Posted in Reviews on April 24th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
The Black Heart is nestled into an alleyway that runs off a street behind The Underworld in Camden Town, London. I knew the place when I got there Monday night because it was one of the venues where Desertfest was held in 2012 and will be again this year, which made this kind of an unofficial pre-pre-show. Obviously I’ve only been a few times, but it seems to me like a hub of the London scene. I was early to the show and watching the people around me, it wasn’t long before so-and-so said hi to someone else, hey to this or that person, etc. There is a larger bar downstairs and the venue room upstairs (with another, smaller bar), so there’s plenty of room to mingle and shoot the shit if you’re so inclined.
I was introduced almost immediately to the cats from Serpent Venom, whose last album, Carnal Altar, I actually bought but didn’t open because I didn’t want to rough up the packaging; a CD housed in what looked like an old occult paperback. Still failed in that preservation, but I’d heard some stuff online in the interim and knew they were heavy trad doom of the sort in which England specializes, and that their singer, Gaz, was a madman on stage. That turned out to be true, but it was up in the air whether or not the show would even happen for a while, since Elder and Copenhagen heavy rock trio Pet the Preacher had been delayed at their ferry and forced to wait for the next one.
Ultimately, they arrived and the show started late, but it started. Having come from the Netherlands myself during the day, I knew it was a hell of a trip to make, and they were doing it by van and ferry while I rode on comfortable trains. In any case, a backline was secured and Serpent Venom played a five-song set comprised almost entirely of new material from an album that they’ll begin to record sometime over the next few months. Gaz was, as expected, feeling the riffs deep, headbanging, raising his arms, foot up on the monitor block at the front of the stage, but what I hadn’t realized was how much the rest of the band would follow suit. Guitarist Roland cut a few classic moves of his own, bassist Nick seemed to be in charge of thanking the crowd — which was considerable even for the first act — and even drummer Paul got in on the action with some great faces from behind the kit and a readiness at a moment’s notice to stand up and engage the audience.
They were a lot of fun to watch, and not that I anticipated they’d be boring, but I liked them more than I thought I would like them. They closed out with a cut from Carnal Altar(I want to say it was “Four Walls of Solitude,” but because of the feedback and rumble it was hard to hear Gaz between songs and I’m not 100 percent), and that was met with a duly riotous response — headbanging, fist-pumping, that thing doom dudes do where they put their hands over their heads to clap and sort of sway side to side in a stepping half-circle. Well earned on Serpent Venom‘s part. They were easily the doomliest band on the bill, but in their element nonetheless, and with the complex rhythms of some of their new riffs, starts and stops and off-time interplay between the drums and guitar, their next album will for sure capture some attention.
Camden was the 12th stop on Elder and Pet the Preacher‘s 15-date European tour, so getting to the venue aside, things were locked in for both bands. Pet the Preacher had played a set down the street from the 013 at Roadburn, but as I was committed elsewhere, I didn’t get to see it. All the more reason to get to The Black Heart and see the Danish threesome bust out their Euro bottom-end heavy stoner riffs. It was an immediate turn sonically from Serpent Venom, but the consistent factor was an underlying appreciation for the heavy, and Pet the Preacher had me asking at the end of the set if I could buy a CD. They too played some new stuff — three out of the four on their setlist (which was scribbled on a torn off piece of a Red Stripe box) don’t appear either on 2012′s The Banjo debut full-length or the preceding Meet the CreatureEP — and only “Into a Darken Night” appears on the first release.
Unquestionably, the highlight of the rest was set finale “What Now,” which featured the simple-but-speaking-volumes Q&A chorus, “What now/Fuck it,” atop a lumbering stoner riff that seemed out of the Euro heavy playbook but was still well placed and put to more than solid use. I could feel myself starting to pre-second-wind drag before they were done, but a shot of adrenaline from Elder was just the thing to revitalize.
Now, it had only been two days since I saw them tear a hole through a packed-out Het Patronaat at Roadburn, so yeah, I knew what was coming, but how awesome to watch Elder deliver the same kind of energy to 200 people in Camden as to 1,000 in Tilburg. The setlist was mostly the same — “Gemini,” “Release,” “Spires Burn,” “Dead Roots Stirring,” “Riddle of Steel,” and “The End” — but the real highlight was seeing how tight the band had become after 11 days on the road. They were in good spirits throughout, and their insistent, circular grooves were met with vigorous enthusiasm, bassist Jack Donovan‘s volume shaking the wooden floor of the place while guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo‘s lead notes cut through the tonal assault and drummer Matt Couto provided both sonic punctuation and the addition of his cymbals to the already consuming wash of glorious heavy psychedelic volume.
“The End,” which is a later track from 2011′s Dead Roots Stirring(review here), made for an especially righteous ending. I don’t think I’d pick it over “Dead Roots Stirring” or “Spires Burn” as the best thing they played, but DiSalvo’s leads and the Colour Haze-inspired apex of it was striking all the same, and when they kicked into the final progression, the rush of that riff, it clearly earned its place as the sendoff. Because they were late, their set had to be cut short to meet an 11PM curfew, and that was a bummer, but The Black Heart has neighbors and it was a Monday night, so it’s certainly understandable. When it came to seeing Elder, I think the audience was happy to get what they got. I know I certainly was.
Extra pics after the jump. Thanks to you for reading and to Reece Tee for making me feel at home a long way from it.
Posted in Features on April 20th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
04.21.13 — 00.25 — Sunday morning — Hotel Mercure, Tilburg
Before Black Magician went on at Het Patronaat to start off day three of Roadburn 2013 and the final day of the fest proper (the ceremonial Afterburner is tomorrow with two stages instead of four-plus), there was a showingof Costin Chioreanu‘s animated short film, Outside the Great Circle, which made its premiere earlier this weekend. The Romanian guitarist has played with a ton of bands and did the soundtrack for the film as well with help from Attila Csihar, whose vocals were immediately recognizable, and a host of others. Pretty heavy on the visual metaphors and there were a couple points where the digital animation style seemed awkward, but apparently it was Chioreanu‘s first time out as an animator, so I’m not about to rip on the effort.
If nothing else, it made the wait for Black Magician significantly less grueling than the one for Dread Sovereign was yesterday, though sleeping later also eased some of that burden. In any case, I was there in plenty of time to catch Black Magician‘s set, which followed in post-Cathedral suit with some of what Witchsorrow got up to last evening and had me once again thinking about what it is that makes British doom British and American doom American. One of these days I’m going to sit down with a piece of posterboard and a list of bands — Trouble and Death Row here, Cathedral and Pagan Altar there — and get it figured out. In any case, the Liverpudlian fivesome belted out weighted riffs and trudging nod, earning the support of both the UK contingent in the crowd, which was sizable, and the rest.
Their 2012 debut, Nature is the Devil’s Church, which I was hoping to buy but will have to pick up next week in London, was well represented, and frontman Liam Yates underscored the classic influences while prevalent organ — Matt Ford played on the album, presumably it was also him live — complemented Kyle Nesbitt‘s guitar and offered a distinguishing factor for the band. Yates is a charismatic presence up front. As they took the stage, he announced in no uncertain terms, “We are Black Magician and we play doom metal,” in the we-are-we-play Motörhead tradition, and before a new song which he dedicated to, “all you Catholics out there,” he announced that Black Magician‘s next release would be on Svart Records, so I guess congratulations are also in order, both to the band and to Shaman Recordings in getting their name out.
No shocker, they lived up to the “We play doom metal” promise, and though Nesbitt seemed less comfortable in the extended solo that started their final song, the extended “Chattox” that also closes the record, than he did while riffing out, they still came out of that long intro and crashed into the slowly unfolding verse unscathed. Over at the Main Stage of the 013, French post-black metal trailblazers Alcest were getting ready to go on. Fronted by 2013 artist-in-residence Neige, they also played in 2011 (review here), and put up a much, much better performance than I recall the last one being. Part of it has to be the fact that their 2012 third full-length, Les Voyages de l’Âme (review here), was superb — I mean that — and gave Neige a little more space to change things up, adding screams on “Là Où Naissent les Couleurs Nouvelles” while also generally sounding like a stronger singer as well.
Backing him was the same second guitarist/vocalist who had been with Les Discrets alongside Fursy Teyssier while Neige played bass, and here as with the other act, he also added a lot to the lush melodies. Drummer Winterhalter set up on the side of the stage and had a laptop open for the synth parts and other ambient whathaveyous — it was, I believe, the first laptop I’ve seen all weekend — and it was put to good use on “Beings of Light” from Les Voyagesand its memorable bookends, opener “Autre Temps” and closer “Summer’s Glory.” Perhaps most impressive of all, Alcest managed both to capture the serene melodic wash of their studio output and still give an engaging live show, striking a difficult balance and providing a sound follow-up/answer-back to Les Discrets‘ set at Het Patronaat. They were an unexpected highlight of the day.
While they played, Camera were getting ready to go on over in the Green Room. I only watched a couple minutes through the door, and though they had a laptop, they put it to much different use, setting a space-jammy tone and fleshing it out via personal computing. I’d get my fix of cosmic improv later with The Cosmic Dead and Endless Boogie, so I jive-turkeyed my way into Stage01 for the first time of the whole fest, managing to get in just after Raketkanon finished in order to see Texas fuzzers Wo Fat. Of everything that Roadburn 2013 has had to offer over the last three days, the balls-out stoner rock contingent has been relatively quiet (though I hear good things about Candybar Planet) in favor of doom, heavy psych, black metal and that specific kind of “other” that has become Roadburn‘s bread and butter these last few years, so I knew there was going to be a good crowd for Wo Fat, who rose to the challenge and dug right into the dirt with the title-track of last year’s excellent fourth album, The Black Code(review here), well representing their home state, American heavy rock, and well-spirited riffage. I can’t speak for everyone, but for my tired ass, they were an existential tonic. A pick-me-up like the espresso I’d soon grab from the machine in the merch area.
The three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer/backing vocalist Michael Walter didn’t exactly shy away from jamming on The Black Code, and their set followed a similar ethic, Stump taking extended solos while Wilson absolutely nailed the grooves underlying and Walter held all the pieces together. They were glad to be there, everyone seemed to be glad they were there — it was awesome. I immediately had “The Black Code” stuck in my head and figured that if I had to spend the rest of the night with that groove on mental jukebox perma-repeat, I had no problem with that. “Descent into the Maelstrom” from 2011′s Noche del Chupacabrawas preceded by “Hurt at Gone,” which featured a few highlight leads, and they rounded out with the last two tracks from the latest LP, “The Shard of Leng” and “Sleep of the Black Lotus,” which meant they played the whole record, just not in order, plus “Descent into the Maelstrom” and “Enter the Riffian,” from 2009′s Psychedelonaut. This being their first European tour, and first real tour in general unless they went to Japan without telling anybody, I wouldn’t be surprised if they come out of it a much tighter, different band than they came into it. Clearly they were relishing every second of the Roadburn experience.
And while I watched them, so was I. I felt refreshed on my way to see Victor Griffin’s In~Graved in the Green Room, making sure to get there in plenty of time to get up front. Griffin, of course, is American doom nobility as much as anyone can be, with a pedigree that traces back through Place of Skulls to Pentagram to Death Row, but as he’s joined in In~Graved by bassist Guy Pinhas (Goatsnake, The Obsessed, etc.), keyboardist Jeff “Oly” Olson (former Trouble drummer) and drummer “Minnesota” Pete Campbell (Sixty Watt Shaman and Place of Skulls, among others), it’s something of a supergroup. Their recently-released self-titled debut (review here) for sure is Griffin doing what he does best, singing and playing guitar with his unmistakable tone and professing his faith in song. He was in his element at Roadburn 2013, and said it was good to be back. I saw him here in 2010 with a Death Row reunion and again in 2011 with Pentagram, and he’s got his thing and it works well for him. He led In~Graved in such a manner as to be fitting of having his name in front.
“Digital Critic,” which also started the record, opened. My issues with the subject matter notwithstanding (because if anyone needs a good shitting on, it’s bloggers; actually, if the song was about poor syntax and needless hyperbole, I’d be down with it), they were tight, and “What If” followed, immediately establishing the dynamic of the band, with Olson‘s keys playing a major role in enriching the melodies and underscoring the grooves of Griffin‘s riffs. It seemed to me that’s where the real potential for In~Graved lies. Here Victor Griffin has this awesome band that’s out on tour. Pinhas on bass is a rhythm section unto himself, and he and Campbell were locked in from the first note, so what I’m left wondering about In~Graved is what happens next? Where do they go from here? Is it a real band or a Griffin project with a revolving door membership? Seems to me that this lineup could yield some fantastic material if they wrote together. I don’t know how feasible that is — last I heard, Pinhas lived in California, and everyone involved seems to have plenty going on besides, so scheduling could be a nightmare — but they had potential to be a real band and not just a touring lineup. We live in a universe of infinite possibility. Maybe it’ll happen, maybe they’ll do this European tour and never speak again. Who knows.
High on Fire delivered their second set of the weekend on the Main Stage. Thursday night’s headlining slot was Art of Self Defense-only, so this one replied with selections from the rest of the trio’s catalog, launching with the rush of De Vermis Mysteriisopener “Serums of Laio” and weaving a vicious blood trail through material from Surrounded by Thieveson, cuts like “Devilution,” “Frost Hammer” (Jeff Matz joining Matt Pike on vocals), “Rumors of War,” “Madness of an Architect” and “Eyes and Teeth” melding together in a career-spanning sampler that may have been missing the first album’s highlights, but in the context of the other spot still made sense. It hadn’t been that long since I had seen them do most of this material, late last year in Philly, but they never disappoint live and this was no exception. Who could complain about two High on Fire sets in one weekend? Not me, not this weekend, though I knew with Elder still to come there was much more of the day to be had, and so I took a quick break for dinner — fish, rice, salad — and to pick up some Cosmic Dead tapes from the merch area. More espresso was the right choice as well.
I sat outside Het Patronaat for a few minutes to get caught up on my notes and drink said coffee in the fresh air — actually it kind of smelled like old potatoes, but that’s still fresher than inside — but wound up going in to see a bit of UK black metal progressives A Forest of Stars, who wound up being probably the most elaborate act of the whole fest, between the double-guitars, violin, flute, keys, extra percussion, ebow, multiple vocalists, shirts and ties, and so on. It was a far cry from High on Fire, to be sure, as screamer Dan Eyre stood almost perfectly still to seethe when he had a break as the band around him continued their well-received onslaught. The people there knew who they were — Roadburn‘s a pretty hip crowd anyway — but I didn’t, so for just being something different, it was exciting even though what they were doing, black metal tinged with psych and folk influences, isn’t really where my head is at. Very atmospheric, very complex, very intense, mixing clean vocals and screams and everything else. I can’t imagine getting seven people to agree on anything, let alone be in a band, so kudos are in order.
The reason I was there, though, was for Elder, who played next. What a fucking blast. Seriously. That’s what it says in my notes: “What a fucking blast.” It’s a direct quote. Probably the best thing I can compare it to is when Black Pyramid played the Afterburner in 2011 and were given such a warm reception, but this was bigger, both in room size and in that reception itself. Similar to Goat last night, people were lined up out the door and down the alley to see Elder‘s Roadburn debut, and the crowd was cheering before they even started the first song. They waved and people cheered. It was a lot of fun to see, and as it was the 10th show on their 15-date European run with Pet the Preacher (who played earlier at another club down the way as a kind of annex to the festival), they also handed the place its collective ass. Both cuts from the Spires Burn/ReleaseEP were included, as well as “Dead Roots Stirring” and a host of others, and for the umpteenth time in the last couple days, I felt lucky to be there. I know for a lot of people, this was the first time they’re getting to see them live, but even for the several times I have, this one was something special. I’ve got my train booked to London in time to see them in Camden Town on Monday. Fingers crossed it actually works out.
My thought was to catch Mr. Peter Hayden at Stage01, but didn’t get there in time and so missed it. Drowned my sorrows instead in a few Electric Moon CDs — there are so many! — and ran back to drop them off at the hotel before heading back to the Main Stage for Godflesh. While I’m feeling lucky, I felt lucky to see Godflesh do Streetcleanerfront-to-back two years ago, so I guess I’m twice-over lucky as regards the seminal Justin Broadrick-led outfit for having now seen them do 1992′s sophomore full-length, Pure,as well. If it comes to it, I wouldn’t object if Broadrick and bassist B.C. Green wanted to go year-by-year through the whole catalog and wind up at 2001′s Hymns, but I doubt it will come to that. I had been wondering whatever became of the new record he alluded to when interviewed here for the last Jesu full-length, but nobody seemed to mind a roll through Pure — at least I didn’t hear any groans, “Oh, this again,” and so on — and from the sheer damage that material can inflict, it’s no real wonder why. Apparently one of the byproducts of being so ahead of your time is that later on your output is still vital. Go figure.
Now, I’m not going to claim to be the biggest Godflesh fan in the world. To me, they’re a band I’ve appreciated more in hindsight — hearing their records years after the fact and recognizing the parts that others have ripped off; there’s no shortage — but I don’t honestly think they would’ve worked as anything but the headliner for this final night of Roadburn. The energy and the volume they bring, Broadrick, Green and the drum machine, didn’t really leave room to be built upon. Robert Hampson, who played on Pure and the preceding 1991 Cold World EP following the dissolution of his band Loop that year and who also did a solo set on Thursday, joined them on second guitar, so that the three were spread out across the stage, Broadrick on the right, Green on the left and Hampson in the middle.
It only got louder and more pulsating from there. I made my way over to Stage01 to watch some of Mr. Peter Hayden through the open door — I had really wanted to see them — and even then, the sounds I was getting was a mixture of their heavy-as-hell psych freakout and Godflesh‘s dissatisfied industrial frustrations. Figuring that I was going to want to work my way up anyway for The Cosmic Dead‘s 23.15 start, I started through the crowd as Mr. Peter Hayden did a sort of space rocking baptism rite on the front row that involved a tinfoil-covered hand. Seemed like a great set, and it certainly ended riotous enough, but having missed them, there was no way I was letting The Cosmic Dead go unseen. I got to the front of the stage just in time to see Mr. Peter Hayden sell a DVD to the dude standing next to me for 10 Euro that I’m pretty sure was the visuals that were playing behind them and not, as I’m relatively sure this guy thought it was, a live video of what they’d just played. The day had been long for everyone.
But The Cosmic Dead were something of an arrival for me. You see, I knew this day was going to end jammy and spaced out, and so when I got up front at Stage01, it was the proverbial home stretch. My feet were sore, my back was sore, I smelled like other people’s smoke and the fish I ate for dinner, but dammit, I wanted to see the Scottish band bring their heavy space to life. I didn’t have much time, because New York’s Endless Boogie were going on the Main Stage at 23.50, but I’d get in what I could. This was fine until The Cosmic Dead made it apparent they were running on SRT (“stoner rock time”). They started closer to 23.30, which meant I had all of five minutes before I had to head out and see the last band. In my head, the voice of Lana from Archer made a “womp womp” noise, though what I saw of The Cosmic Dead was right on. The bassist set up facing away from the audience, and they were so densely fogged up from the smoke machine that one almost had to take the sound’s word for it that they were there in the first place, but they made it known that they’re in it for the jams. What little I got to see was a boon.
Earlier in the day, I was asked why I wouldn’t just go see Endless Boogie in New York. They’re from New York and I live in New Jersey, about an hour away. It makes sense. Well, the thing is some of the shows they play in New York are terrible, and I get bummed out at terrible shows. If you’re ever going to see a band live, no matter who they are or what they do, in my experience, there’s no better place to see them than at Roadburn. I’ve seen some awesome shit in my day, and when it came to me and Endless Boogie, I knew that if I was gonna run into their low-end moody improv, this was how I wanted it to happen. Asphyx were playing at Het Patronaat, but I didn’t care. I watched guitarist/vocalist Paul “Top Dollar” Major preach impromptu about whatever the hell he felt like while Endless Boogie smoothed their way into an all-flavor/no-filler groove that I think was loosely based on one of the cuts from this year’s Long Island(review here) but ultimately headed somewhere else.
The same could be said for me. I’d stayed later than the last two nights to at least get a glimpse of The Cosmic Dead and Endless Boogie, but with this ahead of me, I knew my time was limited and that I needed to get back to the hotel and start with the clacky-clacky. Tomorrow is the Afterburner — like Roadburn‘s (relatively) laid back way of transitioning its audience back into real life. There’s always a cool vibe throughout the day and from Sigh and Nihil to Golden Void and Electric Moon, I’m sure tomorrow will be no exception. First though, sleep. I lost track this morning of what day it actually was and started doing work that needed to be in by Monday — and post time after sorting through the 80 pics with this post is 06.30; I have not slept — so maybe I’m a little frayed, but nothing I’ve thus far encountered has made me regret any of this.
Well, maybe if you’re driving you shouldn’t stop that. And if you’re having a nice family dinner, I certainly wouldn’t want to interrupt that. But pretty much any other activity in which you might be engaged, you can put it down for 10 or so minutes and check out this live clip of Elder jamming out “Dead Roots Stirring” at O’Brien’s Pub on Jan. 23. I’m not sure who filmed it, so you’ll pardon me if I don’t give credit where credit’s due, but the clip rules nonetheless with some dizzying tripped-out effects on bassist Jack Donovan. On a mentally frazzled Monday evening, it was just the thing to zone/rock out to as I wrapped up the working day.
For those of you in NYC or the surrounding area, Elder are headed south from their native Boston to play The Acheron on Feb. 16 with Eidetic Seeing, Ancient Sky and It’s Not Night: It’s Space for what’s sure to be a killer show. Looking forward to that one, and here’s why:
In related news, the Spires Burn/Release 12″ EP (stream it here) has been repressed and is available again through Armageddon Shop. Dig it:
ELDER “Spires Burn / Release 12″
Repress finally in the shop!!
This batch on awesome transparent Purple vinyl and now with download coupon, ltd to 440 copies
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 22nd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
It was a nice thought to imagine YOB and Elder arriving in the Southern hemisphere to align themselves with the thunderous New Zealand outfit Beastwars and stomp their way across Australia, but seems it’s not to be. At least not now. Elder and Beastwars both put out word that the tour (which was alluded to here back in November) was a no-go. Bummer, but hopefully it’s not the last opportunity for these bands to get together.
Here’s Elder‘s announcement followed by the whole of their Spires Burn/ReleaseEP from their Bandcamp just because it rules and some local East Coast dates they have coming up this week and beyond:
It is with great regret that we have to announce the official cancellation of our Australian/New Zealand appearances coinciding with the cancellation of Doomnations 2013. We received word this morning that the festival would not be taking place this year due to “logistical issues”.
I assure you that we are deeply disappointed to postpone our travels, but would nevertheless like to thank all bands, fans and promotors who supported us in this endeavor. We hope to one day have the privilege of performing for you!
Elder upcoming live dates: Jan 23 O’Brien’s Allston, MA Jan 24 St. Vitus Bar Brooklyn, NY Jan 29 Ralph’s Worcester, MA Mar 14 Great Scott Allston, MA
Elder, classic cable-access style. Not sure what could be better than that. Rich from the respect-worthy The Day after the Sabbath blog sent over the above clip, which was taped in 2010. The band’s second album, Dead Roots Stirring, wasn’t out yet, but they still close out with “The End” and the title-track from the record, so that material is represented along with “Riddle of Steel Pt. 1,” “Hexe” and “White Walls” from their 2008 self-titled debut. It’s a badass video, a great way to end an amazing week, and Rich also sent over a link to download high-quality mp3s of the full performance, which I’m glad to say will be added to The Obelisk Radio over the weekend.
About this week: Wow. Thanks to everyone who’s taken the time to check out the stuff that went up over the last few days. Usually I think of December as being kind of a quiet month, but with more than 200 Thee Facebooks likes on the Top 20 of 2012 and the kind of response to today’s Devil to Pay video premiere that I’m relatively sure the internet types call “viral,” I couldn’t feel better about heading into the holidays next week. Thank you all for reading, commenting, liking, sharing, helping to spread the word that this site exists. Today felt really good.
Over the weekend, I’ll be adding more than 100 albums to The Obelisk Radio, including as I mentioned the Elder performance above, as well as some classic Trouble, Kylesa, Mastodon, and many others. There’s still a lot of updating to be done, but I’ve been enjoying the process, so I’ll keep plugging away and hopefully you get the chance to listen and enjoy some of the tunes. I was stoked this afternoon when “Big News I” came on, and then later I heard The Atomic Bitchwax covering Deep Purple’s “Maybe I’m a Leo.” It had been a while for that one, so that was cool as well. Lots of good stuff on the playlist at this point, and while we’re still working out some kinks on the back end and there are adjustments to be made, I hope you enjoy the work in progress.
I will be posting next week, so if you’re around I hope you’ll be able to check in. Monday is Xmas Eve and that brings familial obligations, and of course Tuesday is Xmas Proper, but I’m back in the office for at least part of the day Wednesday and if I can post prior to that, I will. I’ve got an awesome interview with Arthur Seay of Unida/House of Broken Promises that I’d like to post before 2013 hits, and a whole stack of CDs wanting reviews, so although I’ve pretty much put the year to bed (I was thinking I might do a separate list of the top 10 EPs and demos — might be a fun complement to the bigger top 20), there’s still a lot more to come as we head toward the New Year. As always, I hope you’ll stick around.
And as always, I hope you have a great and safe weekend. I’ve been hearing and reading about blizzards in the Midwest, so if you’re out that way, stay warm and stay safe. I’ll see you on the forum and back here next week for more good times.
Posted in Whathaveyou on December 3rd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Dates are forthcoming, but Boston heavy psych forerunners Elder have announced they’ll be touring Europe around their previously announced Roadburn 2013 appearance with Danish trio Pet the Preacher. I’ve run the scenarios through my head a dozen times, and it all comes out to there’s no way this could possibly be a bad thing.
Elder continue to support their 2011 album, Dead Roots Stirring and this year’s limited Spires Burn/Release10″, and I have a hard time imagining a better flag to fly upon their reaching European shores than those releases.
More to come, but here’s this in the meantime:
We are excited to officially announce that this spring US heavy psych rockers ELDER will join forces with their Scandinavian brothers PET THE PREACHER (DK) for a two-week tour across Europe.
ELDER have gained a steady following since their sophomore album Dead Roots Stirring (MeteorCity Records), which established them as one of the US’s most innovative stoner rock bands. They will be performing at the 13th annual Roadburn Festival in Tilburg, Holland, on April 20th.
Hailing from Denmark, PET THE PREACHER have been turning heads with their debut album The Banjo and in january 2013, Bilocation Records will release the follow-up double-EP Short Stories: Papa Zen & Meet The Creature. Crossing genres from stoner/blues to prog rock, the trio embodies the modern definition of spirited rock n’ roll.
Stay tuned for exact dates in the very near future.
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 1st, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’ve never been to a Small Stone showcase in Boston before. Sure, I was at both nights of the Philly one last year (review here and here) and I caught Gozu and Infernal Overdrive together at Radio this past March (review here), and looking at the list, the only band on it I’ve never seen is Supermachine — and I saw Scissorfight, from whence they come — but still, Boston’s a different beast. To tell you the truth, every time I hit the town, I feel a little bit like I’m going to get my ass kicked.
Perhaps then, it would be wise for me to hit the warm-up show slated to happen one day before the showcase proper. Elder (who so far as I know are not on Small Stone) and Infernal Overdrive will play at the taqueria No Problemo in New Bedford at 10PM. If you’re north of there, Gozu and Freedom Hawk will be on a bill at Asylum in Portland, ME. Drummer Mike Bennett of Infernal Overdrive posted the following notice and flyer:
Tomorrow night there will be a few warm up gigs starring some of your favorite Small Stone bands….
Asylum -Portland, ME w/ GOZU, Freedom Hawk, Murcilago and Whitcomb No Problemo – New Bedford, MA w/ Infernal Overdrive and Elder….. All leading up to the big event Sat. !!!
And then of course there’s the showcase itself on Saturday at Radio in Somerville. As awesome an assemblage of Small Stone acts as I’ve had the privilege to see. Here are the details, courtesy of the Thee Facebooks event page:
Nov. 3rd-Radio, Boston Small Stone Showcase 10 dollars!!! Dudes- BEER-PETTING ZOO!! Purchase Tickets HERE:
Posted in Reviews on October 26th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Another shitty day in another shitty week had me in full-on Fuck Everything Mode. Riffy redemption? Well, it wouldn’t be the first time, but it wasn’t going to be easy going, and the traffic en route to The Grand Victory in Brooklyn to catch Boston’s Elder, with NYC natives Thinning the Herd, Reign of Zaius and Pants Exploder wasn’t helping. You ever yell at someone in your car with the windows up? I do it. All. The. Time. I honestly don’t know how I’ve made it this long.
So obviously I was drinking, right? I mean what’s better than the existential boner pill alcohol provides? What’s that? Depressant? Fuck that, let’s rock and roll.
I was (born too) late getting there, and so Pants Exploder – who immediately won moniker of the night — were already on. It was my first time at The Grand Victory, which is right across Grand St. (fancy that) from the Trash Bar, but I could tell right away when I walked in that I liked the place. Small, longer than it was wide, the bar was on the left side walking in, loaded with decent micro taps — I had a Brooklyn Somethingorother to start and switched after one to Kelso’s Pilsner, which I found wanted for crispness but went down smoothly nonetheless — and the small stage was in the back of the room. It was unrepentantly a rock and roll bar, but dark in the back and intimate enough that even if there wasn’t a show, I’d drink there. Maybe that’s not saying much these days.
Upon hearing that there was a band called Pants Exploder on the bill, I knew I wanted to see them. I mean, some names just dare the act to live up to them. It’s like naming your band We Will Blow Your Fucking Mind, right? You wanna be like, “Okay, so go ahead, make my pants explode, I brought an extra pair and they’re in the car so I’m ready to go.” They gave it their best shot. A noisy trio, there were elements on hand of High on Fire thrash offset by Torche-type melodies, and they showed they could rage when they wanted to, and they were metal-tight and punk-energetic, which is what you want on a hoppy Thursday night. Good fun. One more band to make me regret living in the suburbs.
There wasn’t much of a changeover, but I had another couple beers and before long, Reign of Zaius started up. It was my second time seeing the Brooklyn newcomers — the first was at Public Assembly in August with The Midnight Ghost Train (review here) — and I don’t know whether it was the beverages, the sound at The Grand Victory or just my already vastly-improved mood, but I got way more of a sense of where they were coming from this time around. Their sound has its classic ’70s elements in the riffs, but with charismatic vocalist David “Viking” Damiecki up front, they seemed way more in line with a post-grunge heavy ’90s rock this time out. One of their songs started out so much like “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” that I thought they were doing a Primus cover. They weren’t, but they put that riff to good use anyway.
Elsewhere, Kyuss flourished as an influence, but there was a garage-type feel to their sound as well, guitarist Brady keeping a subdued presence while drummer Brian and bassist Davis added groovy push to the varying tempos. They’re pretty straightforward, and still feeling out where they want to be, but they seemed to have a much better idea last night than even two months ago, so I take that as an encouraging sign. It’ll be interesting to hear where they go sound-wise next time they hit the studio, and ditto that for Thinning the Herd, who followed and once again found guitarist/vocalist Gavin Spielman surrounded by a different band.
Admittedly, it’s been a while since I’ve seen them, but even since last year’s Oceans Rise(review here), Spielman has revamped the three-piece, bringing in mustachioed bassist Wes Edmonds and drummer Rick Cimato to underscore his should-be-heard riffs and solos and bluesy vocal delivery. I dug the band before — I’m pretty sure they’ve had a different bassist every time I’ve run into them, but none of them have been bad — but the latest incarnation seemed to be the most professional-minded. I don’t know what their plans are, if they’re looking to tour or whatever, but they were apparently recording with Steve Albini in August, so they’ve got something in the works.
They closed out by covering Fu Manchu‘s “Hell on Wheels” like it was no big deal, and that was an awesome surprise, since I don’t generally think of them as being aligned to that kind of sunshiny fuzz — their sound is dirtier, rougher around the edges — but they pulled it off well, and even in the back of the room, I was singing along. With just Elder to go, the night had already proven solid. All three of bands who’d played were going for something different under the umbrella of capital-’h’ Heavy, and the varying senses of identity on stage made it an interesting show as well as just being good sets. Right about when I got to thinking about how many different ways there are to spin your red sun blues, Elder got on stage and moiderlized the joint.
Elder were on their way south to this weekend’s inaugural Autumn Screams Doom fest at the Sidebar in Baltimore, and well, I was really glad they made a stop in town. This was my second time being fortunate enough to see them without a piano falling on my head or some such other hindrance (the first was at SHoD in Sept.), and the trio just flat out destroyed. It was the kind of good that makes you stand back and go, “Holy fuck this is good,” backing it up with all kinds of ridiculous hyperbole about how they’re the best band you’ve seen since this one time 17 years ago when you saw someone else who were really killer. Point is, they’re something special to watch on a stage.
It should say something to that effect that when we did that informal Top 10 Stoner Rock Albums poll last month, their last full-length, Dead Roots Stirring, was right on the cusp of making the list – Brant Bjork and High on Fire aren’t bad company, if you have to tie with somebody. They started their set with the title-track from that record, and played material off the Spires Burn/Release 12″ as well (streaming here), guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto missing no steps in the songs and seeming to outmatch even Pants Exploder‘s volume level. Donovan had his mullet in a ponytail — I guess you can’t unleash a beast like that every single night, lest the back of your neck overheat — but they made the most nonetheless of the small stage and proved it was no fluke when after last time I said they’re some of the best American heavy psych I’ve ever seen. If you’re in Baltimore tonight, count yourself lucky.
I’d lost the cap to one of my lenses, and by the time I got back to my humble river valley, I was back to being impotently furious at everything, but it was probably good to get out of my own head for a couple minutes, you know, like a real human being might. Nonetheless, I stomped my feet like a spoiled child taking out the garbage and debated further beerings, but eventually crashed out, gritting my teeth in my sleep to the point of waking up with a sore jaw this morning. Went well with my half-hungover headache.
A couple weeks ago, I asked the question above: “What are the 10 greatest stoner rock records?” It was kind of just something I was throwing out there to see what came back. Nothing scientific, pretty vague on what “stoner rock” actually meant as a genre designation. Basically just trying to get a spur-of-the-moment response, like an inkblot test for riffs. First thing that comes to mind.
The response was awesome, so before anything else, thank you to everyone who contributed a list to the original post. I was taken aback by the number of replies that came in — a total 73 comments — and the resultant breadth of records named reads like a wishlist of the damned. Some people were pretty orthodox in their definition of the genre, and some more open in the bands they included, but working from everyone’s lists, I tallied up the votes, and while I don’t necessarily agree with all the choices personally (I added my own list as a comment to the initial post, so I won’t bother reprinting it), it was a blast to see what emerged on top. The people have spoken.
I tried to be as fair as I could in the tallying. There were some comments left that were individual songs and not albums, and those I didn’t count, but everything else went in, even if it was only mentioned once, and when someone said, for example, “Melvins – all,” I actually added a tally to everything by the Melvins that everyone else had said. Again, it’s not really a scientific thing polling demographic data, but it was a lot of fun.
Okay, here’s the list:
The Top 10 Greatest Stoner Rock Records Poll Results:
1. Kyuss, Welcome to Sky Valley (41 votes)
2. Sleep, Sleep’s Holy Mountain (27 votes)
3. Black Sabbath, Master of Reality (19 votes)
4. Kyuss,Blues for the Red Sun (18 votes)
5. Monster Magnet,Spine of God (15 votes)
5. Sleep,Dopesmoker(15 votes)
7. Electric Wizard, Dopethrone(14 votes)
7. Fu Manchu, In Search Of… (14 votes)
9. Queens of the Stone Age, Queens of the Stone Age (12 votes)
10. Fu Manchu, The Action is Go (10 votes)
As you can see, some real classics in there, and Welcome to Sky Valleywas far and away the winner, picked by 41 out of the 73 people (myself included), with Sleep and Black Sabbath behind. There were two ties at numbers five and seven, but beyond that, it’s a pretty clear picture of where people are at with their favorites.
What about everything else? Well, it was all counted. I broke all the entries down by number of votes and listed them by artist with albums in chronological order.
Posted in Whathaveyou on September 5th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
More daydream fodder for those of us who’d make our escapist Roadburn fantasies a reality in 2013. You know, as I watched Elder‘s consciousness-shattering performance at SHoD, I thought to myself, “These guys would kill at Roadburn,” so I’m glad to see they’ll have the opportunity to do so. Neurot acquisitions Amenra will take part as well, presumably with a new album out or on the way, and Process of Guilt too.
Pre-sale info is also included, so make sure you pay close attention to the following:
ROADBURN FESTIVAL 2013 TICKET PRE-SALES START THURSDAY, OCTOBER 4TH AT 2012 AT 20:30 CET; PRE-SALES PARTY AT THE 013 VENUE (NL) WITH SWITCHBLADE AND BUNKUR; AMENRA, ELDER AND PROCESS OF GUILT CONFIRMED FOR ROADBURN FESTIVAL 2013
This year, we are doing things a bit differently in terms of pre-sales. Tickets for Roadburn Festival 2013 will go on sale Thursday, 4 October 2012 at 20:30 CET instead of late November as usual.
The anticipation for next year’s festival has been growing exponentially with each new band announcement, and we have been inundated with questions about tickets. Ultimately, we agreed it would be cruel and unusual punishment to make you wait until the end of November, hence the decision to move up the ticket pre-sales for Roadburn 2013 to 4 October 2012. Circle this date on your calendar, set your alarm and get ready to score your tickets!
You might remember that ticket prices for the 2012 Roadburn Festival rose due to higher taxes imposed on cultural events here in the Netherlands. In the meantime, certain changes have been made and we are pleased to report that tickets for Roadburn 2013 will be slightly less expensive. We wanted to translate that into good news for you, our beloved Roadburn veterans and neophytes alike, as opposed to raising ticket prices again. As most of you know, it was no fun announcing the price hike last year.
Three-day tickets are available for 165,00 euros; four-day tickets are 185,00 euros, and single tickets for The Afterburner are 32,50 euros. The prices listed do not include processing fees. Please note: one-day tickets are not available for the Thursday, Friday or Saturday Roadburn dates.
The majority of Roadburners live outside the Netherlands, which is why ticket pre-sales will start at 20:30 CET. This should be convenient for most time zones. Apologies to our friends in Oceania who will have to wake up early (or just stay up late)!
For everyone in the Netherlands and Belgium, we are aware that your local ticket outlets might not be open when pre-sales start, which is one reason why we are throwing a Roadburn Festival pre-sales party at the 013 venue in Tilburg (NL) on 4 October 2012. Admission if free. During the event, you will be able to purchase a maximum of two paper tickets for Roadburn Festival 2013. Guaranteed!
Just think: no pacing outside a ticket outlet in the freezing rain, no anxiety attack when the guy at the counter hands you two tickets to some eurotrash dance party at a football stadium, and no homicidal urges when the new kid at the shop mumbles: “huh, something’s wrong with the printer…”
Of course, the other reason for the pre-sales party is that it will be a blast! We have invited Switchblade and Bunkur to provide the soundtrack. Both bands have been on the Roadburn radar for quite a while, and this is the perfect opportunity to showcase their riff-heavy explorations. Also, Roadburn’s artistic director/promoter Walter Hoeijmakers will be on hand to share the latest festival updates.
Grab your tickets, bask in the heaviness and get ready to start the official countdown to Roadburn 2013!
Sinners, liars, thieves and heathens: absolution is at hand! Enter the black church of AMENRA on Friday, April 19th in Het Patronaat in Tilburg, Holland. Achieve a state of delirious bliss as the gut-wrenching screams and deafening droning riffs alter your reality, purifying your soul and sending you into paroxysms of ritual ecstasy. Are these post-metal behemoths from West-Flanders (Belgium) demons or demigods? You decide. More info on Amenra here:http://wp.me/p1m0FP-6i5
It is with great pleasure that we announce the addition of Boston heavy psych rockers Elder to the Roadburn Festival 2013 roster at the Het Patronaat venue on April 20th.
Roadburn Festival 2013, including Electric Wizard’ s curated event, Godflesh playing Pure in its entirety for the first time ever, Neige (Alcest) as Artist-in-Residence and Die Kreuzen reunion among others, will run for four days from Thursday, April 18th to Sunday, April 21st, 2013 (the traditional Afterburner event) at the 013 venue in Tilburg, Holland.
Posted in Features on September 2nd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
How surprised was I to win the Stoner Hands of Doom XII raffle last night? Well, I’m not exactly the guy who never wins anything, but I am the guy who says he never wins anything when he wins something once every eight to 10 years, so yeah, I was pretty blown away. I didn’t even really get the chance to go through the box of goodies last night — Pale Divine had just played and The Skull was about to take the stage — but the loot is plentiful.
My ticket won me a bounty of doomly goods, from Iron Man vinyl to CDs from Kin of Ettins, Beelzefuzz, Faces of Bayon, Black Cowgirl, Ichabod, One Inch Giant, and so on, plus posters for the last several SHoD fests, including one for SHoD VII in Arizona, when Acid King played. There are ones in there for SHoD X and SHoDXI as well, both of which I played in different bands, so it’s kind of special to have them, and an assortment of doomly patches and stickers — not to mention an entire wardrobe of t-shirts — but the highlight of the whole package has to be the official Stoner Hands of Doom XII pedal, which has the Skillit-designed skull artwork of this year’s fest painted right on. I can’t wait to get it home and hook it up to my ukulele. I’m dead serious.
Thanks obviously go out to Rob and the whole SHoD crew. One of the great things about being here the last several days has been seeing all the familiar faces. Today is the final day of the fest. When I came out of the El ‘n’ Gee last night, the entire town of New London appeared to be smashed, so it’s not such a surprise that it’s kind of sleepy and quiet now as I write this in a shady corner in the parking lot across from the venue, but soon enough, Minneapolis sludgers Witchden will start another full day of excellent heaviness that I’ll once more be documenting as we go along.
If you’ve been reading these posts, thank you for that. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. It’s kind of a trip to be reviewing a band’s set and then have them come over and say hi, as happened a few times yesterday, but it’s been a lot of fun. More to come in a bit for day four of SHoD XII.
UPDATE 2:02PM: They had a hell of a trip to get here and a first-band-on crowd to play to, but Minneapolis sludgers Witchden were tight enough to show they had a little road time along their way. The two-guitar five-piece boasts Jeff “Kong”Moen, now apparently formerly of Sourvein on drums, and he provided both energy and crash behind vocalist Jason Micah, whose vicious screams came across with an almost hip-hop style presence. Maybe it was the upturned hat, but everyone else was pretty much headbanging, and his stage moves just gave off that kind of vibe. On the other hand, the riffs of guitarists were straight out of the sludge playbook, heavy enough to transcend the stoner and really get into some muddy nastiness. I bought the CD, and they were also selling handmade dugouts, which are apparently a thing that exist. They were $20 a pop, and as much as I like to support independent woodworking, I stuck with the album and think it was probably the right idea. A heavy start, and the first fog machine of the whole fest (surprised the hell out of me, like, “Oh yeah! Fog!” — it’s been a long weekend), but we’re underway for sure now.
UPDATE 2:46PM: They were a lot of fun, because they were literally kids — their parents were here — but Insano Vision also seriously brought it to SHoD XII, and by “it” I mean the inimitable vitality of rock and roll youth. They were fast and heavy and jumping around the stage, and it gives what I’ve been calling “energetic” all weekend an entirely different touchstone. A double-guitar four-piece from North Haven, I’d be amazed if a single one of them could gain entry to the bar area at the El ‘n’ Gee, but heavy is heavy. Lead guitarist Doug Glaser (above) tapped through a couple killer solos, jumping around the stage during set highlight “Unknown,” and while they still have their kinks to work out, they have plenty of time to do it. Very cool, very metal, and great to see some youngins kicking ass. As they’re local, I don’t know that I’d put them on after Witchden, but I think they surprised everyone here with both their chops and their presence. They tore through their set quickly, leaving a strong impression in their wake. Will be interesting to see how they develop, but it was more than pleasant to be caught off-guard as I was and I think a lot of others were as well.
UPDATE 3:39PM: I think I pulled my rock muscle. It was a pretty bold choice on New Jersey four-piece Infernal Overdrive‘s part to throw in the 12-minute jam (which was shortened, but still) “Motor” so early into the set, but they pulled it off, ranging far into psychedelic moodiness and then bringing it back into their own brand of classic-type riff rock. Brothers Keith (bass) and Marc Schleicher (guitar/vocals) held down cuts like “Viking” — which I’m dying to hear the final version of — the former with his customized Captain America bass, now featuring blue knobs. They’re always a show, huge on personality, but the songwriting backs it up. “I-95,” from their Small Stone debut, Last Rays of the Dying Sun (review here) is maddeningly catchy, and though Marc didn’t jump off the stage in his James Brown boogie routine, he and guitarist Rich Miele both sounded excellent and drummer Mike Bennett pushed a big rock finish over the top, the band’s logo proudly blazing off the front of his kick bass. For a band that doesn’t tour six or seven months each year, Infernal Overdrive always throw down, and every time I see them, I manage to enjoy it more than the last. Word is Hovel‘s brakes went out, and while they’re reportedly okay, they’re also reportedly not coming. Bummer, as it would’ve been cool to catch their set, but at least nobody got hurt.
UPDATE 5:OOPM: Some more familiar faces in Richmond, Virginia, SHoD veterans Fire Faithful. Their most recent full-length, Please Accept this Invocation (review here), was fit to please, if somewhat under-recorded, but like last year, the four-piece delivered in a live setting. As expected they called for backup (vocals) well into the proceedings, but the earlier “Wonton Lavey,” and “Dollar Bottomed Out” also stood out. The Ladies Faithful joined in for “Harvest Moon,” “A Devil in London” and the finale “King Macabre,” helping Fire Faithful do Virginia proud. Their Southern-style metal/doom is definitely traceable to its geography, with guitarist Shane Rippey‘s Pepper Keenan-style riffs and the post-Dave Sherman/Phil Anselmo vocal approach of Brandon Malone, but the band is clearly also working to come into their own more in terms of sound, and just going by this set, it seems to be worth their effort. There’s growth yet to be had, but they’re closer even than they were at SHoD XI. We’ll see when their next release drops how their development translates to the studio, but they’re getting there.
UPDATE 6:01PM: Near as I can tell, New Hampshire trio Skrogg only played four songs — “The Cajun Lady” and “Anita Ride” from their 2011 self-titled debut EP (review here) and two new ones — but man, that set was full. Low end permeated guitar and bass alike, and drummer Felix Starr had a floor tom mounted as his rack for extra thunder to stand up to Reverend Maxfield and Jasper Gloom. Maxfield handled vocals in addition to the guitar, delivering classic-rock-style lyrics with a dudely burl that seemed less like a put-on than some I’ve heard. Helps the authenticity cause that he spoke the same way. They cracked jokes between songs, with Starr referencing Wayne’s World (“I like to play”) and Dumb and Dumber(“the beer flows like wine”), among others, in the process. The two newer songs were both longer and more expansive instrumentally than the EP material, the first a wide-berth blues number and the second blending familiarly thickened fuzz into a twisted biker metal groove. They brought their own crowd to go with that already present at the El ‘n’ Gee, and I’d gladly wager that when Skrogg plays locally in New Hampshire, it’s a fucking rager of a party. I wouldn’t mind seeing it, but the export version was pretty killer as well. This is one of those bands who are just too dead on to not get picked up by some label sooner or later. I’ll look forward to hearing the new stuff put to tape.
UPDATE 7:02PM: Kind of a hard-luck set for Doom Capitol quality heavy rockers Borracho, who played SHoD XII as a trio sans guitarist/vocalist Noah. They made the best of it. Most of the set was instrumental — the midsection of “Grab the Reins” recognizable anyway — but guitarist Steve Fisher took the front position on “Concentric Circles.” Add to Noah‘s absence Fisher’s own technical problems with his Model T, and it’s probably not how they’d want to be remembered, but they still grooved the shit out of the El ‘n’ Gee, bassist Tim Martin also having his say vocally and filling the gaps in tone left by the lack of second guitar, the warmth of Martin‘s tone all the more audibly locked in with Mario Trubiano’s drumming. It was kind of an oddly-constructed set, with most of the instrumental material up front and then a last couple songs with vocals, but they made it work with what they had as a trio, though I think if they’d opened with “Concentric Circles” and then gone into the extended instrumental stuff, it might have flowed more easily. I don’t know for sure and so don’t want to conjecture, but I don’t think Noah is actually out of the band, just not here, so it doesn’t seem like something that was really planned for. Hopefully everything’s cool and Borracho can get back to four-piece form soon, and if for whatever reason that doesn’t happen, they still showed promise as a trio keeping the riffs at the fore.
UPDATE 8:04PM: This is a band about whom I can’t even really hope to feign impartiality. I’ve known frontman Ken-E Bones of Long Island sludge mainstays Negative Reaction for about a decade at this point if not longer, and drummer Joe Wood is my touchstone for awesome when it comes to human beings. Like you meet someone and go, “Wow, this seems like a really cool person.” My next step is to wonder if they’re as good a person as Joe Wood, and in every instance so far, the answer as been no. It was a thrill just to see these dudes, let alone watch them play a set. Of note, however, is that Bones and Wood have a new bass player in Jaime (pronounced hi-may), who replaces Damon Lippy. Not sure what’s the situation there, but as ever, Negative Reaction made for a strong trio, hitting up “Docking Bay 94″ and “Dopamine” from their 2011 outing, Frequencies from Montauk(review here) amid classics like “Go Die” and rousing opener “Loathing.” They got a good response from the crowd and seemed to be genuinely enjoying each other’s company and that of the audience, so right on. Add to that Bones flopping around on stage during the finale of “A Bit of Numb,” and you’ve got good times all the way through.
UPDATE 8:56PM: I’m starting to drag, and not a little, but Boston double-guitar foursome Summoner (né Riff Cannon, which if nothing else was a more descriptive name) were definitely not. Once upon a time — last year — I was in talks with the band to release their full-length, Phoenix, on The Maple Forum. That didn’t work out, but the band remains killer, vocalist/bassist Chris Johnson jumping up on drummer Scott Smith‘s kit early in the set and only getting more into it from there as guitarists Joe Richner and AJ Peters alternated between post-metal noodling and sludged-out crunch. I’d never actually seen them before, either as Summoner or their prior incarnation, but it was like they were trying to drive their music directly into the skull, no need for soundwaves or anything. They played in the dark, as some bands will do, but were a treat to watch, and if I was just a little bit more the vinyl-buying type, I’d be walking out of here tonight with a copy of Phoenix. Nonetheless, I’ll be revisiting my download of the record this week for sure. Their builds and crashes warrant yet another in an ongoing series of listens. Good band, and they seem like they’re only going to get better as they keep pushing themselves.
UPDATE 9:45PM: So here’s a bit of breaking news for you on a Sunday night: Massachusetts trio Black Pyramid just finished recording a new album — today. Apparently right before the three of them — guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard, bassist Gein and drummer Clay Neely – got in the car to come to New London. How badass is that? “Yeah, so we just finished our album, whaddya wanna do now?” “Let’s go play SHoD.” “Okay.” They rolled into the El ‘n’ Gee like the riff marauders they are and from there it was all battle axes and scimitars and bloodspurts. Most of what they played was off that new album, including a ripping instrumental that only served to emphasize how quickly they’ve come together as a unit and how tight they are performance-wise. Shepard brings a lot of personality to the band, and I don’t know the names of the songs, because they’re new and I’ve only just heard them here, right now, but there was one start-stop part where I feared for the lives of his strings he was hitting it so hard. I didn’t even know they were recording as of yet, so it’s awesome to hear that’s on the way, and gives me something to look forward to in 2013 as well as hopes of catching Black Pyramid again soon.
UPDATE 10:52PM: Holy shit. I finally got to fucking see Elder. You know those bands that every single time you would otherwise be in the same place on the same night — them on a stage, you probably drunk and awkward at a bar — it never works out? That’s me and Elder. It’s been years at this point. They’re in New York, I’m in Boston. They’re in Boston, I’m in Jersey. I’m in Boston, they’re in Germany. But here’s the thing. There’s not a chance I’d trade seeing Elder tonight for seeing them ever before, because right now, they’re at their absolute best yet. I don’t know if you heard the Spires Burn/Release12″ that was streamed here not too long ago, but it’s been nearly half a decade and Elder – guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, mulletted bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto – just keep getting better. They slammed into “Release” from that 12″ and it was glorious, no shit, and capped an already fantastic set with the title-track from Dead Roots Stirring. My only mistake was opening the laptop too early, so I had to stay back by the bar longer than I would’ve wanted to and not go up front, but other than that, it was perfect. I’m trying really hard lately to guard myself against hyperbole, because while it’s great for having bands use your quotes in their promotional materials, it’s shitty criticism and every act has things that work and things that don’t. That said, Elder fucking made my night. I mean it. Of all the really, really cool shit I’ve already seen today — from old friends to bands I’ve never even heard of — to finally see Elder was incredible. Might be some of the best American heavy psych I’ve ever seen.
UPDATE 12:25AM: This was the first time I’d seen Iron Man since they acquired vocalist Dee Calhoun. In that time, they’ve put out two EPs — last year’s Dominance (review here) and the new Att hålla dig över, which I picked up tonight at the merch table. Calhoun‘s singing is pure Halford, right down to the face-ripping screams and the double-hand clutch on the mic, but god damn can he pull it off. If you want to compare to former Iron Man vocalists, he’s a better Halford than Joe Donnelly was an Ozzy, and Joe Donnelly did a pretty mean Ozzy. Decked out in bandanna, beard and doomly black duster, Calhoun gave Iron Man a presence of up front like I’ve never seen them have before, raw talent blended with performance edge, and it seemed more than ever like guitarist “Iron” Alfred Morris III has finally met his match in a singer. Morris is the walking embodiment of all that is Maryland doom (at very least, he makes up half and Earthride‘s Dave Sherman comprises the rest), so it goes without saying that he killed it, and watching them run through “Ruler” and other songs off the EPs and Iron Man‘s last full-length, 2009′s I Have Returned, like opener “I Have Returned” and “Run from the Light” gave me a new appreciation for the dynamic between Morris and bassist Louis Strachan, whose fills added both raw groove and vitality in playing off Morris‘ riffing. If there’s a more perfect way to cap off a Stoner Hands of Doom fest, I can’t think of it. For the finishing touch, they brought up SHoD organizer Rob Levey (above, with Calhoun) to sing the title-track from 1993′s Black Night, noting as they did that he fronted the band at that time. Before Iron Man started, Levey was on stage after they picked the raffle winner (I didn’t go two for two), and he said this was the best lineup of the band he’d seen in the last 15 years. I don’t have the same kind of experience with them, obviously, but they’re definitely in a new class, and well deserved. They brought the house down, and when they finished, I said a crazy amount of goodbyes and adjourned to the same parking lot where I posted from this morning. Seemed only fitting to round out the day in the same spot. As anyone who saw me move into the same corner and plug in my laptop during almost every band’s last song over the course of the last three days might be able to tell you, I’m a creature of habit. I’m going to get in the car in just another minute or so and drive back to where I’m staying, but unless some of the adrenaline in me from the end of SHoD XII dies down, I’ll add a conclusion to this when I land, so stay tuned. Not quite done yet.
The sun-drenched wonder you see in the photo above is the shelf unit at my office (I work here). Top to bottom, it’s got a turntable that needs a new belt, a Mini-Disc player (I used to use them for interviews and just kind of happened into the thing; it’s there now because I think it’s neat), dual cassette deck, 5-CD changer and receiver. The speakers on either side are Infinity studio monitors acquired at a discount for review, and there’s a subwoofer below that’s not pictured. I don’t always use it, because frankly my computer has some decent speakers as well and so I don’t really need it all the time, but sometimes, when I’m working late and no one else is around, there’s nothing else quite like it.
Of the components, the cassette deck is the newest. I hooked it up just this afternoon after finding it the other day laying around the house. I asked The Patient Mrs. what was up with it and she said it was part of the stereo she had as a kid (we’ve been together long enough that I already knew that), and as it was currently not in use, I immediately raised an eyebrow at the possibility.
That was a few days ago, and it wasn’t until today that I finally brought the thing to work and plugged it in. Thinking I was all smart, I grabbed what I thought were some spare A/V cables to go with but turned out to be the camera connector. Fortunately, also at the office, I found these laying around:
Monster Cables! That’s right. Today, I hooked up a cassette player with Monster Cables. A format that’s only “come back” as much as it has over the last couple years because it sounds crappy — hooked up like it’s part of an overpriced home theater. Hey, I roll with what I can find that I don’t have to pay for.
The impetus for this whole thing was the recent purchase of three tapes from Acid Punx Records. I’ve bought tapes here and there for a while now — I have a cassette player in my car and have considered it a point of pride for the seven years I’ve had it — but these were different. Mostly those tapes cost about 50 cents. These tapes cost $10 each.
Yes. I spent $30 on tapes. $35, actually, when you add shipping. I’d been turned onto Boston doomers Ice Dragon‘s newest album, Dream Dragon, in a thread on the forum, and I really dug it. In an all-too-familiar mix of impulse and strategy, I thought as I investigated various purchase options that I’d better pick up some older stuff that was available in limited runs before I missed out. The psychedelically cinematic Dream Dragon — which came out last month and is a pay-what-you-want download at Ice Dragon’s Bandcamp page — doesn’t seem to have a physical pressing yet anyway, so from Acid Punx, I got their 2007 self-titled and 2011′s The Sorrowful Suninstead.
Both tapes are first pressings, limited to 100 copies (the self-titled is a reissue) and pretty clearly homemade — all of which I like about them. While I was putting them in my virtual shopping cart, I stumbled on an Elder tape also for sale called Demos & Live (2007-2010)and couldn’t resist. The result:
It was actually pretty nerve-racking waiting for them to come in the mail. Not that Acid Punx took an exceedingly long time to send them or anything, but I’ll admit to feeling a little silly having shelled out $35 for three tapes. If I was at the grocery store, I’d be staring at the “Unit Price” sticker and punching myself in the head. Nonetheless, when they finally came, I heaved a sigh of relief and immediately put the Elder on in the car.
With the anticipation of seeing them over Labor Day weekend at SHoD in Connecticut mounting and that recent stream of their Armageddon Records vinyl, Spires Burn/Release, I’ve been on something of a kick. Of the tape, I’ll say that Elder were a much, much different band in 2007 than they are half a decade later. Guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo lets loose some pretty vicious sludgy screams, and especially on tape, it sounds like the material was recorded right on a room mic in the rehearsal space.
There are three demo tracks — “1162,” “Red Sunrise” and “Black Midnight” — and two live cuts — “Gemini” recorded at SHoD in 2009 and “Riddle of Steel” from Valley Homegrown TV in 2010. As you might expect, the newest is the cleanest-sounding of the bunch, but overall, it’s a pretty concise look at how far the three-piece has come in their time together. Whatever faux-authenticity might come from listening to a bona fide demo tape in this day and age, Demos & Live (2007-2010)is legitimately a cool release, and I was glad to have picked it up.
I’ve got more digging into the two Ice Dragon tapes (both of which are also streaming on their Bandcamp) — and wanting to do that was a big part of why I finally caved and brought the tape player into the office — but on a cursory listen, they sound righteous in their lo-fi classicism, The Sorrowful Sun being more melodically developed than its self-titled predecessor. Both feel caked in blown-out-cone distortion and are pretty well suited to the format. I was glad to get them out of the car so they wouldn’t get any further warped by the heat. From what I’ve heard so far, they’re plenty warped on their own.
And while I get to know them better, I’ve got the joy of staring at the spines on my desk:
Even for $35, I could do much worse than that. Just for kicks, here’s the stream of Ice Dragon‘s Dream Dragon, which inspired all this silliness:
Posted in audiObelisk on July 19th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Fresh off a three-week tour that ended in Providence, Rhode Island, on July 6, ever-progressing Massachusetts trio Elder — guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto — have already released the follow-up to the sophomore outing they were out supporting. A limited 12″ vinyl (450 copies), Spires Burn/Releasebuilds on the heavy psych intricacies of Dead Roots Stirringwhile keeping the crucial heaviness that has run a thread through Elder‘s work since their 2008 self-titled MeteorCity debut.
Spires Burn/Releaseis the first vinyl to be issued on the new label imprint of Armageddon Shop, which has physical stores in Boston and Providence (I’ve been there a couple times). The move into releasing music aligns Armageddon with the original label tradition — the first record labels were stores that wanted to sell music from artists around them; this is how the distribution model as we know it came about — and as Elder follow a similar aesthetic imprint of looking back for inspiration in their forward thinking, it’s all the more fitting that the two should join forces on this 12″. And at a full 22 minutes with a song per side, it’s not exactly a quiet entry into the market.
Both tracks on the offering, “Spires Burn” and “Release” have a clear path set out, but like with Dead Roots Stirring, Elder do well to obscure their linear structures with flourishes of elements from modern heavy psychedelia. Very quickly, the trio is becoming something that no other American band can quite claim to be, and as acoustics blend into the finishing moments of “Release,” the will for exploration and sonic expansion — not necessarily a surprise at this point in their career, especially after the last album — is nonetheless plain to hear. If they were to embark on a new era of krautrock-fueled progressive heaviness without losing sight of the groove at the base of their rhythms, well, I think that would be just fine.
Today I have the extreme pleasure of hosting Spires Burn/Releasein its entirety for an exclusive stream. You’ll find both tracks on the player below, followed by some info on how to obtain the vinyl from Armageddon Shop even if you’re not in the Northeast and a few thoughts from DiSalvo on how it all came out. As always, I hope you enjoy:
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!
Spires Burn/Release is, in my opinion, one step closer to our own sound we’ve been cultivating since Dead Roots Stirring. It’s both more “traditionally” heavy at parts and more experimental in ways, incorporating our personal influences of everything from krautrock to doom. Lyrically, the songs take a turn for the darker from DRS as well, and I think the variety of moods conveyed in the songs makes this our most dynamic release to date. — Nick DiSalvo
Elder‘s Spires Burn/Releaseis available now from Armageddon Shop at their online store. The striking cover art (click image above to enlarge) is by Fred Struckholz. Thanks to the band and label for letting me stream the songs.
Posted in Whathaveyou on June 5th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
As guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo promised they would in an interview posted last December, Massachusetts heavy psych upstarts Elder are heading out on tour to support their second album for MeteorCity, Dead Roots Stirring. They’ll be doing a two-week-plus run down the East Coast and then hitting the Midwest for a couple shows and playing alongside some killer bands — see Windhand, When the Deadbolt Breaks, Hollow Leg, Alkahest, Earthride, Summoner (who were formerly known as Riff Cannon), etc. — so if you can get out for it, please consider this a recommendation to do so.
I missed them when last they came through New York, and it’s up in the air at this point as to whether or not I’ll get to The Acheron this time around (longer story than I care to tell, especially since it doesn’t yet have an ending). Hopefully you’re on more solid ground than I am calendar-wise for the next couple weeks and can make it out to one of the following:
06/16 Baltic, CT The Stone House w/ When the Deadbolt Breaks, Summoner, Rope
06/17 NYC The Acheron w/ Alkahest, When the Deadbolt Breaks
06/18 Wilmington, DE MoJo 13 w/ When the Deadbolt Breaks, Human Shield
06/19 Frederick, MD Cafe 611 w/ Earthride, Iron Man, Trifecta, When the Deadbolt Breaks
06/20 Richmond, VA Wonderland w/ Windhand
06/21 Chapel Hill, NC Chapel Hill Underground w/ Windhand, Church of Wolves
06/22 Charleston SC Oasis Bar and Grill w/ Windhand, Havoc Din
06/23 Jacksonville, FL The Burro Bar w/ HollowLeg, ShroudEater, Remains, Porter
06/24 Orlando, FL PeacockRoom w/ Hollow Leg, Fire in the Cave, Demons
06/25 Gainesville, FL 1982 w/ HollowLeg, HotGraves, Gaul
06/26 Atlanta, GA 529 w/ HollowLeg, Demonaut
06/27 Nashville, TN Springwater w/ Hollow Leg, Laser Flames on the Great Big News
06/28 Lexington, KY Al’s Bar w/ Stampede
06/29 Indianapolis, IN Vibes w/ Mouth of the Architect, Devils of Belgrade, Chinaski
06/30 Milwaukee, WI Cactus Club w/ MoonCurse, Ahab’s Ghost
07/01 Chicago, IL The Burlington w/ Ahab’s Ghost, Witchbanger, Zaius
07/03 Cleveland, OH Now That’s Class w/ VenominJames, Electric Lucifer
Posted in Features on December 9th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: This list is made up of my personal picks, not the results of the Readers Poll, which is ongoing — if you haven’t added your top 11 to that yet, please do.
It was an impossible task to keep up with everything that came out this year. I’ll say flat out that I didn’t. There are records that I just didn’t get to hear, and I should note at the outset that this list is mine. It’s based on my personal opinions, what I listened to the most this year and what I think 2011′s most crucial releases have been.
I’ve spent the better part of this week (and last, if brain-time counts) constructing this list, and I finally got it to a point where I feel comfortable sharing. Since last December, I’ve kept a Post-It of names, and all year, I’ve logged bands I’d want to consider for the final top 20. In the end, there were 78 bands and more that I didn’t get to write down for whatever reason. 2011 was nothing if it wasn’t overwhelming.
But here we are, anyway, and it’s done. Let’s get to it:
This is nothing if not a sentimental pick. Last year, I put Electric Wizard in the #20 spot because the record wasn’t out yet, and this year, I’m putting Suplecs (interview with bassist Danny Nick here) in just because I couldn’t imagine this list without them. Until literally a few minutes before I clicked “Publish” on this post, there was someone else in this spot, but ultimately, it had to be them. The New Orleans trio’s first record in half a decade wasn’t what I listened to most in 2011, it wasn’t the best album, or the most important, or career-defining, but when it came right down to it, god damn, I was just happy to have Suplecs back. It had been too long.
After a while, I was kind of shocked to find myself continuing to listen to Favourite State of Mind, the second album by Polish rockers Elvis Deluxe. The record’s dynamics didn’t immediately open up to me, but once I dug into the songs, I was wowed by their balance of catchy hooks and substantial-sounding riffs. The album was genre-relevant without being genre-minded, with vocal changes, organ, atmospheric shifts and a whole host of moods and turns. After hearing their 2007 debut, Lazy, I wasn’t expecting much out of the norm from Favourite State of Mind, and I’m still thrilled by just how wrong I was, and “Take it Slow” is among my favorite single songs of the year.
The gloomy opening statement from former Warning guitarist/vocalist Patrick Walker turned heads around the world with its unabashed emotional conviction, which was so much the central focus of the record as to be made a novelty by those who don’t usually consider doom an emotionally relevant genre (the widespread arguments against that notion I’ll leave for another time). What most stood out to me about The Inside Room was how the sentimentality translated into a gorgeous melodic sensibility and resulted in a lonely mood that was engrossing. On that level, it was easily among 2011′s most effective releases. It made you feel what it seemed to be feeling.
It was an album that lived up to its name. Return to Earth marked the remaking of one of heavy rocks most stoned outfits: Acrimony. But, as Sigiriya (interview with drummer Darren Ivey here), the four-piece (down from five) would show that the years since the demise of their former band had found them progressing as musicians, resulting in a sound less directly stoner, more modern, more earthy. The songs, however, were what made it. It’s still a rare day that goes by that I don’t hum at least part of the chorus of “Mountain Goat” to myself, and if Return to Earth was a new beginning for these players, I can’t wait to see where they go next.
In addition to being Totimoshi‘s first album for At a Loss following the end of their deal with Volcom, Avenger was the first Totimoshi record since 2003′s ¿Mysterioso? not to be produced by Page Hamilton, and where 2006′s Ladrón and 2008′s Milagrosa moved away from some of the noisy crunch in the guitar of Tony Aguilar (interview here), Avenger managed to be both a return to form and a progression of the band’s melodicism. It seems, as ever, to have flown under most radars, but Totimoshi continue to refine their songwriting and have become one of the heavy underground’s most formidable and least classifiable bands.
With their 2010 EP release, upstart British trio Grifter informed us that The Simplicity of the Riff is Key, and on their self-titled Ripple Music debut, they put that ethic to excellent use, resulting in straightforward, catchy songs that were as high-octane as they were low-bullshit. The ultra-catchy “Good Day for Bad News” showed Grifter at the top of their form, and with a dose of humor thrown in, Grifter was the drunken stoner rock party you always wanted to be invited to and, of course, finally were. Now if only I could get Skype to work and get that interview with Ollie Stygall moving, I’d be happy to tell him personally he put out one of 2011′s most kickass rock records.
I don’t know what’s most impressive about The Book of Knots‘ Garden of Fainting Stars — the songs themselves or that they were able to make any songs at all. With upwards of 20 guest spots around the core four-piece, the third in a purported trilogy of records from the avant rock originalists was an epic in every listen. Songs like “Microgravity” and the Mike Watt spoken word “Yeager’s Approach” pushed the limits of both genre and expectation, and miraculously, Garden of Fainting Stars was cohesive and enthralling in its narrative aspect. If it really was their last album, it was triumphant in a manner befitting its expanding-universe thematics.
Had it been a full-length, Invisible White would be higher on this list. Many out there who were enamored of Ancestors‘ 2008 Neptune with Fire debut have gone on to bemoan the Californian collective’s shift away from extended sections of heavy riffing and tales of sea monsters and other things that go “doom” in the night. I’m not one of them. The Invisible White EP was a brave step along a fascinating progression, and as Crippled Black Phoenix didn’t release a new album in 2011, I was glad to have Ancestors there to fill that morose, contemplative void, and I look forward to seeing how they expand on the ideas presented on Invisible White (if they decide to stick to this direction) for their next full-length.
Speaking of shifting approaches, still-young Massachusetts trio Elder also moved away from the Sleep-centric methods of their 2008 self-titled debut on the follow-up, Dead Roots Stirring. Still based very much around the guitar work of Nick DiSalvo (interview here), Elder songs like “Gemini” and the über-soloed “The End” pushed an influence of European heavy psych into the band’s aesthetic, and the result was both grippingly heavy and blown of mind. As an album long delayed by mixing and business concerns, when Dead Roots Stirring finally arrived, it was a relief to hear that Elder, though they’d varied the path, were still headed in the right direction.
Hands down the year’s best traditional doom release. The Wretch so gleefully and so earnestly employed the conventions of ’80s-style doom — most especially those of Saint Vitus and Trouble — that even though the lyrical and musical content was miserable, I couldn’t help but smile as I listened. Songs like “Bastards Born” and “The Scovrge ov Drvnkenness” pushed The Gates of Slumber away from the barbarism the Indianapolis outfit had been touting on their last couple albums, including 2008′s Conqueror breakthrough, in favor of a more purely Chandlerian plod. “To the Rack with Them” remains a standout favorite and a line often referenced in my workplace dealings.
I don’t know what you say to someone at this point who doesn’t like Weedeater. It just seems like a terrible way to go through life, without the madman ranting of “Dixie” Dave Collins (interview here) echoing perpetually in your ears, or never having witnessed their ultra-viscous fuzz in person. Jason… the Dragon was one of the earliest landmark releases of 2011, and practically the whole year later, it retains its hold, whether it’s the stomping fury of “Mancoon,” the lumbering groove of “Long Gone” or the surprisingly melodic “Homecoming.” The hard-touring, hard-hitting band did right in recording with Steve Albini to capture their live sound, and Jason… the Dragon was their strongest outing yet in terms of both songwriting and that unmistakable quality that makes Weedeater records Weedeater records.
I was surprised to see Rwake crack the top 10. Not because their first album in four years, the Sanford Parker-produced Rest, wasn’t superb, but because of how much the songs on the album stayed with me after listening. The Arkansas band’s last outing, Voices of Omens, was heavy and dark and had a lot going for it, but Rest upped the songwriting on every level and together with frontman CT (interview here) adopting a more decipherable shout over most of the record’s four main extended tracks, Rwake felt like a band reborn, and theirs was a highlight among several 2011 albums that showed there’s still room for individual growth and stylistic nuance within the sphere of post-metal.
It was back and forth, nine and eight, between Rwake and Hull for a while, but when all was said and done, the fantastic scope of Beyond the Lightless Sky gave the Brooklyn triple-guitar masters the edge. With a narrative structure behind it and a breadth of ambience and crushing, post-doomly riffing, Beyond the Lightless Sky was the defining moment that those who’ve followed Hull since their Viking Funeral demo have been waiting for. In concept, in performance, in sound and structure and heft, it absolutely floored me, and of all the heavy records I’ve heard with the tag applied to them in 2011, Hull‘s second full-length seems most to earn the tag “progressive.” A stunning and groundbreaking achievement.
One of 2011′s most fascinating developments has been the boom in European heavy psychedelia, and the self-titled debut from French band Mars Red Sky was among the best releases to blend a jam-based sensibility with thick, warm fuzz and memorable riffs. Together with the sweet-hued vocals of Julien Pras (interview here), those riffs made for some of the most infectious hooks I heard all year on songs like “Strong Reflection” and “Way to Rome,” and where other bands jammed their way into psychedelic oblivion, Mars Red Sky were able to balance their focus on crafting quality songs, so that although they sounded spontaneous, the material was never self-indulgent or lacking accessibility. One just hopes they don’t lose sight of that musical humility their next time out.
There was a point earlier this year at which I had forgotten about All We Destroy. After reviewing it in March, I simply moved on to the next thing on my list, and the thing after, and the thing after. But before I knew it, in my head was the voice of Jackie Perez Gratz, singing the line “As I live and breathe” over her own cello, the guitar of Max Doyle and Max Doyle‘s drums. It got so persistent that, eventually, I went out and bought the record, because the mp3s I’d been given to review simply weren’t enough. That was probably July, and I don’t think I’ve gone a week since without listening to Grayceon. So although I classify it in the same league as Rwake and Hull in terms of what it accomplishes in and for its genre, All We Destroy gets the extra nod for the fact that I simply haven’t been able to let it go. And though I’ve come to further appreciate “Shellmounds,” “Once a Shadow” and “A Road Less Traveled,” the 17-minute “We Can” — from which the above-noted lyric is taken — remains the best single song I heard in 2011.
On paper, this one should’ve flopped: Band with minor buzz and a cool video hooks up with indie rock dude to record an album of dopey riffs and beardo bombast. Instead, Red Fang‘s second album and Relapse debut became the 2011 vanguard release for the Portland heavy underground, which is arguably the most fertile scene in the US right now. They toured the record widely, and made another killer video for the mega-single “Wires,” but the reason Murder the Mountains is top five material is because it’s lasted. It was February that I reviewed this record, and March that I interviewed guitarist/vocalist Bryan Giles, and I still can’t get “Into the Eye” and “Hank is Dead” and “Number Thirteen” (especially the latter) out of my head. When it came down to it, the songs on Murder the Mountains lived up to any hype the album received, and I’m a sucker for quality songwriting. I mean, seriously. That key change late into “Number Thirteen?” It’s the stuff of the gods.
I wasn’t particularly a fan of Swedish rockers Graveyard‘s 2008 self-titled debut. Even watching them at Roadburn in 2010, I was underwhelmed. But when I heard Hisingen Blues and was able to get a feel for what the retro-minded foursome were getting at stylistically — and most of all, that they were acknowledging that they were doing it without being glib or ironic about it — I found the material irresistible. We’re getting into seriously indispensable records now; ones that I’ve been unwilling to leave home without since they came, in, and Graveyard‘s Hisingen Blues has been a constant feature in heavy rotation. Everything from the devilish testimony of the title-track to the wiry guitars of the chorus to “Ungrateful are the Dead,” to the Skynyrd-ified solo capping “Uncomfortably Numb”: It’s been a year of revelry in all of it, and since they overcame my prejudice to impress on such a level, Graveyard (interview with drummer Axel Sjöberg here) are all the more deserving of their spot on this list.
What I hear in the second album from Dutch trio Sungrazer is the heralding of a new generation of fuzz rock. Taking influence from their forebears in Colour Haze and Kyuss, the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Rutger Smeets (interview here), bassist/vocalist Sander Haagmans and drummer Hans Mulders followed and surpassed their stellar 2010 debut on every level, playing heavy riffs on expansive psychedelic jams and still finding room for some of 2011′s most memorable choruses in songs like “Sea” and “Goldstrike.” In so doing, Sungrazer affirmed the character of next-gen European fuzz and placed themselves at the fore of their scene, with touring and festival appearances to support. For their warmth of tone and for the fact that I spent the better part of the summer streaming the record through the Dutch website 3voor12, there was no way they were going to be left out of the top 20. It wasn’t until I sat down and actually put the numbers together, though, that I realized how vital Mirador actually was.
I was lucky enough to be sent some rough listening mixes of Ohio outfit Lo-Pan‘s Small Stone Records debut (following a reworked reissue of their Sasquanaut sophomore full-length), and in my email back to label head Scott Hamilton, I told him I thought he had a genuine classic on his hands. A year, I don’t even know how many Lo-Pan gigs and listens through Salvador later, I still feel that way 100 percent. If you were from another planet, and we got to talking at a bar, and you asked me what rock and roll should sound like in the place where I’m from, I’d hand you Salvador. I still think they should’ve started the album with “Generations,” but if that’s my biggest gripe, they’re clearly doing alright. “Bird of Prey” was the best live song I saw all year, and I saw it plenty, and cuts like “Bleeding Out” and “Struck Match” set the standard by which I’ll judge American heavy rock for a long time to come. Like the best of any class, Salvador is bigger than just the year in which it was released, and at this point, I don’t know what else to say about it.
This is as good as it gets, and by “it,” I mean life. YOB‘s last album, 2009′s The Great Cessation, was my album of the year that year as well, and I knew from the second I heard the self-produced Atma that nothing to come this year would top it. Like Ufomammut‘s Eve in 2010, Atma brings the entire genre of doom along with it on the new ground it breaks, refining what’s fast becoming YOB‘s signature approach even as it pushes ever forward. I still have to stop whatever I’m doing (not exactly good for productivity) whenever “Prepare the Ground” comes on, and songs like “Adrift in the Ocean” and “Before We Dreamed of Two” were humbling. Seriously. Humbling. Listening to them was like looking at those photographs from the Hubble that cover trillions of miles that we’ll never know and reveal gorgeous colors where our naked eyes only see black. If that sounds hyperbolic, thanks for getting it. YOB guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt (interview here) is, almost in spite of himself, one of American doom’s most crucial contributors, and with Atma, he and the rhythm section of bassist Aaron Reiseberg and drummer Travis Foster released what is without a doubt the best album of 2011.
A few quick housekeeping items and we’ll call it quits. First, honorable mentions. If this list went to 25, also included would be The Wounded Kings, Earth, Larman Clamor, Olde Growth and The Atlas Moth. Roadsaw were also in heavy consideration, so they’re worth noting, as are many others.
Obviously, I couldn’t include them, but two of my favorite releases in 2011 also came from Blackwolfgoat and HeavyPink, and I’m thrilled and honored to have helped put them out in the small way I did.
And as I said above, there are records I didn’t hear. I haven’t heard the new Black Pyramid yet. Or Orchid. Or a bunch more that I could go on listing. I’m only one man and this is only my list, for better or worse. Again, I really do hope you’ll contribute yours to the group poll, the results of which will be out Jan. 1.
I’ll probably have some more to wrap up 2011 as the month winds down, but until then, thank you so much for reading this and the rest of the wordy nonsense I’ve put up the whole year long. Your support and encouragement means more than I’m able to tell. Here’s to 2012 to come.