The photo above is of my wristband for this year’s Desertfest. You’ll note it’s not attached to my wrist. I got back just a little bit ago from the Electric Ballroom and had meant to ask at the front desk of the hotel for them to cut it off with scissors, since it’s pretty sturdy material — it’s had to be to last these several days — but forgot on my way up and wound up just pulling it off around my hand. I feel like I should have it framed.
Late nights beget later nights, so I’m not gonna waste time here. Day three was no less righteous than one would have to expect after the first two. Here’s how it went down for me:
The other day I received a vehement recommendation to check out Throne, to which I responded, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure they played last year and were cool.” Turns out they did play Desertfest 2012, at The Underworld, but this year the trio moved over to The Black Heart, which was where my day began with their unpretentious Sleep riffing and nodding rhythms. They still didn’t have an album for sale downstairs that I could find, but The Black Heart was, as it has been this whole weekend, packed out. On my way through, I watched a couple seconds through the doorway in the spirit of Roadburn and found myself still persuaded by their languid pacing and largely-unfrilled stonery. I had finished my cup of coffee about two minutes before they started playing, so it was a cool way to wake up.
Meanwhile, at The Underworld, Brighton/Manchester-based Blackstorm were dishing out a pounding the likes of which I’d not yet seen here. They were a band about whom I knew next to nothing, but their double-guitar uptempo crushcore was a longer way away from what Throne were doing at The Black Heart than the street that divided the two acts physically. I arrived part of the way through their set, which the five-piece delivered in lively fashion, with lots of movement, a swinging mic stand and big, chunky riffs set to breakdown beats. “Then You’ll Drown” was a burly basher, and I caught “Run with the Wolves” from their late-2012 EP, The Darkness is Getting Closer, which was distinguished by the dual vocals of guitarist Neil Kingsbury and frontman Karl Middleton. They were tight and had it together on stage, though my head was already preparing itself for the cleaving it would no doubt receive from who followed them.
Suddenly I had to wonder why I bothered bringing earplugs in the first place. British trio Conan weren’t through the second verse of “Hawk as Weapon” from last year’s low-end raging Monnos(review here) before I felt like they’d melted in my ear canal. Guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis, bassist/vocalist Phil Coumbe and drummer Paul O’Neil just released their set from last year’s Roadburn as the new Mount WrathCD and vinyl, and while that’s definitely a satisfying listen, I was glad to see them in-person again, because no matter how loud you turn up a record, I don’t know if there’s any way to do justice to what Conan are live. Beastly heavy. Heavy to whatever degree hyperbole you might want to put to it, and while that heaviness and Davis and Coumbe‘s tones are still the star of the show, the three-piece also have grown as a stage act since I last had the good fortune to see them. Coumbe‘s low growls and Davis‘ shouting worked especially well together, and in addition to “Hawk as Weapon,” “Battle in the Swamp” and “Grim Tormentor” from Monnos, Conan also played two new songs, “Foehammer” and “Gravity Chasm,” which continued the warmongering gallop of the earlier album tracks that set up an excruciatingly slow finale, all the while keeping their fury front and center and proving there’s more to their heaviness than what comes through their amps.The other day, when I got stopped by that customs agent, he accused me of trying to illegally emigrate to the UK. I’m still not planning on it, but Conan make a solid argument in favor of doing so.
Kudos to whoever handled scheduling the bands’ timeslots for putting Conan and Toner Low right next to each other. I’d never seen the Dutch three-piece before — they’re now in their 15th year and have just released their third album — but they actually share a lot in common with Conan in terms of their general ethic. They are unreasonably loud, unremittingly heavy in tone and seem like they’re ready to follow a riff anywhere it might lead them. The difference is aggression. Where Conan are all beheadings and mayhem, Toner Low are purely stoned. Toner Low played in the dark but for a psychedelic lightshow setup they placed in front of their drummer and a sheet with projected falling pot leaves on the guitarist/vocalist, but yeah, they’re about as stoner as stoner gets, working in elements of more primal drone here and there, but keeping a solid foundation of riffs at hand at almost all times. They brought their own rigs, which made sense for the bassist since her gear was different from what seemed to be on hand, but the guitar — which seemed to be actually coated in resin from the look of it — ran through an Orange half-stack and amp they brought, and there’s been so much Orange around Desertfest I can practically taste it. I can’t argue with their having done it, though, since Toner Low sounded unbelievably good. I bought their new record and am looking forward to checking it out.
Naam beckoned. I won’t lie, there was a part of me that was like, “Why the hell would you go to London and see a band you can see in New York?” The other part of me was all, “No way dude, this is gonna be awesome. Naam have a new record coming out,” and that part of me won. Once a trio, now a foursome and tonight playing as a five-piece with the addition of a second guitar — not that they were lacking texture before, but more never hurts – Naam‘s universe seems to be in permanent expansion, both in terms of their lineup and their sound. Tonight was the best I’ve seen them play, and I’ve seen them play a few really killer shows. The integration of John Weingarten‘s keys along with Ryan Lugar‘s guitar/vocals, John Bundy‘s bass/vocals and Eli Pizzuto‘s drums is complete, and to show that, “Starchild” from last year’s The Ballad of the StarchildEP was the highlight of their whole set, though “Beyond” from their forthcoming sophomore full-length, Vow, came pretty close. They’ve nearly perfected a balance between stoner riffing and Hawkwindian space rush, and not surprisingly, their heavy psych went over huge at the Electric Ballroom. Naam are just starting a two-month European and UK tour that will have them in this part of the world for a while — perhaps it’s telling of their relative receptions that they’ll be in Europe when Vow releases — so I imagine they’ll only further solidify, but already they played a headliner’s set, closing as always with “Kingdom” from the EP of the same name (it also appeared on their 2009 debut LP), the layers of which shimmered with psychedelic vibes prior to a full-on freakout at the end of pushed-over drums and guitar destruction. Awesome.
Here’s a direct quote from my notes on Truckfigters‘ set: “Everyone in the world who’s never seen Truckfighters live is a jive sucker and that’s that.” More or less, that covers my feelings on the matter. The Örebro trio — Ozo on vocals/bass, Dango on guitar and now Poncho on drums — are easily the most energetic and engaging fuzz rock acts I’ve ever seen, and before they were through perpetual opener “Desert Cruiser,” both Ozo and Dango had gone past the monitors at the front of the stage to be closer to the crowd, who were singing along loud enough to be heard over the instruments. But Truckfighters – who are fresh off a tour with Norwegian blackened punkers Kvelertak and shortly headed to Australia and New Zealand for a run of shows — aren’t just getting their cardio in, they’re also nailing the material and delivering it with a genuine sense of spontaneity and the impression that anything can happen at any given moment, such as Ozo jumping into the crowd during closer “In Search of The” or the band launching into “Chameleon” after someone in the crowd requested it, jamming on “Desert Cruiser” or unveiling two new songs, the first which fit (“fett?”) well with the bounce of “Monte Gargano,” which came later, and the second which had a fuller, fuzzier shuffle in the beginning and wound up thicker but still moving, with a quick bass and drum break to set up a return to what seemed on first impression to be a solid hook. “Majestic” was welcome, and from their audience interaction to the tightness of their performance — at one point Dango fell on stage after jumping off the drum riser and didn’t even stop playing as he got up — there are few records supposedly coming out before the end of this year that I’m looking forward to as much as the new Truckfighters.
An hour hardly seemed like enough time for a proper Colour Haze set. Back in September 2012, the ultra-influential Munich heavy psych trio rolled through London and did a full three hours, complete with guest appearances, keys, and so on. Still, I’ll take what I can get, and when it came to “Transformation” from She Said (review here) — my album of the year last year — I still heard the horn parts in my head even though no one was playing them live, so I’m not about to bitch that the experience was somehow lacking. It wasn’t. Colour Haze were a complete 180 in terms of presence from Truckfighters, mostly subdued, no jumping, no running around, plenty of grooving, but less about getting the heart rate up than giving the audience something to shut its eyes and get lost in. As guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philip Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald jammed past “Moon” from 2008′s Alland into “Love” from their ’04 self-titled, they were so locked into what they were doing that the real miracle of it seemed to be they didn’t lose the crowd in the slightest. An extended take only gave everyone watching more to dig on, so that by the time “Peace, Brothers and Sisters” and “Tempel” came around, the Electric Ballroom was suitably hypnotized. Seriously, I just wanted to give them money. Like, “Here, Colour Haze, I have 50 Euro left over from last weekend. Please take it.” I’ve seen them before — their set at Emissions from the Monolith in 2006 changed my life (ask me about it sometime), and at one or two Roadburn fests along the way — but even though this felt like a sampling, it was ultra-satisfying to watch these godfathers of the modern European scene do what quite simply nobody does better. As I already knew I wouldn’t be staying for the entire Pentagram set, Colour Haze were sort of my closeout for Desertfest, and I couldn’t have asked for a warmer farewell than that. They were masterful.
I got a press release earlier this week that oft-imitated doom pioneers Pentagram had a new guitarist in the form of Philly-based Matt Goldborough, but that the lineup was otherwise the same as when Victor Griffin was still slinging axe, with Sean Saley on drums and Greg Turley on bass with frontman/defining presence Bobby Liebling on vocals. Of course, lineup changes are nothing new for Liebling‘s band — their legacy is as much about tumult as it is about the riff to “Forever My Queen” — but Griffin‘s presence brought a certain legitimacy to Pentagram‘s recent run and their 2011 Last Rites comeback album (review here), and his departure, whatever the circumstances may have been, changes the context of the band, Griffin – who also played today with his new outfit In~Graved – being one of very few others who’ve done time in Pentagram who can lay reasonable claim to the material. He may well have come out to guest on guitar (I recall seeing the band in 2009 when he wasn’t with them and that happened), but if he did, I wasn’t there to see it. I stayed for about four songs and then had to split to come back to the hotel, write and pack for my flight out tomorrow. For the portion I did catch, however — “Day of Reckoning,” “Forever My Queen,” “Treat Me Right” and “Livin’ in a Ram’s Head” — Pentagram were tight and Liebling was Liebling. There are few things as much fun to watch in a concert setting as Bobby Liebling flipping out to a guitar solo. Like he hasn’t been staring at them for 40 years now. Awesome. Turley and Saley have the material on lockdown, and as the new guy, Goldborough more than held his own on guitar, a younger presence giving some freshness to what might just as easily have come across stale otherwise. I’ve seen worse from Pentagram, and though one can dream of this or that reunion lineup, the simple fact that they exist and persist is to be… respected? Maybe. Probably. Definitely gazed at in astonishment. And so they were.
I have work to do. As in, for my job. And so I know that Desertfest, as blissful as it has been, must be over. My plan is to write up some concluding thoughts for this whole trip tomorrow on the plane, and I’ll include a thanks list with that, but before I switch off to picture-sorting mode, I just want to say it’s been an absolute pleasure and an honor to be back here in Camden this weekend, to see the bands I’ve been lucky enough to be here to see and to meet the people I’ve been lucky enough to meet. This place is awesome (but for the weather), the music is great and I feel like even more than last year, Desertfest is developing a genuine vibe all its own. I was beat today, t-i-r-e-d, but at the same time, I knew I wanted to take as much of the proceedings in as possible, because when I’m back home slogging away in the office, I’m going to miss it.
More to come tomorrow, and more pics after the jump. Thanks as always for reading.
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 17th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
I was there. I can say with certainty that you’re probably gonna want to pick this one up. Today in a newsletter sent down the PR wire, UK smashers of skulls Conan sent word of Mount Wrath, a live album recorded last year at Roadburn in the Netherlands. The release will arrive on CD and LP this March and April, respectively, via Burning World Records.
Conan also have an update on their merch (they’re one of few bands I know who sell out of t-shirts on preorders alone) with some limited designs and colors and a slew of tour dates for next month into March. They’ll be performing in April at Desertfest London as well.
And in case you didn’t get to see it or haven’t heard it yet, I’ve also included the stream of their Roadburn set below, so you don’t have to just take my word as regards its badassery.
Conan January Mailout: Announcing New Live at Roadburn album ‘Mount Wrath’ via Burning World Records. New Merch Designs & European Tour this February
First it give us great pleasure to introduce our next release entitled “Mount Wrath” released in multiple formats on the following dates via Burning World Records.
1st February 2013 Digital Release (on Bandcamp ‘pay what you want’ basis) 1st March 2013 CD Release 1st April 2013 LP Release
Roadburn 2012 saw us travel to Mainland Europe for the first time, ever. We would like to thank Jurgen, Walter and all of the Roadburn team for asking us to play – as well as of course the people who work on the festival in the 013.
Enjoy our performance, captured here in all its glory, we had a fucking blast playing for you all…… Until we meet again.
For my information on the release please click here.
2012 also saw us release several shirts, some in limited numbers. In 2013 we have several new designs planned, but first we wanted to re-release some of out established designs. This will be setup a little differently. For all those that preorder the new designs this week there will be a multiple colour options of the Monnos, Sentinel and Horseback Battle Hammer designs. For all preorders please head over to http://conan.bigcartel.com/
Available colours: Black, Charcoal, Cardinal, Dark Chocolate, Forest Green, Ash Grey, Sports Grey, Red
In a few weeks the designs will all revert back to their original colours, white on black print apart from Horseback Battle Hammer which will be black on red
2013 will see us head out to Europe in February, Finland in March, UK in April and Denmark in May. For all venue information including maps please visit www.stereoposters.com/conan
Feel free to share and embed the posters with audio if you like.
All current dates:
February 8th Le Havre, France February 9th Amsterdam, Netherlands February 10th Paris, France February 11th Club Dijon, France February 12th Zurich, Switzerland February 13th Dornbirn, Austria February 14th Praha-B?evnov, Czech Republic February 15th Pardubice, Czech Republic February 16th Leipzig, Germany February 17th Potsdam, Germany February 18th Hamburg, Germany February 20th Dresden, Germany February 21th Brussels, Belgium March 21st Turku, Finland March 22nd Helsinki, Finland March 23rd Oulu, Finland May 4th Copenhagen, Denmark (Heavy Days In Doomtown)
Posted in Features on January 1st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Happy New Year to everyone around the world. It’s January 1, 2013, and to celebrate the New Year the best way I know how, I got right to work on tabulating the results of the 2012 Readers Poll. I’ve been tracking the results as they’ve come in over the course of December, and as you can see in the list below, it was a tight race for the top spot right up to the end.
Before we run down the finished list, I want to extend gratitude to each and every one of the 296 people who contributed their top 12 so this list could be put together. It’s an amazing response and I was super stoked that so many of you were able to take part. Thank you for that. Right from the first day the form went up, I knew this was going to be awesome, and it wound up exceeding my every expectation. It was a great sendoff to the year. Much appreciated.
Here are the results of the Top 20 of 2012 Readers Poll:
1. Om, Advaitic Songs – 108 votes
2. High on Fire, De Vermis Mysteriis – 106
3. Graveyard, Lights Out – 86
4. Neurosis, Honor Found in Decay – 65
5. Ufomammut, Oro – 63
5. Witchcraft, Legend – 63
6. Colour Haze, She Said – 56
6. Saint Vitus, Lillie: F-65 – 56
7. Kadavar, Kadavar – 49
7. Pallbearer, Sorrow and Extinction – 49
8. Orange Goblin, A Eulogy for the Damned – 46
9. Baroness, Yellow and Green – 39
10. Conan, Monnos – 38
11. Swans, The Seer – 35
12. Astra, The Black Chord – 31
13. Greenleaf, Nest of Vipers – 31
13. The Sword, Apocryphon – 31
14. Royal Thunder, CVI – 26
14. Wo Fat, The Black Code – 26
15. Ancestors, In Dreams and Time – 25
16. Torche, Harmonicraft – 23
17. Corrosion of Conformity, Corrosion of Conformity – 22
18. Enslaved, Riitiir – 19
19. Goat, World Music – 18
19. Melvins Lite, Freak Puke – 18
19. Soundgarden, King Animal – 18
20. Amenra, Mass V – 17
20. Samothrace, Reverence to Stone – 17
Witch Mountain, Cauldron of the Wild Rush, Clockwork Angels Stoned Jesus, Seven Thunders Roar Troubled Horse, Step Inside
Converge, All We Love We Leave Behind – 15 Mighty High, Legalize Tre Bags – 15 My Sleeping Karma, Soma – 15
Pretty wild to have Om and High on Fire so close, and they were tied for a long, long time, but Om retained an early lead and managed to pull it out in the end. As you can see, there were a number of releases that tied with others for their position. Seemed only fair to me to include all of them, and I also threw in those with 16 and 15 votes as well, just because it was close. In total, there were an astounding 1,200+ albums entered into consideration.
Once again, thanks to everyone for making this Readers Poll happen and for taking the time to be a part of it. Already looking forward to some fantastic things to come in 2013, so please stay tuned and keep your lists handy.
Posted in Features on December 20th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: This list is my personal picks, not the Readers Poll, which is ongoing — if you haven’t added your list yet, please do.
As ever, I’ve kept a Post-It note on my wall all year long, and as the weeks and months have ticked away, I’ve added names of bands to it in preparation for putting together my Top 20 of 2012. There was a glut of excellent material this year, and I know for a fact I didn’t hear everything, but from bold forays into new sonic territory to triumphant returns to startling debuts, 2012 simply astounded. Even as I type this, I’m getting emails about new, exciting releases. It’s enough to make you lose your breath.
Before we get down to it and start in with the numbers, the hyperbole, etc., I want to underscore the point that this list is mine. I made it. It’s not the Readers Poll results, which will be out early in January. It’s based on how I hear things, how much I listened to each of these records, the impressions they left on me — critical opinion enters into it, because whether or not I want to I can’t help but consider things on that level when I listen to a new album these days — but it’s just as much about what I put on when I wanted to hear a band kick ass as it is about which records carried the most critical significance or import within their respective genres.
Over the last couple years, I’ve come to think of the #20 spot as where I put my sentimental favorite. That was the case with Suplecs last year, and in 2012, the return of Mos Generator earns the spot. The band being led by guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed, Nomadsmarked a rehifting of Reed‘s priorities from Stone Axe, with whom he’d proffered ’70s worship for several years prior, and wound up as a collection of some of my favorite heavy rock songs of 2012 — tracks like “Cosmic Ark,” “Torches” and “Lonely One Kenobi” were as strong in their hooks as they were thorough in their lack of pretense. But the bottom line is I’m a nerd for Reed‘s songwriting, playing and production (more on that to come), and at this point it’s not really something I can even pretend to judge impartially. Still, the record’s friggin’ awesome and you should hear it as soon as you can.
Seems like it would make sense to say Golden Void would be higher on the list if I’d spent more time with it — written up just a month ago, it’s the most recent review here — but the fact is I’ve sat with Golden Void‘s self-titled debut a lot over the course of the last month-plus, and I’ve been digging the hell out of it. Really, the only reason it’s not further up is because I don’t feel like I have distance enough from it to judge how it holds up over a longer haul, but either way, the Isiah Mitchell-led outfit’s blend of heavy psych, driving classic rock and retro style gave some hope for beefing up the US’ take on ’70s swagger — usually left to indie bands who, well, suck at it — and also showed Mitchell as a more than capable vocalist where those who knew him from his work in Earthless may only have experienced his instrumental side. A stellar debut, a wonderful surprise, and a band I can’t wait to hear more from in the years to come.
This was basically the soundtrack to my summer. From the catch-you-off-guard aggression in opener “I Spit on Your Grave” to the extended stoneralia of “Master of Nuggets” and the jammy “Southern Comfort and Northern Lights,” the follow-up to Wight‘s self-produced debut Wight Weedy Wight(review here) showed an astonishing amount of growth, and though it had the laid back, loose feel that distinguishes the best of current European heavy psych, Through the Woods into Deep Waterwas also coherent, cohesive and impeccably structured. I thought it was one of the year’s strongest albums when it was released, and its appeal has only endured — as much as I listened to it when it was warm over the summer, now in December I put it on wishing the temperature would change to match. The songs showed remarkable potential from the German three-piece and cast them in an entirely different light than did their first out. Really looking forward to where they might go from here, but in the meantime, I’m nowhere near done with Through the Woods into Deep Wateryet.
“Oh, Moon Queen! Flyin’ down the world on a moonbeam!” Somehow the first lines of the opening title-track to Lord Fowl‘s Moon Queen always seem to wind up stuck in my head. The Connecticut foursome made their debut on Small Stone with the loosely thematic full-length, and touched on a sense of unabashedly grandiose ’70s heavy rock in the process. That said, Moon Queenwasn’t shooting for retro in the slightest — rather, guitarist/vocalists Vechel Jaynes and Mike Pellegrino fronted the band’s classic sensibilities with a wholly modern edge, like something out of an alternate dimension where rock never started to suck. The classic metal guitar in “Streets of Evermore” and the swaying groove from bassist Jon Conine and drummer Don Freeman under the wandering leads of “Hollow Horn” made Moon Queenmore stylistically diverse than it might otherwise have been, but at its core, it was a collection of stellar heavy rock songs, unashamed of its hooks and unafraid to put its passions front and center. They packed a lot into a 47-minute runtime, but I’ve yet to dig into Moon Queen and regret having pressed play. Another band to watch out for.
It was impossible not to be swept up in the hype surrounding Pallbearer‘s Profound Lore debut, but one listen to Sorrow and Extinctionand it was clear that its resounding praise was well earned. By blending thickened psychedelic tonality and emotionally resonant melodies, the Little Rock, Arkansas, four-piece concocted the single most important American doom release of the year. Their efforts did not go unnoticed, and as they supported the album on tour, the swell of the crowds spoke to the right-idea-right-time moment they were able to capture in songs like the stunning “An Offering of Grief” and “The Legend.” There’s room for growth — I wouldn’t be surprised to find guitarist Brett Campbell‘s vocal range greatly developed next time out — but Pallbearer have already left a mark on doom, and if they can keep the momentum going into wherever they go from here, it won’t be long before they’re being cited as having a significant impact on the genre and influencing others in their wake.
I already singled out Kadavar‘s Kadavaras the 2012 Debut of the Year, so if you need any sense of the reverence I think the German trio earned, take whatever you will from that. There really isn’t much to add — though I could nerd out about Kadavar‘s ultra-effective retroisms all day if you’re up for it — but something I haven’t really touched on yet about the record: When I was out in Philly last weekend, the DJ cleverly mixed Kadavar into a set of early ’70s jams, and it was all but indistinguishable in sound from the actual classics. That in itself is an achievement, but Kadavar‘s level of craft also stands them out among their modern peers, and it was drummer Tiger‘s snare sound that I first recognized in “All Our Thoughts,” so right down to the most intricate details, Kadavar‘s Kadavarwas a gripping and enticing affair that proved there’s still ground to cover in proto-heavy worship.
The fuzz was great — don’t get me wrong, I loved the fuzz — but with Stubb‘s Stubb, it was even more about the songs themselves. Whether it was the interplay between guitarist Jack Dickinson and bassist Peter Holland (also of Trippy Wicked) on vocals for the chorus of “Scale the Mountain” or the thickened shuffle in “Soul Mover” punctuated by drummer Chris West‘s (also Trippy Wicked and Groan) ever-ready fills, there wasn’t a clunker in the bunch, and though it’s an album I’ve basically been hearing since the beginning of the year, its appeal has endured throughout and I still find myself going back to it where many others have already been forgotten. With the acoustic “Crosses You Bear” and more laid-bare emotionality of “Crying River,” Stubb showed there was more them than excellence of tone and with the seven-minute finale “Galloping Horses,” they showed they were ready to jam with the best. Truly memorable songs — and also one of the live highlights of my year.
Orange Goblin‘s purpose seemed reborn on their seventh album and Candlelight Records debut, A Eulogy for the Damned. Culling the best elements from their last couple albums, 2007′s Healing Through Fire and 2004′s Thieving from the House of God, the long-running London troublemakers upped the production value and seemed bent from the start on taking hold of the day’s sympathy toward their brand of heavy. With tales of alcoholic regret, classic horrors and a bit of cosmic exploration for good measure, they marked their ascent to the top of the British scene and took well to the role of statesmen, headlining Desertfest and proceeding to smash audiences to pieces around the continent at fests and on tours. Look for them to do the same when they bring the show Stateside in 2013 with Clutch. Their plunder is well earned, and I still rarely go 48 hours without hearing the bridge of “The Fog” in my head. Can’t wait to see them again.
While I still miss Los Natas, my grief for their passing has been much eased over the last two years by frontman Sergio Chotsourian‘s doomier explorations in Ararat. The first album, 2009′sMusica de la Resistencia(review here), ran concurrent to Los Natas‘ swansong, Nuevo Orden de la Libertad, but with II, the new three-piece came into their own, setting space rock synth against low-end sprawl, thick drumming and Chotsourian‘s penchant for experimenting with structure. Extended tracks “Caballos” and “La Ira del Dragon (Uno)” were positively encompassing, and showed Ararat not only as a distinct entity from Los Natas, but a turn stylistically for Chotsourian into elephantine plod, wide-open atmospherics and a likewise expansive creative sensibility. The acoustic “El Inmigrante” and piano-led “Atenas” offered sonic diversity while enriching the mood, and closer “Tres de Mayo” hinted at some of the melding of the various sides that might be in store in Ararat‘s future. If the jump from the first record to the second is any indicator, expect something expansive and huge to come.
Italian cosmic doom meganauts Ufomammut outdid themselves yet again with Oro, breaking up a single full-length into two separate releases, Oro: Opus Primum and Oro: Opus Alter. But the album — which I’ve decided to list as the single entity Oro rather than its two component parts basically to save myself some brain space — was more than just big in terms of its runtime. More importantly, Ufomammut were able to hold firm to their commitment to stylistic growth, drawing on their greatest triumph yet, 2010′s Eve (review here), the trio pushed themselves even further on their Neurot Recordings debut, resulting in an album worthy of the legacy of those releasing it. I don’t know if Oro will come to define Ufomammut as Eve already seems to have — dividing it as they did may have made it harder for listeners to grasp it as a single piece — but it shows that there’s simply no scaring the band out of themselves. Brilliantly tied together around a central progression that showed up in “Empireum” from Opus Primumand “Sublime” on Opus Alter, I have the feeling Ufomammut will probably have another album out before Oro‘s breadth has fully set in.
Behold the standard bearers of heavy. It wasn’t long after hearing UK trio Conan for the first time that I began using them as a touchstone to see how other bands stacked up, and to be honest, almost no one has. Led by the inimitable lumber provided by the tone of guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis (interview here), Conan stripped down their approach for Monnos, returning to Foel Studio in Wales to work with producer Chris Fielding — who’d also helmed their 2010 Horseback Battle HammerEP — and the resulting effort was both trim and humongous. Early tracks like “Hawk as Weapon,” “Battle in the Swamp” (an old demo given new life) and “Grim Tormentor” actually managed to be catchy as well as sonically looming, and the more extended closing duo of “Headless Hunter” and “Invincible Throne” showed that Conan could both use their tone to build forward momentum and plod their way into ultra-slow, ultra-grim despairing nothingness. Monnos affirmed Conan as one of the most pivotal acts in doom, and with new material and a home studio reportedly in the works, as well as further European touring on the docket for early 2013, their onslaught shows no signs of letting up. Right fucking on.
In some ways, it seems like the easiest thing in the world, but with My Sleeping Karma‘s fourth full-length, Soma, it really was just a question of a band taking their sound to a completely new level. The German heavy psych instrumentalists brought forth the sweetness of tone their guitars have harnessed over the course of their three prior offerings, but the progressive keyboard flourishes, the warmth in the bass, the tight pop of the drums — it all clicked on Somain a way that the other records hinted was possible and made the album the payoff to the four-piece’s long-established potential. Wrapped around the titular theme of a drink of the gods and with its tracks spaced out by varying ambient interludes, no moment on the album felt like it wasn’t serving the greater purpose of the whole, and the whole proved to be a worthy purpose indeed. Hands down my favorite instrumental release of the year and an effort that pushed My Sleeping Karma to the front of the pack in the crowded European heavy psych scene.
The damnedest thing happens every time I turn on Graveyard‘s third album, Lights Out, in that before I’m halfway through opener “An Industry of Murder,” I have to turn it up. The reigning kings of Swedish retro heavy wasted no time following up 2011′s stunning sophomore outing, Hisingen Blues(review here), and with the four-year gap between their self-titled debut and the second record, it was a surprise from the moment it was announced, but more than that, Lights Outshowed remarkable development in Graveyard‘s sound, offering elements of classic soul on songs like “Slow Motion Coundown” and “Hard Times Lovin’” to stand alongside the brash rock and roll of “Seven Seven” or the irresistible hook provided by “The Suits, the Law and the Uniforms” or the single “Goliath.” A landmark vocal performance from guitarist Joakim Nilsson and newly surfaced political bent to the lyrics hinted that Graveyard were nowhere near done growing, but seriously, if they put out four or five more records in the vein of Lights Out, I doubt there’d be too many complaints. Already one can hear the influence they’ve had on European heavy rock, and Lights Outisn’t likely to slow that process in the slightest.
Three drum hits and then the lurching “Let Them Fall” — the leadoff track on the first Saint Vitus studio album since 1995 — is underway, and it’s exactly that lack of pomp, that lack of pretense, that makes Lillie: F-65so righteous. Admittedly, it’s a reunion album. They toured for a couple years playing old material, then finally decided to settle in and let guitarist Dave Chandler (interview here) start coming up with a batch of songs, but you can’t argue with the results. They nailed it. With Tony Reed‘s perfect production (discussed here), Vitus captured the classic tonality in Chandler‘s guitar and Mark Adams‘ bass and kept to their sans-bullshit ethic: A short, 33-minute album that leaves their audience wondering where the hell that assault of noise just came from. Scott “Wino” Weinrich‘s presence up front was unmistakable with Chandler‘s punkish, no-frills lyrics (as well as his own on “Blessed Night,” the first song they wrote for the album), and drummer Henry Vasquez not only filled the shoes of the late Armando Acosta but established his own persona behind the kit. I hope it’s not their last record, but if it is, Saint Vitus came into and left Lillie: F-65as doom legends, and their work remains timeless.
Talk about a band who shirked expectation. Guitarist/vocalist Justin Maranga and I discussed that aspect of Ancestors a bit in an interview over the summer, but it’s worth underscoring. There was next to nothing in either of Ancestors‘ first two albums to hint at where they’d go with the third. Both Neptune with Fire and Of Sound Mind(review here) were rousing, riff-led efforts that headed toward a particular heavy sensibility, but it was with last year’s Invisible WhiteEP (review here) that the L.A. outfit began to show the progressive direction they were heading. And In Dreams and Timeis even a departure from that! It’s kind of a departure from reality as well, with the Moog/organ/synth mesh from Matt Barks and Jason Watkins (also vocals), dreamy basslines from Nick Long and hold-it-all-together drumming of Jamie Miller — since out of the band. Closer “First Light” was my pick for song of the year, and had the album been comprised of that track along, it’d probably still be on this list somewhere, but with the complement given to it by the piano sprawl of “On the Wind” and driving riffs and vocal interplay of “Correyvreckan” (if you haven’t heard Long‘s bass on the latter as well, you should), there was little left to question that this was the strongest Ancestors release of their career to date and hopefully the beginning of a new era in their sound. They’ve never been what people wanted them to be, but I for one like not knowing what to expect before it shows up, at least where these guys are concerned.
After what I saw as a lackluster production for 2010′s Snakes for the Divine, Oakland, CA, trio High on Fire aligned themselves with producer Kurt Ballou (Converge) for De Vermis Mysteriis and completely renewed the vitality in their attack. Built on the insistence of “Bloody Knuckles,” furious fuckall of “Fertile Green,” unmitigated piracy of “Serums of Laio” and eerie crawl in “King of Days,” De Vermis Mysteriis was both aggressive in High on Fire‘s raid-your-brain-for-THC tradition and extreme in ways they’ve never been before. Groovers like the instrumental “Samsara” and earlier “Madness of an Architect” offered bombast where the thrash may have relented, while “Spiritual Rites” proved that guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike (also Sleep; interview here), bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensell had arrived at a new threshold of speed and intensity. Whatever personal issues may have been in play at the time, High on Fire delivered a blistering full-length that stands up to and in many ways surpasses any prior viciousness in their catalog, and their level of performance on their current tour makes it plain to see that the band is ready for ascendency to the heights of metal. They are conquerors to the last, and if De Vermis Mysteriisis what I get for wavering, then I’ll consider my lesson hammered home in every second of feedback, tom thud and grueling second of distortion topped with Pike‘s signature growl.
When I interviewed interviewed Steve Von Till about Honor Found in Decay, the Neurosis guitarist/vocalist called the band “a chaos process” in reference to their songwriting. I have no trouble believing that, because while Neurosis stand among the most influential heavy metal bands of their generation — having had as much of an effect on what’s come after them as, say, Meshuggah or Sleep, while also having little sonically in common with either of them — it’s also nearly impossible to pinpoint one aspect of their sound that defines them. The churning rhythms in the riffing of Von Till and his fellow frontman, guitarist/vocalist Scott Kelly (interview here), Dave Edwardson‘s intensity on bass and periodic vocal, the assured percussive creativity of Jason Roeder and theexperimental edge brought to bear in Noah Landis‘ synth and sampling all prove to be essential elements of the whole. On Honor Found in Decay — and this isn’t to take away anything from any other particular member’s songwriting contributions — it would be Landis standing out with his greatest contributions yet, becoming as much a defining element in songs like “At the Well,” “Bleeding the Pigs” and “Casting of the Ages” as either Kelly or Von Till‘s guitars. Had I never seen the band before, I’d have a hard time believing Honor Found in Decay could possibly be representative of their live sound, but they are every bit as crushing, as oppressive and as emotionally visceral on stage — if not more so — as they are on the album, and while their legacy has long since been set among the most important heavy acts ever, period, as they climb closer to the 30-year mark (they’ll get there in 2015), Neurosis continue to refuse to bow to what’s expected of them or write material that doesn’t further their decades-long progression. They are worthy of every homage paid them, and more.
It’s hard for me to properly convey just how happy listening to Greenleaf‘s Nest of Vipersmakes me, and I’ve got several false starts already deleted to prove it. The Swedish supergroup of vocalist Oskar Cedermalm (Truckfighters), guitarists Tommi Holappa and Johan Rockner (both Dozer), bassist Bengt Bäcke (engineer for Dozer, Demon Cleaner, etc.) and drummer Olle Mårthans (Dozer) last released an album in 2007. That was Agents of Ahriman, which was one of my favorite albums of the last decade. No shit. Not year, decade. With a slightly revamped lineup and Dozer‘s maybe-final album, 2008′s Beyond Colossal, and the never-got-off-the-ground side-project Dahli between, Nest of Viperslanded this past winter and with the shared membership, Karl Daniel Lidén production and consistency of songwriting from Holappa (interview here), I immediately saw it as a sequel to the last Dozer, but really it goes well beyond that. Tracks like “Dreamcatcher,” “Case of Fidelity,” “The Timeline’s History” and soaring opener “Jack Staff” show that although they’d never really toured to that point and been through various lineups over the years, Greenleaf was nonetheless an entity unto its own. Cedermalm‘s vocals were a triumph, Mårthans‘ drumming unhinged and yet grounded, and guest appearances from organist Per Wiberg and vocalists Peder Bergstrand (Lowrider/I are Droid) and Fredrik Nordin (Dozer) only enriched the album for repeat listens, which I’m thrilled to say it gets to this very day. If I called it a worthy successor both to Dozer and to Agents of Ahriman, those words alone would probably fall short of conveying quite how much that means on a personal level, so let its placement stand as testimony instead. This is one I’ll be enjoying for years to come, and when I’m done writing this feature, this is the one I’m gonna put back on to listen through again. It has been, and no doubt will continue to be, a constant.
Go figure that the Om record two albums after the one called Pilgrimagewould feel so much like a journey. Further including multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Robert A. A. Lowe (also of experimental one-man outfit Lichens) alongside the established core duo of drummer Emil Amos (also of Grails) and bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (also of Sleep), as well as incorporating a range of guest appearances from the likes of Grayceon‘s Jackie Perez Gratz on cello and Worm Ouroboros‘ Lorraine Rath (who appeared on 2010′s God is Goodas well) on flute, Om fleshed out what was once a signature minimalism to the point of being a lush, constantly moving and markedly fluid entity. Cisneros, as the remaining founder and lead vocalist, served as a unifying presence in the material — his bass still was still very much as the center of “Gethsemane” or the more straightforward and distorted “State of Non-Return” — but those songs and “Addis,” “Sinai” and gloriously melodic closer “Haqq al-Yaqin” amounted to more than any single performance, and where prior Om outings had dug themselves deep into a kind of solitary contemplation, Advaitic Songslooked outward with a palpable sense of musical joy and a richness of experience that could only be called spiritual, however physically or emotionally arresting it might also prove. I’ve found it works best in the morning, as a way to transition from that state of early half-there into the waking world — which no doubt has more harshness in mind than the sweet acoustics and tabla at the end of “Haqq al-Yaqin” — so that some of that sweetness can remain and help me face whatever might come throughout the day. A morning ceremony and a bit of meditation to reorder the consciousness.
Didn’t it have to be Colour Haze? Didn’t it? Two discs of the finest heavy psychedelic rock the world has to offer — yes I mean that — plus all they went through to get it out, the drama of building and rebuilding a studio, recording and re-recording, pressing and repressing, what else could it have been but She Said? After two-plus years of waiting, I was just so glad when it actually existed. Late in 2008, the Munich trio released All, and that was my album of the year that year as well (kudos to anyone who has that issue of Metal Maniacs), but I feel like even if you strip all that away and take away all the drama and the band’s influence, their standing in the European scene, guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek (interview here) fostering next-gen talent on Elektrohasch and whatever else you want or need to remove, She Said still holds up. Just the songs themselves. The extra percussion layered in with Manfred Merwald‘s drums on “She Said,” the horns and Duna Jam-ambience on “Transformation,” the unpretentious boogie of “This” on disc one, or the rush of “Slowdown” on disc two and the culmination the whole album gets when the strings kick in on “Grace.” Those strings. God damn. Suddenly a 2CD release makes sense, when each is given its own progression, its own destination at which to arrive, and tired as I am I still tear up like clockwork when I put on “Grace” just to hear it while I type about it. Beautifully arranged, wonderfully executed, She Saidcouldn’t be anywhere but at the top spot on this list. The warmth in Koglek‘s guitar and Philipp Rasthofer‘s bass on “Breath” and the way their jams always seem to have someplace to go, I feel like I’m listening to a moment exquisitely captured. There isn’t a doubt in my mind Colour Haze are the most potent heavy rock power trio in the world, and that their chemistry has already and will continue to inspire others around them, but most importantly, She Saidmet the true album-of-the-year criteria in not seeming at all limited to the confines of 2012 — as though it had some kind of expiration date. Not so. Even though I’ve already been through them more times than I know or would care to share had I counted, I look forward to getting to know the songs on She Saidover the years to come, and as I have with Colour Haze‘s works in the past, seeing their appeal change over time the way the best of friends do. It couldn’t have been anything but Colour Haze. Whatever hype other albums or bands have, for me, it’s this, and that’s it.
If this list went to 25, the next five would be:
21. Snail, Terminus
22. Revelation, Inner Harbor
23. Wo Fat, The Black Code
24. Groan, The Divine Right of Kings
25. Caltrop, Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes
Honorable mention goes to: Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight (another one about whom I have a hard time being impartial), Mighty High, At Devil Dirt, Bell Witch, Samothrace, Enslaved, Viaje a 800, and Larman Clamor.
Also worth noting some conspicuous absences: Witchcraft, Swans, Baroness, Royal Thunder, The Sword, Torche. These albums garnered a strong response and have done well in the Readers Poll looking at the results so far, but please keep in mind, this is my list, I took a night to sleep on it, I stand by it and I’ve got my reasons for selecting what I did. You’ll find about 5,000 words of them above.
Thank you as always for reading. If you disagree with any picks, want to add your own take on any of the above, or anything else — really, whatever’s cool — please leave a comment below.
Whatever medium you enjoy music through, LPs, CDs, digital, tapes, reel-to-reel, Edison cylinders, the fact of the matter is that artwork — the visual representation of the album — makes a huge difference in the overall impression a record makes. There are bands who slave away for months negotiating fine details with artists and there are bands who snap a picture of themselves and throw it out front on their way to grab their next beer. Both methods have yielded classic results.
As 2012 winds down, I thought it might be fun to go back to the start of the year and take a look at some of the best album art that accompanied some killer albums. This isn’t the Best Albums list, just some of what I think is the Best Art. I’ll try my best to keep my reasons short as we go along alphabetically:
Alcest, Les Voyages de l’Âme
The sort of gloomy lushness that artist Fursy Teyssier brought to the cover for Alcest‘s Les Voyages de l’Âme was breathtaking from the first glance. Teyssier (also of Les Discrets; interview here) wonderfully captured the morose beauty in Alcest‘s music and painted a masterpiece that transcended “rock art” as much as the album itself transcended black metal or any other genre in which one might try to pigeonhole it.
The sentinel that has now graced the cover of the last couple Conan releases has mirrored the British act’s ascent in joining the ranks of great heavy metal mascots. Tony Roberts, who drew the piece on the cover of Monnos, has become an essential part of the band’s mythology, meeting their ultra-crushing tonality with visuals that seem to work in atmospheres no less oppressively brutal. If art was ever heavy, it was heavy here.
A pretty simple idea, but wonderfully executed, the front of Portland neo-traditionalists Doomsower‘s debut EP, 1974, came from an EPA photo documentary project that took place the same year. I picked it for this list not because it was so intricate or anything like that, but proof that sometimes something that seems basic can also be just right for the songs — the rails parallel, but joining, seeming to indicate Doomsower‘s journey undertaken.
Electric Moon, The Doomsday Machine
The question wasn’t so much would there be an Electric Moon cover on this list, but which one? The prolific German heavy psych jammers have a cache of treasure in the work of bassist Komet Lulu, and when it came time to choose from among the several recordings the band released in 2012, The Doomsday Machine stood out as a departure from the bright colors and classic psychedelia, being a painting by Lulu‘s father, Ulla Papel. Here’s to genetics.
Groan, The Divine Right of Kings
Having also handled Groan‘s split with Finnish trad doomers Vinum Sabbatum, W. Ralph Walters outdid himself with Groan‘s full-length follow-up, The Divine Right of Kings. With strong References to Hieronymus Bosch‘s vision of hell, Walters visualized the band’s move into classic metal and mixed it with manic get-stoned-and-stare kitchen-sinkery much as Groan continued to consort with brash heavy rock and doom. Walters‘ work on Blue Aside‘s The Moles of a Dying Race was no less distinct an achievement.
Larman Clamor, Frogs
Aside from thinking frogs are awesome in general, I was stoked to see how incredibly well Alexander von Wieding‘s art for his band Larman Clamor‘s 2012 offering fit the music. Otherworldly, darkly psychedelic and caked in haze, the dead stare of the frankenfrog on the front of Frogs perfectly matched von Wieding‘s swampy, bluesy style and looked even better on vinyl. Having also contributed to records by Lord Fowl, Wo Fat, Cortez and others this year, von Wieding has made himself one of the most essential heavy rock artists the world over.
Neurosis, Honor Found in Decay
Were it not for the discussion about the process of putting it together in the interview I did with Neurosis guitarist/vocalist Steve Von Till at the end of October, Josh Graham‘s cover for Honor Found in Decay — especially being so similar in idea to his work on Soundgarden‘s King Animal — probably wouldn’t have made this list, but knowing the level of construction that went into making the piece, from painting the jawbones to using artifact arrowheads from Slovakia, I couldn’t help but see it in a different light. Graham‘s ended his association with Neurosis, but if this is how he went out, they couldn’t have asked for more.
I had spent some serious time with Summoner‘s Phoenix by then, had been in talks with the band about releasing it on The Maple Forum, but it wasn’t until I held the LP in my hands at SHoD and really saw the Alyssa Maucere cover in-person that I realized what I was looking at. And once you see it, it’s not really subtle at all. Get it yet? There’s a cock and balls on the right side. I gotta give it to the Boston outfit and to Maucere for sneaking and yet not at all sneaking that one in there. Hey, if you don’t appreciate some phallic humor every now and again, you’re probably not going to start a website called The Obelisk.
Ufomammut, Oro: Opus Primum & Oro: Opus Alter
Is it cheating to include both covers from Ufomammut‘s Oro two-album series? Probably. Do I give a shit? Not in the slightest, because the Italian collective — who for visual purposes go by the name Malleus — tapped into new territory of psych art with the pieces for Oro: Opus Primum and Oro: Opus Alter, manifesting the idea of “psychedelic metal” in the actual style and inks used, while also contrasting dark and light and conveying the permanent nature of gold itself and the notions of hypnotic ritual that show up in their music. These covers were proof that Ufomammut are more than just the masters of their sound.
Another Tony Roberts creation, but in a completely different style from Conan‘s Monnos above, the bleak cover of UK nautical doomers Undersmile‘s 80-minute debut LP Narwhal seemed to embody everything the band had to offer on the album. It was dark, with hard drawn structural lines, but also sprawling, encompassing every panel of the digipak and running into the liner much as Undersmile‘s oceanic themes ran into every minute of the music, crushingly heavy or minimalist and ambient. Less about the titular creature within and more about the sea itself, it conveyed an utter hopelessness and the smallness of humanity when set against something so massive as the sea.
There were plenty more I could’ve included here — records from High on Fire, Om, Graveyard, Wight, Caltrop, Ancestors, Samothrace, Vulture and several others all are worthy of honorable mention, but for one reason or another, these were the standouts to me and I hope you agree that even in this go-ahead-and-download-it age of immediate convenience, the visual art remains pivotal to an album experience.
Someone you think got left out? If you’ve got any suggestions to add, agreements or disagreements, I’d love to get a discussion going in the comments, so please, have at it.
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 2nd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
With Dozer and Lowrider already on the London Desertfest 2013 bill (swoon), there’s nothing quite like the heaviest band in the world to round out the lineup. Today it was announced that Liverpool’s Conan have signed on to play on Sunday, April 28, as part of the fest. They should have new material by then, if not a new album actually out, so it’ll definitely be a great time to catch them, should you be so fortunate as to be able to attend.
You thought Godflesh were heavy. You thought Neurosis were heavy. You thought Sunn0))) were heavier still. But you certainly didn’t count on three darkness-drenched barbarians from Liverpool plugging into a fortress of amps, tuning down to drop-F and drone-riffing you even further into the void.
Conan have been re-defining the verb “to doom” since 2006 across two critic-crushing records, ‘Horseback Battle Hammer’ and ‘Monnos’, plus a truly bulldozing split with Slomatics. Having played with everyone from Ramesses to Sleep and Eyehategod (and usually at the headliners’ requests), Conan bring their tales of swamp battles, slain minotaurs, mutant snails and dying giants to London’s DesertFest for the very first time. Bring your ear-plugs and your shit-eating grins to hail the mighty Conan… We ain’t kiddin’ about those ear-plugs.
Conan is another addition to the Human Disease/ When Planets Collide stage on Sunday 28th April, which is looking pretty mean already.
Posted in Whathaveyou on October 25th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
For the last couple months, we’ve followed the unfolding tale of Doommantia.com’s founder, Ed Barnard, who suffered a heart attack at the end of July and has since been left homeless. Donations have been taken over at their site, and hopefully wherever you are or whatever your situation, you’ve had a chance to give and support Ed in these tough times. On Oct. 13, the Doommantia Bash benefit show was held in his honor and by all accounts I’ve seen, that was a success, but there’s more to be done.
Word went out yesterday of the Doommantia Vol. 1digital compilation being available. Put together and organized by the band Compel, it’s $7 on Bandcamp and there are an astounding 39 bands included. Ed‘s special lady, Sally Doomvixen, posted the news last night that Ed was back in the hospital overnight with chest pains again, and though the situation doesn’t seem as serious as last time, the bills are no less devastating.
So you haven’t taken time yet to help out Ed Barnard, I once more urge you to do so, and this time, you get over four hours’ worth of music in return from great bands. More info follows, courtesy of Doommantia:
The DOOMMANTIA Benefit Compilation Has Arrived, 39 Tracks, Over 4 Hours For Only $7…
The first ever Doommantia.Com Compilation is now available for download for only $7 fromBANDCAMP. Immediate download of no less than 39 tracks of doomy goodness, over 4 hours long. Bands featured are Blackwolfgoat, At Devil Dirt, Low Gravity, Ichabod, Fister, Undersmile, Compel, Iron Man, Wizard’s Beard, Oceans Rainbow, Beelzefuzz, Conan, Lazarus Complex, Spyderbone, Order Of The Owl, Dope Flood, War Injun, Heathen Bastard, Halmos, Kriz, Bongripper, Demonaut, In The Company Of Serpents, Switchblade Jesus, Pale Divine, When The Deadbolt Breaks, Bastards Of The Skies, Gorgantherron, Screaming Mad Dee and Alex Vanderzeeuw, Chowder, War Iron, Hollow Leg, Crawl, Desolation, Ketea, Sludgethrone, Vulture, Wolfpussy and The Departure. That is some bang for your buck!!!
All proceeds go to the Ed Barnard homeless fund so it is a very worthy cause. Thanks to all the bands involved and to Tim Davis who worked so hard putting all of this together. Head toBANDCAMPnow to get your download.
It’s the battle for next-gen British doom supremacy!
In a way, the question of Conan vs. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats all comes down to how you like your doom. If you want it with some of the world’s heaviest tones bashing you over the head alternately with ferocious hooks and unmatched lumber, you’re going to go with Conan. If you want it rife with slicing malevolence, lurking murderously in classic buzzsaw fuzz, as demented and mysterious in its slasher ambience as it is catchy and memorable, then Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats are the clear choice.
Yes, I know these bands are about as different as you can get and still call it doom. The way I figure it, that’s half the fun.
Conan released one of 2012′s best albums with Monnos(review here) and Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats‘ 2011 outing Blood Lustreceived such a massive response (not that I knew it at the time) that Rise Above couldn’t help but sign the band. Both acts have new material in the works — Conan are writing and Uncle Acid will enter the studio, of course, on Halloween — but as they have both have crazy momentum going into their next releases, it seemed like a good time to see where people stood.
There are a lot of bands coming out of the UK, but I’m hard pressed to think of two acts who so clearly highlight the diversity in the country’s current scene and the quality of material put forth by British artists. So what’s your pick for the forerunner of the next generation of British doom?
If you need a refresher, have at it:
Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, “I’ll Cut You Down” from Blood Lust
Conan, “Grim Tormentor” from Monnos
As always, take your pick and leave a comment. Any other contenders are awesome too. Basically I just figured it would be fun to see how the support stacked up, so whatever you’ve got to say, it’s definitely welcome.
When I spoke to Jon Davis for the following interview, the Conan guitarist/vocalist was sitting on a rooftop on holiday with his family on the southeast coast of Spain. “Not far from Alicante,” as he put it. One imagines him, just weeks after Conan finished their first European tour, looking out over a Spanish landscape every bit the satisfied conqueror. Rightly so, as Conan — who followed performances at this year’s Roadburn and Damnation festivals with a slot opening for Sleep in Oslo — have done little else since the release of 2010′s Horseback Battle Hammer EP (review here) other than obliterate whatever lay in their path. If that happens to be the European continent this time, so be it.
Earlier this year, Conan issued Monnos (review here). What was ostensibly their first full-length — though I’d argue that at a little over half an hour, Horseback Battle Hammerhad more than enough meat to it to be a complete album — the coming of Monnos was heralded by a split with Slomatics (review here), and when the album arrived, it did so via Roadburn/Burning World Records in Europe. The trio of Davis, drummer Paul O’Neill and bassist/backing vocalist Phil Coumbe returned to Foel Studios to work once again with producer/engineer Chris Fielding, and stripped their songwriting down to its essential parts even as they crafted their most expansive outing yet. For a “first album,” it was frighteningly cohesive, and it proved there was more to Conan than just the heaviest low end in the world.
This summer (July 31 to be exact), Gravedancer Records will release Monnos in the US, and it was to mark that occasion that I connected with Davis via Skype to discuss the development of the band, their conscious desire to keep true to their musical and epically-themed aesthetic, the show with Sleep, the overwhelmingly positive reception Conan has gotten from around the globe, the prospect of further touring, and finally, the relationship with his wife, Holly, that allows him to leave his young family every so often and embark on another quest to cleave skulls with volume. As has been my experience with every Skype interview I’ve done, the connection was rough — it cut out a couple times and then I ran out of credit and it was a big mess — but there’s enough here that you should more than be able to get a sense of where Davis and Conan are coming from.
To aid in that, I also asked Mr. Davis to curate a playlist to go with the interview, and much to my delight, he complied. On the player below, you’ll find that collection of classic metal and heavy rock — everything from Exodus covering AC/DC to Japanese sludge noisemakers Greenmachine, and a few surprises along the way. Given the era most of this stuff comes from, the word “mixtape” fits especially well.
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!
The complete 5,700-word Q&A with Jon Davis of Conan is after the jump, along with some photos from Roadburn. It might interrupt the player when you click through, so be prepared to resume. Thanks for reading.
Posted in Features on June 25th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
The last couple years, I’ve done a top five of the first half, and that’s cool, but as I sat down the other day to make the list that follows, I realized the numbers didn’t work. If I’m going to finish 2012 off with a top 20 — which unless a piano falls on my head between now and then I am — then half of that is 10. Half a year, half a top 20. I was never much for math, folks.
But the important thing is I got there in the end, and with a full top 10, I have a little more room to nerd out on what I think are some (not all) of the best releases of the last six months. And just so I can say I said it twice, these are my personal picks, based on what I’ve listened to most as much as whatever estimation of aesthetic value I might make. Let’s get to it:
10. Witch Mountain, Cauldron of the Wild
If you’re asking yourself, “Hey, wasn’t Witch Mountain‘s Cauldron of the Wild just reviewed the other day?” you’re right, it was. That’s why it’s number 10 — because I know it’s a really good record, but I’m not sure yet what the replay value will be as the year progresses. Let it say something that I didn’t want to make this list without including the third album from the Portland doom bluesers, but without the benefit of a little distance from the songs (I still have “Shelter” stuck in my head from reviewing it, though that may prove a permanent scenario), I thought it better to play it cautious than be overly excited. Sometimes it’s hard to restrain the geek within, and I know I’m not the only one Cauldron of the Wild has had that effect on.
9. Caltrop, Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes
Deceptively progressive and study on repeat visits, the newest full-length from North Carolina’s Caltrop, Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes, is an album that doesn’t bow to accessibility but gets there naturally on its own anyway. The music the four-piece makes is technically complex, but the use they put that complexity to is warm and inviting, where so much prog feels cold and showy. Maybe that’s the Southern heat working its way into the tracks, but either way, with the varied work of multiple songwriters and a consistency of atmosphere running throughout, Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes helped me make the transition out of winter and into the warmer weather. I continue to think of Caltrop as a woefully underrated band.
8. Stubb, Stubb
The self-titled Superhot Records debut from London-based trio Stubb (review here) was a simple case of fuzz done right. The rhythm section here also had a strong outing on Superhot in the form of Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight‘s Going Home (review here), but partnered up with guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson, the bass/vocals of Pete Holland and drums of Chris West formed a power trio inspired by classic rock but not imitating it, which is increasingly rare. Their stoner groove was straightforward and heartfelt and the songwriting on tracks like “Mountain” and “Hard Hearted Woman” left absolutely nothing to be desired. I consider myself lucky for having seen them live, and doing so only increased my appreciation for the album.
7. Ararat, II
Sergio Chotsourian‘s second album in post-Los Natas project Ararat (review here) was both more cohesive than its 2009 predecessor, Musica de la Resistencia (review here), and thicker. Indeed, it was his bass tone that made the rumble in extended tracks like “Caballos” and “La Ira del Dragon (Uno)” so indispensable. Ararat has a different dynamic than did Los Natas, but hearing the beginning of what will hopefully be a long process of development has been part of the fun of listening to the band so far. Still, it’s the songs themselves more than their context that stand out, and every time I listen to “Lobos de Guerra y Cazadores de Elefantes,” I swear it seems like my brain is going to turn into liquid and start seeping out of my ears. It’s hard not to dig a record that makes you feel that way.
6. Ufomammut, Oro: Opus Primum
I’ll admit, this one’s a bit of a running gag I have with myself. Ever since I put Ufomammut‘s Eve as the number six on my top 10 of 2010, I’ve regretted it, and the thing about Oro: Opus Primum is (review here) that it’s only half the album, with Oro: Opus Alter still to come as the second part of their Neurot Recordings debut. So when I was wondering where to stick this thing on the list, the number that immediately came to my head was six and there it stands. Amazing to think that we’ll get another Ufomammut record before the year’s out. I look forward to hearing that, and in the meantime, there have been several occasions for which nothing has seemed quite doomed enough that Oro: Opus Primum has fit just right. Ufomammut have been and continue to be something really special.
5. Orange Goblin, A Eulogy for the Damned
What’s not to like about the prospect of a new Orange Goblin record? Nothing, that’s what. With killer songs like “Acid Trial,” “The Fog,” “The Filthy and the Few” and blistering leadoff single “Red Tide Rising,” A Eulogy for the Damned (review here) was the first highlight of 2012 and a fitting summation of much of what’s always been awesome about the band, who’ve become godfathers of the British heavy underground. The production on the album is cleaner than the band comes off live, but the energy in the tracks is undeniable, and it’s with that that Orange Goblin justify the five-year wait since 2007′s Healing through Fire last tore the heavy rock scene a new arsehole. They might be real rock ‘n’ roll’s best kept secret at this point, and their seventh album sends the damned out with a fitting tribute from some of their own kind.
4. Conan, Monnos
Try though I may — and I should probably say here that I haven’t tried — I still can’t get the riff to “Grim Tormentor” from Conan‘s Monnos (review here) out of my head. The album, which was the follow-up to 2011′s split with Slomatics and 2010′s mighty Horseback Battle Hammer debut, found the British trio bringing their songwriting up to a level to match Jon Davis‘ monstrous guitar tone, furthering their dual vocal approach between Davis and bassist Phil Coumbe while upping the pace somewhat on the album’s first half lend fleetness to the stomp in Paul O’Neil‘s drums. Monnos‘ second half was more ethereal, slower, swampier, with the morose “Golden Axe” paving the way for “Headless Hunter” and “Invincible Throne” to level everything in their path with atmosphere as dense as their musical weight. Easily the heaviest album I’ve heard so far this year.
3. Greenleaf, Nest of Vipers
Whenever I do these lists, I hit a point where on a given day they’re all number one. Sometimes it’s just between two albums. In 2010, it was six. This list, so far into 2012, it’s three, and Swedish heavy rock supergroup Greenleaf‘s Nest of Vipers (review here) is the first of them. I’ve been stoked on this record since before I heard it, and while that probably doesn’t do much to argue for my impartiality on the matter, I also don’t give a crap, because Greenleaf fucking rules. I’ll have an interview in the weeks to come with guitarist Tommi Holappa (also ex-Dozer) about the band, and once again, this is definitely one that is going to reappear on the top 20 come December. Not a doubt in my mind. I wasn’t sure the band would be able to live up to 2007′s landmark Agents of Ahriman, but the more I listen to Nest of Vipers, the clearer it becomes that they did precisely that.
2. Ancestors, In Dreams and Time Brilliantly melodic, rife with complexity of emotion and execution, Los Angeles-based Ancestors‘ third album, In Dreams and Time, was the full-length answer to last year’s blissfully melancholic Invisible White EP. Finding the band mature, progressive and worshiping the song rather than the form, they transcended genre as easily as they embarked on it, crafting a wash of melody in Moog, synth, organ, guitar and vocals alike in their richest arrangements yet, culminating in what’s probably the single best extended guitar solo I’ve heard in the last five years on 19-minute closer “First Light,” a song that’s got so many ups and downs contained within its runtime that it’s practically an album unto itself. A gorgeous record and one that has enriched my excitement for Ancestors as they continue to throw creativity in the face of expectation and not look back either on what they’ve done before or what others think they should be doing.
1. Saint Vitus, Lillie: F-65
I’m more than happy to confess that part of my enduring affection for Lillie: F-65 comes from the fact that it’s Saint Vitus‘ first album in 17 years. If you want to tell me which part of that isn’t a totally valid reason to make it number one on this list, I’ll listen. It might not change my mind about the album, which arrives following three successfully reunited years touring and doing shows together. Led as ever by the stripped-down songwriting of guitarist Dave Chandler (interview here), Saint Vitus perfectly reinvigorated their most classic methods on Lillie: F-65 (review here) without sounding like they were wearing a suit that didn’t fit. The Tony Reed-produced album was the first to be fronted by Scott “Wino” Weinrich since 1990′s V, and proved that the chemistry between he and Chandler is a huge part of what has made the band legendary in American doom these last several decades. Together with bassist Mark Adams and drummer Henry Vasquez, Chandler and Wino issued the greatest of 2012′s doom triumphs so far, and in a mere fucked-up, feedback-soaked 33 minutes silenced every reunion naysayer with ears to hear their distant scream. Saint Fucking Vitus.
Wouldn’t be a list without a fair bit of honorable mentions. First to Snail, whose Terminus will probably end up on the year-end list when the time for that arrives, and also to C.O.C., High on Fire, Les Discrets, Wino & Conny Ochs and Electric Moon. Been a pretty good year so far. Here’s to the next six months of it.
Posted in audiObelisk on June 18th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
This is one of my favorite series of posts throughout the year, and it’s even better now because I can actually embed the players. Thanks as always to Roadburn for documenting these sets and to Marcel van den Vondervoort and his crew at Spacejam for doing the hard work of recording and putting it all together.
If you missed the first batch of 2012 streams, they’re right here, and as always, enjoy:
Posted in Features on April 13th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
04.13.12 — 00.10 — Friday Night — Hotel Mercure
Today was going to be my calm day. Yesterday was a ton of running around, tomorrow indeed will also be a ton of running around. Today the idea was fewer bands, but more full sets. I wanted to let the fest sink in a little. To savor it for a while without having to be off somewhere else immediately.
Day two of the 17th annual Roadburn festival in Tilburg, the Netherlands, was dedicated to Canadian legends Voivod‘s curated event, Au-delà du Réel (the French translation of “the outer limits,” keeping with the band’s oft-affirmed affection for sci-fi). With the likes of Farflung and Barn Owl on the bill, though, it was as Roadburn as ever, but the idea — at least according to the literature — was to blend loud and quiet around the Voivod set doing all of Dimension Hatröss, and in that, they succeeded. It was probably the most mixed Roadburn lineup I’ve ever seen.
I’d been up until about 05.00 in the morning putting together the writeup of day one, so I slept late and got up after noon to get ready for the next round. Wino & Conny Ochs provided a subdued beginning at Het Patronaat, which was welcome. They both mentioned that they’d been on the road together touring Europe for six weeks, and they sounded like it. The harmonies between the two singers were tighter even than on the Heavy Kingdom collaborative album (review here), and they opened with the first cut from that, the ultra-quiet “Somewhere Nowhere.” Cameras around me clicked off pictures, and the music was so quiet that each click of a camera sounded like someone was breaking a window.
They picked up the energy level, though, at least somewhat. “Labor of Love” was a high point, as was “Heavy Kingdom,” and they played a new song they wrote while on tour called “Hellbound Train” that was bluesy enough to earn its title. It’s good to know that their collaboration will continue, or that they’re thinking it will at this point, anyhow. It will be interesting to hear how (and see when) they follow Heavy Kingdom and in what ways they expand their approach. Wino kicked some fuzz into his acoustic guitar for a solo — it might have been during “Old and Alone,” it might not — and later, Ochs brought out a bow and started playing his guitar with that as he also worked a kickdrum with his foot to provide more of a rhythm. Not exactly fireworks, I know, but it was an unplugged set, and seeing how well Wino and the malleable-voicedOchs work together was excitement enough.
Nachtmystium was taking the main stage at the 013 just as Wino&Conny Ochs were finishing, but I stayed put and waited a short while until Hexvessel came out and delivered their take on alternately Satanic and pagan folk. Before they took the stage, the Het Patronaaat DJ — whose name was Kevin, we’d later eat dinner together — played Black Widow and Coven, and that was appropriate enough a lead-in for Hexvessel, whose sound is very purposefully in that vein, but a tad more Finnish. I give it about five more months before avant garde pagan folk is the new doom, everyone wearing forest tunics and selling the good word of Satan’s majesty made flesh in the indulgent wonders of the earth. Not that I’d care if it happens, but if it does, I’d like another band to add to the list of comparison points. One gets tired of repeating, “Black Widow and Coven” all the time.
I did not stay in Hexvessel‘s darkened forest for long. Los Angeles psych unit Farflung — who I believe are actually in the process of being legally adopted by Europe — were in the Green Room, and I stood and watched some through the door, but my main thing was hitting the merch area at that time. I know I didn’t mention it yesterday, but buying merch is a major part of the Roadburn experience, whether it’s the festival t-shirt itself, exclusive vinyls, limited CDs. Whatever itch you’ve got to scratch as regards doomly commerce, all the bands are there at V39, which is right across the alley from the 013, and they’re all ready to sell. Groups playing Het Patronaat also get to sell their stuff at the church’s downstairs room, and it was there I bought six short-run handmade CDRs from GNOD, who I’d wind up not seeing tonight but am still glad to have dealt with. The dude took me through each CD one at a time and explained what the band was doing at that point, which order the discs were in, etc. It was actually pretty fascinating.
Back at the main merch area, though, it was crowding up. Depending on who’s at what table, it can be just as hard to move through there as it is to get into the Green Room or Stage01, but the difference I suppose is the merch area is a constant flux. I got myself a much-needed espresso from the machine (could use one now; my eyelids are getting heavy as I type) in the lower room that looks out onto the little courtyard smoking area, and conducted some business, picking up discs from Farflung, Black Rainbows and Dopethrone. The same people selling The Obsessed‘s new limited live LP were also selling CD/DVD digipaks of the new Saint Vitus record, Lillie: F-65 (review here), so I grabbed that too, and a Voivod shirt specially made for the Dimension Hatröss performance at Roadburn.
The next several moves I made can basically come down to one goal, and that was to see Conan at Stage01. I tried to get into Stage01 twice yesterday and failed both times. Couldn’t even get to a point where I could see in the doorway. It was pitiful, and as a result, I adjusted the course and direction of my afternoon with the single trajectory in mind: To be up front, Stage01, 19.15 as the British megadoom trio hit the stage. Was a bit of a process, beginning with seeing J.G. Thirlwell’s Manorexia in the main room. I think Sólstafir at Het Patronaat was drawing a lot of the crowd away, not to mention what remained of Farflung‘s packed-out set, but I wanted to catch J.G. Thirlwell’s Manorexia specifically because I knew nothing about the project. When I walked into the main hall, there was a string quartet setting up and piano, extra percussion — bit of chamber music to balance out the Au-delà du Réel mission. So be it. Excellently performed and it was great to watch these burly beardo sludge heads in the crowd shut their eyes and did on the cello. I’d have stayed longer, but for the mission of my own.
Dinner was a necessity. I was dragging ass already and it was only 17.50. Still a lot of Day Two left. So I went and ate as fast as I could so that I’d be in time to catch some of Kong in the Green Room — but upstairs, on the balcony. You see, the balcony of the Green Room connects to Stage01 in a way that already puts you in the room. No more waiting by the door. Well, yes, you’re still waiting by the door, but it’s a different door, and you don’t have to be in the hall — ah, forget it. It made sense at the time. Let’s just say that and roll with it. I made my way through and up to the Green Room balcony as Kong were setting up. They were pretty decent, instrumental heavy stuff with a bit of electronics thrown in in a way that was satisfyingly creative without being weird on purpose or desperate for attention. I snapped some shots, most (if not all) of which were terrible, but could not linger, lest I mistime my approach to the smallest of 013‘s three rooms and blow the entire Conan operation.
No way I was going to let that happen. Danava were on stage in there, and I’ve never been a fan. Back home in the States, we call it “hipster metal,” but I guess that matters less here. No wonder the Euro scene is so strong. Some dude leaned over to me and in an accent I’m pretty sure was Italian said, “They’re good like The Atomic Bitchwax!” The Bitchwax with a marketing budget. Had all the right t-shirts — Ted Nugent, Blue Öyster Cult — but weren’t nearly as tight as the last three Bitchwax gigs I’ve seen. Nonetheless, when traveling away from home, one hesitates when it comes to engaging debate on these points. No real cause to do so anyway. I’d just be a prick who doesn’t like popular bands. Better to just save the time and realize that at the outset. Whatever. They were fine and the crowd loved them.
And I probably wouldn’t have been there at all, but Danava — who, of course, more drew Stage01 to be more-than-capacity full — were another means to the my already stated end. They still had more than 20 minutes of their hour-long set left, but during that time, I put my plan into action and slowly made my way into the crowd. I didn’t push. I wasn’t a jerk about it. As people made their way back, I made my way up, and then, when Danava were finally done, I bolted (as much as I ever “bolt” anywhere) toward the front of the room and nabbed a spot right in front of the stage. Victory was mine, and victory was sweet. Not even the carts of road cases and amps that were wheeled up to go on the stage would deter me from my position in front of it. Of course, I made room, but when Conan was done loading their equipment on and those carts were pushed away, I was right back to where I was, which was just where I’d wanted to be. It had taken me the better part of an hour and a half to do it, but I was up front for Conan at Roadburn.
Sure enough, I stayed put for the entirety of their performance. There wasn’t much choice in the matter, but I wanted to be as close as possible to that tone that’s been my litmus test for “heavy” ever since I first heard Horseback Battle Hammer in 2010 (review here). Their new full-length, Monnos (review here), proved no less uncompromising, tone-wise, so I knew it would be worth my time, and it was. They played cuts from Monnos including opener “Hawk as Weapon” and did “Retaliator” and “Older than Earth” (I think) from their split with Slomatics (review here), bassist Phil Coumbe adding metallic growls and screams to guitarist Jon Davis‘ shouts and cleaner yelling. Conan were one of my impetus bands this year — that is, one of the reasons I’m here — and there was no letdown to be had. The lights, the fog, the overwhelming crush of sound — it was all astoundingly heavy whether they were playing fast or slow.
It also gave me a new appreciation for drummer Paul O’Neil‘s work in the band, as he not only manages to keep time through their tidal morass, but does so interestingly and works in subtle flourishes on his cymbal work that maybe get lost in the shuffle because they’re not as obvious as, say, the giant riff that’s bashing your brains out. Either way, Conan were so heavy that my earplugs vibrated in my head, and that hadn’t happened yet this weekend, so it’s worth noting. I was glad too to be trapped up front the whole time, so I didn’t get the itch to go and wait for YOB to come on in the photo pit. I still had plenty of time to get there watching all of Conan, and since it’ll probably be the only time I can get in there this weekend — Mike Scheidt of YOB opens up in there tomorrow doing solo acoustic stuff, but that’s a hard one to work out the logistics on making it to, much as I’ll try — I’m glad it was for a band I couldn’t see anywhere else at this point.
I say, “At this point,” because with a band as massive as Conan, you never know what’s going to happen. Already they were too big for the stage they played on, so hell, maybe they tour the US in some future either near or distant and demolish everything in their path. Who knows? There was a time — a few years, actually — when I was sure I’d never get the chance to watch YOB play a show, and it’s been four times now and by Monday it’ll be five. I caught Midian when they came through New York, but I knew there was no way I’d ever get to see YOB, and it was a bummer. I’m sure I’ve told the story before, so I’ll spare it, but as I made my way back over to the main stage to watch the Eugene, Oregon, trio unleash the 2005 full-length, The Unreal Never Lived, in its entirety, I couldn’t help but feel glad to have the chance to do so.
Fact: In my CD wallet, there is only one disc I’ve never been able to remove, and that disc is The Unreal Never Lived. The swan-song of YOB‘s original run, it was the culmination of everything the band had built to creatively up to that point; a four-song masterwork of psychedelic undulations that capped with the 21-minute monolith that was “The Mental Tyrant.” YOB has played “Quantum Mystic” every time I’ve seen them, and usually at the start of their set, so that was familiar enough, but as they progressed through the rolling groove of “Grasping Air,” another regular, and “Kosmos,” not so much, the tension seemed to be building to get to the final onslaught. When it arrived, it was glorious. They cut nothing out of the long opening and the gradual course of the song held its flow the whole time. There was one point during “Grasping Air” where I thought the whole rhythm was going to come crashing down, but kudos to drummer Travis Foster. He kept it together and pushed YOB forward into reaches of slow so desolate they were more or less stopped.
Decked out in Iron Maiden sneakers, the aforementioned Mike Scheidt only came more alive as the set progressed, and when it finally was time for “The Mental Tyrant” to begin its galloping payoff, I got a chill up my spine. It wasn’t the first claw I’ve hoisted over the last two days, but it was the most automatic, visceral response. Bassist Aaron Reiseberg (also of Norska) stepped back to let Scheidt riff out, true to the album, but every hit, every time he played a note, the floor I was standing on toward the back of the room shook. Not to overstate it, but it’s basically been seven years that I’ve wanted to see “The Mental Tyrant” played live, and the only reason I don’t go further into hyperbole is because I’m saving it for Sunday when YOB is set to do all of 2003′s Catharsis. Worth the flight to hear those two records alone. When they were done, I had to sit down.
There were a lot of bands today I didn’t see. Some, like Dopethrone, or Gnod, or Barn Owl, or End of Level Boss, I would’ve liked to. As Voivod came on stage, though, I was glad to have held firm on the course I’d charted for myself, staying through whole sets and not volleying from room to room, only to catch the first couple songs before having to tear myself away to get to the next thing. I mean, that’s fun too, that rush, but I very much needed a day of standing relatively still, and I was glad the schedule could accommodate. Voivod — vocalist Denis “Snake” Bélanger, bassist Jean-Yves “Blacky” Thériault, drummer Michel “Away” Langevin (also responsible for much of the visual aesthetic of this year’s fest) and guitarist Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain — come preceded by 30 years of individualistic innovation. I won’t pretend to have a grip on their entire catalog, but even if I hadn’t seen them at Roadburn last year, I knew they were a sight I had to see, and more so for their doing Dimension Hatröss.
Of course, one can hardly think of Voivod and not recall the untimely passing of guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’Amour in 2005, but Mongrain (also of Martyr and formerly of Cryptopsy) has become more than a hired gun in his position. D’Amour having been so instrumental in constructing Voivod‘s sound and progression, I don’t know if he’ll ever be as heralded in the guitarist spot, but he was clearly playing the songs with feeling and seemed natural on stage with Langevin, Bélanger and Thériault. As they were last year, Voivod was a pleasure to watch and had a presence on stage that spoke to their decades of influencing forward-thinking heavy music. It should say something that as they continue to push their career to its own seemingly expanding outer limits, as much as one gets excited at something like the prospect of hearing Dimension Hatröss done live, the prospect of finding out what they’ll do on their next record is no less thrilling.
They were the finale of my evening. I thought I’d maybe catch some Dopethrone, but you know how that goes, with the doorway and all that, and anyhow, it was getting on time to come back to the hotel and start typing. It’s three in the morning now as I wrap this and look at the prospect of having to find images for these bands, but hell, at least I can sleep late tomorrow, since the only thing I have to do is wake up and go to Roadburn for the final day of the fest proper, which will feature much back and forth between the main stage and the Green Room for the likes of 40 Watt Sun, Church of Misery, The Wounded Kings, The Obsessed, Mars Red Sky and Sleep, among others. It’s the most packed day yet, so please, stay tuned.
Posted in Reviews on March 1st, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Conan are comprised almost exclusively of sonic devastation. They exist as a kind of touchstone, a comparison point of tone-worship taken to a new extreme – you hear another band trying to be really, really heavy, and you ask yourself, “Well, okay, but is it as heavy as Conan?” The answer will nearly always be no. The British trio debuted with 2007’s Battle in the Swamp EP, but made their first seismic footprint with 2010’s four-track/32-minute Horseback Battle Hammer (review here); also slated as an EP, but with more than enough heft in the tones of guitarist Jon Davis and then-bassist John McNulty — since replaced by Phil Coumbe, who also contributes vocals alongside Davis‘ own — for a full-length album. Horseback Battle Hammer and an ensuing 2011 split with Slomatics (review here) inspired devotion enough to get Conan picked up by the prestigious Burning World Records, who now offer the band’s first official LP, Monnos. Recorded at Foel Studios by Chris Fielding (Electric Wizard, Moss, Serpent Venom, etc.), the record gloriously basks in being what you might expect if you’ve heard Conan’s output up to this point – a ceremony conducted in homage to distorted punishment and doomed riffing. Drummer Paul O’Neil cuts through a muck unmatched by any other to set a pace that varies mostly from plod to stomp, but Conan show on Monnos that they can balance weight and movement, particularly on the earlier part of the six-track offering, which opens with the relatively upbeat “Hawk as Weapon.”
The album is a vinyl-ready 39 minutes long, and easily split into sides (the second longer than the first) in the middle of the tracklisting. Unspeakable righteous begins almost immediately with a faded-up riff from Davis on “Hawk as Weapon,” which O’Neil soon gives thunderous ground with tom hits that feel no less imbued with low end than the guitar or bass and a crash groove that’s both surprisingly active and undeniably hooky, like if Torche decided to take the dive-bombs from “Tarpit Carnivore,” go deeper with them and blend it with their poppier side. Not to harp on the tone, but at any reasonable volume, it’s enough to vibrate my computer desk and would almost certainly test and/or conquer any other speakers I put it through. It would be enough to carry Monnos in itself – that is, you could listen to this album for nothing other than the gluttony of its rumble – but Conan actually have made several developmental moves and grown even in the time since Horseback Battle Hammer, flaunting atmosphere in the later tracks of Monnos and even effectively using lone screams toward the end of “Hawk as Weapon” where the earlier part of the song had dueling shouts from Davis and Coumbe. The more complex arrangement may not seem like much, but it’s something to supplement the instrumental bludgeoning Conan affect the rest of the time. As “Hawk as Weapon” feedback-bleeds directly into “Battle in the Swamp,” it’s Davis at the fore vocally on top of more open, simpler riffing – which makes sense given that the song is taken from the first EP.
Later into it, though, a sped-up ending movement features more prominent layered vocals and works well to evoke a sense of having beaten the song itself – during the opening verses, it seemed indomitable and the shouts were more buried. It’s almost a shock to hear Conan riff as fast as they do toward the song’s end, but perhaps bringing that side of the sound to Monnos was part of the reason they specifically brought in that track from the EP. Either way, it’s not at all out of place on side A of Monnos, which culminates the momentum built by the first two tracks with “Grim Tormentor.” Here, as with “Hawk as Weapon” and “Battle in the Swamp,” there’s no sacrifice of heaviness for the increase in pace or the clear development of the song structures. “Grim Tormentor” turns into the fastest cut on the record following a bass intro from Coumbe, with verse vocals that echo bordering on YOB’s spaciousness or maybe purposefully nodding toward it, and an infectious delivery of the title line that makes the song an immediate, first-listen standout among the other five tracks. The groove is huge, the tones likewise, but everything comes through clearly as well, and as “Golden Axe” begins its five-and-a-half-minute ambient sprawl, it seems that on their first record, Conan – who admittedly came into this record with considerable momentum from the reception of Horseback Battle Hammer and now find themselves being asked to open for Sleep in Norway following both bands’ performances at Roadburn 2012 – have managed to find a balance between clarity and depth of tone that so few bands manage to capture. They remain undeniably, and at times unbelievably, heavy, and the second half of Monnos proves even more doomed than the first.
UK mega-doomers Conan filmed the above clip for “Hawk as Weapon” from their forthcoming album at the Buffalo Bar in Cardiff. As you’ll find out less than a minute into the song, it’s unbelievably fucking heavy. That’s what Conan does. Whatever they decide to call their next record, which will be their Burning World Records debut and follow-up to 2010′s epic Horseback Battle Hammer (review here), I expect nothing less than total devastation.
If “Hawk as Weapon” isn’t enough Conan for you, I’d recommend hitting up their Bandcamp site where you can hear and download the whole show. Or, if you don’t feel like clicking the link, here’s the Buffalo Bar gig in its 47-minute entirety:
If you’ve managed to make it through that much low-end marauding with your bowels still intact, kudos. You’ve done better than I think most do at Conan shows. They are, simply put, one of the heaviest bands I’ve ever heard.
Next week: A stream of the whole new King Giant record and hopefully an album giveaway to accompany. Also my interview with Selim Lemouchi of The Devil’s Blood and reviews of Caveman Voicebox, Earth, Bushfire and others, plus some Buried Treasure and the latest news on the Desertfests in London and Berlin, so plenty to look forward to. I hope you have a great and safe weekend. I’m plum tuckered from this week, but I’ll still be dicking around on the forum, so feel free to say hi if you get a minute.
Pending that, I’ll be back here Monday with more zany fun.
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 25th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
Any update from Conan counts as news you can use… if you want to listen to something so heavy it opens a crack in the earth’s crust that swallows humanity whole. I was already stoked beyond compare to see the mega-bashers at Roadburn next year, but now it seems I’ve got a new record to look forward to as well. Add it to the 2012 list! More news and more destruction to come.
For now, though, here’s the latest:
Conan – the über-heavy doom titans – are sharpening their axes and preparing to head back to the studio. The formidable trio will enter Foel Studio, Mid-Wales next week to begin tracking for their second album, with producer Chris Fielding once again at the helm. The tracks will be released in spring 2012 via Burning World Records.
Conan vocalist Jon Davis had the following to say: “We’ve been writing these songs for a while now, and we are really happy with how they are sounding. We’re all looking forward to heading back to Foel, and working with Chris again — we are definitely in safe hands there. 2012 is shaping up nicely for us, and we can’t wait to get stuck in.”
The riff-heavy, monolithic beast that is Conan recently announced their debut mainland European show; playing the Voivod-curated event at Roadburn 2012 on Friday 13th April. Jon adds: “We are honoured to have been asked to play Roadburn, of course. It is a high point in the festival calendar, and the lineup for 2012 is amazing — we’re so happy to be part of it.” Their mainland voyage will continue for a further week after Roadburn.
Details of these additional shows will be available in the coming weeks.