Last Licks 2014: Brain Pyramid, Zaum, Fire Faithful, Pendejo, Heavy Glow, Bibilic Blood, Thera Roya & Hercyn, The Spacelords, The Good Hand and Byzanthian Neckbeard

Posted in Reviews on December 31st, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

Yesterday was kind of crazy, but I don’t mind telling you I think today might be the most all-over-the-place of the week each of the five piles on my desk — now three, soon two — offers something different from the others, but it’s a wide spectrum being covered here, and there’s a couple abrupt turns from one to the next that I didn’t really do on purpose but I think will make for an interesting challenge anyway. In case you’ve been wondering, that’s what kind of nerd I am. Also the Star Trek kind.

I’m feeling really good about this series so far. Really good. I reserve the right to, by Friday, be so completely done with it that I never want to even think of the idea again, but I can only begin to tell you how satisfying it is to me to be able to write about some of these records after staring at them for so long sitting on my desk. Today’s batch is reviews 21-30 of the total 50, so we’ll pass the halfway point in this pile. If you’ve been keeping count since Monday or checking in, thanks, and if not, thanks anyway. Ha.

It’s about that time:

Brain Pyramid, Chasma Hideout

brain pyramid chasma hideout

Although it was streamed here in full in September, the persistent stoner charm of French trio Brain Pyramid’s debut album, Chasma Hideout (released by Acid Cosmonaut Records), seemed to warrant further highlight. Whether it’s small touches like the organ underscoring centerpiece “Lucifer” or the wah-ready bass of Ronan Grall – joined in the band by guitarist/vocalist Gaston Lainé and drummer Baptiste Gautier-Lorenzo – or the memorable if genre-familiar turns of “Into the Lightspeed,” the band’s first LP impresses with unpretentious heavy rock front to back. It’s not perfect. Lainé’s vocals come across high in the mix on opener “Living in the Outer Space” and there are points where the “familiar” runs stronger than others, but especially as their initial full-length offering, Chasma Hideout is one that one seems to continue to grow on the listener as time goes on, and one hopes that the heavy psych chicanery from which they launch the 11-minute closing title-track becomes the foundation from which they build going forward. Potential worth reiterating.

Brain Pyramid on Thee Facebooks

Acid Cosmonaut Records

Zaum, Oracles

zaum oracles

With the backing of venerable Swedish imprint I Hate Records, Canadian two-piece Zaum release their first LP in the four-song Oracles, a 48-minute work taking its central musical and atmospheric themes from Middle Eastern cues. Melodically and atmospherically, it relies on chants, slow, deep low end and minor key riffs to convey a dense ambience, reminding some of Om’s Mideast fixation on “Peasant of Parthia” – third and shortest here at 8:13 – but otherwise on a much heavier, darker trip entirely. Opener “Zealot” (12:55) and closer “Omen” (14:08) both offer plodding pace and a methodology not unlike Nile played at quarter-speed, but it would be a mistake to call the hand with which Kyle Alexander McDonald (vocals, bass, synth, sitar) and Christopher Lewis (drums) approach their aesthetic anything but commanding, and when McDonald switches to a semi-blackened rasp in the second half of “Omen,” Zaum demonstrate a desire to push even further into extremity’s reaches. I can’t help but wonder how far they’ll go.

Zaum on Thee Facebooks

I Hate Records

Fire Faithful, Organized Occult Love

fire faithful organized occult love

Some of the organ sounds on “Eye Opener,” the aptly-titled leadoff from Virginia four-piece Fire Faithful’s second LP, Organized Occult Love, remind of what Beelzefuzz conjured atmospherically, but an even more primary impression is the uptick in production value from Fire Faithful’s 2012 outing, Please Accept this Invocation (review here). Recorded by Windhand’s Garrett Morris, songs like “Last Fool on Earth” and “Organized Occult Love” brim with tonal resonance and a perfect balance the mix. Guitarist Shane Rippey handled the latter with Morris, and throughout, his tones and that of bassist Jon Bone shine, but whether it’s a more straightforward, Earthride-style groover like the title-track, or a more ranging doomer like “Combat,” vocalist Brandon Malone is well balanced to cut through the morass and drummer Joss Sallade’s crash resides comfortably behind the thick chugging. Melissa Malone and Gabrielle Bishop contribute backing vocals to “Last Fool on Earth” and only affirm how much Organized Occult Love brings Fire Faithful’s Southern doom to another level of presentation. An important forward step.

Fire Faithful on Thee Facebooks

Fire Faithful website

Pendejo, Atacames

pendejo atacames

Five years after debuting with 2009’s Cantos a Ma Vida, Amsterdam-based Pendejo return on Chancho Records with Atacames, a 10-track/44-minute wallop of classic heavy rock riffing and Latin American influence via the Spanish lyrics of vocalist El Pastuso and his readily-wielded-but-not-overused trumpet, which makes a surprising complement to Jaap “Monchito” Melman’s fuzz-heavy guitar, Stef “El Rojo” Gubbels’ bass and Jos “Pepellín” Roosen’s drums, but in context works well to bring personality and an individualized sensibility to a sound otherwise heavily indebted to the likes of Kyuss and Fu Manchu. Quality songwriting and variety in songs like the slower “Amiyano” and the building “Hermelinda” ensures Atacames offers more than novelty to those who’d gape at its other-ness, and when that trumpet does hit, it never falls flat. Closing out with a pair of big-riffers in “El Jardinero” and “La Chica del Super No Se Puede Callar,” Pendejo’s sophomore effort produces results as substantial as they are fun, and serve to remind that’s why we’re here in the first place.

Pendejo on Thee Facebooks

Chancho Records

Heavy Glow, Pearls and Swine and Everything Fine

heavy glow pearls and swine and everything fine

Cali trio Heavy Glow – guitarist/vocalist Jared Mullins, bassist Joe Brooks and drummer St. Judas – have spent a decent portion of the year on tour in support of their full-length, Pearls and Swine and Everything Fine. Understandable, and all the better to pick up your girlfriend in-person. Smooth, well-baked grooves permeate cuts like “Mine all Mine,” which also appeared on their prior 7” (review here), and the later “Nerve Endings,” a Queens of the Stone Age-style production giving about as much of a commercial vibe as a record can have and still be heavy rock, but the songwriting is paramount and definitely an element working in Heavy Glow’s favor, whether it’s the takeoff chorus of “Domino” or near-lounge vibe of “Fat Cat.” There’s an aspirational sensibility at the album’s core that’s going to make for an odd fit for some riff-heads who might be puzzled how something so nearly desert rock can still sound not at all like Brant Bjork, but hooks is hooks, and Heavy Glow use them well.

Heavy Glow on Thee Facebooks

Heavy Glow website

Bibilic Blood, Snakeweed

bibilic blood snakeweed

Bibilic Blood released three albums between 2009 and 2011, but the Eastlake, Ohio, duo haven’t been heard from since – their nightmarish, depraved psychedelic sludge vanishing in a smoky, somehow hateful wisp. Snakeweed marks their fourth album, and with it bassist/vocalist Suzy Psycho and drummer/guitarist Scott “Wizard” Stearns unfurl another demented collection of chaos snippets from an alternate, terrifying universe, the 11 songs totaling just 27 minutes with enough lumber and obscure freakout on two-minute mainliners like “Severed” and “Bloodnomicon” in the middle of the record to be a genre on itself — like a grainy horror flick made scarier by its rawness. Closer and longest cut at 4:10 “Bloody Rabbit” starts with Boris, Flood-style noodling from Stearns on guitar, but samples transition into Snakeweed’s most gruesome chapter, Suzy Psycho’s voice echoing, twisted, from out of an abyss that might as well be your own subconscious, referencing Jefferson Airplane along the way. Their particular brand of malevolence has been missed, and hopefully Snakeweed starts a new bout of activity.

Bibilic Blood on Bandcamp

Goat Skull Records

Thera Roya & Hercyn, All this Suffering is Not Enough

thera roya and hercyn all this suffering is not enough

Gloom prevails and takes multiple shapes on All this Suffering is Not Enough, the new jewel-case split between Brooklyn post-metallers Thera Roya and progressive New Jersey black metallers Hercyn. Each band includes one song, and for the trio Thera Roya, that’s “Gluttony,” which builds its churn from the ground up and intersperses spacious guitar and almost punkish clean singing en route to a wash of scream-topped distortion, trading off volume and ambience and ultimately delivering a lot of both in a densely-packed eight minutes. Hercyn, a four-piece, counter with the 14-minute “Dusk and Dawn,” which follows their also-longform Magda EP (review here) in grand and squibbly form, a gallop taking hold early topped with throaty screams and shifting between melodic and dissonant impulses, a midsection solo offering a standout moment before the bludgeoning resumes. Each act offers a quotient of noise not to be understated, and despite working in different styles, that’s enough to let them complement each other well on the searing 23-minute Ouro Preto Productions release.

Thera Roya on Thee Facebooks

Hercyn on Thee Facebooks

The Spacelords, Synapse

the spacelords synapse

Synapse, the third full-length from German trio The Spacelords, arrives like a gift from the bliss-jam gods. Four extended mostly-instrumental cuts arranged two per side on a Sulatron Records LP, crafting memorable impressions with washes of synth and guitar, intelligent jams that feel partially plotted and intelligent but still exploratory and natural in how they flesh out. Guitarist Matthias Wettstein is out front in the mix, but bassist Akee Kazmaier and drummer Marcus Schnitzler (also of Electric Moon) aren’t far behind, as much as a title like “Starguitar” might make you think otherwise. The chemistry between the three-piece remains tight across the album’s 41 minutes, and from the rich bass and chugging guitar of the opening title-track to the more laid-back groove of “No. 5” and voicebox strangeness of “Pyroclastic Master,” which has the record’s only vocals in robotically spoken lines, Synapse seems to make all of its connections along the way. Heavy psych heads previously unfamiliar will want to take note. The vinyl, of course, is limited.

The Spacelords on Thee Facebooks

Sulatron Records

The Good Hand, Atman

the good hand atman

A progressive heavy rock trio from the Netherlands, The Good Hand present Atman, their second album, on Minstrel Music, with an adventurous semi-desert sensibility given crisp production and a somewhat wistful feel in songs like “Greenwich Mean Time” and “Unity.” For a record that starts out with lead guitarist/vocalist Arjan Hoekstra (also tuba, trombone, bugle, keys, percussion) declaring “I am god,” Atman is surprisingly not-arrogant, owing probably as much to Radiohead as Kyuss and keeping an experimental feel to the stops and arrangement of “The Opposite,” bassist/vocalist Dennis Edelenbosch and drummer/vocalist Ingmar Regeling (both also Monotron) swinging out classic style but holding firm to a modern edge. Out of nowhere is the 19-minute closing title-track (nothing else hits six), on which The Good Hand unfold varied movements that push beyond the charm of “The Death of the Real”’s ‘60s affiliations and into spaces jazz-funky, or droning, or doomy, or all of them. No easy accomplishment, but The Good Hand manage to hold it all together fluidly.

The Good Hand on Thee Facebooks

Minstrel Music

Byzanthian Neckbeard, From the Clutches of Oblivion

byzanthian neckbeard from the clutches of oblivion

Okay, seriously. What the hell do you think a band who live on an island in the English Channel and call themselves Byzanthian Neckbeard sound like? Burly as hell? Well you’re right. The Guernsey foursome of guitarist/vocalist Phil Skyrme, guitarist Jon Langlois, bassist Dano Robilliard and drummer Paul Etasse get down on some dudely, dudely grooves on their 2014 debut, From the Clutches of Oblivion. “Doppelganger” nestles somewhere between death rock, stoner and sludge, and there’s a heaping crash of doom on “Plant of Doom” (duh) and “To Seek the Cyberdwarf” to go with the more swaggering take of “Hive Mind Overlord” as well. But primarily, you don’t put the word “Neckbeard” in your band’s name unless you’re on a pretty masculine trip, and Byzanthian Neckbeard do not fuck around in that regard or in the aggro boogie of “The Ganch.” CD is limited to 200 copies in a four-panel digipak to house the growl-laden, riff-led plunder that ensues across its brief but bloody 32-minute span.

Byzanthian Neckbeard on Thee Facebooks

Byzanthian Neckbeard on Bandcamp

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Stoner Hands of Doom XIII Beginning to Take Shape; Dates, Venue and Bands Announced

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 10th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Unparalleled in its support for underground heavy, the Stoner Hands of Doom fest has begun to unveil the lineup and other info for the 2013 edition, SHoD XIII. The traveling fest, which in 2012 took place at the El n Gee in New London, CT, heads south this year, to Richmond, Virginia, where it will take over Strange Matter on Nov. 7-10.

I’ve never been to Richmond that I can recall, and this seems like a pretty good occasion to go. Fest organizer Rob Levey has begun the preliminary announcements of things like the above dates and locale and a basic list of bands that should give some idea of where SHoD is headed musically. Dig it:

We are almost there we have secured a place for SHoD XIII it will be held Veterans Day weekend Nov 7th – 10th the location is a mid atlantic city in the south but not the deep south. There will be some limitations this year on time so won’t be able to have as many bands as usual.

Wow I tell you our supporters are awesome anyway the club we are doing this year’s SHoD is called Strange Matter in Richmond Virginia here are the list so far either definite or very close.

Admiral Browning
Beelzefuzz
Fire Faithful
Pike Possum
Wizard Eye
Backwoods Payback
Demonaut
Stone Magnum
Wasted Theory
Planetoid
Deadweight
Second Grave

Be around 20 more when we are done talk to you soon.

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Doommantia Bash Benefit for Ed Barnard Scheduled for Oct. 13; War Injun, Against Nature, When the Deadbolt Breaks and More Confirmed

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 19th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

If you haven’t yet, head over to Doommantia and donate some cash to help Ed Barnard, the owner of that site, get back on his feet. Anyone who’s ever spoken to him, myself included, will tell you Ed‘s a great dude, and a huge supporter of this weird underground community, and it’s times like this that the community needs to come together for one of its own.

Back at the end of July, Ed suffered a heart attack and as a result of not being able to pay the ensuing nightmarish medical bills, is homeless and living in a tent. It’s pretty bleak times, and as an admirer of Ed‘s work and his dedication, I encourage you to please, please take a couple seconds and throw a couple bucks his way. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he’s apparently also giving away Wizardrone CDs to anyone who donates $20 or more.

But seriously, don’t do it for the free CD. Do it because this is a small community as compared to the outside world, and if we don’t take care of each other when we need to, we suck just as much as everyone else.

On Oct. 13, at Lallo’s in Knoxville, Maryland, they’ll be throwing a Doommantia Bash to help out Ed‘s cause. Bands are still being confirmed, but so far on the bill are War Injun, Against Nature, When the Deadbolt Breaks, Fire Faithful, Foghound, Ghutt, Akris, and Balam, with more to come.

You can keep up with the show’s lineup at the Thee Facebooks event page, and don’t forget to donate to Ed through Doommantia’s Paypal link.

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Total Coverage: Stoner Hands of Doom XII (Day Four)

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 SHoD XI 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.

Witchden

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.

 Insano Vision

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.

Infernal Overdrive


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.

Fire Faithful


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.

Skrogg

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.

Borracho

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.

Negative Reaction

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.

Summoner

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.

Black Pyramid

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.

Elder

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/Release 12″ 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.

Iron Man

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.

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Fire Faithful, Please Accept this Invocation: Wielding the Black Flame

Posted in Reviews on February 15th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

When last they were heard from, Richmond, Virginia’s Fire Faithful were giving a sample of their Southern-styled heavy wares on a split with Lord called Refuge for the Recluse, and with their self-released debut full-length, Fire Faithful bring that knack for metallic wordplay (an art unto itself) to a new degree. The album is called Please Accept this Invocation, and with songs like “Disgust is a Must” and the über-clever “Wonton Lavey,” it’s easy to imagine the trio (down from the four-piece they were on the Lord split with the absence of guitarist Dave Marrs, who nonetheless gets a liner notes nod for his contributions to the songwriting) don’t take themselves too seriously, but the atmosphere on the record is morose almost to the point of being dire, and though there are parts of it that are very, very metal – the start-stop double-kick from drummer Joss Sallade on “Dollar Bottomed Out” is more Lamb of God than Alamaba Thunderpussy (to keep the comparisons Virginian) – the album seems more keen on developing a semi-cultish mood than posturing this way or that as either a “Southern” band or a “metal” one. And in that, Please Accept this Invocation is successful. Still, despite the impression finally being more about the overall moodiness and flow between the eight component tracks, there are several individual standouts, among them “A Devil in London,” “Flamingo,” “Wonton Lavey,” and the opening title cut.

The latter of that bunch (but the first on the tracklist – kablooie went my brain), “Please Accept this Invocation” is pivotal to the album not just for sharing its name, but also because it’s an immediate establishment of the central process at work in Fire Faithful’s songwriting – namely, the balance of mood and heaviness. It works in back-and-forth heavy/quiet tradeoffs, keeps a relatively slow pace set by the riffing of Shane Rippey, who handles both guitar and bass on the recording, and is met in its more subdued stretches by cooed verses from vocalist Brandon Malone. Malone might be the single element most responsible for designating Fire Faithful as a Southern metal band, but the production of Vince Burke of Beaten Back to Pure at his Sniper Studio adds to it as well. A rough drum sound is a staple of Burke’s jobs, and that remains true for Sallade here, but the cymbals come through clearly and as the opener transitions smoothly into “Dollar Bottomed Out,” it’s a near-wash that cuts to the second track’s chugging riff and rougher vocal from Malone, directly relatable to either Phil Anselmo (a standby influence) or ATP’s Johnny Throckmorton. In his croon, Malone is harder to place, and that comes out more on “A Devil in London,” which accounts for one of Please Accept this Invocation’s best stylistic blends, bringing together doomed riffs and an open feel bolstered by guest-spot backup singing in the chorus. The song gets heavier in the bridge, but never quite reaches the metallicism of “Dollar Bottomed Out,” despite Rippey’s squiggled guitars and a scream from Malone.

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Notes From SHoD XI Pt. 3: Sunday

Posted in Features on August 15th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

It was early when I pulled into the parking lot of the strip mall that houses Krug’s — around 1PM for a show that wouldn’t start for another hour. I nonetheless made my way inside, mostly to see if there had been any obvious schedule changes or anything like that, and on the way, passed the front door of the Baptist church next door, only to hear the songs and testimony happening inside. I stood there for a minute and listened. Seemed pretty exciting. Since stuff like SHoD is about as close as I get to religion, I felt like I could relate to all the yelling and singing. I’m pretty sure what I witnessed the crowd doing during Earthride‘s set last night counts as “testifying.”

Being early today, I decided rather than sit there by myself for the extra hour, I was going CD shopping. On my way to CD and Game Exchange in downtown Frederick — which is charming in the way that white people find expensive boutiques and wine bars charming — I passed a sign that read “Rock and Roll Graveyard” on E. Patrick St., and immediately parked my car in the next spot I could find. More to come on that later, but I’ll spill it now that it was a pleasurable way to pass that time. Here are the notes from when I got back to Krug’s Place:

Heavy Burner: I don’t know if the 2PM start time was to allow church to get out or what, but the last day of SHoD XI got off to a strong start with this Virginian trio. They were definitely of the scene, but the bass had thick fuzz to it that approached — especially in a couple jammed out parts which were complemented by subdued vocals — the Colour Haze-style low end I’ve been bemoaning the complete lack of in the American scene. Of course, the fact that Chris Kozlowski of Polar Bear Lair Studio had been handling sound for the whole weekend might have had something to do with it too. Everyone’s bass sounded good. The guy recorded the last Blue Cheer album! Of course the bass sounds good. Nonetheless, Heavy Burner had a good balance between jams and structure, and though I’m not sure it would be on a recording what it was live, I was disappointed they didn’t have CDs yet. In progress, reportedly.

Fire Faithful: First heard these guys when I reviewed their split with the revitalized Lord, and they were heavy Southern riff metal both then and now. More doom than stoner hands, but still definitely a Maryland band. Some harsh vocals from Brandon Malone reminded me of Alabama Thunderpussy‘s more metallic moments, set to some Pepper Keenan riffs, and it was a good fit. They brought their female companions (two of them, anyway) on stage to provide backing vocals on a song called “A Devil in London” that I had to strain to hear, but the song was catchy anyway, and they were clearly looking to impress whoever showed up early, even going so far as to break out their Orange cabinets instead of using the house Mesas. Growth to be had, but they fit right in.

Acid Queen: Were not at all what I expected. Totally thought they were going to be a super-fuzzed out stoner doom band, you know, like friggin’ Acid King. No dice. A four-piece hailing right from Frederick, they were entirely instrumental and played a thrash/NWOBHM hybrid that’s bound to go over well at the Defenders of the Old fest the bassist — who seemed to be in charge, or at very least was the one who had a mic for saying thanks — said they were playing with their original lineup. SHoD was also their last show with their current drummer, so there seemed to be a bit of upheaval in the band. On the most basic song level, their material sounded like it would benefit from a singer, so it wasn’t necessarily a surprise to find out they had one at some point. Whatever else happens, I hope they hold onto their young lead guitarist. Kid was a ripper.

Earthling: Following Jake from Valkyrie‘s recommendation yesterday, I was legitimately excited to check these guys out. They played a crusty Virginian blackthrash that sounded like their dads locked them in a closet with nothing for sustenance but what they could get from Motörhead, Darkthrone and Venom records — and if that’s the case, kudos to pops for raising them up right. They too were young, and pummeling. They had a couple slower parts and enough groove to keep the doom heads into it, but were coming from somewhere else entirely. Super heavy, and with the kind of urgency that can only come from a total lack of self-consciousness. Punk rock arrogance as filtered through thrashing fuckall and tectonic tonality. If they lived in Brooklyn, they’d be playing museums.

Demonaut: It was about time someone covered “Supernaut.” If you think about it, it was bound to happen. Demonaut stepped up to the plate for all of us, and with their two basses and lead guitar cutting through, they did the massive low-end heaviness of Master of Reality justice. Not a compliment easily earned: it did take them two bassists to do it. Between the two four strings and the three vocals (both bassists and the guitarist), Demonaut had a lot going on, but none of that was enough to distract me from the fact that drummer Dwayne had the deepest snare of the weekend, which he bought from a Texan high school marching band on eBay. Thing sounded huge, and where the lone guitar might have otherwise had a hard time standing up to the noise surrounding, a White Matamp and Rectifier labeled “Boogie” did the job quite nicely.

Wrath of Typhon: I was getting tired by the time they went on, and they had some radio-voice DJ from a Pennsylvanian metal show in a Fear Factory hat introduce them. The guy thanked everyone for coming out for the whole weekend, and yet I hadn’t seen him either Friday or Saturday, or even earlier this afternoon. Yeah, thanks for coming out. Anyway, soured though I was, Wrath of Typhon‘s upbeat semi-trad metal pulled a good response as the afternoon began to transition to the evening, but Cough had just shown up and a bunch of people went outside to hang out by their van, so that cut attendance inside somewhat. I went to my car and placed a call to The Patient Mrs. before going back in to catch the end of their set. They brought up a hooded Sickie Wifebeater, who’d been sitting behind the cabinets the whole time, for a song, and then the SHoDmaster himself, Rob Levey, took the stage for the second time of the weekend to lead vocal for an “Electric Funeral” cover. Two Sabbath covers right in a row. Someone really should’ve put in dibs beforehand. All the same, it was a rousing rendition of the song.

Nagato: Probably the most pleasant surprise of the day. They had also played SHoD X back in 2009, but I missed them then. More the fool I, because the West Virginian two-guitar four-piece played an unassuming kind of rock that was a reminder of how much a band can accomplish when they set out to be heavy in mood and not just volume. Nagato were easily the most subdued act of the day, and since Against Nature played Friday night, but there was no dip in heaviness or power in terms of the effect on the crowd. Their dark fuzz blues seemed an odd fit at first, ultimately showing what a guitarist can do when making the most of the mystic side of Orange reverb, and the songs were psychedelic not so much in swirls or overarching echo, but if you closed your eyes, the music wanted to take you somewhere. Exhausted as I was, I hadn’t expected to be blown away, but I was. They were a joy to watch, and it was a letdown that they didn’t have any music for sale. I’d have bought everything.

Cough: Death by volume. Quite a contrast coming off Nagato, and even before they went on, I was counting down the minutes until I could justify to myself getting in the car and starting the drive back to Jersey. They also looked like they were counting the minutes, and in the case of drummer Joseph Arcaro — who was the hardest-hitting percussionist of the weekend, hands down — it felt like minutes between each slamming of the toms toward the end of “Ritual Abuse.” Cough played two songs that I could discern, and I was surprised they didn’t have more of a crowd than they did, as they seem sonically to have transcended this scene and moved onto the touring market, but they were loud as fuck and doomed likewise, and they thanked Rob and Cheryl for doing another SHoD and plugged Lord‘s upcoming set, so rockstar assholes they weren’t. That’s more than you get from some returning heroes. Part of me had been hoping that, in the wake of Hour of 13‘s last-minute cancellation, that Cough would move into the headliner spot and Lord would play earlier, so I could leave sooner and start the trip north, but I was glad to have seen Cough without the hipster audience baggage they might otherwise be surrounded by.

Lord: And then it happened. The first song they played was typified by the chorus line “The wait is over,” and when Lord finally got going, that’s exactly how I felt. I basically stuck around today and tonight as long as I did just to see Lord. Everything else was gravy. I’ve been a fan of this band since 2005/2006, and I was stoked to learn they had gotten back together and started going again in the wake of Ol’ Scratch‘s demise. They were ridiculous in how heavy they were. I dug the hell out of it, I really did. I wish we could get bands like this up here. I wish people up here gave a shit. Fuck ’em. I’ve driven four hours for a set like that before and I’m sure I’ll do it again. I didn’t stay the whole time, though — that was never the plan — but I did score a copy of their new record, which I’ll be reviewing in the coming weeks, once I manage to get my head around it. If the songs I saw them play at SHoD were any indicator, that might take a while. Heavier, louder, meaner. Lord is righteousness personified. I was ready to raise my hand up like the Baptists next door and give praise.

The ride back up, I nailed. I missed Backwoods Payback and Weed is Weed, but got back here just before 2AM (right around when I’d probably get to the hotel if I’d stayed at the show), and it’s 3:30 now. I listened to Tin House and Weed and then did a Sabbath trio of Sabotage, Heaven and Hell and Master of Reality, and by the time that was done, I’d arrived. I love driving when no one else is on the road. It was raining, and I don’t know how many 18 wheelers saw me pumping my fist to “Lady Evil” or “Children of the Grave,” but who gives a shit? I live for days like today, for weekends like this one. Much thanks to Rob and Cheryl Levey and Krug’s Place for their hospitality, to Ken-E Bones, Joe Wood and Andrew Jude Riotto, George Pierro, Jason Clemins, Kyle from Rochester, Tim Otis, Jake Adams, Fez McGinnis and everyone else down there for making Stoner Hands of Doom XI such a special experience for me and everyone else who was lucky enough to see it. Here’s to keeping doom doomed.

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Lord and Fire Faithful Want You to Believe

Posted in Reviews on June 24th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

Born of the same fertile sub-Mason Dixon underground that’s previously given rise to acts like Ol’ Scratch, Valkyrie, Vog and others you might see opening any given weekend for Weedeater or Earthride at Krug’s Place in Frederick, Maryland – essentially the home of doom on the Eastern Seaboard – Virginia’s Fire Faithful and the recently reinvigorated Lord join forces on the self-released Refuge for the Recluse split. These and bands from other locales like Caltrop, Backwoods Payback and OSSM have formed a network of post-Alabama Thunderpussy Southern metal, tinged to various degrees with stoner and doom elements, angry in different measures, but a cohesive scene nonetheless, so it’s not really a surprise that two acts would get together for a split. I’m pretty sure this isn’t the first time it’s happened.

Each band gets three songs to show off, and Fire Faithful (formerly known as Southern Vein) begin in force with “Company Loves Misery,” a doom ethic brought to life with tried and true shuffle riffage courtesy of guitarist Dave Marrs, thick bass from Shane Rippey, the smooth drum fills of Joss Sallade and the decidedly metallic vocals of Brandon Malone, who peppers his bottom-of-the-mouth melodic approach with occasional screams. There’s something downtrodden in his voice that sits well over the more midpaced “Now We’ve Made a Memory,” and when he says, “Let me help rest your worried soul,” it sounds genuine. The production on Fire Faithful’s half of Refuge for the Recluse turns out less than fortunate in terms of the drum sounds as compares to Lord, but the sullenness of “Fire Faithful” comes across anyway as the track’s heaviness ebbs and flows. Their three songs are a gradual decline in mood, like a drunken night that starts out partying and ends with your wife pulled over to the side of the highway so I can puke my guts out at three in the morning. I’ve said too much.

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