Posted in Features on June 27th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
They always say you there’s no going back. I don’t know who they are, but they’re right. As I searched back through posts to find the Top 20 of 2012, I realized it had been way too long since I heard some of these records. It’s so easy to get caught up with what’s current and what’s coming next that sometimes I forget to actually listen to albums I already enjoyed. That happened a couple times along the way.
When a year ends and the lists start coming out, it’s like records as numbered, stocked and then forgotten. I guess I’m guilty of it too. With that in mind, here’s a quick revisit to what I had as my favorites of 2012:
The Top 20 of 2012 Revisited
20. Mos Generator, Nomads
I can’t even look at this album cover without hearing the chorus to “Lonely One Kenobi” play in my head. Still a sentimental favorite.
19. Golden Void, Golden Void
Haven’t put it on in a while, but probably should.
18. Wight, Through the Woods into Deep Water
Ditto. This record was great and if I made the list today, it would probably be higher than it is here.
16. Pallbearer, Sorrow and Extinction
I’ve seen them three times so far this year and they’ve delivered each time, but haven’t put on the album itself in a while. Still looking forward to new stuff though.
15. Kadavar, Kadavar
I think I’ve had more fascinating conversations about Kadavar than any other band in the last year. So many opinions, so widely varied. I dig the self-titled, will probably have the follow-up on my list at the end of 2013. Nuclear Blast needs to bring them over to tour, maybe opening for Witchcraft?
14. Stubb, Stubb
Yay fuzz! Catchy songs, easy formula, well structured and impeccably performed.My favorite straight-up heavy rock record of 2012.
13. Orange Goblin, A Eulogy for the Damned
Hard to fuck with these dudes. The production here was a presence, but the songs still hold up.
12. Ararat, II
No shit, I live in terror of having Ararat release their third album and missing it. Like all of a sudden the album will have been out for three months and I’d have no idea.
11. Ufomammut, Oro
Haven’t listened to Opus Primumor Opus Altersince. Can’t help but think if Oro was released as one record, I’d put it on from time to time.
10. Conan, Monnos
I put this in the top 10 for a reason. Because it’s fucking ridiculously heavy. I stand by my reasoning. Looking forward to their new one.
9. My Sleeping Karma, Soma
An album I couldn’t manage to put down even when I wanted to, and one I still pick up from time to time. Glad I finally gave in an bought a copy to get away from the shitty digital promo version.
8.Graveyard, Lights Out
Maybe I burnt myself out on this? I went on a binge after their show in January for a bit and then put Lights Outaway and that was that.
7. Saint Vitus, Lillie: F-65
Every time I’m in a record store, flip through the Vitus selectionand see my quote on the sticker on the front of the jewel case of Lillie: F-65, I feel like an entire decade of shitty career decisions is justified. No bullshit.
6. Ancestors, In Dreams and Time
Brilliant. Mostly brilliant for closer “First Light,” but that song was brilliant enough to get this spot on the list anyway.
5. High on Fire, De Vermis Mysteriis
Hard to argue with its intensity. Not much staying power as I would’ve thought, but god damn that’s a heavy record.
4. Neurosis, Honor Found in Decay
An overwhelming listen. I have to prepare my head for putting it on, but I continue to find it worth the effort.
3. Greenleaf, Nest of Vipers
It was the highlight of my year last year to see this material live. Greenleaf have a new lineup now and another album in the works, but if Nest of Vipersis how the last one was going out, they killed it.
2. Om, Advaitic Songs
Sometimes I fantasize about living in a temple where I wake up and Advaitic Songsis playing every day. That is 100 percent true.
1. Colour Haze, She Said
I’d probably listen to it even more if it was on one CD, but god damn, this record is amazing. Another one that’s kind of overwhelming, but it gets regular play as I expect it will continue to do into perpetuity.
All in all, pretty great year. Some stuff that’s fallen by the wayside, but a few landmarks as well that have carried over, and more importantly, some that seem like they’ll continue to carry over and grow in appeal as more time passes. Wight should’ve been higher on the list, but other than that, I’ll take it.
Posted in audiObelisk on May 7th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
It’s always a special time of year when the audio streams start coming out, and the output from Roadburn 2013 is no less stellar than ever. Whether or not you were able to make it to the legendary festival at the 013 venue and Het Patronaat in Tilburg, the Netherlands, their ability to capture the audio performances and the rate with which those performances are released is either a great way to relive a special weekend, discover something you may have missed, or just check out some killer bootleg-type material you can’t get anywhere else.
As ever, thanks to Walter Roadburn for sending over the streams for me to host and to Marcel van de Vondervoort and his crew for capturing Roadburn 2013 for posterity so that future generations can know how much ass their forebears kicked in their day. Or so I can put the stuff on this afternoon and rock out at the office. Either way. Maybe a bit of both.
This first batch includes Ash Borer, Black Bombaim, Blues Pills, Endless Boogie, Golden Void, Satan’s Satyrs (who played twice) and Teeth of the Sea. Enjoy:
Roadburn 2013 was an extravaganza of great bands from Alcest to Zodiac. Sometimes, trying to decide between shows (or get into the Green Room or Het Patronaat) was as hellish as anything screened during the Electric Acid Orgy Grindhouse Cinema. And if you couldn’t make it at all, well…
Have no fear, the 2013 audio streams are here! Thanks to the dedicated efforts of Marcel van de Vondervoort (Torture Garden Studio) and the team from VPRO 3voor12, which is the best cultural media network in the Netherlands, you can listen to the Roadburn 2013 shows you either missed or want to relive.
Tune in and ‘burn on!
Ash Borer – Roadburn 2013
Black Bombaim – Roadburn 2013
Blues Pills – Roadburn 2013
Teeth of the Sea – Roadburn 2013
Satan’s Satyrs – Live at Roadburn 2013 (Friday, April 19th)
Posted in Features on April 21st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
04.21.13 — 23.02 — Sunday night — Hotel Mercure, Tilburg
My watch alarm went off at 13.00 to serve notice that it was time to wake up, get cleaned up and head back over to the 013 for Astra kicking off the traditional Afterburner, the final, pared-down day of Roadburn 2013. I hadn’t fallen asleep until after seven, could hear people leaving for an early start to the day outside my room, but rolled into the Main Stage room still with minutes to spare to see another showing of Costin Chioreanu‘s Outside the GreatCircle. This time through, I learned Current 93‘s David Tibet was also involved in the music. Not that it was lacking dark and artsy cred anyway, but Tibet always seems to have some to spare.
Though it was a contrast to Outside the Great Circle‘s bleak visuals and the Attila Csihar groans those visuals came with, Astra‘s Cali sunshiny early-King Crimson prog was a welcome way to start the Afterburner. The lush melodies and multiple layers of keyboard wash work especially well in the morning, though of course it was 14.30 when they got on stage. Morning to me, though, so right on. They played most of last year’s The Black Chord(review here), including the title-track, “Bull Torpis,” “Cocoon,” “Quake Meat and the closer, “Barefoot in the Head,” but ultimately, they went back to the first album, The Weirding, to finish out with the eponymous cut.
I was a much bigger fan of the second album than the first, but “The Weirding” is a good song and Astra did justice to the expansive and psychedelic feel of their albums, without losing themselves in the staid, passionless presentation prog often winds up having. Switching between guitar and the keys (a Memotron and then some, it looked like), Richard Vaughn was out front and center with lead guitarist Brian Ellis, who seemed to have dressed up for the occasion. I hadn’t seen the San Diego five-piece since 2009 and they seemed all around a more solid band at the 013, and their heavy prog was just the sort of complex but welcoming start a lineup like this one deserved.
A second round of Pallbearer? Sure, why not? Diagonal, who were supposed to open in the Green Room, canceled on account of illness, so the Arkansas four-piece stepped in for another round in the smaller space — the Green Room is the middle space at 013; smaller than the main stage, bigger than Stage01; also smaller than Het Patronaat, which was closed today at least to Roadburn 2013 types — and were once more filled with potential, emotionally resonant and crushingly heavy. The setlist varied some from the Thursday night show, but they got their point across anyway. Interesting that for such morose music, the mood in the room was pretty up. I guess people were excited to see Pallbearer again or excited to see them having missed out the other night, but when whoever it was in the crowd shouted out a request for “Owner of a Lonely Heart” came through, there were laughs on stage and off. Even guitarist/vocalist Brett Campbell was more animated — not quite thrashing out like bassist Joseph Rowland or guitarist Devin Holt or drummer Mark Lierly — but still more than he was on the Main Stage earlier in the fest.
So be it. Even with less tickets sold than for the fest proper, the same basic rules apply to the Afterburner. If you want to see a band up close and personal, you need to get there early. I’ve done a lot of back and forth this weekend and don’t regret any of it, but with less bands on the bill, there’s more time to stick around and see a full set if you’re so inclined, and that takes some getting used to where over the last three days it’s been, “Okay, I have to run in here, stay for 15 minutes then split out and catch so-and-so over here” and so on. It’s a different vibe, and from all the Dutch I heard being spoken, it seemed that a lot of the people who hadn’t stuck around for this fourth day/transition back to reality were the ones traveling, which made sense.
That said, the crustpunkers — crustpunk is the new doom; also atmospheric black metal; also d-beat hardcore; also doom — behind me watching Pallbearer and brushing my back with their headbanging hair were from Australia, so clearly a sizable “fuck it” contingent was present as well, which I guess I also represented to some degree. Not to that degree, but some degree, anyway. I poked my head in the Main Stage as Sigh were getting ready to go on and found the Japanese black metallers duly theatrical. One doesn’t see fire on stage much anymore, or at least not in the venues I go to on the regular — which is fortunate, because everyone would die — but Sigh had a candle going and some light blowtorchery to go with the pummel and dual vocals. They were black metal-plus. Plus sax, plus fire, plus percussion, and so on. Their albums are supposed to be the shit according to a few in the know, but I’ve never been especially in the know, and the thought of leaving town tomorrow started weighing on me, so I ran back to the hotel to ask the kind soul at the counter if she could print my train ticket, and after about an hour, it worked out that she could.
Sigh were done upon my return, but I watched a couple minutes of Dutch black metallers Nihill (interesting about the lineup; had Diagonal showed, it would’ve been prog on one stage, prog on the other, then black metal on one stage, black metal on the other) through the doorway of the Green Room. Actually, I could’ve at least listened to them in the alley outside the venue, since they were loud enough to make the concrete wall of the building sound paper thin. It was supposedly their first show, though you’d never know it by the crowd gathered to see them play it. I guess everyone who hadn’t yet fully gotten their fix from Sigh were still looking for grim satisfaction.
Me, I was looking for Golden Void, but there was still a long time till they went on ahead of Spiritual Beggars and Electric Moon, the two acts who would close out the list I’d see today and my path through Roadburn 2013 as a whole. Neu! founder Michael Rother was going on doing music from that band and his subsequent project Harmonia, sort of bridging the gap between the prog elements and the psychedelic as only krautrock truly could. Being only remotely familiar with Neu! on any level other than the academic, the driving, spacy rhythms were enough to keep me hooked, but I did break for an early dinner partway through — chicken and gravy, mashertaters, salmon and salad — because I could feel myself dragging ass and wanted to be ready for Golden Void‘s set in the Green Room.
Another Californian act, the Bay Area four-piece set an immediately friendly vibe. The curtain in the Green Room was closed when I got there, I guess from Nihill (maybe someone can confirm that?) but before it was even reopened, Golden Void guitarist/vocalist Isaiah Mitchell – whose reputation as slinger of epic solos in influential heavy psych jammers Earthless preceded him — poked his head out from under to say hi. He made conversation as the band set up their gear and even when they got started, kept the atmosphere friendly and unpretentious, which couldn’t be anything but welcome. At one point, Mitchell pointed to someone up front in an Earthless shirt and said, “Nice one.”
Camilla Saufley-Mitchell‘s keys played a big role in their sound, bigger than I recalled from their self-titled debut (review here), and they ran through a JCM800 head, so presence wasn’t lacking, and she added backing vocals as well here and there. The Afterburner marked the end of a 12-date (13 if you count the Brooklyn show they did on their way out of the States) European tour, so no wonder they were feeling good. Golden Void were jammier live than on record, Mitchell taking what seemed to be a couple extended solos, or maybe it just came off that way because of the striking verse/chorus structures on the record where one wouldn’t expect from his work in Earthless that they’d be included at all, but they more than held the crowd’s attention, and the new song “Rise out of the Reach” — which they were selling as a Record Store Day-exclusive 7″ single — makes me look forward even more to their next record than I already was.
I would’ve loved to stay, but Spiritual Beggars were going on the Main Stage and it was time for me to once again “Excuse me” and “I’m sorry” my way through the crowd out from the Green Room. The Beggars – I can call them that now that I’ve seen them live — have a new record out called Earth Blues, and they were selling LPs and signed CDs. I’ll pick it up at some point, but haven’t bothered to listen to it for the same reason I don’t listen a ton of shit that comes out: No time and I fucking hate digital promos. That frustration actually made me less inclined to buy the record, though having autographs from Michael Amott (Arch Enemy/Carcass) and his formidable assembled lineup does hold a certain nerdish appeal. In this incarnation of the band are bassist Sharlee D’Angelo (Arch Enemy/Mercyful Fate), drummer Ludwig Witt (Firebird), organist Per Wiberg (Opeth) and vocalist Apollo Papathanasio (Firewind), who now has two albums under his belt in the band and did a more than able job filling the frontman role while also tackling Spiritual Beggars tracks from the eras of Spice and JB Christoffersson, the former now of Band of Spice and the latter in Grand Magus.
Not easy voices to take on by any stretch of the imagination, as both singers could add dramatic flair, soaring highs or growling lows to any given song at any given time, but again, Papathanasio did well in that spot, and the newer stuff they played seemed right in line with their long-standing love of classic heavy rock. Amott‘s the driving force in that he writes all the material, but everyone was clearly on board – Ludwig Witt is a monster drummer — and the stage show was engaging, professional and fun to watch. They played “Turn the Tide” from the new album and dipped back to 2002′s On Firefor “Young Man/Old Soul,” which was a highlight, and just before “Wonderful World” from 2000′s Ad Astra, Papathanasio asked the crowd, “Have you got the energy left?”
The honest answer? Nah, man. It’s been four days solid of rock and rolling and I’m feeling pretty demolished. He got a response from the crowd that was probably less than the roar he’d hoped for, but the band didn’t miss a beat. Their shit was pro-tight and as next year will mark 20 years since the release of their self-titled debut, for all their love of classics, they’re on their way to becoming one as well. A band of string lights wrapped around the inside frame of Amott‘s speaker cabinet, Wiberg had a tapestry hanging from the front of his keyboard, and in everything they did, Spiritual Beggars were very put together, very rehearsed, but also very effective. It wasn’t the first time I liked a band more than I thought I would this weekend, but it was a nice surprise anyway.
Entirely true, I would have relished the notion of seeing Switchblade live, but I had an early-ish train looming, was beat and knew that I wanted Electric Moon to close out my Roadburn 2013. The German jammers were just right for the job — heavy, psychedelic, totally switched on in their groove and, as I learned, swirl-ready at a moment’s notice. Before they were even ready to play, before guitarist Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt had his shoes off, he and bassist Komet Lulu and drummer Michael Bongolious Orloff were jamming. I don’t think they even realized they were doing it, but all of a sudden, Komet Lulu had a groove locked in and the other two stepped right into it. Their set was great to watch too, but I found that little pre-jam even more telling, since it goes to show just how much chemistry there is between these three players. Lulu led a lot of the changes, with Orloff responding accordingly and Schmidt spacing out in guitar swirls, but she also took the time to add to the effects wash with her bass. I was really, really glad to see them.
What songs they played, I don’t know. They jammed like mad and had a recorder set up at the front of the stage, so hopefully audio or video surfaces at some point. Truth be told, they were the one band I really regretted not seeing at last year’s Roadburn, so watching them tonight was an absolute must, and though former Emperor frontman Ihsahn was on the Main Stage backed by progressive rockers Leprous, I couldn’t have felt better about being where I was. Nothing left to do then but slowly peel myself away from Roadburn 2013 as the thought of that train and what time I’m actually going to get to sleep tonight started to gnaw at me. I’d hoped to see fest promoter Walter and tell him thank you for another fantastic year, but no such luck. I tossed my earplugs in the trash, and bid farewell to the 013 for another year, when hopefully I’ll be back to have my brain melted all over again.
Many people to thank before I sign off from Tilburg and make my way to London tomorrow, but I’m going to save it for now and do a big thanks at the end of the trip next weekend. There’s still another week to go before I head back to Jersey — I cannot even begin to tell you about the plate of pasta I’m going to have upon my arrival there — and plenty more to come in the meantime, so please, stay tuned.
Thanks to all for reading. More pics after the jump.
Posted in Whathaveyou on March 18th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
If you’re coming from San Francisco, I guess a stopover for a show in Brooklyn prior to launching your European tour in Prague doesn’t seem that unreasonable. That’s the plan for the four-piece Golden Void, who will hit Union Pool with Pontiak on April 6. That’s a hell of a show (there are several hell-of-a-shows happening that night) and for anyone who heard the band’s self-titled debut last year (review here), not one to be left off the calendar. Here’s the news and Golden Void‘s Euro dates in full. They’ll end that tour playing Roadburn‘s Afterburner on April 21.
The PR wire puts it like this:
Golden Void & Pontiak play Union Pool April 6th
San Francisco heavy psychers Golden Void, which feature Isaiah Mitchell of Earthless & Howlin’ Rain and Camilla Saufley-Mitchell of Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound, will be making their New York debut at Union Pool April 6th. Their debut album, which was called, “a heady, rich brew, buoyed by roaring hammond, loose drumming and some blazing solo epiphanies” by Terrorizer, was released by Thrill Jockey to acclaim throughout the rock and metal communities last November. They have a new 7″ with two exclusive songs slated for Record Store Day 2013. Check out “The Curve” and their version of “1983″ by Jimi Hendrix below. Following this rare East Coast performance the group will be heading to Europe to perform at the famed Roadburn Festival.
Pontiak are the Virginia based Carney brothers, who make expansive psych rock populated with irresistible, stoned riffs. Their last album, Echo Ono, was called, “the peak of their career to date… raw, spontaneous, and unfettered power and release that simultaneously addresses the visceral and refined” by Prefix. Known for the mix of beauty and power that comes from the extreme volume at which they play live, Pontiak are an experience not to be missed.
Golden Void Upcoming Tour Dates – 2013 Apr 06, 2013 Brooklyn, NY Union Pool Apr 08, 2013 Prague, Czech Republic Klub 007 Apr 09, 2013 Berlin, Germany Jagerklause Apr 10, 2013 Dresden, Germany Ostpol Apr 11, 2013 Linz, Austria Kapu Apr 12, 2013 Innsbruck, Austria PMK Apr 13, 2013 Milan, Italy Lo fi Club Apr 16, 2013 Lyon, France Le Sonic Apr 17, 2013 Paris, France Point Ephemere Apr 18, 2013 Antwerp, Belgium Trix Apr 19, 2013 Leige, Belgium Inside Out Apr 20, 2013 Siegen, Germany Vortex Apr 21, 2013 Tilburg, Netherlands 013 venue (Roadburn Festival)
Posted in Features on December 20th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: This list is my personal picks, not the Readers Poll, which is ongoing — if you haven’t added your list yet, please do.
As ever, I’ve kept a Post-It note on my wall all year long, and as the weeks and months have ticked away, I’ve added names of bands to it in preparation for putting together my Top 20 of 2012. There was a glut of excellent material this year, and I know for a fact I didn’t hear everything, but from bold forays into new sonic territory to triumphant returns to startling debuts, 2012 simply astounded. Even as I type this, I’m getting emails about new, exciting releases. It’s enough to make you lose your breath.
Before we get down to it and start in with the numbers, the hyperbole, etc., I want to underscore the point that this list is mine. I made it. It’s not the Readers Poll results, which will be out early in January. It’s based on how I hear things, how much I listened to each of these records, the impressions they left on me — critical opinion enters into it, because whether or not I want to I can’t help but consider things on that level when I listen to a new album these days — but it’s just as much about what I put on when I wanted to hear a band kick ass as it is about which records carried the most critical significance or import within their respective genres.
Over the last couple years, I’ve come to think of the #20 spot as where I put my sentimental favorite. That was the case with Suplecs last year, and in 2012, the return of Mos Generator earns the spot. The band being led by guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed, Nomadsmarked a rehifting of Reed‘s priorities from Stone Axe, with whom he’d proffered ’70s worship for several years prior, and wound up as a collection of some of my favorite heavy rock songs of 2012 — tracks like “Cosmic Ark,” “Torches” and “Lonely One Kenobi” were as strong in their hooks as they were thorough in their lack of pretense. But the bottom line is I’m a nerd for Reed‘s songwriting, playing and production (more on that to come), and at this point it’s not really something I can even pretend to judge impartially. Still, the record’s friggin’ awesome and you should hear it as soon as you can.
Seems like it would make sense to say Golden Void would be higher on the list if I’d spent more time with it — written up just a month ago, it’s the most recent review here — but the fact is I’ve sat with Golden Void‘s self-titled debut a lot over the course of the last month-plus, and I’ve been digging the hell out of it. Really, the only reason it’s not further up is because I don’t feel like I have distance enough from it to judge how it holds up over a longer haul, but either way, the Isaiah Mitchell-led outfit’s blend of heavy psych, driving classic rock and retro style gave some hope for beefing up the US’ take on ’70s swagger — usually left to indie bands who, well, suck at it — and also showed Mitchell as a more than capable vocalist where those who knew him from his work in Earthless may only have experienced his instrumental side. A stellar debut, a wonderful surprise, and a band I can’t wait to hear more from in the years to come.
This was basically the soundtrack to my summer. From the catch-you-off-guard aggression in opener “I Spit on Your Grave” to the extended stoneralia of “Master of Nuggets” and the jammy “Southern Comfort and Northern Lights,” the follow-up to Wight‘s self-produced debut Wight Weedy Wight(review here) showed an astonishing amount of growth, and though it had the laid back, loose feel that distinguishes the best of current European heavy psych, Through the Woods into Deep Waterwas also coherent, cohesive and impeccably structured. I thought it was one of the year’s strongest albums when it was released, and its appeal has only endured — as much as I listened to it when it was warm over the summer, now in December I put it on wishing the temperature would change to match. The songs showed remarkable potential from the German three-piece and cast them in an entirely different light than did their first out. Really looking forward to where they might go from here, but in the meantime, I’m nowhere near done with Through the Woods into Deep Wateryet.
“Oh, Moon Queen! Flyin’ down the world on a moonbeam!” Somehow the first lines of the opening title-track to Lord Fowl‘s Moon Queen always seem to wind up stuck in my head. The Connecticut foursome made their debut on Small Stone with the loosely thematic full-length, and touched on a sense of unabashedly grandiose ’70s heavy rock in the process. That said, Moon Queenwasn’t shooting for retro in the slightest — rather, guitarist/vocalists Vechel Jaynes and Mike Pellegrino fronted the band’s classic sensibilities with a wholly modern edge, like something out of an alternate dimension where rock never started to suck. The classic metal guitar in “Streets of Evermore” and the swaying groove from bassist Jon Conine and drummer Don Freeman under the wandering leads of “Hollow Horn” made Moon Queenmore stylistically diverse than it might otherwise have been, but at its core, it was a collection of stellar heavy rock songs, unashamed of its hooks and unafraid to put its passions front and center. They packed a lot into a 47-minute runtime, but I’ve yet to dig into Moon Queen and regret having pressed play. Another band to watch out for.
It was impossible not to be swept up in the hype surrounding Pallbearer‘s Profound Lore debut, but one listen to Sorrow and Extinctionand it was clear that its resounding praise was well earned. By blending thickened psychedelic tonality and emotionally resonant melodies, the Little Rock, Arkansas, four-piece concocted the single most important American doom release of the year. Their efforts did not go unnoticed, and as they supported the album on tour, the swell of the crowds spoke to the right-idea-right-time moment they were able to capture in songs like the stunning “An Offering of Grief” and “The Legend.” There’s room for growth — I wouldn’t be surprised to find guitarist Brett Campbell‘s vocal range greatly developed next time out — but Pallbearer have already left a mark on doom, and if they can keep the momentum going into wherever they go from here, it won’t be long before they’re being cited as having a significant impact on the genre and influencing others in their wake.
I already singled out Kadavar‘s Kadavaras the 2012 Debut of the Year, so if you need any sense of the reverence I think the German trio earned, take whatever you will from that. There really isn’t much to add — though I could nerd out about Kadavar‘s ultra-effective retroisms all day if you’re up for it — but something I haven’t really touched on yet about the record: When I was out in Philly last weekend, the DJ cleverly mixed Kadavar into a set of early ’70s jams, and it was all but indistinguishable in sound from the actual classics. That in itself is an achievement, but Kadavar‘s level of craft also stands them out among their modern peers, and it was drummer Tiger‘s snare sound that I first recognized in “All Our Thoughts,” so right down to the most intricate details, Kadavar‘s Kadavarwas a gripping and enticing affair that proved there’s still ground to cover in proto-heavy worship.
The fuzz was great — don’t get me wrong, I loved the fuzz — but with Stubb‘s Stubb, it was even more about the songs themselves. Whether it was the interplay between guitarist Jack Dickinson and bassist Peter Holland (also of Trippy Wicked) on vocals for the chorus of “Scale the Mountain” or the thickened shuffle in “Soul Mover” punctuated by drummer Chris West‘s (also Trippy Wicked and Groan) ever-ready fills, there wasn’t a clunker in the bunch, and though it’s an album I’ve basically been hearing since the beginning of the year, its appeal has endured throughout and I still find myself going back to it where many others have already been forgotten. With the acoustic “Crosses You Bear” and more laid-bare emotionality of “Crying River,” Stubb showed there was more them than excellence of tone and with the seven-minute finale “Galloping Horses,” they showed they were ready to jam with the best. Truly memorable songs — and also one of the live highlights of my year.
Orange Goblin‘s purpose seemed reborn on their seventh album and Candlelight Records debut, A Eulogy for the Damned. Culling the best elements from their last couple albums, 2007′s Healing Through Fire and 2004′s Thieving from the House of God, the long-running London troublemakers upped the production value and seemed bent from the start on taking hold of the day’s sympathy toward their brand of heavy. With tales of alcoholic regret, classic horrors and a bit of cosmic exploration for good measure, they marked their ascent to the top of the British scene and took well to the role of statesmen, headlining Desertfest and proceeding to smash audiences to pieces around the continent at fests and on tours. Look for them to do the same when they bring the show Stateside in 2013 with Clutch. Their plunder is well earned, and I still rarely go 48 hours without hearing the bridge of “The Fog” in my head. Can’t wait to see them again.
While I still miss Los Natas, my grief for their passing has been much eased over the last two years by frontman Sergio Chotsourian‘s doomier explorations in Ararat. The first album, 2009′sMusica de la Resistencia(review here), ran concurrent to Los Natas‘ swansong, Nuevo Orden de la Libertad, but with II, the new three-piece came into their own, setting space rock synth against low-end sprawl, thick drumming and Chotsourian‘s penchant for experimenting with structure. Extended tracks “Caballos” and “La Ira del Dragon (Uno)” were positively encompassing, and showed Ararat not only as a distinct entity from Los Natas, but a turn stylistically for Chotsourian into elephantine plod, wide-open atmospherics and a likewise expansive creative sensibility. The acoustic “El Inmigrante” and piano-led “Atenas” offered sonic diversity while enriching the mood, and closer “Tres de Mayo” hinted at some of the melding of the various sides that might be in store in Ararat‘s future. If the jump from the first record to the second is any indicator, expect something expansive and huge to come.
Italian cosmic doom meganauts Ufomammut outdid themselves yet again with Oro, breaking up a single full-length into two separate releases, Oro: Opus Primum and Oro: Opus Alter. But the album — which I’ve decided to list as the single entity Oro rather than its two component parts basically to save myself some brain space — was more than just big in terms of its runtime. More importantly, Ufomammut were able to hold firm to their commitment to stylistic growth, drawing on their greatest triumph yet, 2010′s Eve (review here), the trio pushed themselves even further on their Neurot Recordings debut, resulting in an album worthy of the legacy of those releasing it. I don’t know if Oro will come to define Ufomammut as Eve already seems to have — dividing it as they did may have made it harder for listeners to grasp it as a single piece — but it shows that there’s simply no scaring the band out of themselves. Brilliantly tied together around a central progression that showed up in “Empireum” from Opus Primumand “Sublime” on Opus Alter, I have the feeling Ufomammut will probably have another album out before Oro‘s breadth has fully set in.
Behold the standard bearers of heavy. It wasn’t long after hearing UK trio Conan for the first time that I began using them as a touchstone to see how other bands stacked up, and to be honest, almost no one has. Led by the inimitable lumber provided by the tone of guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis (interview here), Conan stripped down their approach for Monnos, returning to Foel Studio in Wales to work with producer Chris Fielding — who’d also helmed their 2010 Horseback Battle HammerEP — and the resulting effort was both trim and humongous. Early tracks like “Hawk as Weapon,” “Battle in the Swamp” (an old demo given new life) and “Grim Tormentor” actually managed to be catchy as well as sonically looming, and the more extended closing duo of “Headless Hunter” and “Invincible Throne” showed that Conan could both use their tone to build forward momentum and plod their way into ultra-slow, ultra-grim despairing nothingness. Monnos affirmed Conan as one of the most pivotal acts in doom, and with new material and a home studio reportedly in the works, as well as further European touring on the docket for early 2013, their onslaught shows no signs of letting up. Right fucking on.
In some ways, it seems like the easiest thing in the world, but with My Sleeping Karma‘s fourth full-length, Soma, it really was just a question of a band taking their sound to a completely new level. The German heavy psych instrumentalists brought forth the sweetness of tone their guitars have harnessed over the course of their three prior offerings, but the progressive keyboard flourishes, the warmth in the bass, the tight pop of the drums — it all clicked on Somain a way that the other records hinted was possible and made the album the payoff to the four-piece’s long-established potential. Wrapped around the titular theme of a drink of the gods and with its tracks spaced out by varying ambient interludes, no moment on the album felt like it wasn’t serving the greater purpose of the whole, and the whole proved to be a worthy purpose indeed. Hands down my favorite instrumental release of the year and an effort that pushed My Sleeping Karma to the front of the pack in the crowded European heavy psych scene.
The damnedest thing happens every time I turn on Graveyard‘s third album, Lights Out, in that before I’m halfway through opener “An Industry of Murder,” I have to turn it up. The reigning kings of Swedish retro heavy wasted no time following up 2011′s stunning sophomore outing, Hisingen Blues(review here), and with the four-year gap between their self-titled debut and the second record, it was a surprise from the moment it was announced, but more than that, Lights Outshowed remarkable development in Graveyard‘s sound, offering elements of classic soul on songs like “Slow Motion Coundown” and “Hard Times Lovin’” to stand alongside the brash rock and roll of “Seven Seven” or the irresistible hook provided by “The Suits, the Law and the Uniforms” or the single “Goliath.” A landmark vocal performance from guitarist Joakim Nilsson and newly surfaced political bent to the lyrics hinted that Graveyard were nowhere near done growing, but seriously, if they put out four or five more records in the vein of Lights Out, I doubt there’d be too many complaints. Already one can hear the influence they’ve had on European heavy rock, and Lights Outisn’t likely to slow that process in the slightest.
Three drum hits and then the lurching “Let Them Fall” — the leadoff track on the first Saint Vitus studio album since 1995 — is underway, and it’s exactly that lack of pomp, that lack of pretense, that makes Lillie: F-65so righteous. Admittedly, it’s a reunion album. They toured for a couple years playing old material, then finally decided to settle in and let guitarist Dave Chandler (interview here) start coming up with a batch of songs, but you can’t argue with the results. They nailed it. With Tony Reed‘s perfect production (discussed here), Vitus captured the classic tonality in Chandler‘s guitar and Mark Adams‘ bass and kept to their sans-bullshit ethic: A short, 33-minute album that leaves their audience wondering where the hell that assault of noise just came from. Scott “Wino” Weinrich‘s presence up front was unmistakable with Chandler‘s punkish, no-frills lyrics (as well as his own on “Blessed Night,” the first song they wrote for the album), and drummer Henry Vasquez not only filled the shoes of the late Armando Acosta but established his own persona behind the kit. I hope it’s not their last record, but if it is, Saint Vitus came into and left Lillie: F-65as doom legends, and their work remains timeless.
Talk about a band who shirked expectation. Guitarist/vocalist Justin Maranga and I discussed that aspect of Ancestors a bit in an interview over the summer, but it’s worth underscoring. There was next to nothing in either of Ancestors‘ first two albums to hint at where they’d go with the third. Both Neptune with Fire and Of Sound Mind(review here) were rousing, riff-led efforts that headed toward a particular heavy sensibility, but it was with last year’s Invisible WhiteEP (review here) that the L.A. outfit began to show the progressive direction they were heading. And In Dreams and Timeis even a departure from that! It’s kind of a departure from reality as well, with the Moog/organ/synth mesh from Matt Barks and Jason Watkins (also vocals), dreamy basslines from Nick Long and hold-it-all-together drumming of Jamie Miller — since out of the band. Closer “First Light” was my pick for song of the year, and had the album been comprised of that track along, it’d probably still be on this list somewhere, but with the complement given to it by the piano sprawl of “On the Wind” and driving riffs and vocal interplay of “Correyvreckan” (if you haven’t heard Long‘s bass on the latter as well, you should), there was little left to question that this was the strongest Ancestors release of their career to date and hopefully the beginning of a new era in their sound. They’ve never been what people wanted them to be, but I for one like not knowing what to expect before it shows up, at least where these guys are concerned.
After what I saw as a lackluster production for 2010′s Snakes for the Divine, Oakland, CA, trio High on Fire aligned themselves with producer Kurt Ballou (Converge) for De Vermis Mysteriis and completely renewed the vitality in their attack. Built on the insistence of “Bloody Knuckles,” furious fuckall of “Fertile Green,” unmitigated piracy of “Serums of Laio” and eerie crawl in “King of Days,” De Vermis Mysteriis was both aggressive in High on Fire‘s raid-your-brain-for-THC tradition and extreme in ways they’ve never been before. Groovers like the instrumental “Samsara” and earlier “Madness of an Architect” offered bombast where the thrash may have relented, while “Spiritual Rites” proved that guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike (also Sleep; interview here), bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensell had arrived at a new threshold of speed and intensity. Whatever personal issues may have been in play at the time, High on Fire delivered a blistering full-length that stands up to and in many ways surpasses any prior viciousness in their catalog, and their level of performance on their current tour makes it plain to see that the band is ready for ascendency to the heights of metal. They are conquerors to the last, and if De Vermis Mysteriisis what I get for wavering, then I’ll consider my lesson hammered home in every second of feedback, tom thud and grueling second of distortion topped with Pike‘s signature growl.
When I interviewed interviewed Steve Von Till about Honor Found in Decay, the Neurosis guitarist/vocalist called the band “a chaos process” in reference to their songwriting. I have no trouble believing that, because while Neurosis stand among the most influential heavy metal bands of their generation — having had as much of an effect on what’s come after them as, say, Meshuggah or Sleep, while also having little sonically in common with either of them — it’s also nearly impossible to pinpoint one aspect of their sound that defines them. The churning rhythms in the riffing of Von Till and his fellow frontman, guitarist/vocalist Scott Kelly (interview here), Dave Edwardson‘s intensity on bass and periodic vocal, the assured percussive creativity of Jason Roeder and theexperimental edge brought to bear in Noah Landis‘ synth and sampling all prove to be essential elements of the whole. On Honor Found in Decay — and this isn’t to take away anything from any other particular member’s songwriting contributions — it would be Landis standing out with his greatest contributions yet, becoming as much a defining element in songs like “At the Well,” “Bleeding the Pigs” and “Casting of the Ages” as either Kelly or Von Till‘s guitars. Had I never seen the band before, I’d have a hard time believing Honor Found in Decay could possibly be representative of their live sound, but they are every bit as crushing, as oppressive and as emotionally visceral on stage — if not more so — as they are on the album, and while their legacy has long since been set among the most important heavy acts ever, period, as they climb closer to the 30-year mark (they’ll get there in 2015), Neurosis continue to refuse to bow to what’s expected of them or write material that doesn’t further their decades-long progression. They are worthy of every homage paid them, and more.
It’s hard for me to properly convey just how happy listening to Greenleaf‘s Nest of Vipersmakes me, and I’ve got several false starts already deleted to prove it. The Swedish supergroup of vocalist Oskar Cedermalm (Truckfighters), guitarists Tommi Holappa and Johan Rockner (both Dozer), bassist Bengt Bäcke (engineer for Dozer, Demon Cleaner, etc.) and drummer Olle Mårthans (Dozer) last released an album in 2007. That was Agents of Ahriman, which was one of my favorite albums of the last decade. No shit. Not year, decade. With a slightly revamped lineup and Dozer‘s maybe-final album, 2008′s Beyond Colossal, and the never-got-off-the-ground side-project Dahli between, Nest of Viperslanded this past winter and with the shared membership, Karl Daniel Lidén production and consistency of songwriting from Holappa (interview here), I immediately saw it as a sequel to the last Dozer, but really it goes well beyond that. Tracks like “Dreamcatcher,” “Case of Fidelity,” “The Timeline’s History” and soaring opener “Jack Staff” show that although they’d never really toured to that point and been through various lineups over the years, Greenleaf was nonetheless an entity unto its own. Cedermalm‘s vocals were a triumph, Mårthans‘ drumming unhinged and yet grounded, and guest appearances from organist Per Wiberg and vocalists Peder Bergstrand (Lowrider/I are Droid) and Fredrik Nordin (Dozer) only enriched the album for repeat listens, which I’m thrilled to say it gets to this very day. If I called it a worthy successor both to Dozer and to Agents of Ahriman, those words alone would probably fall short of conveying quite how much that means on a personal level, so let its placement stand as testimony instead. This is one I’ll be enjoying for years to come, and when I’m done writing this feature, this is the one I’m gonna put back on to listen through again. It has been, and no doubt will continue to be, a constant.
Go figure that the Om record two albums after the one called Pilgrimagewould feel so much like a journey. Further including multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Robert A. A. Lowe (also of experimental one-man outfit Lichens) alongside the established core duo of drummer Emil Amos (also of Grails) and bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (also of Sleep), as well as incorporating a range of guest appearances from the likes of Grayceon‘s Jackie Perez Gratz on cello and Worm Ouroboros‘ Lorraine Rath (who appeared on 2010′s God is Goodas well) on flute, Om fleshed out what was once a signature minimalism to the point of being a lush, constantly moving and markedly fluid entity. Cisneros, as the remaining founder and lead vocalist, served as a unifying presence in the material — his bass still was still very much as the center of “Gethsemane” or the more straightforward and distorted “State of Non-Return” — but those songs and “Addis,” “Sinai” and gloriously melodic closer “Haqq al-Yaqin” amounted to more than any single performance, and where prior Om outings had dug themselves deep into a kind of solitary contemplation, Advaitic Songslooked outward with a palpable sense of musical joy and a richness of experience that could only be called spiritual, however physically or emotionally arresting it might also prove. I’ve found it works best in the morning, as a way to transition from that state of early half-there into the waking world — which no doubt has more harshness in mind than the sweet acoustics and tabla at the end of “Haqq al-Yaqin” — so that some of that sweetness can remain and help me face whatever might come throughout the day. A morning ceremony and a bit of meditation to reorder the consciousness.
Didn’t it have to be Colour Haze? Didn’t it? Two discs of the finest heavy psychedelic rock the world has to offer — yes I mean that — plus all they went through to get it out, the drama of building and rebuilding a studio, recording and re-recording, pressing and repressing, what else could it have been but She Said? After two-plus years of waiting, I was just so glad when it actually existed. Late in 2008, the Munich trio released All, and that was my album of the year that year as well (kudos to anyone who has that issue of Metal Maniacs), but I feel like even if you strip all that away and take away all the drama and the band’s influence, their standing in the European scene, guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek (interview here) fostering next-gen talent on Elektrohasch and whatever else you want or need to remove, She Said still holds up. Just the songs themselves. The extra percussion layered in with Manfred Merwald‘s drums on “She Said,” the horns and Duna Jam-ambience on “Transformation,” the unpretentious boogie of “This” on disc one, or the rush of “Slowdown” on disc two and the culmination the whole album gets when the strings kick in on “Grace.” Those strings. God damn. Suddenly a 2CD release makes sense, when each is given its own progression, its own destination at which to arrive, and tired as I am I still tear up like clockwork when I put on “Grace” just to hear it while I type about it. Beautifully arranged, wonderfully executed, She Saidcouldn’t be anywhere but at the top spot on this list. The warmth in Koglek‘s guitar and Philipp Rasthofer‘s bass on “Breath” and the way their jams always seem to have someplace to go, I feel like I’m listening to a moment exquisitely captured. There isn’t a doubt in my mind Colour Haze are the most potent heavy rock power trio in the world, and that their chemistry has already and will continue to inspire others around them, but most importantly, She Saidmet the true album-of-the-year criteria in not seeming at all limited to the confines of 2012 — as though it had some kind of expiration date. Not so. Even though I’ve already been through them more times than I know or would care to share had I counted, I look forward to getting to know the songs on She Saidover the years to come, and as I have with Colour Haze‘s works in the past, seeing their appeal change over time the way the best of friends do. It couldn’t have been anything but Colour Haze. Whatever hype other albums or bands have, for me, it’s this, and that’s it.
If this list went to 25, the next five would be:
21. Snail, Terminus
22. Revelation, Inner Harbor
23. Wo Fat, The Black Code
24. Groan, The Divine Right of Kings
25. Caltrop, Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes
Honorable mention goes to: Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight (another one about whom I have a hard time being impartial), Mighty High, At Devil Dirt, Bell Witch, Samothrace, Enslaved, Viaje a 800, and Larman Clamor.
Also worth noting some conspicuous absences: Witchcraft, Swans, Baroness, Royal Thunder, The Sword, Torche. These albums garnered a strong response and have done well in the Readers Poll looking at the results so far, but please keep in mind, this is my list, I took a night to sleep on it, I stand by it and I’ve got my reasons for selecting what I did. You’ll find about 5,000 words of them above.
Thank you as always for reading. If you disagree with any picks, want to add your own take on any of the above, or anything else — really, whatever’s cool — please leave a comment below.
Driving past the homogenized “warmth” of the brick retail chains that have appeared since I was last down on the outskirts of Baltimore’s Fell’s Point neighborhood, I couldn’t help but think of John Brenner from Revelation discussing the inner harbor in that interview that went up last week. These places with all the trappings of economic stimulus except any investment back into the community that hosts them the way feet host blisters. There for a painful while and then gone. Pop.
It was different once I actually got into Fell’s Point. Not that the neighborhood wasn’t gentrified from its working class harbor roots, but that at very least it was actual gentrification, independently owned businesses or at least smaller, regional chains and a most welcome onslaught of pubs, eateries, and other gastro-type decadences. Kooper’s Tavern, where The Patient Mrs. and I had lunch, had tables set up outside selling oysters and recycling the shells for use by — wait for it — other oysters. Seems nobody is immune to the economic ravages of our age. Even the oysters have to buy used.
Fitting that act of conservation would be prelude to a radical haul whose like — in what otherwise might be considered a regular ol’ record shop — I’ve not seen in some time. Sound Garden (no relation) was just down the street from the pub where we ate and several others, and it wasn’t my first time there by any stretch (seems impossible that it would’ve been over three years ago, but I guess that’s why old posts are dated), but I didn’t remember it being quite the trove it was this time around. Walking up the middle of the three aisles, I went past the metal and the midsection divide — I’d come back to the metal, no worries — something strange compelling me forward, and that’s when I saw it:
The Psychedelic section.
Oh yeah, that’s right. The monkey that lives in my head where my brain should be clicked on the dim bulb of his cavernous abode and for a moment I said a prayer to my pagan octopus god that I might win the $300 million Powerball and come back to Sound Garden to purchase every album in the Psychedelic section on principle alone. A mere celebration of the existence of such a thing. Portrait of the mouth, drooling.
What fun I had. Flipping through was like opening presents. I limited myself to two discs about which I knew absolutely nothing but what was written on the eloquent description labels — Truth‘s Truthfrom 1969 and Escombros‘ Escombros, from 1970. The former is a poppy, folksy thing, not bad but not quite as bizarre as I was hoping based on the cover, and Escombros is a heavier Chilean obscurity that opens with a cover of Hendrix‘s “Stone Free,” so I guessed I was pretty safe in grabbing it. Turns out I was right about that. The vocals sounded mixed too high on my office speakers when I listened, but I expect on a different system, it might not be an issue at all, and there were a couple gems there anyway. Wicked Lady‘s Psychotic Overkillwas a welcome find as well, all buzzsaw-this and early-’70s narcodelia that.
I also picked up Goat‘s World Musicbased on the tarantula-sized hype surrounding. That hype is probably earned, and however problematic I might find European acts copping a feel on some Fela Kuti afrobeat fuzz, they’re hardly the first and they did it well enough. I wasn’t quite enchanted, but sometimes with albums like that I go into it determined not to like them and usually find I don’t. That wasn’t the case with Goat.
In the “I reviewed this and I’m annoyed at buying it” category, the newest ones from Golden Void (review here), Astra (review here)and Six Organs of Admittance (review here) were fodder enough for a grumble, even if Astra and was used. Six Organs was $15 new and the sleeve isn’t even a gatefold. Call me a privileged shit if you want — boo hoo you don’t get free stuff, etc. — but for the time and effort I put into even a shorter review, I don’t think a CD is too much to ask, especially when I know that I’m one of like three remaining motherfuckers who cares in the slightest. Apparently the music industry disagrees. Grumble grumble, man.
One might include the new Neurosis (review here) in that category as well — and the Grand Magus I didn’t even step to this time around — but the fact is on that one I was just being impatient and that a physical promo of Honor Found in Decaywould show up sooner or later (it did, today). However, my wanting to hear it right that minute met with such logic on the field of diplomacy and the compromise reached was that I’d buy the digipak edition, because it’s limited and the promo would likely be the jewel case anyway. I never got the digi version of 2007′s Given to the Rising and there’s a little bit of me that still regrets it. That same part is very much enjoying listening to “My Heart for Deliverance” as he types this.
There were odds and ends as well. With Kalas on my brain after The Johnny Arzgarth Haul resulted in another promo, Used Metal paid dividends in the first full-artwork copy I’ve ever owned — and in case you were wondering why I care so much about physical media, that’s how long I remember shit like that — and over in Used Rock, the first Grinderman happened to be situated next to a special edition of 2009′s Grinderman 2, the unmitigated sleaze of which I friggin’ loved at the time, as well as Grails‘ cinematic 2012 outing, Deep Politics (review here).
I wound up with a used copy of Dungen‘s 2002 third album, Stadsvandringar, getting the band confused with Black Mountain, I think because they both used to have the same PR. Thanks a lot, Girlie Action Media circa 2005. I felt a little pathetic when I discovered my error, but I checked out the Dungen and it wasn’t bad, covering some of the same sunny psych folk territory that Barr did on their 2012 sophomore installment, Atlantic Ocean Blues(track stream here), and giving me a new context for not onlyBarr, but a slew of other acts as well. Could’ve been much worse.
Cap it off with a used copy of Lewis Black‘s The Carnegie Hall Performancefrom 2006 — a stellar two-disc show recorded in the depths of American hopelessness post-Katrina but for the bit about air traffic control — and when I brought it all to the counter, the dude asked me, “Are you local?” I said I wasn’t and he said, “Well, I’m going to give you a discount anyway.” It was much appreciated, regardless of the geography involved, and by the time I left Sound Garden, I was more pleased with the outcome I carried in a red plastic bag than I’ve been coming from a single record store in a long time. Probably since I visited Flat, Black and Circular in Lansing, Michigan, over the summer, and that’s saying something.
My hope is that it’s not another three years before I get back there — appropriately enough, Lewis Black has a whole section early into his show about time moving faster as you age, and he’s absolutely right — but whenever it is, Sound Garden is definitely on the must-hit list for next time I’m in Baltimore. If you want to look them up, their website is here.
Posted in Reviews on November 20th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Were it not for the fact that Golden Void are fronted by guitarist Isaiah Mitchell — also of Earthless, whose name already lingers with an underappreciated mystique despite the fact that they’re still touring — their self-titled Thrill Jockey debut (available on “baby poop yellow” vinyl) would probably just be another excellent showing of organic heavy psych in a sea of same. The kicker is that but for the weight and profile Mitchell‘s pedigree brings to the new San Francisco-based four-piece, not to mention a few killer guitar solos, the two acts have very little to do with each other. And as turns out to be the case throughout the seven tracks/36 minutes of Golden Void‘s Golden Void, that’s a big part of the new band’s appeal.
In Golden Void, Mitchell is joined by bassist Aaron Morgan, drummer Justin Pinkerton and keyboardist Camilla Saufly-Mitchell, and though his guitar playing remains a defining factor here as in Earthless, its purposes are markedly different. Earthless was for a time and probably still is the strongest American presence in jam-based heavy psychedelia worldwide (Tia Carrera, from Austin, also come to mind, albeit on a smaller scale), with sprawling extended tracks ranging through and past Hawkwindian space. That influence shows up here and there on Golden Void as well — it would almost have to, as the band are named for a Hawkwind track from 1975′s Warrior on the Edge of Time – but the songs are not epic classic rock jams, they’re regular songs, with verse parts, chorus parts, and most of all, with singing.
Mitchell proves a more than able vocalist throughout Golden Void‘s debut, doubtless to the surprise of many who might have assumed Earthless stayed instrumental out of some lack of ability rather than an aesthetic choice. Opener “Art of Invading” pits a grunge-style (think vague hallucinations of Soundgarden) against Saufly-Mitchell‘s melodious keyboard, warm basslines from Morgan and Pinkerton‘s natural, popping snare, rising to a grand but still unpretentious apex that sets the course for the rest of the album. Highlights persist in the thicker “Virtue,” the dreamier Hendrixian airiness of “Jetsun Dolma” and the rising tensions of the early push in “Badlands” — best performance of the album from the rhythm section, who drive it — and pretty soon it’s apparent that you’re more than halfway through listening and there hasn’t been a clunker yet.
I suppose on some level that should be a surprise, but it isn’t really and becomes less of one with repeat listens to these songs. Someone good at something turns out to also be good at… that thing… in a different band. Fair enough. Mitchell puts an album’s worth of soul into the solo of “Jetsun Dolma” as the band builds up behind, and the pop-minded organ sounds of “Shady Grove” bring out a late-’60s psychedelia in a way that continues Golden Void‘s streak of individual identities within the cuts. So too do the closing duo of “The Curve,” which revives the distorted shuffle of the earlier “Virtue,” and the ’70s prog of finale “Atlantis,” the longest track at 7:47 and perhaps the strongest statement of purpose Golden Void make on their debut offering.
“Atlantis” caps with memorable self-harmonizing from Mitchell, as Saufly-Mitchell (who one assumes is his wife; the bio doesn’t say), Morgan and Pinkerton drop out, leaving the vocals to underscore this as just the beginning of Golden Void showcasing their creative breadth. They are as naturally flowing in the longer track as in any of the others, which hover between about four and a half and five and a half minutes, but it’s that last showing of progressive ethereality that really sets the band up to expand their sound next time out. I wouldn’t be surprised to find more such layering in future works, and if Mitchell is to continue Golden Void either as a central- or side-project, then the band already has one collection of songs to its collective credit that lives up to the formidable legacy preceding them.