Buried Treasure in a Garden of Sound

Posted in Buried Treasure on November 26th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

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 Truth from 1969 and EscombrosEscombros, 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 Overkill was a welcome find as well, all buzzsaw-this and early-’70s narcodelia that.

I also picked up Goat‘s World Music based 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 Decay would 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 Performance from 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.

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Buried Treasure: Hurricane Irene and the Red Lion Haul

Posted in Buried Treasure on August 30th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

Every now and then, I do a Craigslist search for the word “stoner,” just to see what comes up. Early this past week was one such occasion, and what I found was a listing from a guy outside of York, Pennsylvania, who was selling off what he touted as a massive CD collection, with lots of varied kinds of metal, stoner/desert rock and ’70s heavy bands. Needless to say, my interest was piqued.

York is more than three hours from where I live in New Jersey, so going during the week was out because of work. And I wouldn’t want to go on Sunday, because six hours in a car is no way to lead into a Monday morning, so I called the guy and said I was interested in taking a look at what he had for sale and asked him if Saturday was cool. He said it was.

Only hitch in that plan was that Hurricane Irene was expected to rail the Northeast on Saturday, making its way up the coast, bringing floods, high winds, downed trees, lightning and other things not conducive to driving at all, let alone 170 miles. You know, now that I put the number to it, the whole proposition seems unreasonable.

Not unreasonable enough, it turns out. Relatively early Saturday morning, The Patient Mrs. and I loaded into the car and made our way south and west to Red Lion, a small-ish town outside of York. I had heard and read and looked at all the maps and the progression of the storm and everything seemed to point to our being able to get to Pennsylvania and back before the worst hit. I’ve already driven in some pretty atrocious weather this year. What was the worst this hurricane could do?

It was raining when I got out there, and hard. The picture above of dark clouds and rolling hillsides I took after dropping The Patient Mrs. at a local Panera so she could continue the work on her laptop she’d been doing the whole drive and headed to the guy’s apartment to spend some time perusing his collection. Not too much time, though, because the wind was picking up.

When he met me outside, Frank, the man in his late-50s/early-60s whose collection I was there to see, asked if I had any weapons on me. I did not, and I judged by the awesomeness of his moustache that he didn’t either, so we made our way inside so I could see his wares. His chihuahua growling at me the entire time, I made my way slowly and, at first, haphazardly through the rows and stacks of alphabetized discs, periodically looking outside to check the conditions, which seemed to ebb and flow as different arms of the storm passed through.

The collection itself was as advertised in both quality and quantity. There had to be 5,000-plus discs spread across the racks. They were stacked two rows deep on bookshelves and piled — organized; nothing was without purpose — in corners. I’d been hoping to find a copy of Keg Full of Dynamite by Pentagram, or some old Sabbath bootlegs, but no such luck. Nonetheless, our man Frank was clearly someone who had just been collecting CDs since the inception of the format, and I was able to find (literally) a stack of releases that saved me months of eBaying.

He charged $10 a piece for each of the three Pagan Altar full-lengths, for Speed, Glue & Shinki‘s 1971 outing, Eve, for the long out of print first edition of Spiritual Beggars‘ debut, for records by Dust, Abramis Brama, Elonkorjuu, Terra Firma, Desert Saints, Privilege, Generous Maria, Toad and Riff Cannon, for the first issue of Josiah‘s self-titled, and, in a departure from the others that even Frank noted, The Arcanum by German folk metallers Suidakra.

A word about that record: I first heard it via downloaded mp3s in 2000, when it was released. The whole folk metal thing was still at least half a decade off, and I was into it because it was a more extreme version of melodeath. But I had little interest in owning physical media at the time (I burned discs and kept them in a binder), and it later turned out that the label screwed over the band, kept the rights, and the album went out of print. It’s something I’ll probably listen to once — haven’t yet — and stick on my shelf to gather dust, because it’s just not where my tastes lie at this point, but it’s something I genuinely never thought I’d find. I never thought I’d find that record. And then, $10 to Frank and it was mine.

The only thing he didn’t charge me $10 for, in fact, was the digipak special edition of Hammer of the North, by Grand Magus. It was $20, but the album has yet to have a CD release in the US, and I figured he had probably paid even more for the import than I was, so it was worth the price nonetheless.

As he totaled up my selections from the sundry shelves and stacks of his library, I began to put myself in his place, and wonder what it would take for me to allow someone into my home to peruse, pick out, scrutinize and ultimately walk away with pieces of my collection. I had more selections than I took home with me. Albums by Fuzzy Duck, Bloodrock (it was Bloodrock 2), Lucifer’s Friend and the recently-burned-for-me Tin House he said I simply couldn’t have, as they were too dear to him to part with. He explained that all the metal stuff, all the more modern rock stuff, that could all go, but the ’70s heavy bands were what he grew up with, and he was sorry.

His failing health turned out to be the reason he was selling. He needed the money more than he needed the discs, so out they were going. I expressed my sympathies, forked over $190 of the total $200 I’d brought with me, and left knowing I could have spent hours more finding treasure among those racks, of which I’ve dreamed of not once, but twice in the now-four nights since.

Using my manliest navigational sensibilities, I suggested cutting north early before heading east to get ahead of the storm, and The Patient Mrs., now retrieved from the aforementioned Panera, was in agreement. It rained most of our way back, heavy at times, but we still got in well under the wire for the most damaging winds, floods, etc. Still funny to see how few people were on the road by the time we landed back in Jersey, though. Cracked open a couple beers, admired the stack of recent acquisitions (at least I did), and waited for the world to end — which, despite the local highway collapse, flooding, downed power lines and the rest, it did not do.

I’ll admit it wasn’t the safest idea I’ve ever had to drive for such a long time with the threat of a hurricane looming. All the same, I regret nothing for what I was able to pick up in Red Lion, and I know I’ll always look at those albums in the picture above and remember the day I went and found them with the wind howling outside and the torrents of rain blocking visibility on the ride home. It was stupid, yeah, but it was also precisely my favorite kind of adventure.

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Grand Magus, Hammer of the North: Those Who Walk Against the Wind

Posted in Reviews on March 4th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

Swedish trio Grand Magus are a long, long way from where they started out 12 years ago. The doom of their earliest demos and 2001 self-titled debut is long gone, as over time and the course of their four subsequent albums, vocalist/guitarist Janne “JB” Christofferson, bassist Fox Skinner (bonus points for awesome name) and drummer Sebastian “Seb” Sippola – who came aboard between 2005’s Wolf’s Return and 2008’s Iron Will – have evolved into a genuine beast of epic metal. Not power metal, at least not in terms of the dramatic elements that genre designation carries with it, but still definitively epic, taking cues from Judas Priest and the best of the British New Wave and blending lyrical themes from Scandinavian paganism to concoct a sound almost completely their own. On their latest and fifth offering, Hammer of the North (released physically in Europe last year on Roadrunner and in the US digitally via the same label at the end of January), Grand Magus make yet another step in their charted progression. The US version of the album collects 11 tracks to cover 52:32, and though it’s not without its filler, the level of songwriting across the board is stellar and the performances throughout harness the hair-raising power of heavy metal as only the greatest of practitioners can.

The production, it’s worth noting, is unrepentantly modern. Though the underground metal climate in the US has largely turned against digital recording methods – in ideology if not always in practice – in Europe, Grand Magus has genuine mainstream viability, and as such it makes sense for Hammer of the North to be produced as it is. The album begins with one of its several memorable tracks, “I, The Jury,” on which the trio starts in barn-burning fashion. Sippola proves as he did on Iron Will that he’s a fantastic drummer, changing at a moment’s notice into half-time grooves and keeping the footwork both tasteful and exciting (even if his drums are probably triggered), and Christofferson elicits a solo from the ether that enhances the song, rather than coming off as forced. “Hammer of the North,” which follows, brings out some of the heathen lyricism and anti-Christian thematics – “We trample the cross” – but these aren’t overdone either, and it’s clear that Hammer of the North is going to be a classy affair throughout. Grand Magus, in fashion true to the first part of their name, have set a stately tone, and are firmly in command of their sound. The quiet outro of the title-track and chanting lead-in for “Black Sails” – an understated Viking ode that only gets better with volume – makes for a smooth transition, but make no mistake, Hammer of the North is very much song-based. It’s not like Grand Magus sat down and wrote it all as one piece, and ultimately it’s because of the strength of its individual parts that the whole stands out.

That’s not to say it carries a feel like it was written for radio hits or something like that. Even in the more metal-friendly European musical climate, I don’t know how huge this stuff is in terms of sales – at least as compares to the more swoopy-haired, breakdown-laden “hardcore” that seems to have taken over the universe in the last several years – but Grand Magus’ natural strength is undoubtedly in writing traditional verse/chorus structures. Both “Black Sails” and “Mountains be My Throne” are straightforward and unpretentious, but filled with a kind of stylistic grandeur that sets them apart from other works of classic metal. Credit for this has to go to Christofferson, who is probably one of the best working vocalists in heavy metal today. Backed by Skinner, the singing on Hammer of the North is the source of some of its greatest appeal, and even on the head-down forward-drive of “Northern Star,” they find room for a fantastic chorus. There’s layering throughout in the voices, as with the guitar – the solo of “Northern Star” being a rare misstep both in terms of production and execution – but they’re not quite at Blind Guardian levels yet. Again, classy. All of Hammer of the North has a metallic sheen, and it works greatly to the songs’ benefit.

Read more »

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Top 20 of 2010: Five Albums I Didn’t Hear that Might Have Made the List

Posted in Features on December 29th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

Look, I did the best I could, but there was no way I was going to hear everything that came out in 2010. I thought, before I reveal The Obelisk‘s #1 album of 2010, it would be prudent to mention some of the records that might have affected the list one way or the other had I heard them in time. Kind of a procedural thing on my part, but here’s an alphabetical list of five:

Agalloch, Marrow of the Spirit

Electric Wizard, Black Masses

Grand Magus, Hammer of the North

Sahg, III

Suma, Ashes

Now, you might recall the Electric Wizard was actually number 20, the first post I did that started the countdown. Well, as I said then, I included in the last spot just because I knew it should be on the list but didn’t know where, and with the ensuing month I’ve had to spend with the album, I can tell you it would be higher than it currently is. So maybe it didn’t get counted the way it would have if I’d heard it more. Hence it’s listed here.

I actually own copies of Suma and Agalloch. The former I bought and the latter is a promo waiting to be reviewed, but I still haven’t had the chance to listen to either, and it’s been little more than the threat of import prices and/or the Euro-to-dollar exchange rate and the drive to buy other things instead that’s kept me from picking up either the Grand Magus or the Sahg records.

But I know I’ve enjoyed the past work of both bands, as well as Suma and Agalloch — both of whose new albums are amazing, from what I’m told, and both of which I’m looking forward to hearing — and I thought it worthwhile to consider the possibility that they might have played into the top 20 if I’d had the chance to hear them. Maybe I’ll feel fancy one of these days and drop some cash for Sahg and Grand Magus too, but definitely not before 2011 kicks off, so for now, here they are. Mentioned honorably.

#1 revealed tomorrow.

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Grand Magus Make a Metal Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Whathaveyou on May 19th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

Well, it’s got a fluffy white dog lost in the woods, fog that comes and goes, and a band playing in a room without any mics. Yup, it’s a metal video. At least the window-less space in which Swedish epic power doomers Grand Magus seem trapped is well (and expensively) lit, and there’s a tarp on the floor in case anyone makes a mess. Heavy metal is so silly, but Grand Magus do kick ass, and the song in this clip — the title track to their new album, Hammer of the North (no, I don’t know who’s releasing it in the States; time to step up, Metal Blade) — is as killer as you might expect:

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Music for Journeys Large and Small

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Whathaveyou on March 31st, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

I’ve never traveled in a way that could be described as “epic,” and I can only assume that’s also the reason why I’ve never been accompanied by the disembodied soundtrack of Grand Magus, Sweden‘s foremost purveyors of epic power doom. One assumes such travel would have to involve fighting with medieval weaponry, so whether or not it’s worth it, I couldn’t say. Maybe if you really knew how to handle a broadsword.

In any case, I am embarking on a journey for the rest of this and most of next week, to the hopefully pleasant climes of San Francisco, and to mark the occasion, I’ve embedded a promo video containing new material from the forthcoming Grand Magus album, Hammer of the North — which, were I a crude man, is what I would name my genitalia.

I’ll be checking in from time to time, hopefully to report on successful record shopping excursions to Amoeba Records in San Francisco proper and Berkeley, Aquarius Records and anywhere else I can find that’ll have me. I’ll also be seeing Seattle riff specialists Snail at Kimo’s next Tuesday, to which I’m very much looking forward. Provided I have the opportunity, I’ll report on March’s numbers tomorrow, and we can all congratulate each other on this nifty little website we’ve built.

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This Just in from the “Holy Shit” Department: Grand Magus Sign to Roadrunner

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 4th, 2009 by H.P. Taskmaster

Thinking about it, I’d have probably picked Nuclear Blast for Swedish power doom trio Grand Magus as far as new labels go, but according to Blabbermouth, it’s Roadrunner all the way. “For the win,” as they say on the intertubes. And with a marketing and distribution network behind them like that of the metal powerhouse, who knows what’s to come for Grand Magus. One hopes for a US tour, at very least. Congrats to the band, and here’s looking forward to the new album. Behold the news:

Roadrunner Records has announced the signing of Swedish heavy rockers Grand Magus.

Way to go, guys.Grand Magus is a three-piece band featuring ?JB? Christofferson (guitar, lead vocals), Fox Skinner (bass, backing vocals) and Sebastian ?Seb? Sippola (drums).

During the band’s 10-year history, Grand Magus has released two demos, one split EP and four full-length albums, and has received overwhelmingly positive reviews throughout. Their last opus, Iron Will, was voted “Album of The Month” in the German Metal Hammer and Rock Hard magazines.

Drawing hefty influences from the hand-on-heart grandeur of the NWOBHM and the inspirational mythology of their forbears, Grand Magus is steeped in pre-Christian tales of triumph, vengeance, betrayal, wisdom and death. But Grand Magus also stands for energetic live performances, as seen at this year’s European festivals such as Sweden Rock, Hellfest, Wacken, Summer Breeze and on tour in Europe with bands like At the Gates, Cathedral, Candlemass, Tyrant, Serpentcult and Electric Wizard.

Roadrunner Records will release Grand Magus‘ new album, Hammer of the North, in spring/early summer of 2010. On this CD, Grand Magus has perfected its own style of full-on metal assault with fantastic heavy riffing and stomping songs, strong hook-lines, epic vocals/lyrics and rousing solo guitars.

Commented Grand Magus: “We are thrilled with working with Roadrunner Records. We regard this both as a great sign of recognition and most importantly a chance for us to really push ourselves and the music to the point of perfection. We are confident that the team of us and Roadrunner will be something really special.”

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Grand Magus Think You are Electric

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 27th, 2009 by H.P. Taskmaster

And they do mean You.Pinched this update about Grand Magus from Blabbermouth since the news is of the Swedish and ass-kicking variety. Best to let the band spill the beans:

“Ever since the release of Iron Will, we have been on what seems like and endless roller coaster ride, filled with great gigs, awesome response from magazines and most importantly from you, our listeners. We never knew there were so many of you out there. Especially gratifying is the fact that you all seem to fucking understand what we want to put across, which makes it worth so much more. It has been a fantastic year and a half! Our goal now is to top this for 2010. We aim to make an even better album and gigs. We can’t wait to get the metal out there to you.?

“At the moment we are writing new songs and generally spending a lot of time locked in our rehearsal space. The atmosphere when we get together is electric and we have already come up with some killer stuff. We feel strong and confident.”

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Help! Help! I’m Being Repressed!

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 31st, 2009 by H.P. Taskmaster

Please! Alert the authorities! I’ve been kidnapped by four or five glam-deathcore bands (there’s at least 35 people — hard to tell how many bands that actually divides out to be). I overheard between shitty breakdowns that it’s going to be at least until Monday before they all need to reapply their eyeliner, so it looks like I’m stuck for the weekend as far as opportunities to make my escape. Please, let someone know what happened to me so my misfortune won’t have been in vein!

By way of providing myself with some much-needed inspiration and pumping-up, here’s a live Grand Magus video. These guys could lead just about anyone into triumph. Hopefully they’ll be able to do the same for me.

See you Montag.

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Dream Tour: Cathedral, Grand Magus, Electric Wizard, Orange Goblin and Solace

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 13th, 2009 by H.P. Taskmaster

Cathedral are up against a wall.No, it’s not news. If it was, it would be this color. But just think about it: the tour dates are announced, you read it on Blabbermouth or on StonerRock ? or, Iommi forbid, you read it here ? and you see that coming to whatever midsized venue nearest you, wherever you are in the US, is the package tour of Cathedral, Grand Magus, Electric Wizard, Orange Goblin, with Solace opening. Full US run of shows, probably 40 dates or so. All the old-man doom you can handle and then some.

Grand Magus could use this boat to come to the US!Of course, it would never happen. Even Maurizio Iocono of Kataklysm (and now the Roman-styled Amon Amarth-esque Ex Deo), who put together Paganfest this and last year couldn?t pull it off ? though I?d be more than happy to see him try. They could even package it as the America is Doomed Tour and sell shirts that have a picture of the country in red with a huge pentagram over it. Shit, I?d wear that shirt. I?d probably camp outside of Blender Theater in NYC to get it, too.

Actually, if any one of these bands decided to do a US tour, let alone all of them, it would rule. Even Solace, who play not irregularly around where I live, would be great to see on the road. Just because they kick that much ass.

But ah, to dream? Here?s about the closest thing we?ll ever get:

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