Ice Dragon, The Burl, the Earth, the Aether, The Sorrowful Sun and Tome of the Future Ancients: Devil in the Sandbox

Posted in Reviews on October 15th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

ice dragon

Especially listening to them one into the next, it’s hard not to try to string a narrative between Ice Dragon‘s albums The Burl, the Earth, the Aether (2010), The Sorrowful Sun (2011) and Tome of the Future Ancients (2012). All three — plus side-project Tentacle‘s 2013 sophomore offering, Ingot Eye – have been given a sturdy jewel case CD treatment from Canada’s PRC Music, each with a four-panel liner with the original covers plus lyrics, recording info and/or other art, and right away the intent feels archival, the label having stepped in to release these albums to give them some form outside the crowded nebula of their digital incarnations. To my knowledge, the only one of these three Ice Dragon records to have been pressed at all was The Sorrowful Sun, which Acid Punx released on tape alongside the Boston band’s 2007 self-titled debut (review here), but either way, these feel official and the ability to hold them and explore their art and liner notes gives each one that much more of its own personality. Ice Dragon have taken to putting out new music at such a prolific rate, sometimes it can be hard to keep up.

All the more reason to explore the releases individually, then, since they each have something different to offer, as has proven a big part of the appeal of Ice Dragon‘s work these last few years. We’ll start at, or at least near, the beginning:

The Burl, the Earth, the Aether (2010)

ice dragon the burl the earth the aether

Their second. Working as the trio of bassist Joe, guitarist Carter and drummer/vocalist RonIce Dragon began a run with The Burl, the Earth, the Aether that’s still going on. To date, they’ve released nine albums in the four years since, not to mention singles and splits and side-projects, but more than just the quantity of their output, the standout is the quality of it, and The Burl, the Earth, the Aether stands as a beginning point there as well. Comprised of eight tracks totaling in a 53-minute runtime, the album boasts the classic doom of “Squares inside Squares” and “The Watcher,” recorded with the raw and blown-out sensibilities of US black metal, but still riff-led in a stonerly tradition, and while Ron gets into some rougher shouts on “The Watcher” and “Alucard” — the Castlevania reference there fits with the record’s dark intent — far more prevalent are the echoing howls that resonate from the album’s overarching murk. In “Spellpouch,” “Meddoe” and “Winged Prophet,” Ice Dragon show their propensity for working with acoustics, and in the context of what they’ve done since, moving into psychedelic, psych-pop and folk influences, the ultra-quiet finish of “Winged Prophet” seems like a forebear of future adventurousness, while the ultra-distorted grandiosity of 11-minute closer “Aquageddon” and its blend of malevolent swirl and lumbering riffage with a slow descent into abrasive noise come across like a direct line to what Tome of the Future Ancients would have in store two years later.

The Sorrowful Sun (2011)

ice dragon the sorrowful sun

Both The Sorrowful Sun itself, which divides its concise 38 minutes into two roughly equal halves, and its Adam Burke artwork seem to be begging for a vinyl release, but no less on CD, what Ice Dragon achieves on their third album is a standout in their catalog. Aesthetically, there’s a cohesion and a confidence in the presentation of what just a year prior seemed to be experimentation, the swing of songs like “Interspecies Communication” and “Flowers” having solidified into the beer-soaked garage doom on which much of their current take remains based. Likewise, they begin to explore folkish material on “Light Years” — underscored by some righteous bass fuzz — and add several interludes in “Dusk,” and the intro “Sunrise” to give a more complete album-concept feel. The obscure psychedelia of “Poseidon’s Grasp,” with its mix-consuming leads, the drearier churn of “White Tusks” and the subdued exploration of “Near Sun, on Earth” make for as satisfying a three-track run as any Ice Dragon have yet conjured as they round out The Sorrowful Sun, the three-piece not only engaging a multitude of styles but successfully commanding all of them so that the songs flow well one into the next even as the sprawl grows wider. Particularly with a few years of hindsight, one can hear a lot being figured out on The Sorrowful Sun that seems like a foundation for where Ice Dragon would go creatively, but like its predecessor and even more than its predecessor, it stands on its own accomplishments as well and continues to resonate even three years later. If you needed a starting point for the band, The Sorrowful Sun might be it.

Tome of the Future Ancients (2012)

ice dragon tome of the future ancients

Including Tome of the Future AncientsIce Dragon released four full-length albums in 2012, and to date it was their most productive year, also resulting in Dream Dragon (tape review here), greyblackfalconhawk (discussed here) and the moody Dead Friends and Angry Lovers, initially released as a side-project called Slow Heart but later brought into the Ice Dragon fold. Of the bunch, Tome of the Future Ancients is by far the most expansive, and the intent of the 12-track/75-minute offering feels clearly bent toward the overwhelming. On CD, it is a beast. Half the songs top seven minutes, and whether it’s “The Black Book of Hours” or the opening “Manuscript 408,” Ice Dragon seem to be taking the drone lessons of Earth and applying them to their own brand of doom, thudding and struggling with various impulses along the way, be it the where-did-this-come-from boogie-to-noise onslaught of “Illuminations Foretold” or the excruciating plod of “Night” or the sitar-laced 10-minute blowout of “The Bearded Mage.” What unites the material is the fact that it’s all over the place, but “tome” is right as Ice Dragon prove that fuckall still rules the day on their fourth album. Relatively peaceful psychedelics on “Adoration of Ra” and non-abrasive experimental guitar sweetness on “Infinite Requiem” round out, but the campaign to get there is wearying, the trio merciless in crafting a path that seems to cut further and further into a clouded abyss of distortion and foreboding, where even the drone-noise of “Astronomical Union” pushes downward into a pervasive void of silence. It is lung-filling doom.

Tentacle, Ingot Eye (2013)

tentacle ingot eye

Like the manifestation of all of Ice Dragon‘s darkest tendencies, Tentacle ooze forth four tracks of abrasive, cavernous regression on their second outing, Ingot Eye. Originally released early in 2013, it’s another two-sider folded into a linear mass on the PRC CD — the back cover divides the songs, each “side” starting with a 10-plus-minute monster — and what it shares in common with Ice Dragon aside from the lineup and raw vibe is its immersiveness. As much as Ice Dragon push and pull in various directions, Tentacle swallows you whole, and Ingot Eye‘s four pieces — “The Blackness of My Soul will be so Great as to Make the Night Weep” (11:26), “Dull Ache (I Hate Myself Today)” (4:59), “(Revenge) Dust for Blood” (12:46) and “Our Serpent Mother’s Kiss” (9:53) — comprise a lumbering mass. The second cut, “Dull Ache (I Hate Myself Today),” is the only real point of letup, taking on a more shuffling groove and cleaner vocal, but “Our Serpent Mother’s Kiss” arrives at a downer moment of accessibility as well, the its vocals buried deep in gleefully farty low-end and preceded by devolved noise that’s emblematic of how unfriendly these guys can get when they feel like it. What distinguishes Ingot Eye most from Ice Dragon‘s output is how much Tentacle turns the band’s ambitions on their head. And then stomps that head into a muddy goo from which no light can escape.

Ice Dragon continue a multifaceted progression. This year, in addition to a split with Space Mushroom Fuzz (info here) and other singles, they’ve issued two full-lengths, Seeds from a Dying Garden (review here) and Loaf of Head (review here). PRC has a preorder available for a CD edition of Dream Dragon, so it seems safe to say that if the label and the band wish to continue their affiliation, there will be fodder for releases for years to come.

Ice Dragon on Thee Facebooks

Ice Dragon on Bandcamp

Tentacle on Bandcamp

PRC Music

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Buried Treasure: Ice Dragon, Elder and a Tale of Three Tapes

Posted in Buried Treasure, Duuude, Tapes! on August 9th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

The sun-drenched wonder you see in the photo above is the shelf unit at my office (I work here). Top to bottom, it’s got a turntable that needs a new belt, a Mini-Disc player (I used to use them for interviews and just kind of happened into the thing; it’s there now because I think it’s neat), dual cassette deck, 5-CD changer and receiver. The speakers on either side are Infinity studio monitors acquired at a discount for review, and there’s a subwoofer below that’s not pictured. I don’t always use it, because frankly my computer has some decent speakers as well and so I don’t really need it all the time, but sometimes, when I’m working late and no one else is around, there’s nothing else quite like it.

Of the components, the cassette deck is the newest. I hooked it up just this afternoon after finding it the other day laying around the house. I asked The Patient Mrs. what was up with it and she said it was part of the stereo she had as a kid (we’ve been together long enough that I already knew that), and as it was currently not in use, I immediately raised an eyebrow at the possibility.

That was a few days ago, and it wasn’t until today that I finally brought the thing to work and plugged it in. Thinking I was all smart, I grabbed what I thought were some spare A/V cables to go with but turned out to be the camera connector. Fortunately, also at the office, I found these laying around:

Monster Cables! That’s right. Today, I hooked up a cassette player with Monster Cables. A format that’s only “come back” as much as it has over the last couple years because it sounds crappy — hooked up like it’s part of an overpriced home theater. Hey, I roll with what I can find that I don’t have to pay for.

The impetus for this whole thing was the recent purchase of three tapes from Acid Punx Records. I’ve bought tapes here and there for a while now — I have a cassette player in my car and have considered it a point of pride for the seven years I’ve had it — but these were different. Mostly those tapes cost about 50 cents. These tapes cost $10 each.

Yes. I spent $30 on tapes. $35, actually, when you add shipping. I’d been turned onto Boston doomers Ice Dragon‘s newest album, Dream Dragon, in a thread on the forum, and I really dug it. In an all-too-familiar mix of impulse and strategy, I thought as I investigated various purchase options that I’d better pick up some older stuff that was available in limited runs before I missed out. The psychedelically cinematic Dream Dragon — which came out last month and is a pay-what-you-want download at Ice Dragon’s Bandcamp page — doesn’t seem to have a physical pressing yet anyway, so from Acid Punx, I got their 2007 self-titled and 2011’s The Sorrowful Sun instead.

Both tapes are first pressings, limited to 100 copies (the self-titled is a reissue) and pretty clearly homemade — all of which I like about them. While I was putting them in my virtual shopping cart, I stumbled on an Elder tape also for sale called Demos & Live (2007-2010) and couldn’t resist. The result:

It was actually pretty nerve-racking waiting for them to come in the mail. Not that Acid Punx took an exceedingly long time to send them or anything, but I’ll admit to feeling a little silly having shelled out $35 for three tapes. If I was at the grocery store, I’d be staring at the “Unit Price” sticker and punching myself in the head. Nonetheless, when they finally came, I heaved a sigh of relief and immediately put the Elder on in the car.

With the anticipation of seeing them over Labor Day weekend at SHoD in Connecticut mounting and that recent stream of their Armageddon Records vinyl, Spires Burn/Release, I’ve been on something of a kick. Of the tape, I’ll say that Elder were a much, much different band in 2007 than they are half a decade later. Guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo lets loose some pretty vicious sludgy screams, and especially on tape, it sounds like the material was recorded right on a room mic in the rehearsal space.

There are three demo tracks — “1162,” “Red Sunrise” and “Black Midnight” — and two live cuts — “Gemini” recorded at SHoD in 2009 and “Riddle of Steel” from Valley Homegrown TV in 2010.  As you might expect, the newest is the cleanest-sounding of the bunch, but overall, it’s a pretty concise look at how far the three-piece has come in their time together. Whatever faux-authenticity might come from listening to a bona fide demo tape in this day and age, Demos & Live (2007-2010) is legitimately a cool release, and I was glad to have picked it up.

I’ve got more digging into the two Ice Dragon tapes (both of which are also streaming on their Bandcamp) — and wanting to do that was a big part of why I finally caved and brought the tape player into the office — but on a cursory listen, they sound righteous in their lo-fi classicism, The Sorrowful Sun being more melodically developed than its self-titled predecessor. Both feel caked in blown-out-cone distortion and are pretty well suited to the format. I was glad to get them out of the car so they wouldn’t get any further warped by the heat. From what I’ve heard so far, they’re plenty warped on their own.

And while I get to know them better, I’ve got the joy of staring at the spines on my desk:

Even for $35, I could do much worse than that. Just for kicks, here’s the stream of Ice Dragon‘s Dream Dragon, which inspired all this silliness:

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,