Posted in Reviews on August 24th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Even before you press play on Electric Ladyland [Redux] or its companion piece, The Best of James Marshall Hendrix, it’s hard not to admire the coordinating prowess of Magnetic Eye Records in making it all happen. Most people couldn’t corral three bands to put together a single show bill, and the label’s Mike Vitali has wrangled 20 acts from the US and European heavy rock underground to pay homage to Jimi Hendrix in time for what would’ve been the supra-legendary guitarist’s 75th birthday, topped it of with artwork by David Paul Seymour, whose piece for Electric Ladyland [Redux] easily stands among the best covers of 2015, and Caitlin Hackett, whose three-eyed-bird portraiture perfectly suits Hendrix‘s groundbreaking psychedelic blues. Packaged separately on 2CD and 2LP but clearly intended as complements, both tribute collections showcase staggering ambition on the part of the label putting them together, and the fact that Electric Ladyland [Redux] and The Best of James Marshall Hendrix materialized at all is an automatic, unqualified triumph. Here are the full tracklistings:
VA, Electric Ladyland [Redux]
1. Elephant Tree, “…And the Gods Made Love” 01:44
2. Open Hand, “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)” 03:01
3. Superchief, “Crosstown Traffic” 03:32
4. All Them Witches, “Voodoo Chile” 14:59
5. Origami Horses, “Little Miss Strange” 03:52
6. The Heavy Eyes, “Long Hot Summer Night” 04:17
7. Earthless, “Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)” 05:03
8. Wo Fat, “Gypsy Eyes” 04:34
9. Mos Generator, “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” 03:34
10. Gozu, “Rainy Day, Dream Away” 08:07
11. Summoner, “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” 12:56
12. Claymation, “Moon, Turn the Tides… Gently Gently Away” 01:24
13. Mothership, “Still Raining, Still Dreaming” 06:20
14. King Buffalo, “House Burning Down” 04:44
15. Tunga Moln, “All Along the Watchtower” 03:28
16. Elder, “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” 07:08
VA, The Best of James Marshall Hendrix
1. Child, “In from the Storm” 04:57
2. Elephant Tree, “Manic Depression” 04:10
3. Wo Fat, “Machine Gun” 12:49
4. Stubb, “Little Wing” 04:18
5. Rosy Finch, “Foxy Lady” 05:17
6. Geezer, “Little Miss Lover” 04:50
7. Wo Fat, “Gypsy Eyes (Extended)” 07:13
As I said, staggering. Even more so in the case of Electric Ladyland [Redux], since not only do the usual comp and tribute album concerns apply of getting everything together and turning it into a cohesive listening experience, but also because in paying homage to a full-length album specifically, it’s also pivotal that Electric Ladyland [Redux] flows front to back whilebeing comprised of 16 separate recordings taking place in 16 separate studios with 16 separate performances andtreading on some of rock and roll’s most sacred, pivotal ground. Covering Hendrix? Unless you’re Stevie Ray Vaughan — and hell, even if you are — it’s a tricky proposition for one song, let alone a full record. It’s like someone asked Magnetic Eye if they wanted to go mountain biking and the label built a rocket, went to Mars, terraformed the planet and then decided to tackle Olympus Mons, on a Huffy.
Okay, an exaggeration, but you take my meaning. And Electric Ladyand [Redux] mostly succeeds in its decidedly Herculean mission. There are one or two changes that come across choppy — an early one in the jump from the groovy vibes of Elephant Tree and Open Hand into the burlier Superchief, who give an able showing of what they do but ultimately feel out of place — but on the whole, it’s hard to argue with the results as they’re presented throughout, whether it’s King Buffalo‘s dreamy “House Burning Down” or groups making the material their own, like Wo Fat‘s “Gypsy Eyes,” Summoner‘s re-envisioned “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” and Gozu‘s adventurous “Rainy Day, Dream Away,” which leads off the second CD of the collection after Mos Generator‘s “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” finds the Washington-based act showing the roots of their own approach to landmark hooks, as do Mothership with their “Still Raining, Still Dreaming.”
Hearing Earthless with vocals is something of a surprise, and their take on “Come on (Let the Good Times Roll)” (an Earl King cover) not only is true to their Hendrix influence, but is a decided showcase of just how influential they’ve been on the West Coast underground — there are a good number of bands out there striving to sound like Earthless covering Jimi Hendrix — and having Swedish rockers Tunga Moln perform “All Along the Watchtower” in their native language puts an unexpected spin on arguably Electric Ladyland‘s most recognizable piece. All Them Witches are right in their element jamming on “Voodoo Chile,” and Elder do justice to the album’s closer in their “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” capping the tribute with one last highlight to round out the many before it.
There are several acts who reappear on The Best of James Marshall Hendrix, including Wo Fat and Elephant Tree, but as the latter only had the intro “…And the Gods Made Love” to lead off Electric Ladyland [Redux], it seems fair enough. In the case of Texas fuzz forerunners Wo Fat, I’m not at all going to fight with their extended jam on “Gypsy Eyes” as it closes out The Best of James Marshall Hendrix, and their 12:49 run through “Machine Gun” suits just as well. Leading off the companion tribute are Australian blues rockers Child, who give “In from the Storm” due soul and sway, and after Elephant Tree‘s “Manic Depression” and Wo Fat‘s “Machine Gun,” hearing Stubb take on the sweet melodies of “Little Wing” couldn’t be more perfect, especially leading into Rosy Finch‘s stomping “Foxy Lady,” which in turn gives way to Geezer‘s “Little Miss Lover,” coated in wah and right in the New York band’s wheelhouse, even as it gives way to a deconstructing long-form fadeout.
Wo Fat‘s extended “Gypsy Eyes” picks up from that silence with a bonus track-style vibe, but really, both releases feel like a bonus the whole time through. There are some variances in sound and style and some bands are more suited to the source material than others, but the effort that has been put into Electric Ladyland [Redux] and The Best of James Marshall Hendrix and the passion that bleeds from every second of each of these tracks are simply inarguable. It may be preaching to the choir to have heavy rock and psych bands covering Hendrix tracks, but the vibe throughout both of these tribute comps is much more of a genre paying homage to one of its founders who, sadly, didn’t live long enough to see the generation-spanning impact of his work realized. Equally admirable in mission and execution.
Posted in Whathaveyou on July 21st, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Thief Presents continues to throw down a gauntlet with its festivals. It seemed fair after so thoroughly upping the game earlier this year with Psycho CA that big things would be in store for that fest’s autumnal counterpart, the Day of the Shred, but when you come out of the gate like it’s no big deal and be like, “Oh hey Captain Beyond is playing our fest year whatever,” you’re officially killing it. You’ve got John Garcia, Yawning Man and Ides of Gemini together, which makes me wonder if Zun won’t make an appearance, and Spirit Caravan, Elder and Crowbar, along with a righteous ton of others, up to and including Portugal’s Black Bombaim. It gets a hearty and heartfelt fucking a.
Details from the PR wire:
Day of the Shred Festival to Light Up Southern California November 1
Dia de los Muertos-themed Concert Event to Feature Performances from Captain Beyond, Spirit Caravan, Crowbar, John Garcia, Mondo Generator, Torche and More
This fall, The Day of the Shred Festival returns to Southern California, presenting a diverse lineup of heavy music acts. Billed as an experience “to gather the living and remember the dead”, The Day of the Shred will take place on November 1 (Dia de los Muertos) in Santa Ana, CA. Celebrating monolithic riffs, skateboarding and the souls of the departed, the second annual festival will be an all day, all ages event. Presented by Thief – also the creators of the annual Psycho California Festival — The Day of the Shred will feature headliners Captain Beyond, Spirit Caravan, Crowbar, Torche, John Garcia (of Kyuss fame), Elder, Saviours, Mondo Generator and more.
Tickets for the 2015 Day of the Shred Festival are on sale now at this location. Early bird general admission tickets are $59 (+ tax) and a limited VIP ticket package (which includes express entry, a signed festival screen print, access to the artist lounge, complimentary microbrew and snacks, a limited edition record bag and an exclusive Thief X Obey concert shirt) is also available. What: Day of the Shred Fest 2015 Where: The Observatory, Santa Ana, CA Time: 2PM – 2AM Tickets:Eventbrite.com/e/day-of-the-shred-2015-tickets-17017683349
The just-announced lineup for The Day of the Shred 2015 is as follows:
CAPTAIN BEYOND SPIRIT CARAVAN CROWBAR JOHN GARCIA MONDO GENERATOR TORCHE ELDER SAVIOURS OXBOW FULL OF HELL THE BODY YAWNING MAN KOWLOON WALLED CITY BLACK BOMBAIM FIGHT AMP THOU NIGHT DEMON IDES OF GEMINI MOS GENERATOR GREAT ELECTRIC QUEST WHITE MANNA POOBAH COMMUNION BLACKWITCH PUDDING DUEL Stay tuned in to The Day of the Shred Fest via the Facebook event page and follow THE DAY OF THE SHRED on social media:
Posted in Whathaveyou on July 16th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
File this one under “Damn Those are Gonna be Some Good Shows” as Earthless and Elder pair up to tour Australia beginning Oct. 22. It’s a quick run, but an utterly badass pairing of bands, that, if I happened to be on the other side of the planet, I’d be sure to hit up. This will be Elder‘s first time down there — you might recall a couple years back they were all set to go with YOB (who will be there next month as well) but it didn’t pan out — while I’m pretty sure Earthless have made the trip before. Either way, there’s just nothing about those two getting together that doesn’t flat out rule.
News came down off the PR wire a couple minutes ago:
EARTHLESS (USA) & ELDER (USA) AUSTRALIAN TOUR OCTOBER 2015
LIFE IS NOISE is proud to announce the heavy-psych double-bill of the year, as Elder and Earthless tour Australia this October.
Earthless want you to know how it feels to touch the sky. With smoldering guitar riffs that stretch from here to infinity, the San Diego trio are at once cosmic and timeless, rooted in a profound respect for the Zeppelin/Sabbathian tradition yet with eyes firmly cast forward. Never mind the retro rock revivalists or the ’70s throwbacks – Earthless aren’t nostalgists; they’re sonic luminaries dragging psychadelia by the wah pedal into the 21st century and beyond.
Isaiah Mitchell is the kind of guitar prodigy that comes along only once in a generation. Underpinned by the military precision of Mario Rubalcaba’s drumming and Mike Eginton’s fundamental grooves, Mitchell’s chaotic fretwork is as unpredictable as it is ambitious.
Elder are a sleeper cell of colossal talent. Never has three-piece so seamlessly merged the atmosphere of doom with the depth of stoner rock and the vitality of psychedelic rock. Their latest album, Lore, is a quiet masterpiece – a blizzard of riffs that shine with melody, dynamism and songwriting sophistication well beyond the young band’s years.
Few bands have the gall to cover Jimi Hendrix, and even fewer can do it well, but Elder did just that in June when they released a rip-roaring cover of Voodoo Child (Slight Return) for the Hendrix tribute Electric Ladyland Redux. Nick DeSalvo’s guitar sounds on the brink of bursting into flames as he blazes through solo after solo.
Elder’s sonic mastery extends beyond the studio – the trio’s live documents and show-stealing sets at Roadburn and Psycho California are a testament to Elder’s limitless potential.
Elder and Earthless have never shared a stage before. There’s no telling what havoc these two riff lords will wreak. Don’t miss the psych trip of the year. Witness these two blow minds on the following dates:
Perth – The Rosemount Hotel – October 22, Melbourne –The Corner – October 23, 2015 Sydney – Newtown Social – October 24, 2015 Brisbane – Crowbar – October 26, 2015
Tickets on sale now through lifeisnoise.com, Oztix and venue outlets.
07.15.15 — 10:10PM Pacific — Wed. night — Hotel California (yes, really)
It occurred to me this evening that I’ve had about two and a half hours of “free time” on this trip and I’ve spent it all record shopping. That’s not a complaint, but I’ve had people offer to meet up and stuff and I haven’t quite had the time I anticipated for such things between work obligations and writing at night. Again, I’m not complaining. I’ve worked for a company for less than two months that’s willing to fly my ass quite literally across a continent and trust me to represent them to the best of my admittedly limited ability at a meeting of potential clients and professional cohorts. I’m remarkably fortunate to be here. I’m also very, very tired.
Still, when it came to it, and I had that little bit of time to spare today, I jumped in the first cab that I saw with its light on and told the dude to make for Aquarius Records. It was payday and I had an itch that only another round of record shopping was going to scratch. I probably could have gone back to Amoeba Music and found more stuff in that giant space, but the smaller, curated vibe of Aquarius was just my speed this evening.
I took my time, thumbed through the CD racks of the San Francisco section, the rock/pop, the metal sections both new and used, eyed up some stuff in the boxes under the used section — two albums by Mammoth Volume there, but I have them already — and reminded myself that between yesterday and today, this has kind of become my celebration of returning to the working world, so yeah, I splurged a bit. I picked up a thing or two that on some other days I might have let go, decided to let it ride and be what it is. The fact that it was also payday might have been a factor. That’s a question for hindsight and I don’t have the proper distance to evaluate.
The haul? Here it is, once more alphabetically:
Aarni, Bathos Across Tundras, Old World Wanderer Bedemon, Child of Darkness Carlton Melton, Out to Sea Children of Doom, Ride over the Green Valley Elder, Spires Burn/Release Elder, Lore Evil Acidhead, In the Name of all that is Unholy Holy Serpent, Holy Serpent Pyramido, Sand Pyramido, Saga Slough Feg, Made in Poland The Warlocks, The Warlocks White Hills, So You Are… so You’ll Be
Once again, all CDs. I know it’s not as cool as vinyl, but fuck it. If any of you vinyl hounds want to sell me your CD collection, let me know. I’ll buy that shit. I’ll be the last dude on earth buying CDs for all I care. Whatever. They’re still making them for the most part, so yeah, I’ll still buy them.
The find of the bunch is probably that self-titled EP by The Warlocks, which came out in 2000 on Bomp! Records and was their debut. It was used and cheap, so that was cool. Two of the bunch I already own, but the Across Tundras was also about $5 and the Bedemon is the newer Relapse Records version, so I figured what the hell. True, I was here last year and stopped by the shop when I was out on tour with the Kings Destroy guys — SF resident Jim Pitts included, while I’m thinking of good people I haven’t had the chance to see — but it’s not something I do every day. I pick up things here and there, mostly online at this point, so to actually be in a store and have the chance to browse and enjoy the process, I wanted to do precisely that.
I know Carlton Melton are local to NorCal, so I grabbed that seeing it on the counter by the register, and Evil Acidhead was one of the staff recommendations — if you ever go to Aquarius Records, pay attention; these people know what they’re talking about — and since I knew it’s a reissue of old recordings by John McBain (Monster Magnet, Wellwater Conspiracy) it seemed like one to grab. Both of those Elder discs I have on vinyl, but I wanted the CDs, and while it would make the most sense to go to Armageddon Shop one of the apparently multiple times of a week I drive past Providence on I-95 and pick them up there, I haven’t actually managed to make that happen. Seeing an opportunity, I took it.
Slough Feg‘s 2011 live record, Made in Poland, was used, so that was a no-brainer, and I ran into both Pyramido albums — their first, Sand, used and a buck, their third, 2013’s Saga, new — on opposite sides of the store and picked them up almost independently of each other, hesitating but ultimately nabbing the recently-reviewed self-titled from Holy Serpent because, fuck it, it’s a RidingEasy release and I don’t see that every day in a store. The White Hills was used and I grabbed it thinking of their set at Roadburn this year and how underappreciated they are generally — not that my buying a disc makes up for that, but you know what I mean.
Two purchases I went into completely blind: the Aarni and Children of Doom. Aarni is a one-man Finnish outfit for whom Bathos served as a debut full-length in 2004, and knowing nothing about it, I saw the cover was all mushrooms and that it was on the Firedoom Music label — actually it’s the first release on the label; catalog number FDOOM001 — so I assumed I would be getting something Finnish, strange and doomed, and sure enough that’s how it’s played out so far. French trio Children of Doom‘s self-released 2009 debut EP, Ride over the Green Valley, won me over both for its cover art and for the written-out description of the album, which rightly compared its tones to namesake act Saint Vitus. I hear a bit of Ice Dragon‘s swaggering fuckall in there as well. No complaints. The band’s debut LP, Doom, Be Doomed, ör Fuck Off, came out in 2011, but if Aquarius had it, it wasn’t in my line of sight.
Back to the hotel after to start writing and get my head around the day. I ate the same thing I had for dinner last night — flautas from the taqueria across the street — while checking email to try and keep up on that. As one might expect, it didn’t really work. Still, at least if I have to be behind on absolutely everything, at least I managed to pick up some good records in the process.
I fly out tomorrow night late on a redeye to Boston that gets in Friday morning. The only way to travel. Maybe it’ll also be five hours delayed and turn into a morning flight. Haven’t slept at an airport in a while anyway.
Mostly around here I concentrate on albums. Best albums of the year. Best albums of the decade. Still, kind of on a whim this morning I was thinking about the shape of heavy of the last half-decade — or rather, the shapes of it.
Different scenes moving in various directions, the emergence of the Pacific Northwest as a hotbed, the growth of West Coast psych and how in-conversation that seems to be both with California’s skater past and the current European market, itself branched out between heavy psych and ’70s traditionalism, which has also begun to take root throughout the US while, at the same time, a new generation has come up to embrace full-on stoner riffing and/or desert rock ideals.
While I have my album lists going back six years to refer to, this time around, I was wondering specifically about individual songs from the same era. What are the best songs from the last five years?
It’s not always the best album that has the best single piece of work on it, so it seemed worth asking the question separately.
Me, I go in for epics: YOB‘s “Marrow” (2014), Ancestors‘ “First Light” (2012), Colour Haze‘s “Grace” (2012), Hypnos 69‘s “The Great Work” (2011), Witch Mountain‘s “Can’t Settle” (2014), Elder‘s “Lore” (2015) definitely is worth having in the conversation, Solace‘s “From Below” (2010), Grayceon‘s “We Can” (2011), and so on.
But then you have Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats‘ “I’ll Cut You Down,” which has had a massive influence since it came out in 2011. And what about a cut like Clutch‘s “D.C. Sound Attack,” or Goatsnake‘s “Grandpa Jones,” or Graveyard‘s “Ain’t Fit to Live Here,” or Mars Red Sky‘s “Strong Reflection?” Does a track have to be long to make an impact? What if there’s a perfectly-executed two-minute verse/chorus trade? Shouldn’t that also be considered?
I guess that’s the question.
We haven’t done one of these in a while, so I’m hoping you’ll take the time to add your answers and picks for the best songs of the last five years 2010-2015 in the comments to this post. I know we’re not through 2015 yet, but we’re just trying to have some fun anyway.
Thanks to all who take the time to leave a note in the comments below.
Posted in Features on July 6th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
If 2015 ended tomorrow, I think you’d still have to say it was a pretty good year for heavy rock. Doom veered into a swath extremes — its own subgenres emerging almost one by one in a growing splinter that nonetheless continues to draw water from its roots — while the neo-stoner ignition of the West Coast continued its boom of new acts proffering classic groove. The East reveled in a progressive vision just waiting to be picked up by others, and in Europe, the ’70s traditionalist movement spread ever wider, essentially defining a modern sound in organic sounding, sometimes-vintage elements. Whether you’re going for crushing, oppressive barbarism or cosmos-bound blissouts, it is, in short, a good time to be alive.
Of course, 2015 doesn’t end tomorrow, and there’s still a whole lot of year to come. About half, as it happens. So, as has been the tradition around here for the last half-decade — and seems to be the tradition in a growing number of outlets; not taking credit or claiming to have invented anything, just noting a proliferation — it’s time to count down the best records of the year so far. There have been more than a handful of gems, and since in December I’m planning on doing a top 30, we’ll mark half the year with a top 15. Seems only fair.
Please note that this isn’t purely a critical evaluation, but a personal list, and that what I’ve put on most is as crucial a factor in my ranking as how important I think a given record is. You know the drill by now. Let’s go:
Kiev three-piece Stoned Jesus have a varied stylistic history, and their third outing, The Harvest was ultimately a success in large part because of its complete refusal to be defined. Atop a foundation of quality songcraft, the trio proffered a sound that was not necessarily experimental in terms of anti-structure noise or effects onslaughts, but bold in each of its forays outward from its heavy rock underpinnings.
It has consistently taken me a while to get a hold on what Freedom Hawk are up to. The steady elements in their sound are held to so firmly that on the first couple listens, it seems to just be more of the same. But the more one digs in, the more there is to be found, and with Into Your Mind, the Virginia Beach trio overcome losing a member to create their most progressive outing to date, flourishes of psychedelia melding easily with their signature style of sunshiny riffing.
Five albums deep, Germany’s My Sleeping Karma are an act unto themselves. Their progress has been natural, fueled by a clear, varied sense of exploratory will, and the results on this year’s Moksha were nothing short of stunning. Branching out their arrangements might not be new to them, but the inclusion of horns, drones, percussion, etc., amid the central guitar, bass, keys and drums lent an almost orchestral feel to the flow between the tracks, and one can only hope they continue on their current path, because it is unquestionably the right one.
So much potential, so much vitality at the heart of this debut from Death Alley. The Amsterdam-based four-piece (interview here) stormed out of the gate with a ripper of a debut, and just when you seemed to have it all figured out, they hit the ignition on a 12-minute full-impulse space rock thrust, a guest vocal appearance from Farida Lemouchi (a former bandmate of Death Alley guitarist Oeds Beydals in The Devil’s Blood) adding both mystique and emotional resonance to what was already a stunning track. With all the riotousness preceding, Black Magick Boogieland readily lived up to its righteous title.
Midwestern-turned-West-Coast heavy psych rockers Mondo Drag may have taken their time in releasing their self-titled sophomore outing, which followed their 2010 debut, New Rituals (review here), and was recorded in 2012, but it’s easy to imagine that’s because they wanted the circumstances to be as special as the album itself, recorded with a fleeting five-piece lineup that included the one-time rhythm section of Radio Moscow who wound up leaving to further their then-nascent project, Blues Pills. Even without that lineup shift as a factor, the late ’60s vibe Mondo Drag brought out across the release proved eminently listenable and has held up on repeat visits.
A gorgeous, shimmering and melodically resonant debut from the Dutch four-piece Cigale, their self-titled gracefully maintained tonal presence and warmth while also enacting a psychedelic sprawl and grooving serenity that acted like the landscape in which the songs took place. It was a rich, bright vibe, and an utter joy to behold, tracks like “Harvest Begun,” “Feel the Heat” and “Eyes Wide Shut” proving as memorable as they were inviting. Having two former members of the much-missed fuzz rock outfit Sungrazer may have initially turned some heads in their direction, but Cigale‘s first album proved they’re an outfit with their own personality, their own development to undertake, and already much to offer.
The awaited return of The Machine brought the band’s fifth album and a further-refined sense of maturity in their processes, as well as intrigue as to where they might be headed, two dual modes of open-ended jamming and more structured songwriting playing off each other in the extended “Chrysalis (J.A.M.)” and “Come to Light” and the more verse/chorus stylizations of “Dry End” and “Off Course.” To be perfectly honest, I doubt The Machine will ultimately pick one side over another, since if Offblast! proved anything it’s that they can easily handle either or both, but as they continue to grow, it’s encouraging to have their style establish itself as so multi-faceted.
First time I pressed play on Gravitron was a real “oh shit!” moment. The last release from NJ stalwarts The Atomic Bitchwax was 2011’s The Local Fuzz (review here), a single-song full-length instrumental riff onslaught that had its charm but was inherently divorced from the appeal of the band’s songwriting. Not only does Gravitron re-factor that in with songs like “Roseland,” “It’s Alright,” “Coming in Hot” and “Ice Age Hey Baby,” among others, but it hits with kick-in-the-ass production force and an all-out heaviness that 2008’s TAB4 showed the three-piece steering directly away from. Just a killer record. Utterly void of pretense. No bullshit. No need to rely on anything more than chemistry, and with the Bitchwax, that’s plenty.
7. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth
Right now, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth are my band to beat for Debut of the Year, and I’m quite frankly not sure how anyone is going to be able to do it, so if list time comes in Dec. and you see Tad Doyle‘s trio marked out as such, know that it’s been that way in my head for some time. The three-piece of Doyle, bassist Peggy “Pegadeth” Tully and drummer Dave French arrived with a roar, and even when their self-titled let up sonically, the atmosphere remained viscerally heavy. Six years having passed since the release of their first demo (review here), I wasn’t sure there was ever going to be an album, but then to have Brothers of the Sonic Cloth show up and enact such thorough demolition only made it more impressive.
It can’t possibly be a surprise to have Luminiferous show up somewhere on this list. The seventh long-player by High on Fire had all the rage and bombast in “Slave the Hive” and “The Black Plot” that have become the band’s hallmarks over their 17 years together, but branched out progressively as well in songs like “The Cave” and “The Falconist,” the latter of which was brazenly catchy and about as emotionally direct as the band has ever gotten, their general modus being — and in that song too, just to a lesser extent — a metaphor-laced lyrical approach. That song was a triumph and so was the album as a whole; the second collaboration with producer Kurt Ballou building on the rampaging victories of 2012’s De Vermis Mysteriis (review here) while also showing growth on the part of one of modern metal’s most pivotal bands.
Hitting more or less concurrent with a vinyl release of their prior album, 2013’s A Time of Hunting (review here), Kings Destroy‘s Kings Destroy is not at all coincidentally titled. Over the course of now three full-lengths, the New York five-piece — about whom I feign no impartiality, let it be noted — have distinguished themselves with a sound neither noise, nor doom, nor heavy rock, but drawing on elements of all three when it suits their purposes with chemistry built from years of being in bands together of various stripes and in various genres. What stands the self-titled out from their past work, in part, is that it is the closest they’ve yet come to capturing their live sound in the studio, and accordingly, it’s a volatile kind of heavy that bends aesthetic to its will rather than capitulating to expectations of any sort. I don’t think they’re done growing by any stretch, but Kings Destroy feels like an arrival front-to-back.
This one was almost a sneak-attack. German heavy psych forerunners Colour Haze released To the Highest Gods We Know, their 11th full-length, in Dec. 2014 on CD (the vinyl was in 2015, which is what we’re counting in this instance), with very, very little fanfare of any sort. There was a track premiere here that came shortly after the album was announced, but I think it was officially out less than a month after its existence was made public, which for a band of Colour Haze‘s stature and influence was surprising. Less devoted to grandeur than 2012’s 2CD She Said (review here), it nonetheless pushed the band’s sound forward and found them experimenting in their studio, particularly on the string-quartet-inclusive finale title-track, which offset jams like “Überall” and the laid back highlight “Call” with a rhythmic oddness that was somehow still Colour Haze‘s own. I couldn’t help but wonder where it was leading, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t masterful in its own right.
Goatsnake didn’t have it easy going into their third album. It had been 15 years since their sophomore outing, Flower of Disease, 11 since their last EP, and five since they first started playing shows again. Expectations? Through the roof. Among heavy rock heads, a new Goatsnake was like seeing the mountaintop. I mean, a big fucking deal and then some. Then the record hits, and there’s just about no way it can live up to the anticipation, but god damn if Goatsnake not only finally put out a third album, but one that was better than I think anyone could’ve hoped for. Hearing Pete Stahl with however many backup singers he had on “Another River to Cross” et. al. was like finding an animal in its native habitat, and between his soul, Greg Anderson‘s riffs, bassist Scott Renner‘s low end rumble and drummer Greg Rogers‘ roll, Black Age Blues won almost immediately and then spent the rest of its 47 minutes throwing itself a victory party. “Elevated Man,” “House of the Moon,” “Jimi’s Gone,” “Grandpa Jones,” almost on a per-track basis, Goatsnake added to the reasons they’ve been so heralded despite a decade-plus’ absence from the studio.
On the level of achievement alone, Elder‘s Lore will be the album of the year for many, and there are times (such as right now) when I listen to it and question whether or not it isn’t also my pick for that honor, but wherever it falls on whatever list, far more important is what the Massachusetts/Rhode Island/New York trio manage to accomplish across their third LP’s formidable five-track/59-minute span, songs like “Compendium” and “Deadweight” bridging a rarely approached gap between heavy and progressive rocks while maintaining a flow consistent with the psychedelic vibing of 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here) but grown outward in another aesthetic direction and no sooner setting foot on the ground than seeming to master it in a flurry of blinding turns, sprawling soundscapes and clarity of mind that found perhaps its greatest expression in the centerpiece title-track, the 15-minute “Lore” itself, which I’ve no doubt will stand among if not atop the best songs of 2015 when the year is over and encapsulates the ambition and the corresponding breadth of Elder‘s songwriting, the trio of guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan, and drummer Matt Couto rising as one of the East Coast’s most pivotal acts, with a sound completely their own.
1. Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere
I use the word “molten” pretty regularly to describe an album or song that seems to just ooze its way out of the speakers or shift seamlessly between its songs, but Acid King set an entirely new standard for the term with Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere. Their first outing for Svart and their first release in a decade, its 55 minutes were a riff-rolling nirvana of lurching fuzz and tonal excellence, the guitar of Lori S. at the fore accompanied by Mark Lamb‘s bass and Joey Osbourne‘s drums, the swing of which propelled a highlight track like “Coming down from Outer Space” right back into it, while elsewhere on the record, “Silent Pictures,” “Red River” and “Infinite Skies” torched stoner conventions into a new space-biker rock, culminating in the heavy psych of “Center of Everywhere,” which seemed to emanate from the place it was describing, at once empty and full. More than just a welcome return after a long dearth of releases, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere found Acid King progressed even beyond where they were with 2005’s III, though more than anything else, what makes it my top pick for the year so far is the fact that I can’t seem to walk away from it for too long before going back, and ultimately, that’s what it all comes down to with his kind of thing. I’ve yet to find a standard to which these songs don’t live up.
A few others worth noting. The Sun Blood Stories album (streamed here) continues to resonate. Also Monolord, Valkyrie, Lamp of the Universe, Garden of Worm, Wo Fat‘s live record, The Midnight Ghost Train‘s Cold was the Ground and Ufomammut‘s Ecate. The Black Rainbows was a joy, as was Spidergawd‘s second LP, and while I still feel like I haven’t given it its due, the Sumac won many over and should get a mention. Steve Von Till‘s solo outing and the latest from Enslaved are worth seeking out as well for anyone who hasn’t heard them yet.
More to Come:
The year’s only half over, which is kind of a scary thought but true nonetheless. Watch out in the coming months for new stuff from Bloodcow, All Them Witches, Clutch, Graveyard, Zun, Sacri Monti (if that one’s not already out), Snail, Uncle Acid, and Kind. The new Kadavar is a sure-fire top tenner, and between that, the potential for a new Neurosis album and stuff like Magnetic Eye Records‘ Electric Ladyland [Redux], there’s no way the book is written on the best of 2015.
So stay tuned.
And if I’ve still got your attention, thanks for reading.
Posted in Whathaveyou on May 12th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Still no word on exactly where the second Vultures of Volume festival will take place, but the lineup is taking shape nicely. One assumes it will be held somewhere in Maryland, since that’s where the first was, but you never really know. Stoner Hands of Doom traveled for many years, going as far West as Arizona, and Eye of the Stoned Goat operates similarly, having shifted around the Northeast between Delaware, Massachusetts, Brooklyn and, next month, Long Island. Doesn’t mean Vultures of Volume II will do the same — as a matter of fact, I think it won’t — but I’m interested to find out.
Until that word arrives one way or another, bands continue to join the lineup. The first announcement last month brought with it the promise of a Solace reunion and sets from Righteous Bloom and Disciples of Doom, a new band fronted by Robert Lowe of Solitude Aeturnus and formerly of Candlemass, and this time around it’s Elder, Pale Divine and Wasted Theory who’ve come aboard for the festival, which is set for Sept. 4 and 5, right before Labor Day.
Seems likely Elder will be among the headliners for the two-day event, their ascent at that point continuing after the release earlier this year of their third album, Lore (review here), and Wasted Theory meanwhile will be riding high after the vinyl release this month of their 2014 album, Death and Taxes (review here) while Pale Divine make their second appearance at Vultures of Volume, also sharing guitarist/vocalist Greg Diener and drummer Darin McCloskey with Righteous Bloom.
The fest announced the additions as follows:
We’re just going to lay this on you all at once because of its enormity! Vultures of Volume Fest II (Sept. 4th and 5th) is elated to announce the addition of Delaware stoners Wasted Theory, Pennsylvania doom legends Pale Divine, and Massachusetts’ mighty riff lords Elder! Spread the word! More bands to be announced very soon!
Posted in Reviews on May 6th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
It was a little more touch and go than I’d prefer as to whether or not I’d make this one. Car trouble, money trouble — the mundane bullshit that too regularly keeps us from the things we actually want in life — but ultimately, I found myself driving into Brooklyn from Connecticut to catch the Kings Destroy record release show for their third and what I think is their best album yet. Joined on the bill by Clamfight, Apostle of Solitude and Elder, even before I walked in, I had little doubt it would be one of the best nights of my year, and after ti was over my suspicions were only confirmed. I left the Saint Vitus Bar with more energy than I had when I walked in, having spent a night among great friends and great bands and enough volume to fill a month’s quota. There simply was no way to stop from smiling, and I had little interest in trying.
What started out as a good crowd only got more packed in as the night went on. I turned out to be just a couple minutes late to catch the start of Clamfight, but if my evening was to start in medias res, somehow it seemed even more fitting that I should walk in and immediately feel like I was coming home. To that end, I’ll say that I’m probably the exact wrong person to be reviewing this show — there wasn’t one band of the four playing of which I’m not at least a fan, let alone decade-long friendships, working together on prior record releases and things of that sort — but what the hell. Impartiality is a myth. Let’s have some fun.
Went a little bit like this:
Three songs from the Philly heavy thrashers — who just a couple months ago were said to have slaughtered the same venue supporting Eyehategod — two of them newer than their second album, the Maple Forum-released I vs. the Glacier. The four-piece were in the midst of “Stealing the Ghost Horse,” the closer from that riffy rampage of an outing, when I walked in, and after finding out it was their first song, I immediately wondered where they’d go from there. I mean, that song finishes the record for a reason and it’s closed live sets for a while now, but Clamfight — guitarists Sean McKee and Joel Harris, bassist Louis Koble and drummer/vocalist Andy Martin — are in a transitional period and have been for about the last two years, pushing back against stylistic convention and growing musically in line with a corresponding uptick both in stage presence and volume. Growing up? Maybe, as much as one might realistically ask of a band called Clamfight, but it’s produced some fascinating sonic turns. To wit, “Taco Bees,” which followed “Ghost Horse,” is a more straight-ahead rocker and they finished out with a sprawler — Martin introduced it as a “doozy,” which was accurate — called “The History of the Earls of Orkney,” which could probably just as easily open their next record as close it. McKee‘s guitar leading the way through initial verses en route to a multi-movement, multi-build instrumental push, it boasted groove, blastbeats, and ambition in kind, and was exciting to watch both because of how well the band pulled it off and because it was as though they’d said, “Well, now we have this sound and what the hell do we do with it?” and as the answer to that question, it bodes exceptionally well. They’re recording more this summer, and I hope to have updates on their progress soon.
Apostle of Solitude
The Apostle of Soli-dudes released one-third of an unfuckwithable triumvirate of US doom albums last year in the form of their third outing and Cruz del Sur debut, Of Woe and Wounds (review here) — the other two were from Blood Farmers and The Skull, if you’re wondering — and it had been way, way too long since I last got to see the Indianapolis outfit to start with, so I was excited for their set to say the least. It had been since Days of the Doomed II (review here), nearly three full years, and that would prove to be too much. To undersell it, they did not disappoint. With guitarists Chuck Brown and Steve Janiak sharing vocals, bassist Dan Davidson in center stage with drummer Corey Lee behind, they ran through some of the new record’s most intense tracks, beginning with the opening salvo of their intro, “Distance and the Cold Heart” and moving into the first three from Of Woe and Wounds in order, “Blackest of Times” a particularly righteous launch backed by “Whore’s Wings” and “Lamentations of a Broken Man,” with Janiak in the darker corner of the Saint Vitus Bar stage taking the lead vocally for the verses only to be joined by Brown for a chorus both hair-raising in its effect and of headbang-worthy sonic heft. “The Messenger” from 2008’s debut, Sincerest Misery, was on the setlist but got cut for time, which meant everything they played came from Of Woe and Wounds. Fine by me. Their set was a quick lesson that they’ve only gotten better over the last few years, Janiak and Brown nailing harmonies onstage as fluidly as on the record throughout “Lamentations of a Broken Man” and the galloping “Push Mortal Coil,” which led into a driving take on “This Mania” for a finisher, and I’ll say honestly it gave me a whole new appreciation for that track. I revisited Of Woe and Wounds today just because the songs were still stuck in my head and it was enough to make me want to drive to Philly tonight to see them again with Clamfight, but I sated myself with the knowledge that I’ll hopefully be able to catch them among the headliners at the impending Maryland Doom Fest next month. In any case, it won’t be another three years before Apostle of Solitude and I cross paths.
It was Kings Destroy‘s party, we just all happened to be invited. No joke, for a band I quite literally saw more than 20 times last year to get on stage and still offer something exciting, I felt it only underscored how special a group these guys actually are. From the solid low-end foundation of bassist Aaron Bumpus to Rob Sefcik‘s rolling grooves in plunderers like “W2″ and the verses of “Smokey Robinson” from the album they were there to celebrate, their self-titled (review here) on War Crime Recordings, guitarist Carl Porcaro‘s malevolent smile as he tears into the leads of “Blood of Recompense” from 2013’s A Time of Hunting, vocalist Steve Murphy‘s stepping down from the stage for the ending of the same song, or guitarist Chris Skowronski seeming to address the whole of Yankee Stadium in singing along to “Mr. O,” which finished out the set, watching them play was the great time that I knew would justify the drive and they still exceeded my expectations. At this point, I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum on Kings Destroy shows, but they were positively on fire and it was a thrill to behold. They’d prove to be the loudest band of the night amid stiff competition, and to hear them dig into a more upbeat song like “Green Diamonds” coming out of “Embers” from the new album was a killer turn, the two songs appearing in opposite order on record to what they were live, completely reversed in their function but no less effective. No “Mytho” or “Time for War,” but otherwise they played all of Kings Destroy on the day of its release, and added the oddity of “Turul” from A Time of Hunting, which is always a strange kind of delight on the Saint Vitus Bar stage, so brazenly weird and undefinable as to be the primary characteristic of the album from whence it comes. “Mr. O” followed, again, the closer, and was downright riotous, the five-piece pushing through at full speed and still shoving each other around on stage and piledriving the song as much as performing it, the primary takeaway remaining how much truer to their live experience the self-titled is than anything they’ve done before, and how much stronger it is across the board for that fact. They played a gig worthy of the record that served as its impetus.
One could very easily make a case for Elder being among the most pivotal American heavy rock acts going. Their third and latest offering through Armageddon Shop and Stickman Records, Lore (review here), stands objectively with the best that 2015 has yet brought, and after recently spending a month on the road touring that material, they were tighter at the Saint Vitus Bar than one could have reasonably asked, the Boston/Providence/Brooklyn trio standing on the edge of a West Coast tour that will be followed next month by a return trip to Europe as their ascent continues. How essential is Lore? They opened their set with “Spires Burn” from the 2012 Spires Burn/Release EP (streamed here) and it seemed like a warmup before guitarist Nick DiSalvo launched into the initial leads that start “Compendium,” the opening track from the new album. Released just in February, the record’s progressive take, flowing movements and clear-headed tonality came through smoothly throughout the remainder of Elder‘s set, and they seemed to still be in tour-mode, less concerned with the evening’s event itself than the raw delivery of their own material, drummer Matt Couto seeming to stare down the drums borrowed from Kings Destroy as he used it to enact New England’s finest swing and bassist Jack Donovan stomping his foot to the march of “Compendium,” completely immersed in the track and the barrage of complex, engaging heavy that followed. To say they owned the room is understating their on-stage command at this point, but they did anyway, and it was the Lore material that most got the room going, something of a mosh breaking out later on. For a group who were playing this show ahead of getting on a plane the next morning to fly out west and go on tour with the likes of Electric Citizen and Stoned Jesus, it would’ve been understandable if Elder weren’t even there mentally, but while they had a bit of that touring-act thousand-yard-stare working, their delivery was every bit as passion-fueled as it had been at the Lore record release back in March, and one could only stand hypnotized as Elder reshaped the confines of genre to suit their creative progression. The most terrifying thing about them is they feel like they’re still only getting started, and maybe they are.
I had to stop for cash on my way out of Brooklyn since I think EZPass canceled my account owing to some unpaid tickets. “Your tag comes up as invalid,” the cop had told me at the toll on my way into the city. Whoops. If I wanted to get through the Midtown Tunnel, I’d have to do it the hard way, so I swung around to a gas station with my one functioning headlight, hit an ATM and sped down the familiar Routes 46 and 80 headed west to crash for the night in my former river valley, landing at around 1:30 and still taking some time to come down from the show, which I feel like I still haven’t really managed to do, my head a whirlwind of riffs, hugs from good friends and the most killer of times.