Posted in Whathaveyou on January 18th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
As of right now, there isn’t much more to go on when it comes to Dunsmuir than a logo and a lineup, but it’s a considerable lineup to start with. Frontman Neil Fallon of Clutch brings a loyal following with him wherever he goes, and in Dunsmuir he’s joined by The Company Band guitarist Dave Bone, Fu Manchu bassist Brad Davis and Heaven and Hell/Black Sabbath drummer Vinny Appice. The band takes its name from the sleepy fishing getaway town in Northern California that, in 1991, was the site of the largest chemical spill ever to happen in the state — a train fell off a cliff into a river carrying toxic, ecosystem-destroying this-and-that — and while there’s no word yet as regards what they’ll actually sound like, for the rhythm section pairing of Davis and Appice alone, the safest bet seems to be that it’ll rock.
For those reading between the lines of the above, the roots of Dunsmuir would seem to be in The Company Band. Dave Bone played guitar in that band and was principal songwriter, but Fallon and Davis were also members along with CKY‘s Jess Margera and Jim Rota of Fireball Ministry. That group’s last outing was the 2012 Pros and Cons EP (review here), which followed behind their 2009 self-titled debut full-length (review here) and 2008’s debut EP, Sign Here, Here and Here. If Dunsmuir is a continuation on some level of what The Company Band were doing, perhaps without the underlying corporate thematic that the last EP seemed to push away from anyhow, then I doubt they’d meet with many complaints, but it’s really all speculation at this point until some audio begins to surface.
As to that, there’s nothing yet at least that I’ve been able to find. When and if something comes along, I’ll let you know, but here’s that logo and lineup in the meantime, as posted by Davis, along with website/social links in case you’d also like to keep an eye:
Brad Davis (Fu Manchu) Vinny Appice (Dio / Black Sabbath / Heaven & Hell) Dave Bone (The Company Band) Neil Fallon (Clutch)
Posted in Features on January 1st, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Happy New Year, and thank you. Thank you to everybody who took time out of what I’m sure was a crazy December to cast a vote in the sixth-annual year-end poll. It’s hugely appreciated, and I’m thrilled to note that with a final tally of 388, we not only beat last year’s number of contributors (355), but did so by a wider margin than last year beat 2013. That means a lot to me, so again, thank you for taking part.
I’ve spent the last month watching the results come in as votes are cast, checking the back end of the poll at least once a day, and more than any time I’ve ever done this, 2015 had a clear runaway. I’ll talk about it a bit in the lists, but let me first say that, as has happened every single time a poll’s results go up, the numbers change a bit over the next day or two as things are checked and rechecked. There won’t be any major shifts, but keep an eye on it anyhow.
Below, you’ll find two lists. The first is the weighted tally, working off a point system put together by Slevin that I barely comprehend in which a 1-4 ranking is worth five points, 5-8 worth four, 9-12 worth three, 13-16 worth two and 17-20 worth one. The second, and more suited to my caveman brain, is the raw votes. There are always some subtle differences between the two.
In addition to those, after the jump there are all the lists submitted over the course of the month. They’re alphabetical order.
Enough disclaimers. Here goes:
Top 20 of 2015 — Weighted Results
1. Elder, Lore (858 points)
2. Clutch, Psychic Warfare (527)
3. High on Fire, Luminiferous (433)
4. Kadavar, Berlin (404)
5. All Them Witches, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker (368)
5. Graveyard, Innocence and Decadence (368)
6. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, The Night Creeper (355)
7. Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere (320)
7. Goatsnake, Black Age Blues (320)
8. Windhand, Grief’s Infernal Flower (307)
9. Monolord, Vænir (284)
10. Torche, Restarter (232)
11. Ghost, Meliora (211)
12. The Atomic Bitchwax, Gravitron (208)
13. With the Dead, With the Dead (189)
14. Baroness, Purple (182)
15. Snail, Feral (179)
16. Ufomammut, Ecate (167)
17. The Sword, High Country (155)
18. Golden Void, Berkana (152)
19. Dopethrone, Hochelaga (133)
20. Kylesa, Exhausting Fire (132)
Honorable mention to:
Fuzz, II (131)
Royal Thunder, Crooked Doors (130)
Weedpecker, II (123)
Monster Magnet, Cobras and Fire (116)
Freedom Hawk, Into Your Mind (113)
Basically what I see in the above is a lot of agreement. People liked Elder and they liked Clutch. Both were picked often and both placed highly on the lists in which they were included, but it’s worth looking at the drop between the two — 858 to 527 is significant. As with every year it’s been done this way so far, the two lists are pretty consistent, the weighted tally and the raw votes, but the order is different, and this list gauges not only how widespread a given record reached, but how deeply it resonated with those who heard it. A couple well-placed ties add two extra picks to the top 10, and from there things hold pretty steady through number 20, though again, the placement at the bottom of the list is jumbled some compared to the raw votes as well. Speaking of…
Top 20 of 2015 — Raw Votes
1. Elder, Lore (207)
2. Clutch, Psychic Warfare (138)
3. High on Fire, Luminiferous (128)
4. Kadavar, Berlin (114)
5. Graveyard, Innocence and Decadence (112)
6. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, The Night Creeper (107)
7. Windhand, Grief’s Infernal Flower (103)
8. Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere (99)
9. All Them Witches, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker (94)
9. Goatsnake, Black Age Blues (94)
10. Monolord, Vænir (82)
11. Torche, Restarter (71)
12. With the Dead, With the Dead (64)
13. The Atomic Bitchwax, Gravitron (62)
14. Ghost, Meliora (61)
15. Ufomammut, Ecate (57)
16. The Sword, High Country (52)
17. Baroness, Purple (50)
17. Golden Void, Berkana (50)
18. Snail, Feral (46)
19. Dopethrone, Hochelaga (43)
20. Fuzz, II (42)
20. Kylesa, Exhausting Fire (42)
20. Royal Thunder, Crooked Doors (42)
Honorable mention to:
Monster Magnet, Cobras and Fire (41)
Mondo Drag, Mondo Drag (38)
Weedpecker, II (38)
Weedeater, Goliathan (37)
The Machine, Offblast! (35)
Goya, Obelisk (34)
Bell Witch, Four Phantoms (33)
Freedom Hawk, Into Your Mind (33)
Spelljammer, Ancient of Days (33)
Ruby the Hatchet, Valley of the Snake (32)
Sacri Monti, Sacri Monti (32)
Death Alley, Black Magick Boogieland (31)
My Sleeping Karma, Moksha (31)
Everything else was under 30 votes. As I alluded above, Elder’s Lore ran away with this one. Within 24 hours of the poll going live, it was ahead by a decent margin, and that margin only increased as the month went on. Granted there were more people than ever taking part in this year’s poll, but it’s also the first release ever to pass 200 votes in this tally, beating out even the formidable likes of YOB’s Clearing the Path to Ascend, which topped last year’s list at 138. That’s an accomplishment in itself, but either way, there was no question what was the Album of 2015, and of course, that’s an assessment with which I agreed as well.
One more time, thank you to everybody who participated, and thanks as always to Slevin for his diligent behind-the-scenes efforts, without which this poll and this site simply would not exist. The man is a hero and should be venerated as such.
Happy 2016 to everybody. I hope it’s a fantastic year for you personally and that your days are filled with good music.
Please find all the lists after the jump, and enjoy. If you find any glaring mathematical errors on the above or there’s something you feel needs to be checked or is missing, let me know in the comments.
Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: This list is not culled in any way from the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2015 to that, please do.
It’s damn near impossible to start one of these posts without some derivation of, “Whew! What a year it’s been!” The truth is that, since 2014, I’ve been keeping a list of the best releases of 2015, and the list has just grown and grown and grown over the last 12 months. Could have been a top 40, easy. Could have been a top 50, 60, whatever. It was complete inundation.
If you’ve been checking in on any of the lists that have gone up so far, you might notice that some of these records have appeared elsewhere, and possibly in a different order. How does an album end up ahead of another on one list and not on another? Different criteria. Different basis of judgment. As always, the big year-end list (this one) is derived both from what I think are the most important offerings of the year plus what I listened to the most, because while I believe deeply in the critical value of a given work, I also believe there’s value in the kind of record you just can’t put down.
Basically, I believe records have value. Stay tuned for more daring adventures in understatement.
A few emergent factors for 2015 to note: The increasing expansion of subgenres. Psychedelia and what I’ve come to call the heavy ’10s sound finding further root as prominent styles of the day, as well as a budding of emotive doom in the post-Pallbearer vein. At the same time, a more straightforward heavy rock is also making a return, and look for that to continue as new listeners discover past landmarks and modern plays thereupon. Everything is cyclical, and I’m interested to see what the next two or three years bring, both as Millennials hit 30 (and beyond) and as younger kids come up and fuzz out.
But that’s a conversation for a different time, and before we get there, it’s time to take a look back at the best full-lengths of 2015. I hope if I’ve left something out, you’ll let me know about it in the comments, but until then, here we go:
Going by some of the results I’ve seen from the Readers Poll, I’m guessing there will be some disagreement on the placement of High on Fire‘s seventh full-length, third for eOne and second to be produced by Kurt Ballou behind 2012’s De Vermiis Mysteriis (review here), but for me it came down to what I went back to more. The brilliant “The Falconist” would be enough on its own for Luminiferous to be included on this list, and taken as a whole, the record affirmed the trio as pivotal heavy metal marauders, an act whose devastation is undulled by the wear they’ve put on it touring the world over and again.
Undaunted by a name change from Church to CHRCH, the Sacramento five-piece unleashed rare doom extremity on their debut album, but peppered that with a stylistic nuance that many in the pummel-pummel-pummel game cast off, whether it was psychedelic flourish in the guitar or some eerie atmospheric. Among the post potential-filled debut offerings of the year, that’s not a guarantee they’ll find future success on the same level, but it does mean that if you didn’t hear the 19-minute “Dawning,” you missed out.
Coherent bliss. The second full-length from the four-piece Golden Void was a logical step forward from the band’s 2012 self-titled debut (review here), but that was precisely what it needed to be. With an emerging dynamic of dual vocals between guitarist Isaiah Mitchell (also Earthless) and keyboardist Camilla Saufley-Mitchell on cuts like “Astral Plane” and “Silent Season,” Berkana was less adherent to space rock overall than its predecessor, but gave a more individualized take and was all the richer for it.
Probably should have a higher number. Part of the enduring appeal for The Harvest for me is not only how Ukrainian three-piece Stoned Jesus so absolutely pushed back from the album before it, 2012’s sophomore outing, Seven Thunders Roar (review here), but how much reasoning they put behind the moves they made on the six included tracks. Each song had its purpose and place in the overarching flow, and The Harvest continues to deliver something new on thoroughly-earned repeat listens. Perhaps most encouraging of all, I have no idea what they’ll do next.
Swedish retro forerunners are hands-down one of the most influential European heavy rock acts of their generation. The ’70s revivalism they helped spearhead on their first, second and third LPs has given them rich ground to develop, and they still managed to bring something new to their sound with the soulfulness of Innocence and Decadence, as well as increasing command and diversity in the vocals. Drummer Axel Sjöberg turned in a career performance, and although there are heaps upon heaps of bands out there indulging in post-Graveyard boogie, they showed once again that they’re able to stand both out from the crowd and well above it. Plus, any swing-rocking album that dares to break out soul-singer backing vocals and blastbeats, and pull both off without blinking deserves respect, no matter what else it might have going on.
It felt so good to put on Death Hawks‘ Sun Future Moon for the first time and be completely blindsided by its serene psychedelic ritualizing. The Finnish four-piece reveled in classic progressive methods, and where it would’ve been so easy for songs like “Hey Ya Sun Ra” or “Dream Life, Waking Life” to come across as pretentious, the naturalism in the recording gave the band’s third album such a liquefied flow that it was impossible not to be swept up by it until, at last, “Friend of Joy” launched into and beyond a peaceful stratosphere in spaced-out ambience. My first exposure to the group and their first outing for Svart, it’s a record so textural and so graceful that it seems to unfurl itself more each time through.
A quick and strong turnaround from this Norwegian sax-inclusive foursome, who might seem to come out of nowhere were it not for the pedigree of Kenneth Kapstad and Bent Sæther in long-running progressives Motorpsycho. Together with Per Borten and Rolf Martin Snustad, Spidergawd spoke to more primal rock instincts — their two LPs to-date and soon to be three are testaments to the ability of music to move, to shove, and to shake; or as they put it, “Get Physical” — but as there is breadth as well, as the psychedelic “Caereulean Caribou” demonstrated. Anchored by the hook of “Fixing to Die Blues,” Spidergawd‘s second wandered far and wide, but welcomed listeners along for each step of the journey.
As the title promised, The Midnight Ghost Train‘s third offering and Napalm Records debut delivered harsh truths. They came at breakneck speed and delivered with stage-hewn chemistry by the Midwestern power trio, whose years of road-dogging were brought to bear in the gruff, gravel-throated voice of guitarist Steve Moss, who led drummer Brandon Burghart and newcomer bassist Mike Boyne across nigh-unparalled riff torrents, with all the boogie of any number of ’70s-style sidewinders, but also with a tonal thickness that seemed a miracle it could move at all. Not without its adventurous side in the quieter “The Little Sparrow,” Cold was the Ground brimmed with intensity that brought the band to new levels in every conceivable fashion.
Blessed art the weirdos, whose records might be few and far between, who might not tour, but whose bold fits and starts span genres easily and whose work truly stands alone. Leeches of Lore‘s Toshi Kasai-produced Motel of Infinity was a godsend in the enduring battle against normality. It was a grinding, grooving anti-punk stampede, at times frenetic and at other times whatever the opposite of frenetic is, and to-date, it’s the Albuquirky outit’s masterpiece, from the low-end buzzsaw, gang-shout and falsetto of “Don’t Open Till Doomsday” through the bass and organ bounce of “Noah’s Soul (is Burning).” They have been and still are a band unto themselves, and the we-do-this-every-day confidence of their execution across Motel of Infinity‘s run only emphasizes how utterly necessary they are.
With the Dead vocalist Lee Dorrian (also head of Rise Above Records, also ex-Cathedral) basically laid it all out there in the interview here when he said, “We wanted to make the most skull-crushing record we possibly could.” That’s precisely what With the Dead‘s self-titled debut is. It’s as heavy as possible, as filthy as possible, all the way through. In some ways very much the sum of its elements with Dorrian on vocals, Tim Bagshaw on guitar/bass and Mark Greening on drums (both ex-Ramesses), it was also of course more than just that, and while so much of their story has yet to be told as they move into their initial live appearances in 2016, their opening salvo was nothing if not as destructive as its intent.
How could anyone possibly have even remotely reasonable expectations for a Clutch record after 2013’s Earth Rocker (review here). I won’t say the Maryland stalwarts didn’t deliver with Psychic Warfare, and I doubt any fan of the band who’s dug into “X-Ray Visions,” “A Quick Death in Texas” or “Noble Savage” would, but their returning to producer Machine for the second time in a row made it almost too easy to compare Clutch‘s 10th and 11th long-players. Four years between albums was shortened to just two, and that may have had something to do with it as well, but while the songs were there and I’ve no doubt that Psychic Warfare will endure over the long term — ask me sometime how long it took me to get into Pure Rock Fury — in the moment of its release, Psychic Warfare seemed to stand in the shadow of its predecessor rather than in its own light.
An awaited return for Midwestern-turned-West-Coast psychedelic rockers Mondo Drag, their self-titled sophomore outing had three years between its recording and release, and was made in 2012 with a shortlived incarnation of the band with bassist Zack Anderson and drummer Cory Berry, both formerly of Radio Moscow and then-soon to be of Blues Pills. Unsurprisingly, the grooves were tight, but even better, Mondo Drag blew past the peaceful headtrippery of their 2010 debut, New Rituals (review here), toward more expansive and proggy fare. They’ll look to continue that thread on their third outing, The Occultation of Light, in 2016, but the self-titled captured a special moment worthy of celebration, still rife with the classic-minded ethereal spirit of the first outing, but clearly bent on defining its own sonic dogma in hooks and synthy vibes.
18. Lamp of the Universe, The Inner Light of Revelation
At the risk of sounding biased, just about any new release from New Zealand tantric psych outfit Lamp of the Universe is going to be welcome by me. Comprised solely of Craig Williamson (also Arc of Ascent), the long-running project nonetheless casts out gorgeously textured meditative psychedelia, at times delving into drone or Eastern folk, but always marking out its own sonic space, whether in the more rock-minded groove of “God of One” or the drumless acoustic swirl of “Ancient Path.” Lamp of the Universe is a rare band — as much as it is a band — that covers a swath of ground stylistically and manages to sound like nothing but itself as it does so, and Williamson‘s commitment to his cosmic mantras remains firm and creatively fertile as the seeds he planted early on continue to bear fruit in complex arrangements that never distract from the central, spiritual purpose of the music.
Even with its title-track broken into two 20-plus-minute side-consuming halves, it was abundantly plain to hear that Sparkling Waters was the most realized Mammatus outing yet. The four-song, 75-minute offering brimmed with a clarity that even their late-2013 third album, Heady Mental (review here), could only partially claim, leaving behind the fuzz and fog of their earlier work almost entirely while remaining open to employing sonic heft when suitable to their more complex motives. Most effective about Mammatus at this stage was the way they eased into and through varied parts while tying together a coherent whole piece, the builds and cascades of “Sparkling Waters Part One” setting up an expectation of fluidity that held firm even through the more jagged buzz in the early going of closer “Ornia,” the grand finale of which resonates as a cacophony without letting itself actually lose control.
16. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, The Night Creeper
UK ladykillers Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats have emerged as one of the most essential bands of the ’10s. The Night Creeper is their fourth album and it takes the defining eeriness of their melodies and roughs it up with a mostly-live recording job — something which, now that they’re a touring act, they can do — for their grittiest, dirtiest-sounding offering yet. Songs like “Melody Lane,” “Pusher Man” and opener “Waiting for Blood” speak to what’s let their methodology spread so widely in the first place, the VHS grain of their guitars and vocals resting over classic swing and proliferating maddening hooks with lethal intent. Between the nine-minute gruel of “Slow Death” and the hidden acoustic track “Black Motorcade,” The Night Creeper wasn’t without its element of sonic progress, but with Uncle Acid, it’s still the combination of threat, swing and memorable songwriting that brings listeners back to their dark alleyways for another taste.
Easily one of 2015’s most encouraging debuts. Making its opening salvo with the propulsion of Motörhead-derived heavy rock in songs like “Over Under” and “Black Magick Boogieland,” the first outing from Amsterdam-based foursome Death Alley touched on classic ideals without going retro on “Bewildered Eyes,” nodded toward psychedelic melodicism and more patient intentions in “Golden Fields of Love,” and portrayed its punker roots in “Dead Man’s Bones” — all before the 12:40 space rock extravaganza that took hold with closer “Supernatural Predator.” It was a lot of territory to cover, but Death Alley not only made it sound cohesive, they made it rock and they made it a good time. In just about 41 minutes, Black Magick Boogieland was not only a voyage well worth taking, it was a potential-filled, headbang-worthy ripper of an album from an outfit who deserves every bit of attention they seem to be shouting for. Hope they don’t wait long for a follow-up.
Five records in, Dutch trio The Machine have found a niche for themselves between heavy psych rock, desert fuzz and exploratory jamming. Offblast!, with a title that seemed more reminiscent of Europunker speed rock, was as spacious as it was driving, and whether it was the more structured material like “Dry End” or “Coda Sun” or the two extended cuts, 16-minute opener ““Chrysalis (J.A.M.)” and 12-minute closer “Come to Light,” their dynamic remained natural and held firm to a spontaneous sensibility, like at any turn, any part might take off for an eight-minute ride to who knows where. That that didn’t always happen only made Offblast! a richer listening experience, its varied ideas coming through consistent tonality to affect a more than satisfying front-to-back flow that toyed with momentum even as it built more and more of it. Was a while in the making, coming three years after 2012’s Calmer than You Are (review here), but easily worth the wait.
13. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth
There were moments where the self-titled debut from Brothers of the Sonic Cloth was almost too much to take in one sitting. By the time the Tad Doyle-led trio got around to the 11-minute “La Mano Poderosa,” sometimes I felt like I needed a second to catch my breath before diving further, always further, into the smoldering abyss their tones, growls and lurch seemed to create. Six years after their demo (review here) served notice like a tectonic rumble in the distance, the album arrived with comet-into-planet heft, and its oppression was as much about atmosphere as it was sheer aural assault. Imagine an arm reaching down your throat, grabbing your lungs, and forcibly deflating them one at a time. Is that hyperbole? Absolutely, and well earned. Every bit the debut of the year.
No, Boston supergroup Kind aren’t so high on this list just because they called a song “Pastrami Blaster.” Granted, that didn’t hurt, but ultimately it was the blend of cavernous psychedelics and heavy rumble that made Rocket Science so infectious. Comprised of vocalist Craig Riggs (Roadsaw), guitarist Darryl Shepard (Milligram, The Scimitar, etc.), bassist Tom Corino (Rozamov) and drummer Matt Couto (Elder), Kind earned immediate interest for their pedigree, but it was more the breadth of jams like “Hordeolum” and “The Angry Undertaker” that defined their first outing, various impulses toward structure and open-endedness not so much pushing against each other as working in tandem to craft something that drew from the best of both mindsets. Obviously these are busy guys, but hopefully Kind doesn’t all by the wayside for other ongoing projects. Rocket Science was unmistakable in its demonstration that they have much to offer.
Iowa five-piece Bloodcow hadn’t put out a record since 2007’s Bloodcow III: Hail Xenu, but that didn’t stop Crystals and Lasers from being their best work yet. As much punk as metal as heavy rock, it wasn’t for everybody, but it was most definitely for me. With a constant thread of satire in songs like “Ultra Super Sexual,” “Sock,” “Dick for Days” and the oh-shit-I’m-middle-aged-how-the-fuck-did-this-happen (not saying I relate or anything, but holy shit I can relate) “After Party,” it was nonetheless a stylistically varied and universally professional-sounding 13-track collection, offering weirdo quirk in “Blood and Guts,” “Exploding Head” and “Little Chromosome” and finding room for a bit of scathing social commentary in its title-track and “HIVampyre.” If they’re working at an eight-year pace, I don’t know that we’ll get another Bloodcow record, but they very clearly put everything they had into Crystals and Lasers and the result was a defining statement.
After two wallops in the form of 2013’s Abra Kadavar (review here) and 2012’s self-titled debut (discussed here), German trio Kadavar continued to prove the effectiveness of their songwriting on Berlin, a return that front-to-back brimmed with vitality and bounce rare enough for heavy rock generally more content to be downtrodden or attempting to feign bluesy substance. Unabashedly poppy at times, Berlin was the party that brought everyone along who was up for taking the ride, and whether it was the hook of “Lord of the Sky” showing how just a tiny melodic turn could make a track infectious or cuts like “Thousand Miles Away from Home,” “Filthy Illusion,” “Stolen Dreams,” “Spanish Wild Rose,” “See the World with Your Own Eyes” — all of them, really — working their way into the consciousness, Berlin felt like it was primed to be the soundtrack of many summers to come. They moved away from the retro style of their first two outings, but in so doing took fuller command of their sound and put it to remarkable use.
Picking up right where Flower of Disease closer “The River” left off with “Another River to Cross,” Goatsnake‘s third full-length arrived a full 15 years after its predecessor, and as one might expect that brought some considerable changes in the band’s sound. Oh, they still rolled the hell out of a riff, guitarist Greg Anderson (he of SunnO))) and Southern Lord Recordings) very much at the fore tonally, but a bluesy inflection from vocalist Pete Stahl (also earthlings?) and some well-placed backing vocals added personality in a daring and unexpected fashion. Songs like “Jimi’s Gone,” “Elevated Man” and “Grandpa Jones” sat comfortably in the band’s influential pantheon of heft, but it was how Black Age Blues pushed beyond what Goatsnake did in their initial run that made it so satisfying. For a record that arrived five years after they got back together, it could have easily been disaster, but Black Age Blues built on what Goatsnake was without detracting from the legacy that has influenced a generation of heavy rock.
I’m proud to call the members of Kings Destroy friends and I won’t attempt to feign impartiality when it comes to considering their work as a band, but I felt in listening to their self-titled third LP that they had finally gotten to the point where they were bringing the onstage confrontationalism of their live show to the studio. Yeah, “Mr. O” was upbeat and catchy and gave side A some thrust, but even in chugging opener “Smokey Robinson” or the moody “Mytho” and “Embers,” Kings Destroy not only came further into their own in terms of style, building on the anti-genre defiant stance of 2013’s A Time of Hunting (review here), but did so with a clearheaded progressivism, a better sense of who they are musically and what they want the band to be. I wouldn’t trade seeing them play “Embers” or “W2” as many times as I have for anything, but even unto the gang-shout half-speed hardcore of “Time for War,” Kings Destroy‘s Kings Destroy made no bones about how it wound up with the eponymous title. It’s them through and through.
It may never be possible to listen to the self-titled debut from Cigale outside the context of the death of guitarist/vocalist Rutger Smeets (ex-Sungrazer). That loss casts a dark shadow over a collection that otherwise radiates colorful sweetness and serenity, the peaceful depth beginning with “Grey Owl” and only broadening as it turns and weaves through “Steeplechase,” “Feel the Heat,” “Harvest Begun” and so on, but the record remains a gorgeous, engrossing wash of resonant melody and underlying presence. Not without its moments of melancholy, the more overarching impression was of beauty not tied to any notion of playing to genre or style, and while I don’t know what the future will hold for the band, if they’ll keep moving forward or not or if they’re even in a place yet to consider such things, they helped broaden the context of European heavy psychedelia with their first album, and that is no minor achievement.
Another one that just kind of smacked me in the face. Idahoan heavy psych explorers Sun Blood Stories‘ second album, Twilight Midnight Morning was soaked in vibe and moved fluidly between experimentalist noisemaking and patient, memorable songwriting. Tracks like “West the Sun,” “Witch Wind” and “Found Reasons Found Out” never raged, exactly, but had enough weight to their rhythm to let you know they were there and interested in groove, while later pieces “Time Like Smoke,” “Moon Song: Waxing” and “Misery is Nebulous” drew exponentially from earlier freakout impulses and shifted into a dronier and more ambient approach. The combination of the two — semi-structure up front, open expansion in the back — made the three-part Twilight Midnight Morning engaging and hypnotic in kind, and though I hope they get weirder and experiment and develop the atmospheric side of their sound, I’ve also got my fingers crossed they hold firm to their more grounded aspects, since its the range between the two that gives their sophomore outing its defining fluidity.
I’ll cite precedent in last year’s list for including a “5a.” The intent in doing so is to convey the idea that Colour Haze‘s latest outing, To the Highest Gods We Know, is worthy of top five consideration, but its release date was split between 2014 (CD) and 2015 (LP), so it was a little unclear where to put it. As the album is basically a year old at this point, it seems fair to say it’s held up, drawing back from the grandiose vision of 2012’s She Said (review here) without losing sight of the progressive elements that have taken root in the German trio’s sound. Their work has been and remains essential to the development of heavy psychedelic rock in Europe and beyond, and even though To the Highest Gods We Know felt like something of a reset — a stripping down of arrangements in places and getting back to a trio-in-a-room feel — it still stepped forward in its title-track and in songs like “Überall” and “Call” and showed that even when it seems Colour Haze have pushed their approach as far as it can go, there’s always new ground to explore, and their pull to do so is undiminished.
Doesn’t exactly seem like giving away state secrets to note that a record with songs like “Sexecutioner” and “Fuck Face” is aggressive, but it’s particularly interesting in light of the past work of New Jersey trio The Atomic Bitchwax, who I don’t think sounded as barn-burning as they do on Gravitron even in their earliest going. The trio of bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik, guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and drummer Bob Pantella kept their signature winding riff style intact — demonstrated most expansively over 2011’s single-song full-length instrumental The Local Fuzz (review here) — but while their turns were as blinding as ever, their tones were more pointed and Pantella‘s snare more upfront on the beat, which gave Gravitron a newfound sense of urgency. It worked. Even poppier songs like “Roseland” or the closing “Ice Age Hey Baby” benefited from the additional thrust, and the album overall felt lean, mean and ready to be taken on the road, which of course is exactly what they did with it. Six albums in, The Atomic Bitchwax were at their most vital yet.
Nashville four-piece All Them Witches probably could’ve gone into the studio, churned out a record of crunchy riffs with a quiet part or two for flavor and positioned themselves at the forefront of American heavy rock with their New West Records debut and third full-length overall, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker. Instead, they defied expectation boldly and brought their growing audience into the room with them and producer Mikey Allred as they captured the album, which finds its most affecting moments not in tonal weight, but emotional resonance, the melody at the midpoint of “Talisman” or the string arrangement gracefully tucked into “Open Passageways.” There’s still the push of “Dirt Preachers,” and entrancing closer “Blood and Sand – Milk and Endless Waters” has its heft as well, but All Them Witches‘ success ultimately came from being the album they wanted to make, built from the dynamic that’s developed on stage between bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, Allan Van Cleave on Fender Rhodes/strings, and drummer Robby Staebler, and alive in its feeling of exploration. I won’t predict what they might do from here, but I’m willing to say outright it’ll be worth hearing one way or another.
My expectations for Snail‘s third post-reunion full-length and Small Stone label debut, Feral, were pretty high. Not unreasonably so, though. Their 2012 outing, Terminus (review here), built on the blend of heavy psych riffs, laid back roll and melodicism that 2009’s Blood (review here) established as the band’s working modus, but Feral was going to be a different beast from the start because it was the West Coast outfit’s first full-length as a trio since they made their self-titled debut (reissue review here) in 1993 before splitting up the next year. Whatever my expectations were, however, Snail shattered them almost immediately. In the progression of their songwriting as shown across the strong opening salvo of “Building a Haunted House,” “Smoke the Deathless” and “A Mustard Seed” through one of the year’s best songs in the expansive and crushing “Thou Art That,” the three-piece showcased a breadth unlike anything they’d conjured before, and it only continued through “Born in Captivity,” the catchy “Derail,” “Psilocybe” and the soul-infused wah leads that peppered the pleading closer “Come Home.” Where Terminus offered intensity, Feral offered patience in its execution, and the atmosphere it created suited the band’s sound as well as the Seldon Hunt cover art seemed to summarize the alternate reality in which the music took place. Everything about how it came together worked just right, and even as a fan of the band’s work since they got together again, I was taken aback by the unflinching quality of Feral front to back.
2. Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere
Ten years is a long, long time. Especially in music. The prospect of a fourth Acid King record has been tossed around for at least the last six of those 10 years, but to finally have it realized was something else entirely. Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere was without a doubt my most-listened-to album of the year, and its combination of tonal haze, low-end heft and spacious atmosphere was perfect. There’s just no other way to say it. It was perfect. From “Silent Pictures” and “Coming down from Outer Space” through “Red River,” “Infinite Skies” and the sprawling “Center of Everywhere” itself, guitarist/vocalist Lori S., bassist Mark Lamb and drummer Joey Osbourne crafted an absolutely perfect heavy psych record. How many bands walking the earth could even get away with calling a track “Laser Headlights,” let alone make it kick ass? Yeah, Goatsnake came back this year, and that was great, but for me, the return of Acid King to their throne of nod was even more the story of the year. Together with producer Billy Anderson, they offered a depth of tone that was simply unmatched, and without an ounce of pretense, they unveiled a roll that continues to resound. I’m a big fan of getting lost in a record, and Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere eased the listener in with its “Intro,” pulled reality apart from with “Silent Pictures” and set about doing the universe a favor by remaking the cosmos as the kind of place where one might find a wizard riding a tiger past the craters of the moon, until, at last, it deposited you back where you started. Best trip of 2015, no question.
Make no mistake, 2015 was Elder‘s year. We were all just living in it. Truth be told, I’ve been back and forth between Elder and Acid King in the top spot for the last couple months (you might recall in July they were reversed), but when it finally came to it, there was no way I could feasibly call anything other than Lore the album of the year. From the gorgeous Adrian Dexter artwork (discussed here), through the progressive clarion of “Compendium”‘s noodling guitar line and into the massive scope of the title-track (discussed here), Lore was the moment in which Elder — guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto — tore down the walls of genre, whether it was heavy rock, psychedelia or anything else, and emerged with their own approach and complex, varied modus of songwriting. They’ve been turning heads since their self-titled debut arrived in 2008, but with 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here), they began to demonstrate the potential for really adding something to the patchwork of underground heavy. In moving forward by making clarity a hallmark both of their sound and of their purpose, Elder came into their own with these five tracks, and do not at all be surprised a couple years from now when bands start showing up aping DiSalvo‘s style of riffing, since such a bold and successful foray of individualism can only be influential in the longer run. At nearly an hour long, Lore was not a minor undertaking, but each song seemed to set up its own atmosphere, feeding not only its own singular focus, but that of the album overall. Its turns blinding, its impact forceful and its affect drawing from the best of the sonic personalities of all three players, Elder‘s Lore reaped wide acclaim and earned it every step of the way. Its progressive vision has only begun to be digested.
Killer Boogie, Detroit – Impressive debut from the retro-minded offshoot of Black Rainbows brought ’70s boogie to Italy. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a quick turnaround, but either way, their first outing knew its audience and spoke directly to it.
My Sleeping Karma, Moksha – This one was on various incarnations of the list. Very interested to see where the German heavy prog outfit wind up in terms of expanding their arrangements, but Moksha was a satisfying step forward in that process.
Egypt, Endless Flight – Should probably have a number, but the fact is it’s only been out for like two weeks, so it hasn’t really been given the test of time at this point. Still, Egypt always deliver and this was no exception.
Valkyrie, Shadows – An awaited third full-length from Virginia’s Valkyrie and also their Relapse Records debut offered enough blazing guitar work to meet any quota, and was a welcome return after a long absence.
Magic Circle, Journey’s End – The second LP from this Massachusetts outfit pushed beyond doomly confines into more traditional metallurgy but held its eerie atmospherics intact, and the combination suited them remarkably well.
Monolord, Vænir – This was my go-to for 2015 when nothing else seemed quite crushing enough. The Swedish trio have very quickly stomped their way into the hearts and minds of the international underground, and rightfully so.
Freedom Hawk, Into Your Mind – After making a transition from a four-piece to a trio, this Virginian outfit proceeded to take a few stylistic risks on their second Small Stone long-player, and they paid off.
Tombstones, Vargariis – Fourth full-length from this Norwegian trio pushed them outside of doom’s confines into a darker and more extreme version of heaviness that pulled from death and black metals in addition to its sludgy underpinnings. The meld was punishing and lost nothing of its groove, wherever it went at any given moment.
Faces of Bayon, Ash and Dust Have no Dominion – I guess my only hesitation with including Faces of Bayon‘s second outing in any kind of year-end fare is I’m not sure if the album has actually been released yet. Even if not, they’re easily worth a mention.
Ice Dragon, A Beacon on the Barrow – Kind of a down year from Ice Dragon in terms of overall productivity, but if the quantity was down compared to some, A Beacon on the Barrow was quality enough to carry them through. In a way, I think the album actually benefited from the band giving listeners time to take it in.
Arenna, Given to Emptiness – Ah, so good. The Spanish heavy psych troupe dug in deep on Given to Emptiness and conjured sonic and emotional resonance on their second full-length. It’s one that still gets repeat listens.
Monster Magnet, Cobras and Fire – The long-running New Jersey outfit’s reworking of their 2010 album Mastermind was excellent, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t seem fair to list it when they’re working mostly from already-released source material. But still, if you haven’t heard it, go find it.
Various Artists, Electric Ladyland [Redux] – Even if the results hadn’t been so spectacular, Electric Ladyland [Redux] would deserve a mention for the sheer scope and logistical nightmare that the project must have been. Kudos to Magnetic Eye Records all around.
There are so many others: Abrahma, Goya, Sun and Sail Club, Deville, Sacri Monti, Dirty Streets, Ufomammut, Wo Fat‘s live album, Mirror Queen, Pentagram, Torche, Sumac, Garden of Worm, Black Rainbows, Holy Serpent, Minsk, Baron, Weedpecker, Electric Moon, Fuzz, Bell Witch, Windhand, Niche, We Lost the Sea, Seremonia, Sunder, Domovoyd, The Heavy Eyes, Demon Head, Fogg, Stars that Move, Enslaved, Ruby the Hatchet, on and on and on. That’s not even to mention the stuff I didn’t hear — Baroness will be on many people’s lists, no doubt, as well as Mutoid Man, Ghost and Kylesa — so yeah, I could pretty much keep going ad infinitum.
I, however, cannot. It’s been an absolute pleasure trying to keep up with 2015’s barrage the last 12 months, and I expect 2016 will only bring more. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading or that you’re able to get some use out of this post, whatever that might mean, and I thank you deeply, from the bottom of my heart, for your time and for reading. It means more to me than I can say that you might check out even any portion of this site or be involved, whether it’s sharing a link, leaving a comment to let me know who I forgot to mention or correct my spelling, signing up for the forum, listening to the radio, whatever it might be.
Thank you for an amazing 2015. And please stay tuned, because of course, there’s much more to come.
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!
Before we get to all the tracks and this and that, I have to say, this double-size year-end podcast was an absolute pleasure to put together. Fun. Actual fun. I don’t know if it was the preponderance of excellent songs to work from that came out in 2015 or what, but I had a really good time making my way through the near-four-hour run, and I hope you feel that way too as you listen.
It should go without mentioning, but I’ll give the disclaimer anyway that this is in no way, shape or form a complete rundown of everything awesome produced this year. My own Top 10 has bands on it who aren’t represented here, so if you don’t see something you think belongs in the mix below — looking at you, Baroness fans — please keep in mind that it’s not my intent to offer anything more than a partial summary. Otherwise, I’d have to make it a year long.
Thanks for listening if you get the chance to do so, and if there’s something here you haven’t yet checked out, I hope you dig it. The flow is pretty easy front to back, but we get into some more extreme stuff in the third hour for a bit before going grand with Elder and the “Digestive Raga” from Øresund Space Collective, which seemed an appropriate way to end off giving everyone a chance to process what’s just been heard. Please enjoy.
Track details follow:
0:00:00 Acid King, “Red River” from Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere
0:08:24 Clutch, “Firebirds” from Psychic Warfare
0:11:23 Bloodcow, “Crystals and Lasers” from Crystals and Lasers
0:14:28 Stoned Jesus, “Rituals of the Sun” from The Harvest
0:21:25 Ufomammut, “Plouton” from Ecate
0:24:33 Geezer, “So Tired” from The Second Coming of Heavy: Chapter One Split w/ Borracho
0:32:36 Wizard Eye, “Thunderbird Divine” from Wizard Eye
0:37:40 Mondo Drag, “Crystal Visions Open Eye” from Mondo Drag
0:42:08 Fogg, “Seasons” from High Testament
0:48:26 Goatsnake, “Grandpa Jones” from Black Age Blues
0:53:02 Snail, “Thou Art That” from Feral
1:03:17 Sergio Ch., “Las Piedras” from 1974
1:06:40 All Them Witches, “Blood and Sand – Milk and Endless Waters” from Dying Surfer Meets His Maker
1:13:54 Death Hawks, “Ripe Fruits” from Sun Future Moon
1:18:45 Colour Haze, “Call” from To the Highest Gods We Know
1:26:46 Kadavar, “Last Living Dinosaur” from Berlin
1:30:50 Spidergawd, “Fixing to Die Blues” from Spidergawd II
1:35:02 The Machine, “Dry End” from Offblast!
1:38:01 The Midnight Ghost Train, “Straight to the North” from Cold was the Ground
1:42:00 Kind, “Pastrami Blaster” from Rocket Science
1:48:29 Valley, “Dream Shooter, Golden!” from Sunburst
1:54:22 Graveyard, “From a Hole in the Wall” from Innocence and Decadence
1:58:09 Demon Head, “Book of Changes” from Ride the Wilderness
2:02:50 Egypt, “Endless Flight” from Endless Flight
2:12:29 Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, “Empires of Dust” from Brothers of the Sonic Cloth
2:20:09 With the Dead, “I am Your Virus” from With the Dead
2:25:45 Ahab, “Red Foam (The Great Storm)” from The Boats of the Glen Carrig
2:32:08 Kings Destroy, “Mr. O” from Kings Destroy
2:36:37 Sun and Sail Club, “Dresden Firebird Freakout” from The Great White Dope
2:38:33 Sunder, “Wings of the Sun” from Sunder
2:42:41 Weedpecker, “Into the Woods” from Weedpecker II
2:50:50 Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, “Pusher Man” from The Night Creeper
2:56:26 Eggnogg, “Slugworth” from Sludgy Erna Bastard split w/ Borracho
3:02:48 Golden Void, “Astral Plane” from Berkana
3:09:34 Elder, “Lore” from Lore
3:25:24 Øresund Space Collective, “Digestive Raga” from Different Creatures
Posted in Reviews on October 12th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
It was only about an hour and a half to the Casino Ballroom in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, from my office, which felt like something of a miracle. Maryland heavy rock kingpins Clutch last played the venue about two years ago, but between it being the beginning of what will no doubt be a comprehensive touring cycle in support of their newly-released 11th album, Psychic Warfare (review here), and their partnering with the reunited four-piece incarnation of Corrosion of Conformity with SoCal heavy skaters The Shrine opening, it was an easy sell as far as I was concerned. Clearly I wasn’t the only one. I walked into the venue a little before The Shrine went on, and the place was already fairly packed. A large room, the prevailing mood was celebratory and ready to blow off steam. I think people were just looking for a good time.
And in kicking off the evening with a classic-rocking-but-somehow-still-punker boot to the ass, The Shrine seemed only too ready to get that good time moving. I had wondered how their very-Californian sound would translate to a chilly autumn night in New Hampshire — even one right across the street from a beach — but the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Josh Landau, bassist Courtland Murphy and drummer Jeff Murray have busted their collective ass on the road the last couple years, and if they were out of their element, you never would’ve known it watching them on stage. Last I saw them was in early-2013 with Graveyard (review here) in Philly, and it was plain to see at the Casino Ballroom how much they’ve come into their own since. Their second album, Bless Off, was released by Tee Pee last year (I didn’t review it, but should have), following up their aptly-titled 2012 debut, Primitive Blast (review here), and their new one, Rare Breed, is out at the end of this month in Europe and in Jan. here in the States as their first in Century Media.
Their set felt quick, but it was enough to give a sense of the new album in songs like “The Vulture,” “Savage Skulls and Nomads,” which Landau told the crowd was about 1970s street gangs in New York, “Coming Down Quick” and “Death to Invaders” (don’t quote me on that last one, but I think that was it), running from the initial uproariousness of their first record to the thicker grooves of the second. This was the fifth night of the tour, which will run through Oct. 23 with the same three bands, and The Shrine were duly locked in, Murray keeping some bounce in the drums while also adding gallop to some of the more Motörheady riffing from the guitar while Murphy added backing vocals and a steady foundation in the low end. They finished with “Nothing Forever,” the longest cut from Bless Off, which emphasized some of the complexity in their approach — not t0 mention the tightness of their execution — that I think gets lost sometimes in how they present the band. Not that they should be stoic prog rockers, what they’re doing clearly works, but they’re tough to ignore after you watch them play. I’ll hope to get the chance to hear Rare Breed.
I was trying to think of the last time I saw the Pepper Keenan-fronted incarnation of Corrosion of Conformity, and I think it was in 2005. They would have been out supporting that year’s In the Arms of God, which got a mixed reception on its arrival but in my estimation remains underrated, and I believe it was Irving Plaza in New York.Weedeater and Alabama Thunderpussy may or may not have also played. Either way, it’s been a while. With the lineup of Keenan plus bassist/vocalist Mike Dean, guitarist/vocalist Woodroe Weatherman and drummer Reed Mullin — who’ve been playing as the “Animosity-era” trio the last several years and released an EP and two also-underrated albums in 2014’s IX (review here) and 2012’s declarative Corrosion of Conformity (review here) through Candlelight — C.O.C.have been playing shows throughout Europe and the UK since earlier this year, but to my knowledge this marks their first US run, at least on the East Coast, and it will preface a headlining tour set to start next month. A practice run? Maybe, but they hardly seemed rusty.
Set-wise, they dipped as far back as “Vote with a Bullet” from 1991’s Blind — which was Keenan‘s introduction to the band as vocalist/guitarist — and as far forward as the uptempo “Paranoid Opioid” from In the Arms of God, but the focus was on their two ’90s landmarks, Deliverance (1994) and Wiseblood (1996), and as someone who’s been rooting for the trio lineup the last several years sort of as underdogs working against the expectations of that portion of their audience dug deep into the heavy Southern Sabbathisms of those records, I had forgotten just how special that material actually is — songs like “Long Whip/Big America,” “Heaven’s Not Overflowing,” with which they opened, “Wiseblood” and “Seven Angels.” Hearing Dean and Mullin and Weatherman all switching off in backing vocal roles, or better, leading a sing-along all at once, was exhilarating, and Keenan, who’s spent the last several years in Down‘s descent into post-Kirk Windstein caricature machismo, is a frontman of undeniable charisma. There were some sound issues — a chirp of feedback when everyone got on mic during “Albatross,” etc. — but there was very little that would’ve been able to hold C.O.C. back, and even in the slower “13 Angels,” which was the sole representation from 2000’s America’s Volume Dealer, their last album as this four-piece (Stanton Moore of Nola jammers Galactic played drums on In the Arms of God), they were dead on in serving a refresher of just what a substantial portion of their fanbase has been clamoring for pretty much since they stopped playing circa 2006.
Keenan thanked Clutch from the stage for bringing them out and letting them, “Get their shit back together,” but the bigger news was when he announced that C.O.C. were in the process of signing to Nuclear Blast and that they’d have a new album out with this lineup in 2016. I had no official word, but I’d assume John Custer, who’s helmed all their records since Blind, will produce. Once he said it, which was I believe before “Vote with a Bullet” preceded “Albatross” and “Clean My Wounds” at the end of the set, my mind immediately flashed to the possibilities for what it might sound like, the balance of songwriting, who does vocals where — does the hardcore punk track still get relegated to the end of the tracklist? — and so on. Two months out from the New Year, a landmark for 2016 may have just been revealed.
Finding that out alone would’ve made my night. Even without a show. I mean, if I read that on Facebook or some shit, I’d have been like, “Well, my evening can end now, I feel like I’ve hit a satisfactory quota of awesome.” But there was still a gig going on, and Clutch were headlining! Similar to what they did after releasing Earth Rocker (review here) in 2013, and really going back further than that as well, the set was highly focused on the new album. Their stated method of one band member between vocalist Neil Fallon, guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster picking an evening’s setlist always leaves me guessing who’s responsible for what show, but in any case, between “X-Ray Visions” opening, “Firebirds,” “A Quick Death in Texas,” “Sucker for the Witch,” “Your Love is Incarceration,” “Our Lady of Electric Light,” “Noble Savage,” “Behold the Colossus” and “Son of Virginia,” the only song from Psychic Warfare unrepresented was the penultimate “Decapitation Blues.” Otherwise, they played the whole record, which coming from them is just what the crowd both expected and wanted.
“Son of Virginia,” which closed the regular set before a three-song encore, got a particularly vehement response, but “The Face” from Earth Rocker had me pulling my earplugs out to sing along, and “Elephant Riders” from 1998’s The Elephant Riders and “Dragonfly” from that same album felt like something special tossed in for longer-term fans, particularly the latter, which is a rarer inclusion. Their presence and delivery something of a given, Clutch seemed in likewise good spirits to the crowd, Fallon picking up the guitar more than he did when they were out for Earth Rocker to join Sult even on a faster cut like “Your Love is Incarceration.” They’re still tightening up some of the new material — other songs have been around for more than a year already and included in sets — but one assumes that by the time they get around to the inevitable live album sometime in 2016 or 2017, it will be no less second nature (or first, I guess) than “Cypress Grove” from 2004’s Blast Tyrant, which has become a perennial favorite and was clearly known to the packed Casino Ballroom, readily aware of that black plastic bag in the back of a jacked-up Ford.
Who could argue with an encore launched by “The Wolfman Kindly Requests…” from Earth Rocker? From its “Party’s over you all got to go” chorus to the bigger nod of its ending, the song feels hand-constructed to appear near the finish of a set, and joined by the more raucous “The Mob Goes Wild” from Blast Tyrant, for which Bryan “Uzi”Hinkley from Never Got Caught and formerly of Tree joined in on guitar, Clutch seemed geared to cap the night in high-octane fashion, but they cut back and let the more spacious “Electric Worry,” the highlight of 2007’s From Beale St. to Oblivion and an unmistakable precursor to a song like “Son of Virginia,” finish, with the uptempo kick of “One Eye Dollar” tacked on, which is nothing new but still feels like a bonus each time. One felt as though the entire venue, which was built and originally opened in 1899, was caught in the around-the-horn swirling rhythm.
By the time I managed to make my way out, the sidewalk was already flooded with weirdos, working-types and the other such and sundry who’d attended, the off-season windchill not drawing much of a shoreline crowd. I had about another 90 minutes to get home still ahead of me, so didn’t hang around long, but got to see a couple old friends and that’s always restorative, even if brief. Same could be said of the show as a whole, I suppose.
Posted in Reviews on October 6th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Every Clutch record is different. Over the course of the Maryland four-piece’s nearly-25 years it has become a stready reasoning that each time out, they’re going to offer something distinct from what preceded. Often, it has felt in listening like one album was trying purposefully not to do what the one before it did, which is how one might account for the shifts between 1993’s Transnational Speedway League debut and their landmark 1995 self-titled sophomore outing, or that album and its follow-up, 1998’s The Elephant Riders, or that album and 1999’s Jam Room and 2001’s Pure Rock Fury, and so on.
Their sound has constantly evolved around a reliable-as-sunrise foundation of songwriting, and with their 11th studio offering and third to be released via their own Weathermaker Music imprint, Psychic Warfare, they manage to expand on the ideas that they brought to 2013’s Earth Rocker (review here) — which itself was another broad turn from 2009’s Strange Cousins from the West — without completely departing the same sphere. In this culture of sequels and reboots, for Clutch to linger a bit longer in a place (sonically; they never actually rest too long in one spot geographically) that suited them so well two years ago feels justified, and for someone who’d perhaps never heard them prior to this record the experience would invariably be otherwise, but as a fan of the band, Psychic Warfare feels defined at least in part by Earth Rocker in a way that, as far as Clutch records go, is the biggest change of all this time around.
Most of that is attributable to the circumstances of Psychic Warfare‘s arrival. True, it putsClutch — the steady lineup of vocalist Neil Fallon, guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster — back on the every-other-year schedule they maintained up until the surprising four years between Strange Cousins from the West and Earth Rocker, but the reception for the last outing was such that this one seems to have materialized especially quick. Couple that with a return to producer Machine, who helmed Earth Rocker after first collaborating with the band on 2004’s Blast Tyrant, and there is plenty in common between the two outings sound-wise, in the tonal largesse of Sult‘s guitar on cuts like “Firebirds” and “Behold the Colossus,” in the arrangements and treatments on Fallon‘s vocals for “A Quick Death in Texas,” post-intro opener “X-Ray Visions,” and so on, and it becomes even easier to put Earth Rocker and Psychic Warfare side-by-side.
That’s not to say the new record feels like it is meant to be be a carbon-copy of the last. It’s true that “Noble Savage” boasts largely the same thesis and a similarly speedy means of expressing it as “Earth Rocker” itself, but Psychic Warfare has its own personality, even if it has to work harder to put that across in the shadow of the magic Clutch were able to craft two years ago. The 12-track/40-minute offering is loosely tied to a narrative thread in the lyrics, which is something that Blast Tyrant also did, but is clarified here and brought further toward realization with the spoken intro “The Affidavit,” in which someone is told to tell the whole story, start at the beginning. Thus, the album front-to-back becomes the sworn statement. It’s not a concept record in the prog-rock sense, but it’s drawing a line between the songs in a way that the band never has before, concluding likewise in the theme after the hooky, brooding blues of closer “Son of Virginia” has wrapped.
A given arc isn’t really enough to wholly distinguish Psychic Warfare on its own, but that is where the songwriting, as ever, does the work for the band. From “X-Ray Visions” through “Firebirds,” “A Quick Death in Texas,” “Sucker for the Witch” and “Your Love is Incarceration,” Clutch tear into a side A that demonstrates not only a good portion of the breadth of their sound, but the craftsmanship that has made them the influential outfit they are. With Fallon‘s trademarked place-naming lyrical quirk (one could, and should, teach a college class around same) coiling around Sult‘s funked-up riffage and rested on the smooth basslines of Maines or, particularly in the case of “Firebirds” and “Sucker for the Witch,” propelled full-throttle by Gaster‘s drumming, Clutch seem to have added onto their wheelhouse at some point in the last several years, so that they seem equally comfortable belting out “Firebirds” as the immediately-following swing-laden “A Quick Death in Texas,” which veers into call and response cues that it’s hard to imagine their audience not picking up on any one of their nigh-on-constant tours and makes for a dudely high point of the first half.
More subtle is the bounce Maines brings to “Your Love is Incarceration,” a song nearly steamrolled by the momentum Psychic Warfare has built by that point, but which stands out amid all the Clutch-being-Clutch of “Sucker for the Witch” and the paired “Doom Saloon” and “Our Lady of Electric Light,” which follow. “Doom Saloon” is namedropped in “A Quick Death in Texas” as well — it may or may not be the name of their rehearsal spot; something like that — but Sult layers (or it could be Fallon and Sult both) echoing washes of guitar as an extended intro to the slowed-down “The Regulator”-style twang of “Our Lady of Electric Light,” Clutch once again finding that mysterious ground that they seem to have all to themselves somewhere between Southern heavy rock and blues that, miraculously, continues not to sound like a cliché though it’s a mode of working that, between songs like the semi-cover “Gravel Road” from 2005’s Robot Hive/Exodus, “Electric Worry” from 2007’s From Beale St. to Oblivion and “Son of Virginia” still to come here, has been well-established for them. Can’t argue with results.
Can’t stop progress either, as Fallon himself once noted, and it’s true that both “Our Lady of Electric Light” and the closer expand the approach of a song like “The Regulator” such that the Blast Tyrant track is much more ancestor than blueprint these 11 years after the fact. After the quieter moment on “Our Lady of Electric Light,” they return to speedier fare with the fifth-gear “Noble Savage,” the shortest track on Psychic Warfare that’s not an intro at 2:49 and similar as noted in its no-nonsense anthemery to “Earth Rocker,” marked by the motoring riff and Fallon‘s standout chorus line, “Unapologetic lifer for rock and roll.” The subsequent “Behold the Colossus” feels similarly geared to the stage and is a highlight performance from Gaster as well as another infectious hook and arguably the smoothest transition between tracks (where one isn’t an interlude leading to the other, anyhow) as it gives way to “Decapitation Blues,” which began to surface at live shows about a year ago and, like “Your Love is Incarceration,” feels positioned to be somewhat lost but actually finds a distinct ground that’s neither repeating the moves of Earth Rocker nor purposely avoiding them — a genuine moment of progress.
As “Son of Virginia” makes ready to leave one of Psychic Warfare‘s most memorable impressions in its build-to-a-head blues rollout and highlight chorus, one can’t help but be reminded that when the aforementioned Robot Hive/Exodus landed in ’05, its sound also informed by Blast Tyrant before it — though expanded on as well with the inclusion of a full-time organist — it felt very soon between records in a way that seemed to favor the earlier outing. Psychic Warfare doesn’t have the benefit of years of feverish anticipation preceding its release, but still, against seemingly impossible odds, it holds up to its predecessor. Its ultimate place in Clutch‘s discography? Not a thing we’ll know for years. Doesn’t matter. It’s a batch of top-grade tunes from a band whose drive to deliver them is bled across its span, and it answers the question of how the band could ever possibly follow what came before it. Now the question becomes where they go from here.
Posted in Features on September 30th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
This weekend, Maryland heavy rock institution Clutch launch their latest US tour. That would be business as usual for the stalwart four-piece, but it also coincides with their new album, Psychic Warfare, arriving a short two years behind 2013’s landmark Earth Rocker (review here). It is their 11th full-length overall, and it I seem to link it immediately to its predecessor, that’s not entirely an accident.
To record Psychic Warfare, Clutch — as ever, vocalist Neil Fallon, guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster — returned to producer Machine, who also helmed the last outing, and they continue to meld their jam-blues approach with faster, heavier push on cuts like the leadoff single “X-Ray Visions” and “Noble Savage,” which seems a direct sequel to “Earth Rocker” in both its declarative theme and the uptempo manner in which it states and stakes its claim. That’s not to say Psychic Warfare doesn’t have its own personality. It’s not the first Clutch to draw a narrative thread between its tracks — 2004’s Blast Tyrant, which was the band’s first collaboration with Machine, touched on doing so — but it is the first to make that connection explicit, which it does in the intro “The Affidavit” and the final moments of blues-laden closer “Son of Virginia,” which continues a thread of its own of up-jumpers like “Electric Worry” off 2007’s From Beale Street to Oblivion and the Mississippi Fred McDowell lyric cover “Gravel Road” from 2005’s Robot Hive/Exodus, both of which have become signature pieces in live shows.
And as to live shows, Fallon gets right to the heart of it when he says in the interview that follows here, “We put out records to support our tours, not the other way around.” Here are Clutch‘s upcoming tour dates:
Clutch live: Sat/Oct-03 Ft. Lauderdale, FL Revolution** Sun/Oct-04 St. Petersburg , FL Jannus Live** Tue/Oct-06 Nashville, TN Marathon Music Works** Wed/Oct-07 Charlotte, NC Amos’ Southend** Fri/Oct-09 Hampton Beach, NH Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom** Sat/Oct-10 Clifton Park, NY Upstate Concert Hall** Sun/Oct-11 New Haven, CT Toad’s Place** Tue/Oct-13 Indianapolis, IN The Vogue** Wed/Oct-14 Chicago, IL House Of Blues** Thu/Oct-15 Grand Rapids, MI Orbit Room** Fri/Oct-16 Sauget, IL Pop’s Nightclub** Sat/Oct-17 Lincoln, NE Bourbon Theatre** Sun/Oct-18 Fargo, ND Scheels Arena** – “Roughrider Ink & Iron” Tue/Oct-20 Billings, MT Shrine Auditorium** Thu/Oct-22 Spokane, WA Knitting Factory Concert House** Fri/Oct-23 Boise, ID Knitting Factory Concert House** Sat/Oct-24 Elverta, CA Gibson Ranch Park* – Aftershock Festival Sun/Oct-25 San Bernardino, CA San Manuel Amphitheater* – Knotfest Mon/Oct-26 Tucson, AZ Rialto Theatre*** w Mastodon (Clutch closes show) Wed/Oct-28 Austin, TX Austin Music Hall*** w Mastodon (Mastodon closes show) Thu/Oct-29 Dallas, TX Gas Monkey Live*** w Mastodon (Clutch closes show) Fri/Oct-30 Houston, TX Bayou Music Center*** w Mastodon (Mastodon closes show) Sat/Oct-31 New Orleans, LA Voodoo Experience* * = Festival date ** = Clutch headline show, support: COC / The Shrine *** = Clutch co-headline show w/ Mastodon, special guest: COC
2015 Europe Dates: November 20 Dublin, Ireland November 21 Belfast , N.Ireland(SOLD OUT) November 23 Glasgow, Scotland November 24 Nottingham, England November 25 Bristol, England November 27 Paris, France(SOLD OUT) November 28 Cologne, Germany November 29 Hamburg, Germany December 01 Aarhus, Denmark December 02 Goteborg, Sweden December 03 Stockholm, Sweden December 04 Copenhagen, Denmark December 05 Berlin, Germany December 06 Frankfurt, Germany December 08 Amsterdam, Netherlands December 10 Manchester, England December 11 Wolverhampton, England December 12 London, England
Psychic Warfare Australian Tour 2016 Thursday 3rd March 2016 The Triffid QLD Friday 4th March 2016 The Metro NSW Saturday 5th March 2016 The Forum Theatre VIC
They’ve yet to announce the lineup for their annual holiday run, but one assumes they’ll sneak a few East Coast dates in upon returning from the UK at the end of their European tour in December. That too is business as usual for Clutch, who’ve earned so much respect over their 20-plus years not just because they preach a classic rock-and-roll-as-a-way-of-life gospel, but because they’ve been so willing to get out and actually live by such tenets. If the list of dates above wasn’t enough of a clue, they’ll continue to do so for the foreseeable future, and much to the benefit of everyone who gets off their ass and shows up to see them.
In the interview here — actually it’s his third (see here and here), not counting an Obelisk Questionnaire — Fallon talks about making the record and preparing to hit the road behind it, as well as doubling as a partner in a record label for the third time with the band’s Weathermaker Music handling the release, capturing the recording process with a video documentary series and much more.
Posted in Whathaveyou on August 25th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
If someone were to come up to you and ask you what is best in life, I’m relatively sure the answer would be, “Clutch talking behind-the-scenes about making records.” The band has unveiled the first three installments of a series of videos about the processes at work for their upcoming 11th album, Psychic Warfare. The full-length is out Oct. 2 on Weathermaker Music and in the videos, the band talks about writing — they jam like they play — working with producer Machine again after doing so for Blast Tyrant and Earth Rocker and the work that goes into the tracks.
I’d tell you more, but Clutch do it better anyway. Here’s this off the PR wire:
CLUTCH: THE MAKING OF “PSYCHIC WARFARE” BEHIND THE SCENES VIDEO SERIES POSTED
NEIL FALLON LYRIC INSIGHT SERIES CONTINUES
Clutch, the influential heavy rock band from Maryland, have posted “The Making of Psychic Warfare” Segment 1: Creation, Production, and Speculation via their Facebook page,facebook.com/Clutchband.
These video clips shot by David Brodsky and his company My Good Eye: Music Visuals, will give fans an unprecedented view into the studios, as well as insight into the thoughts and ideas behind the making of the new Clutch album “Psychic Warfare”. The footage in Segment 1 consists of interviews taken as the band started pre-production with Machine, who recorded, mixed and produced the record. Band members and Machine talk about the pre-production process while the album was being developed in Frederick MD.
The series will have 3 segments. The 2 upcoming segments, Segment 2: Austin Calling (September 14th) and Segment 3: Doom Saloon (September 28th) will continue to document with behind the scenes footage, the recording process as the band moves to Austin,Texas to record at the Machine Shop, to the last segment ending up with the band back in Frederick, MD putting the finishing touches to the record.
In addition to posting “The Making of Psychic Warfare” video series on the recording process, on alternating weeks, vocalist Neil Fallon will be posting his comments on the lyrical content and explain the meaning behind several songs off “Psychic Warfare” on Clutch’s facebook page.
Neil Fallon lyric commentary series: The Affidavit & X-Ray Visions A Quick Death In Texas Firebirds Sucker For The Witch Decapitation Blues Noble Savage
“Psychic Warfare” is the band’s eleventh studio album and will be released worldwide October 2nd via their own label Weathermaker Music. The album was produced by longtime producer Machine (Lamb Of God, Every Time I Die) and consists of 12 new tracks. Pre-order is available at Clutch’s official website pro-rock.com now. “The title ‘Psychic Warfare’ is taken from the first track, and first video we did for the record ‘X-Ray Visions” states singer Neil Fallon. “It’s a tale about an unnamed protagonist who is forced to seek refuge in a flop house motel. He is hiding from several nefarious psychic forces, the worst of which is his own sleep deprived paranoia.” The album cover was designed by renowned photographer Dan Winters.
“Psychic Warfare” track listing: 01 The Affidavit 02 X-Ray Visions 03 Firebirds 04 A Quick Death in Texas 05 Sucker For The Witch 06 Your Love is Incarceration 07 Doom Saloon 08 Our Lady of Electric Light 09 Noble Savage 10 Behold the Colossus 11 Decapitation Blues 12 Son Of Virginia
CLUTCH: Neil Fallon – Vocals/Guitar Tim Sult – Guitar Dan Maines – Bass Jean-Paul Gaster – Drums/Percussion