Baby Huey, The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend (1971)
By the time The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend was released in 1971, its title was a misnomer. Based out of Chicago for his short career, James “Baby Huey” Ramey himself died late in 1970, succumbing to a cocktail of heroin and alcohol addiction. He was 26 and had a heart attack. His producer, none other than Curtis Mayfield, set about compiling The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend and released it in 1971 on his own Curtom Records to minimal fanfare at the time, but the album has held up to decades of scrutiny as a classic of heavy funk and soul, moving beyond simple James Brownisms as Ramey‘s band tears into the upbeat jam of “Mama Get Yourself Together,” which follows opener “Listen to Me,” on which Ramey digs into screams that could only fairly be called “face-melting.” In a quick 41 minutes, The Baby Huey Story is told in its entirety, but it’s the best argument around for keeping Ramey‘s legend alive.
Also the only argument. While reissues have attempted to feign some manner of original presentation over the years as Baby Huey‘s cult has grown, The Baby Huey Story remains the only Baby Huey release in earnest, and while its organ-laced take on Sam Cooke‘s “A Change is Gonna Come” and funkified swing on Mayfield‘s hard times and The Mamas and the Papas‘ “California Dreamin'” don’t leave much to be desired, it is worth speculating what Ramey might’ve been able to contribute to soul had he not died so young. “Mama Get Yourself Together” and closer “One Dragon Two Dragon” are original compositions, both using expansive instrumentation, horn sections, mellotron keys, percussion, organ, electric guitar, and though both are instrumentally-focused, they present Ramey as a bandleader of considerable presence and potential. In the context of The Baby Huey Story, they deepen the soulful agonies of “A Change is Gonna Come” (you can hear the pain in the spoken and the sung parts) and the fat, fuzzed-out bass of “Running,” but it’s just as easy to imagine Ramey pushing his own songwriting forward on subsequent releases. We’ll never know.
It’s mighty mighty. Hope you enjoy.
So I have a job interview on Wednesday, which is an interesting development. Having been unemployed for over a year now and not by choice, I feel like I’m ready to get on to something new. Gonna buy a suit and give it an honest shot. We’ll see how it goes, but don’t expect too many posts on Wednesday one way or another. The place is like an hour away and I anticipate a good amount of fatigue one way or another when the interview is over. Not that I’ll be running laps, but you know what I mean. It’s hard work being human, and I haven’t done it in a while.
This week, huh? Wow. Roadburn already feels like a year ago, a distant time out of time, but I feel like the emotional benefits of having gone have carried me back into “real life” — as much as this is and that isn’t — better than I could have hoped they might. I’ve been feeling good this week, in other words. While I’ve been tired, and barely able to keep up with what’s happening around me, musically and otherwise, I think back to being at the 013 and I look out the window at the beginnings of Spring here in Massachusetts and it doesn’t seem so dire. I wound up catching the right train. Things work out.
I may or may not have an interesting project in the works for the months to come. I know that’s very vague, but I want to make note of the development if only for myself, to sort of mark the calendar, and I’m full-on believe-it-when-I-see-it mode, but there’s stirrings in a cool direction and I’m hopeful the planets align in my favor. Ducks in a row, pages bound and all that.
Man this Baby Huey record smokes.
Thanks all for checking in this week. Next week, reviews of Enslaved and Wo Fat and hopefully Lamp of the Universe. Monday is a full-album stream from The Atomic Bitchwax, and I’ll have premieres as well for Arenna and Apostle of Solitude of one sort or another as the week goes on. Busy as ever. Hoping to see Sun Voyager this weekend in Boston as well. Might get a podcast up for Wednesday too, since I won’t be around. Certainly plenty of new stuff to feature.
Have a great and safe weekend. I hope to catch you back next week, and please check out the forum and the radio stream.
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 28th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Among other things, no doubt, Minsk‘s first album in more than half a decade, The Crash and the Draw, continues Orion Landau‘s streak of righteous cover art. Details of the record are beginning to surface, including that side A boasts a progression spanning the length of four-tracks and that Sanford Parker, who’s no longer actually playing in the band, nonetheless helmed much of the recording. It’s been six years since With Echoes in the Movement of Stone (review here), and Minsk‘s lineup has been considerably revamped, so I’m not even sure that record can serve as any indicator of what to expect from a new outing, but damn I’m looking forward to finding out.
Minsk also tour Europe this Spring with Floor on a run that includes stops at Roadburn and Desertfest (dates here). The PR wire brings word about the record:
MINSK: Long-Running Sound Alchemists To Release First Full-Length In Six Years This Spring Via Relapse Records
Following a six-year slumber, Illinois enigmatic sound conjurors, MINSK, are readying to unveil the otherworldly fruit of their long-anticipated new studio creation, The Crash & The Draw.
Scattered between the sleepy city of Peoria and metropolis of Chicago and drawing inspiration from a remote Belarusian city that has been burned to the ground only to be rebuilt like a phoenix rising from its own ashes, MINSK has been cultivating sonic exploration and alchemical outpourings since 2002. Rooted in the post-metal landscape that brought forth visionaries like Neurosis and Isis, with their latest offering, The Crash & The Draw, MINSK step out of the shadows of the giants of their genre to create a psychedelic blend of melodic, trance-inducing heaviness. Recorded almost exclusively in The Prairie State, The Crash & The Draw was captured by the band alongside Sanford Parker (Twilight, Voivod, Eyehategod, Yob etc.) at Earth Analog in Tolono, mixed by Parker and MINSK at Hypercube in Chicago and mastered by Collin Jordan (Eyehategod, Indian, Wovenhand, Voivod etc.) at The Boiler Room in Chicago with additional vocal tracking by Scott Evans (Kowloon Walled City, Old Man Gloom, Floor etc.) at Antisleep Audio in Oakland, California and further tracking, editing, and mixing by Kevin Rendleman at Trash Rocket Audio and Aaron Austin at We Know Who You Are, both in Peoria. The record includes the striking cover creation of Orion Landau (Yob, Inter Arma, Red Fang etc.).
An instant contender for one of the most forward-thinking metal records of the year, The Crash & The Draw is a thematic continuation of the group’s long standing fascination with alchemical and esoteric ideologies, with marked nods toward the thought and writings of perennial inspiration, Kahlil Gibran, and the espoused words of Hermes Trismegistus, the fabled author of the Corpus Hermeticum and other sacred texts. The album boasts eleven arresting movements that transcend the confines of post-metal, sludge and psychedelia. A crucial sonic passage through dark and light that’s at once crushing, hallucinatory and at times, spiritually illuminating, tracks ebb and flow with a pastoral elegance and tangible urgency. A fitting audio soundscapade for those souls devoted to the manifestations of Neurosis, Rwake, Yob, Isis and the like.
The Crash & The Draw Track Listing: 1. To The Initiate 2. Within And Without 3. Onward Procession I. These Longest Of Days 4. Onward Procession II. The Soil Calls 5. Onward Procession III. The Blue Hour 6. Onward Procession IV. Return, The Heir 7. Conjunction 8. The Way Is Through 9. To You There Is No End 10. To The Garish Remembrance Of Failure 11. When The Walls Fell
The Crash & The Draw will be released via Relapse Records in North America on April 7th, 2015, April 3rd, 2015 in Germany, Benelux and Finland and April 6th, 2015 in the UK and rest of the world and will come available on CD, double LP and digitally. Further info including track teasers and preorder links to be unveiled in the coming weeks.
Last week, when I posted about Royale Daemons, a new trio featuring Scott “Wino” Weinrich, Nick Oliveri and Joey Castillo – whose debut show in L.A. got canceled; an auspicious start — I failed to make the connection of how the seeds of the collaboration between Wino and Oliveri likely started. Wino, playing acoustic, toured with Oliveri‘s band Mondo Generator at the start of 2013. Saviours were also on the bill, and at least during several of the gigs, Wino, Oliveri and some of the members of Saviours got on stage together and jammed. Seems likely that’s where the idea of Wino and Oliveri teaming up got its beginning. The same thing happened with Wino & Conny Ochs, the two having first met while on tour together in Europe.
“Hellbound Train” is a song that kicked around Wino solo sets and sets on the Wino & Conny Ochs tour for the better part of 2012 and 2013. He may or may not still play it, I haven’t seen an acoustic gig from him in a while at this point. Originally by Savoy Brown and appearing on the 1972 album of the same name, it’s open to a smooth guitar jam the kind of which the Wino/Oliveri/Saviours troupe provided, no fewer than three acoustic guitars involved along with Oliveri‘s electric bass and the drums. When that tour was winding down, I posted a full set from Pittsburgh in which the same kind of thing took place, noting at the time that a collaboration between Wino and Oliveri would be “awesome.” Glad to know my feelings on that have not changed in the intervening two years.
This weeks’ Wino Wednesday footage, however, is just the jam itself. It comes from Reggie’s Rock Club in Chicago on Jan. 6, 2013, on the same tour and boasts another comfortable-sounding, engaging jam. The crowd seems to like it, if all the “woo”-ing is anything to go by.
Wino, Nick Oliveri & Saviours, “Hellbound Train” live in Chicago, Jan. 6, 2013
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 19th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’ll admit, I’m pretty surprised to read that drummer Jeff “Oly” Olson has left his post in The Skull, the band that reunited him with his former Trouble bandmates, vocalist Eric Wager and bassist Ron Holzner. Not just for the revived camaraderie, but also because The Skull are really good. You know what I mean? If The Skull had put out their debut album and it had sucked and they weren’t having any fun, well, then okay. But that’s not the case. The Skull released For Those which are Asleep (review here) last fall on Tee Pee and it was one of 2014’s best doom releases. Olson, Holzner, Wagner and guitarists Lothar Keller and Matt Goldsborough killed it, pulling off not only a classic Trouble vibe, but the start of something of their own as well.
Unfortunate that’s not enough to keep Olson on board. I’m sure the band will find a suitable replacement sound-wise, but Olson‘s also-used-to-be-in-Trouble cred is even harder to come by than doom drummers. Last I heard, he was based in Maine while the rest of the band is in Chicago, so that may have had something to do with it — if you’re looking for a reason — though, and this is just rampant speculation, with the success of the album, they may be looking to tour more throughout this year. Whatever happens, whatever I hear, I’ll let you know.
The brief announcement came through late in the day on Friday:
Original TROUBLE Drummer Jeff “Oly” Olson Departs THE SKULL
Original TROUBLE drummer Jeff “Oly” Olson has decided to leave THE SKULL, the band formed by Olson along side original TROUBLE vocalist Eric Wagner and longtime former TROUBLE bassist Ron Holzner. There is no animosity in the band and it was a friendly departure.
Olson tweeted today… “I loved jamming with @TroubleTheSkull, but it’s time to depart and wish the band all the best! Looking forward to my next chapter…”
Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: These are not the results of the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t added your list yet, please do.
This was a hard list to put together. The top three have been set in my mind for probably the last month, but trying to work my way backwards from there was a real challenge — what’s a top 10 record, a top 20 record, a top 30, honorable mentions and all the rest. I’ve never done a full top 30 before, always 20, but the truth is there was just too much this year to not expand.
I’m still juggling numbers even as I put together this post, and I’m sure that by the time I’m done several records will have switched places. That’s always how it seems to go. What I’m confident that I have is a list accurately representing critique and my own habits, both what I gravitated toward in listening throughout the year and what I feel is noteworthy on a critical level. This site has always been a blend of those two impulses. It’s only fair this list should be as well.
Before we dig in, you should note this is full-length albums only. I’ll have a list of short releases (EPs, singles, demos) to come, as well as a special list of debut releases, since it seemed to be a particularly good year for them. And since I’m only one person, I couldn’t hear everything, much as I tried.
The kings of London’s heavy scene offered more powerhouse heavy rock with their eighth album and second for Candlelight, and their rabid and ever-growing fanbase ate it up. Back from the Abyss proved yet again that few can attain the kind of vicious force that seems to come so natural to Orange Goblin, and made it clear their domination shows no signs of losing momentum.
A darker affair from Port Orchard, Washington’s Mos Generator, Electric Mountain Majesty still found its core in the songwriting led by guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed. They’re a band with some changes on the horizon, and I’ll be interested to hear what hindsight does to these songs. As it was, the hooks and downer vibes may have been in conceptual conflict, but the execution was inarguable.
Richer in the listening than 2012’s Misery Wizard debut, Pilgrim‘s II: Void Worship nonetheless held firm to the doomly spirit that’s made the Rhode Island outfit such a sensation these last couple years. Its longer songs, “Master’s Chamber,” “Void Worship” and the emotionally weighted “Away from Here,” were particularly immersive, and they remain a bright spot in doom’s future.
His long-awaited solo debut, John Garcia‘s John Garcia offered memorable tracks culled from years of songwriting from the former Kyuss, Slo Burn, Unida and Hermano frontman, performed in the classic desert rock style he helped define. I’m not sure it was worth trading a second Vista Chino record for, but it was hard to argue with “The Blvd” and “All These Walls.”
An overwhelming two-disc barrage from a relentless creativity that, more than 30 years on from its first public incarnation, is still to be considered avant garde. I’m not sure planet earth realizes how lucky it is to have Swans running around unleashing all this chaos, but I hope they don’t stop anytime soon. To be Kind was brutal and beautiful in like measure.
I initially made this list without Alunah‘s excellent third album and Napalm Records, but when it came down to it, not having the UK four-piece on here haunted me to the point where I had to come back in and swap them out with somebody else. Just couldn’t live with myself for not giving this record its due, which, to be frank, I’m still not since it should be higher on the list than it is. At least it’s here though, so the mistake is somewhat corrected.
The follow-up to Greenleaf‘s stellar 2012 outing Nest of Vipers (review here) brought lineup changes and stripped away many of the textural elements of the band’s sound — guest appearances, arrangement flourishes — in order to get back to a classic heavy rock sound and translate better to the stage. With guitarist Tommi Holappa‘s songwriting ever at the core, it would be unfair to call the process anything but a success.
Most of the headlines went to the fact that Primitive and Deadly had vocals, where the generally-instrumental Earth had avoided singers for 18 years prior, but even putting aside Mark Lanegan and Rabi Shabeen Qazi, whose performance on “From the Zodiacal Light” was the high point of the record, presented Earth‘s always progressive tensions in a rawer, heavier production, and was a joy for longtime fans.
Six years and one breakup later, Portland, Maine, doom trio Ogre returned with The Last Neanderthal, neither afraid to revel in Sabbathian traditionalism or rock out a more upbeat cut like opener “Nine Princes in Amber.” For bassist/vocalist Ed Cunningham, guitarist Ross Markonish and drummer Will Broadbent, it was a welcome resurgence of pretense-free heavy riffs and grooves.
Of course, at the time we didn’t know it would be the final outing from this lineup of UK doomers The Wounded Kings, whose guitarist/founder Steve Mills has now reunited with original vocalist George Birch, but Consolamentum was a hell of a closing statement anyway for this era of the band, showcasing their murky, increasingly progressive style still waiting for wider appreciation.
Wasn’t sure where to put Floor‘s reunion offering, Oblation, on this list at first, since I kind of fell off listening to it as the year went on, but I’ve gone back to it over the last couple weeks and it has held up to the revisit, whether it’s songs like the extended “Sign of Aeth” or shorter, catchy pummelers like “Rocinante” or “War Party.” Floor‘s 2002 self-titled holds an untouchable legacy in heavy rock, but I think the years will prove Oblation a worthy successor. Nobody knew what they had with Floor at the time either.
Little on 2011’s Motherfucker Rising (review here) or their 2010 demo (review here) prepared for the kind of assault that Druglord‘s Enter Venus brought to bear. Four stomp-laden slabs of tectonic crash and distortion, vocals buried under and calling up from the amp-bred fog. The Virginian trio were in and out on the 27-minute 12″ release, but had enough heavy for a record twice as long, and the tinges of darkened psychedelia made their songs like a lurking presence just on the edge of consciousness, a threat waiting to be unleashed.
For the sheer variety of Ararat‘s third album in rockers like “Nicotina y Destrucción,” “El Hijo de Ignacio,” the experimentalism of “El Arca” and the piano-driven “Los Viajes” and the acoustic closer “Atalayah,” and the assured, flowing manner in which the Argentina trio pulled it all off, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz should be higher on this list than it is. Part of that might be my frustration at my apparent inability to buy a copy, but don’t let that take away from the quality of the material here, which is wonderfully chaotic, memorable and engaging, rushing in some places and stopping to weep in others.
You won’t hear me deny that Radio Moscow‘s primary impact is as a live band, but their fifth album, Magical Dirt, managed to bring forth much of their psychedelic blues presence in “Death of a Queen,” “Before it Burns” and “Gypsy Fast Woman,” the blinding rhythmic turns and wah-soaked guitar supremacy of Parker Griggs front and center throughout. Together with bassist Anthony Meier (also Sacri Monti) and drummer Paul Marrone (also Astra and Psicomagia), Radio Moscow are hitting their stride as one of heavy rock’s most powerful power trios. One never knows what to expect, but hopefully they keep going the way they are.
Four years isn’t the longest time I’ve ever waited for a record to come out, but in the case of Indianapolis’ Apostle of Solitude, it felt like an especially long stretch. Their third full-length and first for Cruz del Sur, Of Woe and Wounds followed the anticipation-building Demo 2012 (review here) and a couple splits and brought aboard bassist Dan Dividson and guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak (also Devil to Pay), who fit well with drummer Corey Webb and guitarist/vocalist Chuck Brown to result in a payoff worthy and indicative of the time that went into its making. Hands down one of the finest acts in American doom.
Stubb‘s second long-player, also their debut on Ripple, gets a nod for the sense of progression it brought in answering the potential of the trio’s 2012 self-titled debut (review here), guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson, bassist Peter Holland and new drummer Tom Fyfe expanding the scope to include more heavy psych influence and soul along with the fuzz riffs and steady rolling while giving no ground in terms of the level of craft at work. Cry of the Ocean has become one of those albums where all I have to do is look at a title, be it “Cry of the Ocean Pt. I” or “Sail Forever” or “Heartbreaker,” and the song is immediately stuck in my head. With these tracks, that’s not at all a complaint.
14. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower
Brant Bjork has worn many hats, literal and figurative, over the years, whether it’s drummer in Kyuss or Fu Manchu, producer, solo artist or bandleader. With Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, he steps once again into the latter role, and with guitarist Bubba DuPree, bassist Dave Dinsmore and drummer Tony Tornay, presents not only on his heaviest record to date, but what could easily begin a sustainable full-band progression that can go just about anywhere his songwriting wants to take it. “Stokely up Now,” “That’s a Fact Jack,” “Controllers Denied” and “Boogie Woogie on Your Brain” made for some of 2014’s best in desert rock, and Black Power Flower was an stellar return for Bjork to his “solo” work.
An earlier version of this list had Pagan Fruit at a lower number, but I couldn’t live with it not being closer to the top 10. Salt Lake City’s Dwellers pushed deeper into laid back psych and blues on their second album, and in doing so, crafted an atmosphere entirely their own. From “Creature Comfort” down to “Call of the Hollowed Horn,” with triumphs along the way like “Rare Eagle,” “Totem Crawler” (“Ohh, my queen… To whom, I crawl…) and “Son of Raven,” Pagan Fruit became a staple of my 2014, building off their 2012 debut, Good Morning Harakiri (review here), but presenting their stylistic growth with a confidence and poise that can only come from a band who’ve figured out what they want to be doing and how they want to do it. Front to back, Pagan Fruit sounds like an arrival.
What made Brooklyn trio The Golden Grass‘ self-titled debut such a special released wasn’t just that it was heavy, or that the tracks were catchy, or that guitarist Michael Rafalowich and drummer Adam Kriney could harmonize over Joe Noval‘s warm-toned basslines. That was all great, don’t get me wrong, but what really stood out about The Golden Grass was its irony-free positivity, the way it was able to capture an upbeat, sunshiny feel without having to smirk about it on the other side of its mouth. It was self-aware, to be sure — knew what it was doing — but the way I see it, consciousness only makes the stylistic choices more impressive. Add to that the nuance they brought to ’70s revivalism, and all that stuff about catchiness and the harmonies, and there just wasn’t a level on which the album didn’t work.
My appreciation continues to grow for The Well‘s Samsara, which successfully pulled together influences from garage doom and heavy psychedelia while crafting an identity for the Austin, Texas, three-piece at once raw and melodically accomplished, guitarist Ian Graham and bassist Lisa Alley sharing vocals to classic effect on “Refuge” while otherwise trading off lead position to bolster variety in the material. The high point might’ve been the eight-minute “Eternal Well,” on which Graham, Alley and drummer Jason Sullivvan conjured some of their grooviest demons, but the hooks of “Mortal Bones,” “Trespass” and the attitude-laced “Dragon Snort” were no less engaging. One of many strong releases from their label this year — Slow Season, The Picturebooks, etc. — they seemed to come ready to serve notice of a stylistic movement underway.
10. Montibus Communitas, The Pilgrim to the Absolute
Peruvian psych adventurers Montibus Communitas more or less blew my mind when I heard their late-2013 offering, Harvest Times earlier this year, and the narrative, conceptual 2014 release, The Pilgrim to the Absolute, is even more of an achievement in its portrayal of improvised exploration, sonic ritualism and open creativity. The weaving of longer pieces against shorter ones with the various steps along the path as presented in the titles, some journeying, some arriving, some descriptive, almost all accompanied by nature in one form or another, gives The Pilgrim to the Absolute an almost impressionistic quality, so that even as you listen to it, you engage it as much as it carries you along its vibrant, breathtaking progression en route to the closing title-track, which is a destination every bit worthy of the journey. This is the most recently reviewed inclusion on this list, but Montibus Communitas‘ latest readily earns its place in the top 10. It is unique in its surroundings.
Looking back at the last two Fu Manchu records, 2007’s We Must Obey and 2009’s Signs of Infinite Power, it seemed reasonable to expect the groundbreaking SoCal fuzz foursome to put out another collection of big-sounding riffs in a big-sounding production. Nothing to complain about, but probably not a landmark. By going the other way completely — stripping their buzzed-out riffing down to its punkish core thanks in no small part to recording with Moab‘s Andrew Giacumakis — Fu Manchu served up a raw reminder both of where they came from and how top notch their songwriting remains. Reissuing their earliest work and being on their own label might’ve had something to do with it, but whatever it was, the 35 minutes of Gigantoid was as efficient a heavy rock outing as one could hope from an already legendary band, whether it was the hook-prone opening salvo of “Dimension Shifter,” “Invaders on My Back,” “Anxiety Reducer” and “Radio Source Sagittarius” or the righteous ending jam “The Last Question.”
Given the origins of The Skull — ex-Trouble members Eric Wagner, Jeff “Oly” Olson and Ron Holzner joining with Lothar Keller and a series of other guitarists, finally Matt Goldsborough, working essentially as a tribute band to their former outfit — I think not only did the quality of the material and performance on For Those Which are Asleep surprise, as well as the classically doomed feel that resonates throughout the album, but the sheer heartfelt nature of songs like “Sick of it All,” “Send Judas Down” and the title-track itself. This wasn’t a cynical attempt to make a go of an already set legacy. It was an expression of appreciation both for what they accomplished as Trouble and a desire to continue that work. The Skull‘s whole thing has been that they’re “more Trouble than Trouble,” and in their lineup that’s been true since they brought Olson on board. For Those Which are Asleep demonstrated that the classic spirit of that band is alive and well, its address has just changed. Moreover, it’s the beginning of a new progression for that spirit, and I hope it continues.
Nineteen years after releasing their self-titled debut, New York’s Blood Farmers contended for 2014’s comeback of the year with their sophomore outing, Headless Eyes — a morose, horror-obsessed six-track collection that on “Night of the Sorcerers” owed as much to Goblin as to Sabbath. The closing cover of David Hess‘ theme from The Last House on the Left, “The Road Leads to Nowhere,” was a late bit of melodic flourish to add depth, but how could the highlight be anything other than the 10-minute title-track itself, with its samples from the 1971 horror flick The Headless Eyes, bassist Eli Brown in a call and response with lyrics comprised of lines directly taken from the movie? That after playing shows the last several years, Blood Farmers managed to get a record out was impressive enough. That Headless Eyes turned out to be the year’s best traditional doom release was an entirely different level of surprise. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for their third, but Brown, guitarist David Szulkin and drummer Tad Leger gave plenty to chew on with Blood Farmers‘ second. It was better than would’ve been fair to expect.
A lot of what you need to know about Lo-Pan‘s fourth album you learn in the first five seconds of opener “Regulus.” There’s no fancy intro, no time wasted, nothing to take away from the directness of the song itself. Tones are crisp — the verse is already underway — and guitar, bass and drums are laser-focused in their forward movement. Even when vocalist Jeff Martin enters the song, roughly six seconds later, his arrival comes with no indulgence, no pomp. Colossus is easily Lo-Pan‘s most immediate work to date, and throughout, Martin, guitarist Brian Fristoe (since replaced by Adrian Zambrano), bassist Scott Thompson and drummer Jesse Bartz retain that focus no matter where the material takes them, delivering a clinic in how to kick as much ass as possible at any given moment on cuts like “Marathon Man” and “Eastern Seas,” or even bringing in guest vocalist Jason Alexander Byers, who also designed the album cover, for a spot on “Vox.” They had a hard task in following up 2011’s Salvador (review here), but the Columbus, Ohio, unit stood up to the challenge and met it and everyone else head-on.
What to do with All Them Witches‘ Lightning at the Door? The Nashville four-piece released the album last fall digitally, but it wasn’t until this September that it saw a physical manifestation. In fact, if you go back, it was included on the Top 20 of 2013 as well. Which is the release date? I don’t know. What I know is that in terms of the sheer amount of time spent listening, I put on Lightning at the Door more than any other record this year. From where I sit, that alone gets it a place in the top five. Yeah, it might be a cop-out to do a “5a,” but sometimes exceptions have to be made, and All Them Witches have proved to be nothing if not exceptional in their still relatively brief, jam-laden history, the psych-blues dynamic between bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, Fender Rhodes specialist Allan van Cleave and drummer Robby Staebler pushing them quickly to the fore of American heavy rock’s innovators, their natural, improv-sounding material feeling brazen and exploratory while reshaping the elements of genre to suit their needs. One can only see this dynamic developing further as they continue to grow as a live band, so Lightning at the Door may just be the start, and that’s perhaps most exciting of all.
A beautiful, stunning work made even more powerful by the honesty driving it. Portland, Oregon’s Witch Mountain completed a trilogy with the Billy Anderson-produced Mobile of Angelsthat brought about some of the best doom of this young decade, their 2011 return from a years-long hiatus, South of Salem (review here) serving as the foundation for a stylistic progression that continued on the following year’s Cauldron of the Wild (review here) and onto Mobile of Angels itself as the four-piece’s most accomplished album to date. The reason it feels like such a concluding chapter is because of the departure of vocalist Uta Plotkin, whose voice helped establish Witch Mountain both on stage and in the studio, leaving founders Rob Wrong (guitar) and Nathan Carson (drums) with the sizable task of finding a replacement. That situation will be what it will be, but Mobile of Angels remains a gorgeous, lonely testament. Plotkin gives a landmark performance on “Can’t Settle” and “The Shape Truth Takes,” which in the context of what was happening in Witch Mountain at the time ring with a truth that’s rare in or out of doom, and she seems to have left the band just as they were hitting their finest hour. So it goes.
In all of heavy, there is no assault so severe as Conan‘s. With their second full-length and debut on Napalm Records, the UK trio solidified the two sides of the preceding 2012 outing, Monnos (review here), in constructing material that, fast or slow, short or long, retained an epic feel melded with their ungodly tonality and memorable songwriting. Their first recording at guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis‘ Skyhammer Studio, it affirmed Conan‘s will to conquer in its two massive bookends, “Crown of Talons” and “Altar of Grief,” and in the High on Fire-worthy gallop of “Foehammer” — a bludgeon commandingly wielded by Davis, bassist/vocalist Phil Coumbe and drummer Paul O’Neil, the latter to of whom have since left the band to be replaced by longtime-producer Chris Fielding and Rich Lewis, respectively. What effect the changes might have on the band — except apparently more touring, which isn’t a bad thing — have yet to be seen, but Conan are already in the process of writing a follow-up to Blood Eagle, so it doesn’t seem like it’ll be all that long until we find out. With Davis still steering the band in songwriting and overall direction, one severely doubts they’ll be fixing what obviously isn’t broken anytime soon. None heavier.
Dallas riff-rockers Wo Fat have grown steadily over the course of their five albums, from the nascent heavy roll of 2006’s The Gathering Dark, to the hooks of 2008’s Psychedelonaut (review here), the jamming that started to surface on 2011’s Noche del Chupacabra (review here) and was pushed further on 2012’s The Black Code (review here). And their approach has been as steady as the frequency of their releases. In making The Conjuring, the three-piece were simply engaging the next step in their progression, but the material on the five-track/48-minute outing goes further than just that. Putting aside (momentarily) the 17-minute closer “Dreamwalker,” the other cuts, “The Conjuring,” “Read the Omens,” “Pale Rider from the Ice” and “Beggar’s Bargain” each found a place for themselves in pulling together jammed-sounding elements with a memorable construction, and when guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer Michael Walter did kick into “Dreamwalker,” they hit on not only their longest piece yet, but their most accomplished showcase of the chemistry that has developed between them. That song is a beast unto itself, but as has been the case with Wo Fat each time out so far in their career, there’s nothing on The Conjuring to give the impression the band can’t or won’t continue to keep going on the path that’s worked so well for them on this point. They’ve spent the last eight years on the right track and have yet to waiver. The Conjuring should be played at top volume for anyone who contends there’s no life left in heavy rock and roll.
Mars Red Sky‘s second LP and first for Listenable, Stranded in Arcadia was originally supposed to be recorded in the California desert, but visa problems kept the French trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matgaz in Brazil, where they’d previously been touring. Thus, “stranded in Arcadia,” which is basically another way of saying “lost in paradise.” Can’t say the Bordeaux three-piece didn’t make the most of it, though. Songs like “The Light Beyond” and “Hovering Satellites” — not to mention the utter melodic bliss of “Join the Race” — took cues from their 2011 self-titled debut (review here) in terms of memorable songwriting and melodic craft, but added to that heft and tonal richness more of a psychedelic vibe, so that not only was there fuzz and wah, but a spacious world in which the songs took place. With Kinast on lead vocals, the sneaky boogie of “Holy Mondays” became a highlight, and the one-two swing ‘n’ stomp of “Circles” and “Seen a Ghost” were a perfect demonstration by the band of the various sides of their sound, particularly following after the dreamy instrumental “Arcadia,” an echoing jam distinguished by Pras‘ wistful guitar lead and coming before the closing “Beyond the Light,” which reprises the opener’s resonant unfolding. It probably wasn’t the record they intended to make, but Stranded in Arcadia became one of my go-to albums for 2014, and like the best of any given year’s output, I’ve no doubt it will transcend the passage of time and continue to deliver for years to come. Hell, I was barely done with the debut when this one came out.
Can’t imagine this is any great surprise. Not only did Clearing the Path to Ascend – YOB‘s seventh album and first for Neurot — produce my pick for song of the year in its sprawling, emotionally weighted 18-minute closer, “Marrow,” but in the three full-lengths the Eugene, Oregon, trio of drummer Travis Foster, bassist Aaron Rieseberg and guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt have released since the latter reformed the band after breaking it up following 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived, all three have been my album of the year. The Great Cessation was in 2009, and Atma was in 2011. Consistency aside, I’ll point out specifically that each of the same three records has earned that position, perhaps Clearing the Path to Ascend most of all for its progressive feel, moving past genre even at its most raging moment, second cut “Nothing to Win,” the chorus of which proved that among everything else YOB could be, they could be anthemic. The cosmic, spiritual questing that has always been present in their songs, that feeling of searching, showed up in opener “In Our Blood,” but even there, it was evident YOB were pushing themselves beyond what they’ve done before, rewriting their own formulas incorporating lessons from their past in among their other points of inspiration. “Unmask the Spectre” could have easily been an album closer itself, with its patient exploration and feverishly intense payoff, but with the melodic progressivism of “Marrow” and the soul poured into every second of that track, every verse and chorus, solo and build — including the Hammond added to the last of them by producer Billy Barnett — YOB created a landmark both for themselves and the increasing many working under their influence. I’ve said on several occasions (bordering on “many” at this point) that YOB are a once-in-a-generation band, and it feels truer in thinking of Clearing the Path to Ascend than it ever has. Without a doubt, album of the year and then some.
First, special note to Colour Haze‘s To the Highest Gods We Know. I’ve decided to count it as a 2015 release since the vinyl will be out in Spring, but otherwise surely it would earn a place on this list. Blackwolfgoat‘s Drone Maintenance also deserves note.
A few other honorable mentions:
Mothership, Mothership II — It’s hard to argue with a classic heavy rock power trio kicking ass. I won’t try.
Sólstafir, Ótta — They were originally on the list proper but had to be moved to make room for Alunah. I didn’t really get to know this record in 2014 anyway.
Ice Dragon, Seeds from a Dying Garden — Boston experimental psych/garage doomers continue to defy expectation. May their weirdness last forever and continue to produce material so satisfying.
Truckfighters, Universe – I thought at some point I’d go back to Universe again, but never really did. A problem with me more than the album.
Steak, Slab City — An impressive debut following two strong EPs.
Godflesh, A World Lit Only by Fire — I never got a review copy, so I never reviewed it. Its name is here because I’m a fan of the band and glad they’re back.
Thou, Heathen — Just recently purchased this and am only getting to know it, but a ridiculously strong album.
Corrosion of Conformity, IX — Everybody who gets a boner whenever Pepper Keenan is mentioned in connection with this band has missed out. This record and the self-titled kick ass.
Spidergawd, Spidergawd — Holy shit they’re over here! No they’re over there! No wait over here again! Oh my god I’ve just gone blind!
Monster Magnet, Milking the Stars — I wasn’t sure what to do with this since technically it’s not a new album, mostly reworked songs from the last one. I still listened to it a ton though, whatever it is.
Slomatics, Estron — Another one I’m just getting to know, but am very much digging.
Electric Wizard, Time to Die — People seem to do this thing where Electric Wizard puts out a record, everyone slathers over it for a few months and then spends the next two years talking about how it sucked. I guess I’ll be on the ground floor with not having been that into Time to Die.
Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden — Had to put their name somewhere on this list or someone would burn my house down. Album of the year for many.
The list goes on: Monolord, Comet Control, Mammatus, Triptykon, Eyehategod, Fever Dog, Moab, Karma to Burn, Atavismo, Grifter, 1000mods, Megaton Leviathan, Wovenhand, Mr. Peter Hayden, Primordial, and many more.
Before I check out and go sit in a corner somewhere to try and rebuild brain power after this massive dump of a purge, I want to sincerely thank you for reading. If you check in regularly, or if you’ve never been to the site before, if you don’t give a crap about lists or if you’re gonna go listen to even one band on here, it’s fantastic to me. Thank you so much for all the support this site receives, for your comments, for sharing links, retweeting, whatever it is. I am a real person — I’m sitting on my couch at this very moment — and being able to do this and have people see it and be a part of it with me is unbelievable. I realize how fortunate I am. So thank you. Thank you.
More to come as we close out 2014. I’ll have a list of short/split/demo releases, a year-end podcast, a list of the best debuts, a round up of the best live shows I saw, as much more as time allows. Please stay tuned.
And again, thank you. If I left anyone off the list, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments and contribute your own top albums, however many there are, to the Readers Poll.
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!
Tomorrow here in the US it is Thanksgiving, which has some questionable origins but in practice is actually one of our less-abominable holidays, with a focus on togetherness, good food, and enjoying the company of loved ones. Today, the day before, is traditionally the busiest travel day of the year while people get to wherever they’re going. Even if you don’t manage to find it until after the holiday is over, it seemed only fitting to make a new podcast so that anyone who might want to take it along for the ride would be able to do so.
My head has started to get into year-end wrap-up mode, so don’t be surprised if one or two or three of these bands show up in subsequent “Best Of” coverage. Maybe even four, looking at the list. It’s been a crazy good year, and as it starts to wind its way down and we make our way into the next one, I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to these podcasts and hopefully discovered something you wouldn’t have heard otherwise. That’s really the whole idea.
If you’re traveling by road, rail, or air, I wish you a pleasant journey, and even if you’re staying put, the same applies.
Stubb, “Heavy Blue Sky” from Cry of the Ocean
Murcielago, “Way too Far” from Murcielago
Dune, “Of Blade and Carapace” from Aurora Majesty
The Skull, “Send Judas Down” from For Those Which are Asleep
Elephant Tree, “Attack of the Altaica” from Theia
Renate/Cordate, “Laudanum” from Growth
Mothership, “Serpents Throne” from Mothership II
Space Guerrilla, “Event Horizon” from Boundless
Monster Magnet, “End of Time (B-3)” from Milking the Stars
Memnon Sa, “Megalith” from Citadel
Soldat Hans, “Meine Liebste; Sie Zerbricht Sich” from Dress Rehearsal
Atavismo, “Meeh” from Desintegración
Øresund Space Collective, “Remnants of the Barbonaeum” from Music for Pogonologists
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 25th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Fresh off the Tee Pee Records release of their debut, For Those Which are Asleep (review here), Chicago’s The Skull will hit the road mostly in the Midwest starting Dec. 11. They’ll make it as far east as Baltimore — which if you’re looking at a map is pretty far east, at least as the US goes — before swinging back around to Ohio and Indianapolis and so on as they head toward a hometown gig Dec. 19 at Reggies in Chicago and a stop at The Metal Grill in Cudahy, Wisconsin, a venue they’ve played before as part of Days of the Doomed fest.
Though I won’t get to catch them this time out, I’ll keep my fingers crossed this is just the first leg of more to come as The Skull set about giving their record its due. Having just put out one of 2014’s finest doom albums, they’ll hopefully be riding pretty high when they open up this run in Pittsburgh.
The PR wire brings the announcement:
THE SKULL: December U.S. Tour Dates Announced
THE SKULL — the heavy doom-rock band featuring original TROUBLE members, vocalist Eric Wagner and drummer Jeff “Oly” Olson, alongside longtime former TROUBLE bassist Ron Holzner with SACRED DAWN guitarist Lothar Keller and former PENTAGRAM guitarist Matt Goldsborough – have recently announced a December U.S. tour to promote their debut record, “For Those Which Are Asleep” released worldwide this month (November 4) via Tee Pee Records. Confirmed tour dates are listed below.
December 11 – 31st Street Pub – Pittsburg, PA December 12 – Metro Gallery – Baltimore, MD December 13 – The Foundry Concert Club – Lakewood, OH December 14 – Rock Star Pro Arena – Dayton, OH December 15 – The 5th Quarter Lounge – Indianapolis, IN December 17 – Fubar – St. Louis, MS December 18 – Brauerhouse Lombard – Lombard, IL December 19 – Reggies – Chicago, IL December 20 – the Metal Grill – Cudahy, WI
Posted in Reviews on November 5th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
What began as former members of Trouble getting together to play Trouble songs on stage every now and again, mostly at fests like Days of the Doomed and Stoner Hands of Doom, takes on new life with the release of a debut album. The Skull, named for Trouble’s 1985 sophomore outing and invariably linked to that band’s legacy in both sound and personnel — vocalist Eric Wagner, bassist Ron Holzner and drummer Jeff “Oly” Olson are former members — set a difficult task in distinguishing themselves from three-fifths of the lineup’s former act with For Those Which are Asleep, on Tee Pee Records, but ultimately, the album seems to be less about “not being Trouble“and more about giving an honest take on a classic sound. By that I mean The Skull, lineup completed by guitarists Lothar Keller (Sacred Dawn) and Matt Goldsborough (ex-Pentagram), are neither trying to sound like Trouble nor not sound like Trouble. They’re working in a traditional doom style that Trouble helped to establish on the 10-track/50-minute offering, but songs like “The Touch of Reality,” “Send Judas Down” and “Till the Sun Turns Black” don’t feel like they’re beating a dead stylistic horse. If anything, The Skull sounds vibrant — or as vibrant as doom will allow, anyway — across the new, original songs, and with the key element of Wagner‘s voice working in their favor, they push a lot of what worked best about the moody stretches on the last Wagner-fronted Trouble album, 2007’s Simple Mind Condition, to heavier and more foreboding places, fueled by burly riffing and metallic groove equally comfortable in faster or slower paces.
For those who’ve mourned the loss of Trouble as they were — of course, they’ve continued on and released their The Distortion Field full-length (review here) last year — The Skull are about as close as it seems likely to get. Opener “Trapped inside My Mind” sets expectations high with stellar guitar interplay from Keller and Goldsborough, a speedy chug and Wagner pushing his voice into his trademark higher register delivery. At this point, he’s clearly more comfortable with the mid-range sorrowfulness of “Sick of it All” or the downer-suited drawl of “Send Judas Down,” one of For Those Which are Asleep‘s most effective hooks, but his voice continues to have the power and resonance in the higher-pitch parts to carry them ably. “The Touch of Reality” (streamed here) follows the opener with a lurching nod and representative lead work and gives way in turn to the depressive “Sick of it All,” the airy verse of which seems like the first moment of the album that steps back for a more dynamic breath. Wagner excels at conveying this kind of downtrodden emotionality — to put “defeat” as a specialty seems cruel, but the fact is he’s good at it — and “Sick of it All” is a particularly crushing lyric, the organ-laced “The Door” picking up with layers of piano, acoustic and electric guitar to preview some of what the title-track will hold on side B, Olson‘s kick a steady foundation beneath. More morose than dramatic, there’s still a sense of richness to the arrangement that serves the song well, and the more raucous, riffier “Send Judas Down” follows suit to snap the listener back to reality and close out the album’s first half in rocking fashion, the starts and stops of the verse thrusting into a crash-filled chorus of Sabbathian doom that moves into an airy midsection jam before eventually returning to a stripped-down verse redux and solo-topped chorus finale.
“A New Generation” and “Till the Sun Turns Black,” which open the second half of For Those Which are Asleep, are the two shortest cuts on the album, each at 4:11 (“Trapped inside My Mind” and “The Touch of Reality” were pretty close), and Wagner once again touches on the higher register for the first of them as he makes his way smoothly into the chorus of the straightforward chugger. Some off-mic shouting and a count-in start “Till the Sun Turns Black,” giving an in-studio feel that’s somewhat jarring for how full the production is but that works with the track’s livelier, more upbeat vibe. Both it and “A New Generation” before are catchy, no frills cuts that emphasize the timeless approach The Skull have taken on their debut, but things open up further stylistically with “For Those Which are Asleep,” the longest song at 7:14, which like “The Door” before it blends acoustics and electrics and a grander sense of arrangement to match its emergent consuming, plus-sized riff. Verses marked out by Olson‘s fervent hi-hat transition sharply into said riff, Keller, Goldsborough and Holzner obviously pushing for maximum impact as Wagner remains relatively calm over top. A midsection solo bridges back to the verse and a final chorus that move into a stopping finish that sounds closer-worthy and could’ve easily been the end of the album. It’s not. After the long fadeout of its title-track, For Those Which are Asleep rounds out with “Sometime Yesterday Mourning” and the Trouble cover, “The Last Judgment,” which were released earlier this year as The Skull‘s debut studio recordings on a CD single through Tee Pee (streamed here). I’m pretty sure the versions included here are the same Billy Anderson-recorded ones that appeared before, so it’s kind of curious that they’d be tacked on and not even referred to as bonus tracks or something like that, but there you go. “Sometime Yesterday Mourning” is no less welcome now than it was in Spring, and the Trouble song is likewise an excellent take on the track which originally appeared in 1983 on the Metal Massacre IV compilation.
That the Trouble song and first single also found their way onto the full-length makes for a startling end, but I won’t discount their value or that of the material before them. The Skull‘s debut benefits greatly from the pedigree and experience of the band’s members, and there’s no getting around the band’s link to Trouble – nor do I think they’re asking their audience to; they do close with that cover after all — but For Those Which are Asleep also marks the beginning of a branching out from that foundation, and hopefully it’s just the start of a progression that continues to take on a life of its own as it moves forward. For now, within classic doom, I can’t think of anything I could ask from these players that it doesn’t deliver.