Dry Cough Records, Burning World Records and Medusa Crush Recordings. Doubtless the three labels were needed in order simply lift the 41-minute, single-song release, which is so unspeakably and ridiculously heavy as to warrant comparison to Buried at Sea’s Migration. Its retching lumber is superlative, and in giving it their name, Ommadon signal (and say outright) that it’s the work they’ve been driving toward all along. Fair enough. There is no moment of relenting from the abysmal intentions of “Ommadon” itself, and if this is to be the piece that ultimately defines the band, it’s one worthy of consideration for the outright extremity it brings to doom, sludge and drone, as well as the methodical nature in which it unfolds. Whatever its ultimate impact, Ommadon have pushed themselves forward and crafted an excruciating contribution that feels like a monolith bent to their will.
Posted in Whathaveyou on May 31st, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Tucson-based psychedelic soundscapers The Myrrors have released their new album, Entranced Earth, via Beyond Beyond is Beyond. Their third long-player, it’s a record of noteworthy expanse and patience and sopping wet with trippy fervor, but not staid or indulgent more than the material seems to warrant. The vinyl is a black and white spatter, but the music itself works in a wide array of colors and shapes, and as the empty, rolling landscape on the album cover hints, it’s all very open, sparse at times, but teeming with life under the surface.
It’s streaming in full (of course it is; it’s the future!), so you can dive into info and audio below:
THE MYRRORS’ STUNNING NEW LP “ENTRANCED EARTH” IS OUT NOW…
There’s a confounding nature to the comfort constructed by The Myrrors throughout the flawless forty minutes of “Entranced Earth,” the third full-length album from the transcendentally-tuned, Tuscon-tied desert die-hards (and their second for Beyond Beyond Is Beyond Records).
Those looking for terra firma – for ground not given to staggering shifts, for easily grasped handholds, for the force of gravity as we know it – are likely to find the album an often-groundless experience. But for listeners willing to give themselves over to the landscape presented on “Entranced Earth,” the reward lies in the discovery of new lands, and the sound of a band operating at the peak of their powers.
When last we saw the reflection of The Myrrors, it was in the form of their previous release, “Arena Negra,” an album that announced its presence immediately and with high dosage of the appropriate amplification. “Entranced Earth,” by contrast, gives indication of The Myrrors entering an altogether different atmosphere, taking on an altogether higher climb, shorn of all hesitation and allowing their freak flags to unfurl and fly like never before.
Still, it’s difficult (and altogether unnecessary) to pin down “Entranced Earth” beyond the spires of sonic smoke that the album seems to generate at will. So subtle is the album- opening invocation of “Mountain Mourning” that it threatens to never descend from its sky-bound view, leaving the track that follows, “Liberty Is In the Street,” to offer the album’s first, fading glimpse of solid ground. “On your feet or on your knees” goes the mantra-like vocal drone, though the effect is likely to bring to mind the Moody Blues more than Blue O?yster Cult (at least, the path of The Myrrors seems to include traces of the footprints left by the one-time Harvard professor given an early eulogy by the Blues on “Legend of a Mind”). By the time that “No Clear Light” – a torch-lit, dust-crusted dirge that can be felt as the beating heart of the album overall – leads listeners toward the nearly nine-minute title track and album centerpiece, there are doubtlessly many more wanderers pledging allegiance to The Myrrors unnamed cult.
Guitars of six and twelve strings, harmonium, tablas, alto sax, bulbul tarang – these are the tools of The Myrrors all-consuming quest, expertly applied for maximum elevation. Enter the realm of “Entranced Earth,” sit still and let the ground disappear beneath your feet. – Ryan Muldoon
Posted in Whathaveyou on April 27th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’m just going by what I see in the photo and read in the PR wire info below, but it seems fair enough to expect Methra‘s forthcoming Acolyte long-player to sound somewhat… bigger… than their preceding EP, IV: Ronkonkoma (review here), which the Tucson-based duo released in 2014. The new full-length, which is also their debut on Battleground Records, is out July 4, and based around an apparent affection for Peavey amps and a concept of secret murder conspiracies and upwards of 69 guitar tracks, sounds like it’s going to be weird as hell, which I kind of dig. I wouldn’t dare speculate as to how it might actually come across without hearing it, but “big” seems like a safe enough bet. So I’ll roll with that.
The aforementioned photo and announcement from the PR wire:
METHRA: Battleground Records Confirms Impending Acolyte Debut LP From Tucson Sludge Degenerates
Tucson, Arizona-based marauders METHRA have completed their arduous Acolyte LP for Summer release through Battleground Records, the record sure to prove itself as one of the most bafflingly gnarly sludge metal releases of the year.
METHRA is comprised two self-proclaimed fat weirdos who believe in making heavy music for heavy people, drummer Andy Kratzenberg (Godhunter) and guitarist Nick Genitals (Limbless Torso) recorded the bulldozing Acolyte in late 2015 at Arcane Digital (North Side Kings, Unruh, Landmine Marathon) with Ryan Butler who complained of physical and mental anguish due the bands’ unorthodox recording demands. The band used only incredibly large speakers to record a behemoth load of sixty-nine guitar tracks – for a total of ten songs that is — including 15″ and 18″ speakers, and a 21″subwoofer.
The rough concept of Acolyte is based on persistent online rumors that a cabal of top amplifier manufacturers had Hartley Peavey killed and replaced with a doppelganger in the late 80s to stop the company from collapsing the industry due to low price points on the highest quality original amplifiers in the world.
In deference to the great glory of this nation and the announcement of a sequel to the game-changing blockbuster film Independence Day, METHRA has decided to give a very special 4th of July release to Acolyte, which will happen through the regulation of Battleground Records on colored vinyl and digital deliveries. Album art, audio samples including two videos, preorders, live dates, and other propaganda will be issued in the coming days.
Posted in Whathaveyou on April 20th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
So, uh, the PR wire says that the lineup for Southwest Terror Fest V is complete, but to look at the rather complex timetable of acts playing over the course of Oct. 20 through 23, and I can’t help but notice one headlining time slot is filled with question marks. That’s the “mystery headliner.” I don’t know about you, but I’m damn curious who might mystery-headline a fest that runs a gamut from Agoraphobic Nosebleed to Saint Vitus to Theologian. Could pretty much be anybody. Not everything here is exactly my cup of tea — golly I could use a cup of tea — but truth is I admire the hell out of the work David Rogers of Godhunter does in putting this thing together and promoting it, and wanted to post for that reason as well.
Details from the PR wire:
SOUTHWEST TERROR FEST V: Houses Of The Unholy Lineup Complete + Tickets For All Shows At October Festival Now Available
Having announced dozens of bands over the past several weeks, the full lineup for Tucson, Arizona’s SOUTHWEST TERROR FEST V: Houses Of The Unholy is now complete, and all ticket options for the festival are now available.
For the fifth installation of the annual even, SOUTHWEST TERROR FEST V: Houses Of The Unholy will overthrow Tucson October 20th through 23rd, with forty-five artists from across the US and Canada converging on five stages, including venues 191 Toole, Club Congress, The Flycatcher, and Gary’s Place.
SOUTHWEST TERROR FEST V: Houses Of The Unholy’s opening show Thursday, October 20th will see The Body & Full Of Hell and Sumac headlining the main stage of 191 Toole, with a combined Theologian/Lament Cityscape set headlining the second stage., followed by a late show at Gary’s Place with a mystery guest headliner. Friday, October 21st at 191 Toole will see Nails and Pig Destroyer headlining the main stage, and Full Of Hell headlining the second, and a late show at Club Congress headlined by Old Man Gloom. Saturday, October 22nd main stage headliners will be Infest and Agoraphobic Nosebleed, with Theories headlining the side stage, followed by a late show at Flycatcher headlined by local legends Malignus Youth. And Saint Vitus and The Skull headline Club Congress on Sunday, October 23rd for the main closing show.
View the full show-to-show individual lineups as well as ticket options for each event below.
SOUTHWEST TERROR FEST V: Houses Of The Unholy:
Passes for the entire festival are available HERE.
Thursday, October 20th – Early Show @ 191 Toole [tickets] Main: 10:30 – end – Sumac 9:10 – 9:55 – The Body/Full Of Hell 8:00 – 8:40 – Kowloon Walled City 7:00 – 7:30 – Generation Of Vipers 6:00 – 6:30 – North Side: 9:55 – 10:30 – Theologian/Lament Cityscape 8:40 – 9:10 – Senior Fellows 7:30 – 8:00 – Waft 6:30 – 7:00 – Via Vengeance
Thursday, October 20th – Late Show @ Gary’s Place 1:00 – end – ??? ???? 12:00 – 12:40 – Order Of The Owl 11:00 – 11:40 – Akris
Friday, October 21st – Early Show @ 191 Toole [tickets] Main: 10:00 – 11:00 – Pig Destroyer 8:40 – 9:25 – Nails 7:30 – 8:10 – Final Conflict 6:30 – 7:00 – Gay Kiss 5:30 – 6:00 – Trench Side: 9:25 – 10:00 – Full Of Hell 8:10 – 8:40 – Wake 7:00 – 7:30 – Vermin Womb 6:00 – 6:30 – Sorrower 5:00 – 5:30 – Disservice
Friday, October 21st – Late Show @ Club Congress [info] 12:50 – end – Old Man Gloom 11:50 – 12:30 – Behold! The Monolith 11:00 – 11:30 – Mountain Man 10:15 – 10:45 – Nonpareil
Another night on the Southwestern front. What portion of the day I hadn’t spent writing, I spent huddled up in a tired mass, the hotel curtain drawn to keep out a punishingly hot desert sun. My excuse was I was saving energy for the show, but I think really I might’ve just been afraid of melting in unfamiliar terrain. Before I rolled back into 191 Toole for the second night of Borderland Fuzz Fiesta 2016, I walked through a little bit of downtown Tucson — or what seemed to be downtown Tucson, anyhow — and grabbed a cup of coffee and an iced tea.
People outside, in shorts, enjoying the weather and each other’s company. Sitting outside of restaurants and markets, speaking English, Spanish, some mixture of the two. Awesome. Families with babies, couples, singles, loners, and me and my coffee lumbering back toward 6th St. Doors were 6:30, first band 7PM. I found fest organizers Joey and Wayne Ruddell of Fuzz Evil near the back of the venue in a conversational round with much the same group as yesterday as bands were making their way in. Immediately it was more crowded than night one had been, and only became more so as bands swapped back and forth between the floor and the main stage.
That process was smoother than it had been on the first night of the fest, somewhat expectedly, but I think a big part of that was that everyone showed up. No food poisoning. So it was easier to get a sense of what Wayne and Joey — both sociable, friendly, gracious guys, but with different enough personalities that one imagines they could’ve had some real knock-down-drag-outs as kids — were going for in structuring the lineup, moving from the desert to crunchier fare and finally out among spaces so vast that they might as well be space itself. We’ll get there.
Once again, the show featured the fantastic talents of Lance Gordon and Mad Alchemy. Things seen and heard:
Sounds Like Murder
Each night of Borderland Fuzz Fiesta 2016 featured two bands from Arizona. Phoenix trio Sounds Like Murder lead off the second night of the fest with gritty metallic push. Sounds more like riffs than murder, but they got their point across. Vocalist/bassist Dirty had the low-garble vocal thing going, and he wouldn’t be the last of the night, and could barely be understood talking between songs — in my head I heard David Huddleston call it “authentic frontier gibberish” — but while much of their output came from the post-Down school of dudely chug, they had some funk in their opener that showed there was more going on under the surface. That may have come via Clutch, it was hard to tell from the stage, but either way, the place was more crowded early and the Southern style Sounds Like Murder proffered effectively foreshadowed Switchblade Jesus‘ set later on and Dirty, guitarist Irish Mike and drummer Opie had a strong idea of what they were going for, even going so far as to add some throat singing at the end of “1340,” which was a genuine surprise.
A quick swap in vibe brought up Dandy Brown, guitarist for Hermano, playing with a solo band. A double-guitar four-piece who would share bassist Damien Lautiero with Waxy later on, they ran through a set of fluid desert rock, brought a crowd with them, and emphasized quality songcraft from the very start in swaps between restraint and letting go. Brown himself seemed right at home in classic structures, familiar but not necessarily derivative, and his and the other guitar meshed fluidly throughout the songs, also adding backup vocals on “The Sleeper.” While they were still playing, I wondered if they had records for sale — even better, turned out they had CDs for free; I grabbed two — and though they didn’t have time to get to their planned cover of Floyd‘s “Astronomy Domine,” that spirit came through nonetheless. In front of the stage, kids played while wearing earmuffs, giving the set even more of a wholesome feel as Brown worked in his John Garcia-style croon and the righteously laid back feel of “Santa Fe Trail” before new song “This World” finished out. Hermano reportedly have new stuff in the works, following up on 2007’s underrated Into the Exam Room, but whenever/whether it comes to fruition, that spirit was served and represented well at Borderland Fuzz Fiesta 2016.
Denver trio Cloud Catcher damn near ran away with this entire festival. I mean it. I dug the hell out of their debut album, Enlightened Beyond Existence (discussed here and here), and was thrilled to find that the live delivery was no less vigorous. Guitarist/vocalist Rory Rummings, bassist Kam Wenworth and drummer Jared Handman were only on the second night of an 11-show tour, but they were air tight through upbeat twists and tempo changes, dead on grooves culled from ’70s giants transposed onto thick tones and shredding leads, propulsive crash and rumble. When they’re done with this tour, they’ll record a new album — exactly the right time to do it — which they should send everywhere, because frankly I can’t imagine some label wouldn’t want to pick them up based on what I heard. They posted a demo for “Celestial Empress” last month, and that song was aired along with “Visions” and others from the forthcoming release. Watching the crowd have its ass handed to it, I couldn’t help but hope they expand their geographic reach for the sophomore LP, because while Cloud Catcher had the West Coast heavy thing down, set-finale “Righteous Ruin” shifted from its twists and turns into a big, bluesy slowdown that showed they’re bringing even more of themselves to the table. Hands were up for high fives before they even finished playing the song, and rightly so.
By the time Waxy — the Palm Desert-dwelling trio of guitarist/vocalist Robbie Owen. Damien Lautiero and drummer Jeff Bowman (Unsound) — took the stage, the momentum of the night was set. Borderland Fuzz Fiesta 2016 was moving quickly, but smoothly, and Waxy would follow-up on the desert stylizations of Dandy Brown with more solidly constructed desert rock, delving into an earlier Queens of the Stone Age vibe, which of course is nothing to complain about. Their latest album, Without Any Explanation Why (get it? W-A-X-Y?), was released in 2014, and “Motorcade” from it (also from their 2007 debut, Chainsaw Holiday) was a highlight, richly toned and catchy in a Kyuss-style mid-paced push. Laid back until they weren’t, they effectively switched up moods while keeping a steady flow throughout, Lautiero backing Owen effectively despite being a little low in the mix at first. That got worked out as they went on toward “Disaster” from their 2011 self-titled second record, which of course was anything but, as they provided a last look at the desert before the evening dipped into harder-edged fare. I don’t know if they’re planning a new release, but they were an easy sell for the crowd, myself included.
Back on the floor stage, Oakland aggro punk-metallers Blackwülf boasted both the weekend’s only umlaut and the weekend’s only standalone frontman (apart from Sean Wheeler guesting in Fatso Jetson) in Alex Cunningham, and even he had a tambourine and some maracas on-hand. They made their Ripple Music debut late last year with Oblivion Cycle (review here), their second offering overall, from which the hook of “Never Forget” stood out thanks in no small part to its fist-pumping riff. Guitarist Pete Holmes, bassist Scott Peterson and drummer Dave Pankenier fostered a tense vibe under Cunningham‘s shouts, sneers and singing, but wanted nothing for tonal heft either in “Faith Healer” or “Acid Reign,” the creeping guitar progression of which felt less “South of Heaven” live than on record. Their set seemed to end abruptly. Not sure if they got cut off for time or were just done quick — seemed like some acts played it looser than others when it came to how much time they spent on stage, as will happen — but it felt short, which I took as an encouraging sign either way. Everything they played came from Oblivion Cycle, and in addition to the accent in their name and the lack of a guitar or bass in Cunningham‘s hands, they were also distinguished by being clearly the angriest band of the fest. They won the title outright, and then, presumably, stomped on it because they were so pissed off.
Blackwülf may have been the angriest band of the two nights, but Switchblade Jesus I think were the loudest. I didn’t have a dB meter to confirm that or anything, but god damn, the Corpus Christi, Texas-based four-piece were loud. Most notably in Jason Beers‘ bass. The punch of his Gibson Thunderbird came through the 191 Toole room mix in full assault, and the effect was that the dual guitars of Billy Guerra (who played on the dark side of the stage) and Eric Calvert (also vocals) sounded viscous as they conjured dudely chug, nasty and grooving. Burl. All the burl. Songs about whiskey. Drummer Jon Elizondo, encased in shadow behind Calvert, served as the foundation on which all of it was laid, and to go along with “The Wolves” and “Sick Mouth” from their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), which was subsequently reissued via both Kozmik Artifactz and Ripple Music in 2014 and 2015, they had a host of new material in “Snakes,” “Bastard,” the plus-sized nod of “Wet Lungs” and closer “Mountain” to show where they’re at now. Their cap was preceded by Calvert asking the crowd “You want it heavy or what?” The answer was clear as they brought it for “Mountain,” its rolling chorus sure to catch attention when their next record shows up.
Before Fuzz Evil started their set proper, brothers Wayne Ruddell and Joey Ruddell — also the showrunners for Borderland Fuzz Fiesta — took a couple minutes for a guitar and bass jam. Drummer Marlin Tuttle seemed to have loaned some drum hardware to Switchblade Jesus, so the changeover wasn’t as immediate, and while they may have just been filling time noodling, that jam came to inform everything they played thereafter, resulting in a much more psychedelic set than I expected from either their 2015 single “Born of Iron” (streamed here) or prior 2014 split with Chiefs, both of which were more straightforward. That surprise made it for me. It was a thrill to see Joey, his machine-gun bass held aloft, and Wayne, his guitar coated in tone worthy of the band’s name, work side by side to carry across a set of mostly new material. As to when they might get around to a full-length debut, they weren’t forthcoming, but I’ll hope they capture some of that impromptu spirit, because as it blended with their established penchant for fuzzy hooks and driving, straightforward songs — see the swinging “Glitterbones” — it made their time on stage that much richer to experience. They moved the progression of the evening away from the burl of Switchblade Jesus and provided a transition into Yawning Man still to come, but more than that, they gave the assembled crowd, which included Dead Meadow, who showed up to watch, a set worthy of headliners while at the same time not being afraid to smile onstage and actively have a good time. Mirroring their start, they ended with an effects-drenched jam, Wayne twisting pedal knobs while Joey and Marlin held the flow together, so that in addition to having put on a killer show, Fuzz Evil put on a killer show. Go figure.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see Yawning Man before (review here), so in a conceptual sense I knew what was coming, but until I stood there and had the bliss of tone provided by the guitars of Gary Arce and special guests Mario Lalli and Dino von Lalli (both Fatso Jetson) oozing forth from the stage, I don’t think I really had any idea. All three were recognizable, clear in the mix — which, taken with the keys of Malene Arce (also LewdFlesh), the bass of Justine Summer Heaven and Bill Stinson‘s cymbal wash, felt like a friggin’ miracle — and each added something different, Dino holding down rhythms, Mario tearing into leads and Gary finger-plucking strings to emit serenity through his years-in-the-making tone, as signature to the desert as sand and dry air. Long a power trio, as a six-piece, Yawning Man bordered on orchestral, and while parts were definitely recognizable, a good portion of their time was spent moving into, through and back out of open jamming, keys adding to the airy feel and Stinson and Heaven and sometimes Dino marking out a rhythmic terrain and holding firm while Arce and Mario traded adventurous leads. It was glorious. Liquid enough that you wanted to swim in it, warm enough that you wanted to get a sunburn, and raw and creatively vital. Glances from Arce and Mario guided the band through peaks and valleys in new song “Wind Cries Linn” (streamed here), its core guitar lines memorable and built outward on stage, and “Dark Meet” from the band’s 2013 split with Fatso Jetson was the foundation for an extended final jam, Dino keeping a start-stop rhythm line that gave a progressive, languid space rock vibe. The crowd had thinned out by then, but those who remained knew they were seeing and hearing something special. Yawning Man carried that jam up, down and around again, deconstructing it only to put it together again, Mario pulling an ebow out of his pocket and Bill leaning his whole body into his cymbals, which seemed to have moved somewhat away from where they started out. As the four-piece of Gary and Malene Arce, Heaven and Stinson, Yawning Man will reportedly have a new EP out this year, and I can’t wait to hear what spaces they explore next. Like Dead Meadow the night before, they closed out Borderland Fuzz Fiesta 2016 on an otherworldly note and offered a prime example of why they’re so often given the “legend” tag.
When they were done, I hung around for a few minutes to say a couple goodnights and thank yous, so I’ll do the same here. First, to Wayne and Joey Ruddell, without whose support and efforts this trip simply wouldn’t have happened. Thanks also to The Patient Mrs. for her coordinating prowess, to Todd Severin, Randy Blood, Bucky Brown, Mark Aceves, Rory Rummings, Mario and Dino Lalli, Gary Arce and everyone else I was lucky enough to hang out with over this weekend.
In a few minutes, I’ll get the hell out of this hyper-pretentious, Mickey Mouse reggae coffee shop and head to see some desert before I go to the airport. My flight is 11:30PM tonight and puts me into Boston at 6AM, gaining two hours back in the return to Eastern time. I’m looking forward not necessarily to getting back to real life — from which I think I needed a respite even more than I understood — but to seeing The Patient Mrs. and the Little Dog Dio, and that’s enough to get me home.
Thank you for reading. This has been an unreal experience and wouldn’t have happened without your support.
No sleep, no food, no stopping. Heavy rock and roll waits, but why be impolite? I landed in Phoenix after a two-hour flight from San Francisco that put me back on Mountain Time, two hours behind the Eastern Seaboard. Totally livable. I can’t and won’t account for the frayed neurons playing havoc with the various cortices in my brain, but the two-hour drive through the desert from Phoenix to Tucson in my rental car was just enough open spaces to set the mood for Borderland Fuzz Fiesta 2016, my playlist along the way curated to the best of my admittedly limited ability.
I swung through the Arizona Riverpark Inn to engage in a ceremonious dropping off of stuff. Wasn’t time for much else. It was after 5PM by then and doors at 191 Toole seven minutes up the road were at six. Places to be. A quick hobo bath in the sink would have to do, and I was off, greeted by brothers Joey and Wayne Ruddell, of the band Fuzz Evil and the organizers of Borderland Fuzz Fiesta, as well as Todd Severin of Ripple Music, Bucky Brown who writes for Ripple Effect, Randy Blood, Mark Aceves of Zed and others. Luminaries all. Voices put to names and faces from social networking, I was glad to be in good company. The vibe was relaxed and would remain so for the duration.
To follow-up on Elder canceling earlier this week owing to injury and Fatso Jetson taking their place — they rolled in with the dudes and ladies of Yawning Man, who headline night two — psych rockers 3rd Ear Experience called in sick with food poisoning. That left seven bands on the bill, which proved to be plenty enough to riff the evening into oblivion or something close to it and effectively wash away months’ worth of humdrum adultism, stress for work, real life, and so on. It was, I don’t mind saying, much needed.
The esteemed Lance Gordon and his Mad Alchemy crew would be working an oil light show for the entire night, six projectors going resulting in unparalleled psychedelic gorgeousness accompanying the bands while they played. Here’s how it went down, front to back:
Among other things, Borderland Fuzz Fiesta 2016 would mark my first real exposure to local trio Big Mean, named presumably for both beard and riffery. Actually, the three-piece take their moniker from guitarist/vocalist “Big Mean” Maheen who started the band as a solo-project circa 2013. They released their first EP last year and dug into thick, straightforward grooves to start off the show, not without a harder bluesy edge, but still fluid enough to help set the vibe for the evening as they played on one of the two stages, located on the floor next the main stage. The crowd filtered in, and for a moment it seemed half the people there had cameras, but it was an all-ages show, so some genuine kids would show up throughout the course of the night, and Big Mean gave the evening a suitably unpretentious start, some raw volume — the cargo train going by on the tracks behind the venue, for example, could not be heard over them — and a spacier guitar finish that saved their best nod for last. They were way more of a band than a solo-project, and solid at that. Left no room for complaint.
I can’t say Phoenicians Dead Canyon were a complete surprise, as I did check out their 2013 The Lonesome Company Demo to pick a track for the Borderland Fuzz Fiesta 2016 mixtape, but the three subsequent years since that release have clearly brought some changes in their sound. Somewhat slicker thank the openers in their presentation, they got tighter as they went on, guitarist Frank Davenport and drummer Josh Bodnar sharing vocal duties over Roger Willams‘ thick bass tone, resulting in a sound that seemed like it would very easily translate to a long-player. I don’t know if they’re there yet, but they came across like a band with an album out, with touches of classic swing in Bodnar‘s drums and a very distinct sonic identity in development. They kept momentum between their first couple songs with a steady kick drum and stick clicks, stopping for the first time after three cuts, and even then not for long — there was shuffling to do. And they did it right on, with starts and stops that stood them out even on a night chock full of riff-led fare. They’d end the Arizona contingent of the lineup, but represented their home state well.
San Jose four-piece Zed reportedly have a new album due out in August or thereabouts on Ripple Music, and much of what they played came from it. On a weekender with shows in Palm Desert and San Diego in addition to Borderland Fuzz Fiesta 2016, they also had a fill-in guitarist in the form of Tim Narducci of SPV heavy rockers Spiralarms, who took the place of Greg Lopez alongside guitarist/vocalist Pete Sattari, bassist Mark Aceves and drummer Rich Harris and was well at home running through “Please” from 2013’s Desperation Blues and new cuts like “Royale” and “Blood of the….” (I didn’t quite catch the full title). More aggressive than either Dead Canyon or Big Mean, they reminded me a bit of Dozer live, perhaps not as raging, but still two guitars pushing energetic material that doesn’t so much ask you to follow along as it does shove you in the direction it wants you to go. In any case, they were duly tight, Sattari showcasing punker roots reset in a thicker-riffed context, and if I hadn’t known beforehand that they weren’t playing with their permanent lineup, I wouldn’t have guessed. They closed with the more brooding “The Mountain” in grand style, a subdued feel at first flourished by lead interplay getting larger as it went. Zed sounded like a well-kept secret, and made me look forward to their record.
Look. I like weird bands. I make no apologies for it. As such, Houston’s Funeral Horse were exactly what I was hoping for. First line of my notes? “Can’t spell Funeral Horse without ‘fun.'” They were that, guitarist/vocalist Paul Bearer big on personality in leading the trio of himself, bassist Jason Argonaut and drummer Chris Bassett through “There Shall be Vultures” from their 2015 LP, Divinity for the Wicked (review here) as well as “Until the Last Nation Falls” from 2014’s Sinister Rites of the Master (review here) and “Scatter My Ashes over the Mississippi” from their 2013 debut, Savage Audio Demon (review here), along with what may have been a new song or two, all the while running a cohesive balance between blown-out stoner punk and heavy metal. Very clearly up for a good time but not at all a joke. On a personal note, I was already looking forward to having them at The Obelisk All-Dayer in August, but their ability to freak out the room at 191 Toole and actively not give even the remotest of fucks only made me more stoked to see them again. Bearer auctioned off Argonaut before “Scatter My Ashes” — I think the final bid was $20, including the bass — and their whole set was just a blast, a touch of ’90s noise rock more prominent in their sound than I’d previously realized. I was way into it, but hey, I like weird bands.
Fatso Jetson‘s set came in two parts. For the first, they played as a five-piece fronted by Sean “The Captain” Wheeler of desert punkers Throw Rag. Wheeler sat in for opener “Trouble Maker,” as well as the mega-boogie “Golden Age of Cell Block Slang” from 2010’s Archaic Volumes (review here), their most recent full-length, and “Swollen Offering” from 1998’s Toasted, trading lines back and forth with guitarist Mario Lalli and also backed by guitarist Dino von Lalli, Mario‘s son. Dino was freshly in the band last time I saw Fatso Jetson, three years ago at Desertfest London (review here), but that dynamic between father and son has clearly taken shape, which came out further in the jammier second part of the band’s set, sans Wheeler. Atop the somebody-should-build-a-statue-in-their-honor rhythm section of bassist Larry Lalli (Mario‘s cousin) and drummer Tony Tornay, Mario and Dino alternated leads between frenetic shredding and airier effects, backed each other on rhythms in “Magma” and “Dream Homes” and shared vocals as they pushed “Orgy Porgy” to what felt like it should’ve been well past the breaking point. They may have been a last-minute replacement for Elder, but Fatso Jetson owned the room immediately — locked in from the start and only built momentum as they went. Yeah, they had that split with Farflung (review here) last year, and one with Yawning Man before that, but it’s been too long since they put out a proper record. As they showed in their finishing jam playing off of “Too Many Skulls,” their chemistry is so dead on that it deserves to be captured one way or another. It’s like the whole planet doesn’t even know it’s waiting for them to out-rock it. They were phenomenal.
Los Angeles by way of New York by way of Paris by way of who knows where else three-piece Blaak Heat — who’ve also dropped the “Shujaa” from their moniker in their many travels — had their work cut out for them headlining the floor stage. Playing between Fatso Jetson and Dead Meadow probably counts as the evening’s least enviable task, but the three-piece flourished. They’ll release their third album, Shifting Mirrors, in May through Tee Pee Records (Europe gets it in April), and aside from closing out with “Shadows (The Beast Pt. II)” from their 2013 sophomore outing, The Edge of an Era (review here), everything they played was new. This was particularly encouraging. I’d heard “Anatolia” on the aforementioned mixtape, but in songs like “Shifting” and “Zeta” (likely partial titles), they affirmed their progressive leanings in winding rhythmic complexity, guitarist/vocalist Thomas Bellier an emergent frontman presence and new bassist Henry Evans (ex-Spindrift) and drummer Mike Amster (also Sinner Sinners, Boarchucker and ex-Abrams) seamless in their execution. It was noted on stage that Amster was just back from Europe — as in, the same day — and while I’m sure having just come from a time zone upwards of eight hours ahead of that in Arizona was taking a toll, it didn’t stop him in the slightest from nailing the heavy psych frenzy and stretches of undulating groove. As an initial impression, mostly their new stuff seems like it’s refusing to settle or be tamed. “Sword” (again, presumably a partial title) was a tornado in the desert, a fitting answer to Fatso Jetson‘s own riffy torrents, less jammy perhaps, but furious in its purpose and instrumental focus. I’m going to look forward to that album, “Shujaa” or no.
It’s been half a decade since I last saw Dead Meadow. That was Roadburn 2011 (review here). In the interim, the shoegaze-psych pioneers issued a studio full-length, Warble Womb, in 2013 and toured vociferously to support it. Now 16 years removed from their self-titled debut, Dead Meadow are both massively influential and completely underrated. Once they took stage, there was never any doubt. Drummer Mark Laughlin‘s stiff-armed swing rolled out the swim-in-this-tone bass of Steve Kille and the guitar of Jason Simon, and Simon‘s quiet vocals set a particularly molten vibe. It’s fortunate Mad Alchemy was around, since Dead Meadow are essentially the aural equivalent of a liquid light show. It took me a couple songs into their set to realize what was going on, but it marked a fascinating turn for Borderland Fuzz Fiesta 2016 to have Dead Meadow end the night. After Fatso Jetson and Blaak Heat, each more furious than the last, Dead Meadow were a sharp turn toward the laid back, and rather than drive the evening’s momentum over this or that edge, they melted the entire evening down and gave everyone an opportunity to bask in the warmth. Through cuts like “I Love You Too,” “The White Worm” and “Good Moanin’,” they were a gentle easing out for the night, all fuzz righteousness and non-aggro heft, effects wash and mellow-out. I wouldn’t try to make rash predictions or anything, but that’s a spirit I’d expect Yawning Man to echo at least in part in closing out Night Two, giving the festival a kind thematic cohesion that resonates as much conceptually as sonically. Either way, Dead Meadow — who’ve already toured South American and the West Coast in 2016 — were a trip into raw psychedelic bliss, which is a trip I just about always welcome taking, and in rounding out the night, they expanded the palette and minds alike. I’m going to try very hard not to let another five years pass before I see them again.
Before Dead Meadow went on, solo act Leonhardt went on near the merch area for a quick set of solo acoustic material. Another last-minute addition, his inclusion demonstrated a growing reach on the part of the fest stylistically. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did more of that kind of thing in the future.