Time was limited. It was Monday morning and I was supposed to go to work after all, but as I was in New England anyway, a quick run to Armageddon Shop in Providence didn’t seem all that unreasonable. I’ve never come out of there feeling less than satisfied, and even back in December at the Boston store, I was able to pick up a few winners. Plus, Armageddon‘s been on my mind lately with their handling the repress of Elder‘s Spires Burn EP and the release of Magic Circle‘s self-titled, for which I have a review pending. All that, coupled with my general desire to crane my neck before a CD rack, made the stop a necessity. Turned out work was still there when I finally showed up anyway. Go figure.
On the wall of my office is a post-it with albums I’ve been meaning to pick up — mostly review stuff that labels won’t send out physical copies of anymore that I’ll grudgingly buy and devalue the effort I put into writing about them while also diminishing my appreciation for the record out of the pervasive annoyance. It’s a vicious cycle. Anyway, most of what’s on it I couldn’t remember, but it was fine. I managed to find enough and then some, as you can see in the stack above. The new Bedemon (track stream here) and Seremonia (track stream here) records were a must, and I hadn’t actually gotten a CD of the last Enslaved (review here), so I figured if I was going to give someone the cash for it, at least I could feel good about it going to Armageddon. The rest was gravy.
The first Hooded Menace full-length, Fulfill theCurse,Orodruin‘s Claw Tower and Other Tales of Terror and the repress of Life Beyond‘s Ancient Worldswere cool finds, but I was even more stoked on the 2003 Cream Abdul Babar/Kylesa split on At a Loss. I think they came by their progression honestly and I think Spiral Shadow(review here) bears that out, but it’s easy to forget how blisteringly heavy that band was at one point, all noise and fury and potential. With the unbridled weirdness of Cream Abdul Babar to complement, that split was a killer. The punkish War and Wineby the UK’s The Dukes of Nothing was something I had my eye on for a while, with Orange Goblin‘s Chris Turner on drums, bassist Doug Dalziel (ex-Iron Monkey) and Stuart O’Hara (ex-Acrimony, current Sigiriya) as one of two guitars, and more on the hardcore end, the self-titled collection from Hard to Swallow was a pleasant surprise, spanning the short tenure of the outfit that featured Jim Rushby (Iron Monkey)on guitar and Justin Greaves (Iron Monkey and even later of Crippled Black Phoenix) on drums and a host of others from that sphere ripping out primitive, violent bursts in rapid succession.
With 13 tracks in 27 minutes, there’s little room for screwing around, so Hard to Swallow get right to it, blending raw riffage with extreme punk fuckall. The compilation was released on Armageddon‘s own label, and though it’s more hardcore than what I’ll generally grab, it’s a solid, intense listen. A secret track incorporating Sabbath‘s “Under the Sun” into a grind medley made a decent, meaner answer to The Dukes of Nothing‘s album on Tortuga, and the metallic outing from Enslaved and Seremonia‘s distinctly Finnish weirdness. More local to home, I grabbed Halfway to Gone‘s split with Alabama Thunderpussy, which I already own but figured for six bucks I’d take a double, and the 1997 debut from underrated Jersey-based psychedelic rockers, Lord Sterling.
Your Ghost Will Walkwas one of those albums I figured I’d probably never happen upon, perhaps even less so in Rhode Island. I haven’t been chasing it down for years and years or anything like that — a preliminary search can find copies out there — but neither was I going to pass up the chance to get a new one. The pressing is on Chainsaw Safety Records, may or may not be original, and for anyone who heard Lord Sterling‘s Weapon of Truth(2002, Rubric) or Today’s Song for Tomorrow(2004, Small Stone), the first one is a little more jagged, a little more post-hardcore, somewhat less psychedelic, though the ethereal garage via The Doors vibes of the later albums are definitely present in some nascent form. I always dug those guys, so it was cool to hear where they came from a little bit.
Because I can’t resist a CD on Man’s Ruin and because I’m forever a sucker for NYC noise, I impulse grabbed The Cuttroats 9‘s self-titled. The band had Chris Spencer and Dave Curran from Unsane in it, so I figured I couldn’t go wrong and I was right. It was a last-minute thing as I was looking through, but I’ve done way worse. All told, the haul was well-rounded and with a cup of coffee from the bakery down the street, I felt like the win was even more complete. About five hours later, I strolled into my office like I owned the place.
Posted in Features on January 15th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Last year was a monster. You might say I’m still catching up on reviews for records that came out in October. Yet here we stand in 2013. It’s a whole new year and that means instead of looking back at some of the best releases, it’s time to look ahead and nerd out at what’s to come. Frankly, either way is a good time, but with some of what’s included on this list, 2013 has the potential to be yet another incredible year for lovers of the heavy.
Across a range of genres and subgenres, there are bands big and small, known and unknown, getting ready to unleash debuts, follow-ups and catalog pieces that by the time December rolls around, will have defined the course of this year. It’s always great to hold an album in your hands, to put it on and listen to it for the first or 19th time, but part of the fun is the excitement beforehand too, and that’s where we’re at now.
Some of these I’ve heard, most I haven’t, and some are only vague announcements, but when I started out putting this list together, my plan was to keep it to 10 and I wound up with twice that many because there was just too much happening to ignore. The list is alphabetical because it doesn’t make any sense to me to rate albums that aren’t out yet, and I hope if you find something you’d like to add, you’ll please feel free to leave a comment below.
Thanks in advance for reading, and enjoy:
Acid King, TBA
We begin with only the basest of speculations. Would you believe me if I told you that 2013 makes it eight years since the heavier-than-your-heavy-pants San Francisco trio Acid King released their last album, III? Of course you wouldn’t believe me. You’d be like, “Dude, no way,” but it’s true. Eight friggin’ years. They’ve hinted all along at new material, toured Europe and played fests in the States like Fall into Darkness, but really, it’s time for something new on record. Even an EP. A single! I’ll take what I can get at this point, so long as it’s Lori S. riffing it.
Chances are, the above isn’t the final art for Argentinian Los Natas-offshoot Ararat‘s forthcoming III, but frontman Sergio Chotsourian has posted a few demos over the last several months and the logo image came from that. Either way, with as far as last year’s II(review here) went in expanding their sound, I can’t wait to hear the final versions of the tracks for the next one. They’re still flying under a lot of people’s radar, it seems, but Ararat are quickly becoming one of South America’s best heavy psych acts. Do yourself a favor and keep an eye out.
Brooklyn trio Bezoar‘s 2012 debut, Wyt Deth, might have been my favorite album that I never reviewed last year, and needless to say, that’s not a mistake I’m going to make twice. The new songs I’ve heard the three-piece play live have ruled and an alliance with engineer Stephen Conover (whose discography includes Rza and Method Man) is intriguing to say the least. I’m sure whatever Bezoar come out with, the performances from bassist/vocalist Sara Villard, guitarist Tyler Villard and drummer Justin Sherrell will be as hard to pin down as the debut was. It’s a record I’m already looking forward to being challenged by.
Blaak Heat Shujaa, The Edge of an Era
Due out April 9, Blaak Heat Shujaa‘s The Edge of an Era will mark the full-length debut for the ambitious trio (now based in L.A.) on Tee Pee Records following on the heels of the impressive The Storm Generation EP (review here). From the Scott Reeder production to the band’s engaging heavy psych/desert rock blend, this one seems bound to win Blaak Heat Shujaa a lot of new friends, and if the advance EP is anything to go by, The Edge of an Eracould prove to be aptly-titled indeed.
Black Pyramid, Adversarial
No release date yet, but so far as I know, Adversarial, which is Massachusetts doom rockers Black Pyramid‘s third album and first to be fronted by guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard, is recorded, mixed and mastered. Song titles include “Swing the Scimitar,” “Onyx and Obsidian,” “Issus,” “Bleed Out” and “Aphelion” (the latter was also released as a limited single in 2012 by Transubstans as a split with Odyssey), and having seen the band live with this lineup, expect no less than a beheading. Also watch for word from the recently announced side-project from Shepard and bassist Dave Gein, The Scimitar.
Black Sabbath, 13
There was a bit of a shitstorm this past weekend when the title of Black Sabbath‘s first Ozzy Osbourne-fronted album since 1978 was revealed in a press release. Nonetheless, 13is set for release in June and will feature Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine on drums in place of Bill Ward, who last year was engaged in a well-publicized contract dispute with the band. Bummer though that is and as crappy and generic a title as 13 makes — especially this year — let’s not forget that Heaven and Hell‘s The Devil You Know also had a crap title and it was awesome. I’m not sure if I’m willing to stake anticipation on the difference between the vocals of Ronnie James Dio circa 2010 and Ozzy Osbourne in 2013, or Rick Rubin‘s production, but hell, is Geezer Butler playing bass on it? Yes? Well, okay then, I’ll listen. The world can do a lot worse than that and another batch of Tony Iommi riffs, whatever else may be in store.
Clutch, Earth Rocker
It’s a ripper. With Earth Rocker, Clutch reunite with Blast Tyrant producer Machine and the results are a record varied enough to keep some of the recent blues elements of the past couple albums (“Gone Cold”) while also showcasing a reinvigorated love of straight-up heavy rock numbers on tracks like “Crucial Velocity,” “Book, Saddle & Go” and “Cyborg Betty.” Longtime Clutch fans can expect a bigger guitar sound from Tim Sult, killer layering and much personality from vocalist Neil Fallon and yet another stellar performance from the best rhythm section in American heavy, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster. No doubt in my mind it’ll prove one of the year’s best when 2013 is done. Once more unto the breach!
Devil to Pay, Fate is Your Muse
Last month, I hosted a Devil to Pay video premiere for the Indianapolis-based rockers’ new track, “This Train Won’t Stop,” from the 7″ single of the same name that precedes the release of their Ripple Music debut full-length (fourth overall), Fate is Your Muse. If the 575-plus Thee Facebook “Likes” are anything to go by, anticipation for the album is pretty high. Reasonably so. When I saw Devil to Pay at last year’s SHoD fest, the new material was killer and the band seemed more confident than ever before. Stoked to hear how that translates to a studio recording and how the band has grown since 2009′s Heavily Ever After.
Egypt, Become the Sun
Technically speaking, Become the Sun is the full-length debut from North Dakota doomers Egypt. The band released their self-titled demo through MeteorCity in 2009 (review here), were broken up at the time, and reassembled with a new guitarist for Become the Sun– which is the only album on this list to have already been reviewed. I don’t know about a physical release date, but it’s available now digitally through iTunes and other outlets, and however you do so, it’s worth tracking down to get the chance to listen to it. Underrated Midwestern riffing, hopefully with a CD/LP issue coming soon.
The Flying Eyes, TBA
Currently holed up in Lord Baltimore Studios with producer Rob Girardi, Baltimore’s The Flying Eyes are reportedly putting the finishing touches on the follow-up to 2011′s immersive Done So Wrong, an album full of young energy and old soul. Along with Blaak Heat Shujaa above, I consider these dudes to be right at the forefront of the next generation of American heavy psych and I’m excited to hear what kind of pastoral blues works its way into their tracks when the album finally gets released. They’re a band you’re probably going to hear a lot about this year, so be forewarned.
Gozu, The Fury of a Patient Man
The melodicism of Boston-based Gozu‘s second Small Stone full-length, The Fury of a Patient Man (I swear I just typed “The Fury of a Patient Mrs.”) is no less striking than its album cover. I’ve had this one for a while, have gotten to know it pretty well and my plan is to review it next week, so keep an eye out for that, but for now, I’ll just say that the sophomore outing is a fitting answer to the potential of Gozu‘s 2010 debut, Locust Season (review here) and marks the beginning of what already looks like another strong year for Small Stone. I never thought I’d be so into a song called “Traci Lords.”
Halfway to Gone, TBA
What I’d really like to see happen is for Halfway to Gone – who are high on my list of New Jersey hometown heroes and who haven’t had a new LP out since their 2004 self-titled — to put out a new record in 2013, for it to lay waste to everyone who hears it, and for the band to finally get the recognition they’ve long since deserved. I’ve been charged up on revisiting their three albums since I saw them at the Brighton Bar this past July and after a long wait, rumors, breakups, makeups, etc., I’ve got my hopes up that this year is when these dudes pull it together and make a new one happen. It’s been too long and this band is too good to just let it go.
Kings Destroy, TBA
Confession time: I have the Kings Destroy record. I’ve had it for a bit now. It rules. I don’t know when you’re gonna hear it, but it’s strange and eerie and kind of off the wall stylistically and it doesn’t really sound like anything else out there. Last I heard they’re looking for a label, and whoever ends up with it is lucky. I use a lot of descriptors for bands and their albums, but rarely will I go so far as to call something unique. This album is. If you’ve had the chance to check out songs like “The Toe” and “Turul” live, you know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, then stick around because with all the sessions I’ve had with the tracks, I still feel outclassed by what these guys are doing. Shine on, you doomed weirdos.
The Kings of Frog Island, Volume IV
I keep going back to the video for “Long Live the King” that Leicester, UK, fuzz rockers The Kings of Frog Island put up back in October. No, really, I keep going back. It’s a good song and I keep listening to it. Just about any other details regarding their fourth album and first without guitarist/vocalist Mat Bethancourt (Josiah, Cherry Choke), Volume IV, are nil, but periodic updates on the band’s Thee Facebooks have it that progress on the recording is being made, and in the meantime, I don’t seem to have any trouble paying return visits to “Long Live the King.” Hopefully Elektrohasch stays on board for a CD release, and hopefully it happens soon.
Several times over the last couple months I’ve had occasion to say it to people and I’ll say it here as well: I think Lo-Pan are the best American stoner rock band going right now. I was interested to see how they handled the bigger stage for their opening slot for High on Fire and Goatwhore (review here), and as ever, they killed. I haven’t the faintest idea what their recording plans might be, if they’ll even sit still long enough to put an album to tape in time to have it out in 2013 — I suspect it depends on what tour offers come up in the meantime — but new songs “Colossus” and “Eastern Seas” bode well for their being able to continue the course of momentum that the excellence of 2011′s Salvador(review here) and all their hard work before and since has put them on.
Queens of the Stone Age, TBA
It probably wouldn’t be fair to call the upcoming Queens of the Stone Age album a reunion between Josh Homme and Dave Grohl since the two also played together in Them Crooked Vultures and Grohl only drummed on Songs for the Deaf, but it’s exciting news anyway and could mean good things are coming from QOTSA, whose last outing was 2007′s comparatively lackluster Era Vulgaris. The big questions here are how the time apart from the band may or may not have affected Homme‘s songwriting and where he’s decided he wants to take the Queens sound. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Sungrazer & The Machine, Split
With the Strikes and Gutters tour already booked to support it (dates above; or here), Dutch upstart heavy psych jammers The Machine and Sungrazer have teamed up for a split release as well that’s bound to feature some of the year’s best fuzz. The two bands have a lot in common, but they’re pretty distinct from each other sonically too, and with The Machine guitarist/vocalist David Eering helming the recording, you can safely bet it’ll capture the live, jammy feel both groups share. Latest word has it that the mastered tracks are in-house, so watch for more to come as we get closer to the Valentine’s Day launch of the tour.
The Swedish fuzz juggernauts’ fourth album overall, this will be Truckfighters‘ first with new drummer McKenzo alongside the core songwriting duo of Dango and Ozo. They’ve been teasing recording updates and threatening song clips, but as soon as I run into something concrete, I’ll share. I’m especially looking forward to the Truckfighters album since it means they’ll likely come back to the US for another tour, and since 2009′s Mania (review here) was so damned brilliant. Not sure on a release date, but it’s high on the list of necessities anyway, however low it may appear alphabetically.
Valley of the Sun, TBA
All I’m going on in including Ohio-based desert rockers Valley of the Sun on this list is a New Year’s message they put out there that read, “Happy New Year, Brothers and Sisters!!! You can count on a Valley of the Sun full-length in 2013.” Hey, I’ve relied on less before, and even if you want to call it wishful thinking, the Cincinnati trio are due a debut full-length behind 2011′s righteous The Sayings of the Seers EP (review here). Even if it doesn’t show up until November or December, I’ll basically take it whenever the band gets around to releasing. Riffs are welcome year-round.
Well, I mean, yeah. Right? Yeah, well, sure. I mean. Well. Yeah. I mean, sure. Right? It’s a supergroup with YOB‘s Mike Scheidt on vocals, John Cobbett of Hammers of Misfortune on guitar, Sigrid Sheie of Hammers of Misfortune on bass and Aesop Dekker of Agalloch and Worm Ouroboros on drums. Album’s done, set for release on Profound Lore. So, I mean, you know, yeah. Definitely. No music has made its way to the public yet — though that can’t be far off — but either way, sign me the fuck up. Anywhere this one goes, I’m interested to find out how it gets there.
Vista Chino, TBA
After that lawsuit, it’s not like they could go ahead and call the band Kyuss Still Lives!, so the recently-announced Vista Chino makes for a decent alternative and is much less likely to provoke litigation. But still, the Kyuss Lives! outgrowth featuring former Kyuss members John Garcia, Nick Oliveri and Brant Bjork along with guitarist Bruno Fevery is of immediate consequence. I’m not sure what the timing on the release is, but they’ve already been through enough to get to this point that one hopes a new album surfaces before the end of 2013. What I want to know next is who’s recording the damn thing.
Yawning Man, Gravity is Good for You
Not much has been said in the time since I interviewed Gary Arce, guitarist and founder of influential desert rock stalwarts Yawning Man, about the 2LP Gravity is Good for Yourelease (the Raymond Pettibon cover for which you can see above), but the band has been confirmed for Desertfest since then and they’re playing in L.A. on Jan. 25, so they’re active for sure and presumably there’s been some progress on the album itself. It remains to be seen what form it will take when it surfaces, and the lineup of the band seems somewhat nebulous as well, but when there’s a desert, there’s Yawning Man, and there’s always a desert. 2010′s Nomadic Pursuits(review here) was a triumph, and deserves a follow-up.
Anyone else notice that the “20 Albums to Watch for” list has 22 albums on it? Maybe I wanted to see if you were paying attention. Maybe I can’t count. Maybe I just felt like including one more. Maybe I had 21 and then added Vista Chino after someone left a comment about it. The possibilities are endless.
So too is the list of bands I could’ve included here. Even as I was about halfway through, a new Darkthrone track surfaced from an album due Feb. 25 called The Underground Resistance, and news/rumors abound of various substance concerning offerings from YOB, Eggnogg, When the Deadbolt Breaks, Mars Red Sky, Asteroid, Apostle of Solitude, Windhand, Phantom Glue, the supergroup Corrections House, Kingsnake, Sasquatch — I’ve already made my feelings known on the prospect of a new Sleep record — news went up yesterday about Inter Arma‘s new one, and you know Wino‘s gonna have an album or two out before the end of the year, and he’s always up to something good, so 20, 22, 35, it could just as easily go on forever. Or at least very least the whole year.
If there’s anything I forgot, anything you want to include or dispute, comments are welcome and encouraged.
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 28th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
A friendly reminder that this very Saturday is Small Stone‘s showcase at The Magic Stick in Detroit. Since the one in Boston earlier this month was such an unholy good time, I can only heartily recommend that the entire Midwest shows up and prepares itself for riffy communion. Even if The Obelisk wasn’t presenting it, it’d still be a kickass rock gig, and probably as far east as we’re going to get Sasquatch anytime soon.
Label honcho (and Luder guitarist, as it happens) Scott Hamilton was recently interviewed by Detroit’s Metro Times about how he manages to thrive where so many others have succumbed to the likes of internet piracy, generational disinterest in rock, and so on. Pretty fascinating read, but before you click over, make sure you’ve got the skinny on the gig Saturday, because you don’t want to miss it.
Since many folks have been asking us for a few years now, we have finally caved in… So here it is in all its glory, a full blown SSR Showcase in the state that we actually live in. We have put together a top notch line up which features the return of New Jersey’s Halfway To Gone for the first time since 2005! Come early, stay late… The Magic Stick is great venue, and the drinks will be flowing at reasonable prices too… It should be an epic evening of rawk… Hell, we might even have copies of the new album from Five Horse Johnson at the show too.
Halfway To Gone (Long Branch, NJ) Five Horse Johnson (Toledo, OH) Sasquatch (Los Angeles, CA) Freedom Hawk (Virginia Beach, VA) Luder (Ferndale, MI)
Doors: 7pm Tickets: $10.00
The Fine folks over at Tito’s Vodka are helping us and the Magic Stick will have Tito’s Drink Specials All Night!
Posted in Features on July 27th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Late last Saturday night, New Jersey’s Halfway to Gone stood on the stage of an overheated Brighton Bar and positively destroyed the place. It wasn’t their first time doing so, but this show in particular (review here) will hopefully serve as the beginning of a new era for the band. Not a moment too soon.
It’s been eight long years since Halfway released their third album. Self-titled, it was a fitting culmination of what the trio of bassist/vocalist Lou Gorra, guitarist Lee Gollin, aka Stu, and drummer Danny Gollin had accomplished on their 2001 debut, High Five and its 2002 follow-up, Second Season. More melodically complex, it never quite let go of the Red Bank three-piece’s Southern rock fetish, and tracks like the landmark opening duo “Turnpike” and “Couldn’t Even Find a Fight” became part of the Halfway to Gone canon, no less heralded than, say, “Holiday in Altamont” from the first record or the anthemic “Great American Scumbag” from the second.
But eight years feels like forever. In rock and roll, that might as well be a generation, and despite sporadic appearances here and there, usually at the Brighton, Halfway to Gone‘s legacy seemed set. Like many before them — including Solarized, in which Lou played bass and Stu guitar — and many after, they seemed to be another Jersey heavy rock act who never quite got their due. On June 2, I got a text from Gorra that they were playing, and that Solarized guitarist Jim Hogan and drummer Reg Hogan‘s new band Electrikill would be sharing the bill, that a new album was in the works and they’d be playing new material at the gig. Well, that was all I needed to hear.
Electrikill didn’t wind up on that bill, but Halfway ruled and their triumph played out in heavy distortion and thunderous riffs. Prior to, I’d had the chance to get on the phone with Gorra and talk about some of the practicalities involved in getting Halfway to Gone moving again, writing new material, and what they might look to accomplish this time around with the band. Having already toured the US extensively in their initial run, Gorra was candid about his desire to get over to Europe, and I’m hard pressed to think of ambassadors as fitting for all that’s righteous in American heavy rock.
Complete Q&A with Lou Gorra of Halfway to Gone is after the jump. Thanks for reading.
Posted in Reviews on July 23rd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
There are some bands who seeing them on stage at the Brighton Bar is like seeing an animal in its natural habitat, and Halfway to Gone is one of them. Originally, the newly formed Electrikill was set to open the show, which would’ve provided a good bit of symmetry since Jim and Reg Hogan from that band also founded Solarized, in which Halfway bassist/vocalist Lou Gorra and guitarist Lee Gollin (aka Stu) also played in in Solarized‘s heyday before joining forces with Stu‘s brother, drummer Danny Gollin as the original trio Halfway to Gone. But the semi-reunion wasn’t to be, and when I rolled into a crowded Saturday night in Long Branch, it was Jay Monday and The X-Men on the bill.
Jay Monday was on as I arrived. They’re set sometime soon to record an album with Gorra, also an engineer/producer, and were young. Pulled a young crowd and played young rock and roll. Could’ve been worse. They had a pit going and, well, kids these days. The X-Men, on the other hand, got on stage after a break and immediately proclaimed themselves to be “old fucks,” and held an extra level of interest for featuring as their frontman the owner of the Brighton, Greg Macolino, on guitar and vocals. Their energy and sound were both classic punk, with Macolino bouncing up and down while jamming out and proudly proclaiming the band’s 28 years. Apparently it had been 25 since they last played with that bassist.
Impressive in itself, but the night was unquestionably Halfway to Gone‘s. It belonged to them. They’ve played sporadic shows over the last several years — YouTube confirms the last one was November 2010 — mostly at the Brighton, to crowds of friends and loyal supporters. That was pretty much the case this time too, but the difference between Saturday and the last few times I’ve seen Halfway was that this show they proclaimed the coming of a new album. Gorra spoke about it from the stage, and along with raucous standbys like “Great American Scumbag” from 2002′s Second Season and “Holiday in Altamont” from their 2001 full-length debut, High Five– both highlights, make no mistake — there was a yet-untitled new song that the trio was clearly excited about.
With good reason. That’s their first new material since their 2004 self-titled third album, and while Stu and Danny had played in A Thousand Knives of Fire together in the interim, for Gorra, he was obviously excited about the prospect of picking up Halfway again as the band got going. And the kids loved it. I mean that. Kids. At the stoner rock show. Jay Monday seemed to have a whole crew with them, and they pumped fists, moshed, stage dove (if you can fucking believe that), and had a full-on punk rock brodown while the band played. Cuts like “Turnpike” from the self-titled and “Couldn’t Even Find a Fight” were met with sing-alongs and spilled beer. It was like someone was filming a video, except not staged, and a far cry from the usual “still life with beardos standing” tableau one expects at gigs of this sort.
Halfway fed off it and hit a stride that was palpable. Danny remains a massively underrated drummer, and Stu has enough personality for an entire trio on his own, and together with Lou‘s obviously sincere appreciation for the crowd, the songs and the night as a whole, it was great to watch. The night was getting late, but it didn’t matter. People were practically running in circles while they played, and even a blown bass amp early on did little to derail the momentum. Noodling on Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s “Sweet Home Alabama” and a few others off classic rock FM, Stu got on mic and announced that he’d never met the bass head that could stand up to Gorra‘s playing. Jay Monday stepped up to provide in that regard and peace spread across the land. By peace, I mean “Never Comin’ Home” off of SecondSeason. Same difference.
They threw a curve in the form of the slower, moodier “Stormy Day” from the first record, which cut the energy level in the crowd some in the beginning, until a break in the middle in which Gorra teased, “You think the song is over! If you pressed stop on the CD player now, you’d miss one of the best parts of the whole thing,” before introducing Stu by saying he was going to be playing some “heavy metal guitar.” The riff that followed could just as easily have served as the central figure for a metalcore breakdown — and in most bands it probably would — but Halfway to Gone repurposed it into the basis of a killer solo jam, and kept the renewed forward drive going with “Whiskey Train” and “Thee Song” from their 2000 split with Alabama Thunderpussy. When they got off stage, it was to a rousing chorus of shouts for one more song.
Had they played that one more song, I expect they’d probably been in the same situation. Ditto that two songs and so on into the night. It was after 1AM when they finished — the Brighton living up to its reputation for late nights as it had earlier in the week — and the crowd filed out right away to stand in front of the front door of the venue and block passage while blowing smoke in the face of everyone as they walked out, clueless as only frivolous youth can be. I shook a few hands and said a couple goodnights and was back on the Parkway soon enough for the drive north, reminiscing with myself about the many times I’ve made that drive before and the excellent shows — including this one — that routine has followed.
Halfway to Gone never disappoint. Looking forward to that new album and hopefully more nights like this one. Extra pics after the jump.
Founded in 1995 by Scott Hamilton, Detroit imprint Small Stone Records is the single most influential American heavy rock label of the post-Man’s Ruin era. What started as Hamilton releasing local Detroit acts of varied genres like Morsel, 36D and Perplexa soon took on a dedication to the heavy aesthetic that remains unmatched in both its scope and its reach of influence. Looking back, Five Horse Johnson‘s 1997 Double Down debut, seems to have been the beginning of Small Stone‘s turn down the fuzzly path. It’s like Hamilton followed the riff right down the rabbit hole and never looked back.
Now, 17 years on, Small Stone has a reach that goes beyond even the distribution of the albums it puts out. Thanks to the diligent work of Hamilton and oft-encountered names like Mad Oak Studios engineer/mixer Benny Grotto, mastering engineer Chris Gooseman, graphic artist Alexander von Wieding, among others, the label has earned a reputation for quality output that new releases are constantly reaffirming. Over the years, Man’s Ruin refugees like Sons of Otis, (The Men Of) Porn, Acid King and VALIS have come into the fold, but the crux of Small Stone‘s catalog is made up of acts like Roadsaw, Dixie Witch, Halfway to Gone, Throttlerod, Puny Human and Novadriver, who no matter what else they put out or who they put it out with, will always be considered “Small Stone bands.”
That designation and those groups specifically have helped establish a core American-style heavy rocking sound that the label seems to delight in toying with even as it continues to promulgate. Next generation bands like Gozu, Lo-Pan, Freedom Hawk, Backwoods Payback and even newer newcomers Wo Fat, Supermachine, Lord Fowl and Mellow Bravo — who don’t yet have albums out on the label — are expanding its breadth, and recent international signees Asteroid, Abrahma, Mangoo, Nightstalker and Mother of God should help ensure that Small Stone keeps pushing both itself and genre boundaries well into the next several years.
One of the hazards, however, of an ever-growing catalog, is that it can be hard to figure out where to start taking it on, and to that end, I’m happy to provide you with 10 essential Small Stone picks. Note I didn’t say “the 10 essential Small Stone picks,” because the reality of the situation is this is just the tip of the fuzzberg. If it’s any indication, I started out with five and couldn’t leave the rest out.
Here they are, ordered by the date of release:
1. Novadriver, Void (ss-022/2001)
Still an album that’s more or less impossible to pin to just one genre, the stoner/space/weirdo jams of Novadriver‘s 2001 outing, Void, reside somewhere between Monster Magnet‘s early Hawkwind worship and the unbridled intensity of groove that came out of Detroit’s early- and mid-’70s heavy rock and proto-metal. The fact that Novadriver also came from the Motor City speaks to the label’s local roots, but if Void was coming out even today, it’d be coming out on Small Stone.
2. Los Natas, Corsario Negro (ss-028/2002)
Personally, I think 2005′s El Hombre Montaña is a better album and 2009′s Nuevo Orden de la Libertad is an even better album than that, but Corsario Negro earns the edge as a starting point because it was the beginning of the Argentinian rockers’ relationship with Small Stone (they too were left without a home in the wake of Man’s Ruin folding). Plus, if you haven’t heard them before and you get this, you can still marvel at the subsequent offerings. Either way, totally necessary.
3. Various Artists, Sucking the ’70s (ss-032/2002)
In a lot of ways, this is what it’s all about. Badass bands playing badass songs. By this point, The Glasspack, Los Natas, Fireball Ministry, Halfway to Gone and Five Horse Johnson (who lead off the first disc) had already put out at least one album through Small Stone, but Sucking the ’70s made the most of the label’s burgeoning reputation, bringing in Clutch, Alabama Thunderpussy and Lowrider, along with bands who’d later add records to the catalog like Roadsaw, Suplecs and Lord Sterling, all covering hits and obscurities from the heavy ’70s. A gorgeous collection that would get a sequel in 2006. Still waiting on part three.
4. Dixie Witch, One Bird, Two Stones (ss-037/2003)
The Austin, Texas, trio would go on to become one of the most pivotal acts on the Small Stone roster, and they’d do so on the strength of their Southern riffs and the soul in their songwriting. Led by drummer/vocalist Trinidad Leal, Dixie Witch hooked up with Small Stone on the heels of their 2001 debut, Into the Sun, which was released by Brainticket, and quickly gained a reputation for some of the finest classic road songs that Grand Funk never wrote (see “The Wheel”). Their 2011 offering, Let it Roll, affirmed their statesmen status among their labelmates.
5. Sasquatch, Sasquatch (ss-044/2004)
I was pretty well convinced that when the L.A.-based Sasquatch released their self-titled debut in 2004, rock and roll was saved. Whoever it needed saving from, whatever needed to take place to make that happen, this record did it. Truth is, rock and roll didn’t really need to be saved — it needed a stiff drink, as we all do from time to time — but Sasquatch would’ve been right there even if it had. They’re a Small Stone original with all three of their records to date out through the label, and still one of the strongest acts in the American rock underground, even though they’d never be quite this fuzzy again.
6. Dozer, Through the Eyes of Heathens (ss-061/2005)
Even now, seven years later, I can’t look at this album cover without hearing the chorus to “The Roof, the River, the Revolver.” Between that and songs like “Man of Fire,” “Born a Legend” and “From Fire Fell,” Swedish rockers Dozer made their definitive statement in their label debut (fourth album overall). Another former Man’s Ruin band, they’d already begun to grow past their desert rock roots by the time they hooked up with Hamilton, and Through the Eyes of Heathens played out like what heavy metal should’ve turned into after the commercial atrocities of the late-’90s. A gorgeous record and still a joy to hear.
7. Greenleaf, Agents of Ahriman (ss-074/2007)
It’s like they built nearly every song on here out of undeniable choruses. Even the verses are catchy. I’ve championed Agents of Ahriman since before I started this site, and I feel no less vehement in doing so now than I did then. A side-project of Dozer guitarist Tommi Holappa that on this, their third album, included and featured members of Truckfighters, Lowrider, The Awesome Machine and others, Greenleaf became a distillation of many of the elements that make Swedish heavy rock unique in the world. It wasn’t aping classic rock, it was giving it a rebirth, and every Hammond note was an absolute triumph.
8. Iota, Tales (ss-084/2008)
Once, I had a t-shirt with the cover of Iota‘s Tales on the front. I wore it until it got holes, and then I bought another. That’s the kind of album Tales was. A trio crawled from out of Utah’s Great Salt Lake, Iota took Kyuss, launched them into space, and jammed out for five, 10 or 20 minutes to celebrate the success of the mission. Recently, guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano has resurfaced in the bluesier, more earthbound Dwellers, which teams him with the rhythm section of SubRosa. Their debut, Good Morning Harakiri, was a highlight of early 2012, building on what Iota was able to accomplish here while pushing in a different direction.
9. Solace, A.D. (ss-093/2010)
It took the better part of a decade for the Jersey-bred metallers to finish what became their Small Stone debut after two full-lengths for MeteorCity, but when it finally dropped, there was no denying A.D.‘s power. My album of the year in 2010, the band delivered front to back on seven years’ worth of promise, and though it was recorded in more studios than I can count over a longer stretch than I think even Solace knows, it became a cohesive, challenging album, giving listeners a kick in the ass even as it handed them their next beer. I still get chills every time I put on “From Below,” and I put it on with near-embarrassing regularity.
10. Lo-Pan, Salvador (ss-116/2011)
If you know this site, this one’s probably a no-brainer pick, but the Columbus, Ohio-based riff merchants took on unabashed stoner rock fuzz for their Small Stone debut (third album overall) and made some of 2011′s most memorable songs in the process. Subversively varied in mood and heavy as hell no matter what they were doing, every part of Lo-Pan‘s Salvador worked. There was no lag. Small Stone also reissued the band’s 2009 outing, Sasquanaut, in 2011, but Salvador surpassed it entirely, bringing the band to new heights of professionalism they’d confirm by touring, well, perpetually. They’re still touring for it. You should go see them and behold the future of fuzz.
That’s the list as much as I could limit it. If you want to immediately add five more, throw in Roadsaw‘s self-titled (they’re writing the best songs of their career right now, I don’t care how attached to the early records you are), Puny Human‘s Universal Freak Out, Halfway to Gone‘s High Five, Milligram‘s This is Class War and Five Horse Johnson‘s Fat Black Pussycat. If you want to semi-immediately add five more than that, get the reissue of Acid King‘s Busse Woods, Mos Generator‘sSongs for Future Gods, The Brought Low‘s Third Record, Tummler‘s Early Man and Erik Larson‘s The Resounding. There. We just doubled the length of the list.
And the real trouble? I could go on. We didn’t even touch on curios like Axehandle, Lord Sterling and Brain Police, or The Might Could‘s Southern aggression, Hackman‘s instrumentalism or the druggy post-grunge of VALIS. Suffice it to say that Small Stone is one of very few labels out there from whom any output will at least be worth a cursory investigation. As the label continues to grow and develop in 2012 and beyond with new bands and new releases from its staple acts, taking on new avenues of commerce — like releasing vinyl for the first time, which it did in 2011 — whatever changes might crop up, Small Stone seems ready to meet the future, distortion pedal first. Can’t ask more of rock than that.
If all you know of my beloved Garden State is the smell of the Turnpike, Bruce Springsteen, guido stereotyping and the airport, you’re missing out. From the very beginning of stoner rock, New Jersey was right there making landmark contributions to the genre, and as the most crowded, most densely-populated state in the union, there’s always been a special brand of annoyed attitude that comes out of New Jerseyan bands that you can’t get anywhere else. It’s like the music is calling you out on your bullshit.
Of course I’m talking about the Red Bank scene, which is unquestionably the state’s biggest contribution to the canon of underground rock, but even that’s not the end to New Jersey‘s influence. As a lifelong resident and vehement defender of the state in the face of embarrassing reality shows and the rest of it, I humbly offer this list of NJ bands for anyone looking for a place to start in discovering the scene:
Monster Magnet: They’re quintessential stoner rock. Spine of God from 1992 is one of the most pivotal albums from the genre and if I didn’t mention them and it first, this entire list would be a sham. Tracks like “Zodiac Lung,” “Nod Scene” and “Spine of God” are absolute classics and unparalleled by either psych- or riff-obsessives.
Halfway to Gone: Their sound had no shortage of Southern influence, but the crunch they brought to it couldn’t have come from anywhere but the Northeast. 2002′s Second Season stripped down the songwriting from the first album and showed a meaner side.
The Atomic Bitchwax: Their 1999 self-titled gets a lot of play because it boasted Ed Mundell from Monster Magnet on guitar, but to me, the band really came into their own when Core‘s Finn Ryan replaced Mundell on 2005′s 3. Start with that, or if you’re craving Mundell, its predecessor from 2000, II.
Solace: I know I’ve said a lot about Solace lately, but that proves all the more why they need to be on this list too. Their first two albums, Further (2000) and 13 (2003) are killer, but 2010′s A.D. blows them out of the water. Best thing to come out of Jersey in a long time.
Evoken: Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum from all this guitar rock, Lyndhurst‘s Evoken make some of most grueling, most punishing funeral doom ever. Their earlier work had rough production, so I’d say start with 2007′s A Caress of the Void and work your way back. Slowly, of course.
For further reading: Various side-projects and offshoots of the above. Bands like A Thousand Knives of Fire, Core, Gallery of Mites, and so on. Also worth digging into are Lord Sterling (now defunct), abrasive duo Rukut, the righteous heaviness of Clamfight, A Day of Pigs, The Ominous Order of Filthy Mongrels, and many more.
If I forgot anyone or anyone wants to really go to bat for that first Bitchwax, leave a comment.
There’s no denying the power of Halfway to Gone‘s rock. They killed, period. And I guess in the meantime, while their status is up in the air, some crafty YouTuber decided to make this video synching up “Couldn’t Even Find a Fight”from 2004′s apparent swansong self-titled with the original 1974 Gone in 60 Seconds. Checking it out is easily worth pausing whatever porn you were about to watch.